Tag Archives: Cley

26th June 2017 – Summer with Cameras

A Private Tour today, with a difference. We were particularly targeting certain species and hoping to get photographs of them too. It was a lovely sunny day, warm out of the breeze which picked up on the coast in the afternoon. Perhaps a little too nice?

After a relaxed start, the target for the first part of the morning was to look for raptors. As we drove along, a Red Kite circled over the road, together with a Common Buzzard. We parked at the start of a farm track and walked up to the top of a rise, from where we could get a good view over the surrounding countryside.

We saw a good selection of birds of prey from our vantage point here. First, a Kestrel flew past as we walked along the track. Looking back towards the meadow where we had parked, a Barn Owl was out hunting, presumably still with hungry young in the nest to feed and having to work hard accordingly. As the air warmed, several Common Buzzards circled up out of the trees. Unfortunately, the warming air also meant that the heat haze quickly increased, making photography rather more challenging!

There were other birds too. Best of them all, a Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. They were once more common but are now very scarce in the breeding season across most of Norfolk. One or two pairs cling on in farmland and hopefully this one is breeding somewhere around here. Some distinctive calls alerted us to five Mediterranean Gulls circling high overhead, presumably looking for a suitable field to feed in. Skylarks fluttered up over the fields singing and a Common Whitethroat flitted about in the hedge.

When we had had our fill of raptors, we walked back to the car. Our destination for the rest of the morning was up on the Heath. A particular target here was Garden Warbler. They can be very elusive, often lurking deep in the bushes, but have at least started singing more again in the last week or so, presumably between broods. As we pulled up in the car park, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing but we were pleasantly surprised to look over and see it perched out on the near edge of the blackthorn, close by.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – posing for the cameras in the car park

Having posed unusually well at first, the Garden Warbler quickly dropped back down into cover. Normal service was resumed – we could still hear it singing but from deep in the blackthorn! Still, it was a great start and we set off out onto the Heath feeling rather hopeful.

Our second target here today was Woodlark. Unfortunately, they were not quite so accommodating. They are onto their second broods now and, with the females probably on eggs, they are not at their most visible. Getting towards the middle of the day, it was also not the best time to look for them. When we set off from the car park, we met some other local birders returning who told us they had seen a pair of Woodlarks earlier. We went straight round to the place where they had been, but we couldn’t find them – presumably they had flown off already. We did find a pair of Skylarks feeding nearby, which was not quite what we were looking for, even if very nice to see close to on the ground.

We had a walk round to another area where the Woodlarks have been feeding often in recent weeks, but the vegetation here is growing up fast now making them harder to see. We listened as we circled round the area, but we couldn’t hear any either. There were plenty of Linnets around the gorse and several Yellowhammers singing, although even these were not posing for the cameras quite as they might normally have done today. A couple of juvenile Stonechats were flitting around the bushes out in the middle of the Heath.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – there were several males singing around the Heath today

The butterflies were more obliging. There are large numbers of Silver-studded Blues out at the moment, one of the specialities of the Heath, so we stopped to admire a couple of them on our way round.

Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue – large numbers are out on the Heath at the moment

There wasn’t much time to explore the Heath before it was time for lunch, so we walked back to the car for a break. Typically, we were just in the process of eating our sandwiches in a shady spot when we noticed a couple of Woodlarks flying in low over the trees. They dropped down out of view in the distance and we had a pretty good idea the area where they were heading. We quickly put our food down and grabbed our gear.

We couldn’t see them at first when we got round to the place where the Woodlarks had gone down, so we weren’t sure if they had continued on or landed. We followed the path up a slight rise, and unfortunately they flew up without calling from the far side just as we appeared over the top, three of them. They didn’t go far, but landed again in the long grass just a short distance ahead of us. We could see one of them through the scope, creeping around in the grass.

The Woodlarks were a bit far for photographs, particularly with the heat haze today, so we decided to try to circle round to the other side of them. They can be very obliging, but not today and as we edged forwards they were off again.

After finishing our lunch, we set off again around the Heath to see if we could find any Dartford Warblers. It was early afternoon now, the warmest part of the day, but we hoped a light breeze would be enough to encourage the birds into some activity. It was not the case. Like the Woodlarks, the Dartford Warblers are on second broods now and the females are on eggs. The males still often sing now, but early and late are definitely best.

We did hear a Turtle Dove purring in the trees, but as it was not a target species for the day we did not go off looking for it. We also bumped into a nice selection of insects. As well as the Silver-studded Blues, there were lots of other butterflies, especially lots of Small Skippers feeding on the Viper’s Bugloss. A large Emperor Dragonfly was hawking around other heather. And we saw several bright Green Tiger Beetles on the paths.

Small SkipperSmall Skipper – feeding on Viper’s Bugloss

With no further sign of the Woodlarks either, we decided to head down to the coast at Cley for a walk. There were quite a few cars (though not so many birders in evidence!), so when we found a place to park, we headed out along the East Bank. As we set off, a Little Egret flew past and disappeared off towards North Foreland wood. A Grey Heron flew in over the reeds too, and disappeared into the trees.

Little EgretLittle Egret – flew in to North Foreland wood

The pool at the start of the East Bank held a few ducks. Among them, a female Common Pochard was diving. She appeared to be down to just one duckling, although by now it was at least well on its way to being fully grown. Otherwise, there were just a variety of ages of Mallard on here.

The grazing marshes east of the East Bank still have quite a bit of water on them this year. There were still plenty of Lapwing around the small pools and in the grass, though not so many juveniles with them. Predation often tends to be high with wader chicks here.

LapwingLapwing – several adults though not so many juveniles in evidence

Interestingly, the Redshanks seemed to be doing a little better in their parental duties and as well as a good number of adults, there were several juveniles around the edges of the Serpentine, which was good to see. Looking further over, towards Pope’s Pool, there were lots of Avocet and more adult Redshank, plus a single Black-tailed Godwit and one Ringed Plover. The early waders are already starting to return from the north, often failed breeders first, and a lone Whimbrel flying east over the start of the East Bank as we looked back probably fits that category.

RedshankRedshank – one of several juveniles around the Serpentine

As there has been over the last few weeks, there was a nice selection of wildfowl around the Serpentine, even if the drakes are starting to moult into eclipse plumage. As well as the usual Mallard and Gadwall, including a nice little family party of the latter with several small ducklings, there were also two Wigeon and quite a few Teal, both species which are more winter visitors. How many of these have remained here all summer, and how many have been around either here or nearby right the way through, is hard to tell. There were loads of Greylag Geese too, with no shortage of young ones with them, already well grown now.

There was quite a fresh breeze blowing in, with the wind having turned north-east this afternoon. The Sand Martins seemed to be enjoying it. There was quite a flock of them, hawking for insects. They kept swinging out over the marshes, before returning en masse and swooping around the bank.

Sand MartinSand Martin – a large flock were hawking for insects around the East Bank

We had hoped we might find a Bearded Tit along here, but it was perhaps a bit too windy to get a good look at one. We did hear some calling. One was in the reeds in the ditch on the east side of the bank. The light was perfect this side, although it was most exposed to the wind. We stood close by hoping it would climb up into the reeds but unfortunately it flew off down the line of the reeds. There were quite a few Reed Warblers, which showed quite well, and a male Reed Bunting perched in the top of the reeds singing.

There were quite a few Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh, and plenty of Great Black-backed Gulls, but not much else of note today. We were told there had been a Little Gull offshore here, but by the time we got out to the beach it had moved on. There were lots of Sandwich Terns offshore, as well as a single adult Mediterranean Gull with the Black-headed Gulls.

There were more waders moving, to add to the Whimbrel we had seen earlier. A single Curlew flew west over Arnold’s Marsh, flying straight through without stopping. Then while we were looking out to see, we noticed three more Curlews flying west just offshore, presumably just arriving fresh in from the Continent. More waders on migration, which is always interesting to see.

CurlewCurlew – these three were probably just arriving from the Continent this afternoon

We had an appointment with Nightjars this evening, so with an eye on the clock and the need to get something to eat beforehand we headed back to the car. A Little Ringed Plover flew off from the Serpentine as we passed, presumably having dropped in while we were at the beach.

Having had a break and eaten, we met up again later in the evening. We were just looking for Nightjars this evening, so we made our way straight up to the heath. We arrived in good time and with a few minutes to spare, we had a quick walk round looking for some good places to stand.

As we walked past a clump of gorse, we heard a very soft churr which meant that a Nightjar was very close. Peering over the vegetation, we could just see it through a narrow gap, perched on a branch lying on the ground. Unfortunately, as we tried to get everyone up onto it, it took off. We had a nice flight view as it flew round and up into some trees. It was a male – we could see the white corners to its tail and white bands across the tips of its wings as it flew. We saw roughly where it went, so we walked over in the direction.

The Nightjar hadn’t landed on one of its regular perches. It was now about time for them to start churring anyway, and it duly obliged by bursting into ‘song’. We could hear where it was, a bit further along than normal, so we made our way carefully round the trees. It was perched right out in the open on a dead branch, but again we struggled to get everyone onto it before it flew. They never stay in one place for long, especially early in the evening. As it took off, a second male Nightjar joined it, and the two of them circled up over the edge of the trees calling. This is a territorial boundary, so there was probably a bit of a discussion going on!

We followed one of the two male Nightjars as it flew off across the Heath. We know exactly where it likes to perch, so it was just a matter of which tree it might head for. At first it was not settling and we quickly realised why – there was a female Nightjar there too! The male flew after her, following her from branch to branch, wing-clapping. The female was much harder to follow in the gloom, lacking the male’s white wing and tail patches.

When the female Nightjar flew on again, this time the male remained perched and gave us a chance to get it in the scope. It stayed there churring for a minute or two. There was still just enough light to get a really good look at it – and some photos. Great stuff!

NightjarNightjar – this male eventually settled and started churring

When that male Nightjar finally flew again, we could hear a different bird churring across the Heath. We looked across and it was perched in a tree, perfectly silhouetted against the last of the light, a classic Nightjar view. When it finally moved away, we decided to head back.

The light was fading fast now and we had already enjoyed some unforgettable Nightjar views, so we decided to call it a night. They really are the most fascinating of birds and there is nothing better than standing on a heath on a summer’s evening listening to them churring and watching them flying round. It is always a great way to end a day of Summer birding.

27th May 2017 – A Spring Scorcher

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was hot and sunny, with the mercury topping out at an unseasonably warm 26.5C on the coast (and so probably hotter still inland!). A band of thundery rain passed through quickly around the middle of the day which meant it was a bit fresher in the afternoon, with a strengthening southerly wind.

At our first stop of the day, we went looking for Nightingales. We parked the car at the top of a lane by a copse of willows and listened. A Blackcap was singing in the trees but there was no sound from the Nightingale here this morning. Perhaps not a surprise, as the day was already heating up!

We walked further up the lane, listening to all the warblers singing. There were several Chiffchaffs, chiffing and chaffing, and we heard the sweet descending song of a Willow Warbler which was perched high in the top of a dead tree – two rather similar looking birds but with very different songs. From the other side of the hedge, a Sedge Warbler was buzzing and scratching away frenetically. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us unseen, from deep in the bushes, as we passed. A Common Whitethroat appeared in the top of the hedge next to us.

ChiffchaffChiffchaff – there were several singing in the hedges along the lane

Even as we approached the next block of trees, we could a couple of melodic phrases of a Nightingale singing, carried to us above the rustling of the leaves in the breeze. When we got there, we stopped to listen. There were several Blackcaps singing, a beautiful melodic song in its own right. Then the Nightingale started up again, rich and flutey, very varied little bursts interspersed with pauses.

The Nightingale was deep in the wood at first but after a minute or two it went quiet. When it started singing again, it was much closer to us and we knew the song was coming from its favourite tangle of brambles and dead branches. We walked across to where we could view the bushes, but it was not perched out in the sun today and still seemed to prefer to keep in cover. We got a quick glimpse as it flicked up into the brambles from close to the ground at one point, a flash of rusty orange tail as it disappeared into the green leaves. Then it went quiet again.

From where we were standing, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. We walked a little further up the lane and looked out across the wet meadow towards the willows. There was no sign of it at first, but looking across every time it sang, the Cuckoo suddenly appeared in the trees. We managed to get it in the scope, and everyone got a quick look at it, before it flew back into the willows out of view. We could still hear it but couldn’t see it any more.

Walking back up the lane, we stopped to listen to the Nightingale again. It was singing once more, but it was still keeping deep in the thicket. Nightingales are not the most colourful of birds – it is more about the song, so it was great just to stand and listen to it singing. When it went quiet again, we decided to move on.

We headed up to one of the heaths next. It was getting hot now, but there was a bit of a breeze up on the ridge which helped to keep the humidity down up here. The warblers were singing up here too, mainly Blackcaps and Willow Warblers in the trees and Common Whitethroats out on the heath. We came across several little family parties of Linnets in the gorse, which flew off calling as we passed.

At the first spot where we hoped we might find a Dartford Warbler, it seemed rather quiet at first. However, as we started to walk slowly round the area, we suddenly heard a male Dartford Warbler singing further along. We headed over there but as we came round a corner and out into the open we surprised it on the top of a gorse bush right by the path. We got a quick flight view as it zipped across in front of us, but it flew into a large area of deeper bushes.

We stood for a few seconds and listened, and it wasn’t long before the Dartford Warbler started singing again, this time launching itself into the air in a brief song flight. We could see it had gone much further back across the gorse. As we walked round to the other side, the Dartford Warbler flew up into the top of another large gorse bush and perched there in full view singing for a few seconds, giving us a much better if brief look at it. Unfortunately not everyone could get onto it in time and then it dropped back into the gorse again.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – this one taken recently on the Heath

It was rather frustrating over the next few minutes. The Dartford Warbler kept calling and singing on and off, but it kept tucked down in a large clump of gorse where we couldn’t see it. The forecast had suggested there was a risk of some thundery showers around the middle of the day and at this point we looked over towards the SW and could see a bank of cloud starting to build. We wanted to have a look round the Heath, so we moved quickly on, just in case.

A Yellowhammer was singing from somewhere in the trees as we passed, and another perched up nicely on the top of a post briefly, a smart yellow-headed male. When we got down to the old railway cutting, we could hear another Dartford Warbler singing. We looked across to see a male on the top of the heather on the other side. It spend a couple of minutes hopping around, disappearing at times, but then coming back up. When it flew up and landed on the wire fence beyond, it was followed by a second Dartford Warbler, male & female. The female was carrying food in her bill. Then they zipped off back further and disappeared into the gorse beyond, presumably off to feed a hungry brood somewhere.

The approaching cloud was getting steadily darker now, and we could hear the first rumbles of thunder. We knew we only had a very limited time before it was likely to rain. We walked quickly round to see if we could get a better look at the Dartford Warblers, but it was increasingly clear that rain was imminently coming our way, so we had to give up and head straight back to car. It was already spitting but we arrived just in the nick of time, as it started to rain properly.

It was a shame we did not have more time to explore the Heath properly today, but at least we had seen the Dartford Warblers. We drove down to the coast in the rain, but it was already starting to ease when we got down to the car park at Cley Marshes. We headed into the visitor centre to use the facilities and when we came out again the rain had already stopped. Even better, the sky seemed to be starting to brighten again beyond. We decided to have an early lunch outside on the picnic benches and it was sunny again by the time we finished.

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve and walked along the boardwalk to the main hides. There were lots of House Sparrows chirping away in the bushes by the drainage channel and several House Martins hawking for insects low over the grazing marshes. A Little Egret flew overhead, heading west presumably to feed and was passed by another heading back in towards the nesting colony.

At Dauke’s Hide, there were lots of Shelduck, both adults and a large gathering of small juveniles. At first, they were swimming and feeding feverishly, heads under the water, while a pair of adults stood preening on an island a short distance away. When the juveniles went over to join the adults on the island, we could count there were a whopping 18 of them in total.

ShelduckShelduck – this pair were looking after 18 small shelducklings

However, on closer inspection it was clear the juvenile Shelducks were of two different ages, some slightly smaller and darker and others a little bigger and more faded. They were presumably two different broods which had been creched together, with one unfortunate set of parents inheriting childcare duties for the whole lot!

There are always lots of Avocets on the scrapes at this time of the year. There were several still on nests, but there was one juvenile out on Simmond’s Scrape, a little bundle of fluff with long legs and uptilted bill.

The young Avocets are very vulnerable to predation and invariably suffer high losses – this one was allowed to wander off on its own with what was presumably one of its parents standing and preening on one of the islands some distance away. All the adults would periodically take off calling noisily and attempt to chase off whichever potential predator was approaching, a crow, a large gull or a raptor passing overhead. Meanwhile, the youngsters are left behind, even more vulnerable – the Avocet approach to childcare!

AvocetAvocets – dropping back down after attempting to chase off a Marsh Harrier

There was a nice selection of other waders on Simmond’s Scrape today. A Little Ringed Plover was creeping around on the edge of one of the nearer islands, and through the scope we could see its bright golden yellow eyering. Two Common Ringed Plovers were out on the mud further back, their slightly small size and dark appearance suggesting they were most likely of the tundrae race, far northerly breeders passing through.

There were several Redshank out on the mud too but one bird near them was similar but subtly different. Slightly smaller, shorter billed, with less bright legs, it was a female Ruff, in summer plumage, marked with black on its upperparts. A smart Lapwing on the bank in front of the hide looked especially striking, its glossy iridescent green upperparts shining bronze and purple in the sunshine.

LapwingLapwing – irridescent in the sunshine in front of Dauke’s Hide

There were several Marsh Harriers passing back and forth over the reeds at the back, or flying high over the scrapes, much to the annoyance of the Avocets. We watched a male Marsh Harrier dropping in towards the reedbed carrying some food in its talons, but it dropped straight in out of view and didn’t call the female up for a food pass this time.

A Skylark gave us some nice views as it fed on the bank in front of the hide and a Starling, also looking glossy in the sunshine, was picking around in and out of the mud on the edge of the ditch. We could head a Pied Wagtail calling on the roof of the hide, somewhere above our heads, before it flew off across the scrape.

StarlingStarling – also looking very glossy in the sunshine

As we came out of the hide, a Kestrel was hovering over the marshes just beyond the reeds. We headed back to the car and round to the East Bank next. It was beautifully sunny again, but with the wind having picked up quite a bit after the rain, it at least meant it was a bit fresher than this morning.

KestrelKestrel – hovering over the grazing marshes by the hides

There was a nice selection of ducks on the grazing marshes from the East Bank. Three Common Pochard were diving on the pool on the edge of the reeds as we passed, including two rusty headed drakes.

Common PochardCommon Pochard – three were on the pool by the East Bank

There were several Gadwall and Shoveler down in the grass and around the small muddy pools. When we got to the Serpentine, we stopped to look at a couple of drake Teal feeding on the water. Presumably these are late birds or ones which have decided not to head north for the breeding season this year. Similarly, three Wigeon were asleep on the muddy bank at the northern end of the Serpentine, whereas most of their brethren which were here through the winter have long since departed for Russia. A pair of Tufted Duck were diving nearby and there were plenty of Greylag Geese together with well grown juveniles on the grass.

GadwallGadwall – one of several drakes out on the grazing marsh

The grazing marshes are still looking nice and wet, which should be encouraging for the breeding Lapwings and Redshanks. From time to time a male Lapwing would fly up and start to display, singing and tumbling in the air. A careful scan round the edges of Pope’s Pool produced a rather distant Greenshank asleep. Three Ringed Plovers on the mud on the edge of the Serpentine also looked to be dark northern breeding Tundra birds.

Lapwing displayingLapwing – displaying over the grazing marshes

A Grey Heron was lurking motionless on the edge of the reeds at the back of Pope’s Pool, presumably waiting for an unsuspecting fish in the ditch below. A few Little Egrets were flying back and forth over the marshes, coming to and from North Foreland Wood. A couple of Cormorant were asleep on one of the islands in Pope’s Pool along with a selection of big gulls – Herring, Great Black-backed and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.

We got out of the sun and wind and had a nice sit down in the new shelter opposite Arnold’s Marsh. Two Little Terns were standing on the small shingle island towards the back. There were a few more waders on here today. A Grey Plover on the edge of the saltmarsh was still mostly in grey winter plumage. A Knot was starting to look rather orange underneath as it moults into breeding plumage and was accompanied by six summer Dunlin sporting black-bellies. There was no sign of the Little Stint reported here earlier, but there were clearly more small waders in the saltmarsh vegetation right at the back which were proving hard to see – from time to time we got a glimpse of 3-4 Turnstone and 4 more Ringed Plovers.

Continuing on to the beach, we had a quick look out to sea but there was not much happening today – it was rather windy here now. We turned to walk quickly back, heads down into the wind . When we got back to the car the afternoon was already well advanced, and with the group tired after all the walking in the sun, we decided to call it a day and head for home.

24th May 2017 – Two Nightingales Sang…

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day. We had a list of potential target species to look for, an interesting mix of lingering winter visitors and scarce breeding birds.

Our first stop saw us looking for Nightingales. As soon as we got out of the car, we heard one singing. We walked round to the other side of the trees, but it had chosen a really dense clump of bushes to sing from today, so it quickly became clear we wouldn’t be able to see it unless it moved. We stood and listened to it for a few minutes, such a beautiful song, then decided to try looking for another one instead.

As we walked up the lane, there were lots of warblers singing in the hedgerows. A Willow Warbler perched high in the bare branches of a tree. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from a hawthorn and we had a typical glimpse of it as it shot out and disappeared down into the ditch beyond. Several Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a Reed Warbler were all singing too.

When we got to the trees, we could just hear the other Nightingale singing. It has a spot which it favours where it is possible to see it, but it was much deeper into the wood today. It quickly went quiet so we stood and scanned the trees while we waited for it to start up again. A large Cockchafer flew around the bushes in front of us. When the Nightingale did start singing again, we could hear that it had moved and it seemed to be back in its favourite spot. Sure enough, there it was, perched in a tangle of dead branches and brambles, in the sunshine.

6O0A1906Nightingale – great views of this one singing today

We watched the Nightingale for a while, as it perched singing or hopped between the branches. When it finally dropped down into the thicket out of view, we decided to move on. It had been a great way to start the morning.

One of the requests for the day was to try to find a Firecrest. They are patchily distributed in North Norfolk, and it is not the easiest time of year to look for one, but we thought we would give it a go anyway. We parked up on the Holt-Cromer ridge and set off to walk to an area where we know they are present.

As we made our way towards the trees, we passed through an area of fields. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a hedge and we could hear a Yellowhammer calling quietly. A quick scan and we caught sight of its bright yellow head, a smart male perched in the bushes. A couple of partridges flushed from the edge of a field and landed in the open briefly, before scurrying into cover, just long enough for us to see they were Grey Partridges.

When we got to the edge of the trees, a Garden Warbler was singing but well hidden from view, as was a Goldcrest too in the tops of some pines. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us and we could hear a pair of Bullfinches calling plaintively, but the trees were too thick here to see anything.

We continued into the wood, to an area which we know the Firecrests favour. It was already getting quite warm now and it was fairly quiet deep in the trees. We walked up a ride flanked by firs and, when we got to the far end, we heard it – a brief snatch of song, a Firecrest. It sang twice more, just enough for us to get a rough fix on its location, and then went quiet. It seemed to be singing in a tall fir tree a short way into the wood, surrounded by deciduous trees. We scanned the bits we could see, but the Firecrest was probably in the top, which protruded above the canopy and into the sunshine.

As we stood and waited to see if it would sing again, we noticed a falcon circling behind the trees. It was a Hobby and as it drifted out into view we noticed that there was a second Hobby with it. We watched as they circled high overhead, before disappearing behind the trees again. A Common Buzzard drifted over too, and a little later, on our way back, we would see a Red Kite over the trees as well, all enjoying the rising thermals.

6O0A1915Hobby – a pair circled high over the trees

The Firecrest sang another couple of times, and it was clear that it was moving about in the canopy, but it was still impossible to see it, looking up from below the trees. When it sounded like it had moved towards the firs bordering the ride, we went back out and scanned the trees from there, but there was still no sign of it. Then it went quiet and we decided to give up. It was good to hear it singing, but it would have been nice to see it.

As we walked back out of the wood, we came across a family of Treecreepers. A Goldcrest was collecting food and taking it back into a fir, where we presume it had a nest. A Jay flew across the path ahead of us. As we walked back to the car, we could see the two Hobbys still hawking for insects over the ridge.

Stock Dove was another target and as we got back to the car, we could hear one calling from the trees nearby. We were not going to be able to see it in there, but thankfully a second Stock Dove appeared on the wires next to the road, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. The two Stock Doves whooped to each other, before the one on the wires flew off towards the trees.

6O0A1926Stock Dove – perched on the wires next to the car

We made our way round and up onto the Heath next. It was really starting to warm up now, but there were still a few Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing in the trees. We flushed lots of Linnets from the gorse as we walked round, thankfully still a fairly common bird on the heaths although now much more scarce in its traditional farmland habitat. A Kestrel was hovering over an open clearing and as we looked over towards it, we could see a pair of Hobbys circling high beyond, perhaps the pair we had seen earlier working their way along the ridge.

6O0A1929Linnet – still a common bird up on the heaths

Dartford Warbler was one of our targets here, but all was quiet at the first spot we tried. We carried on round to another location where we know they are feeding young at the moment, which should give us a better chance to see them. On the way, we passed through an area where the Woodlarks like to feed, but there was no sign of them either. Someone else looking for them told us that a large group of people had been through here just a little earlier, so the birds had probably been disturbed.

At the next location for Dartford Warblers, it all seemed quiet too, at first. We stood and listened for a minute where they had been a couple of days ago, then decided to have a quiet walk round their territory. As we were walking along a narrow path, the male Dartford Warbler suddenly flew up in front of us singing, hovering in mid air for a second or two, before dropping back behind some tall gorse. We crept round the corner, and there it was, in the gorse just a couple of metres away from us. Stunning!

6O0A1942Dartford Warbler – the male, collecting food

We followed the Dartford Warbler for a few minutes at a discrete distance, as it crept through the gorse, collecting caterpillars. We had some fantastic views of it. Occasionally, it would stop just long enough to deliver a short burst of song, before carrying on the hunt. Finally, when it had collected a bill full of food, it went zooming off over the heather, to deliver it to its hungry brood.

There is another area where the Woodlarks have been collecting food recently, but they weren’t there either. We thought they might be back at the first place we had looked, after a while left in peace, but we still couldn’t find them. We were just about to give up when we heard a Woodlark calling quietly. A careful scan, and we found it perched on a fence post a short distance away. We had a good look at it through the scope before it dropped down to the ground out of view.

It was time for lunch now, so we dropped back down to the coast and along to Cley, where we could sit out on the picnic tables and enjoy the fine weather. After lunch, we had a scan of the scrapes from the visitor centre, and looked at the sightings board, but there didn’t seem to be much on the reserve today, so we decided not to go out to the hides.

Bearded Tit was another target for the day, so we headed round to have a walk out along the East Bank to see if we could find one. A leucistic drake Common Pochard on one of the pools was a bit of an oddity – an interesting bird to see. There were a few Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds as we walked out, and a Reed Bunting or two as well, but no sound of any Bearded Tits at first. Despite the lack of wind, it was perhaps just too hot now, in the early afternoon.

There were more birds around the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh. Several Lapwings and Avocets were down in the grass, a few Common Redshank were calling and displaying. A single Ringed Plover was feeding along the edge of the Serpentine.

6O0A1958Lapwing – on the grazing marsh from East Bank

There were more ducks here too. Several drake Gadwall were chasing round after a female, pursuing her remorselessly all over the grazing marsh and out across the reedbed. As well as the regular Mallard and Shoveler, there were some late winter visitors too. A single drake Eurasian Teal and a lone Wigeon should probably both have been on their way north to breed already.

We were almost at the main drain when we finally heard a Bearded Tit calling. We stopped and listened for a while, and realised there were several birds here, in different places, though they were only calling occasionally. We had frustrating brief glimpses of a couple of birds zipping distantly over the tops of the reeds, which were hard to get onto, until a male Bearded Tit flew up from the reeds close to the near edge and flew off away from us, giving us a nice long flight view. It looked like that would have to do today, better than nothing.

There was a lot of heat haze looking out across Arnold’s Marsh this afternoon. We had heard a Little Tern calling as we walked out and could see one resting on the small island out towards the back. A party of Turnstones appeared on the island too, several in bright summer plumage, looking more appropriately like their full name, Ruddy Turnstone. Three Dunlin were with them, two with their summer black bellies. A careful scan round the edges revealed a single Grey Plover, still in its rather grey winter plumage.

We carried on out to the beach and took a look out to sea. It was very calm today, but there was some sea fret hanging distantly offshore, partly obscuring the wind turbines. There were a few terns offshore, flying back and forth, some carrying fish. Mostly they were Sandwich Terns, but a pair of Little Terns were fishing close inshore and a single Common Tern flew past. Looking further out, on the edge of the fog, we spotted a long line of black ducks flying past. They were Common Scoter and there must have been at least 80 of them. Presumably they were making their way back north for the breeding season.

There were a few butterflies out today in the sunshine – mostly Peacock, Red Admiral and the odd Small Tortoiseshell. We also saw a couple of Painted Ladys on our travels today and, out along the East Bank, our first Common Blue of the year. The numbers of dragonflies are finally increasing now too, in the warm weather, with Four-Spotted Chaser and Blue-tailed Damselfly along the East Bank today.

6O0A1964Common Blue – our first of the year, along the East Bank today

As we walked back along the East Bank, we bumped into one of the reserve volunteers who mentioned that he had seen a Bearded Tit along the edge of the ditch further back. So, as we made our way along, we scanned the bottom of the reeds and sure enough we found it, working its way along the edge of the water, in and out of the reeds. It was a female Bearded Tit.

When we quickly lost sight of it behind some taller reeds along the front edge of the ditch, we could hear another Bearded Tit calling and looked across to see it fly in and land down on the edge of the ditch just a few metres away. We walked back to look for that one, and just at that point it climbed up the reeds carrying something in its bill. It was a cracking male Bearded Tit, with powder blue head and distinctive black moustaches. It perched up in full view in front of us for several seconds, looking round, before flying off back over the reeds.

6O0A1966Bearded Tit – this smart male was collecting food along the ditch

It was great to get such a great view of a Bearded Tit, and a smart male to boot. Worthy reward for our perseverance! With that mission accomplished, we headed back to the car. There were still a few odds and ends on the target list, so we made thought we could squeeze in a quick couple more stops before the end of the day.

We drove back along the coast road to Kelling and had a quick walk down the lane to the Water Meadow. There were a few warblers singing in the hedges beside the lane, despite it being the middle of a hot and sunny afternoon – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. We had hoped to find a Lesser Whitethroat along here, but there was no sign or sound of it here this afternoon.

6O0A1985Chiffchaff – singing in the hedge along the lane this afternoon

There were just the usual ducks on the Water Meadow, a pair of Gadwall, three Mallard and a lone drake Shoveler. One of the resident Egyptian Geese was guarding a gosling in the grass on the edge of the water. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pool. This is often a good spot for Yellow Wagtails in spring, but the grass is rather tall this year making them hard to see. As always, we had a careful scan around the feet of the cows and were duly rewarded with a pair of Yellow Wagtails flitting around the legs of one of them, before the cows moved back into the long grass.

Brent Geese are a common sight around the coast here in winter, but the vast majority of them have now departed on their way back to northern Russia for the breeding season. It is still possible to find the odd one or two with a bit of luck, so we decided to have a look in Blakeney Harbour to finish the day. As we made our way down the path towards Stiffkey Fen, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes the other side of the road, but there was no way to see it from where we were and it seemed to be moving further back into the trees before it went quiet.

When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was already pretty high in the harbour. There was a big party of Oystercatchers gathered to roost out on the edge of the water, but we couldn’t see any Brent Geese where they have been recently. The Fen itself also looked pretty quiet today, with most of the winter waders having departed. There was a single Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands, plus three Common Redshanks which flew off from the edge of the reeds, and plenty of Avocets.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull in with the roosting Herring Gulls was a useful addition to the day’s list and a smart summer adult Common Gull was out on the water just beyond the reeds. A pair each of both Sandwich Tern and Common Tern flew in from the harbour and circled over the pool.

6O0A1990Common Tern – a pair flew in from the harbour and circled over the Fen

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees beyond the Fen, but Brent Goose was our target here, so we focused our attention on trying to find one. Scanning carefully over the saltmarsh finally paid off when we located two Brent Geese feeding in the grass away to the west. Another one for the list and a perfect way to round off the day.

7th May 2017 – Three Spring Days, Part 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Spring Tours today, our last day. It was another rather cold and windy day, still un-spring-like, but at least once again it was mostly dry, at least until we had finished at the end of the day. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast today.

Our first destination was Kelling. We had received a message to say some Yellow Wagtails had dropped in with the cows there, so we thought it might be worth a look, in case they might stop to feed for a while. As we parked in the village a couple of House Martins were prospecting nest sites under the eaves of the buildings there. A Coal Tit appeared in one of the fir trees by the school.

It was rather sheltered in the lane and there were warblers singing in the hedges. We could hear a couple of Chiffchaff singing on the walk down and a Blackcap was calling in the copse (it would have found its full voice by the time we walked back!). A Lesser Whitethroat rattled in the hawthorns and then flew across the lane in front of us, perching out in the open in the top of the hedge briefly.

As we got down to the Water Meadow, a couple of Skylarks were singing over the fields. There are always plenty of Rooks here and a pair of Carrion Crows down in the grass too gave us a good opportunity to talk about the differences between them. A Sedge Warbler was belting out its song from the top of the brambles, despite being exposed to the cold north wind out in the open here. As we approached, it flew up from its perch and parachuted down into the grass in the middle of the field beyond.

6O0A9914Sedge Warbler – singing from the top of the brambles, despite the wind

The cows on the Water Meadow were huddled up in the lee of the hedge and most of them had sat down. Unfortunately there was no sign of any Yellow Wagtails with them – they had obviously continued on their way. From where we were standing we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling, but it was obviously tucked down deep in the brambles today and we couldn’t see it before it went quiet again.

A steady stream of Sand Martins came to feed over the water, along with a few Swallows. There were a few ducks on the pool too – several Gadwall and Teal, a pair of Shoveler and a pair of Shelduck. We could hear a couple of Reed Warblers singing. The first, from the reeds by the track, was down low and not visible, but we found the second clambering around in the bushes, looking for food and singing as it did so.

We walked round to the beach in the hope that there might be some migrants on the move, but the skies overhead were quiet. A pair of Stonechats were feeding on the ground behind the beach, out of the wind, and there were a few Meadow Pipits here but nothing else. It was cold here in the wind, so we beat a hasty retreat.

Heading to the Heath next, we thought we would try our luck. Up on the ridge here, it can be cold and windswept in conditions like we had today. A Garden Warbler was singing in the car park, but it was deep in the thick blackthorn bushes and we couldn’t see it. As we walked up along the track, we could hear lots of other warblers singing – several Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Blackcap.

We heard another Garden Warbler singing from a birch tree by the path and tracked the sound as it moved round in the leaves until it appeared briefly on the outside where we could see it. There were quite a few Garden Warblers singing and calling up on the Heath today, which are always great to hear.

Walking round through the territory of one of the pairs of Dartford Warblers, we couldn’t hear or see any sign of them. There were a few Linnets twittering in the gorse and we came across a pair of Stonechats, which quickly moved away as we appeared. There seemed to be small groups of schoolchildren hiking everywhere today, we saw them at Kelling and Cley as well, presumably doing something like Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions. One group came crashing across the middle of the heath at this point with what we presumed were their teachers. They were obviously lost, it sounded like they couldn’t find the path, and one of the staff was having to carry his dog as when he put it down it clearly couldn’t walk on the spiky cut gorse! We decided to try a quieter spot.

There is a particular place where we have seen Woodlarks regularly in the last few weeks, so we decided to walk round via there. As we approached, we could see a Woodlark walking round on the ground. Through binoculars, we could see it was collecting bright green caterpillars – it had a bill full of them already. Presumably, it had young nearby to feed.

6O0A9938Woodlark – collecting caterpillars to feed to its young

Then a second Woodlark appeared close by, also with a bill full of the same green caterpillars. They were obviously a pair. We enjoyed a great view as we watched the two of them for several minutes as they walked around between the branches, looking for more. Eventually, one disappeared and the second flew up and landed out of view.

It seemed like it might be just too cold and windy for the Dartford Warblers today, but it is always a nice walk round the Heath anyway. We had stopped and were talking about the Heath when we heard a male Dartford Warbler singing a little further along the path from us. We hurried over and found it perched right on the top of some gorse.

6O0A9966Dartford Warbler – singing from the top of the gorse, despite the cold wind

It dropped down before everyone could get onto it, but we waited a minute and remarkably the male Dartford Warbler came up and started singing again. This time everyone had a great look at it. When it dropped down again, we could just about see it working its way through the gorse. Then the Dartford Warbler came up onto the top of the gorse a third time, singing, this time even closer to us. Great stuff!

With great views of both Dartford Warbler and Woodlark this morning, we decided to head back. Three Common Buzzards were circling over the wood beyond the Heath, despite the lack of any sunshine. As we walked back, we could hear juvenile Linnets calling from deep in the gorse and we watched as the parents flew round and perched nearby. Another Garden Warbler was singing in the birches, but it was hard to get onto with all the leaves moving in the wind – we could just see it flicking round between branches from time to time.

Back at the car, we made our way over to Cley. It was just about lunchtime, so we stopped at the NWT visitor centre and ate our lunch. A flock of about 30 Black-tailed Godwits came up from the scrapes and flew off towards Blakeney Harbour. A Marsh Harrier drifted over from the reedbed, causing all the Avocets to start alarm calling. A Grey Heron stood motionless in the reeds.

Looking at the sightings board in the visitor centre, there didn’t seem to be much on the reserve today. There has been a dearth of spring migrant waders at Cley in the last week or so, which could be due to the weather or to the lingering impact of the saltwater inundation during the floods in January.

We decided to head over to Walsey Hills instead of going out to the hides. There had been a Wood Warbler here earlier, but no one seemed to know where it was when we arrived. A Pied Flycatcher was apparently showing occasionally in the pines on the top of the hill, so we thought we would look for that first. When we got up there, we discovered it was spending most of its time deep in the pines. We walked into the trees and could just see a shape flitting around occasionally, but clearly we were not going to be able to get a really good look at it.

At that point, a message came round that the Wood Warbler had reappeared, so we made our way back down to the footpath. It was difficult viewing with all the bushes, and quite a crowd of people in here. We got a quick view of it in the back of the trees, flitting around, but then it disappeared again. It was clearly going to be impossible for everyone to get a really good look at it, so we decided to move on and try something different.

The birds from the East Bank were a lot easier to see. A pair of Common Pochard and several Tufted Duck were on the pools in the reedbed, along with a noisy group of Greylags. A good number of Swifts have now arrived, but finding insects in this weather was presumably challenging, and we had great views of them as they zoomed around low over the pools and the bank. One came within a few inches of the head of one of the group!

6O0A9989Common Swift – zooming around over the East Bank

Over the other side of the bank, a couple of Lapwings were displaying over the grazing marshes, putting on quite a display, chasing each other and tumbling through the air, singing their distinctive song.

6O0A0107Lapwings – displaying over the grazing marshes

It was the chicks which stole the show though. A lone female Lapwing was huddled down in the grass not far from the bank on the edge of some water. We could just see one small chick tucked in underneath it, while another was wandering around just behind them. It still looked a bit unsteady on its feet! Mum was paying surprisingly little attention to it.

6O0A0131Lapwing and chick – the latter still a bit unsteady on its feet

There were also a few Redshanks out on the grazing marshes. A little later, we watched one displaying, a male flying up with bowed wings fluttering, then dropping down to land next to the female who looked distinctly unimpressed. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding distantly on Pope’s Marsh.

As well as the usual ducks, three or four lingering Wigeon were grazing around the pools. They should be off on their way back to Russia for the breeding season soon. In contrast, the Little Egrets breed nearby, so they don’t have far to go. One was fishing in a small pool near the bank and we could see it had bright pink facial skin, an indication that it was in breeding condition. We also admired its ornate plumes.

6O0A0125Little Egret – a breeding adult, with pink facial skin

Two Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed at the back of Pope’s Marsh, but then flew over towards the East Bank, flushing everything on the grazing marshes as they went. A single Whimbrel came up from somewhere in the grass and flew off calling.

6O0A0136Marsh Harrier – flew over the East Bank, flushing everything from the grazing marshes

There as a nice selection of birds on Arnold’s Marsh again today. A single Ringed Plover was on one of the islands with a little group of Dunlin. The latter were in various stages of moult into summer plumage, with spotted black belly patches. A Grey Plover in contrast looked to be pretty much there already, looking stunning with black face and belly and bright white spangled upperparts. A lone Knot was also in its orange summer plumage, and several of the Bar-tailed Godwits were too. There were a couple of Turnstone hiding in the saltmarsh vegetation and one of those looked stunning with its white face and chestnut upperparts.

Two small waders down towards the front of the saltmarsh were Little Ringed Plovers. Through the scope, we could see their golden yellow eye rings. The female was preening and appeared rather disinterested in the male’s display. He appeared to be trying to impress her with a potential nest scrape, bowing and sitting down in it, fanning his tail up in the air. She barely moved!

IMG_4050Little Ringed Plover – showing off a potential nest scrape to an unimpressed female

There were no terns on Arnold’s Marsh today, but a quick look out at the sea produced two Sandwich Terns making their way west offshore. It was very breezy out on the beach, so we then beat a hasty retreat.

We had a quick look down at Iron Road to finish the day. There were lots of Gadwall on the pool here, but not much else of note. We looked up to see four Ruff flying off east. As we walked out towards Babcock Hide, there were plenty of geese on the grazing marshes – Greylags, Canada and a pair of Egyptian Geese. More of a surprise was a Fulmar flying west over the fields inland of the coast road!

A  quick look out from the hide, and the scrape looked rather quiet. A single Common Sandpiper appeared, walking round the front of one of the islands, but then quickly flew off. Out at the back, we managed to find a single Ringed Plover and a single Little Ringed Plover. Otherwise, there were just a couple of Redshank to make up the waders.

There were a few of the regular ducks out on the pool, the most noteworthy being a male Common Pochard. More interesting were the gulls. Several immature (2cy & 3cy) Great Black-backed Gulls were sleeping on the islands, presumably on here to get away from the wind at the beach. In with them, we found a single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and a 1st winter. The Lesser Black-backed Gulls were completely dwarfed by the Great Black-backs.

6O0A0156Lesser Black-backed & Great Black-backed Gulls – roosting on the islands

Unfortunately it was time for us to start making our way back. As we walked back towards the car, we could hear Greenshanks calling, and looked up to see a flock of 8 flying high NE. They did not stop, presumably there is something about Cley which means it is not proving attractive to migrant waders at the moment.

As we drove back towards Wells, it started to drizzle. We had been lucky that it stayed dry pretty much all day again today. It had been another cold and windy day, but despite the conditions we had racked up a list of 90 species today. Not bad going, especially as we spent much of the day at rather specialised sites such as the Heath and Walsey Hills!

30th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 5

Day 5, the final day of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was a lovely day, with sunshine and blue skies, but a nagging easterly wind picked up during the morning.

Our first destination for the day was Burnham Overy Dunes. As we walked out across the grazing marshes we spotted a lone Whimbrel out on the grazing marshes, so we had a quick look at it through the scope.  A little further along, and a second Whimbrel flew low overhead, then was we rounded the hedge we could see two more on the ground, this time much closer.

IMG_3693Whimbrel – we had a good look at two on the grazing marshes

We got a great look at these last two, and could see their boldly marked heads. We talked a little about the identification of Whimbrel versus Curlew, the different body shape of the two being a good clue to identification, as well as the shorter bill of the Whimbrel. We could see the slim body and long wings of the two Whimbrel out on the grass.

There were other waders out on the grazing marshes too. Three Oystercatchers were asleep, possibly waiting for the tide to go out in the harbour. There were quite a few Lapwings and one or two Redshank. All three of these species breed here, unlike the Whimbrel which are just passage migrants. There were also a few ducks out on the pools, and lots of geese all over on the grass, Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese predominating at this time of year.

The summer warblers are now here in force and singing, claiming their territory and trying to attract a mate. A Common Whitethroat sang from the top of the bushes by the gate and a Chiffchaff was flitting around in a sallow just beyond, helpfully breaking into song just after we had been looking at it. There are lots of Sedge Warblers all along the track here, singing from the brambles by the ditches. A resident Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we approached and we stood for a while to see if we could see it, and it duly zoomed past between bushes a couple of times.

6O0A8963Sedge Warbler – several were singing from the bushes along the track

With the sun out, there were even a few butterflies out today, with both Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell finding some shelter, basking in the wheel ruts out of the wind. We also saw a couple of Small Coppers out in the dunes.

As we approached the seawall, we could head Mediterranean Gulls calling. We looked up to see a couple of them circling over the harbour beyond, their white wingtips flashing bright in the sunshine. While we were watching the Mediterranean Gulls, we noticed Stuart, former proprietor of The Bird ID Company, coming towards us, on his way back from an early morning in the dunes. He stopped for a quick chat about what he had seen.

When we got up onto the seawall, we could see it was high tide. All the mud was covered by water and small groups of waders were roosting around the edges or on little islands of vegetation. There was a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwits closer to us, some already in orange summer plumage, and a few Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover further back.  Some of the Grey Plover were already showing quite a bit of black on their bellies.

IMG_3697

Even though they were asleep, with their heads tucked in, and mostly face on to us, we could see the differences in colour and pattern of the underparts between the summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. A small flock of Knot flew past, with some of them too in orange summer plumage. A few Brent Geese were still lingering in the harbour – they should soon be on their way to Russia for the breeding season.

The dunes here are always full of Linnets and Meadow Pipits and there were quite a few already around the boardwalk bushes, along with a couple of Reed Buntings too. We turned west and headed out towards Gun Hill. On the way, we came across several Wheatears feeding on the short grass, which flew ahead of us flashing their white rumps. A lone Willow Warbler was in bushes, presumably a migrant on its way up to Scandinavia.

There had been a Whinchat here earlier, so we wade a circuit of all the bushes looking for it. While we were walking along a narrow path between clumps of brambles, a female Common Redstart flew down into the path in front of us. It got a bit of a shock when it saw us and darted straight back into a small sycamore, flashing its orange red tail as it went. Unfortunately it was all too quick and impossible for most of the group to get onto on such a narrow path. While they stood and watched from a suitable vantage point, one of us circled round the back and tried to see if the Redstart might fly out again, but it had completely disappeared. Despite looking all round the area, we unfortunately couldn’t relocate it, nor could we find the Whinchat.

From the dunes, we could see several Little Terns feeding out over the harbour. We decided to walk round on the beach to see if any were resting on the stones, but we couldn’t get round the tern fence, which extended right out into the water, not where it is normally put. We did stop and scan the beach from here and found a nice selection of waders roosting out on the point over the high tide. There was a nice flock of Bar-tailed Godwits feeding along the high tide line, including one colour-ringed bird. Subsequent contact with the ringing scheme has revealed it was ringed at Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania in January!

There was also a single Ringed Plover and a smart summer plumage Turnstone with white face and rusty shoulders. A lone Common Sandpiper fed up and down the tide line before flying off across the harbour. A White Wagtail feeding on the beach with all the waders had presumably stopped off to rest on its journey along the coast, a welcome bonus.

6O0A8995Common Sandpiper – feeding on the beach at Gun Hill at high tide

We had to walk back past Gun Hill to get out onto the beach the other side of the point. A large flock of Sanderling was just in the process of being chased off by a couple of people walking along the sand. There were several more Ringed Plover on the beach behind the tern fence, but further along it had been washed away by the tide and more people were walking through the area where the Little Terns should be settling. We notified the wardens and it should be repaired, but it did mean there were no Little Terns on the beach today.

While we were scanning the beach, we spotted three larger terns flying across the harbour the other side of the point, some distance away from us. They disappeared out of sight behind the dunes but a few seconds later reappeared over our heads. They flew straight out across the beach and turned east over the sea. They were Arctic Terns on their migration north, and it turned out there was a huge passage of them today, as we were also to see later. It was remarkable to think that they were on their way north to the arctic having just come from spending our winter around the antarctic ocean!

As we walked back up into dunes, we heard the shrill call of a Yellow Wagtail and looked up to see it flying west overhead. Another migrant on its way, it did not stop but as it came low past us it was the first we were able to get onto properly, and we could see a flash of bright yellow underparts.

We made our way back to the boardwalk and continued on past it, east through the dunes. The wind was picking up now, but in a sheltered spot out of the breeze, we found several more Wheatears feeding. As we were walking past them, we heard a loud chacking call and a Ring Ouzel flew out of a bush and disappeared over the dunes in front of us. We could hear it again round the other side, calling from some more bushes, and as we walked towards the sound it flew again. This time it landed briefly on the top of a dune where we could get a look at it. It was a female, with a poorly marked, dull gorget. It then flew off strongly west over the dunes and disappeared from sight.

6O0A9024Wheatear – there were several in the dunes today

There were plenty of Stonechats in the dunes today – they breed here and we saw males singing and a few females and pairs too. But there was no sign of the hoped for Whinchat on our walk towards the pines. As we approached the west end of the trees, we could hear a Woodlark singing, although we had been expecting it as it had been reported here earlier.

The Woodlark was distant at first, a spot hovering over the dunes, but we got closer and eventually we had it hovering right over ours heads, singing its slightly melancholy sounding song. We also got a great look at its distinctive flight profile – broad rounded wings and short tail. It was getting rather windy now and the bushes south of the fence were being blown around, so we couldn’t see any activity around them from where we were.

6O0A9046Woodlark – hovered right over our heads, singing, in the dunes

As we turned to start making our way back, a Ring Ouzel flew past, this time a smart male with bright white gorget. It flew past the bushes and then turned and flew up into the dunes at the end of the pines. Looking away in the other direction, we could see a Spoonbill distantly flying out towards the harbour.

Scanning the bushes as we went back, we finally found a Whinchat. It was perched on top of a small hawthorn bush in the dunes south of the fence. We got the scope on it, but it flew off before everyone could get a look at it. Perhaps because of the wind, it was feeding on the ground today with the Wheatears, and it kept getting itself tucked down in little sheltered hollows in the dunes where we couldn’t see it. Once everyone had enjoyed OK views of the Whinchat, we carried on back to the boardwalk.

There were now lots of reports from elsewhere along the coast of Arctic Terns and Black Terns passing offshore, so we walked up to the top of a dune to scan the sea. We managed to see another Arctic Tern flying east just offshore, but it was very windy and exposed up here, so we didn’t stay long. As we walked back along the seawall, a Red Kite flew over the grazing marshes nearby, mobbed by a couple of Lapwings.

To get out of the wind, we made our way back to Holkham for lunch. Lady Anne’s Drive was predictably very busy, it being a bank holiday weekend, but we were surprised how many cars were up at the hall. Eventually we found somewhere where we could park and ate our lunch down on the grass, watching a pair of Mistle Thrushes flying back and forth in and out of the trees with food for their young.

With all the terns on the move today, we thought it would be nice to have a look at them from somewhere a bit more sheltered, so we made our way along to Cley after lunch. There were still some Arctic Terns moving, but unfortunately it appeared we had missed the bulk of the Black Terns already. In about half an hour, we saw over 40 Arctic Terns fly past, including one flock of around 20, plus a few Common Terns, a Little Tern, a Fulmar, 2-3 Gannets, and a single Great Skua which landed on the sea. A Grey Seal was lurking just offshore. Not a bad return for our efforts!

There had been a Wryneck reported earlier from Walsey Hills, but they can be elusive at the best of times. When it was seen again, we thought it might be worth a look, with suitable warnings that it might be difficult to see. When we arrived on the steps where it had been reported, there were several people standing around and no one seemed to know when it had last been seen. We hadn’t been there five minutes when someone announced ‘there it is’ and the Wryneck hopped out into view!

6O0A9120Wryneck – showed very well after just five minutes wait!

The Wryneck was quite tricky to get onto at first, feeding on the ground in among the young bracken shoots on the bank. They are also very well camouflaged, with their cryptic plumage, but it quickly hopped out into a clearer patch where we could all get a really good look at it. Wrynecks are a very scarce migrant passing through here these days, so smiles all round – it was a great bird to see!

While we were watching the Wryneck, we learned that there had been five Black Terns out on Arnold’s Marsh. Unfortunately, although they had apparently been there for some time, no one seemed to have told anyone before they flew off! We went for a quick walk up along the East Bank anyway. As we suspected, there were just Sandwich Terns present now, which were still nice to see properly. There were also good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover and Dunlin, with several now in smart summer plumage.

IMG_3698Sandwich Terns – roosting on Arnolds Marsh in the wind

With the blustery wind, we didn’t hang around out here today, but made our way back to the car. Back at Walsey Hills, two Little Grebes were calling, like madmen laughing, and we saw them swim across and disappear into the reeds.

Stiffkey Fen was our last destination for the day. On the walk out, a couple of Blackcaps were singing from the bushes and a few Swallows and House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees. There were lots of gulls out on the Fen, but all we could find here today were Black-headed Gulls. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep in the water down at the front. There were a few ducks, including a single Common Pochard and a couple of late Wigeon.

With the tide out, we were hoping to find some waders in the channel, but there was nothing visible upstream and just a couple of Avocets, a Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit opposite the Fen. We walked along to the end of the seawall, but there were several people crossing the water out on the near edge of the harbour with a couple of dogs, so no birds there. The only thing we could see of note from here were three smart summer Common Gulls resting on the mud in the channel.

As we turned to walk back, a Grey Heron flew up out of the reeds on the Fen and landed next to a Little Egret on the edge of the water. It was funny to see them side by side, little and large.

This is normally a good spot for Greenshank, a species we had not yet caught up with on our five days, so we were disappointed not to see one, although they can get out in the smaller muddy channels in the harbour at low tide. We were almost back to the steps when we took a last look up the channel next to the seawall and noticed three waders come round the corner from further up. Through the scope we confirmed they were Greenshank – just in the nick of time!

IMG_3709Greenshank – 2 of the 3 at Stiffkey Fen today

There is the occasional Greenshank which spends the whole winter here, but these are presumably migrants, stopping off on their way back north. They are in summer plumage now, with extensive black spotting down their breasts.

Suddenly the Greenshank took off and flew past us round onto the Fen. Then everything took off, whirling round before landing again – something was clearly spooking all the birds. It was a minute or so later that a juvenile Peregrine finally flew in over the Harbour!

6O0A9184Peregrine – this juvenile flew in from the Harbour

The Peregrine circled over the edge of the Fen for a minute or so, giving us a great view, before flying high across the water and disappearing away over the fields beyond. Having been spooked earlier, all the birds on the Fen were completely disinterested when it finally made its flyby.

It was a great way to end the day, and to round off a very exciting five days of spring birding in Norfolk. The weather had been somewhat mixed this week, but despite its best efforts we had seen a remarkable number of different birds. A very successful tour!

29th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 4

Day 4 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was rather cloudy for most of the day, but dry and with some brighter intervals. The wind had gone round and dropped, which meant it felt much milder than the last few days, which was most welcome.

After meeting in Wells, we headed off east along the coast today. A short diversion inland and we quickly located a Little Owl perched on the roof of a barn. It was a little distant from where we parked, but through the scope we had a good look at it. A Brown Hare ran past and a few Rooks were flying around the fields nearby.

We planned to spend part of the morning up on the Heath. As we got out of the car, we could hear Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing. As we walked round the bushes, one of the Blackcaps perched up nicely for us in the top of a blackthorn. The lighter wind and warmer weather seemed to encourage the warblers to perform a bit better today.

6O0A8747Blackcap – perched up nicely for us in a blackthorn

A little further round, we found a single Adder curled up under a gorse bush, sunning itself. It was not far from us but very well camouflaged. Unfortunately, by the time everyone had managed to see it, it had woken up and slithered away before the cameras were out.

The oak trees are starting to come into leaf and in one of them we could hear a pair of Long-tailed Tits calling. We stopped underneath and a Willow Warbler was singing in there too. We had a great look at them flitting around in the branches. The Willow Warbler found a caterpillar and stopped to beat it against a branch before gulping it down.

When we stopped to look at a Greenfinch in the top of some bushes, a small bird flew out and landed in the front below us, a Garden Warbler. When it turned, it looked very surprised to see us and shot back in, unfortunately before anyone had really had a chance to look at it. We waited a minute and could hear it calling agitatedly and eventually it started to work its way up into the top where we could see it. Then a second Garden Warbler appeared with it and the pair of them proceeded to look for food, hopping through the branches. It meant we got a great opportunity to look closely at this often rather elusive species.

There were several Yellowhammers singing as we walked round the Heath and we managed to get a good look at a couple of smart yellow-headed males. Linnets were everywhere – they seem to still do well on the heaths, even if they have declined sharply as a farmland bird. There was lots of activity here today, with Chiffchaffs and Common Whitethroats singing too.

As we walked round through the gorse, in full flower now leaving the Heath smelling of coconut, we heard a scratchy song away in the distance. A Dartford Warbler. We hurried round to the path on the other side, just in time to see it perched up on the top singing, though still some way away from us. It flew a short distance and landed on another gorse bush, giving another burst of scratchy song. It was hard to get onto, and it then flew down out of view, before all the group had seen it. We made our way over to where it had been and waited a while, hoping it would start singing again, but unfortunately it had gone quiet now.

We carried on round the Heath, enjoying all the birds singing, until we heard a brief snatch of Woodlark. It sounded like it might be some distance away, but one of the group spotted it perched in a dead gorse bush quite close to us. It stayed there for ages, seeming unconcerned by our presence, allowing us to get great views of it through the scope – we could see the bold supercilium, the two either side meeting in a shallow ‘v’ at the back of its neck, the rusty ear coverts and the distinctive black and white patch on the bend of the folded wing.

IMG_3672Woodlark – perched up very obligingly for us

The Woodlark eventually took off and flew round calling before dropping down on the edge of the path the other side of us. We had to walk past that way, and it flew a short distance further in as we passed, landing again amongst some clods of earth, where it crouched down half hidden. As we left it in peace and carried on further along the path, a second Woodlark started calling and the flew up ahead of us.

When we got to one of the other areas favoured by the Dartford Warblers, there was a group of photographers standing around. They told us they had only had very brief views. We stopped along the path just past them and after a few minutes they wandered off. In no time at all, a male Dartford Warbler flew in and landed on the top of the gorse right next to us. Stunning views!

6O0A8767Dartford Warbler – this male flew in and landed in the gorse right next to us

The male Dartford Warbler then flew across the path and landed on another bush the other side, perching there in full view for several seconds so we could all admire it, before dropping down the other side. A pair of Stonechats were feeding around the gorse just beyond. It was great to get such good views of the main target species here, so we decided to head back to the car.

There was still a bit of time before lunch, so we dropped down to the coast at Kelling and went for a walk along the lane down to the Quags. There were a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing in the hedges of the way down. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat too, but it was across the other side of the field. A little further along, another Lesser Whitethroat was feeding quietly in the trees right next to the path.

At the corner of the Quags, a Sedge Warbler was singing from the brambles, occasionally flying up and parachuting back down in display flight. Just beyond it, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling too. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the Grasshopper Warbler and as we edged down the lane, we realised that it was singing from the other side of the bushes. Still, it was nice to hear, a freshly arrived migrant and a good bird for this site these days.

We had thought there might be more visible migration today, with the wind finally having shifted round from the north, but the skies seemed rather quiet here. We did have a couple of single Yellow Wagtails fly over calling. We heard their loud ‘pseep’ calls as they approached but neither landed and both just continued straight over and off to the west. The cows are now being put on to the Water Meadows, but even that didn’t seem to be doing the trick in bringing them down.

There were a few ducks on the Water Meadows – a couple of pairs of Teal, a pair each of Shoveler and Gadwall – plus a single Mute Swan. As we continued along the track past the Water Meadows and down towards the beach, we spotted a wader flying in over the Quags. It was a Bar-tailed Godwit and it went down towards the pool. We walked back and it was feeding very actively along the edge of the water, clearly taking the opportunity for a quick refuelling stop on its way north.

IMG_3679Bar-tailed Godwit – flew in and landed on the Water Meadow

We had seen a distant Wheatear out on the Quags as we walked along, but when we got round there we found it had moved further over. There were now at least two Wheatears, feeding along the base of the shingle ridge. There were several Stonechats around the Quags too and a few Stock Doves flying around.

A quick walk up along the path along the edge of Weybourne Camp produced just a few more Linnets and Stonechats. Looking out to sea, we saw another two Bar-tailed Godwits flying past, they were obviously on the move today. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew west very high, but were very hard to see looking into the sun. The Weybourne Atmospheric Observatory caused the most amusement though – the pollution monitoring equipment there periodically emits four notes on a rising scale which is easily mistaken for a bird singing!

6O0A8796Goldfinch – several were around the Water Meadows

It was lunchtime now, so we made our way back to the car, flushing four Goldfinches up to the hedge that were feeding down on the path as we passed. Then we drove round to the visitor centre at Cley, where we ate our lunch on the picnic tables overlooking the marshes.

The main scrapes at Cley looked fairly empty, and there was very little reported up on the sightings board in the visitor centre, so we decided not to go out onto the reserve today. Instead, we headed round to the beach car park and walked out towards North Scrape. Looking out to sea, there were several Sandwich Terns flying back and forth and a single adult Gannet flew east some way offshore.

We had hoped their might be some migrants around the edge of the Eye Field, but there was nothing of note there today. The Blue-headed Wagtail which had been reported from North Scrape a little earlier had disappeared and there was very little else to see on here – just three Black-tailed Godwits, plus a pair of Avocets, a couple of Redshanks and a few Shelducks and Teal. We decided not to hang around and headed back to the car.

The walk out along the East Bank was more productive. Looking back towards Snipe’s Marsh as we set off, we could see two pairs of Common Pochard displaying, as well as several Tufted Ducks. We had very nice views of the Lapwings out on the grazing marshes, always stunning birds to look at. Several were displaying, and we watched their impressive tumbling flights and listened to their distinctive songs.

6O0A8815Lapwing – showing very well from the East Bank

There was also a good selection of ducks out on the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh, including several lingering Wigeon, plus a few Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Shelduck. A single Ruff and several Avocet were feeding around the pool at the back. Two Curlew flew high west over the bank, the first we have seen over the last few days. The two shorter billed Whimbrel which did the same sometime later have been more common.

Reed Warbler was a species we had heard several times in the last few days, but we had not yet managed to see one. We could hear a couple singing close to each other in the reeds just below the bank, so we stopped to try to see one. They were skulking in the reeds as usual, but eventually we managed to find both of them – one was singing from very low in the reeds, just above the water in the ditch, and the other was higher up but further back.

6O0A8823Reed Warbler – skulking down in the reeds, singing

Looking out from the new shelter at Arnold’s Marsh, there didn’t seem to be a lot to see at first. A single Ringed Plover flew in and landed on one of the small islands and while we were looking at it in the scope we found several Dunlin creeping around in the saltmarsh behind. There were six Bar-tailed Godwits on here, including two in full summer plumage, with deep rusty underparts, the colour continuing right the way down under the tail. A good number of Redshanks were feeding around the edge of the saltmarsh and there were a couple of sleeping Avocets too.

6O0A8840Avocet – one of a pair sleeping on Arnold’s Marsh

Continuing on to the beach, we couldn’t see a lot out to sea, apart from a lone Great Crested Grebe diving offshore. There were two smart male Wheatears on the grassy shingle ridge just to the east though, and we got one of them in the scope for a closer look.

As we started to make our way back, we noticed a small wader down on the mud on the grazing marsh below the bank. It was a Little Ringed Plover. Through the scope, we could see its bright yellow eyering, and also the more pointed dark bill and fleshy coloured legs which distinguish it from the Ringed Plover we had just seen a few minutes earlier.

IMG_3686Little Ringed Plover – appeared on the grazing marsh on our way back

As we passed the reedbed, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. A female appeared briefly in the tops of the reeds further out, and we all had enough time to get onto it before it dropped down out of view. We thought that was good, but a couple of minutes later a male Bearded Tit flew in over the reeds and landed down on the edge of the ditch just behind us. We walked back and had stunning views of it as it picked its was along the ground or low through the bases of the reeds just above the water.

6O0A8941Bearded Tit – we had great views of this male collecting insects along one of the ditches

The Bearded Tit seemed to be collecting insects, presumably to feed a hungry brood of nestlings somewhere out in the reeds. It worked its way down along the edge of the ditch for several minutes. Then presumably it had collected enough and it flew up and off over the reeds. A great way to end the day.

It was time for us to head back too. There were a few Marsh Harriers up now, circling over the reeds, and a small group of three Little Egrets heading back into the wood as we got back to the car.

4th Feb 2017 – Four Owls & More

An Owl Tour today. It was a nice start to the day, with a light frost and some sunshine first thing. It did cloud over during the day, but then the sun came out again late afternoon – good owling weather!

The day started with a drive round some grazing meadows which are regular hunting grounds for Barn Owls. With the bright start to the day, we thought this might have persuaded them to stay up, but it appeared they had gone in to roost already. We stopped for a short walk at one point, which did produce a nice selection of other birds. A Treecreeper feeding in an alder by the path, a flock of Long-tailed Tits moving quickly through the trees, Siskins flying over, a Little Egret and several Curlews feeding in a field.

6o0a6030Treecreeper – feeding in the alders by the path this morning

We decided to head off to look for Little Owls instead, in the hope we could still find one perched out enjoying the warmth after a frosty night. There was also a chance we might encounter a Barn Owl on our drive.

At the first set of barns we tried, we were in luck. Tucked up under the lip of the roof tiles was a Little Owl. We stopped some distance back along the road and got out of the car, so we could get it in the scope. We all had a good look at it, and with dog walkers going past without disturbing it, we decided to get a little closer. It stayed put, watching us, its feathers fluffed up.

img_0334Little Owl – watching us from under the lip of a roof

At one point the Little Owl hopped up and disappeared into the roof, under the tiles, but a few seconds later it came out again and resumed watching us. It seemed perfectly happy sitting out, despite the fact the sun had gone behind the clouds now. After a while, when it disappeared into the roof a second time, we decided to move on.

After our session with the Little Owl, the morning was getting on now, and it seemed less likely we would find a Barn Owl still perched out, particularly in the absence of the sun. Still, there is another complex of barns just a short distance from here and we thought it was worth a look anyway. It was lucky we did. As we pulled up in front, there were no owls perched around the barns but we looked up along the road to see a Barn Owl coming towards us, hunting the verges.

We hopped quickly out of the car, but it looked like the Barn Owl was heading directly in to roost, as it flew into the back of the barns. We were pleasantly surprised therefore when it flew straight through and out again on our side, where it landed on a wall right in front of us. Stunning views!

6o0a6100Barn Owl – landed on a wall right in front of us

The Barn Owl stood for a couple of minutes on the wall, looking round, seemingly unconcerned by our presence, before flying round and disappearing into one of the farm buildings to roost. We had got there just in the nick of time! While Barn Owls will regularly hunt during daylight hours if they need food, particularly at this time of year, they have not been doing it so regularly this winter. It may be because they are not hungry this year, possibly after rather mild and clement weather. To see one like this was therefore a real bonus.

That was a great way to start an Owl Tour – with such good views of Little Owl and Barn Owl already by this stage of the morning. As we stood reflecting on our fortune, a couple of Common Buzzards circled up out of a wood beyond and a Red Kite appeared over the field behind us. We decided to make our way back towards the coast.

As we drove through farmland, we saw several Brown Hares in the fields, reminding us that mad March is not far away now and ‘boxing’ season is almost upon us. We flushed several Bullfinches from the hedgerows as we passed, disappearing ahead of us with a flash of white rump. We did make one more stop on our way, at another regular site for Little Owls, but there was no sign of any here while we were there. We did see a couple of Stock Doves on the roof of one of the buildings. Given the great views of Little Owl we had already enjoyed, we weren’t too worried about not seeing another here and therefore didn’t linger long.

Down at Cley, there had been a Glaucous Gull in the meadows along Beach Road for the last couple of days. As we drove down towards the beach, there was no sign of it, just a first winter Great Black-backed Gull where it had been. We turned round in the car park at the end, noting the way the recent storm surge had pushed the shingle further into the parking area and beach shelter. As we drove back up the road a large pale shape appeared from the other side of the West Bank and flew over the road in front of us. It was the Glaucous Gull, right on cue.

The Glaucous Gull landed down on the grass, beside the Great Black-backed Gull. We found a convenient place to park and got out. The Glaucous Gull was completely unconcerned at our presence, and soon another couple of cars had joined us. We had great close-up views of it – a juvenile, pale biscuit coloured with paler wing tips and a distinctive pink-based, black-tipped bill.

6o0a6164Glaoucous Gull – this juvenile showed very well by Beach Road

A big bruiser of a gull, Glaucous Gulls breed in the arctic. Several were blown south by strong northerly winds earlier in January and continue to delight the crowds here. This particular Glaucous Gull has apparently been feeding on the carcass of a dead seal, washed up after the floods. We decided to leave the gathering crowds and move on.

Round at the other side of Cley, we headed out for a walk along the East Bank. There were lots of Blackbirds alarm calling in North Foreland wood, but we couldn’t see what they were agitated by. A Grey Heron flew up out of the trees circled round and landed in the tops, and that seemed to calm them somewhat.

There were not so many ducks out on Pope’s Marsh and the Serpentine today, but still there was a nice selection. A smart drake Pintail woke up and swam out onto the water just to show off its long tail to us! Several Shoveler were asleep as were most of the Teal, but a couple of drakes were swimming around at the front of the Serpentine. But there was no sign of the Smew in with them today. A female Marsh Harrier circled round over the reedbed in front of us. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, and glimpsed them several times as they flew quickly over the tops of the reeds, but they didn’t come down to the ditch to bathe or drink today.

6o0a6168Marsh Harrier – a female, quartering over the reedbed

Arnold’s Marsh was full of waders. They were mostly Dunlin and Redshank, but we managed to find a couple of Ringed Plover in with them too. Over at the back, we could see lots of Gadwall and several Shelduck. A quick look at the sea produced a handful of Red-throated Divers and a Guillemot out on the water. As it was nearing lunchtime, we made our way back to the car. As we got back to the car park, a Tawny Owl hooted from North Foreland Wood. A nice surprise, though it is not that unusual to hear them hooting in the middle of the day sometimes.

We stopped for lunch at the Visitor Centre. We had a quick scan of the pools from the car park when we arrived, but could not see anything out of the ordinary. Some Black-tailed Godwits feeding on Simmond’s Scrape were a nice addition to the day’s list. However, while we were eating, one of the helpful staff from the Cley Spy shop next to the visitor centre came out and shouted across to us. The redhead Smew had appeared on Pat’s Pool – and he had spotted it from his vantage point higher up above us. We had a good look at it through the scope, swimming out on the water amongst the Shelduck. Then as quickly as it had appeared, the Smew disappeared from view again. A real bonus, with many thanks to Cley Spy staff!

After lunch, we made our way further east. We made a quick stop at the Iron Road to admire the large flock of Russian Dark-bellied Brent Geese feeding on the grazing marsh by Attenborough’s Walk. A Ruff was nearby on the wet grass, at least until it flew off, but not before we had a look at it through the scope.

6o0a6193Brent Geese – feeding on the grazing meadows at Salthouse

There has been a large flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding in a harvested sugar beet field at Weybourne for several weeks now. When we pulled up, we were glad to see there was still a good number here today, although possibly down a touch in total, but perhaps still a thousand or more. The Pink-footed Geese are characterised by their pink legs and feet, plus the pink band around their otherwise mostly dark bill. They come here in the winter in their thousands from Iceland, particularly to feed on the tops and bits of beet left over after the sugar beet has been harvested.

A quick scan through them revealed a couple of pairs of day-glo orange legs, a pair of Tundra Bean Geese. They are superficially very similar to the Pink-footed Geese, but the Tundra Bean Geese have bright orange legs and feet and an orange bank around the bill. We had a look at them in the scope, a great opportunity to compare side by side with the Pinkfeet. A careful scan of the flock also revealed another three Tundra Bean Geese further over, towards the back of the field.

img_0369Tundra Bean Goose – in with a large flock of Pink-footed Geese

Tundra Bean Geese breed on the arctic tundra and winter mostly on the continent. We are at the western edge of the wintering range and get a variable number of them each year in with the bigger flocks of Pinkfeet. This has been a great winter for them, and they are always nice birds to see in the huge flocks of geese.

While we were watching the geese, all the Woodpigeons suddenly erupted from a neighbouring field. We looked up to see a Peregrine flying steadily across the field in front of us. All the geese looked distinctly unconcerned! The Peregrine flew down towards the cliffs, but then turned and came back past again. It was staring down intently and obviously thought it was on to something because it made another pass across the field and back again, before disappearing inland.

6o0a6224Peregrine – made several passes over the field in front of us

With one eye on the clock, it was getting on towards owl time again, so we made our way back along the coast to Blakeney. At the duckpond, the regular presumed hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull was standing around waiting for feeding time. Darker backed than a Herring Gull, it is not as dark as a Lesser Black-backed Gull and its legs are an intermediate colour, neither pink nor yellow. It is a regular source of confusion for the unwary!

6o0a6243Presumed hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull – often at the duckpond

As we walked out along the seawall, one of the group asked if there was any chance of seeing some Bearded Tits, having missed them at Cley earlier. We don’t often see them here but, just by coincidence as we were walking along, another birder called to us to say he was watching a group of Bearded Tits just a short distance further ahead of us. We were soon watching them too through the scope, feeding on the tops of the reeds, swinging around and clambering about in the stems.

img_0385Bearded Tit – a male feeding in the reeds

There were three Bearded Tits at first, two males with powder blue heads and black moustaches and a paler female. Then we heard calling and another pair flew in to join them. Great to watch! There were also a couple of Little Grebes and a Tufted Duck on the larger pool at Blakeney Barnett and a couple of Water Rails squealed unseen from the reeds.

Further along, we stopped at the corner and scanned the harbour. The tide was out and there were lots of waders on the mud. Amongst the masses of Dunlin on the near edge of the channel, we found a few Grey Plover and a single Knot. There were quite a few Black-tailed Godwits close to, but the Bar-tailed Godwits were further over, in the bottom of the Pit.

As the sun started to drop towards the west, it came out below the clouds and we were treated to some glorious winter afternoon light. Perhaps this would tempt the owls out early this afternoon? As we stood and scanned , we could see a Marsh Harrier perched on a bush out in the reeds. Another Marsh Harrier perched out on the saltmarsh the other side was bearing green wing tags but was unfortunately too far away to read the code. A Common Buzzard was perched on a bush nearby. Then we picked up a Barn Owl. It was a long distance away, across the other side of the Freshes, but we could see it as it flew up over the reeds and it seemed to be working its way round to our side.

While we were trying to keep tabs on the Barn Owl, we caught sight of another pale bird way off in the distance, flying low over the reeds. It was a male Hen Harrier. Thankfully it made its way steadily towards us, hunting low over the grass. It crossed the path ahead of us and did a circuit of the saltmarsh before cutting back and out across the Freshes again. It looked truly stunning in the afternoon sun, occasionally jinking from side to side and even flipping over at one point! Such a shame these magnificent creatures are still persecuted, such a delight to watch.

6o0a6268Hen Harrier – a stunning male hunting in the afternoon sun

After watching bewitched by the Hen Harrier for several minuted, when we looked back towards where the Barn Owl had been we couldn’t see any sign of it any more. However, while we were scanning we caught a half glimpse of a shape disappearing behind a bank low over the grass in the distance. It was a Short-eared Owl.

We walked quickly round to the other side to look for it and although there was no sign of it hunting one of the group quickly spotted the Short-eared Owl perched on a post. We just had enough time to get it in the scope and everyone had a quick look at it before it was flushed by some walkers on the bank ahead of us. It flew across the Glaven channel and started hunting along the edge of Blakeney Point. We watched it flying up and down, the distinctive rowing flight action on stiff wings, dropping down into the grass occasionally.

Time was getting on now. We had a long walk to get back to the car and an appointment with some Tawny Owls to keep. So we left the Short-eared Owl to its hunting and made our way back. We got to the woods just in time for the start of the evening’s activities, with a Tawny Owl hooting already just as we got out of the car, the earliest riser of the three regular hooting males here. We made our way round to the area where one the males has been roosting. After a short wait, we got a quick hoot from him, alerting us to where it was hiding. It had moved roosts again, back to where it had been a couple of weeks ago, high in the top of an ivy-covered tree. After a couple of minutes it flew out and landed on a bare branch briefly, before dropping back through the trees.

The Tawny Owl flew towards the other area where it likes to roost and it wasn’t long before we heard it hooting again. This time we managed to get it in the scope, although it was silhouetted against the last of the afternoon’s light. When it flew again – a surprisingly big and heavy owl on broad rounded wings – it landed much closer to us in the top of a tree, where we could see it perched. It then flew across in front of us and over the path, disappearing into the trees the other side. That might have been it, but a quick whistle and it flew back across the path again, perched up briefly, before dropping back away through the trees.

The light was fading fast now but, as we walked back to the car, we were serenaded by three different Tawny Owls hooting all around us. A great way to end a very successful Owl Tour.