Monthly Archives: April 2016

30th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 4

Day 4 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. It dawned bright and sunny and the wind had dropped too. A great day to be out birding! We made our way up to NW Norfolk for the day.

We started the day at Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked out through the bushes, lots of warblers were starting to sing – Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and lots of Sedge Warblers. They have all returned in some numbers now and this is always a great site to see them. The first Lesser Whitethroat we came across wasn’t singing, but we heard it call – a more delicate ‘tak’ than a Blackcap – and then found it hopping around in the top of a low hawthorn. Cetti’s Warbler is a resident, rather than a migrant, but they are all in full voice now too, shouting at us from various bushes and brambles.

IMG_3410Sedge Warbler – there were lots singing at Snettisham today

6O0A1521Willow Warbler – singing from the trees

6O0A1531Chiffchaff – there were lots in the bushes

There were spring migrants on the move. The first Swallows of the morning came overhead – there was a steady passage of birds along the coast today. A couple of Common Swifts went through too.There were also a few more Yellow Wagtails today – we heard at least six pass over while we were at Snettisham, and managed to see one which came through a bit lower above us.

A Cuckoo flew across and disappeared into the bushes before everyone could get onto it. A smart pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over towards the Wash, flashing their pure white wingtips as they went.

As we rounded the next corner, a Ring Ouzel flew out of the trees into a big clearing and landed with a couple of Blackbirds behind some low bushes. We moved slowly round to where we could see it feeding on the grass. It was a female Ring Ouzel – browner bodied than a male and with a distinct off dirty, off-white colour to the crescent on the breast. Still it was great to watch it hopping around on the ground out in the open, until something spooked it and it flew back into cover.

IMG_3414Ring Ouzel – this female showed well today

We hadn’t gone much further when we saw a flash of red in front of us as a cracking male Redstart landed in a bush. Unfortunately it flew again before we had time to get it in the scope – some dogwalkers were coming along the path in the opposite direction and had flushed it. Thankfully, after they had gone, it flew straight back out to what were obviously its favoured bushes and this time we got a great look at it. Its bright white forehead and red breast and belly really shone in the morning sunshine.

IMG_3435Redstart – this stunning male brightened up our morning

The Redstart eventually disappeared off across the path and we continued on past it. Quite a bit further on, another flash of red and a second Redstart appeared, another male, but not as bright as the first. A short distance further and we flushed a third male Redstart and then we came across a female too. We watched the female for some time, flicking between bushes and feeding underneath them. Quite a haul – four spring Redstarts in one morning.

The Coastal Park is normally a good site for Grasshopper Warbler, but we only heard one at first as we walked up through the bushes, and that reeled only very briefly. Then it all changed – we heard one reeling quite close by and made our way over to try to see it. It was not particularly amenable, but perched half obscured in the top of a low hawthorn. While we were trying to see it, another Grasshopper Warbler started reeling on the other side of some trees from where we were standing. When we gave up and continued on a little further, we heard yet another Grasshopper Warbler and this one gave itself up nicely, perching out in the sunshine while it delivered its peculiar mechanical clicking song, ‘reeling’.

IMG_3446Grasshopper Warbler – the fourth we heard perched up nicely

The walk back along the inner seawall was less eventful. As we turned to head back south, we did see three Whimbrel out on the grass further along. There were lots of Greylags, Egyptian Geese and Shelduck on the grazing marshes, but no sign of any Pink-footed Geese here today. All the warblers were still singing as before, but we did also hear a couple of Reed Warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat actually singing its rattling song.

We had a brief look out at the Wash while we were at the Coastal Park, but the tide was in here, so we made our way down to the pits to try to see some waders. It was not a big high tide today, so there was still a lot of exposed mud, but we could see a huge flock of Knot and Grey Plover spread out across the mud. Even better, something spooked them just after we had arrived and we got a great display of thousands and thousands of birds wheeling round in the sky.

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6O0A1535Waders – we were treated to a great display of a whirling flock

There was a nice selection of waders closer in. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was loafing around and preening in the channel just below the seawall. We managed to pick out a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits on the mud too, and even better at one point we had a Black-tailed and a Bar-tailed Godwit standing together on the edge of the water, a nice side-by-side comparison. There were good numbers of Oystercatcher too, plus a few Avocets and a sprinkling of Dunlin running around in amongst them. A couple of Sandwich Terns were resting on the mud too, and took off to fly round calling.

Our next stop was at Holme and, after lunch, we had a quick walk round the paddocks. We could neither hear nor see the Turtle Dove which had been reported that morning and otherwise the bushes were a little quiet. A group of four Siskins flew over, heading west, more birds on the move. We came back via the road – the gardens provided a Pied Wagtail, lots of House Sparrows, a pair of Mallard resting up on the ridge tiles on a roof and a couple of Swallows preening on the wires.

6O0A1543Swallow – preening on the wires at Holme

There has been a Black Redstart further down by the Firs at Holme for several days now, so we made our way down to try to see that next. There was no sign of it around the paddocks from the car as we drove past, just several Wheatears hopping around down on the grass. But after parking and walking back for a proper look, we quickly found the Black Redstart perched on a fence post. We watched it for a while as it kept dropping down to the ground looking for food, coming back up to the posts, wires, or into a low hawthorn tree. It was a female, so overall a dirty grey colour, but still sporting a nice red tail.

IMG_3466Black Redstart – a female in the paddocks at Holme

Our last stop of the day was at Titchwell.After all our travels, we did not have as much time to explore here as we normally do, so it was a bit of a whistle-stop tour. On the dried up grazing marsh ‘pool’, we quickly found a single White Wagtail, along with several Pied Wagtails. Two more White Wagtails were on the Freshmarsh later.

A female Bearded Tit was flitting around in the reeds here briefly when we arrived, but quickly flew off across the path into the main reedbed. However, up at the reedbed pool we were treated to nice views of a male Bearded Tit swinging around on a reed head. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reeds and a Great Crested Grebe was lurking in the far corner of the water.

The water level of the Freshmarsh is still quite high and consequently there was nothing in front of Island Hide, so we headed straight for Parrinder Hide. That was the right thing to do, as we quickly picked up the Little Stint out on one of the islands in front. It was noticeably small, particularly when two Redshanks dropped in next to it, smaller than the nearby Dunlin and with a considerably shorter bill.

IMG_3525Little Stint – still out on the Freshmarsh today

There were also a couple of Common Terns on one of the islands. A small flock of Black-tailed Godwits were sleeping. A Little Ringed Plover flew past, but we didn’t see it land. The Avocets by the bank were trying to feed, but were up to their bellies in water.

6O0A1557Avocet – trying to feed in the deep water

There are rather few ducks left on here now, compared to the winter, but still a nice selection. A few Teal were feeding by the bank. In front of Parrinder Hide, we had some nice close Shelduck, Gadwall and Shoveler.

6O0A1561Shelduck – a pair were in front of Parrinder Hide

6O0A1566Gadwall – a pair of these too were in front of Parrinder Hide

6O0A1573Shoveler – several pairs were on the Freshmarsh

The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools are rather quiet now, so we made our way straight out to the beach next. The tide was still on its way out and most of the shellfish beds were still underwater. There were lots of Turnstone and Sanderling picking around the seaweed on the shoreline. When something spooked them, all the Turnstone flew to a small outcrop poking above the waves just offshore, and we could see there were some super smart summer plumage birds there, with lots of white around the head and bright rusty feathers in the upperparts. The Sanderling whirled round over the sea before landing back down on the beach.

There was not much happening offshore today, but we did manage to pick up three Little Terns passing west just offshore. Unfortunately then we ran out of time – we had to be back in Wells in good time, so we made our way quickly back to the car. Still, we had enjoyed another great day out.

29th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 3

Day 3 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. It might be meant to be spring, but it didn’t feel like it at times today, in a very gusty wind. We headed away from the coast and down to the Brecks for the day.

On our way, we stopped to look for Stone Curlews. When we first got out of the car, we were surprised at the strength of the wind and it was cold and cloudy. We eventually found a Stone Curlew hunkered down in a field, but it had its back to us, which was not exactly the best view. We decided to try to have another look later in the day.

We weren’t sure whether Nightingales would be singing today, given the weather, but we drove down the road to one of their favoured areas, wound down the windows, and straight away we could hear the beautiful, liquid, fluted notes of one in the bushes. Even better, we looked across and saw it perched in a bush on the other side of the road. We just managed to get everyone onto it, before it moved into the back of the bush. We could still hear it singing and just about see it, before it dropped out the back and went quiet.

Given that they seemed to be singing, we decided to park up and explore. As we walked across the grassy slope from the nearby car park, a smart male Wheatear flew across in front of us. It landed not far away, so we got it in the scope for a better look.

IMG_3327Wheatear – this male flew across in front of us

We could just hear odd notes of a Nightingale singing in some bushes ahead of us, but when we got over there it seemed to be a bit subdued today. It gave  brief snatches of song, but went quiet for long periods. Still, it was great to listen to.

At the same time, we had a look at some of the other birds around the bushes. A rather dull male Linnet was singing on a dead twig amongst some gorse – its song more than made up for its lack of colour. A Lesser Redpoll flew over and landed briefly in the back of the tree in front of us, where we could only just see it. A Green Woodpecker laughed from the trees. A Willow Warbler was flitting around in the bushes.

We were starting to think that we had seen all we would see of Nightingale today, and were just about to leave, when one started singing right in front of us, from deep in the bushes. It was singing more consistently, so we walked round to where we could see into the bushes. Suddenly it flew up and landed in a hawthorn, where we could see it. We got it in the scope – a lovely rusty orange above and pale, creamy below, with a large dark eye. Great stuff!

IMG_3333Nightingale – flew up and started singing in a hawthorn

After a minute or so, the Nightingale appeared to fly off and we turned to go, more than satisfied with our views. Then once again, it started singing and seemed to be just beyond the gorse bushes. Looking carefully round the other side, we found it perched up on a dead branch. It dropped down to the ground, hopping around looking for food, and periodically flew back up to the same dead branch. It preened there for a few seconds, spreading its bright rusty tail. Cracking views!

6O0A1421Nightingale – perched right out in the open for us

Very pleased with our luck, we moved on to Lakenheath Fen next. There were lots of warblers singing as we walked out onto the reserve, particularly more Reed Warblers have arrived now. We also heard lots of Sedge Warblers and a few Cetti’s Warblers, but they were keeping well down out of the wind. Three Blackcaps, two females and a male, were hopping about in a sallow, the male singing to the females. A Common Whitethroat performed a short song flight, before dropping back down into cover.

The view over New Fen was rather quiet today. There were plenty of commoner wildfowl – Greylag and Canada Geese, several Mallard with ducklings, plus Gadwall and Shoveler and a few Coot. But none of the things we might hope to see here. We were just about to move on when we bumped into the warden who told us about a Cuckoo showing well further down on the edge of Trial Wood. After a quick chat, we hurried along to see it – and see it we did!

The Cuckoo was just in the poplars beside the path. It had found a relatively sheltered spot from the wind here. As we watched it, it kept flying between branches or fluttering between trees, showing off each side in turn. Through the scope we had frame-filling views. Simply stunning!

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IMG_3359Cuckoo – amazing views at Lakenheath Fen today

While we were watching the Cuckoo, a Bittern started booming behind us. The second time we heard it, we turned to listen to it and one of the group spotted a second Bittern flying up from the reedbed over towards West Wood. It circled round over New Fen, gaining height but clearly being buffeted by the wind as it got up above the height of the trees. It was obviously planning to fly across to the other side of the wood, but struggled to clear the treetops in the gusts.

6O0A1461Bittern – circled over New Fen, before flying off over West Wood

Also while we were standing by Trial Wood, we heard a Brambling call and just saw it flying away through the tops of the poplars. Most of the Bramblings which spent the winter here have already left, and it wasn’t a great winter for them in 2015-16 anyway, so this was a bit of a surprise. Then while we were watching the Cuckoo, one of the group spotted a small bird in the treetops behind and when we turned to look at it we found a flock of at least a dozen Bramblings working their way through the poplars, feeding on the buds. A particularly smart black-headed male was in the front, joined by a second male still with more extensive brown tips to its head feathers.

We eventually had to tear ourselves away from the Cuckoo and continue on across the reserve. We headed straight for Joist Fen, stopping on the way to listen to some Bearded Tits pinging from the reeds by the path. Needless to say, they were keeping well down out of sight today – Bearded Tits don’t like the wind.

There had been precious little raptor activity on the walk out, but from Joist Fen Viewpoint we finally saw our first Marsh Harrier of the day. Like buses, we then saw several, with the nearest pair in front of the viewpoint flying back and forth, the female taking nest material back with her, the male flashing smart silver-grey wings with black tips.

6O0A1501Marsh Harrier – there were several out over the reeds at Joist Fen

While we were scanning over the paddocks, a Hobby appeared, flying fast and low, skimming the tops of the reeds. It flashed orange trousers as it banked, before zooming off back over the Joist Fen reedbed. There were several Swifts passing overhead too, and a couple of Common Terns flew out over the reeds.

We didn’t have time to go any further today – unfortunately, we had to get back for an already slightly late lunch. The visitor centre provided a nice respite from the wind while we ate. Afterwards, we headed off into the Forest.

On the walk out through the trees, a Song Thrush was feeding on the wide verge and flew off ahead of us as we walked. We could hear a Goldcrest singing and a Treecreeper calling from the pines. But when we got to the clearing, we could feel the wind again – it seemed to have picked up, even compared to this morning. Despite the sun being out, it was cold in the wind.

A pair of Stonechats were feeding along the stump rows and from the young pine trees in between, and a Common Whitethroat flew out to join them. We could see a pair of Mistle Thrushes out on the short grass. A distant Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk circled up into the sky. But otherwise, it was unusually quiet here this afternoon. We had a quick walk round, but it seemed like we would be out of luck here, so we moved on.

We finished the day at Lynford Arboretum. We thought it might be more sheltered in the trees, and so it proved, but unfortunately it clouded over just as we arrived. We could hear a few Goldcrests singing from the firs, but not much else of note at first. We had almost completed a circuit of the Arboretum when it started to rain. Thankfully it was just a passing shower, but as we made a beeline for shelter, we heard a Firecrest calling. It was hard to see at first, but then it started singing and we were able to track it down.

The Firecrest did a little circuit through the trees and eventually flew up into a deciduous tree which was only just coming into leaf, where it was much easier to see. We watched it for several minutes as it flitted about in the branches, picking at the unfolding leaves, singing periodically. When it turned, we could see its head pattern – the golden crown stripe, bordered by bold black and white stripes either side. Eventually it disappeared up into the larches.

6O0A1510Firecrest – flitting about in the trees

Suddenly there were lots more other birds around. A Treecreeper appeared, climbing up a tree trunk. We stopped to watch a Coal Tit, and a pair of Marsh Tits appeared too. We could hear a Nuthatch calling. Several Siskin were zooming around in the treetops.

It was Firecrest we had come to see, so with the afternoon all but gone, we started to make our way home. This meant that we just had time to check up on the Stone Curlew again. It had barely moved from where we had seen it this morning, but this time it had turned round, side on. Much better views now. It was still remarkably well camouflaged but we could see the short, black-tipped yellow bill and, when it opened its eye briefly, the staring yellow iris. It was a fitting way to end the day, back where we had started it.

28th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 2

Day 2 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. The fog first thing burnt off before we met up and a nice morning was in prospect with sunny intervals and lighter winds. We made our way back east and slightly inland, to the Glaven Valley for our first stop of the day.

A Song Thrush was singing as we got out of the car and a Chiffchaff was flitting around in the branches above our heads. As we walked up the lane, a variety of different warblers were singing. A Sedge Warbler was pouring out its scratchy song from the reeds in the meadow beyond and performed a short song flight. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the hedge. A Blackcap sang from the bushes.

6O0A1328Chiffchaff – lots of warblers were singing from the hedges this morning

A little further along and we noticed some movement low down in the hedge beside the land. As we watched carefully, out popped a pair of Lesser Whitethroats. They were rather grey over all, clean grey headed and grey-brown on the back, with a white throat and rather whitish underparts – neat little birds. They can be rather skulking so it was great to see them out in the open. Then a bit further still and we heard a Common Whitethroat singing, which also perched up nicely for us. We could see its rusty brown wings, browner back and white throat contrasting with buffy-pinkish breast. It was nice to see the two species like this in quick succession.

We had hoped to find a Cuckoo along here at least, but there was no sound of it so we turned to walk back. We had only gone a few yards when it started up from across the meadows back from where we had been standing. It seemed to be taunting us, because when we got back there again it promptly stopped! Still it is always nice to hear a Cuckoo in the spring. A Brown Hare sat up in the sunshine along the edge of one of the fields.

6O0A1332Brown Hare – enjoying the morning sunshine

On the way back to the car, we could hear a Treecreeper in the trees and then picked it up climbing straight up a tree trunk. A Goldcrest was also singing but was tucked deep in cover. A Sparrowhawk circled up in the distance, high into the sky, before folding its wings in and plummeting vertically back down. A Yellowhammer flew over calling.

As we came out of the trees by the meadow, we could see a Barn Owl out hunting. It flew round over the grass, focused intently on the ground below. It came straight towards us and looked like it would come past, but seemed to notice us standing by the road and turned away again. It dropped down into the grass at one point, but came up empty talonned, before working its way over to the back and disappearing from view.

6O0A1342Barn Owl – out hunting in the middle of the morning

With the weather starting to warm up nicely, we made our way over to one of the heaths. Despite the improvement in conditions, it was still rather quiet at first as we walked round, and we couldn’t find any Dartford Warblers. There were still large patches of hailstones from last night on the ground along the edge of the patches of gorse, so it was still cold down at ground level. We eventually heard a Willow Warbler singing from the birches.

We decided to see if any Adders were still trying to warm themselves up this morning, so we headed over to a favourite spot. We hadn’t been looking long when one slithered away into the undergrowth as we approached. But a second Adder was still curled up on the ground and we managed to get a great look at it before it too slid off into the heather. We thought that was it, but one of them returned almost immediately, back to the sunny edge, and headed straight for one of the group’s boots, before seeing us and freezing, less than a foot away! Both the two on the edge were silvery-grey and black males, but when the second one disappeared into the heather, we could see him together with a much bigger, browner female. It is always a real privilege to see these increasingly scarce reptiles up close like this.

6O0A1356Adder – this male slithered right up to someone’s boot!

6O0A1365Adders – a male and female down in the heather

A pair of Bullfinches were calling from the trees and the odd Chiffchaff was singing now, but otherwise there were not many birds in this corner of the Heath. However, it felt like it was definitely warming up a little, so we made our way back to where the Dartford Warblers should have been. As we rounded the corner, we spotted a pair of Stonechats on the top of the heather on one side of the path. We were just discussing how Dartford Warblers will often follow the Stonechats around when a pair of Dartford Warblers appeared on the gorse on the other side of the path and promptly flew across to join them!

We followed them for a while. The Stonechats were easy to follow, perching on top of the bushes, but the Dartford Warblers were harder to see. We had views of them in flight and quick glimpses of them in the heather before finally the male decided to start singing and perched right up in the top of a gorse bush for a few seconds. That was more like it!

6O0A1373Stonechat –  a pair on the Heath were followed by a pair of Dartford Warblers

We were originally intending to spend a little time exploring the rest of the Heath, but the news came through that the Wryneck had reappeared in someone’s garden back at Cley. With such fresh news, we couldn’t resist another go at seeing it – they are such fantastic birds to see – so we made our way straight over there.

When we arrived, we were told the Wryneck was on a lawn and the owners of one of the houses were letting people in to watch it – luckily they were birders (thanks, Trevor & Gill)! There were several people leaving as we arrived and after taking our boots off and going upstairs to the landing window, we could see the Wryneck down on their neighbours’ lawn. It hopped over to the rockery and had a good look for any ants among the stones. We had a great look at it, the intricate markings of its feathers, before it suddenly flew up and round the other side of the house. We had arrived just in time (and it wasn’t seen again today, as far was we are aware). We made our donations to the charity collection before bidding our farewells and thanks.

IMG_3056Wryneck – here’s a photo and video of it from Tuesday

Back at the car, we were just loading up when a Cetti’s Warbler flew across between the bushes on the other side of the road. It landed briefly in the top of the clump of brambles where we could see it, before dropping back into cover. Then it was over to the visitor centre at Cley for lunch. It was so nice today, we even managed to make use of one of the picnic tables outside. We were glad we did, because several Swifts flew overhead while we ate. There were also loads of hirundines hawking for insects over the reserve this afternoon – Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins – the most we have seen this year.

After lunch, we had a quick look at the Eye Field. There had apparently been several Yellow Wagtails flying west this morning, and we thought some might have landed here. As it was, there weren’t any there although we did hear one overhead. The pools on the edge of the Eye Field did produce a nice White Wagtail and a female Wheatear was on the grass behind. There were lots of Brent Geese preening and bathing on North Scrape. When we got back to the car, another Yellow Wagtail flew over going the other way and this one we saw as it went past.

We had planned to work our way back from Salthouse to the East Bank this afternoon, but as we drove past the latter we caught sight of a large white bird out on the far end of the Serpentine – a Spoonbill. So we parked here and walked out to get a better look at it. It was feeding in the pools at first, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water as it walked. Then it came out onto the bank and started preening, so we could get a great look at it. It was a smart adult, with yellow-tipped bill, in breeding plumage with floppy crest and a yellowy-brown wash on its breast.

6O0A1185Spoonbill – this one taken here a couple of days ago

Looking back the other way, we saw a second Spoonbill emerge from one of the water-filled channels. Then the first took off and flew away to the west, before the second did the same a couple of minutes later, that one flying right past us as it did so.

6O0A1389Spoonbill – this one flew straight past us today

There was a nice selection of waders and ducks out on the grazing marshes here. As we scanned across, we could see several male Ruff of many different colour combinations. A little group of Dunlin was feeding on the muddy grass, many sporting black bellies now, along with a single Ringed Plover. We eventually managed to find a Little Ringed Plover too, extremely well camouflaged against the dry mud bank it was on.

6O0A1226Ruff – the males come in a bewildering variety of colours now

There are always lots of Lapwings and Redshank out here at this time of year, as this is where they breed. We were treated to quite a display from two Lapwings which chased and tumbled in the sky for several minutes this afternoon.

6O0A1387Lapwings – displaying over the grazing marshes

Even though most of them have long since departed on their way back to Russia for the breeding season, there are still a few lingering Wigeon here. On the other side of the bank, a Sedge Warbler was singing away very noisily but when it paused for breath we could hear a Reed Warbler singing too. It was good to listen to the two songs almost simultaneously, to really hear the differences between them. A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds beyond. Arnold’s Marsh is rather full of water at the moment, so a quick visit here didn’t add too much to the day’s list, beyond a better view of a Turnstone and a couple more Ringed Plovers.

We stopped at the Iron Road next. We were just explaining that this is a good place to look for Whimbrel when we found two in the field right next to us. We got out to have a better look at them, and although we spooked them they landed again only a little further over. We got them in the scope, so we could really see their prominent crown stripes.

IMG_3314Whimbrel – like a small, short-billed Curlew

Scanning the rest of the field, we found two Curlew in here as well. Even better, they walked over to join the two Whimbrel, giving us a great side-by-side comparison. As well as the different head pattern, the Whimbrel were noticeably smaller, slimmer, darker, with a much shorter bill.

6O0A1397Whimbrel & Curlew – gave us a great side-by-side comparison

A quick stop down at Beach Road in Salthouse next did not produce the hoped for Yellow Wagtails on the ground, but did hold at least three Wheatears, including a particularly smart male not to far from the road.

6O0A1403Wheatear – a very smart male at Salthouse

Our final destination of the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, a male Marsh Harrier flew across the field opposite. It had clouded over now, and we caught the very edge of a thankfully brief shower as it passed over us before we set off. Possibly as a consequence, it was a little quiet on the way out to the Fen this afternoon. A Kingfisher flying up low along the river was only heard.

From up on the seawall, we could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits out on the Fen and a couple in the channel down on the other side. We had intended to have a look at the Fen first, but with another shower blowing towards us, we elected to have a look at the harbour first.

There are lots of Brent Geese still out in the harbour – they should be on their way back towards Russia too soon. As well as many more Black-tailed Godwits, we found a few Grey Plover and Turnstone, plus a handful of Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plover, but it was not the best time to be searching for waders here, with the tide at its lowest. Three Red-breasted Mergansers were distant out in the harbour, with lots of seals pulled up on the sandbars just beyond them.

6O0A1410Brent Goose – there are lots still out in the harbour

About fifty Sandwich Terns were in a little group down in the bottom of the ‘Pit’. There are meant to be over 2,000 of them back now, so most had obviously gone on a day trip somewhere else today. While we were standing admiring the harbour, a couple each of Swifts and House Martins flew west low overhead.

We walked back to the Fen, but even though the weather had now improved a bit, we couldn’t see a lot more on here. A Common Snipe was feeding along the edge of the reeds and a single Little Ringed Plover was on one of the islands. As we turned to leave, we picked up two adult Mediterranean Gulls flying past over the saltmarsh.

Then it was time to head for home, with the added bonus of a Red Kite which drifted across the road ahead of us on the way back.

27th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 1

Day 1 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. A few migrants are continuing to get through, despite the rather unseasonably cold weather at the moment, so we set off east along the coast to try to catch up with some of them.

We made a brief stop at Cley on the way. A Wryneck has been in various gardens here for five days now, and was reported briefly first thing again today. By the time we arrived, it had not been seen again for a couple of hours. We had a quick look in the garden where it was seen yesterday, but as there was no sign of it there we decided not to hang around as we had other places we wanted to visit.

Our first destination proper was Kelling. The walk down the lane was rather quiet and fewer warblers than normal were singing in the cold wind. We did hear a Goldcrest singing and it was kind enough to come out and show itself. Further down, by the Water Meadow, there were several Common Whitethroat singing and one perched up nicely so we could see it, after performing a quick song flight. There was a nice ‘dopping’ of Shelduck in one of the fields – they are often to be found flying around here looking for burrows in which to nest.

6O0A1232Shelduck – this ‘dopping’ was in a field by the Water Meadow

There has been a Ring Ouzel or two in the area here for about a week now. They seem to be lingering, presumably waiting for conditions to improve for their onward journey to Scandinavia. A quick scan along their favoured hedge revealed a single Ring Ouzel hopping about on the short grass. A bit like a Blackbird, through the scope, we could see the distinctive white crescent on the breast. A few Wheatear could be seen distantly in the same field.

Ring OuzelRing Ouzel – a photo from a couple of days ago here

A scan of the Water Meadow produced the usual selection of wildfowl – the pair of Egyptian Geese with four goslings, a few Shoveler swimming round with their heads down and three Teal hiding in the vegetation round the edge. This despite the best efforts of the male Egyptian Goose, which seems intent on chasing away all the ducks, as they obviously pose a grave threat to his offspring!

As we stood looking at the Water Meadow, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and turned to see it flying low over the grass. It circled once, then flew up and made to carry on west, but once it felt the strength of the wind it turned back and dropped down onto the grass. We just had time to get it in the scope – a smart male, with bright yellow head and underparts – before it was off again.

A tern appeared briefly overhead – it seemed to come from inland and continued straight on towards the sea. It was an Arctic Tern, with very buoyant flight and long tail. They have been on the move this week and several groups have been seen inland at various lakes and gravel pits. A nice surprise here on the coast.

There were a few waders on the pool – a pair of Avocets and a couple of Redshank. Another birder, walking ahead of us, flushed a Common Sandpiper from the far corner which thankfully landed back on the edge with the Avocets. We got it in the scope and watched it bobbing its way along the side of the pool.

We stopped to have a closer look at a couple of Skylarks out on the short grass. There are always lots of Meadow Pipits here, one of which entertained us with its parachute display flight. Several Linnets were in the bushes, a Reed Bunting called from the reeds and a smart male Stonechat perched on a fence post.

We were almost down to the beach when a shout from a local birder halfway up the hillside alerted us to a Cuckoo. We raced up and there was no sign of it at first where it had landed, but then it flew out of the bushes pursued by a couple of Meadow Pipits and circled round before disappearing over the brow. We continued on to the top of the ridge but couldn’t find it again. However, we did find three Wheatears in the top of the sheep field, including a smart bandit-masked male. They were very close from this side and we got superb views through the scope.

IMG_3237Wheatear – showing well in the sheep field

It was a bit exposed and windy up on the ridge here, so after a good look at the Wheatears we walked back down and started to make our way back up the lane. Rounding the corner by the Water Meadow, we flushed a Ring Ouzel from the top of the brambles. A quick scan from round on the other side confirmed there were actually two of them still here today, with the Ring Ouzel we had seen earlier still present further along, where we had left it.

While we had been at Kelling, news had come through of a pair of Garganey freshly arrived at Felbrigg Park. As it is only a short drive from here, we decided to go there to try to see them.We could hear a Nuthatch in the trees as we walked down towards the lake, a Jay flew across, a female Kestrel perched high in a tree in a sheltered spot scanning the grass below and a pair of Mistle Thrushes were feeding out in the meadow.

It didn’t take long to find the Garganey, in the flooded meadow just before we got to the lake. They were feeding in amongst the vegetation at first, but as we stood and watched they came out into the open. We could see the striking white stripe on the head of the male.

IMG_3250Garganey – this pair were in Felbrigg Park today

After watching the Garganey for a bit, we set off for a walk round the lake. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the meadows and the water, plus a couple of Swallows. Apart from a few Tufted Duck and Teal, plus the usual Mallards, there weren’t many ducks on here today. Down by the meadows on the far side, we heard the yaffle of a Green Woodpecker and turned to see it perched down on the grass, catching the sun.

IMG_3268Green Woodpecker – out on the grass beyond the lake

There were a few tits in the trees as we walked back through the woods on the other side of the lake. A pair of Marsh Tits were the highlight here – we could hear them calling as they worked their way through the trees towards us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from deeper in the wood. A couple of Chiffchaffs were singing.

On the walk back past the flooded meadow, the Garganey were still present, hiding in the vegetation again. A couple of Common Snipe dropped in and disappeared straight into cover, but eventually one just showed itself. Then it was back to the car for a late lunch. While we were eating, a pair of Nuthatches were calling from the trees just above us.

6O0A1273Nuthatch – a pair were in the trees above us at lunchtime

After lunch, we dropped back down to Cley. The Wryneck had been seen again at one point during the morning, but had now disappeared again. However, a Temminck’s Stint had put in an appearance out on the reserve, so we decided to go to look for that instead. We had been advised to go to Bishop Hide first. On the walk there, we saw a Spoonbill flying off west across the reserve.We could hear Sedge Warblers singing, but they were mostly keeping tucked down out of the wind today. Eventually we found one singing from the safety of a bramble bush beside the path.

6O0A1288Sedge Warbler – mostly singing from deep in the bushes today

There were a few raptors up now in the sunshine. A Common Buzzard was circling over the fields just the other side of the road and a Marsh Harrier was over the reeds. When we got a bit closer to the latter, we could see it was a male Marsh Harrier carrying nest material. It dropped into the reeds and flushed a female, which circled for a while before flying back to the nest and ousting the male.

6O0A1292Marsh Harrier – a female circled over the reeds

When we got in to Bishop Hide, we quickly found the Temminck’s Stint – but it was right over the other side in front of Teal Hide. We had a quick look at it through the scope anyway, in the heat haze, but it was not a great view. There were several other species of wader on here too – plenty of Avocets and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits.

6O0A1303Avocet – feeding in front of Bishop Hide

There were also a few Ruff. As waders go, Ruff are one of the most confusing at the best of times. But with the males in various stages of moult into summer plumage, the colours of which are hugely variable, no two look alike at the moment!

6O0A1309Ruff – several today, but no two looking alike!

We decided to make our way round to Teal Hide for a better look at the Temminck’s Stint. On the way, we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reedbed. Thankfully when we got round there, the Temminck’s Stint was still where we had last seen it, on the island in front of Teal Hide. We had much better views of it from here, creeping round on the mud, before something spooked it and it flew off further away.

IMG_3287Temminck’s Stint – much better views from Teal Hide

We had seen most of the birds on here from the other side, but a few more Ruff added to the variety in this species we had observed today. A single Greenshank was feeding in the corner of the scrape, looking very elegant next to the larger, dumpier godwits. A Grey Heron was stalking along the edge of the reeds at the back, neck outstretched, looking for something to catch. A Water Rail squealed from the reedbed. A Brown Hare ran along the bank in front of the hide until it saw everyone inside, then turned and sprinted off in the other direction.

We had a look in Dauke’s Hide, but the water level on here has risen in the past few ayds and there was very little on the scrape here today, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. A pair of Shoveler dropped into the channel in front of the hide and the female swum straight in to the near bank without any fear while the male lurked further over calling nervously. We could see their enormous shovel-like bills.

6O0A1319Shoveler – sporting a huge shovel-like bill

On the way back, we just had time for a quick last look in the gardens as we walked past, but there was still no sign of the Wryneck in any of its favourite spots. Then we headed for home.

24th April 2016 – Migrants & More, Day 3

Day 3, the last day, of a long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. After exploring the east and the centre of the North Norfolk coast, it was time to go west. It was hailing and sleeting just before we met up this morning. Thankfully it was just a squally shower which passed over quickly on the blustery NW wind. The weather was forecast to improve, so we thought we would start up on the Wash looking for waders, before we went looking for passerine migrants which might be hiding in the rain.

The birding starts already on the way though – we often see birds from the car. We headed off cross country and had not gone too far when we noticed a Little Owl perched on the top of a barn roof ahead of us. We stopped the car and it looked at us for a few seconds wondering what to do, before flying off.

We were almost at our first destination when a white shape in the hedge caught the eye. It might have been a piece of wind-blown rubbish, but when we managed to pull over on the busy road we could see it was indeed a Barn Owl. It had found a spot out of the wind and was dozing in the morning sun.

6O0A0732Barn Owl – dozing in the morning sun

Up on the Wash, the tide was just starting to go out. It was not one of the biggest tides of the month, but was still pretty substantial and most of the mud had been covered with water. Over in the far corner, on the last bit of mud which had remained, we could see a huge gathering of waders. Through the scope, we could see a vast mass made up of thousands and thousands of grey blobs.

We had a quick look in Rotary Hide while we waited for the bulk of the waders to wake up and follow the outgoing tide down. There were quite a lot of Black-tailed Godwits on the pits, most over on the bank but a good number on one of the islands. Next to the latter was a small (by Wash standards!) huddle of Knot. There were also loads of Oystercatcher down at the far end and a party of Redshank too.

IMG_2945Black-tailed Godwits & Knot – roosting on the pits over high tide

There were several smaller flocks of Oystercatcher out on the Wash which were first to fly and follow the tide out. When the large flock of waders took off, we went back outside to watch them. They looked like an enormous dark grey cloud blowing low across the mud. With nothing chasing after them, they didn’t swirl around at first but landed back down on the mud nearer the tideline. Through the scope we could see they were mostly Knot, tens of thousands of them, plus good numbers of Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit too.

6O0A0740

6O0A0734Waders – the vast flock following the outgoing tide down

While we were outside, we heard a Cuckoo calling from the bushes along the bank by the hide. We just caught a glimpse of it as it flew off and it seemed to land again back close to where we had parked. We walked back and the Cuckoo came out of the bushes again and flew off across the water. It perched for a second or two on a concrete block, before flying off behind the bushes.

There were lots of waders now feeding feverishly out on the mud. As well as the ones already mentioned, there were plenty of Dunlin, plus a few Ringed Plover and the odd Turnstone too. The vast flock of Knot and other waders took off a couple more times to move closer to the shore, with a good part of it at one point doing some aerial manoeuvres. Eventually, the waders starting to come of the pits too. The Oystercatchers came over first, followed by the Redshanks, in dribs and drabs. As two birds came up over the bank, one of them called, a distinctive ‘tchueet’, the unmistakable call of a Spotted Redshank. We looked up to see a lovely blackish bird flying over with a much greyer Redshank.

IMG_2946Ringed Plover – out on the mud of the Wash

With the weather improving now, we set off back to Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked out, there were lots of warblers singing from the bushes – Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Quite a selection! Then, to cap it off, we heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling – the distinctive song which consists of a rattling series of very fast clicks. Unfortunately it was singing from deep in an impenetrable area of wet reeds and bushes.

A second Cuckoo flew past low over the bushes, flushing all the finches as it did so. A trickle of House Martins flew over, heading north. Then one of the group spotted a small bird flick up into a bush. It was a female Common Redstart – as it flew again, we could see its bright orange-red tail. Unfortunately, it disappeared deep into cover before the rest of the group could get onto it and didn’t reappear, even after we had sheltered out a brief passing shower. We decided to have another look here on our way back.

The middle section of the Coastal Park was a little quiet, apart from the occasional warbler, but when we got up towards the north end, we heard another Grasshopper Warbler reeling. It was very quiet and seemed to be a long way off, but we walked in the direction of the sound up to a clump of brambles. As we approached, we saw a promising looking shape fly in but the reeling at first still seemed to be further away. Then suddenly it hopped up onto a branch of the brambles right in front of us. Stunning!

IMG_2954Grasshopper Warbler – hopped up in front of us, reeling

The Grasshopper Warbler was being blown around in the wind, but still stayed up in the top for a good time, giving us plenty of opportunity to get a good look at it. Then it dropped back down and went silent.

The walk round the top of the Park did not yield anything new, and we turned and started to walk back along the inner seawall. A flock of House Martins and Swallows were hawking for insects around some cows on the bank a little further along. There were a few ducks on the grazing meadows – Shelduck, Gadwall, a single Wigeon and a Mallard with ducklings. There was no sign at first of the little group of Pink-footed Geese we have seen here recently. But a careful scan as we walked revealed a dark head down in the grass and it eventually stood up and walked across. It was a Pink-footed Goose, but it appeared to be sick or injured, which would explain why it was not joining its mates on the long journey back north.

When all the gulls and ducks took off from the grazing marshes in a panic, we turned to see a large female Peregrine scything down through the flocks. It made a couple of passes, but came up empty talonned each time. Then it circled up high over Ken Hill Wood before drifting off back towards the Wash.

We cut across back to where we had seen the Redstart earlier, flushing a couple of Common Snipe from the wet grass by a large puddle on the way. As we rounded the corner, the Redstart flicked off into the low trees again. We played a game of cat and mouse for a while before it finally came out well enough for all the group to get onto it. A nice bird to catch up with today.

Our next destination was Titchwell, but on the way we made a short detour to see the Fulmars hanging over the clifftop in Hunstanton. As we drove round the coast, we happened to spot a lone Whimbrel on the cricket pitch at Thornham, so we pulled in to have a quick look at it, before it flew off.

6O0A0771Whimbrel – on the cricket pitch at Thornham

After lunch at Titchwell, we headed out to explore the reserve. The feeders in front of the visitor centre were rather quiet, but those round the back held a selection of finches – Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches – at least until the Jackdaws moved in and scared everything off. The Water Rail was in its usual ditch again, but took a bit of finding today as it was tucked down in the most overgrown stretch, under the near bank. We followed it for a while as it made its way along the edge of the water and eventually came out into the open where we could get a great view of it.

6O0A0789Water Rail – in the ditch as usual

From the main path by the reedbed, we could hear warblers singing out in the reeds. A Reed Warbler was hard to hear behind the barrage of whistles and buzzy phrases pouring out from a nearby Sedge Warbler which perched up nicely in a small sallow for us. Only when the Sedge Warbler occasionally paused for breath could we hear the quieter, more rhythmic song of the Reed Warbler behind. The Reed Warblers are only now returning from Africa where they have spent the winter and this one seemed yet to get into full voice. Periodically, a Cetti’s Warbler would shout at us from the bushes too.

The grazing meadow ‘pool’ remains mostly dry, although the recent rain has topped up the puddles. There were several Pied Wagtails on here today and in with them we picked out at least three White Wagtails as well – their silvery grey backs setting them apart from the black or slaty-grey backed Pieds. A pair of Little Ringed Plover dropped in too and through the scope we got a good view of the golden yellow eyering on one of them.

IMG_2967Little Ringed Plover – on the grazing meadow ‘pool’

Out on the deeper reedbed pool, we could see a single drake Red-crested Pochard, showing off his bright orange punk haircut and coral red bill. A female Common Pochard was preening by the reeds at the front and a male was sleeping nearby. We stopped to watch the Marsh Harriers quartering over the reedbed and could hear Bearded Tits calling. This is often a good spot to watch hirundines hawking for insects in windy weather, but there were none here on our walk out.

6O0A0813Marsh Harrier – a male, over the reedbed

The water level on the freshmarsh has gone up again, perhaps due to the recent rain. We popped into Island Hide but with little exposed mud over this side there was not much here today. A pair of Common Teal were swimming right outside and the drake was looking very smart.

6O0A0819Common Teal – in front of Island Hide

The Avocets normally steal the show here and a pair obliged us by feeding just in front of the hide. They were struggling a bit, up to their bellies in the deep water, but it was just possible to see that they were still sweeping their bills from side to side deep underwater by the movement of their tails! A little party of Black-tailed Godwits, most in bright orange breeding plumage, were sleeping further over by one of the islands.

6O0A0830Avocet – feeding in the deep water in front of Island Hide

We made our way round to Parrinder Hide to have a look from the other side. There had been a Little Stint and Common Sandpiper here for the last couple of days, but there was no sign of them when we arrived. They often seem to disappear round the back of the islands, so while we waited for them to come out, we admired the pair of Shoveler below the hide. They would occasionally raise their heads from the water and indulge in a quick bout of synchronised head bobbing display. The drake was also quite aggressive, chasing off any Gadwall and Teal that came too close. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew over the bank, calling.

6O0A0872Shoveler – the drake from Parrinder Hide

It didn’t take too long for the Little Stint to put in an appearance, on the small island inside the new ‘Avocet fence’. We could immediately see how small it was, creeping around on the mud, but that was made even more obvious when it flew over to the bank and joined a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, which it dwarfed. Then the Common Sandpiper appeared on the bank too and walked back past them. At one point, we had the three species in the scope together.

IMG_2982Little Stint – on one of the islands inside the new fence

With the main targets here acquired, we headed on towards the beach. The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were rather quiet again today, so we went straight out to look at the sea. On our way, a small warbler flew in along the path and disappeared inland – presumably a freshly arrived Willow Warbler.

It was rather cold and exposed on the beach, despite some sunshine, given the north wind blowing, so we didn’t hang around too long out here. A small raft of Common Scoter was bobbing about in the waves a short distance offshore. There were lots of gulls along the shoreline and in among their legs we could see several little Sanderling running around in and out of the waves.

6O0A0876Brent Goose – a pair had appeared on the Tidal Pools

On the walk back, a pair of Brent Geese had appeared on the near edge of the Tidal Pools, giving us some nice close-up views. Then back at the reedbed pool, as we stopped to have another scan, a couple of Common Swifts appeared, hawking for insects over the reeds with a Swallow or two. These are the first Swifts we have seen this year. A Great Crested Grebe was lurking at the very back of the pool and a Little Grebe appeared nearby briefly too. A Bearded Tit ‘pinged’ and shot off over the tops of the reeds all the way over towards Fen Hide.

We detoured round to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. On the way, a Willow Warbler was singing from the sallows along Meadow Trail. There were not many birds on Patsy’s itself, a few Greylag Geese and commoner ducks, but two drake Red-crested Pochard were sleeping on here this afternoon. We could still see the two Common Swifts and a couple of Marsh Harriers over the reedbed beyond. A pleasant spot to end the day.

23rd April 2016 – Migrants & More, Day 2

Day 2 of a long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. This time we headed east along the coast, starting the day with our first stop at Kelling.

As we walked down along the track to the Water Meadow, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the dense blackthorn. We could just see it hopping around in the branches as it sang. Down by the copse, a Chiffchaff was singing too. We had good views of that as it sang in a small tree and a second Chiffchaff flew back and forth across the path at the same time.

We got down to the gate overlooking the Water Meadow and could feel the cold and blustery north wind in our faces. A Brown Hare was hunkered down on the edge of the grass in the shelter of a dense clump of rushes. At this point, we could see dark shower cloud approaching, so we too shelter behind the hedge. Thankfully, it quickly passed over us on the breeze.

Looking over the brambles, across to the field the other side, we could see a Ring Ouzel out on the short grass. We got it in the scope and could see its white gorget. A second Ring Ouzel appeared nearby. A female Wheatear appeared in the same field. There are quite a few Common Whitethroat which have arrived in the last few days and there were lots around Kelling now. One particularly obliging individual landed in the brambles beside us singing. It proceeded to song flight, hovering above our heads at one point, and perching on various bushes.

6O0A0661Common Whitethroat – this one performed very well right next to us

There were a few ducks out on the pool. Several Shoveler were swimming round in circles with their heads under the water feeding. Three Teal were hiding down in the vegetation on the near bank. The pair of Egyptian Geese still have four goslings so far, and they are growing steadily now. There were a couple of Avocet on here too. From round the other side, we could see a single Common Snipe. It was extremely well camouflaged, sitting tight up against the rushes, and very hard to see until it finally moved out a little.

As it brightened up a little, first a Swallow appeared, zooming back and forth low over the path, and then several Sand Martins. They all began to hawk for insects low over the water.

It looked like the Ring Ouzels might be showing much closer from the path over the other side, but by the time we got round there they had been flushed by several people standing by the edge of the field and flown to the hedge further down along the Water Meadow. We could see them perched up in the top of a bush briefly, before they dropped down out of view. We contented ourselves with watching a nice pair of Stonechats instead as they fed from the fenceposts or small dead thistles out in the field.

IMG_2849Stonechat – a pair were feeding in the corner of the field

We had a quick walk down past the Quag and up the hillside beyond. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling, but didn’t stop and headed straight on west. A Sedge Warbler was singing from deep in the bushes. A Little Egret was tucked down in a ditch, resembling a piece of white wind-blown rubbish until it flew off. A male Pied Wagtail was displaying to a female on the edge of one of the small pools.

We flushed several Linnets and Meadow Pipits from the grass and bushes as we walked along and a smart male Reed Bunting was feeding down on the shorter turf in a dune slack. It was a bit too exposed up on the ridge here, and we could see another squally shower cloud coming in off the sea, so we turned round and made our way back.

There was still no sign of the Ring Ouzels in their favoured corner as we walked past, but from the other side of the Water Meadow we could see one distantly again in a bramble clump and it dropped back down onto the edge of the field once more. Then we headed back to the car.

IMG_2852Ring Ouzel – in the field behind the Water Meadow

In between the showers, there were now some increasingly bright intervals, so we thought it might be worth a quick look up on the Heath, in some of the more sheltered spots. When we got there, it seemed rather quiet, despite being warm in places out of the wind. We had a quick walk round  – the highlight was a single Adder slithering away into a tussock from the bank where it had been basking out of the wind. A couple of Buzzards circled high overhead. A Lesser Redpoll flew over, calling. A pair of Bullfinches were piping from the bushes by the car park. A Goldcrest was feeding up in a pine tree and a Willow Warbler was singing from the birches.

We moved swiftly on and made our way down to Cley for lunch. There were several people milling around in the car park as a Wryneck had been reported earlier, but it had not been seen by anyone after the first sighting. Just as most of the group headed into the visitor centre to make use of the facilities, a Hobby zipped overhead and stooped down after a couple of Meadow Pipits in the fields beyond, before disappearing over the hill behind North Foreland wood.

After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling from the bushes and actually perched up in full view for a few seconds, before flying across the road and disappearing into cover again. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the top of the brambles but launched itself into song flight just as we got the scope onto it. A Water Rail squealed from out in the reeds.

As we settled into Teal Hide, we could see a nice selection of waders out on the scrape just in front. We were just working our way through them in turn, when we were distracted by a very smart black, summer plumage Spotted Redshank just behind them, so we had a good look at that first. There were also several Common Redshanks around for comparison and we had a good view of one in its rather more subtle summer plumage and one in winter still, side by side.

IMG_2890Spotted Redshank – looking very smart in summer plumage

There were a couple of Ruff in front of the hide, both gradually moulting into their own summer plumage. Though yet to develop their characteristic ruffs, they were already looking rather different – one still rather grey-brown with black speckles and the chestnut headed with black bars. Ruff are the most variable wader in appearance.

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IMG_2918Ruffs – two rather different moutling males

There were plenty of Avocets on here, as usual, and we watched one feeding right in front of the hide, sweeping its bill from side to side through the top of the mud.

6O0A0681Avocet – this one was feeding in front of the hide

There is no shortage of Black-tailed Godwits at Cley either. Many are now also in summer plumage, with a striking rusty-orange head and breast. One particularly smart individual was feeding just in front of Dauke’s Hide when we got round there – it looked stunning when the sun came out. There were also about a dozen Dunlin on Simmond’s Scrape, one of which had already starting developing its summer black belly.

IMG_2934Black-tailed Godwit – a stunning summer-plumaged individual

There are not so many ducks on the reserve now, with many having departed after the winter. A single drake Wigeon dropped in to Pat’s Pool at one point and a female Shoveler in the ditch in front of the hides was noted for its enormous shovel of a bill. A single male Marsh Harrier quartered over the reedbed at the back, in the wind.

6O0A0695Shoveler – this female was showing off her enormous bill

As the weather seemed to have improved a little, we decided to brave a walk round to the East Bank. We were almost round there when we heard a Whimbrel calling and looked up to see two flying away over the fields beyond. They appeared to be dropping down and from up on the Bank we could see them distantly out on the grass.

It is not normally advisable to go looking for Bearded Tits in the wind, as they generally stay well down in the reeds on days like this. So we were pleased initially just to hear a couple ‘pinging’ and get a glimpse of them zipping across and dropping back into the reeds. They appeared to have gone down into a channel through the reeds, so we walked along a short way to where we could look down along it from the Bank. There, down on a reed stem by the water, was a stunning male Bearded Tit. A female appeared too, and we watched the two of them creeping around in the reeds.

6O0A0710Bearded Tit – a stunning male, a nice surprise on a windy day

They disappeared out of view a couple of times, but kept coming back to the edge and worked their way right down towards us. Great stuff! Eventually, they just melted into the reeds.

There were three Little Ringed Plovers out on Pope’s Marsh and at first they wouldn’t settle, but kept flying round displaying. Eventually they all landed together. It appeared there might be two males, because they puffed their chests out and stood posturing at each other, while the third looked on. The Lapwings nest out on the grazing marshes here and they are now very aggressive, chasing after Crows, Redshanks, and even other Lapwings. There was also yet another differently coloured Ruff out on the Serpentine, this one with a pure white head.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, there didn’t seem to be so many waders at first today. What was there were mostly Avocet and Redshank. A careful scan revealed a couple of Ringed Plovers out on the islands at the back and a Curlew was asleep out there too. There had been lots of Dunlin out here earlier in the week, and after a while a large flock flew in from the direction of the beach and proceeded to whirl round over the water, alternately flashing dull grey upperparts and bright white underneath.

We had seen a little group of four Sandwich Terns disappearing out over the shingle bank as we arrived, but standing in the new shelter here we heard more coming. Several singles or small groups flew in from the east, presumably having been out fishing further along the coast, and they continued straight overhead, back towards Blakeney Point.

6O0A0719Sandwich Tern – several flew west this afternoon

Then it was time to call it a day and head for home. We walked back with the sun shining – it was glorious now out here, even if it was still cool in the wind. We were almost back to the visitor centre when we stopped on the path to join someone waiting for the Water Voles to appear. We didn’t have to wait long – first one swam across to the other side, then a different one swam straight towards us. A lovely way to finish the day.

6O0A0724Water Vole – several were in the ditch

22nd April 2016 – Migrants & More, Day 1

Day 1 of a long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. As this looked like it might be the best day, weather-wise, we started with a walk out to Burnham Overy Dunes.

A Common Whitethroat was singing from the hedge by the main road where we parked and as we walked down along the lane a second was singing from deep in the hedge. They have been thin on the ground here until now, so these were presumably fairly recent arrivals. A couple of Skylarks were singing overhead and a Chiffchaff was demonstrating how it got its name – it really sounded like spring, even if it was a bit cold in the NE wind.

Our first Lesser Whitethroat was rattling from a rather distant hedge, but a little further along one was singing in the blackthorn right by the track. It proceeded to fly back and forth across the path a couple of times, and then very helpfully landed up in a small hawthorn in full view in front of us. Lovely views of this usually rather shy warbler. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing on either side of us on the walk out. Most were tucked down out of the breeze, but eventually we found one perched in a bramble clump. We all had great views of it through the scope, but typically it flew down out of sight just as we got round to trying to get a photo! A Willow Warbler zipped past us along the track, heading back inland. Presumably a recently arrived migrant on its way.

IMG_2781Brown Hare – a couple were out on the grazing meadows

We found one Brown Hare hunkered down in the middle of the grazing meadows. We had just had a good look at it through the scope, when one of the group spotted a second Hare a bit closer and out in the open on the other side. One of the wardens was just walking round the marshes further back, so had probably just disturbed it.

There were plenty of Egyptian Geese and Greylags out on the grass today. Three Brent Geese obviously preferred being on here to out on the saltmarsh. But there was no sign of any Pink-footed Geese today, nor the drake Wigeon which has been here recently – perhaps the warden had flushed them on his rounds.

IMG_2783Brent Geese – three were still favouring the grazing marshes

We could see a nice pair of Gadwall, two or three Teal asleep in the grass by a pool and a few Tufted Duck. A Common Pochard flew over. A Little Grebe was laughing maniacally from the ditch below us, but two out on one of the reedy pools were easier to see.

At that point, we looked up to see a Spoonbill flying in from the direction of the harbour. It had a stick in its spoon-shaped bill, presumably nest material, which it was carrying back to the colony.

6O0A0639Spoonbill – flying back with nest material

Out on the grazing marshes, we could also see numerous Lapwing, Redshanks and Oystercatchers. Three Avocets were also on one of the pools. Three Ruff flew past over the track. A couple of the Lapwings started displaying, tumbling acrobatically in the air. The Redshanks and Oystercatchers were very vocal too – their breeding season is here. When a Marsh Harrier and a Grey Heron both flew over at the same time, the birds responded by trying to chase them off, the Heron distracting most of the attention from the Harrier.

There were more waders out in the harbour, once we got up onto the seawall. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly in bright orange breeding plumage. In contrast, of the three Grey Plover we could see, only one was just starting to show a little black on the belly. We heard a Whimbrel calling and could see it heading our way over the saltmarsh. Thankfully it then landed down with the other waders right in front of us, where we could see its stripy head and next to a Black-tailed Godwit, the two were rather similar in size.

IMG_2790Whimbrel – flew in to join the other waders in the harbour

The reedbed was rather quiet. The wind was whistling through the reeds today. We did get one burst of booming from the resident Bittern, but generally it seemed a little reluctant to perform today.

There were more Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh further along. A careful scan produced one that was a little darker than the rest, with a more obvious white flank patch and collar. This is the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid, which returns here every winter with our regular Russian Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Many of the Brent Geese which were here through the winter have already left, and it won’t be long now before most of these last flocks depart for Russia too.

There were lots of Linnets in the Suaeda bushes by the path and a smart Redshank perched up on a post for us to give it some admiring looks.

IMG_2801Redshank – perched nicely for us on a post

When we got to the dunes, we turned east. It was nice to get some shelter from the wind, but there were not many birds at first. Then we started to encounter a few Meadow Pipits and then increasingly large flocks of Linnets. We looked up to see two Red Kites circling lazily over the back of the dunes. A couple of Swallows were on the move, heading west. In their favoured dune slack, we only managed to find one Wheatear today, a female, but at least that was a start.

There was no sign of the Ring Ouzels today in the bushes they have been favouring recently, but as we walked a little further over the dunes we eventually spotted one in a bush distantly the other side of the fence. We got it in the scope and had a quick look, in case it flew off. A second Ring Ouzel appeared on the grass next to it briefly.

We made our way over the dunes to try to get a bit closer, and had just got the scope onto one Ring Ouzel on the grass when it flew further back into the bushes out of sight. The warden then appeared from round the other side! We positioned ourselves in the dunes so that we would see them if they dropped back out onto the grass to feed, but the next thing we knew they took off and flew out over the dunes calling, three of them. We had great views of them as the Ring Ouzels flew over us.

Ring Ouzel Burnham Overy 2016-04-13_3Ring Ouzel – one in flight from here last week

Even better, a few minutes later a fourth Ring Ouzel flew out too and this one landed right in the top of a bush in the dunes. A smart male, with a bold white gorget across his breast, he sat in full view for some time, allowing us to get a great look at him.

IMG_2806Ring Ouzel – this make perched up for us in a bush

While we had a rest in the dunes, we scanned across the pools and marshes in front of us to see what we could see. A very distant white blob perched in a tree turned out to be a Spoonbill. It was a bit hazy, but we could make out its bushy nuchal crest blowing in the breeze. Then another big white bird appeared from out of a ditch and flew across towards the same trees. When it landed again, we could confirm that it was the Great White Egret – we could see its large size and long neck. When two Greylags nearly dropped down on it, it flew again and landed in a dead tree nearby.

The walk back through the dunes did not produce anything else of note, but from back up on the seawall a scan of the grazing marshes produced another two Wheatears on the grass, this time including a smart male sporting a black bandit mask. Four more Whimbrel flew over the grazing marsh calling. And one of the singing Sedge Warblers finally performed for the camera, perched out on a long aerial bramble stem, even though it was getting blown all over the place in the wind.

IMG_2826Sedge Warbler – lots are in and singing now

We were almost back across the grazing marshes when we noticed two more Spoonbills, circling over the trees way off to the east. They turned towards us and we waited for them to come our way. They took remarkably little time to reach us, with the benefit of a strong tail wind, and headed swiftly out towards the harbour.

6O0A0645Spoonbill – these two were heading out towards the harbour

We had lunch back at Holkham, in a slightly more sheltered spot. Several Swallows and House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees. A Sparrowhawk circled up distantly. Then, after lunch, we made our way east to Stiffkey Fen.

A pair of Marsh Harriers were circling over the valley, the smart grey-winged male above and the darker brown female below. He made a couple of playful stoops at her, and she turned upside down and they talon-grappled at one point, all part of the courtship display, before dropping down into the reeds.

A lone Stock Dove was in the weedy field by the path and its iridescent green neck patch shone in the afternoon sunshine. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge and a Common Whitethroat was doing the same across the road. As we walked down alongside the river, a couple of Bullfinches were piping from the sallows ahead of us, but were hard to see until they flew. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the brambles and a Willow Warbler sang from the trees. Several Swallows, a couple of House Martins and a Sand Martin were hawking for insects over the water.

From up on the seawall, we could see a smart summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit down in the harbour channel beyond. There was also a large group of Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the Fen, with a few still in their duller grey-brown non-breeding plumage. In between the legs of the Godwits, we spotted a single Knot, much smaller by comparison, shorter billed, and still in its grey winter plumage. Further over, on one of the islands at the back of the Fen, two Little Ringed Plovers were chasing each other round on the mud.

IMG_2830Black-tailed Godwit – there were still lots at Stiffkey Fen today

We walked on, round towards the harbour. A lovely male Marsh Harrier with silvery grey wings looked a picture quartering along the edge of a bright-yellow oilseed rape field. A Whimbrel flew across the channel and started probing in the muddy bank along one side. An Orange Tip butterfly in the shelter of the bank stopped to feed on a dandelion flower in the sunshine.

6O0A0652Orange Tip – out in the sunshine

Looking out across the harbour, we could see lots of Sandwich Terns shimmering in the heat haze. It was only when they were spooked by something later and flew up into the sky that we could see them clearly. The tide was still out, so there were not many waders in view and those we could see were rather distant. Still, we managed to find a Ringed Plover for the day’s list and while we were watching it a cracking summer-plumage male Bar-tailed Godwit, with deep rusty underparts extending right down under the tail, walked past.

After enjoying the sunshine for a few minutes while we scanned the harbour, we turned to head back. Along the edge of the reeds at the Fen, a Common Snipe had appeared. It was very well camouflaged and tricky to see at first against the similarly coloured reed stems, but easier through the scope.

We still had time for one last stop, so we headed for the local gull colony. There are normally Mediterranean Gulls at Stiffkey Fen, but we hadn’t seen any today, so this gave us another chance to catch up with the species. Sure enough, out amongst the hordes of noisy Black-headed Gulls, we spotted a much darker jet black head (Black-headed Gulls have dark chocolate brown heads!). A cracking adult Mediterranean Gull, we could also see its heavier, brighter red bill and we noted the way the black hood extends further down the back of the neck. Out on the edge of the colony we could also see a pair of white-headed Common Gulls.

IMG_2842Mediterranean Gull – in with lots of Black-headed Gulls

A quick look at the waders out in the harbour produced a good number of Turnstone in with the Oystercatchers and a couple of Curlew. A female Wigeon roosting on the edge of a sandbar was a bit of a surprise. Further out, several Common Seals were hauled out in the shallows on the edge of the main channel. Then it was time to head for home.

18th & 20th April 2016 – General Birding

A two day special Private Tour, across Monday and Wednesday this week. It was to be two relaxed shorter days of general Norfolk birding, although we could always catch up on some of the less regular species if the opportunity presented itself.

A gentle start to day 1 saw us stopping at Holkham, but not before we had been forced to swerve to avoid two Egyptian Geese in the middle of the main road! The Marsh Harriers were displaying again – we watched the female circling above the trees, before the male flew in and started swooping from side to side, before dropping down into the reeds.

6O0A0336Marsh Harrier – the pair were displaying again today

Two large white birds half visible in the trees were Spoonbills. We could see their bushy nuchal crests flapping in the breeze and just make out their spoon-shaped bills. One of them did a nice fly round over the grazing marsh for us. The trees were also full of Cormorants which are busy nesting at the moment.

There were plenty of Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese out on the marshes, and the odd Canada Goose too. But over on the old fort, we could see some lingering Pink-footed Geese as well, at least 15 today. There are always a few sick or injured birds which stay for the summer, but there are some healthy ones still here too which should soon be on their way back to Iceland. Through the scope, we could see their dark heads and small, mostly dark bills with a pink band around.

We could just make out lots of hirundines swooping around over the grass – mostly House Martins, plus a few Swallows – though they were hard to pick out against the vegetation in the distance, until a couple flew up higher into  the sky.

6O0A0347Grey Partridge – we saw several at Choseley today

Our next destination was Titchwell, but we made a short diversion on the way there, round the back via Choseley, to try to pick up some farmland birds. Our first stop produced a smart Grey Partridge lurking on the edge of a field, tucked in behind a hedge. It was a bit breezy up on the ridge, and cold in the wind, so we had a quick drive round to see if we could find anything else. The hedges were pretty quiet and the birds were obviously keeping themselves tucked down. There was no sign of the Ring Ouzels here unfortunately – they may have moved on or just found somewhere sheltered – and a quick walk along the footpath was similarly unproductive, apart from a pair of Linnets. We decided to move on to Titchwell.

The main car park was already full when we arrived, despite it being a Monday, cool and cloudy. We parked in the overflow car park and had a quick walk round – both Chiffchaff and Blackcap were singing from the sallows, both species now back for the summer. Up to the visitor centre and the feeders were rather quiet – just a few Chaffinches and tits coming in to feed – so we didn’t linger. We could hear a Siskin singing from the trees, but couldn’t see it, and we couldn’t find the Water Rail in the ditch when we went past at this point either.

We swung round via Meadow Trail. There were several Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs singing from the willows and we managed to get good views of both these two very similar species. A female Blackcap was flitting around in the reeds by the dipping pool. A pair of Bullfinches disappeared off over the tops of the trees as we approached.

A quick visit to Fen Hide, and a single drake Red-crested Pochard was out on the water, but flew off just as we sat down. We heard a Bearded Tit ‘ping’ but when it flew off across the reeds it was too quick for everyone to see. A Wren feeding down low on the edge of the cut reeds was behaving just like a Bearded Tit should! Out over the reedbed, there were lots of House Martins hawking for insects, and the odd Sand Martin in with them. There had obviously been a decent arrival of hirundines this morning.

6O0A0349Red-crested Pochard – three drakes were on Patsy’s Reedbed

There was a decent selection of ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed. Three drake Red-crested Pochard were busy feeding, a small group of Tufted Duck and Pochard were asleep on the near bank, and we could see a few Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler too. A couple of Little Grebes were diving constantly. Over the reeds beyond, a couple of Marsh Harriers were circling. As it was getting near to lunchtime, we decided to head back to the car for an early lunch, before exploring the rest of the reserve.

After lunch, we walked back out to the Visitor Centre. There was still not much on the feeders, but we could hear a Siskin singing in the trees and managed to get it in the scope. Another look in the ditch by the main path failed to produce a Water Rail again – surely they couldn’t have disappeared?

IMG_2497Siskin – this male was singing by the Visitor Centre

The grazing marsh ‘pool’ was rather exposed to the cold wind. Still, there were a few wagtails out there today. A closer look revealed at least four White Wagtails, as well as a few of their close cousins the Pied Wagtails, but no sign of any pipits here today. A lone Great Crested Grebe was at the back of the reedbed pool, which also held a selection of ducks – Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard and Tufted Duck.

A particular target species was Avocet and Titchwell is a great place to see them up close. We popped in to Island Hide and were treated to fantastic views of them just in front of the hide. It was great to watch them feeding, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallows.

6O0A0360

6O0A0399Avocets – great views from Island Hide today

There were also several Teal in front of the hide. Mostly paired up now, the drakes are looking particularly smart. Numbers of duck are well down from the peak of the winter now, as many have departed on their journey north to breed, but a scattering of Gadwall, Shoveler and Mallard remain.

6O0A0397Teal – a smart drake

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, and caught the odd glimpse of a bird zooming off over the reeds. Eventually, we all managed to get on to one which made a quite lengthy cross-reed journey, before dropping back in out of view.

The water levels are going down now on the freshmarsh, and it is looking great for waders, but it still seemed a bit quiet here wader-wise, apart from the Avocets. There was a nice flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. When we got round to Parrinder Hide, the Bar-tailed Godwit had joined with a single Black-tailed Godwit, a Knot which must have just flown in, and a lone Oystercatcher – which made for an interesting little flock.

IMG_2501Waders – a nice group of Knot, Bar-tailed & Black-tailed Godwit, & Oystercatcher

A Little Ringed Plover flew in and landed on the island in front of the hide. We could see the fine, dark bill and golden-yellow eyering. A careful scan then revealed a second, very well camouflaged against the mud. A single Turnstone was feeding round the edge of the big island, tucked in behind the new Avocet nest protection fence.

IMG_2507Little Ringed Plover – 1 of 2 on the freshmarsh

There are still quite a few Brent Geese at the moment, and they were commuting back and forth between the saltmarsh where they were grazing and the freshmarsh for a wash and brush-up.

6O0A0406Brent Geese – quite a few still here, mostly on the saltmarsh

The Volunteer Marsh was rather quiet, apart from a few Redshank along the sides of the furthest tidal channel, and there was not much new to see on the Tidal Pools either, apart from a single Grey Plover.

Out on the beach, the tide was coming in and the shellfish beds were already covered by the sea. There were a few waders still out on the sand, being pushed ever higher – a few Grey Plover, a single Turnstone and a couple of little groups of silvery grey Sanderling running around like clockwork toys. Looking out to sea, all seemed quiet at first, until we found a couple of Great Crested Grebes and a small raft of Common Scoter.

It was a bit fresh out on the beach, so we didn’t hang around too long. On the way back, another Little Ringed Plover appeared on the Tidal Pools. We stopped to admire  a very smart pair of Shelduck by the path on the Volunteer Marsh. A Lesser Black-backed Gull, sporting bright yellow legs and feet, had appeared on the Freshmarsh. And there was now a pair of Great Crested Grebes on the reedbed pool and even better, they were displaying!

6O0A0419Shelduck – a pair were by the path

We still couldn’t find any pipits on the grazing marsh ‘pool’ but we did manage to find a Water Rail or two. We found the female first, feeding quietly in the water in the bottom of the ditch. Then she was joined by the male, and the two of them fed together for a few seconds, before he disappeared off again. It was great to see the two of them side by side.

6O0A04356O0A0424Water Rails – hard to see in the ditch

We were treated to great views of the Water Rails, and then it was time to call an end to Day 1.

Day 2 saw us starting from Lady Anne’s Drive to walk west. A few Teal were sleeping around the pools alongside the road. We could also see several Shelduck and a single Snipe feeding on the mud.

As we started to walk west along the path on the inland side of the pines, we could hear lots of warblers singing – Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. It was to be a real theme of the morning, with warblers singing all the way. From the bushes in the reeds we added Sedge Warbler to the list and in the scrubbier areas we heard a couple of Lesser Whitethroat. At one point we could hear all five warblers singing at once from where we were standing.

There were also the usual tits in the trees – Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits. Jays called and one flew up into a poplar by the path briefly. A Treecreeper was singing and we managed to see it climbing up a bare trunk, stopping occasionally to deliver another burst of song.

While we were on our way through the trees, news came through of a party of six Cranes seen flying west from Cley. With a good chance they would come over Holkham too, we walked quickly up to Salts Hole where it was more open. We stood here for a while and scanned the sky. There were lots of raptors up – Buzzards and Marsh Harriers. A Sparrowhawk circled up too. But there was no sign of  any Cranes and it looked like they must have gone past before we made it out of the trees.

A Firecrest had been singing earlier just a little way back along the track, so we walked back into the trees the way we had just come. We had only waited a few seconds when we heard it singing further back in the pines. It would be impossible to find in there, but fortunately it flew forwards into the holm oaks by the track. We watched it flitting around in the trees, though it was hard to get onto – Firecrests rarely stay still for long.

Firecrest Holkham 2016-03-25_3Firecrest – this photo taken a few weeks ago here

We heard aggravated calls above us and looked up to see a Herring Gull and Peregrine chasing each other. It was hard to tell who was chasing whom, and we quickly lost sight of them over the trees.

Back on our way west, we had just got past Salts Hole when we received news that the Cranes had been seen again circling over Burnham Overy only five minutes earlier. They had somehow got past us, presumably when we were in the trees. We found a suitable vantage point and scanned the sky to the west, but we could not see anything at first. It really felt like we had missed them. Then finally we picked up two Cranes circling, very  high and very distant. They were not much more than dots in sky, even through binoculars. Then we found the other four too, circling lower down and all six gradually came back together. Through the scope we could just make out the shape, and get a glint of grey wing coverts as they turned and caught the sun. At least we had seen them, but they were not great views.

We carried on west, straight out to the dunes. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew past us calling on the way.  We knew exactly where the Ring Ouzels had been in the last few days and, even though several others had failed to see them find them, sure enough they flew out of their usual bushes. One at a time – first one, then a second, followed by a third and a fourth. We saw where they landed in some more bushes and walked round into the dunes to a convenient vantage point. They stayed hidden for several minutes but eventually came out briefly onto the grass, just long enough to get a smart male in scope, showing off the white gorget on his breast. Then they flew off across the dunes.

Ring Ouzel Burnham Overy 2016-04-13_4Ring Ouzel – one of the birds here a week ago

As we walked back towards the main path, the Ring Ouzels suddenly appeared again, flying back in to the bushes where they had been first off. But there were lots of people walking in the dunes today, and they were promptly flushed once more. This time they flew off to the other side of the fence and dropped down out of sight behind the dunes. We had a quick look further west, in the next dune slack, but there was no sign of any Wheatears here today. Then we had a request to head back for lunch.

We got back almost to the pines when we heard birds calling. It sounded like Cranes but surely it couldn’t be? The six Cranes from earlier had been seen going much further west, over Titchwell before heading out to sea over Holme. Distant at first, they progressively got a little louder. Then three Cranes appeared out of the sky, followed by three more. They circled over the grazing marshes in front of us for a minute or two, before drifting off back east. They had obviously got to the Wash and not fancied the sea crossing, so turned back. It was great that they did – we got much better views this time, through the scope.

6O0A0523Cranes – first three reappeared

6O0A0525Cranes – then all six together headed off back east

On the way, we stopped in at Joe Jordan Hide briefly. There were several Spoonbills on the pool in front, but they were mostly tucked down behind the reeds along the near edge. We did manage to see a couple preening through a gap in the vegetation. Two Red Kites were circling over the marshes beyond. Then it was time to head back for what was now a late lunch.

After the distraction of the Cranes in particular, we were running later than expected, so there was not really enough time this afternoon on a short day to go far. We drove round inland via some nearby farmland, where several Wheatears in a stoney field were a nice surprise. Then we made our way down to Burnham Norton. There had been a Green-winged Teal here yesterday, but some local birders were just coming back from a thorough search of the area and told us there was no sign of it today. We had thought we might walk round here anyway, but they informed us that the paths were very wet underfoot, so we moved on.

Back past Burnham Overy Staithe, we had a quick walk out across the fields to the seawall. A Yellowhammer and another Lesser Whitethroat were singing from the bushes beside the path. But there were no Sedge Warblers singing along here this afternoon, where they are normally fairly numerous. The wind had picked up now and it was a little cool out in the open, so perhaps they had decided to hunker down.

Out in the fields, there were lots of Redshanks and Lapwing. A careful scan produced a lone drake Wigeon on one of the pools – most of the birds which spent the winter have now departed on their way back to Russia to breed.There were a few geese out on the grazing marshes too. Mostly Greylags and Egyptian Geese, plus a handful of Brent Geese (most of the Brent Geese prefer to feed out the saltmarsh at this time of year). From up on the seawall we managed to find a few Pink-footed Geese still. Like with the Wigeon, most of the ones which spent the winter here have long since departed, in the case of the Pinkfeet back to Iceland. We had a closer view of these than the ones we had seen yesterday, noting the pink bill band and even the pink legs, though hard to see in the long grass.

A single Spoonbill flew low over the grazing marshes and looked like it might be dropping down onto the pools, but carried on west. Later, we watched two more Spoonbills coming from the direction of Holkham. They flew steadily west, out over the seawall, and seemed to go down in harbour channel back towards Overy Staithe. We walked that way along the path but, by the time we got round, there was no sign of them there. Just when we thought our luck was out, they circled up again from the saltmarsh just beyond the harbour. They seemed unsure of where they wanted to go, but after circling for a second or two, flew straight back past us. Cracking views!

6O0A0546

6O0A0555Spoonbills – flew back past us from the saltmarsh

There were a few waders down on the mud below the seawall, on the edge of the saltmarsh. Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Avocet and Grey Plover. A single Whimbrel flew across the grazing marsh calling and disappeared over the seawall. It was decidedly cool in the fresh easterly breeze up here on the seawall, and we had a request to head back.

There was just enough time left for a quick visit to the local gull colony. In amongst the hordes of Black-headed Gulls, we picked out a smart pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Side by side with a Black-headed Gull, we could see their darker jet black hoods, more extensive on the back of the head, their heavier, brighter red bills and their pure white wing tips. A Common Gull also flew right past in front of us.

IMG_2642Mediterranean Gulls – with a Black-headed Gull for comparison

There were lots of waders on the mud here too and we just had a chance for a quick scan through. Lots of Oystercatchers, a couple of large groups of Turnstone and two Bar-tailed Godwits. Then it was time to head for home.

17th April 2016 – Spring Sunshine At Last

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. Having gone first to the east and then to the west on the previous days, it was time to explore the middle. And today the sun was shining!

As we were driving past Holkham, we pulled in briefly to scan the grazing marshes and pools. Just at that moment, the Great White Egret happened to be flying over and we just glimpsed it as it landed at the back behind some reeds. We stopped the car and got out for a better look.

A large white shape on one of the pools was not the Great White Egret but a distant Spoonbill. Then we spotted another Spoonbill in the trees. It climbed up in full view and we could see its shaggy crest blowing in the breeze. A couple more circled round over the trees, before dropping back in out of sight. Finally, three circled up out of the trees and headed off west, presumably off feeding.

Then the Great White Egret reappeared from behind the reeds. Even at range, we could see how big it was and it held its very long neck outstretched as it walked across the pool it was in. We could even just make out its long yellow bill.

6O0A0055Great White Egret – here’s a photo of it a couple of days ago

There were lots of Greylags and Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marshes. The vast majority of the Pink-footed Geese have long since left, on their way back to Iceland for the breeding season, but we managed to find a small group of about ten still here, grazing over on the old fort. A Mediterranean Gull flew over calling, the first of many today – we could see through its translucent white wingtips from below. A few House Martins and Sand Martins were hawking for insects over the pools.

A pair of Marsh Harriers were dive-bombing a Common Buzzard in the trees when we arrived. There was then a constant backdrop of Marsh Harrier activity, with several birds out over the grazing marshes, carrying nest material and dropping down into the reeds.

6O0A0293Marsh Harrier – lots of activity at Holkham this morning

Our next stop was at Burnham Overy. As we set off across the fields to walk out to the seawall, lots of birds were singing – a Yellowhammer in the hedge, a Chiffchaff in the bushes and several Skylarks overhead. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat too, but it was rather distant and drowned out by the Wrens singing in the foreground.

There are lots of Sedge Warblers in now, and we could hear several singing from the bushes either side of the path as we walked out, but they were proving hard to see well at first today. There was a cool NE breeze this morning, and they were all keeping down in the brambles. Eventually, one Sedge Warbler perched up nicely for a minute or two, so we could get a good look at it in the scope.

IMG_2458Sedge Warbler – there are lots back now and singing

Most of the ducks and geese have left, but there were still a couple of Brent Geese on the grass – and a lot more out in the harbour on the saltmarsh, which they seem to prefer at this time of year. We managed to find a single drake Wigeon still, and a small number of Teal hiding in the grass around the edges of the pools, plus a few Shoveler and Gadwall. A lone Little Grebe was in one of the reedy channels.

There were plenty of Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing out on the grazing marshes. The latter two will stay to breed here and they are already starting to display, whereas the Curlew should be on their way north soon. From up on the seawall, the tide was out and we could see a few more waders out on the mud, including a few Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwits, the latter mostly sporting varying amounts of bright rusty red breeding plumage on head and breast. A Greenshank called behind us and we turned to see it flying over the grazing marshes where we had just walked. It flew straight through and didn’t stop, on its way west.

Out at the reedbed, we could hear the Bittern booming. We stood and listened for a minute or so, also hoping that the Bearded Tits might put in an appearance, but it was probably too cold and windy this morning. One Willow Warbler flew past, hopping between the bushes as it made its way inland along the edge of the seawall, presumably a fresh migrant. Another Willow Warbler was singing from a hawthorn in the reedbed – not its usual habitat, so presumably it too would continue on its way soon.

We carried on along the seawall, heading for the dunes where we could get some shelter from the nagging cold breeze. Almost at the Boardwalk, a Whimbrel flew up from the saltmarsh calling, and disappeared off towards the dunes. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and Linnets from the seawall on the way out, and even more in the dunes. It is great to see so many of two declining species here.

IMG_2466Meadow Pipit – they are still numerous in the dunes and grazing marshes

We turned east into the dunes and almost immediately flushed a couple of Grey Partridge. They flew across and landed on a marram-covered ridge a little further away, where we could get them in the scope. In a sheltered dune slack we then came across several Wheatear. A smart male was out on the short grass when we arrived but after a quick look through the scope he disappeared. It was quite disturbed in the dunes today, with lots of walkers, cyclists and dogs, which may be why they were more nervous than usual and kept mostly in the dunes behind the fence.

WheatearWheatear – a little shy today, here’s a recent photo

Another local birder walking back the other way reported that there was no sign of any Ring Ouzels today, so we were very pleased when we found a group of them in the dunes. Like the Wheatears, they were very flighty today. We heard them first as they flew up over the dunes some distance before we got to them. It was hard to tell exactly how many there were, as they scattered in different directions, probably at least six.

We crept round to the other side of the dune in the hope of seeing them on the ground, but most of the Ring Ouzels had already disappeared. There were still at least two, which we followed for a while. They kept disappearing into the bushes and brambles. We didn’t want to keep flushing them, so we kept our distance, but still they wouldn’t really come out to feed, eventually flying out each time calling and across to another bush. A couple of times they did come out onto the grass briefly. In the end we left them to it.

IMG_2461Ring Ouzel – very flighty today & mostly hiding in the bushes

The bushes at the end of the pines were rather quiet today – another Lesser Whitethroat singing was the highlight. Probably the same Whimbrel we had seen flying this way earlier was feeding down on the grass beyond. There didn’t seem to be many migrants fresh in overnight, although once it started to warm up there was a constant trickle of Swallows moving west through the dunes. We made our way back.

Back at the reedbed, the Bittern was booming again. It sounded not too far in from the path, but we couldn’t see it in the reeds. We did hear Bearded Tits calling a couple of times and then glimpsed two of them as they zipped off low over the reeds and crashed back in out of sight.

While we were standing by the reeds, a bright white bird flew straight towards us high in the sky. We looked up to see a long white neck stretched out in front and long black legs trailing behind – a Spoonbill. As it came overhead, we even got a great view of its spoon-shaped bill!

6O0A0307Spoonbill – check out the shape of that bill!

On the walk back across the fields, there were a couple more surprises in store. We looked off across the marshes to the east as all the waders and ducks scattered to see a Peregrine stooping down into them. It towered up and made another dive a couple of times without success, before losing interest and circling up high into the sky.

Then a Barn Owl appeared, most unexpectedly. They will fly during the day, but it is unusual to see them out at midday on a sunny spring day. Perhaps it had struggled to find food in the rain the last couple of days, perhaps it has a family to feed already, but whatever the reason it flew across to one of their favourite fields and started to fly round, hunting. We had great views of it in the sunshine. A couple of times it dropped down into the grass, but we didn’t see it catch anything.

6O0A0309Barn Owl – out hunting in the middle of the day

We had lunch at Holkham. A Goldcrest and a Coal Tit were singing from the holm oaks in the car park as we ate. A Swallow was zooming around the buildings. Then afterwards, we made our way east along the coast road to Stiffkey Fen.

As we got out of the car, we could see a male Marsh Harrier displaying, zooming back and forth over the reeds. Then a female circled up from below. The wind had dropped, the sun was out and it was starting to really warm up now. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up too, taking advantage of the warmth in the air, and the male Marsh Harrier seemed to take offense and had a quick swoop at them.

A Blackcap was singing from the trees and as we walked down the path by the river a Bullfinch flicked out of the hedge and flew off ahead of us calling. A Willow Warbler was singing from the willows, appropriately enough, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the brambles.

As we got up onto the seawall, we could see a Greenshank feeding on the edge of the channel beyond. We just got the scope onto it when it flew a bit further along. A second Greenshank was a little further along, and a little later the two of them flew back together. There has been a Greenshank here all winter, but it was impossible to tell if these were both over-wintering birds or if one or other was a migrant just passing through.

IMG_2472Greenshank – and Black-tailed Godwit in the harbour channel

There was nothing particularly of note on the Fen itself today. Lots of Black-headed Gulls, several Avocets, a small group of roosting Black-tailed Godwits and a few other bits and pieces. So we continued on round towards the harbour. The tide was coming in and there were lots of Redshank and some smart summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the channel.

IMG_2476Black-tailed Godwit – now mostly in summer plumage

As we approached the harbour, a Kingfisher disappeared off out across the saltmarsh in a flash of electric blue, unfortunately too quick for most of the group to get onto. Thankfully it did a better flypast shortly after, when it came back the other way and flew off back towards the Fen. Out on Blakeney Point we could see lots of white shapes and through the scope we could just about see through the heat haze they were mostly Sandwich Terns. There were already over 1,000 counted last week, back for the breeding season.

The tide was rising now and the waders were gathered in flocks on the edge of the mud. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were on the end of a larger roosting flock of Oystercatchers. A Ringed Plover and a few Dunlin were picking about on one of the spits. As the water rose, a Grey Plover flew in and landed with a Dunlin, completely dwarfing it side-by-side on the mud. As all the waders were gradually pushed in by the tide, a large flock of Knot whirled round over the harbour.

While we were watching the waders, one of the group spotted a Goldeneye diving on the edge of the rising water. Then, nearby, a single female Red-breasted Merganser appeared too. At one point, the two of them were diving together. There were lots of Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers in the harbour through the winter, but most have already departed north for the breeding season.

However, the highlight of our visit here was the Short-eared Owl which flew across the saltmarsh. It flew in from our left, and we caught sight of it as it approached. It flew across the channel right in front of us, its stiff-winged flight action a bit like rowing, before disappearing off towards Morston. It is always great to see a Short-eared Owl, but the light this afternoon on it was just perfect!

6O0A0322Short-eared Owl – flew across the saltmarsh right in front of us

It was magical down by the harbour in the sunshine this afternoon, listening to the sea beyond, watching the birds pushed in by the tide. In the end, we had to tear ourselves away and head for home.

6O0A0326Blakeney Harbour – a glorious place to be in the sunshine this afternoon

16th April 2016 – Rain or Shine

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours. We met again in Wells and today we set off in the other direction, to the west. It was forecast to rain, at least for this morning and possibly most of the afternoon too, so we headed for Titchwell where at least we could get out of the weather in the hides.

The car park at Titchwell was unusually quiet for a weekend, with the weather clearly putting people off. It meant we had a chance to look round the bushes in the overflow car park before it got busy, but there was not much to be seen here today in the rain – the birds had decided to stay at home too! A Willow Warbler was singing from the trees, and a Chiffchaff was doing the same. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted its song at us from deep in the undergrowth.

The feeders by the visitor centre were also rather quiet – apart from a few Chaffinches and tits. A male Pheasant stood on the pallets underneath, looking decidedly wet and miserable.

6O0A0236Pheasant – standing under the feeders in the rain

The ditch where the Water Rail has been all winter was rather full with dirty rainwater, run off the fields and paths. Still, we found the Water Rail a little bit further along, feeding up on an exposed area of mud and rotting leaves. It was hard to get onto it at first, but eventually everyone was treated to great views of it. We had walked a little further along when we heard a Water Rail squealing from the ditch back behind us. We assumed it was the one we had just been watching at first, but turned round to see it was a second Water Rail running away from us with its undertail coverts puffed out.

Having seen the pair of Water Rails mating here a couple of weeks ago, we had an idea what might be coming next. We could only just see the pair today, as they were a way back along the ditch and mostly hidden by overhanging branches. For something which is seen so rarely, we were extraordinarily lucky to see Water Rails mating here a second time!

Water Rail Titchwell 2016-02-17_1Water Rail – here is one of them from a few weeks ago

A quick scan of the dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’ on the way past revealed nothing more than a lot of Black-headed and Common Gulls. It was exposed to the elements out on the mud – and up on the seawall! We continued on and had a look at the reedbed pool next. Two smart drake Red-crested Pochard were out in the middle and a few Common Pochard were down at the front. A pair of Marsh Harriers came up out of the reeds and circled low a couple of times before dropping back in.

6O0A0240Shoveler – feeding with their heads down in the water

Island Hide provided some welcome respite from the rain, although it was thankfully not raining hard. The water level on the freshmarsh is still quite high, and presumably topped up again by all the rain overnight. Most of the hordes of ducks which spent the winter here have now departed, but there were still a few Teal remaining, plus several Shoveler and Gadwall.

6O0A0245Teal – there are still a few around the reserve still

There were not so many waders on here today. A small number of Black-tailed Godwits, resplendent in their rusty summer plumage, were mostly sleeping on the islands or on the edge of a larger roosting flock of Oystercatchers. A single Dunlin flew round and landed briefly, just long enough for us to get it in the scope and admire its summer black belly patch which was starting to appear. There were a few pairs of Avocet on here, but not as many as there might normally be.

6O0A0252Avocet – not as many as normal around the reserve today

A lone Ringed Plover was on one of the islands but was distant from over this side. We got a better view of it from round at Parrinder Hide – noting its black-tipped orange bill and lack of a golden eye-ring. There had apparently been some Little Ringed Plovers here as well before we arrived, but they appeared to have flown off. A single Common Snipe was feeding on the bank beyond the hide and a Turnstone was hiding in the vegetation on the newly fenced off island.

IMG_2369Ringed Plover – just one, on one of the islands on the freshmarsh

There were quite a few Pied Wagtails around the islands, and we found at least one White Wagtail in with them too. The continental race to the British Pied Wagtail, it could be immediately picked out by its much paler silvery-grey back. White Wagtails are regular early migrants here, stopping off on their way back to Europe or Iceland. We were to see a few of them around the reserve today.

A big flock of Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh to bathe and preen. While we were looking at them, one of the group spotted a tern which dropped in to one of the small islands over the other side. Through the scope, we could see that it was a Common Tern, sporting a black-tipped red bill, another returning migrant and the first we have seen here this year. It rested on the island for a few minutes, before flying off again.

IMG_2385Common Tern – dropped into the freshmarsh for a few minutes

Volunteer Marsh was disappointingly quiet, apart from a few Redshank. The rain had eased to just a little light spitting and, looking to the north, the sky appeared to be brightening a little so we decided to brave the conditions and walk out further along the main path towards the beach.

There didn’t seem to be much on the Tidal Pools to look at either at first, but a careful scan revealed a single Little Ringed Plover  on a strip of sandy island. Through the scope we could see its finer, dark bill and golden eye-ring, both of which immediately set it apart from the Ringed Plover we had seen earlier. A flock of small waders flew in from the direction of the sea and whirled round over the water before landing on a small island – a mixture of Dunlin and Turnstone.

We surprised ourselves by making it out to the beach and the weather was not as bad out here as we thought it might be. The tide was coming in, but there were still a few Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover on the beach. A group of about a dozen Sanderling flew in along the beach and landed out on the sand in front of us – silvery grey above and sparkling white below, they were about the same size but much paler than the Dunlin we had just seen.

The sea was quite rough in the blustery north-west wind, but we could just make out a small raft of Common Scoter not too far ofshore. We were just trying to all get onto them when several hundred more Common Scoter flew in from further out to sea and circled round in front of us, before dropping down with the others. A single Fulmar was trying to battle past into the wind. We didn’t stay long out here today. Having racked up a few good species for the day, we beat a hasty retreat.

6O0A0249Brent Geese – back out on the saltmarsh, on the way back

The weather continued to improve as we walked back and a few more birds started to appear as a consequence. On the Volunteer Marsh, a couple of Curlew were now in with all the Redshank along the tidal channel and a careful scan revealed two Knot as well, remarkably well camouflaged against the grey of the mud.

When we got to the reedbed, we could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers singing, but they were keeping uncharacteristically well hidden today. We got a couple of quick views of one of them in flight. A Cetti’s Warbler was more typically shouting at us from deep in the bushes. While we were trying to see the Sedge Warblers, we heard a couple of ‘pings’ behind us and turned round just in time to see two Bearded Tits zoom across the top of the reeds before dropping back down out of view.

We could even see a bit of blue sky now, so we stopped by the grazing meadow ‘pool’ again for a proper scan. A Bittern started booming from out in the reeds behind us. A couple of Whimbrel flew across in front of us, calling, and landed out on the saltmarsh. Another Little Ringed Plover was now out on the mud and another White Wagtail appeared from behind the reeds right down at the front.

IMG_2402White Wagtail – we saw several around the reserve today

We were just about to leave when we spotted a small bird tucked into the edge of the reeds at the back, preening. There have been a few Water Pipits on here on and off throughout the winter, so it was good to see one still here and now sporting a lovely pink flush across the breast as it moults into summer plumage.

While we were watching the Water Pipit, a Grasshopper Warbler started reeling from the brambles out on the grazing marsh beyond. It gave several bursts of its distinctive clicking ‘song’ but we couldn’t see it from here, so we walked back a short way to have a look for it from a different angle. Unfortunately then it shut up and we didn’t hear it again.

We took a detour round along the Meadow Trail. There were several Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers singing from the sallows. A male Blackcap dropped down into a small bush by one of the pools. A quick look in at Patsy’s Reedbed added Little Grebe to the day’s list and several Martins hawking for insects over the pool. We could see both plain brown-backed Sand Martins and black-backed House Martins which flashed their square white rump patches as they swooped down over the water. Yet another White Wagtail was feeding quietly along the edge.

Back at the Visitor Centre, we stopped for a well-earned hot drink. There were a few more birds around the feeders, but still just a selection of Chaffinches, Goldfinches, a Greenfinch and several tits (the Bramblings have not been seen for a couple of days, so may finally have moved on). While we were looking, a pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled overhead calling.

After lunch, we made our way up to Choseley. Some Ring Ouzels had just been reported in the fields here and it took no time at all to find them. An upland version of the Blackbird, the main difference is a bold, pale crescent on the upper breast (white in males, dirty off white in females). We could see three Ring Ouzels here, feeding on the short grass and bare ground around the edge of a field. The biggest problem now was heat haze, given that the sun was shining and the sky was blue! The weather had been forecast to improve this afternoon, but this was not what we had expected.

IMG_2416Ring Ouzel – two of the three at Choseley this afternoon

The fields here are always full of Brown Hares. There was some half-hearted boxing from some of them today, although it didn’t seem like their hearts were really in it. Even so, they are great to watch. Three Stock Doves were also feeding on one of the tilled fields.

We finished the day over at Snettisham. The Ring Ouzels along Beach Road here have not been reported for a couple of days, but a quick scan from the car revealed at least one still in the paddocks. As we had already seen the ones at Choseley, we decided not to stop and to make the most of the weather with a walk round the Coastal Park.

The Coastal Park is always good for warblers, and we could hear several different species as we walked out along the path – a Lesser Whitethroat, several Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, a Sedge Warbler and a Cetti’s Warbler or two. Three Swallows zoomed past low over the bushes.

Out in the open grassy area by the seawall, three Wheatears flew up towards us as several dogs approached. The Wheatears perched nervously on the top of the larger hawthorns or smaller bushes for a few minutes until the danger had passed, before dropping down again onto the grass right in front of us. We had great views of them here.

IMG_2425Wheatear – the female lacks the black bandit mask…

IMG_2433Wheatear – …which the male shows

From up on the seawall, the tide was in, covering all the mud out on the Wash. We could also see some very black clouds out on the horizon, over the Lincolnshire coast. We weren’t quite sure whether they would head our way, so we kept a close eye on them as we walked north. There were lots of little flocks of Linnets on the seawall, with several smart males singing from the bushes.

6O0A0267Linnet – singing from the brambles along the seawall

It gradually became clearer that the rain was heading straight for us. As it clouded over again, the birds went quiet once more. We cut across to the inner seawall and started to beat a retreat. There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes but on our way back we spotted a darker head sticking out of a thick patch of rushes. Through the scope we could confirm it was a Pink-footed Goose – we could also see the smaller and mostly dark bill with a pink band around it. We were just having a good look at it, when something spooked all the gulls, ducks and geese and four Pink-footed Geese flew up from where we had been watching. They circled round in front of us, giving us a nice flypast.

Then it started to rain, with a bit of hail mixed in for good measure. Thankfully it was not heavy and was at our backs as we walked. It didn’t take us long to get back to the car and it was pretty much time to call it a day anyway by then. We drove back through some heavier, wintry showers and were glad to be in the warm. Despite the weather, we had managed to see a great selection of birds and, when we added it up later, over 90 different species for the day!