Tag Archives: Garganey

10th June 2017 – Broads Birds, Butterflies & More

A private group tour today down in the Norfolk Broads. It was to be a day spent looking for birds, butterflies and dragonflies plus the odd orchid or two, a nice mixture of general wildlife. The day started cloudy but brightened up nicely and was bright and sunny with blue skies in the afternoon, even if the wind did pick up during the day again.

Our first destination was Potter Heigham. We were particularly hoping to see the Black-winged Stilts which have nested here, but it is possible to see a very good variety of different species here at the moment. As we made our way down along the access road, two Spoonbills were on one of the pools, the first of quite a few we would see here.

As we climbed up onto the bank, we could hear a couple of Reed Warblers singing. We eventually got a good look at one through the scope, perched up in the reeds. Along the river bank, there were a couple of Sedge Warblers singing too, which gave us a great opportunity to listen to the differences between them. One Sedge Warbler showed very nicely in front of us, so we could see its striking off white supercilium, very different from the plain face of the Reed Warbler. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the bushes but typically didn’t show itself.

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – singing from the reeds just ahead of us

Walking round the reeds, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. It seemed unlikely we would see one perched up today, with a fresh breeze blowing, but we had a good look each time called nonetheless. Then two tawny brown long-tailed shapes flicked up into the top of the reeds and stayed there just long enough for us all to get a quick look at them. A pair of Bearded Tits. The male was closest to us and slightly higher up the reeds, so we could see its powder blue head and black moustache.

There were a few hairy Garden Tiger moth caterpillars on the path again this morning – we had to keep one eye on the ground to avoid standing on them. A little later, we saw a Jackdaw on a post trying to eat one. It clearly did not want to eat the hairs, so was trying to pull it apart but appeared to be struggling.

We walked quickly round to where the Black-winged Stilts have been and immediately located one standing in the shallow water on the edge of one of the islands. We got it in the scope and had a look at it. However, it was immediately clear this was not one of the pair, but instead a lone male which has been hanging around the site too, with a black (rather than brown-tinged) mantle but lacking the black on the head of the breeding male. Still, it was a smart bird and a great start.

Black-winged StiltBlack-winged Stilt – we found the lone male first this morning

Just a short walk further along, we found the pair of Black-winged Stilts on a muddy island. At first, the female was looking after the chicks and the male was feeding nearby, before they switched roles and the male took over parenting duties. Black-winged Stilts are not particularly attentive parents, and the tiny juveniles, less than 3 days old were left to wander round the island and feed for themselves. They were quite hard to see in the cut reed stems but looking carefully through the scope, we got a good look at them.

Black-winged StiltsBlack-winged Stilts – the male standing guard, with 2 of the 4 juvs nearby (circled)

The adult Black-winged Stilts would fly up occasionally if a potential predator was detected coming overhead, a Marsh Harrier or a Lesser Black-backed Gull for instance. The Marsh Harriers made several passes over the pools and at one point a female surprised a couple of Coots in the water as it came low over a line of reeds. It looked like it was going to dive after one and hovered over the water for a second, but the Coots saw it at the last minute and managed to escape.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – thinking about attacking a Coot

While we were busy watching the Black-winged Stilts, a shout from a small group of birders further along the path alerted us to a bird flying across in the distance. We thought it was going to be a Bittern at first, but looked up to see it was a Night Heron. There has been a young (1st summer) Night Heron here for the past couple of days, but it had only been seen at dusk as it emerges from the trees where it roosts during the day. It was therefore a nice surprise to see it during the day. We watched as it dropped away from us over the trees.

On the next pool along, we found three Spoonbills. They were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! Occasionally, one would wake up long enough to flash its spoon shaped bill. We stood here for a while, and gradually more Spoonbills flew in from the direction of Hickling Broad, in small groups, and landed with them. Eventually we got up to twelve Spoonbills all together, but later as we walked back to the car, another one flew in so there were possibly 13 today in total.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – another five flying in to the pools at Potter Heigham

All the Spoonbills all appeared to be immature birds, some in their first summer with still extensively fleshy-coloured bills, but others older with yellow-tipped black bills. However, all lacked the full crest of a summer adult and the yellow-brown wash on the breast, or had black in the tips of their wings, which indicated they were still not mature. There were lots of Little Egrets here too, plus a couple of Grey Herons.

Black-winged Stilts and Night Herons are both more southerly European species which have overshot on their way north in the spring. Together with all the Spoonbills and Little Egrets, it gave a real Mediterranean feel to the birding at Potter Heigham this morning. All of which is presumably an indication of our changing climate.

There were not many other waders here this morning, apart from the breeding birds. A lone Ruff was the only wader which doesn’t breed here. As well as the Black-winged Stilts, there were plenty of breeding Avocets, plus Lapwings and a few Redshanks. A few Common Terns were nesting too and flying in and out. We also saw both Great Crested Grebe and Little Grebe on the pools here.

We had been hoping to see one the Garganey which have been lingering here this summer but all our scanning failed to locate one on our way round. There were plenty of other ducks – a single Wigeon, a few Teal and Shoveler, lots of Gadwall and a few Tufted Ducks. A female Common Pochard had a couple of ducklings following her. There were plenty of geese too – Greylags, Canada Geese and a couple of Egyptian Geese. As we turned to walk back, we spotted a drake Garganey flying in and it landed on the island with the Spoonbills. We got a nice look at it through the scopes before it went to sleep.

GarganeyGarganey – flew in and landed between the Spoonbills

The Norfolk Hawker is one of the rarer UK dragonflies, largely restricted in its distribution to the Norfolk Broads and neighbouring parts of Suffolk. So it was great to see one flying up and down the river bank here. It landed briefly, but tucked itself down in the vegetation out of the wind. In the end, we would see quite a few of them today, but this was the only one which stopped long enough for us to get a close look at it.

Norfolk HawkerNorfolk Hawker – landed in the vegetation along the river bank

Back at the car, we had a quick a quick look amongst the cattle on the approach road to see if we could see the Cattle Egret which has been here on and off for a few days, but there was no sign of it. There are lots of cows on the marshes all round here, and it seems possible this bird wanders further afield during the day, as it appears to be seen here mostly early and later in the day.

With an hour or so to spare before lunch, we had a quick walk out from Potter Heigham church and along Weaver’s Way. We could hear a Yellowhammer singing from the hedge further along the road, as we turned off along the footpath. There were lots of dragonflies here, hunting in the shelter of the hedges or basking on the bare ground out of the wind. We saw our first Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-Spotted Chasers of the day.

Walking through the wood, we could hear Blackcap and Willow Warbler singing from the trees. Lots of Azure Damselflies were flying around the edge of the ditch on the far side. Another Norfolk Hawker was hawking up and down along the edge of the footpath along the bank. A Hairy Dragonfly perched up nicely for us, hanging on the leaf of a reed stem at the edge of the path, despite the wind.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – the distinctive hairs on the thorax just visible

We had a quick look out over Hickling Broad, which revealed only a few Mute Swans in the distance and a single pair of Great Crested Grebe. Rush Hill Scrape looked similarly rather quiet today. A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds.

We had come here hoping to see our first Swallowtail butterfly of the day, as we figured this part of the reedbed might be more sheltered from the wind. There were very few butterflies at first along the path, until we found a couple of Small Tortoiseshells feeding on the brambles. We continued on past Rush Hill Scrape and finally found a Swallowtail. It flew in and landed on the brambles close to us, feeding on the flowers. It was keeping well down out of the wind, which hampered the photographic efforts, but we all got a great look at it.

Swallowtail 1Swallowtail – our first of the day, feeding on bramble flowers

Swallowtails are restricted in the UK to the Norfolk Broads and with only a short flight season from May to early July, this is the only time and place to see them. A must see at this time of year! With that one in the bag, we headed back to the car and round to Hickling village for a pub lunch.

After lunch, we made our way over to Upton Fen. This is a particularly good site for dragonflies but we were also hoping to see some orchids. We quickly started to find lots of purple Southern Marsh Orchids and paler Common Spotted Orchids, with their distinctive leaf spots. But there are also some confusing hybrids here – these two species readily mix – so we didn’t stop and look too closely!

Southern Marsh OrchidSouthern Marsh Orchid – common around the Fen

This site is known as one of the few places in the UK where you can see the very rare Fen Orchid. Most of the area where these flowers are found is now fenced off, but we eventually located a single Fen Orchid outside the fence. They are very small and not especially striking orchids at the best of times, but this was not a particularly good example either. The non-orchid enthusiasts in the group were perhaps a little underwhelmed and more impressed with the commoner orchids here!

Fen OrchidFen Orchid – not the best example of this rare species

It was bright and sunny now, and warm, so there was not much bird activity. We heard the occasional Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing in the trees. We thought we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling in the distance, but it was very hard to hear over the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. We made our way along a path towards it and eventually got to spot where we could hear its distinctive song. But the path ran out and it was presumably keeping low down out of the wind, so we couldn’t get near enough to even try to see it.

There were several Swifts hawking low over the open Fen, trying to find insects out of the wind. A Hobby made a quick pass up and down over the edge of the trees. When we got out of the trees and onto the marshes beyond, we could see a could of Marsh Harriers quartering. Then we turned to head back, with a Stock Dove on the wires the most notable bird on the way.

Much of the Fen was rather quiet today, as far as dragonflies were concerned, perhaps because of the wind. We did see a few more Norfolk Hawkers on our travels. However, the highlight was a single Brown Hawker on the walk back along a sheltered path between lines of trees, its golden brown wings glowing in the afternoon sun.

We finished off the day with a quick visit to How Hill on our way back. We were hoping to get better photos of Swallowtails here, but the highlight was probably a Hobby which was hawking over the trees and marshes by the river, passing right over our heads at one point.

HobbyHobby – great views of this one hunting at How Hill this afternoon

There were just a few butterflies on the brambles here at first, several Small Tortoiseshells and a single Large Skipper, which was a new one for the day. A pair of Banded Demoiselles perched in the nettles added to our damselfly list. We had almost got to the end of the path when we spotted two Swallowtails. It was rather windy here and they were very mobile, but eventually came and gave us great close views.

Swallowtail 2Swallowtail – we saw two more at How Hill this afternoon

It was a fitting way to end a day in the Broads with this iconic Broadland species, so we made our way back to the car.

 

4th May 2017 – Breezy Broads

A Private Tour today, down in the Norfolk Broads. The weather seemed promising early on, with some brightness first thing, but it clouded over. A cold north-easterly wind, gusting to 30mph plus all day, meant that it was hard going at times, but at least it stayed dry.

After a slightly later than expected departure, due to an alarm clock malfunction for one of the tour participants, we headed over to Potter Heigham. Hickling Broad was our first destination for the morning, or more precisely the Weavers’ Way footpath which runs along the south side and overlooks Rush Hill Scrape.

As we walked out across the fields, a male Yellowhammer sang from the hedge and a female flew across to join it. Making our way through the trees, we could hear Blackcap, Chiffchaff and all singing. From up on the bank, there were lots of Sedge Warblers songflighting up from the reedbed, and a couple of Reed Warblers singing too.

There has been a Savi’s Warbler here for the last couple of weeks, and we were hoping to see it again today. Unfortunately, when we got to the bushes from which it has been reeling, the wind was lashing through them. We waited a while, but there was no sign of it this morning. Over the Broad beyond, we could see lots of Common Swifts and a few House Martins. Both have been in short supply so far this spring, so it was nice to see both species in numbers today. There were several Common Terns hawking over the water too.

We wandered along to the hide overlooking Rush Hill Scrape to see if there was anything on there today.  Apart from a lone Redshank, there were no other waders on here, until a pair of Avocet flew in. A single Wigeon was the highlight of the ducks. While we sat in the hide for a few minutes, to escape from the wind, we could just hear snatches of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling nearby.

Given the windy conditions, we decided to cut our losses and head round to Potter Heigham Marshes. It was well worth it. A quick stop overlooking the first pools revealed a very nice selection of birds to get us started. A Wood Sandpiper appeared from behind the reeds at the front, quickly followed by a second. Further back, we could see about fifteen Ringed Plovers, migrants waiting to continue their journey north, and several Ruff, including a male coming into breeding plumage.

IMG_3806Wood Sandpiper – one of two on the first pool we looked at

On the next pool along, a smart male Garganey swam out from the front and disappeared behind some reeds. There were also three Grey Plover on here, including one looking very smart in full summer plumage, with black face and belly and white spangled upperparts.

6O0A9553Garganey – swam out from the front of one of the pools

The pools at the far end were rather deeper, with just a few ducks and geese. We climbed up onto the bank to make our way round to the river bank and the pools the other side. As we did so, we had a quick look at the grazing marshes beyond and spotted a single Common Crane feeding in the damp grass. We had a great look at it through the scope, looking through the reeds. They were herding cows in the field beyond, and all the activity seemed to unsettle it. The Crane took off and flew over the trees towards Hickling.

IMG_3813Common Crane – feeding on the grazing marshes

There were loads of hirundines hawking over the reedbed this side, mostly House Martins but also a few Swallows. Down at the river, a pair of Great Crested Grebes were out on the water. We made our way along the bank, round past the various pools on that side. The first couple held a few ducks and geese, plus a couple of Little Egrets. A single Common Snipe on a grassy island was a nice bonus.

6O0A9577Great Crested Grebe – a pair were on the river today

There have been several Spoonbills here in recent days, and we were disappointed we had not managed to find them so far. As we approached the last pool, we still hadn’t seen them until we got past the reeds along its near edge. There they were! Four Spoonbills were sleeping in the lee of the reeds, out of the wind, quite close to the bank where we were walking. We stopped where we were but they were surprised by our sudden appearance and walked out into the pool before taking off.

6O0A9582Spoonbills – we surprised them, hiding asleep in the lee of the reeds

The four Spoonbills flew round for a couple of minutes, giving us a great view as they did so, before landing again on one of the other pools, further back from the river bank. Here they quickly settled down to feed.

6O0A9605Spoonbills – flew round and landed back down on the pools to feed

There were more waders on this last pool. Another 20 or so Ringed Plover were accompanied by around 10 Dunlin. Looking through them carefully, we managed to find two diminutive Little Stints, looking very smart in summer plumage, with rusty-tinged upperparts fringed with frosty edges.

A Greenshank flew in and landed out of view. While we were scanning for it, we found a Common Sandpiper creeping around on the far bank. From a little further along, we were able to see the Greenshank where it had landed. Along with a few Avocet, Lapwing and Redshank, that meant this site had provided us with a great haul of waders today, including some nice scarce spring migrants.

We made our way back to the car and drove round to Cantley next. The young (2cy) White-tailed Eagle which has been roaming Norfolk and Suffolk for the last couple of weeks had been refound at Buckenham yesterday afternoon. After spending the night in trees nearby, earlier this morning it had flown over to Cantley Marshes, which was where we were hoping we might catch up with it.

Apparently the White-tailed Eagle had just been sitting on a gatepost for about three hours, but when we arrived it had just had a fly round and landed again down in the grass. We could see it very distantly through the scope, from the car park, being mobbed by a couple of the local Lapwings. It was clearly enormous – it completely dwarfed a couple of Canada Geese nearby! It flew again and landed on a gatepost a bit nearer to us, where we could get a better look at it.

IMG_3824White-tailed Eagle – perched on a gatepost out on the marshes

When the White-tailed Eagle took off again, we watched as it flew low across the marshes, scattering everything as it went. It gained height and seemed to be headed for the trees back at Buckenham, before we lost sight of it.

IMG_3834White-tailed Eagle – took off and flew towards Buckenham

After a short drive round there, we had a quick look out on the marshes at Buckenham, There was no sign of the White-tailed Eagle here – it was not on any of the gates, nor obviously sat out on the grass, and none of the local birds seemed particularly agitated. We figured it must have gone back into the trees somewhere.

The Cattle Egret was reported again at Halvergate earlier, so we drove round there next, but we couldn’t find it. We ate a late lunch overlooking the grazing marshes and scanning for it amongst the hooves of the various herds of cattle. It had probably had the good sense to find somewhere more sheltered, out of the wind which was whistling across the grass. A sharp call alerted us to a single bright male Yellow Wagtail which was feeding around the feet of the cows the other side of the road.

After lunch, we drove over to Winterton. It was even windier out on the coast. We walked up through the dunes and out onto the beach to see the Little Terns. There were lots of people here, busy erecting the electric fence to protect the Little Tern colony for the breeding season. We could see hordes of Little Terns flying round over the fence workers.

We then continued north through the dunes. It was rather quiet here today, with no obvious migrants on show. A Green Woodpecker flew up from the ground ahead of us and disappeared off round behind us. A male Stonechat perched on the top of a dead bush calling. We also flushed several Linnets from the dunes along the way.

6O0A9662Stonechat – one of the few birds perching up in the dunes in the wind

A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling from the brambles by the concrete blocks. We made our way into the trees along the track, hoping to find some birds in the more sheltered conditions here. There had been a few Garden Warblers here in recent days, but we couldn’t hear any today. A single Blackcap was singing intermittently, but a couple of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were more vocal.

We walked inland a short distance. A Brown Hare disappeared ahead of us down the track. Four Stock Doves were feeding in a ploughed field. But there was nothing else of note in the lee of the trees. We decided to make our way back to the car, and with a long drive back up to North Norfolk, we headed for home.

There was one final treat in store. As we were almost back to our starting point, we noticed a small shape perched on the end of the roof of an old barn. It was a Little Owl. As we pulled up alongside, it stopped to stare at us. A nice way to end the day.

24th Apr 2017 – Spring in the Brecks

A Private Tour today. It was cloudy with an occasional shower in the afternoon, thankfully mostly while we were having lunch, with some brighter spells in the afternoon. With Stone Curlew the main target, we headed down to the Brecks for the day. On the drive down, a couple of Red Kites circled lazily over the fields beside the road, possibly hanging around looking for some overnight roadkill to feed on.

Stone Curlews can be found on some of the remnant heaths down in the Brecks, but many of them attempt to nest on farmland, with varying degrees of success. We stopped off on our drive down to look for a pair which nest regularly in an area of arable fields. Thankfully, this year, they appear to have chosen an area which has been left fallow, rather than attempting to breed in a crop.

The weeds here are starting to grow fast now, but it didn’t take us long to locate one of the pair of Stone Curlews, tucked down out of the wind among the spring flowers. We had a great look at it through the scope – we could see its bright yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill. It was very well camouflaged, particularly when it nestled down tighter into the vegetation and went to sleep. There were several Skylarks singing here, always great to hear, and a Eurasian Curlew called from further over too.

IMG_3347Stone Curlew – hiding among the spring flowers

That was a great way to start so, with our first target in the bag, we made our way further south and deeper into the Brecks. We stopped off at some pig fields for a brief look round, which produced a few birds. As well as the commoner Red-legged Partridges, we found a pair of Grey Partridges which scuttled across the field from the verge. There were several Shelducks, crows, gulls including Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Oystercatchers in the fields with the pigs. With nothing else of note immediately obvious, we didn’t hang around.

Nightingale was our next target and as soon as we got out of the car at our next stop, we could hear a couple of males singing against each other. We walked across to where they were and stood for a while marvelling at the complex songs with beautiful fluid notes and phrases. We thought we might see one perched out in the open here, but they were both tucked deep in cover. At one point, one of the two Nightingales did flick across between two bushes and perched briefly on the edge, but it was too quick for everyone to get onto.

A Willow Warbler singing in the top of a bare bush was more obliging. They also have a beautiful song, but poor bird was rather overshadowed by the Nightingales. A Reed Warbler singing from deep in some bushes, miles from any reeds, was rather odd – presumably a bird on its way somewhere more suitable! A Treecreeper sang from the trees nearby.

We made our way over to the other side of the site, with a few Linnets and Goldfinches in the bushes on the way. When we got there, we could immediately hear another couple of Nightingales singing. We followed the sound and were again tantalised with brief views of the birds darting between bushes. However, our perseverance paid off when we came across one perched in a tree, singing away. We stood and watched it for about 10 minutes, getting a great view through the scope, and just enjoying the sound.

IMG_3369Nightingale – perched out singing for us for ages

The clouds were starting to build rather ominously now, so we drove on to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen, hoping to dodge the showers which we assumed were approaching. We got to the car park just as it started to rain, and made a quick dash for the visitor centre. Thankfully, it was over very quickly, so we headed out to the Washland. A Cuckoo as singing from the bushes as we passed.

There were lots of ducks out on Hockwold Washes, but the first bird we alighted on when we set up the scope was a very smart drake Garganey. We could see the bright white stripe over its eye, curving down the sides of its head, and the ornate black and grey plumes on its back.

IMG_3381Garganey – a smart drake out on the Washes

There has been a Glossy Ibis hanging around here for over two weeks now, a rare visitor from southern Europe. A careful scan and we located it feeding over in one corner. Like a dark heron, with a distinctive long and downcurved bill, we got a good look at it through the scope. Unfortunately, in the overcast conditions we could not see the detail of its glossy bronze plumage. A very nice bird to see here though.

IMG_3392Glossy Ibis – lingering on the Washland for over two weeks now

There were lots of other birds out here too, so having found the two main species we had wanted to look for, we started to scan through the others. We quickly located a Common Tern perched on some vegetation out in the middle of the water, preening. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew round and landed down at the front. A Grey Heron flew along the river. There were lots of Swallows and House Martins hawking for insects low over the water.

We looked over our shoulders and saw some more black cloud almost upon us, and at that moment it started to rain again. We made a quick dash back to the visitor centre for an early lunch. From the warm and dry, we watched the comings and goings at the feeders. There was a steady stream of Reed Buntings, Goldfinches and tits coming in to feed today, while we ate our sandwiches inside.

6O0A8128Reed Bunting – several were coming down to the bird table by the visitor centre

After lunch, it seemed to brighten up a bit, so we made our way out to explore the reserve. On the walk out, we could hear various warblers singing from the vegetation – Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers from the reeds, a Common Whitethroat from the brambles, a Blackcap from the trees. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted its song at us as we passed. Another Cuckoo was singing from the poplars – Reed Warblers beware!

We stopped for a while at the New Fen Viewpoint. A Little Grebe was laughing maniacally from the reeds, but the smart summer plumage Great Crested Grebe stole the show. A pair of Coot were feeding their five young, with bright red bald heads, over at the back. A Gadwall and a pair of Tufted Ducks on here were both additions to the day’s list.

There were lots of hirundines hawking for insects over the reeds, including some brown-backed Sand Martins. We could also see several Common Swifts further back, over the edge of West Wood, the first we have seen here this year. But there was no sign of Bittern or Bearded Tit here, so we carried on across the reserve.

A brief look in at Mere Hide was very quiet. However, we did see a pair of Marsh Harriers from just outside the hide. We had enjoyed great views of a grey-winged male by the road as we drove down to Lakenheath earlier, but otherwise the Marsh Harriers seemed a little subdued here today, possibly due to the weather. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. As we walked on towards the Joist Fen Viewpoint, another smart Great Crested Grebe was on the pools by the path.

6O0A8141Great Crested Grebe – looking very smart now, in summer plumage

From the Joist Fen Viewpoint itself, we could see at least seven Hobbys hawking out over the reeds. They seemed to have found a spot over one of the pools where they were finding lots of flying insects, and they were a little distant, but fantastic to watch as they swooped back and forth. Recent arrivals back from Africa, they might have been regretting their decision given the weather today!

The pair of Cranes which are often visible from here seem to have disappeared at the moment – reserve staff are exploring various theories as to what might have happened to them. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to go further afield looking for any others, and the weather conditions were not conducive to being too adventurous today. So we made our way back.

We had intended to pop in to explore Weeting Heath on the way past. With a particular interest in Stone Curlews, it seemed appropriate to try to have a look at them in their more natural habitat. However, a quick chat at the visitor centre and we learned that they had not been showing all day today, since very early in the morning. Breeding activity seems to be on hold for now – one of the pairs here seems to have already lost their egg and has not yet got round to another attempt. With that in mind, we decided to do something else instead. Fortunately, we had enjoyed good views of Stone Curlew earlier this morning.

We had wanted to have a quick look in at Lynford Arboretum today, and this gave us an opportunity to visit there now. Unfortunately, it clouded over a bit as we drove back there so, even though it was nice and sheltered in the trees, it was rather gloomy too. There were several Goldcrests singing from the conifers as we walked round, but we couldn’t hear any of the Firecrests – it was not really the weather for it. It started to drizzle a little, on and off, but it was only light so we carried on anyway to see what we could find.

There had been some seed put out on various of the benches in the Arboretum, so we decided to go down to the bridge for a look there. As we walked down the hill, we could see a bird high in the tops of the trees. It was a male Common Crossbill. It stayed there for some time, calling softly, presumably having come in to drink. Through the scope we got a great look at it, noting its distinctive crossed bill tips. A nice bonus!

IMG_3414Common Crossbill – a male, high in the trees above the bridge

There was a small amount of bird seed scattered around the bridge still, so we stopped to see what was coming down to feed. As well as several Blue Tits and Great Tits, we got a great look at a Marsh Tit here. There were several Reed Buntings coming down to the seed, both black and white headed males and streaky brown headed females, giving great close-up views. A pair of Siskin came down to drink briefly at the edge of the lake.

While we were standing on the bridge, we heard a distinctive reeling noise, rather like a cricket. It was a Grasshopper Warbler singing from the edge of the meadow just beyond the lake. This is not where we would normally expect to find a Grasshopper Warbler, so it was a bit of a surprise. We tried walking along the path by the lake to see if we could see it, but there is very little cover for it along here at the moment and it stopped singing and disappeared as we approached.

We had already seen a pair of Little Grebes on the lake, chasing each other round looking from the bridge. As we walked down the path, we could see a few Mallard on the far side, along with a couple of Canada Geese and a Mute Swan. Another small duck swam out from under the trees along the near bank ahead of us – a stunning male Mandarin Duck. It stopped just long enough for us to get it in the scope and admire its amazing multi-coloured plumage, before it swam off around the back of the island.

6O0A8164Mandarin Duck – a stunning drake down on the lake

As we made our way back to the bridge, a Grey Wagtail was feeding under the overhanging trees on the other side of the lake, before flying off across the water. A Jay disappeared off through the trees, flashing its white rump. Back at the bridge, a Nuthatch appeared in the trees and flew in to a branch above us, where it spent a minute or two hacking away at the bark with its dagger-like bill. A Sparrowhawk flew fast and low through the trees, scattering all the birds and causing a couple of Mistle Thrushes to call loudly in alarm.

6O0A8189Nuthatch – feeding in one of the trees above us, down at the bridge

It had been a very productive little session around the Arboretum, despite the weather – well worth the visit. Unfortunately, it was now time to start making our way back. We had enjoyed a nice introduction to the delights of the Brecks in late spring and seen some great birds today as well.

21st Apr 2017 – Spring Warblers & More

A Private Tour today in N Norfolk. It was rather cool and cloudy, with an increasingly blustery west wind in the afternoon and no sign of the promised sunny intervals, but it was dry all day.

The main target for the day was to try to find warblers and, if possible, Garganey. Snettisham seemed like the best bet, so we set off west along the coast road. A quick stop on the way at Titchwell and there was no sign of the Turtle Dove which had been in the car park early yesterday morning. The weather wasn’t particularly conducive, so we didn’t stop here long.

Arriving at Snettisham, we set off to explore the Coastal Park. As soon as we parked, we could hear warblers singing. A male Blackcap perched up obligingly in the top of a bush and a Common Whitethroat was songflighting, before landing on a tall bramble stem. We quickly heard our first Lesser Whitethroat of the day and set off along one of the smaller paths to try to see it. They can be elusive at this time of year at the best of times, often singing from deep in the bigger bushes. We did manage to see the Lesser Whitethroat a couple of times as it flew across between hawthorns, but it was perhaps too much to hope that it might come out and sing for us on a cool morning like today.

The Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were a little more accommodating. There were good numbers of both singing in the park today. Willow Warbler in particular is not as widely distributed as it used to be so it is always nice to hear their distinctive song, a sweet descending scale, at this time of year. A pair of Bullfinches in the bushes were a nice, non-warbler, addition to the day’s list.

6O0A7900Willow Warbler – several singing in the park today, this one taken yesterday

An occasional resident Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we walked past and the damper areas in the middle were alive with singing Sedge Warblers today. They are really back in force now and making their presence known. There are smaller numbers of Reed Warblers which have returned so far, but we did hear a few as we explored the area. One was singing from the reeds by one of the paths which cross through the middle of the park, but despite our best efforts we could not see it – it was keeping tucked well down in the reeds this morning.

As we walked in through the park earlier, we had seen couple of large flocks of Knot circling distantly out over the Wash beyond the sea wall. As we walked back towards the sea wall out of the reeds, we heard loud calls ahead of us and looked up to see two Peregrines chasing each other over the bank. They had presumably been spooking the waders on the Wash earlier!

One of the Peregrines quickly disappeared away beyond the bank, but the other, a juvenile, circled towards us and right over our heads, before heading off north over the park. Great stuff!

6O0A7924Peregrine – this juvenile came right over our heads, in from the Wash

This is often a good spot to see Cuckoos at this time of year, and we were not to be disappointed today. After we heard our first singing male in the middle of the Coastal Park, we were never far away from one. It really made it feel like spring, to hear Cuckoos singing, despite the not particularly spring-like conditions.

There were at least three Cuckoos here today, possibly more – it was hard to tell as they were flying around constantly, with birds regularly passing overhead whenever we looked up. They have a few regular bushes from which they like to sing and we got great views through the scope of one male in particular, from up on the inner seawall, when it returned to one of its favourite song posts.

6O0A7840Cuckoo – this photo taken yesterday, but singing from the same tree again today

Grasshopper Warbler was one species of warbler we had expected to at least hear here today, but as we passed the first couple of areas where birds have been reeling recently, all was rather quiet. Thankfully, as we walked along the path further up we heard the distinctive song of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, sounding more like an insect than a bird. Helpfully, it was in an area of quite open bushes with a narrow path running through, so we set off in pursuit.

We could see the Grasshopper Warbler perched up in the top of some brambles, so we stopped and set up our scopes. Typically, just as we got them lined up, it dropped back into cover. We walked round to one side of the brambles and positioned ourselves, thinking it might come up again to sing further along the clump. After a few seconds it did just that – half hidden at first and then climbing up right out in full view, up onto some thin rose stems. We had a great view of it through the scope.

IMG_3277Grasshopper Warbler – reeling from a bramble clump this morning

In the end, we heard at least three reeling Grasshopper Warblers as we walked round here today. They were possibly just a bit slow to get going this morning!

While we were waiting for the Grasshopper Warbler to reappear, we watched one of the Cuckoos flying over beyond and it swooped down towards a large hawthorn bush and flushed a second Cuckoo from the top of it. The two of them proceeded to chase each other round over the bushes, coming very close to us at one point, just as the Grasshopper Warbler reappeared. We didn’t know which way to look!

6O0A7947Cuckoos – chasing each other over our heads as we watched the Grasshopper Warbler

After completing our target set of warblers for the morning, we walked up as far as the cross bank and climbed up onto the seawall to look out over the Wash. There are still good numbers of waders here at the moment. The tide was still about half way out, but through the scopes we could see them all out on the mud. There were several hundred Knot, most still in grey winter plumage but a few starting to go orange. The same was true of the Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover, though a couple of the latter were already looking quite smart with black bellies and white spangled upperparts.

There were a few smaller waders in amongst the Knot out towards the shoreline, mostly Dunlin but a careful scan produced a single silvery grey and white Sanderling. There were more flocks of Dunlin closer to us, scattered across the mud, and in with them we found a single Ringed Plover. We lost sight of it when the flock flew, but the next thing we knew it appeared on the beach in front of us and started displaying with a second Ringed Plover, the two of them flying round over the sand with stiff wing beats.

6O0A7975Ringed Plover – two were displaying over the beach

There were a few Curlew out on the mud, but the Whimbrel seem to prefer to feed on the short grass. Looking across on the inland side of the seawall, we found two Whimbrel walking around beyond the pools, nice spring migrants for the trip list.

The Wash coast is a good place to watch visible migration (or ‘vizmig’ for short), with flocks of birds passing overhead on their journeys, being forced south here if they want to avoid crossing the Wash on their way north along the coast. There were a few birds moving today, but it was possibly a bit slow due to the weather. We did have several small flocks of Meadow Pipits passing overhead, along with a few Linnets and Goldfinches. A single White Wagtail dipped low enough over the bushes that we could see its pale grey back before continuing south along the seawall. There was a steady trickle of hirundines moving all morning – almost entirely Swallows today, apart from one House Martin which we managed to catch as it flew through.

There had been a pair of Garganey here in the last week or so, although there was apparently no sign of them yesterday. We headed over to the inner seawall to scan the pools to see if we could find them. They were not on the pools today where they had been previously, but we did see a nice selection of other wildfowl. Two small flocks of around 30 Pink-footed Geese each were out on the grass. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have long since departed on their way north to Iceland for the breeding season, but these few were leaving it rather later. There were also the resident Greylag, Canada and Egyptian Geese here. Ducks included Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and a few lingering Wigeon.

The wind was starting to pick up now and it was rather cold up on the inner seawall, so we opted to walk back through the shelter of the bushes. We should have continued south along the inner seawall as, little did we know at that stage, but the Garganey were on another pool back towards the road. Thankfully, we bumped into another couple of birders on our way back who told us about them and we were able to cut back across and up onto the bank to look. We found the drake Garganey tucked tight up against the bank of the pool asleep, sheltered from the wind. Through the scope we could still see its distinctive white head stripe and the elongated ornamental feathers hanging down over its flanks.

IMG_3287Garganey – asleep, tucked into the edge of one of the pools

It was getting on for lunchtime when we got back to the car, so we drove inland to a sheltered spot for lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out onto Dersingham Bog. We had hoped to find a Tree Pipit singing here, but it was a bit cold and windy and a quiet time of the day now. They are summer visitors so they may not all be back in here yet. We did find a couple of pairs of Stonechat and flushed a Green Woodpecker from beside the path. It quickly became clear it was rather quiet here so we didn’t stay long.

6O0A7984Stonechat – Dersingham Bog is a good place for this species

Grey Partridge was another target species for the afternoon. They are sometimes to be found at Snettisham, but they can be disturbed by the large number of dog walkers here. We took a diversion on our way back, inland via Ringstead. This is often a good area for Grey Partridge and a stop to scan a likely looking field quickly found us a pair, with a second pair on the edge of a field as we dropped back down to the coast road at Choseley.

6O0A7994Grey Partridge – one of two pairs we found on our short diversion inland

Our destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Holkham. We made a quick stop to scan the grazing marshes from the road and were rewarded with distant views of several Spoonbills in the trees. A long, snaking white head appeared occasionally out of an overgrown ditch and eventually a Great White Egret climbed out, helpfully with a Grey Heron then walking right in front of it to give a great size comparison. It then flew off back into the trees. There were several Barnacle Geese out on the grazing marshes too, presumably feral birds from Holkham Park.

Driving round to Lady Anne’s Drive, we headed out along the path to the hides. It was rather quiet in the trees in the strengthening breeze. A few Chiffchaffs were singing, along with a couple of Sedge Warblers from the reeds in front of Washington Hide. We did manage to find a Treecreeper hiding in a holm oak by Meals House. Then as we approached Joe Jordan Hide, we finally heard a Willow Warbler singing, usually a fairly regular sound here in spring.

There was a large white bird standing on the edge of a ditch out on the grazing marsh between Meals House and Joe Jordan Hide – a Great White Egret, possibly the same one we had seen earlier. In the breeding season the bill can go black, making it look rather more similar to a Little Egret. A couple of Greylag Geese walking in front of it left us in no doubt as to its large size. Through the scope we also admired the bright blue-green facial skin at the base of its bill. A couple of drake Pintail out on one of the pools beyond were a nice surprise.

IMG_3300Great White Egret – in a weedy ditch out on the grazing marsh

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, it didn’t take long to find a Spoonbill, perched up obligingly in the top of the sallows behind the fort. They were coming and going pretty much constantly from the trees while we were there. Several flew down to the pool below to collect nest material, before carrying it back up to the trees. Others were flying in and out from further along the coast in both directions, where they had presumably been feeding. We could see the bushy nuchal crest on the breeding adults, as well as the mustard yellow wash across the breast.

IMG_3322Spoonbill – collecting nest material

There were other birds coming and going here too. Lots of Marsh Harriers were quartering out over the marshes and a nice male came through close in front of the hide. A Red Kite circled lazily over Holkham Park and a Sparrowhawk flapped up distantly out of the trees. There are plenty of Common Buzzards here too, including a couple of rather striking pale ones which are always a source of confusion for the unwary.

6O0A8015Marsh Harrier – this male flew past in front of the hide

Three House Martins were lingering over the trees, hawking for insects. A few Swallows were still making their way west, along with a couple of Sand Martins. A single Pink-footed Goose, presumably a sick or injured bird which is destined to stay here for the summer, was down on the grass with all the Greylags.

Then it was time to start to make our way back. As we strolled back along the path, there seemed to be a little more activity in the late afternoon. We heard a couple of Willow Warblers singing now, and a single Blackcap which we had not heard on the walk out. A Goldcrest fed quietly in a holm oak above our heads.

It had been a very enjoyable day, with all our main targets achieved. Despite the cooler weather, we had seen a great variety of spring birds.

15th Mar 2017 – Spring Brecks

A Private Tour in the Brecks today, it was to be a relaxed paced day, though that would not hinder us in any way. By 9am, the sun was shining and there was wall to wall blue sky overhead, a glorious day to be out birding.

Our first destination was to be Drymere and Cockley Cley, with Great Grey Shrike and some of the other breeding birds of the forest clearings our targets. As we walked down the ride from the car park, we spotted a pair of Yellowhammers in a small oak tree ahead of us. They dropped down to the ground and started feeding in the long grass and were seemingly unconcerned as we walked right past.

6O0A0111Yellowhammer – the bright yellow-headed male

We walked on a little further along one of the rides, hoping we might bump into a Woodlark, but at first we couldn’t hear any. Then, as we turned to walk back, one flew up from the clearing and began singing its beautiful but rather melancholy song. It hovered up into the air and started to fly round high above the ground. A second Woodlark appeared too, from roughly where the first had come, and flew up into a small tree on the edge of the path. We got it in the scope and had a great look at it, noting the rusty cheeks and striking pale supercilium.

IMG_2032Woodlark – started singing from its perch up in a small tree

At first we thought the second bird might be a female Woodlark, the two having flown up from the same spot, but then it started singing quietly too. It is a real sound of early spring in the forest, listening to the Woodlarks singing in the clearings. As we made our way back to the main ride, a Tawny Owl hooted from deep in a conifer plantation – we have heard a couple of daytime hooters in here in recent days.

The Great Grey Shrike had been favouring a young plantation further down, but when we got there we couldn’t find any sign of it. After a quick look round, we bumped into another couple of birders who told us it had been there earlier, but had been flushed by a dogwalker and flown off. We decided to try our luck elsewhere.

We made our way round to another clearing where we thought there was a chance the shrike might be. As we walked up along the path, we heard a distinctive ringing song from the plantation alongside. It was a Willow Tit, a very scarce bird these days. We hoped it might come out onto the edge but it remained deep in the trees. Unfortunately only a Coal Tit emerged into the sunshine. We listened to the Willow Tit for a while, before turning our attention back to the clearing.

There was no sign of the shrike here either, but looking up into the blue sky and we spotted a Goshawk in the distance, flying towards us. It was getting warm now, with bright sunshine and light winds, and the Goshawk gained height quickly. We noticed a couple of Common Buzzards above it first, then more raptors higher up still. On closer inspection, there were five Goshawks with the Buzzards, all circling together! It is quite a rare occurrence to see quite so many all at once, so we were very pleased but they were high and some distance away, so it was hard to make out much detail.

Fortunately, the next thing we knew we heard a Goshawk calling and an adult male circled up slowly above the trees, much closer to us. It was in no hurry, lurking behind the tops for several minutes before it finally gained height. We could even get it in the scope, noting its clean grey upperparts and striking white underneath. As it circled higher, it alternately disappeared against the blue sky and then flashed white as it turned towards us.

6O0A0143Goshawk – a male circled up out of the trees calling

We lost sight of it as it went higher but, when we heard it calling again, we looked across to see a second Goshawk with it. This was a young bird, a juvenile born last year, with peachy orange tinged underparts and darker brown above. The juvenile female, bigger than the male, was displaying, flying across over the trees with very deep, exaggerated wingbeats. The adult male Goshawk then responded, calling again and doing a burst of rollercoaster display, closing its wings and swooping down before turning up sharply again, repeating this three or four times, losing height all the time back down towards the trees.

That would have been good enough, but we were in for a further treat. The male Goshawk then appeared again, even closer, slow flapping out from the trees and over the ride ahead of us with his white undertail coverts puffed out. The reason soon became clear, as we noticed the big juvenile female Goshawk was circling away to our left over a young plantation. Our view was obscured at first by some trees, but walking quickly forwards we had clear views as she circled overhead for a couple of minutes, gradually drifting further back. Fantastic views and a real treat to see one up so close!

6O0A0203-001Goshawk – this juvenile female circled overhead for a couple of minutes

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the Goshawks and make our way back. On the way, we saw several butterflies out in the spring sunshine, Comma, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock (we would also add Red Admiral to the list later, at Lynford). Several Chiffchaffs were singing from the young plantations – they have arrived back in numbers in the past few days and are busy establishing territories. As we walked along beside a block of mature trees, we could hear the cones crackling in the heat, as they opened and dropped their seeds.

The Great Grey Shrike has been favouring a couple of different areas in recent days, so with it having been disturbed from one, we thought we would take a look at the other. As soon as we walked along the ride and out through the trees, we could see a white shape sat right on the top of a bush in the clearing, even with the naked eye. There was the shrike! It flew across and landed on a young oak tree by the path.

IMG_2078Great Grey Shrike – still in one of its favoured clearings at Cockley Cley

We got the Great Grey Shrike in the scope and had a good look at it. It was not too far away, but we didn’t want to disturb it by trying to get too close, as some others have been doing in recent days. However, while we were watching it, a couple of walkers came down the ride behind us and continued straight on past, despite us obviously looking at something along the path. As they got close to the tree, the Great Grey Shrike was off, in a bounding flight. Fortunately, it came towards us and landed much closer. Now we had really a great view here – we could even see the hooked tip to its bill.

When the Great Grey Shrike flew again, we decided to leave it in peace and make our way back to the car. Having enjoyed such fantastic views of Goshawk here, we now didn’t need to go and look for them elsewhere, so we decided to head over to the RSPB Reserve at Lakenheath Fen. We wouldn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, but it would be a nice place to have lunch and use the facilities. In fact, it was just about lunchtime when we arrived so we stopped for a bite to eat, enjoying the sunshine on the picnic tables outside today.

6O0A0242Reed Bunting – in the sallows by the feeders, waiting to come in

After lunch, we walked up to the visitor centre and out towards the Washland viewpoint. There were several Reed Buntings still coming in to the seed on the bird tables by the visitor centre, but not so many other birds here today. There has been a pair of Garganey on Hockwold Washes in recent days, which we hoped to see. We were told that they were asleep on one edge, but we hadn’t been up at the Washland viewpoint long when a patrol boat came along the river and flushed a lot of the ducks. A couple of Water Pipits flew up from the bank too, calling, but they were hard to get onto as they landed again quickly.

All the ducks flew round and thankfully landed back on the water again. It didn’t take us long to find the pair of Garganey, out in the middle of Washes, the drake giving himself away with his bright white eye stripe catching the sun. They were feeding actively, upending constantly, but they swam steadily back towards us as they did so. We could now see the ornate, elongated scapulars hanging down over the drake’s flanks.

IMG_2098Garganey – this pair were on Hockwold Washes again today

There were plenty of other ducks here too. A party of Wigeon were whistling, the drakes with the creamy yellow stripe up the front of their heads. There were lots of tiny Teal and shovel-billed Shoveler. Several Tufted Ducks and Pochard were busy diving and a pair of Shelduck dropped in. The rather dull coloured Gadwall were in danger of being overlooked – we got them in the scope but unfortunately they were too far away to appreciate their true beauty! The Washland provided a pleasant post-lunch stroll, but we wanted to spend the afternoon at Lynford Arboretum. So, with time pressing, we headed back to the car park.

When we arrived at Lynford, we made our way over the road and up along the path. Several Siskins were feeding in the larches, taking advantage of all the cones popping today to help themselves to some seeds. We could hear Goldcrests singing and watched as one flew across between the trees.

At the feeders, we were told that a couple of Hawfinches had been seen down on the ground earlier, but had been disturbed by the ubiquitous Grey Squirrels! We stopped for a scan anyway, to see what was there. A Nuthatch kept dropping in down on the ground and a steady stream of tits came in to the feeders and fat balls.

We could hear Hawfinches calling from the trees beyond, so we made our way along a little further and looked back into the tops. However, while we were scanning for activity, a quad bike came out of the trees and round on the path past the chicken run. It spooked a single Hawfinch from the trees, but that flew off across the clearing and disappeared deep into the plantation at the back, before anyone could get onto it.

The Hawfinches went quiet for a bit after that disturbance. We went back to the feeders, and contented ourselves with watching the Bramblings. A few were feeding in the leaf litter on the ground but several kept returning to the same couple of branches a few metres up in the Beech trees. Through the scope, we could see that the branches were wet with sap and on one we could even see three fresh, small holes in the bark. The Bramblings were drinking the sap, either wiping their bills sideways on the wet bark or supping it directly from the holes. This is not something which is often recorded, so it was great to be able to watch it.

IMG_2125Brambling – drinking sap from holes in the bark of a beech tree

While we were standing by the feeders, we heard a Firecrest calling behind us. We walked over into the Arboretum and found it flitting around in a small holly tree. Unfortunately, it was moving so fast it was hard for everyone to get a good look at it. It came out on to the edge briefly, but disappeared straight back in. It sang once briefly but then quickly flew back into the fir trees behind and went quiet.

Fortunately, the Hawfinch activity resumed shortly afterwards. Someone spotted two fly in to the trees at the back of the chicken run clearing. The birds landed deep in the trees, but thankfully with their help we were able to get one of them in the scope, a grey brown female, but still sporting a massive nutcracker of a bill. They didn’t stay for very long, but when they flew again they were accompanied by another four, the six Hawfinches all flying off towards the bridge.

IMG_2145Hawfinch – this female perched up obligingly in the top of the Beech trees

Despite the mass exodus, we could still hear the electric ‘ticking’ call of more Hawfinches in the trees and then another two females appeared high in the beeches above the feeders. This was a much better view, with one perched obligingly in the open, framed by the opening buds. After a few minutes they flew off too, but we could still hear ‘ticking’ from the trees.

We walked back towards the feeders to see if we could possibly find one down on the ground, but then heard ‘ticking’ from the Arboretum side of the path. We looked across to see a male Hawfinch perched high in the top of a fir tree. It was silhouetted against the sun at first, but we made sure we had a good look at it in case it flew off. Then we made our way quickly round through the Arboretum to the other side of the fir tree. Thankfully, it stayed perched up in the top, clambering around in the thin branches, calling constantly.

IMG_2217Hawfinch – a brighter male, perched in the top of a fir tree

The Hawfinch seemed to be enjoying the afternoon sunshine from high up on its perch. From this angle, we could see it was much more richly coloured than the female, with russet tones around the face and crown and a contrasting grey nape. A very smart bird! We watched it for some time before eventually it dropped down further into the Arboretum, out of view. We took that as a cue to move on down to the paddocks.

Down at the bridge, we were hoping to find some Common Crossbills coming down to drink. As we arrived, we could hear Crossbills calling, but the six of them flew out and disappeared away over the pines before we could get round and into position. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long before another pair flew in and landed high in the poplars. A bright red male was accompanied by a grey-green female. They perched high up in the branches for a few minutes before flying across into the young pines.

That was great, at least we had seen some Crossbills, but given how they have been performing here recently, we rather fancied a closer look. We walked down to the pines to see if we could find any feeding in here, but the cones here too were cracking in the heat and falling off the trees naturally, which meant we wouldn’t be able to hear where any Crossbills were feeding. We had a look anyway, but couldn’t find any in the trees they have been favouring.

There were three Marsh Tits chasing each other through the bushes along the edge of the paddocks, and we walked round to have a look at the Long-tailed Tit’s nest, which has made quite a bit of progress since yesterday and looks almost finished now.

6O0A0248Long-tailed Tit’s nest – made considerable progress since yesterday afternoon

As we walked back, we heard Crossbills calling back at the bridge and when we got there we could see four up in the poplars now. There were two rather dull rusty males, not bright red like we had seen earlier, and what appeared at first to be a grey-green female next to them. When she finished preening, we could see that she was actually quite an advanced juvenile, with considerable patches of new feathering, but still some streaks on her flanks. A rather brown and streaky fresh juvenile Crossbill was nearby for comparison.

The views here were better than we had enjoyed earlier and the Crossbills stayed in the trees for some time, the older birds preening and the fresh juvenile clambering around eating leaf buds. Eventually, they flew off towards the pines and we made our way back to the bridge. We stood here for a while, watching the various birds coming and going from the seed put out for them. A Marsh Tit darted in a couple of times and a Nuthatch tried its luck on one of the wooden posts further back. There was a steady stream of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits too, and a single Reed Bunting.

6O0A0262Long-tailed Tit – coming down to the seed at the bridge

While we were watching all the other birds coming to the seed, we heard a Crossbill calling and saw it land in the alders nearby. It was a very smart, bright red male, but just as we were getting the scope on it, it flew again, but came straight towards us and landed above our heads. Here it perched for a while in the sun, singing. Stunning views!

6O0A0332Common Crossbill – this bright red male perched above us singing

When the male Crossbill flew again, it was followed by a female which we hadn’t noticed arrive with him. The two of them dropped down to drink at a puddle nearby, before flying back up and chasing each other off through the trees. It was getting late now, so we thought that would be a nice way to end the day, and started to make our way back.

When we got to the car park, we were just loading up the car when we heard a crest calling from somewhere high in the fir trees. We walked round to where we could hear it better and sure enough it was a Firecrest, as we thought. We looked right up to the treetops, where the last of the afternoon sun was just catching the highest branches, and we could see it flitting around. There were lots of small flies up there, buzzing around the tree, and it kept flycatching into them. We could just make out its distinctive black and white striped face. The Firecrest sang briefly, then it disappeared back into the trees and we resumed our packing up and departed for the journey home.

What a glorious day in the Brecks it had been, with such fantastic views of so many of our local specialities.

8th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Private Tour. With more autumn migrants seen in East Norfolk yesterday, we decided to head over that way today to see what we could catch up with. It was a glorious warm, sunny day – great weather to be out birding.

Winterton Dunes was our first port of call. There had been a Red-backed Shrike seen here yesterday and we were keen to try to catch up with it. There was no news as we drove down but thankfully as we started walking north through the dunes, a message came through to say that it was still present.

6o0a0520Small Heath – there were lots of butterflies out in the dunes

There was plenty to see as we walked along. In the sunshine, there were lots of butterflies out, as well as the regular species we saw a good number of Small Heath and Grayling. The dragonflies were also enjoying the weather, with loads of Common Darters and a few Migrant Hawkers too. A Whinchat appeared in the top of a bush in the dunes as we passed.

6o0a0517Grayling – also plentiful in the dunes today

We eventually got to the area where the Red-backed Shrike had been. As we walked up along the path, there was no immediate sign of it, but when we turned to walk back we found that it had reappeared behind us in the bushes right by the path! We were looking into the sun, so when it disappeared again back into the bushes, we tried to work our way back round the other side, but it had moved again.

At least we knew where the Red-backed Shrike was now and it didn’t take us long to find the bush it was favouring. Positioning ourselves, we were then treated to some stunning views as it perched on a branch. It kept dropping down to the ground below and flying back up. A couple of times we saw it return with prey – first a moth, then a beetle. Fantastic stuff!

img_6415Red-backed Shrike – we had great views of this juvenile in the dunes

When the Red-backed Shrike caught the beetle, it flew back to a clump of brambles just beyond. We were watching it perched on the top when it suddenly dropped down into cover. A couple of seconds later, we saw why. A Hobby was flying low over the ground, straight towards the bush and straight towards us! At the last minute, it saw us standing there and veered away to our left. What a cracking view!

Having enjoyed such good views of the shrike, we turned to make our way back. There were now two Hobbys hawking for insects over the trees, calling. A Marsh Harrier circled up too, and a couple of Common Buzzards. We walked over across the dunes to have a quick look at the sea, which produced a distant juvenile Gannet flying past and a few Cormorants.

On the walk back, we found a couple more Whinchats, on the fence around one of the natterjack pools. We came across a couple of pairs of Stonechats too. There was a steady stream of Swallows passing through over the dunes, on their way south.

When we got to the road, rather than head back to the car park, we crossed over and continued on into the South Dunes. At the first trees we came to, we could hear a Willow Warbler calling. It was very agitated at first, because there was a Sparrowhawk in the same sallow, although it flew off when we arrived. We watched as it flitted through to a nearby holly tree.

6o0a0527Willow Warbler – calling in the trees

It was getting rather hot now, particularly as we were more sheltered here from the cooling breeze. It felt like we might need a bit of luck to find some migrants, but we persevered. A small bird flew along the edge of the path in front of us and landed in the bushes, pumping its tail. A Redstart, a nice migrant to find, we had a good look at it in the scope.

img_6432Redstart – flew along the edge of the path ahead of us

We walked on a little further but, apart from a couple of Chiffchaffs, it seemed pretty quiet. As we turned back, we decided to walk through the trees in the middle of the valley and as we turned a corner, a Pied Flycatcher flicked across into a small tree in front of us. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop long and dropped quickly out the back out of view. As we walked further along, it flew again, into a larger group of oak trees.

When we got up to the oaks, there was no sign of the Pied Flycatcher, but as we walked through the trees a Spotted Flycatcher appeared instead. This was much more obliging – after flitting around deep in the tree at first, it came out onto a branch right in front of us, giving us stunning views. That rounded off an excellent selection of migrants in the Dunes.

img_6499Spotted Flycatcher – another migrant in the dunes

After lunch back at the car park, we headed over to Strumpshaw Fen for the afternoon. The lone Black Swan was on the pool by the Reception Hide as usual. Otherwise, there were lots of Gadwall and Mallard on here and a single Grey Heron. In the heat of the afternoon, the trees were quiet, so we made our way straight round to Tower Hide.

We had been told the hide was really busy today, but when we got there we had it to ourselves. It didn’t take long to find the Glossy Ibis, which has been here for over two weeks now. It looked thoroughly at home, wading around in the water with its head down, feeding. The light was perfect, really showing off the iridescent green gloss on its wings.

img_6530Glossy Ibis – looking very glossy indeed in the afternoon sunlight

There were lots of geese and ducks out on the water, or sleeping around the margins. The mob of Greylag Geese included a couple of white ‘farmyard’ geese. The ducks were predominantly Teal, Shoveler and Mallard. We had a careful scan through them at first for a Garganey, but it was only when a noisy Grey Heron flew over and flushed all the sleeping ducks out of the reeds and onto the water that we found one. The Garganey then showed really well and we got a great look at its boldly marked face pattern.

img_6541Garganey – showed really well once flushed out by a passing Grey Heron

There was a nice selection of waders here too. A limping Ruff was hobbling about on the mud right in front of the hide, but several more able bodied birds were feeding over towards the back. Nearby, we found three Common Snipe out on the open mud and with them a single Green Sandpiper. Then a Water Rail appeared out on the open mud too, which was really good to see.

The hide had filled up now, so having seen all we wanted to, we were just about to leave when someone asked us if the small birds on the mud next to the Snipe were Bearded Tits. We put the scope down again and sure enough they were – two juvenile Bearded Tits feeding out on the edge of the reeds.

A quick look in Fen Hide didn’t produce many birds of note, but we did see a Chinese Water Deer which walked out of the reeds onto one of the cut areas. On the walk back, we did see lots more butterflies and dragonflies. The highlight was a late second brood Swallowtail which flew over the path and landed on a branch above our heads briefly, before disappearing back towards the reedbed. As well as the regular dragonflies, we also came across several Willow Emerald Damselflies. These are now regular feature here at this time of year, although a very recent colonist having first been seen in this country only as recently as 2007.

6o0a0611Willow Emerald – we saw several of these damselflies at Strumpshaw today

Then it was back to the Reception Hide for a well deserved cold drink and an ice cream before heading for home.

4th September 2016 – From Wash to Coast

Day 3 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today, and our last day. It was a windy day, rather blustery in the morning, but at least it was forecast to stay dry.

Our first stop was at Snettisham. We were not here for the Wader Spectacular today –  it would have required a much earlier start to the day. But with the timing of high tide, we thought we could still get there in time to see a good number of waders gathered on the pits.

With the blustery SW wind, it looked like the water had not come right in to cover the last of the mud this morning, and there was still as large huddle of waders over in the far corner. A long smear of blacks and greys resolved itself into a mass birds through the scope – thousands of Oystercatchers, Curlew, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits – roosting over high tide on the last remaining patch of uncovered mud.

6O0A0221Waders – the huge flock huddled into the corner of the Wash

The tide was already starting to go out again and flocks of Sanderlings were flying in over the water to the mud. As we walked up to the hide, the first lines of Dunlin were already heading back out to the Wash from the pit.

The hide provided some welcome shelter from the wind and the chance to have a good look at the birds. Thankfully, there was still lots to see on the pit. The different species were segregated somewhat into different roosts on different islands and banks. Most of the Black-tailed Godwits were on the islands in front of the hide. There were a couple of massed flocks of Knot on the islands over to one side, with more godwits mixed in with them. Most were Black-tailed, but a closer look revealed a few Bar-tailed Godwits too. A couple of them were still in summer plumage, with rusty orange underparts extending right down under the tail.

The Dunlin were scattered around the edges or on the bits of the islands not filled with Knot. A Curlew Sandpiper had been seen before we arrived but had disappeared. We thought it might have flown off back to the Wash already, but eventually we found two Curlew Sandpiper asleep together, still in with the Dunlin. They were very hard to see, crouched down with their heads tucked in. Further over, the Turnstones had occupied one of the rockier islands and had it all to themselves.

The Little Stint was much more obliging. It appeared from nowhere in the middle of the island right in front of the hide. We had a good look at it through the scope as it walked down to the water’s edge, before it was chased off by the Black-tailed Godwits. While we were watching the Little Stint, a Common Sandpiper appeared nearby. It was working its way around the shore of the island and, a little later, appeared right down on the front edge below us.

6O0A0231Little Stint – appeared on the island in front of the hide

Most of the Spotted Redshanks were roosting out in the deeper water, on their own in a little huddle apart from a single Common Redshank with them. Most were adults, now in winter plumage, silvery grey above and bright white below, but when they shuffled round we could see a single dusky juvenile Spotted Redshank too. The Greenshanks had all gathered on the edge of the shingle bank towards the southern end, and a closer look through them revealed a couple of Spotted Redshanks there too.

IMG_6220Spotted Redshanks – gathered in a huddle out in the middle

As well as all the waders, a young Great Crested Grebe and a couple of Little Grebes were diving out on the pit. As well as some of the more regular wildfowl, we found a small group of Wigeon. There are many more here in the winter, but these are some of the first birds which have returned from their breeding grounds in Russia. As with all the ducks at this time of year, the drakes are in eclipse plumage so are not looking their finest, but they were still nice to see.

As we walked back to the car, lines of waders were coming off the pit and flying over our heads, back out to the Wash. They seemed a little slow to return to the mud today, perhaps because their roost sites were nicely sheltered from the wind. On one of the northern pits, we stopped to look through a raft of gulls out on the water. Most were Black-headed Gulls, but in with them we found a few Mediterranean Gulls too. All adults in winter plumage now, we admired their white wingtips and black bandit masks.

IMG_6224Mediterranean Gull – a few were on the pits today

We planned to spend the rest of the day at Titchwell. A Blackcap appeared in the elder above the car as we arrived in the overflow car park. It grabbed a berry and disappeared back down into cover. There was too much disturbance now, so not much else in the bushes here today. The feeders by the visitor centre were busier, with a selection of finches and tits.

There was a bit of time before lunch still, so we decided to explore the Fen and Autumn Trails first. Stopping at Patsy’s reedbed, we could see a couple of Little Grebes diving in the water and lots of Mallard and Gadwall asleep on the islands. A Snipe appeared at the water’s edge just along from the screen, before creeping back into the vegetation. Further along, a lone small duck was the Garganey. Through the scope, we could see its boldly marked face pattern.

IMG_6243Garganey – on Patsy’s Reedbed

Walking along the Autumn Trail, a flock of Golden Plover flew in overhead from inland and dropped down towards the freshmarsh. They were nervous and seemed reluctant to settle, flying up again and whirling round several times. Round at the back of the freshmarsh, we could see a line of seven Spotted Redshanks and two Greenshanks in their usual favoured spot over by the fence but no sign of any Spoonbills here today. An adult and juvenile Ruff feeding down on the mud in the corner gave us a nice opportunity to compare them. Another Snipe was feeding quietly on the edge of the reeds.

We made our way back to the car for lunch, coming across several Bloody-nosed Beetles on the path as we did so. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling from the sallows as we walked along the boardwalk. At the corner of the Meadow Trail, we stopped to watch a Migrant Hawker hovering over the small pool and a couple of Reed Warblers appeared in the cut vegetation at the back. A Chiffchaff flitted around in the bushes above the path.

6O0A0267Bloody-nosed Beetle – we came across several walking along the paths

After lunch, we set out to explore the main part of the reserve. The grazing meadow ‘pool’ was largely empty of birds. Not part of the reserve, it is now in a sorry state, sadly mismanaged by the landowner. A little further along, we could see a crowd gathered. Two Mute Swans were blocking the path between them and us, and as we got nearer we could see why – three juvenile swans were resting on the top of the bank. Not a great place to choose!

6O0A0275Mute Swans – these two were blocking the main path

The male Mute Swan in particular was being very aggressive and people were reluctant to approach, which was leading to a traffic jam on the path. With some careful manoeuvring, we were able to persuade the two adult swans to climb onto the bank too and traffic could flow freely again.

A quick look at the reedbed pool produced a few Gadwall and Tufted Duck. Then scanning the saltmarsh the other side, we picked up a large white bird flying up from one of the channels towards Thornham. It was a Spoonbill and it flew round and headed in our direction, eventually passing over Island Hide just ahead of us, before disappearing over the back of the freshmarsh and dropping down beyond the far bank.

6O0A0288Spoonbill – flew in from Thornham and across the freshmarsh

From Island Hide, we could see lots of waders out on the mud. Several Avocets were feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills back and forth through the shallow water. There were more Ruff round this side of the freshmarsh too. A flock of smaller waders over in the corner by the main path was mostly Dunlin. But a careful scan through revealed two Little Stints and two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers.

A third Little Stint was out on one of the muddy islands in the middle and while we were watching it running around it suddenly froze and crouched low to the mud. At the same time, all the other waders suddenly too to the air. Looking up, a Hobby was flying over. It circled over the freshmarsh before turning sharply and stooping into a flock of waders. It didn’t catch anything, but circled up again and then swooped down over the reedbed.

6O0A0290Hobby – chasing waders around the freshmarsh

Once the Hobby had disappeared the smaller waders resettled in a group further over. This time, we could see three Curlew Sandpipers now and one of them was an adult moulting out of summer plumage. Through the scope, we could see its botchy orange underparts. The smaller waders gradually returned to the corner where they had been feeding, and from up on the main path we had great views of the Dunlin and Little Stints out on the mud. Several Ruff walked back to the muddy edge along the reeds just below us.

IMG_6258Little Stint – feeding on the mud by the main path

Round at Parrinder Hide, there were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding in front of the hide. Most of them are now largely in grey-brown winter plumage, but one was still mostly in much brighter summer plumage, with rusty head and breast and black-barred belly.

6O0A0325Black-tailed Godwit – this one was still mostly in summer plumage

A Shoveler was also feeding just below the hide, head down, shoveling through the muddy water. It was great to watch it feeding up close.

6O0A0341Shoveler – shoveling through the muddy water

Round on the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh, there were a lot fewer birds but we did get nice views of both Avocet and Curlew feeding close to us. Through the scope, we admired the intricately patterned plumage of the latter.

6O0A0371Curlew – feeding on Volunteer Marsh

In a brighter interlude, we walked out to the beach. The wind had dropped a little this afternoon, and thankfully it wasn’t as blustery now. A couple of Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the beach and a very smart summer plumage Grey Plover was down on the mussel beds. We could hear a Whimbrel calling and eventually spotted it out on the sand.

The sea was choppy. Out in the distance, we could see several Gannets circling and one flew past a little closer in. A little group of Common Terns was diving into the water just offshore and a Sandwich Tern flew past through the breakers, though more terns were feeding further out. We watched as a small party of Teal flew in over the sea, presumably freshly arrived from the continent for the winter, migration in action.

Then it was time to head back. A single Wheatear on the short grass behind the dunes provided a nice way to round off the day and the weekend.