Tag Archives: Black Tern

6th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 2

Day 2 of a long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was originally meant to be sunny and warm today, but the forecast changed a couple of days ago to rain in the middle of the day and cooler. The rain came early – it was already spitting with drizzle when we met up and it continued on and off through the morning. Thankfully, it was only light and intermittent and it didn’t really stop us getting out, and it dried up in the afternoon.

Having been east along the coast yesterday, we drove west today. A Red Kite drifted over the road as we made our way to Holme. As we got out of the minibus, a Sedge Warbler was singing, but it was keeping tucked down out of view this morning. We could see a couple of dark juvenile Marsh Harriers flying round over the bushes out in the middle of the grazing marsh. When the male flew past, they thought they were going to get fed, but were disappointed when it didn’t stop. Up on the seawall, we could see one of the juveniles standing in a recently cut silage field, presumably trying to find something for itself.

It was already spitting with rain, but we thought we would be OK for an hour or so, based on the forecast. Enough time to get out to the beach and back. It was a very high tide this morning and lots of Redshanks were roosting out on the islands of vegetation on the saltmarsh. Five Little Egrets were roosting too. The Meadow Pipits and Skylarks had been forced off the saltmarsh and up into the dunes by the water, and we flushed several as we walked out.

Looking out over the dunes, we could see a Little Tern distantly over the beach. A Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding on the edge of the water. A Fulmar flew past offshore. When we got out to the beach, we found there was very little sand left exposed. A few Oystercatchers and gulls were roosting on the bit of beach left exposed. We could see a few Sandwich Terns flying past over the sea.

As we walked a little further down along the edge of the dunes, a Ringed Plover ran ahead of us. We had seen one on the nest here recently, but the area where it had been looked to be under water now. A Sanderling appeared on the sand on the edge of the dunes too, still in its dark breeding plumage.

Sanderling

Sanderling – still in dark breeding plumage

One of the Little Terns flew over calling. It started to drizzle more heavily now, so we decided to walk back to get our waterproofs from the minibus. From the dunes, we could see the pair of Little Terns mobbing an Oystercatcher back on the beach. Hopefully they had not been impacted by the high tides.

Little Tern

Little Tern – flew over calling

It had stopped drizzling again when we got back on the coastal path. Lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits were in feeding in the dunes. Back at the minibus, we layered up just in case. A Cuckoo flew across the grazing marshes on the other side of the track and when we looked across we could see a second Cuckoo perched on the top of some brambles. We had a look at it in the scope. It will not be long now before the adults leave and head off back south, their breeding season over and the surrogate parents left to raise the young.

We wanted to have a quick look in the old paddocks, so we walked back round and up onto the coastal path. But when we got there it started drizzling more heavily again, so we decided to change plans and head round to Titchwell instead, where we could use the hides. When we got to Titchwell, we had a quick look at the latest rainfall radar and realised the rain band looked to be moving over quickly, so we stopped for coffee at the Visitor Centre. Afterwards the rain had eased off again, so we headed out onto the reserve.

When we got out to the reedbed, a Reed Bunting was singing from the top of a small sallow. A few Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers were flitting round the small pools below the path. A small flock of waders flying in over the saltmarsh turned out to be a Whimbrel with ten Redshank. The latter dropped down on the saltmarsh, but we watched the Whimbrel disappear out over the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of ducks on the reedbed pool, mainly Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard with a single Tufted Duck. The drakes are now all in their drab eclipse plumage. A single Red-crested Pochard sailed out from the reeds. It looked rather like a female, apart from its bright coral-red bill – it was a drake in eclipse too. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew off over the reeds, flashing their white wing tips.

We continued on to Island Hide. There were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the mud in front of the hide. One of them was bearing a collection of colour rings including one with the letter ‘E’ and a flag with the number ’27’. This bird is a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, from the very small UK breeding population on the Nene Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a bird from the small UK breeding population

In order to try to help the struggling UK breeding population of Continental Black-tailed Godwits, a number of eggs are now being hatched and raised in captivity each year, before being released once they are fully grown. ‘E27’ is one of those, raised in 2018. After spending the winter in Spain, it has since toured East Anglia.

Most of the birds here are Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, which are faring much better. There were lots of them out on the Freshmarsh today, and there seemed to be birds moving too. A large flock had flown off as we walked up towards Island Hide, disappearing off west. We saw more flying off or over during the morning, and others dropping in.

A small group of Knot was out with the Black-tailed Godwits when we first arrived and we had a look at them through scope. But they had disappeared when we looked back, possibly out to the beach or perhaps they were on the move today too. We counted 44 Dunlin on the Freshmarsh, but there had apparently been 83 earlier – again waders were obviously dropping in and moving on.

Ruff

Ruff – scrawny-necked, having already moulted its ruff

There were about a dozen Ruff here today, all of them different colours. They are all males which have finished breeding, and already moulted their ornate ruffs. Some were looking very scruffy, with very scrawny necks. An adult Avocet and a well-grown juvenile were feeding in front of the hide, but there were lots more resting on the islands out in the middle. The Avocets are gathering here to moult now, with birds travelling here from elsewhere, and over 400 were counted here today. A single Spotted Redshank was visible over by the fenced-off Avocet Island but was rather distant from here.

The juvenile Bearded Tits like to feed along the edge of the reeds in front of Island Hide and we looked across to see three working their way round, hopping out onto the edge of the mud. We had a great look at them, tawny brown with black backs and black masks.

Bearded Tits

Bearded Tit – three juveniles, on the mud on the edge of the reeds

Spoonbills were reported on the Freshmarsh this morning, but they were apparently over in the back corner and not in view from here. One of the volunteers radioed through to a colleague over by Parrinder to check they were still present, and the reply came through that they were just taking off. We looked over to see six of them flying low towards us, they passed right in front of the hide, before disappearing off west over the bank, presumably heading to to feed.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – five of the six which flew off from the Freshmarsh

There are still lots of gulls out here, and plenty of Mediterranean Gulls loafing around on the islands in with all the Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Common Terns were out on one of the islands too.

Four Barnacle Geese flew in over the back from the direction of Brancaster and landed on the island in front of Parrinder Hide. When we walked round, we had a better look from there. They are presumably feral birds from the now established UK breeding population, which tend to wander.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – two of the four which dropped in on the Freshmarsh

We had a closer look at the gulls from Parrinder Hide. There were lots of juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, much greyer and scalier than the rather dark brown juvenile Black-headed Gulls. Several of the juvenile Mediterrnaean Gulls were begging from the adults.

There was a much better view of the Spotted Redshank by the Avocet Island fence from here too. It was still mostly in sooty black breeding plumage but starting to moult now with patches of paler grey emerging. At least four more Spotted Redshanks were right over the far side, on the edge of the reeds. A couple of those were already noticeably whiter below than the others.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – starting to moult out of its black breeding plumage

There were more ducks loafing on the islands over this side of the Freshmarsh, the drake all in drab eclipse plumage. Teal and Shoveler were both additions to the day’s list. Hundreds of Swifts had gathered over the reeds, and we could see a few House Martins and Sand Martins in with them. They were hawking low, trying to find insects in the cool and rain. There had been a steady passage of Swifts moving west along the coast today.

It was lunchtime now, so we set off to walk back. We had a quick look over the wall at Volunteer Marsh, but there wasn’t much on there – a single Curlew, an Oystercatcher, and a Lapwing. We hadn’t got back to the trees before it started to spit with rain again. As we didn’t fancy sitting out in the rain, we decided to divert round via Meadow Trail before lunch. A Song Thrush was singing on Fen Trail, perched right on the top of a dead tree. We stopped to watch a pair of Blackcaps feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a pair were feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide

The drizzle had stopped by the time we got round to Patsy’s and there were lots more warblers in the bushes around the screen, coming out to feed after the rain. We saw several Common Whitethroats and a couple of Chiffchaffs, as well the usual Reed Warblers. A couple of Bearded Tits zipped back and forth across the reeds.

There were lots of ducks on Patsy’s, mainly Mallard and Gadwall, the drakes all in eclipse. A female Common Pochard with several ducklings was diving out in the middle. Two more Red-crested Pochard were again drakes in eclipse, given away by their bright red bills.

When we finally got back to the Visitor Centre, it was time for a rather late lunch. We were very kindly allowed to eat inside as it was not busy today and the clouds still looked rather threatening. Afterwards, we made our way back east along the coast and stopped again at Burnham Overy Staithe.

As we walked out along the seawall, we saw a distant Spoonbill fly across over the harbour towards the dunes. A male Kestrel landed in the top of the hawthorn bushes on the near edge of the grazing marshes and a couple of Greylag heads popped up from time to time out of the long grass beyond. A Little Grebe was diving in the channel on the edge of the reeds and we stopped to watch a family of Sedge Warblers down in the wet grass below the bank.

There were a few waders out in the harbour. A flock of Redshanks around the small pools on the sandbanks and more with a flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits on the mud on the corner. There were several Oystercatchers too, but it was very disturbed today with several boats in the channel and people walking out over the middle of the saltmarsh and round the edge of the harbour.

We stopped on the corner by the reedbed pool. There were lots of Coot and a few ducks on the water and we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Then a Black Tern appeared over the pool. It circled round over the reeds, giving us a good look at it. It was a very smart adult, still in sooty black breeding plumage. Then as quickly as it had appeared it flew up and over the bank and disappeared out over the harbour. There had apparently been a Black Tern here a couple of days ago, so it was possibly lingering here.

Black Tern

Black Tern – a smart adult, appeared over the reedbed pool briefly

There were some cattle grazing on the marshes further up along the bank, so we walked over. There had been some Cattle Egrets with them earlier this week, but there didn’t seem to be anything there at first today. We stood and looked out over the grazing marshes and we were just about to head back, when the Cattle Egrets suddenly appeared. They were not feeding around the cows, but on a small pool hidden in the long grass in between them. We couldn’t see the Cattle Egrets behind the tall vegetation until they happened to walk out into the open, just in time.

We had a good view of the Cattle Egrets through the scope. They were looking particularly smart, in breeding plumage with a pale orange wash on the top of the head, the back and breast. Then they flew back to join the cows further back and we lost them from view again in the long grass.

Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets – feeding on a small pool in between the cows

A Spoonbill flew in over the harbour and out across the grazing marshes, heading for the breeding colony. As we walked back, we were almost at the car park and had stopped to look out over the marshes, when another Spoonbill dropped in behind us into the harbour channel. It would have been a great view, but there were more people out with dogs paddling in the harbour, and they flushed it as we turned round to look at it.

We were heading out again this evening, looking for Nightjars, so it was time to head back now, so we could all have a break and get something to eat.

Nightjar Evening

When we met again in the early evening, the weather was much improved, and the sun was even shining. We headed over first to look for Little Owls at a nearby complex of barns. We were in luck tonight. As we pulled up and started to scan the roofs, we spotted two fluffy juvenile Little Owls perched on the top enjoying the evening sun.

Little Owls

Little Owls – two juveniles enjoying the evening sun on the roof

One of the adult Little Owls appeared on the roof opposite, and one of the juveniles flew over to see if it was going to be fed. We stopped and watched them for a while and there was lots of flying backwards and forwards between the roofs. A second adult appeared on another roof, which we assumed was the other parent, but the first adult flew over straight at it as if it was trying to chase it off. The second Little Owl flew a short distance, but it landed on the same place we had first seen the two juveniles and was ignored thereafter, so it was hard to be sure what its relationship was to the others.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away – we could have stayed watching the Little Owls all evening but we wanted to head down to the coast to look for Barn Owls. We drove round some meadows where they like to hunt, but there was no sign initially of any out tonight. We stopped, and walked up onto a bank from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

When we looked back, we found a Barn Owl out hunting the field behind us, where we had just been looking. It flew round and landed on some bales, but by the time we got the scopes out, it was off again. It landed a second time, on a fence below the bank by the reeds, and this time we had a good view, perched looking at us. It dropped down to the ground and flew back up to the fence. Then it was away over the reeds.

We turned to see a second Barn Owl had flown along the bank right behind us and was disappeared off out over the marshes. It was a striking almost all-white male, a regular bird here. It disappeared away out of view before we could get a good look at it, but thankfully quickly caught something and came back with a vole in its talons.

It flew straight towards us initially, then veered off and disappeared into the trees, presumably heading back to its nest to feed its young. Only a short while later, it was out hunting again. It flew round over the meadows, where we had seen the first Barn Owl, then came past us across reeds and disappeared out over marshes.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – the ghostly white male caught a vole

It was time now to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. It was quiet as we walked out to the middle, but not long before we heard our first Nightjar calling. We looked over to see it flying round the treetops in the distance. It started churring so we walked over to look for it.

The Woodcock were still roding too. We heard a squeaky call, and looked up to see one flying over, with flicking wingbeats, it distinctive display flight. It or another came right over us a couple of times this evening.

The Nightjar was churring in a dense oak, and impossible to see in the evening gloom. We stood nearby and listened and after a while it dropped out and came towards us over the heath. Then a female appeared, and came in to investigate, hovering right in front of us. We had a great view as it flew round just above our heads.

Nightjar

Nightjar – flew round above our heads

When the female Nightjar flew back towards the trees, a second male came in, and the two of them flew round together calling, the flashing the white in his wings and tail. The first male was still churring out in the middle of the heath, while an intruder was on its territory. These two birds often seem to have dispute, and after a while the first Nightjar flew back off towards its territory.

We stood for a while and listened to the Nightjars churring. Occasionally one would fly in and circle round above us again. A Tawny Owl hooted from deep in the woods behind. The light was fading now, so we set off to walk back. We heard another couple of churring male Nightjars on our way back to the minibus. Then it was time for bed – we had another busy day tomorrow.

11th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast. It was forecast to be cloudy in the morning with only a 10% chance of rain, but the weather had not looked at the forecast and it was raining early on. Thankfully it had cleared through by the time we got out. It was still rather grey and cloudy this morning, and cool in the light NE wind, but then it all changed in the afternoon and we had blue skies and sunshine by the end of the afternoon. That’s more like it!

It was still raining as we drove west along the coast road, but it had stopped by the time we arrived at Choseley. There was no sign of the five Dotterel in the field where they had been for the last few days when we got there, and apparently they had not been seen since early morning. A Corn Bunting was singing in the hedge behind us, and perched up nicely in the top, so we could get it in the scope. From time to time over the next hour, we could hear its song – sounding not entirely unlike the bunch of jangling keys it is supposed to resemble.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – perched up in the top of the hedge behind us

While we were watching the Corn Bunting, we heard Dotterel calling and looked up to see a small tight flock flying in from the east. There were clearly more than the five which had been here for the last few days, and when they eventually landed we could see there were now ten Dotterel accompanied by a single Golden Plover. They landed at the top of the field, stood there for a short time looking round, then started walking quickly down the field towards us.

We had a great view of the Dotterel in the scope, with a mixture of brighter females and duller males, the other way round in this species from many other birds as the males undertake most of the chick-rearing duties. They would take several quick steps and then freeze, at which point they were remarkably hard to see against the bare earth and stones of the field. We stood and watched them for a while, as they gradually came closer. We had a nice view of the Golden Plover too with them, another smart ‘northern’ male with a black face and belly, like the one we had seen yesterday.

Dotterel

Dotterel – two of the sixteen with a Golden Plover behind

The Dotterel stopped to preen half way down the field and the next time we looked back at them there were now sixteen. We didn’t see the other six fly in so we were not sure if they had walked across the field to join the bigger group. Either way, there were obviously a lot of fresh arrivals this morning. A small number of Dotterel breed in Scotland, high in the mountains, but these are Scandinavian birds on their way north from their wintering grounds in North Africa. They stop off at traditional sites each spring and this is one of their favourite fields.

There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields here too, and we watched several pairs chasing each other round. We were even treated to a brief bout of boxing from two of them.

After watching the Dotterel for a while, we moved on, down to Holme. It was still rather grey but at least it wasn’t raining now and there were still warblers singing. We could hear a Blackcap and several Common Whitethroats and we stopped to watch a Sedge Warbler performing in the top of a tall hawthorn. A Cuckoo was singing away in the distance, and we realised we could see it perched on the top of a dead tree off in the dunes.

From up on the seawall, we could see a grey-brown Lesser Whitethroat feeding low in the buckthorn by the entrance track. As we walked down to the old paddocks, we could hear a Cuckoo closer and looked across to see a pair out over the saltmarsh on the top of the dunes behind the beach. Through the scope, we could see them being mobbed by a couple of Meadow Pipits, worried about the safety of their nests.

Looking over to the bushes in the paddocks behind us, we spotted a smart male Common Redstart which flew out and landed on a sandy area in the middle of the short grass. Unfortunately it didn’t stop long and flew straight back into the bushes before everyone could get onto it. Some walkers came along the path the other way at that point and it was probably no surprise that when we walked further up to try to find it, there was no sign. We figured we would leave it in peace for a bit and try again on the way back.

As we carried on along the path, a lovely pink male Bullfinch appeared briefly in the bushes ahead of us calling softly, before flying across and disappeared back into the paddocks. There were three Cuckoos now, all together out across the saltmarsh, two males chasing each other and round after a female. A steady passage of Swallows passed west overhead in twos and threes, and we could see a single Common Swift distantly out over the grazing marshes.

When we walked back the Redstart had duly reappeared, just as we had hoped. It was perched on the fence at first, but then dropped down to the ground and flew back up to a large hawthorn bush. It was chased by a Robin, but thankfully settled, and we had a great view through the scope of it perched in the bush. A stunning bird!

Redstart

Common Redstart – a stunning male, feeding in the old paddocks

While Common Redstarts breed in the UK, this was probably another migrant on its way further north, most likely to Scandinavia. Eventually some more people came along the path behind us, and the Redstart flew back across the paddocks and disappeared into the bushes again.

Past where we had parked, we continued on east through the dunes. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and Linnets and plenty of Common Whitethroats singing. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering over the grazing marshes inland and two Common Buzzards were perched on some gates. We were hoping to find two Ring Ouzels which had been seen in the dunes here earlier, but there was no sign. There were lots of people walking about now, lots of disturbance, so they had probably gone somewhere quieter. As we walked back, a Cuckoo perched up nicely in a bush singing, so we could get a good look at it in the scope.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – singing in a bush in the dunes on our way back

It was starting to brighten up now, so we made our way round to Titchwell for lunch. We could even make use of the picnic tables by the Visitor Centre. There had been three Black Terns out over the reedbed pool this morning, so after lunch we walked straight out to try to see them. It was bright and sunny now, and we had thought they might move off as the weather cleared, but thankfully they were still there.

We stopped to watch the Black Terns, hawking over the pool. They are very smart birds in breeding plumage, grey above with a jet black head and body. They used to breed in the UK, up until the middle of the 19th century, before widespread draining of marshes probably wiped them out. Now they breed from the Netherlands eastwards from here, wintering in Africa. These had probably drifted across to the UK on the easterly winds and been brought down by the rain this morning.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling around the pools below the bank too – we didn’t know which way to look. We saw one fly in and land at the base of the reeds at the back of one of the pools, a smart male with a powder blue-grey head and black moustache. It was immediately followed by a recently fledged juvenile, tawny-coloured and with a short, only partly-grown tail. We watched the two of them working their way round the edge of the pools, low down in the reeds. The male was looking for food and would periodically stop to feed the youngster. Great to watch and fantastic views of this often very secretive species.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we watched this male feeding a newly fledged juvenile

We stood and watched the Bearded Tits and Black Terns for a while, and eventually had to tear ourselves away and move on to explore the rest of the reserve. As we continued on towards the Freshmarsh, we could see a Grey Plover on Lavender Pool, mostly in breeding plumage with a black face and belly. We stopped to admire a pair of Gadwall on the near corner of the Freshmarsh. They were closer enough that we could get a really good look at the intricate plumage of the drake. Not just a boring grey duck after all!

There were several Common Terns back on the Freshmarsh now, hopefully returned to breed. One landed on the measuring post in front of Island Hide, while another flew round just above our heads calling. There were more on the closest island in amongst the gulls.

Common Tern

Common Tern – there are more back on the Freshmarsh now

The Freshmarsh has been rather taken over by gulls these days. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls covering most of the islands, but we did manage to find a few Sandwich Terns still in with them, further back towards the fenced off island. There were not many different waders on here today. Aside from plenty of Avocets, a Whimbrel dropped in briefly but flew straight out again, chased by one of the Oystercatchers.

There are still a few ducks – mostly Shelduck and Shoveler, plus a few lingering Teal – but the majority which spent the winter here have left for their breeding grounds further north and east. There are still quite a few lingering Brent Geese, which flew in and out from feeding out on the saltmarsh. They should be leaving soon too, on their way back to Siberia for the summer.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – should be leaving for their Siberian breeding grounds soon

We walked round to Parrinder Hide next for a closer look at the gulls. From here, it was easier to pick out all the Mediterranean Gulls in the large colony with all the nesting Black-headed Gulls which have taken over ‘Avocet Island’ (perhaps it should be renamed ‘Gull Island’?). We had a good look at a smart adult Mediterranean Gull through the scope, admiring its bright red bill, jet black hood with white eyelids and pure white wingtips. We had a much closer view of the one remaining Sandwich Tern on the island from here too – getting a better look at its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy black crest.

Sandwich Tern

We had a quick look in the other side of Parrinder Hide, out over Volunteer Marsh. There were several more Grey Plovers, including one or two very smart black and white males in full breeding plumage now. There were a few Curlew too. A single Whimbrel was feeding in the vegetation on the edge of the reeds in the middle, smaller, darker, with a shorter bill, and a pale central crown stripe. We had a particularly good comparison with one of the Curlew which walked across in front of it at one point.

Continuing on out towards the beach, we stopped at the now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’. There were still a few waders roosting on the island in the middle. A little group of Turnstones included several birds with more chestnut in their upperparts and white faces now, moulting into breeding plumage. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was asleep on the front edge, but we could see its barred tail, as well as its streaked upperparts, and three black-bellied summer Dunlin were nearby.

Out at the beach, the tide was still not fully out and the mussel beds were only partly exposed. There were a few Oystercatchers feeding where the mussels were already poking out above the water, and several smaller waders with them. They were Sanderling, most already moulting into darker breeding plumage, with just one or two still in their silvery grey winter attire.

There were a few more Bar-tailed Godwits along the beach further to the west, and we could now see their slightly upturned bills. A few distant Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth offshore, but otherwise the sea itself looked quite quiet. It was lovely out on the beach, but we had more to do yet so it was time to start walking back.

Back at the reedbed pool, the three Black Terns were still hawking up and down over the water. They had been mostly keeping low, but now one started to fly higher up. It was chasing a dragonfly and we watched it twisting and turning, trying to keep up with it, an epic duel. The tern eventually prevailed – looking at the photos afterwards we could see that it had caught a Hairy Dragonfly, the first we have seen this year!

Black Tern

Black Tern – with a Hairy Dragonfly it has just caught

When we asked in the Visitor Centre earlier, we were told that the Turtle Doves had not been seen this morning, but now someone let us know they had been seen again this afternoon, so we walked straight round to the Tank Road to try to see them. When we got there, we found they had apparently been scared off by a stoat about half an hour earlier.

We thought we would have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed instead, but just as we arrived at the screen, one of the group who had lingered behind came up to say he could hear a Turtle Dove which had started purring back behind us. We walked straight back, and could hear it and, with a bit of triangulation, we worked out where it was. But it was very deep in the bushes and we could just see some movement behind the leaves. Then suddenly it flew out and landed on a dead branch on the front of the bush. We all had a great view of it through the scope, before it disappeared back in again as quickly as it had appeared.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – purring in the bushes by the Tank Road

The Turtle Dove population in the UK has crashed and it is very possible we could lose this beautiful bird as a breeding species in the next few years. Emergency measures are called for and it is now necessary to provide supplementary seed for them, as they are doing at Titchwell. Hopefully they might stay to breed here again this year. It really is a privilege to see them and hear them purring, while we still can.

When the Turtle Dove disappeared, we went back over to Patsy’s. There were three smart male Red-crested Pochards out on the water, striking birds with their orange punk haircuts and bright coral red bills. A couple of Marsh Harriers were flying round over the reeds beyond.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – a very striking duck

It was a lovely afternoon now, but unfortunately it was time to call it a day. We were still not quite finished and as we walked back along Fen Trail, we spotted a Water Vole just below the boardwalk. It was obviously very used to people, as it seemed completely unconcerned by us standing just a few feet from it, as it stood there munching on a piece of reed.

Water Vole

Water Vole – munching on reeds right next to the boardwalk

It was a nice finish to the day which kept on giving. Then it really was time to get back.

13th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. It was still very windy today, but otherwise it was mostly bright and fairly sunny, apart from a band of sharp showers which passed over late morning. It was very warm too, up to 25C in the afternoon – unseasonally warm for mid October and t-shirt weather out of the wind!

It was forecast to be a big spring high tide this morning, so we planned to head over to Snettisham to watch the waders. However, with such a strong southerly wind, it would undoubtedly hold the tide back and stop it from completely covering the mud. So we figured the waders would remain out on the Wash today and consequently it wasn’t worth a really early start to get there well ahead of the tide.

The tide was already in when we arrived just after 9am, and we could see all the waders gathered in the far corner, just as we thought they would be. As we walked down towards the far end of the seawall, something spooked them and all the waders took off. We stopped to watch them all swirling round, making different shapes in the sky, before they quickly settled again down on the last remaining bay of mud.

Waders 1

Waders – 80,000 Knot were swirling over the Wash today

Carrying on to the end of the path, we set up the scopes to look more closely at the vast flocks of birds gathered in the tiny corner of mud. They looked like oil slicks spread over the surface. Closest to us were the Oystercatchers, a much darker, black mass. The Bar-tailed Godwits were nearby, more loosely grouped. Through the scopes we could see their pale backs streaked with dark. The Curlews were widely scattered on the drier mud at the back. Along the edge of the water was one vast throng of Knot, packed in shoulder to shoulder, looking almost like a pebble beach!

Waders 2

Waders – mainly Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and lots of Knot!

More Oystercatchers were still flying in to join the crowd already gathered, shining white and black as they caught the low early morning light. Then suddenly everything was up again, thousands and thousands of waders, whirling round over the mud in vast flocks, twisting and turning. What a spectacle! We would see what we assumed was the reason – a couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering the spit of saltmarsh just beyond.

Waders 3

Waders – flying round in great swirling flocks

They settled again, but not for long. We could see more Knot come up in huge flocks further back, many of them coming over to the nearer group to settle. Then they were all up and swirling again.

Waders 4

Waders – flushed repeatedly by Marsh Harriers and a Peregrine

This time we spotted a different culprit – a young Peregrine. It made several passes over and round the huge flocks which twisted and turned, before drifting back over the saltmarsh. It had a quick tussle with one of the Marsh Harriers and then settled on a fence post out in the vegetation behind the mud.

The waders eventually settled again. The tide was already starting to go out again, and there was a bit more mud exposed already. This time the various groups were less concentrated in the corner and we could see different species. There were lots of Grey Plover and more flew in and joined them, flashing their black armpits as they flew. Out on the mud, close to the massed Knot, we could see a tight group of Sanderling, much paler than the other waders, shining white and silvery grey in the low sunshine.

Waders 5

Waders – the flocks catching the morning sunshine massed on the mud

Beyond the flocks of waders, lit up by the sun shining behind us, we could see dark clouds approaching from the south. We got round to the shelter of the South Screen just in time, as a sharp burst of heavy rain passed overhead. Even though most of the waders were still out on the Wash today, there were a few different species still to keep us amused while we sheltered from the rain here.

At least 13 Greenshanks were roosting in with a larger group of Redshanks on the back of the closest island, along with a few Turnstones. A large group of Oystercatchers were sleeping on the shingle bank further back, and down on the waters edge below then were several more Redshank and a single Knot.

The warden came in to shelter from the rain. He had been doing a count today and was able to tell us we had been watching 80,000 Knot out on the Wash. Wow! He also told us there were four Spotted Redshanks further back, roosting on one of the small islands out in the middle of the pit. When the rain finally eased off, we could see them in the distance, much paler than the Redshanks in front of us, but not as pale as the Greenshanks.

The Greenshanks woke up and started getting restless. One or two started feeding, running through the water, sweeping their bills quickly from side to side feeling for food. Several of the Redshanks woke up too and started bathing, throwing themselves headlong into the water and flapping. A Grey Plover appeared on the island just behind Greenshanks.

Greenshank

Greenshank – there were several roosting on the south end of the pit

Then the Redshanks and Greenshanks started to take off in small groups and seemed to head back out towards the Wash. There were other birds here too. A Rock Pipit was chasing round with the Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings, down on the gravel margins in front of the hide. There was a good selection of ducks and geese on view, including a Canada x Greylag hybrid with the Greylag Geese. A Little Grebe was busy diving close to the near bank.

There was a gap in the clouds and the rain stopped for a while, so we took advantage and walked round to Shore Hide, before another squally band of rain passed over, producing quite an impressive rainbow over the north end of the pit. There was still one Spotted Redshank on the small island, right out in front of the hide giving us a much better view from here. We could see its long, needle-fine bill. A single feral Barnacle Goose was in with the Greylags at the back.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – there was still one on the pit when we got round to Shore Hide

When the rain stopped again, we headed out of the hide and started to make our way back to the car. There had been a report of some Snow Buntings in with the flock of Linnets along the shore. We walked back along the shingle and quickly found the Linnets but there was no sign of anything with them. The tide was now well out and several Ringed Plovers and little groups of Dunlin were now feeding on the closer mud.

When we got round to Titchwell, it was already time for an early lunch. The car parks were very busy, and we found the last space in the overflow car park, but thankfully the picnic area was empty. While we ate, a Swallow and three or four House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees, feeding up before continuing on their way south. A Goldcrest was singing in the edge of the pines behind us.

After lunch, we headed out along Fen Trail. It was very warm now out of the wind, but it was still breezy in the trees and we couldn’t find any sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler here. We couldn’t find the flock of Long-tailed Tits either – they had probably gone somewhere more sheltered, taking the Yellow-browed Warbler with them. A Chiffchaff was calling in the sallows.

There were lots of dragonflies enjoying the sunshine – lots of Common Darters and Migrants Hawkers buzzing round the sallows or basking on the boardwalk.

Common Darter

Common Darter – basking in the afternoon sunshine

Round at Patsy’s Reedbed, the first thing we spotted were the Red-crested Pochard. There were six of them here today, including three smart drakes, numbers having gone up as the latter have emerged from eclipse plumage and from hiding. There were also lots of Gadwall and several Shoveler.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of three drakes on Patsy’s Reedbed today

There were a few gulls coming and going from Patsy’s Reedbed, but not much else, so we set off back towards the main path and the rest of the reserve. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the bushes on the edge of the concrete tank road, but the rest of the bushes on Fen Trail and round on the Meadow Trail were quiet.

As we made our way up along the main path, we stopped to scan the reedbed pool. Another Red-crested Pochard, a female, was out with a few Gadwall on the water. There was a big crowd gathered on the path outside Island Hide, and we thought they might be watching the Jack Snipe, so we hurried up to join them. A snipe had been seen earlier disappearing into the vegetation but when we looked where they were pointing, all we could see was bits of a Common Snipe showing through the weeds as it fed.

From inside Island Hide, we had a better view of the Common Snipe when it finally poked its head round the edge of the vegetation. There were lots of Ruff out on the Freshmarsh still too, and a small number of Avocet which are lingering here, after most have gone further south for the winter. Otherwise, there were not many other waders here today.

Avocet

Avocet – a few are still lingering on the Freshmarsh

There are lots of duck out on the Freshmarsh now, mostly Wigeon and Teal, together with a few Shoveler. The drakes are all still largely in dull eclipse plumage, so not looking at their best.

With the Jack Snipe not showing, we decided to head out to the beach, and come back to have another look later. As we walked out along the west bank path, a flock of Golden Plover flew in and circled over the Freshmarsh several times nervously, before eventually landing out in the middle.

A couple of Redshank were feeding on the Volunteer Marsh, in the channel just below the path. At the far end, there were more waders out on the muddy banks. An Oystercatcher was working its way round just below us and out along the edge of the water we could see Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews, a Grey Plover and more Redshank. A Little Egret flew in, flashing its yellow feet, and started looking for fish in the muddy water.

Common Redshank

Common Redshank – in the muddy channel on the edge of Volunteer Marsh

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ were empty, so we continued on to the beach. The tide was out, but we found a sheltered spot in the lee of the dunes and scanned the sea. There were a few Great Crested Grebes out on the sea and a single Red-throated Diver. We could see a distant flock of Common Scoter, out towards the wind turbines, but they were hard to pick up on the water and easiest to see when they flew.

While we were scanning offshore, we noticed a tern fishing way off to the west. It’s agile flight, dipping down frequently to the water’s surface, and dark upperparts contrasting with white underneath immediately set it apart – a juvenile Black Tern. It spent ages flying up and down just offshore away to the west of us, gradually working its way back towards us, before it eventually flew past just offshore.

It is quite late for a Black Tern off here, though not unprecedented. Still, it was a nice bird to see. While we were watching the Black Tern, one of the group noticed a small raptor coming in low over the waves. When we all got onto it, we could see it was a Merlin. It eventually came in low over the beach at Thornham Point, though it was impossible to tell whether it was a new arrival from the continent or a local bird skimming over the waves to avoid the wind.

There were lots of waders on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, along with several small groups of Brent Geese. We made our way down for a closer look and had good views of Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits side by side. It was very windy out on the sand though, so we put our heads down and walked back up the beach.

We wanted to have another look for the Jack Snipe, and when we got back almost to Island Hide we were told it had been seen briefly earlier but had gone back to sleep in the vegetation. Thankfully, someone walked back with us and showed us exactly where it was. From up on the main path, all we could see was the Jack Snipe‘s eye staring back at us, and only when the wind blew the vegetation back so we could see it!

There was a slightly better view from Island Hide. We could see more of the Jack Snipe, and had good comparison views of a Common Snipe next to it – we could see the different head pattern on the Common Snipe, with the single pale golden stripe over the eye and a pale central crown stripe.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Island Hide

A couple of helicopters taking off from one of the hotels in the village created a lot of disturbance, flushing most of the birds from the freshmarsh, and the Jack Snipe finally woke up and started bouncing up and down. Unfortunately, rather than starting to feed, it walked deeper into the weedy vegetation and disappeared.

There high-pitched yelping calls alerted us to a flock of Pink-footed Geese overhead. Several of them dropped down onto the Freshmarsh with the already gathered horde of Greylags. We also spotted a Yellow-legged Gull which dropping in briefly with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls for a bathe and a preen.

Unfortunately it was now time to head for home. As we walked back to the car, three Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over the reedbed out on the Thornham grazing marsh, silhouetted against the late sun, gathering before going in to roost.

26th Aug 2018 – Late Summer Broads

A Private Tour today, down in the Norfolk Broads. Given all the good weather this summer, it was disappointing that the day we were to go out was one of the few with rain forecast. Still it stayed dry all morning and the heavy rain helpfully held off until we had almost finished. It didn’t put us off getting out anyway, and we had a nice day out.

Having met in Wroxham, we headed over to Potter Heigham marshes to start the morning. Several of the pools have largely dried out over the summer, but some still have water in them. We headed straight down to the corner and up onto the bank so we could see over the reeds.

On the first pool we checked, there were several Ruff feeding around the muddy edges of the water, all in grey-brown non-breeding plumage now. A Green Sandpiper flew in calling and dropped down on the mud too.

There were lots of ducks, mostly asleep on the drier islands, mainly Mallard and Gadwall plus a few Teal, all in drab eclipse plumage now, as well as several Greylags and Egyptian Geese. We checked through the ducks carefully, but there was no sign of any Garganey with these ones. This is a good site for Garganey and they probably breed here, although it is very hard to prove for sure. Several Little Grebes were out on the water.

Moving on to the next pool round, there were more waders here, mainly Lapwings and Ruff. We could hear a Greenshank calling in the distance, and we found another one feeding here. It was joined by a Spotted Redshank, a dusky grey-brown juvenile. Through the scope, we could see its long needle-fine bill.

Greenshank

Greenshank – one of several at Potter Heigham today

Two Ringed Plovers dropped in on one of the muddy islands. A Common Snipe was feeding at the back, against the reeds, probing vigorously in the mud with its long bill, and a Water Rail appeared just behind it from out of the reeds. Two Sedge Warblers were working their way along the back edge of the reeds too – we could see their bold white superciliums through the scope.

As we carried on round, we looked across to see two Kestrels hovering over the grazing marshes, with a third perched in a dead tree nearby. A young Marsh Harrier circled low over the reeds beyond, dark chocolate brown with a contrasting golden orange head, and two Common Buzzards appeared above the wood in the distance.

There were lots of hirundines feeding out over the pools, Swallows and House Martins, presumably gathering to feed up before they look to depart for Africa for the winter. As we walked along the river bank, we heard some of the Swallows alarm calling and looked up to see a Hobby shooting past, before heading away over the river.

There were more waders on the pools on this side. We found several more Spotted Redshanks, all juveniles, and Green Sandpipers. Two more Greenshanks flew off calling. A single Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the deeper water on one of the pools.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks – two juveniles with a single Ruff

Several Tufted Duck and a Common Pochard were nice additions for the day’s list. A couple of Cormorants were drying their wings on one of the islands. Two Yellow Wagtails flew up from behind reeds but dropped down again quickly, before everyone could get onto them.

When we got to the last of the pools, we turned to walk back. We still hadn’t found a Garganey, so we stopped to have another look through the ducks on the way. Three smaller ducks were asleep on the bank at the back of one of the pools. Two were Teal, but the third was a bit larger and even though it had its bill tucked in we could see it had a bolder pale supercilium stretching behind the eye, a Garganey.

Even though it was dry this morning, it was still rather cool and breezy. There were not many insects to see today, given the weather, but we did find a nice male Ruddy Darter basking on the path out of the wind on our way back.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – basking on the path, out of the wind

Our next destination was Buckenham Marshes, over in the Yare Valley. When we got out of the car, it was now starting to spit with rain, though thankfully not enough to stop us exploring.

The walk down along the access track towards the river was fairly quiet until we got nearer to the far end. A young Chinese Water Deer appeared in the middle of the grazing marsh. It ran a short distance, then stopped to look around. When it set off again, it ran straight towards us, stopping just the other side of the ditch and looking at us from behind some vegetation, before speeding away across the grass. Two Red Kites circled up over the wood on the other side of the river.

Chinese Water Deer

Chinese Water Deer – ran straight towards us across the grazing marshes

As we carried on towards the river, we stopped several times to scan the pool at far end. There were lots of Lapwings hiding in the vegetation around the edges and several Ruff feeding in the shallows. Two juvenile Dunlin, with black-spotted belly patches, were picking around on a muddy strip in the middle. A careful scan revealed several Common Snipe around the margins, but we couldn’t find the Wood Sandpiper which has been here for the last couple of days.

There have been some Whinchats here too, but we couldn’t find those either as we walked out, and we presumed they were keeping down out of the wind. We found a sheltered spot in the lee of the hide at the end and quickly located one of the Whinchats on the fence below the river bank. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, noting its bold pale supercilium, before it dropped down out into the grass out of view.

Whinchat

Whinchat – 1 of the 3 at Buckenham today

While we were scanning the pool from here, one of the group spotted some small birds down in the short vegetation out in the middle of the grazing marsh, where it had been mown. A smart male Stonechat was perched on a small stem and eventually two streaky juvenile Stonechats appeared out of the grass close to it.

The birds were feeding down on the ground in a damp depression in the field, so they were hard to see, but at least one Whinchat eventually appeared in the vegetation with the Stonechats. Eventually they all flew up out of the grass and landed on the taller thistles on the next block of grazing marsh which had not been cut. Now we could see there were actually three Whinchats here.

While we were watching the Whinchats, a small wader appeared down at the front corner of the pool. Through the scope, we could see it was the Wood Sandpiper – it had presumably been feeding behind the taller vegetation along the front edge, where we couldn’t see it. We had a good look at it through the scope, noting its pale spangled upperparts and bold pale supercilium, before it disappeared again.

We made our way back to the car and headed round to the reserve at Strumpshaw Fen for lunch next. We could hear Long-tailed Tits and a Chiffchaff calling in the car park when we arrived. On our way to Reception Hide, we stopped to look at the Feeders. A steady stream of tits were coming and going constantly, including one or two Marsh Tits and a Coal Tit too.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming to the feeders by the reception hide

We ate our lunch in Reception Hide, looking out over the pool in front. There were lots of ducks here, once again all in eclipse, and the resident Black Swan was feeding out in the middle. After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was spitting with rain now, but it was thankfully still light.

There was not much to see immediately from Fen Hide when we arrived. Two Grey Herons flew in and a lone Teal landed in the middle of the water, standing motionless for a couple of minutes looking nervous, before flying off again. Scanning the cut reeds below the hide carefully, we found three Common Snipe hiding in the vegetation. They were very well camouflaged and hard to see until two of them started feeding.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – very well camouflaged in the cut reed

As we carried on round to Tower Hide, a Great Crested Grebe was swimming on the river, still looking smart in breeding plumage. Looking out over the pools in the reeds on the way, we spooked several large flocks of mainly Gadwall. A Green Sandpiper flew off with one group.

There were lots more ducks from the hide, particularly a good number of Shoveler. Even though they are all in brown eclipse plumage, their distinctive large bills still give them away instantly. There were several Ruff feeding around the muddy edges, and a few Lapwings.

Ruff

Ruff – feeding in front of Tower Hide

Three juvenile Marsh Harriers circled up out in the reedbed, despite the rain. They seemed to be playing, chasing each other.

There were several Grey Herons around the pool and we had literally just remarked that we had not seen any sign of one the Great White Egrets which have been here in recent days when one of them flew up out of the reeds. It flew back away from us at first, then circled round, giving us a good view of its long yellow bill, before it dropped down into the reeds again.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew round before landing back in the reeds

With a couple more places we wanted to visit this afternoon, we headed back to the car and drove round to Ormesby Little Broad. The rain was picking up now, and as we walked out along the nature trail towards the broad it was all quiet in the trees. We had a quick look out at the broad from the platform at the end, which held several large rafts of Coot and a few Great Crested Grebes. We didn’t linger here though and on the walk back a Treecreeper was calling from somewhere in the trees.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – a common bird on the Broads

Our last stop was at Rollesby Broad. Thankfully we didn’t have far to walk here – we could see the broad from the car park – but unfortunately it was now drizzling harder, blowing towards us, and visibility out across the water was poor.

We could see several terns in the mist right at the far end, but they were very hard to make out clearly against the reeds and trees. Two or three pale silvery grey Common Terns stood out, but there seemed to be two or three smaller, darker birds with them. At one point, two of them circled up above the tree line and we were able to confirm they were Black Terns, but they were still not easy for everyone to see.

Thankfully one of the Black Terns then came up to our end of the broad, and we could see it properly. It was a juvenile – with sooty grey upperparts, darker on the mantle, and a black cap. Despite the weather, we could see it was flying much more buoyantly, dipping down to the water’s surface to pick for food. When it made its way back down the broad, we headed back to the car.

It was time to call it a day now – we had enjoyed a very successful day in the Broads and the weather could do its worst now.

26th July 2017 – Wader Wonderland

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was cloudy most of the day, but we didn’t really get the rain we had been forecast earlier in the week, just a few spits and spots late morning or early afternoon, barely enough to notice.

After an early start, we made our way across towards the Wash in good time to catch the rising tide. On our way, a Red Kite circled over beside the road and a couple of Red-legged Partridges seemed to be hell bent on destruction, playing chicken in the road.

Making our way down to the edge of the Wash, we stopped first as soon as we got up on the seawall. The tide was coming in but there was still a lot of exposed mud. The waders were gathering, but they were still quite spread out, a large black slick of Oystercatchers and, much further out, an enormous mass of Knot and others.

On the tip of the mud on the far side of the channel, we could see a gathering of terns, large Sandwich Terns with a yellow-tipped black bill, medium-sized Common Terns with a black-tipped orange-red bill and a few much smaller Little Terns, with a black-tipped yellow-bill and white forehead. But the tide was coming in fast and they couldn’t really settle, being continually pushed  in by the rising water. Several Shelducks were feeding in the shallow water, just off the mud and two or three Little Egrets were already pushed off by the rising tide and flew over the seawall to the pits.

Little Stint 1Spot the Little Stint – with Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Dunlin

A steady stream of smaller waders were taking advantage of the last of the mud to feed along the near edge below the seawall. There were lots of black-bellied Dunlin, together with a selection of Turnstone, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. A Grey Plover put in a brief appearance with them too. A tiny Little Stint appeared with them, lingering on the mud just long enough for us to get the scope on it and everyone to get a good look. A moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper, its rusty red underparts now spotted with white, dropped in briefly on the other side of the channel.

The tide was coming in fast now, pushing all the waders ahead of it, so we moved further up along the seawall and stopped for another scan. The large mass of waders further out on the mud was being pushed further and further in too. The Oystercatchers were walking, like an amorphous blob flowing across the mud, but some of the Knot would periodically fly up and round, before landing again further in.

Wader Spectacular 1Knot – whirling round before landed on the mud further up

The Redshank gave up the battle early, flying off the Wash and onto the pits to roost. They streamed past in groups and a loud ‘tchweet’ call alerted us to a Spotted Redshank flying in with them. A large number of the Dunlin flew in to the pits too. There were lots of godwits further out on the mud but a lone Bar-tailed Godwit appeared on the near edge, stopping to bathe in a small pool, and a Black-tailed Godwit was nearby on the edge of the main channel.

Wader Spectacular 2Waders – progressively concentrated onto the remaining corner of mud

The Oystercatchers, Knot, godwits and Curlews were progressively concentrated into the last corner of exposed mud, tens of thousands of waders packed in shoulder to shoulder. The Oystercatchers threw in the towel first, peeling off in lines and flying in past us, calling noisily.

Wader Spectacular 3Knot – erupting from the Wash as the last mud is covered with water

The Knot waited until the last moment, until it almost seemed like they wouldn’t come in at all, but we could see they were up to their bellies in the water. There was no exposed mud left for them. Finally they erupted into thick clouds and flew towards us in waves. As the first wave came in, as we could hear the beating of thousands upon thousands of wings coming over us, a mobile phone started to ring noisily nearby and drowned out the sound, annoying. Thankfully a second wave came in shortly after and we got to appreciate the full experience, looking up at all the birds as they flew low overhead, listening to the whirring of wings.

Wader Spectacular 4Knot – thousands came flying in over our heads in vast flocks

We turned to watch the flocks of Knot starting to drop down into the pits behind us. While lines of them streamed down, thousands circled over nervously, waiting their turn. There didn’t seem to be enough room for all of them today, as a couple of large flocks circled back out over the Wash.

As the sky cleared of birds, we made our way over to Shore Hide. The water level on the pits is rather high at moment, so the islands are smaller than they often are. A couple of them were completely coated in waders, mainly Knot, the ones around the edge pushed into the edge of the water. A lot of the Knot are still in their bright orange summer plumage at the moment, but others are already in grey winter plumage.

KnotKnot – packed in tightly onto the islands on the pits

Looking more closely, it was possible to see other birds in with them. A single Avocet and one Oystercatcher stood above the hordes but looked trapped, surrounded. There were several Common Terns in there too, surprisingly hard to see in the throng. The black bellies of the smaller Dunlin stood out, particularly as they gathered around the edges.

As the mass of waders on the island shuffled and shifted, a Curlew Sandpiper appeared close to the edge briefly, with the Dunlin. We had a good look at it in the scope before in shuffled back into the throng of Knot behind. A Little Stint was playing hard to spot until a Moorhen spooked the waders on the island and several of them flew round. The Little Stint appeared right on the front of the island, but was still hard to see, running in and out of the legs of the roosting Knot.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – spot the odd one out, in with the Knot and Dunlin

The waders tend to largely sort themselves by species or relatives on the pits when they roost. The Oystercatchers were gathered mostly to the south of us on the bank of the pit. There were not so many godwits on here today – they had possibly gone on to the fields to roost instead.

There were some large groups of Redshank over by the far bank and other out in the middle. We took a closer look at the latter and found it was actually a mixture of Common and Spotted Redshanks. There were at least 17 Spotted Redshanks in the flock, mostly asleep. They were all adults and had to a greater or lesser degree moulted out of summer plumage – some had their black underparts extensively flecked with white now, but others were already predominantly in silvery grey winter plumage.

Spotted RedshanksSpotted Redshanks – four of the seventeen, with three Common Redshanks

There were lots of geese around the far bank, Greylags and Egyptian Geese. Looking across, we could see two smaller birds running around on the grass between them, two Common Sandpipers. A lone Tufted Duck was diving out in the middle of the water.

Round at the viewing screen at the south ends of the pit, we found yet more small waders packed tightly onto the islands, more Dunlin here and slightly fewer Knot. There were just a few Dunlin sleeping along the water’s edge to the left of the hide, and another Little Stint was with them. Out in the open, we got great views of it through the scope as it ran up and down, feeding actively.

Little StintLittle Stint – great views from at the south end of the pits

We turned our attention to the Dunlin and we were just checking through them to see if there was something more interesting hiding in with them when they started to shuffle and then all started to take off. A Moorhen ran right across the middle of the island, and spooked all the waders. Everything flew off. A few started to drift back in, landing on some of the other islands or the edge of the pit further back, but most headed back out towards the Wash.

The Knot back in front of Shore Hide were showing no signs of shifting, but we headed back out to the edge Wash anyway. The tide was already retreating fast and quite a bit of mud had been exposed. There were already quite a few Knot and other waders out on the Wash, but they were already quite distant. A couple of seals zipped past in the muddy channel at the front, carried out by the fast flowing water. A young Marsh Harrier was quartering the saltmarsh beyond.

There were lots of gulls and terns out on the mud too. We were just looking through them when a local birder came over and kindly alerted us to a Black Tern which was in with them. We were very thankful he did, as the Black Tern was completely hidden behind a couple of Common Terns at that stage. Eventually it shuffled forwards and we could see it properly – it was a moulting adult, still largely black but with extensive white feathering around the face.

Some small groups of Dunlin started to fly across from the pits and low out across the mud, but there was no sign of the rest of the Knot moving. It started to spit with rain so we decided to head back to the car. On the way, someone pointed out two Little Stints not far out on the mud, which we stopped to look at briefly. Hard to tell whether these were the birds we saw on the pits or different ones. As we walked along the path, several small groups of Common Swift flew low overhead, on their way south already. It felt like Summer was over already.

The rest of the day was to be spent round at Titchwell. We still had an hour or so before lunch when we got there, so we decided to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. The feeders by the visitor centre added a few common species to the list for the day – Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit. A juvenile Robin was picking around for crumbs under the picnic tables.

At this time of year the male ducks are all in dull eclipse plumage, moulting. We picked out a few Shoveler and Gadwall amongst the Mallard. A couple of Common Pochard were diving out on the water. There were several Little Grebes scattered around the pool and a single stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe too. A Sedge Warbler zipped back and forth low over the water between the clumps of reeds and a Reed Warbler was flycatching from the bottom of the bulrushes down at the front.

A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed behind, dark chocolate brown with a pale golden head. There were lots of hirundines hawking for insects over the reeds and swooping low over the water, mainly House Martins but with a few Sand Martins in with them. Then it was lunch time, so we headed back to the picnic area.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a juvenile circled over the reedbed

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. It was cool and windy now, and spitting with rain. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but all we saw was a quick shape skim over the tops and drop in out of view. We headed for the shelter of Island Hide.

There were lots of Ruff feeding on the mud in front of the hide. They have returned from their tundra breeding grounds and are already moulting rapidly to winter plumage. Some still have lots of brightly coloured feathers but others have more scattered summer feathers remaining and are getting increasingly grey brown. Needless to say, it is a confusing mix for the unwary, particularly with an increasing number of smaller females coming back too now.

RuffRuff – moulting rapidly to winter plumage now

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits in front of the hide too and more further back in the deeper water. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was still on the freshmarsh – a smart summer male, with deep rusty underparts continuing right down under the tail. With the tide out now, the other Bar-tailed Godwits would be out on the beach.

There is no shortage of Avocets here at the moment, with the breeding birds and brown-backed juveniles joined by more birds which have gathered here to moult. Several were feeding in front of the hide, giving us a chance to watch their distinctive feeding action, sweeping their bills from side to side through the top of the mud.

AvocetAvocet – feeding in front of Island Hide

There were fewer other waders on here today. Perhaps some were out on the beach too, but it felt like a few had moved on overnight. There were a few Spotted Redshanks and we got a better look at them here compared to at Snettisham. They were feeding actively here, so we could see their distinctive needle-fine bills, longer than a Common Redshank’s. A small group of Golden Plover were on one of the islands over towards Parrinder Hide, still bearing their black summer bellies.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – showing off its needle-fine bill

There are lots of gulls on here at the moment, mostly Black-headed Gulls, adults and recently fledged juveniles. We could see a couple of Mediterranean Gulls over the far side too, and got an adult in the scope. It had already moulted largely to winter plumage, with a mostly white head with black bandit mask, but still sporting a heavier, brighter red bill than the Black-headed Gulls and pure white wing tips. A Little Gull appeared too, looking very small next to a Black-headed Gull. It was a young one, a first summer – there have been a few hanging around here for several weeks now.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling, we looked across to the reedbed to see a single bird fly in and land in the top of the reeds right on the edge. It dropped down and we could see it working its was along the bottom of the reeds at the start of the open mud. It disappeared deeper in, but the next time we looked over there were five Bearded Tits in the base of the reeds. They were all tawny brown juveniles. At one point they came right out onto the mud, where we could get a really good look at them.

Bearded Tits

Round at Parrinder Hide, the birds were much the same as we had seen from Island Hide, but we got closer views of the gulls in particular. There were several more Mediterranean Gulls visible from this side, adults in different stages of moult, with white-speckled black heads and several juveniles, with scaly grey-brown upperparts. A second Little Gull, also a young 1st summer bird, had appeared on one of the islands, this one with much more obvious black feathers on its wings.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – a scaly-backed juvenile

A lone Knot had dropped in onto the freshmarsh now, still in orange summer plumage. It was a bit of a contrast to see it on its own here, after seeing tens of thousands of Knot in vast flocks at Snettisham earlier. A single Common Snipe was the only addition to the day’s list here, feeding in amongst the vegetated islands out to the left of the hide.

There was some darker cloud some distance away over the ridge, but it was a bit brighter at the moment, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. The tide was out but there were quite a few people walking around over the mussel beds which meant there were not many waders feeding out here today. There were quite a few more Bar-tailed Godwits, as predicted, and Oystercatchers, but nothing else of note. The sea was quite calm and their were lots of Sandwich Terns flying back and forth offshore.

On the way back from the beach, we could see five large white shapes out on the saltmarsh, in the distance out towards Thornham Harbour. Through the scope we could see they were Spoonbills – not the best view at that range though. One did take off and fly towards us, but only got halfway across the saltmarsh before dropping down again behind the concrete bunker, presumably to feed in one of the muddy channels.

Back at the freshmarsh, we stopped to admire a Spotted Redshank which was feeding close to the path now. One of the Little Gulls was also on one of the muddy islands just below the bank. It had stopped to preen but was disturbed by a Moorhen which walked towards it – it seemed to be a bit of a theme today!

Little GullLittle Gull – a 1st summer on the freshmarsh

It had been an early start and it was now time to head back to the car. There were still a few last birds to add to the list for the day though. As we drove round and out of the car park, a Bullfinch flew across in front of us and disappeared into the bushes the other side. A Song Thrush flicked up from the corner and perched in a small elder tree. Then it was time to head for home.

25th July 2016 – Spectacular Waders

While they can be seen throughout the winter, late Summer and early Autumn is the best time of year to witness the huge flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash. Only on a few days each month on the highest tides are the waders forced off the mudflats and onto the neighbouring RSPB reserve, when the spectacle reached its peak

Today, the tide was not quite at its highest, which meant that not all the waders came off the Wash. But still we were treated to quite a spectacle, with at least two Peregrines stirring up the waders as they gathered in huge flocks, tens of thousands strong, ahead of the rising tide. Stunning!

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6O0A6785Huge flocks of waders swirl over the Wash

While the largest numbers of waders are Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit, a wide variety of different species use the Wash, big flocks of Oystercatcher and smaller number of Avocets, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey, Golden and Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone. At this time of the year, many of the waders are still in smart summer plumage, as they gather on the Wash to moult at the end of the breeding season.

It is possible to see other things on the rising tide too. Lots of gulls and terns gather on the edge of the Wash and we saw two different Black Terns today in with them, a moulting adult and a juvenile. A Woodlark flying along the shoreline was even more of a surprise!

IMG_5422Black Tern – this one a moulting adult

When the waders gather on the pits, there is a good opportunity to see them up close. They can be packed tight in flocks of hundred and thousands around the small islands.

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IMG_5435The waders pack tight onto islands on the pits over high tide

Searching through them, it is possible to find other species here which can be trickier to pick out among the vast throngs out on the Wash. Today, we had 10 Spotted Redshanks on the pits and two Greenshank flew in too. A Little Stint on the shoreline was dwarfed by the neighbouring Dunlin, and a careful scan through the vast masses of the latter revealed at least 6 Curlew Sandpipers, all adults still sporting the remains of their rusty summer plumage, on their way south from Siberia.

IMG_5430Curlew Sandpipers – two moulting adults hiding in the roost

The real bird of the day managed to conceal itself in with the Dunlin for over an hour, sitting down hidden in the throng. Eventually it gave itself away – a White-rumped Sandpiper from North America.

IMG_5458White-rumped Sandpiper – in with the Dunlin

When the White-rumped Sandpiper finally woke up, it was possible to see its white belly, lacking the black patch shown by the summer plumaged Dunlin all around it. It also had a shorter, finer bill, only slightly downcurved. Its flanks were finely streaked with a couple of black chevrons and its upperparts were a little greyer, with brighter rusty edges to the upper scapulars. When it preened, you could see the distinctive white rump, lacking the broad black stripe through the middle shown by most other small waders – you can see it best in the video below. A smart bird and a nice way to round off another exciting morning.

If you would like to join us to enjoy the Snettisham Wader Spectacular this year, current dates for the diary when the tide is at its highest are:

  • Sunday 21st August
  • Wednesday 21st September

More dates may be possible, subject to tides and demand. Please contact us for more information. We look forward to seeing you here.

18th September 2015 – Autumn Migrants & More

The first day of a long weekend of tours today. The plan was to catch up with some lingering autumn migrants in the Wells-Holkham area. The forecast was for the possibility of thundery showers today, so we set off for the dunes at Burnham Overy with our waterproofs just in case.

As we walked out along the path across the grazing marshes, we could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps calling from the hedges. A Pied Wagtail flew over calling, followed a little later by a Grey Wagtail. There were lots of Swallows and House Martins heading east over the grazing marsh, though it was harder to tell if they were on the move today or just forced down to feed by the low cloud. We had just gone through one of the gates when we heard a bird calling from the bushes behind us. We walked back and a Redstart flew out, flashing its red tail as it darted across the track and disappeared over the hedge. A nice autumn migrant to start the day.

There were several Curlew calling and a little flock dropped down onto the grazing marshes alongside the track. Several Common Snipe flew overhead, including a flock of 6, possibly flushed from the grass by a tractor topping the meadows. A large flock of Golden Plover circled out over the harbour. Standing up on the seawall, a Greenshank flew past calling and dropped down out on the saltmarsh. Further over beyond the harbour channel, we could see a little roost of Grey Plover pushed off the mud by the high tide. When they were disturbed and flew round we could see several smaller Dunlin with them.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reedbed by the seawall. Scanning the tops of the reeds, we spotted a pair climbing up into the branches of a dead elder. We just had time to get the scope onto them before they disappeared across the reeds and dropped back down into cover. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from the brambles on the edge of the reeds and gave a similarly brief view – perching up on an old fence before diving back into the bushes.

IMG_0705Linnet – several were in the boardwalk bushes as usual

The bushes by the boardwalk seemed a little quiet at first, but as we stood quietly and looked closely, more birds appeared. There were several Linnets as usual, a couple of the juveniles still begging food from the attendant adults, and the regular Dunnocks. A Chiffchaff appeared low down in brambles next to one of the local Common Whitethroats. A Goldcrest flew across between the bushes and disappeared into the undergrowth calling.

Then the biggest surprise of all – a Tree Sparrow dropped in. We watched it for a while, but it was very restless, moving around between the brambles and the apple tree. Tree Sparrows are getting very scarce in Norfolk now and are very unusual out here, so this was a real treat. Then suddenly it took off and flew strongly west towards Gun Hill.

While we were standing by the boardwalk, we heard the first group of Siskins flying over. They have been on the move for over a week now and there was a steady stream passing overhead this morning, calling as they flew west over the dunes. Once or twice in amongst them we could hear a Redpoll or two calling as well. While we were in the dunes, we tried to keep a count – at least 265 went through. More Siskin flew over while we were in the pines, but we couldn’t see them to count them, so the actual total past this morning would have been a bit higher. Real visible migration in action.

IMG_0707Common Buzzard – watching from up in the dunes

From the boardwalk, we made our way east towards the pines. A Common Buzzard sat up in the tops of the dunes. A Wheatear appeared on the fence just in front of us, but unfortunately we were already too close and it darted off again immediately. Thankfully, as we walked over the crest of the dunes, we could see it or another Wheatear down on the path just ahead of us. It flicked up and landed on the fence where we could get a good look at it through the scope.

IMG_0720Wheatear – perched on the fence on the edge of the dunes

There have been several Redstarts in the dunes in recent days and, although we had seen one briefly on the walk out, we wanted to get a better look. As we walked towards the west end of the pines, we could hear Redstarts calling. From a convenient high vantage point in the dunes, we scanned the bushes. First we picked up a young male Redstart, with white feather tips partially obscuring its black face, then a female flicked up into a hawthorn nearby. The male showed particularly well, perching in the brambles and branches of a dead young elder just beyond the fence.

IMG_0745Redstart – this male showed particularly well

IMG_0728Redstart – the plainer female was a little more shy

While we were admiring the Redstarts, a glance across the grazing marshes towards the wood revealed a large white shape flying across. There has been a Great White Egret hanging around at Holkham for getting on for three weeks now, but at times it has been rather elusive. We could immediately see how big it was as it dropped down onto one of the pools. We hadn’t intended to walk any further, but with the promise of getting a better view of the Great White Egret we set off to walk to Joe Jordan hide.

The walk along the path on the south side of the pines was uneventful at first. As we got almost to the crosstracks, we could see the Great White Egret out on the pool preening, so we had a quick look at it through the scope in case it flew off again. That also gave us the opportunity to stop and scan through the tit flock which was feeding in the pines before the hide. There was the usual variety, Long-tailed, Coal, Great and Blue Tits, Goldcrests, Treecreeper and Chiffchaffs.

IMG_0758Great White Egret – towering over the local Greylag Geese

From up in the hide, we got a much better view of the Great White Egret. There was a Little Egret on the other side of the pool which allowed a great size comparison – the Great White Egret looked huge even next to several big Greylag Geese! While we were in the hide, a Red Kite drifted in and circled the trees, landing in the tops for a while. There were also several Marsh Harriers flying back and forth.

After a suitable rest in the hide, it was time to head back. As we walked along the path just a little west of the hide, yet another Redstart flew across in front of us, again flashing a red tail as it went, our fourth of the day. The rest of the way back to the boardwalk was fairly uneventful, although the Wheatears had multiplied – there were now two on the fence. We had enjoyed much better weather during the morning than we had anticipated, but we could now see dark clouds to the south of us. At first they seemed to be passing us by, but as we turned to head south along the seawall we finally ran into a little rain. Coats on, we walked back quickly and thankfully the worst of it missed us.

P1090281Fallow Deer – there is a large herd in the deerpark at Holkham Hall

We drove round to Holkham Hall for lunch, and sat out the rain while we ate. Some of the resident Fallow Deer herd came to look at us. A Nuthatch was calling in the trees nearby and another Red Kite drifted over the park. It stopped rainging and brightened up nicely just as we finished, with even patches of blue sky overhead, so we walked down to the lake. An injured Pink-footed Goose was hanging around with the flock of Egyptian Geese across on the other bank.

There had been a juvenile Black Tern around the lake for the past couple of days, but it gave us the run around for a while. There was no sign of it around the southern end, so we set off to walk to the other side. We were about half way along when the Black Tern appeared ahead and flew along the edge of the lake right in front of us – straight back to where we had just been standing! As we turned to walk back, we watched it hawking over the water, dipping down occasionally to the surface. Needless to say, when we got back to where it was, it immediately set off back towards the northern end. We had had a good look at it so decided to leave it to it.

We headed round to Wells Woods to finish the day. There had been a report of two Pied Flycatchers there earlier, but we struggled to find any birds at all at first. It was very disturbed with lots of dogs running amok and their owners standing nearby shouting and whistling. We made our way over to the relative quiet of the drinking pool and quickly located one of the local tit flocks. As well as the regular variety of tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers, we could see one or two Chiffchaffs and a single Willow Warbler, but no Pied Flycatcher. A Green Woodpecker called nearby and a Great Spotted Woodpecker did the same.

Out in the brambles on the edge of the trees, we found a Lesser Whitethroat. It made itself elusive at first but we followed it as it flitted between the bushes calling. Eventually it landed in a small hawthorn and sat out in the now emerging afternoon sunshine. Then a second Lesser Whitethroat appeared with it. A browner Common Whitethroat, with rusty wings, hopped out nearby. Another tit flock whisked through.

P1090316Small Tortoiseshell – one of several butterflies out in the afternoon sun

There were still a few insects about. With the sun coming out, the butterflies came out too. We had seen one or two Speckled Wood earlier, but now we found several Red Admirals and a Small Tortoiseshell basking in the sun. One of the sharp-eyed members of the group spotted a large caterpillar on the path as we walked through the pines – on closer inspection, a Pine Hawkmoth caterpillar. There were also a few dragonflies buzzing around – Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers.

P1090297Pine Hawkmoth caterpillar – on the path in the pines

We made our way back via the Dell, but still with no sign of the flycatchers. Almost back to the car park, just before the boating lake, we came across yet another small tit flock on the edge of the pines by the main path. We stood watching it for a while, with a couple of Long-tailed Tits performing for the crowd. We were just about to leave when something flitted across high up in the pines – a Pied Flycatcher! Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and, no sooner had it appeared than it was off through the tops of the pines and we couldn’t find it again. Still, it was a nice way to round off the day.

P1090319Long-tailed Tit – one of many in the woods at Wells