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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.