21st June 2019 – Solstice Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of two days of Summer Tours today. It was a sunny start with clear blue skies and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon, it remained bright and warm. A lovely day to be out on the North Norfolk coast.

To start the day, we set off east along the coast. It was coming up to high tide, so we called in first at Stiffkey Fen to see if any waders had come in to roost from the harbour. As we got out of the minibus, a Barn Owl disappeared round behind the barns. Probably with young to feed somewhere, it was still out hunting into the morning. A Yellowhammer was singing from the tops of the pines and we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the brambles. Having gone quiet while they raised their first broods, the Lesser Whitethroats have started singing again now ahead of a second breeding attempt.

Down along the permissive path, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were singing in the copse. We could hear a Bullfinch calling somewhere in the trees ahead of us too. There was a mixed tit flock feeding down by the road, a large group of Long-tailed Tits plus Blue Tits, Great Tits and a family of Coal Tits. We watched the latter feeding in the pines above the road, the juveniles with light yellow cheeks.

Down along the path by the river, there were rather few House Martins around the house on the hill, which seems to be a worrying theme this year. A Cetti’s Warbler was shouting intermittently from deep in the sallows. Half way down, we could just about see over the brambles to the Fen, where four Spoonbills were roosting. We had a better view of them from up on the seawall, where we could see there were three adults and one short-billed juvenile, a ‘teaspoonbill’. The first juveniles have started to disperse from the breeding colony at Holkham, and are then creched at favoured sites along the coast.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – the juvenile was chasing after one of the adults

The juvenile Spoonbill started begging, trying to persuade one of the adults to feed it. Initially it bobbed its head up and down and started to flap its wings. When the adult tried to walk away, the juvenile set off after it. We watched the two of them walking round for at least 10 minutes, the juvenile Spoonbill relentless. At one point the adult tried to run away but the juvenile simply ran too.

A single Sandwich Tern was loafing in with the Black-headed Gulls. Three Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the harbour calling, two adults and a 1st summer, but they didn’t land and flew on west. A Common Tern was fishing in the harbour channel and kept coming past us while we stood on the bank, occasionally plunging down into the water.

Common Tern

Common Tern – fishing in the harbour channel

There were three Greenshanks on the Fen, roosting over high tide, asleep in the taller vegetation on the island. There were lots of Avocets, with one or two juveniles still. But no other waders on here this morning. Someone came to open up some equipment down by the sluice, and when we asked what it was for, they explained that they were monitoring the movements of the local sea trout population in the River Stiffkey and harbour.

After walking back, we made our way on to Kelling Heath. A Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler were singing in the car park and the first of many Painted Lady butterflies was basking on a bush. There has been a large invasion in recent weeks from the continent and there are still lots around.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – the first of many, basking on a bush in the car park

We had a quick walk round to see if we could find any Adders. They are warm now though and the only one we came across slithered away as we approached, possibly alerted to our approach by all the footsteps. A Garden Warbler was singing in the blackthorn nearby.

Walking on up the hill, a Woodlark flew overhead calling. Unfortunately it didn’t look like coming down and we watched it disappear away into the distance over the car park. There are lots of Silver-studded Blue butterflies out now and we stopped by a good area for them. There were good numbers of blue males fluttering round over the low heather and we found a mating pair, which gave us a good chance to have a closer look at the diagnostic underwing markings. There were a couple of July Belle moths out here too.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair showing the distinctive underwings

Carrying on round the Heath, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler perched in a birch tree. A Common Whitethroat was flitting about in the gorse and another Woodlark flushed from the path ahead of us. A smart male Yellowhammer was singing in a small birch tree. We came across one Stonechat, a male, down by the railway cutting, and another pair the other side of the crossing feeding young in the gorse. There were lots of Linnets here but no sign of any Dartford Warblers again – they seem to be struggling this year.

Linnet

Linnet – a red-breasted male

The surprise of the morning came as we were crossing the railway. We looked up at the gorse bushes the other side, to see a Nightjar flying over them. A couple walking a dog had just gone across ahead of us, so had possibly flushed it. It flew along the top of the bushes, then turned and came across the railway a short distance away. It looped round and landed beneath a birch tree by the path back where we had just come. We walked back to see if we could find it but it flew again, and this time disappeared off through the trees.

It was already after midday, so we headed back to the minibus and dropped down to Cley for lunch at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we could see the 1st summer Little Gull dip feeding out on Pat’s Pool distantly. Afterwards, we walked out to the hides in the middle. Several Sand Martins were hawking over the reeds.

Out first stop was in Teal Hide –  where, appropriately enough, the first bird we saw was the Green-winged Teal. It was swimming out in the middle of the water with several Eurasian Teal, the vertical white foreflank stripe on the Green-winged Teal setting it apart from the horizontal white-lined Eurasians. It was feeding constantly, swimming round with its head mostly under water, only coming up for air occasionally.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – on the left, with a Eurasian Teal on the right

There was a nice selection of other ducks on here too, including Gadwall and Shoveler, the drakes mostly moulting into their drab eclipse plumage already. There were several Shoveler too, with one pair at the back shepherding a large creche of 27 shelducklings.

We spent some time looking closely at the waders here too. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits of two types – mostly Icelandic birds (subspecies islandica), but two Continental Black-tailed Godwits (nominate limosa) were sporting coloured plastic rings which gave their identity away.  The particular combinations identified them as birds from the very small breeding population on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, having wandered here post-breeding.

Waders 1

Waders – Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot and a couple of Avocets

In with the Black-tailed Godwits were a few Bar-tailed Godwits. Most of them were in non-breeding plumage, paler and more heavily streaked above than the equivalent plumage of Black-tailed Godwit, with a more obvious pale supercilium and slightly upturned bill. They were noticeable shorter-legged too, wading with their longer-legged cousins. The Knot with them barely came up to their knees. Again, most were in grey non-breeding plumage but one or two were in their smarter rusty-orange breeding plumage. Several Avocets were feeding in front of the hide, as was a still not fully grown juvenile Redshank.

The waders were all very jumpy and kept flying up. We soon found out why when there was another commotion and we looked up to see a Peregrine flying over with something in its talons. It turned out it had just caught a Redshank flying over behind the hide (hopefully not the youngster we had just seen!). We watched it disappear off east – possibly one of the birds from Cromer church.

Waders 2

Waders – spooked by a Peregrine hunting over the scrapes

Back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off back west, stopping again on our way at Wells. As we parked and got out, we could hear the raspy call of a Grey Partridge in the field next door, but couldn’t see it in all the growing crop. Scanning the islands, we found three more Spoonbills, one of them another juvenile, lurking in the vegetation. When a fourth Spoonbill flew in, it dropped down in the near corner of the pool, down close the track, so we walked down for a closer look.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the corner of the pool by the track

The Spoonbill was busy feeding, with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side in the water as it walked. When it lifted its head, we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult, and the bushy nuchal crest and brownish wash on the breast marked it out as a bird in breeding condition. We had a nice view of it before it flew again and went right to the back of the pool.

The pools here have been very good for waders recently and, although there was nothing today which we hadn’t already seen at Cley, there was still a nice selection. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits were out in the middle, occasionally getting spooked and whirling round overhead. A lone bird, smart in rusty breeding plumage, was feeding on its own in the corner. Several Redshanks flew back and forth, and there were lots of Avocets and Lapwing in the grass.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – in rusty breeding plumage

A small group of Egyptian Geese were loafing in the grass close to the track, and there was a good selection of other wildfowl. As we were about to walk back, a Sedge Warbler started singing and flew up to the front edge of one of the hawthorn bushes to pose. We had a good look at it through the scope, with its bold white supercilium. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.

 

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19th June 2019 – Exploring the NE Coast

A Private Tour today with a difference – having recently moved to Norfolk, the request from our guests was to visit some different sites slightly off the beaten track along the NE coast. We were not going to worry particularly about when we would be seeing in the way of birds today. It was a largely bright but cloudy day, but it stayed dry and we didn’t see any signs of the forecast showers until after we had finished up.

As we met in Wells, we started with a visit to the pools east of town. The Spoonbills were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! They were right at the back of the water, by the far bank, but we could count at least 14 here this morning, a mixture of off-white adults and brighter white juveniles.

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – sleeping over by the far bank

We walked down the track, where a Sedge Warbler was singing from the bushes. A family of Reed Buntings was in the long grass beyond the ditch, one of the juveniles flying to the fence in front of us calling.

The Egyptian Geese were still in the grass by the pool on the other side of the track and at least one pair of Shelducks had a large brood of growing shelducklings. There was a good number of (Eurasian) Teal here today, with birds already returning now from their breeding grounds further north. Otherwise, there were a few Gadwall, Mallard and Shoveler, the drakes now moulting into their drabber eclipse plumage.

There were several juvenile Avocets of various ages around the pools. They appear to be doing well, despite the limited attention paid to them by the adults. A couple of young Redshank were out in the middle too and there were still a few Lapwings visible in the long grass round the edge. We heard what sounded like a Spotted Redshank call towards the back at one point, but it was possibly flying over as we couldn’t see any sign of it.

The Grey Herons which have been doing their best to reduce the number of young birds on here were still around, being chased back and forth by the Avocets. One of the Grey Herons landed in the corner of the pools by the track, and immediately attracted the attention of one of an adult Lapwing which mobbed it relentlessly until it flew off again.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – mobbed by one of the Lapwings

We continued on past the first pools, but as the seawall is closed for works at the moment, we turned left and walked through the grass towards the westernmost pool. There were more warblers in the reeds and bushes here. A couple of Reed Warblers flicking around in the hawthorns and a family of Sedge Warblers down in the vegetation beyond the sedges. We watched a recently fledged juvenile, still with a short tail, begging and eventually being fed by one of the adults. There were a few Common Whitethroats and a Lesser Whitethroat singing.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warblers – feeding time for one of the recently fledged young

The pool at the end held a few more Avocets, Lapwings and a Redshank, but no sign of any Spotted Redshank here either. We made our way slowly back to the minibus, a Song Thrush was singing and flew up into the top of the hawthorns briefly.

Making our way east, we stopped again at Stiffkey Fen. A Yellowhammer was singing from the top of the pines by the layby and a Marsh Harrier quartered the field next door. As we crossed the road, another Marsh Harrier was down in the valley the other side. A bright pink Cinnabar Moth fluttered up from the vegetation by the path and a Chiffchaff flicked ahead of us along the hedge.

Into the copse, and a pair of Bullfinches flew out of the trees, the female landing briefly on a branch across the path. Out of the trees the other side of the road, and a few House Martins were flying in and out of the eaves of the house at the top of the hill, but there seen to be fewer here than usual, which appears to be a recurring theme everywhere this year. A family of Sedge Warblers were in the long grass below the willows along the path, and the juveniles scrambled away through the vegetation as the adults alarm called.

Looking over the brambles towards the Fen, we could see a small group of four Spoonbills asleep on the island. Three Greenshanks were roosting in the grass nearby and a Green Sandpiper was feeding along the far edge, a nice selection of waders already making their way back south and our first of the ‘autumn’ of each species.

Spoonbills 2

Spoonbills – there were four roosting on the Fen this morning

We had a better view over the Fen from up on the seawall. We got the Spoonbills and the various waders in the scope. But there was no much more visible from up here that we hadn’t seen on the walk out, a few Common Redshanks and a single Black-tailed Godwit which flew off soon after we arrived.

The tide was just going out in the harbour and we made our way on, past the end of the seawall and out to the corner of the coast path to have a scan. Two pairs of Shelduck were displaying down at the bottom of the grassy bank as we passed and looked like they might be still prospecting for nest sites.

A frenzy of Common Terns was gathered out over the middle of the harbour, presumably having found a shoal of fish. A Sandwich Tern was on one of the sandbars nearby, its partner returning periodically with a fish to present to it. There were not many waders out here yet, apart from the Oystercatchers which have spent the summer here. A single Curlew was out on the mud and two more flew over, more early returning birds. We could see a few seals pulled out on the shingle on Blakeney Point in the distance.

Greenshanks

Greenshanks – two of the three from the Fen, flying out to the harbour

As we walked back to the seawall, a male Marsh Harrier flew in across the reedbed out out towards the edge of the saltmarsh. The Greenshanks started calling and took off, flying past us and out towards the harbour, presumably looking to feed again on the falling tide. On the way back along the path to the road, a Cetti’s Warbler flicked up out of the bushes by the river and disappeared into the willows, the sight of a chestnut tail disappearing into the vegetation being a typical view of a Cetti’s Warbler!

A Green-winged Teal had been reported this morning from the hides at Cley, so we thought we would call in there next, on our way past. As we walked out along the boardwalk, we heard a Bearded Tit calling and turned to see a male flying straight towards us over the reeds. It dropped across the path just ahead of us and disappeared straight into the reeds the other side.

We stood on the boardwalk where it had gone in and could see the reed moving as it worked its way through. It came back towards us, passed by just a few feet away but tucked down mostly out of view, before flying up and out again back across the boardwalk. A little further on, another Bearded Tit was more obliging, perched in the reeds with a large caterpillar in its bill. It didn’t seem to know quite what to do with it!

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – wondering what to do with a caterpillar

We went in to Teal Hide first, as the drake Green-winged Teal had been reported from Pat’s Pool earlier. There were quite a few Eurasian Teal swimming round on the water or asleep on the islands. After a short while, the Green-winged Teal swam out with the other Teal. It was busy feeding, with its head mostly down in the water, but we could see the distinctive thick white vertical stripe on the foreflank. Several drake Eurasian Teal were swimming with it, giving us a good comparison of the two species, the Eurasian Teal showing instead a horizontal white stripe.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – showing the distinctive vertical white foreflank stripe

Green-winged Teal is the North American cousin of our regular Eurasian Teal, and is a scarce but regular visitor across this side of the Atlantic. Given the number of Eurasian Teal returning here at the moment, it seems most likely that the Green-winged Teal had come here with them, rather than arriving fresh across ‘the Pond’.

There was a nice selection of waders on the scrapes here too, split between Pat’s and Simmond’s. There were at least 120 Knot, hard to count exactly as they were mobile between the hides and kept splitting into different groups. Most of them were in grey non-breeding plumage, though there were two or three rusty birds in with them. They are probably 1st summer birds which have not bred this year.

Knot

Knot – mostly in grey non-breeding plumage

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits too and looking through them we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit in amongst them, sleeping on the back of one of the islands. The Black-tailed Godwits are mostly Icelandic birds (of the race islandica), but there was a colour-ringed bird of the Continental race, limosa, in with them, a moulting adult. At one point, we had the Continental Black-tailed Godwit, the Bar-tailed Godwit and one of the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits all in the scope together, giving us a great 3-way comparison.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a colour-ringed bird from the Nene Washes

While the population of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits has been increasing, the Continental Black-tailed Godwit has been struggling. There are only about 40 pairs which breed in the UK, in the Fens on the Nene and Ouse Washes, where they are very vulnerable to summer flooding. They are the subject of urgent conservation action, through ‘Project Godwit’ and the headstarting programme.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre and made use of the picnic tables outside. A Green Sandpiper circled over calling while we were sitting there, possibly a fresh returning migrant. After lunch, we continued on our way east.

Our next stop was at Iron Road, where we had a quick look at the pool. It has filled up with water again after the recent rains, although there were no waders on here today, but it is always a good place to check when birds are on the move. As we turned to walk back to the minibus, a Barn Owl was out hunting over the marshes. It was a wet night last night and it probably has young to feed somewhere.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting in the middle of the afternoon

Our final destination for the afternoon was Kelling. A Greenfinch was singing from the top of the fir tree by the school as we set off along the lane, and there were a few Goldfinches and Chaffinches in the bushes, but otherwise the hedges were rather quiet here. When we got to the copse, we stopped to scan from the gate. There were lots of Brown Hares out on the hillside beyond, a couple of them sprawled out across the grass fast asleep. We had to get the scope on them to double check they were actually still alive!

The pool on the Water Meadow was very full of water, with no muddy edge suitable for waders now. The pair of Egyptian Geese still have two goslings which are getting very big now, not far off fully grown. A Common Whitethroat flew across to the brambles on one edge carrying food. Continuing on down towards the beach, there were a few Linnets and Meadow Pipits.

We took the permissive path up the hill towards the gun emplacements. Looking out to sea, a few Sandwich Terns flew past and a couple of Little Terns were fishing just offshore. Given the walk out had been rather quiet, we decided to continue on round on a circular walk back towards the village. A Marsh Harrier was hunting over the grassy field above the Water Meadow.

Meadow Brown

Meadow Brown – feeding on the brambles

We had just remarked how few butterflies we had seen out today, when we started to find them. First we found a couple of Meadow Browns in the grass and nectaring on the brambles by the path. Then we started to come across Painted Ladys. There has been a noticeable invasion from the continent in the last week or so and we have been seeing large numbers most days. There were a few basking on the path but when we stopped to admire all the poppies growing in the strip left fallow at the top of the field we realised it was full of Painted Ladys.

By the time we got back down to the village it was time to call it a day and make our way back. We had seen a few of the different sites along the coast today, and we had even managed to squeeze in a few good birds on the way!

18th June 2019 – East to West & back

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a mostly bright and sunny day with patchy high cloud, until later in the day when a band of rain spread in, thankfully just as we were finishing up. We had a particular target list of species for the day, which saw us working the coast from end to end.

We met in Salthouse and headed inland, up to the heath to start. We really wanted to see Dartford Warbler, but with the population here seemingly struggling this year, we knew it would be difficult. As we arrived in the car park, we could hear Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing. Walking up along the path, several Linnets flew round over the gorse and we heard a Yellowhammer singing. There has been a Woodlark feeding in the area here, but there was no sign of it as we passed.

There were lots of butterflies out this morning. There are still plenty of Painted Ladys around, following the invasion in recent days, although some of them are starting to look a bit battered now. The Silver-studded Blues have been slow to emerge this year, but are now out in increasing numbers. We also flushed several July Belle moths from the vegetation by the paths too, today.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – some are now starting to look a little battered

We thought we would try our luck again and see if the Nightjar we had found the other day was roosting back on the same perch today, but unsurprisingly there was no sign of it. However, as we walked back round to the main path, we accidentally flushed another Nightjar from its roosting site hidden down in the bracken. It was a male, we could see its white wing flashes and corners to its tail as it flew up and disappeared into the trees.

Continuing on round the heath, we found several Stonechats, but no Dartford Warblers. An alarm calling family of Common Whitethroats was the closest we got. An Adder, basking on the path, slithered off into the heather as we approached. We flushed a pair of Yellowhammers collecting food in the gorse and bracken.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – a female, collecting food in the gorse and bracken

A Woodlark was reported singing earlier from back up where we had looked by the car park on our way out, so we decided to have a look for that instead. A Garden Warbler was singing from the birches on our way back, but despite walking all round the area where the Woodlark had been, there was no sign of it now. We decided to cut our losses and try something else.

Firecrest was the nest species on the list, so we headed over to Holt Country Park. We were not sure whether the Firecrests would be singing now, but as we were trying to pay for a parking ticket at the faulty pay & display ticket machine, we heard one singing from the trees behind us. Once we had gathered in the car park to listen, it had gone quiet, but thankfully then started up again closer to the road after a few minutes. We followed the sound and had some good views of it flitting around in the ivy-covered trees. We could see its bold white supercilium. A Goldcrest was singing nearby too.

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing in the ivy-covered trees

We were back on track now, and with our target here achieved so quickly, we had time to sit down and get a coffee at the cafe. A Siskin flew over calling while we were enjoying the morning sunshine.

From Holt, we had a long drive all the way over to the opposite end of the coast to look for Turtle Doves. We parked on the beach road at Holme and walked along the track towards the Firs. Two Stock Doves, three Collared Doves and a couple of Woodpigeons were all perched together in a small group of sallows in one of the gardens, but there was no sign of their rarer cousin. We could hear a Cuckoo calling, and turned to see it fly across the meadows the other side of the road. A Sparrowhawk circled up in the distance, along with a couple of Marsh Harriers.

A Cetti’s Warbler was singing further along. This was also on the target list for today, but it is a species which is rarely seen, and generally just heard. We walked down a narrow path along by the river, heading towards where we had heard the Cetti’s Warbler singing. A Sedge Warbler and a Chiffchaff were feeding in the vegetation down in the water.

The Cetti’s Warbler sang again, further up along the path, so we walked on. As we came out from under some trees, it suddenly appeared out of a bed of nettles right by the path, flying up into the low branches of an overhanging willow. We had just a brief view, before it dropped back down into the bushes by the river, and then flew round behind us, but it was more than we had hoped for. As we walked back along the path, the Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from some bushes ahead, but it had returned to being more typically elusive and we didn’t see it again.

Past the last house, we walked round and up onto the coast path. A flock of Starlings whirled round out over the saltmarsh. We took the coast path back west to the old paddocks, where a Common Whitethroat was singing from the hawthorns. We had just stopped to listen to a Lesser Whitethroat further along when two Turtle Doves flew out of the trees and over the path ahead of us. We followed them out over the saltmarsh, and watched as they dropped down over the dunes towards the beach.

We decided to walk round to the beach to see if we could get another look. We had to take a bit of a long diversion round the cordon on the beach erected for nesting birds. An Oystercatcher walked off over the stones as we passed and a Ringed Plover was feeding down in the bottom of a sandy creek. A Little Tern flew up calling and circled round overhead.

Little Tern

Little Tern – circled round overhead calling

As we rounded the far end of the cordon, the two Turtle Doves flew up from the dunes ahead of us. They circled round and dropped down again further over, in the middle of the fenced off area. The path through the dunes on the inland side of the cordon took us past that area, but the grass in the middle was very long and we couldn’t see any sign of them, so we climbed up onto the dune ridge to scan distantly from a higher vantage point.

One of the Turtle Doves flew up again, circled round, and dropped back down into the long grass. Then two Turtle Doves came up and circled round together. When they dropped down again, three came up the next time. This time they flew over towards the saltmarsh, the pair coming straight past us before heading back over to the paddocks. We had much better flight views this time – we could see the rusty scaling on their backs – worth the walk out here.

Turtle Doves

Turtle Doves – two of the three feeding out in the dunes

We walked back along the path towards the golf course. A Common Blue butterfly fluttered up from the dunes as we passed. Several Stock Doves came out of the grass, suggesting there must be lots of food out here for them at the moment. Then we crossed back to where we had left the minibus and had lunch on one of the picnic benches by the entrance to the car park.

Our next destination was Titchwell. Calling in at the Visitor Centre, we were told that a Hobby was hunting from the dead trees at the back of the reedbed, another species on our list. We walked straight round to Patsy’s Reedbed and had good views of the Hobby through the scope from there, perched in the trees. It kept flying off, making sorties to hunt, but returned each time to a different perch.

Several Red-crested Pochards were feeding out on the water in front of the screen, one of the easier target birds to tick off the list. Three drakes were just starting to moult, variously starting to get some browner feathers in their upperparts, but the fourth male was already in eclipse, looking rather like a female but with a bright coral-red bill. There were also a few Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks, and a Little Grebe on the water here this afternoon.

6O0A0589

Red-crested Pochard – the smartest of the four drakes on Patsy’s this afternoon

There were several Mediterranean Gulls in with the Black-headed Gulls bathing out in the water. Once you got your eye in, they were easy to pick out with their black hoods and white wing tips. We knew we could get better views out on the Freshmarsh though. There were several Bearded Tits in the reeds here, but they kept dropping down out of view. There was no sign of the Purple Heron in the short time we were there, but we didn’t want to waste hours waiting for it to reappear.

Out along Meadow Trail, a couple of Reed Warblers were flitting round the edge of the dragonfly pool, and one flew up to sing in the trees by the path. Along the main path by the reedbed, there were several Reed Buntings singing and Sedge Warblers flying in and out of the reeds by the small pools in front. We could hear more Bearded Tits calling and they were a bit easier to get onto here, flying back and forth across the channel through the reeds and across the front of the main reedbed pool, if a little more distant.

We stopped it at Island Hide. Several Avocets were feeding on the mud and shallow water in front of the hide, along with a few Black-tailed Godwits. There were quite a few Common Redshanks on here today, but we couldn’t see any Spotted Redshanks from where we were. A distant Little Ringed Plover was on one of the islands over by Parrinder Hide.

There are noticeably more Teal on the Freshmarsh now, with birds starting to return already from their breeding grounds further north. The local Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler are looking a bit tatty, moulting into eclipse plumage now.

From round at Parrinder Hide, we found the Spotted Redshanks, right over at the back against the reeds today. There were six in total, all still largely in their very smart sooty black breeding plumage, very different from the grey-brown Common Redshanks. As expected, there were plenty of Mediterranean Gulls here too, with a good number of them now loafing on the islands in front of the hide. There were lots of 2nd summers in with them today, looking like summer adults with their black hoods but still with black in their wingtips. The fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ is still chock full of noisy nesting gulls.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – loafing on the islands in front of the hide

A couple of Little Ringed Plovers flew round calling, right below the front of the hide. We watched one land on one of the islands and run quickly over to a shallow depression in the ground. It seemed to be scrape building, as it looked to work at the ground with its legs and then pick round the edge as if tidying up. When another Little Ringed Plover approached, the two of them walked in parallel across the island, stopping and bobbing they heads, or picking at the ground.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – appeared to be scrape building on the island

It was time to head back, as we had one last stop we wanted to make as we returned east along the coast. We could see darker cloud building from the west and it started to spit with rain as we walked along the bank towards the Visitor Centre.

Our final destination for the afternoon was at Wells. We could see several Spoonbills on the pools without even getting out of the minibus. We did get out and walked down along the track for a closer look. There were several adults busy feeding in the water, and two juveniles still with only partly grown bills over on the far bank. Two of the adults were feeding together, almost synchronised, walking side by side and sweeping their bills through the water in unison. We could see the mustard wash on their breasts and their shaggy nuchal crests and, when they caught something and lifted their heads, we could see the yellow tips to their black bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – these two adults were sychronised feeding

Egyptian Geese was another one on the list and another nice easy one here. There were seven together, loafing in the grass close to the track. It had been spitting lightly with rain but at this point it started to fall more heavily. We decided it was time to call it a day and head for home. We still had a couple more birds to add to the list on the way – a Grey Heron out on the marshes at Cley, and a Barn Owl hunting the grazing marshes by the road as we drove back in to Salthouse to round things off nicely.

16th June 2019 – Birds & Butterflies, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Summer Tours looking for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. It was mostly bright and sunny this morning, if a little breezy, with more cloud in the afternoon when we had to dodge some showers. Thankfully we managed to stay – mostly – dry.

Our first destination for this morning was up on the heath. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing in the tall birch trees on one side of the car park. It came a bit closer, into a smaller tree, but all we managed to get were brief glimpses as it moved through the branches before it dropped out of view. Thankfully, a couple of minutes later, it flew round to the blackthorn on the other side of the car park at perched right out in some dead branches in the top, singing.

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler – singing in the trees in the car park

As we walked up the path out onto the heath, we could hear a Yellowhammer singing. A small bird flew up from one of the cut areas ahead of us. It was a Woodlark. It flew up in front of us, then circled round behind – we could see its short tail and broad rounded wings – and we lost sight of it behind the trees.

A little further on, we stopped to look at a male Silver-studded Blue butterfly, a very localised heathland species. They have been slow to emerge this year, probably due to the cold, wet weather over the last week or so, but we would see several out today, in the warmer conditions, including one which appeared to be so newly emerged it was still to be filling out its wings. While we were looking at the Silver-studded Blue, a male Yellowhammer flew up into the top of a small tree nearby.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue – we saw several, some freshly emerged, today

We had a look round a couple of traditional territories where there are usually Dartford Warblers, but we drew a blank. They have been very hard to find in recent weeks – hopefully that just means they have been busy breeding, rather than anything else, although it does look like numbers on the Heath are down again this year, a worrying trend. We did find a family of Willow Warblers calling from some scrubby bushes and saw one of the adults out looking for food in a low birch tree. There were several families of Linnets in the gorse too.

On our travels, we also came across an Adder basking on the edge of the gorse which slithered quickly in when we stopped to look at it. A Common Lizard ran through the heather too. There were several Painted Lady butterflies out again today, and we found one or two July Belle moths which flushed from the heather beside the path.

We decided to try our luck on another part of the Heath and as we made our way round, we happened to notice a shape on top of a dead stump not far from the path. It was a roosting Nightjar! It opened one eye and looked at us as we set up the scope on it, but was obviously relying on its fantastic camouflage to assume we couldn’t see it. We took it in turns, one at a time so as not to create too much disturbance, to look at it. Fantastic!

Nightjar

Nightjar – roosting on a dead stump

After enjoying the sound of Nightjars churring last night, and watching them flying round above our heads in the twilight, it was great to see one in daylight today and admire its cryptic plumage. A real bonus as we rarely find them perched out in the daytime.

There were one or two more Silver-studded Blue butterflies out on the other side of the Heath. We found a pair of Stonechats here too, the male and female both alarm calling and collecting food, suggesting they may have a nest somewhere close with young in it. A Common Whitethroat flew up in a song flight and a Coal Tit worked its way through the gorse. Several Common Buzzards started to circle up and we watched two chasing each other above the trees. But we couldn’t find any Dartford Warblers over here either, so we decided to head back.

On the way, we stopped to look at a flowering bush that was covered in butterflies – at least 12 Painted Ladys and several Red Admirals. As we walked through a group of pine trees, we could hear a Goldcrest singing and we looked up to see it flitting around in the branches. Back at the car park, the Garden Warbler was still singing.

Moving on, we dropped down to the coast at Cley, stopping at the Visitor Centre briefly to use the facilities before driving round to Walsey Hills. There were several Common Pochard on the pool at Snipe’s Marsh, including a female with seven small ducklings. Common Pochard is a scarce breeding bird in the UK, so it is always good to see successful breeding.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – a female with one of seven ducklings

We could see a Spoonbill feeding in the Serpentine further out along the East Bank, so we walked out to have a look at it. There were several Reed Warblers singing in the reeds and a Reed Bunting perched up in a small elder in the reedbed. We heard a Bearded Tit calling and caught a glimpse of it zooming off over the reeds, but it was a little breezy for them out here today.

There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes, along with four Curlew, early returning birds, possibly failed breeders or non-breeders. There were several Shelduck on Pope’s Pool. A pair of Avocet had nested on the bare mud here and had two small juveniles – balls of grey fluff with long legs and a short, slightly uptilted bill. A Lapwing was still on the nest. A Little Ringed Plover appeared briefly on an area of short muddy grass.

The Spoonbill was busy feeding further back in the water, where it was hard to see, but now flew over to the far northernmost corner. We could see it better here and we watched it walking round with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the shallow water. Occasionally it would flick its head up when it caught something. It worked its way back towards us along the grassy edge and came right past along the edge of the Serpentine. We could see the yellow tip to its black bill and its shaggy crest, a breeding adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – an adult, feeding on the Serpentine

A second Spoonbill was hidden down in a smaller low pool behind the bank at the back, but obviously encountered the ire of a pair of Avocets, which chased it out. It joined the first Spoonbill on the Serpentine for a bit, before deciding the coast was clear and heading back to the pool where it had been feeding before.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, past the main drain where a Little Grebe was diving, we went into the shelter to get out of the wind. There were lots of Sandwich Terns packed in on one of the small islands and others bathing and preening further over. Through the scope we could see their yellow-tipped black bills and shaggy crests. A single Common Tern was loafing nearby – noticeably different, with its black-tipped red bill and red legs, and its smooth black crown.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – loafing on Arnold’s Marsh

Scanning around the edges of Arnold’s Marsh, we found a Little Gull right over at the back. It was a young one, in its first summer, with a non-breeding black spot behind its eye and small black cap. We had a look at it through the scope, before it walked back into the vegetation and went to sleep. Otherwise, there were a few Redshanks on here today but no other waders.

We couldn’t come this far and not at least have a quick look at the sea. There were several Sandwich Terns feeding just offshore, plunge diving into the surf after fish, and we found at least six Little Terns in with them too. They were tiny by comparison, with black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

It was time for lunch now, so we walked back along the East Bank to Walsey Hills. It was spitting with rain when we got back to the minibus, as a dark cloud passed over, but we could see bright blue sky approaching from the south-west. We sat down at the picnic tables by the visitor centre, in the light rain, but our faith was vindicated as the sun promptly came out again. A few Sand Martins skimmed back and forth low over the reeds.

We set the scope up here and scanned Pat’s Pool over lunch. There were some Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallow water, and we found another Little Gull swimming over by the reeds, picking insects from the surface of the water. Next time we looked back there were a load more waders which had just flown in. Through the scope, we could see they were mainly Bar-tailed Godwits, about 80 of them, along with 20 Knot. They were mostly in non-breeding plumage, but we did get a smart rusty breeding adult Bar-tailed Godwit in the scope, next to a breeding plumage Black-tailed Godwit for comparison.

After lunch, we headed west along the coast to Wells. We could see dark clouds ahead of us, but the worst of them seemed to be heading out to sea. When we got to Wells however, we could see there were more dark clouds heading our way. We got out and had a quick look at the pools. We could see a couple of Spoonbills over towards the far side, so we set off down the track. A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing along the edges of the ditches either side and two Yellowhammers flew in landed in a bush right next to the path.

From somewhere in the vegetation beside the path ahead of us, a House Sparrow flew out and caught a dragonfly (a Four-spotted Chaser) in mid air. It landed on the track with it and we watched it shaking it to dismember it, detaching the wings first and then breaking the abdomen into bite-sized chunks.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow – eating a Four-spotted Chaser it just caught

It was becoming increasingly clear we would not escape the rain and as it started spitting we beat a hasty retreat to the minibus, just in time before the heaven’s opened. A quick check revealed there was a narrow bank of rain coming in from the west, so we decided on a quick change of plan. We drove west to Titchwell instead, coming out of the rain on our way there.

As we walked down the path to the Visitor Centre, it was clear it had just rained very heavily here based on the big puddles. A Blackcap was singing in the trees above the path and a flock of Long-tailed Tits was working its way through the sallows.

As we walked out along the main path beside the reedbed, we could hear Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers singing. Bearded Tits were zooming back and forth over the tops of the reeds but not perching up today. Several Marsh Harriers were circling over towards the back. A Great Crested Grebe was swimming in and out of the reeds in one of the channels. Several Swifts and House Martins were hawking for insects over the reeds.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding in front of Island Hide

Out at Island Hide, there were several Avocets feeding in the shallow water in front of the hide. A flock of twenty four Bar-tailed Godwits, together with two Knot and two Black-tailed Godwits were roosting out in the middle. We really wanted to see the Spotted Redshanks which had been on the Freshmarsh earlier, but we couldn’t find any sign of them from here.

The number of Teal on the Freshmarsh is already increasing again, as birds return early from their breeding grounds on the continent. Otherwise, there was the regular selection of Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall and Mallard on here. The Freshmarsh is still dominated by gulls, which have taken over ‘Avocet Island’ to nest. We managed to pick out our first Mediterranean Gulls amongst the massed ranks of Black-headed Gulls. Ironically, the Mediterranean Gulls’ blacker hoods set them apart! There were one or two Common Terns in with the gulls too.

As we made our way round to Parrinder Hide, there was a great commotion in the gull colony, as everything flew up calling. A Marsh Harrier had flown in over the island and we watched it drop down and grab a juvenile Black-headed Gull. It took off again and flew off over the bank at the back, pursued by a mob of angry gulls. Nature in the raw!

From round at Parrinder Hide, everything had settled down again. We had an even better view of the Mediterranean Gulls from here, with several loafing in with all the Black-headed Gulls on the islands in front of the hide. As well as their blacker hoods, we could see their contrasting white eyelids, brighter red bill and white wing-tips.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – in with the Black-headed Gulls from Parrinder Hide

We could see the Spotted Redshanks from here, two of them right over in the far corner of the Freshmarsh by the reeds. Through the scope, we got a better look at them, still in their jet black breeding plumage peppered with silvery white spots on their wings. These are either failed breeders or the first returning females, which leave the males behind to take on childcare duties! Smart birds when they first return, they will now quickly moult into grey non-breeding plumage. Two Little Ringed Plovers flew across in front of the hide and landed on the island out to the right.

The gulls in the breeding colony were nervous, and there was one false alarm when part of the island started to erupt before settling back down again. Then the Marsh Harrier came in again and everything went up. We watched it drop down into the vegetation on the island through the mass of white gulls. It came up with a juvenile Black-headed Gull in its talons again and flew off towards the bank, despite a frenzied attack from several of the adult gulls diving at it. The Marsh Harrier had obviously realised it was worth undergoing the attacks for the reward of Black-headed Gull chicks.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – carrying off a Black-headed Gull chick

We wanted to have a quick look in at Patsy’s Reedbed before the end of the day, so we set off on our way back. Up on the main path, we noticed a Spotted Redshank had just dropped in down just below the bank. We had a great view of it here, but it was not happy with all the people walking on the bank and quickly flew off again as some people approached from the other direction. As our summer is (hopefully!) just beginning, it is amazing to think that their summer is over already. Autumn wader migration is here!

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – a smart returning adult still in black breeding plumage

Round at Patsy’s Reedbed we could see a small crowd gathered by barrier at the end of East Trail. There has been a Purple Heron in the area for some time. It had disappeared for a week, but reappeared again earlier today. It hadn’t been seen for several hours though, but we kept one eye on the reeds over there just in case, while we scanned the pool.

There were several Red-crested Pochard on the pool – two drakes starting to moult out of their bright breeding plumage, and one already in female-like eclipse plumage with its coral-red bill giving it away, plus a single female. A Little Grebe was lurking in the edge of the reeds down at the front and several Mediterranean Gulls were bathing out in the middle with a larger flock of Black-headed Gulls.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of the drakes still largely in breeding plumage

One or two Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed beyond. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge behind us. They typically go quiet when they are breeding and then start singing again before they have a second brood, so this one has probably just finished raising its first.

Then unfortunately it was time for us to head back. A male Sparrowhawk was a late addition to the list as we drove home, skimming the top of the tarmac ahead of us before diverting into a garden beside the road and landing on a fence. It had been a great weekend, with a nice selection of birds and other summer wildlife, with some memorable moments.

15th June 2019 – Birds & Butterflies, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Summer Tours looking for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. It was bright and sunny, with patchy high cloud for most of the morning, but cloudier and cooler as the breeze picked up a little in the afternoon. We made our way down to The Broads for the day.

As we set off, we hadn’t gone far when we spotted a Little Owl in the window opening of an old barn. We pulled up a discrete distance away but before we could get out it had disappeared inside. The rest of the journey down to the Broads was fairly quiet, the only bird of real note being a Grey Wagtail which flew up from the side of the road at one point.

Early reports suggested that the Lesser Grey Shrike which has spent the last week along the Nelson Head track at Horsey was still present this morning, so we headed straight round there first. A Swallow was singing from under the eaves of the Nelson Head pub.

Swallow

Swallow – singing under the eaves of the pub

As we walked down the road, a Common Whitethroat was singing from an oak tree in the hedge on the edge of one of the fields. There were small flocks of Linnets flying in and out of another oilseed rape field, feeding on the seeds. We took the track out towards the dunes and several Skylarks towered up into the blue sky, probably making the most of it after the last week’s rain. A Reed Warbler sang from a reedy ditch by the path, but remained mostly out of view, even though we could see the reeds moving. A male Reed Bunting perched on some brambles was singing too, as best it could!

There were a few people gathered already this morning, looking at the Lesser Grey Shrike, so we joined them. The bird was out at the back of a grassy meadow with scattered bushes. It was perched on a branch low on the edge of a clump of sallows at first, so we got it in the scope. We could see its black mask extending up over its forehead and the pink flush to its breast. It was very active, flying between bushes and sallying out over the grass for insects.

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike – feeding from the bushes out in the meadow

Lesser Grey Shrike is a scarce visitor to the UK from south-eastern Europe, with on average only 1-2 seen each year. We stood and watched it for a few minutes, before it flew round behind a large area of bushes and we lost sight of it. A Hobby shot through low over the grass, hunting dragonflies. We decided to walk on to the dunes.

There has been an invasion of Painted Lady butterflies from the continent in the last few days and there were lots here this morning. Everywhere we looked over the grassy meadows, we could see them flying round. Along the edge of the path, there were small groups feeding on any nectar-bearing flowers that were open. An impressive sight to see so many here.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – there has been an invasion from the continent

Further along the path, the verges were lined with several clumps of purple Southern Marsh Orchids coming into flower. A Curlew flew high overhead calling, heading south. Amazing to think, but the first waders are already coming back after the breeding season further north and there have been a few Curlews on the move in recent days. Their summer is over already, just as ours is hopefully beginning!

We carried on out to the dunes and climbed up to the top to look at the sea. There were a few gulls offshore and a Grey Seal diving just off the groynes. We had a quick scan from up here but there were lots of small beetles buzzing around in clouds which started to get in people’s hair, so we decided to make our way back.

We were just about to descend when we noticed a Hobby, possibly the one we had seen earlier, hawing for insects low over the top of the dunes just to our right. It came along the line of the dunes towards us, then shot fast and low down over the grassy slope right below us, catching something low over the grass and then coming back up to eat it as it passed.

Hobby

Hobby – flew past us catching insects low over the dunes

As we made our way back to the track, a pair of Stonechats were on the fence. They flicked off ahead of us, landing each time a bit further along. The male flashed a bright white rump as it flew – a characteristic more typical of continental Stonechats rather than the darker British race hibernans. The taxonomic status of the Stonechats on the coast here is uncertain and it is possible that continental rubicola Stonechats intergrade with hibernans here.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male flashed a bold white rump as it flew

The Lesser Grey Shrike had come out again and was now feeding along a fence line across the fields, repeatedly sallying out from a dead stem and returning to the same perch. It attracted the attentions of the Stonechat and a Reed Bunting here, which perched close by, the Stonechat chasing after it at one point. The Lesser Grey Shrike seemed to take little notice.

On the way back to the minibus, we stopped to help a Garden Tiger moth caterpillar off the path and rescue a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly from a puddle. A pair of Common Whitethroats was carrying food in and out of the hedge and a Greenfinch was wheezing from the top of an ash tree.

We headed round to Potter Heigham next. As we made our way in along the track, there were lots of dragonflies zooming around between the reeds, Norfolk Hawkers and Black-tailed Skimmers. A pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grazing meadows. We could see a Spoonbill on the back of one of the pools, busy feeding with its head down and moving its bill quickly from side to side through the shallow water. The next pool had a large area of exposed mud in the middle. Several Lapwing were on here, including a good number of well-grown juveniles. A Little Ringed Plover was lurking in between two sleeping Shelducks.

At the end of the track, we climbed up onto the bank. Our main target for the day was Swallowtail butterfly and as we came through the trees one shot past us over the tops of the reeds. We saw several as we walked along here, but they were all flying fast and none were showing any signs of settling. The brambles and thistles are not in flower yet this year, so there are not so many sources of nectar here for them to feed on. Still, it was a good start.

We stopped to scan the pools on the corner from up on the bank. Two Spoonbills and two Little Egrets were standing on the grassy bank at the back. We had a good look at the Spoonbills in the scope, two immatures. After a while, they took off and flew round, landing back out of view on one of the other pools, presumably to feed. A Chinese Water Deer ran round the bank on the edge of the water.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were two immature birds on the pool on the corner

There was a good selection of ducks, most of the drakes already starting to moult into their duller eclipse plumage. As well as the regular Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall, a single drake Wigeon was standing on the bank among the Greylag Geese. We could see a couple of Great Crested Grebes in the edge of the reeds at the back and a pair of Little Grebes diving in the floating vegetation in the middle.

Scanning carefully, we found a drake Garganey too. It was asleep at first, but we could still see the bold pale stripes on the sides of its head. A second drake Garganey flew in and landed on the water nearby. It was further advanced in its moult, and a lot duller than the first. It swam over to the bank and walked over to the other one, waking it up. The two Garganey then walked higher up the bank and went to sleep together.

Garganey

Garganey – the two drakes sleeping on the bank

We walked a short distance further along the bank. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds ahead of us and we could see its bold pale supercilium. A Willow Warbler and a Blackcap were both singing in the scattered trees along the bank. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds. Several Avocets and Common Terns flew in and out of the pools and a male Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds.

It was getting on for lunchtime now, so we decided to turn back. There were a few small blue damselflies in the vegetation along the edge of the path, and we picked out one Variable Damselfly amongst them. There were a few more butterflies along the lower track – as well as the ever-present Painted Ladys, there were several Red Admirals but no sign of any more Swallowtails. A Drinker moth caterpillar was on a dead reed stem overhanging the track. A pair of Stock Doves were flying round the old tin shed.

It clouded over as we drove round to Strumpshaw Fen, but thankfully the darkest of the clouds passed away to the west. As we walked across the road from the overflow car park, we could hear a Cuckoo calling in the trees nearby. We sat out on the picnic tables by Reception to eat our lunch. It was showing signs of trying to brighten up, but the wind had picked up a bit too. We decided to walk round to the ‘Doctor’s garden’, where it would be more sheltered, to see if there were any butterflies out there.

A couple of Bullfinches called from the trees as we walked along the track and as we got to the garden there were several dragonflies flying round bushes opposite. As well as a couple of Norfolk Hawkers, a couple of Scarce Chasers were perched on the brambles. The flowers in the garden were covered in Painted Ladys – we counted at least 20 in the two small patches by the track – but there were no Swallowtails at first. We decided to wait, as the sun came out at that point, and it wasn’t too long before a Swallowtail flew in and joined the Painted Ladys nectaring on the Dianthus.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail – nectaring on Dianthus

The Swallowtail was not the smartest individual, having sustained some damage and lots its ‘swallow tails’, but it was still good to get a close look at one. There were several Brimstones around the garden too, including a pair which were engaged in courtship flight. When the Swallowtail eventually flew off, we headed back round by the Reception and out onto the reserve.

It had clouded over again now, so there were not as many insects out as earlier now. We had a quick look at the Common Twayblades on the edge of the trees and stopped to watch a Bank Vole which climbed up into an elder and was feeding on the flowers. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flew through the bushes. There were a few damselflies in the vegetation around the pool at the start of Meadow Trail, including Large Red and another Variable alongside the commoner Azure Damselflies. A Marsh Click Beetle was perched on the top of a broken dead reed stem.

The wind was catching the bushes out along Sandy Wall and there was not so much to see out here. We did find a single Large Skipper in a sheltered spot and someone brought over a Buff-tip moth they had just found, to show us. A Willow Warbler was singing, appropriately, in the willows and a Reed Warbler from down in the reeds.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – sheltering from the wind in the brambles

Fen Hide can often be quiet, but we decided to have a quick look just in case. It was nice just sitting there listening to the wind in the reeds. A Marsh Harrier was perched in the top of one of the trees out in the middle of the reedbed, and several Common Swifts were zooming back and forth low over the reeds, but there were few other birds here.

We had just got up to leave when someone else in the hide announced ‘I think I’ve got a Bittern‘. A quick scan confirmed there was indeed a Bittern, which had just climbed into the top of the reeds in front of the hide. It was tucked down in amongst the reeds at first and harder to see. It ruffled its feathers and had a shake, then stretched its neck up out of the reeds to look around, at which point it was much easier to get onto.

Bittern 1

Bittern – climbed up into the top of the reeds in front of Fen Hide

The Bittern stayed in the top of the reeds, looking around for a few minutes. It seemed like it was getting ready to fly, checking that the coast was clear first. Then suddenly it was off, labouring up heavily clear of the reeds and then disappearing off back away from us over the reedbed.

Bittern 2

Bittern – eventually took off and flew back away over the reedbed

That was a great way to finish off our day in the Broads, so we made our way back to the minibus, for the long drive back. We were almost home when we spotted the Little Owl in the window of the same old barn where we had seen it perched earlier. This time, it stayed put when we stopped, but disappeared inside again before we could all get out.

Nightjar Evening

After a break to relax and get something to eat, we set off again in the evening. We drove back round to where we had seen the Little Owl and third time lucky, got a better look at it. It was more active now, out hunting around the barns. It flew and landed on one edge, right next to the road, as we drove up, but flew back and landed on the edge of the roof. We stopped a discrete distance away and got out, getting a good look at it before it flew again and disappeared round the far side. We got back in the minibus and drove slowly past. The Little Owl was perched on a low wall just beyond the barns and we had a really good look at it from the bus.

Little Owl

Little Owl – we finally got a better look at it this evening

Our next target was Barn Owl, so we drove down towards the coast and round by an area that they usually like to hunt. There was no sign of any here, so we parked and set off down along a track through the marshes. It was cloudier here than it had been inland, and there was a fresh breeze blowing. A Red Kite was perched on a post. We flushed a Grey Partridge from the track, which flew out and landed on the grazing meadows. We got it in the scope and could see its orange face as it stood in the grass calling.

We heard Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ from the reeds behind us, and turned to see two juveniles climbing up into the tops. We had some great views of them as we stood and watched over the next few minutes, as the looked for food in the top of the reeds. Two more juveniles flew in and joined them, but the when the adult male flew in it dropped straight down into the reeds out of view.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – one of the juveniles in the reeds this evening

There was no sign of any owls out here, so we turned to go. As we walked back to the minibus, we spotted a Barn Owl flying through the bushes the other side of the road. It was carrying prey and disappeared into the trees. A few seconds later it was back out again – it clearly had young to feed in a nest somewhere in there. It did well to catch something else almost immediately, and went back up into the trees again. When it flew back out, we drove round to the area where it appeared to be hunting. There was no sign of the male Barn Owl but a female flew back past us heading for the nest.

We needed to get a move on now, or we would late for the evening’s main event. We headed inland to one of the heaths to look for Nightjars. With the cloud tonight, it was getting dark quickly as we walked out to the middle. The first Nightjar of the evening started churring in the trees.

A squeaky call alerted to a Woodcock overhead. We turned to see it flying past, with rhythmic beats of its wings, roding. We would see it or another Woodcock several times this evening, flying over in this distinctive display flight.

We were had just arrived at the territory of one of the Nightjars when it started churring in the top of an oak tree right ahead of us, beside the path. Unfortunately it was on the far side from us, and when we started to walk round it flew, dropping off the branch with its wings raised, before flying out into the middle of the heath. We could still hear it churring in the distance.

We stood hear and listened for a while – then the Nightjar flew back in right past us. We thought it might be heading for another of its favourite churring posts, but instead a second Nightjar appeared, the female. The two of them flew round just above our heads calling. They did this several times, drifting away before coming back in for another look. The female disappeared but the male came in again, right over our heads, hanging in the air at times with its wings raised and tail fanned, flashing its white wing and tail patches. Amazing to watch!

The male Nightjar then flew up into a nearby oak tree and started churring again. Through a gap in the leaves we could see it perched on a branch, silhouetted against the last of the light, and we got it in the scope. Then it dropped out of the tree and flew out across the heath again. It started to spit with some very light rain now – which was not in the forecast! We stood and listened to it churring from some trees in the distance, then the male came in and flew round past us once more. The light was going fast, so we decided to call it a night.

As we walked back to the minibus, two more Nightjars had started churring further over. We had a brief glimpse of one silhouetted against the sky as it flew past. Back at the car park, yet another Nightjar was churring across the road and a Tawny Owl was hooting away in the distance.

 

23rd May 2019 – Holme & Titchwell

A Private Tour today, a relaxed day of easy birdwatching up along the coast in NW Norfolk. It was a glorious sunny day, pleasantly warm, with light SW winds. A great day to be out.

We started the day at Holme. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Chiffchaff singing. A Common Whitethroat was subsinging in the brambles and then launched into a song flight, fluttering up and parachuting back down into an elder, where a male Blackcap was singing. There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine this morning, and we stopped to admire Common Blue, Wall and Small Copper all around the short grass and brambles on the bank.

Common Blue

Common Blue – there were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine

As we walked along the seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo calling from some distance inland, away over the fields – we were hoping to see one on our walk. When we got to the old paddocks, three Common Whitethroats where feeding in one of the hawthorn bushes and another one was singing a bit further up by the path. We could hear a Sedge Warbler singing over towards the back of the houses and, more unusually, a Reed Warbler too, even though we were some way away from any reeds. They do turn up in odd places sometimes, especially late arrivals back from Africa.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – in the hawthorn bushes in the paddocks

A smart male Marsh Harrier was hunting the dune ridge out across the saltmarsh, so we stopped to watch it, before it cut in across the edge of the golf course and headed inland. A couple of Redshanks were displaying, and there were a few Shelduck and Avocets around the pools. Three House Martins flew west, low over the saltmarsh – there are still a few hirundines on the move, heading back to wherever they will be breeding.

Marsh Harrier 1

Marsh Harrier – a male, hunting the dunes out across the saltmarsh

A Turtle Dove started purring, out across the paddocks, and we found it perched in the top of one of the taller trees at the back. We had a good look at it through the scope, although it was face on so we couldn’t get a clear view of its rusty fringed upperparts. Then it flew up and circled round behind the trees, landing further back in one of the gardens along the entrance road.

As we walked down from the dunes and cut across through the car park towards Beach Road, a female Cuckoo started bubbling in the trees. Several Greenfinches were calling in the back of the car park and the Turtle Dove was still purring in one of the gardens but largely obscured behind some branches. When we stopped to use the facilities by the road, there were lots of House Sparrows cheeping in the hedge.

We walked slowly back towards where we had parked along the entrance track. Three Cuckoos called, two males and a female, and we watched them come up from the back of the gardens. A pair flew round over the road, the female giving her bubbling call and the male cuckooing excitedly in response, and we watched them chasing round through the trees before disappearing off further inland.

Cuckoos

Cuckoos – this pair chased round through the trees calling

The Turtle Dove started purring again and this time we were on the right side of it, with fewer branches in the way and not looking into the sun. We could now see the lovely patterning on its back through the scope. From a bit further up along the track, we had an even better view, looking straight at the Turtle Dove across a grassy field, as it perched on a branch preening. Then suddenly it was off through the trees.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – we got great views in the trees on our walk round

As we walked past Redwell Marsh, we could hear a Sedge Warbler singing by one of the entrances. We walked down to the river and looked back into the bushes from teh bridge. The Sedge Warbler was tucked deep in an elder bush, singing. A Chiffchaff appeared in the top of the willows above and a Blackcap clambered through the branches nearby too.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – singing in the trees by the river

We drove back round to Titchwell next. As we got out of the minibus, a Red Kite drifted over the car park. We could hear more Blackcaps singing in the trees. We decided to stop for an early lunch first, and made good use of the picnic tables by the Visitor Centre. Several finches and tits were coming and going to and from the feeders and a smart male Pheasant was looking for any spilled food below.

After lunch, we walk out along the main west back path. Just beyond Meadow Trail, a Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows. We found it perched in the top of one of the taller trees and we managed to get it in the scope, when it wasn’t hiding in the leaves.

There were Reed Warblers singing in the reedbed and Sedge Warblers zipping around the margins of the pools. A Moorhen was feeding small four small chicks on the edge of the reeds. Bearded Tit was a particular target for the day, so when one called from a little further up along the path, we hurried over. We were just in time to see it climb up a reed stem and fly off, over the path and into the reeds by Thornham grazing marsh. It was a smart male and it would have been nice to have a better look at it.

We stopped here for a few minutes to see if any more Bearded Tits would show themselves, but all we saw were a few zipping back and forth over the reeds further back. Lots of gulls were hawking for insects over the reedbed and we picked out a much smaller Little Gull in with the Black-headed Gulls. A few Mediterranean Gulls flew over, calling, their white wing tips translucent against the bright blue sky.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – over the west bank path

We could see a few Common Pochard and several Greylag Geese out on the reedbed pool. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up over the reedbed, and a male drifted right over our heads, over the path and out across Thornham grazing marsh.

Marsh Harrier 2

Marsh Harrier – flew over the path towards Thornham grazing marsh

Continuing on to the Freshmarsh, the reserve is rather dominated by all the gulls on here at the moment but we could still see a nice variety of wildfowl. There were lots of Shelduck scattered round, and we stopped to admire a smart pair of Gadwall down near the front, getting a good look at their intricate plumage detail through the scope. A pair of Teal were still lingering here.

The number of Brent Geese has dropped sharply in last few days as the birds have finally departed on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season. Four Brent Geese flew in and landed on the Freshmarsh to drink.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – most have departed in the last few days back to Siberia

There was not a great variety of waders on here today. Apart from all the Avocets, there was just a single Common Redshank. In among all the gulls, we located a pair of Common Terns on the nearest island.

When we got round to Parrinder Hide, there were two Little Gulls now, both 1st summer birds with black in the wings, sleeping with the Black-headed Gulls out on the edge of the islands. Looking through the gulls more carefully, we found a single Common Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull, both immatures. Titchwell is a great location to get good views of Mediterranean Gulls at the moment and we got the scope on a couple out in the breeding colony on ‘Avocet Island’.

Little Gull

Little Gull – resting on the Freshmarsh with the Black-headed Gulls

We had a very quick look at Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. A lone Grey Plover was out on the mud, in breeding plumage with black face and bellow. Otherwise, there wasn’t much else here to we continued out towards the beach.

The Tidal Pools looked pretty quiet too, but a Little Tern flew round and landed down on the edge of the island, next to another Little Tern which was already there. Through teh scope, we could see their white foreheads and black-tipped yellow bills. Another Grey Plover was lurking just behind them.

The tide was out when we got out on the beach. There are not many waders here now, as most have left to head north to breed. There were still several Oystercatchers down on the mussel beds, and a single Bar-tailed Godwit nearby on the sand. We managed to pick out a Great Crested Grebe on the sea and a few Sandwich Terns flying back and forth.

We still wanted to get a better view of a Bearded Tit, so we decided to walk back to have another look. Perfect timing! We didn’t have to wait long before we heard Bearded Tits calling and watched one fly in to the reeds right down at the front of the pool in front of us. A smart male, sporting a powder blue-grey head and black moustache (rather than a beard!) climbed up and stopped to preen in full view. It flew a bit further on and we watched a male and female Bearded Tit together in the reeds, perched up nicely, before they eventually flew off over the path.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we had great views of a pair by the path on our way back

Mission accomplished – great views of Bearded Tits! We headed back to the Visitor Centre happy, for a bit of retail therapy and a celebratory ice cream in the sunshine.

22nd May 2019 – Stilt Surprise

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It was a little more cloudy first thing, but brightened up nicely – sunny and warm in the afternoon, but with a light northerly wind just keeping a lid on the temperature.

In the hope of catching up with a few waders, we headed over to Wells first thing this morning. As we got out of the minibus, a Grey Partridge ran out into the field opposite, pausing for a minute or so before heading off further.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – in the field as we got out of the minibus

We hadn’t even finished getting everything we needed out of the minibus before one of the Holkham wardens walked over to tell us that a pair of Black-winged Stilts had just been found here this morning. We looked over to the flooded meadow beyond and could see the Stilts in amongst the Avocets and Lapwings. We walked over for a closer look.

The Black-winged Stilts really stood out, with their black wings, white bodies and very long, bright pink legs. They were busy feeding in the shallow water – the male with black back and black markings on the back of its head and neck, the female with a slight brown tinge to the mantle.

Black-winged Stilt 1

Black-winged Stilt – we arrived to be told that a pair had just been found

The Stilts would occasionally wander too close to the breeding Avocets and their chicks and were chased away a couple of times, at one point flying further back before returning to the same corner nearest the path.

Black-winged Stilts are scarce visitors here. They have started to turn up more often in recent years, as birds overshoot in the spring on their way north from their wintering grounds in Africa. They are also breeding more regularly here, perhaps in response to a warming of the climate.

Black-winged Stilt 2

Black-winged Stilt – we watched them busy feeding in the shallow water

In the thicker grass there were more Lapwings with chicks. There was no shortage of Redshanks too, with two squabbling at the back of the pool. The Grey Heron was here again, but was getting mobbed and chased by all the other birds today, and didn’t manage to grab anything. It eventually flew off to the back of the pool the other side of the track, chased by several Avocets.

A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing off against each other in the bushes in the ditch beside the path. Out in the grass, we spotted a couple of Skylarks and a Pied Wagtail. A few Common Swifts were zooming back and forth, low overhead, catching insects.

Looking out to the pool the other side of the track, we found some different waders. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits, were mostly asleep. They looked to be mostly young birds, in their 2nd calendar year, not moulting into breeding plumage and in no hurry to get up to Iceland to breed. Four Greenshanks were feeding with the few which were awake. Two Little Ringed Plovers were hiding in the vegetation on one of the islands. A Common Sandpiper flew past and landed back on the other side.

There were a few ducks on here too. Several Shelduck, Gadwall and Shoveler, plus a pair of Tufted Ducks. Most of the wintering Teal have long since departed but a lingering drake was asleep on the island. Two Brent Geese, also due to leave to head off back to Siberia, were feeding in the grass.

As more people started to arrive to see the Black-winged Stilts, we decided to walk on over to the seawall. Another Sedge Warbler was signing in the reeds in the ditch and there were more warblers singing in the bushes. We could hear the sweet descending scale of a Willow Warbler, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouting. A Chiffchaff perched in the top of a dead tree chiffing and chaffing. A Diamond-back Moth flushed from the long grass as we walked through was one of the migrants which had come in from Scandinavia in the last week.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – one of several, singing in the reeds in the ditch

From up on the seawall, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds. We couldn’t see it, but then we spotted another Reed Warbler climbing up a reed stem in the ditch below us, picking insects from the brambles on the bank. Several Greenfinches flew in arguing loudly. We stopped to scan the last pool. There were lots of Avocets on here, several pairs with young already, and a good number of Lapwings with chicks. Great to see that the waders are doing well here this year.

On the walk back to the minibus, someone told us that a Quail was singing from the field so we stopped to listen to the distinctive ‘wet-me-lips’ refrain. There was quite a crowd gathered now, so we decided to make an escape before it got too much busier.

As we drove west, a male Marsh Harrier was hunting the grazing meadows by the road, dropping down out of sight into the grass. There had been a report of a Dotterel again today at Choseley, so we swung round that way. A Corn Bunting was singing from further up in the hedge as we got out of the minibus, so we had a look at it in the scope. As we walked down the road, another Corn Bunting was singing here too.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – singing in the hedge

A Common Whitethroat was singing from the bushes, and flew off ahead of us, disappearing into the hedge. A couple of Chaffinches were singing along here too. Two Red-legged Partridges walked out from the edge of the field and we could see several Brown Hares out in the middle.

There were a couple of people already looking for the Dotterel, and we had a good scan of the field as we walked down, but there was no sign of it. A Common Buzzard circled up over the ridge, and was joined by three Red Kites and two Kestrels. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew over, flashing its white wings. We had a quick drive round via the drying barns, picking up a couple of Yellowhammers on the wires on the way. A Stoat was standing in the edge of the road, running in to the verge as we approached. Then we dropped down to Titchwell for lunch.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds as we walked up along the main path. We stopped opposite the reedbed pool, where we could hear Bearded Tits calling. They were mostly a bit further back in the reeds today, but we saw several zipping back and forth. A female Bearded Tit came up from the reeds in front of us and climbed up a stem at the back of the pool, before flying off back into the reeds beyond. There were more Sedge Warblers feeding round the edges of the pools and several Reed Buntings singing.

Lots of gulls were hawking for insects out over the reedbed pool, mostly Black-headed Gulls, but we spotted a much smaller Little Gull in with them. Its more agile, tern-like flight stood out, as did the black ‘w’ on its wings, a first summer bird. We could hear the Mediterranean Gulls flying in and out too, calling, heading inland to feed or back to the breeding colony on the Freshmarsh.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – flying over, calling

A couple of Marsh Harriers came up out of the reeds and flew round before dropping down again. There were a few Common Pochard on the pool, and two Little Grebes in the nearby channel. On the other side of the bank, a lone breeding plumaged Grey Plover was out on the Lavender Marsh pool.

Continuing on to the Freshmarsh, the view was dominated by all the gulls on here at the moment. We could hear Sandwich Terns calling and found a couple on the nearest island which we got in the scope. A Common Tern flew in with a fish, and gave it to its partner on the small brick island. Then we watched it drop into the water for a quick bathe, before flying back out towards the sea, presumably after more fish.

There are also lots of Shelduck on the Freshmarsh at the moment. The variety of wildfowl has dropped now, for the summer, but there were still a few Shoveler too, and we got the scope on a drake Gadwall just below the bank, for a closer look. There were plenty of Avocets here, but not many other waders today. A single Ringed Plover was feeding on the island in front of Parrinder Hide.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

We made our way round to Parrinder Hide, where we had a much better view of the Little Gull, even if it was mostly asleep now. We could see just how small it was, in comparison with a Black-headed Gull next to it. We also had a closer look at a couple of the Mediterranean Gulls which are nesting in the fenced-off ‘Avocet Island’. A single immature Common Gull was in with all the smaller gulls loafing around the islands. More strangely, a Kittiwake was on here too, but it appeared to be oiled and was trying to preen the oil off its belly, which was probably why it was not where it should be, out to sea.

Little Gull

Little Gull – we had better views from Parrinder Hide, though mainly asleep

A Common Sandpiper dropped in briefly on the back edge of the island where all the gulls were resting, but quickly flew off round the back of ‘Avocet Island’. A lone Bar-tailed Godwit dropped in, and through the scope we could see its streaked upperparts and slightly upturned bill.

There weren’t many birds on Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide, apart from sixteen Grey Plover, mostly in smart black-bellied breeding plumage. We decided to press on to the beach. There were noticeably fewer Brent Geese on the saltmarsh today, as we passed – it appears most of them have finally headed off in the last few days, back to Siberia for the breeding season. There were hardly any birds at all on the Tidal Pools.

Out at the beach, the tide was out. There are not so many waders here now, as birds have gone north to breed. We could still see a good number of Oystercatchers on the mussel beds, and three Turnstones with them. Several Great Crested Grebes were still lingering offshore.

We were just about to head back when a Spoonbill appeared on the beach at the far end of the mussel beds. It was an adult – through the scope, we could see the yellow tip to the black bill and the mustard wash on the breast. A second Spoonbill circled round over the dunes and dropped down onto the Tidal Pools. We walked back, and had a better view of this one as it fed in the shallow water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on the ‘Tidal Pools’ on the walk back

As we walked past the Freshmarsh, we noticed a small plover on the nearest island. Rather than the Ringed Plover we had seen earlier, this was a Little Ringed Plover. We got it in the scope and could just see its golden yellow eyering, before it flew off. A Grey Heron was perched up in the reeds, surveying one of the pools below the bank as we walked past the reedbed.

We turned onto Meadow Trail, and as we walked through the sallows we could hear a Cuckoo calling. It seemed to be over closer to the Visitor Centre initially, then moved and seemed to be working its way east. We thought we might be able to catch up with it, but when we got out to Fen Hide and got out of the bushes, it had gone quiet. There was no sign of the Turtle Doves down on the tank road this afternoon, but the seed had run out so there was no food left to tempt them in.

Round at Patsy’s Reedbed, we could see several Red-crested Pochards out on the water, the drakes looking very smart at the moment with their orange punk haircuts and bright coral-red bills.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of three drakes on Patsy’s Reedbed

A steady stream of Black-headed Gulls dropped into the pool to bathe, and we picked out several Mediterranean Gulls with them, their jet black hoods and white wings giving them away. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up over by the edge of Willow Wood. One of the males half appeared to be half displaying to a young female, twisting and turning, before the two of them drifted off over the reeds. Back on Fen Trail, we stopped to watch a male Marsh Harrier flying over and a Blackcap was singing in the sallows beside us.

It was time to head back but we still had time for one more bird. As we drove past a complex of old barns, a Little Owl was perched on a wooden board across an open doorway. We stopped to watch it and after staring at us for a while, it flew back inside.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched in the window of an old barn on our way back

That was a nice way to end what had been a very pleasant late spring day’s birding, with a nice surprise included.