Tag Archives: Dartford Warbler

8th June 2018 – Summer Birds & Insects

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. The plan was to explore some particular sites, looking for birds and other wildlife on the way. It was cool and cloudy, with only a couple of brief signs of the promised brighter intervals, but it stayed dry all day which is always welcome!

To start this morning, we headed up to the heath. A Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes in the car park when we got out of the car. It is not the best time of year to see them, but we had a quick look to see if we could find any Adders first. A Common Lizard was basking on the gravel at the edge of the car park but scuttled away into the grass as we passed. A Brown Silver-line flushed from the side of the path was our first moth of the day.

A single Adder was curled up at the base of the gorse, half hidden in the vegetation, but we got a good look at it before it slithered deeper in. A second Adder a little further along more typically did not even wait before moving off as we approached. They are warmed up now, at this stage of the year, and quick to move when anyone approaches.

As we got back onto the main path, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing in the thick hawthorns at the back to the clearing. A Common Whitethroat was alarm calling ahead of us, before flying up out of the vegetation and disappearing into a bramble patch across the path. There were lots of Linnets in the gorse as we walked out across the heath.

Linnet

Linnet – nice to see them in numbers still up on the heath

As we walked through a particularly thick patch of gorse, we heard a Dartford Warbler calling. We stopped and looked at the bushes where the sound was coming from and after a minute or so it started to work its way out through the bushes into the heather – we could just see it moving in the vegetation. Then it flew and landed in a smaller gorse bush out in the middle – we could see it was a male Dartford Warbler. Unfortunately it quickly dropped in out of view.

We waited a couple of minutes to see if it might reappear, but the trail seemed to have gone cold. A Nightjar churring briefly from the trees nearby was a bit of a surprise, in the middle of the morning. This particular bird seems to have a habit of day-churring at the moment – we have heard it several times recently here.

Making our way back through the dense gorse, we could hear the Dartford Warbler singing now over the other side. Somehow it had got round behind us! Again, it wasn’t particularly obliging, probably not helped by the cool and cloudy conditions this morning. We saw it fly a couple of times and it perched on the top of the gorse briefly twice, before it dropped down into the thicker stuff. We decided to move on.

The next moth we came across in the grass was a July Belle. This species is probably regular in the right habitat in Norfolk but appears to be under-recorded, so it was a nice one to see today. There were several Silver Y moths flying around too – it seems to be a very good year for this migrant species.

July Belle

July Belle – probably a regular but under-recorded moth

There were several dragonflies up on the heath, despite the cool weather – and the absence of water. A female Broad-bodied Chaser and an Emperor Dragonfly patrolling around the heath were probably not so much of a surprise as an Azure Damselfly which flew up from the grass and landed on a gorse bush.

Many of the birds have already fledged their first broods and we encountered a couple of families on our walk round – a large flock of Long-tailed Tits and a separate flock of Blue Tits. We could hear Coal Tit singing in the trees too. As we walked through a small group of young oaks, we could hear the delicate piping calls of Bullfinches. The smart pink male Bullfinch perched up only briefly before disappearing deeper into the trees.

We went looking for Woodlarks next. There was no sign of any in the first place we looked when we arrived there. A male Yellowhammer was singing from the gorse nearby. We had walked away along the path when we turned to see two Woodlarks dropping in behind us, back where we had just been. We could see their short tails as they flew in. We made our way quickly back but they flew again before we could get a look at them and this time landed down over the bank out of view. We got some more nice flight views as they did, though.

Further down along the path, we heard a Stonechat calling and looked across to see a bright male on a post. It flew to some bushes further back and landed in the very top of one of them. A second bird appeared below, on the edge of the bush, a juvenile Stonechat. The male then dropped down to the ground, caught something, and flew back up to feed the young one.

We heard a Siskin calling and realised it was flying towards us. It landed in the top of a birch tree right in front of us, but we couldn’t really see it in all the leaves before it flew again.

On our way back, the Woodlarks flew up again from beside the path in front of us. This time they landed in a relatively clear area further along and by walking up quietly we were able to approach without disturbing them. We got them in the scope and watched them picking about on the bare earth among the small heather and bramble plants. Lovely views.

Woodlark

Woodlark – a pair were feeding quietly by the path

Sometimes it is possible to find Nightjars roosting, and the last week or so we have found a couple of them during the day. So emboldened by hearing one earlier, we headed over to another location where we have seen them before, to try our luck. The first few likely spots we looked, we drew a blank. But perseverance paid off – at the last place we tried, we crept up towards a clump of gorse and peered gingerly over to find a Nightjar looking back at us.

We made sure we kept a good distance away, as Nightjars are very easy to flush from their roost sites. We managed to find an angle where we could just get the scope onto it, and crept up one at a time for a look. The Nightjar was fantastically well camouflaged against the branches and litter below the gorse – what a stunning bird!

Nightjar

Nightjar – this roosting bird was hiding under a gorse bush

We backed off and left the Nightjar in peace. It was getting on for lunch by the time we got back to the car, so we drove down to the coast at Cley and made good use of the facilities at the Visitor Centre.

As we sat eating at the picnic tables in front, we heard a Swallow alarm call and turned to see a Hobby zoom low over the bushes just behind us and out across the reserve. It was going so fast, it managed to get most of the way across Pat’s Pool before anything even noticed it coming! Finally a Lapwing chased it off towards North Scrape.

A Marsh Harrier was flying round in the distance, over Blakeney Freshes. While we were watching it, we heard an Avocet calling behind us, and looked round to see it flying over the car park, an odd place for an Avocet. We quickly worked out why it was there –  another Marsh Harrier was quartering the field just behind the Visitor Centre. It was definitely an all action lunch break – there were several Grey Herons and one or two Little Egrets flying backwards and forwards too.

After lunch, we drove along the coast road to Kelling and walked down the lane towards the Water Meadow. We could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing in the hedges on our way. There were more Silver Y moths feeding on the flowers on the verges, along with one or two Speckled Wood butterflies. A Painted Lady flew up from basking on the path and landed on the brambles briefly. We also flushed a Black-tailed Skimmer from the bushes as we passed.

The Water Meadow itself help a selection of typical birds. A Lapwing flew up from the margin calling and a couple of Avocet were busy feeding on the pool. There were several Shelduck, a pair of Gadwall and a few Mallard on the water. A Sand Martin swooped down for a drink.

There were a couple of Common Whitethroats singing in the brambles by the path alongside the Water Meadow and, when we got down to the corner, we heard a brief snatch of Lesser Whitethroat rattle song too, in the dense blackthorn. A Reed Bunting was more obliging – singing in the reeds by the path and letting us pass by within just a few feet.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – this obliging male was singing just a few feet from us

There were more Linnets in the bushes as we took the permissive path up the hill from the Quag. We stopped to watch a Meadow Pipit displaying, fluttering up chipping before the song gradually accelerated and it parachuted back down again. A flash of white past us was a Wheatear, which landed briefly in the bushes down by the beach before being chased off its perch by one of the Linnets and disappearing down into the grass behind. It is getting late now for a northbound spring migrant – perhaps some birds might oversummer here this year, given the weather.

A quick look out to sea produced a single Fulmar flying past and a Sandwich Tern offshore. There was a nice display of Southern Marsh Orchid in flower on the edge of the Camp, so we decided to have a quick look to see if any Bee Orchid were out yet. We couldn’t find any – the verge is a bit overgrown here these days, but it is probably also early here, given how exposed the site is.

On our way back down, a Red Kite was circling over the fields the other side of the Quags, where the grass was being harvested for silage. There were a couple of Skylarks singing on the edge of the Camp, and a family of Pied Wagtails was feeding around the gun emplacements. A Meadow Pipit posed nicely on a fence post by the path.

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit – posed nicely on a fence post by the path

Our final destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, the first thing which struck us was the fantastic display of Poppies in the meadow opposite. We went over for a closer look – and some obligatory photos!

Poppies

Poppies – the meadow next to the path is looking stunning at the moment

There are some nice hedges by the path here and some sheltered areas out of the wind, which meant for a nice selection of insects as we walked along. First, we flushed an Orange Tip from the edge of the path. Then we stopped to admire several bee mimic hoverflies, Volucella bombylans, in the brambles. They look very like bumblebees and are variable in appearance as they even mimic different species of bee! There were a couple of different moths in the vegetation along the path here too, Silver-ground Carpet and Straw Dot.

Volucella bombylans

Volucella bombylans – a bee mimic hoverfly, one of many in the brambles

When we got to the gap in the trees where you can see over the brambles to the Fen, the first thing we noticed was a large white bird on one of the islands. It was a Spoonbill, and it was doing what Spoonbills like to do best. Sleeping!

 

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – doing what every Spoonbill like to do best!

Up onto seawall, we had a better view across the whole of the Fen. We had a look at the Spoonbill in the scope, noting its rather sparse bushy crest blowing in the wind – possibly a sub-adult bird. When it took off, we thought it might fly up past us and out towards the harbour to feed, but instead it just landed straight back down again behind the reeds, where we couldn’t see it. There were lots of Avocets on the Fen, including several small juveniles. We found one Little Ringed Plover too, on one of the islands.

Making our way round to the harbour, a Reed Warbler and a Common Whitethroat were feeding in the dense vegetation just below us, on the seawall. The Reed Warbler was singing rather half-heartedly. A gang of eight noisy Oystercatchers chased each over round overhead.

Out in the harbour, the tide was about half way out. A large mob of teenage Mute Swans were swimming in the channel. Mute Swans take several years to mature and there appeared to be several different ages here, based on the colour of their bills. A group of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers were feeding further out, on the mud. We could see all the seals in the distance out on Blakeney Point.

As we turned to walk back, a male Marsh Harrier flew past just behind the hedge and helpfully came up into view. A Common Tern flew past along the harbour channel. Back at the Fen, the Spoonbill was still asleep. A Speckled Wood posed nicely in the brambles along the footpath back towards the road.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – posed nicely by the path on the way back

It was time to head for home now. It had been a very interesting day out – some new sites for the group, and lots of interesting wildlife, not just birds today.

Advertisements

1st June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours today. It was a foggy start to the day again, but the fog quickly thinned and then gradually lifted to low cloud through the morning and it even brightened up later in the afternoon. Nothing to stop us seeing some good birds!

As we drove round to collect all the group, the Peregrine was back in position again on the church tower, where it had been a couple of weeks ago. So once we had collected everyone, we went back for a look. It was a bit foggy up around the tower, but we had a good look at it through the scope. A nice way to start the day. Several Common Swifts were zooming around over the rooftops in the fog too.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower in the fog this morning

Our first stop was a short drive east along the coast to Stiffkey. There had been a Red-backed Shrike here yesterday and it was reportedly still there first thing this morning, so we fancied a look at that. As we drove past the wet meadow by the road east of the village, we spotted a large white bird in one of the pools in the mist. You cannot stop along the road here, so we parked further up and walked back.

On our way along the footpath, we stopped to scan the newly cultivated strip on the edge of the field nearby. There were a couple of Stock Doves walking round on the ground and a pair of Oystercatchers further back. A Brown Hare was grooming itself, having a good scratch, on the edge.  A Lesser Black-backed Gull flew over chased off by a noisy Avocet.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – in the cultivated strip in the field by the path

From the corner of the path, we could see the white bird we had spotted on our way past in the car. It was a Spoonbill and it was very busy feeding in the deep water, sweeping its bill from side to side. As we watched it through the scope, we could see that it was colour-ringed and with a bit of effort we managed to read the combination.

The Spoonbill turned out to be one we already knew well – we had been responsible for previous sightings of the very same bird in 2015 and 2016! Originally ringed in the nest in the Netherlands in 2011, it was seen in France and Germany in 2012, back in the Netherlands in 2013-2014, then in Norfolk in 2015 and 2016. It will be interesting to see if it has been seen anywhere else since then.

While we were watching the Spoonbill, a Siskin flew over in the fog, calling. As we made our way back along the footpath, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the hedge. The meadow next to the path was looking stunning, as the poppies are really starting to come into flower now. Two Skylarks flew round just above all the flowers.

As we made our way through the trees and across the road, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were singing in the copse. A little further along, a Reed Warbler was singing in a clump of trees – making an interesting change from their usual choice of reeds.

Up on the seawall, we headed west today along the Coastal Path. A family of Shelduck, two adults with 9 shelducklings were swimming around on the channel below. There were a few more Common Whitethroats in the bushes, a pair carrying food and alarm calling as we passed.

Then three Spoonbills suddenly appeared, flying towards us out of the fog, almost overhead. They turned either side of us, one of them swinging back round and down onto the saltmarsh. We had good views of it in the scope, an adult, we could see the yellow-tip to its bill and its bushy nuchal crest, as it fed in the small pools.

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – one of the three which appeared overhead out of the fog

A little further on, we found a small group gathered. Apparently, there had been no sign of the Red-backed Shrike for the last two hours, since it was first reported earlier this morning. We decided to carry on along the path to see what we could find and we had not gone far before we spotted the shrike up in the top of the hedge at the back of the bushes. We had good views of it through the scope, before it dropped down again out of view.

The rest of the crowd arrived, but the Red-backed Shrike stayed down out of view for a while. We could hear a couple of Lesser Whitethroats alarm calling further back along the path, and saw them flitting agitatedly in and out of the hawthorns. We walked back for a closer look to see what was upsetting them and found the Red-backed Shrike again in the top of a hawthorn. It was a bit further back from the path here, and not so disturbed by people walking up and down.

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike – great views perched in the hawthorns, singing

The Red-backed Shrike was a stunning male, with a rusty back, grey crown and black bandit mask, and a delicate pink wash underneath. It showed very well here, and even started singing at one point! Some video of it singing here yesterday can be seen below.

Red-backed Shrikes used to breed commonly in the UK, but declined steadily and finally disappeared in 1987, with just sporadic breeding records since. They are still scarce but regular migrants passing through on their way to or from Scandinavia. There had been a little flurry of records in the last few days, with birds probably drifting off course in the north-easterly winds and fog.

After enjoying great views of the Red-backed Shrike, we headed back along the path. The Spoonbill was still feeding out on the saltmarsh, where we had left it earlier. Back at Stiffkey Fen, we could see a single Little Ringed Plover and plenty of Avocets out on the islands. A pair of Sedge Warblers were going in and out of the nettles below us. A Cuckoo was singing in the poplars at the back.

On our way back to the car, we could hear Bullfinches calling and a Garden Warbler singing. We managed to find one of the Bullfinches feeding on the buds in a large hawthorn the other side of the river, a cracking pink male.

It had been a very productive walk this morning, despite the fog. We made our way round to Cley for an early lunch. A single Greenshank out on Pat’s Pool was just visible over the reeds through the scope, with a couple of Redshank. While we were eating, a Cuckoo flew over the car park and we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler singing in the ditch the other side of the road.

We had been intending to go up to the Heath one morning, but it had been foggy earlier today. The forecast for tomorrow had been for it to be dry and brighter but it had completely changed this morning – now they were forecasting rain tomorrow. It would be nice if they could make up their minds! So we decided to have a go up on the Heath this afternoon.

When we arrived in the car park, we could hear a Willow Warbler singing. We looked up in the direction of the song, and saw it perched high in a birch tree. A Yellowhammer was singing over the other side and we walked across to get a closer look. It was high in another birch and through the scope, we could see its bright canary-yellow head and breast.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – singing from high in a birch tree

As we walked on across the heath, it was much quieter. There were very few other birds singing, often the way mid-afternoon. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from some trees inn the distance. We did a circuit round one of the Dartford Warbler territories, but there was no activity here, just a few Linnets.

As we got back to where we had started, we noticed a small dark bird with a long tail zip across between two gorse bushes. Then another flew across the other side. Dartford Warblers! We stood and waited, and at first had tantalising glimpses as they flitted around deep in the heather or flew back and forth.

We gradually realised it was a pair of Dartford Warblers carrying food, back and forth repeatedly from where they were feeding in front of us. A couple of times, they perched up in the top of the gorse and the male stopped briefly to sing at one point, even then performing a song flight over the taller gorse behind us.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – we found a pair on the Heath this afternoon

While we were watching the Dartford Warblers, a Nightjar churred from the trees beyond. A bit of a surprise – they are mainly nocturnal, but sometimes one will churr briefly during the day. We left the Dartford Warblers in peace to carry on with their feeding duties, and carried on across the Heath.

It had all gone fairly quiet again, until we turned a corner out from some thick gorse into a more open area and looked across to see a pair of Woodlarks flying towards us. They flew straight past over our heads, before one turned and landed in an area of short heather behind us. We walked over and could see it creeping around in the vegetation. It was presumably the female, as we could hear the male singing quietly from some trees very close by.

The male Woodlark then dropped down to the ground to join the female, and we watched them both for a while walking around and feeding. Eventually, the male flew up onto a nearby fence post and started calling. Then they both flew up over the trees and were lost to view.

Woodlark

Woodlark – the male flew up onto a fence post and started calling

It was great to get such fantastic views of the two main target species up on the Heath – our afternoon visit had really paid off today! We headed round to check up on the pair of Stonechats. They were a bit harder to see at first, but then we heard the male singing, and found him hiding in the top of a young oak.

The cloud had lifted and it had started to brighten up now. There was still enough time to squeeze in one more stop this afternoon, so we made our way back to the car and drove down to Cley. We parked at the end of the East Bank, and set out along it. Looking back, we could see a couple of drake Common Pochard on the pool on the other side of road. The pair of Mute Swans on Don’s Pool now have four cygnets, and a Grey Heron had taken over their nest as a convenient place to preen. There were a couple of Tufted Duck on the water here too.

When we heard a Bearded Tit calling, we turned to get a quick flight view as one zipped across the top of the reeds and dropped back in. Two of three Marsh Harriers were circling up over the back of the reedbed, and we noticed one of the males flying in carrying something in its talons. The female circled up below and the male dropped the food for her to catch, a ‘food pass’.

Lapwing

Lapwing – looking stunning in the afternoon sunshine

There were still one or two Lapwings and Redshank displaying out on the grazing marsh. A few ducks were swimming round on the Serpentine or lurking around the grassy edges – mostly Shelducks, Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler. More unseasonal was the lingering lone drake Wigeon and three Teal. Almost all of the ones which were here over the winter have long since departed north for the breeding season.

The side of the East Bank, covered in flowers, was alive with insects in the afternoon sun. In particular, there were lots of migrant Silver Y moths buzzing round, as well as a couple of Common Blue butterflies. One or two Four-spotted Chasers patrolled the edge of the ditch the other side.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, a few Sandwich Terns had gathered out on the shingle island at the back, along with a couple of Little Terns. There were a few waders on here too. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers were down at the front, the female on the nest. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was out at the back, along with two Dunlin and a Ringed Plover. A male Wheatear was a nice surprise, on one of the gravel spits over towards one side.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – on Arnold’s Marsh

You can’t come all this way without visiting the beach, but it was a bit misty offshore still. A few more Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth, and we saw two Common Terns too.

On the walk back, a Grey Plover had now appeared on Arnolds, and what looked like a second Wheatear, a more richly coloured bird. A Curlew flew in over the grazing marsh and headed off west and a Common Sandpiper was now bathing on the edge of the Serpentine with a Ringed Plover for company. Two Mediterranean Gulls flew over calling.

It was time to head for home. On the drive back, a Red Kite was circling over the fields beside the road, a nice late addition to the day’s list. Let’s see what tomorrow brings too!

15th April 2018 – Early Spring at Last, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours in North Norfolk. Having been west along the coast yesterday, we headed out east for the day today. It had been forecast to be cloudier than yesterday, but we were not expecting to have the fog which clung on along the coast all day. It meant that migration along the coast was limited today, but we still managed to find a few migrants despite the weather.

Our first destination was Cley. It had looked to be brightening up as we drove along the coast road, but by the time we got to the East Bank, we could see the fog rolling in out towards the coast. A Kestrel was hovering over the edge of the reedbed. It gradually worked its way closer and then, as we watched it, it dropped steeply down into the grass just beyond the car park. When it came up again it had a vole in its talons. A Grey Heron dropped out of the trees and down towards the pools.

Kestrel

Kestrel – caught a vole just by the car park

Up on the bank, we could see several Common Pochard on Don’s Pool, along with a single drake Tufted Duck. They were all diving constantly. Over the other side of the bank, we could see lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes. There were still a few Wigeon out here too, plus several Teal, a couple of Shoveler and a pair of Gadwall.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – a smart drake on Don’s Pool

 

The Redshanks were displaying here today – they were very vocal and we saw several in display flight, fluttering their bowed wings as they called. The Lapwings were a bit more subdued in the weather, though we did see one or two tumbling. There were plenty of Avocets but they were right at the back, on Pope’s Pool, in the fog. We could hear them calling noisily. We stopped to look at a Ruff feeding on the edge of the Serpentine.

A Bearded Tit pinged from the reedbed, but remained stubbornly down out of view today. A Marsh Harrier circled out over Pope’s reedbed, in the fog, and then another appeared much closer, over the reeds the other side.

We made our way on Arnold’s Marsh and took advantage of the shelter. There was a good selection of waders out on here today. There were several Bar-tailed Godwits, some still in non-breeding plumage, but several starting to moult and one particularly smart individual already in summer plumage, deep rusty coloured below, right down to under the tail.

There was a good number of Dunlin on the mud at the back, accompanied by a couple of Ringed Plovers. A single Grey Plover on one of the shingle spits was still in grey non-breeding plumage. There were plenty of Avocets and Redshanks on here too.

Redshank

Redshank – on the brackish pools by Arnold’s Marsh

We managed to pick out two Sandwich Terns on the small shingle island at the back, and we could see their shaggy crests even if they were mostly sleeping. Then more Sandwich Terns flew in and landed with them and there was lots of calling and displaying, so we could see their yellow-tipped black bills. We went to have a look out at the sea, but it was too foggy now to even see the waves, so we headed back.

It was brighter back at the car, but we drove back into the fog along Beach Road. The edge of the Eye Field is a good place to look for Wheatears and thankfully we found a couple close to the edge, where we could see them. They were feeding down in the grass just beyond the fence, but one came out onto the shingle and perched on a couple of the fence posts.

Wheatear

Wheatear – one of two at the Eye Field this morning

Both the Wheatears were males and both looked to be large and richly coloured below, with a comparatively deep burnt orange wash across the breast. They looked to be Greenland Wheatears, stopping off on their way before making the long journey most of the way across the Atlantic

With our mission here accomplished, we decided not to linger in the fog and drove back east along the coast road. A quick stop at Salthouse duckpond and scan of the pools beyond didn’t produce anything new, but we did stop to admire a pair of Gadwall. The drakes in particular are very intricately patterned, belying there ‘grey and boring’ image. There was also a Canada Goose on the pond and more Wigeon and Teal on the wet grazing marshes beyond.

Gadwall

Gadwall – an intricately patterned drake

The pools along Salthouse Beach Road can be good for migrants, but there was nothing here today. It was very foggy now along the shingle ridge and with few migrants apparently moving along the coast today, we decided it probably wasn’t going to be worth walking out to Gramborough Hill.

Continuing on to Kelling, we drove back into the sunshine as we headed slightly inland. As we parked in village the, a Common Buzzard was soaring high overhead, above the thing hazy cloud. A Swallow appeared overhead, hawking or insects, and disappeared off towards the road. When we got over there, we found a pair of Swallows on the wires. Rather than being on their way through, these birds had probably returned here to breed.

Swallows

Swallows – two returned already in Kelling village

A pair of Pied Wagtails and a couple of Goldfinches were feeding on the playing field and a Chiffchaff was singing in the grounds of the school opposite. As we walked along the lane, a male Blackcap flew across in front of us and landed briefly in the bushes. Up at the copse, another Blackcap was singing in the trees and a pair of Chiffchaffs were fliting around, the male stopping to sing from time to time as it followed what was presumably a female.

It was increasingly foggy again as we got closer to the coast. Down at the Water Meadow, there were good numbers of Avocet feeding out in the water and calling noisily, plus a single lone Redshank and a few Teal. As we walked along the cross track on the north side of the water meadow, we heard a Whimbrel call. We looked across the Quags and saw it emerge from the fog and fly past us. It didn’t stop and headed off SE. Another good spring migrant.

We walked down towards the beach but it was very foggy down by the sea now. We had a quick scan of the Quags pools, but couldn’t see anything of note in the mist, so wee decided to head back to the Visitor Centre at Cley for lunch.

The weather was not too bad at Cley, so we ate our lunch outside, on the picnic tables. One or two Pied Wagtails kept flying back and forth overhead, commuting to the field behind. Just as we finished our lunch, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked up to see it flying east in front of us. It turned back just before North Foreland Wood, and came back around over behind the Visitor Centre. It dropped down and looked like it might be landing in the field behind. We walked up to the back of the Visitor Centre to look for it, but there was no sign of it in the field, just one of the Pied Wagtails.

After lunch we paid a quick visit to the Iron Road. As we got out of the car, we could see three Egyptian Geese asleep in the grass with the Greylags. Two Brent Geese flew in to join them, Dark-bellied birds yet to set off back to Russia to breed. A Little Egret was feeding on one of the wet flashes in the grass.

It was a bit clearer now, so we walked up along the track to the pool. There were several Ruff around the muddy margins, and we stopped to look at a small group. Of the six birds, one was much smaller, a female ‘Reeve’. Most of the Ruff were rather pale, but one male was very dark, blackish speckled. They are the most variable of waders and they are now starting to moult into breeding plumage, although the males will not get their elaborate ruffs for a while yet. There were a couple of Redshanks on the pool too, for comparison.

There had been a White Wagtail here this morning and we found it again feeding on one of the grassy island. White Wagtail is the continental cousin of our Pied Wagtail and just passes through here on migration in the spring. This one had stopped off to feed. We could see its silvery grey back, much paler than the black or slate grey backs of our Pied Wagtails. A Swallow flew over, heading west, the first hirundine we had seen on the move today, they were obviously held up further south by the weather.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – feeding on the pool by Iron Road

 

There seemed to be more fret rolling in from the east, so we decided to head inland, up to the Heath to try to find some brighter weather. It was nice and bright, sunny with some high hazy cloud, when we arrived in the car park. We could hear Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler singing in the trees.

We headed first for a sheltered corner which always catches the afternoon sun. We could hear Bullfinches calling, flew and a pair flew across in front of us and disappeared into trees. We were looking at the margins of the gorse to see if we could find any Adders, when a small bird flew up ahead of us calling a distinctive ‘speez, speez’. It was a Tree Pipit. They used to breed up here on the Heath, but have died out in recent years, so this was most likely a migrant, stopping just off on its way further north.

We walked round the corner to see if we could find the Tree Pipit on the ground, but it was obviously hiding in the trees. It then flew out and landed in the birches behind us briefly, then flew again and disappeared. It seemed to be trying to come back down into the grass to feed, so we left it in peace. You can find migrants inland, not just on the coast!

Scanning the leaf litter on the bank which faces the sun, we spotted our first Adder. Unfortunately, it headed straight into cover but the second Adder we found was more obliging, and stayed curled up in the grass for a few seconds before it decided our combined presence was too much and it disappeared into a hole in the vegetation.

Adder

Adder – warming itself in the sun in the leaf litter

While we were watching the Adder, one of the group spotted a Common Lizard basking nearby. Then a young Common Frog hopped out of the leaves too. It was all action in this corner of the Heath this afternoon!

 

Common Lizard

Common Lizard – basking on a leaf

 

Walking back up the track, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler in the top of a small birch tree, as a Red Kite drifted overhead. We heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying towards us. It circled round over a more open area of grass, singing – a beautiful if slightly melancholic song. Then it appeared to drop down beyond the trees behind us. We walked back and found two Woodlarks on the ground.

The male Woodlark didn’t stay long, but took off again and started to fly round singing, while the female fed quietly in the grass. It was remarkably hard to see against the browns of the dead bracken, until it moved. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it too took off and headed away in the direction the male Woodlark had flown.

Woodlark

Woodlark – very well camouflaged against the dead bracken

 

As we walked across the Heath and entered one of the traditional Dartford Warbler territories, we could hear one calling ahead of us. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it had gone quiet and despite walking round the area for a couple of minutes we didn’t hear it again. Still it was a good start.

We made our way further on, to another territory, and stopped to listen again. Once more, it was all quiet, despite the warmth from the sun, perhaps because it was now late in the afternoon. As we turned to leave, we saw something flit across in a dense clump of gorse right next to us. As we stood and watched a Dartford Warbler stuck its head out.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – feeding in the gorse flowers

 

The Dartford Warbler appeared to be feeding on the bright yellow gorse flowers, presumably looking for insects. It was on the move constantly and very hard to see, only occasionally appearing on top of the bush. We followed it for a while as it fed quietly before it eventually dropped down out of view as the sun disappeared behind some clouds.

Another Woodlark flew over calling, and a few seconds later presumably the same bird came back the other way singing, right over our heads. There were plenty of Linnets around the Heath and we could hear several Yellowhammers calling, but the one resident of the Heath we hadn’t yet come across was Stonechat. We headed over to an area where a pair have taken up residence, but couldn’t see them on a quick circuit of the path, before a male Stonechat popped up in front of us as we got back to the start!

It was a nice way to end the day, and the weekend, up on the Heath. We had been very successful on our quick visit here, so we headed for home well pleased with our tally.

28th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #1

Day 1 of a three day Summer Tour today. It was bright this morning, sunny at times, but still slightly cool in a very blustery SW wind. It clouded over in the afternoon, but thankfully we managed largely to avoid any showers.

With the sun out first thing this morning, we headed straight over to the Heath to start the day. As we walked out of the car park, a male Bullfinch flew over calling, its pink underparts catching the light. In a quiet corner, out of the wind, we flushed a family of Blackcaps ahead of us along an overgrown hedgerow. We could hear them calling in the blackthorn and eventually first the male, then one of the juveniles, perched out nicely for us.

BlackcapBlackcap – the male perched up nicely for us

Continuing on across the Heath, a Yellowhammer flew up out of the heather and landed in some tall gorse across a clearing. We got it in the scope, a smart male with bright yellow head. We could hear another Yellowhammer singing nearby. There is still a good number of them on the Heath, always a pleasure to see. A Stonechat flicked up onto the top of the heather briefly, before flying across and disappearing round behind a bush. There were lots of Linnets in the gorse all over the Heath, several families with fledged young following the adults around, calling.

There are several pairs of Dartford Warblers up on the Heath, but it felt like it might be a struggle to see them today, given the wind. We walked round through the territory of one pair first, but all was quiet. They were obviously keeping tucked down out of the wind. One of the other pairs has been feeding young in recent days so we decided to try over there instead. Our route across the Heath took us through the territory of a third pair, and we had just been discussing how these are generally the hardest of the Dartford Warblers to see when we heard a burst of song and looked over to see a male Dartford Warbler parachuting back down to the top of the gorse, just finishing a songflight. We were in luck!

We watched the male Dartford Warbler feeding in the top of the gorse for a minute or so, singing occasionally, before it zipped across over an area of heather and into some more gorse further over. We walked part way across and had great views of it feeding in the top of the gorse.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – the male, singing on top of the gorse today

Eventually, the Dartford Warbler seemed to disappear back deeper into the gorse. We were just about to move on when it flew out, carrying food in its bill. It flew across in front of us and landed in the gorse where we had first seen it, then flew up again a couple of seconds later and darted across the path and down over the gorse beyond. Presumably it has hungry young somewhere to feed.

The area where the Woodlarks had been gathering food for their young earlier in the summer was quiet now, although we did find a pair of Skylarks there instead, which flew across in front of us and then disappeared away across the Heath. There was no sign of the other pair of Dartford Warblers – they were presumably keeping down out of the wind too. We also checked another area which the Woodlarks have been favouring, but there was no sign of them here either – they have probably fledged their second broods already.

It was a lovely bright morning up on the Heath and there were lots of butterflies out despite the wind. We saw lots of Gatekeepers and several Meadow Browns still, many feeding on the flowering bell heather. A smart Painted Lady was basking in the sun on some ivy growing up a fence. We flushed a Small Copper and a Grayling as we walked across an area of open ground, but both settled back down where we could get a good look at them. The Grayling was very hard to see once it settled and folded back its wings, beautifully camouflaged, even when you knew where it had landed.

GraylingGrayling – beautifully camouflaged

When we got back to the car, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from the bushes nearby. We walked over to see if we could see it, but it went quiet and never did show itself. Most of the warblers on the Heath have largely stopped singing now, so it was an unexpected bonus to hear this typically skulking species. Several Common Buzzards circled up over the edge of the Heath.

There was still a little time before lunch, so we dropped down to the coast at Kelling and had a walk down to the Water Meadow. There were a few House Martins around the village and a Greenfinch or two flew off calling from the trees. Otherwise the lane was fairly quiet bird-wise. However, there were a few more butterflies – including a smart Wall basking on the track and Comma. And there were several dragonflies hawking for insects in the lee of the hedges – a Southern Hawker, a couple of Migrant Hawkers and a very smart, golden-brown winged Brown Hawker.

CommaComma – one or two were feeding along the lane to the Water Meadow

There were a few birds on the pool today. A single Common Sandpiper was the highlight – flying round on flickering bowed wings and calling, before landing on the mud at the far end. There were also several Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the deeper water and a couple of Lapwings on the bank. A few Sand Martins were hawking for insects over the pool and we could see two Egyptian Geese feeding in the rushes at the back. A Grey Heron flew in and landed on the Quag, disturbing all the Rooks gathered in the grass, and a Little Egret was enjoying the sunshine on the edge of the reeds.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back to the car and drove along the coast to Cley. After eating our lunch on the picnic tables by the visitor centre, we ventured out onto the reserve. On the walk out to the main hides, we flushed a Reed Warbler from the edge of the reeds and a Bearded Tit flew past calling, before dropping down into the reeds.

The first bird we saw when we got in to Dauke’s Hide was a Yellow-legged Gull, standing on the grass on one of the closer islands, preening. We all had a good look at it through the scope, but the next time we looked back it had flown off. The gulls here often drop in and out regularly during the day.

Yellow-legged GullYellow-legged Gull – showing off its yellow legs, on Simmond’s Scrape

There was a nice selection of waders on the scrapes today. The highlight on Simmond’s Scrape was the Common Sandpipers, at least three of them. We had a good look at one of them through the scope. A gaudy moulting male Ruff dropped in briefly, but flew off. A single juvenile Dunlin was over towards the back and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding up to their bellies down at the front.

Common SandpiperCommon Sandpiper – at least three were on Simmond’s Scrape

As we made our way across to Teal Hide, we heard Bearded Tits calling from the reeds in the middle of the circular boardwalk right in front of us. It was a family party. We watched as they flew out one by one, across the path and into the taller reeds the other side. We got a good but quick look at a couple of juveniles which perched up in the tops before dropping down out of view.

Round at Teal Hide, there were many more waders, in particular loads of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, scattered liberally around Pat’s Pool.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – in good numbers now at Cley

It didn’t take too long to locate the Curlew Sandpiper, a moulting adult with a lot less of its summer rusty colour still on its underparts. Through the scope we could see its comparatively long and downcurved bill. It was feeding on the edge of one of the islands, walking in and out of the grass among the various Ruff. There was a single Knot out on here too, a summer plumaged bird with bright pale orange underparts.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – rapidly moulting to winter plumage now

We made our way back to the car park and round to the East Bank. It was distinctly cool and blustery now, and it was very exposed up on the bank. A Sedge Warbler flicked off ahead of us in the overgrown vegetation below the bank and we could hear a Reed Warbler singing from the reeds.

There were a few ducks on the Serpentine today, mainly Mallard but we did find a pair of much smaller Teal too. There were lots of Greylag Geese and quite a few Canada Geese as well, out on the grass.

We could see a small gathering of (3!) photographers ahead of us, so we hurried along to where they were. There had been a Wood Sandpiper along here this morning, at the far end of the Serpentine, and we immediately saw that this was indeed what they were watching. Even better, it was on the mud very close to the bank, so we could get a great look at it. They are very dainty waders, spangled on the back with a bold pale supercilium. It posed very nicely for us, walking into the edge of the grass and preening for a while, before falling asleep.

Wood SandpiperWood Sandpiper – feeding on the north end of the Serpentine

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away from watching the Wood Sandpiper, always a very smart bird to see. We walked along a little further and stopped to look at Arnold’s Marsh from the new shelter. We had heard the Sandwich Terns calling on the walk out and had seen them all fly round once or twice. From the viewing shelter we could get a much better look at them through the scope, their spiky rear crowns and yellow-tipped black bills. There were quite a few scaly backed juveniles in amongst them and several adults flew in carrying fish while we were watching.

There were more waders on Arnold’s Marsh too – lots of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, with 2-3 Curlews in with them. Seven Dunlin included a mix of black-bellied adults and streaky-bellied juveniles. A careful scan revealed a single Turnstone too, a smart bird in summer plumage, with bright chestnut patches on its back and a white face.

We had a quick look out to sea from the beach. There were lots of Sandwich Terns fishing offshore. Just beyond them, a larger white shape with black wing tips circling out over the sea was a lone Gannet. We spotted a wader flying in low over the water, a Curlew, which turned before it got to us and headed west. It was most likely a continental bird just arriving here on its journey from its breeding grounds, possibly in Russia, coming here to moult, perhaps heading round to the Wash.

Then it was time for us to start making our way back. We stopped briefly for another look at the Wood Sandpiper on the way. It was still feeding very close to the path, giving great views. Then suddenly and for no apparent reason it took off and flew past us, heading strongly on west. Maybe it was time for it to continue on its journey south. Further along, we stopped to watch a pair of Reed Warblers, flitting around first in the vegetation on the bank, moving ahead of us. Then they flew across to the far side of the reedy channel, where they started to work their way along the base of the reeds, just above the water, giving a great chance to look at them properly.

Reed WarblerReed Warbler – a pair were feeding along the ditch this afternoon

Then we made our way back to the car. It had been a lovely day out but it was now time to head for home.

6th June 2017 – Dartfords & a Downpour!

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today. The weather forecast was not great – it was meant to be windy all day, with heavy rain expected to arrive in the afternoon. We had thought about going west today, to seek out the safety of the hides at Titchwell, but a quick discussion about possibilities when we met up suggested an attempt to look for Dartford Warblers was preferred this morning.

As we drove east along the coast, a Barn Owl flew high over the road and disappeared off across the fields. After a wet & windy night last night, it was probably having to hunt out later this morning, perhaps with hungry young to feed at the moment.

When we arrived up on the Heath, we were pleasantly surprised. The wind had dropped completely and, although still cloudy, it had brightened up considerably – not what we were expecting but we would gladly accept it! A couple of Common Whitethroats were singing around the car park and, as we walked along the path, the first of several Willow Warblers was singing from the birch trees.

A male Yellowhammer was singing from the top of a rather bare birch tree and we flushed several pairs or little family parties of Linnets on the way.

LinnetLinnet – we saw lots up on the Heath today

When we got to the first Dartford Warbler territory, it all seemed rather lifeless at first. Still, we had a quiet look round and listen to see if we could hear one call. We walked along a path flanked by high gorse either side and as we came out the other side, we spotted a small, dark shape zipping away over the heather. It was a female Dartford Warbler. It perched in the top of the heather briefly, before dropping down out of sight.

We walked round to where we might see it better and could just see it from time to time flitting around in the heather and young birch trees. Then we heard more Dartford Warblers calling from the other side of the path and realised there was a family party here. Watching quietly from a discrete distance, we could just make out several short-tailed juvenile Dartford Warblers hiding in a big clump of gorse and birch as they moved around.

Standing here for a while, we watched as the female Dartford Warbler flew in to feed the juveniles a couple of times, zooming in fast and low, a dark blur with a long tail, before zooming out again across the path and down into the heather. At least we were seeing Dartford Warblers, but it was hard to get a really good view of one like this. Perseverance was required!

We had heard it singing some distance away but then the male Dartford Warbler flew in to join the female. It didn’t stay long and made its way off in the other direction, so figuring we would stand a better chance of getting a good view of the male perched up singing, we followed it. It did indeed land in the top of the gorse briefly for us, but then flew off over the top of a big clump of young trees and disappeared.

The views we were getting of Dartford Warbler were steadily improving, so we went back to the female and juveniles. Again, they were well tucked down in the vegetation, but after a while the female called the youngsters across the path and we saw at least five of them follow after her – a good clutch, and nice to confirm that this pair have done so well.

Then the male Dartford Warbler reappeared nearby and started singing again, so we followed the sound once more. This time we got a really good look at it, perched in the top of the heather, albeit a reasonable distance away. At last!

Dartford Warbler 1Dartford Warbler – finally, we got a good look at the male perched up singing

With some good views of Dartford Warbler achieved, we left the family group to feed and carried on around the Heath. We hadn’t gone very far when we heard another male Dartford Warbler singing, #2 for the morning! This one was tucked well down in a big clump of gorse and birch and we could just see it creeping around in the vegetation. It was never going to be easy to see this one well, so we didn’t stop.

There is an interesting ‘tent’ of Small Eggar moth caterpillars in a bush by one of the paths so we went over for a look at it. We could hear Garden Warblers alarm calling as we approached and one flew across into a young oak tree nearby, where we got a brief view of it before it went further back into the trees. Then a second Garden Warbler appeared in the top of the bush right in front of us, also scolding us. They obviously have a nest nearby, so we left them in peace.

Small Eggar moth caterpillarSmall Eggar moth caterpillars – in, and on, their silk tent

As we continued on across the Heath, we heard yet another Dartford Warbler calling and looked round to see another male perched on the top of the heather. It darted back into the gorse behind and disappeared but a few seconds later flew out again. It flew straight towards us, past us within a couple of metres and dropped into a large patch of tall gorse the other side of the path. Dartford Warbler male #3.

We could hear now the mournful song of a Woodlark away in the distance, but as we carried on along the path we gradually got closer to it. It went quiet for a while and then suddenly it fluttered up in front of us and started singing again. We stood and listened to it for a while, watching as it flew round in circles, slowly gaining height. It looked rather bat-like, with rapidly fluttering broad wings and short tail.

WoodlarkWoodlark – singing high in the sky above our heads

The Woodlark was showing no sign of coming back down to earth, so we carried on our way. It seemed to follow us though and was still singing very high overhead, just a dot in the sky, when we caught a flash of another Woodlark flying over the path in front of us just above head height.

It dropped down into the heather out of sight, so we walked round to a gap in the gorse through which we could see over to the area where it had gone down. The next thing we knew, a pair of Woodlarks flew up out of the heather and disappeared away over the Heath. Perhaps this was why the first male Woodlark was singing so persistently, with another pair in its territory.

A little further on, we had just stopped to admire some more Linnets, when we heard yet another male Dartford Warbler singing, amazingly #4 of the morning! We walked round to the other side of a large gorse bush and there it was, sitting up in full view, albeit quite a distance away.

It was already turning out to be an amazing morning for Dartford Warblers, but there was still one last twist. As we looked at it, male #4 flew straight towards us and landed in the top of a gorse bush right next to us, just a couple of metres away. It was so close, we could almost reach out and touch it! It was a stunning view, and it stayed there for several seconds. It was carrying food in its bill (presumably it has some juveniles to feed somewhere) and gave another burst of song, before flying across the path and away, dropping down again some distance off. Wow!

Dartford Warbler 2Dartford Warbler – this male flew in and landed right next to us!

It had been a phenomenal morning for Dartford Warblers, culminating in such great views. We set off to see if we could get better views of a Woodlark now, making out way over to an area where they can sometimes be found feeding, and where the singing male from earlier seemed to have headed off to. A Jay was hopping around under an oak tree by the path and gave us a great look at it when it flew up into the lowest branches.

JayJay – feeding around an oak tree out on the Heath

At this point, it started to rain but we could see brighter sky away to the west, so we were confident it was only a shower. So it proved and it quickly stopped again. We paused to watch a family of Stonechats, the adult male, browner female and 2-3 streaky juveniles.

StonechatStonechat – the female perched up nicely for us during the rain shower

Just as we got to the area where we had hoped to find the Woodlark, it started singing again some distance away, back where we had first heard it, so it was immediately obvious we wouldn’t find it here. We turned and made our way back.

A pair of Turtle Doves flew across ahead of us, but disappeared behind the trees before everyone could see them. We headed over in the direction they had seemed to be going in the hope the male might start purring, but there was no sound. The male Yellowhammer we had seen earlier was back in the same tree again, preening and stretching after the rain, as we passed by.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – a male in its favourite tree

We had not seen many butterflies today up on the Heath, probably not a surprise given the cloudy and cool weather, but as we made our way back towards the car we were in for one final treat. A blue butterfly fluttered across the path and landed in the cut heather in front of us. A quick look confirmed it was a Silver-studded Blue, a rare and localised species for which the Heath is one of the only sites where it can be found locally.

Silver-studded Blue 1Silver-studded Blue – now starting to emerge on the Heath

This is the first Silver-studded Blue we have seen this year and, following reports from Suffolk in the last couple of days, they have probably only just started to emerge here. It was quite sluggish in the cooler weather and we got a great look at it, noting the distinctive silvery-blue centred spots on the underside of the hindwing from which it gets its name. As we walked on along the path, we found a second Silver-studded Blue in the heather.

With the rain forecast to arrive in the afternoon, and having spent most of the morning on the Heath, we had hoped to have a quick walk down on the coast before lunch. However, as we drove down we could see dark clouds ahead of us and the next thing we knew it was raining hard.

We headed round to the visitor centre at Cley and went inside for a cup of tea, in the hope that it might be just another shower, but it quickly became clear the main band of rain had arrived early. We could see plenty of Shelducks and Avocets on Pat’s Pool from the centre, but with most of the group not having a full set of waterproofs with them (not something you generally pack for summer!), we were not going to be able to get out to the hides without getting soaked.

After an early lunch in the car, with Common Swifts and Sand Martins hawking for insects in the rain low over the car park, we drove round to the beach. The wind had picked up now and it was really blustery, with gusts up to around 40mph already. We nipped across from the car to the beach shelter, where we could get out of the wind and rain, and had a look at the sea. There were lots of Sandwich Terns feeding close in offshore and we picked out several Little Terns and a couple of Common Terns too.

Sandwich TernSandwich Tern – feeding just offshore in the wind & rain

Our only hope now was that the rain, having arrived earlier than forecast, would go through more quickly too. We had hoped to spend the afternoon at Holkham, so we started to drive slowly west, stopping on the way at several sites where we could look out from the car. The harbours at Blakeney and Morston were largely devoid of birds. At Stiffkey Greenway, the only large white shape we could see was a Little Egret but visibility was somewhat hampered by the rain. There was more to see at Wells Harbour, with a couple of Common Terns and a Little Tern flying round or perched on one of the sandbars.

At this point, the group decided it might be an idea to call it a day. Finally managing to pick up a decent 4G mobile signal in Wells, we checked the rainfall radar in the hope it might show that the rain was passing through quickly, but the opposite appeared to be the case, so we made our way back to where we started. It was a disappointing way to end, but at least we had made the most of the good weather this morning. Those views of Dartford Warbler will live long in the memory!

3rd June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The thunderstorms overnight had passed through but the associated weather front was slow to clear this morning, resulting in a cloudy and cool start. However, it brightened up nicely in the afternoon and was sunny and warm by the end of the day.

Given the weather, we decided to start at Cley today. A Black-winged Stilt had been reported here first thing, so we went out to see if we could see it. We walked out to the hides and found a few people in there who pointed it straight out to us.

Black-winged StiltBlack-winged Stilt – still a rare visitor to North Norfolk

Black-winged Stilts were formerly a mainly Mediterranean species, but have spread north in recent years and are occurring more regularly in the UK. Birds have stayed to breed in the past and, after a significant influx of Black-winged Stilts into the UK earlier in the year, there are some attempting to breed this year. Over the longer term, with a warming climate, it is a species which might be expected to colonise here. As well as pairs which may breed, there are some wandering lone birds here this year and the Cley Black-winged Stilt was one of those. A very nice bird to see here and very distinctive with its long pink legs and black wings.

While we were in the hides, we had a scan of the scrapes. On Simmond’s Scrape, there were a few other waders – Avocets, Redshanks and a lone Dunlin with summer black belly patch. There were several Little Ringed Plovers out on the islands and a pair were displaying, the male flying round after the female with exaggerated wingbeats. When they landed again, the male stood in front of the female with his white chest pushed out – she didn’t seem particularly impressed and ran away!

Little Ringed PloverLittle Ringed Plover – there were several on Simmond’s Scrape today

The big creche of Shelducklings was still here, but split into two groups today. The smaller ones were huddled in the grass with the female Shelduck, whereas the eight larger ducklings were feeding feverishly, swimming round in circles in the water. There were lots of Gadwall too, all drakes and all sat around on one of the islands sleeping, presumably having largely finished their limited parenting role already.

Looking over on Pat’s Pool, there were several Avocets nesting on the islands and a couple of small chicks running around, as usual largely ignored by their parents. Is it any wonder they are so vulnerable to predation! A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds beyond.

Avocet chicksAvocet chicks – these two were running around unattended on Pat’s Pool

We made our way back to the visitor centre and then round to the East Bank next. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the thin line of reeds along the ditch on the east side of the path, giving us a great chance to get a proper look at it. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing and displaying along the East Bank this morning, which was nice to hear. The Reed Warblers in contrast have gone rather quiet though we saw odd ones flicking around on the edge of the reeds.

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – showing very well along the East Bank

As we walked out along the bank, we scanned the grazing marshes around the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were quite a few Lapwings and Redshanks out here as usual, both of which breed here. A Common Snipe along the edge of the Serpentine was more of a surprise. They used to breed here but sadly not any more and now are mostly seen in winter. This is the first we have seen here for several weeks now.

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – feeding on the edge of the Serpentine

There were the usual ducks and geese on the grazing marshes here – Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler and Greylag Goose. Most of the wintering species have long since departed, but there are still a few birds lingering here. We found two drake Wigeon here as usual this morning, but there seemed to be more Teal today, including a couple of pairs.

It was quite windy today, so not an ideal day for looking for Bearded Tits. We heard one or two calling briefly from out in the reedbed on the walk out but couldn’t see them – they were presumably keeping tucked well down in the reeds. When we heard another call, we turned to look hoping to catch a glimpse of one zooming past over the tops of the reeds and were pleasantly surprised to see a male Bearded Tit flying straight towards us which dropped down on the near edge of reeds.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – this male was collecting food along the edge of the reeds

The Bearded Tit spent several minutes feeding along the edge of the reeds in front of us, clambering around through the reed stems just above the surface of the ditch. It was collecting food, and kept stopping to look down into the water or to pick around in the reed debris on the bank beyond. We got great views of it as it did so.

When the Bearded Tit finally disappeared back into the reeds, we continued along the bank to Arnold’s Marsh. There were not as many birds on here as there have been recently, but we still managed to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit, a lone Dunlin and one Ringed Plover hiding in the saltmarsh at the back. Otherwise it was just the usual Avocets and Redshanks on here today. A Meadow Pipit was singing and song flighting, fluttering up and parachuting down, to a fencepost nearby.

We made our way out to have a look at the sea. It can be rather quiet at this time of the year, but there were a few Sandwich Terns flying past offshore, which was a new bird for the weekend’s list. A Little Tern flew east but was gone before everyone could get onto it. Thankfully, a short while later four Little Terns flew back west overhead, calling noisily. A pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over behind us, helpfully also calling which alerted us to their presence. We could see their distinctive white wing tips as they passed.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – one of a pair of adult which flew past us

Scanning out over the sea, we picked up a line of Common Scoter flying west, fourteen of them flying low over the sea, followed shortly after by another four. One of the group then spotted a distant Guillemot on the sea, which we just all managed to see before it flew off. Three Gannets flew east.

The weather forecast had been for it to brighten up this morning, but the cloud was only now starting to break up as we walked back. We decided to stop for lunch back at the visitor centre before heading up onto the Heath for the afternoon.

As soon as we got out of the car up on the Heath, we could hear Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats singing. As we walked up the path, a Yellowhammer was singing too, perched in the top of a birch tree. There were plenty of Linnets in the gorse as we walked round, in small family parties now, twittering noisily as they flew off.

LinnetLinnet – still a relatively common bird up in the Heath

There was no sign of any Dartford Warblers today at the first place we checked – they can be very elusive, keeping hidden in the heather and gorse – so we carried on round the Heath to try another spot. We stopped to look at a group of Small Eggar Moth caterpillars in their silk ‘tent’ in the bushes and while we were standing there a Garden Warbler started alarm calling nearby. It flew up into a small oak tree where we could just see it flitting around in the leaves before it flew off deeper into the trees.

Small Eggar moth caterpillarsSmall Eggar Moth caterpillars – in their ‘tent’

As we walked down along a wide path, a Woodlark flew up from across the Heath and started to sing, circling around above us. We could hear its rather mournful song, before it fluttered away from us out of earshot, still singing, and dropped back down to the ground some distance away. We saw it twice today – a little later, it flew up again and came back over us singing, before dropping back down over where it had first come up from. With the male Woodlark flying round and singing on his own again, perhaps this pair of Woodlarks are now incubating their second brood already.

While we were watching the Woodlark singing overhead, we could hear the scratchy song of a Dartford Warbler in the distance too, so made our way quickly round to where it appeared to be coming from. It was all quiet when we got there, but we stood and listened for a while. A pair of Stonechats kept us entertained, perching up on the top of the gorse calling and dropping down to the ground to look for food.

Suddenly a Dartford Warbler started singing and we turned to see the male on the top of a gorse bush just a couple of metres away from us. It had probably been feeding quietly down in the gorse all the time we had been standing there! We had a great view of him. After a couple of seconds he dropped back into the vegetation, but a minute or so later he flew up and started songflighting, hovering in the air and singing.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – the male suddenly appeared right next to us, singing

The male Dartford Warbler dropped down out of view further along the path, so we walked quietly round after him. Suddenly a bird appeared out on the edge of the path, but it was shorter tailed than an adult Dartford Warbler and rather duller coloured. It was a recently fledged juvenile, out of the nest now, but with its tail not yet fully grown. Once the young are big enough, the adults lead them from the nest and feed them in the heather and gorse, moving round their territory.

The juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up into a small birch tree by the path and we stood back to watch from a discrete distance. It was mostly hidden by the leaves, but we could see it was being fed by an adult and when that bird hopped up onto a bush nearby, it was the female Dartford Warbler, not so richly coloured below as the male.

We stood and watched the Dartford Warblers quietly for some time as the female kept returning to feed the juveniles, which were now well hidden deep in the heather. There was no sign of the male for quite a while, but then suddenly he flew in again, and started singing. We listened to him for a few minutes, but as he moved away across the Heath we decided it was then time for us to move on too.

The afternoon was already getting on, but we had a quick look round the rest of the Heath. There is a pair of Turtle Doves here, and we checked out a couple of favoured spots, but we couldn’t hear them today. Now that the sun had come out, there was a bit of raptor activity – several Buzzards circled up over the ridge and we came across a Kestrel flying round between the trees. There were butterflies too – the highlight being a Green Hairstreak fluttering around a gorse bush. Then we decided to head back back to the car – we all needed  a break and a chance to get something to eat before the evening’s activities began.

Green HairstreakGreen Hairstreak – the butterfly highlight on the Heath this afternoon

After a break, we met up again later, in the early evening. We were heading out to look for Nightjars later, but we thought we would see if we could find any owls first. We swung round via some old farm buildings, a good site for Little Owl, but there was no sign of any out in the early evening sunshine. Perhaps it was still a bit early? A couple of Brown Hares chased each other round between the buildings, but quickly lost interest. A pair of Red-legged Partridges were perched up on roof enjoying the sun.

We had other things we wanted to do tonight, so we moved quickly on. We had more luck at the second site we stopped at. We got out of the car and as we were walking down along the path, we saw our first Barn Owl out hunting in the distance. A second Barn Owl appeared too, possibly a pair, although this is a good area for them and there can be several birds here. We watched the birds hunting out over the grass. They were rather distant at first, but then one flew in towards us and landed on a post briefly – we just had time for everyone to get a good look at it in the scope before it was off hunting again.

Barn Owl 1Barn Owl – out hunting in the early evening sunshine

Walking on a bit further down the path, we could still see one of the Barn Owls out hunting along the bank some way ahead of us. It dropped down into the grass a couple of times, but came up empty taloned. Finally it caught something, probably a vole. It flew back towards us carrying it in its talons and was just about to fly past us when a Kestrel suddenly appeared from nowhere and swooped at it. The two of them tangled in a flurry of wings and the Kestrel made a grab for the vole, they looked locked together for a split second. They parted again and the Barn Owl dropped to the ground, with the Kestrel swooping at it from above.

The Kestrel backed off, and after a few seconds the Barn Owl flew up again with the vole in its bill now. But the Kestrel had not given up and set off after it again. We lost sight of the two of them behind some buildings, but a few seconds later, the Barn Owl reappeared with no sign of its prey. It sat on a post looking slightly lost – all that effort for nothing!

Barn Owl 3Barn Owl – perched on a post after apparently losing its prey to a Kestrel

It was getting time to go looking for Nightjars now, so we made our way up to the heath. It was quiet at first as we walked out. We flushed a Roe Deer from beside the path, which ran off into the trees. A squeaky call, rather like a gate which needs oiling, alerted us to the first roding Woodcock of the evening, flying over the tops of the trees. We stopped to listen for more Woodcock but we heard a Nightjar instead, just a quick burst of churring, before it went quiet. It was a bit earlier than normal so we moved on and got ourselves into position.

While we were standing there, another two Woodcock flew out of the trees calling and away overhead. It was a lovely evening now, with a bright half moon in the sky and Jupiter visible close by. After that early churr, the Nightjars were then slow to get started properly this evening. Eventually we heard one call, and then some more quiet churring.

Then finally the Nightjars got going properly. We stood and listened to them churring for a while, at least three males, possibly four in earshot from where we were standing. We were waiting for one male in particular, but it sounded like he had gone off in the wrong direction across the heath and it began to seem like wouldn’t be coming in to his favourite churring post, which we could see in front of us.

Eventually, we decided to walk down the path to see if we could find where it had gone. Suddenly we heard a burst of wing clapping out over the gorse and the Nightjar flew in low right towards us. It swooped up onto its favourite branch but unfortunately this was just at the moment when we were walking past the tree. We were too close – it saw us and flew again, across and up into the next tree over. This one has more leaves so the Nightjar is harder to see, but we eventually found him perched. We got it in the scope, and could see it silhouetted against the fading light behind, churring.

NightjarNightjar – silhouetted against the fading light in a leafy tree

We stood and listened to the Nightjar for a while. Then it was off again – it swooped down across path the path and away low over the heath. It was starting to get too dark to see them clearly now, so we we started to make our way back. Two more Nightjars were churring from the trees as we walked back, slipping away into the night as we approached. There is no better way to spend an early summer’s evening than up on the heath listening to the amazing churring of Nightjars.

27th May 2017 – A Spring Scorcher

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was hot and sunny, with the mercury topping out at an unseasonably warm 26.5C on the coast (and so probably hotter still inland!). A band of thundery rain passed through quickly around the middle of the day which meant it was a bit fresher in the afternoon, with a strengthening southerly wind.

At our first stop of the day, we went looking for Nightingales. We parked the car at the top of a lane by a copse of willows and listened. A Blackcap was singing in the trees but there was no sound from the Nightingale here this morning. Perhaps not a surprise, as the day was already heating up!

We walked further up the lane, listening to all the warblers singing. There were several Chiffchaffs, chiffing and chaffing, and we heard the sweet descending song of a Willow Warbler which was perched high in the top of a dead tree – two rather similar looking birds but with very different songs. From the other side of the hedge, a Sedge Warbler was buzzing and scratching away frenetically. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us unseen, from deep in the bushes, as we passed. A Common Whitethroat appeared in the top of the hedge next to us.

ChiffchaffChiffchaff – there were several singing in the hedges along the lane

Even as we approached the next block of trees, we could a couple of melodic phrases of a Nightingale singing, carried to us above the rustling of the leaves in the breeze. When we got there, we stopped to listen. There were several Blackcaps singing, a beautiful melodic song in its own right. Then the Nightingale started up again, rich and flutey, very varied little bursts interspersed with pauses.

The Nightingale was deep in the wood at first but after a minute or two it went quiet. When it started singing again, it was much closer to us and we knew the song was coming from its favourite tangle of brambles and dead branches. We walked across to where we could view the bushes, but it was not perched out in the sun today and still seemed to prefer to keep in cover. We got a quick glimpse as it flicked up into the brambles from close to the ground at one point, a flash of rusty orange tail as it disappeared into the green leaves. Then it went quiet again.

From where we were standing, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. We walked a little further up the lane and looked out across the wet meadow towards the willows. There was no sign of it at first, but looking across every time it sang, the Cuckoo suddenly appeared in the trees. We managed to get it in the scope, and everyone got a quick look at it, before it flew back into the willows out of view. We could still hear it but couldn’t see it any more.

Walking back up the lane, we stopped to listen to the Nightingale again. It was singing once more, but it was still keeping deep in the thicket. Nightingales are not the most colourful of birds – it is more about the song, so it was great just to stand and listen to it singing. When it went quiet again, we decided to move on.

We headed up to one of the heaths next. It was getting hot now, but there was a bit of a breeze up on the ridge which helped to keep the humidity down up here. The warblers were singing up here too, mainly Blackcaps and Willow Warblers in the trees and Common Whitethroats out on the heath. We came across several little family parties of Linnets in the gorse, which flew off calling as we passed.

At the first spot where we hoped we might find a Dartford Warbler, it seemed rather quiet at first. However, as we started to walk slowly round the area, we suddenly heard a male Dartford Warbler singing further along. We headed over there but as we came round a corner and out into the open we surprised it on the top of a gorse bush right by the path. We got a quick flight view as it zipped across in front of us, but it flew into a large area of deeper bushes.

We stood for a few seconds and listened, and it wasn’t long before the Dartford Warbler started singing again, this time launching itself into the air in a brief song flight. We could see it had gone much further back across the gorse. As we walked round to the other side, the Dartford Warbler flew up into the top of another large gorse bush and perched there in full view singing for a few seconds, giving us a much better if brief look at it. Unfortunately not everyone could get onto it in time and then it dropped back into the gorse again.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – this one taken recently on the Heath

It was rather frustrating over the next few minutes. The Dartford Warbler kept calling and singing on and off, but it kept tucked down in a large clump of gorse where we couldn’t see it. The forecast had suggested there was a risk of some thundery showers around the middle of the day and at this point we looked over towards the SW and could see a bank of cloud starting to build. We wanted to have a look round the Heath, so we moved quickly on, just in case.

A Yellowhammer was singing from somewhere in the trees as we passed, and another perched up nicely on the top of a post briefly, a smart yellow-headed male. When we got down to the old railway cutting, we could hear another Dartford Warbler singing. We looked across to see a male on the top of the heather on the other side. It spend a couple of minutes hopping around, disappearing at times, but then coming back up. When it flew up and landed on the wire fence beyond, it was followed by a second Dartford Warbler, male & female. The female was carrying food in her bill. Then they zipped off back further and disappeared into the gorse beyond, presumably off to feed a hungry brood somewhere.

The approaching cloud was getting steadily darker now, and we could hear the first rumbles of thunder. We knew we only had a very limited time before it was likely to rain. We walked quickly round to see if we could get a better look at the Dartford Warblers, but it was increasingly clear that rain was imminently coming our way, so we had to give up and head straight back to car. It was already spitting but we arrived just in the nick of time, as it started to rain properly.

It was a shame we did not have more time to explore the Heath properly today, but at least we had seen the Dartford Warblers. We drove down to the coast in the rain, but it was already starting to ease when we got down to the car park at Cley Marshes. We headed into the visitor centre to use the facilities and when we came out again the rain had already stopped. Even better, the sky seemed to be starting to brighten again beyond. We decided to have an early lunch outside on the picnic benches and it was sunny again by the time we finished.

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve and walked along the boardwalk to the main hides. There were lots of House Sparrows chirping away in the bushes by the drainage channel and several House Martins hawking for insects low over the grazing marshes. A Little Egret flew overhead, heading west presumably to feed and was passed by another heading back in towards the nesting colony.

At Dauke’s Hide, there were lots of Shelduck, both adults and a large gathering of small juveniles. At first, they were swimming and feeding feverishly, heads under the water, while a pair of adults stood preening on an island a short distance away. When the juveniles went over to join the adults on the island, we could count there were a whopping 18 of them in total.

ShelduckShelduck – this pair were looking after 18 small shelducklings

However, on closer inspection it was clear the juvenile Shelducks were of two different ages, some slightly smaller and darker and others a little bigger and more faded. They were presumably two different broods which had been creched together, with one unfortunate set of parents inheriting childcare duties for the whole lot!

There are always lots of Avocets on the scrapes at this time of the year. There were several still on nests, but there was one juvenile out on Simmond’s Scrape, a little bundle of fluff with long legs and uptilted bill.

The young Avocets are very vulnerable to predation and invariably suffer high losses – this one was allowed to wander off on its own with what was presumably one of its parents standing and preening on one of the islands some distance away. All the adults would periodically take off calling noisily and attempt to chase off whichever potential predator was approaching, a crow, a large gull or a raptor passing overhead. Meanwhile, the youngsters are left behind, even more vulnerable – the Avocet approach to childcare!

AvocetAvocets – dropping back down after attempting to chase off a Marsh Harrier

There was a nice selection of other waders on Simmond’s Scrape today. A Little Ringed Plover was creeping around on the edge of one of the nearer islands, and through the scope we could see its bright golden yellow eyering. Two Common Ringed Plovers were out on the mud further back, their slightly small size and dark appearance suggesting they were most likely of the tundrae race, far northerly breeders passing through.

There were several Redshank out on the mud too but one bird near them was similar but subtly different. Slightly smaller, shorter billed, with less bright legs, it was a female Ruff, in summer plumage, marked with black on its upperparts. A smart Lapwing on the bank in front of the hide looked especially striking, its glossy iridescent green upperparts shining bronze and purple in the sunshine.

LapwingLapwing – irridescent in the sunshine in front of Dauke’s Hide

There were several Marsh Harriers passing back and forth over the reeds at the back, or flying high over the scrapes, much to the annoyance of the Avocets. We watched a male Marsh Harrier dropping in towards the reedbed carrying some food in its talons, but it dropped straight in out of view and didn’t call the female up for a food pass this time.

A Skylark gave us some nice views as it fed on the bank in front of the hide and a Starling, also looking glossy in the sunshine, was picking around in and out of the mud on the edge of the ditch. We could head a Pied Wagtail calling on the roof of the hide, somewhere above our heads, before it flew off across the scrape.

StarlingStarling – also looking very glossy in the sunshine

As we came out of the hide, a Kestrel was hovering over the marshes just beyond the reeds. We headed back to the car and round to the East Bank next. It was beautifully sunny again, but with the wind having picked up quite a bit after the rain, it at least meant it was a bit fresher than this morning.

KestrelKestrel – hovering over the grazing marshes by the hides

There was a nice selection of ducks on the grazing marshes from the East Bank. Three Common Pochard were diving on the pool on the edge of the reeds as we passed, including two rusty headed drakes.

Common PochardCommon Pochard – three were on the pool by the East Bank

There were several Gadwall and Shoveler down in the grass and around the small muddy pools. When we got to the Serpentine, we stopped to look at a couple of drake Teal feeding on the water. Presumably these are late birds or ones which have decided not to head north for the breeding season this year. Similarly, three Wigeon were asleep on the muddy bank at the northern end of the Serpentine, whereas most of their brethren which were here through the winter have long since departed for Russia. A pair of Tufted Duck were diving nearby and there were plenty of Greylag Geese together with well grown juveniles on the grass.

GadwallGadwall – one of several drakes out on the grazing marsh

The grazing marshes are still looking nice and wet, which should be encouraging for the breeding Lapwings and Redshanks. From time to time a male Lapwing would fly up and start to display, singing and tumbling in the air. A careful scan round the edges of Pope’s Pool produced a rather distant Greenshank asleep. Three Ringed Plovers on the mud on the edge of the Serpentine also looked to be dark northern breeding Tundra birds.

Lapwing displayingLapwing – displaying over the grazing marshes

A Grey Heron was lurking motionless on the edge of the reeds at the back of Pope’s Pool, presumably waiting for an unsuspecting fish in the ditch below. A few Little Egrets were flying back and forth over the marshes, coming to and from North Foreland Wood. A couple of Cormorant were asleep on one of the islands in Pope’s Pool along with a selection of big gulls – Herring, Great Black-backed and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.

We got out of the sun and wind and had a nice sit down in the new shelter opposite Arnold’s Marsh. Two Little Terns were standing on the small shingle island towards the back. There were a few more waders on here today. A Grey Plover on the edge of the saltmarsh was still mostly in grey winter plumage. A Knot was starting to look rather orange underneath as it moults into breeding plumage and was accompanied by six summer Dunlin sporting black-bellies. There was no sign of the Little Stint reported here earlier, but there were clearly more small waders in the saltmarsh vegetation right at the back which were proving hard to see – from time to time we got a glimpse of 3-4 Turnstone and 4 more Ringed Plovers.

Continuing on to the beach, we had a quick look out to sea but there was not much happening today – it was rather windy here now. We turned to walk quickly back, heads down into the wind . When we got back to the car the afternoon was already well advanced, and with the group tired after all the walking in the sun, we decided to call it a day and head for home.