Tag Archives: Barn Owl

21st Nov 2018 – Winter Day Reflated

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. After a very wet and windy day yesterday, we were very fortunate that it was another glorious bright and sunny morning with blue skies today, much better than had been forecast. It did cloud over a bit in the afternoon, but there were still some sunny intervals and with light winds, it was very mild, until the sun started to go down.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. We could see a number of ducks on the pools by Lady Anne’s Drive as we drove up, so we walked back for a look after we parked. There were plenty of Wigeon feeding out on the grass, although there are hopefully still a lot more to come over the coming weeks, plus a few Teal and Mallard around the pools an ditches.

Wigeon

Wigeon – feeding in the fields by Lady Anne’s Drive

Two Common Buzzards were perched on the bushes in the distance out across the grazing marsh, one quite dark and the other strikingly pale. The latter really stood out, shining white below in the morning sunshine. A rather dark juvenile Marsh Harrier was quartering the marshes, flushing the ducks further back. A Grey Heron was lurking in front of the reeds on the edge of one of the ditches.

Several small skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew off from the field on the other side of the road, but we got the scope on the small group which remained down on the grass. We could see their dark heads and delicate dark bills with a pink band around. Across the drive, the bigger and paler Greylags were sporting large orange carrots for bills. A couple of Egyptian Geese were out on the grazing marshes too.

As we walked up towards the pines, we stopped to scan the bushes along the ditch to the west. There are still lots of berries here and we quickly spotted a couple of Blackbirds taking advantage of the food to refuel, and a Redwing which perched up nicely so we could get it in the scope. There are still thrushes arriving from the continent for the winter at the moment.

When we got out onto the open saltmarsh north of the trees, we looked across to see a flock of Brent Geese feeding, well hidden in the vegetation across the other side of the path out to the beach. One of them was darker than the others, with a slightly more obvious white flank patch and bolder white collar. This is a regular returning Black Brant hybrid which comes back here each year with the Brents.

The rest of the saltmarsh was rather quiet, as we walked east, but as we got to the new cordon we could see Shorelarks in the distance. They were feeding on the edge of the beach beyond the fence, so we had a quick look at them through the scope from here in case they were disturbed. There have been around 12 Shorelarks here for the past week or so, and we counted the same number this morning.

We walked up a little further, to the end of the cordon, where another birder was already standing watching them. As we got to him, another small group of 9 more Shorelarks flew in, and landed on the sand just in front of us. We could see 21 now, the highest count of winter here so far. Hopefully the number of birds here for the winter might continue to grow yet. We had a great look at them through scope, picking around the small seedheads on the beach. With the low winter sun behind us, it was lovely light and the Shorelarks’ yellow faces shone as they turned to face us.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – another flock of 9 flew in to join the 12 already there

For no apparent reason, the Shorelarks suddenly took off and flew out over the dunes towards the beach. We looked across through the low gap and noticed a flock of small birds fly up around the corner of dunes, but rather than being the Shorelarks it was a flock of Snow Buntings.

We walked up to the beach, hoping to get a better look at the Snow Buntings. We could see them feeding on the edge of the dunes, but we could see a walker approaching with a couple of loose dogs and needless to say the Snow Buntings flew before we could get into position and disappeared off round the dunes. The Shorelarks did reappear though, flying in again from the beach and landed back behind us.

The tide was out and as it was not so busy today there were lots of birds down at the bottom of the beach, by the sea. As well as all the gulls, a line of Cormorants were drying their wings out on the sandbar. There were lots of Oystercatchers too, and several Sanderlings running up and down the shoreline.

A smart drake Red-breasted Merganser in the channel in front of the sandbar was close enough to get a good look at it through the scope, but a small flock of Common Scoter was a bit further out and the line of Common Eider was very distant, the white drakes standing out as they caught the sunlight. A diver busy preening some way off to the west proved to be a Great Northern Diver when it stopped long enough for us to get a proper look at it. Otherwise, there were a few Great Crested Grebes offshore and one or two Gannets drifting back and forth.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – these fifteen were feeding along the beach towards Wells

They hadn’t reappeared where they had been feeding, so we set off along the beach towards Wells to see if we could find the Snow Buntings again. When we got round the corner and scanned the sand, we could see them out on the open beach in a small group, fifteen of them, busy preening in the sunshine. We had a nice look through the scope, before they were flushed by another dog walker, and flew to the edge of the dunes. The Snow Buntings seemed to be settled here, so we walked up slowly and had a closer look at them, running in and out of the tufts of marram grass, picking at the small seedheads growing out of the sand.

As we made our way back towards the car, the Shorelarks were still showing well on the edge of the cordon, so we stopped for another look. They seemed to have picked up a friend as they were flying round, and there were now 22 of them. Watching one of them close up through the scope we could even see the small ‘horns’ from which it gets its alternative name of Horned Lark.

When we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, disaster struck. As we drove back towards the main road, we realised we had a puncture. We couldn’t get the wheel off here, so over a coffee back in The Lookout, we tried to get someone to come out to help. No one locally could come out and fix it on site, so we were faced with a long wait for a tow, which would ruin the rest of the day. It was time for plan ‘B’!

While we waited for someone to pick us up, we went for a quick walk west along the track on the inland side of the pines. Several Jays flew in and out of the trees ahead of and a Common Buzzard dropped out of the pines and flew off across the track.

We hadn’t gone too far before we came across a tit flock. First the Long-tailed Tits came out of the trees, followed by several Blue Tits and Coal Tits. A Goldcrest showed well low in a pine tree by the path. Eventually a Treecreeper followed behind the flock, and stopped to feed along a horizontal branch sticking out high above us in the pines. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from deep in the trees..

We got back to the abandoned car just in time to meet our lift to Wells, where we picked up alternative transport for the afternoon. We then drove down to Wells Woods, where we had a quick break for a bite to eat. A Chiffchaff was calling from the edge of caravan park, just beyond the car park. After lunch, we headed in for a quick look in the woods.

The boating lake provided a couple of additions to the day’s list. Several Little Grebes were diving out in the middle, and a couple of Gadwall were sleeping along the edge with the Mallards and Mute Swans.

Small numbers of migrant thrushes were in evidence here too, as they had been at Holkham earlier. Along the main track, one or two Blackbirds were coming to bathe in the puddles, and were joined by two Redwings. Just past there, we flushed more Blackbirds and Redwings from the hawthorn bushes where they had been feeding on the berries. A Fieldfare flew up too and landed in a birch tree where it tried to hide in amongst the leaves.

Fieldfare

Fieldfare – hiding in one of the birches

The birch trees around the Dell meadow were quiet. We had hoped to find the redpoll flock here today, but they have been very elusive and are clearly spending a lot of time elsewhere. There was no sign of them in the birches by the toilet block either, and we met another couple of birders who had walked back all the way from Lady Anne’s Drive without finding them.

We looped back round via the Dell and found a tit flock working its way through the trees. A Chiffchaff called and we found it flitting around in the birches with the other birds. We had great views of a Goldcrest too, fluttering around the branches just above our heads. A Mistle Thrush flew across the tops of the pines.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest – fluttering around in the birches above our heads

We heard one or two lone redpolls flying overhead, but there was still no sign of the large flock. As we made our way back round on the main path, we stopped to look at a male Chaffinch feeding on apples in a tree. A Bullfinch called and flew up into the top of a hawthorn just behind, a smart male. It perched there for several minutes, mostly back on to us, showing off its white rump, flashing pink underneath as it turned, before it was flushed by a passing dogwalker.

Bullfinch

Bullfinch – showing off its white rump

As we passed the boating lake, we could see a flock of birds circling round over the trees way off in the distance beyond the end of the water. The redpolls.  We watched for a couple of minutes as they repeatedly flew round and then settled back down into the trees to feed. Unfortunately, they were in the private caravan site, and there is no access here. At least we know where they are now!

After Wells Woods, we headed along the coast to Blakeney. As we got out of the car in the car park by the harbour, we could see a strange looking gull on the sand just across the channel. It was too dark above for a Herring Gull, but not dark enough for a Lesser Black-backed Gull, with rather odd-coloured fleshy yellowish legs, neither pink nor properly yellow. It is a hybrid, probably Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull, and returns here each winter. A Common Gull in with the Black-headed Gulls bathing further along the channel was a lot less confusing!

Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrid

Hybrid gull – probably Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull

The ducks in the wildfowl collection don’t count, but we had a quick look at some of the exotics. A Stock Dove looking for some spare duck food on the bank with the Jackdaws was a nice bonus.

As we walked out along the seawall, a female Stonechat was feeding out in the middle of one of the recently cut meadows. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling distantly over the reedbed out in the middle. A Kestrel perched on a post out on the saltmarsh was doing its best impression of a Merlin.

Several lines of Pink-footed Geese came up from the grazing marshes and headed off inland, calling. A small group of chattering Brent Geese flew around at the same time, before heading out over the bank past us, towards the saltmarsh. The sun was already starting to go down and shining between the clouds, giving us some lovely late afternoon light to illuminate the geese.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – flying off from the grazing marshes

Looking out across the Glaven Channel from the corner of the seawall, a Short-eared Owl appeared above the shingle ridge beyond. It had probably just been flushed by a Marsh Harrier, as the two of them circled together for a second. We got the Short-eared Owl in the scope and could see it flying with a distinctive stiff-winged rowing action, before it dropped back down to the bushes on the edge of the shingle.

We turned our attention to the waders out on the mud in the harbour. There were lots of Dunlin scurrying about in big groups. Scattered in with them were several Grey Plover, Redshank and Curlew. Further over, we could see lots of Oystercatchers too.

A Hen Harrier appeared, a ringtail, flying low over the saltmarsh just beyond the mud. We could see the white square at the base of its tail. It worked its way quickly west past us, then turned in across the harbour and came over to work the saltmarsh to the west of us, presumably having a last hunt before heading in to roost. Further out, across the saltmarsh, we picked up a Merlin very distantly chasing after two Carrion Crows and getting chased in return.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – hunting over the harbour before heading off to roost

There was no sign of the Twite which often come in to drink at the pools on the edge of the grazing marsh path, so we walked a little further along the seawall, scanning to see if the Short-eared Owl might reappear. It was that time of day though, and we turned round to see a Barn Owl approaching instead across the Freshes. We thought it might stop to work the long grass in front of us, but it was clearly on a mission. It flew straight past us and instead started hunting the recently mown banks of the seawall, heading back towards the village.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – flew straight past us, heading for the recently mown seawall

The afternoon was getting on now and the Marsh Harriers were starting to gather ahead of roosting. One harrier was already perched on a bush out in the reeds, a rather dark one with a pale head. A darkish male flew in over the Freshes from the harbour to join it, as another greyer male flew past behind us, still working the sides of the Glaven channel, before turning back and gliding in too.

We couldn’t find any Twite feeding anywhere along the seawall, so we decided we would head back. Just as we were walking past the corner where they often come down to drink, the Twite suddenly flew in. Perfect timing! We counted seventeen of them, as they dropped in around the edge of their favourite puddle. It was just a quick drink though. We barely had time to get them in the scope before they were off again, flying out across the harbour.

A small flock of Golden Plover whirled round over the harbour and dropped down onto the saltmarsh, where they instantly disappeared into the vegetation, beautifully camouflaged. The halfway back to the village, we spotted the Barn Owl again, on a post visible through a gap in the reeds. It had just caught a vole and spent a minute or two playing around with it before swallowing it whole. It perched for a while digesting, before it was flushed by a dogwalker and flew off back across the grazing marshes.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – digesting a vole it had just caught and eaten

It was a lovely late afternoon out at Blakeney, but as the sun slipped down in the sky behind the horizon, the temperature started to drop, so we decided to call it a day.

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28th Oct 2018 – Autumn Weekend, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was much better weather today – mostly bright, even sunny at times, though with one or two squally showers we mostly managed to miss and cold in the still blustery NE wind.

With the wind coming in off the continent overnight, we headed down to Wells Woods first, so see what it might have brought us. As we passed the boating lake, we could see several Little Grebes out on the water and one seemed to be laughing at us (their call sounds like mad laughter!).

Armed with a tip off about a vocal Yellow-browed Warbler a short distance along the track, we went to look for it. As we walked along, we could hear the teezing calls of Redwings and the chucking of Blackbirds in the bushes. A large flock of Redpolls, 40-50 strong, flew out of the birches by the boating lake and circled overhead. We could hear the Yellow-browed Warbler calling from deep in a large sallow clump as we approached, but it was immediately clear it would be a devil to see here.

Walking into the trees, round the back of the sallows, we flushed tons of Blackbirds and Redwings – there had clearly been a sizeable arrival of them overnight, birds arriving from the continent for the winter. There were Redpolls in the trees here too, and we watched several rich brown-toned Lesser Redpolls as they dropped out of the birches and into a large hawthorn in front of us.

Round by the Dell, we could hear tits calling in the trees – Blue, Great and Coal Tits, but surprisingly no Long-tailed Tits with them. There were Goldcrests everywhere here, flicking about in the trees, low down in the briars, in every bush. There had clearly been a big arrival of Goldcrests too – amazing to think that these tiny birds, weighing about the same as a 20p piece, can make it all the way across the North Sea.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest – there had clearly been a big arrival overnight

There is a more open area, with lots of hawthorns, which is normally good for thrushes when they have just come in, but it was disappointingly quiet today. With the bright weather, there were lots of people out walking in the woods this morning and lots of dogs running round, so perhaps they had all been flushed from here already.

Making our way back into the birches, we managed to locate a second Yellow-browed Warbler, even though it wasn’t calling. This time we got a good look at it, flitting around in the branches of the trees. We could see its striking pale supercilium and two pale wing bars.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – we managed to get a good look at the second one this morning

Yellow-browed Warblers are very much an expected feature of autumn in here these days, but amazing to think these small birds make it all the way here from their breeding groups over towards the Urals, on their way south for the winter. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs in the trees here too.

Continuing on towards the drinking pool, the trees by the path here were also full of Goldcrests. But the bushes round the drinking pool itself were quiet. While we walked through, we did hear a Crossbill calling and looked up to see a nice red male flying over the tops of the pines, disappearing off east. Having only had brief views of them earlier, we decided to head back and see if we could get a better look at the Redpolls next. Several Siskins flew back and forth overhead calling on the way.

Approaching the Dell meadow, someone waved to call us over and told us that a Barn Owl had been hunting over the grass. We stood for a minute and looked, but there was no sign of it now. However, we did see a couple of people walk out of the trees at the far side, and stop to look up into the birches above them. We could see they were looking at a small group of Redpolls, so we walked over to join them.

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll – small and rather rich brown in colouration

The five or six Redpolls closest to us, lower down in the front of the birch, were obvious Lesser Redpolls. They are smaller and darker, more richly coloured, tawny brown on the back with a brighter brown wash on the breast. The three Redpolls higher up were larger and paler. They were mostly facing us and we assumed at first they were all Mealy Redpolls, migrants from further north in Scandinavia.

One of the paler Redpolls was lurking deeper in the branches, so we concentrated on looking at the others first. Then the third bird turned and we could see it looked rather pale frosty above, buff and white-toned on the back rather than grey-brown. It also appeared to have a rather bright white wingbar too.

It climbed higher up and came out where we could get a better look at it. It was face on to us again, but it did look very pale, with more limited streaking on the flanks than the neighbouring Mealy Redpoll and with a pale creamy, chamois wash on the face and breast. It found a catkin to feed on and hung on it above us – we could see the white feathers underneath looked thick and densely padded and it had just a single, narrow dark streak in the middle of its undertail coverts.

Surely it was an Arctic Redpoll? We trained the scope on it, hoping it would turn and we might see the diagnostic white rump. It fed for a minute or two, hanging on the catkin, but then something spooked it and it disappeared into the trees. It looked good, but without seeing the rump, we just didn’t have enough to be 100% sure.

Arctic Redpoll

Coues’s Arctic Redpoll – it’s identity was confirmed the following day

We waited a while to see if the Redpolls would return to the birches where they had been feeding. We were rewarded with the Barn Owl, which reappeared, and started quartering the meadow in front of us. Great views in the sunshine! It landed in one of the trees for a few minutes, where we could get it in the scope, before resuming the hunt.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hunting over the Dell Meadow

The Barn Owl flew back into the trees and landed in an area of sparser birches. It seemed to be looking down into the grass below, looking for prey – an unusual place for a Barn Owl to hunt. Then it disappeared on through the trees.

A couple of Bramblings appeared in the tops of the birches, along with one or two Redwings. Two Lesser Redpolls chased through the trees and appeared to go down to drink, but there was no sign of any more Redpolls coming back to feed on the edge. We could still hear them feeding in the tops of the denser birches beyond, but apart from seeing the odd one or two at any time, they were impossible to get a good look at in here.

Postscript – it felt like that would be the end of the story, as we decided to move on. However, on Monday morning, after several hours chasing round after the Redpoll flock, we were able to confirm that there was indeed at least one Coues’s Arctic Redpoll in with them. A nice post-tour confirmation and a great late addition to the day’s list!

As we walked back to the car, the Barn Owl was still hunting, flying around between the trees where the wood is a bit more open. A pair of Bullfinches also perched up briefly in the hawthorns, piping to each other plaintively, before disappearing in.

From Wells, we headed west to Holme. As we got out of the car by the golf course, we could hear Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds calling in the trees. A Fieldfare tchacked noisily too and a steady stream of small flocks of Starlings flew overhead, on their way west. All fresh arrivals from the continent, coming in for the winter.

As we walked out over the golf course, it was very busy – lots of people, and lots of dogs, out enjoying the morning sunshine. We were hoping to find a small group of Shorelarks, which has been feeding on the beach here, but with so much disturbance, it didn’t look promising.

When we got up to the top of the beach, we stopped to scan the sea. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water and a winter-plumage Red-throated Diver was diving as it made its way east just off the beach. There were lots of waders on the wet sand – Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Sanderling, Grey Plover and Turnstones. Two Ringed Plovers flew past.

There were some threatening dark clouds just offshore, although they looked like they might miss us. Just in case, we thought we should have a quick look for the Shorelarks now. As they had apparently been feeding that way yesterday, we set off east along the high tideline. As we walked past, several Rock Pipits and Skylarks came up from the saltmarsh just behind the beach. It started to spit with rain briefly, which at least had the advantage of encouraging most of the other people to head back in for cover!

We hadn’t gone too far before we found the Shorelarks, feeding on the top of the beach some distance ahead of us. They were heading away, but we stopped and had a quick look at them through the scope. We were planning to try to walk up a little closer, but before we had a chance they took off and flew towards us. They came right over us, calling softly, and landed on the beach back where we had just been. There were six of them – an extra two, as only four had been reported earlier.

Shorelark

Shorelark – there were six at Holme today

We walked back and found the Shorelarks feeding on the tideline in a sandy slack in the dunes. We got them in the scope, and had some good views. We could see their yellow faces and black bandit masks and collars. A walker came along the shoreline and flushed them, but the Shorelarks flew towards us and landed even closer, even better views. They fed here for a few minutes and they were off again. flying off along the beach behind us.

It was time for lunch, so we headed round to Titchwell and made use of the picnic tables, out of the wind. Afterwards, we headed out to explore the reserve. The feeders by the visitor centre held just a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but we could hear Bramblings calling in the alders by the main path. We looked up to see two Bramblings feeding above us. There was a tit flock working its way through the trees here too, but we couldn’t find anything different in with the tits.

The dried-up Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ was fairly devoid of life – just a single Redshank and a Pheasant. The reedbed pool held just a few Coots and Mallards today, so we continued quickly on to Island Hide. Just before we got to the access ramp, we looked down at the mud in the corner below the path and noticed a Grey Wagtail feeding on the edge of the water. They are not common here, so this was presumably a migrant stopping off on its way.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – feeding on the mud by Island Hide

From the shelter of Island Hide, we stopped to scan the Freshmarsh. A winter adult Ruff was feeding on the mud just outside the hide, next to an adult Dunlin still moulting out of breeding plumage, still sporting a rather spotty black belly patch. There were more Dunlin and Ruff on the islands further back.

Ruff

Ruff – an adult in non-breeding plumage

There were still five Avocets on here today. A small number normally try to stay through the winter, while most of the other decide to head south instead. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits too, mostly asleep on the islands. Two Golden Plover were tucked in on the edge of the vegetation but were spooked when all the ducks took off and flew off.

There are plenty of ducks on here now, mostly Wigeon and Teal, as more return from their northern breeding grounds . More of the drake Teal are emerging from eclipse now and regaining their smart breeding plumage. The drake Wigeon on average are a little behind them. The Brent Geese are returning too, as we saw yesterday, and small groups kept dropping in to the Freshmarsh to drink or bathe, from the saltmarsh beyond.

Teal

Teal – many of the drakes are getting back into their smart breeding plumage now

A sharp call alerted to an incoming pipit, but we were in the other part of the hide so didn’t see it come in. We eventually found it, feeding along the edge of the reeds to the side of the hide. Normally we might expect it to be a Water Pipit on here, but this was a Rock Pipit, rather oily brown above and heavily streaked and blotched below. A Water Rail put in a brief appearance next to it, but quickly disappeared back into the reeds. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed.

The wind picked up as a squally shower came in off the sea. It mostly missed us, passing inland to the west, but it did rain for a few minutes. We sat it out in the hide. Once it had cleared through, we decided to head round towards Parrinder Hide for a change of scene, but once we got up onto the main path the wind had dropped a bit too and it looked OK ahead of us, so we continued straight out towards the beach.

As we walked past Volunteer Marsh, a couple of close Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the channel just below the bank. There were more Redshanks on the mud in the wider channel at the far end, along with a single Grey Plover which we got in the scope.

When we got to the beach, the tide was out but we stopped on the edge of the dunes to scan the sea. We could see a line of Common Scoter flying way out in front of the wind turbines and a couple of juvenile Gannets making their way past, but otherwise the sea was quite choppy and we couldn’t see much out on the water.

There were lots of waders out on the mussel beds – mostly Oystercatchers, Curlew and godwits. A Marsh Harrier drifted along the shoreline and over the mussel beds, causing pandemonium and flushing waders. Even though the wind had dropped a bit, it was still breezy and cold out here, so we decided to head back to shelter.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide. With the clocks having gone back last night, it was getting dark early today and the gulls were already gathering to roost. We had a good look through them, to see if anything different had come in, but all we could see were the usual Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

A couple of geese walked across in front of the hide – a single Pink-footed Goose following a lone Greylag, giving a nice comparison. The Pink-footed Goose was one of the two injured birds, with a mangled wing, which has been here all year, though there was no sign of the second today. A flock of Golden Plovers, circled over calling and dropped down onto the mud amongst the ducks.

It was time to start heading back now. As we walked back along the path, a Cetti’s Warbler was practicing its song from the bushes in the reedbed, nice to hear them back as the population here was devastated by the cold weather earlier in the year. We had seen small flock of Starlings flying west all day, but now a huge flock of at least 1,000 birds came over and disappeared on west.

As we got back to the trees, there seemed to be a burst of activity as Blackbirds and thrushes started spiralling up out of the trees. They circled overhead, seemingly getting their bearings, before heading off into the gathering gloom. Having rested up here for the day, they were now looking to continue on their journey. An amazing thing to watch.

As we made our way back, there was one last surprise in store. A shape on the roof of a barn, silhouetted against the last of the light, caught our eye. A quick U-turn confirmed it was a Little Owl. We stopped and wound down the windows. It dropped into a roof vent but stayed perched half in where we could see it watching us. A lovely end to the day and en exciting Autumn weekend.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a barn at dusk on our way back

15th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. After a cloudy start, it brightened up and was then nice and sunny until it clouded over again later in the day. We spent the day today exploring the North Norfolk coast.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we spotted a Barn Owl quartering over some wet grazing marshes. There had been some rain overnight, so perhaps it had struggled to hunt and was therefore still out this morning. We managed to pull up and watch it for a few minutes as it worked its way round and round over the grass. A great start to the day.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hunting over the grazing meadow by the road

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, a grey-winged male Marsh Harrier flew in across the field next to us. We had a good view of it, before it disappeared round behind the trees.

Some birds were feeding in the tramlines through the stubble. As well as a couple of Pheasants, there were four Stock Doves. We had a good look at them through the scope, noting their glossy green neck patches  and black spots on the wings. When the Marsh Harrier returned, the Stock Doves took off and we could see the neat blackish trailing edge to their wings and the lack of any white wing stripe.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – quartering over the stubble

There were two Brown Hares in the field opposite. We could hear a Kestrel alarm calling and a Common Buzzard mewing, but it was still probably a bit too early and too cool for the latter to be up circling above the trees.

Along the footpath beside the river, we found the big tit flock again but the birds were keeping hidden in the trees this morning. We could see several Long-tailed Tits and we heard one or two Chiffchaffs. A male Blackcap appeared on the outside of a bush eating blackberries. While we were watching the flock, three Bullfinches flew in calling and landed in the trees with them, before disappeared off in the other direction along the river bank.

There is a point along the path here where you can see over the brambles to the Fen beyond. When we got there, we were immediately struck by a long line of white birds asleep on one of the islands. A very large group of Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best!

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were at least 36 on the Fen today

There were some waders visible from here too. Eight Greenshanks were tucked up along the edge of the reeds at the back, along with a couple of Green Sandpipers. There were more waders hidden from our view behind the reeds at the front, but while we stood here more flew in to join them, presumably coming in from the harbour as the tide rose. There were flocks of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits dropping in, and a single Bar-tailed Godwit too.

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Spoonbills. Some even woke up briefly and flashed their spoon-shaped bills. One adult on the edge of the flock was pursued remorselessly by a juvenile begging to be fed, bouncing its head up and down and flapping its wings. Through the scope, we could count them properly too – the grand total of 36 Spoonbills here today. Quite an impressive sight!

We could see all the waders roosting out in the water in the middle from here too. As well as all the Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were good numbers of Common Redshank. Looking closely, we found a single Spotted Redshank with them too, noticeably paler grey above, whiter below, and with a more noticeable pale supercilium just visible, despite the fact it was asleep with its bill tucked in.

There are lots of ducks on here now, as birds have returned for the winter. Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and one or two Shoveler. In the water, busy upending, were ten Pintail. There are always plenty of Greylags here, with more dropping in from the fields beyond all the time. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese were flying west overhead all morning, birds returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Goose – several small groups flew west this morning

Looking out across the harbour from the seawall, we could see lots of seals hauled out on the tip of Blakeney Point. Several Sandwich Terns were fishing out in the pit and beyond, in the distance, we could see two dark juvenile Gannets plunge diving in the sea the off the Point.

We picked up a falcon flying in fast and low across the harbour and when it turned and climbed towards the Fen we could see it was a Hobby. It came in over the seawall just beyond us and dropped down low over the Fen. It seemed to realise there was nothing suitably-sized here to chase though, because it promptly climbed and disappeared off west without spooking all the waders.

Continuing on a little further along the seawall, we looked back and scanned the other side of the Fen. There were more Greenshank roosting here, another 20 to add to the eight or so we had seen earlier.

As we walked round towards the harbour, we could see more waders flying round near the edge of the water, beyond the saltmarsh, flushed from where they had been roosting. We watched as a large group of Grey Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwits flew in and landed again.

When we got to the corner, we could just see part of the roosting flocks on a spit of mud. The birds in view were mostly Grey Plover, several still sporting various amounts of black on their underparts. There were Oystercatchers and Curlews on the mud here too. The waders were all flushed by a boat full of rowers which came ashore on the sand, flying round before landing again further round, out of view. Across the other side of the channel, we got the scope on a small roosting flock of Turnstones, up on the edge of the saltmarsh.

We turned and started to make our way back. The sun was coming out now and it was warm in some of the more sheltered spots along the path. Several Speckled Wood butterflies were sunning themselves along the hedge.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – there were several out on our walk back from the Fen

Our next destination was Cley. We arrived there still with some time before lunch, so we decided to have a walk up the East Bank first. As we walked up onto the bank from the car park, we looked back towards Snipe’s Marsh. We could see several waders over there, so we decided to walk over the road first, for a closer look.

Two Spotted Redshanks were sleeping in the cut reeds. We were looking into the sun at first, but we made our way round to where we could get a better view of them. When they woke up, we could see their long, needle fine bills. There were two Green Sandpipers feeding out on the mud too, as well as a good number of Common Snipe, appropriately enough here!

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of two on Snipe’s Marsh

A small bird flew across and landed in the base of the reeds at the far side. Flashing white in the outer tail as it landed, we might have expected it to be a Reed Bunting here but we caught a glint of yellow as it dropped in. It was a Yellowhammer – not quite where we would expect to see one! A Reed Warbler working its way round the base of the reeds at the back was less of a surprise.

Given we were at Walsey Hills now, we had a quick walk in along the footpath through the bushes. We heard several Chiffchaffs calling, and a Coal Tit singing, but nothing else today, despite the fact the ivy here was alive with insects in the sunshine.

Over on the East Bank, it was surprisingly breezy as we walked out. We heard several Bearded Tits calling from various places in the reeds, but not surprisingly they were keeping well down today.

Looking further up, we could see a large white bird in the water at the north end of the Serpentine. It was a Spoonbill, busy feeding, so we walked up there for a closer look. We watched it sweeping its bill methodically back and forth through the shallows, occasionally throwing its head back when it caught something.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on its own in the Serpentine

Otherwise on the Serpentine there was just a single Black-tailed Godwit, one Snipe and an Avocet, as well as a selection of commoner dabbling ducks. Pope’s Pool beyond held a few more Black-tailed Godwits and a handful of Ruff. A small group of Swallows flew through, heading determinedly west, on their way back to Africa for the winter.

There were not so many birds out on Arnold’s Marsh today, more Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Curlew. We carried on out to the beach, but it was very quiet looking out to sea too, with surprisingly little moving today. So we headed back to the Visitor Centre for lunch.

After lunch, we made our way out to the hides. A quick look at Whitwell Scrape produced just a couple of Lapwing and a few ducks. We could see more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, but by the time we walked round to Dauke’s Hide, the flock of nine Dunlin we had seen drop in had flown off again. There were still two Ringed Plover on here and lots of Black-tailed Godwits busy feeding up to their bellies in the water in front of the hide.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – one of many on Simmond’s Scrape

Looing across to Pat’s Pool, another Spotted Redshank was feeding on the edge of the reeds. Three Dunlin were initially towards the far side, but helpfully then flew round and landed at the front with two juvenile Ruff. Two Common Snipe were very well camouflaged out on the edge of one of the islands, hard to see until you looked through the scope.

We were planning to head out to North Scrape, as we had seen several waders landing over there, but by the time we got back to the Visitor Centre we could see one of the wardens out there on a tractor, topping the grassy edges of the scrape. A quick change of plan, and we drove back to Iron Road instead.

As we walked up along the Iron Road to look at the pools, two Spotted Redshanks flew in and landed on the area of open water just to the east. They looked to be the same two that we had seen on Snipe’s Marsh earlier. A small group of Meadow Pipits flew high overhead calling, but they could just as easily have been local birds as migrants moving.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese – feeding on the grazing meadows by Iron Road

On the other side of Iron Road, there were lots of geese out on the grazing marsh, mainly Greylags but with several pairs of Egyptian Geese too. The escaped Fulvous Whistling Duck was with them – interesting to see, but as it has come out of a cage somewhere it doesn’t count!

We walked round on the path Babcock Hide next. There was no one in the hide and we got quite a shock when we opened the window and found a cow staring back at us, just a few inches away! The cows were feeding right in front of the hide and were very inquisitive, poking their noses in through the flaps. They were not particularly helpful either, blocking the view.

Babcock Hide

Babcock Hide – we got quite a shock when we opened the flaps!

We could just about see what was on the pool here though. On our way out here, we had seen a couple of flocks of Black-tailed Godwits flying in and out from the stubble field across the road, where they were feeding. There were still several loafing about out in the water. Further back, two Pintail were busy feeding, upending in amongst the Mallards. With their rear ends in the air, we could see their more pointed tails.

As we made our way back along the path, we heard a Whimbrel calling. We looked over towards the pool by Iron Road and saw it circle once before continuing on its way west, disappearing off over Walsey Hills. Surprisingly, given the time of year, this was the first migrant wader we had seen on the move today.

On our way back west, we diverted off the coast road and headed inland. We scanned the fields for partridges, but couldn’t see any today, as we made our way up to a regular site for Little Owl. It didn’t take long to find one, perched on the roof of one of the farm buildings. It was rather distant, but we had a good look at it through the scope. It was a suitably appropriate way to end the day, as we had begun, with an owl.

11th Sept 2018 – Coastal Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour today in North Norfolk. Having done so well out on the marshes and coast yesterday, particularly with waders and wildfowl, we decided to do something different today and try to find some woodland and farmland birds. The weather was not entirely helpful – it was rather cool and windy and the expected rain arrived earlier than forecast. Although it was just light drizzle it continued through to the middle of the afternoon. Still, it didn’t stop us getting out.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham Park. As we got out of the car, we could hear a tit flock above us in the holm oaks and a Nuthatch was piping from one of the trees. It played rather hard to get for a while, hiding in the dense branches up in the tops. As well as the tits, we managed to see a couple of Goldcrests before the Nuthatch finally came out onto the edge of one of the trees.

Through the gates, we stopped to look at the feeders by one of the houses. There were several Great Tits coming and going and, after a short while, they were joined by another Nuthatch on the peanuts. We could see movement in the yew tree nearby and a Song Thrush flew out. A second Song Thrush was still feeding on the berries in the back of the tree, but hard to see in the dense foliage, as were a couple of Blackbirds.

As we continued on down towards the lake, we could hear Jays calling and one flew across between the trees as we arrived at the open area by the monument. A Treecreeper was calling from somewhere deep in the trees.

When we got to the lake, we could see a raft of ducks and grebes out on the open water in front of the hall, so we walked up that way first. There were several families of Great Crested Grebes on the lake, the adults still with their summer crests accompanied by stripy-headed juveniles, and we had a good look at them through the scope. Most of the ducks were Shoveler, with smaller numbers of Teal, Mallard and Gadwall, but just one Tufted Duck.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebe – one of several families still on the lake

There were three Fallow Deer bucks out in the long grass across the lake, and when we walked down a little further towards the hall, we could see the bulk of the herd over towards the entrance road, sitting down on the shorter grass. A flock of Egyptian Geese were feeding on the outfield of the cricket pitch in front of the hall.

Heading back the other way, up towards the north end of the lake, there were a couple more families of Great Crested Grebes – they seem to have done well here this year. As we got into the trees again, a smart Fallow Deer buck was feeding close to the path and let us approach quite closely before it finally ran off.

Fallow Deer

Fallow Deer – this buck was feeding in the trees by the path

We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the trees ahead of us and we walked up to find a mixed tit flock on the edge of the lake. As well as the other regular tits, we had nice views of a pair of Coal Tits in a pine tree – a new bird for the list. A Treecreeper was calling from somewhere deep in the trees behind us, and when we turned to look for it we saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly out and land in a tree above our heads. By the time we turned our attention back to the Treecreeper, it had gone quiet.

A small falcon appeared from over the trees at the back and flew towards us over the lake. As it banked, we could see it had thin, scythe-shaped wings – a Hobby! Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and quickly disappeared over the treetops on our side of the water. Still, it was a good bird to see.

From the north end of the lake, we headed back through the trees. It was pretty quiet – apart from a Brown Hare which ran across the path – until we got back to the monument. We could hear a tit flock again and a couple of Treecreepers were calling from somewhere further in. We stood on the track and waited to see if they would come our way, but they seemed to be moving away from us. At that point it started to drizzle with rain. As we hadn’t been expecting it to arrive so early, and were not all equipped with our waterproofs, we made a hasty retreat back to the car.

We were planning to make our way east today, but rather than follow the coast road, we headed inland to look for some farmland birds on the way. Our first search for Grey Partridge at a good site for them drew a blank – a Kestrel on a post and a Common Buzzard in a field were the best birds here.

As we cut across behind the Park, we stopped to scan a field and a Green Sandpiper flew across and landed in a puddle in the gateway. It stayed just long enough for us to get a look at it, then flew off – a bit of a surprise find out here!

A little further on, we found a mixed flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover in a field of young oilseed rape. As we had only seen Golden Plover in flight yesterday, we got out to have a closer look in the scope. There were several smaller birds in the field too – a flock of Linnets and a smaller group of Meadow Pipits, another new bird for the list.

Continuing on along the road, a buff and white shape flew up from the verge ahead of us – a Barn Owl! We can often see Barn Owls out hunting in the daytime in the winter when they are hungry, but not so often at this time of year so this was another unexpected bonus. We followed slowly behind as it made its way along the verge ahead of us. It appeared to be carrying some prey, which it presumably had caught before we surprised it. It disappeared behind the hedge and appeared to land, so we stopped and walked back to a gap where we could see into the field. Unfortunately there was no further sign of it.

The field did provide us with a couple more new birds though. We could see a large covey of Red-legged Partridges out in the stubble but four more partridges over the far side of the field perched on a straw bale next to a game cover strip looked much duller. Through the scope, we could see they were Grey Partridges, just what we had been looking for! Then a Skylark came up from the stubble in front of us, flew back across the field, and dropped back in to the vegetation.

It was still cool and damp, although the drizzle had eased off a bit. Not great weather for owls, but we decided to push our luck and see if we could find a Little Owl next. We headed over to a complex of farm buildings which is a regular site for them. We parked up in a layby, and as we got out we noticed another covey of Grey Partridges right next to the road. A much better view than the ones we had just seen.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges – the second group we found, this time close to the road

A flock of Mistle Thrushes took off from the trees by the layby and we could hear Bullfinches calling from deep in the vegetation. As we scanned the barns, we could see a small round shape on the edge of one of them, tucked in out of the wind and under the edge of the roof. It was a bit distant, but through the scope, we could see that it was a Little Owl. It was hunched up at first, but then seemed to rouse itself, preen and disappeared back into the barn behind it.

From there, we dropped back down to the coast and headed along to Cley. The wind seemed to have eased and the drizzle was only light now, although it was still a bit misty. We decided to have a look at the East Bank before lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but by the time we had got up onto the bank, they had gone quiet again.

There were several Curlew and lots of Greylags out on the grazing marshes, but we couldn’t see many waders out on Pope’s Pool today – just one or two Avocets. A selection of ducks – Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon and Mallard – were on the Serpentine, as well as several more Avocets feeding.

The hide overlooking Arnold’s Marsh provided some welcome shelter from the elements. We could see a few Sandwich Terns over towards the back and had a look at them through the scope. There were plenty of waders out on here, but not much variety – lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks and a few Curlew. A couple of Dunlin flew in, circled over the water, and carried on towards the reserve.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – there were still a few on Arnold’s Marsh today

Continuing on to the sea, we could see a few more Sandwich Terns fishing offshore and a single Gannet flew past out in the distance towards the wind farm. It wasn’t a day to be lingering out on the beach so, with no sign of many birds moving, we headed back.

On our way, we heard another Bearded Tit calling, but they were keeping well tucked down out of the weather. When we were almost back to the car, we turned to see a female Marsh Harrier flying in over the grazing marsh and across the bank, before dropping down into the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew in across Pope’s Marsh and dropped down into the reeds

From the bottom of the East Bank, we had a quick look over at Snipe’s Marsh. We could see a small wader out in the mud amongst the cut reeds and a look through the scope confirmed it was a Green Sandpiper. A careful scan revealed a second Green Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the taller reeds at the back and, appropriately enough given the name of the location, four Common Snipe.

We would normally use the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre for lunch but given the weather we drove round to the beach car park and made use of the shelter there instead. We kept looking out to sea from time to time while we ate, but it was very murky and there was still no sign of any activity. After lunch we headed round to the Visitor Centre for a hot drink.

Our attention originally had been to spend some time at Cley today, but the sightings board revealed there was nothing here today that we had not seen already at Titchwell yesterday, so we decided to try somewhere else. It was not great weather for looking for small birds, but we thought we would try our luck at Kelling.

The track down to the Water Meadow was fairly quiet. A Blackcap was calling in the bushes and we heard a few Chaffinches too. The only small birds in the brambles around the pool were Linnets and a couple of Reed Buntings were in the reeds. There were plenty of gulls here again, bathing and loafing on the bank – mostly Black-headed, several Herring and two or three Lesser Black-backed Gulls as well.

The track to the beach produced a single juvenile Stonechat, accompanied by a Common Whitethroat, but there was no sign of any migrants here. We started to make our way up the hillside behind the beach but it was rather cold and damp, so we turned decided to cut our losses and try somewhere else.

As we drove back west along the coast, the drizzle stopped, the mist lifted and the sky appeared to be clearing from the north. As we made our way down along the footpath beside the river towards Stiffkey Fen, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the copse and a large mixed tit flock started to emerge from the trees ahead of us. Several birds landed in a large hawthorn on the edge of the meadow – we could see three different Blackcaps, a Chaffinch, and a selection of tits.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a male in the bushes by the path

The flock continued to move quickly through the bushes ahead of us. There were lots of birds and small groups would pause from time to time to feed in one of the trees. We saw several Chiffchaffs and lost count of the number of Blackcaps, but unfortunately a Lesser Whitethroat just hopped up briefly and disappeared before everyone could get onto it.

When the flock moved into the thicker trees, we continued on along the path. From a gap in the sallows it is possible to see over the brambles to the Fen beyond. There were lots of Greylags on the islands and in with them were three escaped Bar-headed Geese and a Fulvous Whistling Duck. Smart birds, but unfortunately, they don’t count! We could see two Spoonbills asleep, and several Little Egrets against the reeds beyond.

There is a better view of the whole Fen from up on the seawall. From here, we could see more of the ducks – as wall as plenty of Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and Wigeon, we found three Pintail in with them.

There were lots of waders in amongst the wildfowl too, particularly good numbers of Ruff and fewer Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning the muddy edges, we found a Common Sandpiper and three Green Sandpipers, at one point with the two species side by side for comparison. There were four Common Snipe on the mud on the edge of the reeds too.

We had a better view of the Spoonbills from up here too. One of them woke up and started to preen, flashing its long spoon-shaped bill, black with a yellow tip. Then a third Spoonbill flew in from the harbour behind us. As it came in over the back, we could see it had a much shorter bill – a juvenile, a ‘Teaspoonbill‘ whose bill is not yet fully grown.

The juvenile Spoonbill made a beeline for the adult which had just woken up. It walked up to it, bobbing its head up and down and flapping its wings, begging to be fed. The adult Spoonbill tried to walk away, but the juvenile was having none of it, and the adult gave in remarkably quickly and fed the youngster – sometimes these begging pursuits can go on for ages!

The adult Spoonbill then took off and headed out towards the harbour – whether to replace the food it had just surrendered or to get away from its begging offspring was not clear. It flew towards us on the seawall and straight past, giving us a fantastic close fly past.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew past us on the seawall on its way to the harbour

We turned to scan the harbour. The tide was out and there were lots of birds spread over the mud in the distance. We could see a huge group of loafing gulls, with another Spoonbill sleeping in with them. There were undoubtedly more waders out of view in the bottom of the pit, but we could see hundreds of Oystercatchers and a good number of Grey Plover including several still in their smart breeding plumage.

Over on the beach beyond the tip of Blakeney Point there were lots of seals hauled out on the sand. It won’t be long before the Grey Seals are pupping now.

Unfortunately it was time to start making our way back now. We were treated to another great view of the Long-tailed Tits, feeding on the blackberries by the path.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the brambles by the path

It had been a very enjoyable couple of days birding – and a very productive one too. A great introduction to the delights of the North Norfolk coast and its birds.

30th June 2018 – Summer Night Special

A Private Nightjar Evening tonight. It was a lovely bright, sunny evening, with a fresh ENE breeze on the coast. A perfect evening to be out, for owls and Nightjars.

We met up in the early evening and headed out first to look for owls. Little Owl was the initial target, so we made our way over to some farm buildings we know they frequent. It was still bright and warm when we arrived and got out of the car. A quick scan of the barn roofs revealed a Little Owl out sunning itself.

Little Owl

Little Owl – preening on a hot roof!

The Little Owl was quite well tucked in at first, but then hopped out onto the roof itself and started to stretch and preen, tidying itself up ahead of a busy evening hunting presumably. There was still quite a bit of heat haze, but we got a good look at it through the scope.

A second Little Owl was on the barn roof on the other side of the road, more distant than the first. Through the scope, we could see that it was a juvenile, still with fluffy down around the head and shoulders. We thought we might go over that way and try to get a bit closer to it, but while we turned our attention back to the first Little Owl for a minute, the juvenile disappeared, presumably back under the roof.

A Brown Hare and a Red-legged Partridge ran down the track between the barns too, while we were watching the Little Owls. It had been a very successful first stop, so we decided to move on and see if we could find any Barn Owls.

We drove round via an area where we have seen Barn Owls out hunting regularly in the last few weeks, but we couldn’t find any today. It was still quite bright, so perhaps they were waiting for the light to fade a bit today?

We made our way on to another area which is good for Barn Owls and had a walk out along the bank which overlooks the grazing marshes. It was a lovely evening, with Common Swifts screaming overhead and we watched as several Little Egrets flew over, heading off to roost. But there was no sign of the resident Barn Owls here either.

They had to be out hunting sooner or later, so we figured it was worth driving round and back to where we had first looked earlier. As we got back there, we looked across the grazing marshes and could see a white shape on the support wire for a telegraph post away in the distance. A quick look through the binoculars confirmed it was indeed a Barn Owl. Where it was we could see was by a side road, so we drove round.

The Barn Owl was very close to the road here, so we got out very carefully. It remained perched on the wire, although it looked at us to make sure we weren’t likely to be any threat. It quickly resumed what it was doing, scanning the ground, so we set up the scope and had a really good, close look at it.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – perched on the support wire for a telegraph post

Suddenly the Barn Owl took off. It flew a few metres out into the field, hovered and then dropped vertically down into the grass. It was down in the vegetation for several minutes, so we thought it might have caught something, but after a while it emerged from the grass empty talonned.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – hunting in the evening light

The Barn Owl quartered over the meadow for a while, hunting – it was a fantastic sight, looking in to the low evening light. Then it flew over to the edge of the trees at the back and landed on a tall stump. After a few minutes, it took off again and resumed hunting, flying round over the tall grass, before coming back towards us and landing back on the wire where we had first seen it.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – came back towards us and landed back where it had first been

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from watching the Barn Owl, particularly as it was so obliging this evening. But we had a date up on the heath with some Nightjars!

As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Nightjar calling and looked over to see it flying over the gorse. It was a couple of minutes early tonight! We watched as it flew across to the edge of the trees and lost sight of it. A couple of second later, it started churring, just a short burst.

We made our way round to where it had gone down to see if we could find it, but when it churred again briefly, we realised it was somewhere in the trees. Then it flew out, wing clapping and circled low over the gorse in front of us, with its tail fanned and its wings held up, flashing its white wing stripes and tail corners. Then it dropped back down under the oak tree.

Something was upsetting this male Nightjar, and we gradually realised what. It flew out again, across low over the heather in front of us, and up onto one of its favourite churring branches, where we could get it in the scope. It was a great view, but as it started to churr, we could hear a second male churring quietly back near the oak tree.

Nightjar 1

Nightjar – on one of its favourite branches, churring

The first male flew back across, wing clapping and calling, and dropped in below the oak tree again. Several times, it flew out and did a small circuit over the gorse nearby, with its tail fanned and held sideways to show off the white spots to maximum effect. In between, twice more it flew across and landed on the branch in front of us to churr briefly.

Eventually the two male Nightjars flew out, both males, and they started to chase each other in and out of the trees, with lots of calling and wing clapping. It was a fantastic display – we stood mesmerised. Presumably a territorial dispute. The two Nightjars gradually worked their way along the edge of the trees and then disappeared out across the heath. We presumed one of the males had prevailed.

Nightjar 2

Nightjar – we had fantastic flight views, wing clapping with tail fanned

The Woodcock here seem to have largely finished roding already, but we did have one male fly along the edge of the trees. We heard its squeaky call first and looked up to see a pot-bellied, long-billed silhouette flying past.

More Nightjars were starting to churr now, so we headed off across the heath to try to see one of the other regular males. We had been distracted a little too long by the two males though, and the third male had already flown in from a dense oak out in the middle to the exposed perch where we were hoping to see it. As we walked up along the path, we just managed to get into a place where we could see it when it took off. It flew back to the oak tree.

We stood for a while and listened to it churring, as a fourth Nightjar started up further over – stereo! It was great to just stand and listen, the atmosphere only slightly ruined by loud music, which sounded like a poor Elvis impersonator, blaring out in the distance!

The light was starting to go now, so we turned to head back. No sooner had we done so, than the Nightjar we had just been waiting for flew back in from the oaks to the trees by the path. Typical! But there was still an orange glow in the sky behind us, so we hurried back and got a great view of it, perched on the branch, silhouetted against the sunset. Classic!

It was time to head back now, so we set off across the heath, very pleased with the great views of Nightjars we had already enjoyed, listening to them still churring. When we got back past where we had seen the two males earlier, we realised they were still chasing each other round. They were both flying in and out of the top of an oak tree, churring and calling. It seemed they must have been arguing for the last hour!

We stopped to watch the two bickering Nightjars, silhouetted against the sky. They dropped down out of sight against the dark of the gorse but when we heard one call, we realised it was flying straight towards us. We saw it coming and there was a second bird with it, the two flying parallel just a few metres apart. One seemed to stall in front of us, but the second circled right above our heads and then started hovering!

What an amazing way to end the evening. This time we did have to leave, so we walked back to the car with another male churring us back.

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

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

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

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

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

SIlver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

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

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

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

Dartford Warbler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fulmar

Fulmar – flying up and down the clifftop at Cromer

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

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

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

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – perched in a bush out in the reedbed

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

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

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

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – gathered on Arnold’s Marsh

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

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

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

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

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

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a smart adult still in breeding plumage

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

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

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

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

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

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

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile, perched up in the reeds

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

Nightjar Evening

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

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

Little Owl

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

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

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

Barn Owl 1

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

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

Barn Owl 3

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

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

Barn Owl 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2nd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours today. It was misty or cloudy pretty much all day, although it lifted a bit at times. However, it was thankfully mostly dry – with just a brief period when it was spitting with rain in the morning.

We headed over to Titchwell first, with the option of the hides if we did need to shelter from the weather. The car park was quiet when we arrived, so we had a look around before it got busy. There were Blackcaps and Long-tailed Tits in the trees where we parked, and a pair of Song Thrushes collecting food in the overflow car park. Looking out from the gate at the back, a Red-legged Partridge was feeding on the track beyond and a Marsh Harrier was perched in one of the dead trees out  in the reedbed beyond. A Spoonbill flew off high to the east, away from us.

Out onto the reserve, we made our way round on Fen Trail out to Patsy’s Reedbed first. A Blackcap showed well in the trees right above the path and we got a quick look at both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler in the reeds in front of Fen Hide as we passed.

Patsy’s Reedbed held a few duck, notable among them a single drake Red-crested Pochard. There were five Teal on here too today – almost all of the birds which spent the winter here have long since departed, but a small number typically oversummer here. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed beyond.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – this drake was sleeping on Patsy’s Reedbed

It started to spit with rain now, so we started to make our way over towards the main path. A Chiffchaff was singing above the boardwalk as we passed. The rain had pretty much stopped by the time we got round there, so we stopped to see what we could find in the reeds.

A Jay flew across above the reeds and landed in one of the sallows. As it did so, what sounded like a Tawny Owl called quietly. We had a look in the bush, but there was no sign of one that we could see from the bank. There were lots of Reed Warblers zipping back and forth across the pools on the near edge of the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – in the reeds around the pools near the main path

The reedbed pool held a single Great Crested Grebe, as well as two more Red-crested Pochard. Two or three Bearded Tits flew back and forth over the water and a Little Grebe laughed at us from the channel just beyond. There was a large melee of gulls and Jackdaws circling over the reeds at the edge of freshmarsh, presumably hawking for insects.

As we opened the windows in Island Hide, we noticed a good numbers of godwits out on the nearest island. On closer inspection, we could see a mixture of both Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits together. Something spooked them and they flew before everyone could get a look at them through the scope, but thankfully after circling for a minute or so they settled again, this time largely separating themselves into two separate flocks.

There were not many other waders on here today, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets. There seem to be fewer of them this year here too, although there appears to be no shortage elsewhere along the coast. Perhaps the colony of gulls, which is dominating the freshmarsh this year, has put them off? Two Little Terns were resting on one of the islands and through the scope we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

As we set off along the main path again, we scanned back over the reeds. The gulls had all spread out now and we could see two immature Little Gulls hawking back and forth among all the Black-headed Gulls.

The mist started to roll in again, so we headed straight round to Parrinder Hide. When we got there, one of the Little Gulls had landed on the edge of one of the islands in front of the hide, so we got a much better look at that now. A 1st summer, we could see the extensive black feathering in the wings, the dark spot behind the eye and a pale pink suffusion on its underparts.

Little Gull

Little Gull – one of the 1st summers landed out from Parrinder Hide

An adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in on one of the other islands, where a number of Black-headed Gulls and 1st summer Common Gulls had gathered to loaf and preen. Through the scope, we noted the jet black hood with contrasting white eyelids, bright red bill and legs, and the pure white wing tips. There were also a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls with the Herring Gulls standing in the water further back.

There were better views of the godwits to be had from here, including a smart Bar-tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage, with rusty underparts extending right down under the tail. Four Avocets were busy feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallow water. When the Avocets started to alarm call, we looked up to see a Hobby flashing low across in front of the hide, disappearing off towards Island Hide.

The mist lifted again, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. There was very little on Volunteer Marsh today, but as we got over the bank at the far end, we noticed a large white bird out on the saltmarsh the other side. It was a Spoonbill, busy feeding, walking around with its head down in the water. It seemed to be catching a lot, as every few steps it seemed to flick its head up, at which point we could see its distinctive bill, with the yellow tip indicating it was an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding out on Thornham saltmarsh

While we were watching the Spoonbill, a smart male Linnet landed in the bushes just below us. A little further on, two male Reed Buntings were singing against each other, with one perched nicely just out from the path.

Linnet

Linnet – this male landed in the bushes by the main path

The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more and largely full of deep water, so there are very few birds on here these days. A group of twenty or so Oystercatchers were sleeping on the saltmarsh towards the back. That was because, out at the beach the tide was just going out and was still covering the mussel beds. Consequently, there were not many waders out here yet, just a few more Oystercatchers on the sand.

It was still rather misty offshore, but it rolled back just enough for us to see a steady procession of terns flying back and forth, mainly Sandwich Terns but also a couple of Common Terns and Little Terns too. Two Fulmars flew past as well, hugging the sea. Then it was time to head back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we paid a quick visit to Holme. It was the wrong time of the day now, but we wanted to try our luck to see if we might be able to find a Turtle Dove here. As we walked round via the paddocks, it was rather quiet. A Common Whitethroat called from the brambles and a Greenfinch was singing out in the bushes. We could hear a Cuckoo singing too, off in the distance.

As we got to the far end of the paddocks, we heard some hissing calls coming from a large hawthorn bush. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees further back, appearing to answer the hissing calls. We had a look in the bushes but we couldn’t see anything.

Continuing on down towards Beach Road, a Cuckoo flew across as we got out of the trees into grassy the car park. Another Cuckoo was still singing in the distance ahead of us, so there were two of them here today. We walked over to see if we could find the second bird, but it seemed to move further away, off towards the coast road the next time we heard it.

Walking back along the Holme Dunes entrance track, a Swallow landed on the wires just above us. While we were watching it, two Cuckoos flew in and dropped down into the trees at the back of the paddocks. As they landed, the male gave its traditional ‘cuckoo’ song, and the female answered with a bubbling call.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – the female perched in the trees while the males had a sing-off

Then a second male Cuckoo flew in and landed on a dead branch in the top of a tree behind us. The two males started singing off against each other, getting very over-excited. There were lots of extra ‘cucks’ given to each ‘oo’! Then the female flew off towards Redwell Marsh and the males drifted away too. As we walked back to the car, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted to us from one of the ditches.

We drove back east to Holkham to finish the day, walking west on the inland side of the pines. It was fairly quiet here now, apart from lots of people out walking their dogs! We could hear one or two Blackcaps and Chiffchaff singing in the trees. A Treecreeper was singing too, but deep in the pines. A Goldcrest was slightly more accommodating – we could see it flitting round in an oak tree briefly. A large family party of Long-tailed Tits, with several recently fledged juveniles flew across the path.

At Joe Jordan Hide, we had only just opened the flaps when a Great White Egret flew in round the back of the trees. It landed out of view at first, behind some reeds, but then flew again and landed in a shallow ditch. We could see it as it walked along, its head, neck and shoulders sticking up into view. We could see its bill was mostly dark but with a yellow base. A little while later, another Great White Egret flew out of the trees and off east. We could tell it was a different bird as it had an all dark bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and landed in a ditch

There were Spoonbills coming and going from the trees too, flying in and out either side. One perched up nicely where we could get a good look at it through the scope, noting its shaggy nuchal crest, a sign of an adult in breeding plumage. There were a few Little Egrets flying back and forth to and from the trees too, and lots of Cormorants visible in their nests in the branches.

Then it was time to head back – we had a busy evening ahead. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive towards the road, a Grey Partridge was feeding in the edge of one of the fields, just beyond the fence.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – feeding in the field by Lady Anne’s Drive

 

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours to rest and get something to eat, we met again early in the evening.  It had been raining all day further east, but fortuitously had stopped in time for our evening activities.

There were several Brown Hares we had to avoid in the road, on our way up to look for Little Owls first. We stopped by some farm buildings and scanned the roofs to see if we could find one out already, but all we could see at first was a Stock Dove. However, when we looked over at some other buildings the other side of the road, there was a Little Owl perched out in the open on the metal framework on a silo.

It was distant from here, but we had a look at the Little Owl through scope. We could see the ‘false face’ on the back of its head, which made it look like it was looking back at us. We made our way over to those building and got much closer, better views. This time it looked round at us properly.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched up nicely for us on some metal framework

Having enjoyed good views of Little Owl, we drove round to try to find a Barn Owl next. There was no sign of any around a series of favoured hunting meadows we tried at first, so we stopped and got out for walk. We hadn’t gone far when one of the group spotted a Barn Owl flying past behind us. It was carrying prey and we watched as it crossed the road back where we had parked and continued on over the fields beyond, presumably taking the food back to a brood of hungry owlets somewhere.

It was time to head up to the heath now, in time for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to middle the middle, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from a clump of birch trees.

The first Woodcock appeared pretty much bank on time. We heard its squeaky call first, and then spotted a dark, pot-bellied shape flying towards us with strange stiff, rapid wingbeats. It was a male doing its distinctive ‘roding’ display flight. As it came overhead, we could see its long straight bill.

Woodcock

Woodcock – flew overhead on one of its roding display flights

The Woodcock were regular from then on – we could hear them flying round and several times they passed overhead, at one with two males flying together out across the heath, before they split and headed off in two different direction.

A short while after the first Woodcock, a Nightjar churred briefly from the edge of the trees just ahead of us. Trying to anticipate where it would fly to first, we were just getting into position when it came up out of the trees. It landed briefly on one of its favourite perches, but unfortunately didn’t settle and was off again before we could get the scope onto it.

It flew round, then went high up over the trees, calling. When it came down again, the Nightjar flew in and circled round over our heads. A great view! We could see it was a male, with bold white wing patches. It flew back to the trees, weaving in and out, then off over low over the heath past us. As we walked back to the main path, it came back in behind us and landed on the perch again, but only briefly, before heading off once more.

Nightjar

Nightjar – circled round above our heads, showing off its white patches

As we walked on across the heath, we could hear a Tawny Owl hooting in the trees away in the distance. A second male Nightjar started churring out in the middle ahead of us. We made our way over to one of his favourite branches, hoping it might fly in to visit that next. But before we could get there, it flew past and landed on just the perch we were hoping it would visit. We managed to get it in the scope, but before everyone could get a look it was off again.

The Nightjar headed back out into the middle of the heath, and started churring from another tree. It seemed to be responding to a third male which had started up, churring much further over. We stood and listened – stereo churring!

It was great standing out on the heath as the light faded, listening to the Nightjars churring around us, but it was getting dark and time to call it a night. On the walk back, we could hear the Woodcock still roding, and a pair of Nightjar flew past in front of us calling, silhouetted against the last of the light.

There were a few Common Toads out tonight, after the rain earlier. We had to be careful not to tread on them. There was one more surprise in store for us too – a Slow Worm on the edge of the path. It stopped motionless in the torchlight for a couple of minutes, allowing us a great close-up look at it, before it slid off into the bushes by the path. A great way to end the evening.