Monthly Archives: May 2019

23rd May 2019 – Holme & Titchwell

A Private Tour today, a relaxed day of easy birdwatching up along the coast in NW Norfolk. It was a glorious sunny day, pleasantly warm, with light SW winds. A great day to be out.

We started the day at Holme. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Chiffchaff singing. A Common Whitethroat was subsinging in the brambles and then launched into a song flight, fluttering up and parachuting back down into an elder, where a male Blackcap was singing. There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine this morning, and we stopped to admire Common Blue, Wall and Small Copper all around the short grass and brambles on the bank.

Common Blue

Common Blue – there were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine

As we walked along the seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo calling from some distance inland, away over the fields – we were hoping to see one on our walk. When we got to the old paddocks, three Common Whitethroats where feeding in one of the hawthorn bushes and another one was singing a bit further up by the path. We could hear a Sedge Warbler singing over towards the back of the houses and, more unusually, a Reed Warbler too, even though we were some way away from any reeds. They do turn up in odd places sometimes, especially late arrivals back from Africa.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – in the hawthorn bushes in the paddocks

A smart male Marsh Harrier was hunting the dune ridge out across the saltmarsh, so we stopped to watch it, before it cut in across the edge of the golf course and headed inland. A couple of Redshanks were displaying, and there were a few Shelduck and Avocets around the pools. Three House Martins flew west, low over the saltmarsh – there are still a few hirundines on the move, heading back to wherever they will be breeding.

Marsh Harrier 1

Marsh Harrier – a male, hunting the dunes out across the saltmarsh

A Turtle Dove started purring, out across the paddocks, and we found it perched in the top of one of the taller trees at the back. We had a good look at it through the scope, although it was face on so we couldn’t get a clear view of its rusty fringed upperparts. Then it flew up and circled round behind the trees, landing further back in one of the gardens along the entrance road.

As we walked down from the dunes and cut across through the car park towards Beach Road, a female Cuckoo started bubbling in the trees. Several Greenfinches were calling in the back of the car park and the Turtle Dove was still purring in one of the gardens but largely obscured behind some branches. When we stopped to use the facilities by the road, there were lots of House Sparrows cheeping in the hedge.

We walked slowly back towards where we had parked along the entrance track. Three Cuckoos called, two males and a female, and we watched them come up from the back of the gardens. A pair flew round over the road, the female giving her bubbling call and the male cuckooing excitedly in response, and we watched them chasing round through the trees before disappearing off further inland.

Cuckoos

Cuckoos – this pair chased round through the trees calling

The Turtle Dove started purring again and this time we were on the right side of it, with fewer branches in the way and not looking into the sun. We could now see the lovely patterning on its back through the scope. From a bit further up along the track, we had an even better view, looking straight at the Turtle Dove across a grassy field, as it perched on a branch preening. Then suddenly it was off through the trees.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – we got great views in the trees on our walk round

As we walked past Redwell Marsh, we could hear a Sedge Warbler singing by one of the entrances. We walked down to the river and looked back into the bushes from teh bridge. The Sedge Warbler was tucked deep in an elder bush, singing. A Chiffchaff appeared in the top of the willows above and a Blackcap clambered through the branches nearby too.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – singing in the trees by the river

We drove back round to Titchwell next. As we got out of the minibus, a Red Kite drifted over the car park. We could hear more Blackcaps singing in the trees. We decided to stop for an early lunch first, and made good use of the picnic tables by the Visitor Centre. Several finches and tits were coming and going to and from the feeders and a smart male Pheasant was looking for any spilled food below.

After lunch, we walk out along the main west back path. Just beyond Meadow Trail, a Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows. We found it perched in the top of one of the taller trees and we managed to get it in the scope, when it wasn’t hiding in the leaves.

There were Reed Warblers singing in the reedbed and Sedge Warblers zipping around the margins of the pools. A Moorhen was feeding small four small chicks on the edge of the reeds. Bearded Tit was a particular target for the day, so when one called from a little further up along the path, we hurried over. We were just in time to see it climb up a reed stem and fly off, over the path and into the reeds by Thornham grazing marsh. It was a smart male and it would have been nice to have a better look at it.

We stopped here for a few minutes to see if any more Bearded Tits would show themselves, but all we saw were a few zipping back and forth over the reeds further back. Lots of gulls were hawking for insects over the reedbed and we picked out a much smaller Little Gull in with the Black-headed Gulls. A few Mediterranean Gulls flew over, calling, their white wing tips translucent against the bright blue sky.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – over the west bank path

We could see a few Common Pochard and several Greylag Geese out on the reedbed pool. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up over the reedbed, and a male drifted right over our heads, over the path and out across Thornham grazing marsh.

Marsh Harrier 2

Marsh Harrier – flew over the path towards Thornham grazing marsh

Continuing on to the Freshmarsh, the reserve is rather dominated by all the gulls on here at the moment but we could still see a nice variety of wildfowl. There were lots of Shelduck scattered round, and we stopped to admire a smart pair of Gadwall down near the front, getting a good look at their intricate plumage detail through the scope. A pair of Teal were still lingering here.

The number of Brent Geese has dropped sharply in last few days as the birds have finally departed on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season. Four Brent Geese flew in and landed on the Freshmarsh to drink.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – most have departed in the last few days back to Siberia

There was not a great variety of waders on here today. Apart from all the Avocets, there was just a single Common Redshank. In among all the gulls, we located a pair of Common Terns on the nearest island.

When we got round to Parrinder Hide, there were two Little Gulls now, both 1st summer birds with black in the wings, sleeping with the Black-headed Gulls out on the edge of the islands. Looking through the gulls more carefully, we found a single Common Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull, both immatures. Titchwell is a great location to get good views of Mediterranean Gulls at the moment and we got the scope on a couple out in the breeding colony on ‘Avocet Island’.

Little Gull

Little Gull – resting on the Freshmarsh with the Black-headed Gulls

We had a very quick look at Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. A lone Grey Plover was out on the mud, in breeding plumage with black face and bellow. Otherwise, there wasn’t much else here to we continued out towards the beach.

The Tidal Pools looked pretty quiet too, but a Little Tern flew round and landed down on the edge of the island, next to another Little Tern which was already there. Through teh scope, we could see their white foreheads and black-tipped yellow bills. Another Grey Plover was lurking just behind them.

The tide was out when we got out on the beach. There are not many waders here now, as most have left to head north to breed. There were still several Oystercatchers down on the mussel beds, and a single Bar-tailed Godwit nearby on the sand. We managed to pick out a Great Crested Grebe on the sea and a few Sandwich Terns flying back and forth.

We still wanted to get a better view of a Bearded Tit, so we decided to walk back to have another look. Perfect timing! We didn’t have to wait long before we heard Bearded Tits calling and watched one fly in to the reeds right down at the front of the pool in front of us. A smart male, sporting a powder blue-grey head and black moustache (rather than a beard!) climbed up and stopped to preen in full view. It flew a bit further on and we watched a male and female Bearded Tit together in the reeds, perched up nicely, before they eventually flew off over the path.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we had great views of a pair by the path on our way back

Mission accomplished – great views of Bearded Tits! We headed back to the Visitor Centre happy, for a bit of retail therapy and a celebratory ice cream in the sunshine.

22nd May 2019 – Stilt Surprise

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It was a little more cloudy first thing, but brightened up nicely – sunny and warm in the afternoon, but with a light northerly wind just keeping a lid on the temperature.

In the hope of catching up with a few waders, we headed over to Wells first thing this morning. As we got out of the minibus, a Grey Partridge ran out into the field opposite, pausing for a minute or so before heading off further.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – in the field as we got out of the minibus

We hadn’t even finished getting everything we needed out of the minibus before one of the Holkham wardens walked over to tell us that a pair of Black-winged Stilts had just been found here this morning. We looked over to the flooded meadow beyond and could see the Stilts in amongst the Avocets and Lapwings. We walked over for a closer look.

The Black-winged Stilts really stood out, with their black wings, white bodies and very long, bright pink legs. They were busy feeding in the shallow water – the male with black back and black markings on the back of its head and neck, the female with a slight brown tinge to the mantle.

Black-winged Stilt 1

Black-winged Stilt – we arrived to be told that a pair had just been found

The Stilts would occasionally wander too close to the breeding Avocets and their chicks and were chased away a couple of times, at one point flying further back before returning to the same corner nearest the path.

Black-winged Stilts are scarce visitors here. They have started to turn up more often in recent years, as birds overshoot in the spring on their way north from their wintering grounds in Africa. They are also breeding more regularly here, perhaps in response to a warming of the climate.

Black-winged Stilt 2

Black-winged Stilt – we watched them busy feeding in the shallow water

In the thicker grass there were more Lapwings with chicks. There was no shortage of Redshanks too, with two squabbling at the back of the pool. The Grey Heron was here again, but was getting mobbed and chased by all the other birds today, and didn’t manage to grab anything. It eventually flew off to the back of the pool the other side of the track, chased by several Avocets.

A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing off against each other in the bushes in the ditch beside the path. Out in the grass, we spotted a couple of Skylarks and a Pied Wagtail. A few Common Swifts were zooming back and forth, low overhead, catching insects.

Looking out to the pool the other side of the track, we found some different waders. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits, were mostly asleep. They looked to be mostly young birds, in their 2nd calendar year, not moulting into breeding plumage and in no hurry to get up to Iceland to breed. Four Greenshanks were feeding with the few which were awake. Two Little Ringed Plovers were hiding in the vegetation on one of the islands. A Common Sandpiper flew past and landed back on the other side.

There were a few ducks on here too. Several Shelduck, Gadwall and Shoveler, plus a pair of Tufted Ducks. Most of the wintering Teal have long since departed but a lingering drake was asleep on the island. Two Brent Geese, also due to leave to head off back to Siberia, were feeding in the grass.

As more people started to arrive to see the Black-winged Stilts, we decided to walk on over to the seawall. Another Sedge Warbler was signing in the reeds in the ditch and there were more warblers singing in the bushes. We could hear the sweet descending scale of a Willow Warbler, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouting. A Chiffchaff perched in the top of a dead tree chiffing and chaffing. A Diamond-back Moth flushed from the long grass as we walked through was one of the migrants which had come in from Scandinavia in the last week.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – one of several, singing in the reeds in the ditch

From up on the seawall, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds. We couldn’t see it, but then we spotted another Reed Warbler climbing up a reed stem in the ditch below us, picking insects from the brambles on the bank. Several Greenfinches flew in arguing loudly. We stopped to scan the last pool. There were lots of Avocets on here, several pairs with young already, and a good number of Lapwings with chicks. Great to see that the waders are doing well here this year.

On the walk back to the minibus, someone told us that a Quail was singing from the field so we stopped to listen to the distinctive ‘wet-me-lips’ refrain. There was quite a crowd gathered now, so we decided to make an escape before it got too much busier.

As we drove west, a male Marsh Harrier was hunting the grazing meadows by the road, dropping down out of sight into the grass. There had been a report of a Dotterel again today at Choseley, so we swung round that way. A Corn Bunting was singing from further up in the hedge as we got out of the minibus, so we had a look at it in the scope. As we walked down the road, another Corn Bunting was singing here too.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – singing in the hedge

A Common Whitethroat was singing from the bushes, and flew off ahead of us, disappearing into the hedge. A couple of Chaffinches were singing along here too. Two Red-legged Partridges walked out from the edge of the field and we could see several Brown Hares out in the middle.

There were a couple of people already looking for the Dotterel, and we had a good scan of the field as we walked down, but there was no sign of it. A Common Buzzard circled up over the ridge, and was joined by three Red Kites and two Kestrels. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew over, flashing its white wings. We had a quick drive round via the drying barns, picking up a couple of Yellowhammers on the wires on the way. A Stoat was standing in the edge of the road, running in to the verge as we approached. Then we dropped down to Titchwell for lunch.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds as we walked up along the main path. We stopped opposite the reedbed pool, where we could hear Bearded Tits calling. They were mostly a bit further back in the reeds today, but we saw several zipping back and forth. A female Bearded Tit came up from the reeds in front of us and climbed up a stem at the back of the pool, before flying off back into the reeds beyond. There were more Sedge Warblers feeding round the edges of the pools and several Reed Buntings singing.

Lots of gulls were hawking for insects out over the reedbed pool, mostly Black-headed Gulls, but we spotted a much smaller Little Gull in with them. Its more agile, tern-like flight stood out, as did the black ‘w’ on its wings, a first summer bird. We could hear the Mediterranean Gulls flying in and out too, calling, heading inland to feed or back to the breeding colony on the Freshmarsh.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – flying over, calling

A couple of Marsh Harriers came up out of the reeds and flew round before dropping down again. There were a few Common Pochard on the pool, and two Little Grebes in the nearby channel. On the other side of the bank, a lone breeding plumaged Grey Plover was out on the Lavender Marsh pool.

Continuing on to the Freshmarsh, the view was dominated by all the gulls on here at the moment. We could hear Sandwich Terns calling and found a couple on the nearest island which we got in the scope. A Common Tern flew in with a fish, and gave it to its partner on the small brick island. Then we watched it drop into the water for a quick bathe, before flying back out towards the sea, presumably after more fish.

There are also lots of Shelduck on the Freshmarsh at the moment. The variety of wildfowl has dropped now, for the summer, but there were still a few Shoveler too, and we got the scope on a drake Gadwall just below the bank, for a closer look. There were plenty of Avocets here, but not many other waders today. A single Ringed Plover was feeding on the island in front of Parrinder Hide.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

We made our way round to Parrinder Hide, where we had a much better view of the Little Gull, even if it was mostly asleep now. We could see just how small it was, in comparison with a Black-headed Gull next to it. We also had a closer look at a couple of the Mediterranean Gulls which are nesting in the fenced-off ‘Avocet Island’. A single immature Common Gull was in with all the smaller gulls loafing around the islands. More strangely, a Kittiwake was on here too, but it appeared to be oiled and was trying to preen the oil off its belly, which was probably why it was not where it should be, out to sea.

Little Gull

Little Gull – we had better views from Parrinder Hide, though mainly asleep

A Common Sandpiper dropped in briefly on the back edge of the island where all the gulls were resting, but quickly flew off round the back of ‘Avocet Island’. A lone Bar-tailed Godwit dropped in, and through the scope we could see its streaked upperparts and slightly upturned bill.

There weren’t many birds on Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide, apart from sixteen Grey Plover, mostly in smart black-bellied breeding plumage. We decided to press on to the beach. There were noticeably fewer Brent Geese on the saltmarsh today, as we passed – it appears most of them have finally headed off in the last few days, back to Siberia for the breeding season. There were hardly any birds at all on the Tidal Pools.

Out at the beach, the tide was out. There are not so many waders here now, as birds have gone north to breed. We could still see a good number of Oystercatchers on the mussel beds, and three Turnstones with them. Several Great Crested Grebes were still lingering offshore.

We were just about to head back when a Spoonbill appeared on the beach at the far end of the mussel beds. It was an adult – through the scope, we could see the yellow tip to the black bill and the mustard wash on the breast. A second Spoonbill circled round over the dunes and dropped down onto the Tidal Pools. We walked back, and had a better view of this one as it fed in the shallow water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on the ‘Tidal Pools’ on the walk back

As we walked past the Freshmarsh, we noticed a small plover on the nearest island. Rather than the Ringed Plover we had seen earlier, this was a Little Ringed Plover. We got it in the scope and could just see its golden yellow eyering, before it flew off. A Grey Heron was perched up in the reeds, surveying one of the pools below the bank as we walked past the reedbed.

We turned onto Meadow Trail, and as we walked through the sallows we could hear a Cuckoo calling. It seemed to be over closer to the Visitor Centre initially, then moved and seemed to be working its way east. We thought we might be able to catch up with it, but when we got out to Fen Hide and got out of the bushes, it had gone quiet. There was no sign of the Turtle Doves down on the tank road this afternoon, but the seed had run out so there was no food left to tempt them in.

Round at Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see several Red-crested Pochards out on the water, the drakes looking very smart at the moment with their orange punk haircuts and bright coral-red bills.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of three drakes on Patsy’s Reedbed

A steady stream of Black-headed Gulls dropped into the pool to bathe, and we picked out several Mediterranean Gulls with them, their jet black hoods and white wings giving them away. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up over by the edge of Willow Wood. One of the males half appeared to be half displaying to a young female, twisting and turning, before the two of them drifted off over the reeds. Back on Fen Trail, we stopped to watch a male Marsh Harrier flying over and a Blackcap was singing in the sallows beside us.

It was time to head back but we still had time for one more bird. As we drove past a complex of old barns, a Little Owl was perched on a wooden board across an open doorway. We stopped to watch it and after staring at us for a while, it flew back inside.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched in the window of an old barn on our way back

That was a nice way to end what had been a very pleasant late spring day’s birding, with a nice surprise included.

21st May 2019 – Breck & Fen

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks and neighbouring Fens. It was a lovely clear, sunny day, nice and warm out of the wind, which was a fresh north-westerly.

With an early start to the day, we headed into the forest and parked at  the top of a ride, by a large clearing. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing, and we looked across to see it perched in the top of a tree across the far side. We had just got the scope on it, when a second Tree Pipit flew up from the grass in the middle of the clearing. It fluttered up, singing, and then spiralled down towards us and landed in one of the trees right in front of us.

The Tree Pipit perched in the tree for a minute or so, singing quietly on and off. Then it launched into another song flight, fluttering up again and spiralling down to the top of another tree a bit further along.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the trees by the parking area

A Yellowhammer was singing nearby too, and that flew in and landed in the trees in front of us briefly. We decided to walk a bit further on down the track, in the hope of hearing a Woodlark, but they are busy nesting now and have gone rather quiet. Another Tree Pipit was singing further on, from the top of a tree out in the middle of the clearing.

Looking back behind us, a Barn Owl had appeared out over the clearing, hunting. It was still quiet early, but it had already been light for several hours, so presumably it had a hungry brood somewhere which it needed to feed. We watched it flying round an round over the grass silently.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting this morning, probably with hungry chicks to feed

It is a bit more wooded further on, and we stopped to listen to the tits in the trees – we saw a couple of Coal Tits fly up into the tops of the pines, and several Long-tailed Tits crossing the path. We had a lot we wanted to pack in this morning, so we started to walk back. A Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the bushes.

Our next target was Stone Curlew. We drove round to a stony field which they like and it didn’t take long for us to find one. It was rather distant though, and although it was still early there was already quite a lot of shimmer. We tried another field a little further on, and this time we found a slightly closer Stone Curlew. There was still a bit of haze from the stony field, but we had a nice view of it in the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – our second of the morning

There was also an Oystercatcher in the field, and a Shelduck in the one next door. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing from some bushes along the hedge line between the two.

As we drove on, we spotted another Barn Owl still out, quartering a grassy field beside the road. It is that time of year when they have to work harder. Our next target for the morning was Nightingale. It seemed very quiet when we arrived. The birds have been in a while now, and are singing much less as they get down to the business of breeding. We walked up to the top of the hill, which is often a good spot for them. As we walked through the bushes, we flushed a Green Woodpecker from the grass. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles.

Just as it seemed like we might be out of luck here, we finally heard the distinctive song of a Nightingale away in the distance. We followed the sound and eventually got to where it was singing, deep in bushes. We stood and listened – a wonderful sound. Then another Nightingale started singing nearby. Perhaps that was the trigger, but shortly afterwards the first Nightingale appeared deep in a holly bush. We could see its body shaking as it sang.

Nightingale

Nightingale – singing from deep in a holly bush

As we turned to go, a third Nightingale started singing behind us. And as we walked back down the hill, we heard another two, but just giving short snatches of song rather than in full voice. It is good to know they are back in good numbers again. A Willow Warbler was singing from the top of a tree too, and then a Reed Warbler started up in some bushes. An odd place for it, miles from any reeds, but not unusual for late arrivals to turn up in odd places.

In the morning sunshine, there were lots of Speckled Yellow moths fluttering about over the short grass, and we found a single Latticed Heath as well. There were plenty of butterflies too – including our first Painted Lady of the year, and good numbers of Common Blue.

Before it got too hot, we wanted to get over to Lakenheath Fen. As we walked out from the Visitor Centre, a Cuckoo was calling from the willows but we couldn’t see where it was. We could hear lots of warblers singing – Reed Warblers, Common Whitethroats. A Garden Warbler was singing from the elders over by the railway line.

We stopped to scan over the reeds from New Fen Viewpoint, but it looked pretty quiet. There were a few ducks out on the water, including a couple of Tufted Ducks. A Great Crested Grebe appeared. A Kingfisher zipped from the trees the other side of the viewpoint and disappeared away over the reeds. The path on the top of the bank, which was open last year and gave a good view out over New Fen, is closed this year. So we had to walk down along the main track, which is much lower and the view is not so good. We could get up to the top of the bank again at the corner of West Wood. A Cuckoo flew out across the reeds and two more Cuckoos were singing in the trees. A distant Marsh Harrier over towards the river was mobbed by Jackdaws. A Red Kite drifted over, and a Common Buzzard circled up too.

We had a look in at Mere Hide, where a Grey Heron was stalking the newly opened out area of reeds to the left. A family of Coot were right in front of the hide, the adults pulling up weed and carefully feeding the four chicks – youngsters which only their parents could appreciate! A Great Crested Grebe was diving behind the reeds, but then made its way right out into the pool in front of the hide. One or two Reed Warblers zipped back and forth across the water.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – in front of Mere Hide

There was still no sign of any Bitterns by this point, and none on the edge of the reeds from the hide. While we were sitting there, we looked out towards Joist Fen and a Bittern flew across. We watched it flying away from us, before it dropped down into the reeds somewhere beyond the main track.

Having at least seen our first Bittern of the day now, we decided to continue on up the path towards Joist Fen, to see if we could improve on the views we had already had. There were lots of ducks asleep in the area of newly cut reedbed by the main track –  Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler. Three smaller ducks were lingering Teal. A couple of Redshank and Lapwings were enjoying the areas of bare mud.

As we walked up along the path, we spotted another Bittern distantly over the Joist Fen reedbed. We were heading that way, and had almost got to the Joist Fen viewpoint when two more Bitterns came up from the reeds right next to the path. They circled round and round calling right next to us, almost directly over our heads at one point, and low too. What views!

Bittern 1

Bitterns – these two circled up from the reedbed right beside us, calling

The Bitterns looked to be a male and a female. Looking at the photos, we realised that the female was ringed. We have seen this bird in almost exactly the same place for the last two summers. It was originally picked up exhausted as a juvenile near Stevenage in September 2016, and after a couple of days was deemed fit for release at nearby Rye Meads. We then photographed it here in June 2017, before it was back in Herts at Amwell later that year. It was then photographed back at Lakenheath again in May/June 2018.

So it was great to see it here again for another year today. We watched the two Bitterns as they circled slowly back towards Mere Hide and dropped down into the reeds.

Bittern 2

Bittern – the female was ringed, and has been here the last two summers

After all the excitement, we continued on to Joist Fen viewpoint. There were lots of Hobbys up, mostly distantly out over the reeds, and we counted at least twenty in the air together, probably more. Lakenheath Fen is a great place to see large aggregations of Hobbys in the spring, but they are already starting to disperse now, heading off to breed.

There are more dragonflies out, now that the weather is finally starting to warm up. We had seen a few on our way out, but on the walk back we saw more – a couple of Hairy Dragonflies and lots of Four-Spotted Chasers. Azure, Large Red and Red-eyed Damselflies.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – there were more dragonflies out today, in the sunshine

Passing the Visitor Centre, we walked straight on to the Washland Viewpoint. Hockwold Washes are drying out fast now – apparently the owners (it is not owned by the RSPB) may be chasing some grant money for wet grassland creation, so have drained it. If so, it is a great shame. There were just a few commoner ducks, Black-headed Gulls and Rooks on there now. A Hobby circling over provided a nice distraction.

Hobby

Hobby – circled over the Washland viewpoint

It was time for lunch now, so we made use of the picnic tables by the car park. Afterwards, we headed back into the Forest. We had a listen for Firecrest at Santon Downham churchyard, but all we could hear was a Goldcrest singing.

Walking into the trees, a Treecreeper was feeding, climbing up the tree trunks. We heard Blackcap singing, and found another Goldcrest flitting around in some fir trees. Down by the river, a pair of Mandarins were swimming just below the bridge.

Mandarin

Mandarin – a pair were on the river just below the bridge

We still hadn’t found a Woodlark, but they can be difficult at this time of year, as they are less vocal and more secretive when they are breeding. We parked and walked down a ride where they are often found. It seemed very quiet, not helped by it being the heat of the afternoon too. But scanning the open patches of ground we found a Woodlark feeding quietly on the short grass. It eventually flew up and round behind us, calling softly.

Woodlark

Woodlark – feeding quietly in the short grass

We stopped at another clearing on our way back round. The trees here were quiet, but there were lots of Rooks, Jackdaws and Starlings feeding in the short grass. A pair of Cuckoos landed in a large hawthorn bush. We flushed a few butterflies as we walked round – including Small Copper and Small Heath.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford. We were hoping activity might have picked up again but the Arboretum was quiet. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were flying around the feeders by the cottages. We found one or two Goldcrests, but no sign of any Firecrests here. As we walked down towards the lake, we could hear the Little Grebes laughing.

As we made our way round the paddocks, a Siskin came out of the pines singing and we watched its fluttering songflight. A Blackcap was feeding in the trees by the path. Finally we found a Firecrest – we heard it singing first, then saw it flitting around quite high in the fir trees. With that target accomplished, we walked back round to the lake, where a Grey Wagtail was gathering insects on the weir.

Back at the bridge, birds were coming down to bathe and drink now. First a Siskin dropped in, then a mixed flock of tits. Two Nuthatches were with them and we watched them climbing up and down the trees nearby. We followed the flock back up the hill, and were rewarded with a brief view of a Marsh Tit too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – a pair were in the trees by the bridge on our way back

It had been a long day with the early start this morning, and unfortunately it was time to pack up and head for home now.

28th Apr-4th May 2019 – Northern Greece & Lake Kerkini

A week-long International Tour to Northern Greece and Lake Kerkini, organised together with our friends from Oriole Birding. It is a great destination for eastern migrants and south-eastern Mediterranean specialities. We had generally good weather with temperatures of 20-25C, nice birding conditions.

SUNDAY 28TH APRIL

Our plane departed on time and it was a smooth journey from Gatwick to Thessaloniki. Our first birds in Greece were the Jackdaws and House Sparrows around the airport terminal building, with several Tree Sparrows by the car hire office while we waited to do the paperwork for the minibus. It was just over an hour’s drive north to Lake Kerkini, but once we got out of the city we started to see a few more birds, with hirundines including our first Red-rumped Swallows, and raptors including Common Buzzard and Kestrel. The villages closer to the lake produced White Storks, with some on nests atop the telegraph posts.

When we got to the lake, we stopped on the southern embankment by the dam. Several Common Nightingales were singing in the bushes nearby, which was to be a constant soundtrack to the next few days, a Golden Oriole was fluting nearby and a Common Cuckoo was calling. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was chattering too, sounding a little like a Reed Warbler, and we eventually got a view of it skulking in the bushes.

There were several Grey Herons around the shore, and our first Squacco Heron of the trip flew in and landed by the rocks. A Great Cormorant was stretching its wings on a post and a Dalmatian Pelican flew in high over the dam. There were lots of gulls around the lake, mainly Yellow-legged Gulls of various ages, but we also found a single 2cy Caspian Gull out on the water, its distinctive snouty look, with a long, thin parallel-sided bill, giving its identity away. A group of Common Terns was gathered on the line of fishing net posts just offshore.

Scanning the surrounding hills, we picked up four birds circling high over the fields on the far side of the lake, Collared Pratincoles hawking for insects. They were distant at first but then turned and headed our way, flying high overhead and off to the south. Then our host, Stelios, turned up with our picnic lunch.

Collared Pratincole

Collared Pratincole – four flew over the dam while we had lunch

After lunch, we drove slowly up the western shore of the lake. Common Nightingales were singing everywhere in the scrub, and out into the more open cultivated areas, they were replaced by Corn Buntings. We stopped at Korifoudi, where a Crested Lark was feeding on a dusty track. A large flock of Western Yellow Wagtails was feeding around the feet of a herd of buffalo out on the short grass. They were mostly Black-headed Wagtails, we could hear their distinctive raspy calls, plus several Blue-headed Wagtails. As the buffalo came up to the road, the wagtails defected to a herd of cattle further back on the lake shore.

Two Woodchat Shrikes were perched out on the scattered bushes in the meadows and another two appeared by the road. We watched them chasing each other round in the bush, stopping to bob their heads in display. There were lots of Little Egrets along the lake shore and distantly out on the water beyond, we could see a huge feeding frenzy of cormorants and pelicans.

Scanning the surrounding hills, we picked up first a Booted Eagle circling high, and then a Black Stork drifting along the ridge. We heard Bee-eaters calling high overhead. There were several butterflies here too, including lots of Painted Ladys, several Clouded Yellows, and a smart Scarce Swallowtail feeding on some thistles by the road.

Scarce Swallowtail

Scarce Swallowtail – feeding on thistles by the road

We tried to drive on, but there were lots of distractions – first we heard a Great Reed Warbler singing in a small clump of reeds, but it was keeping well down. Then a little further on, we spotted two Lesser Spotted Eagles down in the meadow next to the road, which flew up into the trees as we approached. We stopped to get them in the scopes. Another Great Reed Warbler was singing in some reeds nearby, but flew out as we walked over and headed over to another clump further back. Three Whinchats were out in the grass too.

We only managed to go another short distance before we stopped again to look at our first Pygmy Cormorant perched on a dead branch in the edge of the lake. A Wood Sandpiper was feeding in the shallows here, just below the road.

Pygmy Cormorant 1

Pygmy Cormorant – our first of the trip, on the west shore of the lake

Eventually, we made it up to the hotel to check in. After a short break to settle in, we met again in the parking area where a Common Nightingale was singing (we would hear it here every day, usually in the same tree). There were also several Tree Sparrows here, and a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in a nearby garden which flew up into the top of a tree. A pair of Red-rumped Swallows and a pair of Pallid Swifts circled round overhead with the other hirundines.

We drove down to the harbour at Mandraki. The water here is quite shallow, particularly this year with the lake level lower than normal, and there were so many birds we didn’t know where to look first. There were herons everywhere, lots of Grey Herons and a huge number of Great White Egrets. A Purple Heron was tucked down in the grass on the edge of the lake, then six circled up together. A big group of Glossy Ibis was feeding actively further back in the shallow water, and when they flew up and came in past us we counted at least sixty. Squacco Herons were liberally scattered all around and six Black Storks circled up from the edge of the flooded forest

There were amazing numbers of Great Crested Grebes out on the water, with most paired up, and several pairs displaying. In amongst the weedy vegetation in the water, we found several Garganey and a single drake Ferruginous Duck: we could see its distinctive white iris. A few Greylag Geese required a closer look here, pink-billed birds of the eastern race rubirostris.

We could see lots of pelicans out on the nesting islands and around the edge of the lake further back. Beyond them, there was a good number of Greater Flamingoes. The flooded forest was chock full of cormorants, great and small (Pygmy!). Some small groups of pelicans were fishing closer to us, and we could see a few White Pelicans in with the Dalmatians. We finished watching some nice close Dalmatian Pelicans swimming just off the jetty in lovely evening light. Then we had to tear ourselves away to get back for dinner.

Dalmatian Pelican 1

Dalmatian Pelican – in the evening light, off the harbour

On the drive back, a Hoopoe was wrestling with a large worm by the road. Back at the hotel, the resident Scops Owl was singing briefly. It went quiet when we tried to look for it, but started up again later, once it got dark. It had been a great first day, but we were tired after an early start this morning, so after a delicious dinner, we turned in.

MONDAY 29TH APRIL

A quick early walk at dawn confirmed that a male Semi-collared Flycatcher was back on territory close to where we saw one last year, so after breakfast we all went up to see it. It was very active, flitting between the plane trees, singing all the time. It seemed to be prospecting nest holes in a couple of trees – we saw it go into one and it seemed to be returning to that branch repeatedly.

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Semi-collared Flycatcher – holding territory in the trees

It was a young male with a rather restricted half collar and small double white patch over the bill, but with a large white patch at the base of the primaries and some barely visible white spots on the median coverts. It was good to see that at least one is back here again. Blackbird and Robin were also additions to the list there.

Afterwards, we headed out to one of our favourite spots, a bushy area by an overflowing water trough. It is a good area to see migrants when they are coming through but the bushes were quite quiet this morning. Perhaps birds were moving straight through and not stopping in the clear sunny weather, and some of the local breeding birds were clearly not arrived yet too. A pair of Golden Orioles perched briefly in the top of a distant dead tree and two Turtle Doves landed on the wires. A Woodchat Shrike and a Common Whitethroat were singing in the bushes and a Black Kite drifted over.

We continued on round to an area of woodland along the River Strimon floodplain. As we walked down the track, we were serenaded by Common Nightingales and lots of Marsh Frogs calling from the pools. It was starting to warm up quickly now and a Levant Sparrowhawk circled up, its rather pointed wings showing distinct blackish tips underneath, and a Lesser Spotted Eagle drifted over just above as we were watching it.

Levant Sparrowhawk 1

Levant Sparrowhawk – showing its pointed wings with blackish tips

The woodpeckers were rather quiet today, probably a combination of the heat of the day and the time of year. We did find a black-and-white woodpecker skulking in the bottom of a thick tree close to what appeared to be a fresh hole, but when it eventually showed itself it was a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Then a little further on, we flushed a Green Woodpecker from the bushes by the track. Two Hoopoes were calling and kept flying off ahead of us. Several Spotted Flycatchers were flitting about in the trees and having heard it calling, a grey male Cuckoo flew across over the open fields followed by a rusty-coloured ‘hepatic’ female, the first of several we would see today.

There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine along the track or out in the grass. A rather tatty looking Southern Festoon was the highlight, but we also found a couple of Grizzled Skippers, plenty of Queen of Spain Fritillaries and Clouded Yellows, and a few Common Blues. There were dragonflies here too – lots of Scarce Chasers and one or two Hairy Dragonflies down by the water. A Grass Snake curled up on the edge of the path quickly slithered in to the undergrowth as we approached.

Dalmatian Pelican 2

Dalmatian Pelicans – circling up as it warmed up

Small groups of pelicans starting to circle up over towards the lake, looking for thermals to give them lift, and four Dalmatian Pelicans drifted right overhead. Then a much bigger group of White Pelicans appeared further over, towards the river, with three Dalmatians in with them, allowing us to see their very different wing patterns. A few White Storks circled up too, and a Black Stork flew across just over the tops of the trees. A Long-legged Buzzard appeared briefly over the base of the hills to the north.

Our coffee stop this morning was taken by the River Strimon. A small group of Bee-eaters was perched on the wires and bushes beside the track opposite. Two Little Ringed Plovers and a Common Sandpiper were feeding on a sandy island in the middle of the river, along with a White Wagtail. Lots of House Martins were looking to nest under the bridge and several Sand Martins were coming and going from a sandy bank in the island the other side of the bridge. After coffee, we had a quick drive a short distance up the track opposite to try to photograph the Bee-eaters.

Bee-eater 1

Bee-eater – down by the river while we stopped for morning coffee

The rest of the day would be spent on the embankment which surrounds the eastern shore of the lake. There were lots of Moorhens on the first pool, along with several European Pond Terrapins and a Purple Heron walking along the opposite bank. There are several small clumps of reeds here and we stopped to scan them, almost immediately finding a female Little Bittern on the edge of one. As we scanned further across a female Little Crake was creeping in and out of the reeds nearby. The more we looked, the more we found – in the end, we counted at least six Little Crakes, five brown females and one slaty blue-grey male, and three female Little Bitterns.

A Dice Snake was curled up just in the reeds, a Coypu was half submerged in the water, and a pair of Little Grebes was busy diving. We could hear Penduline Tits calling from the willows and bushes on the other side of the bank, and we managed a brief view of a pair in the trees, chased off by a second male.

We were rather distracted by all the activity here and eventually retreated back to the nearby picnic area for a late lunch in the shade. There were Bee-eaters everywhere, calling all around us. After lunch, we continued on slowly down the embankment. On the next few pools, we found more Purple Herons and our first Spoonbill, plus a few Pygmy Cormorants. Several Turtle Doves were flying around between the bushes out on the grass beyond.

We stopped overlooking the northern edge of the lake. There were lots of Wood Sandpipers around the margins of the grassy islands, migrants stopping off on their way north, and a single Ruff was in with them. Several Black-winged Stilts were further back. A few Common Terns and three or four darker-bellied Whiskered Terns were hawking distantly over the water. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls loafing around the water’s edge, and a single Gull-billed Tern was in with them, preening. Through the scopes, we could see its distinctive short, thick black bill.

There are not so many ducks here in the spring, but as well as a smattering of Mallards, we did find three Common Pochard on the lake. A lone Ruddy Shelduck was over on the grass in front of the flooded forest, with three Greylag Geese nearby.  What initially appeared to be a Black-headed Wagtail was feeding on the short grass just below the bank. On closer inspection, we could see it had a small trace of a white supercilium behind the eye, so it was actually a hybrid form of Yellow Wagtail, ‘superciliaris’.

Black-headed Wagtail superciliaris

Yellow Wagtail – a hybrid ‘superciliaris’ Black-headed Wagtail

Continuing on, Penduline Tits were calling all the way down the embankment but were mostly hidden in the vegetation. We pulled up at one likely looking area, where some poplar trees were overhanging a small area of reeds, and spotted a nest hanging down in amongst the leaves, suspended on one of the lower branches. Then a Penduline Tit appeared out of the reeds with a bill full of cobwebs and poplar seed, and flew up to the nest. We got out and through the scopes, we could see that the nest was an amazing structure, and quite well-built already. We watched the Penduline Tit weaving the gathered material into the structure, before it flew off back along the line of the ditch.

While we waited for it to return, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew past and dropped down into the  bushes below the bank where we could hear it calling. Eventually it flew back in and landed in a bush close to where we were standing, where we got a great look at it, a male with a bright red crown.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – a male, in the trees by the lake

There were lots more Cuckoos along here and another hepatic phase female flew in and landed in the poplars above the Penduline Tit nest, where we could get a great view of it in the scope. A Kingfisher appeared down on the edge of the ditch too. Eventually the pair of Penduline Tits returned, and we watched them gathering material down in the reeds again, before flying up to add it to the nest.

On along the bank, there were several Golden Orioles fluting in the trees but they were difficult to see with all the leaves. Out in the middle of the lake, we could see a feeding frenzy of cormorants and pelicans. There were lots of Squacco Herons down on the rocky shore below the bank as we drove past and scanning the water’s edge we found a Spur-winged Lapwing too. We stopped to look at it, but it walked on behind some bushes, so we drove on a few yards and waited at the next gap in the vegetation. After a minute or two, it duly walked back into view. They are not so common here at the lake – we normally see them down on the coast – so this was a real bonus today.

Spur-winged Lapwing

Spur-winged Lapwing – a nice surprise, down on the shore of the lake

There were one or two Eastern Olivaceous Warblers singing in the bushes beside the bank as we passed, but not as many as we might normally expect to hear. They were obviously still arriving back for the breeding season. There were several Great Reed Warblers singing too – and we eventually got a better look at one perched up in the reeds. Then a Wildcat ran along the track on the bank ahead of us, before disappearing back into the vegetation.

The embankment was closed south of Limnochori, but we were planning to come off here anyway. It was time to be heading back. We had a quick stop in the village to admire a huge White Stork nest, and timed it perfectly as the adults changed over nest duties. One flew in and the other got up and flew off, landing on a nearby telegraph post which happened to be right above us. It stood there staring down. There were lots of sparrows going in and out of the base of the stork’s nest, mostly Spanish Sparrows, with one or two House and Tree Sparrows too. A pair of Red-rumped Swallows was flying in under the eaves of a nearby house.

White Stork

White Stork – landed on a telegraph post right above us

It had been another great day, but it was time to head back to the hotel for dinner. While we were still waiting for pudding, we heard a Scops Owl singing right outside. We went out, and realised we could actually hear two. One was in a tree above the road right in front of the hotel, so we tried to see if we could find it with a torch. It was too high up and there were too many leaves on the tree now, but we eventually saw it as it flew out.

TUESDAY 30TH APRIL

With a prompt getaway after breakfast, we headed up to the village of Promachonas in the hills on the Bulgarian border. We were looking for woodpeckers, and as soon as we walked in to the wood, a Middle Spotted Woodpecker flew over the track and landed in the trees next to us . We could see its red crown and pale red undertail. As we continued deeper into the wood – two more Middle Spotted Woodpeckers appeared in the top of a tree over the path, with one singing.

We stopped when we couldn’t go any further in. We could hear a Grey-headed Woodpecker, further off, over the other side of the river, but frustratingly it kept its distance. A Semi-collared Flycatcher was singing, and we found it flitting around in a tree a little further on down the path. There were also several Blackcaps singing in the trees, and a Nuthatch appeared to be feeding young, coming in repeatedly with food. A Red Squirrel scuttled up a trunk and a Kingfisher shot past through the trees.

As we walked back, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in over the path calling. It landed in a tree and chased off a Starling which seemed to be prospecting a hole. We tried another path through the wood, closer to the road, where a Golden Oriole was fluting. It was a bit more open here and there were several butterflies in the dappled shade, including a Southern Festoon and a couple of Dingy Skippers. Lots of Beautiful Demoiselle damselflies were down by the river.

Southern Festoon

Southern Festoon – in the dapped shade on the edge of the wood

We had a very brief look for Masked Shrike in the quarry across the road, but there was no sign of any – perhaps they were late coming back this year? But we had run out of time, and had to get back down to the lake. Our boat trip had been organised for the afternoon, but with the forecast suggesting the wind might pick up it had been brought forward to 11am. We arrived back at the lake just in time.

As we motored out across the lake, there were lots of Great Crested Grebes on the water, and then out in the middle we found several much smaller Black-necked Grebes too. Close up, we could see their black necks and golden yellow face tufts. A flock of around twenty Collared Pratincoles flew over high.

Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe – in full breeding plumage out on the lake

More birds were gathered around the mouth of the Strimon river, where it flows into the lake. A large flock of Greater Flamingoes put their heads up and started calling as we passed. We got some much better views of both Dalmatian and White Pelicans, with several of the latter still really pink (rather than white!).

White Pelican

White Pelican – still looking rather more pink than white!

There was a nice selection of lingering winter wildfowl out here, with a few Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler all additions to the trip list. A tight flock of about 20 Garganey flew round and four Ferruginous Ducks were swimming in the vegetation with a few Common Pochard. Several Common Shelduck were in amongst the legs of the Flamingoes, and the Ruddy Shelduck was out here too today.

Round at the flooded forest, the low water level this year was very noticeable, with lots of the trees on dry land. Thankfully we could still get through the edge of it in the boat and it was an amazing experience! The sight, the sound and the smell. Every tree was packed full of Great Cormorants on their nests, many with well grown young.

Cormorant

Cormorant – amazing intricate plumage detail up close

In amongst them were lots of herons. We had great close up views of Black-crowned Night Herons and Squacco Herons. A few Spoonbills were on their nests close to where we were, some with young already, and we could see many more further back in the trees or flying round overhead. There were just a few Pygmy Cormorants on the outer edge of the colony.

Nigth Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron – we saw several in the trees

Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill – on the nest

Pygmy Cormorant 2

Pygmy Cormorant – one of the few we got close to from the boat

We went over to look at the pelican nesting islands. The older wooden platforms were packed with Dalmatian Pelicans, including several well-grown juveniles. The stone islands were more sparsely populated, with a mixture of Dalmatian and White Pelicans on the tops.

Dalmatian Pelicans

Dalmatian Pelicans – on the old nesting platform

As we turned to head back, a lone Tufted Duck came up from the water. We hadn’t seen any marsh terns yet today, but as we motored back across the lake, we picked up a flock of around 20 way off in the distance. We headed over and could see them more clearly, before they helpfully came round for a really close pass, a mixture of 11 stunning breeding adult White-winged Black Terns and a smaller number of darker Black Terns, about 8. A great way to finish off the boat trip, which is always one of the highlights of any visit to Kerkini.

White-winged Black Tern 1

White-winged Black Terns – we came across a mixed flock on our way back

Back at the shore, it was time for lunch. We stopped just off the bank by a small poplar wood, where Golden Oriole and Green Woodpecker were calling in the trees. Several Spotted Flycatchers were flitting around in the bushes by the road and we could hear another Penduline Tit in the willows further back.

After lunch, we drove over to try the marshes by the River Strimon. A Little Ringed Plover flew up from the edge of the track as we passed and a Common Sandpiper was feeding down along the river shore. There were loads of Yellow-legged Gulls loafing on the gravel islands in the middle of the river, with one or two Caspian Gulls in with them. But as we got out to look at our first tortoise, a Spur-thighed Tortoise grazing on the grassy bank by the track, all the gulls flew up and whirled round. We had planned to walk out to marshes, but had a feeling they might be dry this year given the water levels. We met another group leaving who said they were indeed dry, so we decided to try something else instead.

Spur-thighed Tortoise

Spur-thighed Tortoise – our first tortoise of the trip

We would normally visit Vironia Quarry in the morning, before the boat trip, so we were not sure whether there would be much activity this afternoon, in the heat of the day. We walked down the hill to look at the scrub around the water troughs first, where it was pretty quiet apart from all the Nightingales and Peacocks calling at a nearby farmhouse. A Cirl Bunting was singing in the distance.

Thankfully, the quarry was more productive. As walked through the scrub up towards it, a male Cirl Bunting was feeding in the short grass beside the path. Coming out into the open, several Red-rumped Swallows and a pair of Crag Martins were hawking around the cliff face. We could hear Blue Rock Thrush singing, and found a male and female up on the rocks. When the male flew down into the top of a bush on one side, we noticed a small bird nearby – an Ortolan Bunting. We managed a good look at it through the scope before it flew out of view. Another pair of Cirl Buntings were up here too.

A Subalpine Warbler (of one of the eastern races, albistrata) started singing in the bushes behind us, so we followed it a short way as it moved back along the path. We could see it flitting around in the vegetation but it was keeping well hidden, before it flew across the path and disappeared deeper in. A big family party of Long-tailed Tits made their way through the bushes too.

Back in the quarry, a male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear was displaying up on the rock face, flying round and round in small circles, flashing it wings and white tail. It landed on a bush and we could see it was the black-eared form, with a white throat and black bandit masks. Then it flew back across the face to the other side and we could see why it was busy displaying – a female was in the bushes here too.

A Levant Sparrowhawk flashed in across the rock face, sending all the hirundines up and the causing the other birds to all start alarm calling. It disappeared into the bushes up on the rocks, before emerging again a few seconds later, flying up and over the top of the quarry. We walked on to the far side where another Eastern Black-eared Wheatear was singing, this time a black-throated male. Another pair of Cirl Buntings was feeding quietly on the edge.

Levant Sparrowhawk 2

Levant Sparrowhawk – flashed across the face of the quarry

Then it was time to go back to the hotel. We had arranged an early dinner tonight, and afterwards we headed out again. The Scops Owls were already singing intermittently by the car park but shut up before we could pin down where they were roosting. The rain clouds had been gathering over the hills and it started to spit with rain here, but thankfully it looked to still be clear down by the lake, so we headed straight over there.

We drove through a couple of villages on the way, scanning the roofs as we passed, and eventually found our first target – a Little Owl perched on the corner of low building. We stopped to watch it staring down into the grass below, occasionally looking at us with its piercing yellow eyes.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a roof in one of the village

The sun was just setting, so we continued on round the lake shore. A couple of Great Reed Warblers were singing in the reeds but keeping well down again today, as loads of Spanish Sparrows flew in, presumably to roost. A Common Buzzard landed down on the shore, the other side of the road. With the clouds hanging over the hills, it seemed to be getting dark quickly tonight, so we drove back to an old quarry.

We were just in time – we hadn’t been out of the minibus for more than a minute or two when the Eagle Owl flew up from its roost site and landed on the base of a tree up on the cliff. It was still good enough light, so we could get fantastic views of it through the scopes.

Eagle Owl

Eagle Owl – came out early tonight, before it got too dark

We stayed and watched the Eagle Owl until the light faded. It was a fantastic way to end another action-packed day.

WEDNESDAY 1ST MAY

It was a noticeably cooler start to the morning and with the change in the weather last night, we thought there might be migrants in. We decided to have a look at the water trough first and spotted a male Red-backed Shrike in the bushes before we got out of the minibus. Setting up the scopes and scanning round, we found two others nearby, presumably all freshly arrived. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was singing, which was not here a couple of days ago. A Whinchat was out in the field beyond.

Two male Black-headed Buntings were chasing each other round and round through the bushes, presumably trying to decide who was getting the territory. They eventually settled in a bush next to the road, so we could get a good look at them – smart birds, canary yellow underneath, with a black head.

Black-headed Bunting

Black-headed Bunting – fresh in this morning

An Eastern Orphean Warbler started singing behind us, and flew over in to the same bush. We had a good view of it perched with one of the male Black-headed Buntings. One of the Red-backed Shrikes flew in too, and started flying down to catch insects on the road, and another Eastern Olivaceous Warbler started up, all in the same bush. There were obviously lots of birds freshly arrived here.

Eastern Orphean Warbler

Eastern Orphean Warbler – singing in the bushes this morning

We were heading up to the hills today, so we drove over to Sidirokastro and made our way up to the byzantine castle ruins first. As we stopped to admire the view over town and the lake in the distance beyond, a male Eastern Black-eared Wheatear was songflighting in front of us. Two Cirl Buntings flew past calling. We walked round to the other side and started scanning the crags. A pair of Blue Rock Thrush appeared distantly, and we counted at least four more Eastern Black-eared Wheatears within a few metres of each other.

Western Rock Nuthatch was our main target here and we were in luck, as one then appeared on a rock face further back. Unfortunately it flew up before we could all get onto it and disappeared. We walked over to the top of the crag opposite but there was no further sign of it. Two Linnets were flitting around on the top and a Cirl Bunting landed in the bushes right in front of us briefly. We could see yet more Blue Rock Thrushes and wheatears from here too.

As we started to walk back along the side of the castle, we scanned behind us over to where the nuthatch had been, and suddenly one appeared on some low rocks in between the crags. We got the scopes on it and realised there was a second Western Rock Nuthatch with it. We could see they were collecting something, and then they flew up into rocks out of view. One dropped down onto a branch jutting out of the crag, where it remained perched for some time, so we could get a good view in the scopes. Then one flew over and started feeding on the cliff just below the castle, where we watched it going into the cracks in the rock. It seemed to collect some food and then flew back across, made its way up the rock face and then disappeared into the same crag.

Western Rock Nuthatch

Western Rock Nuthatch – we watched them collecting food on the crags

From back at the minibus, we could see more distantly where they were going in. Over coffee, we watched the small dead branch they were using as a perch, which held alternately Western Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush and Eastern Black-eared Wheatear! A Serin flew in calling and landed briefly nearby, but flew straight out again. Four Ravens flew over calling.

After coffee, we drove up the valley beyond the village to an old quarry. Several Red-rumped Swallows and a pair of Crag Martins were hawking round the rocks. A Subalpine Warbler started singing in the top of a tree in the valley below us.

Red-rumped Swallow 2

Red-rumped Swallow – hawking around the quarry

A Cirl Bunting was singing high on the edge of the quarry and while we were watching it, we noticed an Ortolan Bunting also singing from the top of a rock, much higher up still. Making our way into the quarry, we found more Blue Rock Thrushes and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears.

One of group noticed some movement in the rocks at the base of the rock face, and a bird flew up and landed on a rock. It was a male Rock Thrush (Common or Rufous-tailed, not Blue!). A nice surprise here, as they are normally found much higher up in the mountains. We had a good view of it through the scopes – blue above, orange below, with a white back. When it eventually flew up the quarry face towards the top, a female Rock Thrush appeared too. They perched briefly before disappeared over the top.

Rock Thrush

Rock Thrush – we found a pair in the quarry

Next, we drove over to Serres and, after negotiating our way through town, up onto Mount Vrontou. A couple of Woodlarks were perched on the rocks by the road as we made our way up, along with a Black Redstart. A pair of Mistle Thrushes perched on some wires and Chiffchaffs were singing in the trees. We headed straight up to the ski centre at the top for lunch.

There was still some snow on the ground by the road and the beech trees were still not in leaf, everything seemed to be a little behind this year. Several Coal Tits were singing in pines, a Tree Pipit was singing from the trees beside the ski slope and a smart male Black Redstart was dropping down to feed on the short grass from the ski lift cables. It was slightly surprising to hear Cuckoos all the way up here – a male calling and a female bubbling.

After lunch, we had a quick walk round the road at the top, but there was a distinct chill in the air and the bare beech trees were rather quiet. We decided to drop down to the ski hotel a bit lower down in the pines. It is closed for the season now, but we found lots of Common Crossbills in the pines around the car park and had good views of several feeding on cones through the scopes.

Crossbill

Common Crossbill – feeding in the pines by the ski hotel

Down a bit lower, we stopped again and had a short walk along a path through the trees. We heard more Coal Tits singing, a Chiffchaff flew across the path and a Goldcrest singing in the pines slowly made its way out and showed itself briefly before disappearing back into the trees. Otherwise, it was rather quiet here, being rather cool with a fresh breeze blowing up the hillside. There was a great view of the mountain slopes from the end of the path and we found a Short-toed Eagle and a Raven over the crags.

We made our way back down the mountain and headed over to Paleokastro, stopping by another disused quarry. We were hoping to find a Roller here but there was no sign – possibly they were not back yet. A couple more Eastern Olivaceous Warblers were singing – there were definitely more in today – and a female Red-backed Shrike perched in the top of a small bush across the field. Looking further down the track, a tree on the verge had eight Black-headed Buntings in it! We walked along the track for a closer look, and the buntings dropped down into a neighbouring fallow field covered in sparse grass and wild flowers.

We climbed up onto verge and scanned the surrounding countryside. Four Turtle Doves flew past, and a couple of Common Buzzards circled up. A small party of Bee-eaters flew over calling. Then a Tawny Pipit flew up out of the grass and dropped down into the edge of the bare field next door, out of view. We walked down through the grass, and more Tawny Pipits flew up – a group of eleven, followed by another four, and there was still at least one in the grass. More migrants on their way through.

Tawny Pipit

Tawny Pipit – one of at least 16 in the grassy field

Three Black-headed Wagtails were feeding on the edge of a rough ploughed field the other side, then they flew in too and disappeared into the grass. As we walked back up to the track, we found the Black-headed Buntings again, all males, presumably just arrived and feeding up.

Then we had to leave. It had been a long day and we still had quite a way to go to get back to the hotel in time for dinner.

THURSDAY 2ND MAY

Today we were heading down to the coast for the day. On the drive there, we saw lots of Corn Buntings singing from the wires all the way down, but just one Black-headed Bunting. Perhaps they were still to move onto their territories, but the gusty breeze this morning didn’t help. A female Montagu’s Harrier drifted across the road in front of the minibus and across a field full of poppies.

As we left Kalahori village, we stopped to scan the saltmarsh. There were lots of Shelduck and our first Oystercatchers here, and it didn’t take too long to find a pair of Stone Curlews. We had a good view of them through the scopes.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – we found a pair out on the saltmarsh

On the corner of the first lagoon, beside the track, we had a taste of what was to come. A small group of Ruff were feeding in the shallows and a flock of smaller waders flew in to join them, five Dunlin and several Curlew Sandpipers resplendent to various extents in rusty summer plumage. On the other side of the track, out on the edge of the bay, a couple of Little Terns were hovering out over the sea and a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull was picking around on the shore with a single Black-headed Gull and one Yellow-legged Gull.

As we parked by the causeway and got out of the minibus, it was rather windy. Undaunted, we set out along the path between the lagoons. There were more Little Terns on a small island, and another Curlew Sandpiper. A little further on, we spotted our first Little Stint, along with several of both Kentish Plovers and Ringed Plovers.

Kentish Plover

Kentish Plover – on the shore of the lagoon

We could see lots of waders right over along the far edge of the lagoons on both side, so we made our way over. There were some impressive numbers of birds here, with over 1,000 Curlew Sandpipers and at least 200 Little Stints, in a variety of plumages but with some very smart rusty ones of both species. A smaller number of Dunlin were mixed in with them. There were lots of Ruff over in the corner, two Black-tailed Godwits out in the middle and a flock of Spotted Redshanks further round in the distance on the edge of the reeds. Just two Greater Flamingoes, a young male and a young female, were out in the deeper water in the middle of the lagoon.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpipers – there were over 1,000 on the lagoons today

There were lots of birds hawking out over the water in the wind. We counted eighteen smart adult White-winged Black Terns and a single Black Tern with them. The first two Slender-billed Gulls flew in and landed briefly before flying off again, but more arrived steadily until there were eighteen swimming out on the water. There were loads of hirundines too and at one point, a tight flock of around 200 Sand Martins flew past.

White-winged Black Tern 2

White-winged Black Tern – 1 of 18 hawking over the lagoon

Several Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over the reeds at the back. Scanning out over the saltmarsh, we spotted two Ospreys hunting way off in the distance. It was hard to make out any detail, although their flight action was distinctive enough, but thankfully one then came in closer so we could all see what it was. As we turned to walk back, a Peregrine then flew in from the sea and circled over the lagoon. Two Gull-billed Terns flew over calling.

We drove further on down the track and stopped for coffee. From here, we had a much better view of the Spotted Redshanks, mostly in black breeding plumage. There were about thirty roosting in one flock and more feeding along the edge of the reeds. Two Greenshanks were with them.

After coffee, we made our way down along the track which skirts the edge of the Axios delta. A couple of Common Redshank on the saltmarsh on the edge of the bay were an addition to the wader list. As we passed, we scanned the pools below the track on the landward side. A large flock of Greater Flamingoes took off from one pool as we drove up, disturbed by a plane circling just beyond, and we were treated to an amazing flash of pink wings as they flew past us. They circled round over the bay, and half of them came back in and landed again back on the pool. A few Pygmy Cormorants were perched on the fishing net poles out in the bay as we passed and several Common Terns were plunge diving along the edge of the sea.

Greater Flamingoes 2

Greater Flamingoes – flashing bright pink as they flew

The pools held a variety of waders – nesting Avocets and Black-winged Stilts, occasional little groups of Wood Sandpipers and Ruff, a few Curlew Sandpipers and a couple of Little Stints. Collared Pratincoles were hawking either side of the track in the wind all the way down, and we finally got one on the ground in the scopes, standing on the mud by one of the pools. Four more Gull-billed Terns were loafing on another. Reed Warblers were singing from ditches, and lots of Black-headed Wagtails and Crested Larks flushed from the edge of the track as we passed.

There were several Common Sandpipers along the edge of the bay as we made our way along. One of the group spotted two larger, paler waders roosting out on the edge of the saltmarsh – Marsh Sandpipers. We had a look at them from the minibus, but unfortunately they took off as we tried to get out. We could see them flying round like small Greenshanks before they dropped down again further back, out of view.

We stopped for lunch a little further on. The sandbars which often hold roosting birds were mostly under water but there were still a few waders here, several Grey Plovers and a couple of Eurasian Curlews. There were more waders scattered round the edge of the saltmarsh, including one very smart Grey Plover in breeding plumage. Lots of Eastern Bath White butterflies were fluttering around the flowers in the lee of the bank.

When we got to the mouth of the Axios river we had a quick stop at the viewing tower before turning inland. Two Spur-winged Lapwings were on one of the pools below the track, so we stopped to watch them, smart birds. A little further on, another two were out on the saltmarsh the other side. There were several Pygmy Cormorants loafing around the edges of the pools, which finally allowed us a closer look at this often very flighty species, and two Spoonbills were feeding in the shallow water, sweeping their bills from side to side. Several Marsh Harriers hunted over the reeds. We stopped to look at a little group of Turtle Doves feeding out on the saltmarsh and a pair of Hoopoes flew off as we drove on.

Pygmy Cormorant 3

Pygmy Cormorant – on the pools by the track through the Axios Delta

Back on the main road, we drove up to Polykastro. Two Red-footed Falcons swooped in over the field, but no one got onto them as we passed and there was nowhere to pull in. We stopped at a nearby reservoir. Another Turtle Dove was on a mound in the edge of the field as we drove in and four Whinchats were perched in the vegetation alongside the track.

The wind had dropped now, and we got out for a walk, up onto the bank. As we got over the top and looked out across the reservoir, we could see over 100 terns hawking out over the water. There were lots of Common Terns, mixed in with a smaller number of White-winged Black Terns and Black Terns dip feeding. More surprising, there were several Little Terns with them, despite it being long way inland. We could see both Little and Great Crested Grebes on the water, and several Ferruginous Ducks scattered along far shore. A single Common Pochard and a pair of Gadwall were swimming by the island in the middle.

A hepatic female Cuckoo flew past, and a grey male perched up singing in a nearby tree. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was singing in the bushes just below the bank.

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler – singing in the bushes below the bank

Then as we scanned over the fields, we got distracted by some raptors. First we found a Long-legged Buzzard hovering, but it dropped down behind some trees. We could see some kestrels hovering in the distance, and when we looked more closely we realised there were at least ten of them in a big group, Lesser Kestrels. They were rather pale below when they banked and one male showed the distinctive grey panel between its dark primaries and rusty wing coverts. There were also a few Red-footed Falcons with them. We got on a couple of females first, grey above and rusty below. Then we found a smart male, dark slate grey with silvery primaries, and we could just see its red trousers as it turned.

We picked up the Long-legged Buzzard again, perched in a tree, and when it finally took off and flew round, we got a better look at its paler head and dark belly, and its pale rusty tail with a white base. It was mobbed at one point by a Common Buzzard, giving us a good side by side comparison, the Long-legged Buzzard being noticeably bigger and rustier.

It was already getting late, and we still had a long drive back, so we had to tear ourselves away. There was still one surprise on the way. As we were driving along, one of the group noticed a woodpecker on some wires. After a quick turn round, the Syrian Woodpecker flew to a telegraph post, and we had a nice view of it as it perched out in the open. Then it flew to a garden behind, and we realised there were two, chasing each other round through the trees.

Syrian Woodpecker

Syrian Woodpecker – flew from the wires to a telegraph post

We finally got back to hotel just in time for a quick drink before another delicious dinner – very welcome after a long but very rewarding day.

FRIDAY 3RD MAY

Sombre Tit was one species which had eluded us so far – they are not very vocal at this time of year – so we headed out for an early walk before breakfast to look for one we knew was not far away. As we parked and walked up the track, it was still rather cool and the sun was still not on the hillside. It was worth the early start just for the great view of the lake from here though. A Cirl Bunting flew up from the verge and we could hear one or two Subalpine Warblers singing. Further up, we had a nice view of a male Subalpine Warbler feeding in the bushes by the track. A smart male Red-backed Shrike perched in the top of a tree.

As the sun finally came onto the hillside, we walked slowly back down and could hear a Sombre Tit calling in the bushes. We followed the sound and could see it working its way up through the undergrowth towards the track. It perched up in full view for a second but we were looking into the light and not everyone could get onto it. We got ourselves positioned to see it come out again and just at that moment a small 4×4 came up the track – we hadn’t seen any other vehicle here, and it was the worst possible moment. We had to stand to one side and after it had passed, the Sombre Tit had disappeared, presumably flushed back down the hillside by the vehicle. We stopped and listened but couldn’t hear it now. Unfortunately we were out of time too, and had to get back to the hotel for breakfast.

After breakfast, we drove down to the water trough again. Two male Black-headed Buntings were singing from the bushes and there were several Eastern Olivaceous Warblers in now. Two male and a female Red-backed Shrike were scattered around, and a male Woodchat Shrike was singing from the tops of the trees. A Montagu’s Harrier flew in over the fields, a female, and disappeared up towards the hills, presumably a migrant on its way north. A Levant Sparrowhawk circled up distantly over the hillside.

As we drove on, we could see lots of birds in a small orchard by the road which just been mown. Three male Black-headed Buntings and four Crested Larks were feeding on the cut grass between the trees and a small group of Black-headed Wagtails were perched on the fence at the back.

Cutting across towards the western shore of the lake, a tractor was mowing the verge, followed by a White Stork which almost wouldn’t get out of the road as we passed, giving us point blank views from the minibus. Small groups of pelicans were flying round, starting to look for the first thermals of the morning. Along the edge of the lake, we could see the usual selection of Little Egrets, herons and a few Dalmatian Pelicans. We stopped briefly at Korifoudi. The Great Reed Warblers were still singing from the reeds, but this time perching up nicely in lighter winds. A Woodchat Shrike was still in its usual bush and a Roe Deer buck ran across the fields at the back.

Continuing on down to Himarros, we drove in along the dusty track. A pair of Turtle Doves in the bushes flew off as we pulled up and several Little Egrets were standing around the pools. A Spur-thighed Tortoise was slowly crossing the track in front of us, so we stopped to look at it. Continuing on to the old quarry, there were Bee-eaters flying round calling as we got out of the minibus. Three Woodchat Shrikes perched on the fence – nice to see, but not the one we really wanted here. A pair of Eastern Black-eared Wheatears was also on the fence, the male a rather dark black-throated individual. Another male wheatear was perched in the trees just across the track, this one a rather pale black-eared form, demonstrating just how very variable they can be.

It was warming up now, and raptors were starting to spiral up over the hills beyond. First a Lesser Spotted Eagle circled over, followed by a Short-toed Eagle and several Common Buzzards. A Black Stork drifted high along the ridge and a few Dalmatian Pelicans flew over us too.

We had a good look around the quarry area and finally the Masked Shrikes showed themselves. There were two males, and at first we watched them chasing each other through the trees. One male kept coming back to top of the same tree to sing, where we had some lovely views of it perched up in the sunshine. At one point it dropped down into the river beyond to drink and bathe.

Masked Shrike

Masked Shrike – kept returning to the top of the same tree to sing

It was time for a celebratory coffee. Afterwards, we went back for more views of the Masked Shrikes. A Golden Oriole was singing in the trees across the river but typically kept itself well hidden. We were just packing up as two Woodlarks flew in, and started feeding in the short grass in the clearing.

We drove back north from here, to the edge of the Mavrovouni Hills, with a quick stop en route to admire a pair of Red-backed Shrikes in the bushes by the road. Parking at the bottom of a rough track, we walked up hillside. There were lots of butterflies on the wing here – including Scarce Swallowtails, Knapweed and Queen of Spain Fritillaries, and Mallow Skipper. Two Hermann’s Tortoises were on the verges and several Egyptian Grasshoppers flew up ahead of us. We stopped to watch some dung beetles rolling up balls of dung and trying to push and pull them in pairs across the track.

Dung Beetles

Dung beetles – pushing balls of dung across the track

There were a few raptors up now. A Levant Sparrowhawk flew out of the trees ahead of us, with a flash of its blue-grey upperparts and black wing tips, then gave us a nice view as it circled out over the valley. A Lesser Spotted Eagle came low over the ridge beside us, before circling up and displaying. A Black Kite drifted high over the hills.

Lesser Spotted Eagle

Lesser Spotted Eagle – came low over the ridge beside us

A Woodchat Shrike was down on the brambles in the bottom of the valley and a Subalpine Warbler and several Nightingales were singing in the bushes, but there were few other passerines active in the midday heat. We walked back down to the minibus, and drove round to one of the lakeside shelters for lunch in the shade.

After lunch, we drive round to the eastern shore and back up onto the embankment. As we made our way north, we stopped again where we had seen the Penduline Tits on Monday. They had made quite a bit of progress on the nest and it was almost finished, with the entrance tunnel now built. We watched the pair coming and going, putting the finishing touches to it, and the male perched at the entrance calling, as if to seek approval that the work was done.

Carrying on along the bank, there were loads of Wood Sandpipers and Squacco Herons down along the shore of the lake on one side. On the other side, many more Eastern Olivaceous Warblers were singing now in the bushes, having arrived in the last few days, since we were last here. There were several Red-backed Shrikes along here too now. We had great views of Bee-eaters, perched on branches below us along the bank, and finally got better views of Golden Orioles in the poplar trees.

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike – back in good numbers on our last day

We stopped at the northern edge of the water. The lake was filling up steadily now with meltwater from the mountains beyond. The Ruddy Shelduck was still here, with 35 Greylag Geese. A huge number of Spoonbills were busy feeding in the shallows – we counted at least 80. A Cattle Egret appeared briefly with the herd of buffaloes. But the highlight was watching a huge raft of several hundred White Pelicans feeding, swimming and repeatedly plunging their heads underwater, occasionally gathering in tighter groups, or flying to catch up with each other. A small group of about ten Dalmatian Pelicans were feeding nearby, but not joining in with the melee.

A little further on along the bank, we spotted a female Northern Wheatear on the rocks on the edge of the lake, a migrant on its way north and a welcome late addition to the list. We stopped again at the pool at the north end of the embankment, where several Little Bitterns were lurking on the edge of the reeds, including a couple of smart males today too. There were one or two Little Crakes still, and the Coypu.

As we drove past Megalochori, a Little Owl was perched on the churchyard wall. Crossing over the Strimon river, we stopped and walked down one of the tracks into the trees. There was no sign of any woodpeckers on the first one we tried, but crossing over to the other side, we didn’t have to go far before a Grey-headed Woodpecker flew in. It landed in a tree above the path, great to finally see one having just heard them earlier in the week. A couple of Golden Orioles flew out of the trees too.

We had just enough time for a quick stop at Mandraki at the end of the day. The water was much higher here now, and there were fewer birds compared to earlier in the week. Four Glossy Ibis flew over but landed out of view behind the reeds. There were still lots of herons and Pygmy Cormorants around in the trees, and it was nice to have one last look at the lake. Then it was back to the hotel for a shower, drinks and dinner, another delicious salad followed by Turkish meatballs.

SATURDAY 4TH MAY

After our last breakfast, once again a great spread of Greek pastries, yoghurt with honey, boiled eggs and fresh bread, we set off back to the airport. The drive down was fairly uneventful, with lots of Corn Buntings on the wires by the road and a single Red-backed Shrike. The Jackdaws around the terminal building which had welcome us were there to bid us farewell. The flight got away on time and we arrived back to a cloudy and cool Gatwick Airport.

It had been another great week – with lots of good birds, fantastic food and great scenery. If you would be interested in joining us on our next visit to Northern Greece and Lake Kerkini in 2020, please get in touch.

 

18th May 2019 – Spring Waders & More

A regular single-day Spring Tour in North Norfolk today. It was cloudy all day, a bit brighter in the afternoon, with thankfully nothing more than a few light spots of drizzle in the middle of the day, and feeling a bit milder today in the lighter N wind.

Our destination for the morning was Choseley but on our way there we drove round past some old barns. The Little Owl was not in its usual place this morning, but one of the group spotted it as we were driving off, perched further round on a wooden board across a window opening in one of the buildings. After a quick turn around, we had a great view of it from the minibus before it flew inside out of view.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on the wall of a barn as we drove past

When we arrived at Choseley, the Dotterel were running around in the stony field where they have been for the last couple of weeks. We had a good view of them through the scope. We counted six of them together, a mixture of bright females and duller males – Dotterel are one of those few species where the sexes are reversed and the females are brighter and the males do most of the incubation and rearing of the young.

Dotterel

Dotterel – there were still 6 at Choseley this morning (recent photo!)

The Dotterel will probably be leaving here in the next few days, on their way up to Scandinavia for the breeding season. Otherwise, there were a couple of Red-legged Partridges and a couple of Brown Hares in the field too. We disturbed some small moths from the grassy verge while we were standing here, more Diamond-back Moths. As we had seen yesterday, they are continental migrants and appear to have arrived here in the last couple of days over from Scandinavia.

A Common Whitethroat was singing from one of the hedges nearby, but at first that was all we could hear. Then a Corn Bunting started singing from further up the road, so we walked up to look for it. We found it perched in the top of hedge, where we had a good look at it through the scope, while we listened to its song, not totally unlike the bunch of jangling keys with which it is often compared.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – singing in the hedge by the road

From Choseley, we wound our way west along the minor roads inland towards Holme. On the way, we found a couple of smart male Yellowhammers singing from the wires and flushed a couple more from the puddles by the road side. As we got out of the minibus at Holme, a Chiffchaff was singing from the top of a bush. We walked a short distance further up the track, where a Sedge Warbler was singing in a buckthorn bush in the reeds.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing in the buckthorn by the entrance track

Up on the seawall, we walked back down to the old paddocks. A Common Cuckoo was singing in the distance, but seemed to be getting progressively closer. A couple of Common Whitethroats were singing from the bushes and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed.

A male Bullfinch flew over calling, but disappeared into the bushes before everyone could get onto it. Thankfully just a little further on we found first what was possibly another male, lurking deep in the hawthorns, and then the pair together, the bright pink male and browner female. A Robin was busy feeding a fledgling in the bottom of a small tree, but there was no sign of any obvious migrants fresh in here.

After a couple of distant flight views, the Cuckoo eventually came over close to us, so we had a much better view of it. Then a female appeared and we watched first one and then two males chasing it round through the trees, singing. A Turtle Dove flew over the paddocks but unfortunately didn’t stop, disappearing round the trees at the back.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – there were at least 3 chasing around this morning

Walking back, we went a bit further the other way to the start of the dunes. There had been a Whinchat earlier here, on the fence by the entrance track, but there was no sign now. We did see a couple of Lapwings in the short grass. Two Marsh Harriers were flying round over the grazing marshes beyond.

We headed round to Titchwell next. Another Bullfinch flew across the car park as we got out, and landed in the hedge, another smart pink male. There were a few Black-headed Gulls flying inland to feed overhead and we picked out our first Mediterranean Gulls flying over too, their pure white wingtips appearing translucent against the sky.

As we made our way out onto the reserve, we could hear Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reedbed. A couple of Reed Buntings were singing too, perched in the tops of the bushes in the reeds. We stopped to listen and after a few minutes heard Bearded Tits pinging a bit further along. We hurried up to where the calls were coming from and found a juvenile standing on a pile of dead reeds at the back of on one of the pools. It was a pale tawny brown, with black on the back and black lores, but lacking the ‘beard’ of the adult male.

After a minute or so, a male Bearded Tit flew in from further back and dropped down into the reeds. The juvenile made its way through the reeds to join it. The male worked its way round the margin of the pool, low down in the reeds beside the water, with the juvenile following behind it, waiting to be fed. Over the next ten minutes or so we had great views of them feeding and perched in the reeds.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – this male was feeding a juvenile right by the main path

Several Common Swifts were zooming back and forth, low over the reedbed, occasionally coming over the path and passing just a foot or so over our heads at one point. With the grey, cloudy weather, they were hawking for insects low over the reeds. A couple of Marsh Harriers were up and down from the reeds too. On the other side of the path, a smart Grey Plover in breeding plumage, with black face and belly, was on Lavender Pool.

There were not many waders on the Freshmarsh today. Scanning from the west bank path, initially a lone Turnstone on the nearest island was the only one of note, with plenty of Avocets too further back. There were still a few ducks – plenty of Shelduck, a few Shoveler and Gadwall, and a single pair of Teal. There are still quite a few Brent Geese lingering, flying in and out from the saltmarsh. They should be heading off to Siberia for the breeding season soon.

Shoveler

Shoveler – this drake was with a female right by the main path

The Freshmarsh now is rather dominated by gulls. We managed to pick out a rather distant Little Gull, but it was fast asleep over on one of the more distant islands. In between a couple of Black-headed Gulls, it was noticeably much smaller. A Common Tern was on the low brick island and through the scope we could see its slicked back black crown and black-tipped orange-red bill.

We had a closer view of the gulls from Parrinder Hide, and when we got in we saw there were now two Little Gulls, both immatures, first summers. One had acquired a largely dark hood, but the other still just had the dark spot behind the eye and dark cap. We also had good views of the Sandwich Terns gathered on the island from here, admiring their shaggy crests and yellow-tipped black bills through the scope.

Little Gull 1

Little Gull – one of two on the Freshmarsh today

The Black-headed Gulls have largely taken over the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and are busy nesting now. Looking through them throng, we could see a good number of Mediterranean Gulls in with them, their jet black hoods making them stand out. Through the scope, we could see their brighter red bills and white wing tips too.

Two Common Sandpipers had now joined the Turnstone we had seen earlier and we picked up a Little Ringed Plover on the island to the right of the hide. It ran straight over towards the near edge where we could get a really clear view of its golden yellow eye ring in the scope. There was a nice pair of Avocets just below the hide too – always nice to watch them at close quarters.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – ran over to the front of the island from Parrinder Hide

We had a quick look at Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. There were several more Grey Plovers over towards the back, but otherwise nothing else of note. There were no more different waders on here in the tidal channel from the main path either.

The island on the non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ held just one Oystercatcher, so we presumed there would be more waders out on the beach. The tide was out but there were several people down on the sand digging around the exposed mussel beds and someone fishing away to the west. Consequently, there were very few waders today – just more Oystercatchers and a few Turnstones feeding on the mussel beds. It was rather misty offshore, but we did manage to find a few Great Crested Grebes on the sea out towards Scolt. It started to spit with light drizzle now, so we decided to head back for lunch – it was already after 1pm and we were all getting hungry!

After lunch, we walked round on Fen Trail for a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. As we passed Fen Hide, one of the two Little Gulls was now hawking over the reedbed. There were a few people looking for the Turtle Doves on the Tank Road, but there was no sign of them. They are only coming in and out very irregularly at the moment.

Little Gull 2

Little Gull – one was then hawking over Fen Hide this afternoon

There were quite a few birds on Patsy’s Reedbed, mostly Greylags and gulls. Five Red-crested Pochards were over by the reeds at the back, including several smart drakes with their orange punk haircuts and bright coral-red bills. A Little Grebe was diving nearby. A Little Ringed Plover was working its way along the near shore away from us.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – there were several on Patsy’s Reedbed again

A few Mediterranean Gulls had come in to bathe with the Black-headed Gulls, giving us another opportunity to practice our new gull identification skills. Several Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds. It had brightened up now, and looking out over the reedbed we could see that the Swifts had now gone, moved higher chasing after the insects. We had one more place we wanted to visit this afternoon, so we made our way back to the car park, stopping on the way to watch a Song Thrush smashing a snail on the ground.

As we arrived at Wells and got out of the minibus, a Barn Owl flew across the field behind us. It was carrying a vole, presumably heading off inland to feed a hungry brood somewhere. There were lots of birds around the pools here. Looking on one side of the track, we could see three Greenshanks down at the far end. There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets, both with young. A pair of Avocets with three fluffy chicks were leading them through the grass, producing lots of squabbles with the Lapwings which had their own youngsters hidden here. A Grey Heron was lurking ominously at the back of the pool.

On the other side of the track, we could hear Wood Sandpipers calling. Scanning across, we counted at least six feeding in and out of the clumps of rushes. In the scope, we could see their white-spangled upperparts and well-marked pale supercilium. There had been a couple of Temminck’s Stints reported here and we eventually found them lurking in the vegetation on one of the islands. They kept popping up in different places and there appeared to be more than two, but it was hard to see how many until they flew round, and we could see four Temminck’s Stints all together.

There were lots of other waders too – including a couple of Common Sandpipers, and two or three Little Ringed Plovers. We watched two Common Snipe on the edge of the rushes, one of them fluffing itself out and cocking its tail at something nearby in threat display. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding further back, with one or two in rusty breeding plumage.

It was a nice place to finish the day, in the sunshine watching all the waders. But there was a gory end to come yet. The Grey Heron we had seen earlier had been stalking a brood of Mallard ducklings. We watched as it flew in and grabbed one, swallowing it whole. It retreated to the bank for a bit, then came back out and grabbed another one – the Mallards were squabbling, with five or six drakes chasing after the female and distracting her from watching the ducklings. As we packed up to leave, we saw the Grey Heron grab a third duckling. A reminder that nature is red in tooth and claw! Just the natural way of things.

17th May 2019 – A Spring Stint

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk, looking for spring migrants. It was rather grey and cloudy for most of the day with the odd brighter interval, and decidedly cool for May in the light-moderate NE wind, but at least it stayed dry all day until after we had finished.

Our first destination for the morning was Kelling. As we got out of the minibus in the village, we could hear Greenfinches singing in the trees and saw two perched in the top of a pine tree. Walking down the lane, a Tawny Owl hooted once, a bit of a surprise, but some birds will hoot in the daytime. We didn’t hear it again, but a distant Lesser Whitethroat was rattling away on the hillside, and Blackcap and Common Whitethroat were singing from the hedge beside the track. Down at the copse, a Chiffchaff was chiffing and chaffing.

We stopped at the gate overlooking the Water Meadow and scanned the fields. A pair of Grey Partridges were hiding in the grass. We could see the male’s orange face and just see the back of the female, which was keeping well tucked down amongst the tussocks where the cows had been grazing.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges – hiding in the grass on the Water Meadow

There were lots of Brown Hares feeding on the grassy hillside beyond the Water Meadow and a couple more very skittish individuals kept running in and out of view just in front of us. We couldn’t see the Ring Ouzel though – it had apparently been disturbed and flown back into the rushes out in the middle.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – running around on the Water Meadow

Continuing on, we had a nice view of a Common Whitethroat which perched up in the brambles beside the track, singing. From the cross-track, we stopped to scan the Water Meadow. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking low over the water, with one or two landing on the barbed wire fence from time to time. A Common Sandpiper was bobbing along the muddy margin of the pool towards the back, and a pair of Lapwings were feeding in the grass nearby, with the resident pair of Egyptian Geese.

Down past the Quags. a Sedge Warbler was half singing from the reeds in the ditch but refused to show itself. There were several Linnets in the brambles and we stopped to admire one smart red-breasted male in the scope. As we walked up the hillside beyond, we could hear Meadow Pipits and Skylarks singing, and watched one of the former doing its parachute display flight. A male Stonechat was perched on the fence further up.

We walked up to the top of the hill and looked back down to the back of the Water Meadow, but all it produced was a pair of Red-legged Partridges. It was a bit fresh in the breeze up here, so we turned to walk back. A female Wheatear appeared now on the concrete wall around the gun emplacements, before dropping down out of view.

Back at the Water Meadow, we watched some of the local Rooks feeding their recently fledged young around the edge of the pool. An Avocet flew in straight past us and landed in the shallow water. As we walked back up the lane, the Lesser Whitethroat was still singing from somewhere off in the hedge to the east, just audible from where we were. It was asked if we could get closer to try to hear it better, but typically by the time we had walked round it had gone quiet.

We made our way round to the Visitor Centre at Cley to warm up over a hot drink next. Four Whimbrel flew over calling as we got out of the minibus. From the cafe, we could see lots of Swifts and House Martins hawking low over the reeds. One or two Marsh Harriers circled up out of the reedbed.

Afterwards, we headed out to the hides. As we walked along the path, we could hear Reed Warblers singing from the reeds along the edge of the ditch. The first remained stubbornly hidden, but the second was perched up nicely on a bent reed, in full view, where we could get a really good look at it.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – singing from the reeds by the ditch

Out at boardwalk, the Swifts were zooming back and forth very low over the hides, just above our heads. A Sedge Warbler was singing from just outside Teal Hide, and we could just see it perched briefly on the fence in between the bushes before it dropped down out of view.

We went into Dauke’s Hide first. The Temminck’s Stints have been on Simmond’s Scrape and sure enough we found two of them straight away, on the near edge of the nearest island. We had a really good view of them creeping around on the edge of the mud. There had been five earlier, but we couldn’t find any sign of the other three at the moment, but two was plenty for us!

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – two were showing very well this morning

Temminck’s Stints are scarce migrants here, passing through in small numbers in early May from their wintering grounds in Africa to Scandinavia for the breeding season, so they are always good birds to catch up with. There were also several Black-tailed Godwits on Simmond’s Scrape, but they were mostly asleep, roosting on one of the islands, and a few Redshanks. A Ringed Plover was bathing in the shallow water by one of the islands towards the back, and there was a Little Ringed Plover too but it was rather mobile today. Several Avocets were hunkered down, nesting on the back of Whitwell Scrape.

There was a nice variety of ducks here too, with several lingering Wigeon and Teal of note. They are both common here in the winter, but most have long since departed now for their breeding grounds further east on the continent. A pair of Common Pochard on Whitwell Scrape may well be breeding somewhere here, as we watched the male shepherding the female while she fed, before flying off together. The drake then returned alone and, after a quick preen, went to sleep.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – the drake flew back in to Whitwell Scrape

We went round to Teal Hide next to have a closer look at Pat’s Pool. A Little Ringed Plover flew past as we got inside and opened the flaps. There were several Black-tailed Godwits, these ones awake and feeding in front of the hide. They included one or two in breeding plumage, with rusty head, neck and breast. A single Common Sandpiper was feeding around the edge of the more distant island over towards Bishop Hide.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – one or two are in full breeding plumage now

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back towards the Visitor Centre. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the top of a bush in the reeds by the boardwalk now and seemed completely unphased by us stopping to watch it just a few feet away. We had a great view, very different from the Reed Warbler we had seen on the way out. As well as the different song, much less rhythmical, the Sedge Warbler had a bold pale supercilium. bordered with dark above, and more patterned upperparts.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing from a bush by the boardwalk

It was a bit too chilly to use the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre today, so we made our way round to the beach for lunch in the shelter. Afterwards, we had a quick look out at the sea. Two Little Terns flew past just offshore and a Sandwich Tern was perched on the post of the old wreck. Through the scope, we could see its shaggy crest and yellow-tipped black bill. It was a bit cold out on the beach, so beat a quick retreat.

We drove back round to Walsey Hills. A female Common Pochard was diving with two ducklings on the pool as we got out, a rare breeder here so always good to see them with young. As we walked in through the bushes, there were lots of Chaffinches, and tits including a Coal Tit, coming in to the feeders. Just beyond, a bird shot across the path ahead of us, flashing a red tail, a Redstart, a migrant presumably having just dropped in. It flicked back again the other way, but then disappeared into the bushes. Otherwise, there were a few birds singing in here, including Chiffchaff and Cetti’s Warbler, and a Song Thrush was an addition to the day’s list.

There had apparently been two Spoonbills asleep from Babcock Hide earlier, but we were not sure if they would still be there. We set off to walk over that way, but we hadn’t even got as far as the start of the East Bank when we saw them flying over. They turned and headed out over the reserve, disappearing off west.

We decided to continue on up the East Bank instead. The cloud had thickened this afternoon and it seemed to be threatening rain now away to the east. It was exposed here and cooler now in the wind, so the reeds were rather quiet today. There were not many birds around the Serpentine either, just a few ducks, and several Lapwings around the pools.

We headed straight on to Arnold’s Marsh, where we hoped to find a few different waders on the brackish pools. The first bird we got the scope on was a smart Grey Plover in breeding plumage, with a black face and belly, very different to the grey ones we see through the winter here. There were several Bar-tailed Godwits here, including one male moulting into breeding plumage, with the rusty feathering extending right down under its tail. A few Turnstones were picking around the shingle islands, also starting to moult into their brighter breeding plumage too.

After a brisk walk back to the minibus, we drove back west and stopped again at Stiffkey. As we got out, we could see a flock of Greylag Geese feeding in the field by the road, seemingly unconcerned by the scarecrow or the bird scarer! A single Brent Goose was in with them. Across the other side of the road, a Stock Dove was tucked down in the ploughed strip beyond the grass.

Diamond-back Moth

Diamond-back Moth – one of many along the path, here with a weevil

As we walked down the sheltered path between the hedges, lots of small moths came up out of the vegetation as we passed. We stopped to look at one and realised they were Diamond-back Moths, migrants from continent, presumably just arrived on the NE winds. There must have been at least 50 along this small stretch of path, a significant arrival. It was only later we discovered that there had been a big movement of them in recent days, with big numbers in Finland a week ago, arriving into Sweden just yesterday. Amazing to think of the huge distances these tiny moths had covered.

Back to birds, and a smart grey male Marsh Harrier circled up over the field beyond the path, before perching in the top of a hedge where we could get a good look at it through the scope. A second male then drifted in over the valley too.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – one of the two males landed in the hedge

A Lesser Whitethroat was singing just across the road, and it was good to get a better chance to hear its distinctive rattling song than the one we had looked for this morning. It was sheltered here and there were a few other birds singing. A bright male Yellowhammer perched in the top of a pine tree singing and a Chiffchaff was singing from the trees further along.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – singing from the top of a pine tree

The bushes down alongside the river were quieter this afternoon – it seemed like most of the birds were round on the more sheltered side of the trees. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in cover. A pair of Marsh Harriers circled up from the near corner of the Fen, and we watched the male fly out across the middle of the pool, stirring up all the Avocets which flew up to mob it.

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Fen. A Common Sandpiper was working its way around the muddy edges of the islands and over twenty Black-tailed Godwits were gathered down in the water in the near corner, feeding.

Looking out across the harbour, the tide was coming in. There were lots more Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and we could see the seals on Blakeney Point beyond. Scanning the edge of the harbour from the seawall, we could see a few waders gathering around the edge – mostly Oystercatchers, but a little group of Dunlin were new for the day, we could see their black belly patches in the scope.

It was cool out here, exposed to the wind which wasn’t especially strong but had a distinct chill to it. We decided not to walk out to the edge of the harbour – it was time to head back now anyway. Back at the minibus, the Brent Geese were now gathering in the field with the scarecrow and the bird scarer, several hundred of them with more flying in as we packed up.

12th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast, our last day. It was a lovely bright, sunny day today, still slightly cool in the light NE breeze but warming up nicely out of it.

Our destination for the morning was Burnham Overy Dunes. When we parked and got out of the minibus, we could hear Skylark and Common Whitethroat singing, and a Yellowhammer calling from the hedge behind us.

As we walked down the lane, we could see a small group of Common Swifts hawking low over the trees. They are just arriving back here now from Africa and these would be birds on the move, just pausing briefly to feed. There were more warblers singing along here – a couple of Common Whitethroats with their scratchy songs, a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the hedge across the field before appearing in the top of an ivy-covered oak tree, plus Blackcap and Chiffchaff too. Crossing the stile, we heard our first Sedge Warblers of the day and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes.

Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of the hedge

As we were walking along the path, we saw a brown shape in the bushes right beside us. It wasn’t a bird, but a mouse, more precisely a Wood Mouse. It was completely unconcerned by our presence, standing just a couple of metres away watching it, while it fed on the young leaves and buds.

Wood Mouse

Wood Mouse – feeding in the bushes right by the path

Most of the pools on the grazing marshes along here are very dry, so there are not many nesting waders here this year. There were still a few Oystercatchers and one or two Lapwings in the grass. There was a bit more water on the edge of the reedbed, where the cows were making a nice muddy edge. A Common Sandpiper was enjoying the fruits of their labours, but was hard to see. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling.

Looking out across the grazing marsh towards Holkham, we could see a large white bird flying towards us. Its long bowed wings with leisurely flight action and long black legs identified it as a Great White Egret, even before we could see its long dagger-shaped yellow bill as it passed by low overhead. There were several Little Egrets flying back and forth too, and a very distant Spoonbill. We had hoped to find the Purple Heron which had been feeding in the ditches here for the last week or so, but there was no sign of it today. With the improvement in the weather, perhaps it had finally decided to move on.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew low overhead as we crossed the grazing marshes

There were more Sedge Warblers singing in the bushes and ditches either side of the path and a Reed Warbler started up down in the reeds. It was good to hear the songs of both species – the metronomic Reed Warbler very different from the mad buzzing unstructured song of the Sedge Warbler.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – one of several singing from the bushes by the track

From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was still out in the harbour. There were a few Avocets, Redshanks and Shelducks feeding on the mud, and a Curlew roosting in the vegetation beyond, but no other waders here today. A couple of Little Terns were hovering over the harbour channel further back. A large flock of Brent Geese flew up from the saltmarsh out in the middle – they should be leaving soon now, on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season.

The pool out in the reedbed had a selection of ducks on it. As well as the usual Tufted Ducks and a pair of Common Pochard, we could see a single drake Wigeon, a lingering bird after most of the Wigeon which spent the winter here have already departed. A Little Grebe was out in the middle of the pool too, and another laughed at us from the reeds. A Bearded Tit called and flew out of the reedbed, up over the bank right past us, before disappearing down into the reedy ditch round the corner of the path.

The grazing marshes beyond the reedbed are still wetter, with more breeding waders as a conseuqence, Lapwings, Avocets and Redshanks around the small pools. There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the marshes, including at least one pair with goslings. A single Pink-footed Goose was sitting down in the grass further back, presumably a sick or injured individual which couldn’t make the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season. When two Muntjac walked out of the reeds and across the grazing marsh it caused pandemonium, the geese with their necks up honking and all the waders alarm calling.

On the way out to the dunes, there were a few Linnets and Reed Buntings in the suaeda below the bank on the harbour side, which we stopped to admire. A Lesser Whitethroat in the bushes by the boardwalk was most likely a migrant, just stopping off here on its way further north.

Into the dunes, and there were lots more Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding in the short grass. Then over the first ridge we found several Wheatears too, including a couple of smart males, with black bandit masks. Interestingly they appeared to be rather pale southern birds, with silvery grey backs and creamy throats, rather than the darker birds with more rufous underparts which often predominate as the season progresses, and which are presumably heading further north.

Wheatear

Wheatear – one of two rather pale males in the dunes

There were lots more butterflies out in the dunes now in the warmer weather, including our first Brown Argus, Common Blue and Small Heath of the year, as well as Small Copper and several Wall Browns.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus – our first of the year, out in the dunes

We found a couple of pairs of Stonechats in the dunes, both with fledged young already. Good to see they are doing well here this year. We could hear a Cuckoo calling further up, and looked over just in time to see it fly up out of the bushes and up into the pines. A Willow Warbler was singing in the willows beyond the fence too. The walk out here had taken quite some time and we had one eye on the clock, as we didn’t want to be too late back for lunch. We didn’t have much time, but we wanted to have a quick look in the bushes over by the pines, so we pressed on quickly.

As we walked up over the dunes, a female Common Redstart flicked across and disappeared into the thicker bushes on the stop. We stood and waited to see if it might reappear but when someone appeared round the back of the bushes we saw a male Redstart briefly under the bushes before it was spooked and disappeared deeper in. We gave it another minute, but there was no sign of either of them reappearing, so we moved on.

There had been a Wryneck here yesterday and at this point we were informed it was still around today. It had been seen earlier on the short grass beyond the fence but hadn’t been seen for some time. We had a quick look, but we were out of time now and had to start heading back. As we turned to go, someone called over to say the Wryneck was now in the bushes in the dunes. Thankfully it wasn’t long before it appeared, feeding on a bare area at the base of a large privet clump. We had a nice view of it through the scope, before it flew back into the bushes and disappeared.

Wryneck

Wryneck – still in the dunes this morning

We had thought with the clear weather last night that the Wryneck might have moved on, so it was great to catch up with it. They bred more widely in the UK historically but are now just scarce migrants here, passing through in small numbers on their way up to Scandinavia.

On the walk back, we stopped for a better look at one of the male Wheatears in the dunes. Then we stopped again at the boardwalk, where a Whimbrel was feeding round the pools on the edge of the saltmarsh. We could see its short bill and pale crown stripe through the scope. Another migrant stopping off here on its way north.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh

When we got back to the path across the grazing marsh, a Spoonbill was feeding on one of the pools close to the path. We could see it sweeping its bill from side to side in the shallow water as it walked round with its head down. It disappeared behind a bank, but then walked out onto the front edge where we could see its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy nuchal crest, a smart breeding adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on the pools on the grazing marsh on the way back

While we were watching the Spoonbill, we heard the shrill call of a Yellow Wagtail and looked over to see it dropping down behind one of the cows right beside path. We walked back and could see it in the long grass. It was a female and rather a dark grey one too, with a rather limited pale supercilium just in front of the eye, but unfortunately it was off again almost immediately.  It appeared to be a female of the thunbergi subspecies, known as Grey-headed Wagtail, which breeds in the north of Scandinavia.

Grey-headed Wagtail

Grey-headed Wagtail – a female Yellow Wagtail of the thunbergi race

When we got back to the minibus, we stopped for a rest and scanned back over the marshes towards the dunes. There were some distant raptors circling over the middle of the grazing marshes, a kettle of Common Buzzards, and when we looked more closely we could see a very distant Hobby in the same view, hawking for insects. A Marsh Harrier was much closer, a male hunting over the field on the other side of road.

Driving round to Holkham, we were not expecting to be able to get in to Lady Anne’s Drive on a sunny Sunday, but it was not too busy today and, even better, the Lookout cafe was surprisingly quiet. We stopped here for lunch.

After lunch, we had a quick walk west along the path on the inland side of the pines. There were more warblers singing, despite it being the early afternoon lull and warm here today – Blackcap, Chiffchaff and a single Willow Warbler still singing its sweet descending scale. There were a few Long-tailed Tits in the trees by the path and more butterflies out in the sunshine, including Speckled Wood and Orange Tip here.

We made our way straight out to Joe Jordan Hide and when we opened the flaps we could see three Spoonbills out on the edge of the pool below the wood. One was noticeably smaller and whiter, with a short bill. It was one of the first fledged juveniles of 2019, a ‘teaspoon-bill’, and speaking to one of the wardens was the first time one had been seen outside the breeding colony. It was begging for food, nodding its head vigorously up and down and chasing after one of the adults.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – the first juvenile of 2019 to leave the breeding colony!

There were a couple of Mistle Thrushes down in the grass in front of the hide. They were  collecting food, and flew up into the trees behind the hide, where presumably they had nestlings. An Egyptian Goose was down on the edge of the nearest pool and a Marsh Harrier was hunting up and down one of the reedy ditches further back. We could see all the Cormorants in their big stick nests in the taller trees.

It was lovely sitting in the hide watching the comings and goings out on the marshes here, not least because the hide was out of the wind and warmed nicely by the sunshine, but we had one other thing we wanted to do this afternoon, so we had to tear ourselves away and walk back. On the way, we stopped to look at a recently emerged Hairy Dragonfly basking on the branch of a holm oak, where it was very well camouflaged and impossible to see until you knew where it was. Back almost to Lady Anne’s Drive, we head a Chaffinch alarm calling and looked up to see a Jay in the poplar trees.

Round at Wells, we stopped to scan the flooded fields which were full of waders and wildfowl. We quickly found a couple of Wood Sandpipers, down on the edge of the water, feeding in and out of the vegetation. We could see their white-spangled upperparts and well-marked pale supercilium. There were several larger Redshanks with them, and in the grass nearby were several Lapwings with small fluffy juveniles running around.

On the pool the other side of the track, a Greenshank stood out from the Redshanks with its bright white underparts catching the sun and paler grey upperparts. A couple of Common Snipe were sleeping on the edge of the vegetation out in the middle and we found a Common Sandpiper right over the far side, bobbing its way along the muddy bank.

Red Kite

Red Kite – drifted over the track behind us

A Red Kite drifted over lazily behind us, and someone further along the track shouted and pointed up to alert us to a Peregrine circling over. As we watched the Peregrine disappearing over towards Wells, we could see a big flock of around 30 Common Swifts hawking high in the sky on the edge of town.

It was a nice way to end the day, standing here in the afternoon sunshine. It had been a very enjoyable three days, with lots of interesting spring migrants, but it was time to pack up and head for home.