Monthly Archives: March 2015

30th March 2015 – Monday Meanderings

A Private Tour today, up on the North Norfolk coast. A birthday gift, and a relaxed day of general birding.

After a leisurely start, we headed along the coast road towards Titchwell first. As we drove, a Barn Owl flicked over a hedge near Stiffkey. The other side of Overy Staithe, a Red Kite hung in the air by the road. The first of several of both species we were to see today.

We got to Titchwell and walked out onto the reserve. The weather was much better than the last couple of days, bright but still very breezy. We had some trouble looking out over the Thornham grazing marsh pool, it was so windy, but there was relatively little out there today – a Ringed Plover, a single Ruff and a couple of Redshank. So we headed in the direction of Parrinder Hide to get some shelter.

There were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh. The water levels are now receding slowly, though only a month or more later than expected. The islands are starting to reappear, which at least gives the waders somewhere to go now. Consequently, there was a better selection on here today. There were a handful of Dunlin, several Ringed Plovers and a few Turnstones on the islands. A nice little flock of Ruff in the water, and a separate group of Redshank. And a good number of Avocet.

We spent some time admiring the godwits. There was a little huddle of Bar-tailed Godwits, all mostly still in winter plumage, pushed off the beach by the high tide. Their streaked backs were very different from the plain grey backs of the Black-tailed Godwits nearby, and we could also just see the edges of some barred tails. Some of the Black-tailed Godwits were starting to come into summer plumage, getting orangey about the head and neck, and with some brighter rusty mantle feathers showing.

IMG_3665Bar-tailed Godwit – a little huddle asleep on the freshmarsh

We also had a close look at the wildfowl. A small family group of Brent Geese were on the water close by – we could see how the plain slate grey backs of the two adults differed from the stripier wings of their five young from last year, still with them. A single Shelduck was in amongst the ducks on the freshmarsh as well – though more were out on the Volunteer Marsh.

P1010810Gadwall – check out the subtle markings of the drakes

Gadwall is often dismissed as a rather boring duck but we got a couple of drakes in the scopes and admired their intricate patterning. Drake Teal are more obviously pretty things, and there was a little group of two drakes and two ducks in front of the hide, which broke into a little bout of display. A couple of Wigeon fed on the grassy bank beside the hide. There were lots of Shoveler, many of them already paired up. One particular pair was right below the hide window, feeding feverishly in the choppy waters whipped up by the blustery wind, spinning round with their heads pretty much permanently under the water.

P1010815Shoveler – this pair were feeding feverishly

The surprise on the freshmarsh was a single Great Crested Grebe, possibly a refugee from the rough sea. It was diving repeatedly amongst the islands. Later, on our way back, a couple of Little Grebes were by the path as well. The Marsh Harriers were a little subdued today, with no sign of the display much in evidence recently. However, we did see one of the females flying in to the reedbed carrying nest material, so breeding activity has not completely subsided.

The Volunteer Marsh was a little quiet today, perhaps due to the wind whistling across. There were a few Grey Plover, and we watched one feeding out on the mud – standing still, walking a few paces, then bending down to pick at the surface. All this in contrast to the more active feeding of the Redshank next to it, probing into the mud. There were also a couple of Oystercatchers, one with a particularly bright orange bill and the other with its bill covered in sticky black mud. A single Curlew looked rather bright yellowy-brown in the sun. Unusually, there was nothing feeding in the channel by the path today.

P1010826Avocet – a pair were feeding on the tidal pools today

There was a bit more activity on the Tidal Pools. A pair of Avocets fed in the deep water – so deep they looked barely able to stand! There were lots of waders roosting on the islands – more Oystercatchers, Grey Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Black-tailed as well. We weren’t going to linger, given the cold wind whistling across, but we could see a couple of ducks further up, right next to the path just before the beach. They stayed put until we got there – a very smart pair of Pintail. The elegant but understated female swam out further from the bank but the drake stayed put and swam round in front of us, showing off its long pin-shaped tail. Eventually, having given us plenty of time to admire them, they flew off back towards the freshmarsh. Stunning.

P1010848Pintail – this stunning drake was right by the path today

Given the conditions, we weren’t planning to try the beach today, but having got this far we decided to have a quick look. The tide was in so there were not many waders on the beach – just a handful of silvery grey Sanderling running in and out of the waves. A small group of Red-breasted Merganser was being tossed about on the sea.

We had other things we wanted to do in the afternoon, so we headed back towards the visitor centre. We stopped on the way to look at a rather scraggly Chinese Water Deer which had stopped to drink in one of the channels out on Thornham saltmarsh. Back in the car park at lunchtime, a Bullfinch called from the trees.

P1010866Chinese Water Deer – this rather tatty individual was still on the saltmarsh

After lunch, we drove back along the coast road to Holkham. As we parked on Lady Anne’s Drive, a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over calling, and flashing their pure white wingtips. We walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines, stopping to admire a couple of little tit flocks – mixed groups of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Goldcrests. A Chiffchaff called from the undergrowth along a ditch out of the wind and further on another one sang from the bushes. A pair of Common Buzzards, chased each other around low over the grazing marshes and in front of the edge of the pines.

P1010868Goldcrest – the smallest British bird, forever on the move

Up in the Joe Jordan hide, a Little Egret was the only white bird on view when we arrived. But after only a short wait, another couple of white birds flew out from the trees with their necks held outstretched – Spoonbills. They dropped onto a little pool nearby and started feeding together, their heads sweeping from side to side with their bills in the water. One was noticeably larger than the other – presumably a pair. After a few minutes, one of them pulled up a stick from the water and set off with it back towards the trees, with the other following behind immediately after. A little later, a third Spoonbill flew in from the east – presumably it had been feeding on the marshes over that way.

IMG_3682Spoonbill – this pair dropped into a pool for a few minutes

There were lots of other things to look at from the hide as well. We scanned through the geese out on the grazing marshes. Amongst all the Greylag were a few Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese and with them four much smaller Barnacle Geese, presumably also feral birds from the increasing UK population. Still, they looked very smart – black neck sock, white face, pale flanks and black-barred grey back. It took a bit of searching, but eventually we found a small group of five Pink-footed Geese feeding on their own. Most of the thousands which spent the winter here departed last month, but a handful are still lingering – a small number may even stay through the year.

We also saw plenty of raptors. Lots of Marsh Harriers, included one individual sporting green wing tags – unfortunately we couldn’t read them. A couple of Red Kites drifted lazily overhead. A female Kestrel hung in the air in front of the hide for a while – remarkable, given the way the wind was still gusting across.

P1010872Red Kite – two were over the grazing marsh this afternoon

After the hide, we wandered the short distance along to the edge of the dunes. A Barn Owl flew across from behind us and out over the grass. We watched it disappear over towards the Burnham Overy seawall, before a second Barn Owl appeared from the same direction. Unfortunately, we were running short of time by now, so we didn’t really have enough time to look for the Rough-legged Buzzard today and there was no sign of it on a quick scan.

We headed back to towards the car and as we arrived back at Lady Anne’s Drive, another Barn Owl appeared over the fields. We saw it quartering, and it hovered before dropping down into the grass. Then yet another appeared, and we paused a while to watch the two Barn Owls hunting over the fields to finish the day.

P1010880Barn Owl – we saw four out hunting this afternoon

29th March 2015 – Wet & Windy, Brecks Weekend #2

Day 3, the final day of a long weekend of tours today – and the second day down in the Brecks. The weather forecast was bad – and for once, unfortunately, they got it right! But that didn’t stop us from getting out and, as usual, it didn’t stop us from seeing some really good birds.

We started at Santon Downham. We walked over the bridge and heading off alongside the river. A Grey Wagtail flew from some overhanging branches on the other side, past us upstream. A Yellowhammer was singing in the trees. A Chiffchaff nearby was doing just the same – they have arrived in force now. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were chasing each other round on the other side of the river, calling.

A croaking call from along the river alerted us to a single Mandarin flying past. It circled round and landed on the water. When we looked closer, we could see there were three of them on the river, two ducks and a smart drake. They clambered up onto the bank.

P1010729Mandarin – a smart male

The Mandarins were constantly backwards and forwards over the next hour  – flying up and down the river and landing high up in the trees (they are naturally a tree hole nester after all). It was hard to tell how many there were exactly.

P1010750Mandarin – a female perched high up in the trees

It was forecast to start raining at 10am, so we hoped to have a window of dry weather in the morning. Unfortunately the rain arrived an hour early. It wasn’t raining really hard, but it was persistent. At least the wind hadn’t picked up yet.

We stood in the shelter of the trees and listened. Not surprisingly in the cold and wet, activity was subdued. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed sporadically, a Green Woodpecker called occasionally, but that was it. We had hoped to find the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here, but it was probably away in the pines and birches feeding. It was not the weather for it to be drumming. Getting quite damp by this stage, we decided to head back. A Brambling sang its wheezy song from the trees along the river. A flock of Redwing flew ahead of us. A Marsh Tit called from the bushes.

Lynford Arboretum seemed like a good place to head for, with the chance of birding amongst the trees out of the worst of the weather. By the time we got round there, the rain had eased off. We walked up to the gate and stopped to look through the Chaffinches feeding on the ground. Almost immediately, we picked up a Hawfinch which flew down and landed amongst the leaves further back, a female. We got it in the scope and got great views as it fed unobtrusively, admiring its massive bill.

IMG_3624IMG_3627Hawfinch – this female fed quietly on the ground

She flew up into the trees, calling, but returned a short while later. We could hear a male Hawfinch as well, singing up above, but we couldn’t find it amongst the branches. At one point, both birds flew off into the Arboretum, and perched up in one of the trees, but they flew back almost immediately. The two Hawfinches then perched up in a bush amongst the trees, the male singing and the female feeding quietly on buds. Then they flew off again and we decided to move on.

We could already hear a Firecrest singing from the trees behind us. We followed the noise and found the bird amongst the fir trees, in much the same place as we had seen it yesterday. But this time, it was perched lower down and came out in full view on some bare branches. Stunning. It got agitated and began to chase a second bird all round through the trees – presumably another Firecrest. Eventually, it gave up and returned to its favoured trees, still singing. Great views.

We wanted to explore the woodland walk, but it was very quiet in the trees today, apart from the odd Marsh Tit. Perhaps not a surprise, it was still cold and damp. We did pause to admire the Dog Violets in flower along the edges of the path. But we figured it might be a better idea to try something else, so we headed back to the car.

P1120659Dog Violet – lots were in flower alongside the path

We drove up to an area favoured by the Stone Curlews, but on our way there the rain started again and the wind began to pick up. We had a quick look in the fields from the car but couldn’t see anything in any of the likely fields. So, while it was raining, we thought we might as well have an early lunch. The chances of seeing a Goshawk in wind and rain is minimal, but we headed over to a likely site – we thought we might as well try our luck while we were eating.

We watched from the comfort of the car over lunch. A couple of Red Kites circled lazily over the fields, buffeted by the wind. A Sparrowhawk rose briefly out of the wood before thinking better of it. A couple of Common Buzzards did attempt to circle up, but they didn’t get very high, and they spend most of their time down among the trees. That was about all we could realistically have hoped for so, once we had finished eating, we moved on again.

It had stopped raining once more, so we walked into the forest along a ride. A Marsh Tit sang from one side and we could hear lots of Long-tailed Tits on the other. Then we caught a snatch of a distinctive sibilant song from deep within the trees, a Willow Tit. It sang again and again, and eventually we worked out where it was, but before we could get a look it flew out and we lost track of it among the trees. We searched along the ride and found a nice little mixed flock of tits feeding in a sheltered corner – Coal Tits, Blue Tits, and Long-tailed Tit, plus Goldcrests, Treecreeper and a single Chiffchaff. While we were looking through them, the Willow Tit started calling nearby, a distinctive nasal scolding. We caught a couple of glimpses of it among the trees, and in flight, but it didn’t stay still long enough to get everyone onto it. It moved deeper in, so we reluctantly left it to it.

We headed back to have another more thorough look for the Stone Curlews. We had only just got out of the car and started scanning when we saw the rain coming yet again. This time it was falling in stair rods and heading straight for us across the fields, moving quickly on the strengthening wind. We made a beeline back to the car, just in time before it hit us. For five or ten minutes it absolutely lashed down and we couldn’t even see out of the windows. There was thunder and lightning – that wasn’t forecast – and the trees thrashed around in the wind. We sat in the warm and chatted.

We had positioned the car next to one of the Stone Curlews’ favoured fields, although they hadn’t been in there earlier. When the rain finally stopped, we had a casual glance out of the window and there was a Stone Curlew, on the edge of an old maize cover strip. We wound down the windows and realised there were actually three together, huddled down in the field.

P1010763Stone Curlews – emerging after the rain

Then they started to move, shaking the rain off. Scanning across the strip, another two Stone Curlews appeared from the other side and similarly had a shake and a preen. The birds then all started to run around amongst the broken stems. They were remarkably well camouflaged in there, but we could see them as they moved. Some of the Stone Curlews even started to display, little bows, walking with their tails pointed into the air. We watched transfixed from the dry interior of the car.

P1010807Stone Curlew – very well camouflaged in dead maize, as well as stones

We headed back towards base, and with a little time still to play with, decided to have another look at the Great Grey Shrike. It was in its usual place, in the clearing, but spending more time huddled down in the lee of the rowed up tree stumps. A couple of Woodlarks flew round the clearing, singing and calling, and one perched up briefly on a stump.

IMG_3663Great Grey Shrike – in its usual clearing

As the last of the rain blew through, the sky had brightened and there were now big patches of blue sky. Could it be enough to bring out a Goshawk? We returned to the site where we had seen the young male yesterday to chance our luck. We had only just arrived and stopped to look at a couple of Common Buzzards swooping around distantly above some trees when a third bird appeared. It was a little smaller than the Buzzards, but it was still immediately obvious that it was a big and powerful beast. It was the young male Goshawk again. Unfortunately it drifted away from us, through the tree tops, and two Carrion Crows then decided to have a go at it (they were a little smaller than it was – a good size comparison). They chased the Goshawk off even further away, and we could just see it distantly as it circled up a little and then swept down into the trees.

We stood and waited a little, watching to see if it would reappear, like it had done yesterday. Unfortunately it didn’t. Although there was now brightness and some sunshine amongst the clouds, it was very windy (gusting up to 56 mph, checking the Met Office later). We had trouble standing upright, let alone stopping our scopes from being blown over. Perhaps it was no surprise that the Goshawk had disappeared into the trees, and we counted ourselves lucky to have seen it at all under the circumstances – and lucky to have seen as many birds as we had through the day, given all the adverse weather.

28th March 2015 – Brecks Weekend #1

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours – Saturday down in the Brecks today. The weather forecast was far from great – cloudy, showers and turning windy – but we dodged the rain and made the most of the drier weather. And we saw all the Brecks specialities we went looking for today.

We started at Lynford Arboretum. The overnight rain had stopped but it was cold and damp. Despite this, before we left the car park we heard our first Firecrest singing. It was in the tops of the fir trees, but flicked out into the deciduous trees in front. We could see it flitting around but it was high up above us, so we couldn’t see its head pattern. We noted its rather whitish underparts, noticeably paler than the resident Goldcrests nearby.

We walked up to the gate. There were lots of Chaffinches down amongst the leaves. A female Siskin came down to drink as we stood and watched. Then a female Brambling appeared – much more orange than the Chaffinches. There was also a steady stream of tits coming down to the feeders. But no sign of any Hawfinches.

We had just decided to walk on round the arboretum and hadn’t got much further when we heard another Firecrest singing from the trees. We stopped to listen to it, and could also hear the distinctive electric ‘ticking’ call of a Hawfinch nearby. A quick look round amongst the tops of the trees and we picked up the distinctive shape of a female Hawfinch tucked into the highest point of one of them. We got her in the scope and everyone got a quick look before she flew off into the Arboretum.

We turned back to the Firecrest, and tracked it down to where it was singing. Then we heard the Hawfinch again. It was heard to know which way to look. We searched for the Hawfinch, but couldn’t find it. This Firecrest was high up in the fir trees as well, and although we could hear it we could only see it flying between the trees. Frustrating.

We decided to walk on. There were lots of other birds in the Arboretum. Lots of tits – including a nice Marsh Tit which perched up for us nearby. Nuthatches were calling from the trees, a Song Thrush was singing and Siskins buzzed overhead.

P1010715Marsh Tit – perched up for us to get a good look at it

We wandered round among the trees and could hear more ‘ticking’ Hawfinches up high in the tops. As we rounded a corner, we just saw them as they flew off, catching the distinctive broad wings, heavy front-ended body, and short tail. We counted them as they flew – six in total – but they disappeared out of view, in the direction of Lynford Hall.

Back round towards the gate, and the Firecrest in the Arboretum was still singing. We stopped again, and followed it for a while. Eventually it came lower, briefly dropping into a smaller bush in front of us, flashing its black and white face stripes, before darting off again into cover.

Watching from the gate, a Nuthatch clambered up and down the tree trunks. There were lots of Chaffinches still amongst the leaves and a smart male Brambling dropped down to join them – much brighter orange than the female we had seen earlier, on both breast and shoulders. It’s head feathers were still well-fringed with brown, but more black was starting to show through now.

But there were still no Hawfinches down feeding among the leaves. However, we had not been there long when we heard calling from the trees behind. Unusually, we still couldn’t see them there until they flew across to the Arboretum. Then there they were – a pair of Hawfinches. This time they perched up nicely in the top of a bare deciduous tree, the male above singing and the female half hidden below. This time we got a really good look at them.

IMG_3575IMG_3585Hawfinch – this smart male eventually perched up, singing

The weather was not at all conducive to seeing Goshawks, but it was a particular target for some of the group today, so we decided to give it a go. We drove deeper into the forest and set out walking along one of the rides. At the back of a small open area half way down, a shape appeared briefly above the trees. A young Goshawk. Unfortunately, it dropped back down again as quickly as it had appeared and the rest of the group didn’t have time to get on it. And then it didn’t reappear. A double blow.

We carried on to a large clearing and scanned across the tops of the trees from there. The wind was gusting and it was cloudy and cool. A couple of Common Buzzards appeared and flew low across the clearing. A Kestrel battled across into the wind. But that was it, raptor-wise.

At least the Woodlarks were performing. A pair was flying round as we walked into the clearing, the male circled higher and started singing, before they both landed on the ground. We walked round and found one of them feeding quietly on a grass verge beside the track. We got great views of it in the scope – the rusty cheeks and striking pale supercilium.

IMG_3604Woodlark – feeding quietly along one of the more sheltered rides

We watched the Woodlarks fly round several times whilst we were there, calling and singing. A Skylark flew up from the clearing as well – good to contrast it with the Woodlarks, both in flight silhouette and song. A Mistle Thrush was feeding out amongst the tree stumps too.

The clouds were getting blacker and we headed for the car. Thankfully, we had just got back before it started to rain. We decided to drive over to Lakenheath Fen, where we stopped for an early lunch and sat out the worst of it. Then we walked up to the Washland viewpoint. There was no sign of the Great White Egret today, just a couple of Little Egrets. The recent rain seems to have raised the water levels again on Hockwold Washes and there were fewer egrets and waders than recent weeks. A couple of Redshank lurked at the back, with a Lapwing. A pair of Oysterctacher flew round calling loudly.

There was still a good selection of wildfowl on view – a Shelduck, lots of Gadwall, Mallard and Shoveler, several Tufted Duck and a single drake Pochard. But most of the Teal were huddled round the edges, in the reeds, trying to get out of the increasingly blustery wind and there was no sign of the Garganey. The pair of Whooper Swans was still on one of the pools with several Mute Swans. A Marsh Harrier flew over towards the reserve. A streak of bright blue was a Kingfisher flying over the water and downstream along the river. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly. But it wasn’t particularly pleasant standing up on the river bank, so we decided to head back to the forest.

After a short drive, we parked up and walked down one of the rides. The Great Grey Shrike was in its usual clearing, perched up high on a dead tree stump. It was quite close today and we got a really good look at it through the scope. It dropped down a few times into the grass, coming up with a Bumble Bee at one point, which it proceeded to devour. It gradually worked its way further out across the clearing, so we left it to it. A little further on, a smart pair of Stonechat sat up similarly on the tops of the dead stumps.

IMG_3612Great Grey Shrike – in its usual clearing today

It seemed just a little brighter, if very windy, so we decided to have another try for Goshawk. We headed over to another site. It didn’t seem particularly promising, but we had a scan over the trees. A Common Buzzard circled but barely broke above the tops of the trees. Several Carrion Crows at least drew our attention, but the search seemed futile. Then it appeared. A hawk, heavily built, obviously powerful, with deep wingbeats, it flew low over above the trees. A Goshawk. It was at least as big as the Crows, we had them in view together, so probably a young male (in its 2nd cal year, so born in 2014).

We watched the Goshawk for a minute or so as it passed by, before it disappeared behind some taller trees. A short while later, it reappeared again and worked its way back in the direction it had come. Great stuff – especially under the circumstances. We were planning to call it a day when another scan revealed a rather different raptor flying in the other direction. The sharply pointed wings contrasted markedly with the more rounded ones of the Goshawk, so it was clearly a falcon, but obviously a big one too – a Peregrine. Not a common bird in the Brecks, probably rarer than the Goshawk here!

There was time for one more stop, so we headed back via Santon Downham and stopped at the church. It was a bit of a gamble, because the wind was blowing so hard, but a walk through the trees and we could hear a Firecrest calling towards the road. We walked out of the trees – stopping to admire a Marsh Tit in the hedge – and back round via the road. A pair of Firecrests flitted out briefly into the outer branches of one of the trees, before ducking quickly back into the ivy.

Then the rain started again and it was time to call it a day. But we had managed a very good haul of Brecks specialities for the day, particularly under the circumstances.

27th March 2015 – Sunny on the Coast

Day 1 of three days of tours – based in North Norfolk today. It was a glorious day, mostly clear skies and sunshine, although the recent run of northerly or north-westerly winds has continued to restrict the flow of early migrants. Still, it was a great day to be out, and we saw some really good birds.

Our first stop and we had barely got out of the car before we could hear the Mediterranean Gulls calling. From up on the seawall, we could see several flying around and a couple of pairs landing on the ground. Even better, they were displaying. A great start. No sign of any terns yet – hopefully they will start to arrive soon.

IMG_3522Mediterranean Gulls – pair displaying (with Black-headed Gull, foreground)

Out on the mud, there were lots of waders. Loads of Oystercatcher, whirling flocks of Knot and Dunlin, several Grey Plover, a few Curlew and a couple of Turnstone. Not far away, a big group of Brent Geese had come in for an early morning bathe. A pair of Common Buzzards circled over the trees behind.

We drove on westwards. A Barn Owl, surprisingly late to bed, was still out hunting along the field margins. We turned inland and a small diversion produced a Little Owl perched on the top of a barn by the road. It watched us nervously for a couple of minutes, before dropping down out of sight.

P1010537Little Owl – watching us nervously

We dropped down towards Titchwell, stopping on the way to admire a pair of Grey Partridge in a field. There were lots of Brown Hares as well. Many were lying low in the fields, but we spent some time watching three running around in the winter wheat. There was even a little bit of boxing – it is still March, after all! A pair of Mistle Thrush were still in a field, but there was no sign of the Fieldfare they had been in company with earlier in the week – presumably they had already headed off back to Scandinavia. We saw the odd Yellowhammer, but otherwise there was quite a lot of disturbance from tractors in the fields to walkers on the footpath.

Down in the car park it really felt like spring. Out of the wind, in the sunshine, the Blackthorn was in blossom and a couple of Chiffchaffs were singing. We headed out onto the reserve, and just past the visitor centre we spotted a Water Rail skulking in the ditch by the path. It scuttled along into the vegetation before creeping back out once it thought it wasn’t being watched.

P1010548Water Rail – still in the ditch by the path at Titchwell

The Thornham grazing marsh pool was drained earlier in the winter and had started to look rather parched in recent weeks. However, after a bit of rain in the last couple of days, it seemed a bit more promising. There was not much to see on the first scan, but pausing to look at the Pied Wagtails feeding round one edge (following a question about White Wagtails), a small bird could be seen bouncing up and down behind. It was immediately obvious that it was a snipe from the dark blackish background colour to the upperparts contrasting with the golden stripes, and behaving quite like that, it could really only be one species. It turned round and we could see the short bill and distinctive face pattern – a Jack Snipe. We watched it feeding quietly on the edge of the rushes.

There were several Marsh Harriers out over the reedbed. One circled up higher than the others and started calling. Then it started displaying as well, twisting and tumbling – great to watch. The reedbed pool held two smart male Red-crested Pochards, with their bouffant orange hairdos. In contarst, the moulting Chinese Water Deer which walked across the saltmarsh was looking decidedly scruffy.

P1010555Chinese Water Deer – this scruffy individual was out on the saltmarsh

The freshmarsh held a good selection of waders and wildfowl. We stopped to admire the ducks, enjoying the still rather high water levels (presumably they will be lowered eventually?!). A drake Shoveler was preening by the path – in the sunlight, its normally green head appeared to glow purple.

P1010571Shoveler – a smart drake preening by the path

There were also a few Wigeon, lots of Gadwall and Teal, and the ubiquitous Mallard. The diving ducks were represented by Tufted Duck and Pochard, though numbers appeared to be down on recent weeks, as well as a couple of female Goldeneye. Periodically, groups of Brent Geese dropped in from the saltmarsh towards Thornham or Brancaster.

P1010568Gadwall – still a firm favourite for those who like their ducks more subtle

P1010655Brent Goose – flying in from the saltmarsh

There were plenty of waders, too. With the tide high out on the beach, the godwits on the freshmarsh were all roosting Bar-tailed Godwit. There was also a little group of Knot bathing, a lone Dunlin and a couple of Turnstone on the islands. A single scaly, winter-plumaged Ruff was joined by a much smaller Reeve. The Avocets were looking much happier with the tops of the islands now out of the water, giving them somewhere to stand without getting their feet wet.

P1010652Avocet – feeding by the path again today

The Volunteer Marsh also held a good selection of waders. There were a few Black-tailed Godwit here, including one well-advanced in its moult towards its rusty orange summer plumage. There were also plenty still in mostly winter plumage, giving a good opportunity to hone ID skills compared to the Bar-tailed Godwits nearby.

P1010664Black-tailed Godwit – this one still in grey winter plumage

There were also lots of Redshank and Oystercatcher, a few more Knot and several Curlew. Several Grey Plover were much admired, and we looked closely at the differences between adults and first winter birds. However, the highlight was a single Spotted Redshank which walked up out of a muddy channel and promptly went to sleep on the bank.

P1010580Grey Plover – a smart spangled bird

The Tidal Pools added Pintail to the days list, though only several females today and no sign of any males. A quick look at the sea gave us several Red-breasted Merganser and a couple of distant Eider.

As we walked back, we stopped again to look at the drained Thornham grazing marsh pool. Standing still, half hidden amongst the rushes, was a Water Pipit. Presumably the same bird which has been present most of the winter, it is now coming into summer plumage. Gone are the black streaks on the underparts, to be replaced by a delicate pink flush across the breast. Smart.

It was getting on for lunchtime, but we made a quick diversion round via the Meadow Trail. There were lots of Chiffchaffs flycatching in the sallows – they have really arrived in good numbers now. A pair of Bullfinch called from the trees, but proved hard to see, before the pink male eventually gave himself up.

P1010672Chiffchaff – lots around Titchwell today

Patsy’s Reedbed itself was very quiet, but we were in for a nice surprise on the walk there. We flushed a couple of Pied-type Wagtails from the path as we rounded the corner and one looked very pale grey above as it flew over the hedge. We walked back and peered into the field beyond, but there were only a few Pied Wagtails there. As we returned towards the screen, we could see half a dozen alba wagtails back on the path and amongst them the unmistakable pale grey back and sharply demarcated black cap of a White Wagtail, the continental sub-species which passes through here on migration. Unfortunately, one of the Pied Wagtails clearly took offence to its foreign cousin and promptly chased it off out towards the reedbed. Still it was great to see, a classic early spring migrant.

After a late lunch, we headed back along the coast to Holkham. Another Barn Owl was hunting along the grassy bank to the east of Lady Anne’s Drive as we arrived. We walked west on the inland side of the pines. The trees were rather quiet today, but we still picked up several Goldcrests, Treecreepers and a selection of tits. Several more Chiffchaffs were singing from the bushes.

We climbed up to the Joe Jordan hide and settled down to scan the grazing marshes. It didn’t take long to spot a Spoonbill dropping out of the trees and flying down to the pool nearby. It seemed to feed for a few seconds, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water, before grabbing a stick from the water and flying back up to the trees with it in its bill. We watched this happen repeatedly over the next half an hour, although it was never clear whether only one individual or several was involved. Nice to see the birds back and keeping busy!

P1010685Spoonbill – flying down to collect nest material

There was no sign of any White-fronted Geese amongst the numerous feral Greylags, Canadas and Egyptian Geese today – perhaps they have finally departed on their way back to Russia. However, we did find a couple of Pink-footed Geese. Most of their kind already departed last month, but very small numbers still linger. Some, perhaps sick or injured birds, may remain for the summer. The resident super-pale Common Buzzard was visible distantly, perched in a tree over towards the road – it really stood out with its almost white head and breast.

We walked on to the west end of the pines. There were lots of raptors out now. A couple of Red Kites circled lazily over the grazing marsh. A female Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and flew right overhead. A second pale Common Buzzard sat on one of its usual fence posts. There were also a couple more Barn Owls out hunting over the fields, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

Another buzzard flew up to the fence posts. Despite the fact that we were looking straight into the sun, its pale head immediately stood out. We walked round into the dunes to get a better look and confirmed our suspicions – it was the Rough-legged Buzzard which has been hanging around for the winter. Surely it must only be a matter of time now before it departs back north? We watched it standing on the post, noting the blackish belly patch contrasting with the pale head. Then it took off and flew a little further along the fence line, giving us a great view of its white tail with a terminal black band, particularly as it landed.

IMG_3563Rough-legged Buzzard – still out on the grazing marshes this afternoon

Then it was time to call it a day. The walk back was uneventful, although we reminisced about the highlights of the day and admired the late afternoon weather. It seemed a nice way to end, with great views of the Rough-legged Buzzard. However, we were in the car and driving back up Lady Anne’s Drive when a glance out of the window revealed another Spoonbill feeding on one of the pools right by the road. We leapt out, grabbing cameras and binoculars from the boot and had great views as it swept its bill from side to side through the shallows. A cracking finale.

P1010702Spoonbill – feeding on a pool by Lady Anne’s Drive as we left

24th March 2015 – Leaving the Best ’til Last

Back to the Brecks for another Tour today. It had been raining overnight, at least in North Norfolk, but brightened up on the drive down, so there was blue sky when we met up in Mundford.

We headed for Lynford Arboretum first. It seemed like a really good morning, with the sun shining and patches of blue sky overhead. However, the Arboretum seemed a little quiet compared to recent weeks. It was a bit cold, despite the sun, so perhaps that was keeping a lid on activity. There were lots of Siskin buzzing round the larches near the entrance. From the gate, there were plenty of Chaffinches already down in the leaves and more Siskin coming to drink, but no sign of any Hawfinch. We stopped to watch the tits coming to the feeders and a Nuthatch landed on the path nearby.

We started to walk further along the path, and could hear a Firecrest singing in the pines nearby. However, it only sang a few times before going quiet and we never did get to see it. Frustrating. We decided to have a look round the Arboretum. Round the other side, we heard another Firecrest singing. This one seemed a little more persistent and after a minute or so, we managed to find where it was, flitting around in a pine tree. We got a great look at it, admiring the flashes of orange in its crown as it sang, particularly when it moved into a holly and dropped down lower, coming out onto the near edge in the sunshine. Stunning birds, one of my all-time favourites.

We could hear a Hawfinch calling from the tops of the trees in the Arboretum, but it went quiet and we couldn’t find it. A little further on, and we heard it again, but still couldn’t track it down. It seemed to head over towards the gate, so we went back over but there was still no sign of any there either. With the sun shining, we thought it might be a good time to look for Goshawk, so decided to move on. As we headed back to the car, we could hear yet another Firecrest singing from the fir trees.

We headed over to one of the regular Goshawk sites. With the sun shining it seemed promising, but it was bitterly cold in the north wind once we got out of the trees. Perhaps that was why the Arboretum had been so quiet. Raptor activity was a little subdued as well – there were at least a dozen Common Buzzards up, but not really displaying as they might otherwise have been. A Red Kite drifted low across the field behind us and dropped out of view. There were a few Sparrowhawks about, but even they were keeping low, and a couple of Kestrels. And that was about it. We decided to try elsewhere, but there was no sign there either. Just as it seemed to warm up a little, the wind blew through and took the warmth out of the air. It was time to try something else.

The first Stone Curlews have returned in the last week or so. There had been five around first thing in the morning, but by the time we had returned, we couldn’t find any. Some of the regular fields they like to hide in have been ploughed or cultivated and the vast bare expanses now look much less attractive. Surely not another one was going to elude us today? Then we spotted one. A Stone Curlew stood up briefly and walked a foot or so across the field, before sitting down again. When it sat down, it was nigh on impossible to see, it was so well camouflaged. But we got it in the scopes and then everyone got to see it.

IMG_3454Stone Curlew – so well camouflaged, you could mistake it for a stone!

We moved on and walked out into a clearing in the Forest. The Great Grey Shrike which has been spending the winter locally has been pretty reliable in recent weeks, but it made us work too today. It was not where it would normally be, but after looking for a while we found it eventually. It was perched in a tree – not on the top for once – and thankfully its white breast caught the sun, giving it away. We watched the Great Grey Shrike for some time. It spent quite a lot of time sitting still, but was mobile and was clearly out on the hunt. It was amazing to watch it hovering for lengthy periods out over the grass, presumably looking for small mammals.

IMG_3462Great Grey Shrike – out hunting today

We could hear some Woodlarks here as well, and got a glimpse of them flying round the Great Grey Shrike while it was hovering out over the grass, but they were always distant. So we decided to try somewhere else to try to see them properly. We walked out to a site where we have seen a pair very regularly in recent weeks, but even they were not playing ball today. There was no sign. They have flown off from here occasionally, so we followed the ride in the opposite direction.

A Yellowhammer perched up in a tree calling, but we could hear nothing and see no movement. We were just thinking our luck would be out again, when we heard a short burst of distinctive song. It sounded distant, but Woodlarks have a remarkable ability to throw their voice – they can sing or call quietly and sound much further away than they are. We immediately stopped still and two Woodlarks flew up from the grass not far ahead of us. The male fluttered up singing, and circled overhead, but the female flew straight to a nearby tree and perched unobtrusively in the branches. We got it in the scopes and had a great view – the striking white supercilia meeting in a shallow ‘v’ on the nape, the rusty cheeks, the whitish underparts with delicate black streaking on the breast. They are lovely birds and such a delightful song, though so mournful compared to a Skylark.

IMG_3464Woodlark – the female sat in a tree, while the male sang overhead

We headed over to Lakenheath Fen next. We stopped in the car park and a small group of Redwing dropped into the poplars nearby. We got a good look at them through the scope before they flew off north.

IMG_3494Redwing – some are still in the Forest, but others are on their way back north

Once again, there was no time to explore the whole reserve, but the Washland has been a very productive spot in recent weeks. On the walk out, a Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the reeds. We got a quick glimpse of it once again, as it flew across the tops, before dropping back in out of view.

Hockwold Washes was packed with birds. There were loads of ducks – Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Shoveler and Tufted Duck. Scanning through them, we found the male Garganey again. He was feeding with his head underwater most of the time – far more obvious with his head up, flashing his white head-stripe.

IMG_3498Garganey – the smart drake, out on the Washland again today

There are always lots of Mute Swans here, but further away along the river, two swans flashed a bit of yellow on their bills. A closer look confirmed a pair of Whooper Swans were still feeding on one of the flooded pools. It must be about time, if not already a bit late, for these birds to be heading back north. Unfortunately, the Greylags and Canada Geese are staying with us!

There was a good selection of waders on the Washes as well. The muddy margins held lots of Snipe, at least a dozen in view at any time. A lone Dunlin weaved its way in and out amongst them. There were four Redshanks and an Oystercatcher as well today. A larger wader lumbering across the river and round over the Washland was a surprise – a Woodcock had been flushed from the reserve by a member of staff and flew round in front of us, before flying back and dropping down into the poplars. A couple of Water Rail squealed from the reeds.

P1010342Reed Bunting – still lots around the feeders

With energy levels flagging a little, we headed back to the visitor centre for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Outside the window, the feeders were also busy with birds refuelling as well. There were lots of Reed Buntings – a good chance to look at the variation in males and females – plus a good selection of finches and no shortage of the tits.

P1010357Greenfinch – also enjoying the food at Lakenheath Fen today

There was still just about enough time to have another look at Lynford Arboretum before we finished. We walked up to the gate, but apart from Chaffinches and Siskin, it was still quiet. Walking around the Arboretum, we could hear a Hawfinch calling, but it flew off as we rounded the corner – we could just glimpse it disappearing over the treetops. Perhaps this was not going to be our day for Hawfinches?

There was one last thing to try, and we walked over to check out the trees where they like to sit sometimes in the afternoon sun. Unfortunately, it had just clouded over, so perhaps they wouldn’t be there today. We rounded the corner and there, perched up in the tops, was a single bird. It looked small in the distance, but was clearly large compared to the Chaffinches nearby. The short-tailed shape and upright stance could only be one thing – a Hawfinch. This one we got in the scope. At last, and right at the finish.

IMG_3514Hawfinch – found at the very end of the tour today

23rd March 2015 – From Heath to Coast

A Private Tour, based around the Cley area in North Norfolk. It was to be a leisurely day of general birding today, looking mostly at the wide variety of birds found here.

It was a glorious sunny start to the morning, after the overnight frost had melted. A perfect day for the heath. A Bullfinch was calling from the bushes and we found it perched up feeding on buds, a smart male. We started out with a quick look for Adders – and it didn’t take long for us to find them. It was a great morning for them to bask in the sun after a cold night. Some were already warmed up and more active; they slithered away as we approached. Others were more sluggish and remained curled up amongst the leaves, some in little knots of several together.

P1010104 P1010105Adders – we saw several today

It was beautiful up on the heath. The Common Gorse was in flower and looking fantastic in the sunshine. It didn’t take long to find the Dartford Warblers either. We could hear a male singing and see it flitting around in the gorse, but it was a bit distant. We walked round to the other path and quickly found it again, much closer now. We watched it on and off for a while, singing intermittently and calling.

Then a second bird shot across between two bushes a short distance away – although we initially thought it must be a female, the next time it flew another Dartford Warbler was with it. The first male was still singing away to our left, and then the second male hopped up to the top of the heather and started to sing too – a territorial boundary was being marked out!

We spent some time in the trees. A Chiffchaff was darting around and calling. We stopped to watch a little group of Goldcrests, admiring their golden crown stripes. The Coal Tits were singing from the pines. A Greenfinch was also performing. A little group of Linnets flew overhead and out on the heath we paused to admire one singing from the top of some bushes.

A dry rattling song ahead alerted us to the presence of yet another Dartford Warbler. We watched it perched in the top of the gorse singing. A perfect morning for the Dartford Warblers today, with the sunshine.

P1120597Dartford Warbler – no photos from today, so here’s one from last week

We could easily have spent the whole day roaming round the heath in the sunshine, but we wanted to explore some other places today, so we headed down to the coast at Weybourne. A pair of Garganey have been hanging around on a small pool by the beach for a few days now, but there was no sign of them initially, when we arrived. Only when some people walked down to the edge of the pool, did everything flush from the water and the male flew out and landed in full view. We got it in the scope briefly but it quickly swam into the far corner, out of view again.

Walking round to the other side, we found an angle from where we could see that edge of the pool much better. It wasn’t long before both the male and the female Garganey swam out and started to feed along the edge of the reeds. Such a smart little duck (& drake!).

P1010128Garganey – this pair was on a pool by the beach at Weybourne

While we were there, a steady stream of Meadow Pipits was passing overhead, in ones and twos and small flocks. There were a few Pied Wagtails moving west as well, though with some passing by overhead it was impossible to be sure that there weren’t any of their continental European brethren, White Wagtails, in amongst them. It was good to see – migration in action.

P1010106Pied Wagtail – small numbers were on the move along the coast today

A Chiffchaff was singing from the bushes in the reedbed and, when we stopped to look for it, a second one appeared with it. We could also hear a Goldcrest calling from the same place. It seemed like they were all most likely on their way somewhere as well, just stopping off here to feed on all the insects around the edge of the reeds. A male Reed Bunting which perched up for us was more likely one of the residents.

From there, we drove on to Cley. We stopped for an early lunch and it was even nice enough to eat outside on one of the picnic tables in front of the visitor centre! While we were eating, we could hear a Marsh Harrier calling high overhead and we picked it up skydancing, before tumbling back down and dropping into the reedbed. Spring is in the air.

On the walk out onto the reserve, we stopped to look at a male Stonechat on the brambles by the road. Stonechats have been on the move for the last week or so and, although this may have been a lingering winter bird or even possibly one of the few that might stay to breed locally, perhaps more likely it will juts be pausing on its way back north.

Plenty of display activity was also underway on the reserve. A pair of Lapwings were displaying by the path on Cricket Marsh. The male was bowing deeply, in front of the female, showing off his orangey undertail. The female did not look impressed! Another Lapwing flew overhead and the male took off and flew round ‘singing’, giving a quick rolling display flight before landing back next to her and bowing again. She responded by flying off. We were more impressed – displaying Lapwings are one of the real sights and sounds of spring on the marshes.

Out on Pat’s Pool, there were lots of Avocets and they have all started to sort themselves into pairs. There was lots of displaying going on amongst them, too, walking around together and bowing to each other. We watched others feeding, sweeping their upturned bills from side-to-side through the water.

P1010200Avocet – we watched some feeding…

P1010209…and several pairs displaying

There were other waders to look at as well. Amongst the Black-tailed Godwits, several were now looking very orange, as they moult into breeding plumage. We admired the variety of Ruff, including one very white-headed male. A little group of Dunlin fed in the shallows and several Redshank flew around calling loudly. There were ducks, too. Lots of Teal and Gadwall, several Shelduck, Mallard and a little flock of Wigeon grazing on one of the banks.

P1010222Mallard – all the male ducks are looking at their best now, even the Mallard

However, the highlight was the Water Rail which was feeding in front of one of the hides. We saw it from one hide, in front of the other, so walked round there to get a closer look. When we got there, it was hiding in the reeds. We sat and waited for a few minutes, but it remained out of view – we could just see bits of it through the vegetation. Only when we had gone to look out of the other side of the hide did the Water Rail come out and feed in full view again. At least we got back over to see it before it ran back in again.

P1010249Water Rail – in front of one of the hides today

By now it had clouded over and cooled down, but that didn’t stop us from walking round to the East Bank. A Curlew fed quietly in the wet grazing marshes by the path. The Marsh Harriers were still over the reeds and a couple of Common Buzzards flew west the other side of the road. A Grey Heron flew over and dropped into the trees, calling. A Little Egret was feeding on the Serpentine.

P1010252Little Egret – feeding by the East Bank

We added a couple more ducks to the days list. There were plenty of Shoveler and when we finally found one with its head not under the water, we had a good look at its enormous bill. A cracking drake Pintail was up-ending in one of the deeper pools, which gave us a great view of its long pin-tail. There were also lots of Brent Geese still feeding out on the grass. Surely they should be heading off soon too, on their way back to Russia.

There were more waders as well. We stopped to watch a Snipe feeding alongside one of the channels. It was so well camouflaged, it was tricky at times to see even through the scope as it lurked amongst the grassy tussocks. Out on Arnold’s Marsh, we found a Grey Plover, still mostly grey with white spangles but starting to get a little black around the face, the start of its moult into summer plumage. While we were watching it, a Ringed Plover ran into view in front of it.

Then it was time to walk back. We stopped briefly to admire a pair of Goldfinches in the bushes opposite the car park and a Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the brambles nearby, bidding us farewell.

22nd March 2015 – Brightening Up in the Brecks

Back down to the Brecks for another Tour today. It was a lovely bright morning first thing, if a little cold.

We met at Lynford Arboretum for the start of the day. We headed straight for the gate, where a Hawfinch had been showing a little earlier, but there was no sign down in the leaf litter. There were plenty of things to look at – a couple of female Bramblings with the Chaffinches, several Siskin too, Marsh and Coal Tits with the usual Blue and Great Tits, and a smart Nuthatch down on the ground just in front of us. But no Hawfinch.

IMG_3374Brambling – this female among several still lingering at Lynford

Walking a little further one, some soft, electric ‘ticking’ gave away the presence of a Hawfinch in the trees, but unfortunately it dropped down before we could get everyone onto it. Even worse, it didn’t do the decent thing and drop down into the leaves from the gate.

We decided to have a look round the Arboretum instead, to try our luck there. We hadn’t gone far before we heard a Firecrest singing. With a bit of careful positioning, we were able to see it flitting around in a pine tree, flashing its orange and yellow crown and striking black and white face stripes. It disappeared, but we picked it up again in a holly a little further on as it started singing again. What a stunner! A Goldcrest was singing nearby, and we listened to the differences in song from the Firecrest.

We hadn’t gone much further when we heard the unmistakeable call of a Hawfinch flying over behind us. We turned round just in time to see it land right in the top of a bare tree. With the scope on it in seconds, everyone had the chance to get a proper look at it this time before it dropped down from the top and was lost from view. It was not perfect – the light was behind it – but it was a good start. We picked up another Hawfinch shortly afterwards, calling from the trees, but it flew off before we could get on it.

We decided to try our luck back at the gate, but a couple of photographers were now standing there talking very loudly. There was a nice male Brambling though, down amongst the leaves, which we all admired through the scope – its much brighter orange shoulders and breast compared to the females we had seen earlier, and its black head starting to show through but still partly hidden by brown fringes to many feathers. But again, there were no Hawfinches here. Still, with at least one in the bag, and a Firecrest too, we decided to head off elsewhere.

A quick diversion before the start of the tour had produced three Stone Curlews in a field, so this seemed like a good place to head next. These birds have only arrived in the last few days, so it would be good to see them. Unfortunately, when we arrived, there was no sign of them where they had been earlier. A search of the nearby fields also drew a blank, although we did have good views of a pair of Grey Partridge together with a Red-legged Partridge – interesting to see side-by-side. But frustrating!

Fortuitously, someone else had also seen them, later in the morning but before we got there, and a quick phone call confirmed where they had moved to. They were sitting down and well hidden in the vegetation, so still took some finding. Finally we got onto a Stone Curlew, just a head poking out. It was incredibly well camouflaged in the stony field, so much so that it was impossible to get everyone onto it with binoculars, and even hard to pick it up again when you knew where it was if you took your eyes off it. But we got it in the scope and admired the bright yellow iris and yellow-and-black bill. We had been watching it for some time when we realised a second Stone Curlew was just a couple of metres away from it and we hadn’t seen it.

IMG_3385Stone Curlew – proper camouflage for a stony field

With that target finally attained, we decided to head off to look for Goshawks. We were still on our way to one of the regular sites when a large bird appeared, circling over the field beside the road. The shape was unmistakeable – a hawk, and a big one at that. Thankfully, there was a convenient field entrance to pull into and we leapt out of the car and confirmed what we had thought. We watched the Goshawk, a young bird in its 2nd calendar year (born 2014), circling leisurely and drifting towards the area we had expected to see it! What a lucky break.

Having done so well, seeing a Goshawk on our way there, we felt optimistic. But it had clouded over on our way and was now overcast and with a chilly wind blowing. There was raptor activity but not as much as usual – lots of Common Buzzards, but not circling very high; several Sparrowhawks; a Kestrel; a brief Red Kite disappearing behind the trees. Having already succeeded with our target, we didn’t waste too much time getting cold and decided to move on.

We drove on to a convenient site and stopped for an early lunch. A quick walk into the forest and the clearing initially seemed very quiet. Then with a melodic ‘tulee, tulee’ a very short-tailed lark appeared and circled in front of us – a Woodlark. A second bird was still calling from the trees. They both flew off a short distance back the way we had come. We had a quick look at them through the scope, but they were rather distant and hidden in the vegetation, so we walked back after them. They seemed very jumpy today – Woodlarks are often much more accommodating – and flew off before we even got near. We decided to leave them be.

We hadn’t gone much further back along the path when we heard the Woodlarks flying back towards us again. We stood still and watched the female land in the trees, while the male circled overhead singing. Then, quite unexpectedly, he flew down towards us and landed close by, feeding on the short grass. We got much better views this time. We watched them both for some time – the female flew down as well, and they fed quietly together.

IMG_3395Woodlark – a pair eventually gave great views today

The next bird we wanted to see was the Great Grey Shrike which has been wintering in the area. Another short walk into the forest, and it didn’t take long to find it, sat up on a tree stump in the distance. Unfortunately, by this time, the sun had decided to join us again and the view was now remarkably hazy. We worked our way slowly round the clearing, stopping to admire it each time, being careful not to flush it, and eventually got ourselves much closer, though still at a discrete distance. The Great Grey Shrike had flown down into the clearing to catch something – it appeared to be an invertebrate of some description – but afterwards it flew back up and landed in the trees in front of us again. Finally, we got a much clearer view. Another cracking bird, presumably it will be on its way back to northern Europe soon.

IMG_3421Great Grey Shrike – feeding around the clearing again today

Our targets for the day were now falling like dominoes. With time to spare, we headed over to Lakenheath Fen. We had not even got to the reserve, not even got to the river and the county border, when a glance out of the side window of the car caused us to make a quick halt. There, on the pool next to the road, was a Great White Egret. Even better, there were three Grey Herons and a Little Egret on there with it. There was no mistaking how big it was – with its neck stretched, it  looked bigger than the herons! We had just reversed back and got the car off the road when a ‘yoof’ on a quad bike coming the other way dropped it down a gear, got it to backfire loudly, and they all flew off. Thanks.

P1120629Great White Egret – looking bigger than a Grey Heron

We headed round to the reserve and up to the Washland viewpoint. Not surprisingly, there was the Great White Egret, hunkered down on the edge, dwarfing the Little Egret next to it. It flew out onto Hockwold Washes, landed amongst a group of six Little Egrets and started to feed. A great opportunity for comparison. We got it in the scope and got a really good look at its yellow-orange carrot of a bill.

P1120643Great White Egret – dwarfing the Little Egrets

There were lots of ducks out on Hockwold Washes – Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck. The cracking drake Garganey was still out there as well. We had just got it in the scope when a Marsh Harrier drifted over and flushed everything. When the ducks had finished wheeling round and landed back on the water, a quick scan thankfully revealed the Garganey again and everyone got a good look at it this time. Very smart.

IMG_3440Garganey – this drake was still out on Hockwold Washes today

Several Cetti’s Warblers sang from the depths of the reeds, but one flew across briefly before diving back into cover – all too often you don’t see them at all. We also stopped to admire all the birds on the feeders – a remarkable collection of Reed Buntings, plus a few tits, Chaffinches and Goldfinches. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to explore the rest of the reserve today.

P1120635Reed Bunting – one of the many round the feeders at Lakenheath Fen

On the drive back, a large raptor appeared just above the trees in front of the car and glided across the road, across the clearing and into the trees. Another Goshawk, this time an adult, on its way home.

We had seen Hawfinches around Lynford Arboretum earlier on this morning, but the views were brief and not the best. We decided to have a quick walk round there again to end the day. The few hardy souls still standing patiently by the gate reported that one had been there earlier, but not for some time. We had a quick look, and found several Bramblings still, but no Hawfinch. We decided to try our luck elsewhere.

Walking along the path, we had a nice pair of Siskin, with the female on the ground collecting nest material just a few metres ahead of us and the male keeping watch from a bush nearby. The large flock of Redwings which has been around in recent weeks seemed to be absent this morning, but had not departed on its way north – it was back in the rough grass fields again this afternoon. We walked round the paddocks as well to no avail. Still no Hawfinch.

We were just about to give up when a heavy finch-like shape with a short tail dropped into the trees above us, out of sight. It had to be, but it still took some finding. Eventually, we picked it up, in the very top of a fir tree, a smart Hawfinch. This time, we got it in the scope and all got a really good look, admiring the monster of a bill and the short white-tipped tail we had seen overhead. It was just where we had thought it might be, sunning itself in the late afternoon light – we had just been a few minutes early! Great birds, so sad they are in such decline – catch them while you can.

IMG_3442Hawfinch – this one finally gave itself up for us in the late afternoon sun

That seemed like a great way to end, so we headed back towards the car. It didn’t stop us picking up a lovely Grey Wagtail on the way. And yet another Hawfinch, though this one, like those from the morning, called from the trees and flew off before we could get onto it. But it didn’t matter any more.

Quite a day, quite a list.