Monthly Archives: August 2016

21st August 2016 – Spectacular Waders

A Wader Spectacular tour today. We were lucky with the weather, with rain overnight clearing through, the odd shower – and rainbow – still while we were on our way to Snettisham, but then dry during the whole day. The sun even came out in the afternoon, even if it remained rather blustery.

6O0A9140Rainbow over Snettisham

The tide was already coming in fast when we arrived. We stopped on the seawall to scan through the smaller waders on the mud along the near shore. There were lots of Ringed Plovers gathered and a single Grey Plover already in winter plumage with them. A moulting Sanderling was turning silvery grey above but still with lots of much darker blackish feathers mixed in, and little groups of Dunlin were running around taking advantage of the last chance to feed before high tide.

A flash of a white rump alerted us to two Curlew Sandpipers flying in along the shoreline. Unfortunately they didn’t land, but whipped up and over the bank towards the pits. We would look for them later, once all the waders were off the Wash.

We walked quickly along the path, following the tide in. The flocks of waders were getting pushed further and further up on the mud, the groups seeming to flow away from the rising water. More birds were flying in all the time, having been pushed off the beach further up along the coast. The Oystercatchers were gathering on the mud closest to us, shining bright in the morning sunlight. A great sight.

6O0A9148Oystercatchers – gathering on the mud nearest to us

A little further over, we could see lots of Bar-tailed Godwits too. The mass of Knot were further over, towards the back of the bay. In amongst them all, we could see smaller numbers of other species, including Dunlin and Curlew. As the tide rose, they were all getting increasingly concentrated into a smaller and smaller area of remaining mud.

6O0A9161Waders – the flocks are concentrated into a small area of remaining mud

After a while, the birds had no option but to start to come off the mud. The Oystercatchers gave up the fight first, peeling away in smaller flocks, lines of birds making for the safety of the pits behind us.

Eventually the Knot took flight too, bringing most of the other waders up too. The sight of such an enormous number of birds whirling around in the sky is what the Wader Spectacular is all about and today was a good one. There were vast numbers of birds in the sky – perhaps 40,000 Knot alone. They wheeled around overhead, nervous, uncertain over whether to try to remain out on the Wash for a bit longer or try to find safety on the pits or fields beyond. When they flew higher, they looked just like huge grey clouds; when they came lower overhead, we could hear the whirring of thousands of wings above the wind. Stunning!

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6O0A9194Waders – 10,000s of birds coming off the Wash

We stood and watched in awe as the flocks whirled overhead. Eventually, with the mud disappearing, the Wash was mostly cleared of birds and we set off to the hides to look through the hordes. As we did so, a Wheatear flicked up from the path and landed on a fence post just behind us.

6O0A9200Wheatear – on the way to the hide

Round at South Hide, there were loads of Black-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers gathered on the islands, but not so many smaller waders as in recent weeks. What was lacking in numbers here was more than made up for in variety and made the task of searching through the smaller ones much easier.

The first to appear was a Little Stint, running along the gravel shore just in front of the hide. By the end of our search, we found at least four of them here. It was great to see them side by side with Dunlin, noting their smaller size, shorter bill and brighter white face and belly.

IMG_5915Little Stint – one of at least four here today

The Curlew Sandpipers appeared next, probably the same two we had seen coming off the mud earlier. Smart juveniles, with peachy orange breasts and neatly scaled upperparts. Notably larger than the Dunlin, with a longer more evenly downcurved bill. We were treated to great views as they fed along the edge of the water down below the hide. At one point we even had Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint and Dunlin all in the same view – a great opportunity for comparison.

IMG_5933Curlew Sandpiper – two smart juveniles

There are a good number of Greenshank here at the moment too, and we were treated to great close up views of several of them from the hide. A Spotted Redshank appeared with them, in winter plumage now, silvery grey above and white below but still with that distinctive long, needle-fine bill. A little further out, in the deeper water, we found some more Spotted Redshanks, include one much duskier grey-brown juvenile.

IMG_5858Greenshank – great views from the hide

Once we had exhausted the possibilities here, we walked back round to Shore Hide. The bigger numbers of waders were roosting up this end of the pit today, with the vast flocks of Knot packed tightly onto the islands, spilling over into the water. There were also more Black-tailed Godwits here and lurking down in amongst the throng were several Dunlin and a few Turnstone.

IMG_5995Knot – many still sporting the remnants of orange summer plumage

The waders are always nervous when they are roosting on the pit, perhaps more vulnerable to a rapidly approaching predator here compared to the vast open mud out on the Wash. When the flocks of Knot on the islands to our left suddenly burst into the air, we noticed why a couple of seconds later as a juvenile Peregrine through shot across the water in front of the hide, leaving bedlam in its wake.

As the tide started to go back out, and the mud reappeared, we made our way out to the shore of the Wash again. The Oystercatchers started to appear quite quickly, drifting back out in lines and gathering on the wet mud, but the other waders were slower to return today. A couple of large flocks of Knot came off the pit, streaming low over the bank and out across the mud. A Little Stint appeared on the edge of the mud in front of us.

We made our way back to the car, then drove round to Titchwell. After a very welcome break for an early lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. The grazing meadow ‘pool’ was flooded with shallow puddles today, but still not as much water as there should be here. There were several Lapwing dozing on the drier ground and a single juvenile Ruff asleep next to one of the pools. We stopped to admire a Stock Dove which was walking around on the mud.

As we walked on along the path, we could hear Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ behind us. We turned to look, but it seemed too windy for them to be perching up today. We got as far as the reedbed pool, and stopped to scan through the ducks. A Great Crested Grebe was swimming across the back with its fully grown but still stripey faced juvenile. We could hear more pinging behind us and turned just in time to see one fly across the reeds on the corner of the saltmarsh. Then a pair of Bearded Tits appeared and perched up in the top of the reeds for a few seconds, before dropping down out of view. More pinging followed and all three flew across the main path behind us and dropped down into the main reedbed.

There didn’t seem to be as many waders on the Freshmarsh as in recent weeks, fewer Avocets and Black-tailed Godwit, but still a good variety. We stopped to scan from Island Hide and found the two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers over in the corner. A Lapwing on the mud in front of the hide looked irridescent in the afternoon sunshine.

6O0A9243Lapwing – looking irridescent in the sunshine

There are still good numbers of Ruff here too, lots of pale winter plumage adults, grey brown above and white below, plus a few much browner juveniles. We had better views of these and the Curlew Sandpipers from up on the main path.

6O0A9253  Ruff – a mostly winter plumaged male

There were plenty of gulls and terns roosting on the islands. From Island Hide, we had picked out a couple of Sandwich Terns among the Common Terns, one of which woke up long enough to flash its yellow-tipped black bill. From up on the bank, we found a Mediterranean Gull in with the Black-headed Gulls, an adult in winter plumage with white wing tips and black bandit mask. Round at Parrinder Hide, we could see a Yellow-legged Gull asleep with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

6O0A9260Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into winter plumage

A scan around the islands from Parrinder Hide located the Little Stint, on its own along the muddy shore of one of them, our fifth of the day. There were a few more Black-tailed Godwits here, but fewer than recently roosting on the island in front of the hide. A quick look at Volunteer Marsh produced a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover, with black face and belly.

After an early start and spending most of the morning at Snettisham, it was just a brief visit to Titchwell this afternoon. Having failed to find any Spoonbills on the freshmarsh, we decided to head back quickly to the Autumn Trail. Patsy’s Reedbed was rather quiet, apart from a selection of moulting ducks and a few Sand Martins and House Martins hawking over the water. Out on the saltmarsh from the Autumn Trail extension we found what we had been looking for – three Spoonbills doing what they like to do best, sleeping!

Then it was time to make our way back. There was a good selection of insects out today, and several dragonflies in the more sheltered areas – Migrant and Brown Hawkers, and lots of Common Darters. We had to be careful not to tread on any of the Bloody-nosed Beetles, several of which were walking across the paths and boardwalks oblivious of the feet passing overhead.

6O0A9271Bloody-nosed Beetle – we had to avoid lots on the paths today

The walk back along Fen Trail to the Visitor Centre produced a couple of Reed Warblers sheltering from the wind in the sallows. A passing tit flock had a couple of Chiffchaffs in with the Long-tailed Tits. Then it was a welcome opportunity to put our feet up when we got back to the car for the drive home.

14th August 2016 – Spoonbills & Waders

A Late Summer and Wader Tour today. It was good birding weather – not too hot, some nice high cloud this morning but getting sunnier this afternoon. August is a great time of year for seeing waders, so that was one of our main targets today. We managed 20 different species today, and saw a very good selection of other birds as well.

Our first stop was at Titchwell. As we arrived early today, before it got too busy, we had a quick look around the overflow car park. The berries and apples are all developing nicely, and we found several Blackcaps already taking advantage of the growing bounty. There were a few Goldfinches and Greenfinches in the bushes too.

The former grazing meadow ‘pool’ is baked very dry now. There is not much to see there as a consequence, a couple of Lapwings today, but it is always worth a quick look. As we arrived, three Collared Doves flew over heading west, and then a Stock Dove dropped down with the Woodpigeons, giving a nice comparison through the scope.

A scan of the saltmarsh revealed four distant Spoonbills.  We could just make out their heads as they came up out of the long grass from time to time, before they decided to fly off towards Thornham. We watched a dark chocolate juvenile Marsh Harrier circling over the reeds and as it drifted out over the saltmarsh it started to flush everything hiding out there. Lots of waders, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Curlews, appeared. Then the Spoonbills flew back in towards the reserve, giving us great views as they came over the path in front of us.

6O0A8421Spoonbill – flew in from the saltmarsh

There was a nice selection of wildfowl out on the reedbed pool – Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. The ducks are not at their prettiest right now, with the drakes all in dull eclipse plumage. A single Little Grebe was busy diving right at the back.

A couple of Bearded Tits were calling from the reeds as we walked up to Island Hide. We stopped to scan and had some quick flight views at first, as they zipped across the reebed. Then we managed to find a single juvenile Bearded Tit climbing through some bulrushes. It dropped down into the reeds below to preen, where we could just see it through the scope as the breeze moved the vegetation in front. Then it disappeared down out of view.

There were lots of waders out on the freshmarsh from Island Hide. There is still a very good number of Avocets on here and we watched a couple feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills side to side through the shallows. They are aggressive parents and a couple were still chasing off any other waders from the best bits of mud. Including a couple of very obliging Ruff.

6O0A8487Avocet – this one a young bird with some brown feathers above

There are plenty of Black-tailed Godwits here too. Most of them were roosting on one of the low islands over by Parrinder Hide today, with a few more feeding over towards the back. A small group of Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in, probably flushed from the beach. One of them was still mostly in summer plumage, bright rusty underparts extending right down under the tail.

A Common Sandpiper was picking around furtively on the mud over by the reeds. A single winter plumage Spotted Redshank was unhelpfully asleep. Five Golden Plover were running around on one of the grassy islands further over, also still sporting the smart black faces and bellies of summer plumage. The highlight from here was the Little Stint, which we picked up in with a group of Dunlin, white faced and much smaller than its companions.

There was no shortage of Common Terns on the freshmarsh again, a mixture of adults and juveniles. There were fewer gulls than of late, but a scan through revealed a single adult Yellow-legged Gull, conveniently close to a Lesser Black-backed Gull for comparison, the former with a much paler, greyer back.

IMG_5747Common Tern – an adult just starting to moult its black cap

We could hear Bearded Tits calling all the time we were in Island Hide, but they wouldn’t show themselves today. From up on the main path, as we walked further along, there were more Bearded Tits calling from the reeds just below us. We stopped to see if they might appear but they were tucked down on the edge out of view. Very frustrating! We did see several Reed Warblers, a Sedge Warbler and a few Reed Buntings fly in and out. A bright Willow Warbler which dropped into the vegetation by the reeds briefly was more of a surprise here.

6O0A8506  Ruff – a male mostly moulted to winter plumage

While we were standing here, we were treated to some closer views of some of the waders. Several Ruff included a couple of browner juveniles and a smaller adult female (a Reeve) still with unmoulted darker summer upperparts. The variety of plumage in different Ruff can be bewildering at times! A few streaky-bellied juvenile Dunlin were picking around on the mud below us and in with them we were treated to lovely close views of the juvenile Little Stint.

6O0A8528 Little Stint – this juvenile showed really well from the main path

Scanning the freshmarsh from here, we realised there was a second Little Stint further over. We could hear the distinctive call of a Spotted Redshank and a dusky juvenile dropped in briefly before flying off west, calling all the way. Round at the Parrinder Hide, we could see the large flock of Black-tailed Godwit and a good number of Oystercatcher roosting here too now. A party of Turnstones dropped in, disappearing quickly in amongst the Black-tailed Godwits.

We had seen one Spoonbill well from Island Hide, a lone bird out on the freshmarsh. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do at first, sleeping! However, it woke up for a preen, showing off the yellow tip to its long, black, spoon-shaped bill, which identified it as an adult. From Parrinder Hide we could see that there were actually lots of Spoonbills on here today, and the rest of them were all hiding round the back of the islands. We counted at least 19 that we could see, including the one out in full view.

IMG_5740Spoonbill – an adult, with yellow-tipped bill

We heard a couple of Yellow Wagtails flying over while we were up on the main path, and we had a request to see one. Parrinder Hide is normally a good place to see them, but we had to content ourselves with a few Meadow Pipits and a flock of Linnets at first, including a very smart male which flew in for a drink. Eventually the Yellow Wagtails gave themselves up, and three perched up on the fence for us to see.

The Volunteer Marsh is rather dry at the moment, but a very showy Little Egret was fishing just below the path. There were lots of Common Redshank in the tidal channel. Two Grey Plover were right down towards the back, with one starting to moult out of summer plumage, with black belly but brown and white spotted face, but the other already in winter plumage lacking any black below.

6O0A8519 Little Egret – flashing its yellow feet

Out at the beach, we had a quick scan of the sea. A raft of Common Scoter were swimming and diving offshore. A distant Gannet flew east and a few terns were fishing. Then it was time to make our way back. A Whimbrel called out over the saltmarsh and we could see it circle round in the distance. Fortunately, when we got back to the freshmarsh, another Whimbrel had dropped in and was standing out on the mud so we could get a much better look at it.

The Bearded Tits by the main path were still calling and still hiding, but we had a bit more luck back near Island Hide. We stood and waited a while and one flew in, landing in the tops of the reeds briefly before dropping down to the mud below. A second Bearded Tit flew in to join it, but even here they were hard to see, with tall reeds in front and the birds creeping around in among the reed bases. With a bit of patience, everyone got to see them and then it was back for lunch.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Snettisham. The tide was not going to be high enough to get all the waders in close today, but as we arrived we could see the huge flocks of birds swirling out over the edge of the water. Quite a spectacle, even if they were not going to be forced off the Wash. We spent a while admiring the different shapes of the flocks. Stunning stuff!

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6O0A8554Wader flocks – mostly Knot, out over the Wash

There are probably around 60,000 birds here at the moment, of which the largest number are Knot. We could see some huge flocks of Curlew and Oystercatcher, standing around on the drier mud . Most of the other birds were rather distant, with added heat hazee now the sun was out, though we did find a number of Ringed Plovers closer to us, an addition to the day’s list.

We made our way down to Shore Hide. There were a few butterflies out in the sun in the short grass, including several Common Blues and a smart Wall. A Six-spot Burnet moth posed nicely on some Viper’s Bugloss.

6O0A8572  Wall Brown – enjoying the afternoon sun

From the hide, there were lots of Cormorants on the islands, panting in the afternoon sun. There is no shortage of geese here, with lots of noisy Greylags, a good number of Egyptian Geese and even three feral Barnacle Geese today.

Despite the fact that the tide was not high enough to force all the waders off the Wash today, there were still a few birds roosting on the pit. Hiding in amongst the geese, we found a party of eight Spotted Redshanks. We got a better view of them here than at Titchwell – most were already in winter plumage, but two of them were still heavily speckled with black below. There were also a good number of Greenshank sleeping on the gravel islands.

IMG_5770Spotted Redshanks – at least 8 here today

The wader we had really come to see took a bit more searching. We eventually found the Red-necked Phalarope at the back of the pit, tucked in below the shingle on the far side opposite the hide. It was a juvenile, with dark back, white underneath and sporting a distinctive black mask. However the most distinctive thing about the phalaropes is how they like to feed, swimming on the water, picking at the surface for insects. We watched as they Red-necked Phalarope swam up and down below the bank.

IMG_5837Red-necked Phalarope – this juvenile was still at Snettisham today

It was not all about the waders. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared briefly in the bushes in front of the hide, before flying back along the bank. Later we found at least two Lesser Whitethroats in the bushes close to Rotary Hide. One was feeding on berries in the elder bushes right in front of the hide. It chased off another bird that came near, which turned out to be a Common Whitethroat and the two birds perched side by side at one point, giving us a nice comparison.

6O0A8576Lesser Whitethroat – lurking in an elder bush

The largest number of waders on the pit today were Black-tailed Godwits, a massive flock roosting on one of the islands towards the north end of the pit. Viewing from Rotary Hide, we got a better view of the small number of Knot which were roosting in with them.

From the other side of the hide, we could still see the vast flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash. They seemed to be a bit more settled now, with the tide going slack over high tide and not pushing them any further up towards us. Still, it was great to watch them as we walked back, a great way to finish the day.

7th August 2016 – From Fields to Fen

A Private Tour today. We had planned a combination of a farmland walk for raptors in the morning and then down to the coast for the afternoon. It was a lovely sunny day, but with a gusty wind which kept the temperature down to a pleasant 20C.

To start the day, we drove inland and stopped by a footpath, which we made our way down. There were not so many butterflies out this morning, with the wind keeping most of them down, but in the shelter of the trees and hedges we found a few Gatekeepers, a selection of whites (Large White, Small White and Green-veined White) and a single Speckled Wood. We stopped to admire the intricate papery wall of a wasp nest. It appeared to have been excavated overnight, presumably by a badger, but thankfully the wasps were still rather sluggish this morning.

6O0A7655Wasp nest – presumably excavated by a badger overnight

A sunny clearing sheltered by trees and full of brambles and wildflowers looked promising for butterflies, but it was perhaps a bit early still. A couple of Goldcrests flitted around at the back and a Green Woodpecker called. We could hear the plaintive call of a Bullfinch too from deep in cover. As we walked out into the open farmland again, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew across the field in front of us. A Yellowhammer was singing from a nearby hedgerow.

It was perhaps a bit windy for raptors too today, certainly for any number of them to be soaring up into the sky. We spent a while scanning the fields – amongst the things we did manage to see, a Kestrel hovered over the field in front of us, battling to hold itself in place in the wind. We could hear Common Buzzards mewing from the trees, but they were obviously reluctant to venture out above the trees.

As we made our way back to the car, we stopped to admire a group of Swallows coming and going from the wires above the path. They were mostly juveniles, short-tailed and with light brown-orange faces, but a couple of longer-tailed adults flew in and joined them. At one point, there were fifteen Swallows gathered on the wires altogether – reminding us that the breeding season is coming to and end and it is not long now before our summer visitors will start to leave us.

6O0A7675Swallows – juveniles gathered on the wires

Titchwell was our next destination. We decided to have a quick walk out to Patsy’s Reedbed and beyond before lunch. It was nice and sheltered in the trees. We could hear a Greenfinch wheezing overhead and when we got to the feeders in front of the visitor centre, we could see a couple there and a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches too. A variety of Long-tailed Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits were all feeding out of the wind in the sallows.

We stopped to look at Patsy’s Reedbed for a while. All the ducks are in eclipse plumage now, so various shades of brown, although some of them looking quite richly coloured in the sunshine – a mixed selection of Gadwall, Mallard and Teal. The family of Common Pochard are fully grown now, but still diving in front of the screen. There are still several juvenile Avocets on here, at various stages of development, with their noisy parents still chasing off anything that gets too close. A single Ruff was on one of the islands, in and out of the mob of Canada Geese. A Common Tern hovered over the water in front of us.

6O0A7712Sedge Warbler – a pair were feeding in front of the screen

There was a lot of activity around the reeds in front of the hide. A Reed Warbler flew from the tall grass by the screen down to the water’s edge, where a fully grown youngster appeared to be fed. Then a couple of small birds appeared in the short grass just in front of us and a closer look revealed a pair of Sedge Warblers, a great view of them out in the open. We could hear the young calling from the reeds nearby, and they kept flying back an forth to feed them. Then over the back of the water, a couple of Bearded Tits appeared at the back of the pool, low down in the reeds. We got a great look at them through the scope, a couple of tawny brown juveniles. A Yellow Wagtail landed briefly with the Pied Wagtails, before flying past us calling.

Over beyond the main reedbed, something spooked all the birds on the freshmarsh and we looked across to see a group of large white shapes circling, Spoonbills. A few seemed to drop back towards the freshmarsh, but most appeared to drop over the bank towards Brancaster. The Autumn Trail is open now (from 1st August to 31st October), so we made our way round there to see how many we could still find. With a bit of careful positioning, we could count fifteen Spoonbills out on the saltmarsh, doing what they like to do best and sleeping!

IMG_5681Spoonbills – fifteen mostly asleep on the saltmarsh from Autumn Trail

From round at the viewpoint at the end of the Autumn Trail, we could only see a single distant Spoonbill still on the freshmarsh. However, we did manage to pick up a few waders here. Eight Spotted Redshanks were tucked in down by the fence. Seven were in silvery grey and white winter plumage already but one was still stunning in pretty much full, jet-black summer plumage. On the mud in front of us, a Common Sandpiper was not much bigger than the Pied Wagtail beside it.

IMG_5685Common Sandpiper – feeding on the mud at the end of the Autumn Trail

The East Trail is often good for dragonflies, and there were plenty of Common Darters trying to bask along the path despite the wind. We had watched an Emperor Dragonfly hawking around the edge of Patsy’s Reedbed, but we had a better view of a female which was ovipositing on a small, recently cleared reedbed pool by the boardwalk on the way back.

6O0A7716Emperor Dragonfly – ovipositing on a reedbed pool

After lunch, we made our way back out onto the reserve along the main path. There were quite a few ducks on the reedbed pool as usual, with Shoveler an addition to the day’s list. Over towards the back, we could see an adult Great Crested Grebe with its now almost fully grown but still stripy-faced juvenile. A Little Grebe was lurking by the reeds too. A couple of Curlew flew round over the saltmarsh behind us, calling.

We stopped off in Island Hide to have a good look at the freshmarsh. Most of the adult Shelduck have departed, gone over to the Continent to moult. The juveniles are left behind, so most of the Shelduck left here are youngsters at this time of year.

6O0A7719Shelduck – the juveniles are left behind when the adults leave to moult

There are lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets on the freshmarsh at the moment, the two commonest waders here now. A tight-packed line of godwits out in the middle were Bar-tailed Godwits, presumably roosting here away from the wind whistling over the beach.

There are not so many small waders on here at the moment. We found a scattering of Dunlin around the muddy margins of the islands, mostly streaky-bellied juveniles but with the odd black-bellied adult still. In with a couple of them, we found a single Little Stint, much smaller than the Dunlin next to it, with white underparts and short bill.

From back up on the main footpath, we got a closer look at the Ruff. Most of the males are already in winter plumage, grey-brown above and very pale below, but a couple of the smaller females (Reeves) were still mostly in much darker summer plumage still. The first brown juvenile Ruff have also started to arrive now – making a set of what is probably one of the most confusing of waders! We also got a better look at a couple of Little Ringed Plovers down on the mud below the main path.

6O0A7745Ruff – the females (Reeves) are still moulting from summer plumage

There were a few closer Black-tailed Godwits in front of Parrinder Hide when we arrived. We had two – one moulting out of its rusty orange summer plumage and the other already in grey winter plumage – close to us.

6O0A7758Black-tailed Godwit – moulting out of summer plumage

Then all the waders scattered and we looked across to see a Hobby hurtling in from the direction of the Volunteer Marsh. It made a low pass over the freshmarsh, putting everything up, then circled back round, making another dive down over the Volunteer Marsh, before flying back across in front of us again. Despite its best efforts, the Hobby didn’t come away with anything to show for it. It was a great display for us, though!

6O0A7776Hobby – made a couple of low passes over the Freshmarsh

There were lots of gulls and terns sheltering from the wind here today, roosting on the islands and in the shallow water. Along with good numbers of Common Terns, we found a larger, black-billed Sandwich Tern or two. Despite a claimed lack of interest in gulls, we managed to sneak quite a few in to the day’s viewing. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls included a bright red-billed adult, in winter plumage now sporting a black bandit mask, and a scallop-backed juvenile moulting into 1st winter. A much paler grey backed Yellow-legged Gull was in with the also yellow-legged Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

IMG_5698Mediterranean Gull – a scaly juvenile moulting to 1st winter

IMG_5692Yellow-legged Gull – an adult

We had one more site we wanted to visit today, on our way back. So rather than exhaust ourselves too much at Titchwell with a walk out to the beach, we headed back to the car. We drove east along the coast to Stiffkey. The hedges along the path out to Stiffkey Fen are getting very overgrown now, so we had to push our way through at first, before the path opened out a bit. A Common Buzzard appeared briefly above the trees.

There were several Gatekeepers in the sunshine along the sheltered edge of the hedge. Several little skippers were fluttering around the thistles by the path and one stopped long enough to identify it as a Small Skipper. A smart male Banded Demoiselle was fluttering in the sunlight by the river, flashing irridescent blue-green. When we stopped for a closer look, we found a couple of bright green female Banded Demoiselles basking on the overhanging foliage too.

6O0A7785Gatekeeper – enjoying the sun in the shelter of the hedge

It is hard to see the Fen from the footpath at the moment, but much better from out in the open on the top of the seawall. From up here, we could see lots of birds out on the islands. We counted fourteen Spoonbills here and, even better, several of them were awake. A small group of four juveniles were feeding in the shallows, showing off their still rather smaller dark fleshy-coloured spoon-bills. Then a smart adult Spoonbill decided to have a bathe and, between splashes, we could see its longer black spoon-shaped bill with a distinctive yellow tip.

IMG_5721Spoonbill – three of the fourteen at Stiffkey Fen, these being juveniles

Amongst all the sleeping geese and ducks, we could see a good number of waders here too – Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank, a few Ruff, lots of Lapwing. Several Avocets were feeding in the deeper water. In with the mob of local Greylags were a couple of feral white farmyard geese and two Bar-headed Geese, presumably escaped from a local wildfowl collection – a motley assortment!

Out on the other side of the seawall, the tide was out. A single Whimbrel was preening on the edge of one of the muddy channels. Through the scope, we could see its striped head pattern. In the middle of the mud in the harbour, a mass of white shapes were Sandwich Terns – one flew overhead from the Fen carrying a fish and headed out towards them. We could see all the seals hauled out in the sun on a sandbank beyond.

It was lovely up here in the afternoon sunshine, but unfortunately we had to drag ourselves away – it was time to head for home. As we turned to go, a Kingfisher flashed across the reeds and disappeared into the river channel beyond – a lovely way to end.

30th July 2016 – Day Birds & Night Birds

A Summer Tour today, followed by a Nightjar Evening. We were lucky with the weather – mostly bright & sunny and we avoided any showers. We spent the morning inland looking for Birds of Prey, the afternoon looking for waders at Titchwell, and the evening looking for owls and Nightjars.

We saw our first raptors already from the car, as we made our way inland away from the coast. A Common Buzzard flew low over the road and disappeared over the hedge the other side. A couple of Kestrels were perched on the wires as we drove along. Some large flocks of corvids, Rooks and Jackdaws, were gathered in the stubble fields making the most of whatever the harvesters had left behind.

We parked by a farm track and started to walk up it. As we passed a gateway, a Sparrowhawk flushed from a telegraph post on the edge of a field and flew away in a typical burst of flapping followed by a long glide. A Yellowhammer sang from the wires and let us get quite close today, a bright yellow-headed male. A Common Whitethroat darted in and out of the hedge as we walked along and a Song Thrush flew along ahead of us. A flock of tits making their way through the bushes had a Blackcap or two to accompany them.

6O0A7021Yellowhammer – singing from the wires

The overgrown verges and hedges either side of the track were alive with butterflies. There were lots of newly emerged Red Admirals, really fresh at the moment and looking very smart. Several Painted Ladys included one which posed nicely for the cameras. The Ringlets are looking a bit tatty and faded now, but there was no shortage of Gatekeepers and a few Commas too. The only skipper which stopped long enough to be formally identified was a Small Skipper.

6O0A7041Painted Lady – looking very smart in the sunshine

Up on slightly higher ground, we stopped at a convenient place with a good vista over the surrounding countryside. As usual, there was a nice selection of birds of prey on show from here. We could hear Common Buzzards calling from the trees behind us and as it warmed up they started to circle up. A Kestrel hovered over the field in front of us. A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered slowly over but was quickly seen off by the resident raptors.

After a while watching from here, we had a walk on down the back and then followed a footpath round the fields. A couple of Skylarks came up from the weedy margin of a field. We could hear the begging call of a juvenile Kestrel and turned to see the youngster chasing its parent across in front of a line of trees, presumably asking for food. A Stock Dove perched on the top of a barn roof. Swallows and House Martins hawked for insects overhead and a Greenfinch wheezed from the trees. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over calling.

6O0A7083Long-tailed Tit – calling overhead as we ate our lunch

Our next stop today was Titchwell. We arrived just in time for an early lunch, so made our way over to the picnic area. A couple of Speckled Wood butterflies chased each other in the dappled sunshine. A flock of Long-tailed Tits worked their way through the trees overhead as we ate.

After lunch, we walked out along main path. The grazing marsh ‘pool’ is now very dry and largely birdless (1 Lapwing, 1 Black-headed Gull, 1 Woodpigeon!) – a sorry sight. There was a lot more action on the reedbed pool. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out in the middle, we could see her dark cap, pale cheeks and pale-tipped black bill. There was a nice selection of other ducks too – Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Common Pochard and a couple of juvenile Tufted Ducks.

As we were walking up towards Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them from here. We could see a dozen Spoonbills out on the edge of one of the islands and, as usual, they were mostly asleep. Occasionally one would lift its head and flash its spoon-shaped bill. Lurking down on the mud at the front, we could see two very well camouflaged Little Ringed Plovers with alone Dunlin.

IMG_5512Spoonbills – twelve today, mostly asleep as usual

From the comfort of Island Hide, we scanned the freshmarsh for waders.There are no shortage of them at Titchwell at the moment – vast throngs of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets, around 400 of each in recent counts. In amongst them are a fair number of moulting Ruff. A line of godwits out in the middle were Bar-tailed Godwits, some males still mostly in summer plumage with bright rusty underparts right down onto the belly. They had come to roost here over high tide out on the beach, along with a couple of Turnstones.

6O0A7099Avocet – almost 400 are at Titchwell at the moment

As well as the larger waders, there were several flocks of Dunlin scattered round the edges of the islands. Most are adults still with their summer black belly patches, but numbers of streaky-bellied juveniles are steadily increasing now. In on of the groups of feeding Dunlin, we found the Little Stint, noticeably smaller, short billed, and clean white below.

There appeared to be no sign of any Curlew Sandpipers at first, but a careful look though a large flock of roosting Dunlin over with the Bar-tailed Godwits revealed a little patch of deep rusty colour in the middle of the throng. As the flock of Dunlin shuffled, the birds either side eventually parted to reveal two moulting adult Curlew Sandpipers, their orange underparts now liberally specked with white. One then woke up, flew over to the mud and started feeding so we could get a better look at it.

IMG_5532Curlew Sandpiper – one of two moulting adults today

The Bearded Tits were proving frustrating. The reeds are now too tall at one end of the hide to see their favoured edge of the reedbed and they didn’t seem to keen to work their way along and into view today. Another two Bearded Tits were calling from the reeds right in front of the other end of the hide, also out of view, and then flew right across in front of the hide and disappeared deep into the main reedbed. A very tatty adult Marsh Harrier, worn out after the rigours of the breeding season, drifted across the reeds.

Another birder arriving in the hide let us know that the Bearded Tits were showing from the main path just outside, so we walked up the slope and immediately spotted a juvenile Bearded Tit on the edge of the reeds below us. This time we got a good view of it, as it hopped around on the mud.

Round at Parrinder Hide, it didn’t take long to find the Spotted Redshanks, hiding in the far corner as usual. We could only see five from here, but they kept disappearing from view behind the islands. A single Golden Plover, still in black-bellied summer plumage, was hiding behind the fence on the island. A gaggle of noisy Greylags were hanging around right in front of the hide, but a smart Black-tailed Godwit was lurking in with them, very close where we could get a great look at it.

6O0A7155Black-tailed Godwit – in front of Parrinder Hide

We had a quick look in at the Volunteer Marsh and the tidal pools, but there was very little on either, mainly a few roosting Curlews. Out at the beach, the tide was in. The sea was more productive, with a raft raft of about 30 Common Scoter offshore and a couple of other lone ones closer in. A Great Crested Grebe was also out on the water and a distant Gannet flew slowly east.

6O0A7184Whimbrel – these six flew off west at the end of the day

As we made our way way back past the Volunteer Marsh, we heard a Whimbrel call. We looked over to see two come up from the marsh. As they circled over calling, more Whimbrel flew up, one at a time until we could see six of them circling over together. They appeared to go down towards the freshmarsh, but later on as we were walking back past they reedbed they flew overhead in a tight flock, disappearing away to the west.

As we passed the freshmarsh, a moulting Ruff was feeding close by the main path.

6O0A7180Ruff – still with some rusty & black summer feathers

We took a detour round via Meadow Trail on the way back and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. A couple of Little Grebes on the pool were an addition to the day’s list, and there were still some small juvenile Avocets on the islands, but nothing else out of the ordinary today.

The Autumn Trail has only recently opened this year, so we walked round to take a look at the back of the freshmarsh. Now we could see the Spotted Redshanks properly and found there were actually ten of them lurking mostly out of view from the other hides. The majority of them are now mostly in silvery grey/white winter plumage, but one was still liberally blotched with black underneath.

IMG_5541Spotted Redshank – mostly in winter plumage now

Then, with a busy evening ahead of us, it was time to call it a day and head back to the car.

Nightjar Evening

After a break for a rest and to get something to eat, we met again later on for the Nightjar Evening. With a bit of time before sunset, we went looking for owls first. At our first stop, the Little Owls performed well again. One was perched up rather distantly when we arrived, a good start, but it flew away out of sight fairly quickly.

We waited for a few minutes and then a second Little Owl appeared much closer to us on the roof of an old barn. It sat in full view looking around for a minute or so, then disappeared inside. Shortly after, it reappeared and gave great views, first on the roof and then flying up and perching in the evening sunshine. Another Little Owl was calling further over behind it.

IMG_5576Little Owl – appeared on the barn roof at dusk

With the evenings already drawing in, we did not have so much time to look for Barn Owls. They have been coming out very late this year anyway, perhaps reflective of a poor breeding season and a distinct lack of voles. We drove round some regular hunting areas and had a quick walk out to the place we normally see them.

There was a beautiful sunset away to the west. A couple of tight flocks of Swifts came screaming overhead, chasing each other in circles. But there was no sign of any Barn Owls out yet. We didn’t want to be late for the main event, so decided to head up to the Heath in good time rather than hang around any longer.

6O0A7195Swifts – screaming overhead late this evening

Up at the heath, we did not have to wait long before the first Nightjar started churring. It churred and called intermittently at first, from the safety of its roost site. The as the light started to fade, they started to fly around. The first Nightjar we saw flew up high against the sky, silhouetted above the trees. Another then flew in towards us and right past, possibly a female as it appeared to lack the white in the wings shown by the male. The resident (where we were standing) male Nightjar then flew across along the edge of the trees, flashing his white wing and tail patches. Another male circled low around an oak tree further over.

All the time, we could hear the males churring, at least three separate males within immediate earshot, not least because we had positioned ourselves along the boundary for two territories. As the Nightjars flew round we could hear their loud ‘koo-wick’ calls and even the wing clapping of the males. Just as it was getting dark, one of the male Nightjars flew up and landed on a dead branch sticking out of the very top of an oak tree. It was a really evocative sight to see it perched there, silhouetted against the deep blue night sky, churrring into the gathering gloom.

As the dark descended, we made our way back to the car, serenaded by the churring of Nightjars.