Tag Archives: Grey Partridge

11th Sept 2018 – Coastal Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour today in North Norfolk. Having done so well out on the marshes and coast yesterday, particularly with waders and wildfowl, we decided to do something different today and try to find some woodland and farmland birds. The weather was not entirely helpful – it was rather cool and windy and the expected rain arrived earlier than forecast. Although it was just light drizzle it continued through to the middle of the afternoon. Still, it didn’t stop us getting out.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham Park. As we got out of the car, we could hear a tit flock above us in the holm oaks and a Nuthatch was piping from one of the trees. It played rather hard to get for a while, hiding in the dense branches up in the tops. As well as the tits, we managed to see a couple of Goldcrests before the Nuthatch finally came out onto the edge of one of the trees.

Through the gates, we stopped to look at the feeders by one of the houses. There were several Great Tits coming and going and, after a short while, they were joined by another Nuthatch on the peanuts. We could see movement in the yew tree nearby and a Song Thrush flew out. A second Song Thrush was still feeding on the berries in the back of the tree, but hard to see in the dense foliage, as were a couple of Blackbirds.

As we continued on down towards the lake, we could hear Jays calling and one flew across between the trees as we arrived at the open area by the monument. A Treecreeper was calling from somewhere deep in the trees.

When we got to the lake, we could see a raft of ducks and grebes out on the open water in front of the hall, so we walked up that way first. There were several families of Great Crested Grebes on the lake, the adults still with their summer crests accompanied by stripy-headed juveniles, and we had a good look at them through the scope. Most of the ducks were Shoveler, with smaller numbers of Teal, Mallard and Gadwall, but just one Tufted Duck.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebe – one of several families still on the lake

There were three Fallow Deer bucks out in the long grass across the lake, and when we walked down a little further towards the hall, we could see the bulk of the herd over towards the entrance road, sitting down on the shorter grass. A flock of Egyptian Geese were feeding on the outfield of the cricket pitch in front of the hall.

Heading back the other way, up towards the north end of the lake, there were a couple more families of Great Crested Grebes – they seem to have done well here this year. As we got into the trees again, a smart Fallow Deer buck was feeding close to the path and let us approach quite closely before it finally ran off.

Fallow Deer

Fallow Deer – this buck was feeding in the trees by the path

We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the trees ahead of us and we walked up to find a mixed tit flock on the edge of the lake. As well as the other regular tits, we had nice views of a pair of Coal Tits in a pine tree – a new bird for the list. A Treecreeper was calling from somewhere deep in the trees behind us, and when we turned to look for it we saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly out and land in a tree above our heads. By the time we turned our attention back to the Treecreeper, it had gone quiet.

A small falcon appeared from over the trees at the back and flew towards us over the lake. As it banked, we could see it had thin, scythe-shaped wings – a Hobby! Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and quickly disappeared over the treetops on our side of the water. Still, it was a good bird to see.

From the north end of the lake, we headed back through the trees. It was pretty quiet – apart from a Brown Hare which ran across the path – until we got back to the monument. We could hear a tit flock again and a couple of Treecreepers were calling from somewhere further in. We stood on the track and waited to see if they would come our way, but they seemed to be moving away from us. At that point it started to drizzle with rain. As we hadn’t been expecting it to arrive so early, and were not all equipped with our waterproofs, we made a hasty retreat back to the car.

We were planning to make our way east today, but rather than follow the coast road, we headed inland to look for some farmland birds on the way. Our first search for Grey Partridge at a good site for them drew a blank – a Kestrel on a post and a Common Buzzard in a field were the best birds here.

As we cut across behind the Park, we stopped to scan a field and a Green Sandpiper flew across and landed in a puddle in the gateway. It stayed just long enough for us to get a look at it, then flew off – a bit of a surprise find out here!

A little further on, we found a mixed flock of Lapwing and Golden Plover in a field of young oilseed rape. As we had only seen Golden Plover in flight yesterday, we got out to have a closer look in the scope. There were several smaller birds in the field too – a flock of Linnets and a smaller group of Meadow Pipits, another new bird for the list.

Continuing on along the road, a buff and white shape flew up from the verge ahead of us – a Barn Owl! We can often see Barn Owls out hunting in the daytime in the winter when they are hungry, but not so often at this time of year so this was another unexpected bonus. We followed slowly behind as it made its way along the verge ahead of us. It appeared to be carrying some prey, which it presumably had caught before we surprised it. It disappeared behind the hedge and appeared to land, so we stopped and walked back to a gap where we could see into the field. Unfortunately there was no further sign of it.

The field did provide us with a couple more new birds though. We could see a large covey of Red-legged Partridges out in the stubble but four more partridges over the far side of the field perched on a straw bale next to a game cover strip looked much duller. Through the scope, we could see they were Grey Partridges, just what we had been looking for! Then a Skylark came up from the stubble in front of us, flew back across the field, and dropped back in to the vegetation.

It was still cool and damp, although the drizzle had eased off a bit. Not great weather for owls, but we decided to push our luck and see if we could find a Little Owl next. We headed over to a complex of farm buildings which is a regular site for them. We parked up in a layby, and as we got out we noticed another covey of Grey Partridges right next to the road. A much better view than the ones we had just seen.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges – the second group we found, this time close to the road

A flock of Mistle Thrushes took off from the trees by the layby and we could hear Bullfinches calling from deep in the vegetation. As we scanned the barns, we could see a small round shape on the edge of one of them, tucked in out of the wind and under the edge of the roof. It was a bit distant, but through the scope, we could see that it was a Little Owl. It was hunched up at first, but then seemed to rouse itself, preen and disappeared back into the barn behind it.

From there, we dropped back down to the coast and headed along to Cley. The wind seemed to have eased and the drizzle was only light now, although it was still a bit misty. We decided to have a look at the East Bank before lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but by the time we had got up onto the bank, they had gone quiet again.

There were several Curlew and lots of Greylags out on the grazing marshes, but we couldn’t see many waders out on Pope’s Pool today – just one or two Avocets. A selection of ducks – Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon and Mallard – were on the Serpentine, as well as several more Avocets feeding.

The hide overlooking Arnold’s Marsh provided some welcome shelter from the elements. We could see a few Sandwich Terns over towards the back and had a look at them through the scope. There were plenty of waders out on here, but not much variety – lots of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks and a few Curlew. A couple of Dunlin flew in, circled over the water, and carried on towards the reserve.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – there were still a few on Arnold’s Marsh today

Continuing on to the sea, we could see a few more Sandwich Terns fishing offshore and a single Gannet flew past out in the distance towards the wind farm. It wasn’t a day to be lingering out on the beach so, with no sign of many birds moving, we headed back.

On our way, we heard another Bearded Tit calling, but they were keeping well tucked down out of the weather. When we were almost back to the car, we turned to see a female Marsh Harrier flying in over the grazing marsh and across the bank, before dropping down into the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew in across Pope’s Marsh and dropped down into the reeds

From the bottom of the East Bank, we had a quick look over at Snipe’s Marsh. We could see a small wader out in the mud amongst the cut reeds and a look through the scope confirmed it was a Green Sandpiper. A careful scan revealed a second Green Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the taller reeds at the back and, appropriately enough given the name of the location, four Common Snipe.

We would normally use the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre for lunch but given the weather we drove round to the beach car park and made use of the shelter there instead. We kept looking out to sea from time to time while we ate, but it was very murky and there was still no sign of any activity. After lunch we headed round to the Visitor Centre for a hot drink.

Our attention originally had been to spend some time at Cley today, but the sightings board revealed there was nothing here today that we had not seen already at Titchwell yesterday, so we decided to try somewhere else. It was not great weather for looking for small birds, but we thought we would try our luck at Kelling.

The track down to the Water Meadow was fairly quiet. A Blackcap was calling in the bushes and we heard a few Chaffinches too. The only small birds in the brambles around the pool were Linnets and a couple of Reed Buntings were in the reeds. There were plenty of gulls here again, bathing and loafing on the bank – mostly Black-headed, several Herring and two or three Lesser Black-backed Gulls as well.

The track to the beach produced a single juvenile Stonechat, accompanied by a Common Whitethroat, but there was no sign of any migrants here. We started to make our way up the hillside behind the beach but it was rather cold and damp, so we turned decided to cut our losses and try somewhere else.

As we drove back west along the coast, the drizzle stopped, the mist lifted and the sky appeared to be clearing from the north. As we made our way down along the footpath beside the river towards Stiffkey Fen, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling in the copse and a large mixed tit flock started to emerge from the trees ahead of us. Several birds landed in a large hawthorn on the edge of the meadow – we could see three different Blackcaps, a Chaffinch, and a selection of tits.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a male in the bushes by the path

The flock continued to move quickly through the bushes ahead of us. There were lots of birds and small groups would pause from time to time to feed in one of the trees. We saw several Chiffchaffs and lost count of the number of Blackcaps, but unfortunately a Lesser Whitethroat just hopped up briefly and disappeared before everyone could get onto it.

When the flock moved into the thicker trees, we continued on along the path. From a gap in the sallows it is possible to see over the brambles to the Fen beyond. There were lots of Greylags on the islands and in with them were three escaped Bar-headed Geese and a Fulvous Whistling Duck. Smart birds, but unfortunately, they don’t count! We could see two Spoonbills asleep, and several Little Egrets against the reeds beyond.

There is a better view of the whole Fen from up on the seawall. From here, we could see more of the ducks – as wall as plenty of Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and Wigeon, we found three Pintail in with them.

There were lots of waders in amongst the wildfowl too, particularly good numbers of Ruff and fewer Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning the muddy edges, we found a Common Sandpiper and three Green Sandpipers, at one point with the two species side by side for comparison. There were four Common Snipe on the mud on the edge of the reeds too.

We had a better view of the Spoonbills from up here too. One of them woke up and started to preen, flashing its long spoon-shaped bill, black with a yellow tip. Then a third Spoonbill flew in from the harbour behind us. As it came in over the back, we could see it had a much shorter bill – a juvenile, a ‘Teaspoonbill‘ whose bill is not yet fully grown.

The juvenile Spoonbill made a beeline for the adult which had just woken up. It walked up to it, bobbing its head up and down and flapping its wings, begging to be fed. The adult Spoonbill tried to walk away, but the juvenile was having none of it, and the adult gave in remarkably quickly and fed the youngster – sometimes these begging pursuits can go on for ages!

The adult Spoonbill then took off and headed out towards the harbour – whether to replace the food it had just surrendered or to get away from its begging offspring was not clear. It flew towards us on the seawall and straight past, giving us a fantastic close fly past.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flew past us on the seawall on its way to the harbour

We turned to scan the harbour. The tide was out and there were lots of birds spread over the mud in the distance. We could see a huge group of loafing gulls, with another Spoonbill sleeping in with them. There were undoubtedly more waders out of view in the bottom of the pit, but we could see hundreds of Oystercatchers and a good number of Grey Plover including several still in their smart breeding plumage.

Over on the beach beyond the tip of Blakeney Point there were lots of seals hauled out on the sand. It won’t be long before the Grey Seals are pupping now.

Unfortunately it was time to start making our way back now. We were treated to another great view of the Long-tailed Tits, feeding on the blackberries by the path.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the brambles by the path

It had been a very enjoyable couple of days birding – and a very productive one too. A great introduction to the delights of the North Norfolk coast and its birds.

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11th Feb 2017 – More Owls & More

Another Owl Tour today. The weather forecast was not ideal for owls – cold, cloudy and windy with the risk of snow showers! Thankfully, once again it was not as bad as forecast and we had a great day. We managed to find some owls and some other good birds besides.

We started with a drive round to see if we could find some Barn Owls still out hunting, but with the conditions it was perhaps no surprise to find that they had already gone in to roost. At one brief stop two Stock Dove flew past, we flushed a Little Egret from a wet meadow and listened to Greylag Geese flying inland honking. A little further along and we could see a large skein of several hundred geese flying towards us over the fields. Pink-footed Geese presumably looking for a recently harvested sugar beet field on which to feed. We pulled over and listened to them as they flew overhead, their distinctive higher pitched yelping calls very different from the Greylags we had heard earlier.

6o0a6356Pink-footed Geese – a large skein flew over the road calling

Making our way further inland, we headed for one of our regular Little Owl spots. It didn’t take long to find our first Little Owl, perched up in a sheltered spot on the roof of one of the farm buildings. It was a long way off, so we drove along the road for a slightly closer look. We could see it better from here but it was still some way away, a little ball of feathers fluffed up against the cold.

A short distance down a footpath, we made our way round to the back of some other farm buildings which are more sheltered. Sure enough, here we found another two Little Owls, a little closer still. They too were hunched up under the roof of a barn. One of them did fly out onto the roof at one point, but clearly thought better of it and headed back quickly to where it had been tucked up out of the wind.

On our way back to the car, we disturbed a Brown Hare, which ran across the path in front of us at high speed and disappeared into the trees. A stubble field nearby held a nice flock of Curlew, all but invisible until they flew round. A group of Lapwing flew inland from the direction of the coast.

Carrying on our drive westwards, we stopped briefly at another couple of sets of barns, which we know are occupied by both Little Owls and Barn Owls. Given the weather, it was perhaps not a great surprise that no owls were perched out here today. We did see some nice farmland birds on our drive. A covey of Red-legged Partridges next to the road were accompanied by a pair of Grey Partridges – always nice to see. Several Kestrels were perched on posts or wires, looking down from there for food rather than hovering this morning. And we saw several more Brown Hares, although they were mostly hunkered down in the fields.

6o0a6364Grey Partridge – a pair were by the road with a covey of Red-legged Partridges

A little further on, we had hoped to catch up with a flock of geese in a recently harvested sugar beet field, where they have been feeding for the last few days. However, when we got there, we couldn’t find any sign of them. We thought they might be loafing in another field further back, so we drove round there to have a look, only to find a long line of twenty or more men with shotguns strung out across the landscape. Perhaps it was no surprise that we couldn’t find any geese today! With the shooting season for most game having closed at the beginning of this month, they were shooting Brown Hares. We could see that many of them had dead Hares hanging from their waists. Sad to see such beautiful animals like this.

With the morning getting on, we decided to head for Titchwell to do some more general birding and resume our search for owls later. As we set off from the car to head for the visitor centre, one of the group asked about the Woodcock which has been seen recently by the path here. Often it is further back in the trees out of view, but today we were lucky. Just as we were talking about it, we glanced into the bushes and there was the Woodcock less than 10 metres from the path!

6o0a6419Woodcock – great views, feeding by the path at Titchwell

The Woodcock was feeding actively, walking about among the branches and probing its long bill into the wet leaves looking for earthworms and other invertebrates. They are surprisingly large, chunky birds, with very intricate patterning which provides great camouflage. Against the rather dark brown rotting leaves here, this Woodcock’s rusty colouration meant it rather stood out! We watched it for a while as it worked its way further back into the trees and disappeared from view. Given Woodcock are mainly nocturnal, it was great to see one so well, a rare treat.

The feeders by the Visitor Centre held a nice selection of finches, mainly Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch. But in amongst them we managed to find a single female Brambling, which kept flying out of the bushes behind and hovering by one of the feeders, but it seemed reluctant to land. We scanned the alders for redpolls, but all we could find in the trees today were more Goldfinches and Greenfinches.

The Water Rails were more obliging. As we got out onto the main path, one was feeding in the ditch straight ahead of us. We had a great look at it as it walked around nervously out in the open, probing in the dead leaves. A little further along, a second Water Rail was in the ditch on the other side of the path briefly.

6o0a6441Water Rail – feeding in the ditch by the path again

Out of the shelter of the trees, there was a keen cold breeze, so we made our way quickly along the path. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed at the back of the still dry Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’. The Water Pipit appeared briefly out of the ditch along one side, but flew off behind the reeds before everyone could get onto it. Otherwise, it was very quiet on here again today. The reedbed pool held a single Tufted Duck and a few Mallard.

The water level on the freshmarsh is still rather high, but has now dropped a fraction. We made our way straight round to Parrinder Hide to scan from the comparative warmth inside! There was a nice selection of winter ducks on here today, including several Pintail sleeping in front of the hide. Through the scope, we could see the drakes’ long, pin-shaped tails.

6o0a6460Pintail & Wigeon – sleeping on the freshmarsh

A single Bar-tailed Godwit was bathing on the edge of the mud, and then flew across to join the ducks in the shallower water and preen. A single Black-tailed Godwit dropped in nearby too, and we were able to get a good comparison looking between them  and see the key differences between these rather similar species in winter plumage. A few Knot flew in too and in with them we found a single Ruff (a female, or Reeve), similar sized but longer legged and with distinctive scaly-patterned upperparts.

The thirteen over-wintering Avocet have returned to the freshmarsh, now that the water level has dropped a little. The fenced off island was covered with roosting Lapwing and in one corner were several Golden Plover which had obviously just been bathing and were now preening and flapping. While we watched, another large flock of Golden Plover flew in from the fields and dropped in to join them.

From the other side of Parrinder Hide, we had a look out across the Volunteer Marsh. There was a nice selection of waders in front of the hide here. Several dumpy grey Knot were feeding on the mud just below the windows with a few smaller and browner Dunlin nearby for comparison. A Grey Plover was hard to pick out against the mud until it moved. There were also several Curlew and Redshank.

6o0a6483Knot – in grey winter plumage

Having warmed up in the hide, we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. On the way, we stopped briefly to admire a Black-tailed Godwit on the mud just below the path on the Volunteer Marsh and a couple of close Little Grebes on the near edge of the tidal pools.

6o0a6507Little Grebe – on the tidal pools

There was a chill in the north-easterly wind out on the beach, so we didn’t want to stay out there long. The tide was out but we had a quick look at the sea from the edge of the dunes. About 30 Velvet Scoter were diving just offshore, hunting for shellfish. We could see the twin white spots of the females, although the young males with them are now looking mostly dark headed. We could see the white in the wings, visible on the flanks of several which were holding their wings loosely and on others as they flapped. The Common Scoter were much further out, probably about 2,000 today, visible as a long black slick spread out across the water.

While we were watching the Velvet Scoter, a couple of Long-tailed Ducks appeared with them briefly. We just had time for a quick look at them through the scope, before they flew off. There were also a few Goldeneye and a pair of Red-breasted Merganser out on the sea today. Then, with the group starting to get cold, we made a quick turnaround and walked back.

After finishing lunch back at the car (the first sitting had been held in Parrinder Hide), we set off again. It was still a bit early for owls, so we had a quick look in the harbour at Thornham first. There was no sign of the Twite here today, but we did find a few waders in the channel – including Black- and Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew. A very obliging pair of Brent Geese fed on the tiny strip of saltmarsh between the road and the boats.

6o0a6535Brent Goose – one of a very obliging pair at Thornham today

A quick look in at Brancaster Staithe produced a few more waders. The highlights were a few Turnstone and Oystercatcher feeding around the piles of discarded mussels. Several Goldeneye were diving down in the harbour channel. Then, with the afternoon progressing, we made our way back west to look for owls again. We stopped off at several regular Barn Owl sites on the way, but with the weather as it was it always seemed unlikely we would encounter too many out hunting before dark. We would need a bit of luck!

There were no Barn Owls out yet at Holkham either. We scanned the freshmarsh for geese too, but all was quiet here apart from a Grey Heron. There are still good numbers of White-fronted Geese here normally, but there was no sign here today. A few hundred metres further down the road we found out why – they were all in a field beside the road! We pulled up with our hazard lights on and had a look at them from the car so as not to flush them. There were more than a hundred White-fronted Geese here, we could see the white around their bills and black belly-barring on the adults, along with a few Greylags.

6o0a6554White-fronted Geese – over a hundred were next to the road at Holkham

A little further along, we found a single Egyptian Goose  in the same field and at Lady Anne’s Drive we stopped to look at a small group of Pink-footed Geese out on the grass. The wind had picked up and it was quite blustery on the coast, so we decided to continue our search inland. We stopped at a set of barns where a pair of Barn Owls roost, but there was no sign of them out hunting yet today, despite it being around the time they usually emerge.

We drove on, round via several more sites where Barn Owls like to hunt. We had just checked out one grassy field, without success, and were driving away when we happened to glance over and caught a glimpse of a white shape through the trees. Reversing carefully, we pulled up in a gateway and could see it was indeed a Barn Owl on a post.

6o0a6573Barn Owl – on a post

There was a convenient path we could walk along to overlook a rather overgrown field which was sheltered on all sides by a belt of trees. From here, we had a great view of the Barn Owl perched on a fence post. Given the wind, it was probably trying to hunt by sight, and it worked its way down along the fence line in short hops, stopping each time to scan the ground below.

Then a second Barn Owl appeared, flying over the field at the back. It landed in a tree further over. While we were watching it, the first Barn Owl then started to hunt more actively, circling round over the field, dropping down into the tall grass from time to time. It came much closer, hunting round into the corner of the field closest to us, great to watch. Eventually, it retreated to the trees where it perched and the second Barn Owl started to hunt over the grass. We watched them both for some time, leaving them only when both had disappeared into the trees to rest.

6o0a6596Barn Owl – eventually started hunting over the field in front of us

These two Barn Owls had obviously found a sheltered field to hunt, which was why they were out here today and showed no inclination to go anywhere else. Great for us. It was already getting on towards Tawny Owl time, but we had a quick swing round via some other meadows where there are often Barn Owls, without further success.

We arrived at the woods just in time. As we got out of the car, we could already hear a Tawny Owl hooting, earlier than normal tonight, possibly due to the grey and overcast skies meaning the light was fading fast. We made our way quickly down to the area where we know one of the Tawny Owls likes to roost, just in time to hear it hooting from the roost trees. At least this meant we knew roughly where it was going to emerge tonight.

After a couple more hoots, the Tawny Owl flew out of the trees and straight towards us. It normally likes to perch up further back first, but perhaps because of the wind, it came further through the trees. It landed on a perch not far from us, but was hard to see against the dark background of ivy-covered trunks. Before we could get it in the scope it took off again, possibly surprised by our presence, and disappeared back into the trees. Then it went silent.

The other Tawny Owls had stopped hooting too, and it seemed for a few minutes like that might be it for tonight. We tried a quick whistled hoot, but got no response. The trees were quiet, but for the raucous coughing of the many Pheasants going to roost in the trees. We were about to give up, but tried one more whistle. Without a sound, a large dark shape came out of the trees behind us and flew over our heads. The Tawny Owl was back!

I had disappeared back into the trees again, but after a few seconds it flew back out and landed in a tree right above us. Once again, the Tawny Owl was frustratingly hard for the group to get onto here, against the ivy in the gloom, despite the fact that it was only a few metres above us. We tried to get it in the scope, but before we could it was off again. Thankfully, this time it flew across the path and landed in a bare tree, silhouetted against the sky. Now everyone could see it. It perched there for some time hooting, before flying back through the trees towards us and landing above us again. Fantastic stuff!

6o0a6632Tawny Owl – perched above our heads, hooting at dusk

The Tawny Owl remained above us hooting for a couple of minutes. At one point it flew across the path, right over our heads, to a tree the other side. It was great to see it overhead, to get a real sense of its large size and broad, rounded wings. Eventually, it dropped back into the trees and was lost to view. It was getting dark as we made our way back to the car, but we still had the evocative hooting of the Tawny Owls from the trees to listen too, a great way to end another very successful Owl Tour.

 

 

22nd May 2016 – Sunshine in Spring

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, the final day. It was forecast to be rather overcast but surprisingly turned out to be a really glorious spring day, warm with lots of sunshine and light winds – a lovely day to be out birding.

Our first port of call was Holkham. There was lots of activity around the trees, with several Spoonbills flying round and landing in the tops and others flying off to feed. We got a couple in the scope and could see their yellow-tipped, spoon-shaped bills. There were also Grey Herons and Little Egrets coming and going, and we could see lots of Cormorants on their nests in the trees.

A female Marsh Harrier came up from the reeds and circled round in front of us, before perching in the top of a hawthorn. She was probably waiting for the male to return with food. Two Red Kites circled high over the grazing marshes, engaging in a spot of mock combat at one point, one diving down and the other jinking out of the way. A little later one of the Red Kites drifted overhead.

6O0A3356Red Kite – two circled over the grazing marshes

There are always lots of geese out on the grazing marshes at this time of year. Many of the Greylag Geese have goslings of various sizes and there are quite a few Canada and Egyptian Geese here too. Going through them carefully, we managed to find a couple of Pink-footed Geese, although rather distant. There are huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese here in the winter but the very small number which linger here all year are typically sick or injured birds.

Our next destination was Stiffkey Fen. As we pulled up, we could hear several Skylarks singing over the set-aside field opposite. As we walked down along the path, we could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing from the hedges and trees. A couple of Common Whitethroats were delivering their scratchy song too, from the brambles. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the hedge. From the taller sallows we could hear a different song, like a Blackcap, but faster, more rolling, more sustained, a Garden Warbler.

There are also lots of insects out in the warm weather today. Along the path out to Stiffkey Fen, we found several Orange Tip butterflies. An Azure Damselfly rested on a nettle in the sunshine. But out at the seawall we found that all the vegetation along the bank, which had been full of insects in recent days, had been mown. Presumably the responsibility of the Environment Agency, they seem to have done a job lot of North Norfolk’s seawalls the last week or so and no one can quite understand why.

6O0A3366Azure Damselfly – enjoying the sunshine at Stiffkey Fen

From up on the seawall, we had a good view out across the Fen. Several pairs of Avocets here have chicks now, little bundles of fluff on legs! But there were comparatively few other waders on here today. Over on the saltmarsh, several Redshank were perched on prominent bushes and one even on the top of the mast of one of the boats. A Marsh Harrier circled up from the saltmarsh and drifted overhead.

6O0A3370Marsh Harrier – this male circled overhead at Stiffkey Fen

There were a few Brent Geese still out on the saltmarsh and even more out in the harbour. Many have already left, but presumably most of these should still soon be hurrying on their way to Russia to breed. The tide was just going out, but apart from lots of Oystercatchers, there were no other lingering waders out in the harbour today.

IMG_4604Brent Geese – still quite a few are lingering in the harbour

We could see quite a few terns out over the water, which on closer inspection turned out to be mostly Common Terns. A nice bonus was a single Arctic Tern in with them. It was rather distant, but its distinctive shape gave it away, the extra long tail and short head projection, as well as the silvery white primaries and different flight. Several groups of Little Terns were zooming about too, but there were comparatively few Sandwich Terns. Apparently, due to a large number of rats on Blakeney Point this year, many of the Sandwich Terns have moved over to Scolt Head to breed instead. Two distant Mediterranean Gulls flew west along the point and out over the harbour, flashing their pure white wingtips as they went.

On the walk back, a Little Ringed Plover flew past, displaying, and appeared to drop down onto the Fen, but there was no sign of it on there when we got back. As we got back to the car, a smart male Yellowhammer flew past and a Lesser Whitethroat was now singing from the hedge.

The reserve at Cley has been rather quiet in recent days, with lots of Avocets on Pat’s Pool but seemingly rather little else. We decided to walk out to the East Bank, as the wet grazing marshes there have been rather more productive. On the pools at the start of the East Bank a female Common Pochard was leading her nine ducklings around the reedy edges looking for food. A Little Grebe which surfaced nearby was promptly chased off across the pool.

6O0A3401Common Pochard – this female was tending to her nine ducklings

Out on the grazing marshes, we could see several Lapwing chicks of various sizes. It is always good to see youngsters of this sadly declining species. Looking out towards Pope’s Marsh we found a single Common Sandpiper and two Little Ringed Plovers, although rather distant.

We got great views of both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers as we walked out along path. A Sedge Warbler came up to feed on the alexanders by the path, which shows the value in not mowing the banks too early, and the Reed Warblers were feeding along the edge of the ditch below. A Sedge Warbler was singing and song flighting from the edge of the reeds and at one point we had Reed and Sedge Warbler singing either side of the path – a great opportunity to appreciate the differences in song between these two often confusing species. We heard a couple of Bearded  Tits calling, but only managed to see one as it zoomed off over the reeds away from us.

There were not many waders on Arnold’s Marsh either today, apart from the local Avocets and Redshanks – there seems to have been a big clear out in the last few days. We did find three Ringed Plovers, a nice addition to the day’s tally. A smart male Reed Bunting was out on the saltmarsh just in front of the new shelter and their were several Meadow Pipits singing, fluttering up and parachuting back down to the ground as they did so.

6O0A3411Reed Bunting – in front of the shelter at Arnold’s Marsh

We had heard lots of gargling from the trees on our walk out, and seen several Little Egrets flying in and out. One dropped down onto the pools opposite the shelter. This one was in full breeding plumage, with bright pink and lilac bare skin at the base of its bill, and a mass of plumes, two long ones hanging down its nape, and lots of fine filoplumes over the back of its wings. Very smart, although it seemed to have a broken lower mandible.

6O0A3417Little Egret – in full breeding attire

Back at the car park, we enjoyed a late lunch in the sunshine out on the picnic tables. A Common Whitethroat kept us company, singing from the very top of the hawthorn across the road.

6O0A3468Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of a hawthorn

After lunch, we made our way back to Holkham. Lady Anne’s Drive was surprisingly not as busy as we had feared on such a lovely day – perhaps the weather forecast had put visitors off today – which meant there were plenty of places to park. As we walked west on the edge of the pines, two Spoonbills flew right overhead giving us a fantastic view of their spoon-shaped bills. There were a few insects out enjoying the sunshine, lots of Wall Brown butterflies and a couple of Hairy Dragonflies.

6O0A3470Wall Brown – there have been lots on the wing in recent days

The pines were rather quiet at first, which is to be expected in the middle of a warm afternoon. We eventually found a few Coal Tits in the trees and a couple of Goldcrests. Several Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were singing from the bushes. Just before Joe Jordan Hide, we encountered a large flock of Long-tailed Tits and a Treecreeper was in with them, but hard to see in the tops of the trees.

From the hide, we could see a couple of Spoonbills in the trees. Three dropped down to the pool to bathe & preen. They were rather obscured behind the reedy edge at first but one eventually moved along to a more open spot where we could get a better look at it. We could see the yellow tip to its bill, the shaggy nuchal crest and the dirty mustard yellow wash across the breast, the features of an adult in breeding plumage.

IMG_4641Spoonbill – an adult in breeding plumage on the pool

There were several Marsh Harriers flying in and out of the reeds and a Kestrel dust-bathing on a patch of bare ground. We were just scanning for the pair of Grey Partridges which are often out here when they were flushed by the cows and flew down into a ditch out of view. The cows crossed to the other side and when they came back, they very helpfully flushed them out again, straight towards hide. A Red-legged Partridge was flushed out too, but was chased off by the male Grey Partridge. The pair of Grey Partridges then came straight up to the grass right below the hide – cracking views!

6O0A3544Grey Partridge – the male just below the hide

6O0A3494Grey Partridges – the pair feeding together

Time was getting on, so we made out way back to the car,stopping briefly to watch a family of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, which had just been bathing on the edge of the grazing marsh. A Treecreeper with them gave us much better views.

We still had time for one last stop, so we popped in to the local gull colony. As we pulled up, a smart Common Gull was pulling at some rubbish by the road. A Spoonbill flew overhead. From the bank, a Great Crested Grebe was swimming in the harbour channel.

There were lots of gulls on views, mostly Black-headed Gulls but with a good number of Mediterranean Gulls in with them too. We got great views of several of the latter, looking very smart with their jet black hoods, heavier brighter red bills and pure white wingtips, compared to the Black-headed Gulls nearby. There were a handful of Common Gulls and a few Herring Gulls out here too.

IMG_4648Mediterranean Gull – with smart black hood and white wingtips

While we were admiring the gulls, we could hear terns calling too. A couple of Common Terns were loafing on the shingle. A single Sandwich Tern flew off calling. Two Little Terns flew round in formation, displaying to each other, with exaggerated wingbeats. A careful scan through the terns fishing over the channel beyond revealed a single Arctic Tern in among the more numerous Common Terns. Our second Arctic Tern of the day, we had a much better view of this one, much closer than our first as it flew up and down.

In the end we had to drag ourselves away. It was a lovely way to end the weekend, with such a great selection of gulls and terns, a hive of activity in front of us.

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

17th August 2014 – Pursuing Passerines Part II

The second of two private tours today, with visitors from India. Having done so well with our target list on the first tour on 14th, we were left with some specific things to look for today and we were aiming to get some more photographs of the commoner species.

We started in the car park at Titchwell RSPB, a little later than planned due to delays in transit. There had already been lots of birds around the berry and fruit bushes before cars began to arrive, but once we had met up we still managed to find a good variety – lots of warblers, including several Lesser Whitethroats, Common Whitethroats and lots of Blackcaps. The usual selection of tits, and finches including Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Bullfinch. Several pairs of Woodpigeon were displaying and collecting nest material – providing great photo opportunities – as did the resident tame Robins.

P1080618Woodpigeon – displaying in the car park!

From there, we headed on to Holme Dunes, to look for Linnets, a particular target for the day. We had no trouble finding them, but they were reluctant to sit still in the very blustery westerly wind, although we eventually managed to get some reasonable shots of them. The Meadow Pipits were similarly camera shy. A couple of Yellow Wagtails flew over calling. The pair of Turtle Doves we flushed in the dunes, a personal favourite, proved less of a draw.

P1080627Turtle Dove – a pair were out in the dunes

We also explored the farmland up behind Titchwell, looking for some of the typical birds of the area. We managed to find several Yellowhammers, but the wind was still not helping us. However, we flushed some birds which had been drinking at a roadside puddle, so we decided to stake it out from the car and see what might come down. A selection of finches provided great material for the camera, but the undoubted highlight was a Grey Partridge which came out of the hedge and spent several minutes drinking right in front of us.

P1080640Grey Partridge – though nervous, this bird came out to drink for several minutes right in front of us

After lunch, the afternoon was spent at Titchwell. Two Red-crested Pochard were on the reedbed pool on the way out. At least 12 Spoonbills were (mostly) sleeping out on the freshmarsh, along with a good selection of waders – loads of Avocets still, several Little Ringed & Ringed Plovers, Lapwing, a single red Knot, a small group of Dunlin, lots of Ruff including lots of juveniles, both Black-tailed & Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, 15 Spotted Redshank and lots of Common Redshank, and a couple of Turnstone still in their breeding finery. As well as more of several of the above, a stunning summer-plumaged Grey Plover was out on the Volunteer Marsh. Out on the sea, a single drake Common Scoter was braving the surf, but the sand-blasting from the wind proved too much to bear, so we headed back for shelter.

P1080644Avocet – still lots of these out on the freshmarsh

P1080678Ruff – good numbers of juveniles now with the adults

P1080689Bloody-nosed Beetle – we saw large numbers of these today around Titchwell