Monthly Archives: May 2016

25th May 2016 – All Weather Spring Birding

Another Private Tour today. It has to be said, the weather forecast was not ideal, even if it had improved from the worst predictions yesterday and the wind had dropped from yesterday. Still, it was cloudy all day and drizzled during the morning, but it is amazing what you can see if you go looking anyway.

Our first stop was at Cley. We were hoping that conditions might improve a little while we were there, so we walked out along the East Bank. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pools just beyond the car park, and many of them were stopping to perch in the reeds. These birds had almost certainly come here from the local breeding colonies, in an attempt to find somewhere to find food. The female Pochard was still here with her ducklings, although we couldn’t see how many she had today, as they kept tucked in to the edge of the reeds.

Despite the weather, a couple of Sedge Warblers were still singing away and song flighting from the reeds beside the path. We could hear an occasional Reed Warbler singing too.

Looking across to the Serpentine towards Pope’s Marsh, we could see several Lapwings and their chicks still. A Little Ringed Plover flew across and landed out of view on the far edge of the grass and a single Ringed Plover was feeding on the open mud on the edge of the pool.

6O0A3592Arnold’s Marsh – looking rather grey this morning

The new shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh was very welcome this morning, an opportunity to get out of the light misty drizzle which was falling. There were plenty of Avocets and Redshanks feeding on here as usual. A few more Ringed Plovers were to be found with a bit of looking, on the shingle spits around the edge.

6O0A3597Avocet – feeding on Arnold’s Marsh

Over towards the back was a large group of bigger waders, godwits. A quick look through the scope confirmed they were Bar-tailed Godwits. Most appeared to be still in brown non-breeding plumage, so these were possibly younger 1st summer birds. They do not breed in their first year and often remain on the wintering grounds. One smaller male had started to develop rather chestnut-ish underparts, but it was still rather patchy. Hiding in amongst the legs of the Bar-tailed Godwits was a smaller wader, a single Knot, similarly in grey non-breeding plumage.

We had seen a couple of adult Gannets just breaking the horizon over the shingle ridge as we walked out, making their way east, white with prominent black wing tips. So we walked up to have a quick look at the sea. Another Gannet passed by some distance offshore and a Fulmar went through in the other direction, the latter probably a local breeding bird. A Sandwich Tern flew past just offshore.

Otherwise, there was not much happening out here, so we made our way back. As we walked along the bank towards the car, a Bearded Tit flew up from the reedy ditch beside the path and out across the reedbed the other side, a nice bonus and a surprise this morning.

The cloud base appeared to have lifted a little, although this may have been wishful thinking on our part, so we decided to have a go up on the Heath, which was meant to be our primary destination for the morning. We made our way across to where we had seen the family of Dartford Warblers yesterday afternoon. On the way, there were several Willow Warblers still singing despite the weather, and a Blackcap too from deep in the bushes. A couple of Bullfinches were piping to each other from the hedge further over.

There was no sign of the Dartford Warblers initially, but we didn’t stop as we were distracted by a male Stonechat perched on the top of a dead tree and Yellowhammer singing further along, so walked across to have a look at them, intending to swing back this way. Needless to say, there was no sign of the Nightjar on the perch where it had been yesterday – that was clearly going to be a one-off!

A Woodlark appeared above the trees for a split second, unfortunately too brief for everyone to get onto it, and appeared to drop down onto a clear area further back, so we decided to walk over to see if we could find it. On our way, we ran into a couple of other birders who had just seen the Dartford Warblers, flying into exactly the area where we had seen them yesterday. We stopped to see if we could see them too, although again it all seemed rather quiet at first.

6O0A3602Linnet – a male, singin’ in the rain

A male Linnet appeared from the gorse and appeared to be carrying a faecal sack. It perched up nicely on the gorse in front of us, twittering away, and when the female emerged too the two of them flew off a short distance.

Then we glimpsed a Dartford Warbler, a small dark shape zipping low across the heather and diving into cover. Then another glimpse as one shot across in the other direction. With a bit of patience, we could see (and hear) what they were doing. The adults had stashed several juveniles in the gorse and were flying in and out bringing food for them. After a feeding visit, one of the juveniles hopped out into view in front of us, paler, greyer than the adults, still shorter tailed and with a bright yellow gape. The adult Dartford Warblers were mostly keeping down in cover, not a great surprise given the weather, but eventually the male flew in and perched right on top of the gorse in front of us for a few seconds, tail cocked, before disappearing back in. Great stuff!

With good views of Dartford Warbler finally achieved, we walked round to see if we could find the Woodlark. Unfortunately, at this point it started to rain a little harder and there was no sign of it here now. A pair of Stock Doves were feeding out in the clearing. As the rain turned back to drizzle again, we walked back round, stopping on the way to admire a pale male Stonechat perched up on the gorse, with three streaky juveniles hopping about on the low vegetation below, looking for food.

We made our way in a wide circuit round the Heath, in the hope we might bump into another Woodlark on the way, but the vegetation where they like to feed was getting quite wet now. As we were walking along a path, we happened to glance to one side through a gap in the bushes and something caught our eye, a dark shape looked out of place on a much paler stump. Stopping abruptly, we had a quick confirmatory look through binoculars and there in front of us was a stunning Nightjar.

6O0A3650Nightjar – amazing views of another day roosting bird today

It is unusual to come across a day roosting Nightjar, so to find two different birds in two days is fairly unprecedented. Still, we weren’t going to complain. We trained the scopes on it for frame-filling views, marvelling at the intricately marked cryptic plumage, even if it wasn’t particularly well camouflaged against the stump on which this one had chosen to rest today. It sat perfectly still, despite the rain dripping off its tail, with only its eyes opening and closing slightly as we watched. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and backed off quietly, leaving the Nightjar in peace.

Back to the car, and we dropped back down to the coast and made our way west. We stopped off at the local gull colony next. We could hear the cacophony of noise as we walked up onto the bank. Scanning through the mass of Black-headed Gulls, we could see quite a few Mediterranean Gulls in there too. Their more extensive jet black hoods marked them out instantly from the chocolate brown hoods of the misnamed Black-headed Gulls. Ironically, the latin name of Mediterranean Gull is more accurate, translating as ‘black-headed gull’!

IMG_4759Mediterranean Gull – showing off its jet black hood

We could see a smart pair of Common Gulls too, further over, and lots of terns were wheeling round over the colony. Three Sandwich Terns were chasing each other noisily, one of them bearing a gift in the form of a small fish. A couple of Little Terns were fishing over the channel beyond, dwarfed by a nearby Common Tern. Several of the latter were flying in and out carrying fish.

6O0A3661Common Tern – busy fishing in the harbour

We walked round to the harbour to see what we could see. The tide was on its way out and there were lots of Oystercatchers on the exposed mud beyond. Scanning through, we found a group of four Curlew too.

Out in the middle of the harbour channel we could see a pair of Great Crested Grebes diving. Then down in a smaller side channel we noticed a white duck diving, a stunning drake Eider. A drake Eider would be a great sight in itself, but this one was fishing actively, diving repeatedly and quickly resurfacing with something each time. Through the scope, we could see that it was actually catching small crabs.

Even better, the Eider seemed to be very cleverly taking the claws off before swallowing them. It would flick the crab round until it was holding it by its legs or claws, then give it a good shake until the leg(s)/claw detached. The body of the crab would drop into the water and it would catch it again quickly before repeating the process. After doing this a few times, it would swallow the dismembered body whole. Fascinating to watch! Eventually the Eider, clearly full of crabs, walked up onto a sandbar nearby.

IMG_4795Eider – resting after catching crabs in the harbour channel

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Holkham. The grazing marshes were full of geese as usual, Greylags and Canada Geese, together with a good scattering of Egyptian Geese. We could see a couple of white shapes in the trees, which on closer inspection could be seen to be Spoonbills. A couple of other Spoonbills flew out east, their long necks and bills held outstretched in front of them, distinguishing them instantly from the steady flow of Little Egrets in and out too.

There were lots of Swifts and House Martins zooming about low over the pools, the best place to look for insects in the cool and cloudy conditions. A male Marsh Harrier appeared from the reeds in front of us and flew slowly round before crashing back in.

We parked at the end of Lady Anne’s Drive, which was unsurprisingly rather empty of cars today, and walked west on the edge of the pines. At least it had stopped drizzling now. The trees were rather quiet, apart from a several Coal Tits calling, plus a Goldcrest or two and a few Chiffchaffs singing. We bumped into one of the wardens who told us that three Bitterns had been seen earlier, flying around out from Washington Hide, so we headed over there first.

We couldn’t see any sign of the Bitterns now, but we did find two Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. Both appeared to have damaged wings – one was trailing its left and the other had a large gap in the primaries of its right when it flapped.That would explain why these two had not made the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season.

A large group of over 150 Black-tailed Godwits flew up from the marshes at one point, whirling round and flashing their black and white wings and tails before dropping back down out of sight. A female Marsh Harrier flew up from the reeds and circled over, before chasing off a second Marsh Harrier which had drifted into the area.

6O0A3674Marsh Harrier – circled up over the reeds

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, we could see a few Spoonbills circling over the trees from time to time. One landed in the top of the bushes at one point, stopping to preen. Then another Spoonbill appeared on the pool in front. It was feeding, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water. When the flock of Black-tailed Godwits appeared again, clearly flushed from the marshes by something, and swirled round over the pools, the Spoonbill took flight and headed back into the trees.

IMG_4813Spoonbill – feeding on the pool from Joe Jordan Hide

On the walk back, we found a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees by the path. There were several brown-faced juveniles in there, plus a few Blue Tits. A single male Blackcap appeared in the trees too. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds. Further along, a Sparrowhawk flew low across the path ahead of us, in from the direction of the grazing marshes, and disappeared into the pines.

Then it was time to call it a day. Despite the weather, we had enjoyed a fantastic day’s birding – it just goes to show that it is always worth going out regardless.

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24th May 2016 – Heathland & Farmland

A Private Tour today, and rather different to a normal day. There were some specific target birds we wanted to find and we would mostly be avoiding the coast. It was rather cool, in a blustery north wind, which in theory was not ideal for what we wanted to see, but you never know how things will turn out!

Our main destination this morning was up on the Heath. We particularly wanted to see Dartford Warbler and Turtle Dove. We walked up to one of the favourite places for Dartford Warblers, but it was rather exposed and windy here. A quick circuit around the heather and gorse produced a pair of Stonechats, the male quite a strikingly pale individual, a smart male Yellowhammer singing and the usual smattering of Linnets.

StonechatStonechat – the male, taken earlier in the year on a sunnier day!

The melancholy song of a Woodlark drifted over towards us and a quick scan of the sky revealed it in full song flight, fluttering hard, but only making slow progress forwards as it sang.

With no sign of the Dartford Warblers here, we thought we would try another favoured spot across the Heath. The walk across there was quieter than normal, with many of the warblers in particular rather subdued due to the wind. Still, we did hear several Willow Warblers, a Common Whitethroat and a Blackcap singing from deep in the trees. As we came around a corner, another Woodlark flew up from the path in front of us. It flew up into the sky away from us, then turned and started singing.

Unusually, we saw the Turtle Doves before we heard them. The male flew up from some dead trees and started to glide round in a wide circle, with tail spread and wings held out, its distinctive display flight. When it landed back in the dead trees again, the female Turtle Dove flew in too and alighted nearby. The male then performed its bowing display to the female, bobbing up and down on a branch. All great to watch. He then settled himself down and started purring, such a wonderful sound and very sad it is not heard so often these days.

When we heard Linnets and Yellowhammers calling agitatedly, we looked up to see a small falcon flying over. The shape, with swept-back wings, immediately told us it was a Hobby and a quick look through binoculars revealed a slate grey back, black head with white cheeks and, as it banked, its rufous trousers. It flew through fast, just above the tops of the young trees, before dropping over the ridge and away out of sight. A nice bonus.

The Turtle Doves were flushed by some passing walkers and flew across to land in a nearby pine tree. We worked our way round so we could see the male on a branch and he started to purr again.

IMG_4692Turtle Dove – the male was purring to the female

A Woodlark started singing again and we turned to see one land in the top of one of the dead trees back where the Turtle Dove had just been. This time, we got it in the scope and had a much better view of it, noting the distinctive face pattern and strongly marked supercilium. A second Woodlark was singing in the sky, further back beyond it. Another male Stonechat appeared in the same dead tree too.

IMG_4694Woodlark – singing from the top of a dead tree

We had a walk round the area where the Dartford Warblers are normally to be found, but this side was very quiet too, apart from more Linnets. A Coal Tit flew out of the pines across in front of us. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the trees.

When we heard someone whistling, we turned to see a local birder, who had just walked past, calling to us. We thought at first he was calling us over to say he had found the Dartford Warblers but when we got within earshot he explained that he had just found a Nightjar. We walked back with him and he pointed us straight in the direction of the Nightjar, day roosting on a dead branch out in the open in full view.

Nightjars normally like to roost where they are very hard to see, so this was an unbelievable treat. We got it in the scope and had a great look at it. We could see the finely marked plumage, great camouflage, which would render it invisible on the ground in the leaf litter, but which was no help on the branch it had chosen today!

IMG_4736Nightjar – day roosting on a branch out in the open

We left the Nightjar sleeping quietly and went back to resume our search for the Dartford Warblers. We made another circuit of the area but there was still not a sign, so we made our way back across the Heath to try the first place we had looked again. As we walked up, this time we did hear a Dartford Warbler calling briefly, but it seemed to be heading for a large patch of very dense gorse. We circled round the area a couple of times slowly, but it had all gone quiet again.

It had been a very successful morning on the Heath, with the exception of the warblers, so we decided to move on and try something else. We made our way inland, through farmland behind the coast. We stopped a few times to scan the fields.

It was not a great day to look for raptors on paper, but we saw a good variety on our travels. A Red Kite flew up into a pine tree beside the road with some carrion, while a second soared over above it. We watched the first picking at the food while it perched in the tree. The skies brightened up a bit and, despite the wind, we found several Common Buzzards up, soaring above little blocks of woodland and out across the fields. A Sparrowhawk, flew up high into the sky on bursts of rapid flapping interspersed with glides. And there were Kestrels too, of course.

6O0A3582Red Kite – feeding on some carrion, perched in a pine tree

The usual farmland birds were in evidence too. We saw several Yellowhammers and Common Whitethroats in the hedges. A pair of Grey Partridge flushed from the edge of the field made a nice change from the more common Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants. A lovely pair of Stock Doves flew past in front of us and we admired their smart grey wings with distinctive dark trailing edges.

A Lapwing displaying over a massive dry arable field, rowed up for a root crop, will surely struggle to raise a brood here. The family of Shelduck were also still by the large puddle on the edge of a field where we have seen them recently. They too will presumably find life difficult if the water dries up any time soon – it does not seem a sensible place to try to raise a family.

6O0A3587Shelducks – this family continues to survive on a puddle in a field

After our diversion inland, we dropped back down to the coast at Holkham. We could see several Spoonbills perched in the trees and one did a nice fly round too. There were Little Egrets and Grey Herons around the trees too, and lots of Cormorants on their nests. Out on the grazing marshes were plenty of geese as usual, Greylags and a few Egyptian Geese.

We had originally intended to finish the afternoon on the coast, but one thing was still nagging at us. Despite achieving all our other targets, there was one we had missed – we had not managed to see a Dartford Warbler. The weather had brightened up a little, so we decided to have another go.

When we arrived at the car park, we were told by another birder just leaving that the Dartford Warblers had been showing at one of the sites where we had been this morning. We made our way straight over there, but when we arrived we found it was as quiet as it had been earlier. We made a quick circuit of the area – we could hear Woodlark singing again and a Turtle Dove was perched in the dead trees, although with none of the display activity we had seen earlier. But there was no sign of the Dartford Warblers.

Then we heard a Dartford Warbler call. We walked over to where we thought it had come from, but couldn’t find anything. We tried around the back of the gorse bushes to no avail, but when we walked back round again a small, dark, long-tailed bird zipped across over the back of the heather and dived into the gorse. We made our way straight round on the path to where it seemed to go and suddenly a male Dartford Warbler hopped up onto the top of the heather right in front of us. It cocked its tail in typical Dartford Warbler style, before diving back into cover. A second Dartford Warbler flew out as well. A great view! Finally, our last target bird found.

We backed off and left them in peace, and walked back to the other site where we had tried and failed this morning. Lo and behold, there was another Dartford Warbler, exactly where we had been looking earlier. This one wasn’t right in front of us, so we were able to watch it at a discrete distance. It was a smart male, with dark slate-grey upperparts and deep wine-red underparts. Even better, it then hopped up to the top of some low gorse and started singing.

We heard it call too and then heard another Dartford Warbler calling from behind us. The next thing we knew, a female Dartford Warbler hopped up onto the gorse too, slightly duller coloured both above and below than the male. We watched the two of them feeding in the heather and gorse for a few minutes, before they worked their way back out of view. Fantastic!

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – here’s one from a few weeks ago

We were very pleased we had decided to persevere and come back for a second go for the Dartford Warblers. It rounded out the day nicely, and with that we headed for home.

22nd May 2016 – Sunshine in Spring

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, the final day. It was forecast to be rather overcast but surprisingly turned out to be a really glorious spring day, warm with lots of sunshine and light winds – a lovely day to be out birding.

Our first port of call was Holkham. There was lots of activity around the trees, with several Spoonbills flying round and landing in the tops and others flying off to feed. We got a couple in the scope and could see their yellow-tipped, spoon-shaped bills. There were also Grey Herons and Little Egrets coming and going, and we could see lots of Cormorants on their nests in the trees.

A female Marsh Harrier came up from the reeds and circled round in front of us, before perching in the top of a hawthorn. She was probably waiting for the male to return with food. Two Red Kites circled high over the grazing marshes, engaging in a spot of mock combat at one point, one diving down and the other jinking out of the way. A little later one of the Red Kites drifted overhead.

6O0A3356Red Kite – two circled over the grazing marshes

There are always lots of geese out on the grazing marshes at this time of year. Many of the Greylag Geese have goslings of various sizes and there are quite a few Canada and Egyptian Geese here too. Going through them carefully, we managed to find a couple of Pink-footed Geese, although rather distant. There are huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese here in the winter but the very small number which linger here all year are typically sick or injured birds.

Our next destination was Stiffkey Fen. As we pulled up, we could hear several Skylarks singing over the set-aside field opposite. As we walked down along the path, we could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing from the hedges and trees. A couple of Common Whitethroats were delivering their scratchy song too, from the brambles. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the hedge. From the taller sallows we could hear a different song, like a Blackcap, but faster, more rolling, more sustained, a Garden Warbler.

There are also lots of insects out in the warm weather today. Along the path out to Stiffkey Fen, we found several Orange Tip butterflies. An Azure Damselfly rested on a nettle in the sunshine. But out at the seawall we found that all the vegetation along the bank, which had been full of insects in recent days, had been mown. Presumably the responsibility of the Environment Agency, they seem to have done a job lot of North Norfolk’s seawalls the last week or so and no one can quite understand why.

6O0A3366Azure Damselfly – enjoying the sunshine at Stiffkey Fen

From up on the seawall, we had a good view out across the Fen. Several pairs of Avocets here have chicks now, little bundles of fluff on legs! But there were comparatively few other waders on here today. Over on the saltmarsh, several Redshank were perched on prominent bushes and one even on the top of the mast of one of the boats. A Marsh Harrier circled up from the saltmarsh and drifted overhead.

6O0A3370Marsh Harrier – this male circled overhead at Stiffkey Fen

There were a few Brent Geese still out on the saltmarsh and even more out in the harbour. Many have already left, but presumably most of these should still soon be hurrying on their way to Russia to breed. The tide was just going out, but apart from lots of Oystercatchers, there were no other lingering waders out in the harbour today.

IMG_4604Brent Geese – still quite a few are lingering in the harbour

We could see quite a few terns out over the water, which on closer inspection turned out to be mostly Common Terns. A nice bonus was a single Arctic Tern in with them. It was rather distant, but its distinctive shape gave it away, the extra long tail and short head projection, as well as the silvery white primaries and different flight. Several groups of Little Terns were zooming about too, but there were comparatively few Sandwich Terns. Apparently, due to a large number of rats on Blakeney Point this year, many of the Sandwich Terns have moved over to Scolt Head to breed instead. Two distant Mediterranean Gulls flew west along the point and out over the harbour, flashing their pure white wingtips as they went.

On the walk back, a Little Ringed Plover flew past, displaying, and appeared to drop down onto the Fen, but there was no sign of it on there when we got back. As we got back to the car, a smart male Yellowhammer flew past and a Lesser Whitethroat was now singing from the hedge.

The reserve at Cley has been rather quiet in recent days, with lots of Avocets on Pat’s Pool but seemingly rather little else. We decided to walk out to the East Bank, as the wet grazing marshes there have been rather more productive. On the pools at the start of the East Bank a female Common Pochard was leading her nine ducklings around the reedy edges looking for food. A Little Grebe which surfaced nearby was promptly chased off across the pool.

6O0A3401Common Pochard – this female was tending to her nine ducklings

Out on the grazing marshes, we could see several Lapwing chicks of various sizes. It is always good to see youngsters of this sadly declining species. Looking out towards Pope’s Marsh we found a single Common Sandpiper and two Little Ringed Plovers, although rather distant.

We got great views of both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers as we walked out along path. A Sedge Warbler came up to feed on the alexanders by the path, which shows the value in not mowing the banks too early, and the Reed Warblers were feeding along the edge of the ditch below. A Sedge Warbler was singing and song flighting from the edge of the reeds and at one point we had Reed and Sedge Warbler singing either side of the path – a great opportunity to appreciate the differences in song between these two often confusing species. We heard a couple of Bearded  Tits calling, but only managed to see one as it zoomed off over the reeds away from us.

There were not many waders on Arnold’s Marsh either today, apart from the local Avocets and Redshanks – there seems to have been a big clear out in the last few days. We did find three Ringed Plovers, a nice addition to the day’s tally. A smart male Reed Bunting was out on the saltmarsh just in front of the new shelter and their were several Meadow Pipits singing, fluttering up and parachuting back down to the ground as they did so.

6O0A3411Reed Bunting – in front of the shelter at Arnold’s Marsh

We had heard lots of gargling from the trees on our walk out, and seen several Little Egrets flying in and out. One dropped down onto the pools opposite the shelter. This one was in full breeding plumage, with bright pink and lilac bare skin at the base of its bill, and a mass of plumes, two long ones hanging down its nape, and lots of fine filoplumes over the back of its wings. Very smart, although it seemed to have a broken lower mandible.

6O0A3417Little Egret – in full breeding attire

Back at the car park, we enjoyed a late lunch in the sunshine out on the picnic tables. A Common Whitethroat kept us company, singing from the very top of the hawthorn across the road.

6O0A3468Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of a hawthorn

After lunch, we made our way back to Holkham. Lady Anne’s Drive was surprisingly not as busy as we had feared on such a lovely day – perhaps the weather forecast had put visitors off today – which meant there were plenty of places to park. As we walked west on the edge of the pines, two Spoonbills flew right overhead giving us a fantastic view of their spoon-shaped bills. There were a few insects out enjoying the sunshine, lots of Wall Brown butterflies and a couple of Hairy Dragonflies.

6O0A3470Wall Brown – there have been lots on the wing in recent days

The pines were rather quiet at first, which is to be expected in the middle of a warm afternoon. We eventually found a few Coal Tits in the trees and a couple of Goldcrests. Several Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were singing from the bushes. Just before Joe Jordan Hide, we encountered a large flock of Long-tailed Tits and a Treecreeper was in with them, but hard to see in the tops of the trees.

From the hide, we could see a couple of Spoonbills in the trees. Three dropped down to the pool to bathe & preen. They were rather obscured behind the reedy edge at first but one eventually moved along to a more open spot where we could get a better look at it. We could see the yellow tip to its bill, the shaggy nuchal crest and the dirty mustard yellow wash across the breast, the features of an adult in breeding plumage.

IMG_4641Spoonbill – an adult in breeding plumage on the pool

There were several Marsh Harriers flying in and out of the reeds and a Kestrel dust-bathing on a patch of bare ground. We were just scanning for the pair of Grey Partridges which are often out here when they were flushed by the cows and flew down into a ditch out of view. The cows crossed to the other side and when they came back, they very helpfully flushed them out again, straight towards hide. A Red-legged Partridge was flushed out too, but was chased off by the male Grey Partridge. The pair of Grey Partridges then came straight up to the grass right below the hide – cracking views!

6O0A3544Grey Partridge – the male just below the hide

6O0A3494Grey Partridges – the pair feeding together

Time was getting on, so we made out way back to the car,stopping briefly to watch a family of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, which had just been bathing on the edge of the grazing marsh. A Treecreeper with them gave us much better views.

We still had time for one last stop, so we popped in to the local gull colony. As we pulled up, a smart Common Gull was pulling at some rubbish by the road. A Spoonbill flew overhead. From the bank, a Great Crested Grebe was swimming in the harbour channel.

There were lots of gulls on views, mostly Black-headed Gulls but with a good number of Mediterranean Gulls in with them too. We got great views of several of the latter, looking very smart with their jet black hoods, heavier brighter red bills and pure white wingtips, compared to the Black-headed Gulls nearby. There were a handful of Common Gulls and a few Herring Gulls out here too.

IMG_4648Mediterranean Gull – with smart black hood and white wingtips

While we were admiring the gulls, we could hear terns calling too. A couple of Common Terns were loafing on the shingle. A single Sandwich Tern flew off calling. Two Little Terns flew round in formation, displaying to each other, with exaggerated wingbeats. A careful scan through the terns fishing over the channel beyond revealed a single Arctic Tern in among the more numerous Common Terns. Our second Arctic Tern of the day, we had a much better view of this one, much closer than our first as it flew up and down.

In the end we had to drag ourselves away. It was a lovely way to end the weekend, with such a great selection of gulls and terns, a hive of activity in front of us.

21st May 2016 – Spring in NW Norfolk

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours. Having gone east yesterday, we made our way in the other direction today, west along the coast.

Our first stop was at Choseley. There has been a single Dotterel here for the last few days, but when we arrived the assembled crowd had not seen anything this morning. We were just getting out of the car when someone stopped to tell us it was visible from the road the other side, so we got back in and drove round that way instead. We were glad we did. The Dotterel was much closer than usual and there was no heat haze this morning, which meant we had great views of it through the scope.

IMG_4402Dotterel – showing well this morning

It was very blustery today, in a fresh SW wind, but we found a sheltered spot behind th hedge. We watched the Dotterel running back and forth, occasionally picking at the ground. At one point, we noticed a Ringed Plover in the same view – it had been hiding in the stones, perfectly camouflaged. When a couple of Brown Hares ran past, the Dotterel flew a short distance and landed back in the field.

There were other birds here too. A couple of Skylarks were tousling out in the field and another fluttered up singing. A pair of Yellowhammers landed briefly in the hedge beside us. Three Red-legged Partridge were picking around in the field. A couple of Marsh Harriers hung in the breeze and two Common Buzzards soared over the other side.

We made our way down to Holme next. We had hoped that it might be relatively sheltered on the far side of the paddocks, but the wind was whistling straight through the trees. There was a steady movement of Swifts west overhead in small groups, with a few House Martins and Swallows in with them.

6O0A3199Swift – there was a steady westward passage today

We could hear Chiffchaff and Common Whitethroat singing from the bushes, but they were keeping tucked down out of the wind today, and there was no sign of any Turtle Doves at first. We walked slowly along to the west end and we were almost at the golf course when we heard one purring briefly as we approached, just audible over the wind. We walked down to where we thought it had been, but it had gone quiet. There were lots of Wall Browns down in the grass in the lee of the bushes, enjoying a bit of sunshine.

6O0A3203Wall Brown – we found lots down in the grass in the dunes

It seemed like we might be out of luck and we had just started to walk back when the Turtle Dove purred again briefly. This time we walked round the other side of the bushes and the next thing we knew it started purring in the bush right beside us. We still couldn’t see it as it was round on the other side, and we eventually just got a quick glimpse as it flew off. It really was too exposed and windy here, so we decided to give up and move on. On the way back to the car, a Cuckoo flew past over the paddocks.

Our next destination was Dersingham Bog. We thought we might find a little shelter from the wind here, and so it proved. At the bottom of the slope we found a family party of Stonechats. The pair of adults were flitting around between the low birch saplings, and as we watched we saw them fly across and feed a recently-fledged streaky juvenile Stonechat down in the heather.

While we were watching the Stonechats, we scanned the trees up on the hill beyond and in the very top of one of them we found a Tree Pipit. We got the scope on it and could see its well-marked face pattern, and the heavily streaked breast contrasting with needle-fine streaking on the flanks. It dropped down out of view, so we started to walk round for a closer look.

We hadn’t gone far when a pair of Woodlarks flew overhead and dropped down into the heather at the base of the slope a short distance away. Through the scope, we had a great view of them as they walked through the grass and patches of cut bracken.

IMG_4424Woodlark – a pair were feeding quietly on bare ground at the base of the slope

We walked round, past where the Tree Pipit had been singing earlier, but there was no sign of it. At the top of the hill the other side, we found ourselves out in the wind, so we decided to double back the way we had come. On the way, we heard the Tree Pipit singing and saw it land in one of the trees again. This time, we got a much better view as it perched on a branch singing, before it dropped down over the ridge out of view. It was great to hear it too, as singing Tree Pipits are so much rarer in North Norfolk now than they used to be. On our way back to the car, we stopped to watch a Roe Deer walking through the bracken. The Tree Pipit was in a different tree, much more distant again now, but we could still hear it singing away.

We had lunch back in the car park and then set off for Titchwell, our destination for the afternoon. We cut the corner off, going inland cross-country, looking for Grey Partridges. Unusually, there was no sign of any today until we got almost back to Choseley. Then we came face to face with a male Grey Partridge walking down the middle of the road towards us! We had a quick stop by the barns, but it was very windy up here now and there was no sign of any Corn Buntings. A smart male Yellowhammer landed briefly on the concrete.

6O0A3205Grey Partridge – walking down the road near Choseley

Round at Titchwell, we walked straight out onto the reserve. A Robin by the visitor centre was probably too full of crumbs from the picnic tables to take any interest in the mealworms proffered by one of the group!

As we made our way along the main path by the reedbed, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing close by. We could just see it perched on a curving reed stem, so we got it in the scope and watched it singing away. Very helpfully, it then climbed up the reeds into full view – great stuff. A little further along, we heard a Sedge Warbler too, which was a great opportunity to stop and talk about the differences between these two often confused species. A Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the reedbed was less of an identification challenge!

6O0A3246Reed Warbler – singing by the main path at Titchwell

A Cuckoo was calling somewhere out across the reeds as we walked out. We stopped by the reedbed pool, but there were not many ducks on here today. We were however treated to repeated Bearded Tits flybys. Firstly, a male Bearded Tit zoomed low over the water and disappeared into the reeds. A short while later it flew back the other way. It repeated this procedure a couple of times, until we had all had a good look at him. A female Bearded Tit then flew out of the reeds and disappeared off behind the bushes in the direction of Fen Hide and the next thing we knew the male went on a long flight in that direction too. It is never normally a good idea to go looking for Bearded Tits on a windy day, so we were doubly lucky with their performance today.

6O0A3328Avocet – showing well as usual

Right in front of Island Hide, a pair of Shelduck were feeding in the sticky mud. There were several Avocets here as usual too. A single White Wagtail was feeding out with several Pied Wagtails still.

6O0A3267Shelduck – a pair were feeding in front of Island Hide

There were a few more waders on the Freshmarsh today. A large group of Oystercatcher were loafing around in the water and were joined by a single Curlew. Five Black-tailed Godwits were feeding between the islands. A flock of around twenty Turnstone flew in to bathe and then up onto one of the low islands to preen. Several of them are now in their stunning summer plumage, with extensive bright rufous feathering in the upperparts and white faces.

IMG_4449Turnstones – several are now in stunning summer plumage

Eventually we found the Little Stint, creeping around the flooded grassy islands over towards Parrinder Hide. When a Lapwing walked past, we could see just how tiny it was. We had seen a distant Little Ringed Plover over that side too, but then one appeared on the mud right in front of the hide. We could see its golden eyering so clearly now. Then from back up on the main path it was even closer. It was running around feeding, stopping to tap a foot on the mud, presumably to try to bring worms or other invertebrates to the surface.

6O0A3317Little Ringed Plover – showed very well from the Main Path

On the approach to Parrinder Hide, we could hear the Bittern booming. Even on the other side of the freshmarsh on such a windy day, it was clearly audible. From inside the hide, we could see the Little Stint much closer now. A smart summer plumaged bird, with bright rusty fringes to its upperparts and rusty feathering around the face. A Spoonbill flew past too, but unfortunately those standing up with the scopes behind the seats missed it as those sitting down didn’t say anything until it had passed.

IMG_4521Little Stint – better views from Parrinder Hide

Some grey clouds came over but went through quickly without dropping any rain, so we decided to brave the wind and head out to the beach. The Volunteer Marsh was rather quiet again, apart from a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover on the side of the channel at the far end. Another was on the Tidal Pools.

The sea has been very quiet recently, with most of the seaduck long since having departed, so a single Common Scoter close inshore was most welcome. Even better, as we scanned across we found two cracking drake Common Eider on the sea too, the first we have seen here this year. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them – beautiful birds. Then further over still, we found a single Great Crested Grebe out on the sea as well.

IMG_4563Eider – these two stunning drakes were on the sea today

There were lots of Sandwich Terns fishing offshore and scanning through them we found a single distant Little Tern too. On the tideline, we could see a couple of flocks of roosting Oystercatcher and a few Sanderling running in and out of the waves. Then more Sanderling flew in to join them and in amongst them we could see a single black-bellied Dunlin.

6O0A3337Common Scoter – flew in over the beach to the Tidal Pools

We were just thinking about leaving when the Common Scoter suddenly flew straight towards us, in over beach. It appeared to go down just behind the dunes, and when we started to walk out there it was on one of the islands on the Tidal Pools. It looked very odd, standing upright and preening, and distinctly out of place for a seaduck on here. It was a male, as evidenced by the mostly black plumage and yellow stripe down the top of the bill, but a young one, with lots of retained brown feathering still and a mottled belly.

IMG_4588Common Scoter – landed on one of the islands to preen

There were still more things to see on the way. Back on the freshmarsh, two Little Terns dropped in to bathe before landing on one of the islands to preen. They dropped in conveniently close to a couple of Common Terns, giving a great side by side comparison and highlighting just how small they really are. A pair of Red-crested Pochard flew in to the front of the reedbed pool, the drake looking especially smart still with his bright red bill and yellow-orange punk haircut. And as we were almost back, a Cuckoo flew out of the trees and away across the saltmarsh towards the dunes.

As a consequence of all the excitement, we were later back to the car than planned, but it had been well worth it, and a great way to round off the day.

20th May 2016 – Warblers, Nightingales & More

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. We met in Wells and made our way east, turning off the coast road and continuing our way along a little inland.

We pulled up at the start of a quiet, overgrown country lane and got out of the car. Immediately, we could hear a great variety of bird song on all sides of us. A Song Thrush was singing from deep in the trees, and a Chaffinch from above our heads. A Chiffchaff was doing a passable rendition of its name. We could hear the lovely, fluid notes of a Blackcap too. A little further along, and we picked up the high-pitched song of a Goldcrest. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we passed.

A shape perched up in the dead branches of a tree beside the road was a cracking male Bullfinch, bright pinkish-red below with a smart black cap. He stayed there for several seconds while we admired him, but before the scope was on him he flew off calling, with a second Bullfinch calling nearby.

We stood for a while where the hedges are at their most overgrown. A pair of Common Whitethroats were busy flicking in and out of the bushes. More Blackcaps were singing from the trees and we could see a female, with brown cap, in one of the willows. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the poplars and a Treecreeper appeared, climbing up one of the larger tree trunks.

Our hope was to hear a Nightingale singing here. We did get one very brief phrase, but then it went quiet, before everyone could hear it. It was a bit cool first thing this morning, cloudy, with a rather blustery wind coming through the trees – not hot and sunny, like a Nightingale might prefer. We could hear a Cuckoo singing further up the road, so we decided to walk up there to look for that instead, and come back later to see if the Nightingale had woken up properly.

As we got to the gate which overlooks the meadows beyond the wood, we saw the Cuckoo fly across into the willows beyond. We just had time to get it in the scope, before it flew again and this time we could see that there were two Cuckoos, a pair. They chased each other in and out of the trees for some time, back and forth across the meadow in front of us. Occasionally perching up where we could see them. At one point, the female landed in a low tree out across the meadow right in front of us. The male Cuckoo wasn’t singing much, and the female was silent, but we were treated to great views of them.

IMG_4295Cuckoo – the female perched in a low tree in front of us

Eventually, the two Cuckoos disappeared back into the trees and we decided to make our way back. We stopped again where we had heard the Nightingale briefly earlier, but all seemed quiet. Then suddenly it started singing right behind us! It was still not in full song but gave us a couple of bursts, to let us know where it was hiding. We could hear that it was moving away along the hedge, then suddenly it flicked up out of the bushes and darted across the road, fanning its rusty orange tail and flashing it at us as it dived into the hedge the other side.

After a minute of two, the Nightingale started singing again further up. We followed the sound and stood listening to it, such a magical song, before it darted back across the road again. It worked its way back along the hedge past us, deep in cover, singing on and off as it went. Then we decided to leave it in peace.

As we walked back towards the car, we could hear a delicate tacking call, more of a tutting, ‘tsk, tsk’, coming from a hawthorn bush beside the road. It was a Lesser Whitethroat, the call notably softer than a Blackcap, but it was hiding deep on the other side of the hedge from us. We stood patiently for a minute or so and gradually it worked its way up higher, to where we could see it. Almost back to the car, and a Red Kite drifted leisurely up the valley past us.

The forecast had suggested it would brighten up quickly this morning, but that wasn’t the case and it had remained stubbornly cool and cloudy so far. We decided we would head on up to the Heath anyway. As we walked up along the path, we could hear Willow Warblers singing. A Woodlark flew overhead, looking strikingly short-tailed. As we crossed the road, a Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the trees.

We made our way down to where one of the pairs of Dartford Warblers have been. A couple of days ago they were feeding newly fledged youngsters here, so the likelihood is that they shouldn’t have gone far. But we couldn’t find them today in any of the likely spots.

There were lots of other birds to see here. A Woodlark flew across and disturbed a male Stonechat from the top of a dead tree, before dropping down into the grass. We walked over to see if we could find it again, but the vegetation was a bit tall. There was a pair of Stonechats perched on the tops of some low gorse bushes and a streaky juvenile Stonechat appeared with them. The Stonechat we had seen knocked off its perch was nearby, a second male, a paler interloper. When it flew back up to the top of the dead tree, it joined a smart male Yellowhammer up there now, with a lovely bright yellow head. Lots of Linnets were twittering from the gorse, including some increasingly bright red-breasted males.

6O0A3160Linnet – there are lots on the Heath, including several smart red males

We walked round some other likely areas, listening for the calls of the young Dartford Warblers. We couldn’t hear them anywhere, but we did hear a most unexpected sound. A Nightjar started churring, in the middle of the day! The Heath is a good place for Nightjars, but they generally don’t make a sound until dusk.

Round in a new clearing, a couple of Mistle Thrushes were feeding amongst the fallen branches and grass, before a passing walker flushed them and they flew into the top of a low pine tree. We could hear Willow Warblers all over the Heath and eventually we found one singing from the top of a birch tree. We got it in the scope, noting the long wings, pale legs and well-marked, lemon-yellow washed supercilium, all good features to help distinguish Willow Warbler from the very similar Chiffchaff.

IMG_4326Willow Warbler – singing from the top of a birch tree

The family of Dartford Warblers were nowhere to be found, so we decided to move on and try to find another pair. The next ones we tried have been much harder to see in recent days but as we stood quietly in one of their favoured areas, the male Dartford Warbler hopped up onto a low gorse bush in front of us. As we watched him flitting between the gorse and heather, the duller female appeared with him. We got them in the scope and had a great look at them.

6O0A3051Dartford Warbler – this photo of one taken previously here

After watching the Dartford Warblers for some time, enjoying some great prolonged views, we eventually tore ourselves away and headed back to the car for lunch. While we ate, a Turtle Dove flew over the car park and disappeared off towards the trees. A Sparrowhawk circled up above us, gaining height before flying off over the ridge, bursts of rapid flapping interspersed with glides in typical Sparrowhawk fashion.

Our next stop was at Felbrigg Park, where we walked down through the trees towards the lake. We stopped to scan the flooded grazing meadow on the way. A couple of Egyptian Geese were asleep in the grass, with a pair of Greylags and a pair of Canada Geese nearby too. A Lapwing was feeding on the edge of the shallow water. There was no sign of the Garganey here at this point, but it has been on the lake more often recently so we figured it must be there.

More excitement here was provided by a battle between a male Pheasant and a pair of Moorhens. The Pheasant was clearly feeling confident, having just seen off a rival, when the Moorhens attacked, presumably having a nest nearby, raising their winds to make themselves look as big as possible. One of the Moorhens lunged repeatedly at it, flapping its wings and striking it with its feet. Eventually the Pheasant saw sense and retreated.

6O0A3168Pheasant vs Moorhens – the Moorhens won!

As we continued along the path a small bird flew out of a hawthorn bush in front of us and across the path. As it flew in front of us, we could see a bright orange tail – it was a stunning male Redstart! It darted into a clump of gorse the other side and we could just see it perched for a couple of seconds – white forehead, black face and bright orange underneath – before it dropped down out of view. Redstarts used to breed at Felbrigg but have not done so for several years and these days they are just very occasional visitors, so this was a particularly nice surprise.

We made our way down to the lake and the first thing we noticed was a drake Mandarin. Rather than being out on the water it had chosen a particularly odd place to go to sleep, on a rather thin bare branch hanging out across the water. There were a few other ducks here too – a pair each of Tufted Ducks and Gadwall, and several Mallard and their domesticated cousins. But there was no sign of the Garganey on here either.

IMG_4336Mandarin Duck – sleeping on a rather narrow branch out over the water

A couple of Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds and a male Reed Bunting perched up on the top of a bulrush. Along the edge of the reeds, we could see a Sedge Warbler clambering around just above the water’s surface.

As we walked across the grass beside the lake, a Mistle Thrush dropped down in front of us, where a recently fledged juvenile Mistle Thrush was waiting for it. The youngster was presented with a rather large worm, which it didn’t seem interested in. The trees round the other side were rather quiet, apart from a Nuthatch piping away from deep in the wood, so we walked back round towards the water meadow.

IMG_4340Mistle Thrush – a pair were feeding a recently fledged juvenile in the grass

Back there, we bumped into a local birder who told us that he had just seen the Garganey. After some careful searching, and with his help, we finally located it hiding in the vegetation. It was feeding, pulling at the plants in the water, but all we could see at first was its head appearing occasionally out of the greenery, a lovely rich reddish brown with a striking white stripe across it, a cracking drake.

Then the Garganey did the decent thing and swam out into full view. They are stunning little ducks, beautifully patterned. It started calling, a funny croaking rattle, and bobbing its head up and down. When it swam over to the other side, one of the local Coots started chasing it. Initially it climbed out onto the bank and sat down for a few seconds. When it tried to go back into the water the Coot was after it again and eventually it decided it had had enough and flew off towards the lake.

IMG_4360Garganey – the stunning drake at Felbrigg still

We made our way back to the car and headed back down towards the coast. We didn’t have much time left, but had a look at a few spots along the way. A Hobby powered out of some trees and circled up beside the road. We managed to follow it, slowly in the car, and suddenly it started twisting and turning. When we pulled up we could see it was chasing a Swift. A second Hobby appeared with it and the two of them chased the Swift away and out of view.

As we passed the duck pond at Salthouse, we could see a few Tufted Ducks but one of them was noticeably duller, with grey-brown stained flanks rather than the pure white of a normal male. On closer inspection, it had a chestnut tone to its dark breast and a dark chestnut face and crown contrasting with a green-glossed back of its head. The crest was also not long enough for a Tufted Duck.

6O0A3188Tufted Duck x Ferruginous Duck hybrid – has been hanging around for several days

This bird has been around here for a couple of days now and appears to be a Tufted Duck x Ferruginous Duck hybrid. Who knows where it might have come from, but the 2013 storm surge here on the coast set free several captive ducks from the collection at Blakeney, so perhaps we are now seeing the results of that. There have been several odd ducks along the coast here in recent weeks.

There are always lots of people feeding the ducks at Salthouse and lots of food remains lying around on the ground at the end of the day. The local Brown Rats have obviously learnt to take advantage of the free food too!

6O0A3193Brown Rat – eating the leftover food at the duck pond

A quick scan of the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh didn’t reveal anything of note, although a Little Grebe was on Snipe’s Marsh the other side of the road. Then unfortunately it was time for us to head back to Wells.

19th May 2016 – Birds & Other Wildlife

A Private Tour today, up into NW Norfolk, for a regular who wanted to do something a bit different, avoiding the main nature reserves. It was a bit misty at first, but it was forecast to burn off during the morning and then be mostly bright and dry.

We headed up towards Holkham first. On the way, a large shape perched on the top of a barn in the mist was a Red Kite. We stopped to look at it and could just make out a second Red Kite circling in the murk further back. A tractor was cultivating the field opposite and lots of Black-headed Gulls were following behind. Not surprisingly these days, a quick look revealed a single Mediterranean Gull in with them. Through the scope, we could see its jet black hood extending further down the back of the neck than the chocolate brown hoods of the nearby (and inappropriately named!) Black-headed Gulls. As the tractor got to the end of the field, the Mediterranean Gull took off and flew past us, flashing its pure white wing tips.

IMG_4255Red Kite – perched on a barn roof in the mist this morning

While we waited for the mist to clear, we stopped briefly at Holkham. We could see lots of white shapes in the trees across the grazing marshes – Spoonbills. Through the scope, we could see their spoon-shaped bills. There were lots of Cormorants, Little Egrets and the odd Grey Heron in the trees too.

A male Marsh Harrier circled low over the reeds, with prey in its talons. It seemed to be waiting for the female to come up, to accept a food pass, but there was no sign of her flying up to meet him. Eventually he gave up and flew off, landing down in the grass in front, presumably to eat his catch himself.

It was starting to brighten up a little now, so we headed off inland, to explore the farmland behind the coast. At our first stop, there were several Skylarks singing and a little flock of Linnets flew up to land on the wires. A pair of Red-legged Partridge were on one side of the road and a pair of Grey Partridge on the other side. A couple of Brown Hares ran off through the grass.

A large stack of bales was adorned with Shelduck on the top of it. We counted ten birds in total – always an unlikely place to see them! A little further down the road, a pair of Shelduck had taken up residence on a large puddle on the edge of a field with their ten shelducklings. Again, it is not entirely an ideal place for them, as there is no other water around here if and when the puddle dries up.

6O0A3088Shelducks – the female with her shelducklings on a farm puddle

We turned into the entrance to a farm track and a pair of Grey Partridge stood on the verge right beside us. They walked quietly into the grass, before flying off across the field as we pulled up.

6O0A3090Grey Partridge – this pair were on the edge of a track

This is a high point, a good place to scan the surrounding countryside, so we stopped here for a while. There were a few raptors out this morning, but it was still a bit cloudy and hadn’t really warmed up yet. A Marsh Harrier quartered the field in front of us. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up distantly. Another Red Kite circled over.

A little group of gulls came up over the fields towards us. In with several Black-headed Gulls and a young Herring Gull were a couple more Mediterranean Gulls. As they came overhead we could see the light shining through their translucent white wingtips. Mediterranean Gulls really do turn up anywhere now, even well away from the coast.

Yellow Wagtails used to be a much more common breeding bird in Norfolk, but are increasingly hard to find there days. So it was a nice surprise to find a pair here, flying in and out of a wheat field, calling as they came overhead. At one point, the bright yellow male dropped down briefly into a bare field nearby. The numbers of Lapwing breeding on farmland have also dropped dramatically. It was lovely to see a pair displaying, calling and somersaulting. Sadly, even if they do stay to breed here, productivity is normally very low in a modern agricultural environment.

We went for a short walk along the farm track. There were several Common Whitethroats in the hedges, mostly their scolding call gave their presence away. We saw several Yellowhammers too, including a lovely bright male which perched up in a hedge in front of us.

6O0A3106Yellowhammer – a gorgeous yellow-headed male

We had intended to make our way slowly towards Choseley, so we were pleased to hear the news that a Dotterel had been seen earlier. There had been a lovely ‘trip’ of up to 28 here in recent weeks, but none had been seen in the last couple of days. When we arrived, there was only one other couple who had been scanning the field in vain. It is a huge field and shimmering with haze over the parched earth – not an easy place to find a single bird. Thankfully, after scanning carefully for a few minutes, we found the Dotterel once it moved. It was working its way across the back of the field, running a short distance, before stopping still, at which point it became very tricky to see again.

IMG_4268Turtle Dove – our first of the day, purring at Choseley

After that unexpected bonus, we made our way up to the drying barns. When we got out of the car, we didn’t quite know which way to look. A Corn Bunting started singing just back along the road from us and a Turtle Dove was purring on a telegraph post the other side of the barns. We had a quick look at one, then the other, through the scope, in case either should fly off, then stopped to watch both of them at our leisure. We could see the Turtle Dove inhale, puffing out its breast, before purring. Eventually the Corn Bunting dropped back down to the fields beyond the hedge and the Turtle Dove flew off east.

6O0A3109Corn Bunting – singing from the wires at Choseley

With all our main target species here in the bag, we headed off, over to Snettisham next. As we walked out through the Coastal Park, a Sparrowhawk flashed across and disappeared into the trees. There were lots of warblers singing from the bushes – Blackcaps, Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. Several Cetti’s Warblers shouted at us from deep in the vegetation.

We walked up onto the outer seawall and looked out across the Wash. The tide was coming in now, but was still quite a way out. Several little groups of Oystercatcher flew past over the mud. A surprising number of Brent Geese were still lingering, out at the water’s edge – it is high time they were on their way back to Russia for the breeding season! A small flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew off inland and dropped down towards the grazing marshes, while we could still see a few out on the edge of the mud.

We didn’t see the large mass of waders at first from here, but a little later something obviously disturbed them from further along, coupled with the now fast rising tide, and we could see a huge cloud of birds swirling round over the Wash before landing back on the mud.

There are a few more dragonflies starting to appear now. We flushed a couple of newly emerged Azure Damselflies from the long grass. Along the bank of the inner seawall we found a Hairy Dragonfly resting in a sheltered spot. As we walked back towards the car, we could hear a Cuckoo calling from the bushes.

6O0A3130Hairy Dragonfly – resting in the grass

Our final stop of the day was at Holme. We walked along towards the paddocks first and could hear a Turtle Dove purring before we got past the trees. Out in the open, when it started purring again, we found it perched on a dead branch. From here, we could just hear a second Turtle Dove purring a little further over, and the first responded by purring back at it.

IMG_4290Turtle Dove – one of two purring at Holme

A father was out for a walk with his young daughter and stopped to ask what we were looking at. They had heard the Turtle Doves already, so we let them have a close look at one through the scope. It was a sobering thought to think that there might be none left here by the time his daughter grows up, giving the alarming rate at which they are declining.

Otherwise, the bushes in the paddocks were rather quiet this afternoon. However, there was a steady movement of Swifts, flying west through the dunes or over the fields just inland, accompanied by smaller numbers of Sand Martins and Swallows. We had seen a few Swifts and House Martins over Snettisham too, earlier. Some birds are continuing on migration, still on their way.

We got back in the car and drove a little further along the coast, stopping to walk out into the dunes. There was a nice selection of butterflies out now – several Wall Brown and Small Copper as usual. A couple of nice, crisp, fresh Common Blue fluttered around in the grass too. And as we walked along, we flushed a single Brown Argus from beside the path. The wind had picked up a little now and the butterflies were carried away across the dunes as soon as they gained any height, so they were  mostly lurking down in the shelter of the path.

6O0A3134Small Copper – one of several species of butterfly out this afternoon

We walked past the flowers lurking in the grass at first, and had to double back before we found them. There is a small colony of Man Orchids here, so called because the individual flowers on the spike shaped rather like a little hooded stick man. It is hard to see this at a distance, but crouch down and look closely and the flower spike looks like an army of stick men. The orchids are not fully out yet, but they were still great to look at, very smart flowers.

6O0A3145Man Orchid – the individual flowers shaped like small stick men

Then it was time to head back. It had been a great day out, not just for birds, but also with a wealth of other wildlife to see.

14th May 2016 – A Nightingale Sang…

The second of two Spring Migration Tours in North Norfolk. Today was meant to be luckier than yesterday, according to superstition, but we actually just had another great day. It was a bit brighter, but still cold in a blustery northerly wind on the coast.

We stopped first just inland from the coast and walked up a quiet country lane where we were out of the worst of the wind. There were lots of birds singing – a Song Thrush in the trees, a couple of Chiffchaffs, a Sedge Warbler sheltering in the hedge and several Blackcaps. A Common Whitethroat hopped up in front of us.

6O0A2602Common Whitethroat – one of several warblers in the hedges

A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we passed. Not content with surprising us once, it then flew ahead of us and sang at us repeatedly as we walked along. For once, we got to see it as it flew, its deep chestnut back and rounded tail. We could hear Bullfinches calling from the hedge ahead of us, and a bright pink male appeared on the edge, followed by a duller female. They didn’t stay long, but flew off piping – there were actually three of them, as a second female appeared too. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the trees.

We had come here to listen to the Nightingales, but they were a bit slow to get going. We heard a croak and a few notes at one point, but they were then all drowned out by a Song Thrush which started singing instead. We gave up and walked a little further along, and when we returned the Nightingale finally started singing a little more. We followed it alongside the dense bushes as it moved along, and eventually got a brief look at it as it flicked out of the brambles and flew along the hedgerow. That was a great way to start to the day, listening to Nightingale singing. Back at the car, lots of House Martins were hawking for insects in and out of the trees.

Given the blustery wind, we decided to head inland to Felbrigg Park, which should be a little more sheltered. Lots of Sand Martins and Swifts had the same idea, with a few House Martins thrown in for good measure, and were flying round low over the grazing meadows or in and out of the edge of the trees. There were loads over the lake too, and we walked up just in time to see a Hobby stoop down and scythe through them. It didn’t catch anything, but after a couple of passes it turned away and disappeared over the trees. A few seconds later, it reappeared with a second Hobby and started to buzz the edge of the wood. All action stuff!

We had hoped to find the pair of Garganey which have been here for more than two weeks now. There was no sign of them on the flooded grazing meadow, but as we walked out beside the lake we saw the drake in amongst the trees in the edge of the water. He swam out and we got a good look at him through the scope, before he swam back in again and climbed out onto a tree trunk.

At that point, we spotted the pair of Mandarin Ducks on the other side of the lake. They were very close to the wall, obviously feeding on insects which had been blown over to that side by the blustery wind. We hurried over and had a great view of them feeding quietly along the edge.

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6O0A2651Mandarin – a pair were feeding right along the edge of Felbrigg Park Lake

There were a couple of Common Sandpipers around the lake too. They seemed to be trying to rest on the branches and tree trunks along the west side, but kept getting spooked and flying round low over the lake. We worked our way round that side, along the path through the trees, and from the viewing screen we could see the drake Garganey asleep on its favourite tree trunk. When something spooked it, it dropped down into the water behind, but then immediately climbed back up to where it had been resting and we had a quick look at it through the scope before it went back to sleep.

IMG_4224Garganey – the drake spent most of his time asleep on a trunk

As we walked back to the car, a Common Buzzard drifted overhead, over the clearing. Then, from a small stand of fir trees, we heard a Firecrest singing. We could just see it flicking around among the branches close to the trunk at first, but gradually it came out more into the open, though it was still hard to follow. We could see its more strongly marked face pattern than a Goldcrest, all black and white stripes!

6O0A2692Firecrest – singing from some fir trees on our way back

We had an early lunch at Felbrigg. A Jay flew in to a tree just behind us. We could hear a Treecreeper calling and a couple of Siskins flying overhead. After lunch, we started to make our way back west.

Our next stop was at Kelling, where we had a quick stroll down to the Water Meadow. As we walked, several warblers were singing from the hedges – a Blackcap or two, a Chiffchaff and several Common Whitethroat. Down at the pool, the pair of Egyptian Geese were still tending to their four fast-growing goslings. The drake continues to chase off all other wildfowl, which obviously pose a grave and present danger to his offspring! A single Common Sandpiper had escaped his attention and was feeding quietly around the margin.

We had seen a flock of Linnets flying around at Felbrigg earlier, but one of the group wanted to see one better. Fortunately, Kelling is a great spot for them and we had several perching up in the brambles and down on the grass in front of us.

6O0A2721Linnet – there are always plenty at Kelling

We had a quick walk round the Quags and up the hill beyond, although it was very windy up there so we beat a hasty retreat. We did come across a pair of Stonechats taking food into the bushes and another lone male whose mate is presumably still sitting on eggs. There are lots of Meadow Pipits here too and a Sedge Warbler sang from deep in the brambles, sensibly keeping out of the wind.

6O0A2724Stonechat – we saw several at Kelling

We finished the day at Cley. We had a quick look at Pat’s Pool from the visitor centre, and there appeared to be little of note out on the scrape – plenty of Avocets, Redshank and a single Greenshank. There were lots of Swifts hawking for insects over the reserve, presumably migrants stopping off on their journey, and quite a few Sand Martins which were more likely local birds. There was very little in the sightings book or on the board for today either, so we elected not to venture out to the hides. The pools from the East Bank have been much more productive recently, so we decided to walk round there instead.

As soon as we got up on the East  Bank, we could immediately see a Spoonbill feeding out on the furthest bit of the Serpentine, so we hurried up there straight away. On the way, we noticed there was a second Spoonbill there too. At first the two were feeding separately, but then they joined up and we were treated to a bit of synchronised Spoonbill feeding action!

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6O0A2755Spoonbill – these two were feeding together on the Serpentine

We spent a bit of time watching the two Spoonbills, and they gradually worked their way closer. Eventually we were treated to great close-up views of them, sweeping their bills vigorously side to side through the shallows looking for food. Occasionally one or other would flick its head up as it caught something. Then a noisy crowd started to gather on the East Bank and they moved further away.

There were other birds out on the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh too. A smart male Ruff, with a very white ‘ruff’, presumably what is known as a ‘satellite male’ (in reference to the complex different breeding strategies of the various males) was feeding quietly along the muddy water’s edge. We found a couple of Little Ringed Plovers too – we could see the golden eyering on the closer one. There were two Common Sandpipers bobbing their way around on the mud. A pair of Gadwall were upending in the water. A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds the other side.

IMG_4238Ruff – with a striking white ‘ruff’

Arnold’s Marsh has been full of waders in recent days, but was surprisingly quiet today. Perhaps the wind had forced most of the birds to feed elsewhere today. There were still a good number of Redshank and a few Avocet. Otherwise, a single Ringed Plover was the best we could manage on here today. A few Sandwich Terns flew over, presumably on their way back to Blakeney Point to roost, after a busy day fishing along the coast.

We had a more leisurely walk back. The grazing marshes are kept much wetter these days and that is great for breeding waders. We could see several very cute baby Lapwings out on the small muddy pools, with a parent standing guard nearby. A couple of Little Egrets were fishing in the shallow pools. Looking over to Snipe’s Marsh, a Little Grebe was diving constantly. Then it was time to make our way back.