Category Archives: Spring Tour

10th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast. After a cloudy morning we had a brief spell of light rain through the middle of the day, which thankfully passed over while we were having lunch, before it brightened up in the afternoon, although there was a chill to the light NE wind all day. We made our way east along the coast this morning.

There has been a Great Spotted Cuckoo at Weybourne Camp for over a week now. A rare visitor from southern Europe, it is a young bird which overshot on its first return journey north from Africa and ended up in Norfolk. It can normally be viewed from Muckleburgh Hill, as the Camp itself is private land, so we headed over there first thing to see if we could see it.

As we walked in through the trees there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. A Common Whitethroat was songflighting from the top of the hedge. We watched three Lesser Whitethroats chasing each other round the bushes, with one perching up in the top of a hawthorn briefly. A Garden Warbler was singing on the front side of Muckleburgh from deep in the blackthorn and we had a quick view of it as it flew across.

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler – singing from the bushes on Muckleburgh Hill

There were a few people gathered looking for the Great Spotted Cuckoo but there was no sign at first, as someone was walking about in the trees out  on Weybourne Camp where it had been seen earlier. Eventually, when the disturbance ceased, the Great Spotted Cuckoo flew out and landed on the brambles in the distance over by the coast. It was rather distant and there was already a bit of heat haze despite the cloud, so it was hard to see at first unless you knew where it was. Then it turned and its pale underparts caught the light and it was much easier to see. We all had a look at it through the scope before it dropped down behind the brambles and disappeared.

We decided to have a walk round the hillside bushes. A male Linnet was singing from the top of the gorse just behind us, already getting pinkish-red on the breast. A pair of Yellowhammers flew over calling and dropped into a bush, the male perching up on the outer edge briefly.

Linnet

Linnet – singing from the top of the gorse

A Willow Warbler was singing but from somewhere deep in the trees, its lovely descending scale a real sound of spring. A Chiffchaff showed itself much better, feeding low down on the outside of the bushes and we could even see it had been ringed. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing its distinctive rattle and when we got back to where we had heard the Garden Warbler earlier it was still singing. We could see it moving through the blackthorn, and it showed itself briefly. There had been a Wood Warbler in the trees on the other side yesterday, so we stopped to listen but there was no sign of it today.

We moved on to Kelling. As we parked in the village, a Greenfinch was singing from the treetops. A Common Buzzard was being chased by a Rook which was then joined in its efforts by a Jackdaw. A pair of Swallows were perched on the wires as we walked underneath.

Swallow

Swallow – perched on the wires looking at us we walked underneath

Walking down the lane towards the coast, the bushes were quieter than normal. A couple of Blackcaps were singing in the hedges down towards the copse, but we could hear Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat more distantly off across the field. We stopped by the gate overlooking the Water Meadow, but there were no Yellow Wagtails with the cows today.

As we looked over the brambles, we could see a Wood Sandpiper on the edge of the pool on the Water Meadow, so we walked on to the track at the end where we could get a better view of it in the scope. We could see its white-spangled upperparts and clear pale supercilium. Wood Sandpiper are spring migrants, passing through here in small numbers on their way north to Scandinavia in May, so they are always nice to see.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – feeding on the pool on the Water Meadow

There were also two Common Sandpipers bobbing round the muddy margins of the pool. Four Whimbrel flew west calling over towards the coast. The pair of Egyptian Geese have two goslings and the male tried to show off his courage by chasing off a harmless pair of Gadwall.

There were lots of Sand Martins feeding low over the water, hawking for insects, and more were perching on the wires, preening. They breed in the sandy cliffs along the coast both west and east of here. A Reed Bunting was singing from the brambles behind us and we could see lots of Brown Hares in the field up beyond the Water Meadow.

Sand Martin

Sand Martin – feeding around the Water Meadow

There had apparently been two Wheatears on the Quags earlier, so we walked round there to look for them. We couldn’t find them now, so they had possibly moved on already. As we walked up the hill beyond, behind the beach, we could see the Great White Egret which had been reported at Salthouse, away in the distance. Its long white neck was sticking out of one of the ditches and through the scope we could see its dagger-shaped yellow bill.

A male Stonechat was perched in the bushes down towards the beach, and further on we found the female on the fence. We did find a couple of Wheatears around the gun emplacements, more migrants stopping off on their way north, but with quite a few along the coast today they may not have been the ones which were down on the Quags earlier. We had a good look at the female through the scope, perched on the bunkers and feeding down on the short grass. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were singing all around us, always great to hear.

With grey clouds building to the south, we decided it would be prudent to walk back. Two Avocets had dropped in on the Water Meadow pool now to feed. Two Red-legged Partridges were hiding in the winter wheat just the other side and when we got back to the gate by the copse we could see a Grey Partridge in the field beyond – nice to see the two species in quick succession to compare them. It was starting to spit with rain now, so we headed back to the minibus.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back west to Cley. On our way, we had a quick look from the Beach Road at Salthouse, but there was no sign of the Great White Egret in the ditches here now. After a quick stop at the NWT Visitor Centre to use the facilities, we drove down to Cley Coastguards and had lunch in the shelter, out of the rain. We got distracted a couple of times looking at the sea. A couple of Sandwich Terns were plunge diving offshore and then two Little Terns flew west. Further out, two Gannets flew the other way. Five Common Scoters were swimming and diving out on the sea, and we had a look at them in the scope, lingering winter visitors.

While we were eating, the rain stopped and it started to brighten up. We noticed a Wheatear on the pillbox further along the beach and then found another two on the fence posts by the Eye Field, including a smart male. They worked their way along the edge of the field past us. A Skylark was feeding on the short grass in the overflow car park right next to us while we were watching the Wheatears.

Wheatear

Wheatear – there were at least three by the Eye Field over lunch

While we were eating, we had seen three Golden Plovers circling round over the Eye Field. They had landed in the grass, and now we could see them just beyond the fence. One was looking very smart with a dark face and belly, a ‘northern’ male. A Marsh Harrier circled over the grass behind the beach away to the west.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – a smart black-faced ‘northern’ male

After lunch, we drove back round and parked at Walsey Hills. There were several Common Pochard on Snipes Marsh, including a female with two ducklings. They are rare breeders here so it is always good to see evidence of confirmed breeding.

As we walked up the East Bank, we could hear several Reed Warblers singing, but they were keeping well tucked down in the reeds. A Bearded Tit was ‘pinging’ and we turned to see it climbing up into the top of the reeds on the edge of a channel. It was a juvenile, so presumably there was a family party here. A couple of Sedge Warblers flew across the channel and we could see them in the bottom of the reeds on the other side. Further along, we found another Reed Warbler in the ditch the other side of the bank, perched on the reeds singing where it was much easier to see.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – one of several singing in the reeds along the bank

There was a small group Black-tailed Godwits and a single Dunlin with a black belly patch feeding out on Pope’s Marsh, so we had a look at them through the scope. Further up on the mud by the Serpentine, we could see a Little Ringed Plover. We had a quick look at it from here and it was good that we did because by time we had walked up there, it had disappeared. There were a few Shoveler and Teal around the Serpentine.

Up at Arnold’s Marsh, we found a few more waders. As well as another small group of Black-tailed Godwits, there were several Bar-tailed Godwits over towards the back. One was mostly in rusty breeding plumage, so we had a look at it through the scope and could see the rusty colour extended down under the tail. There were a few Curlew here too and a Ringed Plover flew in and landed on the stony island, next to a Sandwich Tern. Another Wheatear was hopping around on the saltmarsh at the front.

It was decidedly cool in the shelter overlooking Arnold’s, with the cool easterly breeze having picked up a touch since the rain earlier. It was much nicer round the back in the sunshine, out of the wind. Before everyone got too comfortable, we decided to walk back. A drake Wigeon on Pope’s Pool was a late lingering winter visitor – most of the Wigeon which spent the winter here have already left on their way back to Russia to breed.

We had a quick walk down to the pool on the Iron Road. There were a few waders on here today, including another Wood Sandpiper and three Common Sandpipers. A Jack Snipe was more of a surprise. It was hiding in the vegetation at first, and we could just see it creeping around, before it eventually came out a little more, and we could see it bouncing up and down.

There were lots of Pied Wagtails on the bare mud around the pool and in with them we could see three paler ones, with silvery grey backs – White Wagtails from the continent. A shrill call alerted us to a bright male Yellow Wagtail which flew in and landed at the feet of one of the cows in front of us. It didn’t stop long and almost immediately was off again and flew off west.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail – dropped in with the cows by the Iron Road briefly

We still had time for one last stop on our way back west, at Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down the path by the road, two male Marsh Harriers quartered the fields. There were more warblers singing here – Blackcap in the trees, and Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler along the bank of the river the other side.

Up on the seawall, a pair of Avocets and several Shelduck were down in the harbour channel beyond. There were lots of Brent Geese still out on the saltmarsh in the harbour. They should be heading off soon now, on their way up to Siberia for the breeding season. We could see the seals too, distantly out on the sandbars beyond Blakeney Point.

There were a few waders still on the Fen – five Black-tailed Godwits, including one moulting into breeding plumage which gave a nice contrast to the rusty Bar-tailed Godwit we had seen at Cley earlier, as well as several Redshanks. A Green Sandpiper was feeding on the edge of the mud at the back and a Little Ringed Plover was walking around on one of the grassy islands.

Marsh Harrier

Unfortunately it was time to head back. One of the Marsh Harriers was still quartering the field by the path as we made our way back to the minibus, giving us a great view of it. As we drove back into Wells, a Common Cuckoo flew across the road to wrap up the day.

It had been a good first day, with a nice selection of spring migrants. We were looking forward to more tomorrow.

24th Apr 2019 – Spring has Sprung

A Day Tour in North Norfolk today. It was another lovely warm, sunny morning. It did cloud over early afternoon, and we had a brief shower, but it passed through very quickly and then brightened up again afterwards – not enough to put a dampener on another lovely spring day’s birding.

We headed out to Burnham Overy Dunes for the morning, with the warblers in and in full voice again. As we walked down the track, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the top of the hedge. Over the stile, a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling, with a Blackcap singing the other side and our first Sedge Warbler tucked down out of view in the brambles beside the ditch. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us and flew across the track, flashing its deep chestnut upperparts.

The grazing marshes by the track here are drying out fast. There were still a few Lapwings, with one displaying over the remaining muddy pools, and several Oystercatchers, but there are fewer waders than usual here. Five Golden Plover were walking around out on the short grass, moulting into summer plumage, with one in particular sporting a noticeable black face and belly.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – five were out on the grazing meadow this morning

Continuing on down the track, we heard several more Sedge Warblers singing but they were hiding too and we had mostly glimpses. We heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling ahead of us, and walked up slowly towards it. Scanning the brambles, we spotted it half hidden in the top of one clump. We got it in the scope and had a look at it. We were hoping to get a bit closer, but just at that point two Environment Agency vehicles came steaming down the track and it dived back into cover.

We carried on to the end of the track, where a more obliging Sedge Warbler was singing, climbing up to the top of a small briar, before songflighting over to the brambles by the seawall, singing from there for a bit and then songflighting back again. We stopped to watch it, getting a good look at its bold creamy white supercilium. The Grasshopper Warbler started reeling again, back along the track.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – the last one along the track was much more obliging

When we finally got up on the seawall, we could see why the Environment Agency workers had been in such a hurry – they were still sat in the vehicles drinking tea! They had come to mow the seawall, but had only got half the job done yesterday and were clearly in no hurry to finish.

The tide was in out in the harbour and there were a few waders roosting in the vegetation on the saltmarsh. We stopped to look at the Black-tailed Godwits, increasingly rusty as they moult into breeding plumage, and a single Grey Plover still in noon-breeding plumage. A small group of Turnstones were roosting further back, on the edge of the harbour channel. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled high over the harbour, calling.

As we walked on along the sea wall, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds along the ditch below. Its rhythmic song was very different to the Sedge Warblers we had heard earlier. A large flock of Brent Geese flew in across the harbour and landed on the saltmarsh, lingering winter visitors. Two Whimbrel were feeding nearby. Slim, short-billed and dark brown, through the scope we could their distinctive central crown stripe too. A Sand Martin flew over, surprisingly the only hirundine we saw on the move again today.

Stopping on the last corner of the seawall, we scanned the grazing marshes. Three Wheatears were hoping around in the short grass. There is a bit more water still in the pools here, and some of the Lapwings here had small fluffy chicks which were feeding around the edges. We could see some ducks around the muddy margins too – a few lingering Wigeon and Teal, plus Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have long since departed north, but a gaggle of about 100 was still out on the marshes beyond, with a pair of Barnacle Geese too.

While watching the geese, one of the group spotted an Otter walking across the middle of the grass. The geese put their heads up, and the whole flock of Pink-footed Geese seemed to be shepherding the Otter. It flushed a Brown Hare from the grass too, which ran up and down in front of the geese. From time to time the Otter would lie down in the grass – we couldn’t tell whether it was resting or looking for something to eat, perhaps eggs or a young nestling?

Otter

Otter – being shepherded by Pink-footed Geese and flushing a Hare

Out at the boardwalk, a Chiffchaff was  flitting around in the bushes, probably a freshly arrived migrant. Heading on into the dunes, there were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding in the short grass. And lots more Wheatears, lingering migrants, feeding up before continuing journey north, flashing their white tails as they flew off ahead of us.

We walked up to the top of the first ridge and stopped to scan the dunes, but there was no sign of any Ring Ouzels here today. As we Continued on east, a Cuckoo flew off behind us, chased by Meadow Pipit. A pair of Stonechats were perched on the bushes and we spotted a Whinchat down on the grass just beyond the fence. While we were looking at it through the scope, it flew and we didn’t see where it went.

A Song Thrush was feeding on the top of the next ridge and when it flew back into a small holm oak just beyond, two darker birds flew in with it – Ring Ouzels. We could see a female tucked in the middle of the bush, with a brown-tinged pale gorget, though it was not a great view. They flew back down into the dunes so we walked up to the ridge to see if we could see them on the ground.

They are often very nervous and flighty here and as soon as we put our heads over the top, three Ring Ouzels flew off over dunes behind us calling. We thought that might be it, but then another one started chacking, still in the bushes. As we tried to get round to the other side, it flew out and helpfully landed in the top of some nearby brambles, where we could get a good look at it. It was a smart male, with a bright white gorget.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this male perched up nicely in the brambles

Looking out across the grazing meadows from the dunes, we could see a few Spoonbills distantly on the pool below the wood. Nearby, we could just make out two Cattle Egrets walking around with the cows. A Great White Egret was easier to see, standing on the edge of the reeds. Looking out the other way, towards the sea, a small flock of Common Scoter was flying past distantly offshore.

As we walked back through the dunes, there were still lots of Wheatears. One male perched on a fence post and didn’t fly off as we approached. We stopped to photograph it, then as we walked on, it stayed put. Eventually it allowed us to walk up until we were all just a few metres away from it. It seemed to like having its photo taken!

Wheatear

Wheatear – this male allowed us to get within just a few metres

Back out on the seawall, the breeze had picked up noticeably. Two Red Kites hung in the air over the seawall, before drifting away over the grazing marshes. The Environment Agency workmen had already finished the small amount of mowing with their remote-controlled mowers and were now sat in the van eating sandwiches. Tough work!

Along the track back towards the road, there were more butterflies out now in the shelter of the hedges. We had seen a few Speckled Woods on our walk out, but now there were a few Orange Tips and Holly Blues too.

Red Kite

Red Kite – two were hanging in the breeze along the seawall

It was almost time for lunch, so we climbed back into the van, but on our way we drove round via a complex of old barns. As we passed we could see a shape in one of the window openings, so we turned round and stopped to admire a Little Owl perched sunning itself. It looked at us nervously, considered its options for a bit, then flew inside.

Little Owl

Little Owl – sunning itself in the window of an old barn

We went to Holkham for lunch, where we could use the facilities in The Lookout café and get a drink. Afterwards, a quick check of the pool in front revealed a Little Ringed Plover and a Pied Wagtail feeding around the edge. Two Mistle Thrushes were feeding out on the grazing marshes in front of the van.

Our first stop of the afternoon was at Wells. As we walked down the track, we could see lots of ducks on the pools – more Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, and one or two Wigeon still with them. A drake Garganey was feeding over towards the far side and when it raised its head from time to time we could see its bold white supercilium.

Garganey

Garganey – a drake feeding out on the pools

There were lots of spring passage waders on here too. We could see four Greenshanks together and then heard at least one more calling out of view away to our right. There were several Ruff, males which had mostly acquired their bright breeding plumage but not yet the ornate ruffs – although one had already lost its neck feathers in preparation. We got a rather dark blackish one in the scope for a closer look. A Common Sandpiper was bobbing its way along the far bank and a Common Snipe was hiding in the rushes in the middle.

Scanning the pools the other side of the track, we could see at least five Wood Sandpipers, with bright white spangled backs and well marked pale supercilium, although they kept disappearing into the wet grass. Four Spotted Redshanks were a little further back, a couple of them already getting quite dusky as they moult into breeding plumage.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpipers – two of at least five here today

It had clouded over now and we could see some rather dark clouds gathering just inland but we thought we had enough time for a quick look at westernmost pool. A Wood Sandpiper was on here too, but as the birds had been flying around it was hard to say whether it was one of the five or a different bird. There were lots of Avocets, but no sign of any Snipe in the grass here today.

We decided to try to walk back before the rain arrived, but we hadn’t got far before it began to spit. We got caught by the shower, but thankfully it wasn’t one of the forecast thundery downpours but just very brief and very light. It had dried up before we even got back to the van. A Grey Partridge was calling, and ran out onto the track.

Moving on to Stiffkey, a Brown Hare and several Skylarks were in the meadow opposite the layby, and we could hear Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap singing as we walked down the path. A Willow Warbler in an oak tree by the road was giving a rather half-hearted rendition of its song, but we got a good look at it as it flitted around in the half emerged leaves. Down by the river, we found a pair of Long-tailed Tits.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – feeding in an oak tree by the road

Looking across to the Fen from the path, we could see a Green Sandpiper at the back, against the reeds, and two Common Sandpipers. The Little Gull was still here, hawking out over the water, occasionally dipping down or soaring up, alternately flashing its bright silvery grey upperparts and blackish underwings.

Little Gull

Little Gull – showing off its dark underwings

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the whole Fen. Several Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshanks were roosting in the shallow water. Over to one side, we found a Spotted Redshank feeding on the mud as well, another dusky bird, and we had a nice side by side comparison in the scope with one of the Common Redshanks. We could get the Green Sandpiper in the scope from here too.

There were lots of Black-headed Gulls out on the Fen, but we heard Mediterranean Gulls calling behind us and looked round to see a pair flying in low over saltmarsh behind us and in over seawall. A male Marsh Harrier flew low over the Fen and flushed everything, including a Yellow Wagtail which flew round calling.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – two adults flew in low of the seawall

The tide was right out now but we had a quick walk round to look in the harbour. A Small Copper butterfly was basking on the gorse in the sun, the first we have seen this year. There were loads of Brent Geese loafing around on the mud in the harbour – it won’t be long now before they are on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season. There were some gulls out on the mud banks too, including several Great Black-backed Gulls.

We could see some very distant waders out on the mud in the middle, including several Bar-tailed Godwits, mostly now in bright rusty breeding plumage. One of them was carrying colour-rings, and we could make out a red flag on one thigh, but where it was walking most of its legs were hidden behind the mud in front.

Unfortunately it was time to start walking back now. We still managed to add a few birds to the day’s list on our way back to the van, a little group of Blue Tits and two Jays flying across the path into the wood. It had been another great day of spring migration birding out on the coast.

22nd Apr 2019 – Spring Migrants, Day 3

Day 2 of a three day Easter weekend tour today. It was another glorious, sunny day but a bit cooler than yesterday, in a fresher ENE wind. Still, it was lovely weather to be out again. We spent most of the day further east along the north Norfolk coast today.

Holkham has been very busy over Easter, with the car park filling up as lots of visitors came out enjoying the good weather, so we figured we would need to get in and out early. As we walked west on the inland side of the pines, there were lots of warblers singing in the trees and bushes – Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler.

A Swallow flew over the pines heading east and we heard a Greenshank flying over too, calling. We saw our first Jays of the weekend in the poplars and lots of Speckled Wood butterflies flying over the path.

Jay

Jay – we saw several in the woods at Holkham

Salts Hole was quiet – part from the noisy Egyptian Geese flying in and out of the trees. Continuing on to Washington Hide, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling and the more rhythmic song of a Reed Warbler singing too in the reedbed, but both stayed well hidden.

Continuing on to Joe Jordan Hide, the first things we spotted as we opened the flaps were the two Cattle Egrets. They were some way off at first, not with the cows, feeding in a low-lying wet area further back. Then they flew in to join the cattle, coming a bit closer where we could get a better look at them in the scope. We watched one of them picking insects off the back of a calf which was lying down in the grass.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret – the two were still with the cattle at Holkham

There was lots of Spoonbill activity this morning, with regular comings and goings as birds flew down from the trees to the big pool below and back up again. One or two birds were bathing, while others were feeding in the shallow water or looking for nest material around the margins.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there was lots of coming and going this morning

A Grey Heron was standing motionless out on one of the smaller wet areas in the grass and several Little Egrets flew in and out of the trees too. A selection of ducks, Avocets and Redshanks were also down around the pools. A Mistle Thrush was feeding down in the grass below the hide.

We could have spent a lot longer here, but we wanted to move on before it got too busy. By the time we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, there were lots of cars already parked most of the way down towards the main road now, and lots of people, dogs and horses, mostly heading straight out to the beach. We made a quick visit to The Lookout café, to use the facilities, and a Little Ringed Plover dropped down onto the pool in front calling. Then we made quick escape!

We drove east to Kelling next. There were a few warblers singing as we walked up the lane, including one or two Lesser Whitethroats rattling in the hedge. When we got to the copse, we found a few people looking for the Pied Flycatcher which had been seen here earlier, but there had been no sign of it for over an hour apparently. A Chiffchaff and a Blackcap were singing in the trees.

Rather than linger here, we continued straight on to the Water Meadow. A Common Sandpiper was bobbing up and down, feeding along the muddy edge, and a single Ruff was also feeding on the margin at the back. A dusky grey Spotted Redshank, still moulting into breeding plumage, was feeding out in the deeper water in the middle amongst several noisy Black-tailed Godwits. A nice selection of spring migrant waders.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – gradually moulting into breeding plumage

With lots of people coming down to look for the flycatcher, it was busy down here now, with a steady stream of people walking past the pool. There had been a Wood Sandpiper here earlier but that had apparently flown off, and there was no sign of any Green Sandpiper or Greenshank either. In spring, birds are in a hurry to get to their breeding grounds, so they often don’t stay long. A lone Dunlin did fly in and drop down onto the shore while we were there, a migrant stopping off briefly to feed.

We walked back up the lane to where the cows were grazing at the other end of the Water Meadow. We could just see one or two Yellow Wagtails in the long grass, but there was still no sign of the Blue-headed Wagtail which had been with them earlier. Again it had presumably moved on quickly.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail – still two with the cows when we arrived

Two of the locals who just arrived from Cley told that two Wood Sandpipers were showing well from the East Bank there, so we decided to head straight over. As we parked at Walsey Hills, we noticed a Common Buzzard flying out of the trees with a big gap in one wing – possibly it had been shot at. It didn’t seem to be affecting its flying ability too badly though, and we watched as it decided to have a tussle with a second paler Buzzard over the trees.

Common Buzzards

Common Buzzard – fighting over the wood

A quick walk out on the East Bank was instantly rewarded with the two Wood Sandpipers, feeding on the small pools just below bank. They were very close and we had a really good look at them, dainty little birds with white-spangled upperparts and a noticeable pale supercilium. Wood Sandpipers are passage migrants here, passing through from their wintering grounds in Africa to breed in Scandinavia, and as we had found at Kelling can often move on quickly in spring, so it was great to catch up with them.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – two were showing very well, close to the East Bank

There was a smart rusty male Ruff on the pools here too, just moulting into breeding plumage. It had already lots most of its pale grey/brown and white winter plumage, but was yet to get an ornate ruff and headdress. Male Ruffs have a two stage moult, getting a new set of body feathers first, before moulting the head and neck again later. There is no point carrying round that ruff for any longer than is necessary! Over the next month or so, this bird will acquire the rest of its breeding plumage before moving on to its breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

Ruff

Ruff – moulting into breeding plumage, but no ruff yet

It was rather cool up on the bank in the fresh easterly breeze. We had a quick scan of the rest of the marshes but otherwise we could only see a few ducks on Serpentine, mainly Teal and Gadwall. There were a few gulls on Pope’s Pool. It was already around 1pm so we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre for lunch.

After lunch, we drove back towards Salthouse for a quick look at the Iron Road. The pools here are drying out fast now, and looked to be quiet at first when we scanned from the road. Still, we walked down for a closer look and found a nice selection of birds still. The highlight was a smart White Wagtail which was feeding on the dried out mud on the front edge. We could see its bright silvery-grey upperparts, contrasting with the black top to its head.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – feeding on the dry margin of the pool at Iron Road

There were a few waders too. Two Little Ringed Plovers were well camouflaged down on the dry mud, two Dunlin were picking around the edge of the water, and there were several Ruff towards the back, including a couple of females, Reeves. One of the Reeves was noticeably much smaller than the male Ruff it was with. A Marsh Harrier flew round low over the reeds beyond.

Carrying on back west, we stopped next at Stiffkey Fen. Two Grey Partridges were in the field across the road – we could see their heads when they stood up. The male was mostly keeping lookout, with the female presumably feeding, as it only put its head up once or twice. There were more warblers singing here – a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the hedge, and one or two Blackcaps in the copse. A Yellowhammer flew over.

From the path down along the river, we could see a Green Sandpiper on the Fen beyond, but by the time we had got the scopes up it had disappeared behind the reeds. Continuing on up onto the seawall, we found two Green Sandpipers now feeding along the back edge. Four Little Ringed Plovers were flying round, chasing each other. There were also lots of Avocets, a few Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits, and a single Grey Plover on the mud at the back.

There are always lots of gulls on the Fen through the summer, with a good number of breeding pairs of Black-headed Gulls. As we looked through, we could see two or three Common Gulls in amongst them. Then we noticed the Little Gull standing on the edge of one of the islands. It was much smaller than the Black-headeds, with white wing-tips and brighter orange legs. It is still moulting into breeding plumage, lacking a complete black hood yet. It took off, and we watched it hawking over the water, dip feeding, very agile, more like a tern, its pale silvery-grey upperwings contrasting with its blackish underwings.

Little Gull

Little Gull – dip feeding out over the water

After making our way back to the van, we continued on our way west to Wells. As we walked down the track, we scanned the pools. There were lots of ducks here on the flooded fields – Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, and a few lingering Wigeon. Scanning through carefully, we found the pair of Garganey in with them, what we had come to see. Through the scopes we could see the bold white head stripe on the drake, when it lifted its head from feeding, and the ornate plumes on the grey back.

Garganey

Garganey – a pair, on the pools at Wells

There were lots of waders on the pool on the other side of the track. Two Spotted Redshanks were feeding in the shallow water, one was noticeably more dusky grey than the other, further advanced in its moult into its black breeding plumage. There was a Greenshank and another Wood Sandpiper with them too. There were certainly plenty of spring passage waders dropping in along the coast today.

A few Ruff were out on the pools too and scanning the clumps of rushes and wet grass carefully, we found two Common Snipe feeding. A Golden Plover flew overhead calling, and dropped down onto the grass at the back of the pool, presumably another migrant heading north.

There had apparently been a Jack Snipe seen earlier on another pool by the seawall, so we went over to look for it. We found several more Common Snipe here, but no sign of the Jack Snipe. Presumably it had gone into the thick grass and gone to sleep, as they typically do. Another Common Sandpiper was feeding along the bottom of the bank at the back. A male Marsh Harrier was displaying, twisting and tumbling high overhead.

It was time to wrap up now and head back. We had enjoyed a great three days out, with lots of spring migrants, in lovely weather and great company. Classic Norfolk April birding.

21st Apr 2019 – Spring Migrants, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Easter weekend tour today. It was another glorious, sunny day with more blue skies. It was warmer today, with easterly winds now, but still very pleasant weather to be out birding. We spent most of the day exploring the coast of north-west Norfolk.

We were heading over to the Wash coast first thing this morning, but as we drove along the road we noticed a shape in the window of an old barn by the road. We pulled up and could see it was a Little Owl, looking over the old rotten window ledge, sunning itself in the morning light.

Little Owl

Little Owl – looking out of a barn window as we drove west

Our first destination for the day was Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked in through the bushes, we could hear lots of warblers singing – Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat. We stood for a while and watched and gradually got views of each of them, to a greater or lesser extent. A female Bullfinch appeared in the willow tree along with a Willow Warbler and a Blackcap.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – the bushes were alive with warbler singing

There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing too, over in the reeds beyond the bushes, and we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler shouting from away in that direction too. There seemed to be a steady procession of Mediterranean Gulls flying over calling too, which became a regular soundtrack for the morning from then on.

Continuing on north, we got out into a clear area. Several Wheatears were feeding on the short grass. At first, we found a couple of females but then a smart male appeared. As with the ones we saw yesterday, it had a rich burnt orange breast, a male Greenland Wheatear. A Greenfinch was feeding on the ground nearby with some Linnets.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a male of the Greenland subspecies

Going back into the bushes on the other side, there were yet more warblers singing. This is a great place to hear them, and they have clearly arrived in force in the last week, back from Africa and here for the breeding season. A Common Whitethroat was really going for it, singing and song-flighting between the bushes ahead of us. Presumably a recent arrival, staking out its territory and hoping to attract a mate. We could see its bright rusty wings, grey head and white throat.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – singing and song-flighting from the tops of the bushes

Unfortunately there was a fire last year here, and afterwards a couple of big areas had been cleared. As we got out into the first of them, we found several more Wheatears feeding on the open ground. These used to be particularly good areas for Grasshopper Warbler, but after the fire and subsequent clearance of remaining scrub, the habitat is no longer suitable. Thankfully a few good areas of scrub still remain elsewhere on the site.

Up at the cross bank, we walked up onto the seawall. The tide was in on and the Wash was completely covered in water. Three Ringed Plovers were chasing each other on the stony beach below us.

We particularly wanted to look for some Yellow Wagtails here, as there had apparently been a Blue-headed Wagtail or hybrid with them earlier. But when we got to the cross bank, the cows were mostly sitting down, not what the wagtails like! We could see them flying round, and at least two of them flew off north, but at least two landed back down in amongst the cows.

As the cows started to stand up again and walk around, we could see there were more Yellow Wagtails than we had initially thought, five in total. But there had been twelve earlier and there was no sign of the Blue-headed Wagtail now, it must have flown off earlier. As the cows walked over to the inner seawall, the remaining five Yellow Wagtails flew off too, disappearing away to the north.

As we walked round to the inner seawall, three Whimbrels flew in and landed in the short grass between the banks. There must have been one here already as once we set up the scopes round on the other side, we could see four Whimbrels out in the grass. One walked down to the edge of a small pool to drink, where there were four sleeping godwits.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – one of four feeding on the short grass

As we looked more closely, we could see there were three Black-tailed Godwits and a single Bar-tailed Godwit with them, presumably pushed off the Wash by the high tide and roosting here. The Bar-tailed Godwit was still in non-breeding plumage and very worn, but we could see its shorter legs, more obvious supercilium, and more heavily marked upperparts.

We walked back south along the inner seawall. Scanning the marshes the other side, we spotted a small group of Pink-footed Geese. Like we had seen yesterday, a very small number are still lingering here, whereas most have already gone north some time ago to stage on their way back to Iceland.

There were more warblers along here, including a particularly showy Sedge Warbler, which we stopped to watch. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds by the ditch on the edge of the marshes below us, its song more metronomic than the Sedge’s. There were still some good areas of scrub not touched by the fire on this side, but it was the middle of the day now and the Grasshopper Warblers seemed to have gone quiet.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – there were lots singing all over Snettisham now

Back towards the road, we dropped down off  the seawall and followed one of the paths into the bushes to cross back over to the other side. Finally, a Grasshopper Warbler started reeling. We had a fleeting glimpse of it as it dropped down into the brambles, then it went quiet. Thankfully, we had seen one yesterday but they are always great birds to hear and good to know that one or two continue to survive at this site.

Cutting back across to the minibus, we drove a short distance back along the road just as far as the entrance to the RSPB car park. The male Ring Ouzel was still in the field here, hopping around in the short grass amongst the molehills. We could see its striking white gorget. We walked round to the gate as the light would be better from there, but just as we got there something spooked it and it flew across to the far side.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – in the field on the other side of the road

We made our way round to Titchwell next, although we had to take a detour inland to avoid the long queue of traffic backed up from the traffic lights, due to the number of people coming up for the Easter weekend to enjoy the good weather. Despite the number of people on the coast this weekend, Titchwell car park was surprisingly quiet and we had no trouble finding a space!

It was time for lunch, so we made good use of the tables in the picnic area. While we were eating, the warden emerged from the trees to say that there was a Spotted Flycatcher there. We could see it as it flew between the branches up in the tops.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – in the trees by the picnic area at Titchwell

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. There was no sign of the Whinchat which had been seen earlier around the grazing meadow. As we got out of the trees, a Reed Warbler was singing in reeds.

At the reedbed pool, we could see a male Red-crested Pochard towards the back, sporting its bright orange punk haircut. There were a few Common Pochard on here too, as well as a single Great Crested Grebe and a couple of Little Grebes. A male Marsh Harrier put on a good display, quartering over the reeds in front of us.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see them zipping back and forth over the reeds. Then three flew out over the water chasing each other, and shot up higher into the air above the reeds where they proceeded to whirl round after each other, presumably in some sort of territorial dispute.

A steady procession of Mediterranean Gulls flew past, in amongst the Black-headed Gulls, their distinctive calls alerting us each time to their imminent approach. The wing tips of the Mediterranean Gulls were translucent white against the sky, very different from the dusky underwings of the others.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – flew overhead, calling, as we walked out

Out on the Freshmarsh, there were lots and lots of gulls. It seems to have been taken over by them again as a breeding colony! Scanning through them, we found a couple of small groups of Sandwich Terns and through the scope we could see their spiky black crests and yellow-tipped black bills.

There are still lots of Teal here, and quite a few Shoveler. Small groups of Brent Geese flew in and out from the saltmarsh on the Thornham side of the bank. It will not be long now before they are on their way back to Russia for the breeding season.

There were not many waders on here today. A few Avocets were feeding in the water or standing around on the islands. Further back, we could see one Ruff and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits. Two Little Ringed Plover were on the shore just beyond Parrinder Hide, so we went round there for a closer look. From the hide, we could see their golden yellow eye rings.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – a pair were just outside Parrinder Hide on the walk out

There was a closer view of the gulls from here too. We got a smart adult Mediterranean Gull in the scope,  noting its jet black hood with white eyelids, bright red bill and white wing tips. Looking into the melee of gulls out on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’, we could make out a lot of pairs of Mediterranean Gulls in the colony just on the basis of their darker black heads compared to the more numerous Black-headed Gulls (which actually have a chocolate brown hood!).

We made a bid for the sea next. As we passed Volunteer Marsh, we could see four Grey Plover and a single Bar-tailed Godwit down in the muddy channel at the far side. Out at the beach, the tide was right out. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were lots of people, dogs and even a couple of horses out on the and or clambering over the mussel beds. As a consequence, there was a dearth of waders today. There were a few Oystercatchers away to the left, and a little group of Dunlin and one or two Grey Plover with some Bar-tailed Godwits on the shore, at least until they were flushed by the horseriders.

Looking out to sea, a single Common Tern flew past just offshore. Out on the water, there were still quite a number of Great Crested Grebes. Further out, we found a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers, although given the distance and heat haze, it was not the best of views!

We had a brisk walk back, but when we got back to the van one of the group had disappeared. A search party was dispatched and eventually he was relocated. It turned out he had lost the rubber cap from the end of his binoculars and we had lost him when he had gone back to look for it!

A Purple Heron had been found this morning at Burnham Norton, where we had been yesterday afternoon, and we wanted to try to see it on our way back this afternoon. Thankfully there were spaces in the parking area when we arrived, and we set off along the path to the seawall. The male Marsh Harrier circled up right in front of us, carrying a stick in its talons, as the female circled above. He was probably showing off the nest material he had gathered to her!

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – a male, carrying nest material

Up on the seawall, we found out why there were spaces in the car park as most people had gone already. Thankfully one person appeared and pointed us in the right direction and it didn’t take too long to find the Purple Heron hiding in a ditch. At first we could just see its head and long dagger-shaped bill when it looked up, then it walked up onto the edge of the field and we had a really good view of it.

Purple Heron

Purple Heron – feeding in the ditches at Burnham Norton

Then the Purple Heron flew over the fence, and landed in the next field, before walking down into the ditch that side. We could just see its head again. But that ditch was obviously not to its liking, as it walked back out and stood in the field for a couple of minutes, trying to work out what to do, before flying back over. It landed at the back of the field this time and looked around, before walking down into another areas of reeds to feed. Purple Heron is a very scarce visitor here, and this was a young bird in its 1st summer, which had probably overshot on its way up from Africa to its breeding grounds on the continent.

It was time to call it a day now, so we walked slowly back to the van. As we were driving back to the main road, we looked across to see four Fieldfares in the paddocks. These are winter visitors here, presumably stopping off to feed before heading out over the North Sea back to Scandinavia. It seemed an odd combination, to see Purple Heron one minute, then Fieldfares the next. It is not often you will find that combination so close together!

20th Apr 2019 – Spring Migrants, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Easter weekend tour today. It was a glorious, bright, sunny day with wall to wall blue skies. It was hot out of the wind, but a very light NE breeze kept temperatures more comfortable on the coast. Great birding weather! We spent the day exploring the centre of the North Norfolk coast.

Burnham Overy Dunes was our destination for the morning. As we walked down the track across the fields we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the blackthorn. It was typically skulking, but we saw it as it flew out and landed in the bushes the other side. A pair of Bullfinches flew along ahead of us, perching low down on the edge of the path, the bright pink male glowing in the sunshine. A Willow Warbler sang briefly, but then flew past us and seemed to move quickly inland.

Looking up, we noticed two Barnacle Geese flying in across the track. They landed out on the grazing meadows with a large flock of grey geese. The Barnacles were most likely feral birds, which breed in Holkham Park, but the grey geese were Pink-footed Geese, about 100 of them. Most of the wintering birds left back in February to stage further north, but these had stayed on and would soon need to be leaving on the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season. There were a couple of Greylags with them, giving us a nice comparison between the two species, and two Egyptian Geese as well.

Geese

Barnacle Geese – two flew in to join the lingering Pink-footed Geese

There were surprisingly few hirundines moving today, probably due to the NE wind. But a Swallow did fly over as we were walking out, closely followed by a Sand Martin.

Out over the grazing marshes, a Sedge Warbler was singing from the briars beside the track. We stopped to watch it and heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling a bit further up. It was skulking in some brambles but we positioned ourselves to see it and after a minute or so it appeared in the top, typically just as two people were walking past. It promptly dropped straight back in! After a while, the Grasshopper Warbler appeared again and this time we could get it in the scope.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – several were singing from the bushes by the path

Our first Spoonbill of the morning had already flown past distantly, heading out towards the harbour. Then, while we were listening to the Grasshopper Warbler, another Spoonbill appeared right next to us, feeding in a small pool. We watched it with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water, occasionally throwing its head back to swallow something. It seemed to be catching a lot! It was an adult – we could see its yellow-tipped black bill – and in breeding condition, with a bushy nuchal crest, bright red fringed yellow skin under the bill and a mustard wash across its breast.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on a small pool right by the path

There were more Sedge Warblers singing further down the track, they had clearly arrived in good numbers now. At the junction with the seawall, another Willow Warbler was singing. This one we could see, flitting around in the top of some low brambles. This is not a likely territory for a Willow Warbler, so the two we had seen on the walk out were probably migrants, fresh in, just stopping here to feed on their way to their breeding sites.

Up on the seawall, the tide was in and the harbour channel was full of water. Several waders were roosting out on the islands of saltmarsh, Avocets, Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits. Some of the godwits are getting very rusty now on their heads and breasts as they moult into breeding plumage, and we stopped to look at one dark chestnut bird which was clearly of the Icelandic race.

Looking out over the grazing marshes from here, there were still a few pools out in the grass, although they are starting to dry out steadily now. There were a few ducks dozing around the margins, mainly Teal and a few Wigeon, still lingering winter visitors. A large flock of Brent Geese flew over from the harbour and landed on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they are leaving on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season.

There were two Wheatears out on the saltmarsh too, but they were very distant and disappeared into the vegetation. They were a little like buses today, and once we got out into the dunes, there were a lot more Wheatears feeding on the short grass. There were two more just past the boardwalk bushes and as we started to walk east, we counted at least eight together on the first slope. The males were rather deep burnt orange on the breast, suggesting they were birds of the Greenland race.

Wheatear 1

Wheatear – there were at least 20 in the dunes today

Over the ridge, there were yet more Wheatears. But as we stopped to scan the dunes ahead, we noticed two Ring Ouzels on the opposite slope. We got them in the scope and could see their bright white gorgets, two males. They flew lower down, out of view, so we walked round for a closer look.

We positioned ourselves where we could watch the Ring Ouzels feeding quietly and thankfully we had already enjoyed a good long look before two cyclists appeared at the top of the dunes. The Ring Ouzels were nervous and one flew up into the top of a nearby bush. The cyclists presumably saw us, because they stopped, but then came over the top and flushed the Ring Ouzels, which flew away east over the dunes. We watched the cyclists riding their bikes off in that direction too.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – we had great views of two males on the walk out

Carrying on through the dunes ourselves, in the same direction, we could see the Ring Ouzels flying off again ahead of us. We also flushed several Song Thrushes from the bushes as we passed, migrants stopping off to feed in the dunes before heading back over the sea to the continent. There were yet more Wheatears along here too.

We had heard a Cuckoo calling on and off as we walked out. Now we spotted it flying past, over the bushes just beyond the fence to the south of us. It was being pursued relentlessly by a Meadow Pipit. The Cuckoo tried to land, but realised it wouldn’t get any peace, so headed off west, the pipit following it all the way. Meadow Pipit is a favoured host for the Cuckoos here!

A Siberian Chiffchaff had been reported in the bushes just before the pines, so we made our way over to see if we could see it. But the only chiffchaffs we could find were Common Chiffchaffs. There were a couple of Blackcaps singing here and, as we looped round through the pines to the start of the track, we could hear a Goldcrest singing. As we stopped by the gate and had a quick look out over the grazing marshes, we could see a couple of Coal Tits, two Long-tailed Tits and the Goldcrests on the sunny edge of the pines.

Walking back through the dunes, we looked across the grazing marshes and spotted a Bittern distantly in flight. We watched as it flew across and dropped down into the reeds over by the seawall. Presumably the same Ring Ouzels were back again where we had seen them earlier, but there were at least three now. We could see a pair, the female with a duller brown-tinged gorget and a separate male. Back at the boardwalk bushes, a Blackcap was flycatching from the apple tree but there was no sign of the Firecrest reported earlier.

Back along the seawall, we could hear a Bittern booming out in the reedbed, presumably the bird we had seen fly in earlier. It was well hidden down in the reeds now though. We could hear Bearded Tits calling on and off, but despite scanning the edges of the pools, we couldn’t see them. They were keeping well tucked down in the reeds too.

Along the track, the butterflies were more active now it had warmed up. We saw several Holly Blue and Speckled Wood fluttering around the Alexanders in the verges. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the hedge by the road back at the van and with a bit of patience it eventually appeared in the top.

We headed down to Holkham briefly to use the facilities. It was very busy here and there were so many cars parked on Lady Anne’s Drive it was full, despite the fact that they had a field open as an overflow car park. They were turning people away! A few House Martins and Swallows whirled around the houses in the village.

We made our way back to Burnham Norton for lunch, passing a small group of Red Deer out in one of the fields by the Park on the way. We sat on the grass in the sunshine and enjoyed the view, looking out over the marshes. A Grey Heron flew in and landed in the ditch in front of us, where it stood motionless, fishing. A Mistle Thrush was feeding out on the grass beyond.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – flew in to feed in the ditch while we ate our lunch

After lunch, as we put our bags back in the van, a Sparrowhawk circled over the car park. We could see a Red Kite circling over the marshes to the east and as we walked out along the bank a second Red Kite flew past and joined it. There were several Common Buzzards up too now, circling in the warm air. A smart grey male Marsh Harrier drifted over the path in front of us.

Red Kite

Red Kite – two drifted over the grazing marshes after lunch

There were a few Pied Wagtails feeding around the dried up pools out on the grazing marsh, and we noticed a much paler one in with them, a White Wagtail, the continental cousin of our Pieds and a migrant passing through here. While we were watching the White Wagtail, one of the group spotted a Whimbrel feeding on the grass further back. It was noticeably small and dark, slim and short-billed, particularly compared with the bigger, greyer Curlew nearby.

From out on the seawall, we spotted a group of Yellow Wagtails which flew up from around the cows out in the middle. They circled round and landed by some more cows but, typically they were half hidden now behind a bramble hedge and the ground sloped away just beyond where the cows were standing. We could just see one or two of the Yellow Wagtails around the cows’ feet from time to time. Two more Whimbrels were also out in the short grass here, along with three Wheatears.

A Cuckoo flew in and landed in the bushes just below the seawall ahead of us. We could see it picking at a web on a stem in front of it, eating caterpillars, most likely of the Brown-tail moth. We were watching it in the scope but could see a woman walking towards us along the seawall. The Cuckoo took off, but then flew right past giving us a great view and landed on a bush behind us.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – flushed and flew right past us along the seawall

We stopped to look out across the harbour channel, and could see lots of gulls on the sandbanks down among the boats over towards Burnham Overy Staithe. A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were in with the Black-headed Gulls. The pools on the corner of the seawall are looking really good for waders at the moment. We had a quick look hoping for perhaps a migrant sandpiper, but all we could find today were Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks.

We took the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marsh. It was still a bit wet in places, but just about passable. The Yellow Wagtails were flying round and one landed briefly in the top of a bare bush. Some of the cows were lying down, so the Yellow Wagtails flew over and settled again around the feet of some other that were feeding in the middle, unfortunately they chose the cows which were just behind a line of low reeds from us.

A Reed Warbler was singing quietly, but stopped before we could get closer to it. So we walked over to where it had been and stopped to listen while we watched to see if the wagtails would show themselves. A Chinese Water Deer was feeding on the back of the field the other side of the path.

There was a nice selectin of ducks in the channel which crossed the marshes in front of us. A pair of Shoveler, a few Tufted Ducks and a pair of Common Pochard. A female Wheatear flew in and landed on the top of a bush right in front of us. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the ditch just behind us but we still couldn’t see it.

Wheatear 2

Wheatear – this female landed in a bush right next to us

Some of the cows walked over to graze just across the ditch from where we were standing, and the ones which had been behind the reeds came back round into the field our side. We had hoped the Yellow Wagtails might fly over to the closer cows but even though more and more cows came over to our side of the field, the wagtails remained stubbornly out in the middle, even when there were just two cows left there. At least we could see the Yellow Wagtails now – at least eight of them. We had hoped there might be one of the continental subspecies with them, but we could not see they were all of the British race, flavissima.

It was lovely to stand and look out over the marshes in the afternoon sunshine, but it was time to call it a day now. Still, we had another day to look forward to tomorrow.

19th Jan 2019 – Owls, Raptors & Otters

An Owl Tour today. It was a cold day, only just getting above 4C in the early afternoon after a frost overnight, but dry and bright with some sunny intervals in the morning. The sort of weather which is good for looking for owls, and lots more things besides!

With an early start, we were hoping to catch a Barn Owl out hunting first thing this morning, before they go in to roost. We made our way straight over to an area of grazing marshes where they can often be found and as we walked up over the bank, there was our first Barn Owl of the day.

It was quartering the meadow, flying round looking down and listening intently for any potential prey. It landed on a post in front of us, staring down into the grass below, but quickly resumed hunting again, flying over the bank back towards the road. We walked back over and watched the Barn Owl drop sharply down into the grass. It came up, but flew straight into the hedge, so we couldn’t see if it had actually caught anything.

The next thing we knew, we heard a commotion and looked across to see a Kestrel and the Barn Owl rolling around in the middle of the road. It seemed most likely that the Kestrel stole the Barn Owl’s breakfast, as it flew straight off into the trees and the Barn Owl headed off over the other side of the road, empty-taloned.

barn owl 1

Barn Owl – still out hunting when we arrived this morning

As we walked on down the path across the meadows, a Brown Hare ran off across the grass and we could see one or two Curlew out in the field beyond. We heard Bearded Tits pinging in the reeds the other side, but they were keeping well down today, out of the cold.

As it started to brighten up, raptor activity picked up. First a Marsh Harrier appeared, a rather dark juvenile. It perched in the top of a bush, where we could get it in the scope. Then a much paler, greyer adult male Marsh Harrier flew in along a line of reeds, hunting.

We noticed a shape on the top of a tree stump in the distant, which turned out to be a male Sparrowhawk. We had a nice look at it through the scope, and could see its pinkish breast stripes. A second Sparrowhawk flew low over the reeds, dropped down to skim over the grass. As it landed, it flushed a big flock of Meadow Pipits, presumably which it had been hoping to plunder. It flew up and landed in the trees beyond, with nothing to show for its efforts.

As we looked back over towards the pool in the reeds, we noticed a large bird flying towards us, a Bittern. Unfortunately it dropped down quickly into the reeds on the edge of the pool and disappeared, before everyone could get onto it.

We walked up a little further, to see if we could find it again, looking from a different angle. As we stood there scanning the edge of the reeds, two Otters ran back away from us across the grass in front, towards the pool. They disappeared from view, but a couple of minutes later one came back out onto the grass. We watched as it stood there in front of the reeds, crunching on something that it had just caught. A real treat to watch!

otters

Otters – ran across the grass and down into the reeds

Looking back across towards the road, the Barn Owl had reappeared again. We watched as it hunted from the posts at the back of the marshes, perching first on one, looking intently down into the grass below, then flying down along the fenceline a couple of posts and trying its luck there. It hopped along the fence like this several times, before having another fly round over the grass. Then it disappeared back over the bank again.

It was starting to brighten up now, so having had such a productive stop here already, we decided to head off and look for Little Owls. Particularly after a cold night, they like to perch out and warm up in the morning sun. It was a good morning for them, as the first place we checked, we found one sunning itself on the roof of an old barn.

little owl

Little Owl – enjoying the sunshine this morning

There were lots of other things to see here. A flock of Fieldfares came up out of the trees and flew off across the road, and we could hear Redwings calling nearby too. A group of Rooks flew down to feed in one of the fields nearby. Several Brown Hares ran back and forth across the concrete yard in front of us.

We checked a second barn and found another Little Owl, though it was mostly hidden from view under the roof, and we could just see the back of its head. Several Stock Doves were perched on the roof nearby. A flock of Brent Geese flew over, heading inland.

brown hare

Brown Hare – already starting to get more active now

Then disaster struck. Back at the car, we found we had a breakdown. It would take too long to get it fixed, so we had a quick rethink and a change of vehicles, and we were soon back on the road again. Thankfully, it didn’t lose us too much time either.

Once we were back on the road, we headed straight over to Snettisham. Up on the sea wall, the tide was out and the mud close to the bank was very dry, which meant a distinct lack of waders. All we could see were just a few Redshanks. Scanning out across the Wash, we could see a large flock of Teal, lots of Mallard, and a liberal scattering of Shelduck all over the mud.

We scanned the Pits on our way down, but could only see several Goldeneye and no sign of the Smew today. From the causeway, we had a good look at a drake Goldeneye which was busy diving a short distance away, and counted at least 8 drakes in total just on the pit to the north of us. A Kingfisher shot across low over the water and a few seconds later flew back the other way. When it flew back across a third time, it disappeared up and over the bank inland.

goldeneye

Goldeneye – we counted at least 8 drakes on one pit today

There were lots of other ducks on the pits – mostly Wigeon, plenty of Mallard, and a handful of Shoveler. As well as lots of Greylags and Canada Geese, a single Barnacle Goose was most likely a feral bird. We could see several Little Grebes out on the open water too.

Our main target here though was Short-eared Owl. There has been a regular roosting bird here, but when we got round to where we can normally see it, there was no sign of it. We scanned all around, but found nothing. It looked like we had drawn a blank today. A large flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing flew up from the fields inland, but quickly settled back down.

We decided to walk back for lunch, but on our way we glanced back and just decided to have one final scan from a slightly different angle. There was a Short-eared Owl, tucked down in a tussock of grass, hidden by a bramble bush from where we had just been. We could see it staring out with bright yellow eyes. Success at the last!

short-eared owl

Short-eared Owl – we eventually found one, hiding in some grass today

After lunch, we started to make our way back east. We happened to notice that a Rough-legged Buzzard had been reported at Choseley about half an hour earlier, so we figured we could swing round that way and try our luck. But when we got to Choseley, there had been no sign of it since the last report.

We had just managed to find a Common Buzzard perched in the top of a hedge when one of the group spotted another buzzard flying over the field behind us. It was the Rough-legged Buzzard – we could see its white head, black belly patch and, when it turned, its white tail with a black terminal band. It flew across the field and landed on the roadside verge behind us.

rough-legged buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – flew in behind us and landed on the verge

It didn’t stay there long though, just long enough to get a quick look through the scope. Then the Rough-legged Buzzard took off again and circled over the field, giving us some more great flight views, before flying back away into the distance.

Time was getting on and we had an appointment with more owls. As we headed back east along the coast road, we saw several large flocks of Pink-footed Geese flying across the road.

We arrived at our final destination a bit later than planned, after the distractions on the way. As we walked down along the path, there was no sign of the Barn Owl out hunting yet. Fortunately we got to the point from which we could see the owl box, just in time to watch as it climbed out onto the platform in front. It spent the next several minutes just dozing, with eyes half shut, giving us a great opportunity to get a really good look at it through the scope.

barn owl 2

Barn Owl – spent several minutes dozing on the front of the box

After a while, the Barn Owl started to shuffle and stretched its wings. Then it dropped down from the platform and started hunting. Very quickly, it dropped down into the long grass. We presumed it must have caught something, as it stayed down for quite some time.

Eventually, the Barn Owl flew up again and, after a quick break on a nearby post, it resumed hunting. Very quickly, it caught another vole, but this time rather than eating it on the ground, it took it over to another post. A Kestrel saw an opportunity and attacked, swooping down and trying to grab the vole from the owl’s talons. It looked like it failed, as the next we knew we could see what appeared to be the Barn Owl swallowing. Presumably it had quickly gulped its prey down so it couldn’t be stolen.

The Barn Owl switched posts a couple of times, then it was off hunting again. And again it dropped down into the grass very quickly and caught yet another vole. This time it seemed it had learnt its lesson, as it flew back to the owl box with the vole in its talons and disappeared inside.

barn owl 3

Barn Owl – great views as it hunted the meadows at dusk

Looking further down the meadow, another Barn Owl appeared, the male out hunting too. We walked down for a closer look, but it disappeared off ahead of us, down to the bottom of the meadow and around the trees out of view.

It was time to start looking for Tawny Owls now, so we headed back into the trees, found a spot overlooking some ivy-covered trees and waited. We heard our first Tawny Owl hooting in the distance. Then finally a hoot right in front of us, not from the usual tree where the Tawny Owl likes to roost. It hooted several times from deep in cover, before we spotted a second Tawny Owl flying across through the trees behind, presumably the female. Then the male dropped out from the tree where it had been roosting, with a whirr of its large, rounded wings, and it disappeared off through trees.

We walked a short distance on into the wood, to where the Tawny Owl often stops to hoot. We could hear the male calling, with the traditional hoot, and the female replying from deeper in the wood, with a shorter, more bubbling hoot. Unfortunately, the male had chosen the tree with the thickest ivy and was impossible to see. Then it flew back through the trees and disappeared.

As we walked back to the car, it was getting dark now, as another Tawny Owl started hooting from the other side of the wood.

29th May 2018 – Nothing to Fret About

A single day Spring Tour in North Norfolk today. It didn’t particularly feel like spring – it was foggy all day despite a fresh north wind, as the breeze blew in a thick ‘fret’ from the sea, although thankfully it wasn’t cold and it was dry! It didn’t appear particularly encouraging when we met up first thing this morning, but it is remarkable what you can see if you make the effort and get out looking.

The plan was to spend the first part of the morning at Stiffkey Fen, but with thick fog there as we passed, we continued on to Cley to make use of the hides. As we walked out along the boardwalk, the Reed Warblers were still singing away from the reeds and lots of Common Swifts were swooping around low over the hides looking for insects.

Despite the mist, we could still see out across the scrapes. Avocet Hide lived up to its name. There were several families of Avocets on here now, as more young have hatched in recent days. The juveniles were mostly being sheltered by their parents first thing this morning – hiding in the breast feathers of the adults as the latter rested down on their ‘knees’, looking like they had lots of extra legs!

Avocet

Avocet – there were several more families hatched now

The Avocets do a particularly good job of chasing off most of the other waders at this time of year, so there was not much else on here today. There were a few Redshanks around, and one dropped in on the edge of the scrape right in front of the hide.

Redshank

Redshank – dropping onto the edge in front of Avocet Hide

We thought there might be a few more waders on the other scrapes, so we headed round to Dauke’s Hide. Simmond’s Scrape was rather quiet, but looking across to Pat’s Pool the first wader we spotted was a Common Sandpiper bobbing its way along the back edge of the nearest island.

Lurking in the mist further back, we could see a Greenshank too – slightly bigger, sleeker, longer legged than the Redshanks surrounding it. A single summer plumage Dunlin, sporting a black belly patch, dropped into the middle of the scrape briefly before taking off and flying over to Simmond’s where we got a better look at it. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits took off and flew away, back over the reeds. A Little Ringed Plover disappeared off into the fog too.

This is not really the season for wildfowl, but there was a nice selection of ducks here today. A group of Shoveler were lurking at the back of Simmond’s Scrape and there were several ShelduckGadwall and families of Mallard ducklings around the pools. A pair of Tufted Duck were diving in the channel right in front of the hide.

But a single drake Wigeon on the bank on the side of Whitwell Scrape and two Teal on Simmond’s were more of a surprise. Both mainly winter visitors, the majority have long since left for the breeding season further north, leaving just a few stragglers behind. A pair of Mute Swans shepherded there nine cygnets past the front of the hide too.

Mute Swans

Mute Swans – a pair swam past the hide with their seven cygnets

A female Marsh Harrier did a couple of low passes right over the hide and out over the scrapes, causing pandemonium among the waders. It was pursued by a large mob of angry Avocets, which chased it off back to the reedbed beyond. There were lots of Sand Martins out here too, chasing round low over the water in front of the hide. Finding flying insects was probably more tricky than usual today, given the weather.

It was a very productive hour or so in the hides, so we headed back to the visitor centre. The fog seemed to have lifted a bit, so we decided to walk out along the East Bank next. There were a couple of Common Pochard on Snipe’s Marsh and a Kestrel was hovering over the grass over by the road. A Grey Heron dropped out of the trees and down into the ditch on the edge of the reedbed. The Mute Swans on Don’s Pool were still on the nest – they seem to be a little behind the others.

About half way along the bank, we bumped into another birder who told us that the Temminck’s Stints were still on the north end of the Serpentine and showing well just below the bank. So we hurried up for a look and sure enough, there they were, two Temminck’s Stints. They were creeping around the clumps of grass on the near edge of the mud, just beyond the reeds at first, but they were rather jumpy and kept flying out to the water’s edge, where we could get a better look at them through the scope.

Temminck's Stint 1

Temminck’s Stint – one of the two was more extensively marked

Temminck's Stint 2

Temminck’s Stint – the second bird had fewer dark feathers above

Temminck’s Stints are rather scarce spring migrants through here, stopping off on their way from Africa to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia, so always a good bird to see. Even though they were a bit muddy, we could see their distinctive yellowish legs. Temminck’s Stints acquire a rather variable number of contrastingly dark-centred feathers in their upperparts in summer and it was interesting to see the differences between these two individuals.

As we were hurrying up to see the Temminck’s Stints, a Spoonbill had flown in over the reedbed and dropped down onto the north end of the Serpentine too. It had taken rather a backseat to the stints at first, but having had a good look at the stints we then turned our attention back to it.

It is always nice to see a Spoonbill busy feeding, rather than asleep, and it was vigorously sweeping its bill side to side through the water. It seemed to be catching quite a lot too, as every so often it would flick its head up. We could then see the yellow tip to its bill. It had a bushy crest and a mustard brown wash on its breast, all pointing it out as an adult in breeding condition. Eventually it walked up onto the grass beyond the water and then flew off back into the fog.

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – flew in to feed around the Serpentine

There was a Little Egret on the north end of the Serpentine too, and another lingering drake Wigeon. There were still a few Lapwings and Redshanks out around the grazing marsh. Looking back into the murk on Pope’s Pool, we could see a young Great Black-backed Gull with the loafing Cormorants.

We could hear lots of Sandwich Terns calling out on Arnold’s so we made our way up there next and from the hide we could see them lined up out on one of the shingle spits, although it was hard to make out their yellow bill tips in the mist. A small group of Sandwich Terns flew past calling, with a single smaller Common Tern in with them.

There were a few waders hiding in the saltmarsh vegetation down towards the front. As well as the regular Redshanks and Oystercatchers, we picked out a single Ringed Plover and a smart breeding plumaged Turnstone. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers were on a sandier strip closer to us, and we could even see their golden-yellow eye rings.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – down on the front of Arnold’s Marsh

Walking on up to the beach, we could only just see the edge of the sea and there was nothing doing offshore, so we started to make our way back. Just past the hide, someone shouted as a Hobby emerged from the mist and flew past over our heads. Apparently it had just flushed all the waders, including the Temminck’s Stints, so our timing this morning had been lucky!

We had a quick look in at Iron Road next. There had been a Wood Sandpiper here yesterday, though it was apparently rather mobile. There was no sign of it on the pool by the track or from Babcock Hide today, and we had not seen it from the East Bank earlier, so it had possibly moved on. A male Reed Bunting posed nicely by Iron Road.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – this male posed nicely for us by Iron Road

There were a few geese around the marshes and fields here – mostly Greylags but a few Canada and Egyptian Geese were useful additions to the day’s list. There was not much else on Watling Water today – the Avocets still have one juvenile and seem to be doing a good job of chasing the other waders off!

With the breeze coming in off the sea, we had our lunch in the beach shelter at Cley, looking out over the Eye Field. A Silver Y moth flew in to the shelter and proceeded to try to rest on one of our rucksacks and then on someone’s shoe! We moved it carefully onto the wall of the shelter. This is a migrant moth, coming up in variable numbers to the UK from further south into Europe each year, so it would be really interesting to know how far this individual had come to get here.

Silver Y

Silver Y moth – sheltering around our feet over lunch

After lunch, we headed back along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. A Yellowhammer flew over the road and dropped into the field the other side and a Common Whitethroat was signing and display flighting from the hedge as we got out of the car. As we got out our bags, we discovered that the Silver Y moth had somehow managed to stow away on one of them – a different way to continue its migration – so we placed it carefully in the hedge.

The meadow across the road is starting to look stunning, now that the poppies are coming into bloom. There were a few Stock Doves flying round over the field and a couple of Brown Hares lurking in the long grass amongst the flowers. A Marsh Harrier passed over the back.

As we got down to the copse on the corner, we could hear more birds singing – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Wren and Chaffinch, and a quick burst of Goldcrest too. We got a quick look at a Blackcap in the willows the other side of the road, but the Garden Warbler which sang briefly in the bushes was much more elusive. We could hear the delicate piping of a pair of Bullfinches in the trees too.

Looking across to the Fen from the path, over the brambles, we could see a Common Sandpiper working its way along the edge of one of the islands out in the middle. But by the time we got up onto the seawall, it had disappeared. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers on here too, and plenty of Avocets still.

It was low tide now and the harbour channel was mostly mud – much to the delight of the Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Avocets. We walked round to see if we could see much in the harbour, but a combination of the tide being out and the fog meant that we were frustrated. A small group of Linnets were hanging around the bushes on the corner. We headed back to the car, where a female Marsh Harrier did a very nice flypast.

Holkham offered the option of hides and some protection from the fog in the shelter of the trees, so we headed around there for the remainder of the afternoon. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and walked west. It was the middle of the afternoon now, and there were just a few birds singing – Blackcap, Chiffchaff and one or two Reed Warblers.

With limited time, we made our way quickly along to Joe Jordan Hide. We did manage to pick up a few tits in the trees on the way – several family parties now of Long-tailed Tits and a couple of Coal Tits in the pines.

There was a steady procession of Spoonbills in and out of the trees from the hide. Some birds were flying in over the grazing marshes, presumably returning from feeding along the coast. Several others dropped down to the edge of the pool to bathe and preen – at one point there were five Spoonbills gathered there together.

Spoonbill 2

Spoonbill – several were flying in and out of the trees

There were several Little Egrets flying in and out of the trees as well and we eventually managed to find a Great White Egret too. Despite its large size, it was remarkably hard to see at times in a ditch, but occasionally stuck its head up so we could see its long dagger-shaped yellow bill.

There are always several Marsh Harriers on show from here, but one male put on a particularly good show. It flew in across the grass in front of the hide and proceeded to circle round repeatedly over an area of taller rush clumps. It looked like it could see something in there but despite dropping down lower, it never actually made a move. Several Greylag Geese and a Brown Hare on the grass nearby looked on nervously, but we couldn’t see what was hiding down below.

Marsh Harrier 2

Marsh Harrier – circled low over the rushes looking for something

It was a nice way to end the day, sitting in the hide at Holkham watching the Spoonbills and Harriers. Despite the fog, we had enjoyed a great day out and seen a remarkable number of birds, and some good ones too. Nothing to fret about!