Tag Archives: Caspian Gull

29th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #2

Day 2 of a three day Summer Tour today. It was a beautifully bright and sunny morning, clouding over later on, but dry all day and not as windy as yesterday, a great day to be out. The plan for this morning was to go looking for birds of prey. With the good weather we set off full of optimism and a Kestrel on a telegraph post by the roadside was a nice start.

We parked up on the edge of a farm track, by a rough grass field. As we were unloading the car, one of the group asked “what’s that on the wires” and we looked over to see it was a juvenile Cuckoo perched on the wires across the field. We got it in the scope and had a look at it – a great bird to see, particularly in farmland these days, with the population having declined dramatically in recent years.

With the scope left on the Cuckoo for people to look at, we turned our attention back to unloading the car. The same member of the group then asked “what’s that next to the Cuckoo“. A second bird had appeared a little further along. We expected it to be the resident Kestrel which is often perched here, but were very surprised to look over and see a second juvenile Cuckoo on the wires.

Cuckoo 2Cuckoos – 2 juveniles together on the wires

Cuckoos and uncommon enough anyway, but it is very unusual to see two juveniles together, particularly these days. As the female Cuckoo lays just a single egg in the host’s nest, you don’t get multiple birds in a brood like other species. Perhaps a female Cuckoo earlier in the year had parasitised multiple nests in the immediate area earlier in the year and both juveniles had fledged at around the same time. Perhaps they had independently found a good feeding area. Whatever the reason, it was a great sight to see.

The Cuckoos periodically dropped down into the grass below, presumably looking for food, before flying back up to the wires. Eventually one flew off, back over the field. Then, while we were still marveling at the Cuckoos, a ghostly white shape appeared over the rough grass in front of us as a Barn Owl flew across. It landed on a post on the back, where we could get it in the scope.

Barn OwlBarn Owl – flew across in front of us and landed on a post

After a wet night last night, the Barn Owl was presumably still out hunting, probably trying to feed a growing brood. The Kestrel was on the top of a telegraph post nearby too. What a great start to the morning!

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from where we had parked and we walked up along the farm track to a suitable vantage point from which we could scan the surrounding countryside. It was warming up nicely now and several Common Buzzards circled up out of the trees. We could hear them calling.

There were several Skylarks up singing too now, or flying around over the stubble in front of us. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the nearby wood a couple of times, before flying over the field past us. A Yellow Wagtail called once, but we didn’t manage to pick it up.

A Brown Hare came running up the stubble field towards us. It was in a dip and stopped just short of the ridge, looking at us. It came a little closer and stopped again, so we could now see its head and shoulders. It was clearly nervous at our presence, and sat there watching us. Finally it decided it was too risky to come out in front of us and it turned and ran back down through the stubble.

Brown HareBrown Hare – watching us from the stubble

After a pleasant and successful hour watching the fields for raptors, we walked back to the car. A Marsh Harrier was now quartering the back of the rough grass field, a nice addition to the morning’s list of birds of prey.

Our next destination was Titchwell, so we cut in round via Choseley on the way there. There were lots of birds along the road, in and out of the hedges. We caught the back end of a couple of Yellowhammers and one of group asked if we could get a better look at one, so we decided to make a quick stop at the barns. There were lots more Brown Hares in the recently harvested fields and a few Red-legged Partridges too. We could hear a Yellowhammer singing, ‘a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeese’, and looked across to see a very smart male perched in the top of an oak tree, its bright yellow head glowing in the sun.

There were more birds along the road down to Titchwell. The hedges were clearly providing protection from the wind, creating a sheltered microclimate. Several juvenile Goldfinches were bathing in a puddle. We pulled up to look at a flock of birds on the tarmac and found three juvenile Yellow Wagtails in with a large group of Pied Wagtails, presumably finding lots of insects on the road.

Down at Titchwell, we had a quick look round the car parks first. A couple of Greenfinches flew out of an elder as we passed and a family of Reed Warblers were clambering about in the bushes calling noisily, including a recent fledgling with short tail and still carrying some fluffy down around its head. We scanned over the fields at the back, but the only bird of note here was a single Stock Dove. We were hoping to see the Turtle Doves which have been breeding here, but there was no sign of them. Apparently the male had been purring here only an hour or so earlier, but had now gone quiet.

There was a bit of time before lunch, so we decided to head round to Patsy’s Reedbed and also have a look along the Autumn Trail, which had just been opened this morning for the first time this year. As we passed the visitor centre, the feeders were full of Greenfinches and Chaffinches, along with a few Great Tits and Blue Tits. Walking along Fen Trail, a tit flock passing quickly through the sallows included several Long-tailed Tits, but there was no sign of the Turtle Doves in the trees here.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a golden-headed chocolate brown juvenile

Round at the viewing screen overlooking Patsy’s reedbed, the first bird we saw was a juvenile Marsh Harrier circling up over the reeds. It was a typical juvenile, with a golden-orange head and the rest of it dark chocolate brown. We saw several juvenile Marsh Harriers around the reedbed today, with varying amounts of pale feathering on the head, one with just a small patch of gold on the back of the neck.

Scanning the pool, a Common Sandpiper flew across on fluttering bowed wings and landed along the near edge before running into the vegetation out of view. There were a few Little Grebes and a couple of Common Pochard among the Mallard. A Grey Heron was standing statue-like on the edge of the reeds, staring down into the water. Lots of House Martins and Sand Martins were hawking for insects low over the water and the reeds beyond.

Looking over towards Brancaster, we caught sight of a very distant Turtle Dove as it flew across and disappeared behind Willow Wood, but not all the group could get onto it and the views were not entirely satisfactory. Frustrating! With the Autumn Trail having just opened this morning, we wanted to have a look along there and we thought there was a chance we might see the Turtle Dove again, but it didn’t reappear.

As we walked along East Trail, we heard Whimbrel calling over towards the freshmarsh and looked across to see four flying up over the reeds. They circled over towards us, instantly identifiable even from their distinctive whistling call, before disappearing away to the SW. We had a quick look from up on the bank at the start of the Autumn Trail extension, which produced a very distant Arctic Skua flying past out over beach, before we lost sight of it behind the dunes.

Spoonbill 1Spoonbill – an adult, with yellow-tipped bill

As we made our way along to the end of Autumn Trail, we could see a large white shape on the freshmarsh, a Spoonbill. Even better, it was awake, preening, and we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult. There were a few waders out on the freshmarsh too from this end, but they would be easier to see close up round at the hides. A Common Sandpiper was chased off by an Egyptian Goose and flew up onto the fence around Avocet Island. A second Egyptian Goose was standing on one of the fence posts – and was still there when we looked across from Parrinder Hide later in the afternoon!

We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them in the reeds, and another juvenile Marsh Harrier patrolled up and down the bank ahead of us. Then it was time to head back for lunch. On the way, we stopped to look at a Burying Beetle which was trying to bury the corpse of a Common Shrew in the middle of the path. It seemed to realise eventually it had bitten off more than it could chew, trying to dig into the hardcore of the path on its own, and flew off.

The group really wanted to see a Turtle Dove, but it felt like we might be out of luck. Still we scanned all the likely trees on the way back. We were just walking past Patsy’s Reedbed when we spotted a shape in the top of a bush ahead of us. Yes – a Turtle Dove! It was perched in the top of an elder, preening. We got it in the scope from where we were standing, and had a quick look in case it flew off.

People coming from the other direction walked right past the Turtle Dove, seemingly without even noticing it. We were some distance away and reckoned we could get much closer. We gradually narrowed the distance until we were quite close, and had stunning views of it, we didn’t even need the scope now. It seemed totally unconcerned by our presence, eventually finishing preening at which point it dropped down into the bushes. Great stuff!

Turtle DoveTurtle Dove – gave stunning views on our way back for lunch

After a late lunch in the picnic area, given our distraction with the Turtle Dove, we headed out onto the main part of the reserve. There were just a few Mallard and Gadwall out on the reedbed pool, and a distant Bearded Tit flew across while we were scanning the water. A Cetti’s Warbler sang a quick half burst from the reeds below the path as we passed by.

There were lots of waders from Island Hide, though mostly the larger ones today. There are lots of Ruff on here at the moment. They are moulting rapidly, some now pretty much in grey winter plumage, but others still with varying numbers of gaudy summer feathers.

Ruff 1Ruff – some still with a few remaining bright summer feathers still

Ruff 2Ruff – others almost entirely in grey winter plumage already

There are lots of Avocets on the reserve at the moment, with recent counts in excess of 500 now. As well as the birds which had bred here, many more gather here at this time of year to moult. in front of hide. Several were feeding right in front of the hide, until they were flushed by another juvenile Marsh Harrier.

AvocetAvocet – over 500 on the freshmarsh at the moment

There are lots of Black-tailed Godwits here at the moment too, many still largely in rusty orange summer plumage. We could also see three Spotted Redshanks further over, towards the Parrinder bank, but they were asleep at this point. There were three Spoonbills on the freshmarsh now, but they were all asleep too, on the edge of the small island at the back.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – still largely in summer plumage

There is a nice selection of smaller gulls on here a the moment. There are lots of Black-headed Gulls, both adults and chocolate brown juveniles. In amongst them, on the nearest island, we found two diminutive Little Gulls, both first summer birds. We had a look at a couple of Mediterranean Gulls from here too, the adults gradually losing their black heads now but still sporting a heavy and bright red bill and clean white wing tips.

While we were scanning the freshmarsh, we could periodically hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. We kept looking over to the edge of the mud but couldn’t see them at first. Finally, like buses, first one, then several more appeared. They eventually showed well, feeding at the base of the reeds.

Bearded Tit

From back up on the main path, we got better views of the Spotted Redshanks. They had multiplied in the meantime, up to four now, and had woken up and started feeding so we could get a good look at their long, needle-fine bills. Like the Ruff earlier, the Spotted Redshanks were in different stages of moult from their black summer plumage. One was pretty much in silvery grey winter plumage already, but the others were still variously speckled with black on their underparts.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – this one pretty much in winter plumage already

We had a quick look in at Parrinder Hide on our way out. There were several scaly-backed juvenile Mediterranean Gulls on the islands in front of the hide. Further out, four summer plumaged Knot had dropped in while we had been walking round.

It was already late afternoon and we wanted to have a look at the sea, so we hurried out to the beach. The tide was out and the usual waders were feeding out on the mussel beds. We had a look at a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits in the scope and a single Sanderling flew in with two Turnstones and dropped in on the beach. Out to sea, lots of Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth and a single Great Crested Grebe was out on the water.

The first surprise here was a Spoonbill, which flew out over the dunes and landed on the beach. Even more bizarre was a single Egyptian Goose which suddenly appeared out on the mussel beds, before flying west along the tideline. You don’t often see Egyptian Geese on the beach!

Spoonbill 2Spoonbill – flew out past us and landed on the beach

Then it was time to head back, in good time to allow everyone to get something to eat. The plan was to go looking for Nightjars this evening, but the weather forecast was really terrible, with heavy rain expected to move in from around 8pm. We feared it might be a wash out. It was already starting to spit with rain when we met again at 7.30pm, but we set off anyway to see what we could see before the rain set in properly.

We started by looking for Little Owls. They like to perch out in the evening sunshine, but it was already cool and cloudy, it seemed unlikely we would find one today. We started scanning the roofs of the farm buildings where they like to sit. There were a few Red-legged Partridges and an Oystercatcher here. Several Brown Hares were running round in the yard below. A few Greylag Geese had gathered in a field of cut straw nearby before flying down to the coast for the night and a large flock of Rooks and Jackdaws was similarly gathering before heading off to roost.

A Mistle Thrush appeared on the roof, then a second joined it. The next thing we knew, there were 8 Mistle Thrushes together. We were just watching them through scope when a Wheatear appeared with them. It was a juvenile, presumably dispersing from somewhere after the breeding season, although there aren’t any breeding close to her, so this was an unexpected bonus. A male Yellowhammer joined all the other birds on the roof too.

It was still not raining properly but it started to spit with rain more heavily now. It was clear we were very unlikely to find any Little Owls so we decided to move on. Normally at this stage of the evening, we would go looking for Barn Owls, but it was unlikely they would be out hunting in this weather either. At least we had seen one this morning, so we decided on a change of plan.

Late in the evening, particularly at this time of year, a good number of large gulls drop in to the scrapes at Cley to bathe and preen before heading off to roost. There have been several Caspian Gulls dropping in over recent nights, so we decided to try that instead. At least we would have the shelter of the hides if the rain did get much worse.

As we drove towards Cley, news came through that an adult Caspian Gull had just been seen there. We walked quickly out to the hides and, with a bit of help from the committed gull watchers in the hide, we were straight onto it.

Caspian GullCaspian Gull – an adult, on Simmond’s Scrape at Cley at dusk

Adult Caspian Gulls are particularly subtle birds and this gave us a great opportunity to study it and talk about the key identification features. It was a noticeably big, tall gull, particularly compared to the Lesser Black-backed Gulls next to it. The dark eye stood out on the white head, with a long face and long parallel sided bill.

The Caspian Gull was preening and as it turned, it stuck one of its long wings out to the side, so we could see the pattern on the underneath of the wing tip. This was the real clincher – the distinctive under-primary pattern, with a white tip, then a narrow band of black before a long tongue of white.

There were also meant to be two juvenile Caspian Gulls here this evening, but although we could see the birds, they were asleep and facing us so we couldn’t see any detail. There was a good number of other large gulls, especially Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We could see several Yellow-legged Gulls in amongst them too, and we got the scope on a nice adult.

The light was fading fast tonight, given the dark clouds. We had already stayed a little longer than planned at Cley, but we decided to drive up to the heath anyway and try our luck, we had nothing to lose. As we came out of hide, it started to rain properly and it really felt like we would be out of luck. But the rain had eased again by the time we got up to the heath and as we opened the car door, we could hear a Nightjar churring already.

We walked quickly out to the middle, with two more Nightjars churring, one each side of us on the way out. It was very gloomy already out on the heath, but at least we were surrounded by Nightjars churring. We had a glimpse or two of one of the males flying around the trees, but it was hard for everyone to get onto it. It stayed further out tonight, not coming in to its favourite perch, it was mixing churring and hawking for insects from the tree it had chosen. Eventually it perched up on the edge of the tree and we could get it in the scope, silhouetted against the very last of the light.

We stood there for a few more minutes listening to the Nightjars churring. It was getting too dark to see them now, so we decided to call it a night. It was the right move, as they had all gone quiet by the time we got back to the car. There had been a surprising amount of Nightjar activity tonight, given the conditions and we had been very lucky given the weather forecast. On the drive back, the heavens finally opened.

27th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was meant to rain today, at least in the afternoon, but although it was cloudy all day and it did drizzle a little on and off at times, it was not as bad as forecast. It was a day back in North Norfolk today.

Given the forecast of rain, we decided to spend at least part of the day at Titchwell, where we could take shelter in the hides. On the way there, we took a short detour up to Choseley. In a ploughed field by the road, a number of Wheatears were running around. W counted at least seven of them, including several smart males with their black bandit masks. There were also good numbers of Brown Hares in the fields, although they were mostly hunkered down. A strikingly pale Common Buzzard perched briefly on the ground a couple of fields away before flying and disappearing behind a hedge.

IMG_3536Wheatear – a smart male in the ploughed field

As soon as we got out of the car in the car park at Titchwell, we could hear a Turtle Dove. The delicate purring song of the male is now an increasingly rare sound, which is a real shame, so it was great to listen to it. It seemed to be coming from deep in a very leafy sycamore at first, where we couldn’t see it. Then, more helpfully, it took off and did a short display flight, flapping up quickly, then gliding down and dropping towards the overflow car park.

We walked round to the other side and shortly after we arrived, the Turtle Dove flew up again and glided down into the top of a dead tree. We managed to get a quick look at it there, through the scope, before it flew again, back to the main car park. We thought it might have gone back to the sycamore but instead it had landed on a dead branch out in full view. This time, we all got a good view of it in the scope. Then it flew off again towards visitor centre. We were heading that way, so we followed on behind.

6O0A8394Turtle Dove – displaying in the car parks at Titchwell this morning

As we walked towards the visitor centre, we could hear a Goldcrest singing in the trees beyond the picnic area. There is a small path which goes in to the trees here, so we walked in to see if we could find it. There was no sign of the Goldcrest but one of the group did spot a cracking pink male Bullfinch high in the oak trees, feeding on buds. The browner female was nearby, and we could hear the two of them calling to each other quietly. They were in the trees above the access road and the two of them flew off calling as a car came along, though thankfully not before we had all had a good look at them.

The feeders by the visitor centre were quiet today, apart from a single Jackdaw swinging on the peanuts. So we headed straight out onto the reserve. It has been very high spring tides for the last few days, so the pool on the Thornham grazing marsh, which should be full of freshwater but has been allowed to dry out for the last couple of years, had been flooded with saltwater. The landowner (this is not part of the reserve) has been in dispute with everyone seemingly for the last few years and appears to have done this out of spite, even though he is in breach of his stewardship conditions. Unfortunately Natural England seem to show no inclination to pursue him, so in the meantime this site is being damaged with salt water.

At least, with a few pools on there today, a single Little Ringed Plover was enjoying it. Even through it was towards the back, we could see the golden yellow eye ring through the scope. Two or three Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reeds, and a smart male made a nice fly past for us. The warblers were a little subdued today, in the cold and windy weather, apart from a Sedge Warbler which was singing and display flighting constantly. A couple of Reed Warblers sang rather half-heartedly from deep in the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us occasionally too.

The reedbed pool was quiet today, but while we had stopped to scan the reeds, one of the reserve volunteers very kindly came back to tell us that some Bearded Tits were showing from the main path a little further along. We hurried over and had great views as the pair worked their way around the base of the reeds at the back of the small pools below the path. They were a pair – a smart male, with powder blue head and black moustache, following behind a browner female.

6O0A8420Bearded Tit – the female, by the pools below the main path

This was a real bonus today – Bearded Tits can be very hard to see on cold windy days normally! Eventually they flew up over the brambles behind the pools and disappeared into the main reedbed. While we were standing there, we could also see at least four drake Red-crested Pochard in one of the channels.

6O0A8433Red-crested Pochard – 2 of the 4 drakes we could see in the reedbed channel

It started to drizzle at this point so we decided to head for the shelter of Island Hide. The water level on the Freshmarsh is still very high, which means there are not many waders on here at the moment. There were several pairs of Avocets, but those that were trying to feed on here were up to their bellies in water. There were a few Black-headed Gulls roosting on one of the shallower patches and several Ruff were running around amongst them. There was one larger male, though not yet sporting its summer ruff, and several smaller female Reeves.

6O0A8462Avocet – up to its belly in the deep water

The water on here is more to the liking of the ducks, but numbers have dropped now as many have headed off on their their way north already. There were still a few Gadwall and Shoveler, plus a few lingering Teal and a lone pair of Wigeon in fenced off ‘Avocet Island’. The number of Brent Geese is also dropping now, but a pair flew past the hide and one was still out on the water, though most of them were feeding out on the saltmarsh.

6O0A8468Teal – the number of remaining winter wildfowl has dropped now

There were more gulls on the Freshmarsh than anything else at the moment. The Black-headed Gulls have taken a liking to the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and a sizeable gull colony is forming on there. Black-headed Gulls actually have chocolate brown heads in summer, but in with them we could see a good number of darker black heads. There were around 20 Mediterranean Gulls which have joined the colony here and through the scope we could see their heavier and brighter red bills and pure white wing tips. They are very smart looking birds.

A small group of immature Herring Gulls were standing in the water just outside the fence. One of them instantly stood out – it was very white headed, with a long face and a long bill. It was a 2nd calendar year (also known as 1st summer) Caspian Gull. When it climbed up onto a submerged rock we could see it had rather long thin legs too.

IMG_3551Caspian Gull – a 1st summer bird, a bit of a rarity at Titchwell

Caspian Gulls were originally to be found breeding north of the Black Sea and further east, but they have spread north and west in recent years and now also breed in Poland and eastern Germany. They have also been turning up more regularly here as a consequence. They are still a bit of a rarity, particularly at Titchwell, so we sent a message back to some of the birders at the visitor centre. Pretty soon a small crowd arrived in the hide and there was a flurry of activity as everyone got onto the bird. We all watched it for a while, before eventually it took off, circled round, and disappeared over the bank out towards the beach.

The rain had stopped now and it appeared to be brightening up, so we made a dash for the beach. The Volunteer Marsh was quiet. Around the channel at the far end, we found a few Black-tailed Godwits, two Grey Plover, one grey and one black-bellied, and a single Knot still in grey winter plumage. There was not much to see on the Tidal Pools either today, but it had been a big high tide this morning and everything was still looking a bit wet.

There were lots more birds out at the beach. Out on the sea, we could see several flocks of black dots. A couple of groups closer in included around 20 Velvet Scoter – we got a good look at these through the scope, the white in the wing being visible when they flapped and on some swimming birds too. A vast slick of up to 2,000 Common Scoter were smeared across the water further out. A single young drake Eider was swimming close inshore in the breakers but a long way away to the east, towards Brancaster.

There were lots of gulls out on the beach, feeding on the debris washed up by the strong north winds of the last couple of days. The resident Black-headed Gull followed us around for a while, but it wasn’t time for lunch yet. Around the mussel beds by the shore, we could see a variety of waders, so we walked down for a closer look. There were several little groups of Sanderlings together with a few Turnstones running around on the beach. Several Bar-tailed Godwits and a few more Knot were down on the mussel beds.

6O0A8473Black-headed Gull – hoping for some food from the birders at the beach

It was pretty cool out out on the beach, in the wind. After a quick look at the waders, we headed back. It was time for lunch when we got to the visitor centre and a warm drink was most welcome too. After lunch, we drove a short distance west to Thornham.

There have been a few Whimbrel reported on the playing fields at Thornham recently, but it has mostly been early morning, probably before they get too disturbed. Despite it being the middle of the day and with lots of cars coming and going from the car park, we found four Whimbrel still out on the short grass. They were mostly at the back, where we could get a good view of their striped heads through the scope, although two did fly in and land much closer to use, in the middle of the cricket pitch at one point.

6O0A8482Whimbrel – four were on the playing field at Thornham this lunchtime

Whimbrel is just a passage migrant here, so it was great to see some birds which had stopped off on their way north. We had a quick look down at Thornham Harbour, as we were in the vicinity. Another couple of Whimbrel flew across the road as we drove down – presumably this is one of the places they come to when they are disturbed from the playing fields. One landed right next to the car, and started feeding on the saltmarsh, which gave us a great chance to look at it up close.

6O0A8499Whimbrel – another two were down by the harbour

Otherwise, it was fairly quiet here with the tide out. A Little Egret flew off from the channel as we approached and we could see a distant Grey Plover out on the mud. We decided not to stop, so turned around and set off back east along the coast road. We called in briefly at Brancaster Staithe on the way, but it was very busy, lots of cars and boats in the car park, and very few birds.

We were heading for Holkham for the rest of the afternoon. When we got out of the car at Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see several Egyptian Geese and Greylags on the grazing marshes. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post on the bank preening. A female Grey Partridge was tucked down in the grass and a Mistle Thrush flew over and up into the pines.

Rather than head out to the beach, we took the path west on the inland side of the pines. Two Blackcaps were singing in the trees, right next door to each other, but both were tucked well in and neither would show themselves. A Goldcrest was flicking around in the pines overhead. We flushed a couple of Jays as we walked along, flying away with a flash of a white rump, but one perched up nicely by the side of the path for us briefly. A Chiffchaff singing in the trees was more obliging, and we got a good look at it as it flitted between the branches of a bare elm.

6O0A8502Jay – this one perched up nicely for us briefly

We could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers singing noisily from the reeds by Washington Hide. From the raised vantage point of the boardwalk to the hide, we had a quick scan of the marshes. A late pair of Pintail on one of the pools were a nice addition to the trip list.

As we continued west along the path, past Meals House, we stopped several times to look out at the grass. We were rewarded with a small group of four Pink-footed Geese. There are always a small number here right through the summer, when all the vast hordes of them have long since departed for Iceland, mostly injured birds which can’t make the journey north. One of the Pinkfeet had obviously been shot and winged, holding its wing at a jaunty angle. A pair of Barnacle Geese had presumably just come over from the feral flock in Holkham Park. Two more drake Pintail were upending on the pools beyond.

As we approached the Joe Jordan Hide we could hear a Willow Warbler singing from the trees out on the freshmarsh. From up in the hide, we could see Spoonbills coming and going from the trees constantly. Most were flying in and out and landing out of view, but occasionally, one would perch up on the edge of the trees, where we could get it in the scope. IMG_3568Spoonbill – one would occasionally perch up in the trees where we could see it

There was not much activity down on the pool today until later on, when a couple of Spoonbills came down to bathe and preen and one came down to collect nest material, giving us another chance of a better look at them. Most were breeding adults, with yellow tipped blackbills, a shaggy crest on the back of the head and a dirty yellow wash across the breast.

We hadn’t seen it down in the reeds, but suddenly a Great White Egret flew up from the back of the pool, and disappeared behind the trees. It was just a brief flight view, but its enormous size was immediately apparent, flying with long rounded wings and slow deep wingbeats. A little while later, what was possibly the same flew Great White Egret flew out of the trees and landed down in a ditch the other side.

IMG_3583Great White Egret – we saw two from the hide at Holkham today

While we were watching that, a second Great White Egret flew over, buzzed the first, and dropped in nearby. The two of them seemed to feed happily for a short while, a reasonable distance apart, until one decided to chase off the other. The first flew back to the trees, while the second circled back and landed again, before resuming feeding in the ditch.

There were lots of other things to see while we sat in the hide. A steady succession of Marsh Harriers kept coming and going. A Common Swift was flying back and forth over the trees. A Chinese Water Deer walked along the edge of the ditch below us. It is a lovely spot here to sit and watch all the activity. But eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head for home. Back at the car, a couple of Spoonbills did a flypast over Lady Anne’s Drive, heading back to the colony, bidding us farewell.

5th Nov 2016 – Late Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was cloudy and increasingly blustery today, with winds gusting to 47mph this afternoon, so we spent the day dodging the showers. Still, it was surprising how much we saw despite the weather.

As we drove east along the coast road this morning, we flushed lots of Blackbirds and Chaffinches from the sides of the road. Our first destination was Blakeney, for a quick walk out around the Freshes before the wind picked up later. A couple of Brent Geese were feeding on the edge of the harbour channel just across from the car park but we could immediately see that one was much paler than the other. A closer look confirmed, one was a Pale-bellied Brent and the other a Dark-bellied Brent Goose.

6o0a7350Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese – a nice comparison

Dark-bellied is the regular form of Brent Goose which winters in large numbers here. This subspecies breeds in arctic Russia. Pale-bellied Brent Geese breed from Svalbard west across arctic Canada and winter mainly on the west coast of Scotland and in Ireland. We normally get a handful of Pale-bellied in with the flocks of Dark-bellied Brents here each winter and they occasionally form mixed pairs. Today was a great opportunity to see them side by side.

While we were watching the Brent Geese, we heard a Kingfisher call and looked across the channel to see two Kingfishers chasing each other low over the water. They flew over to our side of the channel and disappeared over the bank towards the Freshes. A little later we saw one of the zip back low across the reeds towards the wildfowl collection. A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds a little further along.

Further along the seawall, as we got almost to the corner, we turned to look at the Freshes just in time to glimpse a dumpy bird dropping down into the grass on the edge of a flooded depression. We had a pretty good idea what it was, but we couldn’t see it from the seawall or from the path the other side. As we approached for a closer look, a Jack Snipe flew up and shot off towards the harbour – just what we had suspected. In flight, we could really see the small size and the shorter bill compared to a Common Snipe.

We continued on along the north side of the Freshes bank. There were lots of Skylarks down in the short weedy vegetation beyond the fence. A flock of Linnets flew in and dropped down there too briefly. A Rock Pipit flew over calling and landed on the fence, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. Reed Buntings occasionally flew up from the bushes but quickly disappeared back down again. A female Stonechat worked its way along the fence, dropping down onto the side of the bank periodically to look for food.

6o0a7371Stonechat – this lone female was working its way along the fence line

It is very exposed to the elements out on the seawall here. The wind was now starting to pick up and we could see dark clouds coming in towards us over the sea, so we decided to head back to the car. We had a quick look at the wildfowl in the Blakeney collection – none of which were allowed on the bird list for the day of course! We were just settled back in the warmth of the car when we saw two Peregrines over the edge of Friary Hills. A larger adult Peregrine, presumably a female, was chasing a smaller male juvenile – they swooped low over the grass before disappearing behind a hedge, coming out the other side and zooming off over the houses.

With the deterioration in the weather, we decided to head inland to get some respite. There have been some Waxwings in Holt for the last couple of days and as we turned into the road where they have most often been seen we could immediately see several photographers with long lenses pointed up into the trees. Even before we stopped, we could see Waxwings, and we could hear them calling as we got out of the car.

6o0a7387Waxwing – there were at least 20 in Holt today

There were at least 20 Waxwings, but they were hard to count as they were feeding in several different trees, and frequently flying round in small groups or singles. The bulk of the group seemed to keep returning to the top of a large chestnut tree, where they were hard to see among the leaves. From there, they would drop down into several smaller rowans, where they would proceed to wolf down the red berries, much to the annoyance of the local Blackbirds! There was also an apple tree in one of the front gardens by the road, and several of the Waxwings kept coming down to attack the apples, clinging on to them and biting away at the flesh where they had been half eaten already.

6o0a7454Waxwing – feeding on apples, as well as rowan berries

Having feasted ourselves, on such excellent views of such gorgeous looking birds, when the Waxwings flew off and disappeared round behind the buildings, we decided to move on. Our next stop was at Sheringham, where we went for a walk along the sea front.We thought we might pick up some seabirds on our way, but at first it seemed a little quiet, apart from hordes of Turnstones around the fishing boats which had been hauled up the slipway.

6o0a7525Turnstone – lots along the prom at Sheringham

There was no sign of any Purple Sandpipers on their usual favourite rocks below the pub, but when we got to the shelter at the east end of the prom, we could see first one and then two Purple Sandpipers distantly out on the sea defences.

We stopped to talk to another couple of local birders who told us that the movement of seabirds was just picking up, after the wind had strengthened. A line of Common Scoter flew past with a single Tufted Duck in amongst them. A steady stream of Gannets tacked across the wind, heading east offshore, both white adults and dark grey-brown juveniles. There were little groups of Guillemots zooming across and a couple of Red-throated Divers went past too.Then a few Great Skuas started to pass by – in the half hour we stood there sheltering from the wind, we saw about ten – but they were all rather distant and hard to get everyone onto. A single juvenile Pomarine Skua was even further offshore.

As a particularly fierce squall blew in off the sea, we took shelter until it passed. Perhaps prompted by a Sanderling which came in with them, the two Purple Sandpipers took off and flew towards us, passing by and heading back to the rocks below the pub. We waited until the rain had stopped and decided to walk back to look for them. Unfortunately, by that stage they had disappeared again. We did find a couple of Ringed Plovers which had probably stopped off with the Turnstones to sit out the wind.

6o0a7527Ringed Plover – stopped off with the Turnstones on the slipway

After lunch and a welcome hot drink back along the coast road at Cley, we drove round to Iron Road and headed down along Attenborough’s Way. There was a nice flock of Brent Geese out on the grazing meadows (all Dark-bellieds), and as well as the plain backed adults we could see quite a few stripe-backed juveniles. Hopefully, as the Brent Goose numbers increase over the coming weeks, it will prove to have been a good breeding season for them this year.

6o0a7537Brent Geese – adults & juveniles on the grazing marshes

Round at Babcock Hide, the wind was now whistling across the marshes. A little flock of Dunlin were feeding down at the front of the scrape below the hide, but they were very skittish and kept whirling round before dropping back down again. A pair of Redshank were defending their feeding territory in front of the hide, chasing off any others which tried to land there.

First one Black-tailed Godwit dropped in, then another five, stopping to feed for a few minutes before flying off again, flashing their boldly marked black and white wings. A couple of little groups of Lapwing flew in from the east and stopped to rest for a minute or two on the islands.

None of the waders would settle, in part because there were a couple of Marsh Harriers about. First, a dark juvenile flew across the reeds at the back of the pool, and drifted off towards Salthouse. Then a young male Marsh Harrier, with paler underwings and small patches of paler grey emerging on its upperwings, did the same. As they came over the grazing marshes, all the Wigeon shot out into the middle of the water from the banks. There were a few Teal and Mallard with them and three Shoveler appeared from behind the reeds too.

When a particularly dark cloud had passed over, we returned to the car and drove back round to the main part of the reserve. Just as we set out to walk to the hides, it started to rain so we hurried out along the boardwalk – thankfully it was only light rain and we got out there without getting wet.

There were several Shelduck out on Pat’s Pool and  huddle of gulls out beyond the first island. A few Teal were out on one of the further islands, but there were not many waders – three Dunlin at the back and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits roosting in with the gulls. Simmond’s Scrape held more wildfowl – a larger flock of Wigeon, a good number of Teal and a huddle of around 20 Pintail asleep behind one of the islands. Presumably the waders had gone elsewhere in search of food and shelter. A Common Snipe was feeding on the bank outside Dauke’s Hide but flew across and landed down behind the grass in front of Teal Hide where we couldn’t see it.

A couple more Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbed beyond the scrapes this side. The light was starting to fade already and they were presumably gathering before going to roost. Several Pied Wagtails flew past while we watched, some of them dropping in to the islands briefly, before continuing on their way heading off to roost.

6o0a7562Marsh Harrier – gathering over the reeds before going to roost

Turning our attention to the gulls, we could immediately see a good selection of different species – Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. One of the herring gull-types looked different – it was very white-headed, whereas Herring Gulls typically have lots of grey blotches around the head at this time of year. Against the white head, the beady black eye really stood out – the nearby Herring Gulls instead showing a very pale iris. It was  an adult Caspian Gull.

img_8262Caspian Gull – this adult was hunkered down against the wind on Pat’s Pool

The Caspian Gull was hunkered down against the wind and didn’t initially look as long-billed and long-faced as they usually do. It kept returning to a little patch of cut rushes, behind which it tried to crouch down and shelter. However, the mantle was noticeably half a shade darker than the nearby Herring Gulls. Eventually, the Caspian Gull walked up onto the island and started preening, and now finally we could see the distinctive long head and bill.

Cley in the late evening is normally a good place to see different gulls gathering before they go to roost, but the Caspian Gulls often come in very late, just as it is getting dark, so we were lucky this one had arrived nice and early today. When some of the gulls flew across to Simmond’s Scrape, we turned to look there and found an adult Yellow-legged Gull to add to the day’s gull list. It was with a Lesser and a Great Black-backed Gull, giving a good comparison in mantle tone – it was noticeably much darker grey than the Herring Gulls but paler and less slatey than the Lesser Black-backeds.

At first, the Yellow-legged Gull was up to its belly in the water but eventually it climbed out onto the mud and we could finally see its deep yellow legs. The light was starting to fade now, and consequently they might not have appeared as bright to the unitiated as they otherwise would have done. It was time to call it a day, but it had been a nice way to end with such a good selection of gulls gathering.

24th Sept 2016 – Autumn Delights, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was another lovely day, mostly bright and sunny, but with a blustery warm south wind which stopped it from feeling as hot as yesterday, even if it was 21C this afternoon. Not bad for late September!

A Wryneck had been reported at Beeston Bump recently, although seemingly rather elusive. As we were heading east today, we thought we would go and look for it even though, with clear skies overnight, there was a chance it might have moved on. When we arrived there was another problem – every path we took had someone out walking their dogs on a sunny Saturday morning! It quickly became clear that, if the Wryneck was still present, it would be hiding in the bottom of a bush rather than hopping about on one of the paths.

Still we had a quick walk round. The bushes were also rather quiet, being a bit exposed out here in the wind. We had also thought this might be a good spot to see some visible migration (or ‘vizmig’ for short), birds on migration moving along the coast. This certainly proved to be the case this morning and as we approached the cliffs we could see small parties of House Martins together with a few Swallows passing west along the clifftop. We stood for a while and could see more hirundines approaching from the east. Then a great cloud of House Martins passed by just below us. They stopped for a while to hawk for insects in the lee of the Bump and we counted at least 100 birds in the flock. Great stuff.

6o0a1994House Martin – a flock of over 100 flew past us along the cliffs

We did a further quick circuit round via the pit without success and then decided to move on somewhere else. Back to the car, we made our way back along the coast to Salthouse and parked at Iron Road. The muddy pool on the west side of the the track has not been so productive for waders in the last couple of weeks, but is always worth a look just in case. There was nothing on there today but as we stopped at the gate we spotted a Wheatear on the near bank further along. Helpfully, as the cows came over towards us to investigate, they flushed the Wheatear which flew and landed right in front of us.

6o0a2017Wheatear – the first of several we saw today

One of the group then spotted a second Wheatear further over. We walked along to the bridge but couldn’t see any more, but on the way back a Common Snipe flew past and landed out of view in the grass behind us. We were scanning for it, and watching a young Little Egret which had been pushed out of the ditch by another helpful cow, when a couple of very noisy dogs ran past and both the Snipe and the Little Egret promptly flew off.

On the walk round to Babcock Hide, we saw all the birds on Watling Water flush and fly off. With no sign of any raptors that side, it may have been some people who had just gone into the hide. We did see a Common Buzzard but it was circling up over Walsey Hills initially before it then drifted right over the path after everything had flown. It seemed to be taking advantage of the warm sunshine and hanging on the breeze. Just before we got to the hide, we flushed another two Wheatears from the edge of the reeds.

6o0a2037Common Buzzard – drifted right overhead along Attenborough’s Walk

As we sat in the hide, a few birds started to fly back in. A few duck returned – Gadwall, Teal and a single Shoveler – and the Little Grebes came back out from hiding in the reeds. Then three juvenile Ruff dropped in – or more precisely two male Ruff and a female Reeve. The females are noticeably smaller than the males and it was great to see them together for comparison. A single Black-tailed Godwit dropped in with them briefly before flying on west. Then the rest of the Ruff, a mixture of adults and juveniles, returned.

6o0a2044Ruff – two larger male Ruff and a smaller female Reeve

There is a good view east from Babcock Hide and scanning over the reeds beyond we could see a couple of Kestrels hovering in the distance. Then we picked up another falcon much further over, out beyond the shingle ridge. It gradually made its way closer and we could see that it was a Hobby, before it dropped down and disappeared behind the reeds.

On the walk back to the car, a Wheatear flew between the fence posts ahead of us, presumably one of the birds we had seen earlier. A Marsh Harrier flew in from the east, quartering low over the reeds. It was a juvenile but it had remarkably tatty wings, with a couple of big gaps. Hopefully they had just got broken rather than been shot at! A Canada Goose also flying in from Salthouse direction managed to flush a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits from one of the pools further along.

Round at the Visitor Centre, we opted for an early lunch in the September sunshine before exploring the rest of the reserve. On the walk out to the hides, there was no sign of the Whinchats reported earlier by the boardwalk, but it was very breezy round here now. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up from the scrapes and whirled round overhead.

6o0a2047Golden Plover – a large flock flew up from the scrapes as we walked out

Pat’s Pool had a nice selection of waders on it again today. The highlight was a couple of Little Stints feeding out on the mud in the middle. They looked particularly tiny, even on their own, but we could see just how small they were when they were joined by three Dunlin. A larger group of Dunlin were feeding further over. There was still one Golden Plover left out on one of the islands, although it was doing a good job of hiding, blending in well with some tall dead grass. A single Ringed Plover was running around on the mud at first, before flying off. There were also a few Lapwing and a selection of Black-tailed Godwits and more Ruff.

There were a couple of small flocks of gulls here as usual, preening or sleeping. Mostly Black-headed Gulls, there were also several Lesser Black-backed Gulls with them. We didn’t see it fly in but, while we were watching the waders, a Caspian Gull appeared too. It was an immature bird, a 2nd winter. It immediately stood out, with its very white head, shawl of dark spots, long pointed face and long thin bill. Historically breeding around the Black and Caspian Seas, its range has been spreading west in Poland and eastern Germany, with dispersing birds increasingly found in UK. Caspian Gull is a great bird to see, still irregular in its occurrence here.

img_7190Caspian Gull – this 2nd winter dropped in briefly

We watched the Caspian Gull for a while and all had a good look at it in the scope, but when we took our eyes off it for a second it slipped away again as quietly as it had arrived. There were several other things to distract us. A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed before drifting right across the scrape, where it seemed to enjoy flushing the birds. Then it returned to the reedbed where it circled with a female for a while. We could see three more Marsh Harriers in the distance, beyond the East Bank. Several Bearded Tits called from the reeds in the ditch in front of the hide, but they remained tucked down out of view and out of the wind.

6o0a2068Marsh Harrier – two were over the reedbed this afternoon

Works have been underway all week to reprofile Simmond’s Scrape, but the diggers were not working on the weekend. Several Curlew dropped in briefly and a couple of Grey Herons, but otherwise there did not appear to be much on there, possibly as a consequence of all the disruption. Still, we were glad we looked in on Dauke’s Hide because a Common Snipe was feeding in the grass right in front of the hide when we went it. We had stunning close-up views.

6o0a2142Common Snipe – feeding in the grass below the hide

We watched the Common Snipe feeding for a while, creeping around in the grass and drilling its long bill repeatedly into the wet ground. It seemed perfectly happy in its chosen spot but a pair of Mute Swans were in the ditch nearby with their cygnet. Whether it really took offence to the Snipe or not, one of the Swans swam straight over to it and started to climb out towards it. The Snipe understandably reacted and ran up onto the top of the bank, standing there upright and alert. It was loathe to fly, presumably hoping to get back to its chosen feeding place, but the Swan continued up the bank and finally the Snipe flew.

6o0a2151

6o0a2161Common Snipe – flushed out onto the bank by a Mute Swan

Several smaller birds found the banks around Simmond’s Scrape much to their liking, where the diggers had been working and scraped back the mud. There were lots of Pied Wagtails feeding on the ground and a couple of Meadow Pipits. Another Wheatear appeared, perched on one of the mounds of muddy earth left behind.

Back to the visitor centre and we drove round to the beach car park. A scan of the sea produced first a Guillemot flying past, then a Marsh Harrier flying in over the water. As well as many of our local breeding Marsh Harriers, many continental breeding harriers come here for the winter and this one was probably just arriving in from Europe. We picked up a few small flocks of ducks flying in too – seven Pintail appeared to go down towards North Scrape and a larger flock of Wigeon headed in towards the reserve. A couple of Brent Geese were just arriving in over the sea too. Migration in action!

The fence alongside the Eye Field can be very good for Whinchats so, with a couple reported earlier on the reserve, we thought this would be a good place to check out. Sure enough, despite the wind, we found three of them perched along the fence line on the walk out to North Scrape. We got a couple of them in the scope, a noticeably paler bird and a slightly darker one.

img_7220Whinchat – 1 of 3 on the Eye Field fence this afternoon

The Whinchats flew on ahead of us as we walked out towards North Scrape, each time landing a little further on, always keeping their distance. Eventually they flew across to the fence out across the Eye Field.

We had hoped there might be a few waders on North Scrape, but that was not the case. There were a few ducks – particularly Shelducks – but no sign of the Pintail we had seen dropping down in this direction earlier. We enjoyed watching a couple of different Reed Buntings in the bushes behind the screen. First a rather streaky first winter appeared, before dropping down out of view. Then a few minutes another Reed Bunting flew in to the same bush – noticeably a different bird, with a darker face and a black bib partly obscured by pale fringing – a winter male.

As we made our way back, another Wheatear flew away from us across the shingle, landing on a large lump of concrete briefly, before flying away again flashing its white rump and tail base. A dark juvenile Gannet and four more Brent Geese flew past over the sea. We walked to the car listening to more House Martins calling as they passed overhead, finishing the day as we had started it.