A Summer Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously sunny day with only patchy cloud, but very windy once again gusting 35-40mph all day.
We started up on the Heath. A Willow Warbler was singing from the bushes as we got out of the car, and we could hear a Garden Warbler further along. We walked down to see if we could see it, but we only got a glimpse of it as it disappeared into the depths of a Blackthorn tree.
As we walked round the heath there was no sound of any Turtle Doves in their favoured area. However, we had only gone a little further when one flew past us and into the trees where we had just left. We could then hear it purring. We walked back, expecting it to be deep within one of the birches, but it was perched right on the top! It was being blown around a bit, but we got a great look at it, the bright rufous-fringed upperparts and delicate black and white streaked neck panel. The UK Turtle Dove population is in precipitous decline and it always a pleasure to see one as well as this.
It was blustery out on the open parts of the heath and general bird activity was a little subdued. We saw several Linnets and a couple of Yellowhammers, including a smart male perched in the top of a gorse bush singing, but there were not as many out in the open as usual, probably due to the wind.
We found the family of Stonechats in their usual place. We saw the juveniles first – they are becoming more confident now and perching up in the tops of the bushes. The male was busy collecting food nearby, for his hungry brood. We did also have a quick look for the Dartford Warblers, but they have been elusive anyway in recent days and they don’t like the wind, so it was no surprise that we couldn’t find them today. We didn’t waste much time there.
As we walked round back to the car park, the Garden Warbler was still singing away. We stopped nearby, and it seemed to come ever closer, until it was almost right in front of us, and still we couldn’t see it. Suddenly it flew up from within the brambles below us, and perched in full view for a few seconds, still singing. Then it flew back into the dense Blackthorn behind. It was great to get a good look at such an elusive species.
The Garden Warbler had found a sheltered corner and when we looked down there were also several Green Hairstreaks in the undergrowth right in front of us. They were looking for nectar, but the bramble flowers were yet to open and they had to make do with some Groundsel.
From there, we dropped down onto the coast. As we drove along the main coast road at Salthouse, we could see a large white shape on one of the pools. Sure enough, it was a Spoonbill and sure enough, it was asleep! We pulled up at the Iron Road, but we couldn’t see it over the reeds. However, the pools there held a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwit and we got the scope on a couple of male Shoveler. A smart male Marsh Harrier, with black-tipped, grey wings was quartering the marshes.
It was on to Cley next and our first destination was the East Bank. It was very windy up there, and at times we had trouble standing up! There were lots of Lapwing, Redshank and Avocet out on the Serpentine. We got a good look at both Sedge and Reed Warbler singing from the reedbed. Arnold’s Marsh held a large gathering of Sandwich Terns, clearly sheltering from the choppy conditions out to sea. We had hoped to catch a glimpse of a Bearded Tit, but it was always going to be an outside chance on such a blustery day.
It was out to Teal Hide next. After our success a couple of days ago, we thought there might be more activity on the reserve proper, but it had gone back to being a little quiet. At least Teal Hide lived up to its name, and we saw a couple of drake Teal. There are large numbers here for the winter, but almost all of them have departed and there have been very few around in recent weeks, so this was a good bird for the day’s list. There were still lots of Avocet here, with several still brooding.
There have been lots of Little Gulls along the coast in recent weeks, almost all young 1st summer birds, with black feathers in the wing and with variably patchy black summer hoods. There was one on Pat’s Pool today and another on Simmond’s Scrape.
It was round to North Scrape next. This seems to be the best place to see waders at Cley at the moment. There was a large, noisy crowd there today, but eventually they moved off and we could get a good look at the birds. A little flock of smaller waders consisted of 7 Tundra Ringed Plovers, a Dunlin and a single Little Stint. The latter was clearly much smaller than the other two species. There was also yet another 1st summer Little Gull.
Our last stop of the day was at Holkham. Lady Anne’s Drive was very busy today – I guess it was a Saturday and it was sunny, but the wind looked to be blowing a sandstorm across the beach! Rather than follow the hordes, we turned left and walked along the inside edge of the pines. We did walk up along the boardwalk by Washington Hide and out to take an admiring glance at the sea. It was nice and sheltered on the north side of the pines. We did also see a few Little Terns out over the beach and a single Common Scoter on the sea.
The flowers by Meals House have been very good for butterflies over the last few months. Today, we saw several Wall, a Red Admiral and a Holly Blue. We also saw quite a few Painted Ladys today – this species is a migrant, so they have presumably been carried her on the warm winds in recent days. There was also a nice female Blue-tailed Damselfly by Meals House.
There were a few birds along the edge of the pines today, though lots more were hiding from the wind. A Treecreeper flew out and fed in an oak tree beside the path, hanging upside down from a branch and working its way all the way along – its a miracle they don’t fall off!
Out at the Joe Jordan hide, it didn’t take long to find a Spoonbill. At first their was only one short-billed juvenile ‘Tea’-Spoonbill down on the nursery pool. Shortly afterwards, an adult arrived. It seemed to be feeding at first, but then started to wrestle a stick out of the water. There was obviously something substandard about it, so the stick was rejected and it started to pull dry leaves out of the reeds instead. After a while, it found something suitable and flew off into the trees with it.
More adult Spoonbills dropped down to the pool. One in particular, newly arrived from out feeding along the coast, attracted a single juvenile which started to beg, bouncing up and down and flapping its wings. The adult Spoonbill finally gave in and regurgitated a meal for the youngster. More juveniles dropped down as well and two stood out in the open on the nearest edge. We admired their whiter plumage and short, stubby bills. Then they seemed to engage in some sort of spoon-swordfight – it was hard to tell whether it was a friendly greeting, and at times it looked like they were preening each other. Interesting stuff.
There were other things to see here as well. The nesting Cormorants also have growing young to feed. Both Little Egrets and Grey Herons were back and forth regularly. The pair of Grey Partridge were feeding in the grass down in front of the hide as usual. Several Marsh Harriers flew past. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits periodically flushed from the pools behind the trees and flew round in a whirl. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.