Category Archives: Nightjar Evening

22nd-23rd July 2019 – Brecks, Coast & Nightjars

A two day Private Tour in Norfolk, we spent Monday in the Brecks before heading up to North Norfolk for an evening looking for owls and Nightjars. On Tuesday, we were out on the North Norfolk coast. The weather was sunny with mostly clear blue skies, and hot, although there was a keen and rather blustery wind on Monday which had died down the following day.

We met down in the Brecks. As it was already approaching mid-morning, we headed straight over to Weeting Heath to look for Stone Curlews before it got too hot. When we got into East Hide, there was no obvious sign of anything on view but a careful scan with the scope revealed a Stone Curlew hunkered down in the grass and flowers, looking rather like a clod of earth, but slightly paler than the clods around it. We had a look at it through the scope, and could see its yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill as it turned its head.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – in the flowers out on the heath from East Hide

Then another Stone Curlew stood up a little further over to the left. This was a much better view, and we watched it as it walked slowly over towards the first bird. Eventually, it settled down into the grass and disappeared again, so we took that as our cue to move on.

There had been a few tits and a Nuthatch high in the pines on our walk out, but on the way back to the car park we heard a Marsh Tit calling in the bushes ahead of us, its distinctive sneezing call. It flew towards us and landed in an elder right next to the path, just a few feet from us. So close, you didn’t even need binoculars!

From there, we made our way over to Lakenheath Fen. Having checked in at the Visitor Centre, we stopped briefly to look at the feeders. A few tits and Goldfinches were coming and going and a male Reed Bunting made several visits to the feeding table.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – coming in to the feeders by the Visitor Centre

It was a bit too windy out along the main track for butterflies today, but still we saw lots of Red Admirals and a Comma landed on the brambles briefly. A couple of Brown Hawkers were hawking over the reeds and several Ruddy Darters were flying around and perching in the grass by the path. Most of the damselflies were hiding in the vegetation, but we did see one or two Azure Damselflies.

We stopped at the New Fen Viewpoint and looked out over the pool below. A Great Crested Grebe was still on its nest on the edge of the reeds, and what was presumably its partner appeared and swam out into the middle of the water. There were a couple of well-grown broods of Gadwall and some moulting Mallard at the back, along with several Coot and Moorhen. A Reed Warbler was feeding low down along the edge of the reeds at the back.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – still on the nest in front of New Fen Viewpoint

Continuing on along the track towards Mere Hide, there were one or two Black-tailed Skimmers basking on the gravel which kept flying on ahead of us. We had a junior member of the group with us who could hear loud buzzing in the grass by the track, whereas the grown-ups couldn’t hear it above the wind. It was a Roesel’s Bush-cricket and following the noise, we eventually found several in the vegetation and watched one stridulating.

Roesel's Bush Cricket

Roesel’s Bush Cricket – there were lots in the grass, inaudible to the grown-ups!

From the hide, we could see a family of Little Grebes away to the left at the back of the open channel, an adult feeding two well-grown juveniles. A flock of five Little Egrets flew over towards, heading over towards Joist Fen. Several Four-spotted Chasers were flying around the edges of the water or perching on reed stems. Otherwise it was rather quiet here today, we we decided to continue on to Joist Fen.

As we sat on the benches looking out over Joist Fen, it was rather quiet here too at first. A few Marsh Harriers circled up from the reeds from time to time, a male with the silvery-grey panel it is upperwings, a female and one or two dark chocolate brown juveniles. A couple of Common Terns commuted back and forth from the pools out in the middle of the reeds.

One or two Reed Warblers flicked in and out on the edge of the reeds. We heard Bearded Tits calling several times, but they were mostly hidden behind the reeds down at the front of the pool, just below the viewpoint, until a juvenile flew back across the water and landed in the reeds at the back.

Then two Common Cranes appeared, flying across low over the reeds, before dropping down away from us into the reeds out in the middle out of sight. As well as the breeding pair which still has a youngster which has not yet fledged, there have been two different Cranes seen from time to time around the reserve recently. They were presumably the ones we saw, possibly returning juveniles from 2018 according to reserve staff. Several Little Egrets had already flown in and out and when a Great White Egret appeared. It came up out of the reeds, much larger, with slower wingbeats, and flew back away from us.

We had been hoping to see a Bittern here, and normally this is a good time to see them as they fly back and forth regularly with food for their young, but they have not been very active this summer. The reserve staff hope that there are still good numbers breeding, after a record count of eleven booming males in spring here, and think they may just be walking to find food due to the conditions.

It was nice sitting here in the sunshine with the breeze over the reeds, so we decided to wait some more. A Grey Heron came up and did a fly round. When it dropped down out of sight in the reeds again, it chased a second Grey Heron out. Finally, a Bittern put in an appearance, flying up out of the reeds over towards the river bank, across low over the tops, before dropping back in out in the middle. Success!

It was a long walk back to the Visitor Centre and was early afternoon already by the time we got back. We stopped for a cold drink and a snack to recover. With evening activities planned too, we didn’t have much time this afternoon, but we called in quickly at Lynford Arboretum. There was lots of activity around a tree laden with berries in the car park – several Blackbirds coming and going, and a family of Garden Warblers. We watched the adult feeding one of the juveniles up in the top.

As we walked down the path towards the bridge, a Siskin flew over calling. There were not many birds out in the heat of the afternoon, so we carried on down to the lake. Several Little Grebes out among the lilypads, including an adult feeding two juveniles. An Emperor Dragonfly was hawking over the water. Making our way back up towards the car park, we stopped to look at the feeders by the cottages and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of several on the lake at Lynford

On our way north, we stopped off again in the forest. We parked by a clearing and walked a short way out along a ride through the middle. A Yellowhammer was singing from the top of the pines on one side, and we found an Essex Skimmer in the grass (we could see the black tips to the underside of its antennae) but there was not much else here today so we carried on our way.

After a break to get checked in and get something to eat, we met again in the evening. First, we drove over to a site to look for Little Owls. As soon as we pulled up, we could see one of the adults perched on the roof of some old farm buildings. We watched from the minibus as it stood there staring at us, a great view.

Little Owl

Little Owl – one of the adults, hiding under the roof

As the adult Little Owl seemed fairly settled, we pulled a little further forwards and could see two paler grey, fluffier juvenile Little Owls on the same roof a little further down. They were more active, looking round, stretching their wings, running up under cover and back down into the open. We stayed and watched them for a short while, then headed down to the coast to look for Barn Owls.

We drove round through an area of meadows where the Barn Owls like to hunt, but there was no sign of any out yet. So we parked and walked down along the bank by the grazing marshes. Several Common Swifts were screaming around the rooftops of the village nearby – it won’t be long now before they are off, on their way south. A few House Martins circled in with them. A Grey Partridge was feeding in the grass on the edge of a ditch across the meadows.

Scanning from the bank, we picked up a very distant Barn Owl out over the back of the marshes, hunting. As we watched it, it seemed to be coming a bit closer, flying towards us, but then it turned and went back out into the middle. At least we had seen a Barn Owl. We turned to walk back to the minibus and another Barn Owl appeared from behind the reeds back towards the road. It was the regular all-white male, a stunning bird! It flew straight past us and disappeared round over the bank.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – the all-white male flew past us over the reeds

It was time to get up to the heath for this evening’s main event now. As we walked out into the middle of the heath, we spotted a large bat flying over the tops of the pines, probably a Noctule.

We didn’t have long to wait before we heard the first Nightjar of the evening calling. It sounded like it was flying round in the trees at first, but then it came out over the edge of the heath, circling round a few times in front of the trees. Then it turned and came right past us, heading out into the middle. A male, we could see its white wing patches as it came past. It dropped down out of view and started churring.

Another Nightjar called from trees. It too flew round like the other had done earlier. It landed briefly on a branch, one of its favourite churring posts, and we got it in scope, but it didn’t stay long. It flew round past us and out into the middle of the heath too,another male. We stood and listened to the churring and from time to time could see one flying round, hawking for insects.

Then one of the male Nightjars flew back in low over the heath and came back right past us, another good view. It flew up into an oak tree quite close to where we were standing and started churring. Great to hear up close. Unfortunately it was obscured by leaves where we were standing and as we tried to walk round to the other side to see if we could see it, it dropped out of the tree and flew back out into middle again.

After a long day, it was time to call it a night. We could hear another Nightjar churring as we walked back to the minibus, and a Tawny Owl hooting away in the distance. It was time for bed.

After our late night last night, we had a more relaxed start to the morning today. After  we met up, we headed down to Wells. As we parked, we could already see the Spoonbills. There were at least six, tucked in the grass, asleep. There were several Little Egrets with them too and hard to tell what some of the white shapes were from here, further over hidden by the vegetation.

After a while, two of the Spoonbills woke up. One was one of this year’s juveniles, from the breeding colony at Holkham. When they want to be fed they are relentless, and we watched the juvenile as it walked over towards the adult and started begging, bobbing its head up and down and flapping its wings. The adult tried walking away, but the juvenile followed. After a while, the adult tried flying away but the juvenile just flew after it and carried on begging when it landed. In the end, the adult gave in.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – sleeping on one of the islands

There were a few waders on the pools here too. We could see a distant Greenshank roosting on the back of one pool, but then found another feeding close to the track on the other side. A Green Sandpiper appeared from behind one of the islands too. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was out in the middle and there were still plenty of Lapwings, presumably the local breeding birds. There is just one pair of Avocets left here now though. Most have finished breeding and moved off elsewhere to moult, but these ones still have a cute, half-grown fluffy juvenile. Moulting will have to wait until family duties have finished!

Greenshank

Greenshank – one of two here this morning

We watched a lovely grey male Marsh Harrier circling over the fields beyond the pools. Then a female appeared and flew in over the pools and past us.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew inland over the pools

There were several Reed Buntings along the track, and Linnets and Goldfinches in the bushes, along with a few House Sparrows. When we heard a Sedge Warbler calling, we turned and could see it climbing around in the base of a large hawthorn by the edge of the ditch behind us.

We moved on from here, driving west along the coast road all the way to Holme. It was hot already, but there was a nice breeze coming in off the sea as we walked out through the dunes. A big dragonfly flew past – an emperor, but with a dark abdomen with a bright blue segment at the base. A Lesser Emperor! It disappeared straight off east through the dunes, presumably fresh in. There were hirundines on the move too today, little groups of Swallows and Sand Martins heading along the coast.

As we walked out towards the beach, we could hear Sandwich Terns calling, from the shore we could see a steady stream flying past. They were heading back to the breeding colony at Scolt, most carrying fish for their young which they had presumably caught in the Wash. Some of them came past us very close, so we could clearly see the yellow tip to their black bills (despite them being full of fish!). A couple of orange-red billed Common Terns came past too.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern – flying back to the breeding colony with fish

There were a couple of Little Terns diving just off the beach at the point away to our west, so we walked along to try to get a closer view. There were two at first, then four. They drifted off west, and when they came back again there were at least ten. We had great views of them fishing just offshore. As well as the small size, we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

Little Tern

Little Tern – there were at least ten fishing offshore

There was a single Bar-tailed Godwit on the point and several Ringed Plovers higher up on the beach. A flock of waders flew in and landed on the point. We got them in the scope and could see they were mostly Sanderling, at least 150 of them, with the majority still largely in dark breeding plumage. Very different from the silvery grey and white ones we see in the winter. There were around ten Dunlin in with them, the black bellies of their breeding plumage immediately identifying them.

Sanderling

Sanderling – at least 150 flew in to roost on the point

Looking away to the west, towards the mouth of the Wash, we watched as a huge flock of birds flew up. They were largely Knot, probably at least 2,500 of them. It was amazing to watch as they whirled round out over the sea, presumably having been spooked from where they were roosting over high tide. Some flew over our way and past over the sea, and we could see they were also mostly still in their rusty breeding plumage.

Knot

Knot – part of the flock which whirled out over the sea

It was very pleasant out on the beach today, particularly with so much to see, and our junior correspondent even went for a paddle. Eventually, it was time to walk back and get some lunch. We drove round to the village to the White Horse for a cold drink and a sandwich. Then it was on to Titchwell for the rest of the afternoon.

Making out way out onto the reserve, we stopped first at the reedbed pool where a Great White Egret was lurking in the reeds on one side. Through the scope, we could see its long snake-like neck and dagger-shaped yellow bill. There were several ducks on here, Common Pochard and Tufted Duck being new for the trip list, and two Great Crested Grebes, one adult and a juvenile.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – hiding in the reeds on the reedbed pool on our way out

We particularly wanted to see the Semipalmated Sandpiper which had been here for a few days now, so we decided to head straight out towards the Tidal Pools which was where it had been seen todat.

On the way, we spotted at least six Spoonbills on the island at the back of the Freshmarsh. A smart Black-tailed Godwit was feeding at the front on the mud, and as we walked along the bank more flew up and headed out west, flashing their distinctive black and white wings. Several Ruff were also feeding on the mud below the bank, bewildering in their variation with no two looking the same and all looking patchy, at different stages of moult.

Ruff

Ruff – a moulting male, no two look the same at this time of year

We stopped briefly to look at an adult Mediterranean Gull roosting in with the Black-headed Gulls on one the islands, one of the other birds we had hoped to catch up with here today. We could see its brighter, heavier red bill, blacker hood, and white wing tips, compared to the neighbouring Black-headed Gulls.

Pressing on to the Tidal Pools, when we got there the Semipalmated Sandpiper had just been chased off by Turnstones and walked into the vegetation out of view. We had a look at the Turnstones, still mostly in their bright breeding plumage. There was also a small group of Dunlin, feeding on the edge of the island, plus Redshanks and Oystercatchers roosting.

The Semipalmated Sandpiper did walk out for a couple of seconds but went back in before we could all get a look at it. At least it was still there. We didn’t have too long this afternoon though, so we decided to walk back to Parrinder Hide and come back again later. A friend who was still waiting promised to let us know if it reappeared.

The Great White Egret was now on the Freshmarsh, preening out on one of the islands amongst all the gulls, looking oddly out of place. A single orange Knot in breeding plumage was feeding nearby, so we could get this one in the scope and have a better look at it than the ones which had flown past earlier.

From the hide, we could really appreciate just how many Avocets there are on the Freshmarsh now, with over 600 counted in the last day or so. They gather here to moult at this time of the year, so some of these birds may have come from very different places. They were mostly sleeping on the islands. We also had a nice close view of a Black-tailed Godwit still in breeding plumage in front of the hide, where we could clearly see the rusty colour of the head extending down to the breast and then barred with black on a white belly.

Avocets

Avocets – numbers soar, as birds come here to moult

Several juvenile Pied Wagtails were flitting around in front of the hide and out on the short grassy islands. A juvenile Yellow Wagtail was in with them, browner above and creamy yellow below. Some of the Spoonbills were awake now, and we watched a couple of juveniles practicing feeding, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallow water. We could see there were more Mediterranean Gulls here, in with Black-headed Gulls. A good opportunity to practice newly-learnt Mediterranean Gull identification and pick them out!

The phone buzzed, as a message arrived to say that the Semipalmated Sandpiper had come out, so we walked quickly back to the Tidal Pools. By the time we got there, it had of course disappeared back into the vegetation again but after scanning for a minute or so, we found it standing in a patch of short samphire. It was rather tucked in at first, but then put its head up, looking round. Then suddenly all the waders took off and headed straight out towards the beach. The Semipalmated Sandpiper appeared to go down with them.

We walked up onto the dunes and scanned the beach from the top. The tide was just going out and the mussel beds were only starting to be exposed in a few places. Thankfully it meant there weren’t too may places to hide and we quickly relocated the Semipalmated Sandpiper with a Dunlin feeding down on the shore. It was distant from here, so we walked down for a closer view, and had a really good view of it from the beach.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper – finally showed well, out on the beach

Semipalmated Sandpiper is a rare visitor here from North America, closely related to our Little Stint. It is more often seen on the west coast, and particularly unusual here in Norfolk. It gets its name from the small amount of webbing between the base of its toes, which is not shown by our stints.

It was a nice way to end our two days. After seeing a good variety of our breeding bids, as well as a selection of returning passage waders, we got to round it off with a proper rarity. Unfortunately we had to get back as there was a train to catch. It had been a very enjoyable couple of summer days out.

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6th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 2

Day 2 of a long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was originally meant to be sunny and warm today, but the forecast changed a couple of days ago to rain in the middle of the day and cooler. The rain came early – it was already spitting with drizzle when we met up and it continued on and off through the morning. Thankfully, it was only light and intermittent and it didn’t really stop us getting out, and it dried up in the afternoon.

Having been east along the coast yesterday, we drove west today. A Red Kite drifted over the road as we made our way to Holme. As we got out of the minibus, a Sedge Warbler was singing, but it was keeping tucked down out of view this morning. We could see a couple of dark juvenile Marsh Harriers flying round over the bushes out in the middle of the grazing marsh. When the male flew past, they thought they were going to get fed, but were disappointed when it didn’t stop. Up on the seawall, we could see one of the juveniles standing in a recently cut silage field, presumably trying to find something for itself.

It was already spitting with rain, but we thought we would be OK for an hour or so, based on the forecast. Enough time to get out to the beach and back. It was a very high tide this morning and lots of Redshanks were roosting out on the islands of vegetation on the saltmarsh. Five Little Egrets were roosting too. The Meadow Pipits and Skylarks had been forced off the saltmarsh and up into the dunes by the water, and we flushed several as we walked out.

Looking out over the dunes, we could see a Little Tern distantly over the beach. A Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding on the edge of the water. A Fulmar flew past offshore. When we got out to the beach, we found there was very little sand left exposed. A few Oystercatchers and gulls were roosting on the bit of beach left exposed. We could see a few Sandwich Terns flying past over the sea.

As we walked a little further down along the edge of the dunes, a Ringed Plover ran ahead of us. We had seen one on the nest here recently, but the area where it had been looked to be under water now. A Sanderling appeared on the sand on the edge of the dunes too, still in its dark breeding plumage.

Sanderling

Sanderling – still in dark breeding plumage

One of the Little Terns flew over calling. It started to drizzle more heavily now, so we decided to walk back to get our waterproofs from the minibus. From the dunes, we could see the pair of Little Terns mobbing an Oystercatcher back on the beach. Hopefully they had not been impacted by the high tides.

Little Tern

Little Tern – flew over calling

It had stopped drizzling again when we got back on the coastal path. Lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits were in feeding in the dunes. Back at the minibus, we layered up just in case. A Cuckoo flew across the grazing marshes on the other side of the track and when we looked across we could see a second Cuckoo perched on the top of some brambles. We had a look at it in the scope. It will not be long now before the adults leave and head off back south, their breeding season over and the surrogate parents left to raise the young.

We wanted to have a quick look in the old paddocks, so we walked back round and up onto the coastal path. But when we got there it started drizzling more heavily again, so we decided to change plans and head round to Titchwell instead, where we could use the hides. When we got to Titchwell, we had a quick look at the latest rainfall radar and realised the rain band looked to be moving over quickly, so we stopped for coffee at the Visitor Centre. Afterwards the rain had eased off again, so we headed out onto the reserve.

When we got out to the reedbed, a Reed Bunting was singing from the top of a small sallow. A few Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers were flitting round the small pools below the path. A small flock of waders flying in over the saltmarsh turned out to be a Whimbrel with ten Redshank. The latter dropped down on the saltmarsh, but we watched the Whimbrel disappear out over the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of ducks on the reedbed pool, mainly Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard with a single Tufted Duck. The drakes are now all in their drab eclipse plumage. A single Red-crested Pochard sailed out from the reeds. It looked rather like a female, apart from its bright coral-red bill – it was a drake in eclipse too. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew off over the reeds, flashing their white wing tips.

We continued on to Island Hide. There were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the mud in front of the hide. One of them was bearing a collection of colour rings including one with the letter ‘E’ and a flag with the number ’27’. This bird is a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, from the very small UK breeding population on the Nene Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a bird from the small UK breeding population

In order to try to help the struggling UK breeding population of Continental Black-tailed Godwits, a number of eggs are now being hatched and raised in captivity each year, before being released once they are fully grown. ‘E27’ is one of those, raised in 2018. After spending the winter in Spain, it has since toured East Anglia.

Most of the birds here are Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, which are faring much better. There were lots of them out on the Freshmarsh today, and there seemed to be birds moving too. A large flock had flown off as we walked up towards Island Hide, disappearing off west. We saw more flying off or over during the morning, and others dropping in.

A small group of Knot was out with the Black-tailed Godwits when we first arrived and we had a look at them through scope. But they had disappeared when we looked back, possibly out to the beach or perhaps they were on the move today too. We counted 44 Dunlin on the Freshmarsh, but there had apparently been 83 earlier – again waders were obviously dropping in and moving on.

Ruff

Ruff – scrawny-necked, having already moulted its ruff

There were about a dozen Ruff here today, all of them different colours. They are all males which have finished breeding, and already moulted their ornate ruffs. Some were looking very scruffy, with very scrawny necks. An adult Avocet and a well-grown juvenile were feeding in front of the hide, but there were lots more resting on the islands out in the middle. The Avocets are gathering here to moult now, with birds travelling here from elsewhere, and over 400 were counted here today. A single Spotted Redshank was visible over by the fenced-off Avocet Island but was rather distant from here.

The juvenile Bearded Tits like to feed along the edge of the reeds in front of Island Hide and we looked across to see three working their way round, hopping out onto the edge of the mud. We had a great look at them, tawny brown with black backs and black masks.

Bearded Tits

Bearded Tit – three juveniles, on the mud on the edge of the reeds

Spoonbills were reported on the Freshmarsh this morning, but they were apparently over in the back corner and not in view from here. One of the volunteers radioed through to a colleague over by Parrinder to check they were still present, and the reply came through that they were just taking off. We looked over to see six of them flying low towards us, they passed right in front of the hide, before disappearing off west over the bank, presumably heading to to feed.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – five of the six which flew off from the Freshmarsh

There are still lots of gulls out here, and plenty of Mediterranean Gulls loafing around on the islands in with all the Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Common Terns were out on one of the islands too.

Four Barnacle Geese flew in over the back from the direction of Brancaster and landed on the island in front of Parrinder Hide. When we walked round, we had a better look from there. They are presumably feral birds from the now established UK breeding population, which tend to wander.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – two of the four which dropped in on the Freshmarsh

We had a closer look at the gulls from Parrinder Hide. There were lots of juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, much greyer and scalier than the rather dark brown juvenile Black-headed Gulls. Several of the juvenile Mediterrnaean Gulls were begging from the adults.

There was a much better view of the Spotted Redshank by the Avocet Island fence from here too. It was still mostly in sooty black breeding plumage but starting to moult now with patches of paler grey emerging. At least four more Spotted Redshanks were right over the far side, on the edge of the reeds. A couple of those were already noticeably whiter below than the others.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – starting to moult out of its black breeding plumage

There were more ducks loafing on the islands over this side of the Freshmarsh, the drake all in drab eclipse plumage. Teal and Shoveler were both additions to the day’s list. Hundreds of Swifts had gathered over the reeds, and we could see a few House Martins and Sand Martins in with them. They were hawking low, trying to find insects in the cool and rain. There had been a steady passage of Swifts moving west along the coast today.

It was lunchtime now, so we set off to walk back. We had a quick look over the wall at Volunteer Marsh, but there wasn’t much on there – a single Curlew, an Oystercatcher, and a Lapwing. We hadn’t got back to the trees before it started to spit with rain again. As we didn’t fancy sitting out in the rain, we decided to divert round via Meadow Trail before lunch. A Song Thrush was singing on Fen Trail, perched right on the top of a dead tree. We stopped to watch a pair of Blackcaps feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a pair were feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide

The drizzle had stopped by the time we got round to Patsy’s and there were lots more warblers in the bushes around the screen, coming out to feed after the rain. We saw several Common Whitethroats and a couple of Chiffchaffs, as well the usual Reed Warblers. A couple of Bearded Tits zipped back and forth across the reeds.

There were lots of ducks on Patsy’s, mainly Mallard and Gadwall, the drakes all in eclipse. A female Common Pochard with several ducklings was diving out in the middle. Two more Red-crested Pochard were again drakes in eclipse, given away by their bright red bills.

When we finally got back to the Visitor Centre, it was time for a rather late lunch. We were very kindly allowed to eat inside as it was not busy today and the clouds still looked rather threatening. Afterwards, we made our way back east along the coast and stopped again at Burnham Overy Staithe.

As we walked out along the seawall, we saw a distant Spoonbill fly across over the harbour towards the dunes. A male Kestrel landed in the top of the hawthorn bushes on the near edge of the grazing marshes and a couple of Greylag heads popped up from time to time out of the long grass beyond. A Little Grebe was diving in the channel on the edge of the reeds and we stopped to watch a family of Sedge Warblers down in the wet grass below the bank.

There were a few waders out in the harbour. A flock of Redshanks around the small pools on the sandbanks and more with a flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits on the mud on the corner. There were several Oystercatchers too, but it was very disturbed today with several boats in the channel and people walking out over the middle of the saltmarsh and round the edge of the harbour.

We stopped on the corner by the reedbed pool. There were lots of Coot and a few ducks on the water and we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Then a Black Tern appeared over the pool. It circled round over the reeds, giving us a good look at it. It was a very smart adult, still in sooty black breeding plumage. Then as quickly as it had appeared it flew up and over the bank and disappeared out over the harbour. There had apparently been a Black Tern here a couple of days ago, so it was possibly lingering here.

Black Tern

Black Tern – a smart adult, appeared over the reedbed pool briefly

There were some cattle grazing on the marshes further up along the bank, so we walked over. There had been some Cattle Egrets with them earlier this week, but there didn’t seem to be anything there at first today. We stood and looked out over the grazing marshes and we were just about to head back, when the Cattle Egrets suddenly appeared. They were not feeding around the cows, but on a small pool hidden in the long grass in between them. We couldn’t see the Cattle Egrets behind the tall vegetation until they happened to walk out into the open, just in time.

We had a good view of the Cattle Egrets through the scope. They were looking particularly smart, in breeding plumage with a pale orange wash on the top of the head, the back and breast. Then they flew back to join the cows further back and we lost them from view again in the long grass.

Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets – feeding on a small pool in between the cows

A Spoonbill flew in over the harbour and out across the grazing marshes, heading for the breeding colony. As we walked back, we were almost at the car park and had stopped to look out over the marshes, when another Spoonbill dropped in behind us into the harbour channel. It would have been a great view, but there were more people out with dogs paddling in the harbour, and they flushed it as we turned round to look at it.

We were heading out again this evening, looking for Nightjars, so it was time to head back now, so we could all have a break and get something to eat.

Nightjar Evening

When we met again in the early evening, the weather was much improved, and the sun was even shining. We headed over first to look for Little Owls at a nearby complex of barns. We were in luck tonight. As we pulled up and started to scan the roofs, we spotted two fluffy juvenile Little Owls perched on the top enjoying the evening sun.

Little Owls

Little Owls – two juveniles enjoying the evening sun on the roof

One of the adult Little Owls appeared on the roof opposite, and one of the juveniles flew over to see if it was going to be fed. We stopped and watched them for a while and there was lots of flying backwards and forwards between the roofs. A second adult appeared on another roof, which we assumed was the other parent, but the first adult flew over straight at it as if it was trying to chase it off. The second Little Owl flew a short distance, but it landed on the same place we had first seen the two juveniles and was ignored thereafter, so it was hard to be sure what its relationship was to the others.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away – we could have stayed watching the Little Owls all evening but we wanted to head down to the coast to look for Barn Owls. We drove round some meadows where they like to hunt, but there was no sign initially of any out tonight. We stopped, and walked up onto a bank from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

When we looked back, we found a Barn Owl out hunting the field behind us, where we had just been looking. It flew round and landed on some bales, but by the time we got the scopes out, it was off again. It landed a second time, on a fence below the bank by the reeds, and this time we had a good view, perched looking at us. It dropped down to the ground and flew back up to the fence. Then it was away over the reeds.

We turned to see a second Barn Owl had flown along the bank right behind us and was disappeared off out over the marshes. It was a striking almost all-white male, a regular bird here. It disappeared away out of view before we could get a good look at it, but thankfully quickly caught something and came back with a vole in its talons.

It flew straight towards us initially, then veered off and disappeared into the trees, presumably heading back to its nest to feed its young. Only a short while later, it was out hunting again. It flew round over the meadows, where we had seen the first Barn Owl, then came past us across reeds and disappeared out over marshes.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – the ghostly white male caught a vole

It was time now to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. It was quiet as we walked out to the middle, but not long before we heard our first Nightjar calling. We looked over to see it flying round the treetops in the distance. It started churring so we walked over to look for it.

The Woodcock were still roding too. We heard a squeaky call, and looked up to see one flying over, with flicking wingbeats, it distinctive display flight. It or another came right over us a couple of times this evening.

The Nightjar was churring in a dense oak, and impossible to see in the evening gloom. We stood nearby and listened and after a while it dropped out and came towards us over the heath. Then a female appeared, and came in to investigate, hovering right in front of us. We had a great view as it flew round just above our heads.

Nightjar

Nightjar – flew round above our heads

When the female Nightjar flew back towards the trees, a second male came in, and the two of them flew round together calling, the flashing the white in his wings and tail. The first male was still churring out in the middle of the heath, while an intruder was on its territory. These two birds often seem to have dispute, and after a while the first Nightjar flew back off towards its territory.

We stood for a while and listened to the Nightjars churring. Occasionally one would fly in and circle round above us again. A Tawny Owl hooted from deep in the woods behind. The light was fading now, so we set off to walk back. We heard another couple of churring male Nightjars on our way back to the minibus. Then it was time for bed – we had another busy day tomorrow.

15th June 2019 – Birds & Butterflies, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Summer Tours looking for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. It was bright and sunny, with patchy high cloud for most of the morning, but cloudier and cooler as the breeze picked up a little in the afternoon. We made our way down to The Broads for the day.

As we set off, we hadn’t gone far when we spotted a Little Owl in the window opening of an old barn. We pulled up a discrete distance away but before we could get out it had disappeared inside. The rest of the journey down to the Broads was fairly quiet, the only bird of real note being a Grey Wagtail which flew up from the side of the road at one point.

Early reports suggested that the Lesser Grey Shrike which has spent the last week along the Nelson Head track at Horsey was still present this morning, so we headed straight round there first. A Swallow was singing from under the eaves of the Nelson Head pub.

Swallow

Swallow – singing under the eaves of the pub

As we walked down the road, a Common Whitethroat was singing from an oak tree in the hedge on the edge of one of the fields. There were small flocks of Linnets flying in and out of another oilseed rape field, feeding on the seeds. We took the track out towards the dunes and several Skylarks towered up into the blue sky, probably making the most of it after the last week’s rain. A Reed Warbler sang from a reedy ditch by the path, but remained mostly out of view, even though we could see the reeds moving. A male Reed Bunting perched on some brambles was singing too, as best it could!

There were a few people gathered already this morning, looking at the Lesser Grey Shrike, so we joined them. The bird was out at the back of a grassy meadow with scattered bushes. It was perched on a branch low on the edge of a clump of sallows at first, so we got it in the scope. We could see its black mask extending up over its forehead and the pink flush to its breast. It was very active, flying between bushes and sallying out over the grass for insects.

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike – feeding from the bushes out in the meadow

Lesser Grey Shrike is a scarce visitor to the UK from south-eastern Europe, with on average only 1-2 seen each year. We stood and watched it for a few minutes, before it flew round behind a large area of bushes and we lost sight of it. A Hobby shot through low over the grass, hunting dragonflies. We decided to walk on to the dunes.

There has been an invasion of Painted Lady butterflies from the continent in the last few days and there were lots here this morning. Everywhere we looked over the grassy meadows, we could see them flying round. Along the edge of the path, there were small groups feeding on any nectar-bearing flowers that were open. An impressive sight to see so many here.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – there has been an invasion from the continent

Further along the path, the verges were lined with several clumps of purple Southern Marsh Orchids coming into flower. A Curlew flew high overhead calling, heading south. Amazing to think, but the first waders are already coming back after the breeding season further north and there have been a few Curlews on the move in recent days. Their summer is over already, just as ours is hopefully beginning!

We carried on out to the dunes and climbed up to the top to look at the sea. There were a few gulls offshore and a Grey Seal diving just off the groynes. We had a quick scan from up here but there were lots of small beetles buzzing around in clouds which started to get in people’s hair, so we decided to make our way back.

We were just about to descend when we noticed a Hobby, possibly the one we had seen earlier, hawing for insects low over the top of the dunes just to our right. It came along the line of the dunes towards us, then shot fast and low down over the grassy slope right below us, catching something low over the grass and then coming back up to eat it as it passed.

Hobby

Hobby – flew past us catching insects low over the dunes

As we made our way back to the track, a pair of Stonechats were on the fence. They flicked off ahead of us, landing each time a bit further along. The male flashed a bright white rump as it flew – a characteristic more typical of continental Stonechats rather than the darker British race hibernans. The taxonomic status of the Stonechats on the coast here is uncertain and it is possible that continental rubicola Stonechats intergrade with hibernans here.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male flashed a bold white rump as it flew

The Lesser Grey Shrike had come out again and was now feeding along a fence line across the fields, repeatedly sallying out from a dead stem and returning to the same perch. It attracted the attentions of the Stonechat and a Reed Bunting here, which perched close by, the Stonechat chasing after it at one point. The Lesser Grey Shrike seemed to take little notice.

On the way back to the minibus, we stopped to help a Garden Tiger moth caterpillar off the path and rescue a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly from a puddle. A pair of Common Whitethroats was carrying food in and out of the hedge and a Greenfinch was wheezing from the top of an ash tree.

We headed round to Potter Heigham next. As we made our way in along the track, there were lots of dragonflies zooming around between the reeds, Norfolk Hawkers and Black-tailed Skimmers. A pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grazing meadows. We could see a Spoonbill on the back of one of the pools, busy feeding with its head down and moving its bill quickly from side to side through the shallow water. The next pool had a large area of exposed mud in the middle. Several Lapwing were on here, including a good number of well-grown juveniles. A Little Ringed Plover was lurking in between two sleeping Shelducks.

At the end of the track, we climbed up onto the bank. Our main target for the day was Swallowtail butterfly and as we came through the trees one shot past us over the tops of the reeds. We saw several as we walked along here, but they were all flying fast and none were showing any signs of settling. The brambles and thistles are not in flower yet this year, so there are not so many sources of nectar here for them to feed on. Still, it was a good start.

We stopped to scan the pools on the corner from up on the bank. Two Spoonbills and two Little Egrets were standing on the grassy bank at the back. We had a good look at the Spoonbills in the scope, two immatures. After a while, they took off and flew round, landing back out of view on one of the other pools, presumably to feed. A Chinese Water Deer ran round the bank on the edge of the water.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were two immature birds on the pool on the corner

There was a good selection of ducks, most of the drakes already starting to moult into their duller eclipse plumage. As well as the regular Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall, a single drake Wigeon was standing on the bank among the Greylag Geese. We could see a couple of Great Crested Grebes in the edge of the reeds at the back and a pair of Little Grebes diving in the floating vegetation in the middle.

Scanning carefully, we found a drake Garganey too. It was asleep at first, but we could still see the bold pale stripes on the sides of its head. A second drake Garganey flew in and landed on the water nearby. It was further advanced in its moult, and a lot duller than the first. It swam over to the bank and walked over to the other one, waking it up. The two Garganey then walked higher up the bank and went to sleep together.

Garganey

Garganey – the two drakes sleeping on the bank

We walked a short distance further along the bank. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds ahead of us and we could see its bold pale supercilium. A Willow Warbler and a Blackcap were both singing in the scattered trees along the bank. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds. Several Avocets and Common Terns flew in and out of the pools and a male Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds.

It was getting on for lunchtime now, so we decided to turn back. There were a few small blue damselflies in the vegetation along the edge of the path, and we picked out one Variable Damselfly amongst them. There were a few more butterflies along the lower track – as well as the ever-present Painted Ladys, there were several Red Admirals but no sign of any more Swallowtails. A Drinker moth caterpillar was on a dead reed stem overhanging the track. A pair of Stock Doves were flying round the old tin shed.

It clouded over as we drove round to Strumpshaw Fen, but thankfully the darkest of the clouds passed away to the west. As we walked across the road from the overflow car park, we could hear a Cuckoo calling in the trees nearby. We sat out on the picnic tables by Reception to eat our lunch. It was showing signs of trying to brighten up, but the wind had picked up a bit too. We decided to walk round to the ‘Doctor’s garden’, where it would be more sheltered, to see if there were any butterflies out there.

A couple of Bullfinches called from the trees as we walked along the track and as we got to the garden there were several dragonflies flying round bushes opposite. As well as a couple of Norfolk Hawkers, a couple of Scarce Chasers were perched on the brambles. The flowers in the garden were covered in Painted Ladys – we counted at least 20 in the two small patches by the track – but there were no Swallowtails at first. We decided to wait, as the sun came out at that point, and it wasn’t too long before a Swallowtail flew in and joined the Painted Ladys nectaring on the Dianthus.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail – nectaring on Dianthus

The Swallowtail was not the smartest individual, having sustained some damage and lots its ‘swallow tails’, but it was still good to get a close look at one. There were several Brimstones around the garden too, including a pair which were engaged in courtship flight. When the Swallowtail eventually flew off, we headed back round by the Reception and out onto the reserve.

It had clouded over again now, so there were not as many insects out as earlier now. We had a quick look at the Common Twayblades on the edge of the trees and stopped to watch a Bank Vole which climbed up into an elder and was feeding on the flowers. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flew through the bushes. There were a few damselflies in the vegetation around the pool at the start of Meadow Trail, including Large Red and another Variable alongside the commoner Azure Damselflies. A Marsh Click Beetle was perched on the top of a broken dead reed stem.

The wind was catching the bushes out along Sandy Wall and there was not so much to see out here. We did find a single Large Skipper in a sheltered spot and someone brought over a Buff-tip moth they had just found, to show us. A Willow Warbler was singing, appropriately, in the willows and a Reed Warbler from down in the reeds.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – sheltering from the wind in the brambles

Fen Hide can often be quiet, but we decided to have a quick look just in case. It was nice just sitting there listening to the wind in the reeds. A Marsh Harrier was perched in the top of one of the trees out in the middle of the reedbed, and several Common Swifts were zooming back and forth low over the reeds, but there were few other birds here.

We had just got up to leave when someone else in the hide announced ‘I think I’ve got a Bittern‘. A quick scan confirmed there was indeed a Bittern, which had just climbed into the top of the reeds in front of the hide. It was tucked down in amongst the reeds at first and harder to see. It ruffled its feathers and had a shake, then stretched its neck up out of the reeds to look around, at which point it was much easier to get onto.

Bittern 1

Bittern – climbed up into the top of the reeds in front of Fen Hide

The Bittern stayed in the top of the reeds, looking around for a few minutes. It seemed like it was getting ready to fly, checking that the coast was clear first. Then suddenly it was off, labouring up heavily clear of the reeds and then disappearing off back away from us over the reedbed.

Bittern 2

Bittern – eventually took off and flew back away over the reedbed

That was a great way to finish off our day in the Broads, so we made our way back to the minibus, for the long drive back. We were almost home when we spotted the Little Owl in the window of the same old barn where we had seen it perched earlier. This time, it stayed put when we stopped, but disappeared inside again before we could all get out.

Nightjar Evening

After a break to relax and get something to eat, we set off again in the evening. We drove back round to where we had seen the Little Owl and third time lucky, got a better look at it. It was more active now, out hunting around the barns. It flew and landed on one edge, right next to the road, as we drove up, but flew back and landed on the edge of the roof. We stopped a discrete distance away and got out, getting a good look at it before it flew again and disappeared round the far side. We got back in the minibus and drove slowly past. The Little Owl was perched on a low wall just beyond the barns and we had a really good look at it from the bus.

Little Owl

Little Owl – we finally got a better look at it this evening

Our next target was Barn Owl, so we drove down towards the coast and round by an area that they usually like to hunt. There was no sign of any here, so we parked and set off down along a track through the marshes. It was cloudier here than it had been inland, and there was a fresh breeze blowing. A Red Kite was perched on a post. We flushed a Grey Partridge from the track, which flew out and landed on the grazing meadows. We got it in the scope and could see its orange face as it stood in the grass calling.

We heard Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ from the reeds behind us, and turned to see two juveniles climbing up into the tops. We had some great views of them as we stood and watched over the next few minutes, as the looked for food in the top of the reeds. Two more juveniles flew in and joined them, but the when the adult male flew in it dropped straight down into the reeds out of view.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – one of the juveniles in the reeds this evening

There was no sign of any owls out here, so we turned to go. As we walked back to the minibus, we spotted a Barn Owl flying through the bushes the other side of the road. It was carrying prey and disappeared into the trees. A few seconds later it was back out again – it clearly had young to feed in a nest somewhere in there. It did well to catch something else almost immediately, and went back up into the trees again. When it flew back out, we drove round to the area where it appeared to be hunting. There was no sign of the male Barn Owl but a female flew back past us heading for the nest.

We needed to get a move on now, or we would late for the evening’s main event. We headed inland to one of the heaths to look for Nightjars. With the cloud tonight, it was getting dark quickly as we walked out to the middle. The first Nightjar of the evening started churring in the trees.

A squeaky call alerted to a Woodcock overhead. We turned to see it flying past, with rhythmic beats of its wings, roding. We would see it or another Woodcock several times this evening, flying over in this distinctive display flight.

We were had just arrived at the territory of one of the Nightjars when it started churring in the top of an oak tree right ahead of us, beside the path. Unfortunately it was on the far side from us, and when we started to walk round it flew, dropping off the branch with its wings raised, before flying out into the middle of the heath. We could still hear it churring in the distance.

We stood hear and listened for a while – then the Nightjar flew back in right past us. We thought it might be heading for another of its favourite churring posts, but instead a second Nightjar appeared, the female. The two of them flew round just above our heads calling. They did this several times, drifting away before coming back in for another look. The female disappeared but the male came in again, right over our heads, hanging in the air at times with its wings raised and tail fanned, flashing its white wing and tail patches. Amazing to watch!

The male Nightjar then flew up into a nearby oak tree and started churring again. Through a gap in the leaves we could see it perched on a branch, silhouetted against the last of the light, and we got it in the scope. Then it dropped out of the tree and flew out across the heath again. It started to spit with some very light rain now – which was not in the forecast! We stood and listened to it churring from some trees in the distance, then the male came in and flew round past us once more. The light was going fast, so we decided to call it a night.

As we walked back to the minibus, two more Nightjars had started churring further over. We had a brief glimpse of one silhouetted against the sky as it flew past. Back at the car park, yet another Nightjar was churring across the road and a Tawny Owl was hooting away in the distance.

 

21st July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was another sunny day – lovely weather to be out and about, even if the temperature does mean that a lot of the smaller birds go quiet in the heat of the day.

Our first destination was Holkham. As we got out of the car at the north end of Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear Grey Partridge calling from the grazing meadow. It was just visible for a couple of seconds before it walked back into the taller grass and disappeared.

There were not many birds singing now as we set off west along the track on the edge of the pines. We did hear a Blackcap deep in the trees and a Wren on this first stretch of the path. It wasn’t long before we encountered a tit flock – suddenly we didn’t know where to look, with Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits feeding in the trees either side of us. A Treecreeper appeared in a pine tree close by, allowing us to get a good look at it as it climbed up the trunk. Three Goldcrests were calling and flicking their wings in a small group high above the track.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – showed well in a pine by the path

Salts Hole just held a few Mallard and a Moorhen, so we continued on. We saw quite a few butterflies in the brambles and bushes by the path Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet, both Large and Green-veined WhiteRed Admiral and Peacock. When we got to the elms just before Washington Hide, we stopped and scanned the tops of the trees. It didn’t take long to find a small butterfly fluttering around the branches, a White-letter Hairstreak. It eventually landed in view and we could see the distinctive white line on the underside of its wings.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper – we saw lots of butterflies along the path today

There is a better view from higher up on the boardwalk, so we stopped just outside Washington Hide to scan the grazing marshes. There were a couple of juvenile Marsh Harriers practicing their flying skills out over the reeds. We saw our first Spoonbills of the day too, two of them circling out over the middle of the marshes, and there were a couple of others perched in the trees in the distance. A Great White Egret  flew up out of the reeds by the pool in front of the hide, but dropped down behind the sallows before everyone could get a look at it.

As we approached Meals House, a male Bullfinch flew off from the reeds by the garden and landed in a sallow at the back. It perched in full view, so we got a good look at it, bright pink underneath with a black cap. It flew across and landed down on the edge of the garden and we could see it feeding on the brambles by the fence when we looked from the gate. A female Bullfinch was feeding with it here too.

Before we even got to Joe Jordan Hide, we could see all the Spoonbills on the edge of the pool out in front. From up in the hide, we could count them. There were at least 15 juveniles, ‘teaspoonbills’ with partly grown bills, and 3-4 adults with them, although there was steady coming and going. Several of the juvenile Spoonbills were begging for food from their parents – bobbing their heads up and down and flapping their wings. We watched them pursue the adults relentlessly around the pool!

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – there were still at least 15 juveniles on the pool today

A Great White Egret appeared, flying in over the grazing marsh, but quickly dropped down into a ditch out of view. A little while later, another Great White Egret flew out of the trees and across the grass of the fort, before dropping down into the same place.

There were more juvenile Marsh Harriers in front of the hide here too, practicing their flying. Three Common Buzzards circled up over the grass and a Kestrel perched in a hawthorn out on the edge of one of the ditches.

Leaving the hide, we walked through the pines and out into the dunes. The orchids here are now largely over, but there were one or two Marsh Helleborines still flowering. We were hoping to catch up with some butterflies here, but it was rather quiet at first. A Common Blue fluttered past and then a Brown Argus appeared. We found a couple of Six-spot Burnet moths feeding on the thistles. Eventually one Dark Green Fritillary put in an appearance, but it was just a quick fly past – blink, and you missed it!

Brown Argus

Brown Argus – out in the dunes

Scanning the beach from the top of the dunes, it all looked very quiet, bird-wise at least. Two Gannets flew east offshore, way off in the distance. On the way back through the dunes, there were a few more Dark Green Fritillaries, but they were very mobile in the heat. One did drop down into the grass briefly but it was quickly on its way again.

The trees were even quieter now, in the heat of the middle of the day. We did find a Drinker moth on the path on our way back. A Jay was feeding in the shade underneath the trees by the path.

Jay

Jay – feeding in the shade underneath the trees

It was time for lunch when we arrived at Titchwell, where we planned to spend the afternoon. We made good use of the tables in the picnic area. A Southern Hawker was feeding around the sallows just across the path while we ate.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. There is nothing on the dried-up grazing meadow ‘pool’ now, but there were lots of ducks on the reedbed pool. Most of the drakes are in their drab eclipse plumage now, but in with the Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard, we did find two female Red-crested Pochards. Two Little Grebes were diving along the edge of the reeds towards the back.

We heard Bearded Tits pinging in the reeds by the path and saw one or two zooming across the tops before diving in. One perched up briefly. There were several Reed Warblers too. The juvenile Marsh Harriers were flying round over the reeds here too and were joined at one point by a smart grey-winged male.

Just before Island Hide, we stopped to scan the Freshmarsh. There were more Bearded Tits here, with birds pretty much constantly flying back and forth between the reeds either side of the mud.  On the edge of the island at the back, we could see more Spoonbills, at least ten of them at first, with another two then flying in to join them. A single Little Gull, a first summer, was swimming round in circles along the edge of the reeds, picking at the surface.

There are lots of waders on the Freshmarsh at the moment – particularly Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. In amongst one of the roosting flocks of the latter, we found a summer-plumage Bar-tailed Godwit – even though it was asleep, we could see the rusty colour of its underparts extending right down under the tail. There were a few Knot with them too, all still in orange breeding plumage. Three adult Curlew Sandpipers were feeding together nearby, still sporting their summer rusty underparts, and there were several small groups of Dunlin too.

Some of the Spotted Redshanks have been back a while now and have been moutling fast out of their black breeding plumage. The first one we saw was almost completely in its silvery-grey winter plumage already.

There were some Ruff right in front of Island Hide, so we popped in for a closer look. They are also moulting fast, the males losing their ornate ruff feathers very soon after they get back. With birds in different states of moult, and still sporting some breeding feathers in a variety of colours, the variation in appearance is really amazing!

Ruff

Ruff – a moulting male in front of the hide

Having disappeared yesterday, the Lesser Yellowlegs was relocated on the Tidal Pools just as we arrived at Titchwell. Helpfully, by the time we got out to the Freshmarsh, it had flown back on here. We quickly found it, right out in the middle with all the other waders. It stood out, small and slim, with a very fine bill.

It was also interesting to watch the Lesser Yellowlegs feeding, sweeping its bill side to side through the water, rather like a Spotted Redshank. We had a nice comparison at one point while it was feeding next to a couple of Common Redshanks. Four Golden Plover dropped in to one of the islands, to round off the wader collection here nicely.

As well as all the waders, there are still lots of gulls on the Freshmarsh. The Mediterranean Gulls have had a great breeding season and we could see a good number of juveniles still, as well as some very smart adults. There were several Common and Sandwich Terns too, but the only Little Tern was chased off by an Avocet and headed out towards the beach.

While we scanned the Freshmarsh, we kept one eye on the edge of the reeds. We had a couple of brief views of Bearded Tits there before three tawny brown juveniles came out onto the mud opposite the hide. They hopped up and down along the edge, in and out of the reeds, feeding. Now we had some nice scope views of them.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – three juveniles came out onto the edge of the reeds

Back up on the main path, we found a juvenile Little Ringed Plover feeding on the mud just below the bank. The two injured Pink-footed Geese appeared from behind the vegetation on one of the islands. They appear unable to fly and have not been able to return to Iceland for the breeding season, but seem to be surviving here.

Carrying on towards the beach, there is not much on Volunteer Marsh at the moment. A Common Redshank walked up out of the channel below the path as we passed and we stopped to admire a couple of Lapwings, their iridescent green upperparts shining bronze and purple in the sunshine. Several Curlews were feeding along the edges of the channel at the far side.

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining bronze and purple in the sunshine

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’, which have been flooded with seawater since the winter, are steadily starting to dry out a little, exposing some of the muddy islands. There are lots of waders on here at the moment. As well as the usual Oystercatchers, which roost on here over high tide, there were lots of Dunlin and several Turnstones at the back, mostly asleep. The heat haze was a bit of a problem now and we couldn’t find the Temminck’s Stint which had been reported earlier – there are too many places for it to hide here!

Out at the beach, we couldn’t see much out to sea, beyond a few Sandwich Terns passing. The tide was just starting to go out and the mussel beds were still under water, so there were not many waders out here. Two Ringed Plover were feeding on the sand out towards Brancaster. A flock of small waders flew across over the edge of the sea – a group of Sanderling, still in their darker breeding plumage. They doubled back and landed on the edge of the water, where we could get a good look at them in the scope.

On the way back, we stopped to scan the Freshmarsh again. Two Common Snipe had appeared on the mud beside the reeds below the bank out to Parrinder Hide. As we looked beyond them, we saw that the Lesser Yellowlegs had flown in and was now feeding right in front of the hide. We took a quick diversion for a closer look.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs – feeding right in front of Parrinder Hide

We had a great view of the Lesser Yellowlegs now, feeding right out in front of the hide. Much better than earlier, when it was right out in the middle. It was wading in deeper water now, up to its belly, and probing down into the mud below, rather than sweeping its bill.

It was time to head back, but we had one more diversion on the way. A couple of Bearded Tits were feeding in the reeds around the pools just below the main path and we stopped to watch them. While we were doing so, we heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see two flying high west overhead, presumably freshly back from the continent.

Then, with a busy evening ahead and needing to get something to eat beforehand, we made our way back to the car.

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours rest, we met up again early in the evening. We headed out to look for Little Owls first, up to some barns which are a good place to find them. As we drove up, we noticed a shape on one of the roofs right beside the road and looked up to see a Little Owl staring back at us.

Little Owl

Little Owl – staring at us as we first drove up

We pulled up in the middle of the road for a look, but just at that moment a car was coming the other way and we had to move. The Little Owl disappeared as the other car passed, so we parked further up along the road and got out. We scanned the roofs of the farm buildings on the other side of the road and found another Little Owl right on the top of a grain silo some distance away. Then a third Little Owl popped up on the top of another silo a little further over. We had a good look at them in the scope.

A couple of Red-legged Partridges were standing on one of the roofs and dropped down to feed on the edge of the concrete below. A smart male Yellowhammer perched high on the top of another, calling. A Brown Hare ran past between the buildings and a large flock of Rooks flew over, heading off to roost. A Hobby flashed past, over the fields and away towards the trees beyond.

Then the first Little Owl reappeared, back on the roof where we had seen it earlier, much closer to us. It had found a spot, tucked down behind the ridge where it could perch and not be easily seen, but we found a good angle and got some nice views through scope.

Having enjoyed such great success with Little Owls, we made our way down towards the coast to look for Barn Owls next. When they have young to feed, the Barn Owls are often out hunting early, but now many of the young have fledged, there are not so many out in the early evening. We drove round and checked out all the various fields where we see them regularly, but no joy.

We had an appointment with some Nightjars, so we couldn’t wait too long for the Barn Owls to appear tonight. We parked and got out, and scanned across a large expanse of marshes. Finally a Barn Owl appeared, albeit rather distantly, and it landed on a post so we could get it in the scope.

It was time to make our way up to the heath now. We parked and walked out to the middle. It was all quiet now, apart from a pair of Stonechats calling out on the gorse.

The first Nightjar started up bang on time. It called from somewhere in the trees first, before churring briefly. Then it flew out of the trees and round in front of us and landed on its favourite perch, right in the scope. We had a great look at it, but unfortunately it only stayed a few seconds before it was off again. It flew round, in and out of the trees, before churring again from somewhere deeper in.

When it came out of the trees again, the Nightjar did another circuit in front of us, then flew straight past us. We had a great view, as it flew past with stiff wing beats, flashing its white wing patches. It flew up into a dense leafy oak behind us, before disappearing off across heath.

Nightjar

Nightjar – this male flew right past us and out over the heath

A second Nightjar started up, churring away in the distance, and what was probably the one we had just been watching responded, churring from somewhere out in the middle. They were a bit slow to get going this evening, perhaps given the stage of the breeding season, but as we walked on another two Nightjars started to churr.

We headed over to where we could watch a couple of the favourite perches used by one of the other males, but there was no sign of it coming in tonight. We could still hear the two male Nightjars churring against each other out in the middle. It was great simply to stand for a while and listen to them as the light faded.

It was starting to get dark now, and we were just about to walk back when a Nightjar called along the edge of the trees behind us. It was the male, and it flew in and did a circuit round by the trees, silhouetted against the last of the light. It didn’t land on one of its perches, but flew back out to another favourite oak tree, and started churring again.

As we walked back to the car, we were serenaded by another one or two males churring from the trees across the other side of the heath. We heard one calling, and looked up to see two Nightjars flying round, feeding around the tops of trees, silhouetted against the moon. A fitting way to end a lovely evening out on the heath.

30th June 2018 – Summer Night Special

A Private Nightjar Evening tonight. It was a lovely bright, sunny evening, with a fresh ENE breeze on the coast. A perfect evening to be out, for owls and Nightjars.

We met up in the early evening and headed out first to look for owls. Little Owl was the initial target, so we made our way over to some farm buildings we know they frequent. It was still bright and warm when we arrived and got out of the car. A quick scan of the barn roofs revealed a Little Owl out sunning itself.

Little Owl

Little Owl – preening on a hot roof!

The Little Owl was quite well tucked in at first, but then hopped out onto the roof itself and started to stretch and preen, tidying itself up ahead of a busy evening hunting presumably. There was still quite a bit of heat haze, but we got a good look at it through the scope.

A second Little Owl was on the barn roof on the other side of the road, more distant than the first. Through the scope, we could see that it was a juvenile, still with fluffy down around the head and shoulders. We thought we might go over that way and try to get a bit closer to it, but while we turned our attention back to the first Little Owl for a minute, the juvenile disappeared, presumably back under the roof.

A Brown Hare and a Red-legged Partridge ran down the track between the barns too, while we were watching the Little Owls. It had been a very successful first stop, so we decided to move on and see if we could find any Barn Owls.

We drove round via an area where we have seen Barn Owls out hunting regularly in the last few weeks, but we couldn’t find any today. It was still quite bright, so perhaps they were waiting for the light to fade a bit today?

We made our way on to another area which is good for Barn Owls and had a walk out along the bank which overlooks the grazing marshes. It was a lovely evening, with Common Swifts screaming overhead and we watched as several Little Egrets flew over, heading off to roost. But there was no sign of the resident Barn Owls here either.

They had to be out hunting sooner or later, so we figured it was worth driving round and back to where we had first looked earlier. As we got back there, we looked across the grazing marshes and could see a white shape on the support wire for a telegraph post away in the distance. A quick look through the binoculars confirmed it was indeed a Barn Owl. Where it was we could see was by a side road, so we drove round.

The Barn Owl was very close to the road here, so we got out very carefully. It remained perched on the wire, although it looked at us to make sure we weren’t likely to be any threat. It quickly resumed what it was doing, scanning the ground, so we set up the scope and had a really good, close look at it.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – perched on the support wire for a telegraph post

Suddenly the Barn Owl took off. It flew a few metres out into the field, hovered and then dropped vertically down into the grass. It was down in the vegetation for several minutes, so we thought it might have caught something, but after a while it emerged from the grass empty talonned.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – hunting in the evening light

The Barn Owl quartered over the meadow for a while, hunting – it was a fantastic sight, looking in to the low evening light. Then it flew over to the edge of the trees at the back and landed on a tall stump. After a few minutes, it took off again and resumed hunting, flying round over the tall grass, before coming back towards us and landing back on the wire where we had first seen it.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – came back towards us and landed back where it had first been

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from watching the Barn Owl, particularly as it was so obliging this evening. But we had a date up on the heath with some Nightjars!

As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Nightjar calling and looked over to see it flying over the gorse. It was a couple of minutes early tonight! We watched as it flew across to the edge of the trees and lost sight of it. A couple of second later, it started churring, just a short burst.

We made our way round to where it had gone down to see if we could find it, but when it churred again briefly, we realised it was somewhere in the trees. Then it flew out, wing clapping and circled low over the gorse in front of us, with its tail fanned and its wings held up, flashing its white wing stripes and tail corners. Then it dropped back down under the oak tree.

Something was upsetting this male Nightjar, and we gradually realised what. It flew out again, across low over the heather in front of us, and up onto one of its favourite churring branches, where we could get it in the scope. It was a great view, but as it started to churr, we could hear a second male churring quietly back near the oak tree.

Nightjar 1

Nightjar – on one of its favourite branches, churring

The first male flew back across, wing clapping and calling, and dropped in below the oak tree again. Several times, it flew out and did a small circuit over the gorse nearby, with its tail fanned and held sideways to show off the white spots to maximum effect. In between, twice more it flew across and landed on the branch in front of us to churr briefly.

Eventually the two male Nightjars flew out, both males, and they started to chase each other in and out of the trees, with lots of calling and wing clapping. It was a fantastic display – we stood mesmerised. Presumably a territorial dispute. The two Nightjars gradually worked their way along the edge of the trees and then disappeared out across the heath. We presumed one of the males had prevailed.

Nightjar 2

Nightjar – we had fantastic flight views, wing clapping with tail fanned

The Woodcock here seem to have largely finished roding already, but we did have one male fly along the edge of the trees. We heard its squeaky call first and looked up to see a pot-bellied, long-billed silhouette flying past.

More Nightjars were starting to churr now, so we headed off across the heath to try to see one of the other regular males. We had been distracted a little too long by the two males though, and the third male had already flown in from a dense oak out in the middle to the exposed perch where we were hoping to see it. As we walked up along the path, we just managed to get into a place where we could see it when it took off. It flew back to the oak tree.

We stood for a while and listened to it churring, as a fourth Nightjar started up further over – stereo! It was great to just stand and listen, the atmosphere only slightly ruined by loud music, which sounded like a poor Elvis impersonator, blaring out in the distance!

The light was starting to go now, so we turned to head back. No sooner had we done so, than the Nightjar we had just been waiting for flew back in from the oaks to the trees by the path. Typical! But there was still an orange glow in the sky behind us, so we hurried back and got a great view of it, perched on the branch, silhouetted against the sunset. Classic!

It was time to head back now, so we set off across the heath, very pleased with the great views of Nightjars we had already enjoyed, listening to them still churring. When we got back past where we had seen the two males earlier, we realised they were still chasing each other round. They were both flying in and out of the top of an oak tree, churring and calling. It seemed they must have been arguing for the last hour!

We stopped to watch the two bickering Nightjars, silhouetted against the sky. They dropped down out of sight against the dark of the gorse but when we heard one call, we realised it was flying straight towards us. We saw it coming and there was a second bird with it, the two flying parallel just a few metres apart. One seemed to stall in front of us, but the second circled right above our heads and then started hovering!

What an amazing way to end the evening. This time we did have to leave, so we walked back to the car with another male churring us back.

23rd June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 2 & Nightjars

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was another mostly bright and sunny day, with the winds dropping but still with a freshness to the light northerly on the coast.

With the lighter winds, we decided to head up to the Heath this morning. As we got out of the car, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes in the car park. As we set off along the path, we could hear a couple of Common Whitethroats alarm calling in the bushes and one appeared on the outside of a large hawthorn.

As we walked round a small copse of trees, we could hear a Garden Warbler half singing. As we came around the other side, we could see movement in the dense blackthorn beyond and eventually a Garden Warbler stuck its head out. Another was still calling deeper in the vegetation, and it appeared there was a family group in there. We stood and watched for a while and saw three or four Garden Warblers, as well as a Blackcap.

It was a lovely sunny morning, and the Silver-studded Blue butterflies were out in force. This heathland specialist is sparsely distributed so it is always nice to see them when they are on the wing. We also flushed several July Belle moths from the grass, another very localised species.

SIlver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

As we walked round the Heath, we heard several Yellowhammers singing. We eventually found a smart yellow-headed male perched up nicely in the top of a small oak tree. There were lots of Linnets too, which flew up from the heather in ones and twos as we passed.

Dartford Warbler was one of our main targets for this morning, but there was no sign of any at the first site we tried. This pair have already fledged their first brood, so the female is possibly on eggs again which is why they have gone quiet. We tried a second territory, also with no joy, and it was starting to look like we might be out of luck.

Third time lucky. As we walked into the middle of another territory, we heard a Dartford Warbler call and turned to see it fly across across between two large clumps of tall gorse with food in its bill. It flew again and disappeared down into some lower gorse. We repositioned ourselves so we could see where it had gone in from a discrete distance and over the next ten minutes or so we had some lovely views of a pair of Dartford Warblers coming in and out several times. At one point, we had both adults perched up nicely just a few feet apart in the top of the gorse for a few seconds.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – we watched a pair coming in and out of the gorse

We decided to leave the Dartford Warblers in peace and carried on round the Heath. We walked over to a place where several Woodlarks have been feeding recently, but it was very disturbed here today with walkers and cyclists. But as we walked on across the Heath, we looked up to see a Woodlark flying over. It came over our heads, but showed no signs of landing and disappeared away off the edge of the Heath.

A little further on, we stopped to watch a pair of Stonechats. The male kept returning to the top of a small birch tree, while the female was feeding from a perch on the heather below. While we were watching the Stonechats, another bird flew up from the ground and landed on a dead branch close to them. It was another Woodlark. We got it in the scope and could see it was a juvenile, presumably from an earlier brood and now independent.

The Woodlark dropped down to the ground and we carried on along the path, which took us eventually round the other side of the bushes. As we walked past, what was presumably the same Woodlark flew up from beside the path. It was time to make our way back to the car now, but as we walked back we could hear Bullfinches calling. We found them in a birch tree, there were three or four of them, presumably a family group.

There had been a Pied Crow along the coast at Cromer for a few days. This is a species from sub-Saharan Africa, not really a candidate for vagrancy under its own steam. It had most likely travelled here by boat from somewhere, or it might have escaped from a collection. They are smart birds, so we decided to have a very quick look to see if we could see it.

We couldn’t park in Cromer anywhere near the fish & chip shop it had been frequenting, so we stopped in the Runton Road car park further along, where it had also been seen from time to time. We walked a short distance down towards the pier, but we could see several people with binoculars just standing around, not looking at anything. It had been seen first thing this morning, but had flown off and not yet reappeared.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we decided to have a bite to eat back at the car and scan the cliffs to the west at the same time. There were several Fulmars landing on the cliffs and we had great views of them as they flew up and down along the clifftop right in front of us. A single Mediterranean Gull flew past offshore and we could see a few Sandwich Terns out over the sea too. But the only corvids we could see were Rooks and Jackdaws.

Fulmar

Fulmar – flying up and down the clifftop at Cromer

After lunch, we had a quick walk back towards the pier but it was immediately clear the Pied Crow had still not been seen, so we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. It was the right call, as the Pied Crow was not seen again! We made our way back along the coast to Cley.

We parked at Walsey Hills. A pair of Kestrels was alarm calling over North Foreland Wood as we got out of the car. Something had got them really agitated, because they hovered over the tops of the trees and kept swooping down into the canopy. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see what they were mobbing and nothing moved, despite all their attentions. Eventually they landed in the treetops, still calling agitatedly.

As we made our way up along the East Bank, a female Common Pochard with a couple of juveniles was on Don’s Pool. They are a scarce breeder here, so it is always good to see young. We heard a couple of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds below the bank, but they were very hard to see. A male Reed Bunting was much more obliging, as was a Marsh Harrier which perched up in the top of a bush out in the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – perched in a bush out in the reedbed

We heard a Bearded Tit pinging and looked across to see one perched up in the top of the reeds. It didn’t stay long though, and flew off away from us before dropping in out of view. There were a few more Bearded Tits in the reeds further up along the Bank though, so everyone got to see at least one.

A scan of Pope’s Marsh and the Serpentine did not produce anything out of the ordinary – Lapwing, Redshank and some of the commoner ducks. We did spot a Mediterranean Gull flying in from the east, which turned and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh when we got there, and two Common Terns dropped in to join them briefly. A careful scan through the Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls produced four Mediterranean Gulls on here this afternoon, which was a bit of a surprise. There were three very different 1st summers and a 2nd summer too, the latter with a rather adult-like head but still with black in the wingtips.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – gathered on Arnold’s Marsh

The waders on Arnold’s Marsh were mostly Common Redshanks, but a careful scan did produce two Ringed Plovers and a single Dunlin as well. The sea looked fairly quiet, as we got out to the beach, apart from a couple of Little Terns fishing just offshore, patrolling back and forth. A distant Fulmar flew east.

As we walked back along the bank, three Curlews flew in from the east and continued on over the reedbed, possibly birds freshly returned from their breeding grounds further north. Someone walking the other way stopped us to ask if we had seen any Bearded Tits. We were just explaining where we had seen them, when we looked over and saw a pair perched up in the tops of the reeds just ahead of us!

Back at the car, the Kestrels were still alarm calling and we still could not see why. We happened to glance back out across the grazing marshes and saw a large white shape in the distance, at the far end of the Serpentine. A Spoonbill had just flown in, having waited until we had left. Thankfully we had seen plenty yesterday.

Popping into the Cley Visitor Centre briefly, it sounded like there were a few waders out on the reserve, so we decided to head out to the hides for the last hour or so. As we walked out along the boardwalk, four more Spoonbills flew up from out on Billy’s Wash and circled round over the north end of the reserve. Three headed off west, but one circled back onto the reserve.

We went into Dauke’s Hide and a quick scan of the scrapes revealed a small wader on Pat’s – Pool with rusty underparts and a long, downcurved bill. It was a Curlew Sandpiper, a smart adult just starting to moult out of breeding plumage. We had a great look at it through the scope. Presumably it had just dropped in on its way south from its central Siberian breeding grounds.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a smart adult still in breeding plumage

There were a couple of Spotted Redshanks too, one each on Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape. We had much better views of these than the ones we had seen at Titchwell yesterday, looking resplendent in their silver-spotted black breeding plumage. There was a single Ruff here too, another tatty looking individual, rapidly moulting out first its ornate ruff.

Numbers of Black-tailed Godwits here have been building nicely and as we looked through the flock, we spotted one which was decorated with a load of coloured plastic lings on each leg. It was a bit distant at first, but then something flushed all the waders and it eventually landed back down near the front. Now we could confirm one of the rings was lime green with a black ‘E’, which meant it was a nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit from the Nene Washes. We could also see it was carrying a geolocator on one of its rings.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a nominate limosa from the Nene Washes

There are two races of Black-tailed Godwit which turn up here regularly. Most of the birds we normally see are birds from Iceland, islandica. There are only about 40 pairs of Continental Black-tailed Godwit which breed in this country, on the Ouse and Nene Washes, so it is always an interesting bird to see.

A Spoonbill appeared from the reeds in the back corner of Simmond’s Scrape – presumably the one we had seen earlier, doubling back in this direction. There were lots of Teal out on the scrapes too. When we heard Bearded Tit calling close by, we looked out of the flaps on one side of the hide, to see one of this year’s juveniles in the reeds nearby.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile, perched up in the reeds

It was time to head back now. We still had a busy evening ahead and needed to get something to eat beforehand.

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours rest, we met up again early in the evening. Our first target was Little Owl, so we headed up to a regular site for them.

As we got out of the car and started scanning the roofs of the farm buildings, one of the group noticed a bird perched on a wooden crate just across from where we had parked. A Little Owl! We had a good look at it through binoculars, as it stood there looking at us, before it eventually flew back over the field behind and we lost site of it.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a wooden crate near where we parked

We couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the evening. We carried on our scan of the farm buildings, and promptly found another Little Owl sunning itself on one of the roofs. This one we got in the scope. There was also a Red-legged Partridge on the roof of one of the sheds and a smart male Yellowhammer in perched in the top of the oilseed rape in the field next door.

Having scored so quickly with the Little Owls, we moved on to look for Barn Owls next. We had just started to drive round a site where we see them regularly, when we noticed what looked like a piece of white plastic tucked in among the branches of a tree. We reversed back for a closer look and our suspicions were confirmed – it was the almost pure white Barn Owl again.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – the almost pure white bird was out again this evening

We were busy watching the white Barn Owl when one of the group noticed a second, normal coloured Barn Owl flying across the meadows further back. While we were looking at that one, disappearing off over the road on the far side, the white bird took off and flew past us. It quartered the meadow, then flew round and disappeared back behind a line of trees.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – this normal one flew right past us, hunting

We walked back up the road for another look, but there was no further sign of the white Barn Owl. We did find a normal one out hunting. We had great views of it flying round over the meadows, then it came in and flew right past in front of us. It landed on an old pump on the edge of a drainage ditch and stood there for a few minutes looking round.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – landed on an old pump out on the marshes

After a while, the Barn Owl flew back over the marshes and landed in the dead branches right in the top of a line of bushes over the far side. We drove on and when we stopped again, we could see the white Barn Owl again, hunting round a different field this time. We had a quick walk out along the bank which runs round the edge of the marshes here, but there were no more Barn Owls. We did find a nice pair of Grey Partridge in the grass beside the track.

The owls had done us proud tonight, and it was now time to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. We were still walking out to the middle of the heath and not even in position when the first Nightjar called, a touch early tonight. We turned to see it flying across to the edge of the trees.

We walked a short distance further up to where we could see across, and found the Nightjar perched on one of its favourite branches, churring. We got it in the scope and everyone managed to have a quick look at it before it took off again, unfortunately not stopping to pose for photos tonight. We watched as it disappeared off over the heath.

After an early start from the first Nightjar, the others were very slow to get going tonight. It was a clear night, with a very bright half moon and the temperature was dropping too. We walked on to another territory and stood listening. Eventually a Nightjar started churring in the distance, quickly followed by another further over.

The Woodcock were very slow to get going tonight too. Finally we heard a squeaky call and looked across to see two roding, flying in close formation high across the heath with slow flappy wingbeats. They disappeared behind some trees.

Finally, the Nightjar whose territory we had come over to started churring, in a large oak tree out in the middle. We stood and listened and after a while it flew in straight towards us. It flew right round us, flashing the white patches in its wings and the corners of its tail which was held spread out. Great close flight views! It didn’t go over to its favourite churring perch though, but landed down in the gorse just behind us, out of view. A few seconds later it flew out again, right past us, and back out to the oak tree in the middle.

It felt like the Nightjar had come in to check us out. We stood and listened to it churring out in the middle, but it never did come in to favourite its churring perch tonight – perhaps it was put off by us standing there? We could hear two other Nightjars churring either side.

The light was finally starting to fade so it was time to head back. On our way to the car, another different male Nightjar started churring in a tree just above us as we walked past. Unfortunately it didn’t stay for us to find it, but took off, wing clapping, as we walked round to try to look for it. It did serenade us as we walked off the heath though, a good way to end the day.

2nd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours today. It was misty or cloudy pretty much all day, although it lifted a bit at times. However, it was thankfully mostly dry – with just a brief period when it was spitting with rain in the morning.

We headed over to Titchwell first, with the option of the hides if we did need to shelter from the weather. The car park was quiet when we arrived, so we had a look around before it got busy. There were Blackcaps and Long-tailed Tits in the trees where we parked, and a pair of Song Thrushes collecting food in the overflow car park. Looking out from the gate at the back, a Red-legged Partridge was feeding on the track beyond and a Marsh Harrier was perched in one of the dead trees out  in the reedbed beyond. A Spoonbill flew off high to the east, away from us.

Out onto the reserve, we made our way round on Fen Trail out to Patsy’s Reedbed first. A Blackcap showed well in the trees right above the path and we got a quick look at both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler in the reeds in front of Fen Hide as we passed.

Patsy’s Reedbed held a few duck, notable among them a single drake Red-crested Pochard. There were five Teal on here too today – almost all of the birds which spent the winter here have long since departed, but a small number typically oversummer here. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed beyond.

Red-crested Pochard

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

It started to spit with rain now, so we started to make our way over towards the main path. A Chiffchaff was singing above the boardwalk as we passed. The rain had pretty much stopped by the time we got round there, so we stopped to see what we could find in the reeds.

A Jay flew across above the reeds and landed in one of the sallows. As it did so, what sounded like a Tawny Owl called quietly. We had a look in the bush, but there was no sign of one that we could see from the bank. There were lots of Reed Warblers zipping back and forth across the pools on the near edge of the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – in the reeds around the pools near the main path

The reedbed pool held a single Great Crested Grebe, as well as two more Red-crested Pochard. Two or three Bearded Tits flew back and forth over the water and a Little Grebe laughed at us from the channel just beyond. There was a large melee of gulls and Jackdaws circling over the reeds at the edge of freshmarsh, presumably hawking for insects.

As we opened the windows in Island Hide, we noticed a good numbers of godwits out on the nearest island. On closer inspection, we could see a mixture of both Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits together. Something spooked them and they flew before everyone could get a look at them through the scope, but thankfully after circling for a minute or so they settled again, this time largely separating themselves into two separate flocks.

There were not many other waders on here today, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets. There seem to be fewer of them this year here too, although there appears to be no shortage elsewhere along the coast. Perhaps the colony of gulls, which is dominating the freshmarsh this year, has put them off? Two Little Terns were resting on one of the islands and through the scope we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

As we set off along the main path again, we scanned back over the reeds. The gulls had all spread out now and we could see two immature Little Gulls hawking back and forth among all the Black-headed Gulls.

The mist started to roll in again, so we headed straight round to Parrinder Hide. When we got there, one of the Little Gulls had landed on the edge of one of the islands in front of the hide, so we got a much better look at that now. A 1st summer, we could see the extensive black feathering in the wings, the dark spot behind the eye and a pale pink suffusion on its underparts.

Little Gull

Little Gull – one of the 1st summers landed out from Parrinder Hide

An adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in on one of the other islands, where a number of Black-headed Gulls and 1st summer Common Gulls had gathered to loaf and preen. Through the scope, we noted the jet black hood with contrasting white eyelids, bright red bill and legs, and the pure white wing tips. There were also a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls with the Herring Gulls standing in the water further back.

There were better views of the godwits to be had from here, including a smart Bar-tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage, with rusty underparts extending right down under the tail. Four Avocets were busy feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallow water. When the Avocets started to alarm call, we looked up to see a Hobby flashing low across in front of the hide, disappearing off towards Island Hide.

The mist lifted again, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. There was very little on Volunteer Marsh today, but as we got over the bank at the far end, we noticed a large white bird out on the saltmarsh the other side. It was a Spoonbill, busy feeding, walking around with its head down in the water. It seemed to be catching a lot, as every few steps it seemed to flick its head up, at which point we could see its distinctive bill, with the yellow tip indicating it was an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding out on Thornham saltmarsh

While we were watching the Spoonbill, a smart male Linnet landed in the bushes just below us. A little further on, two male Reed Buntings were singing against each other, with one perched nicely just out from the path.

Linnet

Linnet – this male landed in the bushes by the main path

The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more and largely full of deep water, so there are very few birds on here these days. A group of twenty or so Oystercatchers were sleeping on the saltmarsh towards the back. That was because, out at the beach the tide was just going out and was still covering the mussel beds. Consequently, there were not many waders out here yet, just a few more Oystercatchers on the sand.

It was still rather misty offshore, but it rolled back just enough for us to see a steady procession of terns flying back and forth, mainly Sandwich Terns but also a couple of Common Terns and Little Terns too. Two Fulmars flew past as well, hugging the sea. Then it was time to head back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we paid a quick visit to Holme. It was the wrong time of the day now, but we wanted to try our luck to see if we might be able to find a Turtle Dove here. As we walked round via the paddocks, it was rather quiet. A Common Whitethroat called from the brambles and a Greenfinch was singing out in the bushes. We could hear a Cuckoo singing too, off in the distance.

As we got to the far end of the paddocks, we heard some hissing calls coming from a large hawthorn bush. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees further back, appearing to answer the hissing calls. We had a look in the bushes but we couldn’t see anything.

Continuing on down towards Beach Road, a Cuckoo flew across as we got out of the trees into grassy the car park. Another Cuckoo was still singing in the distance ahead of us, so there were two of them here today. We walked over to see if we could find the second bird, but it seemed to move further away, off towards the coast road the next time we heard it.

Walking back along the Holme Dunes entrance track, a Swallow landed on the wires just above us. While we were watching it, two Cuckoos flew in and dropped down into the trees at the back of the paddocks. As they landed, the male gave its traditional ‘cuckoo’ song, and the female answered with a bubbling call.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – the female perched in the trees while the males had a sing-off

Then a second male Cuckoo flew in and landed on a dead branch in the top of a tree behind us. The two males started singing off against each other, getting very over-excited. There were lots of extra ‘cucks’ given to each ‘oo’! Then the female flew off towards Redwell Marsh and the males drifted away too. As we walked back to the car, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted to us from one of the ditches.

We drove back east to Holkham to finish the day, walking west on the inland side of the pines. It was fairly quiet here now, apart from lots of people out walking their dogs! We could hear one or two Blackcaps and Chiffchaff singing in the trees. A Treecreeper was singing too, but deep in the pines. A Goldcrest was slightly more accommodating – we could see it flitting round in an oak tree briefly. A large family party of Long-tailed Tits, with several recently fledged juveniles flew across the path.

At Joe Jordan Hide, we had only just opened the flaps when a Great White Egret flew in round the back of the trees. It landed out of view at first, behind some reeds, but then flew again and landed in a shallow ditch. We could see it as it walked along, its head, neck and shoulders sticking up into view. We could see its bill was mostly dark but with a yellow base. A little while later, another Great White Egret flew out of the trees and off east. We could tell it was a different bird as it had an all dark bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and landed in a ditch

There were Spoonbills coming and going from the trees too, flying in and out either side. One perched up nicely where we could get a good look at it through the scope, noting its shaggy nuchal crest, a sign of an adult in breeding plumage. There were a few Little Egrets flying back and forth to and from the trees too, and lots of Cormorants visible in their nests in the branches.

Then it was time to head back – we had a busy evening ahead. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive towards the road, a Grey Partridge was feeding in the edge of one of the fields, just beyond the fence.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – feeding in the field by Lady Anne’s Drive

 

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours to rest and get something to eat, we met again early in the evening.  It had been raining all day further east, but fortuitously had stopped in time for our evening activities.

There were several Brown Hares we had to avoid in the road, on our way up to look for Little Owls first. We stopped by some farm buildings and scanned the roofs to see if we could find one out already, but all we could see at first was a Stock Dove. However, when we looked over at some other buildings the other side of the road, there was a Little Owl perched out in the open on the metal framework on a silo.

It was distant from here, but we had a look at the Little Owl through scope. We could see the ‘false face’ on the back of its head, which made it look like it was looking back at us. We made our way over to those building and got much closer, better views. This time it looked round at us properly.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched up nicely for us on some metal framework

Having enjoyed good views of Little Owl, we drove round to try to find a Barn Owl next. There was no sign of any around a series of favoured hunting meadows we tried at first, so we stopped and got out for walk. We hadn’t gone far when one of the group spotted a Barn Owl flying past behind us. It was carrying prey and we watched as it crossed the road back where we had parked and continued on over the fields beyond, presumably taking the food back to a brood of hungry owlets somewhere.

It was time to head up to the heath now, in time for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to middle the middle, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from a clump of birch trees.

The first Woodcock appeared pretty much bank on time. We heard its squeaky call first, and then spotted a dark, pot-bellied shape flying towards us with strange stiff, rapid wingbeats. It was a male doing its distinctive ‘roding’ display flight. As it came overhead, we could see its long straight bill.

Woodcock

Woodcock – flew overhead on one of its roding display flights

The Woodcock were regular from then on – we could hear them flying round and several times they passed overhead, at one with two males flying together out across the heath, before they split and headed off in two different direction.

A short while after the first Woodcock, a Nightjar churred briefly from the edge of the trees just ahead of us. Trying to anticipate where it would fly to first, we were just getting into position when it came up out of the trees. It landed briefly on one of its favourite perches, but unfortunately didn’t settle and was off again before we could get the scope onto it.

It flew round, then went high up over the trees, calling. When it came down again, the Nightjar flew in and circled round over our heads. A great view! We could see it was a male, with bold white wing patches. It flew back to the trees, weaving in and out, then off over low over the heath past us. As we walked back to the main path, it came back in behind us and landed on the perch again, but only briefly, before heading off once more.

Nightjar

Nightjar – circled round above our heads, showing off its white patches

As we walked on across the heath, we could hear a Tawny Owl hooting in the trees away in the distance. A second male Nightjar started churring out in the middle ahead of us. We made our way over to one of his favourite branches, hoping it might fly in to visit that next. But before we could get there, it flew past and landed on just the perch we were hoping it would visit. We managed to get it in the scope, but before everyone could get a look it was off again.

The Nightjar headed back out into the middle of the heath, and started churring from another tree. It seemed to be responding to a third male which had started up, churring much further over. We stood and listened – stereo churring!

It was great standing out on the heath as the light faded, listening to the Nightjars churring around us, but it was getting dark and time to call it a night. On the walk back, we could hear the Woodcock still roding, and a pair of Nightjar flew past in front of us calling, silhouetted against the last of the light.

There were a few Common Toads out tonight, after the rain earlier. We had to be careful not to tread on them. There was one more surprise in store for us too – a Slow Worm on the edge of the path. It stopped motionless in the torchlight for a couple of minutes, allowing us a great close-up look at it, before it slid off into the bushes by the path. A great way to end the evening.