19th June 2021 – Warblers, Waders & More

A Group Tour just for the day, along the North Norfolk coast today. It was a cloudy start and finish, but in between there were some bright and even sunny intervals, which definitely had not been in the forecast. The overnight drizzle dried up just before we met up and it stayed dry all day.

We started the day at Kelling. As we got out of the minibus in the village, a Greenfinch was wheezing from the tree above us. A pair of House Sparrows were mating on the roof of the house across the road. A pair of Stock Doves flew over and one landed on the roof of the converted barn by the main road. A Chaffinch was singing by the school as we set off up the lane.

We walked down the lane towards the Water Meadow. There was not much singing in the hedges this morning, but one of the group did spot a web high up in a tree by the path, which turned out to be a nest of Small Eggar moth caterpillars. One caterpillar was still on the side of the web. Scanning from the gate, we could see one or two Brown Hares in the field beyond.

Small Eggar moth caterpillar – on its web

As we got out into the open by the Water Meadow, there were a couple of Common Whitethroats and several Linnets in the bushes. A Sedge Warbler was singing here, in the brambles just the other side of the hedge. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over the field to the west. Several Sand Martins were hawking for insects low over the Water Meadow pool.

There had been a Marsh Warbler singing here for the last week, and as we got to the crosstrack, we could hear it distantly so we carried straight on along the path down towards the beach. A family of Stonechats was along the fenceline on the hill above as we passed, male, female and a streaky juvenile.

There were a couple of people already there, standing and listening to the Marsh Warbler singing. What an amazing song! Not so much its own, as a constant stream of different calls and songs borrowed from other species it had heard, both in Europe and on its African wintering grounds. We could hear it mimicking Blackbird, Swallow, Blue Tit, Bee-eater (probably Blue-cheeked!), and many more we couldn’t recognise.

The Marsh Warbler was singing from thick vegetation in a reedy ditch, but a couple of times it came up into the tops of the reeds briefly, before flying down along the line of the ditch and diving back into the vegetation. No the best views, but good to see it at all – and with Marsh Warbler it is all about the song. A Reed Warbler started singing nearby for comparison, lacking the varied mimicry of the Marsh Warbler, much more methodical, rhythmic.

There were a few other birds here, out on the Quags – an Egyptian Goose, a couple of Avocets and a Little Egret around the pools and ditches. Several Rooks were feeding out on the grass. A couple of Meadow Pipits perched up on the fence posts.

Rook – several were feeding on the Quags

Carrying on along the path, we climbed up onto the shingle ridge to look at the sea. There were several small lines of Gannets passing offshore, a mixture of adults with their black-tipped white wings and younger more mottled birds. There were one or two Sandwich Terns closer in, but most of the terns were distant off here this morning.

Two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew in from behind us, dropping over the shingle and down towards the sea. We could see their white wing tips, black hoods and bright red bills as they came past us. They dipped down to the water just beyond the breakers and several immature (2nd calendar year) Mediterranean Gulls then drifted in from the east, dip feeding just offshore.

Mediterranean Gull – two adults dropped down to the sea

As we started to walk back along the path by the Quags, a Cuckoo flew past over the hillside above us and landed on the fence by the path up to the gun emplacements, calling. It dropped down to the bushes behind the beach where we could just see it looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn. We walked up the hill a short way and got it in the scope, where it was mobbed by a Common Whitethroat before it dropped down out of view.

Cuckoo – looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn

There were several butterflies out now in the sunshine, including Common Blue and Small Heath. We stopped to look at some Southern Marsh Orchids in the dunes slack. A few Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings and Linnets were flitting around, in and out of the grass and around the fences.

The Marsh Warbler was still singing, so we stopped for another quick listen on our way past. Then we headed back up the lane, stopping briefly to admire a couple of smart pink-breasted male Linnets on the brambles by the path. A Blackcap was singing now in the taller hawthorns by the copse, and several flicked off ahead of us, presumably a family group from the calls. A little further up, two Bullfinch came up from the beck and flew ahead of us a couple of times before disappearing round the back of the hedge.

Linnet – perched on the brambles by the path

We drove back west and parked at Walsey Hills. There was nothing apart from a couple of Coot on the Snipe’s Marsh pool today, but across the road we could see two Spoonbills distantly on the grazing marshes over at the back of the Serpentine. We crossed the road and set off up the East Bank. One or two Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds.

The male Yellow Wagtail is still here and still singing, having failed to attract a female. But with the vegetation having grown considerably it is very hard to see now in the long grass. We kept stopping to scan the ground for it as we walked up. It took several stops, but finally we saw it flying. It sang a couple of times in flight, stalling and parachuting down as it did so, then dropped back down into the long grass again. After a couple of seconds it came out again, and this time landed on a small mound of earth on a bare patch of ground where we could get it in the scopes. A very smart male – bright canary yellow – it would be nice to have them breeding here again.

While we were watching the Yellow Wagtail, we noticed a single Curlew behind it, an early returning bird back for the winter already. A lone drake Wigeon then walked out of the ditch next to it – presumably in this instance one which had decided to over-summer here.

When we heard Bearded Tits pinging behind us, we turned to scan the reedbed. A tawny-coloured juvenile climbed up into the reeds on the back edge of the ditch close by, and we had a great view of it as it flicked around, presumably trying to locate the rest of the family. It flew off down along the ditch.

Bearded Tit – a tawny-coloured juvenile

There were a few more waders around the Serpentine, several Avocets and some Redshank, including a couple of juveniles in the top corner. A Little Ringed Plover was very well camouflaged on the dry mud down at the front and two Dunlin still sporting their summer black belly patches were in the water behind one of the islands further back. When we heard Greenshank calling, two dropped in to Pope’s Pool where we got them in the scopes.

There were three Barnacle Geese on one of the islands on Pope’s Pool two – presumably part of the ever-increasing UK feral population. The Spoonbills were still fast asleep, but one did wake up and flash its spoon-shaped bill briefly.

Spoonbills – mostly asleep as usual

As we walked on towards Arnold’s Marsh, one of the volunteers told us there had been a Little Gull around earlier. The first birds we saw when we scanned were not one but two Little Gulls, both 1st summer birds, asleep by the small shingle island at the back. There were two Sandwich Terns next to them, and nearby, a single Common Tern. A single Ringed Plover was on the sand in the back corner.

Little Gulls – with two Sandwich Terns

The day’s tern list was further swelled with a high count of 21 Little Terns feeding offshore, from the beach. Then it was time to walk back for lunch. As we passed Don’s Pool now, an adult Little Grebe was feeding two stripy-headed juveniles, diving repeatedly under the blanket weed in one corner and resurfacing with an assortment of morsels.

Little Grebe – feeding two hungry juveniles

We stopped for lunch on the picnic tables in front of the Visitor Centre, in the sunshine. Afterwards, we set off further west. A Great White Egret was flying out over the grazing marshes as we passed Holkham.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Titchwell. It had clouded over now, and lots of Swifts and House Martins were hawking low over the reedbed. A couple of Marsh Harriers were up over the back, and we got the scopes on an orange-headed recently fledged juvenile perched in a bush. A Sparrowhawk shot through the sallows with prey in its talons. and a Hobby was perched in one of the dead trees at the back.

From Island Hide, we could see the Spotted Redshanks on the Freshmarsh but they were right back against the reeds on the far side, still in their jet black breeding plumage. They have returned already from their breeding grounds and will moult very quickly over the coming weeks. We had a look from here but figured we could get a slightly closer view from Parrinder Hide.

A single Pintail was the surprise duck on here today. There were still a few Teal, more returning birds already. Plus the resident Common Pochard, the drakes already moulting into drab eclipse plumage, and Tufted Ducks.

Pintail – on the Freshmarsh

As we walked out of Island Hide, a couple of people were photographing two Common Lizards which were basking on the fence by the path, so we stopped for a look too.

Common Lizard – basking on the fence

Walking down the path to Parrinder Hide, a Common Redshank was alarm calling on the top of a post just above us. We managed better views of the Spotted Redshanks from here, until they were flushed by a Marsh Harrier flying over the reeds just behind and they disappeared into the other corner, behind Avocet Island, out of view. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were in with the Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the Freshmarsh too, until they flew off.

Looking carefully through the Black-tailed Godwits we eventually found a single limosa Continental Black-tailed Godwit in amongst the commoner Icelandic birds. Presumably from its colour rings one of the very small and declining breeding population on the Ouse Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Freshmarsh

There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh as we passed and we could only see a couple more Black-tailed Godwits on the Tidal Pools, so we continued straight on to the beach. The tide was coming in and it was breezy out here, so we didn’t stay long. There were lots of gulls on the beach up towards Thornham Point, presumably feeding on shellfish washed up on the northerly winds. There were lots of Oystercatchers along the shoreline and a Curlew and a Bar-tailed Godwit over towards Brancaster.

We had to head back now. A more thorough scan of the Tidal Pools on the way back revealed a small group of Turnstones huddled in the lee of one of the islands. A Little Tern flew over calling. As we passed the Freshmarsh, two Common Terns were flying round now. Then it was back to the car park and time to get everyone home.

6th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Summer Tour today, our last day. It was a mostly bright day with some sunny periods and although there were some ominously threatening dark clouds approaching around the middle of the day, they passed by to the south of us and we didn’t get any rain.

There had been a Rose-coloured Starling at Kelling yesterday and news came through that it was still present this morning, so we drove over there first. As we set off down the track, we could hear Chiffchaffs singing in the hedge and an Orange-tip butterfly fluttered around above us.

Some people walking back told us that the Rose-coloured Starling was currently in view, so we quickened our pace down to the gate beyond the copse. There were a couple of people already there who quickly put us onto it and we soon found ourselves watching a rather smart pale powder-puff pink-tabarded Rose-coloured Starling perched on the wires at the back.

Rose-coloured Starling – on the fence

We walked a little further down, where we could see over the brambles from the bank the other side of the track and the views of the Rose-coloured Starling were slightly closer. It spent some time just perched on the wires looking slightly lifeless, but then suddenly dropped down to the short grass below and started walking around. Then it took off, flying out to join the large flock of regular Starlings which were feeding on the Water Meadow, dropping down into the tall rushes out of view.

There were lots of Brown Hares in the field beyond and one on the ridge of the field behind us.

Brown Hare – one of many

We took the disappearance from view of the Rose-coloured Starling as our cue to move on. We continued on down the track to the Water Meadow. A Common Whitethroat flew across the track into the brambles. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the yellow-green alexanders on the corner.

Sedge Warbler – singing in the alexanders

There was nothing of particularly note on the Water Meadow pool, one of the regular pair of Egyptian Geese, plus a few Mallard and Gadwall and a couple of Moorhen. More unusually, we looked up over the ridge to see a Fulmar flying towards us over Weybourne Camp. It banked round over the gun emplacements, and headed back out to sea.

We decided to move on, and drove up to check out one of the local heaths. As we walked out of the car park, we could hear a Bullfinch calling and had a quick glimpse as it flew across the path. As we came out of the thick blackthorn, we heard a Nightjar churring briefly. They will churr sometimes in the daytime, but they are better looked for at dusk, as we had seen last night. Some Long-tailed Tits were calling in the trees, and we saw one as it flew across. A Goldcrest was singing too, but there were few warblers singing now. The nearby pines were rather quiet, apart from a Siskin which called overhead, but was not seen.

There was a large group of cyclists chatting on the track ahead of us, so we turned onto a side path. We had hoped it would be quieter, but there were several walkers and dog walkers here too and no sign of the hoped for Woodlarks. About half way along, we heard a burst of Dartford Warbler singing. We stopped to listen more carefully, and try to work out where exactly the sound was coming from, but it had gone quiet. We scanned the tops of the gorse bushes but there was no sign of it. We walked on a bit further, still listening, then decided to turn back. A couple of Green Hairstreak butterflies were flying around the emerging bracken fronds.

Green Hairstreak – on a young bracken frond

The cyclists had gone now, so we walked on along the main track and took another smaller path out into the middle of the heath. A family of Stonechats were flicking around on the gorse ahead of us here, male, female and at least two streaky juveniles. There were plenty of Linnets too. We checked another favoured spot for a Woodlark but drew a black again.

As we cut back round, suddenly a small bird flew out of the gorse ahead of us. It looked dark slate grey, with a noticeably long tail, a Dartford Warbler! It landed in a young pine tree, where we could just see it moving around in the lower branches, then dropped down into the gorse below. We walked on round on the path and positioned ourselves looking at the clump of gorse into which it had disappeared. Luckily one of the group was looking the other way, as it had obviously moved and was now perched on a low gorse bush right by the path. It flew across and landed on the top of a larger clump where it remained for several seconds, giving us a great view.

Dartford Warbler – a great view

We decided to leave the Dartford Warbler in peace We set off back along the path but we didn’t get far before we flushed a Woodlark from the edge. We could see its short tail as it flew up, and we watched as it circled round and landed in the top of a pine tree a bit further over. We got it in the scopes and could see it had food in its bill, before it flew down to the ground just where we had been looking for it earlier.

By the time we got back round, the Woodlark was back up in the top of the pine. It dropped down again, and we could just see it walking around on the ground. Then it flew up and landed on a nearby fencepost, giving us a great view. It was already after midday, so we walked back towards the car park. Another Woodlark circled overhead calling on the way.

We drove down to Cley, and as we dropped back down to the main road, a Grey Partridge ran off the verge by the houses, ran across the road ahead of us and onto the old parking area the other side. An odd place to see one! The NWT car park was strangely full of cyclists. Apparently there was a big cycle event round Norfolk today, but it seemed odd that they had been allowed to take over the car park as one of their stops on one of the busiest weekends of the year. Speaking to the staff in the Visitor Centre it didn’t sound like they had even asked for permission to use the site.

Thankfully, it looked like the cyclists were starting to disperse and we managed to find a picnic table as several of them left. While we were eating, a Great White Egret flew across over the reserve – we could see its long legs and slow leisurely wingbeats. It was overtaken by a Little Egret, which was a great way to see the size difference.

Great White Egret – flew over at lunch

After lunch, we planned to have a walk up the East Bank. There were some threatening dark clouds approaching from the south, so we decided to drive to Walsey Hills and walk from there, so we wouldn’t be too far from the minibus in case it started to rain. There were just two Tufted Ducks today on Snipes Marsh.

As we started to walk up the East Bank, we could hear the Yellow Wagtail singing. It took a bit of finding in the long grass, partly because it seemed to mostly have its green back to us. When it finally turned round it was much more obvious – its bright canary yellow head and breast standing out. We had some good views of it through the scopes.

Yellow Wagtail – the male, still singing

There were several Cormorants drying their wings on the islands on Pope’s Pool and a throng of loafing immature Great Black-backed Gulls. There were several Avocets too. We could hear Bearded Tits calling behind us, but we couldn’t see them.

News came through now that a Red-backed Shrike had just been found not far away, inland at Aylmerton. Even better, it was a smart male. We didn’t have a lot of time available, and we were not sure exactly where it was or how long it would take us to see it, so we decided to head over there immediately. As it was, we managed to get precise directions while we were on the way and it wasn’t too far to walk after we got there and we found ourselves watching the stunning male Red-backed Shrike.

The Red-backed Shrike was perched in a small oak tree sticking out of a hedge between two fields, next to a footpath. It kept making small sallies out either side, catching insects, coming back to the same tree of one a bit further along. We had a great view of it through the scopes, rusty red-backed, grey-headed with a black bandit mask, and pink on the breast.

Red-backed Shrike – a stunning male

The dark clouds had passed over, but it was still cloudy, warm and muggy. Lots of Common Swifts, Sand Martins and House Martins, were hawking for insects low over the fields too. After watching the Red-backed Shrike for a while, we decided to head off back.

Cutting across inland, we made good time on our way back to Wells and still had about 45 minutes before we were due to finish, so we stopped at the pools just east of town. A pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass nearby. A Grey Heron flew over the parking area, some distance from the pools, but still a squadron of Avocets flew out after it, and one continued to chase it away over the field beyond.

Down the track, we stopped to scan the pools and could see why. There were several families of cute fluffy juvenile Avocets, being defended by their parents. There were three darker brown small juvenile Redshanks too, the first we have seen here this year. The juvenile Lapwings are much more advanced, and are now well grown. There was a pair of Shelducks with a family of shelducklings out in the middle of the water too. All the parents were very aggressive, chasing away any potential predators.

Common Gull and Redshanks – defensive parents!

There were some other waders on here too. A single Knot, in grey non-breeding plumage, was the first we had seen on the three days, a last minute addition to the list. Two Little Ringed Plovers were distant at first in the heat haze, but one came closer, so we could see its golden yellow eye ring through the scopes.

A Marsh Harrier, a pale male circled over the field beyond, hunting. As we walked back a short while later we watched it come in over the pools with food in its talons. The female was following, presumably expecting to be the recipient of the prey, but the male flew on and landed in the field the other side. For some reason, it was not going to give it up.

It was time now to call it a day and head on to Wells to drop people off. It had been a very exciting three days, with some great birds and a good selection of other summer wildlife too.

5th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Summer Tour today, including a Nightjar Evening. After a grey and cloudy start, it gradually brightened up and then the skies cleared from the west around midday, producing a lovely sunny afternoon. We spent the day down in the Norfolk Broads, then the evening looking for owls and Nightjars.

We started the day with the long drive down to the Broads. There had been a 1st summer male Red-footed Falcon at Hickling Broad reported yesterday and we were hoping to see that and some Swallowtails too. As we got out of the minibus at the NWT car park, several Willow Warblers were singing in the trees nearby and the Peacocks at the next door animal rescue charity were calling too (unfortunately that one doesn’t count!).

We set off down towards the track to Stubb Mill, which was where the falcon had been, stopping on the corner for our first scan. We could immediately see several distant Hobbys in the dead trees out in the reedbed. As we had hoped, the falcons were yet to really get going, with the cloudy start to the day. We could see a small group of other birders further up Whiteslea track, on the bank, looking for the Red-footed Falcon.

We were just debating which way to go, when we noticed a local birder walking back along the track towards us, so we asked him for an update. He told us there was no sign of the Red-footed Falcon this morning and he also suggested that most of the later reports yesterday related to misidentified Hobbys. So it looked increasingly like it hadn’t roosted in the trees here with the Hobbys overnight as we had thought it might have done, and had probably moved swiftly through yesterday. He did tell us about some Garganey on the pools, and we figured we would continue on down the track towards Stubb Mill to see what else we could see.

A couple of Common Whitethroats were flitting around in the bushes by the track ahead of us as we walked along. We had just stopped opposite the second of the pools to scan for the Garganey, when one of the group spotted a Common Crane flying in over the fields behind us. It disappeared behind the trees then reappeared over the track ahead of us, flying out over the pools, before circling round and dropping down into reedbed beyond. A nice start.

Common Crane – flew in

There were lots of hirundines and Swifts hawking low over the pools, including several Sand Martins. It was a good opportunity to compare them with the House Martins. A Common Buzzard and a Marsh Harrier circled high over the trees behind us now. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits were roosting on the short grass by the water. Several Lapwings were flying round calling, and there were a few Avocets out here too.

Most of the ducks were asleep, mainly Gadwall and a few Mallard, plus a single Wigeon and a couple of Teal out on the water beyond. Scanning carefully, we finally found the Garganey, two exclipse drakes in their drabber, female-like plumage, also asleep. For no apparent reason, one of the Avocet decided to run at them, and they woke up briefly, then moving further towards the bank where we couldn’t really get a clear view of them any more. Very helpful of the Avocet!

One of the group was looking at four distant Greylags flying over the back of the reedbed and noticed a large brown bird below. It was a Bittern flying across. Unfortunately it quickly dropped back down into the reeds before all the rest of the group could get on it.

We continued on to where track goes up onto the bank. We were a bit closer to the dead trees and had better views of the Hobbys from here, although it was starting to brighten up and the Hobbys were becoming more active, flying up hawking for insects.

We could see a pair of Ringed Plovers on one of the islands on the pool in front of us, one of which looked to be incubating. They were noticeably paler above than the tundrae Ringed Plovers we had seen at Titchwell yesterday. There were also a couple of Redshank on here and a couple of Common Terns flew over. A Bittern appeared again, from behind the dead trees over the reeds at the back, but again it was distant and hard to pick up against the trees.

We decided to walk back and up the track towards Bittern Hide, hoping for a better view of its namesake. There were several dragonflies flying around now – Four-spotted Chasers – and more damselflies in the vegetation by the path, including Large Red, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

Blue-tailed Damselfly – warming up

We walked up Whiteslea Track now, and a Treecreeper was singing in the trees as we passed. We took the path up onto the bank and scanned the pool, picking up an Egyptian Goose from round on this side. Then we continued on towards the hide. A Bittern flew up again, but again was only up for couple of seconds and some of the group still hadn’t seen one, so we stood for a while on the corner before Bittern Hide. We scanned the reeds, but it didn’t reappear. Four more Cranes circled up slowly in the distance. Behind us, we could see the edge of the front which had brought all the cloud and the skies slowly cleared from the west to sunshine.

We heard Bearded Tits pinging and turned to see a couple fly across the ditch in front of us. A female perched in the edge for a few seconds. Some more Bearded Tits were calling further along, in the reeds by the path, and the male climbed up briefly into the tops, before flying and dropping back in. It seemed like they might have young in here. A couple of times the male flew out across the track and then back in with food.

Bearded Tit – the female in the reeds

It was time to head back for lunch now. We had seen an adult Black-headed Gull walking around on the top of the bank earlier, which seemed odd, and now we realised why. A fluffy Black-headed Gull chick had walked out of the long grass on the edge of the path. We waited for it to go back in before we walked on. A female Common Blue butterfly was nectaring on a buttercup.

Common Blue butterfly – a female

We cut across on the path through the wood, back to the Visitor Centre. There were several Four-spotted Chasers warming themselves on the brambles here in the sunshine. A male Reed Bunting was gathering food and flew across into a dead tree. A Common Whitethroat flitted in and out of the trees ahead of us.

Four-spotted Chaser – basking in the sunshine

We had our lunch in the picnic area in the sunshine. A Garden Warbler was singing in the trees nearby briefly. Our initial plan was to go somewhere different after lunch, but we had to be back early and didn’t have much time now, and figured we could look for Swallowtails here and maybe have another chance for the members of the group who had not caught any of the Bittern flights earlier.

It was warm now, as we set off again. We walked the other way round the reserve this time, out past the hides, towards the Broad, following the Covid one-way system. A couple of Reed Warblers showed well in the young reeds next to path. When we stopped to look at a male Reed Bunting singing in the top of a dead tree, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out of the trees behind and overhead.

We stopped to scan one of the overgrown ditches. There were several more dragonflies here, including a Hairy Dragonfly as well as more Four-spotted Chasers. A small shoal of Common Rudd was in the open water amongst the marestail.

Common Rudd – in one of the ditches

We stopped again at the first viewpoint overlooking the Broad. There were lots of Mute Swans out on the water, but not much else – often the way with the actual Broads themselves. A Marsh Harrier circled over in the sunshine. Continuing along the path, several Willow Warblers were calling in the sallows, collecting food, and one perched right in the top of an alder, singing.

Willow Warbler – in the sallows

We were struggling at first to find any Swallowtails or any flowers out for them to nectar on. Everything is very late this year after the cold spring. Finally, along the path towards the Observation Hide a Swallowtail flew in. But it carried on straight past us, flying very quickly ahead of us along the path. We tried to follow to see if it might land, but then it turned behind some sallows out of view and by the time we got there we had lost track of it.

We had yet another brief glimpse of a Bittern flying over the reeds, over by Bittern Hide, so we decided to head straight round that way. We popped into the hide. The reeds which had been cut in front of the hide are now growing up fast and making it harder to see anything on there. We were running out of time slightly, as we had to be back early today ahead of our evening foray later, but we decided to have a quick rest in the hide, before heading back to car park.

Scanning the dead trees in the distance through binoculars, there were still one or two Hobbys around. When a falcon flew out head on towards us we assumed it was just another Hobby, but it looked to have a rather pale crown and head which appeared to catch the sun, unlike the dark hood of a Hobby or a male Red-footed Falcon (like yesterday’s). But there was a lot of heat haze now and it was a long way off, so we figured we were imagining it. It turned and landed back in the dead trees out of view behind a branch.

It flew out again, another short sally after insects, and it really did look to have a pale head. As it turned to head back to the trees, it looked to have pale orangey underparts too. It couldn’t be though could it? Yesterday’s Red-footed Falcon was a 1st summer male and this one looked like a female. It lLanded again, and this time we realised we needed to get it in the scope quickly. Now we could confirm what we thought we had seen – it was a female Red-footed Falcon!

Red-footed Falcon – we found a female

The Red-footed Falcon was distant and there was a lot of heat haze, but we could see it did have a pale head, orange on top, whiter on the cheeks, with a thin black mask and small moustache. The back and wings looked rather dark grey and the underparts pale orangey-buff. It kept doing little sallies from the trees, shorter flights than the Hobbys, with more gliding, and quick bursts of wingbeats when chasing prey. It even did a brief hover. At one point it landed in the same tree as one of the Hobbys, and was noticeably a little smaller, more compact.

We had come to see someone else’s Red-footed Falcon, been disappointed to find it gone, but then found our own. Hickling is a good site for them and hosted multiple birds just last year, presumably the gathering of Hobbys helping to pull in passing birds. We put the news out – but when we went outside and onto the bank we could see everyone else had long since given up and gone. We were thinking it might be a bit closer from bank, but there was still lots of heat haze. Still what a great bird!

Unfortunately it was really time to go now, or we would be late for our early evening meal. As we set off to walk back, another Swallowtail flew past. This time it turned in front of us and looked like it might land on the flowers growing on the bank. It meant we had a better view, but it changed it’s mind and flew off rather than land. Then it was a quick walk back to the car park and a long drive back home, albeit with a spring in our steps!

Nightjar Evening

After a break and something to eat, we met again early evening. We went looking for Little Owls first. We checked out some barns by the road, but there was no sign. So we tried another site and immediately spotted one perched on the roof half way down one of the barns, enjoying the evening sunshine. We got it in the scope.

While we were watching it, another Little Owl flew across in front, disappearing into the trees nearby. After a few seconds it came back out and landed on the ground by the barns, running around looking for food on the concrete. It then flew up again, then across to the other side, perching on the near edge of the roof the other side. Great views.

Little Owl – hunting around the barns

We dropped down towards the coast to look for Barn Owls next. It was a lovely evening, and we heard several Yellowhammers singing through the open windows as we drove down the country lanes. We drove a quick circuit round via some meadows where they like to hunt, without any success, so we parked up nearby and walked up onto the seawall to scan the marshes. At first, we couldn’t find any owls – but we did see several Brown Hares and a pair of Grey Partridge down in the grass. A Song Thrush was singing from the trees on the far side.

Then a Barn Owl appeared out of the trees, the regular very white one, nicknamed ‘Casper’, which is well known here. It started hunting around a recently cut grass field, we watched it fly round, drop into the grass a couple of times, then come back up. It disappeared behind some trees and looked like it had gone off in the other direction, but then reappeared and flew back towards us. It came much closer, flying past us over the reeds and out along the bank across the marshes. It landed briefly, and we thought about going out for a closer look, but it quickly too off again as some people walked past and we watched it head out away from us.

Barn Owl – ‘Casper’, the white one

It was time to head up to the heath. The sun had already gone down and the temperature was dropping when we arrived and got out of the minibus. We set off out onto the middle of the heath, and we were not even already in position when we heard our first Nightjar churring. We got out of the edge of the trees just in time to hear it stop and take off wing-clapping. We could see it flying round over the gorse further up, and watched it drop down behind the vegetation ahead of us. We walked quickly on down the path but when we got to the area it had seemed to drop, it had disappeared.

Another Nightjar started churring now, right out in the middle. We stopped to listen to it, such an evocative sound, of summer evenings on the heaths. For some time we could only hear one. It flew round at one point – the churring stopped and we heard it wing-clapping as it took off. Then it flew back to the trees where it had been and resumed churring.

When another Nightjar started up behind us, it sounded closer. We walked on to see if we locate this one, but it was still too far from path to give us a chance to find it. A fourth male then started churring in the distance, and we stood and listened to the two of them for a couple of minutes. A Woodcock flew over roding – we could hear its squeaky call, and looked up to see it fly over with exaggerated slow wingbeats. A Tawny Owl called from the trees.

The first male Nightjar we had seen earlier started churring again, so we walked back. It was getting darker now, so we couldn’t see where it was perched on the edge of the trees. It took off and we watched two Nightjars chasing each other through the tops, silhouetted against the last of the light in the sky. One came back down into the gorse not far from us, and we had a quick view of it flying round lower as it broke the skyline. Then it went quiet again.

One of the other Nightjars was still churring out in the middle. We stood and listened to that for a couple more minutes, a lovely way to while away a summer’s evening. Then it was time to head back – it had been a long day, and we had another busy one ahead tomorrow. As we walked off the heath, we were serenaded by another of the Nightjars churring. It was in a tree above the path but too dark to see it perched now. As we walked underneath, we watched it fly out, dropping down out across the Heath.

4th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Summer Tour today. It was bright with some sunshine to start, clouding over through the morning and starting to rain early afternoon. The rain was only light though, not heavy as was the forecast, so it didn’t stop us.

We headed over to Snettisham for the morning. A Sedge Warbler was singing noisily from the brambles nearby as we got out of the minibus. A Greenfinch was wheezing from one of the gardens as we walked up the road. we made our way in on the path in through the bushes. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling over to one side, so we walked round and had a couple of glimpses of it flicking around in the brambles. There was a selection of other warblers, singing here – Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouting. We listened to the metronomic song of song of the Reed Warblers vs the mad chatter of the Sedge Warblers.

A Turtle Dove started purring nearby, deep in the dense bushes. We walked a bit further along to see if we could find an angle to see it, when it flew up and broke into a long gentle glide back down, its display flight. We saw where it landed this time, high in a pine tree, and got it in the scopes, although it was partly obscured by branches. It purred from there for a while, then flew up again, gliding over the path above us, before landing in the top of a large hawthorn the other side. It was a better view through the scopes now, we could see the rusty edges to the feathers of the upperparts.

Turtle Dove – in display flight

The Turtle Dove then flew back over the path again, this time landing in a large willow out of view. We could hear it but couldn’t see it. The next time it flew out, it headed off north away over the bushes out of sight.

We continued on, up onto the outer seawall. The tide was quite a way out still, but we stopped to scan the mud of the Wash. There were lots of waders out on the distant shoreline, predominantly Oystercatchers, plus one or two Curlews. A single lingering Brent Goose was out there too – most of the remaining birds seem to have departed in the last week or so, back to Siberia for the breeding season.

Dropping back down, we walked on up through the middle of the bushes. There were lots of Linnets here, some smart males with pinky red flushes on their breasts, and some brown streaked juveniles now too. A male Stonechat appeared on the top of a bush on the seawall. They bred here and sure enough just a little further up we found a couple of streaky juveniles too. A Meadow Pipit feeding on the short grass nearby was the first of the day.

Linnet – a smart male

There was a nice selection of butterflies here again, despite a fresher breeze today – a couple of Wall, a Brown Argus, a Small Heath. A Mother Shipton, a species of day-flying moth, landed briefly in the grass but was off again before we could really see the supposed likeness of the 16th century witch on its wings, after which it is named.

Two more Turtle Doves flew past heading south, presumably a male and a female. A little later, we saw a male coming back the other way in display flight. We saw it land in the top of a large bush, where it started purring, so we took advantage to have another look through the scopes.

The tide was slowly coming in and we now and a succession of small groups of Oystercatchers flew in off the Wash, heading in to roost on the marshes just inland. We climbed up onto the outer seawall again, by the crossbank. There were more Curlews on the mud now and two Bar-tailed Godwits in the shallow water. We could see their slightly upturned bills, before they tucked them in and went to sleep. Two different Ringed Plovers were hunkered down on the top of the beach, incubating in the roped off cordon nearby. They were very hard to see, well camouflaged against the shingle.

Ringed Plover – nesting in one of the cordons

We walked across at the crossbank and climbed up onto the inner seawall to scan the marshes. We could see some distant Little Gulls on the pool away to our left, so we walked a short way further up for a better look. There were at least three, all immature (1st summer/2nd calendar year) with the black ‘w’ pattern across their wings. We could see lots of Black-headed Gulls nesting, and lots of 2nd calendar year Common Gulls roosting further back, along with a mixture of immature Herring Gulls of various ages and a single young Great Black-backed Gull. A Common Tern flew in, and landed on one of the islands.

There were a couple of waders on the small pool the other side, on the grazing marsh. We had good views of a very close Black-tailed Godwit, a bird with a limp which always seems to be on here. It didn’t look particularly well today.

Black-tailed Godwit – with a limp

A lone Avocet on the mud looked to be incubating. At one point the other member of the pair flew in calling, and the first got up. It looked like they were performing a nest changeover but we couldn’t see an egg in the shallow scrape.

Avocet – changeover time

There were more Avocets and Lapwings out on the marshes. About fifty Black-tailed Godwits were roosting, Icelandic birds in various stages of moult, presumably mostly young birds which have not migrated back to Iceland to breed and not moulted fully into breeding plumage. A large mob of Oystercatchers was now roosting at the back, with more still flying in from the Wash. Two Spoonbills were mostly fast asleep (doing what they like to do best!), waking up and flashing their bills only briefly

Spoonbills – typically asleep

One or two Marsh Harriers flew over occasionally, attracting the ire of all the breeding gulls and waders, which chased up after it calling noisily. A Red Kite drifted over high.

There was a nice selection of ducks out here too, including a single lingering drake Wigeon, on the far bank with some Tufted Ducks. A pair of Mute Swans with just one cygnet swam out of the reeds in the channel below us. As we started to walk back, we scanned through the big flocks of geese – Greylags with lots of goslings, Canada Geese and a few Egyptian Geese – but all we could find different here today were three escaped Swan Geese (which don’t count unfortunately!).

Another Spoonbill was feeding actively in one of the pools among the geese, but disappeared into the rushes before we could get the scopes on it. It would have been nice to see one properly awake, but when we looked back it had climbed out onto the bank and gone straight to sleep! There were several Little Egrets, and two or three Grey Herons out here too.

It was just starting to cloud over now and lots of Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over the bushes, occasionally sweeping low past us, over the bank. A few House Martins appeared too, hard to tell if they are still migrants on the move or just local birds come for the feeding. A couple of Swallows were in with them too.

We headed over to Titchwell for lunch in the picnic area. Thankfully the rain held off. A Blackcap was singing in the trees nearby, and we could just see it flitting around. A Reed Warbler was singing in the sallows – it obviously hadn’t read the book!

After lunch, we decided to have a walk out on the reserve. It was forecast to rain, and we would have the option of shelter in the hides when it did. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew in over the reeds out at the back of the old Thornham grazing marsh pool. A Spoonbill flew in high over the Freshmarsh but carried on away over the west bank and the saltmarsh beyond

We stopped to listen at the reedbed, to see if we could hear a Bearded Tit. We didn’t, but we did see several Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers flying back and forth. A Bittern boomed, but just twice before going quiet again. There were a few Common Pochard in the reedbed channels and a single Great Crested Grebe on the reedbed pool along with lots of Greylags and Gadwall.

It still wasn’t really raining much and there were lots of people in Island Hide already, so we scanned the Freshmarsh from the bank. We could see a small group of waders distantly in front of Parrinder Hide, several Ringed Plover and a lone Dunlin with them. A Little Ringed Plover was up on the back of the island just beyond, but it was hard to see any detail at this range, and it was very well camouflaged against the dry mud.

A couple of drake Teal were new for the day – another duck which is common here in the winter but not many remain right through the summer. A single adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in briefly to bathe. They seem to be much scarcer here this year, for some reason.

Mediterranean Gull – just one briefly

While the rain was holding off, we decided to head straight out to the beach and come back to the hide. There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh, so we carried on to the Tidal Pools where we found several Turnstones picking around the islands. A pair of Shelduck swimming across the water were followed by several shelducklings.

Out at the beach, the tide was coming in and was already half way up the sand. Scanning out to sea, we spotted a Little Tern away to the west, close in, just beyond the breakers. It was flying away west all the time and getting increasingly hard to see against the grey water, but then thankfully turned and came back, giving us a good view now as it flew east past us, just beyond the sand. A few minutes later, another Little Tern flew out over the beach carrying a fish and disappeared off over the water towards Scolt. One or two Sandwich Terns were offshore too, but rather more distant.

With the tide in, there was not much on the beach, but we could see a small flock of Sanderling on the sand half way to Brancaster. They were running around in front of the waves breaking on the beach, in typical Sanderling fashion, but were very different from the silvery grey and white birds we see in winter, being much darker now in their breeding plumage. A pitfall for the unwary!

It was spitting with rain now, so we turned and headed back. A Spoonbill was on one of the pools out on the saltmarsh now, feeding. It climbed up out of the pool it was in and walked slowly across the saltmarsh amongst the thrift to another one a little further over. Nice to finally see one properly awake!

Spoonbill – nice to see one awake!

When we got back to the Freshmarsh, we turned down the path to Parrinder Hide. Just before we got in, we looked across to see a wader fly up from below the bank and land again on the island in front of the hide. A Common Sandpiper, a migrant here, possibly a late bird heading north or perhaps an early returning bird already which had failed to breed successfully. From the shelter of the hide, we watched as it worked its way right down to the front on the mud.

Common Sandpiper – in front of the hide

There were several Ringed Plovers out here still too, we counted twelve now. They came close in too, feeding on the mud right below us. They looked quite small and dark compared to our resident breeders, presumably migrant Tundra Ringed Plovers (of the subspecies tundrae) stopping off on their way north.

Tundra Ringed Plover – stopping off

It was raining a little more heavily now, so we decided to sit it out and admire the waders. A male Redshank was displaying to a female further back, which was not showing much interest. A group of four Avocets gathered for a squabble in front of the hide.

A group of Black-tailed Godwits was busy feeding in the deeper water beyond the islands, mainly 1st summer Icelandic birds which had not gone north to breed. One was on its own a short distance from the others and looked noticeably bigger and longer-billed. It seemed to have a more contrasting pale face and the pale orange on its breast was not as deep as a full adult Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit. We got it in the scope and on closer inspection, noticed it was colour ringed and tagged. This was enough to confirm that it was a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, of the nominate limosa subspecies, rather than the islandica Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits which are more common here.

A quick check with one of the locals who collects colour-ring combinations from here and he was able to confirm immediately that it was one of the very small number Continental Black-tailed Godwits which breed in the UK, on the Ouse Washes. Apparently it failed in its breeding attempt this year, and has already moved to Titchwell to feed and moult. It seems like the UK Continental Black-tailed Godwits, which are already teetering on the edge, have suffered from flooding on the Ouse Washes this year after all the rain in May.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the subspecies limosa

We had come to Parrinder Hide particularly hoping to see the Little Ringed Plover a bit closer, but we hadn’t seen it again yet. We had a careful scan round where it had been now and eventually found it hiding behind the bricks. It was preening, presumably taking advantage of the rain to have a shower. Eventually it came out and ran along the island over to the edge of the reeds, where we could get it in the scopes. Now we could see its golden yellow eyering properly.

The rain had helpfully eased off again now. It was time to head back – it had been a good start, but we had another busy day ahead tomorrow.

1st June 2021 – Birds & More

A Private Tour today in NW Norfolk, looking at more than birds, including a selection of other early summer wildlife. It was another lovely sunny day, warm but with a nice cool breeze off the sea on the north coast. We met in Brancaster and headed over to Snettisham for the morning.

As we walked in through the bushes, we could hear a selection of warblers singing deep in the bushes – Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common and Lesser Whitethroat. The delicate purring of a Turtle Dove filtered through them, so we walked up towards the dense hawthorns, dripping with flowers, from where the sound seemed to be coming. As we were scanning the bushes, the female flew up to join the male on a branch. We had a great view of them through the scope.

While we were watching the Turtle Doves, we heard the distinctive sound of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from somewhere further up. Most of the Grasshopper Warblers have gone quiet now, at least during daylight hours, so it was a bit of a surprise to hear one in the middle of the morning. We walked on to see if we could track it down, but it seemed to be coming from deep in an inaccessible area of scrub and then it went quiet. There were Reed Warblers and one or two Sedge Warblers still singing in the reeds.

Walking out of the bushes, several Linnets were feeding on the short grass below the outer seawall. Our first Brown Argus of the day – we would go on to see quite a few – was flitting around the storksbill. A tiny white moth, a Swan-feather Dwarf (Elachista argentella) flew up from our feet.

Up on the seawall, the tide was coming in and the water was already on the beach. A large flock of thirty or so Sanderlings was put up from the sand by a dogwalker and flew round over the water. As they twisted and turned, we could see one black-bellied Dunlin in with them. They landed down on the shore again and started feeding. In various stages of breeding plumage, they are much darker now than we see in the winter.

We dropped down off the seawall and continued on up through the middle. There were more warblers in the bushes and Linnets on the grass. The pools in the middle held a few Four-spotted Chasers and Azure Damselflies and patches of Water Crowfoot. Butterflies included several Small Copper, Small Heath and a single Painted Lady. As we got up towards the crossbank, a Meadow Pipit flew up onto the bushes on the seawall ahead of us. We stopped to watch our first male Common Blue butterfly of the day, flying fast up and down over the longer grass.

From up on the outer seawall, the tide was in now. A large flock of predominantly Ringed Plovers was trying to roost on the beach, but kept getting flushed by walkers and dogwalkers. We could see a Ringed Plover hunkered down on the top of the beach in one of the cordons, presumably incubating. As two people walked along the shore line with their dogs, well outside the cordon, the Ringed Plover came off the nest and ran up the beach, only returning once they had passed. Just goes to show how sensitive they are to disturbance, which is a huge problem for birds which nest on the beaches here.

Ringed Plover – there were lots trying to roost on the beach

Crossing over to the inner seawall, we looked out across Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of waders roosting on here, sitting out high tide on the Wash. Hundreds of Oystercatchers were over the back and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on the slightly closer pools. Scanning through, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too. There were several groups of Ringed Plovers on here too, and further up we could just see two different waders with some of them on a muddy island. There was too much heat haze to be able to make them out clearly though, so we walked further north along the inner seawall, to see if we could get a closer look.

When we got closer, we could see that as we suspected, they were two Curlew Sandpipers, adults moulting in (or out?) of rusty breeding plumage. They were first reported here almost a week ago now, so are clearly in no hurry to move on. Northbound spring migrants usually move on quickly, and it seems too early for southbound birds already (it can’t really be autumn already?!). Or perhaps they could even have abandoned hope of breeding due to the long, cold weather this spring?

There were at least two Little Gulls out on the marshes too, immatures in their 1st summer/2nd calendar year. We got one in the scope, dwarfed by the surrounding Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were on a small pool on the grazing marshes the other side, along with two Avocets and an Oystercatcher. We stopped to photograph a Green-veined White butterfly on the flowers on the bank. Another Turtle Dove flew past us, heading towards Heacham. A Cuckoo was calling in the distance. A male Marsh Harrier flew in and started circling low over the grass just the other side of the crossbank.

Green-veined White – showing the hindwing underside

There was a nice selection of other birds on the marshes as we walked back, stopping to scan from time to time. A Great White Egret on one of the pools really stood out, and there was a single Spoonbill in with the geese at the back, fast asleep (doing what Spoonbills like to do best!). A nice selection of wildfowl includes a couple of lingering late Wigeon and a feral Barnacle Goose. A Common Tern was hunting for fish in the channel just below the bank. A Hobby flew past, but typically disappeared off fast to the south.

We dropped down off the bank and cut back in to the southern end of the Coastal Park. A Hairy Dragonfly was patrolling one of the pools, chased by the Four-spotted Chasers. Back through the bushes, the Turtle Doves and Grasshopper Warbler were quiet now, but we did find a gorgeous metallic Green Hairstreak basking on a bush by the path.

Green Hairstreak – basking by the path

It was already lunchtime by the time we got back to the minibus, but we elected to drive somewhere more scenic to eat. Thankfully, we were allowed to park just beyond the payhut at Holme, despite not having booked in advance, as it wasn’t full, and we had a late lunch looking out over the saltmarsh towards the beach. The new car park booking system at NWT Holme Dunes is a complete nightmare – it is hard to plan in advance what we might want to do and even harder to know exactly what time we might get there if we are somewhere else for the morning. Not surprisingly the car park seems to be booked almost entirely by beach goers, looking at the occupants of the cars leaving and the almost total lack of anyone looking at any of the wildlife on the reserve!

After lunch, we set off along the coast path into the dunes. There were lots of butterflies in the short grass, several Wall and more Small Heaths. It didn’t take us long to come across our first Southern Marsh Orchids, just coming in to bloom, although these were not our main orchid target here this afternoon.

Southern Marsh Orchid – just coming out

A Cuckoo was calling in the trees and we carried on further in the hope of seeing it, but just caught a quick glimpse before when it landed low on a branch briefly, but it saw us and disappeared back. There were lots more butterflies in here, more Wall, Common Blues and Brown Argus. The moth list was boosted with a single Yellow Belle and several Plain Fanner (Glyphipterix fuscoviridella) which flushed from the grass.

Brown Argus – one posing nicely

It took a bit of searching, but we eventually managed to find a few spikes of Man Orchid. Some look a bit behind, perhaps not a surprise given the cold spring prior to the last couple of days, but a couple were in find condition and much admired!

Man Orchid – we found a few spikes out

Man Orchid was the main target, but we had hoped to look for Early Marsh Orchid too. But all the areas we have seen them in the past seemed to be fenced off for the ponies – we hope the ponies don’t like eating orchids! We followed the fence round, but couldn’t find a way to get where we wanted to go. A Stonechat perched on the fence briefly.

Wandering round trying did produce a nice selection of other things though. When we stopped to photograph some more Southern Marsh Orchids, we noticed movement in the long grass. A small Natterjack Toad was walking through – we could see the distinctive yellow stripe down the middle of its back. We don’t often see them, as they are predominantly nocturnal, so this was a really nice surprise.

Natterjack Toad – hiding in the long grass

Rounding another corner, we came across a mass of tiny Green Long-horn moths (Adela reaumurella), the golden-green metallic males with their outsize antennae dancing in the sunshine around the tops of the trees, trying to attract a female. Quite a spectacle. We did see one or two shorter ‘horned’ females too, in the vegetation below.

Green Long-horn (Adela reaumurella) – a male

We had seen several Hairy Dragonflies this morning, but now we came across one resting on some brambles, which gave us a chance to get some photographs of this normally very active species, and admire its hairy thorax.

Hairy Dragonfly – resting on some brambles

The Cuckoo finally gave itself up as we started to walk back, initially flying off away from us, but then we came out from behind some bushes and found it perched on a dead branch out in the open. We had a quick scan from the top of the dunes, looking out over the beach. There were lots of people out there today and we couldn’t see many birds. We could make out a few Sandwich Terns passing by in the distance offshore. Then it was back to the minibus and time to head for home.

31st May 2021 – A Day at the Fen

A Private Tour to go looking for Hobbys, and anything else we could find, at Lakenheath Fen today. It was a lovely warm sunny day – the first really warm day we have had for some time – with a light easterly breeze.

We met mid-morning in the car park. As we walked up towards the Visitor Centre, a Willow Warbler was singing in the trees and helpfully flew in to a oak right next to the path, where we were standing. While we queued to get in, we could hear two Cuckoos calling, one either side. Then we headed straight out onto the reserve – we had to be back to meet someone for lunch, so we planned to make a quick dash out to Joist Fen and back.

Willow Warbler – singing above our heads

Walking up the track, we kept stopping to listen to various warblers singing. A Reed Warbler was singing half-heartedly from a sallow by the path, where we could see it flitting around, before it dropped down into the reeds and started to sing more strongly. A couple of Common Whitethroats flitted around a little further along. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds. A Blackcap was singing in the poplars.

We stopped at the viewpoint at New Fen. A pair of Great Crested Grebes looked like they might be displaying – facing each other, one and then the other preened a feather on their backs, then one picked up a piece of weed from the water, but changed its mind and threw it away. Both then swam forward, snorkelling, but it came to nothing.

A pair of Bearded Tits flew low across the water and disappeared into the reeds. Another Cuckoo had been calling in the poplars behind us, but now came out onto the edge, high in the tops. We just had a quick look at it, before it flew deeper in again, chasing after another Cuckoo. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds, and a very distant Hobby was high over the trees on the other side of the river but it was impossible to get onto it. A promising start though.

A Bittern boomed. It sounded like it was quite close, so we walked up to the dragonfly platform to see if we could find it, but two people were already there and said it was still hidden in the reeds. We stopped and scanned, but couldn’t see anything either. We decided to head on to Joist Fen. We paused to watch two female Marsh Harriers as they circled up calling, and then noticed a male coming in high carrying something in its talons. It circled with one of the females and then passed the food to her. There were lots of dragonflies in the reeds by the path and flying back and forth in front of us – several Scarce Chasers and a couple of Hairy Dragonflies.

Scarce Chaser – basking on a reed stem

It is always a nice place to sit out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, and as we rested out legs we spotted a Hobby out over the reeds. It was already quite distant, but as we watched it, we realised there were lots more Hobbys much further back still, very high up, and hawking for insects. We counted at least 17, but some were little more specks and they were very dispersed, so there were probably more. Mission accomplished in finding some Hobbys, but we would have liked better views.

There were more Marsh Harriers, distant too, and a Cormorant on its usual post out in the reeds. Then we got a message to stay the person we were meeting had arrived. It was a quick walk back and then a break for lunch on one of the picnic tables in the shade of the trees.

After lunch, we headed out again, this time up to the Washland Viewpoint. There was a good selection of ducks out on the water, including two drake Garganey. One was still in full breeding plumage, but the other was already moulting, well on its way to drab eclipse plumage, with a patch of grey feathers on the flank and a hint of the white stripe over the eye. There were a few waders here too – a few Avocets, some Lapwings and a Redshank. A male Stonechat was perched on the vegetation just across the river.

Marsh Harrier – circled over the river bank

Walking on up the river bank, a Grey Heron flew past the other side. We could hear Cuckoos calling and Reed Warblers and one or two Sedge Warblers still singing. As we passed New Fen, a Marsh Harrier flew in from the other side of the river and circled right beside us, before flying round us to get to the Fen.

As we got to the far side of West Wood, a Bittern appeared from behind the bushes and flew round over the reeds, across in front of the trees, and dropped back in again further back.

Bittern – good flight views

We dropped down off the river bank to Joist Fen Viewpoint again for a rest. The Hobbys were still there, still very distant. So we decided to try our luck walking further down the river bank, so see if we could get some closer views. As we walked on along the bank, a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes. A closer Hobby appeared briefly from behind the poplars, but by the time we got out of the trees, it had disappeared. Still it was encouraging.

We could still see several Hobbys further up, so we walked on a bit further. A Cuckoo was calling in the bushes by the path and we stopped to look at it in the scope. Suddenly four or five Hobbys drifted back our way and started hunting for dragonflies over the reeds. The wind picked up a little, and one or two of them came in low over the river, really close now. We stood and watched as they caught and ate their prey right in front of us and even right overhead at one point. Stunning views!

Hobby – stunning views
Hobby – almost over our heads
Hobby – we were being watched too!
Hobby – supremely fast & aerodynamic
Hobby vs dragonfly – homing in
Hobby vs dragonfly – brace for impact
Hobby vs dragonfly – there could only be one winner!

We spent about an hour marvelling at the Hobbys catching dragonflies in front of us. Then we had to tear ourselves away – it was time to head back. A Common Tern was feeding along the river too. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling in West Wood as we passed. A Cuckoo flew right over our heads by Trial Wood and the Common Swifts were lower now over New Fen in the breeze.

Cuckoo – flew right over our heads

A very memorable few hours at Lakenheath Fen!

30th May 2021 – Coast & Heath

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny morning before clouding over from mid afternoon as the sun lost its battle with the cloud which had been hanging offshore all day. The NE breeze kept a lid on temperatures.

We met in Cley and parked at Walsey Hills. As we walked up to the start of the East Bank, we could hear Little Egrets bubbling in the wood and one or two flying in and out. A couple of distant Marsh Harriers were circling low over the reedbed.

We had a request to see a Yellow Wagtail and as if on cue, a quick scan of the grazing marshes revealed the bright canary yellow male on the grass in the distance. We could just hear it singing from where we were, so we walked further up for a much better view in the scope. It would be great to have Yellow Wagtails back breeding here, but unfortunately he shows no sign of attracting a female.

There were still plenty of Lapwings and Redshanks on the grazing marshes. The Lapwing chicks which had been little balls of fluff are getting much bigger now, but there was still no sign of any young Redshanks. The males were still singing and displaying, but there was no sign of any getting down to nesting. There were Avocets further back on Pope’s Pool and when we heard Curlew calling, we looked over to see four flying off west, maybe finally heading back to the continent to breed.

Redshank – still displaying around the grazing marshes

What we thought was a lone drake Wigeon was walking around on the mud on the edge of the Serpentine, whistling occasionally. Then we spotted another pair much further back, on Pope’s Pool. Most of the Wigeon have left, heading back to Russia to breed, but perhaps these will stay here now. There were also a few Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard and Shelduck, lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese.

A couple of Reed Buntings were singing from the small bushes out in the middle of the reedbed, occasionally chasing after each other or a passing female. There were Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing too, with one of the latter perching up particularly obligingly. We heard occasional pinging calls of Bearded Tits and managed to see one or two zooming back and forth low over reeds.

There were quite a few Common Swifts zooming round overhead, but they didn’t seem to be heading anywhere today, so possibly just local birds rather than migrants on their way through. We could see a few Sand Martins and one or two Swallows too. As we continued on past the Serpentine, a Water Rail was calling in the reeds.

Common Swift – zooming around overhead

Four terns and some small waders were on the small gravel island at the back of Arnold’s Marsh, so we went into the shelter to set up the scope. It was cool in here today, out of sun and not offering much shelter facing straight into the NE breeze. The pair of Sandwich Terns were more obvious, but two Little Terns were hunkered down just over the top.

Two Grey Plover were roosting in amongst the terns, and on the muddy edge we could see were a Turnstone, and two Sanderling with two Dunlin. Something spooked the birds, and the small waders flew round and landed closer. The Sanderling then took that as a cue to move off, and we watched them fly up high and head north over the shingle ridge. Next stop the arctic? We could now see there were several Ringed Plovers too, in the vegetation on the shingle banks out to the left.

As we walked back, the male Yellow Wagtail was still singing out on the grass. As we passed Snipe’s Marsh on our way back to the minibus, a Little Grebe was diving continually and a drake Common Pochard was asleep out in the middle of the water.

Sandpit Blood Bee Sphecodes pellucidus – in the car park

Our next stop was up on Kelling Heath. There were lots of small bees buzzing around the sandy ground in the car park, Sandpit Mining Bees (Andrena barbilabris). We could see where they had been digging their burrows, small piles of darker earth, some flattened by passing feet and tyres. There were a couple of blood bees around the holes too, red-abdomened Sandpit Blood Bees (Sphecodes pellucidus). These blood bees are cleptoparasites of the Sandpit Mining Bees, laying their eggs in cells in the mining bees’ nests. The wonderful world of bees!

As we walked along a small path through the gorse, we saw several bright metallic Green Hairstreaks, fluttering round the gorse or sunning themselves.

Green Hairstreak – sunning itself

We took the main track down towards the Level Crossing. Suddenly we were surrounded by birds, we didn’t know where to look. A Yellowhammer flew up from the side of the track ahead of us. Then we heard a Woodlark singing, from the clear area away to our right, probably flushed by a group of dogwalkers walking across, and we had a quick glimpse of it was it flew round behind us, but we were distracted by a Common Crossbill calling. We looked up, but all we could see were Linnets flying round and perched on the gorse nearby.

We could still hear Crossbills calling quietly, and this was a particular target for us, so we started to scan for them in the pines. A female flew over our heads but disappeared deep into a tree, where we couldn’t see it. We could still hear calls from ahead of us, so we walked a short way further down the track, and turning the corner found a couple watching some Crossbills deep in a pine overhanging the path, feeding on cones.

We could just see an orangey male Common Crossbill, probably an immature, feeding on a cone. We got it in the scope, fill the frame views, but deep in the trees there were always branches in the way. There were clearly several birds in here and they started flying across to the next tree, further in. Scanning the branches, we found a smart red male out in the open in a much smaller young pine now. We watched it feeding, snipping off cones and carrying them to a branch to extract the seeds, then hanging on other cones and extracting the seeds in situ.

Common Crossbill – feeding on the cones

While we were watching the Crossbills, we heard a Nightjar churring from somewhere deep in the trees. They are mostly crepuscular and start to chur at dusk but will occasionally do so in the middle of the day, particularly early in the season. We had a quick look for any Dartford Warblers, but it was the middle of the day and all was quiet. Two Stonechats perched up as we passed. We were keen to start making our way back now or it would be a very late lunch. A Green Tiger Beetle flew ahead of us along the path.

As we walked on round, several Common Buzzards circled up over the ridge, at one point five in the air together. The trees here were rather quiet, there were few warblers singing, probably not helped by the cool breeze coming up over the ridge. We passed several Common Heath moths fluttering round in the heather.

Common Heath – a day-flying moth

We dropped back down to Cley for lunch on the picnic tables overlooking the marshes. A Lesser Whitethroat was flitting around in the hedge down by the road, but there were people in the way as it disappeared off right. A few minutes later it flew back the other way. After lunch, we drove west to Wells. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over road, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over on the outskirts of Stiffkey.

As we set off down the track, we could hear a Little Ringed Plover displaying and just see it flying round out towards the back of the pool on the right. A couple of Brown Hares were in the meadow, behind the carpet of buttercups and campion, quite a picture!

The young Lapwings are growing up fast here too, but several of the pairs of Avocets have small chicks now. We heard one pair alarm calling loudly, and looked over to see them mobbing a pair of Mute Swans with seven cygnets. A risky thing to do! Another Avocet was busying itself chasing off the Pied Wagtails and a pair of Shoveler from anywhere near its two fluffy juveniles. Much safer than attacking the swans, but of dubious value!

There were at least a dozen Redshanks bathing out in the middle and several more scattered around – here too, no sign of them breeding. We could see two very distant Little Ringed Plover, on the mud towards the back, behind the rushes. We got them in the scope, but it was not a great view, with quite a bit of heat haze too.

The bushes beyond the pools were quiet. It had clouded over now and the breeze was picking up. A nice male Reed Bunting perched up in the hawthorn flowers singing. There were lots of Goldfinches, and one or two Chaffinches, plus a Chiffchaff singing.

Reed Bunting – singing from the top of a hawthorn

From up on the seawall, we could see more Avocets feeding on the mud on the saltmarsh below. A very distant white shape standing out on the saltmarsh was probably a Spoonbill, but there was just too much haze to say for sure. The Avocets were commuting in and out of the west pool, were several were still on nests. The vegetation is now getting too high to see anything else on here.

When all the gulls and corvids rose up from the pig fields on the ridge inland, we figured something significant must have spooked them. We couldn’t see a likely candidate at first, but a couple of minutes later, looked back to see a Peregrine flying up and away to the east.

It was time to head back. One of the Little Ringed Plovers was much closer now, and through the scope we could see its golden eye ring. As we climbed into the minibus, a smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the field beyond.

21st May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week, our last day. A wet & windy day today. We managed to get some birding in during the morning, but as the weather deteriorated into the afternoon, the vote was for an early finish.

We headed down to Cley for the morning and parked in the bottom car park, below the Visitor Centre. It was dry, but very grey with a rather blustery wind, but not as bad as forecast. We decided to make a bid for the East Bank while we could. There were a few birds in the trees as we set off, including our first Long-tailed Tit of the tour.

As we walked along The Skirts, a bird flew up from the short grass right next to the path, on the left. With its olive-brown back and long rounded tail, which drooped behind it as it flew, it was obviously a Grasshopper Warbler. It dropped back down into the short grass about five metres further on. We took a couple of steps forward, intending to try to find it again, and another Grasshopper Warbler flew up from the right of the path. This one flew round behind us and landed in some low brambles just a few metres away. With its rather bright lemon-yellow throat it was immediately recognisable as the male we watched reeling regularly here at the end of April and beginning of May. Hopefully it has found a mate, which would explain why it has gone quiet now.

Grasshopper Warbler – one of two flushed by the path

After watching the Grasshopper Warbler for a while, it dropped down out of view. We set off again along the path as a pair of Common Pochard flew past the other way, over the reeds. There were lots of Common Swifts and hirundines hawking over the pools in the middles. A couple of Swallows and a House Martin were zooming back and forth low over the coast road, trying to find insects in the shelter of the bushes the other side.

Despite the weather, there were still warblers singing in the bushes – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Cetti’s Warbler, and a Common Whitethroat calling its buzzy call. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds behind us, but the Sedge Warblers were sensibly quiet, keeping down out of the wind. A Common Buzzard was hanging in the breeze over North Foreland, until it was mobbed by one of the local Rooks.

Up on the East Bank, there were more hirundines flying round low over the grazing marshes, particularly lots of Sand Martins now. A few Swifts and House Martins flew through, up over the bank and on west, birds on the move despite the weather. Fewer than yesterday, but the movement of Swifts was a real theme of the last two days.

Common Swift – lots on the move the last two days

The grazing marshes here are perfect for breeding waders. The Lapwing chicks which were small bundles of fluff a couple of weeks ago are now getting much bigger. The Redshanks are still displaying – we saw one pair, the male fluttering his wings vigorously and calling, while the female looked disinterested and walked away. There were a few Avocets in the Serpentine and on Pope’s Pool further back.

Lapwing – the juveniles are getting bigger

We could hear a buzzy sound just carrying to us from out on the grazing marshes and careful scanning revealed the source – a Yellow Wagtail. This bird has been lingering here for a couple of weeks now, singing. The song is not much to write home about – just a couple of buzzy notes. We got the Yellow Wagtail in the scopes, a bright canary yellow male, and watched as it worked its way through the thick grass feeding, then climbed up onto a tussock to sing. Yellow Wagtails used to breed more commonly along the coast here, so it would be nice to think that they might return.

Yellow Wagtail – singing from the grazing marshes

We stopped again to scan the margins of the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese, several Gadwall, Mallard and Shelduck but we couldn’t pick out anything different. The Great Black-backed Gulls were starting to gather to loaf on the islands at the back.

A Yellow Wagtail called, and we turned to see the male fly round over the bank, before landing briefly on the grass behind the reeds below us. It didn’t stay though, flying straight back out to the middle where it had been singing. As it flew back, a second Yellow Wagtail flew up too, but didn’t follow the male, landing on the edge of the Serpentine. We could see it was a female – just a shame she wasn’t showing any interest in the singing male!

Carrying on to Arnold’s Marsh, we got into the shelter, out of the wind, just as it started to rain. A couple of people already in the shelter asked what the wader at the back was. So we set up our scopes to find it was a lone grey Knot (with a limp). There were also two Dunlin, a Ringed Plover and a Turnstone with it. A couple of Curlew were roosting in the far corner and another was sheltering behind a low suaeda bush the other side. There were a few more Redshanks on here too.

Two other Ringed Plovers emerged from the low saltmarsh vegetation at the back – the slightly larger paler one, chasing after the slightly smaller darker bird. Two different subspecies of Ringed Plover, the smaller, darker birds are northern, tundra breeders (race tundrae), compared to the larger paler local breeders (race hiaticula). The Tundra Ringed Plovers are later migrants, passing through at this time of year. Another nine Tundra Ringed Plovers then dropped in just to illustrate the point, along with three more Dunlin.

One of the group spotted a distant Hobby, over the reedbed at the back, flying towards Salthouse, heading inland presumably out of the deteriorating weather. A Little Tern hovering over Sea Pool was similarly distant, but a Sandwich Tern dropped in at the back of Arnold’s, with more flying through past the shelter. A single Wheatear on the sand right at the back was flitting in and out of the low vegetation, trying to feed. There is still a trickle of late Wheatears coming through, dark northern breeders, but this was the first we had seen this tour.

There were several Avocets coming and going from the pool down at the front, with a couple sat down on the bank beyond, presumably incubating. When a female stopped and stood with neck bent down and bill held horizontal just above the surface, the male walked round her preening and flicking his bill in the water. We knew what was coming and sure enough we then watched the pair mating.

Avocets – the pair mating

As the rain eased, we continued on to the beach. We counted nine Little Terns offshore, slowly working their way east, and several Sandwich Terns passed the other way, one with a large sand eel in its bill. We steeled ourselves and turned into the wind for the walk back. We had intended to call in at Bishop Hide on the way back, as this is open again now, but we found several people camped in there already, out of the weather. We scanned from the door and couldn’t see anything of note on Pat’s Pool anyway, so we walked back. A pair of Mute Swans with cygnets were on the channel up from the bridge.

We figured it might be a bit more sheltered at Kelling, so we headed over there next. As we walked into the lane, we could hear a Greenfinch wheezing. Several Goldfinches were feeding on the school playing field and a Chaffinch was singing from somewhere in the school grounds as we passed. The hedges either side were rather quiet, despite being out of the wind. We did hear a Common Whitethroat calling, a Blackcap singing and a Chiffchaff flew across. A Red-legged Partridge ran ahead of us all the way down the lane to the copse.

We stopped to scan from the gate. There were lots of Brown Hares in the field beyond the Water Meadow, in the shelter of the hedge, and loads of Woodpigeons and Rooks. All we could find was a single Robin on the sheltered edge of the copse.

We continued down to the cross track to look at the pool, but there was just a single Egyptian Goose and a few Mallard on there today. It was rather exposed out here in the increasingly blustery wind. We scanned the bushes around the Quags, but everything seemed to have gone somewhere more sheltered. As we turned to walk back, there were a couple of Linnets in the edge of the field and a slightly bedraggled Common Whitethroat feeding in the low alexanders by the path which flew up into the brambles as we passed.

Common Whitethroat – flew up into the brambles

Kelling Heath seemed like a place which might offer a bit of shelter, and there have been Garden Warblers singing here in the last week, but it was windier than we thought in the car park. At least it wasn’t raining, so we had a quick walk round the bushes. A Blackcap was singing from deep in the blackthorn by the car park and a Bullfinch called as we walked round the back.

Then we heard a Garden Warbler across the road, so we crossed over to see if we could find it. It was singing in some dense blackthorn, moving around, and we couldn’t see it before it went quiet. We did find a family of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, and a Willow Warbler and Goldcrest flitting around in the birches.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back down to Cley to try to find some shelter. We parked the minibus in front of the beach shelter and ate our lunch in there. It was a bit damp on the bench, but standing in one side it was drier and had the added advantage of being able to see the sea. A steady stream of Sandwich Terns flew past, along with one or two Little Terns and a single Common Tern.

After lunch, we drove round to Iron Road for a short walk to see if any waders had dropped in there. There was nothing new on the large pool, but a Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the reeds at the back. On the other side of the main drain, over the bridge, we did find a small group of Tundra Ringed Plovers and several Dunlin on the muddy brackish pools. A Yellow Wagtail flew round calling but landed in the long grass with the cows further back, out of view.

The plan had been to finish up at Wells, so we decided to head over there now, with a view to finishing slightly early. The forecast was for heavy rain all this afternoon, and it finally arrived on our way there. The wind had picked up too – it had been forecast to be gusting 50mph+ all day, so we had actually been lucky to have had nothing like that up til now.

We got out of the minibus and started to scan the pools from the parking area. We could see a Little Ringed Plover on the pool west of the track. We thought about a walk down to the far end of the pools to see if there was anything hiding in the rushes, but there was no appetite for even a short walk now. It was already 3pm, and we had made the most of it, so with everyone having a long drive home we decided to call it a day.

It was a good call, as it only got wetter on the way back. But despite the deteriorating weather at the end, we could look back on a very productive three days of spring birding and we had seen some very good birds too.

20th May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week. It was a cloudy but dry morning, with an increasingly blustery wind picking up towards midday. It started spitting with rain early afternoon, and although we managed to avoid the heavy downpour, it remained damp on and off for the rest of the day. We didn’t get wet and it didn’t put us off!

We headed over to Snettisham for the morning. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Greenfinch was wheezing in the top of a nearby conifer. A smart pink male Bullfinch was perched in a hawthorn as we walked along the road. A little further back, our first Turtle Dove of the morning was perched on a telegraph post, and as we stopped to look at it we could hear it purring. We got it in the scopes and had a closer look at it, before it flapped up into the air and flew down in a long glide, its display flight, landing further up by the path in.

From up by the gate, we could see it now, purring on the wires by the path. But before we could get the scopes set up, it was flushed by someone walking out and flew up in another display flight, landing back on the post where it had been earlier. As we walked in through the bushes, a second Turtle Dove started purring ahead of us in a large hawthorn. The first was still on its favoured post, and with both singing now, we had Turtle Dove stereo, surround sound. What a great sound, and such a shame it is now getting so rare.

We set the scopes up and had a fantastic view of this second Turtle Dove perched in the top of the hawthorn. We could see the broad rusty orange fringes to the feathers of its upperparts and the small black and white barred panel on the sides of its neck. A couple of times, it flew up and performed its display flight, before coming back to the same bush.

Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a hawthorn

When the Turtle Dove finally landed in a different bush, further in, we continued on through the bushes. There were lots of warblers singing in here today – Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling ahead of us, but when we walked further up to see if we could find it, it had now moved behind us. We turned to scan the bushes, but it disappeared deeper in still and kept well hidden.

Up on the seawall, the tide was coming in. We could see lots of Brent Geese and Oystercatchers along the water’s edge. In amongst them, we found several groups of Bar-tailed Godwits, and well hidden on the mud a small party of Knot, one or two of both in bright rusty breeding plumage. Several Sanderling were feeding further up along the shore, now in their darker breeding plumage and looking very different from the silvery grey birds we see through the winter.

A single Grey Plover dropped in, looking stunning with its summer black face and belly and bright white spangled upperparts. More Grey Plover in several small flocks flew past over the mud from further up the Wash, and we could see Curlews and more Grey Plover on the mud to the south of us. Looking beyond the waders in the mud, two Great Crested Grebes were out on the Wash.

As we turned back to the bushes, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling, and just managed to pick it up as it flew over, heading south. A migrant on its way. We dropped back down off the seawall, and continued north. There were lots of Common Swifts on the move too, zooming around low over the bushes looking for insects. We could see more over the marshes just inland, and we remarked that it would be the day to find a rare swift, travelling with its commoner cousins. A trickle of Swallows flew south too.

Common Swift – there were lots moving today

There were lots of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits which flew up calling as we passed. A Cetti’s Warbler singing from the bushes by the path remained well hidden but a Chiffchaff posed nicely on a bare branch of an elder bush.

Chiffchaff – posed on an elder bush

We heard the male Stonechat first, alarm calling. It was in a different place to normal and scanning the bushes confirmed our suspicions – its young had fledged and we could see at least two streaky juveniles nearby. We could hear their squeaky begging calls. A Green Woodpecker disappeared off through the bushes.

Stonechat – one of at least two streaky juveniles

Our third Turtle Dove of the morning now started purring from a dead tree ahead of us, as we carried on north. A couple of Bullfinches chased each other off into the bushes. A small bird dropped out of the sky onto a low bush on the seawall and we turned to see it was a Lesser Redpoll. It was presumably attracted down by some Linnets in the bushes, but didn’t linger and flew off calling back along the seawall.

When we got to the crossbank, we had another look out over the Wash. The tide was coming in fast now. We could see more Oystercatchers and Sanderling on the beach to the north, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers. Another Ringed Plover was in one of the cordoned off areas higher up on the top of the sandy beach, but was disturbed by a dog which came running out of the bushes and up onto the seawall above it. The Ringed Plover walked away down the beach. The dog’s owner emerged from the bushes blowing on a whistle and eventually got their pet back under control.

We walked over to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan the marshes the other side. It didn’t take long to spot a Little Gull hawking for insects over the pools, it’s buoyant flight more tern-like. A second Little Gull appeared with it, both of them young, 1st summers or 2nd calendar year birds with a black ‘w’ pattern across the upperwings.

Little Gull – hawking for insects over the water

There were lots of Oystercatchers on the pools at the back, come on here to roost over high tide. We could see several groups of Black-tailed Godwits too, doing the same thing. The Avocets, Lapwings and a few Redshank are breeding on here, all species which are benefiting from the recent creation of these marshes.

There were ducks too, including two or three late lingering Wigeon, several Tufted Ducks and one or two Common Pochard. Scanning carefully through the Greylags, Canada and Egyptian Geese, we eventually found two Pink-footed Geese asleep. We couldn’t see but these are most likely injured birds which were probably show and winged and are now unable to make the long journey back to Iceland to breed.

While we were looking at the geese, one of the group spotted a Golden Plover by a small pool on the grassy area across the middle of the marshes, a very smart summer adult with dark face and bellow. A Whimbrel was a bit further back on the grass.

Golden Plover – a smart summer bird

An Alpine Swift had been seen flying past West Runton and Cley earlier – as we had predicted, it was a day for a rare swift. Now news came through that it had passed quickly over Titchwell and Holme. There were still hundreds of Common Swifts pouring down along the coast towards us and gathering to feed over the marshes, so we started scanning through, in case it should come through here. It took a while for the Alpine Swift to get to Hunstanton, then it turned south over cliffs, seemingly heading our way. We could even see Hunstanton in the distance to the north of us, but despite our best efforts we couldn’t find it. It had probably turned out across the Wash before it got to us – so near, and yet so far!

We walked back to the minibus. There had been a pratincole for the last hour or so over Cley and Salthouse, so we thought we might head over there to try to see it. But we had just set off in the minibus when a message came through to say that it had flown off high west. So we diverted to Titchwell for lunch and to use the facilities.

It was still dry but cloudy when we got to Titchwell, so we had lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted over and a couple of Blackcaps were singing in the sallows. It had just started spitting with rain as we packed up. There was still no further news of the pratincole, so we decided to head out onto the reserve, where we would have hides to shelter in, should the forecast heavy rain arrive.

As we got out of the trees on the main path, we could hear a Cuckoo calling somewhere round the back towards Fen Hide. A Bittern was booming from deep in the reedbed. We stopped to scan the Reedbed Pool, but all we could see there today were lots of Greylag Geese and a few Common Pochard.

The hides here are thankfully now open again and we arrived at Island Hide just in time, as it started to rain heavily. Looking through the gulls on the small strip island we found several Mediterranean Gulls, including some smart black-hooded adults, in with the Black-headed Gulls (with the brown heads – don’t ask!).

Mediterranean Gulls – there were several with the Black-headed Gulls

There was a nice selection of terns on the Freshmarsh too. A male Common Tern flew in with a fish for the female, which was resting on the low brick island, but was sent straight back out for more. Two Little Terns were hunkered down on the far end of the island where all the gulls were, but a Sandwich Tern flew in and landed right in amongst the gulls, joined by a second shortly afterwards.

Apart from Avocets, there didn’t appear to be many waders on here today, but looking more carefully we did manage to find a few. There were at least three Little Ringed Plovers, mostly over the far side by Parrinder Hide, although two flew past us at one point with one calling and displaying. There were two Turnstones picking around at the back with a Dunlin. When the Turnstones flew off, the Dunlin flew to the gull island, and was joined by second.

Avocet – there were several on the Freshmarsh

There were lots of Swallows and House Martins hawking low over the water. We looked through them to see if we could find anything with them and did find a single Sand Martin too. A lone Spoonbill flew in from the west, but continued straight over the Freshmarsh without stopping and disappeared over the bank at the back. Thankfully it stopped raining fairly quickly, so we decided to venture out and make a bid for the beach.

The Volunteer Marsh looked quiet as we passed, but we did find a few waders in the wide muddy channel at the far end. Several Grey Plover at the back included two in smart breeding plumage, one of which flew towards us, but just to chase off another in non-breeding plumage about half way down.

As we got to the Tidal Pools, another Spoonbill which had been feeding in the shallow water at the back flew off. There were several Little Terns flying round calling, with one hovering over one of the pools out on the saltmarsh. Two Common Terns were roosting on the end of the spit. There were more waders out here too, a small group of very smart breeding plumage Turnstones on the grass and another summer plumage Grey Plover.

Little Tern – one of several on the Tidal Pools

Continuing on to the beach, the tide was coming in and had already covered the mussel beds. A single Little Tern was on the beach away to the east and several Sandwich Terns flew back and forth over the sea. A single adult Gannet with its black-tipped white wings was plunge fishing offshore before heading off east. It was starting to spit with rain again, so we set off back.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide and were rewarded with much better views of one of the Little Ringed Plovers. We could see its golden yellow eye ring now. Several Marsh Harriers were up and down out of the reedbed.

Little Ringed Plover – better view from Parrinder Hide

A Little Grebe was diving in one of the reedbed channels as we continued walking back. We negotiated the one way system and went round to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes by the Tank Road as we passed.

There didn’t appear to be much on Patsy’s today. An odd looking Greylag Goose swam out from behind the reeds. Clearly unwell, it was very low in the water and seemed to be barely afloat. Through the scope, we could see its skin was bare on the top of its head and around its eyes and bright pink. Its bill was bright reddish too. It sailed out in the direction of a pair of Mute Swans with three cygnets in the middle. The male swan was determined to defend its brood and attacked it, but seemed taken aback that the Greylag didn’t respond. It looked like the swan would drown it.

A Kestrel was perched in one of the dead trees (where a Hobby should be instead!). Several Marsh Harriers circled low over the reedbed, including a couple of smart males, one of which drifted over the pool in front of us. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the hedge behind us.

Marsh Harrier – drifted out over Patsy’s

We could see dark clouds behind us and it started spitting with rain again. We had been comparatively lucky with the weather today, given the forecast for heavy rain all afternoon, and it was time to call it a day and head back before we got wet.

19th May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week. Mostly warm in the long sunny spells, there were some cloudier periods when it felt a bit cooler. Some very dark clouds early afternoon were accompanied by some long rolls of thunder, but thankfully passed well to the south of us, and it wasn’t until we were on our way home that we drove into one of the forecast showers.

With a Caspian Tern over in the Broads for its second day this morning, we decided to head east for the day. It was a long drive over to Potter Heigham, but we left in good time and it was still early when we got to the car park. As we crossed the road and set off down the track, we heard a Cuckoo calling, and turned to see it flying away over the river. It was a cloudy start, and our first Common Swifts off the tour were chasing overhead. A Great Spotted Woodpecker came out of the small copse of trees and flew ahead of us, landing on a low gatepost by the track – an odd place to see one.

A pair of Egyptian Geese were close to the path on the grazing marshes. Further out, among the horses, was a lone Oystercatcher. Several Lapwings were flying round too. We could hear distant Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler singing in the bushes and trees the other side of the marshes. Closer to us, both Sedge and Reed Warblers were singing from the reedy margins of the ditch, but were typically hard to see. Never mind, we would see lots later. A couple of Reed Buntings flew across the track. One or two Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes and a Common Buzzard circled overhead.

Common Buzzard – circled overhead

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the fields which flushed as a local farmer drove past in his truck. They flew across to the pools. At the first pool, as well as the geese, we could see a few Mallard and one or two Gadwall. A Little Egret was out in the shallow water in the far corner.

It’s yelping call alerted us to a Lesser White-fronted Goose in with the Greylags, dwarfed by its much larger cousins. Through the scope, we could see the white blaze extending up its forehead and the golden yellow eye-ring. This would be a rare bird here if it were wild, but unfortunately it is a known escapee which has been hanging around here for the last year or so, presumably having hopped the fence from a wildfowl collection somewhere.

The Caspian Tern had flown off once this morning, but thankfully returned, so we were keen to get round to the other side to see it, while making sure we didn’t miss anything this side on the way. Moving on to the next pool, a quick scan revealed two Common Pochard with more Greylags and a couple of distant Common Terns. The cloud was breaking now and it was warming up nicely as the sun was coming out. Having planned for the risk of rain which was forecast, we had to shed our coats.

Up to the corner, we climbed up onto the bank for a better view. On the corner pool we could see more Pochard, a couple of Tufted Ducks, and three late lingering Wigeon. Looking across to the other side, we could just see the Caspian Tern through the reeds, between some Cormorants roosting on one of the islands. A little further up, we got clear of the reeds and had a better if still distant view – we could see its huge red bill. It was standing in the shallow water next to a Herring Gull and didn’t look much smaller – Caspian Tern is the largest tern, like an enormous oversize Sandwich Tern with a massive red dagger for a bill.

With the Caspian Tern in the bag, we could relax a little, but we continued on round more slowly, for a closer view. A Willow Warbler was signing from the top of an oak across the other side of Candle Dyke. A Common Sandpiper was flushed from a mooring by a passing boat a little further along and a Common Tern flew past, looking much daintier than its cousin on the pools, with a much less threatening bill!

Common Tern – flew past over Candle Dyke

Walking round towards the river, there was lots of activity in the reeds. We finally got to see both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warblers here. We caught a quick glimpse of a Bearded Tit which zipped over the reeds and dropped down. It was carrying food in its bill, so we waited to see if it would come back out. Before it did, a second Bearded Tit flew in, this time the female, also carrying food in her bill. She perched for a few seconds in the reeds, allowing us all to get on her, before she dropped in, as the male flew out and disappeared back away. Obviously they are feeding a hungry brood in the reeds there.

Bearded Tit – the female, carrying food

Walking up beside the river, we arrived opposite the pool where the Caspian Tern was standing. But we had only just put up the scopes before it took off, before everyone could get a look. We watched it fly off east, circling over the reeds for a while, gaining height, before it disappeared from view. We were very pleased we had stopped to look at it distantly on the way round!

Caspian Tern – flew off just as we arrived on the river bank

The Caspian Tern had flown off earlier and returned, so we figured it was probably just heading off to fish somewhere and would most likely be back here again at some point. The only question was how long, but we thought we would have a more leisurely look around now and see what happened. There were two Shoveler out on this pool. A Great Crested Grebe was over in the far corner and then another appeared from behind the reeds at the front. Another male Bearded Tit was chasing a rival round and round over the reeds.

Walking up to the last pool from the river bank, we could see a single Avocet on one of the islands. A pair of Teal nearby would be the only ones we would see – most have left already, heading off to northern Europe for the breeding season. We hadn’t been here long though, before we turned to see the Caspian Tern flying back in behind us. It landed back down on the pool where it had been before, so we walked straight back. Now we all had a really good view of it through the scopes.

Caspian Tern – flew back in and landed on the same pool

Caspian Tern is a rare visitor to the UK, with just a few records most years. They breed in small numbers around the Baltic, as well as further over in SE Europe, wintering down in West Africa. Potter Heigham seems to be a good site for them – there was one here last year too.

We could see dark clouds way off west, so we decided to walk slowly back. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the bushes by the river, and we had a quick flash of a rounded chestnut-red tail as it flew past. Two different male Marsh Harriers flew past over the reeds. A couple of Common Whitethroats were in the trees, three Reed Warblers chased round and a Chiffchaff was singing in the old orchard by the mill.

Marsh Harrier – one of two males over the reeds

We headed round to Hickling Broad to use the facilities and as the sun was out now, we decided to have an early lunch in the picnic area before heading out onto the reserve. A juvenile Robin was calling in the trees behind the Visitor Centre – good to see some early broods are proving productive, despite the cool spring we are having. As we sat down to eat, a Hobby circled high over the trees beyond. A pair of Great Tits were flying in and out of a nearby nest box. Two Bullfinch called, and we looked over to see them fly across the far end of the picnic area.

There were some dark clouds to the south of us, and we heard some long and rather ominous rolls of thunder from that direction, but it looked like they would probably miss us, so we headed out onto the reserve. As we set off down the track, there were House Martins overhead calling and we found a couple of Sand Martins with them.

As we got to the corner with the Stubb Mill track, one of the group spotted a Common Crane flying over high in the distance – the first of many, as it would prove later. There were lots of Hobbys out over the reedbed beyond the water, flying back and forth, hawking for insects, some low, some circling up much higher. Further over, there were more perched in the tops of the dead trees, probably around 15 Hobbys in all, always great to watch these spring gatherings. A Cuckoo flew over the back of the pool, up over the bank, and disappeared behind the trees towards the Visitor Centre.

We walked down the track towards Stubb Mill. There had been a Wood Sandpiper on the marsh here yesterday, so we scanned the islands and the margins of the water. A small flock of seven Ringed Plovers flew up and disappeared off west, presumably of the Tundra race, which are always late migrants through here. Again we heard a Lesser White-fronted Goose calling and looked over on the island to see it in with the Greylags. Presumably the same bird we had seen earlier at Potter Heigham, as it is only a short distance away as the goose flies.

Lesser White-fronted Goose – unfortunately an escapee

A much closer Hobby flew in over the water and over the track behind us. While everyone was watching it, we turned to see a Grey Heron fly up from the reeds beyond the pool and noticed a Common Crane in the reeds too, a little further back. We got it in the scope and watched it for some time, preening, then walking around through the reeds. Then it took off and flew towards us, unfortunately attracting the attention of one of the Shelduck, which decided to mob it as it flew over the water. As the Shelduck finally gave up, we watched as the Common Crane disappeared away over the fields to the north.

Common Crane – pursued by a Shelduck

As we continued on down the track, we could hear a Bittern booming from somewhere deep in the reeds now. We scanned the pools on the way, but the only other waders we could find were Redshanks. When we got to the end, there were more Hobbys zooming about low over the reeds and we looked past them to the east and noticed four Common Cranes circling low over the bushes.

Another four Cranes circled up nearby and all eight then turned and started to fly towards us. They stopped to circle again, giving us a great view, then started calling and drifted away to the north over Stubb Mill, where we lost sight of them behind the trees.

Common Crane – another eight, near Stubb Mill

After watching the Cranes, we turned our attention back to the pools, looking back parallel with the track. It was a better view from up on the top of the bank. There were two Little Grebes diving in the blanket weed here, more Redshanks and several juvenile Lapwings which teased us into thinking they might be a different small wader before we saw them clearly. Then we did find a different small wader right up at the far end, walking in and out of a line of thick reeds and rushes. It was the Wood Sandpiper we had been searching for – a distant view, but better than nothing!

The dark clouds had remained off to the south as we had hoped and the sun had come out again now, encouraging a flush of insects. A Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly was drying its still papery wings on the bank in the sunshine, with several also freshly emerged Azure Damselflies fluttering around nearby. A Small Copper butterfly was trying to find flowers to feed on, our first of the year.

Four-spotted Chaser – drying its wings on the bank

We had been intending to walk up to Bittern Hide, but we met someone here who had just come back from there and had seen nothing we hadn’t already seen. A Great Reed Warbler had been found at Breydon Water this morning and after being very elusive, it now seemed to be showing on and off. As it was just a short drive from here, we decided to go over there to see if we could see it.

As we arrived in the car park, a friendly face walking back confirmed the Great Reed Warbler was still present, so we set off out along the north wall. We could see six people standing on the path on the first corner, looking down across the railway line to the bushes beyond. As we walked up, we could immediately hear the Great Reed Warbler singing.

The Great Reed Warbler was singing from inside the bush and looking in, we could just see it. We got it in the scopes and had various views of different parts of it as it moved around. Great Reed Warblers are scarce visitors from continental Europe, overshooting in spring as they fly back from Africa and ending up in the UK. Normally a bird of reedbeds, like a much larger version of our Reed Warbler, this one had probably been attracted down by the sight of Breydon Water and found the best habitat it could to feed.

After a while it stopped singing and went quiet, disappeared into the bushes. It had earlier come out into the open when it stopped singing, but all we could see now were a couple of Blackcaps, male & female. A regular Reed Warbler appeared too, in the same bush. People were getting tired now so we decided it was time to walk back.

Breydon Water – looking out from the north wall

Some of the group were a little too keen to get back to the minibus and sit down, as they disappeared over the horizon before we the rest of us had packed away our tripods. Those who had brought their scopes out stopped on the way back to scan Breydon Water for waders. The islands of vegetation at the edge of the saltmarsh are a regular roosting site for waders.

We had already seen a flock of Curlews out there, and stopping to scan now we found a group of at least 19 Whimbrel too, tucked down in the vegetation a little further over. A lone wader on the end of a vegetated spit a bit further round was a single Greenshank.

It was a long drive back and time was getting on, so the rest of us headed back to join the others in the minibus. As we cut round past Norwich we drove into a heavy rain shower – we had been very lucky with the weather today. A great start to our three day tour, with two new birds for most of the group.