7th May 2016 – Stilted Day

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. It was another glorious sunny day, with a most welcome cool breeze at times on the coast. We made our way in the other direction, east along the coast today.

A Black-winged Stilt had been found at Cley first thing this morning. As we were heading that way, we stopped off to try to see it. We had only just got out of the car when we heard it had flown off, so we got back in again and continued on up to the Heath. When we got up there, we heard that the Stilt was back at Cley, but after a quick discussion it was decided that we would explore the Heath first and hope it was still there in the afternoon.

6O0A1922Yellowhammer – one of the first birds we saw on the Heath

As we walked up along the path, a couple of Linnets flew up into the brambles. A little further along and a Yellowhammer flew across landed in a tree. It dropped to the ground and started feeding on the edge of the path, where it’s yellow head shone in the morning sunshine. We could hear Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats singing and a Goldcrest too, which flicked in and out of the bushes in front of us. Several Common Buzzards circled up in the warm air.

Then we heard a Dartford Warbler singing. It was rather distant at first, but we followed the sound and then suddenly it flicked up into the top of a low birch tree in front of us. Unfortunately it didn’t stay long, and shot off back out of view. We waited a while to see if it would reappear – then it started singing behind us. We turned to see if songflighting over the gorse. We followed the Dartford Warbler for a while. It perched up a couple of times, but only briefly, although we had great views of it songflighting. Eventually it disappeared into a thick patch of gorse.

As we walked round to see if we might be able to pick it up again the other side, a clatter of wings and we turned to see a Turtle Dove taking off. It flew round beside us and disappeared into the trees beyond. A Garden Warbler was singing from the trees too. As we walked round, we noticed some movement and looked up to see a Tree Pipit in the very top of a pine. We had a good look at it through the scope before it dropped down out of view. Tree Pipits used to breed here until comparatively recently, so perhaps this one might yet stay here for the summer.

We walked round to the other side of the Heath and stopped to watch a pair of Stonechats. The female appeared in front of us, carrying food and calling nervously. The male hung back, perched on some gorse further over, before flying into the top of a nearby pine and singing. We reasoned they must have a nest close by and did not want to drop in to feed their brood with us close by, so we backed off.

6O0A1924Stonechat – the female was carrying food

We could hear another Turtle Dove calling, a delightful, delicate purring sound, but it was deep in the trees. Another Woodlark flew over, calling. A little later it returned overhead and started singing its distinctive mournful song. It circled round before dropping down out of view. A couple of seconds later, two Woodlarks flew up again and headed off towards the paddocks. Presumably the male had returned to the female to collect her and take her off somewhere to feed.

Then more Dartford Warblers appeared, a pair. They were flying back and forth but would not sit still for a second. We had good flight views, and watched them briefly clambering up through a pine tree. Then, given we had seen all that we wanted to see up on the Heath, we decided to move on and head back to the coast.

We made a brief stop along the Beach Road at Salthouse. When we opened the windows, before we even decided to get out of the car, we could hear a Yellow Wagtail calling. Scanning carefully over the grazing marshes we found him out on the grass, a smart, bright yellow male Yellow Wagtail. There were also several Wheatears further over – we got them in the scope and admired particularly the striking males with black bandit masks.

There had been some Wood Sandpipers overnight and early this morning on the pools by the Iron Road, but by the time we got there we could find no trace of them. Presumably they had flown off. A couple of Whimbrel were feeding out on the grass and we had a good look at them in the scope, admiring their stripy head patterns.

IMG_3953Whimbrel – 2 were by the Iron Road again today

After lunch at Cley, we headed out to explore the reserve. The Black-winged Stilt had not been reported here for some time, and staff at the Visitor Centre had no real idea where it was or what had happened to it. Thankfully, as we set off onto the reserve, we met a friendly birder coming back who told us that the Black-winged Stilt was still showing well. We stopped to admire a smart male Reed Bunting in the bushes by the path on the way. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them today.

6O0A1936Reed Bunting – singing by the path on the way out

We headed straight for Dauke’s Hide but when we got in there, the Black-winged Stilt had settled down in the vegetation for a snooze. All we could see of it was a small white patch through the dead reed stems. We amused ourselves by looking at some of the other birds on Simmond’s Scrape – a Greenshank, Avocets and several Black-tailed Godwits, some still lingering now in bright rusty summer plumage.

6O0A1987Black-tailed Godwit – in bright rusty summer plumage

A Lapwing was out on the bank in front of the hide, its green back looking iridescent in the sunshine. We heard them before we saw them, as five Little Terns flew in and dropped down into the water to bathe. We could see their small size, black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

6O0A1956Lapwing – in front of the hide

Then the Black-winged Stilt woke up. Something spooked all the waders and the Black-winged Stilt responded too, having a fly round over the scrape. It landed down on the water again, rather distant but a fraction closer than it had been , and we all got a good look at it through the scope as it fed in the shallow water. Black-winged Stilts do breed regularly as close as northern France and with a few more breeding attempts in the UK in recent years, it is hoped that this might be the beginning of a long-awaited colonisation.

6O0A1943Black-winged Stilt – a little distant at first

We took our eyes off the Black-winged Stilt for a short while to look at some of the other birds, and when we looked back it seemed to have gone. Some careful scanning for a few seconds and we noticed it had flow over to Pat’s Pool. Even better, it was now right in front of Teal Hide. We raced round there and had great views of it feeding in the channel just before us, before it was chased off further along by a pair of Avocets. Stunning!

6O0A2059Black-winged Stilt – showed very well right in front of Teal Hide at one point

After feasting on such great views of the Black-winged Stilt, we turned our attention to the other waders on Pat’s Pool. There was a largish flock of Black-tailed Godwits over towards the back and in with them we could see several Ruff. Several of the males have already got their outlandish neck feathers (the ‘ruff’), in various colours and patterns. We could see a rusty-ruffed male, one with a black ruff and yet another with an off-white one. Three smaller, scaly-backed females (more properly known as ‘Reeves‘) were in the flock with them.

The male Ruffs were clearly getting excited already. They do not breed here, more’s the pity, so it is rarer to see the males displaying. We were lucky to see several males chasing each other and the Reeves around, with their neck feathers fluffed up today. A real treat to see.

IMG_4037Ruff – a black-necked bird, its ‘ruff’ folded away

A smaller wader found itself in the midst of the displaying Ruffs. It was sporting bright brick red underparts – a summer plumage ‘Red’ Knot. We know them better as just Knot, as we see them mostly in their all grey winter garb, but they are stunning birds in their summer finery. Only in this plumage does the American name of Red Knot finally make sense.

There was a nice little group of Dunlin out in the water too, dwarfed by the godwits, many of them now sporting smart black belly patches. A couple of Common Sandpipers were feeding quietly round the edges of the islands. With more people coming to admire the Black-winged Stilt, we decided to move off and make some space in the hide. On the walk back, a very obliging Sedge Warbler was singing in an elder bush right by the boardwalk. We stopped to watch a Lapwing displaying over Cricket Marsh, flying backwards and forwards with flappy beats of its big, rounded wings, occasionally rising up a tumbling back down.

6O0A2085Sedge Warbler – sang for us on the way back

We walked round past the visitor centre and up on to the East Bank. The grazing marshes and the Serpentine are looking great for waders still, but all seemed a little quiet at first. There were plenty of Lapwing and a few Redshank but not much else today. Then out at the Serpentine, we found a couple of Common Sandpipers feeding along the muddy edge. A Little Ringed Plover was displaying and when it was finished it dropped down onto the dried mud with a second bird. Further over, we found a very smart Turnstone in summer plumage, with white face and bright rusty feathers in its upperparts.

A careful scan of the grazing marshes produced a single White Wagtail – a migrant here, yet to continue its way on north to the continent. There are not so many ducks out here now, but we did stop to admire a pair of Gadwall close to the path. The males are much underrated compared to some of their gaudier cousins, but are delightfully intricately patterned up close. For membership of the Gadwall Appreciation Society, apply here!

IMG_4045Gadwall – the most underrated of drakes

We stopped in the new shelter to have a look at Arnold’s Marsh. There were lots of waders out here today – particularly Dunlin and in with them a good number of Ringed Plover. A careful scan through revealed a couple of Sanderling too. The first couple of Bar-tailed Godwits we found were still in non-breeding plumage, but later two appeared with rusty underparts, the colout extending all the way down onto the vent, unlike the Black-tailed Godwits.

However the highlight were the Grey Plover. There were at least 16 here and many of them are now coming into summer plumage too, with striking black faces and bellies, and white spangled upperparts. Cracking birds! A couple of Sandwich Terns flew over, calling. Then we started to make our way back. A pair of Skylarks were on the dirt on the path on the East Bank, one of which was enjoying a vigorous dust bath.

6O0A2107Skylark – enjoying a dust bath in the East Bank

We stopped briefly for a glimpse of a Water Vole in the ditch by the path. It saw us coming and slipped quietly away in the water. We still had enough time for a quick look in at Bishop Hide on the way past. The waders were much the same from this side, and nothing new seemed to have dropped in. However, we had a couple of different Ruff over this side, one with delightfully barred neck feathers. A summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit was in with the Black-tailed Godwits, allowing a great comparison, when they were not being chased off by the Avocets.

IMG_4070Ruff – a smart male with intricately barred ruff

We could see the Black-winged Stilt still, in the distance in front of the other hides. A Marsh Harrier appeared over the reeds, drifting towards the scrape, but was promptly seen off by a Lapwing and several Avocets keen to defend where they plan to raise their chicks. Then it was time to make our way back to the car and head for home.

6O0A2136Marsh Harrier – chased off by the Lapwings and Avocets

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