Monthly Archives: June 2015

12th June 2015 – Afternoon Around Wells

A half day tour today, in the Wells and Holkham area this afternoon. It was gloriously sunny again – cool in the East wind coming in off the sea, but lovely out of it.

We met up in Wells and headed down to the harbour first, to the gull colony. There was lots of activity, as usual, and the Black-headed Gulls were making lots of noise. There were plenty of fluffy brown juveniles already. Those that wandered away from their nest site or down onto the beach were aggressively pecked at by the other neighbouring adults. With the odd Great Black-backed Gull hanging around as well, it is a perilous existence for a young gull away from the nest. A pair of Common Gulls down on the edge of the beach were particularly smart – we admired their pure white, rounded heads, dark eye and yellow bills.

We heard the Mediterranean Gulls first, their calls are very distinctive and could be heard quite clearly even over all the background noise. Then we picked out a pair of adults wheeling in the melee above the colony. We watched them flying back and forth, flashing their white wingtips. Even better, they then landed on the beach below us. We got them in the scope and could see their jet black hoods (unlike the inappropriately named, chocolate-brown headed Black-headed Gulls!). Very smart birds.

P1010981Mediterranean Gull – this pair of adults landed on the beach below us

There were lots of terns to look at too. On the edge of the gull colony, several Common Terns were sitting on the shingle. We got them in the scope and noted their bright orange-red bills with a distinctive black-tip. Eventually. we managed to find a single Arctic Tern as well – its slightly shorter, darker, blood red bill gave it away, as did its longer tail streamers which stuck out noticeably beyond the tips of its wings. The Little Terns were all feeding over the channel, plunge diving. One in particular came very close in front of us and we could see its yellow bill and white forehead patch, which help to distinguish them from the others. Their small size also gives them away, and this was most obvious when a Common Tern joined them fishing.

With the tide on its way in, we could see lots of waders being pushed up the mudflats on the opposite side. There were lots of Oystercatcher, but also a few smaller waders. A flock of 7 Knot was notable, in all grey winter plumage, and a couple of Turnstone. A single Curlew was also probing around in the muddy channels higher up the beach.

Our next stop was at Holkham. Despite the warmth of the afternoon, there were still a few warblers singing. A Blackcap sang from the shade of the trees by the end of Lady Anne’s Drive. There were several Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats still in full voice, and a single Willow Warbler in the edge of the pines. From out in the reeds by Washington Hide, we could hear both Sedge and Reed Warblers, but they were not so easy to see.

The usual tits were also present. We came across a nice family of Long-tailed Tits which dropped out of the pines to feed in a Sycamore, with lots of sooty-faced juevniles. While we were watching them, a Treecreeper appeared in the same tree and worked its way up and out along the branches. We could also hear several Goldcrests singing. The local Jays can be a bit elusive sometimes in the warmth of an afternoon, but we saw several today. Often, the alarm calling of the tits and warblers gave away their presence – there should be lots of nests for them to raid at this time of year.

P1010996Jay – very active today, even in the heat of the afternoon

As soon as we arrived at the Joe Jordan Hide, we could see a collection of white shapes on the bank of the nursery pool – Spoonbills. They were mostly asleep – sleeping is what Spoonbills do best! There were 5 dazzling white juveniles, not fully grown yet and so slightly smaller still than the more dirty-coloured adults. Another juvenile was more obliging, practising its feeding action out in the middle of the pool, and we could see its short, teaspoon-shaped bill. As we sat in the hide, there was plenty of coming and going, with Spoonbills moving backwards and forwards between the trees and the pool. An adult returning from a feeding foray was instantly set upon by its young, pursuing it, bouncing up and down, until it got fed.

Spoonbill juv Holkham 2015-06-06_3Spoonbill – a recent short-billed juvenile at Holkham

There were other birds coming and going as well – Little Egrets and Cormorants back and forth to the colony, bringing food for hungry beaks. There were still several Grey Herons around as well. Down on the pools, there were several Avocets feeding and flocks of Black-tailed Godwit which flushed periodically and whirled round flashing their black and white wings and tails. A Kingfisher was flushed by a Marsh Harrier from out of a ditch, but disappeared too quickly for everyone to get on it – a wise move, given that the Marsh Harrier took a swoop at it as it did so!

There are always lots of geese at Holkham, at this time of year mostly Greylags and Egyptian Geese. However, a scan of the grazing marshes revealed a couple of Pink-footed Geese still as well. There are often tens of thousands here during the winter, but almost all of them leave for Iceland in the late winter or early spring. Only a few remain through the summer, often sick or injured birds. We could see their distinctive dark heads and small, dark bills compared to the Greylags.

Holkham is also a great place to watch Marsh Harriers. We could see a pretty constant stream of birds flying back and forth from the Joe Jordan hide, but we stopped in a Washington Hide on our way back. We were glad we did – a particularly fine male Marsh Harrier passed right in front of the hide, and proceeded to spend several minutes wheeling over the reeds and back and forth over the grazing marsh just to the east. We saw a good selection of other regular raptors as well – a distant Red Kite or two over Holkham Park, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.

P1010988P1010992Marsh Harrier – this fine male put on a great display today

Also from the hide, we watched a family of young Swallows in the dead trees below. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the bushes on the edge of the reeds. And a line of five Spoonbills flew out east over the grazing marshes, presumably heading to the saltmarsh to feed. Then it was time to head back.

7th June 2015 – Fen & Forest

Another Summer Tour today, but this time we headed down to the Brecks. Another lovely sunny day and, even better, the wind dropped. It was a glorious day to be out.

We started at Weeting Heath. We wanted to see the Stone Curlews before the heat haze got too bad, so we headed straight for West Hide. We could see three pairs of Stone Curlews – two were a little more distant, but one pair was feeding out on the grass with two already well-grown chicks. They are not the most doting of parents, and for the greater part of the time left the chicks to fend for themselves, though remaining nearby and keeping a watchful eye out for any predators.

IMG_5397Stone Curlew – adult and well-grown chick

We could hear a Firecrest singing while we were in the hide, so we stepped back outside to try to track it down. It was singing from the very tops of the pines, further along. We walked a little further down the main path and could see it flitting around below the canopy of the trees and it dropped down into an ivy-covered trunk.

The Spotted Flycatchers seemed to be a little elusive at first. We were just about to move on when we spotted one briefly, flying through the trees. Next thing we knew it appeared on a dead branch right in front of us, then flicked round and dropped into the ivy. It had landed on a nest! It was next to impossible to see, so well camouflaged, but we could just see a head and eye looking out.

P1010775Spotted Flycatcher – on the nest, can you see it?

Lakenheath Fen was the next stop on the itinerary. It was very busy in the car park – lots of people are seemingly still visiting in the hope of glimpsing the secretive Little Bittern. As we walked out along the main path, we had a chance to catch up with a few of the regular warblers singing again. There were lots of Common Whitethroats, several Blackcaps, many Reed Warblers and the odd Sedge Warbler, and a few very noisy Cetti’s Warblers. New Fen viewpoint was a little quiet, but a Kingfisher flew into the pool in front and landed in the reeds. It caught a fish – unfortunately out of view – and then flew off with in into the trees. A Cuckoo flew overhead.

P1010778Common Whitethroat – there were lots singing at Lakenheath today

As the temperature warmed, suddenly the Hobbys appeared. Before we knew it, we had at least three circling together round above us catching flying insects. It was great to just stand there and watch them, marvel at their effortless flight and exceptional manoeuvrability!

P1010791Hobby – we watched several hawking for insects over New Fen

We could hear a Bittern (a Great Bittern!) booming from the reeds in front of the New Fen Viewpoint, and we could hear it even better further along the path. At the west end of the West Wood, we caught up with the crowds awaiting the appearance of the Little Bittern. Normally a native of Central and Southern Europe, they have bred in Somerset in recent years. This one overshot the continent on its return migration this spring and has ended up here – if only it could find a female! We only waited a short time, and we really wanted to hear it (some people have waited many hours just to catch a glimpse of it). Eventually it started ‘singing’ – or should we say ‘barking’. It sounds rather like a cross between a dog bark and a toad croak, issued repeatedly. What a treat – to hear two species of Bittern within a few hundred yards of each other!

We walked up onto the river bank and, after a little while searching, we located a couple of adult Common Cranes in the reeds. We could see two long necks periodically stretching up, with black and white necks and red crowns. Standing over a metre tall, they can be surprisingly hard to see. They have a chick in tow, so we were careful not to disturb them,; we had a quick look and then headed back to the reserve.

On our way back, we stopped in at Mere Hide. There were several young Coot on the pond, together with their parents. Another Cuckoo sang from the trees. A Sedge Warbler kept coming down to the reeds in front of the hide to gather food, presumably for a hungry brood somewhere. Several Reed Warblers lurked more furtively in the reeds. We could hear Bearded Tits calling on a few occasions, but only glimpsed a shape flying up and over the reeds briefly.

P1010805Four-spotted Chaser – it was a good day for the number of dragonflies today

There was a good selection of Dragon- and Damselflies to look at as well today. Numbers of Four-spotted Chasers and Black-tailed Skimmers are starting to increase, but we also saw a few Hairy Dragonflies. Damseflies includes Large Red, Azure, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselflies. As well as the regular butterflies, there were notable numbers of Painted Ladys again today.

After lunch, we headed into the Forest. Walking along a sunny ride, the grassy margins either side were alive with butterflies and day-flying moths. The butterflies were mostly Common Blues, along with a single electric Green Hairstreak. The moths were all Speckled Yellows, an enormous number of them.

P1010819Speckled Yellow – enormous numbers of this day-flying moth on the wing

We came to a large clearing, which is always good for pipits and larks, but an unusual song drew our attention to one corner. There, amongst the trees, a very smart male Redstart was singing. A slightly odd place to find one, they are very rare these days away from the Stanford battle area, so this was a real treat. We got him in the scope and got a good look and then stood and listened to him singing.

IMG_5425Redstart – singing in a clearing in the Forest

Out beyond the Redstart, we could hear a different song carried across the clearing. A quick scan revealed a Tree Pipit singing from the very top of a pine tree. There were other birds around the clearing as well – a family of Mistle Thrushes, several smart male Yellowhammers, and Skylarks singing.

IMG_5436Yellowhammer – singing from the same clearing today

We finished the day with a quick visit to Lynford Arboretum. We hadn’t even left the car park, when we heard the first Firecrest singing. A Goldcrest singing nearby gave a great opportunity for comparison. We ended up hearing at least 4 singing Firecrests around the Arboretum this afternoon. We managed to see one of them flicking surreptitiously around a fir tree.

There were other birds to see here as well – tits, Treecreepers, a smart pair of Siskin and a very pink male Bullfinch. Unfortunately, then we had to call it a day and head back, but what an enjoyable day it had been.

6th June 2015 – Heath & Marsh

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.

P1010746Turtle Dove – being blown around in the top of a birch tree

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.

P1010750Linnet – still a common bird on the heaths

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.

IMG_5346Stonechat – the family was still together on the Heath today

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.

P1010754Garden Warbler – finally flew out right in front of us

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.

P1010755Green Hairstreak – there were several on the Heath today, out of the wind

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.

P1010760Lapwing – stunning birds up close, check out the iridescent green upperparts

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.

P1010766Avocet – lots at Cley today

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.

IMG_5352Little Gull – 1 of 3 today at Cley, all being 1st summer birds

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.

P1010773Blue-tailed Damselfly – a female of the violacea form

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.

IMG_5363Spoonbill – this adult was collecting nest material

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.

IMG_5372Spoonbill – two juveniles jousting today

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.

4th June 2015 – Summer’s Here

Another Private Tour today, based in North Norfolk. What glorious weather – mostly clear and sunny, light winds, and the temperature over 20C. That’s more like it!

Turtle Dove was a particular target, so we headed towards the Heath, which is a good area still for this rapidly disappearing species. On our way, we had a Barn Owl hunting beside the road, which just flew up for a second before disappearing behind a high hedge. Presumably it had young to feed. It seemed a perfect day to be up on the Heath. The Willow Warblers were singing from the birches and lots of Linnets were perched up on the tops of the gorse bushes calling. Everywhere we went, we seemed to bump into a Yellowhammer singing, which is always a great pleasure.

P1010660Yellowhammer – singing everywhere on the Heath this morning

As we walked round, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing. However, as we headed towards it, we heard the distinctive purring of a Turtle Dove. The Turtle Doves have some favourite trees they like to purr from and the noise seemed to be coming from that direction. We made our way there and it didn’t take long to find a Turtle Dove perched in the middle of a birch tree. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it before it flew off through the trees.

That was a good start, so we thought we would look for the Dartford Warblers as well. However, despite the seemingly perfect conditions, they were not being helpful today. We waited a little while, but they were not calling, so we decided our time was better spent elsewhere. As we walked back, a Common Lizard ran across the path and a couple of Cinnabar Moths flew up as we passed.

We headed down to Cley next. Driving along the coast road, we could see a Spoonbill out on one of the pools on the grazing marsh at Salthouse. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping! The East Bank at Cley has been the most productive area in recent weeks, so we stopped at Walsey Hills and walked out along the bank. There has been a Spoonbill here regularly in recent days, but presumably it was asleep at Salthouse today! We did see several Little Egrets, including one with particularly long nape plumes, a smart breeding adult.

P1010670Little Egret – a very well-plumed individual

There were lots of Lapwing and Redshanks, all fighting for territory, along the Serpentine, and good numbers of Avocet, but no other waders of note out on Pope’s Pool today. We could see the pair of Marsh Harriers distantly over Pope’s Marsh, but a darker male flew in from the east over them, prompting a little territorial circling. This was the Cley Marsh male, and he flew over our heads and landed out in the reedbed in the top of a bush. We had a good look at him in the scope.

We could hear plenty of Reed Warblers singing from the reedbed and we saw the odd one perched up briefly in the reeds. A Sedge Warbler was even more accommodating and sat in the top of a small sallow on the edge of the reedbed where we could get a close look at it. The Bearded Tits have also been very obliging here recently, but they were not today. On our way out, we couldn’t hear or see one!

IMG_5254Sedge Warbler – singing from the top of a bush as usual

We walked up to Arnold’s Marsh, which was also a bit quiet today. We did see a couple of Little Terns on one of the islands and a single Ringed Plover, as well as a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits. However, as we turned to walk back we finally heard the pinging of Bearded Tits. A male skimmed over the tops and dropped down into the depths of the reeds in front of us. After a couple of minutes he flew up again and disappeared again only a few metres further over, with a second bird calling nearby. Then they went quiet again. Still, at least it was a start.

We were not planning to walk out onto the reserve itself today, as it has been a little quiet in recent days, but we popped into the Visitor Centre to double check what had been seen. There was nothing on the sightings board, but as we turned to leave a quick scan revealed a couple of Little Gulls and a Greenshank in amongst a large flock of Black-tailed Godwit, so we changed out minds. As we walked along the path beside the road, a Grey Heron flew up ahead of us and perched on the rail of the footbridge. Nearby, a nice obliging Moorhen stood on the edge of the ditch preening.

P1010687Grey Heron – perched up on the bridge today

P1010690Moorhen – so obliging, it deserved a photo

As we approached Teal Hide, something spooked the Black-tailed Godwits and they all took off, frightening everything else as well. We half expected to see nothing left on Pat’s Pool when we got in the hide, but thankfully they all landed again. The Greenshank had now separated itself from the Godwits, but was mostly asleep. It woke up briefly when a Black-headed Gull tried to land on it, and we had a good look of it in the same scope view as a Redshank for comparison. There were at least 110 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits on the scrape, most in winter plumage or with a few summer feathers, but a nice summer adult landed right in front of the hide. Apart from all the nesting Avocets, the only other wader of note here today was a single Little Ringed Plover.

P1010697Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit – in summer plumage

The Little Gulls were a little closer from the hide than they had been from the Visitor Centre. They were both 1st summer birds, neither with much black on the head. They were picking around on the mud around the edge of the islands today, rather than flying round catching insects. There have been a lot of 1st summer Little Gulls lingering along the coast in recent weeks, but it is always good to catch up with them.

IMG_5270Little Gull – 1 of 2 1st summer birds at Cley again today

While we were looking out from the hide, we heard the distinctive pinging of Bearded Tits again. This time, they flew in and landed in a narrow line of reeds in front of the hide. They dropped in out of view at first but quickly ran out of cover to hide in and worked their way up the dead reed stems. The Bearded Tits perched up in full view for a couple of seconds – two juveniles – before flying off behind the hide. Great stuff.

We had a quick look out from Dauke’s Hide, which was very quiet, and were initially similarly disappointed by the view from Avocet Hide. However, we heard the rush of wings first – something was flying really fast. Then a Hobby shot in from over the roof of the hide and powered towards an unsuspecting House Martin. At the last minute, the House Martin saw it coming and took emergency evasive action. The Hobby missed and turned for more, but the House Martin was now wise to it and flew off, with the Hobby still in pursuit. Even better stuff. Then it was time for lunch back at the Visitor Centre.

In the afternoon, we headed back west to the other side of Holkham, to walk out towards the dunes at Burnham Overy. Warbler activity was a bit more subdued this afternoon than recent mornings. We heard a Lesser Whitethroat singing briefly and saw one flick across the path in front of us. The Common Whitethroats were not singing as much as they have been and even the normally very vocal Sedge Warblers were mostly quiet. It was the middle of the day, and hot by now, so perhaps not surprising that activity has dropped.

While we were still amongst the bushes on the way out, we saw a Spoonbill fly west across the path over by the seawall, but it was too quick to get everyone onto it. There are often Spoonbills on the reedbed pool but when we got up onto the seawall we couldn’t see any today – only two more Little Egrets. However, we did hear a Bittern booming briefly. We could also see a Spoonbill very distantly, in the harbour channel towards Scolt Head, possibly the bird which had just flown over in that direction.

We carried on out towards the dunes. A Cuckoo flew in across the saltmarsh from Gun Hill and disappeared inland, chased by a Meadow Pipit. Otherwise, there was not much new to see on the walk out today – lots of Linnets and Reed Buntings.

From out to Gun Hill, we had figured we might be able to find the Spoonbill in the channel, but when we got all the way out there we couldn’t find it. There were lots of Ringed Plovers on the beach and a little group of Turnstone on a muddy island, including one stunning summer plumage individual with white head patches and rufous back.

There didn’t seem to be many terns initially, but when a Carrion Crow flew over from the direction of Scolt Head, a small cloud of Little Terns suddenly erupted from the beach, with a single Common Tern in amongst them. After that, the Little Terns started feeding in the channel alongside us and we had some stunning views of them. A single Sandwich Tern came in along the deeper part of the harbour channel as well – one good tern deserves another two at least!

P1010701Little Tern – feeding in the harbour channel at Gun Hill

We had all but given up hope of finding the Spoonbill when it suddenly flew in from round the corner and landed on the edge of the channel to feed. We got a good look at it in the scope. It wasn’t too distant from here, and we could see its mustard yellow breast patch, nuchal crest and yellow bill-tip. We thought that was good, but then it took off and flew towards us, landing half as close again. Great. Then it took off a third time and landed in the channel right in front of us. Stunning!

P1010709Spoonbill – flying past…

P1010714Spoonbill – …and landing in the channel right in front of us

We watched the Spoonbill feeding in the shallow water, sweeping its bill from side to side. It flicked its head up a couple of times as it caught something. Then it took off again and flew further up the channel. That seemed like a great way to end, so we set off for the long walk back to the car. On our way, what was presumably ‘our’ Spoonbill flew back over the seawall and headed in the direction of the breeding colony – presumably it has some young ‘teaspoon-bills’ to feed somewhere over there!

3rd June 2015 – Aussie Rules

A Private Tour today, with a group over from Australia, and we headed down to the Brecks. What a glorious day – sunny and warm, with temperatures over 17C – a massive improvement on yesterday.

It was a slightly later than normal start and we met up in North Norfolk. On the drive down, we went to look for Stone Curlews. It didn’t take us long to find one, conveniently standing in a bare field. It was a bit close to the road at first, but as we pulled up it walked out across the field to where we could observe it without disturbing it. We got some great scope views of it.

IMG_5236Stone Curlew – standing nicely in a cultivated field

While we were standing by the road, a Red Kite appeared overhead. It circled over and disappeared beyond the hedge – a nice bird for the day. But it obviously didn’t appreciate the lack of attention it received, so it promptly circled back and came right over us. Stunning.

P1010639Red Kite – came right over our heads

We drove a little further on and found yet another Stone Curlew. This one was a little more distant, on the edge of the crop next to a ploughed strip.

With the morning already getting on after the long drive down, we headed for Lynford Arboretum next. Unfortunately, the mowing gang were in town and mowing the grass amongst the trees with two noisy ride-on mowers. We heard a Firecrest singing from the tops of some fir trees but we struggled to see it. We positioned ourselves to get a look and one of the mowers decided to come and mow right around us. Very frustrating when you are trying to listen to bird song! We decided to walk round the rest of the Arboretum and come back later.

We saw a good selection of the usual woodland species as we walked. A family of Nuthatches came down to the bridge, the adults leading the juveniles. There was no food out for them today, unfortunately, but the adults had a good inspection of the bridge posts. They flew around us, really close, and we watched the adults bringing food back to the youngsters.

P1010641Nuthatch – one of the juveniles waiting to be fed

There were also plenty of Treecreepers in amongst the trees, and a good selection of tits. A Coal Tit basked in the sun on one of the lower branches of a fir tree, but a Marsh Tit was less accommodating and disappeared into the trees before we could all get onto it. There were lots of Blackcaps singing in the bushes and eventually we found a singing Garden Warbler too, though it was hidden from view. We heard a couple of Siskin flying overhead as we walked round, but eventually a male sat in the top of a pine tree singing so we could get it in the scope.

We could hear that the mowers had stopped mowing, so we walked back up to the Arboretum. A singing Goldcrest perched up nicely and even stayed still long enough so we managed to get it in the scope. The Firecrest was still singing but still not playing ball – we saw it flying round between the trees, but it wouldn’t perch up for us. Then the mowing gang decided to start up their mowers again, probably having seen us trying to listen to the birds singing! We tried to walk away from them round the arboretum, but they had mowed the grass all round so it was very disturbed throughout the Arboretum today. We did hear another couple of Firecrests as we made our way round, but they too were right in the tops of the trees. A pair of Bullfinches perched up briefly in the trees.

After a stop in Brandon for the group to buy some lunch, we drove round to Lakenheath Fen for the afternoon. By the Visitor Centre, we could hear a couple of Cetti’s Warblers singing. One of them perched up briefly in a willow. There was also a Reed Warbler singing, which sat out in the open much longer and let us all get a really good look at it. Out along the main path, there were lots of Whitethroats singing – much easier to see, as they have a nice habit of perching in the tops of bushes. And there were several Blackcaps singing from the poplars.

New Fen Viewpoint seemed a little quiet at first. A couple of Reed Buntings flew in to the edge of the water and a male Marsh Harrier circled up distantly over the reeds. It was only as we started to leave that things started to pick up. A Hobby appeared above us, circling over the reedbed, hawking for flying insects. Then a second Hobby appeared, then a third. We watched them all circling over the fen, feeding.

P1010655Hobby – we saw probably around 20 at Lakenheath today

Then the male Marsh Harrier reappeared, and this time he was clearly carrying food. We watched as he circled low over the reeds and the female Marsh Harrier came up next to him. They circled together for a second, then as she passed below him, he dropped the food and she caught it. A food pass – great to witness.

P1010649Marsh Harrier – lots of action today

As usual at Lakenheath at this time of year, there were Cuckoos everywhere. We could hear them pretty much constantly, the ‘cuck-kooing’ of the males, and we also heard the distinctive bubbling call of the female. They were flying round all the time – we saw several pairs flying, the male chasing after the female. And we saw a couple of nicely perched birds. It is such a pleasure to see so many Cuckoos, particularly considering how scarce they have now become away from areas where there are lots of Reed Warbler nests to parasitise.

P1010652Cuckoo – a female perched in the trees

As we walked out towards the Joist Fen Viewpoint, a large shape appeared above the reeds – a Bittern. Unfortunately, it dropped back into the reeds all too quickly. Out over Joist Fen we could see loads more Hobbys. The more we looked, the more we saw – it was hard to count how many were there. We had a minimum of 13 in the air together, and with all the birds we had seen on the way out, and that we saw on the way back, we must have seen a minimum of 20 in the day.

From there, we walked up onto the river bank. We could see two adult Common Cranes out in the reeds and we got them in the scope. They were feeding quietly, and remarkably hard to see when they were doing so, for a bird which stands over 1m tall. However, occasionally they would stop to have a look round, stretching their necks up when they did so. Then they were slightly easier to see. We couldn’t see the young Cranes today, but we kept our distance and didn’t walk down the bank to avoid disturbing them.

We had seen a small crowd gathered by the main path on our way out, and they were still standing patiently as we walked back. They were waiting for the Little Bittern to show itself. Little Bitterns are natives of central & southern Europe, though they have bred in UK in Somerset in the past. A male Little Bittern has been at Lakenheath Fen for over two weeks now. On our way back we could hear it ‘singing’. Its song is a little like a cross between a dog and a toad croaking, sometimes known as ‘barking’. Some people have waited 10 hours to see it, and then it only flies briefly across the tops of the reeds. We stopped for a minute or so to listen to it, but it didn’t fly up while we were there. Still, a great bird to hear. On the way back we heard a male (Great) Bittern booming as well – it was really good to hear the two species within a few hundred yards of each other!

To finish, we had a quick look from the Washland Viewpoint. It was a bit quiet today. There were a couple of pairs of nesting Great Crested Grebes, a Common Tern or two, and a smattering of ducks, but nothing out of the ordinary. Still, it was lovely sitting up on the riverbank, all the more so given that we had stopped in at the Visitor Centre to buy ice cream on our way there! A nice way to round off the day.

2nd June 2015 – Gone with the Wind

The first of the Summer Tours today. It didn’t feel much like summer, despite the meteorologists telling us it was. It was overcast and blustery in the morning, but at least there was no sign of the originally forecast heavy rain. It did brighten up in the afternoon, but winds gusting at 50-60mph made the going rather difficult!

We started with a detour inland, to check out some of the local farmland specialties. There were still plenty of Skylarks singing, though they were not going as high into the sky as they would normally. We watched a wing-tagged Marsh Harrier quartering the fields, but it was too far away to read the code on the tags. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up as well.

Out in the fields, there were several Red-legged Partridges. There is no shortage of them here – very large quantities are released for shooting every year. But checking through the partridges finally yielded a pair of Grey Partridges, lurking on the edge of a grassy meadow. However, with the wind already whistling across the open fields, there was no sign of any Stone Curlews on our travels this morning. Presumably, they very sensibly had their heads down. We decided to move on.

P1010606Lady Anne’s Drive – very quiet this morning

We drove down to Holkham. There were very few cars down at Lady Anne’s Drive, a big contrast to recent days, but no real surprise given the weather. We stopped on the way down the Drive to look at the pools – a half grown juvenile Lapwing dwarfed a very young Redshank chick, a ball of fluff on long legs. We walked west on the inland side of the pines. There were still a few warblers singing – a Blackcap, a couple of Chiffchaffs, and a half-hearted Whitethroat. We paused to watch a family party of Coal Tits feeding in the trees.

We diverted up past the Washington Hide and along the boardwalk to the beach. It was more sheltered on the north side of the pines and lots of Swifts were hawking for insects along the edge of the trees and skimming low over the dunes. Out over the sea, we could see a little flock of Common Scoter struggling to fly west and several Gannets were circling and plunge diving further east. Three Little Terns flew in over the beach, calling, and several Sandwich Terns were flying around over the shoreline.

We stopped in the Washington Hide on the way back. We were glad we did as a male Marsh Harrier put on a great display. He disappeared to our left and went to hunt over the grazing marsh, but kept coming back over the reeds in front of the hide and gave us a couple of really close fly-pasts. He was periodically pursued by one of the local Lapwings, but seemed pretty unconcerned.

P1010613Marsh Harrier – this male put on a great display in front of Washington Hide

There were other birds to see there as well. The first of the day’s Spoonbills flew past, long neck outstretched, on its way from feeding further east back towards the colony. A Red Kite circled up over the trees on the edge of Holkham Park. And there were the usual breeding ducks, geese and waders to admire from here.

Continuing west, a Sparrowhawk flicked out of the pines above us. We stopped to watch a male Blackcap feeding in the shelter of Meals House garden and listen to a Cetti’s Warbler singing loudly. We could hear the odd Goldcrest and Treecreeper calling from the shelter of the pines and came across a big flock of Long-tailed Tits. While watching them, we had a frustrating glimpse of what was probably a Firecrest, but it disappeared into the trees before we could get onto it.

The view from Joe Jordan hide was a little quiet when we first sat down. There was no sign of anything white initially on the pool below the trees. However, after a short while the first Spoonbill flew down, a juvenile with a short ‘teaspoon’ bill. It was then joined by an adult Spoonbill and we got the two of them in the scope, comparing the body plumage colour (white on the juvenile, off-white on the adult), the nuchal crest and yellow bill tip of the adult lacking in the juvenile, as well as the obvious bill length difference. In the end, several birds came and went while we sat in the hide.

IMG_5146Spoonbill – a short-billed juvenile

There were also lots of Little Egrets, Cormorants and a few Grey Herons coming and going. We got another smart male Marsh Harrier in the scope when it perched up on a post. A Yellow Wagtail flew past, but was only seen by one member of the group. And the usual pair of Grey Partridge were again feeding below the hide in the grass, giving us a great view.

P1010619Grey Partridge – below the Joe Jordan hide again today

Non-avian interest was provided by the very smart Brown Hare which ran towards the hide. It stopped for a moment a suitable distance in front, posing for the paparazzi, then came right down to the grass below the hide to feed.

P1010628Brown Hare – posing for the camera

The rain had held off all morning, which was a nice surprise. We headed back to the car and drove along the coast towards Cley for lunch. We had to take a very quick detour on the way. During the morning, the telescope (and tripod) had blown over in the wind and the thread on the tripod mount had shredded. A couple of minutes at Cley Spy and they had it all fixed. Fantastic service, as usual!

We ate our lunch outside, on the picnic tables in front of the Visitor Centre at Cley Marshes. We were not expecting to be able to do that today! While we were eating, a large, golden brown bird flew across North Scrape, circling over the water before dropping down into the reeds – a Bittern. Another surprise for the day.

Afterwards, we headed out to the East Bank. It had been windy during the morning, but the wind picked up even more in the afternoon. Gusts of 30-40mph earlier on increased to close to 50mph. We were slightly sheltered walking along the path by the road, but once we got up onto the East Bank, we realised just how strongly the wind was blowing. It was hard to stand up at times.

There have been lots of birds in recent weeks on the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool, but it was quieter today. Perhaps they were seeking shelter out of the wind. Certainly the Little Egrets were in the channels and on the reedbed pools today, rather than being out in the open. We still got a good look at one through the scope, on the edge of the reeds. We could see it catching lots of small fish.

Little Egret Cley 2015-05-29_1Little Egret – a recent picture, where they are normally on the grazing marsh

There were a few Redshank and Lapwing on the pools around the Serpentine. One of the latter seemed to take offense at two of the former and spent some time dive-bombing them. A quick scan with the (newly-repaired) scope revealed some distant smaller waders on Pope’s Pool – a single Tundra Ringed Plover with 5 Dunlin. From further up along the path, we could see that there were actually at least 12 Tundra Ringed Plovers, but they were sheltering in one corner. It was as much as we could do to stop the scope from blowing over again, so we couldn’t see if there was anything else lurking around the pools.

P1010631Redshank – by the Serpentine

Arnold’s Marsh was quiet as well – and very windswept – apart from a single Turnstone and a couple of Sandwich Terns. We got the latter in the scope and got a good look at their shaggy black crests and yellow-tipped black bills. A Common Tern flew past as well, and then a Mediterranean Gull, a smart adult flashing its pure white wing-tips. We walked quickly to the sea and then headed back to try to get out of the wind.

It was hard birding on the coast in the wind, so we decided to head inland to try to get a little shelter. The Heath is still a bit exposed, and always better in calmer conditions, but seemed like a more attractive option at this stage. While we were up there, the wind increased even more, gusting to over 60mph at times. We had a look round, but apart from a few Linnets, most of the birds were keeping their heads well and truly down. We could hear a Willow Warbler singing from the birches. Then a smart male Stonechat appeared on a dead tree. As we watched it, we could see it was being pursued by 2-3 streaky juveniles. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the other heathland specialties today.

We had a good look round and then it was time to head back. Despite the wind and the best efforts of the weather, we had amassed a very respectable 78 species seen and heard during the day.

P1010636The Heath – the wind was lashing the trees this afternoon