Tag Archives: Black Redstart

21st Oct 2017 – Migrants & Winter Visitors Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. It was a nice bright start to the day, but the wind increased during the morning as ‘Storm Brian’ swept across the UK. Thankfully, being on the east coast, it was nowhere near as windy here as it was in the west of the country, but it was still rather gusty at times. It clouded over a bit too, in the afternoon, but remained dry all day and we had a good day out.

Given the nice weather first thing, we decided to have a quick look in Wells Woods to see if any migrants had arrived overnight. There are lots of Little Grebes now on the boating lake – we counted at least 17 as we walked past – but no ducks other than the local Mallards.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of at least 17 on the boating lake today

We set off into the woods but it was quiet at first in the trees. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling further over, towards the east side of the Dell. On our way round there, a Treecreeper flew in and landed on the trunk of a large old pine tree in front of us. We watched it for a minute or so as it picked its way around the furrows in the bark, before it disappeared round the other side of the tree.

TreecreeperTreecreeper – flew in to the trunk of an old pine tree in front of us

At first we could only find three Long-tailed Tits together. They were calling constantly and had possibly lost the rest of the flock. They disappeared off the way we had come, but as we walked out onto the main path, we found the rest of the group. They were in a sheltered spot initially, but quickly moved round to the breezier side of the trees where they were harder to follow.

The tit flock was on the move, and didn’t seem to know which was they were going, They first started to head over to the caravan site, then changed their minds and went back to the edge of the Dell, before starting to fly over to the west side of the meadow. There was a nice selection of the commoner tits and a few Goldcrests, but it was hard to see the whole flock. In the end, they disappeared into the trees and we left them to it.

The bushes in the more open areas by the track still held a few thrushes – several Blackbirds and a Redwing or two – plus a handful of Chaffinches, but not the number of migrants that they have produced in the last few days. It seemed like there had not been much in the way of new birds in overnight, and earlier arrivals had already mostly moved off inland. A Bullfinch flew out of the brambles and away ahead of us, flashing its white rump. There were a few Curlews in the nearer fields, and we could see small flocks of Pink-footed Geese dropping into the fields further south.

The drinking pool seemed like a good place to check, as it would be relatively sheltered. As we walked in, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the pines beyond, but it took us a while to locate them. Thankfully, they worked their way round to the pool and many of them dropped down into the smaller trees round the edge. We had great views of the tits and in particular a couple of Goldcrests which were feeding low down right in front of us.

GoldcrestGoldcrest – one of several feeding in the bushes round the drinking pool

As the tit flock moved back up into the pines, we decided to make our way back and try our luck elsewhere. The wind had already started to pick up now, and we really noticed it as we got out of the trees. When we got back to the car, we headed off east along the coast to Cley.

There has been a Black Redstart hanging around here for a few days now and today it had taken up residence on the roof of the wardens house. As we walked out to the hides, we could see it flitting around on the tiles. The sun was on the east side of the roof, which was also most sheltered from the wind. Presumably it was finding insects up there because, as well as the Black Redstart, there were also two Pied Wagtails on the roof.

Black RedstartBlack Redstart – on the roof of the warden’s house at Cley

Black Redstarts breed in small numbers in Norfolk, mainly around Great Yarmouth. This one is presumably a migrant, heading from the breeding grounds in northern Europe to winter around the Mediterranean.

The boardwalk out to the hides was also in the sun, and sheltered from the wind by the tall reeds either side. There were lots of Common Darter dragonflies along here, basking in the sunshine on the bare wood.

Common DarterCommon Darter – basking in the sun along the boardwalk

At the end of the boardwalk, we headed for Dauke’s Hide first. There were lots of ducks out on Simmond’s Scrape – mainly Wigeon and Teal, now returned in larger numbers from Russia and northern Europe for the winter. They were very jump in the wind, and kept flying up into the air, taking everything else up with them, before landing again.

There have been good numbers of Little Stints at Cley this autumn and the same was still true today. There were at least 7 on Simmond’s Scrape while we were there, although they were hard to count. They really are tiny birds and were easily lost from view among the ducks or around the back edges of the islands. They were all juveniles – amazing to think they are making their way unguided from the Arctic down to Africa for the winter.

Little StintLittle Stint – a juvenile, one of at least 7 on Simmond’s Scrape

There were not so many other waders on here this morning. This might be partly due to the ducks, which caused them all to take flight several times when we were there, not helped by the two Marsh Harriers which were quartering over the reeds most of the time but would occasionally drift over the edges of the scrapes, presumably enjoying the mayhen which ensued.

There were three Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the deeper water along the edge of the scrape, and a couple of Ruff in among the ducks. A little group of Dunlin included some already in winter plumage and a couple of juveniles with black spotted bellies. A lone adult was still sporting most of its large black belly patch, a remnant from its breeding plumage. A single Common Snipe flew in and landed in the cut dead reeds in the back corner, where it immediately became very difficult to see!

There had been a Curlew Sandpiper reported here earlier, but we couldn’t find it – presumably it had flown off at some point, when all the ducks flushed. We did find a Ringed Plover out on the grass in the middle of one of the islands. When something else landed with it, we looked over and were surprised to see a dumpy, much darker wader – a Purple Sandpiper.

Through the scope, we could see the Purple Sandpiper’s yellow legs and bill base. It was a first winter bird, still with its retained pale-fringed juvenile wing coverts. It stayed just long enough for us all to get a good look at it through the scope. Then suddenly all the ducks erupted again, as the Marsh Harrier drifted across the back of the scrapes, and the waders took to the air too. Unfortunately, despite most of the birds quickly returning to the water, the Purple Sandpiper had disappeared.

One of the smartest birds on here today was a Starling. We don’t tend to look at them as much as we should, as they are not uncommon here especially in winter, but this one was probing in the grass for invertebrates, on the bank right in front of the hide, and demanded our attention. It looked particularly striking in its fresh plumage, with striking white or pale brown tips to the feathers head and body feathers. A real stunner!

StarlingStarling – feeding in the grass in front of the hide, a stunning bird close-up

There are not so many birds on Pat’s Pool at the moment, but we popped into Teal Hide for a quick look. The highlight was a single Avocet in a line of roosting Black-headed Gulls and Ruff. Most of the Avocets here have left already, but there are still a very few hanging on along the coast. There seem to be fewer than recent years, so perhaps they know something we don’t about the coming winter!

The Ruff here today were mainly juveniles, faded now to a variety of pale, buff, stone, ecru underparts. A single winter adult with them was much paler, whitish below, and with obvious bright orange legs and bill base.

AvocetAvocet & friends – with a few Ruff and Black-headed Gulls

Then it was back to the visitor centre for lunch. It was rather windy now, but not enough to stop us from making the use of the picnic tables and enjoying the view across the reserve.

After lunch, we made our way round to the beach car park. As soon as we got out of the car, we could see a small group of Brent Geese in the Eye Field. There was a Black Brant here a couple of days ago and a quick glance through the flock revealed an obviously different bird – much darker, blackish bodied, than the accompanying Dark-bellied Brents, with a brighter, cleaner white flank patch. A smart Black Brant.

Black BrantBlack Brant – with the Brent Geese in the Eye Field

This was our second Black Brant in two days, presumably another returning individual, which has got attached to a group of Dark-bellied Brents in Siberia and now remains with them all year, migrating back and forth to Norfolk. It didn’t appear to have such a strongly marked neck collar as yesterday’s Black Brant at first, but it was feeding and hunkered down against the wind. When it lifted its head, the extensive neck collar, connecting under the chin and almost joining at the back of the neck, was more obvious.

There had been several Gannets circling offshore earlier, we had seen them distantly from the hides before lunch, so we had a quick look out to sea. Unfortunately they had moved further offshore or along towards Salthouse now – we could still see them, a mixture of black-tipped white-winged adults, dusky grey juveniles and some in betweens. Otherwise, there was not much happening out to sea, no wildfowl moving today. We did see a few distant auks, Guillemots and Razorbills, flying past.

To finish off our visit to the reserve at Cley today, we headed round to the East Bank to head out to Arnold’s Marsh. It was rather windy up on the East Bank, but the wind was at our backs on the walk out. We could just about hear the Bearded Tits calling at the back of Don’s Pool, but it was not the day to be looking for them today – Bearded Tits don’t like the wind, and typically remain tucked deep down in the reedbed on days like today.

There was a good smattering of ducks out on the grazing marshes to the east as we walked out, mostly Wigeon and Teal. Looking through more carefully, we found a few Pintail asleep in the grass and a few Gadwall too. Several juvenile Ruff were feeding on the mud at the north end of the Serpentine.

We took shelter from the wind in the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh. There was a nice selection of waders out on the water here, mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks along with several Curlew. Around the edges and the islands we found three Ringed Plovers and two Grey Plovers. Then it was a brisk walk back into the wind!

For our final stop, we finished the day with a visit to Kelling Water Meadow. As we walked up along the lane, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling from deep in the hedge. Several Blackbirds flushed ahead of us from where they were feeding on the berries, as we saw this morning, probably birds lingering having arrived over the last couple of days.

There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler reported from the copse here earlier and we arrived to find a small crowd leaving. We were told it had been in the hedge on the sheltered north side and after only a minute or so it appeared among the leaves. It flitted about for a while, long enough for us to get a good look at it, before it disappeared back into the trees as a flock of tits moved through.

Continuing on down to the Water Meadow, we stopped at the gate on the cross track and looked back over the pool. Three small waders on the mud were the three lingering juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, so we had a good look at those through the scope. A little bigger and sleaker than a Dunlin, with a longer, more downcurved and Curlew-like bill, cleaner white and buff below with delicately scaled upperparts. They have been around here for a while now, stopping off to feed on their way down from the breeding grounds in central Siberia to Africa for the winter. Presumably they will be on their way again sometime soon.

Further back, in the most distant corner of the pool, we could see a couple of larger waders and through the scope, we could see that they were two Spotted Redshanks. These birds have been lingering here for several weeks now too. Like the Curlew Sandpipers, they are both young birds, reared in the Arctic in the summer and now making their way south. There were a couple of Common Snipe feeding with them, but there was another Common Snipe closer, on the edge of the island, which we got a better look at. There have been one or two Jack Snipe here in recent days, but we couldn’t find them today.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshanks – gave great close views after everyone else had gone

One of the Spotted Redshanks is much paler than the other – the paler one is more advanced in its moult, with more silvery grey moulted first winter feathers in its mantle and scapulars. The second bird is now starting to moult and we could see a smattering of new feathers here, but it still appears rather dusky by comparison.

There were a few other birds here too, while we stood and watched the waders. A Fieldfare flew past behind us and we caught it as it continued on west, over the hill and into the sun, the only one of the weekend. A flock of Linnets flew across the Quags calling and a Stonechat zipped across and disappeared over the hedge.

The Spotted Redshanks made their way along the east side of the pool and down towards the top corner, so we made our way along behind the reeds and were soon treated to great close-up views of them as they fed just a few metres away from us. We could see their long, needle-fine bills, with a slight kink at the tip. They were feeding busily, in and out of the grass around the edge of the pool.

Then it was time to head back. The nights are drawing in now and the light was already starting to fade as we wended our way along the coast road to finish the day.

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9th May 2016 – Walk Before Work

With a later than normal start today, and such great weather, I seized the opportunity to go for a quick walk in the Dunes first thing this morning. It was beautiful light early on, great for photography.

A couple of Cuckoos flew out of the hedge as I passed and disappeared off across the grazing marshes. I didn’t have too long, so made my way quickly to the seawall. The tide just coming in but the channels in the mud out in the harbour were still only filled with shallow water. A Spoonbill was feeding in one of the channels. It was perfectly lit in the morning sun, so I stopped to take a quick photo.

6O0A2303Spoonbill – feeding in one of the channels in the harbour

It started to preen for a few seconds, then suddenly took off. It was obviously on its was back to the colony and had just stopped off for a quick last feed.

6O0A2309Spoonbill – taking off

It was still rather distant at that stage, but it quickly became clear that it was flying straight towards me. It eventually flew past only a short distance back along the seawall and headed off over the grazing marshes, providing a stunning photo opportunity!

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6O0A2321Spoonbill – flew past on its way back

Spoonbills are a regular sight here along the coast and we usually see them on the tours at this time of the year, but they are typically unpredictable in exactly where they choose to stop and feed, so it is always a real pleasure to have such a  close-up encounter as this. A great start to the morning!

I did not have long in the dunes and there did not appear to be many new arrivals. A Black Redstart was a nice surprise though. Another Cuckoo was singing on the edge of the pines.

6O0A2347Black Redstart – a nice surprise in the dunes

There was no sign of yesterday’s singing male oenanthe Wheatear, but there were several Greenland Wheatears still, including a smart male. The deep, rich burnt orangey colours on the underparts were in stark contrast to the white/cream of yesterday’s male. It is always fascinating to look at the variation in appearance of Wheatears.

6O0A2335Wheatear – a richly coloured male Greenland Wheatear

6O0A2357Wheatear – a very obliging female

A brief distraction on the way back was provided by a little group of Brent Geese on the saltmarsh close to the seawall. In with them was the regular Black Brant hybrid – the bold pale flank patch and more complete white collar were both very obvious in the morning sunshine. It is a big gander and still appears to be paired to one of the Dark-bellied Brent Geese.

6O0A2384Black Brant hybrid – still on the saltmarsh

Then it was time to head back in time to start work. What lovely way to start the day!

30th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 4

Day 4 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. It dawned bright and sunny and the wind had dropped too. A great day to be out birding! We made our way up to NW Norfolk for the day.

We started the day at Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked out through the bushes, lots of warblers were starting to sing – Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and lots of Sedge Warblers. They have all returned in some numbers now and this is always a great site to see them. The first Lesser Whitethroat we came across wasn’t singing, but we heard it call – a more delicate ‘tak’ than a Blackcap – and then found it hopping around in the top of a low hawthorn. Cetti’s Warbler is a resident, rather than a migrant, but they are all in full voice now too, shouting at us from various bushes and brambles.

IMG_3410Sedge Warbler – there were lots singing at Snettisham today

6O0A1521Willow Warbler – singing from the trees

6O0A1531Chiffchaff – there were lots in the bushes

There were spring migrants on the move. The first Swallows of the morning came overhead – there was a steady passage of birds along the coast today. A couple of Common Swifts went through too.There were also a few more Yellow Wagtails today – we heard at least six pass over while we were at Snettisham, and managed to see one which came through a bit lower above us.

A Cuckoo flew across and disappeared into the bushes before everyone could get onto it. A smart pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over towards the Wash, flashing their pure white wingtips as they went.

As we rounded the next corner, a Ring Ouzel flew out of the trees into a big clearing and landed with a couple of Blackbirds behind some low bushes. We moved slowly round to where we could see it feeding on the grass. It was a female Ring Ouzel – browner bodied than a male and with a distinct off dirty, off-white colour to the crescent on the breast. Still it was great to watch it hopping around on the ground out in the open, until something spooked it and it flew back into cover.

IMG_3414Ring Ouzel – this female showed well today

We hadn’t gone much further when we saw a flash of red in front of us as a cracking male Redstart landed in a bush. Unfortunately it flew again before we had time to get it in the scope – some dogwalkers were coming along the path in the opposite direction and had flushed it. Thankfully, after they had gone, it flew straight back out to what were obviously its favoured bushes and this time we got a great look at it. Its bright white forehead and red breast and belly really shone in the morning sunshine.

IMG_3435Redstart – this stunning male brightened up our morning

The Redstart eventually disappeared off across the path and we continued on past it. Quite a bit further on, another flash of red and a second Redstart appeared, another male, but not as bright as the first. A short distance further and we flushed a third male Redstart and then we came across a female too. We watched the female for some time, flicking between bushes and feeding underneath them. Quite a haul – four spring Redstarts in one morning.

The Coastal Park is normally a good site for Grasshopper Warbler, but we only heard one at first as we walked up through the bushes, and that reeled only very briefly. Then it all changed – we heard one reeling quite close by and made our way over to try to see it. It was not particularly amenable, but perched half obscured in the top of a low hawthorn. While we were trying to see it, another Grasshopper Warbler started reeling on the other side of some trees from where we were standing. When we gave up and continued on a little further, we heard yet another Grasshopper Warbler and this one gave itself up nicely, perching out in the sunshine while it delivered its peculiar mechanical clicking song, ‘reeling’.

IMG_3446Grasshopper Warbler – the fourth we heard perched up nicely

The walk back along the inner seawall was less eventful. As we turned to head back south, we did see three Whimbrel out on the grass further along. There were lots of Greylags, Egyptian Geese and Shelduck on the grazing marshes, but no sign of any Pink-footed Geese here today. All the warblers were still singing as before, but we did also hear a couple of Reed Warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat actually singing its rattling song.

We had a brief look out at the Wash while we were at the Coastal Park, but the tide was in here, so we made our way down to the pits to try to see some waders. It was not a big high tide today, so there was still a lot of exposed mud, but we could see a huge flock of Knot and Grey Plover spread out across the mud. Even better, something spooked them just after we had arrived and we got a great display of thousands and thousands of birds wheeling round in the sky.

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6O0A1535Waders – we were treated to a great display of a whirling flock

There was a nice selection of waders closer in. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was loafing around and preening in the channel just below the seawall. We managed to pick out a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits on the mud too, and even better at one point we had a Black-tailed and a Bar-tailed Godwit standing together on the edge of the water, a nice side-by-side comparison. There were good numbers of Oystercatcher too, plus a few Avocets and a sprinkling of Dunlin running around in amongst them. A couple of Sandwich Terns were resting on the mud too, and took off to fly round calling.

Our next stop was at Holme and, after lunch, we had a quick walk round the paddocks. We could neither hear nor see the Turtle Dove which had been reported that morning and otherwise the bushes were a little quiet. A group of four Siskins flew over, heading west, more birds on the move. We came back via the road – the gardens provided a Pied Wagtail, lots of House Sparrows, a pair of Mallard resting up on the ridge tiles on a roof and a couple of Swallows preening on the wires.

6O0A1543Swallow – preening on the wires at Holme

There has been a Black Redstart further down by the Firs at Holme for several days now, so we made our way down to try to see that next. There was no sign of it around the paddocks from the car as we drove past, just several Wheatears hopping around down on the grass. But after parking and walking back for a proper look, we quickly found the Black Redstart perched on a fence post. We watched it for a while as it kept dropping down to the ground looking for food, coming back up to the posts, wires, or into a low hawthorn tree. It was a female, so overall a dirty grey colour, but still sporting a nice red tail.

IMG_3466Black Redstart – a female in the paddocks at Holme

Our last stop of the day was at Titchwell.After all our travels, we did not have as much time to explore here as we normally do, so it was a bit of a whistle-stop tour. On the dried up grazing marsh ‘pool’, we quickly found a single White Wagtail, along with several Pied Wagtails. Two more White Wagtails were on the Freshmarsh later.

A female Bearded Tit was flitting around in the reeds here briefly when we arrived, but quickly flew off across the path into the main reedbed. However, up at the reedbed pool we were treated to nice views of a male Bearded Tit swinging around on a reed head. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reeds and a Great Crested Grebe was lurking in the far corner of the water.

The water level of the Freshmarsh is still quite high and consequently there was nothing in front of Island Hide, so we headed straight for Parrinder Hide. That was the right thing to do, as we quickly picked up the Little Stint out on one of the islands in front. It was noticeably small, particularly when two Redshanks dropped in next to it, smaller than the nearby Dunlin and with a considerably shorter bill.

IMG_3525Little Stint – still out on the Freshmarsh today

There were also a couple of Common Terns on one of the islands. A small flock of Black-tailed Godwits were sleeping. A Little Ringed Plover flew past, but we didn’t see it land. The Avocets by the bank were trying to feed, but were up to their bellies in water.

6O0A1557Avocet – trying to feed in the deep water

There are rather few ducks left on here now, compared to the winter, but still a nice selection. A few Teal were feeding by the bank. In front of Parrinder Hide, we had some nice close Shelduck, Gadwall and Shoveler.

6O0A1561Shelduck – a pair were in front of Parrinder Hide

6O0A1566Gadwall – a pair of these too were in front of Parrinder Hide

6O0A1573Shoveler – several pairs were on the Freshmarsh

The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools are rather quiet now, so we made our way straight out to the beach next. The tide was still on its way out and most of the shellfish beds were still underwater. There were lots of Turnstone and Sanderling picking around the seaweed on the shoreline. When something spooked them, all the Turnstone flew to a small outcrop poking above the waves just offshore, and we could see there were some super smart summer plumage birds there, with lots of white around the head and bright rusty feathers in the upperparts. The Sanderling whirled round over the sea before landing back down on the beach.

There was not much happening offshore today, but we did manage to pick up three Little Terns passing west just offshore. Unfortunately then we ran out of time – we had to be back in Wells in good time, so we made our way quickly back to the car. Still, we had enjoyed another great day out.