Tag Archives: Arctic Tern

30th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 5

Day 5, the final day of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was a lovely day, with sunshine and blue skies, but a nagging easterly wind picked up during the morning.

Our first destination for the day was Burnham Overy Dunes. As we walked out across the grazing marshes we spotted a lone Whimbrel out on the grazing marshes, so we had a quick look at it through the scope.  A little further along, and a second Whimbrel flew low overhead, then was we rounded the hedge we could see two more on the ground, this time much closer.

IMG_3693Whimbrel – we had a good look at two on the grazing marshes

We got a great look at these last two, and could see their boldly marked heads. We talked a little about the identification of Whimbrel versus Curlew, the different body shape of the two being a good clue to identification, as well as the shorter bill of the Whimbrel. We could see the slim body and long wings of the two Whimbrel out on the grass.

There were other waders out on the grazing marshes too. Three Oystercatchers were asleep, possibly waiting for the tide to go out in the harbour. There were quite a few Lapwings and one or two Redshank. All three of these species breed here, unlike the Whimbrel which are just passage migrants. There were also a few ducks out on the pools, and lots of geese all over on the grass, Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese predominating at this time of year.

The summer warblers are now here in force and singing, claiming their territory and trying to attract a mate. A Common Whitethroat sang from the top of the bushes by the gate and a Chiffchaff was flitting around in a sallow just beyond, helpfully breaking into song just after we had been looking at it. There are lots of Sedge Warblers all along the track here, singing from the brambles by the ditches. A resident Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we approached and we stood for a while to see if we could see it, and it duly zoomed past between bushes a couple of times.

6O0A8963Sedge Warbler – several were singing from the bushes along the track

With the sun out, there were even a few butterflies out today, with both Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell finding some shelter, basking in the wheel ruts out of the wind. We also saw a couple of Small Coppers out in the dunes.

As we approached the seawall, we could head Mediterranean Gulls calling. We looked up to see a couple of them circling over the harbour beyond, their white wingtips flashing bright in the sunshine. While we were watching the Mediterranean Gulls, we noticed Stuart, former proprietor of The Bird ID Company, coming towards us, on his way back from an early morning in the dunes. He stopped for a quick chat about what he had seen.

When we got up onto the seawall, we could see it was high tide. All the mud was covered by water and small groups of waders were roosting around the edges or on little islands of vegetation. There was a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwits closer to us, some already in orange summer plumage, and a few Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover further back.  Some of the Grey Plover were already showing quite a bit of black on their bellies.

IMG_3697

Even though they were asleep, with their heads tucked in, and mostly face on to us, we could see the differences in colour and pattern of the underparts between the summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. A small flock of Knot flew past, with some of them too in orange summer plumage. A few Brent Geese were still lingering in the harbour – they should soon be on their way to Russia for the breeding season.

The dunes here are always full of Linnets and Meadow Pipits and there were quite a few already around the boardwalk bushes, along with a couple of Reed Buntings too. We turned west and headed out towards Gun Hill. On the way, we came across several Wheatears feeding on the short grass, which flew ahead of us flashing their white rumps. A lone Willow Warbler was in bushes, presumably a migrant on its way up to Scandinavia.

There had been a Whinchat here earlier, so we wade a circuit of all the bushes looking for it. While we were walking along a narrow path between clumps of brambles, a female Common Redstart flew down into the path in front of us. It got a bit of a shock when it saw us and darted straight back into a small sycamore, flashing its orange red tail as it went. Unfortunately it was all too quick and impossible for most of the group to get onto on such a narrow path. While they stood and watched from a suitable vantage point, one of us circled round the back and tried to see if the Redstart might fly out again, but it had completely disappeared. Despite looking all round the area, we unfortunately couldn’t relocate it, nor could we find the Whinchat.

From the dunes, we could see several Little Terns feeding out over the harbour. We decided to walk round on the beach to see if any were resting on the stones, but we couldn’t get round the tern fence, which extended right out into the water, not where it is normally put. We did stop and scan the beach from here and found a nice selection of waders roosting out on the point over the high tide. There was a nice flock of Bar-tailed Godwits feeding along the high tide line, including one colour-ringed bird. Subsequent contact with the ringing scheme has revealed it was ringed at Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania in January!

There was also a single Ringed Plover and a smart summer plumage Turnstone with white face and rusty shoulders. A lone Common Sandpiper fed up and down the tide line before flying off across the harbour. A White Wagtail feeding on the beach with all the waders had presumably stopped off to rest on its journey along the coast, a welcome bonus.

6O0A8995Common Sandpiper – feeding on the beach at Gun Hill at high tide

We had to walk back past Gun Hill to get out onto the beach the other side of the point. A large flock of Sanderling was just in the process of being chased off by a couple of people walking along the sand. There were several more Ringed Plover on the beach behind the tern fence, but further along it had been washed away by the tide and more people were walking through the area where the Little Terns should be settling. We notified the wardens and it should be repaired, but it did mean there were no Little Terns on the beach today.

While we were scanning the beach, we spotted three larger terns flying across the harbour the other side of the point, some distance away from us. They disappeared out of sight behind the dunes but a few seconds later reappeared over our heads. They flew straight out across the beach and turned east over the sea. They were Arctic Terns on their migration north, and it turned out there was a huge passage of them today, as we were also to see later. It was remarkable to think that they were on their way north to the arctic having just come from spending our winter around the antarctic ocean!

As we walked back up into dunes, we heard the shrill call of a Yellow Wagtail and looked up to see it flying west overhead. Another migrant on its way, it did not stop but as it came low past us it was the first we were able to get onto properly, and we could see a flash of bright yellow underparts.

We made our way back to the boardwalk and continued on past it, east through the dunes. The wind was picking up now, but in a sheltered spot out of the breeze, we found several more Wheatears feeding. As we were walking past them, we heard a loud chacking call and a Ring Ouzel flew out of a bush and disappeared over the dunes in front of us. We could hear it again round the other side, calling from some more bushes, and as we walked towards the sound it flew again. This time it landed briefly on the top of a dune where we could get a look at it. It was a female, with a poorly marked, dull gorget. It then flew off strongly west over the dunes and disappeared from sight.

6O0A9024Wheatear – there were several in the dunes today

There were plenty of Stonechats in the dunes today – they breed here and we saw males singing and a few females and pairs too. But there was no sign of the hoped for Whinchat on our walk towards the pines. As we approached the west end of the trees, we could hear a Woodlark singing, although we had been expecting it as it had been reported here earlier.

The Woodlark was distant at first, a spot hovering over the dunes, but we got closer and eventually we had it hovering right over ours heads, singing its slightly melancholy sounding song. We also got a great look at its distinctive flight profile – broad rounded wings and short tail. It was getting rather windy now and the bushes south of the fence were being blown around, so we couldn’t see any activity around them from where we were.

6O0A9046Woodlark – hovered right over our heads, singing, in the dunes

As we turned to start making our way back, a Ring Ouzel flew past, this time a smart male with bright white gorget. It flew past the bushes and then turned and flew up into the dunes at the end of the pines. Looking away in the other direction, we could see a Spoonbill distantly flying out towards the harbour.

Scanning the bushes as we went back, we finally found a Whinchat. It was perched on top of a small hawthorn bush in the dunes south of the fence. We got the scope on it, but it flew off before everyone could get a look at it. Perhaps because of the wind, it was feeding on the ground today with the Wheatears, and it kept getting itself tucked down in little sheltered hollows in the dunes where we couldn’t see it. Once everyone had enjoyed OK views of the Whinchat, we carried on back to the boardwalk.

There were now lots of reports from elsewhere along the coast of Arctic Terns and Black Terns passing offshore, so we walked up to the top of a dune to scan the sea. We managed to see another Arctic Tern flying east just offshore, but it was very windy and exposed up here, so we didn’t stay long. As we walked back along the seawall, a Red Kite flew over the grazing marshes nearby, mobbed by a couple of Lapwings.

To get out of the wind, we made our way back to Holkham for lunch. Lady Anne’s Drive was predictably very busy, it being a bank holiday weekend, but we were surprised how many cars were up at the hall. Eventually we found somewhere where we could park and ate our lunch down on the grass, watching a pair of Mistle Thrushes flying back and forth in and out of the trees with food for their young.

With all the terns on the move today, we thought it would be nice to have a look at them from somewhere a bit more sheltered, so we made our way along to Cley after lunch. There were still some Arctic Terns moving, but unfortunately it appeared we had missed the bulk of the Black Terns already. In about half an hour, we saw over 40 Arctic Terns fly past, including one flock of around 20, plus a few Common Terns, a Little Tern, a Fulmar, 2-3 Gannets, and a single Great Skua which landed on the sea. A Grey Seal was lurking just offshore. Not a bad return for our efforts!

There had been a Wryneck reported earlier from Walsey Hills, but they can be elusive at the best of times. When it was seen again, we thought it might be worth a look, with suitable warnings that it might be difficult to see. When we arrived on the steps where it had been reported, there were several people standing around and no one seemed to know when it had last been seen. We hadn’t been there five minutes when someone announced ‘there it is’ and the Wryneck hopped out into view!

6O0A9120Wryneck – showed very well after just five minutes wait!

The Wryneck was quite tricky to get onto at first, feeding on the ground in among the young bracken shoots on the bank. They are also very well camouflaged, with their cryptic plumage, but it quickly hopped out into a clearer patch where we could all get a really good look at it. Wrynecks are a very scarce migrant passing through here these days, so smiles all round – it was a great bird to see!

While we were watching the Wryneck, we learned that there had been five Black Terns out on Arnold’s Marsh. Unfortunately, although they had apparently been there for some time, no one seemed to have told anyone before they flew off! We went for a quick walk up along the East Bank anyway. As we suspected, there were just Sandwich Terns present now, which were still nice to see properly. There were also good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover and Dunlin, with several now in smart summer plumage.

IMG_3698Sandwich Terns – roosting on Arnolds Marsh in the wind

With the blustery wind, we didn’t hang around out here today, but made our way back to the car. Back at Walsey Hills, two Little Grebes were calling, like madmen laughing, and we saw them swim across and disappear into the reeds.

Stiffkey Fen was our last destination for the day. On the walk out, a couple of Blackcaps were singing from the bushes and a few Swallows and House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees. There were lots of gulls out on the Fen, but all we could find here today were Black-headed Gulls. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep in the water down at the front. There were a few ducks, including a single Common Pochard and a couple of late Wigeon.

With the tide out, we were hoping to find some waders in the channel, but there was nothing visible upstream and just a couple of Avocets, a Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit opposite the Fen. We walked along to the end of the seawall, but there were several people crossing the water out on the near edge of the harbour with a couple of dogs, so no birds there. The only thing we could see of note from here were three smart summer Common Gulls resting on the mud in the channel.

As we turned to walk back, a Grey Heron flew up out of the reeds on the Fen and landed next to a Little Egret on the edge of the water. It was funny to see them side by side, little and large.

This is normally a good spot for Greenshank, a species we had not yet caught up with on our five days, so we were disappointed not to see one, although they can get out in the smaller muddy channels in the harbour at low tide. We were almost back to the steps when we took a last look up the channel next to the seawall and noticed three waders come round the corner from further up. Through the scope we confirmed they were Greenshank – just in the nick of time!

IMG_3709Greenshank – 2 of the 3 at Stiffkey Fen today

There is the occasional Greenshank which spends the whole winter here, but these are presumably migrants, stopping off on their way back north. They are in summer plumage now, with extensive black spotting down their breasts.

Suddenly the Greenshank took off and flew past us round onto the Fen. Then everything took off, whirling round before landing again – something was clearly spooking all the birds. It was a minute or so later that a juvenile Peregrine finally flew in over the Harbour!

6O0A9184Peregrine – this juvenile flew in from the Harbour

The Peregrine circled over the edge of the Fen for a minute or so, giving us a great view, before flying high across the water and disappearing away over the fields beyond. Having been spooked earlier, all the birds on the Fen were completely disinterested when it finally made its flyby.

It was a great way to end the day, and to round off a very exciting five days of spring birding in Norfolk. The weather had been somewhat mixed this week, but despite its best efforts we had seen a remarkable number of different birds. A very successful tour!

22nd May 2016 – Sunshine in Spring

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, the final day. It was forecast to be rather overcast but surprisingly turned out to be a really glorious spring day, warm with lots of sunshine and light winds – a lovely day to be out birding.

Our first port of call was Holkham. There was lots of activity around the trees, with several Spoonbills flying round and landing in the tops and others flying off to feed. We got a couple in the scope and could see their yellow-tipped, spoon-shaped bills. There were also Grey Herons and Little Egrets coming and going, and we could see lots of Cormorants on their nests in the trees.

A female Marsh Harrier came up from the reeds and circled round in front of us, before perching in the top of a hawthorn. She was probably waiting for the male to return with food. Two Red Kites circled high over the grazing marshes, engaging in a spot of mock combat at one point, one diving down and the other jinking out of the way. A little later one of the Red Kites drifted overhead.

6O0A3356Red Kite – two circled over the grazing marshes

There are always lots of geese out on the grazing marshes at this time of year. Many of the Greylag Geese have goslings of various sizes and there are quite a few Canada and Egyptian Geese here too. Going through them carefully, we managed to find a couple of Pink-footed Geese, although rather distant. There are huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese here in the winter but the very small number which linger here all year are typically sick or injured birds.

Our next destination was Stiffkey Fen. As we pulled up, we could hear several Skylarks singing over the set-aside field opposite. As we walked down along the path, we could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing from the hedges and trees. A couple of Common Whitethroats were delivering their scratchy song too, from the brambles. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the hedge. From the taller sallows we could hear a different song, like a Blackcap, but faster, more rolling, more sustained, a Garden Warbler.

There are also lots of insects out in the warm weather today. Along the path out to Stiffkey Fen, we found several Orange Tip butterflies. An Azure Damselfly rested on a nettle in the sunshine. But out at the seawall we found that all the vegetation along the bank, which had been full of insects in recent days, had been mown. Presumably the responsibility of the Environment Agency, they seem to have done a job lot of North Norfolk’s seawalls the last week or so and no one can quite understand why.

6O0A3366Azure Damselfly – enjoying the sunshine at Stiffkey Fen

From up on the seawall, we had a good view out across the Fen. Several pairs of Avocets here have chicks now, little bundles of fluff on legs! But there were comparatively few other waders on here today. Over on the saltmarsh, several Redshank were perched on prominent bushes and one even on the top of the mast of one of the boats. A Marsh Harrier circled up from the saltmarsh and drifted overhead.

6O0A3370Marsh Harrier – this male circled overhead at Stiffkey Fen

There were a few Brent Geese still out on the saltmarsh and even more out in the harbour. Many have already left, but presumably most of these should still soon be hurrying on their way to Russia to breed. The tide was just going out, but apart from lots of Oystercatchers, there were no other lingering waders out in the harbour today.

IMG_4604Brent Geese – still quite a few are lingering in the harbour

We could see quite a few terns out over the water, which on closer inspection turned out to be mostly Common Terns. A nice bonus was a single Arctic Tern in with them. It was rather distant, but its distinctive shape gave it away, the extra long tail and short head projection, as well as the silvery white primaries and different flight. Several groups of Little Terns were zooming about too, but there were comparatively few Sandwich Terns. Apparently, due to a large number of rats on Blakeney Point this year, many of the Sandwich Terns have moved over to Scolt Head to breed instead. Two distant Mediterranean Gulls flew west along the point and out over the harbour, flashing their pure white wingtips as they went.

On the walk back, a Little Ringed Plover flew past, displaying, and appeared to drop down onto the Fen, but there was no sign of it on there when we got back. As we got back to the car, a smart male Yellowhammer flew past and a Lesser Whitethroat was now singing from the hedge.

The reserve at Cley has been rather quiet in recent days, with lots of Avocets on Pat’s Pool but seemingly rather little else. We decided to walk out to the East Bank, as the wet grazing marshes there have been rather more productive. On the pools at the start of the East Bank a female Common Pochard was leading her nine ducklings around the reedy edges looking for food. A Little Grebe which surfaced nearby was promptly chased off across the pool.

6O0A3401Common Pochard – this female was tending to her nine ducklings

Out on the grazing marshes, we could see several Lapwing chicks of various sizes. It is always good to see youngsters of this sadly declining species. Looking out towards Pope’s Marsh we found a single Common Sandpiper and two Little Ringed Plovers, although rather distant.

We got great views of both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers as we walked out along path. A Sedge Warbler came up to feed on the alexanders by the path, which shows the value in not mowing the banks too early, and the Reed Warblers were feeding along the edge of the ditch below. A Sedge Warbler was singing and song flighting from the edge of the reeds and at one point we had Reed and Sedge Warbler singing either side of the path – a great opportunity to appreciate the differences in song between these two often confusing species. We heard a couple of Bearded  Tits calling, but only managed to see one as it zoomed off over the reeds away from us.

There were not many waders on Arnold’s Marsh either today, apart from the local Avocets and Redshanks – there seems to have been a big clear out in the last few days. We did find three Ringed Plovers, a nice addition to the day’s tally. A smart male Reed Bunting was out on the saltmarsh just in front of the new shelter and their were several Meadow Pipits singing, fluttering up and parachuting back down to the ground as they did so.

6O0A3411Reed Bunting – in front of the shelter at Arnold’s Marsh

We had heard lots of gargling from the trees on our walk out, and seen several Little Egrets flying in and out. One dropped down onto the pools opposite the shelter. This one was in full breeding plumage, with bright pink and lilac bare skin at the base of its bill, and a mass of plumes, two long ones hanging down its nape, and lots of fine filoplumes over the back of its wings. Very smart, although it seemed to have a broken lower mandible.

6O0A3417Little Egret – in full breeding attire

Back at the car park, we enjoyed a late lunch in the sunshine out on the picnic tables. A Common Whitethroat kept us company, singing from the very top of the hawthorn across the road.

6O0A3468Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of a hawthorn

After lunch, we made our way back to Holkham. Lady Anne’s Drive was surprisingly not as busy as we had feared on such a lovely day – perhaps the weather forecast had put visitors off today – which meant there were plenty of places to park. As we walked west on the edge of the pines, two Spoonbills flew right overhead giving us a fantastic view of their spoon-shaped bills. There were a few insects out enjoying the sunshine, lots of Wall Brown butterflies and a couple of Hairy Dragonflies.

6O0A3470Wall Brown – there have been lots on the wing in recent days

The pines were rather quiet at first, which is to be expected in the middle of a warm afternoon. We eventually found a few Coal Tits in the trees and a couple of Goldcrests. Several Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were singing from the bushes. Just before Joe Jordan Hide, we encountered a large flock of Long-tailed Tits and a Treecreeper was in with them, but hard to see in the tops of the trees.

From the hide, we could see a couple of Spoonbills in the trees. Three dropped down to the pool to bathe & preen. They were rather obscured behind the reedy edge at first but one eventually moved along to a more open spot where we could get a better look at it. We could see the yellow tip to its bill, the shaggy nuchal crest and the dirty mustard yellow wash across the breast, the features of an adult in breeding plumage.

IMG_4641Spoonbill – an adult in breeding plumage on the pool

There were several Marsh Harriers flying in and out of the reeds and a Kestrel dust-bathing on a patch of bare ground. We were just scanning for the pair of Grey Partridges which are often out here when they were flushed by the cows and flew down into a ditch out of view. The cows crossed to the other side and when they came back, they very helpfully flushed them out again, straight towards hide. A Red-legged Partridge was flushed out too, but was chased off by the male Grey Partridge. The pair of Grey Partridges then came straight up to the grass right below the hide – cracking views!

6O0A3544Grey Partridge – the male just below the hide

6O0A3494Grey Partridges – the pair feeding together

Time was getting on, so we made out way back to the car,stopping briefly to watch a family of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, which had just been bathing on the edge of the grazing marsh. A Treecreeper with them gave us much better views.

We still had time for one last stop, so we popped in to the local gull colony. As we pulled up, a smart Common Gull was pulling at some rubbish by the road. A Spoonbill flew overhead. From the bank, a Great Crested Grebe was swimming in the harbour channel.

There were lots of gulls on views, mostly Black-headed Gulls but with a good number of Mediterranean Gulls in with them too. We got great views of several of the latter, looking very smart with their jet black hoods, heavier brighter red bills and pure white wingtips, compared to the Black-headed Gulls nearby. There were a handful of Common Gulls and a few Herring Gulls out here too.

IMG_4648Mediterranean Gull – with smart black hood and white wingtips

While we were admiring the gulls, we could hear terns calling too. A couple of Common Terns were loafing on the shingle. A single Sandwich Tern flew off calling. Two Little Terns flew round in formation, displaying to each other, with exaggerated wingbeats. A careful scan through the terns fishing over the channel beyond revealed a single Arctic Tern in among the more numerous Common Terns. Our second Arctic Tern of the day, we had a much better view of this one, much closer than our first as it flew up and down.

In the end we had to drag ourselves away. It was a lovely way to end the weekend, with such a great selection of gulls and terns, a hive of activity in front of us.

27th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 1

Day 1 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. A few migrants are continuing to get through, despite the rather unseasonably cold weather at the moment, so we set off east along the coast to try to catch up with some of them.

We made a brief stop at Cley on the way. A Wryneck has been in various gardens here for five days now, and was reported briefly first thing again today. By the time we arrived, it had not been seen again for a couple of hours. We had a quick look in the garden where it was seen yesterday, but as there was no sign of it there we decided not to hang around as we had other places we wanted to visit.

Our first destination proper was Kelling. The walk down the lane was rather quiet and fewer warblers than normal were singing in the cold wind. We did hear a Goldcrest singing and it was kind enough to come out and show itself. Further down, by the Water Meadow, there were several Common Whitethroat singing and one perched up nicely so we could see it, after performing a quick song flight. There was a nice ‘dopping’ of Shelduck in one of the fields – they are often to be found flying around here looking for burrows in which to nest.

6O0A1232Shelduck – this ‘dopping’ was in a field by the Water Meadow

There has been a Ring Ouzel or two in the area here for about a week now. They seem to be lingering, presumably waiting for conditions to improve for their onward journey to Scandinavia. A quick scan along their favoured hedge revealed a single Ring Ouzel hopping about on the short grass. A bit like a Blackbird, through the scope, we could see the distinctive white crescent on the breast. A few Wheatear could be seen distantly in the same field.

Ring OuzelRing Ouzel – a photo from a couple of days ago here

A scan of the Water Meadow produced the usual selection of wildfowl – the pair of Egyptian Geese with four goslings, a few Shoveler swimming round with their heads down and three Teal hiding in the vegetation round the edge. This despite the best efforts of the male Egyptian Goose, which seems intent on chasing away all the ducks, as they obviously pose a grave threat to his offspring!

As we stood looking at the Water Meadow, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and turned to see it flying low over the grass. It circled once, then flew up and made to carry on west, but once it felt the strength of the wind it turned back and dropped down onto the grass. We just had time to get it in the scope – a smart male, with bright yellow head and underparts – before it was off again.

A tern appeared briefly overhead – it seemed to come from inland and continued straight on towards the sea. It was an Arctic Tern, with very buoyant flight and long tail. They have been on the move this week and several groups have been seen inland at various lakes and gravel pits. A nice surprise here on the coast.

There were a few waders on the pool – a pair of Avocets and a couple of Redshank. Another birder, walking ahead of us, flushed a Common Sandpiper from the far corner which thankfully landed back on the edge with the Avocets. We got it in the scope and watched it bobbing its way along the side of the pool.

We stopped to have a closer look at a couple of Skylarks out on the short grass. There are always lots of Meadow Pipits here, one of which entertained us with its parachute display flight. Several Linnets were in the bushes, a Reed Bunting called from the reeds and a smart male Stonechat perched on a fence post.

We were almost down to the beach when a shout from a local birder halfway up the hillside alerted us to a Cuckoo. We raced up and there was no sign of it at first where it had landed, but then it flew out of the bushes pursued by a couple of Meadow Pipits and circled round before disappearing over the brow. We continued on to the top of the ridge but couldn’t find it again. However, we did find three Wheatears in the top of the sheep field, including a smart bandit-masked male. They were very close from this side and we got superb views through the scope.

IMG_3237Wheatear – showing well in the sheep field

It was a bit exposed and windy up on the ridge here, so after a good look at the Wheatears we walked back down and started to make our way back up the lane. Rounding the corner by the Water Meadow, we flushed a Ring Ouzel from the top of the brambles. A quick scan from round on the other side confirmed there were actually two of them still here today, with the Ring Ouzel we had seen earlier still present further along, where we had left it.

While we had been at Kelling, news had come through of a pair of Garganey freshly arrived at Felbrigg Park. As it is only a short drive from here, we decided to go there to try to see them.We could hear a Nuthatch in the trees as we walked down towards the lake, a Jay flew across, a female Kestrel perched high in a tree in a sheltered spot scanning the grass below and a pair of Mistle Thrushes were feeding out in the meadow.

It didn’t take long to find the Garganey, in the flooded meadow just before we got to the lake. They were feeding in amongst the vegetation at first, but as we stood and watched they came out into the open. We could see the striking white stripe on the head of the male.

IMG_3250Garganey – this pair were in Felbrigg Park today

After watching the Garganey for a bit, we set off for a walk round the lake. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the meadows and the water, plus a couple of Swallows. Apart from a few Tufted Duck and Teal, plus the usual Mallards, there weren’t many ducks on here today. Down by the meadows on the far side, we heard the yaffle of a Green Woodpecker and turned to see it perched down on the grass, catching the sun.

IMG_3268Green Woodpecker – out on the grass beyond the lake

There were a few tits in the trees as we walked back through the woods on the other side of the lake. A pair of Marsh Tits were the highlight here – we could hear them calling as they worked their way through the trees towards us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from deeper in the wood. A couple of Chiffchaffs were singing.

On the walk back past the flooded meadow, the Garganey were still present, hiding in the vegetation again. A couple of Common Snipe dropped in and disappeared straight into cover, but eventually one just showed itself. Then it was back to the car for a late lunch. While we were eating, a pair of Nuthatches were calling from the trees just above us.

6O0A1273Nuthatch – a pair were in the trees above us at lunchtime

After lunch, we dropped back down to Cley. The Wryneck had been seen again at one point during the morning, but had now disappeared again. However, a Temminck’s Stint had put in an appearance out on the reserve, so we decided to go to look for that instead. We had been advised to go to Bishop Hide first. On the walk there, we saw a Spoonbill flying off west across the reserve.We could hear Sedge Warblers singing, but they were mostly keeping tucked down out of the wind today. Eventually we found one singing from the safety of a bramble bush beside the path.

6O0A1288Sedge Warbler – mostly singing from deep in the bushes today

There were a few raptors up now in the sunshine. A Common Buzzard was circling over the fields just the other side of the road and a Marsh Harrier was over the reeds. When we got a bit closer to the latter, we could see it was a male Marsh Harrier carrying nest material. It dropped into the reeds and flushed a female, which circled for a while before flying back to the nest and ousting the male.

6O0A1292Marsh Harrier – a female circled over the reeds

When we got in to Bishop Hide, we quickly found the Temminck’s Stint – but it was right over the other side in front of Teal Hide. We had a quick look at it through the scope anyway, in the heat haze, but it was not a great view. There were several other species of wader on here too – plenty of Avocets and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits.

6O0A1303Avocet – feeding in front of Bishop Hide

There were also a few Ruff. As waders go, Ruff are one of the most confusing at the best of times. But with the males in various stages of moult into summer plumage, the colours of which are hugely variable, no two look alike at the moment!

6O0A1309Ruff – several today, but no two looking alike!

We decided to make our way round to Teal Hide for a better look at the Temminck’s Stint. On the way, we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reedbed. Thankfully when we got round there, the Temminck’s Stint was still where we had last seen it, on the island in front of Teal Hide. We had much better views of it from here, creeping round on the mud, before something spooked it and it flew off further away.

IMG_3287Temminck’s Stint – much better views from Teal Hide

We had seen most of the birds on here from the other side, but a few more Ruff added to the variety in this species we had observed today. A single Greenshank was feeding in the corner of the scrape, looking very elegant next to the larger, dumpier godwits. A Grey Heron was stalking along the edge of the reeds at the back, neck outstretched, looking for something to catch. A Water Rail squealed from the reedbed. A Brown Hare ran along the bank in front of the hide until it saw everyone inside, then turned and sprinted off in the other direction.

We had a look in Dauke’s Hide, but the water level on here has risen in the past few ayds and there was very little on the scrape here today, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. A pair of Shoveler dropped into the channel in front of the hide and the female swum straight in to the near bank without any fear while the male lurked further over calling nervously. We could see their enormous shovel-like bills.

6O0A1319Shoveler – sporting a huge shovel-like bill

On the way back, we just had time for a quick last look in the gardens as we walked past, but there was still no sign of the Wryneck in any of its favourite spots. Then we headed for home.

25th June 2015 – Holkham & Beyond

A Private Tour today, the second day of a five day programme put together for a US client, a mixture of private and scheduled group days. Again, we went to places and to look for some birds we would not necessarily be seeing on the other days.

We started at Holkham Hall, with a quick walk round the woods. It can often be quiet at this time of the year, but we hoped to pick up some woodland birds. We could hear a Nuthatch calling as soon as we went in through the gate and found it piping in the top of a fir tree. There were several Treecreepers calling as well, and lots of tits in the trees. But we couldn’t find any woodpeckers today.

P1030482Holkham Hall – the view from the monument

Looking down towards the Hall, we could see lots of birds down on the cut lawns in front. The largest amongst them were three Barnacle Geese, part of the growing number of feral birds in the area, and later we found at least ten more further round. The bulk of the throng was made up of Black-headed Gulls and a quick scan through quickly located a couple of adult Mediterranean Gulls with them, their darker and more extensive black hoods standing out even at a distance. There were also lots of Fallow Deer out in the longer grass, with several small fawns running around with them.

P1030475Fallow Deer – there is a big herd in the park at Holkham Hall

We didn’t want to waste too much time in the park today, so we moved swiftly on towards Burnham Overy, where we parked and set off along the track out across the grazing marshes to the seawall. A Common Whitethroat perched nicely on the top of the hedge singing. Nearby, two smaller and duller greyish brown warblers flew across the path and we got a look at them as they landed and hopped around for a second on the outside of the bush, Lesser Whitethroats. They have stopped singing at the moment and quickly disappeared into the hedge, which is where they prefer to be. Unlike their close relatives, they don’t tend to sit up on the tops. It was good to be able to compare the two species, one after the other.

P1030487Common Whitethroat – perched up singing on the top of a bush

The Sedge Warblers along the path which sat up on the tops of the bushes earlier in the spring are a little more secretive now. We heard several and saw them darting into cover, but the need to sing non-stop has now diminished and they are busier finding food for their nestlings now.

P1030584Sedge Warbler – they are more secretive now than in the spring

We did have a nice Reed Warbler which came up to the top of the reeds in the ditch by the path to sing. Usually it is the other way round, with the Reed Warblers harder to see than the Sedge!

P1030490Reed Warbler – this one came up out of the reeds to sing for us

As we got up onto the seawall, we could see that the reedbed pool was empty save for a Coot and a couple of moulting Mallards. We stood for a while scanning either side of the path and could hear more Reed and Sedge Warblers, plus a couple of Reed Buntings which perched more helpfully in the tops of the bushes. We could also hear the ‘pinging’ of Bearded Tits and we saw a couple of birds whizz across the top of the reeds before dropping back into cover. While we were standing there, a smart male Marsh Harrier appeared over the reedbed and circled low and close to us. It started to drift away, but then turned and flew right along the seawall towards us, veering away over the saltmarsh at the last minute.

P1030511Marsh Harrier – this male flew past us on the seawall

Out on the saltmarsh, we could see a few waders. A group of about 10 Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep. There were also a few Redshank and Oystercatcher on the mud. As we walked further along, we saw a big flock of large waders circle up out over the harbour – about 30 Curlew. Another sign that autumn is on its way!

The rest of the walk, to the end of the boardwalk and out across the dunes to Gun Hill, was fairly quiet save for the constant singing of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and the odd pair of Linnets which flew up from the bushes. The surprise was two Siskins which flew overhead calling – presumably on their way somewhere. As we got out to Gun Hill we flushed a Cuckoo from the bushes, dropping quickly out of sight over the dunes. We climbed up to the top and the Cuckoo appeared again from the Sea Buckthorn and flew round in front of us before disappearing back the way we had just come. Presumably in search of an unsuspecting pair of Meadow Pipits!

Out at the point, there was no sign today of any Spoonbills in the harbour, but there were several Oystercatchers and a Ringed Plover. As we walked round on the beach, we found several more Ringed Plovers along the shoreline.

IMG_6241Ringed Plover – we found several along the beach at Gun Hill

There was a big group of Little Terns roosting out on a shingle spit in the harbour, but at first we could see little in the way of activity in the colony on the beach. They seem a little subdued at the moment, for some reason. As we walked along the shoreline, we could see a single Common Tern on the nest first, but eventually we found a few Little Terns sitting. We got a good look at them from a discrete distance through the scope, where we didn’t disturb them.

IMG_6179Little Tern – a few were sitting on the beach at Gun Hill

The walk back was fairly uneventful at first. However, as we got back to the reedbed pool, we could see a large white shape on the edge of the reeds. We just got a quick look at it before it disappeared out of view – a Spoonbill. Finally! We waited a minute or so and eventually it walked back out, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water, occasionally lifting its head quickly to snap up something it had found.

IMG_6271Spoonbill – an adult feeding on the reedbed pool by the seawall

We watched it for a bit and then suddenly two more Spoonbills dropped in as well. Just like buses! One was an adult, but the other was slightly smaller, much whiter and with a short teaspoon-bill – a juvenile, possibly on one of its first forays away from the colony. We watched the two adult Spoonbills walk off feeding and at first the juvenile stood on its own looking a bit lost. Then it started to try to feed as well, though its sweeping action was much slower and a lot less practiced. We didn’t see it catch anything, but it was trying its best!

IMG_6274Spoonbill – a fresh juvenile with a rather short ‘teaspoon-bill’

As we were walking back to the car, a bright orange butterfly flew past us over the brambles by the path. It dropped down to land briefly on the track and confirmed our initial suspicions – it was a Dark Green Fritillary, the first we have seen this year. Unfortunately it didn’t linger, and powered off along the path ahead of us. That was not the only butterfly interest of the morning – we had also seen quite a few Meadow Browns and a couple of Painted Ladys on our walk.

P1030532Painted Lady – we saw a couple today out in the dunes

We had also seen a few caterpillars. A couple of hairy Garden Tiger moth caterpillars crawled over the path. And out in the dunes, the small scattered plants of Ragwort were absolutely covered in yellow and black Cinnabar moth caterpillars.

P1030540Cinnabar Moth caterpillar – the Ragwort was covered with them today

After lunch at Holkham by Lady Anne’s Drive, enlivened by a Hedgehog strolling past the picnic tables and into the long grass, we walked west along the inner edge of the pines. As we set off, we could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing and several tits calling. However, much of the walk out was quiet today, in the heat of the early afternoon. There were several Jays around today, and one perched up nicely for the cameras.

P1030602Jay – we saw several on the edge of the pines today

As soon as we got into Joe Jordan hide, we could see the Spoonbills. A large group were doing what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping. We could see at least eleven birds, a mixture of adults and juveniles.

IMG_6278Spoonbills – at least 11 adults & juveniles, mostly asleep

Then two more adult Spoonbills appeared from out of sight behind the reeds, feeding in the shallow water. Pretty soon, they were joined by two more out of the group, and we watched four adults feeding in unison around the pool. Odd birds were also coming and going. One adult Spoonbill, possibly newly arrived from a feeding foray, was pursued around the pool by its juvenile, the latter bobbing its head and flapping its wings, asking to be fed. It wouldn’t give up – we saw the two of the several minutes later, the adult still being pursued.

IMG_6287Spoonbill – several adults were feeding in the shallow water

There were plenty of other things to see from the hide as well. A female Marsh Harrier flew in carrying prey and we watched her drop down into the reeds, presumably to feed a hungry brood. A couple of minutes later, she was off out again but it wasn’t long before she returned laden-taloned once again. There was no sign of the male bringing her anything. A Red Kite circled lazily in the sky beyond the trees. And a Common Buzzard flew across towards us over the grazing marshes, before attracting the attentions of a Marsh Harrier, which proceeded to circle rapidly higher above it before dive-bombing it.

The usual flocks of feral Greylag Geese and the odd pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass. However, a closer scan revealed a few Pink-footed Geese in amongst them. Most of the wintering birds left already in February, but a very small number remain right through the summer, possibly sick or injured birds. The other main highlight was a pair of Grey Partridge out on the grass in front of the hide.

We walked out into the dunes and had a quick look at the sea. A distant flock of Common Scoter were being harassed by some gulls. The dunes themselves were quiet bird-wise, but we did see several more Dark Green Fritillaries fluttering around among the bushes. Unfortunately none really stopped still long enough to perform for the cameras. Speaking to one of the wardens, it would seem the first ones of the year here were only seen yesterday.

P1030607Dark Green Fritillary – there were several out in the dunes today

We still had time for one last stop, so we headed to the local gull colony. We could hear lots of Black-headed Gulls squawking as we walked up. This afternoon, there were lots of gulls down on the sand below the colony and bathing in the water. A quick scan revealed a good number of Mediterranean Gulls amongst them, the more extensive black hoods and white wing tips giving the adults away from their regular counterparts.

IMG_6304Mediterranean Gulls – at least 9 adults, plus various younger birds today

There was also a small number of 2nd summer Mediterranean Gulls, and a few 1st summers as well. It was good to get a chance to look at the age-related differences between them. One of the 2nd summers was sporting a colour ring with an alphanumeric code on it. Through the scope we could read the code, so it will be interesting to see if we can find out where it has come from.

IMG_6299Mediterranean Gulls – 1st sum in front with colour-ringed 2nd sum behind

There were fewer terns than in recent weeks. Whether the nests have failed or been disturbed was not clear, but most of the Common Terns seem to have deserted the nest sites. Looking carefully, we eventually found a couple of Arctic Terns as well, out on the mud beyond. We watched them hunting, hovering over the small pools out on the saltmarsh. It is a real treat to watch these here, as there are not many pairs in Norfolk, given our position right at the southern edge of their breeding range.

After that, we headed for home. We were just leaving Wells when a Hobby buzzed through a flock of swallows and martins over the field by the road. A great sight and a suitable way to end the day.

12th June 2015 – Afternoon Around Wells

A half day tour today, in the Wells and Holkham area this afternoon. It was gloriously sunny again – cool in the East wind coming in off the sea, but lovely out of it.

We met up in Wells and headed down to the harbour first, to the gull colony. There was lots of activity, as usual, and the Black-headed Gulls were making lots of noise. There were plenty of fluffy brown juveniles already. Those that wandered away from their nest site or down onto the beach were aggressively pecked at by the other neighbouring adults. With the odd Great Black-backed Gull hanging around as well, it is a perilous existence for a young gull away from the nest. A pair of Common Gulls down on the edge of the beach were particularly smart – we admired their pure white, rounded heads, dark eye and yellow bills.

We heard the Mediterranean Gulls first, their calls are very distinctive and could be heard quite clearly even over all the background noise. Then we picked out a pair of adults wheeling in the melee above the colony. We watched them flying back and forth, flashing their white wingtips. Even better, they then landed on the beach below us. We got them in the scope and could see their jet black hoods (unlike the inappropriately named, chocolate-brown headed Black-headed Gulls!). Very smart birds.

P1010981Mediterranean Gull – this pair of adults landed on the beach below us

There were lots of terns to look at too. On the edge of the gull colony, several Common Terns were sitting on the shingle. We got them in the scope and noted their bright orange-red bills with a distinctive black-tip. Eventually. we managed to find a single Arctic Tern as well – its slightly shorter, darker, blood red bill gave it away, as did its longer tail streamers which stuck out noticeably beyond the tips of its wings. The Little Terns were all feeding over the channel, plunge diving. One in particular came very close in front of us and we could see its yellow bill and white forehead patch, which help to distinguish them from the others. Their small size also gives them away, and this was most obvious when a Common Tern joined them fishing.

With the tide on its way in, we could see lots of waders being pushed up the mudflats on the opposite side. There were lots of Oystercatcher, but also a few smaller waders. A flock of 7 Knot was notable, in all grey winter plumage, and a couple of Turnstone. A single Curlew was also probing around in the muddy channels higher up the beach.

Our next stop was at Holkham. Despite the warmth of the afternoon, there were still a few warblers singing. A Blackcap sang from the shade of the trees by the end of Lady Anne’s Drive. There were several Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats still in full voice, and a single Willow Warbler in the edge of the pines. From out in the reeds by Washington Hide, we could hear both Sedge and Reed Warblers, but they were not so easy to see.

The usual tits were also present. We came across a nice family of Long-tailed Tits which dropped out of the pines to feed in a Sycamore, with lots of sooty-faced juevniles. While we were watching them, a Treecreeper appeared in the same tree and worked its way up and out along the branches. We could also hear several Goldcrests singing. The local Jays can be a bit elusive sometimes in the warmth of an afternoon, but we saw several today. Often, the alarm calling of the tits and warblers gave away their presence – there should be lots of nests for them to raid at this time of year.

P1010996Jay – very active today, even in the heat of the afternoon

As soon as we arrived at the Joe Jordan Hide, we could see a collection of white shapes on the bank of the nursery pool – Spoonbills. They were mostly asleep – sleeping is what Spoonbills do best! There were 5 dazzling white juveniles, not fully grown yet and so slightly smaller still than the more dirty-coloured adults. Another juvenile was more obliging, practising its feeding action out in the middle of the pool, and we could see its short, teaspoon-shaped bill. As we sat in the hide, there was plenty of coming and going, with Spoonbills moving backwards and forwards between the trees and the pool. An adult returning from a feeding foray was instantly set upon by its young, pursuing it, bouncing up and down, until it got fed.

Spoonbill juv Holkham 2015-06-06_3Spoonbill – a recent short-billed juvenile at Holkham

There were other birds coming and going as well – Little Egrets and Cormorants back and forth to the colony, bringing food for hungry beaks. There were still several Grey Herons around as well. Down on the pools, there were several Avocets feeding and flocks of Black-tailed Godwit which flushed periodically and whirled round flashing their black and white wings and tails. A Kingfisher was flushed by a Marsh Harrier from out of a ditch, but disappeared too quickly for everyone to get on it – a wise move, given that the Marsh Harrier took a swoop at it as it did so!

There are always lots of geese at Holkham, at this time of year mostly Greylags and Egyptian Geese. However, a scan of the grazing marshes revealed a couple of Pink-footed Geese still as well. There are often tens of thousands here during the winter, but almost all of them leave for Iceland in the late winter or early spring. Only a few remain through the summer, often sick or injured birds. We could see their distinctive dark heads and small, dark bills compared to the Greylags.

Holkham is also a great place to watch Marsh Harriers. We could see a pretty constant stream of birds flying back and forth from the Joe Jordan hide, but we stopped in a Washington Hide on our way back. We were glad we did – a particularly fine male Marsh Harrier passed right in front of the hide, and proceeded to spend several minutes wheeling over the reeds and back and forth over the grazing marsh just to the east. We saw a good selection of other regular raptors as well – a distant Red Kite or two over Holkham Park, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.

P1010988P1010992Marsh Harrier – this fine male put on a great display today

Also from the hide, we watched a family of young Swallows in the dead trees below. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the bushes on the edge of the reeds. And a line of five Spoonbills flew out east over the grazing marshes, presumably heading to the saltmarsh to feed. Then it was time to head back.

30th May 2015 – Sunny in the Middle

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. What a difference a day makes! It was sunny with patchy cloud all day, although a blustery west wind in the morning took the edge of the temperature.

We started with a drive through farmland inland. We hadn’t gone far when a Little Owl hopped up onto the roof of a barn next to the road. Unfortunately, by the time we reversed back, it had disappeared. A likely looking roadside field produced a Stone Curlew distantly amongst the flowers in the margin. Great to see these birds doing so well in North Norfolk now.

IMG_5071Stone Curlew – in amongst the flowers

As we explored inland, there were lots of Skylarks singing overhead. Little groups of Linnet appeared from the weedy margins. A nice male Grey Partridge called nearby before walking quietly into the hedge and we got a good look at another pair, particularly the male’s orange face and blackish belly patch. We had a scan for raptors as well this morning, but there were only a few Common Buzzards circling up in the cool windy conditions.

P1010403Grey Partridge – calling from a field by the road this morning

We meandered round to Burnham Overy and eventually found ourselves at the start of the track out to the dunes. There were a couple of Common Whitethroats singing from the hedges either side. Down at the bottom, they were replaced by several Lesser Whitethroats. We could hear one calling and see it flicking along the hedge. There were at least two singing, and a an adult feeding unseen young nearby. On the way out to the seawall, we also saw – and heard – a number of Sedge Warblers singing from the edges of the ditches.

P1010415Sedge Warbler – singing by the side of the track out to the seawall

By a gap in the hedge, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. A Common Buzzard was circling up nearby and as we looked at it we could see a Marsh Harrier nearby. At the same time, a Red Kite appeared above the wood beyond. Three species of large raptor in view at the same time – not bad.

There were also several butterflies along the track this morning. There seem to be a lot of Wall butterflies out at the moment. But the highlight was a lovely Green Hairstreak which landed in the vegetation beside the path. We stopped to admire its sparkling metallic green underwing.

P1010408Green Hairstreak – with its metallic green underwing

From up on the seawall, the first bird we saw was a Fulmar flying towards us over the path, a bit of a surprise. This is not the most likely bird to see here, away from their more normal habitat over the sea, although they do occasionally wander a little way inland, often at this time of year. It circled out over the grazing marsh. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls was more predictable these days. They flew in over the reedbed and away west, flashing their translucent white wingtips as they came overhead. They were with a single Black-headed Gull which gave a great flight comparison for us between the two species.

Scanning the reedbed pool, there were several large white birds but at first there only seemed to be Mute Swans. Then, as if by magic, a Spoonbill appeared (it had probably been tucked into one of the corners out of view, close in along the reed edge. It proceeded to work its way along the back edge of the pool, sweeping its bill from side to side. We got a great look at it in the scope.

IMG_5092Spoonbill – the first of many today, feeding on the reedbed pool

We really didn’t know which way to look here, there was so much to see. There were lots of Swifts swooping low in the wind, over the grazing marshes and reedbed and along the banks of the seawall, zooming past us at high speed. A pair of Little Terns landed on the mud out on the saltmarsh – one of them seemed to spend much of the morning feeding over the channels in the grazing marsh, returning occasionally to its mate. Bearded Tits called from the reedbed and a single bird flew up and away from us before dropping back into the reeds out of the wind. We could also hear Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers singing.

Then came one of the many highlights of the morning. A Hobby appeared flying towards us. It hung in the air for a second, just before it got to the seawall, then turned and powered away along the near edge of the reeds. It had obviously seen something and soon we could see what it was after. Out over the grazing marsh the Hobby engaged in an aerial duel with a House Martin, the latter just twisting and turning out of the Hobby’s reach, relying on its superior manoeuvrability to get it out of trouble. The Hobby pursued it for some time, swooping at it repeatedly before it finally gave up.

P1010418Hobby – just about to chase off after a House Martin

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and walked on towards the dunes. Someone we passed on the way reported having seen a shrike earlier in the morning, on the edge of the dunes to the east. It seemed worth looking for, so we set off towards the pines. There were several more butterflies in the more sheltered parts of the dunes – Brown Argus, Common Blue and Small Copper. And ever more Southern Marsh Orchids coming into flower now.

We couldn’t find the shrike, but we did find a very nice little group of Greenland Wheatears in the dunes. At first we came across a female. When she disappeared behind a dune, a male emerged from the other side. As we walked round into the dunes the way they had gone, we found yet more males, at least three together. Smart birds – we got a male in the scope and admired its characteristic orange-toned throat and upper breast.

IMG_5099Greenland Wheatear – one of several smart males in the dunes again today

By this stage, it was getting on towards lunchtime, so we had to head back. On the way, we found yet more Wheatears. There were now two Spoonbills together on the reedbed pool. And, as we walked back across the grazing marsh, a third Spoonbill flew across just in front of us – unfortunately, we did not have cameras at the ready. It landed out by one of the small pools in the grass and started to feed.

After lunch by the harbour at Burnham Overy, we drove back to Wells. The beach car park was extremely busy – probably not a great surprise on a sunny Saturday of half term – but we managed to find a space. The gull colony was equally busy. Several of the pairs of Black-headed Gull have chicks now, but the Mediterranean Gulls seem to be a bit behind. We could just see several sitting birds amongst the marram grass, flashing the black heads and brighter red bills. A pair of Common Gulls have chosen to nest right at the top of the beach, below the other gulls, and we admired them through the scope.

IMG_5130Little Terns – on the beach

The Common Terns were not as active in the middle of the day, but we could see several birds sitting on the stones. Looking carefully through them, we picked out a single Arctic Tern. It was great to see the two species close together – we could see the Arctic Tern’s shorter, darker blood-red bill lacking a black tip, and its longer tail streamers. There were also lots of Little Terns on the beach below, much more active than the others, they would periodically get up and fly round, fishing in the channels.

IMG_5115Arctic Tern – great to see alongside Common Terns today

A quick look out in Wells Harbour produced a better selection of waders than of late. As well as the regular horde of Oystercatchers, there was a nice flock of smaller waders on the stony islands – although they were quickly moved off by the rising tide. They were mostly Ringed Plovers, at least 20 of them. A look through the scope also revealed about five Turnstone, several black-bellied Dunlin in summer plumage and a couple of white-bellied Sanderling, a greyer bird still mostly in winter plumage and a chestnut-coloured bird in summer garb.

We wanted to do one more thing before we finished, so we headed round to Lady Anne’s Drive and walked west on the inland side of the pines. The wind had dropped a little and with the shelter of the pines it was warm this afternoon. Consequently, the activity of the warblers and tits was down on recent weeks. By Meals House, we finally heard a Cetti’s Warbler and while looking to see if we could see it, we found a nice pair of Blackcap gathering food.

We could hear a couple of groups of Long-tailed Tits and a few Goldcrests, though they were hard to see in the trees today. But we did find a family of Treecreepers. We could hear quiet calls from the trees and found one of the adults first, climbing up a pine. When it flew across the path, we realised there were several hiding in the bushes and we could see several short-tailed juveniles practising climbing up tree trunks in between pestering the adults for food.

IMG_5145Spoonbill – adult and juveniles on the nursery pool

From the Joe Jordan hide, we could immediately see several Spoonbills down on the pool below the trees. As we had seen earlier in the week, there were both adults and several smaller, whiter, shorter-billed juveniles – ‘Teaspoonbills‘. Already taking after the adults, they seemed to spend quite a bit of time sleeping!  However, it was great to watch them when they woke up – already trying to feed in the shallow water and then chasing after their parents, bouncing up and down and begging, when they got hungry.

IMG_5150Spoonbill – a short-billed juvenile or ‘Teaspoonbill’

There were lots of other birds to see here as well this afternoon, as usual. Marsh Harriers out over the grass, Avocets and ducks on the pools, and a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits whirling round. The usual pair of Grey Partridge were feeding on the short grass below the hide.

P1010448Grey Partridge – the usual pair at the Joe Jordan hide

Unfortunately, once again we had to drag ourselves away. We walked back to the car, stopping briefly to admire a Little Egret feeding in the reeds by Salts Hole on the way. What a great day it had been.

P1010455Little Egret – feeding in the reeds by Salts Hole

24th May 2015 – West of Wells

Day 2 of a two day weekend tour today. We were forecast some rain this afternoon, but thankfully it wasn’t as bad as forecast and we pretty much got a full day’s birding in. Once again we met up in Wells, but this time we were heading west.

First of all, we headed out to the local gull colony. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls, noisy as ever. On the edge of the melee were a few Common Gulls, not so common in the summer in this part of the world. They were looking particularly smart, with pure white rounded head, offsetting the dark eye, and a bright yellow bill. In the middle of the colony, we could pick out a few Mediterranean Gulls. Unlike the Black-headed Gulls, which actually have a chocolate brown hood, the Mediterranean Gulls have a jet black hood which extends further down the nape – like they have pulled down their balaclavas properly! Their darker black heads really stood out amongst the tussocks of grass where the gulls were nesting. We could also hear their distinctive calls as they flew round overhead and see their distinctive white wing tips in flight.

IMG_4927Common Terns – on the stones on the edge of the gull colony

It was not just the gulls we had come for, but the terns as well. As soon as we arrived, we could see several Common Terns fishing in the channel and standing on the stones on the edge of the gulls. We got them in the scope, and could see their black-tipped orange/red bills. Further over, we could see another tern on the shingle, but this one had a shorter, darker blood-red bill – an Arctic Tern. A second Arctic Tern was fishing, hovering out over the water beyond. We could see its longer tail and pale wing tips with a very neat narrow black line on the trailing edge of the outer wing underside. With several Common Terns in the air as well, we got a good chance to study the differences.

P1010256Common Tern – feeding over the channel in front of the colony

There were other terns as well. Down on the beach below several Little Terns had gathered. They would also periodically fly round fishing in front of us. A Sandwich Tern also patrolled up the channel, and with Sandwich and Little Terns together at one point, we could really see the size difference. This is a great place to watch terns, with four species in view at the same time! Great stuff.

Holkham was out next port of call. Walking west behind the pines, there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, Cetti’s, Sedge and Reed Warblers – a good opportunity to try to recognise the different songs. There were the usual groups of tits, particularly Long-tailed Tits calling from the trees, and a Coal Tit came out of the pines and performed nicely for the crowd. Some quiet contact calls alerted us to the presence of a Treecreeper and we got a lovely view of it working its way methodically up a pine. There were yet more Treecreepers, tits and Goldcrests singing from the trees unseen.

By Meals House came the surprise of the morning. We had just stopped to listen to some warblers singing when one of the group pointed down along a little grassy path and asked ‘what’s that?’. Creeping through the grass was a pipit, and as it turned we could see that it was a Tree Pipit. It walked towards us, then saw us and turned and crept stealthily into the longer grass out of view, pumping its tail quietly. Tree Pipits here are generally migrants and this bird had probably dropped in to feed here on its way north. A cracking performance, rather than the more usual view of migrants calling as they pass overhead.

P1010262Tree Pipit – creeping through the grass by Meals House today

We called in at the Joe Jordan hide, as usual. There was plenty of activity around the cormorant and heron colony, with a couple of Spoonbills coming in or going out towards the saltmarsh at Wells or Burnham Overy to feed. Even more Spoonbills were just flying out of the trees, circling round and landing back again out of view. From the path later we got one in the scope in the trees, but in typical Spoonbill fashion it was fast asleep!

There was quite a bit of Marsh Harrier activity as well. One smart grey-winged male came low in front of the hide, and continued west pursued by Lapwings and Jackdaws. The pair of Grey Partridge was still present, feeding on the grass below the hide. And we marvelled at the way the song of a couple of Sedge Warblers carried to us from a long way across the grazing marshes – two males on opposite sides of the hide clearly trying to out-sing each other.

With some Scandianvian migrants arriving elsewhere along the coast this morning, and encouraged by our own earlier Tree Pipit, we thought it was worth a look in the dunes. However, the bushes were rather quiet today. We flushed a family of Mistle Thrushes which flew up into the trees and watched a pair of Kestrels hanging in the air above the dunes. From up on the top of the dunes, we could see a raft of several hundred Common Scoter still distantly out on the sea.

There were little groups of Swallows still moving west today, on their way somewhere. Amongst them, we picked out a couple of House Martins and a single Sand Martin as well. The number of Wheatears in the dunes has tailed off now, but we eventually found a very smart male Greenland Wheatear in one of their favoured areas. We got it in the scope and admired its richly-coloured burnt orange throat and upper breast.

IMG_4948Greenland Wheatear – a male in the dunes still today

It was forecast to rain today and, on cue, we could see the clouds starting to build from the west. Rather than continue on through the dunes, we headed back to the pines. We stopped briefly on the way to admire the first Marsh Orchids emerging in the dune slacks. On the walk back to the car, the rain finally caught up with us. Thankfully, it was not heavy, mostly a little drizzle, and we were not too wet by the time we got back.

P1010273Marsh Orchid – the first few spikes are starting to appear in the dunes

We headed west to Titchwell and thankfully we drove underneath the weather front and out of the rain as we did so. After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve, stopping to listen to a Song Thrush singing from the trees by the visitor centre on our way. On the reedbed pool, we found our first pair of Red-crested Pochard for the day, as well as a few Common Pochard and Tufted Duck, and a single Great Crested Grebe. It was still overcast after the rain and in the cloudy conditions there were lots of Swifts hawking for insects low over the reedbed and whooshing past us on the bank.

While we were standing there, there was a loud ‘BANG!’ as a flare appeared from over towards the village – who knows why. All the birds on the freshmarsh took to the air, and we watched a flock of Black-tailed Godwits fly over us and off towards Thornham. Whether it was the fault of the flare, or the two Sparrowhawks that flew over the freshmarsh as we got into the Island Hide, or both, but there were fewer waders than recent days by the time we got to scan the mud. We found a single Ruff with a couple of Redshank, and a few Black-tailed Godwits left behind. At least the Avocets had not been put off.

P1010284Avocet – one of the Titchwell regulars, with its catch of the day

There were still five Little Gulls scattered around the freshmarsh, all 1st summer birds with a black ‘W’ pattern on the upperwings and sporting a varying amount of black hood, from almost full winter white head with black spot to about 3/4 complete black hood. From up on the main footpath, a small group of gulls had gathered to bathe and we got a great chance to see just how little the Little Gulls are as they stood next to the Black-headed Gulls, preening.

IMG_4965Little Gull – a 1st summer bird with a partly acquired black hood

As we arrived in the Parrinder Hide there was a bit of a commotion as one of the people already in there announced they thought they could see a Bittern on the edge of the reeds on the far side of the water. Unfortunately, there has been a rather convincing piece of brown rubbish, shaped not completely unlike a crouched Bittern, tucked into the reeds on that side for some time now. Excitement over, unfortunately.

We did manage to find a couple of Little Ringed Plovers lurking amongst the emergent vegetation on the island in front of the hide. Through the scope, we could see their golden yellow eye rings. Better still, a single Ringed Plover was nearby and at one point we had the two species side by side, which gave a great size comparison for us. A single female Pintail was the only other surprise, a rather late lingering bird as most of the Pintail which we enjoyed watching over the winter have long since departed.

IMG_4970Little Ringed Plover – check out the distinctive golden yellow eye-ring

The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were both very quiet today, so we headed straight to the beach. The tide was just going out and the rocks were only just starting to emerge from the waves. As the first piece appeared, two Oystercatchers flew in to occupy it and were soon joined by three Turnstone, one coming into its smart white-faced, rusty-backed summer plumage. There was precious little space left, but a small flock of Sanderling decided to try their luck as well. Unable to land at first, they eventually found some space as the sea receded a little further. At this time of the year, with their scaly dark-patterned summer plumage, they look rather different to the silvery Sanderlings we see running around on the shore over the winter. There were also still a few Grey Plovers on the beach in various states of summer plumage. The sea was typically quite quiet, apart from a few terns passing offshore from the colony at Scolt Head.

By this stage, time was getting on so we headed back to the car park and drove up to Choseley. Remarkably, there were still five Dotterel present. It has been an amazing year for this species here, with trips of Dotterel of one size or another in one of the fields at Choseley mostly since April 13th (with only a few days when none were picked up). It took us some time to find them today. The sun had come out by that stage and there was a fresh NW wind up on the ridge. The Dotterel had settled down to sleep in the furrows and with the young sugar beet plants growing then they were even harder to find than usual. For such colourful birds, they can really disappear when they sit down! Eventually one put its head up and we were onto them. We could see them shuffling round and catch a flash of bright white supercilium as they lifted their heads.

IMG_4985Dotterel – hiding amongst the emerging sugar beet plants

That seemed like a good way to finish, and with some of the group with long journeys ahead of them, we headed back to Wells. Once again, we had a very productive weekend with a good selection of birds to be seen.