Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was a lovely sunny day, barely a cloud in the sky, but still rather cool on the coast in a slightly blustery NW wind.
We started the day at Holkham, with a quick look to see if we could find any newly emerged Hornet Moths. There was no sign of any this morning, perhaps it had been a bit cool overnight. A male Marsh Harrier was quartering the grazing meadows as we walked out and a Common Buzzard appeared, circling over on our way back.
The Marsh Harrier decided to mob the Buzzard, swooping at it repeatedly, the latter just deftly jinking out of the way each time. The Buzzard landed and the Marsh Harrier continued its assault and then continued to chase after it as the Buzzard flew off.
As we set off to walk west from Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing in the bushes, presumably starting to sing again between broods. The warblers are generally a bit quieter at this time of year, with breeding in full swing, but we did hear several Blackcap, a couple of Chiffchaff and a distant Willow Warbler in the trees.
With the sun out, the butterflies have started to appear in greater numbers. There were lots of Speckled Wood along the sides of the path, plus good numbers of Meadow Brown and one or two Ringlet too. Our first Small Skippers of the year were feeding on the thistles and clover on the verge.
Many of the tits have successfully fledged their first broods now and we came across various family groups in the trees. An adult Coal Tit was feeding a yellow-faced juvenile in the pines above the path. There were several extended parties of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits too. We could hear Treecreepers calling in the trees and eventually one came out onto a pine trunk by the path. The Goldcrests were slightly less obliging, though we could hear them singing high in the pines.
Several Marsh Harriers circled up over the reedbed in front of Washington Hide as we walked out – it looked like the adults were bringing in food for their young. But by the time we got up onto the boardwalk they had gone quiet again. There were two Little Terns feeding on the pool in front of the hide, presumably seeking more sheltered feeding on the pools on the marshes, given the wind whipping up the sea out on the beach. A Jay few across the reeds in front too.
There were a few dragonflies out, as we got towards the crosstracks. A female Black-tailed Skimmer was basking on the path and a female Ruddy Darter flew up and landed in the bracken by the pines. There were several damselflies in there too – both Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.
There is a great display of Foxgloves under the pines at the crosstracks at the moment. Having stopped for a second to admire those, we walked up towards the hide. Through the trees, we could just see a Great White Egret flying across the grazing marsh and we managed to keep track of it until it landed in a ditch. From up in the hide, we could see its long neck and long yellow-based bill sticking up out of the vegetation.
It disappeared from view, but a short while later, two Great White Egrets appeared over the grazing marshes a little further back. As they flew across to the trees, a Little Egret appeared in the same view, tiny by comparison.
There were already a few Spoonbills out on the pool below the trees when we arrived, but as we sat and watched, more dropped down to join them. They were mostly recently fledged juveniles, still with their spoon-shaped bills only about 2/3 grown, ‘TeaSpoonbills‘.
Another adult Spoonbill flew in to join them and two of the juveniles immediately set off after it. They were flapping their wings and bobbing their heads up and down and chased it round the edge of the pool for several minutes, begging to be fed, before the adult eventually relented.
There was lots of Marsh Harrier activity from the hide too. We watched a male fly in over the trees and, when it got to the reeds the other side, a female circled up out of the vegetation below. The two circled together for a couple of seconds before the male dropped the food it was carrying for the female to catch. She flew back down into the reeds with it.
Another female Marsh Harrier dropped down into the grass in front of the hide and caught something before flying off west with it, presumably with older juveniles in a nest elsewhere. Two Red Kites were hanging in the wind over the edge of Holkham Park.
As we set off to walk back, we could hear a Siskin calling as it circled over the pines at the cross tracks, but we couldn’t see it from below the canopy. A Common Crossbill called too as it flew over the pines, but we couldn’t see that either.
On the walk back, a Large Skipper feeding on the brambles was a nice addition to the butterfly list. We had heard a Reed Warbler singing on the walk out, but it was now joined by a Sedge Warbler, which was singing perched up in a bush nearby. It was a good opportunity to hear the difference between the more rhythmic Reed Warbler and the mad, buzzy song of the Sedge Warbler. A Common Whitethroat showed itself briefly in the ditch by the path back at Lady Anne’s Drive.
We made our way over to Titchwell next, and it was time for an early lunch in the picnic area as we arrived. Several Mediterranean Gulls flew back and forth overhead, along with the Black-headed Gulls.
There has been a family of Tawny Owls hanging around in the trees by the Visitor Centre in recent weeks, and thankfully they were still present today. One of the reserve staff helpfully came out and showed us which tree they had been in this morning and after a minute or so of scouring the branches, the fluffy juvenile was found with the adult hiding in the leaves nearby.
The juvenile Tawny Owl could be seen moving as it gave a regular begging call, at low volume with the adult close by so you could only just hear it if you listened carefully. The birds were surprisingly mobile too, for this time of the day, although it seemed to be the attentions of the youngster when it hopped between the branches over to join the adult, which prompted the latter to move! As a result, the adult Tawny Owl came right out into the open, giving us fantastic scope-filling views of it. Amazing!
We watched the Tawny Owls for a while – it was very hard to tear ourselves away from such fantastic views of this typically very secretive species. Eventually they moved slightly deeper into the trees and we decided to move on.
It was fairly quiet round at Patsy’s Reedbed again today, with just a single Tufted Duck and a couple of Mute Swans. As we walked on towards Willow Wood, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge and we just had a quick glimpse of it as it dropped down into the brambles in the bottom. A Greenfinch was wheezing away in the hedge too.
There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the small pool at the far end of the East Trail. Several Four-spotted Chasers chased each other around the margins before perching up on the reed stems. We had a good look at both Azure and Common Blue Damselflies in the grass around the edge. A couple of male Black-tailed Skimmers flitted ahead of us along the path as we walked round the other side.
As we walked back past Patsy’s Reedbed, we could hear a Little Grebe laughing at us. We looked across to see two swimming along the edge of the reeds. A family of Common Pochard, a female with four half-grown ducklings, was swimming just ahead of them. Another pair of Little Grebes was on the dragonfly pool by the junction with Meadow Trail, with one of the adults on a nest platform on the edge of the reeds. We could just make out two small juveniles with it. An Emperor Dragonfly was chasing the Four-spotted Chasers around the pool.
Out on the main path, we stopped to scan the reedbed pool. An adult Mediterranean Gull was bathing with a large group of Black-headed Gulls, but there were few ducks to be seen. The reeds were pretty quiet too today, although a Bearded Tit did zip past and dropped down towards the edge of reedbed, unfortunately before anyone could get a look at it.
There was lots more to see from Island Hide. There are plenty of Avocets on the Freshmarsh at the moment, but there still appears to be a distinct lack of juveniles. It will be interesting to see how successful they have been this year, at the end of the season. A smart iridescent Lapwing was feeding just in front of the hide, although it had already lots its crest.
The Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep on the islands, separate from most of the Bar-tailed Godwits which were huddled together in the shallow water further over. Most of the Bar-tailed Godwits are in non-breeding plumage, although there was just one bright rusty individual, the colour extending right the way down under the tail. When the Bar-tailed Godwits shuffled round and parted, we could see there were quite a few smaller Knot in amongst them, up to their bellies in the water.
A single Ruff was in with the Avocets on one of the islands. A moulting male, it had already lost its ornate ruff and was looking distinctly scrawny-necked! There was just one Dunlin here today, an adult with a sharply-defined black belly patch. Three Little Ringed Plovers were feeding on the edges of the islands. There is no shortage of Common Redshanks here, but the three Spotted Redshanks were right over in the far corner of the pool, where we couldn’t really appreciate their stunning black breeding plumage.
The Freshmarsh continues to be dominated by gulls. In among the more numerous Black-headed Gulls scattered around the islands, we could see at least ten much smaller Little Gulls, all immature first summer birds. Most of the other gulls were over in the fenced off island at the back and when a Marsh Harrier flew over it caused complete pandemonium, with hundreds of gulls flying round calling. The Marsh Harrier was quickly chased off.
There were a few terns too. A single Sandwich Tern was asleep among the Avocets but eventually woke up long enough to show us its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy black crest. A couple of Common Terns too were hunkered down in the middle of the low rocky island.
The number of ducks continues to increase, particularly as more Teal return to the reserve to moult. Presumably they are failed breeders or non-breeders which return early from their breeding grounds further north. A lone Pink-footed Goose over by Parrinder Hide is an injured bird which was unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed.
On the walk round to Parrinder Hide, we continued to scan the Freshmarsh and were rewarded with a single Ringed Plover out on the mud. From the hide, we had much closer views of the Little Gulls, several of which were loafing on the islands in front or feeding round the edge of the water. We had a better look at some Mediterranean Gulls too, with several flying in to preen with the Black-headed Gulls.
From round on this side, we could see that several of the twenty or so Knot in with the Bar-tailed Godwits were in bright rusty breeding plumage. The Avocets on the islands here look like they might be about to have another go at raising a family. Two pairs were looking for a suitable nest site, walking round, picking at the ground, tidying up small patches of bare earth. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers also looked like they might be trying to find a suitable spot to nest.
You can’t come to Titchwell without at least seeing the sea, so we decided to walk out to the beach next. There was very little to see on Volunteer Marsh again today, but with the tide in there were more birds roosting on the no longer tidal Tidal Pools, having come over from the beach. They were mostly Oystercatchers, but in with them we found three Turnstone including one in nice bright rusty breeding plumage. Further over, four black-bellied Dunlin were feeding on the spit.
There were four Little Terns feeding on the Tidal Pools, hovering above the water before plunging headlong in. We got a great look at them from the path.
There were more Little Terns out at the beach, feeding just offshore. The Sandwich Terns were much more distant though and we picked up an adult Gannet flying west way out on the horizon, big and white, with black wing-tips.
It was time to head back now. A quick look at the reedbed pool again, as we were passing, revealed seven Red-crested Pochards out on the water towards the back now, four males, plus a female with two well grown juveniles. Several Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler were flitting around the pools below the bank now too.
Back at the Visitor Centre, we couldn’t walk past without taking another look at the Tawny Owls again. They were both perched out in full view still, though with the adult having moved to a different tree, some distance away from the juvenile, presumably where it could have a doze without being pestered!
Eventually we had to drag ourselves away from the Tawny Owls and head back along the coast.
There was a postscript to the tour today. The Peregrine which had been roosting on a church tower nearby regularly last month seemed to have disappeared in the last few weeks. We had dropped half the group off already when we happened to drive past the church and looked up to see it perched in one of its usual spots. We stopped for a quick look. It seemed to be enjoying the sunshine, closing its eyes.
Then it really was time to call it a day!