Monthly Archives: April 2015

29th April 2015 – Showers & Sunshine & Migrants

A Spring Tour in North Norfolk today. It was windy and wet for a time in the morning, but cleared up in the afternoon. We birded through the weather and managed to see a decent haul of migrants.

We met in Blakeney and drove along the coast towards Titchwell. The coast road is closed at the moment, so we diverted inland. On the way, we passed by a couple of likely spots for migrants. We did see a Red Kite being harried by crows. And we found a Wheatear in a rough field of set-aside. But otherwise it was hard going in the increasingly blustery wind.

We headed along to Choseley to see if we could see the Dotterel which have been around for the last few days. When we got to the field that they have been favouring, the wind was blowing the topsoil away in a veritable sandstorm. Needless to say, we could not see the birds.

It was already starting to rain by the time we dropped down into Thornham. Thankfully the female Ring Ouzel was immediately evident on the cricket pitch. As the rain picked up, it made a strategic beeline for the covers. It seemed to know what they were for – for keeping the rain off Ring Ouzels of course – and continued feeding from underneath. When the rain eased, it came out again onto the pitch, before heading back for shelter when it picked up again. Very sensible!

IMG_4358-001Ring Ouzel – sheltering from the rain under the cricket pitch covers

Our next stop was Titchwell. With rain forecast for the morning, the shelter of the hides seemed like a sensible place for us to be. Thankfully we had just made it to the safety of Island Hide before the worst of the rain came, though it was still cold and damp on the walk there. It was also mercifully short, before it brightened a little from the west, and we were later able to walk on to Parrinder Hide without getting wet.

P1000542Avocet – in the rain

There was lots for us to see from the hides. A single White Wagtail was on one of the islands and a couple of Willow Warblers flitted around in the sallows. Waders were well represented. One of the first we saw was a smart Spotted Redshank moulting into its smart summer plumage, which was close to Island Hide before someone shut one the windows a little too loudly.

P1000563Spotted Redshank – just moulting into its black summer plumage

Out on the islands, there were several groups of Dunlin, about 25 in all, including some smart adults almost in summer plumage and others still mostly in their grey winter attire. There were also several Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, the former flashing their golden yellow eye-rings. A smart male Ruff flew in, resplendent in its rusty orange & black summer plumage. But the highlight was a single Common Sandpiper, working its way along the shore of the islands, bobbing up and down as it went.

There were lots of Avocets as usual, including some nice close ones from Island Hide, and several Black-tailed Godwits. We spent some time admiring the latter in particular, with several now looking rather bright orange in their summer garb.

P1000545Black-tailed Godwit – several now looking very smart in summer plumage

There was a good selection of ducks as well, though numbers are well down on the winter. Lots of Shelduck, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Mallard.

P1000556Gadwall – the connoisseur’s duck!

One of the Teal on the freshmarsh stood out. It didn’t look quite right and didn’t resemble any other species, from here or elsewhere around the world. Some features did not fit with our Eurasian Teal, including the broad barring on the flanks in particular, as well as an odd head pattern. It resembled a hybrid was perhaps an ‘intersex’ Eurasian Teal, a female which typically develops some male-like plumage but can apparently also show atypical features such as the barred flanks.

IMG_4372An Odd Teal – possibly an interesting ‘intersex’ female Eurasian Teal

The Volunteer Marsh was very quiet today, almost devoid of birds, but there was more on the Tidal Pools, the highlight being a single Greenshank. There were also more waders for the day’s list out on the beach – a couple of lingering Bar-tailed Godwit, lots of Grey Plover and Turnstone, and a few clockwork Sanderling running along the shore.

We had seen a couple of Common Terns on the freshmarsh, but the real tern action was out from the beach. Four more Common Terns were patrolling inshore, over the breakers. A couple of Sandwich Terns passed by further out. But the real surprise was the Little Terns – a couple flew past us and when we stopped for a closer look we realised there was a steady stream of around 35 coming back!

IMG_4384Red-crested Pochard – its bill really caught the light

As we walked back, we stopped to admire a single drake Red-crested Pochard on the reedbed pool, his coral red bill glowing in the emerging sunshine. There were another 6 round on Patsy’s Reedbed. With the weather having improved, there were at least 20 House Martins hawking over the main reedbed, and also lots of singing Reed and Sedge Warblers on the way.

However, we had really wanted to see another warbler – and we were rewarded round by Patsy’s Reedbed. The Grasshopper Warbler had gone quiet when we arrived, but after a short wait we started to get snatches of song. Then finally he climbed up into a small sallow and started reeling away. We got him in the scopes, but he was still remarkably difficult to see at times, hiding amongst the foliage.

IMG_4400Grasshopper Warbler – reeling round by Patsy’s Reedbed today

Having lost quite a bit of time ducking the showers, it was already time for a late lunch when we finally got back to the car park. However, having been informed that the Dotterel had been seen again up at Choseley, we headed straight round there first. They were not to be seen from the gateway below the drying barns, but we drove round to the other side, on Chalkpit Lane, and picked them up from there. There were 7 of them, including 5 bright females (remember in Dotterel, the females are brighter than the dull males!). They were a bit distant, but we got a decent look at them before they suddenley took flight and landed back down in the very far corner of the field.

IMG_4412Dotterel – 1 of 7 at Choseley today, a bright female

We were later than we would normally have been, but we decided to still have a look at Holkham anyway. The walk west along the inland side of the pines was initially fairly uneventful – apart from the usual variety of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers. However, as we got almost to Washington Hide we heard a distinctive ‘glip, glip’ call coming from the pines, the sound of Crossbills. It appeared to be a small group of birds, but we could not tell if they were flying or perched. Unfortunately, after two short bursts of calls, they fell silent and we couldn’t find them again. They have been very hard to find in Norfolk over the last year, so this suggests that some birds are on the move again.

The sky blackened again from the west and a heavy shower loomed, so we took shelter in Washington Hide for a bit. There were a surprising number of Pink-footed Geese still out on the grazing marshes, at least 70, as well as a single Barnacle Goose and a Barnacle Goose hybrid. A small group of Curlew out on the grass included three stripy-headed Whimbrel. A single Spoonbill flew west.

As it cleared to bright sunshine again, we continued westwards. We climbed up to Joe Jordan hide and immediately picked up two more Spoonbills loafing around the pool, preening. They stayed a while, before flying back into the trees. A little while later, first one then a second flew down again.

IMG_4419Spoonbill – preening & flashing its spoon-shaped bill

We were really running out of time now, but wanted to take the opportunity to have a quick look in the dunes. As soon as we came out of the pines, we could hear Ring Ouzel calling, and then three birds flew round and dropped out of sight into some brambles. They were clearly very jumpy as, over the next few minutes, we saw them fly round several times. Eventually, we got a good look at them, first perched up in a bush, and later on the ground, a single male Ring Ouzel and two females.

P1000588Ring Ouzel – very nervous today in the dunes

We did a quick scoot round the first section of dunes and came across a loose mixed group of birds. There were lots of Linnets, mostly feeding on the ground. As we scanned over the area, we could also see there were at least 4 Wheatears feeding amongst them. Then we noticed a smart male Whinchat perched up in the bushes.

P1000589Whinchat – a lovely male in the bushes at Burnham Overy Dunes

Then it was time to call it a day. Despite the rain, we had seen some great birds and amassed a really good tally of spring migrants.

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26th April 2015 – Wagtail Wonderland

Day 3 of a long weekend of tours today, the last day. We would focus on the eastern end of the North Norfolk coast today, between Kelling and Stiffkey. It had actually rained overnight, the first rain for some time, and the day dawned overcast and cool, but it cleared up through the day and was sunny and warm (out of the wind) by the close.

P1000455Blakeney Freshes from Friary Hills

We started at Friary Hills. This can at times be a very good spot for migrants, but the bushes were quiet today. From the top, we scanned over Blakeney Freshes, picking up a variety of wildfowl for the day. As we walked back, we did hear a Reed Warbler singing from the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat, which eventually showed well.

It was our intention to head round to Kelling, but news of several Blue-headed Wagtails in the Eye Field at Cley saw us take a small diversion on the way. Blue-headed Wagtail is the main central European subspecies, the equivalent of the British Yellow Wagtail, and they form just two of many subspecies of a very widely distributed and very variable species. Several subspecies occur or are suspected to occur in the UK from time to time, but as we were to see today, the subject is even more complicated than that!

It took us a while to find the wagtails, as they were mobile and distant at first. We contented ourselves with looking at several Wheatears intially. Finally we picked up a couple of Yellow Wagtails and a smart male Blue-headed Wagtail dropped in with them. So far, so simple!

IMG_4274Blue-headed Wagtail – a smart male in the Eye Field

In the end, we saw at least 8 ‘yellow’ or flava wagtails, the all-encompassing moniker for the species (Motacilla flava is the Latin name for the species as a whole). There were several male Yellows, as well as at least one male Blue-headed, and a number of females of different hues (it is still not clear where the appearance of female Yellow stops and female Blue-headed starts!).

At one point, the little group of flava wagtails landed with four ‘monochrome’ alba wagtails. In a similar way to the Yellow Wagtail, the British Pied Wagtail is replaced on the continent with the grey-backed White Wagtail (two subspecies of the very widely distributed Motacilla alba – a theme is emerging!). We could see that the group of four in the Eye Field included two smart silvery-grey backed White Wagtails as well as two Pied Wagtails. A great start – four subspecies of Wagtail together!

Round at Kelling, we set off along the track to the beach. A Goldcrest sang from the trees by the school and a couple of Common Whitethroat sang from the hedges. The cows were feeding up by the gate, but there were no wagtails with them as we arrived. However, as we walked further on, we could see two flava wagtails on the short grass by the pool. One was a smart male Yellow Wagtail, but whilst the other resembled a Blue-headed Wagtail, it looked a little pale around the head. Unfortunately they were flushed by a couple of people walking along the track before we could get the scope on them.

We could still hear the odd Yellow Wagtail calling from time to time, but we couldn’t see them at first, until we realised they had flown into the dense clumps of rushes. It was only when the cows started to walk back down the water meadow towards the pool that the wagtails came out. Then we realised there were flava wagtails everywhere – at least 12-15 birds!

At first, we contented ourselves wit watching the bright yellow British Yellow Wagtails. We admired the way they ran in and out of the cows feet and even seemed to get so close to them feeding that it would not have been a surprise to see one get eaten! They looked stunning in amongst the daisies and dandelions in the short grass.

P1000478Yellow Wagtail – a smart ‘British’ male

P1000479Yellow Wagtail – careful, not too close!

There were a couple of nice smart male Blue-headed Wagtails in amongst them as well – nice contrasting blue-grey heads with a strongly marked white supercilium. Then the paler-headed male appeared – unlike the regular Blue-headed males, this one appeared to have a pale silvery grey crown, a ‘Channel’ Wagtail.

P1000458‘Channel’ Wagtail – paler silvery grey on the crown than a regular Blue-headed

Blue-headed and Yellow Wagtails are known to ‘hybridise’ in northern France, and the resulting intergrades are known as ‘Channel’ Wagtails. These show much paler heads than Blue-headed – silvery-grey, powder-blue or even approaching white. They turn up quite regularly with our Yellow Wagtails in the spring.

As if that wasn’t already complicated enough, then another darker headed bird appeared. We glimpsed it a couple of times and it looked really quite striking. At first, it appeared to have an all dark grey head – dark slate grey on the crown and blacker on the ear coverts. However, when we got a good look at it, we could see that it had a very thin supercilium. It also had a rather white upper throat.

IMG_4297flava Wagtail ssp – most likely an intergrade of some form

P1000464flava Wagtail ssp –  a thin white supercilium and white on throat

This bird did not obviously fit any of the regular subspecies or intergrades. Perhaps it was a mixture of Blue-headed and the Italian subspecies, Ashy-headed? We will never know, but it was an interesting bird to see nonetheless. The morning as a whole was a great opportunity to study a variety of different wagtail forms. We spent time discussing the different subspecies and known intergrades between them. At the end of the day, it was just great to watch them all running amongst the cows and spring flowers. Still, after all that we needed a sit down and some lunch!

As we walked back up the track, three young Field Voles were trying to hide in the middle of the path – presumably a dog had dug them out of their nest. We tried to usher them to the safety of the verge, but they kept running back out into the middle.

P1000497Field Vole – three youngsters were in the middle of the path at Kelling

After lunch, we went for a walk at Salthouse. We eventually found the single Snow Bunting feeding in the field about half way towards Gramborough. The flock of Snow Buntings which roamed the beach through the winter appears to have long departed, but this single bird remains. Still, it seemed perfectly happy feeding quietly on its own, until something upset the local Sand Martins and they flew round calling – and the Snow Bunting joined them.

IMG_4327Snow Bunting – the rest of the winter birds have departed

There were also several Wheatears in the field. As with the birds we saw yesterday at Burnham Overy, the males at Salthouse were washed with orange underneath, especially on the throat and upper breast, to varying degrees of intensity – Greenland Wheatears.

P1000504Wheatear – the rich orange wash on the breast suggests a Greenland bird

We finished the day at Stiffkey Fen. As we crossed the road, a Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows by the river. We stopped to try to see it and a Reed Warbler was lumbering around in the same tree. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly nearby, and we could hear the scratchy notes of a Sedge Warbler from the Fen. A hooting Tawny Owl was more of a surprise, in the middle of the afternoon.

Scanning the Fen from the path, we could see a selection of waders. A Little Ringed Plover lurked on one of the islands. Several Black-tailed Godwits stood in the water. A smart male Ruff was hiding in the vegetation on the shore and a Common Snipe eventually showed itself, preening nearby.

From up on the seawall, we could get a better look over the Fen. At first we couldn’t see anything we hadn’t seen from the path. Finally, we picked up a Common Sandpiper working its way round the water’s edge at the very back. On the saltmarsh side, a Greenshank was working its way up the creek and quickly disappeared from view. Thankfully, a few moments later, it flew back out and onto the Fen where it proceeded to bathe and preen. There were also several Avocet in the channel by the seawall.

P1000509Avocet – a couple of pairs were in the tidal channel at Stiffkey, more on the Fen

As we walked round towards Blakeney Harbour, we could hear a Whimbrel calling. It then flew in and landed on the edge of the creek opposite us. Eventually, once it came round out of the sun, we could see its pale central crown stripe. It then flew out into the creeks in the harbour.

P1000516Whimbrel – feeding on the edge of the harbour

As we came round the corner, we could see a couple of Common Buzzards soaring up over the fields just behind us and a Red Kite was circling lazily over the saltmarsh. There were still plenty of Brent Geese out in the harbour and we could see lots of gulls and Sandwich Terns out toward Blakeney Point. As we turned to walk back, a pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over us calling.

From back on the seawall, the Common Sandpiper was on the edge of the mud on the tidal channel. But it was very jumpy and flew off as we approached, flicking down the channel on bowed wings. A Redshank flew up from the Fen and over the seawall, displaying over our heads – fluttering its wings fast, again holding them deeply bowed, then gliding for a second, before another burst of quick fluttering, before it glided down across the channel and landed on a post. Stunning to watch. As we walked back, we stopped to admire a cracking male Lapwing feeding quietly in the set-aside field amongst the flowers. A lovely end to the day.

P1000519Blakeney Harbour from Stiffkey Fen seawall

25th April 2015 – The Eagle Hadn’t Landed

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. Despite the fact that we were planning to do the Holkham area today, we had a request from the group to make a detour at the start, so we headed back to Choseley.

It didn’t take long to find the Dotterel, a small trip of three of them running around in a bare field. They were a bit distant at first but we got them in the scope and got a good look at them, particularly as they came a little closer. While we were standing there, we could also hear the sound of jangling keys from the hedge in front of us – a Corn Bunting singing.

IMG_4256Dotterel – three were in a field at Choseley today

Then it was time to return to the planned programme, and we drove back to Burnham Overy. On the walk out to the seawall, we paused to admire a Speckled Wood butterfly on the path. A Lesser Whitethroat made its way inland along the hedgerow and a second sang from deep in the bushes further along. A pair of Grey Partridge skulked in the grass in one of the fields.

P1000402Speckled Wood – basking on the path out to Burnham Overy Dunes

As we walked across the grazing marshes, we could hear the distinctive laughing sound of a couple of Whimbrel. We picked them up, flying towards us, and they circled round calling before dropping down into the fields out of view. Shortly afterwards, we picked up another flock of 7 Whimbrel further out circling over the dunes.

P1000404Whimbrel – these two circled over us, calling

There were several Little Egrets out on the grazing marshes or flying overhead with their necks tucked in. Then another large white bird flew over from the direction of the harbour with its neck held outstretched – a Spoonbill. We watched it fly over the grazing marsh and drop down towards the trees. From up on the seawall, whilst scanning the reedbed, we could hear a distinctive, low foghorn-like sound. A Bittern was booming from the reeds. A nice surprise.

Scanning over the saltmarsh the other side, towards the harbour, we could see a little group of waders. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits, many in smart orange summer plumage, plus a few Redshanks and, further out, lots of Oystercatcher. A little further along, we picked up a cracking Grey Plover coming into summer plumage – we could see where it gets its North American name, Black-bellied Plover (we had a Canadian member in the group!).

Over the harbour channel, 4 or 5 Little Terns were flying back and forth and hovering. In amongst them was a single Common Tern as well. Further out in the harbour, towards the dunes, a male Red-breasted Merganser was on the water.

A couple of Yellow Wagtails flew overhead, calling, as we walked out along the seawall. But a closer bird, a smart male, flew low past us out in the dunes. There was also a steady trickle of Swallows passing west. However, the real highlight of the walk out towards Gun Hill was the Wheatears. One male in particular performed for the assembled crowd, flying off ahead of us initially, before settling down and letting us approach more closely. He was a big, long-legged bird, with a rich orange throat and upper breast and paler orangey wash to the rest of the underparts, so different from the birds with much whiter underparts we see earlier in spring. There was a good reason for his distinctive appearance – at this time of year the birds are increasingly Greenland Wheatears, of the race leucorhoa, on their way much further north (and west).

P1000438Wheatear – a richly-coloured bird of the Greenland race

We walked out to the end of the dunes at Gun Hill but, apart from lots of Linnets, there were no other birds of note. A sunny weekend in April, there was just too much disturbance by this stage of the day – loads of dogwalkers and people out for a pre-lunch stroll. The birds had clearly all made for cover.

It was at this stage that we learned of a White-tailed Eagle which had just been seen over Cley and was heading west. If it kept coming this way, surely it would pass by us. We continued to walk back through the dunes, looking for migrants, but after the eagle was reported flying west past the end of Blakeney Point, still heading in our direction, we knew we were in with a chance. We headed for a high point in the dunes, briefly distracted on our way there by a Cuckoo which flew right round us before going back the way it had come.

We had an anxious wait up on the top of the dunes, carefully scanning the sky all around us. Finally, after about 20 minutes, we picked up the White-tailed Eagle flying west over the sea. It was distant at first, and away to the east, but gradually made its way until it was directly offshore in front of us. It was an adult – we could see its paler head as it caught the light and, just when it circled, its white tail. We noted its enormous size and long, broad, parallel-edged wings – it is not affectionately known as the flying barn door for nothing!

The weather had just clouded over and the White-tailed Eagle appeared to be losing height over the sea. Then it turned and started to make its way slowly inshore. For a few moments we thought it might come straight towards us, before it veered back east. It circled off Holkham beach for a while, before coming inland over the pines where it found a thermal and started to gain height again. A Marsh Harrier had clearly seen it as well and circled up quickly beneath it, eventually catching it up. It looked tiny by comparison! It had a couple of swoops at the White-tailed Eagle before we finally lost sight of them high over Holkham. What a stunning sight!

P1000449White-tailed Eagle – circling off Burnham Overy

After our vigil with the White-tailed Eagle, it was getting on to lunch time already, and we hadn’t really managed to explore the dunes properly. We had a quick look in the dunes east of the end of the boardwalk, seeing lots more Wheatears and a cracking male Whinchat with them. Another Cuckoo flew past us. Then we really had to head back to get something to eat.

IMG_4271Whinchat – a lovely male in the dunes

As we walked back along the path from the seawall, a large group of at least 11 Yellow Wagtails flew over, calling. There are a few cows out on the grazing marshes, but unfortunately they had chosen this moment to walk out to the other side of the fields. The wagtails dropped down into the grass with them, but out of view.

After a late lunch, we drove round to Holkham. The wind had picked up and, even though it was still bright and sunny, there was little activity on the edge of the pines. We did, however, manage to pick up a Reed Warbler singing out on the edge of the grazing marsh (later, on our way back, there were two singing together). There were also several Willow Warblers singing in the sallows by the track.

There wasn’t much activity from the Joe Jordan hide. A few Marsh Harriers were flying back and forth. Out on the grazing marshes we could see a little gaggle of Pink-footed Geese, a few lingering birds (most of the over-wintering geese left already in February). A Peregrine circled up over the trees. But there was no sign of any Spoonbills around the heronry. A little further on and we could see why – three birds were asleep in the trees, tucked down out of the wind, but still in the sun. A perfect spot to do what Spoonbills do best – sleep!

We continued up into the dunes and, as we arrived, we just managed to spot two Ring Ouzels perched up in a bush. We got them in the scope, two smart males, and everyone had a quick look before they disappeared out of sight. Not surprisingly, given all the disturbance in the dunes today, they were tucked down behind the fence in the nature reserve. A quick walk round the public part of the dunes just beyond the pines did not produce any more migrants. And then it was time to call it a day.

P1000408Sedge Warbler – lots singing today, but still few Reed Warblers

24th April 2015 – Spring Migrants in NW Norfolk

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today and we headed up to NW Norfolk. It was a lovely, sunny start to the day and we had high hopes of seeing some birds on the move.

We started at Thornham. There have been a couple of Ring Ouzels around the cricket pitch in recent days and as soon as we got out of the car we picked up a fine male on the far side by the hedge. We got it in the scope and got a great look at it, its white gorget shining in the morning sun. Nearby, a slightly duller, browner female Ring Ouzel was on the edge of the cricket square, with a Mistle Thrush for company.

IMG_4254Ring Ouzel – the male at Thornham this morning

Our next destination was Snettisham Coastal Park, where we hoped to see some visible migration in action. The bushes were alive with warblers – lots of Lesser Whitethroats, Whitethroats, Blackcaps, plenty of Willow Warblers and several singing Chiffchaffs, Sedge Warblers and Cetti’s Warblers. There were lots of Linnets in the bushes and more small groups moving south overhead, together with a few Goldfinches.

The real star migrants of the morning were the Yellow Wagtails. It started with one or two moving along the coast, their sharp ‘pseep’ calls giving them away as they flew overhead. It peaked with a single flock of 20 which flew south past us, calling as they went. Great to see. There were also a couple of Wheatears which moved south through the bushes, stopping briefly as they went.

P1000340Wheatear – stopped briefly on a bush on its way through

There has been a Little Bunting at Snettisham Coastal Park for the last couple of days, but it has been very elusive, so we held out little hope of seeing it. As we got further along, we were told that it had just been showing, so we decided to have a look. There was no sign of it at first – it had flown into a dense area of low Sea Buckthorn bushes and disappeared. As we waited, we had the odd glimpse of movement as it worked its way slowly round on the ground below, but even when we got a slightly better look at it, it was hard to get everyone onto it. Eventually the Little Bunting flew out and landed briefly on the grass in the open. Unfortunately, it didn’t stay long, before darting straight back into cover. Not great views, but at least we had all finally seen it! We decided to move on.

A little further along, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the bushes. We worked our way round and saw it sitting in the top of a low Hawthorn, but before everyone could get onto it it dropped down out of view. When it started reeling again it had moved over to the other side of the bushes – by the time we managed to get round there it had disappeared, probably back to the original side!

As we walked back round to the beach, we could hear Sandwich Terns calling offshore. From up on the seawall, we had a quick look and immediately latched onto a Little Tern flying past. At one point, we even managed to get the Little Tern in the same view as the Sandwich Tern, a great size comparison. As it worked its way past, we could see it had brought its friends – a loose group of 8 Little Terns flew past. The Little Terns have only started to arrive in the last few days, so it was really good to see them.

P1000341Little Tern – a group of 8 were off Snettisham this morning

We gradually made our way back to the car for lunch. As we sat outside in the sunshine eating, a flock of about 20 Curlew flew past over the edge of the Wash. A quick scan through revealed a bonus – a couple of Whimbrel in amongst them. After lunch, we drove round ‘the corner’ to Titchwell, taking a diversion along the cliff tops at Hunstanton to admire a Fulmar flying past.

At Titchwell, the car park was very busy and so rather quiet for birds. We walked out onto the reserve, pausing briefly to look at the Thornham grazing marsh pool – this is still dry and now rather devoid of birdlife. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over, calling, and flashing their white wingtips.

P1000343Mediterranean Gull – a pair of adults flew over, calling

The reedbed pool held a couple of pairs each of Tufted Duck and Pochard, but no sign of the Red-crested Pochard today. Thankfully, it didn’t take us long to find them. A little further on, a smart pair of Red-crested Pochard were on the freshmarsh, right by the main footpath (we later saw more flying over and 6 on Patsy’s Reedbed).

P1000381Red-crested Pochard – this pair were right by the main path today

As usual, there was a good selection of dabbling ducks on the freshmarsh as well and we stopped to admire the Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall in particular, all looking rather splendid in their spring finery.

P1000354Gadwall – such a subtly pretty duck up close

There were not as many waders on the freshmarsh as in recent weeks. Just one Black-tailed Godwit, two Dunlin, a couple of Ruff and two Little Ringed Plovers on the islands. Lest we forget them, there were at least lots of Avocet and several of them were feeding right in front of Island Hide, affording us up close and personal views.

P1000351Avocet – no post about Titchwell is complete without a photo!

The Volunteer Marsh was also rather quiet today, but the Tidal Pools were slightly more interesting. As well as several more Black-tailed Godwits to admire, in both winter and summer plumage, a Greenshank was feeding quietly along the edge.

P1000389Black-tailed Godwit – no sign of summer plumage

The beach was where the action was at today. The tide was just going out, and the waders were just beginning to gather. As well as lots of Oystercatcher and Turnstone, we found a few Sanderling on the beach and a small group of Grey Plover and a single Ringed Plover on the rocks. While we were watching the waders starting to spread out along the beach, we picked up a single Whimbrel in with the Grey Plovers along the shoreline. It looked like it was fresh in, taking a short rest, before it flew off again calling. A little later, we saw a small flock of Whimbrel further out, flying west.

There were a few terns offshore too. A couple of Sandwich Terns were feeding off the beach, plunging into the sea. Three more Little Terns flew west close inshore. While we were watching them, a single Common Tern flew past, further out to sea – another good one for the day.

There were small numbers of hirundines flying along the coast all day today, but perhaps not as many as we thought there might be today. As we walked back a flock of 11 Sand Martins whisked through over the reedbed.

We took a quick detour on the way back via Meadow Trail. There were lots of Blackcaps in the sallows, presumably some migrants as well as some planning to stay for the summer. The Marsh Harriers were showing well from the boardwalk near Fen Hide, and we paused to admire them. Patsy’s Reedbed was rather quiet, apart from the aforementioned Red-crested Pochards, although a smart summer-plumaged Little Grebe did grab our attention as it swam past.

We finished the day with a quick drive round via Choseley drying barns. There were several bright Yellowhammers in the fields on the way up and a couple of Stock Doves by the barns themselves. But the highlight was down in the fields beyond the barns. The wind had picked up a little and lots of Yellowhammers were feeding down on a recently sown patch of ground. Amongst them, we found two pairs of Corn Bunting. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, before they were spooked and flew up into the hedge. We could hear a male singing – rather like a bunch of jangling keys. We had decided to call it a day and were driving off when we realised all the Yellowhammers had flown out to the other side, on a bare strip beside the road. There, in amongst them, was a Corn Bunting – great views and a good way to end the day.

P1000392Corn Bunting – feeding on a bare strip by the road this afternoon

22nd April 2015 – Spring has Sprung

Back to business today and a Spring Tour around the Cley area looking for migrants. It was slightly cool and cloudy first thing up on the coast, in a light north wind, but the sun came out and it warmed up in the afternoon – a lovely April day.

We started off looking – or listening – for Nightingales, which have started to arrive in the last few days. As we got out of the car, we could hear plenty of warblers singing – a couple of Blackcaps, several Chiffchaffs and a Cetti’s Warbler. With all the sounds around us, it felt like a real spring morning. We heard a Bullfinch call and a smart pink male perched up briefly in the bushes in front of us. But there was no sound of the Nightingale at first.

We began to walk down the road. A couple of Long-tailed Tits were calling from the hedgerow and as they flew up we could see some grey lichen in the area they had been – a closer look confirmed our suspicions and we found a beautiful nest tucked in amongst the branches. As we stopped to admire it, the Nightingale started singing back where we had been – but only two brief snatches of song before it went quiet again. It seemed like it might still be too chilly for it to really get going.

P1000269Long-tailed Tit nest – an amazing construction, well concealed in the hedge

Continuing back down the road, we stopped every so often to listen to the bird song around us. A Whitethroat or two were new additions for the day – we got a look at one smart male – and a Lesser Whitethroat rattled from deep in the bushes but didn’t similarly oblige. A male Cuckoo sang from the trees, really adding to the feeling of spring, and then we heard the amazing bubbling sound of a female nearby. We got a look at her perched up in a tree before she flew across the road behind us. Unfortunately, a Cuckoo is not as common a sight (or sound) now as it used to be.

We had gone some way down the road when a second Nightingale started singing just behind us. We turned and walked back a short way to listen to it. It was a delight just to stand there and hear the song, the liquid phrases rolling out from the dense undergrowth. After a while it stopped singing and we could hear it calling (a bit like a frog!), before it flew across the road and disappeared into the hedge the other side, flashing a russet tail as it did so. We listened to it singing there for a while, close beside us, catching another glimpse of it in flight before it finally went quiet again and we headed back. What a magical moment. As we walked back to the car, a Tawny Owl hooted from the trees – not what we were expecting in the middle of the morning!

Heading down to the coast, our next stop was Walsey Hills. There had been a Black Redstart hanging around opposite here for the last couple of days, but there was no  sign today. We had a quick explore along the footpath, and had a good look at a couple of Willow Warblers which were singing from the bushes. But with no sign of any more life, we didn’t hang around.

Further along the coast road, we pulled up outside the visitor centre at Cley. Our intention had been to use the facilities and get a cup of coffee first, but from the car park we could already hear the Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the bushes just across the road. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to get a good look at it, particularly as it has been performing so well of late, so we walked over to see it. Unfortunately, by the time we got over there it had already decided to go quiet. Typical! We stood for a while, and the call of the coffee was growing ever more tempting when we caught a couple of quiet reels. The Grasshopper Warbler sounded like it had moved much further away. Then suddenly it hopped up into some low brambles not 5 metres in front of us. We got a great look at it as it sang in short bursts and clambered about in the nettles close to the ground. After that, we celebrated with a coffee in the visitor centre!

P1000274Grasshopper Warbler – reeling right in front of us today

We were planning to explore the reserve later in the day, so after our coffee we headed back along the coast to Kelling. As we walked down along the lane, a Red Kite drifted over and disappeared to the west. The cows are out on the water meadow early this year and that seemed to have pulled in the Yellow Wagtails. But the first bird we saw was not a typical ‘Yellow’, but a very smart male Blue-headed Wagtail, the continental European subspecies. We got him in the scope and set about admiring his blue-grey crown and striking white supercilium, which contrasted with his bright yellow underparts. As we did so, a male British Yellow Wagtail appeared next to him. As we scanned in amongst the cows feet, we eventually picked up four of them – three males and a duller female. One of the male Yellow Wagtails in particular sat preening in the grass and positively glowed bright canary yellow in the (now) sunshine.

P1000245Blue-headed Wagtail – with 4 Yellow Wagtails amongst the cows today

Down at the pool, there were several Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets wading around in the water. Amongst them was a stunning Spotted Redshank in mostly black summer plumage. Flushed by some walkers along the cross track, it flew towards us and started to feed close by. We admired its white eye-ring, contrasting with the blackish head and neck, the white-spotted upperparts and the long and needle-tipped bill.

IMG_4238Spotted Redshank – a smart bird, in fine black summer plumage

That wasn’t the only good wader down on the pool today. It was hiding on the island at first, but eventually the Knot appeared. It was starting to live up to its proper name of ‘Red Knot‘, beginning to moult into its much brighter summer plumage, rather than the grey winter grab with which we are more familiar. The resident Egyptian Geese had already hatched three goslings, already starting to look quite well grown.

P1000287Red Knot – or ‘Reddish Knot’ perhaps still at the moment

We carried on down towards the beach and up onto the top, hoping that we might pick up a Wheatear or Whinchat. No sign of either of those, but we did find a couple of pairs of Stonechat, presumably local breeding birds. One of the males decided to come down the fence line towards us – another smart bird! As we stood there admiring it, we could hear a Mediterranean Gull calling and after a while we picked up a pair of adults, flashing their white wing-tips, circling high above the field behind.

P1000286Stonechat – one of the males at Kelling today

The morning was long gone, so we eventually managed to tear ourselves away and head back to the car. We drove a short way along the coast to Salthouse for a late lunch on the Beach Road. While we ate, we picked up a small group of Wheatear out on the grazing marshes. A Greenshank appeared on the pools behind the beach.

After lunch, we drove back to Cley and headed out to explore the reserve. The main scrapes were fairly quiet – a smattering of duck (Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard & Shoveler), a few Black-tailed Godwits and lots of Avocets. Looking more closely, we found a pair of Little Ringed Plovers on one of the islands, displaying. There were also lots of Ruff (& Reeves). The first ones we saw still appeared to be in mostly winter plumage, but eventually we found a male with lots of black on head and neck, clearly moulting into summer plumage. It was a good opportunity to look at the variation, and the differences between males and females.

P1000303Shelduck – this pair were mating right outside the hide

The Eye Field seemed a bit quiet as we drove down Beach Road. However, a scan from the car park revealed four Wheatears out on the grass. We set out to walk towards North Hide and as we did so, a lovely male Whinchat appeared on the fence. It was quite flighty and wouldn’t settle near us, but we eventually got it in the scope – another cracker. On the edge of the shingle, we stopped to admire a Ringed Plover on one of the pools and as we did so, we picked up a White Wagtail by the grass. Unfortunately, it didn’t linger and flew off out into the Eye Field and disappeared from view. We did manage to find it again, looking from further along, and got a good look through the scope. A nice haul of classic spring migrants for the list for the day.

IMG_4241Whinchat – a smart male on the Eye Field fence

Billy’s Wash had a few ducks on it, including three Pintail, one of them a smart male. North Scrape was fairly quiet – just a couple more Little Ringed Plover and a few of the other Cley regulars. Then it was time to start heading back, stopping briefly to admire a female Wheatear right by the fence.

P1000320Wheatear – we saw a few at Salthouse & Cley today

We had met in Wells, so made our way back there to finish. A single Common Seal (or perhaps more appropriately ‘Harbour’ Seal) was pulled up and resting nearby.

All-in-all, a decent haul of early spring migrants and incoming breeding birds for the day.

P1000328Common Seal – hanging around in the harbour

15th-20th April 2015 – Bird Migration in Sicily

There have been no blog posts for the last week, not because I haven’t been out and about, but because of where I have been. The island of Sicily, positioned as it is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, is a great place to witness migration in action, as birds coming north from Africa stop off to feed on their way. It was a fantastic place to visit and I saw some great birds as well as some magical places.

P1000038Pantano Longarini – looking beautiful in the early morning sunlight

On the first day, I headed down to the marshes of Cuba and Longarini. Right from the outset it was clear that migrants had arrived overnight. Lots of Tree Pipits buzzed overhead and there were large numbers of Whinchat and Northern Wheatear in the fields. A careful look through them revealed the first Eastern Black-eared Wheatear of the trip – by the end of my visit I had found at least six, at various sites, all females.

IMG_4138Eastern Black-eared Wheatear – a female

The waterbirds were the main reason for the visit here, and I particularly wanted to spend some time watching Ferruginous Ducks. I was not disappointed – at least 20 were on Pantano Cuba, which afforded the best views, with more distant birds also on Longarini and another three on Pantano Bruno. I saw them most days and was lucky to be able to watch them displaying on several occasions.

IMG_4141Ferruginous Duck – a smart chestnut drake

There were lots of Garganey out on the water too, and a smattering of other ducks. A couple of pairs of Black-necked Grebe eventually showed themselves, amongst the more common Great Crested and Little Grebes. The Purple Swamphen were hard to see amongst the reeds, but the Purple Herons were more obliging. One of the highlights of the morning was seeing a flock of 9 Purple Herons, presumably migrants, fly in to Pantano Cuba. A flock of 19 Gull-billed Terns overhead was also quite a sight!

P1000091Purple Heron – this one was trying to hide amongst the vegetation

On day 2, I headed over to the marshes at Vendicari early in the morning. The Greater Flamingos were the first things to catch the eye – at least 150 of them from the first hide overlooking the largest of the marshes. There were also lots of Spoonbills feeding, plus a few Squacco Herons and a single Black-crowned Night Heron standing on the mud.

P1000098Greater Flamingo – always a spectacular bird to see

There has been lots of rain in Sicily this last winter, and the water levels at Cuba and Longarini were high – great for the ducks. In the shallower water at Vendicari, there were lots more waders. As well as plenty of Black-winged Stilts, there were several Marsh Sandpiper, lots of Wood Sandpiper including a flock of 10 which flew in over the beach, many Little Stints running around on the mud and a few moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper with them, to name but a few.

IMG_4147Marsh Sandpiper – there were several of this charming wader at Vendicari

Vendicari is a very popular reserve for tourists and school groups so, as the number of people increased, I headed off north. Close to Siracusa, the headland of Capo Murro di Porco is renowned as one of the best places to find rare migrants in Sicily. A flock of 11 Bee-eaters was resting on the wires as I arrived, occasionally swooping out after flying insects. There were also lots of Tree Pipits amongst the low Mediterranean garrigue, but few signs of other migrants. However, the highlight was a single young (2nd cal year) Pallid Harrier which swept across the headland and away to the north. I was pleased to see this but little did I know what was to come tomorrow!

In the afternoon, I headed for Portopalo, the town at the south-east corner of Sicily. Down at the port, I spent some time watching the Audouin’s Gulls circling round amongst the fishing boats. Nearby, a couple of Slender-billed Gulls and a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull were standing on the beach with a Gull-billed Tern. Around onto the headland nearby and a few Scopoli’s and Yelkouan Shearwaters were lingering offshore – they were seen off most coastal headlands visited.

P1000163Audouin’s Gull – several were hanging around each of the fishing ports

An early start on day 3 saw me heading up into the hills. Cava Grande de Casabile is a spectacular limestone gorge, and a popular tourist destination, but it can also be good for birds. I had particularly wanted to see the local race, cantillans, of Eastern Subalpine Warbler and here I managed to catch up with several of them, calling and singing. There were also lots of lovely hillside birds to look at, such as Rock Sparrows and Cirl Bunting. Despite this, it was a frustrating morning. A male Semi-collared Flycatcher hovered briefly by the entrance to the car park, but then was gone. After a thorough search, I briefly caught sight of it perched before it flew into the gardens and did not reappear. Eventually, I gave up and moved on.

It was still early so, on a whim, I decided to have another look at Capo Murro di Porco. It seemed even quieter than yesterday when I arrived. Then, around 11am, it all changed. A harrier appeared and, as it worked its way past really close, it was clear that it was a Pallid Harrier. Then another Pallid Harrier came past – at first, I wasn’t sure whether I might have been double counting. That marked the opening of the floodgates and, over the next 90 minutes it rained harriers. At least 35 Marsh Harriers and 20 ringtail harriers passed overhead – it was hard to keep count. Amongst the latter, Pallid seemed to significantly outnumber Montagu’s Harrier, but all of them appeared to be young (2nd calendar year) birds. Many of them continued out to the end of the headland and were watched disappearing out to see to the east.

P1000185Pallid Harrier – one of many through Murro di Porco

Harriers were not the only birds passing through. At least 25 Red-footed Falcons went past in the same time period, including a little flock of 9 birds which passed just overhead. There were also a couple of Lesser Kestrels and a Hobby. Hirundine migration had also picked up and there were lots of House and Sand Martins in the move. Swift migration had also started in earnest and amongst the hundreds of Common Swifts, I could pick out a small number of Alpine Swifts. It was a truly amazing sight to stand there and watch all these migrating birds streaming through. Then, just as quickly as it had started, it all dried up and the birds stopped coming.

That should have been enough for one day, but there was more to come. Late afternoon, I headed down to Portopalo harbour again. Out on the headland there was one small fenced off area amongst the low Mediterranean vegetation. There were no birds anywhere else but the fence was alive – with flycatchers the key feature. Amongst the Spotted & Pied Flycatchers was a cracking male Collared Flycatcher.

IMG_4193Collared Flycatcher – this very smart male was with Pied Flys at Portopalo

I finished the day back at Pantano Cuba, where two stunning White-winged Black Terns were hawking over the lake. A flock of at least 28 Blue-headed Wagtails dropped in to feed before heading off into the reeds to look for a roost site. A Red-throated Pipit flew over calling. What an awesome day, one I will never forget.

The following morning, there was no sign of any flycatchers at the site where they had been the day before near Portopalo – but they had obviously moved straight through. However, over at Pantano Cuba, there was more to see. A tight group of 13 Wood Sandpipers and 6 Greenshank were present, though struggled to find anywhere to land. We eventually found a handful of flycatchers as well, mostly Pied but also one Spotted Flycatcher. With them were a couple of smart Wood Warblers.

In the afternoon, I was very privileged to be taken to the site of a Lanner nest. For the first couple of hours, it was very quiet. Just a couple of Buzzards and a pair of Ravens up overhead. Then finally the male appeared, though strangely on closer inspection he appeared to be a young bird, born last year. The female appeared by the nest shortly afterwards. We watched them on and off for an hour or so, but their behaviour was confusing and suggested they may not be breeding this year. If the young male was the new other half of the pair, he may have been too young to breed successfully this year.

IMG_4214Lanner – unfortunately perched up against the light

On my final morning, I got up early and went for a quick look around Cuba and Longarini again. The Ferruginous Ducks put on an especially good show for me, just before I had to leave. While I was standing there, I could hear a Penduline Tit flying overhead calling but unfortunately I couldn’t get to see it.

I still had time to call in briefly at Capo Murro di Porco on my way to the airport and well worthwhile it was too! Another couple of Pallid Harriers passed overhead and out over the sea.  Out by the old lighthouse, a small party of wheatears included two Eastern Black-eared Wheatears. Then a walk round one of the damper areas produced a couple of Tawny Pipits and a small flock of flava Wagtails. The latter included a single Black-headed Wagtail. The walk back to the car finally flushed a couple of Richard’s Pipits.

IMG_4218Tawny Pipit – this one appears to be covered in yellow pollen

P1000154‘Sicilian’ Sparrows are a confusing mix of Italian & Spanish types

That is simply a few edited highlights of my trip. There were so many magic moments and I really cannot recommend it enough for a spring visit.

12th April 2015 – Blustery Brecks

A Private Tour today, and a request to visit the Brecks. It was a birthday gift between friends, so a relaxed day of birding was in order.

We started at Lynford Arboretum. Firecrest was a key target, which was a good thing as there have been several singing in recent days. In the walled garden. a Grey Wagtail was singing but remained stubbornly out of view. Lots of Siskin buzzed around in the trees. We walked up past the gate, which was very quiet again – no food in the feeders and no birds, apart from a couple of hungry Chaffinches.

Thankfully we didn’t have to go too much further before we heard our first Firecrest singing. It was high up in a fir tree at first, and we were looking into the light, but we could see it flitting around. While we tried to move round to the other side it sneaked out behind us and over to another conifer. It gave away its new hiding place by singing again! The light was better this time, but it was still hard to see in the dense branches. Then it did the decent thing and flew out into a deciduous tree – the leaves are only now starting to burst into like so it was much easier to see there. We got a really good look at its face pattern, the white supercilium and black eyestripe, as well as the bronzey yellow patch on the side of its neck which positively glowed in the morning sun.

Walking round the Arboretum, we could hear the Hawfinches calling. But they flew overhead and disappeared into the fir trees where we couldn’t see them. We had all seen the Hawfinches well already over the winter, so no one was too interested in chasing round after them in the trees, so we left them to it.

Further on, we could hear another two Firecrests singing, very close to each other. The first was in a very dense, dark conifer – we could hear it, but couldn’t see it. Eventually it came out onto the edge and we got an even better look at this one, contrasted against the dark foliage. While we were watching it, a smart male Siskin came and perched right above our heads, rather annoyed that we were paying too much attention to the Firecrest!

P1030397Siskin – this smart male perched above our heads

We wanted to explore the wilder areas beyond the formal Arboretum today. We walked down around the lake, stopping to admire a Little Grebe on the water which kept diving as it tried to swim away from us. A pair of Nuthatches were in the trees beside the water, the male sitting out in the top calling while the female fed quietly below.

P1030411Nuthatch – calling loudly from the treetop

By this stage the wind was picking up, so we sought some shelter. There were lots of birds in the woodland. We heard a couple of Blackcap singing from the depths of the trees, and lots of Chiffchaffs. There were plenty of tits flicking around in the bushes, plus the odd Treecreeper and Goldcrest. We could also hear yet another Firecrest singing. We had hoped that we might pick up some woodpeckers – we heard a distant Green Woodpecker calling, but otherwise it was all quiet in the wind. Then we headed back to the car, pausing briefly to note our fifth singing Arboretum Firecrest of the morning near the car park.

We drove into the Forest and headed off along a ride to a large clearing. On our way, we stopped to listen to a pair of Firecrests in the trees beside the path – it really was a Firecrest day today!

We had hoped we might get lucky and see a Goshawk, but the wind was an issue. There were no raptors at all in sight when we arrived. After a while, a single Sparrowhawk flew past above the trees. Then a couple of Buzzards appeared, but they were not going up very high today. Eventually a Goshawk did show itself, circling very distantly up above the trees, but as we tried to get everyone on it in the scope it disappeared again. A short while later, it did exactly the same thing, frustratingly closer. Then the wind picked up even further and the little activity there had been died off completely. It was not going to be our day for raptors.

We did better with passerines. A Woodlark appeared as soon as we got to the clearing, flying past calling. It landed on a fence post and we got a good look at it in the scope. We walked along the path and could see a pair on one side, out in the clearing, and a single bird on its own which flew in and landed on the other side. When it flew again, it was joined by a second Woodlark, presumably a female coming up from the nest, making a second pair.

IMG_4071Woodlark – two pairs were in the clearing today

We were then surprised by a couple of buzzy calls overhead, and two small birds dropped into a pine tree on the edge of the clearing. We could see them in the scope, sitting there half hidden amongst the branches. A pair of Tree Pipits – a real surprise. Tree Pipits are summer visitors to the Forest, and birds heading further afield have been on the move along the coast in the last couple of days, but these are the first we have seen in the Brecks this year. After we had turned to look at a distant raptor, there was no sign of them in the pine and we couldn’t find them feeding on the edge of the trees either. They may just have been passing over and dropped down to try to find shelter from the wind. They could have been heading for a different part of the Forest. Still, a really good bird to see.

As the wind picked up, we headed round to the sheltered side of the clearing, in the lee of the trees. The second pair of Woodlarks flew in and landed nearby, before coming out onto the path right in front of us. They were clearly trying to get out of the wind as well. We had great views as we watched them collecting food – getting their bills full before flying out into the clearing and dropping down. They returned a short while later and started again, so they were obviously feeding young (we had seen the first pair carrying food as well, earlier in the week). At one point, we saw one of the Woodlarks put down the food it had collected to one side while it pecked at something in the bare earth on the side of the track, before picking up its load of food again. It was fantastic to watch them like this.

IMG_4077Woodlark – one pair was collecting food right in front of us on the path

By now, it was getting on for lunch time, so we started to walk back. Before we had left the clearing though, a Swallow came in over the trees and made a low pass over the bare ground. It was probably difficult to find food to sustain it on its journey above the trees today, so it saw the clearing as a good opportunity try to find some insects close to the bare ground.

We parked up in a convenient car park for lunch, where we could find some shelter. It was beautiful sunshine, and warm out of the wind. While we ate, a little Weasel ran across the car park into the verge. It came out again a short while later, empty handed, but stood for a while out in the open, before racing off again.

P1030424Weasel – ran across the car park at lunch time

In the afternoon, we headed for Santon Downham. We walked down to the river and headed west along the bank. Just below the bridge, we heard a Brambling calling from the bushes. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it until it flew across the river and disappeared over the other side. As it flew, we could see it was a smart male, with a good black head.

We had been talking about spring butterflies and how most of the species we had seen were those which overwinter as adults and simply reappear on the first warm days of spring – butterflies such as Brimstone, Comma, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. A little way further along the bank, a smart male Orange Tip fluttered past, the first of the butterflies to emerge from a chrysalis – and a real sign that spring has arrived.

P1030437Orange Tip – a sure sign that spring is really here

Continuing along the path, we could see a duck asleep on the other bank. A quick look through binoculars confirmed it was a female Mandarin. It woke up briefly, so we could see its white eye-ring and eye-stripe, before tucking its head back in. There have been several along the river bank in recent weeks, mostly in pairs, but this bird appeared to be on its own.

P1030448Mandarin – this female was (mostly) asleep on the river bank

As we watched it, we could see movement beyond it, where the bank sloped away behind and we couldn’t see. Then a head appeared – it was the male Mandarin. He was clearly feeling a lot more shy than the female, as the head kept disappearing before popping up again and having a look round. Eventually he edged forward and sat down next to her, but was still not brave enough to show himself properly, in all his splendour!

P1030460Mandarin – the male was more reluctant to show himself today

Otherwise, it was quiet along the river – perhaps not surprising, given the way the wind was gusting through the trees. There were no woodpeckers of any species calling or drumming, though it was always a bit speculative to try in the middle of the day. Early morning is usually best. We heard the odd Nuthatch piping and we did find a nice pair of Marsh Tits calling to each other. It was lovely down by the river but, given the lack of activity, we decided to head back.

We had almost reached the bridge, when we heard a Redpoll singing. A scan of the bushes revealed a pair of Lesser Redpoll which had obviously just been down to bathe, the male sporting a bright red breast. Unfortunately, just as we tried to get the rest of the group on them, they disappeared. How annoying. By the bridge, we heard a Grey Wagtail calling as it flew along the river and thankfully it was a little more accommodating – it landed on the river bank just below the bridge, where we could see it feeding along the shore.

We had time for one last stop, so we headed over to Weeting Heath. When we arrived, we were warned that the Stone Curlews were not showing – they seemed to have sensibly chosen to hunker down out of the wind. We walked round to the West Hide anyway, stopping briefly to admire the Long-tailed Tit nest nearby, and settled in. By now it had clouded over a little and the afternoon was getting on – Stone Curlews are always more active early and late in the day, so we felt we might be in with a good chance. And it didn’t take long before one stood up and showed itself.

IMG_4084Stone Curlew – we saw a pair displaying at Weeting today

The Stone Curlew seemed a little uncertain at first. It stood up and we could see it calling – even if we couldn’t hear it in the wind. Then it sat down again, and we could only just see the top of its head. After a while, it finally stood up properly and began to walk quickly along the ridge. Suddenly a second Stone Curlew appeared with it and the first bird began to display, bowing deeply and raising its tail high. It was well worth the wait, and we finally got a really good look at them through the scope. When they both sat down again, we decided it was time to call it a day and headed for home.