Tag Archives: Dartford Warbler

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.

24th May 2017 – Two Nightingales Sang…

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day. We had a list of potential target species to look for, an interesting mix of lingering winter visitors and scarce breeding birds.

Our first stop saw us looking for Nightingales. As soon as we got out of the car, we heard one singing. We walked round to the other side of the trees, but it had chosen a really dense clump of bushes to sing from today, so it quickly became clear we wouldn’t be able to see it unless it moved. We stood and listened to it for a few minutes, such a beautiful song, then decided to try looking for another one instead.

As we walked up the lane, there were lots of warblers singing in the hedgerows. A Willow Warbler perched high in the bare branches of a tree. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from a hawthorn and we had a typical glimpse of it as it shot out and disappeared down into the ditch beyond. Several Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a Reed Warbler were all singing too.

When we got to the trees, we could just hear the other Nightingale singing. It has a spot which it favours where it is possible to see it, but it was much deeper into the wood today. It quickly went quiet so we stood and scanned the trees while we waited for it to start up again. A large Cockchafer flew around the bushes in front of us. When the Nightingale did start singing again, we could hear that it had moved and it seemed to be back in its favourite spot. Sure enough, there it was, perched in a tangle of dead branches and brambles, in the sunshine.

6O0A1906Nightingale – great views of this one singing today

We watched the Nightingale for a while, as it perched singing or hopped between the branches. When it finally dropped down into the thicket out of view, we decided to move on. It had been a great way to start the morning.

One of the requests for the day was to try to find a Firecrest. They are patchily distributed in North Norfolk, and it is not the easiest time of year to look for one, but we thought we would give it a go anyway. We parked up on the Holt-Cromer ridge and set off to walk to an area where we know they are present.

As we made our way towards the trees, we passed through an area of fields. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a hedge and we could hear a Yellowhammer calling quietly. A quick scan and we caught sight of its bright yellow head, a smart male perched in the bushes. A couple of partridges flushed from the edge of a field and landed in the open briefly, before scurrying into cover, just long enough for us to see they were Grey Partridges.

When we got to the edge of the trees, a Garden Warbler was singing but well hidden from view, as was a Goldcrest too in the tops of some pines. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us and we could hear a pair of Bullfinches calling plaintively, but the trees were too thick here to see anything.

We continued into the wood, to an area which we know the Firecrests favour. It was already getting quite warm now and it was fairly quiet deep in the trees. We walked up a ride flanked by firs and, when we got to the far end, we heard it – a brief snatch of song, a Firecrest. It sang twice more, just enough for us to get a rough fix on its location, and then went quiet. It seemed to be singing in a tall fir tree a short way into the wood, surrounded by deciduous trees. We scanned the bits we could see, but the Firecrest was probably in the top, which protruded above the canopy and into the sunshine.

As we stood and waited to see if it would sing again, we noticed a falcon circling behind the trees. It was a Hobby and as it drifted out into view we noticed that there was a second Hobby with it. We watched as they circled high overhead, before disappearing behind the trees again. A Common Buzzard drifted over too, and a little later, on our way back, we would see a Red Kite over the trees as well, all enjoying the rising thermals.

6O0A1915Hobby – a pair circled high over the trees

The Firecrest sang another couple of times, and it was clear that it was moving about in the canopy, but it was still impossible to see it, looking up from below the trees. When it sounded like it had moved towards the firs bordering the ride, we went back out and scanned the trees from there, but there was still no sign of it. Then it went quiet and we decided to give up. It was good to hear it singing, but it would have been nice to see it.

As we walked back out of the wood, we came across a family of Treecreepers. A Goldcrest was collecting food and taking it back into a fir, where we presume it had a nest. A Jay flew across the path ahead of us. As we walked back to the car, we could see the two Hobbys still hawking for insects over the ridge.

Stock Dove was another target and as we got back to the car, we could hear one calling from the trees nearby. We were not going to be able to see it in there, but thankfully a second Stock Dove appeared on the wires next to the road, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. The two Stock Doves whooped to each other, before the one on the wires flew off towards the trees.

6O0A1926Stock Dove – perched on the wires next to the car

We made our way round and up onto the Heath next. It was really starting to warm up now, but there were still a few Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing in the trees. We flushed lots of Linnets from the gorse as we walked round, thankfully still a fairly common bird on the heaths although now much more scarce in its traditional farmland habitat. A Kestrel was hovering over an open clearing and as we looked over towards it, we could see a pair of Hobbys circling high beyond, perhaps the pair we had seen earlier working their way along the ridge.

6O0A1929Linnet – still a common bird up on the heaths

Dartford Warbler was one of our targets here, but all was quiet at the first spot we tried. We carried on round to another location where we know they are feeding young at the moment, which should give us a better chance to see them. On the way, we passed through an area where the Woodlarks like to feed, but there was no sign of them either. Someone else looking for them told us that a large group of people had been through here just a little earlier, so the birds had probably been disturbed.

At the next location for Dartford Warblers, it all seemed quiet too, at first. We stood and listened for a minute where they had been a couple of days ago, then decided to have a quiet walk round their territory. As we were walking along a narrow path, the male Dartford Warbler suddenly flew up in front of us singing, hovering in mid air for a second or two, before dropping back behind some tall gorse. We crept round the corner, and there it was, in the gorse just a couple of metres away from us. Stunning!

6O0A1942Dartford Warbler – the male, collecting food

We followed the Dartford Warbler for a few minutes at a discrete distance, as it crept through the gorse, collecting caterpillars. We had some fantastic views of it. Occasionally, it would stop just long enough to deliver a short burst of song, before carrying on the hunt. Finally, when it had collected a bill full of food, it went zooming off over the heather, to deliver it to its hungry brood.

There is another area where the Woodlarks have been collecting food recently, but they weren’t there either. We thought they might be back at the first place we had looked, after a while left in peace, but we still couldn’t find them. We were just about to give up when we heard a Woodlark calling quietly. A careful scan, and we found it perched on a fence post a short distance away. We had a good look at it through the scope before it dropped down to the ground out of view.

It was time for lunch now, so we dropped back down to the coast and along to Cley, where we could sit out on the picnic tables and enjoy the fine weather. After lunch, we had a scan of the scrapes from the visitor centre, and looked at the sightings board, but there didn’t seem to be much on the reserve today, so we decided not to go out to the hides.

Bearded Tit was another target for the day, so we headed round to have a walk out along the East Bank to see if we could find one. A leucistic drake Common Pochard on one of the pools was a bit of an oddity – an interesting bird to see. There were a few Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds as we walked out, and a Reed Bunting or two as well, but no sound of any Bearded Tits at first. Despite the lack of wind, it was perhaps just too hot now, in the early afternoon.

There were more birds around the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh. Several Lapwings and Avocets were down in the grass, a few Common Redshank were calling and displaying. A single Ringed Plover was feeding along the edge of the Serpentine.

6O0A1958Lapwing – on the grazing marsh from East Bank

There were more ducks here too. Several drake Gadwall were chasing round after a female, pursuing her remorselessly all over the grazing marsh and out across the reedbed. As well as the regular Mallard and Shoveler, there were some late winter visitors too. A single drake Eurasian Teal and a lone Wigeon should probably both have been on their way north to breed already.

We were almost at the main drain when we finally heard a Bearded Tit calling. We stopped and listened for a while, and realised there were several birds here, in different places, though they were only calling occasionally. We had frustrating brief glimpses of a couple of birds zipping distantly over the tops of the reeds, which were hard to get onto, until a male Bearded Tit flew up from the reeds close to the near edge and flew off away from us, giving us a nice long flight view. It looked like that would have to do today, better than nothing.

There was a lot of heat haze looking out across Arnold’s Marsh this afternoon. We had heard a Little Tern calling as we walked out and could see one resting on the small island out towards the back. A party of Turnstones appeared on the island too, several in bright summer plumage, looking more appropriately like their full name, Ruddy Turnstone. Three Dunlin were with them, two with their summer black bellies. A careful scan round the edges revealed a single Grey Plover, still in its rather grey winter plumage.

We carried on out to the beach and took a look out to sea. It was very calm today, but there was some sea fret hanging distantly offshore, partly obscuring the wind turbines. There were a few terns offshore, flying back and forth, some carrying fish. Mostly they were Sandwich Terns, but a pair of Little Terns were fishing close inshore and a single Common Tern flew past. Looking further out, on the edge of the fog, we spotted a long line of black ducks flying past. They were Common Scoter and there must have been at least 80 of them. Presumably they were making their way back north for the breeding season.

There were a few butterflies out today in the sunshine – mostly Peacock, Red Admiral and the odd Small Tortoiseshell. We also saw a couple of Painted Ladys on our travels today and, out along the East Bank, our first Common Blue of the year. The numbers of dragonflies are finally increasing now too, in the warm weather, with Four-Spotted Chaser and Blue-tailed Damselfly along the East Bank today.

6O0A1964Common Blue – our first of the year, along the East Bank today

As we walked back along the East Bank, we bumped into one of the reserve volunteers who mentioned that he had seen a Bearded Tit along the edge of the ditch further back. So, as we made our way along, we scanned the bottom of the reeds and sure enough we found it, working its way along the edge of the water, in and out of the reeds. It was a female Bearded Tit.

When we quickly lost sight of it behind some taller reeds along the front edge of the ditch, we could hear another Bearded Tit calling and looked across to see it fly in and land down on the edge of the ditch just a few metres away. We walked back to look for that one, and just at that point it climbed up the reeds carrying something in its bill. It was a cracking male Bearded Tit, with powder blue head and distinctive black moustaches. It perched up in full view in front of us for several seconds, looking round, before flying off back over the reeds.

6O0A1966Bearded Tit – this smart male was collecting food along the ditch

It was great to get such a great view of a Bearded Tit, and a smart male to boot. Worthy reward for our perseverance! With that mission accomplished, we headed back to the car. There were still a few odds and ends on the target list, so we made thought we could squeeze in a quick couple more stops before the end of the day.

We drove back along the coast road to Kelling and had a quick walk down the lane to the Water Meadow. There were a few warblers singing in the hedges beside the lane, despite it being the middle of a hot and sunny afternoon – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. We had hoped to find a Lesser Whitethroat along here, but there was no sign or sound of it here this afternoon.

6O0A1985Chiffchaff – singing in the hedge along the lane this afternoon

There were just the usual ducks on the Water Meadow, a pair of Gadwall, three Mallard and a lone drake Shoveler. One of the resident Egyptian Geese was guarding a gosling in the grass on the edge of the water. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pool. This is often a good spot for Yellow Wagtails in spring, but the grass is rather tall this year making them hard to see. As always, we had a careful scan around the feet of the cows and were duly rewarded with a pair of Yellow Wagtails flitting around the legs of one of them, before the cows moved back into the long grass.

Brent Geese are a common sight around the coast here in winter, but the vast majority of them have now departed on their way back to northern Russia for the breeding season. It is still possible to find the odd one or two with a bit of luck, so we decided to have a look in Blakeney Harbour to finish the day. As we made our way down the path towards Stiffkey Fen, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes the other side of the road, but there was no way to see it from where we were and it seemed to be moving further back into the trees before it went quiet.

When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was already pretty high in the harbour. There was a big party of Oystercatchers gathered to roost out on the edge of the water, but we couldn’t see any Brent Geese where they have been recently. The Fen itself also looked pretty quiet today, with most of the winter waders having departed. There was a single Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands, plus three Common Redshanks which flew off from the edge of the reeds, and plenty of Avocets.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull in with the roosting Herring Gulls was a useful addition to the day’s list and a smart summer adult Common Gull was out on the water just beyond the reeds. A pair each of both Sandwich Tern and Common Tern flew in from the harbour and circled over the pool.

6O0A1990Common Tern – a pair flew in from the harbour and circled over the Fen

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees beyond the Fen, but Brent Goose was our target here, so we focused our attention on trying to find one. Scanning carefully over the saltmarsh finally paid off when we located two Brent Geese feeding in the grass away to the west. Another one for the list and a perfect way to round off the day.

20th May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather forecast for today was much better – sunshine & showers. We saw some nice sunshine and managed to dodge the showers later in the afternoon. All in all, not a bad day to be out.

As we drove east from our meeting point in Wells, we took a detour inland. A male Marsh Harrier was quartering the field next to the road as we pulled into a convenient layby next to some farm buildings. A quick scan of the roofs and we located a Little Owl in one of its usual spots. It was rather distant today, unfortunately, and there was quite a bit of shimmer already rising from the concrete between us and it. Still, we got an OK view of it through the scope and it was a nice way to start the day.

Continuing on our way east, away from the coast, we turned into a quiet lane and found somewhere to park. A Grey Heron circled over as we set off up the lane. There were lots of warblers singing in the hedgerows here. A Willow Warbler was in full voice high in the bare branches of a tree. A Common Whitethroat sang its scratchy song from the hedge and a Sedge Warbler was rattling away in the damp field beyond. There were several Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs too.

6O0A1460Grey Heron – circled over the lane this morning

As we approached a block of poplars, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and looked round to see it drop out of the trees and down into a clump of sallows in the field. A Green Woodpecker was laughing from the poplars here too. Another Marsh Harrier quartered over the back of the meadow.

Walking on beside the wood, we heard the beautiful sound of a Nightingale singing. It was still some way ahead of us and just singing little snippets at first. As we walked towards the song, a bird flew out of the hedge ahead of us and across the road, flashing an orange-red tail in the morning sunshine. It was a Nightingale, but not the one we could still hear singing in the same place it had been. Nightingales can be rather elusive and we thought that might be the only sight we had of one today, and not everyone had seen it.

We continued towards where the song was coming from and found a convenient gap in the hedge. As we looked over, we could just see a shape perched in the sun – the Nightingale – but it saw us too and dropped straight back into cover. It was in a thicket of brambles and cut branches and for several frustrating minutes we could just see it moving around in the undergrowth as it sang. Then it came out into full view again and perched where we could all see it on a fallen tree trunk.

6O0A1483Nightingale – singing and enjoying the morning sunshine

The Nightingale kept hopping down into the thicket but then returned to the fallen tree trunk or a bare branch nearby. We had a great look at it as it perched in the sunshine singing. Eventually, it dropped back into the thicket and we decided to make our way back to the car. As we got back, we could hear another Nightingale singing in the copse next to where we had parked. We stood and listened to that on too, for a few minutes, before tearing ourselves away.

Our next destination was up on the Heath. As soon as we got out of the car, we could hear a Yellowhammer singing. We looked round and quickly located a bright yellow-headed male perched in the top of a yellow-flowered gorse bush. We had a really good look at it through the scope, before it dropped down to the ground beyond.

IMG_4381Yellowhammer – a smart yellow-headed male, singing by the car park

The Heath was alive with warbler singing too this morning, probably making up for time after the cold and damp weather yesterday. A Blackcap was singing in the trees in the car park. As we walked up the path, we could hear the sweet descending song of a Willow Warbler. A Common Whitethroat was scratching away on top of some brambles. A Chiffchaff was chiffing and chaffing in the birches.

There is no shortage of Linnets on the Heath and everywhere we went we encountered little groups of them, perched in the gorse or up in the trees. Several already had young. Linnet used to be a common farmland bird but sadly they are now much scarcer. Thankfully they still do well in certain places here, particularly on the heaths and the coastal dunes.

6O0A1499Linnet – still a common bird up on the Heath

There was no sound from the Dartford Warblers at the first place we tried, so we made our way round to the other side of the Heath to try our luck there. On our way, a Woodlark flew across and landed on the side of the path ahead of us. We got it in the scope and watched it walking along, picking at the vegetation along the side. It was collecting food for its hungry brood of youngsters somewhere – we could see it already had a caterpillar in its bill.

It was busy on the Heath this morning and a large and noisy group appeared at the other end of the path. The Woodlark ran into the vegetation bordering the path and then flew up and over onto some rough ground beyond. As we walked on towards where it had landed, we could just see it standing on a clod of earth, before it took off. A second Woodlark took off too, it had obviously been collecting food nearby, and the two of them disappeared off over the Heath, calling, just as the large group walked up the path.

6O0A1510Woodlark – collecting food for its young

There were thankfully no crowds of people in the place where we hoped to find the Dartford Warblers today. Unfortunately, at first, there were no Dartford Warblers either! We had to content ourselves with watching a family group of Stonechats – a pair with at least two streaky juveniles. The male Stonechat then appeared on the gorse in front of us and started singing and song-flighting.

Just as we thought our luck might be out, a Dartford Warbler appeared, thought it was too quick as it darted into the gorse nearby. It wasn’t going to give itself up easily, and after a minute or so, we all got a brief view of it as it flew across the path in front of us and disappeared back down into the gorse. We stood staring into the bushes where it had gone but it didn’t come back out.

We really wanted a better view of a Dartford Warbler, and eventually another one appeared on the other side of the path. We tried to follow this one for a while, but again, all we got at first were very frustrating glimpses as it hopped up onto the top of the gorse, saw us, and darted straight back into cover. After we saw it disappear over the bushes a short distance away, we heard it singing. Hurrying along to the corner, we could finally see it, a male Dartford Warbler, picking around in the yellow flowers in the top of a gorse bush. It fed here for a minute or so, before zooming off back past us with something in its bill.

6O0A1518Dartford Warbler – played hard to get, but finally gave itself up for us

There has been an Iberian Chiffchaff at Walsey Hills, near Cley, for the last five days and it was reported to be singing again this morning, so we thought we would just have enough time for a quick visit there before lunch. Iberian Chiffchaff is very similar in appearance to our Common Chiffchaff, but has a very different song (not just a Spanish accent!!), so it was most important to hear it.

However, when we got there nothing had been heard from it for over half an hour. We stayed a few minutes, listening to several Common Chiffchaffs singing away, as well as a Blackcap. It seemed like it had gone quiet, so we reasoned we would be better going for lunch first and having another go afterwards.

6O0A1520Common Chiffchaff – singing away at Walsey Hills, instead of the Iberian Chiffchaff

We ate our lunch at the picnic tables in front of the visitor centre at Cley, a nice place to sit in the sunshine. Then after lunch, we drove back and parked by the East Bank, before walking along to Walsey Hills again. A Tawny Owl hooted from North Foreland wood as we walked in along the path. It turned out it had been the right decision to go for lunch, as the Iberian Chiffchaff had still not been heard again. We had a quick walk through the trees and up round the hill at the back, but we couldn’t hear anything either.

It felt like we were out of luck with this one, so rather than waste too long here, we decided to do something else instead. We walked back past the small crowd waiting patiently by the willows at the back of the trees and up the path towards the road. We were almost out of the trees when we heard the Iberian Chiffchaff singing right by the path.

Unfortunately, it was in a thick clump where we couldn’t see it. The Iberian Chiffchaff sang six or so times in succession – a combination of ‘chiff, chiff, chiff’, ‘hweet, hweet, hweet’ and ‘ti-tu, ti-tu’ and various mixtures thereof, very different from the rather monotonous ‘chiffing’ and ‘chaffing’ of our Common Chiffchaff, then it went silent again, just before everyone the crowd from further back could make it over to where we had found it. We gave it a few minutes, then decided to leave them to it.

A brief light shower passed over, so we collected our coats on the way back past the car, and headed out along the East Bank. A Lapwing was feeding in the wet grass below the bank and several more were displaying further over, the males tumbling and rolling in the sky as they sang their distinctive song. There were several Redshanks down in the wet grass too, and one or two of those were singing and song flighting too. A lone female Ruff was hiding in the grass and a single Ringed Plover was preening on the mud at the back of the Serpentine.

6O0A1540Lapwing – feeding in the wet grass below the East Bank

Most of the ducks which had spent the winter here have now departed, but we did manage to find a single drake Wigeon asleep at the back of the Serpentine. A few pairs of Gadwall and Shoveler will presumably be breeding here now. There were also lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes.

On the other side of the path, a pair of Marsh Harriers circled up over the reedbed. We could hear Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds and got great views of a pair of Reed Warblers as they worked their way along the base of the reeds on the far side of the ditch. A Reed Bunting was singing from one of the bushes in the reeds, although it sounded like it had been rather short-changed in the song department, more like just a brief jumble of discordant notes!

6O0A1555Reed Warbler – a pair were feeding in the base of the reeds by the ditch

There were not many waders on Arnold’s Marsh today, apart from Avocets and more Redshank. A pair of Grey Plover over the back were still in winter plumage, in contrast to all the black-bellied birds we had seen yesterday. A pair of Little Terns dropped in to preen on one of the islands and a couple of Sandwich Terns circled overhead calling.

We were on our way to the beach but had just stopped to look at a Meadow Pipit by the path when we heard a Greenshank calling and looked over to see it land in the shallows. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, but it didn’t stay long and quickly flew off again calling.

When we got to the beach, the sea looked very quiet. A couple of Little Terns flew past just offshore, possibly the ones we had just seen on Arnold’s Marsh. A party of nine Brent Geese flew past, surely heading the wrong way? They should be heading off to Russia for the breeding season. We were just having a quick scan over the water when we spotted a large bird circling some way offshore. An Osprey!

6O0A1566Osprey – a nice surprise find, heading west offshore this afternoon

It took a while for everyone to get onto it, but the Osprey gradually worked its way a little closer inshore as it drifted past us. At one point, a Sandwich Tern flew up to it and started mobbing it, hastening it on its way. We watched as it headed off west towards Blakeney Point. An unexpected bonus – Ospreys are not common birds here, just passing through in small numbers.

There had been two Temminck’s Stints reported again earlier today on the reserve, but they seemed to have disappeared and everyone we had spoken to said they had not seen them this afternoon, where they had been on Simmond’s Scrape. We had thought it would be worth looking for them on the Serpentine, but they were not there either. As we were walking back towards the car, the news came through that they were on Simmond’s Scrape again so we headed straight round there.

As we walked into the hide, one of the Temminck’s Stints was picking its way around the edge of one of the islands, creeping about. We had a great look at it through the scope, although it was a little distant for photographs. Our smallest regularly occurring wader species, the Temminck’s Stint was completely dwarfed by a Shelduck which walked past it.

A summer plumage male Ruff appeared – a striking bird with jet black throat, breast and down onto the belly, but with bright rufous-ginger head and neck. It flew over and landed on the same island as the Temminck’s Stint, proceeding to chase it out of its way. The Temminck’s Stint looked tiny, even next to the Ruff.

After a while, the Temminck’s Stint took off and flew across the scrape, landing down in the far corner out of view behind the bank. We thought that would be it until someone in the hide pointed to a bird on one of the closer islands a few seconds later. Yes, it was a Temminck’s Stint, but this was a different one, the second bird. It was much closer to us and we got a great look at this one, much less well marked with black-based summer feathers than the first Temminck’s Stint we had been watching.

IMG_4486Temminck’s Stint – the second one, less well-marked, greyer, than the first

At this point it started to rain, so we stayed in the dry in the hide and had a scan of the scrapes. There were lots of Shelduck and Avocet on here today, but not much else of note. We could hear a Cuckoo calling in the distance. A Little Egret walked out of the ditch in front of the hide, ran across to the edge of the scrape, but then changed its mind and flew across to the far side of the ditch. A pair of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the edge of the water, and perching on the posts in front of the hide.

6O0A1602Little Egret – in front of Dauke’s Hide this afternoon

The shower didn’t last long, but once it cleared it was time to head back to the car and home.

7th May 2017 – Three Spring Days, Part 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Spring Tours today, our last day. It was another rather cold and windy day, still un-spring-like, but at least once again it was mostly dry, at least until we had finished at the end of the day. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast today.

Our first destination was Kelling. We had received a message to say some Yellow Wagtails had dropped in with the cows there, so we thought it might be worth a look, in case they might stop to feed for a while. As we parked in the village a couple of House Martins were prospecting nest sites under the eaves of the buildings there. A Coal Tit appeared in one of the fir trees by the school.

It was rather sheltered in the lane and there were warblers singing in the hedges. We could hear a couple of Chiffchaff singing on the walk down and a Blackcap was calling in the copse (it would have found its full voice by the time we walked back!). A Lesser Whitethroat rattled in the hawthorns and then flew across the lane in front of us, perching out in the open in the top of the hedge briefly.

As we got down to the Water Meadow, a couple of Skylarks were singing over the fields. There are always plenty of Rooks here and a pair of Carrion Crows down in the grass too gave us a good opportunity to talk about the differences between them. A Sedge Warbler was belting out its song from the top of the brambles, despite being exposed to the cold north wind out in the open here. As we approached, it flew up from its perch and parachuted down into the grass in the middle of the field beyond.

6O0A9914Sedge Warbler – singing from the top of the brambles, despite the wind

The cows on the Water Meadow were huddled up in the lee of the hedge and most of them had sat down. Unfortunately there was no sign of any Yellow Wagtails with them – they had obviously continued on their way. From where we were standing we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling, but it was obviously tucked down deep in the brambles today and we couldn’t see it before it went quiet again.

A steady stream of Sand Martins came to feed over the water, along with a few Swallows. There were a few ducks on the pool too – several Gadwall and Teal, a pair of Shoveler and a pair of Shelduck. We could hear a couple of Reed Warblers singing. The first, from the reeds by the track, was down low and not visible, but we found the second clambering around in the bushes, looking for food and singing as it did so.

We walked round to the beach in the hope that there might be some migrants on the move, but the skies overhead were quiet. A pair of Stonechats were feeding on the ground behind the beach, out of the wind, and there were a few Meadow Pipits here but nothing else. It was cold here in the wind, so we beat a hasty retreat.

Heading to the Heath next, we thought we would try our luck. Up on the ridge here, it can be cold and windswept in conditions like we had today. A Garden Warbler was singing in the car park, but it was deep in the thick blackthorn bushes and we couldn’t see it. As we walked up along the track, we could hear lots of other warblers singing – several Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Blackcap.

We heard another Garden Warbler singing from a birch tree by the path and tracked the sound as it moved round in the leaves until it appeared briefly on the outside where we could see it. There were quite a few Garden Warblers singing and calling up on the Heath today, which are always great to hear.

Walking round through the territory of one of the pairs of Dartford Warblers, we couldn’t hear or see any sign of them. There were a few Linnets twittering in the gorse and we came across a pair of Stonechats, which quickly moved away as we appeared. There seemed to be small groups of schoolchildren hiking everywhere today, we saw them at Kelling and Cley as well, presumably doing something like Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions. One group came crashing across the middle of the heath at this point with what we presumed were their teachers. They were obviously lost, it sounded like they couldn’t find the path, and one of the staff was having to carry his dog as when he put it down it clearly couldn’t walk on the spiky cut gorse! We decided to try a quieter spot.

There is a particular place where we have seen Woodlarks regularly in the last few weeks, so we decided to walk round via there. As we approached, we could see a Woodlark walking round on the ground. Through binoculars, we could see it was collecting bright green caterpillars – it had a bill full of them already. Presumably, it had young nearby to feed.

6O0A9938Woodlark – collecting caterpillars to feed to its young

Then a second Woodlark appeared close by, also with a bill full of the same green caterpillars. They were obviously a pair. We enjoyed a great view as we watched the two of them for several minutes as they walked around between the branches, looking for more. Eventually, one disappeared and the second flew up and landed out of view.

It seemed like it might be just too cold and windy for the Dartford Warblers today, but it is always a nice walk round the Heath anyway. We had stopped and were talking about the Heath when we heard a male Dartford Warbler singing a little further along the path from us. We hurried over and found it perched right on the top of some gorse.

6O0A9966Dartford Warbler – singing from the top of the gorse, despite the cold wind

It dropped down before everyone could get onto it, but we waited a minute and remarkably the male Dartford Warbler came up and started singing again. This time everyone had a great look at it. When it dropped down again, we could just about see it working its way through the gorse. Then the Dartford Warbler came up onto the top of the gorse a third time, singing, this time even closer to us. Great stuff!

With great views of both Dartford Warbler and Woodlark this morning, we decided to head back. Three Common Buzzards were circling over the wood beyond the Heath, despite the lack of any sunshine. As we walked back, we could hear juvenile Linnets calling from deep in the gorse and we watched as the parents flew round and perched nearby. Another Garden Warbler was singing in the birches, but it was hard to get onto with all the leaves moving in the wind – we could just see it flicking round between branches from time to time.

Back at the car, we made our way over to Cley. It was just about lunchtime, so we stopped at the NWT visitor centre and ate our lunch. A flock of about 30 Black-tailed Godwits came up from the scrapes and flew off towards Blakeney Harbour. A Marsh Harrier drifted over from the reedbed, causing all the Avocets to start alarm calling. A Grey Heron stood motionless in the reeds.

Looking at the sightings board in the visitor centre, there didn’t seem to be much on the reserve today. There has been a dearth of spring migrant waders at Cley in the last week or so, which could be due to the weather or to the lingering impact of the saltwater inundation during the floods in January.

We decided to head over to Walsey Hills instead of going out to the hides. There had been a Wood Warbler here earlier, but no one seemed to know where it was when we arrived. A Pied Flycatcher was apparently showing occasionally in the pines on the top of the hill, so we thought we would look for that first. When we got up there, we discovered it was spending most of its time deep in the pines. We walked into the trees and could just see a shape flitting around occasionally, but clearly we were not going to be able to get a really good look at it.

At that point, a message came round that the Wood Warbler had reappeared, so we made our way back down to the footpath. It was difficult viewing with all the bushes, and quite a crowd of people in here. We got a quick view of it in the back of the trees, flitting around, but then it disappeared again. It was clearly going to be impossible for everyone to get a really good look at it, so we decided to move on and try something different.

The birds from the East Bank were a lot easier to see. A pair of Common Pochard and several Tufted Duck were on the pools in the reedbed, along with a noisy group of Greylags. A good number of Swifts have now arrived, but finding insects in this weather was presumably challenging, and we had great views of them as they zoomed around low over the pools and the bank. One came within a few inches of the head of one of the group!

6O0A9989Common Swift – zooming around over the East Bank

Over the other side of the bank, a couple of Lapwings were displaying over the grazing marshes, putting on quite a display, chasing each other and tumbling through the air, singing their distinctive song.

6O0A0107Lapwings – displaying over the grazing marshes

It was the chicks which stole the show though. A lone female Lapwing was huddled down in the grass not far from the bank on the edge of some water. We could just see one small chick tucked in underneath it, while another was wandering around just behind them. It still looked a bit unsteady on its feet! Mum was paying surprisingly little attention to it.

6O0A0131Lapwing and chick – the latter still a bit unsteady on its feet

There were also a few Redshanks out on the grazing marshes. A little later, we watched one displaying, a male flying up with bowed wings fluttering, then dropping down to land next to the female who looked distinctly unimpressed. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding distantly on Pope’s Marsh.

As well as the usual ducks, three or four lingering Wigeon were grazing around the pools. They should be off on their way back to Russia for the breeding season soon. In contrast, the Little Egrets breed nearby, so they don’t have far to go. One was fishing in a small pool near the bank and we could see it had bright pink facial skin, an indication that it was in breeding condition. We also admired its ornate plumes.

6O0A0125Little Egret – a breeding adult, with pink facial skin

Two Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed at the back of Pope’s Marsh, but then flew over towards the East Bank, flushing everything on the grazing marshes as they went. A single Whimbrel came up from somewhere in the grass and flew off calling.

6O0A0136Marsh Harrier – flew over the East Bank, flushing everything from the grazing marshes

There as a nice selection of birds on Arnold’s Marsh again today. A single Ringed Plover was on one of the islands with a little group of Dunlin. The latter were in various stages of moult into summer plumage, with spotted black belly patches. A Grey Plover in contrast looked to be pretty much there already, looking stunning with black face and belly and bright white spangled upperparts. A lone Knot was also in its orange summer plumage, and several of the Bar-tailed Godwits were too. There were a couple of Turnstone hiding in the saltmarsh vegetation and one of those looked stunning with its white face and chestnut upperparts.

Two small waders down towards the front of the saltmarsh were Little Ringed Plovers. Through the scope, we could see their golden yellow eye rings. The female was preening and appeared rather disinterested in the male’s display. He appeared to be trying to impress her with a potential nest scrape, bowing and sitting down in it, fanning his tail up in the air. She barely moved!

IMG_4050Little Ringed Plover – showing off a potential nest scrape to an unimpressed female

There were no terns on Arnold’s Marsh today, but a quick look out at the sea produced two Sandwich Terns making their way west offshore. It was very breezy out on the beach, so we then beat a hasty retreat.

We had a quick look down at Iron Road to finish the day. There were lots of Gadwall on the pool here, but not much else of note. We looked up to see four Ruff flying off east. As we walked out towards Babcock Hide, there were plenty of geese on the grazing marshes – Greylags, Canada and a pair of Egyptian Geese. More of a surprise was a Fulmar flying west over the fields inland of the coast road!

A  quick look out from the hide, and the scrape looked rather quiet. A single Common Sandpiper appeared, walking round the front of one of the islands, but then quickly flew off. Out at the back, we managed to find a single Ringed Plover and a single Little Ringed Plover. Otherwise, there were just a couple of Redshank to make up the waders.

There were a few of the regular ducks out on the pool, the most noteworthy being a male Common Pochard. More interesting were the gulls. Several immature (2cy & 3cy) Great Black-backed Gulls were sleeping on the islands, presumably on here to get away from the wind at the beach. In with them, we found a single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and a 1st winter. The Lesser Black-backed Gulls were completely dwarfed by the Great Black-backs.

6O0A0156Lesser Black-backed & Great Black-backed Gulls – roosting on the islands

Unfortunately it was time for us to start making our way back. As we walked back towards the car, we could hear Greenshanks calling, and looked up to see a flock of 8 flying high NE. They did not stop, presumably there is something about Cley which means it is not proving attractive to migrant waders at the moment.

As we drove back towards Wells, it started to drizzle. We had been lucky that it stayed dry pretty much all day again today. It had been another cold and windy day, but despite the conditions we had racked up a list of 90 species today. Not bad going, especially as we spent much of the day at rather specialised sites such as the Heath and Walsey Hills!

29th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 4

Day 4 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was rather cloudy for most of the day, but dry and with some brighter intervals. The wind had gone round and dropped, which meant it felt much milder than the last few days, which was most welcome.

After meeting in Wells, we headed off east along the coast today. A short diversion inland and we quickly located a Little Owl perched on the roof of a barn. It was a little distant from where we parked, but through the scope we had a good look at it. A Brown Hare ran past and a few Rooks were flying around the fields nearby.

We planned to spend part of the morning up on the Heath. As we got out of the car, we could hear Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing. As we walked round the bushes, one of the Blackcaps perched up nicely for us in the top of a blackthorn. The lighter wind and warmer weather seemed to encourage the warblers to perform a bit better today.

6O0A8747Blackcap – perched up nicely for us in a blackthorn

A little further round, we found a single Adder curled up under a gorse bush, sunning itself. It was not far from us but very well camouflaged. Unfortunately, by the time everyone had managed to see it, it had woken up and slithered away before the cameras were out.

The oak trees are starting to come into leaf and in one of them we could hear a pair of Long-tailed Tits calling. We stopped underneath and a Willow Warbler was singing in there too. We had a great look at them flitting around in the branches. The Willow Warbler found a caterpillar and stopped to beat it against a branch before gulping it down.

When we stopped to look at a Greenfinch in the top of some bushes, a small bird flew out and landed in the front below us, a Garden Warbler. When it turned, it looked very surprised to see us and shot back in, unfortunately before anyone had really had a chance to look at it. We waited a minute and could hear it calling agitatedly and eventually it started to work its way up into the top where we could see it. Then a second Garden Warbler appeared with it and the pair of them proceeded to look for food, hopping through the branches. It meant we got a great opportunity to look closely at this often rather elusive species.

There were several Yellowhammers singing as we walked round the Heath and we managed to get a good look at a couple of smart yellow-headed males. Linnets were everywhere – they seem to still do well on the heaths, even if they have declined sharply as a farmland bird. There was lots of activity here today, with Chiffchaffs and Common Whitethroats singing too.

As we walked round through the gorse, in full flower now leaving the Heath smelling of coconut, we heard a scratchy song away in the distance. A Dartford Warbler. We hurried round to the path on the other side, just in time to see it perched up on the top singing, though still some way away from us. It flew a short distance and landed on another gorse bush, giving another burst of scratchy song. It was hard to get onto, and it then flew down out of view, before all the group had seen it. We made our way over to where it had been and waited a while, hoping it would start singing again, but unfortunately it had gone quiet now.

We carried on round the Heath, enjoying all the birds singing, until we heard a brief snatch of Woodlark. It sounded like it might be some distance away, but one of the group spotted it perched in a dead gorse bush quite close to us. It stayed there for ages, seeming unconcerned by our presence, allowing us to get great views of it through the scope – we could see the bold supercilium, the two either side meeting in a shallow ‘v’ at the back of its neck, the rusty ear coverts and the distinctive black and white patch on the bend of the folded wing.

IMG_3672Woodlark – perched up very obligingly for us

The Woodlark eventually took off and flew round calling before dropping down on the edge of the path the other side of us. We had to walk past that way, and it flew a short distance further in as we passed, landing again amongst some clods of earth, where it crouched down half hidden. As we left it in peace and carried on further along the path, a second Woodlark started calling and the flew up ahead of us.

When we got to one of the other areas favoured by the Dartford Warblers, there was a group of photographers standing around. They told us they had only had very brief views. We stopped along the path just past them and after a few minutes they wandered off. In no time at all, a male Dartford Warbler flew in and landed on the top of the gorse right next to us. Stunning views!

6O0A8767Dartford Warbler – this male flew in and landed in the gorse right next to us

The male Dartford Warbler then flew across the path and landed on another bush the other side, perching there in full view for several seconds so we could all admire it, before dropping down the other side. A pair of Stonechats were feeding around the gorse just beyond. It was great to get such good views of the main target species here, so we decided to head back to the car.

There was still a bit of time before lunch, so we dropped down to the coast at Kelling and went for a walk along the lane down to the Quags. There were a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing in the hedges of the way down. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat too, but it was across the other side of the field. A little further along, another Lesser Whitethroat was feeding quietly in the trees right next to the path.

At the corner of the Quags, a Sedge Warbler was singing from the brambles, occasionally flying up and parachuting back down in display flight. Just beyond it, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling too. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the Grasshopper Warbler and as we edged down the lane, we realised that it was singing from the other side of the bushes. Still, it was nice to hear, a freshly arrived migrant and a good bird for this site these days.

We had thought there might be more visible migration today, with the wind finally having shifted round from the north, but the skies seemed rather quiet here. We did have a couple of single Yellow Wagtails fly over calling. We heard their loud ‘pseep’ calls as they approached but neither landed and both just continued straight over and off to the west. The cows are now being put on to the Water Meadows, but even that didn’t seem to be doing the trick in bringing them down.

There were a few ducks on the Water Meadows – a couple of pairs of Teal, a pair each of Shoveler and Gadwall – plus a single Mute Swan. As we continued along the track past the Water Meadows and down towards the beach, we spotted a wader flying in over the Quags. It was a Bar-tailed Godwit and it went down towards the pool. We walked back and it was feeding very actively along the edge of the water, clearly taking the opportunity for a quick refuelling stop on its way north.

IMG_3679Bar-tailed Godwit – flew in and landed on the Water Meadow

We had seen a distant Wheatear out on the Quags as we walked along, but when we got round there we found it had moved further over. There were now at least two Wheatears, feeding along the base of the shingle ridge. There were several Stonechats around the Quags too and a few Stock Doves flying around.

A quick walk up along the path along the edge of Weybourne Camp produced just a few more Linnets and Stonechats. Looking out to sea, we saw another two Bar-tailed Godwits flying past, they were obviously on the move today. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew west very high, but were very hard to see looking into the sun. The Weybourne Atmospheric Observatory caused the most amusement though – the pollution monitoring equipment there periodically emits four notes on a rising scale which is easily mistaken for a bird singing!

6O0A8796Goldfinch – several were around the Water Meadows

It was lunchtime now, so we made our way back to the car, flushing four Goldfinches up to the hedge that were feeding down on the path as we passed. Then we drove round to the visitor centre at Cley, where we ate our lunch on the picnic tables overlooking the marshes.

The main scrapes at Cley looked fairly empty, and there was very little reported up on the sightings board in the visitor centre, so we decided not to go out onto the reserve today. Instead, we headed round to the beach car park and walked out towards North Scrape. Looking out to sea, there were several Sandwich Terns flying back and forth and a single adult Gannet flew east some way offshore.

We had hoped their might be some migrants around the edge of the Eye Field, but there was nothing of note there today. The Blue-headed Wagtail which had been reported from North Scrape a little earlier had disappeared and there was very little else to see on here – just three Black-tailed Godwits, plus a pair of Avocets, a couple of Redshanks and a few Shelducks and Teal. We decided not to hang around and headed back to the car.

The walk out along the East Bank was more productive. Looking back towards Snipe’s Marsh as we set off, we could see two pairs of Common Pochard displaying, as well as several Tufted Ducks. We had very nice views of the Lapwings out on the grazing marshes, always stunning birds to look at. Several were displaying, and we watched their impressive tumbling flights and listened to their distinctive songs.

6O0A8815Lapwing – showing very well from the East Bank

There was also a good selection of ducks out on the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh, including several lingering Wigeon, plus a few Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Shelduck. A single Ruff and several Avocet were feeding around the pool at the back. Two Curlew flew high west over the bank, the first we have seen over the last few days. The two shorter billed Whimbrel which did the same sometime later have been more common.

Reed Warbler was a species we had heard several times in the last few days, but we had not yet managed to see one. We could hear a couple singing close to each other in the reeds just below the bank, so we stopped to try to see one. They were skulking in the reeds as usual, but eventually we managed to find both of them – one was singing from very low in the reeds, just above the water in the ditch, and the other was higher up but further back.

6O0A8823Reed Warbler – skulking down in the reeds, singing

Looking out from the new shelter at Arnold’s Marsh, there didn’t seem to be a lot to see at first. A single Ringed Plover flew in and landed on one of the small islands and while we were looking at it in the scope we found several Dunlin creeping around in the saltmarsh behind. There were six Bar-tailed Godwits on here, including two in full summer plumage, with deep rusty underparts, the colour continuing right the way down under the tail. A good number of Redshanks were feeding around the edge of the saltmarsh and there were a couple of sleeping Avocets too.

6O0A8840Avocet – one of a pair sleeping on Arnold’s Marsh

Continuing on to the beach, we couldn’t see a lot out to sea, apart from a lone Great Crested Grebe diving offshore. There were two smart male Wheatears on the grassy shingle ridge just to the east though, and we got one of them in the scope for a closer look.

As we started to make our way back, we noticed a small wader down on the mud on the grazing marsh below the bank. It was a Little Ringed Plover. Through the scope, we could see its bright yellow eyering, and also the more pointed dark bill and fleshy coloured legs which distinguish it from the Ringed Plover we had just seen a few minutes earlier.

IMG_3686Little Ringed Plover – appeared on the grazing marsh on our way back

As we passed the reedbed, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. A female appeared briefly in the tops of the reeds further out, and we all had enough time to get onto it before it dropped down out of view. We thought that was good, but a couple of minutes later a male Bearded Tit flew in over the reeds and landed down on the edge of the ditch just behind us. We walked back and had stunning views of it as it picked its was along the ground or low through the bases of the reeds just above the water.

6O0A8941Bearded Tit – we had great views of this male collecting insects along one of the ditches

The Bearded Tit seemed to be collecting insects, presumably to feed a hungry brood of nestlings somewhere out in the reeds. It worked its way down along the edge of the ditch for several minutes. Then presumably it had collected enough and it flew up and off over the reeds. A great way to end the day.

It was time for us to head back too. There were a few Marsh Harriers up now, circling over the reeds, and a small group of three Little Egrets heading back into the wood as we got back to the car.

21st Feb 2017 – From Heath to Coast

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. The brief was to avoid the main nature reserves on the coast. The forecast was for it to be “rather cloudy with outbreaks of light rain at first” according to the Met Office. How wrong it was! Instead, when we met up in the morning it was wall to wall blue sky and crisp sunshine. With weather like that, there was only one place to start the day.

As soon was got out of the car up on the Heath, we heard a Woodlark calling as it flew away. A dog was running across the cleared area nearby and had probably just flushed it. Still, it seemed an auspicious start. A Yellowhammer flew in and landed in the top of one of the bushes by the car park. A smart male, we got it in the scope and its yellow head was positively glowing in the morning light. Stunning!

6o0a7787Yellowhammer – a smart male glowing yellow in the morning sun

A couple more Yellowhammers dropped in to join it, another male and a duller female. While we were watching them, we heard the Woodlark calling again as it flew back in. We saw where it landed in the long grass and walked a little closer to where we could see it. Thankfully, it was standing up on a slightly taller tussock and it started to sing softly as it stood there. We got it in the scope and all had a good look at it.

When the Woodlark took off again, it flew straight towards us and gained height. Then it started singing as it came right overhead, hovering above us for a minute or so. The Woodlark‘s song is not full of the joys like a Skylark but slightly more melancholy. It is still a beautiful sound, a real delight to stand and listen to it on such a sunny morning, one of the real sounds of early spring on the heaths. As it hung overhead, we could see the Woodlark‘s comparatively short tail and broad rounded wings.

6o0a7796Woodlark – hovering over our heads this morning, singing

After a while, the Woodlark flew down and landed again at the back of the clearing. We were planning to be greedy and go over for another look at it, but we were distracted by another smart male Yellowhammer hopping around on the ground in front of us. While we were watching it, the Woodlark took off again, calling. A second Woodlark got up from the ground and followed it – clearly the male had been singing while the female was feeding quietly over the back of the clearing all along.

Sunny mornings on the Heath at this time of the year are a great time to look for Adders. Having emerged from hibernation, they like to bask in the sunshine and warm themselves. We walked round to an area where we can often find them, a slope angled towards the morning sun. Very quickly we spotted one close to the path, but despite the early hour of the morning it was surprisingly lively already and quickly slithered off into the undergrowth. As we walked round this quiet corner, we heard a Bullfinch calling and looked across to see a smart pink male picking at the buds in the top of a dense blackthorn thicket.

After such a successful start to the morning, we decided to turn our attention to Dartford Warblers next. They are resident on the heaths all year round, but harder to find when it is cloudy and cold. At this time of year, on sunny days, they are starting to sing again. Walking round through the centre of one of their regular territories, all seemed rather quiet at first. Then we heard a distinctive rasping call and looked across to see a small dark long-tailed bird dart across a clearing between two gorse bushes. Our first Dartford Warbler.

Repositioning ourselves to where it had flown, we could soon see the Dartford Warbler flitting between the gorse bushes. As we followed it, it soon became clear there were actually at least three Dartford Warblers in the same area. They can be hard birds to track, as they are constantly on the move, disappearing into the dense vegetation for periods and then, just when you think you have lost them, flying out again. Occasionally one would perch out in the open for a couple of seconds – we could see there was a male, darker slate blue grey above and richer burgundy below, a duller female, and a young bird, much browner above and paler below, one of the juveniles from last year.

6o0a7835Dartford Warbler – the male singing from the top of a gorse bush

The male Dartford Warbler started singing. We could hear the bursts of scratchy song. At one point, we thought there might be two males, as we heard different bursts of song coming from different places in quick succession. After following them for a while, and having all enjoyed good views, we left them to it and continued our circuit of the Heath. As we walked round, were accompanied by the song of Woodlarks and Yellowhammers.

It was a perfect day for finding Adders today. We bumped into one of the local birders who is a regular on the Heath and he showed us three Adders basking round the base of a birch tree. A larger, darker female was stretched out on her own. Nearby, what looked like one snake turned out to be two curled up together as they moved – a large, dark female, and a smaller, slimmer, paler silvery male. A little further on, we found another two Adders, curled up in a couple of bare patches on a south facing bank. We had a great look at them.

6o0a7846Adder – we found at least six out basking this morning in a brief look

We had a quick look round another Dartford Warbler territory the other side of the Heath, but it was quieter here. There has been a pair of Stonechats here and the warblers have been following them round, but we couldn’t find any sign of either in their favourite area. Having enjoyed such a great session with the Dartford Warblers earlier, we weren’t overly concerned.

While we were walking round, another pair of Woodlarks flew over. The male landed on a post, where we could get him in the scope, while the female dropped down to the ground to feed. We were just watching them, when a third Woodlark started singing just behind us. These three were almostly certainly different to the pair we had seen earlier, which would mean potentially three pairs of Woodlark here this morning. It had been a great morning on the Heath and we could easily have stayed here all day, but we had other things we wanted to do today, so we made our way back to the car.

Our next destination was Holkham. As we drove down along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a large flock of geese on one of the grazing meadows nearby, so we stopped for a closer look. We could see they were mostly Brent Geese, smaller and darker, but nearby were a few grey-brown Pink-footed Geese too. A lot of the Pink-footed Geese which have spent the winter here have already departed on their way back north, so it was nice to be able to get a good look at some. We could see their delicate mostly dark bills with a pink band around and, when one stood up in the grass, its pink legs.

6o0a7850Pink-footed Geese – a few were still by Lady Anne’s Drive today

The vast majority of the Brent Geese here during the winter are Dark-bellied Brent Geese which breed up in arctic Russia. Occasionally, we get one of the other subspecies of Brent Goose in with the flocks, perhaps a Black Brant from NE Siberia or Alaska. In the past, some of these Black Brants have paired up and subsequently bred with one of the Dark-bellied Brents to produce hybrid young. One of these hybrids is a regular here at Holkham and a careful scan through the Brent flock revealed it. Subtly darker bodied than the others, it has a better marked white collar and more obvious whiter flank patch then the others.

img_0864Black Brant hybrid – a regular in with the Dark-bellied Brents at Holkham

While we were watching the geese, we could hear Lapwings starting to display on the fields behind us, giving their distinctive song. There were also still some big flocks of Wigeon grazing close to the road, whistling occasionally. Several Common Buzzards were enjoying the sunshine, circling up into the blue sky and even starting to display, swooping up and down. It was getting on for lunchtime already, so we decided to have an early lunch here before setting off to explore.

After lunch, we walked out onto the beach and made our way east alone the edge of the saltmarsh. At first there was no sign of the large flock of Shorelarks which has been feeding here for the last few weeks. We were told they had earlier been flushed by an errant dog running around there. We walked across for a look at the sea, in the hope that they might return. The tide was in and there was not so much activity here today – a few Great Crested Grebes and a single drake Goldeneye were all we could find riding out on the slightly choppy sea.

There were three birders eating their lunch in the dunes nearby, looking out through their scopes at the saltmarsh, so we walked back round to see if they had seen anything. Very helpfully, they got us on to six Shorelarks which were feeding half hidden in the taller vegetation out in the middle. We were looking into the sun from here, so we walked back round to the other side.

6o0a7902Shorelark – six were hiding in the taller vegetation on the saltmarsh

The Shorelarks were hard to see with their heads down while feeding, but occasionally one would look up and a bright yellow face would catch the sun. Then we could get a great look at them through the scope, admiring their black bandit masks and even occasionally get a glimpse of the black horns on the side of their heads. A Skylark was feeding nearby and a second flew in to join it, perhaps a male as it raised its crest and drew itself up erect, looking like it might be about to display to the first, before the two of them resumed feeding. As the Shorelarks gradually worked their way back deeper into the vegetation, we left them to it.

Back at :Lady Anne’s Drive, we made our way west along the path on the inland side of the pines. At this point it started to cloud over from the west. There were lots of Long-tailed Tits feeding high in the poplars as we passed. At Salts Hole, we stopped to watch a Little Grebe diving on the edge of the reeds. A couple of Mistle Thrush and a few Curlew were feeding on the grassy field beyond.

We had a quick scan from the raised boardwalk by Washington Hide. A Marsh Harrier circled up from the reeds. A Sparrowhawk flew past with something in its talons, trailing several long strands of grass with whatever prey it had grasped. Two Pintail flew in and landed on the pool, an adult drake with a long pin-shaped tail and a younger male without.

6o0a7917Spoonbills – 2 of the 4 circling round over the trees

As we approached Joe Jordan Hide, we got a glimpse through the trees of four white shapes taking off from the pool in front and through binoculars we could see they were Spoonbills. From up in the hide, we watched them circling round over the trees beyond, long white necks held outstretched in front. Eventually they landed again on the edge of the pool and started to preen before quickly going to sleep – which is what Spoonbills seem to like to do best! Two were adults and through the scope we could see their bushy nuchal crests flapping around in the breeze. When they did lift their heads we could see the yellow tips to their bills.

img_0889Spoonbills – the adults with bushy crests and yellow-tipped bills

There were lost of geese out on the grazing marshes all around, mostly White-fronted Geese. They were hard to count, as they kept flying round in small groups and landing in different places or dropping down out of view. Sitting in the hide, we could hear their yelping calls every time a party flew past, a constant backdrop to our visit. There were several hundreds here today, more than there seem to have been through much of the winter, perhaps boosted by other groups stopping off before departing back to their breeding grounds in Russia.

We got some of the White-fronted Geese in the scope, so we could see the white surround to the bill from which they get their name, and the black belly bars on the adults. At one point, a small group landed next to some Greylags and we could see the White-fronted Geese were notably smaller and darker overall, as well as having a smaller pink bill compared to the large orange carrot sported by the Greylags.

6o0a7924White-fronted Geese – their were large numbers at Holkham today

Scanning through the White-fronted Geese, we found a couple of smaller white-faced Barnacle Geese in with them. It would be nice to think that these also might be winter visitors from the arctic, but their status is complicated by feral populations, including in Holkham Park. There were also some Canada Geese here and several pairs of Egyptian Geese – a couple of more obviously feral geese species to round out the overall variety.

While we were looking through the geese, we noticed a large raptor flying low over the grassy ridge in the distance. It was clearly slimmer winged and tailed than the commoner Marsh Harriers and, as it turned, we could see a square white rump patch. It was a Hen Harrier, a ringtail. Unfortunately, it continued off away from us and it was not a great view, but a nice bird to see out hunting here nonetheless.

We had hoped we might see a Great White Egret here, but there was no sign at first. We were just thinking about leaving, when a large white shape walked out of some dense reeds on one side of the marshes. It was clearly huge, even with the naked eye, but through the scope we could see its long yellow bill. It was strutted across and went back into some deeper reeds, where it stood motionless fishing and it was surprisingly hard to see for such a large bird.

After a short while, the Great White Egret flew across and landed on the far side of one of the reedy ditches. Then a second Great White Egret flew out from nearby and chased after it, the two of them flying off together before eventually disappearing disappearing round behind the trees.

6o0a7954Great White Egret – a second flew in and chased off the first

Time was getting on now, so we decided to head back to the car. We still had time for one more stop on our journey back, so we turned off the coast road at Stiffkey Greenway on our way back east. Scanning the saltmarsh, we first picked up a Marsh Harrier working its way slowly along the grassy ridge at the back. It didn’t take us long to pick up our first Hen Harrier, a ringtail, hanging over the saltmarsh away to the west. We got it in the scope and got a good view of it, much better than the one we had seen earlier at Holkham. Even better, it then drifted back east and started hunting the saltmarsh out in front of us.

6o0a7986Hen Harrier – a ringtail hunting over the saltmarsh

At one point, as it quartered the saltmarsh, the Hen Harrier flushed a Merlin from the bushes below. Small and dark, it flew off swiftly low over the vegetation. It looked like it would disappear into the distance, but thankfully it landed on a dead branch and started preening, so we could all get a look at it through the scope.

As we looked out over the marshes, another ringtail Hen Harrier made its way in purposefully from the east and across in front of us. We were really hoping to see a male Hen Harrier, but they kept us waiting a bit this evening. We did get an early glimpse of one, but it disappeared down into the vegetation very distantly to the west and didn’t reappear. Eventually one flew in from the west towards us, at the back of the saltmarsh. It flew past a male Marsh Harrier, giving a nice comparison of size and shape, the Hen Harrier a ghostly grey apparition. When it flew up against the grey sky, it almost disappeared.

After quartering the saltmarsh for a while, the male Hen Harrier dropped down into the vegetation at the back. We saw it fly up again briefly and we could just see its pale head in the grass occasionally, but it was clearly in no rush to fly again. It was a nice way to end the day, watching the harriers, so with the light fading we decided to head for home.

27th July 2016 – Waders & Warblers

A Private Tour today. One request was to see Dartford Warblers, but the forecast was for rain early morning and brighter conditions later. So, after a slightly later than usual start to let the rain clear, we popped along to Cley to see what else was about first.

Our first stop was in Teal Hide. There is a lot of mud now on Pat’s Pool and a nice selection of waders to take advantage. One of the first birds we saw was a very smart summer plumage Spotted Redshank – still largely jet black with silver spangling on the upperparts. Clearly a new arrival, as they quickly moult into silvery grey winter plumage here. Unfortunately, another request for today was photography and the Spotted Redshank remained a little distant for the cameras, in the deeper water area of the scrape. A cracking bird nonetheless and good views through the scope.

IMG_5509Spotted Redshank – still in almost full summer plumage

A nervous flock of Dunlin kept wheeling round and landing back in the shallows on the far side of the island. Numbers of Dunlin are steadily increasing now and we counted over 120 in this group. Most were adult birds still sporting their summer black bellies but a small number of juveniles were in with them. A single Golden Plover, still in summer plumage too, was preening at the back of the main island. A couple of Lapwings were feeding on the mud close by.

6O0A6797Lapwing – also taking advantage of the mud

From Dauke’s Hide, we got better views of Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, roosting on the first island. Otherwise the water level here is a little high for waders now. The Ruff are still in various states of moult but most are already in winter plumage. In contrast, there are still some very smart orange Black-tailed Godwits here.

6O0A6799Black-tailed Godwits & Ruff – roosting on Simmond’s Scrape

Tipped off about a Green Sandpiper, we had a quick look at the normally quiet Whitwell Scrape. As well as the Green Sandpiper, we found a single Snipe on here today, but both were a little too far off for photography today.

We walked back towards the visitor centre and round to Bishop Hide next. As the water level on Pat’s Pool has dropped, the mud right in front of the hide here has started to dry out so again the birds were not as close as they can sometimes be. Still there were more waders to see here. A single Common Sandpiper was working its way unobtrusively round the edge of one of the islands. Several Little Ringed Plovers were running round on the drier mud and hiding among the lumps – two adults with black-striped faces and a browner-headed juvenile. A large number of Avocets were sleeping on one of the islands out in the middle, mostly out of view, but two adults were chasing a fully grown juvenile around in front of the hide.

6O0A6801Avocets – more argy bargy today

After a drive round to the beach car park, we walked out towards North Hide. Three adult Gannets flew past over the sea in the fresh northerly wind an several Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore. On the small pool by the fence, we stopped to admire a Little Ringed Plover. At that point a Yellow Wagtail called and we looked up to see it flying towards us over the Eye Field. Unfortunately it dropped into the long grass out of view and when we looked back the Little Ringed Plover had disappeared too.

Looking out over North Scrape, we could see a couple of flocks of Dunlin here too, at least 50 although many more were possibly out of view behind the grass at the front. It is possible these were the same birds from Pat’s Pool we had seen earlier, just having switched scrapes. As well as another Little Ringed Plover, a single Ringed Plover was a nice bonus here. A Greenshank was running around at the very back of the scrape, but there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper while we were there. With nothing particularly close for the cameras, we didn’t wait for it to appear.

There were several Skylarks and Meadow Pipits in the Eye Field as we passed. A large post-breeding flock of Starlings has gathered here too, with a lot of young birds in it. One moulting juvenile Starling posed on the fence for us, a mixture of brown juvenile and fresh patterned black adult feathers.

6O0A6812Starling – a moulting juvenile

With a nice selection of waders in the bag for the morning, we headed back to the visitor centre for lunch. With the weather having brightened up now, we headed up to the heath in the afternoon to look for Dartford Warblers. There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and little skippers dancing through the grass (only one stopped still long enough as we passed to identify it as a Small Skipper).

6O0A6825Gatekeeper – one of the commoner butterflies on the wing now

One of the specialities of the Heath is Silver-studded Blue. We are reaching the end of the flight season now, so many are looking a little tatty, but we did manage to find one slightly smarter male.

6O0A6856Silver-studded Blue – the best we could find, they are getting rather worn now

We came across several Yellowhammers and plenty of Linnets as we walked. Rounding a corner, we could just hear a Dartford Warbler calling from somewhere on the other side of a large mound of gorse. We walked quietly round and stood listening, and after a few seconds the Dartford Warbler shot out from the gorse in front of us and disappeared out of view. We followed in the direction it had gone, and came across a family of Stonechats, a pair with at least three streaky juveniles. We could hear the rather wren-like begging calls of the youngsters as we approached, followed by the alarm calls of the adults.

6O0A6877Stonechat – one of the streaky juveniles

The family of Stonechats are very mobile now, so we tried to follow them as they moved about the heath. As they did so, it became clear that a small, dark, long-tailed bird was following after them – a Dartford Warbler. It was keeping down low in the heather or flying across between patches of vegetation, but we couldn’t get close to it as it followed the Stonechats just out of range or disappeared into the tall gorse or trees out of view.

6O0A6880Dartford Warbler – can you see me?

A second Dartford Warbler appeared, and it too was keeping with the Stonechats. By quietly following them, we eventually saw a Dartford Warbler fly up into an isolated patch of gorse next to a path. We crept round the back of it, and suddenly the Dartford Warbler hopped up onto a branch – unfortunately it did not result in the hoped for photo!

We decided to continue on round the heath to see what else we could find. It was getting hot now, quite a contrast to the weather this morning. On the more open stony paths we found several Graylings basking in the sun. Almost impossible to see against the ground, they flew up ahead of us as we walked and one landed right next to us again.

6O0A6853Grayling – well camouflaged against the stony ground

As well as being hot, it was getting quite disturbed now, with lots of people out enjoying the improvement in the weather, dog walkers and cyclists. We walked over to another area favoured by the Dartford Warblers, but there was no sign of any birds here today, although we didn’t linger very long. We decided to head back to the family of Stonechats to try our luck back their again.

6O0A6892Stonechat – the male standing guard over the family

We found the Stonechats close to where we had left them and this time there appeared to be three Dartford Warblers with them. They all appeared to be juveniles – various shades of grey, lacking the vinous-red underparts of the adults. Once again, they were frustratingly difficult to see, low in the heather, apart from when they flew.

6O0A6900Dartford Warbler – a typical view, darting between clumps of heather

We had managed to get some distant images of a Dartford Warbler perched in a more open small oak tree, and decided to call it a day. As we turned to go, one of the Dartford Warblers flew up from the heather close to us and landed in a large clump of gorse nearby. As if to taunt us for its previous unhelpfulness, it then perched in the top for a few seconds!

6O0A6931Dartford Warbler – finally one perched up for a few seconds

That seemed an appropriate way to end, so we headed back to the car.

24th July 2016 – Heath & Marsh

The third and final Summer Tour of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was another glorious summer’s day, with just enough of a breeze to stop us overheating.

We made our way inland and up to the Heath to start, before it got too hot. We could hear a Turtle Dove purring, but it was some distance away. As we walked up from the car park, we could hear a Linnet singing and a couple more flew past. A Common Whitethroat flew out from the trees, perched in the bracken for a few seconds and then disappeared into the long grass. A Yellowhammer was singing too.

As we turned a corner, we could hear the begging calls of juvenile Stonechats and spotted the male Stonechat in the top of a young birch tree. A little further along, we found the whole family – male, female and 3-4 streaky fledged juveniles. They were quite mobile, but the juvenile Stonechats were still sitting around on the bushes begging for food. The female was working hard to feed them, while the male seemed to keep disappearing off – perhaps he wasn’t enjoying being bugged by his unruly teenage offspring!

6O0A6593Stonechat – the female was working hard to feed the juveniles

While we were watching the Stonechats, a Dartford Warbler appeared low in the heather nearby. This is not unusual – Dartford Warblers will often follow Stonechats around, possibly for the protection afforded by their extra vigilence. This Dartford Warbler was a juvenile, rather greyish overall, but was hard to get onto, as it was keeping low and moving constantly. We repositioned ourselves and got a slightly better view, but still not everyone had managed to see it.

We watched the Stonechats coming and going for some time. Suddenly an adult Dartford Warbler flew in from behind us and dropped into the gorse among the Stonechats. Again it was quite difficult to see and we only got a couple of glimpses as it fed. Then it flew back out again in the direction it had come.

6O0A6606Juvenile Stonechat & Linnet – happened to perch in the same bush

Quiet purring behind us alerted us to the presence of another Turtle Dove, such a treat to hear these days, given rapidly how the species is disappearing. We walked round on the path to the other side of the gorse, and we quickly worked out where the noise was coming from but we couldn’t see the Turtle Dove in the thick birch trees. Then suddenly it flew up and started its display flight, flapping higher and then descending in a long glide. It flew out across the heath and landed right in the top of a tall birch, where we could get it in the scope. When it flew again, the Turtle Dove seemed to disappear off over the ridge, but a short while later it was back purring there again. Great views.

IMG_5363Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a birch

As we walked back round, we came across the Stonechat family again and the juvenile Dartford Warbler had reappeared with them. We watched as it flew back and forth across a clearing and then perched briefly in the very top of a young birch tree. This time, everyone got on it.

We carried on across the Heath and at first there seemed to be a surprising lack of butterflies. Then, as we walked down along a sandy path with short heather either side, we came across our first Silver-studded Blues. Several of them were a bit worn now, but we got a good look at the underside of the wings and the distinctive silver studded spots. There were also a few Graylings along the path. They are next to impossible to see unless they move, and we had to really keep our eyes on them after they landed.

6O0A6607Silver-studded Blue – this one with rather poorly marked silver studs

A little further still, as we were following the path round, another juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up beside us. It perched very briefly, but having been surprised by our approach it very quickly disappeared off across the Heath. Not far beyond this, we found a female Dartford Warbler skulking in the gorse. We had several glimpses of her before she flew out and disappeared back across the heather.

While we were trying to keep tabs on the female Dartford Warbler, we heard a male singing back the way we had just come. We raced round there, just in time to see him fly. We followed him round and after a couple of minutes he hopped up briefly into the top of a gorse bush and started singing. After a second or two, he was off again. He flew a bit further away and perched in the top of a large gorse bush to sing. This time he stayed still for a while and we could get him in the scope. When he finally dropped back into the dense gorse, he went quiet.

6O0A6614Dartford Warbler – the male perched up briefly, singing

As we started to walk back to see if we could find the female Dartford Warbler again, we heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying past. It dropped down some distance from us, but knowing the site well it appeared to go towards another path. We hurried round and found it quietly feeding along the path, giving us very good scope views.

That was a great way to start the day, with all the heathland specialities. We decided to move on so started to walk back to the car. On the way , we flushed another two Woodlarks from the grass beside the path. They flew up before we could see them, but circled round and one perched up in the top of a gorse bush – even nicer views through scope this time.

It was getting on towards lunchtime by now, so we headed down to Cley for lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear a Whimbrel calling over the car park. After lunch, we walked out to the hides.

Teal Hide was our first port of call. There were quite a few waders on there and the longer we scanned, the more we found. Two Common Sandpipers were feeding close in front of the hide, bobbing constantly. Further over we could see a single Green Sandpiper and a  Common Sandpiper together, a nice comparison. A lone Greenshank, slim and elegant, was walking quickly across the scrape feeding, out in middle. There were also good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and a variety of Ruff in a confusing mix of stages of moult.

It was round into Simmond’s Hide next. There were even more Black-tailed Godwits on here, mostly Icelandic birds, but again a careful look through them and we discovered a bird which looked good for a Continental Black-tailed Godwit (subspecies limosa). In  amongst the godwits, were three Red Knot, this time living up to their name and sporting their summer plumage orange-red underparts. A single Turnstone was asleep on one of the islands, but when it woke up we finally got a chance to admire its summer plumage

6O0A6693Black-tailed Godwit – a moulting adult islandica

Another Common Sandpiper was hiding in the grass on the edge of one of the islands at the front of the scrape. Several Dunlin were hiding in amongst the godwits legs, including a single juvenile. There are always Avocets on here and today they were particularly argumentative. Two adults and three almost full-grown juveniles seemed to be having some sort of family argument – though it was hard to tell who was who.

6O0A6666

6O0A6668

6O0A6670Avocets – arguing

The ducks are all currently in eclipse plumage, so not looking their best. However, a careful scan through revealed a single eclipse drake Wigeon, our first of the autumn (though it could perhaps be a bird which has over-summered somewhere). A family of juvenile Shoveler were in the grass on the edge of the ditch right in front of the hide. Their largish bills, not yet fully grown but still noticeably big, immediately gave away their identity. There were also lots of Shelduck, and a few Teal.

6O0A6639Shoveler – a part-grown juvenile, with a small but already outsized bill

When a Little Egret flew in and walked right to the corner in front of the hide, it surprised a female Gadwall who had just brought her three small ducklings in there. She appeared out of the grass and quickly shooed the egret away.

6O0A6655Little Egret – scared off by a female Gadwall

There were several dark chocolate-brown juvenile Marsh Harriers in the reedbed and they would occasionally fly round to exercise their wings. Every time they drifted over the scrape, pandemonium ensued. This happened repeatedly while we were there. However, te panic seemed to be even more intense when a Hobby whisked through, putting everything up from North Scrape first, before we spotted it hurtling over Simmond’s and then disappearing off inland.

On the way back, we carried on past the visitor centre and paid a very brief visit to Bishop Hide. There were lots of gulls on Pat’s Pool which were better viewed from this side. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, plus four Common Gulls, but there was no sign of the hoped-for Mediterranean Gull today. A nice close Common Sandpiper was a bonus.

6O0A6715Common Sandpiper – our fifth of the day, from Bishop Hide

Our next destination was the East Bank. Two fully-grown juvenile Little Grebes were on the new pool. We could hear and see lots of Reed Warblers in reeds. Out on Pope’s Marsh, there were plenty of adult Redshank, with several juveniles still around the Serpentine. A good number of Curlew were hiding out in the long grass.

6O0A6732Little Grebe – a juvenile, still with a rather stripey face

Arnold’s Marsh looked relatively quiet. There are not so many Sandwich Terns on here this year, possibly because the number breeding on Blakeney Point is well down on previous years. Three or four Ringed Plovers were lurking on the shingle islands. A lone Greenshank was walking back and forth. The single Red Knot promptly flew off just after we arrived.

Returning back to the car, we headed round to the beach car park next. As we walked out towards North Hide (or at least where it used to be!), we stopped by the little pool next to the fence. This was very productive, with at least 3 juvenile Yellow Wagtails, along with a lot of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and two Little Ringed Plover.

Even though the Wood Sandpiper which has been here for the last couple of days, had not been reported today, it still seemed worth a look. The first bird we saw when we sat down was the Wood Sandpiper, conveniently standing with two Redshank for comparison. We watched it picking around on the mud as it walked directly towards the hide, and eventually we lost it to view behind the vegetation in front of the hide. Still, it was well worth coming out here for that alone. There was not much else out here – a small party of Dunlin at the back and several Redshank.

IMG_5411Wood Sandpiper – on North Scrake

Time was getting on, so we decided to head back – it had been a nice way to round of the day with a smart Wood Sandpiper.