3rd June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The thunderstorms overnight had passed through but the associated weather front was slow to clear this morning, resulting in a cloudy and cool start. However, it brightened up nicely in the afternoon and was sunny and warm by the end of the day.

Given the weather, we decided to start at Cley today. A Black-winged Stilt had been reported here first thing, so we went out to see if we could see it. We walked out to the hides and found a few people in there who pointed it straight out to us.

Black-winged StiltBlack-winged Stilt – still a rare visitor to North Norfolk

Black-winged Stilts were formerly a mainly Mediterranean species, but have spread north in recent years and are occurring more regularly in the UK. Birds have stayed to breed in the past and, after a significant influx of Black-winged Stilts into the UK earlier in the year, there are some attempting to breed this year. Over the longer term, with a warming climate, it is a species which might be expected to colonise here. As well as pairs which may breed, there are some wandering lone birds here this year and the Cley Black-winged Stilt was one of those. A very nice bird to see here and very distinctive with its long pink legs and black wings.

While we were in the hides, we had a scan of the scrapes. On Simmond’s Scrape, there were a few other waders – Avocets, Redshanks and a lone Dunlin with summer black belly patch. There were several Little Ringed Plovers out on the islands and a pair were displaying, the male flying round after the female with exaggerated wingbeats. When they landed again, the male stood in front of the female with his white chest pushed out – she didn’t seem particularly impressed and ran away!

Little Ringed PloverLittle Ringed Plover – there were several on Simmond’s Scrape today

The big creche of Shelducklings was still here, but split into two groups today. The smaller ones were huddled in the grass with the female Shelduck, whereas the eight larger ducklings were feeding feverishly, swimming round in circles in the water. There were lots of Gadwall too, all drakes and all sat around on one of the islands sleeping, presumably having largely finished their limited parenting role already.

Looking over on Pat’s Pool, there were several Avocets nesting on the islands and a couple of small chicks running around, as usual largely ignored by their parents. Is it any wonder they are so vulnerable to predation! A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds beyond.

Avocet chicksAvocet chicks – these two were running around unattended on Pat’s Pool

We made our way back to the visitor centre and then round to the East Bank next. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the thin line of reeds along the ditch on the east side of the path, giving us a great chance to get a proper look at it. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing and displaying along the East Bank this morning, which was nice to hear. The Reed Warblers in contrast have gone rather quiet though we saw odd ones flicking around on the edge of the reeds.

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – showing very well along the East Bank

As we walked out along the bank, we scanned the grazing marshes around the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were quite a few Lapwings and Redshanks out here as usual, both of which breed here. A Common Snipe along the edge of the Serpentine was more of a surprise. They used to breed here but sadly not any more and now are mostly seen in winter. This is the first we have seen here for several weeks now.

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – feeding on the edge of the Serpentine

There were the usual ducks and geese on the grazing marshes here – Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler and Greylag Goose. Most of the wintering species have long since departed, but there are still a few birds lingering here. We found two drake Wigeon here as usual this morning, but there seemed to be more Teal today, including a couple of pairs.

It was quite windy today, so not an ideal day for looking for Bearded Tits. We heard one or two calling briefly from out in the reedbed on the walk out but couldn’t see them – they were presumably keeping tucked well down in the reeds. When we heard another call, we turned to look hoping to catch a glimpse of one zooming past over the tops of the reeds and were pleasantly surprised to see a male Bearded Tit flying straight towards us which dropped down on the near edge of reeds.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – this male was collecting food along the edge of the reeds

The Bearded Tit spent several minutes feeding along the edge of the reeds in front of us, clambering around through the reed stems just above the surface of the ditch. It was collecting food, and kept stopping to look down into the water or to pick around in the reed debris on the bank beyond. We got great views of it as it did so.

When the Bearded Tit finally disappeared back into the reeds, we continued along the bank to Arnold’s Marsh. There were not as many birds on here as there have been recently, but we still managed to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit, a lone Dunlin and one Ringed Plover hiding in the saltmarsh at the back. Otherwise it was just the usual Avocets and Redshanks on here today. A Meadow Pipit was singing and song flighting, fluttering up and parachuting down, to a fencepost nearby.

We made our way out to have a look at the sea. It can be rather quiet at this time of the year, but there were a few Sandwich Terns flying past offshore, which was a new bird for the weekend’s list. A Little Tern flew east but was gone before everyone could get onto it. Thankfully, a short while later four Little Terns flew back west overhead, calling noisily. A pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over behind us, helpfully also calling which alerted us to their presence. We could see their distinctive white wing tips as they passed.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – one of a pair of adult which flew past us

Scanning out over the sea, we picked up a line of Common Scoter flying west, fourteen of them flying low over the sea, followed shortly after by another four. One of the group then spotted a distant Guillemot on the sea, which we just all managed to see before it flew off. Three Gannets flew east.

The weather forecast had been for it to brighten up this morning, but the cloud was only now starting to break up as we walked back. We decided to stop for lunch back at the visitor centre before heading up onto the Heath for the afternoon.

As soon as we got out of the car up on the Heath, we could hear Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats singing. As we walked up the path, a Yellowhammer was singing too, perched in the top of a birch tree. There were plenty of Linnets in the gorse as we walked round, in small family parties now, twittering noisily as they flew off.

LinnetLinnet – still a relatively common bird up in the Heath

There was no sign of any Dartford Warblers today at the first place we checked – they can be very elusive, keeping hidden in the heather and gorse – so we carried on round the Heath to try another spot. We stopped to look at a group of Small Eggar Moth caterpillars in their silk ‘tent’ in the bushes and while we were standing there a Garden Warbler started alarm calling nearby. It flew up into a small oak tree where we could just see it flitting around in the leaves before it flew off deeper into the trees.

Small Eggar moth caterpillarsSmall Eggar Moth caterpillars – in their ‘tent’

As we walked down along a wide path, a Woodlark flew up from across the Heath and started to sing, circling around above us. We could hear its rather mournful song, before it fluttered away from us out of earshot, still singing, and dropped back down to the ground some distance away. We saw it twice today – a little later, it flew up again and came back over us singing, before dropping back down over where it had first come up from. With the male Woodlark flying round and singing on his own again, perhaps this pair of Woodlarks are now incubating their second brood already.

While we were watching the Woodlark singing overhead, we could hear the scratchy song of a Dartford Warbler in the distance too, so made our way quickly round to where it appeared to be coming from. It was all quiet when we got there, but we stood and listened for a while. A pair of Stonechats kept us entertained, perching up on the top of the gorse calling and dropping down to the ground to look for food.

Suddenly a Dartford Warbler started singing and we turned to see the male on the top of a gorse bush just a couple of metres away from us. It had probably been feeding quietly down in the gorse all the time we had been standing there! We had a great view of him. After a couple of seconds he dropped back into the vegetation, but a minute or so later he flew up and started songflighting, hovering in the air and singing.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – the male suddenly appeared right next to us, singing

The male Dartford Warbler dropped down out of view further along the path, so we walked quietly round after him. Suddenly a bird appeared out on the edge of the path, but it was shorter tailed than an adult Dartford Warbler and rather duller coloured. It was a recently fledged juvenile, out of the nest now, but with its tail not yet fully grown. Once the young are big enough, the adults lead them from the nest and feed them in the heather and gorse, moving round their territory.

The juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up into a small birch tree by the path and we stood back to watch from a discrete distance. It was mostly hidden by the leaves, but we could see it was being fed by an adult and when that bird hopped up onto a bush nearby, it was the female Dartford Warbler, not so richly coloured below as the male.

We stood and watched the Dartford Warblers quietly for some time as the female kept returning to feed the juveniles, which were now well hidden deep in the heather. There was no sign of the male for quite a while, but then suddenly he flew in again, and started singing. We listened to him for a few minutes, but as he moved away across the Heath we decided it was then time for us to move on too.

The afternoon was already getting on, but we had a quick look round the rest of the Heath. There is a pair of Turtle Doves here, and we checked out a couple of favoured spots, but we couldn’t hear them today. Now that the sun had come out, there was a bit of raptor activity – several Buzzards circled up over the ridge and we came across a Kestrel flying round between the trees. There were butterflies too – the highlight being a Green Hairstreak fluttering around a gorse bush. Then we decided to head back back to the car – we all needed  a break and a chance to get something to eat before the evening’s activities began.

Green HairstreakGreen Hairstreak – the butterfly highlight on the Heath this afternoon

After a break, we met up again later, in the early evening. We were heading out to look for Nightjars later, but we thought we would see if we could find any owls first. We swung round via some old farm buildings, a good site for Little Owl, but there was no sign of any out in the early evening sunshine. Perhaps it was still a bit early? A couple of Brown Hares chased each other round between the buildings, but quickly lost interest. A pair of Red-legged Partridges were perched up on roof enjoying the sun.

We had other things we wanted to do tonight, so we moved quickly on. We had more luck at the second site we stopped at. We got out of the car and as we were walking down along the path, we saw our first Barn Owl out hunting in the distance. A second Barn Owl appeared too, possibly a pair, although this is a good area for them and there can be several birds here. We watched the birds hunting out over the grass. They were rather distant at first, but then one flew in towards us and landed on a post briefly – we just had time for everyone to get a good look at it in the scope before it was off hunting again.

Barn Owl 1Barn Owl – out hunting in the early evening sunshine

Walking on a bit further down the path, we could still see one of the Barn Owls out hunting along the bank some way ahead of us. It dropped down into the grass a couple of times, but came up empty taloned. Finally it caught something, probably a vole. It flew back towards us carrying it in its talons and was just about to fly past us when a Kestrel suddenly appeared from nowhere and swooped at it. The two of them tangled in a flurry of wings and the Kestrel made a grab for the vole, they looked locked together for a split second. They parted again and the Barn Owl dropped to the ground, with the Kestrel swooping at it from above.

The Kestrel backed off, and after a few seconds the Barn Owl flew up again with the vole in its bill now. But the Kestrel had not given up and set off after it again. We lost sight of the two of them behind some buildings, but a few seconds later, the Barn Owl reappeared with no sign of its prey. It sat on a post looking slightly lost – all that effort for nothing!

Barn Owl 3Barn Owl – perched on a post after apparently losing its prey to a Kestrel

It was getting time to go looking for Nightjars now, so we made our way up to the heath. It was quiet at first as we walked out. We flushed a Roe Deer from beside the path, which ran off into the trees. A squeaky call, rather like a gate which needs oiling, alerted us to the first roding Woodcock of the evening, flying over the tops of the trees. We stopped to listen for more Woodcock but we heard a Nightjar instead, just a quick burst of churring, before it went quiet. It was a bit earlier than normal so we moved on and got ourselves into position.

While we were standing there, another two Woodcock flew out of the trees calling and away overhead. It was a lovely evening now, with a bright half moon in the sky and Jupiter visible close by. After that early churr, the Nightjars were then slow to get started properly this evening. Eventually we heard one call, and then some more quiet churring.

Then finally the Nightjars got going properly. We stood and listened to them churring for a while, at least three males, possibly four in earshot from where we were standing. We were waiting for one male in particular, but it sounded like he had gone off in the wrong direction across the heath and it began to seem like wouldn’t be coming in to his favourite churring post, which we could see in front of us.

Eventually, we decided to walk down the path to see if we could find where it had gone. Suddenly we heard a burst of wing clapping out over the gorse and the Nightjar flew in low right towards us. It swooped up onto its favourite branch but unfortunately this was just at the moment when we were walking past the tree. We were too close – it saw us and flew again, across and up into the next tree over. This one has more leaves so the Nightjar is harder to see, but we eventually found him perched. We got it in the scope, and could see it silhouetted against the fading light behind, churring.

NightjarNightjar – silhouetted against the fading light in a leafy tree

We stood and listened to the Nightjar for a while. Then it was off again – it swooped down across path the path and away low over the heath. It was starting to get too dark to see them clearly now, so we we started to make our way back. Two more Nightjars were churring from the trees as we walked back, slipping away into the night as we approached. There is no better way to spend an early summer’s evening than up on the heath listening to the amazing churring of Nightjars.

2nd June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was a sunny start to the day, hot and humid. While we didn’t see any of the forecast thunder storms this afternoon, we did have some cloud and some rather patchy light rain late on, certainly not enough to really hinder us overly though.

The start of the day saw us heading inland to explore some farmland. We found somewhere to park by a convenient track and as we got out of the car, a Blackcap was singing from the willows nearby. A Reed Warbler was a bit more of a surprise here, singing from the same area as the Blackcap. It was not really classic Reed Warbler territory, but they do sometimes turn up in different habitat. A smart male Yellowhammer was perched up on the wires.

As we walked up the track, there were lots of finches which came out of the hedges and flew up to the wires. They were mostly Linnets, including a fine red-breasted male, plus a few Goldfinches and a single Greenfinch. A Lesser Whitethroat started singing from deep in the hedge, a little warble followed by a dry rattle, and eventually we got a couple of glimpses of it as it flew off back the way we had come. A Common Whitethroat was calling along here as well.

The surprise here was a Marsh Harrier which we flushed out of the hedge ahead of us. It came flapping out across the track, heading out over the field the other side before circling over us. It looked like it was probably a young bird from last year, so presumably just wandering round the area.

Marsh Harrier 1Marsh Harrier – flushed out of the hedge ahead of us

A Red-legged Partridge ran off along the track ahead of us. Another Yellowhammer started singing from the top of the hedge. Then we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits which made their way quickly passed us along the line of bushes before flying up into some trees nearby. We could hear a Goldcrest singing too.

At the top of the hill, we stopped at a convenient gap in the hedge to scan over the fields. There were quite a few raptors on view now. A Kestrel was perched on a post. As the air began to heat up, several Common Buzzards started to circle up in the distance. A couple of Brown Hares were sitting opposite each other across a large open field, but they didn’t seem inclined to engage in any boxing today.

As we started to make our way back to the car, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling. It flew across the track behind us, out across the field, and after a few seconds flew back across the track in front of us. Yellow Wagtails used to be fairly common breeding birds in Norfolk but have declined alarmingly in recent years. A very few pairs still cling on in north Norfolk, breeding in farmland.

There were a few butterflies out this morning. A Speckled Wood was particularly accommodating, perching nicely in the sunshine on some ivy for a minute or so, for the photographers in the group.

Speckled WoodSpeckled Wood – perched nicely in the sunshine for us

Our destination for the afternoon was to be Titchwell. As we drove back round and down towards the coast, we found several Red Kites out hunting now over the fields beside the road.

The main car park at Titchwell was full when we arrived, so we had to park in the overflow area. Even here, there were already quite a few cars and people. We had hoped to find one of the Turtle Doves here, but it was probably too disturbed. We stopped to watch a family of Long-tailed Tits. One of the youngsters perched out in the open, frozen in an odd pose, for some time. It seemed to be sunning itself! While we were watching it, we heard something hit one of the cars nearby and turned to see a Cetti’s Warbler flying off. It seemed to be unaffected by its collision and started singing again as soon as it got back into cover.

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – this juvenile appeared to be sunning itself

There were also a few dragonflies on the brambles in the car park – a Four-spotted Chaser, Blue-tailed Damselfly and Azure Damselfly.

Four-spotted ChaserFour-spotted Chaser – on the brambles in the car park

We had a look out at the field beyond the gate at the far end, but there was no sign of the Turtle Doves here either today. There were quite a few Red-legged Partridges and a pair of Oystercatchers, plus plenty of the ubiquitous Woodpigeons!

Before heading out to explore the reserve, we decided to have an early lunch. Afterwards, we made our way over to the visitor centre and then on up the main path. When we got to the reedbed, we could hear Reed Warblers singing and had nice views of a couple as they clambered around at the base of the reeds by one of the small pools. There were Sedge Warblers here too and we stopped to compare the two songs. Another Cetti’s Warbler showed itself briefly in the small sallows nearby a couple of times.

The Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ is still dry and fairly devoid of life – apart from lots of Woodpigeons and a single Little Egret in the ditch along the edge. There was more to see on the reedbed pool. In the back corner, we could see three drake Red-crested Pochards and we had a good look at them through the scope. A Little Grebe was diving in one of the reedbed channels nearby, until it was chased off by a Coot.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but at first the fleeting glimpses as they zoomed off over the reeds meant they were too fast for everyone to get onto. We noticed that several were flitting back and forth across the channel in the reeds, so eventually everyone at least got flight views.

There were lots of Black-headed Gulls flycatching over the reeds or the water and a single Common Tern was hovering over the reedbed pool. While we stood scanning the reeds, we heard a Mediterranean Gull calling and turned to see it flying off inland. After that, there was a steady stream of Mediterranean Gulls flying in and out of the freshmarsh in ones and twos, all adults with jet black hoods and white wing tips, their distinctive call giving them away every time.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – several were coming and going from the freshmarsh

While we were standing by the reedbed, we could hear a Marsh Harrier calling. We looked up to see a tiny dot, high in the sky against the clouds. It was a male and it was displaying. We were treated to a spectacular sky dance, as it tumbled, somersaulted, looped-the-loop, twisted and turned. It gradually lost height as it made each loop and eventually dropped like a stone into a bush in the reedbed.

It was nice to get into Island Hide and out of the sun today. There was a nice selection of waders out on the freshmarsh. As well as the numerous Avocets (and quite a few Avocet chicks), there was a nice crowd of Bar-tailed Godwits roosting in the water, and a number of Black-tailed Godwits asleep on the island nearby. A single Black-tailed Godwit helpfully joined the Bar-taileds to allow us to get a side-by-side comparison.

AvocetAvocet – lots on the freshmarsh, this one colour-ringed

There was a single Ruff on the nearest island, a bright rufous necked male though with no ruff yet, together with a few Redshanks. The Little Stint was lurking on the back of the island where it was hard enough to see anyway, let alone when it was hiding behind all the birds legs in front! We eventually got a good look at it through the scope. A Little Ringed Plover was less helpful, and flew off before we could all see it.

While we were carefully looking through the waders, someone else in the hide quiet announced ‘Spoonbill‘ and we looked over to see a very large white bird in the water next to all the godwits. Surely we couldn’t have missed that? We confirmed that it had in fact just dropped in. We had a great look at it through the scope, it was an immature Spoonbill, with extensively fleshy-coloured bill, presumably one of last year’s brood. It preened for a while, before starting to feed, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – this immature dropped into the freshmarsh

A single Little Tern was resting on the island over towards Parrinder Hide and more Common Terns were scattered around the Freshmarsh. A couple more Mediterranean Gulls appeared on the edge of the fenced off ‘gull island’. A Little Gull had been reported from here over the last couple of days and after a careful scan we found what we presumed was that bird over towards Parrinder Hide, asleep. It was a first summer Little Gull, but quite advanced, with quite an extensively black head.

Then when we scanned back towards the bank, we found another Little Gull on the water over there, this one with a mostly pale winter-type head. We made our way out of the hide and up onto the main path, where we could get much better close views of this second Little Gull.

Little GullLittle Gull – one of two 1st summers on the Freshmarsh today

There were some ominous dark clouds now starting to gather to the south, so we headed round to Parrinder Hide next. The birds were much the same as we had seen from the other side, apart from a drake Common Pochard and a pair of Egyptian Geese in the fenced off island. One of the group picked up a family party of five Bearded Tits working their way along the base of the reeds right over the other side of the Freshmarsh – through the scope, we got slightly better views than we had earlier of them in flight.

We did also get a slightly better view of the three main ‘Littles’ from here – the Little Stint, the Little Tern and the darker headed of the two first summer Little Gulls. They all looked suitably diminutive next to their larger cousins, in particular the Little Stint was dwarfed by anything it stood close to. At one point it was chased off by an agressive Black-tailed Godwit.

Little StintLittle Stint – looking really tiny next to the Black-headed Gulls and Shelduck

It looked like the dark clouds might be passing away to the south of us, so we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. There wasn’t anything of note on the Volunteer Marsh, although we paused briefly to watch a Skylark dustbathing on the path nearby. A quick stop at the Tidal Pools revealed a small party of four Turnstones scattered over the islands. Two of the Turnstones were looking particularly smart in their summer plumage, with white faces and rich chestnut in the upperparts.

TurnstoneTurnstones – these two moulting into summer plumage

We could see a Little Tern hovering out over the Tidal Pools as we walked up, but now we were here, it settled down onto one of the islands and we realised there was actually a pair of them. We had a quick look at them in the scope.

Little TernLittle Tern – one of a pair on the Tidal Pools today

At this point it started to spit with rain. Given the very dark clouds just to the south, we thought it would be safer to head back to Parrinder Hide rather than continue on to the beach. As it was, the small amount of rain there was had all but stopped when we got back to the hide. Still, we sat inside for a few minutes while we waited to see what the weather was doing.

The Little Ringed Plover had reappeared on the edge of the nearest island, making our return visit worthwhile. We could see its golden yellow eye ring. Something spooked the flock of Bar-tailed Godwits which shifted them around and we looked over to see a single Knot had appeared with them, although it didn’t linger. Two Spoonbills flew west over the water in front of us and dropped down towards Thornham. These were adults, so different from the one we had seen earlier.

Little Ringed PloverLittle Ringed Plover – showing off its golden yellow eye ring

Given the rain seemed to have stopped, we set off to walk back. We had only just got onto the main path, when the rain started again. Typical! We hurried back to Island Hide to shelter. It rained quite hard for just a couple of minutes before it stopped once again. It did allow us to find a few birds we had not seen earlier.

A single drake Teal had appeared on the edge of one of the islands. Most of the Teal which spend the winter here have long since departed, but one or two are still lingering along the coast, so this was a bonus for the trip list. We had heard a Cuckoo earlier in the distance, but now we picked one up flying in from the trees beyond Patsy’s Reedbed, before landing in one of the dead trees over the far side of the reedbed. It was distant, but we got an OK view through the scope. There were now lots of Common Swifts hawking for insects over the back of the Freshmarsh in the rain.

We thought we could hear a Bittern booming, but there was just too much noise in the hide. Thankfully, we we walked round via Meadow Trail, we heard it again, much closer now and definitely a Bittern! A Chiffchaff was singing from the dead branches at the top of a tree and we heard a couple of Bullfinches calling from the sallows but couldn’t see them.

A quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed at least added Mute Swan to the day’s list – there was nothing much else of note out on there. A large group of Avocets flew in from the Freshmarsh, calling noisily. They landed on one bank for a few minutes before flying off back from where they had just come. The highlight here was a male Marsh Harrier perched up on a dead sapling in the reeds.

Marsh Harrier 2Marsh Harrier – a male, perched up in the reeds

As it started to spit with rain again, it was looking like it could get worse, so we beat a retreat back to the car. It was already getting late so we headed for home.

 

27th May 2017 – A Spring Scorcher

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was hot and sunny, with the mercury topping out at an unseasonably warm 26.5C on the coast (and so probably hotter still inland!). A band of thundery rain passed through quickly around the middle of the day which meant it was a bit fresher in the afternoon, with a strengthening southerly wind.

At our first stop of the day, we went looking for Nightingales. We parked the car at the top of a lane by a copse of willows and listened. A Blackcap was singing in the trees but there was no sound from the Nightingale here this morning. Perhaps not a surprise, as the day was already heating up!

We walked further up the lane, listening to all the warblers singing. There were several Chiffchaffs, chiffing and chaffing, and we heard the sweet descending song of a Willow Warbler which was perched high in the top of a dead tree – two rather similar looking birds but with very different songs. From the other side of the hedge, a Sedge Warbler was buzzing and scratching away frenetically. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us unseen, from deep in the bushes, as we passed. A Common Whitethroat appeared in the top of the hedge next to us.

ChiffchaffChiffchaff – there were several singing in the hedges along the lane

Even as we approached the next block of trees, we could a couple of melodic phrases of a Nightingale singing, carried to us above the rustling of the leaves in the breeze. When we got there, we stopped to listen. There were several Blackcaps singing, a beautiful melodic song in its own right. Then the Nightingale started up again, rich and flutey, very varied little bursts interspersed with pauses.

The Nightingale was deep in the wood at first but after a minute or two it went quiet. When it started singing again, it was much closer to us and we knew the song was coming from its favourite tangle of brambles and dead branches. We walked across to where we could view the bushes, but it was not perched out in the sun today and still seemed to prefer to keep in cover. We got a quick glimpse as it flicked up into the brambles from close to the ground at one point, a flash of rusty orange tail as it disappeared into the green leaves. Then it went quiet again.

From where we were standing, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. We walked a little further up the lane and looked out across the wet meadow towards the willows. There was no sign of it at first, but looking across every time it sang, the Cuckoo suddenly appeared in the trees. We managed to get it in the scope, and everyone got a quick look at it, before it flew back into the willows out of view. We could still hear it but couldn’t see it any more.

Walking back up the lane, we stopped to listen to the Nightingale again. It was singing once more, but it was still keeping deep in the thicket. Nightingales are not the most colourful of birds – it is more about the song, so it was great just to stand and listen to it singing. When it went quiet again, we decided to move on.

We headed up to one of the heaths next. It was getting hot now, but there was a bit of a breeze up on the ridge which helped to keep the humidity down up here. The warblers were singing up here too, mainly Blackcaps and Willow Warblers in the trees and Common Whitethroats out on the heath. We came across several little family parties of Linnets in the gorse, which flew off calling as we passed.

At the first spot where we hoped we might find a Dartford Warbler, it seemed rather quiet at first. However, as we started to walk slowly round the area, we suddenly heard a male Dartford Warbler singing further along. We headed over there but as we came round a corner and out into the open we surprised it on the top of a gorse bush right by the path. We got a quick flight view as it zipped across in front of us, but it flew into a large area of deeper bushes.

We stood for a few seconds and listened, and it wasn’t long before the Dartford Warbler started singing again, this time launching itself into the air in a brief song flight. We could see it had gone much further back across the gorse. As we walked round to the other side, the Dartford Warbler flew up into the top of another large gorse bush and perched there in full view singing for a few seconds, giving us a much better if brief look at it. Unfortunately not everyone could get onto it in time and then it dropped back into the gorse again.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – this one taken recently on the Heath

It was rather frustrating over the next few minutes. The Dartford Warbler kept calling and singing on and off, but it kept tucked down in a large clump of gorse where we couldn’t see it. The forecast had suggested there was a risk of some thundery showers around the middle of the day and at this point we looked over towards the SW and could see a bank of cloud starting to build. We wanted to have a look round the Heath, so we moved quickly on, just in case.

A Yellowhammer was singing from somewhere in the trees as we passed, and another perched up nicely on the top of a post briefly, a smart yellow-headed male. When we got down to the old railway cutting, we could hear another Dartford Warbler singing. We looked across to see a male on the top of the heather on the other side. It spend a couple of minutes hopping around, disappearing at times, but then coming back up. When it flew up and landed on the wire fence beyond, it was followed by a second Dartford Warbler, male & female. The female was carrying food in her bill. Then they zipped off back further and disappeared into the gorse beyond, presumably off to feed a hungry brood somewhere.

The approaching cloud was getting steadily darker now, and we could hear the first rumbles of thunder. We knew we only had a very limited time before it was likely to rain. We walked quickly round to see if we could get a better look at the Dartford Warblers, but it was increasingly clear that rain was imminently coming our way, so we had to give up and head straight back to car. It was already spitting but we arrived just in the nick of time, as it started to rain properly.

It was a shame we did not have more time to explore the Heath properly today, but at least we had seen the Dartford Warblers. We drove down to the coast in the rain, but it was already starting to ease when we got down to the car park at Cley Marshes. We headed into the visitor centre to use the facilities and when we came out again the rain had already stopped. Even better, the sky seemed to be starting to brighten again beyond. We decided to have an early lunch outside on the picnic benches and it was sunny again by the time we finished.

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve and walked along the boardwalk to the main hides. There were lots of House Sparrows chirping away in the bushes by the drainage channel and several House Martins hawking for insects low over the grazing marshes. A Little Egret flew overhead, heading west presumably to feed and was passed by another heading back in towards the nesting colony.

At Dauke’s Hide, there were lots of Shelduck, both adults and a large gathering of small juveniles. At first, they were swimming and feeding feverishly, heads under the water, while a pair of adults stood preening on an island a short distance away. When the juveniles went over to join the adults on the island, we could count there were a whopping 18 of them in total.

ShelduckShelduck – this pair were looking after 18 small shelducklings

However, on closer inspection it was clear the juvenile Shelducks were of two different ages, some slightly smaller and darker and others a little bigger and more faded. They were presumably two different broods which had been creched together, with one unfortunate set of parents inheriting childcare duties for the whole lot!

There are always lots of Avocets on the scrapes at this time of the year. There were several still on nests, but there was one juvenile out on Simmond’s Scrape, a little bundle of fluff with long legs and uptilted bill.

The young Avocets are very vulnerable to predation and invariably suffer high losses – this one was allowed to wander off on its own with what was presumably one of its parents standing and preening on one of the islands some distance away. All the adults would periodically take off calling noisily and attempt to chase off whichever potential predator was approaching, a crow, a large gull or a raptor passing overhead. Meanwhile, the youngsters are left behind, even more vulnerable – the Avocet approach to childcare!

AvocetAvocets – dropping back down after attempting to chase off a Marsh Harrier

There was a nice selection of other waders on Simmond’s Scrape today. A Little Ringed Plover was creeping around on the edge of one of the nearer islands, and through the scope we could see its bright golden yellow eyering. Two Common Ringed Plovers were out on the mud further back, their slightly small size and dark appearance suggesting they were most likely of the tundrae race, far northerly breeders passing through.

There were several Redshank out on the mud too but one bird near them was similar but subtly different. Slightly smaller, shorter billed, with less bright legs, it was a female Ruff, in summer plumage, marked with black on its upperparts. A smart Lapwing on the bank in front of the hide looked especially striking, its glossy iridescent green upperparts shining bronze and purple in the sunshine.

LapwingLapwing – irridescent in the sunshine in front of Dauke’s Hide

There were several Marsh Harriers passing back and forth over the reeds at the back, or flying high over the scrapes, much to the annoyance of the Avocets. We watched a male Marsh Harrier dropping in towards the reedbed carrying some food in its talons, but it dropped straight in out of view and didn’t call the female up for a food pass this time.

A Skylark gave us some nice views as it fed on the bank in front of the hide and a Starling, also looking glossy in the sunshine, was picking around in and out of the mud on the edge of the ditch. We could head a Pied Wagtail calling on the roof of the hide, somewhere above our heads, before it flew off across the scrape.

StarlingStarling – also looking very glossy in the sunshine

As we came out of the hide, a Kestrel was hovering over the marshes just beyond the reeds. We headed back to the car and round to the East Bank next. It was beautifully sunny again, but with the wind having picked up quite a bit after the rain, it at least meant it was a bit fresher than this morning.

KestrelKestrel – hovering over the grazing marshes by the hides

There was a nice selection of ducks on the grazing marshes from the East Bank. Three Common Pochard were diving on the pool on the edge of the reeds as we passed, including two rusty headed drakes.

Common PochardCommon Pochard – three were on the pool by the East Bank

There were several Gadwall and Shoveler down in the grass and around the small muddy pools. When we got to the Serpentine, we stopped to look at a couple of drake Teal feeding on the water. Presumably these are late birds or ones which have decided not to head north for the breeding season this year. Similarly, three Wigeon were asleep on the muddy bank at the northern end of the Serpentine, whereas most of their brethren which were here through the winter have long since departed for Russia. A pair of Tufted Duck were diving nearby and there were plenty of Greylag Geese together with well grown juveniles on the grass.

GadwallGadwall – one of several drakes out on the grazing marsh

The grazing marshes are still looking nice and wet, which should be encouraging for the breeding Lapwings and Redshanks. From time to time a male Lapwing would fly up and start to display, singing and tumbling in the air. A careful scan round the edges of Pope’s Pool produced a rather distant Greenshank asleep. Three Ringed Plovers on the mud on the edge of the Serpentine also looked to be dark northern breeding Tundra birds.

Lapwing displayingLapwing – displaying over the grazing marshes

A Grey Heron was lurking motionless on the edge of the reeds at the back of Pope’s Pool, presumably waiting for an unsuspecting fish in the ditch below. A few Little Egrets were flying back and forth over the marshes, coming to and from North Foreland Wood. A couple of Cormorant were asleep on one of the islands in Pope’s Pool along with a selection of big gulls – Herring, Great Black-backed and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.

We got out of the sun and wind and had a nice sit down in the new shelter opposite Arnold’s Marsh. Two Little Terns were standing on the small shingle island towards the back. There were a few more waders on here today. A Grey Plover on the edge of the saltmarsh was still mostly in grey winter plumage. A Knot was starting to look rather orange underneath as it moults into breeding plumage and was accompanied by six summer Dunlin sporting black-bellies. There was no sign of the Little Stint reported here earlier, but there were clearly more small waders in the saltmarsh vegetation right at the back which were proving hard to see – from time to time we got a glimpse of 3-4 Turnstone and 4 more Ringed Plovers.

Continuing on to the beach, we had a quick look out to sea but there was not much happening today – it was rather windy here now. We turned to walk quickly back, heads down into the wind . When we got back to the car the afternoon was already well advanced, and with the group tired after all the walking in the sun, we decided to call it a day and head for home.

24th May 2017 – Two Nightingales Sang…

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day. We had a list of potential target species to look for, an interesting mix of lingering winter visitors and scarce breeding birds.

Our first stop saw us looking for Nightingales. As soon as we got out of the car, we heard one singing. We walked round to the other side of the trees, but it had chosen a really dense clump of bushes to sing from today, so it quickly became clear we wouldn’t be able to see it unless it moved. We stood and listened to it for a few minutes, such a beautiful song, then decided to try looking for another one instead.

As we walked up the lane, there were lots of warblers singing in the hedgerows. A Willow Warbler perched high in the bare branches of a tree. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from a hawthorn and we had a typical glimpse of it as it shot out and disappeared down into the ditch beyond. Several Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a Reed Warbler were all singing too.

When we got to the trees, we could just hear the other Nightingale singing. It has a spot which it favours where it is possible to see it, but it was much deeper into the wood today. It quickly went quiet so we stood and scanned the trees while we waited for it to start up again. A large Cockchafer flew around the bushes in front of us. When the Nightingale did start singing again, we could hear that it had moved and it seemed to be back in its favourite spot. Sure enough, there it was, perched in a tangle of dead branches and brambles, in the sunshine.

6O0A1906Nightingale – great views of this one singing today

We watched the Nightingale for a while, as it perched singing or hopped between the branches. When it finally dropped down into the thicket out of view, we decided to move on. It had been a great way to start the morning.

One of the requests for the day was to try to find a Firecrest. They are patchily distributed in North Norfolk, and it is not the easiest time of year to look for one, but we thought we would give it a go anyway. We parked up on the Holt-Cromer ridge and set off to walk to an area where we know they are present.

As we made our way towards the trees, we passed through an area of fields. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a hedge and we could hear a Yellowhammer calling quietly. A quick scan and we caught sight of its bright yellow head, a smart male perched in the bushes. A couple of partridges flushed from the edge of a field and landed in the open briefly, before scurrying into cover, just long enough for us to see they were Grey Partridges.

When we got to the edge of the trees, a Garden Warbler was singing but well hidden from view, as was a Goldcrest too in the tops of some pines. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us and we could hear a pair of Bullfinches calling plaintively, but the trees were too thick here to see anything.

We continued into the wood, to an area which we know the Firecrests favour. It was already getting quite warm now and it was fairly quiet deep in the trees. We walked up a ride flanked by firs and, when we got to the far end, we heard it – a brief snatch of song, a Firecrest. It sang twice more, just enough for us to get a rough fix on its location, and then went quiet. It seemed to be singing in a tall fir tree a short way into the wood, surrounded by deciduous trees. We scanned the bits we could see, but the Firecrest was probably in the top, which protruded above the canopy and into the sunshine.

As we stood and waited to see if it would sing again, we noticed a falcon circling behind the trees. It was a Hobby and as it drifted out into view we noticed that there was a second Hobby with it. We watched as they circled high overhead, before disappearing behind the trees again. A Common Buzzard drifted over too, and a little later, on our way back, we would see a Red Kite over the trees as well, all enjoying the rising thermals.

6O0A1915Hobby – a pair circled high over the trees

The Firecrest sang another couple of times, and it was clear that it was moving about in the canopy, but it was still impossible to see it, looking up from below the trees. When it sounded like it had moved towards the firs bordering the ride, we went back out and scanned the trees from there, but there was still no sign of it. Then it went quiet and we decided to give up. It was good to hear it singing, but it would have been nice to see it.

As we walked back out of the wood, we came across a family of Treecreepers. A Goldcrest was collecting food and taking it back into a fir, where we presume it had a nest. A Jay flew across the path ahead of us. As we walked back to the car, we could see the two Hobbys still hawking for insects over the ridge.

Stock Dove was another target and as we got back to the car, we could hear one calling from the trees nearby. We were not going to be able to see it in there, but thankfully a second Stock Dove appeared on the wires next to the road, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. The two Stock Doves whooped to each other, before the one on the wires flew off towards the trees.

6O0A1926Stock Dove – perched on the wires next to the car

We made our way round and up onto the Heath next. It was really starting to warm up now, but there were still a few Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing in the trees. We flushed lots of Linnets from the gorse as we walked round, thankfully still a fairly common bird on the heaths although now much more scarce in its traditional farmland habitat. A Kestrel was hovering over an open clearing and as we looked over towards it, we could see a pair of Hobbys circling high beyond, perhaps the pair we had seen earlier working their way along the ridge.

6O0A1929Linnet – still a common bird up on the heaths

Dartford Warbler was one of our targets here, but all was quiet at the first spot we tried. We carried on round to another location where we know they are feeding young at the moment, which should give us a better chance to see them. On the way, we passed through an area where the Woodlarks like to feed, but there was no sign of them either. Someone else looking for them told us that a large group of people had been through here just a little earlier, so the birds had probably been disturbed.

At the next location for Dartford Warblers, it all seemed quiet too, at first. We stood and listened for a minute where they had been a couple of days ago, then decided to have a quiet walk round their territory. As we were walking along a narrow path, the male Dartford Warbler suddenly flew up in front of us singing, hovering in mid air for a second or two, before dropping back behind some tall gorse. We crept round the corner, and there it was, in the gorse just a couple of metres away from us. Stunning!

6O0A1942Dartford Warbler – the male, collecting food

We followed the Dartford Warbler for a few minutes at a discrete distance, as it crept through the gorse, collecting caterpillars. We had some fantastic views of it. Occasionally, it would stop just long enough to deliver a short burst of song, before carrying on the hunt. Finally, when it had collected a bill full of food, it went zooming off over the heather, to deliver it to its hungry brood.

There is another area where the Woodlarks have been collecting food recently, but they weren’t there either. We thought they might be back at the first place we had looked, after a while left in peace, but we still couldn’t find them. We were just about to give up when we heard a Woodlark calling quietly. A careful scan, and we found it perched on a fence post a short distance away. We had a good look at it through the scope before it dropped down to the ground out of view.

It was time for lunch now, so we dropped back down to the coast and along to Cley, where we could sit out on the picnic tables and enjoy the fine weather. After lunch, we had a scan of the scrapes from the visitor centre, and looked at the sightings board, but there didn’t seem to be much on the reserve today, so we decided not to go out to the hides.

Bearded Tit was another target for the day, so we headed round to have a walk out along the East Bank to see if we could find one. A leucistic drake Common Pochard on one of the pools was a bit of an oddity – an interesting bird to see. There were a few Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds as we walked out, and a Reed Bunting or two as well, but no sound of any Bearded Tits at first. Despite the lack of wind, it was perhaps just too hot now, in the early afternoon.

There were more birds around the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh. Several Lapwings and Avocets were down in the grass, a few Common Redshank were calling and displaying. A single Ringed Plover was feeding along the edge of the Serpentine.

6O0A1958Lapwing – on the grazing marsh from East Bank

There were more ducks here too. Several drake Gadwall were chasing round after a female, pursuing her remorselessly all over the grazing marsh and out across the reedbed. As well as the regular Mallard and Shoveler, there were some late winter visitors too. A single drake Eurasian Teal and a lone Wigeon should probably both have been on their way north to breed already.

We were almost at the main drain when we finally heard a Bearded Tit calling. We stopped and listened for a while, and realised there were several birds here, in different places, though they were only calling occasionally. We had frustrating brief glimpses of a couple of birds zipping distantly over the tops of the reeds, which were hard to get onto, until a male Bearded Tit flew up from the reeds close to the near edge and flew off away from us, giving us a nice long flight view. It looked like that would have to do today, better than nothing.

There was a lot of heat haze looking out across Arnold’s Marsh this afternoon. We had heard a Little Tern calling as we walked out and could see one resting on the small island out towards the back. A party of Turnstones appeared on the island too, several in bright summer plumage, looking more appropriately like their full name, Ruddy Turnstone. Three Dunlin were with them, two with their summer black bellies. A careful scan round the edges revealed a single Grey Plover, still in its rather grey winter plumage.

We carried on out to the beach and took a look out to sea. It was very calm today, but there was some sea fret hanging distantly offshore, partly obscuring the wind turbines. There were a few terns offshore, flying back and forth, some carrying fish. Mostly they were Sandwich Terns, but a pair of Little Terns were fishing close inshore and a single Common Tern flew past. Looking further out, on the edge of the fog, we spotted a long line of black ducks flying past. They were Common Scoter and there must have been at least 80 of them. Presumably they were making their way back north for the breeding season.

There were a few butterflies out today in the sunshine – mostly Peacock, Red Admiral and the odd Small Tortoiseshell. We also saw a couple of Painted Ladys on our travels today and, out along the East Bank, our first Common Blue of the year. The numbers of dragonflies are finally increasing now too, in the warm weather, with Four-Spotted Chaser and Blue-tailed Damselfly along the East Bank today.

6O0A1964Common Blue – our first of the year, along the East Bank today

As we walked back along the East Bank, we bumped into one of the reserve volunteers who mentioned that he had seen a Bearded Tit along the edge of the ditch further back. So, as we made our way along, we scanned the bottom of the reeds and sure enough we found it, working its way along the edge of the water, in and out of the reeds. It was a female Bearded Tit.

When we quickly lost sight of it behind some taller reeds along the front edge of the ditch, we could hear another Bearded Tit calling and looked across to see it fly in and land down on the edge of the ditch just a few metres away. We walked back to look for that one, and just at that point it climbed up the reeds carrying something in its bill. It was a cracking male Bearded Tit, with powder blue head and distinctive black moustaches. It perched up in full view in front of us for several seconds, looking round, before flying off back over the reeds.

6O0A1966Bearded Tit – this smart male was collecting food along the ditch

It was great to get such a great view of a Bearded Tit, and a smart male to boot. Worthy reward for our perseverance! With that mission accomplished, we headed back to the car. There were still a few odds and ends on the target list, so we made thought we could squeeze in a quick couple more stops before the end of the day.

We drove back along the coast road to Kelling and had a quick walk down the lane to the Water Meadow. There were a few warblers singing in the hedges beside the lane, despite it being the middle of a hot and sunny afternoon – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. We had hoped to find a Lesser Whitethroat along here, but there was no sign or sound of it here this afternoon.

6O0A1985Chiffchaff – singing in the hedge along the lane this afternoon

There were just the usual ducks on the Water Meadow, a pair of Gadwall, three Mallard and a lone drake Shoveler. One of the resident Egyptian Geese was guarding a gosling in the grass on the edge of the water. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pool. This is often a good spot for Yellow Wagtails in spring, but the grass is rather tall this year making them hard to see. As always, we had a careful scan around the feet of the cows and were duly rewarded with a pair of Yellow Wagtails flitting around the legs of one of them, before the cows moved back into the long grass.

Brent Geese are a common sight around the coast here in winter, but the vast majority of them have now departed on their way back to northern Russia for the breeding season. It is still possible to find the odd one or two with a bit of luck, so we decided to have a look in Blakeney Harbour to finish the day. As we made our way down the path towards Stiffkey Fen, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes the other side of the road, but there was no way to see it from where we were and it seemed to be moving further back into the trees before it went quiet.

When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was already pretty high in the harbour. There was a big party of Oystercatchers gathered to roost out on the edge of the water, but we couldn’t see any Brent Geese where they have been recently. The Fen itself also looked pretty quiet today, with most of the winter waders having departed. There was a single Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands, plus three Common Redshanks which flew off from the edge of the reeds, and plenty of Avocets.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull in with the roosting Herring Gulls was a useful addition to the day’s list and a smart summer adult Common Gull was out on the water just beyond the reeds. A pair each of both Sandwich Tern and Common Tern flew in from the harbour and circled over the pool.

6O0A1990Common Tern – a pair flew in from the harbour and circled over the Fen

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees beyond the Fen, but Brent Goose was our target here, so we focused our attention on trying to find one. Scanning carefully over the saltmarsh finally paid off when we located two Brent Geese feeding in the grass away to the west. Another one for the list and a perfect way to round off the day.

21st May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, our last day. It was lovely weather to be out and about – lots of sunshine and only patchy cloud, and a light SW breeze to keep the humidity down.

We started the day with a walk out over the grazing marshes at Burnham Overy. There were lots of warblers singing in the hedges, but they weren’t all making themselves easy to see today. A Blackcap was hiding in the bushes from where it we could hear its melodic song, and the Common Whitethroats were being unusually skulking this morning too. A Cetti’s Warbler typically shouted at us from deep in the undergrowth. A Chiffchaff was more amenable, working its way round the leaves in the tops of an oak tree, alternating looking for food and singing.

6O0A1627Chiffchaff – singing in the top of an oak tree by the path

There were plenty of Sedge Warblers along the path too, and even they were not posing quite as well as they normally do today. A Lesser Whitethroat stuck its head out of a hawthorn briefly, then flew round across the path and into another bush.

An approaching family party of Long-tailed Tits gave themselves away with lots of calling, and we stopped and watched them as they fed in the bushes next to us for a short while, the adults busy collecting food and the sooty faced juveniles begging noisily. As quickly as they arrived, they then departed across the path and away down the hedge line.

6O0A1655Long-tailed Tit – a juvenile enjoying the morning sun in the hedge

Stopping to scan the grazing marshes, we could see lots of geese out on the grass – with the winter geese now almost entirely departed, they were mainly Greylag Geese but also several Egyptian Geese with them. There were waders too, Avocets nesting round the little pools which had benefited from some overnight rain, plus a few Lapwings, Oystercatchers and a Redshank, all of which breed here.

Looking ahead, a large white shape in one of the deeper pools further along was a Spoonbill, feeding vigorously, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round. We hurried along to where we were alongside it and had a fantastic view of it. It was an adult, with mustard wash across the breast, shaggy crest and, when it lifted its head occasionally, a yellow tip to its black bill.

6O0A1683Spoonbill – feeding in one of the shallow ponds by the path

Some video of the Spoonbill feeding is below:

Eventually, the Spoonbill walked up out of the pool and across the grass, descending into another pool a little further back, so we moved on. A Reed Warbler was singing from the feeds by the ditch as we got to the gate at the far end, and another two Reed Warblers were chasing each other round on the other side of the path. Finally, we found a Sedge Warbler performing as they should, perched high on some brambles, out in the open, singing away.

Climbing up onto the seawall, we could see across the harbour. The tide was out but there were not so many waders here now, with most of the birds which had spent the winter here having departed north for the breeding season. There were a few more Avocets and Redshanks out on the mud.

As we walked past the reedbed, we could hear a Reed Bunting singing and found it perched on the top of a bush right out in the middle of the reeds. We heard a Bearded Tit ping briefly, but we couldn’t see any sign of it. A Marsh Harrier quartered the reeds at the back.

Continuing on out along the seawall, there were several Linnets in the bushes on the edge of the saltmarsh. A Skylark flew in across the path and landed down on the grass. We managed to get it in the scope, just in time to see a small head appear out of the grass next to it, bill open, begging for food, one of its hungry brood. We could hear a Redshank alarm calling and looked over to see a pair on the grazing marsh not far from the fence. The male, much more heavily streaked with black below, was piping loudly from a tussock, while the plainer female fed quietly in the grass.

6O0A1721Redshank – the heavily marked male was piping loudly

The seawall is a great vantage point, so as we walked, we scanned the skies. A small falcon appeared from the direction of the dunes. It was a long way off, but as it turned and flew west over the boardwalk, we could see it was a Merlin. This is a winter visitor here in Norfolk, so this was a late one, which should soon be on its way back to the moors to breed. We watched as it disappeared off towards Scolt Head. A few minutes later, we picked up another falcon, this time a Hobby, circling over the grazing marshes, hawking for insects. In contrast to the Merlin, the Hobby is a summer visitor here.

We could see quite a number of Swifts in the sky too this morning. They seemed to be on the move today, with birds passing west, occasionally stopping to hawk for insects up and down the seawall. We were almost at the boardwalk when we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked across to see it flying over the grazing marshes. It didn’t stop unfortunately, but continued on west, over the seawall behind us and out across the saltmarsh. Another migrant on its way.

From the boardwalk, we walked east into the dunes. We quickly found our target, Wheatears.  One female was down on the short cropped grass, standing still by the entrance to a rabbit burrow. A second female was perched on a fence post a little further along, by the path. As a group of walkers came along the path towards us, this second Wheatear flicked along the line of posts towards us, before finally flying off back into the dunes beyond.

6O0A1705Wheatear – flushed from along the fence line by a group of walkers

It was nice to see the female Wheatears, but we really wanted to find a male. We walked a little further into the dunes, to an area favoured by Wheatears, and quickly found another two females. As we turned and started walking back, a male had appeared with the female from earlier, on the other side of the fence. It was a cracking bird – with a smart black bandit mask. When it turned, it was rich orangey on the throat and breast – a male Greenland Wheatear. The later migrants which pass through here are mostly of the Greenland race, and the males are more richly coloured below than the nominate form which breeds further south.

Given the sunny weather, there were not surprisingly good numbers of butterflies out in the dunes today. Wall Brown was the most numerous, but we also saw a couple of Small Copper and a single Small Heath. The Cinnabar Moths are also on the wing at the moment, brightly coloured day-flying moths, they are unpalatable to predators.

6O0A1713Cinnabar – a brightly coloured, and unpalatable, moth

We would not be able to explore the dunes fully today, so we made our way back to the boardwalk and had a quick look out at the beach. Being a sunny Sunday, there were quite a few people – and dogs – out on the sand. We could see a few Sandwich Terns and Little Terns offshore, but as the tide was out, they were quite distant. We turned to head back.

The seawall was very busy now, as we walked back, with lots of people out for a stroll in the sun. A male Reed Bunting perched up nicely for us, singing in the bushes by the edge of the saltmarsh. We got a much improved view of it, compared to the one we had seen distantly out in the the reedbed earlier.

6O0A1718Reed Bunting – singing on the edge of the saltmarsh on the walk back

We stopped again by the reedbed to listen for Bearded Tits. We hoped we might at least hear one and perhaps see one whizzing over the tops of the reeds. A Bittern booming very distantly was a nice bonus while we listened. We heard snippets of Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ at first, but couldn’t see any. Then a male Bearded Tit appeared out in the middle of the reeds briefly, climbing up to the top of a stem, but dropping down again before everyone could get onto it.

We thought that might be the best of it, but we heard more ‘pinging’ closer to us and then another male Bearded Tit came zooming over the reeds towards us. Even better, it came right to the front of the reedbed and dropped down on the edge of grass just below the bank. This time we got a great look at it.

6O0A1731Bearded Tit – this male eventually came right out on the front of the reedbed

It was a real bonus to get such great views of a male Bearded Tit, so we headed back to the car well pleased with the morning’s birding. We made our way round to Holkham for lunch and surprisingly given the weather, Lady Anne’s Drive was not too busy and we were able to get a picnic table. A couple of Jackdaws were hopping over the other tables looking for crumbs. Two Spoonbills flew over while we were eating, heading back to the colony, presumably from the saltmarsh out beyond Wells. We finished our lunch with an ice cream from the van nearby – it felt just like summer in the sunshine!

After lunch, we had a quick walk out west on the inland side of the pines, up to the hides. There were still several warblers singing in the trees – a Blackcap or two, several Chiffchaffs and Common Whitethroats. We could hear more Long-tailed Tits calling from the pines. We managed to find a Coal Tit, up in the top of a tree, calling, where we could get it in the scope.

We were alerted to the presence of a Jay by various birds alarm calling, and it flew towards us and landed in a pine tree. It perched there for several minutes, preening and enjoying the sunshine, before dropping down to the ground and hunting around in the leaf little close by, giving us a great view.

6O0A1745Jay – sunning itself in a pine tree, on the way out to the hides

Up in the Joe Jordan Hide, there was a steady stream of Spoonbills coming & going. Several were bathing and preening on the edge of the pool in front of the hide, and a couple were still collecting nest material around the edge. When two Spoonbills flew up out of the trees, one looked quite a bit smaller than the other. As they banked, we could see that the smaller one had a very short bill. It was a juvenile, one of this years young, already fledged and presumably taking one of its first flights. They dropped back into the trees again.

There was lots of other activity here. Little Egrets were coming and going too, and a Grey Heron flew in as well. There were lots of Cormorants in the trees. A Marsh Harrier gave us a great close fly by, though it was too quick for the cameras – we were a bit slow in the after lunch lull! We could have sat here enjoying the view for longer, but we had one more destination we wanted to fit in this afternoon, so we packed up and walked back to the car.

We made our way back east and over to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the footpath by the road, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the trees on the other side. A male Marsh Harrier circled up over the wood, calling. As we got across the road and onto the footpath by the river, we found a tree had come down across the path. Thankfully everyone was game to clamber over. With the two stiles here as well, it was a bit of an assault course to get to the Fen today!

Down along the edge of the river, there were more warblers singing – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. From the reeds around the edge of the Fen, we could hear Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler too. From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was in now. An Avocet was feeding along the edge of the flooded channel.

6O0A1778Avocet – feeding in the channel below the seawall

We stopped on the bank to scan the Fen. We had glimpsed a Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands on the walk out, but it wasn’t in the same place now. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to find it, on one of the other islands. This is normally a good place for Black-tailed Godwits, but there was only one here today – not in full summer plumage, but this one did at least have some rusty feathering on the breast. The only other waders on here today were the Avocets.

Three Wigeon were feeding on the edge of one of the islands. They are common here in winter, but the vast majority have now left for Russia for the breeding season, leaving just these three behind. Otherwise the Fen was dominated by gulls – as well as the breeding Black-headed Gulls, we could see several Lesser Black-backed Gulls with the Herring Gulls, and a couple of young (1st summer) Common Gulls.

Walking down along the seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the distance. It seemed to be getting a little closer, so we had a scan of the trees on the far side of the Fen. The Cuckoo was perched on the edge of the last tree. We got the scope on it and could see it singing. Then we continued on round to have a look at the harbour.

IMG_4516Cuckoo – singing from the trees beyond the Fen

The harbour looked rather quiet at first, but as we scanned over the remaining mud, we found more birds. There were plenty of Oystercatchers, with a large group roosting on one of the spits ahead of the incoming tide. There are not so many other waders here now, but a careful scan revealed a few still. A little group of Ringed Plover were well camouflaged on the mud, until they moved. Three Dunlin were nearby, all sporting black belly patches now. A smart summer plumage Turnstone appeared on the mud too.

A small group of Brent Geese were feeding on the edge of the water, again late lingering winter visitors (most of the many Brent Geese which are here through the winter have long since departed). There are very few terns on Blakeney Point again this year, after the rat infestation last year caused most of them to decamp to Scolt Head instead. There were two Little Terns resting on the mud on the edge of the water. We got them in the scope and could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

As we started to make our way back, we could hear a Mediterranean Gull calling. Up on the seawall, we stopped to scan the Fen, and heard what we presumed was the same bird calling behind us, over the edge of the harbour. We looked round to see a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull flying across over the saltmarsh. It circled round, encountering some half-hearted aggression from a couple of the Black-headed Gulls, before flying in over the seawall to the Fen. When it dropped down onto one of the islands, we noticed there was another 1st summer Mediterranean Gull on there already.

6O0A1787Mediterranean Gull – a first summer which dropped in to Stiffkey Fen this afternoon

Unfortunately, it was now time to be heading back. On the way, there were several butterflies in the brambles, Peacocks and Red Admirals enjoying the afternoon sun. In the field by the layby, we could see two Red-legged Partridges and several Brown Hares hiding in the fast growing wheat.

6O0A1800Red Admiral – enjoying the afternoon sun on the brambles

It had been a very enjoyable day’s birding today, in the sunshine, to round off a very productive three days. We made our way back to Wells, to end the tour.

20th May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather forecast for today was much better – sunshine & showers. We saw some nice sunshine and managed to dodge the showers later in the afternoon. All in all, not a bad day to be out.

As we drove east from our meeting point in Wells, we took a detour inland. A male Marsh Harrier was quartering the field next to the road as we pulled into a convenient layby next to some farm buildings. A quick scan of the roofs and we located a Little Owl in one of its usual spots. It was rather distant today, unfortunately, and there was quite a bit of shimmer already rising from the concrete between us and it. Still, we got an OK view of it through the scope and it was a nice way to start the day.

Continuing on our way east, away from the coast, we turned into a quiet lane and found somewhere to park. A Grey Heron circled over as we set off up the lane. There were lots of warblers singing in the hedgerows here. A Willow Warbler was in full voice high in the bare branches of a tree. A Common Whitethroat sang its scratchy song from the hedge and a Sedge Warbler was rattling away in the damp field beyond. There were several Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs too.

6O0A1460Grey Heron – circled over the lane this morning

As we approached a block of poplars, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and looked round to see it drop out of the trees and down into a clump of sallows in the field. A Green Woodpecker was laughing from the poplars here too. Another Marsh Harrier quartered over the back of the meadow.

Walking on beside the wood, we heard the beautiful sound of a Nightingale singing. It was still some way ahead of us and just singing little snippets at first. As we walked towards the song, a bird flew out of the hedge ahead of us and across the road, flashing an orange-red tail in the morning sunshine. It was a Nightingale, but not the one we could still hear singing in the same place it had been. Nightingales can be rather elusive and we thought that might be the only sight we had of one today, and not everyone had seen it.

We continued towards where the song was coming from and found a convenient gap in the hedge. As we looked over, we could just see a shape perched in the sun – the Nightingale – but it saw us too and dropped straight back into cover. It was in a thicket of brambles and cut branches and for several frustrating minutes we could just see it moving around in the undergrowth as it sang. Then it came out into full view again and perched where we could all see it on a fallen tree trunk.

6O0A1483Nightingale – singing and enjoying the morning sunshine

The Nightingale kept hopping down into the thicket but then returned to the fallen tree trunk or a bare branch nearby. We had a great look at it as it perched in the sunshine singing. Eventually, it dropped back into the thicket and we decided to make our way back to the car. As we got back, we could hear another Nightingale singing in the copse next to where we had parked. We stood and listened to that on too, for a few minutes, before tearing ourselves away.

Our next destination was up on the Heath. As soon as we got out of the car, we could hear a Yellowhammer singing. We looked round and quickly located a bright yellow-headed male perched in the top of a yellow-flowered gorse bush. We had a really good look at it through the scope, before it dropped down to the ground beyond.

IMG_4381Yellowhammer – a smart yellow-headed male, singing by the car park

The Heath was alive with warbler singing too this morning, probably making up for time after the cold and damp weather yesterday. A Blackcap was singing in the trees in the car park. As we walked up the path, we could hear the sweet descending song of a Willow Warbler. A Common Whitethroat was scratching away on top of some brambles. A Chiffchaff was chiffing and chaffing in the birches.

There is no shortage of Linnets on the Heath and everywhere we went we encountered little groups of them, perched in the gorse or up in the trees. Several already had young. Linnet used to be a common farmland bird but sadly they are now much scarcer. Thankfully they still do well in certain places here, particularly on the heaths and the coastal dunes.

6O0A1499Linnet – still a common bird up on the Heath

There was no sound from the Dartford Warblers at the first place we tried, so we made our way round to the other side of the Heath to try our luck there. On our way, a Woodlark flew across and landed on the side of the path ahead of us. We got it in the scope and watched it walking along, picking at the vegetation along the side. It was collecting food for its hungry brood of youngsters somewhere – we could see it already had a caterpillar in its bill.

It was busy on the Heath this morning and a large and noisy group appeared at the other end of the path. The Woodlark ran into the vegetation bordering the path and then flew up and over onto some rough ground beyond. As we walked on towards where it had landed, we could just see it standing on a clod of earth, before it took off. A second Woodlark took off too, it had obviously been collecting food nearby, and the two of them disappeared off over the Heath, calling, just as the large group walked up the path.

6O0A1510Woodlark – collecting food for its young

There were thankfully no crowds of people in the place where we hoped to find the Dartford Warblers today. Unfortunately, at first, there were no Dartford Warblers either! We had to content ourselves with watching a family group of Stonechats – a pair with at least two streaky juveniles. The male Stonechat then appeared on the gorse in front of us and started singing and song-flighting.

Just as we thought our luck might be out, a Dartford Warbler appeared, thought it was too quick as it darted into the gorse nearby. It wasn’t going to give itself up easily, and after a minute or so, we all got a brief view of it as it flew across the path in front of us and disappeared back down into the gorse. We stood staring into the bushes where it had gone but it didn’t come back out.

We really wanted a better view of a Dartford Warbler, and eventually another one appeared on the other side of the path. We tried to follow this one for a while, but again, all we got at first were very frustrating glimpses as it hopped up onto the top of the gorse, saw us, and darted straight back into cover. After we saw it disappear over the bushes a short distance away, we heard it singing. Hurrying along to the corner, we could finally see it, a male Dartford Warbler, picking around in the yellow flowers in the top of a gorse bush. It fed here for a minute or so, before zooming off back past us with something in its bill.

6O0A1518Dartford Warbler – played hard to get, but finally gave itself up for us

There has been an Iberian Chiffchaff at Walsey Hills, near Cley, for the last five days and it was reported to be singing again this morning, so we thought we would just have enough time for a quick visit there before lunch. Iberian Chiffchaff is very similar in appearance to our Common Chiffchaff, but has a very different song (not just a Spanish accent!!), so it was most important to hear it.

However, when we got there nothing had been heard from it for over half an hour. We stayed a few minutes, listening to several Common Chiffchaffs singing away, as well as a Blackcap. It seemed like it had gone quiet, so we reasoned we would be better going for lunch first and having another go afterwards.

6O0A1520Common Chiffchaff – singing away at Walsey Hills, instead of the Iberian Chiffchaff

We ate our lunch at the picnic tables in front of the visitor centre at Cley, a nice place to sit in the sunshine. Then after lunch, we drove back and parked by the East Bank, before walking along to Walsey Hills again. A Tawny Owl hooted from North Foreland wood as we walked in along the path. It turned out it had been the right decision to go for lunch, as the Iberian Chiffchaff had still not been heard again. We had a quick walk through the trees and up round the hill at the back, but we couldn’t hear anything either.

It felt like we were out of luck with this one, so rather than waste too long here, we decided to do something else instead. We walked back past the small crowd waiting patiently by the willows at the back of the trees and up the path towards the road. We were almost out of the trees when we heard the Iberian Chiffchaff singing right by the path.

Unfortunately, it was in a thick clump where we couldn’t see it. The Iberian Chiffchaff sang six or so times in succession – a combination of ‘chiff, chiff, chiff’, ‘hweet, hweet, hweet’ and ‘ti-tu, ti-tu’ and various mixtures thereof, very different from the rather monotonous ‘chiffing’ and ‘chaffing’ of our Common Chiffchaff, then it went silent again, just before everyone the crowd from further back could make it over to where we had found it. We gave it a few minutes, then decided to leave them to it.

A brief light shower passed over, so we collected our coats on the way back past the car, and headed out along the East Bank. A Lapwing was feeding in the wet grass below the bank and several more were displaying further over, the males tumbling and rolling in the sky as they sang their distinctive song. There were several Redshanks down in the wet grass too, and one or two of those were singing and song flighting too. A lone female Ruff was hiding in the grass and a single Ringed Plover was preening on the mud at the back of the Serpentine.

6O0A1540Lapwing – feeding in the wet grass below the East Bank

Most of the ducks which had spent the winter here have now departed, but we did manage to find a single drake Wigeon asleep at the back of the Serpentine. A few pairs of Gadwall and Shoveler will presumably be breeding here now. There were also lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes.

On the other side of the path, a pair of Marsh Harriers circled up over the reedbed. We could hear Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds and got great views of a pair of Reed Warblers as they worked their way along the base of the reeds on the far side of the ditch. A Reed Bunting was singing from one of the bushes in the reeds, although it sounded like it had been rather short-changed in the song department, more like just a brief jumble of discordant notes!

6O0A1555Reed Warbler – a pair were feeding in the base of the reeds by the ditch

There were not many waders on Arnold’s Marsh today, apart from Avocets and more Redshank. A pair of Grey Plover over the back were still in winter plumage, in contrast to all the black-bellied birds we had seen yesterday. A pair of Little Terns dropped in to preen on one of the islands and a couple of Sandwich Terns circled overhead calling.

We were on our way to the beach but had just stopped to look at a Meadow Pipit by the path when we heard a Greenshank calling and looked over to see it land in the shallows. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, but it didn’t stay long and quickly flew off again calling.

When we got to the beach, the sea looked very quiet. A couple of Little Terns flew past just offshore, possibly the ones we had just seen on Arnold’s Marsh. A party of nine Brent Geese flew past, surely heading the wrong way? They should be heading off to Russia for the breeding season. We were just having a quick scan over the water when we spotted a large bird circling some way offshore. An Osprey!

6O0A1566Osprey – a nice surprise find, heading west offshore this afternoon

It took a while for everyone to get onto it, but the Osprey gradually worked its way a little closer inshore as it drifted past us. At one point, a Sandwich Tern flew up to it and started mobbing it, hastening it on its way. We watched as it headed off west towards Blakeney Point. An unexpected bonus – Ospreys are not common birds here, just passing through in small numbers.

There had been two Temminck’s Stints reported again earlier today on the reserve, but they seemed to have disappeared and everyone we had spoken to said they had not seen them this afternoon, where they had been on Simmond’s Scrape. We had thought it would be worth looking for them on the Serpentine, but they were not there either. As we were walking back towards the car, the news came through that they were on Simmond’s Scrape again so we headed straight round there.

As we walked into the hide, one of the Temminck’s Stints was picking its way around the edge of one of the islands, creeping about. We had a great look at it through the scope, although it was a little distant for photographs. Our smallest regularly occurring wader species, the Temminck’s Stint was completely dwarfed by a Shelduck which walked past it.

A summer plumage male Ruff appeared – a striking bird with jet black throat, breast and down onto the belly, but with bright rufous-ginger head and neck. It flew over and landed on the same island as the Temminck’s Stint, proceeding to chase it out of its way. The Temminck’s Stint looked tiny, even next to the Ruff.

After a while, the Temminck’s Stint took off and flew across the scrape, landing down in the far corner out of view behind the bank. We thought that would be it until someone in the hide pointed to a bird on one of the closer islands a few seconds later. Yes, it was a Temminck’s Stint, but this was a different one, the second bird. It was much closer to us and we got a great look at this one, much less well marked with black-based summer feathers than the first Temminck’s Stint we had been watching.

IMG_4486Temminck’s Stint – the second one, less well-marked, greyer, than the first

At this point it started to rain, so we stayed in the dry in the hide and had a scan of the scrapes. There were lots of Shelduck and Avocet on here today, but not much else of note. We could hear a Cuckoo calling in the distance. A Little Egret walked out of the ditch in front of the hide, ran across to the edge of the scrape, but then changed its mind and flew across to the far side of the ditch. A pair of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the edge of the water, and perching on the posts in front of the hide.

6O0A1602Little Egret – in front of Dauke’s Hide this afternoon

The shower didn’t last long, but once it cleared it was time to head back to the car and home.

19th May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather forecast was terrible – rain all day and strong winds. Thankfully, once again it was nowhere near as bad as forecast and we had a great day, with over 100 species of bird on the list already!

It was cloudy and spitting with light rain as we made our way west along the coast road. A Cuckoo flew out of the hedge and across the road, right in front of the car, luckily just avoiding us, before disappearing away over the fields. We were heading for Titchwell today, but took a short diversion inland to Choseley. There have been some Dotterel in the fields here in the last few days, something we were keen to see.

It was very wet underfoot, but thankfully not raining, as we made our way to the edge of the field where the Dotterel have been. As we scanned across the stony ground, we could see a few Red-legged Partridges. An Oystercatcher was sitting tight, possibly trying to nest. Then, much further down the field, we found a single Dotterel. We had a look at it in the scope, but it was distant, so we decided to walk down the footpath and have a look from the other end.

When we got to the end of the hedge and started to scan the field, we realised that the Dotterel was very close in front of us. It had sat itself down in among the emerging sugar beet seedlings and was quite hard to see at first, other than through the scope, until it finally stood up. It appeared to be a male, not as contrasting as a female with a streaked cap – the sexes are reversed in Dotterel, so the female is the brighter.

IMG_4244Dotterel – the first we saw this morning, a male

We heard something calling behind us and turned to see another Dotterel flying in. It circled round and landed in the field, even closer to us than the one we had just been watching! Unfortunately, just at that moment, a large group of walkers were coming along the footpath and it took off again. As it did so, a third Dotterel flew in and joined it, and the two of them landed again further down the field.

These two Dotterel were females, so we decided to walk down along the footpath to try to get a better view of them. As we did so, a Corn Bunting flew up from the rough strip on the edge of the field and landed a bit further along, so we could get a look at it. There were a few Yellowhammers around the hedge as we walked along too. A Hobby came zipping in, low over the field behind us and disappeared back towards the barns.

The two female Dotterel were feeding actively, walking quickly along the field, in and out of the ruts, stopping every now and then to look round. We had a great view of them through the scope. We had been watching them for some time, when we noticed them stop and begin to call quietly. The next thing we noticed was another four Dotterel walking up the field towards them, all bright females again. The six of them gradually worked their way back over the field, so having enjoyed such fantastic views of them today, we decided to move on.

IMG_4259Dotterel – one of the six brighter females in the field today

It was cool and damp when we got down to Titchwell but we could immediately hear a Turtle Dove purring quietly. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the overflow car park, but when we got there it had gone silent. We walked round quietly and found it hiding deep in one of the trees, but managed to find an angle from which we got an unrestricted view of it head on. Turtle Doves are such scarce birds these days, it is always a delight to see one.

IMG_4280Turtle Dove – hiding in the bushes in the early rain

On the walk to the visitor centre, we could hear a Song Thrush singing, and eventually found it high in one of the trees next to the path. A Chiffchaff was singing from the sallows, doing a passable impression of its name. There were a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders, although the ones the other side of the visitor centre were being monopolised by several Jackdaws.

Heading out along the main path, we came across a large flock of Long-tailed Tits, a family party with several sooty-faced juveniles. We could hear several Reed Warblers singing from the reedbed and stopped to watch a pair of them clambering around the edge of one of the pools, collecting nest material. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes and we had a glimpse of it as it flew across the pool.

After the rain, the former Thornham grazing marsh pool had at least got a few puddles on it today, which were being occupied by several Shelduck. Several Swifts were hawking for insects over the reeds. There was not much of note on the reedbed pool, just a handful of Tufted Ducks, so we headed for the shelter of Island Hide, stopping briefly to look at a summer plumage Grey Plover on the saltmarsh.

There are a few more waders using the freshmarsh again, now that the water levels have started to drop. There was a nice flock of godwits roosting on the edge of one of the islands, a nice mixture of Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits, the latter having presumably come in from the beach with the rising tide. Running around on the mud nearby, were several Sanderling, moulting into darker summer plumage now, and six black-bellied Dunlin. A flock of Turnstone flew in and whirled round over the islands, but didn’t stop. Over the other side, on the mud near Parrinder Hide, we could see at least three Ringed Plover and a single Little Ringed Plover.

IMG_4306Ruff – a moulting male, with bright rusty head and neck

Needless to say, there is no shortage of Avocet here, although there were some nice ones feeding close in front of the hide. But it was the Ruff which stole the wader show. First, a rusty headed male Ruff appeared on the mud on the edge of the reeds. It was very striking, very brightly coloured but still moulting into breeding plumage and lacking the distinctive ‘ruff’.

When the godwit flock shuffled around and parted, we noticed a second Ruff in amongst them. Even though it was asleep, the wind was catching its feathers and we could see it had a full summer ‘ruff’. It was not as brightly coloured as the rusty-headed male, more subtly white barred with black, but when it woke up we could appreciate just how amazing its ‘ruff’ was. It started to feed and even raised its black crown feathers a couple of times, although it was a bit far away from where we were in Island Hide.

Many of the ducks have departed now, gone north for the breeding season – there were no Teal or Wigeon left here today. However, there are still plenty of Gadwall and Shelduck, plus a few Mallard and Shoveler. A pair of Gadwall feeding right in front of the hide gave us the opportunity to admire the intricacy of the drake’s patterning.

6O0A1327Gadwall – a beautifully patterned drake in front of Island Hide

There were several Common Terns loafing around on the islands. The Black-headed Gulls have taken over the fenced off Avocet Island, and in alongst them we could make out a few Mediterranean Gulls too, blacker-headed and with brighter red bills and pure white wing tips.

There were lots of House Martins and a fair few Swallows too around the reserve today, presumably including many migrants which have stopped off on their way to try to find some food. As we walked round to Parrinder Hide, a group of them were hawking low up and down the water’s edge just below the bank.

We got a better view of the stunning male Ruff from Parrinder Hide, before it flew off to feed on the mud over the other side. The Little Ringed Plover appeared briefly on one of the islands, as did a single Ringed Plover, but neither stayed long enough for everyone to get a good look through the scope.

IMG_4347Ruff – in full breeding plumage, with black-barred white ruff and black crown

There was still some misty dampness in the air, but we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were both quiet today, as we passed and out at the sea, the tide was in. There was still a sizeable group of Oystercatchers gathered on the sand and a large flock of Sanderling whirled round over the beach and dropped down along the shore.

There are still quite a few seaduck here, but the sea was rough today, given the wind, and the scoter flocks were some way out. We did manage to find a distant group of Common Scoter which was still visible on the sea though. A couple of Fulmars flew past with barely a flew of their wings. It was not the weather to be standing around on the beach today, so we decided to head back.

6O0A1353Little Tern – hovering over the Tidal Pools on our way back

As we got over the dunes, a Little Tern was hovering along the edge of the Tidal Pools. Back at the reedbed, we heard a Bearded Tit calling and managed to catch a brief glimpse of a male which shot across the top of the reeds carrying food, although it was too quick for most of the group to get onto. Two gaudy drake Red-crested Pochard had appeared at the back of the reedbed pool.

There seemed to be even more Swifts around on the way back – small groups appeared to be moving through, while others were gathering to feed. We bumped into one of the locals who told us that he had seen a Spotted Flycatcher by the dragonfly pool, so we swung round via the Meadow Trail, but there was no sign of it when we arrived. A Little Grebe was diving out on the water, a pair of Reed Warblers were chasing around in the reeds nearby and a Red Kite circled overhead.

6O0A1401Red Kite – circled over Meadow Trail

After lunch back at the visitor centre and a very welcome warming hot drink, we walked round to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Great Crested Grebe was looking particularly resplendent in its breeding finery. Several drake Common Pochard were asleep around the edge and a single hybrid Pochard x Tufted Duck was diving out on the water. There were lots of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins hawking for insects low over the water here too now.

A quick look over the hedge in the horse paddocks paid dividends, with a single female Yellow Wagtail feeding on the short grass with three Pied Wagtails.

IMG_4367Yellow Wagtail – a female, feeding in the horse paddocks behind Patsy’s Reedbed

There were several Marsh Harriers circling over the reedbed and we watched a male come in over the paddocks from the fields beyond, carrying something in its talons. As it approached the reeds, a female Marsh Harrier circled up and started calling, at which point the male dropped the food it had brought and the female caught it in mid air – a ‘food pass’.

6O0A1408Marsh Harrier – several were flying round over the reeds, including this male

Back at the car park, the Turtle Dove was purring more actively now that the weather had brightened up. We got a great look at it, perched in the top of a dead tree. Then we set off to drive round to Thornham Harbour.

On our way down the road to the harbour, a ghostly white shape suddenly appeared from behind the hedge and drifted across the road in front of us, a Barn Owl. As if by coincidence, one of the group had asked not half an hour earlier whether there was any chance of seeing one this weekend, and we had discussed how the overnight rain last night meant their had to be a possibility one would be out hunting. As if by magic!

We turned round and drove into the pub car park. The Barn Owl was now hunting over the meadow just beyond and we had a great view of it as it worked its way round over the grass. After a few minutes, it dropped down to the ground out of view. When it came up again, we could see it had a large vole in its bill. It flew up over the hedge and disappeared off carrying it, presumably off to feed its hungry brood nearby.

6O0A1434Barn Owl – out hunting early this afternoon, after a wet night overnight

From up in the harbour car park, we could see there were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and sandbanks. Most of the Brent Geese which spent the winter here have already departed back to Russia, and presumably most of these lingering birds should be on their way as well soon. There were also quite a few striking Grey Plovers, with their black faces and bellies now.

We walked up onto the seawall, from where we could get an even better view over the harbour. In the distance, beyond the Brent Geese, we could see three Eider asleep on the sand. They were all young drakes, 1st summers, so have not headed north this year to breed. As we walked along the bank, a female Wheatear flew off ahead of us, flashing its white rump, before landing in a Suaeda bush. Away over the grazing marshes, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the distance.

IMG_4376Wheatear – a female, along the seawall at Thornham Harbour

As we made our way back east along the coast, we headed off inland to see if we could add to our tally of farmland birds. Another Red Kite circled over a field. We could see a pair of Grey Partridge in the distance. A Tawny Owl hooted unseen from a wood. And there were lots of Brown Hares in the fields.

6O0A1449Brown Hare – we saw lots in the fields today

Our final stop of the day was at Holkham. We didn’t have enough time to explore the reserve today, but we stopped at a convenient vantage point overlooking the grazing marshes. A Great White Egret appeared from a ditch, its size obvious even at distance. A second Great White Egret was hiding in a patch of reeds over the other side. A steady stream of Spoonbills was coming and going, but down in the trees we could see three white shapes perched up in the tops. Through the scope, we could see two well-grown juvenile Spoonbills, together with an adult.

There is no shortage of Greylag Geese here at this time of year, and a fair few Canada Geese too. Almost all of the Pink-footed Geese which were here over the winter have departed, back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a very small number remain through the summer, mainly injured or sick birds. We could see two Pink-footed Geese asleep in the grass today, one of which had a damaged wing, presumably having been shot and wounded.

Barn Owls are much like buses, as having already seen one at Thornham earlier, a second now appeared, hunting over the grazing marshes here.It spent some time flying round, covering quite a large area, before the next thing we knew, we saw it heading off purposefully with something in its talons. We watched it fly all the way off towards some distant outbuildings, preumably where it had its hungry brood waiting. Then it was time for us to head off home too.