Monthly Archives: July 2016

27th July 2016 – Waders & Warblers

A Private Tour today. One request was to see Dartford Warblers, but the forecast was for rain early morning and brighter conditions later. So, after a slightly later than usual start to let the rain clear, we popped along to Cley to see what else was about first.

Our first stop was in Teal Hide. There is a lot of mud now on Pat’s Pool and a nice selection of waders to take advantage. One of the first birds we saw was a very smart summer plumage Spotted Redshank – still largely jet black with silver spangling on the upperparts. Clearly a new arrival, as they quickly moult into silvery grey winter plumage here. Unfortunately, another request for today was photography and the Spotted Redshank remained a little distant for the cameras, in the deeper water area of the scrape. A cracking bird nonetheless and good views through the scope.

IMG_5509Spotted Redshank – still in almost full summer plumage

A nervous flock of Dunlin kept wheeling round and landing back in the shallows on the far side of the island. Numbers of Dunlin are steadily increasing now and we counted over 120 in this group. Most were adult birds still sporting their summer black bellies but a small number of juveniles were in with them. A single Golden Plover, still in summer plumage too, was preening at the back of the main island. A couple of Lapwings were feeding on the mud close by.

6O0A6797Lapwing – also taking advantage of the mud

From Dauke’s Hide, we got better views of Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, roosting on the first island. Otherwise the water level here is a little high for waders now. The Ruff are still in various states of moult but most are already in winter plumage. In contrast, there are still some very smart orange Black-tailed Godwits here.

6O0A6799Black-tailed Godwits & Ruff – roosting on Simmond’s Scrape

Tipped off about a Green Sandpiper, we had a quick look at the normally quiet Whitwell Scrape. As well as the Green Sandpiper, we found a single Snipe on here today, but both were a little too far off for photography today.

We walked back towards the visitor centre and round to Bishop Hide next. As the water level on Pat’s Pool has dropped, the mud right in front of the hide here has started to dry out so again the birds were not as close as they can sometimes be. Still there were more waders to see here. A single Common Sandpiper was working its way unobtrusively round the edge of one of the islands. Several Little Ringed Plovers were running round on the drier mud and hiding among the lumps – two adults with black-striped faces and a browner-headed juvenile. A large number of Avocets were sleeping on one of the islands out in the middle, mostly out of view, but two adults were chasing a fully grown juvenile around in front of the hide.

6O0A6801Avocets – more argy bargy today

After a drive round to the beach car park, we walked out towards North Hide. Three adult Gannets flew past over the sea in the fresh northerly wind an several Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore. On the small pool by the fence, we stopped to admire a Little Ringed Plover. At that point a Yellow Wagtail called and we looked up to see it flying towards us over the Eye Field. Unfortunately it dropped into the long grass out of view and when we looked back the Little Ringed Plover had disappeared too.

Looking out over North Scrape, we could see a couple of flocks of Dunlin here too, at least 50 although many more were possibly out of view behind the grass at the front. It is possible these were the same birds from Pat’s Pool we had seen earlier, just having switched scrapes. As well as another Little Ringed Plover, a single Ringed Plover was a nice bonus here. A Greenshank was running around at the very back of the scrape, but there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper while we were there. With nothing particularly close for the cameras, we didn’t wait for it to appear.

There were several Skylarks and Meadow Pipits in the Eye Field as we passed. A large post-breeding flock of Starlings has gathered here too, with a lot of young birds in it. One moulting juvenile Starling posed on the fence for us, a mixture of brown juvenile and fresh patterned black adult feathers.

6O0A6812Starling – a moulting juvenile

With a nice selection of waders in the bag for the morning, we headed back to the visitor centre for lunch. With the weather having brightened up now, we headed up to the heath in the afternoon to look for Dartford Warblers. There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and little skippers dancing through the grass (only one stopped still long enough as we passed to identify it as a Small Skipper).

6O0A6825Gatekeeper – one of the commoner butterflies on the wing now

One of the specialities of the Heath is Silver-studded Blue. We are reaching the end of the flight season now, so many are looking a little tatty, but we did manage to find one slightly smarter male.

6O0A6856Silver-studded Blue – the best we could find, they are getting rather worn now

We came across several Yellowhammers and plenty of Linnets as we walked. Rounding a corner, we could just hear a Dartford Warbler calling from somewhere on the other side of a large mound of gorse. We walked quietly round and stood listening, and after a few seconds the Dartford Warbler shot out from the gorse in front of us and disappeared out of view. We followed in the direction it had gone, and came across a family of Stonechats, a pair with at least three streaky juveniles. We could hear the rather wren-like begging calls of the youngsters as we approached, followed by the alarm calls of the adults.

6O0A6877Stonechat – one of the streaky juveniles

The family of Stonechats are very mobile now, so we tried to follow them as they moved about the heath. As they did so, it became clear that a small, dark, long-tailed bird was following after them – a Dartford Warbler. It was keeping down low in the heather or flying across between patches of vegetation, but we couldn’t get close to it as it followed the Stonechats just out of range or disappeared into the tall gorse or trees out of view.

6O0A6880Dartford Warbler – can you see me?

A second Dartford Warbler appeared, and it too was keeping with the Stonechats. By quietly following them, we eventually saw a Dartford Warbler fly up into an isolated patch of gorse next to a path. We crept round the back of it, and suddenly the Dartford Warbler hopped up onto a branch – unfortunately it did not result in the hoped for photo!

We decided to continue on round the heath to see what else we could find. It was getting hot now, quite a contrast to the weather this morning. On the more open stony paths we found several Graylings basking in the sun. Almost impossible to see against the ground, they flew up ahead of us as we walked and one landed right next to us again.

6O0A6853Grayling – well camouflaged against the stony ground

As well as being hot, it was getting quite disturbed now, with lots of people out enjoying the improvement in the weather, dog walkers and cyclists. We walked over to another area favoured by the Dartford Warblers, but there was no sign of any birds here today, although we didn’t linger very long. We decided to head back to the family of Stonechats to try our luck back their again.

6O0A6892Stonechat – the male standing guard over the family

We found the Stonechats close to where we had left them and this time there appeared to be three Dartford Warblers with them. They all appeared to be juveniles – various shades of grey, lacking the vinous-red underparts of the adults. Once again, they were frustratingly difficult to see, low in the heather, apart from when they flew.

6O0A6900Dartford Warbler – a typical view, darting between clumps of heather

We had managed to get some distant images of a Dartford Warbler perched in a more open small oak tree, and decided to call it a day. As we turned to go, one of the Dartford Warblers flew up from the heather close to us and landed in a large clump of gorse nearby. As if to taunt us for its previous unhelpfulness, it then perched in the top for a few seconds!

6O0A6931Dartford Warbler – finally one perched up for a few seconds

That seemed an appropriate way to end, so we headed back to the car.

Advertisements

25th July 2016 – Spectacular Waders

While they can be seen throughout the winter, late Summer and early Autumn is the best time of year to witness the huge flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash. Only on a few days each month on the highest tides are the waders forced off the mudflats and onto the neighbouring RSPB reserve, when the spectacle reached its peak

Today, the tide was not quite at its highest, which meant that not all the waders came off the Wash. But still we were treated to quite a spectacle, with at least two Peregrines stirring up the waders as they gathered in huge flocks, tens of thousands strong, ahead of the rising tide. Stunning!

6O0A6771

6O0A6776

6O0A6778

6O0A6785Huge flocks of waders swirl over the Wash

While the largest numbers of waders are Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, a wide variety of different species use the Wash, big flocks of Oystercatcher and smaller number of Avocets, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey, Golden and Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone. At this time of the year, many of the waders are still in smart summer plumage, as they gather on the Wash to moult at the end of the breeding season.

It is possible to see other things on the rising tide too. Lots of gulls and terns gather on the edge of the Wash and we saw two different Black Terns today in with them, a moulting adult and a juvenile. A Woodlark flying along the shoreline was even more of a surprise!

IMG_5422Black Tern – this one a moulting adult

When the waders gather on the pits, there is a good opportunity to see them up close. They can be packed tight in flocks of hundred and thousands around the small islands.

6O0A6790

IMG_5435The waders pack tight onto islands on the pits over high tide

Searching through them, it is possible to find other species here which can be trickier to pick out among the vast throngs out on the Wash. Today, we had 10 Spotted Redshanks on the pits and two Greenshank flew in too. A Little Stint on the shoreline was dwarfed by the neighbouring Dunlin, and a careful scan through the vast masses of the latter revealed at least 6 Curlew Sandpipers, all adults still sporting the remains of their rusty summer plumage, on their way south from Siberia.

IMG_5430Curlew Sandpipers – two moulting adults hiding in the roost

The real bird of the day managed to conceal itself in with the Dunlin for over an hour, sitting down hidden in the throng. Eventually it gave itself away – a White-rumped Sandpiper from North America.

IMG_5458White-rumped Sandpiper – in with the Dunlin

When the White-rumped Sandpiper finally woke up, it was possible to see its white belly, lacking the black patch shown by the summer plumaged Dunlin all around it. It also had a shorter, finer bill, only slightly downcurved. Its flanks were finely streaked with a couple of black chevrons and its upperparts were a little greyer, with brighter rusty edges to the upper scapulars. When it preened, you could see the distinctive white rump, lacking the broad black stripe through the middle shown by most other small waders – you can see it best in the video below. A smart bird and a nice way to round off another exciting morning.

If you would like to join us to enjoy the Snettisham Wader Spectacular this year, current dates for the diary when the tide is at its highest are:

  • Sunday 21st August
  • Wednesday 21st September

More dates may be possible, subject to tides and demand. Please contact us for more information. We look forward to seeing you here.

24th July 2016 – Heath & Marsh

The third and final Summer Tour of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was another glorious summer’s day, with just enough of a breeze to stop us overheating.

We made our way inland and up to the Heath to start, before it got too hot. We could hear a Turtle Dove purring, but it was some distance away. As we walked up from the car park, we could hear a Linnet singing and a couple more flew past. A Common Whitethroat flew out from the trees, perched in the bracken for a few seconds and then disappeared into the long grass. A Yellowhammer was singing too.

As we turned a corner, we could hear the begging calls of juvenile Stonechats and spotted the male Stonechat in the top of a young birch tree. A little further along, we found the whole family – male, female and 3-4 streaky fledged juveniles. They were quite mobile, but the juvenile Stonechats were still sitting around on the bushes begging for food. The female was working hard to feed them, while the male seemed to keep disappearing off – perhaps he wasn’t enjoying being bugged by his unruly teenage offspring!

6O0A6593Stonechat – the female was working hard to feed the juveniles

While we were watching the Stonechats, a Dartford Warbler appeared low in the heather nearby. This is not unusual – Dartford Warblers will often follow Stonechats around, possibly for the protection afforded by their extra vigilence. This Dartford Warbler was a juvenile, rather greyish overall, but was hard to get onto, as it was keeping low and moving constantly. We repositioned ourselves and got a slightly better view, but still not everyone had managed to see it.

We watched the Stonechats coming and going for some time. Suddenly an adult Dartford Warbler flew in from behind us and dropped into the gorse among the Stonechats. Again it was quite difficult to see and we only got a couple of glimpses as it fed. Then it flew back out again in the direction it had come.

6O0A6606Juvenile Stonechat & Linnet – happened to perch in the same bush

Quiet purring behind us alerted us to the presence of another Turtle Dove, such a treat to hear these days, given rapidly how the species is disappearing. We walked round on the path to the other side of the gorse, and we quickly worked out where the noise was coming from but we couldn’t see the Turtle Dove in the thick birch trees. Then suddenly it flew up and started its display flight, flapping higher and then descending in a long glide. It flew out across the heath and landed right in the top of a tall birch, where we could get it in the scope. When it flew again, the Turtle Dove seemed to disappear off over the ridge, but a short while later it was back purring there again. Great views.

IMG_5363Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a birch

As we walked back round, we came across the Stonechat family again and the juvenile Dartford Warbler had reappeared with them. We watched as it flew back and forth across a clearing and then perched briefly in the very top of a young birch tree. This time, everyone got on it.

We carried on across the Heath and at first there seemed to be a surprising lack of butterflies. Then, as we walked down along a sandy path with short heather either side, we came across our first Silver-studded Blues. Several of them were a bit worn now, but we got a good look at the underside of the wings and the distinctive silver studded spots. There were also a few Graylings along the path. They are next to impossible to see unless they move, and we had to really keep our eyes on them after they landed.

6O0A6607Silver-studded Blue – this one with rather poorly marked silver studs

A little further still, as we were following the path round, another juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up beside us. It perched very briefly, but having been surprised by our approach it very quickly disappeared off across the Heath. Not far beyond this, we found a female Dartford Warbler skulking in the gorse. We had several glimpses of her before she flew out and disappeared back across the heather.

While we were trying to keep tabs on the female Dartford Warbler, we heard a male singing back the way we had just come. We raced round there, just in time to see him fly. We followed him round and after a couple of minutes he hopped up briefly into the top of a gorse bush and started singing. After a second or two, he was off again. He flew a bit further away and perched in the top of a large gorse bush to sing. This time he stayed still for a while and we could get him in the scope. When he finally dropped back into the dense gorse, he went quiet.

6O0A6614Dartford Warbler – the male perched up briefly, singing

As we started to walk back to see if we could find the female Dartford Warbler again, we heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying past. It dropped down some distance from us, but knowing the site well it appeared to go towards another path. We hurried round and found it quietly feeding along the path, giving us very good scope views.

That was a great way to start the day, with all the heathland specialities. We decided to move on so started to walk back to the car. On the way , we flushed another two Woodlarks from the grass beside the path. They flew up before we could see them, but circled round and one perched up in the top of a gorse bush – even nicer views through scope this time.

It was getting on towards lunchtime by now, so we headed down to Cley for lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear a Whimbrel calling over the car park. After lunch, we walked out to the hides.

Teal Hide was our first port of call. There were quite a few waders on there and the longer we scanned, the more we found. Two Common Sandpipers were feeding close in front of the hide, bobbing constantly. Further over we could see a single Green Sandpiper and a  Common Sandpiper together, a nice comparison. A lone Greenshank, slim and elegant, was walking quickly across the scrape feeding, out in middle. There were also good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and a variety of Ruff in a confusing mix of stages of moult.

It was round into Simmond’s Hide next. There were even more Black-tailed Godwits on here, mostly Icelandic birds, but again a careful look through them and we discovered a bird which looked good for a Continental Black-tailed Godwit (subspecies limosa). In  amongst the godwits, were three Red Knot, this time living up to their name and sporting their summer plumage orange-red underparts. A single Turnstone was asleep on one of the islands, but when it woke up we finally got a chance to admire its summer plumage

6O0A6693Black-tailed Godwit – a moulting adult islandica

Another Common Sandpiper was hiding in the grass on the edge of one of the islands at the front of the scrape. Several Dunlin were hiding in amongst the godwits legs, including a single juvenile. There are always Avocets on here and today they were particularly argumentative. Two adults and three almost full-grown juveniles seemed to be having some sort of family argument – though it was hard to tell who was who.

6O0A6666

6O0A6668

6O0A6670Avocets – arguing

The ducks are all currently in eclipse plumage, so not looking their best. However, a careful scan through revealed a single eclipse drake Wigeon, our first of the autumn (though it could perhaps be a bird which has over-summered somewhere). A family of juvenile Shoveler were in the grass on the edge of the ditch right in front of the hide. Their largish bills, not yet fully grown but still noticeably big, immediately gave away their identity. There were also lots of Shelduck, and a few Teal.

6O0A6639Shoveler – a part-grown juvenile, with a small but already outsized bill

When a Little Egret flew in and walked right to the corner in front of the hide, it surprised a female Gadwall who had just brought her three small ducklings in there. She appeared out of the grass and quickly shooed the egret away.

6O0A6655Little Egret – scared off by a female Gadwall

There were several dark chocolate-brown juvenile Marsh Harriers in the reedbed and they would occasionally fly round to exercise their wings. Every time they drifted over the scrape, pandemonium ensued. This happened repeatedly while we were there. However, te panic seemed to be even more intense when a Hobby whisked through, putting everything up from North Scrape first, before we spotted it hurtling over Simmond’s and then disappearing off inland.

On the way back, we carried on past the visitor centre and paid a very brief visit to Bishop Hide. There were lots of gulls on Pat’s Pool which were better viewed from this side. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, plus four Common Gulls, but there was no sign of the hoped-for Mediterranean Gull today. A nice close Common Sandpiper was a bonus.

6O0A6715Common Sandpiper – our fifth of the day, from Bishop Hide

Our next destination was the East Bank. Two fully-grown juvenile Little Grebes were on the new pool. We could hear and see lots of Reed Warblers in reeds. Out on Pope’s Marsh, there were plenty of adult Redshank, with several juveniles still around the Serpentine. A good number of Curlew were hiding out in the long grass.

6O0A6732Little Grebe – a juvenile, still with a rather stripey face

Arnold’s Marsh looked relatively quiet. There are not so many Sandwich Terns on here this year, possibly because the number breeding on Blakeney Point is well down on previous years. Three or four Ringed Plovers were lurking on the shingle islands. A lone Greenshank was walking back and forth. The single Red Knot promptly flew off just after we arrived.

Returning back to the car, we headed round to the beach car park next. As we walked out towards North Hide (or at least where it used to be!), we stopped by the little pool next to the fence. This was very productive, with at least 3 juvenile Yellow Wagtails, along with a lot of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and two Little Ringed Plover.

Even though the Wood Sandpiper which has been here for the last couple of days, had not been reported today, it still seemed worth a look. The first bird we saw when we sat down was the Wood Sandpiper, conveniently standing with two Redshank for comparison. We watched it picking around on the mud as it walked directly towards the hide, and eventually we lost it to view behind the vegetation in front of the hide. Still, it was well worth coming out here for that alone. There was not much else out here – a small party of Dunlin at the back and several Redshank.

IMG_5411Wood Sandpiper – on North Scrake

Time was getting on, so we decided to head back – it had been a nice way to round of the day with a smart Wood Sandpiper.

23rd July 2016 – Out Day & Night

Another Summer Tour today, the second of a 3-day long weekend of tours. We spent the morning looking for Birds of Prey, the afternoon at Titchwell and the evening with Owls and Nightjars. It was a lovely, warm, sunny day, perfect summer birding weather.

To start the day, we drove inland, meandering our way from the coast. There were still lots of House Martins coming in and out of the eaves of the houses and barns around the villages. At one point, we came across a large gathering of House Martins on the wires, which all took off just as we drove up. A reminder that the breeding season is slowly coming to an end, and autumn is just around the corner!

We parked by a farm track and walked up a lane with thick hedges either side. We could hear Yellowhammers singing, and one perched briefly on the wires ahead of us, but unfortunately not long enough for all the group to get onto it. Several Common Whitethroats darted in and out of the vegetation ahead of us, flying out from the hedge and further along the track before diving back in. A couple of Blackbirds did the same thing too.

There were lots of butterflies out in the overgrown verges here – Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Red Admirals, bright orange Commas and several Skippers, of which the only one that stopped long enough for us to confirm the ID was an Essex Skipper. A rather smart Longhorn Beetle (going by the catchy name of Agapanthia villosoviridescens!) unfortunately wasn’t hanging around either.

6O0A6553Essex Skipper – a wide variety of butterflies were along the track

Up on slightly higher ground, we found a convenient place to stand with a good view of the surrounding countryside. We managed to see a variety of raptors from here. As the air warmed, the Common Buzzards started to circle up, calling. Eventually we could see them in all directions. As one circled high above the fields, we could see a smaller bird of prey above it, which then started diving at it – a Sparrowhawk. A distant Marsh Harrier spiralled up too, as did a Kestrel or two.

There were other birds here too. We could see a big flock of Swifts & House Martins over some trees, hawking for insects. A smaller group of Swallows appeared over a distant field. A couple of Stock Doves flew back and forth and Skylarks sang overhead or fluttered over the fields. We regularly heard the twitter of Linnets overhead too. Another Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge just along from us, but it was on the wrong side and we couldn’t see it from here. A Chiffchaff called and worked its way along the hedge into the trees.

After a while, we decided to walk back. We could hear a soft tacking call from the tall hedge ahead of us, not as harsh as a Blackcap, more like the ‘tsk, tsk’ of someone tutting. It sounded like a Lesser Whitethroat, and as we got closer our suspicions were confirmed when it hopped up into top of hedge. It seemed to be annoyed at something, but we couldn’t see what, and it quickly appeared to transfer its ire to us instead as we passed.

6O0A6547Lesser Whitethroat – tacking from the hedge as we walked along

As we walked back towards the car, we could hear another Yellowhammer singing. This one we finally managed to get in the scope so everyone could see it. A nice bright yellow male, we could see its throat moving as it sang. A Bullfinch called from somewhere behind us, but it was not so obliging and remained hidden deep in bushes.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – a smart male taken here earlier in the year

From here, we meandered our way west. The fields and verges are nicely overgrown now, but it does mean it is harder to see much on our way past. A nice addition to the day’s list was provided by an adult Mediterranean Gull which circled over the road with several Black-headed Gulls, flashing its bright white wing tips, before dropping down into a field out of sight behind the hedge.

Dropping back down to the coast, we made our way to Titchwell. It was not too busy, so we had a quick look around the overflow car park. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove which has been here recently (though we found out why later!). There were lots of Greenfinches in the bushes, and a couple of Chaffinches too. A flock of tits came through – Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits – and accompanying them were a couple of Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler.

There were more tits and finches on the feeders in front of the visitor centre. Given the time, we decided to walk out to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed first. We made a brief stop in in at Fen Hide on the way past, but the pool is now overgrown with reeds and all was quiet, so we didn’t stay long.

When we got to Patsy’s Reedbed, just about the first bird we set eyes on was a female Red-crested Pochard, out in front of the screen. The pale-tipped dark bill immediately set it apart from an eclipse male, which still retains its bright red bill even in eclipse plumage. Three full grown juvenile Common Pochard were asleep in front of the screen too. A Great Crested Grebe nearby was bathing at first, then started swimming around with its head underwater, looking for food. Further over, a Little Grebe was diving constantly. Several Avocets out here still had young in various stakes of development.

IMG_5271Red-crested Pochard – a female

With the morning gone already, we made our way back to the picnic area for lunch. We found a bit of shade. As we got up to leave, a Robin was sunning itself in a bright spot by the bench.

6O0A6559Robin – sunning itself

After lunch, we made our way out onto the main part of the reserve. The grazing marsh ‘pool’ is still mostly dry, but for a few puddles, which held very few birds today. The reedbed pool was more productive. Another Great Crested Grebe had two well-grown young in tow and another Little Grebe had a very small juvenile with it. A female Tufted Duck was also accompanied by two small ducklings, and there were a few Common Pochard, a single Shoveler and a couple of Teal, to go with the regular Mallard, providing a nice selection of wildfowl.

We could hear the ‘pinging’ call of Bearded Tits from the reeds further along but there was no sign of any from the main path when we got there. There was a nice cooling breeze now, but this meant they were probably keeping their heads down. A distant Marsh Harrier circled up briefly, but otherwise they were rather quiet this afternoon.

Before we even got to Island Hide, we could see several Spoonbills out on the freshmarsh. There were at least eight of them, tucked in on the edge of one of the islands, doing what Spoonbills do best, sleeping! Occasionally one or other would lift its head briefly, flashing its bill, before tucking it back in and going back to sleep.

IMG_5276Spoonbills – we could see at least 8 asleep on the freshmarsh

From the hide, we could see a nice selection of different waders out on freshmarsh. A careful scan with the scope picked up the Little Stint, out on one of the islands. It was mostly on own, but worked its way along towards the Dunlin, at which point it was possible to see just how ‘Little’ it was. We counted 37 Dunlin today, numbers along the coast are steadily increasing now, along with a single Knot. There were also lots of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits, and a selection of Ruff in a confusing array of colours as they moult out of their gaudy breeding plumage.

6O0A6567

Lots of gulls and terns were loafing around on the islands. We could see lots of Common Terns, and several Sandwich Terns as well today. A careful scan through them and we came across one with an all-red bill, shorter than a Common, and also very short legs – a single Arctic Tern. In amongst all the Black-headed Gulls we found a single Common Gull, and several Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A couple of juvenile Shelduck were dabbling in the mud in front of the hide.

6O0A6563

The biggest surprise from Island Hide was finding the Turtle Dove feeding quietly on the grassy margin of the main island. It was very distant from here and inside the new wire fence, but even at that range we could see its bright rusty orange back and wings and pinkish breast. A couple of Bearded Tits made a most welcome appearance form the hide, feeding on the mud, in and out of the edge of the reeds, two bright tawny-coloured juveniles.

IMG_5294

Round at the Parrinder Hide, we finally located the Spotted Redshanks just where we thought they might be, in the far corner. There were at least seven, though probably quite a few more as they kept disappearing behind the islands. One was still liberally speckled with black summer plumage, but the rest were mostly in their silvery grey winter garb.

A juvenile Little Ringed Plover was in and out of view on a patch of drier mud, and we heard two Common Sandpipers calling as they helpfully dropped in along the water’s edge nearby. A Whimbrel did much the same – we heard it calling as it approached and, after circling over the hide, it dropped down out in the middle for a quick bathe before flying off again. A second Whimbrel didn’t even land. The vast majority of the Black-tailed Godwits which we get here are Icelandic (subspecies islandica), but it is possible to find the occasional Continental Black-tailed Godwit (limosa) too sometimes. It can be a bit of a dark art at this time of year, with subtle features relating to size and structure being the main things to look for, but a challenge was issued and we did find a single limosa out at the back of the freshmarsh.

The Yellow Wagtails proved slightly elusive at first, with just a quick glimpse of one on the fence. But eventually they gave themselves up nicely, at least three of them. A juvenile landed on the mud in front of the hide, a female perched up on the fence again and a nice bright male was unfortunately right at the opposite side against the reeds, but still stood out like a sore thumb! The Turtle Dove also put in a brief appearance a bit closer from here, but disappeared immediately out of view. When the Spoonbills finally woke up they flew off over the bank towards Brancaster.

Unfortunately, at this stage, we were running out of time – there had been so much to see around the freshmarsh today. We had a quick look at the Volunteer Marsh, but it was very quiet out there, then it was back to the car and heading for home.

Nightjar Evening

We met up again later on, after a break and something to eat, for the Nightjar Evening. Our first target was to look for some owls, and Little Owl was a particular request, so we drove out to a favoured spot. It didn’t take long to find a distant Little Owl perched up on some old farm buildings. We got it in the scope but after a couple of minutes it flew down to the ground and was lost to view. Only at this point did we realise that a second Little Owl was perched on another barn much closer to us. We got great views of it in the scope, sitting quietly in the last of the evening sunshine soaking up some rays. A Brown Hare appeared and also provided a nice distraction.

IMG_5327Little Owl – enjoying the evening sunshine

From here it was on to look for Barn Owls. Normally they are very busy at this time of year, with young about to fledge, but this year our regular area appears rather quieter. There are several pairs around here, but the birds at the moment are not appearing until much later in the evening. It seems most likely that the cold, wet spring has affected breeding success. One Barn Owl eventually came out, a female, and started hunting. We watched it working its way back and forth around a field. When it did finally catch something, it showed no sign of taking its prey back to the nest, but disappeared out of view with it, presumably to a convenient perch. With Nightjars our main target for the evening, we couldn’t linger longer here for more Barn Owls to emerge.

So, it was up to the Heath next. Almost immediately after we had walked out to our regular spot, we heard a Nightjar call. A good job we hadn’t waited longer for the Barn Owls! Shortly afterwards, the first Nightjar started churring. First one churred in front of us, then another started up behind us. Even better, the latter then flew around and landed in a tree nearby. It was on a dead branch, out in full view, where we could get fantastic view of it in the scope. It perched there for several minutes, looking round, churring. Stunning!

IMG_5357Nightjar – perched out churring in full view for us

We stayed for a while listening to the Nightjars. There were at least 3 churring males within earshot tonight, and calls off suggested one or two females too. The males were constantly switching churring posts, flying round their territories and advertising their presence. Finally, as the light faded, we called it a day, and a long and fruitful one it had been too!

22nd July 2016 – Back to the Brecks

A Summer Tour today in the Brecks, the first of 3 days. It was generally sunny but with some high cloud at times meaning it wasn’t quite as hot as it had been earlier in the week.

6O0A6479Six-spot Burnet – on Viper’s Bugloss

We stopped to have a quick look for Stone Curlews on the way. There was no sign of the two juveniles we have been watching for the last month or so, but as they were already well grown it is possible they have fledged by now. At this time of the year, particularly after such a wet spring and early summer, the vegetation is very high and the birds can easily hide from view too. We did see a Green Woodpecker fly over.

There were lots of insects to look at. Lots of Burnet Moths were buzzing around the flowers – Six-spot and Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets. We managed to find both Small Skipper and Essex Skipper too (and, with the help of a photo or too, to have a close look at the underside of their antenna tips!). Several Meadow Browns were fluttering around in the grass. Ringlets and a couple of Brown Hawker dragonflies were buzzing round the brambles.

6O0A6489Small Skipper

Weeting Heath is normally a very reliable place to see Stone Curlew at this time of year, as the rabbits traditionally keep the vegetation down. However, it has been a very difficult season for Stone Curlew there this year. The first broods were being incubated just as the cold and wet weather arrived and both nests were lost. Only one pair eventually returned to re-lay but was then predated by a fox. In addition, the rabbit population has collapsed in recent years and the vegetation here is also unusually high this year. Consequently we have not seen Stone Curlews from the hides here with any regularity in recent weeks, but we still had a very brief look in as we were passing. A family party of four Mistle Thrushes were the best we could find. We didn’t hang around long as we wanted to get on to Lakenheath Fen before it got too hot.

The sun was shining as we pulled into the car park at Lakenheath Fen. A Blackcap was singing from the bushes by the visitor centre. There were lots of Reed Warblers clambering around in the sallows by the path as we walked out. There seemed to have been a very recent emergence of Red Admirals – there were loads of very smart looking butterflies on the flowers beside the path and even coming down to the almost dry puddles on the path itself.

6O0A6500Red Admiral – looking very fresh

There were a couple of Great Crested Grebes out on the water in front of New Fen Viewpoint when we arrived. A young Marsh Harrier circled up over towards the river and flew across the back of the reeds, very dark chocolate brown with just a golden orange-yellow head. A Bearded Tit flew up unannounced from the reeds right in front of us and disappeared over into the vegetation just beyond the shelter. We could hear occasional quiet ‘pinging’ and then see the reeds moving, before if flew back low across the water – a smart adult male, with grey head and black ‘moustache’.

A sound like a squealing pig alerted us to the presence of a Water Rail down in the reeds below us, but it was typically keeping itself well hidden. A Common Tern was flying back and forth right at the back, fishing, before eventually flying straight towards us and doing a circuit of the pool in front.

6O0A6257Common Tern – a recent photo from New Fen Viewpoint

It was starting to warm up, so we carried on out towards Joist Fen. As we approached the junction in the path by the West Wood, we could hear a Kingfisher calling and spotted it flying straight towards us. It landed on a low stump on the edge of the trees just a few metres away from us, but unfortunately was quickly spooked by our presence and flew off again in a flash of electric blue. Another male Bearded Tit perched up in the top of the reeds as we walked on, giving us a much better look at it before it flew across the path and disappeared into the reeds.

We had only just arrived at Joist Fen Viewpoint when one of the other people already there shouted ‘Cranes‘. We looked out over the reeds to see four Common Cranes flying across. There are two pairs of Cranes at Lakenheath at the moment, one of which has recently fledged two chicks and these were the birds we could see. They had been feeding over the other side of the river and were flying back home. They flew slowly across over the reeds before dropping down out of view the other side. Great stuff!

6O0A6512Common Crane – the Lakenheath family of four

This had been a good spot to see Bitterns on their feeding flights earlier in the week, but we had just missed one before we walked up. We waited a while but it seemed increasingly like we would be out of luck. Some new arrivals at the viewpoint announced that one had flown across in front of West Wood while we had been looking out at Joist Fen. One of the group then caught a quick glimpse of one which dropped straight back into the reeds, while the rest of us were admiring another recently fledged young Marsh Harrier which was circling up out of the reeds, calling.

6O0A6314Marsh Harrier – a fresh juvenile over Joist Fen recently

Just when we were about to give up hope, we turned to see a Bittern. It flew slowly past the viewpoint and continued way out over the reedbed beyond. Well worth the wait!

6O0A6515Bittern – flew past Joist Fen Viewpoint

With time getting on, we decided to start the walk back at this point. We stopped in at Mere Hide on the way. There has been a Kingfisher on the posts in front of the hide in the last week, but there was no sign of it when we were there. A couple of Bearded Tits zipped to and fro over the reeds, calling. Several Reed Warblers were clambouring around low down in the reeds just across the water.

The highlights from Mere Hide were the dragonflies. A large, blue and green, Emperor patrolled back and forth in front of the hide. Several Four-spotted Chasers were chasing about low over the water. There were a few Common Blue Damselflies around the reeds and a couple of Banded Demoiselles flopped past. The Red-eyed Damselflies were harder to spot, remaining mostly still perched on the islands of blanket weed.

6O0A6521Red-eyed Damselfly – in front of Mere Hide

As we walked out of the hide, back towards the main path, another Bittern flew overhead and disappeared out over New Fen. Then it was quickly back to the visitor centre for a late lunch, with Common and Ruddy Darters buzzing about our feet on the way.

After lunch, we decided to have another go for Stone Curlew and headed over to Cavenham Heath. We parked in a suitable spot and got out to scan the heath. The grass had grown quite tall here too, but was better than at Weeting. Almost hidden in the vegetation some way over, we could just see the head of a Stone Curlew sticking out, the black-tipped yellow bill and the yellow iris. We got it in the scope and most of the group were able to get onto it but if we dropped the scope height down it became impossible to see. We were just trying to reposition ourselves when it disappeared.

That was a great start, but we wanted everyone to get a look at one, so we walked along the path, scanning across the heath. A pair of Stonechats were perched up in the taller vegetation across the heath on the other side of the track. A Green Woodpecker called from the trees. There were several butterflies on the flowers by the path, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and several very smart Small Coppers.

6O0A6536Small Copper – we saw several at Cavenham

We were beginning to think we had run out of luck when we spotted a Stone Curlew right out in the open on a grassy mound. We quickly got it in the scope and each had a brief look at it, expecting it to walk back down into the long grass, but it stayed where it was and started to preen. We were then able to get really good, long looks at it. Cracking stuff and well worth the effort!

IMG_5260Stone Curlew – finally one stood out in the open

While the Stone Curlew stood out on the mound, we continued to watch it. Eventually, it finished preening and, after standing looking round for a few minutes, it walked back into the long grass and out of view. We walked slowly back to the car and had just got back in when we heard Stone Curlews calling. Two flew up from the heath, possibly one being the bird we had first seen, and disappeared away over the trees beyond.

Today had been billed as a day of Stone Curlews, Cranes and Bitterns, and so it was – we got there in the end. With that, it was time to head for home. On our way back to the road, the Rooks and Jackdaws were gathered en masse on the wires, about to do the same.

10th-17th July 2016 – Corsica

Corsica is a popular holiday destination, but it is also a great place to go birding. As with so many other islands, it has developed some of its own unique species through long periods of geographic isolation. Several birds are found only on Corsica or on neighbouring islands in the Mediterranean, which makes it an essential place to visit in order to catch up with some of these species. We spent a week exploring the north of the island between 10th and 17th July. Some of the photographic highlights are shown below.

6O0A5033Corsican Nuthatch

Corsican Nuthatch is the main target when birding in Corsica, as it is only the only species which is endemic to just this island. It is found found in the mature Corsican Pine forests on the slopes of the mountains, typically between 1000-1500m above sea level. We found Corsican Nuthatches comparatively easily in the right habitat.

Interestingly, the first Corsican Nuthatch we found (photo above) was much lower down than we were expecting, at just 795m. In BWP Vol VII (Cramp et al, 1993) gives the “extremes for sighting being 800-1800m”, which suggests that this Corsican Nuthatch had not read the book!

6O0A5362Corsican Finch

6O0A5250Corsican Finch juvenile

Corsican Finch was historically considered a race of Citril Finch, but differs particularly in its brown back streaked with black and brighter yellow face and underparts. It has since been separated out as a species in its own right. It is only found on Corsica and neighbouring Sardinia. We saw fewer Corsican Finches that we might have expected, although we did manage to find family parties of them on a couple of days in the right habitat, in open sunny clearings in the pine forest. An interesting bird to see, particularly having seen Citril Finch not so long ago!

6O0A6023

6O0A5902Marmora’s Warbler

Marmora’s Warbler is another species which has recently been split, in this case from the very similar Balearic Warbler which, as its name suggests, is found on the Balearic Islands. What is now known as Marmora’s Warbler is found only on Corsica and Sardinia plus some smaller islands of western Italy.

Marmora’s Warblers favour hillsides covered in low scrub, maquis and garrigue, from the coast up into the mountains, but appear to be rather localised to areas with the correct habitat. The rather similar Dartford Warbler can be found in many of the same places which can invite confusion, but if seen well the adults are noticeably different, Marmora’s being plain grey above and below, amongst other things. The call is also very different. Many warblers can be hard to see well in the height of summer, when they are not singing, but we were lucky to get fantastic views of Marmora’s Warblers on Corsica.

6O0A5096Lammergeier

6O0A5128Lammergeier dwarfing a nearby Red Kite

Although it is not an endemic, Lammergeier (or perhaps more appropriately called ‘Bearded Vulture’) is a spectacular bird and much sought after on Corsica. In Europe, it is perhaps only really found now in the Pyrenees, in the Alps where it has been reintroduced, on Corsica and on Crete. It is a species which has been declining throughout much of its range, and the population in Corsica perhaps now numbers fewer than 20 individuals.

As a consequence, we considered ourselves very privileged to see a Lammergeier on Corsica (although we did benefit from a tip off about a good place to look!). Even better, we saw it dropping down from the ridge beyond and circling overhead for about 10 minutes, in the company of about 15 Red Kites. A stunning bird in a spectacular setting!

6O0A5516-001Woodchat Shrike – of the subspecies badius

It is not just about endemic species. Many islands are also home to unique subspecies, some of which are perhaps candidates for future upgrades to full species status. Woodchat Shrike is a widely distributed bird found around the Mediterranean, but the form which occurs on Corsica is (predominantly?) the subspecies badius. Sometimes known as ‘Balearic’ Woodchat Shrike, it should perhaps be renamed as it occurs on Corsica and Sardinia as well as the Balearic Islands. This form differs from the nominate race of Woodchat Shrike by, amongst other things, the absence of white patch at the base of the primaries.

6O0A6172Woodchat Shrike – this bird showed more white in the wing than a typical badius

We found several Woodchat Shrikes as we drove around the island, including a couple of family parties. Interestingly one bird which we came across (photo above) appeared to show rather more white in the wing than is generally associated with badius, though not as much as is typically shown in the nominate race. Is this perhaps just within a wider range of variation? We also found several Red-backed Shrikes on our travels around the island, which were great to see.

6O0A5744Spotted Flycatcher

The Spotted Flycatchers on Corsica are also considered to be a separate subspecies (tyrrhenica) from the ones we get here (striata). Thankfully they are still common on the island, in contrast to the situation here where they have declined quite dramatically in recent years and are now getting quite scarce. The subspecies tyrrhenica is supposed to be less streaked below, although we found quite a bit of variation in appearance of the birds which we saw.

6O0A5542

6O0A5556Italian Sparrows

One of the other highlights of a visit to Corsica is the Italian Sparrows, which are also found quite commonly around the island. Traditionally thought to be a stable hybrid ‘swarm’ between House Sparrow and Spanish Sparrow, they are now generally treated as a full species. There is quite a bit of variation in appearance around the Mediterranean, but the birds on Corsica are quite consistent and conform nicely to what might be considered a ‘typical’ Italian Sparrow. Interestingly, the birds on neighbouring Sardinia are considered to be Spanish Sparrows and those on Sicily appear to be a variety of intermediates!

6O0A5650Audouin’s Gull

When not looking for endemic species or subspecies, there are lots of regular Mediterranean birds to be enjoyed. A few other photographic highlights from out trip are shown below. Audouin’s Gulls can be found along the coast, particularly in the east – always a delight to see!

6O0A6085Tawny Pipit

Tawny Pipits appear to be rather localised but we had driven past what looked like a good site a couple of times, and a bit of exploration on our last day produced the goods.

6O0A5445Rock Sparrow

We were pleased to come across a group of Rock Sparrows feeding in some overgrown fields in the foothills, another rather localised species which can be hard to tie down.

6O0A5373Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting is another species which is still reasonably common in Corsica, in contrast to the situation here. It was really nice to see them, and particularly to hear them singing.

6O0A5741Hooded Crow

Hooded Crows are common on Corsica, particularly around built up areas. This one was relaxing on a sun lounger by the beach! They are replaced by Ravens at higher altitudes.

It is not just the birding that is worth visiting Corsica for, the scenery is pretty good too!

IMG_5100Haut Asco

IMG_5132Fortin de Pasciolo

IMG_5176Occi ruins

IMG_5155Etang de Biguglia

For a relaxed birding holiday in beautiful surroundings, with some great – and unique – birds to see, Corsica is a prefect place to visit. It comes heartily recommended!

4th July 2016 – Great Scott, Great Knot!

While it barely seems like summer yet, particularly given the weather this year, autumn has already started for waders. Even from early June, the first Curlews started to trickle back and the number and variety of returning waders has steadily increased since. These earliest returnees are assumed to be non-breeders or failed breeders.

It is not unusual to find flocks of (Red) Knot building up on the coast at this time of year, many of which appear to be 1st summer birds (which do not breed in their first year, and retain grey non-breeding plumage through the summer). On 15th June a Great Knot was discovered in with a flock of several thousand Knot at Titchwell. Breeding in NE Siberia and wintering in Australia and SE Asia, this was only the fifth to be identified in the UK and the second in Norfolk following one at Breydon Water in July 2014.

Fortunately it has stayed around and I have been lucky to see it several times now, most recently today. It can roam quite widely, feeding on the mussel beds on the beach at low tide between Titchwell and Old Hunstanton and roosting either on Scolt Head or, more conveniently, on the freshmarsh at Titchwell. This was where it was today.

Noticeably larger than the Knot and longer-billed, heavier bodied with a rather small head, the Great Knot stands out. Its plumage is also very different from the Knot, most of which are grey but a small number of which are still in rusty-red breeding plumage. The Great Knot is heavily marked with black on its breast, breaking up into black spots on its flanks. The upperparts are also blackish but with distinctive chestnut-based feathers in the scapulars. A smart bird!

IMG_4999Great Knot – a smart summer adult in with the flock of mostly grey Knot

The flock have regularly been spooked by a Peregrine and today was no exception. As the Peregrine drifted overhead, the flock of Knot shifted nervously before bursting into the air and whirling round in a tight flock, with a whirring of wings, then settling back down in the shallow water and walking back en masse onto the island.

6O0A4611Knot – the flock whirled round when spooked by a Peregrine overhead

The surprise of the day was a single Curlew Sandpiper which appeared with the Knot before moving over to one of the islands to feed on its own. The first of the autumn, again this was rather a grey bird lacking the rusty underparts of a typical summer adult, perhaps a first summer. Spotted Redshanks are always a feature of this time of year, as the adults return in their smart black breeding plumage before moulting rapidly. Today, 6 were roosting out in the middle of the freshmarsh. Last week, one of them, a returning Dutch-ringed bird, was much more obliging feeding close to the main path. Up close, it is just starting to get some white speckling in its black underparts.

IMG_5011Spotted Redshank – still mostly in smart black breeding plumage

All the breeding waders are still present too. Lots of Avocets including several youngsters at various stages of development. The Little Ringed Plovers also have fully-grown juveniles. Plus the usual Redshanks and Oystercatchers.

The other highlight of the day was a 1st summer Little Gull. At first asleep on one of the islands, when it awoke it flew over to the mud in front of Island Hide to feed. Hurrying round we were treated to point blank views of this dainty little gull. It walked up and down, picking for insects on the water’s surface, occasionally being chased off by the local Moorhens and juvenile Black-headed Gulls. Two Mediterranean Gulls dropped into the freshmarsh as well briefly, a smart summer adult and a 2nd summer with black in the wing tips.

6O0A4668

6O0A4717Little Gull – this 1st summer performed for us in front of Island Hide

Ducks are also starting to return, with several more Teal in particular now in evidence, along with the regular resident species. However, this is the time of year when they moult and the returning drakes rapidly adopt the drab female-like eclipse plumage. A quick detour round via Patsy’s Reedbed provided seven Red-crested Pochard, a mixture of moulting males, an eclipse male (still with bright coral red bill) and a couple of females.

All in all, not bad for a morning’s outing!