Category Archives: Spring Tour

23rd May 2019 – Holme & Titchwell

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

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

Common Blue

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

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

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – in the hawthorn bushes in the paddocks

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

Marsh Harrier 1

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

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

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

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

Cuckoos

Cuckoos – this pair chased round through the trees calling

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

Turtle Dove

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

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

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – singing in the trees by the river

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – over the west bank path

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

Marsh Harrier 2

Marsh Harrier – flew over the path towards Thornham grazing marsh

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

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

Brent Goose

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

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

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

Little Gull

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

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

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

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

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

Bearded Tit

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

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

22nd May 2019 – Stilt Surprise

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

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

Grey Partridge

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

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

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

Black-winged Stilt 1

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

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

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

Black-winged Stilt 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sedge Warbler

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

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

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

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

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – singing in the hedge

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – flying over, calling

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

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

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

Avocet

Avocet – feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

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

Little Gull

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

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

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

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

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

Spoonbill

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

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

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

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

Red-crested Pochard

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

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

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

Little Owl

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

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

21st May 2019 – Breck & Fen

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

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

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

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the trees by the parking area

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

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

Barn Owl

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

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

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

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – our second of the morning

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

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

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

Nightingale

Nightingale – singing from deep in a holly bush

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

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

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

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

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

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – in front of Mere Hide

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

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

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

Bittern 1

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

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

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

Bittern 2

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

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

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

Four-spotted Chaser

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

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

Hobby

Hobby – circled over the Washland viewpoint

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

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

Mandarin

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

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

Woodlark

Woodlark – feeding quietly in the short grass

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

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

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

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

Nuthatch

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

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

18th May 2019 – Spring Waders & More

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

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

Little Owl

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

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

Dotterel

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

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

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

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – singing in the hedge by the road

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

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing in the buckthorn by the entrance track

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

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

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

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – there were at least 3 chasing around this morning

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

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

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

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

Bearded Tit

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

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

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

Shoveler

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

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

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

Little Gull 1

Little Gull – one of two on the Freshmarsh today

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

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

Little Ringed Plover

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

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

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

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

Little Gull 2

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

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

Red-crested Pochard

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

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

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

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

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

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

17th May 2019 – A Spring Stint

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

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

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

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges – hiding in the grass on the Water Meadow

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

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – running around on the Water Meadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – singing from the reeds by the ditch

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

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

Temminck's Stint

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

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

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

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – the drake flew back in to Whitwell Scrape

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

Black-tailed Godwit

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

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

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing from a bush by the boardwalk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diamond-back Moth

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

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

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

Marsh Harrier

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

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

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – singing from the top of a pine tree

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

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

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

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

12th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 3

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

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

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

Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of the hedge

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

Wood Mouse

Wood Mouse – feeding in the bushes right by the path

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

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

Great White Egret

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

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

Sedge Warbler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wheatear

Wheatear – one of two rather pale males in the dunes

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

Brown Argus

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

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

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

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

Wryneck

Wryneck – still in the dunes this morning

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

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

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh

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

Spoonbill

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

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

Grey-headed Wagtail

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

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

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

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

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

Spoonbills

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

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

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

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

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

Red Kite

Red Kite – drifted over the track behind us

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

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

11th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast. It was forecast to be cloudy in the morning with only a 10% chance of rain, but the weather had not looked at the forecast and it was raining early on. Thankfully it had cleared through by the time we got out. It was still rather grey and cloudy this morning, and cool in the light NE wind, but then it all changed in the afternoon and we had blue skies and sunshine by the end of the afternoon. That’s more like it!

It was still raining as we drove west along the coast road, but it had stopped by the time we arrived at Choseley. There was no sign of the five Dotterel in the field where they had been for the last few days when we got there, and apparently they had not been seen since early morning. A Corn Bunting was singing in the hedge behind us, and perched up nicely in the top, so we could get it in the scope. From time to time over the next hour, we could hear its song – sounding not entirely unlike the bunch of jangling keys it is supposed to resemble.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – perched up in the top of the hedge behind us

While we were watching the Corn Bunting, we heard Dotterel calling and looked up to see a small tight flock flying in from the east. There were clearly more than the five which had been here for the last few days, and when they eventually landed we could see there were now ten Dotterel accompanied by a single Golden Plover. They landed at the top of the field, stood there for a short time looking round, then started walking quickly down the field towards us.

We had a great view of the Dotterel in the scope, with a mixture of brighter females and duller males, the other way round in this species from many other birds as the males undertake most of the chick-rearing duties. They would take several quick steps and then freeze, at which point they were remarkably hard to see against the bare earth and stones of the field. We stood and watched them for a while, as they gradually came closer. We had a nice view of the Golden Plover too with them, another smart ‘northern’ male with a black face and belly, like the one we had seen yesterday.

Dotterel

Dotterel – two of the sixteen with a Golden Plover behind

The Dotterel stopped to preen half way down the field and the next time we looked back at them there were now sixteen. We didn’t see the other six fly in so we were not sure if they had walked across the field to join the bigger group. Either way, there were obviously a lot of fresh arrivals this morning. A small number of Dotterel breed in Scotland, high in the mountains, but these are Scandinavian birds on their way north from their wintering grounds in North Africa. They stop off at traditional sites each spring and this is one of their favourite fields.

There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields here too, and we watched several pairs chasing each other round. We were even treated to a brief bout of boxing from two of them.

After watching the Dotterel for a while, we moved on, down to Holme. It was still rather grey but at least it wasn’t raining now and there were still warblers singing. We could hear a Blackcap and several Common Whitethroats and we stopped to watch a Sedge Warbler performing in the top of a tall hawthorn. A Cuckoo was singing away in the distance, and we realised we could see it perched on the top of a dead tree off in the dunes.

From up on the seawall, we could see a grey-brown Lesser Whitethroat feeding low in the buckthorn by the entrance track. As we walked down to the old paddocks, we could hear a Cuckoo closer and looked across to see a pair out over the saltmarsh on the top of the dunes behind the beach. Through the scope, we could see them being mobbed by a couple of Meadow Pipits, worried about the safety of their nests.

Looking over to the bushes in the paddocks behind us, we spotted a smart male Common Redstart which flew out and landed on a sandy area in the middle of the short grass. Unfortunately it didn’t stop long and flew straight back into the bushes before everyone could get onto it. Some walkers came along the path the other way at that point and it was probably no surprise that when we walked further up to try to find it, there was no sign. We figured we would leave it in peace for a bit and try again on the way back.

As we carried on along the path, a lovely pink male Bullfinch appeared briefly in the bushes ahead of us calling softly, before flying across and disappeared back into the paddocks. There were three Cuckoos now, all together out across the saltmarsh, two males chasing each other and round after a female. A steady passage of Swallows passed west overhead in twos and threes, and we could see a single Common Swift distantly out over the grazing marshes.

When we walked back the Redstart had duly reappeared, just as we had hoped. It was perched on the fence at first, but then dropped down to the ground and flew back up to a large hawthorn bush. It was chased by a Robin, but thankfully settled, and we had a great view through the scope of it perched in the bush. A stunning bird!

Redstart

Common Redstart – a stunning male, feeding in the old paddocks

While Common Redstarts breed in the UK, this was probably another migrant on its way further north, most likely to Scandinavia. Eventually some more people came along the path behind us, and the Redstart flew back across the paddocks and disappeared into the bushes again.

Past where we had parked, we continued on east through the dunes. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and Linnets and plenty of Common Whitethroats singing. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering over the grazing marshes inland and two Common Buzzards were perched on some gates. We were hoping to find two Ring Ouzels which had been seen in the dunes here earlier, but there was no sign. There were lots of people walking about now, lots of disturbance, so they had probably gone somewhere quieter. As we walked back, a Cuckoo perched up nicely in a bush singing, so we could get a good look at it in the scope.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – singing in a bush in the dunes on our way back

It was starting to brighten up now, so we made our way round to Titchwell for lunch. We could even make use of the picnic tables by the Visitor Centre. There had been three Black Terns out over the reedbed pool this morning, so after lunch we walked straight out to try to see them. It was bright and sunny now, and we had thought they might move off as the weather cleared, but thankfully they were still there.

We stopped to watch the Black Terns, hawking over the pool. They are very smart birds in breeding plumage, grey above with a jet black head and body. They used to breed in the UK, up until the middle of the 19th century, before widespread draining of marshes probably wiped them out. Now they breed from the Netherlands eastwards from here, wintering in Africa. These had probably drifted across to the UK on the easterly winds and been brought down by the rain this morning.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling around the pools below the bank too – we didn’t know which way to look. We saw one fly in and land at the base of the reeds at the back of one of the pools, a smart male with a powder blue-grey head and black moustache. It was immediately followed by a recently fledged juvenile, tawny-coloured and with a short, only partly-grown tail. We watched the two of them working their way round the edge of the pools, low down in the reeds. The male was looking for food and would periodically stop to feed the youngster. Great to watch and fantastic views of this often very secretive species.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we watched this male feeding a newly fledged juvenile

We stood and watched the Bearded Tits and Black Terns for a while, and eventually had to tear ourselves away and move on to explore the rest of the reserve. As we continued on towards the Freshmarsh, we could see a Grey Plover on Lavender Pool, mostly in breeding plumage with a black face and belly. We stopped to admire a pair of Gadwall on the near corner of the Freshmarsh. They were closer enough that we could get a really good look at the intricate plumage of the drake. Not just a boring grey duck after all!

There were several Common Terns back on the Freshmarsh now, hopefully returned to breed. One landed on the measuring post in front of Island Hide, while another flew round just above our heads calling. There were more on the closest island in amongst the gulls.

Common Tern

Common Tern – there are more back on the Freshmarsh now

The Freshmarsh has been rather taken over by gulls these days. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls covering most of the islands, but we did manage to find a few Sandwich Terns still in with them, further back towards the fenced off island. There were not many different waders on here today. Aside from plenty of Avocets, a Whimbrel dropped in briefly but flew straight out again, chased by one of the Oystercatchers.

There are still a few ducks – mostly Shelduck and Shoveler, plus a few lingering Teal – but the majority which spent the winter here have left for their breeding grounds further north and east. There are still quite a few lingering Brent Geese, which flew in and out from feeding out on the saltmarsh. They should be leaving soon too, on their way back to Siberia for the summer.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – should be leaving for their Siberian breeding grounds soon

We walked round to Parrinder Hide next for a closer look at the gulls. From here, it was easier to pick out all the Mediterranean Gulls in the large colony with all the nesting Black-headed Gulls which have taken over ‘Avocet Island’ (perhaps it should be renamed ‘Gull Island’?). We had a good look at a smart adult Mediterranean Gull through the scope, admiring its bright red bill, jet black hood with white eyelids and pure white wingtips. We had a much closer view of the one remaining Sandwich Tern on the island from here too – getting a better look at its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy black crest.

Sandwich Tern

We had a quick look in the other side of Parrinder Hide, out over Volunteer Marsh. There were several more Grey Plovers, including one or two very smart black and white males in full breeding plumage now. There were a few Curlew too. A single Whimbrel was feeding in the vegetation on the edge of the reeds in the middle, smaller, darker, with a shorter bill, and a pale central crown stripe. We had a particularly good comparison with one of the Curlew which walked across in front of it at one point.

Continuing on out towards the beach, we stopped at the now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’. There were still a few waders roosting on the island in the middle. A little group of Turnstones included several birds with more chestnut in their upperparts and white faces now, moulting into breeding plumage. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was asleep on the front edge, but we could see its barred tail, as well as its streaked upperparts, and three black-bellied summer Dunlin were nearby.

Out at the beach, the tide was still not fully out and the mussel beds were only partly exposed. There were a few Oystercatchers feeding where the mussels were already poking out above the water, and several smaller waders with them. They were Sanderling, most already moulting into darker breeding plumage, with just one or two still in their silvery grey winter attire.

There were a few more Bar-tailed Godwits along the beach further to the west, and we could now see their slightly upturned bills. A few distant Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth offshore, but otherwise the sea itself looked quite quiet. It was lovely out on the beach, but we had more to do yet so it was time to start walking back.

Back at the reedbed pool, the three Black Terns were still hawking up and down over the water. They had been mostly keeping low, but now one started to fly higher up. It was chasing a dragonfly and we watched it twisting and turning, trying to keep up with it, an epic duel. The tern eventually prevailed – looking at the photos afterwards we could see that it had caught a Hairy Dragonfly, the first we have seen this year!

Black Tern

Black Tern – with a Hairy Dragonfly it has just caught

When we asked in the Visitor Centre earlier, we were told that the Turtle Doves had not been seen this morning, but now someone let us know they had been seen again this afternoon, so we walked straight round to the Tank Road to try to see them. When we got there, we found they had apparently been scared off by a stoat about half an hour earlier.

We thought we would have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed instead, but just as we arrived at the screen, one of the group who had lingered behind came up to say he could hear a Turtle Dove which had started purring back behind us. We walked straight back, and could hear it and, with a bit of triangulation, we worked out where it was. But it was very deep in the bushes and we could just see some movement behind the leaves. Then suddenly it flew out and landed on a dead branch on the front of the bush. We all had a great view of it through the scope, before it disappeared back in again as quickly as it had appeared.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – purring in the bushes by the Tank Road

The Turtle Dove population in the UK has crashed and it is very possible we could lose this beautiful bird as a breeding species in the next few years. Emergency measures are called for and it is now necessary to provide supplementary seed for them, as they are doing at Titchwell. Hopefully they might stay to breed here again this year. It really is a privilege to see them and hear them purring, while we still can.

When the Turtle Dove disappeared, we went back over to Patsy’s. There were three smart male Red-crested Pochards out on the water, striking birds with their orange punk haircuts and bright coral red bills. A couple of Marsh Harriers were flying round over the reeds beyond.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – a very striking duck

It was a lovely afternoon now, but unfortunately it was time to call it a day. We were still not quite finished and as we walked back along Fen Trail, we spotted a Water Vole just below the boardwalk. It was obviously very used to people, as it seemed completely unconcerned by us standing just a few feet from it, as it stood there munching on a piece of reed.

Water Vole

Water Vole – munching on reeds right next to the boardwalk

It was a nice finish to the day which kept on giving. Then it really was time to get back.