7th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 3

Day 3 of a long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. It was forecast to cloud over with the chance of a shower from late morning, so we thought we should make the most of the early brightness. But it remained stubbornly warm and mostly sunny with no sign of the forecast thicker cloud all day. We spent the day down in the Brecks.

In order to try to avoid the heat haze which can be a problem there later in the day, we called at Weeting first. We headed straight out to West Hide, where we quickly got onto a Stone Curlew standing in the wild flowers in the middle of the cultivated area. It was not too far from the hide. We got it in the scope, and although there was already a bit of heat haze it was a good view. Then it sat down in the flowers and merged into the vegetation.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – preening in the flowers this morning

There was also a normal, Eurasian Curlew out in the grass, walking around feeding, given away by its long down-curved bill. Stone Curlew and Eurasian Curlew are not closely related, but both named after their call, the former actually belonging to a family called Thick-knees (but Eurasian Thick-knee doesn’t have the same ring to it). We could see several Lapwings too, and a distant Green Woodpecker – or more precisely its head popping up out of the tall grass from time to time.

There are sometimes a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in the trees behind the hide, so we went out to see if we could find them. There was a fresh breeze blowing through though, and no sign of them this morning. Another Green Woodpecker was calling, and a Goldcrest was singing high in the pines, where we also found a Chiffchaff feeding.

We walked all the way down to the feeders at the end of the pines. A selection of tits and Goldfinches were coming and going initially, but there was no sign of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers we had seen on the live video feed at the Visitor Centre as we arrived earlier. A smart male Greenfinch dropped in and a Nuthatch made several visits to the peanuts.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in to the peanuts at the feeders

Back past the Visitor Centre, we walked on to East Hide. There are usually some Stone Curlews here too, but we couldn’t see them at first, just a pair of Eurasian Curlews. But scanning very carefully with the scope, we found a shape hidden in the grass – a Stone Curlew on the nest.

Just as we were all trying to get onto it, one of the group spotted a second Stone Curlew walking in from the longer grass off to the right. We had a much better view of this one as it came out into the open, closer to the hide. It walked quickly, but kept stopping, looking round. It made its way over to where the other Stone Curlew was sitting in the grass and stood nearby, looking round. Then the bird on the nest stood up and they changed over.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – one of the pair from East Hide

We planned to spend the rest of the morning at Lakenheath Fen, so we drove over there next. As we walked out onto the reserve, several Reed Warblers were flitting around in the reeds by the path, and a Common Whitethroat was singing and song flighting. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over, and disappeared into the poplars.

There were already lots of dragonflies here – several Brown Hawkers hawking for insects, and lots of Ruddy Darters perched in the vegetation alongside the path. We could see plenty of blue damselflies too, mostly Azure Damselflies but looking carefully we found a couple of the rarer Variable Damselflies in with them. We saw a one or two Blue-tailed Damselflies here as well.

Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly – in with the other blue damselflies by the path

There were good number of butterflies out in the sunshine too – lots of Red Admirals, several Commas, both Large and Small Whites, Meadow Browns. A Large Skipper was resting on the vegetation as we passed.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – resting on the vegetation

We stopped at the viewpoint overlooking New Fen. It was nice gazing out over the reedbed, but it looked pretty quiet  bird-wise – a few ducks, several Coot, and a Moorhen with small juveniles on the edge of the reeds. A Great Crested Grebe was sitting on a nest platform. A distant Marsh Harrier was quartering over the other side of the river.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – sitting on its nest platform

After a short rest here, we carried on to Mere Hide. There were lots more dragonflies buzzing round over the water in front of the hide, mostly Four-Spotted Chasers. Two Emperor Dragonflies were ovipositing and a Red-eyed Damselfly landed on the blanket weed.

There were not many birds here either. Several Coot and another Great Crested Grebe, this one with a well-grown stripy-headed juvenile at the back of the channel to the side of the hide. We heard a Kingfisher call but unfortunately didn’t see it as it presumably shot past over the reeds somewhere off to the left of us.

Continuing on to Joist Fen, we flushed a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers ahead of us along the path. Sitting on the benches at the viewpoint, looking out over the reedbed, a Cormorant was on its usual post. One or two Marsh Harriers circled up from time to time, the male first. Then the female came in from over the river, carrying food, and was met by a dark chocolate brown juvenile which came up out of the reeds. The female dropped the food for the youngster.

A Hobby was hawking for insects out over the pools in the reeds, distantly at first. At one point it climbed higher and was mobbed by two Common Terns. Later on, the Hobby drifted closer to the viewpoint and we got a much better look at it. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the bushes beside the viewpoint, and a Bearded Tit zipped over the reeds just in front of us, but dropped down out of view. After a while, another juvenile Bearded Tit did perch up on the edge of the reeds further back.

We were hoping to see a Bittern here, but there was surprisingly little activity today. We had one very brief flight view, but not everyone saw it as it disappeared behind some bushes and then dropped straight back into the reeds. We waited a while and we were just about to leave when another Bittern flew in over the reeds. It was coming straight towards us and we thought it might fly over the viewpoint but it quickly dropped down into the reeds again, not far from the edge of the channel.

Bittern

Bittern – flew in and dropped into the reeds by the channel

We scanned along the reeds beside the channel, thinking the Bittern might come out onto the edge, but couldn’t see it. Again, we were just about to leave when it flew out again. Initially it was going away from us over the channel, but then it turned and flew across over the reeds. A good view – well worth the wait.

On the walk back, it was warm now in the sunshine. A Common Tern was hawking over the pools by West Wood. We had a quick stop at New Fen to break the journey, then carried on back to the Visitor Centre for a rather late lunch. We were just about to eat when someone came in to tell us about an impressive caterpillar they had just found on the path in front of the visitor centre. We had a look at it – it was a Puss Moth caterpillar, normally green but this one was dark pinkish, just about to pupate.

Puss Moth caterpillar

Puss Moth caterpillar – found on the path by the Visitor Centre

There was a steady succession of Reed Buntings, finches and tits coming in to the feeders by the Visitor Centre. There had been a Great Spotted Woodpecker earlier, but there was no sign while we were there – it was a bit of a recurring theme with Great Spotted Woodpeckers on feeders today!

After we had finally managed to eat our lunch, we drove back into the Forest. We stopped at the head of a ride, and were surprised to find a big group of people having a barbecue in the small parking area. Presumably quite a fire risk! We wanted to have a quick look for Woodlark here, but thought maybe it would be too disturbed. As we walked down the track, it was all quiet. It was the heat of mid-afternoon, so perhaps unsurprisingly birds might be hard to find now.

Then a Woodlark flew up from the bushes by the track. We could see its short tail and broad round wings. It circled round behind us calling and dropped down by the track again back the way we had just come. We decided to walk back to try to see it, but before we could get there it flew again, and disappeared off into the trees. Still, it was good to see one, even if just in flight. A pair of Stonechats were perched calling in the all bracken beside the track. They had one or two streaky juveniles with them.

Stonechat

Stonechat – a family were in the bracken by the path

A small skipper feeding on the Vipers Bugloss on the side of the track stayed still long enough for us to get a closer look, revealing the black underside to the tips of its antennae. An Essex Skipper, a new one for the butterfly list for the day.

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper – showing of the black tips to the underside of its antennae

We called in at Lynford Arboretum briefly as we were making our way past. It was quiet here too, but we had a quick walk round through the trees. We heard a few Siskin flying over and saw one which landed in the top of a holly tree by the cottages. We decided not to linger here too long, as we had one last stop we wanted to make this afternoon.

We drove on to another area of Forest and parked by a large clearing. As we got out of the minibus we could hear a Yellowhammer singing, but otherwise it seemed quiet here too initially. As we walked down the track into the clearing, we looked across to see a bird on the wires over the other side. It was a Tree Pipit, just what we had come here to try to see.

We had a look at the Tree Pipit through the scope from where we were standing and we were just about to walk over for a closer view when it flew. It landed in the top of a tall tree closer to us, but again it didn’t stop long. When it took off again it flew past us and landed in an oak right next to the path. We were looking into the sun, so we tried to walk round, but it dropped out and disappeared by the time we got to the other side of the tree.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – we had nice views of one at our last stop today

While we stood and scanned the trees, one of the group walked a short distance further down the track to look for butterflies and two Woodlarks flew up from the grass. The first flew round behind the oak and we lost sight of it, but the second landed in the top of the tree. We stood underneath looking up at it, as it looked down at us. It had a bill full of insects, and obviously had young to feed somewhere nearby.

The Tree Pipit reappeared in the top of a tree nearby, and we got a much better look at it in the scope now. Then the Woodlark flew down and across to the same tree, landing on a branch halfway down. Now we were not looking straight up from below it, we got a much better view of it too.

Woodlark

Woodlark – gathering food in the clearing

It had been a very successful last stop, with great views of both Tree Pipit and Woodlark. A nice way to wrap up the trip, it was time to head back.

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6th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 2

Day 2 of a long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was originally meant to be sunny and warm today, but the forecast changed a couple of days ago to rain in the middle of the day and cooler. The rain came early – it was already spitting with drizzle when we met up and it continued on and off through the morning. Thankfully, it was only light and intermittent and it didn’t really stop us getting out, and it dried up in the afternoon.

Having been east along the coast yesterday, we drove west today. A Red Kite drifted over the road as we made our way to Holme. As we got out of the minibus, a Sedge Warbler was singing, but it was keeping tucked down out of view this morning. We could see a couple of dark juvenile Marsh Harriers flying round over the bushes out in the middle of the grazing marsh. When the male flew past, they thought they were going to get fed, but were disappointed when it didn’t stop. Up on the seawall, we could see one of the juveniles standing in a recently cut silage field, presumably trying to find something for itself.

It was already spitting with rain, but we thought we would be OK for an hour or so, based on the forecast. Enough time to get out to the beach and back. It was a very high tide this morning and lots of Redshanks were roosting out on the islands of vegetation on the saltmarsh. Five Little Egrets were roosting too. The Meadow Pipits and Skylarks had been forced off the saltmarsh and up into the dunes by the water, and we flushed several as we walked out.

Looking out over the dunes, we could see a Little Tern distantly over the beach. A Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding on the edge of the water. A Fulmar flew past offshore. When we got out to the beach, we found there was very little sand left exposed. A few Oystercatchers and gulls were roosting on the bit of beach left exposed. We could see a few Sandwich Terns flying past over the sea.

As we walked a little further down along the edge of the dunes, a Ringed Plover ran ahead of us. We had seen one on the nest here recently, but the area where it had been looked to be under water now. A Sanderling appeared on the sand on the edge of the dunes too, still in its dark breeding plumage.

Sanderling

Sanderling – still in dark breeding plumage

One of the Little Terns flew over calling. It started to drizzle more heavily now, so we decided to walk back to get our waterproofs from the minibus. From the dunes, we could see the pair of Little Terns mobbing an Oystercatcher back on the beach. Hopefully they had not been impacted by the high tides.

Little Tern

Little Tern – flew over calling

It had stopped drizzling again when we got back on the coastal path. Lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits were in feeding in the dunes. Back at the minibus, we layered up just in case. A Cuckoo flew across the grazing marshes on the other side of the track and when we looked across we could see a second Cuckoo perched on the top of some brambles. We had a look at it in the scope. It will not be long now before the adults leave and head off back south, their breeding season over and the surrogate parents left to raise the young.

We wanted to have a quick look in the old paddocks, so we walked back round and up onto the coastal path. But when we got there it started drizzling more heavily again, so we decided to change plans and head round to Titchwell instead, where we could use the hides. When we got to Titchwell, we had a quick look at the latest rainfall radar and realised the rain band looked to be moving over quickly, so we stopped for coffee at the Visitor Centre. Afterwards the rain had eased off again, so we headed out onto the reserve.

When we got out to the reedbed, a Reed Bunting was singing from the top of a small sallow. A few Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers were flitting round the small pools below the path. A small flock of waders flying in over the saltmarsh turned out to be a Whimbrel with ten Redshank. The latter dropped down on the saltmarsh, but we watched the Whimbrel disappear out over the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of ducks on the reedbed pool, mainly Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard with a single Tufted Duck. The drakes are now all in their drab eclipse plumage. A single Red-crested Pochard sailed out from the reeds. It looked rather like a female, apart from its bright coral-red bill – it was a drake in eclipse too. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew off over the reeds, flashing their white wing tips.

We continued on to Island Hide. There were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the mud in front of the hide. One of them was bearing a collection of colour rings including one with the letter ‘E’ and a flag with the number ’27’. This bird is a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, from the very small UK breeding population on the Nene Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a bird from the small UK breeding population

In order to try to help the struggling UK breeding population of Continental Black-tailed Godwits, a number of eggs are now being hatched and raised in captivity each year, before being released once they are fully grown. ‘E27’ is one of those, raised in 2018. After spending the winter in Spain, it has since toured East Anglia.

Most of the birds here are Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, which are faring much better. There were lots of them out on the Freshmarsh today, and there seemed to be birds moving too. A large flock had flown off as we walked up towards Island Hide, disappearing off west. We saw more flying off or over during the morning, and others dropping in.

A small group of Knot was out with the Black-tailed Godwits when we first arrived and we had a look at them through scope. But they had disappeared when we looked back, possibly out to the beach or perhaps they were on the move today too. We counted 44 Dunlin on the Freshmarsh, but there had apparently been 83 earlier – again waders were obviously dropping in and moving on.

Ruff

Ruff – scrawny-necked, having already moulted its ruff

There were about a dozen Ruff here today, all of them different colours. They are all males which have finished breeding, and already moulted their ornate ruffs. Some were looking very scruffy, with very scrawny necks. An adult Avocet and a well-grown juvenile were feeding in front of the hide, but there were lots more resting on the islands out in the middle. The Avocets are gathering here to moult now, with birds travelling here from elsewhere, and over 400 were counted here today. A single Spotted Redshank was visible over by the fenced-off Avocet Island but was rather distant from here.

The juvenile Bearded Tits like to feed along the edge of the reeds in front of Island Hide and we looked across to see three working their way round, hopping out onto the edge of the mud. We had a great look at them, tawny brown with black backs and black masks.

Bearded Tits

Bearded Tit – three juveniles, on the mud on the edge of the reeds

Spoonbills were reported on the Freshmarsh this morning, but they were apparently over in the back corner and not in view from here. One of the volunteers radioed through to a colleague over by Parrinder to check they were still present, and the reply came through that they were just taking off. We looked over to see six of them flying low towards us, they passed right in front of the hide, before disappearing off west over the bank, presumably heading to to feed.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – five of the six which flew off from the Freshmarsh

There are still lots of gulls out here, and plenty of Mediterranean Gulls loafing around on the islands in with all the Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Common Terns were out on one of the islands too.

Four Barnacle Geese flew in over the back from the direction of Brancaster and landed on the island in front of Parrinder Hide. When we walked round, we had a better look from there. They are presumably feral birds from the now established UK breeding population, which tend to wander.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – two of the four which dropped in on the Freshmarsh

We had a closer look at the gulls from Parrinder Hide. There were lots of juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, much greyer and scalier than the rather dark brown juvenile Black-headed Gulls. Several of the juvenile Mediterrnaean Gulls were begging from the adults.

There was a much better view of the Spotted Redshank by the Avocet Island fence from here too. It was still mostly in sooty black breeding plumage but starting to moult now with patches of paler grey emerging. At least four more Spotted Redshanks were right over the far side, on the edge of the reeds. A couple of those were already noticeably whiter below than the others.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – starting to moult out of its black breeding plumage

There were more ducks loafing on the islands over this side of the Freshmarsh, the drake all in drab eclipse plumage. Teal and Shoveler were both additions to the day’s list. Hundreds of Swifts had gathered over the reeds, and we could see a few House Martins and Sand Martins in with them. They were hawking low, trying to find insects in the cool and rain. There had been a steady passage of Swifts moving west along the coast today.

It was lunchtime now, so we set off to walk back. We had a quick look over the wall at Volunteer Marsh, but there wasn’t much on there – a single Curlew, an Oystercatcher, and a Lapwing. We hadn’t got back to the trees before it started to spit with rain again. As we didn’t fancy sitting out in the rain, we decided to divert round via Meadow Trail before lunch. A Song Thrush was singing on Fen Trail, perched right on the top of a dead tree. We stopped to watch a pair of Blackcaps feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a pair were feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide

The drizzle had stopped by the time we got round to Patsy’s and there were lots more warblers in the bushes around the screen, coming out to feed after the rain. We saw several Common Whitethroats and a couple of Chiffchaffs, as well the usual Reed Warblers. A couple of Bearded Tits zipped back and forth across the reeds.

There were lots of ducks on Patsy’s, mainly Mallard and Gadwall, the drakes all in eclipse. A female Common Pochard with several ducklings was diving out in the middle. Two more Red-crested Pochard were again drakes in eclipse, given away by their bright red bills.

When we finally got back to the Visitor Centre, it was time for a rather late lunch. We were very kindly allowed to eat inside as it was not busy today and the clouds still looked rather threatening. Afterwards, we made our way back east along the coast and stopped again at Burnham Overy Staithe.

As we walked out along the seawall, we saw a distant Spoonbill fly across over the harbour towards the dunes. A male Kestrel landed in the top of the hawthorn bushes on the near edge of the grazing marshes and a couple of Greylag heads popped up from time to time out of the long grass beyond. A Little Grebe was diving in the channel on the edge of the reeds and we stopped to watch a family of Sedge Warblers down in the wet grass below the bank.

There were a few waders out in the harbour. A flock of Redshanks around the small pools on the sandbanks and more with a flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits on the mud on the corner. There were several Oystercatchers too, but it was very disturbed today with several boats in the channel and people walking out over the middle of the saltmarsh and round the edge of the harbour.

We stopped on the corner by the reedbed pool. There were lots of Coot and a few ducks on the water and we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Then a Black Tern appeared over the pool. It circled round over the reeds, giving us a good look at it. It was a very smart adult, still in sooty black breeding plumage. Then as quickly as it had appeared it flew up and over the bank and disappeared out over the harbour. There had apparently been a Black Tern here a couple of days ago, so it was possibly lingering here.

Black Tern

Black Tern – a smart adult, appeared over the reedbed pool briefly

There were some cattle grazing on the marshes further up along the bank, so we walked over. There had been some Cattle Egrets with them earlier this week, but there didn’t seem to be anything there at first today. We stood and looked out over the grazing marshes and we were just about to head back, when the Cattle Egrets suddenly appeared. They were not feeding around the cows, but on a small pool hidden in the long grass in between them. We couldn’t see the Cattle Egrets behind the tall vegetation until they happened to walk out into the open, just in time.

We had a good view of the Cattle Egrets through the scope. They were looking particularly smart, in breeding plumage with a pale orange wash on the top of the head, the back and breast. Then they flew back to join the cows further back and we lost them from view again in the long grass.

Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets – feeding on a small pool in between the cows

A Spoonbill flew in over the harbour and out across the grazing marshes, heading for the breeding colony. As we walked back, we were almost at the car park and had stopped to look out over the marshes, when another Spoonbill dropped in behind us into the harbour channel. It would have been a great view, but there were more people out with dogs paddling in the harbour, and they flushed it as we turned round to look at it.

We were heading out again this evening, looking for Nightjars, so it was time to head back now, so we could all have a break and get something to eat.

Nightjar Evening

When we met again in the early evening, the weather was much improved, and the sun was even shining. We headed over first to look for Little Owls at a nearby complex of barns. We were in luck tonight. As we pulled up and started to scan the roofs, we spotted two fluffy juvenile Little Owls perched on the top enjoying the evening sun.

Little Owls

Little Owls – two juveniles enjoying the evening sun on the roof

One of the adult Little Owls appeared on the roof opposite, and one of the juveniles flew over to see if it was going to be fed. We stopped and watched them for a while and there was lots of flying backwards and forwards between the roofs. A second adult appeared on another roof, which we assumed was the other parent, but the first adult flew over straight at it as if it was trying to chase it off. The second Little Owl flew a short distance, but it landed on the same place we had first seen the two juveniles and was ignored thereafter, so it was hard to be sure what its relationship was to the others.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away – we could have stayed watching the Little Owls all evening but we wanted to head down to the coast to look for Barn Owls. We drove round some meadows where they like to hunt, but there was no sign initially of any out tonight. We stopped, and walked up onto a bank from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

When we looked back, we found a Barn Owl out hunting the field behind us, where we had just been looking. It flew round and landed on some bales, but by the time we got the scopes out, it was off again. It landed a second time, on a fence below the bank by the reeds, and this time we had a good view, perched looking at us. It dropped down to the ground and flew back up to the fence. Then it was away over the reeds.

We turned to see a second Barn Owl had flown along the bank right behind us and was disappeared off out over the marshes. It was a striking almost all-white male, a regular bird here. It disappeared away out of view before we could get a good look at it, but thankfully quickly caught something and came back with a vole in its talons.

It flew straight towards us initially, then veered off and disappeared into the trees, presumably heading back to its nest to feed its young. Only a short while later, it was out hunting again. It flew round over the meadows, where we had seen the first Barn Owl, then came past us across reeds and disappeared out over marshes.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – the ghostly white male caught a vole

It was time now to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. It was quiet as we walked out to the middle, but not long before we heard our first Nightjar calling. We looked over to see it flying round the treetops in the distance. It started churring so we walked over to look for it.

The Woodcock were still roding too. We heard a squeaky call, and looked up to see one flying over, with flicking wingbeats, it distinctive display flight. It or another came right over us a couple of times this evening.

The Nightjar was churring in a dense oak, and impossible to see in the evening gloom. We stood nearby and listened and after a while it dropped out and came towards us over the heath. Then a female appeared, and came in to investigate, hovering right in front of us. We had a great view as it flew round just above our heads.

Nightjar

Nightjar – flew round above our heads

When the female Nightjar flew back towards the trees, a second male came in, and the two of them flew round together calling, the flashing the white in his wings and tail. The first male was still churring out in the middle of the heath, while an intruder was on its territory. These two birds often seem to have dispute, and after a while the first Nightjar flew back off towards its territory.

We stood for a while and listened to the Nightjars churring. Occasionally one would fly in and circle round above us again. A Tawny Owl hooted from deep in the woods behind. The light was fading now, so we set off to walk back. We heard another couple of churring male Nightjars on our way back to the minibus. Then it was time for bed – we had another busy day tomorrow.

5th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was a lovely warm, sunny day – a nice day to be out on the North Norfolk coast.

With a big high tide this morning, we stopped at Stiffkey Fen first on our way past to see if any waders had come in to roost. As we got out of the minibus, a couple of Swallows were hawking for insects low over the field nest door and a Yellowhammer was singing somewhere in the trees. Across the road, there were lots of butterflies in the grass, Meadow Browns and Ringlets. The path is getting rather overgrown now, but as we walked down between the hedges, a Banded Demoiselle flitted ahead of us.

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle – flitted ahead of us along the hedge

As we got into the small copse of trees, a couple of Bullfinches flew up from the path calling. We could just see them on a branch over the path before they flew off further into the wood. We could hear a flock of tits calling down by the road – Blue Tits and Coal Tits – and a Jay in the trees.

Several House Martins were swooping in and out of the eaves of the house on the hill when we got out into the open again. There were more tits down by the river, and a Chiffchaff with them. When we got to the point where the brambles are lower, we could just see out over the Fen. We could see a group of Spoonbills and lots of roosting waders, including a small party of Greenshank on the islands, but it was hard to see over the vegetation now that it is getting taller.

There was a better view of the Fen from the seawall. The Spoonbills were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! They like to roost over high tide and feed out on the saltmarsh when the tide goes out. We counted sixteen of them, and occasionally one or two would wake up and show us their distinctive bills. There were quite a few juveniles with them – as birds disperse from the breeding colony at Holkham, the adults creche the youngsters on pools closer to their favoured feeding areas.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – we counted 16 roosting on the Fen today

We had a better view of the waders up here too. There were ten Greenshanks roosting together in a group on their own further back. Most of the waders were Black-tailed Godwits, many still in rusty breeding plumage, with several Redshank in with them. A single Ruff was in with the Lapwings and Avocets in the middle. We eventually managed to find two Little Ringed Plovers which were hiding in the taller vegetation at the back of the island, though it was not a great view of them!

Most of the gulls on the Fen are Black-headed Gulls, but we could see a couple of Common Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed Gull too. There were plenty of Greylag Geese and a single Egyptian Goose with two small goslings.

A male Marsh Harrier flew in from the fields beyond, spooking many of the birds and temporarily even waking the Spoonbills. Two juvenile Marsh Harriers came up to meet it, hoping to be fed. We could see they were very dark, chocolate brown with tawny orange heads.

A Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a bush a bit further down along the coastal path and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted intermittently from the sallows on the edge of the reeds. A Reed Bunting was singing its rather limited song out on the saltmarsh across the channel.

The tide was in out in the harbour. We could see the seals pulled out on Blakeney Point over the other side of the water. A Common Tern was patrolling up and down the channel, fishing, periodically twisting and plunging down into the water. A male Marsh Harrier quartered over the saltmarsh – the light was perfect and it was great to watch it.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – a male was quartering the saltmarsh out in the harbour

As we walked back, a Lesser Whitethroat flew across and landed briefly in the top of one of the sallows by the path. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was in the willows closer to the road, along with a female Blackcap. There were several nice, fresh Gatekeepers in the brambles and hedges this morning, with the first ones having just emerged in the last few days. One posed nicely for us on the hedge by the path.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper – recently emerged and looking very fresh

We made our way over to Kelling Heath next. As we got out of the minibus, a Garden Warbler was singing in the blackthorn, but it went quiet as we walked over to look for it. There were lots of butterflies out here too, as we made our way up the path – a Comma, a nice fresh Painted Lady, and several Small Skippers. We managed to get a view of the underside of their antennae, to confirm their ID – pale in Small Skipper and black in the very similar Essex Skipper.

When we got to an area of low-cut heather by the path, we found plenty of Silver-studded Blues still on the wing. Some of them are looking a bit faded and tatty now , but a smart blue male posed nicely for us.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue – we managed to find one still smart male

We made our way round through an area where there have been Dartford Warblers in the past. We haven’t seen one in this territory this year, so we weren’t expecting to find one here today but suddenly we heard one singing behind us. We could see it climbing around in a small birch tree growing out of some tall gorse, but it flew quickly and dropped down out of view. It continued singing on and off then flew across the path and dropped down into the gorse the other side. We hoped it might perch up singing for us, but it disappeared back and we didn’t hear it again.

Continuing on across the heath, we flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the grass. A little further on we found one of them again, feeding on a stony path, collecting insects. It had quite a bill-full already – presumably it had hungry young to feed somewhere nearby.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – collecting insects on the path

The next couple of areas we checked out were quite quiet now, so we walked over to where one of the pairs of Stonechats have bred. We quickly found the pair – the male and female flycatching from the tops of the bushes, with the young mostly hiding in the vegetation below but popping up occasionally. We stopped to watch a family of Linnets, flying around and perching obligingly on the top of the gorse bushes. We heard a Willow Warbler calling and looked over to see it perched nearby. Unusually it remained still long enough for us even to get it in the scope.

A dark shape flicked out of the gorse and we looked over to see another Dartford Warbler flying low across, skimming the top of the heath. It dropped down into another gorse bush and seemed to have disappeared, but just as we were about to give up it flew out again. This time it flew into a large dense gorse clump and went quiet.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way back to the car park and drove down to the Visitor Centre at Cley to make use of the picnic tables. The main car park was roped off, so we had to park in the overflow car park. From the picnic area we could see why – a Little Ringed Plover had chosen to nest in the middle of the car park! It was very well camouflaged against the gravel and hard to see until you knew where it was, or it got up and walked around.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – nesting in the Visitor Centre car park

As we ate our lunch, a flock of House Martins came in too and started landing on the now vacant car park. Two Common Buzzards circled over. Looking out over the reserve, something spooked everything out on the scrapes. Lots of waders flew round calling and nine Spoonbills came up and circled over. Some of them dropped down again, but several flew off.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. A Reed Warbler was singing from the ditch by the path, but remained well hidden. Then from the bridge a little further along, we found two more Reed Warblers feeding in the reeds, and one of them showed very well, picking insects from the sparse reed stems out in the middle of the water.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – feeding in the ditch below the bridge

Out at Dauke’s Hide, there were still three Spoonbills, and they too were asleep, on one of the islands. There were lots of waders – Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, eight Knot and a few Dunlin still in breeding plumage and sporting their black belly patches. No two of the several Ruff were alike, the males are so variable. Most had already lost their ornate ruffs, looking rather scrawny-necked. A pale, leucistic Little Ringed Plover was running around on the edge of one of the islands at the back.

Looking round from the side of the hide at Whitwell Scrape, we could see a Green Sandpiper hiding in the low reeds on the edge of the island towards the back. An Avocet is nesting on the island at the front and we watched it settle down on to brood its four eggs.

There were plenty of Teal on the scrapes, but there had been no report today of the Green-winged Teal which has been here for a couple of weeks now. Looking carefully through the ducks, we managed to find it and we could see why it had not been spotted earlier. It is moulting fast into eclipse plumage, and we could just see the remains of the white foreflank stripe which distinguishes Green-winged Teal from the other regular Eurasian Teal. It was now reduced to just a white spot on the side of the breast and you had to look very carefully to see it. It won’t be long before it, and therefore the bird itself, disappears completely!

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – moulting fast into eclipse plumage

A Marsh Harrier flew high over the scrape and everything flushed, at which point we lost sight of the Green-winged Teal. We took that as a cue to move on, round to Teal Hide. There were much the same waders on Pat’s Pool as we had seen on Simmond’s Scrape. There were several more Ruff, one of which was still sporting the remains of its ornate ruff. Three more Little Ringed Plovers were well camouflaged on the mud on the edge of the island. Two half-grown juvenile Redshanks were on the near edge of the water.

Scanning the reeds at the back of the scrape, we picked up a juvenile Bearded Tit working its way along the water’s edge. There had been a Water Rail on the mud at the back earlier, but we couldn’t find it, although we did hear it squealing. We were just about to leave when someone spotted it again. We got it in the scopes and watched it creeping in and out of the base of the reeds.

We drove round  to Walsey Hills next. Several Coot were out on Snipe’s Marsh and a single Little Grebe was diving in front of the reeds. Several Common Pochard included a female still with three small ducklings. We watched the ducklings diving, leaping up in the air to get themselves down into the water. Across the road, we could see lots of damselflies flying low over the water in the ditch. They included several Small Red-eyed Damselflies, including a pair which we watched ovipositing.

Small Red-eyed Damselflies

Small Red-eyed Damselflies – we watched this pair ovipositing

Walking out along the East Bank, several Reed Warblers were flitting around the edge of Don’s Pool. We heard Bearded Tit calling but couldn’t see it. A large flock of Sand Martins were flying round over the bank further up and when we got over there we could see they were landing in the tops of the reeds on the edge of the dicth. We couldn’t see what they were feeding on though. They flew off as some people walked past, and then started settling out on the dried mud by the Serpentine.

Sand Martin

Sand Martin – a large flock was landing in the reeds by the bank

Several Cormorants were drying their wings on the island out on Pope’s Pool. In front, we could see lots of Curlew in the grass. They are returning in numbers from their breeding grounds on the continent now. We heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see three flying over, followed shortly after by one of the Curlews for comparison. We could see the Whimbrel were noticeably smaller and slimmer, with a shorter bill. A single Little Ringed Plover was on the mud by the Serpentine.

As we got to Arnold’s Marsh, we had a quick scan and spotted a Little Gull swimming out on the water. At one point it was in the same scope view as a Black-headed Gull giving a chance to see just how small it was by comparison. Then when we took our eyes off it, it disappeared, presumably back to the scrapes where it had been seen earlier. Several young Great Black-backed Gulls were loafing in the vegetation at the back. There were a few waders on here too – Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and a few Curlew. A Brown Hare ran across the dry mud just beyond the water.

There were several Meadow Pipits on the path, flying up to catch insects from the overhanging vegetation. One started displaying behind us, and as it parachuted down it suddenly changed from singing to alarm calling as it hovered over the grass. A Weasel ran out and across the path.

Walking on to the beach, a Ringed Plover over calling. As we got to the shingle, another Whimbrel flew in off the sea. They were clearly on the move today, freshly arrived back from the continent on their way south. A few Sandwich Terns were passing offshore.

We were tipped off by a local about some Graylings a short way down along the old shingle ridge, so we walked down to look for them. They were very hard to see unless you flushed them, very camouflaged against stones, but we eventually found two when they flew up and settled again. A very localised butterfly, they are always nice to see when they are on the wing and these were the first we have seen this year.

Grayling

Grayling – we eventually found two hiding on the shingle

It was lovely out at the beach this afternoon, in the sunshine, but we were out of time and we had to head back. As we got to the East Bank, four Spoonbills flew overhead and dropped down towards the reserve. We stopped to look at a skipper in the grass on the edge of the path and this one had distinctive black tips to the underside of its antennae – an Essex Skipper this time. A nice last addition to the butterfly list as we headed for home.

30th June 2019 – Summer on the Coast

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny day and pleasantly warm in the fresh westerly wind (which meant it was thankfully not as swelteringly hot as yesterday!).

After meeting up, we made our way west along the coast road to Holme. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a family of Sedge Warblers was feeding in the low reeds opposite. The male did a couple of short song flights and the young ones were calling to be fed. We got a good look at their bold pale superciliums. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes nearby and a Common Whitethroat was singing further back.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – we watched a family feeding this morning

A Common Cuckoo flew across over the grazing marsh just beyond the reeds and disappeared over the entrance track into the dunes. It might have been a female, because it wasn’t calling – this was the first day we haven’t heard them here in the last few weeks. Some have already gone, but the remaining adults will be heading off soon on their way back south, leaving the surrogate parents to raise the young.

A couple of juvenile Marsh Harriers came up out of the bushes in the middle of the grazing marsh and flew round, exercising. When they landed back in the bushes, we got one of them in the scope – we could see its tawny orange head contrasting with its dark chocolate brown body.

Up on the seawall, a small number of Common Swifts was on the move, heading west low over the dunes. As one group came right past us, we could see their scythe shaped wings and dark, cigar-shaped bodies. A trickle of Swallows was moving through too this morning.

Common Swift

Common Swift – small numbers were moving west this morning

A large flock of Starlings flew up from the saltmarsh and whirled round before dropping down again. These are post-breeding gatherings of mainly juveniles here at this time of year, good to see that some are still breeding successfully. A Kestrel was hovering out over the saltmarsh too. As we made our way out towards the beach, we could hear Meadow Pipits singing in the dunes. We watched them fluttering up, rather like a Skylark initially but not going as high and without the melodic song, before parachuting back down again.

Out at the beach, the tide was out. There were several Curlews down on the exposed mud, at least a dozen. Like many waders, they are returning already from their breeding grounds on the continent. One summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit, with its rusty underparts extending right down under the tail, was feeding in the shallow water nearby and there were lots of Oystercatchers too. Several Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls were loafing on the shore and a steady procession of Sandwich Terns flew past out over the sea.

We had seen a couple of Little Terns in the distance over the beach as we walked out. As we made our way along the sand, one came up from the cordoned off area by the dunes and circled over us calling. We weren’t close to the rope, but we backed off a discrete distance and it landed again so we could get it in the scope. We could see its black-tipped yellow bill and white forehead. The pair then turned their attention on an Oystercatcher which was walking over the shingle nearby, flying over it calling.

Little Tern

Little Tern – circled over us before landing back on the beach

A little further on, we could see a small roped-off area outside of the main cordon. Sure enough, a Ringed Plover had chosen to nest outside the protected area and had to be provided with a fence all of its own. It was very well camouflaged but through the scope we could see its black and white ringed head and black-tipped orange bill. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew past over the dunes, its white wing tips translucent against the bright sky.

As we walked back through the dunes, a couple of Skylarks flew up from the grass. We saw the white trailing edge to their wings as they landed again. We stopped to admire some Cinnabar moth caterpillars on the ragwort, brightly striped yellow and black to warn any potential predators that they are unpalatable, having absorbed toxic chemicals from the plants on which they feed. A little further on, we spotted a Bee Orchid growing by the edge of the path.

Cinnabar caterpillar

Cinnabar moth caterpillar – brightly coloured to warn off predators

It was rather breezy up on the seawall. As we walked down towards the old paddocks, we could see a couple of Shelducks and one or two Avocets on the pools out on the saltmarsh. A Redshank flew up from one of the channels calling and a Curlew stood up on the vegetation looking round. A Little Egret flew past and dropped down out of view into another channel.

The paddocks were rather quiet at first, perhaps due to the breeze, but as we got down towards the golf course we heard a Turtle Dove purring in the bushes. We stopped to listen to it and it purred a couple more times, but then it went quiet before we could work out where it was. A couple of Common Whitethroats were singing here and we had a good view of them perched up on the top of the brambles. A Lesser Whitethroat flew past but typically disappeared into the bushes. Several Linnets were flying round calling and we got a good look at a smart male sporting a bright red breast.

After making our way back to the minibus, we headed round to Titchwell next. We still had a bit of time before lunch, so we decided to walk out to Patsy’s Reedbed first. On our way down to the Visitor Centre, a Blackcap was singing from deep in the sallows. A mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits and other tits was feeding in the trees and on the roof of the buildings behind the Visitor Centre and for some reason known only to it, a Song Thrush chased a Chaffinch through the bushes.

Round the other side, at the start of Fen Trail, we bumped into the tit flock again. We noticed a Chiffchaff with them too this time. A little further on and a Red Kite flew lazily over the trees just above our heads. A Reed Bunting was singing from the top of a bush out in the reeds just beyond Fen Hide.

From the screen overlooking Patsy’s, we could see a couple of juvenile Marsh Harriers up over the reedbed. Like the other ones we had seen at Holme this morning, they seemed to getting some exercise, and some practice in. A few Common Swifts and House Martins were feeding over the pool.

There were plenty of ducks on Patsy’s, mostly Mallard and Gadwall. The drakes are already mostly in drab eclipse plumage, looking rather more like females. Two female Common Pochard both were accompanying their ducklings, one with just one but the other with five. They are a rare breeder here, so it is always good to see them breeding successfully. There was no sign of any Red-crested Pochard on here today though. A female Tufted Duck was busy diving, a Great Crested Grebe was snorkelling right at the back, and a smart summer plumage Little Grebe drew admiring glances right down at the front.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – looking very smart in breeding plumage

We went back for lunch in the picnic area and afterwards, headed out to explore the main part of the reserve. As we walked out past the reedbed, a Sedge Warbler was singing in the sallows and a couple of Reed Warblers were flitting around the edges of the pools below the bank. It was probably a bit too windy for Bearded Tits here though. A few of the commoner ducks were out on the reedbed pool and a male Marsh Harrier flew towards us over the reeds, before circling up into the blue sky.

We stopped in at Island Hide to have a look at the Freshmarsh. There are lots of Avocets on here now. An adult and a well-grown, brown-backed juvenile were feeding on the mud in front of the hide, presumably local birds, but lots more were loafing on the islands further back. Many will have come here to moult, and lots have arrived in the last few days, with recent counts of well over 300.

Avocet

Avocet – numbers have increased as birds gather here to moult

There was a nice selection of godwits out here today – both Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. Several were still in their bright rusty breeding plumage, the colour on the Black-tailed Godwits stopping half way down, with a black-barred white belly. A small group of Knot was feeding in amongst them, coming barely up to their knees. Most of them were in grey non-breeding plumage, but one or two were brighter orange still. Five Dunlin, still sporting their black-bellied breeding plumage, were feeding in the shallow water nearby.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – still in bright rusty breeding plumage

The male Ruff are also starting to return already, having finished their breeding duties and left the females to incubate the eggs and raise the young. There were several moulting males out here today, in a bewildering variety of different plumages. No two were alike! Most had already lost their ornate ruffs and had rather scruffy necks, but one was still carrying most of its ruff. Similarly the Lapwings are losing their crests already.

The early returning Spotted Redshanks are generally females – unlike the Ruff, they leave the males to tend to the young. There were six out on the freshmarsh today, still in mostly in their striking black breeding plumage. Very smart-looking birds! There were several Common Redshanks too, but no sign of the Lesser Yellowlegs which had (re?)appeared yesterday. It had been seen earlier in the morning, but had flown off when something had spooked all the birds on the Freshmarsh and not returned.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – still mostly in its striking sooty black breeding plumage

The breeding season for the gulls is gradually coming to an end and there seemed to be much fewer still nesting now on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’. There are still plenty here though, with lots sleeping on the islands out in the middle. We managed to find one or two adult Mediterranean Gulls still, easy to pick out with their jet black hoods, compared to the (ironically!) chocolate brown heads of the so-called Black-headed Gulls. A couple of scaly grey juvenile Mediterranean Gulls looked very different from the brown juvenile Black-headed Gulls. There were two or three Common Terns out with them too.

It is not really the time of year for looking at ducks, but numbers of Teal are steadily increasing now as birds return from the continent after the breeding season. A flock of Shoveler whirled round and dropped back down on the water over the back. There were a few Shelducks as usual.

The edge of the reeds from Island Hide is often a good place to look for young Bearded Tits in summer and we were not disappointed today. Two rather tawny-brown juveniles, with black lores and black mantles, worked their way round in and out of the bottom of the reeds, giving us a great look at them through the scope.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – one of two on the edge of the reeds from Island Hide

There were more waders in front of Parrinder Hide, Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and a rusty male Ruff. A total of six Little Ringed Plovers were down on the muddy edge just to the left of the hide, looking very nervous – unusual to see so many together here. Five adults were standing in a group, where we could get a really good look at their golden-yellow eye rings, and a single juvenile was tucked in below the edge of the reeds nearby.

Little Ringed Plovers

Little Ringed Plovers – four of the six outside Parrinder Hide

Then suddenly, as if by magic, the Lesser Yellowlegs appeared. It flew in and landed with the godwits out in the middle. We got the scope on it and could see its yellow legs. It was a very distinctive shape, long-legged and long-winged, distinctly elegant. At one point it was feeding together with a Common Redshank and was noticeably smaller and slimmer, with a finer bill, as well as having different coloured legs!

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs – flew back in and landed on the Freshmarsh

The Lesser Yellowlegs caused some noticeable excitement in the hide. It is a very scarce visitor to the UK from North America – it should be migrating down to South America not Norfolk! Interestingly, one turned up here last year in mid-July and stayed for several weeks. It seems very likely that this may be the same bird, which is now migrating north and south, but on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

All the birds on the Freshmarsh were very nervous, partly as the young Marsh Harriers had been working up and down over the banks during the afternoon. Suddenly everything spooked more than usual, and we looked out of the hide to catch a glimpse of a Hobby as it zipped past.

We had one more place we wanted to visit this afternoon, so we made our way back. A Common Lizard was basking on the fence by the path to Island Hide as we passed. We stopped for a quick look at the reedbed pool, where a couple of drake Red-crested Pochard were swimming in and out of the reeds at the back. One was already in eclipse and the other was looking rather tatty, but their bright coral red bills really stood out.

When three juvenile Marsh Harriers started to circle together, we realised the male was coming in with food for them. It circled above and as the youngsters gathered below, it dropped whatever it had been carrying. One of the juveniles went to catch it but missed as the others homed in on it too. As it dropped towards the reeds, another two juveniles raced in too. We didn’t see if one of them managed to get it. The juveniles landed again in the bushes and we had a look at one of them in the scope – much darker-headed than the ones we had seen at Holme earlier, with just a small tawny patch on the back of the neck.

Our last stop was back at Wells. As soon as we got out of the minibus, we could see six Spoonbills at the back of the pools. Two were adults, with longer yellow-tipped black bills, but the other four were recently fledged juveniles with shorter, not yet fully grown, fleshy-coloured bills – ‘teaspoonbills’.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – four of the six at the back of the pool

At least those Spoonbills were awake. We realised that there were more in the vegetation on one of the islands, doing what Spoonbills seem to like doing best, sleeping! The original six walked over to join them, and some of them woke up. A couple of the juveniles then decided they were hungry and started begging their parents for food, walking after them, bobbing their heads up and down, flapping their wings. Relentlessly!

There were several Little Egrets asleep in with the dozing birds too,  more white blobs in the grass, so it was hard to count exactly how many Spoonbills there were in the vegetation. When most of them put their heads up at one point, we counted at least 18. It is the time of year when they gather on the coast, the young creched at convenient pools close to where the adults like to feed out in the saltmarsh channels. It was getting on for high tide now, which is why they were all loafing around.

Over the other side of the track, we found a Greenshank roosting in with the Redshanks. There were several young Avocets still, and adult birds not too far away which were presumably their parents, although their childcare skills leave much to be desired. A group of Black-tailed Godwits was feeding down in the front corner.

A Marsh Harrier flew in and circled over the wheat field beyond. It was a female with green wing tags. It seemed to be after the Woodpigeons, and kept stooping down towards the crop, but the pigeons just flew off and it never really got close. Two adult Common Gulls flew in but landed out of view at the back of the pools. They are not exactly common here at this time of year. Then it was time to finish and head back.

1st-8th June 2019 – Romania

A week-long International Tour to Romania, organised together with our friends from Oriole Birding. The Danube Delta is one of the ‘must-see’ wildlife destinations and we spent four days exploring it, sleeping each night on our floating hotel in a different location, right out in the midst of it. We also spent a couple of days exploring the Dobrogea region, down to the Black Sea coast, which is host to some species right at the western edge of their range. A fantastic experience!

SATURDAY 1ST JUNE

Our 10.35 flight from Luton Airport to Bucharest arrived on time. After realising we had come out in a different arrivals hall, we quickly found our local guide, Florin, who took us outside to where our minibus and driver were waiting. There were a few House Sparrows, House Martins and Jackdaws around the terminal building, before we set off on the long drive to Tulcea.

Out in the suburbs, we saw mostly Collared Doves and Feral Pigeons but as we got out into the countryside beyond, we could see Rooks, Hooded Crows and one or two Pheasants in the fields. More exciting, a Long-legged Buzzard circled over the road ahead of us. We broke the journey with a stop at a service station for coffee and/or ice cream, where several Greenfinches were singing outside.

Afterwards, as we continued the journey, we started to see a greater variety of birds. It had clearly rained a lot in recent weeks, given the amount of water on the fields, and some of the wetter areas held a selection of herons – a Great White Egret, a few Little Egrets, two Squacco Herons, three Black-crowned Night Herons, and a couple of the group spotted a Glossy Ibis lurking in a ditch. As we approached the Danube crossing, there were more White Storks, including several nests with chicks on the telegraph posts in some of the villages.

The wires beside the road started to get some more interesting birds too. In one area, we spotted five Rollers in quick succession. There were Bee-eaters too, particularly as we approached a steep section of road which winds down through a small grove of acacia trees. There were plenty of Rooks in the trees, but no sign of any Red-footed Falcons, which also nest here. However, just beyond the trees we spotted a smart male Red-footed Falcon hovering over the grass beside the road.

Further into the Dobrugea region, and we started to see more Red-backed Shrikes and one or two Corn Buntings on the wires. It was starting to get dark now and a Little Owl was perched on the chimney of a house in one of the villages we passed. We finally made it into Tulcea at about 9pm, and we headed straight to the port where the floating hotel, which would be our home for the next five nights, was waiting. After a delicious dinner on board, we retired to our cabins.

SUNDAY 2ND JUNE

There were a few gulls around the harbour in Tulcea when we woke up this morning. As well as plenty of Black-headed Gulls, a couple of Caspian Gulls came close enough to get a good look at. After breakfast on board – cereals with local yoghurt, bread and honey, eggs, and a selection of ham and cheese – we boarded the smaller boat which would take us around the Delta (the floating hotel would be towed out to meet us later). The main Tulcea branch of the Danube is big and open and was fairly birdless at first, apart from a few more Caspian Gulls. After a quick stop to retrieve someone’s cap, which had blown off into the river, we headed over towards the junction with the smaller Mila 36 channel. A Grey-headed Woodpecker flew in and landed in the top of some tall poplars on the bank and our first White Pelicans, a group of fourteen, circled overhead.

White Pelicans 1

White Pelicans – our first of the trip, circled overhead

Having turned off the main channel onto Mila 36, we started to come across a lot more birds. There were Kingfishers calling all around here, zooming back and forth across the water and in and out of the trees. We could hear a variety of different birds in the trees, but they were hard to see in all the leaves and undergrowth. An Icterine Warbler and several Eastern Olivaceous Warblers were singing, as well as both Common and one or two Thrush Nightingales, the more grating and clicking phrases of the latter giving them away. Three calling Collared Flycatchers gave only glimpses but a couple of Spotted Flycatchers sallied out of the trees. There were more woodpeckers too, several Great Spotted, another Grey-headed, and we heard out first Middle Spotted Woodpecker.

The Delta is all about its waterbirds, and is packed full of herons of various sizes. There were plenty of Grey Herons and Little Egrets at first and then, as we got further in, we found lots of Squacco Herons which flushed from the banks as we passed, changing instantly from buff-brown to white. Several Black-crowned Night Herons and a smaller number of Glossy Ibis flew over.

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron – a very common heron in the Delta

We encountered our first Pygmy Cormorants too, but they are very skittish and typically flew off ahead of us. More pelicans circled overhead, mostly flocks of White Pelicans, but we also saw our first Dalmatian Pelican, typically a lone bird which flew over.

Pygmy Cormorant 1

Pygmy Cormorant – mostly very skittish and flew off before we got too close

A male Little Bittern flew across the channel ahead of us and landed in the base of the reeds, disappearing in before we could get a good look at it. When we stopped to scan, a Penduline Tit started calling over on the other side, and we saw it perched briefly in the top of the reeds. One of the group, scanning for the tit, found a female Little Bittern instead, up on top of the reeds further back. We had already heard several Great Reed Warblers singing in the reeds as we passed, and now one perched up nicely on a dead reed stem. A little further on, and a pair of Hobbys were zooming around through the tops of the trees beside the channel, before landing up in a poplar.

We stopped for coffee at the entrance to Lake Nebunu. As we motored up, a Raccoon Dog was on the bank nearby, but quickly scuttled into the vegetation. There were lots of Mute Swans and Great Crested Grebes out on the lake. A pair of Common Terns and about 15 Whiskered Terns were flying round and dip feeding over the vegetation across the entrance. We could see lots of cormorants and herons coming and going from their nesting colony in the tall trees at the back. Two White-tailed Eagles appeared over the trees, and one was mobbed by a Hooded Crow, which was just a tiny speck by comparison at that range. A Pallas’s Gull flew over the back of the lake too, like an oversized Black-headed Gull, but it was rather distant and disappeared from view behind the trees.

After coffee, we carried on along the channel and hadn’t gone much further when we came across our first Red-necked Grebes. The first one dived ahead of the boat and disappeared into the reeds, but then we found four more together, and had a great view of them, resplendent in breeding plumage with bright rusty-red necks.

Red-necked Grebe 1

Red-necked Grebe – in smart breeding plumage

Next stop was by a White-tailed Eagle nest, which was high in the trees beside the channel. One of the two juveniles was still on the nest, but the other was hiding higher up in the branches above. They were almost fully grown, not long to fledging now. There was no sign of either of the adults at first, until two White-tailed Eagles appeared through the treetops. One of the adults was chasing off an immature, which had presumably flown too close to the nest. Once the intruder had fled, the adult flew back round and landed in a tree not far away.

We cut back across Lake Furtuna, a large open lake surrounded by reeds. Several White Pelicans and a single Dalmatian Pelican were swimming out on the water. There was more floating vegetation over the far side, where we found lots of Whiskered Terns, four Garganey and a pair of Gadwall. It was full of grebes too, nesting Great Crested Grebes, several pairs of Black-necked Grebes and four Red-necked Grebes too. Our first Purple Heron flew over.

Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican – we saw small numbers daily in the Delta

On the smaller channels especially, there were Cuckoos and Rollers everywhere. A brief Golden Oriole flew over, but was not seen by most of the group and would remain a target for a good view for many for a while yet. There were lots of dragonflies – mainly Emperor, Lesser Emperor and Scarlet Darter, and plenty of Banded Demoiselles beside the channels. As we got out into a more agricultural area, several Western Yellow Wagtails flew up from the feet of a herd cows, though it was hard to see for sure whether these ones were pure Black-headed Wagtails or one of the array of hybrids.

We met the floating hotel for lunch at Maliuc, and while we were settled on board enjoying our three course feast we were towed slowly along to the next location. After lunch, we had a couple of hours to relax over the heat of the day, take a siesta or watch the world go by from the boat. The banks were more open here and in the wetter spots there were lots of Great White Egrets and Glossy Ibis. Three Hoopoes flew alongside as we passed and there seemed to be Rollers on just about every bush.

Hoopoe

Hoopoe – several were seen on the river bank today

With the floating hotel moored again, we set off about 5pm in the smaller boat to explore the area. A Penduline Tit was calling from the trees on the opposite bank and a Garden Warbler was singing from the trees on our side. It was still hot, and quiet to start as we checked out a couple of smaller lakes.

The first was overgrown with Water Soldier and not surprisingly there were several Norfolk Hawkers patrolling along the edge of the reeds. Marsh Frogs were everywhere on the lily pads, until a Dice Snake swam across, causing them to disappear into the water. Lots of herons were flying around again, and we saw many more Purple Herons out here. A Savi’s Warbler was reeling from the reeds, the first of many we heard this afternoon.

Purple Heron

Purple Heron – more common in the reedier parts of the Delta

The second lake was full of Whiskered Terns, looking to nest on the floating vegetation. When a Hooded Crow flew across, they all came up en masse to mob it, and we realised just how many had been hiding there. A pair of Greylag Geese lurking in the edge of the reeds at the back had distinctive pink bills, birds of the eastern race rubirostris. We could hear a Bittern booming too.

Back along the more open Crisan channel, an obliging Black-crowned Night Heron was standing on the floating vegetation below one of the trees on the bank. We saw several more Ferruginous Ducks, mostly typically flighty, but we had a nice view of a male down on the water’s edge which lingered longer than most. On an area of open sandy shore, an adult Little Ringed Plover was keeping an eye on its already well-grown juvenile. A White-tailed Eagle flew in over the back and appeared to be coming our way before it suddenly dropped down onto the ground. We could see it was feeding on something, and was quickly surrounded by 10 Hooded Crows.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron – another very common species in the Delta

We continued on back past the floating hotel, and turned in down the small channel leading to Lake Iacob. There were more pelicans on the lake – with two White and two Dalmatian Pelicans on a log, giving us a nice comparison. A Garden Warbler was singing nearby and we could hear more Penduline Tits calling. As we motored back slowly along the wooded channel, a Grey-headed Woodpecker perched nicely in the tree above us. Another Pallas’s Gull flew over, much closer this time but we would still hold out for better views.

Grey-headed Woodpecker

Grey-headed Woodpecker – perched nicely in a tree above the boat

Back at the floating hotel, we sat out on the deck to compile the list for the day. We could still hear the Grey-headed Woodpecker calling away in the trees. Eastern Olivaceous and Great Reed Warblers were singing and the Savi’s Warbler was still reeling. A Bittern was booming off in the distance and a Golden Oriole was taunting us, hidden deep in the bushes. What an amazing place to be! After a delicious three course dinner of salad followed by local zander, it was time to turn in, to the sound of Fire-bellied Toads calling.

MONDAY 3RD JUNE

Before breakfast, the earlier risers gathered out on the deck. A Little Crake was calling, but hidden deep in the reeds beyond the trees on the bank. A pair of Eastern Olivaceous Warblers appeared briefly low in the branches, before making their way through to the sunny side of the trees as the early mist burned off. The Bittern was still booming and the Savi’s Warbler still reeling off in the distance. Three Pallas’s Gulls flew high over, one at a time, and the first White Pelicans flapped lazily up along the channel. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker flew past through trees opposite and while we ate breakfast, a pair of Garganey circled round over the water outside.

As we got ready to set off on the smaller boat again, we picked up a distant male Red-footed Falcon on some wires, and through the scope we could just about see its red feet and legs in the morning sunshine. As we motored slowly up the channel, there were the usual herons and egrets everywhere. A Great Bittern flew across and up the edge of the channel ahead of us, a difficult bird to see here.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling we looked over to see a family party right up in the top of the willows on the bank. Another bigger group of Bearded Tits were in the reeds on the junction of the Caraorman channel, lots of juveniles. As we stopped to look at them, one of the group noticed a male Penduline Tit feeding in the sedges right down at the front – nice to get our first good views of this species. We could hear a Reed Bunting singing, and then a pair appeared in one of the willows. The birds here are a different race to back home, tshusii, being noticeably heavier-billed.

Penduline Tit

Penduline Tit – feeding in the sedges

Continuing on to Caraorman village, a pair of Caspian Gulls were loafing on the bank and a Hoopoe was wrestling with a mole cricket as we made our way down to the small harbour. The vista here was dominated by the ruins of the old communist-era industrial sand mining site, long since abandoned. As we got out at the harbour, a juvenile Northern Wheatear was feeding in between the boats pulled up nearby. Walking down the track towards the village, we were surrounded by Bee-eaters calling and perching on the wires, nesting in the low sandy banks.

Bee-eater

Bee-eater – around the abandoned factory at Caraorman

A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in a grassy pool out where the cows were grazing. Three Red-footed Falcons were perched on the wires further down, two of the males chasing each other a little closer before landing again. It was already starting to get hot. Lots of Marsh Frogs were basking around the edge of a small pool in the sand, before hopping in as we passed, and the head of a Dice Snake appeared out of the water.

Several White Storks were on nests in the village, and one stood bill clapping and throwing its head back as two others circled over. It was eerie walking round past the huge abandoned accommodation blocks, long-since stripped of windows, doors and any other removable fittings, their roofs falling in but providing nest sites for the local Kestrels.

We continued on down the track out into the old sand pits. On the larger shallow pools here we found several Avocets and Black-winged Stilts along with more Black-tailed Godwits and a few Shelduck too. A Hobby flew over hunting dragonflies. Up on the bank of the next basin, there was pleasant breeze to stop us overheating. A single Caspian Tern was out in the middle, dwarfing the Common Terns and Whiskered Terns it was with. Through the scope, we could see its huge black-tipped red bill. A few Black-winged Stilts and Common Terns were nesting on the sandy islands.

Continuing round to the far corner, we could see a group of larger gulls loafing on the edge of the another pool. A single adult Pallas’s Gull was in with the Caspian Gulls – with its black hood, it really stood out. There were more Bee-eaters in the bushes and a male Red-backed Shrike appeared with them briefly. Then it was time to get out of the sun, so we took a short cut back to the boat. A male Northern Wheatear was singing around the abandoned factory buildings.

Wheatear

Northern Wheatear – singing around the abandoned factory

After a break for water and/or coffee back at the boat, we motored round to a former fish farm nearby. There were lots of Whiskered Terns flying round over the pools, but a group of people had set up for a picnic at the viewing platform, so we carried on down the channel. We went looking for a Penduline Tit nest. The reeds were too tall at the first site we tried, but we did see the pair of adult Penduline Tits in the trees calling. Further on, we found another nest hanging in the lowest branches of a willow, just above the reeds, an amazing construction. The remains of last year’s nest was still hanging in the branches further in. It was all quiet here though, so perhaps the female was incubating.

Continuing on, we stopped to look at a pair of Red-backed Shrikes in the bushes on the bank. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was singing here too, and perched up in the top of a bush for ages, being unusually obliging. Back round to Caraorman channel, a Common Cuckoo perched on the wires.

Common Cuckoo

Common Cuckoo – abundant in the Delta

As we headed back towards the floating hotel, we heard another Savi’s Warbler reeling. This one seemed to be closer, and a careful scan revealed it perched up in the reeds in full view. We stopped the boat and had a good look at this typically very elusive species. We certainly would not go hungry this week – lunch was another three courses of soup with meatballs, followed by stuffed vine leaves and a delicious traditional pudding.

Savi's Warbler

Savi’s Warbler – we had a good view of this typically elusive species

After lunch, the floating hotel was towed slowly back up to the main channel at Crisan before turning onto the course of the old Danube. Here we got back onto the smaller boat again, to head out for the afternoon. As we motored slowly along a side channel, we could hear several Golden Orioles fluting from some very tall poplars. We saw a couple flying in and out through the treetops, but you had to be quick to get on them. Both Grey-headed Woodpecker and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker were calling here too, but there was no sign of any Black Woodpeckers today.

The usual selection of herons flew out of the trees beside the channel as we passed, and a Little Bittern flew out of the reeds and alongside the boat, before crashing back in. We were still waiting for a really good view of one perched in the reeds. Turning on to Bogdaproste channel, Common Cuckoos were everywhere again. Several Hobbys zoomed in and out of the trees on the banks, and one perched up nicely.

Hobby

Hobby – perched up nicely in the trees by the boat

There were lots of Rollers here too – one pair was coming in and out of a nest hole in a tree, and another male was bringing food for the female. An Otter was floating in the channel ahead of the boat, crunching on something it had just caught. As we cut the engine, it saw us and dived.

Roller 1

Roller – we saw several pairs in the trees along the channels

The water opened out into Lake Bogdaproste, where we found a scattering of White Pelicans and Pygmy Cormorants, plus rafts of Common Pochard and Eurasian Coot. Two Black Terns flew over calling behind the boat, but disappeared away from us before we could get a good view. We could see several distant Pallas’s Gulls circling and as we motored across the lake we noticed one on the water, so we diverted over for a closer look. We got much closer before it took off – a very smart gull with its black hood and black-and-white wing tips, and multi-coloured yellow bill.

Through the channel on the far side, we found ourselves coming out into another large lake. As we were crossing, we could see some very distant Whiskered Terns hovering over an island of vegetation on the far side, and we picked up a White-winged Black Tern in with them, so we headed over for closer look. As we got nearer, we could see there were actually two White-winged Black Terns and lots of Black Terns too, at least a dozen, loafing on the floating vegetation. We had great views of one of the White-winged Black Terns dip feeding beside the boat – a real bonus, as they are not common here, with just a few pairs breeding in inaccessible areas. All the terns then took off, and flew round over the boat.

Black Tern 1

Black Tern – breeds fairly commonly in the Delta

White-winged Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern – the rarest of the three ‘marsh terns’ in the Delta

Continuing on to the next lake, a pair of rubirostris Greylag Geese swam across in front of the boat with four goslings. An amazing number of Whiskered Terns, probably at least 150 pairs, were starting to nest on carpet of floating vegetation here. We sailed along a channel through the middle, and had amazing views of them flying all round the boat, calling noisily. What an experience! A Hooded Crow flew over, and was immediately chased by a horde of Whiskered Terns. It made repeated visits, looking for eggs. Two Black-necked Grebes swam along the channel ahead of us.

Whiskered Tern 2

Whiskered Tern – nest-building on the floating vegetation on the lakes

Whiskered Tern 1

Whiskered Tern – amazing close views as we sailed across the lake

As we sailed back through the lakes, there were lots of Great Cormorants nesting in the surrounding trees. One tree on the edge of the reeds was full of cormorants of two species, Great and Pygmy Cormorants side by side, so we could really appreciate the size difference. Another Pallas’s Gull was swimming ahead of us on the water, and allowed us to approach closer still before it finally took off and flew round past us. Then we headed back to meet the floating hotel which was moored on a different channel nearby.

Pallas's Gull

Pallas’s Gull – we came across several adults out on the larger lakes

After a break to freshen up, we met up on deck to do the day’s list. A group of eight White Pelicans was loafing and preening on a log by the boat, Whiskered Terns and Marsh Harriers were flying round, another Savi’s Warbler was reeling in the distance, and several Great Reed Warblers were singing in the reeds nearby. After dinner of salad, breaded chicken and local cake, we retired to a deafening chorus of Marsh Frogs outside. Another amazing location and a privilege to be able to spend the night out here again.

TUESDAY 4TH JUNE

Up on the deck before breakfast, we spotted a White-tailed Eagle which had obviously roosted in a tree a short way back along the channel. Three Black Terns patrolled up and down the channel past us and we could hear Bearded Tits and Penduline Tit calling from the reeds, and the Savi’s Warbler was still reeling.

After breakfast, on the smaller boat we headed down to look at the White-tailed Eagle. It eventually took off, and flew back upstream, where it caught a fish and landed on the floating vegetation nearby to eat it. We turned round and motored back and had a great view of it feeding, before it eventually flew again.

White-tailed Eagle

White-tailed Eagle – caught a fish just after breakfast

Continuing on along the channel, we saw the usual selection of herons, cormorants, Red-necked Grebes and Ferruginous Ducks – amazing that these species had become so commonplace after just a couple of days here!

Ferruginous Duck

Ferruginous Duck – a common sight out in the Delta

On the next channel, there were more trees either side, with several Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps singing. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker called and a Grey-headed Woodpecker flew across and perched in a dead willow, the first of several we would see today. Once again, there were plenty of Cuckoos, Rollers and Kingfishers, with one of the latter perching up nicely as we passed.

We came out into a more open agricultural area. Several Western Yellow Wagtails flew up calling and one perched on the top of a dead stem. With its dark grey head and white supercilium it was a ‘dombrowskii’, a hybrid form of Black-headed and Blue-headed Wagtails, a speciality of Romania. A little further on, a Cattle Egret was standing on the grassy bank, the first we had got a good look at – they are not very common here.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret – uncommon in the Delta

A female Red-footed Falcon was perched in a willow right above the channel, so we stopped the boat for a look. It was perched just above our heads, staring down at us, and then a male came up off a nest in the tree nearby. The male flew round calling, so we backed off, and watched as the female returned to the nest. We saw several more Red-footed Falcons as we motored along this stretch of channel.

Red-footed Falcon 1

Red-footed Falcon – the female perched in the trees above us

Red-footed Falcon 2

Red-footed Falcon – the male came up off the nest and flew round

Everyone also finally got a look at a Golden Oriole, albeit just in flight, as one came out of the trees and headed away down the channel. Further on, a shrike in the willows was hidden from view at first, but when it finally flew up into the top, we could see it was a Lesser Grey Shrike, its black mask extending over the top of its bill and with a pink flush to the breast. It flew round the back of the trees and we noticed there were now two perched up together in a bush, a pair. Several Grass Snakes and Dice Snakes swam across the channel as we motored on.

There was a large area of reeds on the right of the channel and lots of Glossy Ibises and Purple Herons were flying round as we passed. When we came to a more open area of short wet grass, we counted at least 80 Great White Egrets in one big group, feeding. There were lots of White Storks here too, plus the usual Grey Herons and Little Egrets. We turned onto another channel at the far side of this field and headed out across the meadows where lots of horses and cattle were grazing. A pair of Hoopoes on the bank, flew off ahead of us. A pair of European Stonechat perched on some wires. A couple more Western Yellow Wagtails flew up, one another ‘dombrowskii’ and one a normal Black-headed Wagtail.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – another common heron in the Delta

The channel disappeared into some dense trees. Another Grey-headed Woodpecker flew across and perched up nicely, but a couple of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were typically more elusive, just heard calling. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers were singing. A succession of Black-crowned Night Herons and Grey Herons flew out of the bushes ahead of us.

We had our coffee break as we sailed down here before, at the end, we came out into a huge open lake. We were closer to the main White Pelican breeding site here, a restricted area, but we could see several hundred circling in the distance. There were just a few on the lake here though, along with two Dalmatian Pelicans. Apart from that, all we could find here were a rather distant Pallas’s Gull, a distant White-tailed Eagle, and a distant Little Bittern which flew across. The next lake had a similar variety of birds.

Taking the sinuous Eracle channel back, one of the group spotted a Black Stork circling high over the reeds to one side, a new bird for the trip. As if that wasn’t good enough, we had just started moving again when someone else spotted an owl in the trees. We turned back and found a Long-eared Owl staring back out at us – a very good spot as we motored past! As we pulled up towards the bank, a second Long-eared Owl flew out of the trees.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl – well spotted by a member of the group in the trees

As we continued on along the channel, it clouded over, and we could hear a thunderstorm away to our left. We turned into a small lake, covered in lily pads, where at least twelve Black Terns were dipping down to the vegetation with all the Whiskered Terns. There were several Black-necked Grebes here too. It started spitting with rain now, and continued on and off as we made our way back to the floating hotel for lunch. It felt much cooler too. At least the local weather forecast promised us that the rain would end in precisely 23 minutes!

After lunch and a short break, it had indeed stopped raining as forecast, so we headed out again on the small boat, through various small channels. A smart male Marsh Harrier circled low over. A Purple Heron flew across with a Grass Snake in its bill. A Savi’s Warbler was reeling and when we got out of the small channel we were in and it opened out, we found it perched high on a dead reed stem. Along the next channel, with lots of trees either side, a Thrush Nightingale was singing from deep in cover.

We came out on the Stipoc channel, by an old fish farm which has now been converted into agricultural land (but would make a fantastic nature reserve!). A couple of Stock Doves were on the wires by the farm buildings and a liberal scattering of Rollers were then on the wires all the way down. Several Red-footed Falcons hovered out over the open grassland. A Corn Bunting sang from the top of a bush on the bank on one side and a Sedge Warbler sand from the reeds on the other. We stopped to look at a European Pond Terrapin which was basking on a log in an area of pondweed and realised there were several more lurking in the weed nearby.

European Pond Terrapin

European Pond Terrapin – several were in a weedy along the channel

There was an area of open water and wet grass on the other side of the channel. A couple of small flocks of White Pelicans were swimming in the water and lots of Great White Egrets, Little Egrets, Glossy Ibises and a single Cattle Egret were feeding in the wet grass. Two Green Sandpipers flew round calling, and landed in the vegetation. Four Black-tailed Godwits were feeding here too.

Two Western Yellow Wagtails flew up from the grass, one an obvious ‘dombrowskii’, but the other looked like it might be a Black-headed Wagtail until we got better look. Then we could see it had some grey on the nape, and a small amount of white in the supercilium. The Western Yellow Wagtails here are a real minefield of different hybrid forms!

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike – perched in the willows above the channel

Further on, another Lesser Grey Shrike was perched up in the top of a willow overhanging the channel. Two Golden Orioles flew across over the reeds, across the channel ahead of us and up into the trees the other side. A Musk Rat swam across in front of us, but dived and must have resurfaced in the reeds. Two Hobbys and another female Red-footed Falcon were perched in the trees as we made our way over to Lake Furtuna.

As we came out into the huge open lake, a White-tailed Eagle was down in the reeds on the edge of the water on one side. We started to head over towards it, but it was chased off by a Hooded Crow before we got there. We could see lots of White Pelicans gathered over the far side so we decided to head over that way instead. They were loafing on islands of reed and logs, several immatures, but including several breeding adults with orange facial skin and bump on the forehead.

White Pelicans 2

White Pelicans – there were lots loafing around on Lake Furtuna this evening

There were several Black-necked Grebes with the Great Crested Grebes over by the reeds and Pygmy Cormorants flying back and forth. The channel the other side was absolutely covered with Mayflies low over the water, but others were also flying round, providing food for the Black-headed Gulls and Whiskered Terns which were hawking up and catching them.

Pygmy Cormorant 2

Pygmy Cormorant – with a distinctive flight silhouette

The floating hotel was moored over the other side of the lake and when we got back there we could hear a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling in the trees nearby and a Little Bittern was hiding in the reeds. We watched the sun set with White Pelicans swimming past outside over dinner.

WEDNESDAY 5TH JUNE

Up on the deck before breakfast this morning, it was a stunning view with the early light out on the lake. Several White Pelicans swam past and Pygmy Cormorants and Caspian Gulls were flying around.

White Pelican

White Pelican – swimming past the floating hotel early morning

After breakfast, we could see a feeding frenzy out on the other side of the lake, so we motored over on the small boat for a closer look. There were at least 2,500 Great Cormorants and 175-200 White Pelicans. They were obviously chasing a shoal of fish across the lake, and the stragglers at the back of the flock kept flying up in smaller groups, leapfrogging the massed horde and landing again at the front. Amazing to watch!

By the time we got over, they had chased the shoal of fish across the lake and into the reeds over the far side. Some of the White Pelicans were swimming in and out of the reeds trying to find them again. About a dozen Little Egrets were waiting on the floating vegetation beside the reeds to see what might be pushed their way. Then the shoal of fish reappeared out in the middle, and everything raced back over and started feeding again, the White Pelicans in groups upending in unison.

Feeding frenzy

Feeding Frenzy – thousands of Great Cormorants and hundreds of White Pelicans

We headed back out of the lake along the channel next to where we had moored for the night. As we were motoring slowly along, we noticed a Little Bittern climb up into the top of the reeds on one side. It was promptly chased off by a second Little Bittern and we watched the two of them fly round after each other. One landed again in the top of the reeds right on the edge of the channel, where we had a great look at it, a smart male with a bright red bill, indicating it was in breeding condition. The two of them then chased round over the reeds again and disappeared back.

We were on a wide channel now, with very big mature trees on the bank on one side. We were hoping to find a Black Woodpecker along here, but the best we could manage was a Black Woodpecker nest hole in a dead tree beside the channel. The hole looked reasonably fresh, so we waited for a minute and listened, but there was no sign of any woodpeckers. Two Common Starlings were in the tree but we didn’t see them using the hole.

Further on, a family of Great Crested Grebes were in the weeds beside the channel, and we watched as the three juveniles climbed onto the back of one of the adults as we passed. Just beyond, we could see a Red-necked Grebe and a Ferruginous Duck. Two White-tailed Eagles were perched in the trees above.

Little Bittern 1

Little Bittern – with some bright red on the bill base

Another male Little Bittern flew across the channel ahead of us, and once again perched up nicely in the reeds on the far side, allowing us to get quite close. We had a good view before it flew back across the tops of the reeds, its bill bright but not quite as red as the one earlier. It already seemed like this might be the day of the Little Bittern!

There was lots of lush vegetation along the bank here and as we carried on we heard two Thrush Nightingales singing deep in cover. We stopped and listened for Black Woodpecker, but once again there was no sign. However, we did find a female Golden Oriole mobbing a Hooded Crow in a willow bush right on the edge of the water. It possibly had a nest nearby, as the male was flying in and out of the trees behind too. We drifted over and had a good view of it, finally a perched Golden Oriole!

Golden Oriole

Golden Oriole – we finally got good views of one perched

We tried another channel for woodpeckers. A Grey-headed flew over, and we heard both Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted calling, but once again there was no sign of any Black. We joined the main channel for a bit at Mila 23 before we turned onto another side channel. A Red-backed Shrike flew up into a willow on the bank, but landed out of view.

Yet another Little Bittern flew across. Out into a lake, a single Red-necked Grebe was outnumbered by all the Great Crested Grebes. An adult Black-crowned Night Heron was feeding on the lilypads on one edge, chasing frogs, but kept sinking into the vegetation when it landed. A White-tailed Eagle was perched in the distance, in the top of a dead tree beyond the lake. As we sailed through a narrow channel and out into the next lake beyond, two more Little Bitterns chased round through the tops of the reeds.

Little Bittern 2

Little Bittern – it was definitely the best morning for them today!

The next channel had more lily pads and floating vegetation either side. We had just remarked how the Squacco Herons has been outnumbered by Little Bitterns this morning, when normal service was  resumed and five Squacco Herons flew out! There were several Red-necked Grebes in the lilypads too – the first pair had the juveniles on the back of one of the adults, but swam into the reeds as we approached. The second pair were much more obliging, and stayed lurking in amongst the lilypads as we passed.

Red-necked Grebe 2

Red-necked Grebe – in the lilypads as we sailed past

A smart male Red-footed Falcon was perched in a tree in some dead branches just above the channel, and stared down as we passed right underneath. We had a great view, slaty grey with red ‘trousers’, bright red legs and feet and red cere and eye ring. Stunning! As we made our way back round to the floating hotel, a female Red-footed Falcon was perched in another tree, rather pale buff below and with brown wings, presumably a young bird in its 2nd calendar year.

Red-footed Falcon 3

Red-footed Falcon – perched in a dead tree above the channel

Back at the floating hotel, our stay in the Delta was unfortunately coming to an end. Up on deck before we set off on the journey back, two more Little Bitterns chased each other round an island of reeds in the middle of the junction between two channels. It really had been a day for them! As we set off on board the hotel, past the reeds where they had landed, one flew out and across the channel on the other side. We scanned the reeds for the other one but all we could find was a Great Reed Warbler feeding down at the base of the reeds.

As we motored back, we would be passing the White-tailed Eagle nest we had visited on Sunday. We were just coming up towards the eerie when suddenly one of the adults flew out of the trees right beside the boat, before circling round over the trees where the nest was. We slowed down to have a look at the nest, but the two youngsters had climbed up into the tree above and were half hidden in the leaves.

We didn’t have a chance to look at them though because, just at that moment, a Black Woodpecker called in the trees right by the nest. We glimpsed it dropping down through the branches, but we were going away all the time and not everyone got onto it. Then it flew out, right past us up on the top deck, and landed in the top of a dead tree just ahead. We had a good view of it now, its red crown catching the light as it turned, before it flew on. A great way to finish our visit to the Delta!

Black Woodpecker

Black Woodpecker – just as we were sailing back out of the Delta

We retired inside for lunch – soup with meatballs, vegetable stew, followed by apple strudel. It was a slow journey back on the floating hotel, so we relaxed on deck listening to all the birds singing in the lush trees along Mila 36 –  a Thrush Nightingale and lots of Common Nightingales, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Common Redstarts, a couple of Collared Flycatchers. Several Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen, but Middle Spotted and more Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were only heard. Kingfishers zipped back and forth calling.

Back out onto the main Tulcea branch of the Danube, there were more Caspian Gulls. Several Western Yellow Wagtails on the grassy bank as we approached Tulcea looked like ‘dombrowskii’ again. We spent our last night on the boat in the harbour, with a delicious dinner of the local speciality, tochitura.

THURSDAY 6TH JUNE

We were up early, and after breakfast said our goodbyes to the floating hotel. As we drove west out of Tulcea, a Glossy Ibis was feeding in the plastic rubbish along the shore of a lake. In the villages, we saw White Storks on their nests as we passed. Out into more open country, there were Bee-eaters flying around the old terraces in the grassy fields. Our first stop was near Somova.

As we got out of the bus, a male Red-backed Shrike was perched in the top of an oak tree. A large flock of Common Swifts circled high overhead, a few Sand Martins with them. We started to walk up along the track towards the trees but hadn’t got very far when a male Levant Sparrowhawk flew over. We watched as it circled up high with the Swifts.

Levant Sparrowhawk 1

Levant Sparrowhawk – this male flew over first thing this morning

In the open woodland, a Hoopoe was calling and several Golden Orioles were fluting. We had brief views of both as they flew round. A woodpecker called, and flew across, landed on the trunk of an oak tree. We walked over to try to get a look at it and confirmed it was a Syrian Woodpecker. We watched it repeatedly dropping down to the ground, then flying back up to the trunk.

A little further on, another Levant Sparrowhawk, this time a female, flew up from the ground and landed in another tree. We had a great view of it in the scope – we could see its gular stripe and more heavily barred underparts than the male.

Levant Sparrowhawk 2

Levant Sparrowhawk – this female flew up into the trees

It was getting hot now, a good time for raptors. First, three Common Buzzards circled up over a distant ridge, and were joined by a Marsh Harrier. Then a Booted Eagle came up, followed by couple of Honey Buzzards. All were rather distant, but thankfully shortly afterwards, a Booted Eagle and a Honey Buzzard appeared much closer, over the trees, along with a Hobby.

Several Sousliks (aka European Ground Squirrels) appeared in the short grass before disappearing down into their burrows. Lots of grasshoppers and moths came up from the vegetation as we walked through, along with Silver-studded Blues and a couple of Lesser Spotted Fritillaries. A small group of Hawfinches flew over calling. We met the bus again down by the road further on, and stopped for a cold drink. A flock of White Pelicans were circling up in the distance beyond the ridge. Another male Levant Sparrowhawk flew over with a lizard in its talons.

Souslik

Souslik – there were several in the short grass

Our next stop was at the monastery at Celtic Dere. A couple of male Red-backed Shrikes were around the gardens and farmyard by the parking area. We took the track up to the old orchard, where a Turtle Dove was purring and an Icterine Warbler was singing in the trees.

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike – a male, one of several at Celic Dere

Several Golden Orioles flew back and forth over the opening clearing, including a stunning golden male. Lots of Hawfinches zipped over in ones and twos, calling. On the edge of the wood over on the far side, a Black Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher were feeding, dropping down from the trees to the grass below.

A Steppe Buzzard flew over – different to the Common Buzzards we had seen earlier, with a rather pale rufous tail, dark rusty body and underwing coverts, prominent clean white bases to the flight feathers with a well-marked black trailing edge.

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard – different to the Common Buzzards we saw

Walking through the trees on one side, we came out into another clearing by the stream, where a Nuthatch was calling. We followed the track here up and into the wood. A striking longhorn beetle was in the middle of the track and when we stopped to look at it, we could hear a Red-breasted Flycatcher singing a little further on. It was very active, constantly changing perch, and hard to follow at times in all the trees. Eventually it came out closer to the track, and everyone got a better look at it. There were lots of Icterine Warblers calling and singing in the trees too, but they were very hard to see high in the branches.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher – this male was singing in the trees

As we walked back down the track, we finally got good views of a pair in the trees over the path. A Hawfinch flew in and perched briefly on a branch and a Wood Warbler was singing deep in the wood. A family of Marsh Tits worked their way through the trees beside the path. We made our way back out of the trees. A Wryneck had been seen earlier by another group up along the edge of the stream so we walked up to look for it. There was no sign of it, but we decided to stop here for lunch and the minibus drove over to join us.

Just as lunch was set out, a Middle Spotted Woodpecker called in the tree right over the picnic table. We had to take a few steps back to see it, feeding high on the trunk. While we were watching the woodpecker, the Wryneck called once from the same tree. We didn’t see it fly out, but despite looking from all round the tree there was no further sign of it.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Middle Spotted Woodpecker – feeding in the tree above us while we were having lunch

Over lunch, there were Greenfinches and Goldfinches coming down to drink in the streak. Another flock of White Pelicans and another Booted Eagle, this time a pale phase, circled up over the ridge beyond. A young Long-legged Buzzard was chased by two Steppe Buzzards over the clearing.

After lunch, we had a longer drive over to the Macin Mountains. There were lots of White Stork nests in the villages on the way, and several Rollers and Bee-eaters on the wires by the road. We eventually turned off the road and up along a rough track. There were a few Corn Buntings on the wires but pride of place went to a smart male Black-headed Bunting here too. They are scarce here, so always a good bird to catch up with, and this one posed nicely as we pulled up in the minibus alongside it.

Black-headed Bunting

Black-headed Bunting – this smart male was on the wires by the track

There were a few Rollers in the trees and on the wires too, and a Short-toed Lark flew up from a field of sunflowers as we passed.

Roller 2

Roller – there were one or two on the wires too

We parked opposite a quarry. As we got out of the bus, a pair of Crested Larks flew in and one of them perched up nicely nearby. We walked over through the grass towards the quarry, flushing lots of grasshoppers, moths and butterflies as we walked. A female Pied Wheatear appeared on the rocks in the grass and stayed just long enough for us to get a quick look at it, before it flew back up into the quarry. Scanning the rock faces, we found several smart black and white male Pied Wheatears and we had a look at them in the scope. An Ortolan Bunting was singing, and we picked up a couple of males distantly on the rocks. A Northern Wheatear flew in too.

We could hear a Common Rock Thrush singing, but couldn’t see it at first. As we scanned the rock faces looking for it, we did find a Long-legged Buzzard on a nest. Then the Rock Thrush flew in over the top of the quarry and landed on the rocks on the top ridge. It flew up singing a few times, gliding round with its wings and rusty tail fanned. It was very active, constantly flying around the quarry, the white patch on its back really standing out when it turned and caught the sun.

It was a hot afternoon, so we walked back to the minibus for a drink of cold water and then stopped in the next village for an ice cream. Afterwards, we headed out onto an area of steppe. It didn’t take long to find an Isabelline Wheatear perched on bush. We stopped and got out, and realised there were several more here too. We got one in the scope, perched on the top of a ridge. Others were feeding in the short grass or occasionally hovering up singing.

Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear – common out in the steppe grassland

We had a brief glimpse of a Tawny Pipit, but couldn’t refind it, despite walking round through grass where it had been. A Short-toed Lark fluttered singing high in the sky, and one or two Turtle Doves flew over. A Spur-thighed Tortoise appeared on top of the bank where the Isabelline Wheatear had been earlier, but disappeared surprisingly quickly into a hole. Finally the Tawny Pipits showed themselves. Two chased each other round just behind us, and one landed on the same grassy bank, where we got it in the scope. Another two then appeared on the other side of the track and then, as we got back into the bus, one was quite close by in the grass.

We had heard a thunderstorm building away in the distance, and could see the rain now lashing down over the hills. It was a long drive back to Tulcea, and we caught the edge of the rain on our way. But it was dry back in Tulcea as we checked into our guesthouse for the night.

FRIDAY 7TH JUNE

It was another early start, to try to beat the heat of the day, but it was already getting quite warm as we arrived on the edge of Babadag Forest. The minibus dropped us off and we walked down a track through the scrubby woodland.

There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine – Cardinal and Silver-washed Fritillaries, Ilex Hairstreak, Silver-studded and Green-underside Blues – and loads of dragonflies – mostly Lesser Emperor and Norfolk Hawker.

Ilex Hairstreak

Ilex Hairstreak – one of several butterflies seen this morning

We found several Spur-thighed Tortoises in the grass, and lizards including Snake-eyed (European Copper) Skink and Balkan Wall Lizard.

Spur-thighed Tortoise

Spur-thighed Tortoise – a young one, in the Babadag Forest

There were not many birds active now – a Chiffchaff, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Blackcap and one or two Common Nightingales singing, and a few commoner tits. We had really come to try to see Sombre Tit and we thought our luck was in when we heard one call close by. We stood and listened but it didn’t call again and disappeared deeper into the scrub. Despite looking, we couldn’t find it again. We carried on along the track, where several Turtle Doves were purring and Golden Orioles were fluting, with one or two of each seen flying back and forth.

The raptors were starting to circle up now that it was getting hot, Booted Eagles and a Common Buzzard. As we got out of the trees and into a more open area, we heard a Levant Sparrowhawk call and looked back to see two displaying over the trees. We met the minibus here, down by the road. As we stopped for a drink of water, we spotted a couple of Isabelline Wheatears perched up on small dead stems sticking up out of the short grass. We could hear Tawny Pipit and Ortolan Bunting singing too. There were more butterflies out here too, in particular several striking black and white Great Banded Grayling.

Great Banded Grayling

Great Banded Grayling – common in the open grass on the edge of the forest

Back in the minibus, we drove over to a track across a rough area of open ground, where we found three more Turtle Doves, plus several more Isabelline and Northern Wheatears. We stopped to look at a Corn Bunting in the top of a bush and it was joined by a male Spanish Sparrow. The track continued over to the edge of some open woodland, where we stopped and got out for a walk.

A Red-backed Shrike was in the bushes right next to where we parked, and there were several Ortolan Buntings singing as we walked up the hill. A Woodlark flew over singing, and several more came up out of the short grass, but there was no sign of any Sombre Tits here.

Ortolan Bunting

Ortolan Bunting – this one perched in the top of an oak tree singing

We walked back to the minibus, stopping on the way to look at an Ortolan Bunting which perched in the top of an oak tree. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker was calling in the trees too. We were back at the minibus and jst about to get back on when we heard a Sombre Tit calling from somewhere in the trees nearby. We walked into through trees, and played cat and mouse for several minutes, before we eventually tracked them down. A pair of Sombre Tits, feeding quietly in the trees, right within sight of the bus!

There had been thunderstorms audible off in the distance for a while, but now unfortunately it started to rain here, so we dashed back and into the minibus. It was a long drive south to Vadu, and it was raining on and off for much of the journey – not what we had been forecast. When we arrived in the village, we decided to stop for lunch first and it was a good call as it stopped raining and started to brighten up.

After lunch, it was hot and sunny again as we headed back to an area of pools we had passed on the edge of the village. As we got out of the bus again, there were  several Bee-eaters on the wires. We could hear Red-footed Falcons calling in the trees across the road, and we could just see a nest up in one of the trees.

Turning our attention to the pools, we scanned round the edge where there were lots of Little Gulls. We counted 44, mostly young, 1st summer birds. A pair of Pied Avocets, several Green Sandpipers and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers were on the shore too, along with a single smart summer plumage Little Stint. There were Shelducks on the brackish pool at the front, and several Great Crested Grebes and Ferruginous Ducks on the larger fishing pond behind.

Little Gull

Little Gulls – we counted 44 around the first pool we looked at

A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds on one edge and, as we walked down the hill and round the pools, three Red-footed Falcons and a Hobby flew overhead. At the back of the pools, we found two different waders in the far corner, two Marsh Sandpipers in breeding plumage, late migrants through here. We had a good view of them through the scope.

Marsh Sandpiper

Marsh Sandpiper – one of two still at Vadu

We cut back round to the road on the far side of the village, where we met the minibus again. After a quick drink, we continued on along the road past the old abandoned communist-era factory buildings. We found several pairs of Northern Wheatears in the sandy grassland, with at least two feeding streaky juveniles. Then once we got to the damper areas with reeds, there were lots of Western Yellow Wagtails in a bewildering array of different forms, a couple that looked good for pure Black-headed Wagtail, but mainly ‘dombrowskii’ types of varying hues, and even one ‘xanthophrys’ with a black head and yellow supercilium.

Two Collared Pratincoles appeared, hawking high over the reeds, with one at one point coming quite close overhead, rather like a cross between a tern and a swallow. A little further on, three were loafing down on the short grass where the cattle were grazing. Several Spoonbills and pelicans circled over too.

Collared Pratincole

Collared Pratincole – hawking for insects above the reeds

Our main target here was Paddyfield Warbler, but we weren’t sure how easy it would be to find one in the heat of the afternoon. At first, we found nothing but Eurasian Reed Warblers, singing or collecting food. There were Great Reed Warblers singing too, with one or two seen flying across over the tops of the reeds. We heard Bearded Tits pinging and saw several zooming back and forth. And there were Reed Buntings here as well.

Then, as we walked slowly along the road, we heard a Paddyfield Warbler singing further up. We hurried along, and found it perched briefly on a stem in the top of the reeds. For those who were there quickly, it was a good view, but all too quickly it disappeared down into the reeds. Several of the group had gone back in the bus to use the facilities in the village, so had missed it. It was still singing but with a bit of a breeze, it was keeping well down in the reeds most of the time. We stuck at it though, and eventually it made another appearance for those who didn’t see it first time. The Black Sea coast of Romania is the westernmost point of the breeding range of Paddyfield Warbler, so you need to see it here, unless you want to go further east!

Paddyfield Warbler

Paddyfield Warbler – we found one singing in the reeds

There were some large sandy banks surrounding some wet basins a little further on, so we walked up for a look. On the first, hundreds of pairs of Common Terns were nesting. Two Little Gulls were in with them, along with several Common Redshanks round the edge of the islands. The basin on the other side of the road was deeper and less productive. Four Spoonbills and a Grey Heron flushed from the brackish marsh on the edge of the reeds on the way, and a Purple Heron flew over.

It is a long drive own to the coast even from here, and we had one more area we wanted to visit this afternoon, so we decided to head back, with a quick stop on the way for ice cream. We made our way over to an agricultural area, passing through another band of rain on the way, and turned onto a newly tarmacked road through the fields. A Calandra Lark circled over a rough field of grass and oats, just the bird we had come to see, but dropped down out of view.

We continued on slowly up the road and stopped by a track. Several Western Yellow Wagtails were bathing down in a puddle and two Black-headed Buntings perched in the tops of some young sunflowers in the edge of a field singing. A Red Fox walked down the track towards us.

We could see another Calandra Lark standing in the middle of the road further up. It seemed to like the new tarmac, as a couple of times it flew round but came back to the road. We drove slowly up towards it, but we were looking through the windscreen and into the sun so it was not going to be the best of views. The Calandra Lark eventually flew up, but circled round and landed again on the road behind. Now we got out and had a look at it through the scope. There was a lot of heat haze from the tarmac, but it helpfully decided to fly up and land much closer to us, where we could see its big bill and black neck patches.

Calandra Lark

Calandra Lark – kept coming back to the new tarmac

Eventually it flew again, right past us, flashing the broad white trailing edge to its wings and black underwings, before dropping down in the middle of a field of wheat. There were several other Calandra Larks flying round over the fields and several Skylarks here too.

Two Long-legged Buzzards circled over while we were standing here. Then we looked up across the fields to see a Montagu’s Harrier quartering along a ridge. It had been sunny, but now it started to spit with rain again. We had been very lucky dodging the showers this afternoon – we hadn’t been caught by the rain at all while we were out – and it was time to head back anyway now, with a long drive to Tulcea ahead.

Long-legged Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard – one of two which circled over

Back at the guesthouse, after a break to freshen up and start packing, we gathered for our final dinner, which was finished off with a celebratory cake prepared by the guesthouse to mark the end of our visit.

SATURDAY 8TH JUNE

After a more leisurely breakfast, we checked out of the guesthouse and set off on the long drive back to Bucharest. We had a quick stop on the way at an area of marshes for Ruddy Shelduck.

As soon as got out of minibus, we saw one flying across over the water down below the hillside. There was a big colony of Sand Martins by the road, and several Bee-eaters with them. Two Rollers flew past and a Cuckoo came over calling. It was great we had seen so many Common Cuckoos on this trip – mostly in the Delta, but we had seen at least one every day so it was good to keep up the record. Further down the grassy hillside, a Hoopoe was feeding out on the grass with a single Isabelline Wheatear nearby.

We walked down the path to where we could get a better view out over the marshes and found at least 9 adult Ruddy Shelducks here, including a pair with several shelducklings. There were a few waders out on the marshes too. Several Black-winged Stilts and Lapwings were out in the middle, and two Green Sandpipers were down on a muddy patch on the near edge. Four Collared Pratincoles flew high overhead calling. In the distance, we could see lots of White Storks circling over the hillside beyond, and a Spoonbill flew in.

All too quickly it was sadly time to move on again. We had another break for an early lunch at the filling station back in Slobozia, where a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes beyond the back fence today.

Then it was on to Bucharest. We got to the airport in good time, only to find our flight was delayed by 20 minutes, but we were soon on our way back to Luton. We sailed through passport control, but then had to wait almost an hour for bags. Welcome back to the UK! Then we bid our farewells and headed off home.

It had been an unforgettable experience – with lots of good birds, good food and good company. If you would be interested in joining us on our next visit to Romania, please get in touch.

22nd June 2019 – Solstice Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of two days of Summer Tours today. It was the reverse of yesterday, with a cooler and cloudy start but brightening up progressively through the day, reaching a very pleasant 21C.

Having explored the coast to the east of Wells yesterday, we headed west today. Our first destination was Holme. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Quail was singing from the verge opposite. As is typical with this species, we couldn’t see where it was hiding but we heard the distinctive ‘wet-my-lips’ song several times, before it went quiet.

A Sedge Warbler was singing from an elder bush in the reeds a little further on down the track, and while we were watching this in the scope, we heard a Grasshopper Warbler start to reel. We looked over in the direction of the sound and found it perched in the top of some brambles. We had a look at it from where we were, and then crept up closer. The Grasshopper Warbler dropped down into the brambles as we approached, but after a minute or so it climbed back up into the top and started reeling again.

Grasshopper Warbler

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling in the top of the brambles

Over the next twenty minutes or so we were treated to some stunning views of this often secretive species. Grasshopper Warbler tends to be very skulking unless it is singing, at which point it will perch out in full view. They normally arrive here in April from their wintering grounds in Africa, then reeling regularly for a while before going quiet as they get down to the business of raising their first brood. They will then reel again more regularly once the first brood is fledged and ahead of a second brood, which is presumably why this one was so vocal today.

It was not just about the Grasshopper Warbler though, as we stood here. A Cuckoo was singing in the distance, out over the grazing marshes. Several Marsh Harriers circled up out in the middle. Two dark chocolate-brown juveniles flew round and perched for a while in the tops of the bushes, and the grey-winged adult male was hunting nearby. A few Common Swifts flew over, heading west.

From here, we walked out to the beach next. A couple of Meadow Pipits were singing in the dunes, fluttering up and parachuting back down. A pair of Stonechats were perched in the bushes with a couple of Linnets. The same or another Cuckoo called in the dunes and we turned to see it flying across just behind us over the saltmarsh.

Lots of Sandwich Terns were flying past just off the beach, with some stopping to hover and plunge dive for fish just offshore. We stood on the tideline for a while and watched them, occasionally hovering and then plunging into the water.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern – hovering just offshore

Three Little Terns flew past, dwarfed by the Sandwich Terns. Then we heard another Little Tern call behind us and we noticed a pair were feeding in a tidal channel a little further along. One landed on the edge of the beach, and we had a good look at it in the scope, with its black-tipped yellow bill and white forehead.

Three Common Eider were swimming just offshore, a smart drake, a blacker immature drake and a brown female. As seaduck, it is not such a surprise to see them here as the family of Shelduck which was swimming some way out on the sea, two adults and five tiny ducklings. At least the sea was flat calm today.

Eider

Common Eider – there were three offshore this morning

Three Sanderlings flew along the beach and landed on the shingle out on the point. Two of them were still in their darker breeding plumage, but one was silvery grey and white, more typical of how they look when we see them here through the winter. As we walked back through the dunes, a Ringed Plover was on the sandbar in the channel. Then in the dunes we flushed a couple of Cinnabar moths and found lots of yellow-and-black striped Cinnabar caterpillars on the ragwort plants.

We made our way down the coast path to the old paddocks next. It was very busy along here – we subsequently found out it was a Norfolk 100km run underway and competitors were going past non-stop. They were apparently already 36km in and some seemed to be suffering accordingly! There were just a couple of Common Whitethroats and a few Linnets in the bushes.

When we got to the golf course, we could hear a Turtle Dove purring in the trees beyond. We cut across to the back of the car park, but when we got out of the trees it had gone quiet. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes in the corner. The refreshment station for the runners was set up on Beach Road, so it was very busy here too. We made our way back along the entrance track, listening to the Cuckoo still calling inland. It was warming up now and there were fewer birds singing.

Round at Titchwell, we decided to stop for an early lunch. A Blackcap was singing in the trees by the Visitor Centre. After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. Two Reed Buntings were singing on the edge of the reedbed and we got one in the scope, perched in the top of a small sallow. Several Reed Warblers were busily darting in and out of the reeds below the path.

A Bearded Tit ‘pinged’, and we looked over to see a female come up out of the reeds close to the path. It didn’t stay long though and flew off over the bank to the Thornham side. One or two more Bearded Tits were zooming back and forth over the reeds further back in the reedbed.

Several Marsh Harriers were circling over the back of the reedbed, up and down out of the reeds, including one or two dark chocolate brown juveniles with tawny heads. At one point, we saw one of the males perform a food pass, circling with prey in its talons before dropping it for one of the youngsters to catch – which it failed to do!

There were a few bits and pieces on the reedbed pool – a female Common Pochard was diving with a couple of ducklings, always good to see as this is a scarce breeding species, plus a few Tufted Duck. A Little Grebe appeared out of the reeds and a Great Crested Grebe was swimming with a stripy-headed juvenile briefly at the back.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – in rusty breeding plumage

Looking out at the Freshmarsh from Island Hide, there were lots of waders out in the middle, mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. A few smaller Knot were in with them, one or two of them in rusty breeding plumage but mostly in grey non-breeding.

Two Spotted Redshanks were roosting out with the godwits, asleep on one leg. They are still in very smart breeding plumage at the moment, sooty black speckled with silvery white spots on the wings. They are mainly passage migrants here, and these ones are on their way back south already, having been up to Scandinavia to breed. They may have failed, or they could be females, which leave the males behind to brood the eggs and look after the young. Hard to believe, with the Summer Solstice just yesterday, that it is autumn already for some of these waders!

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshanks – two in sooty black breeding plumage still

There were lots of Avocets on the Freshmarsh as usual, but today they seemed to be mostly sleeping, sat down on the islands. They gather to moult here later in the summer, and it felt like many of them had already slipped into post-breeding mode. Eventually one came in and started feeding in front of the hide, where we could get a closer look at it.

Somebody in the hide spotted a Bearded Tit low down in the edge of the reeds, so we all gathered for a look. It disappeared in out of view, but reappeared again shortly afterwards, a tawny brown juvenile. It then spent some time out in the open on a reed stem preening, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. A couple of juvenile Moorhens were running around on the mud in front of it.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile in the edge of the reeds from Island Hide

The number of ducks on the freshmarsh is steadily increasing, as birds start to return, particularly Teal, of which there were many more now. The resident drakes are already moulting into eclipse – it is getting harder to find a smart drake Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler now. There are still good numbers of adult Shelduck, although they will be leaving us to head off to moult in the coming weeks.

The Freshmarsh has been dominated by the gulls all summer, mainly Black-headed Gulls. They are now spending more time loafing on the islands, and looking through we found a single Common Tern in with them. There are still plenty of Mediterranean Gulls too, but we went round to Parrinder Hide for a closer look. Some of the Mediterranean Gulls now rest on the islands in front of the hide, so we could get a great look at them through the scope.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gulls – loafing on the islands with the Black-headed Gulls

A Little Ringed Plover was bathing in the water on the edge of one of the islands, and we got it in the scope so we could see its golden yellow eye ring. When it had finished it went running along the edge at high speed and we noticed there was a second Little Ringed Plover a little further along. They spent some time chasing each other up and down the shore. A third was on the edge of the island opposite.

From there, we made our way back round to Patsy’s Reedbed. On the way, we stopped to admire a Common Lizard which was basking in the sunshine on the handrail by the path to Island Hide. A second Common Lizard, slightly larger and darker, was doing the same just a little further along.

Common Lizard

Common Lizard – basking on the handrail by Island Hide

Several Red-crested Pochards were out on the pool, three males all just starting to moult out of their breeding finery, and a female. A Great Crested Grebe swam past with its head under the water, looking for something to chase after.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of three drakes on Patsy’s this afternoon

The Marsh Harriers were still coming and going over the reedbed and a smart grey-winged male circled over the back of Patsy’s. We had a quick scan of the reeds for the Purple Heron, but despite the fact it had apparently been seen again earlier, there was no sign of it now. A Grey Heron out in the reedbed had been causing some confusion, and flew across while we were scanning. We had no inclination to stay here or hour trying to see it.

It was lovely sitting in the sunshine watching the comings and goings out here, but it was now time to head back anyway. As we walked along the tank road, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the sallows.

21st June 2019 – Solstice Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of two days of Summer Tours today. It was a sunny start with clear blue skies and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon, it remained bright and warm. A lovely day to be out on the North Norfolk coast.

To start the day, we set off east along the coast. It was coming up to high tide, so we called in first at Stiffkey Fen to see if any waders had come in to roost from the harbour. As we got out of the minibus, a Barn Owl disappeared round behind the barns. Probably with young to feed somewhere, it was still out hunting into the morning. A Yellowhammer was singing from the tops of the pines and we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the brambles. Having gone quiet while they raised their first broods, the Lesser Whitethroats have started singing again now ahead of a second breeding attempt.

Down along the permissive path, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were singing in the copse. We could hear a Bullfinch calling somewhere in the trees ahead of us too. There was a mixed tit flock feeding down by the road, a large group of Long-tailed Tits plus Blue Tits, Great Tits and a family of Coal Tits. We watched the latter feeding in the pines above the road, the juveniles with light yellow cheeks.

Down along the path by the river, there were rather few House Martins around the house on the hill, which seems to be a worrying theme this year. A Cetti’s Warbler was shouting intermittently from deep in the sallows. Half way down, we could just about see over the brambles to the Fen, where four Spoonbills were roosting. We had a better view of them from up on the seawall, where we could see there were three adults and one short-billed juvenile, a ‘teaspoonbill’. The first juveniles have started to disperse from the breeding colony at Holkham, and are then creched at favoured sites along the coast.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – the juvenile was chasing after one of the adults

The juvenile Spoonbill started begging, trying to persuade one of the adults to feed it. Initially it bobbed its head up and down and started to flap its wings. When the adult tried to walk away, the juvenile set off after it. We watched the two of them walking round for at least 10 minutes, the juvenile Spoonbill relentless. At one point the adult tried to run away but the juvenile simply ran too.

A single Sandwich Tern was loafing in with the Black-headed Gulls. Three Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the harbour calling, two adults and a 1st summer, but they didn’t land and flew on west. A Common Tern was fishing in the harbour channel and kept coming past us while we stood on the bank, occasionally plunging down into the water.

Common Tern

Common Tern – fishing in the harbour channel

There were three Greenshanks on the Fen, roosting over high tide, asleep in the taller vegetation on the island. There were lots of Avocets, with one or two juveniles still. But no other waders on here this morning. Someone came to open up some equipment down by the sluice, and when we asked what it was for, they explained that they were monitoring the movements of the local sea trout population in the River Stiffkey and harbour.

After walking back, we made our way on to Kelling Heath. A Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler were singing in the car park and the first of many Painted Lady butterflies was basking on a bush. There has been a large invasion in recent weeks from the continent and there are still lots around.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – the first of many, basking on a bush in the car park

We had a quick walk round to see if we could find any Adders. They are warm now though and the only one we came across slithered away as we approached, possibly alerted to our approach by all the footsteps. A Garden Warbler was singing in the blackthorn nearby.

Walking on up the hill, a Woodlark flew overhead calling. Unfortunately it didn’t look like coming down and we watched it disappear away into the distance over the car park. There are lots of Silver-studded Blue butterflies out now and we stopped by a good area for them. There were good numbers of blue males fluttering round over the low heather and we found a mating pair, which gave us a good chance to have a closer look at the diagnostic underwing markings. There were a couple of July Belle moths out here too.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair showing the distinctive underwings

Carrying on round the Heath, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler perched in a birch tree. A Common Whitethroat was flitting about in the gorse and another Woodlark flushed from the path ahead of us. A smart male Yellowhammer was singing in a small birch tree. We came across one Stonechat, a male, down by the railway cutting, and another pair the other side of the crossing feeding young in the gorse. There were lots of Linnets here but no sign of any Dartford Warblers again – they seem to be struggling this year.

Linnet

Linnet – a red-breasted male

The surprise of the morning came as we were crossing the railway. We looked up at the gorse bushes the other side, to see a Nightjar flying over them. A couple walking a dog had just gone across ahead of us, so had possibly flushed it. It flew along the top of the bushes, then turned and came across the railway a short distance away. It looped round and landed beneath a birch tree by the path back where we had just come. We walked back to see if we could find it but it flew again, and this time disappeared off through the trees.

It was already after midday, so we headed back to the minibus and dropped down to Cley for lunch at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we could see the 1st summer Little Gull dip feeding out on Pat’s Pool distantly. Afterwards, we walked out to the hides in the middle. Several Sand Martins were hawking over the reeds.

Out first stop was in Teal Hide –  where, appropriately enough, the first bird we saw was the Green-winged Teal. It was swimming out in the middle of the water with several Eurasian Teal, the vertical white foreflank stripe on the Green-winged Teal setting it apart from the horizontal white-lined Eurasians. It was feeding constantly, swimming round with its head mostly under water, only coming up for air occasionally.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – on the left, with a Eurasian Teal on the right

There was a nice selection of other ducks on here too, including Gadwall and Shoveler, the drakes mostly moulting into their drab eclipse plumage already. There were several Shoveler too, with one pair at the back shepherding a large creche of 27 shelducklings.

We spent some time looking closely at the waders here too. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits of two types – mostly Icelandic birds (subspecies islandica), but two Continental Black-tailed Godwits (nominate limosa) were sporting coloured plastic rings which gave their identity away.  The particular combinations identified them as birds from the very small breeding population on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, having wandered here post-breeding.

Waders 1

Waders – Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot and a couple of Avocets

In with the Black-tailed Godwits were a few Bar-tailed Godwits. Most of them were in non-breeding plumage, paler and more heavily streaked above than the equivalent plumage of Black-tailed Godwit, with a more obvious pale supercilium and slightly upturned bill. They were noticeable shorter-legged too, wading with their longer-legged cousins. The Knot with them barely came up to their knees. Again, most were in grey non-breeding plumage but one or two were in their smarter rusty-orange breeding plumage. Several Avocets were feeding in front of the hide, as was a still not fully grown juvenile Redshank.

The waders were all very jumpy and kept flying up. We soon found out why when there was another commotion and we looked up to see a Peregrine flying over with something in its talons. It turned out it had just caught a Redshank flying over behind the hide (hopefully not the youngster we had just seen!). We watched it disappear off east – possibly one of the birds from Cromer church.

Waders 2

Waders – spooked by a Peregrine hunting over the scrapes

Back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off back west, stopping again on our way at Wells. As we parked and got out, we could hear the raspy call of a Grey Partridge in the field next door, but couldn’t see it in all the growing crop. Scanning the islands, we found three more Spoonbills, one of them another juvenile, lurking in the vegetation. When a fourth Spoonbill flew in, it dropped down in the near corner of the pool, down close the track, so we walked down for a closer look.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the corner of the pool by the track

The Spoonbill was busy feeding, with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side in the water as it walked. When it lifted its head, we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult, and the bushy nuchal crest and brownish wash on the breast marked it out as a bird in breeding condition. We had a nice view of it before it flew again and went right to the back of the pool.

The pools here have been very good for waders recently and, although there was nothing today which we hadn’t already seen at Cley, there was still a nice selection. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits were out in the middle, occasionally getting spooked and whirling round overhead. A lone bird, smart in rusty breeding plumage, was feeding on its own in the corner. Several Redshanks flew back and forth, and there were lots of Avocets and Lapwing in the grass.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – in rusty breeding plumage

A small group of Egyptian Geese were loafing in the grass close to the track, and there was a good selection of other wildfowl. As we were about to walk back, a Sedge Warbler started singing and flew up to the front edge of one of the hawthorn bushes to pose. We had a good look at it through the scope, with its bold white supercilium. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.