Tag Archives: Cley

15th Nov 2019 – Autumn vs Winter, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Late Autumn / Early Winter Tour. It was a cloudy but dry start with some brief blustery showers developing through the afternoon, blown through on a brisk NE wind which became increasingly blustery through the day. We spent the day along the North Norfolk coast, heading east from Wells.

As we met in Wells, we headed straight down to Freeman Street car park first, where the Rough-legged Buzzard had been yesterday. As we got out of the minibus we could see it hunting over the bank at the back of the field, hovering. It was great to see it in action and we got a good look at its black belly patch contrasting with its pale head, and its white tail with a neat black terminal band. It landed in a bush on the bank, so we got the scope on it. Everyone had a good look, then it was off again, flying off strongly towards Holkham.

It was clearly a morning for raptors. Several Marsh Harriers were up now too, quartering the fields. A couple of Common Buzzards were perched in the trees beyond at first then flying around, with a Red Kite hanging in the air over the fields further back. A Sparrowhawk flew across low over the field in front of us, and later either the same or another Sparrowhawk flew off back the other way. There were a couple of Kestrels around too.

The Rough-legged Buzzard was still hunting, hovering in the distance. Then it flew back in towards us and landed in the rough grass at the back of the closest field. We could see its pale head and shoulders in the grass.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – flying around over the fields at Wells again

There were lots of other birds here too. A flock of Linnets whirled over the field periodically, and there were Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Greenfinches calling in the bushes behind us. Several Skylarks came up out of the game cover, and flew round. We could see some larger groups of Lapwings and Golden Plovers a couple of fields over, which periodically spooked and circled round. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese flew down towards Holkham.

Back in the minibus, we drove east to Blakeney. Lots of Pink-footed Geese were out on the grazing marshes further back and a small group of Greylags flew in to land on the grass in front of us – a good opportunity to look at the differences between them, the Greylags larger, paler and with a big orange carrot for a bill. A Little Grebe was hiding in one of the ditches.

We walked down past the duckpond, trying to avert our eyes from the gaudy collection of captive tame wildfowl on display! When we got up onto the seawall, it was much windier. Several Marsh Harriers were up here too, out over the Freshes, including two smart males, one of which was being hounded by a Rook. A couple of Grey Herons were in the grass with the cows, pretending to be Cattle Egrets. A sizeable flock of Brent Geese were out on the saltmarsh the other side, until they were flushed by a dogwalker.

Continuing on to the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the mud in the harbour. There were lots of waders here – a large group of Golden Plover, several small Dunlin feeding busily in front, and Grey Plovers too more scattered around over the mud. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding in front of the vegetation at the back and there were several Curlews.

A Rock Pipit flew in and dropped down onto the saltmarsh. A large flock of Linnets whirled round periodically over the saltmarsh too, at one point flying in to the puddles on the grazing marsh behind us to bathe. We walked on a little further, and another smaller flock of nine finches flew past – Twite! We hoped they would drop in by the puddles too, but they continued on along bank and then turned out to the middle of the saltmarsh where they dropped down out of view.

A family of Brent Geese was feeding on a patch of more bare ground, two adults with two striped juveniles, plus a second pair with no young nearby. This smaller group was more settled and didn’t seem concerned by our presence close by on the bank. A Turnstone was picking around, appropriately enough turning over the small stones looking for food, just behind them.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – on the saltmarsh by the seawall

It was very breezy out here, so we decided to walk back to try to get out of wind. Back on the corner, we stopped to scan the harbour again briefly. A couple of Red-breasted Mergansers and a Goldeneye came out of the harbour channel on the falling tide and flew out to the more open water. A Ringed Plover and several Oystercatchers on the banks of the channel were extra additions to the day’s wader list.

It was more sheltered in Friary Hills, and we had a quick walk round to see if there were any birds coming in. Several Blackbirds were in the thick hedge feeding on blackberries, possibly migrants, but there were no other recently arrived thrushes. We had a closer view of the Pink-footed Geese from here, dark headed, their small dark bills with a noticeable pink band. There were a few of the local Canada Geese mixed in with them.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – feeding on Blakeney Freshes

Some raptors were enjoying the wind, hanging over the edge of the trees at the top of the hill. There were two Common Buzzards, one a noticeably paler bird, rather creamy white below but lacking the black belly of the Rough-legged Buzzard we had been watching earlier. There was a Kestrel and another Sparrowhawk here too.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – a rather pale individual

Following the path round up the hill, it was rather more exposed up at the top. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came out of gardens, and we could see a couple of them feeding in the thick blackthorn bushes. A Goldcrest was calling from the pine tree overhead but was hard to see in the wind. We made our way back down to the minibus.

Round at Cley beach, the shelter provided a welcome place out of the wind to have our lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick look out to sea. There had been a smattering of birds passing by offshore earlier, apparently, but there didn’t seem to be a lot moving now – we saw a single adult Gannet, which was the only thing of note. A Guillemot was on the sea, riding the waves.

An Isabelline Wheatear has been hanging around on the shingle ridge at the other end of Cley since last weekend, but there had been no sign of it this morning apparently, so we went round to the Visitor Centre for a hot drink and to make use of the facilities. We had just arrived in the car park when news came through that the wheatear had reappeared. So, after a short break, we headed out to look for it.

It was very blustery up on the East Bank. Four Gadwall were feeding on Don’s Pool and lots of Wigeon were out on the grazing marsh by the Serpentine. From out of the wind behind the East Bank shelter, we stopped to scan the brackish pools to the west. The resident Long-tailed Duck was busy diving over in the far corner, and we had a good look at it when it surfaced. There were a couple of Shelduck, a line of sleeping Shoveler and several Mute Swans on here too.

Gadwall

Gadwall – two pairs were on Don’s Pool

Braving the wind again, we walked on, out towards the beach. Looking up ahead of us, we could see a line of dark and white birds flying past just beyond the beach. They were about 25 Eider – a mixture of black and white drakes and dark brown females and young birds – coming in for the winter.

Eider

Eider – a line of about 25 flew west over the sea

We turned onto the stones and walked east in the lee of the remains of the shingle ridge, behind the beach. We hadn’t gone far when we looked up as a large bird came in over the ridge and over our heads. It was a Short-eared Owl, presumably freshly arrived in off the sea from the continent. We watched it fly inland over Arnold’s Marsh, before we lost it to view from behind the low  dunes beside us.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – flew in over the beach and over our heads

It was all action out here! A small crowd had gathered to see the Isabelline Wheatear a bit further along, so we walked up to join them. The wheatear was hiding in the long marram grass when we arrived, but after just a few seconds it came out. It showed very well, feeding on the short grass just beyond the fence.

Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear – showed very well, on the short grass behind Arnold’s Marsh

Isabelline Wheatear is a very rare visitor to the UK. They breed in south-eastern Europe and migrate to Africa for the winter, so this poor individual had set off in the wrong direction and was now rather lost.

A single Snow Bunting was feeding on the weedy vegetation on the shingle ridge just beyond where we were watching the wheatear – apparently there had been a few more earlier, but they had flown out onto the beach. The Snow Bunting was very tame – coming here for the winter from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia or Iceland, there is every possibility it might not have seen people before.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – one very tame bird was still feeding on the old shingle ridge

A squally shower blew in from the sea, so we stopped to wait for it to pass over, which it did thankfully quickly. Then we started to walk back. We climbed up onto the top of the shingle ridge on our way, to have another look at the sea. There were a few more Gannets flying past now and when we got back to the north end of the East Bank, we picked up a small flock of Kittiwakes offshore too.

We stopped for a quick scan of Arnold’s Marsh from behind the shelter. There were lots of Wigeon and Teal and several Curlews. Gulls were starting to gather but there was nothing different in with them. Out on Pope’s Pool beyond, we could see a large group of Cormorants drying their wings and several Great Black-backed Gulls.

The light was starting to go now, so we walked back to the minibus and called it a day. Despite the challenging weather at times, it had been a very productive day with some excellent birds. Hopefully with more to come tomorrow!

11th Sept 2019 – Two Autumn Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour exploring the North Norfolk coast. It was a slightly damp and grey morning, with a series of brief drizzly showers, but it dried out and brightened up in the afternoon, when it was warm out of the rather blustery wind.

There was a request for Little Owls ahead of the tour. It is not the best time of year to look for them, and the weather wasn’t particularly encouraging either today, cool, cloudy and windy, so we didn’t hold out much hope. But we drove inland to try our luck. It turned out our luck was in – the first site we tried, we pulled up and scanned the roofs of the farm buildings and there was a Little Owl tucked in under the lip.

Little Owl

Little Owl – sheltering under the lip of the roof this morning

We parked the minibus where we couldn’t be seen and crept round to where we could get the scope on the Little Owl without disturbing it. It saw us instantly and stared at us for a minute, before realising that we weren’t a threat at this distance and turning its attention back to the roof. Looking at the other farm buildings further back, we realised that there was a second Little Owl out too, but it was even better hidden and was much harder to see.

There were a couple of Common Gulls with the Black-headed Gulls in the field across the road and a group of Rooks playing in the wind over the wood beyond. Two Common Buzzards were hanging in the breeze further back. It was a great way to start the day, with a Little Owl. We set off back towards the coast and cut across to Kelling for a walk.

There were lots of finches in the trees by the school – several Greenfinches were good to see, alongside the regular Chaffinches and Goldfinches. There was a little group of Blue Tits here too, and a Blackcap and a couple of Dunnocks in the hedge with them

As we walk up the lane, there were several Chiffchaffs calling in the hedges. A Swallow hawked up and down, passing within a couple of feet once or twice as it tried to find insects in the shelter of the banks either side. There were several Red-legged Partridge calling, released here in huge numbers for shooting, and one scuttled off ahead of us along the lane.

We stopped at the gate by the copse. There were several Teal down in the small pools in the wet grass, and a Green Sandpiper walking round bobbing its tail in the mud where the cows had churned up the ground. Six Common Snipe were well hidden nearby but we didn’t see the four which had been hidden behind the vegetation much closer to us until they flew and landed with the others further back.

Green Sandpiper 1

Green Sandpiper – feeding in the grass churned up by the cows

It had been cloudy up to now, but the showers started as we walked up to the pool, with a short sharp burst of drizzle. It quickly stopped, so we carried on. A young Stonechat appeared briefly on the brambles, but disappeared round the back before everyone had a chance to see it.

There were a few more ducks on the pool today, several Gadwall, lots of Teal, a few Shoveler, and one or two Wigeon. We quickly picked out the Garganey which was swimming across in front of the island. We got it in the scope and had a quick look at it before it reached the far side and disappeared into the grass.

One of the resident adult Egyptian Geese was shepherding round the two juveniles from this year, while another pair preened in the edge of the water. There were lots of gulls loafing around the pool again, mainly Black-headed Gulls but there was one juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull with them, and a couple of Herring Gulls dropped in. A single Sand Martin was still hawking out over the water.

Carrying on down to the Quags, we couldn’t see any chats or any other birds in the brambles on the hillside, but it was rather windy out closer to the beach. We heard a Greenshank call behind us and picked up a very distant Wheatear on a fence post over towards Gramborough Hill. We were intending to walk up the path to the gun emplacements, but it started to rain again so we decided to head back.

By the time we got back to the pool, the rain had stopped. The Greenshank had obviously dropped into the pool behind us and flew up as we approached, circling round before flying off west, probably a freshly arrived migrant stopping off briefly. The Garganey reappeared but disappeared round the back of the island.

The Stonechat was back on the brambles as we turned the corner, staying long enough for everyone to see it this time. Back at the gate, several of the Common Snipe had returned closer again and didn’t fly off this time.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – we saw at least ten today in the grass from the gate

Driving round to Cley next, we decided to stop for a coffee break in the Visitor Centre, to dry out and warm up. Afterwards, we walked out to the hides.

There were fewer waders on the scrape from Bishop Hide today, just a couple of Ruff and a scattering of Black-tailed Godwits. Two Avocets are still lingering here, but most of the birds which spent the summer here have left now. A single Green Sandpiper was feeding along the edge of the reeds right over the back. A little group of about 30 Dunlin was feeding in amongst the lumps of mud where the cows have churned up the scrape, hard to see until they flew round.

There were a few ducks asleep on the bank in front of the hide, several Teal and one or two Mallard, but the single Wigeon was busy feeding on the grass, a better view than the ones we had seen earlier. A Water Rail called from somewhere hidden in the reeds.

Wigeon

Wigeon – feeding on the grass in front of Bishop Hide

We walked round to the middle and into Dauke’s Hide next. A Green Sandpiper was feeding right down at the front as we walked in. A little group of Curlew were standing around at the back, until they flew off calling. There were a few more Black-tailed Godwits and two Ringed Plovers on the furthest island.

Green Sandpiper 2

Green Sandpiper – feeding in front of Dauke’s Hide

The two juvenile Spotted Redshanks were still here, feeding in and out of the short reeds at the back. We got them in the scope and could see their longer, needle-sharp bill and rather dusky grey plumage. One was feeding with a Common Redshank and the other with a Greenshank, giving us a great comparison of our three regular ‘shanks.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of the two lingering juveniles

Time was getting on now and we realised we would have to head back back for a late lunch. The weather had at least improved, and the sun was out now, so we found a sheltered spot out of the wind back at the Visitor Centre. After lunch, we drove round to Walsey Hills.

There were just a few Teal on Snipe’s Marsh today, but we found two Little Grebes on Don’s Pool once we got up onto the East Bank. The grazing marsh is looking very dry now, but there was a single Little Egret out on the edge of one of the deeper channels and a Grey Heron flew in. A Marsh Harrier flew back and forth over the reeds beyond, a rather dark male with just a small amount of grey in its upperwings.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of two on Don’s Pool

The Serpentine was quieter too today. There were a couple of Dunlin feeding on the mud and a few Snipe along the north edge still. We continued on to Arnolds Marsh and got out of the breeze in the shelter.

Several Sandwich Terns were standing on one of the islands, until something spooked them and they flew off out towards the sea. The Cormorants were drying their wings at the back as usual. A group of Wigeon were out on the water. There were not so many Curlews here today – they had probably gone to find somewhere out of the wind – but still plenty of Redshanks. Three Ringed Plovers were running up and down the sand at the back.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – loafing on the islands on Arnold’s Marsh

Out at the beach, two Gannets flew past offshore, a distant immature and an adult which flew in towards us before circling back further out. Two Wheatears on the shingle ridge to the east were flushed steadily towards us by two dog walkers. We could see their white rumps as they flew, before they circled back round behind the people and landed further back. Migrants stopping off on their way south.

Little Egret

Little Egret – there were several feeding on the brackish pools

It was time to head back now. There were several Little Egrets and a couple of Redshanks around the brackish pools as we passed. It had been a very productive first day and we were looking forward to what tomorrow might bring.

7th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. It was a grey start, brightening up, with some spells of sunshine and blue sky, but it was very windy, with a very strong NW wind which eased off a touch in the afternoon. At least it was dry today, and we made the most of it.

To start the day, we drove east along the coast road to Kelling. As we pulled up in the village, a Red-legged Partridge flew out of one of the driveways, across the road behind us and away over the school. Walking up the lane, we heard several Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps calling in the hedges, most likely local birds rather than migrants. There were a few Chaffinches and Robins too. A Common Buzzard hung in the wind over Muckleburgh Hill, and was mobbed by a couple of passing Rooks, but just shifted a wing nonchalantly to evade them.

When we got to the gates by the copse, we spotted a Green Sandpiper down in the pool in the wet grass. A second Green Sandpiper called and dropped in nearby, flashing dark with a contrasting white tail and belly, but it was immediately chased off by the first, which then flew round and landed back down on the pool. There were several Common Snipe hiding down in the wet grass closer to us too. They were surprisingly hard to see, crouched down in the holes left by the cows’ footprints, but as they moved round we counted eleven in total.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – we counted 11 hiding in the wet grass

We carried on down to the pool on the Water Meadow. There were lots of gulls on the water, huddled up against the north edge trying to get out of the wind, but they were just Black-headed Gulls and a few Herring Gulls. Three Sand Martins were skimming backwards and forwards low over the water, looking for insects.

There were several ducks on the pool, Teal, Gadwall and a lone Shoveler as well as six Egyptian Geese, including the resident pair with their two fully grown young still. But a couple came down with two dogs, which started yapping at us as they passed, and then still barking as they walked along the cross track and they managed to flush most of the ducks.

Scanning the bushes beyond the Quags from the cross track, we could see several Stonechats up on the hillside, on the edge of the cattle field, so we walked round for a closer look. The Stonechats were dropping down from the brambles or the barbed wire to the ground to look for food in the short grass. They had found a relatively sheltered spot in the lee of the fence line.

There were wore Stonechats in the brambles and long grass beyond the fence. A paler bird with them hopped up onto a curl of bramble, a Whinchat. We got it in the scope, noting its pale supercilium and pale peachy orange wash on its breast, much paler overall than the female Stonechats. All the birds were keeping well down in the vegetation, trying to get out of the wind, but we found a second Whinchat a little further over when it popped up briefly. Whinchats are just passage migrants here, stopping off on their way south.

As we continued down past the Quags, we heard a Swallow alarm calling, and looked over to see a young Sparrowhawk shoot fast and low over the grass. We walked up the path up to the gun emplacements. The bushes down by the beach were quiet today. A couple of Swallows were still lingering around the gun emplacements, and there were a few Pied Wagtails in field with cows.

We looked out to sea from the high point here. With a strong northerly wind, we had expected to see some birds moving offshore today, but we couldn’t see anything apart from a few Sandwich Terns. We walked back down and climbed up onto the shingle ridge. It was a rough sea today, whipped up by the wind, and we watched the waves crashing on the beach. A distant Gannet flew past.

Avocet

Avocet – a juvenile, feeding in front of Bishop Hide

After walking back up the lane, we drove round to Cley next. We thought we would try to get out of the wind in the hides. We called in to Bishop Hide first, where there were a few Avocets still on Pat’s Pool, including a juvenile feeding close to hide.

There were fewer Black-tailed Godwits on here than normal, possibly due to the wind, but those that were here were over in the far corner by the reeds. Two slightly smaller birds asleep in the water next to them were Spotted Redshanks. We had a look at them through the scope, two dusky grey juveniles. After a while they woke up and started preening, so we could see their long, needle-tipped bills.

Spotted Redshanks

Spotted Redshanks – these two juveniles were on Pat’s Pool today

We could see a couple of little groups of Dunlin on the mud right over the far side. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were over with them, paler and with more patterned upperparts than the Black-tailed Godwits, and with a slight upturn to their long straight bills. A Green Sandpiper flashed across in front of the hide and a Water Rail squealed from somewhere in the reeds.

As we set off to walk round to the main hides, we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds close to path. We stopped to look, but the reeds were being lashed from side to side by the wind, so it was pretty clear they would not be coming out.

When we got out into the middle, we had a quick look in Avocet Hide. The mud on Whitwell Scrape is quickly drying out now, and there was nothing to see, no sign of any of the Green Sandpipers which have been on there for much of this week. However, just as we got into Dauke’s Hide, a Green Sandpiper flew past and landed on back on one of the remaining pools, where we had just looked on Whitwell Scrape, with a Common Redshank.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – flew in and landed on Whitwell Scrape with a Common Redshank

Simmond’s Scrape was a bit windswept today and was consequently a little disappointing. Three juvenile Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in deeper water in front of hide, Icelandic birds with an orangey wash on their necks.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – an Icelandic juvenile on Simmond’s Scrape

The waders which were here were very flighty today, often the case in the wind. We couldn’t see the Spotted Redshanks on Pat’s Pool now, but at one point they flew back in past the hide, over the scrape and disappeared off over the reeds. The Dunlin were very jumpy too, mostly hidden up behind the reeds on the edge of Pat’s, but they kept flying out into the middle and back in again.

There were clearly a few waders moving today, migrants arriving. As we sat in the hide, we heard a Greenshank calling and looked over to see it drop down on Simmond’s Scrape. We had a look at it through the scope – it was a distinctive bird, already with a few greyer winter scapulars.

Greenshank

Greenshank – dropped in calling onto Simmond’s Scrape

It was time for lunch, we we walked back to the Visitor Centre. The sun was out, and we managed to find a sheltered spot out of the wind. After lunch, the wind seemed to have dropped a little, so we thought we might brave the East Bank.

We drove round and parked at Walsey Hills. There were just a couple of Teal on Snipe’s Marsh today, not even any sign of the resident Little Grebe. We walked over to the East Bank, and found a Little Grebe on Don’s Pool instead. A Curlew flew over the grazing marsh calling but there was no sign of the flock out in the grass today. Pope’s Pool at the back was dry now, but there was still water in the Serpentine so we continued up for a look.

There were a few Avocets along the shore of the Serpentine, along with one or two Redshanks and several Shelducks. There were more birds along the north edge where it was a bit more sheltered, in the lee of the reeds. We could see a small group of about twenty Dunlin scattered round, feeding in the mud and shallow water, and five Common Snipe with them. We we walked up and looked through them closely, we found a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with them. There had been no reports of Curlew Sandpiper at Cley in the last few days, so it had presumably just dropped in here to feed.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – feeding with Dunlin on the Serpentine

The shelter at Arnold’s Marsh provided a welcome respite from the wind. There were lots of Sandwich Terns roosting out on the marsh, but they were very jumpy and kept taking off, flying round and settling again. All the Curlews were on here, roosting on the saltmarsh over in the back corner. Otherwise, all we could see were a scattering of Common Redshank.

Quite a few Wigeon in huddled groups out on the water were possibly fairly fresh in, coming back from Russia for the winter. We watched a small group of six Teal battling in along the shingle ridge, buffeted by the wind.

We decided to brave the beach, and have a quick look out to sea. As we walked up along the bank, a couple of Little Egrets were down on the brackish marsh and a Grey Heron had found a sheltered spot in the sun out of the wind behind the marram grass. One or two Meadow Pipits came up out of grass calling but dropped back in.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – roosting on Arnold’s Marsh

The Sandwich Terns all spooked again, but this time after circling round they flew out over the shingle ridge to the sea. When we got to the beach, we could see some feeding offshore, but many obviously didn’t fancy the weather and the choppy sea and headed straight back in to Arnold’s.

Scanning offshore, we picked up three very distant Arctic Skuas busy chasing terns offshore. Another two Arctic Skuas flew past a little closer in, and one turned and came straight in towards us. It had seen a Sandwich Tern nearer to us and started to chase after it. We watched as they twisted and turned, but the tern quickly gave up and dropped whatever it was carrying. The Arctic Skua dropped down to the water’s surface and picked it up, before flying back out and continuing on its way west. The skuas are kleptoparasites, feeding by stealing the food of other seabirds. The pirates of the North Sea!

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua – came in to chase after a Sandwich Tern

Three Gannets flew past offshore, two white adults with black wingtips and a darker-winged immature. A Fulmar came past too, low over the waves, with stiff wings. It was too windy to stay out here long, so after enjoying the spectacle for a bit we turned to head back in.

As we got back towards the road, a big flock of noisy Greylags flew in over the grazing marshes. They had clearly just been flushed by a microlight aircraft which came over just behind them, flushing everything. A small group of eight darker geese, Pink-footed Geese, flew over too. They seem to be a little early returning from Iceland this year and it was surprising how many small groups we had seen.

We decided to try to get out of the wind inland to finish the afternoon, so we drove down to the Brecks. We wanted to make the pilgrimage to see the annual post-breeding gathering of Stone Curlews, which peaks at this time of year. We pulled up by their favoured field, and peaked over the hedge, careful to not disturb any close by. Immediately we could see six Stone Curlews hunkered down behind line of earth and weeds in field.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlews – one of the 20 or so we could see in the field this afternoon

We had a great view of the Stone Curlews in the scope, their bright yellow irises catching the sun. They were amazingly well camouflaged, the colour of the sandy soil. Then we scanned the rest of the field and counted at least twenty. There were probably a lot more we couldn’t see, with the birds tucked down out of the wind, and lots of dead ground in the field where they could hide out of view. With only around 200 pairs nesting in the East of England, even 20 is an impressive total! A large group a Lesser Black-backed Gulls was loafing in field too.

It was well worth the diversion down to see the Stone Curlews, and a nice way to end the day. It was time to head back – a good chance for a doze in the back!

27th Aug 2019 – Intro to UK Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour for a guest from Hong Kong. We would spend the two days along the North Norfolk coast looking for a good selection of both our commoner breeding birds and any more interesting species we might come across. We would be trying to get photographs of as many of the birds as possible too. Today was sunny and hot, although with a bit of hazy cloud in the afternoon and a pleasant light breeze on the coast which meant it didn’t get too uncomfortable.

Our first stop was at Wells. As we walked down along the track, there were lots of Reed Buntings in the bushes. A couple of Common Whitethroat flitted off ahead of us – we could see their rusty wings when they perched in the open briefly. A much greyer warbler was a Lesser Whitethroat which landed together with one of them in a bush at one point.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – there were lots in the bushes along the track

Looking up, we saw a Spoonbill flying in from the direction of the harbour, its neck held outstretched in front. It landed at the back of the pool on the other side of the track, and training the scope on it we could see there were now five Spoonbills together there, along with several more Little Egrets too.

The pools nearest the track are drying up fast now, so most of the birds were over towards the back. There were lots of Greylag Geese and in with them a mix of ducks, Teal and Shoveler. We could see several Black-tailed Godwits in the deeper water and a single Common Snipe probing vigorously in the mud with its long bill, but it was rather distant and we were looking into the sun.

On the other side of the track, we found a single Green Sandpiper in the shallow pools and an adult Mediterranean Gull flew over, flashing its white wing tips, disappearing out towards the saltmarsh. There were lots of birds in the distance over Wells town, mostly Starlings but we picked up a few lingering Common Swifts still too, zooming back and forth. It won’t be long now before they have all left us.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we watched a tit flock moving through the bushes

Continuing on past the pools, we decided to have a look in the bushes to see if there were any more warblers here, given the early activity along the track. We could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff calling and although they proved hard to see initially, we eventually got views of both species here. There were Chaffinches in the hedge too, and a flock of tits zipped through pausing to feed in the bushes, the Blue Tits attacking some elder berries and a Long-tailed Tit showing well in the top of a hawthorn.

When the tit flock moved on, we walked round to see if we could find it further along. There were more birds here but no sign of the Long-tailed Tits so maybe a different group. We stopped by one hawthorn on the edge of a reedy ditch, where there was a succession of birds moving through. Several Blue Tits and another Lesser Whitethroat. Then a couple of Reed Warblers, which gave good views up out of the reeds here.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – feeding in the bushes with the tit flock

As the flock moved on again, we continued round. A small bird appeared on the top of one of the bushes in the middle. Its bold pale supercilium caught the morning sun, a Whinchat, a passage migrant and a real bonus to find one here. It perched up nicely a couple of times for us, before disappeared behind the bushes. When we turned round, a different bird was perched on the top of a small hawthorn behind us, this time a Wheatear. Another passage migrant passing through, it flicked away over the reeds flashing the white base to its tail.

Whinchat

Whinchat – a migrant, appeared on the top of the bushes

As we walked back along the track, there were still lots of Reed Buntings which flew up from the vegetation and landed in the bushes. A Yellowhammer flew in calling and joined them briefly, before dropping down into the long grass out in the middle.

When we got back to the minibus, a couple of other birders had their scopes on the pools and had found a wader asleep on one of the islands at the back. It was hard to tell what it was, hunkered down and at distance in the heat haze, but as we started to pull away they called over to say that it had woken up and started to walk around, a Greenshank.

Our next destination was Cley, but we ran into gridlock in Stiffkey village, with a long tailback of vehicles, probably due to one of the much bigger buses they are using for the revised Coasthopper service these days – it seems to be an increasing problem. Thankfully, we could take a diversion inland and were not held up this time. Two Stock Doves on the roof of a barn by the road were a nice bonus, the iridescent green on the side of one of the bird’s neck glowing in the sun.

When we got to Cley, we decided to head out to Bishop Hide first. As we walked into the hide, we were pointed to six Common Snipe on the mud right in front. We had a good look at them but they were already looking round nervously and were quickly spooked and flew off further back.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – one of six in front of Bishop Hide when we arrived

There were lots of other waders on the scrape here further back. Two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers were feeding in with a few Dunlin. A delicate, spangled-backed Wood Sandpiper was picking around the lumps of mud in front of one of the islands with several Ruff. Black-tailed Godwits were scattered liberally around and there were a handful of Knot too.

When someone in the hide announced there was a Bearded Tit, we initially thought they meant it was in the reeds right at the back, where they have often been recently. But they had heard one calling from the reeds just out to one side of the hide, so we walked over to take a look. A cracking male Bearded Tit climbed up one of the reed stems. It quickly shuffled down again, but then came up a second time and perched in full view. We had a great look at its powder blue head and black moustaches, before it flew across in front of the hide and disappeared into the reeds the other side.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – this male climbed up the reeds just outside the hide

As we made our way along the skirts path to the other hides, we could see a Marsh Harrier distantly hunting out over the reeds towards the West Bank. It gradually worked its way towards us and we eventually met it halfway, a dark male. When it saw us, it turned and heading off over the scrapes, flushing everything in the process.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us over the reeds as we walked out to the hides

There were a few more waders on Simmond’s Scrape when we got into Daukes Hide. Four Avocets were asleep on the front of the nearest island – they did wake up later and a couple spent some time feeding on the mud in front of the hide. There were several Ringed Plovers on the mud further back and a single Golden Plover which was easily overlooked in the lumps where the cattle had churned up the scrape. The tiny Little Stint was even harder to find in the same place!

Looking out of the side of the hide, we could see 3-4 Green Sandpipers on Whitwell Scrape. One gradually worked its way down to the front, where it was hidden behind some small wisps of reed from where we were. We decided to head round to Avocet Hide to try to catch it right in front – with our cameras – but just as we got into the hide, one of the other Green Sandpipers flew over and chased it off. The two of them flew over the bank to Simmond’s Scrape.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – one of 3-4 on Whitwell Scrape again today

There were also two juvenile Black-tailed Godwits on the scrape here too and one of them did walk over and round the edge right in front of the hide. Some consolation for the photographers! Their rusty necks and extensively marked feathers on the upperparts showed they were both juveniles of the Icelandic race.

Black-tailed Godwit

Before we raced round to try to catch the Green Sandpiper, there had been a Wood Sandpiper feeding on the mud in front of Teal Hide. By the time we made it round there, the Wood Sandpiper had moved further back but we could see several Dunlin feeding on the mud just to the right of us with one of the two Curlew Sandpipers in attendance. They were busy feeding and working their way towards us and eventually passed in front of the hide giving us a great view.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre and made good use of the picnic tables. It was a lovely day to be sitting outside looking out over the marshes. After lunch, we popped into the Centre briefly and when we came out again we could hear Whimbrel calling. They responded to a whistled response and two of them flew in towards us, at least until they realised that the impression was not really as good as it sounded at a distance. They circled back and dropped down towards the scrapes.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – flew in over the marshes calling

We drove round to Walsey Hills next. As we got out of the minibus, we could see a Little Grebe on the pool, though it was doing its best to hide in the cut reed stems at the back. We had a quick walk in along the footpath through the bushes, to see if we could pick up any more passerines for the list, but it was rather quiet – perhaps not surprising in the middle of a hot afternoon. A few Blue Tits were in the bushes around the feeders and we could hear a couple of Chiffchaff calling.

There was no sign of the Common Pochard which has been on Snipe’s Marsh, but we found it instead on Don’s Pool along with another Little Grebe, as we set off to walk up the East Bank. There were more ducks on the Serpentine – mainly Gadwall and Shoveler, and lots of Shelduck. None of them are looking their best at the moment, with the drakes currently in their drab eclipse plumage. A Green Sandpiper flew up from the mud, there were a couple of Redshanks along the edge of the water and several Lapwing in the grass.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, we could see a single Great Black-backed Gull standing in with all the loafing Cormorants on the island at the back, leaving not much room for anything else. One Sandwich Tern was standing on the mud further across. There were quite a few Curlew over in the vegetation in the back corner and several Redshanks on the mud, but nothing else on here today.

As we walked on towards the beach, we noticed some movement in the vegetation on the side of the path. A Willow Warbler flicked out. It started to fly off but then circled round and dropped back in to the spot it had just left in a seedy dock. This is not a place you would normally expect to find a Willow Warbler, so this was probably a migrant which had just arrived in off the sea, over from Scandinavia. Exhausted, it was trying to feed and was obviously reluctant to leave the plants where it had found something to eat.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – an exhausted migrant probably fresh in off the sea

A little further on, a couple of Meadow Pipits were also looking for insects in the vegetation along the side of the path and flew off as we approached. We carried on out to the beach and had a quick look at the sea, which was mostly quiet apart from a single immature Gannet which flew past.

Having made our way back to the minibus, we drove back west to our last stop of the day at Stiffkey Fen. The permissive path is very overgrown at the moment, so we walked rather carefully down along the road to get to the footpath. The bushes down by the river were quiet, but there were lots of House Martins over the field.

When we got to the spot where the brambles are low enough to see over, we had a look across at the Fen. We could see lots of white shapes in amongst the hordes of geese – mostly Spoonbills, along with a good number of Little Egrets. We had a better view from up on the seawall, from where we could get a more accurate count – we could see at least 47 Spoonbills today, mostly doing what Spoonbills like to do best and sleeping! One or two were preening or bathing so we could see their distinctive spoon-shaped bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – at least 47 were roosting on the Fen over high tide today

It was high tide out in the harbour, which was why the Spoonbills had gathered here to roost. An impressive sight at this time of the year, they are birds which have dispersed from the breeding colony at Holkham, a mixture of adults and juveniles from this year’s breeding season.

There was a good selection of waders on the Fen too, also roosting over high tide. We counted at least 14 Greenshanks, half in a group on their own but half roosting with some of the Common Redshanks. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Ruff, with several more of the former still flying in from the harbour while we were there. Scanning round the edge of the reeds we found 2-3 Green Sandpipers too.

The geese were mostly Greylags but there were several Canada Geese with them and at least one Greylag x Canada Goose hybrid! Looking carefully through the mass of ducks produced one rusty eclipse drake Wigeon, an early returning bird back for the winter from spending the breeding season in Russia.

We carried on round to the harbour to see if we could pick up any different waders round the shore, but despite it being midweek there were still lots of holiday makers here making the most of the lovely weather, swimming, sailing and walking out across the mud. There was a big flock of Oystercatchers right out in the middle of the harbour on a sandbank, and through the scope we could see about ten Bar-tailed Godwits with them. But there was nowhere else which was undisturbed enough for birds to roost.

It was time to head back. A Chiffchaff was calling in the hedge and in the sallows along the river we came across another tit flock, which gave some more opportunities to try to get Long-tailed Tit photos. It had been a great day – let’s hope for the same again tomorrow…

26th Aug 2019 – Summer Birding

A Private Tour today for guests over from the USA, so we were trying to see a good variety of as many different species as possible, common and less so. It was a glorious sunny day, in the middle of a short burst of hot weather, most unusual for a late August bank holiday, and producing record-breaking temperatures for the time of the year. We were pleased to find a light breeze on the coast which stopped it from being too hot, a lovely day to be out birding.

When we got to the beach car park at Wells, it was already filling up fast. We wanted to have a quick look in the woods before it got too busy. We stopped by the boating lake, where a (Great) Cormorant was fishing close to path. There were several Little Grebes scattered around the edges of the water along with the usual Mallard and Coot.

As we walked into the trees, we could hear Coal Tits high in the pines by the path and looked up to see two flitting around in the tops. We found a flock of tits further in, in the birches – Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits, accommpanied by a few Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap, though the latter was rather skulking. We had good views of a Treecreeper and a couple of Goldcrests in the pines nearby. We could hear a couple of Jays calling further in but they moved off before we could track them down.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – we had good views of one in the pines

As we got back round to the main path it was already getting busy, so we headed back to the minibus. The car park was already completely full and the attendants were turning away cars now at the entrance.

Our next stop was just the other side of Wells. The pools here are drying up quickly in the hot weather, especially the areas close to the track. We could still see lots of Little Egrets in the deeper water over towards the back and one Spoonbill. We had a look at that through the scope, admiring its spoon-shaped bill, and a second Spoonbill appeared from behind the rushes nearby. A Grey Heron was standing on the dry mud on the edge of the water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there were two at Wells this morning

Walking on down the track, we started to find a few waders too. There were several Green Sandpipers on the pools, a few Common Snipe doing their best to hide behind the clumps of willowherb, and a single Greenshank. Three Curlew were standing out on the mud before flying off towards the saltmarsh, calling.

Despite the already increasing temperature, there were still a few smaller birds here too. A flock of Linnets as bathing in the shallow pools out in the middle and several Reed Buntings were in the bushes by the track. A Meadow Pipit flew over calling and dropped back into the grass. We could hear a Sedge Warbler calling from the reeds, and it eventually gave nice views in the top of one of the nearby bushes, showing off its bold pale supercilium.

We picked up a Sparrowhawk circling over Wells way off in the distance, but it was not a particularly good view. Thankfully a second Sparrowhawk then circled across over the fields much closer, accompanied with a Kestrel for comparison. They were mobbed by a large flock of hirundines, Swallows and House Martins, as they climbed in the sky and we picked up several Common Swifts circling higher up too. Many of the Swifts which spent the summer here have already left and it won’t be long now before they are pretty much all gone, on their way to Africa for the winter.

We headed further east along the coast to Kelling next. The hedges were fairly quiet as we walked down the lane, apart from a couple of Chiffchaffs calling, but when we got to the gate overlooking the Water Meadow a tit flock came noisily though the copse, several Long-tailed Tits pausing briefly on the corner before they headed quickly off up the track.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – a flock came through the copse and up the lane

Scanning from the gate, the best we could find was a Pheasant hiding in the grass. But as we carried on up the track, we spotted a covey of Grey Partridges in the field the other side. Several juveniles appeared out of the tall vegetation first, followed by two greyer adults, and they all scuttled off up the hill and disappeared back into the weeds. It is always a treat to see our native British partridge, as the population has declined markedly in recent years, and good to see that they have bred successfully here this summer.

There were two Mute Swans on the Water Meadow pool, along with several Black-headed Gulls. A pair of Egyptian Geese were asleep in the grass and a flock of Starlings was busy bathing in the shallow water on one edge. Looking across the Quags the other side, we noticed a large gathering of Swallows flying round hawking for insects behind the beach.

Further along the track, we spotted several chats on the barbed wire fence on the hillside which on closer inspection turned out to be at least three Whinchats. One was much closer than the others and we had a good look at it through the scope, with its well marked pale supercilium and peachy-orange coloured breast. It kept dropping down to the short grass in the field below, looking for insects. Whinchats are just passage migrants here, stopping off on their way south, probably from Scandinavia. There were one or two Linnets along the fence line too.

Whinchat

Whinchat – there were at least three on the fence

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back up the lane to the minibus, and headed round to the visitor centre at Cley where we made good use of one of the picnic tables. It was lovely weather to be sitting out, looking across the marshes. A Kestrel was hovering over the grass just beyond the road and a Marsh Harrier flew across and turned inland over the fields, presumably looking for food in the stubbles, where the crops have been newly harvested. A Wood Sandpiper was just about visible on Pat’s Pool from here, but there was a little too much heat haze.

There would be a much better view of the scrapes from the hides, so after lunch we made our way down to Bishop Hide. As we walked through the reeds, a movement caught our eye at the back of the small pool next to the path. We stopped and looked and after a couple of minutes the Water Rail reappeared. We watched it feeding in and out of the base of the reeds along the back edge, a great view of this often very secretive species.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding on the pool by the path out to Bishop Hide

There were two Wood Sandpipers feeding right down at the front of the scrape, not far from the hide, a much better view than the one we had seen distantly over lunch.We could see the pale-spangled upperparts and pale supercilium. There were more Wood Sandpipers further back too – we counted at least eight on Pat’s Pool this afternoon.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – there were two in front of Bishop Hide

There were lots of other waders here as well, mostly Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit. We managed to pick out a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Knot too. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was feeding with a few Dunlin over towards the back and a single Ringed Plover was in the far corner.

The scrape was liberally scattered with Black-headed Gulls too, with many of them asleep on the short grass on the edge of the islands. Looking through them carefully, we managed to find a single Mediterranean Gull in amongst them. It was an immature in its second calendar year, moulting from 1st summer to 2nd winter, and still with black wing tips. Its more extensive black bandit mask and heavier dark bill set it apart from its commoner brethren.

We headed round to Dauke’s Hide next, where we found four Avocets still lingering on Simmond’s Scrape, what looked to be a family party of three browner juveniles and an adult. One of the juveniles came feeding down in front of the hide, sweeping its not yet fully grown bill from side to side through the shallow mud.

Avocet

Avocet – one of the juveniles, feeding in front of Dauke’s Hide

From one side of Dauke’s Hide, we could see a couple of Green Sandpipers on Whitwell Scrape, with one right down at the front. We watched it feeding in the water by the short reeds. We raced round to Avocet Hide hoping to get it out in the open as it worked its way round, but just at that moment a second Green Sandpiper flew in and chased it off.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – feeding at the front of Whitwell Scrape

Looking out of the other side of Dauke’s Hide, across to Pat’s Pool, we had a better view of the Curlew Sandpiper from here. There had been a Little Stint this morning too, on Simmond’s, but we couldn’t find it now. We realised why – it was feeding along the back edge of Pat’s Pool, not visible from where we had been earlier in Bishop Hide. It was clearly very small, with a noticeably much shorter bill than the Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlin.

There were a couple of Reed Warblers and several Bearded Tits in the reeds at the back of Pat’s Pool too, but they were hard to see as they kept disappearing into the vegetation. Having seen everything we hoped to find here, we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre and drive round to the East Bank. A Turnstone flew overhead calling as we made our way along the boardwalk.

We parked at Walsey Hills. There was a lone Common Pochard still on Snipes Marsh, along with a Little Grebe. The Common Pochard bred here this year, raising at least a couple of broods, so this was probably the last of the lingering youngsters from the summer.

Walking out along the East Bank, the breeze had picked up a bit. The reeds were fairly quiet – we heard a brief bout of pinging from some Bearded Tits but they kept well hidden. Looking out across the grazing marshes the other side, we could see a large gathering of Curlew tucked down in the long grass. A Green Sandpiper flew up from one of the pools.

There were a few ducks on the Serpentine, mainly Teal and Shoveler, but including also at least five Wigeon, early returning birds back from Russia already for the winter. Four Canada Geese were in with all the Greylags out on the grass.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, a single adult Great Black-backed Gull was standing in with the loafing Cormorants on the small island towards the back. There were more Curlews over in the far corner, and several Redshanks, but no sign of any of the terns which had been reported here this morning. We carried on out to the beach for a quick look at the sea – you can’t come all this way and not see the sea – but there was nothing of note on the water and no sign of birds moving offshore this afternoon either.

It was time to head back now, so we turned and walked back along the East Bank listening to the rustling of the reeds. It had been a lovely day out birding along the coast.

5th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was a lovely warm, sunny day – a nice day to be out on the North Norfolk coast.

With a big high tide this morning, we stopped at Stiffkey Fen first on our way past to see if any waders had come in to roost. As we got out of the minibus, a couple of Swallows were hawking for insects low over the field nest door and a Yellowhammer was singing somewhere in the trees. Across the road, there were lots of butterflies in the grass, Meadow Browns and Ringlets. The path is getting rather overgrown now, but as we walked down between the hedges, a Banded Demoiselle flitted ahead of us.

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle – flitted ahead of us along the hedge

As we got into the small copse of trees, a couple of Bullfinches flew up from the path calling. We could just see them on a branch over the path before they flew off further into the wood. We could hear a flock of tits calling down by the road – Blue Tits and Coal Tits – and a Jay in the trees.

Several House Martins were swooping in and out of the eaves of the house on the hill when we got out into the open again. There were more tits down by the river, and a Chiffchaff with them. When we got to the point where the brambles are lower, we could just see out over the Fen. We could see a group of Spoonbills and lots of roosting waders, including a small party of Greenshank on the islands, but it was hard to see over the vegetation now that it is getting taller.

There was a better view of the Fen from the seawall. The Spoonbills were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! They like to roost over high tide and feed out on the saltmarsh when the tide goes out. We counted sixteen of them, and occasionally one or two would wake up and show us their distinctive bills. There were quite a few juveniles with them – as birds disperse from the breeding colony at Holkham, the adults creche the youngsters on pools closer to their favoured feeding areas.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – we counted 16 roosting on the Fen today

We had a better view of the waders up here too. There were ten Greenshanks roosting together in a group on their own further back. Most of the waders were Black-tailed Godwits, many still in rusty breeding plumage, with several Redshank in with them. A single Ruff was in with the Lapwings and Avocets in the middle. We eventually managed to find two Little Ringed Plovers which were hiding in the taller vegetation at the back of the island, though it was not a great view of them!

Most of the gulls on the Fen are Black-headed Gulls, but we could see a couple of Common Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed Gull too. There were plenty of Greylag Geese and a single Egyptian Goose with two small goslings.

A male Marsh Harrier flew in from the fields beyond, spooking many of the birds and temporarily even waking the Spoonbills. Two juvenile Marsh Harriers came up to meet it, hoping to be fed. We could see they were very dark, chocolate brown with tawny orange heads.

A Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a bush a bit further down along the coastal path and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted intermittently from the sallows on the edge of the reeds. A Reed Bunting was singing its rather limited song out on the saltmarsh across the channel.

The tide was in out in the harbour. We could see the seals pulled out on Blakeney Point over the other side of the water. A Common Tern was patrolling up and down the channel, fishing, periodically twisting and plunging down into the water. A male Marsh Harrier quartered over the saltmarsh – the light was perfect and it was great to watch it.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – a male was quartering the saltmarsh out in the harbour

As we walked back, a Lesser Whitethroat flew across and landed briefly in the top of one of the sallows by the path. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was in the willows closer to the road, along with a female Blackcap. There were several nice, fresh Gatekeepers in the brambles and hedges this morning, with the first ones having just emerged in the last few days. One posed nicely for us on the hedge by the path.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper – recently emerged and looking very fresh

We made our way over to Kelling Heath next. As we got out of the minibus, a Garden Warbler was singing in the blackthorn, but it went quiet as we walked over to look for it. There were lots of butterflies out here too, as we made our way up the path – a Comma, a nice fresh Painted Lady, and several Small Skippers. We managed to get a view of the underside of their antennae, to confirm their ID – pale in Small Skipper and black in the very similar Essex Skipper.

When we got to an area of low-cut heather by the path, we found plenty of Silver-studded Blues still on the wing. Some of them are looking a bit faded and tatty now , but a smart blue male posed nicely for us.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue – we managed to find one still smart male

We made our way round through an area where there have been Dartford Warblers in the past. We haven’t seen one in this territory this year, so we weren’t expecting to find one here today but suddenly we heard one singing behind us. We could see it climbing around in a small birch tree growing out of some tall gorse, but it flew quickly and dropped down out of view. It continued singing on and off then flew across the path and dropped down into the gorse the other side. We hoped it might perch up singing for us, but it disappeared back and we didn’t hear it again.

Continuing on across the heath, we flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the grass. A little further on we found one of them again, feeding on a stony path, collecting insects. It had quite a bill-full already – presumably it had hungry young to feed somewhere nearby.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – collecting insects on the path

The next couple of areas we checked out were quite quiet now, so we walked over to where one of the pairs of Stonechats have bred. We quickly found the pair – the male and female flycatching from the tops of the bushes, with the young mostly hiding in the vegetation below but popping up occasionally. We stopped to watch a family of Linnets, flying around and perching obligingly on the top of the gorse bushes. We heard a Willow Warbler calling and looked over to see it perched nearby. Unusually it remained still long enough for us even to get it in the scope.

A dark shape flicked out of the gorse and we looked over to see another Dartford Warbler flying low across, skimming the top of the heath. It dropped down into another gorse bush and seemed to have disappeared, but just as we were about to give up it flew out again. This time it flew into a large dense gorse clump and went quiet.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way back to the car park and drove down to the Visitor Centre at Cley to make use of the picnic tables. The main car park was roped off, so we had to park in the overflow car park. From the picnic area we could see why – a Little Ringed Plover had chosen to nest in the middle of the car park! It was very well camouflaged against the gravel and hard to see until you knew where it was, or it got up and walked around.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – nesting in the Visitor Centre car park

As we ate our lunch, a flock of House Martins came in too and started landing on the now vacant car park. Two Common Buzzards circled over. Looking out over the reserve, something spooked everything out on the scrapes. Lots of waders flew round calling and nine Spoonbills came up and circled over. Some of them dropped down again, but several flew off.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. A Reed Warbler was singing from the ditch by the path, but remained well hidden. Then from the bridge a little further along, we found two more Reed Warblers feeding in the reeds, and one of them showed very well, picking insects from the sparse reed stems out in the middle of the water.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – feeding in the ditch below the bridge

Out at Dauke’s Hide, there were still three Spoonbills, and they too were asleep, on one of the islands. There were lots of waders – Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, eight Knot and a few Dunlin still in breeding plumage and sporting their black belly patches. No two of the several Ruff were alike, the males are so variable. Most had already lost their ornate ruffs, looking rather scrawny-necked. A pale, leucistic Little Ringed Plover was running around on the edge of one of the islands at the back.

Looking round from the side of the hide at Whitwell Scrape, we could see a Green Sandpiper hiding in the low reeds on the edge of the island towards the back. An Avocet is nesting on the island at the front and we watched it settle down on to brood its four eggs.

There were plenty of Teal on the scrapes, but there had been no report today of the Green-winged Teal which has been here for a couple of weeks now. Looking carefully through the ducks, we managed to find it and we could see why it had not been spotted earlier. It is moulting fast into eclipse plumage, and we could just see the remains of the white foreflank stripe which distinguishes Green-winged Teal from the other regular Eurasian Teal. It was now reduced to just a white spot on the side of the breast and you had to look very carefully to see it. It won’t be long before it, and therefore the bird itself, disappears completely!

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – moulting fast into eclipse plumage

A Marsh Harrier flew high over the scrape and everything flushed, at which point we lost sight of the Green-winged Teal. We took that as a cue to move on, round to Teal Hide. There were much the same waders on Pat’s Pool as we had seen on Simmond’s Scrape. There were several more Ruff, one of which was still sporting the remains of its ornate ruff. Three more Little Ringed Plovers were well camouflaged on the mud on the edge of the island. Two half-grown juvenile Redshanks were on the near edge of the water.

Scanning the reeds at the back of the scrape, we picked up a juvenile Bearded Tit working its way along the water’s edge. There had been a Water Rail on the mud at the back earlier, but we couldn’t find it, although we did hear it squealing. We were just about to leave when someone spotted it again. We got it in the scopes and watched it creeping in and out of the base of the reeds.

We drove round  to Walsey Hills next. Several Coot were out on Snipe’s Marsh and a single Little Grebe was diving in front of the reeds. Several Common Pochard included a female still with three small ducklings. We watched the ducklings diving, leaping up in the air to get themselves down into the water. Across the road, we could see lots of damselflies flying low over the water in the ditch. They included several Small Red-eyed Damselflies, including a pair which we watched ovipositing.

Small Red-eyed Damselflies

Small Red-eyed Damselflies – we watched this pair ovipositing

Walking out along the East Bank, several Reed Warblers were flitting around the edge of Don’s Pool. We heard Bearded Tit calling but couldn’t see it. A large flock of Sand Martins were flying round over the bank further up and when we got over there we could see they were landing in the tops of the reeds on the edge of the dicth. We couldn’t see what they were feeding on though. They flew off as some people walked past, and then started settling out on the dried mud by the Serpentine.

Sand Martin

Sand Martin – a large flock was landing in the reeds by the bank

Several Cormorants were drying their wings on the island out on Pope’s Pool. In front, we could see lots of Curlew in the grass. They are returning in numbers from their breeding grounds on the continent now. We heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see three flying over, followed shortly after by one of the Curlews for comparison. We could see the Whimbrel were noticeably smaller and slimmer, with a shorter bill. A single Little Ringed Plover was on the mud by the Serpentine.

As we got to Arnold’s Marsh, we had a quick scan and spotted a Little Gull swimming out on the water. At one point it was in the same scope view as a Black-headed Gull giving a chance to see just how small it was by comparison. Then when we took our eyes off it, it disappeared, presumably back to the scrapes where it had been seen earlier. Several young Great Black-backed Gulls were loafing in the vegetation at the back. There were a few waders on here too – Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and a few Curlew. A Brown Hare ran across the dry mud just beyond the water.

There were several Meadow Pipits on the path, flying up to catch insects from the overhanging vegetation. One started displaying behind us, and as it parachuted down it suddenly changed from singing to alarm calling as it hovered over the grass. A Weasel ran out and across the path.

Walking on to the beach, a Ringed Plover over calling. As we got to the shingle, another Whimbrel flew in off the sea. They were clearly on the move today, freshly arrived back from the continent on their way south. A few Sandwich Terns were passing offshore.

We were tipped off by a local about some Graylings a short way down along the old shingle ridge, so we walked down to look for them. They were very hard to see unless you flushed them, very camouflaged against stones, but we eventually found two when they flew up and settled again. A very localised butterfly, they are always nice to see when they are on the wing and these were the first we have seen this year.

Grayling

Grayling – we eventually found two hiding on the shingle

It was lovely out at the beach this afternoon, in the sunshine, but we were out of time and we had to head back. As we got to the East Bank, four Spoonbills flew overhead and dropped down towards the reserve. We stopped to look at a skipper in the grass on the edge of the path and this one had distinctive black tips to the underside of its antennae – an Essex Skipper this time. A nice last addition to the butterfly list as we headed for home.

21st June 2019 – Solstice Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of two days of Summer Tours today. It was a sunny start with clear blue skies and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon, it remained bright and warm. A lovely day to be out on the North Norfolk coast.

To start the day, we set off east along the coast. It was coming up to high tide, so we called in first at Stiffkey Fen to see if any waders had come in to roost from the harbour. As we got out of the minibus, a Barn Owl disappeared round behind the barns. Probably with young to feed somewhere, it was still out hunting into the morning. A Yellowhammer was singing from the tops of the pines and we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the brambles. Having gone quiet while they raised their first broods, the Lesser Whitethroats have started singing again now ahead of a second breeding attempt.

Down along the permissive path, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were singing in the copse. We could hear a Bullfinch calling somewhere in the trees ahead of us too. There was a mixed tit flock feeding down by the road, a large group of Long-tailed Tits plus Blue Tits, Great Tits and a family of Coal Tits. We watched the latter feeding in the pines above the road, the juveniles with light yellow cheeks.

Down along the path by the river, there were rather few House Martins around the house on the hill, which seems to be a worrying theme this year. A Cetti’s Warbler was shouting intermittently from deep in the sallows. Half way down, we could just about see over the brambles to the Fen, where four Spoonbills were roosting. We had a better view of them from up on the seawall, where we could see there were three adults and one short-billed juvenile, a ‘teaspoonbill’. The first juveniles have started to disperse from the breeding colony at Holkham, and are then creched at favoured sites along the coast.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – the juvenile was chasing after one of the adults

The juvenile Spoonbill started begging, trying to persuade one of the adults to feed it. Initially it bobbed its head up and down and started to flap its wings. When the adult tried to walk away, the juvenile set off after it. We watched the two of them walking round for at least 10 minutes, the juvenile Spoonbill relentless. At one point the adult tried to run away but the juvenile simply ran too.

A single Sandwich Tern was loafing in with the Black-headed Gulls. Three Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the harbour calling, two adults and a 1st summer, but they didn’t land and flew on west. A Common Tern was fishing in the harbour channel and kept coming past us while we stood on the bank, occasionally plunging down into the water.

Common Tern

Common Tern – fishing in the harbour channel

There were three Greenshanks on the Fen, roosting over high tide, asleep in the taller vegetation on the island. There were lots of Avocets, with one or two juveniles still. But no other waders on here this morning. Someone came to open up some equipment down by the sluice, and when we asked what it was for, they explained that they were monitoring the movements of the local sea trout population in the River Stiffkey and harbour.

After walking back, we made our way on to Kelling Heath. A Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler were singing in the car park and the first of many Painted Lady butterflies was basking on a bush. There has been a large invasion in recent weeks from the continent and there are still lots around.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – the first of many, basking on a bush in the car park

We had a quick walk round to see if we could find any Adders. They are warm now though and the only one we came across slithered away as we approached, possibly alerted to our approach by all the footsteps. A Garden Warbler was singing in the blackthorn nearby.

Walking on up the hill, a Woodlark flew overhead calling. Unfortunately it didn’t look like coming down and we watched it disappear away into the distance over the car park. There are lots of Silver-studded Blue butterflies out now and we stopped by a good area for them. There were good numbers of blue males fluttering round over the low heather and we found a mating pair, which gave us a good chance to have a closer look at the diagnostic underwing markings. There were a couple of July Belle moths out here too.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair showing the distinctive underwings

Carrying on round the Heath, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler perched in a birch tree. A Common Whitethroat was flitting about in the gorse and another Woodlark flushed from the path ahead of us. A smart male Yellowhammer was singing in a small birch tree. We came across one Stonechat, a male, down by the railway cutting, and another pair the other side of the crossing feeding young in the gorse. There were lots of Linnets here but no sign of any Dartford Warblers again – they seem to be struggling this year.

Linnet

Linnet – a red-breasted male

The surprise of the morning came as we were crossing the railway. We looked up at the gorse bushes the other side, to see a Nightjar flying over them. A couple walking a dog had just gone across ahead of us, so had possibly flushed it. It flew along the top of the bushes, then turned and came across the railway a short distance away. It looped round and landed beneath a birch tree by the path back where we had just come. We walked back to see if we could find it but it flew again, and this time disappeared off through the trees.

It was already after midday, so we headed back to the minibus and dropped down to Cley for lunch at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we could see the 1st summer Little Gull dip feeding out on Pat’s Pool distantly. Afterwards, we walked out to the hides in the middle. Several Sand Martins were hawking over the reeds.

Out first stop was in Teal Hide –  where, appropriately enough, the first bird we saw was the Green-winged Teal. It was swimming out in the middle of the water with several Eurasian Teal, the vertical white foreflank stripe on the Green-winged Teal setting it apart from the horizontal white-lined Eurasians. It was feeding constantly, swimming round with its head mostly under water, only coming up for air occasionally.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – on the left, with a Eurasian Teal on the right

There was a nice selection of other ducks on here too, including Gadwall and Shoveler, the drakes mostly moulting into their drab eclipse plumage already. There were several Shoveler too, with one pair at the back shepherding a large creche of 27 shelducklings.

We spent some time looking closely at the waders here too. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits of two types – mostly Icelandic birds (subspecies islandica), but two Continental Black-tailed Godwits (nominate limosa) were sporting coloured plastic rings which gave their identity away.  The particular combinations identified them as birds from the very small breeding population on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, having wandered here post-breeding.

Waders 1

Waders – Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot and a couple of Avocets

In with the Black-tailed Godwits were a few Bar-tailed Godwits. Most of them were in non-breeding plumage, paler and more heavily streaked above than the equivalent plumage of Black-tailed Godwit, with a more obvious pale supercilium and slightly upturned bill. They were noticeable shorter-legged too, wading with their longer-legged cousins. The Knot with them barely came up to their knees. Again, most were in grey non-breeding plumage but one or two were in their smarter rusty-orange breeding plumage. Several Avocets were feeding in front of the hide, as was a still not fully grown juvenile Redshank.

The waders were all very jumpy and kept flying up. We soon found out why when there was another commotion and we looked up to see a Peregrine flying over with something in its talons. It turned out it had just caught a Redshank flying over behind the hide (hopefully not the youngster we had just seen!). We watched it disappear off east – possibly one of the birds from Cromer church.

Waders 2

Waders – spooked by a Peregrine hunting over the scrapes

Back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off back west, stopping again on our way at Wells. As we parked and got out, we could hear the raspy call of a Grey Partridge in the field next door, but couldn’t see it in all the growing crop. Scanning the islands, we found three more Spoonbills, one of them another juvenile, lurking in the vegetation. When a fourth Spoonbill flew in, it dropped down in the near corner of the pool, down close the track, so we walked down for a closer look.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the corner of the pool by the track

The Spoonbill was busy feeding, with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side in the water as it walked. When it lifted its head, we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult, and the bushy nuchal crest and brownish wash on the breast marked it out as a bird in breeding condition. We had a nice view of it before it flew again and went right to the back of the pool.

The pools here have been very good for waders recently and, although there was nothing today which we hadn’t already seen at Cley, there was still a nice selection. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits were out in the middle, occasionally getting spooked and whirling round overhead. A lone bird, smart in rusty breeding plumage, was feeding on its own in the corner. Several Redshanks flew back and forth, and there were lots of Avocets and Lapwing in the grass.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – in rusty breeding plumage

A small group of Egyptian Geese were loafing in the grass close to the track, and there was a good selection of other wildfowl. As we were about to walk back, a Sedge Warbler started singing and flew up to the front edge of one of the hawthorn bushes to pose. We had a good look at it through the scope, with its bold white supercilium. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.