Tag Archives: Felbrigg

12th Nov 2016 – Autumn Meets Winter, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of Early Winter tours today. After glorious sunshine yesterday, the weather forecast for today was not so good. Although it did rain at times, it wasn’t quite as bad as forecast and we did have some drier spells. Even so, it doesn’t stop us from getting out birding.

Given the forecast, we started the day in the hides at Cley. Pat’s Pool looked rather empty from Bishop Hide – perhaps a raptor had just been through and flushed a lot of the birds? There were a few Wigeon scattered round the edges and a bigger group of Teal on the island in front of the Teal Hide. A single Lapwing and a Dunlin flew back in and landed on one of the nearer islands, next to a little huddle of Black-headed Gulls.

We had arranged to meet part of the group here, off the bus, so having collected them on our way back, we made our way out towards the main complex of hides. Along the Skirts, a male Stonechat flew along the path ahead of us and sat on a fence post, watching us for a minute or so, before flying a little further back. As we continued on our way, it always stayed a discrete distance ahead of us until we got to the junction in the path.

6o0a8549Stonechat – this male was along the Skirts path this morning

As we opened the shutters on Dauke’s Hide, a small group of Wigeon were on the bank just in front. There were more duck out on Simmond’s Scrape, a nice selection. Several Shoveler were whirling round with their heads constantly down in the water. A lot more Teal were sleeping on the flooded islands. A few Gadwall were feeding over towards the back – one of the smartest but the most underrated of ducks, we had a good look at them in the scope. A single Pintail flew over and disappeared off to the east.

6o0a8552Wigeon – these three were on the bank in front of Dauke’s Hide

Probably avoiding the weather out on the sea, there were several Great Black-backed Gulls on Simmond’s Scrape this morning, a mixture of adults and various ages of immature birds. A single Lesser Black-backed Gull was conveniently standing on one tiny island, next to a lone Great Black-backed Gull, providing a great side-by-side comparison. As well its noticeably smaller size, we could see the yellow legs of the Lesser (pink on the Great) and its slightly paler slate grey mantle.

We could hear a pipit calling, but despite searching round the margins of the scrape, we couldn’t see it. We did see two pipits come up from Billy’s Wash, calling. They were Water Pipits but, despite flying towards us at one point, they circled back round and landed out of view on Billy’s Wash again. When the rain eased off, we decided to make our way back. We could hear Bearded Tits calling by the boardwalk, but they were tucked deep down in the reeds this morning, perhaps not a surprise given the weather.

6o0a8587Egyptian Goose – a pair were on the grazing marsh next to Attenborough’s Walk

Our next destination was Iron Road, where we parked to walk out to Babcock Hide. It had stopped raining completely now and even seemed to have brightened up a little. There was a large gaggle of Greylag Geese on the grazing marshes by the start of Attenborough’s Walk and, further along by the junction to the hide, a pair of Egyptian Geese too. Several small groups of Pink-footed Geese appeared to fly up from the direction of Salthouse. Some of them flew west over the fields to the south of us, while others seemed to head straight inland over the village.

Three Marsh Harriers flew up from Pope’s Marsh and started circling together over the reedbed, presumably taking advantage of the dry weather to head off hunting. Two of them drifted off east towards Salthouse.

As we walked out to the hide, we had seen a flock of about ten Dunlin whirling round over the water before disappearing off over the reeds towards Cley. When we got into the hide, there were thankfully still two Dunlin on the mud right in front. We had great close views of them feeding just in front of us. They were both first winter birds, having mostly completed their moult but still retaining a few juvenile upperpart feathers and the odd remnant of black belly spotting.

6o0a8573Dunlin – two were feeding right in front of Babcock Hide

A single Little Grebe was diving in the deeper water at the back, between the islands. Nearby, were a few Teal and a single Shoveler. When we looked back, the Little Grebe had disappeared but a single female Pintail had floated out from behind the islands. It was most likely the one we had seen flying off in this direction earlier. There were a few Wigeon on here too, but not as many as in recent weeks – presumably they were feeding somewhere more sheltered today.

There were not so many other waders on here today. A couple of Redshank were picking around the edge of one of the islands. A Common Snipe flew over and dropped down beyond the reeds. However, there was a steady progression of small groups of Lapwings flying west overhead, presumably birds arrived from the continent and making their way inland.

A report came through of three Bean Geese with Pink-footed Geese between Salthouse and Kelling, so we decided to head over to have a look. On our walk back to the car, one of the Marsh Harriers was circling over the marshes just the other side of Iron Road. Two Carrion Crows decided to have a go at it and the three birds chased each other for a while. When the crows gave up and landed a short distance away, the Marsh Harrier decided to get its own back and promptly stooped at them, before drifting off back past Babcock Hide.

6o0a8591Marsh Harrier – chased by Crows over the marshes by Iron Road

Unfortunately, by the time we got to the field where the Bean Geese had been, there was no sign of them. It transpired that they had only been seen there much earlier and had probably flown off with the Pink-footed Geese we had seen heading inland on our walk out to Babcock Hide. There were still about thirty Pink-footed Geese in the field so we had a look at them through the scope. In the short winter wheat, it was easy to see their pink legs and feet. Another small group flew in calling and landed with them, but they all had pink legs too.

As we drove back towards Cley again, it started to drizzle again, so we made our way round to the beach car park and had our lunch in the shelter there. While we were eating, a small flock of Golden Plover flew in over the Eye Field and circled over the grass in front of us, before flying back towards the reserve. Several little groups of Brent Geese flew in from the direction of Blakeney Freshes. We kept one eye on the sea, but there was very little moving offshore today. As we were packing up a flock of Teal flew west.

It was starting to rain a little harder now, so we retired to the visitor centre for a warming coffee. Afterwards, it seemed a good time to go exploring inland, so we drove up to Holt first. There had been some Waxwings in the trees here during the week, but we couldn’t find them today. There were just a few Blackbirds in the rowan where they had been a couple of days ago, despite there still being quite a few berries left. The trees where we had seen them last weekend, however, have now been stripped bare.

We drove further east to Felbrigg Park next. We had a look in the trees along the main drive first, but they were quiet. Down at the main car park, by the Hall, there were lots of Blackbirds on the grass. Presumably they were all or mostly continental migrants, having stopped to feed just in from the coast. A single Redwing was trying to bathe in a puddle, when the Blackbirds were not chasing after it.

6o0a8607Redwing – trying to take a bath in Felbrigg Hall car park

On our way back round, we turned into Lions Mouth. Just through the gates a load of finches flew up from the edge of the road and back into the trees, flashing white rumps as they went. Bramblings. We stopped the car and yet more flew up from down below the low brambles on the edge of the woods. We could see several of them perched in the holly trees beyond.

6o0a8625Bramblings – several perched in the holly trees

We parked in the car park and walked back to the road, standing on the verge and looking back towards the gates. Gradually, the Bramblings started to drop down again and we got them in the scope. They were dropping down to feed on beech mast and they were surprisingly well camouflaged against the fallen beech leaves, despite their bright orange breast and shoulders, particularly on the males.

It was still raining a little, so we made our way back to the car and drove down to Sheringham. By the time we got there, the rain had eased again, so we set off for a walk along the prom. There was mist offshore which meant the visibility wasn’t great, but once again there seemed to be nothing moving past. There were plenty of Herring Gulls on the sea and Great Black-backed Gulls and Cormorants adorning the end of each of the groynes.

As we walked along, we came across several Turnstones. One of them in particular was very tame and came running towards us and almost between our feet. Further along, we could see why, as people were throwing out chips for the Black -headed Gulls and the Turnstones were grabbing a share of the fallen ones too. The Turnstones had to be quick, because the Black-headed Gulls proceeded to chase a couple of them – they were fairly relentless too, pursuing them up and down along the beach and out over the sea until the Turnstones dropped their chips.

6o0a8633Turnstone – waiting for chips on the prom

The rocks below the prom are a regularly wintering site for Purple Sandpipers but there didn’t seem to be at any of their regular haunts this afternoon. We walked right along to the eastern end and, as we walked past, one Purple Sandpiper appeared below us. We watched as it climbed up and down, picking around at the seaweed growing on the rock’s surface. When a wave came in and crashed in through the bottom of the rocks, a second Purple Sandpiper appeared from below and climbed up to the top of one nearby.

6o0a8680Purple Sandpiper – two were on the rocks below the prom at Sheringham

When the first Purple Sandpiper appeared, we had just seen a distant diver on the sea and when we had had a good look at both of them, we turned our attention back to looking for it. It was obviously diving as it took a while before we picked it up again. Through the scope we confirmed our suspicions – it was a Great Northern Diver. Then it disappeared again, and despite scanning back and forth for a few minutes it was nowhere to be seen. It had probably drifted back out into the mist and the light was now starting to fade so we decided to call it a day and head for home.

20th May 2016 – Warblers, Nightingales & More

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. We met in Wells and made our way east, turning off the coast road and continuing our way along a little inland.

We pulled up at the start of a quiet, overgrown country lane and got out of the car. Immediately, we could hear a great variety of bird song on all sides of us. A Song Thrush was singing from deep in the trees, and a Chaffinch from above our heads. A Chiffchaff was doing a passable rendition of its name. We could hear the lovely, fluid notes of a Blackcap too. A little further along, and we picked up the high-pitched song of a Goldcrest. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we passed.

A shape perched up in the dead branches of a tree beside the road was a cracking male Bullfinch, bright pinkish-red below with a smart black cap. He stayed there for several seconds while we admired him, but before the scope was on him he flew off calling, with a second Bullfinch calling nearby.

We stood for a while where the hedges are at their most overgrown. A pair of Common Whitethroats were busy flicking in and out of the bushes. More Blackcaps were singing from the trees and we could see a female, with brown cap, in one of the willows. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the poplars and a Treecreeper appeared, climbing up one of the larger tree trunks.

Our hope was to hear a Nightingale singing here. We did get one very brief phrase, but then it went quiet, before everyone could hear it. It was a bit cool first thing this morning, cloudy, with a rather blustery wind coming through the trees – not hot and sunny, like a Nightingale might prefer. We could hear a Cuckoo singing further up the road, so we decided to walk up there to look for that instead, and come back later to see if the Nightingale had woken up properly.

As we got to the gate which overlooks the meadows beyond the wood, we saw the Cuckoo fly across into the willows beyond. We just had time to get it in the scope, before it flew again and this time we could see that there were two Cuckoos, a pair. They chased each other in and out of the trees for some time, back and forth across the meadow in front of us. Occasionally perching up where we could see them. At one point, the female landed in a low tree out across the meadow right in front of us. The male Cuckoo wasn’t singing much, and the female was silent, but we were treated to great views of them.

IMG_4295Cuckoo – the female perched in a low tree in front of us

Eventually, the two Cuckoos disappeared back into the trees and we decided to make our way back. We stopped again where we had heard the Nightingale briefly earlier, but all seemed quiet. Then suddenly it started singing right behind us! It was still not in full song but gave us a couple of bursts, to let us know where it was hiding. We could hear that it was moving away along the hedge, then suddenly it flicked up out of the bushes and darted across the road, fanning its rusty orange tail and flashing it at us as it dived into the hedge the other side.

After a minute of two, the Nightingale started singing again further up. We followed the sound and stood listening to it, such a magical song, before it darted back across the road again. It worked its way back along the hedge past us, deep in cover, singing on and off as it went. Then we decided to leave it in peace.

As we walked back towards the car, we could hear a delicate tacking call, more of a tutting, ‘tsk, tsk’, coming from a hawthorn bush beside the road. It was a Lesser Whitethroat, the call notably softer than a Blackcap, but it was hiding deep on the other side of the hedge from us. We stood patiently for a minute or so and gradually it worked its way up higher, to where we could see it. Almost back to the car, and a Red Kite drifted leisurely up the valley past us.

The forecast had suggested it would brighten up quickly this morning, but that wasn’t the case and it had remained stubbornly cool and cloudy so far. We decided we would head on up to the Heath anyway. As we walked up along the path, we could hear Willow Warblers singing. A Woodlark flew overhead, looking strikingly short-tailed. As we crossed the road, a Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the trees.

We made our way down to where one of the pairs of Dartford Warblers have been. A couple of days ago they were feeding newly fledged youngsters here, so the likelihood is that they shouldn’t have gone far. But we couldn’t find them today in any of the likely spots.

There were lots of other birds to see here. A Woodlark flew across and disturbed a male Stonechat from the top of a dead tree, before dropping down into the grass. We walked over to see if we could find it again, but the vegetation was a bit tall. There was a pair of Stonechats perched on the tops of some low gorse bushes and a streaky juvenile Stonechat appeared with them. The Stonechat we had seen knocked off its perch was nearby, a second male, a paler interloper. When it flew back up to the top of the dead tree, it joined a smart male Yellowhammer up there now, with a lovely bright yellow head. Lots of Linnets were twittering from the gorse, including some increasingly bright red-breasted males.

6O0A3160Linnet – there are lots on the Heath, including several smart red males

We walked round some other likely areas, listening for the calls of the young Dartford Warblers. We couldn’t hear them anywhere, but we did hear a most unexpected sound. A Nightjar started churring, in the middle of the day! The Heath is a good place for Nightjars, but they generally don’t make a sound until dusk.

Round in a new clearing, a couple of Mistle Thrushes were feeding amongst the fallen branches and grass, before a passing walker flushed them and they flew into the top of a low pine tree. We could hear Willow Warblers all over the Heath and eventually we found one singing from the top of a birch tree. We got it in the scope, noting the long wings, pale legs and well-marked, lemon-yellow washed supercilium, all good features to help distinguish Willow Warbler from the very similar Chiffchaff.

IMG_4326Willow Warbler – singing from the top of a birch tree

The family of Dartford Warblers were nowhere to be found, so we decided to move on and try to find another pair. The next ones we tried have been much harder to see in recent days but as we stood quietly in one of their favoured areas, the male Dartford Warbler hopped up onto a low gorse bush in front of us. As we watched him flitting between the gorse and heather, the duller female appeared with him. We got them in the scope and had a great look at them.

6O0A3051Dartford Warbler – this photo of one taken previously here

After watching the Dartford Warblers for some time, enjoying some great prolonged views, we eventually tore ourselves away and headed back to the car for lunch. While we ate, a Turtle Dove flew over the car park and disappeared off towards the trees. A Sparrowhawk circled up above us, gaining height before flying off over the ridge, bursts of rapid flapping interspersed with glides in typical Sparrowhawk fashion.

Our next stop was at Felbrigg Park, where we walked down through the trees towards the lake. We stopped to scan the flooded grazing meadow on the way. A couple of Egyptian Geese were asleep in the grass, with a pair of Greylags and a pair of Canada Geese nearby too. A Lapwing was feeding on the edge of the shallow water. There was no sign of the Garganey here at this point, but it has been on the lake more often recently so we figured it must be there.

More excitement here was provided by a battle between a male Pheasant and a pair of Moorhens. The Pheasant was clearly feeling confident, having just seen off a rival, when the Moorhens attacked, presumably having a nest nearby, raising their winds to make themselves look as big as possible. One of the Moorhens lunged repeatedly at it, flapping its wings and striking it with its feet. Eventually the Pheasant saw sense and retreated.

6O0A3168Pheasant vs Moorhens – the Moorhens won!

As we continued along the path a small bird flew out of a hawthorn bush in front of us and across the path. As it flew in front of us, we could see a bright orange tail – it was a stunning male Redstart! It darted into a clump of gorse the other side and we could just see it perched for a couple of seconds – white forehead, black face and bright orange underneath – before it dropped down out of view. Redstarts used to breed at Felbrigg but have not done so for several years and these days they are just very occasional visitors, so this was a particularly nice surprise.

We made our way down to the lake and the first thing we noticed was a drake Mandarin. Rather than being out on the water it had chosen a particularly odd place to go to sleep, on a rather thin bare branch hanging out across the water. There were a few other ducks here too – a pair each of Tufted Ducks and Gadwall, and several Mallard and their domesticated cousins. But there was no sign of the Garganey on here either.

IMG_4336Mandarin Duck – sleeping on a rather narrow branch out over the water

A couple of Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds and a male Reed Bunting perched up on the top of a bulrush. Along the edge of the reeds, we could see a Sedge Warbler clambering around just above the water’s surface.

As we walked across the grass beside the lake, a Mistle Thrush dropped down in front of us, where a recently fledged juvenile Mistle Thrush was waiting for it. The youngster was presented with a rather large worm, which it didn’t seem interested in. The trees round the other side were rather quiet, apart from a Nuthatch piping away from deep in the wood, so we walked back round towards the water meadow.

IMG_4340Mistle Thrush – a pair were feeding a recently fledged juvenile in the grass

Back there, we bumped into a local birder who told us that he had just seen the Garganey. After some careful searching, and with his help, we finally located it hiding in the vegetation. It was feeding, pulling at the plants in the water, but all we could see at first was its head appearing occasionally out of the greenery, a lovely rich reddish brown with a striking white stripe across it, a cracking drake.

Then the Garganey did the decent thing and swam out into full view. They are stunning little ducks, beautifully patterned. It started calling, a funny croaking rattle, and bobbing its head up and down. When it swam over to the other side, one of the local Coots started chasing it. Initially it climbed out onto the bank and sat down for a few seconds. When it tried to go back into the water the Coot was after it again and eventually it decided it had had enough and flew off towards the lake.

IMG_4360Garganey – the stunning drake at Felbrigg still

We made our way back to the car and headed back down towards the coast. We didn’t have much time left, but had a look at a few spots along the way. A Hobby powered out of some trees and circled up beside the road. We managed to follow it, slowly in the car, and suddenly it started twisting and turning. When we pulled up we could see it was chasing a Swift. A second Hobby appeared with it and the two of them chased the Swift away and out of view.

As we passed the duck pond at Salthouse, we could see a few Tufted Ducks but one of them was noticeably duller, with grey-brown stained flanks rather than the pure white of a normal male. On closer inspection, it had a chestnut tone to its dark breast and a dark chestnut face and crown contrasting with a green-glossed back of its head. The crest was also not long enough for a Tufted Duck.

6O0A3188Tufted Duck x Ferruginous Duck hybrid – has been hanging around for several days

This bird has been around here for a couple of days now and appears to be a Tufted Duck x Ferruginous Duck hybrid. Who knows where it might have come from, but the 2013 storm surge here on the coast set free several captive ducks from the collection at Blakeney, so perhaps we are now seeing the results of that. There have been several odd ducks along the coast here in recent weeks.

There are always lots of people feeding the ducks at Salthouse and lots of food remains lying around on the ground at the end of the day. The local Brown Rats have obviously learnt to take advantage of the free food too!

6O0A3193Brown Rat – eating the leftover food at the duck pond

A quick scan of the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh didn’t reveal anything of note, although a Little Grebe was on Snipe’s Marsh the other side of the road. Then unfortunately it was time for us to head back to Wells.

14th May 2016 – A Nightingale Sang…

The second of two Spring Migration Tours in North Norfolk. Today was meant to be luckier than yesterday, according to superstition, but we actually just had another great day. It was a bit brighter, but still cold in a blustery northerly wind on the coast.

We stopped first just inland from the coast and walked up a quiet country lane where we were out of the worst of the wind. There were lots of birds singing – a Song Thrush in the trees, a couple of Chiffchaffs, a Sedge Warbler sheltering in the hedge and several Blackcaps. A Common Whitethroat hopped up in front of us.

6O0A2602Common Whitethroat – one of several warblers in the hedges

A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we passed. Not content with surprising us once, it then flew ahead of us and sang at us repeatedly as we walked along. For once, we got to see it as it flew, its deep chestnut back and rounded tail. We could hear Bullfinches calling from the hedge ahead of us, and a bright pink male appeared on the edge, followed by a duller female. They didn’t stay long, but flew off piping – there were actually three of them, as a second female appeared too. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the trees.

We had come here to listen to the Nightingales, but they were a bit slow to get going. We heard a croak and a few notes at one point, but they were then all drowned out by a Song Thrush which started singing instead. We gave up and walked a little further along, and when we returned the Nightingale finally started singing a little more. We followed it alongside the dense bushes as it moved along, and eventually got a brief look at it as it flicked out of the brambles and flew along the hedgerow. That was a great way to start to the day, listening to Nightingale singing. Back at the car, lots of House Martins were hawking for insects in and out of the trees.

Given the blustery wind, we decided to head inland to Felbrigg Park, which should be a little more sheltered. Lots of Sand Martins and Swifts had the same idea, with a few House Martins thrown in for good measure, and were flying round low over the grazing meadows or in and out of the edge of the trees. There were loads over the lake too, and we walked up just in time to see a Hobby stoop down and scythe through them. It didn’t catch anything, but after a couple of passes it turned away and disappeared over the trees. A few seconds later, it reappeared with a second Hobby and started to buzz the edge of the wood. All action stuff!

We had hoped to find the pair of Garganey which have been here for more than two weeks now. There was no sign of them on the flooded grazing meadow, but as we walked out beside the lake we saw the drake in amongst the trees in the edge of the water. He swam out and we got a good look at him through the scope, before he swam back in again and climbed out onto a tree trunk.

At that point, we spotted the pair of Mandarin Ducks on the other side of the lake. They were very close to the wall, obviously feeding on insects which had been blown over to that side by the blustery wind. We hurried over and had a great view of them feeding quietly along the edge.

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6O0A2651Mandarin – a pair were feeding right along the edge of Felbrigg Park Lake

There were a couple of Common Sandpipers around the lake too. They seemed to be trying to rest on the branches and tree trunks along the west side, but kept getting spooked and flying round low over the lake. We worked our way round that side, along the path through the trees, and from the viewing screen we could see the drake Garganey asleep on its favourite tree trunk. When something spooked it, it dropped down into the water behind, but then immediately climbed back up to where it had been resting and we had a quick look at it through the scope before it went back to sleep.

IMG_4224Garganey – the drake spent most of his time asleep on a trunk

As we walked back to the car, a Common Buzzard drifted overhead, over the clearing. Then, from a small stand of fir trees, we heard a Firecrest singing. We could just see it flicking around among the branches close to the trunk at first, but gradually it came out more into the open, though it was still hard to follow. We could see its more strongly marked face pattern than a Goldcrest, all black and white stripes!

6O0A2692Firecrest – singing from some fir trees on our way back

We had an early lunch at Felbrigg. A Jay flew in to a tree just behind us. We could hear a Treecreeper calling and a couple of Siskins flying overhead. After lunch, we started to make our way back west.

Our next stop was at Kelling, where we had a quick stroll down to the Water Meadow. As we walked, several warblers were singing from the hedges – a Blackcap or two, a Chiffchaff and several Common Whitethroat. Down at the pool, the pair of Egyptian Geese were still tending to their four fast-growing goslings. The drake continues to chase off all other wildfowl, which obviously pose a grave and present danger to his offspring! A single Common Sandpiper had escaped his attention and was feeding quietly around the margin.

We had seen a flock of Linnets flying around at Felbrigg earlier, but one of the group wanted to see one better. Fortunately, Kelling is a great spot for them and we had several perching up in the brambles and down on the grass in front of us.

6O0A2721Linnet – there are always plenty at Kelling

We had a quick walk round the Quags and up the hill beyond, although it was very windy up there so we beat a hasty retreat. We did come across a pair of Stonechats taking food into the bushes and another lone male whose mate is presumably still sitting on eggs. There are lots of Meadow Pipits here too and a Sedge Warbler sang from deep in the brambles, sensibly keeping out of the wind.

6O0A2724Stonechat – we saw several at Kelling

We finished the day at Cley. We had a quick look at Pat’s Pool from the visitor centre, and there appeared to be little of note out on the scrape – plenty of Avocets, Redshank and a single Greenshank. There were lots of Swifts hawking for insects over the reserve, presumably migrants stopping off on their journey, and quite a few Sand Martins which were more likely local birds. There was very little in the sightings book or on the board for today either, so we elected not to venture out to the hides. The pools from the East Bank have been much more productive recently, so we decided to walk round there instead.

As soon as we got up on the East  Bank, we could immediately see a Spoonbill feeding out on the furthest bit of the Serpentine, so we hurried up there straight away. On the way, we noticed there was a second Spoonbill there too. At first the two were feeding separately, but then they joined up and we were treated to a bit of synchronised Spoonbill feeding action!

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6O0A2755Spoonbill – these two were feeding together on the Serpentine

We spent a bit of time watching the two Spoonbills, and they gradually worked their way closer. Eventually we were treated to great close-up views of them, sweeping their bills vigorously side to side through the shallows looking for food. Occasionally one or other would flick its head up as it caught something. Then a noisy crowd started to gather on the East Bank and they moved further away.

There were other birds out on the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh too. A smart male Ruff, with a very white ‘ruff’, presumably what is known as a ‘satellite male’ (in reference to the complex different breeding strategies of the various males) was feeding quietly along the muddy water’s edge. We found a couple of Little Ringed Plovers too – we could see the golden eyering on the closer one. There were two Common Sandpipers bobbing their way around on the mud. A pair of Gadwall were upending in the water. A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds the other side.

IMG_4238Ruff – with a striking white ‘ruff’

Arnold’s Marsh has been full of waders in recent days, but was surprisingly quiet today. Perhaps the wind had forced most of the birds to feed elsewhere today. There were still a good number of Redshank and a few Avocet. Otherwise, a single Ringed Plover was the best we could manage on here today. A few Sandwich Terns flew over, presumably on their way back to Blakeney Point to roost, after a busy day fishing along the coast.

We had a more leisurely walk back. The grazing marshes are kept much wetter these days and that is great for breeding waders. We could see several very cute baby Lapwings out on the small muddy pools, with a parent standing guard nearby. A couple of Little Egrets were fishing in the shallow pools. Looking over to Snipe’s Marsh, a Little Grebe was diving constantly. Then it was time to make our way back.

27th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 1

Day 1 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. A few migrants are continuing to get through, despite the rather unseasonably cold weather at the moment, so we set off east along the coast to try to catch up with some of them.

We made a brief stop at Cley on the way. A Wryneck has been in various gardens here for five days now, and was reported briefly first thing again today. By the time we arrived, it had not been seen again for a couple of hours. We had a quick look in the garden where it was seen yesterday, but as there was no sign of it there we decided not to hang around as we had other places we wanted to visit.

Our first destination proper was Kelling. The walk down the lane was rather quiet and fewer warblers than normal were singing in the cold wind. We did hear a Goldcrest singing and it was kind enough to come out and show itself. Further down, by the Water Meadow, there were several Common Whitethroat singing and one perched up nicely so we could see it, after performing a quick song flight. There was a nice ‘dopping’ of Shelduck in one of the fields – they are often to be found flying around here looking for burrows in which to nest.

6O0A1232Shelduck – this ‘dopping’ was in a field by the Water Meadow

There has been a Ring Ouzel or two in the area here for about a week now. They seem to be lingering, presumably waiting for conditions to improve for their onward journey to Scandinavia. A quick scan along their favoured hedge revealed a single Ring Ouzel hopping about on the short grass. A bit like a Blackbird, through the scope, we could see the distinctive white crescent on the breast. A few Wheatear could be seen distantly in the same field.

Ring OuzelRing Ouzel – a photo from a couple of days ago here

A scan of the Water Meadow produced the usual selection of wildfowl – the pair of Egyptian Geese with four goslings, a few Shoveler swimming round with their heads down and three Teal hiding in the vegetation round the edge. This despite the best efforts of the male Egyptian Goose, which seems intent on chasing away all the ducks, as they obviously pose a grave threat to his offspring!

As we stood looking at the Water Meadow, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and turned to see it flying low over the grass. It circled once, then flew up and made to carry on west, but once it felt the strength of the wind it turned back and dropped down onto the grass. We just had time to get it in the scope – a smart male, with bright yellow head and underparts – before it was off again.

A tern appeared briefly overhead – it seemed to come from inland and continued straight on towards the sea. It was an Arctic Tern, with very buoyant flight and long tail. They have been on the move this week and several groups have been seen inland at various lakes and gravel pits. A nice surprise here on the coast.

There were a few waders on the pool – a pair of Avocets and a couple of Redshank. Another birder, walking ahead of us, flushed a Common Sandpiper from the far corner which thankfully landed back on the edge with the Avocets. We got it in the scope and watched it bobbing its way along the side of the pool.

We stopped to have a closer look at a couple of Skylarks out on the short grass. There are always lots of Meadow Pipits here, one of which entertained us with its parachute display flight. Several Linnets were in the bushes, a Reed Bunting called from the reeds and a smart male Stonechat perched on a fence post.

We were almost down to the beach when a shout from a local birder halfway up the hillside alerted us to a Cuckoo. We raced up and there was no sign of it at first where it had landed, but then it flew out of the bushes pursued by a couple of Meadow Pipits and circled round before disappearing over the brow. We continued on to the top of the ridge but couldn’t find it again. However, we did find three Wheatears in the top of the sheep field, including a smart bandit-masked male. They were very close from this side and we got superb views through the scope.

IMG_3237Wheatear – showing well in the sheep field

It was a bit exposed and windy up on the ridge here, so after a good look at the Wheatears we walked back down and started to make our way back up the lane. Rounding the corner by the Water Meadow, we flushed a Ring Ouzel from the top of the brambles. A quick scan from round on the other side confirmed there were actually two of them still here today, with the Ring Ouzel we had seen earlier still present further along, where we had left it.

While we had been at Kelling, news had come through of a pair of Garganey freshly arrived at Felbrigg Park. As it is only a short drive from here, we decided to go there to try to see them.We could hear a Nuthatch in the trees as we walked down towards the lake, a Jay flew across, a female Kestrel perched high in a tree in a sheltered spot scanning the grass below and a pair of Mistle Thrushes were feeding out in the meadow.

It didn’t take long to find the Garganey, in the flooded meadow just before we got to the lake. They were feeding in amongst the vegetation at first, but as we stood and watched they came out into the open. We could see the striking white stripe on the head of the male.

IMG_3250Garganey – this pair were in Felbrigg Park today

After watching the Garganey for a bit, we set off for a walk round the lake. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the meadows and the water, plus a couple of Swallows. Apart from a few Tufted Duck and Teal, plus the usual Mallards, there weren’t many ducks on here today. Down by the meadows on the far side, we heard the yaffle of a Green Woodpecker and turned to see it perched down on the grass, catching the sun.

IMG_3268Green Woodpecker – out on the grass beyond the lake

There were a few tits in the trees as we walked back through the woods on the other side of the lake. A pair of Marsh Tits were the highlight here – we could hear them calling as they worked their way through the trees towards us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from deeper in the wood. A couple of Chiffchaffs were singing.

On the walk back past the flooded meadow, the Garganey were still present, hiding in the vegetation again. A couple of Common Snipe dropped in and disappeared straight into cover, but eventually one just showed itself. Then it was back to the car for a late lunch. While we were eating, a pair of Nuthatches were calling from the trees just above us.

6O0A1273Nuthatch – a pair were in the trees above us at lunchtime

After lunch, we dropped back down to Cley. The Wryneck had been seen again at one point during the morning, but had now disappeared again. However, a Temminck’s Stint had put in an appearance out on the reserve, so we decided to go to look for that instead. We had been advised to go to Bishop Hide first. On the walk there, we saw a Spoonbill flying off west across the reserve.We could hear Sedge Warblers singing, but they were mostly keeping tucked down out of the wind today. Eventually we found one singing from the safety of a bramble bush beside the path.

6O0A1288Sedge Warbler – mostly singing from deep in the bushes today

There were a few raptors up now in the sunshine. A Common Buzzard was circling over the fields just the other side of the road and a Marsh Harrier was over the reeds. When we got a bit closer to the latter, we could see it was a male Marsh Harrier carrying nest material. It dropped into the reeds and flushed a female, which circled for a while before flying back to the nest and ousting the male.

6O0A1292Marsh Harrier – a female circled over the reeds

When we got in to Bishop Hide, we quickly found the Temminck’s Stint – but it was right over the other side in front of Teal Hide. We had a quick look at it through the scope anyway, in the heat haze, but it was not a great view. There were several other species of wader on here too – plenty of Avocets and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits.

6O0A1303Avocet – feeding in front of Bishop Hide

There were also a few Ruff. As waders go, Ruff are one of the most confusing at the best of times. But with the males in various stages of moult into summer plumage, the colours of which are hugely variable, no two look alike at the moment!

6O0A1309Ruff – several today, but no two looking alike!

We decided to make our way round to Teal Hide for a better look at the Temminck’s Stint. On the way, we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reedbed. Thankfully when we got round there, the Temminck’s Stint was still where we had last seen it, on the island in front of Teal Hide. We had much better views of it from here, creeping round on the mud, before something spooked it and it flew off further away.

IMG_3287Temminck’s Stint – much better views from Teal Hide

We had seen most of the birds on here from the other side, but a few more Ruff added to the variety in this species we had observed today. A single Greenshank was feeding in the corner of the scrape, looking very elegant next to the larger, dumpier godwits. A Grey Heron was stalking along the edge of the reeds at the back, neck outstretched, looking for something to catch. A Water Rail squealed from the reedbed. A Brown Hare ran along the bank in front of the hide until it saw everyone inside, then turned and sprinted off in the other direction.

We had a look in Dauke’s Hide, but the water level on here has risen in the past few ayds and there was very little on the scrape here today, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. A pair of Shoveler dropped into the channel in front of the hide and the female swum straight in to the near bank without any fear while the male lurked further over calling nervously. We could see their enormous shovel-like bills.

6O0A1319Shoveler – sporting a huge shovel-like bill

On the way back, we just had time for a quick last look in the gardens as we walked past, but there was still no sign of the Wryneck in any of its favourite spots. Then we headed for home.

13th November 2015 – Glossy Surprise

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. We met at Cley and the plan was to spend the day at the eastern end of the North Norfolk coast. It was beautifully sunny out across the reserve when we arrived, and we could hear the evocative sound of Pink-footed Geese calling as they landed in the fields behind the car park, but we could already see grey clouds building to the west.

P1120504Cley Marshes – in the early morning sunshine

A Black Brant, the NW North American or far Eastern Siberian form of Brent Goose, has been in with our regular flock of Russian Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Cley for a couple of weeks now. There had been no sign of it in the Eye Field before we met up but, from the car park at the Visitor Centre, we saw a huge flock of wildfowl and waders flush from North Scrape. There were lots of Brent Geese in amongst them and most of them seemed to land in the Eye Field, so we drove round for a look.

P1120519Black Brant – standing out among the regular Dark-bellied Brents

The geese were quite close to the road and we picked the Black Brant up immediately without getting out of the car. It was much darker than the other Brent Geese, brownish black on the back and belly, with a larger and whiter patch on the flanks. We wound down the windows and had a good look at it, then drove on to the car park and set up the scopes. We could see its more extensive white collar as it fed with the flock, occasionally lifting its head up and stretching its neck to give us a better look. A smart bird to start the day.

IMG_2732Black Brant – a striking bird up close

As the grey clouds rolled in it started to spit with rain. We were forecast a band of rain to pass through this morning, so we made a dash for the beach shelter and had a look out to sea. Almost immediately we picked up two drake Goldeneye flying west just offshore. There were several Gannets circling out over the sea, both black-tipped white adults and dark slaty juveniles. A Red-throated Diver was preening just off the beach and gave us great views in the scope. We waited a short while but as the rain seemed to be holding off and there were not many birds moving past, we decided to make a dash round and onto the reserve.

We got into Bishop Hide just before the rain really started. There were plenty of birds to look through, with lots of ducks in now for the winter. A little group of Teal were feeding just in front of the hide. There were lots of Wigeon and we could hear them whistling constantly. Smaller numbers of Shoveler were feeding over towards the back and three Pintail were hiding amongst the sleeping hordes. There were fewer waders on here today – a fair number of Black-tailed Godwit, a few Lapwing, but only one Dunlin. Our first Marsh Harrier of the day circled over the reeds.

P1120526Teal – a small group was feeding in front of Bishop Hide

Thankfully the rain stopped as quickly as it started and the clouds lightened, so we moved on. We headed round to the new Babcock Hide, which only finally opened last month, on the new part of the reserve now sometimes referred to as ‘Salthouse Marshes’. There were more Brent Geese feeding on the grazing meadows by the new path (‘Attenborough Walk’) – the first small group were too nervous to stay as we walked past and took flight, but the rest of the flock reassuringly stayed put. A couple of Egyptian Geese were typically unconcerned!

P1120531Babcock Hide – the new hide on what was known as Pope’s Marsh

The pool in front of Babcock Hide (now known as ‘Watling Water’ – too many new names to keep up with!) looked rather lifeless initially, apart from a couple of Little Grebes. A careful scan revealed a single Common Snipe asleep on one of the islands. A smart male Marsh Harrier quartered the reeds in front of us, but a Merlin over towards Salthouse was too brief for everyone to get onto. A Little Egret was fishing in the shallow water in front of the hide.

P1120538Little Egret – feeding in front of Babcock Hide

We had really hoped to see a Water Pipit. There had been up to four of them here in recent weeks, but with a very blustery wind blowing around the exposed margins of the water, it was deserted apart from a single brave Pied Wagtail. Frustratingly we heard a Water Pipit call, which prompted us to give it a little longer. Just when we were about to give up, not one but two Water Pipits flew in. One of them gave us great views as it fed along the edge of one of the islands. Well worth the wait!

IMG_2744Water Pipit – one of two which eventually gave themselves up for us

While we were waiting for the Water Pipit to appear, we had seen news of a Glossy Ibis a short distance east at Felbrigg Park, but it appeared to have flown off. Having admired the Water Pipits, we saw that it had returned so we decided to make our way over there to try to see it. It was only a short drive and after a quick break for lunch in the car park, we made our way down to the lake.

Unfortunately, by the time we got to where it had been showing, it had flown off again, apparently spooked by a Pied Wagtail! Worse, it was reported to have flown way off over the trees in the distance and away. Two people had set off across the grazing marshes to look for it and were already disappearing in the distance without success, so we walked back to have a look at the lake. As we did so, a Barn Owl came out of the trees in front of us and flew across to the other side of the grazing marshes.

There was a single female Goldeneye in amongst the Tufted Ducks out on the lake, but nothing else of note. We knew the Glossy Ibis had already flown off and returned once to where it had been feeding, so it still felt like not all hope was necessarily lost. We continued to scan over the grazing marshes just in case. We saw the two intrepid explorers returning in the distance, their expedition to try to relocate it obviously having been unsuccessful. As they made there way back they suddenly stopped and started to look intently at something. We knew what it must be, so headed out across the grazing marshes to join them.

There was the Glossy Ibis, feeding quietly in the stream, hidden from view by the banks and the thick rushes. It was only when you looked back along the line of the stream that you could see it – it obviously hadn’t flown off into the distance after all! We got stunning views of it in the scopes, feeding in the thick vegetation in the water. Mostly brownish from a distance, we could see it had a greenish gloss to the wings up close.

IMG_2780Glossy Ibis – a striking bird more at home by the Mediterranean

Then it flew again, looking oddly prehistoric in flight with long neck and legs, and landed back where it had been feeding before we arrived. A rare visitor more normally found in southern Europe, in the marshes of the Mediterranean basin, Glossy Ibis sometimes turn up further north in the UK at this time of year. A great bird to see and a nice surprise today.

On our way back towards Cley, we stopped off briefly at Kelling. There have been a few Bramblings along the lane here recently, in with a big flock of Chaffinches. But the hedges seemed rather quiet today as we walked down – just a handful of Chaffinches – perhaps most of the finches were feeding somewhere more sheltered today?

We walked down as far as the Water Meadow. The water level is normally very high here through the winter and there were just a few ducks on the pool – Wigeon, Shoveler and Gadwall. A single Redshank and a lone Black-tailed Godwit were feeding around the edge, but several Curlew were out on the damp grass. Further along, towards the Quags, a female Stonechat appeared on top of the brambles.

We made our way back – we wanted to be at Cley in good time – stopping to look at a couple of Chaffinches in the dead trees along the lane as we did so. A few more flew into the hedge from the field and right at the top was a single Brambling!

IMG_2792Brambling – just one today, along the lane at Kelling

Back at Cley, we parked in the new East Bank car park. Before we had even had a chance to get out of the car, a falcon appeared over the bank flying straight towards us. Through the windscreen, we could see it was a Merlin – more obliging than the one we had seen briefly earlier. It disappeared west over the reeds. A pair of Stonechat were in the reeds by the path – the male hovering repeatedly in the air above the female, before dropping down to perch.

We climbed up onto the East Bank from where we could get a good view over the reeds on Pope’s Marsh. It was lovely evening light – an increasingly orange sky with scattered cloud at first. There were lots of ducks out on the grazing marsh in front, including a couple of smart drake Pintail, unfortunately mostly asleep! A flock of small birds took off from the reeds and flew over towards the East Bank – a party of 14 Reed Buntings flying in to roost. Scanning along the shingle ridge, a dark shape on the top of one of the fence posts revealed itself to be another Merlin – it had been a good day for them today.

There were a couple of Marsh Harriers already out over the reedbed when we arrived but more started to arrive in ones and twos. At least 12 came into roost this evening – at times, we could see 6-7 circling over the reeds together. We had hoped to see a Hen Harrier here, but we had obviously used up our luck today. The light faded quickly as the cloud rolled in again, so we decided to call it a day. As we turned to head back to the car, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling again – just as we had heard them flying in to the fields this morning. A flock appeared in the sky from behind the trees and we watched them drop down over towards North Scrape to roost.