Tag Archives: Choseley

19th May 2016 – Birds & Other Wildlife

A Private Tour today, up into NW Norfolk, for a regular who wanted to do something a bit different, avoiding the main nature reserves. It was a bit misty at first, but it was forecast to burn off during the morning and then be mostly bright and dry.

We headed up towards Holkham first. On the way, a large shape perched on the top of a barn in the mist was a Red Kite. We stopped to look at it and could just make out a second Red Kite circling in the murk further back. A tractor was cultivating the field opposite and lots of Black-headed Gulls were following behind. Not surprisingly these days, a quick look revealed a single Mediterranean Gull in with them. Through the scope, we could see its jet black hood extending further down the back of the neck than the chocolate brown hoods of the nearby (and inappropriately named!) Black-headed Gulls. As the tractor got to the end of the field, the Mediterranean Gull took off and flew past us, flashing its pure white wing tips.

IMG_4255Red Kite – perched on a barn roof in the mist this morning

While we waited for the mist to clear, we stopped briefly at Holkham. We could see lots of white shapes in the trees across the grazing marshes – Spoonbills. Through the scope, we could see their spoon-shaped bills. There were lots of Cormorants, Little Egrets and the odd Grey Heron in the trees too.

A male Marsh Harrier circled low over the reeds, with prey in its talons. It seemed to be waiting for the female to come up, to accept a food pass, but there was no sign of her flying up to meet him. Eventually he gave up and flew off, landing down in the grass in front, presumably to eat his catch himself.

It was starting to brighten up a little now, so we headed off inland, to explore the farmland behind the coast. At our first stop, there were several Skylarks singing and a little flock of Linnets flew up to land on the wires. A pair of Red-legged Partridge were on one side of the road and a pair of Grey Partridge on the other side. A couple of Brown Hares ran off through the grass.

A large stack of bales was adorned with Shelduck on the top of it. We counted ten birds in total – always an unlikely place to see them! A little further down the road, a pair of Shelduck had taken up residence on a large puddle on the edge of a field with their ten shelducklings. Again, it is not entirely an ideal place for them, as there is no other water around here if and when the puddle dries up.

6O0A3088Shelducks – the female with her shelducklings on a farm puddle

We turned into the entrance to a farm track and a pair of Grey Partridge stood on the verge right beside us. They walked quietly into the grass, before flying off across the field as we pulled up.

6O0A3090Grey Partridge – this pair were on the edge of a track

This is a high point, a good place to scan the surrounding countryside, so we stopped here for a while. There were a few raptors out this morning, but it was still a bit cloudy and hadn’t really warmed up yet. A Marsh Harrier quartered the field in front of us. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up distantly. Another Red Kite circled over.

A little group of gulls came up over the fields towards us. In with several Black-headed Gulls and a young Herring Gull were a couple more Mediterranean Gulls. As they came overhead we could see the light shining through their translucent white wingtips. Mediterranean Gulls really do turn up anywhere now, even well away from the coast.

Yellow Wagtails used to be a much more common breeding bird in Norfolk, but are increasingly hard to find there days. So it was a nice surprise to find a pair here, flying in and out of a wheat field, calling as they came overhead. At one point, the bright yellow male dropped down briefly into a bare field nearby. The numbers of Lapwing breeding on farmland have also dropped dramatically. It was lovely to see a pair displaying, calling and somersaulting. Sadly, even if they do stay to breed here, productivity is normally very low in a modern agricultural environment.

We went for a short walk along the farm track. There were several Common Whitethroats in the hedges, mostly their scolding call gave their presence away. We saw several Yellowhammers too, including a lovely bright male which perched up in a hedge in front of us.

6O0A3106Yellowhammer – a gorgeous yellow-headed male

We had intended to make our way slowly towards Choseley, so we were pleased to hear the news that a Dotterel had been seen earlier. There had been a lovely ‘trip’ of up to 28 here in recent weeks, but none had been seen in the last couple of days. When we arrived, there was only one other couple who had been scanning the field in vain. It is a huge field and shimmering with haze over the parched earth – not an easy place to find a single bird. Thankfully, after scanning carefully for a few minutes, we found the Dotterel once it moved. It was working its way across the back of the field, running a short distance, before stopping still, at which point it became very tricky to see again.

IMG_4268Turtle Dove – our first of the day, purring at Choseley

After that unexpected bonus, we made our way up to the drying barns. When we got out of the car, we didn’t quite know which way to look. A Corn Bunting started singing just back along the road from us and a Turtle Dove was purring on a telegraph post the other side of the barns. We had a quick look at one, then the other, through the scope, in case either should fly off, then stopped to watch both of them at our leisure. We could see the Turtle Dove inhale, puffing out its breast, before purring. Eventually the Corn Bunting dropped back down to the fields beyond the hedge and the Turtle Dove flew off east.

6O0A3109Corn Bunting – singing from the wires at Choseley

With all our main target species here in the bag, we headed off, over to Snettisham next. As we walked out through the Coastal Park, a Sparrowhawk flashed across and disappeared into the trees. There were lots of warblers singing from the bushes – Blackcaps, Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. Several Cetti’s Warblers shouted at us from deep in the vegetation.

We walked up onto the outer seawall and looked out across the Wash. The tide was coming in now, but was still quite a way out. Several little groups of Oystercatcher flew past over the mud. A surprising number of Brent Geese were still lingering, out at the water’s edge – it is high time they were on their way back to Russia for the breeding season! A small flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew off inland and dropped down towards the grazing marshes, while we could still see a few out on the edge of the mud.

We didn’t see the large mass of waders at first from here, but a little later something obviously disturbed them from further along, coupled with the now fast rising tide, and we could see a huge cloud of birds swirling round over the Wash before landing back on the mud.

There are a few more dragonflies starting to appear now. We flushed a couple of newly emerged Azure Damselflies from the long grass. Along the bank of the inner seawall we found a Hairy Dragonfly resting in a sheltered spot. As we walked back towards the car, we could hear a Cuckoo calling from the bushes.

6O0A3130Hairy Dragonfly – resting in the grass

Our final stop of the day was at Holme. We walked along towards the paddocks first and could hear a Turtle Dove purring before we got past the trees. Out in the open, when it started purring again, we found it perched on a dead branch. From here, we could just hear a second Turtle Dove purring a little further over, and the first responded by purring back at it.

IMG_4290Turtle Dove – one of two purring at Holme

A father was out for a walk with his young daughter and stopped to ask what we were looking at. They had heard the Turtle Doves already, so we let them have a close look at one through the scope. It was a sobering thought to think that there might be none left here by the time his daughter grows up, giving the alarming rate at which they are declining.

Otherwise, the bushes in the paddocks were rather quiet this afternoon. However, there was a steady movement of Swifts, flying west through the dunes or over the fields just inland, accompanied by smaller numbers of Sand Martins and Swallows. We had seen a few Swifts and House Martins over Snettisham too, earlier. Some birds are continuing on migration, still on their way.

We got back in the car and drove a little further along the coast, stopping to walk out into the dunes. There was a nice selection of butterflies out now – several Wall Brown and Small Copper as usual. A couple of nice, crisp, fresh Common Blue fluttered around in the grass too. And as we walked along, we flushed a single Brown Argus from beside the path. The wind had picked up a little now and the butterflies were carried away across the dunes as soon as they gained any height, so they were  mostly lurking down in the shelter of the path.

6O0A3134Small Copper – one of several species of butterfly out this afternoon

We walked past the flowers lurking in the grass at first, and had to double back before we found them. There is a small colony of Man Orchids here, so called because the individual flowers on the spike shaped rather like a little hooded stick man. It is hard to see this at a distance, but crouch down and look closely and the flower spike looks like an army of stick men. The orchids are not fully out yet, but they were still great to look at, very smart flowers.

6O0A3145Man Orchid – the individual flowers shaped like small stick men

Then it was time to head back. It had been a great day out, not just for birds, but also with a wealth of other wildlife to see.

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13th May 2016 – Not So Unlucky

The first of two Spring Migration Tours in North Norfolk today. It was a Friday and that was meant to be unlucky, but we didn’t do too badly! It was cloudy, and a lot cooler than of late, but that didn’t hold us back.

As we were heading west today, we stopped quickly at Holkham on the way. We could see several large white shapes flying around, landing in the trees, and a look through the scope confirmed they were Spoonbills. There were plenty of Little Egrets in the trees too.

A careful scan through all the Greylags and Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marshes revealed a single Pink-footed Goose too. It flew across, just to show it wasn’t injured, so this one must have another reason for staying here rather than heading back to Iceland for the breeding season with the rest of the Pink-footed Geese which spend the winter here.

We continued on our way west and turned off the coast road in Titchwell, up towards Choseley. There were several cars parked along the road, which confirmed that the Dotterel which have been here for a couple of weeks now were still present. They were hard to see at first, when they stopped moving, but gradually came closer and into a lighter patch of the field where they were more obvious.

IMG_4172Dotterel – at least 26 in the field today

The number of Dotterel here has been steadily growing. There were at least 26 today but they were very hard to count (as many as 28 were claimed by others). Still, we had a good look at them in the scope.

A Corn Bunting was singing from behind us while we were watching the Dotterel, so we turned our attention to that next. It was not in its usual spot on the top of the hedge, but was singing from a recently sown patch of ground, hidden behind some taller set aside in the foreground, probably down out of the wind. When it finally flew, we could see there were actually two Corn Buntings out there, and we did manage to see one on the ground, although it was hard to get an angle onto it in the scope without putting it up too high for everyone to see through!

There were a couple of Yellowhammers and Linnets too, in the same field. Nearby, two Grey Partridge were creeping through a low crop, and a Red-legged Partridge was close by. We could see plenty of Brown Hares dotted around the fields.

6O0A2520Brown Hare & Red-legged Partridge – admiring the scenery

It was down to Titchwell next and, after a short break for a hot drink, we walked out onto the reserve. As we made our way along the main path out to the reedbed, we could hear a Cuckoo singing from the bushes. There were several Reed Warblers singing from the reeds and a couple of Cetti’s Warblers shouted at each other from the brambles.

The dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’ was rather devoid of life – it was possibly a bit too windy and exposed out there today. There was more to see on the reedbed pool. A few Tufted Duck and a Common Pochard were diving out in the middle. A Little Grebe swam across and then a Great Crested Grebe flew in from the back and landed closer to us. A Bearded Tit zipped low across the water and dived back into the reeds. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed at the back.

Most of the Brent Geese seem to have departed now, but a couple of smaller groups were still lingering out on the saltmarsh. A very smart Grey Plover, with black face and belly, was lurking on one of the pools.

The water level on the freshmarsh is still rather high – presumably to try to persuade the Avocets to nest within the new high security fence, rather than giving them too many other islands from which to choose. Possibly as a consequence, there are not too many other waders on here at the moment and those that are here can be rather difficult to see.

We did manage to find a Temminck’s Stint looking across from Island Hide, possibly the same bird which was last reported here a couple of days ago. However, it was on the island behind the fence and promptly tucked itself down and went to sleep. Not the best views! There were a few Turnstones trying to shelter from the wind here as well.

There were lots of Common Swifts zooming about low over the water, trying to find insects. These were probably migrants which had stopped off here on their way to try to feed. They were great to watch. There were a few House Martins and Swallows in with them, but later from Parrinder Hide there seemed to be a much larger number of the former.

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6O0A2539

6O0A2542Common Swifts – hawking for insects over the water

A Yellow Wagtail flew over, calling, and looked like it might land on one of the islands initially. However, it didn’t stop and carried on over the bank towards the sea. Round at Parrinder Hide, we had better views of a White Wagtail on one of the islands out in front. We could see its pale grey back, much paler than a Pied Wagtail, contrasting more with its black cap.

A noisy gang of Avocets flew round and landed out in the water. They seemed to be having an argument about something and bickered with each other for a while, before chasing round again.

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6O0A2576Avocets – this noisy gang seemed to be arguing about something

There were several Little Ringed Plovers out on the freshmarsh. One was very close to the main path and we had a great look at it – we could see its golden eyering clearly. A single Ringed Plover was on one of the islands in front of Parrinder Hide too. At one point, we even had Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover side by side, which was a nice comparison. The former was noticeably bigger, with brighter orange legs and a stumpy black-tipped orange bill, as well as lacking the golden eyering.

6O0A2562Little Ringed Plover – there were several on the freshmarsh

Round at Parrinder Hide, the Temminck’s Stint, having obviously woken up, reappeared feeding on the edge of one of the smaller islands, where we could get a much better look at it. There were also several Common Sandpipers round the muddy margins, at least four, and three Dunlin in smart summer plumage, sporting black belly patches.

There are always several pairs of Common Tern on the freshmarsh, but a pair of Little Terns were on here as well today. Through the scope we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

IMG_4179Little Tern – a pair were loafing on one of the islands on the freshmarsh

There are still a few ducks here. Several pairs of Shoveler and Gadwall will probably stay for the summer, but the couple of pairs of Teal that were still here today will still more likely head north.

6O0A2587Shoveler – there were several pairs on the freshmarsh

We braved the bracing wind and made our way out towards the sea. The tide was in and the Volunteer Marsh was flooded. There was not much on the Tidal Pools either. Out on the beach there were some large flocks of gulls, mostly Herring Gulls, resting on the sand. Along the shoreline, we could see lots and lots of Sanderling running in and out of the waves, many now in rather dark summer plumage. A single Kittiwake flew past out to sea. Then we decided to get out of the wind and make our way back.

After lunch, we made our way back along the coast to Holkham again. We figured we could get a bit of shelter from the wind in the lee of the pines, so walked west from Lady Anne’s Drive. It was still rather cool here and not so much was singing today. Still, we did hear a couple of Common Whitethroat, one or two Sedge Warblers, several Blackcap and a few Chiffchaff. We managed to see a Goldcrest singing from a holm oak and a few tits – Long-tailed Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits.

6O0A2594Marsh Harrier – there were several at Holkham

We stopped to watch a couple of Marsh Harriers circling up from the reeds. When one drifted over the grazing marshes, a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew round noisily. As they started to settle back on one of the pools, we could hear a Greenshank calling. When we got the scope on the godwits, we could see two Greenshank out on the mud too. A nearby Pink-footed Goose this side was obviously injured – with what appeared to be a broken wing.

We had a look out from Joe Jordan Hide. There were lots of Cormorants in the trees and a few Little Egrets came and went, but there was no sign of any Spoonbills down on the pool today. We did eventually see a couple of Spoonbills perched up in one of the trees, but they were doing what Spoonbills love to do best – sleeping!

There were more Marsh Harriers coming and going and a Common Buzzards circled in front of the trees. A Kestrel was having a dust bath. A pair of Grey Partridge were feeding on the grass below.

IMG_4185Grey Partridge – a pair were in front of Joe Jordan Hide

On our way back, we stopped in at Washington Hide. It appeared to be rush hour for the Spoonbills now! In the space of just a few minutes we had four different birds flying past, in both directions, including an immature bird with dark tips to its primaries. Even at a distance they are instantly recognisable, with their necks held outstretched as they fly, unlike the similarly white Little Egrets, which tuck their necks in.

We had done very well today, despite the cold wind, and it was now time for us to head for home. Thankfully we had all also survived Friday 13th unscathed!

6th May 2016 – Hot Spring

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. It was a glorious sunny day, some hazy cloud in the morning and a nice cooling easterly breeze on the coast in the afternoon. We met in Wells and headed west today.

Our first stop was at Choseley. The Dotterel which have been in the fields here for the last few days had not been reported yet this morning, but when we arrived there were several people watching them. They seemed unconcerned by the tractor spraying the field. They were feeding in a strip at the back of the field which had more dried weedy stems, which made them extra difficult to see at times. However, eventually we all got good views of them through the scope.

Dotterel Choseley 2016-05-03_7Dotterel – here are a couple for a few days ago

When we had finished watching the Dotterel, we turned out attention to the surrounding farmland. There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields, chasing each other round in circles, but not boxing today. A Marsh Harrier was quartering one of the fields and managed to flush a couple of Red-legged Partridge out from the winter wheat.

6O0A1872Marsh Harrier – quartering the fields at Choseley

We could hear a Corn Bunting singing behind us and when we turned round we found it perched in the top of the hedge. It flew round the field several times, singing from a high vantage point each time wherever it landed.

IMG_3753Corn Bunting – singing from the top of the hedges

Our next destination was at Snettisham. As we walked up through the Coastal Park, lots of warblers were singing from the trees, bushes and reeds. We could hear lots of Sedge Warblers, one or two Reed Warblers and the odd Cetti’s Warbler, lots of Common Whitethroats plus one or two Lesser Whitethroats and several Blackcaps, and both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler.

It was only when we got further in that we heard our first Grasshopper Warbler. We followed the strange, rather cricket-like reeling sound, but discovered it had tucked itself away in a rather inaccessible area. A second Grasshopper Warbler then started up, reeling quite close by. Unfortunately, that one went quiet before we could get over to it. It seemed like we might struggle to see a Grasshopper Warbler until we heard our third reeling bird of the morning. This one was in a more open area, but still took some tracking down. It was singing initially from low down in the bushes and only when it worked its way higher up could we get it in the scope and get a good look at it. It tried to keep itself well hidden in a hawthorn, but by carefully positioning the scope we could see all the requisite details.

IMG_3758Grasshopper Warbler – 1 of 3 reeling today

We had not seen many obviously new migrants this morning and, unlike in recent days, there was no obvious visible migration overhead. However, while we were tracking down the third Grasshopper Warbler, our attention was drawn to a bird which flicked out of the trees beyond. It was a Spotted Flycatcher. Though they breed in the UK, there are increasingly scarce in Norfolk and this one was clearly a migrant which had stopped off on its way north. Which watched it make a couple of sallies out from the branches, after insects, before a male Blackcap chased it off.

We had a quick look out at the Wash. The tide was well out now and it was a bit hazy. However, out in the distance we could see a huge slick across the mud. Through the scope, we could see there were thousands of waders. Mostly Knot, but it was hard to make out any other species amongst them at this distance.

At this point, news came through of a Purple Heron which had been seen only a short distance to the north of where we were. We walked up along the inner seawall to where we thought the bird had last been seen, as best as we could tell, but there was no one there and no sign of it. We did see a couple of Grey Herons preening on the bank of a ditch and later flying off into the trees. A Little Egret was feeding in a flooded reedy area which looked great for a migrant heron, but it was not there either. This is a huge area, with lots of places for a heron to hide, so after a quick search we decided we had to move on.

We could hear a Cuckoo singing in the trees in the distance, but it didn’t show itself today. A Whimbrel was picking about in the long grass. There is no shortage of Greylag Geese here, but a darker head which appeared out of the vegetation was a single Pink-footed Goose. Through the scope we could see it was the bird with the damaged wing again. Most of its kin have now gone north to Iceland, but it seems destined to be stuck here for the summer. A Large Red Damselfly which settled on a bramble bush in front of us was our first Dragonfly / Damselfly of the year.

6O0A1878Large Red Damselfly – our first of the year

We made our way round to Holme for lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk around the paddocks. It was now the middle of the day so perhaps it was not a surprise we could not hear any sound from the Turtle Dove. There were lots of Common Whitethroats singing from the bushes.

6O0A1880Common Whitethroat – singing in the bushes at Holme

Out on the short grass on the edge of the dunes, a small orange butterfly which fluttered by was a Small Heath, also our first of the year. The warmer weather now is obviously finally bringing out more insects.

6O0A1885Small Heath – out on the short grass on the edge of the dunes

We walked back along the road. A pair of Swallows were preening from the wires. A Mistle Thrush was out on the grass in the horse paddocks. There were lots of House Sparrows in the brambles.

6O0A1891Swallows – on the wires over the road

Our final destination for the day was Titchwell. There had been a little group of Wood Sandpipers on the grazing meadow ‘pool’ over high tide this morning, but unfortunately they had moved quickly on. We did manage to find a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, their golden yellow eye-rings shining in the sun. Further over, towards the back, were two Common Sandpipers around one the remaining pools.

The reedbed pool held a selection of diving ducks – three Red-crested Pochard including two males with bright orange punk haircuts and coral red bills, plus quite a few Common Pochard and a couple of Tufted Ducks. A pair of Little Grebes swam out of the reeds and down to the front.

We could hear lots of Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers out in the reeds. Occasionally, a Cetti’s Warbler would shout at us from the brambles. However, the pinging of the Bearded Tits alerted us to their presence too, and we got good views of a female clambering around in the tops of the reeds. A male appeared, but promptly flew off in the direction of Fen Hide.

The water level on the Freshmarsh is still quite high and as a consequence there was nothing in front of Island Hide today. We continued straight along the main path. There were a couple of pairs of Common Terns on the nearest island to the path. From out at Parrinder Hide, there was a nice selection of ducks – Shoveler, several pairs of Teal, Gadwall and a few Shelduck.

6O0A1894Shoveler – a pair were right in front of Parrinder Hide again

We had a more careful scan of the freshmarsh for waders from here. There were plenty of Avocets as usual. A single Black-tailed Godwit was preening out in the shallows. A Grey Plover appeared on one the nearer islands, still moulting into summer plumage, with patches of new black feathers below. Another Common Sandpiper appeared along the edge of the bank, just along from the hide, and a Little Ringed Plover was there as well.

There has been a single Little Stint here for several days now, and two were reported yesterday, but we were told when we arrived that they had not been seen today – yet! Checking methodically round the edges of some of the islands eventually produced the goods, with the two Little Stints together. They were inside the new Avocet fence at first, which meant it was not a great view. But after they flew off, they reappeared on the nearest island in front of the hide. Much better!

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IMG_3864Little Stints – we eventually found the two still on the Freshmarsh

The Little Stints are starting to get their summer plumage, with some brighter rusty fringed feathers appearing. When a couple of Avocets walked past, we could see just how tiny they are. Having enjoyed great views of them, we set off to walk out to the beach.

Another Avocet was feeding on the Volunteer Marsh, in the channel just below the main path, drawing some admiring glances and getting the cameras out as we went past.

6O0A1908Avocet – the obligatory photo of this species from Titchwell

Otherwise, the Volunteer Marsh was rather devoid of life again until we got almost to the bank at the far end. A Whimbrel was feeding on the mud close by here.

6O0A1909Whimbrel – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh

We had a quick look out on the beach. The tide was coming in fast, and the shellfish beds were completely covered. There were a lot of Sanderling along the shoreline today, more even than usual. They are probably stopping off on the their way north. Most of them are no longer in silvery-grey and white winter plumage, but are starting to get increasingly dark speckled or even rusty. Further over, towards Brancaster, we could see a high tide roost of Oystercatcher on the beach. As well as loads more Sanderling, a single Bar-tailed Godwit was with them.

The day was all but gone now, so we beat a retreat. On the way back, a quick look again at the Freshmarsh revealed that a couple of pairs of Little Tern had joined with the Common Terns. The Little Terns were mostly asleep, but did wake up regularly enough to be able to see their black-tipped orange bills. Then it was time to wrap up and head back to the car.

4th May 2016 – Sun & Birding

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously sunny day, great weather to be out and about. We met in Wells and headed west along the coast.

Our first stop was at Choseley. There have been several Dotterel here for a few days now and it didn’t take us long to get onto them. There were meant to be 18 of them today, but we could only see 14 – not a surprise, as they can disappear completely amongst the stones in the field if they stop and sit down. They were a bit distant, but through the scope we could see them well, running around out in the field. A great way to start the day, before the heat haze gets too bad here.

IMG_3699Dotterel – here’s one from yesterday

As we drove down to the Dotterel, there were lots of Yellowhammers in the hedges by the road, but no sign of any Corn Buntings this morning. On our way further west, we drove with the windows down and eventually heard the distinctive sound of jangling keys that is a Corn Bunting singing. We stopped the car and got out to look at it, a surprisingly big and chunky bunting, singing from the wires by the road.

6O0A1753Corn Bunting – sounding like a bunch of jangling keys

Our next stop proper was at Snettisham Coastal Park. There were lots of warblers singing as we walked out through the bushes. Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Blackcap first, then Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Several Lesser Whitethroats were flitting around, less vocal than some of their peers this morning. A Garden Warbler was a nice surprise, the first we have heard here this spring. Further along, in the wetter, reedier bits, we could hear Reed Warblers singing and a Cetti’s Warbler or two shouting at us.

We were almost at the north end when eventually we heard a Grasshopper Warbler, just audible in the distance above the noise of the vehicle cutting the banks along the inner seawall. We walked over and it seemed to come closer too, so that eventually we could hear it not far in front of us. It appeared in a low hawthorn, then flitted over to a larger bush. We could hear it still reeling on and off, and then found it perched deep among the branches. We had a great view of it through the scope, but it wouldn’t come out into full view today. That did though take us to a cool 10 warbler species for the day, and for the Coastal Park today.

IMG_3705Grasshopper Warbler – reeling from deep in the bushes today

There were lots of other birds to see here. The Coastal Park is always chock full of Linnets and Goldfinches. Several small parties also seemed to be on the move, flying south overhead, though it is often difficult to tell migrants from local birds here. The Yellow Wagtails were definitely on the move, and we had a steady trickle over here this morning.

6O0A1757Linnet – a male with a red-pink flushed breast

We had a quick look out at the Wash, but the tide was out. We could see vast flocks of waders out in the distance, mostly Knot, but also godwits and Grey Plover. Closer in, just below the bank, was a single Ringed Plover.

We cut across to the inner seawall at the north end. Several Whimbrel were feeding out in the grass the other side of the cross bank. The grazing marshes on the inland side of the seawall added a variety of commoner waterfowl.

Snettisham Coastal Park is normally a good site for Cuckoo, but we had neither seen nor heard one on our walk round today. We were almost back at the car when a Cuckoo appeared flying through the bushes. It did a wide circuit round us, before landing in the top of a hawthorn where we could see it well. Then it flew off and disappeared out of view, although we could still hear it ‘cuckoo-ing’ in the distance.

IMG_3721Cuckoo – finally appeared as we were almost back to the car

We made our way back along the coast road and a quick detour at Hunstanton added Fulmar to the day’s list without even stopping, with a couple of them hanging in the air over the clifftops as we passed. Holme was our next destination, and we parked up and had a quick walk round past the paddocks.

A Common Whitethroat sang from the bushes as we walked along, and a Goldcrest singing in the pines finally showed itself too. There were Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats too, and a small flock of tits passed through the area. A few Swifts and hirundines were moving through here as well, including several House Martins and Sand Martins. But there was no sign of any Turtle Doves – one had been seen a little earlier, but had gone to ground. It was the middle of the day, which is always a quieter time.

6O0A1766Common Whitethroat – singing by the path at Holme

We drove down to the Firs for lunch, stopping on the way for a couple of Wheatears in the horse paddocks. After lunch, we continued our way back along the coast.

Our visit to Titchwell was brief, but successful. Several Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds, and we finally got a good look at one. These have only returned here in the last week or so. There were good numbers of Sedge Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler too.

6O0A1775Reed Warbler – great views at Titchwell

We stopped to look at the increasingly dry grazing meadow ‘pool’. At first it looked pretty dead, but we eventually found a single silvery-grey backed White Wagtail, and a black-backed Pied Wagtail for comparison.

There were a few ducks out on the reedbed pool, including a couple of smart drake Red-crested Pochard, looking mighty fine with their bright orange punk haircuts. A single female Goldeneye was a late surprise. A Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the reeds beyond. A Bearded Tit ‘pinged’ and flew across before ditching back into the reeds.

There had been a Little Gull around the reserve earlier, and suddenly it appeared in front of us. A superb, smart summer adult, we could see the small size, dainty flight, blackish underwings and pale white wing tips.

6O0A1780Little Gull – a cracking adult

There is still quite a lot of water on the freshmarsh at the moment. On first glance, it can look rather empty, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets and there was a tight group of around 50 Black-tailed Godwit. A pair of Common Terns were resting on the nearest island.

We walked round to Parrinder Hide for a better look. On the way , we stopped to admire a couple of Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands, their golden yellow eyering shining in the sunlight. A pair of Shoveler were feeding just below the bank.

6O0A1788Shoveler – feeding just below the main bank today

From Parrinder Hide, it didn’t take us long to locate the main attraction. The Little Stint was feeding on the edge of the main ‘Avocet’ island, inside the new boundary fence. It was not a great view looking through the fence, but we could still see what it was.

IMG_3729Little Stint – hard to see behind the new anti-predator fence

With our main target acquired, we moved on. The Volunteer Marsh was quiet again today, apart from a smart couple of Grey Plover along the tidal channel. A couple of Avocets were feeding right by the main path.

6O0A1798Avocet – no visit to Titchwell is complete without an Avocet photo

The Tidal Pools were also rather devoid of life, apart from a large flock of Turnstone which had moved in to one of the islands, including some very smart increasingly summer-plumaged birds. We made our way straight out to the beach. The tide was well in, but there were still a few waders out on the sand. Several of the Sanderling are now getting in to summer plumage, so are not quite so silvery-grey on the upperparts. Little groups were running in and out of the waves. Further over, there were a couple of flocks of Oystercatcher on the beach. Then four Bar-tailed Godwits flew in and landed in amongst them.

IMG_3744

A couple of Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore, over towards Scolt Head and a Little Tern flew past, hovering up in the air before diving down into the water a couple of times. There appeared to be nothing else of note out to sea, so we made our way back. A smart Yellow Wagtail was in with the Pied and White Wagtails back on the grazing meadow pool now.

We still had time to stop in at Holkham next.A quick stop along the road produced a couple of Spoonbills flying round the trees. One headed over towards us, but dropped down into a reedy pool out of view. There were lots of geese out on the grazing meadows, mostly Greylags, but in with them we found a small group of lingering Pink-footed Geese. Most have now left for Iceland, but a handful of mostly sick or injured birds will normally stay right through the summer.

At least six Whimbrel were in one of the fields along Lady Anne’s  Drive and a couple of Curlew were further over. The walk west alongside the pines added various species to the day’s list. A Coal Tit was feeding in the pines. We could hear a Treecreeper singing, and then it appeared suddenly as it flew out a small tree in front of us. A Jay called and we managed to see it flying across through the tops of the pines.

It was lovely and warm now and there were lots of butterflies out – many Peacocks, plus Orange Tip, Holly Blue and Comma. As we got out into the dunes, we could hear Natterjack Toads calling. Even better, as we walked along, one strolled across the path in front of us. We could see the yellow stripe down its back.

6O0A1818

6O0A1819Natterjack Toad – with the distinctive yellow dorsal stripe

Unfortunately, we were running out of time and didn’t have a chance to explore the dunes more thoroughly today. A quick scoot round the dunes at the end of the pines added a few bits and pieces to the day’s list. There were several Wheatears in the dunes, but we couldn’t find much else in the way of migrants here. A male Stonechat perched up in the bushes. A Mistle Thrush was feeding on the short grass.

6O0A1824

6O0A1823Wheatear – there were several in the dunes this afternoon

Then we had to make our way back. A Little Egret perched precariously in a bush by Salt’s Hole as we passed. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive on the way back to Wells, a pair of Grey Partridge were in one of the fields.

It had been a whistlestop tour round several sites, but we had seemingly amassed quite a tally of birds for the day. It was only back at base that we got a chance to add it all up – 108 species and 1 subspecies (White Wagtail). Not bad at all for a day when we had not set out to see as many birds as possible. The joys of spring birding in Norfolk!

1st May 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 5

Day 5 of a five day Spring Migration tour today, the final day. It was another gloriously bright and sunny spring day, and much warmer than of late too. Once again, a great day to be out birding in Norfolk.

Our first stop was at Holkham. There was lots of activity around the trees and grazing marshes – lots of Cormorants on their nests and Egrets coming and going. We could see several Spoonbills perched up in the bushes and, through the scope, could see their shaggy crests and yellow-tipped spoon-shaped bills. Several flew out and circled round and two dropped down into the wet rushy pools out on the grazing marshes where they started feeding, heads down and consequently quickly disappeared from view in the vegetation.

As usual, there were lots of geese out on the grass, mostly Greylags, but with a good scattering of Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese too. A careful scan of some more distant geese on the old fort revealed three Pink-footed Geese just in view behind the bank. We could see their dark heads and smaller, darker bills that the nearby Greylags.

There were lots of Marsh Harriers circling round. We watched a male collecting nest material, carrying it back into the reeds. When a Common Buzzard flew towards the trees, he dive bombed it, the Buzzard turning upside down and raising its talons in response. displaying. As we were getting ready to leave, he started displaying, swooping down in a series of switchbacks.

6O0A1581Marsh Harrier – collecting nest material

There were lots of warblers singing from the hedges, as we walked out across the fields towards Burnham Overy Dunes –  Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and a smart male Blackcap.

6O0A1606Blackcap – singing from the hedge along the track

There was a bit of a breeze, which meant that the Sedge Warblers along the ditches either side of the track were mostly keeping down in the brambles, but we eventually found one which perched up in view.

IMG_3580Sedge Warbler – one eventually perched up singing for us

The stockman came down the lane in his Land Rover and went out into the fields to check on his cattle. As he did so we heard a Whimbrel calling as it flew off. Thankfully it circled round and landed in the field on the other side, where we could have a good look at it through the scope, admiring its humbug-striped crown.

IMG_3559Whimbrel – feeding on the grazing marshes

From up on the seawall, we could see more waders out in the harbour. A little group of godwits down in one of the channels including three Bar-tailed Godwits in with the more numerous Black-tailed Godwits. There were several Grey Plover including one coming into summer plumage, starting to sport a smart black face and belly and a brighter white forehead and upperparts. Two more Whimbrel were feeding in and out of the vegetation along the drier edge of the mud.

IMG_3570Godwits – three Bar-taileds were in with the Black-taileds

We could hear Mediterranean Gulls calling and looked up to see a pair circling high overhead, together with two Black-headed Gulls and a 1st summer Common Gull. Smart adults, we could see through their translucent pure white wing tips from below, unlike the other gulls.

6O0A1611Mediterranean Gull – with translucent white wing tips from below

Out on the saltmarsh, there were still lots of Brent Geese. They should soon be departing on their way to Russia for the breeding season. A small party was feeding closer by and one of them was sporting colour rings. This bird (called BYB=) has been here for a few weeks now. It was ringed on the Taymyr Peninsula in Russia in July 2008, and has been seen here early in 2011 and 2013 too, but has also been seen in previous winters in the Netherlands and France, and in the spring in Germany.

Interestingly, BYB=, the colour-ringed Brent Goose appears to be paired with another interesting bird, which seems to have much paler flanks than the other, regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese. It is possible that this is an intergrade or hybrid between two subspecies, a cross between a Dark-bellied Brent and a Pale-bellied Brent.

IMG_3609Brent Geese – a colour-ringed bird with a paler flanked than normal individual.

It was very busy out here today, perhaps not surprisingly given the fact that it was a sunny Sunday on a Bank Holiday weekend. Out at the boardwalk, we turned right into dunes. There were rather fewer than normal birds here, perhaps due to all the disturbance. A sizeable flock of Linnets flushed from the edge of the dunes as we passed, but settled back down again behind us.

We did find a nice group of Wheatears in a dune slack. They clearly wanted to be out in the middle, but had found somewhere quiet behind the fence where they were not so disturbed. There were several females and a could of smart males too, sporting their black bandit masks. A male Stonechat perched in the top of a bush, but we could find no trace of the Whinchats which were reported here yesterday.

IMG_3616Wheatear – a small group had found a quieter spot beyond the fence

A Cuckoo shot past, looking rather like a cross between a falcon and a hawk, with pointed wings, grey back and long tail. It had a Meadow Pipit in close pursuit. It landed briefly, but the Meadow Pipit proceeded to mob it remorselessly until it flew again.

Over the grazing marshes, we could see two Spoonbills approaching and we had a nice view of them as they flew past us, just to the south of the dunes, and continued on over the seawall towards the harbour.

6O0A1630Spoonbills – these two flew past over the grazing marshes

After the recent cold weather, many birds had obviously responded to the rising temperature to continue on their migration. There was a steady stream of birds overhead all morning. Several parties of Swifts and Sand Martins, a trickle of House Martins and Swallows. We heard a lot more Yellow Wagtails than we saw – their sharp flight call gives them away, even when they are too distant to be seen easily – but eventually we had a good view of one flying low past us.

There were also good numbers of Siskins passing overhead today. Again, their distinctive flight calls gave them away. In amongst some of the small flocks were Goldfinches on the move too. With all the Linnets in the dunes, it is always hard to tell here whether birds flying over are migrants or just local birds.

At the West End of the pines we could hear Mistle Thrushes calling. When one flew up into the trees, it was followed by a Ring Ouzel. It landed in the middle of a pine, on a branch close to the trunk, but we could just get it in the scope where it was. It was a smart male, black with a very prominent white gorget. When it flew out again, a browner female flew off behind it.

There are lots of Rabbit burrows in the dunes, providing a great food source for the local Stoats. While we were making our way round through the dunes, a Stoat ran across in front of us, followed shortly after by a second. They made a circuit round the bushes, then both ran off. When one Stoat came back, it made its way straight to a rabbit burrow. After looking at us nervously for a few seconds, it disappeared inside. We were hoping to see it come out with a Rabbit, but a few seconds later, just a head came out and looked around, before disappearing back inside.

6O0A1641Stoat – two were chasing Rabbits in the dunes

We made our way back through the dunes, and continued on for a quick look out to Gun Hill. There were plenty of people and fewer birds here too. A single Wheatear was out on the short grass. Three Little Terns fishing in the harbour were nice to see. And we flushed five Whimbrel up from one of the saltmarsh creeks as we passed by on our way. Back across the fields, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the blackthorn and showed briefly as it clambered about.

6O0A1654Lesser Whitethroat – singing from the bushes by the path

While we had been out in the dunes, news had come through of a ‘trip’ of Dotterel along the coast at Choseley. We stopped for lunch at Burnham Norton on the way there – a lovely spot with beautiful views across the marshes. A Weasel ran across the path in front of us while we ate – much smaller and shorter-tailed than the Stoats we had seen earlier.

Up at Choseley, we found where the Dotterel were straight away. They were out in the middle of a large stony field. Some were running around, others were crouched in the furrows or preening. When they stopped still they were very hard to count. There were at least seven which we could see – though as may as nine had been reported earlier. Unusually, the female Dotterel is brighter than the male and we could see several smart females through the scope, with darker rusty bellies, a better-marked white line across the breast, and bolder white supercilia meeting at the back in a shallow ‘v’.

IMG_3626Dotterel – difficult to photograph with the heat haze!

There was a surprising number of other birds in what appeared at first glance to be a barren field. There were several Wheatear hopping around, a few Skylark, a couple of Pied Wagtails and two Red-legged Partridge. Several Brown Hares included a pair which indulged in a brief bout of boxing. A drive round via Choseley produced fewer than hoepd for small birds in the hedges, but its was increasingly windy this afternoon. However, we did come across several more Brown Hares in the fields.

6O0A1657Brown Hare – there were plenty in the fields this afternoon

Back at Holkham, we had enough time for a quick walk out along the edge of the pines. Blackcap and Chiffchaff were singing from the poplars. A pair of Treecreepers flew past calling, and one landed on a tree nearby in full view. We could hear various tits and a Goldcrest singing.

We stopped to scan the grazing marshes. There was no shortage of Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese as usual, but out on the grass we found a few Barnacle Geese too. Unfortunately, these are not true wild birds, but part of a local feral flock. In with them was rather odd-looking Ross’s Goose x Barnacle Goose hybrid, which is regularly around here and often mistaken for something rarer by the unaware.

A Spoonbill flew across in front of us and dropped down onto one of pools. It was hidden in the grass from where we were standing, so we walked along to Washington Hide for a better look. From the hide, we could see it bathing in the water, its nuchal crest blowing in the breeze. After a few minutes smartening itself up, it flew off back towards the colony.

6O0A1662Spoonbill – dropped in to bathe on its way back this afternoon

A Common Buzzard was perched in the top of a hawthorn bush out in the reeds. This was a rather regular looking brownish bird. But over in the distance we spotted a much paler one, with almost pure white underparts. Very pale Common Buzzards seem to be on the increase and provide another pitfall for the unwary, this one often being misidentified as a much rarer Rough-legged Buzzard.

Unfortunately, by this stage we were out of time and had to head for home so everyone could get away in good time, wrapping up a very successful bumper 5 day Spring Migration Tour. We had certainly seen some great birds!

16th April 2016 – Rain or Shine

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours. We met again in Wells and today we set off in the other direction, to the west. It was forecast to rain, at least for this morning and possibly most of the afternoon too, so we headed for Titchwell where at least we could get out of the weather in the hides.

The car park at Titchwell was unusually quiet for a weekend, with the weather clearly putting people off. It meant we had a chance to look round the bushes in the overflow car park before it got busy, but there was not much to be seen here today in the rain – the birds had decided to stay at home too! A Willow Warbler was singing from the trees, and a Chiffchaff was doing the same. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted its song at us from deep in the undergrowth.

The feeders by the visitor centre were also rather quiet – apart from a few Chaffinches and tits. A male Pheasant stood on the pallets underneath, looking decidedly wet and miserable.

6O0A0236Pheasant – standing under the feeders in the rain

The ditch where the Water Rail has been all winter was rather full with dirty rainwater, run off the fields and paths. Still, we found the Water Rail a little bit further along, feeding up on an exposed area of mud and rotting leaves. It was hard to get onto it at first, but eventually everyone was treated to great views of it. We had walked a little further along when we heard a Water Rail squealing from the ditch back behind us. We assumed it was the one we had just been watching at first, but turned round to see it was a second Water Rail running away from us with its undertail coverts puffed out.

Having seen the pair of Water Rails mating here a couple of weeks ago, we had an idea what might be coming next. We could only just see the pair today, as they were a way back along the ditch and mostly hidden by overhanging branches. For something which is seen so rarely, we were extraordinarily lucky to see Water Rails mating here a second time!

Water Rail Titchwell 2016-02-17_1Water Rail – here is one of them from a few weeks ago

A quick scan of the dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’ on the way past revealed nothing more than a lot of Black-headed and Common Gulls. It was exposed to the elements out on the mud – and up on the seawall! We continued on and had a look at the reedbed pool next. Two smart drake Red-crested Pochard were out in the middle and a few Common Pochard were down at the front. A pair of Marsh Harriers came up out of the reeds and circled low a couple of times before dropping back in.

6O0A0240Shoveler – feeding with their heads down in the water

Island Hide provided some welcome respite from the rain, although it was thankfully not raining hard. The water level on the freshmarsh is still quite high, and presumably topped up again by all the rain overnight. Most of the hordes of ducks which spent the winter here have now departed, but there were still a few Teal remaining, plus several Shoveler and Gadwall.

6O0A0245Teal – there are still a few around the reserve still

There were not so many waders on here today. A small number of Black-tailed Godwits, resplendent in their rusty summer plumage, were mostly sleeping on the islands or on the edge of a larger roosting flock of Oystercatchers. A single Dunlin flew round and landed briefly, just long enough for us to get it in the scope and admire its summer black belly patch which was starting to appear. There were a few pairs of Avocet on here, but not as many as there might normally be.

6O0A0252Avocet – not as many as normal around the reserve today

A lone Ringed Plover was on one of the islands but was distant from over this side. We got a better view of it from round at Parrinder Hide – noting its black-tipped orange bill and lack of a golden eye-ring. There had apparently been some Little Ringed Plovers here as well before we arrived, but they appeared to have flown off. A single Common Snipe was feeding on the bank beyond the hide and a Turnstone was hiding in the vegetation on the newly fenced off island.

IMG_2369Ringed Plover – just one, on one of the islands on the freshmarsh

There were quite a few Pied Wagtails around the islands, and we found at least one White Wagtail in with them too. The continental race to the British Pied Wagtail, it could be immediately picked out by its much paler silvery-grey back. White Wagtails are regular early migrants here, stopping off on their way back to Europe or Iceland. We were to see a few of them around the reserve today.

A big flock of Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh to bathe and preen. While we were looking at them, one of the group spotted a tern which dropped in to one of the small islands over the other side. Through the scope, we could see that it was a Common Tern, sporting a black-tipped red bill, another returning migrant and the first we have seen here this year. It rested on the island for a few minutes, before flying off again.

IMG_2385Common Tern – dropped into the freshmarsh for a few minutes

Volunteer Marsh was disappointingly quiet, apart from a few Redshank. The rain had eased to just a little light spitting and, looking to the north, the sky appeared to be brightening a little so we decided to brave the conditions and walk out further along the main path towards the beach.

There didn’t seem to be much on the Tidal Pools to look at either at first, but a careful scan revealed a single Little Ringed Plover  on a strip of sandy island. Through the scope we could see its finer, dark bill and golden eye-ring, both of which immediately set it apart from the Ringed Plover we had seen earlier. A flock of small waders flew in from the direction of the sea and whirled round over the water before landing on a small island – a mixture of Dunlin and Turnstone.

We surprised ourselves by making it out to the beach and the weather was not as bad out here as we thought it might be. The tide was coming in, but there were still a few Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover on the beach. A group of about a dozen Sanderling flew in along the beach and landed out on the sand in front of us – silvery grey above and sparkling white below, they were about the same size but much paler than the Dunlin we had just seen.

The sea was quite rough in the blustery north-west wind, but we could just make out a small raft of Common Scoter not too far ofshore. We were just trying to all get onto them when several hundred more Common Scoter flew in from further out to sea and circled round in front of us, before dropping down with the others. A single Fulmar was trying to battle past into the wind. We didn’t stay long out here today. Having racked up a few good species for the day, we beat a hasty retreat.

6O0A0249Brent Geese – back out on the saltmarsh, on the way back

The weather continued to improve as we walked back and a few more birds started to appear as a consequence. On the Volunteer Marsh, a couple of Curlew were now in with all the Redshank along the tidal channel and a careful scan revealed two Knot as well, remarkably well camouflaged against the grey of the mud.

When we got to the reedbed, we could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers singing, but they were keeping uncharacteristically well hidden today. We got a couple of quick views of one of them in flight. A Cetti’s Warbler was more typically shouting at us from deep in the bushes. While we were trying to see the Sedge Warblers, we heard a couple of ‘pings’ behind us and turned round just in time to see two Bearded Tits zoom across the top of the reeds before dropping back down out of view.

We could even see a bit of blue sky now, so we stopped by the grazing meadow ‘pool’ again for a proper scan. A Bittern started booming from out in the reeds behind us. A couple of Whimbrel flew across in front of us, calling, and landed out on the saltmarsh. Another Little Ringed Plover was now out on the mud and another White Wagtail appeared from behind the reeds right down at the front.

IMG_2402White Wagtail – we saw several around the reserve today

We were just about to leave when we spotted a small bird tucked into the edge of the reeds at the back, preening. There have been a few Water Pipits on here on and off throughout the winter, so it was good to see one still here and now sporting a lovely pink flush across the breast as it moults into summer plumage.

While we were watching the Water Pipit, a Grasshopper Warbler started reeling from the brambles out on the grazing marsh beyond. It gave several bursts of its distinctive clicking ‘song’ but we couldn’t see it from here, so we walked back a short way to have a look for it from a different angle. Unfortunately then it shut up and we didn’t hear it again.

We took a detour round along the Meadow Trail. There were several Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers singing from the sallows. A male Blackcap dropped down into a small bush by one of the pools. A quick look in at Patsy’s Reedbed added Little Grebe to the day’s list and several Martins hawking for insects over the pool. We could see both plain brown-backed Sand Martins and black-backed House Martins which flashed their square white rump patches as they swooped down over the water. Yet another White Wagtail was feeding quietly along the edge.

Back at the Visitor Centre, we stopped for a well-earned hot drink. There were a few more birds around the feeders, but still just a selection of Chaffinches, Goldfinches, a Greenfinch and several tits (the Bramblings have not been seen for a couple of days, so may finally have moved on). While we were looking, a pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled overhead calling.

After lunch, we made our way up to Choseley. Some Ring Ouzels had just been reported in the fields here and it took no time at all to find them. An upland version of the Blackbird, the main difference is a bold, pale crescent on the upper breast (white in males, dirty off white in females). We could see three Ring Ouzels here, feeding on the short grass and bare ground around the edge of a field. The biggest problem now was heat haze, given that the sun was shining and the sky was blue! The weather had been forecast to improve this afternoon, but this was not what we had expected.

IMG_2416Ring Ouzel – two of the three at Choseley this afternoon

The fields here are always full of Brown Hares. There was some half-hearted boxing from some of them today, although it didn’t seem like their hearts were really in it. Even so, they are great to watch. Three Stock Doves were also feeding on one of the tilled fields.

We finished the day over at Snettisham. The Ring Ouzels along Beach Road here have not been reported for a couple of days, but a quick scan from the car revealed at least one still in the paddocks. As we had already seen the ones at Choseley, we decided not to stop and to make the most of the weather with a walk round the Coastal Park.

The Coastal Park is always good for warblers, and we could hear several different species as we walked out along the path – a Lesser Whitethroat, several Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, a Sedge Warbler and a Cetti’s Warbler or two. Three Swallows zoomed past low over the bushes.

Out in the open grassy area by the seawall, three Wheatears flew up towards us as several dogs approached. The Wheatears perched nervously on the top of the larger hawthorns or smaller bushes for a few minutes until the danger had passed, before dropping down again onto the grass right in front of us. We had great views of them here.

IMG_2425Wheatear – the female lacks the black bandit mask…

IMG_2433Wheatear – …which the male shows

From up on the seawall, the tide was in, covering all the mud out on the Wash. We could also see some very black clouds out on the horizon, over the Lincolnshire coast. We weren’t quite sure whether they would head our way, so we kept a close eye on them as we walked north. There were lots of little flocks of Linnets on the seawall, with several smart males singing from the bushes.

6O0A0267Linnet – singing from the brambles along the seawall

It gradually became clearer that the rain was heading straight for us. As it clouded over again, the birds went quiet once more. We cut across to the inner seawall and started to beat a retreat. There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes but on our way back we spotted a darker head sticking out of a thick patch of rushes. Through the scope we could confirm it was a Pink-footed Goose – we could also see the smaller and mostly dark bill with a pink band around it. We were just having a good look at it, when something spooked all the gulls, ducks and geese and four Pink-footed Geese flew up from where we had been watching. They circled round in front of us, giving us a nice flypast.

Then it started to rain, with a bit of hail mixed in for good measure. Thankfully it was not heavy and was at our backs as we walked. It didn’t take us long to get back to the car and it was pretty much time to call it a day anyway by then. We drove back through some heavier, wintry showers and were glad to be in the warm. Despite the weather, we had managed to see a great selection of birds and, when we added it up later, over 90 different species for the day!

7th March 2016 -Snow Business

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was snowing on the way down to the rendezvous point at Titchwell Manor hotel, and that set the scene for the morning’s weather at least. We decided to make our way east and do some birding from the car while we waited for the worst of the snow and sleet to pass through.

We stopped at Brancaster Staithe first. The harbour is normally full of waders, but it was rather quiet today, not helped by the poor visibility due to the snow. We could see a few Bar-tailed Godwits over the other side. A little group of Teal were paddling round in the mud and a pair of Wigeon were doing the same further along. Presumably most of the birds had found somewhere to shelter from the weather and there was no sign of the Red-necked Grebe. We had to come back this way later, so we reasoned we would have another go when the weather had hopefully improved.

P1170925Brancaster Staithe – poor visibility in the snow

Our next stop was at Holkham. We couldn’t even see across to the freshmarsh from the road at first, so we drove down to Lady Anne’s Drive to see if there were any geese in the fields there. There weren’t, but we did see lots of Wigeon, Redshank, Dunlin and Oystercatcher around the floods out on the grass.

It seemed to be brightening up at one point, so we drove back to have another go looking out at the freshmarsh. At least this time we could see across to the pines! It stopped sleeting briefly, so we got out to scan the grazing marshes. We just managed to see a group of White-fronted Geese down on the grass and a handful of Pink-footed Geese fly past before the sleet started falling again.

Thankfully, that was probably the low point in the weather. As we drove along towards Wells, we could see that the sky was getting brighter to the north. By the time we got there, the sleet was starting to abate again. We didn’t even have to get out of the car to find the Shag, resident here for the winter but by no means always present, sleeping on the pontoons in the harbour. It helpfully woke up and had a preen as we drove up and got the camera out.

P1170996Shag – back in Wells Harbour again

There were also a few Brent Geese out in the harbour channel further out. A couple of Ringed Plover were running around on the sandbank. A Little Grebe was diving out in the water in the middle. With a window of better weather presenting itself, we decided to make our way over to Blakeney. The surprise of the day was a Kingfisher battling to fly over the main road just east of Wells. We wondered what it was from a distance – it was hanging in the air about 20 feet up over the middle of the road. When we got closer, we could see it was struggling to make any progress against the wind before it gave up and flew back over the hedge.

When we got to Blakeney, it had stopped sleeting and there was even a small patch of blue sky away to the north, heading our way. It was still a cold walk out along the seawall in the biting cold NW wind. We had not even got to the gate before we could see several small birds flying around down below us, including at least one Lapland Bunting. As we got to the corner, four Lapland Buntings flew up from the grass by the fence and landed again just beyond the gate, so we quickened our pace and made our way over there.

IMG_9349Lapland Bunting – kept returning to the grass to look for seeds

We spent the next 45 minutes or so watching the Lapland Buntings come and go. Someone has now put seed down for them in the grass and on the path, and they kept returning to a patch of grass just out from the gate. We got some stunning views of them through the scopes, at times they were too close!

IMG_9328Lapland Bunting – almost too close at times!

Once the blue sky made it overhead, it was not so bad with the sun on our faces and the wind at our backs. There were other things to see here too – Rock Pipits, Reed Buntings and Skylarks on the ground. A selection of waders out in the harbour behind us – Dunlin, Knot, Grey Plover, Curlew.

There were still dark clouds passing either side of us, but despite the fact that we were still in the clear we started to make our way back. A pair of Stonechats flew ahead of us, working their way along the fence beside the path.

P1180061Stonechat – male and…

P1180020Stonechat – female, working their way along the fence by the path

We had a drive around Cley next. There was a nice flock of Brent Geese in the fields beside the Beach Road. We stopped to look through them, but could only find Dark-bellied Brents in the group today.

Down at the beach, we tucked ourselves in the shelter as a brief squally shower came in off the sea and had a quick scan of the water. There was not a lot happening offshore today but we did manage to find a nice selection of different birds passing by – a few Gannets, a single Kittiwake, a lone Common Scoter. There were some distant Red-throated Divers on the water, though they were hard to pick up in the choppy swell, and a few others were more easily seen as they flew past. We just had a quick look at the sea and then, as the weather improved again, we moved on.

We made our way along past the reserve as far as the Iron Road, scanning the grazing marshes to see if we could see any more geese, or anything else, but it was very quiet along here today. Presumably the birds had gone somewhere more sheltered. So we headed back to the visitor centre for lunch.

Afterwards, we started to make our way back west. Our first stop was at Holkham again. This time, conditions were much improved and we got significantly better views of the White-fronted Geese this time. There were still 150-200 here today, no sign of numbers having dropped significantly yet, although they were hard to count accurately with many hidden from our view behind the hedge.

IMG_9363White-fronted Geese – still 150-200 at Holkham today

In contrast, numbers of Pink-footed Geese have declined substantially from their mid-winter peak. Eventually, we found four out on the grass. There were also lots of raptors out enjoying the improvement in the weather – several Marsh Harriers hanging in the air and a Red Kite flew leisurely down from the Park towards the pines, where another was already circling. A Barn Owl disappeared behind the hedge before everyone could get onto it.

Back at Brancaster Staithe, we picked up the Red-necked Grebe immediately this time and got a really good look at it in the scope. It is still in dull winter plumage, with no sign of its eponymous red neck appearing yet, but a very smart bird nonetheless.

IMG_9442Red-necked Grebe – no red neck yet!

The tide was coming in fast now and the Red-necked Grebe was swimming hard to try to stop itself being swept in along the harbour channel. It was joined in its endeavours by a Goldeneye – we had the two of them in the scope together at one point, before the latter gave up and swam upstream. A drake Red-breasted Merganser just swam straight in past us.

IMG_9389Red-necked Grebe & Goldeneye – swimming against the tide together

There were more waders here now, too. The Bar-tailed Godwits were back feeding in the mud along the edge of the car park. Some Turnstones had rejoined the Oystercatchers on the pile of discarded mussles, while others were cadging crumbs from the cars. A couple of Dunlin were following the tide in as well.

IMG_9399Bar-tailed Godwits – back around the car park this afternoon

It had been fairly bright up until now, but another dark cloud swept in off the sea towards us, so we packed up and moved on. We had hoped to find the Rough-legged Buzzard this afternoon, but it felt like we might have missed the best weather window now. We drove inland from Brancaster, scanning some of its favoured hedges and trees, but it wasn’t here so we headed round to try Chalkpit Lane instead.

There were loads of Brown Hares in the fields here, over 20 together in one spot, although they were all hunkered down against the weather rather than chasing each other round and boxing today. There is no shortage of Red-legged Partridge here – lots of them have obviously evaded the guns – but a pair of Grey Partridge which ran out from the verge right beside the car was a nice bonus. There are good numbers of them still here, but they can be elusive at times.

P1180063Grey Partridge – a pair ran out into the field from the verge

There were a few of the local Common Buzzards out now. Having probably been confined to quarters this morning in the snow, they were making the most of the improved conditions. Our hopes were up that the Rough-legged Buzzard might be doing the same. As we drove along Chalkpit Lane, we picked up a shape disappearing over the ridge towards the coast. From up on the top, we could see the Rough-legged Buzzard hanging in the wind halfway down the slope towards the sea between us and Brancaster.

It spent some time hovering, circling round  and hovering again. As it caught the sun, we got a great view of its bright white tail with sharply defined black terminal band. Then it turned headed back inland, carried quickly along by the wind. We could see it land in one of its favoured trees over towards the Brancaster road, so we made our way back round there. It gave us the run around for the next few minutes – it wasn’t in the tree when we got round there, but was back hovering over the fields to the north. Back at Chalkpit Lane, it was not hovering there any more, but had flown back to the tree again. When we got up onto the ridge to look for it there, it had flown off once more.

Then we spotted the Rough-legged Buzzard again, hanging in the air away to the south of us, catching the sun. It hovered and circled a couple of times, before flying towards us, landing in a tree although half obscured. Then it flew towards us again and did a lovely flypast – we could see the very pale, whitish head contrasting with the large blackish-brown belly patch. Great stuff!

IMG_9458Rough-legged Buzzard – over the fields at Choseley

We had a last drive round the fields via the drying barns at Choseley. There were lots more Brown Hares and Red-legged Partridges. The hedges below the barns were full of Chaffinches and the cover strip the other side of the hedge held a large flock of Goldfinches, but we couldn’t find anything else here.

Our last target for the day was a Barn Owl. No sooner had we reached the main road again than we found one hunting over the field the other side. We found a convenient gateway and stood watching it as it made its way back and forth over the grass. It dropped down a couple of times and the second time took a while to come up again – when it did, it was pursued by a Kestrel, the two birds talon grappling at one point. Kestrels will happily steal food from a Barn Owl, but we couldn’t see if it succeeded in getting something this time. The Barn Owl promptly ducked back through the hedge and moved off to hunt further over.

P1180146Barn Owl – hunting by the coast road

That was a great way to finish, and it was just a short journey back to Titchwell Manor to end the day. Once again, the weather hadn’t ruined a great day out on the coast.