Category Archives: Spring Tour

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.

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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!

24th May 2018 – Late Spring Birds, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Late Spring Tour today, our last day today. It was a nice sunny day today, still with a chill to the much lighter wind, but lovely and warm out of it. With the wind having swung to the north-east we were hopeful of some migrants today, and so it proved.

News had filtered through about a Greenish Warbler singing at Titchwell, so we headed straight over there first thing to see if we could see it. When we arrived, we could see a few people on the path between the car park and the Visitor Centre and as we approached them we could hear the Greenish Warbler singing in the sallows. It sounded a little bit like a cross between a Willow Warbler, a Chiffchaff and a Wren!

The Greenish Warbler was deep in the trees. We made our way round to the boardwalk on the other side, to see if we could get a look at it from there. A couple of people were already here too and they could see it perched in a patch of sunlight, half hidden in the sallows. It was hard to see, until it started flitting round. Then something chased it and it flew across the boardwalk. We could hear it singing again some way over towards the main path.

Some of group had not managed to see it before it was chased off, so we headed round to the main path. We could hear the Greenish Warbler singing again, but it was round on the other side of willows from here, where the trees were sheltered from wind and catching the morning sun. We followed the song for a while and could tell the bird was flitting around in the trees, before catching glimpses of it moving about. Eventually it came up to a gap between two willows and flicked up into view. Everyone got a good look at it now.

Greenish Warbler

Greenish Warbler – singing in the trees by the main path

The Greenish Warbler was a small warbler, green-ish above, pale below, rather like a Willow Warbler or a Chiffchaff but with a much more obvious pale supercilium. The wing bar was hard to see but just visible occasionally as it caught the light. It started calling too – a bit like a high pitched sneeze! The song and call sounded very different from the other regular warblers we get here.

Having all enjoyed some good views of the Greenish Warbler, we made our way out onto the reserve to have another look. Even though we had been here a couple of days ago, there was more to see! It was rather breezy as we got out of the trees, but nowhere near as bad as the other day!

A Marsh Harrier was up over the back of the Thornham grazing marsh. Several Reed Warblers flitted back and forth around the edges of the pools below bank. We heard a Bearded Tit calling once or twice, but they were keeping well tucked down. A smart drake Red-crested Pochard was swimming out on the reedbed pool.

Stopping in Island Hide to get out of the wind, we quickly found the drake Garganey first. It was swimming around out in middle, and even though we were looking into the sun we could see its broad white supercilium. It hadn’t been around when we were here on Tuesday so this was a welcome addition to the list and a nice bird to catch up with.

Garganey

Garganey – this smart drake was out on the freshmarsh today

There was still one Little Gull we could see from here, but it was asleep on one of the islands over towards Parrinder Hide. We got it in the scope and could see it was a first summer, probably one of the birds we had seen here the other day.

As we got into the hide, a noisy group of Avocets was arguing, six of them flying round and chasing each other, squabbling. There were not many other waders visible from here today – just a single Redshank, which was a little disappointing given that waders were moving along the coast in the past few days.

Avocets

Avocets – a squabbling group over the Freshmarsh

Back out on the main path, we spotted a couple of Spoonbills which flew up from the Thornham saltmarsh and headed off away from us. They landed briefly, just long enough so we could get them in the scope. We could see at least one of them was an adult with a yellow tip to its bill, bushy crest and mustard brown wash on the breast. Then they flew again and when they landed they walked straight down into a creek out of view.

A single Common Sandpiper was visible from up here, round the back edge of one of the islands. A second Little Gull appeared, and the two of them started to feed actively. One flew round in front of us, chased by a Black-headed Gull, giving us a nice size comparison. Then both settled on the muddy margin of one of the islands, and started picking their way along the shore, looking for insects.

There were lots of Common Swifts again, hawking for insects low over the reeds and backwards and forwards over the main path. While we stood scanning the Freshmarsh, they zoomed around over our heads.

Common Swift

Common Swift – hawking for insects above our heads

Not to be outdone, a Common Tern appeared right behind us while we were watching the Swifts. If we hadn’t turned round, we would almost have missed it! It hovered over the near edge of freshmarsh, looking for fish in the water below.

Common Tern

Common Tern – hovering over the Freshmarsh right behind us!

We made our way round to Parrinder Hide. It was better light on the Little Gulls from here and we had a good look at them through the scope, feeding along the edge of one of the islands. We had a closer look at the Mediterranean Gulls too, in amongst all the Black-headed Gulls in the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ colony. It should probably be renamed ‘Gull Island’!

Three Little Ringed Plovers were visible from the hide. One was along the near edge of reeds out to the right of the hide and a pair were feeding around a little pool out to the left. A party of eight Bar-tailed Godwits dropped into the middle of the Freshmarsh, presumably coming in from the beach for a wash and brush-up, all still in non-breeding plumage. A single Turnstone dropped in with some Oystercatchers out on the edge of Tern Island too.

There are not so many ducks left out here now, since most of the winter visitors have left for the breeding season further north. We could still see the Garganey from here, but the light was not much better. There were also a few Shelduck, Gadwall and Shoveler, all of which may well breed here. Several Mallard broods of ducklings were already to be found around the edges. Otherwise, a single drake Teal was asleep on the island in front of the hide, still lingering on. Some of the Brent Geese are also still here, and flew in from the saltmarsh for a bathe and preen. They should be departing soon for Russia.

After another productive morning here on the reserve, we headed back to the car. We drove inland next, round via Choseley to look for some farmland birds. It was rather windy up on the ridge though, so we found just a few Stock Doves around the fields here at first. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew past us, over one of the fields beside the road.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – two adults over the fields

We wanted to have a look for Corn Buntings. We couldn’t find any at the first couple of places we checked, all was quiet in the wind. As we drove round via another site and passed a thick hedge we could hear a Corn Bunting singing. We parked and got out of the car, walking up along the hedge slowly, stopping to listen and scan, but we couldn’t see it. It was obviously keeping well tucked down today, and then it went quiet.

As we carried on up the road, we flushed several Yellowhammers which were feeding down on the gritty edge, out of the wind. A Brown Hare was in the middle of the road too, but thankfully had the sense to get out of the way.

News had come through of what was probably a Blyth’s Reed Warbler singing at Holkham. We were headed that way anyway, so we decided to stop and eat our lunch where it had been heard, in case we could hear anything too. As we got out of car, a male Marsh Harrier flew right round in front of us over the edge of the grazing marshes.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew right past us as we stopped on Lady Anne’s Drive

There was nothing singing in the bushes at first. The wardens pulled up and we listened to their recordings from earlier – it sounded like a Blyth’s Reed Warbler singing. As we ate our lunch, a few Spoonbills and Little Egrets flew back and forth over the marshes and the Drive.

After a while, the warbler started singing again. It was deep in the trees at first but hard to hear in the wind and with several cars passing behind us, only the odd whistle carried to our ears. Gradually it worked its way down to the near end of the bushes, closest to the road, and we could hear it better.

The song was a rather Reed Warbler-like series of clicks and chacks, but with regular whistles, including some pretty distinctive three-note exercises which are fairly typical of Blyth’s Reed Warbler. It was interesting to hear, but we couldn’t see it in all the leaves and thick vegetation from where we were out on the roadside. Blyth’s Reed Warblers are notorious skulkers!

After a while we decided to give up and continued up to the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, where we parked again. It was sunny now, and getting very warm in shelter of trees as we walked west. There were still a few warblers singing – Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler. We found a few Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits in the pines and could hear Goldcrest and Treecreeper singing too. A Jay flew across the path and disappeared into the trees.

There was nothing on Salts Hole, so we continued on. As we came around the corner, we saw something chased off the path ahead of us by one of the local Robins. A few seconds later, a female Common Redstart dropped down onto the path from the trees again. It kept flying up into the trees and back out again – flashing its red tail. Then another couple walked past us and flushed it from the path. We continued on and could see it still in the trees waiting for us to pass.

Redstart

Common Redstart – this female kept flying between the trees and the path

With the birds we had seen and heard this morning – Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Greenish Warbler and now a Redstart – it suggested that the easterly winds had drifted some birds over from continent. So we carried on straight out to the edge of the dunes to see if there were any more migrants out there.

There were lots of butterflies out on the walk by the pines. In particular, we saw good numbers of Wall Brown – nice to see, as they have got increasing localised in recent years. There were several Holly Blues around the trees and Red Admirals and Peacocks basking on path. There were plenty of whites too – including Green-veined and Large White.

Wall Brown

Wall Brown – the commonest butterfly at Holkham this afternoon

There were a few dragonflies out this afternoon too. We stopped to look at a smart male Broad-bodied Chaser basking on the bushes just before the gate at the end of the pines.

Broad-bodied Chaser

Broad-bodied Chaser – basking on the bushes

Out into the dunes, all seemed fairly quiet. It was the mid afternoon lull, so perhaps there might have been more around earlier on. A quick walk round the nearest brambles, failed to produce anything out of the ordinary. There were loads of Linnets down on the ground which flew up as we passed. A bright Cinnabar Moth fluttered up and landed back down in the grass.

Joe Jordan Hide was our last destination for the day. As we got into the hide, we could see an Egyptian Goose out just in front. There were loads of Greylags too, further out around the old Fort.

Gradually the Spoonbills appeared – flying in and out of the trees – and a couple dropped down onto the pool to bathe. Unfortunately they landed behind the tall reeds at the front, out of the wind and out of view. A Great White Egret came up out of the trees but landed back down in the reeds, also where we couldn’t see it. There were Little Egrets, one or two Grey Heron and lots of Cormorants coming and going too.

Spoonbill 2

It was a nice way to end the day and the tour, sitting in the hide here. It had been an exciting few days – with lots of great birds and other wildlife. Now it was time to head back home.

23rd May 2018 – Late Spring Birds, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day Late Spring Tour today. It was originally forecast to be sunny today, but by this morning that had changed to cloud all day. So it was to be. It was rather misty first thing, but the cloud lifted through the day. There was still a cool breeze but at least it had dropped considerably compared to yesterday, which meant it didn’t feel quite as cold.

Given the early mist, we headed round to Cley to start the day, thinking we could get out of the weather in the hides. As we walked out to the hides, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the brambles by the ditch – good to head as numbers have dropped dramatically after the cold winter. A Grey Heron was standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk as we passed. We heard a Bearded Tit call and turned to see it fly across and drop straight down into the reeds.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk

From the shelter of Dauke’s Hide, we had a scan of Simmond’s Scrape first. There were a few waders to be found on here. Two Common Sandpipers and two Tundra Ringed Plovers were feeding around the edge of the islands and another seven Tundra Ringed Plovers dropped in to join them. There were two Little Ringed Plovers on here too and a Greenshank which was fast asleep on the island at the back.

The scrapes are dominated by the Avocets now, many of which have small juveniles already. We could see several groups of little ones out on the scrapes or sheltering beneath the adults. The Avocets are very aggressive and will chase off anything which lands anywhere near. It was funny to watch them trying to battle with the local Shelducks.

Avocet

Avocet – sheltering a single juvenile, with just its one leg visible

Lots of Sand Martins were flying backwards and forwards low over the reeds and the scrapes, looking for insects, together with a few House Martins for company. A couple of Marsh Harriers patrolled the reedbed at the back. Two pairs of Tufted Duck were swimming around on the ditch right in front of the hide.

Looking across to Pat’s Pool, the first thing we noticed were the Ruff. There were five of them on here, all males and all different! One male was particularly striking, with a fully grown rufous ruff and black crest feathers. The breeding plumage of the other Ruffs was not quite as well developed – a second rufous one and a black one lacked the full crest feathers, as did a white one, and another blackish one didn’t have much of a ruff yet. Unfortunately there was no female today, for them to display to.

Ruff

Ruff – looking smart now, in full breeding plumage

There were also still a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on Pat’s Pool, mostly asleep and loafing around on the edge of one of the islands. A second Greenshank was feeding over in a sheltered bay in the far corner but whenever it ventured out into the open, it was chased back in by one of the Avocets.

It was cool in the hides, to we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre to warm up over a cup of coffee. On the way back along the boardwalk, we heard Bearded Tits calling again and looked up to see a female perched in the reeds beside the path ahead of us. A cracking male then flew in and landed just below, before the two of them flew across the boardwalk to the reeds the other side. They were followed by two juvenile Bearded Tits, still with only partly grown tails. We walked up to where they had crossed and had a great view of them climbing up and down in the reeds.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a pair flew across the boardwalk with their two juveniles

As we got back to the bridge across the ditch by the road, we heard the Cetti’s Warbler again so we stopped to see if we could find it. We could see a Reed Warbler flicking around low in the reeds along the edge of the water. Then something else flew out, chased it, and then landed in the brambles. It was the Cetti’s Warbler. It sang once and we could just see it perched on the edge of the bush before it dropped into the vegetation.

After our coffee break, we had a look round at the Iron Road. The pool here was fairly quiet today – just a couple of Redshanks and Lapwings and a single Little Ringed Plover lurking in the reeds at the back.

As we walked round to Babcock Hide, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over and landed in the field the other side of the road. A well-grown Lapwing chick was trying to hide in the grass by the path while one of the adults flew round above calling agitatedly. The pool in front of Babcock Hide was a bit disappointing today. Apart from lots of Greylags, there were just a few Avocets, including a pair with a single chick.

We decided to try our luck out on East Bank instead. The low cloud had lifted a little now and it had started to brighten up a touch. Two male Marsh Harriers had a brief tussle over the reedbed as we got out of the car, before one then headed off over Pope’s Marsh. There were a few Lapwings and Redshanks out on the grazing marsh and we picked up a distant Common Sandpiper on Pope’s Pool. A single drake Wigeon and three Teal on the north end of the Serpentine were notable. Most of the ones that spent the winter here have long since departed, so it will be interesting to see how long these ones stay.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – flew over and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh

As we continued on to Arnold’s Marsh, we noticed four largish waders flying in over the reedbed. They were Whimbrel – we could see there down-curved bills, not as long as a Curlew. They dropped down onto Arnold’s so we continued on to there and got them in the scope. We could see their distinctive striped head patterns. They didn’t stay long though, only around 10 minutes. After a preen and a doze, they took off and headed out over the beach and out to sea, presumably on their way to Scandinavia.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on the island at the back again – through the scope we could see their shaggy black crests and mostly black bills. There were not too many waders on here today, but we could see another five Tundra Ringed Plovers and a smart summer plumage Turnstone.

We couldn’t come all this way without a quick look at the sea, so we continued on to the beach. There were lots of Little Terns feeding just offshore, flying up and down just behind the breakers and occasionally diving straight down into the water.

Little Tern

Little Tern – there were lots feeding off the end of the East Bank

On the walk back, we had nice views of a male Bearded Tit briefly in the reeds down below the bank. It appeared to be carrying a feather, possibly nest material, before it shot off back behind us along the ditch. One of the Marsh Harriers also showed very nicely, flying round over the reeds just ahead of us, before heading out across the grazing marshes, chased by various Avocets and Lapwings.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – showed very nicely off the East Bank

Given the fresh breeze, we decided to head round to the beach car park and eat our lunch in the shelter there. A few parties of Sandwich Terns flew past over the Eye Field while we ate. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out to North Scrape.

We couldn’t see anything of note on Billy’s Wash, but as we got to the shingle behind North Scrape, a Wheatear flew up. It was a male, quite a bright pale one. It landed on the fence beyond briefly, then flew again, up onto the top of the screen overlooking the scrape. It dropped down onto the picnic table and we thought we might be able to get round for a closer look, but before we could get there it was off again, down onto the grazing marsh beyond.

Wheatear

Wheatear – this male was around the beach behind North Scrape

There was nothing of note on North Scrape, but at that point we received a message to say that there was a White-winged Black Tern along the coast at Burnham Overy. We decided to head round there to see if we could see it.

As we walked out along the track which cuts across the grazing marshes, we heard two Lesser Whitethroats singing in the hedge. In typical fashion, we had a couple of quick glimpses as they flew between bushes, dropping straight into cover. One or two Reed Warblers were singing from the ditch beside the path.

We could see the White-winged Black Tern before we got to the seawall, visible above the reeds as it flew round over the pool in the middle, but it was a better view once we got up to the top. What a stunning bird! Its mostly white upperwings and tail contrasted with its jet black body. When it turned, we could see its black underwing coverts.

White-winged Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern – feeding over the reedbed pool at Burnham Overy

The White-winged Black Tern was flying round over the pool with very buoyant wingbeats, occasionally dropping down to the water’s surface, looking for insects. A great bird to watch!

While we were watching the tern, we kept one eye out over the harbour the other side and we noticed a harrier come up over the saltmarsh beyond the harbour channel. It was very slim, with narrow, pointed wings and through the scope we could see the white patch on its uppertail coverts and its faded buff/orange underparts, with a darker hood. It was a Montagu’s Harrier, a young one, a 2nd calendar year. We watched it hunting over the saltmarsh before it gradually worked its way back and out of view.

One or two Spoonbills flew past as we stood up on the bank. As we made our way back across the grazing marshes, we heard a Greenshank calling. While we were looking for it, we turned to see a Spoonbill flying low right over our heads!

There was still a little time left before we had planned to finish today, so we headed round to Wells Woods. A Wood Sandpiper had been reported earlier, on the marshes south of the pines, although the latest update suggested it might have flown off. Still, we walked out for a look. On our way out, another Greenshank flew over the pines calling.

As we scanned the pools and flooded grassland, one of the group spotted a wader which was disturbed from the wet grass by a gull flapping nearby. It was the Wood Sandpiper. Through the scope, we got a good look at it, noting its white spangled upperparts and striking pale supercilium.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – on the marshes at Wells Woods

It had proved to be a very productive afternoon and that was a nice way to end the day’s activities. With more to come later tonight!

Nightjar Evening

After couple of hours off to recover and get something to eat, we met again early evening. We headed out to look for owls first. It was still cool and rather breezy – not ideal weather, though not the forecast fog thankfully. We drove to an area of farm buildings where we know Little Owls breed first.

There was no sign of any Little Owls at first, it was a bit too cold to find them out basking! As we walked round, we saw a Brown Hares and a couple of Red-legged Partridge on a farm track. A Grey Partridge ran out across a recently planted potato field, and stood up nicely on the ridges, showing off its black belly patch.

We eventually found a Little Owl but it was hiding on the ridge of one of the farm buildings, tucked in under the cowl on the top of the roof. It was back on to us and we could just see its head and shoulders. It was not a great view of one, but better than nothing!

Our next target was to look for Barn Owls. We drove down to the back of Cley, figuring it might be sheltered from the wind here, and immediately spotted a white shape on a post by the road, a Barn Owl. We drove past and parked some distance beyond, hoping we might be able to see it without disturbing it but it flew off as we got out. It landed again on another post across the field, where we could see it in the scope.

It was a strikingly white Barn Owl, much paler than a normal one, a known individual which has been in the area for a year or so now.  Then it took off again and flew straight back towards us. For about ten minutes, we watched as it flew around hunting in front of us. Great views! A second Barn Owl appeared further back, a normal coloured one, landing on a bush briefly before flying off over the road the other side.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – a striking white bird at Cley

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the Barn Owl and head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from some dense bushes. A male Stonechat perched up nicely where we could see it. It was still rather cool, but we were sheltered from the wind by the trees.

It wasn’t long before we heard the first Woodcock calling, and looked across to see one flying straight towards us. It was roding. the display flight of the male, flying round over its territory with stiff flapping wingbeats. We would see it or hear it several times over the course of the evening.

Shortly afterwards, the first Nightjar started churring. We positioned ourselves to try to see it, hoping it would fly up to one of its favourite perches to churr. But suddenly two birds appeared, flying up from the edge of the trees. We could see they were both males, both with white wing flashes and white corners to their tails, and they were chasing each other.

The two Nightjars flew in and out of the trees, calling and wing clapping. They held their tails fanned and at an angle to show off the white spots to maximum effect. They landed down on the ground briefly, out of view, but were quickly up again, chasing each other out over the heath. One circled back and flew round just above our heads, calling – amazing views!

Then both the Nightjars headed away and we could one of them churring some way further over. We tried to make our way over as quickly as possible, as sure enough it was on a favoured branch, but just as we got within scope range it was off again. It was great to listen to them churring, but they wouldn’t stay still for long this evening and quickly started to go quiet.

It had been a fantastic display anyway, so we decided to call it a night. We walked back to the car to the sound of more Nightjars churring either side.

22nd May 2018 – Late Spring Birds, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Late Spring Tour today. We spent the day up in NW Norfolk. It was meant to be a sunny day, a bit breezy but nothing too bad. It turned out to be very windy all day, with gusts up to 36mph around the Wash, and clouded over late morning too, though at least it was dry.

We started the day at Snettisham Coastal Park. When we got out of the car and felt the full strength of the wind, we knew it would be a challenge here this morning. Still, we set off to see what we could find. A Greenfinch was singing and doing its butterfly display flight over the bushes by the entrance and we heard the piping calls of a couple of Bullfinch which flew off deeper into the bushes as we approached. A Chiffchaff was singing from the wires and a Common Whitethroat was singing too, from deep in a hawthorn.

Cutting across on the path through the reeds, to see if we could find any shelter, we could hear first a Reed Warbler and then a Sedge Warbler singing. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in cover. It was fairly windy here, but even more so when we got up onto the inner seawall.

At least the Swifts were enjoying the wind. There were quite a few over the Park today, flying low trying to find insects, and a couple of them came zooming low past us as we were up on the seawall.

Swift

Common Swift – there were several feeding low in the wind today

As we started to make our way north along the inner seawall, we noticed a bird fly up out of the trees and flutter up higher into the sky. It was a Turtle Dove, one of the birds we were hoping to find here, and it was doing a display flight. It towered up and then glided down, disappearing from view in the bushes.

A short while later, the Turtle Dove did a display flight again, but this time landed high up in a tall willow. It was rather distant, but we got it in the scope and had a quick look at it. We made our way a little closer, and took the path down off the seawall to where it was a bit more sheltered. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it had disappeared. We walked on north through the bushes. A singing Willow Warbler was a nice addition to the day’s warbler list.

When we got to the cross bank, we climbed up onto the outer seawall to have a look out over the Wash. It was still some time before high tide, but the mud was already completely covered – presumably the north wind was pushing the water in. We could see a large roost of Oystercatcher further up, gathered on the beach like a large oil slick. Several Gannets were flying up and down offshore, presumably blown into the Wash on the wind.

Gannets

Gannets – there were several offshore in the Wash this morning

A couple of Lapwing, several Shelduck, an Avocet and another Oystercatcher were all we could see on the pools to the north of the cross bank. Making our way over to the inner seawall again, Ken Hill Marshes provided just a few Greylag Geese and a pair of Gadwall. A Grey Heron flew past.

Surprisingly, given the weather, we saw quite a few butterflies and dragonflies. A Green Hairstreak was basking on a bramble leaf and a Common Blue perched up nicely on the vegetation too. A Hairy Dragonfly hung on the gorse right by a narrow path and didn’t fly off even as we walked right past it, presumably having found a warm spot out of the wind.

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak – basking on a bramble leaf

We started to make our way back south, through the bushes initially where it was more sheltered. We came across a family of Stonechats, the adults perching on the top of the bushes alarm calling, while the juveniles hid in the vegetation below. When we got up onto the inner seawall again, we stopped to talk to another birder walking the other way and a Turtle Dove flew past just below us.

Once we got back to the car, we decided to try something different. With the wind blowing the tide up into the Wash, we headed down to the hides at the pits to see if it had pushed any waders in with it. As we made our way in along the track, a few Sanderling flew up along the tideline and dropped on the shore together with a smart summer plumage Turnstone. A Ringed Plover on the beach was guarding a single very young juvenile, no more than a ball of fluff on stilts, and chased off anything which landed close by. A drake Pintail was sleeping on the edge of the water on the pit the other side.

When we got down to Rotary Hide, we could see there was still some mud left uncovered by the tide, out in front, and there were lots of waders out there. We took shelter in the hide and set about looking through them. Down towards the front were lots of smaller waders – an even mixture of black-bellied Dunlin and lots of white-bellied Sanderling in a bewildering variety of different plumages. There was a smart rusty summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit in with them, and a few more brown ones further back.

Waders

Waders – gathered out on the Wash ahead of the tide

Just beyond a large gathering of Oystercatchers was a big group of Grey Plover. Most of them were looking absolutely stunning now in full summer plumage, with black faces and bellies, bright white around the rest of the head and neck, and black and white spangled upperparts. There were even more Grey Plover on the mud much further out into the Wash, a huge flock mixed with lots of Knot too.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover – looking stunning now in breeding plumage

A pair of Avocet on the mud below the hide rounded out the waders here. There were also a few terns – several Common Terns flying backwards and forwards in front of the hide, calling noisily, and a pair of Little Terns further out, over the edge of the water. We had a quick look out on the pit behind us too. Apart from all the gulls and terns, the main thing of note was two drake Wigeon on the water at the back.

It had been well worth making the trip down here, but it was getting on for lunch time now, so we headed back to the car and round to Titchwell for the afternoon. After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. As we came out of the trees, a male Marsh Harrier flew right over our heads and out over Thornham Marsh. There is no shortage of Marsh Harriers here and we saw another two or three out over the reedbed too.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew over our heads as we got out of the trees

There was not much to see on the Thornham grazing marsh’s former pool, but a Spoonbill circled out over the saltmarsh and dropped down where we could get a quick look at it through the scope, before it walked down into a ditch and disappeared. It popped up a couple of times more briefly, as we walked on.

A couple of Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds beside the path, but keeping well tucked down out of the wind. We did see one or two flying across the small pools, but they dived swiftly into cover.

We had not expected to see any Bearded Tits given the wind today, but when we heard some pinging calls, we turned to see a female fly in and drop straight down into the reeds nearby. A few minutes later, she flew again and disappeared further back. Then a male Bearded Tit started calling from the reeds further along the path before flying up and coming straight past us.

There were lots of Common Swifts hawking for insects out over the reedbed pool. A drake Red-crested Pochard swam out from the reeds and out into the middle of the water. A Little Grebe laughed at us from the edge of one of the channels.

Given the wind, we thought we would head straight round to Parrinder Hide and check out the freshmarsh from there, but half way along the path we got distracted. A pair of Avocets were feeding just below the path, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallow water, and when we stopped to look at them we noticed a Little Ringed Plover on the nearest island.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – showing off its golden yellow eye ring

It flew back to the next island, but a few minutes later was back again, this time with a second Little Ringed Plover and a single Ringed Plover. We got a great look at them through the scope – particularly the golden yellow eye ring on the Little Ringed Plover and the orange legs and black-tipped orange bill on the Ringed Plover.

A Common Sandpiper was running around on the edge of one of the other islands, a migrant stopping off here on its way further north. Through the scope we could see the white notch running up between the grey of its breast and its wings.

There were two Little Gulls preening on the island further back. The next time we looked there were three, then four Little Gulls, all 1st summers. Two tiny Little Terns were next to them too – we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads. The Little Gulls put on a great show for us, flying round in front of us, dipping down to the water surface or down onto the mud, so we could get a good look at the ‘w’ pattern on their upperwings.

Little Gull 1

Little Gull – one of four 1st summers here today

Little Gull 2

Little Gull – showing off the black ‘w’ upperwing pattern

It was getting a bit chilly standing around out on the main path, so we eventually managed to tear ourselves away from all the birds here and head round to Parrinder Hide. It was not exactly tropical inside, but at least we were out of the wind.

There were more gulls on display here. We got a good look at a smart adult Mediterranean Gull preening on the island in front of the hide, next to several Black-headed Gulls for comparison. We could see the Mediterranean Gull’s jet black hood, contrasting white eyeliner, brighter red bill and legs and white wing tips. There were also lots of 1st summer Common Gulls on the island, plus a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls which dropped in to bathe and preen, and several Herring Gulls.

As well as the Little Terns, there were a couple of Common Terns on the Freshmarsh today too. A Sandwich Tern then helpfully dropped down onto the island where all the gulls were gathered. Through the scope, we could see its shaggy black crest and yellow-tipped black bill.

There are not many ducks on here now, with most of them having left for the summer. There were a few Gadwall and Shoveler, as well as a couple of broods of Mallard ducklings. A lone Teal was swimming around over the far side. A small group of Brent Geese dropped in from where they had been feeding out on the saltmarsh.

Sanderling

Sanderling – looking very different, in breeding plumage now

There were a few more waders visible from here too. We had seen a couple of Sanderling from out on the main path, but there were at least four out on the mud in front of the hide. They were looking very different from how we are most used to seeing Sanderling here, running around out on the beach in the winter in their silvery grey and white non-breeding attire. They were in breeding plumage now, much darker, peppered with black and rust in their upperparts, face and breast. They were causing lots of confusion amongst the other people in the hide!

There were several Ringed Plover out on the mud in front of the hide too. As they came close, we could see that one of them was noticeably larger, differently shaped with a bigger head, and also noticeably paler buff-brown on the upperparts.

A small number of Ringed Plover still breed along the coast here, as we had seen earlier at Snettisham. These are birds of the nominate race, hiaticula. At this time of year, we also get Tundra Ringed Plovers, of the race tundrae, which pass through on their way north to arctic Scandinavia. The Tundra Ringed Plovers are slightly smaller and darker – what we had here was a single local bird in with a flock of migrant tundrae.

Ringed Plover hiaticula

Ringed Plover – a larger paler bird of the nominate race hiaticula

Tundra Ringed Plover

Tundra Ringed Plover – a smaller darker bird of the arctic race tundra

It was really interesting to have the opportunity to compare the two races of Ringed Plover side by side. There were also three Little Ringed Plovers along the edge of the reeds below the bank. The Common Sandpiper flew in too and started to work its way along the edge of the island in front of the hide.

We had a quick look out at Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. There has not been much on here lately, and this appeared to be the case again today. We did find four summer plumage Grey Plovers though, after a careful scan.

It was too windy to brave the beach today, so we started to make our way back. We swung round via Meadow Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. There were four more Red-crested Pochard on here, three drakes and a female, and a Great Crested Grebe was a useful addition to the day’s list.

It was exposed and cold out at Patsy’s, so we didn’t stay long. We beat a hasty retreat, back to the warmth of the car. It was time to head for home.

21st May 2018 – Fen & Marshes

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny day again, with mostly blue skies and only the occasional patch of high cloud, but still with a bit of a chill in the NE wind.

We started at Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, we looked across to see a couple of Brown Hares in the meadow the other side of the road. They started to chase each other round and round and were quickly joined by two more Hares. Them they started boxing, rearing up on their hind legs and hitting out at each other with their front ones. It was great to watch!

Brown Hares

Brown Hares – boxing at Stiffkey this morning

There were a couple of Stock Doves in the field too, but they had disappeared by the time we had finished watching the Hares. One flew past as we walked along the permissive path and when we got to the copse an impressive flock of 11 Stock Doves flew in and landed over the ridge.

It was starting to warm up nicely now and our first Marsh Harrier of the day circled up out of the valley below. A Sparrowhawk emerging from the wood beyond was chased by a Jackdaw but wasn’t going to just take it and started to chase the Jackdaw back, before it dropped back down into the trees.

As we walked into the copse, we could hear a Blackcap singing, a lovely melodic song, and two Chiffchaffs having a sing-off against each other. A Robin and a Wren were singing too, the latter certainly punching above its weight in the volume stakes!

There were lots of House Martins and a couple of Swallows flying around the house on the hill, as we got out of the trees. We could hear all the Avocets on the Fen alarm calling as another Marsh Harrier passed over.

As we made our way along the path to the seawall, we could hear a pair of Bullfinches piping in the sallows and had a couple of glimpses as they flew off ahead of us and then back round behind us. A Sedge Warbler was more obliging – sitting up in the reeds singing. As we got up onto the seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. It was over in the poplars at the back of the Fen today and showed no signs of coming out so we could see it.

Shelduck

Shelducks – the proud parents with their ten Shelducklings

The tide was still coming in out in the harbour. An Oystercatcher was down on the mud by the first sluice and a Redshank was on the other side. A pair of Shelducks were escorting their ten Shelducklings down the channel. Further out on the saltmarsh, we could see there were still good numbers of Brent Geese lingering. A Spoonbill flew in across the saltmarsh on the edge of the harbour, but continued on straight east past us.

There were not so many waders on the Fen again today. We managed to find one Common Sandpiper, feeding along the edge of one of the islands, before it flew behind the reeds. There were at least three Little Ringed Plovers displaying, flying round over the reeds with bat-like wingbeats, calling. Otherwise, their was just one Black-tailed Godwit feeding in the deeper water, and the regular Avocets.

A pair of Teal dropped in on the water – common here in winter, but more unusual at this time of year. There was a pair of Tufted Ducks out here too, but otherwise not so many ducks now.

As we walked along the seawall towards the harbour, a Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a small hawthorn bush ahead of us. A Linnet was singing in the top of the hedge by the path as we continued on.

There were a few waders around the muddy edges of the harbour, gathering ahead of the tide. A large roost of Oystercatchers were mostly sleeping away on one side. On the stonier spits, we could see several distant Turnstone among the Brent Geese and a little flock of Ringed Plover accompanied by a single Dunlin. Two Whimbrel which landed distantly out on the saltmarsh were hard to see given the heathaze.

Out on the end of Blakeney Point, we could see a small number of seals hauled out on the sand through the scope. A party of nine Gannets flying past over the sea beyond stood out as their mostly white plumage shone in the morning light. A Marsh Harrier passing over the Point upset the Black-headed Gulls and Sandwich Terns which all whirled round over the dunes. We could see a few Common Terns and Little Terns out over the harbour too, and a single Common Tern flew past us and up the channel.

One of the Marsh Harriers flew in over the saltmarsh and we could see it circle back where the Shelducklings were back in the channel. One of the adult Shelducks flew up and started to mob it, chasing round after it. The Marsh Harrier stooped a couple of times but appeared to come up empty talonned. When we got back along the seawall, we could see that the brood was still intact. Walking back along the path towards the road, we had great views of the Marsh Harrier as it circled low over the trees ahead of us, before flying off over our heads.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew off over our heads

With the warmer weather, there was a nice selection of butterflies out today. We watched a Green Hairstreak ovipositing and had nice views of Speckled Wood along the path. There were quite a few whites out again – Green-veined White and Small White – and several Red Admirals today. More dragonflies were out too, with Four-spotted Chaser, Azure Damselfly and Large Red Damselfly all seen along the path.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – one of several butterflies on the wing today

We made our way round to Cley next and headed straight out to the hides. Along the Skirts path, several House Martins were coming down to collect mud from the pools just behind the cattle pens.

A Reed Warbler was skulking in the reeds singing, just the other side of the main freshwater channel, although it did hop out briefly. A Sedge Warbler singing from the top of a bush by the boardwalk was much more accommodating, as was a Reed Bunting. We heard a couple of Bearded Tits calling and saw them zipping across over the reeds a couple of times, but not the views we were hoping for here.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing from the top of a bush by the boardwalk

It was rather cold in the hides again today, out of the sun. We had a look at Whitwell Scrape first. The highlight was the Avocets nesting on the island in front of the hide. The nest which had one chick hatched a couple of days ago is now empty, but the birds were still sitting tight on the other two nests. We watched a couple of changeovers, and one of the birds kept fidgeting and turning its eggs – perhaps they are about to hatch?

Avocet

Avocet – this one still sitting on eggs

Otherwise, there was a nice pair of Gadwall feeding just below the hide and we stopped to admire the intricate patterning on the drake. The connoisseur’s duck! While scanning carefully round the edge, the surprise was a Common Snipe hiding in the reeds at the back, the first we have seen here for a while, with most of the birds which spent the winter here long since having left.

There were more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, so we made our way round to Dauke’s Hide. There are still good numbers of Black-tailed Godwit and in with them we found a single Knot, still in its grey non-breeding plumage. Two Greenshanks were feeding nearby.

There were two Ruff on here, both getting their smart ruffs. One was largely dark, with a barred ruff, whereas the other had a mostly white head and neck. Over on Pat’s Pool we could see another three Ruff, including a particularly striking bird in full breeding plumage, with a bright rusty coloured ruff and ornate crest. Stunning to look at!

There were four more Greenshanks on Pat’s Pool too – there had obviously been an arrival of them this morning, stopping off to feed up on their way north. But we couldn’t find any sign of the Temminck’s Stints on the scrapes here today.

It was nice to get out of the hide to warm up, and we made our way slowly back. The breeze had picked up a little, and there was no sign of any Bearded Tits now. They were clearly keeping their heads down! The highlight of the walk back was a brood of Shoveler ducklings accompanied by the female in the freshwater channel by the bridge.

Shoveler

Shoveler – the female with her four ducklings

After lunch back at the Visitor Centre, we made our way round to the East Bank. As we walked out, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but we couldn’t see them down in the reeds. A Lapwing put on a fine display though, flying round, singing, twisting and tumbling. We thought it was great – the female Lapwing down in the grass had her back turned and was clearly unimpressed!

There were two Spoonbills busy feeding in the Serpentine, walking up and down sweeping their bills from side to side. Before we got to them, we stopped to admire a summer plumage Turnstone, down on the mud below the bank. Through the scope, we could see the lovely rich chestnut patterning in its upperparts. While we were watching the Turnstone, the Spoonbills stopped feeding and suddenly flew, landing again in a ditch over the back of Pope’s Marsh.

Turnstone

Turnstone – very smart now, in breeding plumage

There were a few more waders out on the pool at the back, including a couple of Sanderling and a mixed flock of Ringed Plovers and a couple of Little Ringed Plovers feeding on the open mud. The drake Wigeon was still on the north end of the Serpentine – it shows no sign currently of heading off for the breeding season.

Just before we got to the main drain, we heard a Bearded Tit calling again and looked across to see one fly in and dive down into the reeds just a foot or so in from the edge. We stood for a while, hoping it might work its way through to the edge of the ditch but, despite it calling again several times, it never did show itself. A pair of Reed Buntings put on a much better show and even the Reed Warblers perched up nicely in the sunshine.

We continued on to Arnold’s Marsh, where a noisy group of Sandwich Terns had gathered on one of the islands. Through the scope we could see their bushy crests and yellow-tipped black bills. There were a couple of Little Terns with them too. There were a few more Turnstones out here and a handful of Redshank. The highlight was a pair of Little Ringed Plovers which were on a sandy area in the edge of the saltmarsh down at the front. Through the scope we had a great view of their golden yellow eye rings.

A quick visit to the beach produced more terns flying back and forth close inshore over the sea, including several more Little Terns. Then we started to make our way back.

The Spoonbills had done a circuit and returned to the Serpentine. When we got back, one of them was still busy feeding out in the water and we had a great look at it through the scope. It appeared to be finding lots of food – it kept flicking its head up out of the water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flicking its head back to eat its prey

We were almost back to the car park when we heard a Bearded Tit call and looked over to see two birds chasing each other into the reeds not far from the bank. We stood again and watched and didn’t have to wait too long before they came up again.

We could see there was a male Bearded Tit chasing after a female, but they disappeared down into the reeds again. The third time they came up, they landed higher up in the reeds and the male shuffled up a stem and perched in full view. Finally!

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – this male showed really well, as we were nearly back to the car

It had been worth the wait, as we now had a fantastic look at the male Bearded Tit. We could see its powder blue-grey head and black moustaches. It stayed in the same place for a minute or so, then the two of them flew again, back up the ditch away from us. We saw the male Bearded Tit again, perched in the tops of the reeds further back, before it dropped down out of view.

That was a great way to finish the day, so we made our way back to the car and headed for home.