2nd June 2014 – Spoonbills & Nightjars… & Spectacled Warbler

Today was billed as a Spoonbills & Nightjars tour – it turned out to be a little bit more than that. Just as we were about to meet up for the afternoon, news came through of a Spectacled Warbler at Burnham Overy Dunes. Particularly as this site is very close to the Spoonbills, we were all agreed we wanted to try to see this very rare bird first.

A large crowd had already gathered in the dunes by the time we had walked out along the seawall. The Spectacled Warbler was initially asleep, but still lifted its head a few times to give little bursts of song. It quickly woke up properly, and started to feed around the sparse bushes in the dunes, singing and calling all the time and sounding somewhat like a cross between a Dartford Warbler and a Wren. A stunning male, rather like a diminutive Whitethroat with its grey head, white ‘spectacles’ and rusty wings, it fed characteristically low down in the vegetation and even hopped around on the ground. A real treat to watch – only the 8th record for the UK and the 2nd ever in Norfolk.

From there, we walked up to the Little Tern colony. The birds are only now getting down to business – a few birds were sitting on the beach, and several pairs were flying around together. At one point, we watched a pair courtship feeding, the male presenting a small sand eel to the female. A further stroll through the dunes and pines and we arrived at the Spoonbills. Eight well-grown juveniles with their ‘teaspoon’ bills were sitting around one of the pools, preening and loafing. When an adult flew in, fresh from a feeding sortie, the young birds chased after it, flapping and calling, pestering it like small children until it regurgitated some food. We watched them for some time, several adults coming and going while we were there. By the time we arrived back at the car, time was getting on and we headed off to get something to eat before sunset.

Up on the heath, we positioned ourselves in good time for the evening’s entertainment. Despite overcast skies and even a few spots of rain, the birds performed on cue. First, a roding Woodcock flew over calling, one of several we saw through the evening. A Tawny Owl hooted in the distance, a Barn Owl flew across in front of us, and then the Nightjars started. A quick burst of churring from the male, before a second bird started up more persistently behind us. This spurred the first into action, and he flew round past us, landing in the gorse out of view and churring again. Flying round a second time he landed all too briefly in a tree and we thought that might be the best of it, but he was not finished. Another quick circuit and he landed again, this time on a bare branch right in front of us. The light was still good at this stage, he stayed for a couple of minutes and we were able to get him in the scope affording us fill-the-frame views. Amazing! We stayed and listened to the birds for a while, with at least three churring males around us. As the light faded, the second male Nightjar came to one of his favoured perches, silhouetted against the moonlit sky, a fitting end to a very memorable day.

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