Tag Archives: Greenland Wheatear

21st Apr 2019 – Spring Migrants, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Easter weekend tour today. It was another glorious, sunny day with more blue skies. It was warmer today, with easterly winds now, but still very pleasant weather to be out birding. We spent most of the day exploring the coast of north-west Norfolk.

We were heading over to the Wash coast first thing this morning, but as we drove along the road we noticed a shape in the window of an old barn by the road. We pulled up and could see it was a Little Owl, looking over the old rotten window ledge, sunning itself in the morning light.

Little Owl

Little Owl – looking out of a barn window as we drove west

Our first destination for the day was Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked in through the bushes, we could hear lots of warblers singing – Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat. We stood for a while and watched and gradually got views of each of them, to a greater or lesser extent. A female Bullfinch appeared in the willow tree along with a Willow Warbler and a Blackcap.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – the bushes were alive with warbler singing

There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing too, over in the reeds beyond the bushes, and we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler shouting from away in that direction too. There seemed to be a steady procession of Mediterranean Gulls flying over calling too, which became a regular soundtrack for the morning from then on.

Continuing on north, we got out into a clear area. Several Wheatears were feeding on the short grass. At first, we found a couple of females but then a smart male appeared. As with the ones we saw yesterday, it had a rich burnt orange breast, a male Greenland Wheatear. A Greenfinch was feeding on the ground nearby with some Linnets.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a male of the Greenland subspecies

Going back into the bushes on the other side, there were yet more warblers singing. This is a great place to hear them, and they have clearly arrived in force in the last week, back from Africa and here for the breeding season. A Common Whitethroat was really going for it, singing and song-flighting between the bushes ahead of us. Presumably a recent arrival, staking out its territory and hoping to attract a mate. We could see its bright rusty wings, grey head and white throat.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – singing and song-flighting from the tops of the bushes

Unfortunately there was a fire last year here, and afterwards a couple of big areas had been cleared. As we got out into the first of them, we found several more Wheatears feeding on the open ground. These used to be particularly good areas for Grasshopper Warbler, but after the fire and subsequent clearance of remaining scrub, the habitat is no longer suitable. Thankfully a few good areas of scrub still remain elsewhere on the site.

Up at the cross bank, we walked up onto the seawall. The tide was in on and the Wash was completely covered in water. Three Ringed Plovers were chasing each other on the stony beach below us.

We particularly wanted to look for some Yellow Wagtails here, as there had apparently been a Blue-headed Wagtail or hybrid with them earlier. But when we got to the cross bank, the cows were mostly sitting down, not what the wagtails like! We could see them flying round, and at least two of them flew off north, but at least two landed back down in amongst the cows.

As the cows started to stand up again and walk around, we could see there were more Yellow Wagtails than we had initially thought, five in total. But there had been twelve earlier and there was no sign of the Blue-headed Wagtail now, it must have flown off earlier. As the cows walked over to the inner seawall, the remaining five Yellow Wagtails flew off too, disappearing away to the north.

As we walked round to the inner seawall, three Whimbrels flew in and landed in the short grass between the banks. There must have been one here already as once we set up the scopes round on the other side, we could see four Whimbrels out in the grass. One walked down to the edge of a small pool to drink, where there were four sleeping godwits.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – one of four feeding on the short grass

As we looked more closely, we could see there were three Black-tailed Godwits and a single Bar-tailed Godwit with them, presumably pushed off the Wash by the high tide and roosting here. The Bar-tailed Godwit was still in non-breeding plumage and very worn, but we could see its shorter legs, more obvious supercilium, and more heavily marked upperparts.

We walked back south along the inner seawall. Scanning the marshes the other side, we spotted a small group of Pink-footed Geese. Like we had seen yesterday, a very small number are still lingering here, whereas most have already gone north some time ago to stage on their way back to Iceland.

There were more warblers along here, including a particularly showy Sedge Warbler, which we stopped to watch. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds by the ditch on the edge of the marshes below us, its song more metronomic than the Sedge’s. There were still some good areas of scrub not touched by the fire on this side, but it was the middle of the day now and the Grasshopper Warblers seemed to have gone quiet.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – there were lots singing all over Snettisham now

Back towards the road, we dropped down off  the seawall and followed one of the paths into the bushes to cross back over to the other side. Finally, a Grasshopper Warbler started reeling. We had a fleeting glimpse of it as it dropped down into the brambles, then it went quiet. Thankfully, we had seen one yesterday but they are always great birds to hear and good to know that one or two continue to survive at this site.

Cutting back across to the minibus, we drove a short distance back along the road just as far as the entrance to the RSPB car park. The male Ring Ouzel was still in the field here, hopping around in the short grass amongst the molehills. We could see its striking white gorget. We walked round to the gate as the light would be better from there, but just as we got there something spooked it and it flew across to the far side.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – in the field on the other side of the road

We made our way round to Titchwell next, although we had to take a detour inland to avoid the long queue of traffic backed up from the traffic lights, due to the number of people coming up for the Easter weekend to enjoy the good weather. Despite the number of people on the coast this weekend, Titchwell car park was surprisingly quiet and we had no trouble finding a space!

It was time for lunch, so we made good use of the tables in the picnic area. While we were eating, the warden emerged from the trees to say that there was a Spotted Flycatcher there. We could see it as it flew between the branches up in the tops.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – in the trees by the picnic area at Titchwell

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve. There was no sign of the Whinchat which had been seen earlier around the grazing meadow. As we got out of the trees, a Reed Warbler was singing in reeds.

At the reedbed pool, we could see a male Red-crested Pochard towards the back, sporting its bright orange punk haircut. There were a few Common Pochard on here too, as well as a single Great Crested Grebe and a couple of Little Grebes. A male Marsh Harrier put on a good display, quartering over the reeds in front of us.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see them zipping back and forth over the reeds. Then three flew out over the water chasing each other, and shot up higher into the air above the reeds where they proceeded to whirl round after each other, presumably in some sort of territorial dispute.

A steady procession of Mediterranean Gulls flew past, in amongst the Black-headed Gulls, their distinctive calls alerting us each time to their imminent approach. The wing tips of the Mediterranean Gulls were translucent white against the sky, very different from the dusky underwings of the others.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – flew overhead, calling, as we walked out

Out on the Freshmarsh, there were lots and lots of gulls. It seems to have been taken over by them again as a breeding colony! Scanning through them, we found a couple of small groups of Sandwich Terns and through the scope we could see their spiky black crests and yellow-tipped black bills.

There are still lots of Teal here, and quite a few Shoveler. Small groups of Brent Geese flew in and out from the saltmarsh on the Thornham side of the bank. It will not be long now before they are on their way back to Russia for the breeding season.

There were not many waders on here today. A few Avocets were feeding in the water or standing around on the islands. Further back, we could see one Ruff and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits. Two Little Ringed Plover were on the shore just beyond Parrinder Hide, so we went round there for a closer look. From the hide, we could see their golden yellow eye rings.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – a pair were just outside Parrinder Hide on the walk out

There was a closer view of the gulls from here too. We got a smart adult Mediterranean Gull in the scope,  noting its jet black hood with white eyelids, bright red bill and white wing tips. Looking into the melee of gulls out on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’, we could make out a lot of pairs of Mediterranean Gulls in the colony just on the basis of their darker black heads compared to the more numerous Black-headed Gulls (which actually have a chocolate brown hood!).

We made a bid for the sea next. As we passed Volunteer Marsh, we could see four Grey Plover and a single Bar-tailed Godwit down in the muddy channel at the far side. Out at the beach, the tide was right out. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were lots of people, dogs and even a couple of horses out on the and or clambering over the mussel beds. As a consequence, there was a dearth of waders today. There were a few Oystercatchers away to the left, and a little group of Dunlin and one or two Grey Plover with some Bar-tailed Godwits on the shore, at least until they were flushed by the horseriders.

Looking out to sea, a single Common Tern flew past just offshore. Out on the water, there were still quite a number of Great Crested Grebes. Further out, we found a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers, although given the distance and heat haze, it was not the best of views!

We had a brisk walk back, but when we got back to the van one of the group had disappeared. A search party was dispatched and eventually he was relocated. It turned out he had lost the rubber cap from the end of his binoculars and we had lost him when he had gone back to look for it!

A Purple Heron had been found this morning at Burnham Norton, where we had been yesterday afternoon, and we wanted to try to see it on our way back this afternoon. Thankfully there were spaces in the parking area when we arrived, and we set off along the path to the seawall. The male Marsh Harrier circled up right in front of us, carrying a stick in its talons, as the female circled above. He was probably showing off the nest material he had gathered to her!

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – a male, carrying nest material

Up on the seawall, we found out why there were spaces in the car park as most people had gone already. Thankfully one person appeared and pointed us in the right direction and it didn’t take too long to find the Purple Heron hiding in a ditch. At first we could just see its head and long dagger-shaped bill when it looked up, then it walked up onto the edge of the field and we had a really good view of it.

Purple Heron

Purple Heron – feeding in the ditches at Burnham Norton

Then the Purple Heron flew over the fence, and landed in the next field, before walking down into the ditch that side. We could just see its head again. But that ditch was obviously not to its liking, as it walked back out and stood in the field for a couple of minutes, trying to work out what to do, before flying back over. It landed at the back of the field this time and looked around, before walking down into another areas of reeds to feed. Purple Heron is a very scarce visitor here, and this was a young bird in its 1st summer, which had probably overshot on its way up from Africa to its breeding grounds on the continent.

It was time to call it a day now, so we walked slowly back to the van. As we were driving back to the main road, we looked across to see four Fieldfares in the paddocks. These are winter visitors here, presumably stopping off to feed before heading out over the North Sea back to Scandinavia. It seemed an odd combination, to see Purple Heron one minute, then Fieldfares the next. It is not often you will find that combination so close together!

20th Apr 2019 – Spring Migrants, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Easter weekend tour today. It was a glorious, bright, sunny day with wall to wall blue skies. It was hot out of the wind, but a very light NE breeze kept temperatures more comfortable on the coast. Great birding weather! We spent the day exploring the centre of the North Norfolk coast.

Burnham Overy Dunes was our destination for the morning. As we walked down the track across the fields we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the blackthorn. It was typically skulking, but we saw it as it flew out and landed in the bushes the other side. A pair of Bullfinches flew along ahead of us, perching low down on the edge of the path, the bright pink male glowing in the sunshine. A Willow Warbler sang briefly, but then flew past us and seemed to move quickly inland.

Looking up, we noticed two Barnacle Geese flying in across the track. They landed out on the grazing meadows with a large flock of grey geese. The Barnacles were most likely feral birds, which breed in Holkham Park, but the grey geese were Pink-footed Geese, about 100 of them. Most of the wintering birds left back in February to stage further north, but these had stayed on and would soon need to be leaving on the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season. There were a couple of Greylags with them, giving us a nice comparison between the two species, and two Egyptian Geese as well.

Geese

Barnacle Geese – two flew in to join the lingering Pink-footed Geese

There were surprisingly few hirundines moving today, probably due to the NE wind. But a Swallow did fly over as we were walking out, closely followed by a Sand Martin.

Out over the grazing marshes, a Sedge Warbler was singing from the briars beside the track. We stopped to watch it and heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling a bit further up. It was skulking in some brambles but we positioned ourselves to see it and after a minute or so it appeared in the top, typically just as two people were walking past. It promptly dropped straight back in! After a while, the Grasshopper Warbler appeared again and this time we could get it in the scope.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – several were singing from the bushes by the path

Our first Spoonbill of the morning had already flown past distantly, heading out towards the harbour. Then, while we were listening to the Grasshopper Warbler, another Spoonbill appeared right next to us, feeding in a small pool. We watched it with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water, occasionally throwing its head back to swallow something. It seemed to be catching a lot! It was an adult – we could see its yellow-tipped black bill – and in breeding condition, with a bushy nuchal crest, bright red fringed yellow skin under the bill and a mustard wash across its breast.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on a small pool right by the path

There were more Sedge Warblers singing further down the track, they had clearly arrived in good numbers now. At the junction with the seawall, another Willow Warbler was singing. This one we could see, flitting around in the top of some low brambles. This is not a likely territory for a Willow Warbler, so the two we had seen on the walk out were probably migrants, fresh in, just stopping here to feed on their way to their breeding sites.

Up on the seawall, the tide was in and the harbour channel was full of water. Several waders were roosting out on the islands of saltmarsh, Avocets, Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits. Some of the godwits are getting very rusty now on their heads and breasts as they moult into breeding plumage, and we stopped to look at one dark chestnut bird which was clearly of the Icelandic race.

Looking out over the grazing marshes from here, there were still a few pools out in the grass, although they are starting to dry out steadily now. There were a few ducks dozing around the margins, mainly Teal and a few Wigeon, still lingering winter visitors. A large flock of Brent Geese flew over from the harbour and landed on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they are leaving on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season.

There were two Wheatears out on the saltmarsh too, but they were very distant and disappeared into the vegetation. They were a little like buses today, and once we got out into the dunes, there were a lot more Wheatears feeding on the short grass. There were two more just past the boardwalk bushes and as we started to walk east, we counted at least eight together on the first slope. The males were rather deep burnt orange on the breast, suggesting they were birds of the Greenland race.

Wheatear 1

Wheatear – there were at least 20 in the dunes today

Over the ridge, there were yet more Wheatears. But as we stopped to scan the dunes ahead, we noticed two Ring Ouzels on the opposite slope. We got them in the scope and could see their bright white gorgets, two males. They flew lower down, out of view, so we walked round for a closer look.

We positioned ourselves where we could watch the Ring Ouzels feeding quietly and thankfully we had already enjoyed a good long look before two cyclists appeared at the top of the dunes. The Ring Ouzels were nervous and one flew up into the top of a nearby bush. The cyclists presumably saw us, because they stopped, but then came over the top and flushed the Ring Ouzels, which flew away east over the dunes. We watched the cyclists riding their bikes off in that direction too.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – we had great views of two males on the walk out

Carrying on through the dunes ourselves, in the same direction, we could see the Ring Ouzels flying off again ahead of us. We also flushed several Song Thrushes from the bushes as we passed, migrants stopping off to feed in the dunes before heading back over the sea to the continent. There were yet more Wheatears along here too.

We had heard a Cuckoo calling on and off as we walked out. Now we spotted it flying past, over the bushes just beyond the fence to the south of us. It was being pursued relentlessly by a Meadow Pipit. The Cuckoo tried to land, but realised it wouldn’t get any peace, so headed off west, the pipit following it all the way. Meadow Pipit is a favoured host for the Cuckoos here!

A Siberian Chiffchaff had been reported in the bushes just before the pines, so we made our way over to see if we could see it. But the only chiffchaffs we could find were Common Chiffchaffs. There were a couple of Blackcaps singing here and, as we looped round through the pines to the start of the track, we could hear a Goldcrest singing. As we stopped by the gate and had a quick look out over the grazing marshes, we could see a couple of Coal Tits, two Long-tailed Tits and the Goldcrests on the sunny edge of the pines.

Walking back through the dunes, we looked across the grazing marshes and spotted a Bittern distantly in flight. We watched as it flew across and dropped down into the reeds over by the seawall. Presumably the same Ring Ouzels were back again where we had seen them earlier, but there were at least three now. We could see a pair, the female with a duller brown-tinged gorget and a separate male. Back at the boardwalk bushes, a Blackcap was flycatching from the apple tree but there was no sign of the Firecrest reported earlier.

Back along the seawall, we could hear a Bittern booming out in the reedbed, presumably the bird we had seen fly in earlier. It was well hidden down in the reeds now though. We could hear Bearded Tits calling on and off, but despite scanning the edges of the pools, we couldn’t see them. They were keeping well tucked down in the reeds too.

Along the track, the butterflies were more active now it had warmed up. We saw several Holly Blue and Speckled Wood fluttering around the Alexanders in the verges. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the hedge by the road back at the van and with a bit of patience it eventually appeared in the top.

We headed down to Holkham briefly to use the facilities. It was very busy here and there were so many cars parked on Lady Anne’s Drive it was full, despite the fact that they had a field open as an overflow car park. They were turning people away! A few House Martins and Swallows whirled around the houses in the village.

We made our way back to Burnham Norton for lunch, passing a small group of Red Deer out in one of the fields by the Park on the way. We sat on the grass in the sunshine and enjoyed the view, looking out over the marshes. A Grey Heron flew in and landed in the ditch in front of us, where it stood motionless, fishing. A Mistle Thrush was feeding out on the grass beyond.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – flew in to feed in the ditch while we ate our lunch

After lunch, as we put our bags back in the van, a Sparrowhawk circled over the car park. We could see a Red Kite circling over the marshes to the east and as we walked out along the bank a second Red Kite flew past and joined it. There were several Common Buzzards up too now, circling in the warm air. A smart grey male Marsh Harrier drifted over the path in front of us.

Red Kite

Red Kite – two drifted over the grazing marshes after lunch

There were a few Pied Wagtails feeding around the dried up pools out on the grazing marsh, and we noticed a much paler one in with them, a White Wagtail, the continental cousin of our Pieds and a migrant passing through here. While we were watching the White Wagtail, one of the group spotted a Whimbrel feeding on the grass further back. It was noticeably small and dark, slim and short-billed, particularly compared with the bigger, greyer Curlew nearby.

From out on the seawall, we spotted a group of Yellow Wagtails which flew up from around the cows out in the middle. They circled round and landed by some more cows but, typically they were half hidden now behind a bramble hedge and the ground sloped away just beyond where the cows were standing. We could just see one or two of the Yellow Wagtails around the cows’ feet from time to time. Two more Whimbrels were also out in the short grass here, along with three Wheatears.

A Cuckoo flew in and landed in the bushes just below the seawall ahead of us. We could see it picking at a web on a stem in front of it, eating caterpillars, most likely of the Brown-tail moth. We were watching it in the scope but could see a woman walking towards us along the seawall. The Cuckoo took off, but then flew right past giving us a great view and landed on a bush behind us.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – flushed and flew right past us along the seawall

We stopped to look out across the harbour channel, and could see lots of gulls on the sandbanks down among the boats over towards Burnham Overy Staithe. A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were in with the Black-headed Gulls. The pools on the corner of the seawall are looking really good for waders at the moment. We had a quick look hoping for perhaps a migrant sandpiper, but all we could find today were Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks.

We took the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marsh. It was still a bit wet in places, but just about passable. The Yellow Wagtails were flying round and one landed briefly in the top of a bare bush. Some of the cows were lying down, so the Yellow Wagtails flew over and settled again around the feet of some other that were feeding in the middle, unfortunately they chose the cows which were just behind a line of low reeds from us.

A Reed Warbler was singing quietly, but stopped before we could get closer to it. So we walked over to where it had been and stopped to listen while we watched to see if the wagtails would show themselves. A Chinese Water Deer was feeding on the back of the field the other side of the path.

There was a nice selectin of ducks in the channel which crossed the marshes in front of us. A pair of Shoveler, a few Tufted Ducks and a pair of Common Pochard. A female Wheatear flew in and landed on the top of a bush right in front of us. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the ditch just behind us but we still couldn’t see it.

Wheatear 2

Wheatear – this female landed in a bush right next to us

Some of the cows walked over to graze just across the ditch from where we were standing, and the ones which had been behind the reeds came back round into the field our side. We had hoped the Yellow Wagtails might fly over to the closer cows but even though more and more cows came over to our side of the field, the wagtails remained stubbornly out in the middle, even when there were just two cows left there. At least we could see the Yellow Wagtails now – at least eight of them. We had hoped there might be one of the continental subspecies with them, but we could not see they were all of the British race, flavissima.

It was lovely to stand and look out over the marshes in the afternoon sunshine, but it was time to call it a day now. Still, we had another day to look forward to tomorrow.

12th May 2018 – Norfolk in May, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today, back in Norfolk. It was a lovely bright, sunny and pleasantly warm morning, but it clouded over early afternoon and then started to spit with rain on and off later on. Nothing to stop us getting out and about though!

Driving down to pick everyone up for the day, we spotted a Peregrine out of the corner of an eye, flying up to land on a church tower. We couldn’t stop, but when we had collected the rest of the group, we headed back and thankfully it was still there. It stared down at us at first, as we got out of the car and we stared back up at it. It quickly settled down and seemed completely unconcerned by our presence below.

Peregrine

Peregrine – great views perched and then preening on the church tower this morning

We watched the Peregrine for some time. It perched looking round at first, then started to preen. When it had finished, it began to doze, closing one eye but still looking round with the other. Several Common Swifts were screaming round over the rooftops as we stood there, always a great sight and sound, although they rather played second fiddle to the Peregrine.

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and headed over to Burnham Overy Dunes for the morning. As we walked down across the path over the grazing marshes we could hear Common Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat singing in the hedges. The former perched up nicely and we saw the latter flitting around in the foliage.

Several Sedge Warblers were singing from the bushes all the way out and there are lots of Reed Warblers in too now. We could hear them singing from the reeds along the edge of the ditches by the path and eventually got good views of one or two at the far end.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – one or two showed themselves on the walk out this morning

There were Lapwings, Avocets, Oystercatchers and Redshanks all out on the grazing marshes by the path. A Lapwing put on a nice tumbling display for us and some of the others appeared to be on nests.

There was no shortage of Greylags here and a pair of Egyptian Geese out on the grass too. We added a few ducks to the day’s list, with Shoveler and Gadwall around the small pools. In the channel at the far end of the path, we stopped to admire a smart Little Grebe on the edge of the reeds. A couple of Common Pochard were on the water further back.

Up on the seawall, the tide was out and there were lots of waders down on the mud. There was a large group of Black-tailed Godwits, with one or two in full summer plumage, deep orange on head and neck. A small group of Knot were with them and they too were mostly in bright rusty breeding plumage. Further over, we could see several Grey Plover looking very smart in breeding plumage too, with black faces and bellies.

A lone Wigeon was out on the reedbed pool, a nice addition to the weekend’s list, as the vast majority have already headed off back to Russia for the breeding season. Further along, out on the saltmarsh, we could see a sizeable gaggle of Brent Geese still. Some of these are always later to head back to the Arctic, although the majority will have departed by the end of this month.

A small group of waders whirled round over the grazing marsh and landed out on an island in one of the smalls. Through the scope, we could see there was a nice mixture of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin, and several of the latter were in breeding plumage, sporting contrasting black belly patches.

Out into the dunes, we turned east. We walked out to one of the favourite places for Wheatears, and quickly found one, a female, down on the short grass. Two more were Wheatears high in the dunes above – what looked like a male and another female. We walked round for better look, trying to get the sun behind us, but could only see the two females now. Big and deep orange underneath, they appeared to be Greenland Wheatears, of the subpecies leucorhoa.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a female, presumably of the Greenland race

Heading back to the boardwalk, we continued on out towards Gun Hill. A trickle of hirundines were moving west now, mostly Swallows, but with a few House Martins and a single Sand Martin as well. A sharp call alerted us to a Yellow Wagtail which flew over our heads and continued on west too.

There is no shortage of Meadow Pipits and Linnets out here in the dunes, good to see as both species have declined so markedly in farmland. A male Kestrel perched high in one of the taller dunes. We also found several male Stonechats singing, 2 or 3 on our walk west.

Heading out onto the beach, we stopped to admire a Ringed Plover tucked down in the stones, on its nest out in the middle of the fenced off area. Another Ringed Plover ran in over the stones and we watched as they changed over sitting duty.

We could hear Little Terns but there were none at the top of the beach in the fenced off area. They were all out towards the shore – we could see them flying round, diving into the surf out at the mouth of the channel. One was asleep closer to us, on the sand just across the channel, which we got in the scope and three more flew round over our heads calling, one carrying a fish. There were a couple of Common Terns too, further round, plunge diving in the harbour channel.

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover – we saw several on the beach and around the dunes today

As we walked along beach towards the point, we found more waders. A couple of very smart Turnstones in breeding plumage were feeding in and out of the seaweed covered rocks below us. Two Common Sandpipers flew up from the edge of the water and across the channel calling. There were several more Ringed Plovers too and round in the harbour we found three Bar-tailed Godwits with another Grey Plover out on the mud. A Greenshank flew up calling from the saltmarsh briefly but dropped straight back down into one of the muddy creeks, out of view.

Back at the boardwalk, we made our way back along the seawall. At the reedbed, a Bittern boomed three times in quick succession before going quiet again. A Red Kite was hanging lazily in the air over the fields as we got back to the car.

We had our lunch at Holkham and afterwards, we headed back east. We had been to Cley yesterday and were not intending to go back today, but news of a Temminck’s Stint was too good to resist.

The Temminck’s Stint had been mobile earlier, but then seemed to have settled down on Watling Water. However, when we arrived at Iron Road, we were told it had flown off about half an hour earlier. It had apparently appeared to drop down again towards the pools along the track. We had a good look there, but there was no sign of it, although there were two Ringed Plovers and a Little Ringed Plover.

Other waders were clearly on the move today, as another small mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers dropped in briefly before continuing west. Another Wheatear was on the bank on the far side of the pool and a Hobby flew over, heading off east. It had started to drizzle now, on and off, we so headed round to Babcock Hide on the off chance that the Temminck’s Stint was back.

When we got into the hide, we were delighted to find that the Temminck’s Stint was indeed back out on the mud, having apparently flown back in earlier. We got it in the scope and had great views of it creeping around on the mud around the edge of the pool. It was clearly very small, and we could see its yellow legs and the distinctive scattering of black-centred feathers in its upperparts.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – a well-marked individual on Watling Water

The two Little Ringed Plovers we had seen yesterday were still on the scrape too – and as we had seen with the Common Sandpiper they kept trying to chase the Temminck’s Stint off. Eventually it found a spot where they seemed to lose interest, and stopped to bathe. The Common Sandpiper was still on here too, but had evaded the attention of the plovers as they seemed to focus more on chasing off the stint today!

The rain had now eased off again, and there was still time for a walk out on the East Bank before the end of the day. It didn’t take us long to spot the Spoonbill, a large white shape in the distance, so we headed up along the bank for a closer look. On the way, a scan of Pope’s Pool produced another Common Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover, as well as another lone drake Wigeon, our second of the day. A Marsh Harrier was perched up in one of the bushes out in the reedbed, drying out after the rain.

We had good views of the Spoonbill from here. It was busy feeding in the north end of the Serpentine, head down, sweeping its bill quickly left to right through the water. Occasionally it would flick its head up when it caught something.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding out on the Serpentine

Arnold’s Marsh appears to be drying out rapidly at the moment, and there was not much water left. Still, we found a few waders – a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits, a Curlew, a Grey Plover and a Ringed Plover. A Wheatear on one of the posts out in front of the shingle ridge was a male Greenland Wheatear, deep orange breasted and with brown tones in its grey back. At the far end of Arnold’s, a Hobby was perched preening on a post.

It was time to head back now. A Marsh Harrier dropped down towards the grazing marsh below the bank, mobbed by Avocets, and then flew off, carrying what appeared to be a small mammal rather than one of the young Greylags we had seen there on our walk out. A Hobby flew past and off over the reedbed, possibly the one we had seen on the post earlier, now dried out. Several more Marsh Harriers were up circling over the reeds as we headed for home.

23rd Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 3

Day 3 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. The weather had turned after the mini heatwave of the last few days and it was cloudy and much cooler today, with a rather fresh and blustery WSW wind. Normal service has resumed!

We made our way over to the Wash coast to start the day, up to Snettisham Coastal Park. It was noticeably colder than of late when we got out of the car and it called for an extra layer of clothing to be donned all round! Given the wind too, it was rather quieter than normal as we walked in to the park. The bushes here are normally alive with warblers singing at this time of the year. At first, all we could hear were a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap.

The open grassy area north of the car park was fairly deserted, but there were loads of dogs here today, so it was rather disturbed. A flock of Linnets whirled round and dropped down up on the seawall. The tide was still coming in as we got up onto the seawall. There were hundreds of Oystercatcher out on the mud, along with a handful of Curlew and a few Brent Geese, but we couldn’t see anything else out there today.

As we made our way slowly north in and out of the bushes, there were gradually more warblers singing. First one or two Lesser Whitethroats, though keeping well tucked down. Then a couple of Sedge Warblers out in the reeds. A Common Whitethroat was subsinging quietly in the bushes and a second was singing but around the bases of some small hawthorns. It was quite a bit further up before we heard our first Willow Warbler.

There were a few birds moving again today, but not as many as yesterday. A couple of small flocks of Linnets looked to be on the move. Two Yellow Wagtails flew overhead silently. There was a steady trickle of Swallows heading south too, with smaller numbers of House Martin and Sand Martin as well.

As we approached the cross-bank at the north end of the Coastal Park, we could just hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from somewhere in the bushes, although it was getting drowned out by the wind and a Sedge Warbler which was much closer to us. There were already two people looking for it, but as we walked up towards them it went quiet. We waited a while but it did not start reeling again.

Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – the only one to be singing from the top of the bushes

We decided to walk up onto the inner seawall and scan the grazing marshes, and see if it started up again while we were away. We could hear another Common Whitethroat singing from the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat just behind. As we got up onto the seawall, the Common Whitethroat flew up into the very top of the bush to sing – what they should be doing at this time of year.

Looking out across the grazing marshes just to the north, we found a Whimbrel feeding out in the short grass. We had a good look at it through the scope – we could see its stripy head pattern.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding out in the short grass on the grazing marshes

There was still no hint of the Grasshopper Warbler starting to reel again, so we decided to walk back along the inner seawall to an area where there have been two Grasshopper Warblers with abutting territories recently. It was windy and hard to hear much on the seawall but sure enough, as we approached the area, we could hear both of the two Grasshopper Warblers singing intermittently.

We walked on to where there is a path down and made our way slowly in amongst the bushes, heading for one of the two reeling birds. We knew we were getting close, but as we slowly rounded a bramble patch, the Grasshopper Warbler saw us and flew off, appearing to land in another bush a bit further back. We made our way back round to where we had a clear view of it and thankfully after only a minute or so it started reeling again and we spotted it in the brambles.

Grasshopper Warbler

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling in the brambles

Everybody got a good look at it through the scope, before the Grasshopper Warbler eventually dropped down into the brambles. A Cuckoo was singing away in the distance, off to the south. The Grasshopper Warbler reeled again briefly and we had another quick look, but the trail had gone cold and it then went quiet. We had enjoyed a great look at it, so we left it in peace.

We walked back listening for the Cuckoo, but it too had gone quiet again now. We cut back across to the inner seawall and several Sedge Warblers were singing in the bushes in the reeds, where we could get a look at them. Another Grasshopper Warbler started reeling from somewhere deep in the vegetation, out of view.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – several eventually showed well

Up on the seawall, we made our way a short distance back to the north to scan the pools out on Ken Hill Marshes. There were several geese and ducks out around the water, including a single drake Wigeon, a lingering individual. As we turned to head back south again, a Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds down below the bank. A Common Swift flew past, heading south, our first of the year.

Back in the clear grassy area north of the car park, the Wheatears had reappeared. There were now at least three of them hopping around on the short grass, two females and a smart Greenland Wheatear male.

Wheatear

Wheatear – reappeared in the clear area N of the car park

When we got back to the car, there was still a bit of time before lunch, so we decided to swing round via Dersingham Bog and have a quick look there. As we walked down through the trees, we could hear various tits calling and a Coal Tit singing. A Treecreeper appeared behind us, climbing up the trunk of a large sycamore. Down at the bottom, a Willow Warbler was singing in the birches.

As we walked out onto the open heath at the bottom, we spotted a Stonechat, typically perched right on the top of the tallest heather, in full view. We could hear another Grasshopper Warbler reeling here too, but that typically was skulking down in some low brambles out on the edge of the heather. Having had such good views of one earlier, we didn’t waste any time trying to see it.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male typically perched up nicely

From somewhere up over the ridge, we could hear a Woodlark singing. It was probably in song flight, as it seemed to be moving, but appeared to be out of our view over the brow.

As we turned to walk back the other way, we heard the distinctive deep guttural ‘kronk’ of a Raven. These are still very scare birds here in Norfolk, but one has been reported in this area in recent weeks. It called again and seemed to be coming towards us, from over the trees on the top of the ridge, but although we stood and scanned for a minute it didn’t appear. We kept our eyes on the top of the ridge as we walked on and eventually saw a large black corvid briefly appear along the tree line some distance away to the north.

Further along, we could hear a Woodlark, possibly the same as we had heard earlier ot even a second bird. It did appear over the ridge briefly, hovering up in the sky, before dropping back down towards the ground and out of view. When we got up onto the ridge, it had disappeared. We did see a Green Woodpecker perched on a dead branch on the edge of the trees.

Making our way back through the trees, a Siskin was singing high in the top of the pines. We came across a couple of Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits in the trees too, and another Treecreeper. As we got back to the car, we heard a Nuthatch piping down in the wood. We made our way back to the car for lunch and afterwards headed inland.

We parked by a grassy field with a seed cover strip through the middle. The grass was peppered with a fantastic display of bright yellow flowers, thousands of Cowslip, all in bloom. Skylarks were singing overhead. We could see a few Yellowhammers in the hedge in the corner, dropping down into the cover strip. As we walked along the path on the edge of the field, they all flew up from down in the vegetation, at least 15 of them. A couple of browner birds were with them – Corn Buntings. The hedges are now quickly coming into leaf so the birds were hard to see in the bushes, but eventually we found one perched in the hedge where we could see it in the scope.

Our destination for the rest of the afternoon would be Holme dunes. We parked by the golf course and walked in past paddocks. the bushes here were rather exposed to the wind and quiet, apart from a rattling Lesser Whitethroat deep in cover and a couple of Greenfinches. A little further along the footpath, we heard yet another Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the bushes down by the access road, amazingly our sixth of the day!

Walking into the dunes, lots of Linnets came up from the short grass and a Common Whitethroat sang from the bushes. As we walked further in, we could see a couple of people looking over a bank with binoculars and rounding the corner of the dune blocking our view we could see why. Two Ring Ouzels, a male and a female, were feeding on the bare earth and short grass on the edge of the bushes. It was nice to see some on the ground, after getting mostly flight views the other day, so we had a good look at them through the scope.

Ring Ouzel 1

Ring Ouzel – first we saw a male and female together

We got a good look at the pure white gorget on the blacker male Ring Ouzel, and through the scope we also saw the fine white chevrons on its underparts. The browner female had an off-white gorget peppered with darker marks.

When the Ring Ouzels hopped up over the bank, we walked back a few metres the way we had just come and could see them feeding out in the open on a sandy area in the dunes. A movement just beyond, at the base of the bushes, caught our eye and there was a smart male Redstart perched low above the grass. We got it in the scope but just at that moment the couple we had seen earlier walked round the back of the bushes, and the Redstart flew off before everyone got a chance to look at it. The Ring Ouzels went off too across the dunes, chacking.

There was no sign of the Redstart now, so we walked to the south edge of the dunes and scanned the grazing marshes. We could hear a Bittern booming out in the reeds in the distance. A group of at least 30 Pink-footed Geese were standing out in the grass with the local Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter have long since left, so these ones should be heading off to Iceland for the breeding season soon too.

Scanning the muddy pools towards the front, we spotted a Common Snipe in the grass. When we got it in the scope, a Little Ringed Plover appeared just behind. There were several Ruff out here too, feeding around the muddy edges. A flock of around 25 Golden Plover flew up from the grass away over the grazing marshes south of The Firs. They circled round for several minutes, before dropping down again out of view, the first we have seen in the last few days.

Heading back into the dunes, we hoped the Redstart might have reappeared, but there was still no sign of it as we walked quietly round the bushes. There were a few hirundines moving, a trickle of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. We could see a Wheatear and a male Stonechat flicking around between the isolated bushes further back.

We found the Ring Ouzels again but they had gone back to being very flighty again, we could still see a male and a female together. Eventually two birds flew back in to the same place where we had first seen them and once again they settled down and allowed us to get a good look at them. However, there were now two females together and no sign of the male. Still we had a great view of them feeding down in the short grass.

Ring Ouzel 2

Ring Ouzel – one of the two females which showed very well

It was clear the Redstart had gone to ground and we were unfortunately running out of time, so we started to make our way back. The Grasshopper Warbler was still reeling down by the access road but was now perched up in full view in the top of the brambles, despite the wind. We had a great look at it through the scope before it dropped back down into cover.

As we got back to the car, a Sparrowhawk zipped over the car park. It was time to call it a day and head for home. Despite the wind and generally cooler conditions, we had seen or heard 96 species just today, which wasn’t at all bad!

9th May 2016 – Walk Before Work

With a later than normal start today, and such great weather, I seized the opportunity to go for a quick walk in the Dunes first thing this morning. It was beautiful light early on, great for photography.

A couple of Cuckoos flew out of the hedge as I passed and disappeared off across the grazing marshes. I didn’t have too long, so made my way quickly to the seawall. The tide just coming in but the channels in the mud out in the harbour were still only filled with shallow water. A Spoonbill was feeding in one of the channels. It was perfectly lit in the morning sun, so I stopped to take a quick photo.

6O0A2303Spoonbill – feeding in one of the channels in the harbour

It started to preen for a few seconds, then suddenly took off. It was obviously on its was back to the colony and had just stopped off for a quick last feed.

6O0A2309Spoonbill – taking off

It was still rather distant at that stage, but it quickly became clear that it was flying straight towards me. It eventually flew past only a short distance back along the seawall and headed off over the grazing marshes, providing a stunning photo opportunity!

6O0A2316

6O0A2318

6O0A2321Spoonbill – flew past on its way back

Spoonbills are a regular sight here along the coast and we usually see them on the tours at this time of the year, but they are typically unpredictable in exactly where they choose to stop and feed, so it is always a real pleasure to have such a  close-up encounter as this. A great start to the morning!

I did not have long in the dunes and there did not appear to be many new arrivals. A Black Redstart was a nice surprise though. Another Cuckoo was singing on the edge of the pines.

6O0A2347Black Redstart – a nice surprise in the dunes

There was no sign of yesterday’s singing male oenanthe Wheatear, but there were several Greenland Wheatears still, including a smart male. The deep, rich burnt orangey colours on the underparts were in stark contrast to the white/cream of yesterday’s male. It is always fascinating to look at the variation in appearance of Wheatears.

6O0A2335Wheatear – a richly coloured male Greenland Wheatear

6O0A2357Wheatear – a very obliging female

A brief distraction on the way back was provided by a little group of Brent Geese on the saltmarsh close to the seawall. In with them was the regular Black Brant hybrid – the bold pale flank patch and more complete white collar were both very obvious in the morning sunshine. It is a big gander and still appears to be paired to one of the Dark-bellied Brent Geese.

6O0A2384Black Brant hybrid – still on the saltmarsh

Then it was time to head back in time to start work. What lovely way to start the day!

8th May 2016 – Migrants in the Dunes

Day 3 of a long weekend of tours today. It was yet another scorcher, with temperatures inland reaching almost 25C, but a little cooler on the coast in a welcome light easterly breeze.

Our first stop was at Holkham. As soon as we stopped the car we could see Spoonbills in the trees. We got out and set up the scope to look at them. They were mostly standing around in the branches, preening, or flying round in front of the trees. There were lots of Little Egrets and Cormorants there too, and a Grey Heron. A few Marsh Harrier were flying round over the grazing marshes, one pursued by an irate Lapwing and an angry  Oystercatcher, taking turns to dive bomb it. We didn’t stay too long here today though, as we wanted to get out into the dunes, before it got too hot.

The hedges on the way out were a little quieter than of late. Some of the warblers seem to have tempered their singing already. We did have a Chiffchaff and several Common Whitethroat. Further out, along the banks of the reedy ditches, the Sedge Warblers at least were still going full out. A Reed Warbler was clambering around in the brambles at first, before flying across to the reeds and starting to sing.

6O0A2179Sedge Warbler – still plenty singing on the walk out

There were plenty of other birds too. A Song Thrush was still in full voice, but we couldn’t see it. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were singing. A Goldfinch perched in the brambles by the path looking resplendent in the morning sun.

6O0A2224Goldfinch – one of our most beautiful birds

Out on the grazing marshes, we could see lots of Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese, and a few Gadwall and a pair of Shoveler. There were Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Redshank out in the grass or around the pools. A lone Curlew flew past.

From up on the seawall, we could see that the tide was still well in. A couple of Common Terns and three or four Little Terns were fishing in the harbour channel. The Alexanders along the sides of the seawall was alive with St Mark’s Flies and as we walked along, a Willow Warbler which had been feeding in there flew off along the path in front of us, presumably a migrant on its way further north.

Out at the boardwalk, we turned east into the dunes. We hadn’t gone much further when a Ring Ouzel and a Wheatear flushed from a dune slack ahead of us. The Ring Ouzel disappeared behind the bushes, but the female Wheatear stayed out in full view. We moved round the dunes and eventually got ourselves in a position where we could watch the Ring Ouzel feeding on the short grass. It was a rather dull female too, with a poorly marked pale gorget, but an interesting bird to see nonetheless. Then someone appeared over the dune behind and it flew off.

6O0A2197Ring Ouzel – a rather poorly marked female

A little further on and we dropped down into a large open area in the dunes. There were more Wheatears here and we stopped to get a better look at them. Again, they seemed to be mostly females at first.

IMG_4090Wheatear – there were quite a few females in the dunes today

While we were trying to get a better view of one of the female Wheatears, we heard an unusual song from the dunes behind us. We turned to see a strikingly pale male Wheatear singing. There are two subspecies of Wheatear which we get here. The paler birds of the nominate race, the more southerly breeders, tend to pass through here much earlier. By this time of year, we mostly see Greenland Wheatears (of the subspecies leucorhoa), the males of which have more richly coloured underparts.

IMG_4099Wheatear – this strikingly pale male was singing in the dunes

It seemed that this pale male was a rather late nominate Wheatear. He was singing to one of the females in particular and seemed to be trying to entice her into a nearby rabbit hole at one point! Even better, a very richly coloured male Greenland Wheatear then appeared nearby as well. It had a very deep orangey breast, slightly paler on the belly but still well coloured, and darker, dirtier upperparts. It was a real treat to see the two subspecies of Wheatear nearby like this.

We carried on through the dunes and eventually found the Whinchat which we had been told about on a bramble bush by the fence. There were quite a few walkers in the dunes today and it was flushed before we could get to it. But thankfully it then perched up nicely on a bush in the comparative safety of the other side of the fence. A male Stonechat appeared in the bushes too briefly on our way over there.

IMG_4104Whinchat – a female on the less disturbed side of the fence

We stood for a while up in the dunes just before the west end of the pines. It is a lovely view from here on a sunny day like today, and that would normally be reason enough to stand here, but we could also hear a Cuckoo calling. At first it remained hidden in the bushes, but eventually it hopped up briefly into the tops before flying off towards the pines.

A quick walk round the bushes at the end of the pines didn’t produce anything of note today, although we did hear both Siskin and Redpoll flying out from the trees over the dunes, presumably migrants still on their way. A Mistle Thrush flew up from the grass and landed in the top of a pine.

We were aiming to get back in good time for lunch, but there were a few distractions on the way. First we stopped to get a better look at the Ring Ouzel, which was out on the grass again. Then, from out on the seawall, we stood for a while and watched a couple of pairs of Lapwing displaying over the grazing marshes. They are such stunning birds, particularly when displaying on those big rounded wings, that we couldn’t just walk past.

6O0A2202Lapwings – displaying over the grazing marsh

A little further along, we could see several Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh, now that the tide had gone out. Almost immediately, we picked out one which was half a shade darker in the body and with a much more obvious white flank patch and white collar. This was the regular Black Brant hybrid which spends the winter here. Nearby, the colour-ringed Dark-bellied Brent Goose was also still present. Many have already gone and there seemed to be fewer again today, but presumably all the Brent Geese should soon be departing, on their way to Russia for the breeding season.

IMG_4126Black Brant hybrid – still lingering out on the saltmarsh

One of the group picked up a Whimbrel, out on the saltmarsh. We just got it in the scope before it dropped down into a muddy channel out of view. Another Whimbrel was feeding out on the mud a little further along. A smart male Linnet was singing from the Suaeda bushes just below the seawall and drew some admiring glances.. and camera lenses! Then back at the reedbed we could hear the Bittern booming again now.

6O0A2214Linnet – a smart male on the edge of the saltmarsh

We eventually got back in time for a lateish lunch round at Holkham. With participants keen to make a swift getaway at the end of the day, we didn’t have a lot of time left once we had finished eating. It was decided to have a quick look at Stiffkey Fen, rather than go back to one of the reserves we had already visited.

A male Marsh Harrier was circling distantly over the fields and a female appeared briefly over the reeds. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up too, over the woods beyond. As we walked down through the trees, we could hear Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing.

The Fen itself looked rather quiet today. A careful scan of the margins from up on the seawall did pick up at least two Common Sandpipers. A pair of Shelduck were shepherding their brood of ten shelducklings around the edge of the water. A Whimbrel appeared briefly in the harbour for a bathe, but flew off as some people walked by from the other direction.

We stopped to listen to the warblers singing from the reedy channel below the seawall. A Sedge Warbler definitely won the noisy stakes, and was also more showy, perching up in the nettles at the top of the bank. We eventually got a Reed Warbler in the scope and got a great view of that too.

We walked round to the harbour and had a quick scan, but the tide was at its lowest now. There were still lots of Brent Geese out on the mud, and lots of gulls of various shapes and sizes. We could see a few waders in the distance, and a handful of terns too, but there was a bit too much haze in the heat of the afternoon. Time was getting on, so we started to make our way back.

6O0A2243Speckled Wood – several were seen on the way to/from the Fen

There were a few butterflies out in the sunshine. We saw several Speckled Woods on the walk to and from the Fen. A couple of Orange Tips were flying round on the bank of the seawall. Out towards the harbour a Wall, being chased round by a Small Tortoiseshell, was the first we have seen this year. We had also seen Small Copper and a few Holly Blues at Burnham Overy this morning, plus a couple of dayflying moths there – our first Cinnabar of the year, and a couple of Yellow Belles.

We were almost back to the car when we noticed the male Marsh Harrier again, circling up beyond the trees. He is a particularly smart bird, quite pale underneath and with lovely silvery grey wings with black tips. This time he drifted towards us, giving us a fantastic look, before flying right over our heads and away across the field beyond. It was a great way to end the three days, so we packed up and headed for home.

6O0A2263Marsh Harrier – came right over our heads just as we were leaving

30th May 2015 – Sunny in the Middle

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. What a difference a day makes! It was sunny with patchy cloud all day, although a blustery west wind in the morning took the edge of the temperature.

We started with a drive through farmland inland. We hadn’t gone far when a Little Owl hopped up onto the roof of a barn next to the road. Unfortunately, by the time we reversed back, it had disappeared. A likely looking roadside field produced a Stone Curlew distantly amongst the flowers in the margin. Great to see these birds doing so well in North Norfolk now.

IMG_5071Stone Curlew – in amongst the flowers

As we explored inland, there were lots of Skylarks singing overhead. Little groups of Linnet appeared from the weedy margins. A nice male Grey Partridge called nearby before walking quietly into the hedge and we got a good look at another pair, particularly the male’s orange face and blackish belly patch. We had a scan for raptors as well this morning, but there were only a few Common Buzzards circling up in the cool windy conditions.

P1010403Grey Partridge – calling from a field by the road this morning

We meandered round to Burnham Overy and eventually found ourselves at the start of the track out to the dunes. There were a couple of Common Whitethroats singing from the hedges either side. Down at the bottom, they were replaced by several Lesser Whitethroats. We could hear one calling and see it flicking along the hedge. There were at least two singing, and a an adult feeding unseen young nearby. On the way out to the seawall, we also saw – and heard – a number of Sedge Warblers singing from the edges of the ditches.

P1010415Sedge Warbler – singing by the side of the track out to the seawall

By a gap in the hedge, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. A Common Buzzard was circling up nearby and as we looked at it we could see a Marsh Harrier nearby. At the same time, a Red Kite appeared above the wood beyond. Three species of large raptor in view at the same time – not bad.

There were also several butterflies along the track this morning. There seem to be a lot of Wall butterflies out at the moment. But the highlight was a lovely Green Hairstreak which landed in the vegetation beside the path. We stopped to admire its sparkling metallic green underwing.

P1010408Green Hairstreak – with its metallic green underwing

From up on the seawall, the first bird we saw was a Fulmar flying towards us over the path, a bit of a surprise. This is not the most likely bird to see here, away from their more normal habitat over the sea, although they do occasionally wander a little way inland, often at this time of year. It circled out over the grazing marsh. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls was more predictable these days. They flew in over the reedbed and away west, flashing their translucent white wingtips as they came overhead. They were with a single Black-headed Gull which gave a great flight comparison for us between the two species.

Scanning the reedbed pool, there were several large white birds but at first there only seemed to be Mute Swans. Then, as if by magic, a Spoonbill appeared (it had probably been tucked into one of the corners out of view, close in along the reed edge. It proceeded to work its way along the back edge of the pool, sweeping its bill from side to side. We got a great look at it in the scope.

IMG_5092Spoonbill – the first of many today, feeding on the reedbed pool

We really didn’t know which way to look here, there was so much to see. There were lots of Swifts swooping low in the wind, over the grazing marshes and reedbed and along the banks of the seawall, zooming past us at high speed. A pair of Little Terns landed on the mud out on the saltmarsh – one of them seemed to spend much of the morning feeding over the channels in the grazing marsh, returning occasionally to its mate. Bearded Tits called from the reedbed and a single bird flew up and away from us before dropping back into the reeds out of the wind. We could also hear Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers singing.

Then came one of the many highlights of the morning. A Hobby appeared flying towards us. It hung in the air for a second, just before it got to the seawall, then turned and powered away along the near edge of the reeds. It had obviously seen something and soon we could see what it was after. Out over the grazing marsh the Hobby engaged in an aerial duel with a House Martin, the latter just twisting and turning out of the Hobby’s reach, relying on its superior manoeuvrability to get it out of trouble. The Hobby pursued it for some time, swooping at it repeatedly before it finally gave up.

P1010418Hobby – just about to chase off after a House Martin

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and walked on towards the dunes. Someone we passed on the way reported having seen a shrike earlier in the morning, on the edge of the dunes to the east. It seemed worth looking for, so we set off towards the pines. There were several more butterflies in the more sheltered parts of the dunes – Brown Argus, Common Blue and Small Copper. And ever more Southern Marsh Orchids coming into flower now.

We couldn’t find the shrike, but we did find a very nice little group of Greenland Wheatears in the dunes. At first we came across a female. When she disappeared behind a dune, a male emerged from the other side. As we walked round into the dunes the way they had gone, we found yet more males, at least three together. Smart birds – we got a male in the scope and admired its characteristic orange-toned throat and upper breast.

IMG_5099Greenland Wheatear – one of several smart males in the dunes again today

By this stage, it was getting on towards lunchtime, so we had to head back. On the way, we found yet more Wheatears. There were now two Spoonbills together on the reedbed pool. And, as we walked back across the grazing marsh, a third Spoonbill flew across just in front of us – unfortunately, we did not have cameras at the ready. It landed out by one of the small pools in the grass and started to feed.

After lunch by the harbour at Burnham Overy, we drove back to Wells. The beach car park was extremely busy – probably not a great surprise on a sunny Saturday of half term – but we managed to find a space. The gull colony was equally busy. Several of the pairs of Black-headed Gull have chicks now, but the Mediterranean Gulls seem to be a bit behind. We could just see several sitting birds amongst the marram grass, flashing the black heads and brighter red bills. A pair of Common Gulls have chosen to nest right at the top of the beach, below the other gulls, and we admired them through the scope.

IMG_5130Little Terns – on the beach

The Common Terns were not as active in the middle of the day, but we could see several birds sitting on the stones. Looking carefully through them, we picked out a single Arctic Tern. It was great to see the two species close together – we could see the Arctic Tern’s shorter, darker blood-red bill lacking a black tip, and its longer tail streamers. There were also lots of Little Terns on the beach below, much more active than the others, they would periodically get up and fly round, fishing in the channels.

IMG_5115Arctic Tern – great to see alongside Common Terns today

A quick look out in Wells Harbour produced a better selection of waders than of late. As well as the regular horde of Oystercatchers, there was a nice flock of smaller waders on the stony islands – although they were quickly moved off by the rising tide. They were mostly Ringed Plovers, at least 20 of them. A look through the scope also revealed about five Turnstone, several black-bellied Dunlin in summer plumage and a couple of white-bellied Sanderling, a greyer bird still mostly in winter plumage and a chestnut-coloured bird in summer garb.

We wanted to do one more thing before we finished, so we headed round to Lady Anne’s Drive and walked west on the inland side of the pines. The wind had dropped a little and with the shelter of the pines it was warm this afternoon. Consequently, the activity of the warblers and tits was down on recent weeks. By Meals House, we finally heard a Cetti’s Warbler and while looking to see if we could see it, we found a nice pair of Blackcap gathering food.

We could hear a couple of groups of Long-tailed Tits and a few Goldcrests, though they were hard to see in the trees today. But we did find a family of Treecreepers. We could hear quiet calls from the trees and found one of the adults first, climbing up a pine. When it flew across the path, we realised there were several hiding in the bushes and we could see several short-tailed juveniles practising climbing up tree trunks in between pestering the adults for food.

IMG_5145Spoonbill – adult and juveniles on the nursery pool

From the Joe Jordan hide, we could immediately see several Spoonbills down on the pool below the trees. As we had seen earlier in the week, there were both adults and several smaller, whiter, shorter-billed juveniles – ‘Teaspoonbills‘. Already taking after the adults, they seemed to spend quite a bit of time sleeping!  However, it was great to watch them when they woke up – already trying to feed in the shallow water and then chasing after their parents, bouncing up and down and begging, when they got hungry.

IMG_5150Spoonbill – a short-billed juvenile or ‘Teaspoonbill’

There were lots of other birds to see here as well this afternoon, as usual. Marsh Harriers out over the grass, Avocets and ducks on the pools, and a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits whirling round. The usual pair of Grey Partridge were feeding on the short grass below the hide.

P1010448Grey Partridge – the usual pair at the Joe Jordan hide

Unfortunately, once again we had to drag ourselves away. We walked back to the car, stopping briefly to admire a Little Egret feeding in the reeds by Salts Hole on the way. What a great day it had been.

P1010455Little Egret – feeding in the reeds by Salts Hole