Tag Archives: Black Redstart

14th April 2018 – Early Spring at Last, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours in North Norfolk. It was cloudy most of the day, but dry and mild and with light winds, before the sun came out later in the afternoon. We spent the day up on the coast, looking for spring migrants.

With the possibility that there could be some birds freshly arrived or on the move this morning, with the improvement in the weather after several cold and foggy days, we decided to spend the morning at Holkham and Burnham Overy Dunes.

As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a couple of Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marshes and several Shoveler around the rushy edges of the pools. When we got out of the car, a more careful scan revealed a few Wigeon still lingering out on the grass (most have already departed on their way back to Russia for the breeding season) and a pair of Gadwall with them. There were also a couple of Oystercatchers and several Curlew. A pair of Lapwing were displaying further back.

Rather than heading out towards the beach, we turned west along the path before the pines. We could hear Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing deep in the trees along the first stretch, both early returning migrants. A Lesser Whitethroat started singing too, further back – it was probably just back from its African wintering grounds.

A Goldcrest started singing in the pines and we looked up to see it flitting around above us. We could hear a Treecreeper singing too, but it remained stubbornly elusive. Eventually we had a brief glimpse but it disappeared back into the pines before everyone could get onto it. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the trees too.

At Salts Hole there were a few Tufted Ducks and a single drake Teal out on the water. Another Chiffchaff was calling in the trees just beyond, and we followed it as it made its way quickly west on the edge of the trees, singing occasionally. Eventually it stopped to feed and we managed to get a better look at it. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the reeds as we scanned the grazing marshes from the gate. It popped up into some brambles briefly but dropped down before everyone could see it. Two Spoonbills flew past.

A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up out in the middle and then a Sparrowhawk appeared above our heads, over the path. From the boardwalk up to Washington Hide, we stopped to watch another pair of Marsh Harriers which were flying in and out of the reeds. The male made several short flights down to the edge of the marsh and then came back with sticks or bits of reed, presumably nest building.

Marsh Harrier 1

Marsh Harrier – the male, carrying nest material

Continuing on our way west, we had nice views of a Sedge Warbler in the reeds by Meals House, which perched up more obligingly than the one we had seen earlier. Then it performed a song flight, fluttering up singing, before parachuting back down into the reeds out of view.

There were a few tits in the trees as we walked along. Then just before the crosstracks, we heard a Willow Warbler singing. It was in a bare deciduous tree on the edge of the pines and we had nice views of it as it alternately preened and sang, perched in the morning sunshine. We could see the lemon yellow wash to the supercilium. Then it started to feed actively, still stopping to sing from time to time.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – singing on the edge of the pines

Another longer distance, trans-Saharan migrant, the Willow Warbler was very possibly freshly arrived back. The song is a lovely sweet descending scale, very different from the Chiffchaff, a real sign of spring when the Willow Warblers return.

At this point we received a message to say that some Ring Ouzels had been seen out in the dunes. So, rather than stopping at the hide, we continued straight on towards the end of the pines. We stopped to scan from the gate. A couple of Blackbirds flew out of the bushes, unfortunately lacking the white gorget of their upland cousins. We made our way on into the dunes.

It was rather quiet at first out here. There had apparently been quite a good passage of commoner migrants earlier, but it seemed to have slowed now. There were plenty of Meadow Pipits and Linnets in the bushes or down in the grass as we passed. A male Stonechat on top of a bush looked very smart.

The Ring Ouzels had apparently been with some other thrushes earlier, but we saw the Mistle Thrushes fly off west ahead of us, while a couple of Song Thrushes came up out of the dunes behind us. It was hard to tell which way the Ring Ouzels would most likely have gone, but we then received another message to say one had reappeared a short distance behind us, so we walked back to find it feeding out on the grass beyond the fence.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this male showed well on the grass beyond the fence

The Ring Ouzel was a smart male, with a bold white gorget. We had great views of it through the scope, as it fed out in the open. We could even see the silvery edges to the wing feathers. It would occasionally disappear back into the bushes, but kept coming out again onto the grass, before eventually moving further back. As we scanned the dunes further along, we spotted another Ring Ouzel perched in the top of a bush away to the west.

The Ring Ouzels are on their way from their wintering grounds in North Africa, back to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and stop off here to feed. There had been six of them earlier, but we were more than happy with the views we had of these two. We decided to venture on a little further to see if we could find a Wheatear which had been seen along here earlier.

We continued on to the next open area in the dunes, but there was no sign of the Wheatear. It was getting very disturbed here now, with several people and families out walking their dogs. We didn’t have time to go all the way to the end of the dunes today, so we decided to head back east and have a look from Joe Jordan Hide on our way. A quick look out at the grazing marshes from the edge of the pines revealed a distant Great White Egret and a presumably feral Barnacle Goose with the Greylags. We could see three Spoonbills in the distance in the trees too.

As we climbed up to Joe Jordan Hide, we spotted a Great White Egret in one of the wet ditches right outside. As well as its large size, its long yellow bill gave it away.  While we were watching it, we noticed another Great White Egret further back. This one had a black bill – their bills change colour when they are in breeding condition. Hopefully they will breed here again this year.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – one of two we saw from Joe Jordan Hide

A few Little Egrets were coming in and out of the trees now too, which is good to see. The Little Egret population here was very badly hit by the cold weather earlier in the year. It will be interesting to see how many pairs breed here in 2018.

There was a lot of Spoonbill activity today. Several were down around the edges of the pool, bathing & preening. More were flying in and out from the trees, collecting nest material around the reedy margins of the water. We had a good view of them through the scope – the adults with their shaggy nuchal crests blowing in the breeze..

There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the grass around the old fort and looking carefully through we found two Pink-footed Geese with them. We could see they were smaller and darker, with a more delicate bill, dark with a pink bank. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have gone already, back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a very small number normally over-summer here, typically sick or injured birds. One of the two today looked to have a damaged wing, presumably having been shot and winged over the winter.

Several Marsh Harriers were coming and going here too. A Red Kite circled up in the distance. While we were watching a dark Common Buzzard perched on a bush it suddenly took off and dropped sharply down onto the ground. It had caught something, and we watched as it flew off carrying it.

It was time to head back for lunch now. We made good use of the picnic tables at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. It was nice weather to sit out and eat today, with the bonus of a couple of Spoonbills which flew over while we were there, one right over our heads so we got a very good look at its spoon-shaped bill.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew right over us while we were having lunch

After lunch, we headed further west along the coast road. After a while, we turned inland to see if we could find some farmland birds. A pair of Red-legged Partridges and lots of Brown Hares were in the first fields. Then we spotted a big flock of Linnets lined up on the wires, and more in the hedge by the road, with a Kestrel perched nearby. A little further on, we found several Bramblings with a few Chaffinches in the hedge too. There is a wild bird seed crop growing here and the birds have been here all winter. It will soon be time for the Bramblings to leave.

We stopped again to check out another field where there is a seedy strip. As we scanned round, we spotted several Yellowhammers in the hedges, including a good number of lovely bright yellow males. We could see a distant Corn Bunting in the hedge over the far side too, so we walked a bit further down for a closer look.

When we stopped to scan again, we heard another Corn Bunting singing in the hedge just ahead of us, like a jangling bunch of keys. It was hard to see against the branches, very well camouflaged, but in the end we got a great look at it through the scope, perched up with the Yellowhammers.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – perched up on the hedge with the Yellowhammers

Our destination for the rest of the afternoon was Titchwell, so we swung round via Choseley on our way there. A pair of Grey Partridge were feeding in a winter wheat field by the road, the male keeping watch while the female concentrated on finding food.

As we got out of the car at Titchwell, we could hear Mediterranean Gulls calling overhead. Four Common Snipe flew over the car park, but disappeared behind the trees before everyone could get on to them. On the walk to the Visitor Centre, another Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows and, when we got there, a male Blackcap was singing in the tree right above us.

Blackcap

Blackcap – singing in the trees by the Visitor Centre

A quick look at the feeders revealed several Bramblings. At first a female appeared in the trees behind, then a young male, with a black-speckled head but rather dull orange breast and shoulders still. Finally a third Brambling appeared, a much brighter orange bird, presumably an adult male.

Brambling

Brambling – one of at least three at the feeders

There have been a couple of Black Redstarts in the paddocks round by Patsy’s Reedbed for a few days, another early migrant just passing through here, so we went first to look for them. We couldn’t see any sign of them from the gate. The only bird of note on Patsy’s itself were a few Common Pochard,  and a couple of Marsh Harriers were displaying just beyond, the male calling and tumbling down from high in the sky.

We walked over to the end of the paddocks and there was still no sign of the Black Redstart. It had just been seen on one of the stable, but had dropped down out of view, and it didn’t reappear while we waited. There had been some wagtails here too earlier, but there were just a couple of Pied Wagtails now, the Yellow Wagtail having flown off towards the freshmarsh. We decided to head back to the main path.

Walking out across the reserve, the Thornham grazing marsh was quiet and there was nothing singing in the reedbed today. A single Little Grebe was hiding in the channel through the reeds and a few Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks were on the reedbed pool. Then we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling over the edge of the saltmarsh in front of us and looked over to see it flying across. It came past us, back over the main path, and headed away back towards Patsy’s and the paddocks. Another nice spring migrant for the day’s list.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – flying overhead, calling

There were Mediterranean Gulls flying around calling non-stop, with lots of gulls flying back in from the fields inland. We could see the pure white wing-tips on the Mediterraean Gulls, which were translucent from below. The water levels on the Freshmarsh are much better now, much lower than they had been, but the islands seem to have been largely taken over by gulls. As well as loads of Black-headed and good numbers of Mediterranean, we found a few Common, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls too.

With the improvement in the water levels, there are a few more waders back on here now. As well as the ubiquitous Avocets, there were a few Black-tailed Godwits, with many already moulting into their rusty breeding plumage. A lone Ruff was feeding around the edge of the nearest island, but there were mare further back, by the bank beyond Parrinder Hide, with a Redshank alongside providing a nice comparison.

There were still a few ducks on the freshmarsh, mainly Teal, although many have already departed back to their breeding grounds. The sun had come out now and the drake Teal looked particularly stunning in the late afternoon light.

Teal

Teal – a smart drake in the afternoon sun

We had a quick look on Volunteer Marsh, but the tide was already coming in fast and the channel was flooded. There were a few Redshanks and Curlews out on the mud in the middle. We didn’t have time to head out to the beach today, but the tide would be in anyway, so we started to walk back.

As we got back to the reedbed, we heard a Bearded Tit call and watched as it flew in skimming the tops of the reeds and dropped down out of sight. A few seconds later, it flew again, back across the reedbed and disappeared once more. That is often all you see of the Bearded Tits but a little further along, we noticed some movement down low in the reeds at the back of the pools by the path and looked across to see a male Bearded Tit.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a pair were feeding around the edge of the pools by the path

We watched the male Bearded Tit as it weaved its way in and out of the reeds, occasionally picking at the water surface or at the stems, presumably looking for insects. Then it flew across the water and disappeared into a thicker patch of reeds. As we waited to see if it might come out, a female Bearded Tit appeared in the reeds nearby.

Almost back to the trees, a ghostly pale shape flew in across the reeds and over the path. It was a Barn Owl. It headed round to the Thornham grazing marsh and started hunting over the rushy grass. We made our way back to where there is a gap in the trees and had geat views of it flying round. Eventually it dropped sharply down into the grass and when it finally flew up again we could see that it had caught a vole. It flew off with it in its talons, back the way it had come.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – caught a vole on Thornham grazing marsh

That would have been a very nice way to end, but back in the car park, we decided to have a quick look out towards the paddocks from the gates at the back. A quick scan of the stable revealed one of the Black Redstarts on the roof. It was the male, dark slate grey with a black face and an orange-red tail. It was perched, looking into the afternoon sun, presumably warming itself. A nice extra bonus to finish the day.

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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.

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!

6O0A2316

6O0A2318

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.