Monthly Archives: June 2014

28th June 2014 – The Brecks

Day 2 of a 2 day tour today, and down to the Norfolk/Suffolk border to catch up with the Breckland specialities.

We started at Lynford Arboretum with a particular request to see Firecrest. The first bird we saw was a Hobby, which flashed over the car park just as we got out. An initial walk round the arboretum itself failed to locate our quarry, despite the fact that it was alive with tits, particularly Marsh Tits, Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Goldcrests and Siskins. We decided to have a look round the paddocks which produced a nice Spotted Flycatcher and singing Garden Warbler. Walking back through the arboretum, we fortuitously picked up a Firecrest feeding quietly in one of its favoured fir trees.We managed to track it for a while, as it flitted quickly through the trees, though it only gave a quick and half-hearted burst of song.

With the first of our targets in the bag, we headed on to a nearby area of Thetford Forest. The cleared and replanted blocks of young pines in the forestry plantations are the place to look for Woodlarks and Tree Pipits. We quickly located several small groups of Woodlark, flushing some from the grass along the side of the path. However, they were initially being unhelpful and would not perch up for us to get a good look at them. In contrast, the Tree Pipits performed impeccably. We watched one male in particular, singing from the treetops on the edge of the clearing, fluttering up high into the sky before parachuting back to a favoured perch in the trees. We got great scope views of that one. Finally, as we turned to go back, we flushed another two Woodlarks which had landed back beside the path and they flew up into the top of a nearby oak tree. An adult and a juvenile, they perched up and allowed us to really get a good look at them.

In contrast, the pair of Stonechats were always on view, perched up and ‘chatting’, often followed closely by a Whitethroat or two. From their behaviour, it was clear they had young nearby and as we walked back along the path we could see them with at least two streaky juveniles. We stopped to get the scope on them and discovered the young had been colour-ringed, part of an ongoing project to track the movements of individual Stonechats.

In the sun, the Viper’s Bugloss along the edge of the paths was alive with butterflies and moths. In particular, large numbers of Small Skippers now flitted about alongside the Large Skippers which have been out for some time, and we also saw several brightly coloured burnet moths. A male Banded Demoiselle was a long way from any water.

We moved on to Lakenheath Fen for the afternoon. It was gloriously sunny as we arrived and strolled out across the reserve. From the New Fen viewpoint, we watched a Kingfisher zipping back and forth across the water, even landing briefly on the birdtable set up at the edge of the reeds. Several Bearded Tits were moving about between the reeds and a Hobby was hawking for dragonflies over the reeds. As ever, there were lots of dragonflies to be seen, including Common and Ruddy Darters, Brown Hawker, Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers.

As we walked on, we could see dark clouds gathering ominously ahead of us. Thankfully we made it to the hide in time, before the rain started. We contented ourselves for a while watching the Bearded Tits and Reed Warblers clambering amongst the base of the reeds and a family of Marsh Harriers, including a couple of recently fledged chocolate-brown youngsters which perched rather clumsily in the reedbed scrub to sit out the rain. Unfortunately, the forecast showers turned out to be a more organised and slow-moving band of rain, which turned very heavy for a time. Eventually a decision was made to head back to the visitor centre as the rain eased slightly but by the time it started to clear through, we had run out of time in the day. Still, we had a very productive morning and the two days were thoroughly enjoyed by all concerned.

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The participants unfortunately had to depart, but as the rain cleared later that afternoon I decided to stop off at Weeting Heath to check on the Stone Curlews. I was suitably rewarded, with a minimum of 10 different birds on view together. Pairs and small groups were running to and fro, chasing each other, and flying round in front of the hide. There was lots of calling and ‘wing waving’, and some bowing between the pairs, before the birds gradually started to fly off in ones and twos onto the neighbouring farmland. Magical.

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27th June 2014 – Rare Breeding Birds tour

Day 1 of a 2 day tour today. After days of sunny weather, it dawned overcast with light drizzle. Despite that, we still went to look for birds of prey this morning.

Our first stop produced a Barn Owl which flew right past along the road. The resident Turtle Doves had obviously been keeping out of the rain – we quickly found one though it was perched low down and partly obscured – but as the weather brightened a little a second bird up and sat out in full view, such a beautiful bird. We were also graced with several Marsh Harriers, including a smart male which quartered back and forth across the field in front of us. We travelled on to a second site and managed to add a variety of raptors to the day’s list. Amongst others, a nice Hobby which circled up with a flock of Swifts careful to keep above it!

The afternoon was spent looking for Spoonbills. We walked out at Burnham Overy and were quickly graced with a single bird flying past towards the saltmarsh. As we got onto the seawall, a second adult was feeding on one of the pools, which allowed us all to get great scope views. Whilst we were there, a Little Tern was also feeding over the same patch of water and a family of Little Grebes, with 3 very small stripy-faced juveniles, was on a small pool amongst the reeds by the path. A little further, and a Dark Green Fritillary was on the path on the edge of the dunes. We walked on to the pines and up to the hide where the ‘creche’ held at least 9 juvenile Spoonbills. Several adults dropped in while we were there, the young birds still chasing and harrying them for food as soon as they arrived. As we were in the hide, the thunder clouds started to gather, so we made a dash back to the car – although we got caught in the rain, thankfully it was not as bad as it might have been.

A quick stop on the way back produced several Mediterranean Gulls amongst the Black-headed Gulls and good views of Little and Common Terns. As on previous days, a single Arctic Tern was also to be found, feeding back and forth and hovering over the creeks behind the other gulls & terns.

The evening was scheduled for Nightjars, and although the weather forecast looked touch-and-go, we decided to try anyway. For a while it looked like the wrong call, as a thunderstorm and torrential rain hit – we sheltered in the car and thought we might not get out at all. At around 9.30pm the rain stopped and despite the rainwater still flowing down the path in a torrent, we trudged out onto the heath with pretty low expectations. Almost immediately, a distant roding Woodcock appeared, followed by another much closer. Over the next quarter of an hour, we had several flypasts. Then the Nightjars started churring, unperturbed by the cool, damp, overcast conditions, and we eventually had two or three separate males. One in particular sat up nicely on several of its favourite branches, so we could get it silhouetted nicely against the sky in the scope. It then flew right towards us, turning at the last minute and dropping into the gorse right in front of us, flushing out a female. They flew round together for a second before the male dropped down onto a branch , sitting up for a second before flying off over the heath. A stunning way to end the day!

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17th June 2014 – The Brecks

Day tour in the Brecks today. We started at Weeting Heath, and the resident (for the summer) Spotted Flycatcher was hawking for insects amongst the pine trees, regularly returning to its favourite branch for us to study closely. Out on the heath itself, a pair of Stone Curlews had two small, week-old chicks. We spent some time watching them following their parents, being fed and crouching down in the grass as a Kestrel flew past.

From there, we moved on to Lakenheath Fen. The view from the first viewpoint at New Fen was magical – a Kingfisher perched up in the reeds, a Hobby shot low across the pool right in front of us and caught a dragonfly, eating it on the wing, and we watched a pair of Marsh Harriers making a food pass over the reeds, the male flying in with prey in its talons, circling over the female and dropping it for her to catch.

Walking on across the reserve, lots of Cuckoos were calling and Reed Warblers were singing. Suddenly a Bittern flew up across a small pool next to the track and landed in the reeds at the back, perched up for a second before it dropped further in. Up on the river bank, we eventually relocated one of the pairs of Common Cranes in a damp meadow across the river – they seemed to be feeding quite happily until a Lapwing decided to start mobbing them, swooping repeatedly until they moved away.  We thought that we had done well, but as we started to walk back, another Bittern suddenly appeared flying over the path directly towards us. Just before it reached us, it turned and flew across in front us, over towards the river bank before turning again and flying behind the trees – such a great, long flight view and so close.

Insects were also well represented. The highlight was the enormous number of Small Tortoiseshells – the thistle heads along the path and more particularly along the riverbank were covered in hundreds of butterflies. We also saw several Large Skippers and dragonflies including Hairy Dragonfly, Black-tailed Skimmer, Four-spotted Chaser and the first Brown Hawker of the year.

After a late lunch, we headed back to the forest. Strolling down a ride, we could hear a Woodlark singing. As we got closer, it flew up from the edge of the track and landed on a small ploughed area, where we were able to get the scope on it and enjoy great views. Finally we popped in to Lynford Arboretum – unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to explore it properly, but still we saw a variety of birds amongst the trees. A lovely way to end the day.

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16th June 2014 – Birthday Tour

A private tour today, an 80th birthday present for one of the participants, so a relaxed day in North Norfolk was in order.

We spent the morning at Holkham. Walking west in the lea of the pines, we spent some time watching the summer warblers and a couple of mixed tit flocks which had already started to gather. A very obliging Little Egret sat preening in its usual tree, several Marsh Harriers were quartering the grazing marshes and a male was displaying over the reedbed – a fine sight. There was a good variety of butterflies to be seen as well, including White Admiral, Ringlet and Large Skipper.

A little group of Spoonbills was around the ‘nursery’ pool. We counted at least 10, including lots of pearly-white small-billed juveniles, and several adults, dirtier in colour with shaggy crest and yellow-tipped bills. It was hard to tell exactly how many there were, as birds were constantly ferrying back and forth between the pool and the trees. While we were watching them, all the wildfowl and waders suddenly took to the air – a quick scan revealed a young Peregrine (raised last year) racing across the marsh. It wheeled round and landed in the trees in front of us, allowing us great scope views. Amongst the Greylags and Egyptian Geese, a couple of Pink-footed Geese were lingering out on the marsh, having failed to head back to Iceland for the summer.

After lunch, we headed up to the heath. Lots more Silver-studded Blues are on the wing now, and we also saw Common Blue and Meadow Brown. Yellowhammers and Linnets were singing amongst the gorse. A Woodlark was singing overhead, before dropping into the thick grass out of sight. The highlight was a couple of Dartford Warblers which we followed feeding through the heather for a while, at times coming very close to the path. A lovely way to end the day.

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15th June 2014 – Firecrest, Hawfinch, Cranes & more

Final day of 3 day tour and down to the Brecks. A slight change to the usual programme, as none of the participants particularly wanted to look for some of the normal target birds and there was a particular request to find a Firecrest.

We started at Lynford Arboretum. There was lots of morning activity, particularly Treecreepers, tits including Marsh Tit and Goldcrests. A short way round the arboretum and a Firecrest started singing. Distant at first, we worked our way round and found the tree it was in. It was flitting around quiet high up, but hard to see amongst the dense foliage of the fir, and not everyone could get on to it. Crests will sometimes respond to a bit of ‘squeaking’, and a short burst gave an immediate response – suddenly two Firecrests appeared lower down on the front of the tree, as they came to investigate. With great views obtained all round, we left them to it, the primary target in the bag.

Further round the arboretum, and we picked up the sound of a Hawfinch calling quietly from the top of a tree. Frustratingly, we couldn’t see it, and we ended up only getting a brief glimpse as it flew away. Not to be deterred, we walked on in the direction it had flown, towards one of the Hawfinches favourite feeding areas, and quickly picked up the call again. With so many leaves on the trees at this time of year, Hawfinches can be frustratingly difficult to see but fortuitously it flew out and landed in the top of a tree a short distance away, out in the open. Great views all round again, and a real bonus!

We decided to move on and headed to Lakenheath Fen. The weather was overcast and rather windy, not the best conditions for some of the reserve’s specialities, and it was also by now the middle of the day. In particular, the Bitterns were rather subdued but fortunately we had all had such great views the day before. Still, there were plenty of other birds to watch – lots of Marsh Harriers, Cuckoos and Reed Warblers, amongst others. And a variety of insects, with several species of butterfly, dragon- and damselfly (the best of the latter being really close-up views of Red-eyed Damselflies). A Hobby was hawking over Joist Fen and a pair of Common Cranes was the highlight of the afternoon (digiscoped photo below from a couple of days ago). It was also a real pleasure to watch a couple of families of Great Crested Grebes, the stripy-headed grey juveniles demanding free rides on the backs of their parents!

We finished off back at Lynford Arboretum. It was rather quieter than it had been in the morning, but still we enjoyed great views of several new birds for the day, including a Garden Warbler gathering food and a Nuthatch preening in the afternoon sun, as well as many of the species we had seen in the morning.

All in all, a very successful three days in the field. Engaging company, lots of good birds and great views of all of the key ones we had been after.

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14th June 2014 – Cleaning up along the coast

Day 2 of 3 day tour, we started by going to see the long-staying Spectacled Warbler at Burnham Overy Dunes. Only the 8th time one has been seen in UK, it continues to draw big crowds despite having been present for almost two weeks. But there were also plenty of other birds to see on the way out (and back). The first highlight was the Swifts – a cloudy, cool start to the day, and a group of birds were hunting low over the grazing marsh, whizzing about in between us and low over our heads. Next was the Bittern – two birds were seen on a short flight over the reeds but only two of the group managed to see them. Normally that would be it, but suddenly a head extended up out of the reeds and the bird stayed there for several minutes giving us all the opportunity to study it at length. While we were watching it, two adult Spoonbills also dropped in to a neighbouring pool, so for a while we didn’t know where to look. After the Bittern had finally disappeared into the reeds we turned our attention to the Spoonbills sweeping their bills back and forth through the shallow water.

Out in the dunes, the Spectacled Warbler was being harried somewhat by unscrupulous photographers, but this fortuitously pushed it in our direction as we were just walking out to its favoured area. It flew towards us and landed right in front of us, perching up on the top of a bush and singing. We were fortunate to be able to watch it for a while before the crowd caught up with it again. We then escaped and wandered out through the dunes to the Little Tern colony. The way back produced more Spoonbill action and the chance to compare Lesser Whitethroat with the more common Whitethroat (and contrast the latter with the Spectacled Warbler we had just seen).

Next stop was Wells, where we quickly found several splendid Mediterranean Gulls among the Black-headed Gulls and a single Arctic Tern feeding among the Commons and Littles. Then inland for lunch, where we caught up with several Turtle Doves and a single Clouded Yellow fluttered over the field margin. Finally, we headed back east and up onto the heath. A gentle stroll round produced a lovely male Dartford Warbler which perched up right in front of us and several Woodlarks, flying overhead calling and dropping down into the grass to feed.

We saw a real variety of birds in the day, and each member of the group went home particularly pleased about a different aspect, happy all round.

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13th June 2014 – Spoonbills, more Spoonbills & Nightjars

Day 1 of 3 day tour, we spent the afternoon and evening looking for Spoonbills and Nightjars. We started at Holkham and were quickly rewarded with the first White Admiral of the year, and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeding among the brambles. A splendid male Marsh Harrier passed by just in front of us, twice, but refused to come back a third time when we all had cameras at the ready! A Green Sandpiper called briefly, but was not seen, possibly an early returning bird. At least 9 Spoonbills were around the pools, mostly very white juveniles with their ‘teaspoon’ bills, but the odd adult flew in from feeding, causing a round of begging from the young. The adults are distinctive by comparison with their shaggy crests, yellow-tipped bills and duller body plumage with an obvious dirty yellow patch on the breast. A good selection of other regular wildfowl and waders was also on offer. As we walked back, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth landed on the track in front of us – very odd to see like that, and a good opportunity to photograph it.

From there, we drove back to Cley. On the way out, a small party of Bearded Tits pinged from the reeds. A group of 5 more Spoonbills were sleeping on one of the scrapes, but as we looked out of the hide two juveniles dropped down in front of us and proceeded to give stunning views right outside the windows. Amazing – a proper frenzy of Spoonbills for the afternoon. We also had a chance to look closely at both Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers in particular, as well as admire the variety of other waders and ducks in view.

After grabbing something to eat, we headed up to the heath before the sun went down. The Woodcock put on a stunning display, roding right overhead. It was hard to tell how many different birds were involved, but there were several passes overhead by a single bird and a couple of dogfights between twos. Several Tawny Owls were also hooting again. The Nightjars were a bit reluctant to get started, but once they did they more than made up for it. We had at least 3 churring males and one in particular perched up repeatedly on several of his favourite perches in full view of the scope – a real treat. We also had great flight views of the same male as it flew around us, displaying his white flashes in wing and tail. Such a good way to end the day.

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