30th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #3

Day 3 of a three day Summer Tour today, our last day. It was a lovely day to be out, bright with some nice spells of sunshine, slightly less windy than recent days. We set off down to the Brecks.

Our first target was to look for Stone Curlews. At our first stop, a favourite site for them, we pulled up at a gateway and immediately saw four out in a field of pigs. A great start. They were some distance away, so we got out of the car, but as we approached the gate we could see there were more there, at least 10 together in a group, hiding along the edge of the field. What we didn’t realise was that there were many more still, and some were much closer to us, hidden behind a line of tall weeds. Unfortunately they spooked. All of the Stone Curlews took off and we were amazed how many actually were hiding there, we counted 35 in total in the flock as they flew.

Stone Curlew 1Stone Curlews – some of the 35 after they flew out into the middle of the field

Thankfully the Stone Curlews landed again just a little further out. While we were watching them, what appeared to be a different group of ten flew in overhead and out into the field to join them. We couldn’t believe it – 45. However, even then we weren’t finished. We could hear more Stone Curlews calling, away to our right, and looked over to see another ten. At least 55 Stone Curlews!

Stone Curlew 2Stone Curlew – loafing and preening around the fields

We watched the Stone Curlews for some time. They were settled now. Some went to sleep, others were preening. Most moved round until they were tucked back up against the lines of taller vegetation. They usually gather into flocks at the end of the breeding season, but this seems rather early for there to be so many Stone Curlews here. Regardless, it was a fantastic experience, watching so many of them. The group were rendered quite speechless for a while!

Stone Curlew 3Stone Curlews – the pigs occasionally got in the way!

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away. We drove round to another set of pig fields, where there are often large groups of gulls gathering at this time of year. Sure enough, we found a large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls here, so we stopped to scan through them. We found a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls, nice adults with medium grey backs, much paler than the Lesser Black-backs but darker then a Herring Gull, and bright yellow legs.

Yellow-legged GullYellow-legged Gull – with Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the pig fields

Our next stop was over at Lakenheath Fen. We stopped briefly at the Visitor Centre to get an update on what was showing today and were surprised to hear that the Cranes seemed to have flown off already, a couple of days earlier. This is very early this year, as they do not normally leave for the winter until later in August. That was disappointing as we had hoped to see them here today, but still, we went out onto the reserve for a quick look to see what we could find.

New Fen looked quiet at first, with just a family of Coot and a Moorhen on the pool. We picked up a couple of falcons circling over West Wood. The first was a Kestrel, but the second looked more interesting. We got it in the scope and confirmed it was a Hobby. We could see lots of Swifts and hirundines high in the sky over the river. The Hobby circled up, climbing above them, until we eventually lost sight of it in the clouds.

A Kingfisher flew over and disappeared into the trees, just a flash of blue too quick for everyone to see. We could hear it or another calling from the wood behind us, presumably where it is nesting. A little later, it appeared again, and this time hovered for some time, a minute or so, high above a patch of open water in the reeds so that everyone could get a good look at it.

KingfisherKingfisher – hovering over the reeds

Reed Warblers kept zipping back and forth low over the water, in and out of the patch of reeds in the middle of the pool. We heard Bearded Tits calling at one point but it was still a bit breezy today and they kept themselves tucked down in the reeds.

Continuing on across the reserve, we stopped to look at several different dragonflies. There were several different hawkers out – golden-brown-winged Brown Hawkers, a couple of Migrant Hawkers and a smart Southern Hawker which patrolled in front of us at a shady point in the path. There were lots of darters too, several smart red Ruddy Darters along the edge of the reeds and more Common Darters basking on the path.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – there were lots of dragonflies out at Lakenheath Fen today

On one of the pools by the path, an adult Great Crested Grebe was feeding a well grown juvenile, the latter still sporting its black and white striped face.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – a stripy faced juvenile

Out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, we stopped for a break on the benches overlooking the reedbed. Several Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds, mostly chocolate brown juveniles. One of the juveniles flew up from a bush as a male Marsh Harrier flew in towards it. The male was carrying something in its talons and flew up as the juvenile approached, dropping the food for the youngster to catch.

It was quite breezy out over the reeds. We did manage a brief Hobby from here, but it was very distant, over the trees at the back. Another Kingfisher flew over the tops of the reeds and dropped down into the channel, flying away us in a flash of electric blue. There was no sign of any Bitterns while we were there. It was lovely out here in the sunshine, but we couldn’t stop here very long today.

On the walk back, we popped in for a very quick visit to Mere Hide. It was very quiet around the pool here – it is often sheltered, but it was catching the wind today. A Reed Warbler was climbing around on the edge of the reeds.

We stopped for lunch at the visitor centre. Afterwards, we had a quick walk round the car park. A juvenile Redstart has been here for the last day or so, and we found it in the small trees along the edge of the car park, but it was very elusive and flighty. We could just see it flicking out of the tree ahead of us and across the car park a couple of times. It is an unusual bird here, just the third record for the reserve in recent years apparently.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the Forest. We tried several clearings for Woodlark, but it was very quiet. It was the middle of a summer’s afternoon and the end of the breeding season. At one of the stops, we heard a Tree Pipit call briefly as we walked in along a ride, but by the time we got to where we thought it would be we couldn’t find it. There were plenty of Stonechats. We found several family parties – it looks like it has been a good breeding season for them.

Large SkipperLarge Skipper – there were lots out in the Forest today

There were lots of butterflies and dragonflies along the rides, the former feeding in particular on the large quantities of knapweed which are currently flowering. We saw lots of Large Skipper and a single Essex Skipper. A Brimstone flew across a ride in front of us and several Speckled Woods were in the shadier spots. A single Grayling was basking on a patch of bare earth out in the sun and we flushed a couple of Small Heath from the grass nearby. Ringlet was a species which had surprisingly eluded us so far, but at our last stop, we finally found a few of these too. A Roe Deer strolled across a ride in front of us.

Essex SkipperEssex Skipper – our third species of Skipper for the weekend

Our last stop of the day was at Lynford Arboretum. It can sometimes be quiet here in the afternoons, but as we walked into the Arboretum, there were lots of birds around in the trees. A Spotted Flycatcher flicked out across the edge of the path near the cottage gates and darted back in to the bushes. We found it perched on some netting around a newly planted tree. We watched it for a while and it quickly became clear there were at least two, possibly three Spotted Flycatchers feeding around here.

Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher – 2 or 3 were around the entrance to the Arboretum

A Nuthatch appeared on a tree trunk nearby, climbing up and down, probing into the bark. A young Goldcrest was feeding low down in a fir tree. There were several Coal Tits and a couple of Siskins flew over calling. It was nice and sheltered in the top of the Arboretum, but more exposed to the wind once we got out onto the slope beyond.

As we made our way down to the lake, we could hear Marsh Tit calling, but once we got down there there was no sign of it. We walked a short way along the path which runs beside the lake on the far side. There were several Little Grebes out on the water among the lily pads. An adult Little Grebe was feeding two well grown juveniles on the edge of the reeds – it looked stunning in the afternoon sunlight.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – an adult feeding one of its two young

Back at the bridge, we heard the Marsh Tit calling again. It flew down to one of the old fence posts by the bridge and started looking for food. People often put birdseed on the bridge here, but there was none here for it today.

With members of the group heading off in different directions and a long drive it was time to call it a day. It had been a great three days with some really memorable moments – not least the Stone Curlews from this morning, but also the raptors and all the waders we had seen on the previous two days. Great summer birding in Norfolk (and just into Suffolk!).

29th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #2

Day 2 of a three day Summer Tour today. It was a beautifully bright and sunny morning, clouding over later on, but dry all day and not as windy as yesterday, a great day to be out. The plan for this morning was to go looking for birds of prey. With the good weather we set off full of optimism and a Kestrel on a telegraph post by the roadside was a nice start.

We parked up on the edge of a farm track, by a rough grass field. As we were unloading the car, one of the group asked “what’s that on the wires” and we looked over to see it was a juvenile Cuckoo perched on the wires across the field. We got it in the scope and had a look at it – a great bird to see, particularly in farmland these days, with the population having declined dramatically in recent years.

With the scope left on the Cuckoo for people to look at, we turned our attention back to unloading the car. The same member of the group then asked “what’s that next to the Cuckoo“. A second bird had appeared a little further along. We expected it to be the resident Kestrel which is often perched here, but were very surprised to look over and see a second juvenile Cuckoo on the wires.

Cuckoo 2Cuckoos – 2 juveniles together on the wires

Cuckoos and uncommon enough anyway, but it is very unusual to see two juveniles together, particularly these days. As the female Cuckoo lays just a single egg in the host’s nest, you don’t get multiple birds in a brood like other species. Perhaps a female Cuckoo earlier in the year had parasitised multiple nests in the immediate area earlier in the year and both juveniles had fledged at around the same time. Perhaps they had independently found a good feeding area. Whatever the reason, it was a great sight to see.

The Cuckoos periodically dropped down into the grass below, presumably looking for food, before flying back up to the wires. Eventually one flew off, back over the field. Then, while we were still marveling at the Cuckoos, a ghostly white shape appeared over the rough grass in front of us as a Barn Owl flew across. It landed on a post on the back, where we could get it in the scope.

Barn OwlBarn Owl – flew across in front of us and landed on a post

After a wet night last night, the Barn Owl was presumably still out hunting, probably trying to feed a growing brood. The Kestrel was on the top of a telegraph post nearby too. What a great start to the morning!

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from where we had parked and we walked up along the farm track to a suitable vantage point from which we could scan the surrounding countryside. It was warming up nicely now and several Common Buzzards circled up out of the trees. We could hear them calling.

There were several Skylarks up singing too now, or flying around over the stubble in front of us. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the nearby wood a couple of times, before flying over the field past us. A Yellow Wagtail called once, but we didn’t manage to pick it up.

A Brown Hare came running up the stubble field towards us. It was in a dip and stopped just short of the ridge, looking at us. It came a little closer and stopped again, so we could now see its head and shoulders. It was clearly nervous at our presence, and sat there watching us. Finally it decided it was too risky to come out in front of us and it turned and ran back down through the stubble.

Brown HareBrown Hare – watching us from the stubble

After a pleasant and successful hour watching the fields for raptors, we walked back to the car. A Marsh Harrier was now quartering the back of the rough grass field, a nice addition to the morning’s list of birds of prey.

Our next destination was Titchwell, so we cut in round via Choseley on the way there. There were lots of birds along the road, in and out of the hedges. We caught the back end of a couple of Yellowhammers and one of group asked if we could get a better look at one, so we decided to make a quick stop at the barns. There were lots more Brown Hares in the recently harvested fields and a few Red-legged Partridges too. We could hear a Yellowhammer singing, ‘a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeese’, and looked across to see a very smart male perched in the top of an oak tree, its bright yellow head glowing in the sun.

There were more birds along the road down to Titchwell. The hedges were clearly providing protection from the wind, creating a sheltered microclimate. Several juvenile Goldfinches were bathing in a puddle. We pulled up to look at a flock of birds on the tarmac and found three juvenile Yellow Wagtails in with a large group of Pied Wagtails, presumably finding lots of insects on the road.

Down at Titchwell, we had a quick look round the car parks first. A couple of Greenfinches flew out of an elder as we passed and a family of Reed Warblers were clambering about in the bushes calling noisily, including a recent fledgling with short tail and still carrying some fluffy down around its head. We scanned over the fields at the back, but the only bird of note here was a single Stock Dove. We were hoping to see the Turtle Doves which have been breeding here, but there was no sign of them. Apparently the male had been purring here only an hour or so earlier, but had now gone quiet.

There was a bit of time before lunch, so we decided to head round to Patsy’s Reedbed and also have a look along the Autumn Trail, which had just been opened this morning for the first time this year. As we passed the visitor centre, the feeders were full of Greenfinches and Chaffinches, along with a few Great Tits and Blue Tits. Walking along Fen Trail, a tit flock passing quickly through the sallows included several Long-tailed Tits, but there was no sign of the Turtle Doves in the trees here.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a golden-headed chocolate brown juvenile

Round at the viewing screen overlooking Patsy’s reedbed, the first bird we saw was a juvenile Marsh Harrier circling up over the reeds. It was a typical juvenile, with a golden-orange head and the rest of it dark chocolate brown. We saw several juvenile Marsh Harriers around the reedbed today, with varying amounts of pale feathering on the head, one with just a small patch of gold on the back of the neck.

Scanning the pool, a Common Sandpiper flew across on fluttering bowed wings and landed along the near edge before running into the vegetation out of view. There were a few Little Grebes and a couple of Common Pochard among the Mallard. A Grey Heron was standing statue-like on the edge of the reeds, staring down into the water. Lots of House Martins and Sand Martins were hawking for insects low over the water and the reeds beyond.

Looking over towards Brancaster, we caught sight of a very distant Turtle Dove as it flew across and disappeared behind Willow Wood, but not all the group could get onto it and the views were not entirely satisfactory. Frustrating! With the Autumn Trail having just opened this morning, we wanted to have a look along there and we thought there was a chance we might see the Turtle Dove again, but it didn’t reappear.

As we walked along East Trail, we heard Whimbrel calling over towards the freshmarsh and looked across to see four flying up over the reeds. They circled over towards us, instantly identifiable even from their distinctive whistling call, before disappearing away to the SW. We had a quick look from up on the bank at the start of the Autumn Trail extension, which produced a very distant Arctic Skua flying past out over beach, before we lost sight of it behind the dunes.

Spoonbill 1Spoonbill – an adult, with yellow-tipped bill

As we made our way along to the end of Autumn Trail, we could see a large white shape on the freshmarsh, a Spoonbill. Even better, it was awake, preening, and we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult. There were a few waders out on the freshmarsh too from this end, but they would be easier to see close up round at the hides. A Common Sandpiper was chased off by an Egyptian Goose and flew up onto the fence around Avocet Island. A second Egyptian Goose was standing on one of the fence posts – and was still there when we looked across from Parrinder Hide later in the afternoon!

We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them in the reeds, and another juvenile Marsh Harrier patrolled up and down the bank ahead of us. Then it was time to head back for lunch. On the way, we stopped to look at a Burying Beetle which was trying to bury the corpse of a Common Shrew in the middle of the path. It seemed to realise eventually it had bitten off more than it could chew, trying to dig into the hardcore of the path on its own, and flew off.

The group really wanted to see a Turtle Dove, but it felt like we might be out of luck. Still we scanned all the likely trees on the way back. We were just walking past Patsy’s Reedbed when we spotted a shape in the top of a bush ahead of us. Yes – a Turtle Dove! It was perched in the top of an elder, preening. We got it in the scope from where we were standing, and had a quick look in case it flew off.

People coming from the other direction walked right past the Turtle Dove, seemingly without even noticing it. We were some distance away and reckoned we could get much closer. We gradually narrowed the distance until we were quite close, and had stunning views of it, we didn’t even need the scope now. It seemed totally unconcerned by our presence, eventually finishing preening at which point it dropped down into the bushes. Great stuff!

Turtle DoveTurtle Dove – gave stunning views on our way back for lunch

After a late lunch in the picnic area, given our distraction with the Turtle Dove, we headed out onto the main part of the reserve. There were just a few Mallard and Gadwall out on the reedbed pool, and a distant Bearded Tit flew across while we were scanning the water. A Cetti’s Warbler sang a quick half burst from the reeds below the path as we passed by.

There were lots of waders from Island Hide, though mostly the larger ones today. There are lots of Ruff on here at the moment. They are moulting rapidly, some now pretty much in grey winter plumage, but others still with varying numbers of gaudy summer feathers.

Ruff 1Ruff – some still with a few remaining bright summer feathers still

Ruff 2Ruff – others almost entirely in grey winter plumage already

There are lots of Avocets on the reserve at the moment, with recent counts in excess of 500 now. As well as the birds which had bred here, many more gather here at this time of year to moult. in front of hide. Several were feeding right in front of the hide, until they were flushed by another juvenile Marsh Harrier.

AvocetAvocet – over 500 on the freshmarsh at the moment

There are lots of Black-tailed Godwits here at the moment too, many still largely in rusty orange summer plumage. We could also see three Spotted Redshanks further over, towards the Parrinder bank, but they were asleep at this point. There were three Spoonbills on the freshmarsh now, but they were all asleep too, on the edge of the small island at the back.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – still largely in summer plumage

There is a nice selection of smaller gulls on here a the moment. There are lots of Black-headed Gulls, both adults and chocolate brown juveniles. In amongst them, on the nearest island, we found two diminutive Little Gulls, both first summer birds. We had a look at a couple of Mediterranean Gulls from here too, the adults gradually losing their black heads now but still sporting a heavy and bright red bill and clean white wing tips.

While we were scanning the freshmarsh, we could periodically hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. We kept looking over to the edge of the mud but couldn’t see them at first. Finally, like buses, first one, then several more appeared. They eventually showed well, feeding at the base of the reeds.

Bearded Tit

From back up on the main path, we got better views of the Spotted Redshanks. They had multiplied in the meantime, up to four now, and had woken up and started feeding so we could get a good look at their long, needle-fine bills. Like the Ruff earlier, the Spotted Redshanks were in different stages of moult from their black summer plumage. One was pretty much in silvery grey winter plumage already, but the others were still variously speckled with black on their underparts.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – this one pretty much in winter plumage already

We had a quick look in at Parrinder Hide on our way out. There were several scaly-backed juvenile Mediterranean Gulls on the islands in front of the hide. Further out, four summer plumaged Knot had dropped in while we had been walking round.

It was already late afternoon and we wanted to have a look at the sea, so we hurried out to the beach. The tide was out and the usual waders were feeding out on the mussel beds. We had a look at a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits in the scope and a single Sanderling flew in with two Turnstones and dropped in on the beach. Out to sea, lots of Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth and a single Great Crested Grebe was out on the water.

The first surprise here was a Spoonbill, which flew out over the dunes and landed on the beach. Even more bizarre was a single Egyptian Goose which suddenly appeared out on the mussel beds, before flying west along the tideline. You don’t often see Egyptian Geese on the beach!

Spoonbill 2Spoonbill – flew out past us and landed on the beach

Then it was time to head back, in good time to allow everyone to get something to eat. The plan was to go looking for Nightjars this evening, but the weather forecast was really terrible, with heavy rain expected to move in from around 8pm. We feared it might be a wash out. It was already starting to spit with rain when we met again at 7.30pm, but we set off anyway to see what we could see before the rain set in properly.

We started by looking for Little Owls. They like to perch out in the evening sunshine, but it was already cool and cloudy, it seemed unlikely we would find one today. We started scanning the roofs of the farm buildings where they like to sit. There were a few Red-legged Partridges and an Oystercatcher here. Several Brown Hares were running round in the yard below. A few Greylag Geese had gathered in a field of cut straw nearby before flying down to the coast for the night and a large flock of Rooks and Jackdaws was similarly gathering before heading off to roost.

A Mistle Thrush appeared on the roof, then a second joined it. The next thing we knew, there were 8 Mistle Thrushes together. We were just watching them through scope when a Wheatear appeared with them. It was a juvenile, presumably dispersing from somewhere after the breeding season, although there aren’t any breeding close to her, so this was an unexpected bonus. A male Yellowhammer joined all the other birds on the roof too.

It was still not raining properly but it started to spit with rain more heavily now. It was clear we were very unlikely to find any Little Owls so we decided to move on. Normally at this stage of the evening, we would go looking for Barn Owls, but it was unlikely they would be out hunting in this weather either. At least we had seen one this morning, so we decided on a change of plan.

Late in the evening, particularly at this time of year, a good number of large gulls drop in to the scrapes at Cley to bathe and preen before heading off to roost. There have been several Caspian Gulls dropping in over recent nights, so we decided to try that instead. At least we would have the shelter of the hides if the rain did get much worse.

As we drove towards Cley, news came through that an adult Caspian Gull had just been seen there. We walked quickly out to the hides and, with a bit of help from the committed gull watchers in the hide, we were straight onto it.

Caspian GullCaspian Gull – an adult, on Simmond’s Scrape at Cley at dusk

Adult Caspian Gulls are particularly subtle birds and this gave us a great opportunity to study it and talk about the key identification features. It was a noticeably big, tall gull, particularly compared to the Lesser Black-backed Gulls next to it. The dark eye stood out on the white head, with a long face and long parallel sided bill.

The Caspian Gull was preening and as it turned, it stuck one of its long wings out to the side, so we could see the pattern on the underneath of the wing tip. This was the real clincher – the distinctive under-primary pattern, with a white tip, then a narrow band of black before a long tongue of white.

There were also meant to be two juvenile Caspian Gulls here this evening, but although we could see the birds, they were asleep and facing us so we couldn’t see any detail. There was a good number of other large gulls, especially Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We could see several Yellow-legged Gulls in amongst them too, and we got the scope on a nice adult.

The light was fading fast tonight, given the dark clouds. We had already stayed a little longer than planned at Cley, but we decided to drive up to the heath anyway and try our luck, we had nothing to lose. As we came out of hide, it started to rain properly and it really felt like we would be out of luck. But the rain had eased again by the time we got up to the heath and as we opened the car door, we could hear a Nightjar churring already.

We walked quickly out to the middle, with two more Nightjars churring, one each side of us on the way out. It was very gloomy already out on the heath, but at least we were surrounded by Nightjars churring. We had a glimpse or two of one of the males flying around the trees, but it was hard for everyone to get onto it. It stayed further out tonight, not coming in to its favourite perch, it was mixing churring and hawking for insects from the tree it had chosen. Eventually it perched up on the edge of the tree and we could get it in the scope, silhouetted against the very last of the light.

We stood there for a few more minutes listening to the Nightjars churring. It was getting too dark to see them now, so we decided to call it a night. It was the right move, as they had all gone quiet by the time we got back to the car. There had been a surprising amount of Nightjar activity tonight, given the conditions and we had been very lucky given the weather forecast. On the drive back, the heavens finally opened.

28th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #1

Day 1 of a three day Summer Tour today. It was bright this morning, sunny at times, but still slightly cool in a very blustery SW wind. It clouded over in the afternoon, but thankfully we managed largely to avoid any showers.

With the sun out first thing this morning, we headed straight over to the Heath to start the day. As we walked out of the car park, a male Bullfinch flew over calling, its pink underparts catching the light. In a quiet corner, out of the wind, we flushed a family of Blackcaps ahead of us along an overgrown hedgerow. We could hear them calling in the blackthorn and eventually first the male, then one of the juveniles, perched out nicely for us.

BlackcapBlackcap – the male perched up nicely for us

Continuing on across the Heath, a Yellowhammer flew up out of the heather and landed in some tall gorse across a clearing. We got it in the scope, a smart male with bright yellow head. We could hear another Yellowhammer singing nearby. There is still a good number of them on the Heath, always a pleasure to see. A Stonechat flicked up onto the top of the heather briefly, before flying across and disappearing round behind a bush. There were lots of Linnets in the gorse all over the Heath, several families with fledged young following the adults around, calling.

There are several pairs of Dartford Warblers up on the Heath, but it felt like it might be a struggle to see them today, given the wind. We walked round through the territory of one pair first, but all was quiet. They were obviously keeping tucked down out of the wind. One of the other pairs has been feeding young in recent days so we decided to try over there instead. Our route across the Heath took us through the territory of a third pair, and we had just been discussing how these are generally the hardest of the Dartford Warblers to see when we heard a burst of song and looked over to see a male Dartford Warbler parachuting back down to the top of the gorse, just finishing a songflight. We were in luck!

We watched the male Dartford Warbler feeding in the top of the gorse for a minute or so, singing occasionally, before it zipped across over an area of heather and into some more gorse further over. We walked part way across and had great views of it feeding in the top of the gorse.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – the male, singing on top of the gorse today

Eventually, the Dartford Warbler seemed to disappear back deeper into the gorse. We were just about to move on when it flew out, carrying food in its bill. It flew across in front of us and landed in the gorse where we had first seen it, then flew up again a couple of seconds later and darted across the path and down over the gorse beyond. Presumably it has hungry young somewhere to feed.

The area where the Woodlarks had been gathering food for their young earlier in the summer was quiet now, although we did find a pair of Skylarks there instead, which flew across in front of us and then disappeared away across the Heath. There was no sign of the other pair of Dartford Warblers – they were presumably keeping down out of the wind too. We also checked another area which the Woodlarks have been favouring, but there was no sign of them here either – they have probably fledged their second broods already.

It was a lovely bright morning up on the Heath and there were lots of butterflies out despite the wind. We saw lots of Gatekeepers and several Meadow Browns still, many feeding on the flowering bell heather. A smart Painted Lady was basking in the sun on some ivy growing up a fence. We flushed a Small Copper and a Grayling as we walked across an area of open ground, but both settled back down where we could get a good look at them. The Grayling was very hard to see once it settled and folded back its wings, beautifully camouflaged, even when you knew where it had landed.

GraylingGrayling – beautifully camouflaged

When we got back to the car, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from the bushes nearby. We walked over to see if we could see it, but it went quiet and never did show itself. Most of the warblers on the Heath have largely stopped singing now, so it was an unexpected bonus to hear this typically skulking species. Several Common Buzzards circled up over the edge of the Heath.

There was still a little time before lunch, so we dropped down to the coast at Kelling and had a walk down to the Water Meadow. There were a few House Martins around the village and a Greenfinch or two flew off calling from the trees. Otherwise the lane was fairly quiet bird-wise. However, there were a few more butterflies – including a smart Wall basking on the track and Comma. And there were several dragonflies hawking for insects in the lee of the hedges – a Southern Hawker, a couple of Migrant Hawkers and a very smart, golden-brown winged Brown Hawker.

CommaComma – one or two were feeding along the lane to the Water Meadow

There were a few birds on the pool today. A single Common Sandpiper was the highlight – flying round on flickering bowed wings and calling, before landing on the mud at the far end. There were also several Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the deeper water and a couple of Lapwings on the bank. A few Sand Martins were hawking for insects over the pool and we could see two Egyptian Geese feeding in the rushes at the back. A Grey Heron flew in and landed on the Quag, disturbing all the Rooks gathered in the grass, and a Little Egret was enjoying the sunshine on the edge of the reeds.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back to the car and drove along the coast to Cley. After eating our lunch on the picnic tables by the visitor centre, we ventured out onto the reserve. On the walk out to the main hides, we flushed a Reed Warbler from the edge of the reeds and a Bearded Tit flew past calling, before dropping down into the reeds.

The first bird we saw when we got in to Dauke’s Hide was a Yellow-legged Gull, standing on the grass on one of the closer islands, preening. We all had a good look at it through the scope, but the next time we looked back it had flown off. The gulls here often drop in and out regularly during the day.

Yellow-legged GullYellow-legged Gull – showing off its yellow legs, on Simmond’s Scrape

There was a nice selection of waders on the scrapes today. The highlight on Simmond’s Scrape was the Common Sandpipers, at least three of them. We had a good look at one of them through the scope. A gaudy moulting male Ruff dropped in briefly, but flew off. A single juvenile Dunlin was over towards the back and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding up to their bellies down at the front.

Common SandpiperCommon Sandpiper – at least three were on Simmond’s Scrape

As we made our way across to Teal Hide, we heard Bearded Tits calling from the reeds in the middle of the circular boardwalk right in front of us. It was a family party. We watched as they flew out one by one, across the path and into the taller reeds the other side. We got a good but quick look at a couple of juveniles which perched up in the tops before dropping down out of view.

Round at Teal Hide, there were many more waders, in particular loads of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, scattered liberally around Pat’s Pool.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – in good numbers now at Cley

It didn’t take too long to locate the Curlew Sandpiper, a moulting adult with a lot less of its summer rusty colour still on its underparts. Through the scope we could see its comparatively long and downcurved bill. It was feeding on the edge of one of the islands, walking in and out of the grass among the various Ruff. There was a single Knot out on here too, a summer plumaged bird with bright pale orange underparts.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – rapidly moulting to winter plumage now

We made our way back to the car park and round to the East Bank. It was distinctly cool and blustery now, and it was very exposed up on the bank. A Sedge Warbler flicked off ahead of us in the overgrown vegetation below the bank and we could hear a Reed Warbler singing from the reeds.

There were a few ducks on the Serpentine today, mainly Mallard but we did find a pair of much smaller Teal too. There were lots of Greylag Geese and quite a few Canada Geese as well, out on the grass.

We could see a small gathering of (3!) photographers ahead of us, so we hurried along to where they were. There had been a Wood Sandpiper along here this morning, at the far end of the Serpentine, and we immediately saw that this was indeed what they were watching. Even better, it was on the mud very close to the bank, so we could get a great look at it. They are very dainty waders, spangled on the back with a bold pale supercilium. It posed very nicely for us, walking into the edge of the grass and preening for a while, before falling asleep.

Wood SandpiperWood Sandpiper – feeding on the north end of the Serpentine

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away from watching the Wood Sandpiper, always a very smart bird to see. We walked along a little further and stopped to look at Arnold’s Marsh from the new shelter. We had heard the Sandwich Terns calling on the walk out and had seen them all fly round once or twice. From the viewing shelter we could get a much better look at them through the scope, their spiky rear crowns and yellow-tipped black bills. There were quite a few scaly backed juveniles in amongst them and several adults flew in carrying fish while we were watching.

There were more waders on Arnold’s Marsh too – lots of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, with 2-3 Curlews in with them. Seven Dunlin included a mix of black-bellied adults and streaky-bellied juveniles. A careful scan revealed a single Turnstone too, a smart bird in summer plumage, with bright chestnut patches on its back and a white face.

We had a quick look out to sea from the beach. There were lots of Sandwich Terns fishing offshore. Just beyond them, a larger white shape with black wing tips circling out over the sea was a lone Gannet. We spotted a wader flying in low over the water, a Curlew, which turned before it got to us and headed west. It was most likely a continental bird just arriving here on its journey from its breeding grounds, possibly in Russia, coming here to moult, perhaps heading round to the Wash.

Then it was time for us to start making our way back. We stopped briefly for another look at the Wood Sandpiper on the way. It was still feeding very close to the path, giving great views. Then suddenly and for no apparent reason it took off and flew past us, heading strongly on west. Maybe it was time for it to continue on its journey south. Further along, we stopped to watch a pair of Reed Warblers, flitting around first in the vegetation on the bank, moving ahead of us. Then they flew across to the far side of the reedy channel, where they started to work their way along the base of the reeds, just above the water, giving a great chance to look at them properly.

Reed WarblerReed Warbler – a pair were feeding along the ditch this afternoon

Then we made our way back to the car. It had been a lovely day out but it was now time to head for home.

26th July 2017 – Wader Wonderland

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was cloudy most of the day, but we didn’t really get the rain we had been forecast earlier in the week, just a few spits and spots late morning or early afternoon, barely enough to notice.

After an early start, we made our way across towards the Wash in good time to catch the rising tide. On our way, a Red Kite circled over beside the road and a couple of Red-legged Partridges seemed to be hell bent on destruction, playing chicken in the road.

Making our way down to the edge of the Wash, we stopped first as soon as we got up on the seawall. The tide was coming in but there was still a lot of exposed mud. The waders were gathering, but they were still quite spread out, a large black slick of Oystercatchers and, much further out, an enormous mass of Knot and others.

On the tip of the mud on the far side of the channel, we could see a gathering of terns, large Sandwich Terns with a yellow-tipped black bill, medium-sized Common Terns with a black-tipped orange-red bill and a few much smaller Little Terns, with a black-tipped yellow-bill and white forehead. But the tide was coming in fast and they couldn’t really settle, being continually pushed  in by the rising water. Several Shelducks were feeding in the shallow water, just off the mud and two or three Little Egrets were already pushed off by the rising tide and flew over the seawall to the pits.

Little Stint 1Spot the Little Stint – with Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Dunlin

A steady stream of smaller waders were taking advantage of the last of the mud to feed along the near edge below the seawall. There were lots of black-bellied Dunlin, together with a selection of Turnstone, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. A Grey Plover put in a brief appearance with them too. A tiny Little Stint appeared with them, lingering on the mud just long enough for us to get the scope on it and everyone to get a good look. A moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper, its rusty red underparts now spotted with white, dropped in briefly on the other side of the channel.

The tide was coming in fast now, pushing all the waders ahead of it, so we moved further up along the seawall and stopped for another scan. The large mass of waders further out on the mud was being pushed further and further in too. The Oystercatchers were walking, like an amorphous blob flowing across the mud, but some of the Knot would periodically fly up and round, before landing again further in.

Wader Spectacular 1Knot – whirling round before landed on the mud further up

The Redshank gave up the battle early, flying off the Wash and onto the pits to roost. They streamed past in groups and a loud ‘tchweet’ call alerted us to a Spotted Redshank flying in with them. A large number of the Dunlin flew in to the pits too. There were lots of godwits further out on the mud but a lone Bar-tailed Godwit appeared on the near edge, stopping to bathe in a small pool, and a Black-tailed Godwit was nearby on the edge of the main channel.

Wader Spectacular 2Waders – progressively concentrated onto the remaining corner of mud

The Oystercatchers, Knot, godwits and Curlews were progressively concentrated into the last corner of exposed mud, tens of thousands of waders packed in shoulder to shoulder. The Oystercatchers threw in the towel first, peeling off in lines and flying in past us, calling noisily.

Wader Spectacular 3Knot – erupting from the Wash as the last mud is covered with water

The Knot waited until the last moment, until it almost seemed like they wouldn’t come in at all, but we could see they were up to their bellies in the water. There was no exposed mud left for them. Finally they erupted into thick clouds and flew towards us in waves. As the first wave came in, as we could hear the beating of thousands upon thousands of wings coming over us, a mobile phone started to ring noisily nearby and drowned out the sound, annoying. Thankfully a second wave came in shortly after and we got to appreciate the full experience, looking up at all the birds as they flew low overhead, listening to the whirring of wings.

Wader Spectacular 4Knot – thousands came flying in over our heads in vast flocks

We turned to watch the flocks of Knot starting to drop down into the pits behind us. While lines of them streamed down, thousands circled over nervously, waiting their turn. There didn’t seem to be enough room for all of them today, as a couple of large flocks circled back out over the Wash.

As the sky cleared of birds, we made our way over to Shore Hide. The water level on the pits is rather high at moment, so the islands are smaller than they often are. A couple of them were completely coated in waders, mainly Knot, the ones around the edge pushed into the edge of the water. A lot of the Knot are still in their bright orange summer plumage at the moment, but others are already in grey winter plumage.

KnotKnot – packed in tightly onto the islands on the pits

Looking more closely, it was possible to see other birds in with them. A single Avocet and one Oystercatcher stood above the hordes but looked trapped, surrounded. There were several Common Terns in there too, surprisingly hard to see in the throng. The black bellies of the smaller Dunlin stood out, particularly as they gathered around the edges.

As the mass of waders on the island shuffled and shifted, a Curlew Sandpiper appeared close to the edge briefly, with the Dunlin. We had a good look at it in the scope before in shuffled back into the throng of Knot behind. A Little Stint was playing hard to spot until a Moorhen spooked the waders on the island and several of them flew round. The Little Stint appeared right on the front of the island, but was still hard to see, running in and out of the legs of the roosting Knot.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – spot the odd one out, in with the Knot and Dunlin

The waders tend to largely sort themselves by species or relatives on the pits when they roost. The Oystercatchers were gathered mostly to the south of us on the bank of the pit. There were not so many godwits on here today – they had possibly gone on to the fields to roost instead.

There were some large groups of Redshank over by the far bank and other out in the middle. We took a closer look at the latter and found it was actually a mixture of Common and Spotted Redshanks. There were at least 17 Spotted Redshanks in the flock, mostly asleep. They were all adults and had to a greater or lesser degree moulted out of summer plumage – some had their black underparts extensively flecked with white now, but others were already predominantly in silvery grey winter plumage.

Spotted RedshanksSpotted Redshanks – four of the seventeen, with three Common Redshanks

There were lots of geese around the far bank, Greylags and Egyptian Geese. Looking across, we could see two smaller birds running around on the grass between them, two Common Sandpipers. A lone Tufted Duck was diving out in the middle of the water.

Round at the viewing screen at the south ends of the pit, we found yet more small waders packed tightly onto the islands, more Dunlin here and slightly fewer Knot. There were just a few Dunlin sleeping along the water’s edge to the left of the hide, and another Little Stint was with them. Out in the open, we got great views of it through the scope as it ran up and down, feeding actively.

Little StintLittle Stint – great views from at the south end of the pits

We turned our attention to the Dunlin and we were just checking through them to see if there was something more interesting hiding in with them when they started to shuffle and then all started to take off. A Moorhen ran right across the middle of the island, and spooked all the waders. Everything flew off. A few started to drift back in, landing on some of the other islands or the edge of the pit further back, but most headed back out towards the Wash.

The Knot back in front of Shore Hide were showing no signs of shifting, but we headed back out to the edge Wash anyway. The tide was already retreating fast and quite a bit of mud had been exposed. There were already quite a few Knot and other waders out on the Wash, but they were already quite distant. A couple of seals zipped past in the muddy channel at the front, carried out by the fast flowing water. A young Marsh Harrier was quartering the saltmarsh beyond.

There were lots of gulls and terns out on the mud too. We were just looking through them when a local birder came over and kindly alerted us to a Black Tern which was in with them. We were very thankful he did, as the Black Tern was completely hidden behind a couple of Common Terns at that stage. Eventually it shuffled forwards and we could see it properly – it was a moulting adult, still largely black but with extensive white feathering around the face.

Some small groups of Dunlin started to fly across from the pits and low out across the mud, but there was no sign of the rest of the Knot moving. It started to spit with rain so we decided to head back to the car. On the way, someone pointed out two Little Stints not far out on the mud, which we stopped to look at briefly. Hard to tell whether these were the birds we saw on the pits or different ones. As we walked along the path, several small groups of Common Swift flew low overhead, on their way south already. It felt like Summer was over already.

The rest of the day was to be spent round at Titchwell. We still had an hour or so before lunch when we got there, so we decided to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. The feeders by the visitor centre added a few common species to the list for the day – Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit. A juvenile Robin was picking around for crumbs under the picnic tables.

At this time of year the male ducks are all in dull eclipse plumage, moulting. We picked out a few Shoveler and Gadwall amongst the Mallard. A couple of Common Pochard were diving out on the water. There were several Little Grebes scattered around the pool and a single stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe too. A Sedge Warbler zipped back and forth low over the water between the clumps of reeds and a Reed Warbler was flycatching from the bottom of the bulrushes down at the front.

A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed behind, dark chocolate brown with a pale golden head. There were lots of hirundines hawking for insects over the reeds and swooping low over the water, mainly House Martins but with a few Sand Martins in with them. Then it was lunch time, so we headed back to the picnic area.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a juvenile circled over the reedbed

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was cool and windy now, and spitting with rain. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but all we saw was a quick shape skim over the tops and drop in out of view. We headed for the shelter of Island Hide.

There were lots of Ruff feeding on the mud in front of the hide. They have returned from their tundra breeding grounds and are already moulting rapidly to winter plumage. Some still have lots of brightly coloured feathers but others have more scattered summer feathers remaining and are getting increasingly grey brown. Needless to say, it is a confusing mix for the unwary, particularly with an increasing number of smaller females coming back too now.

RuffRuff – moulting rapidly to winter plumage now

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits in front of the hide too and more further back in the deeper water. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was still on the freshmarsh – a smart summer male, with deep rusty underparts continuing right down under the tail. With the tide out now, the other Bar-tailed Godwits would be out on the beach.

There is no shortage of Avocets here at the moment, with the breeding birds and brown-backed juveniles joined by more birds which have gathered here to moult. Several were feeding in front of the hide, giving us a chance to watch their distinctive feeding action, sweeping their bills from side to side through the top of the mud.

AvocetAvocet – feeding in front of Island Hide

There were fewer other waders on here today. Perhaps some were out on the beach too, but it felt like a few had moved on overnight. There were a few Spotted Redshanks and we got a better look at them here compared to at Snettisham. They were feeding actively here, so we could see their distinctive needle-fine bills, longer than a Common Redshank’s. A small group of Golden Plover were on one of the islands over towards Parrinder Hide, still bearing their black summer bellies.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – showing off its needle-fine bill

There are lots of gulls on here at the moment, mostly Black-headed Gulls, adults and recently fledged juveniles. We could see a couple of Mediterranean Gulls over the far side too, and got an adult in the scope. It had already moulted largely to winter plumage, with a mostly white head with black bandit mask, but still sporting a heavier, brighter red bill than the Black-headed Gulls and pure white wing tips. A Little Gull appeared too, looking very small next to a Black-headed Gull. It was a young one, a first summer – there have been a few hanging around here for several weeks now.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling, we looked across to the reedbed to see a single bird fly in and land in the top of the reeds right on the edge. It dropped down and we could see it working its was along the bottom of the reeds at the start of the open mud. It disappeared deeper in, but the next time we looked over there were five Bearded Tits in the base of the reeds. They were all tawny brown juveniles. At one point they came right out onto the mud, where we could get a really good look at them.

Bearded Tits

Round at Parrinder Hide, the birds were much the same as we had seen from Island Hide, but we got closer views of the gulls in particular. There were several more Mediterranean Gulls visible from this side, adults in different stages of moult, with white-speckled black heads and several juveniles, with scaly grey-brown upperparts. A second Little Gull, also a young 1st summer bird, had appeared on one of the islands, this one with much more obvious black feathers on its wings.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – a scaly-backed juvenile

A lone Knot had dropped in onto the freshmarsh now, still in orange summer plumage. It was a bit of a contrast to see it on its own here, after seeing tens of thousands of Knot in vast flocks at Snettisham earlier. A single Common Snipe was the only addition to the day’s list here, feeding in amongst the vegetated islands out to the left of the hide.

There was some darker cloud some distance away over the ridge, but it was a bit brighter at the moment, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. The tide was out but there were quite a few people walking around over the mussel beds which meant there were not many waders feeding out here today. There were quite a few more Bar-tailed Godwits, as predicted, and Oystercatchers, but nothing else of note. The sea was quite calm and their were lots of Sandwich Terns flying back and forth offshore.

On the way back from the beach, we could see five large white shapes out on the saltmarsh, in the distance out towards Thornham Harbour. Through the scope we could see they were Spoonbills – not the best view at that range though. One did take off and fly towards us, but only got halfway across the saltmarsh before dropping down again behind the concrete bunker, presumably to feed in one of the muddy channels.

Back at the freshmarsh, we stopped to admire a Spotted Redshank which was feeding close to the path now. One of the Little Gulls was also on one of the muddy islands just below the bank. It had stopped to preen but was disturbed by a Moorhen which walked towards it – it seemed to be a bit of a theme today!

Little GullLittle Gull – a 1st summer on the freshmarsh

It had been an early start and it was now time to head back to the car. There were still a few last birds to add to the list for the day though. As we drove round and out of the car park, a Bullfinch flew across in front of us and disappeared into the bushes the other side. A Song Thrush flicked up from the corner and perched in a small elder tree. Then it was time to head for home.

22nd July 2017 – Raptors & Waders

A single day Summer Tour today, we were looking for birds of prey in the morning and then heading to the coast afterwards. We were lucky with the weather – it was raining early this morning but stopped just as we got out of the car at our first stop, and then we avoided the showers until we got back to the car park at the end of the day!

As we drove to our first destination of the morning, a rather damp Kestrel was perched on some wires by the road in the drizzle. Thankfully we could see blue sky in the west heading our way. A Sparrowhawk zipped across the road and over the hedge the other side. A nice way to start our morning looking for raptors.

We stopped at the bottom of a farm track and walked up to a convenient vantage point from which we could scan the surrounding countryside. A pair of Grey Partridge flew off from the grass as we got out of the car. It was rather cool, not the perfect morning for birds of prey, but after the rain there was still lots of activity, with birds flying around and making the most of the dry weather.

A Common Buzzard was perched in a tree and another circled up over the wood. We saw a Sparrowhawk in the distance and, a little later, one appeared in the top of a dead bush in the hedge at the bottom of the field in front of us. A little while later, it circled up, alternating bouts of flapping with glides, turning in tight circles before heading off towards a nearby wood.

There were other birds besides the raptors. There were lots of Swifts hawking for insects over the fields, gaining height gradually as it started to warm up. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling – a rare breeder in this part of the world these days. A sharp ‘kik’ call alerted us to a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying overhead. A pair of Stock Doves flew over the field towards us, banking away sharply when they spotted us. A Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge and several Skylarks started to sing and flutter up higher into the sky as the sun came out.

6O0A0904Skylark – fluttering up over the fields, singing

With our mission accomplished, we made our way back to the car and headed for Titchwell, which was to be our destination for the rest of the day. It was already late morning by the time we got there. We had a quick look round the overflow car park, although there were a few cars parking in there now. We could hear Bullfinches calling and flushed a couple of Greenfinches out of the bushes as we passed. A Blackcap came up from the brambles into a small elder, calling.

Round at the visitor centre, there were a few Greenfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders, as well as a Blue Tit and Great Tit or two. A Dunnock was hopping around underneath and a streaky juvenile Robin was enjoying the crumbs around the picnic tables. A juvenile Moorhen was eyeing up the birdtable but couldn’t work up the courage to jump up onto it.

6O0A0915Robin – this juvenile was looking for crumbs around the picnic tables

We decided to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed before lunch. As we walked round past Fen Hide, a Hobby flashed past over the reeds and disappeared round behind the trees, the first of several sightings we would get of it today.

There were quite a few ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed today, in particular a good number of Common Pochard. The drake dabbling ducks are all in their drab eclipse plumage now, but we could see there were just Mallard and Gadwall here. There was a single Egyptian Goose too. A couple of stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebes were swimming around the edge of the reeds and there were several Little Grebes too – an adult diving in the pondweed at the back and two drabber juveniles along the bank at the front.

There was quite a bit of juvenile Marsh Harrier action, with several birds flying around over the reeds or chasing each other up over the trees. We got good views of a couple of perched birds which gave us a chance to look at some of the variation in head pattern. One juvenile had a more classic head pattern, with golden orange crown and throat, separated by a dark mask. Another had an almost all chocolate brown head, with just a patch of golden feathers on the back of its crown.

6O0A0925Marsh Harrier – a juvenile, all dark with a golden yellow-orange head

It was time for lunch now, so we walked back, stopping briefly by the dragonfly pool. A Southern Hawker was flying around over the reeds. It looked odd at first, bright rusty orange, until we realised it had caught a butterfly and was in the process of eating it, discarding the wings when it was finished. There were several Common Darter here too.

A young Blackcap, with a rusty brown crown, came up out of the reeds and flew up into the edge of the trees. There were a couple of Reed Warblers in here too and we got nice views of one of them when it flew back into some brambles and started climbing around in the top, looking for insects.

After lunch back in the picnic area, we headed out to explore the rest of the reserve. As we walked down the main path, we heard a Bearded Tit calling nearby and just caught the back end of it as it dived into the reeds. It didn’t reappear, but thankfully we would see several more today. The reedbed pool held a few Mallard, with a single Tufted Duck diving in between them. An adult Great Crested Grebe was sleeping on the edge of the reeds at the back.

Another Hobby shot across the reeds and headed out over the saltmarsh, flushing a variety of birds out of the vegetation. A flock of about 15 Curlew appeared from nowhere and flew round before dropping back into the purple sea lavendar out of view.

As we walked up towards Island Hide, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling and we saw a couple of long-tailed birds zipping over the reeds before dropping down out of view. Thankfully, some of this year’s juvenile Bearded Tits have been showing very well in recent weeks on the edge of the reeds just before the hide, so rather than try to see them in the thicker part of the reedbed, we made our way along to the edge of the freshmarsh.

Sure enough, there were the Bearded Tits. We stood and watched them for a while. We could see at least five tawny coloured juveniles, climbing around the base of the reeds and occasionally hopping out onto the mud in full view. It is great to see them like this and we had some cracking views of them, especially through the scope.

6O0A0955Bearded Tit – at least 5 juveniles were showing very well on the edge of the reeds

There was one other bird we really wanted to make sure we saw here today so, after watching the Bearded Tits for a while, we made our way straight round to the other side of Island Hide. The adult Pectoral Sandpiper was in its usual place, on the mud right below the path. It has been delighting visitors with fantastic close up views here for several days now and we were not disappointed.

Pectoral Sandpiper is an occasional visitor here. They breed in the arctic in eastern Siberia and North America, with most of the population wintering in South America, so this one was a long way from home. Pectoral Sandpipers are small waders, not much bigger than Dunlin, with a heavily streaked breast sharply divided from a white belly, the curved border between which is the pectoral band from which it gets its name.

6O0A0636Pectoral Sandpiper – showing extremely well on the mud by Island Hide

While watching the Pectoral Sandpiper, it was difficult not to get distracted by all the other waders out on the freshmarsh at the moment. It may be summer to us, but it is already autumn for many waders. They have already come back from their arctic breeding areas and gathering here to moult or feed up before continuing further south.

There were several Ruff feeding close to the bank. The males have already lost their distinctive ruffs which they have in breeding plumage and are in the process of moulting their body plumage, losing their bright and gaudy colours. At this stage, they come in a truly bewildering variety of different colours, a major source of confusion to the unaware.

6O0A11076O0A08426O0A0844Ruff – moulting out of breeding plumage, in a huge variety of different colours

In with them were a couple of female Ruff, also traditionally known as ‘Reeves‘. They are much smaller than the males and not as brightly coloured, meaning yet more potential confusion!

A line of Bar-tailed Godwits, roosting on the freshmarsh while high tide covers the beach where they typically feed, were mostly in grey winter plumage, although two summer males in with them were still bright rusty red. There were several groups of Black-tailed Godwits too, feeding in the deeper water at the back or sleeping on the islands.

There were other waders dropping in here all the time, birds on the move, just arriving back from the continent. A Whimbrel dropped in amongst a flock of Oystercatchers on the edge of one of the islands, stopping to bathe and preen before disappearing again. A small group of six Golden Plovers flew in and landed briefly, before carrying on west.

There had been a Curlew Sandpiper reported earlier, but we couldn’t find it in with the small flocks of Dunlin on here. Then a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull flew in and started flying round over the scrape, flushing all the waders, the Avocets being particularly jumpy, taking to the air at the slightest hint of danger and swirling round in a big flock. There have been close to 500 Avocets on the freshmarsh in recent days, both birds which have bred here and others which have come here to moult.

6O0A1001Avocets – swirling round in a huge flock at the slightest hint of danger

As things settled down again, it was clear all the Dunlin had flown off. The Spotted Redshanks settled back down though, and the more we looked, the more we found. There were at least five here today, probably more. They are all moulting adults, all already having lost much of their black summer plumage, with some mottled and one already almost in silvery grey winter plumage. A few Common Redshanks were out the other side of Parrinder Hide.

6O0A1156Spotted Redshank – moulting out of its black summer plumage

A small group of Turnstone flew in, presumably pushed off the beach by the rising tide. A couple were still in pristine breeding plumage, stunning birds with white faces and bright chestnut feathers in their upperparts. A lone Common Sandpiper on the tern island was another migrant on its way south, but the juvenile Little Ringed Plovers had probably been raised on site here.

The Spoonbills were hiding around the far edge of the small overgrown island at the back of the freshmarsh at first. They were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! We could see 4-5 large white shapes. When the gull buzzed the freshmarsh and spooked all the waders, the Spoonbills woke up and shuffled to the edge of the island. We could now see there were actually eight of them.

IMG_6365Spoonbills – at least 8 were sleeping round the back of the small island

There were Spoonbills coming and going too. First, one flew in from Thornham saltmarsh but continued straight on past the freshmarsh. Then another flew in from the same direction, but this one circled round and dropped down onto the edge of the island with the others. Then two of the group took off and flew straight towards us, passing over our heads before continuing on towards Thornham Harbour. They were immatures, with black wing tips still.

6O0A1028Spoonbill – these two flew off over our heads and out towards Thornham Harbour

There are lots of gulls and terns on the freshmarsh too at the moment. Lots of Black-headed Gulls have bred here and there were numerous brown-backed juveniles sitting around on the islands. Occasionally, they would find one of their parents and start hounding them for food, begging. Typical teenagers! About nine pairs of Mediterranean Gulls have bred here this year, in with the Black-headed Gulls. There are several juvenile Mediterranean Gulls around at the moment, very smart and distinctive birds with their scalloped upperparts.

IMG_6453Mediterranean Gull – a smart juvenile, just starting to get a few fresh grey feathers

There have been a few Little Gulls around the freshmarsh for some time now. Eventually we found two of them today, one rather more uniform pale grey above, the other with quite extensive black in the wings and a darker head. Both were first summer birds. There were several Common Terns around the islands too.

We could see dark clouds building to the south, so we decided to make a quick dash for the beach.The tide was already covering the mussel beds when we got there and there were no waders left on the sand. There were lots of white shapes flying back and forth or diving offshore – Sandwich Terns. A smaller tern patrolling back and forth just the beach was a Little Tern. A couple of distant Gannets flew past, but there was no sign of any Arctic Skuas now. We had one eye on the weather and, at this stage, we decided discretion was the better part and bade a quick getaway, back to Parrinder Hide.

As it was, the rain passed to the west of us and we got no rain at Titchwell at this stage. It was woryhwhile coming into the hide anyway. Many of the birds were the same as those we had seen earlier from the main path. However, we were just commenting on how there were no Dunlin here now, when three small waders flew in together. Two of them were Dunlin, but the third was larger and flashed a white rump as it landed. It was a very smart adult summer Curlew Sandpiper, still with mostly rusty chestnut underparts. It started feeding, working its way in and out of the Bar-tailed Godwits, wading in up to its belly in the water.

IMG_6421Curlew Sandpiper – dropped in to the freshmarsh with two Dunlin

We looked back along the near edge, out to the east of Parrinder Hide and were thrilled to see a single Common Snipe. Unfortunately it didn’t stay put for long, but was chased by one of the local Moorhen. The Snipe flicked up but quickly landed again, adopting a threat posture, bowing down and lifting its tail to flash to its aggressor. Pretty quickly, something spooked it and it flew off.

It was time to head back now anyway, but with more dark clouds approaching from the south, we could see it was raining beyond. We walked briskly back to the car, encountering just a small amount of light drizzle before we got back, just in time. It started to rain properly as we loaded up the car, and we then drove into torrential rain. But it didn’t matter now, at the end of the day. Overall, we had been very lucky with the weather – it had been a great day, with some great birds.

20th July 2017 – Owls & Nightjars

A Private Tour this evening, looking for owls and Nightjars. There had been some thundery showers in the morning, but these had passed through, the sky had cleared and the wind had dropped, even if it was a bit cooler tonight than of late. It looked like a good evening to be out.

Our first target for the evening was Little Owl. We drove round via one site, but there was no sign of the birds on the ruined barns where they like to sit. There were no Little Owls either at first at the second site we tried. We stopped here anyway and, having scanned from the road, had a walk down along a footpath, which took us round to the back of the farm buildings.

It was a pleasant walk. There were lots of Brown Hares in fields, always nice to see. A Stock Dove perched on the roof of a barn next to a Woodpigeon for comparison and an Oystercatcher seemed to be enjoying a similar vantage point on the ridge of one roof. A large flock of Jackdaws and Rooks had started to gather in a recently cut wheat field, before heading off to roost. A Yellowhammer was singing from an overturned potato crate in the corner of a field. But there was no sign of a Little Owl anywhere.

We had a schedule to keep so we couldn’t stay here any longer. As we got back to the car, we glanced over to the buildings opposite where we had parked, which we had scanned when we first arrived, and there was a Little Owl on the roof. It had come out to bask in evening sun.

IMG_6302Little Owl – basking in the evening sunshine

After a good look at the Little Owl through the scope, we moved on and made our way down to the coast. We drove round past some of meadows where Barn Owls regularly hunt, but we couldn’t see any out yet. So we parked and walked down along the seawall to scan the marshes. Swifts and House Martins were twittering overhead. We could hear Bearded Tits in the reeds, and looked across to see several perched up nicely in the tops. We got a good look at them in the scope. A Marsh Harrier circled distantly over marshes.

The first Barn Owl of the evening appeared, flying over the reeds behind some bushes where there is a Barn Owl box, but it was rather distant. Then we spotted a second, out hunting over the marshes. We couldn’t see the entrance to the box from where we were standing and we were looking straight into the setting sun, but we just could see some movement on the platform on the front of the box and a Barn Owl dropped out and down behind the reeds out of view. The young Barn Owls here must be near to fledging now.

One of the Barn Owls out hunting caught a vole and flew back towards the box. We thought it might be heading back to feed the youngsters, but it landed on post instead and ate it. We watched it in the scope, before it flew back and continued hunting along the bank. It started making its way towards us and this time we got closer views, before it turned again and headed off other way.

It was time to think about heading up to the heath now – we had a date with some Nightjars! As we turned to head back to the car, we could see a white shape behind the railings by the road behind us, back near to where we had parked. Another Barn Owl. We had a quick look through binoculars then made our way quickly back, hoping to get a better view of it from back at the car, but just at that moment a very noisy motorbike came along the road and flushed it. We watched as it resumed hunting over the meadow on the other side of the road.

6O0A0393Barn Owl – one of several we saw out hunting this evening

It was already dusk by the time we got up to the heath, and walked out into the middle of the gorse and heather. A Tawny Owl called from the trees. We didn’t have to wait long before the first Nightjar called and, after a couple more minutes,  it flew high out over the tops of the trees, turned and dropped down onto a dead branch on the front edge close to where we were standing. It perched there for some time, silent, where we could get a great look at it in the scope.

IMG_6326Nightjar – perched nicely on a branch in front of us

The Nightjars were slow to start churring this evening – perhaps because it was a bit cooler tonight. Eventually one started up over the other side of the heath. The male we were watching then flew out from the trees and disappeared out over the heather behind us. Given that, we were surprised to hear a quick burst of churring still coming from the trees in front of us. The first male flew back in and a second male Nightjar promptly flew out of the trees. The two of them perched on the dead branches together just a metre or so apart. There was clearly a minor territorial dispute, as they spread their tails and started turning from side to side where they were perched, flashing their white tail patches.

One of the male Nightjars flew off across heath again and the other stayed perched for a while, where we got a very prolonged look at it through the scope. It made a couple of  sallies out, short display flights over our heads and past us, with exaggerated wing beats, and tail spread flashing its white corners, before flying back to its perch in the trees. After one of these sallies, it flew into the trees and we could hear it wing clapping, before disappearing into another leafy oak where it started churring again. A female Nigthjar then appeared, lacking the white wing and tail patches of the male, and started flying low in and out of the trees hunting. At one point it came out over the edge of the heath and right over our heads. Great views.

When this male Nightjar finally went quiet, we walked a short distance across the heath into the territory of another. We could hear it now, churring from somewhere in an oak tree out in the middle. We listened to it for a while in the distance, before it took off – we could hear it wing clapping as it did so. We couldn’t see it flying with the light starting to fade now, but it flew in and landed on one of its favourite perches, in an oak close to us. We watched it churring, silhouetted against the last of the light on a bare branch. Between bouts of churring, it flew little sallies out from its perch, hawking for insects.

IMG_6331

It was a lovely way to end the evening. Eventually it flew back away from us and disappeared into the night. We walked back to the car, listening to another two churring male Nightjars on our way.

July 2017 – Midsummer Majorca

No a tour but a family holiday. A ‘busman’s holiday’, because there are always opportunities to go looking for birds and other wildlife, even in the Mediterranean in midsummer! We had been to Majorca just a couple of years ago, but it is still a great place to revisit. This gave us an opportunity to visit a few different sites and try to get better photographs of some species.

Balearic Warbler is one of the key species to see on any visit to Majorca, as they are endemic to the Balearic Islands. They are most easily seen in early spring, when the males are singing, and at other times they can be very skulking. They live in the low scrub, garrigue, often close to the sea, and feed very low down or on the ground in the dense thorny bushes, generally below knee height.

We saw several Balearic Warblers on our last visit but, being July then too, they were very hard to photograph. This visit, it looked like it would be the same story until we stumbled across a male collecting food along a path through the coastal scrub one morning. We followed it as it flew across and disappeared into a clump of bushes, before flying out with a faecal sac – they were clearly nesting there. Quietly standing a short distance away from the bushes, concealed behind a large rock, we were treated to fantastic views of the two adults as they came in and out with food.

Balearic Warbler male 1Balearic Warbler – the male, crown feathers raised

Balearic Warbler male 2Balearic Warbler – the male again, with bright red eye ring

Balearic Warbler female 1Balearic Warbler – the female, with orange eye ring & paler on forehead / lores

Moustached Warbler breeds very locally around the Mediterranean and this is a great place to catch up with them. This was another species we wanted to get better photographs of, although they seemed to be harder to find at s’Albufera in 2017. There was a lot less vegetation in the main channel this year, where they had been very obvious on our last visit, collecting food.

Fortunately, we found a couple of families feeding young along a reedy channel further into the reserve. They were mostly very low down in the reeds, but we did get some nice views of them in the end.

Moustached WarblerMoustached Warbler – feeding along a reedy channel

Another species we wanted to spend some time photographing on this visit was Eleonora’s Falcon. This species breeds on islands in the Mediterranean, with a delayed breeding season to coincide with the southbound autumn migration of small birds which it catches to feed to its young. They can be found in several places around Majorca, but we spent a couple of very pleasant afternoons watching them zooming around the rocky cliffs on the Formentor peninsula. Fantastic birds!

Eleonora's Falcon 1

Eleonora's Falcon 2

Eleonora's Falcon 3Eleonora’s Falcon – a pale morph adult

Eleonora's Falcon 4Eleonora’s Falcon – a dark morph adult, with sooty underparts

A trip up into the Tramuntana Mountains on one morning produced a nice selection of other raptors. This is a good place to see both Black Vulture and Griffon Vulture and we saw several of both, rather distant initially but then better views overhead as we stopped at Mortitx on our way back down.

Black VultureBlack Vulture – with distinctive pale feet

Griffon VultureGriffon Vulture – with paler underwing coverts compared to Black Vulture

Mortitx is the release site for the project to reintroduce Bonelli’s Eagle to Majorca and we managed to see a distant immature bird here. It is a long walk down into the valley to the best area for them and it was the middle of the day when we stopped there – too hot to walk all the way in!

Moltoni’s Warbler was the other target species for us in the mountains. We had seen several on our last visit, but they proved much more difficult this time. We did see a couple of them, but we were perhaps a week late this year, as we had managed to catch them feeding recently fledged young last time.

Moltoni's WarblerMoltoni’s Warbler – a dull female, lacking the male’s pink underparts

Since our last visit, the Spotted Flycatchers breeding on the Balearic Islands, Corsica and Sardinia have been split out as a separate species by the IOU, with the English name of Mediterranean Flycatcher. So, well worth looking at again. They are very similar but rather paler and more sparsely streaked below than our Spotted Flycatchers. Fortunately they are very common – and very charismatic birds to watch too.

Mediterranean Flycatcher 2

Mediterranean Flycatcher 1Mediterranean Flycatchers – recently split from Spotted Flycatcher by IOU

Balearic Woodchat Shrike is still just a race of the more widespread Woodchat Shrike, subspecies badius. It is rather locally distributed on Majorca, although we saw several at Son Real one afternoon, which appears to be a good site for this subspecies. The light was not great for photography, so here is a good reason to go back to Majorca, to get better images of these birds.

Balearic Woodchat ShrikeBalearic Woodchat Shrike – lacking the white patch at the base of the primaries

One of the other highlights of our visits to Majorca has been watching the herons and egrets at s’Albufera. There is a large mixed breeding colony in the trees by the main channel here and the stone bridge provides a great vantage point to watch them at close quarters, flying in and out of the colony. Great for photography!

Glossy Ibis was a real feature amongst the herons this year. We didn’t see any on our visit in 2015, but there were several around the colony and apparently they have bred here this year.

Glossy IbisGlossy Ibis – apparently bred at s’Albufera this year

In with the constant stream of Cattle and Little Egrets, this is a great place to see Squacco Herons and Night Herons too.

Squacco Heron 1

Squacco Heron 2Squacco Heron – flying back to the breeding colony

Night HeronNight Heron – over the stone bridge in the morning

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – the commonest species flying in and out of the colony

There are also smaller numbers of Purple Herons and the odd Grey Heron here too, but they don’t tend to fly along the channel. However, we were lucky to have a Purple Heron fly right over us as we explored along one of the paths beside the channel. We also saw a couple of Little Bitterns at s’Albufera, but they were not as obliging as on our last visit – a male which flew in and landed on the edge of a reedy ditch very close to us, but partly obscured by reeds, and a more distant female along the main channel.

Purple HeronPurple Heron – circled over us by the main channel one morning

The reserve here is a great place to get close to several other Mediterranean wetland species. Red-knobbed Coot, Purple Swamphen and Red-crested Pochard were all reintroduced here in the 1990s after having died out in previous years. The first two species in particular can be seen fairly easily here these days. As well as plenty of these, we also saw Red-crested Pochard and a pair of Marbled Duck too at s’Albufera,

Red-knobbed CootRed-knobbed Coot – reintroduced to Majorca

Purple SwamphenPurple Swamphen – also reintroduced to Majorca, common now in s’Albufera

S’Albufera is also good for waders. It is a great place to watch Kentish Plovers and Little Ringed Plovers in front of the hides. A couple of the pairs of Kentish Plover had very recently hatched young – little more than a ball of fluff on ungainly long legs!

Kentish PloverKentish Plover – a male, in front of one of the hides

Kentish Plover juvKentish Plover – a very small, recently hatched juvenile

We saw various other species of waders both here and at Salobrar de Campos, the saltpans in the south of the island. The first few migrants were coming through – the highlights being a single Spotted Redshank and a single Curlew Sandpiper, along with more Green and Wood Sandpipers, plus Curlew and Greenshank.

Black-winged Stilts are found on all the wetlands. Salobrar de Campos is a great place to photograph them, as they fly overhead noisily protesting at your presence!

Black-winged Stilt 1

Black-winged Stilt 2

Black-winged Stilt 3Black-winged Stilts – a common breeding bird on the wetlands in Majorca

We saw several Audouin’s Gulls bathing in the main channel by the path out to s’Albufera in the afternoons, but the best place to get close to them was on the beach at Port de Pollenca in the evenings among the empty sun loungers! The gulls come down to look for scraps after the crowds have thinned out and can be very obliging here.

Audouin's Gull 1

Audouin's Gull 2Audouin’s Gull – close views on the beach in the early evening

Aside from all the speciality species and wetland birds, there are also many other regular Mediterranean species to be seen here. Thekla Larks on the Spanish mainland can be hard to separate from the confusingly similar Crested Lark, but on Majorca there are none of the latter making the identification much more straightforward!

Thekla LarkThekla Lark – not common but encountered fairly regularly

It is always a pleasure to watch Bee-eaters and there were plenty around s’Albufera and the neighbouring areas.

Bee-eaterBee-eater – always great birds to watch

That is just a small selection of the birds which we managed to see in a week on Mallorca. The final list for the holiday tallied up to 98 species (plus a White-cheeked Pintail – presumably recently escaped from somewhere!). That is a very respectable total for midsummer – and we even managed to find plenty of time for relaxing by the pool in the heat of the day! It is a great place to visit and we will be back…