Monthly Archives: June 2015

28th June 2015 – Waders Galore & More

Another Summer Tour today, in North Norfolk again. The idea was to go looking for birds of prey in the morning, but it didn’t go entirely according to plan. The weather forecasters let us down once again! We didn’t have much rain, it just fell at the wrong time. Still, an adjustment to the plans and we had a great day just the same.

We met in Wells, and headed inland to explore the farmland behind the coast. We hadn’t gone far when a Red Kite circled lazily over the field beside the road.

P1030853Red Kite – this one from earlier in the morning

We had a specific request to see a Little Owl today. This is a good time to the year to look for them, as they have young to feed at the moment and are more active in the morning and late afternoon. However, it was already a bit cloudy and cool, and spitting with rain as we drove round to some regular sites. There was no sign initially at the first place we tried. We were just driving away when a sharp-eyed passenger spotted one low in a small dead tree beside the road. A quick stop and reverse and the Little Owl eyed us nervously.

P1030872Little Owl – right beside the road, eyeing us nervously

The Little Owl didn’t move and we even had a chance to drive on, get some more cameras out of the boot and return for another photo session from the other side of the car. Only as we drove off had it had enough and flew off back to its usual perch.

We stopped briefly at a favoured site for Turtle Doves, but there was no sign of them here again today. Some of the big overgrown hawthorn bushes that they normally favour were burnt when the farmer set fire his old straw stack recently and they don’t seem to be using the site as much now. However, there were lots of Skylarks singing and little groups of Linnets on the wires and down on the edge of the fields. We didn’t linger here and drove on.

At our next stop, we walked down along an overgrown footpath. There were Whitethroats and Yellowhammer singing from the high hedges either side, despite the cool and overcast weather. A pair of Bullfinches called from deep in the bushes. We flushed several Speckled Woods from along the track as we walked.

We had planned to scan for raptors from the higher ground. It had been spitting with rain on and off all morning, but the Met Office forecast had suggested only a 10% probability of rain before 12pm. We had just got out to a suitable vantage point when the it started falling a little harder. We stuck it out for a few minutes but there was very little activity, so we decided to have rethink. We headed back to the shelter of the car.

We had planned to visit Titchwell in the afternoon, but in the light of the weather we decided to drive over there earlier. Ironically, it promptly stopped raining as we drove (in fact, it didn’t rain at all between 12-2pm, when the rain was forecast!). However, the fields were wet still from the earlier rain and with the undergrowth so tall the birds were seeking dry ground. Lots of Yellowhammers flew up from along the side of the road as we drove, a pair of Stock Doves sat on the tarmac and refused to budge until we stopped right in front of them and edged forwards, and the Red-legged Partridges were out by the road as well.

A Brown Hare was drying itself off in some set aside by the road, in the drier short grass. It sat licking one of its feet for ages, unperturbed by our presence. Finally it lifted its head and looked at us, posing for the cameras.

P1030893Brown Hare – out in the short grass after the rain

We stopped off at Choseley on our way to Titchwell. The area around the barns seemed quiet at first, but as we sat in the car scanning the bushes we glimpsed a Turtle Dove flying across the road behind us. We got out and looked up at the trees. At first sight we thought we might have been mistaken. A couple of Collared Doves and a Woodpigeon perched there preening. But a closer look revealed the Turtle Dove as well, perched half hidden amongst the foliage. We watched it for a while, preening.

IMG_6678Turtle Dove – perched quietly in an oak tree preening

While we stood there, we picked up more birds as well. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the fields on the ridge. There were little groups of Goldfinches in the bushes beside the path, and a few Chaffinches and Yellowhammers on the wires. We had been hoping to see a Corn Bunting but there was no sign until we packed up to leave. Just at that moment, a Corn Bunting appeared on the wires, calling. It sat there for a minute, just long enough to get a good look at it, before dropping back down into the field.

Down at Titchwell, we still had some time before lunch, so walked out to Patsy’s Reedbed. Along the Fen Trail, there were lots of tits feeding in the sallows. A Chiffchaff appeared as well, dipping its tail constantly as it fed. Then a Reed Warbler stuck its head out too, out of the reeds and up in the tops of the bushes taking advantage of the mass of insects up there at the moment. We could hear Bullfinches calling but didn’t see one until we got out to Fen Hide and a lone bird flew over and down into the bushes out in the reedbed.

The first thing we saw at Patsy’s Reedbed was a couple of Red-crested Pochard. They looked rather like a pair but they were actually two males. The first was still mostly in full plumage, though already starting to moult. The second Red-crested Pochard looked rather like a dark and more contrasting version of the female, but when it lifted its head from feeding, we could see the bright coral red bill of an eclipse male. A scan of the rest of the ducks revealed another couple of eclipse males and a dark-billed female for comparison.

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On one of the islands was a smallish wader, a Green Sandpiper. Again an early returning migrant, most likely either a non-breeder or failed breeder already making its way back south. We just had time to get it in the scope and have a good look at it before it flew off, calling loudly. With the water levels on Patsy’s Reedbed having fallen, the islands and muddy edges are now more attractive to waders. Along the near edge of the pool, two Little Ringed Plovers were lurking unseen amongst the vegetation and occasionally venturing out onto the mud.

After lunch, we walked out onto reserve. It was a bit breezy now, but still dry and even starting to brighten up. The warblers along the main path were less active today – a combination of the weather and the fact that they are busy raising young at the moment. There were still a couple of Reed Warblers singing, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the sallows.

From Island Hide, we could see that the freshmarsh was alive with waders. The water levels look great at the moment, and they were taking advantage of the conditions to feed and sleep. There were at least 300 Black-tailed Godwits scattered over the water, mostly busy feeding. Around 100 Bar-tailed Godwits in contrast were mostly asleep, roosting on the freshmarsh over high tide out on the beach.

IMG_6728Godwits – large numbers of both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed on the freshmarsh

Looking more closely, we found a small number of Knot in amongst them, again most likely 1st summer birds in winter plumage. In contrast, two Dunlin were in smart summer plumage, still sporting full black belly patches. Amongst all the Black-tailed Godwits, we could see a couple of Spotted Redshanks feeding. The more we looked, the more we found, with another asleep in the middle of the throng of Bar-tailed Godwits. A fourth was feeding on its own further over. They were all still in smart black summer plumage, spangled with silvery-white spots on the upperparts, and with only small amounts of white winter feathering starting to appear on the underparts.

IMG_6804Spotted Redshank – looking very smart, still mostly in summer plumage

There were several Ruff out on the freshmarsh as well, similarly scattered amongst all the godwits and islands. The more we looked, the more we found. We counted at least 7 eventually and it was possible to identify them individually given the huge variation in the appearance of males. Almost all of them looked to be moulting males, apart from one bird in more female-like plumage.

IMG_6764Ruff – a rather barred moulting male, note the remnants of the ornate ruff

IMG_6780Ruff – a more garishly coloured moulting male, highlighting the wide variation

There were other waders out on the freshmarsh as well. A Ringed Plover was hiding on the edge of one of the islands, as was another Little Ringed Plover. The usual Lapwing and a large number of Avocet were also present. The latter performed very well for the cameras, as usual, feeding on the mud right in front of Island Hide.

P1030964Avocet – the obligatory Titchwell photo

There were also lots of ducks, as usual, mostly Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler. The drakes are starting to moult into drab eclipse plumage now. Two smaller ducks feeding in amongst the godwits caught the eye, but they spent almost all the time with their heads under water as they swam. Just occasionally they lifted them up and we could see the bold striped head pattern and pale bill spots – a couple of Garganey. A lone Brent Goose on one of the islands was also a surprise – there are thousands here in the winter, but not many in mid-summer.

There have been several Little Gulls on the freshmarsh for a few weeks now, and there were still three today, all 1st summer birds. They were scattered around the islands, feeding in the shallow water, picking at insects. In the middle of a large flock of roosting Black-headed Gulls on one of the islands, one jet black head gave away the presence of a sleeping adult Mediterranean Gull (ironically, the summer hood of Black-headed Gull is chocolate brown!).

IMG_6740Little Gull – still three 1st summer birds on the freshmarsh

A large white shape appeared amongst the black Cormorants on the island at the very back of the freshmarsh. It was a Spoonbill. Several more edged out, but they were doing exactly what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping! It was only when we got round to Parrinder hide that they suddenly woke up and walked out into the middle of the freshmarsh to feed, well four of them did at least. We could see one shorter-billed juvenile amongst them. The adults were feeding more proficiently but the youngster was obviously still learning and not fully equipped for the task!

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The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were all fairly quiet, as they have been in recent weeks. Out on the beach, the tide was still in so there were no waders out there today. Further out over the sea towards Lincolnshire we could see a big flock of black shapes wheeling around low over the water, Common Scoter. We couldn’t make out any details on them at that distance, but thankfully a lone drake Common Scoter was closer in in front of us. Through the scope was could even see the yellow on the bill base.

There were lots of terns flying back and forth just offshore, including Sandwich and Little Terns to add to the Common Terns we had seen earlier on the freshmarsh. A single Gannet circled distantly to the west. Looking towards Brancaster, a single summer-plumage Great Crested Grebe was on the sea. Presumably a local bird popped out to feed, rather than a returning winter bird already!

Then it was unfortunately time to think about heading back. We looped round via the Meadow Trail. The sun was now shining and it was hot in the shelter of the sallows, out of the wind. The Southern Marsh Orchids on the meadow are now going over, but a couple by the path were still looking very smart. The birds we had seen earlier in the morning were still feeding in the bushes. And a Song Thrush was singing from the trees, serenading us as we walked back to the car.

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27th June 2015 – Spoonbills Galore & More

A Summer Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously sunny day, but with a fresh breeze never got too hot or humid. A lovely day to be out birding. We met up at the car park at Cley and while we were loading the car, we could see our first Spoonbill of the day out on the scrapes. A forerunner of things to come!

IMG_6420Spoonbill – our first of the day, from the car park at Cley

We headed up to the Heath first, hoping to make the most of it before it got too hot and too busy. As we walked out along the path, we could hear Willow Warblers and Whitethroats singing. A Yellowhammer added its voice to the chorus – a ‘little-bit-of-bread-no-cheese’. Little family groups of Linnets were flying around among the gorse. We could hear a pair of Bullfinch calling softly, but they flew off across the Heath to cover as we approached.

We could hear the delicate purring of a Turtle Dove, but we couldn’t see it at first, hidden amongst the birch trees. The next thing we knew it appeared at the very top of one of them and set up in the sunshine giving us a great view. We could see its neck puffing out as it purred. Then it launched itself into a display flight, flying up with a quick burst of flapping, then gliding round in circles over the trees before dropping down onto the same perch as before. With the population of Turtle Doves in the UK collapsing, how much longer will we be able to enjoy such a beautiful sound and sight?

IMG_6430Turtle Dove – purring and display flighting

While we were watching the Turtle Dove, a Garden Warbler burst into song nearby. We listened to it for a minute of so, noting the faster, rolling cadence than a Blackcap. We worked our way round behind it, onto main path. A Cuckoo flew over quietly and disappeared between the trees. We found the Garden Warbler amongst the birches, and got a quick view of it perched out, but it was darting around quickly. A second bird singing nearby.

As we walked on around the Heath we could hear Woodlarks calling. It sounded as if they were further away, but suddenly one flew a short distance along the verge in front of us. Woodlarks have a remarkable ability to throw their voice. We could just see it feeding down amongst heather. It was obviously nervous at our presence and even though we stood still it took off. Another two Woodlarks followed it up from the ground – a family party, with a well grown fledgeling. They landed a little further over in a clearing, but once we got round there we couldn’t find them again. Presumably they had walked off through teh grass feeding. Another Turtle Dove was purring from the trees.

We had seen a male Stonechat perched in the top of some dead trees in the clearing as we approached, so we walked over to look for it. There was no sign initially, but someone with a camera had just walked right through the middle of the grass. With Woodlarks nesting on the ground in the area, this is never the most sensible thing to do. We stuck to the path, and the male Stonechat reappeared behind us on a fence post. Two Woodlarks then flew in next to it, a nice combination through the scope! The Woodlarks flew back towards where we had disturbed them earlier and then a female Stonechat appeared as well. A Green Woodpecker called nearby, but flew off towards the woods.

IMG_6447Stonechat – the male performed for us as we stayed on the path

It seemed a perfect day for the Dartford Warblers – bright and not too breezy. However, we tried walking around several territories but all was quiet today. The birds are onto their second broods now so perhaps the males have taken a break from territorial duties. On our way back, we saw one of the Woodlarks again, heading back towards the favourite area carrying food. It landed on a fence post nearby, watching us nervously.

IMG_6469Woodlark – we found a family party with well grown fledgeling

As we headed back to the car, a Hobby appeared flying low over the Heath. It looked to be carrying prey, and disappeared off over the trees. We saw lots of Silver-studded Blues as well today, fluttering around in the low vegetation in the grass and mown areas.

P1030710Silver-studded Blue – lots were on the wing today

We drove round via the coast road and stopped down at Salthouse by the Iron Road next. The pools here have been very productive this year, with the higher water levels. However, the vegetation has now grown up a lot and it is harder to see the birds! We found a Curlew hiding in the reeds along the main drain – one of the many waders which has already been returning in the last few days. There were several Sand Martins flying low over the water hawking for insects.

We had seen lots of birds on one of the other pools as we drove up, so we walked up to Sarbury Hill to get a better view. A Spoonbill was out on one of the pools, doing what Spoonbills do best – sleeping. There was also a large gathering of big gulls, with both Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, as well as the regular Herring Gulls. The panorama of the coast from here was stunning, looking down over the new pools at Pope’s Marsh.

P1030726Pope’s Marsh – a great view of the new pools from Sarbury Hill

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve at Cley. There were still lots of Reed Warblers singing from the reeds. The regular, obliging Reed Bunting perched in its usual bush right by the boardwalk, singing.

P1030764Reed Bunting – singing in its favourite bush again today

The main Spoonbill gathering was on Simmond’s Scrape. Nine of them were out on the grass doing guess what? Yes, sleeping! They did wake up at times, shaking their heads, having a quick preen, before resuming their favoured activity. When they did wake, we could see there were both adults and juveniles in the group, the latter with shorter, fleshy-coloured bills, lacking the adults yellow bill-tips. As we scanned, we could see another Spoonbill was asleep on its own down in the longer grass on one of the islands and another, possibly the same bird that we had seen first thing this morning, was still asleep on Pat’s Pool.

IMG_6492Spoonbill – an adult and juvenile both awake

When another adult Spoonbill flew in to join the group, one of the juveniles woke up and immediately set off after it, bobbing it head up and down rhythmically. However, the pursuit seemed a little half-hearted today – perhaps the juvenile had only recently been fed, and the adult got to settle down and go to sleep. Before it did so, we noted that it was colour-ringed. Spoonbills from colonies in places such as France and the Netherlands have been noted along the coast here, but this individual seemed to have lost a lot of its rings, so might be hard to track down.

P1030769Spoonbill – a colour-ringed adult flew in to join the roosting group

There were lots of other birds to look at on the scrapes today as well. Waders have been returning south steadily in the last week or so – autumn is already upon them, as non-breeders and failed breeders leave the breeding grounds early. Consequently, the variety of waders along the coast has already picked up. Four Greenshank were roosting along the bank of one of the islands and a blackish shape asleep on the grass behind was a moulting summer plumage dark male Ruff.

IMG_6498Greenshank & Ruff – some of the returning waders on the scrape

Out on Pat’s Pool, another black wader was feeding. A Spotted Redshank, again in pretty much full summer plumage still. They always look stunning in this plumage – through the scope we could see the white spangling above and the needle-fine bill. We even had it next to a Common Redshank at one point, given a great comparison between the two.

IMG_6534Spotted Redshank – always stunning in summer plumage

There have been several 1st summer Little Gulls along the coast for several weeks now. Today was no exception, with two out on Pat’s Pool. The amount of black hood acquired by 1st summer Little Gulls varies from individual to individual and one of the two today had a nice partial jet black hood.

IMG_6530Little Gull – a 1st summer sporting a partial jet black summer hood

There are also increasing numbers of ducks again along the coast. More Teal in particular have been in evidence again in recent days. In contrast, Shoveler and Gadwall have been around right through so may just be more obvious now as birds gather to moult. Scanning through them, we found the male Garganey that has been out on Pat’s Pool for a couple of days. It is in the process of moulting into eclipse plumage, with a rusty orange face and a partial pale supercilium ghosting the pattern of the spring male.

The Marsh Harriers can normally be relied upon to put on a good show, and today was no exception. One of the females was hunting along the reedy channel out in front of the hide, and kept flying down right towards us giving us great close-up views.

P1030800Marsh Harrier – hunting in front of the hide today

We were just packing up to leave when a group of Black-tailed Godwits flew in over on the other side of Pat’s Pool. A quick look through binoculars and we could see that one of the group looked noticeably larger and longer legged than the rest. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. Most of the Black-tailed Godwits are Icelandic breeders – of the subspecies islandica. This was a moulting adult Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the subspecies limosa. Subtly different from the Icelandic birds, it is always an interesting exercise to try to pick out one of the small numbers of limosa which appear at this time of year from amongst the islandica.

We walked round to Bishop Hide to get a closer look and were just in the process of admiring the Continental Black-tailed Godwit when all the waders suddenly took to the air. A Marsh Harrier had drifted over from the reedbed and spooked them. All the Avocets and godwits landed at the back of the scrape and we could see there were now two different moulting male Ruff, including the dark bird we had seen asleep earlier. Individual males differ markedly in the colour of their plumage.

From Bishop Hide we walked round to the East Bank. There are still lots of  Lapwings, Redshank and Avocets out on the pools on the grazing marsh. However, they do a very good job of chasing off anything which comes near them. Further along, we could see another big flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting in the grass. Yet another moulting male Ruff, this one a different colour again, was feeding unobtrusively along the bank of the Serpentine.

IMG_6609Spoonbill – this adult was feeding on the Serpentine

Also along the Serpentine, we found yet another Spoonbill. However, this one was wide awake and in motion! Preening on the bank at first, it then started feeding out in the water. Spoonbills are amazing to watch in action, sweeping their bills aggressively from side to side through the water. Occasionally they find something and lift their heads up with the prey caught in the bill, before flicking their heads back and swallowing it. We watched this Spoonbill for a while, marvelling at its feeding action – to see some HD video of it, click on the clip below.

There were lots of waders on Arnold’s Marsh today as well, another example of the birds returning. Scanning through the big flock we could see they were mostly Knot, the majority in grey winter plumage (presumably non-breeding 1st summer birds), but a couple still in bright orange summer plumage. With them were a lot of Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Grey Plover, again almost all in grey winter plumage. Several Turnstones were out on one of the shingle islands with one or two in bright summer plumage. A single Ringed Plover was out on the sand. There was also the usual gathering of Sandwich Terns on the islands – we got them in the scope, noting the yellow-tipped black bills and shaggier black crest than the Common Terns.

We had a quick look out to sea – beautiful in the sunshine, but quiet save for a few Sandwich Terns fishing. Then it was time to head back. On our way we could hear several Bearded Tits calling, but they did not put in an appearance this afternoon.

Nightjar Evening

After a break to get something to eat we met again in Holt for the evening. As usual, we went to look for Barn Owls first. We drove round via some regular hunting fields, but there was no sign of any initially. After a couple of warm, dry days and balmy evenings, perhaps they were more relaxed and could afford to come out a little later, despite having hungry mouths to feed?

We walked out onto marshes and fairly quickly picked up our first Barn Owl, out hunting over the grazing marshes. It was rather distant, but it was a start. We could see it patrolling over the grass, looking down intently for voles, occasionally hovering and dropping down, before flying up again a few seconds later, empty-talonned.

At one point one of the local Kestrels, decided to chase after it – presumably a territorial dispute over feeding areas, with both on the lookout for mice and voles. The Kestrel wouldn’t leave it alone, as the Barn Owl attempted simply to get out of its way and carry on hunting. Eventually, as the Kestrel made yet another stoop at it, the Barn Owl turned and the two birds grappled talons and fell to the ground. The Kestrel got up and flew off, but it took a few seconds for the Barn Owl to reappear. When it did, it flew further away and disappeared over the bank.

It was a lovely evening out on the marshes and there were lots of other things to see in the evening light. A Spoonbill flew over, presumably heading in from feeding to roost. We could hear pinging from the reeds and a smart male Bearded Tit flew up and across the path just behind us. It landed in the reedbed the other side and perched up in the tops of the reeds for a few seconds, legs splayed clutching onto the stems. A great view.

Then the Barn Owl activity picked up a gear. Another Barn Owl appeared, much closer than the first. It was patrolling the grassy bank along the edge of the reedbed. It hadn’t been out for long before it started to hover and dropped down out of sight. When it reappeared, we could see it had caught something – we could see it was small and quiet black, possibly a young Moorhen chick. The Barn Owl flew off strongly, back the way it had come.

Then the first Barn Owl flew back across the grazing marsh behind us, again with something in its talons. It flew towards a nearby nest box, but landed on a post nearby first.It sat there for some time, before deciding to fly up to the ledge outside and pass the food in. We got it in the scope and watched it while it did so.

Time was getting on and we had an appointment on the heath, but as we wer got back to the car the second Barn Owl flew back in again.We got a stunning view of it, lit by the evening light, as it came in past the rooftops.

P1030841Barn Owl – flying back in past the rooftops to resume hunting

We hurried up to the Heath to look for Nightjars next. It was already sunset as we arrived and almost immediately, the first Woodcock flew over. The birds are still very actively ‘roding’ over the edge of the trees, the patrolling display flight the males make at dusk in the spring and early summer. There were one or two passing overhead on and off through most of the rest of the evening. We could hear their squeaky calls as they approached and even the very quiet grunting as they came low overhead at times.

A short while after sunset, the first male Nightjar called and started churring briefly. Then he went quiet for a minute or two. Another call and he appeared from the trees, circling round over the edge with wings held aloft, flashing his white wing and tail patches. Fortuitously, he dropped down onto a dead tree stump where we got him in the scope. It was still light enough to get a great look at him.

Then the male Nightjar flew up into oak tree nearby and started churring. We could hear a second male also churring in the background further over across the Heath. We got good views of the first male as he made several display flights out between there and another churring post down in the gorse out of view.

When a third male Nightjar also started up, further over behind us, the first male immediately went over to the other boundary of his territory. We didn’t see him go, but we could hear him start churring over that side in response. We turned to walk over to see if we could see him and a Tawny Owl flew into one of  the trees on that side briefly. Unfortunately, it only landed for a second and was gone again, too quick for all the group to get onto it. Having churred for a few seconds over that side, the first male Nightjar then returned to his favoured tree.

As the light started to fade, we watched him in display flight again, against the sky. He made a sudden change of direction, as a moth flew across in front of him, taking advantage of an easy meal, before disappearing into the gloom of the trees. We decided to call it a night, but we were still serenaded by Nightjars all the way back to the car. A memorable evening.

26th June 2015 – Hot in the Brecks

A Summer Tour to the Brecks today. It was a little overcast with a light breeze, but bright and warm first thing – perfect birding weather! However, the sun came out and it warmed up a lot in the afternoon.

We met up in Mundford and headed over to our first stop at Weeting Heath. Walking through the trees, we could hear Goldcrests and Coal Tits calling, and a Nuthatch appeared in the trees above the path briefly. We walked over to where we had found the Spotted Flycatcher nest a couple of weeks ago and could immediately see the birds flashing through the trees. They were moving about so fast , it was hard to get everyone onto them. Then one of the parents dropped down to the nest almost unseen and, after a lightning feed, flew off again.

P1030608Spotted Flycatcher – the nest with nestlings, amongst the ivy

Eventually the Spotted Flycatchers settled down a little. One flew in and perched up for a minute or so right in front of us with food, before dropping back onto the nest. Much better views!

P1030637Spotted Flycatcher – the adults eventually gave great views

While we were standing watching the Spotted Flycatchers, we could hear a Firecrest singing in the pines above us. After a bit of scanning we managed to find it, but the views from directly underneath were not that illuminating! Thankfully, it dropped down to another tree a little further away and we could get a good look at its head pattern. It continued singing for much of the time we were admiring the flycatchers.

Round at the hide, it didn’t take us long to pick up a Stone Curlew. One in particular came quite close today and, with the breeze and cloud, there wasn’t so much heat haze so we got good views of them. There were another two a little further over and a fourth just over the ridge at the back, but some of the vegetation has grown up a lot and it was hard to see if there were any more. There was a lot of Stone Curlew calling while we were there as well, which was good to hear why they got their English name (given that all the other members of the family are known as Thick-Knees).

IMG_6334Stone Curlew – good views at Weeting today, and calling as well

With one of our main targets for the day in the bag already, and a great supporting cast, we moved on to our next destination, Lakenheath Fen. There were lots of warblers singing as we walked out onto the reserve – Whitethroats perching up nicely on the bushes and song-flighting, the very melodic Blackcaps in the trees, Reed Warblers appropriately enough in the reeds and Cetti’s Warblers lurking unseen in the undergrowth.

The view from the New Fen viewpoint was a little quiet at first, but it didn’t take long to hot up. A Kingfisher called from the trees behind us and then flashed out over the water before perching up in the top of the reeds the other side. We got it in the scope and got a great look at it. It dropped down into the water a few times, but then returned back to a different spot in the top of the reeds empty-billed. Finally it decided to try its luck elsewhere and disappeared off over the reeds in a flash of electric blue.

IMG_6362Kingfisher – fishing from the reeds around New Fen

We were just thinking about moving on when a shout alerted us to a Bittern flying over the reeds. It circled round and flew leisurely away from us along one of the channels before dropping down out of sight. Great stuff.

There was a light breeze blowing which kept the temperature and humidity down this morning, but the dragonflies were also a little subdued. We did see a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers, and there were lots of damselflies alongside the path, mostly Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

P1030655Blue-tailed Damselfly – abundant at Lakenheath Fen

As we walked out past the West Wood, we saw our first Marsh Harriers of the day, a female circling at first and then a male, which flew towards her and seemed as if he might be about to make a food pass, save for the absence of any food! Instead, he took a little swerve towards her with talons down and she took evasive action. There were lots of Reed Warblers and a few Sedge Warblers singing, and a couple of Reed Buntings as well.

IMG_6368Reed Bunting – lots of singing still today

Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, we could see a couple more adult Marsh Harriers circling. A quick scan over the bushes revealed two juveniles sat in an elder bush. They looked very dark blackish, the colour of dark chocolate, with contrasting orangey heads. A little further round we saw a female which appeared to be trying to get another juvenile to fly. It had a quick circle round before dropping back down into the reeds beside her, obviously not too impressed by the lesson. It is fledging time for the Marsh Harriers.

While we were watching them, a Hobby appeared. It was catching insects above the reeds, occasionally bringing its feet up and bending its head down to devour something. Occasionally, it would sweep fast down into one of the pools of channels out of view, presumably chasing dragonflies. At the same time, another Bittern flew over the reeds away from us, but it was not up long enough to get everyone onto it, before it dropped back in out of view.

P1030681Banded Demoiselle – lots were along the river

We headed up onto the river bank next, to see if we could see any Cranes. There were lots of Banded Demoiselles amongst the plants on the bank and out along the edge of the water. However, we walked some way along the path and we couldn’t see any Cranes. They just didn’t appear to be in their usual area, no matter how hard we looked, nor anywhere else in view. The vegetation has grown up a lot over the past few weeks, which doesn’t help. Eventually we had to turn back – a shame to miss them.

On our way we stopped to admire a Sedge Warbler. We had heard a couple on our walk out, but this one really performed for the assembled crowd. It kept returning to the same little clump of reeds, belting out its song. We got it in the scope and got a really good look at it, particularly the bold white supercilium.

IMG_6376Sedge Warbler – we have a lot to thank this one for…

If it hadn’t been for that Sedge Warbler we would have walked on. While we were looking at it through the scope, a last scan of the reeds behind us revealed a long neck hidden among the reeds. It just came up a little for a second, so we swung the scope round and there was a Crane. Finally! Despite it being obscured, we could see the black and white face and red on the crown. We couldn’t see its partner or chick, but that was not a surprise given the amount of vegetation it was in. The fact it was still there, feeding quietly, suggests all is well. For a bird which stands over a metre tall, it is amazing how they can hide!

IMG_6387Crane – we managed to find a head among the reeds, just as we were leaving

Satisfied, we headed back. It was a hot walk back to the visitor centre – the sun had come out by now and the wind had dropped.

After lunch, we moved on to have a look in the Forest. We parked up and walked down a ride to one of our favourite clearings. It was a little quiet at first, in the heat of the day, but as we looked we gradually started to see a few birds. A smart male Stonechat perched up on the top of some brambles. We could hear it calling, sounding like two flints knocked together, from where it gets its name. There were also a few Yellowhammers around the clearing, looking resplendent in the sunshine.

IMG_6395Stonechat – a smart male, sounding like two stones knocked together

Another bird appeared in the top of a small pine nearby, altogether slimmer and more elegant. A Tree Pipit. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. It was half-singing quietly, but it obviously didn’t feel up to song-flighting in the heat of the afternoon.

IMG_6402Tree Pipit – half singing, quietly

There were several Linnets flying round the clearing as well. A Sparrowhawk appeared overhead and they all flew off, calling. Then a Cuckoo started singing from the trees at the back. A careful scan and we found it sitting high in a larch tree. We could also hear several Skylarks, and found one perched up on a dead stump, but no sign of any Woodlarks today.

The other nice thing here was the number of butterflies. There were lots of skippers all over the Viper’s Bugloss flowers beside the path – mostly Small Skippers but a couple of Large Skippers as well. We could also see a couple of Common Blue, a few Small Heath and lots of Meadow Brown.

P1030697Small Skipper – lots around the woodland clearings today

We still had time for one last stop before the end of the day. Lynford Arboretum was almost on our way, so we stopped in there for a quick look round. Not surprisingly, it was a little quiet in the heat of the afternoon. There were lots of Siskin flying around overhead, though rarely stopping. We saw Goldcrest, Nuthatch and a few tits, and we heard a couple of Treecreepers and a Marsh Tit calling. We flushed a couple of Song Thrush from the ground in the arboretum. Down by the lake, we found a couple of Little Grebes. However, we didn’t really have time to do it justice today, and all too soon it was time to call it a day.

25th June 2015 – Holkham & Beyond

A Private Tour today, the second day of a five day programme put together for a US client, a mixture of private and scheduled group days. Again, we went to places and to look for some birds we would not necessarily be seeing on the other days.

We started at Holkham Hall, with a quick walk round the woods. It can often be quiet at this time of the year, but we hoped to pick up some woodland birds. We could hear a Nuthatch calling as soon as we went in through the gate and found it piping in the top of a fir tree. There were several Treecreepers calling as well, and lots of tits in the trees. But we couldn’t find any woodpeckers today.

P1030482Holkham Hall – the view from the monument

Looking down towards the Hall, we could see lots of birds down on the cut lawns in front. The largest amongst them were three Barnacle Geese, part of the growing number of feral birds in the area, and later we found at least ten more further round. The bulk of the throng was made up of Black-headed Gulls and a quick scan through quickly located a couple of adult Mediterranean Gulls with them, their darker and more extensive black hoods standing out even at a distance. There were also lots of Fallow Deer out in the longer grass, with several small fawns running around with them.

P1030475Fallow Deer – there is a big herd in the park at Holkham Hall

We didn’t want to waste too much time in the park today, so we moved swiftly on towards Burnham Overy, where we parked and set off along the track out across the grazing marshes to the seawall. A Common Whitethroat perched nicely on the top of the hedge singing. Nearby, two smaller and duller greyish brown warblers flew across the path and we got a look at them as they landed and hopped around for a second on the outside of the bush, Lesser Whitethroats. They have stopped singing at the moment and quickly disappeared into the hedge, which is where they prefer to be. Unlike their close relatives, they don’t tend to sit up on the tops. It was good to be able to compare the two species, one after the other.

P1030487Common Whitethroat – perched up singing on the top of a bush

The Sedge Warblers along the path which sat up on the tops of the bushes earlier in the spring are a little more secretive now. We heard several and saw them darting into cover, but the need to sing non-stop has now diminished and they are busier finding food for their nestlings now.

P1030584Sedge Warbler – they are more secretive now than in the spring

We did have a nice Reed Warbler which came up to the top of the reeds in the ditch by the path to sing. Usually it is the other way round, with the Reed Warblers harder to see than the Sedge!

P1030490Reed Warbler – this one came up out of the reeds to sing for us

As we got up onto the seawall, we could see that the reedbed pool was empty save for a Coot and a couple of moulting Mallards. We stood for a while scanning either side of the path and could hear more Reed and Sedge Warblers, plus a couple of Reed Buntings which perched more helpfully in the tops of the bushes. We could also hear the ‘pinging’ of Bearded Tits and we saw a couple of birds whizz across the top of the reeds before dropping back into cover. While we were standing there, a smart male Marsh Harrier appeared over the reedbed and circled low and close to us. It started to drift away, but then turned and flew right along the seawall towards us, veering away over the saltmarsh at the last minute.

P1030511Marsh Harrier – this male flew past us on the seawall

Out on the saltmarsh, we could see a few waders. A group of about 10 Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep. There were also a few Redshank and Oystercatcher on the mud. As we walked further along, we saw a big flock of large waders circle up out over the harbour – about 30 Curlew. Another sign that autumn is on its way!

The rest of the walk, to the end of the boardwalk and out across the dunes to Gun Hill, was fairly quiet save for the constant singing of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and the odd pair of Linnets which flew up from the bushes. The surprise was two Siskins which flew overhead calling – presumably on their way somewhere. As we got out to Gun Hill we flushed a Cuckoo from the bushes, dropping quickly out of sight over the dunes. We climbed up to the top and the Cuckoo appeared again from the Sea Buckthorn and flew round in front of us before disappearing back the way we had just come. Presumably in search of an unsuspecting pair of Meadow Pipits!

Out at the point, there was no sign today of any Spoonbills in the harbour, but there were several Oystercatchers and a Ringed Plover. As we walked round on the beach, we found several more Ringed Plovers along the shoreline.

IMG_6241Ringed Plover – we found several along the beach at Gun Hill

There was a big group of Little Terns roosting out on a shingle spit in the harbour, but at first we could see little in the way of activity in the colony on the beach. They seem a little subdued at the moment, for some reason. As we walked along the shoreline, we could see a single Common Tern on the nest first, but eventually we found a few Little Terns sitting. We got a good look at them from a discrete distance through the scope, where we didn’t disturb them.

IMG_6179Little Tern – a few were sitting on the beach at Gun Hill

The walk back was fairly uneventful at first. However, as we got back to the reedbed pool, we could see a large white shape on the edge of the reeds. We just got a quick look at it before it disappeared out of view – a Spoonbill. Finally! We waited a minute or so and eventually it walked back out, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water, occasionally lifting its head quickly to snap up something it had found.

IMG_6271Spoonbill – an adult feeding on the reedbed pool by the seawall

We watched it for a bit and then suddenly two more Spoonbills dropped in as well. Just like buses! One was an adult, but the other was slightly smaller, much whiter and with a short teaspoon-bill – a juvenile, possibly on one of its first forays away from the colony. We watched the two adult Spoonbills walk off feeding and at first the juvenile stood on its own looking a bit lost. Then it started to try to feed as well, though its sweeping action was much slower and a lot less practiced. We didn’t see it catch anything, but it was trying its best!

IMG_6274Spoonbill – a fresh juvenile with a rather short ‘teaspoon-bill’

As we were walking back to the car, a bright orange butterfly flew past us over the brambles by the path. It dropped down to land briefly on the track and confirmed our initial suspicions – it was a Dark Green Fritillary, the first we have seen this year. Unfortunately it didn’t linger, and powered off along the path ahead of us. That was not the only butterfly interest of the morning – we had also seen quite a few Meadow Browns and a couple of Painted Ladys on our walk.

P1030532Painted Lady – we saw a couple today out in the dunes

We had also seen a few caterpillars. A couple of hairy Garden Tiger moth caterpillars crawled over the path. And out in the dunes, the small scattered plants of Ragwort were absolutely covered in yellow and black Cinnabar moth caterpillars.

P1030540Cinnabar Moth caterpillar – the Ragwort was covered with them today

After lunch at Holkham by Lady Anne’s Drive, enlivened by a Hedgehog strolling past the picnic tables and into the long grass, we walked west along the inner edge of the pines. As we set off, we could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing and several tits calling. However, much of the walk out was quiet today, in the heat of the early afternoon. There were several Jays around today, and one perched up nicely for the cameras.

P1030602Jay – we saw several on the edge of the pines today

As soon as we got into Joe Jordan hide, we could see the Spoonbills. A large group were doing what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping. We could see at least eleven birds, a mixture of adults and juveniles.

IMG_6278Spoonbills – at least 11 adults & juveniles, mostly asleep

Then two more adult Spoonbills appeared from out of sight behind the reeds, feeding in the shallow water. Pretty soon, they were joined by two more out of the group, and we watched four adults feeding in unison around the pool. Odd birds were also coming and going. One adult Spoonbill, possibly newly arrived from a feeding foray, was pursued around the pool by its juvenile, the latter bobbing its head and flapping its wings, asking to be fed. It wouldn’t give up – we saw the two of the several minutes later, the adult still being pursued.

IMG_6287Spoonbill – several adults were feeding in the shallow water

There were plenty of other things to see from the hide as well. A female Marsh Harrier flew in carrying prey and we watched her drop down into the reeds, presumably to feed a hungry brood. A couple of minutes later, she was off out again but it wasn’t long before she returned laden-taloned once again. There was no sign of the male bringing her anything. A Red Kite circled lazily in the sky beyond the trees. And a Common Buzzard flew across towards us over the grazing marshes, before attracting the attentions of a Marsh Harrier, which proceeded to circle rapidly higher above it before dive-bombing it.

The usual flocks of feral Greylag Geese and the odd pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass. However, a closer scan revealed a few Pink-footed Geese in amongst them. Most of the wintering birds left already in February, but a very small number remain right through the summer, possibly sick or injured birds. The other main highlight was a pair of Grey Partridge out on the grass in front of the hide.

We walked out into the dunes and had a quick look at the sea. A distant flock of Common Scoter were being harassed by some gulls. The dunes themselves were quiet bird-wise, but we did see several more Dark Green Fritillaries fluttering around among the bushes. Unfortunately none really stopped still long enough to perform for the cameras. Speaking to one of the wardens, it would seem the first ones of the year here were only seen yesterday.

P1030607Dark Green Fritillary – there were several out in the dunes today

We still had time for one last stop, so we headed to the local gull colony. We could hear lots of Black-headed Gulls squawking as we walked up. This afternoon, there were lots of gulls down on the sand below the colony and bathing in the water. A quick scan revealed a good number of Mediterranean Gulls amongst them, the more extensive black hoods and white wing tips giving the adults away from their regular counterparts.

IMG_6304Mediterranean Gulls – at least 9 adults, plus various younger birds today

There was also a small number of 2nd summer Mediterranean Gulls, and a few 1st summers as well. It was good to get a chance to look at the age-related differences between them. One of the 2nd summers was sporting a colour ring with an alphanumeric code on it. Through the scope we could read the code, so it will be interesting to see if we can find out where it has come from.

IMG_6299Mediterranean Gulls – 1st sum in front with colour-ringed 2nd sum behind

There were fewer terns than in recent weeks. Whether the nests have failed or been disturbed was not clear, but most of the Common Terns seem to have deserted the nest sites. Looking carefully, we eventually found a couple of Arctic Terns as well, out on the mud beyond. We watched them hunting, hovering over the small pools out on the saltmarsh. It is a real treat to watch these here, as there are not many pairs in Norfolk, given our position right at the southern edge of their breeding range.

After that, we headed for home. We were just leaving Wells when a Hobby buzzed through a flock of swallows and martins over the field by the road. A great sight and a suitable way to end the day.

24th June 2015 – Broads Birds & Butterflies

A Private Tour today, the first day of a five day programme put together for a US client, a mixture of private and scheduled group days. Given the planned itinerary for the regular weekend tours, we headed down to the Broads today.

We started at Hickling Broad. The car park was alive with tits, finches and warblers – Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. A nice gentle introduction to birding in Europe.

Rather than head to the hides first, we decided to see if the family of Eurasian Cranes was in their usual fields. We could see a head briefly, distantly in the taller reeds at the back, but they were not really playing ball today. So we decided to walk on and come back later in the morning. As we headed out across the reserve, suddenly two Cranes appeared over the path ahead of us and we watched them fly and glide slowly towards the Broad. We got great flight views, and we could hear them bugling as they disappeared.

P1030144Crane – these two flew over in front of us today

The trees along the side of the track were alive with birds. A big mixed tit flock passed through – lots of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits, together with Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. As we walked up to the oak tree they had gone into, we discovered that in their place was a pair of Yellowhammers, looking for caterpillars in the foliage. We could hear a Whitethroat alarm calling in the trees as well – a female carrying food was too wary of our presence at first to fly down to its nest in some brambles.

P1030162Yellowhammer – a pair were feeding in an oak tree

We had not gone much further when three Brown Hares ran out of the grass and proceeded to chase each other around on the track in front of us. One disappeared again but, even though it is now the end of June, the other two started ‘boxing’. Quite a sight – mad as a June hare!?

P1030167Brown Hares – boxing in June

We spent a bit of time in Bittern Hide, but unfortunately there was no sign of its namesake today. We did see several Eurasian Hobbys hawking for insects over the reedbed. There were also several Marsh Harriers up, and we saw both a food-pass and a male displaying, sky-dancing and calling. Great action. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, and saw the back end of a couple of birds disappearing into the reeds.

Along the bank by the Broad, there were lots of warblers singing. We could hear both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers and it was good to note the differences in song between the two. We also heard our first Cetti’s Warblers, shouting from the bushes beside us but doing their usual playing hard to get. The Sedge Warblers were most obliging, perching up in full view and songflighting. We heard more Bearded Tits as well and saw one come up out of the reeds.

IMG_6085Sedge Warbler – singing from a nice obvious perch in the reedbed

We had seen a few Swallowtails already, on our walk round, but as we got back almost to the Cadbury Hide the Marsh Thistles were alive with them, we lost count of how many. Such stunning butterflies and such a privilege to see them, particularly as the Broads is the only place Swallowtails are found in the UK (and the only place the British subspecies is found).

P1030282P1030261Swallowtail butterflies – put on a great display again today

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the reserve as well today. We saw several of the other local speciality, Norfolk Hawker, lots of Four-spotted Chasers, a couple of Emperor Dragonflies and a single Hairy Dragonfly. Amongst the many Azure Damselflies, we picked out a few Variable Damselflies as well.

P1030140Variable Damselfly – we found a few amongst the more common Azures

It had been quite an action-packed morning, the sun was shining and it was starting to get quite warm, so we made use of one of the picnic tables for an early lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk back along the track to see if the family of Cranes had come out onto the wet meadows. We couldn’t see any sign of them, but while we were walking along two heads appeared in the wheat field on the other side of the road, two Cranes looking slightly incongruous in such a setting. We got a good look at them in the scope, but they were already looking nervous. After a couple of minutes they took off and flew away over the trees, bugling as they went. They were obviously a pair, but presumably not the nesting pair as there was no sign of any juveniles.

IMG_6092Crane – one of two heads which appeared in a wheat field by the track

After that, we headed over to Upton Fen. The birds were a little quiet today, in the muggy early afternoon. We did add a few species to the day’s list – Eurasian Jay, Marsh Tit and a Song Thrush heard singing. However, there was lots of dragonfly action – especially more Norfolk Hawkers. And a few butterflies, including couple of Ringlets which were new for the day.

P1030311Ringlet – we saw a couple at Upton Fen today

There were also lots of orchids as usual. Mostly they were Southern Marsh Orchids in various shades of purple, but we found a small group of Common Spotted Orchids, and several of intermediate appearance (not a surprise, given the propensity of these species to hybridise). We also saw several Fen Orchids, the real speciality here, though a rather under-stated little yellow flower.

P1030319Fen Orchid – not the most striking of the orchids in flower at the moment

Our final stop of the day was at Ranworth. We stopped to look at the first Great Crested Grebes of the day on Malthouse Broad and a pair of Treecreepers appeared in the trees beside us. They were feeding very quietly, climbing up the tree trunks before spiralling down and starting again on the neighbouring tree. House Martins over the village were new for the day and a couple of Mistle Thrushes were hopping around in the grass in the boatyard.

P1030334Treecreeper – a pair were in the trees by Malthouse Broad

Out at Ranworth Broad, the nesting Black-headed Gulls were being very noisy, but we were more interested in the Common Terns. At first, they refused to come near us, flying in and out overhead. However, when it clouded over just a little they suddenly started to land on the posts in front of us. One in particular had caught a rather large fish – for a Common Tern – and spent several minutes trying to swallow it whole.

IMG_6140Common Tern – eventually landed on the posts so we could get a good look

The Great Crested Grebes stole the show. One particular family group was swimming about right by the staithe, including three large stripy-headed juveniles. While small young are often carried on their parents’ backs, these birds had obviously outgrown that privilege. However, that didn’t stop them chasing after one of the adult Great Crested Grebes and trying their luck to see if they could climb aboard. The adult did not seem very impressed.

P1030357Great Crested Grebe – the young too big to ride on mum’s back

There were a few other birds around as well. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the bushes, but would not show itself. Amongst the masses of Greylag Geese, we found a few Egyptian Geese as well. A Kingfisher called behind us and we turned round just in time to see it disappear over the trees. Then, with time running out, we headed back to the car.

There was still one last surprise left in the day. As we approached the car park, we stopped to look at the feeders in a garden. Suddenly, next to it in the tree, a Spotted Flycatcher appeared. We watched it swooping out, sallying forth after insects before wheeling back and landing in the tree again. After a little while, we realised that there were actually two Spotted Flycatchers in the same tree, presumably a pair. It was great to stand and watch them feeding, and a lovely way to wrap up the day.

P1030458Spotted Flycatcher – a pair were feeding in a garden today

22nd June 2015 – Birds & Orchids

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. The weather was mixed – cool and windy at times, with some heavy showers, but we had a great day out and enjoyed the sunny intervals.

We met up at Titchwell and journeyed east along the coast to Holkham first. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and walked west on the inland side of the pines. We could hear birds singing, but they were mostly keeping low in the cooler conditions. A Sedge Warbler perched up nicely and a Whitethroat performed a little song flight before disappearing back into the undergrowth. We could hear little groups of tits up in the pine trees, together with Goldcrests and Treecreepers but they were hard to see high up in the trees.

P1020750Foxgloves – looking beautiful in the dappled sunshine through the pines

There were fewer birds on the pool from the Joe Jordan hide this morning, apart from a pair of Shelducks with ten shelducklings. There were no Spoonbills down on the pool today, perhaps keeping to the trees in the windy conditions. We could just see the top of a white head poking out from the trees. Several of the juveniles have already started to disperse along the coast with their parents in the last few days, but hopefully their are still more to come. The Cormorants appear to be doing well, with lots of well grown juveniles in the nests among the trees. A big flock of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits was swirling round over the pools periodically.

There were lots of geese out on the grazing marshes as usual. Mostly they were feral Greylag Geese. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew in and landed on the grass. Then a darker head appeared from behind a grassy bank. A closer look through the scope confirmed that it had a smaller, darker bill that a Greylag Goose, with a narrow pink band around it. It was a Pink-footed Goose. Thousands of Pink-footed Geese come here for the winter, but most left already in February. Only a handful of presumably sick or injured birds remain through the summer.

The Marsh Harriers performed well, as ever. There were several birds whirling around the trees and quartering the grazing marshes. One bird dropped down out of sight into a ditch and came up with some dead wet reeds, presumably some additional material to enhance its nest – a bit of late home improvement! One of the resident female Marsh Harriers perched up on a dead tree where we could get a good look at her through the scope. She stood there for some time, presumably waiting for the male to return with food, though she eventually got impatient and flew off.

P1020746Marsh Harrier – quartering the grazing marshes below us

We walked back along the path towards Washington Hide and took a diversion out along the boardwalk to look at the beach. As soon as we got out there, we could see dark clouds heading our way and we just managed to get back to the hide as the heavens opened. Thankfully the rain passed through very quickly. As soon as it brightened up, we headed back to the car. A Jay flew along the fence beside Lady Anne’s Drive, dropped down into the field and then landed on a fence post with a tasty morsel. It perched up nicely for us while it devoured whatever it had found there.

P1020757Jav – perched up on a fence post feeding on an unidentified morsel

We had been talking about orchids earlier in the day, so knowing of an amazing display of Marsh Orchids back along the coast we decided to make a quick change of itinerary and a short diversion. We walked through the dunes, stopping to admire the odd spike,  before we came into a large dune slack and found the main attraction, a stunning purple carpet spread out across the grass.

P1020808Marsh Orchids – a stunning carpet of flowers in the dunes

P1020796Southern Marsh Orchids – most of the flowers were shades of regular purple

The vast majority of the flowers were Southern Marsh Orchids, and mostly the regular form in a variety of shades of purple. However, there were also lots of white spikes obvious amongst them, the white-flowered albifrons variety of Southern Marsh Orchid, unusual to see in such profusion.

P1020787Southern Marsh Orchid var. albifrons – the white-flowered form

As we walked along the path through the orchids, we managed to pick out spikes of other species as well. There were quite a few Early Marsh Orchids of the sub-species coccinea, with deep red flowers, and some with slightly paler flowered spikes which may either be natural variation of intermediate forms. We also came across a few bright pink, conical flower spikes of Pyramidal Orchid, just starting to come into bloom. And here and there we found a few pale Common Spotted Orchid as well.

P1020825Early Marsh Orchid – either subspecies coccinea or intermediate

P1020819Pyramidal Orchid – just coming into bloom

It was a real privilege to walk among such a beautiful display of orchids and well worth the diversion. We headed back to the car for lunch and we were just sitting outside enjoying the sunshine when another shower swept in on the breeze and saw us scurry for shelter inside, although it was very brief.

After lunch, we drove back to Titchwell and walked out onto the reserve. It was lovely weather out on the footpath at first, despite a brisk wind. The Reed Warblers were singing from down in the shelter of the reeds, and the Cetti’s Warblers shouting at us from the cover of the sallows, but a nice showy Sedge Warbler perched up on a bulrush.

P1020849Sedge Warbler – singing from the top of a bulrush

There were lots of Swifts zooming around low over the reeds, and a few House Martins in amongst them. Out on the reedbed pool, we stopped to admire several Red-crested Pochards, the males still sporting their bright orange punk haircuts, as well as a few Common Pochard and Tufted Duck. However, with the clouds darkening to the west, we made for the shelter of Island Hide, where it was nice to get out of the wind as well.

As usual, there were several Avocets in front of the hide – always nice to watch them feeding, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallow water. We could also see lots of Black-tailed Godwits, mostly 1st summer Icelandic birds in a variety of different colours from grey-brown winter-like plumage to bright rusty-orange summer dress. Further over on the freshmarsh was  a little group of paler Bar-tailed Godwits, mostly asleep, and with them a few smaller, dumpier grey Knot. A single black-bellied summer plumage Dunlin did its best to hide on one of the islands.

P1020861Avocet – the obligatory Titchwell photo opportunity

The sky over the Parrinder Hide beyond gradually turned darker and eventually the rain swept in. It was a particularly impressive downpour and the freshmarsh appeared to empty as many of the birds seemed to seek shelter – most of the godwits flew off and the Avocets made for the reeds and islands. However, it was hard to even see across the freshmarsh for a minute or so!

P1020878Parrinder Hide – with the sky blackening behind

P1020888Freshmarsh – appeared to empty as the heavy rain swept in

P1020893Avocets & Lapwing – sought shelter in the reeds

Thankfully, once again the rain passed through very quickly and it brought an unexpected bonus. There were two Spoonbill on one of the islands at the back of the freshmarsh before the rain, but they were up to their usual activity or lack thereof – fast asleep. After the worst of the rain had gone past, they woke up and walked out onto the water to preen. We finally got a chance to get a better look at them.

IMG_5974Spoonbills – finally woke up after the rain

There were other birds to look out out on the freshmarsh as well. A variety of ducks, including lots of Gadwall, several large-billed Shoveler, and an increasing number of Teal already returning now. There have been a few Little Gulls around for several weeks and today was no exception, with at least three 1st summer birds feeding around the islands.

IMG_5988Little Gull – one of the 1st summer birds still on the freshmarsh

As the skies brightened again and the rain stopped, we walked round to the Parrinder Hide. On the way, out on the saltmarsh, we could see a Chinese Water Deer feeding. This individual has been here for many months now and is distinguished by its increasingly tatty condition. As well as the bare patch on its back and ragged ears, it appeared to have something wrong with one of its eyes today, which was half-closed. Sad to see, but presumably there is little that can be done for it out here unfortunately.

P1020921Chinese Water Deer – this individual looks in increasingly poor condition

There was little new to be seen from Parrinder Hide, though we got closer views of many of the ducks from round here. A Snipe appeared from the vegetation and ran along one of the islands but disappeared back in again too quickly to get everyone on it and didn’t re-emerge. We had hoped to get a better look at the Spoonbills from here but having dried out a bit, they had obviously decided to fly off while we were on the path to the hide and couldn’t see them depart.

P1020927Reed Bunting – singing from a Suaeda bush

With more dark clouds gathering away in the distance to the west, we decided to make the best of the break in the weather and walk to the beach. A smart male Reed Bunting was singing from the Suaeda on the saltmarsh and a Little Egret on the tidal pools gave stunning close-up views.

P1020944Little Egret – feeding stealthily on the tidal pools

With the tide half way out, there were lots of Bar-tailed Godwits out on the rocks and a few Knot as well – possibly the birds which had been roosting on the freshmarsh earlier. A Ringed Plover was an addition to the day’s list, as was a Sandwich Tern fishing offshore. But with the threat of more rain and time running out with a train to catch, we walked quickly back.

There was still time for one more treat on our way. A Barn Owl was out hunting over the grazing meadow and we stopped to watch it circling round over the grass, occasionally stopping to hover or dropping suddenly into the vegetation. Always nice to see, and a great way to end the day.

P1020962P1020965Barn Owl – out hunting over the grazing meadow this afternoon

21st June 2015 – Waders & Warblers

A Summer Tour today, it was billed as Spoonbills & Dartford Warblers and that was exactly what we did. And a lot more besides!

The day started cloudy and cool. Rather than head up to the Heath first, as we might normally do, we thought it might be better to have a look around Cley this morning. We were glad we did. As we walked into Teal Hide, we could see a few small waders on the mud on the island in front. A quick look through the scope confirmed that one of them was the White-rumped Sandpiper, a rare visitor from North America which has been around the reserve intermittently for over a week now.

IMG_5863White-rumped Sandpiper – we just got a good look at it before it flew off

It was feeding with three Dunlin, their black belly patches immediately distinguishing them, and a single Ringed Plover. We had just had a good look at them when suddenly the little group took off and disappeared away to the north-east, out over to the sea. That was the last time the White-rumped Sandpiper was seen all day.

There were lots of other birds on the scrapes today – it was a real wader-fest. It was a slow spring for waders, so it was great to see so many today. At this time of year, it is hard to tell whether they are late birds heading north or, more likely now, early birds already returning south. First two Greenshank dropped into Pat’s Pool and they were steadily joined by more until we had at least six together. Then a lovely black summer plumage Spotted Redshank flew in. What a stunner! It fed next to a Common Redshank first, before flying over to join the Greenshank, giving us a great opportunity to compare the structure of the three ‘shanks.

Several Little Ringed Plovers were out on the islands – we could see their golden yellow eye-rings through the scope – and a small group of Ringed Plovers (of the tundrae race) were feeding on the mud in front of Dauke’s Hide. Three Knot, one sporting a little bit of orange on its underparts, were in amongst the Black-tailed Godwits. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was sleeping in front of one of the islands on Simmond’s Scrape.

The Avocets put on a good show as usual. There was a little family of four fluffy little juveniles on the island in front of Teal Hide. They seemed to be happy enough feeding out on the mud, but when mum called, they ran over to her, she knelt down and they snuggled in underneath her belly feathers.

IMG_5884Avocet & chicks – now you see them…

IMG_5897…and now you don’t!

There have been several Little Gulls at Cley for some time now and today was no exception. We counted five, again all 1st summer birds and again all sporting varying amounts of black summer-plumage hood.

IMG_5867Little Gull – five 1st summers at Cley again today

Out on Simmond’s Scrape, we could see a long line of white blobs – Spoonbills, twelve of them today. Once again, they were all doing what Spoonbills like to do most, sleeping. They did wake up occasionally, and when they did we could see they were a mixture of adults and juveniles, the latter smaller and with their bills not yet fully grown. The adults also sported a black bill with yellow tip, lacking in the youngsters, and a crest of feathers on the back of the head.

P1020653Spoonbills – twelve on Simmond’s Scrape this morning

IMG_5907Spoonbills – four short-billed juveniles

Having enjoyed all the excitement on the scrapes, we decided to go for a walk round to the East Bank. It was very windy up on the bank itself, and hard to focus on the birds at times. There were several Lapwing and Redshank on the flooded grazing marshes, as usual, and a few Avocets on the pools. A single Golden Plover out on the grass was a surprise. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits asleep in the grass. Duck excitement was provided by a little group of Teal – numbers are slowly creeping up again now.

While we were scanning the Serpentine, there was a huge commotion over Arnold’s Marsh, as hundreds of waders and terns took to the air in a cacophony of noise. A quick look soon revealed the culprit – a Marsh Harrier was flying over, pursued by a little posse of Avocets. They chased it right overhead and out onto the reedbed.

P1020674Marsh Harrier – mobbed by Avocet

As the waders settled back down, lots of them came into land on the grass by the Serpentine. Mostly, they were more Black-tailed Godwits, but looking through the flock we discovered a single male Ruff, still in stunning summer plumage, with exotic looking rufous and white neck feathers. Down on the mud on the bank of the Serpentine, we could see a couple of Ringed Plovers, this time larger, paler birds of the local breeding race hiaticula.

There were lots of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers around the reedbed as usual, but they were hard to see in the wind today. The Reed Buntings were a little more obvious. However, we really wanted to see Bearded Tits. We could hear them and we had several frustratingly quick flight views, before we eventually found a smart male which perched up in the tops of the reeds briefly. A pair also then flew past us close and landed in the reeds the other side of the bank.

P1020644Reed Bunting – more obliging than the warblers at Cley in the wind today

A lot of the birds we had seen circling earlier, as the Marsh Harrier went over, had landed back on Arnold’s Marsh. There was an impressive flock of waders roosting out on the water. Scanning through, we could see that the largest number were Knot, at least 130 today and almost all mostly in grey winter plumage apart from one more orangey one. There were also good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit as well, numbering at least 60 and again with only one sporting any degree of orange summer plumage. We had seen a little group of around 10 Grey Plover in flight but they were more scattered around the various islands now. However, a couple were still in stunning black-bellied plumage. There were also two large Curlew on the edge of the throng.

As well as all the waders, there was a noisy flock of terns out on Arnold’s. Mostly Sandwich Terns, with shaggy crests and yellow-tipped black bills. Tucked down on one of the shingle islands, we could see three Common Terns as well, smaller, slimmer, with a sleeker black crest and black-tipped orange-red bill.

By this stage, it was already getting on for lunchtime, so we were glad to walk back and get off the East Bank and out of the wind. Still, it wasn’t so bad at ‘ground level’ that we couldn’t sit outside and eat our lunch at the picnic tables. A female Marsh Harrier drifted past close by and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the reeds across the road.

After lunch, we headed up to the Heath. A windy day is not the best to explore here, as the birds can often be tucked down, but we did remarkably well today all things considering. A Turtle Dove had been purring from some birch trees, but we couldn’t see it at first. It was only as we were walking away that we spotted it flying between branches. We got the scope on it and could see it amongst the foliage, particularly as the wind periodically parted it.

IMG_5936Turtle Dove – hiding amongst the leaves of a birch tree

We could hear a Dartford Warbler singing, but it seemed to be keeping down deep in a large clump of gorse. The next thing we knew it had moved a distance away out of the back, and we just caught a glimpse of it singing from the top of a bush. It flew back towards us, dropping into the gorse and heather a couple of times, before coming right past us. We could see it was carrying nesting material.

We carried on round the heath. There were lots of Linnets and several Yellowhammers singing as usual. We heard another Turtle Dove purring briefly, but couldn’t find it once it went quiet. A Cuckoo was singing and a Hobby flashed over. There was no sign of the other male Dartford Warbler which has been singing this week – it was possibly too windy for it to perform. However, while we were waiting for it, a Woodlark appeared on a dead tree stump, giving us nice scope views. A smart male Stonechat also perched up nicely, as they tend to do.

We walked back the way we had come. The first male Dartford Warbler was still singing, in much the same area as we had heard it earlier. We patiently followed it, singing almost all the time as it moved through the gorse. Eventually it hopped up onto the top, gave a quick burst of song and launched itself into a song flight. It dropped back down into the dense gorse, still singing, before a female Dartford Warbler flew across to join it. Then the two of them disappeared into the undergrowth and went quiet.

On the walk back, we stopped to admire a little group of Silver-studded Blue butterflies fluttering amongst the grass in a clear area. We could see the wider black margins to the blue upperwings and the silvery blue-centred marginal spots on the hindwings.

P1020725Silver-studded Blue male – the black margins are wider than Common Blue

P1020710Silver-studded Blue – with silver-centred black spots on the underwing

We still had time for one last walk, so on our way back we stopped at Salthouse. We could see a single adult Spoonbill feeding out on the pools in front of the pub as we drove past, and another three Spoonbills by the Iron Road. We walked out along the latter and had a good look at them before they flew off – two juveniles and a presumed 1st summer.

IMG_5942IMG_5961Spoonbills – another three by the Iron Road this afternoon

There were also lots of Sand Martins hunting low over the water. A couple of Meadow Pipits were song-flighting, fluttering up before parachuting back down to the ground. A fly-over Pochard was another addition to the day’s list. Then it was time to call it a day and head home.

Spoonbill – check, Dartford Warbler – check, and don’t forget everything else!