Category Archives: Spring Tour

18th May 2018 – Second-time Stint

A single day Spring Tour in North Norfolk. Thankfully the wind had dropped today and even though it was cloudy and cool in the morning, the sun came out and it was blue skies in the afternoon. A nice day to be out birding.

Our first destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we pulled up by the road, two Stock Doves were in the field and four more were perched on the roof of the barns nearby. A Common Whitethroat was singing and a Yellowhammer was calling, with the latter flying up from the hedge and out over the field as we walked along the path.

In the copse at the far end, we could hear a couple of Blackcaps singing against each other and managed to find a Chiffchaff singing in one of the trees just above the path. Crossing the road, we could hear a different song coming from the trees by the river, a little like a Blackcap but faster, more rolling, tumbling. It was a Garden Warbler and we had a couple of glimpses of it as it flew between the bushes, always keeping well tucked in though.

A quiet plaintive whistle alerted us to a Bullfinch in the trees by the path. It was tricky to see deep in the foliage, but then flew out past us, a smart pink male. Several House Martins were flying round over the meadow and up to the eaves of the house beyond. We had stopped to listen to a Reed Warbler which was singing in one of the big sallows, when a Cuckoo started singing up towards the seawall. We got it in the scope and most of us managed a look at it before it flew off. We could still hear it singing away to the east when we got up onto the seawall.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – singing by the seawall at Stiffkey Fen

The tide was high already in the harbour and the saltmarsh was flooded. There were still plenty of Brent Geese swimming around among the bushes – yet to head off back to Siberia for the breeding season.

We got the scope out to scan the Fen, but there were just a few waders on here today despite the tide. We managed to find two Common Sandpipers bobbing round the edge of the islands, and a Greenshank with two Redshank in the far corner. A pair of Little Ringed Plover were chasing each other round the islands initially, before flying off past us calling. A presumed intersex Eurasian Teal, a female showing intermediate male-type characteristics, was also interesting to see.

As we made our way round towards the harbour, a Spoonbill flew past over the saltmarsh, disappearing off east towards Morston. Several Common Terns were flying around the harbour, diving into the water, and we managed to pick out a single Arctic Tern too, hunting up over the flooded saltmarsh channels.

There were not many waders around the edges of the water in the harbour now, with the tide right in, just a few Oystercatchers. However, we did manage to find a Whimbrel out on the saltmarsh, which was subsequently joined by a second. Through the scope, we could see their small size, striped crown and short bills. Another four Whimbrel flew up and circled over the saltmarsh further out towards the water.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding out on the saltmarsh in the harbour

There were a few Linnets and a Kestrel in the bushes by the harbour. As we walked back, a family of Dunnocks were feeding on the path – the two youngsters, unable to fly, hopped away ahead of us and eventually scrambled back into the hedgerow.

The Sedge Warbler, which had quickly disappeared into cover when we walked past earlier, was now singing from the top of a reed stem, out in full view where we could get a good look at it through the scope. They always tend to be more accommodating than Reed Warblers and now that the wind had dropped this one was performing very well.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing from the reeds along the ditch below the seawall

There had been one or two Marsh Harriers around the Fen. A rather pale male had flown very quickly through, before it could attract the worst of the attention from the Avocets nesting down on the islands below. However, when we got back to the car we had a much better view of one. A male Marsh Harrier was circling over the copse, and then flew towards us, passing by just over the edge of the field to the south.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us as we got back to the car

We made our way further east along the coast road to Cley next. There had been a nice selection of waders here over the past couple of days, but asking at the Visitor Centre as we got our permits, it sounded like a number of them had moved on overnight. Still, we made our way out to the hides, to see what we could find.

On the walk out, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing in the thin strip of reeds the other side of the ditch by the path. Unlike the Sedge Warbler we had seen earlier, it was keeping well down in cover. However, a careful scan and we could see it, perched about half way up through the reeds. We had a good look at it through the scope, noting its rather plain appearance and relatively unmarked face, with pale just on the lores and over the eye and a small pale crescent below.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – singing in the reeds by the path out to the hides

There were a few more House Martins back and prospecting the eaves of the warden’s house – good to see as numbers have been worryingly low in recent days, for the time of year. Hopefully there are more still to come.

As we got to the boardwalk, we heard a Bearded Tit calling, and turned to see a male zipping over the tops of the reeds. It flew round behind us, then out towards the hides, dropping back in further up beside the path. We walked round to where it had dropped and got there just as it flew again, but were surprised to see two or three more Bearded Tits in the reeds, perched half hidden just a couple of metres in. They were juveniles – with black masks and black backs, with their tails only half grown. The male had obviously been in to feed them, but they dropped back down before everyone could get onto them.

From Avocet Hide, a pair of Gadwall were feeding just below the windows in front, and we got a very good look at the intricate patterning of the drake. There are good numbers of Avocets nesting on here at the moment and, over towards the back, we could see that one pair already had three very small chicks. The nests at the front were still on eggs, but we watched a couple of times as the other adult flew in, stopped to preen for a couple of minutes and then walked over and took over incubation duties from its partner.

Avocet

Avocets – changeover at the nest

There were not that many other waders on here though today. A single Little Ringed Plover was busy preening on the top of the island amongst the nesting Black-headed Gulls. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the deeper water between the islands. We had a good look for the Temminck’s Stint just in case, around the reedy margins of the scrape where it had been yesterday, but we couldn’t see any sign of it and it hadn’t been seen all morning today.

Round at Dauke’s Hide, there were lots more Black-tailed Godwits, a few starting to come into rusty breeding plumage, but mostly in shades of grey/brown. The Avocets were chasing them whenever they came within range of a nesting pair and we had great views of two godwits squabbling on the bank in front of the hide.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – there were lots on both Simmond’s & Pat’s Pool today

A striking mostly summer-plumage Ruff, largely black with an already well-developed dark barred ruff, was feeding around the edge of one of the islands. A couple of Tundra Ringed Plovers were feeding on the mud at the back, but there was no sign of any of the Dunlin or Curlew Sandpipers from yesterday – it appeared that some of the waders had moved on with the drop in the wind.

Looking across to Pat’s Pool, we could see more Black-tailed Godwits feeding just beyond the bank at the front. There were two female Ruff, also known as Reeves, with them, much smaller than the males and plainer grey brown, patterned with dark. A couple more male Ruff coming into breeding plumage were feeding around the islands further back.

Two Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in with the Black-tailed Godwits, stopping to preen next to them for a few minutes before going to sleep. They were presumably migrants, stopping off for a break on their way north. We had a nice side-by-side comparison of the two species together, and the shorter legs of the Bar-tailed Godwits were particularly obvious, with them up to their bellies in the water whereas we could see a good length of leg still on the Black-tailed Godwits.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre. It had started to brighten up nicely now, so we made good use of the picnic tables overlooking the reserve. An adult Mediterranean Gull circled high overhead with several Black-headed Gulls.

After lunch, we made our way over to the East Bank. There were several Lapwings and Redshanks around the small pools on the grazing marsh as we walked up towards the sea. A lone lingering drake Wigeon was on the north end of the Serpentine, along with a Common Sandpiper nearby. We could just see a single Little Ringed Plover out on Pope’s Pool at back.

There is not too much on Arnold’s Marsh at the moment, but we did see a pair of Little Terns on the small island out towards the back. A Grey Plover flew in to join them and a bright summer-plumage Turnstone was a nice addition to the day’s list. We had a quick look out at the beach, but there was nothing moving out to sea today.

We had received a message on the walk out to say that the Temminck’s Stint had reappeared on the scrapes, so we decided it was worthwhile heading back round there to try to see it. As we walked back along the bank, a couple of Little Egrets flew past. One landed down by the bank, feeding on a small pool. It is good to see a few Little Egrets back here, after we lost a good number in the cold weather over the winter.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding on one of the pools by the Serpentine

When we got back round to Avocet Hide, we quickly got onto the Temminck’s Stint, creeping around on the back edge of the scrape, just where it had been yesterday and we had looked for it earlier. Second time lucky! It was very well camouflaged against the mud but we could see its yellowish legs and pattern of scattered dark-centred feathers in the upperparts.

While we were watching the stint, we noticed a small female Ruff walking past one the males over on Simmond’s Scrape. The male Ruff started displaying, puffing out its ornate ruff feathers, drooping its wings and bowing. The female seemed particularly unimpressed and carried on feeding, working its way slowly along the edge of the island.

That took the female Ruff within range of a second male, which had been preening quietly further back. The first male chased over to it and the two of them had a brief tussle, rearing up and kicking out at each other, Both then started displaying, but the first was clearly dominant and after a couple more scuffles, the second Ruff sloped off back through the grass.

The first male Ruff then had the female to itself, and tried more display, bowing again, before crouching down, back to her with wings spread. Still the female seemed decidedly unimpressed and carried on round the back of the island. It was amazing to watch – we get Ruffs here over the winter and passing through in spring, but they head off to the continent to breed so it is rare to see them displaying here.

When we left the hide, we could hear the Bearded Tits still in the reeds by the boardwalk. The adult female came in a couple of times to feed the juveniles, and we had a better looks at the young ones perching in the reeds this time.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – one of the juveniles in the reeds by the boardwalk

Returning to the car, we headed back west to Holkham, a little later than planned. As we walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines, we could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing, and the sweet descending scale of a Willow Warbler. A drake Mallard and a family of Moorhen were the only birds on Salts Hole this afternoon.

Just beyond, we stopped to listen to a Goldcrest singing in the trees, and found it flitting around in the tops of the elms, just below the pines. A Coal Tit was in the pines nearby too. As we walked on, a Cuckoo started singing in the trees just behind us.

It was nice and sunny now, and warmer in the lee of the pines. There were a few more butterflies out – several Orange Tips, a few whites, a Peacock. A striking Green Hairstreak landed on the path in front of us.

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak – landed on the path on the walk out at Holkham

We made our way straight out to Joe Jordan Hide. It was quiet at first, but quickly the  Spoonbills started to appear. First one flew in from the east, and dropped down into the trees, then another two flew in from the west. After a whole, one or two started dropping down onto the pool below the trees and through the scope we got a better look at their distinctive spoon-shaped bills. We could also see the shaggy nuchal crest on one, a sign of a bird in breeding condition.

While watching the Spoonbills through the scope, a Great White Egret flew in and landed on the pool just in front of them. It flew again, and this time landed just to the right of the hide. We had a great view of it here – particularly its long, yellow bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and landed on a pool below the Hide

There were a few Little Egrets flying in and out of the trees too, and several Grey Herons. Marsh Harriers were coming and going and there were lots of Greylags and the odd Egyptian Goose out on the grass. A Mistle Thrush dropped out of the trees to feed on the bank in front of us.

Unfortunately, it was time for us to head back. We had one more bird to add to the list as we were leaving, with a pair of Grey Partridge feeding on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive as we drove out. A nice way to finish a very enjoyable day out.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – a pair were by Lady Anne’s Drive as we left

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16th May 2018 – The North Wind Blows

A single day Spring Tour today in North Norfolk. It was cloudy all day but thankfully stayed dry. A blustery and cold north wind would make like slightly difficult for us, keeping some birds down, but adverse weather can also lead to new birds dropping in, as we would find out.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we noticed two pairs of Grey Partridge feeding quietly on the edge of the grazing meadows by the side of the road. A nice start to the day.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – one of two pairs by the Drive at Holkham this morning

A little further on, we pulled up and got out to scan the rushy pools on the grazing marsh. A pair of Avocet were feeding down at the front, but a pale wader half hidden out at the back caught our eye. Through the rushes we could see it was a Greenshank, a spring migrant stopping off here on its way north. Perhaps a sign of things to come today? There was also no shortage of Greylag Geese and a few Shelduck out on the marshes.

Parking at the north end, we took the track west on the inland side of the pines, which gave us a bit of shelter from the cold wind this morning. Still, it was rather subdued in the trees today, although we did hear a few warblers singing – a few Blackcap, one or two Chiffchaff, and the sweet descending scale of a Willow Warbler.

There were no birds on Salts Hole this morning – it seems to be more popular as a swimming pool for dogs at this time of year! In the reeds just beyond we heard a Sedge Warbler singing and a little further on there were several Reed Warblers too, but they were all keeping well tucked down out of the wind today.

A male Marsh Harrier was patrolling the marshes and flew off carrying a small rodent which it had caught. There were lots of Common Swifts zooming back and forth low over the marshes today too, trying to find insects in the wind. We headed for Joe Jordan Hide.

When we got to the hide, one of the wardens was driving around out on the marshes, surveying, so there was not much to see at first. Thankfully, after a short while, he flushed a Great White Egret and after flying around various pools and ditches for a while it landed out in the grassy pools in front of the hide.

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – one of two we saw at Holkham today

This Great White Egret was sporting an all dark bill, which they can do in the breeding season. A second Great White Egret which flew out of the trees still had an all yellow bill. It landed out of view in a ditch behind some bushes. There were a few Little Egrets flying in and out of the trees too, but numbers still appear to be down on previous years, after the cold March weather took its toll.

The Spoonbills are the chief draw here, but they were rather elusive at first. We saw a couple circle up out of the trees and drop back in again, and the warden helpfully flushed one from behind the trees along with a great gaggle of Greylags and mass of Woodpigeons, which did a nice fly round. We could just see the heads of a pair of Spoonbills in the vegetation behind the fort.

Eventually one Spoonbill did the decent thing and flew down to the pool. It did land behind the reeds at first, but then walked out and started to bathe and preen, so that we could get a good look at its yellow-tipped spoon-shaped bill. Its shaggy nuchal crest was blowing around in the wind.

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – eventually one dropped down onto the pool

There were a few Cormorants coming and going to and from the trees too. We watched a Marsh Harrier drop into a small clump of reeds, clearly after something it had seen. It wrestled its way into the thick vegetation and eventually emerged with what looked like a young Moorhen.

There are plenty of Greylag Geese out on the marshes here, many with small goslings now. One goose in the corner of the pool stood out – smaller, with a dark head and smaller mostly dark bill, the latter very different from the big orange carrots sported by the Greylags. It was a lone Pink-footed Goose, and we had a good look at it through the scope side by side with one of its larger cousins. Almost all the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have gone north to Iceland to breed, but just a handful of sick or injured birds will remain through the summer.

Back to the car, we headed east along the coast road to Cley, with the prospect of some shelter in the hides and hoping for some waders out on the reserve. Our first stop was down at the beach. There were no terns fishing offshore today in the wind – a single Sandwich Tern took the alternative route back to the Point today , inland across the Eye Field. We decided on a bracing walk along the beach towards North Scrape.

Our braveness quickly paid off, with a smart male Wheatear sheltering amongst the concrete blocks out on the shingle. We had a great look at it, just a few metres in front of us, before it flew off, flashing the white rump from which it gets its name.

Wheatear

Wheatear – sheltering on the beach behind some concrete blocks

From the ridge on the edge of the Eye Field, we stopped to scan Billy’s Wash and North Scrape, but both looked to be pretty quiet today. Given the wind, we decided not to continue on further and headed back to the car park where we made good use of the beach shelter to have our lunch. Afterwards, we drove round to the visitor centre to get our permits for the reserve and as we came out, a Yellow Wagtail flew over our heads calling and dropped down towards the scrapes.

There were lots more Common Swifts hanging in the air low over the Visitor Centre and they zoomed round low over our heads as we walked out to the hides, before drifting off and gathering over the trees behind the village. A couple of Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds along the ditch, but kept their heads down out of the wind.

Common Swift

Common Swift – there were lots at Cley today, feeding low in the wind

We popped into Avocet Hide first, to see if there was anything on Whitwell Scrape. A pair of Gadwall were feeding just below the hide as we opened the flaps and a lone drake Teal was swimming on the edge of the reeds right at the back. A couple of Sandwich Terns were hiding in with the Black-headed Gulls before flying off calling.

We could see a couple of Avocets hunkered down on the nest on the first island. A third Avocet flew in and stopped to preen in the water briefly before walking up to one of the nests and replacing its partner, taking its turn at incubating the eggs.

Avocet

Avocets – we watched this changeover at one of the nests

There was clearly much more to be seen on Simmond’s Scrape, so we made our way round to Dauke’s Hide for a closer look. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on here, busy feeding, probing their long bills down into the mud in the deeper water. About twenty Dunlin were scattered around the edges of the muddy islands, most sporting summer black belly patches to a greater or lesser extent, along with a single Ringed Plover.

Then a small wader on a spit over in the far corner caught our eye. Obviously smaller than the Dunlin the other side, through the scope we could see it was mostly brown with scattered black-centred feathers in its upperparts, clean white below and with yellowish legs. It was a Temminck’s Stint, a scarce migrant wader which passed through in small numbers each spring. A nice bird to find here.

Thankfully just after everyone had a chance to look at it through the scope, everything on the scrape erupted, flushed by a passing Marsh Harrier over the reeds beyond. The Black-tailed Godwits settled back on Pat’s Pool but the Temminck’s Stint and the Dunlin all seemed to disappear off over the reserve.

Turning our attention to Pat’s Pool, a couple of Ruff were hiding in with the godwits now, including a smart black male which was starting to get its distinctive summer ruff. Out on the mud, we spotted a Greenshank, which then helpfully walked up beside a Common Redshank to give us a nice side by side comparison.

Greenshank

Greenshank – feeding on the mud on Pat’s Pool

More waders were clearly dropping in, probably encouraged to stop off on their journey north by the cold and windy weather. When we next looked back where the Greenshank was feeding, it had been replaced by a Wood Sandpiper. Much smaller than the accompanying Redshanks, through the scope we could see its white-spangled upperparts and prominent pale supercilium. Another scarce spring migrant wader, and another nice one to add to the day’s list.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – appeared on Pat’s Pool with the Redshank

The Dunlin returned to Simmond’s Scrape after a while and then someone found the Temminck’s Stint back again, asleep on one of the islands. There were two Little Terns out here now too – through the scope, we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

When the Temminck’s Stint woke up, it had a quick preen, and then helpfully flew round and landed on the island in front of the hide where we could get a really good look at it. We had seen a Temminck’s Stint here on Saturday, but this was clearly now a new bird, not quite as extensively marked with dark-centred feathering as the bird the other day.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – eventually showed very well on Simmond’s Scrape

Very pleased with what we had seen here today, we made our way back to the Visitor Centre and drove round to Iron Road next. There was very little to be seen on the pool by the track, so we walked out to Babcock Hide to have a look at Watling Water. We had not even got to the hide when we spotted the five Spoonbills which had been wandering round the reserve today. Unfortunately, where they were standing was completely hidden from view from the hide, behind the reeds!

There were a few other birds to look at one here. A Common Sandpiper was feeding up and down along the edge of one of the islands, before it flew over back over the reeds. Two Little Ringed Plovers were sheltering on the other side of the island, in the lee of the wind. Through the scope, we could see their distinctive golden yellow eye rings.

The Spoonbills eventually emerged from where they were hiding and flew over to the back of the pool, where they started to feed, their heads down in the water, sweeping their bills quickly from side to side.

Spoonbill 2

Spoonbills – there were five at Cley today, feeding on Watling Water

There was still a little bit of time left, so we decided to brave the wind and walk up along the East Bank. Thankfully, it had dropped a bit but it was still rather chilly and blustery. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds just the other side of the channel below the bank and we had a quick look at it through the scope before it dropped down out of view.

There did not appear to be much out on the Serpentine or Pope’s Pool today, but we did find a single lingering drake Wigeon, a useful addition to the day’s list. Almost all the Wigeon which spent the winter here have long since departed, back to Russia for the breeding season. Arnold’s Marsh was also fairly quiet today, with a few Redshank and Ringed Plover, and a single Turnstone hiding in the vegetation along the edge.

It was time to head back now, but it had been a very productive day despite the wind, with a great selection of spring waders in particular.

13th May 2018 – Norfolk in May, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, back in Norfolk. It was cloudy most of the day, although we didn’t see any of the forecast rain (as so often happens!!). It then brightened up later on and was a lovely warm, sunny finish to the day.

Our first destination for the day was Titchwell – if it was going to rain at all, we thought we could make use of the shelter of the hides here. As it was still fairly quiet when we arrived, we had a look around the overflow car park.  There were a couple of Blackcaps singing and two Stock Doves in a dead tree beyond the paddocks from the gate but no sign of any Turtle Doves which had been here earlier. It seems very early morning is best and they are probably still flying off site to feed during the day. A Common Swift west overhead was the first of many we would see today.

Round at the Visitor Centre, the feeders produced several Goldfinches and a Greenfinch. While we were standing here, we heard a Cuckoo singing just beyond, somewhere along the start of the main path, so we walked round to try to see it. By the time we got  there though it had moved on.

When we got round to Patsy’s reedbed, we could hear the Cuckoo singing again. It had gone round the other side to Willow Wood now, and was obviously hidden somewhere in the trees. There was not much on the pool here today, just a few Tufted Ducks, a pair of Common Pochard and a pair of Shoveler. Two Little Grebes were chased out of the reeds just below the screen by an aggressive Coot.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of two on Patsy’s Reedbed this morning

There were a couple of Marsh Harriers circling over the reeds beyond and several Common Swifts hawking low for insects. As we stood here and scanned, small numbers of hirundines were moving west – Swallows and a few House Martins.

As we walked back round via Meadow Trail, we could hear the Cuckoo again. It sounded like it was round by the back of the Visitor Centre and then beat us back to the main path – it was very mobile! When we got out of the trees, we could hear it singing out over the saltmarsh and we had a quick glimpse of it in the top of a bush in the distance before it headed off towards Thornham Point.

There were lots of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds below the main path, and we had nice views of both feeding up in one of the small sallows. We stopped by the reedbed pool to watch several Bearded Tits flying back and forth low across the water. A couple of pairs chased each other up higher into the air, before dropping back down into the reeds. There were more Swifts now hawking over the reeds, and moving slowly off west.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – in the sallows on the edge of the reedbed

Out on the Freshmarsh, there were not as many waders as we had hoped there might be, given the small groups we had seen dropping in at Cley yesterday afternoon. There were four Ruff, smart males of various colours, asleep on one of the islands. When they woke up they quickly flew off west.

Ruff

Ruff – four males resting on the Freshmarsh before flying off west

Other than those, we could only see one Turnstone, one Black-tailed Godwit and one Common Redshank. There are not that many Avocets on here at the moment either, although we could see a few pairs out in the fenced-off island, and several more feeding out in the water. Four Avocets were busy having an argument just below the path.

There are not many ducks left on here now, with most of the winter visitors having departed. The Red-crested Pochard were probably the most obvious, with a pair on the edge of the reeds shepherding eight ducklings, and another pair over just beyond Parrinder Hide. There were also a few Shelduck and Shoveler and one lone drake Teal, a useful addition to the list! Two Pink-footed Geese feeding on the bank looked to be injured birds, and one had an obviously broken wing.

The Freshmarsh has been largely taken over by gulls and terns and a careful look through them revealed our main target here, a single Little Gull. It was on one of the islands in front of Parrinder Hide, so we made our way round for a closer look. It was a 1st summer, a dainty little gull with a rounded head and thin black bill. Thankfully, we had all had a good look at it through the scope before it flew off.

Little Gull

Little Gull – this 1st summer showed well from Parrinder Hide

The fenced off ‘Avocet Island is now dominated by gulls, mainly Black-headed Gulls which had decided this is a nice safe place to nest. We could see quite a few pairs of Mediterranean Gulls in amongst them, their jet black heads and brighter red bills particularly standing out. One or two Mediterranean Gulls came in to collect nest material from the bank just outside the hide with the Black-headed Gulls.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – collecting nest material from the bank by the hide

Several Common Gulls were loafing on the smaller islands in front of the hide, mostly 1st summers but including one adult which we had a good look at through the scope. There were quite a few Sandwich Terns on here too still and we watched a pair displaying and then mating. It will be interesting to see if they stay to breed here. A pair of Common Terns were keeping to themselves on another island out in the middle.

Sandwich Terns

Moving on. there was very little on Volunteer Marsh today, with the mud baked quite dry now after the recent hot weather. One Curlew was feeding in the channel at far end. The (no longer tidal) Tidal Pools are still flooded with seawater and pretty much devoid of life, apart from a handful of ducks. Three more Red-crested Pochard flew in and landed on here briefly.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – two of three which landed on the Tidal Pools

At the beach, the tide was out now. We could see a selection of waders down on the mussel beds so we walked out for a closer look. There were several very smart Grey Plover, black below and white spangled above. Quite a few Sanderling, looking very different now in breeding plumage, blended in very well against the browns and greys of the mussel beds. There were Turnstone too, several also now looking very smart, and a few Bar-tailed Godwits.

There were a few terns moving back and forth just offshore and we watched one or two Common Terns and Little Terns hunting just beyond the edge of the sand. A careful scan of the sea revealed a single Common Scoter on the water and another flying off west. A couple of Fulmar flew west too, hugging the surface of the sea.

As we walked back, we could hear the Cuckoo again, now singing out towards Thornham, across the other side of the grazing marsh. We managed to find it up perched on the top of a hawthorn bush in the distance and got it in the scope. Finally, we had seen it! Three Little Gulls, all 1st summer, were now hawking over the reedbed pool, catching insects with lots of other gulls.

Almost back to the Visitor Centre, we heard a Siskin singing in the willows above the path. As we walked past, it dropped down onto the feeders. It was time for lunch now so we stopped to eat on one of the picnic tables by the Visitor Centre.

Siskin

Siskin – dropped in to the feeders briefly

After lunch, we headed inland to Choseley. There were a couple of Yellowhammers by the road on the way up but otherwise it was fairly quiet around the drying barns. We dropped down again to the coast at Holme, where we thought we would have a quick look in the paddocks. The sun was out now, and it was quickly warming up.

As we walked back along the bank, a Common Whitethroat was subsinging in the brambles, and appeared to be chasing a female, but remained unusually mostly hidden in the vegetation. A Willow Warbler was singing in a small sallow, and we could see the lovely light lemon yellow wash on its breast in the sunshine. A pair of Lesser Whitethroats were flicking around in the top of a large hawthorn bush briefly before they flew off.

We could hear another Cuckoo singing, but it sounded to be some way off at first. Helpfully, it then flew in and landed in the top of one of the poplars in the paddocks briefly. Everyone had a good look at it through binoculars and one or two through the scope before it quickly moved off west. We could still hear it singing away in the distance.

Stiffkey Fen was to be our final destination. After driving back east, we parked and walked down the permissive path the other side of the road. The meadow here was looking beautiful, peppered with blue flowers, and we watched a couple of Marsh Harriers flying back and forth.

As we got to the copse at the end of the meadow, we  looked back to see a male Marsh Harrier drop down and catch something. We couldn’t see what it was, but we had seen a couple of Brown Hares running back to the spot where it dropped, as it approached. The Hares were still there, looking agitated. The Marsh Harrier flew off out into the middle and dropped down into the reeds.

A minute or so later, a different male Marsh Harrier appeared over the meadow and headed over to where the Hares were, running around and rearing up on their back legs. The Marsh Harrier dropped several times, before it came up with a leveret in its talons. It flew off, chased by one of the Hares on the ground below, disappearing round behind the wood towards the Fen. Nature red in tooth and claw!

There was a small wet flash down in the valley below, a flooded area of grass, and we noticed a small wader on the far side of it. Through the scope, we could see that it was a Wood Sandpiper, one of the scarcer waders which we would hope to come across at this time of year, right at our last stop! We could see its spangled upperparts and pale supercilium.

On the walk out to the Fen, there were lots of insects out in the sunshine. We saw a couple of Four-spotted Chasers, our first dragonflies of the year. Butterflies included Orange Tip and Green-veined White, plus a surprise Painted Lady later up on the seawall, which was also the first of the year. A bee mimic Hoverfly (Volucella bombylans) was also of interest.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – our first dragonfly of the year

We could hear a Greenshank calling as we walked out and just see it over the top of the reeds, on the edge of one of the islands out on the Fen. From up on seawall, we could actually see two Greenshanks, both roosting here over high tide. Otherwise, there were two Little Ringed Plovers, a couple of Redshank and several nesting Avocets.

As we walked along the seawall, a Common Sandpiper flew out from the edge of the channel below us and across to the other side, where we could see it bobbing up and down on the bank. A pair of Common Terns were fishing, diving in the channel, and flew right past us.

Common Tern

Common Tern – a pair were diving in the channel

There were lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and scattered around the edge of the harbour and we could see a pair of Little Terns flying past over the water. The tide was still coming in, but not far off high now – we could see all the boats going out to look at the seals hauled out on the tip of Blakeney Point in the distance. There were a couple of groups of Oystercatchers roosting around the edges of the harbour and a little party of three Dunlin and three Ringed Plover down on the shore nearest us.

There were a few people walking around the edge of the harbour, out across the saltmarsh, and a dog running around too. They flushed a larger flock of waders from somewhere out of sight, which then whirled round over the water. As it landed, there seemed to be a smaller bird in with them. The birds all dropped down again in the distance, and disappeared amongst the stones on a shingle spit.

As they started to move around, we could see mostly Ringed Plover and Dunlin, plus a couple of Turnstone at first. Then the smaller one reappeared on the near edge of the flock, a Little Stint. We could see its rusty fringed upperparts, short bill and clean white underparts. It was very hard to pick out at first, given the heat haze, but eventually it stopped to preen and everyone managed to get a look at it through the scope.

The great wader selection here was completed with a Whimbrel which unfortunately flushed from the edge of the harbour and flew off before everyone got a chance to see it. Just as we were preparing to leave it flew in again past us and landed on the saltmarsh where we could get it in the scope. Very helpful! A male Marsh Harrier flew in right over our heads too.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – this male flew in from the harbour over our heads

It was beautiful out here on the edge of the harbour in the sunshine this afternoon, and with a great selection of birds to look at too. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and make our way back. As we walked back along the path by the Fen, a Barn Owl flew round the bushes in front of us. It saw us and turned sharply, flying back the way it had come. But when we got back to the car, we could see it hunting over the meadow the other side of the hedge.

That was a great way to end the tour, three enjoyable days with an excellent selection of birds along the coast. However, on our way back we noticed the Peregrine was back on the church tower where we had seen it yesterday, to wave us off.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower at the end of the day

12th May 2018 – Norfolk in May, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today, back in Norfolk. It was a lovely bright, sunny and pleasantly warm morning, but it clouded over early afternoon and then started to spit with rain on and off later on. Nothing to stop us getting out and about though!

Driving down to pick everyone up for the day, we spotted a Peregrine out of the corner of an eye, flying up to land on a church tower. We couldn’t stop, but when we had collected the rest of the group, we headed back and thankfully it was still there. It stared down at us at first, as we got out of the car and we stared back up at it. It quickly settled down and seemed completely unconcerned by our presence below.

Peregrine

Peregrine – great views perched and then preening on the church tower this morning

We watched the Peregrine for some time. It perched looking round at first, then started to preen. When it had finished, it began to doze, closing one eye but still looking round with the other. Several Common Swifts were screaming round over the rooftops as we stood there, always a great sight and sound, although they rather played second fiddle to the Peregrine.

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and headed over to Burnham Overy Dunes for the morning. As we walked down across the path over the grazing marshes we could hear Common Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat singing in the hedges. The former perched up nicely and we saw the latter flitting around in the foliage.

Several Sedge Warblers were singing from the bushes all the way out and there are lots of Reed Warblers in too now. We could hear them singing from the reeds along the edge of the ditches by the path and eventually got good views of one or two at the far end.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – one or two showed themselves on the walk out this morning

There were Lapwings, Avocets, Oystercatchers and Redshanks all out on the grazing marshes by the path. A Lapwing put on a nice tumbling display for us and some of the others appeared to be on nests.

There was no shortage of Greylags here and a pair of Egyptian Geese out on the grass too. We added a few ducks to the day’s list, with Shoveler and Gadwall around the small pools. In the channel at the far end of the path, we stopped to admire a smart Little Grebe on the edge of the reeds. A couple of Common Pochard were on the water further back.

Up on the seawall, the tide was out and there were lots of waders down on the mud. There was a large group of Black-tailed Godwits, with one or two in full summer plumage, deep orange on head and neck. A small group of Knot were with them and they too were mostly in bright rusty breeding plumage. Further over, we could see several Grey Plover looking very smart in breeding plumage too, with black faces and bellies.

A lone Wigeon was out on the reedbed pool, a nice addition to the weekend’s list, as the vast majority have already headed off back to Russia for the breeding season. Further along, out on the saltmarsh, we could see a sizeable gaggle of Brent Geese still. Some of these are always later to head back to the Arctic, although the majority will have departed by the end of this month.

A small group of waders whirled round over the grazing marsh and landed out on an island in one of the smalls. Through the scope, we could see there was a nice mixture of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin, and several of the latter were in breeding plumage, sporting contrasting black belly patches.

Out into the dunes, we turned east. We walked out to one of the favourite places for Wheatears, and quickly found one, a female, down on the short grass. Two more were Wheatears high in the dunes above – what looked like a male and another female. We walked round for better look, trying to get the sun behind us, but could only see the two females now. Big and deep orange underneath, they appeared to be Greenland Wheatears, of the subpecies leucorhoa.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a female, presumably of the Greenland race

Heading back to the boardwalk, we continued on out towards Gun Hill. A trickle of hirundines were moving west now, mostly Swallows, but with a few House Martins and a single Sand Martin as well. A sharp call alerted us to a Yellow Wagtail which flew over our heads and continued on west too.

There is no shortage of Meadow Pipits and Linnets out here in the dunes, good to see as both species have declined so markedly in farmland. A male Kestrel perched high in one of the taller dunes. We also found several male Stonechats singing, 2 or 3 on our walk west.

Heading out onto the beach, we stopped to admire a Ringed Plover tucked down in the stones, on its nest out in the middle of the fenced off area. Another Ringed Plover ran in over the stones and we watched as they changed over sitting duty.

We could hear Little Terns but there were none at the top of the beach in the fenced off area. They were all out towards the shore – we could see them flying round, diving into the surf out at the mouth of the channel. One was asleep closer to us, on the sand just across the channel, which we got in the scope and three more flew round over our heads calling, one carrying a fish. There were a couple of Common Terns too, further round, plunge diving in the harbour channel.

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover – we saw several on the beach and around the dunes today

As we walked along beach towards the point, we found more waders. A couple of very smart Turnstones in breeding plumage were feeding in and out of the seaweed covered rocks below us. Two Common Sandpipers flew up from the edge of the water and across the channel calling. There were several more Ringed Plovers too and round in the harbour we found three Bar-tailed Godwits with another Grey Plover out on the mud. A Greenshank flew up calling from the saltmarsh briefly but dropped straight back down into one of the muddy creeks, out of view.

Back at the boardwalk, we made our way back along the seawall. At the reedbed, a Bittern boomed three times in quick succession before going quiet again. A Red Kite was hanging lazily in the air over the fields as we got back to the car.

We had our lunch at Holkham and afterwards, we headed back east. We had been to Cley yesterday and were not intending to go back today, but news of a Temminck’s Stint was too good to resist.

The Temminck’s Stint had been mobile earlier, but then seemed to have settled down on Watling Water. However, when we arrived at Iron Road, we were told it had flown off about half an hour earlier. It had apparently appeared to drop down again towards the pools along the track. We had a good look there, but there was no sign of it, although there were two Ringed Plovers and a Little Ringed Plover.

Other waders were clearly on the move today, as another small mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers dropped in briefly before continuing west. Another Wheatear was on the bank on the far side of the pool and a Hobby flew over, heading off east. It had started to drizzle now, on and off, we so headed round to Babcock Hide on the off chance that the Temminck’s Stint was back.

When we got into the hide, we were delighted to find that the Temminck’s Stint was indeed back out on the mud, having apparently flown back in earlier. We got it in the scope and had great views of it creeping around on the mud around the edge of the pool. It was clearly very small, and we could see its yellow legs and the distinctive scattering of black-centred feathers in its upperparts.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – a well-marked individual on Watling Water

The two Little Ringed Plovers we had seen yesterday were still on the scrape too – and as we had seen with the Common Sandpiper they kept trying to chase the Temminck’s Stint off. Eventually it found a spot where they seemed to lose interest, and stopped to bathe. The Common Sandpiper was still on here too, but had evaded the attention of the plovers as they seemed to focus more on chasing off the stint today!

The rain had now eased off again, and there was still time for a walk out on the East Bank before the end of the day. It didn’t take us long to spot the Spoonbill, a large white shape in the distance, so we headed up along the bank for a closer look. On the way, a scan of Pope’s Pool produced another Common Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover, as well as another lone drake Wigeon, our second of the day. A Marsh Harrier was perched up in one of the bushes out in the reedbed, drying out after the rain.

We had good views of the Spoonbill from here. It was busy feeding in the north end of the Serpentine, head down, sweeping its bill quickly left to right through the water. Occasionally it would flick its head up when it caught something.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding out on the Serpentine

Arnold’s Marsh appears to be drying out rapidly at the moment, and there was not much water left. Still, we found a few waders – a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits, a Curlew, a Grey Plover and a Ringed Plover. A Wheatear on one of the posts out in front of the shingle ridge was a male Greenland Wheatear, deep orange breasted and with brown tones in its grey back. At the far end of Arnold’s, a Hobby was perched preening on a post.

It was time to head back now. A Marsh Harrier dropped down towards the grazing marsh below the bank, mobbed by Avocets, and then flew off, carrying what appeared to be a small mammal rather than one of the young Greylags we had seen there on our walk out. A Hobby flew past and off over the reedbed, possibly the one we had seen on the post earlier, now dried out. Several more Marsh Harriers were up circling over the reeds as we headed for home.

11th May 2018 – Norfolk in May, Day 1

lDay 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today, back in Norfolk. We would be spending the days looking for spring migrants and summer visitors along the coast. It was a dry and bright day today, sunny at times, but with a strong and blustery wind.

We started the day with a drive round via a couple of sites for Nightingales first thing, as we made our way east. Numbers seem to be down again this year, but they are still just about clinging on in North Norfolk. They have been rather quiet this year too, not singing as much as in previous years, and it was perhaps not a surprise that we didn’t hear one today. They are always best at dawn or dusk and the cold wind didn’t help today either.

Still, we had a nice walk at the second location and there were plenty of other birds singing. We heard several Blackcaps and a nice male perched up in the brambles in front of us. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs duetting too, and a Song Thrush deep in the bushes. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the trees.

Blackcap

Blackcap – there were several singing this morning

We didn’t linger here long today. There was a report of a couple of Garganey down at Kelling, so we headed straight down there, figuring we could explore in the shelter of the lane on our walk out. When we arrived in the village, there were several Swallows and a couple of House Martins over the village, the latter prospecting the eaves of the tea rooms again.

A Hobby appeared over the fields just beyond the tea rooms and we watched as it hung in the air and gradually drifted towards us. We could see its orange ‘trousers’ as it turned in the sun. It was joined by a second Hobby, we could see they were a pair, and they dropped down behind the houses out of view. Smart birds and a good start!

The lane was quiet at first as we walked down, apart from all the Rooks in the wood behind the school, which were decidedly noisy! A Kestrel was hovering at the base of Muckleburgh Hill. As we got down to the copse, there was a bit more activity. A Chiffchaff was singing from a dead branch at the top of a tree beside the lane. Two Blackcaps were singing off against each other in the copse itself.

As we approached the Water Meadow, we could just see two Grey Partridge which had been spooked and flew across the water towards us. They landed out on the grass briefly before scurrying off into the rushes. In the cultivated field the other side, a single Stock Dove was feeding with the Woodpigeons and a Brown Hare was just behind.  There were several Sand Martins hawking for insects over the water and we had nice views of one of the Common Whitethroats singing in the top of the hedge.

Whitethroat

Whitethroat – singing in the hedge along the lane

From this side of the pool, we could see a few ducks out on the water – three Shoveler and a pair of Gadwall – but there was no sign of any Garganey at first. Thankfully they were just asleep in the grass on the bank at the top end, and we couldn’t see them until got down to the crosstrack.

There were two smart drake Garganey here. We got them in the scope and could see the bold white supercilium on the one which was out in the open. We walked down to the far corner for a better view, and when we got there they were both awake and feeding, swimming in and out of the flooded grass around the edge of the pool, snapping at insects. Great to watch!

Garganey

Garganey – two drakes were on the Water Meadow this morning

There were a few other birds around the Water Meadow today. An Avocet flew in calling. A Reed Warbler was singing away from the reeds by the path, though it kept down out of view, and a Sedge Warbler was singing too, a little further along.

We had nice views of Reed Buntings – a male singing, and a female in the top of the blackthorn. While we were watching the female, a Lesser Whitethroat appeared in the branches just behind. Typically more skulking than the Common Whitethroats, we got a couple of good looks at it. As usual, there were lots of Linnets here, always good to see.

Linnet

Linnet – there were lots in the brambles around the Water Meadow

As we walked up the path over the hillside beyond, we could hear a Stonechat. We looked over to see the male on a bramble stem. He flew across and we noticed the female dart into a bush, presumably going in to the nest. A few moments later, she reappeared nearby. There were plenty of Meadow Pipits here too, flying up from the grass as we passed.

From the top of the hill, we had a quick look out to sea. Several terns were flying back and forth just offshore – at least six Little Terns, and a couple of Sandwich Terns too. Further out, we spotted a line of twelve adult Gannets flying east – it would be interesting to know where they were off to at this time of year. A lone Kittiwake flew past too.

On our way back down towards the Quags, a Kestrel hovered above us. It then turned to chase off a passing Marsh Harrier, a young male. As we walked back past the Water Meadow, another Marsh Harrier appeared, a different bird, a female, hunting the fields to the west. It was promptly chased by a couple of Carrion Crows, and circled up right over our heads.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – two were hunting the fields by the Water Meadow today

It was nice and sheltered in the lane and had warmed up now in the sunshine. On the walk back, we saw a nice selection of butterflies – Orange Tip, Green-veined and Small White, and Speckled Wood.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – we saw a couple on our walk back up the lane

We headed round towards Cley next. We wanted to stop at Iron Road, but there were too many cars there already, so we drove back and parked at Salthouse green. It was not too far to walk back to Iron Road, and there were lots of geese out on the grazing marshes – Greylags, Canadas and a pair of Egyptian Geese.

There was not much of note on the Iron Road pool, despite it looking great for waders at the moment. We could just see a Redshank, a Lapwing, and a few Gadwall hiding in the grass at the back.  So we walked round to Babcock Hide to try our luck there. Two small young Lapwings were down in the grass around the pools by Attenborough Walk.

From the hide, we could see two Little Ringed Plovers on the mud towards the back. A Common Sandpiper was over to one side. When the Common Sandpiper walked over towards the plovers, they chased it off. Thankfully, it landed down on the mud in front of the hide, where we had much better views of it.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper – showed well in front of Babcock Hide

It is that time of year, when birds are getting down to breeding. It was all happening in front of Babcock Hide today! We were watching a pair of Avocets out in the water, standing around preening. The female then bent forward and held her head with the bill straight, just above the water. The male walked round for a few seconds before eventually flying up and landing on her back.

Avocets

Avocets – this pair were mating out on Watling Water

A pair of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the mud right in front of the hide. When the female stopped and stood still, the male started an elaborate display, shuffling round her with wings and tail spread, turned towards her with one wing in the air. Eventually the female bowed and lifted her tail and we watched them mating.

Pied Wagtails

Pied Wagtails – mating in front of Babcock Hide

Time was getting on now, so we headed round to the Visitor Centre at Cley for a late lunch, and made good use of the picnic tables outside. We got the scope out and scanned Pat’s Pool, where we could see lots of godwits out in the water. There were both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits here, although they seemed to have segregated themselves into two separate groups.

Several of the godwits were coming into breeding plumage, and we had a closer look at one very smart Bar-tailed Godwit, which was already deep rusty below, continuing all the way down under the tail. We could also see two Knot and two Dunlin with the Bar-tailed Godwits. Several Marsh Harriers were coming and going too, and we picked up three Common Swifts feeding out over North Scrape, our first of the day.

After lunch, we headed up to the Heath. It was exposed and a bit windy up here this afternoon, not ideal conditions. We checked out a couple of spots for Dartford Warblers, but they were keeping well tucked down today. We did see a nice Hobby which flew in along the ridge, right past us and out across the Heath.

Hobby

Hobby – our third of the day, over the Heath

There were lots of Linnets around the gorse and we eventually found a smart male Stonechat perched in the top of one clump. We tried a couple of places for Woodlark but couldn’t find any where we thought they might be. However, we were just walking away from the second spot when we heard singing in the distance and watched as a Woodlark flew in and circled over right where we had been standing just a couple of minutes earlier!

There were a few warblers up on the Heath this afternoon. On our walk back, we heard a Garden Warbler singing deep in the trees. A Willow Warbler was singing too and we watched it in a small oak tree by the path, flitting around the among emerging leaves.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – singing in a small oak tree on our walk back

Unfortunately, it was time to call a close to day one and head back. More tomorrow!

25th Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 5

Day 5 of five days of Spring Migration tours today, our last day. It was mostly cloudy with some brighter intervals and we managed largely to avoid some scattered heavy showers in the afternoon. It was rather breezy again though, particularly in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the morning was Titchwell. It was still quite quiet in the car park when we arrived, so we had a walk round to see what was in the bushes. In the overflow car park, a Goldfinch came down to drink at a puddle out in the middle. Then we heard the plaintive piping of Bullfinches and looked over to see a lovely pink male perched in the elder on the corner. It flew across to the other side, followed by a second male Bullfinch which perched out in the open so we could get a good look at it.

There was nothing of note out in the paddocks beyond the car park, but two Common Swifts flew over, heading west. Two Mediterranean Gulls were calling and we picked them up heading south over the car park with a small group of Black-headed Gulls. We could hear a Chiffchaff singing in the sallows and saw some Long-tailed Tits as we walked up to the Visitor Centre. The Bramblings seem to have gone now and there were just lots of Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders.

We headed round to Patsy’s Reedbed first. There were a couple of Blackcaps singing in the trees along Fen trail and the pool in front of Fen Hide had a couple of drake Common Pochard which flew off when they saw us, as well as two Greylags.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – one of the two on the pool from Fen Hide first thing

A Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds just beyond the hide, and we could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers too, as we made our way to Patsy’s. But Patsy’s Reedbed itself was rather disappointing – just a very small number of ducks. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew round the dead trees further back.

A couple of Swallows flew through, but the one species which was moving in numbers this morning was Goldfinch – several small flocks flew past either side of us while we were here.

There wasn’t much singing in the sallows as we made our way round via Meadow Trail to the main path. What we did find when we got there, in the grass on the bank, was our first damselfly of the year – a Large Red Damselfly.

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly – our first damselfly of the year

We stopped to scan the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh. There didn’t appear to be a lot on here at first, but then we spotted a couple of wagtails down towards the back corner. Their silvery grey backs identified them as White Wagtails, rather than Pied Wagtails, continental migrants stopped off here to feed.

Another Reed Warbler was singing on the other side of the path, and a Sedge Warbler perched up nicely in one of the larger clumps of brambles, where we could get it in the scope. We could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically and saw a couple zipping off over the top of the reeds.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing in the brambles in the reedbed

The large reedbed pool held several Greylags and a few Common Pochard were diving in amongst them. A single Great Crested Grebe was on the water over to one side. We could hear a Little Grebe too, laughing at us from somewhere out of view. Then one of the group spotted another duck swimming towards us along the channel at the front. When it emerged from behind the vegetation, we could see it was a smart drake Red-crested Pochard.

It was rather windy up on the bank, so we headed down to the shelter of Island Hide to scan the freshmarsh. The first thing which struck us when we got in there was the enormous number of Sandwich Terns. We counted almost 300 just on the first couple of islands – the peak count today was over 700! Several pairs were displaying and one pair was mating.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – there were over 700 on the Freshmarsh today

It is very unusual to see large numbers of Sandwich Terns here. They do breed in very significant numbers not far away, on Scolt Head. It appears that something has disturbed them from Scolt and they have come in to the Freshmarsh, attracted by the large breeding colony of gulls. It will be interesting to see if any Sandwich Terns stay to breed, or if they all eventually return to Scolt. In the meantime, it is certainly an impressive spectacle!

The fenced-off ‘Avocet Island’ has been almost completely taken over by gulls, predominantly Black-headed Gulls but with a very significant number of Mediterranean Gulls too. We could hear the distinctive calls of the latter regularly, as they flew in and out of the colony.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there are large numbers in with the Black-headed Gulls

It was only when we had a good look through the birds on the island that we could see just how many Mediterranean Gulls there were. Apparently, there may be around 50 pairs this year, a significant increase over the nine or so in 2017.

There are not many Avocets on the freshmarsh at the moment, but there were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, well over 200 at the moment. Many of them are now coming into full breeding plumage, bright rusty-coloured, ahead of their journey back up to Iceland for the breeding season.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into bright rusty breeding plumage

There were a few other waders on here too. A scattering of Ruff around the muddy islands included one deep rusty male, already getting its breeding plumage but still lacking its ruff. A lone Grey Plover was on one of the islands too, but flew over to join the godwits, as did a small group of about a dozen Knot which flew in from the beach.

There are not so many ducks on here now – mainly a few lingering Teal and a few pairs of Shoveler. We couldn’t see the Garganey, which was on here yesterday, from this side. There are still plenty of Brent Geese, yet to head off back to Siberia for the breeding season. They were commuting between the saltmarsh to feed and the freshmarsh to bathe and preen.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – there are still good numbers lingering here

Back on the main path, we headed out towards the beach. There was very little on the Volunteer Marsh today and the ‘Tidal’ Pools are no longer tidal and remain completely flooded with seawater. We carried on past them to have a look at the sea.

The tide was already coming in and not much of the mussel beds remained exposed. We could see a few Bar-tailed Godwits out on the water’s edge, along with a couple of Turnstone. As usual, there were plenty of Oystercatcher too. As we stood in the lee of the dunes to scan the sea, a couple of small flocks of little waders flew past, groups of Ringed Plover and Dunlin.

At first, all we could see on the sea were Common Scoter – a couple of smaller groups closer in and a larger raft further back. Then we picked up a diver not too far out. It was diving continually and hard to see but when it surfaced and turned we could see it was a Great Northern Diver, a good bird to see here. We could see its large size, heavy bill and dark half-collar.

However, that wasn’t the best bird we would have out here today. While we were trying to get everyone onto the diver, three smaller birds appeared even closer in, off the concrete blocks. Through the scope we could see they were Black-necked Grebes, all three of them in cracking full breeding plumage. They had been seen yesterday, but we had assumed they would most likely have moved on already, so it was great to see them.

Black-necked Grebes

Black-necked Grebes – 2 of the 3 diving offshore today

Black-necked Grebes are scarce here and it is very unusual to see them in breeding plumage at the best of times, so to see three together, and on the sea, is highly unusual. They looked stunning as their golden yellow face plumes caught the light.

We had hoped perhaps to find some more terns offshore, but there were just small numbers of Sandwich Terns flying back and forth. We decided to head back. On the way, we called in at Parrinder Hide.

There has been one or more Garganey here for several days now. We couldn’t see it from Island Hide earlier and we couldn’t see one at first from Parrinder Hide either, although we were told it had been seen on the Freshmarsh earlier. We had at least seen several very well yesterday, down in the Broads. There was a single Pink-footed Goose just outside the hide, with a broken wing which has clearly prevented it from migrating back to Iceland for the breeding season with the others.

There were several Teal asleep in the cut reeds along the base of the bank out from the hide. As we scanned through, we just noticed another shape in the reeds and, through the scope, we could just see a pale stripe across the head. It was a drake Garganey. It was almost impossible to see if you didn’t know where it was. A pair of Greylag walked past and moved the Teal, but unfortunately the Garganey remained where it was, fast asleep.

Garganey

Garganey – asleep in the cut reeds out from Parrinder Hide

We made our way back to the picnic area for lunch. There were a few butterflies out here – Green-veined White and a single Holly Blue.

After lunch, we headed up towards Choseley. There had been a couple of brief Dotterel elsewhere in the county in the last couple of days, and this is a traditional stopover site for them, so we thought it might be worth a quick look just in case one had already dropped in here.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – up at Choseley this afternoon

Most of the fields on the drive up did not look suitable, so we stopped at Choseley Drying Barns to scan. A Yellowhammer perched up nicely in one of the trees by the footpath.

There were lots of Brown Hares out in the wheat fields. Many were hunkered down out of the wind, but several were running round, chasing each other, and we even saw a quick bout of boxing.

Brown Hares

Brown Hares – chasing each other round and boxing

Dropping down the other side, there were a few Red-legged Partridge in the fields. We stopped an found a flock of Linnets which flew up into a hedge, with a Lesser Whitethroat nearby. A lone Wheatear was very distant, high on the ridge in a stony ploughed field.

As we drove on, we spotted a Corn Bunting fly out of a hedge ahead of us. It went back in behind us, so we stopped and walked back to try to see it. Unfortunately, as we tried to get round behind it, it flew off across the field the other way.

We decided to move on and head along to Holkham for the remainder of the afternoon. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped to scan the cows. Two Yellow Wagtails flew past them and across the Drive ahead of us. A Little Egret flew over and then, as we got out of the car, a Spoonbill went over our heads, heading back west towards the colony.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew over Lady Anne’s Drive, just as we arrived

The wind had picked up quite a bit now, and it was rather quiet in the trees as we walked west through the pines. We could hear Chiffchaff and a Coal Tit singing. Salts Hole held just a few Tufted Duck today.

At Washington Hide, we could hear Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds. We headed through the trees towards the beach. We stopped here to scan the sea, but it was rather choppy in the wind now. We could see a few distant Sandwich Terns and a Common Scoter way out, flying past. There were still one or two Swallows on the move, flying west.

We made our way round to Joe Jordan Hide. A couple of Reed Warblers singing from the reeds along here were presumably reasonably fresh arrivals. There were some rather dark clouds approaching from the west, so we felt the need to find some shelter, just in case. One of the wardens had driven out across the grazing marshes, so their was a bit of disturbance. However, there was still a steady succession of Spoonbills coming and going, with two busy feeding on the pools out to the right of the hide.

There were plenty of Greylags out on the grazing marshes, and we eventually found two Pink-footed Geese too, right out on the grass in the distance today. They are likely to be sick or injured birds which are unable to return to Iceland to breed, and we could see that one of them had a broken wing.

The rain largely passed through to the south of us, but we did had a very short burst of not too heavy rain. Once it cleared through, we started to make our way back. A quick look in the trees around the crosstracks failed to produce anything more exciting than a couple of Long-tailed Tits and a Coal Tit.

Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we ran into another little flurry of activity in the trees. A couple of Long-tailed Tits were flitting around and two Treecreepers appeared briefly nearby. We could hear a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff singing and see a Blackcap in the hawthorns.

Back to the car and it was time to call it a day. It had been a very exciting five days with a good group and lots of good birds, a nice selection of spring migrants, and even quite a bit of non-avian interest. Spring migration in Norfolk at its best!

24th Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 4

Day 4 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. After three days up on the North Norfolk coast, we headed down to the Broads – not least because there were several good birds to see down there. It was thankfully less windy than yesterday but, after spitting on and off from late morning, it finally started to rain around 3pm, unusually around the time it was forecast!

It was a long drive down to the Broads this morning. A Pallid Harrier had been found on the coast between Horsey and Winterton yesterday and was reported to be still around today, so we headed straight over there first. We parked in the car park at Winterton and set off north through the dunes.

We could see four or five people standing on the top of a tall dune in the distance and we met one of the locals coming back who told us that was the best place to head for first, even though the bird had headed off north. As we made our way over the dunes, there were Wheatears everywhere, flying off in all directions ahead of us.

Wheatear

Wheatear – there were lots in the North Dunes today

When we got up onto the top of the tall dune, the message was the same as we had heard earlier – the Pallid Harrier had been seen flying off north and lost to view. Still, it had been back once or twice already, so this seemed like the best place to stand for now.

There were several dog walkers out this morning and one of them flushed a small group of Ring Ouzels, which flew off ahead of them and landed in the tops of a small group of scrubby trees down in the bottom of the dunes. We just got them in the scope before they were flushed again and flew off further north.

While we were all watching the Ring Ouzels, one of the group asked ‘what’s this bird over here?’. We turned around to see the Pallid Harrier a short distance away! It was chasing a Skylark over the dunes, twisting and turning. The Skylark got away and the Pallid Harrier turned towards the dune where we were standing and flew right past just below us. Wow!

Pallid Harrier 2

Pallid Harrier – came right past just below where we were standing

We could see the Pallid Harrier‘s pale collar, set off by the dark ‘boa’ just behind. It was much slimmer winged and more streamlined than a Hen Harrier too. It headed off south towards the car park, then turned and started to make its way back, along the seaward edge of the dunes. It came past us again, a bit more distant this time, and we watched as it disappeared away to the north. It was clearly doing a regular circuit of the dunes, between the beach car park and Horsey to the north.

Having enjoyed such fantastic views of the Pallid Harrier, we set off down into the dunes to try to get a better look at the Ring Ouzels now. There were more Wheatears here and a male Stonechat, which perched up obligingly in the top of a small tree next to the path.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male perched up obligingly near the path

Before we even got to where we thought the Ring Ouzels had gone, we flushed one from a bramble clump ahead of us. It flew off over the crest of the dune calling. When we got to the top, we saw three Ring Ouzels fly again, from a ridge further over. They seemed to be very flighty today. We swung round in a wide arc to the north, to try to find somewhere to try to view them from a safe distance, but they were off again.

This time the Ring Ouzels, now four of them, flew across and landed in front of a large dune where some people were sitting looking for the Pallid Harrier. We made our way round to the back of the dune and crept up the side. When we looked over the edge we could see the Ring Ouzels on the next dune ridge over. They were feeding happily and we had a good look at them through the scope, several males and at least one female, before they dropped down the other side of the ridge out of view.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – at least four of them showed very well from a discrete distance

As we walked up to join the others on the top of the dune, they alerted us to the fact that the Pallid Harrier was doing another pass behind us. We followed it as it disappeared off to the south again, down to the car park. A few minutes later, it was back and we watched as the Pallid Harrier headed off north low over the dunes. Great views again! We had been spoiled now, with the performance the Pallid Harrier had put on for us, so we decided to move on and see what else we could find.

Pallid Harrier 1

Pallid Harrier – we watched it do another couple of passes through the dunes

As we made our way back south through the dunes, there didn’t seem to be as many birds as on our way up earlier, particularly we didn’t see any more Wheatears. Probably they had all been flushed out of this part of the dunes by all the people walking through. There were lots of Skylarks singing and we did come across a smart male Yellowhammer perched in the top of a small tree.

We carried on south, over the road and on into the south dunes. As we got up to the first trees, we could see a small warbler flitting around in the bare branches and picking at the leaf buds which were just starting to open. It was a Lesser Whitethroat and we watched it for a couple of minutes as it worked its way through the branches. A Chiffchaff flew in and started singing from higher up in the same tree.

A little further on, we found a Willow Warbler and a Blackcap. The Willow Warbler was singing from time to time, a beautiful, sweet descending scale, and showed well in some low hawthorns. The Blackcap kept low in the brambles, subsinging.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – we saw several in the south dunes

As we continued on south, there were more warblers in the trees and bushes. Another Lesser Whitethroat, another couple of Willow Warblers, another Blackcap. A Common Whitethroat started singing but disappeared off ahead of us.

There were not many birds moving today. We did see a small number of Swallows, but only about 4-5, heading north through the dunes, and next to nothing else. There were plenty of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits in the dunes.

Linnet

Linnet – still quite common in the dunes

As we turned to head back, a male Stonechat was singing from the brambles in the middle of the Valley. A particularly bright, lemon-yellow breasted Willow Warbler was flitting around in one of the small oaks in the next clump of trees. We made our way slowly back to the car.

News had come through that the Black-winged Stilt, which had been found at Potter Heigham yesterday, was still present today. So we made our way over there next. When we got there, it was time for lunch. As we ate, a male Marsh Harrier was displaying high over our heads, calling.

Scanning the first pool we passed, we spotted a very smart drake Garganey out in the middle, so we stopped to have a look at it through the scope. There were lots of other ducks on here too – Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck. Plus both Little and Great Crested Grebes, both in breeding plumage.

We had just started to walk on when we received a phone call to say the Black-winged Stilt had just flown over our way. Sure enough, we found it on the next pool, quite close, down towards the front. We got it in the scope, noting its black mantle and black markings on the head, suggesting it is a male.

Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt – this lone male was very mobile around the pools today

The water levels are quite high here at the moment, so there are not that many places for it to feed and it appears to be very mobile. The Black-winged Stilt made its way along the edge of a flooded grassy island, then flew over to the next pool. We watched it on there for a few minutes before it was off again, and flew over to the pools at the back by the river.

From here we could see two more Garganey on the bank at the back of this pool. A flock of hirundines was hawking over the water, mainly Swallows and House Martins. One Common Swift was in with them.

We were told that a couple of Spoonbills had flown in and landed on one of the other pools, along the access track. We walked back there but couldn’t see them at first – they were not where they had been earlier. Then we picked them up, feeding with their heads down half hidden behind a line of reeds. Eventually they put their heads up briefly and we could just about see them properly.

There were lots more duck on these pools and a group of five Garganey were down towards the front. There were four smart drakes, with bold white stripes on their heads, and a single browner female. It is great to see groups of Garganey like this – a scene more like spring in the Mediterranean than the UK. There was also a single drake Pintail lingering here.

Garganey

Garganey – a flock of five, including four drakes

It was starting to rain now, but we wanted to see if we could find any Cranes. We headed back past the car park. A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing from the reeds and then we heard a Reed Warbler too – much more structured and rhythmical.

Continuing on, we came to an open area where we could scan a large expanse of grazing marsh. The first thing we set eyes on was a pair of Cranes over in the distance. We got them in the scope and there was no mistaking them. As it was raining harder now, we made our way back to the car. A Grasshopper Warbler reeled briefly from deep in the bushes out in the reeds.

Having achieved all our targets here, we decided to head back towards North Norfolk and stop to see if we could find anything from the car on the way. We made our way up to Cromer and turned west along the coast road.

Our first detour was at West Runton where we had a quick look in the paddocks along the road down to the beach. A single Wheatear was perched on one of the fence posts, looking decidedly soggy. It was too wet to have a look at Beeston Bump now, so we continued on to Salthouse and drove up the Beach Road. A single Wheatear was out in the grass just north of the main drain.

Our last detour was at Cley, where once again we headed down along the road to the beach. We stopped at the bend and scanned out along the fence line. The first bird we set eyes on was a cracking male Whinchat, preening in the wet. A great bonus at the end of the day! There were also dozens of Swallows here too, perching on the fence or hawking low over the reeds, along with several Sand Martins and one or two House Martins.

Hirundines

Hirundines – gathered on the fence in the rain

We had a quick look at the sea from the beach shelter, but there was not much happening offshore. A couple of Sandwich Terns flew past calling.

We had enjoyed a great day out, despite the rain setting in later, and see a really good selection of birds. We decided to call time and head for home.