Tag Archives: Green Sandpiper

6th Jan 2019 – Looking for Owls

The first tour of the new year was an Owl Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a largely grey and gloomy day, even if the sun did threaten to show itself a couple of times, but it was reasonably mild (for the time of year) and with lighter winds than the last couple of days. Not too bad a day for owling!

With the recent clement weather, the local Barn Owls appear to be finding plenty of food at the moment and are not having to work too hard during daylight hours. Still, with an early start, we hoped to catch one out hunting first thing this morning. We made our way straight over to a regular site where one has been seen the last few mornings, but when we arrived there was no immediate sign of it. It wasn’t immediately clear whether it had gone in to roost early today, or was still out somewhere, so we decided to have a walk out along the bank and keep our eyes open.

There were lots of other things to look at here. A Brown Hare was surprising hard to see in the grass until it started running. We could see the black tips to its long ears. Several groups of Brent Geese flew back and forth in untidy flocks, presumably just emerging from their roost out on the saltmarsh. A small party landed down on the grass with a couple of the local Canada Geese where we could get a good look at them.

There were several Marsh Harriers patrolling over the reeds and one of last year’s juveniles landed first on a post and then on a bush so we could get it in the scope, it’s pale head contrasting with its rather uniform chocolate brown body. A couple of Little Egrets flew in, presumably also fresh from their roost site, and landed on the saltmarsh, where two Grey Herons had already taken up position.

little egret

Little Egrets – these two flew in, presumably straight from their roost

It gradually became clear that the Barn Owl was not going to put in an appearance – it had obviously decided to turn in earlier than it has been doing recently. We decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. As we walked back to the car, a large flock of Meadow Pipits flew up from the grass and circled round over our heads calling.

It was not particularly auspicious weather for Little Owls, grey and chilly still. Any early hints that the sun might poke a hole through the clouds had faded. Still, we headed inland to have a look. As we pulled up on a concrete pad by the road to scan some barns, something flew up from the muddy puddles in the middle of it. It flashed blackish and white and flew round with flicking wingbeats. It was a Green Sandpiper, a very scarce winter visitor here. Unfortunately it landed again out of view, but it was a very nice bird to see.

At the next set of barns where there are sometimes Little Owls, another quick look failed to find any sign too, but at our third stop we had more luck. Looking across to some distant farm buildings, we couldn’t see one on the roof where they like to sit, but as we scanned across between the barns we could see a lump on top of a pile of wooden pallets. Through the scope, we could see it was a Little Owl.

A footpath runs round behind the barns, so we decided to walk up along it for a closer look. On our way, we stopped to look at a covey of partridges huddled up on the edge of a small copse and their distinctive kidney-shaped dark belly patches identified them as Grey Partridges, much the rarer of our two partridge species. A couple of Yellowhammers flew up out of a cover strip next to the path as we passed and flew off calling.

little owl

Little Owl – hiding in a stack of wooden pallets

From the footpath, we had a much better view of the Little Owl. It started off facing away from us, so we could see the false eyes on the back of its head, but then it turned to look in our direction and we could see its yellow irises. After a while, it dropped down from the top of the pallets to a spot in between the slats, where we could still see its head and shoulders. It seemed fairly happy with the unusual spot it had chosen to perch in today and appeared to be dozing, with eyes half closed. A large covey of Red-legged Partridges then appeared on the barn roof, where we would normally expect to see the Little Owl!

Back in the car, we meandered our way west. We were ultimately heading for the Wash, but we took an inland route. We did look briefly in passing at a several more Little Owl sites, but we had probably been lucky with the one we had found today. One of the sites where we have seen them in the past is now a building site, as the barns here are being developed into holiday cottages. Unfortunately this is an ever increasing problem, as fewer and fewer old farm buildings are left for wildlife.

We did see a few more different birds on the way, even if the fields were rather quiet today. A Bullfinch flashed out of the hedge ahead of us, flashing its square white rump. Three Red Kites circled lazily over the road. We flushed a Fieldfare out of a berry-laden hawthorn as we passed by.

red kite

Red Kite – one of three which circled over the road in front of us

As we made our way along the path out to the reserve at Snettisham. we stopped to watch a pair of Goldeneye on one of the pits. The female had her neck stretched out in front and held low to the water, possibly in display, although the male next to her seemed to show little interest. A couple of Little Grebes were busy diving a little further on.

Up on the seawall, it was now low tide and a vast landscape of grey mud stretched away ahead of us. With the grey sky above, the whole landscape looked rather uniform. A slightly darker smear across the mud, which could easily be mistaken for part of the grey background, was actually a huge flock of thousands of Golden Plover. Through the scope we could finally make out the golden colour to their upperparts.

golden plover

Golden Plover – a flock of thousands blended in seamlessly with the grey mud

A long line of Teal continued on from the end of the Golden Plover flock and there were lots of Shelducks scattered more liberally and sparsely all over the mud. Scattered groups of Lapwings mostly had their backs to us and looked very dark. Most of the other waders would obviously be out on the waters edge, which was too far off to see today, but we did manage to find a tight group of Knot feeding in the middle distance, much more active, busy than the plovers.

We had a quick look at the north end of the Pits from the causeway. In amongst a noisy gaggle of Greylag Geese and Wigeon, we stopped to look at three more Goldeneye and a different duck surfaced in with them. Small, with a distinctive rusty cap and white sides to the face, it was a ‘redhead’ Smew (a female or first winter male). A scarce winter visitor from northern Europe, this bird has been here for a few weeks now but it very erratic on the Pits, presumably feeding much of the time out on the Wash or on the fishing lakes. Another nice bonus for the day’s list. We watched it for a while as it fed, diving repeatedly.


Smew – a ‘redhead’ feeding on the Pit from the causeway

Our real target here was Short-eared Owl. In the middle of the day, we would be lucky to find one out hunting so instead we went to see if we could find one roosting. It didn’t take long to find it, roosting under its usual bramble bush. It was hunched up in the vegetation and almost like it could be stuffed, until it thankfully moved its head just to dispel that suggestion! It looked over towards us and we could see its yellow irises for  second before it went back to dozing.

short-eared owl

Short-eared Owl – roosting under its usual bramble bush

We had a walk round the southern pit to check out the rough grassland surrounding it, but there were no owls out. A feral Barnacle Goose was standing all on its own on the bank. We stopped briefly in South Hide to look at the other end of the Pit, which contained a good number of sleeping Wigeon. We could hear the occasional whistle from them. A couple of Shoveler were tucked up in with them.

A little group of pipits flew up from the bank and in amongst the softer ‘seep, seep’ calls of the Meadow Pipits we could hear the sharper ‘wheest’ call of a Rock Pipit. The latter flew down and appropriately landed on a rock! Then a Meadow Pipit landed on the edge of the water in front of the hide and after picking around on the bank for a minute flew over to join the Rock Pipit, giving us a really nice comparison of the two species together.

It was lunchtime already, so we made our way back to the car for something to eat. As we made our way back along we turned onto a minor road and spotted a commotion on the tarmac right in front. It was a Stoat and it was engaged in a wrestling match with a rather large Brown Rat! The two of them twisted and turned, both seemed to be battling to stay on top.

They writhed across the road and dropped into the shallow gully on the side, so that we could pull up right alongside, just a couple of feet from them. It looked to be a pretty even contest, and after a while the Stoat gave up and disappeared up the bank behind. The Rat paused for a while to recover and then perhaps unwisely went up the bank too.

On our way back east, we stopped in an area of farmland to look at a hedge full of small birds which were flying in and out of a neighbouring cover strip. They were mostly Reed Buntings, but with several Yellowhammers mixed in with them. The birds were flying in and out of the crop all the time, so it was hard to keep up at times. There were a lot more birds down in the vegetation than we could see, as suddenly a large flock of Linnets flew up, circled round, and dropped back in.

Back on the main coast road, as we passed Holkham we could see a huge wave of thousands of Pink-footed Geese coming up off the marshes. We stopped for a look and noticed a long white neck poking out of a ditch out in the grass. It was a Great White Egret – through the scope, we could see its long dagger-shaped bill. A second Great White Egret was feeding on a pool further over.

great white egret

Great White Egret – in a ditch out on the grazing marshes

The Pink-footed Geese disappeared inland over the Park, but there were still lots of geese down on the marshes. In amongst the more numerous Greylags, we found a large party of Russian White-fronted Geese. Through the scope we could see the white feathering surrounding the base of their bills and their distinctive black belly barring. A Goldcrest was singing in the pines nearby.

white-fronted geese

Russian White-fronted Geese – feeding out on the grazing marshes

We had hoped to have a bit more time here, to have a look for hunting Short-eared Owls, but time was getting on and we had an appointment with another owl which we had to keep. We managed to stop for a minute at Wells to watch another huge wave of Pink-footed Geese which were flying in from the fields inland. It was too early for them to head in to roost, so presumably they had just been disturbed from the fields where they had been feeding.

The Barn Owl was not out hunting yet when we arrived. We stood at the gate for a minute and scanned the meadows, then we walked down along the path to where we could see the entrance to the owl box. There was the Barn Owl, perched on the platform on the front of the box – prefect timing! It had just woken up and was trying to work out whether to head out hunting. It still looked sleepy, perched there hunched up with its eyes half closed.

barn owl 1

Barn Owl – just waking up before heading out to hunt

Over the next five minutes or so, the Barn Owl gradually got a bit more active, looking round and opening its eyes. Then silently it dropped from the platform and flew out over the meadow. We were treated to a great display over the next twenty minutes as it hunted. At first it flew round over the long grass, once or twice dropping down after something but coming up empty-taloned.

Then it headed over to the edge of the meadow and landed on a post, where it perched looking down into the grass below. Another great look through the scope. The Tawny Owls were already hooting in the trees beyond now – our next appointment – but we still had a few minutes before they would emerge. The Barn Owl moved around between several different posts before resuming hunting more actively, flying round over the meadow again. As if to bid us farewell, it did one last close fly past, flying across silently right in front of us, even stopping to hover for a second, before heading off. Great to watch!

barn owl 2

Barn Owl – a last fly-past before heading off for the evening

The light was starting to go now, so we headed into the wood. We positioned ourselves where we could see a group of trees clad in dense ivy and waited. We could hear more Pink-footed Geese calling and looked out of the trees to see a series of skeins totalling several thousand birds heading off to roost over the hill beyond.

The Tawny Owl dropped out of the back of the trees unseen tonight – suddenly we could hear it hooting further back in the wood. We followed the path in deeper, but despite hearing it hooting still we couldn’t see it through the branches. We changed position again to try a different angle and then suddenly it flew across the path above our heads, with a sweep of its broad, rounded wings silhouetted against the sky.

It landed, but unfortunately chose the top of a tree covered in ivy where we couldn’t see it. Then it quickly flew back into the wood as we moved to try to get an angle. It was getting dark now, and we could still hear the Tawny Owl hooting from the trees as we walked back to the car. A Woodcock zoomed over the tops of the trees above us in the gloom. Then it was time to call it a night.

27th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was a cloudy start to the day, but the cloud gradually burnt back to the coast and then it was mostly bright and sunny. It was warm, but a moderate NE wind on the coast kept the temperatures down a bit.

Given the weather, we headed straight up to the Heath first thing this morning. As we got out of the car, a Willow Warbler was singing in the car park and we could hear two Yellowhammers singing too up along the path. As we walked over that way, we had a good look at one of the Yellowhammers in the scope, perched in the top of a birch tree. A little further on, and a Chiffchaff was singing too.


Yellowhammer – one of several, singing in a birch tree

As we walked up along a big sandy track, two Woodlarks flew up from the vegetation beside the path. Unfortunately they flew round past us and disappeared off over the trees, dropping down again over the other side. Still, it was a nice flight view and we could see their short tails as the passed.

There were several Linnets perched up on the fence here and we got a smart red-breasted male in the scope. While we were looking at them, we noticed a female Stonechat perched on a bush behind. We got the scope on it, but it dropped back into the vegetation before everyone could get a look at it.

Turning the corner on the path, another Woodlark flew up calling from the heather nearby. This one circled round and landed in the top of a pine tree a little further back. It was nice to see this one perched, but again it wouldn’t stop for photos though and dropped down after we had managed a quick look at it through the scope.

Our main target here was Dartford Warbler and a little further along the path we stopped by some gorse and were quickly rewarded. We heard one calling and looked across to see a male Dartford Warbler hop up into the top of a bush. It was busy looking for food, climbing round in and out of the vegetation. Then a second Dartford Warbler appeared next to it, the female.

Dartford Warblers

Dartford Warblers – we had nice views of a pair collecting food

We stood here and watched the Dartford Warblers for a while, from a discrete distance away. They were both busy collecting food, hopefully with some hungry youngsters to feed nearby. They were remarkably obliging today, perching up in the top of the gorse, often close to each other. After a few minutes they flew across to a more dense patch of gorse and disappeared from view. We decided to leave them in peace.

There were lots of butterflies out today on the heath, particularly as the clouds started to burn off. A small skipper which flew around in the vegetation by the path turned out to indeed be a Small Skipper once we got a good look at it (sufficient to distinguish it from the very similar Essex Skipper).

Most of the butterflies were blues, in particular Silver-studded Blues which are one the specialities of the heath here. On the way back to the car, we stopped by an area which is particularly good for them at the moment, and saw lots of males flying and several mating pairs too. As we got back to the car park, a Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the blackthorn bushes.

Silver-studded Blues

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

Sometimes it is possible to find Nightjars roosting during the day, so next we headed over to another location where we have seen them recently, to try our luck. The vegetation is getting very high now, which makes them harder to see, but the first place we looked we could just make out a shape down on the ground in amongst the bracken.

It was a male Nightjar. We got the scope on it and everyone took a look, being very careful not to disturb it. They are incredibly well camouflaged and it was relying on its cryptic plumage to think that we couldn’t see it. After we had all had a good look at it, we backed off very quietly and left it where it was.


Nightjar – roosting down amongst the bracken

It had been a very successful morning, exploring the heaths of North Norfolk, so we decided to head down to the coast for a change of scenery. We still had enough time for another quick walk before lunch, so we made our way down to the East Bank at Cley.

It was a bit breezy up on the bank. We heard a couple of Reed Warblers singing, but they were keeping well tucked down in the reeds here. A Sedge Warbler was more obliging, climbing up into the dead branches of a small bush out in the reedbed, where we could get it in the scope.

Bearded Tits don’t like the wind, so it was perhaps not a surprise that they were rather elusive today. We heard a couple pinging and managed to see one juvenile come up to the top of the reeds briefly, but it flew before everyone could get onto it.

There were not so many dragonflies and butterflies out here today, in the cool breeze. We did see a Common Darter though, the first we have seen this year. The Common Swifts were enjoying the wind, zipping back and forth low over the reeds.

Common Darter

Common Darter – our first of the year

With the breeding season well advanced now, there are not so many birds out on the grazing marshes now. We did find a couple of Lapwing and an Avocet. A single Ruff on the Serpentine was tucked down asleep, but did wake long enough to raise its rusty head. This is most likely a returning migrant, having already been north for the breeding season, and it was already well advanced in its moult, with a very scrawny neck where its ornate ruff would have been just a few weeks ago.

The ducks are starting to moult into their duller eclipse plumage too now – we got a moulting drake Gadwall in the scope, starting to look a bit tatty. There were still plenty of Greylags and a few Canada Geese though. A couple of Grey Herons were busy preening over by the reeds at the back.

We carried on up to Arnold’s Marsh, past a Skylark and a Meadow Pipit both still singing and songflighting, and took advantage of the shelter to rest our legs. The first bird which immediately stood out was a Spoonbill, standing in the middle of the water at the back. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! It did wake up a couple of times, just long enough to flash its distinctive bill, before tucking it back in again.


Spoonbill – asleep at the back of Arnold’s Marsh

There were a few terns on here too, though not as many as usual. We could see five Sandwich Terns preening on one of the islands and a single Little Tern resting on a patch of shingle. There were not too many waders either today, a few Redshank and Lapwing and a single Turnstone and one Oystercatcher right out at the back.

We couldn’t come all this way and not at least look at the sea, but there was not much to see offshore today. A few Little Terns were diving into the water, some way out today. We decided to head back.

On the walk back, we heard the Avocets alarm calling out on Pope’s Marsh and turned to see a male Marsh Harrier heading our way, with an Avocet or two in pursuit! The Marsh Harrier crossed the path and headed out across the reedbed, before circling and starting to lose height. It seemed to circle for a while, but there was no sign of the female coming up to accept a food pass, so eventually the male dropped down into the reeds himself. A Sparrowhawk flew past over the reedbed at the same time.

We wanted to make use of the picnic tables at the visitor centre for our lunch, but when we got round there a school party had taken over every table, with only 2-3 people at each one. Plan B was to head round to the shelter in the beach car park instead, which had the added bonus of being out of the wind. After lunch, we drove back to the visitor centre and made our way out onto the reserve, stopping briefly to admire the single Broomrape spike by the path.

There were one or two Reed Warblers singing in the reeds by the path, but they were impossible to see through the vegetation. When we got to the bridge over the ditch, we stopped to look back along the water. We could see one or two Reed Warblers zipping back and forth between the reeds either side.

Eventually a couple of the Reed Warblers came much closer to us and we could see that it was an adult with a recently fledged juvenile begging for food. We watched as the adult caught a damselfly and fed it to the youngster, before the two of them disappeared back into the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – we stopped to watch them from the bridge

We made our way straight out to Dauke’s Hide and had a look on the scrapes. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers running around on the front edge of the first island on Simmond’s Scrape, chasing after the juvenile Pied Wagtails.

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the scrape too, one of which was wearing a large quantity of coloured plastic rings. A closer look confirmed that it was the same bird that we had seen a few days ago, a Continental Black-tailed Godwit of the nominate race, limosa, much scarcer than the more regular Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits it was with.

We have had the data back already for this particular Continental Black-tailed Godwit already. It was ringed in May last year, on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, where it bred. It was also seen last year along the North Norfolk coast, at Titchwell and then Cley, from mid June to early August. It is also bearing a geolocator which monitors its location and allows the researchers to track its movements and this had shown that it spent the winter down in West Africa. Apparently it bred again at the Nene Washes this year.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – one of the small number of UK breeding birds

There are lots of Avocets on the scrapes here at the moment – it looks like it has been a good breeding season for them here. There were a couple of large gatherings of loafing birds out on Pat’s Pool. One of the adults on Simmond’s Scrape was still busy chasing away any birds which came close, mostly ducks, despite it not having any youngsters to protect.


Avocets – loafing on the islands on Pat’s Pool

Behind the Avocets, we could see several more Ruff. Again, they were busy moulting, with tatty looking necks where they have already started to lose their ornate ruff feathers. There are quite a few Teal on here already too, returning birds from further north, where they breed, and they are also quickly starting to moult into eclipse plumage. It really is the end of summer for many of the birds already!

There were a few gulls around the scrapes too, mostly Black-headed Gulls but also a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single Common Gull. There were no Spoonbills on the scrapes from the hides today though, but we did see one fly over and land out on Billy’s Wash, out towards the beach.

A quick look in on Avocet Hide revealed a Green Sandpiper sleeping on the edge of the closest island. It woke up as we opened the flaps of the hide and stood looking at us for a while, before flying back to the next island over and starting to feed along the muddy margin. Another autumn migrant stopping off on its way back south after the breeding season.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – on the island in front of Avocet Hide

It had been a very productive day, but we decided it was time to call it a day and head back now. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

28th June 2015 – Waders Galore & More

Another Summer Tour today, in North Norfolk again. The idea was to go looking for birds of prey in the morning, but it didn’t go entirely according to plan. The weather forecasters let us down once again! We didn’t have much rain, it just fell at the wrong time. Still, an adjustment to the plans and we had a great day just the same.

We met in Wells, and headed inland to explore the farmland behind the coast. We hadn’t gone far when a Red Kite circled lazily over the field beside the road.

P1030853Red Kite – this one from earlier in the morning

We had a specific request to see a Little Owl today. This is a good time to the year to look for them, as they have young to feed at the moment and are more active in the morning and late afternoon. However, it was already a bit cloudy and cool, and spitting with rain as we drove round to some regular sites. There was no sign initially at the first place we tried. We were just driving away when a sharp-eyed passenger spotted one low in a small dead tree beside the road. A quick stop and reverse and the Little Owl eyed us nervously.

P1030872Little Owl – right beside the road, eyeing us nervously

The Little Owl didn’t move and we even had a chance to drive on, get some more cameras out of the boot and return for another photo session from the other side of the car. Only as we drove off had it had enough and flew off back to its usual perch.

We stopped briefly at a favoured site for Turtle Doves, but there was no sign of them here again today. Some of the big overgrown hawthorn bushes that they normally favour were burnt when the farmer set fire his old straw stack recently and they don’t seem to be using the site as much now. However, there were lots of Skylarks singing and little groups of Linnets on the wires and down on the edge of the fields. We didn’t linger here and drove on.

At our next stop, we walked down along an overgrown footpath. There were Whitethroats and Yellowhammer singing from the high hedges either side, despite the cool and overcast weather. A pair of Bullfinches called from deep in the bushes. We flushed several Speckled Woods from along the track as we walked.

We had planned to scan for raptors from the higher ground. It had been spitting with rain on and off all morning, but the Met Office forecast had suggested only a 10% probability of rain before 12pm. We had just got out to a suitable vantage point when the it started falling a little harder. We stuck it out for a few minutes but there was very little activity, so we decided to have rethink. We headed back to the shelter of the car.

We had planned to visit Titchwell in the afternoon, but in the light of the weather we decided to drive over there earlier. Ironically, it promptly stopped raining as we drove (in fact, it didn’t rain at all between 12-2pm, when the rain was forecast!). However, the fields were wet still from the earlier rain and with the undergrowth so tall the birds were seeking dry ground. Lots of Yellowhammers flew up from along the side of the road as we drove, a pair of Stock Doves sat on the tarmac and refused to budge until we stopped right in front of them and edged forwards, and the Red-legged Partridges were out by the road as well.

A Brown Hare was drying itself off in some set aside by the road, in the drier short grass. It sat licking one of its feet for ages, unperturbed by our presence. Finally it lifted its head and looked at us, posing for the cameras.

P1030893Brown Hare – out in the short grass after the rain

We stopped off at Choseley on our way to Titchwell. The area around the barns seemed quiet at first, but as we sat in the car scanning the bushes we glimpsed a Turtle Dove flying across the road behind us. We got out and looked up at the trees. At first sight we thought we might have been mistaken. A couple of Collared Doves and a Woodpigeon perched there preening. But a closer look revealed the Turtle Dove as well, perched half hidden amongst the foliage. We watched it for a while, preening.

IMG_6678Turtle Dove – perched quietly in an oak tree preening

While we stood there, we picked up more birds as well. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the fields on the ridge. There were little groups of Goldfinches in the bushes beside the path, and a few Chaffinches and Yellowhammers on the wires. We had been hoping to see a Corn Bunting but there was no sign until we packed up to leave. Just at that moment, a Corn Bunting appeared on the wires, calling. It sat there for a minute, just long enough to get a good look at it, before dropping back down into the field.

Down at Titchwell, we still had some time before lunch, so walked out to Patsy’s Reedbed. Along the Fen Trail, there were lots of tits feeding in the sallows. A Chiffchaff appeared as well, dipping its tail constantly as it fed. Then a Reed Warbler stuck its head out too, out of the reeds and up in the tops of the bushes taking advantage of the mass of insects up there at the moment. We could hear Bullfinches calling but didn’t see one until we got out to Fen Hide and a lone bird flew over and down into the bushes out in the reedbed.

The first thing we saw at Patsy’s Reedbed was a couple of Red-crested Pochard. They looked rather like a pair but they were actually two males. The first was still mostly in full plumage, though already starting to moult. The second Red-crested Pochard looked rather like a dark and more contrasting version of the female, but when it lifted its head from feeding, we could see the bright coral red bill of an eclipse male. A scan of the rest of the ducks revealed another couple of eclipse males and a dark-billed female for comparison.


On one of the islands was a smallish wader, a Green Sandpiper. Again an early returning migrant, most likely either a non-breeder or failed breeder already making its way back south. We just had time to get it in the scope and have a good look at it before it flew off, calling loudly. With the water levels on Patsy’s Reedbed having fallen, the islands and muddy edges are now more attractive to waders. Along the near edge of the pool, two Little Ringed Plovers were lurking unseen amongst the vegetation and occasionally venturing out onto the mud.

After lunch, we walked out onto reserve. It was a bit breezy now, but still dry and even starting to brighten up. The warblers along the main path were less active today – a combination of the weather and the fact that they are busy raising young at the moment. There were still a couple of Reed Warblers singing, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the sallows.

From Island Hide, we could see that the freshmarsh was alive with waders. The water levels look great at the moment, and they were taking advantage of the conditions to feed and sleep. There were at least 300 Black-tailed Godwits scattered over the water, mostly busy feeding. Around 100 Bar-tailed Godwits in contrast were mostly asleep, roosting on the freshmarsh over high tide out on the beach.

IMG_6728Godwits – large numbers of both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed on the freshmarsh

Looking more closely, we found a small number of Knot in amongst them, again most likely 1st summer birds in winter plumage. In contrast, two Dunlin were in smart summer plumage, still sporting full black belly patches. Amongst all the Black-tailed Godwits, we could see a couple of Spotted Redshanks feeding. The more we looked, the more we found, with another asleep in the middle of the throng of Bar-tailed Godwits. A fourth was feeding on its own further over. They were all still in smart black summer plumage, spangled with silvery-white spots on the upperparts, and with only small amounts of white winter feathering starting to appear on the underparts.

IMG_6804Spotted Redshank – looking very smart, still mostly in summer plumage

There were several Ruff out on the freshmarsh as well, similarly scattered amongst all the godwits and islands. The more we looked, the more we found. We counted at least 7 eventually and it was possible to identify them individually given the huge variation in the appearance of males. Almost all of them looked to be moulting males, apart from one bird in more female-like plumage.

IMG_6764Ruff – a rather barred moulting male, note the remnants of the ornate ruff

IMG_6780Ruff – a more garishly coloured moulting male, highlighting the wide variation

There were other waders out on the freshmarsh as well. A Ringed Plover was hiding on the edge of one of the islands, as was another Little Ringed Plover. The usual Lapwing and a large number of Avocet were also present. The latter performed very well for the cameras, as usual, feeding on the mud right in front of Island Hide.

P1030964Avocet – the obligatory Titchwell photo

There were also lots of ducks, as usual, mostly Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler. The drakes are starting to moult into drab eclipse plumage now. Two smaller ducks feeding in amongst the godwits caught the eye, but they spent almost all the time with their heads under water as they swam. Just occasionally they lifted them up and we could see the bold striped head pattern and pale bill spots – a couple of Garganey. A lone Brent Goose on one of the islands was also a surprise – there are thousands here in the winter, but not many in mid-summer.

There have been several Little Gulls on the freshmarsh for a few weeks now, and there were still three today, all 1st summer birds. They were scattered around the islands, feeding in the shallow water, picking at insects. In the middle of a large flock of roosting Black-headed Gulls on one of the islands, one jet black head gave away the presence of a sleeping adult Mediterranean Gull (ironically, the summer hood of Black-headed Gull is chocolate brown!).

IMG_6740Little Gull – still three 1st summer birds on the freshmarsh

A large white shape appeared amongst the black Cormorants on the island at the very back of the freshmarsh. It was a Spoonbill. Several more edged out, but they were doing exactly what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping! It was only when we got round to Parrinder hide that they suddenly woke up and walked out into the middle of the freshmarsh to feed, well four of them did at least. We could see one shorter-billed juvenile amongst them. The adults were feeding more proficiently but the youngster was obviously still learning and not fully equipped for the task!


The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were all fairly quiet, as they have been in recent weeks. Out on the beach, the tide was still in so there were no waders out there today. Further out over the sea towards Lincolnshire we could see a big flock of black shapes wheeling around low over the water, Common Scoter. We couldn’t make out any details on them at that distance, but thankfully a lone drake Common Scoter was closer in in front of us. Through the scope was could even see the yellow on the bill base.

There were lots of terns flying back and forth just offshore, including Sandwich and Little Terns to add to the Common Terns we had seen earlier on the freshmarsh. A single Gannet circled distantly to the west. Looking towards Brancaster, a single summer-plumage Great Crested Grebe was on the sea. Presumably a local bird popped out to feed, rather than a returning winter bird already!

Then it was unfortunately time to think about heading back. We looped round via the Meadow Trail. The sun was now shining and it was hot in the shelter of the sallows, out of the wind. The Southern Marsh Orchids on the meadow are now going over, but a couple by the path were still looking very smart. The birds we had seen earlier in the morning were still feeding in the bushes. And a Song Thrush was singing from the trees, serenading us as we walked back to the car.

26th July 2014 – Birds in the mist

A day tour in North Norfolk again today, looking for raptors, waders & Spoonbills. We headed inland for the farmland behind the coast again first thing, hoping to escape the thick sea mist which had descended. It was a little better away from the sea, but not much.

Our first stop was to look for Turtle Doves. Initially there was no sign, but just as we were starting to wonder whether they would grace us with their presence, one flew out. Rather than linger in the distance, it flew straight towards us and landed on some wires, giving us all great views in the scope. It almost seemed to know we would not get a very good look at it on its usual perches, and decided to come much closer! Then it even started to ‘purr’, the Turtle Dove‘s distinctive song, heard so occasionally these days, it felt like a real privilege.

P1080185Turtle Dove – in the mist!

From there, we headed on to a second site. Despite the mist, the Yellowhammers and Skylarks were still singing. One male Yellowhammer gave particularly good views, returning repeatedly to the same perch in front of us. The hedgerows were full of birds – Chaffinches and Linnets, Whitethroats and Blackcaps – gathering in mixed post-breeding flocks. The non-avian highlight was a Stoat, which appeared from a barley field right in front of us carrying a mouse. It seemed unsure initially whether to run out across the track, and kept darting back into the crop, before plucking up the courage to make a dash for the hedge. Amongst the commoner raptors, we saw Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and Kestrels.

We headed back to Cley for lunch, by which time the mist was starting to clear. At the visitor centre, we made a quick visit to see the Silvery Gem moth on display (having been caught at Weybourne last night), only the second ever found in Britain. Then it was out to the hides. There were fewer waders on show than the last couple of days, though we still saw Green & Common Sandpipers, Ringed & Little Ringed Plovers, lots of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit and several Dunlin. As well as a couple of Greenshanks and the ubiquitous Redshanks, a Spotted Redshank was the best of the bunch – a moulting adult, having lost most of its jet black summer plumage, but the silvery grey winter plumage sullied with several retained old dark feathers. They are always lovely birds to see, taller and slimmer than the Common Redshank, and with a longer needle-tipped bill.

P1080192Grey Heron – a juvenile, with dull grey-capped head

We heard lots of Bearded Tits, and saw a couple perched up nicely in the reeds. Several Reed Warblers were still singing or zooming around among the reeds, and one was hopping around in the open among the willows next to the hides; the Sedge Warblers have now gone quiet, but one sat up for a while preening. Out on the scrape, at least one Yellow Wagtail was amongst the large number of Pied Wagtails. While we were in the hides, a Hobby flashed through. We walked out towards the sea, and a large gathering of very noisy terns were on the brackish Arnold’s Marsh – a mixture of juvenile and adult Sandwich & Common Terns.

P1080195Terns – large gathering/creche of Sandwich & Common Terns on Arnold’s Marsh

To end the day, we went to look at the Spoonbills. They were closer than they had been the last few days and there were 12 this afternoon, mostly juveniles. The couple of adults in amongst them gave themselves away with their yellow-tipped bills and shaggy crests. Some were sleeping, balanced precariously on one leg with head tucked in, but several were preening or casually feeding. Always a joy to watch.

P1080200Spoonbill – 7 of the 12 present at Cley today