Category Archives: Summer Tour

20th July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It has been a proper summer for the last few weeks here – and it was hot and sunny this morning, with little wind. It clouded over a bit in the afternoon and the breeze picked up a touch, which helped to cool it down a little, but we saw no sign of any thunderstorms which had been forecast might make just it up here.

To start the day, we headed up to one of the heaths. We were hoping we might be able to beat the worst of the heat, but by the time we made it up there, the temperature was already rising fast. There was not much activity as we walked up along the path, apart from the butterflies – Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Small/Essex Skippers which didn’t stop so we could identify them. A Common Lizard scuttled off into the long grass ahead of us.

An area here has been burned by a small fire in the last few weeks, although thankfully it was caught quickly before it could spread. A small square of gorse and birch trees were burnt and as we got up to it, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and Coal Tits singing. A mixed tit flock flew in from our right and made a beeline for the burnt trees. There were other birds with them too – Blue Tits, a family of Great Tits and several Chiffchaffs – and they stopped to feed in the scorched trees.

We watched the tit flock feeding in the burnt trees for a while, before they started to move off into the birches beyond. We carried on to an area where a pair of Dartford Warblers have been feeding their recently fledged young in recent days. It was all quiet as we walked round through the gorse here though – either they have moved the young or they were keeping out of the heat today.

We did see a male Yellowhammer with food, which perched up in the top of a small birch briefly, before dropping down into the gorse with it. And there were lots of Linnets around, perching up in the gorse, including some nice smart males with rusty backs and red breasts.

Linnet

Linnet – we saw lots of them as we walked round the Heath

With the temperature rising steadily, we decided to try our luck elsewhere. The Common Buzzards were taking advantage of the early thermals, spiralling up along the ridge. We walked on through another Dartford Warbler territory but these birds have just fledged their first brood and have probably started on their next, which is why they have gone quiet in the last few days.

This is a very good site for Silver-studded Blue butterflies, but we are right at the end of their flight season now. As we walked down along one of the wider paths, we noticed a dark female ‘blue’ butterfly fluttering around the heather on the verge. When it landed, we could see the silvery-blue-centred spots on the underwing, confirming it was a female Silver-studded Blue.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue – one of the last ones on the wing today

As we walked down beside the railway cutting, we could hear a rather noisy diesel approaching. As it passed by just beside us, we noticed two small birds fly up from the verge on the other side of the cutting, two Woodlarks. We watched them fly and drop down towards one of the paths out on the heath the other side, so we decided to head round and try to get a better look at them.

When we got round there, the Woodlarks were on the path. Even though we walked round really slowly, the first one flew up before we got to it, quickly followed by three more. The first flew off behind some gorse, but the others landed back on the path a little further along. We could see that two of the Woodlarks were fully grown juveniles, so possibly a family party. Then one of the adults flew up and landed in the top of a gorse bush, where we could get a good look at it through the scope.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one perched up in the top of a gorse bush briefly

There was a family of Stonechats here too. We found one juvenile flicking around in a small pine tree first, then a second juveniles in the top of the gorse beyond. Then the male put in a brief appearance too.

We turned onto another small and less used path across the heath. We hadn’t got very far when three birds flew up from the vegetation ahead of us – Nightjars! It was a family group – a male and two three-quarter grown juveniles. Presumably the female has started to incubate a second clutch already nearby, while the male looks after the first brood.

The two short-tailed youngsters flew a short distance and landed back down in the gorse, while the male Nightjar doubled back round behind us and seemed to land back down on the main path. We walked round there cautiously, but it was off again before we got there. We had a fantastic long flight view of it though, as it flew round over the heather, showing off its bold white patches across the tips of its wings.

That was a real bonus, seeing the Nightjars, so with our luck in we decided to swing back round and have another go for the Dartford Warblers. Unfortunately it was not to be and there was still no sign of them. The tit flock had returned and were feeding in the burnt trees again though.

As we got back to the car park, we could hear a Blackcap alarm calling in the blackthorn and just saw it moving around in the dense branches. There were several birds in here and they moved down through the bushes towards the road. When we saw something moving in the branches, we thought it would be the Blackcap again, but a Garden Warbler appeared instead. We only had a brief view of it though, before it flew back into the blackthorn.

It was after midday already, so we dropped back down to the coast and along to the visitor centre at Cley, where we stopped for an early lunch. There were lots of birds on the reserve, so we got the scope out and scanned the scrapes while we ate. We were looking for the Curlew Sandpiper, when we spotted an adult Water Rail preening at the back of the water, against the reeds. Shortly afterwards, we found the Curlew Sandpiper too, but it was hard to see where it was.

A Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds at the back, and one or two Grey Herons and Little Egrets flew in and out. We could hear Bearded Tits calling and a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds just across the road.

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. We made our way along to Bishop Hide first, as that seemed like it might be the best vantage point from which to see the Curlew Sandpiper. Sure enough, there it was, on the mud on the edge of one of the islands with a couple of Dunlin. It was starting to moult out of breeding plumage, but still largely rusty-coloured below.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a moulting adult, on Pat’s Pool

There were lots of Avocets on Pat’s Pool, which was liberally coated in them and Black-headed Gulls. The Avocets appear to have had a good breeding season and there were lots of juveniles in with them. One juvenile came down into the shallow water just in front of the hide, where we watched it sweeping its bill from side to side. We saw it catch a small fish, which it proceeded to wash in the water for several seconds before finally swallowing it.

Avocet

Avocet – this juvenile caught a small fish in front of Bishop Hide

In amongst all the Black-headed Gulls out on the scrape, there were several Ruff too, returning males which have already moulted out their ornate ruff feathers. They are rather scruffy now and come in a huge variety of colours and patterns, a potential source of confusion. There were a few Lapwing too. The Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep on one of the islands, mostly adults still sporting their bright rusty breeding plumage.

We spotted an adult Little Ringed Plover on the mud right over the back of the scrape and could just about make out its golden yellow eye ring through the scope. Then we looked back at the mud right in front of the hide and there were two juvenile Little Ringed Plovers there, perfectly camouflaged against the brown of the dried mud when they stood still.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – there were two juveniles in front of Bishop Hide

A juvenile Little Egret flew in and landed right in front of the hide too, still with grey-green legs and its dagger-like bill shorter than fully grown. There were several young Shoveler sleeping with the Mallard and Gadwall on the bank below the hide, and a Coot feeding a well grown juvenile here too. A Stoat running along the bank, in and out of the long grass, was only visible from one end of the hide though.

There was a Green Sandpiper feeding just beyond the bank, but it was hidden behind the vegetation at first. Thankfully it walked back towards us and moved out into the open mud, where we could get a good look at it, noting the differences from Common Sandpiper, particularly the lack of the white notch between the breast and the wings, as well as its slightly larger size.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – eventually came out onto the open mud right in front of the hide

Eventually, we decided to tear ourselves away from all the activity here and walk out to the other hides out in the middle. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding in the reeds along the other side of the ditch beside the path. Several House Martins were hawking for insects overhead. A smart Red Admiral butterfly was basking on the boardwalk, along with a Ruddy Darter dragonfly.

When we got out to Dauke’s Hide, the first thing we noticed were the Spoonbills. There were three of them here, two juveniles with still only partly grown bills, ‘teaspoons’, and one adult. One of the young ones was awake and preening allowing us to get a good look at it through the scope.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – a youngster, with only partly grown ‘teaspoon’

There were more waders on here, particularly Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning through a group of the latter which were feeding out to the left of the hide, we could see one bird with a mass of colour rings on its legs. The yellow flag was carrying a geolocator and a lime-green ring marked with a black ‘E’ signalled it out as a bird from the small breeding population on the Nene Washes. These are Continental Black-tailed Godwits, of the nominate subspecies limosa, rather than the Icelandic race which comprise the vast bulk of the Black-tailed Godwits we see here.

In amongst the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits further out was a single Knot, also still in its rusty breeding plumage. Eleven Dunlin were feeding out towards the back and a Common Snipe appeared on the edge of the reeds right at the rear of the scrape. Another Green Sandpiper dropped in on the margin of one of the islands briefly and two more juvenile Little Ringed Plovers were hard to see, feeding on the narrow strip of mud just beyond the bank in front of the hide. It looks like they have had a productive breeding season here too.

On one of the islands, about twenty large gulls were mostly asleep. The majority of them were slaty-backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls but amongst the paler-mantled Herring Gulls two had noticeably but slightly darker grey upperparts. When they finally awoke and stood up, we could see they had yellow legs too, different from the pink-legged Herring Gulls. They were Yellow-legged Gulls from continental Europe, an increasingly common late summer visitor here.

One of the paler backed gulls woke up too, and stood up. It looked rather unlike a Herring Gull, with a long sloping face and long parallel-sided bill. It had a darkish eye too. When it finally turned round we could confirm it was a Caspian Gull, an immature, in its third calendar year, with faded grey brown feathers in its wing and dark black-based tertials. This is a rarer but increasingly regular visitor here so a nice bird to find.

Caspian Gull

Caspian Gull – this third calendar year immature was on one of the islands

Back at the car, we drove the short distance along to the East Bank, although the car park was full and we had to park at Walsey Hills. We could hear a Cetti’s Warbler calling in the reeds and a Blackcap appeared in the bushes. An adult and two juvenile Little Grebes were out on Snipe’s Marsh. As we set off up the East Bank, several Common Pochard were in with the Mallards on Don’s Pool.

The grazing marsh here is mostly dried out now, but there is still water in the Serpentine. We could see a few people gathered further up along the bank, by the north end, so we continued on to join them. They were watching the Temminck’s Stint which had been found here earlier in the day and it soon emerged from behind the grass and started feeding on the edge of the mud.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – feeding around the edge of the north end of the Serpentine

The Temminck’s Stint was creeping around on the mud in typical fashion. Through the scope, we could see its pale yellowish legs and the distinctive pattern of black-centred feathers in its upperparts. A Lapwing walked along the edge towards it and pushed the Temminck’s Stint off ahead of it. Next to the Lapwing, we could really see just how small it was.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling behind us, we turned round to see one flying fast just over the tops of the reeds, before crashing back in out of view, in typical fashion. We walked further up, and heard and glimpsed one or two more, before one flew in towards us and landed briefly in full view for a couple of seconds before it disappeared in.

There were two juvenile Marsh Harriers perched up in the bushes out in the middle of the reeds and we got one in the scope. It was plain, dark chocolate brown with a contrasting golden-orangey head. A little further along, a Sedge Warbler flew past us.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, we stopped in the shelter for a scan. There were a few Sandwich Terns on one of the small gravel islands and a Ringed Plover popped up briefly on the edge of the saltmarsh in front of them. A small group of Dunlin was feeding out towards the back and there were several Redshank and Curlew out here too. Two Oystercatchers flew in, calling noisily, and landed on the saltmarsh towards the front.

A lone Brent Goose on the saltmarsh is most likely a sick or injured bird which was unable to make the journey back to Russia for the breeding season and has spent the summer here. There were several Cormorants drying their wings here and a young Great Black-backed Gull too. You cannot come all the way out here without at least looking at the sea, so we carried on out to the beach. A couple of Meadow Pipits flew up from the shingle ahead of us.

Looking out to sea, it all looked rather quiet at first. A few Sandwich Terns flew back and forth. Then a distant group of dark ducks were Common Scoter, probably birds just returning from Scandinavia for the winter and heading in towards the Wash. Five Curlew flew in towards us over the sea too, before turning west, again most likely migrants on their way here, fresh arrivals just coming back from the continent for the winter.

It had been a really good day, despite the heat, but it was now time to walk back to the car and head for home. More again tomorrow!

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16th July 2018 – Summer Waders

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny day, hot but with a nice light breeze just to take the edge off it along the coast. It was the first big tide of the ‘autumn’ season, so with an early start, we headed over to the Wash to look at the waders.

The tide was already starting to come in when we first arrived up on the seawall, but there was still a lot of exposed mud, so we stopped for a scan. Several Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers were feeding down just below the bank and they were joined by a Dunlin. Some larger flocks of Dunlin were still feeding feverishly out on the other side of the channel, but started to fly further up as the tide began to rise.

One or two Black-tailed Godwits were feeding on the near edge of the channel too, while further out we could see large stains across the mud, big flocks of Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. Gradually all the waders started to move higher up the mud, and a couple of Turnstone flew in past us.

The gulls and terns were gathered away to our right still, but flew in and landed on the mud out in front of us. Amongst the Black-headed Gulls, we could see one or two white-winged Mediterranean Gulls. We got nice views of Sandwich and Little Tern with them too, along with the Common Terns which were flying in and out of the pits behind us carrying food.

Snettisham

The Wash – there was still lost of exposed mud when we first arrived

It wasn’t long before the mud in front of us was covered by the rising water, so we carried on along the seawall to Rotary Hide, where we stopped to scan again. The Oystercatchers appeared to flow across the mud like a large slick of liquid as they walked up away from the tide, whereas the Knot and the godwits flew across and landed again further from the approaching water.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – walking up ahead of the rising tide

There were lots of Curlew too, gathering on the edge of the vegetation at the back. The Dunlin gave up early today, flying up in a succession of flocks and in over the seawall, flashing their black belly patches, before dropping down onto the pits behind us.

Dunlin

Dunlin – flying in off the Wash to roost on the pits

The Oystercatchers were next to start heading in. Rather than flying in one big group, they took off in small flocks and lines, coming in over our heads. There were little groups of Avocets too, passing overhead. We gradually made our way down to the corner, as the tide progressively covered the open mud and the remaining birds were pushed further and further in.

The Knot and the Bar-tailed Godwits resisted longest. Then a Marsh Harrier flew in across the saltmarsh just behind, close enough to spook them. The waders erupted and several large flocks of Knot headed in. All we could hear was the whirring of hundreds of wings as they passed by. The Marsh Harrier was quickly chased off by a zealous Avocet.

Many of the Bar-tailed Godwits landed again and tried to settle in with the Curlews, which were looking to roost out on in the shorter vegetation on the edge of the saltmarsh. Gradually, the rising tide pushed them out again, and we had great views of several large flocks of Bar-tailed Godwits as they flew in overhead. Most were still in bright breeding plumage, with their rusty underparts extending right down under their tails.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwits – flying in off the Wash to roost

Two Common Sandpipers were disturbed by the rising tide from the near edge of the saltmarsh, just below us, and flew off over the water with flicking wingbeats and bowed wings. A seal surfaced just offshore, presumably looking for fish in the now flooded channels out in the mud. Something spooked all the waders from the pits behind us and they whirled round, flashing alternately dark and light as they twisted and turned. It seemed to be a false alarm though, and they quickly settled back down again.

With most of the waders now pushed in by the tide, we made our way round to the temporary hide round at the south end of the pits to see what we could find there. As we looked out, the islands close to us were covered in waders. Scanning through them, we could see they were predominantly Dunlin, mainly adult birds still in breeding plumage, with black bellies.

Waders

Waders – Dunlin, Knot & Redshank gathered on the islands on the pits

In with them, we found several Knot, again mostly in their bright rusty breeding plumage, and Common Redshank. The number of Knot today seemed to be down on what we would normally expect at this time of year – they seem to be slightly late returning from Greenland this year. Still, there was plenty to look at.

The Oystercatchers were all roosting on the shingle bank down along the left. Opposite, on the bank on the other side of the water, were all the Black-tailed Godwits and in with them lots more of the Knot. A Common Sandpiper flew across and landed on its own on an unoccupied area along the gravel edge of the pit, bobbing up and down as it did so.

As we scanned carefully through, we spotted several Spotted Redshanks on the edge of the water below the godwits and Knot. They were already well advanced in their moult, their black breeding plumage already liberally patterned with silvery grey and white feathers, to a greater or lesser degree. We could see their long, needle-fine bills, longer and thinner than the Common Redshanks nearby.

We couldn’t find anything else in with all the waders at this end today, so we made our way round to Shore Hide to have a look from there. There were fewer waders from here, but there were some nice terns on the island right in front of the hide. Several of the Sandwich Terns had scaly-backed juveniles in tow, begging to be fed, and there appeared to be some squabbles between the families. We had a nice view of Common Tern and Sandwich Tern side by side, for comparison.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – several adults had juveniles with them

The tide was slowly starting to recede now, but we decided to move on. We made our way back to the car and round to Titchwell. It was hot now and the trees around the car park were quite quiet. We could hear a Chiffchaff singing and there were some Goldfinches in the bushes. There wasn’t much happening at the feeders by the Visitor Centre so, after a quick look in the sightings book, we headed out onto the reserve.

A Reed Bunting was singing out in the reeds as we walked out. We stopped to scan and found a juvenile Marsh Harrier perched up in one of the small sallows towards the back of the reedbed. Through the scope, we could see it was very dark chocolate brown with a rather gingery orange head. Across the Thornham Grazing Marsh the other side, a Common Buzzard was perched on a post in the distance.

The Thornham Grazing Marsh pool had been bone dry in recent weeks, but has filled up with saltwater after the high tides. This is not part of the reserve and used to be a lovely deep freshwater pool up until a couple of years ago when it was allowed to drain for no apparent reason – it is a complete travesty the way it is being mismanaged by the landowner. There were a few Lapwing, a Curlew and a Grey Heron on here today.

There were lots of ducks out on the reedbed pool, Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard and one or two Common Pochard too. They are all looking rather drab now, in eclipse plumage. A smart adult Great Crested Grebe sailed out into the middle and a Little Grebe appeared in the channel just beyond. A Common Snipe was busy feeding in the near corner of the Freshmarsh.

We heard Bearded Tits calling, but all we got were several brief flight views as they zipped across over the tops of the reeds before crashing back in out of view. A Reed Warbler was still singing out in the reedbed and we managed to get a look at another which clambered up into the tops of the reeds. The Bearded Tits are often easier to see from Island Hide, so we carried on up to there.

While we kept one eye on the edge of the reeds, we scanned the freshmarsh to see what we could find. There were good numbers of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits here. A couple of Ruff were feeding on the mud in front of the reeds – we saw lots here today, all moulting males which have moulted out their ornate ruff feathers and are in a bewildering array of colours and patterns.

Ruff

Ruff – a moulting male, still sporting some colourful breeding plumage

A Little Gull was swimming out on the water here too, circling round and picking at the water’s surface. Despite the lack of any other gulls immediately around, it was noticeably very small, a young bird, a first summer with black feathers still in the wings and a winter-pattern to the head.

There were some Spoonbills on the small island over towards the back of the Freshmarsh too. At first there was only one, doing what Spoonbills like to do best, sleeping. Then, when we looked again more had appeared, presumably from round the back of the island. They started to preen and we could see their spoon-shaped bills.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically and kept looking back at the edge of the reeds. Eventually we managed to get a look at one or two, creeping along low down at the back of the mud. We got a bit of a surprise when we heard ‘pinging’ from right in front of the hide, but the Bearded Tits down here knew just how to keep tantalisingly out of view!

Looking out of the flaps on the other side of Island Hide, we noticed another Ruff on the mud close to us. A second wader walked out next to it and we did a double-take – a Lesser Yellowlegs! This is a rare visitor here from North America, which had been on the reserve three days ago but had not been seen since. As a measure of its rarity here, it was apparently the first ever to have been seen at Titchwell. Where it had been hiding since then nobody knows, but it was a nice surprise to find that it had returned for us!

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs – a rare visitor from North America

After letting various people know that the Lesser Yellowlegs had reappeared, we set about having a good look at it. It was smaller than the Ruff, with a medium-short, fine bill and long yellow legs (appropriately enough!).

A Common Redshank appeared on the mud nearby and decided to try to chase it off, which gave us a nice chance to see the two species side by side – Lesser Yellowlegs is in many ways the North American equivalent of the Redshank. Again, the Lesser Yellowlegs was noticeably smaller and daintier, as well as their legs being a different colour.

We had a closer look at the Lesser Yellowlegs from up on the main path. Then, as a small crowd started to gather, we decided to move on. Another stop and scan and we noticed a Little Ringed Plover out in the middle of the freshmarsh, but by the time we got the scope on it, it had been disturbed by a couple of Ruff. They can often be found from Parrinder Hide, so we decided to have a look for it from there.

It has been an amazing year for breeding Mediterranean Gulls at Titchwell this year, and there were loads of recently fledged juveniles with scaly backs scattered around the islands in front of Parrinder Hide today. There were plenty of adults loafing here too, and we had a good look at them.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gull – an adult and juvenile in front of Parrinder Hide

The Little Ringed Plover was feeding on the edge of the mud out of one side of the hide. The bird we first got the scope on was a fairly conventional one – buff-brown, with black and white striped face and golden yellow eye ring. But when we looked back, a much whiter bird had appeared in its place. It was a leucistic Little Ringed Plover, ectensively patterned with pale off white feathers, a rather odd looking washed-out thing. The first Little Ringed Plover then appeared from behind the reeds, just to convince us we hadn’t imagined it!

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the islands in front of the hide, and two Pink-footed Geese walked out to join them. They are both injured birds, most likely shooting casualties, which have been unable to make the journey back up to Iceland for the breeding season, so they have remained here all summer.

Continuing on, out towards the beach, we looked up to see a couple of Wigeon flying over. There was one male which appeared to be over-summering earlier in the year, but it was possible that these two were the first birds we have seen returning from their breeding grounds in Russia. Autumn is definitely upon us, in terms of birds at least! A young Marsh Harrier was quartering back and forth over the Volunteer Marsh, flushing everything.

We stopped to admire a couple of Lapwings feeding on the edge of the muddy channel just below the path. Even though they are moulting and have largely lost their crests, they are still stunning birds. We watched as their glossy green upperparts flashed bronze and purple as they turned in the sunlight.

Lapwing

Lapwing – glowing green, bronze and purple in the sunlight

There had apparently been some Greenshank roosting at the back of the Tidal Pools earlier, but they had now disappeared, probably heading off to feed with the tide falling. There were still at least five Spoonbills out here though, as well as 15 Little Egrets. Some of the Spoonbills were asleep, but the two that were awake had rather short bills – juvenile ‘Teaspoonbills’.

The tide had not yet gone out very far when we got to the beach and with several people out enjoying the sand and sea, there were few waders here beyond a group of roosting Oystercatchers with all the Herring Gulls over towards Brancaster. Out to sea, we could see a few Sandwich Terns flying past.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we set off to walk back. When we got to the reedbed, we looked across to see four Marsh Harriers circling, three dark chocolate juveniles and a grey-winged male. We had just missed a food-pass, the male having brought in from food for the young. We had a great view of the male as it flew towards us and crossed over the path just behind.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us, having just brought in some food for its young

We made our way back to the car and headed off to get some lunch. It was an early finish today, but we had enjoyed a great morning out in the sunshine, action-packed!

7th July 2018 – Summer Birds & Wildlife

A single day Summer Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a glorious sunny day, hot out of the wind but with a fresh east wind on the coast.

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. We wanted to visit before it got too busy, and there were not too many cars in the car park as we arrived at Lady Anne’s Drive. The grazing marshes are looking quite dry here now, but as we set off to walk west along the track on the inland side of the pines, we looked across to see a couple of Little Egrets flying towards us, presumably heading off to find somewhere wetter to feed.

With a combination of the hot weather, and the breeding season now being well advanced, there were not so many birds singing in the trees today. We heard a Chiffchaff calling in the poplars by the path, and eventually found one singing too.

The tits are already forming into flocks and when we heard Long-tailed Tits calling, we stopped to look. We could see a family of Long-tailed Tits in the trees, and they were accompanied by several Coal Tits and Blue Tits. A Goldcrest was singing from high in the pines the other side of the path and we could hear a Treecreeper calling from somewhere deep in the trees.

There were good numbers of butterflies on the wing today, mainly Meadow Brown and Ringlet in the grass beside the path. A small, dark ‘blue’ butterfly flew past and landed in the vegetation. It folded its wings up but on closer inspection we could confirm it was a Brown Argus. Then a White Admiral flew in and landed on the brambles, where it started to feed on the flowers. We watched it for a while, until it flew off. A Gatekeeper then appeared in the same bush.

White Admiral

White Admiral – feeding on the brambles by the path

There were no ducks or grebes on Salt’s Hole still, but we did stop to listen to a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds. An Emperor Dragonfly was patrolling over the water, chasing off any other dragonflies it could see. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the trees behind us and we could hear another Goldcrest singing.

There is a small group of elm trees by the path before Washington Hide, and this is a regular spot for White-letter Hairstreaks, the trees being their larval food plant. There was no sign of any feeding around the brambles or privet lower down, but after watching the tree tops we did find one White-letter Hairstreak high in the trees. It landed, thankfully somewhere we could get the scope on it, and see the white ‘w’ letter on the underside of its hindwing, from which it gets its name.

Just before we got to Washington Hide, we stopped by the gate to listen to a Sedge Warbler singing. We could see it perched in the brambles on the near edge of the reeds and through the scope we could see its bold, pale supercilium. It was quite mobile, moving from bush to bush, singing. A juvenile Marsh Harrier was flying round over the grass, dark chocolate brown but for an orangey buff head, before it landed in the top of a bush out in the reeds.

The other side of Meals House, we ran into another tit flock on the edge of the trees. A stop to scan through them paid off when one of the group spotted a Treecreeper on the trunk of one of the pines. It stopped for a few seconds and  was very hard to see, camouflaged against the bark. When it flew out to another dead tree briefly, it was followed by a second Treecreeper, so possibly there was a family party in the flock.

As we walked up along the path towards Joe Jordan Hide, we could already see a large flock of white birds on the edge of the pool out on the grazing marsh – Spoonbills. From the hide, we got them in the scope and could see they were mostly juveniles. There were about 25 Spoonbills in total, of which at least 20 were recently fledged youngsters, ‘Teaspoonbills’. The juveniles gather here in a crèche while they wait for their parents to return from feeding.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – mostly juveniles gathering on the edge of the pool

When an adult Spoonbill returned from a feeding trip along the coast and landed on the pool, we watched as two juveniles set off after it. They were begging to be fed – bobbing their heads up and down and flapping their wings. The pester power was relentless – they followed the adult for ages until it eventually stopped to regurgitate some food.

We were hoping to see Great White Egret here today too, but they were slightly less helpful. We watched one three times circle low over the reeds before disappearing behind the trees again, but you had to be quick to see it. Another Great White Egret could be seen way off in the distance towards Burnham Overy Staithe, miles away and flying further away from us too.

There was plenty of Marsh Harrier action from the hide again, with one or two juveniles up, flying round and exercising their wings. At one point, we heard a Marsh Harrier calling, and the next thing we knew a male appeared above the wood displaying. It did a series of swoops and somersaults, gradually losing height until it landed on the grass. Unusual to see at this time of year.

Dark Green Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary – several were out in the dunes, but very mobile

From Joe Jordan hide, we had a quick walk out into the dunes beyond the pines. We quickly spotted a Dark Green Fritillary flying low over the grass, but it wasn’t stopping and disappeared off over the ridge. We found several more, but they were all very active in the heat of the day, with only one landing down in the short grass briefly.

Nearby, in one of the dune slacks, was a great carpet of wild flowers, including a good number of orchids. There were lots of purple Southern Marsh Orchids, although most of them are a little past their best now. The Marsh Helleborines are just out, so were looking very smart.

Marsh Helleborine

Marsh Helleborine – flowering now in the dunes

The beach back at Holkham Gap was packed with people, perhaps not surprisingly given the weather, and their was quite a bit of disturbance from walkers and horse riders even down to the far end of the pines. We could hear Little Terns calling and looked across to see four flying round over the fenced area between us and the Gap. They headed out towards the sea, so we decided not to head back via the beach.

There were lots of skippers flying now, on our way back on the other side of the pines, and several Ruddy Darters. A Jay was feeding in the shadows under the trees. We heard a couple of Goldcrests singing and stopped to see if we could get a look at them, but they were very hard to see high in the pines.

Titchwell was the destination for the afternoon. On the drive west, we looked out over Burnham Norton marshes from the coast road and saw a large white bird fly up. It circled round over the reeds and fortunately there was nothing  coming so we could pull up for a second to confirm it was another Great White Egret. It dropped down into a ditch and we continued on our way, admiring the tight groups of Common Swifts zooming around over the roofs of the villages we passed through. We could hear them screaming through the open windows.

It was lunch time when we arrived at Titchwell, so we stopped for a bite to eat in the picnic area. Afterwards, we headed out onto the reserve. There was a nice fresh breeze once we got out of the trees. A couple of Reed Buntings were still singing out in the reedbed and several young Marsh Harriers were flying round over the reeds.

Someone had just seen a couple of Bearded Tits disappear into the reeds close to the path, so we waited a couple of minutes but they didn’t reappear. We did see a couple of Reed Warblers zipping back and forth across the small pools. We stopped again by the reedbed pool where a large raft of ducks included Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler and Common Pochard, with the drakes all in their rather dull eclipse plumage now. A stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe was out towards the back and one of the adults then appeared from the reeds with a fish to feed it.

The Freshmarsh is chock-full of birds at the moment, so it is hard to know where to look. We started in Island Hide, with a Ruff on the mud just in front of the windows. There are lots of Ruff here at the moment, mostly males returned from their breeding grounds and already rapidly losing their ornate ruff feathers. As a consequence, they are looking rather scruffy! No two are alike, which is a source of constant confusion for the unwary. If you see a wader and don’t know what it is, think Ruff!

Ruff

Ruff – the males are moulting and starting to look rather scruffy

There are lots of Avocets on here too at the moment, with lots of birds coming to the Freshmarsh from elsewhere, after the breeding season, to moult. We didn’t count them all, but in recent days there have been over 500 here. Black-tailed Godwit numbers have been increasing too, as birds return from Iceland, with most of them still for now sporting their bright rusty breeding plumage.

The Spotted Redshanks were all asleep around the islands when we first looked, but gradually some of them started to wake up and walk around or feed for a bit, so we could see their long, needle-fine bills. Several have already started to moult and their black breeding plumage is now liberally peppered with silvery grey, but one in particular was still largely black. It looked very smart when it finally woke up and walked round for a few seconds.

A few Dunlin had dropped in, with at least 16 now scattered around the edges of the islands or in among the legs of the roosting godwits (apparently they had not been there earlier). While we were looking through them, we noticed that one was colour-ringed, with a red flag on its right leg. At the time of writing, it looks like this was possibly ringed in Spain, though we are waiting to hear back with more details.

There were a few ducks and geese on here today, mainly Teal, though again with the drakes not at their best now, and Shelduck. A pair of Egyptian Geese swam across to the island to join all the Greylags. We had a look along the edge of the reeds for any Bearded Tits but the breeze was catching the vegetation here and the water was also lapping up on the mud at the base of the reeds, so despite hearing some pinging calls, we couldn’t see any.

Little Gull

Little Gull – one of at least nine 1st summer birds here

We had seen two or three Little Gulls swimming around between the hide and the reedbed, at one point with a juvenile Black-headed Gull for size comparison, but we got a better look at them from back up on the main path, where another three were loafing on the edge of the nearest island. The Little Gulls are all young, 1st summer birds and we counted at least nine scattered around the freshmarsh today.

The island in front of Parrinder Hide is covered in Avocets at the moment and they spent much of the time we were in there today squabbling. A group of four were arguing right in front of the hide when we arrived.

Avocet

Avocets – a group of four squabbling

A single Little Ringed Plover dropped in on the island right in front of the hide. It was close enough that we could see the golden yellow ring round its eye, as well as its pointy black bill and flesh coloured legs.

The Freshmarsh is still dominated by the gulls though. The fenced off Avocet Island has been taken over this year, but it has resulted in over 50 pairs of Mediterranean Gulls nesting with all the Black-headed Gulls. Many of the young have now started to fledge and we had a good look at some of the scaly-backed juvenile Mediterranean Gulls loafing around the islands today.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – a recently fledged juvenile

Continuing on, out towards the beach, we stopped to have a look at the Volunteer Marsh. A single Curlew was out along the edge of the channel at the far end, but walked up onto the saltmarsh where it was remarkably well camouflaged. A white Little Egret in the same view stood out a little more obviously!

A Lapwing was feeding on the edge of the channel, just below the path. Even though it was moulting too, and had lost its crest, it still looked stunning as its metallic green upperparts caught the light, shining bronze and purple.

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining on the Volunteer Marsh

There were lots of Oystercatchers roosting on the Tidal Pools (which are no longer tidal!), and a few Common Redshank, but we couldn’t seem much else out here today. Out on the beach, the tide was just going out. More Oystercatchers were loafing on the sand, along with lots of Herring Gulls. There had been some Sanderling here earlier, but they had gone off along the beach towards Thornham Point, We could just make out some small dots running around on the shore in the heat haze!

We had a quick look out to sea, but there was nothing moving apart from Sandwich Terns, flying back in towards Scolt Head from feeding out in the mouth of the Wash. We decided to head back. At the Tidal Pools, a Common Tern was fishing. It dived into the water, caught a fish and headed off towards the Freshmarsh. A few seconds later it was back again.

Bearded Tit had been on the wish list for the day, so we stopped back at the reedbed to have another go. It wasn’t long before we heard some ‘pinging’ and looked across to see two Bearded Tits fly across one of the channels. One perched up very briefly in the tops of the reeds, but quickly dropped in out of view.

Thankfully, a minute or so later the two Bearded Tits flew again. It looked like they might drop down behind the bank, but they flew straight over it and came down into the reeds at the back of one of the small pools just below the path. They landed in the base of the reeds and we could see them perched on a reed stem, side by side, preening. It was a pair and we got them in the scope, eventually getting a really good look at both of them, including the male with its powder grey head and black moustache.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we watched a pair preening in the base of the reeds

Eventually, the Bearded Tits finished preening and started to feed, working their way round the edge of the pool at the base of the reeds. When they finally disappeared in, we carried on back to the car. It was a nice way to end a very enjoyable day of Summer birding.

29th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was our last day and we would be heading down to the Brecks. It was a lovely sunny day, though it was a little hot, particularly out of the light but fresh NE breeze.

With the sun out and the heat haze only likely to increase, we headed straight over to Weeting Heath first. As we walked down towards the West Hide, through the trees, we could hear a Blackcap singing. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the pines too. There were quite a few tits in the bushes and after a couple of Great Tits the next bird to appear in front of us was a Marsh Tit. There were Coal Tits singing in the tops of the pines too.

Just before we got to West Hide, we could hear Spotted Flycatchers calling in the trees, but it sounded like they were along the sunny edge and slightly further down from the hide. There is a family party here, two adults with their fledged first brood young. We scanned the trees, but it looked like we couldn’t see them from here. We decided to keep an ear out in case they moved closer, and in the meanwhile have a look from the hide.

Looking out across the grass, there was already quite a bit of heat haze building. The vegetation is very overgrown at the moment due to a lack of rabbits, which have been hit badly by disease. We scanned the heath but couldn’t see any sign of the Stone Curlews initially. We knew they were out there though – we had just seen them on the CCTV in the visitor centre! Eventually a Stone Curlew appeared out of the thick grass. We got it in the scope, and we could just about make it out.

The Spotted Flycatchers called from somewhere behind the hide, so we headed out for a quick look. One appeared overhead, on a branch, preening, but unfortunately by the time everyone had made it out of the hide it had moved off again and we could hear them calling still along the edge.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – we finally got good views of them in the trees by the hide

Thankfully, this time one of the Spotted Flycatchers had decided to perch on a dead branch in the sunshine where we could see it from the hide access ramp. We even managed to find an angle where we could get the scope on it.

Back in the hide, the Stone Curlew had moved and by changing our viewing angle, we got a much better look at it. It stood stock still, looking around, and after a couple of minutes a second Stone Curlew stood up out of the grass nearby. The first bird walked over to it and settled down where it had been sitting, promptly disappearing completely into the vegetation. Changeover time at the nest! The second Stone Curlew then walked off into the grass.

Stone Curlews 1

Stone Curlews – the pair out in the grass

Having managed some better views of the Stone Curlews now, we had a gentle stroll down to the Woodland Hide at the far end. There were lots of tits on the feeders – Blue Tits and Great Tits, including lots of juveniles. Several came down to bathe too, and were joined by a Coal Tit, which was dwarfed by the Great Tit next to it.

There were lots of young Goldfinches coming and going too, but the stars of the show were the Yellowhammers. One male dropped in under the feeders to feed. Then another came down to the small pool in front of the hide for a bath.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – bathing in the pool in front of Woodland Hide

With a busy morning planned, we headed back to the car and on to Lakenheath Fen. With a limit to the amount of walking we could do, we asked at the visitor centre and were kindly granted disabled access to the reserve, which meant that we could drive up to New Fen. With the windows down, we could hear a Common Whitethroat singing in the sallows by the track and watched as it flew out, low over the reeds.

We sat on the benches at New Fen viewpoint, to gather our energy for the walk ahead. It was already hot, but at least there was a bit of a breeze. There was not much activity around the pool in front, apart from the families of Coot. A couple of Reed Warblers zipped around the edges of the reeds and a Bearded Tit shot across the water, unfortunately too quickly for anyone to get onto it.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – there were lots of dragonflies out today

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies along the bank which runs along the south side of New Fen. We managed to find a Variable Damselfly with the AzureCommon Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies on the corner. A couple of Brown Hawkers zoomed past, and an Emperor patrolled up and down the path. A Scarce Chaser perched up briefly and there were several Ruddy Darters and Black-tailed Skimmers out too.

We saw a few butterflies too – several Meadow Browns, plus one or two Ringlet, Large White, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. A Comma posed nicely in the reeds along the side of the path.

Comma

Comma – posed nicely on the reeds by the path

The season for adult Cuckoos is almost at an end already, and this is the first time in recent weeks we haven’t heard one here. We did manage to see one though, which flew across high over the reeds from West Wood and disappeared off towards the viewpoint.

Finally, a Bittern put in an appearance, a long flight view in from the back of New Fen, straight across towards us, before dropping down into the reeds between us and the viewpoint. There were no other Bittern flights on our walk along the bank here today, despite the fact that they should be busy with feeding flights at the moment.

We stopped to admire a couple of Great Crested Grebes on one of the pools in the reeds, an adult and an almost fully-grown stripy-headed juvenile. The adult was trying to doze, but the juvenile was swimming around it, calling quietly. A second adult Great Crested Grebe, presumably the other parent, had swum off a discrete distance and was sleeping in peace!

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – an adult and juvenile, the parent trying to sleep

There has been a family of Bitterns showing well in front of Mere Hide this week, so we thought we would head over there for a sit down and see if we could catch up with them. We could barely get into the hide at first, with a photographer’s tripod right across the doorway! The benches were packed with photographers too, some of which had been there for over six and a half hours, leaving no room for anyone else. Eventually two of them left, making space for another couple who had been waiting ahead of us, and then after waiting a few minutes we managed to sit down too. We had obviously arrived just in time, as several were leaving for lunch!

There was no sign of the Bitterns unfortunately today – they were probably camera shy. Even the Kingfisher just did a brief flyby, zooming past over the reeds at the back, too quick for anyone to get onto. After resting here for a while, we decided to head back for lunch in the cool of the visitor centre.

After lunch, we headed back towards the Forest. It was hot and with limited scope for walking any distance now, we decided not to head to our usual clearing in the trees for Tree Pipit. Instead, we had a drive round through farmland first, checking out some fields.

We stopped by a recently sown maize strip. As we got out of the car, we could see an Oystercatcher standing in the middle. Scanning with binoculars, we then spotted two Stone Curlews along the far edge. We got the scope on them and looked again and realised there was another Stone Curlew further along the edge, and two more hiding in the grass just beyond, five in total. There was still quite a bit of heat haze, but the views were a bit better than we had enjoyed at Weeting earlier and we could make out a bit more detail.

Stone Curlews 2

Stone Curlews – two of the five on a recently sown maize strip

As we drove on, we noticed a dove perched on the wires beside the road. Typically, we had a car right behind us, so we had to find somewhere to pull over and wait for them to pass. As we got out of the car we could see that it was a Turtle Dove, the first we have seen here in recent years. Unfortunately it flew before we could get the scope out and disappeared out into the field the other side of the road.

We headed round to another clearing in the Forest, which wouldn’t be as far to walk. There had been Tree Pipits here a few weeks ago, but we weren’t sure what they would be up to in the heat of the afternoon. It all looked pretty quiet as we got out of the car, apart from a Yellowhammer singing in one of the trees beside the path and a group of juvenile Swallows hawking for insects from the wires across the clearing.

As we walked down along the path, there were lots of butterflies fluttering around the vegetation either side, mainly Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Skippers. A Large Skipper perched nicely in the sun.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – perched nicely in the sun

The combination of the walk and the afternoon sun was proving too much, so we turned back. We were almost back to the car when we noticed a small bird in one of the trees by the path, perched on a dead branch. It was a Tree Pipit. It stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope, then took off and flew out into the middle of the clearing.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – in a tree by the path, just as we got back to the car

That was a nice way to end the day, so we set off for home. We had enjoyed a very good three days out birdwatching and seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife, some of the best that Norfolk has to offer in summer.

28th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was another cloudy start but the cloud was slower to burn off today. We did have some nice sunny spells, particularly through the afternoon, but it was cool on the coast in the moderate NE wind.

The Peregrine was perched on the church tower again this morning as we were about to drive past, so we stopped for a closer look. It was preening at first but then stopped and turned and stared down at us. It soon lost interest in us though and went back to looking round. It was a great way to start the day.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower again this afternoon

Our first destination proper for the day was Holkham. As we set off along the path which runs on the south side of the pines, a Blackcap was singing high in one of the oaks by the path. A little further along, a Chiffchaff was singing too, but warbler song has definitely declined along here now we are into summer and the birds are busy nesting.

Not far along the path, we found our first tit flock. The Long-tailed Tits have fledged their first broods and are travelling round in big groups again, and they have already started to bring lots of other birds with them.  There was a hive of activity in the trees as the tits passed through. We could hear Coal Tit and Goldcrest singing high in the pines. A Treecreeper and a Chiffchaff were with them too.

There is very little on Salts Hole at the moment, just a few Mallard, but a couple of Marsh Harriers were circling up over the reeds beyond. We heard a Green Woodpecker laughing out in the grass, and a bit further along heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling too, but neither were seen.

Jay

Jay – there were a couple out in the cut grass

The wardens are topping the grazing meadows at the moment, and a couple of Jays were hopping around down in the cut grass. Further over, two Red Kites were following behind the tractor, presumably trying to see what was left behind after the cutting. We didn’t go into Washington Hide but had a quick look from the boardwalk. The Marsh Harriers were still circling out over the grazing marsh beyond the reeds.

As we got back down onto the path, we could hear the frenzied song of a Sedge Warbler in the reedbed. A little further on, and a Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds by the path too.

Past Meals House, we came across another tit flock. Again, there were lots of Long-tailed Tits but feeding with them we watched a family of Coal Tits, the juveniles with yellow faces. There were warblers with them too – both Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler, feeding on the edge of the pines.

There is a great display of foxgloves under the pines at the crosstracks at the moment, which we stopped to admire on our way to Joe Jordan Hide. When we got up into the hide, there appeared to be nothing on the pool at first, but it quickly became clear that everything was hiding down at the front, behind the reeds.

Eventually a couple of Spoonbills came out into the open, an adult and a short-billed juvenile. The latter was pursuing the adult, flapping its wings and bobbing its head, demanding to be fed. Eventually the adult decided it had had enough and flew off up into the trees. Another adult Spoonbill dropped in and started feeding along the back edge of the pool, along the reeds.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and disappeared behind the trees

A couple of Little Egrets flew in and landed down at the front of the pool, out of view. Then a Great White Egret appeared, flying in from the east before disappearing round behind the trees. It was clearly much bigger, with long, rounded wings and slower wingbeats, long legs and a yellow-base to its bill.

There were Marsh Harriers coming and going all the time. One female did a nice pass over in front of the hide. Another, further back on the edge of the pool, appeared to still be collecting nest material. There were a couple of Common Buzzards circling in the distance and another flew out of the pines just beyond the hide and circled out over the grass in front.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled in front of the hide

As we set off to walk back, a Siskin flew high over the pines calling. A pair of Bullfinches came out of the bushes and flew off calling round Meals House.

The sun was starting to come out now and there were noticeably more butterflies out on the way back. Several Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods fluttered over the path and a couple of Ringlet perched up nicely in the vegetation beside. A Small Skipper landed on a grass head where we could see the pale underside to its antennae. Back past Washington Hide, we sat for a minute on the bench and could see three small White-letter Hairstreaks fluttering around the tops of the elm trees opposite.

Ringlet

Ringlet – perched on a leaf by the path

We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell. Over lunch at the visitor centre, we had a look to see if we could find the Tawny Owls. There has been a juvenile here for the last week or so, and often an adult too, but even though they were apparently around earlier there was no sign of them now.

After lunch, we went back to the car to get the scope and then headed out to explore the reserve. As we walked along the path beyond the visitor centre, we spotted the juvenile Tawny Owl back in the alder trees. We got it in the scope, but it flew before everyone got to see it. A minute later it then reappeared back in the alders. We got it in the scope again, but then it flew again, off towards the main path.

We walked out onto the main path and could hear the young Tawny Owl‘s begging calls from deep in the trees. It seemed there was no way to see it from here, but then it flew across the path right above our heads and landed in the tree directly above us. It perched there on a branch for some time, calling, looking down at the people passing below. We had to walk back a short way along the scope to be able to get it in the scope!

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – the juvenile landed in a tree right above us on the path

The juvenile Tawny Owl appears to be much more mobile now, than it has been. Though this may have been exacerbated this afternoon by the disappearance of the adult. The youngster was clearly looking for its parent, calling for it too. The adult Tawny Owl will return, but had possibly had enough of being pestered by its teenage offspring and gone off somewhere quiet for a rest!

Further along the path, we stopped at the reedbed pool next. Several Marsh Harriers were circling up over the reeds, including the first fledged juveniles. One adult Marsh Harrier circling higher seemed to be edging out a Kestrel, moving closer to it each time and causing it to gradually move further off.

Several Mediterranean Gulls were flying over the reeds, back and forth, calling. One Mediterranean Gull dropped in with the Black-headed Gulls to bathe on the pool. In the scope, we could see its darker, jet black hood, brighter red bill and pure white wingtips. A Reed Warbler was flitting around the edge of the pool below.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – several flew over us on the main path

A female Red-crested Pochard was feeding its two juveniles on the edge of the reeds on the left of the reedbed pool. Then something disturbed everything and a big mob of ducks swam out from the reeds on the right. In among the Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard were three drake Red-crested Pochard. They are starting to moult into eclipse plumage now, but still have their bright coral-red bills. A large flock of Teal flushed from the Freshmarsh and circled over the reeds.

When we got to Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. We looked along the edge of the reeds to see if we could find any feeding down on the mud, but it was very exposed to the cool wind on this side of the reeds today. A brief glimpse was the beat we could manage but it disappeared back deeper in before everyone could get onto it.

There were a couple of Avocets and a Black-tailed Godwit feeding in front of the hide today. There were lots of Avocets scattered across the freshmarsh, mostly sleeping on the islands, but there is still a distinct lack of juveniles here – it seems to have been a very poor breeding season for them here. There were lots more Black-tailed Godwits further over too, sleeping on the islands or in a large group in the shallow water. A couple of Ruff were asleep on the low tern island, with three or four Common Terns.

Avocet

Avocet – good views on the Freshmarsh, but a lack of juveniles

The Freshmarsh is still dominated by gulls, which have taken over the fenced-off Avocet Island. There are mostly Black-headed Gulls and a smaller number of Mediterranean Gulls. Scattered around the water, in among the other gulls, were several diminutive Little Gulls, living up to their name. They were mostly swimming today and picking insects from the water’s surface, or sleeping on the islands. We counted at least ten, all young first summer birds.

Little Gulls

Little Gulls – there were at least 10 here today

As we walked round to Parrinder Hide next, there were several more Ruff on the edge of the reeds by the junction of the paths. We stopped to look at them. Once they return from their breeding grounds, they very rapidly start to lose their ornate ruff feathers. These ones were starting to look distinctly tatty already. They were also all different colours – Ruff really are the most variable of waders!

Ruff

Ruff – rapidly moulting out its ornate ruff feathers already

There were lots of gulls loafing and preening on the island in front of Parrinder Hide. We had a better view of the Mediterranean Gulls from here, in direct comparison to the actually brown-headed Black-headed Gulls.

There were a few more waders here. As well as all the Black-tailed Godwits on the same island, a single Dunlin appeared on the far end of the muddy spit, still in breeding plumage and sporting a black belly patch. A Curlew dropped in – possibly a freshly returned migrant, back from the breeding grounds in Scandinavia perhaps. A large flock of Oystercatchers flew in from the beach.

There were three pairs of geese in front of the hide, and they were all different. As well as the expected Greylag Geese, a pair of Pink-footed Geese were walking around picking at the low vegetation on the island. They are common in winter here, but very unusual in summer, but on closer inspection we could see that both had damaged wings, possibly having been shot by wildfowlers and winged. They have been unable to fly back to Iceland for the breeding season, but seem to be surviving here nonetheless. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew round and showed off their striking white wing coverts.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – one of two injured birds summering here

We had a quick look from the other side of the hide, still on the Freshmarsh side. We could see a lot of waders tucked in the far corner, behind the fence. As well as more Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were six Spotted Redshank. They are all still largely in breeding plumage the moment, strikingly mostly black peppered with white spots, although they are already starting to get a few paler winter feathers mixed in too.

There was nothing to see on Volunteer Marsh, and we didn’t think we could make the walk out to the beach today, after the walking we had done earlier, so we started to walk back. A Little Ringed Plover was now running around on the shore of the island, just behind the Ruff we had seen earlier.

Then it was time to head for home. More of the same tomorrow, but different!

27th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was a cloudy start to the day, but the cloud gradually burnt back to the coast and then it was mostly bright and sunny. It was warm, but a moderate NE wind on the coast kept the temperatures down a bit.

Given the weather, we headed straight up to the Heath first thing this morning. As we got out of the car, a Willow Warbler was singing in the car park and we could hear two Yellowhammers singing too up along the path. As we walked over that way, we had a good look at one of the Yellowhammers in the scope, perched in the top of a birch tree. A little further on, and a Chiffchaff was singing too.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – one of several, singing in a birch tree

As we walked up along a big sandy track, two Woodlarks flew up from the vegetation beside the path. Unfortunately they flew round past us and disappeared off over the trees, dropping down again over the other side. Still, it was a nice flight view and we could see their short tails as the passed.

There were several Linnets perched up on the fence here and we got a smart red-breasted male in the scope. While we were looking at them, we noticed a female Stonechat perched on a bush behind. We got the scope on it, but it dropped back into the vegetation before everyone could get a look at it.

Turning the corner on the path, another Woodlark flew up calling from the heather nearby. This one circled round and landed in the top of a pine tree a little further back. It was nice to see this one perched, but again it wouldn’t stop for photos though and dropped down after we had managed a quick look at it through the scope.

Our main target here was Dartford Warbler and a little further along the path we stopped by some gorse and were quickly rewarded. We heard one calling and looked across to see a male Dartford Warbler hop up into the top of a bush. It was busy looking for food, climbing round in and out of the vegetation. Then a second Dartford Warbler appeared next to it, the female.

Dartford Warblers

Dartford Warblers – we had nice views of a pair collecting food

We stood here and watched the Dartford Warblers for a while, from a discrete distance away. They were both busy collecting food, hopefully with some hungry youngsters to feed nearby. They were remarkably obliging today, perching up in the top of the gorse, often close to each other. After a few minutes they flew across to a more dense patch of gorse and disappeared from view. We decided to leave them in peace.

There were lots of butterflies out today on the heath, particularly as the clouds started to burn off. A small skipper which flew around in the vegetation by the path turned out to indeed be a Small Skipper once we got a good look at it (sufficient to distinguish it from the very similar Essex Skipper).

Most of the butterflies were blues, in particular Silver-studded Blues which are one the specialities of the heath here. On the way back to the car, we stopped by an area which is particularly good for them at the moment, and saw lots of males flying and several mating pairs too. As we got back to the car park, a Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the blackthorn bushes.

Silver-studded Blues

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

Sometimes it is possible to find Nightjars roosting during the day, so next we headed over to another location where we have seen them recently, to try our luck. The vegetation is getting very high now, which makes them harder to see, but the first place we looked we could just make out a shape down on the ground in amongst the bracken.

It was a male Nightjar. We got the scope on it and everyone took a look, being very careful not to disturb it. They are incredibly well camouflaged and it was relying on its cryptic plumage to think that we couldn’t see it. After we had all had a good look at it, we backed off very quietly and left it where it was.

Nightjar

Nightjar – roosting down amongst the bracken

It had been a very successful morning, exploring the heaths of North Norfolk, so we decided to head down to the coast for a change of scenery. We still had enough time for another quick walk before lunch, so we made our way down to the East Bank at Cley.

It was a bit breezy up on the bank. We heard a couple of Reed Warblers singing, but they were keeping well tucked down in the reeds here. A Sedge Warbler was more obliging, climbing up into the dead branches of a small bush out in the reedbed, where we could get it in the scope.

Bearded Tits don’t like the wind, so it was perhaps not a surprise that they were rather elusive today. We heard a couple pinging and managed to see one juvenile come up to the top of the reeds briefly, but it flew before everyone could get onto it.

There were not so many dragonflies and butterflies out here today, in the cool breeze. We did see a Common Darter though, the first we have seen this year. The Common Swifts were enjoying the wind, zipping back and forth low over the reeds.

Common Darter

Common Darter – our first of the year

With the breeding season well advanced now, there are not so many birds out on the grazing marshes now. We did find a couple of Lapwing and an Avocet. A single Ruff on the Serpentine was tucked down asleep, but did wake long enough to raise its rusty head. This is most likely a returning migrant, having already been north for the breeding season, and it was already well advanced in its moult, with a very scrawny neck where its ornate ruff would have been just a few weeks ago.

The ducks are starting to moult into their duller eclipse plumage too now – we got a moulting drake Gadwall in the scope, starting to look a bit tatty. There were still plenty of Greylags and a few Canada Geese though. A couple of Grey Herons were busy preening over by the reeds at the back.

We carried on up to Arnold’s Marsh, past a Skylark and a Meadow Pipit both still singing and songflighting, and took advantage of the shelter to rest our legs. The first bird which immediately stood out was a Spoonbill, standing in the middle of the water at the back. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! It did wake up a couple of times, just long enough to flash its distinctive bill, before tucking it back in again.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – asleep at the back of Arnold’s Marsh

There were a few terns on here too, though not as many as usual. We could see five Sandwich Terns preening on one of the islands and a single Little Tern resting on a patch of shingle. There were not too many waders either today, a few Redshank and Lapwing and a single Turnstone and one Oystercatcher right out at the back.

We couldn’t come all this way and not at least look at the sea, but there was not much to see offshore today. A few Little Terns were diving into the water, some way out today. We decided to head back.

On the walk back, we heard the Avocets alarm calling out on Pope’s Marsh and turned to see a male Marsh Harrier heading our way, with an Avocet or two in pursuit! The Marsh Harrier crossed the path and headed out across the reedbed, before circling and starting to lose height. It seemed to circle for a while, but there was no sign of the female coming up to accept a food pass, so eventually the male dropped down into the reeds himself. A Sparrowhawk flew past over the reedbed at the same time.

We wanted to make use of the picnic tables at the visitor centre for our lunch, but when we got round there a school party had taken over every table, with only 2-3 people at each one. Plan B was to head round to the shelter in the beach car park instead, which had the added bonus of being out of the wind. After lunch, we drove back to the visitor centre and made our way out onto the reserve, stopping briefly to admire the single Broomrape spike by the path.

There were one or two Reed Warblers singing in the reeds by the path, but they were impossible to see through the vegetation. When we got to the bridge over the ditch, we stopped to look back along the water. We could see one or two Reed Warblers zipping back and forth between the reeds either side.

Eventually a couple of the Reed Warblers came much closer to us and we could see that it was an adult with a recently fledged juvenile begging for food. We watched as the adult caught a damselfly and fed it to the youngster, before the two of them disappeared back into the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – we stopped to watch them from the bridge

We made our way straight out to Dauke’s Hide and had a look on the scrapes. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers running around on the front edge of the first island on Simmond’s Scrape, chasing after the juvenile Pied Wagtails.

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the scrape too, one of which was wearing a large quantity of coloured plastic rings. A closer look confirmed that it was the same bird that we had seen a few days ago, a Continental Black-tailed Godwit of the nominate race, limosa, much scarcer than the more regular Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits it was with.

We have had the data back already for this particular Continental Black-tailed Godwit already. It was ringed in May last year, on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, where it bred. It was also seen last year along the North Norfolk coast, at Titchwell and then Cley, from mid June to early August. It is also bearing a geolocator which monitors its location and allows the researchers to track its movements and this had shown that it spent the winter down in West Africa. Apparently it bred again at the Nene Washes this year.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – one of the small number of UK breeding birds

There are lots of Avocets on the scrapes here at the moment – it looks like it has been a good breeding season for them here. There were a couple of large gatherings of loafing birds out on Pat’s Pool. One of the adults on Simmond’s Scrape was still busy chasing away any birds which came close, mostly ducks, despite it not having any youngsters to protect.

Avocets

Avocets – loafing on the islands on Pat’s Pool

Behind the Avocets, we could see several more Ruff. Again, they were busy moulting, with tatty looking necks where they have already started to lose their ornate ruff feathers. There are quite a few Teal on here already too, returning birds from further north, where they breed, and they are also quickly starting to moult into eclipse plumage. It really is the end of summer for many of the birds already!

There were a few gulls around the scrapes too, mostly Black-headed Gulls but also a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single Common Gull. There were no Spoonbills on the scrapes from the hides today though, but we did see one fly over and land out on Billy’s Wash, out towards the beach.

A quick look in on Avocet Hide revealed a Green Sandpiper sleeping on the edge of the closest island. It woke up as we opened the flaps of the hide and stood looking at us for a while, before flying back to the next island over and starting to feed along the muddy margin. Another autumn migrant stopping off on its way back south after the breeding season.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – on the island in front of Avocet Hide

It had been a very productive day, but we decided it was time to call it a day and head back now. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

24th June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. It was glorious sunny weather, blue skies and hot! We headed down to the Brecks for the day.

It was already warming up nicely when we got down to the Brecks, so we headed straight over to Weeting Heath. We wanted to try to catch up with the Stone Curlews before the heat haze got too bad, which it often can be here in the middle of the day, when the birds can also be less active. The grass is very long too, as a consequence of a sharp decline in the rabbit population. We were therefore very pleased when we opened the flaps and saw a Stone Curlew out in the long grass.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – in the long grass at Weeting

The Stone Curlew was busy feeding, walking quickly, stopping, picking at the ground. We had a good look at it through the scopes, but it disappeared into the long grass after a couple of minutes.

A (Common) Curlew flew in from behind us, giving its beautiful bubbling song as it glided down and landed on the grass close to where the Stone Curlew had been. We were watching the Curlew when the Stone Curlew appeared out of the longer grass again. It eventually walked across and we had the two species side by side.

The Stone Curlew then walked off and stood where we could get a good look at it. The next thing we knew, a second Stone Curlew stood up right beside it, from where it had been hidden in the grass. It was obviously changeover time at the nest. The first Stone Curlew then settled down into the grass and the second bird walked off a short distance, where it stood preening for a few minutes.

When the second Stone Curlew walked off into the longer grass to feed, we took that as our cue to move on. There has been a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in the trees by the hide here, but we couldn’t find them when we emerged. They have already fledged their first brood, so they have become more mobile. We decided to walk down to the hide at the west end to look at the feeders and see if we could find them on the way.

We heard a couple of Coal Tits high in the pines on the walk, and had a brief view of a Nuthatch up in the canopy of the trees. A Goldcrest showed a little better and a Treecreeper was calling too. There were plenty of birds around the feeders – lots of young Blue Tits and Great Tits. A couple of Yellowhammers were feeding on the ground below and one came in for a drink at the small pool. Another Nuthatch made a quick ‘smash and grab’ visit too.

On the walk back, as we got to the junction with the path to West Hide, we could hear the Spotted Flycatchers calling. We eventually had nice views of one or two of them when they perched where we could see them, although they could be hard to see up in the trees.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – eventually perched up nicely

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. As we came out of the visitor centre, a couple of photographers had their lenses fixed on one of the sallows by the pool just outside. A Kingfisher was perched up in the outside of the bush, half hidden in the leaves. It dived down into the pool and then flew up again back into the leaves, where we could just see it.

Thankfully, the next time the Kingfisher dropped, it flew back up and landed on one of the branches down in the water, right out in the open, where we could get a much better look at it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – fishing on the pool behind the visitor centre

As we walked out along the main path into the reserve, we could hear Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing. A Sedge Warbler perched up nicely in the top of a small sallow in the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes further over. There were a few Common Whitethroats flitting around in the vegetation too.

When we got to New Fen Viewpoint, a flock of Gadwall flew over. We were just looking in the field guide to show why they were identifiable as Gadwall, when a Bittern was called by some of the other people there, flying up from the reeds. It was only a brief sighting, but we were too busy looking in the book! Not to worry, we should hopefully get another chance.

Two Hobbys were circling high over West Wood, way off in the distance, and a Marsh Harrier circled up to join them. An adult and an almost fully grown but still stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe were out on the pool below.

As we walked along the bank on the south side of New Fen, there were loads of dragonflies in the vegetation either side. We saw lots of Ruddy Darters and several Brown Hawkers out to day, as well as Four-spotted Chasers and Black-tailed Skimmers. There were one or two Banded Demoiselles along the path too. Looking carefully through all the Azure Damselflies we found a few Variable Damselflies and Red-eyed Damseflies in with them.

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle – there were lots of dragonflies & damselflies out today

About half way along the bank, a couple ahead of us called to say they had found a Bittern. We walked up to them and they pointed it out, standing on the edge of the reeds. We had a great look at it through the scope. While we were watching it, a second Bittern flew back over the reeds. A Green Woodpecker flew past too.

The first Bittern stood on the edge of the reeds in the sun, preening and looking round, then walked a short distance and started to look for food, leaning over with its bill down close to the water. It snapped at something a couple of times, possibly insects on the water surface, before eventually walking back into the reeds.

Bittern

Bittern – standing on the edge of the reeds at New Fen

Now the Bittern floodgates opened! A little further down the path, we looked up along one of the channels cut through the reeds and saw another Bittern flying down low over the water, before turning and disappearing into the reeds on one side. As we got up almost to the junction with the path to Mere Hide, we spotted yet another one, flying in over the reeds. It appeared to drop down in front of the hide, so we hurried round.

Before we got to the hide, we scanned the edge of the reeds from the boardwalk and noticed some movement. There were two Bitterns. They started walking quickly along through some short sparse reeds on the edge – it almost looked like it was a race at one point! They made it to a patch of thicker reed and disappeared in, but then came back out onto the edge and stood half hidden. They looked slightly small and it turned out they were recent fledglings, not quite yet fully grown.

Bitterns

Bittern – two recent fledglings on the edge of the reeds

Having had such great views of the Bitterns from the boardwalk, we didn’t go into the hide, but headed on towards Joist Fen. We continue to scan over the reeds and we were about half way there when we spotted a bird flying beyond the Joist Fen viewpoint. It was yet another Bittern. It came in past the viewpoint, and continued on right past us and eventually landed in the reeds somewhere near Mere Hide. A very long feeding flight!

A Cuckoo was singing from somewhere deep in West Wood,  but we couldn’t see it. The family of Great Crested Grebes are still on one of the pools by the path, but the four young ones are well grown now. It looked like one of them was still keen to try to ride on its parent’s back though!

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the juveniles are well grown now

Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, we stopped for a rest. There did not appear to be too much happening, but it was nice to have a sit down. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes close by – nice to hear them now, as their numbers have dropped sharply in East Anglia after the cold winter. There were a couple of Marsh Harriers circling in the distance too. Then yet another Bittern flew across over the reeds.

After resting out legs, we got up to walk back. As we did so, a Cuckoo flew past over the reeds and disappeared out towards the paddocks. We had heard a couple of Bearded Tits on the walk out, but they can be very hard to see here. As we walked along the path, we heard one call and turned to see a male fly up out of the reeds close in front of us and disappear off behind us.

Along the main path by New Fen, we looked up to see a Kestrel circling. Scanning the sky, we found a Hobby too, much further over and very high up. It gradually drifted our way and dropped a little lower and we watched it catching insects high overhead.

Hobby

Hobby – catching insects high overhead

There was one last addition to the day’s list here, when we were most of the way back. We finally found a couple of male Scarce Chaser dragonflies, perched up on the reeds by the path. Then it was back to the visitor centre for a rather later then planned lunch and another welcome rest after the long walk in the sun.

After lunch, we headed back into the Forest. We parked by a ride and walked into the pines. There were lots of butterflies buzzing around the Viper’s Bugloss, a mixture of Small and Essex Skippers. We had a closer look at them and even managed to see the key difference in the colour of the underside of their antennae!

Small Skipper

Small Skipper – with a pale underside to the antennae

It was very quiet when we got out to the clearing at the far end, but then it was the middle of the afternoon on the hottest day of the year so far! We found a male Yellowhammer perched up on one of the stump rows and, just behind it, a Stonechat was flycatching, but dropping back down out of view.

There has been a pair of Common Redstarts here and they have been feeding their recently fledged young in the last few days, so we went round to try to see them. It was all quiet where they have been though. We carried on a little further and noticed a bird fly up from the ground in the shade under a large oak tree. It headed straight up into the canopy, where we just managed to get a glimpse of a red tail. It was one of the Redstarts. Unfortunately it then stopped moving somewhere high in the canopy. We walked on a short way, and when we came back it did exactly the same thing again!

It was obviously too hot for much activity now. We walked back to the edge of the clearing, where all was very quiet. As we walked along the path though, we caught a distant snippet of a bird sub-singing. It sounded like a Tree Pipit, but as we stepped round the trees we noticed a Woodlark perched in the top of a young pine. A second Woodlark flew up from the ground at out feet and perched nearby where we could get a good look at it.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of the pair in the clearing

Then the Tree Pipit flew up from right in front of us and landed in another small fir tree. It was carrying food in its bill so presumably has young to feed nearby. As we looked more closely we could see it was fitted with a combination of colour rings. It was an old friend, an individual we saw in pretty much exactly the same place last year. It seems to be very successful here as, according to the ringer, it was already feeding its second brood!

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – a colour-ringed individual we have seen here the last couple of years

It was time to start heading back now. It had been a very successful three days, with a great selection of our breeding birds, as well as insects and other wildlife.