Category Archives: Summer Tour

11th July 2021 – Summer Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Summer Tour, our last day. It was cloudier than forecast, particularly in the afternoon, warm & slightly muggy, but it was generally bright and it stayed dry all day. We spent the day down in the Brecks.

On the drive down, we diverted round via some likely areas looking for Stone Curlews. At our first stop, two Eurasian Curlews flew up alarm calling as we got out of the minibus. They landed again in the field opposite. Not quite the ‘curlews’ we had hoped for, but nice to see, particularly as the breeding population of Eurasian Curlew here is so small. A covey of Red-legged Partridge walked out of the crop and into an open ploughed area.

Curlew – not the one we were looking for!

Our next stop was by some pig fields. As we looked out we could see a Stone Curlew preening out in the middle. A great start, we got the scope on it, and while everyone was taking a look, we continued to scan across. We realised there were lots more there too! In the end, we counted at least eleven Stone Curlews scattered around the field, although there may have been more hidden behind the small ridges of dirt and vegetation. They are already starting to gather together post-breeding.

Stone Curlew – 2, with an Oystercatcher

There were a few Oystercatchers in the field with the Stone Curlews too, and several Egyptian Geese. Scanning the bushes in the middle, we noticed a couple of Tree Sparrows perched in the top of one. We got the scope on them for a closer look. When they dropped down out of view, we heard one calling much closer to us and looked up to see another Tree Sparrow on the wires by the road a little further up. Tree Sparrows used to be common here but have disappeared from most of Norfolk now, as they have from much of southern Britain, victims of agricultural intensification. An increasingly rare sight here, so good to see there are some clinging on.

Tree Sparrow – perched on the wires by the road

That was a great way to start the day. Having enjoyed some excellent views of the Stone Curlews, we moved on, driving over to Lakenheath Fen next. We stopped for a coffee break at the Visitor Centre, overlooking the feeders. There were several Blue Tits, Great Tits, Goldfinches and 1-2 Greenfinches in the bushes, coming and going.

As we set off to explore the reserve, it had clouded over now – not what we were expecting. Despite the cloud, there was still a good selection of insects – Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damselflies, diminutive skippers on Viper’s Bugloss which refused to sit still and allow us to see the underside of their antennae, Meadow Brown and Ringlet, and a smart Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata).

Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata)

We stopped at New Fen Viewpoint and scanned over the reedbed from the benches. We could hear Blackcap and Common Whitethroat singing in the poplars behind us. A Reed Warbler kept flying in and out of a small island of reeds in the middle of the pool.

A Bittern came up out of the reeds towards the far corner of the reedbed, flying across behind the bushes, before it dropped back in. We saw Bittern flights several times over the next few minutes – this is the best time to see them, when they are feeding young – but it was hard to tell how many birds were involved. One Bittern flew up from the back again, and headed out towards the river. We expected it to land back in the reedbed, but instead it continued over the riverbank, and appeared to drop down just beyond. There are some pools along the river here, so we headed over straight over to see if we could find it.

By the time we got there, there was no sign of it. Perhaps it continued on upstream, or maybe it was just hidden out of view. We stopped here to scan, hoping it might come out of the vegetation or come back from wherever it was feeding. One or two Common Terns were commuting up and down river – one flew past carrying a fish, presumably to feed a hungry youngster on the Washes.

Common Tern – flying up and down the river

A Cuckoo called from the willows across the river. Most of adults have gone south already, many are already in Europe and some already in Africa, so this one was rather late to still be here. We couldn’t see it in the trees and it went quiet. We did then see another Cuckoo, flying across between the woods right over on the other side of New Fen, but it was too distant to tell whether it was an adult or an early fledged juvenile.

A young Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with a rusty orange head, was exercising its wings, circling back and forth across the river, waiting for its parents to bring in food. A Hobby flew in, hawking for insects ahead of us, low over the washes beside the river, then it flew up over the bank, across over the back of the reedbed and up over West Wood. A Kestrel was hovering behind us too, and then we got the scope on it when it landed in one of the willows across the river.

Marsh Harrier – a juvenile, waiting to be fed

Continuing west along the river bank, we finally had good views of a family of Sedge Warblers in the edge of the reeds below us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into the edge of West Wood, but disappeared into the trees. The other side of West Wood, some of the group saw two Kingfishers chasing over the reeds just beyond, but they had disappeared before we could all catch up.

We cut back in to the reserve at Joist Fen, and got out the sandwiches. We had brought lunch with us today, so we wouldn’t have to hurry back. There were some distant Marsh Harriers out over the reeds and a Red Kite circled high over the railway line. More Reed Warblers zipped about, and another Sedge Warbler flew in and out of the big elder by the last bench, singing. A Kingfisher whizzed low over the reeds across in front of us, before dropping down into the channel where it was lost to view. Almost immediately, it was followed by a second Kingfisher – possibly the two which some of the group had seen earlier.

After lunch, we decided to walk slowly back. Another Kingfisher shot across the path just in front of us, and out over the reeds. We called in at Mere Hide, which is open again, although we had to wait a few minutes to all get in (there were already some people in there and there were six just of us). There were a couple of Greylag families on the water, one with lots of almost fully grown juveniles and the other with only one, before they flew off. Several Reed Warblers were flicking around the water’s edge. There were not so many dragonflies and damselflies flying round the pool today, perhaps not helped by the cloud.

The rest of the walk back to the Visitor Centre was fairly uneventful, and we rewarded our long walk with a sit down and ice cream when we got there (rhubarb & ginger today!). We had to ensure a prompt finish today, so people could get away in good time, but we still had an hour or so of the day left. So on our way back to where we had left the cars this morning, we diverted into the forest.

We stopped by a track, which leads down to a large clearing. For some reason the gate at the top of the track was locked today, so we couldn’t drive in. Instead, we parked by the next ride and walked down through the forest. It was hot and muggy and the mid afternoon lull now, so the trees were rather quiet. We could hear a Nuthatch calling, and a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the pines. The gate into the clearing at the far end was locked too, so we couldn’t get into the clearing, and we had to scan from the fence. A family of Stonechats were on the gate, a female and two juveniles, with the male further down along the fenceline.

We circled back through the trees. There were lots of butterflies on the flowers along the track, Meadow Browns and Ringlets and several skippers. One eventually stayed still long enough so we could get a look at the tips of its antennae – pale on the underside, a Small Skipper.

Small Skipper – not showing the undersides of its antennae here

A little further on, we heard a bird calling quietly, and looked up to see a Tree Pipit in the top of a dead tree ahead of us. We got it in the scope and had a closer look at it – it was pumping its tail up and down as it called, and we could see the yellow wash behind the heavier breast streaking, white on the bellow, with pencil fine streaks on the flanks. It flew and landed again on another dead tree right next to us, then flew back and we lost site of it over the trees.

Tree Pipit – calling quietly above the track

Tree Pipit was one of the birds we had hoped to find down by the clearing. We had been thinking we might have to try to squeeze in one last stop to get it somewhere else on our way back. But we had succeeded at the last here, which meant we could have an unhurried journey back and finish on time. A very enjoyable three days.

10th July 2021 – Summer Tour, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day Summer Tour, including a Nightjar Evening today. It was a cloudy start, but brightened up nicely with some sunshine and hazy high cloud particularly through the morning. We spent the day in North Norfolk.

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. A couple of Coal Tits were singing in the nearby pine trees as we got out of the minibus. A couple of orange-headed juvenile Marsh Harriers were circling over the meadow across the road as we pulled up, and drifted round behind the trees as we set off down the permissive path. A Gatekeeper fluttered up and landed again in the hedge, our first of the year.

Gatekeeper – our first of the year

There were a few birds singing in the copse at the end, the melodic tones of a couple of Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff doing what it says on the tin, and a Wren making a lot of noise for such a small bird. A Magpie chacked in the trees too. Making our way down along the river bank, we could see a few House Martins around the house on the ridge.

The vegetation between the path and the Fen is very overgrown now, making it difficult to see over but we could make out a sizeable huddle of large white birds. Up onto the seawall, and we had a much better view of the Spoonbills. We counted 29. There were three Little Egrets with them too. The Spoonbills were mostly asleep, but one or two were awake and showing off their spoons, including a recently fledged juvenile with its noticeably shorter, fleshy-coloured bill – a ‘teaspoonbill’.

Spoonbill – some of the 29 on the Fen today

There were lots of waders too – a large roost of Black-tailed Godwits, sitting out the high tide in the harbour; several pairs of Avocets, some still with fluffy young; a couple of Little Ringed Plovers on the island. We got the scope on a Common Sandpiper feeding in the shallow water, and another two flew up from behind the reeds, over the seawall, and disappeared up over the water in the harbour channel. We counted at least five Green Sandpipers feeding round the edges, in and out of the reeds, and seven Greenshank roosting over high, with a small group of Common Redshank.

There were gulls coming in to bathe and loaf too, and a couple of Common Gulls dropped in with the Black-headed Gulls. Several Egyptian Geese were scattered around the islands, along with a lone rusty eclipse drake Wigeon. Two Stock Doves flew in and landed on the grass.

Another large white bird flew in and landed among the Spoonbills, its long neck towering above the sleeping birds, a Great White Egret. We could see its long dagger-like yellow bill. A Grey Heron was asleep in amongst the Spoonbills too – the Great White Egret was clearly pretty comparable to it in size.

The Reed Warblers were very active, flitting around in the reeds below and coming up to feed in the flowers on the bank, along with one or two Sedge Warblers too. A Common Tern was flying up and down over the harbour channel, looking intently down into the water for fish.

Common Tern – hunting over the harbour channel

Continuing on round to the harbour, the tide was starting to go out, and there were now a few waders on the emerging sandbars and muddy edges. There were already several Curlew and more dropping in. A single Whimbrel flew across low over the water but landed out of view. Five Grey Plover dropped in on one of the sandbars, along with a single Dunlin. Several Ringed Plovers were hiding in the short vegetation on the mud on the other side of the channel.

There were lots of Common Terns fishing out in the shallow water in the harbour. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew in past us, heading up the channel towards the Fen, flashing its translucent white wingtips. We could see the seals out on the tip of Blakeney Point too. It is a lovely view from here – we could stand here all day – but we had to tear ourselves away as we had more to do today.

As we were walking back, a small falcon came fast out from the Fen and over the seawall ahead of us. A Hobby. It dropped down low over the saltmarsh and zoomed out to the harbour, before turning and heading off east. It was gone in a flash, a super fast hunter. Back at the Fen, we stopped to watch one of the juvenile Marsh Harriers begging from the male, circling round after it.

We made our way round to Cley next, parking at Walsey Hills. A couple of eclipse drake Tufted Ducks were on Snipe’s Marsh, and a Cormorant was fishing in the ditch opposite as we walked along the road to the East Bank.

There were lots of Reed Warblers flicking around the edges of the reeds and feeding in the flowers at the bottom of the bank. A Sedge Warbler was singing its mad, unstructured, scratchy song from the top of a small bush below the bank, but flicked out into the reeds as we approached. The Bearded Tits were rather quiet today, despite the still conditions – a tawny coloured juvenile perched briefly in the tops, and we saw several zipping back and forth low over the reeds in typical Bearded Tit fashion. The Reed Buntings were, as ever, more obliging.

Reed Bunting – perched up obligingly

The male Yellow Wagtail has been singing here since the middle of May but has still not found a mate. We could hear it on the walk out this morning, but the grass is so long now, we couldn’t see it despite scanning several times. Several small flocks of Starlings flew west over the bank. One group of three included a strikingly pale bird – unfortunately just a leucistic Starling rather than anything more exciting.

There were lots of Greylags out on the grazing marshes and several Curlew in the grass. We had seen a Spoonbill distantly dropping down on the marshes as we got out of the minibus earlier, but there was no sign of it again until it suddenly walked up out of a ditch in the middle. We had a good view in the scope, an adult with a yellow tip to its long black bill.

There were quite a few Avocets on the Serpentine, a small group sleeping on the far edge and more feeding in the water. A flock of Lapwings dropped in. We could see a small wader on Pope’s Pool at the back, and through scope we confirmed it was a Wood Sandpiper. We could see its white-spangled upperparts and more obvious pale supercilium. It was nice to see one after being frustrated by the hiding Wood Sandpiper yesterday. A Greenshank flew over high, calling, and continued on west.

There were lots of gulls on Pope’s Pool, mostly Black-headed Gulls, but several smaller ones were all Little Gulls. We counted at least nine that we could see, with several feeding in the shallow water, moving quickly, pecking at the surface, and others asleep on the nearby mud in with the Black-headed Gulls. The Little Gulls were all immature, 1st summer birds, one with a black hood. A Meadow Pipit was singing, fluttering up and parachuting down onto the short grass of the Serpentine.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, there were lots of terns loafing on the sandbar along the edge. Mostly Sandwich Terns, with shaggy black caps and yellow-tipped black bills, but with a smaller number of Common Terns too. There were more Little Gulls here too, at least five, but with birds coming and going all the time it was hard to know how much double counting there was versus the ones on Pope’s Pool earlier.

Sandwich Terns – and gulls loafing on Arnold’s Marsh

There were lots more gulls loafing over on the back edge. Mostly larger gulls, but looking through we could see a good number of Mediterranean Gulls in with them. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls were behind us on the brackish pools too, where we had a much better view of them in the scope, admiring their jet black hoods and overdone white eyeliner.

Scanning through the big gulls, we noticed one looking rather different. It had a slightly darker mantle than the silvery grey of the nearby Herring Gulls, but not dark enough for a black-backed gull. It was quite big too, long wings pointing down and a jutting keel of a breast. It was an adult Caspian Gull – its small dark eye standing out in its white head. As it preened, we could even see the distinctive pattern on the underside of its primaries. A nice bonus! This is a good time to see Caspian Gulls here as they disperse westwards from their breeding colonies in central Europe.

Caspian Gull – an adult at the back of Arnold’s Marsh

There were not so many waders on here today, but a Whimbrel did drop in briefly. Continuing on out to the beach, there were more Sandwich Terns flying back and forth close in and a huge number of gulls offshore too just away to the east of us.

It was time to head back for lunch now. As we walked back, we could still hear the Yellow Wagtail singing. We stopped for another scan, and this time picked it up on an area of short grass towards the back. We had a good view through the scope, bright canary yellow below, but harder to see when it turned and showed its green, grass-coloured upperparts. There was a Little Grebe on Snipe’s Marsh now too, as we headed back to the minibus.

We ate lunch on the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we could hear a Wood Sandpiper calling on Pat’s Pool, then it flew up, accompanied by a Green Sandpiper, and the two of them flew off over the car park. More waders on the move. After lunch, we drove west.

In the hope of finding any waders which had dropped in, we made a quick stop at Wells. We walked down the track, between the pools, scanning but the best we could find was a Green Sandpiper on either side. There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets at the back and still one or two juvenile Redshanks close in. We decided to move on. A family of Grey Partridge on the track as we left ran into the verge before anyone could get a look at them.

We continued on west to Titchwell. We only had time for a quick look at the Freshmarsh today, so we headed straight out along the main path. A Marsh Harrier was over the reedbed at the back and three Common Pochard on the reedbed pool were an addition to the trip list.

There were Bearded Tits pinging from the reeds occasionally by Island Hide, but again the best we could manage was seeing them zipping in and out over the tops from time to time. While we kept one eye out for them, we scanned the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of waders, particularly Avocets – the latest count was 688 earlier, with birds gathering here at the end of the breeding season. There was a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits too, many still with their rich rusty tan breeding plumage and lots of Lapwings. In amongst them, we could see a selection of Ruff in different stages of moult and at least six Spotted Redshanks, some still mostly in their silvery-spotted, black breeding plumage.

A Whimbrel appeared in with the godwits too, and we had a good view of it through the scope. Shortly afterwards, we heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see a flock of 23 flying overhead. As they headed out over the saltmarsh towards Thornham, they were joined by another Whimbrel which flew up behind them, possibly the one we had just been watching with the godwits, called up to join the others. More waders on the move.

Whimbrel – a flock of 23 flew overhead

Looking through the Black-tailed Godwits more carefully, we found one juvenile. It was standing on one leg, and we could see it was fitted with colour rings, yellow over pale green coded with a black ‘E’. This means it has come from the Fens, Welney or the Ouse Washes, one of the very small British breeding population of nominate limosa Continental Black-tailed Godwits. Possibly one of this years young which has been ‘headstarted’ – first clutches are taken from nesting pairs (giving them time to relay), incubated to hatching and then raised in aviaries on site to try to improve juvenile survival. Breeding productivity without headstarting has been very poor, due to the increasing frequency of summer storms causing flooding of the Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a colour ringed juvenile

The number of ducks here has been increasing steadily, with a good number of Teal back already, although all the drakes are in drab eclipse plumage now. There were several Shoveler too.

Then it was time to walk back – we needed to get back and have something to eat as we would be heading out again this evening.

Nightjar Evening

We set off out again early evening. Before we went to look for Nightjars, we had time to try to find a few owls first. To start with, we drove round by the barns where we had seen the Little Owl yesterday, but the timing was not ideal – it was just spitting with a light shower and some people were getting out of their car nearby – and there was no sign. So we drove on to another set of barns, and this time we could see a Little Owl on the roof as we pulled up. We all got out and got it in the scope for a closer look.

Little Owl – the adult keeping watch

While everyone was taking it in turns to have a look, we scanned down the rest of the roof and realised there were three fluffy juvenile Little Owls a little further along. Needless to say, the adult Little Owl was quickly forgotten and all attention turned to the very cute young ones! They seemed to be very different sizes, one noticeably bigger than the other two – an adaptation to varying prey availability.

Little Owl – three juveniles on the roof

Another Little Owl was on the top of another barn the other side of the road, but was more distant. A couple of Brown Hares posed on the track nearby and we could see flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws gathering on the wires across the fields.

Tearing ourselves away from the Little Owls, we drove down towards Cley. We were just coming in to the back of the village, when we spotted a Barn Owl flying past. Even better, it was the local celebrity, ‘Casper’ the white Barn Owl. We got out and walked back to where it was now hunting round a meadow. We stood and watched it flying round, occasionally turning sharply and dropping down into the grass or stopping to hover and listen.

Barn Owl – ‘Casper’, the local celebrity all-white bird

It was a great setting, the mist rising in the valley, looking across the meadows towards Wiveton church – set off perfectly by the Barn Owl quartering back and forth in the foreground.

Once again, we had to tear ourselves away – it was time to head up onto the heath. As we walked out, we could hear a couple of Song Thrushes singing in the trees. As we got out into the open, we could see it was misting over now, and we could feel a chill in the air as the temperature had dropped.

We got into position out in the middle of the heath just in time to hear the first Nightjar start up. It churred briefly from somewhere on the edge of trees behind us, probably on the ground. Then it called, and churred again. It was still quite early, just after sunset, and still fairly light as the Nightjar flew out. It came right over our heads, and circled round low above us, probably investigating us. A fantastic view, we could see the white flashes through the tips of its wings, a male. Then it flew out over the gorse and we watched it head over to a couple of tall trees further back, where we could then hear it churring again.

Nightjar – a male out over the heath

When the Nightjar stopped churring, we heard wing clapping as it flew out. It seemed to drop down into the gorse in the middle, where we could still hear it churring briefly. Then it flew up again and came back over the track, hunting for food. It circled back round and came back over us, circling right overhead again. More great views.

While we were watching the Nightjar, we heard the squeaky call of a Woodcock roding over the trees. We turned to look for it but unfortunately couldn’t see it beyond the treetops. It did the same thing again a short while later. A second male Nightjar started churring in the distance away to our left.

The first male Nightjar came back in again and did another pass, over the gorse in front of us. Then with the light fading, we decided to call it a night. We were still not done though and, as we walked back, we heard a squeaky Woodcock call again, and turned to see two flying past behind us, a good view silhouetted against the last of light. Then it was back to bed – still another day to go tomorrow.

9th July 2021 – Summer Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Summer Tour. It was a lovely sunny morning, clouding over in the afternoon, but thankfully the rain held off until after we had finished. We spent the day down in the Broads.

Shortly after we set off on the long drive down, we passed a set of barns by the side of the road. As we approached we could see a shape right on the ridge, above the far gable. One of the resident Little Owls still out, enjoying the early sunshine. We stopped for a quick look from the minibus, where we wouldn’t disturb it.

Little Owl – unfortunately soon to be homeless

Unfortunately these barns have been granted planning permission for conversion into housing and have just been sold. The developers are moving in and the Little Owls will soon lose their home. It has been a recurring theme for some time, but has accelerated in the last year or two, with the mad rush to build houses at any cost and the resulting relaxation of planning constraints – many of these barns were deemed unsuitable for development in the last planning review!

Continuing on our way, a Red Kite drifted over. With the windows open, we could hear lots of birds singing. A Yellowhammer was giving its ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeese’, perched on the wires over the road.

When we finally arrived at Hickling Broad, we set off along the track towards Stubb Mill. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the top of one of the bushes ahead of us. There were several Chiffchaffs in the trees and Reed Warblers flitting in and out of the reedy ditch by the path.

Looking over the bank at Brendan’s Marsh, we could see the Black-winged Stilts on the first pool, so we walked back to the junction and up the Whiteslea track instead, up to the viewpoint where we would have a better view from up on the bank. The Black-winged Stilts were feeding behind a low line of reeds but were often visible through a small gap and kept coming out into view beyond the end of the reeds too. We could see their long, bubble-gum pink legs.

Black-winged Stilt – the pair were still on Brendan’s Marsh

There were lots of other waders on the pool too. Several Ruff, in various colours and bewildering different stages of moult, a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, two Common Snipe, a Green Sandpiper briefly before everything was flushed by a passing Marsh Harrier, and a few Avocets. A pair of Egyptian Geese were loafing on one of the islands and two Little Grebes swam across in front.

It is a good vantage point here, from which to scan the surrounding pools and reedbeds. A Bittern came up out of the reeds behind us, flying across low over the tops before dropping back in again. It was a good morning for Bitterns, with the birds very active, probably flying in and out feeding young. We saw at least 4 flights, probably three different birds.

Bittern – flying over the reeds behind us

Two Common Cranes circled up in the distance, beyond the trees, trying to make use of the increasing heat to find a thermal. We watched them in the scopes as they drifted across and dropped back down out of view. A Spoonbill was just visible in the heat haze in the dead trees in the middle of the reedbed, and two flew out, dropping down behind the reeds to the pools further along. A Grey Heron perched up preening in the sunshine.

A Yellow Wagtail flew over behind us calling. A Hooded Crow hybrid flew in to the pools the other side of the track, landing with a Carrion Crow briefly. Three Little Egrets flew in too. A male Marsh Harrier drifted in and hovered over the pools just the other side of the track from us, before flying off.

Marsh Harrier – hovered over the pools in the reeds

There was a good selection of insects here too. One or two Norfolk Hawker dragonflies were hawking over the bank. A selection of butterflies were nectaring on the creeping thistle – Meadow Browns, Small Skippers and some very smart fresh second generation Small Tortoiseshells.

Meadow Brown – nectaring on creeping thistle

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and walked back to the Stubb Mill track again to explore further along. There were lots of tits in the trees now, including several Long-tailed Tits flitting around in the branches ahead of us.

Scanning with the scope, we picked up a few more waders from the new viewing platform, taking it in turns to come up for a look. There were several Greenshank and Dunlin on here to add to the list, as well as lots more Ruff, but no sign of the Wood Sandpiper or Spotted Redshank we had hoped to find here.

We continued on to the far end of the track, and scanned the pools this end from up on the bank. There were several Lapwings around the pools, a single Teal and Tufted Duck asleep at the back and a couple of Canada Geese with the Greylags. A Spoonbill appeared from behind the reeds at the back, bathing in the water and flashing its long spoon-shaped bill. We just make out a couple more still in the trees beyond, through the hear haze.

It was time to start heading back for lunch, but just as we had turned to leave one of the group spotted another pair of Cranes in the distance over Horsey Mere. We watched as they flew across, continuing over Heigham Holmes before disappearing over the south side of the broad.

Ruddy Darter – one of several basking by the path

There were several Ruddy Darter dragonflies by the path on the way back, as well as Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies. We stopped again at the viewing platform, where a Green Sandpiper was now on the front edge of the pools, for those who had missed it earlier. A Willow Warbler was calling from the bushes by the overflow car park, much more disyllabic than the call of Chiffchaff, and flitted out ahead of us.

We had lunch in the sunshine in the picnic area. A couple of the group even succumbed to the temptation of the gooseberry ice cream! The clouds had started to bubble up over lunch, and it clouded over as we set out again, although it was still very warm. It is the end of the flight season now but there were meant to be still one or two Swallowtails out, so we walked round towards the broad to see if we could find one. We didn’t manage to, but we did see a fresh White Admiral which fluttered around the bushes just beyond the picnic area. Another Norfolk Hawker was flying around here too.

A Green Woodpecker was yaffling in the trees and a Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds by the path as we passed. We had a quick stop at the viewpoint to look out at the Broad, where there were lots of Mute Swans and a couple of distant Common Terns. A Black-tailed Skimmer dragonfly kept landing on the information board just beyond the boat mooring.

Continuing on along the path towards the observatory, it was quiet now in the early afternoon. We did hear a couple of Bearded Tits pinging, and turned to see them fly across the path just behind us. They flew out over the reeds the other side, but dropped straight in out of view. A Reed Warbler flitting around in the tops of the reeds was more obliging.

Reed Warbler – flitting around in the tops of the reeds

Past Whiteslea Lodge, we turned onto the bank back towards the viewpoint. A couple of Common Terns flew over and a Bittern appeared briefly out of the reeds behind us. With the cloud now, the Common Swifts were hawking lower out over the reedbed. As we arrived back at the viewpoint again, we could hear Cranes calling, and just glimpsed two disappearing behind the trees towards Stubb Mill.

The Black-winged Stilts were much closer now, and we had a great view of them through the scope. They were more active, jumping and flapping their wings, then suddenly they took off. They gained height quickly and looked as if they were flying off, but then turned back and dropped steeply back down out of sight onto the last pool. They were only gone a couple of minutes, and as we were looking through the other waders they suddenly flew back in.

Black-winged Stilt – closer views this afternoon

Turning back to the Stilts, we noticed that the Spotted Redshank had appeared between them. We had a good view through the scope, a moulting adult its black breeding plumage mottled with winter white now, but we could see its long needle find bill. There was a single Black-tailed Godwit out here too now. The Wood Sandpiper was not so obliging – we could hear it calling, but couldn’t find it anywhere, so presumably it was hidden behind the reeds.

It continued to taunt us as we made our way back to the Visitor Centre, cutting back along the path through the trees. A male Blackcap flew out of the brambles and across the path in front of us. A Variable Damselfly settled on the vegetation nearby, allowing us to see its broken ante-humeral stripe.

Variable Damselfly – settled on the vegetation

We still had a bit of time left, so we drove round to Potter Heigham thinking we would have a quick look at the marshes there. As we got out of the minibus, we could see threatening dark clouds away to the west, but it wasn’t clear at first whether they were coming our way. We stopped to have a look at the first pool where a Common Sandpiper was on one of the islands, dwarfed by a nearby Little Egret. There were lots of Lapwings on here too.

Carrying on down the track, the reeds were now too tall to see into most of the other pools, although we could occasionally find a gap where we could get a narrow view. We continued on down to the end and up onto the bank, where we could benefit from a bit of height to see over. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds. There was a single rusty eclipse drake Wigeon on the first pool here, and a Great Crested Grebe.

It was clear now that the dark clouds were heading our way, and we could hear thunder in the distance. Discretion is the better part of valour, so we decided to call it a day now and head back rather than risk getting a soaking!

19th June 2021 – Warblers, Waders & More

A Group Tour just for the day, along the North Norfolk coast today. It was a cloudy start and finish, but in between there were some bright and even sunny intervals, which definitely had not been in the forecast. The overnight drizzle dried up just before we met up and it stayed dry all day.

We started the day at Kelling. As we got out of the minibus in the village, a Greenfinch was wheezing from the tree above us. A pair of House Sparrows were mating on the roof of the house across the road. A pair of Stock Doves flew over and one landed on the roof of the converted barn by the main road. A Chaffinch was singing by the school as we set off up the lane.

We walked down the lane towards the Water Meadow. There was not much singing in the hedges this morning, but one of the group did spot a web high up in a tree by the path, which turned out to be a nest of Small Eggar moth caterpillars. One caterpillar was still on the side of the web. Scanning from the gate, we could see one or two Brown Hares in the field beyond.

Small Eggar moth caterpillar – on its web

As we got out into the open by the Water Meadow, there were a couple of Common Whitethroats and several Linnets in the bushes. A Sedge Warbler was singing here, in the brambles just the other side of the hedge. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over the field to the west. Several Sand Martins were hawking for insects low over the Water Meadow pool.

There had been a Marsh Warbler singing here for the last week, and as we got to the crosstrack, we could hear it distantly so we carried straight on along the path down towards the beach. A family of Stonechats was along the fenceline on the hill above as we passed, male, female and a streaky juvenile.

There were a couple of people already there, standing and listening to the Marsh Warbler singing. What an amazing song! Not so much its own, as a constant stream of different calls and songs borrowed from other species it had heard, both in Europe and on its African wintering grounds. We could hear it mimicking Blackbird, Swallow, Blue Tit, Bee-eater (probably Blue-cheeked!), and many more we couldn’t recognise.

The Marsh Warbler was singing from thick vegetation in a reedy ditch, but a couple of times it came up into the tops of the reeds briefly, before flying down along the line of the ditch and diving back into the vegetation. No the best views, but good to see it at all – and with Marsh Warbler it is all about the song. A Reed Warbler started singing nearby for comparison, lacking the varied mimicry of the Marsh Warbler, much more methodical, rhythmic.

There were a few other birds here, out on the Quags – an Egyptian Goose, a couple of Avocets and a Little Egret around the pools and ditches. Several Rooks were feeding out on the grass. A couple of Meadow Pipits perched up on the fence posts.

Rook – several were feeding on the Quags

Carrying on along the path, we climbed up onto the shingle ridge to look at the sea. There were several small lines of Gannets passing offshore, a mixture of adults with their black-tipped white wings and younger more mottled birds. There were one or two Sandwich Terns closer in, but most of the terns were distant off here this morning.

Two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew in from behind us, dropping over the shingle and down towards the sea. We could see their white wing tips, black hoods and bright red bills as they came past us. They dipped down to the water just beyond the breakers and several immature (2nd calendar year) Mediterranean Gulls then drifted in from the east, dip feeding just offshore.

Mediterranean Gull – two adults dropped down to the sea

As we started to walk back along the path by the Quags, a Cuckoo flew past over the hillside above us and landed on the fence by the path up to the gun emplacements, calling. It dropped down to the bushes behind the beach where we could just see it looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn. We walked up the hill a short way and got it in the scope, where it was mobbed by a Common Whitethroat before it dropped down out of view.

Cuckoo – looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn

There were several butterflies out now in the sunshine, including Common Blue and Small Heath. We stopped to look at some Southern Marsh Orchids in the dunes slack. A few Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings and Linnets were flitting around, in and out of the grass and around the fences.

The Marsh Warbler was still singing, so we stopped for another quick listen on our way past. Then we headed back up the lane, stopping briefly to admire a couple of smart pink-breasted male Linnets on the brambles by the path. A Blackcap was singing now in the taller hawthorns by the copse, and several flicked off ahead of us, presumably a family group from the calls. A little further up, two Bullfinch came up from the beck and flew ahead of us a couple of times before disappearing round the back of the hedge.

Linnet – perched on the brambles by the path

We drove back west and parked at Walsey Hills. There was nothing apart from a couple of Coot on the Snipe’s Marsh pool today, but across the road we could see two Spoonbills distantly on the grazing marshes over at the back of the Serpentine. We crossed the road and set off up the East Bank. One or two Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds.

The male Yellow Wagtail is still here and still singing, having failed to attract a female. But with the vegetation having grown considerably it is very hard to see now in the long grass. We kept stopping to scan the ground for it as we walked up. It took several stops, but finally we saw it flying. It sang a couple of times in flight, stalling and parachuting down as it did so, then dropped back down into the long grass again. After a couple of seconds it came out again, and this time landed on a small mound of earth on a bare patch of ground where we could get it in the scopes. A very smart male – bright canary yellow – it would be nice to have them breeding here again.

While we were watching the Yellow Wagtail, we noticed a single Curlew behind it, an early returning bird back for the winter already. A lone drake Wigeon then walked out of the ditch next to it – presumably in this instance one which had decided to over-summer here.

When we heard Bearded Tits pinging behind us, we turned to scan the reedbed. A tawny-coloured juvenile climbed up into the reeds on the back edge of the ditch close by, and we had a great view of it as it flicked around, presumably trying to locate the rest of the family. It flew off down along the ditch.

Bearded Tit – a tawny-coloured juvenile

There were a few more waders around the Serpentine, several Avocets and some Redshank, including a couple of juveniles in the top corner. A Little Ringed Plover was very well camouflaged on the dry mud down at the front and two Dunlin still sporting their summer black belly patches were in the water behind one of the islands further back. When we heard Greenshank calling, two dropped in to Pope’s Pool where we got them in the scopes.

There were three Barnacle Geese on one of the islands on Pope’s Pool two – presumably part of the ever-increasing UK feral population. The Spoonbills were still fast asleep, but one did wake up and flash its spoon-shaped bill briefly.

Spoonbills – mostly asleep as usual

As we walked on towards Arnold’s Marsh, one of the volunteers told us there had been a Little Gull around earlier. The first birds we saw when we scanned were not one but two Little Gulls, both 1st summer birds, asleep by the small shingle island at the back. There were two Sandwich Terns next to them, and nearby, a single Common Tern. A single Ringed Plover was on the sand in the back corner.

Little Gulls – with two Sandwich Terns

The day’s tern list was further swelled with a high count of 21 Little Terns feeding offshore, from the beach. Then it was time to walk back for lunch. As we passed Don’s Pool now, an adult Little Grebe was feeding two stripy-headed juveniles, diving repeatedly under the blanket weed in one corner and resurfacing with an assortment of morsels.

Little Grebe – feeding two hungry juveniles

We stopped for lunch on the picnic tables in front of the Visitor Centre, in the sunshine. Afterwards, we set off further west. A Great White Egret was flying out over the grazing marshes as we passed Holkham.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Titchwell. It had clouded over now, and lots of Swifts and House Martins were hawking low over the reedbed. A couple of Marsh Harriers were up over the back, and we got the scopes on an orange-headed recently fledged juvenile perched in a bush. A Sparrowhawk shot through the sallows with prey in its talons. and a Hobby was perched in one of the dead trees at the back.

From Island Hide, we could see the Spotted Redshanks on the Freshmarsh but they were right back against the reeds on the far side, still in their jet black breeding plumage. They have returned already from their breeding grounds and will moult very quickly over the coming weeks. We had a look from here but figured we could get a slightly closer view from Parrinder Hide.

A single Pintail was the surprise duck on here today. There were still a few Teal, more returning birds already. Plus the resident Common Pochard, the drakes already moulting into drab eclipse plumage, and Tufted Ducks.

Pintail – on the Freshmarsh

As we walked out of Island Hide, a couple of people were photographing two Common Lizards which were basking on the fence by the path, so we stopped for a look too.

Common Lizard – basking on the fence

Walking down the path to Parrinder Hide, a Common Redshank was alarm calling on the top of a post just above us. We managed better views of the Spotted Redshanks from here, until they were flushed by a Marsh Harrier flying over the reeds just behind and they disappeared into the other corner, behind Avocet Island, out of view. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were in with the Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the Freshmarsh too, until they flew off.

Looking carefully through the Black-tailed Godwits we eventually found a single limosa Continental Black-tailed Godwit in amongst the commoner Icelandic birds. Presumably from its colour rings one of the very small and declining breeding population on the Ouse Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Freshmarsh

There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh as we passed and we could only see a couple more Black-tailed Godwits on the Tidal Pools, so we continued straight on to the beach. The tide was coming in and it was breezy out here, so we didn’t stay long. There were lots of gulls on the beach up towards Thornham Point, presumably feeding on shellfish washed up on the northerly winds. There were lots of Oystercatchers along the shoreline and a Curlew and a Bar-tailed Godwit over towards Brancaster.

We had to head back now. A more thorough scan of the Tidal Pools on the way back revealed a small group of Turnstones huddled in the lee of one of the islands. A Little Tern flew over calling. As we passed the Freshmarsh, two Common Terns were flying round now. Then it was back to the car park and time to get everyone home.

6th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Summer Tour today, our last day. It was a mostly bright day with some sunny periods and although there were some ominously threatening dark clouds approaching around the middle of the day, they passed by to the south of us and we didn’t get any rain.

There had been a Rose-coloured Starling at Kelling yesterday and news came through that it was still present this morning, so we drove over there first. As we set off down the track, we could hear Chiffchaffs singing in the hedge and an Orange-tip butterfly fluttered around above us.

Some people walking back told us that the Rose-coloured Starling was currently in view, so we quickened our pace down to the gate beyond the copse. There were a couple of people already there who quickly put us onto it and we soon found ourselves watching a rather smart pale powder-puff pink-tabarded Rose-coloured Starling perched on the wires at the back.

Rose-coloured Starling – on the fence

We walked a little further down, where we could see over the brambles from the bank the other side of the track and the views of the Rose-coloured Starling were slightly closer. It spent some time just perched on the wires looking slightly lifeless, but then suddenly dropped down to the short grass below and started walking around. Then it took off, flying out to join the large flock of regular Starlings which were feeding on the Water Meadow, dropping down into the tall rushes out of view.

There were lots of Brown Hares in the field beyond and one on the ridge of the field behind us.

Brown Hare – one of many

We took the disappearance from view of the Rose-coloured Starling as our cue to move on. We continued on down the track to the Water Meadow. A Common Whitethroat flew across the track into the brambles. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the yellow-green alexanders on the corner.

Sedge Warbler – singing in the alexanders

There was nothing of particularly note on the Water Meadow pool, one of the regular pair of Egyptian Geese, plus a few Mallard and Gadwall and a couple of Moorhen. More unusually, we looked up over the ridge to see a Fulmar flying towards us over Weybourne Camp. It banked round over the gun emplacements, and headed back out to sea.

We decided to move on, and drove up to check out one of the local heaths. As we walked out of the car park, we could hear a Bullfinch calling and had a quick glimpse as it flew across the path. As we came out of the thick blackthorn, we heard a Nightjar churring briefly. They will churr sometimes in the daytime, but they are better looked for at dusk, as we had seen last night. Some Long-tailed Tits were calling in the trees, and we saw one as it flew across. A Goldcrest was singing too, but there were few warblers singing now. The nearby pines were rather quiet, apart from a Siskin which called overhead, but was not seen.

There was a large group of cyclists chatting on the track ahead of us, so we turned onto a side path. We had hoped it would be quieter, but there were several walkers and dog walkers here too and no sign of the hoped for Woodlarks. About half way along, we heard a burst of Dartford Warbler singing. We stopped to listen more carefully, and try to work out where exactly the sound was coming from, but it had gone quiet. We scanned the tops of the gorse bushes but there was no sign of it. We walked on a bit further, still listening, then decided to turn back. A couple of Green Hairstreak butterflies were flying around the emerging bracken fronds.

Green Hairstreak – on a young bracken frond

The cyclists had gone now, so we walked on along the main track and took another smaller path out into the middle of the heath. A family of Stonechats were flicking around on the gorse ahead of us here, male, female and at least two streaky juveniles. There were plenty of Linnets too. We checked another favoured spot for a Woodlark but drew a black again.

As we cut back round, suddenly a small bird flew out of the gorse ahead of us. It looked dark slate grey, with a noticeably long tail, a Dartford Warbler! It landed in a young pine tree, where we could just see it moving around in the lower branches, then dropped down into the gorse below. We walked on round on the path and positioned ourselves looking at the clump of gorse into which it had disappeared. Luckily one of the group was looking the other way, as it had obviously moved and was now perched on a low gorse bush right by the path. It flew across and landed on the top of a larger clump where it remained for several seconds, giving us a great view.

Dartford Warbler – a great view

We decided to leave the Dartford Warbler in peace We set off back along the path but we didn’t get far before we flushed a Woodlark from the edge. We could see its short tail as it flew up, and we watched as it circled round and landed in the top of a pine tree a bit further over. We got it in the scopes and could see it had food in its bill, before it flew down to the ground just where we had been looking for it earlier.

By the time we got back round, the Woodlark was back up in the top of the pine. It dropped down again, and we could just see it walking around on the ground. Then it flew up and landed on a nearby fencepost, giving us a great view. It was already after midday, so we walked back towards the car park. Another Woodlark circled overhead calling on the way.

We drove down to Cley, and as we dropped back down to the main road, a Grey Partridge ran off the verge by the houses, ran across the road ahead of us and onto the old parking area the other side. An odd place to see one! The NWT car park was strangely full of cyclists. Apparently there was a big cycle event round Norfolk today, but it seemed odd that they had been allowed to take over the car park as one of their stops on one of the busiest weekends of the year. Speaking to the staff in the Visitor Centre it didn’t sound like they had even asked for permission to use the site.

Thankfully, it looked like the cyclists were starting to disperse and we managed to find a picnic table as several of them left. While we were eating, a Great White Egret flew across over the reserve – we could see its long legs and slow leisurely wingbeats. It was overtaken by a Little Egret, which was a great way to see the size difference.

Great White Egret – flew over at lunch

After lunch, we planned to have a walk up the East Bank. There were some threatening dark clouds approaching from the south, so we decided to drive to Walsey Hills and walk from there, so we wouldn’t be too far from the minibus in case it started to rain. There were just two Tufted Ducks today on Snipes Marsh.

As we started to walk up the East Bank, we could hear the Yellow Wagtail singing. It took a bit of finding in the long grass, partly because it seemed to mostly have its green back to us. When it finally turned round it was much more obvious – its bright canary yellow head and breast standing out. We had some good views of it through the scopes.

Yellow Wagtail – the male, still singing

There were several Cormorants drying their wings on the islands on Pope’s Pool and a throng of loafing immature Great Black-backed Gulls. There were several Avocets too. We could hear Bearded Tits calling behind us, but we couldn’t see them.

News came through now that a Red-backed Shrike had just been found not far away, inland at Aylmerton. Even better, it was a smart male. We didn’t have a lot of time available, and we were not sure exactly where it was or how long it would take us to see it, so we decided to head over there immediately. As it was, we managed to get precise directions while we were on the way and it wasn’t too far to walk after we got there and we found ourselves watching the stunning male Red-backed Shrike.

The Red-backed Shrike was perched in a small oak tree sticking out of a hedge between two fields, next to a footpath. It kept making small sallies out either side, catching insects, coming back to the same tree of one a bit further along. We had a great view of it through the scopes, rusty red-backed, grey-headed with a black bandit mask, and pink on the breast.

Red-backed Shrike – a stunning male

The dark clouds had passed over, but it was still cloudy, warm and muggy. Lots of Common Swifts, Sand Martins and House Martins, were hawking for insects low over the fields too. After watching the Red-backed Shrike for a while, we decided to head off back.

Cutting across inland, we made good time on our way back to Wells and still had about 45 minutes before we were due to finish, so we stopped at the pools just east of town. A pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass nearby. A Grey Heron flew over the parking area, some distance from the pools, but still a squadron of Avocets flew out after it, and one continued to chase it away over the field beyond.

Down the track, we stopped to scan the pools and could see why. There were several families of cute fluffy juvenile Avocets, being defended by their parents. There were three darker brown small juvenile Redshanks too, the first we have seen here this year. The juvenile Lapwings are much more advanced, and are now well grown. There was a pair of Shelducks with a family of shelducklings out in the middle of the water too. All the parents were very aggressive, chasing away any potential predators.

Common Gull and Redshanks – defensive parents!

There were some other waders on here too. A single Knot, in grey non-breeding plumage, was the first we had seen on the three days, a last minute addition to the list. Two Little Ringed Plovers were distant at first in the heat haze, but one came closer, so we could see its golden yellow eye ring through the scopes.

A Marsh Harrier, a pale male circled over the field beyond, hunting. As we walked back a short while later we watched it come in over the pools with food in its talons. The female was following, presumably expecting to be the recipient of the prey, but the male flew on and landed in the field the other side. For some reason, it was not going to give it up.

It was time now to call it a day and head on to Wells to drop people off. It had been a very exciting three days, with some great birds and a good selection of other summer wildlife too.

5th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Summer Tour today, including a Nightjar Evening. After a grey and cloudy start, it gradually brightened up and then the skies cleared from the west around midday, producing a lovely sunny afternoon. We spent the day down in the Norfolk Broads, then the evening looking for owls and Nightjars.

We started the day with the long drive down to the Broads. There had been a 1st summer male Red-footed Falcon at Hickling Broad reported yesterday and we were hoping to see that and some Swallowtails too. As we got out of the minibus at the NWT car park, several Willow Warblers were singing in the trees nearby and the Peacocks at the next door animal rescue charity were calling too (unfortunately that one doesn’t count!).

We set off down towards the track to Stubb Mill, which was where the falcon had been, stopping on the corner for our first scan. We could immediately see several distant Hobbys in the dead trees out in the reedbed. As we had hoped, the falcons were yet to really get going, with the cloudy start to the day. We could see a small group of other birders further up Whiteslea track, on the bank, looking for the Red-footed Falcon.

We were just debating which way to go, when we noticed a local birder walking back along the track towards us, so we asked him for an update. He told us there was no sign of the Red-footed Falcon this morning and he also suggested that most of the later reports yesterday related to misidentified Hobbys. So it looked increasingly like it hadn’t roosted in the trees here with the Hobbys overnight as we had thought it might have done, and had probably moved swiftly through yesterday. He did tell us about some Garganey on the pools, and we figured we would continue on down the track towards Stubb Mill to see what else we could see.

A couple of Common Whitethroats were flitting around in the bushes by the track ahead of us as we walked along. We had just stopped opposite the second of the pools to scan for the Garganey, when one of the group spotted a Common Crane flying in over the fields behind us. It disappeared behind the trees then reappeared over the track ahead of us, flying out over the pools, before circling round and dropping down into reedbed beyond. A nice start.

Common Crane – flew in

There were lots of hirundines and Swifts hawking low over the pools, including several Sand Martins. It was a good opportunity to compare them with the House Martins. A Common Buzzard and a Marsh Harrier circled high over the trees behind us now. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits were roosting on the short grass by the water. Several Lapwings were flying round calling, and there were a few Avocets out here too.

Most of the ducks were asleep, mainly Gadwall and a few Mallard, plus a single Wigeon and a couple of Teal out on the water beyond. Scanning carefully, we finally found the Garganey, two exclipse drakes in their drabber, female-like plumage, also asleep. For no apparent reason, one of the Avocet decided to run at them, and they woke up briefly, then moving further towards the bank where we couldn’t really get a clear view of them any more. Very helpful of the Avocet!

One of the group was looking at four distant Greylags flying over the back of the reedbed and noticed a large brown bird below. It was a Bittern flying across. Unfortunately it quickly dropped back down into the reeds before all the rest of the group could get on it.

We continued on to where track goes up onto the bank. We were a bit closer to the dead trees and had better views of the Hobbys from here, although it was starting to brighten up and the Hobbys were becoming more active, flying up hawking for insects.

We could see a pair of Ringed Plovers on one of the islands on the pool in front of us, one of which looked to be incubating. They were noticeably paler above than the tundrae Ringed Plovers we had seen at Titchwell yesterday. There were also a couple of Redshank on here and a couple of Common Terns flew over. A Bittern appeared again, from behind the dead trees over the reeds at the back, but again it was distant and hard to pick up against the trees.

We decided to walk back and up the track towards Bittern Hide, hoping for a better view of its namesake. There were several dragonflies flying around now – Four-spotted Chasers – and more damselflies in the vegetation by the path, including Large Red, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

Blue-tailed Damselfly – warming up

We walked up Whiteslea Track now, and a Treecreeper was singing in the trees as we passed. We took the path up onto the bank and scanned the pool, picking up an Egyptian Goose from round on this side. Then we continued on towards the hide. A Bittern flew up again, but again was only up for couple of seconds and some of the group still hadn’t seen one, so we stood for a while on the corner before Bittern Hide. We scanned the reeds, but it didn’t reappear. Four more Cranes circled up slowly in the distance. Behind us, we could see the edge of the front which had brought all the cloud and the skies slowly cleared from the west to sunshine.

We heard Bearded Tits pinging and turned to see a couple fly across the ditch in front of us. A female perched in the edge for a few seconds. Some more Bearded Tits were calling further along, in the reeds by the path, and the male climbed up briefly into the tops, before flying and dropping back in. It seemed like they might have young in here. A couple of times the male flew out across the track and then back in with food.

Bearded Tit – the female in the reeds

It was time to head back for lunch now. We had seen an adult Black-headed Gull walking around on the top of the bank earlier, which seemed odd, and now we realised why. A fluffy Black-headed Gull chick had walked out of the long grass on the edge of the path. We waited for it to go back in before we walked on. A female Common Blue butterfly was nectaring on a buttercup.

Common Blue butterfly – a female

We cut across on the path through the wood, back to the Visitor Centre. There were several Four-spotted Chasers warming themselves on the brambles here in the sunshine. A male Reed Bunting was gathering food and flew across into a dead tree. A Common Whitethroat flitted in and out of the trees ahead of us.

Four-spotted Chaser – basking in the sunshine

We had our lunch in the picnic area in the sunshine. A Garden Warbler was singing in the trees nearby briefly. Our initial plan was to go somewhere different after lunch, but we had to be back early and didn’t have much time now, and figured we could look for Swallowtails here and maybe have another chance for the members of the group who had not caught any of the Bittern flights earlier.

It was warm now, as we set off again. We walked the other way round the reserve this time, out past the hides, towards the Broad, following the Covid one-way system. A couple of Reed Warblers showed well in the young reeds next to path. When we stopped to look at a male Reed Bunting singing in the top of a dead tree, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out of the trees behind and overhead.

We stopped to scan one of the overgrown ditches. There were several more dragonflies here, including a Hairy Dragonfly as well as more Four-spotted Chasers. A small shoal of Common Rudd was in the open water amongst the marestail.

Common Rudd – in one of the ditches

We stopped again at the first viewpoint overlooking the Broad. There were lots of Mute Swans out on the water, but not much else – often the way with the actual Broads themselves. A Marsh Harrier circled over in the sunshine. Continuing along the path, several Willow Warblers were calling in the sallows, collecting food, and one perched right in the top of an alder, singing.

Willow Warbler – in the sallows

We were struggling at first to find any Swallowtails or any flowers out for them to nectar on. Everything is very late this year after the cold spring. Finally, along the path towards the Observation Hide a Swallowtail flew in. But it carried on straight past us, flying very quickly ahead of us along the path. We tried to follow to see if it might land, but then it turned behind some sallows out of view and by the time we got there we had lost track of it.

We had yet another brief glimpse of a Bittern flying over the reeds, over by Bittern Hide, so we decided to head straight round that way. We popped into the hide. The reeds which had been cut in front of the hide are now growing up fast and making it harder to see anything on there. We were running out of time slightly, as we had to be back early today ahead of our evening foray later, but we decided to have a quick rest in the hide, before heading back to car park.

Scanning the dead trees in the distance through binoculars, there were still one or two Hobbys around. When a falcon flew out head on towards us we assumed it was just another Hobby, but it looked to have a rather pale crown and head which appeared to catch the sun, unlike the dark hood of a Hobby or a male Red-footed Falcon (like yesterday’s). But there was a lot of heat haze now and it was a long way off, so we figured we were imagining it. It turned and landed back in the dead trees out of view behind a branch.

It flew out again, another short sally after insects, and it really did look to have a pale head. As it turned to head back to the trees, it looked to have pale orangey underparts too. It couldn’t be though could it? Yesterday’s Red-footed Falcon was a 1st summer male and this one looked like a female. It lLanded again, and this time we realised we needed to get it in the scope quickly. Now we could confirm what we thought we had seen – it was a female Red-footed Falcon!

Red-footed Falcon – we found a female

The Red-footed Falcon was distant and there was a lot of heat haze, but we could see it did have a pale head, orange on top, whiter on the cheeks, with a thin black mask and small moustache. The back and wings looked rather dark grey and the underparts pale orangey-buff. It kept doing little sallies from the trees, shorter flights than the Hobbys, with more gliding, and quick bursts of wingbeats when chasing prey. It even did a brief hover. At one point it landed in the same tree as one of the Hobbys, and was noticeably a little smaller, more compact.

We had come to see someone else’s Red-footed Falcon, been disappointed to find it gone, but then found our own. Hickling is a good site for them and hosted multiple birds just last year, presumably the gathering of Hobbys helping to pull in passing birds. We put the news out – but when we went outside and onto the bank we could see everyone else had long since given up and gone. We were thinking it might be a bit closer from bank, but there was still lots of heat haze. Still what a great bird!

Unfortunately it was really time to go now, or we would be late for our early evening meal. As we set off to walk back, another Swallowtail flew past. This time it turned in front of us and looked like it might land on the flowers growing on the bank. It meant we had a better view, but it changed it’s mind and flew off rather than land. Then it was a quick walk back to the car park and a long drive back home, albeit with a spring in our steps!

Nightjar Evening

After a break and something to eat, we met again early evening. We went looking for Little Owls first. We checked out some barns by the road, but there was no sign. So we tried another site and immediately spotted one perched on the roof half way down one of the barns, enjoying the evening sunshine. We got it in the scope.

While we were watching it, another Little Owl flew across in front, disappearing into the trees nearby. After a few seconds it came back out and landed on the ground by the barns, running around looking for food on the concrete. It then flew up again, then across to the other side, perching on the near edge of the roof the other side. Great views.

Little Owl – hunting around the barns

We dropped down towards the coast to look for Barn Owls next. It was a lovely evening, and we heard several Yellowhammers singing through the open windows as we drove down the country lanes. We drove a quick circuit round via some meadows where they like to hunt, without any success, so we parked up nearby and walked up onto the seawall to scan the marshes. At first, we couldn’t find any owls – but we did see several Brown Hares and a pair of Grey Partridge down in the grass. A Song Thrush was singing from the trees on the far side.

Then a Barn Owl appeared out of the trees, the regular very white one, nicknamed ‘Casper’, which is well known here. It started hunting around a recently cut grass field, we watched it fly round, drop into the grass a couple of times, then come back up. It disappeared behind some trees and looked like it had gone off in the other direction, but then reappeared and flew back towards us. It came much closer, flying past us over the reeds and out along the bank across the marshes. It landed briefly, and we thought about going out for a closer look, but it quickly too off again as some people walked past and we watched it head out away from us.

Barn Owl – ‘Casper’, the white one

It was time to head up to the heath. The sun had already gone down and the temperature was dropping when we arrived and got out of the minibus. We set off out onto the middle of the heath, and we were not even already in position when we heard our first Nightjar churring. We got out of the edge of the trees just in time to hear it stop and take off wing-clapping. We could see it flying round over the gorse further up, and watched it drop down behind the vegetation ahead of us. We walked quickly on down the path but when we got to the area it had seemed to drop, it had disappeared.

Another Nightjar started churring now, right out in the middle. We stopped to listen to it, such an evocative sound, of summer evenings on the heaths. For some time we could only hear one. It flew round at one point – the churring stopped and we heard it wing-clapping as it took off. Then it flew back to the trees where it had been and resumed churring.

When another Nightjar started up behind us, it sounded closer. We walked on to see if we locate this one, but it was still too far from path to give us a chance to find it. A fourth male then started churring in the distance, and we stood and listened to the two of them for a couple of minutes. A Woodcock flew over roding – we could hear its squeaky call, and looked up to see it fly over with exaggerated slow wingbeats. A Tawny Owl called from the trees.

The first male Nightjar we had seen earlier started churring again, so we walked back. It was getting darker now, so we couldn’t see where it was perched on the edge of the trees. It took off and we watched two Nightjars chasing each other through the tops, silhouetted against the last of the light in the sky. One came back down into the gorse not far from us, and we had a quick view of it flying round lower as it broke the skyline. Then it went quiet again.

One of the other Nightjars was still churring out in the middle. We stood and listened to that for a couple more minutes, a lovely way to while away a summer’s evening. Then it was time to head back – it had been a long day, and we had another busy one ahead tomorrow. As we walked off the heath, we were serenaded by another of the Nightjars churring. It was in a tree above the path but too dark to see it perched now. As we walked underneath, we watched it fly out, dropping down out across the Heath.

4th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Summer Tour today. It was bright with some sunshine to start, clouding over through the morning and starting to rain early afternoon. The rain was only light though, not heavy as was the forecast, so it didn’t stop us.

We headed over to Snettisham for the morning. A Sedge Warbler was singing noisily from the brambles nearby as we got out of the minibus. A Greenfinch was wheezing from one of the gardens as we walked up the road. we made our way in on the path in through the bushes. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling over to one side, so we walked round and had a couple of glimpses of it flicking around in the brambles. There was a selection of other warblers, singing here – Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouting. We listened to the metronomic song of song of the Reed Warblers vs the mad chatter of the Sedge Warblers.

A Turtle Dove started purring nearby, deep in the dense bushes. We walked a bit further along to see if we could find an angle to see it, when it flew up and broke into a long gentle glide back down, its display flight. We saw where it landed this time, high in a pine tree, and got it in the scopes, although it was partly obscured by branches. It purred from there for a while, then flew up again, gliding over the path above us, before landing in the top of a large hawthorn the other side. It was a better view through the scopes now, we could see the rusty edges to the feathers of the upperparts.

Turtle Dove – in display flight

The Turtle Dove then flew back over the path again, this time landing in a large willow out of view. We could hear it but couldn’t see it. The next time it flew out, it headed off north away over the bushes out of sight.

We continued on, up onto the outer seawall. The tide was quite a way out still, but we stopped to scan the mud of the Wash. There were lots of waders out on the distant shoreline, predominantly Oystercatchers, plus one or two Curlews. A single lingering Brent Goose was out there too – most of the remaining birds seem to have departed in the last week or so, back to Siberia for the breeding season.

Dropping back down, we walked on up through the middle of the bushes. There were lots of Linnets here, some smart males with pinky red flushes on their breasts, and some brown streaked juveniles now too. A male Stonechat appeared on the top of a bush on the seawall. They bred here and sure enough just a little further up we found a couple of streaky juveniles too. A Meadow Pipit feeding on the short grass nearby was the first of the day.

Linnet – a smart male

There was a nice selection of butterflies here again, despite a fresher breeze today – a couple of Wall, a Brown Argus, a Small Heath. A Mother Shipton, a species of day-flying moth, landed briefly in the grass but was off again before we could really see the supposed likeness of the 16th century witch on its wings, after which it is named.

Two more Turtle Doves flew past heading south, presumably a male and a female. A little later, we saw a male coming back the other way in display flight. We saw it land in the top of a large bush, where it started purring, so we took advantage to have another look through the scopes.

The tide was slowly coming in and we now and a succession of small groups of Oystercatchers flew in off the Wash, heading in to roost on the marshes just inland. We climbed up onto the outer seawall again, by the crossbank. There were more Curlews on the mud now and two Bar-tailed Godwits in the shallow water. We could see their slightly upturned bills, before they tucked them in and went to sleep. Two different Ringed Plovers were hunkered down on the top of the beach, incubating in the roped off cordon nearby. They were very hard to see, well camouflaged against the shingle.

Ringed Plover – nesting in one of the cordons

We walked across at the crossbank and climbed up onto the inner seawall to scan the marshes. We could see some distant Little Gulls on the pool away to our left, so we walked a short way further up for a better look. There were at least three, all immature (1st summer/2nd calendar year) with the black ‘w’ pattern across their wings. We could see lots of Black-headed Gulls nesting, and lots of 2nd calendar year Common Gulls roosting further back, along with a mixture of immature Herring Gulls of various ages and a single young Great Black-backed Gull. A Common Tern flew in, and landed on one of the islands.

There were a couple of waders on the small pool the other side, on the grazing marsh. We had good views of a very close Black-tailed Godwit, a bird with a limp which always seems to be on here. It didn’t look particularly well today.

Black-tailed Godwit – with a limp

A lone Avocet on the mud looked to be incubating. At one point the other member of the pair flew in calling, and the first got up. It looked like they were performing a nest changeover but we couldn’t see an egg in the shallow scrape.

Avocet – changeover time

There were more Avocets and Lapwings out on the marshes. About fifty Black-tailed Godwits were roosting, Icelandic birds in various stages of moult, presumably mostly young birds which have not migrated back to Iceland to breed and not moulted fully into breeding plumage. A large mob of Oystercatchers was now roosting at the back, with more still flying in from the Wash. Two Spoonbills were mostly fast asleep (doing what they like to do best!), waking up and flashing their bills only briefly

Spoonbills – typically asleep

One or two Marsh Harriers flew over occasionally, attracting the ire of all the breeding gulls and waders, which chased up after it calling noisily. A Red Kite drifted over high.

There was a nice selection of ducks out here too, including a single lingering drake Wigeon, on the far bank with some Tufted Ducks. A pair of Mute Swans with just one cygnet swam out of the reeds in the channel below us. As we started to walk back, we scanned through the big flocks of geese – Greylags with lots of goslings, Canada Geese and a few Egyptian Geese – but all we could find different here today were three escaped Swan Geese (which don’t count unfortunately!).

Another Spoonbill was feeding actively in one of the pools among the geese, but disappeared into the rushes before we could get the scopes on it. It would have been nice to see one properly awake, but when we looked back it had climbed out onto the bank and gone straight to sleep! There were several Little Egrets, and two or three Grey Herons out here too.

It was just starting to cloud over now and lots of Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over the bushes, occasionally sweeping low past us, over the bank. A few House Martins appeared too, hard to tell if they are still migrants on the move or just local birds come for the feeding. A couple of Swallows were in with them too.

We headed over to Titchwell for lunch in the picnic area. Thankfully the rain held off. A Blackcap was singing in the trees nearby, and we could just see it flitting around. A Reed Warbler was singing in the sallows – it obviously hadn’t read the book!

After lunch, we decided to have a walk out on the reserve. It was forecast to rain, and we would have the option of shelter in the hides when it did. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew in over the reeds out at the back of the old Thornham grazing marsh pool. A Spoonbill flew in high over the Freshmarsh but carried on away over the west bank and the saltmarsh beyond

We stopped to listen at the reedbed, to see if we could hear a Bearded Tit. We didn’t, but we did see several Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers flying back and forth. A Bittern boomed, but just twice before going quiet again. There were a few Common Pochard in the reedbed channels and a single Great Crested Grebe on the reedbed pool along with lots of Greylags and Gadwall.

It still wasn’t really raining much and there were lots of people in Island Hide already, so we scanned the Freshmarsh from the bank. We could see a small group of waders distantly in front of Parrinder Hide, several Ringed Plover and a lone Dunlin with them. A Little Ringed Plover was up on the back of the island just beyond, but it was hard to see any detail at this range, and it was very well camouflaged against the dry mud.

A couple of drake Teal were new for the day – another duck which is common here in the winter but not many remain right through the summer. A single adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in briefly to bathe. They seem to be much scarcer here this year, for some reason.

Mediterranean Gull – just one briefly

While the rain was holding off, we decided to head straight out to the beach and come back to the hide. There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh, so we carried on to the Tidal Pools where we found several Turnstones picking around the islands. A pair of Shelduck swimming across the water were followed by several shelducklings.

Out at the beach, the tide was coming in and was already half way up the sand. Scanning out to sea, we spotted a Little Tern away to the west, close in, just beyond the breakers. It was flying away west all the time and getting increasingly hard to see against the grey water, but then thankfully turned and came back, giving us a good view now as it flew east past us, just beyond the sand. A few minutes later, another Little Tern flew out over the beach carrying a fish and disappeared off over the water towards Scolt. One or two Sandwich Terns were offshore too, but rather more distant.

With the tide in, there was not much on the beach, but we could see a small flock of Sanderling on the sand half way to Brancaster. They were running around in front of the waves breaking on the beach, in typical Sanderling fashion, but were very different from the silvery grey and white birds we see in winter, being much darker now in their breeding plumage. A pitfall for the unwary!

It was spitting with rain now, so we turned and headed back. A Spoonbill was on one of the pools out on the saltmarsh now, feeding. It climbed up out of the pool it was in and walked slowly across the saltmarsh amongst the thrift to another one a little further over. Nice to finally see one properly awake!

Spoonbill – nice to see one awake!

When we got back to the Freshmarsh, we turned down the path to Parrinder Hide. Just before we got in, we looked across to see a wader fly up from below the bank and land again on the island in front of the hide. A Common Sandpiper, a migrant here, possibly a late bird heading north or perhaps an early returning bird already which had failed to breed successfully. From the shelter of the hide, we watched as it worked its way right down to the front on the mud.

Common Sandpiper – in front of the hide

There were several Ringed Plovers out here still too, we counted twelve now. They came close in too, feeding on the mud right below us. They looked quite small and dark compared to our resident breeders, presumably migrant Tundra Ringed Plovers (of the subspecies tundrae) stopping off on their way north.

Tundra Ringed Plover – stopping off

It was raining a little more heavily now, so we decided to sit it out and admire the waders. A male Redshank was displaying to a female further back, which was not showing much interest. A group of four Avocets gathered for a squabble in front of the hide.

A group of Black-tailed Godwits was busy feeding in the deeper water beyond the islands, mainly 1st summer Icelandic birds which had not gone north to breed. One was on its own a short distance from the others and looked noticeably bigger and longer-billed. It seemed to have a more contrasting pale face and the pale orange on its breast was not as deep as a full adult Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit. We got it in the scope and on closer inspection, noticed it was colour ringed and tagged. This was enough to confirm that it was a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, of the nominate limosa subspecies, rather than the islandica Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits which are more common here.

A quick check with one of the locals who collects colour-ring combinations from here and he was able to confirm immediately that it was one of the very small number Continental Black-tailed Godwits which breed in the UK, on the Ouse Washes. Apparently it failed in its breeding attempt this year, and has already moved to Titchwell to feed and moult. It seems like the UK Continental Black-tailed Godwits, which are already teetering on the edge, have suffered from flooding on the Ouse Washes this year after all the rain in May.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the subspecies limosa

We had come to Parrinder Hide particularly hoping to see the Little Ringed Plover a bit closer, but we hadn’t seen it again yet. We had a careful scan round where it had been now and eventually found it hiding behind the bricks. It was preening, presumably taking advantage of the rain to have a shower. Eventually it came out and ran along the island over to the edge of the reeds, where we could get it in the scopes. Now we could see its golden yellow eyering properly.

The rain had helpfully eased off again now. It was time to head back – it had been a good start, but we had another busy day ahead tomorrow.

1st June 2021 – Birds & More

A Private Tour today in NW Norfolk, looking at more than birds, including a selection of other early summer wildlife. It was another lovely sunny day, warm but with a nice cool breeze off the sea on the north coast. We met in Brancaster and headed over to Snettisham for the morning.

As we walked in through the bushes, we could hear a selection of warblers singing deep in the bushes – Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common and Lesser Whitethroat. The delicate purring of a Turtle Dove filtered through them, so we walked up towards the dense hawthorns, dripping with flowers, from where the sound seemed to be coming. As we were scanning the bushes, the female flew up to join the male on a branch. We had a great view of them through the scope.

While we were watching the Turtle Doves, we heard the distinctive sound of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from somewhere further up. Most of the Grasshopper Warblers have gone quiet now, at least during daylight hours, so it was a bit of a surprise to hear one in the middle of the morning. We walked on to see if we could track it down, but it seemed to be coming from deep in an inaccessible area of scrub and then it went quiet. There were Reed Warblers and one or two Sedge Warblers still singing in the reeds.

Walking out of the bushes, several Linnets were feeding on the short grass below the outer seawall. Our first Brown Argus of the day – we would go on to see quite a few – was flitting around the storksbill. A tiny white moth, a Swan-feather Dwarf (Elachista argentella) flew up from our feet.

Up on the seawall, the tide was coming in and the water was already on the beach. A large flock of thirty or so Sanderlings was put up from the sand by a dogwalker and flew round over the water. As they twisted and turned, we could see one black-bellied Dunlin in with them. They landed down on the shore again and started feeding. In various stages of breeding plumage, they are much darker now than we see in the winter.

We dropped down off the seawall and continued on up through the middle. There were more warblers in the bushes and Linnets on the grass. The pools in the middle held a few Four-spotted Chasers and Azure Damselflies and patches of Water Crowfoot. Butterflies included several Small Copper, Small Heath and a single Painted Lady. As we got up towards the crossbank, a Meadow Pipit flew up onto the bushes on the seawall ahead of us. We stopped to watch our first male Common Blue butterfly of the day, flying fast up and down over the longer grass.

From up on the outer seawall, the tide was in now. A large flock of predominantly Ringed Plovers was trying to roost on the beach, but kept getting flushed by walkers and dogwalkers. We could see a Ringed Plover hunkered down on the top of the beach in one of the cordons, presumably incubating. As two people walked along the shore line with their dogs, well outside the cordon, the Ringed Plover came off the nest and ran up the beach, only returning once they had passed. Just goes to show how sensitive they are to disturbance, which is a huge problem for birds which nest on the beaches here.

Ringed Plover – there were lots trying to roost on the beach

Crossing over to the inner seawall, we looked out across Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of waders roosting on here, sitting out high tide on the Wash. Hundreds of Oystercatchers were over the back and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on the slightly closer pools. Scanning through, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too. There were several groups of Ringed Plovers on here too, and further up we could just see two different waders with some of them on a muddy island. There was too much heat haze to be able to make them out clearly though, so we walked further north along the inner seawall, to see if we could get a closer look.

When we got closer, we could see that as we suspected, they were two Curlew Sandpipers, adults moulting in (or out?) of rusty breeding plumage. They were first reported here almost a week ago now, so are clearly in no hurry to move on. Northbound spring migrants usually move on quickly, and it seems too early for southbound birds already (it can’t really be autumn already?!). Or perhaps they could even have abandoned hope of breeding due to the long, cold weather this spring?

There were at least two Little Gulls out on the marshes too, immatures in their 1st summer/2nd calendar year. We got one in the scope, dwarfed by the surrounding Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were on a small pool on the grazing marshes the other side, along with two Avocets and an Oystercatcher. We stopped to photograph a Green-veined White butterfly on the flowers on the bank. Another Turtle Dove flew past us, heading towards Heacham. A Cuckoo was calling in the distance. A male Marsh Harrier flew in and started circling low over the grass just the other side of the crossbank.

Green-veined White – showing the hindwing underside

There was a nice selection of other birds on the marshes as we walked back, stopping to scan from time to time. A Great White Egret on one of the pools really stood out, and there was a single Spoonbill in with the geese at the back, fast asleep (doing what Spoonbills like to do best!). A nice selection of wildfowl includes a couple of lingering late Wigeon and a feral Barnacle Goose. A Common Tern was hunting for fish in the channel just below the bank. A Hobby flew past, but typically disappeared off fast to the south.

We dropped down off the bank and cut back in to the southern end of the Coastal Park. A Hairy Dragonfly was patrolling one of the pools, chased by the Four-spotted Chasers. Back through the bushes, the Turtle Doves and Grasshopper Warbler were quiet now, but we did find a gorgeous metallic Green Hairstreak basking on a bush by the path.

Green Hairstreak – basking by the path

It was already lunchtime by the time we got back to the minibus, but we elected to drive somewhere more scenic to eat. Thankfully, we were allowed to park just beyond the payhut at Holme, despite not having booked in advance, as it wasn’t full, and we had a late lunch looking out over the saltmarsh towards the beach. The new car park booking system at NWT Holme Dunes is a complete nightmare – it is hard to plan in advance what we might want to do and even harder to know exactly what time we might get there if we are somewhere else for the morning. Not surprisingly the car park seems to be booked almost entirely by beach goers, looking at the occupants of the cars leaving and the almost total lack of anyone looking at any of the wildlife on the reserve!

After lunch, we set off along the coast path into the dunes. There were lots of butterflies in the short grass, several Wall and more Small Heaths. It didn’t take us long to come across our first Southern Marsh Orchids, just coming in to bloom, although these were not our main orchid target here this afternoon.

Southern Marsh Orchid – just coming out

A Cuckoo was calling in the trees and we carried on further in the hope of seeing it, but just caught a quick glimpse before when it landed low on a branch briefly, but it saw us and disappeared back. There were lots more butterflies in here, more Wall, Common Blues and Brown Argus. The moth list was boosted with a single Yellow Belle and several Plain Fanner (Glyphipterix fuscoviridella) which flushed from the grass.

Brown Argus – one posing nicely

It took a bit of searching, but we eventually managed to find a few spikes of Man Orchid. Some look a bit behind, perhaps not a surprise given the cold spring prior to the last couple of days, but a couple were in find condition and much admired!

Man Orchid – we found a few spikes out

Man Orchid was the main target, but we had hoped to look for Early Marsh Orchid too. But all the areas we have seen them in the past seemed to be fenced off for the ponies – we hope the ponies don’t like eating orchids! We followed the fence round, but couldn’t find a way to get where we wanted to go. A Stonechat perched on the fence briefly.

Wandering round trying did produce a nice selection of other things though. When we stopped to photograph some more Southern Marsh Orchids, we noticed movement in the long grass. A small Natterjack Toad was walking through – we could see the distinctive yellow stripe down the middle of its back. We don’t often see them, as they are predominantly nocturnal, so this was a really nice surprise.

Natterjack Toad – hiding in the long grass

Rounding another corner, we came across a mass of tiny Green Long-horn moths (Adela reaumurella), the golden-green metallic males with their outsize antennae dancing in the sunshine around the tops of the trees, trying to attract a female. Quite a spectacle. We did see one or two shorter ‘horned’ females too, in the vegetation below.

Green Long-horn (Adela reaumurella) – a male

We had seen several Hairy Dragonflies this morning, but now we came across one resting on some brambles, which gave us a chance to get some photographs of this normally very active species, and admire its hairy thorax.

Hairy Dragonfly – resting on some brambles

The Cuckoo finally gave itself up as we started to walk back, initially flying off away from us, but then we came out from behind some bushes and found it perched on a dead branch out in the open. We had a quick scan from the top of the dunes, looking out over the beach. There were lots of people out there today and we couldn’t see many birds. We could make out a few Sandwich Terns passing by in the distance offshore. Then it was back to the minibus and time to head for home.

28th Aug 2019 – Intro to UK Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour for a guest from Hong Kong, along the North Norfolk coast looking for a good selection of both our commoner breeding birds and any more interesting species we might come across. We were also trying to get photographs of as many of the birds as possible too. It was a cloudy start, even with a few early spits of drizzle first thing, but it brightened up through the morning and was warm and sunny again by the afternoon.

Our first destination for the day was Wells Woods – we hoped to have a quick look round before the car park got too busy, although with the cloudier weather it would not be as bad as it was over the bank holiday weekend. As we drove down the Beach Road, we noticed some partridges feeding on the mini railway track so we pulled up to look at them. They were Grey Partridges, a small family party, and we watched them for a few minutes as they fed on the short grass alongside the railway.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – we stopped to watch a family party feeding by the mini railway

Having parked in the beach car park, we set off down the track into the woods. We stopped briefly by the boating lake where there were several Little Grebes out on the water, including an adult with a rather noisy juvenile begging to be fed over by the reeds. A lone Tufted Duck out in the middle was a rather dull eclipse drake with grey flanks.

As we walked into the birches, we could hear Jays calling, and we looked up to see one flying through the trees. There seemed to be a pair and we followed them for a few minutes, until a couple of dog walkers came through and they flew off into the woods. A Wren was singing in the bushes and proved more obliging.

We quickly found a flock of Long-tailed Tits, and stopping to look through them we found Coal, Blue and Great Tits with them. A Garden Warbler appeared in the flock too, in the top of a dense sallow, but stayed mostly well hidden in the leaves. We watched a Treecreeper climbing up the trunk of one of the trees. As the flock moved on towards the main path, out into the open, we had good views of a couple of Goldcrests too, before all the birds moved up into the top of the pines.

A little further on, we found another flock. As well as tits, there were a couple of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs here. In the trees just beyond, we heard a Pied Flycatcher calling and saw it make a quick sally out of the dense sallows, but it disappeared straight back in and was lost to view. It seemed to calling from the back of the trees now, so we walked round to the other side.

The flock seemed to have moved on, and we thought the flycatcher had disappeared too. We had a look round, and scanned the trees, then suddenly the Pied Flycatcher appeared again on the front of the same sallow. It kept disappearing into the dense foliage, but came out into the open a couple of times, and perched nicely where we could see it. After following it for a while, we realised there was more than one and triangulating the calls there were actually at least three of them. Pied Flycatchers are just passage migrants here, passing through on their way from Scandinavia to Africa for the winter.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – a migrant, stopping off on its way south from Scandinavia

When we got back to the car park, it was already filling up fast. We decided to move on, and drove west along the coast to Titchwell.  A flock of Long-tailed Tits made their way through the trees in the car park as we headed out onto the reserve. It was the Titchwell weekly ‘moth morning’, so we had a quick look at this morning’s haul from the moth traps, including an ever popular Poplar Hawkmoth at one end of the size scale, and a couple of tiny micro moths too.

We made our way out along Fen Trail first, stopping to listen to a Cetti’s Warbler shouting at us from the bushes behind Fen Hide. It remained very well hidden, deep in the undergrowth as they usually like to do.

There were plenty of ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed, several Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard, lots of Mallard and Gadwall and a single eclipse drake Wigeon, but no sign of the Garganey which had been reported there earlier. A Little Grebe was diving on the edge of the reeds right down in front of the screen.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – diving down at the front of Patsy’s Reedbed

The Autumn Trail is open at this time of year, so we continued right round to the back of the Freshmarsh. The Spoonbills often like the back where the water is deeper, but today they were across the other side, asleep on one of the islands closer to the main path, three of them. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they remained hidden down in the reeds.

A young Water Rail appeared on the far side of the mud in front of the viewpoint. It was picking its way in and out of the reeds in typical fashion at first, but then started to walk across to the near side. It was rather nervous out in the middle on the open mud, started running, and then flew across into the reeds on our side out of view.

Water Rail

Water Rail – ran out across the open mud looking nervous

It was time for lunch now, and as we walked back towards the ‘tank road’, we looked up to see two Common Buzzards circling over in the sunshine. Back by the visitor centre, a Chaffinch was on the feeders and a Dunnock was looking for scraps below.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circled over as we walked back for lunch

We made good use of the picnic tables in the picnic area for lunch. Just a couple of years ago, Willow Emerald damselflies were unknown here but the pace of colonisation has accelerated and they now seem to be doing well. While we were eating, we saw several around the sallows here.

Willow Emerald

Willow Emerald damselfly – a recent colonist, expanding fast

Across yesterday and this morning, we had already heard several Robins calling or singing, but they can be remarkably elusive at this time of year. As we walked back from the minibus after lunch, we finally got a good look at one in the trees by the car park, singing.

We made our way out along the main path next, to explore the rest of the reserve. Another Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the bushes on the edge of the reedbed by the path, and this time we could just make it out in the leaves as it moved through the sallows. We stopped for a quick look at the reedbed pool, but there was no sign of the Great White Egret which had been on here earlier, just a couple of drake Common Pochard now.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding in front of Island Hide

There were lots of waders on the Freshmarsh so we went down into Island Hide to look through them. One Avocet was feeding right outside the hide, but there were lots more further out, over towards the back.

There were lots of Ruff and Lapwing on the mud too, but with the water level low at the moment they were mostly not so close today. One Lapwing was feeding on the drier mud right outside the hide, the iridescent plumage of its upperparts shining green, bronze and purple in the sunshine.

Lapwing

Lapwing – showing off its iridescent upperparts

A large flock of diminutive Dunlin was feeding busily in the water beyond the mud. Looking through them carefully, we found a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with them, slightly larger, longer-billed, and cleaner white below than the spot-bellied juvenile Dunlin. Further back still, some large groups of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep. In amongst them were a few Knot, with one adult still partly in breeding plumage, orange below.

A single Common Snipe was asleep in the vegetation on the mud over towards the reeds, and further back, three Common Sandpipers were feeding on a small pool along the edge of the reedbed. Even though they were distant, through the scope we could see the distinctive notch of white between the grey breast and wings.

There was still one Spoonbill left on the small island, where we had seen the three earlier, distantly from the end of the Autumn Trail before lunch. It did wake up from time to time and flash its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there was still one left from Island Hide in the afternoon

Somebody in the far side of the hide spotted a Great White Egret flying across over the reedbed and the next thing we knew there were two in the air together. They chased each other round, then came straight towards us, their long trailing legs, long rounded wings and slow, heavy wingbeats different from the commoner Little Egrets, as well as their long yellow-orange bills. One Great White Egret even landed briefly on the mud in front of the hide, but quickly took off again and chased after the other. They eventually dropped down out of view in the reeds.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – we watched two chasing round over the reeds

From up on the main path, with the water level low, we could see the mud was fairly dry and there was nothing in front of Parrinder Hide, so we continued straight out towards the beach. There were a few Common Redshanks on Volunteer Marsh, along with one or two Curlew. Two smart Grey Plover were rather distant, at the back of the channel at the far end, but we had a nice view of them in the scope, still in breeding plumage and sporting black faces and bellies.

The ‘Tidal’ Pools held more Common Redshanks and Curlew. Two (Ruddy) Turnstones flew in and landed on a small muddy island, where, in the absence of any stones, they started turning bits of dead vegetation over, looking for invertebrates underneath. A large mob of Oystercatchers was asleep on the big island, and several Ringed Plovers were out on the end of the spit nearby.

Out at the beach, the tide was coming in and had already covered the mussel beds, which is why the waders were all roosting on the pools. The sea looked fairly quiet, but we did pick out a few distant Sandwich Terns passing offshore, and three closer Common Terns, including one adult carrying a fish which glinted in the sunshine.

On the walk back past the Freshmarsh, we stopped to look through the gulls. There had been a report of a juvenile Caspian Gull here earlier, but all we could find now was an immature Lesser Black-backed Gull, a second calendar year, doing a passing impression of one. However, we did manage to dig out an immature Mediterranean Gull (again a second calendar year) in with all the Black-headed Gulls and an adult Yellow-legged Gull asleep on its own on one of the other islands.

On our way back east, we decided to take a roundabout route inland to try to add some more birds to the list. We were particularly hoping to find some raptors, and we quickly located two Common Buzzards and a juvenile Marsh Harrier in a stubble field. One of the Buzzards was feeding on something, the others waiting patiently to see if there would be anything left over.

Much of the journey subsequently was fairly quiet in the heat of the afternoon, but we eventually found a Kestrel, perched in the trees beside the road. We were almost back to Wells when we spotted a Red Kite over some trees. We had to find somewhere to pull in and a gap in the hedge, but then we stood and watched four Red Kites circling over a stubble field.

Red Kites

Red Kite – two of the four we found on our way back

It had been a very enjoyable two days out birding in Norfolk with over 100 species seen, and some good photo opportunities too, a great introduction to UK birds.

27th Aug 2019 – Intro to UK Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour for a guest from Hong Kong. We would spend the two days along the North Norfolk coast looking for a good selection of both our commoner breeding birds and any more interesting species we might come across. We would be trying to get photographs of as many of the birds as possible too. Today was sunny and hot, although with a bit of hazy cloud in the afternoon and a pleasant light breeze on the coast which meant it didn’t get too uncomfortable.

Our first stop was at Wells. As we walked down along the track, there were lots of Reed Buntings in the bushes. A couple of Common Whitethroat flitted off ahead of us – we could see their rusty wings when they perched in the open briefly. A much greyer warbler was a Lesser Whitethroat which landed together with one of them in a bush at one point.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – there were lots in the bushes along the track

Looking up, we saw a Spoonbill flying in from the direction of the harbour, its neck held outstretched in front. It landed at the back of the pool on the other side of the track, and training the scope on it we could see there were now five Spoonbills together there, along with several more Little Egrets too.

The pools nearest the track are drying up fast now, so most of the birds were over towards the back. There were lots of Greylag Geese and in with them a mix of ducks, Teal and Shoveler. We could see several Black-tailed Godwits in the deeper water and a single Common Snipe probing vigorously in the mud with its long bill, but it was rather distant and we were looking into the sun.

On the other side of the track, we found a single Green Sandpiper in the shallow pools and an adult Mediterranean Gull flew over, flashing its white wing tips, disappearing out towards the saltmarsh. There were lots of birds in the distance over Wells town, mostly Starlings but we picked up a few lingering Common Swifts still too, zooming back and forth. It won’t be long now before they have all left us.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we watched a tit flock moving through the bushes

Continuing on past the pools, we decided to have a look in the bushes to see if there were any more warblers here, given the early activity along the track. We could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff calling and although they proved hard to see initially, we eventually got views of both species here. There were Chaffinches in the hedge too, and a flock of tits zipped through pausing to feed in the bushes, the Blue Tits attacking some elder berries and a Long-tailed Tit showing well in the top of a hawthorn.

When the tit flock moved on, we walked round to see if we could find it further along. There were more birds here but no sign of the Long-tailed Tits so maybe a different group. We stopped by one hawthorn on the edge of a reedy ditch, where there was a succession of birds moving through. Several Blue Tits and another Lesser Whitethroat. Then a couple of Reed Warblers, which gave good views up out of the reeds here.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – feeding in the bushes with the tit flock

As the flock moved on again, we continued round. A small bird appeared on the top of one of the bushes in the middle. Its bold pale supercilium caught the morning sun, a Whinchat, a passage migrant and a real bonus to find one here. It perched up nicely a couple of times for us, before disappeared behind the bushes. When we turned round, a different bird was perched on the top of a small hawthorn behind us, this time a Wheatear. Another passage migrant passing through, it flicked away over the reeds flashing the white base to its tail.

Whinchat

Whinchat – a migrant, appeared on the top of the bushes

As we walked back along the track, there were still lots of Reed Buntings which flew up from the vegetation and landed in the bushes. A Yellowhammer flew in calling and joined them briefly, before dropping down into the long grass out in the middle.

When we got back to the minibus, a couple of other birders had their scopes on the pools and had found a wader asleep on one of the islands at the back. It was hard to tell what it was, hunkered down and at distance in the heat haze, but as we started to pull away they called over to say that it had woken up and started to walk around, a Greenshank.

Our next destination was Cley, but we ran into gridlock in Stiffkey village, with a long tailback of vehicles, probably due to one of the much bigger buses they are using for the revised Coasthopper service these days – it seems to be an increasing problem. Thankfully, we could take a diversion inland and were not held up this time. Two Stock Doves on the roof of a barn by the road were a nice bonus, the iridescent green on the side of one of the bird’s neck glowing in the sun.

When we got to Cley, we decided to head out to Bishop Hide first. As we walked into the hide, we were pointed to six Common Snipe on the mud right in front. We had a good look at them but they were already looking round nervously and were quickly spooked and flew off further back.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – one of six in front of Bishop Hide when we arrived

There were lots of other waders on the scrape here further back. Two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers were feeding in with a few Dunlin. A delicate, spangled-backed Wood Sandpiper was picking around the lumps of mud in front of one of the islands with several Ruff. Black-tailed Godwits were scattered liberally around and there were a handful of Knot too.

When someone in the hide announced there was a Bearded Tit, we initially thought they meant it was in the reeds right at the back, where they have often been recently. But they had heard one calling from the reeds just out to one side of the hide, so we walked over to take a look. A cracking male Bearded Tit climbed up one of the reed stems. It quickly shuffled down again, but then came up a second time and perched in full view. We had a great look at its powder blue head and black moustaches, before it flew across in front of the hide and disappeared into the reeds the other side.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – this male climbed up the reeds just outside the hide

As we made our way along the skirts path to the other hides, we could see a Marsh Harrier distantly hunting out over the reeds towards the West Bank. It gradually worked its way towards us and we eventually met it halfway, a dark male. When it saw us, it turned and heading off over the scrapes, flushing everything in the process.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us over the reeds as we walked out to the hides

There were a few more waders on Simmond’s Scrape when we got into Daukes Hide. Four Avocets were asleep on the front of the nearest island – they did wake up later and a couple spent some time feeding on the mud in front of the hide. There were several Ringed Plovers on the mud further back and a single Golden Plover which was easily overlooked in the lumps where the cattle had churned up the scrape. The tiny Little Stint was even harder to find in the same place!

Looking out of the side of the hide, we could see 3-4 Green Sandpipers on Whitwell Scrape. One gradually worked its way down to the front, where it was hidden behind some small wisps of reed from where we were. We decided to head round to Avocet Hide to try to catch it right in front – with our cameras – but just as we got into the hide, one of the other Green Sandpipers flew over and chased it off. The two of them flew over the bank to Simmond’s Scrape.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – one of 3-4 on Whitwell Scrape again today

There were also two juvenile Black-tailed Godwits on the scrape here too and one of them did walk over and round the edge right in front of the hide. Some consolation for the photographers! Their rusty necks and extensively marked feathers on the upperparts showed they were both juveniles of the Icelandic race.

Black-tailed Godwit

Before we raced round to try to catch the Green Sandpiper, there had been a Wood Sandpiper feeding on the mud in front of Teal Hide. By the time we made it round there, the Wood Sandpiper had moved further back but we could see several Dunlin feeding on the mud just to the right of us with one of the two Curlew Sandpipers in attendance. They were busy feeding and working their way towards us and eventually passed in front of the hide giving us a great view.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre and made good use of the picnic tables. It was a lovely day to be sitting outside looking out over the marshes. After lunch, we popped into the Centre briefly and when we came out again we could hear Whimbrel calling. They responded to a whistled response and two of them flew in towards us, at least until they realised that the impression was not really as good as it sounded at a distance. They circled back and dropped down towards the scrapes.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – flew in over the marshes calling

We drove round to Walsey Hills next. As we got out of the minibus, we could see a Little Grebe on the pool, though it was doing its best to hide in the cut reed stems at the back. We had a quick walk in along the footpath through the bushes, to see if we could pick up any more passerines for the list, but it was rather quiet – perhaps not surprising in the middle of a hot afternoon. A few Blue Tits were in the bushes around the feeders and we could hear a couple of Chiffchaff calling.

There was no sign of the Common Pochard which has been on Snipe’s Marsh, but we found it instead on Don’s Pool along with another Little Grebe, as we set off to walk up the East Bank. There were more ducks on the Serpentine – mainly Gadwall and Shoveler, and lots of Shelduck. None of them are looking their best at the moment, with the drakes currently in their drab eclipse plumage. A Green Sandpiper flew up from the mud, there were a couple of Redshanks along the edge of the water and several Lapwing in the grass.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, we could see a single Great Black-backed Gull standing in with all the loafing Cormorants on the island at the back, leaving not much room for anything else. One Sandwich Tern was standing on the mud further across. There were quite a few Curlew over in the vegetation in the back corner and several Redshanks on the mud, but nothing else on here today.

As we walked on towards the beach, we noticed some movement in the vegetation on the side of the path. A Willow Warbler flicked out. It started to fly off but then circled round and dropped back in to the spot it had just left in a seedy dock. This is not a place you would normally expect to find a Willow Warbler, so this was probably a migrant which had just arrived in off the sea, over from Scandinavia. Exhausted, it was trying to feed and was obviously reluctant to leave the plants where it had found something to eat.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – an exhausted migrant probably fresh in off the sea

A little further on, a couple of Meadow Pipits were also looking for insects in the vegetation along the side of the path and flew off as we approached. We carried on out to the beach and had a quick look at the sea, which was mostly quiet apart from a single immature Gannet which flew past.

Having made our way back to the minibus, we drove back west to our last stop of the day at Stiffkey Fen. The permissive path is very overgrown at the moment, so we walked rather carefully down along the road to get to the footpath. The bushes down by the river were quiet, but there were lots of House Martins over the field.

When we got to the spot where the brambles are low enough to see over, we had a look across at the Fen. We could see lots of white shapes in amongst the hordes of geese – mostly Spoonbills, along with a good number of Little Egrets. We had a better view from up on the seawall, from where we could get a more accurate count – we could see at least 47 Spoonbills today, mostly doing what Spoonbills like to do best and sleeping! One or two were preening or bathing so we could see their distinctive spoon-shaped bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – at least 47 were roosting on the Fen over high tide today

It was high tide out in the harbour, which was why the Spoonbills had gathered here to roost. An impressive sight at this time of the year, they are birds which have dispersed from the breeding colony at Holkham, a mixture of adults and juveniles from this year’s breeding season.

There was a good selection of waders on the Fen too, also roosting over high tide. We counted at least 14 Greenshanks, half in a group on their own but half roosting with some of the Common Redshanks. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Ruff, with several more of the former still flying in from the harbour while we were there. Scanning round the edge of the reeds we found 2-3 Green Sandpipers too.

The geese were mostly Greylags but there were several Canada Geese with them and at least one Greylag x Canada Goose hybrid! Looking carefully through the mass of ducks produced one rusty eclipse drake Wigeon, an early returning bird back for the winter from spending the breeding season in Russia.

We carried on round to the harbour to see if we could pick up any different waders round the shore, but despite it being midweek there were still lots of holiday makers here making the most of the lovely weather, swimming, sailing and walking out across the mud. There was a big flock of Oystercatchers right out in the middle of the harbour on a sandbank, and through the scope we could see about ten Bar-tailed Godwits with them. But there was nowhere else which was undisturbed enough for birds to roost.

It was time to head back. A Chiffchaff was calling in the hedge and in the sallows along the river we came across another tit flock, which gave some more opportunities to try to get Long-tailed Tit photos. It had been a great day – let’s hope for the same again tomorrow…