Tag Archives: Cuckoo

11th July 2021 – Summer Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Summer Tour, our last day. It was cloudier than forecast, particularly in the afternoon, warm & slightly muggy, but it was generally bright and it stayed dry all day. We spent the day down in the Brecks.

On the drive down, we diverted round via some likely areas looking for Stone Curlews. At our first stop, two Eurasian Curlews flew up alarm calling as we got out of the minibus. They landed again in the field opposite. Not quite the ‘curlews’ we had hoped for, but nice to see, particularly as the breeding population of Eurasian Curlew here is so small. A covey of Red-legged Partridge walked out of the crop and into an open ploughed area.

Curlew – not the one we were looking for!

Our next stop was by some pig fields. As we looked out we could see a Stone Curlew preening out in the middle. A great start, we got the scope on it, and while everyone was taking a look, we continued to scan across. We realised there were lots more there too! In the end, we counted at least eleven Stone Curlews scattered around the field, although there may have been more hidden behind the small ridges of dirt and vegetation. They are already starting to gather together post-breeding.

Stone Curlew – 2, with an Oystercatcher

There were a few Oystercatchers in the field with the Stone Curlews too, and several Egyptian Geese. Scanning the bushes in the middle, we noticed a couple of Tree Sparrows perched in the top of one. We got the scope on them for a closer look. When they dropped down out of view, we heard one calling much closer to us and looked up to see another Tree Sparrow on the wires by the road a little further up. Tree Sparrows used to be common here but have disappeared from most of Norfolk now, as they have from much of southern Britain, victims of agricultural intensification. An increasingly rare sight here, so good to see there are some clinging on.

Tree Sparrow – perched on the wires by the road

That was a great way to start the day. Having enjoyed some excellent views of the Stone Curlews, we moved on, driving over to Lakenheath Fen next. We stopped for a coffee break at the Visitor Centre, overlooking the feeders. There were several Blue Tits, Great Tits, Goldfinches and 1-2 Greenfinches in the bushes, coming and going.

As we set off to explore the reserve, it had clouded over now – not what we were expecting. Despite the cloud, there was still a good selection of insects – Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damselflies, diminutive skippers on Viper’s Bugloss which refused to sit still and allow us to see the underside of their antennae, Meadow Brown and Ringlet, and a smart Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata).

Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata)

We stopped at New Fen Viewpoint and scanned over the reedbed from the benches. We could hear Blackcap and Common Whitethroat singing in the poplars behind us. A Reed Warbler kept flying in and out of a small island of reeds in the middle of the pool.

A Bittern came up out of the reeds towards the far corner of the reedbed, flying across behind the bushes, before it dropped back in. We saw Bittern flights several times over the next few minutes – this is the best time to see them, when they are feeding young – but it was hard to tell how many birds were involved. One Bittern flew up from the back again, and headed out towards the river. We expected it to land back in the reedbed, but instead it continued over the riverbank, and appeared to drop down just beyond. There are some pools along the river here, so we headed over straight over to see if we could find it.

By the time we got there, there was no sign of it. Perhaps it continued on upstream, or maybe it was just hidden out of view. We stopped here to scan, hoping it might come out of the vegetation or come back from wherever it was feeding. One or two Common Terns were commuting up and down river – one flew past carrying a fish, presumably to feed a hungry youngster on the Washes.

Common Tern – flying up and down the river

A Cuckoo called from the willows across the river. Most of adults have gone south already, many are already in Europe and some already in Africa, so this one was rather late to still be here. We couldn’t see it in the trees and it went quiet. We did then see another Cuckoo, flying across between the woods right over on the other side of New Fen, but it was too distant to tell whether it was an adult or an early fledged juvenile.

A young Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with a rusty orange head, was exercising its wings, circling back and forth across the river, waiting for its parents to bring in food. A Hobby flew in, hawking for insects ahead of us, low over the washes beside the river, then it flew up over the bank, across over the back of the reedbed and up over West Wood. A Kestrel was hovering behind us too, and then we got the scope on it when it landed in one of the willows across the river.

Marsh Harrier – a juvenile, waiting to be fed

Continuing west along the river bank, we finally had good views of a family of Sedge Warblers in the edge of the reeds below us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into the edge of West Wood, but disappeared into the trees. The other side of West Wood, some of the group saw two Kingfishers chasing over the reeds just beyond, but they had disappeared before we could all catch up.

We cut back in to the reserve at Joist Fen, and got out the sandwiches. We had brought lunch with us today, so we wouldn’t have to hurry back. There were some distant Marsh Harriers out over the reeds and a Red Kite circled high over the railway line. More Reed Warblers zipped about, and another Sedge Warbler flew in and out of the big elder by the last bench, singing. A Kingfisher whizzed low over the reeds across in front of us, before dropping down into the channel where it was lost to view. Almost immediately, it was followed by a second Kingfisher – possibly the two which some of the group had seen earlier.

After lunch, we decided to walk slowly back. Another Kingfisher shot across the path just in front of us, and out over the reeds. We called in at Mere Hide, which is open again, although we had to wait a few minutes to all get in (there were already some people in there and there were six just of us). There were a couple of Greylag families on the water, one with lots of almost fully grown juveniles and the other with only one, before they flew off. Several Reed Warblers were flicking around the water’s edge. There were not so many dragonflies and damselflies flying round the pool today, perhaps not helped by the cloud.

The rest of the walk back to the Visitor Centre was fairly uneventful, and we rewarded our long walk with a sit down and ice cream when we got there (rhubarb & ginger today!). We had to ensure a prompt finish today, so people could get away in good time, but we still had an hour or so of the day left. So on our way back to where we had left the cars this morning, we diverted into the forest.

We stopped by a track, which leads down to a large clearing. For some reason the gate at the top of the track was locked today, so we couldn’t drive in. Instead, we parked by the next ride and walked down through the forest. It was hot and muggy and the mid afternoon lull now, so the trees were rather quiet. We could hear a Nuthatch calling, and a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the pines. The gate into the clearing at the far end was locked too, so we couldn’t get into the clearing, and we had to scan from the fence. A family of Stonechats were on the gate, a female and two juveniles, with the male further down along the fenceline.

We circled back through the trees. There were lots of butterflies on the flowers along the track, Meadow Browns and Ringlets and several skippers. One eventually stayed still long enough so we could get a look at the tips of its antennae – pale on the underside, a Small Skipper.

Small Skipper – not showing the undersides of its antennae here

A little further on, we heard a bird calling quietly, and looked up to see a Tree Pipit in the top of a dead tree ahead of us. We got it in the scope and had a closer look at it – it was pumping its tail up and down as it called, and we could see the yellow wash behind the heavier breast streaking, white on the bellow, with pencil fine streaks on the flanks. It flew and landed again on another dead tree right next to us, then flew back and we lost site of it over the trees.

Tree Pipit – calling quietly above the track

Tree Pipit was one of the birds we had hoped to find down by the clearing. We had been thinking we might have to try to squeeze in one last stop to get it somewhere else on our way back. But we had succeeded at the last here, which meant we could have an unhurried journey back and finish on time. A very enjoyable three days.

19th June 2021 – Warblers, Waders & More

A Group Tour just for the day, along the North Norfolk coast today. It was a cloudy start and finish, but in between there were some bright and even sunny intervals, which definitely had not been in the forecast. The overnight drizzle dried up just before we met up and it stayed dry all day.

We started the day at Kelling. As we got out of the minibus in the village, a Greenfinch was wheezing from the tree above us. A pair of House Sparrows were mating on the roof of the house across the road. A pair of Stock Doves flew over and one landed on the roof of the converted barn by the main road. A Chaffinch was singing by the school as we set off up the lane.

We walked down the lane towards the Water Meadow. There was not much singing in the hedges this morning, but one of the group did spot a web high up in a tree by the path, which turned out to be a nest of Small Eggar moth caterpillars. One caterpillar was still on the side of the web. Scanning from the gate, we could see one or two Brown Hares in the field beyond.

Small Eggar moth caterpillar – on its web

As we got out into the open by the Water Meadow, there were a couple of Common Whitethroats and several Linnets in the bushes. A Sedge Warbler was singing here, in the brambles just the other side of the hedge. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over the field to the west. Several Sand Martins were hawking for insects low over the Water Meadow pool.

There had been a Marsh Warbler singing here for the last week, and as we got to the crosstrack, we could hear it distantly so we carried straight on along the path down towards the beach. A family of Stonechats was along the fenceline on the hill above as we passed, male, female and a streaky juvenile.

There were a couple of people already there, standing and listening to the Marsh Warbler singing. What an amazing song! Not so much its own, as a constant stream of different calls and songs borrowed from other species it had heard, both in Europe and on its African wintering grounds. We could hear it mimicking Blackbird, Swallow, Blue Tit, Bee-eater (probably Blue-cheeked!), and many more we couldn’t recognise.

The Marsh Warbler was singing from thick vegetation in a reedy ditch, but a couple of times it came up into the tops of the reeds briefly, before flying down along the line of the ditch and diving back into the vegetation. No the best views, but good to see it at all – and with Marsh Warbler it is all about the song. A Reed Warbler started singing nearby for comparison, lacking the varied mimicry of the Marsh Warbler, much more methodical, rhythmic.

There were a few other birds here, out on the Quags – an Egyptian Goose, a couple of Avocets and a Little Egret around the pools and ditches. Several Rooks were feeding out on the grass. A couple of Meadow Pipits perched up on the fence posts.

Rook – several were feeding on the Quags

Carrying on along the path, we climbed up onto the shingle ridge to look at the sea. There were several small lines of Gannets passing offshore, a mixture of adults with their black-tipped white wings and younger more mottled birds. There were one or two Sandwich Terns closer in, but most of the terns were distant off here this morning.

Two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew in from behind us, dropping over the shingle and down towards the sea. We could see their white wing tips, black hoods and bright red bills as they came past us. They dipped down to the water just beyond the breakers and several immature (2nd calendar year) Mediterranean Gulls then drifted in from the east, dip feeding just offshore.

Mediterranean Gull – two adults dropped down to the sea

As we started to walk back along the path by the Quags, a Cuckoo flew past over the hillside above us and landed on the fence by the path up to the gun emplacements, calling. It dropped down to the bushes behind the beach where we could just see it looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn. We walked up the hill a short way and got it in the scope, where it was mobbed by a Common Whitethroat before it dropped down out of view.

Cuckoo – looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn

There were several butterflies out now in the sunshine, including Common Blue and Small Heath. We stopped to look at some Southern Marsh Orchids in the dunes slack. A few Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings and Linnets were flitting around, in and out of the grass and around the fences.

The Marsh Warbler was still singing, so we stopped for another quick listen on our way past. Then we headed back up the lane, stopping briefly to admire a couple of smart pink-breasted male Linnets on the brambles by the path. A Blackcap was singing now in the taller hawthorns by the copse, and several flicked off ahead of us, presumably a family group from the calls. A little further up, two Bullfinch came up from the beck and flew ahead of us a couple of times before disappearing round the back of the hedge.

Linnet – perched on the brambles by the path

We drove back west and parked at Walsey Hills. There was nothing apart from a couple of Coot on the Snipe’s Marsh pool today, but across the road we could see two Spoonbills distantly on the grazing marshes over at the back of the Serpentine. We crossed the road and set off up the East Bank. One or two Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds.

The male Yellow Wagtail is still here and still singing, having failed to attract a female. But with the vegetation having grown considerably it is very hard to see now in the long grass. We kept stopping to scan the ground for it as we walked up. It took several stops, but finally we saw it flying. It sang a couple of times in flight, stalling and parachuting down as it did so, then dropped back down into the long grass again. After a couple of seconds it came out again, and this time landed on a small mound of earth on a bare patch of ground where we could get it in the scopes. A very smart male – bright canary yellow – it would be nice to have them breeding here again.

While we were watching the Yellow Wagtail, we noticed a single Curlew behind it, an early returning bird back for the winter already. A lone drake Wigeon then walked out of the ditch next to it – presumably in this instance one which had decided to over-summer here.

When we heard Bearded Tits pinging behind us, we turned to scan the reedbed. A tawny-coloured juvenile climbed up into the reeds on the back edge of the ditch close by, and we had a great view of it as it flicked around, presumably trying to locate the rest of the family. It flew off down along the ditch.

Bearded Tit – a tawny-coloured juvenile

There were a few more waders around the Serpentine, several Avocets and some Redshank, including a couple of juveniles in the top corner. A Little Ringed Plover was very well camouflaged on the dry mud down at the front and two Dunlin still sporting their summer black belly patches were in the water behind one of the islands further back. When we heard Greenshank calling, two dropped in to Pope’s Pool where we got them in the scopes.

There were three Barnacle Geese on one of the islands on Pope’s Pool two – presumably part of the ever-increasing UK feral population. The Spoonbills were still fast asleep, but one did wake up and flash its spoon-shaped bill briefly.

Spoonbills – mostly asleep as usual

As we walked on towards Arnold’s Marsh, one of the volunteers told us there had been a Little Gull around earlier. The first birds we saw when we scanned were not one but two Little Gulls, both 1st summer birds, asleep by the small shingle island at the back. There were two Sandwich Terns next to them, and nearby, a single Common Tern. A single Ringed Plover was on the sand in the back corner.

Little Gulls – with two Sandwich Terns

The day’s tern list was further swelled with a high count of 21 Little Terns feeding offshore, from the beach. Then it was time to walk back for lunch. As we passed Don’s Pool now, an adult Little Grebe was feeding two stripy-headed juveniles, diving repeatedly under the blanket weed in one corner and resurfacing with an assortment of morsels.

Little Grebe – feeding two hungry juveniles

We stopped for lunch on the picnic tables in front of the Visitor Centre, in the sunshine. Afterwards, we set off further west. A Great White Egret was flying out over the grazing marshes as we passed Holkham.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Titchwell. It had clouded over now, and lots of Swifts and House Martins were hawking low over the reedbed. A couple of Marsh Harriers were up over the back, and we got the scopes on an orange-headed recently fledged juvenile perched in a bush. A Sparrowhawk shot through the sallows with prey in its talons. and a Hobby was perched in one of the dead trees at the back.

From Island Hide, we could see the Spotted Redshanks on the Freshmarsh but they were right back against the reeds on the far side, still in their jet black breeding plumage. They have returned already from their breeding grounds and will moult very quickly over the coming weeks. We had a look from here but figured we could get a slightly closer view from Parrinder Hide.

A single Pintail was the surprise duck on here today. There were still a few Teal, more returning birds already. Plus the resident Common Pochard, the drakes already moulting into drab eclipse plumage, and Tufted Ducks.

Pintail – on the Freshmarsh

As we walked out of Island Hide, a couple of people were photographing two Common Lizards which were basking on the fence by the path, so we stopped for a look too.

Common Lizard – basking on the fence

Walking down the path to Parrinder Hide, a Common Redshank was alarm calling on the top of a post just above us. We managed better views of the Spotted Redshanks from here, until they were flushed by a Marsh Harrier flying over the reeds just behind and they disappeared into the other corner, behind Avocet Island, out of view. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were in with the Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the Freshmarsh too, until they flew off.

Looking carefully through the Black-tailed Godwits we eventually found a single limosa Continental Black-tailed Godwit in amongst the commoner Icelandic birds. Presumably from its colour rings one of the very small and declining breeding population on the Ouse Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Freshmarsh

There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh as we passed and we could only see a couple more Black-tailed Godwits on the Tidal Pools, so we continued straight on to the beach. The tide was coming in and it was breezy out here, so we didn’t stay long. There were lots of gulls on the beach up towards Thornham Point, presumably feeding on shellfish washed up on the northerly winds. There were lots of Oystercatchers along the shoreline and a Curlew and a Bar-tailed Godwit over towards Brancaster.

We had to head back now. A more thorough scan of the Tidal Pools on the way back revealed a small group of Turnstones huddled in the lee of one of the islands. A Little Tern flew over calling. As we passed the Freshmarsh, two Common Terns were flying round now. Then it was back to the car park and time to get everyone home.

31st May 2021 – A Day at the Fen

A Private Tour to go looking for Hobbys, and anything else we could find, at Lakenheath Fen today. It was a lovely warm sunny day – the first really warm day we have had for some time – with a light easterly breeze.

We met mid-morning in the car park. As we walked up towards the Visitor Centre, a Willow Warbler was singing in the trees and helpfully flew in to a oak right next to the path, where we were standing. While we queued to get in, we could hear two Cuckoos calling, one either side. Then we headed straight out onto the reserve – we had to be back to meet someone for lunch, so we planned to make a quick dash out to Joist Fen and back.

Willow Warbler – singing above our heads

Walking up the track, we kept stopping to listen to various warblers singing. A Reed Warbler was singing half-heartedly from a sallow by the path, where we could see it flitting around, before it dropped down into the reeds and started to sing more strongly. A couple of Common Whitethroats flitted around a little further along. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds. A Blackcap was singing in the poplars.

We stopped at the viewpoint at New Fen. A pair of Great Crested Grebes looked like they might be displaying – facing each other, one and then the other preened a feather on their backs, then one picked up a piece of weed from the water, but changed its mind and threw it away. Both then swam forward, snorkelling, but it came to nothing.

A pair of Bearded Tits flew low across the water and disappeared into the reeds. Another Cuckoo had been calling in the poplars behind us, but now came out onto the edge, high in the tops. We just had a quick look at it, before it flew deeper in again, chasing after another Cuckoo. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds, and a very distant Hobby was high over the trees on the other side of the river but it was impossible to get onto it. A promising start though.

A Bittern boomed. It sounded like it was quite close, so we walked up to the dragonfly platform to see if we could find it, but two people were already there and said it was still hidden in the reeds. We stopped and scanned, but couldn’t see anything either. We decided to head on to Joist Fen. We paused to watch two female Marsh Harriers as they circled up calling, and then noticed a male coming in high carrying something in its talons. It circled with one of the females and then passed the food to her. There were lots of dragonflies in the reeds by the path and flying back and forth in front of us – several Scarce Chasers and a couple of Hairy Dragonflies.

Scarce Chaser – basking on a reed stem

It is always a nice place to sit out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, and as we rested out legs we spotted a Hobby out over the reeds. It was already quite distant, but as we watched it, we realised there were lots more Hobbys much further back still, very high up, and hawking for insects. We counted at least 17, but some were little more specks and they were very dispersed, so there were probably more. Mission accomplished in finding some Hobbys, but we would have liked better views.

There were more Marsh Harriers, distant too, and a Cormorant on its usual post out in the reeds. Then we got a message to stay the person we were meeting had arrived. It was a quick walk back and then a break for lunch on one of the picnic tables in the shade of the trees.

After lunch, we headed out again, this time up to the Washland Viewpoint. There was a good selection of ducks out on the water, including two drake Garganey. One was still in full breeding plumage, but the other was already moulting, well on its way to drab eclipse plumage, with a patch of grey feathers on the flank and a hint of the white stripe over the eye. There were a few waders here too – a few Avocets, some Lapwings and a Redshank. A male Stonechat was perched on the vegetation just across the river.

Marsh Harrier – circled over the river bank

Walking on up the river bank, a Grey Heron flew past the other side. We could hear Cuckoos calling and Reed Warblers and one or two Sedge Warblers still singing. As we passed New Fen, a Marsh Harrier flew in from the other side of the river and circled right beside us, before flying round us to get to the Fen.

As we got to the far side of West Wood, a Bittern appeared from behind the bushes and flew round over the reeds, across in front of the trees, and dropped back in again further back.

Bittern – good flight views

We dropped down off the river bank to Joist Fen Viewpoint again for a rest. The Hobbys were still there, still very distant. So we decided to try our luck walking further down the river bank, so see if we could get some closer views. As we walked on along the bank, a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes. A closer Hobby appeared briefly from behind the poplars, but by the time we got out of the trees, it had disappeared. Still it was encouraging.

We could still see several Hobbys further up, so we walked on a bit further. A Cuckoo was calling in the bushes by the path and we stopped to look at it in the scope. Suddenly four or five Hobbys drifted back our way and started hunting for dragonflies over the reeds. The wind picked up a little, and one or two of them came in low over the river, really close now. We stood and watched as they caught and ate their prey right in front of us and even right overhead at one point. Stunning views!

Hobby – stunning views
Hobby – almost over our heads
Hobby – we were being watched too!
Hobby – supremely fast & aerodynamic
Hobby vs dragonfly – homing in
Hobby vs dragonfly – brace for impact
Hobby vs dragonfly – there could only be one winner!

We spent about an hour marvelling at the Hobbys catching dragonflies in front of us. Then we had to tear ourselves away – it was time to head back. A Common Tern was feeding along the river too. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling in West Wood as we passed. A Cuckoo flew right over our heads by Trial Wood and the Common Swifts were lower now over New Fen in the breeze.

Cuckoo – flew right over our heads

A very memorable few hours at Lakenheath Fen!

19th May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week. Mostly warm in the long sunny spells, there were some cloudier periods when it felt a bit cooler. Some very dark clouds early afternoon were accompanied by some long rolls of thunder, but thankfully passed well to the south of us, and it wasn’t until we were on our way home that we drove into one of the forecast showers.

With a Caspian Tern over in the Broads for its second day this morning, we decided to head east for the day. It was a long drive over to Potter Heigham, but we left in good time and it was still early when we got to the car park. As we crossed the road and set off down the track, we heard a Cuckoo calling, and turned to see it flying away over the river. It was a cloudy start, and our first Common Swifts off the tour were chasing overhead. A Great Spotted Woodpecker came out of the small copse of trees and flew ahead of us, landing on a low gatepost by the track – an odd place to see one.

A pair of Egyptian Geese were close to the path on the grazing marshes. Further out, among the horses, was a lone Oystercatcher. Several Lapwings were flying round too. We could hear distant Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler singing in the bushes and trees the other side of the marshes. Closer to us, both Sedge and Reed Warblers were singing from the reedy margins of the ditch, but were typically hard to see. Never mind, we would see lots later. A couple of Reed Buntings flew across the track. One or two Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes and a Common Buzzard circled overhead.

Common Buzzard – circled overhead

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the fields which flushed as a local farmer drove past in his truck. They flew across to the pools. At the first pool, as well as the geese, we could see a few Mallard and one or two Gadwall. A Little Egret was out in the shallow water in the far corner.

It’s yelping call alerted us to a Lesser White-fronted Goose in with the Greylags, dwarfed by its much larger cousins. Through the scope, we could see the white blaze extending up its forehead and the golden yellow eye-ring. This would be a rare bird here if it were wild, but unfortunately it is a known escapee which has been hanging around here for the last year or so, presumably having hopped the fence from a wildfowl collection somewhere.

The Caspian Tern had flown off once this morning, but thankfully returned, so we were keen to get round to the other side to see it, while making sure we didn’t miss anything this side on the way. Moving on to the next pool, a quick scan revealed two Common Pochard with more Greylags and a couple of distant Common Terns. The cloud was breaking now and it was warming up nicely as the sun was coming out. Having planned for the risk of rain which was forecast, we had to shed our coats.

Up to the corner, we climbed up onto the bank for a better view. On the corner pool we could see more Pochard, a couple of Tufted Ducks, and three late lingering Wigeon. Looking across to the other side, we could just see the Caspian Tern through the reeds, between some Cormorants roosting on one of the islands. A little further up, we got clear of the reeds and had a better if still distant view – we could see its huge red bill. It was standing in the shallow water next to a Herring Gull and didn’t look much smaller – Caspian Tern is the largest tern, like an enormous oversize Sandwich Tern with a massive red dagger for a bill.

With the Caspian Tern in the bag, we could relax a little, but we continued on round more slowly, for a closer view. A Willow Warbler was signing from the top of an oak across the other side of Candle Dyke. A Common Sandpiper was flushed from a mooring by a passing boat a little further along and a Common Tern flew past, looking much daintier than its cousin on the pools, with a much less threatening bill!

Common Tern – flew past over Candle Dyke

Walking round towards the river, there was lots of activity in the reeds. We finally got to see both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warblers here. We caught a quick glimpse of a Bearded Tit which zipped over the reeds and dropped down. It was carrying food in its bill, so we waited to see if it would come back out. Before it did, a second Bearded Tit flew in, this time the female, also carrying food in her bill. She perched for a few seconds in the reeds, allowing us all to get on her, before she dropped in, as the male flew out and disappeared back away. Obviously they are feeding a hungry brood in the reeds there.

Bearded Tit – the female, carrying food

Walking up beside the river, we arrived opposite the pool where the Caspian Tern was standing. But we had only just put up the scopes before it took off, before everyone could get a look. We watched it fly off east, circling over the reeds for a while, gaining height, before it disappeared from view. We were very pleased we had stopped to look at it distantly on the way round!

Caspian Tern – flew off just as we arrived on the river bank

The Caspian Tern had flown off earlier and returned, so we figured it was probably just heading off to fish somewhere and would most likely be back here again at some point. The only question was how long, but we thought we would have a more leisurely look around now and see what happened. There were two Shoveler out on this pool. A Great Crested Grebe was over in the far corner and then another appeared from behind the reeds at the front. Another male Bearded Tit was chasing a rival round and round over the reeds.

Walking up to the last pool from the river bank, we could see a single Avocet on one of the islands. A pair of Teal nearby would be the only ones we would see – most have left already, heading off to northern Europe for the breeding season. We hadn’t been here long though, before we turned to see the Caspian Tern flying back in behind us. It landed back down on the pool where it had been before, so we walked straight back. Now we all had a really good view of it through the scopes.

Caspian Tern – flew back in and landed on the same pool

Caspian Tern is a rare visitor to the UK, with just a few records most years. They breed in small numbers around the Baltic, as well as further over in SE Europe, wintering down in West Africa. Potter Heigham seems to be a good site for them – there was one here last year too.

We could see dark clouds way off west, so we decided to walk slowly back. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the bushes by the river, and we had a quick flash of a rounded chestnut-red tail as it flew past. Two different male Marsh Harriers flew past over the reeds. A couple of Common Whitethroats were in the trees, three Reed Warblers chased round and a Chiffchaff was singing in the old orchard by the mill.

Marsh Harrier – one of two males over the reeds

We headed round to Hickling Broad to use the facilities and as the sun was out now, we decided to have an early lunch in the picnic area before heading out onto the reserve. A juvenile Robin was calling in the trees behind the Visitor Centre – good to see some early broods are proving productive, despite the cool spring we are having. As we sat down to eat, a Hobby circled high over the trees beyond. A pair of Great Tits were flying in and out of a nearby nest box. Two Bullfinch called, and we looked over to see them fly across the far end of the picnic area.

There were some dark clouds to the south of us, and we heard some long and rather ominous rolls of thunder from that direction, but it looked like they would probably miss us, so we headed out onto the reserve. As we set off down the track, there were House Martins overhead calling and we found a couple of Sand Martins with them.

As we got to the corner with the Stubb Mill track, one of the group spotted a Common Crane flying over high in the distance – the first of many, as it would prove later. There were lots of Hobbys out over the reedbed beyond the water, flying back and forth, hawking for insects, some low, some circling up much higher. Further over, there were more perched in the tops of the dead trees, probably around 15 Hobbys in all, always great to watch these spring gatherings. A Cuckoo flew over the back of the pool, up over the bank, and disappeared behind the trees towards the Visitor Centre.

We walked down the track towards Stubb Mill. There had been a Wood Sandpiper on the marsh here yesterday, so we scanned the islands and the margins of the water. A small flock of seven Ringed Plovers flew up and disappeared off west, presumably of the Tundra race, which are always late migrants through here. Again we heard a Lesser White-fronted Goose calling and looked over on the island to see it in with the Greylags. Presumably the same bird we had seen earlier at Potter Heigham, as it is only a short distance away as the goose flies.

Lesser White-fronted Goose – unfortunately an escapee

A much closer Hobby flew in over the water and over the track behind us. While everyone was watching it, we turned to see a Grey Heron fly up from the reeds beyond the pool and noticed a Common Crane in the reeds too, a little further back. We got it in the scope and watched it for some time, preening, then walking around through the reeds. Then it took off and flew towards us, unfortunately attracting the attention of one of the Shelduck, which decided to mob it as it flew over the water. As the Shelduck finally gave up, we watched as the Common Crane disappeared away over the fields to the north.

Common Crane – pursued by a Shelduck

As we continued on down the track, we could hear a Bittern booming from somewhere deep in the reeds now. We scanned the pools on the way, but the only other waders we could find were Redshanks. When we got to the end, there were more Hobbys zooming about low over the reeds and we looked past them to the east and noticed four Common Cranes circling low over the bushes.

Another four Cranes circled up nearby and all eight then turned and started to fly towards us. They stopped to circle again, giving us a great view, then started calling and drifted away to the north over Stubb Mill, where we lost sight of them behind the trees.

Common Crane – another eight, near Stubb Mill

After watching the Cranes, we turned our attention back to the pools, looking back parallel with the track. It was a better view from up on the top of the bank. There were two Little Grebes diving in the blanket weed here, more Redshanks and several juvenile Lapwings which teased us into thinking they might be a different small wader before we saw them clearly. Then we did find a different small wader right up at the far end, walking in and out of a line of thick reeds and rushes. It was the Wood Sandpiper we had been searching for – a distant view, but better than nothing!

The dark clouds had remained off to the south as we had hoped and the sun had come out again now, encouraging a flush of insects. A Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly was drying its still papery wings on the bank in the sunshine, with several also freshly emerged Azure Damselflies fluttering around nearby. A Small Copper butterfly was trying to find flowers to feed on, our first of the year.

Four-spotted Chaser – drying its wings on the bank

We had been intending to walk up to Bittern Hide, but we met someone here who had just come back from there and had seen nothing we hadn’t already seen. A Great Reed Warbler had been found at Breydon Water this morning and after being very elusive, it now seemed to be showing on and off. As it was just a short drive from here, we decided to go over there to see if we could see it.

As we arrived in the car park, a friendly face walking back confirmed the Great Reed Warbler was still present, so we set off out along the north wall. We could see six people standing on the path on the first corner, looking down across the railway line to the bushes beyond. As we walked up, we could immediately hear the Great Reed Warbler singing.

The Great Reed Warbler was singing from inside the bush and looking in, we could just see it. We got it in the scopes and had various views of different parts of it as it moved around. Great Reed Warblers are scarce visitors from continental Europe, overshooting in spring as they fly back from Africa and ending up in the UK. Normally a bird of reedbeds, like a much larger version of our Reed Warbler, this one had probably been attracted down by the sight of Breydon Water and found the best habitat it could to feed.

After a while it stopped singing and went quiet, disappeared into the bushes. It had earlier come out into the open when it stopped singing, but all we could see now were a couple of Blackcaps, male & female. A regular Reed Warbler appeared too, in the same bush. People were getting tired now so we decided it was time to walk back.

Breydon Water – looking out from the north wall

Some of the group were a little too keen to get back to the minibus and sit down, as they disappeared over the horizon before we the rest of us had packed away our tripods. Those who had brought their scopes out stopped on the way back to scan Breydon Water for waders. The islands of vegetation at the edge of the saltmarsh are a regular roosting site for waders.

We had already seen a flock of Curlews out there, and stopping to scan now we found a group of at least 19 Whimbrel too, tucked down in the vegetation a little further over. A lone wader on the end of a vegetated spit a bit further round was a single Greenshank.

It was a long drive back and time was getting on, so the rest of us headed back to join the others in the minibus. As we cut round past Norwich we drove into a heavy rain shower – we had been very lucky with the weather today. A great start to our three day tour, with two new birds for most of the group.

12th May 2021 – Cameras at the Ready

A Private Tour today, with the focus on trying to photograph birds rather than just looking at them. It was meant to be a sunny morning, with cloud increasing in the afternoon and the possibility of showers. Instead, there was more patchy cloud this morning and it was sunny and warm this afternoon – the wrong way round!

We spent the morning at Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked in, a male Greenfinch was on the ground feeding on the short grass. We could hear various warblers singing: Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Sedge and Cetti’s Warbler. But none of them wanted to pose for the cameras. We had a quick look out at the Wash from the outer seawall, but the tide was in and there wasn’t a lot flying past out over the sea.

As we set off up the middle of the Coastal Park, we could hear the distinctive rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat now. It flew across to a large hawthorn on the edge of the reeds where we watched it feeding on one of the longer branches for a minute or so. When it was joined by a second, the two of them flew out and across to the bushes over on the seawall.

Lesser Whitethroat – in one of the hawthorns

There were lots of Goldfinches and Linnets in the bushes, and more warblers, as we made our way north. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling ahead of us in the brambles and flew up into a hawthorn next to the path, where it gave a quick burst of song. It only perched there briefly though, and quickly flew across to the other side of the path, disappearing back into the thicker vegetation.

Cetti’s Warbler – perched up singing briefly

A steady succession of Swallows came low over the bushes, migrants on their way, heading south round the Wash. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove as we walked up towards its favourite tree and when two Turtle Doves flew past away from us and disappeared into the bushes, we thought that was it. We stopped to admire a male Stonechat which perched on some low bushes in the middle, and a female appeared nearby too.

Stonechat – the male in a low briar

While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard the male Turtle Dove purring now from its favourite tree. Had it flown back while we weren’t looking. Then another Turtle Dove started purring from somewhere in the bushes off to our right, in the direction where the pair had disappeared earlier, so presumably different birds. We set up the scope and had a good view of the lone male perched in the branches of a dead tree.

Turtle Dove – purring from a dead tree

Then we noticed a Barn Owl flying around over the short grass out in the middle, beyond the bushes. We didn’t know which way to look! As we walked on along the path, the Turtle Dove took off and launched into its display flight. We found the Barn Owl again, but it was always rather distant ahead of us. We figured we would catch up with it somewhere later.

From up on the seawall again, the tide was going out now and there were lots of Oystercatchers out on the mud. A woman stopped to talk to us, she was a volunteer with the Wash Wader Ringing Group looking for one satellite Oystercatcher with them. Without a current fix, it was like looking for a needle in haystack! More Oystercatchers were still commuting from where they had been roosting on the marshes inland out to the beach.

As we walked across by the crossbank to the inner seawall, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes, along with another Lesser Whitethroat, and a couple more Common Whitethroats. Climbing up onto the inner seawall, the Barn Owl was now hunting over the bank just a little further up. It disappeared behind the bend in the bank, so we went through the gate and walked round on top. The Barn Owl was on a fence post just round the corner and took off when it saw us, but thankfully did a nice fly round, coming straight past below us.

Barn Owl – flew past below us

Turning our attention to Ken Hill Marshes, we picked up a Sparrowhawk disappeared away low over the water. In the reeds beyond, we could see a distant Great White Egret alongside a Little Egret. A good size comparison – the former completely dwarfing the latter.

There were plenty of ducks out on the pools, Shoveler, Gadwall and one or two lingering Wigeon. Four Barnacle Geese were presumably feral birds rather than genuine high Arctic breeders. Two Whimbrel were out on the short grass – one flew off and one disappeared down into a pool out of view as a small group of people walked along the footpath, but both reappeared after they had made it to the seawall.

We hadn’t had sight nor sound of the Cuckoo up to now, but as we walked back we heard it singing and looked ahead of us to see it perched in a dead tree. When we got alongside it, we watched it singing for a couple of minutes. A Chaffinch appeared on the branch next to it, and after a while worked up the courage to chase it off, at which point it was joined by one of the local Meadow Pipits.

Cuckoo – appeared as we started to walk back

Further on, we stopped again. There were several Mute Swans flying round, mostly young birds with dull bills. An adult with a brighter orange bill was bathing in the ditch on the edge of the marshes. There were several Common Swifts zooming about over the pools and one or two swept past us over the bank and the bushes the other side. We had a go at photographing them as they passed – never easy at that speed!

Common Swift – flew past us over the bank

A Mediterranean Gull started calling, a distinctive plaintive miaowing, and we turned to see it circling over the nesting Black-headed Gulls, its white wingtips translucent against the sun. A Chiffchaff posed on the outside of one of the hawthorns below the path briefly. Then we made our way back to the minibus.

As we headed back round to the north coast, we made a diversion into Hunstanton and stopped by the lighthouse. The Fulmars were only just coming above the clifftop occasionally today, but one or two gave some very nice photo opportunities.

Fulmar – circling over the cliffs

There were several House Sparrows in the fenced off vegetation on the top of the cliff and a male posed nicely on the fence. A very smart metallic Starling dropped onto the grass close to us to collect more insects – its bill was already pretty full with a large larva and a couple of flies.

Our mission for the afternoon was to find a feeding Spoonbill. After a break for a pizza in Thornham, we carried on east to Burnham Norton. Three Whimbrel were feeding out on the short grass as we got out of the vehicles. The path out towards the seawall was a bit muddy, but we managed to negotiate it without getting our feet wet.

Two Common Swifts were circling above us and started mating on the wing. They separated but stayed together and then did it again a bit further over. While we were watching the Swifts, we picked up two Hobbys way off in the distance. We watched them catching insects high above the reedbed.

There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds along here and we could hear one or two Reed Warblers too but they were much harder to see. We finally got to see a couple of them, chasing around in the corner of the ditch below the seawall. A flock of four Yellow Wagtails flew over high, calling. They appeared to drop towards the herd of cows out in the middle of the marshes, so we made a mental note to have a look for them on our way back.

Walking along the seawall, the tide was out and we couldn’t see any Spoonbills out on the saltmarsh. The only white shapes flying in and out now were Little Egrets. There were lots of waders along here, several Avocets chasing each other in the muddy channel on the near edge of the saltmarsh and Redshanks flying back and forth over the bank. There were Lapwings here too, and one or two were displaying, singing as they performed their tumbling and rolling display flight.

Lapwing – displaying over the seawall

There were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they head off to Siberia for the breeding season. But it looked like we might be out of luck with our main target here today. When we reached the junction with the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marshes, we turned for one last scan over the saltmarsh. And there they were, two Spoonbills flying in from the direction of Gun Hill.

One of the Spoonbills landed in one of the big channels and we could just see it distantly from the seawall. The tide was out and there are a couple of baitdiggers’ paths out to the channel here, so we walked out to the edge, picking our way and jumping over some of the narrower runnels. Eventually we got much closer. The Spoonbill was feeding constantly in the shallow water, and appeared to be finding lots of food, regularly flicking its head back as it snapped at something.

Spoonbill – feeding in one of the saltmarsh channels

Eventually the Spoonbill disappeared round the next corner in the channel, out of view. As we made our way back to the seawall, the second Spoonbill dropped in with it. A couple of small squadrons of Cormorants flew past, heading back towards Holkham.

We dropped down onto the path the other side and walked back through the middle of the grazing marshes. The distinctive foghorn of a Bittern booming drifted over to us from the reeds. There were herds of cows on both sides of the path, but looking through the reeds we couldn’t see anything with the ones on the left of the path. We stopped at a gate from where we could see the cows the other side – they were all walking in towards the reeds by the path, and we couldn’t see anything with them at first. Two Wheatears, a smart male and a closer female, were out on the grass just beyond, migrants stopping off on their way north.

It was hard to see through the throng of cows by the reeds at first, but as some started to move further down away from us, we could see a pair of Yellow Wagtails feeding round the feet of one of them. The male with bright day-glo yellow underparts and head, the female rather creamier yellow and shades of greenish-brown.

Yellow Wagtail – a bright yellow male

The cows moved further down so we continued on along the path to the next gate, which is where they seemed to be heading. We had just arrived when another small group of Yellow Wagtails seemed to drop in with the original pair. It is always worth looking through flocks of wagtails at this time of year, as they often contain birds from the continent with different variations of head colour.

In amongst these wagtails, we did indeed find an odd looking one. It had a greyish head and a bold white supercilium, very different to the yellowish heads of the others. It looked too bright for a female, with a very bright yellow vent and belly, but grading to paler yellow on the lower breast and pale yellowish white on the upper breast and throat, and a greenish mantle. With the paler throat, it clearly wasn’t an adult male either. These wagtails are very variable, and the different forms frequently intergrade in the zones where they meet, but the best fit for this one seemed to be a 1st summer male Blue-headed Wagtail, the race which is found across much of continental Europe but is a regular visitor here in spring.

Blue-headed Wagtail – probably a 1st summer male

We spent some time watching the wagtails feeding in among the cows, although they became harder to see as the cows all pressed in closer to the gate. They seemed to have gathered waiting to be fed. Then when the wagtails suddenly took off and flew over the reeds, we continued on our way back.

A Little Egret was feeding in the ditch ahead of us as we got back to the parking area. As we stood by the vehicles for a minute or two, several Brown Hares were running round over the grass. A Barn Owl flew past along the edge of the grazing marshes, disappearing off along the side of the road. Time for us to call it a day.

11th May 2021 – Spring Serenade

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with intermittent dark clouds spreading in particularly from early afternoon and bringing with them some torrential showers. Thankfully we mostly managed to avoid being caught out in the worst of them.

We started the day at Snettisham. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Cuckoo was singing, but it had gone quiet by the time we were ready to set off. As we walked into the Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing in the bushes, Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Chiffchaffs too and we spotted one flicking around in some nearby trees.

Common Whitethroat – there were lots singing this morning

While we were watching the Chiffchaff, we heard a Turtle Dove purring from the bushes. We walked round on the path to try to locate it, and a second male started singing further over, one either side, stereo Turtle Doves! We had a couple of brief glimspses – first of a pair chasing through the bushes, then a male which flew up quickly and then slowly floated back down in display flight. One of the male Turtle Doves was purring now in a bush not far from the path but it was tucked in somewhere out of view. We caught a glimpse of that one as it slipped out the back and then went quiet. The other male was still purring in the thicker bushes the other side.

We walked in further and up onto the outer seawall. Looking out over the Wash, the tide was slowly going out. We had seen a couple of small groups of Oystercatchers flying past earlier, and there were now lots gathered on the exposed mud to the north. Four Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the shore, a Dunlin dropped in with them briefly and then another four Bar-tailed Godwits arrived. They were all either females or young birds, lacking the breeding male’s bright rufous underparts. Five Grey Plover flew past out over the water, a couple of them sporting their summer black faces and bellies. There were lots of Brent Geese on the beach too and two Common Terns distantly over the water.

When we turned round, we could see a Barn Owl hunting the other side, following the inner seawall. It was out late this morning – either the cold spring weather is not helping it to fatten up ahead of the breeding season, or it has hungry young to feed already, although there was no sign of it flying back to feed them.

Barn Owl – out hunting late

We walked back down into the bushes and up through the middle of the park. A Willow Warbler was singing in the sea buckthorn on the seawall and there were lots of Linnets in the bushes. When some darker clouds rolled overhead and it started spitting with rain briefly, there were suddenly lots of Common Swifts zooming back and forth low above us. Presumably migrants on their way over which were pushed down by the weather.

When we heard a Turtle Dove purring again, we looked up to see it perched in a dead tree. Now we had a great view of it through the scopes, with its rufous scaled back and black and white barred panel on the side of its neck. We stood for a while just listening to it now – a wonderful sound of spring, once common but now rare, and still declining at an alarming pace, a victim of the industrialisation of farming here and our obsession with flailing hedges and tidying up any areas of scrub in the countryside. Catch it while you still can!

Turtle Dove – purring in the branches of a dead tree

A pair of Stonechats were alarm calling from the clumps of low gorse nearby, presumably with young in the nest somewhere. The Barn Owl appeared again, weaving in and out of the bushes over the grass.

As we carried on further, finally we heard a Cuckoo calling again, and could see it in the distance, in a tree right at the north end of the park. We got it in the scopes, but it was mobbed by a Meadow Pipit and took off. It flew our way, past us through the bushes, and landed in the same tree where the Turtle Dove was still purring. Two of the classic sounds of spring, both declining, together. We walked back, but the Cuckoo was off again before we could get there.

Carrying on north, we climbed up onto the seawall again. The tide had gone out considerably, with a lot more exposed mud, and the Oystercatchers and Brent Geese were widely scattered. A huge flock of thousands of Knot and Grey Plover flew round out in the middle, half way across to Lincolnshire, catching the light as they twisted and turned.

The Wash – looking out over the mud

We walked along the crossbank to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan over Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of ducks out here on the pools, including a late lingering Wigeon. A Russian White-fronted Goose swimming across one of the pools was a surprise, as most of the wild wintering geese have long since departed. A little further up, we picked out a single Pink-footed Goose too, with a small group of the resident Greylags. The Pink-footed Goose was probably winged and injured by wildfowlers, now unable to fly north with the others but still capable of feeding happily on the marshes, so perhaps the White-fronted Goose was too.

There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets out on the pools. Scanning carefully, we picked out a small group of Black-tailed Godwits at the back. A Ringed Plover together with a small group of Dunlin were feeding on a muddy island closer to us. A lone Whimbrel was down on the short grass nearby.

The Yellow Wagtails were on the move today. We had already heard and seen a few flying south overhead, and a group of four had just gone over. We were just about to move off, when we heard Yellow Wagtails call and turned to see a large group dropping down towards the grass on the near edge of the marshes. There were about a dozen of them, and it is always worth scanning through to see if any of their scarcer cousins are travelling with them. And there were two very smart male Grey-headed Wagtails together down on the grass.

Grey-headed Wagtails – two males in the flock

Looking through the rest of the flock, there were mostly yellow-headed British Yellow Wagtails, males and females, but one female had a noticeably greyer head and paler white supercilium. It is not possible to conclusively identify female Blue-headed Wagtails, as female British Yellow Wagtails are variable in appearance, but this looked like a good candidate.

Then we found another male Grey-headed Wagtail further over. This one appeared to have a tiny speck of white above the lores. All these yellow wagtails are considered just subspecies and they do interbreed – perhaps this little speck of white was a tiny remnant of historic intergradation with Blue-headed Wagtails where they meet in northern Scandinavia?

Grey-headed Wagtail – the third male

They may just be treated as subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtail and therefore not separate ‘ticks’ on the official list, but taxonomy is in a constant state of flux these days and definitions change of what makes a species (Eastern and Western Yellow Wagtail have recently been separated). Like many other families, the yellow wagtails with their myriad forms defy our crude attempts to put them into neat boxes. They are fascinating and beautiful things and well worth recording on our lists, species or not!

Having marvelled at the various Yellow Wagtails for a while, we started to make our way back along the seawall. The Cuckoo was singing from another dead tree, but dropped down before we got back level with it. We found it again and had a good view of it perched in the bushes by the outer seawall, before it was chased off by a Meadow Pipit again.

Cuckoo – on the bushes on the outer seawall

The sun was out and things had warmed up now. The Swifts were very high and we picked up a distant Hobby very high over the marshes, catching insects. There were several Common Buzzards up too, and some other distant raptors beyond the range of our scopes. The Turtle Dove was still in purring away in its favourite tree as we passed. We could see more dark clouds approaching from the south, so we made our way back to the minibus.

We made our way round to Holme and stopped briefly on Beach Road to use the facilities. Then we drove down the track past the payhut to park, and climbed up onto the seawall. It was grey but dry here, although the dark clouds we had seen from Snettisham were passing to the west of us and it looked to be raining over there. Two Hobbys were zooming back and forth low over the reeds out on the grazing marsh hawking for insects.

We could see dark clouds coming our way now, so we decided to have lunch down under the shelter of the minibus tailgate. One of the Hobbys landed on a bramble bush out on the grazing marsh briefly and a Great White Egret flew over. We waited for the shower to pass.

After lunch, it had stopped raining and we went back up onto the seawall again. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reeds now. A lone Whimbrel appeared down on the grass closer to us. There were lots of Brent Geese still lingering on the saltmarsh. It shouldn’t be long before they are off back up to Siberia for the breeding season now. Another shower arrived, so we retired to the minibus again. It appeared to be brighter away to the east, so we decided to head round that way.

Brent Geese – almost time to leave

We diverted inland via Ringstead, scanning the fields while waiting for some more darker clouds to blow through, then swung round to Choseley. A single Corn Bunting was perched in the middle of a bright yellow oilseed rape field. We started to scan the field where the Dotterel had been recently, finding two Wheatears out amongst the stones, but it was starting to rain again now.

Corn Bunting – in the middle of the oilseed rape

There was a report of a Temminck’s Stint at Stiffkey Fen, so we decided to drive further east to see if we could get out of the worst of the weather. At first, things deteriorated as we simply drove into torrential rain. But we could see brighter skies ahead of us and by the time Stiffkey it had stopped raining, even if we were still just under the edge of the darker clouds.

It was cool and breezy now and there weren’t many birds singing as we walked out beside the river. We headed straight out and up onto the seawall, and it was good we didn’t dawdle. There were a couple of people already there and we saw them lift their heads and start to scan with their binoculars as we got to the top of the steps – everything on the Fen had taken off. We stopped and heard the Temminck’s Stint call, as it flew over the seawall just ahead of us. We watched as it flew out over the saltmarsh and dropped down into a channel out of view. Just in time!

The Common Sandpiper which had been feeding on the Fen had returned, so we could still see that working its way round one of the islands. We decided to walk on round to the edge of the harbour to see if we could see into the channel where the stint had landed. We could see a small area of mud, but it was obviously further round the corner, still out of view from here.

There were still plenty of Brent Geese here too. With the tide out, there were lots of gulls loafing on the mud. Further back, we could see terns flying back and forth over the remaining water in the pit, lots of Common Terns and one or two Little Terns. We could see seals in the distance too, hauled out on the sandbank beyond the far end of Blakeney Point.

It was starting to spit with rain again, but it was time to head back anyway. A Garden Warbler was singing in the sallows as we walked back beside the river and we heard a Kingfisher call as it flew upstream along the channel behind the bushes and brambles. Then it was back up to the road to finish.

26th April 2021 – Nightingales & More

A Private Tour today, down in Suffolk for Nightingales. It was bright and dry but mostly cloudy with some intermittent sunny intervals and a light but chilly easterly breeze.

Our first destination this morning was for Nightingales. As we walked down the road, we stopped to scan the fields and could see the orange face of a male Grey Partridge in the paddocks, the female feeding head down beside it. There were Skylarks singing and we watched one flutter up. We could hear a distant Yellowhammer singing its ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’.

Further down, it was bushier and we started to hear warblers singing. The sweet descending scale of a Willow Warbler contrasting with the repetitive chiffs and chaffs of a Chiffchaff. The beautiful fluting of a male Blackcap, flitting around in the fresh green of a spring hawthorn. The scratchy song of a Common Whitethroat in the more open bushes. There were Wrens, Dunnocks and Robins all singing too.

Chiffchaff – one of several species of warbler singing this morning

We heard the first Nightingale calling first, a strange croaking noise a bit like a frog, coming from a particularly dense tangle of brambles and bushes. As we stood and listened, it began to sing, a succession of loud, fluted, melodic, liquid phrases, pausing for breath in between. Gorgeous! It went quiet for a while, and we carried on down the road, where even more warblers were singing. Then we heard the Nightingale singing again behind us, so walked back for another listen.

The Nightingale was in a particularly dense area of scrub so there was little chance we would see it hear. We decided to tear ourselves away and have a walk round to see if we could find any more. A male Blackcap was singing by the road – a beautiful melodic song and a favourite on any other day, but unfortunately it was keeping elite company today. We found a path in through the bushes further up and weaved our way round. A smart male Yellowhammer perched in the top of a hawthorn above us, calling.

Yellowhammer – calling from the top of a hawthorn

As we came to a more open area, flanked by thick bushes which were providing some shelter from the breeze, we could see some movement under a pine tree. As we walked up the slope past it, another Nightingale sang briefly just beyond. We stopped and listened and heard it again, calling now back behind us. We walked back into the open area and stood in the middle looking back at the sheltered edge, which was warm in the sunshine. it looked like there might be two Nightingales here, but they weren’t going to come out – the most we saw was when one flicked down along the edge briefly, but they were keeping to the thickest bushes and the trail quickly went cold. We could still hear the first Nightingale we had heard earlier, singing on and off behind us.

Continuing round, we noticed several Starlings zooming around the tops of the bushes. They seemed to be flycatching. There were more down on ground, running around snapping at things in the short grass and we could see one close to us had a bill full of insects. We couldn’t see what exactly they were catching, but it was obviously proving very productive here.

Starling – finding lots of insects in the grass

At the top of the hill, we could hear another couple of Nightingales singing. One was in a dense fenced-off area of bushes, but the second was in more open brambles and scrub. The sound seemed to be coming from the front edge, and as we walked along to investigate, we just had a glimpse of its bright orange-red tail as it flicked up from the grass and into the brambles. We could hear it calling further back, so we tried walking in on a path through the bushes. Again, we just saw the back end of it as it disappeared into the bushes.

We left it for a while, as we listened to the other Nightingale singing, then walked in slowly again. It was on the ground once more, but it was too close, behind a bush, and there was no way we could get round without disturbing it. We waited until it had moved further back, but still it was too jumpy and flew round the back as we tried to edge forwards. It wasn’t going to play ball today. We walked over to where the other Nightingale was singing from the thicket and listened to that for a bit. It was mesmerising just to stand and hear them sing.

It was midday now and things were starting to go quiet, so we decided to move on. A Kestrel was hovering out over the open grass in the middle, as we made our way back to the vehicles.

Our destination for the afternoon was Lakenheath Fen. We stopped for lunch first, in the sunshine, then afterwards headed in to explore the reserve. Several smart male Reed Buntings were in the bushes by the feeders. As we headed up to the Washland viewpoint, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds.

There were lots of ducks out on Hockwold Washes again, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, and a few Teal. Scanning round carefully we managed to locate one of the Garganey, right over at the back. It was busy feeding but when it raised its head we got a good view of the striking white stripe over its eye, a stunning spring drake.

Garganey – a smart spring drake on the Washes

There was a nice selection of waders on here too, including several Avocets. Six Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the shallow water along the western edge but right in the far corner we could see three different godwits, slightly smaller and shorted-legged, with slightly upturned bills. Bar-tailed Godwits, normally a mainly coastal species and scarce inland, these are migrants on their way back up to the arctic for the breeding season and just stopping off here to feed. Two were smart spring males, with rusty head and underparts, continuing right down under the tail.

There were a few Common Redshank along that edge and then we noticed a paler wader there as well. It was hard to make out in the heat haze, so we walked a bit further up for a slightly closer look. It was next to one of the Redshanks now and we could see it was a Greenshank, slightly bigger, slimmer, and longer billed, another migrant stopping off here on its way north.

A female Stonechat was flitting around the reeds just this side of the river, landing on a fence, so we had a look at that through the scope. Then we continued on downstream along the river bank. A couple of Sedge Warblers and a Reed Warbler were singing from the reedy ditch on the edge of the reserve, but were tricky to see. The metronomic Reed Warbler song was noticeably different from the mad jumble of phrases from the Sedge Warbler, heard alongside each other. A Willow Warbler was singing from the sallows on the edge of the poplars too.

Looking across to New Fen North, we could see lots of Greylags loafing around on the drier areas in the reeds, with several broods of goslings. A female Mallard with several ducklings was swimming around on one of the pools by the river. A hungry-looking Grey Heron was standing on the other side of the water.

On the far side of West Wood, we cut back in to the reserve. A Cuckoo was singing in the trees, always great to hear this rapidly declining species back in the spring. Round at Joist Fen Viewpoint, we stopped for a break. A Cormorant was on the usual post and several Marsh Harriers were circling beyond. We picked up a distant Hobby, hawking for insects high over the reeds, then another two further back. Thankfully, as we sat and watched, they started to drift closer.

Scanning the pools just beyond the viewpoint, we found a Common Snipe lurking down in the cut reeds on one of the islands. We were just trying to get a look at that, when we noticed a Kingfisher further down towards Mere Hide. It was hovering over one of the pools, but quickly landed out of view before we could all get a look at it. Thankfully, a short while later it flew and came towards us, landing again in the reeds where we could get it in the scope and see its electric blue back.

Cuckoo – flew in past us and landed in a willow nearby

Suddenly it was all action. A Cuckoo flew in over the reeds in front of us, past where we were standing and landed in the willow behind us, just beyond the Viewpoint. We had a great view of it the scope, we could see its golden yellow eyering. It stayed there for some time, singing on and off, and fluttering around in the branches looking for food.

Then a Bittern boomed from the reeds too. Always a great sound to hear. All the time the three Hobbys were now hawking over the reeds just behind us – a much better view now, we could even see their rusty red ‘trousers’ as they twisted and turned in the sunshine. From time to time they would catch something in their talons, then lifting it up to their bills to eat on the wing. For a while, we didn’t know which way to look!

Hobby – one of three over the reedbed today

After recovering from the long walk out, we set off to head back through the reserve. There were more Reed Warblers serenading us on the way – they seem to finally have arrived back in better numbers now. As we walked down the track past New Fen North, we could hear another Bittern booming from the reeds. We stopped to break the journey back at New Fen Viewpoint and we heard it booming again, but it was deep in the reeds and there was no way we would see it today. Still, at this time of year it is all about the amazing sound of Bitterns booming.

Back on the track, a Common Whitethroat was flitting around in the poplars singing. Back at the Visitor Centre, the Reed Buntings had been joined by several Goldfinches on the feeders.

Unfortunately it was now time to call it a day. But what a day, filled with the sounds of spring, wonderful to hear singing Nightingale, lots of warblers, booming Bittern and cuckoo-ing Cuckoo too.

6th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 2

Day 2 of a long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was originally meant to be sunny and warm today, but the forecast changed a couple of days ago to rain in the middle of the day and cooler. The rain came early – it was already spitting with drizzle when we met up and it continued on and off through the morning. Thankfully, it was only light and intermittent and it didn’t really stop us getting out, and it dried up in the afternoon.

Having been east along the coast yesterday, we drove west today. A Red Kite drifted over the road as we made our way to Holme. As we got out of the minibus, a Sedge Warbler was singing, but it was keeping tucked down out of view this morning. We could see a couple of dark juvenile Marsh Harriers flying round over the bushes out in the middle of the grazing marsh. When the male flew past, they thought they were going to get fed, but were disappointed when it didn’t stop. Up on the seawall, we could see one of the juveniles standing in a recently cut silage field, presumably trying to find something for itself.

It was already spitting with rain, but we thought we would be OK for an hour or so, based on the forecast. Enough time to get out to the beach and back. It was a very high tide this morning and lots of Redshanks were roosting out on the islands of vegetation on the saltmarsh. Five Little Egrets were roosting too. The Meadow Pipits and Skylarks had been forced off the saltmarsh and up into the dunes by the water, and we flushed several as we walked out.

Looking out over the dunes, we could see a Little Tern distantly over the beach. A Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding on the edge of the water. A Fulmar flew past offshore. When we got out to the beach, we found there was very little sand left exposed. A few Oystercatchers and gulls were roosting on the bit of beach left exposed. We could see a few Sandwich Terns flying past over the sea.

As we walked a little further down along the edge of the dunes, a Ringed Plover ran ahead of us. We had seen one on the nest here recently, but the area where it had been looked to be under water now. A Sanderling appeared on the sand on the edge of the dunes too, still in its dark breeding plumage.

Sanderling

Sanderling – still in dark breeding plumage

One of the Little Terns flew over calling. It started to drizzle more heavily now, so we decided to walk back to get our waterproofs from the minibus. From the dunes, we could see the pair of Little Terns mobbing an Oystercatcher back on the beach. Hopefully they had not been impacted by the high tides.

Little Tern

Little Tern – flew over calling

It had stopped drizzling again when we got back on the coastal path. Lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits were in feeding in the dunes. Back at the minibus, we layered up just in case. A Cuckoo flew across the grazing marshes on the other side of the track and when we looked across we could see a second Cuckoo perched on the top of some brambles. We had a look at it in the scope. It will not be long now before the adults leave and head off back south, their breeding season over and the surrogate parents left to raise the young.

We wanted to have a quick look in the old paddocks, so we walked back round and up onto the coastal path. But when we got there it started drizzling more heavily again, so we decided to change plans and head round to Titchwell instead, where we could use the hides. When we got to Titchwell, we had a quick look at the latest rainfall radar and realised the rain band looked to be moving over quickly, so we stopped for coffee at the Visitor Centre. Afterwards the rain had eased off again, so we headed out onto the reserve.

When we got out to the reedbed, a Reed Bunting was singing from the top of a small sallow. A few Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers were flitting round the small pools below the path. A small flock of waders flying in over the saltmarsh turned out to be a Whimbrel with ten Redshank. The latter dropped down on the saltmarsh, but we watched the Whimbrel disappear out over the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of ducks on the reedbed pool, mainly Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard with a single Tufted Duck. The drakes are now all in their drab eclipse plumage. A single Red-crested Pochard sailed out from the reeds. It looked rather like a female, apart from its bright coral-red bill – it was a drake in eclipse too. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew off over the reeds, flashing their white wing tips.

We continued on to Island Hide. There were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the mud in front of the hide. One of them was bearing a collection of colour rings including one with the letter ‘E’ and a flag with the number ’27’. This bird is a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, from the very small UK breeding population on the Nene Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a bird from the small UK breeding population

In order to try to help the struggling UK breeding population of Continental Black-tailed Godwits, a number of eggs are now being hatched and raised in captivity each year, before being released once they are fully grown. ‘E27’ is one of those, raised in 2018. After spending the winter in Spain, it has since toured East Anglia.

Most of the birds here are Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, which are faring much better. There were lots of them out on the Freshmarsh today, and there seemed to be birds moving too. A large flock had flown off as we walked up towards Island Hide, disappearing off west. We saw more flying off or over during the morning, and others dropping in.

A small group of Knot was out with the Black-tailed Godwits when we first arrived and we had a look at them through scope. But they had disappeared when we looked back, possibly out to the beach or perhaps they were on the move today too. We counted 44 Dunlin on the Freshmarsh, but there had apparently been 83 earlier – again waders were obviously dropping in and moving on.

Ruff

Ruff – scrawny-necked, having already moulted its ruff

There were about a dozen Ruff here today, all of them different colours. They are all males which have finished breeding, and already moulted their ornate ruffs. Some were looking very scruffy, with very scrawny necks. An adult Avocet and a well-grown juvenile were feeding in front of the hide, but there were lots more resting on the islands out in the middle. The Avocets are gathering here to moult now, with birds travelling here from elsewhere, and over 400 were counted here today. A single Spotted Redshank was visible over by the fenced-off Avocet Island but was rather distant from here.

The juvenile Bearded Tits like to feed along the edge of the reeds in front of Island Hide and we looked across to see three working their way round, hopping out onto the edge of the mud. We had a great look at them, tawny brown with black backs and black masks.

Bearded Tits

Bearded Tit – three juveniles, on the mud on the edge of the reeds

Spoonbills were reported on the Freshmarsh this morning, but they were apparently over in the back corner and not in view from here. One of the volunteers radioed through to a colleague over by Parrinder to check they were still present, and the reply came through that they were just taking off. We looked over to see six of them flying low towards us, they passed right in front of the hide, before disappearing off west over the bank, presumably heading to to feed.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – five of the six which flew off from the Freshmarsh

There are still lots of gulls out here, and plenty of Mediterranean Gulls loafing around on the islands in with all the Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Common Terns were out on one of the islands too.

Four Barnacle Geese flew in over the back from the direction of Brancaster and landed on the island in front of Parrinder Hide. When we walked round, we had a better look from there. They are presumably feral birds from the now established UK breeding population, which tend to wander.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – two of the four which dropped in on the Freshmarsh

We had a closer look at the gulls from Parrinder Hide. There were lots of juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, much greyer and scalier than the rather dark brown juvenile Black-headed Gulls. Several of the juvenile Mediterrnaean Gulls were begging from the adults.

There was a much better view of the Spotted Redshank by the Avocet Island fence from here too. It was still mostly in sooty black breeding plumage but starting to moult now with patches of paler grey emerging. At least four more Spotted Redshanks were right over the far side, on the edge of the reeds. A couple of those were already noticeably whiter below than the others.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – starting to moult out of its black breeding plumage

There were more ducks loafing on the islands over this side of the Freshmarsh, the drake all in drab eclipse plumage. Teal and Shoveler were both additions to the day’s list. Hundreds of Swifts had gathered over the reeds, and we could see a few House Martins and Sand Martins in with them. They were hawking low, trying to find insects in the cool and rain. There had been a steady passage of Swifts moving west along the coast today.

It was lunchtime now, so we set off to walk back. We had a quick look over the wall at Volunteer Marsh, but there wasn’t much on there – a single Curlew, an Oystercatcher, and a Lapwing. We hadn’t got back to the trees before it started to spit with rain again. As we didn’t fancy sitting out in the rain, we decided to divert round via Meadow Trail before lunch. A Song Thrush was singing on Fen Trail, perched right on the top of a dead tree. We stopped to watch a pair of Blackcaps feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a pair were feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide

The drizzle had stopped by the time we got round to Patsy’s and there were lots more warblers in the bushes around the screen, coming out to feed after the rain. We saw several Common Whitethroats and a couple of Chiffchaffs, as well the usual Reed Warblers. A couple of Bearded Tits zipped back and forth across the reeds.

There were lots of ducks on Patsy’s, mainly Mallard and Gadwall, the drakes all in eclipse. A female Common Pochard with several ducklings was diving out in the middle. Two more Red-crested Pochard were again drakes in eclipse, given away by their bright red bills.

When we finally got back to the Visitor Centre, it was time for a rather late lunch. We were very kindly allowed to eat inside as it was not busy today and the clouds still looked rather threatening. Afterwards, we made our way back east along the coast and stopped again at Burnham Overy Staithe.

As we walked out along the seawall, we saw a distant Spoonbill fly across over the harbour towards the dunes. A male Kestrel landed in the top of the hawthorn bushes on the near edge of the grazing marshes and a couple of Greylag heads popped up from time to time out of the long grass beyond. A Little Grebe was diving in the channel on the edge of the reeds and we stopped to watch a family of Sedge Warblers down in the wet grass below the bank.

There were a few waders out in the harbour. A flock of Redshanks around the small pools on the sandbanks and more with a flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits on the mud on the corner. There were several Oystercatchers too, but it was very disturbed today with several boats in the channel and people walking out over the middle of the saltmarsh and round the edge of the harbour.

We stopped on the corner by the reedbed pool. There were lots of Coot and a few ducks on the water and we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Then a Black Tern appeared over the pool. It circled round over the reeds, giving us a good look at it. It was a very smart adult, still in sooty black breeding plumage. Then as quickly as it had appeared it flew up and over the bank and disappeared out over the harbour. There had apparently been a Black Tern here a couple of days ago, so it was possibly lingering here.

Black Tern

Black Tern – a smart adult, appeared over the reedbed pool briefly

There were some cattle grazing on the marshes further up along the bank, so we walked over. There had been some Cattle Egrets with them earlier this week, but there didn’t seem to be anything there at first today. We stood and looked out over the grazing marshes and we were just about to head back, when the Cattle Egrets suddenly appeared. They were not feeding around the cows, but on a small pool hidden in the long grass in between them. We couldn’t see the Cattle Egrets behind the tall vegetation until they happened to walk out into the open, just in time.

We had a good view of the Cattle Egrets through the scope. They were looking particularly smart, in breeding plumage with a pale orange wash on the top of the head, the back and breast. Then they flew back to join the cows further back and we lost them from view again in the long grass.

Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets – feeding on a small pool in between the cows

A Spoonbill flew in over the harbour and out across the grazing marshes, heading for the breeding colony. As we walked back, we were almost at the car park and had stopped to look out over the marshes, when another Spoonbill dropped in behind us into the harbour channel. It would have been a great view, but there were more people out with dogs paddling in the harbour, and they flushed it as we turned round to look at it.

We were heading out again this evening, looking for Nightjars, so it was time to head back now, so we could all have a break and get something to eat.

Nightjar Evening

When we met again in the early evening, the weather was much improved, and the sun was even shining. We headed over first to look for Little Owls at a nearby complex of barns. We were in luck tonight. As we pulled up and started to scan the roofs, we spotted two fluffy juvenile Little Owls perched on the top enjoying the evening sun.

Little Owls

Little Owls – two juveniles enjoying the evening sun on the roof

One of the adult Little Owls appeared on the roof opposite, and one of the juveniles flew over to see if it was going to be fed. We stopped and watched them for a while and there was lots of flying backwards and forwards between the roofs. A second adult appeared on another roof, which we assumed was the other parent, but the first adult flew over straight at it as if it was trying to chase it off. The second Little Owl flew a short distance, but it landed on the same place we had first seen the two juveniles and was ignored thereafter, so it was hard to be sure what its relationship was to the others.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away – we could have stayed watching the Little Owls all evening but we wanted to head down to the coast to look for Barn Owls. We drove round some meadows where they like to hunt, but there was no sign initially of any out tonight. We stopped, and walked up onto a bank from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

When we looked back, we found a Barn Owl out hunting the field behind us, where we had just been looking. It flew round and landed on some bales, but by the time we got the scopes out, it was off again. It landed a second time, on a fence below the bank by the reeds, and this time we had a good view, perched looking at us. It dropped down to the ground and flew back up to the fence. Then it was away over the reeds.

We turned to see a second Barn Owl had flown along the bank right behind us and was disappeared off out over the marshes. It was a striking almost all-white male, a regular bird here. It disappeared away out of view before we could get a good look at it, but thankfully quickly caught something and came back with a vole in its talons.

It flew straight towards us initially, then veered off and disappeared into the trees, presumably heading back to its nest to feed its young. Only a short while later, it was out hunting again. It flew round over the meadows, where we had seen the first Barn Owl, then came past us across reeds and disappeared out over marshes.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – the ghostly white male caught a vole

It was time now to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. It was quiet as we walked out to the middle, but not long before we heard our first Nightjar calling. We looked over to see it flying round the treetops in the distance. It started churring so we walked over to look for it.

The Woodcock were still roding too. We heard a squeaky call, and looked up to see one flying over, with flicking wingbeats, it distinctive display flight. It or another came right over us a couple of times this evening.

The Nightjar was churring in a dense oak, and impossible to see in the evening gloom. We stood nearby and listened and after a while it dropped out and came towards us over the heath. Then a female appeared, and came in to investigate, hovering right in front of us. We had a great view as it flew round just above our heads.

Nightjar

Nightjar – flew round above our heads

When the female Nightjar flew back towards the trees, a second male came in, and the two of them flew round together calling, the flashing the white in his wings and tail. The first male was still churring out in the middle of the heath, while an intruder was on its territory. These two birds often seem to have dispute, and after a while the first Nightjar flew back off towards its territory.

We stood for a while and listened to the Nightjars churring. Occasionally one would fly in and circle round above us again. A Tawny Owl hooted from deep in the woods behind. The light was fading now, so we set off to walk back. We heard another couple of churring male Nightjars on our way back to the minibus. Then it was time for bed – we had another busy day tomorrow.

22nd June 2019 – Solstice Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of two days of Summer Tours today. It was the reverse of yesterday, with a cooler and cloudy start but brightening up progressively through the day, reaching a very pleasant 21C.

Having explored the coast to the east of Wells yesterday, we headed west today. Our first destination was Holme. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Quail was singing from the verge opposite. As is typical with this species, we couldn’t see where it was hiding but we heard the distinctive ‘wet-my-lips’ song several times, before it went quiet.

A Sedge Warbler was singing from an elder bush in the reeds a little further on down the track, and while we were watching this in the scope, we heard a Grasshopper Warbler start to reel. We looked over in the direction of the sound and found it perched in the top of some brambles. We had a look at it from where we were, and then crept up closer. The Grasshopper Warbler dropped down into the brambles as we approached, but after a minute or so it climbed back up into the top and started reeling again.

Grasshopper Warbler

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling in the top of the brambles

Over the next twenty minutes or so we were treated to some stunning views of this often secretive species. Grasshopper Warbler tends to be very skulking unless it is singing, at which point it will perch out in full view. They normally arrive here in April from their wintering grounds in Africa, then reeling regularly for a while before going quiet as they get down to the business of raising their first brood. They will then reel again more regularly once the first brood is fledged and ahead of a second brood, which is presumably why this one was so vocal today.

It was not just about the Grasshopper Warbler though, as we stood here. A Cuckoo was singing in the distance, out over the grazing marshes. Several Marsh Harriers circled up out in the middle. Two dark chocolate-brown juveniles flew round and perched for a while in the tops of the bushes, and the grey-winged adult male was hunting nearby. A few Common Swifts flew over, heading west.

From here, we walked out to the beach next. A couple of Meadow Pipits were singing in the dunes, fluttering up and parachuting back down. A pair of Stonechats were perched in the bushes with a couple of Linnets. The same or another Cuckoo called in the dunes and we turned to see it flying across just behind us over the saltmarsh.

Lots of Sandwich Terns were flying past just off the beach, with some stopping to hover and plunge dive for fish just offshore. We stood on the tideline for a while and watched them, occasionally hovering and then plunging into the water.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern – hovering just offshore

Three Little Terns flew past, dwarfed by the Sandwich Terns. Then we heard another Little Tern call behind us and we noticed a pair were feeding in a tidal channel a little further along. One landed on the edge of the beach, and we had a good look at it in the scope, with its black-tipped yellow bill and white forehead.

Three Common Eider were swimming just offshore, a smart drake, a blacker immature drake and a brown female. As seaduck, it is not such a surprise to see them here as the family of Shelduck which was swimming some way out on the sea, two adults and five tiny ducklings. At least the sea was flat calm today.

Eider

Common Eider – there were three offshore this morning

Three Sanderlings flew along the beach and landed on the shingle out on the point. Two of them were still in their darker breeding plumage, but one was silvery grey and white, more typical of how they look when we see them here through the winter. As we walked back through the dunes, a Ringed Plover was on the sandbar in the channel. Then in the dunes we flushed a couple of Cinnabar moths and found lots of yellow-and-black striped Cinnabar caterpillars on the ragwort plants.

We made our way down the coast path to the old paddocks next. It was very busy along here – we subsequently found out it was a Norfolk 100km run underway and competitors were going past non-stop. They were apparently already 36km in and some seemed to be suffering accordingly! There were just a couple of Common Whitethroats and a few Linnets in the bushes.

When we got to the golf course, we could hear a Turtle Dove purring in the trees beyond. We cut across to the back of the car park, but when we got out of the trees it had gone quiet. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes in the corner. The refreshment station for the runners was set up on Beach Road, so it was very busy here too. We made our way back along the entrance track, listening to the Cuckoo still calling inland. It was warming up now and there were fewer birds singing.

Round at Titchwell, we decided to stop for an early lunch. A Blackcap was singing in the trees by the Visitor Centre. After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. Two Reed Buntings were singing on the edge of the reedbed and we got one in the scope, perched in the top of a small sallow. Several Reed Warblers were busily darting in and out of the reeds below the path.

A Bearded Tit ‘pinged’, and we looked over to see a female come up out of the reeds close to the path. It didn’t stay long though and flew off over the bank to the Thornham side. One or two more Bearded Tits were zooming back and forth over the reeds further back in the reedbed.

Several Marsh Harriers were circling over the back of the reedbed, up and down out of the reeds, including one or two dark chocolate brown juveniles with tawny heads. At one point, we saw one of the males perform a food pass, circling with prey in its talons before dropping it for one of the youngsters to catch – which it failed to do!

There were a few bits and pieces on the reedbed pool – a female Common Pochard was diving with a couple of ducklings, always good to see as this is a scarce breeding species, plus a few Tufted Duck. A Little Grebe appeared out of the reeds and a Great Crested Grebe was swimming with a stripy-headed juvenile briefly at the back.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – in rusty breeding plumage

Looking out at the Freshmarsh from Island Hide, there were lots of waders out in the middle, mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. A few smaller Knot were in with them, one or two of them in rusty breeding plumage but mostly in grey non-breeding.

Two Spotted Redshanks were roosting out with the godwits, asleep on one leg. They are still in very smart breeding plumage at the moment, sooty black speckled with silvery white spots on the wings. They are mainly passage migrants here, and these ones are on their way back south already, having been up to Scandinavia to breed. They may have failed, or they could be females, which leave the males behind to brood the eggs and look after the young. Hard to believe, with the Summer Solstice just yesterday, that it is autumn already for some of these waders!

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshanks – two in sooty black breeding plumage still

There were lots of Avocets on the Freshmarsh as usual, but today they seemed to be mostly sleeping, sat down on the islands. They gather to moult here later in the summer, and it felt like many of them had already slipped into post-breeding mode. Eventually one came in and started feeding in front of the hide, where we could get a closer look at it.

Somebody in the hide spotted a Bearded Tit low down in the edge of the reeds, so we all gathered for a look. It disappeared in out of view, but reappeared again shortly afterwards, a tawny brown juvenile. It then spent some time out in the open on a reed stem preening, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. A couple of juvenile Moorhens were running around on the mud in front of it.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile in the edge of the reeds from Island Hide

The number of ducks on the freshmarsh is steadily increasing, as birds start to return, particularly Teal, of which there were many more now. The resident drakes are already moulting into eclipse – it is getting harder to find a smart drake Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler now. There are still good numbers of adult Shelduck, although they will be leaving us to head off to moult in the coming weeks.

The Freshmarsh has been dominated by the gulls all summer, mainly Black-headed Gulls. They are now spending more time loafing on the islands, and looking through we found a single Common Tern in with them. There are still plenty of Mediterranean Gulls too, but we went round to Parrinder Hide for a closer look. Some of the Mediterranean Gulls now rest on the islands in front of the hide, so we could get a great look at them through the scope.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gulls – loafing on the islands with the Black-headed Gulls

A Little Ringed Plover was bathing in the water on the edge of one of the islands, and we got it in the scope so we could see its golden yellow eye ring. When it had finished it went running along the edge at high speed and we noticed there was a second Little Ringed Plover a little further along. They spent some time chasing each other up and down the shore. A third was on the edge of the island opposite.

From there, we made our way back round to Patsy’s Reedbed. On the way, we stopped to admire a Common Lizard which was basking in the sunshine on the handrail by the path to Island Hide. A second Common Lizard, slightly larger and darker, was doing the same just a little further along.

Common Lizard

Common Lizard – basking on the handrail by Island Hide

Several Red-crested Pochards were out on the pool, three males all just starting to moult out of their breeding finery, and a female. A Great Crested Grebe swam past with its head under the water, looking for something to chase after.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of three drakes on Patsy’s this afternoon

The Marsh Harriers were still coming and going over the reedbed and a smart grey-winged male circled over the back of Patsy’s. We had a quick scan of the reeds for the Purple Heron, but despite the fact it had apparently been seen again earlier, there was no sign of it now. A Grey Heron out in the reedbed had been causing some confusion, and flew across while we were scanning. We had no inclination to stay here or hour trying to see it.

It was lovely sitting in the sunshine watching the comings and goings out here, but it was now time to head back anyway. As we walked along the tank road, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the sallows.

23rd May 2019 – Holme & Titchwell

A Private Tour today, a relaxed day of easy birdwatching up along the coast in NW Norfolk. It was a glorious sunny day, pleasantly warm, with light SW winds. A great day to be out.

We started the day at Holme. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Chiffchaff singing. A Common Whitethroat was subsinging in the brambles and then launched into a song flight, fluttering up and parachuting back down into an elder, where a male Blackcap was singing. There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine this morning, and we stopped to admire Common Blue, Wall and Small Copper all around the short grass and brambles on the bank.

Common Blue

Common Blue – there were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine

As we walked along the seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo calling from some distance inland, away over the fields – we were hoping to see one on our walk. When we got to the old paddocks, three Common Whitethroats where feeding in one of the hawthorn bushes and another one was singing a bit further up by the path. We could hear a Sedge Warbler singing over towards the back of the houses and, more unusually, a Reed Warbler too, even though we were some way away from any reeds. They do turn up in odd places sometimes, especially late arrivals back from Africa.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – in the hawthorn bushes in the paddocks

A smart male Marsh Harrier was hunting the dune ridge out across the saltmarsh, so we stopped to watch it, before it cut in across the edge of the golf course and headed inland. A couple of Redshanks were displaying, and there were a few Shelduck and Avocets around the pools. Three House Martins flew west, low over the saltmarsh – there are still a few hirundines on the move, heading back to wherever they will be breeding.

Marsh Harrier 1

Marsh Harrier – a male, hunting the dunes out across the saltmarsh

A Turtle Dove started purring, out across the paddocks, and we found it perched in the top of one of the taller trees at the back. We had a good look at it through the scope, although it was face on so we couldn’t get a clear view of its rusty fringed upperparts. Then it flew up and circled round behind the trees, landing further back in one of the gardens along the entrance road.

As we walked down from the dunes and cut across through the car park towards Beach Road, a female Cuckoo started bubbling in the trees. Several Greenfinches were calling in the back of the car park and the Turtle Dove was still purring in one of the gardens but largely obscured behind some branches. When we stopped to use the facilities by the road, there were lots of House Sparrows cheeping in the hedge.

We walked slowly back towards where we had parked along the entrance track. Three Cuckoos called, two males and a female, and we watched them come up from the back of the gardens. A pair flew round over the road, the female giving her bubbling call and the male cuckooing excitedly in response, and we watched them chasing round through the trees before disappearing off further inland.

Cuckoos

Cuckoos – this pair chased round through the trees calling

The Turtle Dove started purring again and this time we were on the right side of it, with fewer branches in the way and not looking into the sun. We could now see the lovely patterning on its back through the scope. From a bit further up along the track, we had an even better view, looking straight at the Turtle Dove across a grassy field, as it perched on a branch preening. Then suddenly it was off through the trees.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – we got great views in the trees on our walk round

As we walked past Redwell Marsh, we could hear a Sedge Warbler singing by one of the entrances. We walked down to the river and looked back into the bushes from teh bridge. The Sedge Warbler was tucked deep in an elder bush, singing. A Chiffchaff appeared in the top of the willows above and a Blackcap clambered through the branches nearby too.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – singing in the trees by the river

We drove back round to Titchwell next. As we got out of the minibus, a Red Kite drifted over the car park. We could hear more Blackcaps singing in the trees. We decided to stop for an early lunch first, and made good use of the picnic tables by the Visitor Centre. Several finches and tits were coming and going to and from the feeders and a smart male Pheasant was looking for any spilled food below.

After lunch, we walk out along the main west back path. Just beyond Meadow Trail, a Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows. We found it perched in the top of one of the taller trees and we managed to get it in the scope, when it wasn’t hiding in the leaves.

There were Reed Warblers singing in the reedbed and Sedge Warblers zipping around the margins of the pools. A Moorhen was feeding small four small chicks on the edge of the reeds. Bearded Tit was a particular target for the day, so when one called from a little further up along the path, we hurried over. We were just in time to see it climb up a reed stem and fly off, over the path and into the reeds by Thornham grazing marsh. It was a smart male and it would have been nice to have a better look at it.

We stopped here for a few minutes to see if any more Bearded Tits would show themselves, but all we saw were a few zipping back and forth over the reeds further back. Lots of gulls were hawking for insects over the reedbed and we picked out a much smaller Little Gull in with the Black-headed Gulls. A few Mediterranean Gulls flew over, calling, their white wing tips translucent against the bright blue sky.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – over the west bank path

We could see a few Common Pochard and several Greylag Geese out on the reedbed pool. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up over the reedbed, and a male drifted right over our heads, over the path and out across Thornham grazing marsh.

Marsh Harrier 2

Marsh Harrier – flew over the path towards Thornham grazing marsh

Continuing on to the Freshmarsh, the reserve is rather dominated by all the gulls on here at the moment but we could still see a nice variety of wildfowl. There were lots of Shelduck scattered round, and we stopped to admire a smart pair of Gadwall down near the front, getting a good look at their intricate plumage detail through the scope. A pair of Teal were still lingering here.

The number of Brent Geese has dropped sharply in last few days as the birds have finally departed on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season. Four Brent Geese flew in and landed on the Freshmarsh to drink.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – most have departed in the last few days back to Siberia

There was not a great variety of waders on here today. Apart from all the Avocets, there was just a single Common Redshank. In among all the gulls, we located a pair of Common Terns on the nearest island.

When we got round to Parrinder Hide, there were two Little Gulls now, both 1st summer birds with black in the wings, sleeping with the Black-headed Gulls out on the edge of the islands. Looking through the gulls more carefully, we found a single Common Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull, both immatures. Titchwell is a great location to get good views of Mediterranean Gulls at the moment and we got the scope on a couple out in the breeding colony on ‘Avocet Island’.

Little Gull

Little Gull – resting on the Freshmarsh with the Black-headed Gulls

We had a very quick look at Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. A lone Grey Plover was out on the mud, in breeding plumage with black face and bellow. Otherwise, there wasn’t much else here to we continued out towards the beach.

The Tidal Pools looked pretty quiet too, but a Little Tern flew round and landed down on the edge of the island, next to another Little Tern which was already there. Through teh scope, we could see their white foreheads and black-tipped yellow bills. Another Grey Plover was lurking just behind them.

The tide was out when we got out on the beach. There are not many waders here now, as most have left to head north to breed. There were still several Oystercatchers down on the mussel beds, and a single Bar-tailed Godwit nearby on the sand. We managed to pick out a Great Crested Grebe on the sea and a few Sandwich Terns flying back and forth.

We still wanted to get a better view of a Bearded Tit, so we decided to walk back to have another look. Perfect timing! We didn’t have to wait long before we heard Bearded Tits calling and watched one fly in to the reeds right down at the front of the pool in front of us. A smart male, sporting a powder blue-grey head and black moustache (rather than a beard!) climbed up and stopped to preen in full view. It flew a bit further on and we watched a male and female Bearded Tit together in the reeds, perched up nicely, before they eventually flew off over the path.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we had great views of a pair by the path on our way back

Mission accomplished – great views of Bearded Tits! We headed back to the Visitor Centre happy, for a bit of retail therapy and a celebratory ice cream in the sunshine.