Monthly Archives: August 2014

26th & 27th August 2014 – The Whole Point

Easterly winds in Autumn mean migrants and the weather chart had been dangling the prospect of some suitable conditions for several days. It was time to get out in the field and look for some birds.

Tuesday morning was windy and damp, but with the winds still coming off the near Continent first thing, there were few new birds to be found. A walk from Stiffkey to Warham produced nothing more than a couple of Lesser Whitethroats and a lingering Swift. However, through the morning the wind direction changed and the birds started to arrive. A walk out along the lane to Kelling Water Meadow looked likely to be similarly quiet until a flash of movement along the hedgerow caught my eye. Standing quietly for a second and a Pied Flycatcher flicked out and landed briefly on a bare branch, the first sign of things to come. Out at the Water Meadow, an adult Little Gull struggled east into the wind, and a Hobby buzzed through, flushing the waders from the pool.

P1080784Little Gull battling against the wind

With the first sign that migrants were starting to arrive, I decided to head for Blakeney Point – the Point is a magnet of migrants in the right conditions, though the walk out is not for the faint-hearted. The first section produced nothing of note, and I was just starting to wonder whether I had set out too early. Then a bird flew up from behind the low Suaeda bushes just ahead of me – the slightly larger size, grey-brown colouration, longish tail and streamlined appearance were instantly recognisable, a Wryneck! As I walked on, it flew up again and dropped into deeper cover out of view. I have seen many Wrynecks here over the years, but it is always a real buzz to stumble across one. A great start.

P1080820Wryneck – a classic scarce autumn migrant

I was joined by two other hardy souls and we continued on our way. Gradually, we started to see other migrants. Wheatears and Whinchats, fresh in from the sea. Willow Warblers flitting around the low bushes by the shingle ridge. Then a second Wryneck flew up in front of us and dived back into cover. This one flitted on ahead of us several times as we walked along, only perching out briefly a couple of times, until it reached an area with more bushes. A juvenile Black Tern took shelter from the wind in the harbour, with the other resident terns.

P1080788Wheatear – fresh in from the sea and very confiding

Out at the Plantation, we spent some time watching both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers hawking for flies from the few stunted trees. A Redstart also lurked in amongst them. Out on the Point itself, we came across a third Wryneck and added Garden and Sedge Warbler to the list of the day’s migrants. We carried on hunting until dark started to fall and we had to make the long walk back to Cley.

P1080823The Lifeboat House

A glutton for punishment, I made the long trek out again the following morning. With clear conditions overnight, it was immediately clear that many of the birds from the previous day had moved on. Still, a nice Hobby perched up on the shingle ridge and a Peregrine flew over.

P1080809Hobby – resting on the shingle ridge

I couldn’t find any new arrivals, despite the continuing NE wind, but came across two of the Wrynecks from the previous day still in much the same places, and was able to linger a little longer with them. The Pied Flycatcher was still present, along with several Willow Warblers, but the Spotted Flycatcher appeared to have moved on. It was glorious out on the Point in the sunshine, and a great way to round off an exciting couple of days.

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23rd August 2014 – North Norfolk in late Summer

A very relaxed day birding in North Norfolk. The last few days have been rather quiet bird-wise here, but today was much better – we had a good day out and managed to see an excellent selection of residents and migrant waders. We started at Stiffkey Fen. The set aside field next to the road when we got out of the car was alive with colour – covered in poppies. A small group of Curlew was feeding out amongst them, and made quite a picture.

P1080752Curlew in a field of poppies

One of the first birds we saw when we got out to the Fen was a Kingfisher, which landed briefly by the sluice before flashing away across the muddy creek on the seaward side. This has been a favoured site recently for one of the post-breeding flocks of Spoonbills, and we were not to be disappointed. When we arrived, 13 birds were sleeping on one of the islands, but woke up for a while when a Sparrowhawk shot overhead and flushed all the waders. Later, a 14th bird flew in to join them.

P1080758Spoonbills – 7 of the 14 present today

There was also an excellent selection of waders present. The highlight was a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers feeding amongst the legs of the sleeping Black-tailed Godwits, but we also saw several Avocet, Dunlin, Ruff, Snipe, Common & Green Sandpiper, Redshank & Greenshank, with lots of Oystercatcher out on the saltmarsh. In the bushes on the way back, we stopped to admire a large group of Long-tailed Tits, several of which had stopped to preen in the sun. They formed part of a much large mixed flock, which included a variety of tits, as well as Lesser & Common Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff.

P1080765Long-tailed Tit – preening in the sunshine

A quick visit to the Heath was mostly quiet – always difficult in the middle of the day on a sunny Bank Holiday with lots of disturbance! However, the Heath itself was looking beautiful, with the heather in bloom, and despite the issues we managed to locate the target bird with a minimum of fuss. A churring from the low heather close to the path revealed the location of a Dartford Warbler. Standing quietly for a few minutes, we were eventually rewarded with views of the bird itself as it fed furtively through the gorse and perched up briefly for us to get a better view.

P1080775The Heath in full bloom

We returned to Cley for lunch, before heading out onto the reserve. A nice Little Egret was feeding on the grazing marsh by the path. A Cetti’s Warbler was hopping around in one of the bushes in the reedbed, calling. From the hides, we watched Avocets feeding, sweeping their bills side to side in the shallows, and Black-tailed Godwits probing deeply into the mud, heads underwater. Amongst all the other waders, a single Ringed Plover was new for the day, and a Whimbrel flew over calling. A Marsh Harrier quartered the reedbed.

P1080778Little Egret on the grazing marsh

We walked out along the East Bank to Arnold’s Marsh. Lots of Sandwich Terns were still gathered out on the sandbanks – plenty of juveniles, with adult birds still returning with fish for their young – and a few Common Terns were amongst them. In the reedbed, several Reed and Sedge Warblers were zooming around, perching up just long enough for us to get a look at them. But the best performance came from the Bearded Tits – their calls gave away their presence initially, then as we watched, first 4 birds crept up the reeds, before being joined by more. Mostly juveniles, they were flying round between the patches of taller reeds, calling. As they gathered together, at one point we had a grand total of 14 together perched up in the reeds!

As we walked back at the end of the day, a shower skimmed past to the south of us, clipping us for a few seconds and just enough to form a dramatic double rainbow. A lovely backdrop to finish.

P1080781Rainbow over Cley

P1080772Migrant Hawker – beautifully camouflaged on the bracken

 

17th August 2014 – Pursuing Passerines Part II

The second of two private tours today, with visitors from India. Having done so well with our target list on the first tour on 14th, we were left with some specific things to look for today and we were aiming to get some more photographs of the commoner species.

We started in the car park at Titchwell RSPB, a little later than planned due to delays in transit. There had already been lots of birds around the berry and fruit bushes before cars began to arrive, but once we had met up we still managed to find a good variety – lots of warblers, including several Lesser Whitethroats, Common Whitethroats and lots of Blackcaps. The usual selection of tits, and finches including Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Bullfinch. Several pairs of Woodpigeon were displaying and collecting nest material – providing great photo opportunities – as did the resident tame Robins.

P1080618Woodpigeon – displaying in the car park!

From there, we headed on to Holme Dunes, to look for Linnets, a particular target for the day. We had no trouble finding them, but they were reluctant to sit still in the very blustery westerly wind, although we eventually managed to get some reasonable shots of them. The Meadow Pipits were similarly camera shy. A couple of Yellow Wagtails flew over calling. The pair of Turtle Doves we flushed in the dunes, a personal favourite, proved less of a draw.

P1080627Turtle Dove – a pair were out in the dunes

We also explored the farmland up behind Titchwell, looking for some of the typical birds of the area. We managed to find several Yellowhammers, but the wind was still not helping us. However, we flushed some birds which had been drinking at a roadside puddle, so we decided to stake it out from the car and see what might come down. A selection of finches provided great material for the camera, but the undoubted highlight was a Grey Partridge which came out of the hedge and spent several minutes drinking right in front of us.

P1080640Grey Partridge – though nervous, this bird came out to drink for several minutes right in front of us

After lunch, the afternoon was spent at Titchwell. Two Red-crested Pochard were on the reedbed pool on the way out. At least 12 Spoonbills were (mostly) sleeping out on the freshmarsh, along with a good selection of waders – loads of Avocets still, several Little Ringed & Ringed Plovers, Lapwing, a single red Knot, a small group of Dunlin, lots of Ruff including lots of juveniles, both Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, 15 Spotted Redshank and lots of Common Redshank, and a couple of Turnstone still in their breeding finery. As well as more of several of the above, a stunning summer-plumaged Grey Plover was out on the Volunteer Marsh. Out on the sea, a single drake Common Scoter was braving the surf, but the sand-blasting from the wind proved too much to bear, so we headed back for shelter.

P1080644Avocet – still lots of these out on the freshmarsh

P1080678Ruff – good numbers of juveniles now with the adults

P1080689Bloody-nosed Beetle – we saw large numbers of these today around Titchwell

15th August 2014 – Wader Spectacular

The Wader Spectacular at Snettisham, on the eastern shore of the Wash, is one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles it is possible to see in the UK – a must-see event. On the highest tides, tens of thousands of waders are pushed off their feeding grounds as the water covers the mudflats, and forced to take refuge on the islands and edges of the disused gravel pits next door. The time to see this is from August to January.

15th August was a suitably high tide. Arriving at least an hour beforehand, the waders were progressively pushed up onto smaller and smaller patches of remaining mud, swirling round in groups. Finally, they could stand it no longer and began to head for the pits. The Oystercatchers started first, peeling off in small groups, joined by the Avocets, before the Knot took flight and suddenly the air was filled with birds, a ribbon cloud of birds streaming over the beach. Thousands took refuge on the pits in front of the hides – Knot, Dunlin, Sanderling, Redshank, Spotted Redshank & Greenshank, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and lots of Oystercatcher. Some of the other species headed for the banks and fields just inland – Golden Plover, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Whimbrel. About an hour after high tide, the birds started to head back. Again, the Oystercatchers started first in small numbers. A cloud of Dunlin and Sanderling came up from the pits and wheeled out to the mud. Then the rest of the melee erupted – a vast throng came low over our heads, amazing! You can see a short video of some of the action – click here.

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14th August 2014 – Passerines in the Brecks

The first of two private tours today, with visitors from India. Having talked about possibilities at this time of year beforehand, the request was to look for passerines (lots of our other birds are also seen regularly there!), with a particular focus on trying to get some photographs of some of the commoner species.

Lynford Arboretum is always a great place to visit and is a fantastic site to catch up with a lot of our regular native woodland species, so it seemed like a good place to start. It was rather quiet initially, as we walked round, apart from several Marsh Tits and the ever-present Goldcrests. Suddenly, the calls of Long-tailed Tits alerted us to the presence of a tit flock; we walked over to where they were feeding and suddenly we were surrounded by birds. As well as all the commoner tits, there were lots of Goldcrests, Treecreepers, Nuthatches and the odd Chiffchaff in amongst them. Whilst scanning through the flock, we also picked up one or two Firecrests – one in particular was feeding low down and allowed us great views. This species is one of the real specialties of the Arboretum.

A male Chaffinch caused particular excitement – such a common bird here, but a really smart one which we probably take for granted. There were also lots of Siskin flying around, but it took us a long time to finally see one perched. It seems to have been a very good year from them this year in the Forest. However, there was a real treat amongst the finches. Hawfinch are more regular here in winter but we were very lucky to be able to find two at this time of year, which flew up from the ground and perched briefly in the top of a fir tree.

P1080516Hawfinch – always hardest to see here in Summer

There are normally good numbers of Song Thrush here, but they seemed strangely elusive this morning. That is until, in one corner of the arboretum, we chanced upon a yew tree covered in berries and at least 20 flew out in all directions! A walk round the lake added Blackcap and Whitethroat, and a pair of Little Grebes with two stripey young. The Mute Swans proved a particular attraction – a pair with 3 cygnets were almost too close for photogaphy!

P1080543Mute Swan – almost too close!

From Lynford, we travelled on into the forest and took a walk down one of the rides. On first glance, this also initially seemed quiet, with none of the birdsong which gave away their presence earlier in the year. However, given the knowledge that birds are here, we walked around the clearing and suddenly flushed a group of at least a dozen Woodlark. They flew up calling and landed a short distance away in the grass, where we were able to watch them feeding. A moulting juvenile Stonechat may have been one of the birds raised here earlier in the summer. And a pair of Yellowhammers flew in and landed on the rowed up stumps.

After lunch we headed to Lakenheath Fen. A walk out to the Washland produced both Reed and Sedge Warbler. A single Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. From the viewpoint, as well as the usual Great Crested Grebes and Common Terns, we relocated the Great White Egret, feeding in a flooded area on the other side of the river. While this may be the rarity here, the real prize were the family of Bearded Tits which appeared by the bank. We saw one of the juveniles first, before the pair appeared. The female flew over the bank leaving the male on the other side, and they were calling to each other constantly. Positioning ourselves between them, we were perfectly placed to see the male edge up into the tops of the reeds. Stunning!

P1080545Bearded Tit – male in the reeds

As we walked out across the reserve, the forecast clouds started to gather and a thunderstorm drifted over. We took shelter in one of the viewpoints until it passed. As it cleared the birds appeared, with a pair of rather damp Kingfishers perching up on the edge of the reeds. A male Marsh Harrier also perched up in a dead tree to try to dry itself out. With more rain threatening, we decided to head back to the visitor centre and spend some time photographing the birds coming to the feeders, where a Reed Bunting was the biggest draw.

P1080539Red Admiral – a very smart one

Overall during the day, there were still good numbers of butterflies to be seen. The highlight was a single Clouded Yellow, which flew over the clearing in the Forest and away, without stopping. We also saw a single Painted Lady, plus many of the more numerous species. Plenty of dragonflies were also still on the wing, including lots of Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy & Common Darter.

Looking down the list of passerines which had been predicted as possibilities for this time of year, we have already delivered most of them and more besides. Day two later in the week will require some hard work to add some more goodies to the list!

P1080525Little Grebe – stripey juvs and doting parent

Looking for Swallowtails & other Butterflies

2014 has been a great year for butterflies. As well as the well-known garden species, we often run into many others on our general tours, but sometimes it is worth going to different areas for specific butterflies.

Swallowtail How Hill 2014-06-23_1Swallowtail – only found in the Norfolk Broads

Swallowtail is the butterfly we are most often asked about. Our largest native butterfly, the British subspecies is restricted to the Norfolk Broads, so it is particularly sought after here. They are a real sight to behold, flying powerfully over the reedbeds or feeding around fenland flowers. June is the best time to see them (flight period is end May to early July, sometimes with a smaller second generation in August), though as with all butterflies sightings are rather weather dependent. I am considering running tours to the Broads in 2015 to try to catch up with this spectacular species, amongst other things, so if you might be interested in coming along, please let me know.

We have seen lots of butterflies on our tours in 2014, so here is a selection of some of the other species we have seen this year. Many species of fritillary used to be much more abundant, but changing land use and in particular the demise of traditional woodland coppicing has seen most disappear. Only two species are know found in Norfolk. The Dark Green Fritillary continues to thrive in the dunes of the North and East coasts, and recent years have seen the Silver-washed Fritillary recolonise the county.

Silver-washed Fritillary Holt CP 2014-06-26_1Dark Green Fritillary Burnham Overy 2014-07_2Silver-washed (left) and Dark Green Fritillaries

The White Admiral has also spread more widely across Norfolk in recent years, and is now found in most areas of large woodland. At the right time of year, there are also several species of Hairstreak to be found in the same habitat – White-letter and Purple Hairstreak are typically found around the tops of mature elms and oaks respectively, in suitable areas. In contrast, Green Hairstreak is more of a heathland species and 2014 was a particularly good year for seeing these.

White Admiral Holt CP 2014-06-26_2Green Hairstreak Kelling Heath 2014-05-16_2 White Admiral (left) & Green Hairstreak (right)

We also run into several species of Blue on our tours. Silver-studded Blues are restricted to a small number of inland heaths (often seen when looking for Dartford Warblers!) and Chalkhill Blue has been introduced to one site in North Norfolk. We also regularly encounter other species such as Brown Argus, Common Blue and Holly Blue.

Silver-studded Blue Kelling Heath 2014-06-06_3Chalkhill Blue male Warham 2014-07-27_1Silver-studded Blue (left) & Chalkhill Blue (right)

Then there are the species that tend to get less attention. Skippers are also commonly encountered. Large Skipper is the most widespread, but we have also seen lots of Small and Essex Skippers this year. Separating these last two can be a bit of a challenge for the uninitiated – the best way to tell them apart is by the colour of the underside of the antenna tip (black in Essex, orange in Small).

Small Skipper Santon Downham 2014-06-28_1Essex Skipper Hindolveston 2014-07-15_1Common Skipper (left) & Essex Skipper (right)

On the heaths and coastal grasslands, we see plenty of Graylings and Small Heaths, and the hedgerows have been alive with Browns this year, including Ringlets and Gatekeepers.

Grayling Kelling Heath 2014-08-04Small Heath Kelling 2014-06-06_1Grayling (left) & Small Heath (right)

Ringlet How Hill 2014-06-23Gatekeeper Hindolveston 2014-07-15Ringlet (left) & Gatekeeper (right)

Last but not least, the Whites are a family which tends to get overlooked (unless they are in the garden, where they can be a real pest). Large, Small and Green-veined White are commonly seen. However, spending a bit of time on closer inspection can reveal the subtleties of the species.

Green-veined White Kelling WM 2014-07_3Small White Kelling WM 2014-07_2Green-veined White (left) & Small White (right)

So our tours are not just about birds – we see a wide variety of other wildlife when we are out and about. Some butterflies, particularly our native Swallowtails, are well worth going to look for in their own right.

4th August 2014 – Spoonbills, waders & the Heath

A Private Tour today, we were aiming to have a relaxed day of general birding in the Cley area. We started on the Heath. The Bell Heather is in bloom at the moment, covering the landscape with a swathe of purple and alive with honey bees. This is interspersed with patches of the bright yellow flowers of the low-growing Western Gorse. All of which provides a stunning backdrop.

We heard the Turtle Dove before we saw it – the delicate purring carries a surprising distance. We eventually picked it up sitting in a dead branch in the top of a birch tree. Through the scope we could see the distinctive rusty-fringed wing feathers and black-barred neck-side patch. When another pair of Turtle Doves flew over, it launched itself into a display flight, a clatter of wingbeats up into the air, before gliding slowly back down to perch in another dead tree. We heard the purring repeatedly through the morning, but the bird itself was often hard to see. Turtle Doves are now so sparsely distributed, it is always a joy to see and hear them.

P1080421-002Turtle Dove – the Heath is one of the best places to see them these days

The Dartford Warblers are feeding young again at the moment, their third brood of a very successful breeding season. It took us a while to find them, but we stumbled across the male bringing food back repeatedly to a small patch of gorse. He was hard to see at first, feeding low in the purple heather, but our patience was rewarded when he eventually perched up on top giving us great views. We also saw a stub-tailed young juvenile, which he led away from the path into the cover of some thick gorse.

There were also lots of Yellowhammers, several Skylarks and Linnets; a Green Woodpecker laughed loudly, before bounding across the heather to the pines. Bullfinches called from the trees but wouldn’t come out. There are plenty of butterflies out at the moment – on the Heath we saw lots of Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Graylings and a Small Copper.

P1080439Grayling – so well camouflaged, they can be hard to see on the ground

Our next stop was Stiffkey Fen. On the walk out, we stopped to watch a family of Buzzards circling up over the wood. The hedges were alive with mixed post-breeding flocks of tits, warblers and finches. Out on the Fen itself, the Spoonbill flock totalled 14, the high tide having pushed them out of the harbour to roost.

P1080450Spoonbill – 9 of the 14 at the Fen this morning

There was also a very good selection of waders – several each of Green and Common Sandpipers, lots of Black-tailed Godwit and a Ruff, 20 Greenshank and plenty of Redshank, loads of Dunlin, a Knot still mostly in its orange-red summer plumage, Snipe, Little Ringed Plover, Avocet and Oystercatcher. There was a glorious view out across the harbour to Blakeney Point – as we were admiring it, a juvenile Peregrine flew over, pursued by a large mob of angry terns!

P1080449Blakeney Point – a stunning view out from Stiffkey Fen this morning

We headed to Cley for lunch – we sat out side and while we were eating, we admired the view across the reserve. Another large flock of Spoonbills flew in and landed out on North Scrape, a Sparrowhawk flew across the scrapes and spooked all the birds, a family of Avocets circled round in front of us – not bad for a lunch break!

Next, we walked out to the East Bank. The Bearded Tits were proving elusive, but the Marsh Harriers put on a good display, both a tatty male and a pristine chocolate-brown juvenile. At Arnold’s Marsh, the large creche of noisy terns gave us the chance to look closely at both Sandwich and Common Terns. More waders included a large flock of Curlew and a single Sanderling, still mostly in summer plumage and looking much more colourful than the silvery grey birds we are used to seeing in winter. On the walk back, a family party of Bearded Tits finally let us glimpse them through the reeds and gave fleeting flight views.

The light was perfect by this time to head out to the hides. The scrapes were teeming with waders, lots of godwits and sandpipers as we had seen earlier at Stiffkey.There were lots more Ruff, in various plumages – moulting males and the much smaller females (Reeves), plus a scaly-backed juvenile, looking completely different again. However, there were also some new ones for the day. A black-bellied Golden Plover lurked among the Lapwings. A close look through the Dunlin revealed a bird which was slightly bigger and with a distinctive downcurved bill – a Curlew Sandpiper – this one moulting out of its bright red-orange summer plumage. And finally a tiny shape creeping around the mud on the edge of the grass revealed itself to be a Temminck’s Stint, eventually coming out into the open so we could get a good look at it.

P1080424Curlew Sandpiper – an adult moulting out of summer plumage

A great way to end the day – almost. On the walk back to the car park, the distinctive ‘ping’ of a Bearded Tit revealed a bird which perched up briefly before flying away across the reeds. Perfect!

P1080445Common Darter – still plenty of dragonflies around

P1080458Goldfinch – lots of plain-faced juveniles among the red & black-faced adults