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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Common Darter – still plenty of dragonflies around