Monthly Archives: May 2014

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27-30th May 2014 – Norfolk at its best (& worst!)

The weather chart had been looking good for this week. Well, good for birds if not good for the actual weather. There had to be something unusual out there waiting to be found.

Tuesday looked the most promising day to start, with the combination of NE winds coming off the continent, together with rain. However, it turned out to be a damp squib, in more ways than one! I tried various sites in the morning, with no sign of any migrants. Still convinced there had to be something good out there, I headed for Blakeney Point. The rain had grown increasingly persistent but seemed to subside for a while, so I set off. I should perhaps have been put off by the people returning bedraggled, having seen nothing, but I pushed on to beyond Halfway House before the rain came back with a vengeance. Very unusual for it to be as bad as this, finally I gave in and trudged back, defeated and disappointed.

Wednesday started overcast and cool, but at least it wasn’t raining. Not to be put off by the day before, I headed straight for Blakeney Point again and set off back over the shingle. I was a short distance before halfway and hadn’t seen anything when I received a phone call to say that no migrants of any note had been seen at the end of the Point so far that morning. Needless to say, that caused my enthusiasm to wane a little. However, I pressed on anyway and just a couple of minutes later I was glad that I did! A small bird flew up from the edge of the saltmarsh which immediately caught my attention. I saw it in flight twice more and I had an idea what it was – it was clearly a small Sylvia warbler and most likely a Subalpine Warbler. However, it disappeared into cover and I couldn’t find it again on my own. Thankfully, several others were also heading out onto the Point and pretty soon I had managed to gather a small group. Together, we scoured the area and eventually relocated the bird. It took us some time to see it properly and finally we were able to confirm that not only was it indeed a Subalpine Warbler, but also that it showed the characters associated with the Eastern form, a very good find indeed.

The rest of the day saw a steady stream of migrants finally reveal themselves. The other highlight was a cracking lemon-yellow Icterine Warbler which suddenly appeared from nowhere in the Plantation. Not one, but two stunning male Black Redstarts feeding together around the buildings were arguably the smartest birds of the day. We also saw Redstart, several Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchat and a good selection of other warblers. All-in-all, a great day on the Point.

On Thursday, I had business to attend to or I would have returned to Blakeney Point. Instead, I had to content myself with going to see the female Black-headed Bunting which had been found the evening before at West Runton. A great rarity in this part of the world.

The weather looked less favourable on Friday. While the wind direction looked good overnight, it was gradually moving round, and the clear and sunny conditions suggested birds might move on. Undaunted, I set off along Blakeney Point once again. The walk out revealed rather little – many birds had indeed departed and just a few commoner migrants remained. Still, it is always a beautiful place to walk in the sunshine, and I also finally caught up with the stunning male Snow Bunting which had been lingering on the shingle ridge. The Black Redstarts were still present and the only other bird of interest was a Spotted Flycatcher.

I was tempted to leave, but bumped into some friends sat in the sunshine by the Plantation so decided to join them for lunch. While we were talking, I heard a bird call in the distance which I thought I recognised. It came a bit closer and I suddenly clicked that it was a Bee-eater! I leapt up shouting and a quick scan of the sky revealed two Bee-eaters coming low over the dunes. They passed right over our heads, then headed on west over the old Lifeboat House and away. They have always been one of my favourite birds, ever since I used to thumb through old field guides as a boy, and such a great joy to see them in the skies of Norfolk. The long walk back was broken with a stop for a Siberian Chiffchaff which had been located in the bushes on the edge of the beach – while we were there, it broke into song, a rare sound indeed here and very different from the common Chiffchaffs we had been listening to earlier in the Plantation. A very different day to Wednesday, but once again what a day!

It all goes to show just how exciting birding in Norfolk can be when the conditions are right.Image

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23rd May 2014 – Another beautiful day to be out

After a couple of days of more rainy weather, today saw another bright and sunny start. A Common Sandpiper flew over the car park at Cley as we got ready to leave. First to Kelling, where the Wood Sandpiper which has been lingering for the past couple of days showed well. The Water Meadow also held 15 Mute Swans, mostly non-breeding immature birds, an unusually large number for the site. A singing male Stonechat was the other local highlight – the species has become much rarer here in recent years. We took the time to study up close a good selection of the regular birds and several species of butterfly, including Small Heath, Common Blue and Brown Argus.

From there we went up to the heaths. A Hobby flashed through as we walked across. We heard our first Dartford Warbler, but it refused to show itself and remained stubbornly deep in the gorse. The mournful song of a male Woodlark drifted over and we picked up the bird sitting in a dead tree. A little later, as we walked further round, we saw the male and female feeding together quietly in the short grass. A search nearby and we found a female Dartford Warbler feeding quietly in the heather. As we walked back, we could hear daytime hooting Tawny Owls in the trees. More butterflies were also much in evidence, including a couple of Green Hairstreaks.

Finally, we drove down to Stiffkey. A Common Sandpiper and single Little Ringed Plover were on the Fen. A Whimbrel flew across the saltmarsh and some lingering winter waders and Brent Geese were still in the harbour, where we also got good views of Sandwich, Common and Little Terns. A Small Copper added to the butterfly list for the day. We also enjoyed the fabulous views across the harbour to Blakeney Point in the afternoon sunshine – we shouldn’t forget the great scenery on offer during a day out in North Norfolk!Image

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20th May 2014 – Firecrests in North Norfolk

Half day private tour today, I had been asked about the possibility of seeing Firecrests. There was not enough time to get down to the Brecks, where they are often easier to see, but they do breed in North Norfolk, mostly along the Holt-Cromer ridge. However, they are very localised and can sometimes be hard to find, particularly if they are not singing. Always nice to have a challenge, we thought we would give it a go.

We started off with a female Yellow Wagtail which dropped into the paddocks – good to see one away from the coast, and on the ground rather than flying over. Several Garden Warblers were singing, and gave us a chance to compare with nearby Blackcaps – one of the trickier pairs of songs to tell apart. As we walked through the woods on the ridge, we heard Goldcrests singing, which we spent a few minutes listening to, to give us a reference to compare with. We stopped at a couple of likely clumps of fir trees, then a short snatch of song ahead alerted us to the presence of a Firecrest. It was only half singing, and just occasionally, but as we followed it for a while, we realised that it was gathering food. A second bird appeared, also carrying food, and we watched them both going back and forth into the firs – we had found a nesting pair. The male had not been especially vocal until a Goldcrest approached the nest site from the other side, singing. At that point, the male Firecrest burst into full song and sang repeatedly for several minutes. A real treat to watch.

With the main challenge complete, we dropped back down to Cley to see some waders. There was lots of activity, with 3 Temminck’s Stints, a Little Stint, 35 Tundra Ringed Plovers together with a Little Ringed Plover to compare with, 2 lovely red Knot, Greenshank, and a particularly handsome breeding-plumaged male Ruff shepherding 4 Reeves, not to mention all the commoner waders.

Quite a morning!

19th May 2014 – Birds & Butterflies

Morning only tour today, from Burnham Overy to Holkham. Another beautifully hot and sunny day, a pleasure to be out.

The Spoonbills performed very well, with birds flying over, perched out in the harbour, and loafing around the trees and pools, and a Bittern boomed from the reedbed. One Common Sandpiper flushed from one of the pools in the grazing marsh and later a second flew west over the seawall. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls, one an adult with white ting tips and one a 2nd summer still with black markings, circled over calling.

The dunes themselves were fairly quiet for birds, although at least three Willow Warblers in the bushes on the way out to Gun Hill were most likely migrants. Out at the Little Tern colony, there was lots of activity – with birds flying back and forth, and sitting around on the beach. Several Ringed Plovers were doing their best to hide among the stones on the beach, and a small group of Sanderling had been pushed up by the tide, a mixture of grey winter-plumaged and much darker summer-plumaged birds. However, there were lots of butterflies (and moths), with several Common Blues now out, as well as the usual Brown Argus, Small Coppers, Small Heaths, Cinnabar Moths and other regular species. All too quickly we ran out of time and had to get back.

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After such a hot day today, it felt like it might be worth looking for Nightjars this evening. At least three churring males, and great, close flight views. Also, several roding Woodcock. Feels like summer is really here!

18th May 2014 – Morston-Stiffkey & the Heath

Day 2 of the two day tour today. Another glorious hot and sunny day. Again, we were looking to avoid the main nature reserves.

In the morning, we started off at Morston and walked along the coast to Stiffkey. The surprise of the day was a Spotted Flycatcher, which hopped up in some coastal bushes all too briefly, before flying off inland. Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail were also seen. We managed to get good views of all four of our resident terns – as well as Sandwich, Common and Little, the bonus was an Arctic Tern feeding in one of the channels, which perched for a time on a post for us to watch. A lovely summer adult Mediterranean Gull circled over Stiffkey Fen and landed on the water. Plenty of waders were also in evidence, with the highlight being two very showy Bar-tailed Godwits in full summer plumage feeding close to the path on the edge of the saltmarsh, with a small group of Black-tailed Godwits for comparison on the freshwater Fen.

In the afternoon, the request was to see Dartford Warblers, so we headed for the heaths. We quickly located one calling, but it was hiding in dense gorse and refused to show itself, and then promptly went silent. Working our way across the heath, we could hear another male singing and eventually managed to locate the pair with three young – the latter were hidden away in the gorse while the adults went off to feed, but hopped up when the parents returned. With patience, we were rewarded with great views, the juveniles with much longer tails now than when they first left the nest. Elsewhere, Garden Warblers were singing, though being typically skulking in the bushes, several Green Hairstreaks were still flitting around and a Roe Deer fed out in the open surprisingly unconcerned at our presence. We also managed to locate the Woodlarks again – the male singing from the trees and the female feeding quietly in the heather below.

So a thoroughly rewarding couple of days out in the field: a great group, lots of nice walking in beautiful countryside (mostly) away from the crowds, at our own pace with the chance to watch and learn, and some really good birds thrown in for good measure!

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17th May 2014 – The Burnhams

Day 1 of a two day tour today. The brief was to visit some different sites, and avoid the main nature reserves, so we focused on the central North Norfolk coast. Another gloriously warm and sunny day, it was a pleasure to be out again.

A gentle walk out gave us a good opportunity to study the differences between such tricky species pairs as Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat, and Reed and Sedge Warbler. We heard a Bittern booming and were then delighted to see one flying back, and later forth, over the reeds, and on our return another long flight away to feed. A real delight to see so well. Small groups of Bearded Tits were zooming around the reeds as well. Several Spoonbills passed overhead, enabling us to compare them in flight with the many Little Egrets, and one landed briefly nearby, though tantalisingly out of view. Out in the dunes, we found a Wheatear and a single Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. We spent some time watching Little Terns on the beach and a good selection of waders. Lots of butterflies were out today as well, with Brown Argus, several Small Coppers and lots of Small Heaths now on the wing.

We got a bit carried away with the walk in the morning, and ended up coming back for a late lunch. It didn’t leave us as much time to explore in the afternoon. However, we still heard another Bittern booming, saw several more Spoonbills including one which stopped to feed, and found a Greenshank feeding on a small pool on the grazing marsh. We walked back to the sound of a Cuckoo calling, suitably tired from a long day out in the field.

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16th May 2014 – Birds & Butterflies

A glorious sunny day today – it felt like summer. We started at Stiffkey Fen with a nice Small Copper on the path. A Greenshank was trying to hide among the large flock of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits and two Little Ringed Plovers lurked on one of the islands. Several Reed and Sedge Warblers perched up in the reedy edge of the channel, giving us a good opportunity to compare songs and birds. Out in the harbour, Little, Common and Sandwich Terns put on a good show and a cracking adult Mediterranean Gull circled overhead calling. Still plenty of Brent Geese were lingering on the saltmarsh, with a smattering of winter waders out on the mud.

On the heath, a large number of Green Hairstreaks were fluttering about in the heather. The song of a male Dartford Warbler led us to a pair chasing through the gorse – we followed them for a while and suddenly the male performed a song flight right in front of us, fluttering across the path and landing on the top of a stem perched out in the sun. A single Woodlark was located quietly feeding, before a male burst into song behind us – at first perched in a tree, he flew up over the heath, his slightly mournful song a contrast to all the Skylarks we had heard during the morning.

Back to Cley, and the Temminck’s Stint was still present, along with Greenshank, several Common Sandpipers, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, more Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Dunlin. A White Wagtail was on one of the scrapes and a single Wheatear was by the beach.

A great day to be out.

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