Monthly Archives: May 2015

8th May 2015 – Sunshine & Showers, Birds & Butterflies

Another Spring Tour today, and this time the plan was to investigate the coast around Holkham and Titchwell.

We headed over to Holkham to start. It was beautifully sunny in the morning, and warm at times out of the wind. As we got out of the car at Lady Anne’s Drive, a Whimbrel flew overhead, the first of several spring migrants we were to see today, and disappeared off east. We headed west, walking along the path on the inland side of the pines.

The warblers were in full voice. From the deciduous trees alongside the path, we heard and saw Blackcap, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. In the reeds we could hear several Reed and Sedge Warblers and the explosive song of Cetti’s Warbler. There was also the usual selection of tits and others along the edge of the pines – including Coal Tits, Treecreeper and Goldcrest.

Most of the wintering Pink-footed Geese left in February, but a small group have still been lingering on the grazing marshes. As we approached Meals House, we saw thirty of them fly in and land on the grass, where we could get them in the scope. A family group of Greylag Geese walked right past them, giving a great comparison between the two species.

P1000730Green Hairstreak – feeding on Green Alkanet flowers

There is a little patch of blue-flowered Green Alkanet by Meals House at the moment, which has been alive with butterflies. Today was no exception. There were a couple of shiny Green Hairstreaks, Holly Blues, a very smart Orange Tip and Green-veined White. We paused to admire them, and get some photos.

P1000735Holly Blue – a female, with black-bordered forewings

Our next stop was at the Joe Jordan Hide. There was no sign of our main target initially, so we contented ourselves with admiring the Marsh Harriers and Buzzards. A pair of Grey Partridge fed quietly in the grass down below the hide. A Cuckoo flew over from the dunes and circled the trees, before flying back and disappearing into a Hawthorn bush. We could hear it calling pretty much constantly all the time we were in the hide from then on.

Finally, a Spoonbill dropped out from the trees and down onto the pool in front. It disappeared into the rushes, before re-emerging and having a bathe. Then in stood on the front edge of the pool to preen. We got a good look at it through the scope. A second Spoonbill also flew down and initially seemed interested in trying to gather nest material, before losing interest and starting to feed instead.

IMG_4566Spoonbill – at least two were around the pool today

From there, we headed into the dunes. At first, they seemed a little quiet. We could hear the Cuckoo again in the bushes, but couldn’t see it at first. Then an agitated Meadow Pipit pointed it out to us, half hidden in the top of a sallow and we saw it fly across to a low bramble clump where it landed and we got it in the scope. The Meadow Pipit set off after it and quickly chased it off again.

Finally we found a couple of Wheatears, a male and a female, but they were rather flighty and quickly disappeared up and over the dunes. That at least was the start of something and a little further on we found a Ring Ouzel as well. We nearly walked past it – a glimpse of something brownish disappearing round behind a bush could just as easily have been one of the many rabbits, but when we followed it up, a female Ring Ouzel flew out calling.

Just beyond, we found yet more Wheatears and this time a more confiding male, which perched up for the scope and even for the cameras. Once again, the males today were large and sporting quite a bit of orangey colour on the throat and upper breast, indicating they were Greenland Wheatears on their long journey north and west.

P1000744Greenland Wheatear – there were several in the dunes today

A report of a Tree Pipit earlier at Gun Hill saw us continuing even further west. There was no sign of it when we got there, but we did stop to admire the Little Terns feeding just offshore in the channel. The dunes towards Gun Hill were heaving with Linnets, including some very smart males with rusty backs and increasingly pink throats. There were fewer Yellow Wagtails moving today than there had been in recent weeks, but as we walked back one flushed from the dunes and disappeared off west. Small numbers of Swallows were still moving west through the dunes.

We saw a couple of smart Small Copper butterflies as well in the dunes, our first of the year. And there were several Cinnabar Moths, their bright pinky-red underwings flashing a warning as they flew.

P1000751Small Copper – several in the dunes today

We were almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive when we heard the distinctive reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler from out in the bushes amongst the reeds. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it from the path. Then it was time to get back for lunch.

In the afternoon, we headed west to Choseley. There have been a variable number of Dotterel in the same field there for around two weeks now. We couldn’t find them at first, when we arrived today. We scanned the field, but only produced a few Wheatears, Skylarks, Red-legged Partridges and Brown Hares. However, the Dotterel have a remarkable ability to simply disappear and when they sit down they merge with the stony ground. Eventually, one stood up and we were onto them, quickly finding the other six nearby as the whole trip started running around the field feeding. They were quite close to the hedge today and by positioning ourselves by a convenient gap we got some really good views. Stunning birds.

IMG_4587IMG_4579Dotterel – the trip of 7 showed really well at Choseley this afternoon

We swung round via the drying barns and, along the road side, we found a little group of Yellowhammer feeding in a weedy field. In amongst them was a larger, paler, browner bunting – a Corn Bunting. A smart pair of Stock Doves were feeding nearby, next to a Woodpigeon to allow a close comparison.

From Choseley, we dropped down to Titchwell. We were a little later than we would normally have been getting there, but we still wanted to have a quick look around the reserve. The weather was deteriorating and it had clouded over -the forecast had been for showers this afternoon, and we were possibly fortunate it had held off so long.

The first bird of note was a Red-crested Pochard in one of the channels in the reedbed. A Great Crested Grebe was on the reedbed pool, resplendent in its summer plumage. Lots of Sedge and Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds.

The first bird we saw as we entered Island Hide was a bit of a surprise. A drake Greater Scaup was swimming out on the water – rather like a large Tufted Duck, with a grey back and green-glossed head. We just got the scope on it when it took off and flew away towards the sea.

P1000782Shoveler – sporting its very large bill

There was a good selection of other ducks out on the freshmarsh too – Gadwall, Mallard and Shoveler. There are also still a few Teal present, though numbers continue to drop. Several Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh briefly to bathe.

IMG_4628Little Ringed Plover – showing off its golden-yellow eye ring

There weren’t so many waders as in recent weeks. A couple of Little Ringed Plover on the islands, with one in particular quite close giving us a great look at its golden-yellow eye ring. We found first one, then two Common Sandpipers working their way surreptitiously round the islands, bobbing nervously. Only 2-3 Black-tailed Godwit today, which dropped in, a single Dunlin moulting into summer plumage, and a Whimbrel flew over. And lots of Avocets as usual.

P1000768Avocet – no trip to Titchwell is complete without a photo!

By now it was starting to rain, but thankfully only lightly, still not as bad as had been forecast and it didn’t put us off. There were not so many waders on the Volunteer Marsh or the tidal pools either. However, on the latter, we found the Scaup again amongst a group of Pochard. This time we got a really good, long look at it through the scope.

IMG_4649Greater Scaup – this drake was the surprise at Titchwell today

We were running out of time now, but we managed a quick look on the beach. The tide was out and there were plenty more waders out here. The Grey Plovers caught the eye first, with a couple of them resplendent in their summer plumage with black bellies and faces. There were several Bar-tailed Godwits on the beach, mostly in winter attire but with one very rusty-coloured bird. The Turnstones were also living up to their proper name of Ruddy Turnstone, looking stunning with their rufous backs and white faces, with a single Ringed Plover hiding in amongst them. Several Sanderling were running along the shore.

Then it was unfortunately time to call it a day – but what a productive day it had been again.

7th May 2015 – Migrants & May Showers

A Spring Tour in the Cley area today. It started off bright and sunny, a lovely spring morning, but a quick shower at lunchtime was a harbinger of things to come and it was a bit damp in the afternoon. As usual, it didn’t put us off and we dodged the showers and saw some more good birds.

P1000690Common Gorse – in full flower on the heath & looking great in the sunshine

We started off by heading up to the heath. There were warblers singing everywhere. A Common Whitethroat was in full voice on top of the gorse by the car park, but a Garden Warbler was a little more elusive, hidden deep in the Blackthorn. There were plenty of Blackcaps too. Almost every second tree seemed to hold a Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler, their songs very different from two somewhat similar looking birds.

It didn’t take us long to find the warbler we were really looking for. Its rather scratchy rattling song gave its presence away and we were soon watching a cracking male Dartford Warbler flitting around through the gorse. It was singing all the time and even did a quick song flight for us – fluttering up, butterfly-like, singing, before coasting back down into cover. Eventually it stopped long enough for us all to get a really good look at it, perched in a low birch sapling.

The Woodlarks were more elusive today – they had just flown off when we arrived – but we did find a lovely pair of Stonechats. We watched the male collecting food – so good to have them back breeding on the heath again, after a couple of years with none.

P1000692Yellowhammer – a bright yellow male

There were other birds to see as well – lots of Linnets, including some smart males with rusty backs and increasingly pink-toned breastst, and several bright yellow male Yellowhammers. Both species were once common farmland birds, but now seem to be more common on heaths, and coastal dunes in the case of Linnets. A pair of Bullfinch flew overhead, calling. A Goldcrest was elusive, singing amongst the trees, and a Tawny Owl heard hooting in the middle of the day was a bit of a surprise (though they seem to be doing this a lot more often at the moment).

P1000687Bluebells – also in flower at the moment and looking beautiful

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the heath and we headed down towards the coast. As we started to drop down off the ridge, a glance out of the side window of the car and we noticed five rather large shapes walking across a field. A quick stop and we were looking at a little herd of Red Deer, five hinds.

P1000696Red Deer – 2 of the 5 seen on our way down to the coast this morning

We decided to have a look at Kelling Water Meadow before lunch. There were more Whitethroats and Blackcaps singing along the lane, and lots of Goldfinches and Chaffinches. Unfortunately, there were no Yellow Wagtails today amongst the cows. But the pool held a nice summer-plumage Dunlin sporting a smart black belly patch and two Avocet, as well as the pair of Egyptian Geese together with their brood of goslings now seemingly reduced to two.

There were several Swallows hawking for insects over the pool when we arrived, but shortly afterwards a bigger group of Sand Martins appeared. We got great views of them, zooming back and forth low over the water. They seemed to have come in to bathe and, having splashed into the water, they landed on the fence close by to preen.

P1000700Sand Martin – preening on the fence at Kelling WM

We were told about a Ring Ouzel seen earlier in the morning behind the beach on Weybourne Camp, so we decided to walk that way to take a look. A pair of Stonechat was feeding beside the path as we walked down towards the beach. They were not the only ones we saw here – a little further on, we came across another male Stonechat sporting some brightly coloured plastic rings. Ringed as a nestling on Kelling Heath in July 2012, he is getting on a bit in Stonechat terms!

Turning the corner by the beach, a scythe-winged shape appeared low over the hill in front of us. We just had time to get everyone onto it as it whizzed through and disappeared over towards the Water Meadow. A Hobby, it was probably after the local Swallows and Sand Martins. Along the front of Weybourne Camp, we found several Wheatears and a single Whimbrel feeding on the grass. But there was no sign of the Ring Ouzel – it was probably too disturbed now, with several walkers back and forth along the coast path.

It was time to head back for lunch, and as we turned round we could see a patch of dark cloud on the horizon. We were almost back to the car before it started to rain and thankfully it was just a quick shower.

By the time we got to Cley, the sky had cleared again and we were able to sit out on one of the picnic tables for lunch in the sunshine. While we were doing so, a shape appeared on the sedum roof of the Cley Marshes visitor centre behind us. A closer look revealed two Greenland Wheatears hopping about up there. The ‘green roof’ was obviously to their liking as a place to feed!

P1000707Greenland Wheatear – one of two feeding on the Cley visitor centre roof

After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve. One or other of the pair of Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed most of the time we were there. We watched the male return with food but unfortunately, rather than make a food pass to the female in front of us, he dropped down into the reeds with it instead. Our second Hobby of the day circled over the hides. This time we got a much longer look at it, as it hawked for insects.

P1000710Sedge Warbler – singing from the brambles by the path at Cley

We stopped to listen to a couple of Sedge Warblers singing by the path. Often rather confiding, they seemed to be a bit shy today, until one eventually performed for its audience. A Reed Warbler was singing from deep in the reeds on the way out to the hides, but we couldn’t see it. Thankfully, another Reed Warbler was slightly more accommodating, perching up and singing in the mostly-dead willows (killed by the Dec’13 storm surge) by the hides.

P1000718Reed Warbler – this one sat up obligingly, singing

We could see more dark clouds approaching as we walked out to the hides. We got inside just in time, as it started to rain. This time, it rained hard for a time. In the hide, we were safely out of the weather but there was not much to see on the scrapes today. There were lots of Avocet, a nice group of Black-tailed Godwit and several Redshank, but no other waders apart from a couple of Little Ringed Plover which flew round and round high over the water and didn’t come in to land. There were lots of Shelduck, several Gadwall and a couple of Shoveler. A couple of Tufted Duck hid on one of the smaller pools and the odd Pochard flew over.

Eventually, the worst of the rain passed over and it lightened to drizzle. Only at that point did the Spoonbill appear. It was over on Billy’s Wash, but we could see it moving around through the reeds, occasionally raising its head – and ‘spoon’. Finally, it stopped to preen and we got a better look at it through the scope.

IMG_4523Spoonbill – preening on Billy’s Wash in the drizzle

We decided to walk back to the car and, while the weather was still feeling unhelpful, we drove round to the Eye Field. There were a couple more Wheatears on the posts along the road and another pair on the north side of the Eye Field, but no sign of anything else. With more rain arriving, we sat out the worst of it in the beach shelter for a few minutes, watching the Sandwich Terns flying back and forth offshore.

As it cleared again, we drove round to the East Bank. The grazing marsh towards Pope’s Marsh is looking really good at the moment, and we were not disappointed with the birds. We had not seen any Ruff on the main scrapes, and it quickly became apparent why. Four male Ruffs and a single female Reeve were feeding on the flooded grass, the males coming in to summer plumage and in various combinations of black, rusty and white plumage. It was a very good illustration of the amount of variation in this extremely variable species.

IMG_4536Ruff – four multi-coloured Ruffs and a Reeve were on Pope’s Marsh

A quick scan revealed a very black-headed gull standing, partly concealed in the grass. Ironically, the commonest Black-headed Gulls have chocolate-coloured hoods in summer, so this was going to be something different. A closer look confirmed that it was a stunning adult Little Gull. It flew off before we could all get a good look at it through the scope, appearing to land over on Arnold’s Marsh, but thankfully reappeared back a few minutes later. As well as the small size, black hood, thin dark bill, grey and white upperwings and black underwings, we could see that it had a lovely light pink flush to its underparts. What a cracker!

IMG_4544Little Gull – this very smart adult appeared on Pope’s Marsh between the rain

We walked on to Arnold’s Marsh. There were a few waders on show – a little flock of Dunlin, several Ringed Plover, a Curlew and a few Black-tailed Godwits, as well as the regular Redshank. Several Sandwich Terns were loafing around and more were flying over, calling loudly. A different call alerted us to the approach of a pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls. They flew in from the direction of Salthouse and almost overhead – we got a great view of their white wingtips, black hoods (not unlike the Little Gull in that respect) and bright red bills. Then, with another band of black cloud approaching, it was time to call it a day.

4th May 2015 – Bank Holiday Migrants

A Private Tour today from Titchwell Manor. It was a glorious start to the day, sunny and clear, and it warmed up through the morning.

We started with a short drive up to the fields behind the hotel. It didn’t take us long to find the Dotterel, though they were a little distant again across the field. There were at least seven of them, though they were hard to count – they kept freezing and back on or crouched down in the tramlines they were impossible to see. The females were looking particularly bright in the sun (Dotterel is a species where the role of the sexes, and their colours, is reversed). There were also lots of Skylarks singing and a couple of Brown Hares chasing each other round the field.

IMG_4497Dotterel – at least 7 still in the stony field at Choseley today

We drove on round to the other side to see if we could see any other of the local farmland specialities. On the edge of a field, by the road, we came across a little group of Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting feeding on the ground. We stopped for a better look, but unfortunately we had an impatient driver behind us who sounded his horn and the birds flew off. He was only heading down to see the Dotterel – they have been around for days, and he had plenty of time to stop and admire the Corn Bunting himself. At least we found another one singing on the wires a little further along, after we had pulled over to let him speed past – and we had the time to admire this one in peace.

P1000596Corn Bunting – singing on the wires at Choseley

The Dotterel were no closer from the other side, but we did stop to scan the fields. Several Swifts were making their way west along the ridge. A Common Whitethroat sang from the hedge. And there were lots more Brown Hares.

Our next stop was at Holkham. There were quite a few cars already at Lady Anne’s Drive. It was always going to get busy on a sunny bank holiday, but most people were heading straight out onto the beach and it was quieter walking west inland of the pines. There were lots of warblers singing from the trees – Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. From the reeds, we could hear Reed, Sedge and Cetti’s Warblers, though we couldn’t see any of them here. The regular resident birds were singing as well, though perhaps a little less enthusiastically than the newly arrived warblers – tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers.

There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine as well – Peacock, Speckled Wood, Orange Tip, Green-veined White, Holly Blue and several iridescent Green Hairstreaks.

P1000603Green Hairstreak – several were at Holkham today

Before we even got to the Joe Jordan hide, we could see the Spoonbills on the pool below. There were at least five of them visible today – a pair feeding at the back of the pool and at least three birds flying backwards and forwards to the trees, collecting nest material.

IMG_4507Spoonbills – lots of activity below the colony today

There were other things to see from the hide as well – the usual Marsh Harriers, Little Egrets and Cormorants. A few Swifts were moving west over the back of the grazing marsh. We paused to admire a smart couple of Red-legged Partridge in the grass below and spotted a pair of Grey Partridge nearby, creeping through the vegetation altogether more secretive, the male with his head raised watching while the female fed. We had also seen three Pink-footed Geese from the path on the walk out.

There was a little herd of cows on the top of the old fort and, hearing a distant ‘pseep’ call, a quick look revealed a yellow head in the grass nearby. A smart male Yellow Wagtail. Turning the scope onto them, we could see there were actually several of them, at least five, walking around amongst the cows’ feet.

We left the hide and continued our way westwards. We hadn’t gone much further when a ghostly shape appeared from the grass by the track and headed off silently along the path ahead of us. A Barn Owl. It had been a wet day yesterday, so perhaps it had struggled to find food, presumably with young mouths to feed. The Barn Owl kept flying ahead of us, disappearing into the trees or out over the grass, before reappearing again further on. When we got to the west end of the pines, we found it again, hunting over the edge of the grazing marsh. It quartered back and forth, occasionally dropping suddenly into the grass, but then coming back up empty-handed. Stunning.

P1000605Barn Owl – hunting in the middle of the day today

A Cuckoo appeared from the dunes and flew across the grazing marsh, landing on the fence in front of us. It started to ‘cuckoo’ – such an evocative sound, a real sound of spring.

The initial walk through the dunes was fairly quiet – a little flock of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits. Then we rounded a corner and there, on the edge of the dunes but over the NNR fence, was a male Ring Ouzel. It froze for a second, before hopping quietly up and over the top of the dune and out of sight, unfortunately before we could all get a good look at it. Just a little further on and a second Ring Ouzel, this time a female, erupted from the bushes and flew off calling, towards where the male had disappeared.

There was a steady stream of Yellow Wagtails flying west all morning. Most of them we could only hear, their distinctive ‘pseep’ flight calls announcing their passing, but the odd one came close enough for us to see a long-tailed shape bounding overhead. Small numbers of Swallows were also passing constantly over the dunes. There were several Wheatears down on the short grass, including a smart, big, orange-breasted male Greenland Wheatear.

P1000611Greenland Wheatear – a nice, big, orange-breasted male

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to walk all the way to Burnham Overy, so turned back at the top of the dunes, before we got to the boardwalk. As we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, a couple of people kindly pointed us in the direction of yet another Barn Owl. This one was standing on a post, right by the path. It seemed oblivious to the small crowd which was gathering nearby to admire it. An even stranger time to see a Barn Owl out and about, in the middle of the day, on a warm, sunny spring day.

P1000638Barn Owl – on a post, oblivious to its admirers, in the middle of the day

After lunch in the sun at Lady Anne’s Drive, we drove back to Wells. The beach car park was so full, they had closed the road in the morning and cars had been diverted into an overflow car park near the town! Thankfully, with some people having left for lunch, we were allowed to drive down to the end. From up on the harbour wall, we could admire the gull colony. Amongst the numerous Black-headed Gulls, we found a few smart, black-hooded Mediterranean Gulls, as well as quite a few lovely summer Common Gulls. There were also several Common Terns patrolling the muddy channels.

IMG_4516Mediterranean Gull – amongst the more numerous Black-headed Gulls

We wanted to finish the day at Titchwell. On the walk out onto the reserve, we stopped to admire a Reed Warbler singing from the reeds and a Sedge Warbler singing from the brambles.

There was a good selection of waders on the freshmarsh. One of the Little Ringed Plovers on the islands was close enough for us to get a good look at its golden yellow eye-ring. The Dunlin are coming into summer plumage, and most of them were sporting smart black belly patches, to varying degrees. A small group of Bar-tailed Godwit flew in, a mixture of grey winter birds and rusty summer ones, all obviously pushed off the beach by the rising tide, and a single grey Knot was in amongst them. A large flock of Turnstone also arrived, and several of those were looking particularly fine with their summer-plumage white faces and rust upperparts.

Out on the Thornham saltmarsh we picked up a Grey Plover. It too was getting some summer plumage, sporting a black belly but still a patchy black face. A Whimbrel ran across the far side of the Volunteer Marsh and disappeared into the vegetation on the bank – we just got to see its stripy head in the scope. Nearby, a single Curlew slept on the opposite bank. The only Black-tailed Godwits we saw today were a small flock of around 8 on the tidal pools – perhaps most of them have already set off back to Iceland. On the beach, with the tide coming in, there were fewer waders. A little flock of Sanderling flew in and started to scurry along the shore. There were also a couple of large groups of very noisy Oystercatcher.

P1000684Avocet – no Titchwell post would be complete without one!

Wildfowl were also well represented. There are still lots of Brent Geese along the coast and a couple of hundred flew in from Thornham saltmarsh and splashed down on the freshmarsh. We paused to admire them through the scope. When most of them flew off again, a little group of 7 were left behind. A closer look confirmed they were a family party, 2 adults and 5 juveniles still just sporting a few remaining stripy wing coverts.

P1000652Brent Geese – splashdown on the freshmarsh

There was still a good smattering of dabbling ducks on show. Some intricately patterned Gadwall; lots of Teal, including the odd-looking presumed ‘intersex’ female Teal from the other day; no shortage of Mallard including several females with broods of small ducklings; and a good selection of big-billed Shoveler.

P1000673Shoveler – presumably a young drake, but still looking very smart

It had clouded over and the wind had swung round while we were out at the beach. As a consequence, it had grown noticeably cooler. We still just had enough time to have a quick look out at Patsy’s Reedbed. The pool held a good number of Red-crested Pochard, at least 12 in total, mostly drakes. We stopped to watch a Lesser Whitethroat, singing from the depths of a dense hawthorn hedge, which just showed itself briefly. But there was no sign of the Grasshopper Warbler in the cool wind.

Then it was time to call it a day – and a very successful one it had been, once again, with an excellent selection of spring migrants.

P1000647Gadwall – a subtly-patterned drake, if a little dirty this one!