Category Archives: Spring Tour

30th May 2021 – Coast & Heath

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny morning before clouding over from mid afternoon as the sun lost its battle with the cloud which had been hanging offshore all day. The NE breeze kept a lid on temperatures.

We met in Cley and parked at Walsey Hills. As we walked up to the start of the East Bank, we could hear Little Egrets bubbling in the wood and one or two flying in and out. A couple of distant Marsh Harriers were circling low over the reedbed.

We had a request to see a Yellow Wagtail and as if on cue, a quick scan of the grazing marshes revealed the bright canary yellow male on the grass in the distance. We could just hear it singing from where we were, so we walked further up for a much better view in the scope. It would be great to have Yellow Wagtails back breeding here, but unfortunately he shows no sign of attracting a female.

There were still plenty of Lapwings and Redshanks on the grazing marshes. The Lapwing chicks which had been little balls of fluff are getting much bigger now, but there was still no sign of any young Redshanks. The males were still singing and displaying, but there was no sign of any getting down to nesting. There were Avocets further back on Pope’s Pool and when we heard Curlew calling, we looked over to see four flying off west, maybe finally heading back to the continent to breed.

Redshank – still displaying around the grazing marshes

What we thought was a lone drake Wigeon was walking around on the mud on the edge of the Serpentine, whistling occasionally. Then we spotted another pair much further back, on Pope’s Pool. Most of the Wigeon have left, heading back to Russia to breed, but perhaps these will stay here now. There were also a few Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard and Shelduck, lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese.

A couple of Reed Buntings were singing from the small bushes out in the middle of the reedbed, occasionally chasing after each other or a passing female. There were Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing too, with one of the latter perching up particularly obligingly. We heard occasional pinging calls of Bearded Tits and managed to see one or two zooming back and forth low over reeds.

There were quite a few Common Swifts zooming round overhead, but they didn’t seem to be heading anywhere today, so possibly just local birds rather than migrants on their way through. We could see a few Sand Martins and one or two Swallows too. As we continued on past the Serpentine, a Water Rail was calling in the reeds.

Common Swift – zooming around overhead

Four terns and some small waders were on the small gravel island at the back of Arnold’s Marsh, so we went into the shelter to set up the scope. It was cool in here today, out of sun and not offering much shelter facing straight into the NE breeze. The pair of Sandwich Terns were more obvious, but two Little Terns were hunkered down just over the top.

Two Grey Plover were roosting in amongst the terns, and on the muddy edge we could see were a Turnstone, and two Sanderling with two Dunlin. Something spooked the birds, and the small waders flew round and landed closer. The Sanderling then took that as a cue to move off, and we watched them fly up high and head north over the shingle ridge. Next stop the arctic? We could now see there were several Ringed Plovers too, in the vegetation on the shingle banks out to the left.

As we walked back, the male Yellow Wagtail was still singing out on the grass. As we passed Snipe’s Marsh on our way back to the minibus, a Little Grebe was diving continually and a drake Common Pochard was asleep out in the middle of the water.

Sandpit Blood Bee Sphecodes pellucidus – in the car park

Our next stop was up on Kelling Heath. There were lots of small bees buzzing around the sandy ground in the car park, Sandpit Mining Bees (Andrena barbilabris). We could see where they had been digging their burrows, small piles of darker earth, some flattened by passing feet and tyres. There were a couple of blood bees around the holes too, red-abdomened Sandpit Blood Bees (Sphecodes pellucidus). These blood bees are cleptoparasites of the Sandpit Mining Bees, laying their eggs in cells in the mining bees’ nests. The wonderful world of bees!

As we walked along a small path through the gorse, we saw several bright metallic Green Hairstreaks, fluttering round the gorse or sunning themselves.

Green Hairstreak – sunning itself

We took the main track down towards the Level Crossing. Suddenly we were surrounded by birds, we didn’t know where to look. A Yellowhammer flew up from the side of the track ahead of us. Then we heard a Woodlark singing, from the clear area away to our right, probably flushed by a group of dogwalkers walking across, and we had a quick glimpse of it was it flew round behind us, but we were distracted by a Common Crossbill calling. We looked up, but all we could see were Linnets flying round and perched on the gorse nearby.

We could still hear Crossbills calling quietly, and this was a particular target for us, so we started to scan for them in the pines. A female flew over our heads but disappeared deep into a tree, where we couldn’t see it. We could still hear calls from ahead of us, so we walked a short way further down the track, and turning the corner found a couple watching some Crossbills deep in a pine overhanging the path, feeding on cones.

We could just see an orangey male Common Crossbill, probably an immature, feeding on a cone. We got it in the scope, fill the frame views, but deep in the trees there were always branches in the way. There were clearly several birds in here and they started flying across to the next tree, further in. Scanning the branches, we found a smart red male out in the open in a much smaller young pine now. We watched it feeding, snipping off cones and carrying them to a branch to extract the seeds, then hanging on other cones and extracting the seeds in situ.

Common Crossbill – feeding on the cones

While we were watching the Crossbills, we heard a Nightjar churring from somewhere deep in the trees. They are mostly crepuscular and start to chur at dusk but will occasionally do so in the middle of the day, particularly early in the season. We had a quick look for any Dartford Warblers, but it was the middle of the day and all was quiet. Two Stonechats perched up as we passed. We were keen to start making our way back now or it would be a very late lunch. A Green Tiger Beetle flew ahead of us along the path.

As we walked on round, several Common Buzzards circled up over the ridge, at one point five in the air together. The trees here were rather quiet, there were few warblers singing, probably not helped by the cool breeze coming up over the ridge. We passed several Common Heath moths fluttering round in the heather.

Common Heath – a day-flying moth

We dropped back down to Cley for lunch on the picnic tables overlooking the marshes. A Lesser Whitethroat was flitting around in the hedge down by the road, but there were people in the way as it disappeared off right. A few minutes later it flew back the other way. After lunch, we drove west to Wells. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over road, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over on the outskirts of Stiffkey.

As we set off down the track, we could hear a Little Ringed Plover displaying and just see it flying round out towards the back of the pool on the right. A couple of Brown Hares were in the meadow, behind the carpet of buttercups and campion, quite a picture!

The young Lapwings are growing up fast here too, but several of the pairs of Avocets have small chicks now. We heard one pair alarm calling loudly, and looked over to see them mobbing a pair of Mute Swans with seven cygnets. A risky thing to do! Another Avocet was busying itself chasing off the Pied Wagtails and a pair of Shoveler from anywhere near its two fluffy juveniles. Much safer than attacking the swans, but of dubious value!

There were at least a dozen Redshanks bathing out in the middle and several more scattered around – here too, no sign of them breeding. We could see two very distant Little Ringed Plover, on the mud towards the back, behind the rushes. We got them in the scope, but it was not a great view, with quite a bit of heat haze too.

The bushes beyond the pools were quiet. It had clouded over now and the breeze was picking up. A nice male Reed Bunting perched up in the hawthorn flowers singing. There were lots of Goldfinches, and one or two Chaffinches, plus a Chiffchaff singing.

Reed Bunting – singing from the top of a hawthorn

From up on the seawall, we could see more Avocets feeding on the mud on the saltmarsh below. A very distant white shape standing out on the saltmarsh was probably a Spoonbill, but there was just too much haze to say for sure. The Avocets were commuting in and out of the west pool, were several were still on nests. The vegetation is now getting too high to see anything else on here.

When all the gulls and corvids rose up from the pig fields on the ridge inland, we figured something significant must have spooked them. We couldn’t see a likely candidate at first, but a couple of minutes later, looked back to see a Peregrine flying up and away to the east.

It was time to head back. One of the Little Ringed Plovers was much closer now, and through the scope we could see its golden eye ring. As we climbed into the minibus, a smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the field beyond.

21st May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week, our last day. A wet & windy day today. We managed to get some birding in during the morning, but as the weather deteriorated into the afternoon, the vote was for an early finish.

We headed down to Cley for the morning and parked in the bottom car park, below the Visitor Centre. It was dry, but very grey with a rather blustery wind, but not as bad as forecast. We decided to make a bid for the East Bank while we could. There were a few birds in the trees as we set off, including our first Long-tailed Tit of the tour.

As we walked along The Skirts, a bird flew up from the short grass right next to the path, on the left. With its olive-brown back and long rounded tail, which drooped behind it as it flew, it was obviously a Grasshopper Warbler. It dropped back down into the short grass about five metres further on. We took a couple of steps forward, intending to try to find it again, and another Grasshopper Warbler flew up from the right of the path. This one flew round behind us and landed in some low brambles just a few metres away. With its rather bright lemon-yellow throat it was immediately recognisable as the male we watched reeling regularly here at the end of April and beginning of May. Hopefully it has found a mate, which would explain why it has gone quiet now.

Grasshopper Warbler – one of two flushed by the path

After watching the Grasshopper Warbler for a while, it dropped down out of view. We set off again along the path as a pair of Common Pochard flew past the other way, over the reeds. There were lots of Common Swifts and hirundines hawking over the pools in the middles. A couple of Swallows and a House Martin were zooming back and forth low over the coast road, trying to find insects in the shelter of the bushes the other side.

Despite the weather, there were still warblers singing in the bushes – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Cetti’s Warbler, and a Common Whitethroat calling its buzzy call. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds behind us, but the Sedge Warblers were sensibly quiet, keeping down out of the wind. A Common Buzzard was hanging in the breeze over North Foreland, until it was mobbed by one of the local Rooks.

Up on the East Bank, there were more hirundines flying round low over the grazing marshes, particularly lots of Sand Martins now. A few Swifts and House Martins flew through, up over the bank and on west, birds on the move despite the weather. Fewer than yesterday, but the movement of Swifts was a real theme of the last two days.

Common Swift – lots on the move the last two days

The grazing marshes here are perfect for breeding waders. The Lapwing chicks which were small bundles of fluff a couple of weeks ago are now getting much bigger. The Redshanks are still displaying – we saw one pair, the male fluttering his wings vigorously and calling, while the female looked disinterested and walked away. There were a few Avocets in the Serpentine and on Pope’s Pool further back.

Lapwing – the juveniles are getting bigger

We could hear a buzzy sound just carrying to us from out on the grazing marshes and careful scanning revealed the source – a Yellow Wagtail. This bird has been lingering here for a couple of weeks now, singing. The song is not much to write home about – just a couple of buzzy notes. We got the Yellow Wagtail in the scopes, a bright canary yellow male, and watched as it worked its way through the thick grass feeding, then climbed up onto a tussock to sing. Yellow Wagtails used to breed more commonly along the coast here, so it would be nice to think that they might return.

Yellow Wagtail – singing from the grazing marshes

We stopped again to scan the margins of the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese, several Gadwall, Mallard and Shelduck but we couldn’t pick out anything different. The Great Black-backed Gulls were starting to gather to loaf on the islands at the back.

A Yellow Wagtail called, and we turned to see the male fly round over the bank, before landing briefly on the grass behind the reeds below us. It didn’t stay though, flying straight back out to the middle where it had been singing. As it flew back, a second Yellow Wagtail flew up too, but didn’t follow the male, landing on the edge of the Serpentine. We could see it was a female – just a shame she wasn’t showing any interest in the singing male!

Carrying on to Arnold’s Marsh, we got into the shelter, out of the wind, just as it started to rain. A couple of people already in the shelter asked what the wader at the back was. So we set up our scopes to find it was a lone grey Knot (with a limp). There were also two Dunlin, a Ringed Plover and a Turnstone with it. A couple of Curlew were roosting in the far corner and another was sheltering behind a low suaeda bush the other side. There were a few more Redshanks on here too.

Two other Ringed Plovers emerged from the low saltmarsh vegetation at the back – the slightly larger paler one, chasing after the slightly smaller darker bird. Two different subspecies of Ringed Plover, the smaller, darker birds are northern, tundra breeders (race tundrae), compared to the larger paler local breeders (race hiaticula). The Tundra Ringed Plovers are later migrants, passing through at this time of year. Another nine Tundra Ringed Plovers then dropped in just to illustrate the point, along with three more Dunlin.

One of the group spotted a distant Hobby, over the reedbed at the back, flying towards Salthouse, heading inland presumably out of the deteriorating weather. A Little Tern hovering over Sea Pool was similarly distant, but a Sandwich Tern dropped in at the back of Arnold’s, with more flying through past the shelter. A single Wheatear on the sand right at the back was flitting in and out of the low vegetation, trying to feed. There is still a trickle of late Wheatears coming through, dark northern breeders, but this was the first we had seen this tour.

There were several Avocets coming and going from the pool down at the front, with a couple sat down on the bank beyond, presumably incubating. When a female stopped and stood with neck bent down and bill held horizontal just above the surface, the male walked round her preening and flicking his bill in the water. We knew what was coming and sure enough we then watched the pair mating.

Avocets – the pair mating

As the rain eased, we continued on to the beach. We counted nine Little Terns offshore, slowly working their way east, and several Sandwich Terns passed the other way, one with a large sand eel in its bill. We steeled ourselves and turned into the wind for the walk back. We had intended to call in at Bishop Hide on the way back, as this is open again now, but we found several people camped in there already, out of the weather. We scanned from the door and couldn’t see anything of note on Pat’s Pool anyway, so we walked back. A pair of Mute Swans with cygnets were on the channel up from the bridge.

We figured it might be a bit more sheltered at Kelling, so we headed over there next. As we walked into the lane, we could hear a Greenfinch wheezing. Several Goldfinches were feeding on the school playing field and a Chaffinch was singing from somewhere in the school grounds as we passed. The hedges either side were rather quiet, despite being out of the wind. We did hear a Common Whitethroat calling, a Blackcap singing and a Chiffchaff flew across. A Red-legged Partridge ran ahead of us all the way down the lane to the copse.

We stopped to scan from the gate. There were lots of Brown Hares in the field beyond the Water Meadow, in the shelter of the hedge, and loads of Woodpigeons and Rooks. All we could find was a single Robin on the sheltered edge of the copse.

We continued down to the cross track to look at the pool, but there was just a single Egyptian Goose and a few Mallard on there today. It was rather exposed out here in the increasingly blustery wind. We scanned the bushes around the Quags, but everything seemed to have gone somewhere more sheltered. As we turned to walk back, there were a couple of Linnets in the edge of the field and a slightly bedraggled Common Whitethroat feeding in the low alexanders by the path which flew up into the brambles as we passed.

Common Whitethroat – flew up into the brambles

Kelling Heath seemed like a place which might offer a bit of shelter, and there have been Garden Warblers singing here in the last week, but it was windier than we thought in the car park. At least it wasn’t raining, so we had a quick walk round the bushes. A Blackcap was singing from deep in the blackthorn by the car park and a Bullfinch called as we walked round the back.

Then we heard a Garden Warbler across the road, so we crossed over to see if we could find it. It was singing in some dense blackthorn, moving around, and we couldn’t see it before it went quiet. We did find a family of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, and a Willow Warbler and Goldcrest flitting around in the birches.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back down to Cley to try to find some shelter. We parked the minibus in front of the beach shelter and ate our lunch in there. It was a bit damp on the bench, but standing in one side it was drier and had the added advantage of being able to see the sea. A steady stream of Sandwich Terns flew past, along with one or two Little Terns and a single Common Tern.

After lunch, we drove round to Iron Road for a short walk to see if any waders had dropped in there. There was nothing new on the large pool, but a Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the reeds at the back. On the other side of the main drain, over the bridge, we did find a small group of Tundra Ringed Plovers and several Dunlin on the muddy brackish pools. A Yellow Wagtail flew round calling but landed in the long grass with the cows further back, out of view.

The plan had been to finish up at Wells, so we decided to head over there now, with a view to finishing slightly early. The forecast was for heavy rain all this afternoon, and it finally arrived on our way there. The wind had picked up too – it had been forecast to be gusting 50mph+ all day, so we had actually been lucky to have had nothing like that up til now.

We got out of the minibus and started to scan the pools from the parking area. We could see a Little Ringed Plover on the pool west of the track. We thought about a walk down to the far end of the pools to see if there was anything hiding in the rushes, but there was no appetite for even a short walk now. It was already 3pm, and we had made the most of it, so with everyone having a long drive home we decided to call it a day.

It was a good call, as it only got wetter on the way back. But despite the deteriorating weather at the end, we could look back on a very productive three days of spring birding and we had seen some very good birds too.

20th May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week. It was a cloudy but dry morning, with an increasingly blustery wind picking up towards midday. It started spitting with rain early afternoon, and although we managed to avoid the heavy downpour, it remained damp on and off for the rest of the day. We didn’t get wet and it didn’t put us off!

We headed over to Snettisham for the morning. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Greenfinch was wheezing in the top of a nearby conifer. A smart pink male Bullfinch was perched in a hawthorn as we walked along the road. A little further back, our first Turtle Dove of the morning was perched on a telegraph post, and as we stopped to look at it we could hear it purring. We got it in the scopes and had a closer look at it, before it flapped up into the air and flew down in a long glide, its display flight, landing further up by the path in.

From up by the gate, we could see it now, purring on the wires by the path. But before we could get the scopes set up, it was flushed by someone walking out and flew up in another display flight, landing back on the post where it had been earlier. As we walked in through the bushes, a second Turtle Dove started purring ahead of us in a large hawthorn. The first was still on its favoured post, and with both singing now, we had Turtle Dove stereo, surround sound. What a great sound, and such a shame it is now getting so rare.

We set the scopes up and had a fantastic view of this second Turtle Dove perched in the top of the hawthorn. We could see the broad rusty orange fringes to the feathers of its upperparts and the small black and white barred panel on the sides of its neck. A couple of times, it flew up and performed its display flight, before coming back to the same bush.

Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a hawthorn

When the Turtle Dove finally landed in a different bush, further in, we continued on through the bushes. There were lots of warblers singing in here today – Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling ahead of us, but when we walked further up to see if we could find it, it had now moved behind us. We turned to scan the bushes, but it disappeared deeper in still and kept well hidden.

Up on the seawall, the tide was coming in. We could see lots of Brent Geese and Oystercatchers along the water’s edge. In amongst them, we found several groups of Bar-tailed Godwits, and well hidden on the mud a small party of Knot, one or two of both in bright rusty breeding plumage. Several Sanderling were feeding further up along the shore, now in their darker breeding plumage and looking very different from the silvery grey birds we see through the winter.

A single Grey Plover dropped in, looking stunning with its summer black face and belly and bright white spangled upperparts. More Grey Plover in several small flocks flew past over the mud from further up the Wash, and we could see Curlews and more Grey Plover on the mud to the south of us. Looking beyond the waders in the mud, two Great Crested Grebes were out on the Wash.

As we turned back to the bushes, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling, and just managed to pick it up as it flew over, heading south. A migrant on its way. We dropped back down off the seawall, and continued north. There were lots of Common Swifts on the move too, zooming around low over the bushes looking for insects. We could see more over the marshes just inland, and we remarked that it would be the day to find a rare swift, travelling with its commoner cousins. A trickle of Swallows flew south too.

Common Swift – there were lots moving today

There were lots of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits which flew up calling as we passed. A Cetti’s Warbler singing from the bushes by the path remained well hidden but a Chiffchaff posed nicely on a bare branch of an elder bush.

Chiffchaff – posed on an elder bush

We heard the male Stonechat first, alarm calling. It was in a different place to normal and scanning the bushes confirmed our suspicions – its young had fledged and we could see at least two streaky juveniles nearby. We could hear their squeaky begging calls. A Green Woodpecker disappeared off through the bushes.

Stonechat – one of at least two streaky juveniles

Our third Turtle Dove of the morning now started purring from a dead tree ahead of us, as we carried on north. A couple of Bullfinches chased each other off into the bushes. A small bird dropped out of the sky onto a low bush on the seawall and we turned to see it was a Lesser Redpoll. It was presumably attracted down by some Linnets in the bushes, but didn’t linger and flew off calling back along the seawall.

When we got to the crossbank, we had another look out over the Wash. The tide was coming in fast now. We could see more Oystercatchers and Sanderling on the beach to the north, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers. Another Ringed Plover was in one of the cordoned off areas higher up on the top of the sandy beach, but was disturbed by a dog which came running out of the bushes and up onto the seawall above it. The Ringed Plover walked away down the beach. The dog’s owner emerged from the bushes blowing on a whistle and eventually got their pet back under control.

We walked over to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan the marshes the other side. It didn’t take long to spot a Little Gull hawking for insects over the pools, it’s buoyant flight more tern-like. A second Little Gull appeared with it, both of them young, 1st summers or 2nd calendar year birds with a black ‘w’ pattern across the upperwings.

Little Gull – hawking for insects over the water

There were lots of Oystercatchers on the pools at the back, come on here to roost over high tide. We could see several groups of Black-tailed Godwits too, doing the same thing. The Avocets, Lapwings and a few Redshank are breeding on here, all species which are benefiting from the recent creation of these marshes.

There were ducks too, including two or three late lingering Wigeon, several Tufted Ducks and one or two Common Pochard. Scanning carefully through the Greylags, Canada and Egyptian Geese, we eventually found two Pink-footed Geese asleep. We couldn’t see but these are most likely injured birds which were probably show and winged and are now unable to make the long journey back to Iceland to breed.

While we were looking at the geese, one of the group spotted a Golden Plover by a small pool on the grassy area across the middle of the marshes, a very smart summer adult with dark face and bellow. A Whimbrel was a bit further back on the grass.

Golden Plover – a smart summer bird

An Alpine Swift had been seen flying past West Runton and Cley earlier – as we had predicted, it was a day for a rare swift. Now news came through that it had passed quickly over Titchwell and Holme. There were still hundreds of Common Swifts pouring down along the coast towards us and gathering to feed over the marshes, so we started scanning through, in case it should come through here. It took a while for the Alpine Swift to get to Hunstanton, then it turned south over cliffs, seemingly heading our way. We could even see Hunstanton in the distance to the north of us, but despite our best efforts we couldn’t find it. It had probably turned out across the Wash before it got to us – so near, and yet so far!

We walked back to the minibus. There had been a pratincole for the last hour or so over Cley and Salthouse, so we thought we might head over there to try to see it. But we had just set off in the minibus when a message came through to say that it had flown off high west. So we diverted to Titchwell for lunch and to use the facilities.

It was still dry but cloudy when we got to Titchwell, so we had lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted over and a couple of Blackcaps were singing in the sallows. It had just started spitting with rain as we packed up. There was still no further news of the pratincole, so we decided to head out onto the reserve, where we would have hides to shelter in, should the forecast heavy rain arrive.

As we got out of the trees on the main path, we could hear a Cuckoo calling somewhere round the back towards Fen Hide. A Bittern was booming from deep in the reedbed. We stopped to scan the Reedbed Pool, but all we could see there today were lots of Greylag Geese and a few Common Pochard.

The hides here are thankfully now open again and we arrived at Island Hide just in time, as it started to rain heavily. Looking through the gulls on the small strip island we found several Mediterranean Gulls, including some smart black-hooded adults, in with the Black-headed Gulls (with the brown heads – don’t ask!).

Mediterranean Gulls – there were several with the Black-headed Gulls

There was a nice selection of terns on the Freshmarsh too. A male Common Tern flew in with a fish for the female, which was resting on the low brick island, but was sent straight back out for more. Two Little Terns were hunkered down on the far end of the island where all the gulls were, but a Sandwich Tern flew in and landed right in amongst the gulls, joined by a second shortly afterwards.

Apart from Avocets, there didn’t appear to be many waders on here today, but looking more carefully we did manage to find a few. There were at least three Little Ringed Plovers, mostly over the far side by Parrinder Hide, although two flew past us at one point with one calling and displaying. There were two Turnstones picking around at the back with a Dunlin. When the Turnstones flew off, the Dunlin flew to the gull island, and was joined by second.

Avocet – there were several on the Freshmarsh

There were lots of Swallows and House Martins hawking low over the water. We looked through them to see if we could find anything with them and did find a single Sand Martin too. A lone Spoonbill flew in from the west, but continued straight over the Freshmarsh without stopping and disappeared over the bank at the back. Thankfully it stopped raining fairly quickly, so we decided to venture out and make a bid for the beach.

The Volunteer Marsh looked quiet as we passed, but we did find a few waders in the wide muddy channel at the far end. Several Grey Plover at the back included two in smart breeding plumage, one of which flew towards us, but just to chase off another in non-breeding plumage about half way down.

As we got to the Tidal Pools, another Spoonbill which had been feeding in the shallow water at the back flew off. There were several Little Terns flying round calling, with one hovering over one of the pools out on the saltmarsh. Two Common Terns were roosting on the end of the spit. There were more waders out here too, a small group of very smart breeding plumage Turnstones on the grass and another summer plumage Grey Plover.

Little Tern – one of several on the Tidal Pools

Continuing on to the beach, the tide was coming in and had already covered the mussel beds. A single Little Tern was on the beach away to the east and several Sandwich Terns flew back and forth over the sea. A single adult Gannet with its black-tipped white wings was plunge fishing offshore before heading off east. It was starting to spit with rain again, so we set off back.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide and were rewarded with much better views of one of the Little Ringed Plovers. We could see its golden yellow eye ring now. Several Marsh Harriers were up and down out of the reedbed.

Little Ringed Plover – better view from Parrinder Hide

A Little Grebe was diving in one of the reedbed channels as we continued walking back. We negotiated the one way system and went round to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes by the Tank Road as we passed.

There didn’t appear to be much on Patsy’s today. An odd looking Greylag Goose swam out from behind the reeds. Clearly unwell, it was very low in the water and seemed to be barely afloat. Through the scope, we could see its skin was bare on the top of its head and around its eyes and bright pink. Its bill was bright reddish too. It sailed out in the direction of a pair of Mute Swans with three cygnets in the middle. The male swan was determined to defend its brood and attacked it, but seemed taken aback that the Greylag didn’t respond. It looked like the swan would drown it.

A Kestrel was perched in one of the dead trees (where a Hobby should be instead!). Several Marsh Harriers circled low over the reedbed, including a couple of smart males, one of which drifted over the pool in front of us. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the hedge behind us.

Marsh Harrier – drifted out over Patsy’s

We could see dark clouds behind us and it started spitting with rain again. We had been comparatively lucky with the weather today, given the forecast for heavy rain all afternoon, and it was time to call it a day and head back before we got wet.

19th May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week. Mostly warm in the long sunny spells, there were some cloudier periods when it felt a bit cooler. Some very dark clouds early afternoon were accompanied by some long rolls of thunder, but thankfully passed well to the south of us, and it wasn’t until we were on our way home that we drove into one of the forecast showers.

With a Caspian Tern over in the Broads for its second day this morning, we decided to head east for the day. It was a long drive over to Potter Heigham, but we left in good time and it was still early when we got to the car park. As we crossed the road and set off down the track, we heard a Cuckoo calling, and turned to see it flying away over the river. It was a cloudy start, and our first Common Swifts off the tour were chasing overhead. A Great Spotted Woodpecker came out of the small copse of trees and flew ahead of us, landing on a low gatepost by the track – an odd place to see one.

A pair of Egyptian Geese were close to the path on the grazing marshes. Further out, among the horses, was a lone Oystercatcher. Several Lapwings were flying round too. We could hear distant Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler singing in the bushes and trees the other side of the marshes. Closer to us, both Sedge and Reed Warblers were singing from the reedy margins of the ditch, but were typically hard to see. Never mind, we would see lots later. A couple of Reed Buntings flew across the track. One or two Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes and a Common Buzzard circled overhead.

Common Buzzard – circled overhead

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the fields which flushed as a local farmer drove past in his truck. They flew across to the pools. At the first pool, as well as the geese, we could see a few Mallard and one or two Gadwall. A Little Egret was out in the shallow water in the far corner.

It’s yelping call alerted us to a Lesser White-fronted Goose in with the Greylags, dwarfed by its much larger cousins. Through the scope, we could see the white blaze extending up its forehead and the golden yellow eye-ring. This would be a rare bird here if it were wild, but unfortunately it is a known escapee which has been hanging around here for the last year or so, presumably having hopped the fence from a wildfowl collection somewhere.

The Caspian Tern had flown off once this morning, but thankfully returned, so we were keen to get round to the other side to see it, while making sure we didn’t miss anything this side on the way. Moving on to the next pool, a quick scan revealed two Common Pochard with more Greylags and a couple of distant Common Terns. The cloud was breaking now and it was warming up nicely as the sun was coming out. Having planned for the risk of rain which was forecast, we had to shed our coats.

Up to the corner, we climbed up onto the bank for a better view. On the corner pool we could see more Pochard, a couple of Tufted Ducks, and three late lingering Wigeon. Looking across to the other side, we could just see the Caspian Tern through the reeds, between some Cormorants roosting on one of the islands. A little further up, we got clear of the reeds and had a better if still distant view – we could see its huge red bill. It was standing in the shallow water next to a Herring Gull and didn’t look much smaller – Caspian Tern is the largest tern, like an enormous oversize Sandwich Tern with a massive red dagger for a bill.

With the Caspian Tern in the bag, we could relax a little, but we continued on round more slowly, for a closer view. A Willow Warbler was signing from the top of an oak across the other side of Candle Dyke. A Common Sandpiper was flushed from a mooring by a passing boat a little further along and a Common Tern flew past, looking much daintier than its cousin on the pools, with a much less threatening bill!

Common Tern – flew past over Candle Dyke

Walking round towards the river, there was lots of activity in the reeds. We finally got to see both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warblers here. We caught a quick glimpse of a Bearded Tit which zipped over the reeds and dropped down. It was carrying food in its bill, so we waited to see if it would come back out. Before it did, a second Bearded Tit flew in, this time the female, also carrying food in her bill. She perched for a few seconds in the reeds, allowing us all to get on her, before she dropped in, as the male flew out and disappeared back away. Obviously they are feeding a hungry brood in the reeds there.

Bearded Tit – the female, carrying food

Walking up beside the river, we arrived opposite the pool where the Caspian Tern was standing. But we had only just put up the scopes before it took off, before everyone could get a look. We watched it fly off east, circling over the reeds for a while, gaining height, before it disappeared from view. We were very pleased we had stopped to look at it distantly on the way round!

Caspian Tern – flew off just as we arrived on the river bank

The Caspian Tern had flown off earlier and returned, so we figured it was probably just heading off to fish somewhere and would most likely be back here again at some point. The only question was how long, but we thought we would have a more leisurely look around now and see what happened. There were two Shoveler out on this pool. A Great Crested Grebe was over in the far corner and then another appeared from behind the reeds at the front. Another male Bearded Tit was chasing a rival round and round over the reeds.

Walking up to the last pool from the river bank, we could see a single Avocet on one of the islands. A pair of Teal nearby would be the only ones we would see – most have left already, heading off to northern Europe for the breeding season. We hadn’t been here long though, before we turned to see the Caspian Tern flying back in behind us. It landed back down on the pool where it had been before, so we walked straight back. Now we all had a really good view of it through the scopes.

Caspian Tern – flew back in and landed on the same pool

Caspian Tern is a rare visitor to the UK, with just a few records most years. They breed in small numbers around the Baltic, as well as further over in SE Europe, wintering down in West Africa. Potter Heigham seems to be a good site for them – there was one here last year too.

We could see dark clouds way off west, so we decided to walk slowly back. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the bushes by the river, and we had a quick flash of a rounded chestnut-red tail as it flew past. Two different male Marsh Harriers flew past over the reeds. A couple of Common Whitethroats were in the trees, three Reed Warblers chased round and a Chiffchaff was singing in the old orchard by the mill.

Marsh Harrier – one of two males over the reeds

We headed round to Hickling Broad to use the facilities and as the sun was out now, we decided to have an early lunch in the picnic area before heading out onto the reserve. A juvenile Robin was calling in the trees behind the Visitor Centre – good to see some early broods are proving productive, despite the cool spring we are having. As we sat down to eat, a Hobby circled high over the trees beyond. A pair of Great Tits were flying in and out of a nearby nest box. Two Bullfinch called, and we looked over to see them fly across the far end of the picnic area.

There were some dark clouds to the south of us, and we heard some long and rather ominous rolls of thunder from that direction, but it looked like they would probably miss us, so we headed out onto the reserve. As we set off down the track, there were House Martins overhead calling and we found a couple of Sand Martins with them.

As we got to the corner with the Stubb Mill track, one of the group spotted a Common Crane flying over high in the distance – the first of many, as it would prove later. There were lots of Hobbys out over the reedbed beyond the water, flying back and forth, hawking for insects, some low, some circling up much higher. Further over, there were more perched in the tops of the dead trees, probably around 15 Hobbys in all, always great to watch these spring gatherings. A Cuckoo flew over the back of the pool, up over the bank, and disappeared behind the trees towards the Visitor Centre.

We walked down the track towards Stubb Mill. There had been a Wood Sandpiper on the marsh here yesterday, so we scanned the islands and the margins of the water. A small flock of seven Ringed Plovers flew up and disappeared off west, presumably of the Tundra race, which are always late migrants through here. Again we heard a Lesser White-fronted Goose calling and looked over on the island to see it in with the Greylags. Presumably the same bird we had seen earlier at Potter Heigham, as it is only a short distance away as the goose flies.

Lesser White-fronted Goose – unfortunately an escapee

A much closer Hobby flew in over the water and over the track behind us. While everyone was watching it, we turned to see a Grey Heron fly up from the reeds beyond the pool and noticed a Common Crane in the reeds too, a little further back. We got it in the scope and watched it for some time, preening, then walking around through the reeds. Then it took off and flew towards us, unfortunately attracting the attention of one of the Shelduck, which decided to mob it as it flew over the water. As the Shelduck finally gave up, we watched as the Common Crane disappeared away over the fields to the north.

Common Crane – pursued by a Shelduck

As we continued on down the track, we could hear a Bittern booming from somewhere deep in the reeds now. We scanned the pools on the way, but the only other waders we could find were Redshanks. When we got to the end, there were more Hobbys zooming about low over the reeds and we looked past them to the east and noticed four Common Cranes circling low over the bushes.

Another four Cranes circled up nearby and all eight then turned and started to fly towards us. They stopped to circle again, giving us a great view, then started calling and drifted away to the north over Stubb Mill, where we lost sight of them behind the trees.

Common Crane – another eight, near Stubb Mill

After watching the Cranes, we turned our attention back to the pools, looking back parallel with the track. It was a better view from up on the top of the bank. There were two Little Grebes diving in the blanket weed here, more Redshanks and several juvenile Lapwings which teased us into thinking they might be a different small wader before we saw them clearly. Then we did find a different small wader right up at the far end, walking in and out of a line of thick reeds and rushes. It was the Wood Sandpiper we had been searching for – a distant view, but better than nothing!

The dark clouds had remained off to the south as we had hoped and the sun had come out again now, encouraging a flush of insects. A Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly was drying its still papery wings on the bank in the sunshine, with several also freshly emerged Azure Damselflies fluttering around nearby. A Small Copper butterfly was trying to find flowers to feed on, our first of the year.

Four-spotted Chaser – drying its wings on the bank

We had been intending to walk up to Bittern Hide, but we met someone here who had just come back from there and had seen nothing we hadn’t already seen. A Great Reed Warbler had been found at Breydon Water this morning and after being very elusive, it now seemed to be showing on and off. As it was just a short drive from here, we decided to go over there to see if we could see it.

As we arrived in the car park, a friendly face walking back confirmed the Great Reed Warbler was still present, so we set off out along the north wall. We could see six people standing on the path on the first corner, looking down across the railway line to the bushes beyond. As we walked up, we could immediately hear the Great Reed Warbler singing.

The Great Reed Warbler was singing from inside the bush and looking in, we could just see it. We got it in the scopes and had various views of different parts of it as it moved around. Great Reed Warblers are scarce visitors from continental Europe, overshooting in spring as they fly back from Africa and ending up in the UK. Normally a bird of reedbeds, like a much larger version of our Reed Warbler, this one had probably been attracted down by the sight of Breydon Water and found the best habitat it could to feed.

After a while it stopped singing and went quiet, disappeared into the bushes. It had earlier come out into the open when it stopped singing, but all we could see now were a couple of Blackcaps, male & female. A regular Reed Warbler appeared too, in the same bush. People were getting tired now so we decided it was time to walk back.

Breydon Water – looking out from the north wall

Some of the group were a little too keen to get back to the minibus and sit down, as they disappeared over the horizon before we the rest of us had packed away our tripods. Those who had brought their scopes out stopped on the way back to scan Breydon Water for waders. The islands of vegetation at the edge of the saltmarsh are a regular roosting site for waders.

We had already seen a flock of Curlews out there, and stopping to scan now we found a group of at least 19 Whimbrel too, tucked down in the vegetation a little further over. A lone wader on the end of a vegetated spit a bit further round was a single Greenshank.

It was a long drive back and time was getting on, so the rest of us headed back to join the others in the minibus. As we cut round past Norwich we drove into a heavy rain shower – we had been very lucky with the weather today. A great start to our three day tour, with two new birds for most of the group.

12th May 2021 – Cameras at the Ready

A Private Tour today, with the focus on trying to photograph birds rather than just looking at them. It was meant to be a sunny morning, with cloud increasing in the afternoon and the possibility of showers. Instead, there was more patchy cloud this morning and it was sunny and warm this afternoon – the wrong way round!

We spent the morning at Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked in, a male Greenfinch was on the ground feeding on the short grass. We could hear various warblers singing: Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Sedge and Cetti’s Warbler. But none of them wanted to pose for the cameras. We had a quick look out at the Wash from the outer seawall, but the tide was in and there wasn’t a lot flying past out over the sea.

As we set off up the middle of the Coastal Park, we could hear the distinctive rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat now. It flew across to a large hawthorn on the edge of the reeds where we watched it feeding on one of the longer branches for a minute or so. When it was joined by a second, the two of them flew out and across to the bushes over on the seawall.

Lesser Whitethroat – in one of the hawthorns

There were lots of Goldfinches and Linnets in the bushes, and more warblers, as we made our way north. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling ahead of us in the brambles and flew up into a hawthorn next to the path, where it gave a quick burst of song. It only perched there briefly though, and quickly flew across to the other side of the path, disappearing back into the thicker vegetation.

Cetti’s Warbler – perched up singing briefly

A steady succession of Swallows came low over the bushes, migrants on their way, heading south round the Wash. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove as we walked up towards its favourite tree and when two Turtle Doves flew past away from us and disappeared into the bushes, we thought that was it. We stopped to admire a male Stonechat which perched on some low bushes in the middle, and a female appeared nearby too.

Stonechat – the male in a low briar

While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard the male Turtle Dove purring now from its favourite tree. Had it flown back while we weren’t looking. Then another Turtle Dove started purring from somewhere in the bushes off to our right, in the direction where the pair had disappeared earlier, so presumably different birds. We set up the scope and had a good view of the lone male perched in the branches of a dead tree.

Turtle Dove – purring from a dead tree

Then we noticed a Barn Owl flying around over the short grass out in the middle, beyond the bushes. We didn’t know which way to look! As we walked on along the path, the Turtle Dove took off and launched into its display flight. We found the Barn Owl again, but it was always rather distant ahead of us. We figured we would catch up with it somewhere later.

From up on the seawall again, the tide was going out now and there were lots of Oystercatchers out on the mud. A woman stopped to talk to us, she was a volunteer with the Wash Wader Ringing Group looking for one satellite Oystercatcher with them. Without a current fix, it was like looking for a needle in haystack! More Oystercatchers were still commuting from where they had been roosting on the marshes inland out to the beach.

As we walked across by the crossbank to the inner seawall, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes, along with another Lesser Whitethroat, and a couple more Common Whitethroats. Climbing up onto the inner seawall, the Barn Owl was now hunting over the bank just a little further up. It disappeared behind the bend in the bank, so we went through the gate and walked round on top. The Barn Owl was on a fence post just round the corner and took off when it saw us, but thankfully did a nice fly round, coming straight past below us.

Barn Owl – flew past below us

Turning our attention to Ken Hill Marshes, we picked up a Sparrowhawk disappeared away low over the water. In the reeds beyond, we could see a distant Great White Egret alongside a Little Egret. A good size comparison – the former completely dwarfing the latter.

There were plenty of ducks out on the pools, Shoveler, Gadwall and one or two lingering Wigeon. Four Barnacle Geese were presumably feral birds rather than genuine high Arctic breeders. Two Whimbrel were out on the short grass – one flew off and one disappeared down into a pool out of view as a small group of people walked along the footpath, but both reappeared after they had made it to the seawall.

We hadn’t had sight nor sound of the Cuckoo up to now, but as we walked back we heard it singing and looked ahead of us to see it perched in a dead tree. When we got alongside it, we watched it singing for a couple of minutes. A Chaffinch appeared on the branch next to it, and after a while worked up the courage to chase it off, at which point it was joined by one of the local Meadow Pipits.

Cuckoo – appeared as we started to walk back

Further on, we stopped again. There were several Mute Swans flying round, mostly young birds with dull bills. An adult with a brighter orange bill was bathing in the ditch on the edge of the marshes. There were several Common Swifts zooming about over the pools and one or two swept past us over the bank and the bushes the other side. We had a go at photographing them as they passed – never easy at that speed!

Common Swift – flew past us over the bank

A Mediterranean Gull started calling, a distinctive plaintive miaowing, and we turned to see it circling over the nesting Black-headed Gulls, its white wingtips translucent against the sun. A Chiffchaff posed on the outside of one of the hawthorns below the path briefly. Then we made our way back to the minibus.

As we headed back round to the north coast, we made a diversion into Hunstanton and stopped by the lighthouse. The Fulmars were only just coming above the clifftop occasionally today, but one or two gave some very nice photo opportunities.

Fulmar – circling over the cliffs

There were several House Sparrows in the fenced off vegetation on the top of the cliff and a male posed nicely on the fence. A very smart metallic Starling dropped onto the grass close to us to collect more insects – its bill was already pretty full with a large larva and a couple of flies.

Our mission for the afternoon was to find a feeding Spoonbill. After a break for a pizza in Thornham, we carried on east to Burnham Norton. Three Whimbrel were feeding out on the short grass as we got out of the vehicles. The path out towards the seawall was a bit muddy, but we managed to negotiate it without getting our feet wet.

Two Common Swifts were circling above us and started mating on the wing. They separated but stayed together and then did it again a bit further over. While we were watching the Swifts, we picked up two Hobbys way off in the distance. We watched them catching insects high above the reedbed.

There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds along here and we could hear one or two Reed Warblers too but they were much harder to see. We finally got to see a couple of them, chasing around in the corner of the ditch below the seawall. A flock of four Yellow Wagtails flew over high, calling. They appeared to drop towards the herd of cows out in the middle of the marshes, so we made a mental note to have a look for them on our way back.

Walking along the seawall, the tide was out and we couldn’t see any Spoonbills out on the saltmarsh. The only white shapes flying in and out now were Little Egrets. There were lots of waders along here, several Avocets chasing each other in the muddy channel on the near edge of the saltmarsh and Redshanks flying back and forth over the bank. There were Lapwings here too, and one or two were displaying, singing as they performed their tumbling and rolling display flight.

Lapwing – displaying over the seawall

There were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they head off to Siberia for the breeding season. But it looked like we might be out of luck with our main target here today. When we reached the junction with the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marshes, we turned for one last scan over the saltmarsh. And there they were, two Spoonbills flying in from the direction of Gun Hill.

One of the Spoonbills landed in one of the big channels and we could just see it distantly from the seawall. The tide was out and there are a couple of baitdiggers’ paths out to the channel here, so we walked out to the edge, picking our way and jumping over some of the narrower runnels. Eventually we got much closer. The Spoonbill was feeding constantly in the shallow water, and appeared to be finding lots of food, regularly flicking its head back as it snapped at something.

Spoonbill – feeding in one of the saltmarsh channels

Eventually the Spoonbill disappeared round the next corner in the channel, out of view. As we made our way back to the seawall, the second Spoonbill dropped in with it. A couple of small squadrons of Cormorants flew past, heading back towards Holkham.

We dropped down onto the path the other side and walked back through the middle of the grazing marshes. The distinctive foghorn of a Bittern booming drifted over to us from the reeds. There were herds of cows on both sides of the path, but looking through the reeds we couldn’t see anything with the ones on the left of the path. We stopped at a gate from where we could see the cows the other side – they were all walking in towards the reeds by the path, and we couldn’t see anything with them at first. Two Wheatears, a smart male and a closer female, were out on the grass just beyond, migrants stopping off on their way north.

It was hard to see through the throng of cows by the reeds at first, but as some started to move further down away from us, we could see a pair of Yellow Wagtails feeding round the feet of one of them. The male with bright day-glo yellow underparts and head, the female rather creamier yellow and shades of greenish-brown.

Yellow Wagtail – a bright yellow male

The cows moved further down so we continued on along the path to the next gate, which is where they seemed to be heading. We had just arrived when another small group of Yellow Wagtails seemed to drop in with the original pair. It is always worth looking through flocks of wagtails at this time of year, as they often contain birds from the continent with different variations of head colour.

In amongst these wagtails, we did indeed find an odd looking one. It had a greyish head and a bold white supercilium, very different to the yellowish heads of the others. It looked too bright for a female, with a very bright yellow vent and belly, but grading to paler yellow on the lower breast and pale yellowish white on the upper breast and throat, and a greenish mantle. With the paler throat, it clearly wasn’t an adult male either. These wagtails are very variable, and the different forms frequently intergrade in the zones where they meet, but the best fit for this one seemed to be a 1st summer male Blue-headed Wagtail, the race which is found across much of continental Europe but is a regular visitor here in spring.

Blue-headed Wagtail – probably a 1st summer male

We spent some time watching the wagtails feeding in among the cows, although they became harder to see as the cows all pressed in closer to the gate. They seemed to have gathered waiting to be fed. Then when the wagtails suddenly took off and flew over the reeds, we continued on our way back.

A Little Egret was feeding in the ditch ahead of us as we got back to the parking area. As we stood by the vehicles for a minute or two, several Brown Hares were running round over the grass. A Barn Owl flew past along the edge of the grazing marshes, disappearing off along the side of the road. Time for us to call it a day.

11th May 2021 – Spring Serenade

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with intermittent dark clouds spreading in particularly from early afternoon and bringing with them some torrential showers. Thankfully we mostly managed to avoid being caught out in the worst of them.

We started the day at Snettisham. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Cuckoo was singing, but it had gone quiet by the time we were ready to set off. As we walked into the Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing in the bushes, Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Chiffchaffs too and we spotted one flicking around in some nearby trees.

Common Whitethroat – there were lots singing this morning

While we were watching the Chiffchaff, we heard a Turtle Dove purring from the bushes. We walked round on the path to try to locate it, and a second male started singing further over, one either side, stereo Turtle Doves! We had a couple of brief glimspses – first of a pair chasing through the bushes, then a male which flew up quickly and then slowly floated back down in display flight. One of the male Turtle Doves was purring now in a bush not far from the path but it was tucked in somewhere out of view. We caught a glimpse of that one as it slipped out the back and then went quiet. The other male was still purring in the thicker bushes the other side.

We walked in further and up onto the outer seawall. Looking out over the Wash, the tide was slowly going out. We had seen a couple of small groups of Oystercatchers flying past earlier, and there were now lots gathered on the exposed mud to the north. Four Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the shore, a Dunlin dropped in with them briefly and then another four Bar-tailed Godwits arrived. They were all either females or young birds, lacking the breeding male’s bright rufous underparts. Five Grey Plover flew past out over the water, a couple of them sporting their summer black faces and bellies. There were lots of Brent Geese on the beach too and two Common Terns distantly over the water.

When we turned round, we could see a Barn Owl hunting the other side, following the inner seawall. It was out late this morning – either the cold spring weather is not helping it to fatten up ahead of the breeding season, or it has hungry young to feed already, although there was no sign of it flying back to feed them.

Barn Owl – out hunting late

We walked back down into the bushes and up through the middle of the park. A Willow Warbler was singing in the sea buckthorn on the seawall and there were lots of Linnets in the bushes. When some darker clouds rolled overhead and it started spitting with rain briefly, there were suddenly lots of Common Swifts zooming back and forth low above us. Presumably migrants on their way over which were pushed down by the weather.

When we heard a Turtle Dove purring again, we looked up to see it perched in a dead tree. Now we had a great view of it through the scopes, with its rufous scaled back and black and white barred panel on the side of its neck. We stood for a while just listening to it now – a wonderful sound of spring, once common but now rare, and still declining at an alarming pace, a victim of the industrialisation of farming here and our obsession with flailing hedges and tidying up any areas of scrub in the countryside. Catch it while you still can!

Turtle Dove – purring in the branches of a dead tree

A pair of Stonechats were alarm calling from the clumps of low gorse nearby, presumably with young in the nest somewhere. The Barn Owl appeared again, weaving in and out of the bushes over the grass.

As we carried on further, finally we heard a Cuckoo calling again, and could see it in the distance, in a tree right at the north end of the park. We got it in the scopes, but it was mobbed by a Meadow Pipit and took off. It flew our way, past us through the bushes, and landed in the same tree where the Turtle Dove was still purring. Two of the classic sounds of spring, both declining, together. We walked back, but the Cuckoo was off again before we could get there.

Carrying on north, we climbed up onto the seawall again. The tide had gone out considerably, with a lot more exposed mud, and the Oystercatchers and Brent Geese were widely scattered. A huge flock of thousands of Knot and Grey Plover flew round out in the middle, half way across to Lincolnshire, catching the light as they twisted and turned.

The Wash – looking out over the mud

We walked along the crossbank to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan over Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of ducks out here on the pools, including a late lingering Wigeon. A Russian White-fronted Goose swimming across one of the pools was a surprise, as most of the wild wintering geese have long since departed. A little further up, we picked out a single Pink-footed Goose too, with a small group of the resident Greylags. The Pink-footed Goose was probably winged and injured by wildfowlers, now unable to fly north with the others but still capable of feeding happily on the marshes, so perhaps the White-fronted Goose was too.

There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets out on the pools. Scanning carefully, we picked out a small group of Black-tailed Godwits at the back. A Ringed Plover together with a small group of Dunlin were feeding on a muddy island closer to us. A lone Whimbrel was down on the short grass nearby.

The Yellow Wagtails were on the move today. We had already heard and seen a few flying south overhead, and a group of four had just gone over. We were just about to move off, when we heard Yellow Wagtails call and turned to see a large group dropping down towards the grass on the near edge of the marshes. There were about a dozen of them, and it is always worth scanning through to see if any of their scarcer cousins are travelling with them. And there were two very smart male Grey-headed Wagtails together down on the grass.

Grey-headed Wagtails – two males in the flock

Looking through the rest of the flock, there were mostly yellow-headed British Yellow Wagtails, males and females, but one female had a noticeably greyer head and paler white supercilium. It is not possible to conclusively identify female Blue-headed Wagtails, as female British Yellow Wagtails are variable in appearance, but this looked like a good candidate.

Then we found another male Grey-headed Wagtail further over. This one appeared to have a tiny speck of white above the lores. All these yellow wagtails are considered just subspecies and they do interbreed – perhaps this little speck of white was a tiny remnant of historic intergradation with Blue-headed Wagtails where they meet in northern Scandinavia?

Grey-headed Wagtail – the third male

They may just be treated as subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtail and therefore not separate ‘ticks’ on the official list, but taxonomy is in a constant state of flux these days and definitions change of what makes a species (Eastern and Western Yellow Wagtail have recently been separated). Like many other families, the yellow wagtails with their myriad forms defy our crude attempts to put them into neat boxes. They are fascinating and beautiful things and well worth recording on our lists, species or not!

Having marvelled at the various Yellow Wagtails for a while, we started to make our way back along the seawall. The Cuckoo was singing from another dead tree, but dropped down before we got back level with it. We found it again and had a good view of it perched in the bushes by the outer seawall, before it was chased off by a Meadow Pipit again.

Cuckoo – on the bushes on the outer seawall

The sun was out and things had warmed up now. The Swifts were very high and we picked up a distant Hobby very high over the marshes, catching insects. There were several Common Buzzards up too, and some other distant raptors beyond the range of our scopes. The Turtle Dove was still in purring away in its favourite tree as we passed. We could see more dark clouds approaching from the south, so we made our way back to the minibus.

We made our way round to Holme and stopped briefly on Beach Road to use the facilities. Then we drove down the track past the payhut to park, and climbed up onto the seawall. It was grey but dry here, although the dark clouds we had seen from Snettisham were passing to the west of us and it looked to be raining over there. Two Hobbys were zooming back and forth low over the reeds out on the grazing marsh hawking for insects.

We could see dark clouds coming our way now, so we decided to have lunch down under the shelter of the minibus tailgate. One of the Hobbys landed on a bramble bush out on the grazing marsh briefly and a Great White Egret flew over. We waited for the shower to pass.

After lunch, it had stopped raining and we went back up onto the seawall again. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reeds now. A lone Whimbrel appeared down on the grass closer to us. There were lots of Brent Geese still lingering on the saltmarsh. It shouldn’t be long before they are off back up to Siberia for the breeding season now. Another shower arrived, so we retired to the minibus again. It appeared to be brighter away to the east, so we decided to head round that way.

Brent Geese – almost time to leave

We diverted inland via Ringstead, scanning the fields while waiting for some more darker clouds to blow through, then swung round to Choseley. A single Corn Bunting was perched in the middle of a bright yellow oilseed rape field. We started to scan the field where the Dotterel had been recently, finding two Wheatears out amongst the stones, but it was starting to rain again now.

Corn Bunting – in the middle of the oilseed rape

There was a report of a Temminck’s Stint at Stiffkey Fen, so we decided to drive further east to see if we could get out of the worst of the weather. At first, things deteriorated as we simply drove into torrential rain. But we could see brighter skies ahead of us and by the time Stiffkey it had stopped raining, even if we were still just under the edge of the darker clouds.

It was cool and breezy now and there weren’t many birds singing as we walked out beside the river. We headed straight out and up onto the seawall, and it was good we didn’t dawdle. There were a couple of people already there and we saw them lift their heads and start to scan with their binoculars as we got to the top of the steps – everything on the Fen had taken off. We stopped and heard the Temminck’s Stint call, as it flew over the seawall just ahead of us. We watched as it flew out over the saltmarsh and dropped down into a channel out of view. Just in time!

The Common Sandpiper which had been feeding on the Fen had returned, so we could still see that working its way round one of the islands. We decided to walk on round to the edge of the harbour to see if we could see into the channel where the stint had landed. We could see a small area of mud, but it was obviously further round the corner, still out of view from here.

There were still plenty of Brent Geese here too. With the tide out, there were lots of gulls loafing on the mud. Further back, we could see terns flying back and forth over the remaining water in the pit, lots of Common Terns and one or two Little Terns. We could see seals in the distance too, hauled out on the sandbank beyond the far end of Blakeney Point.

It was starting to spit with rain again, but it was time to head back anyway. A Garden Warbler was singing in the sallows as we walked back beside the river and we heard a Kingfisher call as it flew upstream along the channel behind the bushes and brambles. Then it was back up to the road to finish.

10th May 2021 – Wagtails & Waders

Another socially distanced small group day tour today, where we didn’t use the minibus. We met on site at Cley in the morning for a couple of walks, travelling in convoy onto Wells mid afternoon to finish the day there. It was cloudy at times with some nice sunny intervals in between, with an increasingly gusty wind in the afternoon, and we mostly managed to avoid the showers.

We set off from the Visitor Centre car park along The Skirts path. We hadn’t gone more than a few metres when a warbler flew up from the alexanders by the path into an elder bush nearby. A Garden Warbler, rather plain grey and featureless with a stocky build and heavy bill. Presumably a migrant, which had dropped in overnight and was now feeding up. It disappeared into the bush, and we could just see it from time to time looking out from behind the branches.

Garden Warbler – probably a migrant fresh-in overnight

The breeding warblers are now back in numbers. As we walked on along the path, a Common Whitethroat flew up into the top of a bush, singing . A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling a little further up, in the hedge across the road, and we could see it moving around in the blackthorn. A Willow Warbler was nearby too. A couple of Long-tailed Tits flitted past. When we heard Lesser Redpoll calling, we looked over to see a party of four flying west, more migrants on the move this morning.

Common Swifts have been passing through in the last few days and from the path we could see several distantly over the reedbed. As we stopped to look at them, a Great White Egret flew over too, big and white with long black legs and feet and a dark bill. In breeding condition, a Great White Egret‘s bill darkens so is no longer the long yellow-orange dagger it is otherwise, a pitfall for the unwary. It dropped down somewhere beyond Bishop Hide out of view.

Great White Egret – and Common Swift over the reedbed

From up on East Bank, we could see a steady passage of Swallows going west. More Swifts and lots of Sand Martins were hawking out over the marshes.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, a large white shape distantly behind the Serpentine was a Spoonbill. It was busy feeding, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round in the shallow pools. Then suddenly it walked up out of the water and took off, flying off west over the path and away over the reeds.

Spoonbill – flew off west

We could hear a Yellow Wagtail singing and eventually found it feeding amongst the clumps of grass, a very smart canary yellow male. There were obviously others on the move today, and when we heard one call we looked across to see a female Yellow Wagtail drop in with a Pied Wagtail up by the Serpentine. A female Wheatear was running around out on the grass too.

Then a smart male Blue-headed Wagtail appeared nearby, with a grey blue head and prominent pale supercilium. The heads of yellow wagtails vary across Europe, with the British Yellow Wagtail having a yellow head and those from across central continental Europe and southern Scandinavia having blue-grey heads, so this one was probably on its way there from its wintering grounds Africa. It flew up and landed amongst the cows much further back, where we lost sight of it behind one cow lying down.

There were fluffy Lapwing chicks down in the grass along with their parents along with several Redshanks. Both those species breed here, but the two Whimbrel feeding in the grass are migrants stopping off to refuel. A lone Black-tailed Godwit on the Serpentine looked like it might be a young bird which will not migrate up to its breeding grounds in Iceland this year.

Duck numbers have thinned out significantly over the last few days, as many are now heading off back to northern Europe after having spent the winter here. A pair of Barnacle Geese were in with the Greylags and Canada Geese, presumably feral birds rather than genuine wild Arctic breeders.

Barnacle Geese – the first pair, behind the Serpentine

There were more waders out on Arnold’s Marsh – a smattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers, several Curlew over on the saltmarsh in one corner, a smart Grey Plover with summer black face and belly and two Bar-tailed Godwits over the back.

Continuing on to the beach, we had a quick look out to sea. There were several Sandwich Terns flying past, along with a single distant Little Tern, and an even more distant Gannet out towards the horizon. But the sea is fairly quiet at this time of year, so we didn’t linger and set off to walk back. A couple more Sandwich Terns flew in over Arnold’s Marsh as we passed, so we could see their yellow-tipped black bills.

Sandwich Tern – flew over Arnold’s Marsh

Somebody who had come out to see the Blue-headed Wagtail we had seen earlier had now found two Grey-headed Wagtails which had dropped in too, so we headed back to see if we could see those too. We just got back in time to see them running around on the grass amongst he cows, before all the wagtails took off and we watched as all six flew off strongly west. It was proving to be a really good day for yellow wagtails! Grey-headed Wagtails breed in northern Scandinavia, a scarce migrant through here and our third yellow wagtail subspecies of the day.

Now we heard a report that a Golden Oriole had been seen flying west past Muckleburgh Hill, just a couple of miles east of us and heading our way. There had been several Golden Orioles seen further east in NE Norfolk too this morning, but none this far west. Still we scanned the sky just in case and after just a few minutes we picked the Golden Oriole up flying over the back of Snipe’s Marsh, presumably having come over the back of Walsey Hills. Unfortunately it was only in view for a few seconds before it disappeared round the back of North Foreland wood. We scanned the other side in case it came out there but it looked like it might have dropped in.

We decided to wait for a bit in case it came out again. An Iceland Gull was reported flying west past Salthouse now, and we managed to see it very distantly before it dropped down out of view, into the fields way off east from us. The Visitor Centre was on the line the Golden Oriole was flying, so we decided to walk back for an early lunch and keep our eyes peeled in case it came out in our direction, but it wasn’t seen again so may have slipped out the back. A male Marsh Harrier circled over as we walked back.

After lunch, we set off back along The Skirts path, past the East Bank and down Attenborough Walk. We stopped to scan through the gulls gathered on Pope’s Marsh, but the Iceland Gull obviously hadn’t decided to join them today. There were now two pairs of Barnacle Geese out on the grazing marsh. We were hoping to find a Whinchat, but just past the gate to Babcock Hide we found a pair of Stonechats instead.

Stonechat – the male

We turned onto Iron Road and walked up to scan the pool. It appeared to be empty at first, but looking more carefully we found several small waders lurking round the edges – two Little Ringed Plovers, and three different Common Sandpipers. An Egyptian Goose was lying down in the grass beyond.

Common Sandpiper – one of three at Iron Road

Continuing on to the bridge over the main drain, we found two female Wheatears on the dry mud on the edge of the channel. It was the wrong time of day really, so perhaps no surprise that there was no sign of any Short-eared Owls here now.

After walking back to the car park, we travelled in convoy on to Wells for the rest of the afternoon. Scanning the pools from the parking area, we could see a couple of Brent Geese out on the grass and two of three Teal on the water, our first of the day. There were lots of Lapwings, with several fluffy juveniles, and a few Redshanks here too.

Walking a short distance down the track, we quickly located one of the Jack Snipe which have been lingering here, on the pool east of the track. It was right out in the open, on the bare mud between the clumps of rushes, probably the best views of it we have had here in the last few weeks. It was busy feeding, probing in the mud. We could see its comparatively short bill and bright golden mantle stripes. Then suddenly something spooked it and it ran back into the rushes out of view.

Jack Snipe – showing very well today

There were several Common Sandpipers here again today, at least four, and two Wood Sandpipers east of the track too, all migrants stopping off to refuel here on their journeys north to breed. Through the scopes, we could see the Wood Sandpipers’ spangled backs and pale superciliums, a little larger, longer legged and longer necked than the Common Sandpipers. Another Wood Sandpiper called behind us and we turned to see it emerging from the thicker clumps of rushes on the pool west of the track.

Wood Sandpiper – one of three here today

There was another Yellow Wagtail here this afternoon, another bright yellow male – they really were an ever-present theme today. This one was quite close to the track, feeding on the mud, at least when it wasn’t being chased off by one of the Lapwings. It obviously thought the Yellow Wagtail posed a grave threat to its young, which were feeding on the edge of the rushes nearby. Lapwings are obviously not the brightest of parents!

Yellow Wagtail – a smart male by the track

Continuing on round to the west pool, the bushes were quiet today, although it was mid afternoon now and the wind had picked up quite a bit. We had a quick scan of the pool from the low bank. There were lots of Avocets on nests on the island, and more Lapwings, but we couldn’t see any other waders on here today. A Brown Hare ran straight towards us along the grass verge on the edge of the pool until it realised we were standing there, froze looking at us for a few seconds, and ran off back the way it had come.

Unfortunately after an action-packed day full of spring migrants it was time to call it a day and head back now.

3rd May 2021 – More Warblers & Waders

Another Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with rain and an increasingly blustery wind spreading in during the afternoon. As ever, we made the most of the dry weather and still managed to see some very good birds as the weather deteriorated.

We started the day at Cley. We could hear the Grasshopper Warbler today from the car park as soon as we got out of the minibus, so we made our way straight over the road. A couple of people were watching it, reeling away in the back of a bush, but it was partly obscured. When it dropped down through the bush and started reeling again from the other side, we had a slightly better view.

Then suddenly the Grasshopper Warbler took off and flew down over the reeds parallel with the path, landing in some low vegetation, where it started reeling again. It was a great view now, just a few metres from the path, perched up in full view on a curl of brambles.

Grasshopper Warbler – still showing well

A Lesser Whitethroat was singing back in the hedge by the car park now. We decided to move on and walked on down along The Skirts path. There were several Sedge Warblers and one or two Reed Warblers singing along here, but neither were particularly easy to see today. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reeds and a Lesser Redpoll flew low overhead calling and disappeared off west.

A Common Whitethroat was singing ahead of us in the bushes by the path and perched up nicely in the top of one. Another male was singing further up. We realised why – a female was there too – and one of the males obviously encroached of the other’s territory resulting in the two of them chasing round after each other.

Common Whitethroat – one of two rival males on The Skirts

Continuing on up onto the East Bank, we could see at least two families of tiny Lapwing chicks still on the grazing marshes. There were Redshanks displaying too, and several Avocets at the back on Pope’s Pool.

We heard our first Yellow Wagtails calling and looked over to see at least five around the feet of the cows, including a couple of smart canary yellow males. They were very mobile, flying round a couple of times, before they were off, carrying on west. But all the time there were more dropping in – it was to be a real theme of the morning, with lots of Yellow Wagtails on the move.

It was breezier today and the ducks were tucked down in the grass. We could still see several Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Shelduck, but it took a bit more scanning to find one or two drake Wigeon too.

Being a bit windier, it didn’t feel like a day for Bearded Tits, which was one species on the wish list. But when we heard one calling, we looked down to see a smart male climbing up the reeds on the far side of the ditch just below the path. It perched out in the open for a few seconds on the outside edge of the reeds, giving us a very good view of its powder grey head and black moustache (not really a beard!), before it flew back along the ditch. A second bird, a female was calling nearby too, and flew past after it. The two of them disappeared deeper in to the reeds. We got good views of several Sedge Warblers along here too.

Sedge Warbler – lots around in the reeds now

A pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled over calling and two Sandwich Terns flew west over the brackish pools. There had apparently been a Curlew Sandpiper with the Dunlin on Arnold’s Marsh earlier. Some of the Dunlin were now asleep in the vegetation on one of the islands on the brackish pool, but looking through we could see it was not with them. Dunlin numbers were down compared to yesterday, so some had probably gone off elsewhere. A small flock of Knot flew in and landed on the edge of the island. Mostly in grey non-breeding plumage, one was just starting to get patchy orange-red underparts. The two drake Pintail were still out on the water, upending.

Turning our attention to Arnold’s Marsh now, we could see only three Dunlin on here now. There were also three Bar-tailed Godwits, and several Ringed Plover. As we started to make our way back, a Whimbrel flew west behind us.

Two more Yellow Wagtails had dropped in with cows, and we heard more calling overhead. A Little Grebe was now on Don’s Pool, along with a female Common Pochard, both of which will probably breed here.

Common Pochard – a female on Don’s Pool

On the walk back along The Skirts, we could see at least one Marsh Harrier again. Several Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over North Scrape. A Greenfinch flew overhead calling.

A Grey-headed Wagtail had dropped in just along the coast at Kelling earlier this morning and had lingered for the last couple of hours. We got a message to stay that it was still there now, so we thought we would go over to try to see it. But as we had seen, the wagtails were very actively on the move this morning, so by the time we got there it was perhaps no surprise that it had finally decided to fly off.

We did see a Blackcap in the lane, and a Chiffchaff was singing down by the copse. There were a couple of Common Whitethroats and lots of Linnets in the bushes around the Water Meadow pool. A quick look at the pool itself produced a Common Sandpiper and a Stock Dove (a species we had only just talked about needing to see!). We decided we would be better to try out luck elsewhere, so we started to walk back. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes in the field nearby, and we could see it moving around in the top of a low hawthorn.

We drove back west inland and stopped just before we got to Wells. We scanned the pools from the parking area – two Brent Geese were out on the grass in front of the pool west of the track. A moulting male Ruff was feeding on the edge of the water, just starting to get part of its barred grey ruff now. Two Little Ringed Plovers were further back.

A short way down the track, we had a better view of one of the Little Ringed Plovers, with its golden eye ring clear now. Then we noticed a small snipe with a distinctive bobbing action in amongst the clumps of rushes close to the track, a Jack Snipe. We had a great view of it as it fed around the base of the rushes, its golden mantle stripes contrasting with its dark upperparts.

Jack Snipe – bobbing up and down in the rushes

We could see a dark cloud approaching from the west, so we walked back to the minibus for lunch under the shelter of the tailgate, while we waited for the shower to pass over.

Two Grey Partridges were in the field opposite. A lone Egyptian Goose was over the back with the Greylags but walked up to the front on its own. Two Common Swifts flew in low over the east pool and right over us, disappearing on west into the drizzle.

Common Swift – one of two which flew past over lunch

After lunch, once the shower had cleared through, we set off back down the track. There were two Yellow Wagtails now, bright yellow males again in the rushes close to the path just to the east, before they flew out to the islands in the middle.

There were more hirundines now, after the rain, hawking low over the pools, and there were several House Martins with them now. A male Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the bushes beyond in the wind, which was starting to pick up.

Marsh Harrier – a pale male over the bushes

We carried on round to take a look at the western pool. There were lots of Avocets down in the grass and lots of Swallows flying round low over the water, but we couldn’t see anything more interesting. We climbed up onto the seawall for a better look. It was windy up here, but looking out over the saltmarsh towards the harbour we could see a Common Tern patrolling up and down one of the main channels. We carried on up to the corner for a closer look, and could see another three Common Terns further back.

A distant Spoonbill was feeding out on the saltmarsh. One or two Whimbrel were a bit closer, down in the vegetation. Two adult Common Gulls flew past calling. Then a Hobby whipped through overhead, disappearing off into the allotments at Wells, presumably a fresh migrant on its way back for the summer.

We had been lucky with a dry interlude, but we could see more dark clouds approaching so we set off to walk back. The Common Gulls were now on one of the pools, with all the Black-headed Gulls. The two male Yellow Wagtails were back by the track, in the rushes on the other side now, and had been joined by a female.

Yellow Wagtail – three were feeding close to the track

It started to rain again, so we headed back to the minibus. We hoped we might drive through it, but it still looked rather grey out to the west when we arrived at Burnham Overy. It was only spitting with rain though as we set off down the track, even if it was getting noticeably windier now.

At least 22 Whimbrel were feeding out on the grass from the gate by the stile, with 2 Curlew in with them providing a good comparison, noticeably bigger and longer-billed. There was no sign of any Ring Ouzels now though in the fields either side – presumably they had retreated to the hedges.

Whimbrel – some of the 22 on the grazing marshes

A little further along, we picked up two injured Pink-footed Geese still out on the grazing marsh, unable to fly north for the summer. Several Common Pochard were on the small pools over by the reeds. We carried on along the track to the seawall. The Sedge Warblers along here were unusually quiet due to the deteriorating weather, with just one singing rather half-heartedly.

Up on the seawall, there was an impressive gathering or hundreds of Swallows over the reedbed and pool. Migrants on their way west, they were presumably finding food and would have a place to roost in the reeds.

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we could see a distant Little Tern over the main harbour channel, so we walked down the seawall to the corner for a closer look. There were three Little Terns here now, flying up and down over the water, stopping to hover and then plunging in to the channel. One of them caught a fish, and the three of them chased up high calling.

There were Avocets and Redshanks on the mud, but from the corner we could see two Grey Plovers on the edge of the harbour channel too, one in breeding plumage with black face and belly. One or two Spoonbills were still flying back and forth.

Spoonbill – flying over the harbour in the rain

It was cold and windy up here and starting to rain harder now. As we walked back to the track, we could see a Great White Egret flying across beyond the reeds and landing in the distance out on the grazing marsh.

With the deteriorating weather, we decided we would try something that didn’t require walking, rather than finish early. So we drove over to Choseley to look for the Dotterel which had been reported there earlier. We started scanning from the top of the field. We were only part way down when we noticed a flock of Golden Plover flying in and they landed behind us, out of view. A couple of Red legged Partridges were easy to see, but it was a big field with lots of places to hide a lone Dotterel in the rain, lots of dips and dead ground, so it would take quite a bit of time to search the whole field.

We messaged someone we knew who had been here earlier, and they told us where the Dotterel was when they saw it, much further along nearer the far end of the field, so drove down to focus our efforts there. Once we knew exactly where to look, it didn’t take long to find the Dotterel now. It was actively moving round the stony field, running a short distance then stopping, extremely hard to see when it stopped still.

Dotterel – just the one here today

Dotterel are just passage migrants through here, stopping off in traditional fields on their way north each spring, between their wintering grounds in North Africa and Scandinavia where they will breed. Having enjoyed good views of the Dotterel, we drove back up to the top of the field for a quick look at the flock of Golden Plover, several resplendent now in breeding plumage with black faces and bellies (rather like their grey-spangled cousin we had seen at Burnham Overy earlier).

The Dotterel was a great way to wrap up a successful day’s spring birding, so we headed for home happy.

2nd May 2021 – Warblers & Waders

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright morning, cloudier in the afternoon, but the weather gods were kind to us and the showers held off until after we had finished. Still feeling rather cool for the time of year, in the brisk N breeze.

Our destination for the morning was Cley. With the hides still closed for the foreseeable future, we set the scope up in the picnic area to scan Pat’s Pool first. Out on the islands, we could see plenty of Avocets, a couple of Black-tailed Godwits and a single moulting male Ruff. A Marsh Harrier circled out over the reedbed beyond and there were at least three Common Swifts zooming back and forth over the hides, along with a selection of Swallows, House Martins & Sand Martins.

We couldn’t hear the Grasshopper Warbler from up in the picnic area this morning, so we walked across the road to The Skirts path to see if we could find it. Several Sedge Warblers and a Reed Warbler were singing in the reeds and Little Egrets were flying back and forth.

We walked a short way up along the path and now we could hear the Grasshopper Warbler reeling ahead of us. It sounded distant at first so we carried on, then realised we had walked past and it was now behind us. It was reeling quite quietly, and we managed to locate it very low down in the nettles and reeds close to the path. It perched nicely where we could see it and we had a very good view just a few metres away.

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling by the path again this morning

The Grasshopper Warbler stopped reeling and crawled down into the vegetation out of sight. When it came up again it was a bit further back, and it reeled again briefly from low in the reeds. Then it disappeared further back still, out of sight. We walked on, but we could still hear it reeling on and off behind us.

There were more Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers along here – the former easy to see, but the latter typically keeping well down out of view. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the blackthorn across the road and a Common Whitethroat sang from the top of hedge above.

Sedge Warbler – singing along The Skirts path

Up onto the East Bank, we noticed we had just missed a message about a White-tailed Eagle over the reserve. We scanned the sky, but there was no sign now – apparently it had gone through very quickly. Three Common Buzzards were circling very high above us. A Little Grebe was down on Don’s Pool, below the bank.

There were a couple of families of Lapwings, each with three small, fluffy chicks – little more than balls of fluff on legs. We heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked over to see it land briefly among the cows, a smart canary yellow male. It didn’t stay long, but took off and carried on its way west. Yellow Wagtails used to breed along the coast here, but these days are just passage migrants.

Lapwing chick – a ball of fluff on legs

Further up, we stopped again to scan the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There was a good selection of ducks still, including several Wigeon and Teal, plus a scattering of Shoveler and Gadwall. We got a drake Gadwall in the scope to admire the complexity of its delicate patterning.

There were more Lapwings displaying here, along with several Redshanks, and two distant Bar-tailed Godwits in the longer grass further back. The islands on Pope’s Pool were adorned with the usual selection of loafing immature Great Black-backed Gulls and Cormorants.

There were lots more Sedge Warblers on the edge of the reedbed from the East Bank, and finally a Reed Warbler put in a brief appearance too. There were several Meadow Pipits in the grass and a steady passage of hirundines over, mainly Swallows and a few House Martins.

Up at the brackish pools, a Little Egret was feeding close to the path. A couple of smart drake Pintail were upending out on the water further back, showing off their long, pin-shaped tails. There were lots of Dunlin roosting around the edges of the islands on here too.

Over the other side of the path, there were more Dunlin on Arnold’s Marsh and several Ringed Plovers with them. A Turnstone dropped in on the shingle islands. Further back, we could see several more Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlews.

We had heard two Mediterranean Gulls calling as we walked up and they had appeared to drop towards the brackish pools, but there was no sign of them with the Black-headed Gulls here now. But when we heard more Mediterranean Gulls calling, we looked up to see four smart black-hooded adults flying in straight towards us. They came right overhead, their white wingtips translucent against the blue sky.

Mediterranean Gulls – these four smart adults came right overhead

Continuing on to the beach, there were quite a few Sandwich Terns flying back and forth, with some quite close in today. We could even see the yellow tip to the long, black bill on one of them. A Great Crested Grebe in breeding plumage was more of a surprise – they do spend the winter on the sea here, but are less common offshore at this time of year.

As we walked back along the East Bank, we heard a Bearded Tit calling, and looked down to see a female briefly on the edge of the ditch below the bank. It flew up, and out over the reedbed, its long tail dipping behind it, before dropping deeper in. Two more Yellow Wagtails, this time females, were out among the cows now – a miracle they don’t get trodden on as they look for insects around the cow’s feet and noses.

Back along The Skirts path, two Marsh Harriers were displaying over the reedbed, the female towering up high, the male twisting and turning below before diving down into the reeds. A Common Buzzard came low overhead.

Common Buzzard – came over The Skirts

We went back to the Visitor Centre to make use of the facilities, and then decided on an early lunch out on the picnic tables in the sunshine. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing its rattling song just across the road, and when it flew over to the brambles in front of us, we could see it had been bathing and was still drying out.

After lunch, we drove west to Wells. We scanned the pools from the parking area first. We could see several Little Ringed Plovers and a moulting male Ruff on the pool west of the track. Two Brent Geese were out on the grass and more Lapwing chicks were hiding in there too.

As we walked down the track, we could see a Common Snipe in the rushes on the pool to the east. Stopping to scan, we found one of the lingering Jack Snipe too, in the rushes a bit further out. Smaller, shorter-billed, and with a different head pattern, lacking a central crown stripe compared to its commoner cousin. A very distant Common Sandpiper flew across and landed on the edge of the water over in the very furthest corner. A Grey Heron was lurking in the rushes close to the track, presumably eyeing up the ducklings and Lapwing chicks.

Grey Heron – lurking in the rushes

As we walked through the bushes beyond, a Sparrowhawk zipped through and a Red Kite drifted overhead. A Whimbrel flew over the seawall, heading out towards the harbour beyond. Scanning the western pool from the low bank, we could see another Common Sandpiper and another moulting male Ruff, before they were chased off by one of the Lapwings.

We climbed up onto the seawall for a better view. There were lots of Avocets nesting on the island, and more feeding on the saltmarsh the other side of the seawall. Three Avocets were having a disagreement on the mud, two were obviously a pair and engaged in some synchronised jumping between chasing after the third bird together. There were several Oystercatchers on the mud too.

Avocets – arguing on the mud

We could see a distant Spoonbill further out on the saltmarsh, although once it dropped down into one of the muddy channels to feed we could then just see its head and neck occasionally when it looked up. There were more Brent Geese out here too.

A male Marsh Harrier drifted in over the bushes and we could see it had something in its talons. The female circled up with it and we expected to see a food pass. But the male dropped down and landed in the grass and the female drifted off over the fields beyond. The male took off again and flew out over the fields too, and it was looking as if it wasn’t going to share what it was carrying until finally the female came close again and the male dropped its prey for the female to catch.

On our way back to the car park, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes. A Spoonbill was now on the pool west of the track, a much better view than the one we had seen earlier, we could see the yellow tip to its black bill, its shaggy nuchal crest and the mustard yellow wash on its breast.

Spoonbill – on one of the pools on our way back

Our final destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Burnham Overy, hoping to catch up with some Ring Ouzels which had been here for the last few days. As we walked down the track towards the grazing marshes, we could hear a Common Whitethroat singing and a couple of Long-tailed Tits were in the hedge beyond.

A couple of Red-legged Partridges ran out from the grassy margin into the cultivated field on the way down. Beyond the stile, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes and the first thing we noticed were a pair of Grey Partridges trying to hide out on the short grass, looking rather like a couple of large clods of earth.

Grey Partridges – a pair on the grazing marshes

While we were looking at the Grey Partridges, we realised the Ring Ouzels were further back in the same field, just over a ridge and largely out of view. They were only briefly visible to the taller members of the group, before disappearing altogether into the dip in the ground. From further up along the track, we could look back and had a better view of the dead ground. Now we could see there were three Ring Ouzels, two males with bright white gorgets, and a duller browner female.

Ring Ouzel – one of the white-gorgetted males

There were quite a few geese out on the grazing marshes, mainly Greylags, but looking through them carefully we found one lingering Pink-footed Goose. With most of the other Pinkfeet having long since flown back north on their way to Iceland for the breeding season, a few birds which were shot and winged during wildfowling here are largely unable to fly and will have to remain.

Three grey-backed White Wagtails were round the small pools further along by the track, and there were a few Skylark out on the short grass. On the other side, we could see a female Pochard and a Little Grebe. A nice close Little Ringed Plover here meant we could see its distinctive golden-yellow eyering through the scope.

We continued on and just up onto the seawall. The tide was low now, and we could only see the regular Avocets and Redshanks in the harbour. It was cold up here in the wind now and with our day almost at an end anyway, we set off back. A flock of at least 21 Whimbrel in the grassy fields by the stile now was a nice way to finish the day.

1st May 2021 – Nightingales & Forest Birds

A Private Tour today, down in Suffolk to look for and listen to Nightingales singing this morning, then back into Thetford Forest in the afternoon. It was a foggy start to the day, but thankfully the fog cleared just as we arrived. Bright and sunny during the morning, it clouded over progressively by the afternoon, but thankfully the showers held off until after we had finished for the day.

As we parked up and got out of the vehicles, a Blackcap was singing in the trees beside us. The melodic, fluted tones of a Nightingale singing just carried to us from the top of the hill, our main target for the day, so we decided to head up that way first. A Jackdaw was ripping at a large piece of discarded paper in the grass, presumably gathering litter as nest material.

A the top of the hill, a Yellow Wagtail called once as it flew over. Two Chiffchaffs were flitting round in a mostly bare oak, the leaves only just starting to emerge. Three Blackcaps were chasing round between the trees, two males and a female, the former presumably arguing over the affections of the latter.

A little further along, we heard the Nightingale again, but it was only half singing and in a fenced off area, so there would be no chance of seeing it. We stopped to listen to it for a few seconds, then as it moved further back, we carried on. We found another Nightingale singing from a dense area of brambles and bushes where we can often see them, so we stopped again to listen. A Willow Warbler was singing here too, its distinctive descending scale.

The Nightingale went quiet, and the next thing we knew it sang briefly behind us. We turned and just caught it silhouetted on the outside of a hawthorn, before it dropped down out of view. It seemed to go down close to the main path, so we walked round out of the bushes, but a dog walker was just ahead of us and the Nightingale then started singing again back in the bushes.

Nightingale – sunning itself in a hawthorn

We stood out in the open and listened to the Nightingale singing. It was moving around as it sang, and then suddenly it appeared on the outside of a leafy hawthorn in front of us. We got in the scope and had a great view of it, perched face on to us, singing in the sunshine. It turned back on and fluffed up its feathers a little, probably warming up in the sunshine, still singing on and off.

It dropped down back into the bush out of view, and we thought that might be it, but after a minute or so the Nightingale appeared on the outside again. More great scope views followed, as it stayed singing in full view for a good time. Then it flicked back in and, with a flash of its bright rusty tail, it was gone. We stood listening to it still singing but from back deeper in the bushes again now.

Nightingale – spent some time singing on the outside of the bush

A third Nightingale was now singing a bit further over, on and off. This one is in a very thick area of scrub and we thought we were unlikely to see it, but we walked over and stood on the path nearby. As we were listening to it, it flew in and landed in a tree much closer to us. It was half hidden behind the emerging leaves, but we got it in the scope too, before it dropped back down into the undergrowth.

A pair of Linnets were flitting around in the bushes by the path. The female flew in and landed very close to us, carrying some dried grass in its bill, presumably trying to build a nest in the bushes, so we moved away.

Linnet – carrying nest material

Having heard several and had great views of two different Nightingales, we decided to explore more of the site to see what else we could find. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in a low hawthorn ahead of us, a rattling song but this one had added a short scratchy warble to the end. As we walked up we could see it working its way through the leaves, and it came right out onto the sunny side in front of us.

Lesser Whitethroats can be very hard to see, as they tend to hide deep in dense thorny bushes, but this one had obviously not read the manual. We had fantastic prolonged views of it, as it picked around the flower buds on the ends of the branches. It was obviously finding lots of food there.

Lesser Whitethroat – fantastic views feeding on flower buds in a low hawthorn

When we eventually moved on again, a Common Whitethroat was feeding in another low hawthorn nearby. A good comparison with the Lesser Whitethroat we had just been watching, we could see the browner upperparts and bright rusty edges to its wing feathers. Two Yellowhammers appeared in the same bush with it.

Yellowhammer – the male of the pair

Another Nightingale was singing just ahead of us, so we stopped again. This one was hard to see, moving round, and after a while we realised that it was singing from down on the ground. As we walked on round the bushes, it flew up from in amongst some low mahonia and disappeared back into the bushes. A Cuckoo was singing in the distance behind us.

We stopped again in another area favoured by Nightingales, a small bowl of trees and a sunny edge out of the wind. Sure enough, one was singing from the dense privet understory here too. We waited to see if it might come out onto the edge. Several Starlings were zooming around between the trees and one landed on the open grass, collecting insects in its bill.

The Nightingale wasn’t coming out, and appeared to move deeper in, so we walked round to the other side of the trees. We had a couple of brief glimpses as it flew between the bushes or dropped down to the ground briefly underneath. Then it flew into a particularly dense area of privet, and launched into full song. We stood for a while and listened to the amazing variety of the phrases – beautiful melodic whistles, gurlges, clicks – interspersed with pauses in between. Unforgettable!

The Nightingales had certainly exceeded themselves today – at least seven singing males heard and two seen well. We decided to call it a wrap. We walked back to the cars past a large paddock, where two Grey Partridges were feeding, with a Skylark singing overhead. Lots of Brown Hares were over in the next field beyond. A Kestrel was hovering nearby over the verge, its head perfectly stable as it focused intently on the ground below.

Kestrel – hovering over the verge back by the cars

The original idea was to head to Lakenheath Fen for the afternoon, but now there was a change of plan. Instead, we made our way back into Norfolk, towards Thetford Forest. A Barn Owl was out hunting by the road as we passed, despite it now being close to the middle of the day.

We stopped briefly at Weeting to use the facilities. The hides were occupied (and you have to book in advance at the moment), so we had a quick scan of the fields but there was no sign of the Stone Curlews – presumably they were tucked down somewhere out of view, asleep. Two regular (Eurasian) Curlew were out on the grass though, with several Swallows hawking back and forth too.

Our next destination was Santon Downham, hoping to find Crossbills here. A pair of Stock Doves was on the lawn of one of the houses as we walked down to the bridge. We could see a pair of Mandarin just upstream, so we walked down to get a closer look. Another pair of Mandarin flew over calling, and disappeared off towards St Helen’s.

Mandarin – one of several along the river this afternoon

Back by the bridge, a couple of Marsh Tits were flitting round in the low trees across the river. A Treecreeper appeared too, working its way up the trunk of a small elder. A male Siskin started singing and we watched it songflighting overhead. We heard a Crossbill, but it flew over the trees calling where we couldn’t see it. At least it meant there were still some around!

A Grey Wagtail was singing just the other side of the bridge. It was perched in a low tree by the path, but flew before we spotted it. Thankfully it landed on a tangle of branches in the middle of the river, where we could get a better look at it.

Grey Wagtail – singing down by the river

Another pair of Mandarin were on the river along here too. As we approached the tangled remains of a fallen tree in the river, a Kingfisher shot off ahead of us in a flash of electric blue. Another Crossbill flew over calling, but again we couldn’t see it for the trees. We could hear tapping across the river and eventually a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out. A smart male Reed Bunting perched up in a small sallow on the bank ahead of us. There were not many insects out today – this cold spring we are having this year has really held back activity – but we did see a Large Red Damselfly along the river bank.

When we heard the next Crossbill calling overhead, this time we looked up to see it land in the top of one of the poplars overhanging the path. More flew in, a small flock, and now we could see at least ten Crossbills perched in the tree high above our heads. We got them in the scope – we got them in the scope and could see their distinctive crossed mandibles and a good view from underneath of the dark arrowheads on their undertail coverts.

We watched them for a while. Some of the Crossbills appeared to be feeding on the poplar flowers, others dropped down through the branches and started picking at the bark. One or two were very red males, others were orange, some with patches of yellow, and quite a few were green. The colour in Crossbills derives at least in part from their diet, but it was clear there were quite a few immature birds in the flock. Then suddenly they all flew off, and we realised there had been at least thirty of them spread over the tops of several of the poplars.

Crossbill – there were at least 30 along the river

Mission Crossbill accomplished, we were getting hungry now. On the walk back, we heard a late Brambling calling, which flew out of the trees and over the river. The Grey Wagtail was still feeding around the tangle in the river, before flying a little further up and then flycatching from a bare branch overhanging the water. Then it was back for a late lunch on the bench in the car park.

To finish the day, we headed round to Lynford. We were hoping to find a Firecrest but walking round the Arboretum it was very quiet now – they are always most vocal earlier in the day and we had hit the mid afternoon lull. We tried several different places where we know they are, but a single Goldcrest was the best we could locate now. Continuing down to the lake, we could hear a Little Grebe laughing, and looking into the reeds we could see one on a nest platform built between two bulrush stems.

Little Grebe – on its nest platform in the reeds

There was more activity down at the bridge, with food having been put out on the brick pillars again. A succession of tits flew in and out, including one or two Marsh Tits. A Nuthatch flew into the trees nearby and watched for a while, before flying down and grabbing a couple of sunflower seeds, which it then took back into the trees to wedge into the bark for later.

We heard more Crossbills calling in the tops of trees high above, which dropped down out of view. When we got to the pool just over the bridge, three were perched in the low trees by the water. There were a couple more in the trees nearby and one by one they dropped down to the waters’ edge to drink. It is thirsty work feeding on pine seeds. Then as quickly as they had appeared, they were off across the paddocks opposite.

Common Crossbill – coming down to drink at the pool

There were three Grey Wagtails around the pool too, flycatching over the warer, and one or two Pied Wagtails as well. A Song Thrush dropped down to the near bank of the water and a Mistle Thrush flew up briefly into the trees. A Garden Warbler was hopping around on the edge of the trees just beyond the water. Two or three Siskins were chasing round the trees by the bridge and a nice bright male perched in the top of an alder by the path to sing.

Then it was time to call it a day and head back.