Monthly Archives: May 2015

31st May 2015 – Better than Forecast in the West

Day 3 of a long weekend of tours. The weather forecast for today was terrible – rain and wind. But thankfully it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as forecast, we mostly dodged the showers, and we still had a cracking day out with a total of 99 species seen and heard during the day!

We headed to Titchwell first. With heavy rain forecast, we thought we could get out of the rain and in the hides and at least still see some birds. There had been some rain overnight, but it was not even raining when we arrived. And the car park was empty. Empty on the Sunday of half term week – unheard of!

P1010456Titchwell – an empty car park of Sunday of half term week

We walked out to the visitor centre and had just stopped to look at the feeders when one of the group spotted a Barn Owl hunting over the grazing meadow beyond. It had presumably struggled to feed in the rain overnight and was making the most of the dryer weather. We walked out onto the main path and could see it out over the grass. It flew round in front of us several times, with its eyes down focused on the ground below, hovering periodically. Once it dropped down but came up again empty-taloned. Stunning birds. At one point a cracking male Marsh Harrier flew across just behind it as well. It was non-stop action this morning!

P1010485Barn Owl – hunting over the Thornham grazing meadow this morning

There were several Reed Warblers singing on the walk out and a couple of Sedge Warblers as well, but as we got in sight of the reedbed pool we could see several warblers flicking about on the edge of the reeds by the pools next to the main path. One flew across and we could see its rich, dark chestnut upperparts – a Cetti’s Warbler. As we stopped to watch, we realised that there were actually at least two Cetti’s Warblers collecting food on the edge of the reeds and carrying it back into the bushes. Another was singing nearby and in response the male Cetti’s Warbler flew up to the brambles and perched up singing. Great views of this usually so elusive species. There were several Reed and Sedge Warblers flying around here as well and we got good views of those too.

The reedbed pool held its usual good selection of diving ducks. There were several Red-crested Pochards, including a nice close pair with the male flaunting his bright orange punk haircut. There were also a few Common Pochard for comparison and a couple of Tufted Duck. A Little Grebe disappeared into the reeds.

IMG_5157Red-crested Pochard – check out that haircut

It was a bit damp, but still not raining, as we made for Island Hide. The first thing we saw was the throng of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits out on the freshmarsh, over 120 of them today, in various plumages from winter to almost full summer, grey to bright rusty orange. From this side of the marsh, there looked to be a slightly disappointing selection of waders here today – but later on we could see how first impressions could be deceptive. However, there were the usual Avocets to admire.

P1010527Avocet – the obligatory Titchwell photo

The prize for the most out-of-place bird went to the White-faced Whistling Duck which was out on the freshmarsh. Native to Africa and South America, it is a common bird in captivity and had presumably escaped from a collection somewhere. It didn’t look too pleased to be here. Three Barnacle Geese also flew in and landed on the freshmarsh. We do sometimes get birds from a presumed wild origin, most often arriving with Pink-footed Geese in the winter, but there is a large feral population so that is the most likely origin for today’s birds. Plastic fantastic today!

IMG_5180White-faced Whistling Duck – presumably an escapee

There were lots of other ducks to see. Most of the species which are common over the winter have already departed, but the odd straggler sometimes remains. The single female Pintail which has been lingering here recently was still present today. There was also just one female Teal, the first we have seen here for a while. We saw lots of both species more regularly over the winter months. As well as these lonely individuals, there were several families of Mallards with ducklings, and still quite a few Shoveler and Gadwall.

P1010556Shoveler – this smart drake dropped down in front of the hide briefly

There have been several 1st summer Little Gulls out on the freshmarsh for some time now. Numbers have varied, but recent counts have been as high as 11. We had no trouble finding Little Gulls today, but there were no more than 4 to start with. They were mostly walking around on the islands, feeding. At one point, we had a Little Gull and a Black-headed Gull side by side in the scope, which really highlighted how ‘Little’ they are. It was only later in the day, as we walked back from the beach, that we found more of them as a bigger group flew in and started hawking for insects over the water, calling. At that point we could count a minimum of 9 Little Gulls, all 1st summer birds.

P1010511Little Gull – one of the 9+ 1st summers on the freshmarsh today

It had brightened up a little as we walked from Island Hide round to Parrinder Hide, but we could see darker clouds and rain moving in from the west. We got our game plan just right, as were safely in the hide as it passed over us. It got a bit misty and grey for a time, but it didn’t stop us seeing lots of birds – and only sitting in the Parrinder Hide did we realise how many waders were actually out on the islands.

IMG_5193Snipe – appeared from the dense vegetation to feed on the bank

A Common Snipe was one of the first birds we picked up. It was flushed out of the dense vegetation below the bank by a family of Mallard and proceeded to skulk around before getting a bit of confidence and coming out to feed on the mud. Such cryptically patterned birds, they can blend in so it was great to see it out in the open. The longer we looked, the more we saw. A couple of Dunlin appeared from behind one of the islands, sporting their summer black bellies. A Common Sandpiper disappeared into the far corner along the bank, bobbing its tail, before it later flew out and perched on one of the piles of bricks. A chestnut coloured summer plumage Sanderling appeared briefly on the shore of one of the islands.

There have been several Little Ringed Plovers in front of Parrinder Hide in recent weeks, but the first plover we picked up today was a Ringed Plover. After a while, we realised there were several feeding unobtrusively around the margins. A closer look confirmed these were all Tundra Ringed Plovers, of the smaller, darker tundrae race which passes through here on its way north at this time of year. Even better, a slightly larger, slightly paler Ringed Plover then flew in. It was aggressive towards the tundrae race birds, trying to chase them off. This was one of the more southern race birds (hiaticula), which is the race which breeds here. There were also several Little Ringed Plovers as usual – their golden yellow eye rings gave them away.

P1010548Tundra Ringed Plover – two races of Ringed Plover were present today

Once it brightened up a little again we decided to head out towards the beach. The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were quiet again, but we did manage to find a single Brent Goose out on the saltmarsh opposite. The bigger group which had been lingering here until recently appears finally to have departed back to Russia. We had heard a Cuckoo singing distantly while we were in Parrinder Hide but as we arrived at the beach another one flew in over the sand and disappeared over the dunes.

There was a good variety of waders on the rocks below the beach to add to the day’s list. A handful of Bar-tailed Godwit were all in winter plumage still, as were a couple of Grey Plover. The latter flew round at one point, flashing their black armpits. The Turnstones were keeping to the shelter on the far side of the rocks, but one did walk up onto the top so we could get a good look at it. Several more Sanderling were feeding on the beach as well, in a mixture of plumages.

The sea has been fairly quiet of late, but a single Great Crested Grebe was just offshore today. While we were looking at it, we could see a long line of black shapes much further out – a big raft of Common Scoter. There were also a few Sandwich and Common Terns flying around out over the sea.

We walked back via the Meadow Trail, where we paused briefly to admire all the Southern Marsh Orchids now coming out and several Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies hiding in the grass on the meadow. The detour out to Patsy’s Reedbed added Bullfinch calling from the bushes. A pair of Little Grebes appeared to be nest building below the screen. Most of the Red-crested Pochards were loafing around here as usual.

P1010570Little Grebe – one of the pair on Patsy’s Reedbed

While we were looking out from the screen, we hadn’t noticed a squally shower sneaking up behind us. As it started to rain, we made a quick dash for the safety of Fen Hide while it passed over us. And that was the only time we really got rained on today. Once the rain stopped, we headed back for lunch. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Spotted Flycatcher which had been seen in the car park earlier.

After lunch, we drove along the coast to Holme. We had wanted to try to see the Turtle Doves in the paddocks, but it was very exposed and windy there. The best we could do was a Common Whitethroat and a Linnet having a bath in a puddle. Otherwise, it was disappointingly quiet. Rather than press on into the dunes, we decided on a quick change of plan and headed somewhere more sheltered.

We carried on along the coast and round the corner of the Wash, heading south to Dersingham Bog. It was much better out of the wind, in the lee of the trees and the ‘cliff’. Almost as soon as we got out of the car, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing. There were several Blackcaps singing too. Down in the Bog, we followed the call of a Stonechat and found a family party. We could see the male and female at first and from the way they were behaving we knew they had young stashed nearby. As we walked past them along the path, the streaky juvenile Stonechats came out and we could see they had been colour-ringed in various combinations.

IMG_5212Stonechat – the adult male

While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard the distinctive song of a Tree Pipit. We followed the sound and found it perched in the top of a small tree high up on the hillside above us. We got a pretty good look at it in the scope. Then it took off singing and flew over the way we had just come. We walked back and it flew up again, parachuting down in the top of an oak tree right above our heads. We got great views of it this time.

IMG_5231Tree Pipit – parachuted into the top of an oak tree above our heads

As we walked on round, a Red Kite came out of the trees and circled lazily round us over the Bog. Up in the trees, we came across several tits feeding, including our first Coal Tit of the day. A Nuthatch was climbing up and down a Pine Tree. But the surprise here was a Firecrest singing. Unfortunately we couldn’t see it in the dense fir trees, our way towards it blocked by thick rhododendrons, but a Goldcrest singing nearby allowed us a great comparison of the two songs.

Once we got back to the car, it was time to start making our way back to base. However, we still had enough time for a couple of quick stops en route. Taking a detour round via the seafront at Hunstanton, we stopped to watch the Fulmars pulling aerobatic manoeuvres above the cliffs. It was still very windy, and with the wind blowing in from the wash, they seemed to be enjoying the resulting updraft along the cliff face.

P1010584Fulmar – aerobatic moves in the strong winds today

Heading back along the north coast, we diverted up to the drying barns at Choseley. A Corn Bunting was singing from the wires – we listened to the sound like jangling keys – and was joined by a second. A smart male Yellowhammer was bathing in a puddle. A Grey Partridge was calling from behind a hedge and a couple of Brown Hares ran off as we drove along. Someone had poured several piles of grain out on the concrete pad by the drying barns and the birds had arrived to take advantage – another Corn Bunting, lots of Yellowhammers, Linnet, Chaffinches and a couple of Stock Doves.

P1010605Corn Bunting – singing on the wires at Choseley

As we drove back home, we reflected on what a great day we had enjoyed, compared to our expectations having seen the weather forecast this morning. It really is worth going out whatever the weather, and certainly whatever the forecaster says the weather is going to be!

30th May 2015 – Sunny in the Middle

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. What a difference a day makes! It was sunny with patchy cloud all day, although a blustery west wind in the morning took the edge of the temperature.

We started with a drive through farmland inland. We hadn’t gone far when a Little Owl hopped up onto the roof of a barn next to the road. Unfortunately, by the time we reversed back, it had disappeared. A likely looking roadside field produced a Stone Curlew distantly amongst the flowers in the margin. Great to see these birds doing so well in North Norfolk now.

IMG_5071Stone Curlew – in amongst the flowers

As we explored inland, there were lots of Skylarks singing overhead. Little groups of Linnet appeared from the weedy margins. A nice male Grey Partridge called nearby before walking quietly into the hedge and we got a good look at another pair, particularly the male’s orange face and blackish belly patch. We had a scan for raptors as well this morning, but there were only a few Common Buzzards circling up in the cool windy conditions.

P1010403Grey Partridge – calling from a field by the road this morning

We meandered round to Burnham Overy and eventually found ourselves at the start of the track out to the dunes. There were a couple of Common Whitethroats singing from the hedges either side. Down at the bottom, they were replaced by several Lesser Whitethroats. We could hear one calling and see it flicking along the hedge. There were at least two singing, and a an adult feeding unseen young nearby. On the way out to the seawall, we also saw – and heard – a number of Sedge Warblers singing from the edges of the ditches.

P1010415Sedge Warbler – singing by the side of the track out to the seawall

By a gap in the hedge, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. A Common Buzzard was circling up nearby and as we looked at it we could see a Marsh Harrier nearby. At the same time, a Red Kite appeared above the wood beyond. Three species of large raptor in view at the same time – not bad.

There were also several butterflies along the track this morning. There seem to be a lot of Wall butterflies out at the moment. But the highlight was a lovely Green Hairstreak which landed in the vegetation beside the path. We stopped to admire its sparkling metallic green underwing.

P1010408Green Hairstreak – with its metallic green underwing

From up on the seawall, the first bird we saw was a Fulmar flying towards us over the path, a bit of a surprise. This is not the most likely bird to see here, away from their more normal habitat over the sea, although they do occasionally wander a little way inland, often at this time of year. It circled out over the grazing marsh. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls was more predictable these days. They flew in over the reedbed and away west, flashing their translucent white wingtips as they came overhead. They were with a single Black-headed Gull which gave a great flight comparison for us between the two species.

Scanning the reedbed pool, there were several large white birds but at first there only seemed to be Mute Swans. Then, as if by magic, a Spoonbill appeared (it had probably been tucked into one of the corners out of view, close in along the reed edge. It proceeded to work its way along the back edge of the pool, sweeping its bill from side to side. We got a great look at it in the scope.

IMG_5092Spoonbill – the first of many today, feeding on the reedbed pool

We really didn’t know which way to look here, there was so much to see. There were lots of Swifts swooping low in the wind, over the grazing marshes and reedbed and along the banks of the seawall, zooming past us at high speed. A pair of Little Terns landed on the mud out on the saltmarsh – one of them seemed to spend much of the morning feeding over the channels in the grazing marsh, returning occasionally to its mate. Bearded Tits called from the reedbed and a single bird flew up and away from us before dropping back into the reeds out of the wind. We could also hear Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers singing.

Then came one of the many highlights of the morning. A Hobby appeared flying towards us. It hung in the air for a second, just before it got to the seawall, then turned and powered away along the near edge of the reeds. It had obviously seen something and soon we could see what it was after. Out over the grazing marsh the Hobby engaged in an aerial duel with a House Martin, the latter just twisting and turning out of the Hobby’s reach, relying on its superior manoeuvrability to get it out of trouble. The Hobby pursued it for some time, swooping at it repeatedly before it finally gave up.

P1010418Hobby – just about to chase off after a House Martin

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and walked on towards the dunes. Someone we passed on the way reported having seen a shrike earlier in the morning, on the edge of the dunes to the east. It seemed worth looking for, so we set off towards the pines. There were several more butterflies in the more sheltered parts of the dunes – Brown Argus, Common Blue and Small Copper. And ever more Southern Marsh Orchids coming into flower now.

We couldn’t find the shrike, but we did find a very nice little group of Greenland Wheatears in the dunes. At first we came across a female. When she disappeared behind a dune, a male emerged from the other side. As we walked round into the dunes the way they had gone, we found yet more males, at least three together. Smart birds – we got a male in the scope and admired its characteristic orange-toned throat and upper breast.

IMG_5099Greenland Wheatear – one of several smart males in the dunes again today

By this stage, it was getting on towards lunchtime, so we had to head back. On the way, we found yet more Wheatears. There were now two Spoonbills together on the reedbed pool. And, as we walked back across the grazing marsh, a third Spoonbill flew across just in front of us – unfortunately, we did not have cameras at the ready. It landed out by one of the small pools in the grass and started to feed.

After lunch by the harbour at Burnham Overy, we drove back to Wells. The beach car park was extremely busy – probably not a great surprise on a sunny Saturday of half term – but we managed to find a space. The gull colony was equally busy. Several of the pairs of Black-headed Gull have chicks now, but the Mediterranean Gulls seem to be a bit behind. We could just see several sitting birds amongst the marram grass, flashing the black heads and brighter red bills. A pair of Common Gulls have chosen to nest right at the top of the beach, below the other gulls, and we admired them through the scope.

IMG_5130Little Terns – on the beach

The Common Terns were not as active in the middle of the day, but we could see several birds sitting on the stones. Looking carefully through them, we picked out a single Arctic Tern. It was great to see the two species close together – we could see the Arctic Tern’s shorter, darker blood-red bill lacking a black tip, and its longer tail streamers. There were also lots of Little Terns on the beach below, much more active than the others, they would periodically get up and fly round, fishing in the channels.

IMG_5115Arctic Tern – great to see alongside Common Terns today

A quick look out in Wells Harbour produced a better selection of waders than of late. As well as the regular horde of Oystercatchers, there was a nice flock of smaller waders on the stony islands – although they were quickly moved off by the rising tide. They were mostly Ringed Plovers, at least 20 of them. A look through the scope also revealed about five Turnstone, several black-bellied Dunlin in summer plumage and a couple of white-bellied Sanderling, a greyer bird still mostly in winter plumage and a chestnut-coloured bird in summer garb.

We wanted to do one more thing before we finished, so we headed round to Lady Anne’s Drive and walked west on the inland side of the pines. The wind had dropped a little and with the shelter of the pines it was warm this afternoon. Consequently, the activity of the warblers and tits was down on recent weeks. By Meals House, we finally heard a Cetti’s Warbler and while looking to see if we could see it, we found a nice pair of Blackcap gathering food.

We could hear a couple of groups of Long-tailed Tits and a few Goldcrests, though they were hard to see in the trees today. But we did find a family of Treecreepers. We could hear quiet calls from the trees and found one of the adults first, climbing up a pine. When it flew across the path, we realised there were several hiding in the bushes and we could see several short-tailed juveniles practising climbing up tree trunks in between pestering the adults for food.

IMG_5145Spoonbill – adult and juveniles on the nursery pool

From the Joe Jordan hide, we could immediately see several Spoonbills down on the pool below the trees. As we had seen earlier in the week, there were both adults and several smaller, whiter, shorter-billed juveniles – ‘Teaspoonbills‘. Already taking after the adults, they seemed to spend quite a bit of time sleeping!  However, it was great to watch them when they woke up – already trying to feed in the shallow water and then chasing after their parents, bouncing up and down and begging, when they got hungry.

IMG_5150Spoonbill – a short-billed juvenile or ‘Teaspoonbill’

There were lots of other birds to see here as well this afternoon, as usual. Marsh Harriers out over the grass, Avocets and ducks on the pools, and a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits whirling round. The usual pair of Grey Partridge were feeding on the short grass below the hide.

P1010448Grey Partridge – the usual pair at the Joe Jordan hide

Unfortunately, once again we had to drag ourselves away. We walked back to the car, stopping briefly to admire a Little Egret feeding in the reeds by Salts Hole on the way. What a great day it had been.

P1010455Little Egret – feeding in the reeds by Salts Hole

29th May 2015 – Rain in the East

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast towards Cley.

The weather forecast wasn’t great, so we were prepared for the worst. However, it started bright, so we stopped at Stiffkey Fen on our way east. The sun was shining and the birds were singing. Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Reed & Sedge Warbler, Song Thrush and many more were in all full voice from the bushes by the path. Several Skylarks sang from the sky high above us as we walked out. A Bullfinch flew overhead calling.

Out on the Fen, we picked up first one, then two, then four Little Ringed Plovers. They were chasing each other around on one of the islands, running around like clockwork toys. There were also lots of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, several Redshank, Lapwing, and the ubiquitous Avocets.

From the seawall, looking inland, we could see a smart male Marsh Harrier circling up. A few seconds later a Sparrowhawk appeared with it and proceeded to dive at it repeatedly.

P1010363Blakeney Harbour – the view from Stiffkey Fen out to Blakeney Point

Most of the Brent Geese have now departed for Russia, but as we walked out towards the harbour we saw three flying off west over the saltmarsh and another was standing in one of the channels. The tide was out, but a scan of the mud revealed a couple of Curlews and a little group of Ringed Plovers. A closer look through the scope confirmed the latter were Tundra Ringed Plovers, on their way further north – smaller and darker than our breeding birds. A single adult Mediterranean Gull flew in over the saltmarsh towards Morston, flashing its white wing tips.

Even though it was still sunny, we could already see darker clouds gathering on the horizon. We fled ahead of them towards Cley and made for the East Bank before they could catch up with us. We were glad we did. Half way along the bank, a quick scan of the reeds along the ditch below us revealed a female Bearded Tit. She was working her way methodically along through the reeds, just above the water, occasionally coming out onto the edge and picking at the blanket weed. Great views.

P1010378Bearded Tit – this female showed really well from the East Bank this morning

There were both Reed and Sedge Warblers singing along the East Bank. A particularly obliging Sedge Warbler perched up on the reeds below the path, singing its super-fast, buzzy song. It sang for a while, then launched itself up in song-flight, parachuting back down to the base of the reeds, before moving back to where it had started and doing it all over again.

P1010387Sedge Warbler – singing, and song-flighting, by East Bank

Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Spoonbill on the Serpentine today. A drake Pintail was the surprise here – a late bird, possibly sick or injured. As usual, there was a very obliging Little Egret fishing very close to the bank. We were hoping to get out to Arnold’s Marsh, but the dark cloud had now caught up with us, so we decided discretion was the better part of valour and beat a hasty retreat to the Visitor Centre.

P1010385Little Egret – a smart breeding adult, with full set of plumes

When the rain came, thankfully at first it was not too hard. We walked out onto the reserve and headed for the main hide complex. This seemed like the best place to shelter form the rain. On the way, a Grey Heron posed on the bank of the main freshwater channel by the path.

P1010394Grey Heron – more intent on fishing than watching us

On first glance, both Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape looked a little quiet today. However, as the rain started to fall harder and harder, we were in here for a while. The more we sat, the more we saw things appear or drop in. There were several Avocets sitting on nests in front of the hide. We saw a couple of shift changeovers and watched the adults sitting tight as the rain fell on them.

IMG_5045Avocet – on the nest, hunkered down in the rain

There were also lots of Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and a few Sand Martins out over the reserve. In the rain, they came in to feed low over the scrapes. Amongst the Avocets, three Little Ringed Plovers flew in and proceeded to have a disagreement – about territory, mate, or something. One male flashed his tail, his wings, and then had a swoop at the others. Then a Little Gull appeared on Simmond’s Scrape, a 1st summer. It stood preening for a short while, before flying behind one of the taller islands and disappearing.

IMG_5054Little Gull – first one 1st summer appeared on Simmond’s Scrape

A short while later it reappeared and was promptly joined by a second 1st summer Little Gull which flew in and landed beside it. The two of them stood and preened in the rain for a while. Eventually, they obviously decided it was no fun standing there getting wet and both Little Gulls flew off together.

IMG_5064Little Gull – then a second 1st summer flew in to join it

Six Black-tailed Godwits flew over the reserve and then reappeared, dropping in to Simmond’s Scrape. The next thing we knew, they were joined by another five. Then three smaller waders appeared on the mud. We just had time to get a look at them – two Dunlin and a Sanderling. All three were in summer plumage, the former sporting smart black belly patches and the latter with chestnut above and on the breast, so different from the silvery winter plumage we so often see. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope of them they were off again.

Eventually, the rain started to ease and the sky started to brighten. We made a strategic decision to head back to the Visitor Centre. On the way, a Cetti’s Warbler flew in from the direction of the road and over the freshwater ditch, landing in the reeds on the other side. We watched it feeding quickly along the line of reeds and up into the brambles, before it flew back across the road towards the Visitor Centre.

After lunch, we drove round to the beach. We had intended to walk along to North Scrape, but as we arrived it started to rain yet again. While we had been in the hide earlier, we had seen a large feeding frenzy of terns just off the beach, distantly over the shingle ridge. We had even picked out a couple of Gannets circling with them. We decided to have a look at the sea from the beach shelter while we waited for the rain to clear. The big mob of feeding terns had dispersed, but we still saw feeding Sandwich, Common and Little Terns offshore. Another Gannet circled past. And a pair of Common Scoter flew west over the sea.

With the drizzle continuing, we decided to drive round via Salthouse instead. The pools behind the duck pond and along the Beach Road were quiet, apart from a group of Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallows. However, eventually it brightened up again and we stopped at the Iron Road and walked out to the grazing marshes. Another 1st summer Little Gull was hawking over by the shingle ridge, towards Sea Pool.

Out in the long grass at the back of the pool, we picked up a single drake Wigeon – or should we say, a Wigeon head sticking out from the grass! Most of the Wigeon which were here over the winter have long since departed back to Russia, so one seemed like a good find. However, on the pools on the other side of the track we found another two drake Wigeon. So this is where they have all been hiding! We walked out as far as the bridge over the main drain, and as we turned to come back we spotted a couple of Yellow Wagtails. They were feeding out on the mud which had been dredged from the channels, two females. They flew ahead of us, as we turned to walk back, but then we could see the gathering dark clouds again. We just made it back to the car as the heavens opened.

As that rain blew through, the skies seemed to clear a little from the west, so we headed up to the Heath. However, the wind had picked up and it was now very gusty – not ideal conditions for Dartford Warblers. We had a walk round, but couldn’t even hear any today – they were undoubtedly lying low out of the wind. A couple of Turtle Doves flew past us and landed deep in cover.

P1010400Gorse – the yellow flowers looked stunning once the sun finally came out

We had already started to walk back to the car when the sun finally came out. Some birds finally started to show themselves. A smart golden-headed male Yellowhammer perched up on a dead tree. A male Stonechat appeared from the gorse where we had been searching earlier and started to preen, but we were unfortunately out of time. As we headed back to the car, another Turtle Dove perched up in a birch tree briefly. Then it was time to head back.

We had managed to get a full day’s birding in, despite the rain’s best efforts, and a quick tally at the end of the day revealed we had seen and heard a very respectable 90 species – a very respectable total and well worth the effort.

26th May 2015 – Time for Tea-spoons

Another Spring Tour today. After a cool start, it was mostly a lovely sunny day with light winds. The plan was to visit Titchwell and Holkham, but we decided to head towards Choseley first, cross-country via a few inland country roads.

The first birds we came upon were a pair of Stone Curlew in a field beside the road. A real conservation success story, this species has spread north in recent years from its traditional stronghold in the Brecks. A great way to start the day. A Grey Partridge was trying to hide in the grass nearby. A little further along, we found a Turtle Dove perched up in the top of a hawthorn. Unfortunately, just as we got the scope onto it, it flew off. There were also lots of Skylarks singing, Linnets flying round calling and a Whitethroat giving its scratchy song from the wires above us.

Stopping to scan the sky from a suitable high vantage point, we had hoped to add a Buzzard or a Red Kite to the day’s list. However, the biggest surprise of the day was a ringtail Montagu’s Harrier which circled up in the distance, not a bird we had expected to see here today. We got it in the scope and could just make out the white uppertail coverts before it flew off strongly.

P1010322Yellowhammer – taking a bath in a puddle right beside us

There were smart male Yellowhammers with glowing yellow heads everywhere as we drove towards Choseley – in the road, on the wires. We also came across a Corn Bunting in the hedge beside the road. As we rolled the car back to get a better look at it, it flew round ahead of us and was joined by a second. We could just see the two of them feeding in the bushes. Up on the top of the ridge, as we got out of the car, another Corn Bunting was singing, like a bunch of jangling keys. A male Yellowhammer was singing behind us as well. As we walked out along the track, a female Yellowhammer dropped down to a puddle in front of us to bathe.

P1010298Chaffinch – this smart male was catching flies in the verge

By this stage, the sun had come out and it was starting to get rather warm. There was increasing heat haze across the field where the Dotterel have been in recent weeks. Two had been reported earlier in the morning, but we couldn’t find them today. They have the ability to blend in amongst the stones once they sit down anyway, but with the growth of the sugar beet and rogue potato plants in the field, they have got harder and harder to pick up unless they are running around. Rather than waste too much time looking for them this morning, we decided to head down to Titchwell.

P1010300Bloody-nosed Beetle – also by the path at Choseley today

A Blackcap was singing in the car park as we arrived at Titchwell. As we walked out onto the reserve, we could hear several Reed Warblers singing either side of the path. The Sedge Warblers have gone a little quieter now than they were when they first arrived, but one perched up in the brambles where we could get it in the scope and gave a burst of song to allow us to compare it to its plainer cousins. The Cetti’s Warblers are also less vocal now than they were – now that they are too busy breeding. One Cetti’s Warbler kept flying out of a particular patch of brambles into the reeds, then returning a few seconds later, presumably taking food back to its nest. We only really saw it in flight, but we could see its distinctive reddish chestnut upperparts.

There were several dragonflies and damselflies by the path today – their numbers have really increased as the weather has warmed up recently. We saw Hairy Dragonfly and Four-spotted Chaser amongst the former and Large Red Damselfly and Blue-tailed Damselfly amongst the latter.

P1010329Large Red Damselfly – by the main path at Titchwell

One of the channels through the reeds held a female Red-crested Pochard, which we got in the scope. Then a male dropped into the reedbed pool a little further along and we had a good look at him too. There were also Common Pochards to compare, and a couple of Tufted Ducks, out on the pool today.

We could hear a Cuckoo singing distantly at first. Then it gradually made its way closer before flying out over the Thornham saltmarsh. We saw it do a circuit and head back to the trees by the visitor centre, before returning right past us and landing briefly in the sallows by Island Hide. It didn’t stop there long, but flew out across the reedbed rather like a cross between a hawk and a falcon and landed in the top of a bush, where we could get a proper look at it.

We could hear several Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ out in the reedbed as well. However, in typical fashion all we saw was them darting about over the tops of the reeds before dropping into cover. A pair perched briefly once, but too briefly to get everyone onto them. The Reed Buntings were more accommodating.

P1010331Little Gull – 1 of at least 6 birds on the freshmarsh today, all 1st summers

There was lots of activity out on the freshmarsh from Island Hide as usual. As soon as we arrived, we could see a young (1st summer) Little Gull swimming close to the hide, twirling round and picking insects off the surface of the water. A closer look revealed at least six Little Gulls, all 1st summer birds, out on the freshmarsh. It was hard to judge just how small they were out on their own, but their small size became apparent as soon as they came close to any other birds.

We had already seen a couple of Common Terns patrolling over the reedbed pool on our way out. Two Little Terns were on one of the islands from the hide, and we got them in the scope and admired their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads. A single Sandwich Tern flew in and around the freshmarsh briefly, before heading off towards Brancaster. A good selection of terns.

There were lots of noisy Avocets in front of the hide, as usual. At one point, two pairs decided to have a bit of an argument. They started by facing off against each other, in pairs, dipping their bills into the water. Then one would dive across at the other pair, flapping its wings. Eventually they lost interest, and the two pairs walked off in opposite directions.

P1010343P1010346Avocets – two pairs having a turf war in front of Island Hide today

There were still a few ducks out on the freshmarsh. Several pairs of the under-rated and very subtle Gadwall and quite a few big-billed Shoveler. The Shelduck in particular are looking very good at the moment. However, much of the wildfowl which was here over the winter has now departed. We only saw three Brent Geese today, out over the saltmarsh towards Thornham Harbour.

P1010342Shelduck – a very good-looking Sheldrake

Wader numbers have also tailed off and wader migration has been a little disappointing in recent days. There was the usual group of Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the biggest island at the back, with three birds more helpfully feeding in the water a little closer. Aside from that, and other than a few Redshank, the only waders of note today were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers. At least we got a good look at them from Parrinder Hide, and we could see their golden-yellow eye-rings from up close.

IMG_4996Little Ringed Plover – two were on the mud in front of Parrinder Hide today

The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were both quiet again today. Out on the beach, the tide was quite well in. The only waders were a little group of summer-plumaged Sanderling which flew past along the shoreline. Several Sandwich Terns were feeding offshore. And there was a single drake Common Scoter on the sea.

We walked back for a late lunch, stopping briefly to look again at the reedbed pool. We had hoped to pick up the Great Crested Grebe which is often on here for the day’s list, and it duly obliged. However, the bonus came in the shape of a pair of Garganey which swam out into the middle from the reeds. The female proceeded to bathe, while the male stood guard nearby, flashing his white headstripe in the sunshine.

After lunch, we drove back along the coast road to Holkham. Lady Anne’s Drive was very busy, but we found a parking space and as soon as we turned west before the pines we left behind the crowds which were almost all heading straight out onto the beach.

It was a little quiet in the trees in the heat of the early afternoon. A couple of Chiffchaff sang from the tops of the bushes and an interesting Willow Warbler, a ‘mixed singer’, started off with a convincing short burst of Chiffchaff-like song before relapsing to more appropriate Willow Warbler repertoire. A pair of Coal Tits fed on the edge of a Holm Oak and a couple of groups of Long-tailed Tits called from the pines. We could also hear Goldcrests singing and Treecreepers calling, but neither gave themselves up today.

The view from Joe Jordan hide initially seemed quite tranquil. The usual pair of Grey Partridge fed quietly in the grass below the hide. A few Grey Herons and Little Egrets flew back and forth, and a steady passage of Cormorants came and went from the trees. There were quite a few Marsh Harriers flying around and a nice male in particular made a low pass across the grass in front of us.

P1010359Marsh Harrier – flew low past us in front of Joe Jordan hide

On first inspection, the ‘nursery pool’ below the heronry looked fairly empty. However, after we had been siting in the hide for a short while, we realised there were actually several large white shapes concealed in the rushes on the front edge. They were asleep at first, but once they woke up, we could see that they were actually juvenile Spoonbills – or Teaspoonbills, given their half grown bills. The first birds have obviously fledged in the last couple of days and were now creched on the edge of the pool.

IMG_5010Spoonbills – freshly fledged juveniles with partly grown teaspoon-bills

As we sat and watched them, a steady stream of adult Spoonbills flew down from the trees to bathe and preen on the edge of the pool. At one stage, we could see at least 8 adults and 4 juveniles standing around. It was great to see the adults and juveniles together. As well as having diminutive bills, the young Spoonbills were clearly smaller and whiter than the grown-ups.

IMG_5016Spoonbills – large-billed adult preening with small-billed juveniles nearby

IMG_5038Spoonbill – probably a 1st summer, with full-sized bill and black wing tips

We spent some time watching the comings and goings of the Spoonbill families, and all the other birds. A Red Kite circled up over the trees. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over calling. There was non-stop action from the Joe Jordan hide this afternoon and in the end we had to tear ourselves away and head for home.

24th May 2015 – West of Wells

Day 2 of a two day weekend tour today. We were forecast some rain this afternoon, but thankfully it wasn’t as bad as forecast and we pretty much got a full day’s birding in. Once again we met up in Wells, but this time we were heading west.

First of all, we headed out to the local gull colony. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls, noisy as ever. On the edge of the melee were a few Common Gulls, not so common in the summer in this part of the world. They were looking particularly smart, with pure white rounded head, offsetting the dark eye, and a bright yellow bill. In the middle of the colony, we could pick out a few Mediterranean Gulls. Unlike the Black-headed Gulls, which actually have a chocolate brown hood, the Mediterranean Gulls have a jet black hood which extends further down the nape – like they have pulled down their balaclavas properly! Their darker black heads really stood out amongst the tussocks of grass where the gulls were nesting. We could also hear their distinctive calls as they flew round overhead and see their distinctive white wing tips in flight.

IMG_4927Common Terns – on the stones on the edge of the gull colony

It was not just the gulls we had come for, but the terns as well. As soon as we arrived, we could see several Common Terns fishing in the channel and standing on the stones on the edge of the gulls. We got them in the scope, and could see their black-tipped orange/red bills. Further over, we could see another tern on the shingle, but this one had a shorter, darker blood-red bill – an Arctic Tern. A second Arctic Tern was fishing, hovering out over the water beyond. We could see its longer tail and pale wing tips with a very neat narrow black line on the trailing edge of the outer wing underside. With several Common Terns in the air as well, we got a good chance to study the differences.

P1010256Common Tern – feeding over the channel in front of the colony

There were other terns as well. Down on the beach below several Little Terns had gathered. They would also periodically fly round fishing in front of us. A Sandwich Tern also patrolled up the channel, and with Sandwich and Little Terns together at one point, we could really see the size difference. This is a great place to watch terns, with four species in view at the same time! Great stuff.

Holkham was out next port of call. Walking west behind the pines, there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, Cetti’s, Sedge and Reed Warblers – a good opportunity to try to recognise the different songs. There were the usual groups of tits, particularly Long-tailed Tits calling from the trees, and a Coal Tit came out of the pines and performed nicely for the crowd. Some quiet contact calls alerted us to the presence of a Treecreeper and we got a lovely view of it working its way methodically up a pine. There were yet more Treecreepers, tits and Goldcrests singing from the trees unseen.

By Meals House came the surprise of the morning. We had just stopped to listen to some warblers singing when one of the group pointed down along a little grassy path and asked ‘what’s that?’. Creeping through the grass was a pipit, and as it turned we could see that it was a Tree Pipit. It walked towards us, then saw us and turned and crept stealthily into the longer grass out of view, pumping its tail quietly. Tree Pipits here are generally migrants and this bird had probably dropped in to feed here on its way north. A cracking performance, rather than the more usual view of migrants calling as they pass overhead.

P1010262Tree Pipit – creeping through the grass by Meals House today

We called in at the Joe Jordan hide, as usual. There was plenty of activity around the cormorant and heron colony, with a couple of Spoonbills coming in or going out towards the saltmarsh at Wells or Burnham Overy to feed. Even more Spoonbills were just flying out of the trees, circling round and landing back again out of view. From the path later we got one in the scope in the trees, but in typical Spoonbill fashion it was fast asleep!

There was quite a bit of Marsh Harrier activity as well. One smart grey-winged male came low in front of the hide, and continued west pursued by Lapwings and Jackdaws. The pair of Grey Partridge was still present, feeding on the grass below the hide. And we marvelled at the way the song of a couple of Sedge Warblers carried to us from a long way across the grazing marshes – two males on opposite sides of the hide clearly trying to out-sing each other.

With some Scandianvian migrants arriving elsewhere along the coast this morning, and encouraged by our own earlier Tree Pipit, we thought it was worth a look in the dunes. However, the bushes were rather quiet today. We flushed a family of Mistle Thrushes which flew up into the trees and watched a pair of Kestrels hanging in the air above the dunes. From up on the top of the dunes, we could see a raft of several hundred Common Scoter still distantly out on the sea.

There were little groups of Swallows still moving west today, on their way somewhere. Amongst them, we picked out a couple of House Martins and a single Sand Martin as well. The number of Wheatears in the dunes has tailed off now, but we eventually found a very smart male Greenland Wheatear in one of their favoured areas. We got it in the scope and admired its richly-coloured burnt orange throat and upper breast.

IMG_4948Greenland Wheatear – a male in the dunes still today

It was forecast to rain today and, on cue, we could see the clouds starting to build from the west. Rather than continue on through the dunes, we headed back to the pines. We stopped briefly on the way to admire the first Marsh Orchids emerging in the dune slacks. On the walk back to the car, the rain finally caught up with us. Thankfully, it was not heavy, mostly a little drizzle, and we were not too wet by the time we got back.

P1010273Marsh Orchid – the first few spikes are starting to appear in the dunes

We headed west to Titchwell and thankfully we drove underneath the weather front and out of the rain as we did so. After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve, stopping to listen to a Song Thrush singing from the trees by the visitor centre on our way. On the reedbed pool, we found our first pair of Red-crested Pochard for the day, as well as a few Common Pochard and Tufted Duck, and a single Great Crested Grebe. It was still overcast after the rain and in the cloudy conditions there were lots of Swifts hawking for insects low over the reedbed and whooshing past us on the bank.

While we were standing there, there was a loud ‘BANG!’ as a flare appeared from over towards the village – who knows why. All the birds on the freshmarsh took to the air, and we watched a flock of Black-tailed Godwits fly over us and off towards Thornham. Whether it was the fault of the flare, or the two Sparrowhawks that flew over the freshmarsh as we got into the Island Hide, or both, but there were fewer waders than recent days by the time we got to scan the mud. We found a single Ruff with a couple of Redshank, and a few Black-tailed Godwits left behind. At least the Avocets had not been put off.

P1010284Avocet – one of the Titchwell regulars, with its catch of the day

There were still five Little Gulls scattered around the freshmarsh, all 1st summer birds with a black ‘W’ pattern on the upperwings and sporting a varying amount of black hood, from almost full winter white head with black spot to about 3/4 complete black hood. From up on the main footpath, a small group of gulls had gathered to bathe and we got a great chance to see just how little the Little Gulls are as they stood next to the Black-headed Gulls, preening.

IMG_4965Little Gull – a 1st summer bird with a partly acquired black hood

As we arrived in the Parrinder Hide there was a bit of a commotion as one of the people already in there announced they thought they could see a Bittern on the edge of the reeds on the far side of the water. Unfortunately, there has been a rather convincing piece of brown rubbish, shaped not completely unlike a crouched Bittern, tucked into the reeds on that side for some time now. Excitement over, unfortunately.

We did manage to find a couple of Little Ringed Plovers lurking amongst the emergent vegetation on the island in front of the hide. Through the scope, we could see their golden yellow eye rings. Better still, a single Ringed Plover was nearby and at one point we had the two species side by side, which gave a great size comparison for us. A single female Pintail was the only other surprise, a rather late lingering bird as most of the Pintail which we enjoyed watching over the winter have long since departed.

IMG_4970Little Ringed Plover – check out the distinctive golden yellow eye-ring

The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were both very quiet today, so we headed straight to the beach. The tide was just going out and the rocks were only just starting to emerge from the waves. As the first piece appeared, two Oystercatchers flew in to occupy it and were soon joined by three Turnstone, one coming into its smart white-faced, rusty-backed summer plumage. There was precious little space left, but a small flock of Sanderling decided to try their luck as well. Unable to land at first, they eventually found some space as the sea receded a little further. At this time of the year, with their scaly dark-patterned summer plumage, they look rather different to the silvery Sanderlings we see running around on the shore over the winter. There were also still a few Grey Plovers on the beach in various states of summer plumage. The sea was typically quite quiet, apart from a few terns passing offshore from the colony at Scolt Head.

By this stage, time was getting on so we headed back to the car park and drove up to Choseley. Remarkably, there were still five Dotterel present. It has been an amazing year for this species here, with trips of Dotterel of one size or another in one of the fields at Choseley mostly since April 13th (with only a few days when none were picked up). It took us some time to find them today. The sun had come out by that stage and there was a fresh NW wind up on the ridge. The Dotterel had settled down to sleep in the furrows and with the young sugar beet plants growing then they were even harder to find than usual. For such colourful birds, they can really disappear when they sit down! Eventually one put its head up and we were onto them. We could see them shuffling round and catch a flash of bright white supercilium as they lifted their heads.

IMG_4985Dotterel – hiding amongst the emerging sugar beet plants

That seemed like a good way to finish, and with some of the group with long journeys ahead of them, we headed back to Wells. Once again, we had a very productive weekend with a good selection of birds to be seen.

23rd May 2015 – East of Wells

Day 1 of a two day weekend tour today. It was a bit cloudy and cool this morning, in a NE wind, but brightened up in the afternoon. We met up in Wells and headed east along the coast.

We started up on the Heath. It was colder than we might have hoped this morning, and we thought it might not be the best day to go looking for Dartford Warblers. As it was, we needn’t have worried. We had not been walking for long when we heard the distinctive rattling song of a male Dartford Warbler. It gave us the run-around a bit, singing often from deep in the gorse, but we could see it flicking around and it perched up at nicely one point.

We continued on round the Heath. A Turtle Dove was purring from the birches, though it was tucked well down out of the wind. We couldn’t see it as we walked past the trees, but later on it flew past us, flashing its rusty back as it went.

P1010225Yellowhammer – a smart male in full voice

We had heard a Yellowhammer singing as we walked round, and eventually a smart yellow-headed male performed for us. There were lots up on the Heath today. As we rounded a corner, we stopped to look at another, perched in a dead tree when a second bird appeared next to it, a male Stonechat, and then a third bird, a male Woodlark. We got the Woodlark in the scope first, admiring its striking pale supercilium. Then it circled overhead singing and disappeared off across the Heath.

We turned our attention to the Stonechat next. We also picked up a female nearby and could see the two adults carrying food into a clump of gorse. As they did so, several streaky juveniles flew out to meet them. We spent some time watching them, the adults returning repeatedly with food and the juveniles sitting partly concealed low down in the gorse in between visits from their parents.

IMG_4912Stonechat – the proud father, perching on the top of the gorse

On our walk round, we had not heard another Dartford Warbler, so we swung back to the area we had passed through, as a pair had also been feeding young here recently. We couldn’t find them at first, but eventually heard the distinctive churring call. We saw the male and female Dartford Warblers coming in and out of a dense patch of gorse carrying food and eventually also spotted a short-tailed, grey juvenile hiding down just above the heather.

P1010227Dartford Warbler – perched up briefly

Time was getting on, so we headed back to the car. On our way, we could hear the rolling song of a Garden Warbler from the tops of some birches. We manoeuvred ourselves so we could see one particular tree and eventually the Garden Warbler appeared in full view, singing from the very top.

We headed for Salthouse next, but made an unscheduled stop on the way to our destination. A Spoonbill had been reported by the duck pond and we found it straight away, on the pool behind. It was busy feeding, sweeping its bill from side-to-side through the shallow water, but occasionally lifted its head up, so we could see it above the reedy edge of the pool. A scan of the wet grazing marsh all around also produced a Common Sandpiper feeding in the flooded grass.

P1010213Spoonbill – possibly the Salthouse bird from today, but taken at Cley yesterday

Our planned next stop was at the Iron Road, a little further along. There is a lovely area of flooded grass and pools here, that has been good for birds recently. However, there was no sign of any Little Gulls here at midday – unfortunately they have a habit of wandering along the coast. We did find a nice big flock of Black-tailed Godwits and hiding amongst them was a single Bar-tailed Godwit, still in streak-backed winter plumage.

P1010232Tufted Duck – like a duck out of water!

A pair of Tufted Duck were in the channel and climbed out onto the bank. We stopped to listen to Skylarks and Meadow Pipits singing above our heads. Best of all, a Swallow flew down and landed on a gate beside us, singing.

P1010234Swallow – landed beside us, singing

Cley was out next stop. After lunch, we walked out along the East Bank. The Serpentine and the flooded grazing marsh to the east have also been very productive in recent days but were also a little quiet today. The highlight was a smart male White Wagtail which flew in and landed briefly along the edge of the ditch below us.

P1010246The Serpentine & flooded grazing marsh east of Cley East Bank

The reedbed was the place to look today. We saw several Bearded Tits flying back and forth over the path, seemingly gathering food in the reedy ditches either side. At one point, we could see a female Bearded Tit working her way along the edge of the ditch, low down at the bottom of the reeds and just above the water surface. There were also lots of Reed Warblers singing and eventually we even managed to find a couple that would perch up long enough for us to get them in the scope. A Chinese Water Deer was out in the reedbed, seemingly enjoying the fresh green growth where the reeds were cut over the winter.

P1010245Chinese Water Deer – eating the new reed growth

Arnold’s Marsh was also fairly quiet, but we found a pair of Little Terns, one out on one of the islands and the other fishing nearby. A pair of Sandwich Terns also flew in and landed, one (presumably the male) carrying a fish in its bill, and they circled round each other in a little bout of courtship display until the male lost interest and walked off, still carrying its fish. Another Sandwich Tern was fishing just offshore from the beach.

On the walk back, we stopped to admire a Little Egret out on the grazing marsh. A Grey Heron was standing, stock still, in the reeds by one of the new pools near the road, staring intently at the water oblivious to our presence.

P1010248Little Egret – on the flooded grazing marsh

We finished the day at Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down beside the road, a very smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering the fields to the south. A scan of the Fen from the path revealed a single Little Ringed Plover out on the mud. Aside from the Redshanks, Lapwings, Avocets and a few Black-tailed Godwits, there were no other waders of note today.

We were up on the seawall, and just starting to scan the Fen from a higher vantage point, when a shout from someone nearby alerted us to a Spoonbill flying over. It circled the Fen and dropped in and as it did so, we could see it was sporting some coloured plastic rings. At first it landed with its legs in deep water and we couldn’t see the rings, but eventually it walked up onto the edge of one of the islands and started to preen. We could see the combination of rings on its legs – time will tell if we can identify where it was ringed and where else it has been seen since.

IMG_4925Spoonbill – a colour-ringed bird at Stiffkey Fen today

Walking round to the harbour, a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover was out on the mud on the far side of the creek. The tide was out, but we could still see lots of Brent Geese in the harbour. A Mediterreanean Gull flew over calling and disappeared out towards Blakeney Point, before we could all get onto it. As we walked back, a second Mediterranean Gull flew past at eye level, a summer adult with white wing-tips and black hood, which was much easier to see.

There were some more warblers singing along the side of the river on the way back to the car – a Willow Warbler sat in the top of a hawthorn, a Cetti’s Warbler sang from the river bank unseen, and a Blackcap lurked in the bushes. Then it was time to head back to Wells.

P1010253Blakeney Harbour – the view across to the Point from Stiffkey Fen

17th May 2015 – Bright & Breezey

Day 3, the final day of a long weekend of Spring Tours today. The focus was on the area around Wells and Holkham. It was a lovely sunny morning, a little cloudier in the afternoon, but there was quite a strong westerly breeze again all day which kept it cool.

We started with a visit to a local gull colony. The vast majority of nests were Black-headed Gulls, and very noisy they were too. But in amongst them, we could pick out a few pairs of Mediterranean Gulls, their jet black hoods standing out against the (ironically) chocolate brown hoods of the Black-headed Gulls.

IMG_4830Mediterranean Gull – a smart adult collecting nest material

We spent some time watching the Mediterranean Gulls collecting nest material – several adults with pure white wing tips, but also several 2nd summer birds with a small amount of black in the wings still. One of the 2nd summers had a full black hood, but the other still had lots of white around the face. Still, both of them appeared to be paired up.

IMG_4839Mediterranean Gull – a 2nd summer bird with black markings in the wing tip

There were other gulls to look at here as well. Common Gulls are not the commonest gulls in this part of the world (gull names are really confusing!), though we do get more in the winter, but a few pairs nest here too. They were looking really smart today, with their pure white heads, dark eyes and yellow bills. Very dainty compared to the more menacing Herring Gulls which were hanging round the edge of the colony as well.

As well as the gulls, there are a few terns nesting here. The most obvious are the Common Terns, and several were flying round and calling loudly. When they landed, we got a good look at them through the scope, their longish, bright red bills tipped with black. After looking for a while, we eventually saw a pair of Arctic Terns fly in and land on the beach. We could see their shorter, darker, blood-red bills, lacking a black tip, and their long tails projecting clearly beyond the wing tips. Smart birds. We are at the southern edge of the breeding range for Arctic Terns here, so it is always nice to see them. We could also see (and hear) some Little Terns feeding in the channel and a little group flew in and landed on the beach so we could get a good look at them too.

Through the winter, there is normally a good selection of waders here, but most of them have now departed. There were plenty of Oystercatchers out on the mud and a single Ringed Plover, but that was it. However, as we were packing up to leave, a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits flew past. A nice bonus.

Our next stop was Burnham Overy. We walked out along the track across the grazing marshes towards the seawall. There were several Whitethroats singing on the way out, and a single Lesser Whitethroat doing the same but from deep within a thick bank of hawthorn. It was showing no inclination to come out in the windy conditions. The Sedge Warblers, as usual, were a little more obliging, though even they were keeping lower down in the bushes today.

P1000922Sedge Warbler – singing from the shelter of a wild rose

We could also hear a male Cuckoo singing. It was some way off at first, towards Burnham Overy Staithe, but as we walked it seemed to be coming a little closer. Finally we saw it fly out from the trees and disappear behind a hedge, looking rather like a cross between a hawk and a falcon as it flew.

There were quite a few geese out on the grazing marshes, though none of the really big flocks which spend the winter here. Most of them were feral Greylags, but with several Egyptian Geese as well. Scanning through them, we picked up a smaller grey goose, with a dark head – a properly wild Pink-footed Goose. We got it in the scope and admired its pink bill-band, legs and feet. Most of the Pink-footed Geese left in February, but a small number of mostly sick or injured birds remain here right through the summer.

As we were walking out, a single Spoonbill flew over from the direction of Holkham and disappeared over the seawall in the direction of Burnham Overy harbour. We climbed up onto the seawall and could see it very distantly, feeding out towards Gun Hill. There were not so many waders out on the saltmarsh here today either  – mostly a few Oystercatcher and Redshank, but there were a handful of Grey Plover now in very smart summer plumage with jet black bellies and faces. Stunning! A single Whimbrel flew up from the saltmarsh, calling, and we later found it feeding out on the grazing marshes near the dunes. They have been surprisingly scarce so far this spring.

IMG_4852Grey Plovers – looking stunning in summer plumage

There were several Swifts flying close around us up on the seawall, enjoying the wind. There were lots up in the sky over the grazing marsh as well. In fact, all day there seemed to be Swifts overhead, gradually making their way west. There was also a steady trickle of hirundines on the move – Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. This migration was most obvious out in the dunes, little groups of Swallows especially flying past us every few minutes. It is always nice to see visible migration in action. However, there was few other signs of it today. As we got out to the boardwalk, a single Yellow Wagtail flew over calling.

The dunes were also rather quiet, apart from the ubiquitous Linnets and Meadow Pipits here. There were not many butterflies today either, just several Cinnabar Moths keeping low in the dunes and still being battered by the wind.

P1000925Cinnabar Moth – keeping low out of the wind in the dunes

It was only when we got to the far side of Gun Hill that we found our first Wheatear. It was sheltering behind a concrete block, trying to get out of the wind. The Greenland Wheatears in the dunes have been very obliging recently, but this one was very jumpy today in the blustery conditions and flew off as we approached.

There was no sign of the Spoonbill in the harbour initially – we presumed it must have flown off as we walked out. But as we stood on the beach we saw a head appear behind the ridge of mud in front of us. The Spoonbill was still there, feeding quietly on the edge of the channel, and we watched it walk past, mostly with its head down and sweeping its bill from side to side through the shallow water.

IMG_4856Spoonbill – this smart adult was feeding in the channel at Overy harbour

As we walked back to Gun Hill, we flushed the Wheatear again from the edge of the dunes and realised there was a second bird there now, another female. Unfortunately, they were both equally jumpy. We walked back to the boardwalk and a little beyond, to a nice sheltered bowl in the dunes where we thought there might be some birds. There were two more Wheatears as well here, but no sign of any other migrants today.

P1000928Wheatear – the females in the dunes were very jumpy today

While we were standing there in the dunes, we could hear the sound of a Bittern booming. It was obviously carried on the wind, as we were a long way from the reeds here. We decided to walk back along the seawall and get a bit closer. We sat down on the bank by the reedbed and waited, and before long we could hear the Bittern again. We heard it several times, but there was no fly round today while we were there. We did see a few Bearded Tits zooming back and forth over the reeds, which was a nice bonus. And another Spoonbill feeding on the reedbed pool.

It was time to head back for lunch. We heard the male Cuckoo singing again, and saw him fly off distantly across the grazing marsh. Then, as we walked back, we heard the distinctive bubbling call of a female Cuckoo from the hedgerows. The local Meadow Pipits and Dunnocks had better watch out!

After lunch at Lady Anne’s Drive, we walked out west by Holkham Pines. It was still rather windy, even on the edge of the pines today, and there were fewer warblers singing than usual. A single Little Grebe was on Salts Hole.

From Joe Jordan hide, a couple of Spoonbills were on show as we arrived, preening down by the pool. As we sat in the hide and watched, we saw more fly in and out of the colony. There are always other things to see here as well. There were lots of Marsh Harriers flying around the trees, despite the wind. At one point, a smart male came in low over the grass in front of the hide, carrying some prey. He circled over the reeds and a female flew up, at which point he passed the food to her and flew off. A closer look at photos later suggested that he may have eaten half the meal before he brought it back for her!

P1000937Marsh Harrier – this male brought back food for the female

We also watched a pair of Grey Partridge feeding quietly in the grass below the hide. Another Yellow Wagtail flew past us calling.

P1000944Grey Partridge – this pair were feeding below the Joe Jordan hide

We carried on west and had a quick look in the dunes at the end of the pines. A single Lesser Whitethroat was the only bird of note. We were just leaving when a Hobby flashed past us. Watching it fly low into the dunes, a Red Kite appeared just above it, hanging on the breeze. An unlikely combination, we had both of them in the same view together, before the Hobby disappeared and the Red Kite drifted right past us, pursued by a Carrion Crow.

P1000946Red Kite – hunting over the dunes this afternoon

There was a bit more activity on the edge of the pines on our way back. There were a few more Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs singing, we heard several Goldcrests and a couple of Treecreepers, and saw a variety of tits. Back at Salts Hole, we heard a Kingfisher calling and found it perched low in an oak tree. We just had time to all get a look at it through the scope before it darted off across the water. They are really lovely birds.

A short detour inland on the way back saw us stop in some farmland where another pair of Turtle Doves perched up for us. They are very scarce birds in Norfolk these days, so we did really well to see as many as we did over the long weekend. Then it was time to head back.

16th May 2015 – Heath & Marsh

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today, and we made our way over to the Cley area. It was cloudy in the morning but brightened up to sun in the afternoon, although there was a blustery NW wind all day which took the edge off the temperature.

We started up on the Heath. It is always a good place to be in the morning, and particularly at this time of year. The Common Gorse is still in flower, looking stunning, and lots of Bluebells were out along the hedgerow. We stopped to admire the distinctive features of the native British Bluebell.

P1000906Bluebell – the distinctive native British species

There were lots of warblers singing from the bushes. We c0uld hear a Garden Warbler close by, but it was tucked deep in the Blackthorn. We manoeuvred ourselves to try to see it, but as we did so a couple of dog walkers strolled straight in front of us and it went quiet. We could also hear Blackcap, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.

As we walked past one of the newly cleared areas, a small bird flew up from beside the path and perched briefly on a gorse stump – a smart Woodlark. Unfortunately, it flew almost immediately but luckily didn’t go too far and we quickly got the scope on it. We could see there was a second bird with it, and this one differently marked, with pale scallops above rather than dark streaks. It was a juvenile Woodlark, following the adult. As we watched them for a time, it became apparent that there was a family group, two adults and three juveniles.

IMG_4768Woodlark – one of the adults perched up on a gorse stump

The Woodlarks were incredibly well camouflaged and very hard to see on the ground, unless you knew where they were. We watched them for some time, the adults picking around quietly amongst the dead branches and brash, the juveniles following or hiding in the tangles. Periodically, the adults would find some insects and would turn to feed one of the juveniles. It was a real privilege to watch them like this.

IMG_4770Woodlark – the adult has just fed the juvenile and is off to find more food

Walking on, it didn’t take us long to hear our first Dartford Warbler, a male singing. We tracked down the thick clump of gorse he was hiding in, but he was keeping low in the blustery wind. We had a couple of glimpses of him darting between bushes, but he clearly wasn’t keen to show himself this morning. We decided to try our luck elsewhere.

A little further, and we picked up the faint purring of a Turtle Dove. It was some distance away at first and nigh on impossible to hear above the noise of the wind in the trees and cars driving past on the road beyond. Then it went quiet. We were just walking away when it started again, and we were able to track it down. What a wonderful sound, the purring of a Turtle Dove, and such a shame it is so rarely heard these days. We eventually got it in the scope and had great views of it perched unobtrusively, deep in a tree. Then a second Turtle Dove flew over and the first bird set off in pursuit. We were just leaving when the two of them flew back in and landed back in the trees again.

IMG_4787-001Turtle Dove – purring from deep in the trees

Over the other side of the Heath, we could hear the distinctive calling of more Dartford Warblers, but once again they were tucked down out of the wind. Again, we had tantalising glimpses of birds flying between clumps of gorse and heather, but they would not show themselves – the wind seemed to be keeping them tucked down out of sight. We contented ourselves with watching a smart pair of Stonechats, perched rather more obligingly on the top of the gorse. We saw the female bringing food back, presumably to young in a nest somewhere nearby. A bright yellow male Yellowhammer also flew in and sat out for us on the top of a dead tree. A Green Woodpecker flew up noisily from the side of the path and off across the Heath.

By now, the weather was starting to brighten up, so we walked back across the Heath to try our luck again with the singing male Dartford Warbler we had glimpsed earlier. It didn’t take us long to track him down, but he was still hiding deep in the gorse. Then, as we rounded a corner, we surprised him sat in the open, right on the top. Unfortunately, he saw us and dropped back in before the whole group could see him. It was obviously not going to be a day for good long views of Dartford Warblers, given the wind, so we decided to move on.

Our next stop was at Cley. The scrapes on the reserve have been rather quiet recently, but we wanted to have a look at the flooded grazing marshes from the East Bank. This had been a productive spot last week. Grey Herons were coming and going from North Foreland wood, as were Little Egrets. One of the latter performed very nicely for us as we got up onto the bank.

P1000914Little Egret – good views from the East Bank today

We stopped to admire a very smart male Lapwing, his iridescent upperparts shining in the sun, and several Redshank. It didn’t take us too long to find our target bird here, a delightful spangle-backed Wood Sandpiper. It was feeding very unobtrusively in the flooded grass, but at one point managed to irritate one of the Redshanks, which chased after it repeatedly. Still, it gave us a good size comparison between the two.

IMG_4797Wood Sandpiper – on the Serpentine, from Cley East Bank, today

There were lots of other birds to look at here as well. The ubiquitous Avocets, but no less beautiful for it. Lots of Black-tailed Godwits further over towards the reeds. A Common Sandpiper flew in along the ditch in front of us and disappeared out onto the grazing marshes. There were ducks too – Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard and lots of Shelduck.

Out on Arnold’s Marsh, we got a good look at a couple of Sandwich Terns out on the sand. There was a steady stream of them flying over, heading back towards the breeding colony on Blakeney Point. We added a few more waders to the day’s list – a couple of Ringed Plover, a Curlew and several Oystercatcher. However, the prize for the biggest surprise of the day goes to the female Goosander which flew in from the east, over Arnold’s Marsh and straight past us. Goosander is predominantly a winter visitor and May is a very late date for a straggler to be heading back.

P1000916Goosander – this very late female was the complete surprise of the day

After the East Bank, we drove round to Salthouse and walked out along the Iron Road. There had been a Garganey here recently, but we couldn’t find it today. However, we did find an excellent selection of other birds. We picked up the 1st summer Little Gull out on one of the pools as soon as we got out of the car. It was sitting on the water, twirling round and picking at the surface, as they do. At one point, a Black-headed Gull landed behind it, highlighting just how little a Little Gull really is.

IMG_4816Little Gull – a 1st summer bird by the Iron Road at Salthouse

While we were watching it, a couple of Yellow Wagtails flew overhead calling. One of them, a smart yellow male, dropped down in front of us, before disappearing into the grass. There were lots of Sand Martins feeding over our heads. Then, turning round to look behind us, there was a stunning summer-plumage male Ruff. As it preened, it even fluffed out its ‘ruff’ and crown feathers. A real stunner!

IMG_4803Ruff – a smart summer-plumage male

We still had time for one last stop, so we dropped in at Stiffkey Fen on our way back. There were a few waders there today – plenty of Black-tailed Godwit, plus singles of Common Sandpiper, summer plumage Dunlin and Little Ringed Plover. The highlight was a pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls which flew in to bathe.

It was high tide and the harbour was full of water. There were a few Brent Geese still milling around, swimming in the channel. We could see all the seals and Sandwich Terns out on Blakeney Point. A couple of Little Terns flew across the harbour closer to us. A small group of waders on one of the spits was pushed off by the rising water – as they flew across the harbour, we could see Grey Plover, a single Knot, Dunlin and lots of Turnstone. Then it was time to call it a day and head back.

P1000919Blakeney Point across the harbour

15th May 2015 – North by Northwest

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today and we headed up to the North-West Norfolk coast. It was cloudy in the morning, sunny later on but dry and warm all day with a light northerly wind.

P1000865Goldfinch – coming down to feed on dandelion heads by the road at Choseley

The Dotterel have been in the fields at Choseley for about three weeks now, though exact numbers have varied from day to day. That was our first post of call today and they were in their usual field. They were distant at first, but we walked along the track towards the drying barns and while we were doing so, they started to run closer. There were other birds in the hedgerows as well – a couple of Goldfinch came down to feed on the dandelion clocks by the road, a bright male Yellowhammer sang from the top of a hawthorn and a Lesser Whitethroat rattled from the hedge nearby. There were lots of Brown Hares in the field too.

IMG_4718Dotterel – three of the 22+ at Choseley today

The Dotterel were hard to count. When they stop and crouch they do a very good impression of stones in the field! They were also split into two groups. The group that came towards us included 19 birds and at least 3 more were over the other side of the field, making a minimum of 22 in total. A very good size trip indeed. We spent some time watching them running around, the females with their bright orange and dark chestnut bellies, white breast stripe and bright white superciliums, and the duller-looking males. Smart birds.

We drove round to the drying barns afterwards, stopping on the way to admire various things. Our first Wheatear of the day, a female, was perched on top of a rock on the bare earth beside the road. There is no shortage of Red-legged Partridges here, but a single male Grey Partridge was feeding quietly close to one of the hedges. We had even better views of two pairs of Grey Partridge later on, opposite the drying barns. But on our way there, we stopped to look at a Corn Bunting singing from the wires, and to listen to its song, like jangling keys.

P1000870Corn Bunting – singing from the wires by the road

From there, we drove over to Holme and walked out past the golf course to the paddocks. There were lots of Whitethroats singing from the bushes, and several Blackcaps as well. We could hear a Turtle Dove purring from the trees nearby, but we couldn’t see it. However, we did see one more distantly, performing a song flight the other side of the houses along the access road. We decided to go for a walk and try again on our way back. There were a few butterflies on the wing, despite the cloud and light breeze, with several Wall and a single Green Hairstreak the most notable.

P1000874Wall – there were several of these butterflies in the dunes today

As we walked towards the dunes, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes across the road. Down in the grass were a couple of cracking male Greenland Wheatears, sporting a wash of burnt orange across the throat and upper breast.A female Wheatear was feeding on the short grass in the dunes further along. There were lots of Swifts up in the sky above, making their way slowly west. A pair of Marsh Harriers circled up, pursued by all and sundry – Jackdaws, Lapwings and Avocets. There were Curlews on the beach, Redshanks on the saltmarsh, and we flushed a Common Sandpiper from the edge of one of the puddles. We got half way through the dunes before it was time to head back.

Back at the paddocks, a bubbling call from the bushes alerted us to the presence of a female Cuckoo. We stopped for a second and eventually she flew out past us and away towards the houses, giving us great flight views as she went. At the far end, we could hear the Turtle Dove purring again, from the trees, but we still couldn’t see it at first. However, waiting patiently for a short while and it flew out and landed in the tops of the trees, where we could get it in the scope for all to see. As we walked back to the car, we could hear the Turtle Dove purring all the way.

P1000878Turtle Dove – purring in the paddocks at Holme

After lunch, we drove back to Titchwell. On the walk out to the reserve, we stopped to listen to a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the Thornham grazing marsh. There were several Reed Warblers singing, appropriately enough, from the reeds, but the Sedge Warblers were a little more reticent today. We heard snatches of song and saw them moving around from bush to bush. The Cetti’s Warblers were as noisy, and as secretive, as ever.

We picked up our first House Martins of the day over the reedbed. There were lots of them, flying back and forth, feeding, as well as several Swallows. As we watched them, they started to trickle off west over the bank. There were loads of Swifts here too.

Scanning the Freshmarsh from Island Hide, we could see a good selection of waders. A little throng of smaller waders on one of the closer islands caught the eye first, with a mixture of mostly Dunlin and Ringed Plover, about 15 of each. Many of the Dunlin were in summer plumage, with rusty-toned upperparts and sporting smart black belly patches. The Ringed Plover were a bit smaller and darker than our regular breeding birds – these were Tundra Ringed Plover (subspecies tundrae), stopping off on their way to breeding grounds further north. Behind them were a couple of beautiful summer plumage Turnstones, with rusty-orange backs and white faces, while a little huddle of around 20 had gathered on one of the islands further back.

Equally smart, was a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover nearby, sporting a very fetching black belly, breast and face. There are not so many Black-tailed Godwit here at the moment, but a single rusty-coloured summer plumaged bird certainly drew our attention. Not far away, a small group of Bar-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep. The majority were still in grey-brown winter plumage, but a couple of them were equally rusty-coloured, if not more so. No trip to Titchwell would be complete without a stop to admire the Avocets.

P1000889Avocet – showing well from Island Hide, as usual

There were several Common Terns around the freshmarsh, plus plenty of gulls. Herring Gulls of varous ages were mostly asleep, along with a few young Common Gulls. However, amongst them, a couple of gulls instantly stood out. They were clearly much smaller, and they were swimming round in circles, picking at insects on the water’s surface, Little Gulls. Scanning across and another couple were over to towards the reeds. These were immature birds, 1st summers, most of them sporting a patchy black hood to a greater or lesser degree, but with black markings in the wings which showed as an inverted ‘w’ pattern when they flew.

IMG_4726Little Gull – 2 of the 4 on the freshmarsh today

From round at the Parrinder Hide, we finally located the prize birds of the freshmarsh today – two Temminck’s Stints. They were feeding very furtively on one of the muddy islands, close to or amongst the emerging vegetation, and when they felt threatened they crouched down. They were so well camouflaged, with their brown colours, they were very hard to see against the mud. Nearby, we admired the golden eye-rings on a couple of Little Ringed Plover.

The number of ducks continues to decline,  but there was a single drake Wigeon on the freshmarsh today, although the Teal seem to have disappeared. The Mallard already have lots of ducklings and there were still several Shoveler and plenty of Gadwall. Brent Goose numbers also appear to be dropping now, with only a very small number coming in to the freshmarsh to bathe today.

P1000899Gadwall – the connoisseur’s duck

The tide was high this afternoon, which was why several of the waders had gathered on the freshmarsh. There was very little on the Volunteer Marsh, except a single Little Egret.

P1000900Little Egret – by the path on the Volunteer Marsh

Four Little Terns had dropped in to the freshmarsh to bathe while we were in Parrinder Hide, and when they landed beside a couple of Common Terns, gave us a good size comparison so we could see just how small they are. However, a couple of Little Terns were on the mud on the tidal pools close to the path and we got even better, close-up views through the scope. We also watched one of them fishing nearby, hovering and dropping down to splash into the water. The beach was fairly quiet today, with the tide in, but we did see a couple of Sandwich Terns offshore.

IMG_4739Little Tern – great scope views on the tidal pools today

P1000903Little Tern – 1 was fishing right by the path

As we walked back from the beach, past the freshmarsh, a Hobby flashed by and zoomed out across the saltmarsh. We had also seen a Peregrine earlier, when we were watching the Temminck’s Stints on the way out, and as we passed Island Hide, we picked it up again, circling high over the edge of the reedbed.

We just had enough time for a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. Willow Warblers were singing from the sallows on the walk out there. This has been the most reliable place in recent weeks to catch up with the Red-crested Pochard and we were not to be disappointed today. Three drakes were feeding directly in front of the screen and another pair were right over the back of the pool. Then it was time to call it a day and head back.

IMG_4757Red-crested Pochard – one of five on Patsy’s Reedbed

10th May 2015 – Expect the Unexpected

It was a day off today, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to get out birding. I rarely can. May is one of the best months, and you never know what might turn up. I was also inspired by hearing that there were migrants appearing further north along the East coast late yesterday. Early this morning, I headed for one of my favourite places – Holkham and Burnham Overy Dunes.

I thought I might find a Redstart or a Spotted or Pied Flycatcher. In my wildest dreams, I had hoped I might hear a Golden Oriole, as there seem to be a few around in the UK at the moment. But I didn’t find any of those, and it was rather quiet in the dunes at first. That was until an unassuming little green finch flew up from the dunes below me and landed in a bush. I recognised it immediately, as I have seen them in the Alps. A very smart male Citril Finch, only the 2nd ever to be seen in Britain and a 1st for Norfolk. What a cracker!

They are found mainly in the Alps, the Pyrenees and certain mountains in north & central Spain. It took a little time to get a good look at it and make sure it didn’t show any signs of having escaped from captivity, though they are apparently very scarce as cage birds. By the time I left, quite a crowd had gathered already. As I write this, the Citril Finch has just made it onto the local TV news!

IB9A0599_editedIB9A0583_edited IB9A0559_edited IB9A0557_edited IB9A0550_editedCitril Finch – photos courtesy of Nigel Rogers

P1000803A small crowd had gathered by the time I left the scene