Tag Archives: Birds of Prey

24th June 2017 – Summer Weekend, Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AvocetAvocet – increasing numbers on the freshmarsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SpoonbillsSpoonbills & Little Egrets – including some recently fledged young

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

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

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – gave great views from the hide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NightjarNightjar – churring from one of its favourite branches

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

30th July 2016 – Day Birds & Night Birds

A Summer Tour today, followed by a Nightjar Evening. We were lucky with the weather – mostly bright & sunny and we avoided any showers. We spent the morning inland looking for Birds of Prey, the afternoon looking for waders at Titchwell, and the evening looking for owls and Nightjars.

We saw our first raptors already from the car, as we made our way inland away from the coast. A Common Buzzard flew low over the road and disappeared over the hedge the other side. A couple of Kestrels were perched on the wires as we drove along. Some large flocks of corvids, Rooks and Jackdaws, were gathered in the stubble fields making the most of whatever the harvesters had left behind.

We parked by a farm track and started to walk up it. As we passed a gateway, a Sparrowhawk flushed from a telegraph post on the edge of a field and flew away in a typical burst of flapping followed by a long glide. A Yellowhammer sang from the wires and let us get quite close today, a bright yellow-headed male. A Common Whitethroat darted in and out of the hedge as we walked along and a Song Thrush flew along ahead of us. A flock of tits making their way through the bushes had a Blackcap or two to accompany them.

6O0A7021Yellowhammer – singing from the wires

The overgrown verges and hedges either side of the track were alive with butterflies. There were lots of newly emerged Red Admirals, really fresh at the moment and looking very smart. Several Painted Ladys included one which posed nicely for the cameras. The Ringlets are looking a bit tatty and faded now, but there was no shortage of Gatekeepers and a few Commas too. The only skipper which stopped long enough to be formally identified was a Small Skipper.

6O0A7041Painted Lady – looking very smart in the sunshine

Up on slightly higher ground, we stopped at a convenient place with a good vista over the surrounding countryside. As usual, there was a nice selection of birds of prey on show from here. We could hear Common Buzzards calling from the trees behind us and as it warmed up they started to circle up. A Kestrel hovered over the field in front of us. A juvenile Marsh Harrier quartered slowly over but was quickly seen off by the resident raptors.

After a while watching from here, we had a walk on down the back and then followed a footpath round the fields. A couple of Skylarks came up from the weedy margin of a field. We could hear the begging call of a juvenile Kestrel and turned to see the youngster chasing its parent across in front of a line of trees, presumably asking for food. A Stock Dove perched on the top of a barn roof. Swallows and House Martins hawked for insects overhead and a Greenfinch wheezed from the trees. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over calling.

6O0A7083Long-tailed Tit – calling overhead as we ate our lunch

Our next stop today was Titchwell. We arrived just in time for an early lunch, so made our way over to the picnic area. A couple of Speckled Wood butterflies chased each other in the dappled sunshine. A flock of Long-tailed Tits worked their way through the trees overhead as we ate.

After lunch, we walked out along main path. The grazing marsh ‘pool’ is now very dry and largely birdless (1 Lapwing, 1 Black-headed Gull, 1 Woodpigeon!) – a sorry sight. There was a lot more action on the reedbed pool. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out in the middle, we could see her dark cap, pale cheeks and pale-tipped black bill. There was a nice selection of other ducks too – Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Common Pochard and a couple of juvenile Tufted Ducks.

As we were walking up towards Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them from here. We could see a dozen Spoonbills out on the edge of one of the islands and, as usual, they were mostly asleep. Occasionally one would lift its head and flash its spoon-shaped bill. Lurking down on the mud at the front, we could see two very well camouflaged Little Ringed Plovers with alone Dunlin.

IMG_5512Spoonbills – twelve today, mostly asleep as usual

From the comfort of Island Hide, we scanned the freshmarsh for waders.There are no shortage of them at Titchwell at the moment – vast throngs of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets, around 400 of each in recent counts. In amongst them are a fair number of moulting Ruff. A line of godwits out in the middle were Bar-tailed Godwits, some males still mostly in summer plumage with bright rusty underparts right down onto the belly. They had come to roost here over high tide out on the beach, along with a couple of Turnstones.

6O0A7099Avocet – almost 400 are at Titchwell at the moment

As well as the larger waders, there were several flocks of Dunlin scattered round the edges of the islands. Most are adults still with their summer black belly patches, but numbers of streaky-bellied juveniles are steadily increasing now. In on of the groups of feeding Dunlin, we found the Little Stint, noticeably smaller, short billed, and clean white below.

There appeared to be no sign of any Curlew Sandpipers at first, but a careful look though a large flock of roosting Dunlin over with the Bar-tailed Godwits revealed a little patch of deep rusty colour in the middle of the throng. As the flock of Dunlin shuffled, the birds either side eventually parted to reveal two moulting adult Curlew Sandpipers, their orange underparts now liberally specked with white. One then woke up, flew over to the mud and started feeding so we could get a better look at it.

IMG_5532Curlew Sandpiper – one of two moulting adults today

The Bearded Tits were proving frustrating. The reeds are now too tall at one end of the hide to see their favoured edge of the reedbed and they didn’t seem to keen to work their way along and into view today. Another two Bearded Tits were calling from the reeds right in front of the other end of the hide, also out of view, and then flew right across in front of the hide and disappeared deep into the main reedbed. A very tatty adult Marsh Harrier, worn out after the rigours of the breeding season, drifted across the reeds.

Another birder arriving in the hide let us know that the Bearded Tits were showing from the main path just outside, so we walked up the slope and immediately spotted a juvenile Bearded Tit on the edge of the reeds below us. This time we got a good view of it, as it hopped around on the mud.

Round at Parrinder Hide, it didn’t take long to find the Spotted Redshanks, hiding in the far corner as usual. We could only see five from here, but they kept disappearing from view behind the islands. A single Golden Plover, still in black-bellied summer plumage, was hiding behind the fence on the island. A gaggle of noisy Greylags were hanging around right in front of the hide, but a smart Black-tailed Godwit was lurking in with them, very close where we could get a great look at it.

6O0A7155Black-tailed Godwit – in front of Parrinder Hide

We had a quick look in at the Volunteer Marsh and the tidal pools, but there was very little on either, mainly a few roosting Curlews. Out at the beach, the tide was in. The sea was more productive, with a raft raft of about 30 Common Scoter offshore and a couple of other lone ones closer in. A Great Crested Grebe was also out on the water and a distant Gannet flew slowly east.

6O0A7184Whimbrel – these six flew off west at the end of the day

As we made our way way back past the Volunteer Marsh, we heard a Whimbrel call. We looked over to see two come up from the marsh. As they circled over calling, more Whimbrel flew up, one at a time until we could see six of them circling over together. They appeared to go down towards the freshmarsh, but later on as we were walking back past they reedbed they flew overhead in a tight flock, disappearing away to the west.

As we passed the freshmarsh, a moulting Ruff was feeding close by the main path.

6O0A7180Ruff – still with some rusty & black summer feathers

We took a detour round via Meadow Trail on the way back and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. A couple of Little Grebes on the pool were an addition to the day’s list, and there were still some small juvenile Avocets on the islands, but nothing else out of the ordinary today.

The Autumn Trail has only recently opened this year, so we walked round to take a look at the back of the freshmarsh. Now we could see the Spotted Redshanks properly and found there were actually ten of them lurking mostly out of view from the other hides. The majority of them are now mostly in silvery grey/white winter plumage, but one was still liberally blotched with black underneath.

IMG_5541Spotted Redshank – mostly in winter plumage now

Then, with a busy evening ahead of us, it was time to call it a day and head back to the car.

Nightjar Evening

After a break for a rest and to get something to eat, we met again later on for the Nightjar Evening. With a bit of time before sunset, we went looking for owls first. At our first stop, the Little Owls performed well again. One was perched up rather distantly when we arrived, a good start, but it flew away out of sight fairly quickly.

We waited for a few minutes and then a second Little Owl appeared much closer to us on the roof of an old barn. It sat in full view looking around for a minute or so, then disappeared inside. Shortly after, it reappeared and gave great views, first on the roof and then flying up and perching in the evening sunshine. Another Little Owl was calling further over behind it.

IMG_5576Little Owl – appeared on the barn roof at dusk

With the evenings already drawing in, we did not have so much time to look for Barn Owls. They have been coming out very late this year anyway, perhaps reflective of a poor breeding season and a distinct lack of voles. We drove round some regular hunting areas and had a quick walk out to the place we normally see them.

There was a beautiful sunset away to the west. A couple of tight flocks of Swifts came screaming overhead, chasing each other in circles. But there was no sign of any Barn Owls out yet. We didn’t want to be late for the main event, so decided to head up to the Heath in good time rather than hang around any longer.

6O0A7195Swifts – screaming overhead late this evening

Up at the heath, we did not have to wait long before the first Nightjar started churring. It churred and called intermittently at first, from the safety of its roost site. The as the light started to fade, they started to fly around. The first Nightjar we saw flew up high against the sky, silhouetted above the trees. Another then flew in towards us and right past, possibly a female as it appeared to lack the white in the wings shown by the male. The resident (where we were standing) male Nightjar then flew across along the edge of the trees, flashing his white wing and tail patches. Another male circled low around an oak tree further over.

All the time, we could hear the males churring, at least three separate males within immediate earshot, not least because we had positioned ourselves along the boundary for two territories. As the Nightjars flew round we could hear their loud ‘koo-wick’ calls and even the wing clapping of the males. Just as it was getting dark, one of the male Nightjars flew up and landed on a dead branch sticking out of the very top of an oak tree. It was a really evocative sight to see it perched there, silhouetted against the deep blue night sky, churrring into the gathering gloom.

As the dark descended, we made our way back to the car, serenaded by the churring of Nightjars.