Tag Archives: Cuckoo

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.

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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.

21st May 2019 – Breck & Fen

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks and neighbouring Fens. It was a lovely clear, sunny day, nice and warm out of the wind, which was a fresh north-westerly.

With an early start to the day, we headed into the forest and parked at  the top of a ride, by a large clearing. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing, and we looked across to see it perched in the top of a tree across the far side. We had just got the scope on it, when a second Tree Pipit flew up from the grass in the middle of the clearing. It fluttered up, singing, and then spiralled down towards us and landed in one of the trees right in front of us.

The Tree Pipit perched in the tree for a minute or so, singing quietly on and off. Then it launched into another song flight, fluttering up again and spiralling down to the top of another tree a bit further along.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the trees by the parking area

A Yellowhammer was singing nearby too, and that flew in and landed in the trees in front of us briefly. We decided to walk a bit further on down the track, in the hope of hearing a Woodlark, but they are busy nesting now and have gone rather quiet. Another Tree Pipit was singing further on, from the top of a tree out in the middle of the clearing.

Looking back behind us, a Barn Owl had appeared out over the clearing, hunting. It was still quiet early, but it had already been light for several hours, so presumably it had a hungry brood somewhere which it needed to feed. We watched it flying round an round over the grass silently.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting this morning, probably with hungry chicks to feed

It is a bit more wooded further on, and we stopped to listen to the tits in the trees – we saw a couple of Coal Tits fly up into the tops of the pines, and several Long-tailed Tits crossing the path. We had a lot we wanted to pack in this morning, so we started to walk back. A Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the bushes.

Our next target was Stone Curlew. We drove round to a stony field which they like and it didn’t take long for us to find one. It was rather distant though, and although it was still early there was already quite a lot of shimmer. We tried another field a little further on, and this time we found a slightly closer Stone Curlew. There was still a bit of haze from the stony field, but we had a nice view of it in the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – our second of the morning

There was also an Oystercatcher in the field, and a Shelduck in the one next door. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing from some bushes along the hedge line between the two.

As we drove on, we spotted another Barn Owl still out, quartering a grassy field beside the road. It is that time of year when they have to work harder. Our next target for the morning was Nightingale. It seemed very quiet when we arrived. The birds have been in a while now, and are singing much less as they get down to the business of breeding. We walked up to the top of the hill, which is often a good spot for them. As we walked through the bushes, we flushed a Green Woodpecker from the grass. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles.

Just as it seemed like we might be out of luck here, we finally heard the distinctive song of a Nightingale away in the distance. We followed the sound and eventually got to where it was singing, deep in bushes. We stood and listened – a wonderful sound. Then another Nightingale started singing nearby. Perhaps that was the trigger, but shortly afterwards the first Nightingale appeared deep in a holly bush. We could see its body shaking as it sang.

Nightingale

Nightingale – singing from deep in a holly bush

As we turned to go, a third Nightingale started singing behind us. And as we walked back down the hill, we heard another two, but just giving short snatches of song rather than in full voice. It is good to know they are back in good numbers again. A Willow Warbler was singing from the top of a tree too, and then a Reed Warbler started up in some bushes. An odd place for it, miles from any reeds, but not unusual for late arrivals to turn up in odd places.

In the morning sunshine, there were lots of Speckled Yellow moths fluttering about over the short grass, and we found a single Latticed Heath as well. There were plenty of butterflies too – including our first Painted Lady of the year, and good numbers of Common Blue.

Before it got too hot, we wanted to get over to Lakenheath Fen. As we walked out from the Visitor Centre, a Cuckoo was calling from the willows but we couldn’t see where it was. We could hear lots of warblers singing – Reed Warblers, Common Whitethroats. A Garden Warbler was singing from the elders over by the railway line.

We stopped to scan over the reeds from New Fen Viewpoint, but it looked pretty quiet. There were a few ducks out on the water, including a couple of Tufted Ducks. A Great Crested Grebe appeared. A Kingfisher zipped from the trees the other side of the viewpoint and disappeared away over the reeds. The path on the top of the bank, which was open last year and gave a good view out over New Fen, is closed this year. So we had to walk down along the main track, which is much lower and the view is not so good. We could get up to the top of the bank again at the corner of West Wood. A Cuckoo flew out across the reeds and two more Cuckoos were singing in the trees. A distant Marsh Harrier over towards the river was mobbed by Jackdaws. A Red Kite drifted over, and a Common Buzzard circled up too.

We had a look in at Mere Hide, where a Grey Heron was stalking the newly opened out area of reeds to the left. A family of Coot were right in front of the hide, the adults pulling up weed and carefully feeding the four chicks – youngsters which only their parents could appreciate! A Great Crested Grebe was diving behind the reeds, but then made its way right out into the pool in front of the hide. One or two Reed Warblers zipped back and forth across the water.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – in front of Mere Hide

There was still no sign of any Bitterns by this point, and none on the edge of the reeds from the hide. While we were sitting there, we looked out towards Joist Fen and a Bittern flew across. We watched it flying away from us, before it dropped down into the reeds somewhere beyond the main track.

Having at least seen our first Bittern of the day now, we decided to continue on up the path towards Joist Fen, to see if we could improve on the views we had already had. There were lots of ducks asleep in the area of newly cut reedbed by the main track –  Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler. Three smaller ducks were lingering Teal. A couple of Redshank and Lapwings were enjoying the areas of bare mud.

As we walked up along the path, we spotted another Bittern distantly over the Joist Fen reedbed. We were heading that way, and had almost got to the Joist Fen viewpoint when two more Bitterns came up from the reeds right next to the path. They circled round and round calling right next to us, almost directly over our heads at one point, and low too. What views!

Bittern 1

Bitterns – these two circled up from the reedbed right beside us, calling

The Bitterns looked to be a male and a female. Looking at the photos, we realised that the female was ringed. We have seen this bird in almost exactly the same place for the last two summers. It was originally picked up exhausted as a juvenile near Stevenage in September 2016, and after a couple of days was deemed fit for release at nearby Rye Meads. We then photographed it here in June 2017, before it was back in Herts at Amwell later that year. It was then photographed back at Lakenheath again in May/June 2018.

So it was great to see it here again for another year today. We watched the two Bitterns as they circled slowly back towards Mere Hide and dropped down into the reeds.

Bittern 2

Bittern – the female was ringed, and has been here the last two summers

After all the excitement, we continued on to Joist Fen viewpoint. There were lots of Hobbys up, mostly distantly out over the reeds, and we counted at least twenty in the air together, probably more. Lakenheath Fen is a great place to see large aggregations of Hobbys in the spring, but they are already starting to disperse now, heading off to breed.

There are more dragonflies out, now that the weather is finally starting to warm up. We had seen a few on our way out, but on the walk back we saw more – a couple of Hairy Dragonflies and lots of Four-Spotted Chasers. Azure, Large Red and Red-eyed Damselflies.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – there were more dragonflies out today, in the sunshine

Passing the Visitor Centre, we walked straight on to the Washland Viewpoint. Hockwold Washes are drying out fast now – apparently the owners (it is not owned by the RSPB) may be chasing some grant money for wet grassland creation, so have drained it. If so, it is a great shame. There were just a few commoner ducks, Black-headed Gulls and Rooks on there now. A Hobby circling over provided a nice distraction.

Hobby

Hobby – circled over the Washland viewpoint

It was time for lunch now, so we made use of the picnic tables by the car park. Afterwards, we headed back into the Forest. We had a listen for Firecrest at Santon Downham churchyard, but all we could hear was a Goldcrest singing.

Walking into the trees, a Treecreeper was feeding, climbing up the tree trunks. We heard Blackcap singing, and found another Goldcrest flitting around in some fir trees. Down by the river, a pair of Mandarins were swimming just below the bridge.

Mandarin

Mandarin – a pair were on the river just below the bridge

We still hadn’t found a Woodlark, but they can be difficult at this time of year, as they are less vocal and more secretive when they are breeding. We parked and walked down a ride where they are often found. It seemed very quiet, not helped by it being the heat of the afternoon too. But scanning the open patches of ground we found a Woodlark feeding quietly on the short grass. It eventually flew up and round behind us, calling softly.

Woodlark

Woodlark – feeding quietly in the short grass

We stopped at another clearing on our way back round. The trees here were quiet, but there were lots of Rooks, Jackdaws and Starlings feeding in the short grass. A pair of Cuckoos landed in a large hawthorn bush. We flushed a few butterflies as we walked round – including Small Copper and Small Heath.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford. We were hoping activity might have picked up again but the Arboretum was quiet. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were flying around the feeders by the cottages. We found one or two Goldcrests, but no sign of any Firecrests here. As we walked down towards the lake, we could hear the Little Grebes laughing.

As we made our way round the paddocks, a Siskin came out of the pines singing and we watched its fluttering songflight. A Blackcap was feeding in the trees by the path. Finally we found a Firecrest – we heard it singing first, then saw it flitting around quite high in the fir trees. With that target accomplished, we walked back round to the lake, where a Grey Wagtail was gathering insects on the weir.

Back at the bridge, birds were coming down to bathe and drink now. First a Siskin dropped in, then a mixed flock of tits. Two Nuthatches were with them and we watched them climbing up and down the trees nearby. We followed the flock back up the hill, and were rewarded with a brief view of a Marsh Tit too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – a pair were in the trees by the bridge on our way back

It had been a long day with the early start this morning, and unfortunately it was time to pack up and head for home now.

18th May 2019 – Spring Waders & More

A regular single-day Spring Tour in North Norfolk today. It was cloudy all day, a bit brighter in the afternoon, with thankfully nothing more than a few light spots of drizzle in the middle of the day, and feeling a bit milder today in the lighter N wind.

Our destination for the morning was Choseley but on our way there we drove round past some old barns. The Little Owl was not in its usual place this morning, but one of the group spotted it as we were driving off, perched further round on a wooden board across a window opening in one of the buildings. After a quick turn around, we had a great view of it from the minibus before it flew inside out of view.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on the wall of a barn as we drove past

When we arrived at Choseley, the Dotterel were running around in the stony field where they have been for the last couple of weeks. We had a good view of them through the scope. We counted six of them together, a mixture of bright females and duller males – Dotterel are one of those few species where the sexes are reversed and the females are brighter and the males do most of the incubation and rearing of the young.

Dotterel

Dotterel – there were still 6 at Choseley this morning (recent photo!)

The Dotterel will probably be leaving here in the next few days, on their way up to Scandinavia for the breeding season. Otherwise, there were a couple of Red-legged Partridges and a couple of Brown Hares in the field too. We disturbed some small moths from the grassy verge while we were standing here, more Diamond-back Moths. As we had seen yesterday, they are continental migrants and appear to have arrived here in the last couple of days over from Scandinavia.

A Common Whitethroat was singing from one of the hedges nearby, but at first that was all we could hear. Then a Corn Bunting started singing from further up the road, so we walked up to look for it. We found it perched in the top of hedge, where we had a good look at it through the scope, while we listened to its song, not totally unlike the bunch of jangling keys with which it is often compared.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – singing in the hedge by the road

From Choseley, we wound our way west along the minor roads inland towards Holme. On the way, we found a couple of smart male Yellowhammers singing from the wires and flushed a couple more from the puddles by the road side. As we got out of the minibus at Holme, a Chiffchaff was singing from the top of a bush. We walked a short distance further up the track, where a Sedge Warbler was singing in a buckthorn bush in the reeds.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing in the buckthorn by the entrance track

Up on the seawall, we walked back down to the old paddocks. A Common Cuckoo was singing in the distance, but seemed to be getting progressively closer. A couple of Common Whitethroats were singing from the bushes and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed.

A male Bullfinch flew over calling, but disappeared into the bushes before everyone could get onto it. Thankfully just a little further on we found first what was possibly another male, lurking deep in the hawthorns, and then the pair together, the bright pink male and browner female. A Robin was busy feeding a fledgling in the bottom of a small tree, but there was no sign of any obvious migrants fresh in here.

After a couple of distant flight views, the Cuckoo eventually came over close to us, so we had a much better view of it. Then a female appeared and we watched first one and then two males chasing it round through the trees, singing. A Turtle Dove flew over the paddocks but unfortunately didn’t stop, disappearing round the trees at the back.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – there were at least 3 chasing around this morning

Walking back, we went a bit further the other way to the start of the dunes. There had been a Whinchat earlier here, on the fence by the entrance track, but there was no sign now. We did see a couple of Lapwings in the short grass. Two Marsh Harriers were flying round over the grazing marshes beyond.

We headed round to Titchwell next. Another Bullfinch flew across the car park as we got out, and landed in the hedge, another smart pink male. There were a few Black-headed Gulls flying inland to feed overhead and we picked out our first Mediterranean Gulls flying over too, their pure white wingtips appearing translucent against the sky.

As we made our way out onto the reserve, we could hear Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reedbed. A couple of Reed Buntings were singing too, perched in the tops of the bushes in the reeds. We stopped to listen and after a few minutes heard Bearded Tits pinging a bit further along. We hurried up to where the calls were coming from and found a juvenile standing on a pile of dead reeds at the back of on one of the pools. It was a pale tawny brown, with black on the back and black lores, but lacking the ‘beard’ of the adult male.

After a minute or so, a male Bearded Tit flew in from further back and dropped down into the reeds. The juvenile made its way through the reeds to join it. The male worked its way round the margin of the pool, low down in the reeds beside the water, with the juvenile following behind it, waiting to be fed. Over the next ten minutes or so we had great views of them feeding and perched in the reeds.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – this male was feeding a juvenile right by the main path

Several Common Swifts were zooming back and forth, low over the reedbed, occasionally coming over the path and passing just a foot or so over our heads at one point. With the grey, cloudy weather, they were hawking for insects low over the reeds. A couple of Marsh Harriers were up and down from the reeds too. On the other side of the path, a smart Grey Plover in breeding plumage, with black face and belly, was on Lavender Pool.

There were not many waders on the Freshmarsh today. Scanning from the west bank path, initially a lone Turnstone on the nearest island was the only one of note, with plenty of Avocets too further back. There were still a few ducks – plenty of Shelduck, a few Shoveler and Gadwall, and a single pair of Teal. There are still quite a few Brent Geese lingering, flying in and out from the saltmarsh. They should be heading off to Siberia for the breeding season soon.

Shoveler

Shoveler – this drake was with a female right by the main path

The Freshmarsh now is rather dominated by gulls. We managed to pick out a rather distant Little Gull, but it was fast asleep over on one of the more distant islands. In between a couple of Black-headed Gulls, it was noticeably much smaller. A Common Tern was on the low brick island and through the scope we could see its slicked back black crown and black-tipped orange-red bill.

We had a closer view of the gulls from Parrinder Hide, and when we got in we saw there were now two Little Gulls, both immatures, first summers. One had acquired a largely dark hood, but the other still just had the dark spot behind the eye and dark cap. We also had good views of the Sandwich Terns gathered on the island from here, admiring their shaggy crests and yellow-tipped black bills through the scope.

Little Gull 1

Little Gull – one of two on the Freshmarsh today

The Black-headed Gulls have largely taken over the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and are busy nesting now. Looking through them throng, we could see a good number of Mediterranean Gulls in with them, their jet black hoods making them stand out. Through the scope, we could see their brighter red bills and white wing tips too.

Two Common Sandpipers had now joined the Turnstone we had seen earlier and we picked up a Little Ringed Plover on the island to the right of the hide. It ran straight over towards the near edge where we could get a really clear view of its golden yellow eye ring in the scope. There was a nice pair of Avocets just below the hide too – always nice to watch them at close quarters.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – ran over to the front of the island from Parrinder Hide

We had a quick look at Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. There were several more Grey Plovers over towards the back, but otherwise nothing else of note. There were no more different waders on here in the tidal channel from the main path either.

The island on the non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ held just one Oystercatcher, so we presumed there would be more waders out on the beach. The tide was out but there were several people down on the sand digging around the exposed mussel beds and someone fishing away to the west. Consequently, there were very few waders today – just more Oystercatchers and a few Turnstones feeding on the mussel beds. It was rather misty offshore, but we did manage to find a few Great Crested Grebes on the sea out towards Scolt. It started to spit with light drizzle now, so we decided to head back for lunch – it was already after 1pm and we were all getting hungry!

After lunch, we walked round on Fen Trail for a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. As we passed Fen Hide, one of the two Little Gulls was now hawking over the reedbed. There were a few people looking for the Turtle Doves on the Tank Road, but there was no sign of them. They are only coming in and out very irregularly at the moment.

Little Gull 2

Little Gull – one was then hawking over Fen Hide this afternoon

There were quite a few birds on Patsy’s Reedbed, mostly Greylags and gulls. Five Red-crested Pochards were over by the reeds at the back, including several smart drakes with their orange punk haircuts and bright coral-red bills. A Little Grebe was diving nearby. A Little Ringed Plover was working its way along the near shore away from us.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – there were several on Patsy’s Reedbed again

A few Mediterranean Gulls had come in to bathe with the Black-headed Gulls, giving us another opportunity to practice our new gull identification skills. Several Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds. It had brightened up now, and looking out over the reedbed we could see that the Swifts had now gone, moved higher chasing after the insects. We had one more place we wanted to visit this afternoon, so we made our way back to the car park, stopping on the way to watch a Song Thrush smashing a snail on the ground.

As we arrived at Wells and got out of the minibus, a Barn Owl flew across the field behind us. It was carrying a vole, presumably heading off inland to feed a hungry brood somewhere. There were lots of birds around the pools here. Looking on one side of the track, we could see three Greenshanks down at the far end. There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets, both with young. A pair of Avocets with three fluffy chicks were leading them through the grass, producing lots of squabbles with the Lapwings which had their own youngsters hidden here. A Grey Heron was lurking ominously at the back of the pool.

On the other side of the track, we could hear Wood Sandpipers calling. Scanning across, we counted at least six feeding in and out of the clumps of rushes. In the scope, we could see their white-spangled upperparts and well-marked pale supercilium. There had been a couple of Temminck’s Stints reported here and we eventually found them lurking in the vegetation on one of the islands. They kept popping up in different places and there appeared to be more than two, but it was hard to see how many until they flew round, and we could see four Temminck’s Stints all together.

There were lots of other waders too – including a couple of Common Sandpipers, and two or three Little Ringed Plovers. We watched two Common Snipe on the edge of the rushes, one of them fluffing itself out and cocking its tail at something nearby in threat display. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding further back, with one or two in rusty breeding plumage.

It was a nice place to finish the day, in the sunshine watching all the waders. But there was a gory end to come yet. The Grey Heron we had seen earlier had been stalking a brood of Mallard ducklings. We watched as it flew in and grabbed one, swallowing it whole. It retreated to the bank for a bit, then came back out and grabbed another one – the Mallards were squabbling, with five or six drakes chasing after the female and distracting her from watching the ducklings. As we packed up to leave, we saw the Grey Heron grab a third duckling. A reminder that nature is red in tooth and claw! Just the natural way of things.

11th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast. It was forecast to be cloudy in the morning with only a 10% chance of rain, but the weather had not looked at the forecast and it was raining early on. Thankfully it had cleared through by the time we got out. It was still rather grey and cloudy this morning, and cool in the light NE wind, but then it all changed in the afternoon and we had blue skies and sunshine by the end of the afternoon. That’s more like it!

It was still raining as we drove west along the coast road, but it had stopped by the time we arrived at Choseley. There was no sign of the five Dotterel in the field where they had been for the last few days when we got there, and apparently they had not been seen since early morning. A Corn Bunting was singing in the hedge behind us, and perched up nicely in the top, so we could get it in the scope. From time to time over the next hour, we could hear its song – sounding not entirely unlike the bunch of jangling keys it is supposed to resemble.

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – perched up in the top of the hedge behind us

While we were watching the Corn Bunting, we heard Dotterel calling and looked up to see a small tight flock flying in from the east. There were clearly more than the five which had been here for the last few days, and when they eventually landed we could see there were now ten Dotterel accompanied by a single Golden Plover. They landed at the top of the field, stood there for a short time looking round, then started walking quickly down the field towards us.

We had a great view of the Dotterel in the scope, with a mixture of brighter females and duller males, the other way round in this species from many other birds as the males undertake most of the chick-rearing duties. They would take several quick steps and then freeze, at which point they were remarkably hard to see against the bare earth and stones of the field. We stood and watched them for a while, as they gradually came closer. We had a nice view of the Golden Plover too with them, another smart ‘northern’ male with a black face and belly, like the one we had seen yesterday.

Dotterel

Dotterel – two of the sixteen with a Golden Plover behind

The Dotterel stopped to preen half way down the field and the next time we looked back at them there were now sixteen. We didn’t see the other six fly in so we were not sure if they had walked across the field to join the bigger group. Either way, there were obviously a lot of fresh arrivals this morning. A small number of Dotterel breed in Scotland, high in the mountains, but these are Scandinavian birds on their way north from their wintering grounds in North Africa. They stop off at traditional sites each spring and this is one of their favourite fields.

There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields here too, and we watched several pairs chasing each other round. We were even treated to a brief bout of boxing from two of them.

After watching the Dotterel for a while, we moved on, down to Holme. It was still rather grey but at least it wasn’t raining now and there were still warblers singing. We could hear a Blackcap and several Common Whitethroats and we stopped to watch a Sedge Warbler performing in the top of a tall hawthorn. A Cuckoo was singing away in the distance, and we realised we could see it perched on the top of a dead tree off in the dunes.

From up on the seawall, we could see a grey-brown Lesser Whitethroat feeding low in the buckthorn by the entrance track. As we walked down to the old paddocks, we could hear a Cuckoo closer and looked across to see a pair out over the saltmarsh on the top of the dunes behind the beach. Through the scope, we could see them being mobbed by a couple of Meadow Pipits, worried about the safety of their nests.

Looking over to the bushes in the paddocks behind us, we spotted a smart male Common Redstart which flew out and landed on a sandy area in the middle of the short grass. Unfortunately it didn’t stop long and flew straight back into the bushes before everyone could get onto it. Some walkers came along the path the other way at that point and it was probably no surprise that when we walked further up to try to find it, there was no sign. We figured we would leave it in peace for a bit and try again on the way back.

As we carried on along the path, a lovely pink male Bullfinch appeared briefly in the bushes ahead of us calling softly, before flying across and disappeared back into the paddocks. There were three Cuckoos now, all together out across the saltmarsh, two males chasing each other and round after a female. A steady passage of Swallows passed west overhead in twos and threes, and we could see a single Common Swift distantly out over the grazing marshes.

When we walked back the Redstart had duly reappeared, just as we had hoped. It was perched on the fence at first, but then dropped down to the ground and flew back up to a large hawthorn bush. It was chased by a Robin, but thankfully settled, and we had a great view through the scope of it perched in the bush. A stunning bird!

Redstart

Common Redstart – a stunning male, feeding in the old paddocks

While Common Redstarts breed in the UK, this was probably another migrant on its way further north, most likely to Scandinavia. Eventually some more people came along the path behind us, and the Redstart flew back across the paddocks and disappeared into the bushes again.

Past where we had parked, we continued on east through the dunes. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and Linnets and plenty of Common Whitethroats singing. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering over the grazing marshes inland and two Common Buzzards were perched on some gates. We were hoping to find two Ring Ouzels which had been seen in the dunes here earlier, but there was no sign. There were lots of people walking about now, lots of disturbance, so they had probably gone somewhere quieter. As we walked back, a Cuckoo perched up nicely in a bush singing, so we could get a good look at it in the scope.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – singing in a bush in the dunes on our way back

It was starting to brighten up now, so we made our way round to Titchwell for lunch. We could even make use of the picnic tables by the Visitor Centre. There had been three Black Terns out over the reedbed pool this morning, so after lunch we walked straight out to try to see them. It was bright and sunny now, and we had thought they might move off as the weather cleared, but thankfully they were still there.

We stopped to watch the Black Terns, hawking over the pool. They are very smart birds in breeding plumage, grey above with a jet black head and body. They used to breed in the UK, up until the middle of the 19th century, before widespread draining of marshes probably wiped them out. Now they breed from the Netherlands eastwards from here, wintering in Africa. These had probably drifted across to the UK on the easterly winds and been brought down by the rain this morning.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling around the pools below the bank too – we didn’t know which way to look. We saw one fly in and land at the base of the reeds at the back of one of the pools, a smart male with a powder blue-grey head and black moustache. It was immediately followed by a recently fledged juvenile, tawny-coloured and with a short, only partly-grown tail. We watched the two of them working their way round the edge of the pools, low down in the reeds. The male was looking for food and would periodically stop to feed the youngster. Great to watch and fantastic views of this often very secretive species.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we watched this male feeding a newly fledged juvenile

We stood and watched the Bearded Tits and Black Terns for a while, and eventually had to tear ourselves away and move on to explore the rest of the reserve. As we continued on towards the Freshmarsh, we could see a Grey Plover on Lavender Pool, mostly in breeding plumage with a black face and belly. We stopped to admire a pair of Gadwall on the near corner of the Freshmarsh. They were closer enough that we could get a really good look at the intricate plumage of the drake. Not just a boring grey duck after all!

There were several Common Terns back on the Freshmarsh now, hopefully returned to breed. One landed on the measuring post in front of Island Hide, while another flew round just above our heads calling. There were more on the closest island in amongst the gulls.

Common Tern

Common Tern – there are more back on the Freshmarsh now

The Freshmarsh has been rather taken over by gulls these days. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls covering most of the islands, but we did manage to find a few Sandwich Terns still in with them, further back towards the fenced off island. There were not many different waders on here today. Aside from plenty of Avocets, a Whimbrel dropped in briefly but flew straight out again, chased by one of the Oystercatchers.

There are still a few ducks – mostly Shelduck and Shoveler, plus a few lingering Teal – but the majority which spent the winter here have left for their breeding grounds further north and east. There are still quite a few lingering Brent Geese, which flew in and out from feeding out on the saltmarsh. They should be leaving soon too, on their way back to Siberia for the summer.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – should be leaving for their Siberian breeding grounds soon

We walked round to Parrinder Hide next for a closer look at the gulls. From here, it was easier to pick out all the Mediterranean Gulls in the large colony with all the nesting Black-headed Gulls which have taken over ‘Avocet Island’ (perhaps it should be renamed ‘Gull Island’?). We had a good look at a smart adult Mediterranean Gull through the scope, admiring its bright red bill, jet black hood with white eyelids and pure white wingtips. We had a much closer view of the one remaining Sandwich Tern on the island from here too – getting a better look at its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy black crest.

Sandwich Tern

We had a quick look in the other side of Parrinder Hide, out over Volunteer Marsh. There were several more Grey Plovers, including one or two very smart black and white males in full breeding plumage now. There were a few Curlew too. A single Whimbrel was feeding in the vegetation on the edge of the reeds in the middle, smaller, darker, with a shorter bill, and a pale central crown stripe. We had a particularly good comparison with one of the Curlew which walked across in front of it at one point.

Continuing on out towards the beach, we stopped at the now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’. There were still a few waders roosting on the island in the middle. A little group of Turnstones included several birds with more chestnut in their upperparts and white faces now, moulting into breeding plumage. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was asleep on the front edge, but we could see its barred tail, as well as its streaked upperparts, and three black-bellied summer Dunlin were nearby.

Out at the beach, the tide was still not fully out and the mussel beds were only partly exposed. There were a few Oystercatchers feeding where the mussels were already poking out above the water, and several smaller waders with them. They were Sanderling, most already moulting into darker breeding plumage, with just one or two still in their silvery grey winter attire.

There were a few more Bar-tailed Godwits along the beach further to the west, and we could now see their slightly upturned bills. A few distant Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth offshore, but otherwise the sea itself looked quite quiet. It was lovely out on the beach, but we had more to do yet so it was time to start walking back.

Back at the reedbed pool, the three Black Terns were still hawking up and down over the water. They had been mostly keeping low, but now one started to fly higher up. It was chasing a dragonfly and we watched it twisting and turning, trying to keep up with it, an epic duel. The tern eventually prevailed – looking at the photos afterwards we could see that it had caught a Hairy Dragonfly, the first we have seen this year!

Black Tern

Black Tern – with a Hairy Dragonfly it has just caught

When we asked in the Visitor Centre earlier, we were told that the Turtle Doves had not been seen this morning, but now someone let us know they had been seen again this afternoon, so we walked straight round to the Tank Road to try to see them. When we got there, we found they had apparently been scared off by a stoat about half an hour earlier.

We thought we would have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed instead, but just as we arrived at the screen, one of the group who had lingered behind came up to say he could hear a Turtle Dove which had started purring back behind us. We walked straight back, and could hear it and, with a bit of triangulation, we worked out where it was. But it was very deep in the bushes and we could just see some movement behind the leaves. Then suddenly it flew out and landed on a dead branch on the front of the bush. We all had a great view of it through the scope, before it disappeared back in again as quickly as it had appeared.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – purring in the bushes by the Tank Road

The Turtle Dove population in the UK has crashed and it is very possible we could lose this beautiful bird as a breeding species in the next few years. Emergency measures are called for and it is now necessary to provide supplementary seed for them, as they are doing at Titchwell. Hopefully they might stay to breed here again this year. It really is a privilege to see them and hear them purring, while we still can.

When the Turtle Dove disappeared, we went back over to Patsy’s. There were three smart male Red-crested Pochards out on the water, striking birds with their orange punk haircuts and bright coral red bills. A couple of Marsh Harriers were flying round over the reeds beyond.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – a very striking duck

It was a lovely afternoon now, but unfortunately it was time to call it a day. We were still not quite finished and as we walked back along Fen Trail, we spotted a Water Vole just below the boardwalk. It was obviously very used to people, as it seemed completely unconcerned by us standing just a few feet from it, as it stood there munching on a piece of reed.

Water Vole

Water Vole – munching on reeds right next to the boardwalk

It was a nice finish to the day which kept on giving. Then it really was time to get back.

20th Apr 2019 – Spring Migrants, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Easter weekend tour today. It was a glorious, bright, sunny day with wall to wall blue skies. It was hot out of the wind, but a very light NE breeze kept temperatures more comfortable on the coast. Great birding weather! We spent the day exploring the centre of the North Norfolk coast.

Burnham Overy Dunes was our destination for the morning. As we walked down the track across the fields we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the blackthorn. It was typically skulking, but we saw it as it flew out and landed in the bushes the other side. A pair of Bullfinches flew along ahead of us, perching low down on the edge of the path, the bright pink male glowing in the sunshine. A Willow Warbler sang briefly, but then flew past us and seemed to move quickly inland.

Looking up, we noticed two Barnacle Geese flying in across the track. They landed out on the grazing meadows with a large flock of grey geese. The Barnacles were most likely feral birds, which breed in Holkham Park, but the grey geese were Pink-footed Geese, about 100 of them. Most of the wintering birds left back in February to stage further north, but these had stayed on and would soon need to be leaving on the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season. There were a couple of Greylags with them, giving us a nice comparison between the two species, and two Egyptian Geese as well.

Geese

Barnacle Geese – two flew in to join the lingering Pink-footed Geese

There were surprisingly few hirundines moving today, probably due to the NE wind. But a Swallow did fly over as we were walking out, closely followed by a Sand Martin.

Out over the grazing marshes, a Sedge Warbler was singing from the briars beside the track. We stopped to watch it and heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling a bit further up. It was skulking in some brambles but we positioned ourselves to see it and after a minute or so it appeared in the top, typically just as two people were walking past. It promptly dropped straight back in! After a while, the Grasshopper Warbler appeared again and this time we could get it in the scope.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – several were singing from the bushes by the path

Our first Spoonbill of the morning had already flown past distantly, heading out towards the harbour. Then, while we were listening to the Grasshopper Warbler, another Spoonbill appeared right next to us, feeding in a small pool. We watched it with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water, occasionally throwing its head back to swallow something. It seemed to be catching a lot! It was an adult – we could see its yellow-tipped black bill – and in breeding condition, with a bushy nuchal crest, bright red fringed yellow skin under the bill and a mustard wash across its breast.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on a small pool right by the path

There were more Sedge Warblers singing further down the track, they had clearly arrived in good numbers now. At the junction with the seawall, another Willow Warbler was singing. This one we could see, flitting around in the top of some low brambles. This is not a likely territory for a Willow Warbler, so the two we had seen on the walk out were probably migrants, fresh in, just stopping here to feed on their way to their breeding sites.

Up on the seawall, the tide was in and the harbour channel was full of water. Several waders were roosting out on the islands of saltmarsh, Avocets, Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits. Some of the godwits are getting very rusty now on their heads and breasts as they moult into breeding plumage, and we stopped to look at one dark chestnut bird which was clearly of the Icelandic race.

Looking out over the grazing marshes from here, there were still a few pools out in the grass, although they are starting to dry out steadily now. There were a few ducks dozing around the margins, mainly Teal and a few Wigeon, still lingering winter visitors. A large flock of Brent Geese flew over from the harbour and landed on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they are leaving on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season.

There were two Wheatears out on the saltmarsh too, but they were very distant and disappeared into the vegetation. They were a little like buses today, and once we got out into the dunes, there were a lot more Wheatears feeding on the short grass. There were two more just past the boardwalk bushes and as we started to walk east, we counted at least eight together on the first slope. The males were rather deep burnt orange on the breast, suggesting they were birds of the Greenland race.

Wheatear 1

Wheatear – there were at least 20 in the dunes today

Over the ridge, there were yet more Wheatears. But as we stopped to scan the dunes ahead, we noticed two Ring Ouzels on the opposite slope. We got them in the scope and could see their bright white gorgets, two males. They flew lower down, out of view, so we walked round for a closer look.

We positioned ourselves where we could watch the Ring Ouzels feeding quietly and thankfully we had already enjoyed a good long look before two cyclists appeared at the top of the dunes. The Ring Ouzels were nervous and one flew up into the top of a nearby bush. The cyclists presumably saw us, because they stopped, but then came over the top and flushed the Ring Ouzels, which flew away east over the dunes. We watched the cyclists riding their bikes off in that direction too.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – we had great views of two males on the walk out

Carrying on through the dunes ourselves, in the same direction, we could see the Ring Ouzels flying off again ahead of us. We also flushed several Song Thrushes from the bushes as we passed, migrants stopping off to feed in the dunes before heading back over the sea to the continent. There were yet more Wheatears along here too.

We had heard a Cuckoo calling on and off as we walked out. Now we spotted it flying past, over the bushes just beyond the fence to the south of us. It was being pursued relentlessly by a Meadow Pipit. The Cuckoo tried to land, but realised it wouldn’t get any peace, so headed off west, the pipit following it all the way. Meadow Pipit is a favoured host for the Cuckoos here!

A Siberian Chiffchaff had been reported in the bushes just before the pines, so we made our way over to see if we could see it. But the only chiffchaffs we could find were Common Chiffchaffs. There were a couple of Blackcaps singing here and, as we looped round through the pines to the start of the track, we could hear a Goldcrest singing. As we stopped by the gate and had a quick look out over the grazing marshes, we could see a couple of Coal Tits, two Long-tailed Tits and the Goldcrests on the sunny edge of the pines.

Walking back through the dunes, we looked across the grazing marshes and spotted a Bittern distantly in flight. We watched as it flew across and dropped down into the reeds over by the seawall. Presumably the same Ring Ouzels were back again where we had seen them earlier, but there were at least three now. We could see a pair, the female with a duller brown-tinged gorget and a separate male. Back at the boardwalk bushes, a Blackcap was flycatching from the apple tree but there was no sign of the Firecrest reported earlier.

Back along the seawall, we could hear a Bittern booming out in the reedbed, presumably the bird we had seen fly in earlier. It was well hidden down in the reeds now though. We could hear Bearded Tits calling on and off, but despite scanning the edges of the pools, we couldn’t see them. They were keeping well tucked down in the reeds too.

Along the track, the butterflies were more active now it had warmed up. We saw several Holly Blue and Speckled Wood fluttering around the Alexanders in the verges. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the hedge by the road back at the van and with a bit of patience it eventually appeared in the top.

We headed down to Holkham briefly to use the facilities. It was very busy here and there were so many cars parked on Lady Anne’s Drive it was full, despite the fact that they had a field open as an overflow car park. They were turning people away! A few House Martins and Swallows whirled around the houses in the village.

We made our way back to Burnham Norton for lunch, passing a small group of Red Deer out in one of the fields by the Park on the way. We sat on the grass in the sunshine and enjoyed the view, looking out over the marshes. A Grey Heron flew in and landed in the ditch in front of us, where it stood motionless, fishing. A Mistle Thrush was feeding out on the grass beyond.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – flew in to feed in the ditch while we ate our lunch

After lunch, as we put our bags back in the van, a Sparrowhawk circled over the car park. We could see a Red Kite circling over the marshes to the east and as we walked out along the bank a second Red Kite flew past and joined it. There were several Common Buzzards up too now, circling in the warm air. A smart grey male Marsh Harrier drifted over the path in front of us.

Red Kite

Red Kite – two drifted over the grazing marshes after lunch

There were a few Pied Wagtails feeding around the dried up pools out on the grazing marsh, and we noticed a much paler one in with them, a White Wagtail, the continental cousin of our Pieds and a migrant passing through here. While we were watching the White Wagtail, one of the group spotted a Whimbrel feeding on the grass further back. It was noticeably small and dark, slim and short-billed, particularly compared with the bigger, greyer Curlew nearby.

From out on the seawall, we spotted a group of Yellow Wagtails which flew up from around the cows out in the middle. They circled round and landed by some more cows but, typically they were half hidden now behind a bramble hedge and the ground sloped away just beyond where the cows were standing. We could just see one or two of the Yellow Wagtails around the cows’ feet from time to time. Two more Whimbrels were also out in the short grass here, along with three Wheatears.

A Cuckoo flew in and landed in the bushes just below the seawall ahead of us. We could see it picking at a web on a stem in front of it, eating caterpillars, most likely of the Brown-tail moth. We were watching it in the scope but could see a woman walking towards us along the seawall. The Cuckoo took off, but then flew right past giving us a great view and landed on a bush behind us.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – flushed and flew right past us along the seawall

We stopped to look out across the harbour channel, and could see lots of gulls on the sandbanks down among the boats over towards Burnham Overy Staithe. A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were in with the Black-headed Gulls. The pools on the corner of the seawall are looking really good for waders at the moment. We had a quick look hoping for perhaps a migrant sandpiper, but all we could find today were Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks.

We took the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marsh. It was still a bit wet in places, but just about passable. The Yellow Wagtails were flying round and one landed briefly in the top of a bare bush. Some of the cows were lying down, so the Yellow Wagtails flew over and settled again around the feet of some other that were feeding in the middle, unfortunately they chose the cows which were just behind a line of low reeds from us.

A Reed Warbler was singing quietly, but stopped before we could get closer to it. So we walked over to where it had been and stopped to listen while we watched to see if the wagtails would show themselves. A Chinese Water Deer was feeding on the back of the field the other side of the path.

There was a nice selectin of ducks in the channel which crossed the marshes in front of us. A pair of Shoveler, a few Tufted Ducks and a pair of Common Pochard. A female Wheatear flew in and landed on the top of a bush right in front of us. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the ditch just behind us but we still couldn’t see it.

Wheatear 2

Wheatear – this female landed in a bush right next to us

Some of the cows walked over to graze just across the ditch from where we were standing, and the ones which had been behind the reeds came back round into the field our side. We had hoped the Yellow Wagtails might fly over to the closer cows but even though more and more cows came over to our side of the field, the wagtails remained stubbornly out in the middle, even when there were just two cows left there. At least we could see the Yellow Wagtails now – at least eight of them. We had hoped there might be one of the continental subspecies with them, but we could not see they were all of the British race, flavissima.

It was lovely to stand and look out over the marshes in the afternoon sunshine, but it was time to call it a day now. Still, we had another day to look forward to tomorrow.