Tag Archives: Cuckoo

22nd June 2017 – Summer Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. After the recent hot weather, it finally broke today. But although we dodged the thunder storms successfully, it was rather cool and windy afterwards, through the afternoon.

On our way down, we stopped off first at Weeting Heath. We were immediately rewarded with lovely views of a Stone Curlew feeding in the long grass in front of the hide. It was quite active, running backwards and forwards, looking down at the ground for food and occasionally pecking at something. A careful scan revealed a second Stone Curlew, sat down hidden in the vegetation – we could just see the back of its head! A Mistle Thrush was hopping around on the shorter grass in front of the hide too.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – showing well at Weeting today

One of the targets for the day was to see summer warblers, so we made our way over to another site where we hoped we might find some. We were duly rewarded with a nice selection. Garden Warbler was a particularly sought after species and we found at least two pairs, one of the males singing briefly. A subtle species, it was good to get a proper look at them, as they can be rather skulking.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – we got good views of this species today

We also heard and saw several other species here – Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were all singing and perched around in the bushes. Only Lesser Whitethroat evaded us here – they are present, but probably busy with breeding at the moment and consequently silent and hiding.

This is also a good spot for Nightingale. They were rather quiet at first – it is not the best time of the year to look for them – but we eventually heard one singing. We followed the sound and saw it perched up briefly in a hawthorn. It took a while to get everyone onto it, but thankfully came out onto the same branch again for a second. Then it dropped down out of view. As we continued on round, we heard another Nightingale singing further over and one calling nearby, sounding rather like a frog croaking.

There were a few other birds here too. We flushed several Linnets from the grass and bushes as we walked round. A female Greenfinch flew up in front of us and landed on some brambles, carrying some moss in its bill, presumably busy nest building nearby. We heard a couple of Yellowhammers singing and eventually got a look at one perched on some overhead wires.

GreenfinchGreenfinch – this female was probably nest building nearby

We had heard thunder rumbling and dark clouds starting to gather. The lightning when it started was quite dramatic but thankfully some distance away. Finally it started to spit with rain, so we made our way quickly back to the car. We arrived just in time, as the heavens opened.

The rain had stopped by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, but it was still cloudy and rather cooler than it had been earlier. We headed straight out onto the reserve, with Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers, and Common Whitethroats all singing by the path and showing well. In contrast, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted from deep in the bushes.

There were a few birds on the pool in front of the New Fen Viewpoint. An adult Great Crested Grebe was being followed round by a well grown juvenile, still boasting a black and white striped face. The family of Coot have almost fully grown young too, but the female Tufted Duck was all alone. A Kingfisher zipped out of the trees behind us and disappeared low across the water, returning the same way a minute or so later with fish in bill. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds at the back.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on the pools at New Fen

As we continued out along the main path, there were lots of dragonflies by the path. Several male Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the bare dirt along the track, flying off ahead of us. The vegetation either side was alive with Ruddy Darters today, presumably recently emerged as they seemed to be mostly young males and females. There were butterflies too, with Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells on the brambles. A Large Skipper landed briefly beside the path.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – there were lots out today

On the walk out, we had heard a Cuckoo singing from the poplars in the distance, but it had stopped when we got to New Fen. As we approached the West Wood it flew straight out of the trees towards us and landed in the poplars right by the path. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it flew deeper into the trees and started singing again. A second Cuckoo was still singing in West Wood as we passed.

CuckooCuckoo – landed in the poplars next to the path briefly

Continuing on to Joist Fen viewpoint, there were several RSPB volunteers hanging around staring out across the reeds. They were doing a Bittern survey today. It wasn’t long before we spotted a Bittern for them. It flew up out of the reeds in front of the viewpoint and headed off over the channel, before turning and dropping down into the reeds along one side. There was a lot of Bittern activity today – this is a good time to see them, as the adults are making regular feeding flights to and from their nests.

There were plenty of other birds to see at Joist Fen. Several Marsh Harriers were quartering back and forth over the reeds, a Common Tern was fishing over one of the pools and a Cormorant flew up from one of the channels and headed over towards the river. A flock of over 20 Black-tailed Godwits circled over the reedbed. We heard Bearded Tits calling a couple of times but couldn’t see them – it was getting rather breezy now. There was no sign of any Hobbys here today, but it was perhaps rather too cool and windy after the rain, which was keeping all the insects down.

Climbing up onto the river bank, we had a quick scan across the fields opposite, but it was all rather quiet here. Several Mute Swans were feeding along the river, as was another Great Crested Grebe. Looking back across Joist Fen, we spotted another two Bitterns flying across together further over, before splitting off and dropping down again in different directions.

Back at Mere Hide it was more sheltered and there were more dragonflies, with several Four-Spotted Chasers chasing around over the water. A Red-eyed Damselfly landed on a cut reed stem just in front of the hide. A Kingfisher flew in and looked like it might land on one of the posts out in the water but instead carried on past and landed in the reeds right next to the hide. It was partly obscured by the reeds, but we got a great look at it.

KingfisherKingfisher – landed in the reeds right in front of Mere Hide

Back at New Fen, we stopped by the viewpoint again briefly, but there were still no Hobbys here either. We did see another Bittern, our fourth of the morning, which flew right across low over the reeds and over the river bank, turning and landing just beyond. We walked round there to see if it was close to the path, but when we arrived there was no sign of it.

We made our way back along the river bank to the Washland. It was looking rather dry now, and there were fewer ducks than earlier in the year. We did manage to see a nice selection of waders, including a single Little Ringed Plover, one Redshank, two Black-tailed Godwits and plenty of Oystercatchers & Lapwings. In the distance beyond, e could see a Red Kite circling.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back to the car. We were just getting the food out when we looked up to see a Bittern flying low overhead. A bit of a surprise, as we were some way from any reeds! It disappeared off towards the visitor centre.

BitternBittern – flew low over the car park as we were getting our lunch out

After lunch, we headed back into the forest to look for some typical species which can be found here. Our first stop has been a regular site for Redstart in the last few weeks, but there was no sight nor sound of it here today. Hopefully, this means it has found a female and they have settled down to breed nearby.

We had a walk into the clearing and as we made our way round the edge, a pipit flew overhead and dropped down into the grass. We made our way over to see if we could see it but before we got there we heard a bird calling softly from the trees nearby and looked up to see another pipit perched in a pine. As we hoped, it was a Tree Pipit and we got a great look at it through the scope.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – up in the pines carrying food for its young

The Tree Pipit was carrying food in its bill, so presumably has young nearby. We left it in peace and retreated. We had intended to go to another site for Tree Pipit after this, but there was now no need. So instead we went round to the other side of the clearing to see if we could find any sign of a Redstart.

It was rather quiet here now, the middle of the afternoon and cool and breezy. A flock of tits moved quickly along the edge of the pines – Long-tailed Tits accompanied by a few Blue and Coal Tits. We flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the grass, which flew up into the trees nearby. However, the highlight of our walk here was a Woodlark which perched in the top of a small pine briefly in the middle of the clearing.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. We had hoped that there might be more activity here, out of the wind, but it was rather subdued here too. As we walked round, we did find a couple of Nuthatches dropping down to the ground to feed under a small tree and we heard a Treecreeper calling from the wood. There were quite a few Siskins buzzing round the tops of the firs in the Arboretum and a pair came down and landed a little lower where we could see them briefly. A couple of Goldcrests showed themselves too.

We made our way down to the lake. There are always Little Grebes on here and they seemed to have had a good breeding season. As adult was feeding a small juvenile under the overhanging branches just along from the bridge. Further along, 3-4 fully grown juvenile Little Grebes, still sporting stripey faces, were diving among the lily pads.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of the fully grown juveniles on the lake

When we got the end of the lake, we turned and made our way slowly back to the car to finish the day.

9th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Private Tour today, our last day. We were planning to head down to the Brecks for the day. It was a nice day today, mostly cloudy but brighter later, lighter winds than of late, and we managed to dodge a couple of quick showers in the afternoon.

As we got down into the northern part of the Brecks, we started to see more pig fields. We stopped by one of them where we could see there was a large mob of gulls. The pig nuts had just been spread out in amongst one group of pigs and the gulls were squabbling in between them trying to help themselves. Then there was a loud ‘Bang!’ as a bird scarer went off and all the gulls took to the air.

When they landed again, down in a dip in the middle of the field, we scanned through the gulls we could see. We had hoped we might find a Caspian Gull, but they were mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls here today, of various ages, plus a couple of Herring Gulls. We had thought we might come back and have another look here later, but our day ended up taking us off in a different direction.

Stone Curlew was our next target and we quickly found a pair in a field by the road. The vegetation is growing up now and they are getting harder to see, particularly when they sit down. It took a careful scan to find them, but we could just see two heads peeping out. We got them in the scope and could see their staring yellow irises. A nice start to the day.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair hiding in the field

When originally discussing possible targets for these three days, Wood Warbler was one species which came up. Unfortunately the bird which had been singing near Brandon last week had not been reported for several days, but we wondered whether this might be just because of the windy weather. We went for a quick look just in case, but all was quiet in the trees where it had been, so we didn’t linger here.

Our next stop was more successful. We parked by a ride in the forest and walked along the track until we got to a large clearing. We could hear Goldcrests and a Treecreeper calling in the pines as we passed. As we approached the clearing we could hear a Stonechat calling and we looked over and saw a smart male perched on the top of an old stump row. A female was perched nearby with food in her bill. They clearly had young in the nest nearby.

StonechatStonechat – the pair in the clearing appear to have young

We were looking for Tree Pipit here and it didn’t take too long to find one. It was perched in the top of an elder tree just along from the Stonechats. We got a good look at it through the scope, swaying about in the wind, before it flew off and up into the pines trees beyond.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – perched in an elder tree briefly

Continuing on round the clearing, we caught a snatch of song, quite sweet and melodic but more rolling than a Blackcap. It seemed an odd place for a Garden Warbler and the first bird we saw come out of the young pine trees was a Whitethroat which led to a brief bout of head scratching – could we have imagined it? Thankfully, a couple of seconds later the Garden Warbler flicked up into the top of some brambles in the stump row behind, a nice bonus to see here and not one we had expected.

Back to the car and we drove round to another part of the forest. There has been a Redstart singing here recently, but we couldn’t hear it today. Whether it was just busy feeding somewhere out of view or has failed to find a mate and moved on was not clear. A smart male Yellowhammer flew in calling and landed on the fence in front of us.

We had a walk round and flushed a Cuckoo from the grass. It landed on a fencepost briefly, before flying off along the fence line. A second Cuckoo appeared and flew out to a small bush nearby, where we got a great view of it in the scope. Then we heard what we assume was the first Cuckoo singing in the distance, so there were two males here. A little later the second Cuckoo flew over and attempted to chase off the first, before flying back to its favoured bush.

CuckooCuckoo – one of two males here today

Another Tree Pipit flew in and dropped down into the long grass. We walked over to try to get a better look at it, but it had managed to sneak away. As we scanned the spot where it had dropped in, the next thing we knew it took off again from further along and flew off towards the trees.

As we turned to walk back, we could hear a Woodlark calling. Suddenly a male Woodlark flew up from a short distance ahead of us and started to sing, fluttering up over our heads, before drifting away over the clearing. We took a few more steps and heard another Woodlark calling. It sounded to be a long way away, but they are masters at throwing their voice and looking at the grass just ahead of us, we spotted it perched on a tussock, presumably the female.

WoodlarkWoodlark – perched on a tussock close to the path

We stopped immediately and had a good look at it through binoculars, but when we tried to get the scope on it, the Woodlark took off and landed in the grass further back, out of view. We headed back to the car and drove on. Having seen Stone Curlew earlier this morning, we were not to worried to see another, but we stopped briefly at Weeting on the way past anyway. We couldn’t find the Stone Curlews here today, but we did find three regular Eurasian Curlews out in the grass, a reminder they still breed in the Brecks in small numbers.

We stopped for lunch at Lakenheath Fen. While we were eating at one of the picnic tables, a Hobby drifted overhead. We had intended to explore the reserve after lunch, but with most of the possible species we might see here already on our list for the three days, another idea sprang to mind. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope at Welney for the last couple of days, which would be a new bird for one of us. It seemed like it would be a great way to round off the trip.

While Welney is not far away as the crow flies, it was a circuitous journey round from Lakenheath, through the Fens. When we arrived at the Welney WWT visitor centre, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling from the bushes outside, but couldn’t see them. We decided to look for them later, and with other things taking priority headed straight out to look for the phalarope. The staff at the visitor centre confirmed it had still been present just a short time ago, so we set off to walk the almost 1km down to Friends Hide.

When we got to the hide, The Red-necked Phalarope was out of view. There were several pairs of Avocets on here and quite a few chicks. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers had a couple of small fluffy juveniles with them too. We had been lucky with the weather today – it was warm and bright as we walked out to the hide – but we had been promised showers in the afternoon and a brief heavy rain shower came through. The adult Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers called to their respective young and sheltered the juveniles under their wings while the rain passed over.

AvocetAvocet – sheltering their chicks under their wings during the rain shower

It quickly brightened up again and the juvenile Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers were let out. The Avocets were being very aggressive. Their idea of childcare is to let the young fend for themselves and chase off potential predators. But they have got their definition of what might be a threat to their young awry – they were busy chasing off anything and everything!

A couple of adult Avocets kept having a go at the poor Little Ringed Plovers, chasing after them while they were trying to protect their young. The adult Little Ringed Plovers tried to lead them away with a distraction display, walking away with wings dangled, trying to look injured. It didn’t really work. The Avocets would follow them at first, then when the Little Ringed Plover felt it had got far enough away, it ran back to its chick but the Avocet simply chased back after it.

Avocet and Little Ringed Plover 1Avocet & Little Ringed Plover – the latter giving a distraction display, feigning injury

The Avocets kept chasing the Red-necked Phalarope too, which was probably why it spent so much time hiding in the reeds at the front of the pool. Every time the Red-necked Phalarope swam out, it was promptly chased off. We had a couple of quick views of it. At one point, when chased, it flew across the front of the scrape and landed on a small patch of mud, but the Avocet was still after it and once again it disappeared back into the reeds.

Eventually, the juvenile Avocets moved away from the Red-necked Phalarope’s favoured corner and it managed to swim about for a while feeding out in the open where we could get a good look at it. It was a male, which in phalarope’s means it is the duller plumaged of the sexes, with the females being brighter. The females do all the displaying and leave the males to incubate and rear the young. This male Red-necked Phalarope was still a smart bird, swimming round non-stop, in and out of the reeds, picking at the waters surface for insects of ducking its head under.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – swimming around in front of the hide

We watched the Red-necked Phalarope for a while, swimming once it finally came out into the open for a while. They are rare visitors here and this bird was probably heading up to Scandinavia or Iceland for the breeding season, though where it had spent the winter is anyone’s guess with Scandinavian birds wintering out in the Arabian Sea but recent studies showing that some of the small number of birds breeding in the Shetland Islands migrating to join the North American population in the South Pacific Ocean! When it finally swam back into the reeds again, we decided to start walking back.

On the way back, we stopped for a quick look in the other hides. There did not seem to be too much on view from Lyle Hide, apart from more Avocets – good to see that they appear to be doing so well at Welney. We heard a song that sounded vaguely reminiscent of jangling keys and looked out of the front of the hide to see a Corn Bunting perched on the top of the vegetation. We got a great look at it as it stayed there for a couple of minutes singing, before being spooked by a big flock of Rooks and dropping back down out of view.

Corn BuntingCorn Bunting – singing in front of Lyle Hide

There were several Black-tailed Godwits out to one side of the hide, but the light was bad here as we were looking into the sun. We got better views from the Nelson-Lyle Hide further back. This confirmed our suspicions that they appeared to be a mix of two different races. Nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit breeds across Europe east from the Netherlands. Only about 50-60 pairs breed in the UK on the Ouse and Nene Washes, including a couple of pairs at Welney. First summer islandica or Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits often remain in UK in rather than migrate up to Iceland to breed. There appeared to be a mixture of the two here, including a couple of nice limosa, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them.

Continental Black-tailed GodwitContinental Black-tailed Godwit – of the nominate race, limosa

Back at the Observatory, we could see a pair of Whooper Swans in front of the hide. This is a pair of injured birds which are not capable of flying back up to Iceland to breed, so have instead nested for the last six years at Welney, where they normally spend the winter. We could only see two of the four cygnets they were meant to have this year, but  presumed the others were hiding in the vegetation. Further back across the washes we could see another six or so Whooper Swans, presumably also all injured birds.

Whooper SwanWhooper Swan – with two cygnets

Back at the visitor centre, there were three more Black-tailed Godwits on Lady Fen. A quick look at the feeders as we were leaving finally got us views of the Tree Sparrows, with at least a couple coming and going, including one with only a half-grown tail.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow – coming to the feeders in front of the visitor centre

It was a lovely way to end three exciting action-packed days of East Anglian summer birding, watching the Red-necked Phalarope and all the other birds at Welney. It rounded off the list nicely – we had managed to see a nice set of rarer birds despite it being early June, as well as a great selection of our resident and scarcer breeding species. A job well done, we set off back for home.

 

4th June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours, our last day. It was a nice sunny day today, not too hot, with some hazy cloud, great weather to be out birding. We headed down to the Brecks to try to see some of the local specialities.

Stone Curlew is a scarce breeding species for which the Brecks is well known – it is one of the best places in the country to see them. There are a few remnants of grass heath left here, their traditional habitat, but many now attempt to nest of farmland. On our way south, we swung round by some regular sites to see if we could find one. After recent rain and warm weather, the vegetation has started to get rather tall, making them quite a bit harder to see. However, our luck was in this morning. At our first stop, we found a pair of Stone Curlews in a field.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair in a field this morning

The Stone Curlews were very hard to see at times in the vegetation, particularly when they sat down. However, with patience we were treated to great views through the scope as they walked around in the field. Even when they sat down, we could still see their heads – the striking yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

A couple of Brown Hares were in the field too. At first, they sat opposite each other, facing off. But then we were treated to a quick boxing bout, as one ran towards the other and they both reared up and flapped their front legs at each other. Then they gave up and went back to feeding quietly.

Brown HaresBrown Hares – this pair treated us to a quick bout of boxing

With great views of Stone Curlew in the bag, we moved quickly on. Lakenheath Fen was to be our main destination for the morning. It is a big reserve and we wanted to allow some time to explore as much of it as possible. We did stop at another couple of sites on our way, but couldn’t find any more Stone Curlews at either of these places today – they were obviously hiding in the vegetation here, perhaps not a surprise for a mostly crepuscular species, and with the day warming up nicely.

We did find a few Red-legged Partridges in the fields on our stops. A family of Mistle Thrushes were feeding down in the grass, a Jay flew across and landed on a fence post and a Marsh Tit calling from a line of trees were all nice additions to the day’s list.

After a rather leisurely journey down, it was already quite late in the morning by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, so we set out straight away onto the reserve. There were lots of butterflies feeding on the brambles by the path in the sunshine – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock. A single Common Blue was in the grass too as we walked past.

Small TortoiseshellSmall Tortoiseshell – several butterflies were feeding on the brambles on the walk out

There were a few warblers singing as we walked out. A Common Whitethroat was lurking in the bushes, we could hear Reed Warblers in the reeds, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed. Both Blackcap and Garden Warbler were singing from deep in the poplars but they were impossible to see amongst all the fluttering leaves.

There was quite a crowd gathered at New Fen viewpoint as we arrived. There had been a report of a possible Little Bittern heard here yesterday, but we didn’t hear anything other than the nattering of all the people. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water in front of the viewpoint, along with its stripy-headed chick. A Grey Wagtail was more of a surprise here, flying overhead before dropping down into the reeds. We could hear a male Cuckoo singing from the poplars and someone pointed out a female Cuckoo lurking in the top of one of the bushes out in the reeds.

CuckooCuckoo – a female, with rusty brown around the upper breast and neck

We got a good look at the female Cuckoo through the scope, noting the rusty brown tones to the upper breast, rather than the clean grey hood of the male. We heard lots of Cuckoos here today – both singing males with the classic ‘cook-coo’, the strange bubbling call of the females, and excited males giving various more elaborate song variations in response. It is such a scarce bird in the wider countryside these days, it is always great to come to a reserve like Lakenheath Fen where they are still relatively common and listen to them.

After a short rest at New Fen, we carried on up the main path. A Kingfisher zipped across out of the poplars and over the bank to New Fen, but too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A smart male Marsh Harrier, with silvery grey wings and black tips, circled up out of the reeds and over West Wood. A single Hobby, our first of the day, flew low across New Fen, just visible over the vegetation on the bank.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path, mostly Azure Damselflies and Blue-tailed Damselflies, but along the path on the edge of West Wood we found quite a few Red-eyed Damselflies in the reeds and nettles too. We had hoped to find a Scarce Chaser along here, but it was rather breezy along here now and there were just a few Four-spotted Chasers.

Red-eyed DamselflyRed-eyed Damselfly – several were along the path by West Wood

With one eye on the clock to make sure we got back in time for lunch, we made our way quickly out to Joist Fen viewpoint. We had been told on the walk out that the Bitterns had been showing very well here this morning, flying back and forth, but it seemed rather quiet at first, when we got there. We couldn’t hear any booming – it was the middle of the day by now, which can be a quieter time. There were at least six Hobbys hawking for insects distantly out over the reeds and several Marsh Harriers circling up. All the group finally got to see a Kingfisher here, with a couple zipping in and out out over the reeds carrying food.

Thankfully we didn’t have too long to wait. Suddenly a Bittern flew up out of the reeds. It turned and flew straight towards us, giving us a great look at it as it flew round and out of sight behind the bushes beyond the shelter. That would have been nice enough, but it then came over the bushes and turned back towards us, flying round close past behind us, croaking as it went. Wow!

BitternBittern – great views as it flew round the Joist Fen viewpoint

The Bittern flew about 180 degrees round the viewpoint, before finally bearing away to our left and dropping down into the reeds beyond, giving us all stunning flight views. A minute or so later, what was presumably the same bird started booming over in that direction. We couldn’t have asked for a better show.

With such great views of Bittern already, we decided that wouldn’t be bettered and started making our way back for lunch. As we walked back along the main track, a couple of Hobbys appeared over West Wood. They were joined by more and soon we had five Hobbys hanging in the air or circling. Even better, a couple of them drifted out over the reeds towards us, giving us our best views of the day overhead.

HobbyHobby – great views overhead on the walk back

Our luck was in with the dragonflies on the way back too. A young male Scarce Chaser flew past, a flash of rich orange, and landed on a reed stem nearby. We had seen a couple of Hairy Dragonflies on the walk out, but a smart male stopped nicely for us in the sun now. We also managed to find a Variable Damselfly with all the Azure Damselflies too.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – a male, with distinctive hairy thorax

After lunch back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off into the Forest to try to find some other of our target birds for the day. There has been a Wood Warbler singing near Brandon for about ten days now and it has been showing very well at times. We drove down the track and parked, before walking along the path to where it has been seen. Even before we got there, we could hear it singing.

As we walked in to the trees, it was clear the Wood Warbler was singing from low down and right by the path. We were treated to some great views as it fluttered around only a couple of metres up in some small trees just a short distance ahead of us, even coming right towards us along the path at one point. We even managed to get it in the scope briefly, when it perched still for a while, singing.  Bill open, its whole body quivered with the effort of delivering its song, sounding rather like a spinning coin slowly settling on a hard surface.

Wood WarblerWood Warbler – showed very well, singing right in front of us

Wood Warbler is a very scarce bird here these days, though it is still found in the wetter woods of the north and west of the country. It used to be a regular breeder here albeit in small numbers, but has now all but disappeared, with just the occasional lone bird found singing, possibly a northbound migrant which has stopped off for some reason to try its luck. This has been a better spring for them, with several seen this year, but still it is unlikely any will manage to pair up and breed. Eventually, the Wood Warbler started to move higher into the trees, so after seeing it so well we moved quickly on.

Our luck was in now, as we headed over to another site in the Forest and immediately heard a Redstart singing from a small group of trees as soon as we arrived. We made our way round to the other side, at a discrete distance so as not to disturb it, and the Redstart suddenly appeared in the top of a large hawthorn. Through the scope, we got a great look at it, bright reddish-orange below, black faced and with its striking white forehead shining in the sun. Male Redstarts are really stunning birds to see.

RedstartRedstart – a cracking male singing on the edge of the Forest

The Redstart kept dropping down out of sight, but then coming back up into the top of the hawthorn to sing. The song is easily overlooked, a series of short, melodic but slightly sad sounding bursts interspersed with long pauses. We stood and listened to it for a while, until it worked its way through the bushes and round to the other side of the trees, out of view.

Like the Wood Warbler, Redstarts used to be much commoner birds in this part of the country, but declined through the last century and are now mostly confined to a few sites around the Forest. So it is always a treat to see one here and particular to hear it singing.

Our final destination for the afternoon saw us park up by a forestry track and walk deeper into the forest. It was rather quiet in the trees, with just the odd Goldcrest or Coal Tit heard in the dense coniferous plantations. We made our way round to a clearing and, as we approached, a pair of Stonechats were perched in the top of an old stump row, calling. They were collecting food, so presumably had young nearby. A couple of Whitethroats appeared with them.

We had come looking for Tree Pipit and a short snatch of half song suggested there might be one close by. We walked round to the other side of some trees and there it was, perched in some dead branches. It stayed there for a few seconds, pumping its tail, and we could see it was colour-ringed, before it flew up into a tall birch tree nearby. Almost immediately it dropped back down towards the clearing and was followed by a second Tree Pipit, presumably a pair.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – appeared in some dead branches in front of us

One of the two Tree Pipits dropped down to the ground out of sight, but the second, presumably the male and the same bird we had seen first, landed in the top of a young fir tree, where we could get it in the scope. We had a great look at it, as it stayed there for ages, preening for a while, looking round, turning so we could see it front on as well.

While we were standing here watching the first Tree Pipit, we just caught what sounded like the song of another way off in the distance. Scanning the young trees, we managed to find it, perched in the top of another small fir, right over the other side of the clearing. It is great to think there might be two pairs here this year.

Eventually, the first Tree Pipit dropped down to the ground out of view, so we left them to feed quietly. It was time to call it a day anyway now, so we made our way back to the car. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, and a great way to round off an exciting three days of summer birding in East Anglia.

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.

5th May 2017 – Three Spring Days, Part 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Tours today. It was a lovely sunny day, but still with a nagging, chilly and rather blustery NE wind. We met in Wells and headed over to NW Norfolk for the day.

We took a short detour round via Choseley on our way west along the coast road. There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields, and we watched two chasing each other round for some time. After a while a third joined in. It looked like they might start boxing, but they thought better of it at the last minute. One was left to practice on its own, shadowboxing, standing up on its hind legs and throwing some punches in the air.

6O0A9667Brown Hare – there were lots in the fields at Choseley

The concrete pad at the barns was quiet when we arrived. A lone Pied Wagtail dropped in. A couple of Swallows and a Sand Martin, the latter presumably on its way somewhere, were hawking for insects around the buildings. We walked onto the start of the footpath and looked out into the field, at which point two smart Yellowhammers flew in and landed on the bare ground just in front of us, which was very helpful of them!

6O0A9672Yellowhammer – two dropped down onto the field in front of us

There were a couple of Common Whitethroats singing from the hedges but not much else today. It was rather windy up on the ridge. We drove back round via Chalkpit Lane, stopping to look at a Grey Partridge feeding in the entrance to a field. The resident extremely pale Common Buzzard was perched high on a dead branch at the top of a tree.

As we got back down to the main road, we could see a falcon ahead of us, over the church the other side. Through the windscreen, we could see it was a Hobby. It started to drift towards us, and then a second Hobby appeared in the sky with it. First one, then the other, turned and started to power straight towards us, flying at high speed. One passed on either side of the car and they disappeared up the hill behind us.

Our first main destination for the day was Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked along the path through the bushes, we could hear lots of warblers singing on all sides. A Chiffchaff sang from the wires and a Willow Warbler perched in a hawthorn. A Blackcap was singing deep in the bushes. Sedge Warblers and Common Whitethroats were song flighting, but neither was perching up quite so obligingly as it might do normally, given the wind. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the undergrowth as we passed and a Reed Warbler sang from deep in the reeds. A Song Thrush added to the chorus.

A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling over towards the inner seawall, so we made our way over to try to see it. We managed to find it, clambering around in a thicket of briars and bare branches, but it was not easy to get onto. It was keeping very low today in the wind. Then it flew across into the hawthorns back along the path. We started to walk back, but some dog walkers were coming the other way and it went quiet.

As we climbed up onto the inner seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. It did one close fly past, looking like a cross between a falcon and a hawk, before disappearing into the bushes further south, where we could still hear it. As we made our way further along, it flew past again, further over, up the middle of the park.

Looking back towards the road, we could see a dove on the wires. It was rather distant and looking into the sun, but through the scope we could see it was a Turtle Dove. Then it flew up in a flurry of wingbeats and circled slowly round and down into the trees – its display flight. A little later it flew up along the edge of the beach, landing in some sallows where we could hear it purring from where we were on the inner seawall.

Common Swifts have been in short supply so far this spring, so it was nice to see three over the park today. They seemed to be enjoying the wind, and zoomed back and forth, coming low over our heads a couple of times.

6O0A9682Common Swift – three were enjoying the wind over the park today

As we got past the bushes and looked out over Ken Hill Marshes, we could see a flock of about twenty geese flying round. They were Pink-footed Geese. When they landed we got them in the scope and could see their dark heads and small dark pink-banded bills, very different from the orange carrot-like bills of the larger Greylags nearby. There were also a few Egyptian Geese out on the marshes and a Marsh Harrier was quartering over the grass.

When the Pink-footed Geese landed, they disturbed a large white bird which landed again nearby. Through the scope we could see it was a Spoonbill. It then promptly tucked its head in and went to sleep, which is, after all, what Spoonbills seem to like doing best! Periodically, when it woke briefly, we could see its distinctive spoon-shaped bill.

As we walked north along the inner seawall, the bushes were alive with Sedge Warblers and several more Reed Warblers sang from the reeds on the edge of the marshes. There were quite a few Reed Buntings too – though the song of the male Reed Bunting is nothing to write home about. We could also hear a couple of Lesser Whitethroats, further over in the bushes.

We cut across to the outer seawall and climbed up to have a look over the Wash. The tide was starting to come in again, but there was still a lot of exposed mud. Along the edge of the water we could see several large flocks of waders, which would whirl round periodically. Through the scope we could see a mix of Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Knot, several of which are now coming into summer plumage. The Grey Plovers were looking particularly smart, with their black faces and bellies. There were also a few Dunlin and a lone Turnstone with them.

A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling, heading south, but we couldn’t pick it up looking into the sun. As we started to make our way back, we heard a Tree Pipit call and looked up to see it flying the other way over the seawall. It landed briefly on a briar stem, but took off again before everyone could get a look at it through the scope. A male Stonechat perched more obligingly on the brambles – presumably the female is still on a nest nearby.

6O0A9684Stonechat – presumably the female is on a nest nearby

We could still hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing, closer to us from this side. We made our way through the bushes and saw it zip across into some brambles in front of us. Eventually it appeared on the top briefly.

When we got back to where the Grasshopper Warbler had been reeling earlier, it was still going strong. It was actually back in the same tangle of branches it had been in before. We managed to get the scope on it and everyone had a look, but it was still tucked in tight and partly obscured by branches today.

It was getting on for lunchtime by the time we got back to the car, but we thought we would head round to Titchwell for lunch. A quick stop on the way at Hunstanton produced a few Fulmars over the clifftops. They were mostly keeping down below edge today, presumably out of the wind, but periodically one would circle up in a big arc before disappearing again.

6O0A9688Fulmar – we stopped to admire them flying around the cliffs

Over lunch in the picnic area at Titchwell, a Blackcap was singing and perched up for us in a sallow by the path. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and watched as a family party of recently fledged juveniles made their way along the edge of the picnic area, begging to their parents as they went. A Goldcrest was flitting around in one of the pine trees too.

After lunch, we made our way over to the visitor centre. There were several Greenfinches on the feeders in front, which are always nice to see these days as the population has declined markedly in recent years due to disease.

6O0A9700Greenfinch – several were around the feeders

Two Whinchats had been reported today, and as we got out onto the main path we could see one of them on the fence that runs along the edge of the Thornham grazing marsh. It was rather distant at first, but we got the scope onto it. Then the second Whinchat appeared, much closer to us, and the two of them gradually worked their way closer still. When they were perched on dead stems just beyond the fence in front of us, we got some great views. They were both cracking males, with blackish cheeks and a bright white supercilium.

IMG_3910Whinchat – one of two on Thornham grazing marsh today

The Thornham grazing marsh dried up ‘pool’ was devoid of life again today. Very sad. The reserve side of the path was more interesting, with at least three Marsh Harriers over the reedbed, including a smart grey-winged male. There were a few hirundines hawking for insects including several House Martins, plus a couple more Swifts here too. A quick look at the reedbed pool added a Great Crested Grebe, right at the back, and a couple of pairs of Common Pochard.

It was chilly up on the bank in the wind, so we made for the shelter of Island Hide, from which to scan the freshmarsh. The water level is still high on here, but in spite of that there was a better selection of waders today. As well as the ubiquitous Avocets, there were quite a few Ruff, including a small female Reeve right outside the hide which was probably the bird reported at around that time as a Wood Sandpiper.

6O0A9724Avocet – there are always plenty on the freshmarsh

There were better numbers of godwits today too, mostly Black-tailed Godwits with varying amounts of summer orange. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were asleep on the edge of one of the islands. In with the godwits we found a single Whimbrel, which had obviously dropped in for a bathe and preen. Looking round the few small areas of exposed mud, we found a Common Sandpiper, a Little Ringed Plover and a couple of Turnstones.

The fenced off island intended for the Avocets has been taken over by the gulls. They are mostly Black-headed Gulls but scanning through the hordes, we could just see several Mediterranean Gulls too, deep in the throng. It was nice to see several terns on here today – mostly Common Terns, but a single Little Tern was resting on one of the islands too.

The ducks are enjoying it on here. There were still several pairs of Teal scattered around the edges, which should probably be heading off to their breeding grounds soon, plus several Shoveler and Gadwall. A flock of Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh, where they had been feeding, and landed on the water.

6O0A9715Teal – there are still quite a few on the freshmarsh

It was at this point that we received a message to say that there was a Red-breasted Flycatcher just along the coast at Holme. With Wryneck and Redstart reported there too today, we thought it was worth heading round there for the rest of the afternoon. A Grey Heron standing motionless in the reeds by the main path on the way back distracted us for a second.

6O0A9734Grey Heron – hunting in the reeds by the main path

Because we were so close, we got round to Holme very quickly, but when we arrived we found that the bird had disappeared. Even worse, we found out that it had been there for several hours and they had neglected to tell anyone. Not the most helpful! We waited a while to see if the Red-breasted Flycatcher might reappear and checked out the bushes it had been seen in, but there was no sign of it. We decided to go for a walk in the dunes, even though the reserve staff at the visitor centre could not tell us where any of the other birds had been seen. It was rather windy out in the dunes and it was always going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack, with the limited time we had left.

As we walked through the dunes, we did see a Wheatear. It was a female and very flighty in the wind, constantly zooming off ahead of us, flashing its white rear. A Cuckoo was singing from the bushes further down. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat and found a couple of Blackcaps too. There were several Linnets and Meadow Pipits in the grass. But no sign of any of the other scarce migrants which had been reported earlier. Then it was time to head back to the car and start making our way home.

When we got back to the edge of the pines, we stopped to talk to one of the off-duty wardens. While we were standing there, someone called out nearby that he had found the Red-breasted Flycatcher. It was mostly deep in the pines and very hard to see, flicking across between branches and only landing briefly in view, when it was very hard to get onto. Everyone at least got a glimpse of it, but eventually we were out of time had to call it a day. With a bit of luck, we might be able to have another go tomorrow!

26th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 1

It was Day 1 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour today, but it didn’t really feel like spring! A very cold north wind meant temperatures have dropped right down again. We were forecast wintry showers today, and they came thick and fast early on this morning so there was barely a gap between them. Thankfully it calmed down a bit by the afternoon and we were able to pack in quite a lot of birding. There was even some blue sky on show! Given the wind, we decided to avoid the coast and head for the relative shelter of inland, down in the Brecks.

Heading south from our base in Wells, we stopped off on the way down in an area which is very good for Stone Curlew. These birds are breeding in farmland, rather than their traditional habitat of grass heath. Scanning across an area of fallow ground, we quickly got on to a Stone Curlew. It was huddled down against the wind, half hidden by the growing vegetation, and back onto us at first. Eventually it shifted round a little so that we could see its black-tipped yellow bill and yellow iris – before it closed its eyes again. A Brown Hare was hiding in the grass here too.

Then some dark clouds appeared over us and it started to rain, rapidly turning to hail. We sheltered in the car for several minutes while it blew through, and then came out for another go. We could still see the Stone Curlew tucked down in the grass, so we decided to see if we could get a better view from a different angle. A couple of Skylarks had started singing, hovering up high into the sky. A bright yellow-headed male Yellowhammer was feeding in a bare strip on the edge of a field. Several Lapwings were flying round. We couldn’t see the Stone Curlew at all from here, with too much tall grass now obscuring our view. Another shower was rapidly arriving, so we hurried back to the car and decided to move on.

We continued south, stopping again briefly to scan some pig fields. A Red Kite was circling distantly over the village. A pair of Grey Partridge appeared from among the pig arcs, but the tractor which had been feeding the pigs disturbed them. They scuttled away quickly out of view. The sky behind us turned black again and another squally shower came in fast, so we got back into the car and set off again.

It was still raining when we arrived at our next destination. We stopped on the roadside and listened, from the warmth and comfort of the car. The first bird we could hear singing was a Willow Warbler, a sweet descending scale. Then a Blackcap started up too, very flutey and melodic, and a Common Whitethroat began singing its own scratchy song nearby. These were all completely outclased when a Nightingale started singing. It was beautiful just to listen to, but we had a tantalising glimpse of a shape moving in the tree from which the sound was emanating.

Thankfully the rain dried up and it started to get brighter. We parked the car and went for a walk. Back along road, two Nightingales were singing now. It was a stereo Nightingale show, with one either side. What a performance! But they just wouldn’t show themselves and eventually one went quiet and the other moved further in, away from us.

We walked on over the Common, across to the other side where more Nightingales had been singing recently. On the way, a Green Woodpecker flushed from the grass, but flew off behind the bushes out of sight. When we arrived where the Nightingales should be, it was quiet at first. However, as the sun started to show itself, a Nightingale started singing. Just as we got to the other side of the bushes, and could see it perched on a bare branch, some dog walkers appeared and it flew back into cover. It felt like it wasn’t going to be our day.

There is an area in the middle of the brambles and gorse where this Nightingale sometimes feeds. We found a spot from where we could see the ground and waited. We could hear it croaking in the brambles and the next thing we knew, it flew up into an oak tree right next to us and started singing. Great views! It hopped around between the branches for a while, singing all the time. When it flicked across to a low hawthorn bush, it landed with its back to us with its tail spread, which caught the sun, a stunning orange-red. Quite a show!

6O0A8255Nightingale – eventually put on an amazing show for us

There was a Lesser Whitethroat singing in the brambles nearby. We tried to get a look at it, but it wouldn’t sit still. It kept flying off and then coming back to the same clump, perching only briefly before diving back in. At least we all got good flight views. A Willow Warbler was more obliging. It had been a lovely bright, sunny spell but once again we could see more dark cloud approaching, so we retreated back to the car.

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. The dark clouds followed us and there was a mercifully brief shower when we arrived at the visitor centre. We spent a few minutes watching the feeders – there were several Reed Buntings, males and females, a few Goldfinches and even a couple of Greenfinches here today.

6O0A8293Greenfinch – on the feeders, in the rain

Once the shower had passed overhead, we decided to have a look out over the Washland. It hadn’t been there when we were watching, but when we came outside we flushed a Great Spotted Woodpecker from the feeders. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes on the way.

The first bird we set eyes on at the Washland was the Glossy Ibis, over in the far corner. We got a good look at it through the scope, noting its distinctive long, thick, downcurved bill. This bird has been here for almost three weeks now – a nice one to see here, though it is commoner in its normal home in southern Europe.

IMG_3428Glossy Ibis – out on Hockwold Washes again today

Otherwise, there were fewer ducks on here today – just a handful of Teal and Mallard. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the water. And a Sedge Warbler was singing from the reeds just below us, where we could see it. When yet another shower blew in, we hurried back to the shelter of the visitor centre for lunch.

Over lunch, we sat and watched the feeders again. There were much the same birds as we had seen earlier, but when we had jut about finished the Great Spotted Woodpecker finally came back in, so we could get a good look at it.

6O0A8302Great Spotted Woodpecker – back on the feeders during our lunch break

After lunch the rain finally cleared and it looked to be brightening up nicely. We walked out onto the reserve to see what else we could see. A Cuckoo was singing from the trees behind New Fen Viewpoint, which we could hear as we walked up along the main track. It seemed to be deep in some leafy poplars but, when we continued on along the path towards the river bank, the Cuckoo helpfully came out into the top of a bare tree where we could see it. Through the scope, we admired its barred underparts.

IMG_3461Cuckoo – finally came out into the top of a bare tree

Otherwise on New Fen, there were several Reed Warblers singing. A pair of Tufted Ducks and a couple of Teal were out on the water from viewpoint, along with a family of Coot. A smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds at back. By the pond dipping platform, a cracking summer plumage Great Crested Grebe swam out from the reeds not far from us.

6O0A8310Great Crested Grebe – swam out in front of us by the new pond dipping platform

There were no hirundines feeding over the reeds at New Fen in the wind today, but a trickle of Swallows and House Martins passed overhead as we were leaving. Further on, we found more of them, gathered on the south edge of West Wood, in the lee of the trees, hawking for insects. One Common Swift appeared with them briefly, zipping back and forth a couple of times, before disappearing off over the trees.

Suddenly a larger shape appeared low over the reeds and scythed up through the throng. It was a Hobby. The hirundines all scattered, alarm calling, as the Hobby disappeared, empty handed, off into trees. A brief view but an all-action moment. Another smart male Marsh Harrier then kept us company on the walk on to Joist Fen, circling over the reeds beside the path. It looked stunning in the sunlight as it banked, against the dark clouds of another shower which was mercifully passing us by in the distance.

6O0A8319Marsh Harrier – catching the sun against a dark shower cloud in the distance

Out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, there were more hirundines hawking low over the reeds. A couple of Sand Martins zipped past. There were no more Hobbys out here today, perhaps it was just too windy. Several Marsh Harriers were circling, but there was no sign of a Bittern today. Once we had recovered our breath, we set off again. After a quick look up on the river bank, which was rather windy, we started to walk back.

As we passed New Fen again, another Hobby came over the trees and across the path, before dropping down towards the reeds. As it turned, we could got a good view of its red trousers. The Cuckoo was still singing in trees and we heard a Treecreeper in the poplars too, although it went quiet before we got up to where it had been.

Although we had seen a Stone Curlew earlier in the day, we would like to have had better views. We drove round to another site where they breed, this one a traditional heathland site. As we drove up, a male Linnet was singing on the fence, while a female fed nearby. A male Stonechat flicked between fenceposts ahead of us. It had brightened up nicely now and there was no sign of any more rain here.

6O0A8341Linnet – this male was singing from the fence

As soon as we got out of the car we immediately spotted a Stone Curlew. Perhaps because of the rain earlier, it was very active and put on quite a show. It was walking round, quite quickly at times, then standing still and looking down at the ground. Occasionally it would peck at something, before setting off again. Through the scope we got a great look at it.

IMG_3483Stone Curlew – feeding actively this afternoon, once the rain cleared

While we were watching the Stone Curlew, a quick scan of the surrounding heath produced a single male Wheatear out on a cultivated strip. It was rather distant but still nice to see here. Wheatear used to be a fairly common breeding bird in the Brecks, but the population has all but died out – this could have been a migrant, but it is nice to think it might be staying to breed. A pair of Grey Partridges were feeding out in the grass too.

Having lost some time because of the rain this morning, it was now getting late. Still we wanted to just have a quick look in at Lynford as the weather had improved. It was quiet at first, perhaps still a bit too cold in the trees. A Mistle Thrush flew out of the tops calling, a distant Nuthatch was piping, and we could hear just a single Goldcrest singing. At the feeders by the gate, a lone Coal Tit was feeding on the fat balls. Down by the bridge, there were no seeds on the posts today and consequently just a single Chaffinch here at first.

6O0A8366Chaffinch – looking for any remaining seeds around the bridge

Then we heard a loud ‘chacking’ call and looked up to see a Fieldfare in the trees, with a second calling nearby. Fieldfares are winter visitors, so these should be thinking about heading back to Scandinavia soon. A Nuthatch appeared in the trees above the bridge, climbing up the trunk into the top before flying off towards the Arboretum. A couple of Siskins flew overhead calling.

Down at the lake, we got a good look at a Little Grebe, diving by one of the islands. There were also several Canada Geese and Mallard. A Marsh Tit started calling behind us, and we turned round to find a pair in the trees. The male was collecting food and taking it back to the bushes to feed the female.

6O0A8386Marsh Tit – collecting food in the trees by the lake

As walked back towards the bridge, as well as the Fieldfares, we could now hear Ring Ouzels calling from the edge of the paddocks. Three flew up into the nearest hornbeam, but unfortunately did not hang around for long, and flew off towards the other end of the lake. We turned round again and walked back to see if we could see them. A Treecreeper appeared in the trees in front of us.

As we walked along the path by the lake, we could hear the Ring Ouzels calling in the alders. Then we flushed one from the tops, and it flew out to the far corner of paddocks, and landed it a line of trees. We got it in the scope, but it was a rather dull female, with no white crescent, and we were looking in to the light. When she flew a short distance down along the line of trees, we realised that the other Ring Ouzels were there too. They all landed briefly together, but just as we got them in the scope, they all flew off towards the Arboretum, calling. Ring Ouzels are just migrants passing through here, most often seen on the coast, and always a good bird to find so far inland.

Then, with a big drive back to North Norfolk still, we had to tear ourselves away. Despite the rain at times, it had been a very successful day.

21st Apr 2017 – Spring Warblers & More

A Private Tour today in N Norfolk. It was rather cool and cloudy, with an increasingly blustery west wind in the afternoon and no sign of the promised sunny intervals, but it was dry all day.

The main target for the day was to try to find warblers and, if possible, Garganey. Snettisham seemed like the best bet, so we set off west along the coast road. A quick stop on the way at Titchwell and there was no sign of the Turtle Dove which had been in the car park early yesterday morning. The weather wasn’t particularly conducive, so we didn’t stop here long.

Arriving at Snettisham, we set off to explore the Coastal Park. As soon as we parked, we could hear warblers singing. A male Blackcap perched up obligingly in the top of a bush and a Common Whitethroat was songflighting, before landing on a tall bramble stem. We quickly heard our first Lesser Whitethroat of the day and set off along one of the smaller paths to try to see it. They can be elusive at this time of year at the best of times, often singing from deep in the bigger bushes. We did manage to see the Lesser Whitethroat a couple of times as it flew across between hawthorns, but it was perhaps too much to hope that it might come out and sing for us on a cool morning like today.

The Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were a little more accommodating. There were good numbers of both singing in the park today. Willow Warbler in particular is not as widely distributed as it used to be so it is always nice to hear their distinctive song, a sweet descending scale, at this time of year. A pair of Bullfinches in the bushes were a nice, non-warbler, addition to the day’s list.

6O0A7900Willow Warbler – several singing in the park today, this one taken yesterday

An occasional resident Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we walked past and the damper areas in the middle were alive with singing Sedge Warblers today. They are really back in force now and making their presence known. There are smaller numbers of Reed Warblers which have returned so far, but we did hear a few as we explored the area. One was singing from the reeds by one of the paths which cross through the middle of the park, but despite our best efforts we could not see it – it was keeping tucked well down in the reeds this morning.

As we walked in through the park earlier, we had seen couple of large flocks of Knot circling distantly out over the Wash beyond the sea wall. As we walked back towards the sea wall out of the reeds, we heard loud calls ahead of us and looked up to see two Peregrines chasing each other over the bank. They had presumably been spooking the waders on the Wash earlier!

One of the Peregrines quickly disappeared away beyond the bank, but the other, a juvenile, circled towards us and right over our heads, before heading off north over the park. Great stuff!

6O0A7924Peregrine – this juvenile came right over our heads, in from the Wash

This is often a good spot to see Cuckoos at this time of year, and we were not to be disappointed today. After we heard our first singing male in the middle of the Coastal Park, we were never far away from one. It really made it feel like spring, to hear Cuckoos singing, despite the not particularly spring-like conditions.

There were at least three Cuckoos here today, possibly more – it was hard to tell as they were flying around constantly, with birds regularly passing overhead whenever we looked up. They have a few regular bushes from which they like to sing and we got great views through the scope of one male in particular, from up on the inner seawall, when it returned to one of its favourite song posts.

6O0A7840Cuckoo – this photo taken yesterday, but singing from the same tree again today

Grasshopper Warbler was one species of warbler we had expected to at least hear here today, but as we passed the first couple of areas where birds have been reeling recently, all was rather quiet. Thankfully, as we walked along the path further up we heard the distinctive song of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, sounding more like an insect than a bird. Helpfully, it was in an area of quite open bushes with a narrow path running through, so we set off in pursuit.

We could see the Grasshopper Warbler perched up in the top of some brambles, so we stopped and set up our scopes. Typically, just as we got them lined up, it dropped back into cover. We walked round to one side of the brambles and positioned ourselves, thinking it might come up again to sing further along the clump. After a few seconds it did just that – half hidden at first and then climbing up right out in full view, up onto some thin rose stems. We had a great view of it through the scope.

IMG_3277Grasshopper Warbler – reeling from a bramble clump this morning

In the end, we heard at least three reeling Grasshopper Warblers as we walked round here today. They were possibly just a bit slow to get going this morning!

While we were waiting for the Grasshopper Warbler to reappear, we watched one of the Cuckoos flying over beyond and it swooped down towards a large hawthorn bush and flushed a second Cuckoo from the top of it. The two of them proceeded to chase each other round over the bushes, coming very close to us at one point, just as the Grasshopper Warbler reappeared. We didn’t know which way to look!

6O0A7947Cuckoos – chasing each other over our heads as we watched the Grasshopper Warbler

After completing our target set of warblers for the morning, we walked up as far as the cross bank and climbed up onto the seawall to look out over the Wash. There are still good numbers of waders here at the moment. The tide was still about half way out, but through the scopes we could see them all out on the mud. There were several hundred Knot, most still in grey winter plumage but a few starting to go orange. The same was true of the Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover, though a couple of the latter were already looking quite smart with black bellies and white spangled upperparts.

There were a few smaller waders in amongst the Knot out towards the shoreline, mostly Dunlin but a careful scan produced a single silvery grey and white Sanderling. There were more flocks of Dunlin closer to us, scattered across the mud, and in with them we found a single Ringed Plover. We lost sight of it when the flock flew, but the next thing we knew it appeared on the beach in front of us and started displaying with a second Ringed Plover, the two of them flying round over the sand with stiff wing beats.

6O0A7975Ringed Plover – two were displaying over the beach

There were a few Curlew out on the mud, but the Whimbrel seem to prefer to feed on the short grass. Looking across on the inland side of the seawall, we found two Whimbrel walking around beyond the pools, nice spring migrants for the trip list.

The Wash coast is a good place to watch visible migration (or ‘vizmig’ for short), with flocks of birds passing overhead on their journeys, being forced south here if they want to avoid crossing the Wash on their way north along the coast. There were a few birds moving today, but it was possibly a bit slow due to the weather. We did have several small flocks of Meadow Pipits passing overhead, along with a few Linnets and Goldfinches. A single White Wagtail dipped low enough over the bushes that we could see its pale grey back before continuing south along the seawall. There was a steady trickle of hirundines moving all morning – almost entirely Swallows today, apart from one House Martin which we managed to catch as it flew through.

There had been a pair of Garganey here in the last week or so, although there was apparently no sign of them yesterday. We headed over to the inner seawall to scan the pools to see if we could find them. They were not on the pools today where they had been previously, but we did see a nice selection of other wildfowl. Two small flocks of around 30 Pink-footed Geese each were out on the grass. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have long since departed on their way north to Iceland for the breeding season, but these few were leaving it rather later. There were also the resident Greylag, Canada and Egyptian Geese here. Ducks included Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and a few lingering Wigeon.

The wind was starting to pick up now and it was rather cold up on the inner seawall, so we opted to walk back through the shelter of the bushes. We should have continued south along the inner seawall as, little did we know at that stage, but the Garganey were on another pool back towards the road. Thankfully, we bumped into another couple of birders on our way back who told us about them and we were able to cut back across and up onto the bank to look. We found the drake Garganey tucked tight up against the bank of the pool asleep, sheltered from the wind. Through the scope we could still see its distinctive white head stripe and the elongated ornamental feathers hanging down over its flanks.

IMG_3287Garganey – asleep, tucked into the edge of one of the pools

It was getting on for lunchtime when we got back to the car, so we drove inland to a sheltered spot for lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out onto Dersingham Bog. We had hoped to find a Tree Pipit singing here, but it was a bit cold and windy and a quiet time of the day now. They are summer visitors so they may not all be back in here yet. We did find a couple of pairs of Stonechat and flushed a Green Woodpecker from beside the path. It quickly became clear it was rather quiet here so we didn’t stay long.

6O0A7984Stonechat – Dersingham Bog is a good place for this species

Grey Partridge was another target species for the afternoon. They are sometimes to be found at Snettisham, but they can be disturbed by the large number of dog walkers here. We took a diversion on our way back, inland via Ringstead. This is often a good area for Grey Partridge and a stop to scan a likely looking field quickly found us a pair, with a second pair on the edge of a field as we dropped back down to the coast road at Choseley.

6O0A7994Grey Partridge – one of two pairs we found on our short diversion inland

Our destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Holkham. We made a quick stop to scan the grazing marshes from the road and were rewarded with distant views of several Spoonbills in the trees. A long, snaking white head appeared occasionally out of an overgrown ditch and eventually a Great White Egret climbed out, helpfully with a Grey Heron then walking right in front of it to give a great size comparison. It then flew off back into the trees. There were several Barnacle Geese out on the grazing marshes too, presumably feral birds from Holkham Park.

Driving round to Lady Anne’s Drive, we headed out along the path to the hides. It was rather quiet in the trees in the strengthening breeze. A few Chiffchaffs were singing, along with a couple of Sedge Warblers from the reeds in front of Washington Hide. We did manage to find a Treecreeper hiding in a holm oak by Meals House. Then as we approached Joe Jordan Hide, we finally heard a Willow Warbler singing, usually a fairly regular sound here in spring.

There was a large white bird standing on the edge of a ditch out on the grazing marsh between Meals House and Joe Jordan Hide – a Great White Egret, possibly the same one we had seen earlier. In the breeding season the bill can go black, making it look rather more similar to a Little Egret. A couple of Greylag Geese walking in front of it left us in no doubt as to its large size. Through the scope we also admired the bright blue-green facial skin at the base of its bill. A couple of drake Pintail out on one of the pools beyond were a nice surprise.

IMG_3300Great White Egret – in a weedy ditch out on the grazing marsh

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, it didn’t take long to find a Spoonbill, perched up obligingly in the top of the sallows behind the fort. They were coming and going pretty much constantly from the trees while we were there. Several flew down to the pool below to collect nest material, before carrying it back up to the trees. Others were flying in and out from further along the coast in both directions, where they had presumably been feeding. We could see the bushy nuchal crest on the breeding adults, as well as the mustard yellow wash across the breast.

IMG_3322Spoonbill – collecting nest material

There were other birds coming and going here too. Lots of Marsh Harriers were quartering out over the marshes and a nice male came through close in front of the hide. A Red Kite circled lazily over Holkham Park and a Sparrowhawk flapped up distantly out of the trees. There are plenty of Common Buzzards here too, including a couple of rather striking pale ones which are always a source of confusion for the unwary.

6O0A8015Marsh Harrier – this male flew past in front of the hide

Three House Martins were lingering over the trees, hawking for insects. A few Swallows were still making their way west, along with a couple of Sand Martins. A single Pink-footed Goose, presumably a sick or injured bird which is destined to stay here for the summer, was down on the grass with all the Greylags.

Then it was time to start to make our way back. As we strolled back along the path, there seemed to be a little more activity in the late afternoon. We heard a couple of Willow Warblers singing now, and a single Blackcap which we had not heard on the walk out. A Goldcrest fed quietly in a holm oak above our heads.

It had been a very enjoyable day, with all our main targets achieved. Despite the cooler weather, we had seen a great variety of spring birds.