Tag Archives: Cuckoo

29th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was our last day and we would be heading down to the Brecks. It was a lovely sunny day, though it was a little hot, particularly out of the light but fresh NE breeze.

With the sun out and the heat haze only likely to increase, we headed straight over to Weeting Heath first. As we walked down towards the West Hide, through the trees, we could hear a Blackcap singing. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the pines too. There were quite a few tits in the bushes and after a couple of Great Tits the next bird to appear in front of us was a Marsh Tit. There were Coal Tits singing in the tops of the pines too.

Just before we got to West Hide, we could hear Spotted Flycatchers calling in the trees, but it sounded like they were along the sunny edge and slightly further down from the hide. There is a family party here, two adults with their fledged first brood young. We scanned the trees, but it looked like we couldn’t see them from here. We decided to keep an ear out in case they moved closer, and in the meanwhile have a look from the hide.

Looking out across the grass, there was already quite a bit of heat haze building. The vegetation is very overgrown at the moment due to a lack of rabbits, which have been hit badly by disease. We scanned the heath but couldn’t see any sign of the Stone Curlews initially. We knew they were out there though – we had just seen them on the CCTV in the visitor centre! Eventually a Stone Curlew appeared out of the thick grass. We got it in the scope, and we could just about make it out.

The Spotted Flycatchers called from somewhere behind the hide, so we headed out for a quick look. One appeared overhead, on a branch, preening, but unfortunately by the time everyone had made it out of the hide it had moved off again and we could hear them calling still along the edge.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – we finally got good views of them in the trees by the hide

Thankfully, this time one of the Spotted Flycatchers had decided to perch on a dead branch in the sunshine where we could see it from the hide access ramp. We even managed to find an angle where we could get the scope on it.

Back in the hide, the Stone Curlew had moved and by changing our viewing angle, we got a much better look at it. It stood stock still, looking around, and after a couple of minutes a second Stone Curlew stood up out of the grass nearby. The first bird walked over to it and settled down where it had been sitting, promptly disappearing completely into the vegetation. Changeover time at the nest! The second Stone Curlew then walked off into the grass.

Stone Curlews 1

Stone Curlews – the pair out in the grass

Having managed some better views of the Stone Curlews now, we had a gentle stroll down to the Woodland Hide at the far end. There were lots of tits on the feeders – Blue Tits and Great Tits, including lots of juveniles. Several came down to bathe too, and were joined by a Coal Tit, which was dwarfed by the Great Tit next to it.

There were lots of young Goldfinches coming and going too, but the stars of the show were the Yellowhammers. One male dropped in under the feeders to feed. Then another came down to the small pool in front of the hide for a bath.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – bathing in the pool in front of Woodland Hide

With a busy morning planned, we headed back to the car and on to Lakenheath Fen. With a limit to the amount of walking we could do, we asked at the visitor centre and were kindly granted disabled access to the reserve, which meant that we could drive up to New Fen. With the windows down, we could hear a Common Whitethroat singing in the sallows by the track and watched as it flew out, low over the reeds.

We sat on the benches at New Fen viewpoint, to gather our energy for the walk ahead. It was already hot, but at least there was a bit of a breeze. There was not much activity around the pool in front, apart from the families of Coot. A couple of Reed Warblers zipped around the edges of the reeds and a Bearded Tit shot across the water, unfortunately too quickly for anyone to get onto it.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – there were lots of dragonflies out today

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies along the bank which runs along the south side of New Fen. We managed to find a Variable Damselfly with the AzureCommon Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies on the corner. A couple of Brown Hawkers zoomed past, and an Emperor patrolled up and down the path. A Scarce Chaser perched up briefly and there were several Ruddy Darters and Black-tailed Skimmers out too.

We saw a few butterflies too – several Meadow Browns, plus one or two Ringlet, Large White, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. A Comma posed nicely in the reeds along the side of the path.

Comma

Comma – posed nicely on the reeds by the path

The season for adult Cuckoos is almost at an end already, and this is the first time in recent weeks we haven’t heard one here. We did manage to see one though, which flew across high over the reeds from West Wood and disappeared off towards the viewpoint.

Finally, a Bittern put in an appearance, a long flight view in from the back of New Fen, straight across towards us, before dropping down into the reeds between us and the viewpoint. There were no other Bittern flights on our walk along the bank here today, despite the fact that they should be busy with feeding flights at the moment.

We stopped to admire a couple of Great Crested Grebes on one of the pools in the reeds, an adult and an almost fully-grown stripy-headed juvenile. The adult was trying to doze, but the juvenile was swimming around it, calling quietly. A second adult Great Crested Grebe, presumably the other parent, had swum off a discrete distance and was sleeping in peace!

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – an adult and juvenile, the parent trying to sleep

There has been a family of Bitterns showing well in front of Mere Hide this week, so we thought we would head over there for a sit down and see if we could catch up with them. We could barely get into the hide at first, with a photographer’s tripod right across the doorway! The benches were packed with photographers too, some of which had been there for over six and a half hours, leaving no room for anyone else. Eventually two of them left, making space for another couple who had been waiting ahead of us, and then after waiting a few minutes we managed to sit down too. We had obviously arrived just in time, as several were leaving for lunch!

There was no sign of the Bitterns unfortunately today – they were probably camera shy. Even the Kingfisher just did a brief flyby, zooming past over the reeds at the back, too quick for anyone to get onto. After resting here for a while, we decided to head back for lunch in the cool of the visitor centre.

After lunch, we headed back towards the Forest. It was hot and with limited scope for walking any distance now, we decided not to head to our usual clearing in the trees for Tree Pipit. Instead, we had a drive round through farmland first, checking out some fields.

We stopped by a recently sown maize strip. As we got out of the car, we could see an Oystercatcher standing in the middle. Scanning with binoculars, we then spotted two Stone Curlews along the far edge. We got the scope on them and looked again and realised there was another Stone Curlew further along the edge, and two more hiding in the grass just beyond, five in total. There was still quite a bit of heat haze, but the views were a bit better than we had enjoyed at Weeting earlier and we could make out a bit more detail.

Stone Curlews 2

Stone Curlews – two of the five on a recently sown maize strip

As we drove on, we noticed a dove perched on the wires beside the road. Typically, we had a car right behind us, so we had to find somewhere to pull over and wait for them to pass. As we got out of the car we could see that it was a Turtle Dove, the first we have seen here in recent years. Unfortunately it flew before we could get the scope out and disappeared out into the field the other side of the road.

We headed round to another clearing in the Forest, which wouldn’t be as far to walk. There had been Tree Pipits here a few weeks ago, but we weren’t sure what they would be up to in the heat of the afternoon. It all looked pretty quiet as we got out of the car, apart from a Yellowhammer singing in one of the trees beside the path and a group of juvenile Swallows hawking for insects from the wires across the clearing.

As we walked down along the path, there were lots of butterflies fluttering around the vegetation either side, mainly Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Skippers. A Large Skipper perched nicely in the sun.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – perched nicely in the sun

The combination of the walk and the afternoon sun was proving too much, so we turned back. We were almost back to the car when we noticed a small bird in one of the trees by the path, perched on a dead branch. It was a Tree Pipit. It stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope, then took off and flew out into the middle of the clearing.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – in a tree by the path, just as we got back to the car

That was a nice way to end the day, so we set off for home. We had enjoyed a very good three days out birdwatching and seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife, some of the best that Norfolk has to offer in summer.

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6th June 2018 – Heath, Fen & Forest

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. It was a cloudy start but brightened up through the morning to blue skies and a lovely warm afternoon. A great day to be out birding.

With the risk of heat haze if the sun came out, we went straight to Weeting Heath this morning to see the Stone Curlews. As we got out of the car, a Treecreeper was singing in the car park. We made our way straight down to the West Hide where, as soon as we opened the flaps, we could see our first Stone Curlew.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of several on show this morning

The grass here is very long at the moment – the rabbit population has dropped precipitously in recent years, which is proving to be a major issue. Despite this, we had good views of one adult Stone Curlew walking around in a more open patch not far in front of the hide.

A careful scan revealed three more Stone Curlews, hiding in the grass away to the right. As they moved across to where the grass isn’t so thick, we could see they were a family, two adults and a well grown juvenile. It has been a much better year in 2018 so far at Weeting, with two pairs currently raising three youngsters. We couldn’t see the second pair today – they seem to have disappeared off into the long grass at the moment!

A regular Eurasian Curlew was out in the grass too, flashing its long down-curved bill – and looking very different from its namesakes. The two are unrelated – Stone Curlew is named just for its call, which sounds rather like a Curlew, but it is actually a member of the Thick-knee family. Eurasian Thick-knee doesn’t have such a good ring to it!

Having enjoyed great views of the Stone Curlews, we decided to turn our attention to the trees. We had a look for the Spotted Flycatchers just outside the hide but couldn’t find them here today. As we walked up to the small hide overlooking the feeders at the west end, we could hear a Yellowhammer and a Mistle Thrush, both singing across the road.

There was a lot of activity on the feeders. Blue Tits and Great Tits were coming and going and a family of Marsh Tits was perched in the bushes just behind. A Nuthatch made several repeat visits to the seeds too. Several Goldfinches dropped into bathe in the pool in front of the hide.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in regularly to the feeders

A quick walk back and down to the East Hide failed to reveal any Spotted Flycatchers that end either, though we did see a pair of Coal Tits high in the pines and a family of Long-tailed Tits which flitted quickly through the bushes. The Treecreeper finally gave itself up in the top of one of the pines too.

With a busy morning planned, we headed over to Lakenheath Fen next. A Brown Argus in front of the Visitor Centre was a nice start to our butterfly list. A male Reed Bunting came in to the table below the feeders the other side, where a Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds by the pool, the first of many we would hear today. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the sallows on the walk out, along with Blackcap and a Cetti’s Warbler which shouted at us from the reeds.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path. They were mostly Azure Damselflies and a few Blue-tailed Damselflies, but as we walked along, we kept a close eye to see if we could find any others. It didn’t take too long before we found a Variable Damselfly – when it settled, we could see its darker thorax with broken antehumeral stripes, and the distinctive black ‘goblet’ pattern on the segments at the base of its abdomen. A Hairy Dragonfly was patrolling in front of the trees here too.

Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly – among the many Azure Damselflies by the path

Continuing on to New Fen Viewpoint, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the poplars. Rather than linger at the viewpoint itself, where there didn’t seem to be much happening at that moment, we took the path along the bank on the south side.

There were more dragonflies along here and one of the first we found was a smart male Scarce Chaser resting on a reed leaf. We had a good look at it – as well as the blue abdomen with a black tip, we could see the black bases to the wings. There were lots of Four-spotted Chasers along here too and several Red-eyed Damselflies.

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser – a male resting on a reed leaf

It wasn’t only insects on view along here though. A little further on, we spotted a Hobby flying quick and low, skimming the tops of the reeds. We stopped to watch it and it put on an impressive show, hawking back and forth in front of us, swooping low over the pools catching dragonflies, climbing up and then eating them on the wing.

The sun was starting to come out now and the Hobby gradually started to gain height. A second Hobby appeared even higher above it. However, rather than drift off, the first Hobby then came straight towards us and started to hunt higher over the reeds just in front of us, almost over our heads at times. Fantastic stuff!

Hobby

Hobby – hawking for insects almost over our heads

We were so transfixed by the Hobby, we almost missed a Bittern which flew across the channel in front of us. Thankfully we got a quick sight of it, before it then crashed into the reeds the other side and disappeared in. A Marsh Harrier drifted in over the reeds and dropped down over the back. There were Bearded Tits calling here too, but they remained stubbornly hidden in the reeds out of view.

Continuing on, we stopped to listen to two Cuckoos singing in West Wood. They were singing against each other and provided us with a great stereo performance. One was moving around in the poplars in front of us and eventually came closer to the near edge where we had a quick view of it flying between trees. A Black-tailed Skimmer was basking on the track.

We had a quick look in at Mere Hide, but it was rather full with photographers camped out hoping to get a look at one of the Bitterns which has been feeding here periodically. There was no sign of it, so we moved on. The pair of Great Crested Grebes with four stripy-headed juveniles was still on one of the pools by the path, though only one of the youngsters wanted a ride on its parent’s back this morning. One of the adults was busy finding food – catching damselflies above the water surface, to feed to its young.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the pair with four stripy-headed juveniles

Joist Fen Viewpoint provided a welcome rest for a few minutes. There were lots of Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings in the reeds here, appropriately enough! Several Marsh Harriers circled up, mostly some way over but a female drifted towards us and across the reeds in front. Three more Hobbys were feeding much higher now, off in the distance.

It was already one o’clock, so we needed to be getting back for lunch. Rather than just follow the main path, we decided to walk back along the bank on the south side of New Fen, hoping for a Kingfisher. As we got up onto the bank, someone there was just pointing out a bird to another couple and as we walked up they informed us that there was a Bittern showing.

We looked across to see the Bittern perched with its neck stretched up, half way up the reeds over below the edge of West Wood, trying to look just like a bunch of reeds. It stayed there for several minutes, giving us a chance to get a great look at it through the scope. The pale blue skin at the base of its bill shone in the sun.

Bittern

Bittern – perched up in the reeds at New Fen

The Bittern had a preen and a shake, and then set off over the reeds, flying right across to the other side before dropping back down into the reeds. We continued on our way back. A Kingfisher called and appeared briefly in a small tree out in the reeds, but flew up out of view before we could all get a look at it.

With the stop for the Bittern, we were rather later back than planned. We had to pop in to Brandon to pick up some food, and after battling with the traffic it was time for a rather late lunch. Santon Downham churchyard provided a convenient location close by to eat. A pair of Grey Wagtails were collecting insects on the roof of the church, presumably to take off to their hungry brood somewhere, presumably down at the river, and a couple Goldcrests were singing in the trees.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – a pair were collecting insects on the church roof

After lunch, we set off to explore the Forest. Our first stop was rather quiet – we had a short walk along a ride to a clearing where Woodlarks breed, but it was hot and sunny now and everything seemed to be in hiding!

At our next stop, we were more successful. We walked along the edge of an army firing range – large swathes of the Brecks are used for battle training. Again, it seemed rather quiet at first. That was, until the heavy artillery started up just the other side of the fence! There were repeated volleys – Boom! Boom! – as the big guns fired and the air reverberated around us. Not great for trying to find birds you might think, but the Woodlarks were as surprised as we were and took off from the trees just the other side of the fence.

The artillery went on for ages and the Woodlarks wouldn’t settle again. They kept flying round, calling. Every time they landed, they were spooked by the next volley. The only benefit was that, eventually, they flew and landed on the fence in front of us. They stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at them in the scope, and then they were off again.

We decided to retreat. There were lots of butterflies in the grass along the path as we walked back, mostly Small Heath which fluttered up ahead of us. Another Brown Argus perched briefly on a flower to feed.

Small Heath

Small Heath – there were lots in the grass today

Even though it was still hot and sunny and in the mid afternoon lull, we decided to try our luck with a brief visit to Lynford Arboretum. We heard a couple of Siskins flying round calling over the pines as we walked in and a Stock Dove was whooping from the trees, but there was nothing of note in the garden of the cottages today and it was fairly quiet as we walked down towards the bridge.

Down at the bottom of the hill, some movement in the trees caught our attention and we turned to see a small bird swoop out from a branch, loop round and then land back on the branch again. It was a Spotted Flycatcher. We stopped to watch it for a while, hunting for insects from the trees in a small clearing on the edge of the wood.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – hunting for insects on the edge of the trees

While we were watching the Spotted Flycatcher, we caught a glimpse of a small bird flying up into the fir trees opposite. We walked up and found it feeding in one of the outer branches, a Goldcrest. A quick look round the lake produced lots of Common Blue Damselflies, a couple of Emperor Dragonflies and a Little Grebe hiding in the reeds, as well as the regular other wildfowl.

There was still time for one last stop before we were due to finish, so we headed back into the Forest. We parked up by a ride and walked in to a clearing. The Tree Pipit kept us waiting a tantalising couple of minutes before it gave in and started singing. It landed on the wires in its usual place and sang from there for a while – we had a great view of it through the scope here.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the wires again

A second Tree Pipit started singing behind us, from a young oak just the other side of the path. The two of them matched each other song for song for a while, until the first launched itself into the air and fluttered up singing, before parachuting down into the grass just across the path directly opposite the oak tree. The second Tree Pipit responded – not a full on song flight, but fluttered down singing to the ground nearby.

Unfortunately, given the height of the vegetation, we couldn’t see what went down, but after a couple of minutes the first Tree Pipit fluttered up singing again and parachuted back down onto the wires where it had been before. Territorial boundaries re-established? A smart male Yellowhammer was singing from the edge of the trees too.

It was a lovely way to end the day, listening to the Tree Pipits singing in the clearing. It had been another great day in the Brecks, so we set off for home.

3rd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours, our last day, and we would be heading down to the Brecks today. It was meant to be brighter with sunny intervals today, after the overnight mist burnt back to the coast, and it was eventually although it took a bit longer than forecast.

Our first stop was at Weeting Heath and we made our way straight out to the West Hide. As soon as we opened the flaps, we could see there were plenty of Stone Curlews on view – it was more a questions of how many! The closest birds were a pair with two well-grown juveniles. We had a good look at them through the scope. We could see their large eyes with a prominent yellow iris. The juvenile Stone Curlews were still slightly smaller than the adults and with less well-marked face patterns and wing bars.

Further over were four more adult Stone Curlews, presumably non-breeding birds, at least so far. Two of the birds appeared to be trying to pair up, bowing in display to each other. This had attracted the attention of the other two, who stood tall nearby. There was lots of running round and some calling too.

Stone Curlews

Stone Curlew – a pair bowing to each other while a third looks on

While we were watching the Stone Curlews, a Eurasian Curlew flew in calling and landed out on the grass with them. Stone Curlews are not really related to Curlews at all – just that their calls sound rather similar, which is why they got their name. They look very different too. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were lost in the long grass, but helpfully flew across in front of the hide.

As we came out of the hide, we noticed some movement high in the pines. A pair of Spotted Flycatchers were flying round in the trees, catching insects. They were high up and hard to follow at times. After a while they disappeared back into the pines and we lost track of them. There were also a couple of Coal Tits in the trees here, and we could hear a Treecreeper singing. We had a busy morning planned, so we couldn’t hang around here too long today.

We made our way on to Lakenheath Fen nest, which we wanted to explore before lunch. As we came out of the Visitor Centre, a Kingfisher flew from the reeds, out of sight just below the boardwalk. It headed off back across pool, a streak of electric blue catching the light. It landed briefly on the post at the back and appeared to have something in its bill. Unfortunately, it didn’t hang around and was straight off back over the reeds beyond.

As we walked out along the path, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. It flew out of the poplars ahead of us and out over the railway, the first of several we would see here today. There were Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds beside the path. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us too. And a Common Whitethroat and several Blackcaps were singing in the trees.

From New Fen Viewpoint, we could see an adult Great Crested Grebe. A large stripy-headed juvenile swam out to join it, pestering it for food or a lift, with little success. There was not much else of note visible though, so after rest, we set off again.

As we walked along the bank, scanning the pools and the reeds, our first Bittern of the day flew up over the reeds in front of us. It flew across past us, before eventually dropping back down into the reeds behind us. A great start! We could hear another male Cuckoo singing further along and when we got there, we found it flying in and out of the sallows.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – flying in and out of the bushes, singing

The male Cuckoo perched up nicely a couple of times, and seemed to be focusing its attention on one large sallow bush. Then we realised it was chasing a female Cuckoo which was hiding in there. The two of them emerged and chased each other in and out a couple of times, perched up briefly, and then headed away over the reeds.

It was starting to warm up, even if it was still cloudy. There were good numbers of dragonflies out now – lots of Four-spotted Chasers in the reeds by the path, occasionally flying up before returning to their favoured perch. In amongst them we found a couple of female Scarce Chasers too, lacking the four extra spots on their wings. Several Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the path, and kept flying off ahead of us before resettling further along. We saw a couple of Hairy Dragonflys and an Emperor here as well.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – there were lots of them in the reeds today

There was a nice selection of damselflies here too. A smart male Banded Demoiselle fluttered across the reeds in front of us. There were lots of Azure Damselflies in the vegetation by the path and looking carefully through a small selection of them we managed to find a Variable Damselfly with them. The vegetation also held plenty of Blue-tailed Damselflies and a few Red-eyed Damselflies too.

As we got to the junction with the path to Mere Hide, we spotted a Hobby coming fast and low over the reeds. It was after the dragonflies too. We watched it swooping back and forth, occasionally swooping up or skimming low just over the reeds, dropping down over the Mere Hide pool. We got a great look at it as it passed right in front of us a couple of times. Then it flew up and disappeared into the West Wood.

Hobby

Hobby – chasing dragonflies over the reeds in front of us

Continuing on up the path, we stopped to watch another pair of Great Crested Grebes on one of the pools. They had four juveniles, quite a bit smaller than the one we had seen earlier. The youngsters were chasing around after the adults, trying to hitch a ride. One adult Great Crested Grebe kept diving to get away from them, but the other eventually stopped preening and relented.

The juvenile Great Crested Grebes climbed up onto the adult’s back. It appeared there was only room for three though – we could see their heads poking out from under its wings, but the fourth juvenile swam round beside them.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – three of the juveniles hitched a ride, but no room for the fourth

It was all action here, we didn’t know where to look. While we were watching the grebes, another Bittern flew towards us the other side of the path. We turned in good time to see it coming and watched as it passed by us just a short distance away. We had a great view of it, like a brown speckled heron, with a fatter neck.

From the photos we could see the Bittern was a ringed bird, probably the same one we also saw here in pretty much the same spot last year.

Bittern

Bittern – we had a great view as it flew right past us

There was a dapper male Reed Bunting singing on the other side of path, perched up on the top of a reed stem demanding our attention too. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from all the birds here and we continued on up to the Joist Fen Viewpoint.

From here, we could see several Marsh Harriers circling up over the reeds, and a couple of them perched in the sallows out in the middle. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bush just beside us. We were just discussing how we would only see it if it flew out, when it did just that, flying right across in front of us to the elders the other side.

After a rest, we set off to walk back. We called in at Mere Hide on the way. There had been a Bittern on the edge of the pool earlier, but it had gone back into the reeds now. However, while we were there another Bittern flew across over the reeds in front of us and yet another one was booming in the reeds out to the left of the hide. Bitterns everywhere! There have been 10 booming males here this year, a record for the reserve. Not bad considering there were just 11 in the whole of the UK in 1997, at their lowest point.

It was just a quick stop in Mere Hide, as we had to get back for an already late lunch. The sun was out now, and it was getting quite hot as we walked back. It was nice and cool in the Visitor Centre, so we ate in there today. Most of the group could not resist the cold drinks from the fridge and the ice cream went down very well too!

After lunch, we made a quick visit to Lynford Arboretum. We were hoping for a few woodland birds to add to the list, but it was rather quiet here in the heat of the afternoon. We stopped by the gates to look into the walled garden and hear a Nuthatch calling. We looked up to see it in the pines at the back. It was carrying some food in its bill, and then dropped down to a nestbox on the wall, where a nestling’s head popped out to be fed.

Shortly after we had watched the young Nuthatch being fed, a Kestrel swooped low across the grass in front of us pursued by a couple of Swallows. It crashed onto the front of the nestbox and then sat on the top. It looked like it might have been after the Nuthatch nestlings, although without the adult there they were presumably not at the hole on the front. After sitting on the top of the box for a couple of minutes, the Kestrel flew off again, chased by the Swallows once more.

Kestrel

Kestrel – was it after the Nuthatch nestlings in the box below?

While we were watching all the action in the garden, we heard a Grey Wagtail flying over behind us. When we got back onto the path, it was standing in the middle just round the corner, back towards the road. It stood there for a few seconds preening, before flying off.

As we made our way down to the lake, we could hear several Siskins flying round high above the trees. A Goldcrest was calling in the firs down at the bottom of the hill and we had a nice view of it when it came out onto the branches on the edge. Another Nuthatch flew across the path and up into the trees where we could hear it piping.

Round on the lakeside path, the pair of Mute Swans had brought their two cygnets out of the water and the male would not let us pass. Eventually, he gave in to the pressure of us trying to walk on and led them back into the lake. A Little Grebe laughed from out on the water, and we saw one surface out on the lake among the lily pads. The walk back through the Arboretum was uneventful, apart from a Common Lizard which was basking on the path and scuttled off ahead of us.

There was one last target for the day – Tree Pipit. So we drove back into the forest and parked by the start of a ride. The walk in and round the first clearing was quiet, apart from a Garden Warbler singing from bushes. There were more butterflies out now in the sunshine – as well as several whites, we saw a couple of Orange Tips, one or two Painted Ladys, a few Common Blues and a Large Skipper.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – there were lots more butterflies out this afternoon

We walked on through the trees to a second clearing, and could immediately hear a Tree Pipit singing towards the back. As we made our way round to the other side we could see it song flighting, towering up singing and then parachuting back down to into the top of one of the trees. After one flight, the Tree Pipit landed on some wires, and we got it in the scope. We had a great view of it, even noting the strongly curved hind claw.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing and song-flighting from the wires over a clearing

Another Tree Pipit started singing away in the distance. Then one of the group noticed a small bird flying across the clearing behind us, which landed on the top of a tall tree stump out in the middle. We got it in the scope and could see it was a Woodlark. When they aren’t singing they can be very hard to find here, so this was a very nice bonus. It perched for a while before dropping down into the tall grass below.

It was now time to start walking back. On the way, a small flash of colour sped past us, not right for any butterfly. It landed down in the grass briefly and we could see it was a Cream-spot Tiger moth, its black upperwings marked with bold creamy splodges. Then it was off again – revealing its bright red abdomen and yellow underwings. They are not a common moth and in Norfolk are found mainly in the Brecks.

It had been a very successful last stop, a great way to finish off the three days. We had seen some really good birds and some other interesting wildlife too.

2nd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours today. It was misty or cloudy pretty much all day, although it lifted a bit at times. However, it was thankfully mostly dry – with just a brief period when it was spitting with rain in the morning.

We headed over to Titchwell first, with the option of the hides if we did need to shelter from the weather. The car park was quiet when we arrived, so we had a look around before it got busy. There were Blackcaps and Long-tailed Tits in the trees where we parked, and a pair of Song Thrushes collecting food in the overflow car park. Looking out from the gate at the back, a Red-legged Partridge was feeding on the track beyond and a Marsh Harrier was perched in one of the dead trees out  in the reedbed beyond. A Spoonbill flew off high to the east, away from us.

Out onto the reserve, we made our way round on Fen Trail out to Patsy’s Reedbed first. A Blackcap showed well in the trees right above the path and we got a quick look at both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler in the reeds in front of Fen Hide as we passed.

Patsy’s Reedbed held a few duck, notable among them a single drake Red-crested Pochard. There were five Teal on here too today – almost all of the birds which spent the winter here have long since departed, but a small number typically oversummer here. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed beyond.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – this drake was sleeping on Patsy’s Reedbed

It started to spit with rain now, so we started to make our way over towards the main path. A Chiffchaff was singing above the boardwalk as we passed. The rain had pretty much stopped by the time we got round there, so we stopped to see what we could find in the reeds.

A Jay flew across above the reeds and landed in one of the sallows. As it did so, what sounded like a Tawny Owl called quietly. We had a look in the bush, but there was no sign of one that we could see from the bank. There were lots of Reed Warblers zipping back and forth across the pools on the near edge of the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – in the reeds around the pools near the main path

The reedbed pool held a single Great Crested Grebe, as well as two more Red-crested Pochard. Two or three Bearded Tits flew back and forth over the water and a Little Grebe laughed at us from the channel just beyond. There was a large melee of gulls and Jackdaws circling over the reeds at the edge of freshmarsh, presumably hawking for insects.

As we opened the windows in Island Hide, we noticed a good numbers of godwits out on the nearest island. On closer inspection, we could see a mixture of both Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits together. Something spooked them and they flew before everyone could get a look at them through the scope, but thankfully after circling for a minute or so they settled again, this time largely separating themselves into two separate flocks.

There were not many other waders on here today, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets. There seem to be fewer of them this year here too, although there appears to be no shortage elsewhere along the coast. Perhaps the colony of gulls, which is dominating the freshmarsh this year, has put them off? Two Little Terns were resting on one of the islands and through the scope we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

As we set off along the main path again, we scanned back over the reeds. The gulls had all spread out now and we could see two immature Little Gulls hawking back and forth among all the Black-headed Gulls.

The mist started to roll in again, so we headed straight round to Parrinder Hide. When we got there, one of the Little Gulls had landed on the edge of one of the islands in front of the hide, so we got a much better look at that now. A 1st summer, we could see the extensive black feathering in the wings, the dark spot behind the eye and a pale pink suffusion on its underparts.

Little Gull

Little Gull – one of the 1st summers landed out from Parrinder Hide

An adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in on one of the other islands, where a number of Black-headed Gulls and 1st summer Common Gulls had gathered to loaf and preen. Through the scope, we noted the jet black hood with contrasting white eyelids, bright red bill and legs, and the pure white wing tips. There were also a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls with the Herring Gulls standing in the water further back.

There were better views of the godwits to be had from here, including a smart Bar-tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage, with rusty underparts extending right down under the tail. Four Avocets were busy feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallow water. When the Avocets started to alarm call, we looked up to see a Hobby flashing low across in front of the hide, disappearing off towards Island Hide.

The mist lifted again, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. There was very little on Volunteer Marsh today, but as we got over the bank at the far end, we noticed a large white bird out on the saltmarsh the other side. It was a Spoonbill, busy feeding, walking around with its head down in the water. It seemed to be catching a lot, as every few steps it seemed to flick its head up, at which point we could see its distinctive bill, with the yellow tip indicating it was an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding out on Thornham saltmarsh

While we were watching the Spoonbill, a smart male Linnet landed in the bushes just below us. A little further on, two male Reed Buntings were singing against each other, with one perched nicely just out from the path.

Linnet

Linnet – this male landed in the bushes by the main path

The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more and largely full of deep water, so there are very few birds on here these days. A group of twenty or so Oystercatchers were sleeping on the saltmarsh towards the back. That was because, out at the beach the tide was just going out and was still covering the mussel beds. Consequently, there were not many waders out here yet, just a few more Oystercatchers on the sand.

It was still rather misty offshore, but it rolled back just enough for us to see a steady procession of terns flying back and forth, mainly Sandwich Terns but also a couple of Common Terns and Little Terns too. Two Fulmars flew past as well, hugging the sea. Then it was time to head back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we paid a quick visit to Holme. It was the wrong time of the day now, but we wanted to try our luck to see if we might be able to find a Turtle Dove here. As we walked round via the paddocks, it was rather quiet. A Common Whitethroat called from the brambles and a Greenfinch was singing out in the bushes. We could hear a Cuckoo singing too, off in the distance.

As we got to the far end of the paddocks, we heard some hissing calls coming from a large hawthorn bush. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees further back, appearing to answer the hissing calls. We had a look in the bushes but we couldn’t see anything.

Continuing on down towards Beach Road, a Cuckoo flew across as we got out of the trees into grassy the car park. Another Cuckoo was still singing in the distance ahead of us, so there were two of them here today. We walked over to see if we could find the second bird, but it seemed to move further away, off towards the coast road the next time we heard it.

Walking back along the Holme Dunes entrance track, a Swallow landed on the wires just above us. While we were watching it, two Cuckoos flew in and dropped down into the trees at the back of the paddocks. As they landed, the male gave its traditional ‘cuckoo’ song, and the female answered with a bubbling call.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – the female perched in the trees while the males had a sing-off

Then a second male Cuckoo flew in and landed on a dead branch in the top of a tree behind us. The two males started singing off against each other, getting very over-excited. There were lots of extra ‘cucks’ given to each ‘oo’! Then the female flew off towards Redwell Marsh and the males drifted away too. As we walked back to the car, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted to us from one of the ditches.

We drove back east to Holkham to finish the day, walking west on the inland side of the pines. It was fairly quiet here now, apart from lots of people out walking their dogs! We could hear one or two Blackcaps and Chiffchaff singing in the trees. A Treecreeper was singing too, but deep in the pines. A Goldcrest was slightly more accommodating – we could see it flitting round in an oak tree briefly. A large family party of Long-tailed Tits, with several recently fledged juveniles flew across the path.

At Joe Jordan Hide, we had only just opened the flaps when a Great White Egret flew in round the back of the trees. It landed out of view at first, behind some reeds, but then flew again and landed in a shallow ditch. We could see it as it walked along, its head, neck and shoulders sticking up into view. We could see its bill was mostly dark but with a yellow base. A little while later, another Great White Egret flew out of the trees and off east. We could tell it was a different bird as it had an all dark bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and landed in a ditch

There were Spoonbills coming and going from the trees too, flying in and out either side. One perched up nicely where we could get a good look at it through the scope, noting its shaggy nuchal crest, a sign of an adult in breeding plumage. There were a few Little Egrets flying back and forth to and from the trees too, and lots of Cormorants visible in their nests in the branches.

Then it was time to head back – we had a busy evening ahead. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive towards the road, a Grey Partridge was feeding in the edge of one of the fields, just beyond the fence.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – feeding in the field by Lady Anne’s Drive

 

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours to rest and get something to eat, we met again early in the evening.  It had been raining all day further east, but fortuitously had stopped in time for our evening activities.

There were several Brown Hares we had to avoid in the road, on our way up to look for Little Owls first. We stopped by some farm buildings and scanned the roofs to see if we could find one out already, but all we could see at first was a Stock Dove. However, when we looked over at some other buildings the other side of the road, there was a Little Owl perched out in the open on the metal framework on a silo.

It was distant from here, but we had a look at the Little Owl through scope. We could see the ‘false face’ on the back of its head, which made it look like it was looking back at us. We made our way over to those building and got much closer, better views. This time it looked round at us properly.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched up nicely for us on some metal framework

Having enjoyed good views of Little Owl, we drove round to try to find a Barn Owl next. There was no sign of any around a series of favoured hunting meadows we tried at first, so we stopped and got out for walk. We hadn’t gone far when one of the group spotted a Barn Owl flying past behind us. It was carrying prey and we watched as it crossed the road back where we had parked and continued on over the fields beyond, presumably taking the food back to a brood of hungry owlets somewhere.

It was time to head up to the heath now, in time for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to middle the middle, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from a clump of birch trees.

The first Woodcock appeared pretty much bank on time. We heard its squeaky call first, and then spotted a dark, pot-bellied shape flying towards us with strange stiff, rapid wingbeats. It was a male doing its distinctive ‘roding’ display flight. As it came overhead, we could see its long straight bill.

Woodcock

Woodcock – flew overhead on one of its roding display flights

The Woodcock were regular from then on – we could hear them flying round and several times they passed overhead, at one with two males flying together out across the heath, before they split and headed off in two different direction.

A short while after the first Woodcock, a Nightjar churred briefly from the edge of the trees just ahead of us. Trying to anticipate where it would fly to first, we were just getting into position when it came up out of the trees. It landed briefly on one of its favourite perches, but unfortunately didn’t settle and was off again before we could get the scope onto it.

It flew round, then went high up over the trees, calling. When it came down again, the Nightjar flew in and circled round over our heads. A great view! We could see it was a male, with bold white wing patches. It flew back to the trees, weaving in and out, then off over low over the heath past us. As we walked back to the main path, it came back in behind us and landed on the perch again, but only briefly, before heading off once more.

Nightjar

Nightjar – circled round above our heads, showing off its white patches

As we walked on across the heath, we could hear a Tawny Owl hooting in the trees away in the distance. A second male Nightjar started churring out in the middle ahead of us. We made our way over to one of his favourite branches, hoping it might fly in to visit that next. But before we could get there, it flew past and landed on just the perch we were hoping it would visit. We managed to get it in the scope, but before everyone could get a look it was off again.

The Nightjar headed back out into the middle of the heath, and started churring from another tree. It seemed to be responding to a third male which had started up, churring much further over. We stood and listened – stereo churring!

It was great standing out on the heath as the light faded, listening to the Nightjars churring around us, but it was getting dark and time to call it a night. On the walk back, we could hear the Woodcock still roding, and a pair of Nightjar flew past in front of us calling, silhouetted against the last of the light.

There were a few Common Toads out tonight, after the rain earlier. We had to be careful not to tread on them. There was one more surprise in store for us too – a Slow Worm on the edge of the path. It stopped motionless in the torchlight for a couple of minutes, allowing us a great close-up look at it, before it slid off into the bushes by the path. A great way to end the evening.

19th May 2018 – Spring Waders & More

A single day Spring Tour in North Norfolk again today. It was a glorious sunny day, with wall to wall blue skies, still a bit cool in the light northerly breeze, but pleasantly warm out of it.

Our first destination of the day was Stiffkey Fen. A Brown Hare was in the field by the road as we pulled up and a Yellowhammer was perched on the gate opposite. As we walked down along the permissive path, a pair of Stock Doves flew past and dropped down into the field, over the ridge.

It was starting to warm up already and we looked across the valley to see a Red Kite circling up. Then a Common Buzzard appeared over the wood beyond and while we were watching that a smart male Marsh Harrier circled up in front of us. We had the latter two in the same view for a while, a nice comparison, before the Marsh Harrier turned and flew across the field past us.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew over the field past us

Perhaps because it was warmer this morning, there were fewer birds singing as we got to the copse. A couple of Chaffinches and a Robin at first. Then, as we crossed the road, we could hear a Blackcap and the Garden Warbler – interesting to be able to compare the two somewhat similar songs. Finally a Chiffchaff started up too.

There were more House Martins around the house on the hill today, flying up and around the eaves. We could hear a Bullfinch piping plaintively from the sallows and caught glimpses of a pair several times flying across between the trees, with the female perching up briefly.

As we stopped to listen to a Sedge Warbler singing madly in the sallows by the river, a Cuckoo flew overhead and out across the Fen, with shallow fluttering wingbeats. We lost sight of it behind the bushes but could then hear it singing in the trees across the water. As we got up onto the seawall, it flew past us again, back the other way, and perched up on the top of a hawthorn further along the coast path, where we had a good look at it through the scope.

Their loud calls alerted us to a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flying in over the saltmarsh. They came right overhead, two smart adults, and against the light we could see right through their white wingtips. They circled over the Fen briefly before continuing on east.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gulls – flew in over our heads

There were not so many waders on the Fen today – presumably birds have started to move on again, with the improvement in the weather, heading off north for the breeding season. We did find a Common Sandpiper on the edge of one of the islands over towards the back and there were four Little Ringed Plovers today, with several birds repeatedly displaying, flying round on stiff wings and calling loudly. There were quite a few Avocets too, as usual here.

The tide was in and lots of the saltmarsh was flooded out in the harbour. We could see a little group of Brent Geese out in one of the remaining patches of grass. As we walked round on the path towards the harbour, a Sedge Warbler showed nicely perched up singing in the reeds just across the river channel below the seawall and a Linnet was singing in the top of the hawthorns as we turned the corner. A single Swallow flew past along the edge of the harbour, a migrant on its way through.

Linnet

Linnet – singing in the hawthorns by the coast path

With the tide right in, there were not many waders out in the harbour today either. It was lovely standing here in the sunshine admiring the view anyway. A pair of Common Terns were fishing in the channel right beside us, hovering over the water and occasionally plunging in, giving us great ringside seats of the action. As we put the scope on the seals hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point, we could see a few Sandwich Terns out in the distance too.

Common Tern

Common Tern – a pair were fishing in the harbour channel

Walking back, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat calling and we looked up to see a pair chasing each other in and out of the bushes. They were perching in the tops too, giving us a great opportunity to get a good look at this normally more secretive species. We watched them for several minutes before they finally flew back along the hedge. Helpfully, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the top of a small hawthorn bush the other side of the path, giving us a great chance to compare the two.

With the sun out, there were more insects out today. As we walked out, a Four-spotted Chaser posed nicely on  grass stem by the path. Along the path by the fen, we saw a couple of Speckled Wood butterflies and then as we climbed up onto the seawall, a Green Hairstreak was basking on an Alexanders head by steps. There were also a few whites and a Small Tortoiseshell along the seawall.

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak – basking in the sunshine on the Alexanders

Our next stop was at Cley. We parked at the Visitor Centre and headed out to the hides. A Reed Warbler was singing and playing hide and seek in the reeds just across the freshwater channel. A Sedge Warbler then posed nicely in the reeds at the start of the boardwalk.

It was rather cool inside the hides today, out of the sun. There were plenty of Black-tailed Godwits feeding on Simmond’s Scrape and a small number of Ruff again, both striking dark males starting to get their ornate ruffs and smaller, more intricately patterned females, known as Reeves.

There was no sign of the Temminck’s Stint at first, but then someone helpfully came round from Avocet Hide to say it was along the far bank of the scrape. It was only just visible from Dauke’s Hide at first, but gradually worked its way into view round the back of one of the islands. It was not a great view of a Temminck’s Stint today – given the distance, and the increasing heat haze with the sun out – but better than nothing!

There were a few Pied Wagtails running round on the islands, picking up flies. One stood out as paler, with a silvery grey back. It was a White Wagtail, a migrant here on its way through to the continent or perhaps up to Iceland for the breeding season.

The Avocets were much in evidence here again, chasing everything which got within reach. There are several young hatching out now and we could see a few baby Avocets around the scrapes. When the adults at one of the nests in front of the hide changed over incubation duties, we could see a single tiny Avocet in with the remaining eggs, newly hatched since we were here yesterday.

Avocets

Avocets – one tiny juvenile hatched out so far in this nest

Several of the group drifted off outside to warm up again in the sunshine, and when we all met up again we found them catching up with the Royal Wedding on a smartphone. A sneaky peak! It was time to head back for lunch now, so we started walking back along the boardwalk. There was no sign of the juvenile Bearded Tits where they were yesterday, but we did see a female going into the reeds further back, so the family had probably moved further in.

We had further flight views of another female Bearded Tit further along, which then briefly perched in the reeds before dropping in. That would probably have been good enough, but then a male flew past and disappeared down into the reeds close to the gate. We walked over and stood there listening for a minute, at which point it climbed up and posed in the reeds for for us.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we had great views of this male perched up in the reeds

We watched the Bearded Tit for about five minutes as it perched up in the reeds, swaying in the breeze, turning round to show us both side. It was carrying a bill full of insects, so presumably had some hungry youngsters to feed somewhere and was taking a break from gathering food. Great views!

A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the ditch as we walked past, our first of the day. Good to hear as there are not many around this year – we would have heard lots where we had been today in previous years. They were hit particularly hard by the cold winter weather. Then it was back to the Visitor Centre for lunch.

After lunch, we headed round to the East Bank. The car park was full, so we stopped at the bottom of Walsey Hills. A Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes, so we walked in along the footpath to see if we could see it. It was keeping well hidden, but we could just make it out, flitting around in the top of the blackthorn.

We could see a Spoonbill feeding out on north end of the Serpentine, a large white shape obvious even from the start of the East Bank, so we hurried up to see it. We did however, stop to admire a pair of Lapwing down in the grass. The male was bowing to the female, which looked distinctly unimpressed. Then suddenly he was off – he flew up and chased after another Lapwing which flew in over the grazing marshes, following it out across the reedbed.

Lapwing

Lapwing – put on a great display out over the grazing marshes

As the Lapwing turned and started to fly back, it began to display, swooping and tumbling, and singing its unique song. It was quite a show! It seemed to be almost for our benefit, as it flew all around us.

Eventually we turned our attention back to the Spoonbill. It was busy feeding, head down, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side as it walked through the water. At regular intervals it would flick its head back as it caught something, at which point we could see its spoon-shaped bill, black with a bright yellow tip.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – busy feeding in the Serpentine on our walk out

There was not much else of note on Pope’s Marsh, apart from the lingering drake Wigeon which was still present. So we continued on to Arnold’s Marsh. We could hear the grating calls of Sandwich Terns as we walked up and looked across to see quite a gathering on the small stony island towards the back. Through the scope, we could see their shaggy crests and yellow-tipped black bills. There were a couple of Common Terns on there too, and a Little Tern dropped in briefly – a nice selection of terns.

While we were admiring the terns, a Grey Plover walked across behind them, looking smart now, mostly in breeding plumage with a black face and belly. A Curlew was wading around in the water nearby and a few Turnstones and Ringed Plovers were mostly hidden around the edges of the saltmarsh at the back.

We continued on for a quick look at the sea. There were several Sandwich Terns plunge diving just offshore, and a single Little Tern also fishing away to the east, possibly the same one we had just seen on Arnold’s. Two adult Gannets flying past way out to see caught the sunlight.

Stopping at Iron Road next, the pool looked rather devoid of life, so we walked straight out to Babcock Hide. There were lots of geese on the grazing marshes – mostly Greylags, but with a couple of Canada Geese and a pair of Egyptian Geese too. There were more Skylarks and Lapwings out here on the grazing marshes as well. There was not much to see from Babcock Hide, more Avocets and their young which were busy chasing everything off, and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers over towards the back.

There was still time for one last stop this afternoon, so we drove round to Cley sluice and walked out along the Freshes bank. There had been a Wood Sandpiper reported here, out on a pool over in the far corner, so we walked briskly round. Three pairs of Mediterranean Gulls flew over in quick succession, their distinctive calls alerting us to their presence.

When we got to the pool in the corner, there were not many birds there so it was easy to locate the Wood Sandpiper, which was feeding on the muddy margin around the tufts of wet grass. We had a nice look at it through the scope, noting its pale spangled upperparts and well marked supercilium. It was notably smaller and more delicate than the Redshank just behind it.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – showed well on the small pool out on the Freshes

It was a nice way to end the day. Wood Sandpiper is quite a scarce spring migrant here, passing through on its way from its wintering grounds in Africa, up to Scandinavia for the breeding season. Always a great bird to see here.

Then it was a brisk walk back along the bank, to get everyone back so they didn’t miss too much of the FA Cup Final and could catch up with the rest of the day’s events at Windsor, if they so wished!

18th May 2018 – Second-time Stint

A single day Spring Tour in North Norfolk. Thankfully the wind had dropped today and even though it was cloudy and cool in the morning, the sun came out and it was blue skies in the afternoon. A nice day to be out birding.

Our first destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we pulled up by the road, two Stock Doves were in the field and four more were perched on the roof of the barns nearby. A Common Whitethroat was singing and a Yellowhammer was calling, with the latter flying up from the hedge and out over the field as we walked along the path.

In the copse at the far end, we could hear a couple of Blackcaps singing against each other and managed to find a Chiffchaff singing in one of the trees just above the path. Crossing the road, we could hear a different song coming from the trees by the river, a little like a Blackcap but faster, more rolling, tumbling. It was a Garden Warbler and we had a couple of glimpses of it as it flew between the bushes, always keeping well tucked in though.

A quiet plaintive whistle alerted us to a Bullfinch in the trees by the path. It was tricky to see deep in the foliage, but then flew out past us, a smart pink male. Several House Martins were flying round over the meadow and up to the eaves of the house beyond. We had stopped to listen to a Reed Warbler which was singing in one of the big sallows, when a Cuckoo started singing up towards the seawall. We got it in the scope and most of us managed a look at it before it flew off. We could still hear it singing away to the east when we got up onto the seawall.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – singing by the seawall at Stiffkey Fen

The tide was high already in the harbour and the saltmarsh was flooded. There were still plenty of Brent Geese swimming around among the bushes – yet to head off back to Siberia for the breeding season.

We got the scope out to scan the Fen, but there were just a few waders on here today despite the tide. We managed to find two Common Sandpipers bobbing round the edge of the islands, and a Greenshank with two Redshank in the far corner. A pair of Little Ringed Plover were chasing each other round the islands initially, before flying off past us calling. A presumed intersex Eurasian Teal, a female showing intermediate male-type characteristics, was also interesting to see.

As we made our way round towards the harbour, a Spoonbill flew past over the saltmarsh, disappearing off east towards Morston. Several Common Terns were flying around the harbour, diving into the water, and we managed to pick out a single Arctic Tern too, hunting up over the flooded saltmarsh channels.

There were not many waders around the edges of the water in the harbour now, with the tide right in, just a few Oystercatchers. However, we did manage to find a Whimbrel out on the saltmarsh, which was subsequently joined by a second. Through the scope, we could see their small size, striped crown and short bills. Another four Whimbrel flew up and circled over the saltmarsh further out towards the water.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding out on the saltmarsh in the harbour

There were a few Linnets and a Kestrel in the bushes by the harbour. As we walked back, a family of Dunnocks were feeding on the path – the two youngsters, unable to fly, hopped away ahead of us and eventually scrambled back into the hedgerow.

The Sedge Warbler, which had quickly disappeared into cover when we walked past earlier, was now singing from the top of a reed stem, out in full view where we could get a good look at it through the scope. They always tend to be more accommodating than Reed Warblers and now that the wind had dropped this one was performing very well.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing from the reeds along the ditch below the seawall

There had been one or two Marsh Harriers around the Fen. A rather pale male had flown very quickly through, before it could attract the worst of the attention from the Avocets nesting down on the islands below. However, when we got back to the car we had a much better view of one. A male Marsh Harrier was circling over the copse, and then flew towards us, passing by just over the edge of the field to the south.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us as we got back to the car

We made our way further east along the coast road to Cley next. There had been a nice selection of waders here over the past couple of days, but asking at the Visitor Centre as we got our permits, it sounded like a number of them had moved on overnight. Still, we made our way out to the hides, to see what we could find.

On the walk out, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing in the thin strip of reeds the other side of the ditch by the path. Unlike the Sedge Warbler we had seen earlier, it was keeping well down in cover. However, a careful scan and we could see it, perched about half way up through the reeds. We had a good look at it through the scope, noting its rather plain appearance and relatively unmarked face, with pale just on the lores and over the eye and a small pale crescent below.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – singing in the reeds by the path out to the hides

There were a few more House Martins back and prospecting the eaves of the warden’s house – good to see as numbers have been worryingly low in recent days, for the time of year. Hopefully there are more still to come.

As we got to the boardwalk, we heard a Bearded Tit calling, and turned to see a male zipping over the tops of the reeds. It flew round behind us, then out towards the hides, dropping back in further up beside the path. We walked round to where it had dropped and got there just as it flew again, but were surprised to see two or three more Bearded Tits in the reeds, perched half hidden just a couple of metres in. They were juveniles – with black masks and black backs, with their tails only half grown. The male had obviously been in to feed them, but they dropped back down before everyone could get onto them.

From Avocet Hide, a pair of Gadwall were feeding just below the windows in front, and we got a very good look at the intricate patterning of the drake. There are good numbers of Avocets nesting on here at the moment and, over towards the back, we could see that one pair already had three very small chicks. The nests at the front were still on eggs, but we watched a couple of times as the other adult flew in, stopped to preen for a couple of minutes and then walked over and took over incubation duties from its partner.

Avocet

Avocets – changeover at the nest

There were not that many other waders on here though today. A single Little Ringed Plover was busy preening on the top of the island amongst the nesting Black-headed Gulls. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the deeper water between the islands. We had a good look for the Temminck’s Stint just in case, around the reedy margins of the scrape where it had been yesterday, but we couldn’t see any sign of it and it hadn’t been seen all morning today.

Round at Dauke’s Hide, there were lots more Black-tailed Godwits, a few starting to come into rusty breeding plumage, but mostly in shades of grey/brown. The Avocets were chasing them whenever they came within range of a nesting pair and we had great views of two godwits squabbling on the bank in front of the hide.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – there were lots on both Simmond’s & Pat’s Pool today

A striking mostly summer-plumage Ruff, largely black with an already well-developed dark barred ruff, was feeding around the edge of one of the islands. A couple of Tundra Ringed Plovers were feeding on the mud at the back, but there was no sign of any of the Dunlin or Curlew Sandpipers from yesterday – it appeared that some of the waders had moved on with the drop in the wind.

Looking across to Pat’s Pool, we could see more Black-tailed Godwits feeding just beyond the bank at the front. There were two female Ruff, also known as Reeves, with them, much smaller than the males and plainer grey brown, patterned with dark. A couple more male Ruff coming into breeding plumage were feeding around the islands further back.

Two Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in with the Black-tailed Godwits, stopping to preen next to them for a few minutes before going to sleep. They were presumably migrants, stopping off for a break on their way north. We had a nice side-by-side comparison of the two species together, and the shorter legs of the Bar-tailed Godwits were particularly obvious, with them up to their bellies in the water whereas we could see a good length of leg still on the Black-tailed Godwits.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre. It had started to brighten up nicely now, so we made good use of the picnic tables overlooking the reserve. An adult Mediterranean Gull circled high overhead with several Black-headed Gulls.

After lunch, we made our way over to the East Bank. There were several Lapwings and Redshanks around the small pools on the grazing marsh as we walked up towards the sea. A lone lingering drake Wigeon was on the north end of the Serpentine, along with a Common Sandpiper nearby. We could just see a single Little Ringed Plover out on Pope’s Pool at back.

There is not too much on Arnold’s Marsh at the moment, but we did see a pair of Little Terns on the small island out towards the back. A Grey Plover flew in to join them and a bright summer-plumage Turnstone was a nice addition to the day’s list. We had a quick look out at the beach, but there was nothing moving out to sea today.

We had received a message on the walk out to say that the Temminck’s Stint had reappeared on the scrapes, so we decided it was worthwhile heading back round there to try to see it. As we walked back along the bank, a couple of Little Egrets flew past. One landed down by the bank, feeding on a small pool. It is good to see a few Little Egrets back here, after we lost a good number in the cold weather over the winter.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding on one of the pools by the Serpentine

When we got back round to Avocet Hide, we quickly got onto the Temminck’s Stint, creeping around on the back edge of the scrape, just where it had been yesterday and we had looked for it earlier. Second time lucky! It was very well camouflaged against the mud but we could see its yellowish legs and pattern of scattered dark-centred feathers in the upperparts.

While we were watching the stint, we noticed a small female Ruff walking past one the males over on Simmond’s Scrape. The male Ruff started displaying, puffing out its ornate ruff feathers, drooping its wings and bowing. The female seemed particularly unimpressed and carried on feeding, working its way slowly along the edge of the island.

That took the female Ruff within range of a second male, which had been preening quietly further back. The first male chased over to it and the two of them had a brief tussle, rearing up and kicking out at each other, Both then started displaying, but the first was clearly dominant and after a couple more scuffles, the second Ruff sloped off back through the grass.

The first male Ruff then had the female to itself, and tried more display, bowing again, before crouching down, back to her with wings spread. Still the female seemed decidedly unimpressed and carried on round the back of the island. It was amazing to watch – we get Ruffs here over the winter and passing through in spring, but they head off to the continent to breed so it is rare to see them displaying here.

When we left the hide, we could hear the Bearded Tits still in the reeds by the boardwalk. The adult female came in a couple of times to feed the juveniles, and we had a better looks at the young ones perching in the reeds this time.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – one of the juveniles in the reeds by the boardwalk

Returning to the car, we headed back west to Holkham, a little later than planned. As we walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines, we could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing, and the sweet descending scale of a Willow Warbler. A drake Mallard and a family of Moorhen were the only birds on Salts Hole this afternoon.

Just beyond, we stopped to listen to a Goldcrest singing in the trees, and found it flitting around in the tops of the elms, just below the pines. A Coal Tit was in the pines nearby too. As we walked on, a Cuckoo started singing in the trees just behind us.

It was nice and sunny now, and warmer in the lee of the pines. There were a few more butterflies out – several Orange Tips, a few whites, a Peacock. A striking Green Hairstreak landed on the path in front of us.

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak – landed on the path on the walk out at Holkham

We made our way straight out to Joe Jordan Hide. It was quiet at first, but quickly the  Spoonbills started to appear. First one flew in from the east, and dropped down into the trees, then another two flew in from the west. After a whole, one or two started dropping down onto the pool below the trees and through the scope we got a better look at their distinctive spoon-shaped bills. We could also see the shaggy nuchal crest on one, a sign of a bird in breeding condition.

While watching the Spoonbills through the scope, a Great White Egret flew in and landed on the pool just in front of them. It flew again, and this time landed just to the right of the hide. We had a great view of it here – particularly its long, yellow bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and landed on a pool below the Hide

There were a few Little Egrets flying in and out of the trees too, and several Grey Herons. Marsh Harriers were coming and going and there were lots of Greylags and the odd Egyptian Goose out on the grass. A Mistle Thrush dropped out of the trees to feed on the bank in front of us.

Unfortunately, it was time for us to head back. We had one more bird to add to the list as we were leaving, with a pair of Grey Partridge feeding on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive as we drove out. A nice way to finish a very enjoyable day out.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – a pair were by Lady Anne’s Drive as we left

13th May 2018 – Norfolk in May, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, back in Norfolk. It was cloudy most of the day, although we didn’t see any of the forecast rain (as so often happens!!). It then brightened up later on and was a lovely warm, sunny finish to the day.

Our first destination for the day was Titchwell – if it was going to rain at all, we thought we could make use of the shelter of the hides here. As it was still fairly quiet when we arrived, we had a look around the overflow car park.  There were a couple of Blackcaps singing and two Stock Doves in a dead tree beyond the paddocks from the gate but no sign of any Turtle Doves which had been here earlier. It seems very early morning is best and they are probably still flying off site to feed during the day. A Common Swift west overhead was the first of many we would see today.

Round at the Visitor Centre, the feeders produced several Goldfinches and a Greenfinch. While we were standing here, we heard a Cuckoo singing just beyond, somewhere along the start of the main path, so we walked round to try to see it. By the time we got  there though it had moved on.

When we got round to Patsy’s reedbed, we could hear the Cuckoo singing again. It had gone round the other side to Willow Wood now, and was obviously hidden somewhere in the trees. There was not much on the pool here today, just a few Tufted Ducks, a pair of Common Pochard and a pair of Shoveler. Two Little Grebes were chased out of the reeds just below the screen by an aggressive Coot.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of two on Patsy’s Reedbed this morning

There were a couple of Marsh Harriers circling over the reeds beyond and several Common Swifts hawking low for insects. As we stood here and scanned, small numbers of hirundines were moving west – Swallows and a few House Martins.

As we walked back round via Meadow Trail, we could hear the Cuckoo again. It sounded like it was round by the back of the Visitor Centre and then beat us back to the main path – it was very mobile! When we got out of the trees, we could hear it singing out over the saltmarsh and we had a quick glimpse of it in the top of a bush in the distance before it headed off towards Thornham Point.

There were lots of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds below the main path, and we had nice views of both feeding up in one of the small sallows. We stopped by the reedbed pool to watch several Bearded Tits flying back and forth low across the water. A couple of pairs chased each other up higher into the air, before dropping back down into the reeds. There were more Swifts now hawking over the reeds, and moving slowly off west.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – in the sallows on the edge of the reedbed

Out on the Freshmarsh, there were not as many waders as we had hoped there might be, given the small groups we had seen dropping in at Cley yesterday afternoon. There were four Ruff, smart males of various colours, asleep on one of the islands. When they woke up they quickly flew off west.

Ruff

Ruff – four males resting on the Freshmarsh before flying off west

Other than those, we could only see one Turnstone, one Black-tailed Godwit and one Common Redshank. There are not that many Avocets on here at the moment either, although we could see a few pairs out in the fenced-off island, and several more feeding out in the water. Four Avocets were busy having an argument just below the path.

There are not many ducks left on here now, with most of the winter visitors having departed. The Red-crested Pochard were probably the most obvious, with a pair on the edge of the reeds shepherding eight ducklings, and another pair over just beyond Parrinder Hide. There were also a few Shelduck and Shoveler and one lone drake Teal, a useful addition to the list! Two Pink-footed Geese feeding on the bank looked to be injured birds, and one had an obviously broken wing.

The Freshmarsh has been largely taken over by gulls and terns and a careful look through them revealed our main target here, a single Little Gull. It was on one of the islands in front of Parrinder Hide, so we made our way round for a closer look. It was a 1st summer, a dainty little gull with a rounded head and thin black bill. Thankfully, we had all had a good look at it through the scope before it flew off.

Little Gull

Little Gull – this 1st summer showed well from Parrinder Hide

The fenced off ‘Avocet Island is now dominated by gulls, mainly Black-headed Gulls which had decided this is a nice safe place to nest. We could see quite a few pairs of Mediterranean Gulls in amongst them, their jet black heads and brighter red bills particularly standing out. One or two Mediterranean Gulls came in to collect nest material from the bank just outside the hide with the Black-headed Gulls.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – collecting nest material from the bank by the hide

Several Common Gulls were loafing on the smaller islands in front of the hide, mostly 1st summers but including one adult which we had a good look at through the scope. There were quite a few Sandwich Terns on here too still and we watched a pair displaying and then mating. It will be interesting to see if they stay to breed here. A pair of Common Terns were keeping to themselves on another island out in the middle.

Sandwich Terns

Moving on. there was very little on Volunteer Marsh today, with the mud baked quite dry now after the recent hot weather. One Curlew was feeding in the channel at far end. The (no longer tidal) Tidal Pools are still flooded with seawater and pretty much devoid of life, apart from a handful of ducks. Three more Red-crested Pochard flew in and landed on here briefly.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – two of three which landed on the Tidal Pools

At the beach, the tide was out now. We could see a selection of waders down on the mussel beds so we walked out for a closer look. There were several very smart Grey Plover, black below and white spangled above. Quite a few Sanderling, looking very different now in breeding plumage, blended in very well against the browns and greys of the mussel beds. There were Turnstone too, several also now looking very smart, and a few Bar-tailed Godwits.

There were a few terns moving back and forth just offshore and we watched one or two Common Terns and Little Terns hunting just beyond the edge of the sand. A careful scan of the sea revealed a single Common Scoter on the water and another flying off west. A couple of Fulmar flew west too, hugging the surface of the sea.

As we walked back, we could hear the Cuckoo again, now singing out towards Thornham, across the other side of the grazing marsh. We managed to find it up perched on the top of a hawthorn bush in the distance and got it in the scope. Finally, we had seen it! Three Little Gulls, all 1st summer, were now hawking over the reedbed pool, catching insects with lots of other gulls.

Almost back to the Visitor Centre, we heard a Siskin singing in the willows above the path. As we walked past, it dropped down onto the feeders. It was time for lunch now so we stopped to eat on one of the picnic tables by the Visitor Centre.

Siskin

Siskin – dropped in to the feeders briefly

After lunch, we headed inland to Choseley. There were a couple of Yellowhammers by the road on the way up but otherwise it was fairly quiet around the drying barns. We dropped down again to the coast at Holme, where we thought we would have a quick look in the paddocks. The sun was out now, and it was quickly warming up.

As we walked back along the bank, a Common Whitethroat was subsinging in the brambles, and appeared to be chasing a female, but remained unusually mostly hidden in the vegetation. A Willow Warbler was singing in a small sallow, and we could see the lovely light lemon yellow wash on its breast in the sunshine. A pair of Lesser Whitethroats were flicking around in the top of a large hawthorn bush briefly before they flew off.

We could hear another Cuckoo singing, but it sounded to be some way off at first. Helpfully, it then flew in and landed in the top of one of the poplars in the paddocks briefly. Everyone had a good look at it through binoculars and one or two through the scope before it quickly moved off west. We could still hear it singing away in the distance.

Stiffkey Fen was to be our final destination. After driving back east, we parked and walked down the permissive path the other side of the road. The meadow here was looking beautiful, peppered with blue flowers, and we watched a couple of Marsh Harriers flying back and forth.

As we got to the copse at the end of the meadow, we  looked back to see a male Marsh Harrier drop down and catch something. We couldn’t see what it was, but we had seen a couple of Brown Hares running back to the spot where it dropped, as it approached. The Hares were still there, looking agitated. The Marsh Harrier flew off out into the middle and dropped down into the reeds.

A minute or so later, a different male Marsh Harrier appeared over the meadow and headed over to where the Hares were, running around and rearing up on their back legs. The Marsh Harrier dropped several times, before it came up with a leveret in its talons. It flew off, chased by one of the Hares on the ground below, disappearing round behind the wood towards the Fen. Nature red in tooth and claw!

There was a small wet flash down in the valley below, a flooded area of grass, and we noticed a small wader on the far side of it. Through the scope, we could see that it was a Wood Sandpiper, one of the scarcer waders which we would hope to come across at this time of year, right at our last stop! We could see its spangled upperparts and pale supercilium.

On the walk out to the Fen, there were lots of insects out in the sunshine. We saw a couple of Four-spotted Chasers, our first dragonflies of the year. Butterflies included Orange Tip and Green-veined White, plus a surprise Painted Lady later up on the seawall, which was also the first of the year. A bee mimic Hoverfly (Volucella bombylans) was also of interest.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – our first dragonfly of the year

We could hear a Greenshank calling as we walked out and just see it over the top of the reeds, on the edge of one of the islands out on the Fen. From up on seawall, we could actually see two Greenshanks, both roosting here over high tide. Otherwise, there were two Little Ringed Plovers, a couple of Redshank and several nesting Avocets.

As we walked along the seawall, a Common Sandpiper flew out from the edge of the channel below us and across to the other side, where we could see it bobbing up and down on the bank. A pair of Common Terns were fishing, diving in the channel, and flew right past us.

Common Tern

Common Tern – a pair were diving in the channel

There were lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and scattered around the edge of the harbour and we could see a pair of Little Terns flying past over the water. The tide was still coming in, but not far off high now – we could see all the boats going out to look at the seals hauled out on the tip of Blakeney Point in the distance. There were a couple of groups of Oystercatchers roosting around the edges of the harbour and a little party of three Dunlin and three Ringed Plover down on the shore nearest us.

There were a few people walking around the edge of the harbour, out across the saltmarsh, and a dog running around too. They flushed a larger flock of waders from somewhere out of sight, which then whirled round over the water. As it landed, there seemed to be a smaller bird in with them. The birds all dropped down again in the distance, and disappeared amongst the stones on a shingle spit.

As they started to move around, we could see mostly Ringed Plover and Dunlin, plus a couple of Turnstone at first. Then the smaller one reappeared on the near edge of the flock, a Little Stint. We could see its rusty fringed upperparts, short bill and clean white underparts. It was very hard to pick out at first, given the heat haze, but eventually it stopped to preen and everyone managed to get a look at it through the scope.

The great wader selection here was completed with a Whimbrel which unfortunately flushed from the edge of the harbour and flew off before everyone got a chance to see it. Just as we were preparing to leave it flew in again past us and landed on the saltmarsh where we could get it in the scope. Very helpful! A male Marsh Harrier flew in right over our heads too.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – this male flew in from the harbour over our heads

It was beautiful out here on the edge of the harbour in the sunshine this afternoon, and with a great selection of birds to look at too. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and make our way back. As we walked back along the path by the Fen, a Barn Owl flew round the bushes in front of us. It saw us and turned sharply, flying back the way it had come. But when we got back to the car, we could see it hunting over the meadow the other side of the hedge.

That was a great way to end the tour, three enjoyable days with an excellent selection of birds along the coast. However, on our way back we noticed the Peregrine was back on the church tower where we had seen it yesterday, to wave us off.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower at the end of the day