Tag Archives: Barn Owl

29th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #2

Day 2 of a three day Summer Tour today. It was a beautifully bright and sunny morning, clouding over later on, but dry all day and not as windy as yesterday, a great day to be out. The plan for this morning was to go looking for birds of prey. With the good weather we set off full of optimism and a Kestrel on a telegraph post by the roadside was a nice start.

We parked up on the edge of a farm track, by a rough grass field. As we were unloading the car, one of the group asked “what’s that on the wires” and we looked over to see it was a juvenile Cuckoo perched on the wires across the field. We got it in the scope and had a look at it – a great bird to see, particularly in farmland these days, with the population having declined dramatically in recent years.

With the scope left on the Cuckoo for people to look at, we turned our attention back to unloading the car. The same member of the group then asked “what’s that next to the Cuckoo“. A second bird had appeared a little further along. We expected it to be the resident Kestrel which is often perched here, but were very surprised to look over and see a second juvenile Cuckoo on the wires.

Cuckoo 2Cuckoos – 2 juveniles together on the wires

Cuckoos and uncommon enough anyway, but it is very unusual to see two juveniles together, particularly these days. As the female Cuckoo lays just a single egg in the host’s nest, you don’t get multiple birds in a brood like other species. Perhaps a female Cuckoo earlier in the year had parasitised multiple nests in the immediate area earlier in the year and both juveniles had fledged at around the same time. Perhaps they had independently found a good feeding area. Whatever the reason, it was a great sight to see.

The Cuckoos periodically dropped down into the grass below, presumably looking for food, before flying back up to the wires. Eventually one flew off, back over the field. Then, while we were still marveling at the Cuckoos, a ghostly white shape appeared over the rough grass in front of us as a Barn Owl flew across. It landed on a post on the back, where we could get it in the scope.

Barn OwlBarn Owl – flew across in front of us and landed on a post

After a wet night last night, the Barn Owl was presumably still out hunting, probably trying to feed a growing brood. The Kestrel was on the top of a telegraph post nearby too. What a great start to the morning!

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from where we had parked and we walked up along the farm track to a suitable vantage point from which we could scan the surrounding countryside. It was warming up nicely now and several Common Buzzards circled up out of the trees. We could hear them calling.

There were several Skylarks up singing too now, or flying around over the stubble in front of us. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the nearby wood a couple of times, before flying over the field past us. A Yellow Wagtail called once, but we didn’t manage to pick it up.

A Brown Hare came running up the stubble field towards us. It was in a dip and stopped just short of the ridge, looking at us. It came a little closer and stopped again, so we could now see its head and shoulders. It was clearly nervous at our presence, and sat there watching us. Finally it decided it was too risky to come out in front of us and it turned and ran back down through the stubble.

Brown HareBrown Hare – watching us from the stubble

After a pleasant and successful hour watching the fields for raptors, we walked back to the car. A Marsh Harrier was now quartering the back of the rough grass field, a nice addition to the morning’s list of birds of prey.

Our next destination was Titchwell, so we cut in round via Choseley on the way there. There were lots of birds along the road, in and out of the hedges. We caught the back end of a couple of Yellowhammers and one of group asked if we could get a better look at one, so we decided to make a quick stop at the barns. There were lots more Brown Hares in the recently harvested fields and a few Red-legged Partridges too. We could hear a Yellowhammer singing, ‘a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeese’, and looked across to see a very smart male perched in the top of an oak tree, its bright yellow head glowing in the sun.

There were more birds along the road down to Titchwell. The hedges were clearly providing protection from the wind, creating a sheltered microclimate. Several juvenile Goldfinches were bathing in a puddle. We pulled up to look at a flock of birds on the tarmac and found three juvenile Yellow Wagtails in with a large group of Pied Wagtails, presumably finding lots of insects on the road.

Down at Titchwell, we had a quick look round the car parks first. A couple of Greenfinches flew out of an elder as we passed and a family of Reed Warblers were clambering about in the bushes calling noisily, including a recent fledgling with short tail and still carrying some fluffy down around its head. We scanned over the fields at the back, but the only bird of note here was a single Stock Dove. We were hoping to see the Turtle Doves which have been breeding here, but there was no sign of them. Apparently the male had been purring here only an hour or so earlier, but had now gone quiet.

There was a bit of time before lunch, so we decided to head round to Patsy’s Reedbed and also have a look along the Autumn Trail, which had just been opened this morning for the first time this year. As we passed the visitor centre, the feeders were full of Greenfinches and Chaffinches, along with a few Great Tits and Blue Tits. Walking along Fen Trail, a tit flock passing quickly through the sallows included several Long-tailed Tits, but there was no sign of the Turtle Doves in the trees here.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a golden-headed chocolate brown juvenile

Round at the viewing screen overlooking Patsy’s reedbed, the first bird we saw was a juvenile Marsh Harrier circling up over the reeds. It was a typical juvenile, with a golden-orange head and the rest of it dark chocolate brown. We saw several juvenile Marsh Harriers around the reedbed today, with varying amounts of pale feathering on the head, one with just a small patch of gold on the back of the neck.

Scanning the pool, a Common Sandpiper flew across on fluttering bowed wings and landed along the near edge before running into the vegetation out of view. There were a few Little Grebes and a couple of Common Pochard among the Mallard. A Grey Heron was standing statue-like on the edge of the reeds, staring down into the water. Lots of House Martins and Sand Martins were hawking for insects low over the water and the reeds beyond.

Looking over towards Brancaster, we caught sight of a very distant Turtle Dove as it flew across and disappeared behind Willow Wood, but not all the group could get onto it and the views were not entirely satisfactory. Frustrating! With the Autumn Trail having just opened this morning, we wanted to have a look along there and we thought there was a chance we might see the Turtle Dove again, but it didn’t reappear.

As we walked along East Trail, we heard Whimbrel calling over towards the freshmarsh and looked across to see four flying up over the reeds. They circled over towards us, instantly identifiable even from their distinctive whistling call, before disappearing away to the SW. We had a quick look from up on the bank at the start of the Autumn Trail extension, which produced a very distant Arctic Skua flying past out over beach, before we lost sight of it behind the dunes.

Spoonbill 1Spoonbill – an adult, with yellow-tipped bill

As we made our way along to the end of Autumn Trail, we could see a large white shape on the freshmarsh, a Spoonbill. Even better, it was awake, preening, and we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult. There were a few waders out on the freshmarsh too from this end, but they would be easier to see close up round at the hides. A Common Sandpiper was chased off by an Egyptian Goose and flew up onto the fence around Avocet Island. A second Egyptian Goose was standing on one of the fence posts – and was still there when we looked across from Parrinder Hide later in the afternoon!

We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them in the reeds, and another juvenile Marsh Harrier patrolled up and down the bank ahead of us. Then it was time to head back for lunch. On the way, we stopped to look at a Burying Beetle which was trying to bury the corpse of a Common Shrew in the middle of the path. It seemed to realise eventually it had bitten off more than it could chew, trying to dig into the hardcore of the path on its own, and flew off.

The group really wanted to see a Turtle Dove, but it felt like we might be out of luck. Still we scanned all the likely trees on the way back. We were just walking past Patsy’s Reedbed when we spotted a shape in the top of a bush ahead of us. Yes – a Turtle Dove! It was perched in the top of an elder, preening. We got it in the scope from where we were standing, and had a quick look in case it flew off.

People coming from the other direction walked right past the Turtle Dove, seemingly without even noticing it. We were some distance away and reckoned we could get much closer. We gradually narrowed the distance until we were quite close, and had stunning views of it, we didn’t even need the scope now. It seemed totally unconcerned by our presence, eventually finishing preening at which point it dropped down into the bushes. Great stuff!

Turtle DoveTurtle Dove – gave stunning views on our way back for lunch

After a late lunch in the picnic area, given our distraction with the Turtle Dove, we headed out onto the main part of the reserve. There were just a few Mallard and Gadwall out on the reedbed pool, and a distant Bearded Tit flew across while we were scanning the water. A Cetti’s Warbler sang a quick half burst from the reeds below the path as we passed by.

There were lots of waders from Island Hide, though mostly the larger ones today. There are lots of Ruff on here at the moment. They are moulting rapidly, some now pretty much in grey winter plumage, but others still with varying numbers of gaudy summer feathers.

Ruff 1Ruff – some still with a few remaining bright summer feathers still

Ruff 2Ruff – others almost entirely in grey winter plumage already

There are lots of Avocets on the reserve at the moment, with recent counts in excess of 500 now. As well as the birds which had bred here, many more gather here at this time of year to moult. in front of hide. Several were feeding right in front of the hide, until they were flushed by another juvenile Marsh Harrier.

AvocetAvocet – over 500 on the freshmarsh at the moment

There are lots of Black-tailed Godwits here at the moment too, many still largely in rusty orange summer plumage. We could also see three Spotted Redshanks further over, towards the Parrinder bank, but they were asleep at this point. There were three Spoonbills on the freshmarsh now, but they were all asleep too, on the edge of the small island at the back.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – still largely in summer plumage

There is a nice selection of smaller gulls on here a the moment. There are lots of Black-headed Gulls, both adults and chocolate brown juveniles. In amongst them, on the nearest island, we found two diminutive Little Gulls, both first summer birds. We had a look at a couple of Mediterranean Gulls from here too, the adults gradually losing their black heads now but still sporting a heavy and bright red bill and clean white wing tips.

While we were scanning the freshmarsh, we could periodically hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. We kept looking over to the edge of the mud but couldn’t see them at first. Finally, like buses, first one, then several more appeared. They eventually showed well, feeding at the base of the reeds.

Bearded Tit

From back up on the main path, we got better views of the Spotted Redshanks. They had multiplied in the meantime, up to four now, and had woken up and started feeding so we could get a good look at their long, needle-fine bills. Like the Ruff earlier, the Spotted Redshanks were in different stages of moult from their black summer plumage. One was pretty much in silvery grey winter plumage already, but the others were still variously speckled with black on their underparts.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – this one pretty much in winter plumage already

We had a quick look in at Parrinder Hide on our way out. There were several scaly-backed juvenile Mediterranean Gulls on the islands in front of the hide. Further out, four summer plumaged Knot had dropped in while we had been walking round.

It was already late afternoon and we wanted to have a look at the sea, so we hurried out to the beach. The tide was out and the usual waders were feeding out on the mussel beds. We had a look at a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits in the scope and a single Sanderling flew in with two Turnstones and dropped in on the beach. Out to sea, lots of Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth and a single Great Crested Grebe was out on the water.

The first surprise here was a Spoonbill, which flew out over the dunes and landed on the beach. Even more bizarre was a single Egyptian Goose which suddenly appeared out on the mussel beds, before flying west along the tideline. You don’t often see Egyptian Geese on the beach!

Spoonbill 2Spoonbill – flew out past us and landed on the beach

Then it was time to head back, in good time to allow everyone to get something to eat. The plan was to go looking for Nightjars this evening, but the weather forecast was really terrible, with heavy rain expected to move in from around 8pm. We feared it might be a wash out. It was already starting to spit with rain when we met again at 7.30pm, but we set off anyway to see what we could see before the rain set in properly.

We started by looking for Little Owls. They like to perch out in the evening sunshine, but it was already cool and cloudy, it seemed unlikely we would find one today. We started scanning the roofs of the farm buildings where they like to sit. There were a few Red-legged Partridges and an Oystercatcher here. Several Brown Hares were running round in the yard below. A few Greylag Geese had gathered in a field of cut straw nearby before flying down to the coast for the night and a large flock of Rooks and Jackdaws was similarly gathering before heading off to roost.

A Mistle Thrush appeared on the roof, then a second joined it. The next thing we knew, there were 8 Mistle Thrushes together. We were just watching them through scope when a Wheatear appeared with them. It was a juvenile, presumably dispersing from somewhere after the breeding season, although there aren’t any breeding close to her, so this was an unexpected bonus. A male Yellowhammer joined all the other birds on the roof too.

It was still not raining properly but it started to spit with rain more heavily now. It was clear we were very unlikely to find any Little Owls so we decided to move on. Normally at this stage of the evening, we would go looking for Barn Owls, but it was unlikely they would be out hunting in this weather either. At least we had seen one this morning, so we decided on a change of plan.

Late in the evening, particularly at this time of year, a good number of large gulls drop in to the scrapes at Cley to bathe and preen before heading off to roost. There have been several Caspian Gulls dropping in over recent nights, so we decided to try that instead. At least we would have the shelter of the hides if the rain did get much worse.

As we drove towards Cley, news came through that an adult Caspian Gull had just been seen there. We walked quickly out to the hides and, with a bit of help from the committed gull watchers in the hide, we were straight onto it.

Caspian GullCaspian Gull – an adult, on Simmond’s Scrape at Cley at dusk

Adult Caspian Gulls are particularly subtle birds and this gave us a great opportunity to study it and talk about the key identification features. It was a noticeably big, tall gull, particularly compared to the Lesser Black-backed Gulls next to it. The dark eye stood out on the white head, with a long face and long parallel sided bill.

The Caspian Gull was preening and as it turned, it stuck one of its long wings out to the side, so we could see the pattern on the underneath of the wing tip. This was the real clincher – the distinctive under-primary pattern, with a white tip, then a narrow band of black before a long tongue of white.

There were also meant to be two juvenile Caspian Gulls here this evening, but although we could see the birds, they were asleep and facing us so we couldn’t see any detail. There was a good number of other large gulls, especially Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We could see several Yellow-legged Gulls in amongst them too, and we got the scope on a nice adult.

The light was fading fast tonight, given the dark clouds. We had already stayed a little longer than planned at Cley, but we decided to drive up to the heath anyway and try our luck, we had nothing to lose. As we came out of hide, it started to rain properly and it really felt like we would be out of luck. But the rain had eased again by the time we got up to the heath and as we opened the car door, we could hear a Nightjar churring already.

We walked quickly out to the middle, with two more Nightjars churring, one each side of us on the way out. It was very gloomy already out on the heath, but at least we were surrounded by Nightjars churring. We had a glimpse or two of one of the males flying around the trees, but it was hard for everyone to get onto it. It stayed further out tonight, not coming in to its favourite perch, it was mixing churring and hawking for insects from the tree it had chosen. Eventually it perched up on the edge of the tree and we could get it in the scope, silhouetted against the very last of the light.

We stood there for a few more minutes listening to the Nightjars churring. It was getting too dark to see them now, so we decided to call it a night. It was the right move, as they had all gone quiet by the time we got back to the car. There had been a surprising amount of Nightjar activity tonight, given the conditions and we had been very lucky given the weather forecast. On the drive back, the heavens finally opened.

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20th July 2017 – Owls & Nightjars

A Private Tour this evening, looking for owls and Nightjars. There had been some thundery showers in the morning, but these had passed through, the sky had cleared and the wind had dropped, even if it was a bit cooler tonight than of late. It looked like a good evening to be out.

Our first target for the evening was Little Owl. We drove round via one site, but there was no sign of the birds on the ruined barns where they like to sit. There were no Little Owls either at first at the second site we tried. We stopped here anyway and, having scanned from the road, had a walk down along a footpath, which took us round to the back of the farm buildings.

It was a pleasant walk. There were lots of Brown Hares in fields, always nice to see. A Stock Dove perched on the roof of a barn next to a Woodpigeon for comparison and an Oystercatcher seemed to be enjoying a similar vantage point on the ridge of one roof. A large flock of Jackdaws and Rooks had started to gather in a recently cut wheat field, before heading off to roost. A Yellowhammer was singing from an overturned potato crate in the corner of a field. But there was no sign of a Little Owl anywhere.

We had a schedule to keep so we couldn’t stay here any longer. As we got back to the car, we glanced over to the buildings opposite where we had parked, which we had scanned when we first arrived, and there was a Little Owl on the roof. It had come out to bask in evening sun.

IMG_6302Little Owl – basking in the evening sunshine

After a good look at the Little Owl through the scope, we moved on and made our way down to the coast. We drove round past some of meadows where Barn Owls regularly hunt, but we couldn’t see any out yet. So we parked and walked down along the seawall to scan the marshes. Swifts and House Martins were twittering overhead. We could hear Bearded Tits in the reeds, and looked across to see several perched up nicely in the tops. We got a good look at them in the scope. A Marsh Harrier circled distantly over marshes.

The first Barn Owl of the evening appeared, flying over the reeds behind some bushes where there is a Barn Owl box, but it was rather distant. Then we spotted a second, out hunting over the marshes. We couldn’t see the entrance to the box from where we were standing and we were looking straight into the setting sun, but we just could see some movement on the platform on the front of the box and a Barn Owl dropped out and down behind the reeds out of view. The young Barn Owls here must be near to fledging now.

One of the Barn Owls out hunting caught a vole and flew back towards the box. We thought it might be heading back to feed the youngsters, but it landed on post instead and ate it. We watched it in the scope, before it flew back and continued hunting along the bank. It started making its way towards us and this time we got closer views, before it turned again and headed off other way.

It was time to think about heading up to the heath now – we had a date with some Nightjars! As we turned to head back to the car, we could see a white shape behind the railings by the road behind us, back near to where we had parked. Another Barn Owl. We had a quick look through binoculars then made our way quickly back, hoping to get a better view of it from back at the car, but just at that moment a very noisy motorbike came along the road and flushed it. We watched as it resumed hunting over the meadow on the other side of the road.

6O0A0393Barn Owl – one of several we saw out hunting this evening

It was already dusk by the time we got up to the heath, and walked out into the middle of the gorse and heather. A Tawny Owl called from the trees. We didn’t have to wait long before the first Nightjar called and, after a couple more minutes,  it flew high out over the tops of the trees, turned and dropped down onto a dead branch on the front edge close to where we were standing. It perched there for some time, silent, where we could get a great look at it in the scope.

IMG_6326Nightjar – perched nicely on a branch in front of us

The Nightjars were slow to start churring this evening – perhaps because it was a bit cooler tonight. Eventually one started up over the other side of the heath. The male we were watching then flew out from the trees and disappeared out over the heather behind us. Given that, we were surprised to hear a quick burst of churring still coming from the trees in front of us. The first male flew back in and a second male Nightjar promptly flew out of the trees. The two of them perched on the dead branches together just a metre or so apart. There was clearly a minor territorial dispute, as they spread their tails and started turning from side to side where they were perched, flashing their white tail patches.

One of the male Nightjars flew off across heath again and the other stayed perched for a while, where we got a very prolonged look at it through the scope. It made a couple of  sallies out, short display flights over our heads and past us, with exaggerated wing beats, and tail spread flashing its white corners, before flying back to its perch in the trees. After one of these sallies, it flew into the trees and we could hear it wing clapping, before disappearing into another leafy oak where it started churring again. A female Nigthjar then appeared, lacking the white wing and tail patches of the male, and started flying low in and out of the trees hunting. At one point it came out over the edge of the heath and right over our heads. Great views.

When this male Nightjar finally went quiet, we walked a short distance across the heath into the territory of another. We could hear it now, churring from somewhere in an oak tree out in the middle. We listened to it for a while in the distance, before it took off – we could hear it wing clapping as it did so. We couldn’t see it flying with the light starting to fade now, but it flew in and landed on one of its favourite perches, in an oak close to us. We watched it churring, silhouetted against the last of the light on a bare branch. Between bouts of churring, it flew little sallies out from its perch, hawking for insects.

IMG_6331

It was a lovely way to end the evening. Eventually it flew back away from us and disappeared into the night. We walked back to the car, listening to another two churring male Nightjars on our way.

24th June 2017 – Summer Weekend, Day 1

The first day of a weekend of Summer birding, looking for some of our scarcer breeding birds, plus any late or early migrants as well as the regular species we can see here a this time of year. We were basing ourselves in North Norfolk today. It was a pleasant day, cloudy with sunny intervals, warm, with a lighter wind than of late.

The target for the first part of the morning was to look for raptors. As we parked at the start of a farm track, a Barn Owl flew across the meadow nearby and disappeared into the trees. Many pairs have well grown young to feed now and can be seen out hunting later into the morning and again early evening.

Barn Owl 1Barn Owl – a very pale male, out hunting still this morning

As we walked along the track on the edge of the meadow, we flushed a couple of Grey Partridge from the grass, which flew off calling noisily. A Swallow was hawking for insects low over the grass. We could hear a couple of Yellowhammers and a Common Whitethroat singing from the hedges and several Skylarks singing up in the sky above the fields. We stopped to look at a young Brown Hare, a leveret, hiding in one of the tramlines across a field.

Up at the top of a rise, from where we could get a good view over the surrounding countryside, we stopped to scan for raptors. We saw an excellent variety of birds of prey from here. A Kestrel was hovering over the fields. A Sparrowhawk flew across in front of us, brief bouts of flapping interspersed with long glides. As the day warmed up, several Common Buzzards circled up out of the woods in all directions. A Red Kite hung in the air – it was some distance away, but its distinctive shape and flight action, turning its tail and flexing its wings down, easily gave its identity away. Target achieved.

It is a great spot up here from which just to stand and admire the gently rolling Norfolk countryside. A pair of Stock Doves flew over. A Green Woodpecker flew across the field in front of us, commuting between blocks of trees.With our target for the morning duly achieved, we moved on.

Our next destination for the rest of the morning was Titchwell. As we took a quick walk round the overflow car park, a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over, calling loudly. We had almost got right round to the other side, when a Turtle Dove finally flew out of the bushes above our heads. There has been a pair nesting here and they have just successfully fledged a single youngster, so we were hoping to see them here.

The Turtle Dove flew round to the other side of the car park, where we had just walked. We could see it perched in a tree, preening. So we headed back that way and as we stood and watched it, a second Turtle Dove flew in and landed in another tree, further back. We watched the pair of Turtle Doves for a while, they seem to be used to people in the car park now and we had great views of them close up through the scope.

Turtle DoveTurtle Dove – showed really well in the car park this morning

Eventually the first Turtle Dove finished preening and flew back the way it had come. The second Turtle Dove promptly flew off after it, so we moved on. Over by the Visitor Centre, there were several Greenfinches on the feeders, along with the usual selection of Chaffinches, Great Tit and Blue Tit.

As we walked out onto the reserve along the main path, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the grazing meadow. As we got out of the trees, we stopped to scan but we couldn’t see it – it sounded like it was down in the deep vegetation out in the middle. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds beyond.

A Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds, a frenetic mixture of rattles and churrs, very different from the more metronimic Reed Warblers the other side of the path. We saw several Reed Warblers chasing round in the reeds that side. A male Reed Bunting was perched up on top of a bush, singing away, although its song is not much to write home about! We could hear Bearded Tits calling, and turned to see a family party flying up from the reeds. They kept moving a short distance at a time, and we could see them each time they came back up, a male, female and two black-masked tawny juveniles.

There was nothing of note on the Grazing Meadow ‘pool’, and just a few Mallard visible on the reedbed pool, so we made our way quickly up to Island Hide.

There has been a steady succession of Little Gulls, all 1st summer birds, on the reserve in recent weeks and we quickly found the two here today, on the nearest island. They were suitably dwarfed by the nearby Black-headed Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull. Over in the fenced off island at the back, we picked out a smart pair of Mediterranean Gulls among the nesting Black-headed Gulls. There were also a few terns – as well as the regular Common Terns, three Sandwich Terns were roosting on the island.

Little GullLittle Gull – dwarfed by the Lesser Black-backed Gull behind

Even though it is only June still, the first waders are already starting to return, on their way south from the arctic. At first, all we found were the regular waders. There are lots of Avocets, as usual, many of them loafing over on one of the islands with a mob of Black-tailed Godwits. The majority of the latter are 1st summer Icelandic birds which have not gone north this year, although we did manage to find a single Continental Black-tailed Godwit in with them.

AvocetAvocet – increasing numbers on the freshmarsh

The single Ruff has been here throughout, and is also presumably a first summer bird, so a non-breeder this year. Although sporting a bright rufous head and neck, he never developed the distinctive ruff of a breeding male. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers too.

The wader highlight from here was a single Spotted Redshank which appeared on the edge of the reeds. A real cracker, it was in full breeding plumage, jet black with silvery white spots on its upperparts. This bird is freshly in from the arctic on its way back south. This is the time to see them at their best, as they quickly start to moult into silvery grey winter plumage and get very patchy after a week or so.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – a stunning bird in full black summer plumage

As we sat in the hide, we could see more Marsh Harriers over the main reedbed. A rather dark chocolate brown bird appeared with them, with very restricted pale on the back of the head – one of the first juvenile Marsh Harriers to fledge this year, up practicing flying. There are not so many ducks here now, and what is here is mostly drakes in eclipse. There were a few Teal, starting to moult, and the usual Shelduck.

As we made our way out along the bank, a small crowd of locals were gathered around one of the benches. They kindly pointed out a Common Sandpiper which had just appeared on one of the islands, another returning migrant wader for the day’s list.

Continuing out towards the beach, there was nothing of particular note on either the Volunteer Marsh or the Tidal Pools today. However, as we were walking past, another local birder called to us and pointed to three Spoonbills which had flown across thre freshmarsh behind us. We watched as they heading out towards Brancaster, circling for a minute or so over the saltmarsh.

A quick look at the sea produced a raft of around 30 Common Scoter out on the water. There were quite a few terns flying back and forth, which were mostly Sandwich Terns. Scanning the beach we could see a few waders down on the mussel beds, despite the disturbance from lots of people clambering over them. A Curlew was the most notable, again possibly an early returning bird, alongside several Bar-tailed Godwits and lots of Oystercatchers. A pair of Shoveler on the beach were rather out of place!

It was already lunch time and we had a long walk back ahead of us, so we didn’t linger too long on the beach. On the way, we had a quick stop when we heard some Bearded Tits calling near the path. The Bearded Tits perched up nicely in the reeds for us briefly, just as a Cetti’s Warbler did exactly the same further along, so we didn’t know which way to look.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – a pair showed well on the walk back

After a late lunch in the picnic area, we drove back east along the coast road. We stopped at Holkham and took the path to the west on the inland side of the pines. There were a few warblers singing in the trees – a Blackcap and a couple of Chiffchaffs, plus a distant Lesser Whitethroat. We heard a Jay calling in the pines too. Otherwise the trees were rather quiet, perhaps not surprising in mid afternoon.

Stopping to scan the grazing marshes, we could see the heads of quite a few geese sticking out of the long grass. Most of them were Greylag Geese – sporting bright orange carrots as bills – but a couple of darker heads and bills appeared with them. Two Pink-footed Geese walked out, probably birds which have been shot and injured and could not make the journey back north to Iceland to breed. There were also a few Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese here too.

There were a few butterflies out, in the brambles and bushes alongside the path. Mostly they were Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells but as we got closer to the crosstracks we found several White Admirals too.

Even before we got into the hide, we could see a huddle of white shapes on the edge of the pool. From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, we got the scope on them and confirmed they were mostly Spoonbills. There were several recently fledged juveniles with only partly grown bills – nicknamed ‘teaspoonbills’, as well a few adults still sporting nuchal crests. One of the juvenile Spoonbills decided to start harrassing its parent, chasing round after it, bobbing its head vigorously up and down, flapping its wings and begging. The adult Spoonbill tried to walk away but was pursued around the pool by the youngster.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills & Little Egrets – including some recently fledged young

As well as the juvenile Spoonbills on the pool, there were two or three recently fledged Little Egrets too. There was a steady coming and going of Little Egrets, but suddenly two larger egrets appeared over the trees. They were Great White Egrets. They flew across and dropped down out of view behind the bank. A little later, we could see one Great White Egret feeding out on the grazing marsh beyond the trees.

There were plenty of Marsh Harriers here too, and a couple made nice close passes in front of the hide, giving us great views. One female in particular seemed to like hunting over the grass just to one side of the hide.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – gave great views from the hide

With a busy evening planned, it was time to walk back if we were to have a chance to get something to eat beforehand. On the way, we saw a few more tits in the trees. A mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits and Coal Tits had probably been down to bathe or drink and we caught them as they made their way back into the pines. At least one Goldcrest was with them. We also heard a Treecreeper calling just before we got back to the car.

After a couple of hours break, we met again later for the Nightjar Evening. The plan was to go looking for owls first, so we made our way first over to a good site for Little Owls. When we arrived at the farm buildings, there was no sign of any owls at first. A Yellowhammer was singing from the top of a tree nearby and we could see few Red-legged Partridges and a pair of Oystercatchers asleep on the roof of one of the buildings.

There were several Brown Hares around too. We had stopped at the start of a track to watch two of them when a Stoat ran across the path in front, followed by three almost fully grown young ones. A few seconds it was followed by another Stoat and another two youngsters, presumably all one family on an evening’s outing. A nice surprise.

Making our way down towards the coast next, we stopped to look at a Barn Owl hunting  over a field by the road. It disappeared over the hedge at the back, and we had a look across from the next field, but it had disappeared. We went back to the first field and a second Barn Owl appeared. Again, it flew up into the hedge but this time it didn’t appear the other side. It had clearly landed, as a couple of minutes later we saw it again as it flew away along the line of the hedge.

Barn Owl 2Barn Owl – one of five we saw this evening in a brief look

We had another stop briefly in another area where there is a pair of Barn Owls nesting in an owl box. We watched them hunting and bringing food back to the box. A third Barn Owl, a much darker bird, flew across carrying food and landed in a bush out of view. We had an appointment with some Nightjars so unfortunately we couldn’t linger here long this evening.

Up on the heath, we got ourselves in position in time for the Nightjars to start churring. They took a while to get started but then, after a brief churr, two male Nightjars appeared and started chasing each other round, in and out of the trees. One of them flew towards us and landed in an oak tree in front of us before beginning to churr. We managed to get it in the scope, but it was hard to pick out against the dark branches and it flew again before everyone could get a look at it. It flew past us, so we followed on after it.

The Nightjar had landed in another oak further across the heath. We could hear it churring so we made our way round to the side where we thought it would be perched. There it was, on a dead branch. We got it in the scope and this time everyone got a quick look at it before it flew again. This time it landed on one of its favourite perches, a dead branch which sticks out from one the trees. We crept round to where we could see it out in the open, churring away with its throat feathers puffed out, giving us great views.

NightjarNightjar – churring from one of its favourite branches

When this Nightjar finally flew off, we turned towards another male churring further over. We could see it silhouetted against the last of the evening’s light, a classic Nightjar view. We stood for a few minutes, listening to all the Nightjars churring around us, a great sound on a summer’s evening up on the heath. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees and we could hear the squeaky call of a juvenile Tawny Owl too. Then with the light fading, we started to make our way back. A great evening to round off our first day.

3rd June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – showing very well along the East Bank

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

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – feeding on the edge of the Serpentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LinnetLinnet – still a relatively common bird up in the Heath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NightjarNightjar – silhouetted against the fading light in a leafy tree

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

19th May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 1

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

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

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

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

IMG_4244Dotterel – the first we saw this morning, a male

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4280Turtle Dove – hiding in the bushes in the early rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A1401Red Kite – circled over Meadow Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4376Wheatear – a female, along the seawall at Thornham Harbour

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

6O0A1449Brown Hare – we saw lots in the fields today

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

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

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

4th Mar 2017 – Winter & Brecks, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Winter & Brecks Tour, aiming to catch up with some of our wintering birds in North Norfolk, as well as the specialities of early spring in the Brecks. Saturday had been forecast to be the worst weather of the weekend but the forecast had seen a dramatic change during the day yesterday and was now forecast to be dry all day. We headed down to the Brecks to try our luck there today.

It was still drizzling when we met in North Norfolk, but dried up as we drove down and the sky started to brighten from the west. A couple of Red Kites circled over the road on the way, probably enjoying the improvement in the weather after the rain yesterday. As we got down to the Brecks and turned off the main road, we spotted a Barn Owl out hunting. It landed on a post and we pulled up nearby, at which point we noticed a second Barn Owl a few posts along.

6o0a8753Barn Owl – one of a pair drying out this morning

The Barn Owls seemed to be trying to dry themselves out, possibly after a wet night, perched on the posts with their wings held loosely. We watched them for a minute or so until they finally decided to resume hunting and flew off.

While we waited for the air to warm up, we went for a short walk into the forest first. We could hear a Goldcrest singing from the pines as we walked up a ride. When we came to a clearing, a Yellowhammer was singing from the top of a tall tree, where we could get it in the scope. A Common Buzzard flew across and landed on a telegraph post.

The forest itself was rather quiet – it was still rather cool, and damp from last night’s rain. There were a few Coal Tits and Blue Tits calling from the trees, as well as more Goldcrests. We heard a Marsh Tit too, from deep in the undergrowth, but it didn’t show itself. A steady succession of single Siskins flew over calling.

We could see some blue sky approaching, so we decided to head straight over to look for Goshawks. It was a wise move as, no sooner had we got on site, we were watching a juvenile Goshawk circle up out of the forest. Over the next hour and a half, we were treated to an amazing display of Goshawk activity. Rarely was there not at least one on view somewhere and there were at least five different birds present. At one point we had four Goshawks in the air at the same time!

6o0a8771-001Goshawk – one of the adults, displaying

The juvenile Goshawks led the charge at first. After the first one appeared, we then had two juveniles up together. We could see their orange-tinged underparts and darker brownish upperparts as they circled. The juveniles started displaying and a pair, the larger female and smaller male, flew up and down together for a time. A third juvenile appeared, paler below than the other two.

Eventually, the adult Goshawks joined in the show. They responded mainly with slow flapping display, flying across over the trees with exaggerated wing beats. One circled up with its white undertail coverts fluffed out, known as ‘tail flagging’. Just as we were about to leave, one of the adults gave us a full rollercoaster display, swooping upwards steeply, closing its wings at the top and then stooping down sharply before turning back up, in a series of undulations, gradually losing height until it disappeared behind the trees. It was great to watch.

There were lots of Common Buzzards circling up too, of various shades, including a particularly pale white one. On several occasions, one of the Goshawks would drift over to join the Buzzards in their thermal, giving us a great size comparison. Goshawks are big and powerful birds, females are larger than males and a large female is not much smaller than a Buzzard. At one point, a Sparrowhawk circled up from the trees too and was dwarfed by the Buzzards.

Perhaps it was the weather which caused their to be so much activity today. Certainly it was good conditions for Goshawks to be displaying, a bit of blue sky between the clouds and a little warmth from the sun at times. But coming after a couple of damp days, perhaps they were also relieved at the opportunity to get up and show off!

There were birds other than raptors here too. The highlight was a Woodlark. We heard it singing first, and then looked over to see it hovering up over the edge of a field. It flew round and landed in the top of a tree, where we could get a view of it through the scope. A large flock of Fieldfares flew up from the fields behind us and landed in the trees, chacking away. A Mistle Thrush was singing from the treetops the other side.

Eventually we decided to tear ourselves away from the Goshawks and go off to explore another part of the forest. There had been a Great Grey Shrike here last weekend, but it had not been seen all week. It is possibly the same bird which was seen a couple of miles away two weeks previously, so it may be covering a large area. Still, we thought it might be worth a look and there are normally other things to see here too.

At first it seemed rather quiet as we set off along a track. It had clouded over and the temperature had dropped again. There was no sign of the shrike where it had been seen before. However, we could hear Woodlarks and Redpolls calling, so we set off to look for them. We saw one of the Woodlarks drop down from the trees across the other side of a clearing, so we set off round towards it. When we got there, it was hiding in a rut at first, but then it flew up followed by a second Woodlark, as we approached. They landed further over.

6o0a8399Woodlark – one of the birds in the same clearing taken a few days ago

While we were chasing after the Woodlark, we had forgotten about the Redpolls, but the next thing we knew they were feeding in the trees right beside us.There were four at first. Looking at them now we could see they were Lesser Redpolls, quite rich brown toned birds with brown rumps. A nice bright male had a lovely pinky red wash over its breast, as well as the red ‘poll’ on its forehead. As we watched them feeding on the buds of the bare tree, we realised there were more in a thicker clump of trees a little further along and, when they eventually all flew off, there were at least fifteen of them here.

6o0a8830Lesser Redpoll – a male with pinky-red washed breast

The Woodlarks proved hard to see on the ground at first, but after we had finished watching the Redpolls, the male Woodlark flew across and landed on a tussock, where we could get a good look at it in the scope. As we walked back across the clearing, it flew up in front of us and gave us a nice burst of song as it fluttered overhead.

When we got back to the car, there were a couple of Treecreepers in the trees by the road. A Marsh Tit was feeding nearby and a Nuthatch was calling from a large oak tree. It was already lunchtime, so we drove round to Santon Downham for a break and something to eat. While we were there, we could hear a Marsh Tit singing from the trees.

After lunch, we drove round to Lynford Arboretum. As we walked in along the track, we could see a small cluster of photographers at the gate by the feeders. Apparently there had been a Hawfinch here earlier, right at the back, but it was not on view. However, there were several nice Bramblings down in the leaf litter, males with bright orange shoulders and breasts and varying shades of head between grey and black, plus browner females.

6o0a8862Brambling – a male, with its summer black head just beginning to appear

We could hear Hawfinch calling, a quiet ‘tic-tic’, from the trees, so we walked along to look the other side. There was no sign of it at first, but after a short while it appeared out in the grass on the edge of the trees. We were just watching it through the scope when it was flushed by a child riding round on a quad bike – he seemed to like riding round in front of all the birders and flushing the birds! The Hawfinch flew back into the trees, where we could hear it still calling.

Thankfully, the Hawfinch came out again after a few minutes and landed back on the grass the other side of the clearing. It was a smart male, rich chestnut brown around the head, with a contrasting grey collar. We had a great look at it through the scope as it hopped around on the ground. It seemed to be looking for sycamore keys – it kept picking up bits in its bill and when it found a key with a seed, would chomp on it with its huge bill until it got to the seed. The Hawfinch was accompanied by two Bramblings, which looked tiny by comparison, and a Song Thrush.

img_1186Hawfinch – this male was looking in the grass for sycamore keys

Here’s some video of the Hawfinch on the grass from a couple of days ago:

When the Hawfinch was flushed again, it flew up into the trees above the feeders. We walked back to the gate and, after a couple of minutes, could hear it calling from the holly trees a bit further along. When we walked over to see if we could see it, we could hear that it was singing. Hawfinch song itself is nothing much to write home about, a quiet jumble of sharp and grating calls, but it is still great to hear. We couldn’t see it and after a while it flew back to the tree tunnel, where it perched out of view in the trees calling, before flying off over the arboretum.

Even though the male had flown off, we could still hear a Hawfinch calling from the trees the other side of the chicken pen. We walked up that way and it appeared right in the tops. It was a female, much duller grey brown compared to the male. Still, we got it in the scope and had a great look at it. Eventually, as a crowd started to gather below it, it flew back into the trees.

6o0a8897Hawfinch – a duller female in the trees

It was that time of the day when the Hawfinches start to gather to roost, so we made our way down towards the paddocks. There was lots of bird seed put out on the pillars of the bridge, and loads of birds coming down to feed on it. However, as we walked up to the bridge we could hear Crossbills calling from high in the poplars. We hurried on down the path the other side, just in time to see five Crossbills fly off south over the meadow beyond.

Back at the bridge, we spent some time watching the comings and goings at the bird seed. There was a succession of tits flying in, grabbing a beak-full, and darting back to the safety of the trees. As well as the usual Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long-tailed Tits, we had great views of Coal Tit and Marsh Tit. The latter in particular are always good to see up close.

6o0a8949Marsh Tit – feeding on the seed at the bridge

A couple of Nuthatches kept coming down to the seed too, as did a Reed Bunting and several Chaffinches. Lots of Siskins were feeding in the trees above and several came down to a muddy pool to drink. It was a hive of activity here.

6o0a8941Nuthatch – also coming to the seed at the bridge

We heard more Crossbills calling as they flew in. One landed in the alders briefly, before all three flew up into the tops of the poplars. We hurried down the path again, just in time to see them, two red males and a green/yellow female, chasing around in the branches before dropping down through the trees, presumably to drink.

While we waited for the Crossbills hopefully to reappear, we turned our attention to the paddocks. Scanning the tops of the trees beyond, we picked up a Hawfinch high in the top of a fir tree. A second Hawfinch was in another tree nearby. Then the first flew down towards the trees in the middle of the paddocks, where it landed. We walked further along the path, still with one eye back on the poplars, but the Hawfinch had dropped down towards the ground out of view.

It seemed like the Crossbills we had seen in the poplars were not going to come back up into the tops, but standing by the paddocks we heard more Crossbills calling from the pines nearby. We walked along to look for them and there was no sign of any movement in the trees initially, until we heard a cone dropping through one of the trees. That is a sure giveaway, the birds dropping the cones when they are finished extracting the seeds from them, and we quickly honed in on where they were.

To our surprise, the first Crossbill we set eyes on was a streaky juvenile. This is the first juvenile we have seen this year. Crossbills will breed in almost any month of the year, and will often have their first nesting attempt in January or even December. As we looked more closely at the tree, we could see there were actually two juveniles and two bright red males.

img_1229Crossbill – a streaky juvenile

The juvenile Crossbills were clambering around, picking at the cones and even pulling at the bark on the branches, still not able to feed themselves. The males were busy feeding, extracting seed from the cones. At one point, we watched as one of the males hopped over and fed one of the begging youngsters – regurgitating half digested seed for it. It was fascinating to watch.

img_1266Crossbill – a red male hanging on a cone, check out the distinctive crossed mandibles

We thought there might be a female nearby, but when they flew off there were just the four Crossbills together. As we walked back towards the bridge, we could hear Crossbills calling from the poplars and there were the two juveniles with one of the adult males. That might mean the female Crossbill is incubating a second clutch somewhere nearby, and the male has been left to care for the first brood until they are able to fend for themselves.

While we were watching the Crossbills, we heard several Hawfinches flying over towards the paddocks. We turned back to look over in that direction and could see a few Hawfinches in the tops of the trees beyond. At first, we could just see two or three in the very tops of a couple of pines, but on closer inspection we found more, with nine together in a lower deciduous tree. There were at least fifteen in total.

The number of Hawfinch here have dropped in recent weeks, from their peak at the start of the year, which may indicate that migrants which had spent the winter here, with our resident Hawfinches, have already left on their way back. Still, fifteen is a very respectable number – there aren’t many places in the UK where you can see a flock of that size these days. While we were watching them, we heard Mandarin calling and turned to see a pair flying away from us over the lake.

After a really great day in the Brecks, it was time to head for home now. As we drove back to North Norfolk,we drove through the area where we had looked for the Pallid Harrier yesterday. It had been showing all day today, since about 10am, but by the time we got back it was a bit too late in the day, and the sun was going down. We had a quick look for it, but it turned out that it had flown off about an hour earlier. Typical!

We did spot a Red Kite high in a tree right above the road, feeding on something. A Barn Owl flew across the road in front of us and along the verge, before flipping over the hedge. It was a perfect book end to the day – Red Kites and Barn Owls to start and finish.

24th Feb 2017 – Wildfowl, Waders & Larks

A Winter Tour today in North Norfolk. After Storm Doris had blown through yesterday (thankfully, with no tours arranged!), bringing gusts of up to 81mph, it was a welcome return to calmer conditions today. It was mostly cloudy, but we did enjoy some nice sunnier intervals later in the afternoon.

Our first stop was at Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see large flocks of Wigeon still on the grazing marshes. It won’t be too long now before they will start to depart for their Russian breeding grounds.

6o0a7998Wigeon – still large flocks on the grazing marshes at Holkham

Most of the Pink-footed Geese have already departed on their way back north, although they will stop off in northern England or Scotland before continuing on their way to Iceland. However, there are still a few around and we managed to find a small party of Pink-footed Geese further over on the grazing marshes. A quick look through the scope, and we discovered there were a couple of White-fronted Geese with them too and a single Brent Goose.

Walking through the gap in the trees towards the beach, there were lots of small branches and leaves scattered over the path, the remnants of last night’s storm. We made our way east, along the path on the edge of the saltmarsh. Out in the vegetation, we could see a small group of Brent Geese and Shelduck. Most of the geese were Dark-bellied Brents, the commonest subspecies here in winter, they breed in northern Russia. There is also a regular Black Brant hybrid here, the returning progeny of a vagrant Black Brant which had paired up with a Dark-bellied Brent Goose many years ago, this hybrid now comes back every year to the same place.

img_0920Black Brant hybrid – the regular returning bird, still with the Brent flock at Holkham

It didn’t take long to find the Black Brant hybrid in with the small flock of Brents. It has a noticeably whiter flank patch and more extensive collar, as well as being a touch darker above and on the belly than the accompanying Dark-bellied Brent Geeese. However, it is not quite dark or contrasting enough to match a pure Black Brant. It is always an interesting bird to see here.

As we walked along, several Meadow Pipits flew up from the saltmarsh, but it wasn’t until we got to the east end that we found the Shorelarks, in their regular spot. They are currently feeding mostly in the slightly taller vegetation, so can be hard to see. Thankfully we were able to find them before some other birders walked right through the area they were hiding.

img_0906Shorelark – still 29+ here, feeding in the taller vegetation on the saltmarsh

We watched the Shorelarks for a while. At first, it looked like there were only 5-6 of them again, but gradually we spotted more creeping around in the sea lavendar seed heads. With their heads down, they were particularly hard to see, but occasionally a bright yellow face with black bandit mask would pop up out of the vegetation.

When a Common Buzzard drifted out from the pines and across the saltmarsh, the Shorelarks all took off and only at that stage could we see how many there really were. They landed on a slightly more open sandy ridge and a quick count suggested there were 29, although we could easily still have missed one or two. Then they scuttled quickly back into cover.

We walked over to the dunes and had a quick look at the sea. It was still rather rough after yesterday, and there didn’t appear to be a lot visible today. We did find a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers feeding in the breakers. There were also lots of Oystercatchers and gulls on the beach, feeding on shellfish washed up after the storm, and several Sanderling were running in and out of the waves between them.

As we made our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive, a small bird came zipping low across the saltmarsh and out towards the dunes. It was a Merlin. Often that is all you see of them, as they disappear off into the distance, but this one helpfully decided to land on a small Suaeda bush, where we could get a great look at it through the scope. It perched there for several minutes, before flying off over the dunes and away west over the beach. As we got back to the boardwalk, a Sparrowhawk was circling over the pines.

img_0932Merlin – perched up for us to get a great look at it

From Lady Anne’s Drive, we walked west on the inland side of the pines. A tree was down across the path and the wardens were in the process of clearing it with chainsaws. Despite the noise, we could hear Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits in the trees. Further along, a Treecreeper was singing. Salts Hole held a Little Grebe, a pair of Tufted Ducks, plus a few Coot and Wigeon. A Jay flew across, over the back of the water.

As we approached Washington Hide, we saw a Spoonbill fly up briefly, which appeared to drop down again, possibly onto one of the pools. We had a scan of the grazing marshes from the boardwalk by the hide, but couldn’t see it from there. A Marsh Harrier circled up out of the reedbed. Then the Spoonbill flew up again and disappeared off further west.

At Joe Jordan Hide, there didn’t seem to be as much activity as recent days at first. There was a scattering of commoner geese – Greylags, Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese – out on the grass. A small group of White-fronted Geese were feeding on the old fort, but as we sat and watched, a steady stream of small groups flew in and joined them, mostly from the other side of Decoy Wood.

6o0a8013White-fronted Geese – flying in to land on the grazing marshes

A juvenile Peregrine was standing by the edge of one of the pools further over, but took off just as we turned the scope onto it. It proceeded to have a go at most of the other birds in the vicinity, swooping down at ducks and geese, but didn’t really seem to know what it was doing. We also saw several more Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards from here – it is often a good spot for raptors.

Finally, we managed to find the Spoonbill. It was right out across the other side of the grazing marshes and feeding in a small pool. With its head down, it was impossible to see, but just visible occasionally as it lifted its head up. Thankfully, after a while it flew out and landed on the open grass where we could get a slightly better look at it. It was a juvenile, lacking the yellow bill tip and bushy crest of the adults. There was no sign of the other three Spoonbills today, or any Great White Egrets from here.

Back at Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped for lunch at the picnic tables over looking the grazing marshes. As well as the Wigeon still, there was a selection of waders out on the grassy pools, including Oystercatcher, Curlew and Redshank. A pair of Mistle Thrushes flew down out of the pines. After lunch, as we drove back towards the coast road, the Pink-footed Geese were now close to Lady Anne’s Drive so we stopped quickly for a better look.

6o0a8028Pink-footed Geese – nice views close to Lady Anne’s Drive after lunch

From the road, we pulled up to scan the other side of the marshes and quickly spotted a very tall white shape, a Great White Egret. We stopped and got the scope on it. Helpfully, there was a Grey Heron just next to it for comparison and we could see that the Great White Egret was as tall or even slightly taller! The long yellow-orange bill also really stood out.

img_0934Great White Egret – out on the grazing marshes at Holkham

Scanning across the marshes, we found a second Great White Egret, hiding in a reedy ditch. There were also lots more White-fronted Geese this side, which is why there were not so many visible from Joe Jordan Hide today. Amongst a flock of Lapwings and Starlings down on the wet grass, we found a little group of Ruff too.

As we made our way further west along the coast road, a shout from one of the group alerted us to a Barn Owl perched on a post right beside the road as we drove past. Never an easy place to stop, we managed to reverse back to it. It sat for a few seconds looking at us, but then flew a little further along as another car pulled up behind. Driving forwards very slowly, we were able to watch it only about 10 metres away from us. Stunning views! Eventually, the growing number of cars stopping to look seemed to spur it into action and it flew across the road and started hunting over the marshes.

6o0a8049Barn Owl – perched on a post right beside the road in the middle of the day

There has not been as much daytime Barn Owl activity this winter, which may reflect the generally mild and clement conditions we have enjoyed. It they are not hungry, then there is no need for them to hunt during the day. Presumably Storm Doris had made hunting very difficult yesterday and overnight, so this Barn Owl had come out to try to catch something during the day. We could see that it was ringed, but unfortunately couldn’t read the full number from photos. Many wild Barn Owls are ringed in the nest in North Norfolk.

After that unexpected bonus, we continued on to Titchwell, where we planned to spend the rest of the afternoon. The feeders round the visitor centre held a selection of the commoner finches and tits, but no sign of any Brambling today. The Water Rail put on a good show, feeding out in the open in the ditch by the main path, probing in the decaying leaves, seemingly unconcerned by the large lenses pointed at it.

6o0a8104Water Rail – still in the ditch by the path

The grazing meadow was rather quiet again but the reedbed pool did at least provide Common Pochard as an addition for the day’s list. The water levels on the freshmarsh have been slowly coming down and there was a nice selection of birds on here today.

The first thing that struck us when we arrived was the gulls. There were large numbers of Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls loafing on the edges of the islands or in the shallow water. In with them were a few Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We had a scan through from Island Hide, but it was only from further up that a Mediterranean Gull was visible. It was an adult, with white wing tips and bright red bill, just moulting in to summer plumage, with white speckling still around the front of its jet black hood.

img_0949Mediterranean Gull – an adult moulting into summer plumage

There was still the usual variety of ducks on the freshmarsh. The Teal were looking particularly smart, in the afternoon sunshine, just below the path. Further over, we could see a selection of Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler and a pair of Pintail. A large flock of Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh towards Brancaster, calling noisily, and landed on the water to bathe and preen.

6o0a8122Teal – a smart drake in the sunshine

Wader numbers on the freshmarsh are increasing now, in particular the number of Avocets, as birds return north. There were also more Black-tailed Godwits today, though mostly sleeping in amongst the gulls. A small group of Dunlin included a single Knot for comparison. Singles of Grey Plover and Turnstone had presumably flown in from the beach ahead of high tide. The fenced off Avocet Island at the back was packed with Golden Plover and Lapwing, with more small flocks of Golden Plover dropping in to join them all the time.

6o0a8190Curlew – on the Volunteer Marsh

There were more waders on the Volunteer Marsh. As well as more Knot, Dunlin and Grey Plover, there were lots of Redshank and Curlew. A single Ringed Plover was a welcome addition to the day’s list. With high tide approaching, more waders were roosting on the Tidal Pools, particularly several Bar-tailed Godwits. This gave us a great opportunity to compare them to a couple of Black-tailed Godwits feeding nearby. Even without seeing their respective tails, the buffier tones, black streaked upperparts, shorter legs and upturned bill all quickly distinguish the Bar-tailed Godwits.

6o0a8144Avocet – on the Tidal Pools

There were also more Knot and Redshank on the Tidal Pools, and several Avcoets feeding, including one close to the path.

We wanted to have a look at the sea, but there was not as much activity out here as there has been in recent weeks. There was still a big swell running, after the storm yesterday, and several of the ducks appeared to be quiet a way offshore. Fortunately, there was a nice group of about twenty Velvet Scoters close in, diving for shellfish. Several were holding their wings loosely folded, revealing the white wing flash as a stripe on their flanks. The face pattern is rather variable, particularly at this time of year, but it was possible to see the distinctive white spot at the base of the bill on some.

Helpfully, there was also a female Common Scoter with them for comparison, with a very extensive pale cheek and dark cap, and no white wing flash. There were more Common and Velvet Scoters in a larger raft much further out. A female Goldeneye drifted past in front of them, but most of the other Goldeneyes were a long way offshore today. A Fulmar flew past too.

Back at the Tidal Pools, we stopped to look again at a group of roosting waders, particularly with Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit side by side. But a scan further along revealed that a Spotted Redshank had flown in while we were out at the beach. We walked back and had great views of it feeding in the shallows not far from the path. With a Common Redshank nearby for comparison, we could see that the Spotted Redshank was noticeably paler, more silvery grey above and whiter below, with a longer and finer bill and a better marked, brighter white supercilium.

6o0a8170Spotted Redshank – had flown in to the Tidal Pools while we were on the beach

As we passed the freshmarsh on our way back, the Golden Plovers and Lapwings all spooked, They took off and whirled round in flocks overhead, the Golden Plovers particularly tight packed. We couldn’t see anything which might have alarmed them, although they had been jumpy all afternoon, and they quickly settled back down again.

6o0a8192Golden Plovers – whirling around over the freshmarsh

A quick look down along one of the reedy channels in the reedbed revealed a Kingfisher, perched up on a reed along the edge. We had a quick look at it through the scope, before another bird spooked it and it flew off across the reeds. We looked back to see a second Kingfisher had appeared, presumably having chased off the first. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.