29th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

Spotted Flycatcher

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

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

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

Stone Curlews 1

Stone Curlews – the pair out in the grass

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

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

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – bathing in the pool in front of Woodland Hide

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

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

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – there were lots of dragonflies out today

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

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

Comma

Comma – posed nicely on the reeds by the path

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

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

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

Great Crested Grebes

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

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

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

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

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

Stone Curlews 2

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

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

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

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

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – perched nicely in the sun

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

Tree Pipit

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

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

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28th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 2

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

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

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower again this afternoon

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

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

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

Jay

Jay – there were a couple out in the cut grass

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

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

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

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

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

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and disappeared behind the trees

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

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

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled in front of the hide

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

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

Ringlet

Ringlet – perched on a leaf by the path

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

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

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

Tawny Owl

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – several flew over us on the main path

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

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

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

Avocet

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

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

Little Gulls

Little Gulls – there were at least 10 here today

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

Ruff

Ruff – rapidly moulting out its ornate ruff feathers already

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

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

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

Pink-footed Goose

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

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

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

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

27th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 1

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

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

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – one of several, singing in a birch tree

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

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

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

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

Dartford Warblers

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

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

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

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

Silver-studded Blues

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

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

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

Nightjar

Nightjar – roosting down amongst the bracken

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

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

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

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

Common Darter

Common Darter – our first of the year

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

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

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

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – asleep at the back of Arnold’s Marsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – we stopped to watch them from the bridge

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

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

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

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

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

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

Avocets

Avocets – loafing on the islands on Pat’s Pool

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

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

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

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – on the island in front of Avocet Hide

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

24th June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 3

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

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

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – in the long grass at Weeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – eventually perched up nicely

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

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

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – fishing on the pool behind the visitor centre

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

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

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

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

Banded Demoiselle

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

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

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

Bittern

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

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

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

Bitterns

Bittern – two recent fledglings on the edge of the reeds

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

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

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the juveniles are well grown now

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

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

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

Hobby

Hobby – catching insects high overhead

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

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

Small Skipper

Small Skipper – with a pale underside to the antennae

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

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

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

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of the pair in the clearing

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

Tree Pipit

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

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

23rd June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 2 & Nightjars

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was another mostly bright and sunny day, with the winds dropping but still with a freshness to the light northerly on the coast.

With the lighter winds, we decided to head up to the Heath this morning. As we got out of the car, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes in the car park. As we set off along the path, we could hear a couple of Common Whitethroats alarm calling in the bushes and one appeared on the outside of a large hawthorn.

As we walked round a small copse of trees, we could hear a Garden Warbler half singing. As we came around the other side, we could see movement in the dense blackthorn beyond and eventually a Garden Warbler stuck its head out. Another was still calling deeper in the vegetation, and it appeared there was a family group in there. We stood and watched for a while and saw three or four Garden Warblers, as well as a Blackcap.

It was a lovely sunny morning, and the Silver-studded Blue butterflies were out in force. This heathland specialist is sparsely distributed so it is always nice to see them when they are on the wing. We also flushed several July Belle moths from the grass, another very localised species.

SIlver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

As we walked round the Heath, we heard several Yellowhammers singing. We eventually found a smart yellow-headed male perched up nicely in the top of a small oak tree. There were lots of Linnets too, which flew up from the heather in ones and twos as we passed.

Dartford Warbler was one of our main targets for this morning, but there was no sign of any at the first site we tried. This pair have already fledged their first brood, so the female is possibly on eggs again which is why they have gone quiet. We tried a second territory, also with no joy, and it was starting to look like we might be out of luck.

Third time lucky. As we walked into the middle of another territory, we heard a Dartford Warbler call and turned to see it fly across across between two large clumps of tall gorse with food in its bill. It flew again and disappeared down into some lower gorse. We repositioned ourselves so we could see where it had gone in from a discrete distance and over the next ten minutes or so we had some lovely views of a pair of Dartford Warblers coming in and out several times. At one point, we had both adults perched up nicely just a few feet apart in the top of the gorse for a few seconds.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – we watched a pair coming in and out of the gorse

We decided to leave the Dartford Warblers in peace and carried on round the Heath. We walked over to a place where several Woodlarks have been feeding recently, but it was very disturbed here today with walkers and cyclists. But as we walked on across the Heath, we looked up to see a Woodlark flying over. It came over our heads, but showed no signs of landing and disappeared away off the edge of the Heath.

A little further on, we stopped to watch a pair of Stonechats. The male kept returning to the top of a small birch tree, while the female was feeding from a perch on the heather below. While we were watching the Stonechats, another bird flew up from the ground and landed on a dead branch close to them. It was another Woodlark. We got it in the scope and could see it was a juvenile, presumably from an earlier brood and now independent.

The Woodlark dropped down to the ground and we carried on along the path, which took us eventually round the other side of the bushes. As we walked past, what was presumably the same Woodlark flew up from beside the path. It was time to make our way back to the car now, but as we walked back we could hear Bullfinches calling. We found them in a birch tree, there were three or four of them, presumably a family group.

There had been a Pied Crow along the coast at Cromer for a few days. This is a species from sub-Saharan Africa, not really a candidate for vagrancy under its own steam. It had most likely travelled here by boat from somewhere, or it might have escaped from a collection. They are smart birds, so we decided to have a very quick look to see if we could see it.

We couldn’t park in Cromer anywhere near the fish & chip shop it had been frequenting, so we stopped in the Runton Road car park further along, where it had also been seen from time to time. We walked a short distance down towards the pier, but we could see several people with binoculars just standing around, not looking at anything. It had been seen first thing this morning, but had flown off and not yet reappeared.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we decided to have a bite to eat back at the car and scan the cliffs to the west at the same time. There were several Fulmars landing on the cliffs and we had great views of them as they flew up and down along the clifftop right in front of us. A single Mediterranean Gull flew past offshore and we could see a few Sandwich Terns out over the sea too. But the only corvids we could see were Rooks and Jackdaws.

Fulmar

Fulmar – flying up and down the clifftop at Cromer

After lunch, we had a quick walk back towards the pier but it was immediately clear the Pied Crow had still not been seen, so we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. It was the right call, as the Pied Crow was not seen again! We made our way back along the coast to Cley.

We parked at Walsey Hills. A pair of Kestrels was alarm calling over North Foreland Wood as we got out of the car. Something had got them really agitated, because they hovered over the tops of the trees and kept swooping down into the canopy. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see what they were mobbing and nothing moved, despite all their attentions. Eventually they landed in the treetops, still calling agitatedly.

As we made our way up along the East Bank, a female Common Pochard with a couple of juveniles was on Don’s Pool. They are a scarce breeder here, so it is always good to see young. We heard a couple of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds below the bank, but they were very hard to see. A male Reed Bunting was much more obliging, as was a Marsh Harrier which perched up in the top of a bush out in the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – perched in a bush out in the reedbed

We heard a Bearded Tit pinging and looked across to see one perched up in the top of the reeds. It didn’t stay long though, and flew off away from us before dropping in out of view. There were a few more Bearded Tits in the reeds further up along the Bank though, so everyone got to see at least one.

A scan of Pope’s Marsh and the Serpentine did not produce anything out of the ordinary – Lapwing, Redshank and some of the commoner ducks. We did spot a Mediterranean Gull flying in from the east, which turned and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh when we got there, and two Common Terns dropped in to join them briefly. A careful scan through the Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls produced four Mediterranean Gulls on here this afternoon, which was a bit of a surprise. There were three very different 1st summers and a 2nd summer too, the latter with a rather adult-like head but still with black in the wingtips.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – gathered on Arnold’s Marsh

The waders on Arnold’s Marsh were mostly Common Redshanks, but a careful scan did produce two Ringed Plovers and a single Dunlin as well. The sea looked fairly quiet, as we got out to the beach, apart from a couple of Little Terns fishing just offshore, patrolling back and forth. A distant Fulmar flew east.

As we walked back along the bank, three Curlews flew in from the east and continued on over the reedbed, possibly birds freshly returned from their breeding grounds further north. Someone walking the other way stopped us to ask if we had seen any Bearded Tits. We were just explaining where we had seen them, when we looked over and saw a pair perched up in the tops of the reeds just ahead of us!

Back at the car, the Kestrels were still alarm calling and we still could not see why. We happened to glance back out across the grazing marshes and saw a large white shape in the distance, at the far end of the Serpentine. A Spoonbill had just flown in, having waited until we had left. Thankfully we had seen plenty yesterday.

Popping into the Cley Visitor Centre briefly, it sounded like there were a few waders out on the reserve, so we decided to head out to the hides for the last hour or so. As we walked out along the boardwalk, four more Spoonbills flew up from out on Billy’s Wash and circled round over the north end of the reserve. Three headed off west, but one circled back onto the reserve.

We went into Dauke’s Hide and a quick scan of the scrapes revealed a small wader on Pat’s – Pool with rusty underparts and a long, downcurved bill. It was a Curlew Sandpiper, a smart adult just starting to moult out of breeding plumage. We had a great look at it through the scope. Presumably it had just dropped in on its way south from its central Siberian breeding grounds.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a smart adult still in breeding plumage

There were a couple of Spotted Redshanks too, one each on Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape. We had much better views of these than the ones we had seen at Titchwell yesterday, looking resplendent in their silver-spotted black breeding plumage. There was a single Ruff here too, another tatty looking individual, rapidly moulting out first its ornate ruff.

Numbers of Black-tailed Godwits here have been building nicely and as we looked through the flock, we spotted one which was decorated with a load of coloured plastic lings on each leg. It was a bit distant at first, but then something flushed all the waders and it eventually landed back down near the front. Now we could confirm one of the rings was lime green with a black ‘E’, which meant it was a nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit from the Nene Washes. We could also see it was carrying a geolocator on one of its rings.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a nominate limosa from the Nene Washes

There are two races of Black-tailed Godwit which turn up here regularly. Most of the birds we normally see are birds from Iceland, islandica. There are only about 40 pairs of Continental Black-tailed Godwit which breed in this country, on the Ouse and Nene Washes, so it is always an interesting bird to see.

A Spoonbill appeared from the reeds in the back corner of Simmond’s Scrape – presumably the one we had seen earlier, doubling back in this direction. There were lots of Teal out on the scrapes too. When we heard Bearded Tit calling close by, we looked out of the flaps on one side of the hide, to see one of this year’s juveniles in the reeds nearby.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile, perched up in the reeds

It was time to head back now. We still had a busy evening ahead and needed to get something to eat beforehand.

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours rest, we met up again early in the evening. Our first target was Little Owl, so we headed up to a regular site for them.

As we got out of the car and started scanning the roofs of the farm buildings, one of the group noticed a bird perched on a wooden crate just across from where we had parked. A Little Owl! We had a good look at it through binoculars, as it stood there looking at us, before it eventually flew back over the field behind and we lost site of it.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a wooden crate near where we parked

We couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the evening. We carried on our scan of the farm buildings, and promptly found another Little Owl sunning itself on one of the roofs. This one we got in the scope. There was also a Red-legged Partridge on the roof of one of the sheds and a smart male Yellowhammer in perched in the top of the oilseed rape in the field next door.

Having scored so quickly with the Little Owls, we moved on to look for Barn Owls next. We had just started to drive round a site where we see them regularly, when we noticed what looked like a piece of white plastic tucked in among the branches of a tree. We reversed back for a closer look and our suspicions were confirmed – it was the almost pure white Barn Owl again.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – the almost pure white bird was out again this evening

We were busy watching the white Barn Owl when one of the group noticed a second, normal coloured Barn Owl flying across the meadows further back. While we were looking at that one, disappearing off over the road on the far side, the white bird took off and flew past us. It quartered the meadow, then flew round and disappeared back behind a line of trees.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – this normal one flew right past us, hunting

We walked back up the road for another look, but there was no further sign of the white Barn Owl. We did find a normal one out hunting. We had great views of it flying round over the meadows, then it came in and flew right past in front of us. It landed on an old pump on the edge of a drainage ditch and stood there for a few minutes looking round.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – landed on an old pump out on the marshes

After a while, the Barn Owl flew back over the marshes and landed in the dead branches right in the top of a line of bushes over the far side. We drove on and when we stopped again, we could see the white Barn Owl again, hunting round a different field this time. We had a quick walk out along the bank which runs round the edge of the marshes here, but there were no more Barn Owls. We did find a nice pair of Grey Partridge in the grass beside the track.

The owls had done us proud tonight, and it was now time to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. We were still walking out to the middle of the heath and not even in position when the first Nightjar called, a touch early tonight. We turned to see it flying across to the edge of the trees.

We walked a short distance further up to where we could see across, and found the Nightjar perched on one of its favourite branches, churring. We got it in the scope and everyone managed to have a quick look at it before it took off again, unfortunately not stopping to pose for photos tonight. We watched as it disappeared off over the heath.

After an early start from the first Nightjar, the others were very slow to get going tonight. It was a clear night, with a very bright half moon and the temperature was dropping too. We walked on to another territory and stood listening. Eventually a Nightjar started churring in the distance, quickly followed by another further over.

The Woodcock were very slow to get going tonight too. Finally we heard a squeaky call and looked across to see two roding, flying in close formation high across the heath with slow flappy wingbeats. They disappeared behind some trees.

Finally, the Nightjar whose territory we had come over to started churring, in a large oak tree out in the middle. We stood and listened and after a while it flew in straight towards us. It flew right round us, flashing the white patches in its wings and the corners of its tail which was held spread out. Great close flight views! It didn’t go over to its favourite churring perch though, but landed down in the gorse just behind us, out of view. A few seconds later it flew out again, right past us, and back out to the oak tree in the middle.

It felt like the Nightjar had come in to check us out. We stood and listened to it churring out in the middle, but it never did come in to favourite its churring perch tonight – perhaps it was put off by us standing there? We could hear two other Nightjars churring either side.

The light was finally starting to fade so it was time to head back. On our way to the car, another different male Nightjar started churring in a tree just above us as we walked past. Unfortunately it didn’t stay for us to find it, but took off, wing clapping, as we walked round to try to look for it. It did serenade us as we walked off the heath though, a good way to end the day.

22nd June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was a lovely sunny day, barely a cloud in the sky, but still rather cool on the coast in a slightly blustery NW wind.

We started the day at Holkham, with a quick look to see if we could find any newly emerged Hornet Moths. There was no sign of any this morning, perhaps it had been a bit cool overnight. A male Marsh Harrier was quartering the grazing meadows as we walked out and a Common Buzzard appeared, circling over on our way back.

The Marsh Harrier decided to mob the Buzzard, swooping at it repeatedly, the latter just deftly jinking out of the way each time. The Buzzard landed and the Marsh Harrier continued its assault and then continued to chase after it as the Buzzard flew off.

As we set off to walk west from Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing in the bushes, presumably starting to sing again between broods. The warblers are generally a bit quieter at this time of year, with breeding in full swing, but we did hear several Blackcap, a couple of Chiffchaff and a distant Willow Warbler in the trees.

With the sun out, the butterflies have started to appear in greater numbers. There were lots of Speckled Wood along the sides of the path, plus good numbers of Meadow Brown and one or two Ringlet too. Our first Small Skippers of the year were feeding on the thistles and clover on the verge.

Small Skipper

Small Skipper – our first of the year this morning

Many of the tits have successfully fledged their first broods now and we came across various family groups in the trees. An adult Coal Tit was feeding a yellow-faced juvenile in the pines above the path. There were several extended parties of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits too. We could hear Treecreepers calling in the trees and eventually one came out onto a pine trunk by the path. The Goldcrests were slightly less obliging, though we could hear them singing high in the pines.

Several Marsh Harriers circled up over the reedbed in front of Washington Hide as we walked out – it looked like the adults were bringing in food for their young. But by the time we got up onto the boardwalk they had gone quiet again. There were two Little Terns feeding on the pool in front of the hide, presumably seeking more sheltered feeding on the pools on the marshes, given the wind whipping up the sea out on the beach. A Jay few across the reeds in front too.

There were a few dragonflies out, as we got towards the crosstracks. A female Black-tailed Skimmer was basking on the path and a female Ruddy Darter flew up and landed in the bracken by the pines. There were several damselflies in there too – both Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – a female by the path

There is a great display of Foxgloves under the pines at the crosstracks at the moment. Having stopped for a second to admire those, we walked up towards the hide. Through the trees, we could just see a Great White Egret flying across the grazing marsh and we managed to keep track of it until it landed in a ditch. From up in the hide, we could see its long neck and long yellow-based bill sticking up out of the vegetation.

It disappeared from view, but a short while later, two Great White Egrets appeared over the grazing marshes a little further back. As they flew across to the trees, a Little Egret appeared in the same view, tiny by comparison.

There were already a few Spoonbills out on the pool below the trees when we arrived, but as we sat and watched, more dropped down to join them. They were mostly recently fledged juveniles, still with their spoon-shaped bills only about 2/3 grown, ‘TeaSpoonbills‘.

Another adult Spoonbill flew in to join them and two of the juveniles immediately set off after it. They were flapping their wings and bobbing their heads up and down and chased it round the edge of the pool for several minutes, begging to be fed, before the adult eventually relented.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – adults and recently fledged juveniles

There was lots of Marsh Harrier activity from the hide too. We watched a male fly in over the trees and, when it got to the reeds the other side, a female circled up out of the vegetation below. The two circled together for a couple of seconds before the male dropped the food it was carrying for the female to catch. She flew back down into the reeds with it.

Another female Marsh Harrier dropped down into the grass in front of the hide and caught something before flying off west with it, presumably with older juveniles in a nest elsewhere. Two Red Kites were hanging in the wind over the edge of Holkham Park.

As we set off to walk back, we could hear a Siskin calling as it circled over the pines at the cross tracks, but we couldn’t see it from below the canopy. A Common Crossbill called too as it flew over the pines, but we couldn’t see that either.

On the walk back, a Large Skipper feeding on the brambles was a nice addition to the butterfly list. We had heard a Reed Warbler singing on the walk out, but it was now joined by a Sedge Warbler, which was singing perched up in a bush nearby. It was a good opportunity to hear the difference between the more rhythmic Reed Warbler and the mad, buzzy song of the Sedge Warbler. A Common Whitethroat showed itself briefly in the ditch by the path back at Lady Anne’s Drive.

We made our way over to Titchwell next, and it was time for an early lunch in the picnic area as we arrived. Several Mediterranean Gulls flew back and forth overhead, along with the Black-headed Gulls.

There has been a family of Tawny Owls hanging around in the trees by the Visitor Centre in recent weeks, and thankfully they were still present today. One of the reserve staff helpfully came out and showed us which tree they had been in this morning and after a minute or so of scouring the branches, the fluffy juvenile was found with the adult hiding in the leaves nearby.

Tawny Owl 2

Tawny Owl – the fluffy juvenile in the alder trees

The juvenile Tawny Owl could be seen moving as it gave a regular begging call, at low volume with the adult close by so you could only just hear it if you listened carefully. The birds were surprisingly mobile too, for this time of the day, although it seemed to be the attentions of the youngster when it hopped between the branches over to join the adult, which prompted the latter to move! As a result, the adult Tawny Owl came right out into the open, giving us fantastic scope-filling views of it. Amazing!

Tawny Owl 1

Tawny Owl – the adult came out into the open several times

We watched the Tawny Owls for a while – it was very hard to tear ourselves away from such fantastic views of this typically very secretive species. Eventually they moved slightly deeper into the trees and we decided to move on.

It was fairly quiet round at Patsy’s Reedbed again today, with just a single Tufted Duck and a couple of Mute Swans. As we walked on towards Willow Wood, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge and we just had a quick glimpse of it as it dropped down into the brambles in the bottom. A Greenfinch was wheezing away in the hedge too.

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the small pool at the far end of the East Trail. Several Four-spotted Chasers chased each other around the margins before perching up on the reed stems. We had a good look at both Azure and Common Blue Damselflies in the grass around the edge. A couple of male Black-tailed Skimmers flitted ahead of us along the path as we walked round the other side.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – one of several on the pool along East Trail

As we walked back past Patsy’s Reedbed, we could hear a Little Grebe laughing at us. We looked across to see two swimming along the edge of the reeds. A family of Common Pochard, a female with four half-grown ducklings, was swimming just ahead of them. Another pair of Little Grebes was on the dragonfly pool by the junction with Meadow Trail, with one of the adults on a nest platform on the edge of the reeds. We could just make out two small juveniles with it. An Emperor Dragonfly was chasing the Four-spotted Chasers around the pool.

Out on the main path, we stopped to scan the reedbed pool. An adult Mediterranean Gull was bathing with a large group of Black-headed Gulls, but there were few ducks to be seen. The reeds were pretty quiet too today, although a Bearded Tit did zip past and dropped down towards the edge of reedbed, unfortunately before anyone could get a look at it.

There was lots more to see from Island Hide. There are plenty of Avocets on the Freshmarsh at the moment, but there still appears to be a distinct lack of juveniles. It will be interesting to see how successful they have been this year, at the end of the season. A smart iridescent Lapwing was feeding just in front of the hide, although it had already lots its crest.

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining in the sun, though having lost its crest already

The Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep on the islands, separate from most of the Bar-tailed Godwits which were huddled together in the shallow water further over. Most of the Bar-tailed Godwits are in non-breeding plumage, although there was just one bright rusty individual, the colour extending right the way down under the tail. When the Bar-tailed Godwits shuffled round and parted, we could see there were quite a few smaller Knot in amongst them, up to their bellies in the water.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits & Knot – roosting on the Freshmarsh

A single Ruff was in with the Avocets on one of the islands. A moulting male, it had already lost its ornate ruff and was looking distinctly scrawny-necked! There was just one Dunlin here today, an adult with a sharply-defined black belly patch. Three Little Ringed Plovers were feeding on the edges of the islands. There is no shortage of Common Redshanks here, but the three Spotted Redshanks were right over in the far corner of the pool, where we couldn’t really appreciate their stunning black breeding plumage.

The Freshmarsh continues to be dominated by gulls. In among the more numerous Black-headed Gulls scattered around the islands, we could see at least ten much smaller Little Gulls, all immature first summer birds. Most of the other gulls were over in the fenced off island at the back and when a Marsh Harrier flew over it caused complete pandemonium, with hundreds of gulls flying round calling. The Marsh Harrier was quickly chased off.

There were a few terns too. A single Sandwich Tern was asleep among the Avocets but eventually woke up long enough to show us its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy black crest. A couple of Common Terns too were hunkered down in the middle of the low rocky island.

The number of ducks continues to increase, particularly as more Teal return to the reserve to moult. Presumably they are failed breeders or non-breeders which return early from their breeding grounds further north. A lone Pink-footed Goose over by Parrinder Hide is an injured bird which was unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed.

On the walk round to Parrinder Hide, we continued to scan the Freshmarsh and were rewarded with a single Ringed Plover out on the mud. From the hide, we had much closer views of the Little Gulls, several of which were loafing on the islands in front or feeding round the edge of the water. We had a better look at some Mediterranean Gulls too, with several flying in to preen with the Black-headed Gulls.

Little Gull

Little Gull – showed very well in front of Parrinder Hide

From round on this side, we could see that several of the twenty or so Knot in with the Bar-tailed Godwits were in bright rusty breeding plumage. The Avocets on the islands here look like they might be about to have another go at raising a family. Two pairs were looking for a suitable nest site, walking round, picking at the ground, tidying up small patches of bare earth. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers also looked like they might be trying to find a suitable spot to nest.

Little Ringed Plovers

Little Ringed Plovers – hopefully looking for a suitable nest site

You can’t come to Titchwell without at least seeing the sea, so we decided to walk out to the beach next. There was very little to see on Volunteer Marsh again today, but with the tide in there were more birds roosting on the no longer tidal Tidal Pools, having come over from the beach. They were mostly Oystercatchers, but in with them we found three Turnstone including one in nice bright rusty breeding plumage. Further over, four black-bellied Dunlin were feeding on the spit.

There were four Little Terns feeding on the Tidal Pools, hovering above the water before plunging headlong in. We got a great look at them from the path.

Little Tern

Little Tern – feeding on the Tidal Pools

There were more Little Terns out at the beach, feeding just offshore. The Sandwich Terns were much more distant though and we picked up an adult Gannet flying west way out on the horizon, big and white, with black wing-tips.

It was time to head back now. A quick look at the reedbed pool again, as we were passing, revealed seven Red-crested Pochards out on the water towards the back now, four males, plus a female with two well grown juveniles. Several Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler were flitting around the pools below the bank now too.

Back at the Visitor Centre, we couldn’t walk past without taking another look at the Tawny Owls again. They were both perched out in full view still, though with the adult having moved to a different tree, some distance away from the juvenile, presumably where it could have a doze without being pestered!

Tawny Owl 3

Tawny Owl – still showing well on our walk back

Eventually we had to drag ourselves away from the Tawny Owls and head back along the coast.

There was a postscript to the tour today. The Peregrine which had been roosting on a church tower nearby regularly last month seemed to have disappeared in the last few weeks. We had dropped half the group off already when we happened to drive past the church and looked up to see it perched in one of its usual spots. We stopped for a quick look. It seemed to be enjoying the sunshine, closing its eyes.

Peregrine

Peregrine – resting on the church tower again

Then it really was time to call it a day!

20th June 2018 – Summer Special

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. The weather was mostly fine and bright, apart from one dark cloud which passed overhead very quickly early afternoon and produced just a few spots of light drizzle, barely enough to notice. But it was very windy all day, which made life difficult at times.

As we drove west along the coast towards Titchwell, our first Marsh Harrier of the day was quartering the fields by the road. A Red Kite hung in the air over a small copse of trees. The raptors were up enjoying the wind.

When we got to Titchwell, a quick walk round the car park before it got too busy produced singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff in the trees, plus a Greenfinch wheezing in the bushes and a couple of Chaffinches and Goldfinches too. A pair of Red-legged Partridges in the field beyond the gates at the far end ran off as we approached. There were just a few tits and finches on the feeders by the Visitor Centre, so we headed straight out onto the reserve.

It was exposed to the wind once we got out onto the main path. We could hear a couple of Reed Buntings and a Reed Warbler singing, but they were keeping well tucked down today. There seemed little chance of finding a Bearded Tit – the one thing they don’t seem to like is wind. We did see a Cuckoo though, which flew across the reedbed and away over Island Hide and out across the saltmarsh.

The reedbed pool held a couple of drake Red-crested Pochard, but they were right out towards the back today. We headed towards the Freshmarsh and the shelter of the hides. As we approached Island Hide, a Common Redshank was fluttering up over the edge of the reeds calling, and was joined by a second. Then we realised why – down on the mud below them were two half grown juveniles.

Redshank

Common Redshank – hovering over its two juveniles on the mud just below

There were a few other waders out on the Freshmarsh, although it was clear that numbers were down this morning, probably due to the wind. About thirty Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep on the nearest island, and in with them we could see a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits too. Even though they were head on to us, we could see their more obvious pale supercilia and slightly upturned bills.

There were only about a dozen Dunlin, and they were all huddled around the rocks along the edge of the tern island. There was no sign of the Curlew Sandpiper though, so presumably it had flown off with some of the other Dunlin. With the strong wind having blown the water away from Island Hide, the few Avocets which were not sleeping were feeding out along the edge of the reeds.

There are lots of gulls out on the Freshmarsh at the moment, with Avocet Island having been taken over by them. In amongst the scattered Black-headed Gulls feeding in the water around the islands, we picked out several Little Gulls. The more we looked, the more we found – there were at least 10 here, all young, first summer birds, with extensive black markings in the wings and lacking the full black summer hood of an adult.

Little Gulls

Little Gulls – three of the ten on the Freshmarsh this morning

A pair of Common Terns were settled down on Tern Island where we could get them in the scope, but a Little Tern flew off past the hide and out towards Thornham saltmarsh without stopping. We headed round to Parrinder Hide, and were rewarded with better views of a Little Tern which flew in and helpfully landed on one of the islands.

A couple of the Little Gulls were feeding right in front of the hide, dipping down to pick insects from the surface of the water or picking round the edges of the islands. We had a great view of the inverted ‘w’ pattern on their wings.

Little Gull

Little Gull – dip feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

There were plenty of other gulls too – a small group of immature Common Gulls, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a few Herring Gulls. A careful look through all the Black-headed Gulls in the fenced off island revealed several Mediterranean Gulls in with them. Through the scope, we could see their jet black hoods with contrasting white eyelids and brighter red bills, as well as their white wing tips.

Duck numbers are increasing again, as birds return from breeding attempts further north. The number of Teal is the most noticeable, and there was a little gang of them asleep on Tern Island, along with Shoveler, Gadwall and a Common Pochard. The ducks are all starting to moult into eclipse plumage too now, losing their smart breeding attire.

A single Brent Goose which appeared on the water behind Avocet Island was a bit of a surprise. There are lots here during the winter, but they should all be up in Russia now. The first returning Brent Geese don’t normally reach here until August, so perhaps this one has decided to stay here all summer. Two Pink-footed Geese swimming over the back of the Freshmarsh and injured birds, probably shot, which are unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed.

There were lots more Avocets on the islands on this side, mostly asleep in a big mob. Once again, there were no juveniles amongst them, although a few looked like they might still be incubating and other pairs were mating or looking for a suitable nest site, presumably getting ready for a second attempt. When a Great Black-backed Gull flew over, all the Avocets woke up and flew round calling, after which several started to feed in front of the hide, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallow water.

We had seen a Little Ringed Plover distantly from Island Hide, but when one flew in and landed on one of the islands just in front we got a much better look at it. We could see its bright golden yellow eye ring.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – flew in and landed in front of Parrinder Hide

The Dunlin out on Tern Island seemed to have woken up and there were more of them now, so presumably some had returned. We could see a slightly larger bird in with them, lacking the Dunlin‘s black belly patch and with a longer and more strongly downcurved bill. It was the Curlew Sandpiper which had returned and was feeding in the water with the Dunlin now, so we had a good look at it through the scope.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – feeding with the Dunlin

Despite the wind, we decided to make a quick pilgrimage out to the beach. There is not much on Volunteer Marsh at the moment, but a quick look over the wall did produce a Lapwing out on the mud, its iridescent plumage shining in the sun.

Lapwing

Lapwing – we admired the beautiful iridescence of its plumage

The tide was in when we got out to the sea, so there were no birds out on the beach. We had a quick look offshore, which produced two or three Sandwich Terns flying past, but little else today in the wind. We decided to head back.

A Reed Bunting had been singing out on the saltmarsh as we walked out, and was still at it as we returned. But now a second male Reed Bunting had appeared and was singing too, in response. This second bird’s favourite song bush happens to be right next to the path, so it regularly attracts a crowd of admirers. It was struggling to hold itself steady in the wind today, but still continued to sing.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – singing on a bush right by the path

Just past the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh, we heard Bearded Tits calling in the reeds. We thought we might get lucky and see one flying across but as we looked over the bank, we noticed a male Bearded Tit shuffling up a reed stem. Despite the wind, it stayed there for several seconds, allowing us to get a great look at it through our binoculars. We could see its powder blue-grey head and black moustache. It then flew towards us and landed in the reeds even closer, but didn’t stay long and then disappeared off round behind the bushes. What a bonus!

From there, we took a detour round via Meadow Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge as we passed, so we stopped to listen. In typical fashion, it stayed well hidden as it sang, but we did eventually see it briefly when it flew out and round the back of the hedge.

There were very few birds on Patsy’s Reedbed today, just a few wildfowl, a Tufted Duck, a family of Common Pochard and a Greylag. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from somewhere in the bushes. The Marsh Harriers put on a good display over the reedbed beyond though. Two different females circled up over different areas of the reeds, before dropping back in.

Then a male Marsh Harrier appeared from the fields inland, flying in over Willow Wood. One of the females appeared out of the reeds and the two circled together before the male dropped its prey for the female to catch. The female disappeared back down into the reeds, while the male headed off inland again to resume hunting. Presumably it has growing young to feed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – several birds put on a good display behind Patsy’s Reedbed

There has been a juvenile Tawny Owl roosting in the trees by the Visitor Centre in recent weeks and a few people were looking for it as we got back to the start of Fen Trail. We couldn’t see it at first, but eventually someone spotted it – there was only a very narrow window where you could see it through the leaves. We got it in the scope, a large ball of fluff just getting some adult feathers.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – this juvenile has been roosting in the trees by the Visitor Centre

After lunch back in the picnic area, we headed off along the coast to Holme. It was very windy when we got out of the car by the paddocks and very blustery up on the coast path. We heard a couple of Common Whitethroats and a single Lesser Whitethroat singing from the bushes, but they were keeping well tucked down out of the wind today.

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees ahead of us, and we had a quick glimpse of it as it flew away, but it then taunted us by singing off in the distance on and off as we walked round. A pair of Linnets were more obliging, perching up in the bushes. The male Linnet was looking particularly smart now, with red breast and forehead spot.

Linnet

Linnet – a pair perched up in the bushes in the paddocks

It was at this point that it started to spit with rain, so we took a detour across to the access road, and headed back to the car just in case. As it was, the clouds cleared through very quickly, before we got there. We headed back along the coast to Holkham for the remainder of the afternoon.

The wind had picked up even more when we got to Holkham, so we were happy to get into the shelter of the trees. An Egyptian Goose was the only bird of note on the new pools by the building site. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge nearby, but there were not many other warblers singing now, as we made our way west.

A Jay appeared low down in an oak tree. There were a few flocks of tits in the trees – family groups of Long-tailed Tits that flicked through the vegetation calling, carrying a few Blue Tits or Great Tits with them already. We heard a Treecreeper singing and stopped to see if we could see it. First one flew across, and then a second, and we could still hear a third calling further back – it seemed like a family party.

The Treecreepers proved hard to see though, until one flew round from the back of the pine where it had been feeding and landed down on the needles right at the base of the trunk. It stretched out and spread its wings and appeared to be sunning itself. It stayed there, splayed out on the ground, for a couple of minutes before it finally took off and flew back into the trees. A couple of Coal Tits were feeding high in the pines above too.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – appeared to be sunning itself at the base of a pine tree

There was nothing on Salts Hole today, so we continued on to Washington Hide. We stood on the boardwalk for a few minutes while we watched a male Marsh Harrier hunting out on the grazing marshes. It dropped down into the grass and appeared to come up with something in its talons, but it was very small.

It couldn’t decide whether to stick or twist – it chased after a Meadow Pipit which flew up out of the grass. When the pipit escaped, the Marsh Harrier flew back in carrying the small morsel it had managed to catch and dropped down into the reeds with it.

The display of Foxgloves is looking very smart now in the pines, but as we walking through them towards Joe Jordan we saw all the Spoonbills taking off from the pool out on the grazing marshes. Something had spooked them and when we got up into the hide we could see what – one of the wardens was driving out to the colony to check up on the breeding birds.

Five of the Spoonbills disappeared straight off over the grazing marshes towards Burnham Overy. Several of the others circled high over the trees – at least we could get a look at them in flight, their necks outstretched, very different from the Little Egrets which were coming and going from the trees too. Just two Grey Herons were left out on the pool, and they were having a dispute over who was going to feed there.

We sat for a while and watched the comings and goings. There were lots of Cormorants on nests out in the trees and more flying back in from the sea. One or two Marsh Harriers flew in and out too and a Kestrel came up from the grass in front of the hide. A Common Buzzard circled up above the trees in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, some of the Spoonbills plucked up the courage to return to the pool. First one flew down and landed on the edge of the water, followed quickly by another four. They were all recently fledged juveniles, still not quite fully grown and with much shorter bills than the adults – TeaSpoonbills!

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – these five juveniles finally returned to the pool

We had a look at the Spoonbills through the scope. They were practising feeding, sweeping their bills from side to side in the water as they walked round the edge of the pool. It was great to see some on the ground.

That was a fitting way to end the day, so we set off back to the car and then on home.