Monthly Archives: June 2017

26th June 2017 – Summer with Cameras

A Private Tour today, with a difference. We were particularly targeting certain species and hoping to get photographs of them too. It was a lovely sunny day, warm out of the breeze which picked up on the coast in the afternoon. Perhaps a little too nice?

After a relaxed start, the target for the first part of the morning was to look for raptors. As we drove along, a Red Kite circled over the road, together with a Common Buzzard. We parked at the start of a farm track and walked up to the top of a rise, from where we could get a good view over the surrounding countryside.

We saw a good selection of birds of prey from our vantage point here. First, a Kestrel flew past as we walked along the track. Looking back towards the meadow where we had parked, a Barn Owl was out hunting, presumably still with hungry young in the nest to feed and having to work hard accordingly. As the air warmed, several Common Buzzards circled up out of the trees. Unfortunately, the warming air also meant that the heat haze quickly increased, making photography rather more challenging!

There were other birds too. Best of them all, a Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. They were once more common but are now very scarce in the breeding season across most of Norfolk. One or two pairs cling on in farmland and hopefully this one is breeding somewhere around here. Some distinctive calls alerted us to five Mediterranean Gulls circling high overhead, presumably looking for a suitable field to feed in. Skylarks fluttered up over the fields singing and a Common Whitethroat flitted about in the hedge.

When we had had our fill of raptors, we walked back to the car. Our destination for the rest of the morning was up on the Heath. A particular target here was Garden Warbler. They can be very elusive, often lurking deep in the bushes, but have at least started singing more again in the last week or so, presumably between broods. As we pulled up in the car park, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing but we were pleasantly surprised to look over and see it perched out on the near edge of the blackthorn, close by.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – posing for the cameras in the car park

Having posed unusually well at first, the Garden Warbler quickly dropped back down into cover. Normal service was resumed – we could still hear it singing but from deep in the blackthorn! Still, it was a great start and we set off out onto the Heath feeling rather hopeful.

Our second target here today was Woodlark. Unfortunately, they were not quite so accommodating. They are onto their second broods now and, with the females probably on eggs, they are not at their most visible. Getting towards the middle of the day, it was also not the best time to look for them. When we set off from the car park, we met some other local birders returning who told us they had seen a pair of Woodlarks earlier. We went straight round to the place where they had been, but we couldn’t find them – presumably they had flown off already. We did find a pair of Skylarks feeding nearby, which was not quite what we were looking for, even if very nice to see close to on the ground.

We had a walk round to another area where the Woodlarks have been feeding often in recent weeks, but the vegetation here is growing up fast now making them harder to see. We listened as we circled round the area, but we couldn’t hear any either. There were plenty of Linnets around the gorse and several Yellowhammers singing, although even these were not posing for the cameras quite as they might normally have done today. A couple of juvenile Stonechats were flitting around the bushes out in the middle of the Heath.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – there were several males singing around the Heath today

The butterflies were more obliging. There are large numbers of Silver-studded Blues out at the moment, one of the specialities of the Heath, so we stopped to admire a couple of them on our way round.

Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue – large numbers are out on the Heath at the moment

There wasn’t much time to explore the Heath before it was time for lunch, so we walked back to the car for a break. Typically, we were just in the process of eating our sandwiches in a shady spot when we noticed a couple of Woodlarks flying in low over the trees. They dropped down out of view in the distance and we had a pretty good idea the area where they were heading. We quickly put our food down and grabbed our gear.

We couldn’t see them at first when we got round to the place where the Woodlarks had gone down, so we weren’t sure if they had continued on or landed. We followed the path up a slight rise, and unfortunately they flew up without calling from the far side just as we appeared over the top, three of them. They didn’t go far, but landed again in the long grass just a short distance ahead of us. We could see one of them through the scope, creeping around in the grass.

The Woodlarks were a bit far for photographs, particularly with the heat haze today, so we decided to try to circle round to the other side of them. They can be very obliging, but not today and as we edged forwards they were off again.

After finishing our lunch, we set off again around the Heath to see if we could find any Dartford Warblers. It was early afternoon now, the warmest part of the day, but we hoped a light breeze would be enough to encourage the birds into some activity. It was not the case. Like the Woodlarks, the Dartford Warblers are on second broods now and the females are on eggs. The males still often sing now, but early and late are definitely best.

We did hear a Turtle Dove purring in the trees, but as it was not a target species for the day we did not go off looking for it. We also bumped into a nice selection of insects. As well as the Silver-studded Blues, there were lots of other butterflies, especially lots of Small Skippers feeding on the Viper’s Bugloss. A large Emperor Dragonfly was hawking around other heather. And we saw several bright Green Tiger Beetles on the paths.

Small SkipperSmall Skipper – feeding on Viper’s Bugloss

With no further sign of the Woodlarks either, we decided to head down to the coast at Cley for a walk. There were quite a few cars (though not so many birders in evidence!), so when we found a place to park, we headed out along the East Bank. As we set off, a Little Egret flew past and disappeared off towards North Foreland wood. A Grey Heron flew in over the reeds too, and disappeared into the trees.

Little EgretLittle Egret – flew in to North Foreland wood

The pool at the start of the East Bank held a few ducks. Among them, a female Common Pochard was diving. She appeared to be down to just one duckling, although by now it was at least well on its way to being fully grown. Otherwise, there were just a variety of ages of Mallard on here.

The grazing marshes east of the East Bank still have quite a bit of water on them this year. There were still plenty of Lapwing around the small pools and in the grass, though not so many juveniles with them. Predation often tends to be high with wader chicks here.

LapwingLapwing – several adults though not so many juveniles in evidence

Interestingly, the Redshanks seemed to be doing a little better in their parental duties and as well as a good number of adults, there were several juveniles around the edges of the Serpentine, which was good to see. Looking further over, towards Pope’s Pool, there were lots of Avocet and more adult Redshank, plus a single Black-tailed Godwit and one Ringed Plover. The early waders are already starting to return from the north, often failed breeders first, and a lone Whimbrel flying east over the start of the East Bank as we looked back probably fits that category.

RedshankRedshank – one of several juveniles around the Serpentine

As there has been over the last few weeks, there was a nice selection of wildfowl around the Serpentine, even if the drakes are starting to moult into eclipse plumage. As well as the usual Mallard and Gadwall, including a nice little family party of the latter with several small ducklings, there were also two Wigeon and quite a few Teal, both species which are more winter visitors. How many of these have remained here all summer, and how many have been around either here or nearby right the way through, is hard to tell. There were loads of Greylag Geese too, with no shortage of young ones with them, already well grown now.

There was quite a fresh breeze blowing in, with the wind having turned north-east this afternoon. The Sand Martins seemed to be enjoying it. There was quite a flock of them, hawking for insects. They kept swinging out over the marshes, before returning en masse and swooping around the bank.

Sand MartinSand Martin – a large flock were hawking for insects around the East Bank

We had hoped we might find a Bearded Tit along here, but it was perhaps a bit too windy to get a good look at one. We did hear some calling. One was in the reeds in the ditch on the east side of the bank. The light was perfect this side, although it was most exposed to the wind. We stood close by hoping it would climb up into the reeds but unfortunately it flew off down the line of the reeds. There were quite a few Reed Warblers, which showed quite well, and a male Reed Bunting perched in the top of the reeds singing.

There were quite a few Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh, and plenty of Great Black-backed Gulls, but not much else of note today. We were told there had been a Little Gull offshore here, but by the time we got out to the beach it had moved on. There were lots of Sandwich Terns offshore, as well as a single adult Mediterranean Gull with the Black-headed Gulls.

There were more waders moving, to add to the Whimbrel we had seen earlier. A single Curlew flew west over Arnold’s Marsh, flying straight through without stopping. Then while we were looking out to see, we noticed three more Curlews flying west just offshore, presumably just arriving fresh in from the Continent. More waders on migration, which is always interesting to see.

CurlewCurlew – these three were probably just arriving from the Continent this afternoon

We had an appointment with Nightjars this evening, so with an eye on the clock and the need to get something to eat beforehand we headed back to the car. A Little Ringed Plover flew off from the Serpentine as we passed, presumably having dropped in while we were at the beach.

Having had a break and eaten, we met up again later in the evening. We were just looking for Nightjars this evening, so we made our way straight up to the heath. We arrived in good time and with a few minutes to spare, we had a quick walk round looking for some good places to stand.

As we walked past a clump of gorse, we heard a very soft churr which meant that a Nightjar was very close. Peering over the vegetation, we could just see it through a narrow gap, perched on a branch lying on the ground. Unfortunately, as we tried to get everyone up onto it, it took off. We had a nice flight view as it flew round and up into some trees. It was a male – we could see the white corners to its tail and white bands across the tips of its wings as it flew. We saw roughly where it went, so we walked over in the direction.

The Nightjar hadn’t landed on one of its regular perches. It was now about time for them to start churring anyway, and it duly obliged by bursting into ‘song’. We could hear where it was, a bit further along than normal, so we made our way carefully round the trees. It was perched right out in the open on a dead branch, but again we struggled to get everyone onto it before it flew. They never stay in one place for long, especially early in the evening. As it took off, a second male Nightjar joined it, and the two of them circled up over the edge of the trees calling. This is a territorial boundary, so there was probably a bit of a discussion going on!

We followed one of the two male Nightjars as it flew off across the Heath. We know exactly where it likes to perch, so it was just a matter of which tree it might head for. At first it was not settling and we quickly realised why – there was a female Nightjar there too! The male flew after her, following her from branch to branch, wing-clapping. The female was much harder to follow in the gloom, lacking the male’s white wing and tail patches.

When the female Nightjar flew on again, this time the male remained perched and gave us a chance to get it in the scope. It stayed there churring for a minute or two. There was still just enough light to get a really good look at it – and some photos. Great stuff!

NightjarNightjar – this male eventually settled and started churring

When that male Nightjar finally flew again, we could hear a different bird churring across the Heath. We looked across and it was perched in a tree, perfectly silhouetted against the last of the light, a classic Nightjar view. When it finally moved away, we decided to head back.

The light was fading fast now and we had already enjoyed some unforgettable Nightjar views, so we decided to call it a night. They really are the most fascinating of birds and there is nothing better than standing on a heath on a summer’s evening listening to them churring and watching them flying round. It is always a great way to end a day of Summer birding.

25th June 2017 – Summer Weekend, Day 2

The second day of a weekend of Summer birding, looking for some of our scarcer breeding birds, as well as the more regular species we can see here at this time of year. It was mostly cloudy but pleasantly warm and bright, and we managed for the most part to dodge the showers in the afternoon, at least until we had finished for the day.

On the drive down to the Brecks, we saw several Red Kites today, hanging in the air by the road. We took a meandering route, looking for Stone Curlews and other birds on the way down. The pig fields in the northern Brecks were full of Rooks, Jackdaws and gulls. We stopped to look through a particularly large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and were rewarded with a single adult Yellow-legged Gull with them – larger, bulkier and with a much paler grey back and custard yellow legs.

The first couple of fields where we looked for Stone Curlew, we drew a blank. The vegetation is getting very tall now and the birds are getting much harder to see. But on our third stop, we found one Stone Curlew out in the open on rather bare and stony ground. Even though we remained at some considerable distance, it was a little nervous at first, running in a couple of short bursts across towards the edge of the field. We stood still behind the car and it quickly settled down, standing and preening.

Stone Curlew

In the end, we had to tear ourselves away and left the Stone Curlew still standing out in the open in the field. With one of our main target species for the day already in the bag, we decided to head straight over to Lakenheath Fen next.

As we walked out onto the reserve at Lakenheath, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the bushes. There were lots of Reed Warblers feeding in the reeds and weedy vegetation by the path. There were lots of butterflies too – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a smart Large Skipper.

Large SkipperLarge Skipper – on the walk out by the main path

We stopped at New Fen Viewpoint for a scan across the reeds. There were just a few Coots on the pool today, adults and juveniles of varying ages. A Common Tern flew in and started hovering out over the water. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across, and we saw a brief Hobby which was chasing a Magpie over the back of the reeds. A very distant pair of Kestrels circled over West Wood.

A Cuckoo was singing from the poplars as we walked out and, while we stood at the viewpoint, one came out of the trees behind us and flew out across over the reeds. It disappeared into the poplars along the other side. There were several Reed Warblers zipping about in the reeds around the water.

There is only one pair of Common Cranes breeding here this year and they are not in an accessible part of the reserve, so we had assumed we would not see any here today. We had been told by the warden in the visitor centre that six Cranes had been reported earlier, but as they had been flying around we were not sure if they had gone. At this point however they circled up over West Wood, and we watched as they circled across to the river and started drifting east.

Common Crane 1Common Crane – six flew over New Fen while we were there today

It looked like the Cranes would continue east over the river but when they got level with us they turned, and started coming straight towards us over edge of trees. They were not far away when they finally banked over the wood and started to circle up, before drifting back east. A real bonus!

Common Crane 2Common Crane – four of the six circling over East Wood

Continuing out along the main path, we stopped from time to time to look at the various dragonflies. These included good numbers of Black-tailed Skimmers and Ruddy Darters now, although still comparatively few mature red males of the latter species, plus a few Brown Hawkers and plenty of Four-Spotted Chasers still.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – a maturing male, gradually turning red

There was an excellent selection of blue damselflies here too – including several of the regular Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies. The highlight was a single Variable Damselfly – a subtly marked one, with rather full blue antehumeral stripes.

Variable DamselflyVariable Damselfly – with rather complete black antehumeral stripes

Another, this time avian, highlight was the Great Crested Grebe on one of the pools by path near West Wood. On closer inspection, we could see it was carrying two small, stripy juvenile grebes on its back. We could just see their black and white heads sticking out from their parent’s feathers. Why swim when you can ride in comfort!

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – with two juveniles riding on its back

When we got out to Joist Fen Viewpoint, we sat down to rest after the walk out and had a look over the reeds in front. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reedbed and lots of Reed Warblers around the pool in front. A Hobby shot across low over the reeds, giving us much better views than we had of the one earlier.

We had seen a pair of Bearded Tits in the edge of the reeds just as we approached the Joist Fen Viewpoint, but they had flown up and over the bank ahead of us. Sitting on the benches we found ourselves watching non-stop Bearded Tit action. Birds were zipping back and forth over the pool and feeding low around the base of the reeds on the edge of the water.

One pair of Bearded Tits, possibly the one we had seen flying over this way on the way out, was feeding some juveniles hidden down in the reeds right in front of us. The youngsters would occasionally perch up in the reeds begging when one of the adults returned. We had great views of them.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – great views of adults feeding young in front of the viewpoint

This is a great time of year to see Bitterns at Lakenheath Fen, with adults busy feeding growing young in the nest, and so flying back and forth from their favoured feeding areas regularly. But they kept us waiting today. We had one eye on the clock, aiming to get back for lunch, and time was ticking. There was just one tantalising glimpse, which was too quick for anyone to get onto. Eventually, we had nice views when a Bittern flew out of the bushes beside the viewpoint and away across the reeds in front of us, before dropping down into the vegetation. It was perhaps not the best view of Bittern we have had here, but it was good enough and would have to do as we needed to get back.

It seems Bitterns are like buses. Having had to wait to see the first at Joist Fen, we were walking back when one flew up from the reeds in front of us, right next to the path, flushed by someone walking along the path towards us. It was very close, and we had a fantastic look at it as it flew out across the pool, turning to fly past us before dropping back into the reeds. As if that wasn’t good enough, as we were walking past Mere Hide, another Bittern flew towards us low over the reeds beside the path, and carried on straight past us. Fantastic views!

BitternBittern – we were treated to fantastic views of two on the walk back

With a spring in our step, we walked back to the visitor centre, for a later than planned lunch outside at the picnic tables. After lunch, we had a quick look at the Washland. It is getting rather dry now, but still we managed to add a few waders to the day’s list – Lapwings, Oystercatchers, two Little Ringed Plovers, and a single Redshank. There were a few Mallard and Gadwall with ducklings, and a couple of Common Terns too.

We drove back to Thetford Forest for the rest of the afternoon, to try to catch up with some woodland birds. The little clump of trees where the male Redstart was singing a couple of weeks ago is now quiet. However, as we walked round into the clearing, we caught a glimpse of a Woodlark in the corner drop down into the grass. We walked round there to try to get a closer look.

As we made our way over, a Tree Pipit started singing. We watched as it fluttered up and then parachuted down across in front of us, landing again in the back of a large hawthorn bush. We could just see bits of it in the scope. Then, a second Tree Pipit flew over calling, and dropped into the top of another bush further back. This one was out in the open and facing us, so we got a much better look at it in the scope, although it was rather distant.

Carrying on around the clearing, we flushed a Woodlark from the long grass beside the path, possibly the one we had seen earlier. It flew round past us, showing off its short tail, and landed in a nearby pine tree briefly. We got a good look through binoculars, but it dropped down into the thicker branches before we could get it in the scope. A little further on along the path, we flushed another three Woodlarks from the grass, presumably a family party.

Continuing up to the far end of the clearing, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing again. We didn’t see where it came from, but we looked round to see it fly up into the edge of the pines and land on a branch. We got it in the scope and had a proper look at it, much closer this time. It had started spitting with rain as we walked round, and now it started to rain harder. It was still only light, but we made our way quickly back to the car just in case.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – this one perched up nicely for us in the trees

Thankfully the rain stopped almost immediately, as we drove round to Lynford Arboretum for the last hour of the day. We had already seen all our main target species, but we hoped we might be able to catch up with a few commoner woodland species here for our trip list.

As we walked across the road and into the Aboretum, we could hear a Grey Wagtail calling as it flew over the trees above our head, but we couldn’t see it. Several Goldcrests were singing from the fir trees. We stopped to watch a pair of Treecreepers, chasing each other around the trunk of a tree just before the gates to the new cottages. Suddenly a Spotted Flycatcher appeared in the same tree right next to them.

Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher – showed really well as we walked in to the Arboretum

We got a great look at it, but the Spotted Flycatcher quickly flicked back over the other side of the garden wall behind. We walked up to the gates and could see it flitting around the roofs of the cottages. They are very subtle but very smart birds, and full of character. Spotted Flycatchers are getting much scarcer now, so it is always a pleasure to see one, especially as well as this.

Continuing on along the path, we stopped to admire the new wildflower meadow. It is looking really good this year, a riot of colour, and chock full of insects and butterflies. Several Emperor Dragonflies were hawking around over the vegetation. A female Kestrel was perched on a telegraph post in the field, and kept dropping down into the flowers, presumably after something tasty it had seen.

We had only gone a little further when we heard a bird calling from the trees across the field. It was a Hawfinch. We hurried along to a point from where we could scan over the trees and found it perched in the top of a fir tree. We all got a look at it through binoculars, but unfortunately it dropped down before we could get the scope onto it. We walked in along the path where it seemed to drop, but we couldn’t find it again. Hawfinches are regular here in the winter but are as rare as hens’ teeth here in the summer, and difficult to see when there are leaves on the trees too, so this was a real and most unexpected bonus!

Down over the bridge, we too the path along the side of the lake. There were a few tits in the trees and Swallows hawking for insects low over the paddocks. A Little Grebe was diving among the lily pads on the lake. As we turned to walk back, we spotted a juvenile Grey Wagtail lurking on the mud on the edge of the island.

It had been a very productive stop at Lynford and it made a really nice way to end the day and the weekend. We walked back up to the car – arriving just in time, as a heavy shower blew in. Our luck had certainly been in today!

24th June 2017 – Summer Weekend, Day 1

The first day of a weekend of Summer birding, looking for some of our scarcer breeding birds, plus any late or early migrants as well as the regular species we can see here a this time of year. We were basing ourselves in North Norfolk today. It was a pleasant day, cloudy with sunny intervals, warm, with a lighter wind than of late.

The target for the first part of the morning was to look for raptors. As we parked at the start of a farm track, a Barn Owl flew across the meadow nearby and disappeared into the trees. Many pairs have well grown young to feed now and can be seen out hunting later into the morning and again early evening.

Barn Owl 1Barn Owl – a very pale male, out hunting still this morning

As we walked along the track on the edge of the meadow, we flushed a couple of Grey Partridge from the grass, which flew off calling noisily. A Swallow was hawking for insects low over the grass. We could hear a couple of Yellowhammers and a Common Whitethroat singing from the hedges and several Skylarks singing up in the sky above the fields. We stopped to look at a young Brown Hare, a leveret, hiding in one of the tramlines across a field.

Up at the top of a rise, from where we could get a good view over the surrounding countryside, we stopped to scan for raptors. We saw an excellent variety of birds of prey from here. A Kestrel was hovering over the fields. A Sparrowhawk flew across in front of us, brief bouts of flapping interspersed with long glides. As the day warmed up, several Common Buzzards circled up out of the woods in all directions. A Red Kite hung in the air – it was some distance away, but its distinctive shape and flight action, turning its tail and flexing its wings down, easily gave its identity away. Target achieved.

It is a great spot up here from which just to stand and admire the gently rolling Norfolk countryside. A pair of Stock Doves flew over. A Green Woodpecker flew across the field in front of us, commuting between blocks of trees.With our target for the morning duly achieved, we moved on.

Our next destination for the rest of the morning was Titchwell. As we took a quick walk round the overflow car park, a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over, calling loudly. We had almost got right round to the other side, when a Turtle Dove finally flew out of the bushes above our heads. There has been a pair nesting here and they have just successfully fledged a single youngster, so we were hoping to see them here.

The Turtle Dove flew round to the other side of the car park, where we had just walked. We could see it perched in a tree, preening. So we headed back that way and as we stood and watched it, a second Turtle Dove flew in and landed in another tree, further back. We watched the pair of Turtle Doves for a while, they seem to be used to people in the car park now and we had great views of them close up through the scope.

Turtle DoveTurtle Dove – showed really well in the car park this morning

Eventually the first Turtle Dove finished preening and flew back the way it had come. The second Turtle Dove promptly flew off after it, so we moved on. Over by the Visitor Centre, there were several Greenfinches on the feeders, along with the usual selection of Chaffinches, Great Tit and Blue Tit.

As we walked out onto the reserve along the main path, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the grazing meadow. As we got out of the trees, we stopped to scan but we couldn’t see it – it sounded like it was down in the deep vegetation out in the middle. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds beyond.

A Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds, a frenetic mixture of rattles and churrs, very different from the more metronimic Reed Warblers the other side of the path. We saw several Reed Warblers chasing round in the reeds that side. A male Reed Bunting was perched up on top of a bush, singing away, although its song is not much to write home about! We could hear Bearded Tits calling, and turned to see a family party flying up from the reeds. They kept moving a short distance at a time, and we could see them each time they came back up, a male, female and two black-masked tawny juveniles.

There was nothing of note on the Grazing Meadow ‘pool’, and just a few Mallard visible on the reedbed pool, so we made our way quickly up to Island Hide.

There has been a steady succession of Little Gulls, all 1st summer birds, on the reserve in recent weeks and we quickly found the two here today, on the nearest island. They were suitably dwarfed by the nearby Black-headed Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull. Over in the fenced off island at the back, we picked out a smart pair of Mediterranean Gulls among the nesting Black-headed Gulls. There were also a few terns – as well as the regular Common Terns, three Sandwich Terns were roosting on the island.

Little GullLittle Gull – dwarfed by the Lesser Black-backed Gull behind

Even though it is only June still, the first waders are already starting to return, on their way south from the arctic. At first, all we found were the regular waders. There are lots of Avocets, as usual, many of them loafing over on one of the islands with a mob of Black-tailed Godwits. The majority of the latter are 1st summer Icelandic birds which have not gone north this year, although we did manage to find a single Continental Black-tailed Godwit in with them.

AvocetAvocet – increasing numbers on the freshmarsh

The single Ruff has been here throughout, and is also presumably a first summer bird, so a non-breeder this year. Although sporting a bright rufous head and neck, he never developed the distinctive ruff of a breeding male. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers too.

The wader highlight from here was a single Spotted Redshank which appeared on the edge of the reeds. A real cracker, it was in full breeding plumage, jet black with silvery white spots on its upperparts. This bird is freshly in from the arctic on its way back south. This is the time to see them at their best, as they quickly start to moult into silvery grey winter plumage and get very patchy after a week or so.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – a stunning bird in full black summer plumage

As we sat in the hide, we could see more Marsh Harriers over the main reedbed. A rather dark chocolate brown bird appeared with them, with very restricted pale on the back of the head – one of the first juvenile Marsh Harriers to fledge this year, up practicing flying. There are not so many ducks here now, and what is here is mostly drakes in eclipse. There were a few Teal, starting to moult, and the usual Shelduck.

As we made our way out along the bank, a small crowd of locals were gathered around one of the benches. They kindly pointed out a Common Sandpiper which had just appeared on one of the islands, another returning migrant wader for the day’s list.

Continuing out towards the beach, there was nothing of particular note on either the Volunteer Marsh or the Tidal Pools today. However, as we were walking past, another local birder called to us and pointed to three Spoonbills which had flown across thre freshmarsh behind us. We watched as they heading out towards Brancaster, circling for a minute or so over the saltmarsh.

A quick look at the sea produced a raft of around 30 Common Scoter out on the water. There were quite a few terns flying back and forth, which were mostly Sandwich Terns. Scanning the beach we could see a few waders down on the mussel beds, despite the disturbance from lots of people clambering over them. A Curlew was the most notable, again possibly an early returning bird, alongside several Bar-tailed Godwits and lots of Oystercatchers. A pair of Shoveler on the beach were rather out of place!

It was already lunch time and we had a long walk back ahead of us, so we didn’t linger too long on the beach. On the way, we had a quick stop when we heard some Bearded Tits calling near the path. The Bearded Tits perched up nicely in the reeds for us briefly, just as a Cetti’s Warbler did exactly the same further along, so we didn’t know which way to look.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – a pair showed well on the walk back

After a late lunch in the picnic area, we drove back east along the coast road. We stopped at Holkham and took the path to the west on the inland side of the pines. There were a few warblers singing in the trees – a Blackcap and a couple of Chiffchaffs, plus a distant Lesser Whitethroat. We heard a Jay calling in the pines too. Otherwise the trees were rather quiet, perhaps not surprising in mid afternoon.

Stopping to scan the grazing marshes, we could see the heads of quite a few geese sticking out of the long grass. Most of them were Greylag Geese – sporting bright orange carrots as bills – but a couple of darker heads and bills appeared with them. Two Pink-footed Geese walked out, probably birds which have been shot and injured and could not make the journey back north to Iceland to breed. There were also a few Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese here too.

There were a few butterflies out, in the brambles and bushes alongside the path. Mostly they were Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells but as we got closer to the crosstracks we found several White Admirals too.

Even before we got into the hide, we could see a huddle of white shapes on the edge of the pool. From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, we got the scope on them and confirmed they were mostly Spoonbills. There were several recently fledged juveniles with only partly grown bills – nicknamed ‘teaspoonbills’, as well a few adults still sporting nuchal crests. One of the juvenile Spoonbills decided to start harrassing its parent, chasing round after it, bobbing its head vigorously up and down, flapping its wings and begging. The adult Spoonbill tried to walk away but was pursued around the pool by the youngster.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills & Little Egrets – including some recently fledged young

As well as the juvenile Spoonbills on the pool, there were two or three recently fledged Little Egrets too. There was a steady coming and going of Little Egrets, but suddenly two larger egrets appeared over the trees. They were Great White Egrets. They flew across and dropped down out of view behind the bank. A little later, we could see one Great White Egret feeding out on the grazing marsh beyond the trees.

There were plenty of Marsh Harriers here too, and a couple made nice close passes in front of the hide, giving us great views. One female in particular seemed to like hunting over the grass just to one side of the hide.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – gave great views from the hide

With a busy evening planned, it was time to walk back if we were to have a chance to get something to eat beforehand. On the way, we saw a few more tits in the trees. A mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits and Coal Tits had probably been down to bathe or drink and we caught them as they made their way back into the pines. At least one Goldcrest was with them. We also heard a Treecreeper calling just before we got back to the car.

After a couple of hours break, we met again later for the Nightjar Evening. The plan was to go looking for owls first, so we made our way first over to a good site for Little Owls. When we arrived at the farm buildings, there was no sign of any owls at first. A Yellowhammer was singing from the top of a tree nearby and we could see few Red-legged Partridges and a pair of Oystercatchers asleep on the roof of one of the buildings.

There were several Brown Hares around too. We had stopped at the start of a track to watch two of them when a Stoat ran across the path in front, followed by three almost fully grown young ones. A few seconds it was followed by another Stoat and another two youngsters, presumably all one family on an evening’s outing. A nice surprise.

Making our way down towards the coast next, we stopped to look at a Barn Owl hunting  over a field by the road. It disappeared over the hedge at the back, and we had a look across from the next field, but it had disappeared. We went back to the first field and a second Barn Owl appeared. Again, it flew up into the hedge but this time it didn’t appear the other side. It had clearly landed, as a couple of minutes later we saw it again as it flew away along the line of the hedge.

Barn Owl 2Barn Owl – one of five we saw this evening in a brief look

We had another stop briefly in another area where there is a pair of Barn Owls nesting in an owl box. We watched them hunting and bringing food back to the box. A third Barn Owl, a much darker bird, flew across carrying food and landed in a bush out of view. We had an appointment with some Nightjars so unfortunately we couldn’t linger here long this evening.

Up on the heath, we got ourselves in position in time for the Nightjars to start churring. They took a while to get started but then, after a brief churr, two male Nightjars appeared and started chasing each other round, in and out of the trees. One of them flew towards us and landed in an oak tree in front of us before beginning to churr. We managed to get it in the scope, but it was hard to pick out against the dark branches and it flew again before everyone could get a look at it. It flew past us, so we followed on after it.

The Nightjar had landed in another oak further across the heath. We could hear it churring so we made our way round to the side where we thought it would be perched. There it was, on a dead branch. We got it in the scope and this time everyone got a quick look at it before it flew again. This time it landed on one of its favourite perches, a dead branch which sticks out from one the trees. We crept round to where we could see it out in the open, churring away with its throat feathers puffed out, giving us great views.

NightjarNightjar – churring from one of its favourite branches

When this Nightjar finally flew off, we turned towards another male churring further over. We could see it silhouetted against the last of the evening’s light, a classic Nightjar view. We stood for a few minutes, listening to all the Nightjars churring around us, a great sound on a summer’s evening up on the heath. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees and we could hear the squeaky call of a juvenile Tawny Owl too. Then with the light fading, we started to make our way back. A great evening to round off our first day.

22nd June 2017 – Summer Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. After the recent hot weather, it finally broke today. But although we dodged the thunder storms successfully, it was rather cool and windy afterwards, through the afternoon.

On our way down, we stopped off first at Weeting Heath. We were immediately rewarded with lovely views of a Stone Curlew feeding in the long grass in front of the hide. It was quite active, running backwards and forwards, looking down at the ground for food and occasionally pecking at something. A careful scan revealed a second Stone Curlew, sat down hidden in the vegetation – we could just see the back of its head! A Mistle Thrush was hopping around on the shorter grass in front of the hide too.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – showing well at Weeting today

One of the targets for the day was to see summer warblers, so we made our way over to another site where we hoped we might find some. We were duly rewarded with a nice selection. Garden Warbler was a particularly sought after species and we found at least two pairs, one of the males singing briefly. A subtle species, it was good to get a proper look at them, as they can be rather skulking.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – we got good views of this species today

We also heard and saw several other species here – Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were all singing and perched around in the bushes. Only Lesser Whitethroat evaded us here – they are present, but probably busy with breeding at the moment and consequently silent and hiding.

This is also a good spot for Nightingale. They were rather quiet at first – it is not the best time of the year to look for them – but we eventually heard one singing. We followed the sound and saw it perched up briefly in a hawthorn. It took a while to get everyone onto it, but thankfully came out onto the same branch again for a second. Then it dropped down out of view. As we continued on round, we heard another Nightingale singing further over and one calling nearby, sounding rather like a frog croaking.

There were a few other birds here too. We flushed several Linnets from the grass and bushes as we walked round. A female Greenfinch flew up in front of us and landed on some brambles, carrying some moss in its bill, presumably busy nest building nearby. We heard a couple of Yellowhammers singing and eventually got a look at one perched on some overhead wires.

GreenfinchGreenfinch – this female was probably nest building nearby

We had heard thunder rumbling and dark clouds starting to gather. The lightning when it started was quite dramatic but thankfully some distance away. Finally it started to spit with rain, so we made our way quickly back to the car. We arrived just in time, as the heavens opened.

The rain had stopped by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, but it was still cloudy and rather cooler than it had been earlier. We headed straight out onto the reserve, with Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers, and Common Whitethroats all singing by the path and showing well. In contrast, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted from deep in the bushes.

There were a few birds on the pool in front of the New Fen Viewpoint. An adult Great Crested Grebe was being followed round by a well grown juvenile, still boasting a black and white striped face. The family of Coot have almost fully grown young too, but the female Tufted Duck was all alone. A Kingfisher zipped out of the trees behind us and disappeared low across the water, returning the same way a minute or so later with fish in bill. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds at the back.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on the pools at New Fen

As we continued out along the main path, there were lots of dragonflies by the path. Several male Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the bare dirt along the track, flying off ahead of us. The vegetation either side was alive with Ruddy Darters today, presumably recently emerged as they seemed to be mostly young males and females. There were butterflies too, with Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells on the brambles. A Large Skipper landed briefly beside the path.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – there were lots out today

On the walk out, we had heard a Cuckoo singing from the poplars in the distance, but it had stopped when we got to New Fen. As we approached the West Wood it flew straight out of the trees towards us and landed in the poplars right by the path. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it flew deeper into the trees and started singing again. A second Cuckoo was still singing in West Wood as we passed.

CuckooCuckoo – landed in the poplars next to the path briefly

Continuing on to Joist Fen viewpoint, there were several RSPB volunteers hanging around staring out across the reeds. They were doing a Bittern survey today. It wasn’t long before we spotted a Bittern for them. It flew up out of the reeds in front of the viewpoint and headed off over the channel, before turning and dropping down into the reeds along one side. There was a lot of Bittern activity today – this is a good time to see them, as the adults are making regular feeding flights to and from their nests.

There were plenty of other birds to see at Joist Fen. Several Marsh Harriers were quartering back and forth over the reeds, a Common Tern was fishing over one of the pools and a Cormorant flew up from one of the channels and headed over towards the river. A flock of over 20 Black-tailed Godwits circled over the reedbed. We heard Bearded Tits calling a couple of times but couldn’t see them – it was getting rather breezy now. There was no sign of any Hobbys here today, but it was perhaps rather too cool and windy after the rain, which was keeping all the insects down.

Climbing up onto the river bank, we had a quick scan across the fields opposite, but it was all rather quiet here. Several Mute Swans were feeding along the river, as was another Great Crested Grebe. Looking back across Joist Fen, we spotted another two Bitterns flying across together further over, before splitting off and dropping down again in different directions.

Back at Mere Hide it was more sheltered and there were more dragonflies, with several Four-Spotted Chasers chasing around over the water. A Red-eyed Damselfly landed on a cut reed stem just in front of the hide. A Kingfisher flew in and looked like it might land on one of the posts out in the water but instead carried on past and landed in the reeds right next to the hide. It was partly obscured by the reeds, but we got a great look at it.

KingfisherKingfisher – landed in the reeds right in front of Mere Hide

Back at New Fen, we stopped by the viewpoint again briefly, but there were still no Hobbys here either. We did see another Bittern, our fourth of the morning, which flew right across low over the reeds and over the river bank, turning and landing just beyond. We walked round there to see if it was close to the path, but when we arrived there was no sign of it.

We made our way back along the river bank to the Washland. It was looking rather dry now, and there were fewer ducks than earlier in the year. We did manage to see a nice selection of waders, including a single Little Ringed Plover, one Redshank, two Black-tailed Godwits and plenty of Oystercatchers & Lapwings. In the distance beyond, e could see a Red Kite circling.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back to the car. We were just getting the food out when we looked up to see a Bittern flying low overhead. A bit of a surprise, as we were some way from any reeds! It disappeared off towards the visitor centre.

BitternBittern – flew low over the car park as we were getting our lunch out

After lunch, we headed back into the forest to look for some typical species which can be found here. Our first stop has been a regular site for Redstart in the last few weeks, but there was no sight nor sound of it here today. Hopefully, this means it has found a female and they have settled down to breed nearby.

We had a walk into the clearing and as we made our way round the edge, a pipit flew overhead and dropped down into the grass. We made our way over to see if we could see it but before we got there we heard a bird calling softly from the trees nearby and looked up to see another pipit perched in a pine. As we hoped, it was a Tree Pipit and we got a great look at it through the scope.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – up in the pines carrying food for its young

The Tree Pipit was carrying food in its bill, so presumably has young nearby. We left it in peace and retreated. We had intended to go to another site for Tree Pipit after this, but there was now no need. So instead we went round to the other side of the clearing to see if we could find any sign of a Redstart.

It was rather quiet here now, the middle of the afternoon and cool and breezy. A flock of tits moved quickly along the edge of the pines – Long-tailed Tits accompanied by a few Blue and Coal Tits. We flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the grass, which flew up into the trees nearby. However, the highlight of our walk here was a Woodlark which perched in the top of a small pine briefly in the middle of the clearing.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. We had hoped that there might be more activity here, out of the wind, but it was rather subdued here too. As we walked round, we did find a couple of Nuthatches dropping down to the ground to feed under a small tree and we heard a Treecreeper calling from the wood. There were quite a few Siskins buzzing round the tops of the firs in the Arboretum and a pair came down and landed a little lower where we could see them briefly. A couple of Goldcrests showed themselves too.

We made our way down to the lake. There are always Little Grebes on here and they seemed to have had a good breeding season. As adult was feeding a small juvenile under the overhanging branches just along from the bridge. Further along, 3-4 fully grown juvenile Little Grebes, still sporting stripey faces, were diving among the lily pads.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of the fully grown juveniles on the lake

When we got the end of the lake, we turned and made our way slowly back to the car to finish the day.

10th June 2017 – Broads Birds, Butterflies & More

A private group tour today down in the Norfolk Broads. It was to be a day spent looking for birds, butterflies and dragonflies plus the odd orchid or two, a nice mixture of general wildlife. The day started cloudy but brightened up nicely and was bright and sunny with blue skies in the afternoon, even if the wind did pick up during the day again.

Our first destination was Potter Heigham. We were particularly hoping to see the Black-winged Stilts which have nested here, but it is possible to see a very good variety of different species here at the moment. As we made our way down along the access road, two Spoonbills were on one of the pools, the first of quite a few we would see here.

As we climbed up onto the bank, we could hear a couple of Reed Warblers singing. We eventually got a good look at one through the scope, perched up in the reeds. Along the river bank, there were a couple of Sedge Warblers singing too, which gave us a great opportunity to listen to the differences between them. One Sedge Warbler showed very nicely in front of us, so we could see its striking off white supercilium, very different from the plain face of the Reed Warbler. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the bushes but typically didn’t show itself.

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – singing from the reeds just ahead of us

Walking round the reeds, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. It seemed unlikely we would see one perched up today, with a fresh breeze blowing, but we had a good look each time called nonetheless. Then two tawny brown long-tailed shapes flicked up into the top of the reeds and stayed there just long enough for us all to get a quick look at them. A pair of Bearded Tits. The male was closest to us and slightly higher up the reeds, so we could see its powder blue head and black moustache.

There were a few hairy Garden Tiger moth caterpillars on the path again this morning – we had to keep one eye on the ground to avoid standing on them. A little later, we saw a Jackdaw on a post trying to eat one. It clearly did not want to eat the hairs, so was trying to pull it apart but appeared to be struggling.

We walked quickly round to where the Black-winged Stilts have been and immediately located one standing in the shallow water on the edge of one of the islands. We got it in the scope and had a look at it. However, it was immediately clear this was not one of the pair, but instead a lone male which has been hanging around the site too, with a black (rather than brown-tinged) mantle but lacking the black on the head of the breeding male. Still, it was a smart bird and a great start.

Black-winged StiltBlack-winged Stilt – we found the lone male first this morning

Just a short walk further along, we found the pair of Black-winged Stilts on a muddy island. At first, the female was looking after the chicks and the male was feeding nearby, before they switched roles and the male took over parenting duties. Black-winged Stilts are not particularly attentive parents, and the tiny juveniles, less than 3 days old were left to wander round the island and feed for themselves. They were quite hard to see in the cut reed stems but looking carefully through the scope, we got a good look at them.

Black-winged StiltsBlack-winged Stilts – the male standing guard, with 2 of the 4 juvs nearby (circled)

The adult Black-winged Stilts would fly up occasionally if a potential predator was detected coming overhead, a Marsh Harrier or a Lesser Black-backed Gull for instance. The Marsh Harriers made several passes over the pools and at one point a female surprised a couple of Coots in the water as it came low over a line of reeds. It looked like it was going to dive after one and hovered over the water for a second, but the Coots saw it at the last minute and managed to escape.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – thinking about attacking a Coot

While we were busy watching the Black-winged Stilts, a shout from a small group of birders further along the path alerted us to a bird flying across in the distance. We thought it was going to be a Bittern at first, but looked up to see it was a Night Heron. There has been a young (1st summer) Night Heron here for the past couple of days, but it had only been seen at dusk as it emerges from the trees where it roosts during the day. It was therefore a nice surprise to see it during the day. We watched as it dropped away from us over the trees.

On the next pool along, we found three Spoonbills. They were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! Occasionally, one would wake up long enough to flash its spoon shaped bill. We stood here for a while, and gradually more Spoonbills flew in from the direction of Hickling Broad, in small groups, and landed with them. Eventually we got up to twelve Spoonbills all together, but later as we walked back to the car, another one flew in so there were possibly 13 today in total.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – another five flying in to the pools at Potter Heigham

All the Spoonbills all appeared to be immature birds, some in their first summer with still extensively fleshy-coloured bills, but others older with yellow-tipped black bills. However, all lacked the full crest of a summer adult and the yellow-brown wash on the breast, or had black in the tips of their wings, which indicated they were still not mature. There were lots of Little Egrets here too, plus a couple of Grey Herons.

Black-winged Stilts and Night Herons are both more southerly European species which have overshot on their way north in the spring. Together with all the Spoonbills and Little Egrets, it gave a real Mediterranean feel to the birding at Potter Heigham this morning. All of which is presumably an indication of our changing climate.

There were not many other waders here this morning, apart from the breeding birds. A lone Ruff was the only wader which doesn’t breed here. As well as the Black-winged Stilts, there were plenty of breeding Avocets, plus Lapwings and a few Redshanks. A few Common Terns were nesting too and flying in and out. We also saw both Great Crested Grebe and Little Grebe on the pools here.

We had been hoping to see one the Garganey which have been lingering here this summer but all our scanning failed to locate one on our way round. There were plenty of other ducks – a single Wigeon, a few Teal and Shoveler, lots of Gadwall and a few Tufted Ducks. A female Common Pochard had a couple of ducklings following her. There were plenty of geese too – Greylags, Canada Geese and a couple of Egyptian Geese. As we turned to walk back, we spotted a drake Garganey flying in and it landed on the island with the Spoonbills. We got a nice look at it through the scopes before it went to sleep.

GarganeyGarganey – flew in and landed between the Spoonbills

The Norfolk Hawker is one of the rarer UK dragonflies, largely restricted in its distribution to the Norfolk Broads and neighbouring parts of Suffolk. So it was great to see one flying up and down the river bank here. It landed briefly, but tucked itself down in the vegetation out of the wind. In the end, we would see quite a few of them today, but this was the only one which stopped long enough for us to get a close look at it.

Norfolk HawkerNorfolk Hawker – landed in the vegetation along the river bank

Back at the car, we had a quick a quick look amongst the cattle on the approach road to see if we could see the Cattle Egret which has been here on and off for a few days, but there was no sign of it. There are lots of cows on the marshes all round here, and it seems possible this bird wanders further afield during the day, as it appears to be seen here mostly early and later in the day.

With an hour or so to spare before lunch, we had a quick walk out from Potter Heigham church and along Weaver’s Way. We could hear a Yellowhammer singing from the hedge further along the road, as we turned off along the footpath. There were lots of dragonflies here, hunting in the shelter of the hedges or basking on the bare ground out of the wind. We saw our first Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-Spotted Chasers of the day.

Walking through the wood, we could hear Blackcap and Willow Warbler singing from the trees. Lots of Azure Damselflies were flying around the edge of the ditch on the far side. Another Norfolk Hawker was hawking up and down along the edge of the footpath along the bank. A Hairy Dragonfly perched up nicely for us, hanging on the leaf of a reed stem at the edge of the path, despite the wind.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – the distinctive hairs on the thorax just visible

We had a quick look out over Hickling Broad, which revealed only a few Mute Swans in the distance and a single pair of Great Crested Grebe. Rush Hill Scrape looked similarly rather quiet today. A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds.

We had come here hoping to see our first Swallowtail butterfly of the day, as we figured this part of the reedbed might be more sheltered from the wind. There were very few butterflies at first along the path, until we found a couple of Small Tortoiseshells feeding on the brambles. We continued on past Rush Hill Scrape and finally found a Swallowtail. It flew in and landed on the brambles close to us, feeding on the flowers. It was keeping well down out of the wind, which hampered the photographic efforts, but we all got a great look at it.

Swallowtail 1Swallowtail – our first of the day, feeding on bramble flowers

Swallowtails are restricted in the UK to the Norfolk Broads and with only a short flight season from May to early July, this is the only time and place to see them. A must see at this time of year! With that one in the bag, we headed back to the car and round to Hickling village for a pub lunch.

After lunch, we made our way over to Upton Fen. This is a particularly good site for dragonflies but we were also hoping to see some orchids. We quickly started to find lots of purple Southern Marsh Orchids and paler Common Spotted Orchids, with their distinctive leaf spots. But there are also some confusing hybrids here – these two species readily mix – so we didn’t stop and look too closely!

Southern Marsh OrchidSouthern Marsh Orchid – common around the Fen

This site is known as one of the few places in the UK where you can see the very rare Fen Orchid. Most of the area where these flowers are found is now fenced off, but we eventually located a single Fen Orchid outside the fence. They are very small and not especially striking orchids at the best of times, but this was not a particularly good example either. The non-orchid enthusiasts in the group were perhaps a little underwhelmed and more impressed with the commoner orchids here!

Fen OrchidFen Orchid – not the best example of this rare species

It was bright and sunny now, and warm, so there was not much bird activity. We heard the occasional Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing in the trees. We thought we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling in the distance, but it was very hard to hear over the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. We made our way along a path towards it and eventually got to spot where we could hear its distinctive song. But the path ran out and it was presumably keeping low down out of the wind, so we couldn’t get near enough to even try to see it.

There were several Swifts hawking low over the open Fen, trying to find insects out of the wind. A Hobby made a quick pass up and down over the edge of the trees. When we got out of the trees and onto the marshes beyond, we could see a could of Marsh Harriers quartering. Then we turned to head back, with a Stock Dove on the wires the most notable bird on the way.

Much of the Fen was rather quiet today, as far as dragonflies were concerned, perhaps because of the wind. We did see a few more Norfolk Hawkers on our travels. However, the highlight was a single Brown Hawker on the walk back along a sheltered path between lines of trees, its golden brown wings glowing in the afternoon sun.

We finished off the day with a quick visit to How Hill on our way back. We were hoping to get better photos of Swallowtails here, but the highlight was probably a Hobby which was hawking over the trees and marshes by the river, passing right over our heads at one point.

HobbyHobby – great views of this one hunting at How Hill this afternoon

There were just a few butterflies on the brambles here at first, several Small Tortoiseshells and a single Large Skipper, which was a new one for the day. A pair of Banded Demoiselles perched in the nettles added to our damselfly list. We had almost got to the end of the path when we spotted two Swallowtails. It was rather windy here and they were very mobile, but eventually came and gave us great close views.

Swallowtail 2Swallowtail – we saw two more at How Hill this afternoon

It was a fitting way to end a day in the Broads with this iconic Broadland species, so we made our way back to the car.

 

9th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Private Tour today, our last day. We were planning to head down to the Brecks for the day. It was a nice day today, mostly cloudy but brighter later, lighter winds than of late, and we managed to dodge a couple of quick showers in the afternoon.

As we got down into the northern part of the Brecks, we started to see more pig fields. We stopped by one of them where we could see there was a large mob of gulls. The pig nuts had just been spread out in amongst one group of pigs and the gulls were squabbling in between them trying to help themselves. Then there was a loud ‘Bang!’ as a bird scarer went off and all the gulls took to the air.

When they landed again, down in a dip in the middle of the field, we scanned through the gulls we could see. We had hoped we might find a Caspian Gull, but they were mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls here today, of various ages, plus a couple of Herring Gulls. We had thought we might come back and have another look here later, but our day ended up taking us off in a different direction.

Stone Curlew was our next target and we quickly found a pair in a field by the road. The vegetation is growing up now and they are getting harder to see, particularly when they sit down. It took a careful scan to find them, but we could just see two heads peeping out. We got them in the scope and could see their staring yellow irises. A nice start to the day.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair hiding in the field

When originally discussing possible targets for these three days, Wood Warbler was one species which came up. Unfortunately the bird which had been singing near Brandon last week had not been reported for several days, but we wondered whether this might be just because of the windy weather. We went for a quick look just in case, but all was quiet in the trees where it had been, so we didn’t linger here.

Our next stop was more successful. We parked by a ride in the forest and walked along the track until we got to a large clearing. We could hear Goldcrests and a Treecreeper calling in the pines as we passed. As we approached the clearing we could hear a Stonechat calling and we looked over and saw a smart male perched on the top of an old stump row. A female was perched nearby with food in her bill. They clearly had young in the nest nearby.

StonechatStonechat – the pair in the clearing appear to have young

We were looking for Tree Pipit here and it didn’t take too long to find one. It was perched in the top of an elder tree just along from the Stonechats. We got a good look at it through the scope, swaying about in the wind, before it flew off and up into the pines trees beyond.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – perched in an elder tree briefly

Continuing on round the clearing, we caught a snatch of song, quite sweet and melodic but more rolling than a Blackcap. It seemed an odd place for a Garden Warbler and the first bird we saw come out of the young pine trees was a Whitethroat which led to a brief bout of head scratching – could we have imagined it? Thankfully, a couple of seconds later the Garden Warbler flicked up into the top of some brambles in the stump row behind, a nice bonus to see here and not one we had expected.

Back to the car and we drove round to another part of the forest. There has been a Redstart singing here recently, but we couldn’t hear it today. Whether it was just busy feeding somewhere out of view or has failed to find a mate and moved on was not clear. A smart male Yellowhammer flew in calling and landed on the fence in front of us.

We had a walk round and flushed a Cuckoo from the grass. It landed on a fencepost briefly, before flying off along the fence line. A second Cuckoo appeared and flew out to a small bush nearby, where we got a great view of it in the scope. Then we heard what we assume was the first Cuckoo singing in the distance, so there were two males here. A little later the second Cuckoo flew over and attempted to chase off the first, before flying back to its favoured bush.

CuckooCuckoo – one of two males here today

Another Tree Pipit flew in and dropped down into the long grass. We walked over to try to get a better look at it, but it had managed to sneak away. As we scanned the spot where it had dropped in, the next thing we knew it took off again from further along and flew off towards the trees.

As we turned to walk back, we could hear a Woodlark calling. Suddenly a male Woodlark flew up from a short distance ahead of us and started to sing, fluttering up over our heads, before drifting away over the clearing. We took a few more steps and heard another Woodlark calling. It sounded to be a long way away, but they are masters at throwing their voice and looking at the grass just ahead of us, we spotted it perched on a tussock, presumably the female.

WoodlarkWoodlark – perched on a tussock close to the path

We stopped immediately and had a good look at it through binoculars, but when we tried to get the scope on it, the Woodlark took off and landed in the grass further back, out of view. We headed back to the car and drove on. Having seen Stone Curlew earlier this morning, we were not to worried to see another, but we stopped briefly at Weeting on the way past anyway. We couldn’t find the Stone Curlews here today, but we did find three regular Eurasian Curlews out in the grass, a reminder they still breed in the Brecks in small numbers.

We stopped for lunch at Lakenheath Fen. While we were eating at one of the picnic tables, a Hobby drifted overhead. We had intended to explore the reserve after lunch, but with most of the possible species we might see here already on our list for the three days, another idea sprang to mind. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope at Welney for the last couple of days, which would be a new bird for one of us. It seemed like it would be a great way to round off the trip.

While Welney is not far away as the crow flies, it was a circuitous journey round from Lakenheath, through the Fens. When we arrived at the Welney WWT visitor centre, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling from the bushes outside, but couldn’t see them. We decided to look for them later, and with other things taking priority headed straight out to look for the phalarope. The staff at the visitor centre confirmed it had still been present just a short time ago, so we set off to walk the almost 1km down to Friends Hide.

When we got to the hide, The Red-necked Phalarope was out of view. There were several pairs of Avocets on here and quite a few chicks. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers had a couple of small fluffy juveniles with them too. We had been lucky with the weather today – it was warm and bright as we walked out to the hide – but we had been promised showers in the afternoon and a brief heavy rain shower came through. The adult Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers called to their respective young and sheltered the juveniles under their wings while the rain passed over.

AvocetAvocet – sheltering their chicks under their wings during the rain shower

It quickly brightened up again and the juvenile Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers were let out. The Avocets were being very aggressive. Their idea of childcare is to let the young fend for themselves and chase off potential predators. But they have got their definition of what might be a threat to their young awry – they were busy chasing off anything and everything!

A couple of adult Avocets kept having a go at the poor Little Ringed Plovers, chasing after them while they were trying to protect their young. The adult Little Ringed Plovers tried to lead them away with a distraction display, walking away with wings dangled, trying to look injured. It didn’t really work. The Avocets would follow them at first, then when the Little Ringed Plover felt it had got far enough away, it ran back to its chick but the Avocet simply chased back after it.

Avocet and Little Ringed Plover 1Avocet & Little Ringed Plover – the latter giving a distraction display, feigning injury

The Avocets kept chasing the Red-necked Phalarope too, which was probably why it spent so much time hiding in the reeds at the front of the pool. Every time the Red-necked Phalarope swam out, it was promptly chased off. We had a couple of quick views of it. At one point, when chased, it flew across the front of the scrape and landed on a small patch of mud, but the Avocet was still after it and once again it disappeared back into the reeds.

Eventually, the juvenile Avocets moved away from the Red-necked Phalarope’s favoured corner and it managed to swim about for a while feeding out in the open where we could get a good look at it. It was a male, which in phalarope’s means it is the duller plumaged of the sexes, with the females being brighter. The females do all the displaying and leave the males to incubate and rear the young. This male Red-necked Phalarope was still a smart bird, swimming round non-stop, in and out of the reeds, picking at the waters surface for insects of ducking its head under.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – swimming around in front of the hide

We watched the Red-necked Phalarope for a while, swimming once it finally came out into the open for a while. They are rare visitors here and this bird was probably heading up to Scandinavia or Iceland for the breeding season, though where it had spent the winter is anyone’s guess with Scandinavian birds wintering out in the Arabian Sea but recent studies showing that some of the small number of birds breeding in the Shetland Islands migrating to join the North American population in the South Pacific Ocean! When it finally swam back into the reeds again, we decided to start walking back.

On the way back, we stopped for a quick look in the other hides. There did not seem to be too much on view from Lyle Hide, apart from more Avocets – good to see that they appear to be doing so well at Welney. We heard a song that sounded vaguely reminiscent of jangling keys and looked out of the front of the hide to see a Corn Bunting perched on the top of the vegetation. We got a great look at it as it stayed there for a couple of minutes singing, before being spooked by a big flock of Rooks and dropping back down out of view.

Corn BuntingCorn Bunting – singing in front of Lyle Hide

There were several Black-tailed Godwits out to one side of the hide, but the light was bad here as we were looking into the sun. We got better views from the Nelson-Lyle Hide further back. This confirmed our suspicions that they appeared to be a mix of two different races. Nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit breeds across Europe east from the Netherlands. Only about 50-60 pairs breed in the UK on the Ouse and Nene Washes, including a couple of pairs at Welney. First summer islandica or Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits often remain in UK in rather than migrate up to Iceland to breed. There appeared to be a mixture of the two here, including a couple of nice limosa, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them.

Continental Black-tailed GodwitContinental Black-tailed Godwit – of the nominate race, limosa

Back at the Observatory, we could see a pair of Whooper Swans in front of the hide. This is a pair of injured birds which are not capable of flying back up to Iceland to breed, so have instead nested for the last six years at Welney, where they normally spend the winter. We could only see two of the four cygnets they were meant to have this year, but  presumed the others were hiding in the vegetation. Further back across the washes we could see another six or so Whooper Swans, presumably also all injured birds.

Whooper SwanWhooper Swan – with two cygnets

Back at the visitor centre, there were three more Black-tailed Godwits on Lady Fen. A quick look at the feeders as we were leaving finally got us views of the Tree Sparrows, with at least a couple coming and going, including one with only a half-grown tail.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow – coming to the feeders in front of the visitor centre

It was a lovely way to end three exciting action-packed days of East Anglian summer birding, watching the Red-necked Phalarope and all the other birds at Welney. It rounded off the list nicely – we had managed to see a nice set of rarer birds despite it being early June, as well as a great selection of our resident and scarcer breeding species. A job well done, we set off back for home.

 

8th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Private Tour today. We were planning to travel further afield, a day of twitching, to try to see some of the more unusual birds lingering around East Anglia at the moment. It was a cloudy but dry day, still very windy but thankfully not quite as strong as it was yesterday.

The drive down to Minsmere was a slow one this morning. We hit rush hour around Norwich, which was not too bad, but then were held up behind a Highways Agency van which seemed to just be trying to build up as large a queue of traffic as possible as it drove along very slowly with lights flashing. When it finally pulled over, there was no sign of what might have required that sort of action. A couple of Red Kites were the only highlights of the journey.

When we eventually got down to the reserve, we walked straight out to Bittern Hide. There has been a Purple Heron here for several days now, but it spends a lot of time down in the reedbed out of view. It had been seen about one and a half hours before we arrived, but nothing since. We sat down and prepared for a vigil.

There were other things to see while we waited. A female Marsh Harrier spent ages diving repeatedly at something hidden down in reeds. A Bittern had flown in and landed in that very spot earlier, before we arrived, which was probably what it was trying to chase off. Apparently the Marsh Harrier had a nest nearby. A smart male Marsh Harrier spent some time quartering over the reeds in front of the hide – unfortunately not close enough to flush the Purple Heron!

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – quartering the reeds in front of the hide

There were several reserve volunteers in the hide today, with radios and clipboards. It turned out they were doing a co-ordinated Bittern survey, which meant we were quickly alerted to any Bittern flights. We got a very brief glimpse of one at first, just as it dropped back in to the reeds. A little later, another Bittern came up and we watched it for several seconds as it flew from us away over the reeds.

A Grey Heron flew in and landed exactly where the Purple Heron was last seen, but even that didn’t flush it out. Several Little Egrets flew past, there were lots of Swifts and Sand Martins zipping back and forth over the reeds in the wind, and two Common Terns drifted past calling.

Finally the Purple Heron appeared – we only had to wait about an hour. It flew up briefly and dropped down again, behind the reeds in front of the hide, where we could just see its head. Then it was up again and off, in a long flight across over the reedbed, before dropping down over towards the main scrape hides. It was great to see it.

Purple Heron 1

Purple Heron 2Purple Heron – finally came out of hiding and flew away over the reeds

Purple Herons are rare visitors here from southern Europe. This is a young bird, a 1st summer, which has presumably overshot on its way north. It will probably drift round the UK for a while before making its way back to the continent.

It was time to move on, so we made our way round to the scrapes and the Wildlife Lookout. There were lots of gulls out on the islands in front of the hide. As well as lots of Black-headed Gulls there were plenty of Mediterranean Gulls too. Having got great views of them in flight over the last few days, it was nice to get a couple of birds in the scope on the ground today, admiring their jet black heads and white wing tips. Otherwise, there were just a few big gulls here, Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gulls – nice to see some birds on the ground this time

It looks like Minsmere is a good place for feral wildfowl these days. There were lots of feral Barnacle Geese on the scrapes – we saw several pairs with juveniles today, presumably having bred here. Another four more Barnacle Geese flew in calling. There had been a pair of feral Bar-headed Geese here yesterday with a single gosling, but we couldn’t find them today.

Apart from the gulls and the geese, there were just a few waders – Avocets and Lapwings – and a couple of Little Egrets. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, we had other plans, so we made our way back towards the visitor centre. We took a quick detour round to see if we could see any Stone Curlew, but the vegetation was too high and no birds were out in view. That was really a target for tomorrow, so we didn’t stop here long.

As we made our way out of the reserve, we made a quick stop to to look at a mob of roosting gulls in a field. There were lots of Herring Gulls of various ages, plus a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and one or two young Great Black-backed Gulls. The one interesting looking gull we could find was mostly hidden from view behind the throng, with its head down preening. It looked like a 1st summer Yellow-legged Gull, but before we could get a good look at it a Herring Gull landed in front and it sat down and was lost to view. We continued on our journey.

It was a slow journey back up to the Broads. We were heading for Potter Heigham, but news came through of a White-winged Black Tern on the beach at Winterton. It  had actually been seen a couple of times flying past offshore in the morning, but had finally settled down on the sand with the Little Terns. We took a quick diversion down to the beach at Winterton, but when we got there, we found the White-winged Black Tern had been disturbed by dog walker and flown off south.

We had a late lunch on the beach, looking out to sea. A small raft of Common Scoter were diving offshore, and we could see a few distant Little Terns and Sandwich Terns. We thought about walking up the beach to the Little Tern colony to look anyway, but one of the local birders called another person who was up at the colony and it was confirmed there was still no sign of the White-winged Black Tern. We decided to revert to Plan A, and head for Potter Heigham. It was only later we found out that the White-winged Black Tern was relocated in the Little Tern colony just 5 minutes after we left, but then had flown off out to sea!!

It was our intention to visit Potter Heigham today anyway, as we knew there were some Black-winged Stilts nesting there. A rare but increasing visitor from southern Europe, their presence was being kept quiet to protect them from egg thieves. A quick phone call to check on them earlier this morning had revealed the eggs had hatched yesterday, so we were even keener to see them today. On our way there, the news was finally released that the Black-winged Stilts had successfully hatched 4 young and they were still all present and correct.

When we got to the site, we walked straight round to look for them. First we found a lone female Black-winged Stilt on one of the islands preening. Looking further back, there was the male Black-winged Stilt crouched on its knees. It took a bit of looking for them as they were so tiny and hard to see in the vegetation on the muddy island, but we eventually found the four tiny fluffy bundles, the four one day old juvenile Black-winged Stilts. A fantastic sight!

Black-winged StiltsBlack-winged Stilts – the proud parents, with the 4 juveniles hiding nearby

The adult Black-winged Stilts were largely ignoring the young ones, leaving them to wander some distance away among the nesting Black-headed Gulls. The adults would fly occasionally to chase off large gulls or any other potential predator flying over. Young Black-winged Stilts are very vulnerable to predation, so fingers crossed they survive.

Scanning across the scrape, we noticed another Black-winged Stilt nearby. Were there three adults? Unfortunately we never managed to see all of them at the same time, and the new bird was chased off by the male before we could see the female of the pair again. There had been two adults reported earlier, but it was only later, talking to another local birder, that we confirmed that he too had seen three adults and all at the same time.

We watched the Black-winged Stilts for a bit, before walking further up to check out the other pools. A Spoonbill was standing out on the mud by the reeds on one of them and for once it was awake! We got it in the scope and could see it was a young one, born last summer, with a still largely flesh-coloured bill and no crest.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – a 1st summer bird on one of the pools

There were plenty of Little Egrets here too, but we couldn’t find the waders which had been reported yesterday. There were three Ringed Plovers on the mud and the usual Avocets, Lapwings and Redshank, but no other waders today (not forgetting the Stilts, of course!).

A Wigeon and a few Teal were the most notable ducks here. Otherwise, it was back to looking at escaped wildfowl. The female Bufflehead has been here for a while now, but is sporting a green ring so has got out from a cage somewhere. A White-cheeked Pintail was never a candidate for a genuine vagrant, unfortunately.

There were not many butterflies or dragonflies out in the wind today, but on the walk back to the car, a Norfolk Hawker dragonfly was flying around the bushes by the path. This is a particular speciality of this part of the country, so always nice to see. There were also numerous caterpillars out now, all crossing the path one way or the other. Most were Garden Tiger moth caterpillars, but there was also one Drinker moth caterpillar too.

Garden Tiger moth caterpillarGarden Tiger moth caterpillar – there were loads on the path on the way back

The other highlight of the walk back to the car was a Crane. We had scanned the marshes quickly on the walk out without success, but looked more carefully on the way back. It was looking like we might be out of luck until we picked one up flying low across the marshes in the distance. It gained height and flew past one of the old windpumps – a typical Broadland scene these days – before dropping down out of view again. Not a close view, but always nice to see anyway.

We had just stopped to scan the pools along the approach road when news came through that the White-winged Black Tern was back on the beach at Winterton. Even though it was getting late in the day and we would be cutting it fine to get back in time for dinner, we decided to head round for another go. It was a nervous drive round, after our experience earlier.

As we walked quickly up the beach, it was reassuring that there were not so many dog walkers out now. A couple of local birders were just walking back and kindly pointed the White-winged Black Tern out to us, quite a distance further up the beach in the Little Tern colony. We had a very quick look, before hurrying up to where it was. But before we got there, all the terns took off and we didn’t see the White-winged Black Tern go. When we arrived, there was no further sign of it at first.

Little TernLittle Tern – nice to see and hear all the terns in the colony here

After our experience earlier, we were convinced the White-winged Black Tern would return, so we stood and waited, watching all the Little Terns coming and going as we did so. Thankfully after just a few nervous minutes scanning, we picked it up coming back in off the sea. We were then treated to stunning views as it flew all round us, circling overhead, before heading back out to the sea again.

White-winged Black Tern 2

White-winged Black Tern 1

White-winged Black Tern 3White-winged Black Tern – stunning views as it circled all around us

White-winged Black Tern is a rare visitor to the UK from Eastern Europe. A few are seen here every year, but they can be hard to catch up with and often don’t hang around, so this one was great to see. It was also an adult in full summer plumage, one of the most stunning of all terns.

Having had great views of it in flight, we wanted to see the White-winged Black Tern perched too. Thankfully we only had to wait a couple of minutes before it flew back in to the beach again and landed on the sand with a group of Little Terns. We got a great look at it as it stood there preening for a couple of minutes. Than it was off again, back out to the sea. We stood for a while watching it dip feeding just offshore, reluctant to tear ourselves away.

White-winged Black Tern 4White-winged Black Tern – landed on the beach with all the Little Terns

It was a great way to end the day, watching this fantastic bird. Eventually we made our way back to the car and headed for home. Even better, we were back in time for dinner, and we had seen the White-winged Black Tern!