Monthly Archives: April 2018

25th Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 5

Day 5 of five days of Spring Migration tours today, our last day. It was mostly cloudy with some brighter intervals and we managed largely to avoid some scattered heavy showers in the afternoon. It was rather breezy again though, particularly in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the morning was Titchwell. It was still quite quiet in the car park when we arrived, so we had a walk round to see what was in the bushes. In the overflow car park, a Goldfinch came down to drink at a puddle out in the middle. Then we heard the plaintive piping of Bullfinches and looked over to see a lovely pink male perched in the elder on the corner. It flew across to the other side, followed by a second male Bullfinch which perched out in the open so we could get a good look at it.

There was nothing of note out in the paddocks beyond the car park, but two Common Swifts flew over, heading west. Two Mediterranean Gulls were calling and we picked them up heading south over the car park with a small group of Black-headed Gulls. We could hear a Chiffchaff singing in the sallows and saw some Long-tailed Tits as we walked up to the Visitor Centre. The Bramblings seem to have gone now and there were just lots of Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders.

We headed round to Patsy’s Reedbed first. There were a couple of Blackcaps singing in the trees along Fen trail and the pool in front of Fen Hide had a couple of drake Common Pochard which flew off when they saw us, as well as two Greylags.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – one of the two on the pool from Fen Hide first thing

A Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds just beyond the hide, and we could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers too, as we made our way to Patsy’s. But Patsy’s Reedbed itself was rather disappointing – just a very small number of ducks. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew round the dead trees further back.

A couple of Swallows flew through, but the one species which was moving in numbers this morning was Goldfinch – several small flocks flew past either side of us while we were here.

There wasn’t much singing in the sallows as we made our way round via Meadow Trail to the main path. What we did find when we got there, in the grass on the bank, was our first damselfly of the year – a Large Red Damselfly.

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly – our first damselfly of the year

We stopped to scan the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh. There didn’t appear to be a lot on here at first, but then we spotted a couple of wagtails down towards the back corner. Their silvery grey backs identified them as White Wagtails, rather than Pied Wagtails, continental migrants stopped off here to feed.

Another Reed Warbler was singing on the other side of the path, and a Sedge Warbler perched up nicely in one of the larger clumps of brambles, where we could get it in the scope. We could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically and saw a couple zipping off over the top of the reeds.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing in the brambles in the reedbed

The large reedbed pool held several Greylags and a few Common Pochard were diving in amongst them. A single Great Crested Grebe was on the water over to one side. We could hear a Little Grebe too, laughing at us from somewhere out of view. Then one of the group spotted another duck swimming towards us along the channel at the front. When it emerged from behind the vegetation, we could see it was a smart drake Red-crested Pochard.

It was rather windy up on the bank, so we headed down to the shelter of Island Hide to scan the freshmarsh. The first thing which struck us when we got in there was the enormous number of Sandwich Terns. We counted almost 300 just on the first couple of islands – the peak count today was over 700! Several pairs were displaying and one pair was mating.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – there were over 700 on the Freshmarsh today

It is very unusual to see large numbers of Sandwich Terns here. They do breed in very significant numbers not far away, on Scolt Head. It appears that something has disturbed them from Scolt and they have come in to the Freshmarsh, attracted by the large breeding colony of gulls. It will be interesting to see if any Sandwich Terns stay to breed, or if they all eventually return to Scolt. In the meantime, it is certainly an impressive spectacle!

The fenced-off ‘Avocet Island’ has been almost completely taken over by gulls, predominantly Black-headed Gulls but with a very significant number of Mediterranean Gulls too. We could hear the distinctive calls of the latter regularly, as they flew in and out of the colony.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there are large numbers in with the Black-headed Gulls

It was only when we had a good look through the birds on the island that we could see just how many Mediterranean Gulls there were. Apparently, there may be around 50 pairs this year, a significant increase over the nine or so in 2017.

There are not many Avocets on the freshmarsh at the moment, but there were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, well over 200 at the moment. Many of them are now coming into full breeding plumage, bright rusty-coloured, ahead of their journey back up to Iceland for the breeding season.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into bright rusty breeding plumage

There were a few other waders on here too. A scattering of Ruff around the muddy islands included one deep rusty male, already getting its breeding plumage but still lacking its ruff. A lone Grey Plover was on one of the islands too, but flew over to join the godwits, as did a small group of about a dozen Knot which flew in from the beach.

There are not so many ducks on here now – mainly a few lingering Teal and a few pairs of Shoveler. We couldn’t see the Garganey, which was on here yesterday, from this side. There are still plenty of Brent Geese, yet to head off back to Siberia for the breeding season. They were commuting between the saltmarsh to feed and the freshmarsh to bathe and preen.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – there are still good numbers lingering here

Back on the main path, we headed out towards the beach. There was very little on the Volunteer Marsh today and the ‘Tidal’ Pools are no longer tidal and remain completely flooded with seawater. We carried on past them to have a look at the sea.

The tide was already coming in and not much of the mussel beds remained exposed. We could see a few Bar-tailed Godwits out on the water’s edge, along with a couple of Turnstone. As usual, there were plenty of Oystercatcher too. As we stood in the lee of the dunes to scan the sea, a couple of small flocks of little waders flew past, groups of Ringed Plover and Dunlin.

At first, all we could see on the sea were Common Scoter – a couple of smaller groups closer in and a larger raft further back. Then we picked up a diver not too far out. It was diving continually and hard to see but when it surfaced and turned we could see it was a Great Northern Diver, a good bird to see here. We could see its large size, heavy bill and dark half-collar.

However, that wasn’t the best bird we would have out here today. While we were trying to get everyone onto the diver, three smaller birds appeared even closer in, off the concrete blocks. Through the scope we could see they were Black-necked Grebes, all three of them in cracking full breeding plumage. They had been seen yesterday, but we had assumed they would most likely have moved on already, so it was great to see them.

Black-necked Grebes

Black-necked Grebes – 2 of the 3 diving offshore today

Black-necked Grebes are scarce here and it is very unusual to see them in breeding plumage at the best of times, so to see three together, and on the sea, is highly unusual. They looked stunning as their golden yellow face plumes caught the light.

We had hoped perhaps to find some more terns offshore, but there were just small numbers of Sandwich Terns flying back and forth. We decided to head back. On the way, we called in at Parrinder Hide.

There has been one or more Garganey here for several days now. We couldn’t see it from Island Hide earlier and we couldn’t see one at first from Parrinder Hide either, although we were told it had been seen on the Freshmarsh earlier. We had at least seen several very well yesterday, down in the Broads. There was a single Pink-footed Goose just outside the hide, with a broken wing which has clearly prevented it from migrating back to Iceland for the breeding season with the others.

There were several Teal asleep in the cut reeds along the base of the bank out from the hide. As we scanned through, we just noticed another shape in the reeds and, through the scope, we could just see a pale stripe across the head. It was a drake Garganey. It was almost impossible to see if you didn’t know where it was. A pair of Greylag walked past and moved the Teal, but unfortunately the Garganey remained where it was, fast asleep.

Garganey

Garganey – asleep in the cut reeds out from Parrinder Hide

We made our way back to the picnic area for lunch. There were a few butterflies out here – Green-veined White and a single Holly Blue.

After lunch, we headed up towards Choseley. There had been a couple of brief Dotterel elsewhere in the county in the last couple of days, and this is a traditional stopover site for them, so we thought it might be worth a quick look just in case one had already dropped in here.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – up at Choseley this afternoon

Most of the fields on the drive up did not look suitable, so we stopped at Choseley Drying Barns to scan. A Yellowhammer perched up nicely in one of the trees by the footpath.

There were lots of Brown Hares out in the wheat fields. Many were hunkered down out of the wind, but several were running round, chasing each other, and we even saw a quick bout of boxing.

Brown Hares

Brown Hares – chasing each other round and boxing

Dropping down the other side, there were a few Red-legged Partridge in the fields. We stopped an found a flock of Linnets which flew up into a hedge, with a Lesser Whitethroat nearby. A lone Wheatear was very distant, high on the ridge in a stony ploughed field.

As we drove on, we spotted a Corn Bunting fly out of a hedge ahead of us. It went back in behind us, so we stopped and walked back to try to see it. Unfortunately, as we tried to get round behind it, it flew off across the field the other way.

We decided to move on and head along to Holkham for the remainder of the afternoon. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped to scan the cows. Two Yellow Wagtails flew past them and across the Drive ahead of us. A Little Egret flew over and then, as we got out of the car, a Spoonbill went over our heads, heading back west towards the colony.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew over Lady Anne’s Drive, just as we arrived

The wind had picked up quite a bit now, and it was rather quiet in the trees as we walked west through the pines. We could hear Chiffchaff and a Coal Tit singing. Salts Hole held just a few Tufted Duck today.

At Washington Hide, we could hear Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds. We headed through the trees towards the beach. We stopped here to scan the sea, but it was rather choppy in the wind now. We could see a few distant Sandwich Terns and a Common Scoter way out, flying past. There were still one or two Swallows on the move, flying west.

We made our way round to Joe Jordan Hide. A couple of Reed Warblers singing from the reeds along here were presumably reasonably fresh arrivals. There were some rather dark clouds approaching from the west, so we felt the need to find some shelter, just in case. One of the wardens had driven out across the grazing marshes, so their was a bit of disturbance. However, there was still a steady succession of Spoonbills coming and going, with two busy feeding on the pools out to the right of the hide.

There were plenty of Greylags out on the grazing marshes, and we eventually found two Pink-footed Geese too, right out on the grass in the distance today. They are likely to be sick or injured birds which are unable to return to Iceland to breed, and we could see that one of them had a broken wing.

The rain largely passed through to the south of us, but we did had a very short burst of not too heavy rain. Once it cleared through, we started to make our way back. A quick look in the trees around the crosstracks failed to produce anything more exciting than a couple of Long-tailed Tits and a Coal Tit.

Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we ran into another little flurry of activity in the trees. A couple of Long-tailed Tits were flitting around and two Treecreepers appeared briefly nearby. We could hear a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff singing and see a Blackcap in the hawthorns.

Back to the car and it was time to call it a day. It had been a very exciting five days with a good group and lots of good birds, a nice selection of spring migrants, and even quite a bit of non-avian interest. Spring migration in Norfolk at its best!

24th Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 4

Day 4 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. After three days up on the North Norfolk coast, we headed down to the Broads – not least because there were several good birds to see down there. It was thankfully less windy than yesterday but, after spitting on and off from late morning, it finally started to rain around 3pm, unusually around the time it was forecast!

It was a long drive down to the Broads this morning. A Pallid Harrier had been found on the coast between Horsey and Winterton yesterday and was reported to be still around today, so we headed straight over there first. We parked in the car park at Winterton and set off north through the dunes.

We could see four or five people standing on the top of a tall dune in the distance and we met one of the locals coming back who told us that was the best place to head for first, even though the bird had headed off north. As we made our way over the dunes, there were Wheatears everywhere, flying off in all directions ahead of us.

Wheatear

Wheatear – there were lots in the North Dunes today

When we got up onto the top of the tall dune, the message was the same as we had heard earlier – the Pallid Harrier had been seen flying off north and lost to view. Still, it had been back once or twice already, so this seemed like the best place to stand for now.

There were several dog walkers out this morning and one of them flushed a small group of Ring Ouzels, which flew off ahead of them and landed in the tops of a small group of scrubby trees down in the bottom of the dunes. We just got them in the scope before they were flushed again and flew off further north.

While we were all watching the Ring Ouzels, one of the group asked ‘what’s this bird over here?’. We turned around to see the Pallid Harrier a short distance away! It was chasing a Skylark over the dunes, twisting and turning. The Skylark got away and the Pallid Harrier turned towards the dune where we were standing and flew right past just below us. Wow!

Pallid Harrier 2

Pallid Harrier – came right past just below where we were standing

We could see the Pallid Harrier‘s pale collar, set off by the dark ‘boa’ just behind. It was much slimmer winged and more streamlined than a Hen Harrier too. It headed off south towards the car park, then turned and started to make its way back, along the seaward edge of the dunes. It came past us again, a bit more distant this time, and we watched as it disappeared away to the north. It was clearly doing a regular circuit of the dunes, between the beach car park and Horsey to the north.

Having enjoyed such fantastic views of the Pallid Harrier, we set off down into the dunes to try to get a better look at the Ring Ouzels now. There were more Wheatears here and a male Stonechat, which perched up obligingly in the top of a small tree next to the path.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male perched up obligingly near the path

Before we even got to where we thought the Ring Ouzels had gone, we flushed one from a bramble clump ahead of us. It flew off over the crest of the dune calling. When we got to the top, we saw three Ring Ouzels fly again, from a ridge further over. They seemed to be very flighty today. We swung round in a wide arc to the north, to try to find somewhere to try to view them from a safe distance, but they were off again.

This time the Ring Ouzels, now four of them, flew across and landed in front of a large dune where some people were sitting looking for the Pallid Harrier. We made our way round to the back of the dune and crept up the side. When we looked over the edge we could see the Ring Ouzels on the next dune ridge over. They were feeding happily and we had a good look at them through the scope, several males and at least one female, before they dropped down the other side of the ridge out of view.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – at least four of them showed very well from a discrete distance

As we walked up to join the others on the top of the dune, they alerted us to the fact that the Pallid Harrier was doing another pass behind us. We followed it as it disappeared off to the south again, down to the car park. A few minutes later, it was back and we watched as the Pallid Harrier headed off north low over the dunes. Great views again! We had been spoiled now, with the performance the Pallid Harrier had put on for us, so we decided to move on and see what else we could find.

Pallid Harrier 1

Pallid Harrier – we watched it do another couple of passes through the dunes

As we made our way back south through the dunes, there didn’t seem to be as many birds as on our way up earlier, particularly we didn’t see any more Wheatears. Probably they had all been flushed out of this part of the dunes by all the people walking through. There were lots of Skylarks singing and we did come across a smart male Yellowhammer perched in the top of a small tree.

We carried on south, over the road and on into the south dunes. As we got up to the first trees, we could see a small warbler flitting around in the bare branches and picking at the leaf buds which were just starting to open. It was a Lesser Whitethroat and we watched it for a couple of minutes as it worked its way through the branches. A Chiffchaff flew in and started singing from higher up in the same tree.

A little further on, we found a Willow Warbler and a Blackcap. The Willow Warbler was singing from time to time, a beautiful, sweet descending scale, and showed well in some low hawthorns. The Blackcap kept low in the brambles, subsinging.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – we saw several in the south dunes

As we continued on south, there were more warblers in the trees and bushes. Another Lesser Whitethroat, another couple of Willow Warblers, another Blackcap. A Common Whitethroat started singing but disappeared off ahead of us.

There were not many birds moving today. We did see a small number of Swallows, but only about 4-5, heading north through the dunes, and next to nothing else. There were plenty of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits in the dunes.

Linnet

Linnet – still quite common in the dunes

As we turned to head back, a male Stonechat was singing from the brambles in the middle of the Valley. A particularly bright, lemon-yellow breasted Willow Warbler was flitting around in one of the small oaks in the next clump of trees. We made our way slowly back to the car.

News had come through that the Black-winged Stilt, which had been found at Potter Heigham yesterday, was still present today. So we made our way over there next. When we got there, it was time for lunch. As we ate, a male Marsh Harrier was displaying high over our heads, calling.

Scanning the first pool we passed, we spotted a very smart drake Garganey out in the middle, so we stopped to have a look at it through the scope. There were lots of other ducks on here too – Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck. Plus both Little and Great Crested Grebes, both in breeding plumage.

We had just started to walk on when we received a phone call to say the Black-winged Stilt had just flown over our way. Sure enough, we found it on the next pool, quite close, down towards the front. We got it in the scope, noting its black mantle and black markings on the head, suggesting it is a male.

Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt – this lone male was very mobile around the pools today

The water levels are quite high here at the moment, so there are not that many places for it to feed and it appears to be very mobile. The Black-winged Stilt made its way along the edge of a flooded grassy island, then flew over to the next pool. We watched it on there for a few minutes before it was off again, and flew over to the pools at the back by the river.

From here we could see two more Garganey on the bank at the back of this pool. A flock of hirundines was hawking over the water, mainly Swallows and House Martins. One Common Swift was in with them.

We were told that a couple of Spoonbills had flown in and landed on one of the other pools, along the access track. We walked back there but couldn’t see them at first – they were not where they had been earlier. Then we picked them up, feeding with their heads down half hidden behind a line of reeds. Eventually they put their heads up briefly and we could just about see them properly.

There were lots more duck on these pools and a group of five Garganey were down towards the front. There were four smart drakes, with bold white stripes on their heads, and a single browner female. It is great to see groups of Garganey like this – a scene more like spring in the Mediterranean than the UK. There was also a single drake Pintail lingering here.

Garganey

Garganey – a flock of five, including four drakes

It was starting to rain now, but we wanted to see if we could find any Cranes. We headed back past the car park. A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing from the reeds and then we heard a Reed Warbler too – much more structured and rhythmical.

Continuing on, we came to an open area where we could scan a large expanse of grazing marsh. The first thing we set eyes on was a pair of Cranes over in the distance. We got them in the scope and there was no mistaking them. As it was raining harder now, we made our way back to the car. A Grasshopper Warbler reeled briefly from deep in the bushes out in the reeds.

Having achieved all our targets here, we decided to head back towards North Norfolk and stop to see if we could find anything from the car on the way. We made our way up to Cromer and turned west along the coast road.

Our first detour was at West Runton where we had a quick look in the paddocks along the road down to the beach. A single Wheatear was perched on one of the fence posts, looking decidedly soggy. It was too wet to have a look at Beeston Bump now, so we continued on to Salthouse and drove up the Beach Road. A single Wheatear was out in the grass just north of the main drain.

Our last detour was at Cley, where once again we headed down along the road to the beach. We stopped at the bend and scanned out along the fence line. The first bird we set eyes on was a cracking male Whinchat, preening in the wet. A great bonus at the end of the day! There were also dozens of Swallows here too, perching on the fence or hawking low over the reeds, along with several Sand Martins and one or two House Martins.

Hirundines

Hirundines – gathered on the fence in the rain

We had a quick look at the sea from the beach shelter, but there was not much happening offshore. A couple of Sandwich Terns flew past calling.

We had enjoyed a great day out, despite the rain setting in later, and see a really good selection of birds. We decided to call time and head for home.

23rd Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 3

Day 3 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. The weather had turned after the mini heatwave of the last few days and it was cloudy and much cooler today, with a rather fresh and blustery WSW wind. Normal service has resumed!

We made our way over to the Wash coast to start the day, up to Snettisham Coastal Park. It was noticeably colder than of late when we got out of the car and it called for an extra layer of clothing to be donned all round! Given the wind too, it was rather quieter than normal as we walked in to the park. The bushes here are normally alive with warblers singing at this time of the year. At first, all we could hear were a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap.

The open grassy area north of the car park was fairly deserted, but there were loads of dogs here today, so it was rather disturbed. A flock of Linnets whirled round and dropped down up on the seawall. The tide was still coming in as we got up onto the seawall. There were hundreds of Oystercatcher out on the mud, along with a handful of Curlew and a few Brent Geese, but we couldn’t see anything else out there today.

As we made our way slowly north in and out of the bushes, there were gradually more warblers singing. First one or two Lesser Whitethroats, though keeping well tucked down. Then a couple of Sedge Warblers out in the reeds. A Common Whitethroat was subsinging quietly in the bushes and a second was singing but around the bases of some small hawthorns. It was quite a bit further up before we heard our first Willow Warbler.

There were a few birds moving again today, but not as many as yesterday. A couple of small flocks of Linnets looked to be on the move. Two Yellow Wagtails flew overhead silently. There was a steady trickle of Swallows heading south too, with smaller numbers of House Martin and Sand Martin as well.

As we approached the cross-bank at the north end of the Coastal Park, we could just hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from somewhere in the bushes, although it was getting drowned out by the wind and a Sedge Warbler which was much closer to us. There were already two people looking for it, but as we walked up towards them it went quiet. We waited a while but it did not start reeling again.

Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – the only one to be singing from the top of the bushes

We decided to walk up onto the inner seawall and scan the grazing marshes, and see if it started up again while we were away. We could hear another Common Whitethroat singing from the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat just behind. As we got up onto the seawall, the Common Whitethroat flew up into the very top of the bush to sing – what they should be doing at this time of year.

Looking out across the grazing marshes just to the north, we found a Whimbrel feeding out in the short grass. We had a good look at it through the scope – we could see its stripy head pattern.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding out in the short grass on the grazing marshes

There was still no hint of the Grasshopper Warbler starting to reel again, so we decided to walk back along the inner seawall to an area where there have been two Grasshopper Warblers with abutting territories recently. It was windy and hard to hear much on the seawall but sure enough, as we approached the area, we could hear both of the two Grasshopper Warblers singing intermittently.

We walked on to where there is a path down and made our way slowly in amongst the bushes, heading for one of the two reeling birds. We knew we were getting close, but as we slowly rounded a bramble patch, the Grasshopper Warbler saw us and flew off, appearing to land in another bush a bit further back. We made our way back round to where we had a clear view of it and thankfully after only a minute or so it started reeling again and we spotted it in the brambles.

Grasshopper Warbler

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling in the brambles

Everybody got a good look at it through the scope, before the Grasshopper Warbler eventually dropped down into the brambles. A Cuckoo was singing away in the distance, off to the south. The Grasshopper Warbler reeled again briefly and we had another quick look, but the trail had gone cold and it then went quiet. We had enjoyed a great look at it, so we left it in peace.

We walked back listening for the Cuckoo, but it too had gone quiet again now. We cut back across to the inner seawall and several Sedge Warblers were singing in the bushes in the reeds, where we could get a look at them. Another Grasshopper Warbler started reeling from somewhere deep in the vegetation, out of view.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – several eventually showed well

Up on the seawall, we made our way a short distance back to the north to scan the pools out on Ken Hill Marshes. There were several geese and ducks out around the water, including a single drake Wigeon, a lingering individual. As we turned to head back south again, a Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds down below the bank. A Common Swift flew past, heading south, our first of the year.

Back in the clear grassy area north of the car park, the Wheatears had reappeared. There were now at least three of them hopping around on the short grass, two females and a smart Greenland Wheatear male.

Wheatear

Wheatear – reappeared in the clear area N of the car park

When we got back to the car, there was still a bit of time before lunch, so we decided to swing round via Dersingham Bog and have a quick look there. As we walked down through the trees, we could hear various tits calling and a Coal Tit singing. A Treecreeper appeared behind us, climbing up the trunk of a large sycamore. Down at the bottom, a Willow Warbler was singing in the birches.

As we walked out onto the open heath at the bottom, we spotted a Stonechat, typically perched right on the top of the tallest heather, in full view. We could hear another Grasshopper Warbler reeling here too, but that typically was skulking down in some low brambles out on the edge of the heather. Having had such good views of one earlier, we didn’t waste any time trying to see it.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male typically perched up nicely

From somewhere up over the ridge, we could hear a Woodlark singing. It was probably in song flight, as it seemed to be moving, but appeared to be out of our view over the brow.

As we turned to walk back the other way, we heard the distinctive deep guttural ‘kronk’ of a Raven. These are still very scare birds here in Norfolk, but one has been reported in this area in recent weeks. It called again and seemed to be coming towards us, from over the trees on the top of the ridge, but although we stood and scanned for a minute it didn’t appear. We kept our eyes on the top of the ridge as we walked on and eventually saw a large black corvid briefly appear along the tree line some distance away to the north.

Further along, we could hear a Woodlark, possibly the same as we had heard earlier ot even a second bird. It did appear over the ridge briefly, hovering up in the sky, before dropping back down towards the ground and out of view. When we got up onto the ridge, it had disappeared. We did see a Green Woodpecker perched on a dead branch on the edge of the trees.

Making our way back through the trees, a Siskin was singing high in the top of the pines. We came across a couple of Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits in the trees too, and another Treecreeper. As we got back to the car, we heard a Nuthatch piping down in the wood. We made our way back to the car for lunch and afterwards headed inland.

We parked by a grassy field with a seed cover strip through the middle. The grass was peppered with a fantastic display of bright yellow flowers, thousands of Cowslip, all in bloom. Skylarks were singing overhead. We could see a few Yellowhammers in the hedge in the corner, dropping down into the cover strip. As we walked along the path on the edge of the field, they all flew up from down in the vegetation, at least 15 of them. A couple of browner birds were with them – Corn Buntings. The hedges are now quickly coming into leaf so the birds were hard to see in the bushes, but eventually we found one perched in the hedge where we could see it in the scope.

Our destination for the rest of the afternoon would be Holme dunes. We parked by the golf course and walked in past paddocks. the bushes here were rather exposed to the wind and quiet, apart from a rattling Lesser Whitethroat deep in cover and a couple of Greenfinches. A little further along the footpath, we heard yet another Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the bushes down by the access road, amazingly our sixth of the day!

Walking into the dunes, lots of Linnets came up from the short grass and a Common Whitethroat sang from the bushes. As we walked further in, we could see a couple of people looking over a bank with binoculars and rounding the corner of the dune blocking our view we could see why. Two Ring Ouzels, a male and a female, were feeding on the bare earth and short grass on the edge of the bushes. It was nice to see some on the ground, after getting mostly flight views the other day, so we had a good look at them through the scope.

Ring Ouzel 1

Ring Ouzel – first we saw a male and female together

We got a good look at the pure white gorget on the blacker male Ring Ouzel, and through the scope we also saw the fine white chevrons on its underparts. The browner female had an off-white gorget peppered with darker marks.

When the Ring Ouzels hopped up over the bank, we walked back a few metres the way we had just come and could see them feeding out in the open on a sandy area in the dunes. A movement just beyond, at the base of the bushes, caught our eye and there was a smart male Redstart perched low above the grass. We got it in the scope but just at that moment the couple we had seen earlier walked round the back of the bushes, and the Redstart flew off before everyone got a chance to look at it. The Ring Ouzels went off too across the dunes, chacking.

There was no sign of the Redstart now, so we walked to the south edge of the dunes and scanned the grazing marshes. We could hear a Bittern booming out in the reeds in the distance. A group of at least 30 Pink-footed Geese were standing out in the grass with the local Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter have long since left, so these ones should be heading off to Iceland for the breeding season soon too.

Scanning the muddy pools towards the front, we spotted a Common Snipe in the grass. When we got it in the scope, a Little Ringed Plover appeared just behind. There were several Ruff out here too, feeding around the muddy edges. A flock of around 25 Golden Plover flew up from the grass away over the grazing marshes south of The Firs. They circled round for several minutes, before dropping down again out of view, the first we have seen in the last few days.

Heading back into the dunes, we hoped the Redstart might have reappeared, but there was still no sign of it as we walked quietly round the bushes. There were a few hirundines moving, a trickle of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. We could see a Wheatear and a male Stonechat flicking around between the isolated bushes further back.

We found the Ring Ouzels again but they had gone back to being very flighty again, we could still see a male and a female together. Eventually two birds flew back in to the same place where we had first seen them and once again they settled down and allowed us to get a good look at them. However, there were now two females together and no sign of the male. Still we had a great view of them feeding down in the short grass.

Ring Ouzel 2

Ring Ouzel – one of the two females which showed very well

It was clear the Redstart had gone to ground and we were unfortunately running out of time, so we started to make our way back. The Grasshopper Warbler was still reeling down by the access road but was now perched up in full view in the top of the brambles, despite the wind. We had a great look at it through the scope before it dropped back down into cover.

As we got back to the car, a Sparrowhawk zipped over the car park. It was time to call it a day and head for home. Despite the wind and generally cooler conditions, we had seen or heard 96 species just today, which wasn’t at all bad!

22nd Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 2

Day 2 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. It was mostly another lovely sunny day and warm too – up to 24C. There were forecast to be thunderstorms from about 3pm this afternoon, but thankfully they didn’t arrive until 4.30pm, when we were all but finished for the day.

Cley was our first destination for the morning. We wanted to see whether any migrants were moving along the coast, so we headed up to the beach car park first. A couple of Ruff were feeding around the pool in the Eye Field when we drove up. As we got out of the car and scanned the grass, we could already see several Wheatears – it was going to be a good day for them today!

Walking east along the shingle, a pair of Common Redshank flew up from the grass just beyond the fence and perched on the posts as we approached. They dropped down to the small pool just beyond and started to display, walking round each other calling with tails fanned. The female then bowed and the male started to flutter his wings, calling all the time. He did this for a couple of minutes and finally it looked like they were about to mate, but just as he flew up, the female walked off!

Redshank

Common Redshank – one of a pair by the Eye Field

From the grassy ridge, we stopped to scan the field and Billy’s Wash beyond. We could see several more Wheatears out in the grass from here – we reckoned there must be at least 10 out there this morning, a big increase on recent days. There were plenty of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits too.

There was a nice selection of ducks out on Billy’s Wash, including a pair of Wigeon and a male Pintail asleep in the grass. A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were next to a couple of young Great Black-backs, giving a nice size comparison.

There were quite a few Ruff around the muddy edges and one or two Black-tailed Godwits in the water too. But it was only as we were packing up to move on that one of the group spotted a Green Sandpiper on a small bare island. It was only there for a minute or so, but enough for us to get a good look at it. It was quite distant, but even at that range we could see that it lacked the white notch between the breast and wing of Common Sandpiper.

Migrants were just starting to move along the coast. We had our first Yellow Wagtail fly past with a sharp ‘tshreep’ call and one or two Swallows go west over the Eye Field. There are some birds which are less obviously migrants, but you can still spot some of them which appear to be on the move. A small group of five Carrion Crows flew past determinedly east, followed a short while later by another six. Then ten or so more dropped down into the grass for a second before continuing on their way.

Carrion Crows

Carrion Crow – one of several small groups moving east this morning

North Scrape looked pretty quiet at first, but a careful scan revealed a single Common Snipe lurking on the edge of the reeds right down at the front. The number of Ruff has been steadily increasing as birds start to make their way back north again, stopping off here before heading back to the continent. There was a nice flock of twenty or so out here this morning, accompanied by a single Dunlin. A Whimbrel or two flew past behind us, calling.

While we were admiring the waders, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call behind us and turned round to see a flock of eight flying past over the shingle. They dropped down onto the ridge of the Eye Field and we had a good view of them in the scope, feeding in the grass. There were several stunningly bright yellow males, which positively shone in the morning sun. Another four Yellow Wagtails then flew past over the edge of North Scrape and dropped down to join them. It is always a real sign of spring migration when the Yellow Wagtails are moving and a delight to witness.

The Yellow Wagtails flew up and appeared to drop back into the grass on the other side of the ridge, so we decided to start to make our way back to try to get a closer look at them. As we walked back, three Sandwich Terns flew past just offshore. Four Wheatears flew up from the near corner of the Eye Field and two of them perched up on the fence posts ahead of us, a male and a female. It was hard to tell whether they were part of the group we had seen on our walk out or new additions.

Wheatears

Wheatear – there were lots in the Eye Field today

As we got up onto the ridge, we saw a group of Yellow Wagtails fly past. They were possibly the same ones we had seen earlier, but this time they were accompanied by a couple of White Wagtails. We saw the latter drop down onto the small pool by the fence where we had seen the Redshanks earlier. When we got back there, we had great views of the two White Wagtails and two smart male Yellow Wagtails too. We could see the pale silvery grey backs of the White Wagtails, very different from the darker black or slate grey of our Pied Wagtails.

Back at the car, we made our way further east along the coast road to Kelling. As we walked up along the lane, it was rather quiet at first. A Chiffchaff was singing in the grounds of the school. As we got to the copse, we could hear another Chiffchaff and a Blackcap singing. Two male Blackcaps then appeared in the trees on the other side of the path, before chasing each other back into the copse.

In the dense bramble hedge bordering the Water Meadow, we could hear a Common Whitethroat subsinging at first. We stood and listened for a second and waited for it to appear, and eventually it flew up from the vegetation and hovered above singing, before dropping back into the brambles further along. It proceeded to sing from various points as it moved down the hedge ahead of us. They are only just starting to return from their wintering grounds in Africa now, so it is always a pleasure to head a Common Whitethroat.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – back in and singing in the hedge alongside the Water Meadow

There were a few bits and pieces on the pool itself, but nothing out of the ordinary – a few Avocets and a Redshank, plus a variety of ducks including Teal and Shoveler. As we continued on down towards the Quags, a Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds and a Lesser Whitethroat rattled at us from deep in the flowering blackthorn. A pair of Stock Doves flew over and dropped down on the edge of the shingle ridge.

We kept scanning the bushes and brambles as we walked down towards the beach. There were loads of Linnets and another Common Whitethroat flew out ahead of us and down to the corner. Before we got there, we happened to look back and noticed a small bird on the brambles half way up the slope. A quick look through the scope confirmed it was a cracking male Whinchat, a regular but rather scarce migrant through here in spring. We all had a good look at it through the scope, but then it dropped down and completely disappeared.

Stopping to scan the Quags, we could see yet more Wheatears out in the grass. They really were coming through in numbers today. Someone walking past mentioned that there had been a sandpiper out here earlier and thankfully, just a short while afterwards, a helicopter flew past and a Common Sandpiper flicked up from the far side of the island out in the middle of the small pool briefly.

We had to wait a short while longer until the Common Sandpiper eventually walked round onto the near side of the island and we could get a better look at it. Unlike the Green Sandpiper we had seen earlier, we could see the obvious notch of white extending up between the breast and the wing on this one.

There were more migrants moving here too. A few Sand Martins were possibly local birds, but a handful of House Martins flew through west too, along with one or two Swallows. More small groups of Yellow Wagtails flew overhead, their shrill calls alerting us each time to their passing, along with several parties of Linnets.

News came through that two Common Cranes had been seen flying west past Cromer, so we walked up onto the ridge to see whether we could see them. We flushed a few Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting from the grass. A male Stonechat up in the bushes appeared to be carrying food, or possibly nest material. There was no sign of the Cranes – it turned out they had headed inland and dropped back to the coast later, at Cley. But we did pick up a couple of Red Kites flying east and several Common Buzzards circling up over the ridge inland.

A couple of Ring Ouzels had been seen earlier, on the edge of Weybourne Camp, so we walked back down and along the front to see if we could find them again. We couldn’t, but we did see yet more Yellow Wagtails flying past. Three drake Common Scoter were diving offshore and we could see the yellow stripe up the front of the bill in the sunshine.

Common Scoter

Common Scoter – these three were diving just offshore

After a quick walk back to the car, we made our way round to the Visitor Centre at Cley for lunch. A Marsh Harrier was circling up out over the reserve and House Sparrows were chirping from the bushes as we ate.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. As we walked out along the boardwalk to the hides, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. A male perched up briefly in the reeds before flying off over the tops, then several more flitted back and forth across the path ahead of us. A pair of Lapwing were displaying over the edge of Cricket Marsh, tumbling and twisting in unison, and singing – such an amazing song for a wader.

Lapwing

Lapwings – displaying over Cricket Marsh

We headed straight into Dauke’s Hide first. We could immediately see lots of waders out on both Simmond’s Scrape and Pat’s Pool. In particular, there were good numbers of both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit. The former are quite common here, but Bar-tailed Godwits are more normally found out in the harbour or on Arnold’s Marsh. They were quite possibly migrants, stopping off here to rest on their way north.

It was nice to see the two species of godwit alongside each other for comparison. The Bar-tailed Godwits were noticeably smaller and shorter legged with a more obviously up-turned bill, and in non-breeding plumage with paler sandy upperparts strongly streaked with dark, very different from the rather plain grey upperparts of the Black-tailed Godwits. Several of the Black-tailed Godwits were already starting to moult extensively into their rusty breeding plumage, as was one of the Bar-tailed Godwits.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – moulting into rusty breeding plumage

In with the godwits, there were fifteen or more Knot too, much smaller and greyer, with a shorter straight bill. A couple of Dunlin were already starting to moult into breeding plumage, already showing a black belly patch.

There were lots more Ruff out here too. They are already starting to moult into breeding plumage too, the males getting variegated with brighter summer feathering in various colours, although none are yet starting to get their breeding ruffs. There were much bigger numbers of females now, which are noticeably and substantially smaller than the males. They really are one of the most confusing of waders, with the variety of sizes and colours!

White Wagtails were liberally scattered over the scrapes – we managed to count at least six on view at the same time. They are passing through in good numbers at the moment, heading back north, across to the continent for the summer.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – we counted at least 6 on the scrapes at Cley

There have been a couple of Great White Egrets along this section of the coast in the last few days, migrants or wandering birds different from the residents at Holkham. One Great White Egret chose that moment to stick its neck up out of the ditch which leads away to one side of the hide – we could see its long, yellow, dagger-like bill.

It was working its way slowly towards us along the ditch, but when the door to the hide was slammed shut it flew up and out and landed on the bank further back, which at least meant we got a good look at it in all its glory. It then walked back into the ditch beyond.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding in one of the ditches out from the hides

A good number of Black-headed Gulls were gathered on one of  the islands on Pat’s Pool, sleeping or preening. A couple of young Common Gulls were in with them. At the far end of the island, a couple of Sandwich Terns were lurking amongst them and through the scope we could see their yellow-tipped black bills and shaggy crests.

We had a quick look in at Avocet Hide, but there was no sign of the pair of Garganey which were around the area yesterday. There are lots of Avocets on here and they look to be getting down to nesting – the new scrape seems to be very much to their liking. One Avocet was tidying up the island in front of the hide and another pair were mating further back.

When all the Avocets started alarm calling and flew up from the scrapes, we looked up to scan for raptors. It is normally just one of the local Marsh Harriers, but this time a small adult male Peregrine came zipping over high from behind the hide and out towards the Eye Field, scattering everything, before turning back towards the village.

A group of bigger gulls were half hidden in the long grass out on Billy’s Wash and someone in the hide then spotted a juvenile Glaucous Gull which had walked out to the end of the group. We could see its striking black-tipped, pink-based bill and it looked generally washed out and pale. When it flapped its wings, we could see its distinctive pale primaries too. This bird has been hanging around here, on and off, for some time now, joining the other loafing gulls here in the afternoon.

After walking back to the Visitor Centre, we drove the short distance round to the Iron Road and made our way out to Babcock Hide. Three Little Ringed Plovers were on the grassy spit out to one side of the hide and it quickly became apparent that they were a pair and a third bird. The male of the pair was clearly trying to see off the other bird and proceeded to chase it right across in front of the hide. It was pretty relentless and wouldn’t let it settle, but it meant we got stunning close views of them – it was very easy to see the striking golden yellow eye ring at this close range!

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – one of the three in front of Babcock Hide

There were more Ruff on the scrape here, including a rusty-coloured male which was feeding with a Redshank right at the front. Up close, we could see it had lost all its neck feathers and the new ones were just starting to grow, in pin. Presumably it won’t be too long before this one is sporting its smart breeding ruff.

Ruff 2

Ruff – this male has moulted its neck feathers already

A pair of Pied Wagtails were also feeding on the mud right in front of the hide and it was a good opportunity to look closely at them and compare them to the White Wagtails we had seen earlier. The male Pied Wagtail was pretty obvious, with a glossy black mantle, but the female had a rather plain but slate grey back, much darker than the White Wagtails.

The Black-necked Grebe finally appeared from behind the reeds at the back – the bird we had come here hoping to see. It has been around for several days now and it was well worth the effort – it really is stunning in full breeding plumage, mostly black with chestnut flanks, and then a tuft of bright golden feathers flaring out behind its bright red eye.

Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe – a stunning bird, in full breeding plumage

The Spoonbill was less obliging, doing what Spoonbills like to do best, fast asleep in the reeds at the back. We could just see its shaggy nuchal crest blowing in the wind, but it kept its bill tucked in.

Heading back to the car, we walked on up the Iron Road to the pool. There were several more Wheatears here – at least 3 – feeding in the short grass around the edge of the scrape. Another couple of White Wagtails were out on the mud in the middle. It really was the day for migrant Wheatears and wagtails today – great to see!

There were more Ruff and a couple of Redshanks on here too – this pool is looking just right for waders at the moment, although it is now starting to dry out so they had better hurry up. We could see dark clouds gathering to west, and flashes of lightning offshore, so we walked back to the car. We were just in time – it started to rain as we drove back towards Cley.

We stopped at the Visitor Centre for a break and to scan the scrapes to see if the rain bright down any migrants and when we got inside, the heavens opened. All the birds were standing out on the pools, rowed up, facing up, looking into the rain, trying to let it wash off them. We were fortunate – the thunder storms had been forecast for much earlier in afternoon. We had pretty much finished anyway for the day now. As it started to ease off, we made a quick dash for car the and headed for home.

Here’s looking forward to another day out tomorrow!

21st Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 1

Day 1 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. It was a cloudy start, but brightened up in the afternoon – a lovely sunny and warm end to the day.

Our destination for the morning was Burnham Overy Dunes. A Marsh Harrier was calling away towards the village as we got out of the car. As we walked down along Whincover, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing its distinctive rattle from deep in the blackthorn hedge. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us too, as we passed – good to hear one here as they have been very scarce in recent weeks, after the cold weather in March.

The cowman had been down and left the gate open, which meant we didn’t have to climb over the stile, and when he drove out into the field to the cows, he flushed a couple of Grey Partridge. They flew across a ditch towards us but despite seeing where they had landed they were hard to see in the long grass. The male spent more time with his neck up, looking around while the female fed – we could see his grey neck and orange face.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – hard to see in the long grass

As we approached the next gate, we could hear the first Sedge Warbler singing, a mad concoction of scratches and rattles, with no real rhythm. There were several Sedge Warblers singing in the brambles and briars along this stretch, up to the seawall, but the first was the best performer, perched in the top of a bush right in front of us, flashing its orange gape as it sang.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – there are lots in now and singing

There were a few Greylags and Egyptian Geese scattered around the grazing marshes, which look very good at the moment, with quite a bit of water still in the pools and flashes. Despite this, there do not appear to be many Lapwing out here currently, hopefully there are more yet to return to nest. There were a few Redshank too.

We could hear a Bittern booming rather intermittently from the reedbed, but it had stopped by the time we got up onto the seawall. There were Bearded Tits calling too, but they kept themselves mostly well down in the reeds. Occasionally, we could just see one whizzing over the tops before dropping back into cover.

A few Common Pochard and Tufted Duck were diving out on the pool in the middle of the reeds. There were one or two Wigeon here too, lingering birds which have not yet departed, on their way back to Russia for the breeding season.

There were a couple of Little Egrets around the pools and ditches out on the grazing marshes, another bird which was hit hard by the cold weather earlier in the year. Further back, we could see another, larger white bird with a long, snake-like neck. It was a Great White Egret. One of the best ways to distinguish them from Little Egret normally is bill colour (which is normally yellow-orange in Great White Egret), but in breeding condition the Great White Egret‘s bill darkens too. This bird had a nice dark bill – hopefully they will breed at Holkham again this year.

A smart male Wheatear was out in the middle of the grazing marsh too. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. We could see it had brown feathering in the grey of the upperparts and a very rich, burnt orange wash to the throat and breast, suggesting it was a Greenland Wheatear.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a male of the Greenland race

A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the direction of the harbour. We could hear their distinctive calls before we could see them. As they flew past us, we could see their white wing tips and deep black hoods.

There was a small flock of Brent Geese feeding out on the saltmarsh. Most of them were Dark-bellied Brents, but there is often a Black Brant hybrid out here with them. So, when we got a glimpse of a brighter white flank patch, we assumed initially it would be that bird before it walked out of the vegetation. In addition to the bold and extensive flank patch, it had restricted white neck-side patches and appeared a shade or so lighter than the nearby Dark-bellied Brents. It looked most likely to be a Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied Brent intergrade, an interesting bird.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – possibly a Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied hybrid

The tide was coming in out in the harbour. A large flock of waders whirled round and dropped down onto the saltmarsh. We could see three sizes of birds as they flew round – the larger Grey Plovers with variable black specking underneath and black armpits, plain grey Knot a size down, and then smaller Dunlin with them. They landed around some pools out on the saltmarsh, where we could get the Grey Plover and Knot in the scope, but the Dunlin disappeared into the vegetation.

When we got out to the boardwalk, we noticed a toad crossing in front of us. The dunes here are a very good site for Natterjack Toad and sure enough, when we got close enough we could see the distinctive pale yellow stripe down the middle of the back. It is not very common to see the Natterjacks here, as they are mostly nocturnal, so this was really great to come across out in the daytime.

Natterjack Toad 1

Natterjack Toad – crossed the boardwalk as we were heading out to the dunes

As we got into the dunes, there were three people ahead of us who flushed several Wheatears from the grass. We saw them fly round, flashing their white rumps, before landing on the top of the dune ridge beyond. One female Wheatear then flew back and landed on the path in front of us, before flying up and over the fence.

They had probably also just flushed a Whimbrel, because it flew back in shortly after and landed down on the short grass where it walked around for a minute or so allowing us to get a good look at it. It was clearly smaller than a Curlew, and slimmer in build, with a shorter bill and a more boldly marked, stripy head pattern. Then it flew again, further back, up into the dunes.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding on the short grass in the dunes

There were reports of a couple of Ring Ouzels in the dunes this morning, a regular but scarce migrant through here on its way to the breeding grounds in Scandinavia, so we went looking for them. We walked quite quickly east, up towards the end of the pines, scanning the dunes and the bushes south of the fence, but there was no sign at first. They can be very mobile and when we got almost to the pines, we stopped to scan again.

A Bittern was booming out in the middle of the grazing marsh. It was probably the same one we had heard earlier, but the sound seemed to be coming from closer to us now. A flock of eight Redpoll flew west overhead calling. A little later another single bird flew over us the other way, towards the pines, which looked to be a Mealy Redpoll. A few seconds later it came back west again. They are probably birds which have spent the winter in the UK and are now looking to head back to Scandinavia.

From up in the dunes, we looked back and saw a male Ring Ouzel perched in the brambles some distance away, on the south side of the fence. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope on it, it had flown again, up into the dunes, followed by a second Ring Ouzel. We walked quickly back through the middle of the dunes and saw one flying further away in the distance. Then another flew up from behind a bush ahead of us and disappeared round the back of a large dune.

We followed the Ring Ouzels round the dunes again, but there were several people the other side and the birds were on the move again. They really were extremely flighty today. We had another brief view of one perched in a pine tree, before they shot back over the dunes once more. We decided to leave them in peace.

There were a few Swallows on the move now, several singles and pairs, but they flew past us heading east. Most birds on the move along the coast head west, so they were going the wrong way! Five Carrion Crows came in over the dunes from the direction of the sea, heading east too.

We passed the boardwalk and continued on west towards Gun Hill. There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits out here, and a male Stonechat singing, but no sign of any migrants on the ground. Several of the Swallows had obviously changed their minds and came back west past us.

Their scratchy ‘kerrick’ calls alerted us to several Sandwich Terns flying past offshore. We had a quick look down on the beach, where a couple of pairs of Ringed Plover were down on the stones behind the rope fence. Someone was flying a drone over the channel between Gun Hill and Scolt Head, which flushed all the Oystercatchers and a large group of Sanderling from the shore.

There was a large school group out in the dunes today, and we could hear them coming out towards Gun Hill. We had a quick look out in the harbour, as they walked past, then headed back away from all the noise. As we got back to the boardwalk, a Natterjack Toad was walking across the path, in the opposite direction to the one we had seen earlier. We couldn’t immediately tell if it was the same one we had seen two hours earlier, but photos confirmed it was a second Natterjack. They are like buses – you wait ages for one Natterjack Toad and then two come along at once!!

Natterjack Toad 2

Natterjack Toad – the second of the day, in almost exactly the same place

We walked quickly back along the seawall and down onto the Whincover track. A Little Egret was feeding on one of the pools nearby and, as we rounded a couple of bushes, we could see a Spoonbill preening just behind.

We stopped to get the Spoonbill in the scope and could see its shaggy nuchal crest, yellow-tipped black bill and mustard wash on the breast, all marking it out as a breeding adult. When it took off, we thought it was about to fly off but the Spoonbill then landed on another pool right next to the track!

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – flew in to one of the pools right by the track

The Spoonbill stood for a minute or so here, looking at us, then started to feed in the pool. With its bill down in the water, it swept it rapidly from side to side as it walked round. It seemed to be very successful here – every few seconds it would flick its head back as it caught something.

Spoonbill 2

Spoonbill – we watched it feeding on a shallow pool

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from watching the Spoonbill. Nearby, another Whimbrel was feeding on the edge of the grazing marsh, right by the path. We had a good look at it through the scope and could see its pale central crown strips.

A large flock of geese appeared in the sky out over the harbour, flying in towards the grazing marsh. As they got nearer, we could see they were predominantly Pink-footed Geese, about 95 of them. They had been seen about an hour earlier flying over Titchwell and then Burnham Deepdale, so had obviously stopped off somewhere. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since departed, so it was very odd to see such a large flock here now. Where might they have come from?

When the Pink-footed Geese got closer, we could see there were actually two Barnacle Geese with them too. There is a feral group of Barnacle Geese in Holkham Park, but it is possible these two had come from further afield, the way they flew in with the Pink-footed Geese. Perhaps they were even genuine wild birds, looking to head back north.

As we stopped to listen to the Lesser Whitethroat singing again, we heard a shrill call from the other side of the hedge – a Yellow Wagtail. The cows were tucked in the other side, behind the thick vegetation, where we couldn’t see them, but helpfully they started to move out into the middle. As they did, it didn’t take long to see the Yellow Wagtails, three of them, feeding amongst the cows’ hooves. It always looks to be a miracle they don’t get trodden on! There was a very smart male, bright yellow, with two slightly duller females.

We ate our lunch at Burnham Overy Staithe, looking out over the harbour. It was lovely and warm now with the sun out. There were a few more butterflies out now – Holly Blue and Orange Tip, to add to the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock we had seen earlier. After lunch, we headed over to Burnham Norton.

The track out to the seawall was rather muddy, but we picked our way round. There were a few ducks out on the grazing marsh – a few Teal in with the Mallards and Common Pochards in the ditches. There were four more Pink-footed Geese out with the Greylags here, these perhaps more likely to be sick or injured birds which will be unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed. A pair of Lapwing was displaying out over the grass, tumbling and twisting in the sky.

 

Lapwing

Lapwing – displaying over the grazing marsh

There were more warblers singing here – another Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge, a Willow Warbler in the sallows, and several Sedge Warblers in the brambles. As we approached the corner of the seawall, we could hear a more rhythmic song than the Sedge Warbler’s. It was a Reed Warbler, the first we have heard this year. It was keeping well tucked down in the reeds, as was a second Reed Warbler which then started singing the other side of the path. We could just see this second one moving about in the vegetation.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding out in one of the channels on Norton saltmarsh

When we stopped to admire a couple of Avocets feeding in the muddy channel below the seawall with a couple of Oystercatchers, one of the group spotted another Spoonbill out on a pool in the saltmarsh. After a minute or so, it took off and flew past us, heading off out across the grazing marsh.

Spoonbill 3

Spoonbill – flew in from the saltmarsh past us

There were some cows out in the middle of the grazing marsh and, scanning carefully with the scope we could see several Yellow Wagtails down in the grass amongst them. There were three more Wheatears along the fence line just in front of them. They were all a bit distant from here, so we thought we would try to make our way round via the middle path to get a closer look.

The freshwater pools by the seawall held a few waders – several Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, along with the usual Lapwings and Avocets. The ducks included another lingering pair of Wigeon.

The path across the middle of the grazing marshes was not too wet, and we stopped to scan the wagtails again when we got to the cows. We could see at least six Yellow Wagtails here now, feeding in the grass among their hooves, although we had a good scan just in case there were any other wagtails with them. When we got back to the car, a couple of House Martins overhead were a nice addition to the day’s list.

With a little bit of time still before we were due to finish for the day, we headed inland to an area of farmland. There were several Skylarks singing as we got out of the car and a scattering of Linnets in the roughly cultivated fields. We could see a couple of pairs of Red-legged Partridge out in the middle and we flushed two pairs of Grey Partridge from beside the road.

There were at least three Wheatears in the fields here too, despite us being some way from the coast. This is always a popular spot for them. A very pale Common Buzzard circled overhead.

Then it was time for us to make our way back, after an action-packed first day. More tomorrow!

18th Apr 2018 – North Norfolk in the Sun

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely day, more like summer than spring – the weather seems to lurch from one extreme to another at the moment. Blue sky and up to 24C, with a still rather strong wind to start the morning easing off.

We headed up to NW Norfolk to start the day, in the hope of seeing some migration. As we walked in to Snettisham Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler and then a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the bushes. A Willow Warbler called and we saw it flitting around low in the hawthorns, possibly a fresh arrival back from Africa.

A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from somewhere deep in the reeds – good to  hear as the population of Cetti’s Warbler here appears to have been hit quite hard by the winter weather. But there was no sign of the Ring Ouzel where it had been a couple of days ago – presumably some birds had moved on in the clear weather.

A few Mediterranean Gulls passed over heading south, in ones and twos. We could hear their strange nasal calls before we saw them. When they came overhead, we could see through their translucent white wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – several flew over Snettisham this morning

One of the locals told us there were some Wheatears on the clear area a bit further up so we walked over. There had been a male earlier, but we could only find two females now, flashing their white rumps as they flew up and away from us, feeding on the short grass.

A few birds had started to fly past along the seawall, migrating birds on their way to their breeding grounds. There was a steady trickle of Linnets, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits. We heard the distinctive calls of redpolls as a small group passed overhead, but we couldn’t see enough of them to identify them to species.

A sharp ‘tchreep’ alerted us to a Yellow Wagtail flying past. It was nice and low so we could get a good look at it – a smart male, with bright yellow face and underparts. It was the first of several we would hear or see here moving along the coast this morning. However, there were no Swallows or Martins moving this morning, which we might have expected at this time of year and given the weather.

There were several more Lesser Whitethroats singing before we came across a single Common Whitethroat. We stopped to watch it, songflighting from the tops of the bushes. We could see its grey head, white throat, and rusty wing edges. The Lesser Whitethroats have already returned in good numbers but the Common Whitethroats are only now starting to arrive.

A pair of Stonechats appeared on the bushes on the seawall and flicked off ahead of us as we approached. Then we spotted a lark feeding quietly down in the short grass nearby. Even before we looked at it, it appeared to be rather short-tailed and through the scope we could see that it was a Woodlark. We could see its well-marked pale supercilium, short crest and distinctive black and white marked feathers on the bend of the wing.

Woodlark

Woodlark – presumably a migrant stopped off to feed

Woodlarks nest not far from here, inland on the heaths, but they are not so regular down on the coast. This was most likely a migrant, stopping off here on its journey to feed and refuel.

The tide was high, so there wasn’t much to see out on the Wash this morning. Crossing over to the inner seawall, we scanned the grazing marshes and quickly located a large flock of Curlew roosting out in the long grass. Nearby, two slightly smaller, slimmer waders were busy feeding in the grass – two Whimbrel. Lots of Curlew spend the winter out on the Wash, but Whimbrel are just a spring migrant through here, so always nice to see at this time of year.

There were lots more warblers singing from the bushes as we walked back along the inner seawall. We had gone about halfway when we heard a distinctive reeling noise ahead of us – a Grasshopper Warbler. They have just started to return in the last few days, so we hurried towards where the sound appeared to be coming from. When we got there, we realised there were actually two Grasshopper Warblers singing against each other, presumably establishing a territorial boundary.

They were singing intermittently, but we eventually narrowed down the location of one of the Grasshopper Warblers to a large clump of brambles. Unfortunately, it didn’t want to show itself – it was still rather breezy and it was keeping well tucked down, unlike a Sedge Warbler which climbed up into the top of the same clump.

When we got back to the clear area where the Wheatears had been earlier, we found one of the females had been replaced by a smart male, with a bold black face mask. The Wheatears passing through here now are large, with richly marked burnt orange throat and breast, and a brown tinge to the grey of their upperparts. They are Greenland Wheatears, on their long journey from Africa most of the way across the Atlantic to Greenland to breed, an amazing feat for such a small bird.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a smart male of the Greenland race

With a small amount of time before lunch, we decided to head inland next to Dersingham Bog, just a short distance away. As we drove back towards the main road, we noticed a Swallow flying round near the houses, surprisingly the first we had seen today. Presumably it was a breeding bird already returned, rather than a migrant.

As we walked down through the trees, we could hear a Nuthatch calling and found it high in the branches of an old oak tree. It flew across to a pine nearby and a Great Spotted Woodpecker appeared next to it. As we watched, we noticed the Great Spotted Woodpecker climbed up to a fresh hole in the tree, presumably where it is or is planning to nest.

The wind had dropped and, with the sun out, the temperature was really climbing now. Perhaps as a consequence, it was very quiet out in the open. A male Stonechat sang from the top of the heather and song-flighted, hovering in front of us, but there was no sign of any Tree Pipits now. As we got back into the trees, we could hear a Goldcrest high in the pines.

Stonechat

Stonechat – Dersingham is a good site for this species

Lunch was eaten back at the car, joined by one of the other local birders who had just had a quick look out on the heath too. Then we headed over to Titchwell for the afternoon.

A quick look at the feeders in front of the visitor centre revealed a couple of Bramblings with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches. The Bramblings should be on their way back to Scandinavia soon. There was a report in the log of a Slavonian Grebe on Patsy’s Reedbed earlier, but no one in the visitor centre seemed to know anything about it. We decided to head round there first to check it out.

A single female Common Pochard was on the pool in front of Fen Hide, but there was no sign of any grebes on Patsy’s Reedbed. A small group of Black-headed Gulls was bathing out in the middle of the water, and one or two Mediterranean Gulls dropped in to join them briefly – looking very smart with their jet black hoods, white eyelids and bright red bills. A pair of Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed just beyond.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – one of the males over the reedbed

There was nothing in the paddocks today apart from a single Jackdaw – we had hoped there might be some wagtails stopping off to feed here – so we headed round via Meadow Trail and out onto the main part of the reserve.

The dried up ‘pool’ on Thornham grazing marsh looked empty at first too, as we scanned the puddles over towards the back. Then we realised the Little Ringed Plover was right down at the front, just beyond the reeds. We got it in the scope and could see its bright golden yellow eye ring.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – on the Thornham GM ‘pool’ again

The water level on the freshmarsh is looking great at the moment, but it is being rather dominated by the gulls which have taken over the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’. There were hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, with good numbers of Mediterranean Gulls in with them, plus a scattering of Common Gulls, Herring Gulls and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

There was one Common Tern back yesterday, but the numbers had doubled today – there were two. They spent most of the time we were there asleep in amongst the Black-headed Gulls on one of the strips of mud.

Common Tern

Common Tern – numbers had doubled today, now up to 2!

There were a few waders on the Freshmarsh. A scattering of Black-tailed Godwits included one or two birds already moulting into their smart rusty breeding plumage, ahead of the long journey back to Iceland to breed. There were a small number of Ruff and a couple of Redshank. Over beyond Parrinder Hide, we could see another Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands in the distance. There are a few Avocet on here too, but not as many as we might expect at this time of year.

Duck numbers are dwindling steadily, though there are still quite a few Teal here and several pairs of Shoveler. A good number of Brent Geese remain too, commuting between the saltmarsh out towards Thornham and the freshmarsh, where they fly in to bathe and preen. They should be leaving on their way back to Russia for the breeding season soon.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – still a good number remain

The Volunteer Marsh looked fairly quiet today – a few Redshank, a Curlew and a handful of Avocet feeding, plus several Shelduck. There were a few more waders in the channel at the far end, including a couple more Black-tailed Godwits. The Tidal Pools are still flooded, so we went straight on out to the beach.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding on Volunteer Marsh

The tide was out but there didn’t appear to be many waders out on the beach again today, apart from lots of Oystercatchers on the mussel beds. A lone Turnstone was feeding on there too. Scanning away to the west, we found a very distant couple of Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Curlew.

The only grebes we could find on the sea this afternoon were good numbers of Great Crested Grebes. Further out, we found a distant raft of Common Scoter and a couple of Red-breasted Merganser. Several Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth just offshore.

We made our way back to the car. As we passed the picnic area, we could hear a couple of Bramblings singing in the trees – although it can hardly be described as a song, more of a wheeze.

There had been a report of a Ring Ouzel in a field near Burnham Market, so we decided to try our luck there on our way back. There was no sign of it, but we did see a couple of pairs of Grey Partridge. A Red Kite circled lazily over. Then unfortunately it was time to call it a day and head for home.

17th Apr 2018 – Bright & Breezy

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. A day of general birdwatching on the coast, looking for spring migrants and some of our regular breeding birds. It was cloudy in the morning, then bright and sunny in the afternoon, but with a rather blustery wind all day.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, we had a quick look on the pools on the edge of the grazing marsh, where a few Teal and Shoveler were mostly asleep. A Spoonbill flew over and disappeared off east towards Wells, presumably to feed out on the saltmarsh. Parking at the top, a couple of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass opposite.

It was already quite breezy, and the larger birds of prey seemed to be enjoying the updraft provided by the edge of the trees. We watched a Common Buzzard and a couple of Marsh Harriers circling up over the pines. Two Red Kites drifted past over the grazing marsh, the second in heavy wing moult with big gaps in both its wings.

Red Kite

Red Kite – moulting its wing feathers

As we made our way west along the path on the inland side of the pines, it seemed rather quiet at first. However, we quickly started to hear a few warblers singing – first a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap, then our first Willow Warbler of the day. They were hard to see in the wind though today and the tits seemed to be keeping mostly to the pines too.

At Salts Hole, a couple of Tufted Ducks were diving out in the middle and a single drake Teal was lurking under one of the overhanging trees. Another Spoonbill circled up from the marshes beyond and flew off towards the trees out in the middle. A Redpoll flew over calling, but we couldn’t see it.

When we got to the gate just before Washington Hide, a Sedge Warbler was singing from somewhere in the reeds. We could see one of the wardens walking out across the marshes, doing a survey. Given the disturbance this would mean, we decided to walk straight on towards Joe Jordan Hide. A Lesser Whitethroat sang briefly from somewhere deep in the bushes just before the crosstracks and a Blackcap was more obliging, perching up nicely for us to look at it in the scope.

From up in the hide, we could see several Spoonbills down on the pool below. We got one of them in the scope and could see its yellow-tipped black bill, bushy nuchal crest and mustard wash on its breast, all singling it out as a breeding adult. We could see its spoon-shaped bill too.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – out on the pool below Joe Jordan Hide

The Spoonbills were coming and going from the trees beyond. We saw a couple of Little Egrets flying in and out too, which is good to see after they were hit so badly by the cold weather over the winter. A Grey Heron dropped into the trees too, but there was no sign of any of the Great White Egrets from here this morning.

An Egyptian Goose was standing on the grass right in front of the hide and took off as another flew past, flashing its boldly marked black and white wings. There were plenty of Greylag Geese out on the grass too and, after searching through them carefully, we found a couple of Pink-footed Geese in with them. Looking at the two species through the scope, side by side, the Pink-footed Geese were noticeably smaller and darker headed, with a more delicate dark bill with a pink band. A Barnacle Goose, presumably a feral bird from the Park, was with another group of Greylags further over.

There were more Marsh Harriers out here and at one point we watched as a female grappled talons with first one and then quickly afterwards a second male. She didn’t seem attached to either and both looked like aggressive encounters. A Kestrel which dropped down to perch on the grassy bank below the hide. A Muntjac out in the middle of the grazing marshes seemed completely unperturbed by a pair of Greylags noisily hissing and honking at it.

After a while, we headed on towards the dunes. When we got to the gate at the end of the pines, we saw the warden again walking out across the middle of the marshes. A Great White Egret flew up briefly, but then dropped back down out of view. A small group of geese flushed from over towards the seawall and flew round towards us – six more Pink-footed Geese. Three of them had obvious damage to their wing feathers, presumably enough to make make the journey back to Iceland difficult.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – another six flew round over Burnham Overy grazing marshes

Out into the dunes, the bushes beyond the fence were very quiet today. There was no obvious sign of any new migrants and we couldn’t find any Ring Ouzels either here today. It was rather exposed and windy here though. We continued on a little further and noticed a black bird on a bramble on the top of the dunes ahead of us. Through the scope, we confirmed that it was a Ring Ouzel.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this female was in the dunes today

The Ring Ouzel was a female, with a rather dull crescent on its breast, lacking the bright white one of a male. We could see its silvery edged wings too. We managed to get a little bit closer to it, but it was very flighty and eventually headed off over the dunes.

There were a few Linnets and a Meadow Pipit or two in the dunes, but no obvious sign of large numbers of birds moving. Then we heard a whistling call and looked up to see a Whimbrel flying over. We could see it was distinctly smaller and more streamlined than a Curlew, with a shorter bill.

A flash of a white rump alerted us to a Wheatear flying away ahead of us. It dropped down the other side of a grassy ridge and by walking round on to some higher ground we were able to get a good look at it in the scope. It looked to be a male Greenland Wheatear, large and long-winged, richly-coloured below and with brown tones in the grey mantle.

The Wheatear was very flighty too and suddenly shot off over the dunes. We found the female Ring Ouzel again, in a sheltered area in the dunes, but it also flew off before we could look at it properly. Time was getting on and we had a long walk back to the car, so we decided this was as far as we could go today. We turned to head back.

We had a walk back through the middle of the dunes, hoping we might find a male Ring Ouzel lurking somewhere, but it was quiet here. A couple of Swallows flew over us and disappeared off west. Scanning the grazing marshes from the top of the dunes, just before we got back to the pines, we finally got a better look at a Great White Egret. One was feeding in a ditch out on the marshes and through the scope we could see its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – out on the grazing marshes from the dunes

The walk back was fairly uneventful until we got to the crosstracks. We thought it might be worth a look along the path which heads into the trees to the north, as it can be a little more sheltered in here. We had just stopped to watch a pair of Long-tailed Tits collecting feathers when another bird popped out onto the edge of one of the trees in front of us.

It was a small warbler, with a bright lemon yellow supercilium and breast, contrasting white belly and moss green upperparts – a Wood Warbler! This is a very scarce spring migrant here, but unfortunately it dropped back into the trees before everyone could get onto it and we lost sight of it. Despite searching, we couldn’t find it again – it had probably gone back into the pines out of the wind.

Eventually we had to give up and continue on our walk back.  A Sedge Warbler singing from some brambles in the reeds just beyond Meals House was more obliging. We could see the blue sky approaching as we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, but it was very windy here so we decided to head over to Titchwell for lunch. On the way, we spotted a Grey Wagtail on the driveway by Burnham Overy Watermill. We stopped for a second to watch it and could see it was collecting nest material.

As we walked over to the picnic area from the car park at Titchwell, we could hear Redpolls calling and we could just make out one high in the pines with the Goldfinches. Thankfully, they then flew out of the pines and into the alders above the picnic area and we could see there were four Mealy Redpolls.

Mealy Redpoll

Mealy Redpoll – there were four around the picnic area at lunchtime

With the sun out and in the shelter of the trees, it was nice sitting in the picnic area. Several butterflies appreciated the improvement in the weather too, with Brimstone and Peacock both flying past. A female Blackcap appeared on the edge of the sallows, closely followed by a male, which proceeded to sing and feed in front of us.

After lunch, we headed over to the Visitor Centre. There were a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches around the feeders, and we quickly found a Brambling in the trees just behind. We watched for a while and at least three different Bramblings came in to feed.

Brambling

Brambling – one of three around the feeders

We made our way round to Patsy’s Reedbed first. There had been a few different birds here earlier this morning, but there was very little to see now. A couple of Swallows flew across over our heads and carried on west, as did a Siskin and a couple of Linnets – a trickle of migrants moving. We had a look in the paddocks, but there was just one Pied Wagtail in here today. We made our way back round via Meadow Trail.

It was very blustery once we got onto the main path and out of the trees. We stopped to look at Thornham grazing marsh, but it was hard to keep the scope still. We couldn’t see the Little Ringed Plover which had been here earlier. A single Grey Plover was on the Lavendar Marsh Pool. There were a few Common Pochard on the reedbed pool and a Sedge Warbler singing from somewhere deep in the brambles in the reeds.

Island Hide provided a very welcome shelter from the wind. The water level on the freshmarsh is much better for waders now, but the whole area is completely dominated by the gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls. We had heard a few Mediterranean Gulls on the walk out, and seen their pure white wingtips as they flew overhead, but now we got a chance to see the two species side by side on the water.

A Common Tern was hiding on the back of one of the islands, behind a big group of Black-tailed Godwits. It was hard to see at first, until it was chased out into the open by a gull. This is the first Common Tern we have seen back here this year.

Common Tern

Common Tern – the first one we have seen back here this year

The number of ducks on here continue to decline, as birds head back to the continent for the breeding season. There were still a few Teal around the edges and a couple of pairs of Shoveler. The Brent Geese kept flying in from the saltmarsh whenever they got spooked, sometimes staying for a bathe and a preen. They should be heading off back to Russia too soon.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – kept flying in to the Freshmarsh from the saltmarsh

There are quite a few Avocets on the freshmarsh now, busy feeding in the deeper water. A couple of little groups of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping on the islands or in the shallows. Some of the Black-tailed Godwits are moulting now, and starting to get the bright rusty orange head and breast of breeding plumage. There were a couple of Ruffs too – a paler male and one more heavily speckled with black.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into rusty orange breeding plumage

Scanning the bank over the far side, we picked up a small group of 5-6 hirundines flying towards the reserve. They were Sand Martins and they gradually worked their way across the Freshmarsh and away to the west, the first we have seen this year.

We decided to brave the wind again and head out to the beach. There was not much to see on Volunteer Marsh until we got to the channel at the far side. Here there were a couple more Black-tailed Godwits, several Redshanks and one or two Curlew. Down in the muddy channel in the middle we picked up a small group of Knot. The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more and full of water now – storms over the winter blocked up the drainage channel – so there was nothing to see here again.

The sand on the beach was being whipped up by the wind. There were lots of Oystercatchers and a couple of Curlew on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, but not much else. All the other waders were scattered out on the sand towards Thornham Point. They were distant, but we could make out Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Sanderling all to add to the day’s list.

Scanning the sea produced several Great Crested Grebes and a few Common Scoter lingering offshore. But it was not especially pleasant out on the beach today, so we decided to start making our way back.

As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, a female Red-crested Pochard flew in from the direction of the Tidal Pools and dropped down towards the Freshmarsh. There was still no sign of the Little Ringed Plover out in the open on the Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ but it must have been lurking somewhere out of sight because it flew up just as we had passed and headed off back towards the Freshmarsh. On the way to the car park, we stopped to listen to a Brambling singing – though it sounds more like a wheeze than a song!

When we got back to the car, we still had time for one last stop on our way home. There had been a Pied Flycatcher in Burnham Thorpe village all afternoon, so we took a quick detour inland. There were only a couple of other people looking by the time we arrived, but we found it fairly quickly in the trees at the end of the small park.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – feeding in the trees in the middle of Burnham Thorpe

We watched the Pied Flycatcher for a bit, as it dropped down into the hedge at the back and then made several sallies out after insects. It made its way along the other side of the hedge past us, stopping on several fence posts on the way. You could just see it each time, if you found the right angle to line up with a gap through the hedge.

It was a great way to end the day, watching the Pied Flycatcher in the afternoon sunshine. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head for home.

15th April 2018 – Early Spring at Last, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours in North Norfolk. Having been west along the coast yesterday, we headed out east for the day today. It had been forecast to be cloudier than yesterday, but we were not expecting to have the fog which clung on along the coast all day. It meant that migration along the coast was limited today, but we still managed to find a few migrants despite the weather.

Our first destination was Cley. It had looked to be brightening up as we drove along the coast road, but by the time we got to the East Bank, we could see the fog rolling in out towards the coast. A Kestrel was hovering over the edge of the reedbed. It gradually worked its way closer and then, as we watched it, it dropped steeply down into the grass just beyond the car park. When it came up again it had a vole in its talons. A Grey Heron dropped out of the trees and down towards the pools.

Kestrel

Kestrel – caught a vole just by the car park

Up on the bank, we could see several Common Pochard on Don’s Pool, along with a single drake Tufted Duck. They were all diving constantly. Over the other side of the bank, we could see lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes. There were still a few Wigeon out here too, plus several Teal, a couple of Shoveler and a pair of Gadwall.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – a smart drake on Don’s Pool

 

The Redshanks were displaying here today – they were very vocal and we saw several in display flight, fluttering their bowed wings as they called. The Lapwings were a bit more subdued in the weather, though we did see one or two tumbling. There were plenty of Avocets but they were right at the back, on Pope’s Pool, in the fog. We could hear them calling noisily. We stopped to look at a Ruff feeding on the edge of the Serpentine.

A Bearded Tit pinged from the reedbed, but remained stubbornly down out of view today. A Marsh Harrier circled out over Pope’s reedbed, in the fog, and then another appeared much closer, over the reeds the other side.

We made our way on Arnold’s Marsh and took advantage of the shelter. There was a good selection of waders out on here today. There were several Bar-tailed Godwits, some still in non-breeding plumage, but several starting to moult and one particularly smart individual already in summer plumage, deep rusty coloured below, right down to under the tail.

There was a good number of Dunlin on the mud at the back, accompanied by a couple of Ringed Plovers. A single Grey Plover on one of the shingle spits was still in grey non-breeding plumage. There were plenty of Avocets and Redshanks on here too.

Redshank

Redshank – on the brackish pools by Arnold’s Marsh

We managed to pick out two Sandwich Terns on the small shingle island at the back, and we could see their shaggy crests even if they were mostly sleeping. Then more Sandwich Terns flew in and landed with them and there was lots of calling and displaying, so we could see their yellow-tipped black bills. We went to have a look out at the sea, but it was too foggy now to even see the waves, so we headed back.

It was brighter back at the car, but we drove back into the fog along Beach Road. The edge of the Eye Field is a good place to look for Wheatears and thankfully we found a couple close to the edge, where we could see them. They were feeding down in the grass just beyond the fence, but one came out onto the shingle and perched on a couple of the fence posts.

Wheatear

Wheatear – one of two at the Eye Field this morning

Both the Wheatears were males and both looked to be large and richly coloured below, with a comparatively deep burnt orange wash across the breast. They looked to be Greenland Wheatears, stopping off on their way before making the long journey most of the way across the Atlantic

With our mission here accomplished, we decided not to linger in the fog and drove back east along the coast road. A quick stop at Salthouse duckpond and scan of the pools beyond didn’t produce anything new, but we did stop to admire a pair of Gadwall. The drakes in particular are very intricately patterned, belying there ‘grey and boring’ image. There was also a Canada Goose on the pond and more Wigeon and Teal on the wet grazing marshes beyond.

Gadwall

Gadwall – an intricately patterned drake

The pools along Salthouse Beach Road can be good for migrants, but there was nothing here today. It was very foggy now along the shingle ridge and with few migrants apparently moving along the coast today, we decided it probably wasn’t going to be worth walking out to Gramborough Hill.

Continuing on to Kelling, we drove back into the sunshine as we headed slightly inland. As we parked in village the, a Common Buzzard was soaring high overhead, above the thing hazy cloud. A Swallow appeared overhead, hawking or insects, and disappeared off towards the road. When we got over there, we found a pair of Swallows on the wires. Rather than being on their way through, these birds had probably returned here to breed.

Swallows

Swallows – two returned already in Kelling village

A pair of Pied Wagtails and a couple of Goldfinches were feeding on the playing field and a Chiffchaff was singing in the grounds of the school opposite. As we walked along the lane, a male Blackcap flew across in front of us and landed briefly in the bushes. Up at the copse, another Blackcap was singing in the trees and a pair of Chiffchaffs were fliting around, the male stopping to sing from time to time as it followed what was presumably a female.

It was increasingly foggy again as we got closer to the coast. Down at the Water Meadow, there were good numbers of Avocet feeding out in the water and calling noisily, plus a single lone Redshank and a few Teal. As we walked along the cross track on the north side of the water meadow, we heard a Whimbrel call. We looked across the Quags and saw it emerge from the fog and fly past us. It didn’t stop and headed off SE. Another good spring migrant.

We walked down towards the beach but it was very foggy down by the sea now. We had a quick scan of the Quags pools, but couldn’t see anything of note in the mist, so wee decided to head back to the Visitor Centre at Cley for lunch.

The weather was not too bad at Cley, so we ate our lunch outside, on the picnic tables. One or two Pied Wagtails kept flying back and forth overhead, commuting to the field behind. Just as we finished our lunch, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked up to see it flying east in front of us. It turned back just before North Foreland Wood, and came back around over behind the Visitor Centre. It dropped down and looked like it might be landing in the field behind. We walked up to the back of the Visitor Centre to look for it, but there was no sign of it in the field, just one of the Pied Wagtails.

After lunch we paid a quick visit to the Iron Road. As we got out of the car, we could see three Egyptian Geese asleep in the grass with the Greylags. Two Brent Geese flew in to join them, Dark-bellied birds yet to set off back to Russia to breed. A Little Egret was feeding on one of the wet flashes in the grass.

It was a bit clearer now, so we walked up along the track to the pool. There were several Ruff around the muddy margins, and we stopped to look at a small group. Of the six birds, one was much smaller, a female ‘Reeve’. Most of the Ruff were rather pale, but one male was very dark, blackish speckled. They are the most variable of waders and they are now starting to moult into breeding plumage, although the males will not get their elaborate ruffs for a while yet. There were a couple of Redshanks on the pool too, for comparison.

There had been a White Wagtail here this morning and we found it again feeding on one of the grassy island. White Wagtail is the continental cousin of our Pied Wagtail and just passes through here on migration in the spring. This one had stopped off to feed. We could see its silvery grey back, much paler than the black or slate grey backs of our Pied Wagtails. A Swallow flew over, heading west, the first hirundine we had seen on the move today, they were obviously held up further south by the weather.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – feeding on the pool by Iron Road

 

There seemed to be more fret rolling in from the east, so we decided to head inland, up to the Heath to try to find some brighter weather. It was nice and bright, sunny with some high hazy cloud, when we arrived in the car park. We could hear Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler singing in the trees.

We headed first for a sheltered corner which always catches the afternoon sun. We could hear Bullfinches calling, flew and a pair flew across in front of us and disappeared into trees. We were looking at the margins of the gorse to see if we could find any Adders, when a small bird flew up ahead of us calling a distinctive ‘speez, speez’. It was a Tree Pipit. They used to breed up here on the Heath, but have died out in recent years, so this was most likely a migrant, stopping just off on its way further north.

We walked round the corner to see if we could find the Tree Pipit on the ground, but it was obviously hiding in the trees. It then flew out and landed in the birches behind us briefly, then flew again and disappeared. It seemed to be trying to come back down into the grass to feed, so we left it in peace. You can find migrants inland, not just on the coast!

Scanning the leaf litter on the bank which faces the sun, we spotted our first Adder. Unfortunately, it headed straight into cover but the second Adder we found was more obliging, and stayed curled up in the grass for a few seconds before it decided our combined presence was too much and it disappeared into a hole in the vegetation.

Adder

Adder – warming itself in the sun in the leaf litter

While we were watching the Adder, one of the group spotted a Common Lizard basking nearby. Then a young Common Frog hopped out of the leaves too. It was all action in this corner of the Heath this afternoon!

 

Common Lizard

Common Lizard – basking on a leaf

 

Walking back up the track, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler in the top of a small birch tree, as a Red Kite drifted overhead. We heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying towards us. It circled round over a more open area of grass, singing – a beautiful if slightly melancholic song. Then it appeared to drop down beyond the trees behind us. We walked back and found two Woodlarks on the ground.

The male Woodlark didn’t stay long, but took off again and started to fly round singing, while the female fed quietly in the grass. It was remarkably hard to see against the browns of the dead bracken, until it moved. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it too took off and headed away in the direction the male Woodlark had flown.

Woodlark

Woodlark – very well camouflaged against the dead bracken

 

As we walked across the Heath and entered one of the traditional Dartford Warbler territories, we could hear one calling ahead of us. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it had gone quiet and despite walking round the area for a couple of minutes we didn’t hear it again. Still it was a good start.

We made our way further on, to another territory, and stopped to listen again. Once more, it was all quiet, despite the warmth from the sun, perhaps because it was now late in the afternoon. As we turned to leave, we saw something flit across in a dense clump of gorse right next to us. As we stood and watched a Dartford Warbler stuck its head out.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – feeding in the gorse flowers

 

The Dartford Warbler appeared to be feeding on the bright yellow gorse flowers, presumably looking for insects. It was on the move constantly and very hard to see, only occasionally appearing on top of the bush. We followed it for a while as it fed quietly before it eventually dropped down out of view as the sun disappeared behind some clouds.

Another Woodlark flew over calling, and a few seconds later presumably the same bird came back the other way singing, right over our heads. There were plenty of Linnets around the Heath and we could hear several Yellowhammers calling, but the one resident of the Heath we hadn’t yet come across was Stonechat. We headed over to an area where a pair have taken up residence, but couldn’t see them on a quick circuit of the path, before a male Stonechat popped up in front of us as we got back to the start!

It was a nice way to end the day, and the weekend, up on the Heath. We had been very successful on our quick visit here, so we headed for home well pleased with our tally.

14th April 2018 – Early Spring at Last, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours in North Norfolk. It was cloudy most of the day, but dry and mild and with light winds, before the sun came out later in the afternoon. We spent the day up on the coast, looking for spring migrants.

With the possibility that there could be some birds freshly arrived or on the move this morning, with the improvement in the weather after several cold and foggy days, we decided to spend the morning at Holkham and Burnham Overy Dunes.

As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a couple of Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marshes and several Shoveler around the rushy edges of the pools. When we got out of the car, a more careful scan revealed a few Wigeon still lingering out on the grass (most have already departed on their way back to Russia for the breeding season) and a pair of Gadwall with them. There were also a couple of Oystercatchers and several Curlew. A pair of Lapwing were displaying further back.

Rather than heading out towards the beach, we turned west along the path before the pines. We could hear Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing deep in the trees along the first stretch, both early returning migrants. A Lesser Whitethroat started singing too, further back – it was probably just back from its African wintering grounds.

A Goldcrest started singing in the pines and we looked up to see it flitting around above us. We could hear a Treecreeper singing too, but it remained stubbornly elusive. Eventually we had a brief glimpse but it disappeared back into the pines before everyone could get onto it. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the trees too.

At Salts Hole there were a few Tufted Ducks and a single drake Teal out on the water. Another Chiffchaff was calling in the trees just beyond, and we followed it as it made its way quickly west on the edge of the trees, singing occasionally. Eventually it stopped to feed and we managed to get a better look at it. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the reeds as we scanned the grazing marshes from the gate. It popped up into some brambles briefly but dropped down before everyone could see it. Two Spoonbills flew past.

A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up out in the middle and then a Sparrowhawk appeared above our heads, over the path. From the boardwalk up to Washington Hide, we stopped to watch another pair of Marsh Harriers which were flying in and out of the reeds. The male made several short flights down to the edge of the marsh and then came back with sticks or bits of reed, presumably nest building.

Marsh Harrier 1

Marsh Harrier – the male, carrying nest material

Continuing on our way west, we had nice views of a Sedge Warbler in the reeds by Meals House, which perched up more obligingly than the one we had seen earlier. Then it performed a song flight, fluttering up singing, before parachuting back down into the reeds out of view.

There were a few tits in the trees as we walked along. Then just before the crosstracks, we heard a Willow Warbler singing. It was in a bare deciduous tree on the edge of the pines and we had nice views of it as it alternately preened and sang, perched in the morning sunshine. We could see the lemon yellow wash to the supercilium. Then it started to feed actively, still stopping to sing from time to time.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – singing on the edge of the pines

Another longer distance, trans-Saharan migrant, the Willow Warbler was very possibly freshly arrived back. The song is a lovely sweet descending scale, very different from the Chiffchaff, a real sign of spring when the Willow Warblers return.

At this point we received a message to say that some Ring Ouzels had been seen out in the dunes. So, rather than stopping at the hide, we continued straight on towards the end of the pines. We stopped to scan from the gate. A couple of Blackbirds flew out of the bushes, unfortunately lacking the white gorget of their upland cousins. We made our way on into the dunes.

It was rather quiet at first out here. There had apparently been quite a good passage of commoner migrants earlier, but it seemed to have slowed now. There were plenty of Meadow Pipits and Linnets in the bushes or down in the grass as we passed. A male Stonechat on top of a bush looked very smart.

The Ring Ouzels had apparently been with some other thrushes earlier, but we saw the Mistle Thrushes fly off west ahead of us, while a couple of Song Thrushes came up out of the dunes behind us. It was hard to tell which way the Ring Ouzels would most likely have gone, but we then received another message to say one had reappeared a short distance behind us, so we walked back to find it feeding out on the grass beyond the fence.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this male showed well on the grass beyond the fence

The Ring Ouzel was a smart male, with a bold white gorget. We had great views of it through the scope, as it fed out in the open. We could even see the silvery edges to the wing feathers. It would occasionally disappear back into the bushes, but kept coming out again onto the grass, before eventually moving further back. As we scanned the dunes further along, we spotted another Ring Ouzel perched in the top of a bush away to the west.

The Ring Ouzels are on their way from their wintering grounds in North Africa, back to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and stop off here to feed. There had been six of them earlier, but we were more than happy with the views we had of these two. We decided to venture on a little further to see if we could find a Wheatear which had been seen along here earlier.

We continued on to the next open area in the dunes, but there was no sign of the Wheatear. It was getting very disturbed here now, with several people and families out walking their dogs. We didn’t have time to go all the way to the end of the dunes today, so we decided to head back east and have a look from Joe Jordan Hide on our way. A quick look out at the grazing marshes from the edge of the pines revealed a distant Great White Egret and a presumably feral Barnacle Goose with the Greylags. We could see three Spoonbills in the distance in the trees too.

As we climbed up to Joe Jordan Hide, we spotted a Great White Egret in one of the wet ditches right outside. As well as its large size, its long yellow bill gave it away.  While we were watching it, we noticed another Great White Egret further back. This one had a black bill – their bills change colour when they are in breeding condition. Hopefully they will breed here again this year.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – one of two we saw from Joe Jordan Hide

A few Little Egrets were coming in and out of the trees now too, which is good to see. The Little Egret population here was very badly hit by the cold weather earlier in the year. It will be interesting to see how many pairs breed here in 2018.

There was a lot of Spoonbill activity today. Several were down around the edges of the pool, bathing & preening. More were flying in and out from the trees, collecting nest material around the reedy margins of the water. We had a good view of them through the scope – the adults with their shaggy nuchal crests blowing in the breeze..

There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the grass around the old fort and looking carefully through we found two Pink-footed Geese with them. We could see they were smaller and darker, with a more delicate bill, dark with a pink bank. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have gone already, back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a very small number normally over-summer here, typically sick or injured birds. One of the two today looked to have a damaged wing, presumably having been shot and winged over the winter.

Several Marsh Harriers were coming and going here too. A Red Kite circled up in the distance. While we were watching a dark Common Buzzard perched on a bush it suddenly took off and dropped sharply down onto the ground. It had caught something, and we watched as it flew off carrying it.

It was time to head back for lunch now. We made good use of the picnic tables at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. It was nice weather to sit out and eat today, with the bonus of a couple of Spoonbills which flew over while we were there, one right over our heads so we got a very good look at its spoon-shaped bill.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew right over us while we were having lunch

After lunch, we headed further west along the coast road. After a while, we turned inland to see if we could find some farmland birds. A pair of Red-legged Partridges and lots of Brown Hares were in the first fields. Then we spotted a big flock of Linnets lined up on the wires, and more in the hedge by the road, with a Kestrel perched nearby. A little further on, we found several Bramblings with a few Chaffinches in the hedge too. There is a wild bird seed crop growing here and the birds have been here all winter. It will soon be time for the Bramblings to leave.

We stopped again to check out another field where there is a seedy strip. As we scanned round, we spotted several Yellowhammers in the hedges, including a good number of lovely bright yellow males. We could see a distant Corn Bunting in the hedge over the far side too, so we walked a bit further down for a closer look.

When we stopped to scan again, we heard another Corn Bunting singing in the hedge just ahead of us, like a jangling bunch of keys. It was hard to see against the branches, very well camouflaged, but in the end we got a great look at it through the scope, perched up with the Yellowhammers.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – perched up on the hedge with the Yellowhammers

Our destination for the rest of the afternoon was Titchwell, so we swung round via Choseley on our way there. A pair of Grey Partridge were feeding in a winter wheat field by the road, the male keeping watch while the female concentrated on finding food.

As we got out of the car at Titchwell, we could hear Mediterranean Gulls calling overhead. Four Common Snipe flew over the car park, but disappeared behind the trees before everyone could get on to them. On the walk to the Visitor Centre, another Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows and, when we got there, a male Blackcap was singing in the tree right above us.

Blackcap

Blackcap – singing in the trees by the Visitor Centre

A quick look at the feeders revealed several Bramblings. At first a female appeared in the trees behind, then a young male, with a black-speckled head but rather dull orange breast and shoulders still. Finally a third Brambling appeared, a much brighter orange bird, presumably an adult male.

Brambling

Brambling – one of at least three at the feeders

There have been a couple of Black Redstarts in the paddocks round by Patsy’s Reedbed for a few days, another early migrant just passing through here, so we went first to look for them. We couldn’t see any sign of them from the gate. The only bird of note on Patsy’s itself were a few Common Pochard,  and a couple of Marsh Harriers were displaying just beyond, the male calling and tumbling down from high in the sky.

We walked over to the end of the paddocks and there was still no sign of the Black Redstart. It had just been seen on one of the stable, but had dropped down out of view, and it didn’t reappear while we waited. There had been some wagtails here too earlier, but there were just a couple of Pied Wagtails now, the Yellow Wagtail having flown off towards the freshmarsh. We decided to head back to the main path.

Walking out across the reserve, the Thornham grazing marsh was quiet and there was nothing singing in the reedbed today. A single Little Grebe was hiding in the channel through the reeds and a few Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks were on the reedbed pool. Then we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling over the edge of the saltmarsh in front of us and looked over to see it flying across. It came past us, back over the main path, and headed away back towards Patsy’s and the paddocks. Another nice spring migrant for the day’s list.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – flying overhead, calling

There were Mediterranean Gulls flying around calling non-stop, with lots of gulls flying back in from the fields inland. We could see the pure white wing-tips on the Mediterraean Gulls, which were translucent from below. The water levels on the Freshmarsh are much better now, much lower than they had been, but the islands seem to have been largely taken over by gulls. As well as loads of Black-headed and good numbers of Mediterranean, we found a few Common, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls too.

With the improvement in the water levels, there are a few more waders back on here now. As well as the ubiquitous Avocets, there were a few Black-tailed Godwits, with many already moulting into their rusty breeding plumage. A lone Ruff was feeding around the edge of the nearest island, but there were mare further back, by the bank beyond Parrinder Hide, with a Redshank alongside providing a nice comparison.

There were still a few ducks on the freshmarsh, mainly Teal, although many have already departed back to their breeding grounds. The sun had come out now and the drake Teal looked particularly stunning in the late afternoon light.

Teal

Teal – a smart drake in the afternoon sun

We had a quick look on Volunteer Marsh, but the tide was already coming in fast and the channel was flooded. There were a few Redshanks and Curlews out on the mud in the middle. We didn’t have time to head out to the beach today, but the tide would be in anyway, so we started to walk back.

As we got back to the reedbed, we heard a Bearded Tit call and watched as it flew in skimming the tops of the reeds and dropped down out of sight. A few seconds later, it flew again, back across the reedbed and disappeared once more. That is often all you see of the Bearded Tits but a little further along, we noticed some movement down low in the reeds at the back of the pools by the path and looked across to see a male Bearded Tit.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a pair were feeding around the edge of the pools by the path

We watched the male Bearded Tit as it weaved its way in and out of the reeds, occasionally picking at the water surface or at the stems, presumably looking for insects. Then it flew across the water and disappeared into a thicker patch of reeds. As we waited to see if it might come out, a female Bearded Tit appeared in the reeds nearby.

Almost back to the trees, a ghostly pale shape flew in across the reeds and over the path. It was a Barn Owl. It headed round to the Thornham grazing marsh and started hunting over the rushy grass. We made our way back to where there is a gap in the trees and had geat views of it flying round. Eventually it dropped sharply down into the grass and when it finally flew up again we could see that it had caught a vole. It flew off with it in its talons, back the way it had come.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – caught a vole on Thornham grazing marsh

That would have been a very nice way to end, but back in the car park, we decided to have a quick look out towards the paddocks from the gates at the back. A quick scan of the stable revealed one of the Black Redstarts on the roof. It was the male, dark slate grey with a black face and an orange-red tail. It was perched, looking into the afternoon sun, presumably warming itself. A nice extra bonus to finish the day.

1st April 2018 – Easter Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Spring Tour over the Easter weekend. After more rain overnight, it was meant to stop in the early hours and then brighten up this morning. It was a bit slow coming, remaining stubbornly cold, grey and misty until midday, but at least it was mostly dry, just spitting with rain from time to time. Then the sun came out early afternoon, which made for a very welcome change, and we were quick to capitalise on it!

Our first destination for the morning was Santon Downham. As we walked down to the bridge from the Forestry Commission car park, we could hear Bramblings wheezing in the trees and we managed to find a couple around the garden with the feeders.

Brambling

Brambling – in the trees by the garden with the feeders again

 

We took the new path down beside the river. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from somewhere in the distance and a Nuthatch was piping high in the poplars. A Grey Wagtail was singing quietly around one of the tree trunks in the middle of the water. We watched as it fed around the piles of vegetation washed up around the branches, before it flew off back towards the bridge.

Their squeaky calls announced the arrival of a pair of Mandarin Ducks, which flew towards us along the river. They gained height and landed in the branches of the poplar tree just opposite us, on the other bank. There seems to be a very good number of them along the river this year and we were never far away from a pair all morning, mostly to be heard flying up and down the river and through the trees.

Mandarin

Mandarin Duck – one of several we saw along the river this morning

 

Carrying on down the path, we could hear Redwings chattering and singing in the alders across the river and looked across to see lots of them perched in the tops of the trees. A female Siskin was trying to come down to the ditch beside the path to drink or bathe, and kept flying further along ahead of us, until we got to the corner where it stopped and we could have a closer look at it. There were several Long-tailed Tits along here too and we could hear a couple of Marsh Tits singing from the other side.

Our real target here was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but as we got to one of their favoured areas all seemed very quiet. We stood and listened for a while, as we scanned the trees, but not even the Great Spotted Woodpeckers were up to anything this morning. In the cold and damp, nothing was singing and there were generally few birds in the poplars.

We continued on a little further and stopped again. Three Grey Wagtails flew past us, heading downstream, one of the males singing as they passed and a little while later they came back the other way. One of the males then returned alone and stopped to sing on one of the fallen trees lying across the river close by – possibly he had been chasing off a rival pair which had entered his territory. A Kingfisher flew in and perched on the fallen tree too, for a minute, before zooming off upstream in a flash of electric blue.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – singing from one of the fallen trees across the river

 

Eventually a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers appeared. The first was silent, and flew off over our heads and across the river, but it was quickly followed by a second which called as it landed in the poplars and stayed for a minute before flying off. There was still no sign of the promised brighter intervals!

We were about to give up when we heard too brief bursts of drumming, the distinctive faster, longer drum of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It was coming from somewhere back along the path, though we couldn’t tell which side the river. By the time we got back to where we thought it might have been along the path, which was muddy again and slippery from all the rain, it had gone quiet once more. We waited a while to see if it would do anything again, but it was clear we weren’t going to get much of a performance given the weather this morning, so we headed back.

On the walk back along the path, a Yellowhammer was calling from over by the railway line and we got it in the scope, a smart male. Another pair of Yellowhammers were on the ground under the feeders back in the garden by the bridge.

We paid a brief visit to St Helens picnic site to see if we could find the Woodlarks there, but the field next to the car park was empty today. A Grey Wagtail was singing down by the river, we heard another pair of Mandarin Ducks, and there were large numbers of Redwings in the poplars across the river here.

It seemed to be drying out a bit and the darker grey clouds appeared to have lifted a touch, so we decided it was possibly our best chance of finding a Goshawk now. We could also eat lunch while we waited. We were encouraged by the sight of several Common Buzzards starting to circle up as we arrived and then a Goshawk appeared low above the trees. Unfortunately it dropped quickly back behind the treeline, before everyone to get onto it. Very frustrating – would that be it?

Thankfully, as we were scanning the trees to see if it would reappear, one of the group noticed a raptor high overhead and we watched as an adult Goshawk flew across in front of us. It started to display, flying with slow, deep, deliberate wingbeats, then stopped to circle for a few minutes away to our left, before dropping away behind the trees.

The weather continued to improve as we ate our lunch – some patches of blue sky appeared and we could even finally feel a bit of warmth from the sun. We were then treated to an impressive performance from the Goshawks. First, what was presumably the same bird we had just been watching reappeared, circling up with a second Goshawk away to our left. They both appeared to be adults, and we watched as they started to display and chased each other back behind the trees. Then we picked up a different adult Goshawk, away to our right, which circled up and had a brief tussle with a couple of Common Buzzards.

Next, we spotted two more Goshawks displaying away in the distance – this time one of them was a juvenile, orange-tinged below and brown above as it turned in the sun. It appeared to be a big bird, presumably a female, and it chased after the adult which was with it.

Goshawk

Goshawk – one of several birds which put on a great show for us

 

Unfortunately we only caught the back end of one of the Goshawks as it dropped down into the trees right in front of us, but helpfully it circled back up after a few minutes, giving us our best views of all, before it flew off away from us. We thought it was the same bird which we noticed circling further back a few minutes later, but through the scope we could see that this one was a juvenile, possibly a young male, with gaps in its wings, so different from the juvenile we had seen earlier.

There were other birds to distract us here too, when we weren’t watching the Goshawks. A Red Kite circled lazily behind us and a Sparrowhawk flew up from the trees, with bursts of rapid flapping, very different from the Goshawks. A Curlew called a couple of times and then burst into its delightful bubbling song as it circled down into the grass behind us. There were several Skylarks singing constantly now, but then a Woodlark flew in overhead calling and dropped down into the grass too, where we could get it in the scope.

It was a really impressive display from the Goshawks today, and far better than we could have dreamt of in the cold and damp weather this morning. After lunch, we decided to head off and try our luck elsewhere. With the sun shining now, we figured the Willow Tits might start singing and we were quickly rewarded. As we walked into the plantation with the feeding tables, one started singing almost immediately.

We followed the song, as we thought it might come out on the sunny edge of the trees, but the Willow Tit moved deeper into the plantation. We could hear it singing and occasionally calling too. Then it went quiet. We walked back to the feeding tables, figuring it might do a circuit, and watched all the commoner tits and Nuthatches coming in to the seeds. A Marsh Tit put in an appearance too.

When the Willow Tit started singing again, it sounded like it was heading slowly back towards us, so we watched the edge of trees hoping it would come out. Then it went quiet for a minute and the next thing it started up again on the other side of the track, behind the second feeding table. It carried on singing but was moving deeper into the plantation away from us again.

The plan was to spend the afternoon at Lynford Arboretum, so we headed over there next. As we walked in along the track, there were a few tits and a Nuthatch coming to the fat balls in the cage in front of the gate. A few Chaffinches were feeding on the ground and a Marsh Tit dropped in briefly too.

The Hawfinches have been seen most reliably in the paddocks in the last few weeks, so we decided to make our way straight down there. Down at the bottom of the hill, before we got to the bridge, we heard Goldcrests calling and looked up in the top of a couple of tall fir trees to see them flycatching, after lots of small midges buzzing around the branches.

There was a sharper call too and then a Firecrest started singing from the deciduous trees behind us. We had a great view of it as it flitted around in the bare branches.

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing down by the bridge

There was not too much seed left out on the pillars of the bridge, although a smart male Reed Bunting was feeding on one. We added a couple of generous handfuls of sunflower seeds and then continued on down towards the paddocks, figuring we would come back and see what was coming in to the seed on our way back.

When we stopped at a gap in the hedge to scan the paddocks, we could see lots of Redwings down in the grass. Something spooked them and they flew up into the trees out in the middle. Scanning through the tops, a Hawfinch appeared with them,  in the top of one of the hornbeams. It was a smart male, rich chestnut coloured and with a neat black mask and bib. We got it in the scope and admired it massive cherry stone-crusher of a bill.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male in the trees in the paddocks

After we had all had a really good look at it, the Hawfinch eventually dropped back down towards the ground under the biggest clump of trees. The Redwings were mostly down here too and, scanning through, we could see several Chaffinches and a smart male Brambling too. A Treecreeper appeared on one of the trunks in amongst them.

When something spooked all the Redwings again, they flew off towards the Arboretum. We expected to find the Hawfinch up in the trees again, but there was no sign of it this time. Perhaps it was still hiding somewhere on the ground. We decided to walk back.

There was very little on the lake today – although a couple of Little Grebes laughed maniacally at us from the reeds – so we headed back to the bridge. As we stood and watched, a steady succession of tits came in to the sunflower seeds we had put out earlier. We had great close views of the Marsh Tits here in particular.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming in to the sunflower seeds at the bridge

There were two or three Nuthatches coming in and out here too – always great birds to watch and nice to see them up close.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – close views down at the bridge again

 

There was still one last thing we wanted to try to do this afternoon, so we made our way back to the car. We wanted to try to find a Stone Curlew, so we headed over to an area where we have seen some in recent days. We had a quick look in some pig fields first – which produced a couple of Oystercatchers, a few Shelduck and a group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The Stone Curlews were in here late in the afternoon last week, but not today.

Then we went to look in another field where the Stone Curlews can sometimes be found. There was no sign of them here either at first, just a couple of Red-legged Partridges. But scanning really carefully, we spotted the top of a head just poking out in some stubble. We got the scope on it and eventually the head of a Stone Curlew appeared. We could see its bright yellow iris when it opened its eye and its black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – almost impossible to see in the stubble

The Stone Curlew was incredibly well camouflaged, perfectly coloured against the faded yellows and browns of the stubble. Until it moved, it was almost impossible to see. Then we realised there was a second Stone Curlew nearby when it moved! After watching them for  while, it was time to head for home.

It was a wonderful way to end the tour, watching the two Stone Curlews. Looking back, we had enjoyed some great birds over the two days we were out together. The weather hadn’t made it easy at times, but it just goes to show what you can find when you get out and look!