Tag Archives: Dotterel

18th May 2019 – Spring Waders & More

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

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

Little Owl

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

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

Dotterel

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

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

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

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting – singing in the hedge by the road

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

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing in the buckthorn by the entrance track

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

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

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

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – there were at least 3 chasing around this morning

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

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

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

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

Bearded Tit

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

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

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

Shoveler

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

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

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

Little Gull 1

Little Gull – one of two on the Freshmarsh today

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

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

Little Ringed Plover

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

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

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

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

Little Gull 2

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

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

Red-crested Pochard

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

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

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

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

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

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

11th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 2

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

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

Corn Bunting

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

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

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

Dotterel

Dotterel – two of the sixteen with a Golden Plover behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redstart

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

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

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

Cuckoo

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

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

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

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

Bearded Tit

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

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

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

Common Tern

Common Tern – there are more back on the Freshmarsh now

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

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

Brent Goose

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

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

Sandwich Tern

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

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

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

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

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

Black Tern

Black Tern – with a Hairy Dragonfly it has just caught

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

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

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove – purring in the bushes by the Tank Road

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

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

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – a very striking duck

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

Water Vole

Water Vole – munching on reeds right next to the boardwalk

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

19th May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather forecast was terrible – rain all day and strong winds. Thankfully, once again it was nowhere near as bad as forecast and we had a great day, with over 100 species of bird on the list already!

It was cloudy and spitting with light rain as we made our way west along the coast road. A Cuckoo flew out of the hedge and across the road, right in front of the car, luckily just avoiding us, before disappearing away over the fields. We were heading for Titchwell today, but took a short diversion inland to Choseley. There have been some Dotterel in the fields here in the last few days, something we were keen to see.

It was very wet underfoot, but thankfully not raining, as we made our way to the edge of the field where the Dotterel have been. As we scanned across the stony ground, we could see a few Red-legged Partridges. An Oystercatcher was sitting tight, possibly trying to nest. Then, much further down the field, we found a single Dotterel. We had a look at it in the scope, but it was distant, so we decided to walk down the footpath and have a look from the other end.

When we got to the end of the hedge and started to scan the field, we realised that the Dotterel was very close in front of us. It had sat itself down in among the emerging sugar beet seedlings and was quite hard to see at first, other than through the scope, until it finally stood up. It appeared to be a male, not as contrasting as a female with a streaked cap – the sexes are reversed in Dotterel, so the female is the brighter.

IMG_4244Dotterel – the first we saw this morning, a male

We heard something calling behind us and turned to see another Dotterel flying in. It circled round and landed in the field, even closer to us than the one we had just been watching! Unfortunately, just at that moment, a large group of walkers were coming along the footpath and it took off again. As it did so, a third Dotterel flew in and joined it, and the two of them landed again further down the field.

These two Dotterel were females, so we decided to walk down along the footpath to try to get a better view of them. As we did so, a Corn Bunting flew up from the rough strip on the edge of the field and landed a bit further along, so we could get a look at it. There were a few Yellowhammers around the hedge as we walked along too. A Hobby came zipping in, low over the field behind us and disappeared back towards the barns.

The two female Dotterel were feeding actively, walking quickly along the field, in and out of the ruts, stopping every now and then to look round. We had a great view of them through the scope. We had been watching them for some time, when we noticed them stop and begin to call quietly. The next thing we noticed was another four Dotterel walking up the field towards them, all bright females again. The six of them gradually worked their way back over the field, so having enjoyed such fantastic views of them today, we decided to move on.

IMG_4259Dotterel – one of the six brighter females in the field today

It was cool and damp when we got down to Titchwell but we could immediately hear a Turtle Dove purring quietly. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the overflow car park, but when we got there it had gone silent. We walked round quietly and found it hiding deep in one of the trees, but managed to find an angle from which we got an unrestricted view of it head on. Turtle Doves are such scarce birds these days, it is always a delight to see one.

IMG_4280Turtle Dove – hiding in the bushes in the early rain

On the walk to the visitor centre, we could hear a Song Thrush singing, and eventually found it high in one of the trees next to the path. A Chiffchaff was singing from the sallows, doing a passable impression of its name. There were a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders, although the ones the other side of the visitor centre were being monopolised by several Jackdaws.

Heading out along the main path, we came across a large flock of Long-tailed Tits, a family party with several sooty-faced juveniles. We could hear several Reed Warblers singing from the reedbed and stopped to watch a pair of them clambering around the edge of one of the pools, collecting nest material. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes and we had a glimpse of it as it flew across the pool.

After the rain, the former Thornham grazing marsh pool had at least got a few puddles on it today, which were being occupied by several Shelduck. Several Swifts were hawking for insects over the reeds. There was not much of note on the reedbed pool, just a handful of Tufted Ducks, so we headed for the shelter of Island Hide, stopping briefly to look at a summer plumage Grey Plover on the saltmarsh.

There are a few more waders using the freshmarsh again, now that the water levels have started to drop. There was a nice flock of godwits roosting on the edge of one of the islands, a nice mixture of Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits, the latter having presumably come in from the beach with the rising tide. Running around on the mud nearby, were several Sanderling, moulting into darker summer plumage now, and six black-bellied Dunlin. A flock of Turnstone flew in and whirled round over the islands, but didn’t stop. Over the other side, on the mud near Parrinder Hide, we could see at least three Ringed Plover and a single Little Ringed Plover.

IMG_4306Ruff – a moulting male, with bright rusty head and neck

Needless to say, there is no shortage of Avocet here, although there were some nice ones feeding close in front of the hide. But it was the Ruff which stole the wader show. First, a rusty headed male Ruff appeared on the mud on the edge of the reeds. It was very striking, very brightly coloured but still moulting into breeding plumage and lacking the distinctive ‘ruff’.

When the godwit flock shuffled around and parted, we noticed a second Ruff in amongst them. Even though it was asleep, the wind was catching its feathers and we could see it had a full summer ‘ruff’. It was not as brightly coloured as the rusty-headed male, more subtly white barred with black, but when it woke up we could appreciate just how amazing its ‘ruff’ was. It started to feed and even raised its black crown feathers a couple of times, although it was a bit far away from where we were in Island Hide.

Many of the ducks have departed now, gone north for the breeding season – there were no Teal or Wigeon left here today. However, there are still plenty of Gadwall and Shelduck, plus a few Mallard and Shoveler. A pair of Gadwall feeding right in front of the hide gave us the opportunity to admire the intricacy of the drake’s patterning.

6O0A1327Gadwall – a beautifully patterned drake in front of Island Hide

There were several Common Terns loafing around on the islands. The Black-headed Gulls have taken over the fenced off Avocet Island, and in alongst them we could make out a few Mediterranean Gulls too, blacker-headed and with brighter red bills and pure white wing tips.

There were lots of House Martins and a fair few Swallows too around the reserve today, presumably including many migrants which have stopped off on their way to try to find some food. As we walked round to Parrinder Hide, a group of them were hawking low up and down the water’s edge just below the bank.

We got a better view of the stunning male Ruff from Parrinder Hide, before it flew off to feed on the mud over the other side. The Little Ringed Plover appeared briefly on one of the islands, as did a single Ringed Plover, but neither stayed long enough for everyone to get a good look through the scope.

IMG_4347Ruff – in full breeding plumage, with black-barred white ruff and black crown

There was still some misty dampness in the air, but we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were both quiet today, as we passed and out at the sea, the tide was in. There was still a sizeable group of Oystercatchers gathered on the sand and a large flock of Sanderling whirled round over the beach and dropped down along the shore.

There are still quite a few seaduck here, but the sea was rough today, given the wind, and the scoter flocks were some way out. We did manage to find a distant group of Common Scoter which was still visible on the sea though. A couple of Fulmars flew past with barely a flew of their wings. It was not the weather to be standing around on the beach today, so we decided to head back.

6O0A1353Little Tern – hovering over the Tidal Pools on our way back

As we got over the dunes, a Little Tern was hovering along the edge of the Tidal Pools. Back at the reedbed, we heard a Bearded Tit calling and managed to catch a brief glimpse of a male which shot across the top of the reeds carrying food, although it was too quick for most of the group to get onto. Two gaudy drake Red-crested Pochard had appeared at the back of the reedbed pool.

There seemed to be even more Swifts around on the way back – small groups appeared to be moving through, while others were gathering to feed. We bumped into one of the locals who told us that he had seen a Spotted Flycatcher by the dragonfly pool, so we swung round via the Meadow Trail, but there was no sign of it when we arrived. A Little Grebe was diving out on the water, a pair of Reed Warblers were chasing around in the reeds nearby and a Red Kite circled overhead.

6O0A1401Red Kite – circled over Meadow Trail

After lunch back at the visitor centre and a very welcome warming hot drink, we walked round to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Great Crested Grebe was looking particularly resplendent in its breeding finery. Several drake Common Pochard were asleep around the edge and a single hybrid Pochard x Tufted Duck was diving out on the water. There were lots of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins hawking for insects low over the water here too now.

A quick look over the hedge in the horse paddocks paid dividends, with a single female Yellow Wagtail feeding on the short grass with three Pied Wagtails.

IMG_4367Yellow Wagtail – a female, feeding in the horse paddocks behind Patsy’s Reedbed

There were several Marsh Harriers circling over the reedbed and we watched a male come in over the paddocks from the fields beyond, carrying something in its talons. As it approached the reeds, a female Marsh Harrier circled up and started calling, at which point the male dropped the food it had brought and the female caught it in mid air – a ‘food pass’.

6O0A1408Marsh Harrier – several were flying round over the reeds, including this male

Back at the car park, the Turtle Dove was purring more actively now that the weather had brightened up. We got a great look at it, perched in the top of a dead tree. Then we set off to drive round to Thornham Harbour.

On our way down the road to the harbour, a ghostly white shape suddenly appeared from behind the hedge and drifted across the road in front of us, a Barn Owl. As if by coincidence, one of the group had asked not half an hour earlier whether there was any chance of seeing one this weekend, and we had discussed how the overnight rain last night meant their had to be a possibility one would be out hunting. As if by magic!

We turned round and drove into the pub car park. The Barn Owl was now hunting over the meadow just beyond and we had a great view of it as it worked its way round over the grass. After a few minutes, it dropped down to the ground out of view. When it came up again, we could see it had a large vole in its bill. It flew up over the hedge and disappeared off carrying it, presumably off to feed its hungry brood nearby.

6O0A1434Barn Owl – out hunting early this afternoon, after a wet night overnight

From up in the harbour car park, we could see there were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and sandbanks. Most of the Brent Geese which spent the winter here have already departed back to Russia, and presumably most of these lingering birds should be on their way as well soon. There were also quite a few striking Grey Plovers, with their black faces and bellies now.

We walked up onto the seawall, from where we could get an even better view over the harbour. In the distance, beyond the Brent Geese, we could see three Eider asleep on the sand. They were all young drakes, 1st summers, so have not headed north this year to breed. As we walked along the bank, a female Wheatear flew off ahead of us, flashing its white rump, before landing in a Suaeda bush. Away over the grazing marshes, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the distance.

IMG_4376Wheatear – a female, along the seawall at Thornham Harbour

As we made our way back east along the coast, we headed off inland to see if we could add to our tally of farmland birds. Another Red Kite circled over a field. We could see a pair of Grey Partridge in the distance. A Tawny Owl hooted unseen from a wood. And there were lots of Brown Hares in the fields.

6O0A1449Brown Hare – we saw lots in the fields today

Our final stop of the day was at Holkham. We didn’t have enough time to explore the reserve today, but we stopped at a convenient vantage point overlooking the grazing marshes. A Great White Egret appeared from a ditch, its size obvious even at distance. A second Great White Egret was hiding in a patch of reeds over the other side. A steady stream of Spoonbills was coming and going, but down in the trees we could see three white shapes perched up in the tops. Through the scope, we could see two well-grown juvenile Spoonbills, together with an adult.

There is no shortage of Greylag Geese here at this time of year, and a fair few Canada Geese too. Almost all of the Pink-footed Geese which were here over the winter have departed, back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a very small number remain through the summer, mainly injured or sick birds. We could see two Pink-footed Geese asleep in the grass today, one of which had a damaged wing, presumably having been shot and wounded.

Barn Owls are much like buses, as having already seen one at Thornham earlier, a second now appeared, hunting over the grazing marshes here.It spent some time flying round, covering quite a large area, before the next thing we knew, we saw it heading off purposefully with something in its talons. We watched it fly all the way off towards some distant outbuildings, preumably where it had its hungry brood waiting. Then it was time for us to head off home too.

13th May 2017 – Spring Warblers & Waders

A Spring Tour today in North Norfolk. It was rather cloudy in the morning, with a few light showers passing through, but brightened up with some nice sunny spells in the afternoon.

Our destination for the morning was Titchwell, but on the way there we stopped to avoid a Grey Wagtail in the road, near the old Burnham Overy water mill. It quickly flew up onto the edge of the roof of one of the cottages nearby, which allowed us to drive on past.

When we arrived at Titchwell we could hear a Turtle Dove purring from deep in a leafy sycamore next to the car park. We had a look to see if we could see it, but it was clearly tucked in out of sight. A smart male Greenfinch was more obliging, wheezing from the trees next to the car. A Red Kite drifted over head.

At that point, one of the reserve volunteers came over to tell us that a Wood Warbler was singing by the visitor centre and a Spotted Flycatcher had been seen around the picnic area. Wood Warbler is a very scarce visitor here, so we hurried along to see if we could find it. We heard it singing as we walked along and came across a small crowd looking up into the trees along the entrance road. We got great views of the Wood Warbler as it flitted around in an oak, stopping every few seconds to sing, before it moved off quickly further up the line of trees out of sight.

6O0A0701Wood Warbler – singing in the trees along the access road this morning

Having had a good look at the Wood Warbler, we made our way back to the picnic area to see if we could find the Spotted Flycatcher. We waited here a few minutes, scanning the trees, but there was no more sign of it. Another favoured area for them here is the pool along Fen Trail, so we walked round to see if it might be there. It wasn’t, but we did get a nice look at a Reed Warbler hopping about in the reeds here.

The Turtle Doves had apparently been visible in the trees behind Fen Hide earlier, so we made our way along to there next. There was no sign of them at first, but as a brief shower passed over, we took shelter in the hide. A pair of Common Pochard were diving on the edge of the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler flew low across the pool and dropped down into the base of a bush. We came out again, just in time to see a pair of Turtle Doves fly over and circle round in front of us before dropping back down into the trees.

On our way to Patsy’s Reedbed, we stopped to look at a Bloody-nosed Beetle walking along the boardwalk. There were several around the paths today – both live ones and a couple which had been crushed underfoot. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles.

6O0A0713Bloody-nosed Beetle – commonly seen around the paths on the reserve

At Patsy’s Reeded, we quickly located a single drake Red-crested Pochard asleep on the bank with a couple of Tufted Ducks. A pair of Little Grebes were diving out in the middle. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed and dropped down into the reeds out of view. There were good numbers of Swifts swooping for insects over the water.

6O0A0714Red-crested Pochard – this drake was asleep on Patsy’s Reedbed

We made our way back and round via the Meadow Trail out to the main path. The former pool on the Thornham grazing marsh is now looking very dry and uninviting, so we focused our attention on the reedbed. There were lots of warblers singing today – Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers, and the odd Cetti’s Warbler shouting at us occasionally from the bushes. A male Reed Bunting showed very well by the pools.

Something on the path seemed to be causing a stir amongst the people ahead of us, and we walked over to see a Common Shrew running along the edge of the path. Unfortunately, it didn’t look well. It was missing some fur from the back of its neck, so perhaps something had had a go at it. A Mediterranean Gull flew over calling. A Cuckoo shot over the path and headed out over the saltmarsh.

6O0A0731Common Shrew – was running along the edge of the main path

At this point, it started to rain again, so we hurried on towards the shelter of Island Hide. A Grey Plover on the saltmarsh pool opposite was looking smart with its summer black face and belly.

The water levels have started to drop a bit on the freshmarsh now, and there were a few more waders on here today. Our main target here was a Little Stint which had been reported earlier and we quickly located it on one of the islands. We could see how small it was  – creeping around on the mud, next to the much larger ducks. It was very flighty though, and kept flying round before coming back to the islands. Migrant waders at this time of year are often in a hurry to get on their way. We could also see a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, way over the other side, close to Parrinder Hide.

There is rarely any shortage of Avocets here, and we had some nice views of them feeding in front of the hide. There were also good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits back on here again. Presumably they are mostly young birds, born last year, which will not breed or migrate to Iceland this year. They also don’t moult fully into breeding plumage – most were still in their winter greys, but a few had a scattering of orange feathers. A single Ruff was on the mud close to the hide – also not yet in full breeding plumage, but starting to moult its head and neck.

6O0A0768Ruff – starting to get some summer feathers on head and neck

There are several Common Terns around the freshmarsh now, which are always nice to see. Through the scope, we could see their black-tipped red bills and red legs. There were also three Sandwich Terns on here today, including a pair mating. Presumably they will be looking to nest in the colony on nearby Scolt Head. There is a large Black-headed Gull colony on the fenced off Avocet island and in among them are several pairs of Mediterranean Gulls. We picked one out with the scope – its much blacker head and bright red bill standing out even at a distance.

IMG_4154Sandwich Terns – this pair were mating on the freshmarsh today

There are not so many ducks around the freshmarsh now. In particular, the number of Teal have finally dropped as birds have departed on their journey north to breed. We still found a single pair of Teal here today. There are still good numbers of Gadwall and  Mallard and lots of Shelduck, all of which breed here. We stopped to admire a drake Gadwall – not the gaudiest of ducks, rather grey and black, but a wonderfully subtle mix of patterns. The Brent Geese have not all departed for Russia yet, and a small group came onto the freshmarsh to bathe.

6O0A0848Gadwall – with intricately patterned feathers

By the time we got round to Parrinder Hide, the Little Stint had disappeared. We did get closer views of the Little Ringed Plovers through the scope, so we could see their golden yellow eye rings. However, it was the baby Avocets which drew the most attention. Like little balls of fur, with long legs and a little upturned bill. Two females had one chick each today, and one of them was feeding quite close to the hide. The adult Avocets are not the most attentive parents and as the young ones wandered away, it seemed no surprise that they are very vulnerable to predation.

6O0A0897Avocet – a small chick was feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

The weather had improved now, so we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. There was not much to see on the Volunteer Marsh today – a drake Shoveler close to the path and several Avocets feeding along the channel at the far end. The Tidal Pools were also rather quiet, apart from a single Bar-tailed Godwit. We got it in the scope and talked about the differences between Bar-tailed Godwit and the Black-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier on the Freshmarsh.

As we walked up over the dunes, we could see a couple of groups of black ducks flying round over the sea beyond. From the beach, we got them in the scope and could see they were mostly Common Scoter. Looking carefully through them, we picked out two or three Velvet Scoters too, getting a flash of the white in their wings as they flapped or seeing the white diagonal line on their sides. There was also still a singe Red-breasted Merganser offshore.

There were a few waders still distantly out on the mussel beds, despite the rising tide. As well as lots of Oystercatchers and several more Bar-tailed Godwits, we found a little group of Sanderling and Turnstone, both coming into summer plumage now. A small flock of Knot flew off along the shoreline. At that point we noticed some dark cloud approaching fast behind us. It started to rain, but thankfully it was just a few spits and spots.

Once the rain stopped, we decided to make our way back for lunch. There were two or three Little Egrets out on the saltmarsh, but when a larger white bird took off, a quick look at it confirmed it was a Spoonbill. It circled round and landed back down in one of the channels on the saltmarsh out of view. A Grey Heron was more obliging. It flew in to the pools right by the main path, causing a female Mallard to leave her brood of ducklings and chase after it. The Grey Heron didn’t seem too fussed and landed on the edge of the reeds where it started to preen.

6O0A0921Grey Heron – stood preening on the edge of the reeds

With the skies brightening up nicely now, we ate our lunch in the picnic area. There was still no sign of any Spotted Flycatchers here, but a Goldcrest showed well in the pine trees. We could still hear the Wood Warbler singing, back towards the car park, and after lunch we walked to the car to find it in the oak tree just above! We had another nice look at it before it flew back deeper into the trees.

The Turtle Dove was still purring from the leafy sycamore and helpfully waited until we had packed the scope away before flying out and across to a bare tree where we could finally get a good look at it. By the time we got the scope out again and set up, needless to say it flew back to the sycamore out of view!

6O0A0941Turtle Dove – finally showed itself briefly in a bare tree in the car park

While we were at Titchwell, reports had come through of a trip of Dotterel in a field just up the road at Choseley, so we drove up there for a look. We found a few people standing in the entrance to a field, who showed us where the birds were, but they were miles away. The bare stoney field was picking up the heat from the sun, resulting in a lot of shimmer, so that even with the scope we couldn’t make out much more than a few small blurry shapes.

We decided to head down the footpath to try to find a vantage point a little closer to them, but some people coming back the other way explained that because of a ridge in the field, the Dotterel were not visible from along there. We carried on anyway, reasoning that they were moving round the field, but when we got to the end we found they were right. A Yellowhammer was singing in the hedge nearby.

It looked like it was back to Plan A, distant views from back at the road, but as we walked back we scanned the field just in case. Bingo! Just at that point, the Dotterel appeared over the ridge across the field in front of us. We all had a great look at them through the scope, just in time before they sat down just over the ridge – we could just see the tops of a couple of their heads!

IMG_4160Dotterel – a quick record shot of one before they all sat down

On the way back, we just had time for a short stop at Holkham and a quick walk down to the hides. It was sunny now and in the heat of the afternoon, there were still a few warblers singing on the walk out, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, plus the regular Coal Tits, Treecreeper and Goldcrest.

We stopped to scan the grazing marshes just before Washington Hide and spotted a large white shape out on one of the pools. It was a Spoonbill, dropped in to bathe on its way back to the colony. We got it in the scope and could see its bushy crest blowing in the wind. A second Spoonbill appeared and started preening nearby, before the first flew off back towards the trees.

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, there was a steady coming and going of Spoonbills, Little Egrets and Cormorants to and from the trees. One or two Spoonbills came down repeatedly to collect vegetation from the edge of the pool for their nests and a little group gathered half hidden behind the rushes at the front to bathe.

IMG_4200Spoonbill – collecting nest material from the edge of the pool

It was a nice way to finish the day here. As well as all the activity around the trees, we could see several Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards out over the grazing marshes. A Hobby was catching insects rather distantly away to the west. The one thing we hadn’t seen here today was one of the Great White Egrets, but just as we were thinking about heading back one flew up out of the reeds and circled round before disappearing behind the wood. With that one to wrap things up nicely, we walked back to the car, with a Jay on the way to round off the day’s list.

21st May 2016 – Spring in NW Norfolk

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours. Having gone east yesterday, we made our way in the other direction today, west along the coast.

Our first stop was at Choseley. There has been a single Dotterel here for the last few days, but when we arrived the assembled crowd had not seen anything this morning. We were just getting out of the car when someone stopped to tell us it was visible from the road the other side, so we got back in and drove round that way instead. We were glad we did. The Dotterel was much closer than usual and there was no heat haze this morning, which meant we had great views of it through the scope.

IMG_4402Dotterel – showing well this morning

It was very blustery today, in a fresh SW wind, but we found a sheltered spot behind th hedge. We watched the Dotterel running back and forth, occasionally picking at the ground. At one point, we noticed a Ringed Plover in the same view – it had been hiding in the stones, perfectly camouflaged. When a couple of Brown Hares ran past, the Dotterel flew a short distance and landed back in the field.

There were other birds here too. A couple of Skylarks were tousling out in the field and another fluttered up singing. A pair of Yellowhammers landed briefly in the hedge beside us. Three Red-legged Partridge were picking around in the field. A couple of Marsh Harriers hung in the breeze and two Common Buzzards soared over the other side.

We made our way down to Holme next. We had hoped that it might be relatively sheltered on the far side of the paddocks, but the wind was whistling straight through the trees. There was a steady movement of Swifts west overhead in small groups, with a few House Martins and Swallows in with them.

6O0A3199Swift – there was a steady westward passage today

We could hear Chiffchaff and Common Whitethroat singing from the bushes, but they were keeping tucked down out of the wind today, and there was no sign of any Turtle Doves at first. We walked slowly along to the west end and we were almost at the golf course when we heard one purring briefly as we approached, just audible over the wind. We walked down to where we thought it had been, but it had gone quiet. There were lots of Wall Browns down in the grass in the lee of the bushes, enjoying a bit of sunshine.

6O0A3203Wall Brown – we found lots down in the grass in the dunes

It seemed like we might be out of luck and we had just started to walk back when the Turtle Dove purred again briefly. This time we walked round the other side of the bushes and the next thing we knew it started purring in the bush right beside us. We still couldn’t see it as it was round on the other side, and we eventually just got a quick glimpse as it flew off. It really was too exposed and windy here, so we decided to give up and move on. On the way back to the car, a Cuckoo flew past over the paddocks.

Our next destination was Dersingham Bog. We thought we might find a little shelter from the wind here, and so it proved. At the bottom of the slope we found a family party of Stonechats. The pair of adults were flitting around between the low birch saplings, and as we watched we saw them fly across and feed a recently-fledged streaky juvenile Stonechat down in the heather.

While we were watching the Stonechats, we scanned the trees up on the hill beyond and in the very top of one of them we found a Tree Pipit. We got the scope on it and could see its well-marked face pattern, and the heavily streaked breast contrasting with needle-fine streaking on the flanks. It dropped down out of view, so we started to walk round for a closer look.

We hadn’t gone far when a pair of Woodlarks flew overhead and dropped down into the heather at the base of the slope a short distance away. Through the scope, we had a great view of them as they walked through the grass and patches of cut bracken.

IMG_4424Woodlark – a pair were feeding quietly on bare ground at the base of the slope

We walked round, past where the Tree Pipit had been singing earlier, but there was no sign of it. At the top of the hill the other side, we found ourselves out in the wind, so we decided to double back the way we had come. On the way, we heard the Tree Pipit singing and saw it land in one of the trees again. This time, we got a much better view as it perched on a branch singing, before it dropped down over the ridge out of view. It was great to hear it too, as singing Tree Pipits are so much rarer in North Norfolk now than they used to be. On our way back to the car, we stopped to watch a Roe Deer walking through the bracken. The Tree Pipit was in a different tree, much more distant again now, but we could still hear it singing away.

We had lunch back in the car park and then set off for Titchwell, our destination for the afternoon. We cut the corner off, going inland cross-country, looking for Grey Partridges. Unusually, there was no sign of any today until we got almost back to Choseley. Then we came face to face with a male Grey Partridge walking down the middle of the road towards us! We had a quick stop by the barns, but it was very windy up here now and there was no sign of any Corn Buntings. A smart male Yellowhammer landed briefly on the concrete.

6O0A3205Grey Partridge – walking down the road near Choseley

Round at Titchwell, we walked straight out onto the reserve. A Robin by the visitor centre was probably too full of crumbs from the picnic tables to take any interest in the mealworms proffered by one of the group!

As we made our way along the main path by the reedbed, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing close by. We could just see it perched on a curving reed stem, so we got it in the scope and watched it singing away. Very helpfully, it then climbed up the reeds into full view – great stuff. A little further along, we heard a Sedge Warbler too, which was a great opportunity to stop and talk about the differences between these two often confused species. A Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the reedbed was less of an identification challenge!

6O0A3246Reed Warbler – singing by the main path at Titchwell

A Cuckoo was calling somewhere out across the reeds as we walked out. We stopped by the reedbed pool, but there were not many ducks on here today. We were however treated to repeated Bearded Tits flybys. Firstly, a male Bearded Tit zoomed low over the water and disappeared into the reeds. A short while later it flew back the other way. It repeated this procedure a couple of times, until we had all had a good look at him. A female Bearded Tit then flew out of the reeds and disappeared off behind the bushes in the direction of Fen Hide and the next thing we knew the male went on a long flight in that direction too. It is never normally a good idea to go looking for Bearded Tits on a windy day, so we were doubly lucky with their performance today.

6O0A3328Avocet – showing well as usual

Right in front of Island Hide, a pair of Shelduck were feeding in the sticky mud. There were several Avocets here as usual too. A single White Wagtail was feeding out with several Pied Wagtails still.

6O0A3267Shelduck – a pair were feeding in front of Island Hide

There were a few more waders on the Freshmarsh today. A large group of Oystercatcher were loafing around in the water and were joined by a single Curlew. Five Black-tailed Godwits were feeding between the islands. A flock of around twenty Turnstone flew in to bathe and then up onto one of the low islands to preen. Several of them are now in their stunning summer plumage, with extensive bright rufous feathering in the upperparts and white faces.

IMG_4449Turnstones – several are now in stunning summer plumage

Eventually we found the Little Stint, creeping around the flooded grassy islands over towards Parrinder Hide. When a Lapwing walked past, we could see just how tiny it was. We had seen a distant Little Ringed Plover over that side too, but then one appeared on the mud right in front of the hide. We could see its golden eyering so clearly now. Then from back up on the main path it was even closer. It was running around feeding, stopping to tap a foot on the mud, presumably to try to bring worms or other invertebrates to the surface.

6O0A3317Little Ringed Plover – showed very well from the Main Path

On the approach to Parrinder Hide, we could hear the Bittern booming. Even on the other side of the freshmarsh on such a windy day, it was clearly audible. From inside the hide, we could see the Little Stint much closer now. A smart summer plumaged bird, with bright rusty fringes to its upperparts and rusty feathering around the face. A Spoonbill flew past too, but unfortunately those standing up with the scopes behind the seats missed it as those sitting down didn’t say anything until it had passed.

IMG_4521Little Stint – better views from Parrinder Hide

Some grey clouds came over but went through quickly without dropping any rain, so we decided to brave the wind and head out to the beach. The Volunteer Marsh was rather quiet again, apart from a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover on the side of the channel at the far end. Another was on the Tidal Pools.

The sea has been very quiet recently, with most of the seaduck long since having departed, so a single Common Scoter close inshore was most welcome. Even better, as we scanned across we found two cracking drake Common Eider on the sea too, the first we have seen here this year. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them – beautiful birds. Then further over still, we found a single Great Crested Grebe out on the sea as well.

IMG_4563Eider – these two stunning drakes were on the sea today

There were lots of Sandwich Terns fishing offshore and scanning through them we found a single distant Little Tern too. On the tideline, we could see a couple of flocks of roosting Oystercatcher and a few Sanderling running in and out of the waves. Then more Sanderling flew in to join them and in amongst them we could see a single black-bellied Dunlin.

6O0A3337Common Scoter – flew in over the beach to the Tidal Pools

We were just thinking about leaving when the Common Scoter suddenly flew straight towards us, in over beach. It appeared to go down just behind the dunes, and when we started to walk out there it was on one of the islands on the Tidal Pools. It looked very odd, standing upright and preening, and distinctly out of place for a seaduck on here. It was a male, as evidenced by the mostly black plumage and yellow stripe down the top of the bill, but a young one, with lots of retained brown feathering still and a mottled belly.

IMG_4588Common Scoter – landed on one of the islands to preen

There were still more things to see on the way. Back on the freshmarsh, two Little Terns dropped in to bathe before landing on one of the islands to preen. They dropped in conveniently close to a couple of Common Terns, giving a great side by side comparison and highlighting just how small they really are. A pair of Red-crested Pochard flew in to the front of the reedbed pool, the drake looking especially smart still with his bright red bill and yellow-orange punk haircut. And as we were almost back, a Cuckoo flew out of the trees and away across the saltmarsh towards the dunes.

As a consequence of all the excitement, we were later back to the car than planned, but it had been well worth it, and a great way to round off the day.

19th May 2016 – Birds & Other Wildlife

A Private Tour today, up into NW Norfolk, for a regular who wanted to do something a bit different, avoiding the main nature reserves. It was a bit misty at first, but it was forecast to burn off during the morning and then be mostly bright and dry.

We headed up towards Holkham first. On the way, a large shape perched on the top of a barn in the mist was a Red Kite. We stopped to look at it and could just make out a second Red Kite circling in the murk further back. A tractor was cultivating the field opposite and lots of Black-headed Gulls were following behind. Not surprisingly these days, a quick look revealed a single Mediterranean Gull in with them. Through the scope, we could see its jet black hood extending further down the back of the neck than the chocolate brown hoods of the nearby (and inappropriately named!) Black-headed Gulls. As the tractor got to the end of the field, the Mediterranean Gull took off and flew past us, flashing its pure white wing tips.

IMG_4255Red Kite – perched on a barn roof in the mist this morning

While we waited for the mist to clear, we stopped briefly at Holkham. We could see lots of white shapes in the trees across the grazing marshes – Spoonbills. Through the scope, we could see their spoon-shaped bills. There were lots of Cormorants, Little Egrets and the odd Grey Heron in the trees too.

A male Marsh Harrier circled low over the reeds, with prey in its talons. It seemed to be waiting for the female to come up, to accept a food pass, but there was no sign of her flying up to meet him. Eventually he gave up and flew off, landing down in the grass in front, presumably to eat his catch himself.

It was starting to brighten up a little now, so we headed off inland, to explore the farmland behind the coast. At our first stop, there were several Skylarks singing and a little flock of Linnets flew up to land on the wires. A pair of Red-legged Partridge were on one side of the road and a pair of Grey Partridge on the other side. A couple of Brown Hares ran off through the grass.

A large stack of bales was adorned with Shelduck on the top of it. We counted ten birds in total – always an unlikely place to see them! A little further down the road, a pair of Shelduck had taken up residence on a large puddle on the edge of a field with their ten shelducklings. Again, it is not entirely an ideal place for them, as there is no other water around here if and when the puddle dries up.

6O0A3088Shelducks – the female with her shelducklings on a farm puddle

We turned into the entrance to a farm track and a pair of Grey Partridge stood on the verge right beside us. They walked quietly into the grass, before flying off across the field as we pulled up.

6O0A3090Grey Partridge – this pair were on the edge of a track

This is a high point, a good place to scan the surrounding countryside, so we stopped here for a while. There were a few raptors out this morning, but it was still a bit cloudy and hadn’t really warmed up yet. A Marsh Harrier quartered the field in front of us. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up distantly. Another Red Kite circled over.

A little group of gulls came up over the fields towards us. In with several Black-headed Gulls and a young Herring Gull were a couple more Mediterranean Gulls. As they came overhead we could see the light shining through their translucent white wingtips. Mediterranean Gulls really do turn up anywhere now, even well away from the coast.

Yellow Wagtails used to be a much more common breeding bird in Norfolk, but are increasingly hard to find there days. So it was a nice surprise to find a pair here, flying in and out of a wheat field, calling as they came overhead. At one point, the bright yellow male dropped down briefly into a bare field nearby. The numbers of Lapwing breeding on farmland have also dropped dramatically. It was lovely to see a pair displaying, calling and somersaulting. Sadly, even if they do stay to breed here, productivity is normally very low in a modern agricultural environment.

We went for a short walk along the farm track. There were several Common Whitethroats in the hedges, mostly their scolding call gave their presence away. We saw several Yellowhammers too, including a lovely bright male which perched up in a hedge in front of us.

6O0A3106Yellowhammer – a gorgeous yellow-headed male

We had intended to make our way slowly towards Choseley, so we were pleased to hear the news that a Dotterel had been seen earlier. There had been a lovely ‘trip’ of up to 28 here in recent weeks, but none had been seen in the last couple of days. When we arrived, there was only one other couple who had been scanning the field in vain. It is a huge field and shimmering with haze over the parched earth – not an easy place to find a single bird. Thankfully, after scanning carefully for a few minutes, we found the Dotterel once it moved. It was working its way across the back of the field, running a short distance, before stopping still, at which point it became very tricky to see again.

IMG_4268Turtle Dove – our first of the day, purring at Choseley

After that unexpected bonus, we made our way up to the drying barns. When we got out of the car, we didn’t quite know which way to look. A Corn Bunting started singing just back along the road from us and a Turtle Dove was purring on a telegraph post the other side of the barns. We had a quick look at one, then the other, through the scope, in case either should fly off, then stopped to watch both of them at our leisure. We could see the Turtle Dove inhale, puffing out its breast, before purring. Eventually the Corn Bunting dropped back down to the fields beyond the hedge and the Turtle Dove flew off east.

6O0A3109Corn Bunting – singing from the wires at Choseley

With all our main target species here in the bag, we headed off, over to Snettisham next. As we walked out through the Coastal Park, a Sparrowhawk flashed across and disappeared into the trees. There were lots of warblers singing from the bushes – Blackcaps, Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. Several Cetti’s Warblers shouted at us from deep in the vegetation.

We walked up onto the outer seawall and looked out across the Wash. The tide was coming in now, but was still quite a way out. Several little groups of Oystercatcher flew past over the mud. A surprising number of Brent Geese were still lingering, out at the water’s edge – it is high time they were on their way back to Russia for the breeding season! A small flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew off inland and dropped down towards the grazing marshes, while we could still see a few out on the edge of the mud.

We didn’t see the large mass of waders at first from here, but a little later something obviously disturbed them from further along, coupled with the now fast rising tide, and we could see a huge cloud of birds swirling round over the Wash before landing back on the mud.

There are a few more dragonflies starting to appear now. We flushed a couple of newly emerged Azure Damselflies from the long grass. Along the bank of the inner seawall we found a Hairy Dragonfly resting in a sheltered spot. As we walked back towards the car, we could hear a Cuckoo calling from the bushes.

6O0A3130Hairy Dragonfly – resting in the grass

Our final stop of the day was at Holme. We walked along towards the paddocks first and could hear a Turtle Dove purring before we got past the trees. Out in the open, when it started purring again, we found it perched on a dead branch. From here, we could just hear a second Turtle Dove purring a little further over, and the first responded by purring back at it.

IMG_4290Turtle Dove – one of two purring at Holme

A father was out for a walk with his young daughter and stopped to ask what we were looking at. They had heard the Turtle Doves already, so we let them have a close look at one through the scope. It was a sobering thought to think that there might be none left here by the time his daughter grows up, giving the alarming rate at which they are declining.

Otherwise, the bushes in the paddocks were rather quiet this afternoon. However, there was a steady movement of Swifts, flying west through the dunes or over the fields just inland, accompanied by smaller numbers of Sand Martins and Swallows. We had seen a few Swifts and House Martins over Snettisham too, earlier. Some birds are continuing on migration, still on their way.

We got back in the car and drove a little further along the coast, stopping to walk out into the dunes. There was a nice selection of butterflies out now – several Wall Brown and Small Copper as usual. A couple of nice, crisp, fresh Common Blue fluttered around in the grass too. And as we walked along, we flushed a single Brown Argus from beside the path. The wind had picked up a little now and the butterflies were carried away across the dunes as soon as they gained any height, so they were  mostly lurking down in the shelter of the path.

6O0A3134Small Copper – one of several species of butterfly out this afternoon

We walked past the flowers lurking in the grass at first, and had to double back before we found them. There is a small colony of Man Orchids here, so called because the individual flowers on the spike shaped rather like a little hooded stick man. It is hard to see this at a distance, but crouch down and look closely and the flower spike looks like an army of stick men. The orchids are not fully out yet, but they were still great to look at, very smart flowers.

6O0A3145Man Orchid – the individual flowers shaped like small stick men

Then it was time to head back. It had been a great day out, not just for birds, but also with a wealth of other wildlife to see.

13th May 2016 – Not So Unlucky

The first of two Spring Migration Tours in North Norfolk today. It was a Friday and that was meant to be unlucky, but we didn’t do too badly! It was cloudy, and a lot cooler than of late, but that didn’t hold us back.

As we were heading west today, we stopped quickly at Holkham on the way. We could see several large white shapes flying around, landing in the trees, and a look through the scope confirmed they were Spoonbills. There were plenty of Little Egrets in the trees too.

A careful scan through all the Greylags and Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marshes revealed a single Pink-footed Goose too. It flew across, just to show it wasn’t injured, so this one must have another reason for staying here rather than heading back to Iceland for the breeding season with the rest of the Pink-footed Geese which spend the winter here.

We continued on our way west and turned off the coast road in Titchwell, up towards Choseley. There were several cars parked along the road, which confirmed that the Dotterel which have been here for a couple of weeks now were still present. They were hard to see at first, when they stopped moving, but gradually came closer and into a lighter patch of the field where they were more obvious.

IMG_4172Dotterel – at least 26 in the field today

The number of Dotterel here has been steadily growing. There were at least 26 today but they were very hard to count (as many as 28 were claimed by others). Still, we had a good look at them in the scope.

A Corn Bunting was singing from behind us while we were watching the Dotterel, so we turned our attention to that next. It was not in its usual spot on the top of the hedge, but was singing from a recently sown patch of ground, hidden behind some taller set aside in the foreground, probably down out of the wind. When it finally flew, we could see there were actually two Corn Buntings out there, and we did manage to see one on the ground, although it was hard to get an angle onto it in the scope without putting it up too high for everyone to see through!

There were a couple of Yellowhammers and Linnets too, in the same field. Nearby, two Grey Partridge were creeping through a low crop, and a Red-legged Partridge was close by. We could see plenty of Brown Hares dotted around the fields.

6O0A2520Brown Hare & Red-legged Partridge – admiring the scenery

It was down to Titchwell next and, after a short break for a hot drink, we walked out onto the reserve. As we made our way along the main path out to the reedbed, we could hear a Cuckoo singing from the bushes. There were several Reed Warblers singing from the reeds and a couple of Cetti’s Warblers shouted at each other from the brambles.

The dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’ was rather devoid of life – it was possibly a bit too windy and exposed out there today. There was more to see on the reedbed pool. A few Tufted Duck and a Common Pochard were diving out in the middle. A Little Grebe swam across and then a Great Crested Grebe flew in from the back and landed closer to us. A Bearded Tit zipped low across the water and dived back into the reeds. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed at the back.

Most of the Brent Geese seem to have departed now, but a couple of smaller groups were still lingering out on the saltmarsh. A very smart Grey Plover, with black face and belly, was lurking on one of the pools.

The water level on the freshmarsh is still rather high – presumably to try to persuade the Avocets to nest within the new high security fence, rather than giving them too many other islands from which to choose. Possibly as a consequence, there are not too many other waders on here at the moment and those that are here can be rather difficult to see.

We did manage to find a Temminck’s Stint looking across from Island Hide, possibly the same bird which was last reported here a couple of days ago. However, it was on the island behind the fence and promptly tucked itself down and went to sleep. Not the best views! There were a few Turnstones trying to shelter from the wind here as well.

There were lots of Common Swifts zooming about low over the water, trying to find insects. These were probably migrants which had stopped off here on their way to try to feed. They were great to watch. There were a few House Martins and Swallows in with them, but later from Parrinder Hide there seemed to be a much larger number of the former.

6O0A2566

6O0A2539

6O0A2542Common Swifts – hawking for insects over the water

A Yellow Wagtail flew over, calling, and looked like it might land on one of the islands initially. However, it didn’t stop and carried on over the bank towards the sea. Round at Parrinder Hide, we had better views of a White Wagtail on one of the islands out in front. We could see its pale grey back, much paler than a Pied Wagtail, contrasting more with its black cap.

A noisy gang of Avocets flew round and landed out in the water. They seemed to be having an argument about something and bickered with each other for a while, before chasing round again.

6O0A2574

6O0A2576Avocets – this noisy gang seemed to be arguing about something

There were several Little Ringed Plovers out on the freshmarsh. One was very close to the main path and we had a great look at it – we could see its golden eyering clearly. A single Ringed Plover was on one of the islands in front of Parrinder Hide too. At one point, we even had Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover side by side, which was a nice comparison. The former was noticeably bigger, with brighter orange legs and a stumpy black-tipped orange bill, as well as lacking the golden eyering.

6O0A2562Little Ringed Plover – there were several on the freshmarsh

Round at Parrinder Hide, the Temminck’s Stint, having obviously woken up, reappeared feeding on the edge of one of the smaller islands, where we could get a much better look at it. There were also several Common Sandpipers round the muddy margins, at least four, and three Dunlin in smart summer plumage, sporting black belly patches.

There are always several pairs of Common Tern on the freshmarsh, but a pair of Little Terns were on here as well today. Through the scope we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

IMG_4179Little Tern – a pair were loafing on one of the islands on the freshmarsh

There are still a few ducks here. Several pairs of Shoveler and Gadwall will probably stay for the summer, but the couple of pairs of Teal that were still here today will still more likely head north.

6O0A2587Shoveler – there were several pairs on the freshmarsh

We braved the bracing wind and made our way out towards the sea. The tide was in and the Volunteer Marsh was flooded. There was not much on the Tidal Pools either. Out on the beach there were some large flocks of gulls, mostly Herring Gulls, resting on the sand. Along the shoreline, we could see lots and lots of Sanderling running in and out of the waves, many now in rather dark summer plumage. A single Kittiwake flew past out to sea. Then we decided to get out of the wind and make our way back.

After lunch, we made our way back along the coast to Holkham again. We figured we could get a bit of shelter from the wind in the lee of the pines, so walked west from Lady Anne’s Drive. It was still rather cool here and not so much was singing today. Still, we did hear a couple of Common Whitethroat, one or two Sedge Warblers, several Blackcap and a few Chiffchaff. We managed to see a Goldcrest singing from a holm oak and a few tits – Long-tailed Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits.

6O0A2594Marsh Harrier – there were several at Holkham

We stopped to watch a couple of Marsh Harriers circling up from the reeds. When one drifted over the grazing marshes, a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew round noisily. As they started to settle back on one of the pools, we could hear a Greenshank calling. When we got the scope on the godwits, we could see two Greenshank out on the mud too. A nearby Pink-footed Goose this side was obviously injured – with what appeared to be a broken wing.

We had a look out from Joe Jordan Hide. There were lots of Cormorants in the trees and a few Little Egrets came and went, but there was no sign of any Spoonbills down on the pool today. We did eventually see a couple of Spoonbills perched up in one of the trees, but they were doing what Spoonbills love to do best – sleeping!

There were more Marsh Harriers coming and going and a Common Buzzards circled in front of the trees. A Kestrel was having a dust bath. A pair of Grey Partridge were feeding on the grass below.

IMG_4185Grey Partridge – a pair were in front of Joe Jordan Hide

On our way back, we stopped in at Washington Hide. It appeared to be rush hour for the Spoonbills now! In the space of just a few minutes we had four different birds flying past, in both directions, including an immature bird with dark tips to its primaries. Even at a distance they are instantly recognisable, with their necks held outstretched as they fly, unlike the similarly white Little Egrets, which tuck their necks in.

We had done very well today, despite the cold wind, and it was now time for us to head for home. Thankfully we had all also survived Friday 13th unscathed!