Tag Archives: Goosander

9th Feb 2019 – Breezy in the Brecks

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was always going to be very windy again today, but it was supposed to be bright and sunny this morning, according to the forecast. Instead, it was cloudy and grey, not brightening up much until this afternoon, and the wind didn’t drop appreciably until the very end of the day. We spent the day today down in the Brecks.

There has been a Great Grey Shrike at Santon Downham recently, but it has been very erratic in its appearances. We thought we would try our luck and see if we could find it first thing, even though we were a little later than planned getting there this morning. As we walked in along the track, we heard the mournful song of a Woodlark and looked over to see it fluttering up from the ground over by the trees. It came right over our heads, and we could see its short tail and rounded wings, before it disappeared behind us.

Woodlark

Woodlark – flew over our heads singing first thing this morning

There was no sign of the Great Grey Shrike it is usual spot today – it was obviously going to be one of those days it spends elsewhere. We did see our first Marsh Tit of the day, down beside the river, its sneezing call alerting us to its arrival. A couple of Siskins flew over calling.

The surprise of the day was a ringtail Hen Harrier which flew down the valley over the trees, chased by two Carrion Crows. We were saw the crows first, and realised they were mobbing something. Rather than the expected Goshawk, it turned out to be a Hen Harrier, the first time we have ever seen one here. We watched it as it disappeared up and over the taller pines, much better views of the one we had seen distantly yesterday afternoon.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – chased down the river valley by two Carrion Crows

Almost back to the road, and we could hear lots of finches twittering in the trees the other side of the river. We looked across to see several Bramblings in one of them just across from us. We got them in the scope and could see the brighter orange breast and shoulders, particularly on the male.

We could see more birds over in the gardens by the road that side, so we made our way round over the bridge. We stopped opposite the garden with all the feeders and watched for a while. A steady stream of tits came and went, and a Nuthatch popped in a couple of times. At first, there were just Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but then more Siskins started to arrive and a couple of Bramblings dropped in too. A Lesser Redpoll put in a brief appearance. And a Moorhen came in to pick around on the ground below too.

Siskin & Bramblings

Siskins & Bramblings – under the feeders with a Blackbird

As we walked back to the van, a couple of Bullfinches flew across the road and landed in the bushes nearby. It looked like it was starting to brighten up, so we decided to head over to look for Goshawks.

When we arrived at a good spot overlooking forest, we counted 15 Common Buzzards up in the air together and a Sparrowhawk with them. It seemed like a good sign, but the brighter interval hadn’t lasted and it had already clouded over again. Pretty quickly, the Buzzards dropped back down into the trees and it went rather quiet. It was very windy, and Goshawks like the wind, but it was rather cool and grey now which is less conducive to them putting on a good display.

Eventually, we spotted a very distant Goshawk – a good start. Then a closer one circled up and drifted across the road, but it quickly disappeared behind the trees. We could see all the Woodpigeons flush in the direction it had just headed.

Then a third Goshawk came up over the trees. It didn’t gain much height at first, and then dropped down again out of view, but when it reappeared it started trying to display. At first it was carried quickly downwind, then it turned into the wind and hung in air. We could see its white undertail coverts puffed out as it started to fly with exaggerated, deep wingbeats. It stayed up for some time too, so everyone could get a look at it through the scope.

Otherwise it was quiet here and with nowhere to shelter from the chilly wind, we retreated to the van and headed off to Thetford to look for a coffee. We swung round via the industrial estate first, to see if there were any gulls around the recycling centre, despite it being a Saturday. There were plenty of gulls, but before we could get there something spooked them and the majority flew off. A few eventually dropped back in on one of the other roofs, but there was nothing out of the ordinary with them – a few Black-headed Gulls, a handful of Herring Gulls and one or two Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Gulls

Herring & Black-headed Gulls – we couldn’t find anything exciting with them today

The café on the industrial estate was closed, so we went across the road to try the retail park opposite. We had thought that Macdonalds might serve fast coffee as well as fast food, but it took ages to get served. We ended up spending longer getting coffee than we did looking through the gulls!

We headed back to St Helens for lunch. A couple of Mistle Thrushes were feeding on the grass in the meadows by the road. There were no Bramblings in the car park today, but a large flock did fly over while we were eating, disappeared over the pines the other side of the railway line.

Lynford was our destination for the afternoon. As we walked in along the track, we stopped to look at the feeders. The ground around the small pool under the trees was absolutely coated in Bramblings, at least 50 of them feeding in the leaves. An impressive sight!

Bramblings

Bramblings – at least 50 were on the ground by the feeders

Down at the bridge, someone had put food out on the pillars and several tits kept coming in to grab something to eat. We had great views of Marsh Tits here, down to just a few feet at times, plus Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits. We could hear Nuthatches calling in the trees nearby and several Siskins came down to drink below the bridge, perching in the trees in front of us before they did so.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming to seed put out at the bridge

As we walked on along the edge of the paddocks, we could hear Hawfinches calling. Eventually one or two flew up into the tops of the hornbeams, where we could get them in the scope, but they were very mobile today and didn’t stay long. Possibly it was the blustery wind unsettling them today.

Four Hawfinches flew back and up into the tops of the pines beyond, where they joined some others which were already there. When they flew back down to the paddocks, there were at least seven now. Over the space of half an hour or so, we eventually all got quite good views of them.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – there were at least 7 in the paddocks, but v mobile today

A flock of Redwings was feeding down on the ground under the trees in the paddocks too, and two Mistle Thrushes appeared on the grass as well.

Two raptors appeared over the trees. One was a Common Buzzard and the second was a similar size but a different shape. It was a Goshawk. We watched them circle up together, before the Goshawk drifted towards us, out above the paddocks, before it turned and flew slowly off south. This was a much better view than the ones we had seen this morning and a real bonus to get one here.

Goshawk

Goshawk – a nice bonus, much closer this afternoon

Having enjoyed good views of the Hawfinches, we decided to have a quick look around the lake. A pair of Gadwall and some Greylags and Canada Geese were all additions to the day’s list, but otherwise it was fairly quiet along here today.

There was not much more activity as we walked up through the arboretum. We did hear a couple of Goldcrests singing, and managed to see one flicking about on the edge of a tall fir tree. It did seem like the wind was still keeping everything down.

Past the car park, and we continued on up to the gravel pits. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water in front of the hide and a couple of Cormorants were resting on the platform. There were lots of Tufted Ducks over towards the back, and we just spotted a pair of Goosander before they sailed out of view behind some trees. Not all the group had seen the Goosander, so we set off to walk further round to try a different angle.

On the way round, we had a quick look at the other pit. There were more Tufted Ducks on here and a single drake Goldeneye was with them. With a change of angle, we successfully got everyone on to the Goosander too. By the time we got back to the van, everyone was exhausted so we decided to head for home.

As we drove in to Swaffham, we could see a large gathering of Starlings circling overhead. We decided to stop and watch them for a while. Numbers are hopefully now growing, as they have done for the last couple of years, but there were already several thousand, in a number of different groups which kept merging and splitting apart. It was great to stand and watch the flocks twisting and turning. A nice way to end the day.

Starlings

Starlings – numbers are starting to build again

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7th March 2018 – Winter Coast & Forest #2

Day 2 of two days of Private Tours today, and it was down to the Brecks for the day. We were originally forecast showers and brighter intervals, but this morning they changed their minds – a more organised band of rain was now expected. So it turned out, but at least it cleared through quickly and we even had a bit of brighter weather in the afternoon. As ever, it didn’t stop us getting out and seeing some really good birds!

One of the targets for the day was to be Goshawk, but the weather forecast was far from ideal now. We swung round first thing via one of the sites where we might hope to see them, but it was very damp, grey and misty. We decided to try for some of our other targets in the general area, so we could come back if the weather improved.

As we drove away, we noticed lots of thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings in some low winter wheat. On the other side of the road, several Chaffinches were dropping down to feed in a weedy field. When we stopped to look through them, we noticed there were thrushes out here too. A single Mistle Thrush flew out to join them.

At least it wasn’t raining when we pulled up at the head of one of the rides leading into the Forest. Three Yellowhammers were sitting in the top of a small oak tree as we walked along the track. They flew off as we approached and landed in the top of another very tall tree out in the middle of a clearing.

We walked along the path around the edge of the clearing and, as we did so, we noticed a Woodlark flutter up from out in the middle and land in the top of the same tall tree. It wasn’t singing – perhaps not a surprise given the weather – but we had a nice view through the scope. This was the species we had come here to see, so it was good to get one under our belt.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – showed well on the edge of the clearing

A little further along the path and we heard another Woodlark calling, in the edge of the clearing much closer to us. We stopped and scanned the ground and it flew up and landed a short distance back along the path. When we looked across where it had landed, there were now three Woodlarks together here. We walked back slowly and had a great view of them as they walked around in the low grass.

Two of the Woodlarks seemed to be following each other closely, while the third fed quietly nearby. The two were bobbing up and down nervously, calling. It looked like they might be two males, having a bit of a territorial dispute, while the female was busy feeding – the third bird looked a little duller coloured.  Eventually, one of the two Woodlarks flew up in one direction, where a fourth bird called in response, and the pair flew off the other way.

Woodlark 2

Woodlarks – these two were following each other, bobbing and calling

Having had great views of the Woodlarks, we headed off to another ride through the Forest to look for Willow Tits, while we waited for the weather to brighten up. As we walked in through the trees, it was rather quiet initially but when we got to one of the feeding stations put out for them on the edge of the pines, there was a lot more activity. A steady stream of birds were coming and going.

As we stood and watched for a while, we saw a very good selection of tits – lots of Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits, and several Marsh Tits. A family of Long-tailed Tits passed through the trees overhead. A Nuthatch came in to grab some sunflower seeds too. The Willow Tits here don’t seem to visit the feeding tables very often, but they can often be heard calling and singing in the vicinity. Unfortunately, in the cold grey weather there was very little vocal activity from any of the birds today.

Then it started to rain. We decided to head back to the car and go off to try something else instead. With no sign of the weather improving, we headed over to look for one of our other targets for the day, Common Crane. As we drove west towards Lakenheath, the sky seemed to brighten and the rain started to ease again.

Given the weather, we decided to drive round the area and try to find the Cranes feeding in the fields first, rather than walk out across the road. As we checked out some of the favoured spots, a Kingfisher perched on the edge of a drainage ditch by the road was a welcome sight. A Great White Egret out in the middle of a field took off as we pulled up and flapped away lazily, dropping down out of view.

Scanning the rushy meadows carefully, we found a pair of Cranes out in one of the fields. The rain had stopped now and they were busy preening, presumably drying themselves out. For such tall birds, they are remarkably inconspicuous on the ground, but when they stretched up we could see their black and white heads and long necks.

Cranes

Common Crane – we found this pair drying out in a rushy meadow

With the weather improving and our main target here achieved, we headed round to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen for a quick look out at the Washland. There were lots of Reed Buntings on the feeders, but they flew off into the bushes as soon as we came outside. As we walked down the path towards the river, the sun came out and it was lovely and warm as we climbed up onto the bank.

The water levels here are not surprisingly high at the moment – lots of water for wildfowl. A quick look at a party of five swans over the back of the pool confirmed they were Whooper Swans – we could see their wedge-shaped bills with a long tongue of yellow stretching down to a point.

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans – a party of five on the Washes

There were plenty of ducks on here too – Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Shelduck. This is always a good spot for Garganey in spring and with the very first birds already arriving in the country in recent days we had a careful scan just in case. There was no sign of one today, but surely it is just a matter of a week or so, if the weather continues to warm up. Lots of Tufted Ducks were diving on the river.

The only egret we could see at first was a Little Egret tucked down in the reeds on the far side of the river. There are normally Great White Egrets here too, and we eventually managed to find one in the distance away downstream.

A Water Pipit had flown off calling as we walked up onto the bank and after a while what was presumably the same bird flew back past us. Another one flew up from the thick vegetation below the bank as it called and landed a little further along. We had a quick look for it, but with the water levels high they were feeding in the thicker rushes today.

With the weather now warming up nicely, we decided to have another go for Goshawks while we had our lunch. Unfortunately, it proved to be just a transitory window of brightness and it clouded over again as we drove back into the Forest. At least it was dry now though.

As we ate our sandwiches, we scanned the trees. There were a few raptors up from time to time. The Common Buzzards were spiraling up in little groups, looking for thermals to gain height, although they never seemed to gain any great elevation. At one point, we had eight in the air circling together. A Red Kite appeared behind us in the distance, and a Sparrowhawk was displaying a long way off too. A Kestrel perched in the top of a fir tree.

Common Buzzards

Common Buzzards – circling up trying to find a thermal

After a while, we did manage to spot a Goshawk. It too was some way off, but it circled up and started displaying, flying across with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. It dropped down behind the trees, but we guessed it was still in the area as the Woodpigeons over that way scattered in alarm. A short while later, what was presumably the same Goshawk circled up and displayed for a couple of minutes more.

The forecast had indicated it might brighten up early in the afternoon, but there was no sign of that happening yet. There were a few other birds here to distract us. Lots of Chaffinches were feeding under the trees and when they flew out a Brambling appeared with them and landed in a small oak in front of us.  A Treecreeper appeared too, working its way up and down the trunks, and a flock of Fieldfares flew over, ‘tchack, tchacking’ loudly.

At least we had managed to see a Goshawk, despite the weather. We decided to head down to Lynford Arboretum for the rest of the afternoon. As we walked in along the path, we could hear a Siskin singing high in the larches. There were lots of tits covering the cage of fatballs looking in from the gate, and plenty of Chaffinches down in the leaf litter below.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit – Lynford is a great place to see – and photograph – tits up close

There was no food out down at the bridge when we arrived, but fortunately we had brought supplies with us today. Only a few seconds after putting out some sunflower seeds, the hordes began to descend. At first, the Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits appeared, quickly joined by a couple of Marsh Tits.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – quickly came in to take advantage of the sunflower seeds

They were then joined by a couple of Nuthatches, which made repeated forays in from the trees, grabbing a beakful of seeds each time, presumably stashing them somewhere away in the wood. We stopped and spent a while photographing all the birds coming in to feed.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – one of two which came in repeatedly to the seeds we put out

There had been a lot of disturbance out over the paddocks when we arrived, with military helicopters repeatedly circling out very low from the battle area. We had a walk down to see if we could find any Hawfinches feeding there, but there was no sign of them this afternoon. There were fewer other finches feeding under the trees than normal too, with just one Brambling today and a 2-3 each of Greenfinch and Chaffinch.

The flock of Redwings had been in the trees just beyond the bridge when we arrived, but had now flown back out into the paddocks, along with a couple of Mistle Thrushes. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was chipping away at a branch low down in the hornbeams.

While we were standing and looking at the trees in the paddocks, we heard some distant yelping, honking noises. It was hard to work out where they were coming from at first, but then we realised they were swans calling and a large flock of 58 came over the trees at the back. They flew straight towards us over the paddocks and over our heads, Bewick’s Swans heading off east.

Bewick's Swans

Bewick’s Swans – some of the 58 which flew over us this afternoon

Bewick’s Swans are on the move at the moment, leaving their wintering grounds at Welney and Slimbridge and heading back to the continent on their way back towards their breeding grounds in Russia. It was great to see and hear them as they passed over us. It was quite late in the day and they were flying rather low, so perhaps they were planning to stop off somewhere in east Norfolk for the night.

We still hadn’t seen any Hawfinches though, so we walked further up along the edge of the paddocks, scanning the trees. The sky had cleared and the sun was out now. Suddenly we noticed two birds fly in and land in the top of a fir tree at the back – two Hawfinches. They were silhouetted against the light, but we assumed they would sit in the tops for a while in the late afternoon sunshine. We walked round to where we might get a better view of them, but by the time we got there they had dropped down out of sight.

We waited a while, scanning the trees, and it wasn’t long before another Hawfinch appeared in the tops. From where we were standing, we had a much better look at this one, catching the sun. We could see its enormous bill, bright chestnut plumage, and white tip to the tail. We had a good look at it through the scope, a cracking male, but when we tried to reposition ourselves for a closer look it too had dropped down into the trees.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male perched up in the late afternoon sun

We still wanted to have a quick look at the gravel pits, so we decided to make our way back. At the bridge, the sunflower seeds we had put out had already all gone! As we walked up towards the pits, a Green Woodpecker laughed and flew across behind us. We had received a message to say that there was a pair of Goosander on the pits this afternoon and when we arrived we immediately spotted one, a redhead, resting on one of the platforms.

Goosander

Goosander – this redhead was resting on one of the platforms

There was no sign of the male Goosander though at first, but after scanning from the hide for a few seconds, he appeared from behind the trees at the back, accompanied by another female. There was a single male Goldeneye on here too, and three further drakes on the other pit.

It was getting late now and we had to be back, so we made our way back to the car. As we got to the car park, a Firecrest was calling from somewhere high in the fir trees, although it proved difficult to see before it went quiet. That would have been a nice way to end, but it was starting to get dark as we drove back and the return journey added no less than 4 Barn Owls and a couple of Woodcock zipping past in the dusk. Then it was back home for tea (and medals?!).

29th Jan 2017 – Ducking & Divering

Not a tour today, but a quick visit out of county to explore some sites in southeast Lincolnshire. It was a lovely sunny winter’s morning, but we knew to expect some rain in the afternoon, so we had to make the most of it.

For the last ten days a White-billed Diver has been delighting the crowds along the river Witham near Woodhall Spa. This is a true arctic species, breeding along the coasts of northern Russia and normally wintering along the coasts of northern Norway. Small numbers are regular off Scotland or the Northern Isles, but it is very rare this far south and particularly away from the coast. To see one up close on an inland waterway is a very rare event.

The White-billed Diver has been feeding along a 7 mile stretch of river and can move remarkably quickly up and down its length, so it can be a long walk at time. We stopped first at Kirkstead Bridge but were told it was heading north so drove round to Stixwould Station instead. This was the right thing to do – we lucked in and the White-billed Diver was diving just off the bank here.

6o0a5574White-billed Diver – a juvenile, feeding along the River Witham

White-billed Diver is a large bird, the size of a goose. However its most striking feature is its enormous bill. It is not really white (nor is it yellow – its North American name is Yellow-billed Loon), but rather a pale ivory. The neat scaled pattern of the upperparts immediately identify this bird as a juvenile, born and raised in the arctic in summer 2016.

6o0a5583White-billed Diver – allowed really close up views on the river

The River Witham is quite narrow which allows for very close-up views of the White-billed Diver. It was diving continuously and at times would surface closer to the near bank, despite the crowd gather to watch it. We followed it up and down the river for a while. A stunning bird to see.

After watching the White-billed Diver, we made our way round to the gravel pits at Kirkby-on-Bain nearby. There was a small crowd gathered here watching the Ring-necked Duck. A resident of North America, it is a regular visitor here in small numbers. This was a smart drake, similar to a male Tufted Duck but with a more patterned bill, peaked crown and two-toned grey and white flanks.

img_0285Ring-necked Duck – a smart drake

The Ring-necked Duck was loosely associating with a small group of Tufted Ducks and diving constantly. There were several Common Pochard on the same pit and a female Scaup appeared with them too. A nice selection of diving ducks! On another pit across the road, a juvenile Glaucous Gull was loafing with a small mixed raft of gulls.

It was still lovely sunny winter weather while we at Kirkby-on-Bain, but as we made our way south it clouded over and started to spit with rain. We wanted to visit a site for Long-eared Owls at Deeping Lakes. The birds roost on an island here, away from disturbance and it wasn’t long before we were watching them through the scope. They were tucked well into the vegetation today, which made them a challenge to see, but eventually we counted three in total.

img_0305Long-eared Owls – three, hidden in the trees

There were lots of ducks out on the water here and we spent some time watching the Goldeneye in front of the hide. The birds were displaying, fascinating to watch as the males throw their heads back and kick their legs out, the females responding with their heads laid flat to the water. We even watched a pair mating.

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6o0a5805Goldeneye – displaying in front of the hide

It was also nice to see several Goosander here. At one point a smart salmon-pink drake swam past close to the hide.

6O0A5857.JPGGoosander – a salmon-pink drake

As we made our way back to the car, it started to rain a bit harder. We wanted to have a look at Deeping High Bank, which thankfully meant we could do some birding from the shelter of the vehicle. We had been alerted to the presence of a Scaup along the river here and we spotted it down on the water with a group of Tufted Ducks as we drove along. It was a 1st winter drake, but still the emerging grey upperpart feathers of the Scaup stood out next to the darker back Tufted Ducks.

6o0a5918Scaup – a first winter drake

We had hoped to look for some Short-eared Owls along the bank here but the deteriorating weather put paid to those ambitions. We had to make do with an obliging Great White Egret instead.

6o0a5941Great White Egret – feeding on the far bank of the river

As the rain set in harder, we decided to call it a day and head for home. It had been a very pleasant and productive visit to Lincolnshire, perhaps a place to visit again in the future.

14th Jan 2017 – Owling Wind

The first Owl Tour of the year today. After gales, snow and a storm surge along the coast yesterday, the weather was much, much better today. But it was still cold in the wind which remained a rather blustery NW, and we were thankfully close to the car when a couple of wintry showers hit us during the morning. The afternoon was better, with the wind easing a bit and blue skies. Not a bad day to be out and we did very well.

After meeting in Blakeney, we had a quick drive round the back roads to see if any Barn Owls were still out hunting – or had come out to find food after a difficult night – but it was still rather too windy. A stop down by the river produced a few nice birds. A Kingfisher went zooming off over the reeds as we approached. A Cetti’s Warbler called from the dense vegetation by the water, but then showed nicely. A Siskin flew over without stopping, but a Yellowhammer dropped into the top of a tree nearby briefly.

Several small groups of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead calling, heading inland along the river valley. A short while later, we looked away to the south and saw a huge cloud of Pink-footed Geese come up from behind the trees. They had obviously been flushed from the fields, possibly from a recently harvested sugar beet field on which they had been feeding.

After the storms yesterday, coinciding with a very high spring tide, the coastal marshes between Cley and Kelling had been flooded overnight. We drove over the back roads and walked down to the coast road at Salthouse. It was a sorry sight. The road itself, the main A149, was completely underwater. All the grazing marshes between the coast road and the beach were flooded – to all intents and purposes, they looked like the sea. We could see the top of the shingle ridge and some big waves still beyond.

img_4132Salthouse – the coast road underwater and the flooded grazing marshes

img_9854Salthouse – looking E along the flooded coast road from the village green

The houses in the village seemed to have escaped any damage but most of the avian residents of the marshes had been rendered homeless. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from a flooded patch of brambles the other side of the ‘road’ and looked over to see seven of them climb up to the top. They should be out in the middle of the reedbed, but the reedbed was underwater and they were desperately searching for anywhere to hide. They flew up calling, over the water, but quickly dropped back again into the garden of the pub.

A Common Snipe flew in across the water and tried to land in the strip of vegetation which would have been the far verge of the road. But it struggled to find any dry land there and it quickly flew on west. Presumably it had been spending the winter out on the grazing marshes before the flood.

Looking up, a drake Goosander flew low over the village towards us and then disappeared off west towards Cley. There have been a few on the move in the last day or so, presumably birds moving off the continent in response to colder weather, to spend the rest of the winter here. At that point, a squally shower blew in from the sea and we beat a quick retreat, back to the car.

Heading back west, we drove out of the clouds and started looking for owls again. The weather didn’t seem particularly conducive – even though it wasn’t raining, it was still windy and cold. However, at one of our regular sites we struck gold. We very quickly found a rather distant Little Owl, sheltering under the roof on a distant farm building. Nearby, a second Little Owl was doing the same. We had a look at them through the scope, and thought that might be the best of it.

We drove a little further along, and found a third Little Owl. It had found a sheltered spot out of the wind and facing into the morning sun, and was presumably trying to warm itself up. It was facing us and we could see its head pattern this time. Turning behind us, a fourth Little Owl appeared. This was was much closer and, though tucked in tight under the roof of one of the sheds, we got a good look at it through the scope. Amazing – four Little Owls out on such an unpromising day!

img_9865Little Owl – sheltered under the roof, facing into the morning sun

There were other birds around the farmland while we were watching the various Little Owls. A stubble field held a large flock of Curlew, which flew round periodically. A Redpoll flew out of the trees when we pulled up, and disappeared back away from us calling. A Common Buzzard came out of the wood and started to fly across the fields before thinking better of it and returning whence it came. At that point, another wintry shower blew in from the coast, and again we sought shelter in the car.

The skies looked clear further west along the coast, so we decided to head that way and try to escape the squalls. It was the right decision – that was the last shower we saw today. Drove along the coast to Titchwell, where we would also have the benefit of hides.

We had a quick look at the feeders by the visitor centre. The normal finches, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch, plus a selection of tits, were coming in to feed. We had limited time here today, so we pressed on. Scanning the ditches either side of the main path, a Water Rail showed briefly in the water at the bottom on one side before disappearing back into deeper cover. Rather than wait for it to reappear, we decided to have another look on the way back.

The Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’, which has been dry for the last year or so, was flooded again, but this time with seawater which had come in through the open sluice. Consequently, there was no sign of any Water Pipits and no other birds of note. A lone Tufted Duck was diving out on the reedbed pool. Three Marsh Harriers were circling out over the main reedbed.

Island Hide provided some welcome shelter from the cold wind. The Freshmarsh is flooded at the moment, but not with seawater. Reserve staff have raised the levels of fresh water on here to kill the vegetation on the islands, and consequently there was very little dry land to be seen. It is to the liking of the ducks – there were plenty of Teal, Shoveler and Mallard, plus a few Wigeon and Shelduck. The flocks of Brent Geese frequently fly in from wherever they are feeding for a wash and preen.

6o0a3673Teal – a smart drake, enjoying all the water on the Freshmarsh

With all the water on here, there are rather few waders on the Freshmarsh at the moment. We did find a few around one of the only remaining small patches of island. About half a dozen Avocets were asleep, along with various ducks which were also trying to find somewhere to roost. In amongst the duck’s feet, we found a couple of Knot and a small group Dunlin too. There were lots of gulls, mostly Black-headed and Common Gulls, bobbing about on the water, taking shelter from the wind.

Round at Parrinder Hide, we had a different view of the Freshmarsh. From here, we picked up a few Pintail. A drake was preening on one of the islands, but promptly went to sleep. A pair of Pintail out on the water were more obliging and through the scope we could see the drake’s  long pin-shaped central tail. The largest, fenced off island was packed with roosting Teal but around the flooded vegetation on the near side we managed to find a single Ruff.

6o0a3608Wigeon – quite a few on the Freshmarsh, this one in front of Parrinder Hide

One of the group spotted a small bird making its way towards us along the edge of the bank. It was a Water Pipit – we could see its clean whitish underparts, neatly streaked with black on the breast. We were just hoping it would come right down towards the hide when it flew off.

6o0a3613Redshank – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh from Parrinder Hide

From the other side of the hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh, we could see quite a few waders. A Redshank was feeding just below the hide, its orange-red legs shining in the winter sunshine. There was also a Lapwing out just in front, and it too was looking particularly resplendent in the light, its green upperparts iridescent. Further over, we could see a little group of Knot, a couple of Ringed Plover, a Grey Plover and a single Black-tailed Godwit.

6o0a3621Lapwing – showing off its glossy green upperparts to perfection

Having warmed up in the hides, we decided to brave the conditions again and make a bid for the beach. On the way, we stopped to look at the tidal pools. A pair of Goldeneye were diving in the deeper water, catching small crabs. We got the male in the scope, looking particularly smart. There were several Little Grebes as well, also diving constantly. A pair of Gadwall were easier to see. But with the water level on here still high after the big tide, and with low tide out on the beach, there were fewer waders than normal.

img_9897Goldeneye – a smart drake, showing off his bright yellow eye

Out at the sea, the storms of yesterday had left large quatities of shellfish wrecked on the beach. A huge number of gulls had flown in to take advantage. There were quite a few waders on the beach too, particularly Sanderling and Oysterdatchers. Scanning the sea, we could see a large raft of Common Scoter out on the water but they were a long way offshore today. Still with a brisk north-west wind bringing cold air straight in from the arctic, we didn’t stay long out here, but headed back for lunch.

On the way back past the Volunteer Marsh, there were a few waders now close to the main path. A nice Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding out on the mud. We could see its shortish legs, slightly upturned bill and black-streaked upperparts. Two dumpy grey Knot were picking their way along the muddy slope just beyond the channel, and a single Ringed Plover was running around on the open mud nearby. Further over, a Grey Plover was feeding with another Knot.

6o0a3645Bar-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Volunteer Marsh on the walk back

Almost back to the visitor centre, we found the Water Rail showing much better, now feeding out on the open mud in the ditch. We stopped to watch it for a while and got fill the frame views of it in the scope as it dug around in the mud with its long red bill. It was then back to the car for a late lunch.

6o0a3695Water Rail – showed very well out in the open on the walk back

After lunch, we left Titchwell and started to make our way back along the coast road. We stopped at Brancaster Staithe briefly, to see if there was anything of note in the harbour. There were a few waders. Several Turnstones were picking around the stones in the car park, between the cars. Further over, a little group of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits was roosting on the edge of the water. Another Bar-tailed Godwit and two Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in a muddy channel as we turned to leave.

It was still perhaps a little bit early for Barn Owls as we drove back, but we kept our eyes peeled nonetheless. Two white shapes out on the grazing marsh at Holkham were way too big to be owls but, with a good idea what they were we stopped for a look. Sure enough, they were two Great White Egrets. We had a good look at them through the scope, one standing next to a Grey Heron providing a great size comparison – the Great White Egret was slightly bigger!

img_9902Great White Egret – one of two out at Holkham this afternoon

There were also lots of geese out on the grazing marshes. Scanning across, we could see a good smattering of White-fronted Geese. Three were feeding closer to us, so we got them in the scope, noting the white surround to the bill base and the black belly bars. There were loads of Pink-footed Geese further over out on the grass too, thousands and thousands of them. The Pink-footed Geese normally roost on the marshes at night and spend the days feeding in the fields inland, but around the time of the full moon that reverses and they roost by day and feed inland by night. As we stood scanning the marshes, a steady succession of flocks of Pink-footed Geese took off and flew up and over our heads.

6o0a3719Pink-footed Geese – flying inland to feed after day-roosting on the grazing marshes

As we carried on our way east, it was getting into prime time for Barn Owls now. However, we found nothing along the coast road as we drove beyond Holkham. Perhaps it was still rather exposed here, cold and windy, so we turned inland. We were heading for an old barn where which we know Barn Owls inhabit. We hadn’t even reached it, when a Barn Owl flew up from the grass on the verge beside the car. We slowed and the Barn Owl caught us up and flew along beside the car, before crossing over the road in front of us.

It was a great view from the car, but we really wanted to get a Barn Owl in the scope. We tried to follow it, but it then gave us the runaround for a while, disappearing off across a field, cutting back, then flying back behind us as we stopped. Finally it landed in a tree beside the road. We stopped a suitable distance back and all managed to get a good look at it in the scope before it was off again, resuming its hunting.

6o0a3724Barn Owl – our first of the day gave us a bit of a runaround for a while!

We drove on the other way and after only a short distance one of the group spotted another Barn Owl in a tree by the road. We reversed back and it sat looking at us for a just a couple of seconds before it flew off. We passed by another Little Owl site, but there were no sign of any here, there favoured perch visible from the road now not in the afternoon sun. Worryingly, there are now planning notices here, yet another barn nesting site for Little Owls scheduled for conversion into holiday cottages. Soon there will be none left! A covey of Grey Partridges in the field nearby were nice though.

As we were making our way back, another Barn Owl appeared, perched on a post by the road, our third of the afternoon. With another car behind us and nowhere to stop, we had to drive on and turn round. Thankfully, when we got back it was still on its post. We parked in a gateway some distance away and watched it for a while through the scope. It had probably found a sheltered spot, out of the wind, and was staring at the ground below looking for voles. Then, with no cars coming, we drove down along the road and pulled up alongside for some close ups. Great views!

6o0a3738Barn Owl – our third of the afternoon gave cracking views on a post by the road

It was getting late now. We had a quick drive round via one of the meadows where we know a Barn Owl likes to hunt, but there was no sign. It was time to head round to look for Tawny Owls. We walked down and got into position, but strangely there was no hooting to be heard as we did so. The Tawny Owl came out of its roost site on cue, but annoyingly rather than fly out into the trees, it dropped straight out of the roost and disappeared back into the wood. Eventually, we could hear one Tawny Owl distantly hooting behind us. The male we had seen gave a quick burst of half-hearted hooting in front of us and then went quiet again.

The Tawny Owls were oddly subdued this evening. The wind was catching the tops of the trees, or perhaps they had been disturbed by last nights storm. It was getting dark now so we decided to call it a day. Still, it had been a remarkably successful one considering the weather.

14th February 2016 – Windy Brecks

Day 2 of a three-day long weekend of tours today, and we headed down to the Brecks for our last day. The weather started to brighten up nicely as we drove down, with some breaks in the cloud, but there was a cold NE wind all day.

We started at Lynford. A Nuthatch was piping from the top of the larch trees as we walked into the arboretum and we had a good look at it in the scope. A Song Thrush was in full song. We could hear several Siskins and see them zooming around through the trees. Several Marsh Tits were calling and one appeared in the bare branches above us.

P1170089Nuthatch – this one piping later in the afternoon

The feeders were looking sadly empty today – even the cage of fat balls had all but run out – and there was no seed left on the ground. Consequently, there were not many birds here this morning. A couple of Chaffinches were down in the leaves at the back and a few tits came in to try their luck. The Hawfinches have not been seen here with any regularity this season – perhaps there is more food available elsewhere in the forest this year or perhaps they have been put off by an increase in trapping and ringing activity. We decided to make our way round the arboretum.

We could hear and see all the usual birds going about their business in the arboretum – Goldcrests and Treecreepers singing. But it was a little subdued around in the trees in the cold, despite the fact that we were mostly sheltered from the wind. Down at the bridge there was a little bit of food left out and a steady stream of Nuthatches and tits were flying in to feed. It gave us a nice chance to look at Marsh Tit and Coal Tit and get to grips with them. The peanut feeder was still half full and proving particularly popular today with an absence of food elsewhere – at times it was besieged with tits queueing up to get in.

P1170106Great, Blue & Coal Tits – queueing to get to the peanuts

There was no sign of any Hawfinches around the paddocks, although this is not generally a good time to look for them there so we didn’t waste much time looking. We had a walk down around the lake. A Little Grebe was calling and we saw it diving in front of the reeds. It was starting to get into breeding plumage, with the creamy yellow spot at the base of the bill now showing up nicely, but still lacking a little brightness to the rusty face and black cap.

There were lots of Gadwall and Mallard on the lake as well, plus a pair of Canada Geese and a lone Greylag. The resident pair of Mute Swans are starting to get aggressive with the other wildfowl and the cob attempted to chase off the Canada Geese, before shepherding the pen away down the lake. A Kingfisher called and flashed through where the trees are thickest, just where we couldn’t get a good look at it. We thought it might have landed but there was no further sign.

P1170074Mute Swan – aggressively defending its patch now

We decided to move on and made our way deeper into the Forest. We walked down a ride to one of our favourite clearings. We could hear a Woodlark singing as we walked, but couldn’t see it through the trees. It was sheltered in the forest but when we emerged into the open, we realised just how strong – and cold – the wind was. This is the time of the year when Goshawks display, and that was the main reason why we were here, but they tend to like a bit of warmth in the air – something they would be lucky to get today!

When we arrived there were a couple of friendly faces there and we were told the Goshawks had already been up, a positive sign. We didn’t have to wait very long. We just got a glimpse of a very ragged young female as she disappeared behind some trees, but fortunately she then circled back to the edge of the clearing where everyone could see her. She circled over the edge of the trees towards us – we just managed to get her in the scope. Browner above than the grey of an adult, and black-streaked buffy underparts rather than barred on a white background, she had several wing feathers missing creating big gaps in the wing tips – a bit early to be moulting. A second calendar year female, born last year.

As she circled towards us, another Goshawk appeared above her, higher up in the sky. This time an adult, much paler below and light grey above. It looked noticeably smaller than the young female – an adult male. The two circled over the forest for a short while, drifting away from us, then the male suddenly closed his wings and dropped like a stone towards her, pulling up at the last minute. This was the resident male, seeing a roaming youngster off his territory. She got the message and started to fly away more strongly, but he continued to chase after her. It was great to see the two together – to see the appreciable size difference between the two sexes.

Goshawk Thetford Warren 2016-01-28_4Goshawk – too slow with the camera today! Here’s one from recently

After some great views of the Goshawks, we decided to turn our attention to Woodlarks. It was rather quiet out in the clearing today – perhaps not surprising with the wind whistling across. A Skylark fluttered up singing, flashing its white outer tail feathers, but didn’t get too high off the ground before dropping down again. We heard a Woodlark singing but we looked up to see it flying over high, before dropping down away behind the trees. There are normally a couple of pairs of Woodlark here, but they seemed to be feeding deeper in the trees today, presumably along the edge of the more sheltered rides. A pair of Stonechats were more adventurous – perched up on the fence.

As we walked back across the clearing, we heard Woodlarks calling and one of the resident pairs dropped down into the clearing. One of them perched up in the open for a minute or so, looking round, while the other, presumably the female, fed down in one of the furrows. We all got a good look at it through the scope, but they took off again just as the cameras came out and flew off over the forest, again dropping down out of view somewhere more sheltered.

Woodlark Thetford Warren 2016-01-28_5Woodlark – a recent photo from the pair in the clearing

We retreated to the more sheltered side of the clearing, in the hope that we might get some more views of the Goshawks. The weather brightened up a little and the activity of the local Common Buzzards increased. A pair circled up low over the trees ahead of us and we could hear a third Buzzard calling away to our left. As it just broke above the tree line, a Sparrowhawk appeared with it. The Sparrowhawk flew across with bursts of rapid-fire wingbeats interspersed with glides, very different from the more powerful Goshawks we had been watching earlier. Size can be very difficult to judge on a lone bird in the sky, but next to the Buzzard, we could see just how small the Sparrowhawk was.

Despite being partly sheltered by the trees, it was still cold and exposed, so we decided to walk back. On the way, we came across another pair of Woodlarks in a more sheltered corner. One perched up nicely for us on a fence for a few seconds, before dropping down to feed. We could see the two birds down on the ground, but they were hard to follow down in the thick vegetation and in and out of the furrows. Eventually they flew back out across the clearing as we approached.

Banks of cloud were coming and going and as the sky brightened a little again, another Goshawk appeared briefly low over the trees, another adult, before powering away from us.

We stopped for lunch and, while we were eating, news came through that the Great Grey Shrike had reappeared at Grime’s Graves. So, once we had finished, we headed round there to look for it. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it had disappeared again. Very frustrating! We thought it might be keeping low in the wind, but despite searching all around the area, there was no sign. We wanted to make sure we had enough time to catch up with the Hawfinches, so we needed to cut short our search. A couple of friends were also looking for it and kindly promised to let us know if it reappeared – we could always come back if need be.

We drove back to Lynford and walked out along the path. The area around the feeders was still quiet and nobody seemed to have seen any Hawfinches there or down at the paddocks this afternoon. There were still lots of tits and Nuthatches feeding around the bridge as we walked past. We carried on down to the paddocks and had a quick scan of the trees. All seemed to be very quiet out in the open. A Jay perched up in the afternoon sun – it seems to like this particularly tree at this time of the day!

IMG_7658Jay – perched in the afternoon sun again

We walked a little further along, and scanned the trees again, and this time we picked up a Hawfinch in the tops. After we lined up the various scopes onto it, we realised there were actually two Hawfinches on two different trees we were looking at! They were sitting up enjoying the late afternoon sun, rear onto us so we could see the white tip to their tails and bold grey shawl round the nape. We worked our way further round so we could get them side on.

IMG_7671Hawfinch – we found two enjoying the late afternoon sunshine

From the other side, we could still get an angle on one of them through the trees, a smart rich chestnut male Hawfinch. He was positively glowing in the late afternoon sunshine! We could see his huge nutcracker of a bill, neatly outlined with black continuing down to a smart black bib. We could even see the odd-shaped inner wing feathers. Then, once we had all had a really good look at him, he dropped down into the trees out of sight. We turned and a Kestrel was perched in the hawthorns nearby, also enjoying the afternoon sun.

IMG_7690Kestrel – also perched in the sunshine

We walked back to the car park and continued on to the gravel pits beyond. Out on one of them, we could see a scattering of Gadwall and Tufted Duck, plus a few Coot, Canada and Greylag Geese. A couple of other ducks were swimming more unobtrusively round near the more overgrown far edge, the male shining pale in the low sun. A pair of Goosander. We got them in the scope and could see the drake was actually off white with a pale salmon pink glow, the female greyer, with a sharply contrasting rusty red head and white chin. They swam quietly in towards the edge and disappeared into a secluded bay out of view.

IMG_7694Goosander – a smart drake

It was time for us to call it a day too. Despite the nagging cold wind, it turned out we had actually been lucky with the weather. As we drove home, the dark clouds gathered and it started to snow!

3rd January 2016 – New Year Birding, Part 2

Day 2 of a 2 day Private Tour today. Once again, we planned to have a day of general birding along the North Norfolk coast. We met up in Wells and this time headed west along the coast.

By the road, on the north side of Holkham Park, we spotted a Barn Owl perched on a post. A nice start to the day, but we were slightly spoiled by the number we saw yesterday. A little further along, a white shape up in the trees was not another owl but a very pale Common Buzzard. This bird is often to be found here and frequently catches people out as it is so strikingly white below. Whilst Buzzards are normally rather brown, they can be very variable in appearance and paler birds seem to be increasingly seen.

P1140158Common Buzzard – a strikingly pale individual

We cut across inland towards Choseley. There have been up to three Rough-legged Buzzards in the general area and we had hoped to run into one of them, but we didn’t see any sign on our way there. We stopped to scan the fields at Choseley and picked up a more typically toned Common Buzzard perched on a hedge. There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields. Two Mistle Thrushes flew up onto the wires and when they dropped back down into the field they were joined by a couple of Song Thrushes.

We had a quick drive round to see if we could find a Rough-legged Buzzard in any of the other places they like to hang out, without success. When we got back to Choseley, one had flown across and landed in a pine copse in the distance. It was not a great view, half concealed in the trees, but as it preened itself we could see its white tail with black terminal band. With the weather forecast to deteriorate by the middle of the day, we decided not to hang around waiting to see if it would emerge again, and drove on down to Titchwell.

The overflow car park was already starting to fill up with cars and was consequently quite disturbed. We could hear Bullfinches calling as we walked round, but they flew off towards the back of Patsy’s Reedbed as we got there.

The feeders by the Visitor Centre were more productive. There were lots of Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches flitting in and out and as we watched them, a Brambling appeared as well. It was rather nervous, but hung around long enough for us to get it in the scope. A grey-brown tit flew in, grabbed a seed and disappeared back into the bushes. Just enough time for us to see it was a Marsh Tit. It came in a second time and lingered a fraction longer. Then a Coal Tit flew in as well and helpfully perched for a few seconds in the bushes above the feeders.

IMG_4739Brambling – on the feeders by the Visitor Centre this morning

As we walked out towards the reserve, we scanned the ditches either side of the path, carefully looking for any movement. We were rewarded with a Water Rail, which scuttled across an open patch of water and then spent some time probing in the leaf litter in the dense tangle of branches under some bushes. It was remarkably well camouflaged and hard to see when it wasn’t moving, but we got a good look at it, noting its long bill, black-streaked brown upperparts and black and white barred flanks.

We stopped to scan the still drained grazing marsh pool, which looked rather devoid of life at first, apart from a solitary Teal in one of the deeper puddles at the front. Seeing some movement right over in the far corner, we turned the scope on it to see a couple of Rock Pipits out on the mud. As we scanned across, we could see there were at least three Water Pipits as well. It was great to see the two of them in the same scope view – the swarthy Rock Pipit with heavily streaked, dirty underparts compared to the cleaner Water Pipit with more restricted streaking on much whiter underparts and a more obvious whitish supercilium.

The freshmarsh is still flooded at the moment, so there were comparatively few waders out there again today. There were plenty of ducks though, and on one of the few small islands poking out of the water we picked out a little group of four Red-crested Pochards – two males and two females – asleep.

IMG_4741Red-crested Pochard – roosting on one of the few remaining islands

We decided to head straight out towards the beach and come back to the hides later, in case the weather turned. The Volunteer Marsh was fairly quiet, apart from a good number of Shelduck and a few Redshank. However, at the end of the channel by the path was a large flock of Teal. Several of the drakes were displaying, throwing their heads back and calling.

P1140169Teal – lots of the drakes were displaying today

There were more waders out on the Tidal Pools. One of the first we got onto when we arrived was a rather pale Redshank-sized bird feeding in the deep water at the back. We got it in the scope and we could see it had silvery-grey upperparts spotted with white and shining white underparts; its bill was longer than a Redshank with a needle-fine tip. It was a Spotted Redshank in winter plumage, one of a very small number that spend the winter here (the majority just pass through on migration).

IMG_4766Spotted Redshank – feeding in deep water at the back of the Tidal Pools

There seem to be rather fewer Black-tailed Godwits on the reserve at the moment, but several are still feeding out on the Tidal Pools – and as usual they were showing very well. We spent some time watching them, noting their long and very straight bills and plain grey upperparts. A little further along we found a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits as well – paler, with dark streaks on their upperparts and a slight upturn to the bill.

P1140205Black-tailed Godwit – showing very well on the Tidal Pools

We also found a small group of Knot, in plain grey winter plumage, a little larger and dumpier than a Dunlin with a shorter, straight black bill, grey-green legs. A Turnstone was on one of the sandbanks, much darker than the other waders, with a short bill and orange legs. A large group of Oystercatcher were roosting on one of the spits.

While we were looking through the waders, a rakish, streamlined duck appeared overhead. It was a redhead Goosander, with rusty head neatly demarcated from its white underparts, grey above with an obvious white panel in the wings. It circled a couple of times, appeared to head over to the freshmarsh before coming back – it seemed to think about landing on the Tidal Pools before disappearing away to the east. They just pass through along the coast here. Coming in now is perhaps a sign that it is getting colder on the continent.

There were a few other ducks out on the Tidal Pools. A female Goldeneye was diving constantly, in among the Little Grebes. It was a challenge to get her in the scope, but when we did we could see her golden-yellow eye. Three female Pintail were upending in the shallows whereas the smart drake was keeping to himself in the deeper water.

Out on the beach, the tide was in. It had started to drizzle lightly and the wind had picked up, but we found some shelter in front of the dunes. Out on the beach, a little group of silvery-grey and white Sanderling were running around like clockwork toys. A scan of the sea revealed a small flotilla of Common Scoter not far out. It was not the weather to be out on the beach so, before we got too cold, we decided to make our way back to the hides.

IMG_4769Avocet – a few of the 27 at Titchwell today, braving the winter here

From the shelter of the Parrinder Hide, we took the opportunity to have a better scan of the freshmarsh. There were a few waders clustered around the few remaining slivers of island. A grand total of 27 Avocets are still hanging on, having made the decision not to head south for the winter. They were mostly asleep. A Common Snipe ran across the island behind them and stood for a while on the edge of the vegetation where we could see it. A single Golden Plover was hiding in with the Lapwing and several Dunlin and Turnstones were running in and out of the roosting ducks.

There were plenty of wildfowl. Lots of Teal were roosting around the edges, along with a smattering of Wigeon. There was a good number of Shoveler and in amongst them a few Gadwall and more Pintail. A handful of Brent Geese flew in to bathe and preen, vastly outnumbered today by lots of very noisy Greylags. Another Water Pipit dropped in very briefly for a bath, on the near edge below the hide.

IMG_4775Brent Goose – a small number were bathing on the freshmarsh

Having warmed up, we made a quick dash back to the shelter of the trees, diverting round via the Meadow Trail towards the Visitor Centre. The bushes here were quiet today, apart from a Song Thrush singing from the trees. While we stopped to get a hot drink, we had another scan of the feeders. A single Lesser Redpoll flew in to feed. Walking back to the car park, a couple of Chiffchaffs were flitting around below the bushes by the path. More commonly a summer visitor, a few increasingly spend the winter, though these are probably birds escaping south from Scandinavia rather than ones reared here.

IMG_4803Lesser Redpoll – on the feeders in front of the Visitor Centre

While we ate a late lunch, the rain started to fall properly, just as it had unfortunately been forecast to do. At least we had made the most of the morning. After lunch, we made our way back east along the coast.

We stopped at Brancaster Staithe to scan the harbour from the comfort of the car. In the channel right in front of us, a large group of eleven Red-breasted Mergansers were feeding, diving non-stop. In with them was a very pale, winter plumage Great Crested Grebe.

P1140257Red-breasted Mergansers – a group of 11 were off Brancaster Staithe

There was also a good selection of waders to look at. A Ringed Plover and a Grey Plover were both new ones for the day. We could see a few scattered Bar-tailed Godwits but when they took off and flew round together there were seventeen of them, along with a similar number of Dunlin. Several Turnstones were running around the car park between the cars.

We carried on east to Holkham, scanning the marshes on the way, and stopped on Lady Anne’s Drive. Lots of Brent Geese were feeding in the fields, along with a small group of Pink-footed Geese. The original plan had been to have a look in the pines this afternoon, with a particular request to see a Goldcrest. While there had been one with the Chiffchaffs at Titchwell, it had moved through too quickly for everyone to get onto it. The afternoon was already getting on by now, so with nothing to lose, we decided to brave the rain and go for a walk.

The trees were rather quiet at first, and we were almost to Salts Hole when we heard some tits calling from the trees. Working our way in, we came across a little group of Long-tailed Tits feeding low down in a bare tangle of brambles. The tits are often in mixed groups with other birds at this time of year, so we had hoped that something else might come out to join them, but as the Long-tailed Tits moved through it appeared that they were alone. Back on the main path, we could hear a Goldcrest and Treecreeper calling, but we couldn’t locate them in the rain and wind.

Salts Hole itself held a single female Goldeneye and at least four Little Grebes, all diving constantly. We carried on a little further and could hear more Goldcrests calling in the holm oaks but again could not get onto them. Further along the path was very exposed to the wind so, with the light failing fast, we decided to head back. A short way along, we heard more crests calling and stopped to listen. Eventually we saw three birds chasing each other across the path, silhouetted against the sky. One was still in the bushes above the path and we tried hard to get a better look at it. It was right above our heads and started calling – it was a Firecrest! Unfortunately, it was now just too dark to see it properly, particularly as it wouldn’t come out of the holm oaks.

We decided to call it a day and walked back towards the car. As we did, we could hear the Pink-footed Geese flying in to roost, a cacophony of yelping as thousands of geese flew in from the fields inland and whiffled down onto the grazing marshes for the night. There were several waves which arrived and once we got out of the trees we could see yet more geese dropping out of the sky through the gathering gloom and rain. We could just see a vast horde spread across the grass through the gaps in the hedges.

It had been a great couple of days out, but this seemed like a fitting way to end so we headed for home.

16th May 2015 – Heath & Marsh

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today, and we made our way over to the Cley area. It was cloudy in the morning but brightened up to sun in the afternoon, although there was a blustery NW wind all day which took the edge off the temperature.

We started up on the Heath. It is always a good place to be in the morning, and particularly at this time of year. The Common Gorse is still in flower, looking stunning, and lots of Bluebells were out along the hedgerow. We stopped to admire the distinctive features of the native British Bluebell.

P1000906Bluebell – the distinctive native British species

There were lots of warblers singing from the bushes. We c0uld hear a Garden Warbler close by, but it was tucked deep in the Blackthorn. We manoeuvred ourselves to try to see it, but as we did so a couple of dog walkers strolled straight in front of us and it went quiet. We could also hear Blackcap, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.

As we walked past one of the newly cleared areas, a small bird flew up from beside the path and perched briefly on a gorse stump – a smart Woodlark. Unfortunately, it flew almost immediately but luckily didn’t go too far and we quickly got the scope on it. We could see there was a second bird with it, and this one differently marked, with pale scallops above rather than dark streaks. It was a juvenile Woodlark, following the adult. As we watched them for a time, it became apparent that there was a family group, two adults and three juveniles.

IMG_4768Woodlark – one of the adults perched up on a gorse stump

The Woodlarks were incredibly well camouflaged and very hard to see on the ground, unless you knew where they were. We watched them for some time, the adults picking around quietly amongst the dead branches and brash, the juveniles following or hiding in the tangles. Periodically, the adults would find some insects and would turn to feed one of the juveniles. It was a real privilege to watch them like this.

IMG_4770Woodlark – the adult has just fed the juvenile and is off to find more food

Walking on, it didn’t take us long to hear our first Dartford Warbler, a male singing. We tracked down the thick clump of gorse he was hiding in, but he was keeping low in the blustery wind. We had a couple of glimpses of him darting between bushes, but he clearly wasn’t keen to show himself this morning. We decided to try our luck elsewhere.

A little further, and we picked up the faint purring of a Turtle Dove. It was some distance away at first and nigh on impossible to hear above the noise of the wind in the trees and cars driving past on the road beyond. Then it went quiet. We were just walking away when it started again, and we were able to track it down. What a wonderful sound, the purring of a Turtle Dove, and such a shame it is so rarely heard these days. We eventually got it in the scope and had great views of it perched unobtrusively, deep in a tree. Then a second Turtle Dove flew over and the first bird set off in pursuit. We were just leaving when the two of them flew back in and landed back in the trees again.

IMG_4787-001Turtle Dove – purring from deep in the trees

Over the other side of the Heath, we could hear the distinctive calling of more Dartford Warblers, but once again they were tucked down out of the wind. Again, we had tantalising glimpses of birds flying between clumps of gorse and heather, but they would not show themselves – the wind seemed to be keeping them tucked down out of sight. We contented ourselves with watching a smart pair of Stonechats, perched rather more obligingly on the top of the gorse. We saw the female bringing food back, presumably to young in a nest somewhere nearby. A bright yellow male Yellowhammer also flew in and sat out for us on the top of a dead tree. A Green Woodpecker flew up noisily from the side of the path and off across the Heath.

By now, the weather was starting to brighten up, so we walked back across the Heath to try our luck again with the singing male Dartford Warbler we had glimpsed earlier. It didn’t take us long to track him down, but he was still hiding deep in the gorse. Then, as we rounded a corner, we surprised him sat in the open, right on the top. Unfortunately, he saw us and dropped back in before the whole group could see him. It was obviously not going to be a day for good long views of Dartford Warblers, given the wind, so we decided to move on.

Our next stop was at Cley. The scrapes on the reserve have been rather quiet recently, but we wanted to have a look at the flooded grazing marshes from the East Bank. This had been a productive spot last week. Grey Herons were coming and going from North Foreland wood, as were Little Egrets. One of the latter performed very nicely for us as we got up onto the bank.

P1000914Little Egret – good views from the East Bank today

We stopped to admire a very smart male Lapwing, his iridescent upperparts shining in the sun, and several Redshank. It didn’t take us too long to find our target bird here, a delightful spangle-backed Wood Sandpiper. It was feeding very unobtrusively in the flooded grass, but at one point managed to irritate one of the Redshanks, which chased after it repeatedly. Still, it gave us a good size comparison between the two.

IMG_4797Wood Sandpiper – on the Serpentine, from Cley East Bank, today

There were lots of other birds to look at here as well. The ubiquitous Avocets, but no less beautiful for it. Lots of Black-tailed Godwits further over towards the reeds. A Common Sandpiper flew in along the ditch in front of us and disappeared out onto the grazing marshes. There were ducks too – Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard and lots of Shelduck.

Out on Arnold’s Marsh, we got a good look at a couple of Sandwich Terns out on the sand. There was a steady stream of them flying over, heading back towards the breeding colony on Blakeney Point. We added a few more waders to the day’s list – a couple of Ringed Plover, a Curlew and several Oystercatcher. However, the prize for the biggest surprise of the day goes to the female Goosander which flew in from the east, over Arnold’s Marsh and straight past us. Goosander is predominantly a winter visitor and May is a very late date for a straggler to be heading back.

P1000916Goosander – this very late female was the complete surprise of the day

After the East Bank, we drove round to Salthouse and walked out along the Iron Road. There had been a Garganey here recently, but we couldn’t find it today. However, we did find an excellent selection of other birds. We picked up the 1st summer Little Gull out on one of the pools as soon as we got out of the car. It was sitting on the water, twirling round and picking at the surface, as they do. At one point, a Black-headed Gull landed behind it, highlighting just how little a Little Gull really is.

IMG_4816Little Gull – a 1st summer bird by the Iron Road at Salthouse

While we were watching it, a couple of Yellow Wagtails flew overhead calling. One of them, a smart yellow male, dropped down in front of us, before disappearing into the grass. There were lots of Sand Martins feeding over our heads. Then, turning round to look behind us, there was a stunning summer-plumage male Ruff. As it preened, it even fluffed out its ‘ruff’ and crown feathers. A real stunner!

IMG_4803Ruff – a smart summer-plumage male

We still had time for one last stop, so we dropped in at Stiffkey Fen on our way back. There were a few waders there today – plenty of Black-tailed Godwit, plus singles of Common Sandpiper, summer plumage Dunlin and Little Ringed Plover. The highlight was a pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls which flew in to bathe.

It was high tide and the harbour was full of water. There were a few Brent Geese still milling around, swimming in the channel. We could see all the seals and Sandwich Terns out on Blakeney Point. A couple of Little Terns flew across the harbour closer to us. A small group of waders on one of the spits was pushed off by the rising water – as they flew across the harbour, we could see Grey Plover, a single Knot, Dunlin and lots of Turnstone. Then it was time to call it a day and head back.

P1000919Blakeney Point across the harbour