Monthly Archives: April 2017

29th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 4

Day 4 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was rather cloudy for most of the day, but dry and with some brighter intervals. The wind had gone round and dropped, which meant it felt much milder than the last few days, which was most welcome.

After meeting in Wells, we headed off east along the coast today. A short diversion inland and we quickly located a Little Owl perched on the roof of a barn. It was a little distant from where we parked, but through the scope we had a good look at it. A Brown Hare ran past and a few Rooks were flying around the fields nearby.

We planned to spend part of the morning up on the Heath. As we got out of the car, we could hear Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing. As we walked round the bushes, one of the Blackcaps perched up nicely for us in the top of a blackthorn. The lighter wind and warmer weather seemed to encourage the warblers to perform a bit better today.

6O0A8747Blackcap – perched up nicely for us in a blackthorn

A little further round, we found a single Adder curled up under a gorse bush, sunning itself. It was not far from us but very well camouflaged. Unfortunately, by the time everyone had managed to see it, it had woken up and slithered away before the cameras were out.

The oak trees are starting to come into leaf and in one of them we could hear a pair of Long-tailed Tits calling. We stopped underneath and a Willow Warbler was singing in there too. We had a great look at them flitting around in the branches. The Willow Warbler found a caterpillar and stopped to beat it against a branch before gulping it down.

When we stopped to look at a Greenfinch in the top of some bushes, a small bird flew out and landed in the front below us, a Garden Warbler. When it turned, it looked very surprised to see us and shot back in, unfortunately before anyone had really had a chance to look at it. We waited a minute and could hear it calling agitatedly and eventually it started to work its way up into the top where we could see it. Then a second Garden Warbler appeared with it and the pair of them proceeded to look for food, hopping through the branches. It meant we got a great opportunity to look closely at this often rather elusive species.

There were several Yellowhammers singing as we walked round the Heath and we managed to get a good look at a couple of smart yellow-headed males. Linnets were everywhere – they seem to still do well on the heaths, even if they have declined sharply as a farmland bird. There was lots of activity here today, with Chiffchaffs and Common Whitethroats singing too.

As we walked round through the gorse, in full flower now leaving the Heath smelling of coconut, we heard a scratchy song away in the distance. A Dartford Warbler. We hurried round to the path on the other side, just in time to see it perched up on the top singing, though still some way away from us. It flew a short distance and landed on another gorse bush, giving another burst of scratchy song. It was hard to get onto, and it then flew down out of view, before all the group had seen it. We made our way over to where it had been and waited a while, hoping it would start singing again, but unfortunately it had gone quiet now.

We carried on round the Heath, enjoying all the birds singing, until we heard a brief snatch of Woodlark. It sounded like it might be some distance away, but one of the group spotted it perched in a dead gorse bush quite close to us. It stayed there for ages, seeming unconcerned by our presence, allowing us to get great views of it through the scope – we could see the bold supercilium, the two either side meeting in a shallow ‘v’ at the back of its neck, the rusty ear coverts and the distinctive black and white patch on the bend of the folded wing.

IMG_3672Woodlark – perched up very obligingly for us

The Woodlark eventually took off and flew round calling before dropping down on the edge of the path the other side of us. We had to walk past that way, and it flew a short distance further in as we passed, landing again amongst some clods of earth, where it crouched down half hidden. As we left it in peace and carried on further along the path, a second Woodlark started calling and the flew up ahead of us.

When we got to one of the other areas favoured by the Dartford Warblers, there was a group of photographers standing around. They told us they had only had very brief views. We stopped along the path just past them and after a few minutes they wandered off. In no time at all, a male Dartford Warbler flew in and landed on the top of the gorse right next to us. Stunning views!

6O0A8767Dartford Warbler – this male flew in and landed in the gorse right next to us

The male Dartford Warbler then flew across the path and landed on another bush the other side, perching there in full view for several seconds so we could all admire it, before dropping down the other side. A pair of Stonechats were feeding around the gorse just beyond. It was great to get such good views of the main target species here, so we decided to head back to the car.

There was still a bit of time before lunch, so we dropped down to the coast at Kelling and went for a walk along the lane down to the Quags. There were a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing in the hedges of the way down. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat too, but it was across the other side of the field. A little further along, another Lesser Whitethroat was feeding quietly in the trees right next to the path.

At the corner of the Quags, a Sedge Warbler was singing from the brambles, occasionally flying up and parachuting back down in display flight. Just beyond it, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling too. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the Grasshopper Warbler and as we edged down the lane, we realised that it was singing from the other side of the bushes. Still, it was nice to hear, a freshly arrived migrant and a good bird for this site these days.

We had thought there might be more visible migration today, with the wind finally having shifted round from the north, but the skies seemed rather quiet here. We did have a couple of single Yellow Wagtails fly over calling. We heard their loud ‘pseep’ calls as they approached but neither landed and both just continued straight over and off to the west. The cows are now being put on to the Water Meadows, but even that didn’t seem to be doing the trick in bringing them down.

There were a few ducks on the Water Meadows – a couple of pairs of Teal, a pair each of Shoveler and Gadwall – plus a single Mute Swan. As we continued along the track past the Water Meadows and down towards the beach, we spotted a wader flying in over the Quags. It was a Bar-tailed Godwit and it went down towards the pool. We walked back and it was feeding very actively along the edge of the water, clearly taking the opportunity for a quick refuelling stop on its way north.

IMG_3679Bar-tailed Godwit – flew in and landed on the Water Meadow

We had seen a distant Wheatear out on the Quags as we walked along, but when we got round there we found it had moved further over. There were now at least two Wheatears, feeding along the base of the shingle ridge. There were several Stonechats around the Quags too and a few Stock Doves flying around.

A quick walk up along the path along the edge of Weybourne Camp produced just a few more Linnets and Stonechats. Looking out to sea, we saw another two Bar-tailed Godwits flying past, they were obviously on the move today. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew west very high, but were very hard to see looking into the sun. The Weybourne Atmospheric Observatory caused the most amusement though – the pollution monitoring equipment there periodically emits four notes on a rising scale which is easily mistaken for a bird singing!

6O0A8796Goldfinch – several were around the Water Meadows

It was lunchtime now, so we made our way back to the car, flushing four Goldfinches up to the hedge that were feeding down on the path as we passed. Then we drove round to the visitor centre at Cley, where we ate our lunch on the picnic tables overlooking the marshes.

The main scrapes at Cley looked fairly empty, and there was very little reported up on the sightings board in the visitor centre, so we decided not to go out onto the reserve today. Instead, we headed round to the beach car park and walked out towards North Scrape. Looking out to sea, there were several Sandwich Terns flying back and forth and a single adult Gannet flew east some way offshore.

We had hoped their might be some migrants around the edge of the Eye Field, but there was nothing of note there today. The Blue-headed Wagtail which had been reported from North Scrape a little earlier had disappeared and there was very little else to see on here – just three Black-tailed Godwits, plus a pair of Avocets, a couple of Redshanks and a few Shelducks and Teal. We decided not to hang around and headed back to the car.

The walk out along the East Bank was more productive. Looking back towards Snipe’s Marsh as we set off, we could see two pairs of Common Pochard displaying, as well as several Tufted Ducks. We had very nice views of the Lapwings out on the grazing marshes, always stunning birds to look at. Several were displaying, and we watched their impressive tumbling flights and listened to their distinctive songs.

6O0A8815Lapwing – showing very well from the East Bank

There was also a good selection of ducks out on the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh, including several lingering Wigeon, plus a few Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Shelduck. A single Ruff and several Avocet were feeding around the pool at the back. Two Curlew flew high west over the bank, the first we have seen over the last few days. The two shorter billed Whimbrel which did the same sometime later have been more common.

Reed Warbler was a species we had heard several times in the last few days, but we had not yet managed to see one. We could hear a couple singing close to each other in the reeds just below the bank, so we stopped to try to see one. They were skulking in the reeds as usual, but eventually we managed to find both of them – one was singing from very low in the reeds, just above the water in the ditch, and the other was higher up but further back.

6O0A8823Reed Warbler – skulking down in the reeds, singing

Looking out from the new shelter at Arnold’s Marsh, there didn’t seem to be a lot to see at first. A single Ringed Plover flew in and landed on one of the small islands and while we were looking at it in the scope we found several Dunlin creeping around in the saltmarsh behind. There were six Bar-tailed Godwits on here, including two in full summer plumage, with deep rusty underparts, the colour continuing right the way down under the tail. A good number of Redshanks were feeding around the edge of the saltmarsh and there were a couple of sleeping Avocets too.

6O0A8840Avocet – one of a pair sleeping on Arnold’s Marsh

Continuing on to the beach, we couldn’t see a lot out to sea, apart from a lone Great Crested Grebe diving offshore. There were two smart male Wheatears on the grassy shingle ridge just to the east though, and we got one of them in the scope for a closer look.

As we started to make our way back, we noticed a small wader down on the mud on the grazing marsh below the bank. It was a Little Ringed Plover. Through the scope, we could see its bright yellow eyering, and also the more pointed dark bill and fleshy coloured legs which distinguish it from the Ringed Plover we had just seen a few minutes earlier.

IMG_3686Little Ringed Plover – appeared on the grazing marsh on our way back

As we passed the reedbed, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. A female appeared briefly in the tops of the reeds further out, and we all had enough time to get onto it before it dropped down out of view. We thought that was good, but a couple of minutes later a male Bearded Tit flew in over the reeds and landed down on the edge of the ditch just behind us. We walked back and had stunning views of it as it picked its was along the ground or low through the bases of the reeds just above the water.

6O0A8941Bearded Tit – we had great views of this male collecting insects along one of the ditches

The Bearded Tit seemed to be collecting insects, presumably to feed a hungry brood of nestlings somewhere out in the reeds. It worked its way down along the edge of the ditch for several minutes. Then presumably it had collected enough and it flew up and off over the reeds. A great way to end the day.

It was time for us to head back too. There were a few Marsh Harriers up now, circling over the reeds, and a small group of three Little Egrets heading back into the wood as we got back to the car.

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28th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. The weather is finally improving – although it was cloudy and cool this morning, it was dry all day. By the afternoon we even had some blue sky and sunshine – it even felt like spring!

As we drove west, we decided to have another quick look at Choseley on the way, on the off chance that the Whinchats seen there yesterday were still present. We were just driving up past the drying barns when we spotted a plump bird land on the wires as we passed. A quick stop and we could just see it was a Corn Bunting, but it flew down before anyone could get onto it. We parked the car and got out to see if we could find it again. A Brown Hare was in the field next to us but ran off as we all emerged.

6O0A8543Brown Hare – in the field next to where we parked

The first birds we saw were two Turtle Doves which flew in and landed on the wires. They also dropped down into the field nearby out of view, so we carefully looked round the corner of the hedge. Unfortunately, the Corn Bunting had now disappeared, but the edge of the field was alive with birds. As well as the Turtle Doves, there were quite a few Yellowhammers and a couple of Red-legged Partridge. We stopped to watch them for a while.

6O0A8574Yellowhammer – there were lots at Choseley today, including several bright males

The Turtle Doves flew out further into the field when they saw us, but then flew round and landed on the concrete pad nearby. Most of the Yellowhammers flew over too – at one point we counted 11 Yellowhammers all together. They were all picking around on the concrete looking for any spilled grain. Several Pied Wagtails were feeding in the short grass along the footpath beyond.

IMG_3608Turtle Dove – a pair were around the Drying Barns this morning

6O0A8592Turtle Doves – the female was trying to evade the advances of the male

The birds continued to commute back and forth between the pad and the field. The male Turtle Dove started displaying to the female, chasing after her and bowing. She didn’t seem particularly interested and kept running away, and when he got too persistent she flew up with him still in pursuit. Two Common Whitethroats were singing from hedges and a few Swallows zipped through, but there was still no further sign of the Corn Bunting so we decided to try our luck down on the corner at the bottom of the hill.

When we got there, we could see the Wheatears were still out in the same field they were in yesterday, but we couldn’t find any sign of the Whinchat here today. We were hoping we might hear a Corn Bunting singing here, but it was all quiet. We did see a Corn Bunting fly over though, which disappeared off across the field towards the Thornham road. The surrounding fields were full of Brown Hares. We did get a bit of chasing today, but they quickly lost interest and didn’t start boxing.

Our next destination for the morning was Snettisham Coastal Park. When we arrived, we decided to have a quick look at the Wash, but the tide was still in and there was no sign of any mud emerging yet. We could hear Willow Warblers singing from the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat rattling too. As we walked round to the main path, we could hear Blackcap and Song Thrush singing too, but by the time we got to the other side the Lesser Whitethroat had gone quiet.

As we walked north through the bushes, the place was alive with birdsong. There were loads of Sedge Warblers, sitting in the tops of the bushes or songflighting, fluttering up and parachuting back down.

6O0A8610Sedge Warbler – there were lots singing from the bushes today

This is a great place to see Common Whitethroats. They too were singing from the bushes all the way up and display flighting. There are fewer Chiffchaffs here, but still we heard a couple. We had hoped to catch up with Grasshopper Warbler here today, but they were rather quiet as we walked up, with just a quick bout of reeling heard from some distance away. A Cuckoo accompanied us, singing all the way up, though keeping out of sight the other side of the bushes.

6O0A8597Common Whitethroat – they were singing everywhere today

We had thought we might see some visible migration here today, with the weather gradually improving. Unfortunately, with the wind still in the northwest there were just a few hirundines on the move, lone birds or little groups of Swallows and a handful of House Martins with them. Otherwise, there were a few Linnets and Goldfinches in the bushes and a male Stonechat in the brambles by the seawall.

When we got to the cross-bank, we had another look out to the Wash. It was a very big tide again today, and it was only just starting to go out far enough to expose some mud. The Oystercatchers which had been roosting on the beach further up were starting to feed along the shoreline and in between them we could see several tiny Sanderlings running along the water’s edge. There was a Turnstone here too and a couple of Ringed Plovers which made themselves difficult to see, running up the beach and then standing stock still camouflaged against the stones.

Over the other side of the seawall, on the short grass north of the cross-bank, we found a few Black-tailed Godwits including one in bright orange summer plumage. A Whimbrel was hiding down in the grass too. A pair of white-winged adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over our heads calling.

From over on the inner seawall, we stopped to scan over Ken Hill Marshes. There are always lots of geese here, Greylags, Canada and Egyptian Geese in particular. In addition, there is still a lingering group of Pink-footed Geese, at least 60 here today. We got them in the scope, noting their smaller size and darker heads compared to the Greylags, as well as their more delicate pink-banded mostly dark bills. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have already left, so they should be on their way back to Iceland soon, and there were also a few Wigeon still around the pools here, which should be heading back to Russia for the breeding season.

There were a couple of Reed Warblers singing from deep in the reeds here, but we still couldn’t hear any Grasshopper Warblers. We walked down and through the brambles where a couple of males have been holding territory recently, but they were both quiet. Eventually we heard a snatch of song and managed to find one of the males, but we only saw him zipping across between bushes and heard the odd call too. We really wanted to find a Grasshopper Warbler perched up and in full voice.

As we walked back to the inner seawall, we caught the briefest of glimpses of a blackbird-sized bird as it disappeared round behind a bush. It seemed slimmer than a Blackbird though, with longer tail and wings – it had to be a Ring Ouzel. Unfortunately, when we got round to the other side of the bush, it had completely disappeared.

There happened to be another birding group coming towards us along the inner seawall, and they asked if we had just seen a Ring Ouzel. They too had just had a glimpse of something which they thought might be one as it zipped over the bank and it had gone down into a hawthorn bush by the reeds the other side. As we walked along to where it had gone, we had a quick glimpse of it as it flicked between bushes.

When it finally came out properly it was off, flying strongly inland and out of sight, at which point our suspicions were confirmed, it was a female Ring Ouzel. Not the best of views, but a nice bird to find here. A loose spaniel was running amok out on the grazing marshes at this stage and managed to flush out three Whimbrel and a pair of Grey Partridge for us. We had a good look at the Whimbrel through the scope.

As we carried on south along the seawall, a Grasshopper Warbler suddenly burst into song, from the brambles just below the bank. Just like buses, a second Grasshopper Warbler then started up just a short distance away. We managed to find the first and got the scope on it, watching it reeling away, sounding rather like a grasshopper. It moved around a few times, reeling all the time, before finally dropping down into the grass out of sight. It was worth the wait to get such good views.

6O0A8629Grasshopper Warbler – one of two reeling from the brambles by the inner seawall

As we made our way back to the car along the inner seawall, a small mammal ran out of the taller grass and onto the path. It was small, slim and a distinctive gingery colour – a Harvest Mouse. With all of us walking along, it couldn’t work out how to get to the other side and ended up running over my shoe! We also got distant views of a male Wheatear up on the far seawall and then much closer views of a female down on the short grass in the clearing by the car park.

From up on the outer seawall, the tide was now well out and there was lots of exposed mud. It was covered in thousands of waders – mostly Knot, but we could also see Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers and Dunlin. Something spooked them and we had a quick fly round at one point, allowing us to appreciate just how many there were.

6O0A8633Knot – still large numbers out on the Wash at the moment

After lunch back at the car, we made our way round to Dersingham Bog. Once we got out of the trees, the first birds we found were a pair of Stonechat. There were lots of Linnets everywhere, on the path, perched in the trees or flying round. A large bird appeared high over the bog behind us, flying with stiff wing beats. It was a Short-eared Owl.  It flew very purposefully up towards the trees and disappeared from view.

That was a most unexpected bonus, but imagine our surprise when a second Short-eared Owl flew up from the bog only a minute later. This one circled up over the boardwalk in front of us for a couple of minutes before also disappearing inland.

6O0A8646Short-eared Owl – the second we saw fly up from the Bog today

What we had really hoped to see here was a Tree Pipit, but we couldn’t hear one singing at first. We walked back along the path to some trees where they can often be found, and after scanning carefully found one perched high in a tall oak tree. We had a good look at it in the scope and it did break into song briefly, but was not going to display for us. When it took off, we watched it fly back and chase a second Tree Pipit which was displaying further behind, before returning to its tree. When the Tree Pipit disappeared again, we made our way back to the car park.

A quick diversion on the way back to the north coast and we arrived by the cliffs at Hunstanton. We wanted to see a Fulmar and before we even got out of the car, we spotted one gliding effortlessly along the clifftops. We stood on the grass for a while and watched several Fulmars flying up and down. One flew higher up and overhead too, while another took a detour over the houses the other side of the road. A quick look out to the Wash below produced a single, very distant Great Crested Grebe.

6O0A8697Fulmar – gliding along the cliffs at Hunstanton

We finished the day with a quick walk through the dunes at Holme. As we walked along the boardwalk, a deep rusty orange summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit flew across the saltmarsh and landed on the mud. There were several Common Whitethroats singing from the bushes in the dunes and we finally got a better view of a Lesser Whitethroat here too. There were loads of Linnets feeding in the short grass and a very smart male Wheatear as well, which we had to stop and admire through the scope.

6O0A8741Wheatear – a smart male, feeding in the dunes at Holme

It had been enough of a surprise to see one Short-eared Owl at Dersingham earlier, let alone two. Then here at Holme we came across our third Short-eared Owl of the day! This one was quartering an area of dunes. We watched as it flew back and forth for a couple of minutes, before it dropped down into the grass.

What we had really hoped to see here was a Ring Ouzel and one duly obliged by flying past us. It was a marginally better view than we had enjoyed earlier at Snettisham. We walked over towards where it seemed to have landed, guided by another couple who had seen it fly across too. As we approached, we could hear chacking calls and suddenly a Ring Ouzel flew out of the bushes. It was promptly followed by a second, then a third, and the next thing we knew we had six Ring Ouzels in the air together. They circled round a couple of times over the bushes, giving us a great look at them, before flying right over our heads and back across the dunes.

6O0A8736Ring Ouzel – six flew out of the bushes and over our heads

We had to go back that way, and just along the path we found the other couple of birders watching the Ring Ouzels in the dunes. From a discrete distance, we watched as they flew down from the bushes and hopped around on a sandy bank, a couple of smart males with bright white gorgets and a couple of females with duller buff-brown crescents on their breasts. It was great to get such a good look at these generally very flighty birds.

IMG_3647Ring Ouzel – we eventually got great views of them feeding on a sandy bank

That was a great way to round off the day, so we headed back to the car well pleased. One more final bonus was in store though – as we drove back out along the entrance track a ghostly white Barn Owl appeared and circled over the bushes a couple of times before dropping down towards the paddocks out of view. It had really been quite an owl afternoon!

27th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was meant to rain today, at least in the afternoon, but although it was cloudy all day and it did drizzle a little on and off at times, it was not as bad as forecast. It was a day back in North Norfolk today.

Given the forecast of rain, we decided to spend at least part of the day at Titchwell, where we could take shelter in the hides. On the way there, we took a short detour up to Choseley. In a ploughed field by the road, a number of Wheatears were running around. W counted at least seven of them, including several smart males with their black bandit masks. There were also good numbers of Brown Hares in the fields, although they were mostly hunkered down. A strikingly pale Common Buzzard perched briefly on the ground a couple of fields away before flying and disappearing behind a hedge.

IMG_3536Wheatear – a smart male in the ploughed field

As soon as we got out of the car in the car park at Titchwell, we could hear a Turtle Dove. The delicate purring song of the male is now an increasingly rare sound, which is a real shame, so it was great to listen to it. It seemed to be coming from deep in a very leafy sycamore at first, where we couldn’t see it. Then, more helpfully, it took off and did a short display flight, flapping up quickly, then gliding down and dropping towards the overflow car park.

We walked round to the other side and shortly after we arrived, the Turtle Dove flew up again and glided down into the top of a dead tree. We managed to get a quick look at it there, through the scope, before it flew again, back to the main car park. We thought it might have gone back to the sycamore but instead it had landed on a dead branch out in full view. This time, we all got a good view of it in the scope. Then it flew off again towards visitor centre. We were heading that way, so we followed on behind.

6O0A8394Turtle Dove – displaying in the car parks at Titchwell this morning

As we walked towards the visitor centre, we could hear a Goldcrest singing in the trees beyond the picnic area. There is a small path which goes in to the trees here, so we walked in to see if we could find it. There was no sign of the Goldcrest but one of the group did spot a cracking pink male Bullfinch high in the oak trees, feeding on buds. The browner female was nearby, and we could hear the two of them calling to each other quietly. They were in the trees above the access road and the two of them flew off calling as a car came along, though thankfully not before we had all had a good look at them.

The feeders by the visitor centre were quiet today, apart from a single Jackdaw swinging on the peanuts. So we headed straight out onto the reserve. It has been very high spring tides for the last few days, so the pool on the Thornham grazing marsh, which should be full of freshwater but has been allowed to dry out for the last couple of years, had been flooded with saltwater. The landowner (this is not part of the reserve) has been in dispute with everyone seemingly for the last few years and appears to have done this out of spite, even though he is in breach of his stewardship conditions. Unfortunately Natural England seem to show no inclination to pursue him, so in the meantime this site is being damaged with salt water.

At least, with a few pools on there today, a single Little Ringed Plover was enjoying it. Even through it was towards the back, we could see the golden yellow eye ring through the scope. Two or three Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reeds, and a smart male made a nice fly past for us. The warblers were a little subdued today, in the cold and windy weather, apart from a Sedge Warbler which was singing and display flighting constantly. A couple of Reed Warblers sang rather half-heartedly from deep in the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us occasionally too.

The reedbed pool was quiet today, but while we had stopped to scan the reeds, one of the reserve volunteers very kindly came back to tell us that some Bearded Tits were showing from the main path a little further along. We hurried over and had great views as the pair worked their way around the base of the reeds at the back of the small pools below the path. They were a pair – a smart male, with powder blue head and black moustache, following behind a browner female.

6O0A8420Bearded Tit – the female, by the pools below the main path

This was a real bonus today – Bearded Tits can be very hard to see on cold windy days normally! Eventually they flew up over the brambles behind the pools and disappeared into the main reedbed. While we were standing there, we could also see at least four drake Red-crested Pochard in one of the channels.

6O0A8433Red-crested Pochard – 2 of the 4 drakes we could see in the reedbed channel

It started to drizzle at this point so we decided to head for the shelter of Island Hide. The water level on the Freshmarsh is still very high, which means there are not many waders on here at the moment. There were several pairs of Avocets, but those that were trying to feed on here were up to their bellies in water. There were a few Black-headed Gulls roosting on one of the shallower patches and several Ruff were running around amongst them. There was one larger male, though not yet sporting its summer ruff, and several smaller female Reeves.

6O0A8462Avocet – up to its belly in the deep water

The water on here is more to the liking of the ducks, but numbers have dropped now as many have headed off on their their way north already. There were still a few Gadwall and Shoveler, plus a few lingering Teal and a lone pair of Wigeon in fenced off ‘Avocet Island’. The number of Brent Geese is also dropping now, but a pair flew past the hide and one was still out on the water, though most of them were feeding out on the saltmarsh.

6O0A8468Teal – the number of remaining winter wildfowl has dropped now

There were more gulls on the Freshmarsh than anything else at the moment. The Black-headed Gulls have taken a liking to the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and a sizeable gull colony is forming on there. Black-headed Gulls actually have chocolate brown heads in summer, but in with them we could see a good number of darker black heads. There were around 20 Mediterranean Gulls which have joined the colony here and through the scope we could see their heavier and brighter red bills and pure white wing tips. They are very smart looking birds.

A small group of immature Herring Gulls were standing in the water just outside the fence. One of them instantly stood out – it was very white headed, with a long face and a long bill. It was a 2nd calendar year (also known as 1st summer) Caspian Gull. When it climbed up onto a submerged rock we could see it had rather long thin legs too.

IMG_3551Caspian Gull – a 1st summer bird, a bit of a rarity at Titchwell

Caspian Gulls were originally to be found breeding north of the Black Sea and further east, but they have spread north and west in recent years and now also breed in Poland and eastern Germany. They have also been turning up more regularly here as a consequence. They are still a bit of a rarity, particularly at Titchwell, so we sent a message back to some of the birders at the visitor centre. Pretty soon a small crowd arrived in the hide and there was a flurry of activity as everyone got onto the bird. We all watched it for a while, before eventually it took off, circled round, and disappeared over the bank out towards the beach.

The rain had stopped now and it appeared to be brightening up, so we made a dash for the beach. The Volunteer Marsh was quiet. Around the channel at the far end, we found a few Black-tailed Godwits, two Grey Plover, one grey and one black-bellied, and a single Knot still in grey winter plumage. There was not much to see on the Tidal Pools either today, but it had been a big high tide this morning and everything was still looking a bit wet.

There were lots more birds out at the beach. Out on the sea, we could see several flocks of black dots. A couple of groups closer in included around 20 Velvet Scoter – we got a good look at these through the scope, the white in the wing being visible when they flapped and on some swimming birds too. A vast slick of up to 2,000 Common Scoter were smeared across the water further out. A single young drake Eider was swimming close inshore in the breakers but a long way away to the east, towards Brancaster.

There were lots of gulls out on the beach, feeding on the debris washed up by the strong north winds of the last couple of days. The resident Black-headed Gull followed us around for a while, but it wasn’t time for lunch yet. Around the mussel beds by the shore, we could see a variety of waders, so we walked down for a closer look. There were several little groups of Sanderlings together with a few Turnstones running around on the beach. Several Bar-tailed Godwits and a few more Knot were down on the mussel beds.

6O0A8473Black-headed Gull – hoping for some food from the birders at the beach

It was pretty cool out out on the beach, in the wind. After a quick look at the waders, we headed back. It was time for lunch when we got to the visitor centre and a warm drink was most welcome too. After lunch, we drove a short distance west to Thornham.

There have been a few Whimbrel reported on the playing fields at Thornham recently, but it has mostly been early morning, probably before they get too disturbed. Despite it being the middle of the day and with lots of cars coming and going from the car park, we found four Whimbrel still out on the short grass. They were mostly at the back, where we could get a good view of their striped heads through the scope, although two did fly in and land much closer to use, in the middle of the cricket pitch at one point.

6O0A8482Whimbrel – four were on the playing field at Thornham this lunchtime

Whimbrel is just a passage migrant here, so it was great to see some birds which had stopped off on their way north. We had a quick look down at Thornham Harbour, as we were in the vicinity. Another couple of Whimbrel flew across the road as we drove down – presumably this is one of the places they come to when they are disturbed from the playing fields. One landed right next to the car, and started feeding on the saltmarsh, which gave us a great chance to look at it up close.

6O0A8499Whimbrel – another two were down by the harbour

Otherwise, it was fairly quiet here with the tide out. A Little Egret flew off from the channel as we approached and we could see a distant Grey Plover out on the mud. We decided not to stop, so turned around and set off back east along the coast road. We called in briefly at Brancaster Staithe on the way, but it was very busy, lots of cars and boats in the car park, and very few birds.

We were heading for Holkham for the rest of the afternoon. When we got out of the car at Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see several Egyptian Geese and Greylags on the grazing marshes. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post on the bank preening. A female Grey Partridge was tucked down in the grass and a Mistle Thrush flew over and up into the pines.

Rather than head out to the beach, we took the path west on the inland side of the pines. Two Blackcaps were singing in the trees, right next door to each other, but both were tucked well in and neither would show themselves. A Goldcrest was flicking around in the pines overhead. We flushed a couple of Jays as we walked along, flying away with a flash of a white rump, but one perched up nicely by the side of the path for us briefly. A Chiffchaff singing in the trees was more obliging, and we got a good look at it as it flitted between the branches of a bare elm.

6O0A8502Jay – this one perched up nicely for us briefly

We could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers singing noisily from the reeds by Washington Hide. From the raised vantage point of the boardwalk to the hide, we had a quick scan of the marshes. A late pair of Pintail on one of the pools were a nice addition to the trip list.

As we continued west along the path, past Meals House, we stopped several times to look out at the grass. We were rewarded with a small group of four Pink-footed Geese. There are always a small number here right through the summer, when all the vast hordes of them have long since departed for Iceland, mostly injured birds which can’t make the journey north. One of the Pinkfeet had obviously been shot and winged, holding its wing at a jaunty angle. A pair of Barnacle Geese had presumably just come over from the feral flock in Holkham Park. Two more drake Pintail were upending on the pools beyond.

As we approached the Joe Jordan Hide we could hear a Willow Warbler singing from the trees out on the freshmarsh. From up in the hide, we could see Spoonbills coming and going from the trees constantly. Most were flying in and out and landing out of view, but occasionally, one would perch up on the edge of the trees, where we could get it in the scope. IMG_3568Spoonbill – one would occasionally perch up in the trees where we could see it

There was not much activity down on the pool today until later on, when a couple of Spoonbills came down to bathe and preen and one came down to collect nest material, giving us another chance of a better look at them. Most were breeding adults, with yellow tipped blackbills, a shaggy crest on the back of the head and a dirty yellow wash across the breast.

We hadn’t seen it down in the reeds, but suddenly a Great White Egret flew up from the back of the pool, and disappeared behind the trees. It was just a brief flight view, but its enormous size was immediately apparent, flying with long rounded wings and slow deep wingbeats. A little while later, what was possibly the same flew Great White Egret flew out of the trees and landed down in a ditch the other side.

IMG_3583Great White Egret – we saw two from the hide at Holkham today

While we were watching that, a second Great White Egret flew over, buzzed the first, and dropped in nearby. The two of them seemed to feed happily for a short while, a reasonable distance apart, until one decided to chase off the other. The first flew back to the trees, while the second circled back and landed again, before resuming feeding in the ditch.

There were lots of other things to see while we sat in the hide. A steady succession of Marsh Harriers kept coming and going. A Common Swift was flying back and forth over the trees. A Chinese Water Deer walked along the edge of the ditch below us. It is a lovely spot here to sit and watch all the activity. But eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head for home. Back at the car, a couple of Spoonbills did a flypast over Lady Anne’s Drive, heading back to the colony, bidding us farewell.

26th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 1

It was Day 1 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour today, but it didn’t really feel like spring! A very cold north wind meant temperatures have dropped right down again. We were forecast wintry showers today, and they came thick and fast early on this morning so there was barely a gap between them. Thankfully it calmed down a bit by the afternoon and we were able to pack in quite a lot of birding. There was even some blue sky on show! Given the wind, we decided to avoid the coast and head for the relative shelter of inland, down in the Brecks.

Heading south from our base in Wells, we stopped off on the way down in an area which is very good for Stone Curlew. These birds are breeding in farmland, rather than their traditional habitat of grass heath. Scanning across an area of fallow ground, we quickly got on to a Stone Curlew. It was huddled down against the wind, half hidden by the growing vegetation, and back onto us at first. Eventually it shifted round a little so that we could see its black-tipped yellow bill and yellow iris – before it closed its eyes again. A Brown Hare was hiding in the grass here too.

Then some dark clouds appeared over us and it started to rain, rapidly turning to hail. We sheltered in the car for several minutes while it blew through, and then came out for another go. We could still see the Stone Curlew tucked down in the grass, so we decided to see if we could get a better view from a different angle. A couple of Skylarks had started singing, hovering up high into the sky. A bright yellow-headed male Yellowhammer was feeding in a bare strip on the edge of a field. Several Lapwings were flying round. We couldn’t see the Stone Curlew at all from here, with too much tall grass now obscuring our view. Another shower was rapidly arriving, so we hurried back to the car and decided to move on.

We continued south, stopping again briefly to scan some pig fields. A Red Kite was circling distantly over the village. A pair of Grey Partridge appeared from among the pig arcs, but the tractor which had been feeding the pigs disturbed them. They scuttled away quickly out of view. The sky behind us turned black again and another squally shower came in fast, so we got back into the car and set off again.

It was still raining when we arrived at our next destination. We stopped on the roadside and listened, from the warmth and comfort of the car. The first bird we could hear singing was a Willow Warbler, a sweet descending scale. Then a Blackcap started up too, very flutey and melodic, and a Common Whitethroat began singing its own scratchy song nearby. These were all completely outclased when a Nightingale started singing. It was beautiful just to listen to, but we had a tantalising glimpse of a shape moving in the tree from which the sound was emanating.

Thankfully the rain dried up and it started to get brighter. We parked the car and went for a walk. Back along road, two Nightingales were singing now. It was a stereo Nightingale show, with one either side. What a performance! But they just wouldn’t show themselves and eventually one went quiet and the other moved further in, away from us.

We walked on over the Common, across to the other side where more Nightingales had been singing recently. On the way, a Green Woodpecker flushed from the grass, but flew off behind the bushes out of sight. When we arrived where the Nightingales should be, it was quiet at first. However, as the sun started to show itself, a Nightingale started singing. Just as we got to the other side of the bushes, and could see it perched on a bare branch, some dog walkers appeared and it flew back into cover. It felt like it wasn’t going to be our day.

There is an area in the middle of the brambles and gorse where this Nightingale sometimes feeds. We found a spot from where we could see the ground and waited. We could hear it croaking in the brambles and the next thing we knew, it flew up into an oak tree right next to us and started singing. Great views! It hopped around between the branches for a while, singing all the time. When it flicked across to a low hawthorn bush, it landed with its back to us with its tail spread, which caught the sun, a stunning orange-red. Quite a show!

6O0A8255Nightingale – eventually put on an amazing show for us

There was a Lesser Whitethroat singing in the brambles nearby. We tried to get a look at it, but it wouldn’t sit still. It kept flying off and then coming back to the same clump, perching only briefly before diving back in. At least we all got good flight views. A Willow Warbler was more obliging. It had been a lovely bright, sunny spell but once again we could see more dark cloud approaching, so we retreated back to the car.

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. The dark clouds followed us and there was a mercifully brief shower when we arrived at the visitor centre. We spent a few minutes watching the feeders – there were several Reed Buntings, males and females, a few Goldfinches and even a couple of Greenfinches here today.

6O0A8293Greenfinch – on the feeders, in the rain

Once the shower had passed overhead, we decided to have a look out over the Washland. It hadn’t been there when we were watching, but when we came outside we flushed a Great Spotted Woodpecker from the feeders. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes on the way.

The first bird we set eyes on at the Washland was the Glossy Ibis, over in the far corner. We got a good look at it through the scope, noting its distinctive long, thick, downcurved bill. This bird has been here for almost three weeks now – a nice one to see here, though it is commoner in its normal home in southern Europe.

IMG_3428Glossy Ibis – out on Hockwold Washes again today

Otherwise, there were fewer ducks on here today – just a handful of Teal and Mallard. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the water. And a Sedge Warbler was singing from the reeds just below us, where we could see it. When yet another shower blew in, we hurried back to the shelter of the visitor centre for lunch.

Over lunch, we sat and watched the feeders again. There were much the same birds as we had seen earlier, but when we had jut about finished the Great Spotted Woodpecker finally came back in, so we could get a good look at it.

6O0A8302Great Spotted Woodpecker – back on the feeders during our lunch break

After lunch the rain finally cleared and it looked to be brightening up nicely. We walked out onto the reserve to see what else we could see. A Cuckoo was singing from the trees behind New Fen Viewpoint, which we could hear as we walked up along the main track. It seemed to be deep in some leafy poplars but, when we continued on along the path towards the river bank, the Cuckoo helpfully came out into the top of a bare tree where we could see it. Through the scope, we admired its barred underparts.

IMG_3461Cuckoo – finally came out into the top of a bare tree

Otherwise on New Fen, there were several Reed Warblers singing. A pair of Tufted Ducks and a couple of Teal were out on the water from viewpoint, along with a family of Coot. A smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds at back. By the pond dipping platform, a cracking summer plumage Great Crested Grebe swam out from the reeds not far from us.

6O0A8310Great Crested Grebe – swam out in front of us by the new pond dipping platform

There were no hirundines feeding over the reeds at New Fen in the wind today, but a trickle of Swallows and House Martins passed overhead as we were leaving. Further on, we found more of them, gathered on the south edge of West Wood, in the lee of the trees, hawking for insects. One Common Swift appeared with them briefly, zipping back and forth a couple of times, before disappearing off over the trees.

Suddenly a larger shape appeared low over the reeds and scythed up through the throng. It was a Hobby. The hirundines all scattered, alarm calling, as the Hobby disappeared, empty handed, off into trees. A brief view but an all-action moment. Another smart male Marsh Harrier then kept us company on the walk on to Joist Fen, circling over the reeds beside the path. It looked stunning in the sunlight as it banked, against the dark clouds of another shower which was mercifully passing us by in the distance.

6O0A8319Marsh Harrier – catching the sun against a dark shower cloud in the distance

Out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, there were more hirundines hawking low over the reeds. A couple of Sand Martins zipped past. There were no more Hobbys out here today, perhaps it was just too windy. Several Marsh Harriers were circling, but there was no sign of a Bittern today. Once we had recovered our breath, we set off again. After a quick look up on the river bank, which was rather windy, we started to walk back.

As we passed New Fen again, another Hobby came over the trees and across the path, before dropping down towards the reeds. As it turned, we could got a good view of its red trousers. The Cuckoo was still singing in trees and we heard a Treecreeper in the poplars too, although it went quiet before we got up to where it had been.

Although we had seen a Stone Curlew earlier in the day, we would like to have had better views. We drove round to another site where they breed, this one a traditional heathland site. As we drove up, a male Linnet was singing on the fence, while a female fed nearby. A male Stonechat flicked between fenceposts ahead of us. It had brightened up nicely now and there was no sign of any more rain here.

6O0A8341Linnet – this male was singing from the fence

As soon as we got out of the car we immediately spotted a Stone Curlew. Perhaps because of the rain earlier, it was very active and put on quite a show. It was walking round, quite quickly at times, then standing still and looking down at the ground. Occasionally it would peck at something, before setting off again. Through the scope we got a great look at it.

IMG_3483Stone Curlew – feeding actively this afternoon, once the rain cleared

While we were watching the Stone Curlew, a quick scan of the surrounding heath produced a single male Wheatear out on a cultivated strip. It was rather distant but still nice to see here. Wheatear used to be a fairly common breeding bird in the Brecks, but the population has all but died out – this could have been a migrant, but it is nice to think it might be staying to breed. A pair of Grey Partridges were feeding out in the grass too.

Having lost some time because of the rain this morning, it was now getting late. Still we wanted to just have a quick look in at Lynford as the weather had improved. It was quiet at first, perhaps still a bit too cold in the trees. A Mistle Thrush flew out of the tops calling, a distant Nuthatch was piping, and we could hear just a single Goldcrest singing. At the feeders by the gate, a lone Coal Tit was feeding on the fat balls. Down by the bridge, there were no seeds on the posts today and consequently just a single Chaffinch here at first.

6O0A8366Chaffinch – looking for any remaining seeds around the bridge

Then we heard a loud ‘chacking’ call and looked up to see a Fieldfare in the trees, with a second calling nearby. Fieldfares are winter visitors, so these should be thinking about heading back to Scandinavia soon. A Nuthatch appeared in the trees above the bridge, climbing up the trunk into the top before flying off towards the Arboretum. A couple of Siskins flew overhead calling.

Down at the lake, we got a good look at a Little Grebe, diving by one of the islands. There were also several Canada Geese and Mallard. A Marsh Tit started calling behind us, and we turned round to find a pair in the trees. The male was collecting food and taking it back to the bushes to feed the female.

6O0A8386Marsh Tit – collecting food in the trees by the lake

As walked back towards the bridge, as well as the Fieldfares, we could now hear Ring Ouzels calling from the edge of the paddocks. Three flew up into the nearest hornbeam, but unfortunately did not hang around for long, and flew off towards the other end of the lake. We turned round again and walked back to see if we could see them. A Treecreeper appeared in the trees in front of us.

As we walked along the path by the lake, we could hear the Ring Ouzels calling in the alders. Then we flushed one from the tops, and it flew out to the far corner of paddocks, and landed it a line of trees. We got it in the scope, but it was a rather dull female, with no white crescent, and we were looking in to the light. When she flew a short distance down along the line of trees, we realised that the other Ring Ouzels were there too. They all landed briefly together, but just as we got them in the scope, they all flew off towards the Arboretum, calling. Ring Ouzels are just migrants passing through here, most often seen on the coast, and always a good bird to find so far inland.

Then, with a big drive back to North Norfolk still, we had to tear ourselves away. Despite the rain at times, it had been a very successful day.

24th Apr 2017 – Spring in the Brecks

A Private Tour today. It was cloudy with an occasional shower in the afternoon, thankfully mostly while we were having lunch, with some brighter spells in the afternoon. With Stone Curlew the main target, we headed down to the Brecks for the day. On the drive down, a couple of Red Kites circled lazily over the fields beside the road, possibly hanging around looking for some overnight roadkill to feed on.

Stone Curlews can be found on some of the remnant heaths down in the Brecks, but many of them attempt to nest on farmland, with varying degrees of success. We stopped off on our drive down to look for a pair which nest regularly in an area of arable fields. Thankfully, this year, they appear to have chosen an area which has been left fallow, rather than attempting to breed in a crop.

The weeds here are starting to grow fast now, but it didn’t take us long to locate one of the pair of Stone Curlews, tucked down out of the wind among the spring flowers. We had a great look at it through the scope – we could see its bright yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill. It was very well camouflaged, particularly when it nestled down tighter into the vegetation and went to sleep. There were several Skylarks singing here, always great to hear, and a Eurasian Curlew called from further over too.

IMG_3347Stone Curlew – hiding among the spring flowers

That was a great way to start so, with our first target in the bag, we made our way further south and deeper into the Brecks. We stopped off at some pig fields for a brief look round, which produced a few birds. As well as the commoner Red-legged Partridges, we found a pair of Grey Partridges which scuttled across the field from the verge. There were several Shelducks, crows, gulls including Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Oystercatchers in the fields with the pigs. With nothing else of note immediately obvious, we didn’t hang around.

Nightingale was our next target and as soon as we got out of the car at our next stop, we could hear a couple of males singing against each other. We walked across to where they were and stood for a while marvelling at the complex songs with beautiful fluid notes and phrases. We thought we might see one perched out in the open here, but they were both tucked deep in cover. At one point, one of the two Nightingales did flick across between two bushes and perched briefly on the edge, but it was too quick for everyone to get onto.

A Willow Warbler singing in the top of a bare bush was more obliging. They also have a beautiful song, but poor bird was rather overshadowed by the Nightingales. A Reed Warbler singing from deep in some bushes, miles from any reeds, was rather odd – presumably a bird on its way somewhere more suitable! A Treecreeper sang from the trees nearby.

We made our way over to the other side of the site, with a few Linnets and Goldfinches in the bushes on the way. When we got there, we could immediately hear another couple of Nightingales singing. We followed the sound and were again tantalised with brief views of the birds darting between bushes. However, our perseverance paid off when we came across one perched in a tree, singing away. We stood and watched it for about 10 minutes, getting a great view through the scope, and just enjoying the sound.

IMG_3369Nightingale – perched out singing for us for ages

The clouds were starting to build rather ominously now, so we drove on to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen, hoping to dodge the showers which we assumed were approaching. We got to the car park just as it started to rain, and made a quick dash for the visitor centre. Thankfully, it was over very quickly, so we headed out to the Washland. A Cuckoo as singing from the bushes as we passed.

There were lots of ducks out on Hockwold Washes, but the first bird we alighted on when we set up the scope was a very smart drake Garganey. We could see the bright white stripe over its eye, curving down the sides of its head, and the ornate black and grey plumes on its back.

IMG_3381Garganey – a smart drake out on the Washes

There has been a Glossy Ibis hanging around here for over two weeks now, a rare visitor from southern Europe. A careful scan and we located it feeding over in one corner. Like a dark heron, with a distinctive long and downcurved bill, we got a good look at it through the scope. Unfortunately, in the overcast conditions we could not see the detail of its glossy bronze plumage. A very nice bird to see here though.

IMG_3392Glossy Ibis – lingering on the Washland for over two weeks now

There were lots of other birds out here too, so having found the two main species we had wanted to look for, we started to scan through the others. We quickly located a Common Tern perched on some vegetation out in the middle of the water, preening. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew round and landed down at the front. A Grey Heron flew along the river. There were lots of Swallows and House Martins hawking for insects low over the water.

We looked over our shoulders and saw some more black cloud almost upon us, and at that moment it started to rain again. We made a quick dash back to the visitor centre for an early lunch. From the warm and dry, we watched the comings and goings at the feeders. There was a steady stream of Reed Buntings, Goldfinches and tits coming in to feed today, while we ate our sandwiches inside.

6O0A8128Reed Bunting – several were coming down to the bird table by the visitor centre

After lunch, it seemed to brighten up a bit, so we made our way out to explore the reserve. On the walk out, we could hear various warblers singing from the vegetation – Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers from the reeds, a Common Whitethroat from the brambles, a Blackcap from the trees. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted its song at us as we passed. Another Cuckoo was singing from the poplars – Reed Warblers beware!

We stopped for a while at the New Fen Viewpoint. A Little Grebe was laughing maniacally from the reeds, but the smart summer plumage Great Crested Grebe stole the show. A pair of Coot were feeding their five young, with bright red bald heads, over at the back. A Gadwall and a pair of Tufted Ducks on here were both additions to the day’s list.

There were lots of hirundines hawking for insects over the reeds, including some brown-backed Sand Martins. We could also see several Common Swifts further back, over the edge of West Wood, the first we have seen here this year. But there was no sign of Bittern or Bearded Tit here, so we carried on across the reserve.

A brief look in at Mere Hide was very quiet. However, we did see a pair of Marsh Harriers from just outside the hide. We had enjoyed great views of a grey-winged male by the road as we drove down to Lakenheath earlier, but otherwise the Marsh Harriers seemed a little subdued here today, possibly due to the weather. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. As we walked on towards the Joist Fen Viewpoint, another smart Great Crested Grebe was on the pools by the path.

6O0A8141Great Crested Grebe – looking very smart now, in summer plumage

From the Joist Fen Viewpoint itself, we could see at least seven Hobbys hawking out over the reeds. They seemed to have found a spot over one of the pools where they were finding lots of flying insects, and they were a little distant, but fantastic to watch as they swooped back and forth. Recent arrivals back from Africa, they might have been regretting their decision given the weather today!

The pair of Cranes which are often visible from here seem to have disappeared at the moment – reserve staff are exploring various theories as to what might have happened to them. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to go further afield looking for any others, and the weather conditions were not conducive to being too adventurous today. So we made our way back.

We had intended to pop in to explore Weeting Heath on the way past. With a particular interest in Stone Curlews, it seemed appropriate to try to have a look at them in their more natural habitat. However, a quick chat at the visitor centre and we learned that they had not been showing all day today, since very early in the morning. Breeding activity seems to be on hold for now – one of the pairs here seems to have already lost their egg and has not yet got round to another attempt. With that in mind, we decided to do something else instead. Fortunately, we had enjoyed good views of Stone Curlew earlier this morning.

We had wanted to have a quick look in at Lynford Arboretum today, and this gave us an opportunity to visit there now. Unfortunately, it clouded over a bit as we drove back there so, even though it was nice and sheltered in the trees, it was rather gloomy too. There were several Goldcrests singing from the conifers as we walked round, but we couldn’t hear any of the Firecrests – it was not really the weather for it. It started to drizzle a little, on and off, but it was only light so we carried on anyway to see what we could find.

There had been some seed put out on various of the benches in the Arboretum, so we decided to go down to the bridge for a look there. As we walked down the hill, we could see a bird high in the tops of the trees. It was a male Common Crossbill. It stayed there for some time, calling softly, presumably having come in to drink. Through the scope we got a great look at it, noting its distinctive crossed bill tips. A nice bonus!

IMG_3414Common Crossbill – a male, high in the trees above the bridge

There was a small amount of bird seed scattered around the bridge still, so we stopped to see what was coming down to feed. As well as several Blue Tits and Great Tits, we got a great look at a Marsh Tit here. There were several Reed Buntings coming down to the seed, both black and white headed males and streaky brown headed females, giving great close-up views. A pair of Siskin came down to drink briefly at the edge of the lake.

While we were standing on the bridge, we heard a distinctive reeling noise, rather like a cricket. It was a Grasshopper Warbler singing from the edge of the meadow just beyond the lake. This is not where we would normally expect to find a Grasshopper Warbler, so it was a bit of a surprise. We tried walking along the path by the lake to see if we could see it, but there is very little cover for it along here at the moment and it stopped singing and disappeared as we approached.

We had already seen a pair of Little Grebes on the lake, chasing each other round looking from the bridge. As we walked down the path, we could see a few Mallard on the far side, along with a couple of Canada Geese and a Mute Swan. Another small duck swam out from under the trees along the near bank ahead of us – a stunning male Mandarin Duck. It stopped just long enough for us to get it in the scope and admire its amazing multi-coloured plumage, before it swam off around the back of the island.

6O0A8164Mandarin Duck – a stunning drake down on the lake

As we made our way back to the bridge, a Grey Wagtail was feeding under the overhanging trees on the other side of the lake, before flying off across the water. A Jay disappeared off through the trees, flashing its white rump. Back at the bridge, a Nuthatch appeared in the trees and flew in to a branch above us, where it spent a minute or two hacking away at the bark with its dagger-like bill. A Sparrowhawk flew fast and low through the trees, scattering all the birds and causing a couple of Mistle Thrushes to call loudly in alarm.

6O0A8189Nuthatch – feeding in one of the trees above us, down at the bridge

It had been a very productive little session around the Arboretum, despite the weather – well worth the visit. Unfortunately, it was now time to start making our way back. We had enjoyed a nice introduction to the delights of the Brecks in late spring and seen some great birds today as well.

21st Apr 2017 – Spring Warblers & More

A Private Tour today in N Norfolk. It was rather cool and cloudy, with an increasingly blustery west wind in the afternoon and no sign of the promised sunny intervals, but it was dry all day.

The main target for the day was to try to find warblers and, if possible, Garganey. Snettisham seemed like the best bet, so we set off west along the coast road. A quick stop on the way at Titchwell and there was no sign of the Turtle Dove which had been in the car park early yesterday morning. The weather wasn’t particularly conducive, so we didn’t stop here long.

Arriving at Snettisham, we set off to explore the Coastal Park. As soon as we parked, we could hear warblers singing. A male Blackcap perched up obligingly in the top of a bush and a Common Whitethroat was songflighting, before landing on a tall bramble stem. We quickly heard our first Lesser Whitethroat of the day and set off along one of the smaller paths to try to see it. They can be elusive at this time of year at the best of times, often singing from deep in the bigger bushes. We did manage to see the Lesser Whitethroat a couple of times as it flew across between hawthorns, but it was perhaps too much to hope that it might come out and sing for us on a cool morning like today.

The Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were a little more accommodating. There were good numbers of both singing in the park today. Willow Warbler in particular is not as widely distributed as it used to be so it is always nice to hear their distinctive song, a sweet descending scale, at this time of year. A pair of Bullfinches in the bushes were a nice, non-warbler, addition to the day’s list.

6O0A7900Willow Warbler – several singing in the park today, this one taken yesterday

An occasional resident Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we walked past and the damper areas in the middle were alive with singing Sedge Warblers today. They are really back in force now and making their presence known. There are smaller numbers of Reed Warblers which have returned so far, but we did hear a few as we explored the area. One was singing from the reeds by one of the paths which cross through the middle of the park, but despite our best efforts we could not see it – it was keeping tucked well down in the reeds this morning.

As we walked in through the park earlier, we had seen couple of large flocks of Knot circling distantly out over the Wash beyond the sea wall. As we walked back towards the sea wall out of the reeds, we heard loud calls ahead of us and looked up to see two Peregrines chasing each other over the bank. They had presumably been spooking the waders on the Wash earlier!

One of the Peregrines quickly disappeared away beyond the bank, but the other, a juvenile, circled towards us and right over our heads, before heading off north over the park. Great stuff!

6O0A7924Peregrine – this juvenile came right over our heads, in from the Wash

This is often a good spot to see Cuckoos at this time of year, and we were not to be disappointed today. After we heard our first singing male in the middle of the Coastal Park, we were never far away from one. It really made it feel like spring, to hear Cuckoos singing, despite the not particularly spring-like conditions.

There were at least three Cuckoos here today, possibly more – it was hard to tell as they were flying around constantly, with birds regularly passing overhead whenever we looked up. They have a few regular bushes from which they like to sing and we got great views through the scope of one male in particular, from up on the inner seawall, when it returned to one of its favourite song posts.

6O0A7840Cuckoo – this photo taken yesterday, but singing from the same tree again today

Grasshopper Warbler was one species of warbler we had expected to at least hear here today, but as we passed the first couple of areas where birds have been reeling recently, all was rather quiet. Thankfully, as we walked along the path further up we heard the distinctive song of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, sounding more like an insect than a bird. Helpfully, it was in an area of quite open bushes with a narrow path running through, so we set off in pursuit.

We could see the Grasshopper Warbler perched up in the top of some brambles, so we stopped and set up our scopes. Typically, just as we got them lined up, it dropped back into cover. We walked round to one side of the brambles and positioned ourselves, thinking it might come up again to sing further along the clump. After a few seconds it did just that – half hidden at first and then climbing up right out in full view, up onto some thin rose stems. We had a great view of it through the scope.

IMG_3277Grasshopper Warbler – reeling from a bramble clump this morning

In the end, we heard at least three reeling Grasshopper Warblers as we walked round here today. They were possibly just a bit slow to get going this morning!

While we were waiting for the Grasshopper Warbler to reappear, we watched one of the Cuckoos flying over beyond and it swooped down towards a large hawthorn bush and flushed a second Cuckoo from the top of it. The two of them proceeded to chase each other round over the bushes, coming very close to us at one point, just as the Grasshopper Warbler reappeared. We didn’t know which way to look!

6O0A7947Cuckoos – chasing each other over our heads as we watched the Grasshopper Warbler

After completing our target set of warblers for the morning, we walked up as far as the cross bank and climbed up onto the seawall to look out over the Wash. There are still good numbers of waders here at the moment. The tide was still about half way out, but through the scopes we could see them all out on the mud. There were several hundred Knot, most still in grey winter plumage but a few starting to go orange. The same was true of the Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover, though a couple of the latter were already looking quite smart with black bellies and white spangled upperparts.

There were a few smaller waders in amongst the Knot out towards the shoreline, mostly Dunlin but a careful scan produced a single silvery grey and white Sanderling. There were more flocks of Dunlin closer to us, scattered across the mud, and in with them we found a single Ringed Plover. We lost sight of it when the flock flew, but the next thing we knew it appeared on the beach in front of us and started displaying with a second Ringed Plover, the two of them flying round over the sand with stiff wing beats.

6O0A7975Ringed Plover – two were displaying over the beach

There were a few Curlew out on the mud, but the Whimbrel seem to prefer to feed on the short grass. Looking across on the inland side of the seawall, we found two Whimbrel walking around beyond the pools, nice spring migrants for the trip list.

The Wash coast is a good place to watch visible migration (or ‘vizmig’ for short), with flocks of birds passing overhead on their journeys, being forced south here if they want to avoid crossing the Wash on their way north along the coast. There were a few birds moving today, but it was possibly a bit slow due to the weather. We did have several small flocks of Meadow Pipits passing overhead, along with a few Linnets and Goldfinches. A single White Wagtail dipped low enough over the bushes that we could see its pale grey back before continuing south along the seawall. There was a steady trickle of hirundines moving all morning – almost entirely Swallows today, apart from one House Martin which we managed to catch as it flew through.

There had been a pair of Garganey here in the last week or so, although there was apparently no sign of them yesterday. We headed over to the inner seawall to scan the pools to see if we could find them. They were not on the pools today where they had been previously, but we did see a nice selection of other wildfowl. Two small flocks of around 30 Pink-footed Geese each were out on the grass. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have long since departed on their way north to Iceland for the breeding season, but these few were leaving it rather later. There were also the resident Greylag, Canada and Egyptian Geese here. Ducks included Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and a few lingering Wigeon.

The wind was starting to pick up now and it was rather cold up on the inner seawall, so we opted to walk back through the shelter of the bushes. We should have continued south along the inner seawall as, little did we know at that stage, but the Garganey were on another pool back towards the road. Thankfully, we bumped into another couple of birders on our way back who told us about them and we were able to cut back across and up onto the bank to look. We found the drake Garganey tucked tight up against the bank of the pool asleep, sheltered from the wind. Through the scope we could still see its distinctive white head stripe and the elongated ornamental feathers hanging down over its flanks.

IMG_3287Garganey – asleep, tucked into the edge of one of the pools

It was getting on for lunchtime when we got back to the car, so we drove inland to a sheltered spot for lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out onto Dersingham Bog. We had hoped to find a Tree Pipit singing here, but it was a bit cold and windy and a quiet time of the day now. They are summer visitors so they may not all be back in here yet. We did find a couple of pairs of Stonechat and flushed a Green Woodpecker from beside the path. It quickly became clear it was rather quiet here so we didn’t stay long.

6O0A7984Stonechat – Dersingham Bog is a good place for this species

Grey Partridge was another target species for the afternoon. They are sometimes to be found at Snettisham, but they can be disturbed by the large number of dog walkers here. We took a diversion on our way back, inland via Ringstead. This is often a good area for Grey Partridge and a stop to scan a likely looking field quickly found us a pair, with a second pair on the edge of a field as we dropped back down to the coast road at Choseley.

6O0A7994Grey Partridge – one of two pairs we found on our short diversion inland

Our destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Holkham. We made a quick stop to scan the grazing marshes from the road and were rewarded with distant views of several Spoonbills in the trees. A long, snaking white head appeared occasionally out of an overgrown ditch and eventually a Great White Egret climbed out, helpfully with a Grey Heron then walking right in front of it to give a great size comparison. It then flew off back into the trees. There were several Barnacle Geese out on the grazing marshes too, presumably feral birds from Holkham Park.

Driving round to Lady Anne’s Drive, we headed out along the path to the hides. It was rather quiet in the trees in the strengthening breeze. A few Chiffchaffs were singing, along with a couple of Sedge Warblers from the reeds in front of Washington Hide. We did manage to find a Treecreeper hiding in a holm oak by Meals House. Then as we approached Joe Jordan Hide, we finally heard a Willow Warbler singing, usually a fairly regular sound here in spring.

There was a large white bird standing on the edge of a ditch out on the grazing marsh between Meals House and Joe Jordan Hide – a Great White Egret, possibly the same one we had seen earlier. In the breeding season the bill can go black, making it look rather more similar to a Little Egret. A couple of Greylag Geese walking in front of it left us in no doubt as to its large size. Through the scope we also admired the bright blue-green facial skin at the base of its bill. A couple of drake Pintail out on one of the pools beyond were a nice surprise.

IMG_3300Great White Egret – in a weedy ditch out on the grazing marsh

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, it didn’t take long to find a Spoonbill, perched up obligingly in the top of the sallows behind the fort. They were coming and going pretty much constantly from the trees while we were there. Several flew down to the pool below to collect nest material, before carrying it back up to the trees. Others were flying in and out from further along the coast in both directions, where they had presumably been feeding. We could see the bushy nuchal crest on the breeding adults, as well as the mustard yellow wash across the breast.

IMG_3322Spoonbill – collecting nest material

There were other birds coming and going here too. Lots of Marsh Harriers were quartering out over the marshes and a nice male came through close in front of the hide. A Red Kite circled lazily over Holkham Park and a Sparrowhawk flapped up distantly out of the trees. There are plenty of Common Buzzards here too, including a couple of rather striking pale ones which are always a source of confusion for the unwary.

6O0A8015Marsh Harrier – this male flew past in front of the hide

Three House Martins were lingering over the trees, hawking for insects. A few Swallows were still making their way west, along with a couple of Sand Martins. A single Pink-footed Goose, presumably a sick or injured bird which is destined to stay here for the summer, was down on the grass with all the Greylags.

Then it was time to start to make our way back. As we strolled back along the path, there seemed to be a little more activity in the late afternoon. We heard a couple of Willow Warblers singing now, and a single Blackcap which we had not heard on the walk out. A Goldcrest fed quietly in a holm oak above our heads.

It had been a very enjoyable day, with all our main targets achieved. Despite the cooler weather, we had seen a great variety of spring birds.

17th Apr 2017 – Bempton Cliffs

On our way south from Scotland, we broke the journey and then stopped off at the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs on our way home. It was much nicer weather here today, sunshine and lighter winds. We had intended to stay just a couple of hours but ended up stopping here for much longer, marvelling at all the seabirds on the cliffs. It is always a fantastic combination of sights, sounds and smell!

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6O0A6283Bempton Cliffs – all the seabirds gathering on the cliffs for the breeding season

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Puffins stole the show. They are not as easy to see well here as some other places, as they don’t seem to nest on the cliff tops, although they do apparently sometimes come up onto the grass to collect nest material. We saw several lower down on the cliff faces or flying in and out from the cliffs. We explored all the viewpoints, hoping for a closer one, and eventually our persistence paid off with great views of several Puffins at the top of the cliffs.

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6O0A7570Puffins – we eventually found some on the top of the cliffs where we got great views

Getting photos of Puffins in flight was much trickier. They are small birds and move remarkably quickly in and out of the cliffs.

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6O0A7426Puffins – trickier to photograph in flight!

The other highlight was the Gannets. Around 20,000 nest here and they are seen everywhere along the cliffs and over the sea. However, while we were there they were coming down onto the top of the cliffs to collect grass for nest building. At one place in particular loads of Gannets were gathering very close to the fence, giving us views down to just a few metres.

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6O0A7191Gannets – coming down to collect grass on the clifftop

We stood for ages watching the Gannets here, as the birds flew in along the clifftop and hovered down to the grass. At one point we nearly had our heads taken off by a Gannet which misjudged its approach and came in very low behind us – we could hear the panicked flapping as it tried to pull up at the last minute, eventually just skimming over as we ducked!

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6O0A6347Gannets – some came very close as they flew in

The were lots of other auks on the cliffs. Razorbills are very smart birds up close, and we had great fun trying to photograph them flying in and out of the cliffs at high speed.

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6O0A6877Razorbills – looking very smart, in summer plumage

There were plenty of Guillemots too, much browner than the Razorbills and without the more dramatic bill markings, but great birds nonetheless.

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6O0A6726Guillemots – there were plenty of these on the cliffs too

The Kittiwakes were particularly noisy, with many pairs squabbling on the higher bits of the cliffs, their calls sounding appropriately just like their name!

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6O0A6089Kittiwakes – very noisy, squabbling on the cliffs

The seabird interest was rounded off with a few Fulmars gliding effortlessly along the cliff face.

6O0A6182Fulmar – gliding effortlessly along the cliffs

There is not a great variety of different species here on the cliffs, but it was great to see so many of them really close up. And what a spectacle the whole thing is!

There were a few other birds here, not just the seabirds, although we didn’t spend a lot of time looking around the area. On our walk down to the cliffs in the morning, a Grasshopper Warbler was reeling away, tucked down on the other side of a hedgerow out of sight. After watching the seabirds for several hours, we came back to the visitor centre for some lunch. It was nice to see so many Tree Sparrows here – an increasingly scarce species further south. As we ate our lunch outside in the sunshine, a Short-eared Owl was hunting over a field beside the car park.

6O0A7646Tree Sparrow – great to see good numbers still here

It had been a great way to finish our trip, calling in at Bempton Cliffs. It is a fantastic reserve and well worth a visit. We could have stayed much longer and eventually had to tear ourselves away so we could get home in good time. We will certainly be going back sometime soon!