Monthly Archives: March 2018

30th March 2018 – Good Friday Birds

A Private Tour today, on the North Norfolk coast. It was a lovely sunny start to the day and, although it clouded over later in the morning, it rather helpfully remained dry until just as we finished this afternoon.

Our first stop this morning was at Holkham. As we drove into Lady Anne’s Drive, we spotted a Grey Partridge out on one of the fields. As we pulled up, it started to chase after a second bird which was further back, nearer the hedge. Two more Grey Partridge were watching nearby and it seemed like a territorial dispute was underway between two pairs.

The two Grey Partridges chasing each other were males and eventually one ran over towards the road, collecting one of the females on its way past, before ducking under the gate and coming out onto the verge. We had a great view of the two of them here, from the car, as the female fed and the male stood nearby, keeping watch.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – several were by Lady Anne’s Drive this morning

 

We hadn’t got much further when we caught a quick glimpse of a Barn Owl flying up over a line of reeds beside the road. We pulled up just beyond the reeds and there was the Barn Owl down in the short grass. We got out quietly and watched as it appeared to pick at something at its feet. We couldn’t see whether it had caught anything, but when it eventually flew up its talons were empty.

It flew back over the line of reeds and we walked back to find the Barn Owl now on a post the other side. It was staring intently down into the grass below, occasionally looking round or up to make sure it was not about to be mobbed or attacked.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – still out hunting this morning

Periodically, the Barn Owl would fly along to the next post and start looking down at the ground again. Once or twice it took off and dived sharply down into the long grass, but once again we didn’t actually see it catch anything.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – dropping down into the grass

It gradually worked its way towards us along the fence line, until it got to a large bush which blocked its progress. Then the Barn Owl took off and flew straight at us, passing by just a few metres in front of us before landing on one of the posts back along the edge of Lady Anne’s Drive. Stunning views!

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – flew right past us

We left the Barn Owl in peace to carry on hunting and walked a little further up Lady Anne’s Drive to have a look on the pools. Several Teal and Shoveler were asleep in the rushes along the edge and there were a few Greylag and Egyptian Geese here too. But there were no Wigeon along here today – there appears to have been a big clear out over the last week, as birds have departed on their way back to their breeding grounds for the summer.

There were a few waders too. A scattering of Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing were feeding on the mud, as were a pair of Oystercatcher and a couple of Common Snipe zipped across before dropping down into the vegetation out of view. A Little Egret was good to see as numbers along the coast appear to have declined after the recent snow. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up over the back and a very pale Common Buzzard perched on a bush out in the middle of the grazing marsh.

As we walked back to the car, we could see the Barn Owl had returned to the posts out in the middle, where it had been earlier. We eventually tore ourselves away and carried on to the end of Lady Anne’s Drive, where we parked. The Shorelarks have not been reported at Holkham for over a week now, so we assumed they had probably moved on, but we bumped into one of the wardens who told us he had seen them again earlier this morning. We decided to head out for a look.

As we headed through the pines, a Chiffchaff was singing in the trees nearby, a sign that spring is on its way. It was lovely and bright as we walked east along the edge of the saltmarsh, and the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were singing. However, there were quite a few people out ahead of us today and plenty of dogs running round too. Perhaps it was no surprise therefore to find the Shorelarks had moved on – they have obviously found somewhere else quiet and out of the way to feed at the moment.

We had a quick look out on the beach and scanned the bay. There was a bit of mist offshore and we couldn’t see anything other than gulls and Oystercatchers on the sand. We decided to try our luck elsewhere and walked back to Lady Anne’s Drive.

This time we walked west along the track on the inland side of the pines. We heard tits calling in the trees and stopped to look. A Goldcrest started singing and we picked one up flitting around in the trees nearby. A Treecreeper appeared briefly, but was hard to see before it flew off across the path. When a second Treecreeper flew in a couple of seconds later, it was thankfully much easier to get onto as it climbed up the trunk of one of the pines. A little further on, we found a couple of Long-tailed Tits feeding in the poplars.

Salt’s Hole was fairly quiet, apart from a couple of Tufted Ducks and two Little Grebes. A Grey Heron was standing statuesque on the edge of a ditch beyond. A little further on and scanning from the gate we finally managed to find a flock of Wigeon out on the grazing marshes. A lone Pink-footed Goose was also out here, by the looks of it an injured bird which was unable to join its peers on the flight back to Iceland. There was very little on the pool in front of Washington Hide, although a couple of Marsh Harriers flew in and out of the reeds. We decided to carry on to the next hide.

The wardens had been out on the grazing marshes doing a count this morning, so there were just a few Egyptian Geese and a load of Greylags out on the grass when we arrived. We couldn’t find any White-fronted Geese here today – they also seem to have largely departed this week, back to the continent.

The Spoonbills were hiding in the trees, but we managed to find a pair asleep which were just about visible and they helpfully woke up occasionally to flash their spoon-shaped bills and shaggy crests. Two of three more Spoonbills flew in and out of the trees.

A female Kestrel in front of the hide kept us amused, as it kept dropping down to the ground amongst the molehills, catching worms. A Red Kite drifted across the middle of the grazing marshes and a Sparrowhawk appeared on a post briefly. We couldn’t see any sign of the Great White Egrets at first, but eventually one appeared out of one of the ditches to the left of the hide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding in one of the ditches on the grazing marshes

On the walk back, we stopped to watch a flock of tits which were dropping down to feed on the sandy bank by the edge of the track. It was slightly odd seeing several Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and even a Goldcrest hopping around on the ground here. Eventually they were flushed by someone walking past and disappeared back up into the trees.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit – one of several birds feeding on the ground by the path

A quick scan of the grazing marshes from the other side failed to locate any White-fronted Geese either, although there were five more Pink-footed Geese this side. We made our way on to Titchwell for lunch. As we ate at one of the picnic tables by the visitor centre, a couple of Greenfinches came in to join the Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders. We could hear Bramblings singing high in the trees here too.

After lunch, as we carried our picnic bags back to the car, we could hear several more Bramblings – more of a wheeze than a song really. We stopped and found them feeding on buds in the sallows alongside the path.

Brambling

Brambling – feeding on buds in the sallows by the path

We made our way out onto the reserve to see what we could find next. There was no sign of a Water Rail in the ditches by the path, but we did find one on the edge of the reeds at the back of the Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’. There were also a few Pied Wagtails and Linnets on here, but we couldn’t find anything else today. There were a few Tufted Duck and three Common Pochard, as well as a lone Gadwall, on the reedbed pool. A single Grey Plover was out on the Lavendar Marsh pool.

The Bearded Tits have been showing really well this week, around the small pools along the edge of the reedbed next to the path. It had clouded over and was rather cool now that the wind had picked up, so we wondered whether they would still be there today. It seemed very quiet as we walked up, but after waiting a couple of minutes we heard a Bearded Tit call and looked down to see a very smart male working its was between the reeds along one edge.

Bearded Tit 2

Bearded Tit 1

Bearded Tit – showing well again on the edge of the reeds

 

There were actually several Bearded Tits around the small pools here again this afternoon, although it was hard to say how many as they were constantly on the move and in and out of the reeds. We saw at least two smart males, admiring their powder blue-grey heads and black moustaches.

The water level on the freshmarsh is still very high at the moment, so we didn’t stop at Island Hide again. Given the chilly wind, we headed straight round to the shelter of Parrinder Hide. We took a quick detour just beyond the turn to the hide to admire a Knot which was feeding on the mud right by the path on the Volunteer Marsh.

As we were walking along the path which leads out to the hide, we spotted a couple of small waders on the muddy edge of one of the few islands which protrude above the water and a quick look through binoculars confirmed they were a pair of Little Ringed Plover. We could just make out their golden yellow eye rings.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – a pair were back on the freshmarsh today

 

Little Ringed Plovers are summer visitors here, so it is always nice to see them return in the spring, although there is not much mud for them on the freshmarsh at the moment. We could just see them over the bank, but we had a better look out from the end of the hide.

There were a few other waders on here today. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits were asleep in the deeper water and a loose flock of Ruff were feeding nearby. A single female, a Reeve, was noticeably smaller next to the males, one of which sported a partly white head. There were a few Redshank with the Ruff too. A lone Knot dropped in with them and a small group of Turnstone flew in and landed on the pile of bricks which stood clear of the water.

As well as  the usual Teal and a single Gadwall, three Red-crested Pochard eventually appeared from behind one of the islands in the middle and a smart pair of Pintail were hiding with the Mallard beyond the larger, fenced off island. A small flock of Brent Geese flew in for a bathe and a preen.

We had heard several Mediterranean Gulls and seen them flying past as we walked out along the path. We could see lots now, in amongst the Black-headed Gulls out on the fenced-off island. A pair or two of Mediterranean Gulls landed out in the water in front of the hide too, where we could get a really good look at them. They look particularly smart at the moment, with their jet black hoods and white eyelids.

Looking more closely through all the gulls, we noticed a smaller bird out on the island. It was a single Sandwich Tern. Through the scope we could see its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy black crest. They are only now starting to return for the breeding season, and are not often on the freshmarsh, so this was a nice bonus today.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern – another summer visitor just returned

 

Looking out from the other side of Parrinder Hide, the Volunteer Marsh looked quite quiet. There were quite a few Shelduck out on the mud, and a Curlew either side of the hide, but not much else. We decided to make a dash out towards the beach. Back out on the main path, at the far end of Volunteer Marsh, an Avocet was feeding up to its belly in the deepest pool. There were more waders along the edge of the channel here – Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew.

The Tidal Pools are full of water at the moment, so there is not much on here apart from a few Shelduck and Teal. However, while we were walking past, five Red-crested Pochard flew in. They couldn’t make up their minds whether they wanted to land on the water or not, almost touching down several times before flying up and round us again. Eventually, they decided not to and headed off back over towards the freshmarsh.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of the five which didn’t land on the Tidal Pools

 

The tide was coming in fast out at the beach. The Knot were all flying off to roost as we walked out, but there were still a few waders out on the shore. As well as lots of Oystercatchers, we found a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits with them. Several Sanderling were running in and out of the waves.

As well as being windy, there was quite a bit of misty cloud now which meant we couldn’t see too far offshore. A quick scan revealed a Great Crested Grebe close inshore and a male Red-breasted Merganser which wasn’t easy to see in the swell. We decided to head back.

Knot

Knot – feeding on the near edge of the Volunteer Marsh

 

As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, the Knot was back close to the path so we stopped for another look. On our way to the visitor centre, we swung round via the Meadow Trail, but the bushes here were all very quiet now. On our way to the car park, a Redwing was hiding deep under a pile of branches beneath the sallows and it was very tricky even to see the leaves it was throwing up. A Chiffchaff was flitting around overhead.

When we got back to the car, it started to spit with rain. We didn’t mind now we had finished – it was time to head for home.

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27th March 2018 – Brecks Birding Again

A Private Tour down in the Brecks today. The forecast earlier in the week was for heavy rain all day, which by yesterday was tempered to heavy rain clearing mid morning. As it was, we didn’t get any heavy rain at all, although it did rain in the morning and stayed stubbornly grey and misty all afternoon. Still, the weather almost never stops us getting out and seeing some good birds.

Our first target for the day was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. As we parked in the Forestry Commission car park it was drizzling still, so we donned boots and waterproofs and set off. On our way down to the bridge, we could hear Bramblings singing in the trees – more of a wheeze than a song. We found several in the trees by the feeders and had a good look at one male in particular which perched nicely above us.

Brambling

Brambling – several were singing down by the bridge

 

As we set off along the river bank path, a Treecreeper was singing in the first poplars and we eventually located it in a tree right above the path. A little further along, we found a Chiffchaff flitting around in the sallows above the ditch. This was the first of several we came across this morning, feeding low down along the edge of the river.

Although there has been the odd Chiffchaff singing here in recent weeks, these seemed like they might be new arrivals, returning for the summer.

Chiffchaff

Chifchaff – feeding feverishly along the river bank

We hadn’t gone much further when two Kingfishers flashed past, one over the reeds on one side of the path and the other back past us along the river. With a shout of ‘Kingfisher‘, half the group watched one as half saw the other and only afterwards we realised we were looking at different birds!

The Kingfisher which had flown along the river landed in one of the bushes overhanging the water just behind us, where we had a nice look at it, before it dropped down into the river and then flew off again.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – one of the two which flew past us simultaneously

As we were walking on along the path, we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call in the distance. Unfortunately, it was a long way back from the river and on the other side to us. We stood for a minute or so and listened in case it should call again, but it would be impossible to see it here anyway, so we decided to carry on to another favoured spot and try our luck there.

A little further on, and we found our first Mandarins of the day, a pair. At first we noticed the female, on a grassy pool just beyond the far bank. Then the drake swam out into view too. Stunning birds, and the first of many we would see today – they were hard to count!

Mandarin

Mandarin Duck – our first pair of the day were on a grassy pool by the river

It was non-stop action along the river bank at first, but once we got to the area where we hoped to find the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, all was quiet at first. As we walked slowly along, scanning the trees and listening carefully, we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and drumming and then found it high in a poplar by the river.

There were flocks of Redwings in the trees too and Siskins flying back and forth. We heard a couple of Marsh Tits singing and found a pair of Nuthatches flying around high in the trees. Thankfully the rain eased off a little as we stood and waited.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long. A series of sharp ‘ki,ki,ki,ki…’ calls alerted us to the arrival of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and a few seconds later we spotted it as it flew over to another tree. We got it in the scope and could see it working its way up a dead branch high in one of the poplars. It stayed just long enough for everyone to get a quick look at it through the scope, and then flew across to another.

We could still see the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker through binoculars, but it was on the move constantly. When it flew again, we lost sight of it in the branches further along. We walked up to where it had seemed to land, and a minute or so later flew again. This time it seemed to go a long way, although again we lost sight of it from where we were and couldn’t see whether it had flown across the river.

We walked back slowly along the path, listening and scanning the trees, but the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker didn’t call again, so perhaps it had gone away across the river. Having seen it already, we decided not to wait any longer for it to reappear and started to make our way back. Another pair of Mandarins had been flying round constantly as we waited and now we found them perched up in the trees beside the river. A different male landed on the water below, before they all flew off again.

As we got back to the bridge, a pair of Siskins were flitting around in the sallows and the male started songflighting. We had a quick look in the poplars by the road, but all was quiet. When we got back to the car, we heard Mandarin calling and looked up to see a group of five flying over the trees up towards the church.

It was time for a coffee break, so we drove down to the picnic area at St Helens. As we got out of the car there were lots of Redwings chattering in the trees. A male Grey Wagtail was singing from the handrail of the footbridge before flying off upstream. Yet another pair of Mandarins flew over calling and dropped down towards the river.

The coffee stop was quickly interrupted as a pair of Woodlarks dropped down into the cultivated field nearby. We managed to get one of them in the scope, but they quickly flew again, the female Woodlark up into a nearby beech tree while the male started to sing, fluttering round in circles on butterfly wings over the field.

Woodlark

Woodlark – the female turned out to be colour-ringed

 

When the female Woodlark dropped down into the field again to feed, much closer this time, we could get a better look at her. We could see that she was colour-ringed, with a combination of different coloured plastic rings. This normally would allow us to find out the details of where and when she was ringed and has been seen since, but at the time of writing this is proving harder to find out than it should! We watched as the Woodlark crept around in and out of the clods of earth.

It had stopped raining now, but it was still showing no signs of brightening up. We had been hoping to look for Goshawks, but we knew it would be difficult in the cold, grey and misty conditions. We headed over there anyway, but took a detour on the way to see if we could find any Stone Curlews. They are only back in very small numbers so far, possibly not a surprise given all the recent cold weather, and they proved elusive today too.

We did have nice views of a Tree Sparrow in a hedge while we were looking. There were a few Shelducks and a couple of Oystercatchers in the pig fields. A rather pale Common Buzzard was perched in a tree, but a second Buzzard flew low past us and we noticed a Red Kite circling over a nearby wood. The first raptor activity we had seen today.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow – hiding in the hedge

 

 

 

It was time for lunch so we decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and headed over to an area to try our luck for Goshawks. As we ate, we scanned the trees, but there was not a single raptor visible, not even a Common Buzzard up here today. A little group of Yellowhammers perched up in a bush with a couple of Reed Buntings. Several Roe Deer were out feeding in the edge of one of the fields and a pair of Greylag Geese were hiding in the winter wheat too.

The highlight was a pair of Curlew which flew in calling and circled down slowly into one of the fields. They are still very scarce breeders here, so it is always good to see a pair presumably back on territory.

After lunch, we decided to move on and try our luck with Willow Tits instead, while waiting to see if it might brighten up. We walked in to an area of plantation where some feeding tables have been set up for them. Just as we arrived, a brief sighting on one of the tables looked good for a Willow Tit, but it didn’t hang around or reappear.

As we stood and watched for a few minutes, a succession of Coals Tits, Marsh Tits and other tits came in and out. Then a Willow Tit started singing from the trees nearby. We followed the song, and eventually found a Willow Tit high in one of the pines. It seemed like there might be a pair here today, as at one point there appeared to be two birds present.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting in the early afternoon

 

It was still cloudy and grey, but it felt like the cloud had lifted a little, so we thought we could have one last look to see if there were any raptors up. On our way round, we spotted a Barn Owl on a post out among the bushes in a grassy meadow. They can be seen out hunting much more often in the daytime at the moment, probably still hungry after the recent snow.

Our efforts were rewarded with a lone Red Kite which appeared briefly above the trees, but there was still no sign even of any Common Buzzards taking to the air. Then the cloud base descended again and it started to rain once more, so we decided to admit defeat.

 

Our final destination for the day was Lynford Arboretum. Thankfully we drove out of the rain and it was dry again when we arrived. As we got out of the car, we noticed a small bird flitting around in one of the deciduous trees by the car park and a quick look confirmed it was a Firecrest.

Firecrest

Firecrest – flitting around in the trees by the car park

 

It was hard to make out any detail on the Firecrest at first, high in the trees, but it would periodically chase after an insect on the wing and flutter down lower, where we could see its strongly marked face pattern and brighter green upperparts than a Goldcrest. A second Firecrest then started singing from one of the fir trees nearby, but it was presumably deep in the thick foliage and we couldn’t see it.

We made our way quickly down towards the paddocks, stopping briefly to look at the feeders from the gate. Even though there were more fatballs today and more seed spread on the ground, it was rather quiet here, just a few tits and a Chaffinch. There was very little seed left out for the birds at the bridge, so we added a couple of generous helpings of sunflower seeds and headed down to check out the paddocks.

As we walked up to a gap in the hedge, one of the group spotted the first Hawfinch high in one of the hornbeams. We had a good look at it through the scope – it was a smart male, bright chestnut coloured. Shortly afterwards, it was joined by a duller grey-brown female and then a second male Hawfinch appeared with them too.

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – a bright male up in one of the hornbeams

 

When the Hawfinches all dropped down out of the tops of the trees, we scanned the ground underneath. We couldn’t see them there, but we did find a female Hawfinch right out in the open, in the middle of the grass with the Redwings! It hopped around for a couple of minutes, in and out of the tussocks, picking at the ground, before it flew back to the trees.

Hawfinch 2

Hawfinch – this female was hopping around in the middle of the grass

 

Having enjoyed great views of the Hawfinches, we made our way back to the bridge to see what was coming in to feed on the seed we had put out earlier. There were plenty of tits coming in and out, and we had great close views of several Marsh Tits here. Three different Nuthatches kept zooming in to grab beakfuls of seeds too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in for sunflower seeds down at the bridge

Then suddenly all the birds spooked and disappeared off into the trees. We looked around but couldn’t see any sign of something which might have frightened them. We decided to go and have a look around the lake. As we set off along the path, a quick look up into the trees in the paddocks and we noticed lots of birds in the tops. A closer look through the scope confirmed there were now at least seven Hawfinches here, though they were hard to count from here as there were several well hidden in the branches.

The Hawfinches all gradually dropped down through the branches, and we continued on. A Treecreeper was feeding on the trunk of one of the trees by the path and proved remarkably tame, allowing us to walk almost alongside. A second Treecreeper appeared too and we followed them for several minutes as they moved ahead of us along the path.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – great views feeding by the path beside the lake

There were not many ducks on the lake today – just a couple of pairs of Gadwall and a Mallard or two. Two Canada Geese were on the lawn beyond, along with several Moorhens. Our final pair of Mandarins for the day flew over the paddocks calling. We could hear Little Grebes laughing at us and eventually found one hiding in the reeds.

It was time to start heading back now. A quick glance back over the trees revealed a large, long-winged, long-tailed raptor in the distance, flying steadily towards us out of the clouds. Through the scope, we could see it was a Marsh Harrier, not what we were expecting here and possibly a bird migrating back north. When we got back to the bridge, the birds had all returned to feed again, including a female Reed Bunting now.

Then it was a nice gentle walk back to the car and off to make our way home. Despite the difficult weather, we had enjoyed a great day out and seen a very good selection of Breckland birds.

25th Mar 2018 – Coast & Brecks Weekend #2

Day 2 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours, and we were heading down to the Brecks today. The clocks went forward last night, so we had lost an hour of sleep but gained an hour relative to the birds clocks which we could use to our favour! It was forecast to be cloudy in the morning and brighten up in the afternoon.

With the chance in the clocks, we figured we could afford to be ‘later’ looking for Goshawks today, so we started off heading out to look for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers first. When we arrived at Santon Downham, there seemed to be lots of people standing around looking for Parrot Crossbills, but our priority was the woodpeckers so we headed straight down to the river. A Kingfisher was in the bushes by the bridge, but flew off upstream as a large group of people arrived.

As we walked down along the new path beside the river, we could hear Bramblings wheezing in the trees and looked up to see one perched high in a poplar. Another Kingfisher was perched in one of the branches of a tree which had fallen into the river, but flew off when it saw us approaching. A pair of Mandarins flew past us along the river, before circling round and coming back through the trees where they landed high in one of the poplars. They are tree-nesting ducks and were probably looking for a suitable nest hole.

Mandarin

Mandarin – one of a pair which perched high in the poplars

 

We had been told that the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers had been around earlier this morning, but they had not been seen for around half an hour when we arrived. We stood and listened to see if we could hear them, and were rewarded with the wrong woodpeckers.

First, we could hear a Green Woodpecker laughing at us from the trees on the other side of the river. It gradually worked its way towards us and finally appeared on the dead trunk of a tree. Then we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and shortly after another calling across the river. One eventually appeared in the top of one of the alder trees where we could get it in the scope.

That was a nice start, but not the one we were looking for. There were some other birds around – a Nuthatch appeared in the trees too, there were plenty of tits including Marsh Tit singing, Siskins zipped back and forth overhead and a big flock of Redwings flew up into the tops of the trees before heading off over our heads and across the river.

When we noticed a couple of people look up at a small bird heading towards us from the Suffolk side of the river, we looked up too to see a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker coming out way. It flew in over our heads and we thought it would land in the poplars in front of us, but instead it carried on over the trees and dropped down somewhere over the back, way off in the distance. At least we had seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but it was not the views we were hoping for this morning.

Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long. After about ten minutes, we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call and one of the group spotted it right in the top of one of the poplars. We got the scope on it and everyone had a good look, before it flew towards us and landed in another tree a little closer. It perched there for a couple of minutes, in full view, before flying again and this time heading back over the river and away, off in the direction from where it had flown in earlier.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – perched in the top of the poplars

 

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are declining rapidly in the UK and we still don’t know why. So it was great to see one and to enjoy such good views of it. Even better, we got the full set of woodpeckers for the morning! With our main target achieved, we headed back along the path.

There were some Siskins in the alders on the other side of the river and when we stopped to look at them, one of the group asked whether we might see any redpolls too. Right on cue, we heard a redpoll calling and looked up to see one fly across and land in the top of one of the poplars by the path. Through the scope we could confirm that it was a Lesser Redpoll and a second bird, a smart red-breasted male, flew in to join it.

We had heard a Grey Wagtail calling back at the bridge earlier, while we had been distracted by the Kingfisher, but we hadn’t seen it. A quick scan from the bridge again when we got back and we spotted it picking around the base of one of the tangles of branches down along the bank just upstream. We walked up along the path beside the river and got it in the scope, a smart male Grey Wagtail with black throat.

There was still no news on the Parrot Crossbills, which had been coming in to drink in one of the ditches close by on the previous two days. It seemed like they must have decided to drink elsewhere again today. We had a quick look back at the area where they had been seen, which produced nice views of a singing Marsh Tit  and a Common Buzzard which circled low overhead.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circled low overhead

 

The churchyard at Santon Downham can be a good place to see Firecrest, so we had a wander up to look there. We heard several Goldcrests singing but not their scarcer cousin. It feels like the Firecrests have been slightly slow to get going this year, possibly in response to the colder weather in recent weeks. A Treecreeper appeared in the trees by the road too.

As forecast, the cloud was now starting to break and patches of blue sky were appearing. It felt quite a bit warmer too. A Sparrowhawk circled up over the village, flapping vigorously between glides, reminding us that it was getting to raptor o’clock and we should be heading off to look for one of our other targets soon.

We walked back down towards the car, stopping to look at the feeders by the bridge where a smart male Siskin was singing above our heads. The Kingfisher was showing well again, perched in the trees just by the bridge.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – showing well by the bridge today

As we made our way over to look for Goshawks, the sun was out and the air was warming up nicely. Even though it was already after midday, to the Goshawks it was still late morning – perfect timing! When we arrived, there were already several Common Buzzards circling up above the trees. We hadn’t even had time to get the sandwiches out before we picked up our first Goshawks.

The initial ones we saw were rather distant. An adult male Goshawk was soaring high in the sky away to our right. Then a young male circled up above the trees too and started to display, flying across with slow, deep, deliberate wingbeats first before launching into a series of rollercoaster swoops, diving down, then turning sharply up, climbing vertically before stalling at the top and repeating over again. It gradually lost height, dropping down behind the trees.

Then another adult Goshawk appeared, a little bit closer. As it circled up it attracted the attention of one of the local Carrion Crows which decided to chase after it. The Crow mobbed it for several minutes, the Goshawk just jinking out of the way occasionally. After gaining height, it drifted off over the road and away to the west, until we lost sight of it, with the Crow still pursuing it.

We were busy watching the original young male Goshawk, which had come up again, when one of the group noticed yet another Goshawk circling up in front of us. This one, a different adult, was much closer, and we had a great view of it as it circled up, pale grey above and almost white below. It gained height very quickly, before drifting off north.

Goshawk

Goshawk – one of at least four on view over lunch

After that one disappeared, we turned our attention back to the young male Goshawk which was still displaying away to our right. The adult male was up again too now, and had clearly decided to chase off the interloper. It started to display, slow flapping, and headed straight towards the youngster, which decided to head off, and we lost it behind the trees.

In between all the Goshawk action, we had even found time to eat our lunch! There were other raptors up too – in addition to all the Common Buzzards, a Red Kite circled up and two Kestrels hovered over the field behind us. We had been really spoilt with raptors now, so we decided to head off and try something else.

We made our way round to a clearing to look for Woodlarks next. We thought they might be singing now, with the sun having come out, despite it being the middle of the day, but it was surprisingly quiet. We had a quick walk round, but it was rather disappointing – the only birds of note we saw were a Linnet singing in the tops of the trees close to where we parked and a smart male Yellowhammer perched in a low bush calling. A couple of Common Buzzards circled over, including a very pale bird, almost pure white below.

We decided to try something else and made our way over to Lynford Arboretum. As we walked in along the path, we had a great view of a couple of Goldcrests busy feeding low down in the larches. There was very little food left in the feeders from the gate and almost no birds down in the leaf litter, so we headed straight down towards the paddocks.

There were lots of birds coming down to the food put out on the pillars of the bridge. We stopped just long enough to admire a variety of tits, including several Marsh Tits which were coming in and out repeatedly, giving great close views.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – great views coming in to the food put out at the bridge

Hawfinch was our main target here, so we didn’t wait too long before continuing on down to the paddocks. We were quickly rewarded, as almost instantly something spooked all the finches and Redwings feeding under the trees out in the middle and we saw two larger birds with obviously white-tipped tails fly up. They were a pair Hawfinches and we got them in the scope as they dropped down to the ground again.

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – this duller grey-brown female showed very well

 

Over the next few minutes, the Hawfinches were continually dropping down to the ground and flying back up into the trees above, generally spooked by a cock Pheasant which insisted on calling loudly from time to time and shaking its wings, upsetting all the other birds. We had particularly good views of a female Hawfinch, which perched on a dead branch lying on the ground for a minute or so at one point, and then showed very well in a low hawthorn, climbing about in the branches and feeding on the leaf buds.

When two Hawfinches flew up from the trees and off towards the Arboretum, we though at first that was the pair we had been watching, but looking back at the hawthorn the female was still there in the branches. Then we noticed a male Hawfinch had appeared and was perched slightly higher up. Through the scope, we could see his much richer chestnut colouration, really striking in the afternoon sun.

Hawfinch 2

Hawfinch – the more richly-coloured male perched up too

 

 

When the Hawfinches finally disappeared back into the trees, we decided to walk back to the bridge. We topped up the seed mix on the pillars with a generous handful of sunflower seeds, and the Nuthatches appeared to appreciate it, coming in and out regularly to grab a beakful.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in to grab some sunflower seeds

As well as all the tits coming and going, there were Chaffinches and Dunnocks too. The Siskins were not here for the seeds, but were feeding in the alders nearby and we had great views of a bright male just above our heads.

 

Siskin 2

Siskin – this smart male was singing above our heads

It was time to start making our way back, so we walked up to the car park. We stopped for a minute and listened, but there was no sign of any Firecrests singing here either today, although it was hard to hear anything at times with all the cars and people coming and going. Then we noticed some movement high in one of the fir trees and as we looked up with binoculars, a Firecrest flitted out and landed on a branch.

Unfortunately, by the time the rest if the group had made it over, the Firecrest had disappeared and been replaced by a Goldcrest instead. It was a frustrating few minutes before the Firecrest finally appeared on the edge of the next fir tree along and we all had a good view of it flitting in and out of the branches high above our heads.

We still had time for one last stop on our way back. The first Stone Curlews which had returned a week or so back had become rather elusive since the snow, so we weren’t sure we would be able to find them today. We stopped to scan the field where they often like to roost during the day, but there was no sign of them. A Tree Sparrow in the hedge nearby was some compensation.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow – appeared in the hedge while looking for Stone Curlews

 

The Stone Curlews are not in the pig fields so often at this time of year, but we decided to have a look anyway just in case and there they were, three Stone Curlews. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, noting their staring yellow eyes and short yellow and black bills. They didn’t appear at all concerned by the pigs walking either side of them!

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlews – unconcerned by the pigs walking past!

That was a great way to end the tour, watching the Stone Curlews out in the field. It had been a really enjoyable couple of days with some good birds and excellent company. Time to head for home!

24th Mar 2018 – Coast & Brecks Weekend #1

Day 1 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours. Today was to be spent on the North Norfolk coast looking for lingering winter visitors and any early spring migrants. The weather was meant to be grey and cloudy, perhaps misty, with a chance of light rain. It was certainly the former, though we missed the latter, and we did even have a bit of sunshine at one point instead!

The winter thrushes are on the move at the moment, starting to make their way back north. On our drive down towards the coast, we saw a large flock of Redwings come up out of the trees in one of the river valleys.  A pair of Stock Doves were displaying over some old barns, hopefully a sign that spring is on its way. A pair of Bullfinches flew across the road, flashing their white rumps.

Our first stop was at Cley. We planned to have a walk up along the East Bank and see if any more birds were moving along the coast today. There were plenty of geese and ducks still out on the grazing marshes – the Wigeon, Teal and Brent Geese will all be leaving us soon, but the Greylags and Shelduck may stay to breed here.

A Marsh Harrier circled up distantly over Pope’s Marsh but we got nice views of a second one perched in a bush in the middle of the reedbed, a rather pale female. When we heard ‘pinging’ calls from the reeds along the ditch just below the bank, we looked down to see several Bearded Tits edging up the stems.

Bearded Tit 1

Bearded Tit – showed very well in the reeds from the East Bank

It was a lovely still morning, so the Bearded Tits put on a great performance for us. They would drop down deeper into the reeds but repeatedly climbed up again and perched in the tops giving fantastic views. There were at least six of them, including several smart males with powder grey heads and black moustaches. They are neither really bearded, nor actual tits – Moustachioed Reedling would perhaps be a better name!

They are great to watch as they clamber around in the reeds. Bearded Tits’ legs can stretch in all directions to cling on to the stems – they must be triple jointed!

Bearded Tit 3

Bearded Tit – this male was doing the splits!

There were a few waders on the muddy margins of the pools on the grazing marsh. A couple of Ringed Plovers were accompanied by two Dunlin out on a more open area. Two Common Snipe were busy probing in the mud along one of the grassier edges. A group of five Black-tailed Godwits flew in from the pools by the hides and over our heads, flashing their black and white wings. A couple of Ruff dropped in at the back, on Pope’s Pool, where we had a look at them in the scope. They are not yet getting their elaborate neck ‘ruffs’.

Avocet numbers are really building up now, ahead of the breeding season, and there were quite a few on Pope’s Pool today. The Redshank are already starting to display, calling and song flighting. When a flock of Lapwings flew in and dropped down onto the grazing marshes, it seemed to prompt one or two of the locals to start to display. We stood and watched an impressive performance from one Lapwing which twisted and tumbled in front of us over the edge of the reedbed.

Lapwing

Lapwing – put on an impressive display over the reedbed

There were lots more waders out on Arnold’s Marsh, where the water level has dropped nicely. We could see lots of Dunlin in the shallow water, along with a good number of Redshank, a few Curlew and more Avocets. Two Oystercatchers were asleep at the front. Scanning through carefully, we found two Turnstones on one of the gravel spits busy turning stones over and a couple of Grey Plover, still in grey non-breeding plumage.

On the brackish pools the other side of the path, we found out first Little Egret of the day. A smart pair of Pintail were busy upending out in the middle of the water nearby. A Curlew was catching the morning light. Further up, behind the beach, a couple of Meadow Pipits were busy displaying, fluttering up and parachuting down, though one of them had the sound turned off!

Curlew 1

Curlew – catching the morning light on the brackish pools

There was no sign of any migrants moving along the coast today, despite the mild weather. The sea was very calm and very quiet too, although it was a bit misty still looking out over the water. We decided to head back – with a smart male Reed Bunting perched up in the top of the reeds distracting us briefly on the way.

As we got back to the road, we were told that a Spoonbill was on the pool from Babcock Hide, so we walked round to have a look. A quick scan from the path, and we could see it was fast asleep at the back, behind a line of reeds, so we didn’t stop at the hide.

Our next destination was Holkham.  As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped to look at a pair of Egyptian Geese out on the grass. We noticed a Common Buzzard was on the ground nearby, busy ripping into something it had presumably just killed. The Egyptian Geese walked straight past it, as did a pair of Greylags approaching from the opposite direction. A little further on, we spotted a pair of Grey Partridge in the grass on the edge of one of the ditches.

Parking at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, there were lots of Wigeon out on the grazing marshes still, busy feeding on the grass accompanied by a few Black-tailed Godwits and Curlews. A lone Brent Goose was out on the meadow the other side, presumably a sick or injured bird which has been left behind by the flock. Several Marsh Harriers were quartering in the distance.

Wigeon

Wigeon – on the grazing marshes by Lady Anne’s Drive

We headed out towards the beach first, turning east along the edge of the saltmarsh. There were lots of people here today and dogs running around everywhere we went. A couple of Skylarks were singing overhead, but there was no sign of the Shorelarks today. Everywhere we went to look for them, we found people clambering in the dunes or dogs running around, but it may be that they have departed already. A Woodcock was a nice bonus from our walk out here. Presumably flushed from somewhere deep in the trees, it flew across the north edge of the pines before cutting back in further along.

When we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, it was time for lunch, so we made good use of the picnic tables and enjoyed the view. We watched a Great White Egret fly in from away to the west and it appeared to land in front of Washington Hide, so we made our way over that way after we had eaten.

The trees were pretty quiet at first – not even a Chiffchaff in and singing yet. At Salt’s Hole a Little Grebe was hiding in the reeds and a female Tufted Duck was asleep. A Treecreeper was singing nearby. Further along, we found some Goldcrests and Coal Tits in the holm oaks and eventually came across a flock of mostly Long-tailed Tits, although they shot through very quickly into the pines.

There was no sign of the Great White Egret now on the pool in front of Washington Hide – just a few more Tufted Ducks and a lone female Common Pochard – so we carried straight on to Joe Jordan Hide. Unfortunately there were several people in there already, who had spread themselves out or were eating their lunch, so there wasn’t a lot of room for us.

There were a few geese feeding on the grass on the old fort, so we got them in the scope. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have gone back north already, so it was nice to see about 15 here, although their pink feet were hard to see in the long grass! Four (Russian) White-fronted Geese were feeding nearby, but flew off back over the trees before everyone had a chance to see them through the scope. Thankfully we found another flock of about thirty down in the wet grass away to the right of the hide, and we had a good look at them, admiring their white fronts and blackish belly bars.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – there were around 30 from Joe Jordan Hide still

We managed to get better views of a Great White Egret here, standing in a reedy ditch in front of the hide, and some Spoonbills which weren’t asleep! At first, we spotted a Spoonbill further over, feeding on one of the pools, busy sweeping its bill from side to side. One or two were flying round in and out of the trees, then two more Spoonbills appeared on the large pool in front of the hide where we got a much better look at them through the scope.

Spoonbill

Spoonbills – we saw several from Joe Jordan Hide

As we couldn’t all fit in on the benches in the hide, we decided to head back once we had all had a good look at the main species we had come to see here. Once back at the car, we made our way further west along the coast road to Titchwell.

Making our way from the car park towards the visitor centre, we could hear Bramblings singing in the bushes. It is not much of a song, more of a wheeze! The more we looked, the more we realised we could see, and we stopped to admire several of them, including a smart male Brambling which was busy feeding on the buds of the sallows.

Brambling

Brambling – there were several singing in the sallows today

Most of the birds were in the bushes and trees today, and there was not much more on the feeders, apart from lots of Chaffinches. As we headed out towards the reserve, a quick scan of the ditches was rewarded with a Water Rail which gave very nice views, picking around in the leaf litter in the bottom.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showed very well in the ditch by the main path

The Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ looked very quiet at first, but a careful scan was eventually rewarded. Several Pied Wagtails were feeding in and out of the vegetation right at the back, and a Water Pipit appeared nearby. It wasn’t easy to see though, and kept disappearing back into cover.

The reedbed pool held a few Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard diving out in the middle among the Greylags. On the near edge of the reedbed, a pair of Bearded Tits were feeding at the base of the reeds around the small pools, delighting the crowd gathered, although we had been spoilt with our views of Bearded Tits earlier this morning.

The water levels of the freshmarsh are still very high – they don’t seem to have come down at all, despite the drier weather recently. Consequently, there are next to no waders on here still. The fenced-off island where the Avocets are supposed to nest has been almost completely taken over by gulls.

At least it seems to be appreciated by the Mediterranean Gulls, with at least 60 being seen around the reserve at the moment. We could hear them calling almost constantly as we walked out. Pairs were flying back and forth, in and out of the freshmarsh, flashing their pure white wing tips. We had great views of a stunning adult Mediterranean Gull which had landed in the shallow water quite close to the path with a group of Black-headed Gulls to bathe.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – a cracking adult

There were a few more waders on the Volunteer Marsh – several Avocets, a couple of Grey Plover, plus one or two Black-tailed Godwits and Curlew. The deeper channel at the far side held more of the same, plus a couple of little groups of Knot.

The tidal pools are flooded at the moment, so we headed straight on to the beach. The tide was out but we could immediately see that most of the waders were out here. There were lots of Knot and Dunlin in big flocks and several Bar-tailed Godwits too, all feeding on the edge of the water. We managed to spot three Sanderlings running in and out in front of the waves, until they flew off east.

Looking out to sea, it was very misty and hard to see too far. We did manage to find a few things on the water. There were good numbers of Red-breasted Merganser close inshore and a couple of Common Scoter were with them. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the edge of the mist, but the highlight was a Slavonian Grebe close inshore, though it was diving constantly and making its way quickly east towards Brancaster.

It was time to head back, as we still had one last stop we wanted to make today. As we headed inland, up towards Choseley, a Barn Owl was already out hunting. They have been much more visible in recent weeks, presumably being much more hungry now after the snow.

On our way home, we diverted round via Bintree Mill. There were lots of ducks on the large pool nearby – Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and a small number of Wigeon too. A drake Garganey had been seen here a couple of days ago and had been refound here again this morning. After a bit of scanning, we managed to locate it, upending constantly, hiding in the vegetation.

Garganey

Garganey – this smart drake was a nice end to the day

 

We had a good view of the drake Garganey through the scope, we could see its striking white supercilium and elongate scapular plumes. It was a nice way to end the day, with a proper summer migrant. And it was not far back home so we made it in good time for tea & cake!

19th March 2018 – Brecks & Fens

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks, but with a difference. We had a specific list of target species, which meant we would aim to spend the morning in the Brecks themselves and the afternoon at Lakenheath Fen and the surrounding area. After a frosty night, it was a lovely bright, clear, sunny day, but cold in the still blustery NE wind.

After an earlier than normal start, we headed out to look for Stone Curlews first. A few early birds have already arrived back and presumably must be regretting it! It had snowed a little yesterday and the fields were covered in a light dusting of snow this morning.

The first field we checked, where we had seen them a couple of days ago, was empty today, apart from a couple of Red-legged Partridges. We checked out the other field they favour and at first it appeared devoid of life too until somebody noticed two shapes huddled up tight against the hedge – the Stone Curlews. They were clearly trying to get out of the cold wind, despite the fact they were up to their knees in snow!

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of two sheltering from the wind in the snow this morning

The Stone Curlews walked out a short distance into the field, where we had a very good look at them through the scope, before they headed back in to the shelter of the hedge once more. Further over, out in the middle of the field, a pair of Grey Partridge were trying to hide in one of the wheel ruts.

Goshawk was another target for the day, but it was still a bit cold for them to be up. We drove round via a good site for them but a quick scan from the warmth of the car revealed very little aerial activity. There were several Fieldfares feeding on the ground out in the field nearby, along with a couple of Mistle Thrush and a few Chaffinches. We would come back later, when it had warmed up a little (relatively speaking!). In the meantime, we headed off to look for Woodlarks.

As we walked along the ride past the first clearing, there was quite a bit of snow covering the ground. It didn’t look especially promising. The second clearing we looked in was even worse. There is some farmland just beyond the forest here, and we figured they might have moved out to the fields to look for food, so we headed over that way.

As we walked past the third clearing towards the fields, we heard a Woodlark call and looked across to see two come up off the bare ground beyond. They flew over towards us and did a circuit of the clearing, calling to each other. The male twittered, but never really broke into full song. While one of them flew quickly back to the fields, the male Woodlark landed in the top of a small oak tree on the edge of the clearing, where he did start to sing rather half-heartedly.

 

We walked round to the oak tree for a closer look and got the Woodlark in the scope, getting a good look at it before he took off and flew away over the clearing and dropped down again onto the field beyond. Satisfied with what we had seen, we turned to go but we hadn’t got very far before a pair of Woodlarks flew in calling again. They circled round and landed only a short distance away from us, in a small patch in the clearing which was relatively free of lying snow.

Woodlark

Woodlark – a pair flew in and landed in a snow-free patch in the clearing

 

As we walked back to the car, it was still very cold in the wind but it felt like the sun was starting to get a bit more warmth to it, so we headed off to look for Goshawks. We hadn’t been there long before the first Common Buzzards started to appear, first one or two, then a group of three circled up behind.

Not too long afterwards, a Goshawk circled up too. It was rather distant, but through the scope we could see it was an adult, pale grey above and bright whitish below, a male by the looks of things. It didn’t gain much height as it circled, drifting slowly across and eventually dropping back down behind the trees. It wasn’t the best view, but at least we had seen a Goshawk. It was rather cold here standing out in the open, so we decided to head off and look for something else.

Willow Tit was the next species on the list. We drove round to a spot where some feeding tables have been set up in the hope of tempting them in. As we walked up the ride, a Redwing appeared in the trees by the path.

The feeding tables were well stocked with sunflower seeds and a steady stream of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits were coming in to take advantage, or flitting around in the pines nearby. A Marsh Tit appeared in the trees by the path – a bit too plain and grey compared to the one we were hoping for. We had nice views of a Nuthatch climbing down a tree trunk here too.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit – there were lots around the feeders today

 

We didn’t have to wait long before we heard a Willow Tit, a male singing deep in the plantation behind one the feeders. For a minute or so, it sang repeatedly, a series of loud, ringing ‘tseeooo’ notes, and it seemed like it might be working its way towards us. Then it went quiet. We scanned the edge of the trees in case it came out but about ten minutes later, we got two more ‘tseeooo’s from about the same place, and that was it.

It gradually became clear that was all we were going to get for a while. We were about to leave when we looked up and saw a raptor circling low over the trees – a Goshawk. It disappeared back over the trees but a couple of minutes later, we saw it fly across the ride further up, closely followed be a second Goshawk. We thought there was a good chance they might start to display, so we walked up to a spot where there was an opening in the trees.

When we got there, we could see one of the two Goshawks still up above the pines. It was hanging in the wind, not really displaying, but with its white undertail coverts puffed out. It was a much better view than the distant one we had seen earlier. It gradually drifted away and dropped down behind the trees again.

Goshawk

Goshawk – hanging in the wind, with its undertail coverts fluffed out

As we walked back, the two Goshawks appeared again, high over the ride. The male was displaying now, way up in the sky, flying with deep, exaggerated wingbeats, while the larger female circled below.

Apart from actually seeing a Willow Tit, we had found all our Brecks targets already, and had very good views of all the rest of them. We decided to head off and try something different – we could always swing back round here on our way back later.

Common Crane was next on the list, which meant a drive over into the edge of the Fens. We had a look round several of the places they like to feed and, after stopping to check through various Greylag and Canada Geese off in the distance, we spotted a lone Common Crane flying over the meadows. It dropped down behind an area of thick rushes, where it started to feed.

Common Crane

Common Crane – on its own today

There is usually a pair of Common Cranes here and they are rarely seen apart, so hopefully the fact that it was on its own may suggest that this pair are getting down to breeding already.

It was getting on to lunchtime now, so we made our way round to Lakenheath Fen next, where we stopped for a bite to eat. After lunch, we headed out towards the Washland viewpoint. There were lots of Reed Buntings around the feeders outside the visitor centre.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – along the river from the Washland viewpoint

 

As we walked up onto the river bank at the Washland, the first bird we saw was a Great White Egret, a short distance away to the east along the river. Just behind it, a swan on the edge of the reeds turned out to be a lone Whooper Swan. They are not often on their own here and this one didn’t look entirely well, so perhaps it had been unable to follow the rest of the Whooper Swans back towards Iceland.

There were lots of ducks out on the Washland too, mainly Shoveler, Wigeon and Shelduck. A couple of small parties of Tufted Duck were down on the river, along with a few Teal.

The bird we had really hoped to see here was Water Pipit. There are usually quite a few along the river here, but they can be horribly elusive. Today, however, our luck was in as we quickly spotted one picking around one of the islands of rushes just below the viewpoint. It appeared to be in moult, gradually losing its streaked underparts before gaining the brighter pink breast of summer plumage.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – in the middle of moulting to summer plumage

Spoonbill is an unusual bird down here – much commoner up on the coast – so it was not one we had predicted as a possible today. However, following news that one was here yesterday, we had learnt at the visitor centre that it was still present today, along the river. We hadn’t ventured far from the Washland viewpoint, when we spotted a large white shape further downstream, feeding along the far bank. Through the scope, we could confirm it was the Spoonbill.

We walked up the bank until we were roughly opposite the Spoonbill and had a good look at it. We could see the yellow tip to its spoon-shaped bill, the mustard wash across its breast and a flowing crest blowing around in the wind, suggesting it was an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – on the river bank opposite New Fen

 

We were now opposite New Fen, so we cut back in onto the reserve. A pair of Gadwall and a couple of Little Grebe were the only new birds here. With out targets achieved so quickly, we decided not to walk out around the rest of the reserve and made our way back to the visitor centre.

Willow Tit was the only one of the species we had set out to see today which still eluded us, so we decided to head back over for one more go, on our way back to where we had started the day. When we arrived, we met a couple of people leaving who told us that it had just been singing and calling pretty constantly, but remained rather elusive.

Siskin

Siskin – had now joined the tits on the feeding table

 

We walked back up to the feeding stations, where a smart male Siskin had joined the tits down on the sunflower seeds. We stood and watched the comings and goings for a while, but it started to seem like we might be out of luck. Then we heard a Willow Tit calling in the plantation on the other side of the ride, a deep, nasal scolding. Once again, it sounded like it might be heading our way, so we stood and scanned the edge of the trees.

This time the Willow Tit did come out, but it flew from the tops of the pines of one side of the ride, right over our heads. It appeared to be dropping down towards one of the feeding tables, but then seemed to go down into the bushes beyond. We focused on the feeding table, expecting it to make a visit there, but we didn’t see it. The next thing we knew, it started singing from the pines behind.

The Willow Tit was not far into the plantation this time, so we followed the song and found ourselves standing below the tree where it was. It sang and sang for about 10 minutes, but even though we knew exactly which tree it was in, it was almost impossible to see. It was high in the top and not moving. Eventually, it started to move and we get a quick look at it when it came to the outer branches of the tree, before moving off and going quiet.

Perhaps not the best view ever of a Willow Tit, but at least we had seen it now. It meant we had completed the set, all the target species we had set out to find today. With long journeys back and after our early start, we decided to call it a day and head for home.

17th March 2018 – ‘Mini-Beast’ in the Brecks

A group tour today down in the Brecks. With the so-called ‘Mini-Beast from the East’ due to arrive with us overnight, we were forecast plunging temperatures, blustery easterly winds and snow flurries. Not exactly ideal conditions – but as we know, forecasts are notoriously unreliable these days.

When we looked more closely, the detailed forecasts were not necessarily that bad, the worst of the snow was predicted to fall on Saturday night, there was just 10-20% risk of precipitation during daylight hours today (Apparently! It turned out to be a bit more than that.) and there was even the chance of some sunny intervals. With the group keen to give it a go, we pressed ahead (despite two of the group dropping out at the last minute, early in the morning). We were all very glad we did!

A quick check on the way confirmed a Stone Curlew was in one of its regular locations, tucked down in a field, so after meeting up down in the Brecks, we headed straight out to see it. Unfortunately, by the time we got back there just a short time later, there was no sign of it. It had started to snow now and, although it wasn’t settling, it was whipping across the field on the blustery wind. We decided to have another look later, once the weather calmed down again.

We headed off into the forest to look for Woodlarks instead. They should be singing at this time of year, but in the cold and snow they were quiet early this morning. We walked round the edge of a couple of clearings where they are regularly to be found, but it was very quiet. So we decided to try to find a more sheltered spot. As we walked down a ride between two plantations, several Song Thrushes were feeding on the path. Two Great Tits and a pair of Coal Tits had dropped down to feed in the grass on the edge of the trees.

As we came out of the plantations, there were open fields on one side of the path. Scanning over the trees beyond, we saw a big flock of Woodpigeons erupt in the distance and a few seconds later picked up two raptors tussling even further off behind. They looked like Goshawks – one of our main targets for the day – but unfortunately as we tried to get everyone onto them, we lost them in the swirling snow. They had probably dropped straight back down out of view. It didn’t feel like our lucky day.

Fortunately, our luck was about to change. We made our way round to another clearing which was more sheltered behind the trees. As we walked up, we could see a big flock of Fieldfares and Redwings out on the far side, flying up periodically and dropping down into the grass. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was calling in the pines beside us and we could hear a Goldcrest singing too.

Walking quietly along the most sheltered edge, we heard a Woodlark call. It was very quiet, and it seemed like it might be way out in the clearing, but they are great ventriloquists and often sound much further away than they really are. We stopped and scanned, then as we turned a Woodlark came out of a furrow not ten metres away from us! We had a great view of it, as it picked its way through the grass – we could see its bold pale supercilium and, from behind, they way they met in a shallow ‘v’ at the back.

Woodlark

Woodlark – feeding quietly in the grass very close to us

We stood quietly and watched for a while. Suddenly a second Woodlark appeared, next to the first. A pair were feeding here together, the male occasionally uttering a brief song phrase, while he accompanied the female. They could be nesting soon, as soon as the weather improves, so the females in particular need to feed up now. The two Woodlarks gradually worked their way away from us, back the way we had just come.

The snow had eased off now, so we headed over to another part of the forest to have a go to see if we could find any Willow Tits. Walking down along the ride, it was very quiet at first, until we came to an area with two feeding tables set up. There were lots of tits constantly coming and going, and in amongst the commoner Blue, Great and Coal Tits, we picked out one or two Marsh Tits. They would dart in, grab a seed, and dart back to the bushes nearby. But there were no birds singing today and few even calling, which would make our chances of locating the Willow Tits much more difficult.

We hadn’t been there long when the sky started to brighten. First we could see the sun through the clouds, then we saw a patch of blue above us. It even started to feel a little milder! We could wait and see if the Willow Tits started to sing now, but this was probably our best chance to see a Goshawk today. The latter was our real priority today, so we hurried back to the car and headed round to a nearby site to try our luck.

On our way, we spotted a Red Kite circling over a field beside the road, a good sign. It was already clouding over again when we arrived, but as we got out of the car, a Common Buzzard was hanging in the wind over the trees. We only had to wait a few minutes before we picked out two Goshawks in the distance.

The two Goshawks were chasing each other, gradually getting closer towards us. It appeared to be an adult after a juvenile, presumably trying to chase it out of its territory. We got them in the scope so everyone could get a good look at them. One dropped down into the trees, sending the Woodpigeons scattering. The other turned and headed towards the road, keeping low and eventually dropping below the tree line too.

Goshawk 1

Goshawk – one of three we saw this morning, when the weather improved

It was a bit brighter still on the other side of the road, and first one Goshawk crossed away in the distance, then another came over much closer, scattering the Lapwings and Starlings from the fields behind. Remarkably, one of the Goshawks, the juvenile, then started to display over the trees, starting with a bout of slow-flapping with deep, exaggerated wingbeats, then doing a quick rollercoaster dive before turning back up vertically.

Even better, a third Goshawk then appeared over the field too, another juvenile, this one with rather tatty wings. We watched it as it headed over to the trees at the back too, and once again managed to get good views of it in the scope here. A couple of minutes later, we picked one of them up again, circling up high in the distance.

Goshawk 2

Goshawk – the rather tatty-winged juvenile

To have such good views of Goshawks on a day like today was a real bonus. But they do like the wind, more so than a bright but still day, which undoubtedly helped, as well as the briefly brighter skies. We were glad we had hurried over. We were then given a tip off that two Stone Curlews had been seen flying across to one of the other fields, back where we had started out this morning, where they had taken shelter along the edge. Having had such good views of the Goshawks and with the snow still holding off, we decided to head straight round there next.

When we arrived, we had a quick scan around the field edge from the other side of the road, but couldn’t immediately see anything. As we walked up to the hedge, suddenly a Stone Curlew flew up from the long grass on the far side of the field and helpfully landed right out in the middle. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it – the staring eye with bright yellow iris really stood out.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – flew out and landed in the middle of the field

The Stone Curlew stood in the field for a couple of minutes, then ran across towards the other side in stages, stopping still for a while each time, before eventually disappearing from our view behind the trees. It was great to catch up with it here this time.

With three of our main targets for the day already seen and seen well, we decided to have a go at catching up with Lesser Spotted Woodpecker next. Unfortunately, when we got to Santon Downham we found that the footpath alongside the river had been closed.

This footpath is always muddy and slippery in winter, particularly if you try to walk along the sloping parts of the bank which appear superficially drier. A few days ago, a birdwatcher down looking for the woodpeckers had unfortunately slipped and seemingly broken her ankle. It is not an easy place for the emergency services to access anyway and there seemed to be a misunderstanding initially that the casualty was stuck in the mud, which she was not. There was quite a response as a result – two fire engines, fire support vehicles and two fire officers’ cars, one ambulance, one paramedics car, and a police car!

Hopefully the birdwatcher concerned was eventually rescued without too much distress and we wish her a speedy recovery. However, in the light of this incident it appears the Forestry Commission have closed off the whole footpath for an indefinite period, which means there is no access to look for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in their favoured spot.

We contented ourselves with a quick walk round the area instead. There were lots of Chaffinches and Goldfinches in the trees, plus a couple of Marsh Tits, one of which was singing beside the road. A large flock of Redwings, about 50-60 strong, flew up from the paddocks and into the poplars by the river, along with a group of Starlings. A Great Spotted Woodpecker landed high in the poplars too.

A quick look at the feeders in the garden by the bridge revealed several Bramblings. A brighter male showed particularly well, on the ground and perched in a nearby tree, as well as several slightly duller females.

Brambling

Brambling – several were in the gardens down by the bridge

We had intended to eat our lunch down along the river bank, but instead we drove down to St Helens picnic area. It was quiet and fairly birdless here today, so after eating and having a quick look down at the river, we decided to make our way round to Lynford Arboretum.

As we walked in along the track past the Arboretum, we stopped for a quick look at the feeders from the gate. There was very little food left, just a few fatballs in the cage feeder which had attracted a handful of tits. Nothing was feeding on the ground here this afternoon.

Continuing on down the hill towards the bridge, a Redwing was feeding under the trees with a couple of Blackbirds. The latter flew off, but the Redwing appeared pretty fearless. Perhaps it was hungry, and we had great close views of it as it probed around the base of the trunks, hiding in the buttresses, or hopped out across the grass between the trees.

Redwing

Redwing – this fearless individual was feeding around the base of trees

There was no food put out for the birds down at the bridge either this afternoon, but thankfully we had brought a bag of sunflower seeds with us. Within seconds of spreading some out, first the Blue Tits arrived, quickly followed by Great Tits and Marsh Tits. This is a great place to get close up views of the latter in particular.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming down to sunflower seeds at the bridge

Eventually the Nuthatches got involved too, with several different individuals coming in to the seed from time to time. They are a bit shyer than some of the other birds, and spent quite a bit of time perched in the trees nearby before making a very swift visit.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – waiting to come down to the sunflower seeds at the bridge

There were other birds here too. Robins, Dunnocks and Chaffinches came in to investigate the seed too. Several Long-tailed Tits were hanging on one of the feeders which still had a couple of fatballs left. We heard a Treecreeper calling but it didn’t show itself today. There were lots of Siskins in the alders and we watched a male singing and displaying to a female above our heads.

After a while, a large group of people out for an afternoon stroll came down along the path beside the lake and stopped on the bridge. We took this as our cue to go and look for Hawfinches in the paddocks. As we walked down along the path beside the fields, towards one of the larger gaps in the hedge, we could see lots of Redwings in the hornbeams in the middle, along with a Mistle Thrush.

It was not forecast to snow again until later tonight, but at that point a thick flurry started once more, which for a minute or two made it difficult to see into the trees. It eased off a bit and we did manage to have a good look, but there was no immediate sign of any Hawfinches there and very few other finches feeding below the trees today. When all the Redwings and Chaffinches which had been there spooked and flew off towards the Arboretum, we decided to go for a walk round.

There were several pairs of Gadwall on the lake and two Canada Geese on the lawn in front of the Hall, along with several Moorhens. We could hear a Little Grebe laughing at us, but didn’t see it here. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was in the trees beside the path, before flying off behind us as we passed. A little further on, we flushed a drake Mandarin from the water under the trees beside the path, which flew off into the wood beyond, and we eventually found two Little Grebes tucked in under the overhanging vegetation, fast asleep.

Circling round through the trees, it was fairly quiet, apart from the far side where a Marsh Tit called as it came in for some seed. As we made our way round to the far side of the paddocks, we stopped to look in the top of the firs beyond, to see if any Hawfinches were coming in. It was snowing quite heavily now, although at least it was still not settling on the ground, and the wind seemed to have picked up again, which meant it was hard to see them perching in the tops of the trees for long.

It felt like we might have run out of luck at the last hurdle, but as we walked back beside the paddocks we could see all the Redwings were now busy feeding under the hornbeams. We have seen the Hawfinches feeding in with the Redwings before, so we stopped for another careful scan and there was a cracking male Hawfinch down on the ground. We all managed to get a good look at it through the scope, before something spooked all the birds and they flew up into the trees.

Making our way back up to the car park, we had nice views of a Goldcrest in the low fir trees here. We continued on to the old gravel pits beyond, where there were not as many ducks as there have been in recent weeks. There were plenty of Tufted Ducks and a few Cormorants. A flock of Gadwall dropped in, accompanied by a few Teal. On the larger pit, it was pretty exposed – the pair of Great Crested Grebe were still present, but swimming around at the back.

With occasional flurries of snow still falling, it was time to call it a day and head back to the warmth of home! Once again, we had seen the benefit of getting out despite the weather and giving it a go, seeing all the main species we might have hoped to see today.

11th March 2018 – More Snowy on the Coast

Sunday was a day off, and Mother’s Day, so with family commitments to attend to it looked like it would be a day in. Then news came through that the Snowy Owl had been relocated at Snettisham RSPB and was ‘showing well’. As quickly as we might be allowed, we ate our Sunday lunch and then headed up to the coast.

The Snowy Owl had been hunkered down in the grass before we arrived. Thankfully, it was in a fenced off area where it couldn’t be disturbed, and it was not at all phased by all the people gathered behind the fence. By the time we arrived, it had flown up onto a nearby fence post, where it continued to doze.

Snow Owl 2

Snow Owl 3

Snow Owl 4

Snow Owl 5

Snowy Owl – showed amazingly well at Snettisham

We watched the Snowy Owl here for some time. It was clearly still rather sleepy, and would regularly close its eyes, but also spent a lot of time looking round, presumably to see if any threats might be approaching. It showed no interest in a Brown Hare which ran almost underneath it and a couple of Red-legged Partridges walking through the grass nearby.

At one point, a group of Black-headed Gulls circled overhead and started to mob it briefly, the Snowy Owl ducking a couple of time, but remaining essentially unmoved. It stretched and preened a couple of times, showing off its enormous rounded wings, bigger than a Common Buzzard’s!

Snow Owl 8

Snowy Owl – having a stretch

As the afternoon wore on, it gradually started to become more active and alert. Eventually, after craning its neck to look round, the Snowy Owl took off and flew a short distance, landing again on another fence post just a little further down.

Snow Owl 9

Snow Owl 10

Snowy Owl – flew along to another fence post

Here the Snowy Owl was even closer to the fence, and it was now very much awake. Still, it stayed here for some time, clearly waiting for the right time to head out hunting or to head off on its way.

Snow Owl 6

Snow Owl 7

Snowy Owl – woke up as the light started to fade

Some video of the Snowy Owl this afternoon is linked below:

 

Eventually, with the light starting to fade, the Snowy Owl flew again, up onto the top of the inner seawall beyond. At that point, we had to leave. Apparently it then flew again, circling up and heading off south. At the time of writing it had disappeared and not been seen again.

It is almost 27 years since I was lucky enough to see the last Snowy Owl to turn up in Norfolk, in March 1991. Before that, you had to go back to 1938 to see one! It is certainly a rare bird here, and a magnificent one too. Well worth the effort to go and see again!