Category Archives: Nightjar Evening

7th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Private Tour. We spent today in North Norfolk. It was a cloudy start, brightening up through the day and sunny later, with a a very strong and blustery wind, gusting as high as 48mph.

To start the day, we headed inland to look for farmland birds. As we drove along, a couple of partridges ran across the road in front of us and, once we got closer, we could see they were Grey Partridges. The male stood for a second or two in the road before following the female into the hedge on the other side.

A Barn Owl was still out hunting, circling around a field behind a hedge, so we could just see it through the gaps. It was wet and windy last night, so presumably it was having to continue hunting to feed a hungry brood. We saw a couple of Red Kites on our journey, hanging effortlessly in the stiff breeze over the fields beside the road.

Red KiteRed Kite – we saw a couple on our journey this morning

We stopped by a farm track and walked up to a point from which we could get a good view over the surrounding fields. A pair of Yellowhammers flew off from the track as we walked up. A couple of Skylarks were singing over the fields and a Common Whitethroat was singing in the hedge.

Raptors were a target here, but we thought it might be a bit too windy this morning. As it started to warm up, we could see several Common Buzzards circling up over the trees – it certainly didn’t seem to put them off. So too a Kestrel, which zoomed back and forth over a field. There were other things to see here too – a Green Woodpecker flew across in front of us, and a little later went back the other way, presumably nesting in one of the woods nearby. A pair of Mistle Thrushes did the same. We could see a swarm of House Martins feeding in the lee of some trees in the distance.

After watching from here for a while, we headed back to the car. It was nice to get out of the wind and we set off towards Titchwell where we planned to spend a few hours exploring the reserve. A brief stop by another set aside field on the way yielded very nice views of Brown Hare, hunkered down against the wind, plus a pair of nesting Oystercatcher, a Pied Wagtail and several Red-legged Partridges, quite an eclectic mix.

Brown HareBrown Hare – hunkered down in a set aside field by the road

It was late morning by the time we got to Titchwell. We had a quick look round the car parks, but there was no sign of any Turtle Doves – it was rather exposed to the wind here. The field beyond held just a few Woodpigeons and Red-legged Partridges, plus a single Egyptian Goose in the paddocks beyond.

We had enough time to explore Fen Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed before lunch. On the walk down to the visitor centre, we heard first a Chiffchaff and then a Goldcrest singing, and saw the latter in a tree over the path right above our heads. Some Long-tailed Tits were calling from the sallows too.

Fen Trail was rather quiet – again it was rather windy here in the trees today – but there was more activity out at Patsy’s Reedbed. Just about the first bird we saw was a male Red-crested Pochard in the middle of the water, its coral red bill really shining in the sun. When a duller brown female flew in a little later and landed near the bank, he steamed straight over to her and the two of them started feeding together.

Red-crested PochardRed-crested Pochard – this drake was on Patsy’s Reedbed

The water was rather choppy and most of the other ducks were sleeping around the edge. There were quite a few Common Pochard and several Tufted Duck, plus the usual Mallard and Gadwall. There were a couple of smart Great Crested Grebes too and one of them gave us a nice flyby.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on Patsy’s Reedbed

After lunch back in the picnic area, we set out along the main trail to explore the rest of the reserve. The Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ was very dry and pretty lifeless – apart from lots of Woodpigeons! The reedbed pool was rather quiet too today, perhaps because of the wind. We did see a Little Grebe on here and a Bearded Tit did a brief zoom across one way and then back the other shortly after.

Island Hide provided a welcome opportunity to get out of the wind and check out the freshmarsh. The first bird we picked up was a Little Tern, roosting on one of the islands. There were actually three on here today, with another pair resting further over, always great birds to see. There have been several Little Gulls here recently, all young 1st summer birds, and a scan of the freshmarsh confirmed that there were still three of those here too.

Little GullLittle Gull – one of three on the freshmarsh today

We watched the Little Gulls for a while, flying up into the wind, hanging in the air, and dip feeding in the shallow water behind one of the islands. Interestingly, there seems to be a turnover of different Little Gulls on the site, as the rather dark headed one we saw here a few days ago was not one of the three here today.

Early June is not the best time of year for waders, although it is only a matter of days before the first returning birds (of ‘autumn’?!) start to appear. There are plenty of the breeding waders here though, particularly Avocets, a small number of which had small juveniles scattered around the mud. There were a couple of Redshanks here too, though more of these are out on the saltmarsh.

AvocetAvocet – always easy to see on the freshmarsh here at this time of year

A group of non-breeding Black-tailed Godwits, most likely first summer birds, was sleeping on one of the islands and a larger group of Bar-tailed Godwits had probably fled the wind and tide out at the beach and was roosting in the shallow water. A lone male Ruff was out on the mud. This bird has been here for a while now, having moulted into summer plumage but not developed a distinctive ‘ruff’. It appears to have no intention of going north for the breeding season, again possibly a young 1st summer male.

Bar-tailed GodwitsBar-tailed Godwits – escaping the beach to roost on the Freshmarsh

Summer is not the season for large flocks of dabbling ducks, with most of the wintering birds having gone north to breed. However, there are plenty of Shelduck and Gadwall here still, plus a few Shoveler. There were a few more Teal today, more than we have seen for a while, perhaps failed breeders or early moving drakes which have not come from so far away.

Braving the wind again, we made our way round to the shelter of Parrinder Hide next. The Little Gulls were a little closer from here, but we were looking into the sun which hindered our photographic efforts. We had a look at the fenced off island which now houses a sizeable colony of Black-headed Gulls. The vegetation is really growing up now, but we managed to get a look at two or three Mediterranean Gulls which are nesting in there too.

The tide was starting to come in again now and, coupled with the wind, was probably encouraging more waders to leave the beach. A small flock of Oystercatchers flew in and landed on the edge of the mud, bringing with them a single Turnstone. We decided to brave the beach ourselves, for a quick look at the sea.

There was almost nothing on Volunteer Marsh as we passed, just a few Avocets and Black-headed Gulls. Once we got out of the lee of the bank, it was very gusty out at the Tidal Pools. A small party of Turnstone flew in and tried to land in the vegetation at the back, while being buffeted by the wind. There were more Avocets here and several of these had small chicks. We watched a pair trying to lead their brood across a deep channel, with the fluffy juveniles swimming in the choppy water.

It was very windy out at the beach, and the sand was being blown across. With the tide coming in, there were very few birds here now. The sea itself was churning and very brown with sand, and there was next to nothing feeding offshore.

We walked back quickly to the comparative shelter of the bank and stopped to have a quick look at freshmarsh again. There were more waders on here now, in particular more Turnstones in with the Bar-tailed Godwits. A closer look revealed a party of five grey Knot with them too. The pair of Little Terns took off and flew past us, standing on the bank, disappearing out towards Thornham Harbour presumably to feed.

Little TernLittle Tern – flew past us from the Freshmarsh out towards Thornham Harbour

Back at the car, we started to make our way back east. We stopped at Holkham on the way, for a quick scan from the roadside. We could see several large white birds circling round over the trees. Spoonbills, possibly including some newly fledged juveniles making their first flights. A few more Spoonbills were perched in the trees below them, just visible through the scope.

A Great White Egret flew low across the grazing marshes and landed in the rushes out of view. A quick view, but always nice to see. A pair of Marsh Harriers were flying around over the field nearby, the male circling overhead, the female landing down in the grass below.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – the male circling over in front of us

The plan was to walk out from Lady Anne’s Drive, but when we got there the gate was closed. A parking attendant in a high viz jacket was standing nearby, so we stopped to ask what the problem was. We thought it was due to the building work going on there, but instead we were told it was due to the wind. ‘Health & Saftety guv’nor’ was the response, as he pointed to the trees. Falling branches or trees were conspicuous by their absence and the wind has been much stronger here without any problems, but this is typical of the culture we live in today. He directed us to Wells to walk in from there – neglecting to realise that this would mean walking through the pines!

A quick rethink, and we decided to head for Stiffkey Fen instead. A smart pale male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the field by the road as we parked. Blackcap and Chiffchaff were singing in the trees as we walked down the path. There had been rather few butterflies out today in the wind, but we started to see a few in the sunny sheltered spots along the hedgerows – Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral.

Meadow BrownMeadow Brown – the highlight of the butterflies on a windy day

When we got to a point from which we could see over the brambles, we stopped to have a quick look out at the Fen. The first thing we saw was a Spoonbill. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do best, and fast asleep. Two Little Ringed Plovers were on the grassy edge of one of the islands. Otherwise, the water level on here was surprisingly high today, and the birds were dominated by lots of large gulls. A few Avocets appeared to be nesting still.

From up on the seawall, we had a better look over the Fen. Amongst the Herring Gulls, we could see several Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple of immature Great Black-backed Gulls. We could the distinctive call of Mediterranean Gulls and turned to watch as two smart adults flew in from the harbour. They were joined by a third, and all of them circled over the Fen calling for a minute or so, before disappearing off inland. A short while later, another two Mediterranean Gulls flew in, again both adults, and we got great views as they flew right past us.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – we saw several flying around the Fen today

We had a quick look out at the harbour from the seawall. One of the seal boats flushed a Spoonbill from the far side, which flew across towards us before flying off west over the saltmarsh. It was an adult, so possible heading back to the colony at Holkham.We could see a few distant terns, with several Little Terns and Common Terns. One bird right over the far side looked more interesting – pale wing tips and rather long-tailed, possibly an Arctic Tern. We walked round to the edge of the harbour for a closer look.

There are not so many waders here at this time of year, but we did find two Bar-tailed Godwits with the large group of roosting Oystercatchers. There were two Ringed Plovers out on the mud at the near side of the harbour too. Two men were out walking their dog around the harbour, right out on the edge of the water. They flushed various birds as they went, but two terns which flew up looked like Arctic Terns. Unfortunately, they quickly landed again and didn’t come back up, so we couldn’t all get on them.

The afternoon was getting on now, and we had more to do this evening, so it was time to head for home.

One target for these three days was to look for for Nightjars, and tonight looked the best option in terms of weather. The wind seemed to be dropping as forecast early evening, but by 8.30pm it had picked up again. Still, it was not as windy as earlier, so we decided to give it a go anyway.

It was rather cool and breezy as we walked out over the heath. A Woodcock called – rather like a squeaky gate – and we watched as it flew along the edge of the trees, roding. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees behind us. We positioned ourselves by a favoured Nightjar perch, and right on cue, one of the males called and then started churring. But at that point it started to spit with rain – this was definitely not in the forecast!

The other male Nightjars eventually started churring, and at one point we could hear three at same time on different sides of us, but after a few minutes two of them went quiet. One of the males normally comes in to the perch in front of us to churr at some point, but it became clear it was not coming in to its favoured post tonight. Perhaps it was the weather. We decided to walk across the heath to try to see one of the other churring males, but he too went quiet before we got there.

There was still one Nightjar churring in the distance and a second started up behind us, so we stood and listened to them for a couple of minutes. It is a great sound. Then we walked back to where we had been standing earlier. When we got back near the tree, we could hear wing clapping out over heather. The light was fading fast now, but we could just see a pair of Nightjars chasing around, the white flashes on the wings and tail of the male standing out in the gloom.

We walked down another path, thinking from the lower ground there we might be able to get them against the sky rather than the heather, but instead the Nightjars seemed to come in to investigate. The next thing we knew we had them circling round us, wing-clapping. Great stuff! We stood for a short while and watched them, before they disappeared back into the gloom, a nice way to end the day. It was getting rather dark now, so we made our way back.

3rd June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The thunderstorms overnight had passed through but the associated weather front was slow to clear this morning, resulting in a cloudy and cool start. However, it brightened up nicely in the afternoon and was sunny and warm by the end of the day.

Given the weather, we decided to start at Cley today. A Black-winged Stilt had been reported here first thing, so we went out to see if we could see it. We walked out to the hides and found a few people in there who pointed it straight out to us.

Black-winged StiltBlack-winged Stilt – still a rare visitor to North Norfolk

Black-winged Stilts were formerly a mainly Mediterranean species, but have spread north in recent years and are occurring more regularly in the UK. Birds have stayed to breed in the past and, after a significant influx of Black-winged Stilts into the UK earlier in the year, there are some attempting to breed this year. Over the longer term, with a warming climate, it is a species which might be expected to colonise here. As well as pairs which may breed, there are some wandering lone birds here this year and the Cley Black-winged Stilt was one of those. A very nice bird to see here and very distinctive with its long pink legs and black wings.

While we were in the hides, we had a scan of the scrapes. On Simmond’s Scrape, there were a few other waders – Avocets, Redshanks and a lone Dunlin with summer black belly patch. There were several Little Ringed Plovers out on the islands and a pair were displaying, the male flying round after the female with exaggerated wingbeats. When they landed again, the male stood in front of the female with his white chest pushed out – she didn’t seem particularly impressed and ran away!

Little Ringed PloverLittle Ringed Plover – there were several on Simmond’s Scrape today

The big creche of Shelducklings was still here, but split into two groups today. The smaller ones were huddled in the grass with the female Shelduck, whereas the eight larger ducklings were feeding feverishly, swimming round in circles in the water. There were lots of Gadwall too, all drakes and all sat around on one of the islands sleeping, presumably having largely finished their limited parenting role already.

Looking over on Pat’s Pool, there were several Avocets nesting on the islands and a couple of small chicks running around, as usual largely ignored by their parents. Is it any wonder they are so vulnerable to predation! A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds beyond.

Avocet chicksAvocet chicks – these two were running around unattended on Pat’s Pool

We made our way back to the visitor centre and then round to the East Bank next. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the thin line of reeds along the ditch on the east side of the path, giving us a great chance to get a proper look at it. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing and displaying along the East Bank this morning, which was nice to hear. The Reed Warblers in contrast have gone rather quiet though we saw odd ones flicking around on the edge of the reeds.

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – showing very well along the East Bank

As we walked out along the bank, we scanned the grazing marshes around the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were quite a few Lapwings and Redshanks out here as usual, both of which breed here. A Common Snipe along the edge of the Serpentine was more of a surprise. They used to breed here but sadly not any more and now are mostly seen in winter. This is the first we have seen here for several weeks now.

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – feeding on the edge of the Serpentine

There were the usual ducks and geese on the grazing marshes here – Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler and Greylag Goose. Most of the wintering species have long since departed, but there are still a few birds lingering here. We found two drake Wigeon here as usual this morning, but there seemed to be more Teal today, including a couple of pairs.

It was quite windy today, so not an ideal day for looking for Bearded Tits. We heard one or two calling briefly from out in the reedbed on the walk out but couldn’t see them – they were presumably keeping tucked well down in the reeds. When we heard another call, we turned to look hoping to catch a glimpse of one zooming past over the tops of the reeds and were pleasantly surprised to see a male Bearded Tit flying straight towards us which dropped down on the near edge of reeds.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – this male was collecting food along the edge of the reeds

The Bearded Tit spent several minutes feeding along the edge of the reeds in front of us, clambering around through the reed stems just above the surface of the ditch. It was collecting food, and kept stopping to look down into the water or to pick around in the reed debris on the bank beyond. We got great views of it as it did so.

When the Bearded Tit finally disappeared back into the reeds, we continued along the bank to Arnold’s Marsh. There were not as many birds on here as there have been recently, but we still managed to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit, a lone Dunlin and one Ringed Plover hiding in the saltmarsh at the back. Otherwise it was just the usual Avocets and Redshanks on here today. A Meadow Pipit was singing and song flighting, fluttering up and parachuting down, to a fencepost nearby.

We made our way out to have a look at the sea. It can be rather quiet at this time of the year, but there were a few Sandwich Terns flying past offshore, which was a new bird for the weekend’s list. A Little Tern flew east but was gone before everyone could get onto it. Thankfully, a short while later four Little Terns flew back west overhead, calling noisily. A pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over behind us, helpfully also calling which alerted us to their presence. We could see their distinctive white wing tips as they passed.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – one of a pair of adult which flew past us

Scanning out over the sea, we picked up a line of Common Scoter flying west, fourteen of them flying low over the sea, followed shortly after by another four. One of the group then spotted a distant Guillemot on the sea, which we just all managed to see before it flew off. Three Gannets flew east.

The weather forecast had been for it to brighten up this morning, but the cloud was only now starting to break up as we walked back. We decided to stop for lunch back at the visitor centre before heading up onto the Heath for the afternoon.

As soon as we got out of the car up on the Heath, we could hear Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats singing. As we walked up the path, a Yellowhammer was singing too, perched in the top of a birch tree. There were plenty of Linnets in the gorse as we walked round, in small family parties now, twittering noisily as they flew off.

LinnetLinnet – still a relatively common bird up in the Heath

There was no sign of any Dartford Warblers today at the first place we checked – they can be very elusive, keeping hidden in the heather and gorse – so we carried on round the Heath to try another spot. We stopped to look at a group of Small Eggar Moth caterpillars in their silk ‘tent’ in the bushes and while we were standing there a Garden Warbler started alarm calling nearby. It flew up into a small oak tree where we could just see it flitting around in the leaves before it flew off deeper into the trees.

Small Eggar moth caterpillarsSmall Eggar Moth caterpillars – in their ‘tent’

As we walked down along a wide path, a Woodlark flew up from across the Heath and started to sing, circling around above us. We could hear its rather mournful song, before it fluttered away from us out of earshot, still singing, and dropped back down to the ground some distance away. We saw it twice today – a little later, it flew up again and came back over us singing, before dropping back down over where it had first come up from. With the male Woodlark flying round and singing on his own again, perhaps this pair of Woodlarks are now incubating their second brood already.

While we were watching the Woodlark singing overhead, we could hear the scratchy song of a Dartford Warbler in the distance too, so made our way quickly round to where it appeared to be coming from. It was all quiet when we got there, but we stood and listened for a while. A pair of Stonechats kept us entertained, perching up on the top of the gorse calling and dropping down to the ground to look for food.

Suddenly a Dartford Warbler started singing and we turned to see the male on the top of a gorse bush just a couple of metres away from us. It had probably been feeding quietly down in the gorse all the time we had been standing there! We had a great view of him. After a couple of seconds he dropped back into the vegetation, but a minute or so later he flew up and started songflighting, hovering in the air and singing.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – the male suddenly appeared right next to us, singing

The male Dartford Warbler dropped down out of view further along the path, so we walked quietly round after him. Suddenly a bird appeared out on the edge of the path, but it was shorter tailed than an adult Dartford Warbler and rather duller coloured. It was a recently fledged juvenile, out of the nest now, but with its tail not yet fully grown. Once the young are big enough, the adults lead them from the nest and feed them in the heather and gorse, moving round their territory.

The juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up into a small birch tree by the path and we stood back to watch from a discrete distance. It was mostly hidden by the leaves, but we could see it was being fed by an adult and when that bird hopped up onto a bush nearby, it was the female Dartford Warbler, not so richly coloured below as the male.

We stood and watched the Dartford Warblers quietly for some time as the female kept returning to feed the juveniles, which were now well hidden deep in the heather. There was no sign of the male for quite a while, but then suddenly he flew in again, and started singing. We listened to him for a few minutes, but as he moved away across the Heath we decided it was then time for us to move on too.

The afternoon was already getting on, but we had a quick look round the rest of the Heath. There is a pair of Turtle Doves here, and we checked out a couple of favoured spots, but we couldn’t hear them today. Now that the sun had come out, there was a bit of raptor activity – several Buzzards circled up over the ridge and we came across a Kestrel flying round between the trees. There were butterflies too – the highlight being a Green Hairstreak fluttering around a gorse bush. Then we decided to head back back to the car – we all needed  a break and a chance to get something to eat before the evening’s activities began.

Green HairstreakGreen Hairstreak – the butterfly highlight on the Heath this afternoon

After a break, we met up again later, in the early evening. We were heading out to look for Nightjars later, but we thought we would see if we could find any owls first. We swung round via some old farm buildings, a good site for Little Owl, but there was no sign of any out in the early evening sunshine. Perhaps it was still a bit early? A couple of Brown Hares chased each other round between the buildings, but quickly lost interest. A pair of Red-legged Partridges were perched up on roof enjoying the sun.

We had other things we wanted to do tonight, so we moved quickly on. We had more luck at the second site we stopped at. We got out of the car and as we were walking down along the path, we saw our first Barn Owl out hunting in the distance. A second Barn Owl appeared too, possibly a pair, although this is a good area for them and there can be several birds here. We watched the birds hunting out over the grass. They were rather distant at first, but then one flew in towards us and landed on a post briefly – we just had time for everyone to get a good look at it in the scope before it was off hunting again.

Barn Owl 1Barn Owl – out hunting in the early evening sunshine

Walking on a bit further down the path, we could still see one of the Barn Owls out hunting along the bank some way ahead of us. It dropped down into the grass a couple of times, but came up empty taloned. Finally it caught something, probably a vole. It flew back towards us carrying it in its talons and was just about to fly past us when a Kestrel suddenly appeared from nowhere and swooped at it. The two of them tangled in a flurry of wings and the Kestrel made a grab for the vole, they looked locked together for a split second. They parted again and the Barn Owl dropped to the ground, with the Kestrel swooping at it from above.

The Kestrel backed off, and after a few seconds the Barn Owl flew up again with the vole in its bill now. But the Kestrel had not given up and set off after it again. We lost sight of the two of them behind some buildings, but a few seconds later, the Barn Owl reappeared with no sign of its prey. It sat on a post looking slightly lost – all that effort for nothing!

Barn Owl 3Barn Owl – perched on a post after apparently losing its prey to a Kestrel

It was getting time to go looking for Nightjars now, so we made our way up to the heath. It was quiet at first as we walked out. We flushed a Roe Deer from beside the path, which ran off into the trees. A squeaky call, rather like a gate which needs oiling, alerted us to the first roding Woodcock of the evening, flying over the tops of the trees. We stopped to listen for more Woodcock but we heard a Nightjar instead, just a quick burst of churring, before it went quiet. It was a bit earlier than normal so we moved on and got ourselves into position.

While we were standing there, another two Woodcock flew out of the trees calling and away overhead. It was a lovely evening now, with a bright half moon in the sky and Jupiter visible close by. After that early churr, the Nightjars were then slow to get started properly this evening. Eventually we heard one call, and then some more quiet churring.

Then finally the Nightjars got going properly. We stood and listened to them churring for a while, at least three males, possibly four in earshot from where we were standing. We were waiting for one male in particular, but it sounded like he had gone off in the wrong direction across the heath and it began to seem like wouldn’t be coming in to his favourite churring post, which we could see in front of us.

Eventually, we decided to walk down the path to see if we could find where it had gone. Suddenly we heard a burst of wing clapping out over the gorse and the Nightjar flew in low right towards us. It swooped up onto its favourite branch but unfortunately this was just at the moment when we were walking past the tree. We were too close – it saw us and flew again, across and up into the next tree over. This one has more leaves so the Nightjar is harder to see, but we eventually found him perched. We got it in the scope, and could see it silhouetted against the fading light behind, churring.

NightjarNightjar – silhouetted against the fading light in a leafy tree

We stood and listened to the Nightjar for a while. Then it was off again – it swooped down across path the path and away low over the heath. It was starting to get too dark to see them clearly now, so we we started to make our way back. Two more Nightjars were churring from the trees as we walked back, slipping away into the night as we approached. There is no better way to spend an early summer’s evening than up on the heath listening to the amazing churring of Nightjars.

30th July 2016 – Day Birds & Night Birds

A Summer Tour today, followed by a Nightjar Evening. We were lucky with the weather – mostly bright & sunny and we avoided any showers. We spent the morning inland looking for Birds of Prey, the afternoon looking for waders at Titchwell, and the evening looking for owls and Nightjars.

We saw our first raptors already from the car, as we made our way inland away from the coast. A Common Buzzard flew low over the road and disappeared over the hedge the other side. A couple of Kestrels were perched on the wires as we drove along. Some large flocks of corvids, Rooks and Jackdaws, were gathered in the stubble fields making the most of whatever the harvesters had left behind.

We parked by a farm track and started to walk up it. As we passed a gateway, a Sparrowhawk flushed from a telegraph post on the edge of a field and flew away in a typical burst of flapping followed by a long glide. A Yellowhammer sang from the wires and let us get quite close today, a bright yellow-headed male. A Common Whitethroat darted in and out of the hedge as we walked along and a Song Thrush flew along ahead of us. A flock of tits making their way through the bushes had a Blackcap or two to accompany them.

6O0A7021Yellowhammer – singing from the wires

The overgrown verges and hedges either side of the track were alive with butterflies. There were lots of newly emerged Red Admirals, really fresh at the moment and looking very smart. Several Painted Ladys included one which posed nicely for the cameras. The Ringlets are looking a bit tatty and faded now, but there was no shortage of Gatekeepers and a few Commas too. The only skipper which stopped long enough to be formally identified was a Small Skipper.

6O0A7041Painted Lady – looking very smart in the sunshine

Up on slightly higher ground, we stopped at a convenient place with a good vista over the surrounding countryside. As usual, there was a nice selection of birds of prey on show from here. We could hear Common Buzzards calling from the trees behind us and as it warmed up they started to circle up. A Kestrel hovered over the field in front of us. A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered slowly over but was quickly seen off by the resident raptors.

After a while watching from here, we had a walk on down the back and then followed a footpath round the fields. A couple of Skylarks came up from the weedy margin of a field. We could hear the begging call of a juvenile Kestrel and turned to see the youngster chasing its parent across in front of a line of trees, presumably asking for food. A Stock Dove perched on the top of a barn roof. Swallows and House Martins hawked for insects overhead and a Greenfinch wheezed from the trees. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over calling.

6O0A7083Long-tailed Tit – calling overhead as we ate our lunch

Our next stop today was Titchwell. We arrived just in time for an early lunch, so made our way over to the picnic area. A couple of Speckled Wood butterflies chased each other in the dappled sunshine. A flock of Long-tailed Tits worked their way through the trees overhead as we ate.

After lunch, we walked out along main path. The grazing marsh ‘pool’ is now very dry and largely birdless (1 Lapwing, 1 Black-headed Gull, 1 Woodpigeon!) – a sorry sight. There was a lot more action on the reedbed pool. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out in the middle, we could see her dark cap, pale cheeks and pale-tipped black bill. There was a nice selection of other ducks too – Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Common Pochard and a couple of juvenile Tufted Ducks.

As we were walking up towards Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them from here. We could see a dozen Spoonbills out on the edge of one of the islands and, as usual, they were mostly asleep. Occasionally one would lift its head and flash its spoon-shaped bill. Lurking down on the mud at the front, we could see two very well camouflaged Little Ringed Plovers with alone Dunlin.

IMG_5512Spoonbills – twelve today, mostly asleep as usual

From the comfort of Island Hide, we scanned the freshmarsh for waders.There are no shortage of them at Titchwell at the moment – vast throngs of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets, around 400 of each in recent counts. In amongst them are a fair number of moulting Ruff. A line of godwits out in the middle were Bar-tailed Godwits, some males still mostly in summer plumage with bright rusty underparts right down onto the belly. They had come to roost here over high tide out on the beach, along with a couple of Turnstones.

6O0A7099Avocet – almost 400 are at Titchwell at the moment

As well as the larger waders, there were several flocks of Dunlin scattered round the edges of the islands. Most are adults still with their summer black belly patches, but numbers of streaky-bellied juveniles are steadily increasing now. In on of the groups of feeding Dunlin, we found the Little Stint, noticeably smaller, short billed, and clean white below.

There appeared to be no sign of any Curlew Sandpipers at first, but a careful look though a large flock of roosting Dunlin over with the Bar-tailed Godwits revealed a little patch of deep rusty colour in the middle of the throng. As the flock of Dunlin shuffled, the birds either side eventually parted to reveal two moulting adult Curlew Sandpipers, their orange underparts now liberally specked with white. One then woke up, flew over to the mud and started feeding so we could get a better look at it.

IMG_5532Curlew Sandpiper – one of two moulting adults today

The Bearded Tits were proving frustrating. The reeds are now too tall at one end of the hide to see their favoured edge of the reedbed and they didn’t seem to keen to work their way along and into view today. Another two Bearded Tits were calling from the reeds right in front of the other end of the hide, also out of view, and then flew right across in front of the hide and disappeared deep into the main reedbed. A very tatty adult Marsh Harrier, worn out after the rigours of the breeding season, drifted across the reeds.

Another birder arriving in the hide let us know that the Bearded Tits were showing from the main path just outside, so we walked up the slope and immediately spotted a juvenile Bearded Tit on the edge of the reeds below us. This time we got a good view of it, as it hopped around on the mud.

Round at Parrinder Hide, it didn’t take long to find the Spotted Redshanks, hiding in the far corner as usual. We could only see five from here, but they kept disappearing from view behind the islands. A single Golden Plover, still in black-bellied summer plumage, was hiding behind the fence on the island. A gaggle of noisy Greylags were hanging around right in front of the hide, but a smart Black-tailed Godwit was lurking in with them, very close where we could get a great look at it.

6O0A7155Black-tailed Godwit – in front of Parrinder Hide

We had a quick look in at the Volunteer Marsh and the tidal pools, but there was very little on either, mainly a few roosting Curlews. Out at the beach, the tide was in. The sea was more productive, with a raft raft of about 30 Common Scoter offshore and a couple of other lone ones closer in. A Great Crested Grebe was also out on the water and a distant Gannet flew slowly east.

6O0A7184Whimbrel – these six flew off west at the end of the day

As we made our way way back past the Volunteer Marsh, we heard a Whimbrel call. We looked over to see two come up from the marsh. As they circled over calling, more Whimbrel flew up, one at a time until we could see six of them circling over together. They appeared to go down towards the freshmarsh, but later on as we were walking back past they reedbed they flew overhead in a tight flock, disappearing away to the west.

As we passed the freshmarsh, a moulting Ruff was feeding close by the main path.

6O0A7180Ruff – still with some rusty & black summer feathers

We took a detour round via Meadow Trail on the way back and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. A couple of Little Grebes on the pool were an addition to the day’s list, and there were still some small juvenile Avocets on the islands, but nothing else out of the ordinary today.

The Autumn Trail has only recently opened this year, so we walked round to take a look at the back of the freshmarsh. Now we could see the Spotted Redshanks properly and found there were actually ten of them lurking mostly out of view from the other hides. The majority of them are now mostly in silvery grey/white winter plumage, but one was still liberally blotched with black underneath.

IMG_5541Spotted Redshank – mostly in winter plumage now

Then, with a busy evening ahead of us, it was time to call it a day and head back to the car.

Nightjar Evening

After a break for a rest and to get something to eat, we met again later on for the Nightjar Evening. With a bit of time before sunset, we went looking for owls first. At our first stop, the Little Owls performed well again. One was perched up rather distantly when we arrived, a good start, but it flew away out of sight fairly quickly.

We waited for a few minutes and then a second Little Owl appeared much closer to us on the roof of an old barn. It sat in full view looking around for a minute or so, then disappeared inside. Shortly after, it reappeared and gave great views, first on the roof and then flying up and perching in the evening sunshine. Another Little Owl was calling further over behind it.

IMG_5576Little Owl – appeared on the barn roof at dusk

With the evenings already drawing in, we did not have so much time to look for Barn Owls. They have been coming out very late this year anyway, perhaps reflective of a poor breeding season and a distinct lack of voles. We drove round some regular hunting areas and had a quick walk out to the place we normally see them.

There was a beautiful sunset away to the west. A couple of tight flocks of Swifts came screaming overhead, chasing each other in circles. But there was no sign of any Barn Owls out yet. We didn’t want to be late for the main event, so decided to head up to the Heath in good time rather than hang around any longer.

6O0A7195Swifts – screaming overhead late this evening

Up at the heath, we did not have to wait long before the first Nightjar started churring. It churred and called intermittently at first, from the safety of its roost site. The as the light started to fade, they started to fly around. The first Nightjar we saw flew up high against the sky, silhouetted above the trees. Another then flew in towards us and right past, possibly a female as it appeared to lack the white in the wings shown by the male. The resident (where we were standing) male Nightjar then flew across along the edge of the trees, flashing his white wing and tail patches. Another male circled low around an oak tree further over.

All the time, we could hear the males churring, at least three separate males within immediate earshot, not least because we had positioned ourselves along the boundary for two territories. As the Nightjars flew round we could hear their loud ‘koo-wick’ calls and even the wing clapping of the males. Just as it was getting dark, one of the male Nightjars flew up and landed on a dead branch sticking out of the very top of an oak tree. It was a really evocative sight to see it perched there, silhouetted against the deep blue night sky, churrring into the gathering gloom.

As the dark descended, we made our way back to the car, serenaded by the churring of Nightjars.

23rd July 2016 – Out Day & Night

Another Summer Tour today, the second of a 3-day long weekend of tours. We spent the morning looking for Birds of Prey, the afternoon at Titchwell and the evening with Owls and Nightjars. It was a lovely, warm, sunny day, perfect summer birding weather.

To start the day, we drove inland, meandering our way from the coast. There were still lots of House Martins coming in and out of the eaves of the houses and barns around the villages. At one point, we came across a large gathering of House Martins on the wires, which all took off just as we drove up. A reminder that the breeding season is slowly coming to an end, and autumn is just around the corner!

We parked by a farm track and walked up a lane with thick hedges either side. We could hear Yellowhammers singing, and one perched briefly on the wires ahead of us, but unfortunately not long enough for all the group to get onto it. Several Common Whitethroats darted in and out of the vegetation ahead of us, flying out from the hedge and further along the track before diving back in. A couple of Blackbirds did the same thing too.

There were lots of butterflies out in the overgrown verges here – Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Red Admirals, bright orange Commas and several Skippers, of which the only one that stopped long enough for us to confirm the ID was an Essex Skipper. A rather smart Longhorn Beetle (going by the catchy name of Agapanthia villosoviridescens!) unfortunately wasn’t hanging around either.

6O0A6553Essex Skipper – a wide variety of butterflies were along the track

Up on slightly higher ground, we found a convenient place to stand with a good view of the surrounding countryside. We managed to see a variety of raptors from here. As the air warmed, the Common Buzzards started to circle up, calling. Eventually we could see them in all directions. As one circled high above the fields, we could see a smaller bird of prey above it, which then started diving at it – a Sparrowhawk. A distant Marsh Harrier spiralled up too, as did a Kestrel or two.

There were other birds here too. We could see a big flock of Swifts & House Martins over some trees, hawking for insects. A smaller group of Swallows appeared over a distant field. A couple of Stock Doves flew back and forth and Skylarks sang overhead or fluttered over the fields. We regularly heard the twitter of Linnets overhead too. Another Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge just along from us, but it was on the wrong side and we couldn’t see it from here. A Chiffchaff called and worked its way along the hedge into the trees.

After a while, we decided to walk back. We could hear a soft tacking call from the tall hedge ahead of us, not as harsh as a Blackcap, more like the ‘tsk, tsk’ of someone tutting. It sounded like a Lesser Whitethroat, and as we got closer our suspicions were confirmed when it hopped up into top of hedge. It seemed to be annoyed at something, but we couldn’t see what, and it quickly appeared to transfer its ire to us instead as we passed.

6O0A6547Lesser Whitethroat – tacking from the hedge as we walked along

As we walked back towards the car, we could hear another Yellowhammer singing. This one we finally managed to get in the scope so everyone could see it. A nice bright yellow male, we could see its throat moving as it sang. A Bullfinch called from somewhere behind us, but it was not so obliging and remained hidden deep in bushes.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – a smart male taken here earlier in the year

From here, we meandered our way west. The fields and verges are nicely overgrown now, but it does mean it is harder to see much on our way past. A nice addition to the day’s list was provided by an adult Mediterranean Gull which circled over the road with several Black-headed Gulls, flashing its bright white wing tips, before dropping down into a field out of sight behind the hedge.

Dropping back down to the coast, we made our way to Titchwell. It was not too busy, so we had a quick look around the overflow car park. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove which has been here recently (though we found out why later!). There were lots of Greenfinches in the bushes, and a couple of Chaffinches too. A flock of tits came through – Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits – and accompanying them were a couple of Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler.

There were more tits and finches on the feeders in front of the visitor centre. Given the time, we decided to walk out to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed first. We made a brief stop in in at Fen Hide on the way past, but the pool is now overgrown with reeds and all was quiet, so we didn’t stay long.

When we got to Patsy’s Reedbed, just about the first bird we set eyes on was a female Red-crested Pochard, out in front of the screen. The pale-tipped dark bill immediately set it apart from an eclipse male, which still retains its bright red bill even in eclipse plumage. Three full grown juvenile Common Pochard were asleep in front of the screen too. A Great Crested Grebe nearby was bathing at first, then started swimming around with its head underwater, looking for food. Further over, a Little Grebe was diving constantly. Several Avocets out here still had young in various stakes of development.

IMG_5271Red-crested Pochard – a female

With the morning gone already, we made our way back to the picnic area for lunch. We found a bit of shade. As we got up to leave, a Robin was sunning itself in a bright spot by the bench.

6O0A6559Robin – sunning itself

After lunch, we made our way out onto the main part of the reserve. The grazing marsh ‘pool’ is still mostly dry, but for a few puddles, which held very few birds today. The reedbed pool was more productive. Another Great Crested Grebe had two well-grown young in tow and another Little Grebe had a very small juvenile with it. A female Tufted Duck was also accompanied by two small ducklings, and there were a few Common Pochard, a single Shoveler and a couple of Teal, to go with the regular Mallard, providing a nice selection of wildfowl.

We could hear the ‘pinging’ call of Bearded Tits from the reeds further along but there was no sign of any from the main path when we got there. There was a nice cooling breeze now, but this meant they were probably keeping their heads down. A distant Marsh Harrier circled up briefly, but otherwise they were rather quiet this afternoon.

Before we even got to Island Hide, we could see several Spoonbills out on the freshmarsh. There were at least eight of them, tucked in on the edge of one of the islands, doing what Spoonbills do best, sleeping! Occasionally one or other would lift its head briefly, flashing its bill, before tucking it back in and going back to sleep.

IMG_5276Spoonbills – we could see at least 8 asleep on the freshmarsh

From the hide, we could see a nice selection of different waders out on freshmarsh. A careful scan with the scope picked up the Little Stint, out on one of the islands. It was mostly on own, but worked its way along towards the Dunlin, at which point it was possible to see just how ‘Little’ it was. We counted 37 Dunlin today, numbers along the coast are steadily increasing now, along with a single Knot. There were also lots of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits, and a selection of Ruff in a confusing array of colours as they moult out of their gaudy breeding plumage.

6O0A6567

Lots of gulls and terns were loafing around on the islands. We could see lots of Common Terns, and several Sandwich Terns as well today. A careful scan through them and we came across one with an all-red bill, shorter than a Common, and also very short legs – a single Arctic Tern. In amongst all the Black-headed Gulls we found a single Common Gull, and several Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A couple of juvenile Shelduck were dabbling in the mud in front of the hide.

6O0A6563

The biggest surprise from Island Hide was finding the Turtle Dove feeding quietly on the grassy margin of the main island. It was very distant from here and inside the new wire fence, but even at that range we could see its bright rusty orange back and wings and pinkish breast. A couple of Bearded Tits made a most welcome appearance form the hide, feeding on the mud, in and out of the edge of the reeds, two bright tawny-coloured juveniles.

IMG_5294

Round at the Parrinder Hide, we finally located the Spotted Redshanks just where we thought they might be, in the far corner. There were at least seven, though probably quite a few more as they kept disappearing behind the islands. One was still liberally speckled with black summer plumage, but the rest were mostly in their silvery grey winter garb.

A juvenile Little Ringed Plover was in and out of view on a patch of drier mud, and we heard two Common Sandpipers calling as they helpfully dropped in along the water’s edge nearby. A Whimbrel did much the same – we heard it calling as it approached and, after circling over the hide, it dropped down out in the middle for a quick bathe before flying off again. A second Whimbrel didn’t even land. The vast majority of the Black-tailed Godwits which we get here are Icelandic (subspecies islandica), but it is possible to find the occasional Continental Black-tailed Godwit (limosa) too sometimes. It can be a bit of a dark art at this time of year, with subtle features relating to size and structure being the main things to look for, but a challenge was issued and we did find a single limosa out at the back of the freshmarsh.

The Yellow Wagtails proved slightly elusive at first, with just a quick glimpse of one on the fence. But eventually they gave themselves up nicely, at least three of them. A juvenile landed on the mud in front of the hide, a female perched up on the fence again and a nice bright male was unfortunately right at the opposite side against the reeds, but still stood out like a sore thumb! The Turtle Dove also put in a brief appearance a bit closer from here, but disappeared immediately out of view. When the Spoonbills finally woke up they flew off over the bank towards Brancaster.

Unfortunately, at this stage, we were running out of time – there had been so much to see around the freshmarsh today. We had a quick look at the Volunteer Marsh, but it was very quiet out there, then it was back to the car and heading for home.

Nightjar Evening

We met up again later on, after a break and something to eat, for the Nightjar Evening. Our first target was to look for some owls, and Little Owl was a particular request, so we drove out to a favoured spot. It didn’t take long to find a distant Little Owl perched up on some old farm buildings. We got it in the scope but after a couple of minutes it flew down to the ground and was lost to view. Only at this point did we realise that a second Little Owl was perched on another barn much closer to us. We got great views of it in the scope, sitting quietly in the last of the evening sunshine soaking up some rays. A Brown Hare appeared and also provided a nice distraction.

IMG_5327Little Owl – enjoying the evening sunshine

From here it was on to look for Barn Owls. Normally they are very busy at this time of year, with young about to fledge, but this year our regular area appears rather quieter. There are several pairs around here, but the birds at the moment are not appearing until much later in the evening. It seems most likely that the cold, wet spring has affected breeding success. One Barn Owl eventually came out, a female, and started hunting. We watched it working its way back and forth around a field. When it did finally catch something, it showed no sign of taking its prey back to the nest, but disappeared out of view with it, presumably to a convenient perch. With Nightjars our main target for the evening, we couldn’t linger longer here for more Barn Owls to emerge.

So, it was up to the Heath next. Almost immediately after we had walked out to our regular spot, we heard a Nightjar call. A good job we hadn’t waited longer for the Barn Owls! Shortly afterwards, the first Nightjar started churring. First one churred in front of us, then another started up behind us. Even better, the latter then flew around and landed in a tree nearby. It was on a dead branch, out in full view, where we could get fantastic view of it in the scope. It perched there for several minutes, looking round, churring. Stunning!

IMG_5357Nightjar – perched out churring in full view for us

We stayed for a while listening to the Nightjars. There were at least 3 churring males within earshot tonight, and calls off suggested one or two females too. The males were constantly switching churring posts, flying round their territories and advertising their presence. Finally, as the light faded, we called it a day, and a long and fruitful one it had been too!

25th July 2015 – Wet & Windy, Waders & Warblers (& Nightjars)

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. The itinerary saw us looking for Spoonbills and Dartford Warblers, which the weather did its worst to thwart. It was wet and very windy in the morning – gusting to 45mph. It brightened up in the afternoon, though the wind didn’t really start to drop until much later on. As ever, despite the weather we had a really good day and saw lots of really good birds!

We would originally have gone up to the Heath to look for Dartford Warblers in the morning, but it was really not the weather for it today. Instead, we decided to seek the shelter of the hides at Cley first thing. After the heavy rain overnight (we had about a month’s rain in 24 hours), the water levels on the scrapes had risen considerably. However, there was still a very good selection of birds on view.

We headed to Teal Hide first and had a look at Pat’s Pool. Two small waders were feeding around the edge of the largest island. The adult Dunlin was immediately obvious, with its striking black belly patch, but the second bird was a source of potential confusion for the uninitiated (and indeed it did cause some amongst some of the other people in the hide). Similar in size to the Dunlin, but with a shorter, straight bill and bright, white underparts, it was a summer plumage Sanderling. We are more used to seeing them running in and out of the waves on the beach in the winter, by which stage they are silvery grey above and white below. An out of place Sanderling has confounded even the experts in the past. This one was presumably seeking somewhere sheltered to feed.

IMG_7350Sanderling – a summer plumage bird on the scrape

There were sandpipers too. A Green Sandpiper flew in from the east and dropped in to the vegetation at the front of the scrape. We could see its very slaty-grey upperparts and blackish underwings, with contrasting white tail as it landed. A Common Sandpiper flew in as well, and landed on the muddy edge right in front of us.

P1060479Common Sandpiper – landed briefly on the mud in front of the hide

Unfortunately, neither of the sandpipers hung around for long. Avocets are not particularly good parents, but a couple of pairs still have juveniles on Pat’s Pool at the moment. Their idea of childcare is to mostly ignore their ‘children’ but chase off any potential predators. They are good at trying to chase after Marsh Harriers, but not quite selective enough in their choice of target – they attempt to chase away anything which comes into range. So the sandpipers were seen off, and a couple of Teal, and the Dunlin and Sanderling when they dared to venture along the front of the island. All obviously grave threats to a juvenile Avocet! Needless to say, the survival rate amongst juvenile Avocets is not great.

P1060464Avocet – a well grown juvenile; its parent chased off most of the other waders

When not chasing off anything which comes into range, the adult Avocets will occasionally shelter the juveniles, but only when they are very small. The older juvenile on the scrape was the only surviving youngster of one pair, and had to fend for itself in the rain. The other Avocet pair had three much smaller youngsters and they were allowed to shelter under one of their parents in the worst of the weather.

IMG_7340Avocet – one youngster out, the other two hiding underneath

There were gulls and terns already roosting on the islands when we arrived, tucked down out of the wind and rain. Six Little Gulls were feeding together in the wet grass, picking at the vegetation for invertebrates, all of them 1st summer birds born last year. Nearby, two Common Terns and three Sandwich Terns were trying to sleep through the weather, which would make fishing difficult for them.

There were big gulls too – and more dropped in to join them while we were there. As well as the ubiquitous Herring Gulls, several Great Black-backed Gulls had retreated from the shore and in amongst them were two smaller and slatier-backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A single juvenile gull appeared with them as well and a close look revealed it to be a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, presumably a post-summer dispersing bird from the continent.

We headed round to Dauke’s Hide next and had a look at Simmond’s Scrape. There were more larger waders here. A big group of Black-tailed Godwits were trying to sleep on one of the islands – we could see a mixture of rusty adult birds and grey 1st summers. There were also several Ruff, once again in a wide variety of different plumages. The males are very variable in summer plumage at the best of times, and they are also now in various stages of moult as well. The significantly smaller females can look rather different again.

IMG_7380Ruff – a male moulting into winter plumage

All the while we were there, birds were constantly dropping in. A couple of bright orange summer plumage Knot flew in with a Golden Plover. The Knot were promptly seen off by one of the Avocets! A few more Golden Plover arrived until there were five feeding on the grass together. A Ringed Plover dropped in briefly, before flying on west; a short while later, a Little Ringed Plover did much the same. A Common Snipe dropped in and started feeding in the wet grass. A Whimbrel flew over, calling.

There was no sign of the Spoonbills at first today. They were probably hiding somewhere more sheltered. However, while we were in the hides, two Spoonbills dropped in to the scrapes. The shorter-billed juvenile landed on one of the islands and tried to find somewhere to roost out of the wind, but the other bird continued on towards North Scrape. A short while later the juvenile decided it was not a great place to sleep today and flew off as well.

IMG_7375Spoonbill – this juvenile dropped in to Simmond’s Scrape briefly today

There were other birds to see was well. One of the female Marsh Harriers spent ages flying low over the reeds along the back of Simmond’s Scrape, but presumably hunting was difficult today and she seemed to achieve very little. A juvenile Yellow Wagtail landed on of the islands briefly, before flying down to the grass round the edge of the scrape and disappearing from view.

Late morning, we decided it would be a good idea to head back to the visitor centre and get a hot drink to warm up. Afterwards we drove round to the beach car park. Given the gale-force NNW wind, and the approaching high tide, the waves were crashing into the beach. It was great to watch and we stood for a while on the stones marvelling at the power of the sea. Several Gannets passed by offshore.

P1060522Cley Beach – the waves were crashing onto the shore today

It had stopped raining by this stage, but we still took advantage of the beach shelter to get out of the wind and seaspray and enjoy an early lunch. There had been a few different waders out on North Scrape in the morning, so we decided to walk and take a look ourselves.We were at least walking with the wind at our backs, but there were few birds around today. A Skylark sat in the Eye Field watching us.

As we were walking over the grass, a dragonfly flew up in front of us and landed again a bit further along. Unusual out here at the best of times, this was hardly the weather for dragonfly watching! Still, we managed to find it sheltering in the grass below the fence line and discovered it was a rarity to boot – a smart male Red-veined Darter. There has been the odd one around the reserve in recent weeks, but it was not something we were expecting to find out here, least of all today!

P1060536

Red-veined Darter – a surprise in the Eye Field, particularly given the gale!

Unfortunately, as we arrived at North Scrape, something had just spooked all the waders. There were now fewer on show than there had been. However, we still managed to find a Curlew Sandpiper hiding amongst several Dunlin. Its chestnut underparts, dappled with white as it moults into winter plumage, gave it away – very different from the black belly patch of the adult Dunlin. There were also several more Little Ringed Plovers, Ruff and another Green Sandpiper out here today. A big group of Sandwich Terns were sitting out the stormy conditions on one of the islands.

We headed round to the East Bank next. It was still very windy, but at least the clouds had cleared and it had brightened up. It was rather blustery on the walk out along the East Bank – not the weather for Bearded Tits today. However, out at Arnold’s Marsh we walked down the steps and got ourselves in the lee of the bank.

There were lots of waders out on Arnold’s Marsh. There have been groups of Knot out here for several weeks. There have been more grey 1st summer birds,  but today the majority were adults already returned from the north, sporting bright orange underparts. Amongst them were two more Curlew Sandpipers, slightly richer chestnut below and darker brown above, more dainty with a longer, finer, downcurved bill.

There were lots of smaller Dunlin and Sanderling here too. One of the Dunlin stood out – with much brighter rufous upperparts, paler face and a more contrasting black belly. There are several races of Dunlin all around the world, breeding from the Pacific coast of North America to far eastern Siberia, and they vary subtly in appearance. This was perhaps a Dunlin from further east.

IMG_7393Dunlin – an interestingly bright bird with other waders on Arnold’s Marsh

The more we looked, the more we found. There were some very smart Turnstones, still in summer plumage with white faces and bright rufous backs. Most of the godwits were asleep on the islands, tucked down in the vegetation. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, but two Bar-tailed Godwits came out to feed, allowing us to get a much better look at them.

There were lots of terns as well. The Sandwich Terns regularly loaf out in small numbers around Arnold’s Marsh, especially at this time of year, however many more seemed to be sheltering from the wind today. Amongst them we could see lots of Common Terns and even a couple of Arctic Terns as well.

By the time we got back to the car, it was almost time to finish but we had still not been up to the Heath. Realistically, despite the wind having dropped somewhat it still seemed a little too windy but we headed up there anyway on the off chance. It seemed rather quiet as we got out of the car. At least the sun was shining and, in a couple of sheltered spots, we finally found some butterflies as we walked out, mostly Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.

P1060560Gatekeeper – there were lots of these out on the Heath this afternoon

We flushed a couple of Linnets from beside the path as we walked, and we could hear a Yellowhammer singing. We were not surprised to find no sign of the Dartford Warblers around one of their favoured area – they really don’t like windy conditions. We carried on across the Heath and a Turtle Dove started purring briefly behind us, in the area we had just walked through. Unfortunately it stopped again as soon as it started, and we didn’t have enough time to work out where it was hiding.

As we rounded a corner on a normally quiet corner of the Heath, we came across a large puddle across the path. A male Yellowhammer flicked across and landed in the grass in front of us, eyeing us nervously. It was obviously looking to come down to the puddle and eventually plucked up the courage to hop down to the water’s edge, and then start to bathe. The Heath is normally very dry, so this was perhaps a rare treat.

P1060608Yellowhammer – bathing in a puddle

While we were watching the Yellowhammer, we heard a harsh churring call in the gorse right next to us. The next thing we knew a Dartford Warbler flew out across the path in front of us. Just for second it seemed like it might dip down towards the Yellowhammer, but it seemed to see us standing watching it and fly up into the vegetation instead. Unfortunately, just as we were hoping it might come out again, two walkers appeared and came straight past us along the path. We decided to move on. We had really not expected to see Dartford Warbler today, and this is not one of their usually favoured places, so it was a real stroke of luck to see one today.

P1060612Grayling – basking on a concrete post, camouflaged against the stones

We had a quick walk round the rest of heath, but it was rather quiet. We did add a couple more butterflies to the day’s list – Grayling and Essex Skipper. And we did run into a large mixed tit flock working its way through the birches. But then it was time to head back and get something to eat ahead of the evening’s entertainment.

P1060624Essex Skipper – with blackish-tipped antennae

Nightjar Evening

We met again in Holt in the early evening, after a break to recover from the day’s exertions and a chance to get something to eat. We dropped down to the coast first. A quick drive round the grazing meadows and we found our first Barn Owl of the evening perched on a fence. We stopped the car and got it in the scope. A great start! It flew off and resumed hunting around the grassy fields. A couple of Whimbrel were calling overhead.

IMG_7438Barn Owl – our first of the evening, perched on a fence

A little further round, and we stopped again and set off to walk out over the marshes. Almost immediately we spotted another Barn Owl, flying across over the reeds. There is a Barn Owl box here and once we had walked out a little further we could see two more owls around the box. One of them was just in the process of devouring a vole. As we watched, it was clear there was an adult bird bringing back food, and 2-3 freshly fledged juveniles still sitting round the entrance to the box waiting to be fed.

IMG_7442Barn Owls – 2-3 juveniles were waiting to be fed at the entrance to the box

While we were scanning over the grazing marshes, another Barn Owl appeared from nowhere right in front of us, flying in from the direction of the road. It worked its way methodically round the edge of the field, looking purposefully down into the grass all the time. Then it suddenly dropped down after something. It came up again with a vole in its talons, and set off back towards the village, flying straight past us on its way. We got a fantastic view of it. A little while later, it came back again and resumed hunting, presumably having fed its young.

P1060638Barn Owl – carrying food back to its youngsters

Back at the box, one of the adult Barn Owls flew back across the marshes with some prey in its talons. However, instead of going straight into the box to feed the juveniles, it landed on a post down in the reeds in front. It didn’t seem to show any interest in eating its vole itself, so was presumably trying to tempt the young Barn Owls out to fly round. They were not showing any inclination to leave the comfort of the box!

While we were watching the Barn Owls, we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Looking more closely, we could see some movement further over, so we walked round for a better look. It didn’t take long to pick up three juveniles – they were rather vocal and kept edging their way up to the tops of the reeds before dropping back in or flying across the tops.

IMG_7451Bearded Tit – a good performance from several juveniles this evening

Then it was time to tear ourselves away and head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. It had started to cloud over again a little while we were out on the marshes and was already getting dark by the time we got there, sooner than we had expected. We could already hear a Nightjar calling from the trees as we walked up. Perfect timing!

Shortly after we arrived, one of the Nightjars flew out and perched up on a stump on the edge of the trees in front of us. It sat there for some time, just looking around. We got it in the scope and got great views of it – it appeared to be a female, lacking the white flashes in wings and tail which the male shows. Eventually, it flew off into the tops of the trees, but reappeared only a few seconds later hawking for insects above our heads. We could also hear a Tawny Owl hooting in the distance.

IMG_7460Nightjar – one of three birds we saw this evening

Finally a male Nightjar started churring across the other side of the heath, behind us. This prompted the male in front of us to start churring in response. The next thing we knew, a Nightjar appeared on the dead tree stump again. This time it was a male – it sat there with tail spread flashing its white tail corners – and we presumed it was the resident male we had just heard.

However, then another male Nightjar appeared from the trees and started to buzz around the male sat on the stump. It gave up and disappeared into the trees again, then came out and started flying round the stump male once more. It repeated this several times, flying into the trees, before coming back out and flying round the other male. It even tried to land on top of him a couple of times, presumably in an effort to displace the interloper and regain his song perch, but the other male simply stayed put. There are two male Nightjars here with neighbouring territories, so presumably this was the next door male trying to take over the resident male’s song perch. Finally, after several attempts, the interloper flew off down to the ground and the resident male started churring. Great behaviour to watch, real all-action stuff.

Then, as the light started to fade, it was a good time to call it a night.

17th July 2015 – Farmland & Coast

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. After dramatic thunderstorms overnight, it was a bit damp underfoot first thing, but it soon brightened up and we only encoutered one very light (and not forecast!) shower in the afternoon.

The aim for the morning was to explore the farmland inland from the coast and, in particular, to look for raptors. We set off and meandered our way along the country lanes. A Red Kite appeared in the sky beside the road, so we stopped to watch it as it circled overhead. Red Kites were not reintroduced locally but have spread very successfully across the country and are now breeding here. Always a delight to see.

P1050437Red Kite – circled over our heads this morning

We drove on a little further and stopped to explore. As soon as we got out of the car, a Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. This species has almost disappeared as a breeding bird in Norfolk but a few pairs still cling on in farmland. It is always a nice surprise to encounter one.

We walked up along farm track with tall hedges either side. We could hear Yellowhammers singing and we flushed a couple of birds from the bushes as we walked. A pair of Linnets flew up from the edge of the field. A Whitethroat appeared briefly on top of the hedge singing. In the densest part of the bushes we could hear the delicate piping of a pair of Bullfinches. Generally rather secretive at this time of year, they flew ahead of us as we walked before eventually doubling back overhead and behind us. When the path opened out a little, a pair of Grey Partridge burst out of the tall vegetation along the verge and disappeared across the field, calling.

P1050464Ringlet – a common hedgerow butterfly at this time of year

There were lots of butterflies in the hedgerows as well. Ringlets are much in evidence at this time of year, although some of them are now rather worn and bleached browner rather than the blackish appearance when they are fresh. There were also plenty of Meadow Browns. We saw a number of the smaller Skippers, but we only stopped to look closely at a couple of them, which turned out to be Essex Skippers.

P1050449Meadow Brown – also out in profusion at the moment

We stopped on some high ground from where we could get a good view over the surrounding countryside. Here we stood for a while scanning for raptors. The weather started to brighten up a little while we were there, and we could feel a bit more warmth as it did so. Much better conditions for raptors and a good selection duly appeared, just as we had hoped. That was the cue for the Common Buzzards to start to circle up over the trees. A Kestrel hovered over the hedgerow behind us.

We walked back to the car and drove over towards Titchwell, stopping to explore the area around Choseley on the way there. A Green Woodpecker flew up from the verge beside the road and made a beeline for a telegraph post. It seemed about to land when it realised it was not a tree and veered off across the field. We flushed three or four Kestrels from the hedges either side along a short stretch – presumably a recently fledged family group.

There were several Yellowhammers along the wires and hedges as we drove – this is always a good area for this species. Then two larger birds flew out from the hedge, across the road in front of us and over the edge of the field the other side. Larger, bulkier than the Yellowhammers and a plainer sandier brown, these were Corn Buntings. They flew round and dropped back into the hedge in front of us. Unfortunately, despite pulling forward slowly, we couldn’t see them perched in all the green fresh growth of the hawthorns and eventually they flew again and disappeared across the field.

Around at the drying barns, there was a lot of disturbance today, with vehicles and farm workers busy in the buildings. A Stock Dove perched on the wires was eyeing the small pile of spilled grain. Several Chaffinches and Yellowhammers appeared further along the road. Another Yellow Wagtail flew over calling – it was obviously our lucky day for them today.

P1050562Essex Skipper – we saw several of these today

From there, we headed down to Titchwell for lunch. While we were eating, we watched a young Robin trying to sneak up on Speckled Wood which was basking in the sunshine on a bench. It snapped at it and caught onto it, but the Speckled Wood flapped vigorously and escaped. It landed nearby and we could see that its wings were already very tatty. Then it flew back to the bench again – perhaps this was a recurring incident?!

After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve. We stopped to scan the reedbed pool. A pair of Great Crested Grebes had a well grown stripy-headed chick with them, and a lone Little Grebe was diving at the back. As well as a little selection if dabbling ducks – Teal, Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall – a pair of Common Pochard was diving near the reeds. Out in the reedbed, there were still a couple of Reed Warblers singing loudly. A Sedge Warbler flushed in front of us and flew along beside path, landing in the bulrushes briefly before dropping down into the vegetation on the bank.

P1050558Avocet – over 600 at Titchwell at the moment, this one a juvenile

As soon as we walked into Island Hide we could see that people were watching the reed edge intently. Sure enough, we also immediately got onto a little group Bearded Tits feeding one the edge of the mud. They were three orangey-coloured juveniles – we got great views of them in the scopes, chasing round at the base of the reeds and hoping out on the mud. With lots of fledged juveniles about, now is a great time to see this often rather secretive species.

P1050474Black-tailed Godwit – there were several hundred of these out on the mud too

However, the waders were the real highlight today. The whole of the freshmarsh was thronging with them. The biggest number were Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. We could see 200+ of both, but particularly the Avocets were lurking amongst the vegetation, so there were probably many more. Interestingly, the Titchwell warden and staff did a full wader count the following day and counted 624, a reserve record! There are a lot more bright rusty-orange birds amongst the Black-tailed Godwits now, as returning adults add to the greyer 1st summer birds that were here first.

P1050502Flock of Dunlin – spot the Curlew Sandpiper amongst them

There were lots of Dunlin too, well over 100, mostly adults still sporting the smart black belly patches of summer plumage. Lurking amongst them was a single Curlew Sandpiper. Slightly larger, with a slightly longer and more downcurved bill, it too was still mostly in summer plumage. Looking closely through the mass of small waders it was not so hard to pick out, with bright chestnut orange underparts, speckled with white now as it starts to moult.

IMG_6943Curlew Sandpiper – a moulting adult, still with mostly chestnut underparts

There were plenty of other waders there as well. A Green Sandpiper and a Common Sandpiper were feeding together on the mud at the edge of the reeds giving a great opportunity to compare these two rather similar species side by side. Towards the back, in the deeper water, at least 6 Spotted Redshanks were in amongst the Black-tailed Godwits. All moulting adults, the Spotted Redshanks ranged from still mostly black summer-plumaged birds, though well-speckled with whiter winter plumage feathers now, to one in particular already much greyer individual.

There are also a lot of Ruff around on the coast at the moment, at least 20 at Titchwell today, and in a confusing mix of colours. The male Ruffs are always amazingly variable, with different combinations of white, black, brown and rusty feathering in breeding plumage. Add in the effects of moult as well, and no two birds look alike!

IMG_6906Ruff – a moulting male in a typical mix of colours

The Spoonbills were hiding at the back of the freshmarsh, mostly hidden behind the vegetation of the island. They were undoubtedly enjoying their usual favourite occupation and sleeping! One did fly up and disappear over the bank at the back, presumably to feed over towards Brancaster. Another Spoonbill just edged out and stood for a while preening so that we could get a proper look at it in the scope.

Amongst all the seething mass of waders, it was hard to see anything else. Lurking amongst them were still one or two Little Gulls. There have been several 1st summers lingering along the coast for some time, although they are now moulting to 2nd winter plumage with plainer grey upperwings.

P1050524Little Gull – still 1 or 2 on the freshmarsh today

The Volunteer Marsh and tidal pools were quiet again, as they have been in recent weeks. As we walked further along the path, we could hear a Whimbrel calling and we picked it up distantly flying west. Out on the beach, the tide was out and the rocks exposed. A scan through the scope revealed several Bar-tailed Godwits feeding amongst them, including a rather bright orange bird still mostly in summer plumage.There were also several Curlews picking about the rocks and on closer inspection a single Whimbrel was in amongst them. We could see its smaller size, slimmer build and when it turned towards us its rather contrasting dark crown with pale central stripe.

Out on the sea, just beyond the rocks, a single black drake Common Scoter was diving. We could just make out the bright yellow stripe on the front of its bill. A little further east, we picked up four Eider close inshore as well. They drifted past us and we could see they included three 1st summer drakes and a single female.

There were some dark clouds gathering from behind us as we stood on the beach, but the forecast has said there was less than a 5% chance of rain in the afternoon. Needless to say, it did start to rain anyway! Thankfully it didn’t rain very hard and passed over very quickly with the brisk wind, just a very quick shower, so we barely got damp and were quickly dry again. As the cloud passed over, there were lots of Sandwich Terns feeding offshore. A last scan revealed two smart summer plumage Turnstones on the beach. Then it was time to head back.

IMG_6961Red-crested Pochard – a red-billed drake moulting into eclipse plumage

The pool at Patsy’s Reedbed was mostly quiet apart from six Red-crested Pochards. It was easy to pick out the drakes by their bright, coral red bills but they are already advanced in the moult to drab eclipse plumage. They still retained remnants of summer plumage, with a variable tuft of golden yellow on the front of the crown the only remaining trace of their previously rather smart punk haircuts.

P1050568Marsh Harrier – flew inland to hunt, over Patsy’s Reedbed

While we were there, a Marsh Harrier flew over past us and headed off inland, presumably to hunt. Something, possibly another harrier, flushed a huge flock of waders off the marshes towards Brancaster. In particular, we could see that there were lots of Curlew out there. From the resulting melee, several Spoonbills flew over – the first one carried straight over the freshmarsh and off towards the saltmarsh at Thornham, and then another two, an adult and a juvenile flew west over the Parrinder Hide. Unfortunately it was then time to head back to give everyone a chance to get something to eat and prepare for the evening’s activity.

Nightjar Evening

We met again later on and headed down towards the coast first. Almost immediately, we found our first Barn Owl out hunting. It quartered over the same field repeatedly, working its way round and round methodically, hovering, occasionally dropping down but repeatedly coming up empty-talonned. We watched it doing this for several minutes, before it then moved off to hunt elsewhere.

P1050606Barn Owl – the first of several this evening

We drove on and parked and then walked out across the marshes. Another Barn Owl was up almost immediately, but disappeared away from us behind some trees. Then a second appeared, again rather distant, and flew out along bank further ahead of us, hunting.

P1050660Barn Owl – fantastic views of hunting birds this evening

Suddenly we could hear all the House Martins alarm calling and we turned round to see a Sparrowhawk flying over. A Marsh Harrier appeared as well and flew away inland pursued by a noisy Oystercatcher. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds , so we climbed up onto bank from where we could get a good look over them. We could still hear pinging on and off, and after a short while we picked up first one juvenile, then a second, then a third climbing up the reed stems. They perched up for a while in the lovely evening sunlight and we watched them on and off for several minutes, climbing up and dropping back into cover. Then a male Bearded Tit appeared. It too climbed up to the top of reeds, but unfortunately rather than perching out it flew quickly, followed close behind by first a female and then a single juvenile, away over the bank.

P1050649Barn Owl – one bird in particular kept flying back past us with prey

We walked out a little further, and suddenly we picked up the Barn Owl we had seen distantly along the bank earlier coming back towards us carrying prey. It flew straight past us, oblivious to our presence giving us cracking close views. It was obviously taking food back for its young. A short while later, the same Barn Owl came past us again, this time heading back out to what was clearly its favoured hunting ground. We stood and watched it do this three times, flying past us with prey and then back out to resume hunting again shortly after. The evening light was stunning and it was awesome to watch.

P1050619Barn Owl – heading back to the nest with a vole this time

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head off inland for the evening’s main billing. It was a nice bright evening, but perhaps a bit cool. The heath was a little quiet at first. Then, bang on cue, a Nightjar began calling. All we had was calling at first, and it was rather slow to start churring this evening. It called several times, paused, and called several times more.

Then suddenly the Nightjar flew out and landed on a tree stump in front of us. It sat there in full view for about ten minutes, looking around, stretching. We got great scope views of it. Even better, while it was sitting there, a female Nightjar flew out and fluttered round him. When she appeared, he spread his wings and tail, flashing his bright white wing and tail patches. We could see her much plainer wings and tail in contrast. Stunning stuff.

IMG_6965Nightjar – perched up on a stump for about 10 minutes this evening

He only churred briefly from this post, but eventually dropped down into the gorse and started churring more consistently. We could hear another male Nightjar churring in the distance and somehow the first managed to get round behind us and started churring on that side of his territory in response. A Woodcock flew right overhead, roding – its squeaky call alerted us to its incipient arrival. We could also hear a Tawny Owl calling from the trees away in the distance.

Then another Nightjar flashed past us in the gathering gloom, only about ten feet away. We turned to follow it, and it flew low overhead hunting, jinking from side to side after flying insects. With the light fading, and after such great views, we decided to call it a night.

27th June 2015 – Spoonbills Galore & More

A Summer Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously sunny day, but with a fresh breeze never got too hot or humid. A lovely day to be out birding. We met up at the car park at Cley and while we were loading the car, we could see our first Spoonbill of the day out on the scrapes. A forerunner of things to come!

IMG_6420Spoonbill – our first of the day, from the car park at Cley

We headed up to the Heath first, hoping to make the most of it before it got too hot and too busy. As we walked out along the path, we could hear Willow Warblers and Whitethroats singing. A Yellowhammer added its voice to the chorus – a ‘little-bit-of-bread-no-cheese’. Little family groups of Linnets were flying around among the gorse. We could hear a pair of Bullfinch calling softly, but they flew off across the Heath to cover as we approached.

We could hear the delicate purring of a Turtle Dove, but we couldn’t see it at first, hidden amongst the birch trees. The next thing we knew it appeared at the very top of one of them and set up in the sunshine giving us a great view. We could see its neck puffing out as it purred. Then it launched itself into a display flight, flying up with a quick burst of flapping, then gliding round in circles over the trees before dropping down onto the same perch as before. With the population of Turtle Doves in the UK collapsing, how much longer will we be able to enjoy such a beautiful sound and sight?

IMG_6430Turtle Dove – purring and display flighting

While we were watching the Turtle Dove, a Garden Warbler burst into song nearby. We listened to it for a minute of so, noting the faster, rolling cadence than a Blackcap. We worked our way round behind it, onto main path. A Cuckoo flew over quietly and disappeared between the trees. We found the Garden Warbler amongst the birches, and got a quick view of it perched out, but it was darting around quickly. A second bird singing nearby.

As we walked on around the Heath we could hear Woodlarks calling. It sounded as if they were further away, but suddenly one flew a short distance along the verge in front of us. Woodlarks have a remarkable ability to throw their voice. We could just see it feeding down amongst heather. It was obviously nervous at our presence and even though we stood still it took off. Another two Woodlarks followed it up from the ground – a family party, with a well grown fledgeling. They landed a little further over in a clearing, but once we got round there we couldn’t find them again. Presumably they had walked off through teh grass feeding. Another Turtle Dove was purring from the trees.

We had seen a male Stonechat perched in the top of some dead trees in the clearing as we approached, so we walked over to look for it. There was no sign initially, but someone with a camera had just walked right through the middle of the grass. With Woodlarks nesting on the ground in the area, this is never the most sensible thing to do. We stuck to the path, and the male Stonechat reappeared behind us on a fence post. Two Woodlarks then flew in next to it, a nice combination through the scope! The Woodlarks flew back towards where we had disturbed them earlier and then a female Stonechat appeared as well. A Green Woodpecker called nearby, but flew off towards the woods.

IMG_6447Stonechat – the male performed for us as we stayed on the path

It seemed a perfect day for the Dartford Warblers – bright and not too breezy. However, we tried walking around several territories but all was quiet today. The birds are onto their second broods now so perhaps the males have taken a break from territorial duties. On our way back, we saw one of the Woodlarks again, heading back towards the favourite area carrying food. It landed on a fence post nearby, watching us nervously.

IMG_6469Woodlark – we found a family party with well grown fledgeling

As we headed back to the car, a Hobby appeared flying low over the Heath. It looked to be carrying prey, and disappeared off over the trees. We saw lots of Silver-studded Blues as well today, fluttering around in the low vegetation in the grass and mown areas.

P1030710Silver-studded Blue – lots were on the wing today

We drove round via the coast road and stopped down at Salthouse by the Iron Road next. The pools here have been very productive this year, with the higher water levels. However, the vegetation has now grown up a lot and it is harder to see the birds! We found a Curlew hiding in the reeds along the main drain – one of the many waders which has already been returning in the last few days. There were several Sand Martins flying low over the water hawking for insects.

We had seen lots of birds on one of the other pools as we drove up, so we walked up to Sarbury Hill to get a better view. A Spoonbill was out on one of the pools, doing what Spoonbills do best – sleeping. There was also a large gathering of big gulls, with both Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, as well as the regular Herring Gulls. The panorama of the coast from here was stunning, looking down over the new pools at Pope’s Marsh.

P1030726Pope’s Marsh – a great view of the new pools from Sarbury Hill

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve at Cley. There were still lots of Reed Warblers singing from the reeds. The regular, obliging Reed Bunting perched in its usual bush right by the boardwalk, singing.

P1030764Reed Bunting – singing in its favourite bush again today

The main Spoonbill gathering was on Simmond’s Scrape. Nine of them were out on the grass doing guess what? Yes, sleeping! They did wake up at times, shaking their heads, having a quick preen, before resuming their favoured activity. When they did wake, we could see there were both adults and juveniles in the group, the latter with shorter, fleshy-coloured bills, lacking the adults yellow bill-tips. As we scanned, we could see another Spoonbill was asleep on its own down in the longer grass on one of the islands and another, possibly the same bird that we had seen first thing this morning, was still asleep on Pat’s Pool.

IMG_6492Spoonbill – an adult and juvenile both awake

When another adult Spoonbill flew in to join the group, one of the juveniles woke up and immediately set off after it, bobbing it head up and down rhythmically. However, the pursuit seemed a little half-hearted today – perhaps the juvenile had only recently been fed, and the adult got to settle down and go to sleep. Before it did so, we noted that it was colour-ringed. Spoonbills from colonies in places such as France and the Netherlands have been noted along the coast here, but this individual seemed to have lost a lot of its rings, so might be hard to track down.

P1030769Spoonbill – a colour-ringed adult flew in to join the roosting group

There were lots of other birds to look at on the scrapes today as well. Waders have been returning south steadily in the last week or so – autumn is already upon them, as non-breeders and failed breeders leave the breeding grounds early. Consequently, the variety of waders along the coast has already picked up. Four Greenshank were roosting along the bank of one of the islands and a blackish shape asleep on the grass behind was a moulting summer plumage dark male Ruff.

IMG_6498Greenshank & Ruff – some of the returning waders on the scrape

Out on Pat’s Pool, another black wader was feeding. A Spotted Redshank, again in pretty much full summer plumage still. They always look stunning in this plumage – through the scope we could see the white spangling above and the needle-fine bill. We even had it next to a Common Redshank at one point, given a great comparison between the two.

IMG_6534Spotted Redshank – always stunning in summer plumage

There have been several 1st summer Little Gulls along the coast for several weeks now. Today was no exception, with two out on Pat’s Pool. The amount of black hood acquired by 1st summer Little Gulls varies from individual to individual and one of the two today had a nice partial jet black hood.

IMG_6530Little Gull – a 1st summer sporting a partial jet black summer hood

There are also increasing numbers of ducks again along the coast. More Teal in particular have been in evidence again in recent days. In contrast, Shoveler and Gadwall have been around right through so may just be more obvious now as birds gather to moult. Scanning through them, we found the male Garganey that has been out on Pat’s Pool for a couple of days. It is in the process of moulting into eclipse plumage, with a rusty orange face and a partial pale supercilium ghosting the pattern of the spring male.

The Marsh Harriers can normally be relied upon to put on a good show, and today was no exception. One of the females was hunting along the reedy channel out in front of the hide, and kept flying down right towards us giving us great close-up views.

P1030800Marsh Harrier – hunting in front of the hide today

We were just packing up to leave when a group of Black-tailed Godwits flew in over on the other side of Pat’s Pool. A quick look through binoculars and we could see that one of the group looked noticeably larger and longer legged than the rest. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. Most of the Black-tailed Godwits are Icelandic breeders – of the subspecies islandica. This was a moulting adult Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the subspecies limosa. Subtly different from the Icelandic birds, it is always an interesting exercise to try to pick out one of the small numbers of limosa which appear at this time of year from amongst the islandica.

We walked round to Bishop Hide to get a closer look and were just in the process of admiring the Continental Black-tailed Godwit when all the waders suddenly took to the air. A Marsh Harrier had drifted over from the reedbed and spooked them. All the Avocets and godwits landed at the back of the scrape and we could see there were now two different moulting male Ruff, including the dark bird we had seen asleep earlier. Individual males differ markedly in the colour of their plumage.

From Bishop Hide we walked round to the East Bank. There are still lots of  Lapwings, Redshank and Avocets out on the pools on the grazing marsh. However, they do a very good job of chasing off anything which comes near them. Further along, we could see another big flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting in the grass. Yet another moulting male Ruff, this one a different colour again, was feeding unobtrusively along the bank of the Serpentine.

IMG_6609Spoonbill – this adult was feeding on the Serpentine

Also along the Serpentine, we found yet another Spoonbill. However, this one was wide awake and in motion! Preening on the bank at first, it then started feeding out in the water. Spoonbills are amazing to watch in action, sweeping their bills aggressively from side to side through the water. Occasionally they find something and lift their heads up with the prey caught in the bill, before flicking their heads back and swallowing it. We watched this Spoonbill for a while, marvelling at its feeding action – to see some HD video of it, click on the clip below.

There were lots of waders on Arnold’s Marsh today as well, another example of the birds returning. Scanning through the big flock we could see they were mostly Knot, the majority in grey winter plumage (presumably non-breeding 1st summer birds), but a couple still in bright orange summer plumage. With them were a lot of Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Grey Plover, again almost all in grey winter plumage. Several Turnstones were out on one of the shingle islands with one or two in bright summer plumage. A single Ringed Plover was out on the sand. There was also the usual gathering of Sandwich Terns on the islands – we got them in the scope, noting the yellow-tipped black bills and shaggier black crest than the Common Terns.

We had a quick look out to sea – beautiful in the sunshine, but quiet save for a few Sandwich Terns fishing. Then it was time to head back. On our way we could hear several Bearded Tits calling, but they did not put in an appearance this afternoon.

Nightjar Evening

After a break to get something to eat we met again in Holt for the evening. As usual, we went to look for Barn Owls first. We drove round via some regular hunting fields, but there was no sign of any initially. After a couple of warm, dry days and balmy evenings, perhaps they were more relaxed and could afford to come out a little later, despite having hungry mouths to feed?

We walked out onto marshes and fairly quickly picked up our first Barn Owl, out hunting over the grazing marshes. It was rather distant, but it was a start. We could see it patrolling over the grass, looking down intently for voles, occasionally hovering and dropping down, before flying up again a few seconds later, empty-talonned.

At one point one of the local Kestrels, decided to chase after it – presumably a territorial dispute over feeding areas, with both on the lookout for mice and voles. The Kestrel wouldn’t leave it alone, as the Barn Owl attempted simply to get out of its way and carry on hunting. Eventually, as the Kestrel made yet another stoop at it, the Barn Owl turned and the two birds grappled talons and fell to the ground. The Kestrel got up and flew off, but it took a few seconds for the Barn Owl to reappear. When it did, it flew further away and disappeared over the bank.

It was a lovely evening out on the marshes and there were lots of other things to see in the evening light. A Spoonbill flew over, presumably heading in from feeding to roost. We could hear pinging from the reeds and a smart male Bearded Tit flew up and across the path just behind us. It landed in the reedbed the other side and perched up in the tops of the reeds for a few seconds, legs splayed clutching onto the stems. A great view.

Then the Barn Owl activity picked up a gear. Another Barn Owl appeared, much closer than the first. It was patrolling the grassy bank along the edge of the reedbed. It hadn’t been out for long before it started to hover and dropped down out of sight. When it reappeared, we could see it had caught something – we could see it was small and quiet black, possibly a young Moorhen chick. The Barn Owl flew off strongly, back the way it had come.

Then the first Barn Owl flew back across the grazing marsh behind us, again with something in its talons. It flew towards a nearby nest box, but landed on a post nearby first.It sat there for some time, before deciding to fly up to the ledge outside and pass the food in. We got it in the scope and watched it while it did so.

Time was getting on and we had an appointment on the heath, but as we wer got back to the car the second Barn Owl flew back in again.We got a stunning view of it, lit by the evening light, as it came in past the rooftops.

P1030841Barn Owl – flying back in past the rooftops to resume hunting

We hurried up to the Heath to look for Nightjars next. It was already sunset as we arrived and almost immediately, the first Woodcock flew over. The birds are still very actively ‘roding’ over the edge of the trees, the patrolling display flight the males make at dusk in the spring and early summer. There were one or two passing overhead on and off through most of the rest of the evening. We could hear their squeaky calls as they approached and even the very quiet grunting as they came low overhead at times.

A short while after sunset, the first male Nightjar called and started churring briefly. Then he went quiet for a minute or two. Another call and he appeared from the trees, circling round over the edge with wings held aloft, flashing his white wing and tail patches. Fortuitously, he dropped down onto a dead tree stump where we got him in the scope. It was still light enough to get a great look at him.

Then the male Nightjar flew up into oak tree nearby and started churring. We could hear a second male also churring in the background further over across the Heath. We got good views of the first male as he made several display flights out between there and another churring post down in the gorse out of view.

When a third male Nightjar also started up, further over behind us, the first male immediately went over to the other boundary of his territory. We didn’t see him go, but we could hear him start churring over that side in response. We turned to walk over to see if we could see him and a Tawny Owl flew into one of  the trees on that side briefly. Unfortunately, it only landed for a second and was gone again, too quick for all the group to get onto it. Having churred for a few seconds over that side, the first male Nightjar then returned to his favoured tree.

As the light started to fade, we watched him in display flight again, against the sky. He made a sudden change of direction, as a moth flew across in front of him, taking advantage of an easy meal, before disappearing into the gloom of the trees. We decided to call it a night, but we were still serenaded by Nightjars all the way back to the car. A memorable evening.