Tag Archives: Common Tern

17th Apr 2018 – Bright & Breezy

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. A day of general birdwatching on the coast, looking for spring migrants and some of our regular breeding birds. It was cloudy in the morning, then bright and sunny in the afternoon, but with a rather blustery wind all day.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, we had a quick look on the pools on the edge of the grazing marsh, where a few Teal and Shoveler were mostly asleep. A Spoonbill flew over and disappeared off east towards Wells, presumably to feed out on the saltmarsh. Parking at the top, a couple of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass opposite.

It was already quite breezy, and the larger birds of prey seemed to be enjoying the updraft provided by the edge of the trees. We watched a Common Buzzard and a couple of Marsh Harriers circling up over the pines. Two Red Kites drifted past over the grazing marsh, the second in heavy wing moult with big gaps in both its wings.

Red Kite

Red Kite – moulting its wing feathers

As we made our way west along the path on the inland side of the pines, it seemed rather quiet at first. However, we quickly started to hear a few warblers singing – first a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap, then our first Willow Warbler of the day. They were hard to see in the wind though today and the tits seemed to be keeping mostly to the pines too.

At Salts Hole, a couple of Tufted Ducks were diving out in the middle and a single drake Teal was lurking under one of the overhanging trees. Another Spoonbill circled up from the marshes beyond and flew off towards the trees out in the middle. A Redpoll flew over calling, but we couldn’t see it.

When we got to the gate just before Washington Hide, a Sedge Warbler was singing from somewhere in the reeds. We could see one of the wardens walking out across the marshes, doing a survey. Given the disturbance this would mean, we decided to walk straight on towards Joe Jordan Hide. A Lesser Whitethroat sang briefly from somewhere deep in the bushes just before the crosstracks and a Blackcap was more obliging, perching up nicely for us to look at it in the scope.

From up in the hide, we could see several Spoonbills down on the pool below. We got one of them in the scope and could see its yellow-tipped black bill, bushy nuchal crest and mustard wash on its breast, all singling it out as a breeding adult. We could see its spoon-shaped bill too.


Spoonbill – out on the pool below Joe Jordan Hide

The Spoonbills were coming and going from the trees beyond. We saw a couple of Little Egrets flying in and out too, which is good to see after they were hit so badly by the cold weather over the winter. A Grey Heron dropped into the trees too, but there was no sign of any of the Great White Egrets from here this morning.

An Egyptian Goose was standing on the grass right in front of the hide and took off as another flew past, flashing its boldly marked black and white wings. There were plenty of Greylag Geese out on the grass too and, after searching through them carefully, we found a couple of Pink-footed Geese in with them. Looking at the two species through the scope, side by side, the Pink-footed Geese were noticeably smaller and darker headed, with a more delicate dark bill with a pink band. A Barnacle Goose, presumably a feral bird from the Park, was with another group of Greylags further over.

There were more Marsh Harriers out here and at one point we watched as a female grappled talons with first one and then quickly afterwards a second male. She didn’t seem attached to either and both looked like aggressive encounters. A Kestrel which dropped down to perch on the grassy bank below the hide. A Muntjac out in the middle of the grazing marshes seemed completely unperturbed by a pair of Greylags noisily hissing and honking at it.

After a while, we headed on towards the dunes. When we got to the gate at the end of the pines, we saw the warden again walking out across the middle of the marshes. A Great White Egret flew up briefly, but then dropped back down out of view. A small group of geese flushed from over towards the seawall and flew round towards us – six more Pink-footed Geese. Three of them had obvious damage to their wing feathers, presumably enough to make make the journey back to Iceland difficult.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – another six flew round over Burnham Overy grazing marshes

Out into the dunes, the bushes beyond the fence were very quiet today. There was no obvious sign of any new migrants and we couldn’t find any Ring Ouzels either here today. It was rather exposed and windy here though. We continued on a little further and noticed a black bird on a bramble on the top of the dunes ahead of us. Through the scope, we confirmed that it was a Ring Ouzel.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this female was in the dunes today

The Ring Ouzel was a female, with a rather dull crescent on its breast, lacking the bright white one of a male. We could see its silvery edged wings too. We managed to get a little bit closer to it, but it was very flighty and eventually headed off over the dunes.

There were a few Linnets and a Meadow Pipit or two in the dunes, but no obvious sign of large numbers of birds moving. Then we heard a whistling call and looked up to see a Whimbrel flying over. We could see it was distinctly smaller and more streamlined than a Curlew, with a shorter bill.

A flash of a white rump alerted us to a Wheatear flying away ahead of us. It dropped down the other side of a grassy ridge and by walking round on to some higher ground we were able to get a good look at it in the scope. It looked to be a male Greenland Wheatear, large and long-winged, richly-coloured below and with brown tones in the grey mantle.

The Wheatear was very flighty too and suddenly shot off over the dunes. We found the female Ring Ouzel again, in a sheltered area in the dunes, but it also flew off before we could look at it properly. Time was getting on and we had a long walk back to the car, so we decided this was as far as we could go today. We turned to head back.

We had a walk back through the middle of the dunes, hoping we might find a male Ring Ouzel lurking somewhere, but it was quiet here. A couple of Swallows flew over us and disappeared off west. Scanning the grazing marshes from the top of the dunes, just before we got back to the pines, we finally got a better look at a Great White Egret. One was feeding in a ditch out on the marshes and through the scope we could see its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – out on the grazing marshes from the dunes

The walk back was fairly uneventful until we got to the crosstracks. We thought it might be worth a look along the path which heads into the trees to the north, as it can be a little more sheltered in here. We had just stopped to watch a pair of Long-tailed Tits collecting feathers when another bird popped out onto the edge of one of the trees in front of us.

It was a small warbler, with a bright lemon yellow supercilium and breast, contrasting white belly and moss green upperparts – a Wood Warbler! This is a very scarce spring migrant here, but unfortunately it dropped back into the trees before everyone could get onto it and we lost sight of it. Despite searching, we couldn’t find it again – it had probably gone back into the pines out of the wind.

Eventually we had to give up and continue on our walk back.  A Sedge Warbler singing from some brambles in the reeds just beyond Meals House was more obliging. We could see the blue sky approaching as we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, but it was very windy here so we decided to head over to Titchwell for lunch. On the way, we spotted a Grey Wagtail on the driveway by Burnham Overy Watermill. We stopped for a second to watch it and could see it was collecting nest material.

As we walked over to the picnic area from the car park at Titchwell, we could hear Redpolls calling and we could just make out one high in the pines with the Goldfinches. Thankfully, they then flew out of the pines and into the alders above the picnic area and we could see there were four Mealy Redpolls.

Mealy Redpoll

Mealy Redpoll – there were four around the picnic area at lunchtime

With the sun out and in the shelter of the trees, it was nice sitting in the picnic area. Several butterflies appreciated the improvement in the weather too, with Brimstone and Peacock both flying past. A female Blackcap appeared on the edge of the sallows, closely followed by a male, which proceeded to sing and feed in front of us.

After lunch, we headed over to the Visitor Centre. There were a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches around the feeders, and we quickly found a Brambling in the trees just behind. We watched for a while and at least three different Bramblings came in to feed.


Brambling – one of three around the feeders

We made our way round to Patsy’s Reedbed first. There had been a few different birds here earlier this morning, but there was very little to see now. A couple of Swallows flew across over our heads and carried on west, as did a Siskin and a couple of Linnets – a trickle of migrants moving. We had a look in the paddocks, but there was just one Pied Wagtail in here today. We made our way back round via Meadow Trail.

It was very blustery once we got onto the main path and out of the trees. We stopped to look at Thornham grazing marsh, but it was hard to keep the scope still. We couldn’t see the Little Ringed Plover which had been here earlier. A single Grey Plover was on the Lavendar Marsh Pool. There were a few Common Pochard on the reedbed pool and a Sedge Warbler singing from somewhere deep in the brambles in the reeds.

Island Hide provided a very welcome shelter from the wind. The water level on the freshmarsh is much better for waders now, but the whole area is completely dominated by the gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls. We had heard a few Mediterranean Gulls on the walk out, and seen their pure white wingtips as they flew overhead, but now we got a chance to see the two species side by side on the water.

A Common Tern was hiding on the back of one of the islands, behind a big group of Black-tailed Godwits. It was hard to see at first, until it was chased out into the open by a gull. This is the first Common Tern we have seen back here this year.

Common Tern

Common Tern – the first one we have seen back here this year

The number of ducks on here continue to decline, as birds head back to the continent for the breeding season. There were still a few Teal around the edges and a couple of pairs of Shoveler. The Brent Geese kept flying in from the saltmarsh whenever they got spooked, sometimes staying for a bathe and a preen. They should be heading off back to Russia too soon.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – kept flying in to the Freshmarsh from the saltmarsh

There are quite a few Avocets on the freshmarsh now, busy feeding in the deeper water. A couple of little groups of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping on the islands or in the shallows. Some of the Black-tailed Godwits are moulting now, and starting to get the bright rusty orange head and breast of breeding plumage. There were a couple of Ruffs too – a paler male and one more heavily speckled with black.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into rusty orange breeding plumage

Scanning the bank over the far side, we picked up a small group of 5-6 hirundines flying towards the reserve. They were Sand Martins and they gradually worked their way across the Freshmarsh and away to the west, the first we have seen this year.

We decided to brave the wind again and head out to the beach. There was not much to see on Volunteer Marsh until we got to the channel at the far side. Here there were a couple more Black-tailed Godwits, several Redshanks and one or two Curlew. Down in the muddy channel in the middle we picked up a small group of Knot. The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more and full of water now – storms over the winter blocked up the drainage channel – so there was nothing to see here again.

The sand on the beach was being whipped up by the wind. There were lots of Oystercatchers and a couple of Curlew on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, but not much else. All the other waders were scattered out on the sand towards Thornham Point. They were distant, but we could make out Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Sanderling all to add to the day’s list.

Scanning the sea produced several Great Crested Grebes and a few Common Scoter lingering offshore. But it was not especially pleasant out on the beach today, so we decided to start making our way back.

As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, a female Red-crested Pochard flew in from the direction of the Tidal Pools and dropped down towards the Freshmarsh. There was still no sign of the Little Ringed Plover out in the open on the Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ but it must have been lurking somewhere out of sight because it flew up just as we had passed and headed off back towards the Freshmarsh. On the way to the car park, we stopped to listen to a Brambling singing – though it sounds more like a wheeze than a song!

When we got back to the car, we still had time for one last stop on our way home. There had been a Pied Flycatcher in Burnham Thorpe village all afternoon, so we took a quick detour inland. There were only a couple of other people looking by the time we arrived, but we found it fairly quickly in the trees at the end of the small park.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – feeding in the trees in the middle of Burnham Thorpe

We watched the Pied Flycatcher for a bit, as it dropped down into the hedge at the back and then made several sallies out after insects. It made its way along the other side of the hedge past us, stopping on several fence posts on the way. You could just see it each time, if you found the right angle to line up with a gap through the hedge.

It was a great way to end the day, watching the Pied Flycatcher in the afternoon sunshine. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head for home.


16th April 2016 – Rain or Shine

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

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

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

6O0A0236Pheasant – standing under the feeders in the rain

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

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

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

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

6O0A0240Shoveler – feeding with their heads down in the water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2385Common Tern – dropped into the freshmarsh for a few minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2402White Wagtail – we saw several around the reserve today

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2416Ring Ouzel – two of the three at Choseley this afternoon

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

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

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

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

IMG_2425Wheatear – the female lacks the black bandit mask…

IMG_2433Wheatear – …which the male shows

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

6O0A0267Linnet – singing from the brambles along the seawall

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

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