Tag Archives: Dartford Warbler

27th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was a cloudy start to the day, but the cloud gradually burnt back to the coast and then it was mostly bright and sunny. It was warm, but a moderate NE wind on the coast kept the temperatures down a bit.

Given the weather, we headed straight up to the Heath first thing this morning. As we got out of the car, a Willow Warbler was singing in the car park and we could hear two Yellowhammers singing too up along the path. As we walked over that way, we had a good look at one of the Yellowhammers in the scope, perched in the top of a birch tree. A little further on, and a Chiffchaff was singing too.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – one of several, singing in a birch tree

As we walked up along a big sandy track, two Woodlarks flew up from the vegetation beside the path. Unfortunately they flew round past us and disappeared off over the trees, dropping down again over the other side. Still, it was a nice flight view and we could see their short tails as the passed.

There were several Linnets perched up on the fence here and we got a smart red-breasted male in the scope. While we were looking at them, we noticed a female Stonechat perched on a bush behind. We got the scope on it, but it dropped back into the vegetation before everyone could get a look at it.

Turning the corner on the path, another Woodlark flew up calling from the heather nearby. This one circled round and landed in the top of a pine tree a little further back. It was nice to see this one perched, but again it wouldn’t stop for photos though and dropped down after we had managed a quick look at it through the scope.

Our main target here was Dartford Warbler and a little further along the path we stopped by some gorse and were quickly rewarded. We heard one calling and looked across to see a male Dartford Warbler hop up into the top of a bush. It was busy looking for food, climbing round in and out of the vegetation. Then a second Dartford Warbler appeared next to it, the female.

Dartford Warblers

Dartford Warblers – we had nice views of a pair collecting food

We stood here and watched the Dartford Warblers for a while, from a discrete distance away. They were both busy collecting food, hopefully with some hungry youngsters to feed nearby. They were remarkably obliging today, perching up in the top of the gorse, often close to each other. After a few minutes they flew across to a more dense patch of gorse and disappeared from view. We decided to leave them in peace.

There were lots of butterflies out today on the heath, particularly as the clouds started to burn off. A small skipper which flew around in the vegetation by the path turned out to indeed be a Small Skipper once we got a good look at it (sufficient to distinguish it from the very similar Essex Skipper).

Most of the butterflies were blues, in particular Silver-studded Blues which are one the specialities of the heath here. On the way back to the car, we stopped by an area which is particularly good for them at the moment, and saw lots of males flying and several mating pairs too. As we got back to the car park, a Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the blackthorn bushes.

Silver-studded Blues

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

Sometimes it is possible to find Nightjars roosting during the day, so next we headed over to another location where we have seen them recently, to try our luck. The vegetation is getting very high now, which makes them harder to see, but the first place we looked we could just make out a shape down on the ground in amongst the bracken.

It was a male Nightjar. We got the scope on it and everyone took a look, being very careful not to disturb it. They are incredibly well camouflaged and it was relying on its cryptic plumage to think that we couldn’t see it. After we had all had a good look at it, we backed off very quietly and left it where it was.

Nightjar

Nightjar – roosting down amongst the bracken

It had been a very successful morning, exploring the heaths of North Norfolk, so we decided to head down to the coast for a change of scenery. We still had enough time for another quick walk before lunch, so we made our way down to the East Bank at Cley.

It was a bit breezy up on the bank. We heard a couple of Reed Warblers singing, but they were keeping well tucked down in the reeds here. A Sedge Warbler was more obliging, climbing up into the dead branches of a small bush out in the reedbed, where we could get it in the scope.

Bearded Tits don’t like the wind, so it was perhaps not a surprise that they were rather elusive today. We heard a couple pinging and managed to see one juvenile come up to the top of the reeds briefly, but it flew before everyone could get onto it.

There were not so many dragonflies and butterflies out here today, in the cool breeze. We did see a Common Darter though, the first we have seen this year. The Common Swifts were enjoying the wind, zipping back and forth low over the reeds.

Common Darter

Common Darter – our first of the year

With the breeding season well advanced now, there are not so many birds out on the grazing marshes now. We did find a couple of Lapwing and an Avocet. A single Ruff on the Serpentine was tucked down asleep, but did wake long enough to raise its rusty head. This is most likely a returning migrant, having already been north for the breeding season, and it was already well advanced in its moult, with a very scrawny neck where its ornate ruff would have been just a few weeks ago.

The ducks are starting to moult into their duller eclipse plumage too now – we got a moulting drake Gadwall in the scope, starting to look a bit tatty. There were still plenty of Greylags and a few Canada Geese though. A couple of Grey Herons were busy preening over by the reeds at the back.

We carried on up to Arnold’s Marsh, past a Skylark and a Meadow Pipit both still singing and songflighting, and took advantage of the shelter to rest our legs. The first bird which immediately stood out was a Spoonbill, standing in the middle of the water at the back. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! It did wake up a couple of times, just long enough to flash its distinctive bill, before tucking it back in again.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – asleep at the back of Arnold’s Marsh

There were a few terns on here too, though not as many as usual. We could see five Sandwich Terns preening on one of the islands and a single Little Tern resting on a patch of shingle. There were not too many waders either today, a few Redshank and Lapwing and a single Turnstone and one Oystercatcher right out at the back.

We couldn’t come all this way and not at least look at the sea, but there was not much to see offshore today. A few Little Terns were diving into the water, some way out today. We decided to head back.

On the walk back, we heard the Avocets alarm calling out on Pope’s Marsh and turned to see a male Marsh Harrier heading our way, with an Avocet or two in pursuit! The Marsh Harrier crossed the path and headed out across the reedbed, before circling and starting to lose height. It seemed to circle for a while, but there was no sign of the female coming up to accept a food pass, so eventually the male dropped down into the reeds himself. A Sparrowhawk flew past over the reedbed at the same time.

We wanted to make use of the picnic tables at the visitor centre for our lunch, but when we got round there a school party had taken over every table, with only 2-3 people at each one. Plan B was to head round to the shelter in the beach car park instead, which had the added bonus of being out of the wind. After lunch, we drove back to the visitor centre and made our way out onto the reserve, stopping briefly to admire the single Broomrape spike by the path.

There were one or two Reed Warblers singing in the reeds by the path, but they were impossible to see through the vegetation. When we got to the bridge over the ditch, we stopped to look back along the water. We could see one or two Reed Warblers zipping back and forth between the reeds either side.

Eventually a couple of the Reed Warblers came much closer to us and we could see that it was an adult with a recently fledged juvenile begging for food. We watched as the adult caught a damselfly and fed it to the youngster, before the two of them disappeared back into the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – we stopped to watch them from the bridge

We made our way straight out to Dauke’s Hide and had a look on the scrapes. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers running around on the front edge of the first island on Simmond’s Scrape, chasing after the juvenile Pied Wagtails.

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the scrape too, one of which was wearing a large quantity of coloured plastic rings. A closer look confirmed that it was the same bird that we had seen a few days ago, a Continental Black-tailed Godwit of the nominate race, limosa, much scarcer than the more regular Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits it was with.

We have had the data back already for this particular Continental Black-tailed Godwit already. It was ringed in May last year, on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, where it bred. It was also seen last year along the North Norfolk coast, at Titchwell and then Cley, from mid June to early August. It is also bearing a geolocator which monitors its location and allows the researchers to track its movements and this had shown that it spent the winter down in West Africa. Apparently it bred again at the Nene Washes this year.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – one of the small number of UK breeding birds

There are lots of Avocets on the scrapes here at the moment – it looks like it has been a good breeding season for them here. There were a couple of large gatherings of loafing birds out on Pat’s Pool. One of the adults on Simmond’s Scrape was still busy chasing away any birds which came close, mostly ducks, despite it not having any youngsters to protect.

Avocets

Avocets – loafing on the islands on Pat’s Pool

Behind the Avocets, we could see several more Ruff. Again, they were busy moulting, with tatty looking necks where they have already started to lose their ornate ruff feathers. There are quite a few Teal on here already too, returning birds from further north, where they breed, and they are also quickly starting to moult into eclipse plumage. It really is the end of summer for many of the birds already!

There were a few gulls around the scrapes too, mostly Black-headed Gulls but also a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single Common Gull. There were no Spoonbills on the scrapes from the hides today though, but we did see one fly over and land out on Billy’s Wash, out towards the beach.

A quick look in on Avocet Hide revealed a Green Sandpiper sleeping on the edge of the closest island. It woke up as we opened the flaps of the hide and stood looking at us for a while, before flying back to the next island over and starting to feed along the muddy margin. Another autumn migrant stopping off on its way back south after the breeding season.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – on the island in front of Avocet Hide

It had been a very productive day, but we decided it was time to call it a day and head back now. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

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23rd June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 2 & Nightjars

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was another mostly bright and sunny day, with the winds dropping but still with a freshness to the light northerly on the coast.

With the lighter winds, we decided to head up to the Heath this morning. As we got out of the car, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes in the car park. As we set off along the path, we could hear a couple of Common Whitethroats alarm calling in the bushes and one appeared on the outside of a large hawthorn.

As we walked round a small copse of trees, we could hear a Garden Warbler half singing. As we came around the other side, we could see movement in the dense blackthorn beyond and eventually a Garden Warbler stuck its head out. Another was still calling deeper in the vegetation, and it appeared there was a family group in there. We stood and watched for a while and saw three or four Garden Warblers, as well as a Blackcap.

It was a lovely sunny morning, and the Silver-studded Blue butterflies were out in force. This heathland specialist is sparsely distributed so it is always nice to see them when they are on the wing. We also flushed several July Belle moths from the grass, another very localised species.

SIlver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

As we walked round the Heath, we heard several Yellowhammers singing. We eventually found a smart yellow-headed male perched up nicely in the top of a small oak tree. There were lots of Linnets too, which flew up from the heather in ones and twos as we passed.

Dartford Warbler was one of our main targets for this morning, but there was no sign of any at the first site we tried. This pair have already fledged their first brood, so the female is possibly on eggs again which is why they have gone quiet. We tried a second territory, also with no joy, and it was starting to look like we might be out of luck.

Third time lucky. As we walked into the middle of another territory, we heard a Dartford Warbler call and turned to see it fly across across between two large clumps of tall gorse with food in its bill. It flew again and disappeared down into some lower gorse. We repositioned ourselves so we could see where it had gone in from a discrete distance and over the next ten minutes or so we had some lovely views of a pair of Dartford Warblers coming in and out several times. At one point, we had both adults perched up nicely just a few feet apart in the top of the gorse for a few seconds.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – we watched a pair coming in and out of the gorse

We decided to leave the Dartford Warblers in peace and carried on round the Heath. We walked over to a place where several Woodlarks have been feeding recently, but it was very disturbed here today with walkers and cyclists. But as we walked on across the Heath, we looked up to see a Woodlark flying over. It came over our heads, but showed no signs of landing and disappeared away off the edge of the Heath.

A little further on, we stopped to watch a pair of Stonechats. The male kept returning to the top of a small birch tree, while the female was feeding from a perch on the heather below. While we were watching the Stonechats, another bird flew up from the ground and landed on a dead branch close to them. It was another Woodlark. We got it in the scope and could see it was a juvenile, presumably from an earlier brood and now independent.

The Woodlark dropped down to the ground and we carried on along the path, which took us eventually round the other side of the bushes. As we walked past, what was presumably the same Woodlark flew up from beside the path. It was time to make our way back to the car now, but as we walked back we could hear Bullfinches calling. We found them in a birch tree, there were three or four of them, presumably a family group.

There had been a Pied Crow along the coast at Cromer for a few days. This is a species from sub-Saharan Africa, not really a candidate for vagrancy under its own steam. It had most likely travelled here by boat from somewhere, or it might have escaped from a collection. They are smart birds, so we decided to have a very quick look to see if we could see it.

We couldn’t park in Cromer anywhere near the fish & chip shop it had been frequenting, so we stopped in the Runton Road car park further along, where it had also been seen from time to time. We walked a short distance down towards the pier, but we could see several people with binoculars just standing around, not looking at anything. It had been seen first thing this morning, but had flown off and not yet reappeared.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we decided to have a bite to eat back at the car and scan the cliffs to the west at the same time. There were several Fulmars landing on the cliffs and we had great views of them as they flew up and down along the clifftop right in front of us. A single Mediterranean Gull flew past offshore and we could see a few Sandwich Terns out over the sea too. But the only corvids we could see were Rooks and Jackdaws.

Fulmar

Fulmar – flying up and down the clifftop at Cromer

After lunch, we had a quick walk back towards the pier but it was immediately clear the Pied Crow had still not been seen, so we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. It was the right call, as the Pied Crow was not seen again! We made our way back along the coast to Cley.

We parked at Walsey Hills. A pair of Kestrels was alarm calling over North Foreland Wood as we got out of the car. Something had got them really agitated, because they hovered over the tops of the trees and kept swooping down into the canopy. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see what they were mobbing and nothing moved, despite all their attentions. Eventually they landed in the treetops, still calling agitatedly.

As we made our way up along the East Bank, a female Common Pochard with a couple of juveniles was on Don’s Pool. They are a scarce breeder here, so it is always good to see young. We heard a couple of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds below the bank, but they were very hard to see. A male Reed Bunting was much more obliging, as was a Marsh Harrier which perched up in the top of a bush out in the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – perched in a bush out in the reedbed

We heard a Bearded Tit pinging and looked across to see one perched up in the top of the reeds. It didn’t stay long though, and flew off away from us before dropping in out of view. There were a few more Bearded Tits in the reeds further up along the Bank though, so everyone got to see at least one.

A scan of Pope’s Marsh and the Serpentine did not produce anything out of the ordinary – Lapwing, Redshank and some of the commoner ducks. We did spot a Mediterranean Gull flying in from the east, which turned and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh when we got there, and two Common Terns dropped in to join them briefly. A careful scan through the Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls produced four Mediterranean Gulls on here this afternoon, which was a bit of a surprise. There were three very different 1st summers and a 2nd summer too, the latter with a rather adult-like head but still with black in the wingtips.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – gathered on Arnold’s Marsh

The waders on Arnold’s Marsh were mostly Common Redshanks, but a careful scan did produce two Ringed Plovers and a single Dunlin as well. The sea looked fairly quiet, as we got out to the beach, apart from a couple of Little Terns fishing just offshore, patrolling back and forth. A distant Fulmar flew east.

As we walked back along the bank, three Curlews flew in from the east and continued on over the reedbed, possibly birds freshly returned from their breeding grounds further north. Someone walking the other way stopped us to ask if we had seen any Bearded Tits. We were just explaining where we had seen them, when we looked over and saw a pair perched up in the tops of the reeds just ahead of us!

Back at the car, the Kestrels were still alarm calling and we still could not see why. We happened to glance back out across the grazing marshes and saw a large white shape in the distance, at the far end of the Serpentine. A Spoonbill had just flown in, having waited until we had left. Thankfully we had seen plenty yesterday.

Popping into the Cley Visitor Centre briefly, it sounded like there were a few waders out on the reserve, so we decided to head out to the hides for the last hour or so. As we walked out along the boardwalk, four more Spoonbills flew up from out on Billy’s Wash and circled round over the north end of the reserve. Three headed off west, but one circled back onto the reserve.

We went into Dauke’s Hide and a quick scan of the scrapes revealed a small wader on Pat’s – Pool with rusty underparts and a long, downcurved bill. It was a Curlew Sandpiper, a smart adult just starting to moult out of breeding plumage. We had a great look at it through the scope. Presumably it had just dropped in on its way south from its central Siberian breeding grounds.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a smart adult still in breeding plumage

There were a couple of Spotted Redshanks too, one each on Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape. We had much better views of these than the ones we had seen at Titchwell yesterday, looking resplendent in their silver-spotted black breeding plumage. There was a single Ruff here too, another tatty looking individual, rapidly moulting out first its ornate ruff.

Numbers of Black-tailed Godwits here have been building nicely and as we looked through the flock, we spotted one which was decorated with a load of coloured plastic lings on each leg. It was a bit distant at first, but then something flushed all the waders and it eventually landed back down near the front. Now we could confirm one of the rings was lime green with a black ‘E’, which meant it was a nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit from the Nene Washes. We could also see it was carrying a geolocator on one of its rings.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a nominate limosa from the Nene Washes

There are two races of Black-tailed Godwit which turn up here regularly. Most of the birds we normally see are birds from Iceland, islandica. There are only about 40 pairs of Continental Black-tailed Godwit which breed in this country, on the Ouse and Nene Washes, so it is always an interesting bird to see.

A Spoonbill appeared from the reeds in the back corner of Simmond’s Scrape – presumably the one we had seen earlier, doubling back in this direction. There were lots of Teal out on the scrapes too. When we heard Bearded Tit calling close by, we looked out of the flaps on one side of the hide, to see one of this year’s juveniles in the reeds nearby.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile, perched up in the reeds

It was time to head back now. We still had a busy evening ahead and needed to get something to eat beforehand.

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours rest, we met up again early in the evening. Our first target was Little Owl, so we headed up to a regular site for them.

As we got out of the car and started scanning the roofs of the farm buildings, one of the group noticed a bird perched on a wooden crate just across from where we had parked. A Little Owl! We had a good look at it through binoculars, as it stood there looking at us, before it eventually flew back over the field behind and we lost site of it.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a wooden crate near where we parked

We couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the evening. We carried on our scan of the farm buildings, and promptly found another Little Owl sunning itself on one of the roofs. This one we got in the scope. There was also a Red-legged Partridge on the roof of one of the sheds and a smart male Yellowhammer in perched in the top of the oilseed rape in the field next door.

Having scored so quickly with the Little Owls, we moved on to look for Barn Owls next. We had just started to drive round a site where we see them regularly, when we noticed what looked like a piece of white plastic tucked in among the branches of a tree. We reversed back for a closer look and our suspicions were confirmed – it was the almost pure white Barn Owl again.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – the almost pure white bird was out again this evening

We were busy watching the white Barn Owl when one of the group noticed a second, normal coloured Barn Owl flying across the meadows further back. While we were looking at that one, disappearing off over the road on the far side, the white bird took off and flew past us. It quartered the meadow, then flew round and disappeared back behind a line of trees.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – this normal one flew right past us, hunting

We walked back up the road for another look, but there was no further sign of the white Barn Owl. We did find a normal one out hunting. We had great views of it flying round over the meadows, then it came in and flew right past in front of us. It landed on an old pump on the edge of a drainage ditch and stood there for a few minutes looking round.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – landed on an old pump out on the marshes

After a while, the Barn Owl flew back over the marshes and landed in the dead branches right in the top of a line of bushes over the far side. We drove on and when we stopped again, we could see the white Barn Owl again, hunting round a different field this time. We had a quick walk out along the bank which runs round the edge of the marshes here, but there were no more Barn Owls. We did find a nice pair of Grey Partridge in the grass beside the track.

The owls had done us proud tonight, and it was now time to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. We were still walking out to the middle of the heath and not even in position when the first Nightjar called, a touch early tonight. We turned to see it flying across to the edge of the trees.

We walked a short distance further up to where we could see across, and found the Nightjar perched on one of its favourite branches, churring. We got it in the scope and everyone managed to have a quick look at it before it took off again, unfortunately not stopping to pose for photos tonight. We watched as it disappeared off over the heath.

After an early start from the first Nightjar, the others were very slow to get going tonight. It was a clear night, with a very bright half moon and the temperature was dropping too. We walked on to another territory and stood listening. Eventually a Nightjar started churring in the distance, quickly followed by another further over.

The Woodcock were very slow to get going tonight too. Finally we heard a squeaky call and looked across to see two roding, flying in close formation high across the heath with slow flappy wingbeats. They disappeared behind some trees.

Finally, the Nightjar whose territory we had come over to started churring, in a large oak tree out in the middle. We stood and listened and after a while it flew in straight towards us. It flew right round us, flashing the white patches in its wings and the corners of its tail which was held spread out. Great close flight views! It didn’t go over to its favourite churring perch though, but landed down in the gorse just behind us, out of view. A few seconds later it flew out again, right past us, and back out to the oak tree in the middle.

It felt like the Nightjar had come in to check us out. We stood and listened to it churring out in the middle, but it never did come in to favourite its churring perch tonight – perhaps it was put off by us standing there? We could hear two other Nightjars churring either side.

The light was finally starting to fade so it was time to head back. On our way to the car, another different male Nightjar started churring in a tree just above us as we walked past. Unfortunately it didn’t stay for us to find it, but took off, wing clapping, as we walked round to try to look for it. It did serenade us as we walked off the heath though, a good way to end the day.

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.

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!