Tag Archives: Hobby

11th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. After a damp and cloudy start, the skies cleared and it was bright, sunny and even quite warm. After heading out with coats and hats, we were desperately shedding layers by mid-morning! There was a rather blustery south wind all day, which meant some of the smaller birds were keeping down in cover though.

We started the day at Holkham. Parking at Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling as we got out of the car and several small skeins came over up off the grazing marshes and flew off over our heads, heading out to feed from where they had probably roosted last night.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – flying off from the grazing marshes early morning

At the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, we turned left on the path which runs west on the inland side of the pines. We hadn’t gone more than a couple of metres before we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling in the trees. It came into a large oak above our heads but was high up in the leafy branches and proved impossible to see in the early gloom and wind.

A second Yellow-browed Warbler called from the holm oaks the other side of the tracks. We could see movement in the dark leaves, but it moved through too quickly to get on and both birds went quiet. We decided to try again later, if need be, when it had brightened up a bit. A good start, with two calling Yellow-browed Warblers, anyway.

A little further along the path, we came across a flock of Long-tailed Tits feeding high in the tall poplars. We stopped for a minute to see if we could find anything else with them. There were some other tits, including a couple of Coal Tits, and we heard Goldcrest and Treecreeper calling, but they moved quickly up into the tops of the pines and disappeared deeper into the trees.

At Salts Hole, there were at least six Little Grebes around the pool, back for the winter. A lone Curlew was feeding in the field behind. There were lots of Jays out today, busy collecting and stashing acorns, and we saw three flying across the back of the pool, between the trees.

We stopped again at the gate just before Washington Hide, to scan the grazing marshes. The first thing we noticed was a Short-eared Owl, circling high above the grass, flying with its distinctive stiff-winged action. It seemed nervous, looking round, possibly fresh in over the sea from Scandinavia. It flew back towards the pines and disappeared over the trees.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – out over the grazing marshes, possibly a fresh arrival

A Cetti’s Warbler singing in the edge of the reedbed was good to hear, having lost most of our resident birds over the cold weather last winter. A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reedbed too, a dark chocolate brown young bird with green wing-tags, presumably tagged in the nest here. It was joined by a male and the two of them grappled talons briefly.

A Great White Egret flew in and seemed to land down on the pool, hidden in the reeds. From up on the boardwalk, we could see it perched on a post. It quickly dropped down and we watched it fishing in the shallow water from the comfort of Washington Hide. After a few minutes, it flew off round the back of the reeds.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – fishing on the pool in front of Washington Hide

There was quite a bit of raptor activity visible from here this morning, as well as more Marsh Harriers, we saw a couple of Common Buzzards, including a rather pale bird perched out in one of the bushes on the grazing marsh, a Kestrel hovering out over the grass, and a distant Sparrowhawk circling.

As we carried on west, we could hear lots of Song Thrushes ticking in the trees – there had obviously been a large arrival of them overnight. There were Chaffinches and Bramblings calling overhead too, also freshly arrived for the winter. We heard a couple more flocks of tits from the path, but they were very hard to see in the wind, even if it was now brightening up nicely. They seemed to be hiding up in the pines or in the denser holm oaks, rather than out in the deciduous trees by the path.

At the cross-tracks, we came across another flock and could hear several Chiffchaffs calling here too, with them. Another Yellow-browed Warbler called from just into the trees, so we walked in along the path, but by the time we got round to where it had been the tits had disappeared up into the pines again.

We decided to carry on through to the north side of the pines, where it would be more sheltered from the wind. A Grey Wagtail flew over calling, but we couldn’t see it from deep in the trees. As we emerged from the pines, we flushed several Song Thrushes which had been feeding down on the grass, rather grey-brown birds from the continent, duller than our resident Song Thrushes.

We heard yet another Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but this time it was out in the scattered pines in the open dunes, so we figured we had a chance of getting a look at this one. Thankfully it was quite vocal, presumably another fresh arrival, and we managed to track it down. Eventually almost all the group got a good look at it, as it flitted around among the branches. A second Yellow-browed Warbler was calling in the woods, from the denser pines beyond.

As we walked a short distance through the dunes, more Song Thrushes were coming in overhead in singles or small groups. A little flock of Bramblings flew in overhead, and we heard a small group of Crossbills glipping as they flew west over the pines, although we couldn’t see them above the trees from this angle. A couple of Stonechats were perched on the top of the brambles in the dunes.

Climbing up to the top of the dunes, we stopped to scan the sea. There were quite a few birds out in the bay today – several Red-throated Divers, a Great Crested Grebe, a Guillemot, and a raft of Common Scoter. A Sandwich Tern flew past offshore, presumably a lingering summer visitor, as did a few small lines of Brent Geese, just arriving back from Russia for the winter.

It was quite amazing to just stand here looking out over the sea and just watch the birds arriving in from the continent. In particular, we saw lots of Skylarks coming in, with several flocks flying up over the dunes past us and in over the pines and other groups continuing on west just offshore. A Red Kite circling out over the beach may have been on the move too, before coming in over the dunes past us.

It was windy again back on the south side of the pines, and harder to see the birds again. We did hear several Redwings calling in the trees, and eventually got good views of one perched in the top of a pine tree. Several Song Thrushes were feeding up on the berries in a hawthorn bush, after their long journey.

Continuing on out of the pines at the west end and into the dunes, we flushed lots more Song Thrushes from the bushes as we passed. A Blackcap was calling from the brambles but we didn’t see it. Up on the top of the dunes, we heard a Redstart calling in a hawthorn bush. As we walked round the back, it flew across and disappeared into a dense clump of privet. Two Grey Herons flew in high over the beach, more migrants just arriving for the winter.

Yet another Yellow-browed Warbler called and we turned to see a couple of people looking into a holly bush out in the dunes. The bird was remarkably hard to see, despite it being just a very small bush, but eventually it came out onto the more sheltered side to those members of the group who hadn’t seen the Yellow-browed Warbler earlier could finally get a good look at one.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – one taken a couple of days ago in the woods

These tiny warblers breed over in Russia, just west of the Urals, and should be migrating south east to winter in Asia. Instead some Yellow-browed Warblers head off west and arrive on our shores. They used to be very rare here, but in the last twenty years have become regular visitors at this time of year. Still, they are always a pleasure to see and to marvel at their remarkable migration.

It was already after midday and stomachs were starting to rumble, so we headed back towards the car. It was lovely and sunny now, and warm too if still rather breezy. There were lots of dragonflies along the path in the more sheltered spots, Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters. We saw several butterflies out too, Red Admirals on the brambles, a Speckled Wood and a Small Copper.

A Hobby was patrolling along the edge of pines, taking advantage of the updraft from the wind, probably looking for dragonflies. A couple of times it passed by over us, and we could see its swept back pointed wings and orange trousers.

Hobby

Hobby – patrolling along the edge of the pines

Surprise of the day was a Kingfisher which flew over our heads as we walked back along the path on the edge of the pines – not normally where you expect to see one, although they are often seen out on the marshes here. Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we ran into another tit flock and this time got good views of a Treecreeper climbing up a tree trunk.

It was time for a late lunch when we finally got back to the car. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese still loafing around in the fields alongside Lady Anne’s Drive, while we ate. Afterwards, we set off to explore the coast east of Wells.

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – loafing in the fields by Lady Anne’s Drive over lunch

The wet fields east of Wells by the coastal path are full of wildfowl a the moment. We could predominantly see big numbers of Wigeon and Teal, the drakes still mostly in their dull eclipse plumage. In amongst them we found a single Pintail too. There are lots of geese here, but Greylags, Canadas and Egyptian Geese, although we saw plenty of Pink-footed Geese passing overhead calling.

There were a few waders in with all the wildfowl. We could see several Ruff feeding in the long grass around the pools, along with a small number of Lapwing, and three or four Black-tailed Godwits in the edge of the water, hiding in amongst all the Wigeon.

A large flock of Linnets and Greenfinches was feeding in the edge of the field nearby and further back we could see a couple of bright male Yellowhammers perched up in the bushes catching the sun. As we walked down along the track between the pools, we flushed several Reed Buntings from the wet grass. A pair of Stonechats flew along the fence line ahead of us, perching on the posts or on the bushes either side.

Stonechat

Stonechat – a pair flew along the path ahead of us

At the next pool we came too, we were looking into the sun and it was hard to keep the scopes steady in the wind. All we could find here today were Teal and Mallard, sheltering in the grass around the edges. There were lots of Little Egrets and Curlews out on the saltmarsh the other side and a couple of Redshank down in one of the muddy channels.

We decided to have a walk on along the coast path to finish the day. There were still more Song Thrushes and Chaffinches coming in, little flocks flying in over the saltmarsh and disappeared inland over the fields, or flying over our heads heading west along the coast. But there were few migrants in the bushes by the path this afternoon – as well as being windy, there were lots of people and dogs out for a walk and it was probably a bit too disturbed here.

As we walked, we stopped periodically to scan the saltmarshes. We could see several Marsh Harriers circling out in the distance, and eventually we were rewarded with a Hen Harrier too, a ringtail. We stopped and watched it as it quartered low over the marsh, flashing the white square at the base of its tail as it turned. A second Hen Harrier appeared briefly, away to the east in the distance, but didn’t come our way. After a while, the first dropped down into the vegetation.

We continued on as far as Garden Drove, but the trees at the north end were more exposed to the wind, and it was hard to see anything in here. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and saw them as they flew out of the trees and headed off inland along the hedgerow. There were a few other tits with them, but we couldn’t see anything else.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time here, as we had to get back and a couple of members of the group had decided to stop on the path where we had seen the Hen Harrier rather than continue walking, so we didn’t want to leave them too long. The Hen Harrier was up again, quartering the marshes as we got back.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – a ringtail, quartering the saltmarshes

It was a nice way to end our first day out, watching the Hen Harrier out over the marshes. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

Advertisements

22nd Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today.  We planned to spend the morning down in the Brecks and then return to North Norfolk for the afternoon. It was rather cloudy and grey all day, a bit brighter around the middle of the day, but it stayed dry and the much lighter winds were both a blessing and a hindrance!

On the drive down to the Brecks, a Red Kite over the fields next to the road was a nice addition to the trip list. Otherwise it was a fairly uneventful journey, until we got down to the area where the Stone Curlews are gathering. Before we even got to the layby, we could see a good number from the road as we passed, in the edge of the field just beyond the hedge. There is nowhere to stop here so we continued on to the place where we could park.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the Stone Curlews we had seen from the car were out of view from here today, over a ridge in the field. Fortunately, we could still see a couple of Stone Curlews nestled down in the field. We got the scope out and scanned and found there were actually six here, though only the heads of some of the others were visible. We got the scope on the most obvious and closest bird and had a good look at it. We could see its bright yellow iris, when it opened it eyes, and its black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – one of a group of six we saw at our first stop this morning

We had a good look at the first Stone Curlew, then two of the others stood up from where they were hiding down in the low-growing crop, so we turned the scope on them.

There were a few Red-legged Partridge in the field too and a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over. A brief glimpse of a hawk disappearing away over the trees suggested something more exciting until it came back over the field and we could see it was just a young female Sparrowhawk flying in an odd fashion, with deep and powerful wingbeats more like a display flight.

There have been some more Stone Curlews in another field further on, so we decided to go and check those out, and then if need be come back and try to see the ones we had seen from the road earlier. As we edged in slowly along the path, we realised that some of the Stone Curlews were very close to us, closer than normal, hidden in the vegetation. We froze. A small number of the birds flew, but thankfully landed again just a little further back. Some of the others walked a short distance away, but most of them stayed put.

We got one of the Stone Curlews in the scope, and had a good look at it taking turns. Gradually, over the next half an hour, we were able to edge out into a position from where we could all see some of the birds. They were settled now, untroubled by our presence at a discrete distance, and we had some truly amazing, frame-filling views of them here.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – frame-filling views through the scope

Scanning back and forth over the vegetation, we realised we could see more and more birds, with several hiding or sitting down so only the tops of their heads were visible. At first we could only see about 15-20, but by the end we had managed to count at least 41 Stone Curlews here visible at any one time. An amazing sight!

A flock of Linnets were feeding down in the weedy vegetation too, and kept flying round calling. There were some pig fields not far away and when we made our way round there we could see lots of gulls out amongst the pigs. They were almost entirely Lesser Black-backed Gulls, but looking through them carefully we managed to find a single adult Yellow-legged Gull as well as one or two Herring Gulls, in with them.

It had been an amazingly successful start to the morning and, as we were down in the Brecks now, we thought we would see if we might be able to see a Goshawk. This is not the best time of year to see them, but the juveniles in particular do like to come up and play on windy days. Unfortunately this morning the wind had dropped much more than forecast, and there was also no warmth from the sun which was stuck behind the clouds.

As we drove back along the road, we could see all the other Stone Curlews in the first field we had passed – there were at least another 30 here, but we couldn’t stop. We carried on to a spot on higher ground which overlooks an area of forest. There were lots of Lapwings and Starlings out on the cultivated field in front of the trees. Several Mistle Thrushes kept dropping down from the trees to the field to feed, before flying back up again. In the trees, we could see lots of finches, including a couple of small flocks of Siskin.

At first there were not even any Common Buzzards up in the air over the trees. However, we could see a mass of hirundines. Through the scope, we could make out that they were mostly House Martins out over the forest, but along the edge of the trees and over the fields by the road, there were more Swallows. A small numbers of Swallows came across the field in front of us, seemingly on their way west. Clearly these birds were just stopping off here on migration, heading off to Africa for the winter.

Gradually a few Buzzards started to circle up. They weren’t gaining much height today though. One landed in the top of a pine tree. Another drifted over the field behind us, mobbed by a large flock of Jackdaws.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – mobbed by Jackdaws

Eventually a juvenile Goshawk appeared above the wood in the corner. Unfortunately, it was only visible for a few seconds as it flew over the tops, not long enough for everyone to get onto it, before disappearing behind a line of trees. Despite scanning either side in the hope it would re-emerge, it didn’t come back up again. A Sparrowhawk was more obliging, circling up amongst all the hirundines before flying across and dropping back down into the forest.

We tried another spot a little further on. There were lots of Common Buzzards up now, and a Red Kite too, but still no further sign of any more Goshawks. It was not the best day for raptor watching, so we decided to head back up to North Norfolk. During a quick stop in Wells to use the facilities, we heard Pink-footed Geese calling and looked up to see a flock of 36 high over the town, heading west. Presumably more birds just returning here for the winter.

Pink-footed Geese

We stopped for lunch at Stiffkey, overlooking the saltmarsh. A distant Red Kite was circling out over East Hills and we could see several Curlews, Redshank and Little Egrets were scattered around in the vegetation in front of us. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up a little to the east of us, flying round for a minute or so before disappearing back down into the vegetation.

A single Spoonbill appeared out on the far edge of the saltmarsh, before dropping down out of view to feed in one of the small pools. At times we could just see its head appear, but eventually it climbed out again and we got a good look at it through the scope.

After lunch, we headed along the coast to Blakeney. With a hint of a few migrants in today, we had a quick look around Friary Hills first. It was very quiet in the trees here, with just a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling in trees. As we walked back round along the bottom path, a Chiffchaff was calling in the hedge. Just beyond it, we came across a tit flock, moving fast through the bushes. A grey warbler disappeared round the back before we got a look at it, and despite following the tits along the hedge, all we could see with them now were a few finches.

Walking out along the seawall, a Greenshank was on the mud on the edge of the harbour channel, but was flushed by a couple out walking and disappeared downstream, behind the saltmarsh. We had a better view of a Little Egret, fishing in one of the smaller muddy channels by the path, jiggling its feet in the mud in front of it, trying to flush out something to eat.

Little Egret

Little Egret – fishing in one of the muddy channels

When we got to the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the harbour. We could see lots of Curlew and Redshank on the mud closer to us, but most of the other waders were much further out, around the pools in the bottom of the harbour. Through the scope, we could see Oystercatchers and godwits, one or two Grey Plover and a Ringed Plover and several Turnstones.

Looking out across the Freshes the other side, two juvenile Marsh Harriers were flying back and forth over the reeds, chocolate brown with a contrasting paler head. They were joined by a paler female which came up from the reeds and circled with them for a minute of two before landing on a gate post.

Then the male Marsh Harrier flew in from the harbour behind us. It circled over the rest of the family and looked like it might be preparing for a food pass, despite the fact we couldn’t see anything in its talons. The two juveniles up circled expectantly below it, but it clearly wasn’t here to feed them and gradually drifted off. The juveniles followed, one of them gaining height and swooping down at the male from above. Possibly it was cross that it hadn’t been fed! Eventually the male lost interest and flew back out again towards the harbour.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – the male came in over the harbour behind us

We walked back on the path across the grazing marsh. There were not many birds here today, but we did spot a Stock Dove which flew in and landed with a couple of Wood Pigeons out on the grass.

Stiffkey Fen was our last planned stop of the day. The bushes and brambles by the path were quiet at first today, just a couple of Blue Tits. Then we heard Bullfinches calling in the thicker sallows and looking carefully through the foliage, we could just make them out feeding in the back.

When we got to the point where you can see across the brambles to the Fen beyond, we immediately spotted the Spoonbills. There were twenty of them today, mostly asleep, but we could see a pair preening each others heads and necks. When you have a bill as long as that, you need a bit of help to reach some places! When a juvenile Marsh Harrier flew over, all the Spoonbills woke up and we could see there was a mixture of adults with yellow-tipped black bills and juveniles with shorter dirty fleshy bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were 20 on the Fen today

Over at the back, against the reeds, we could see a single Avocet feeding. Most of them have left already now, for the winter. A Green Sandpiper was right over the back too and a couple of Greenshank flew in calling. When we heard a cacophony of honking just behind us, a wave of Greylags flew in very low over our heads from the fields and dropped down onto the Fen. Quite an experience!

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Spoonbills through the scope. As well as all the Greylags now, there were lots of ducks out on the Fen – mainly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, plus a good number of Pintail.  and a couple of Tufted Ducks.

A big flock of Black-tailed Godwits was roosting down on the Fen and we could see several Redshanks and Ruff, in various shapes and sizes, with them. Down along the edge of the mud in front of the closer reeds we could see a couple of Snipe feeding and a second Green Sandpiper with them. More Greenshanks were flying in from the harbour in ones and twos ahead of the rising tide – we were up to seven already now.

Looking out across the harbour, we could see all the seals hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point and on the sandbars opposite. A couple more large flocks of Pink-footed Geese came in off the sea round the end of the Point, flying on west over the saltmarsh towards Wells and Holkham. A Hobby flew low across the harbour, flushing all the birds around the edge as it did so. With the element of surprise gone, it quickly climbed higher and carried on west.

The tide was coming in fast now. A flock of Oystercatchers had gathered on one of the rapidly disappearing shingle spits on the edge of the harbour. On the spit in front, a single Grey Plover was standing with a lone Curlew until a large flock of Grey Plover and Turnstones flew in to join them. Through the scope, we could see the Grey Plovers were in various stages of moult, with more or less of the summer black face and belly remaining.

News came through that a Wryneck had been seen in Wells. This was a much wanted bird for several members of the group, to the point that we had joked each morning about seeing three or four of them! However, it was very much unexpected today, particularly given the persistent westerly winds and the comparative lack of other migrants coming in. We had to go for a quick look on our way, despite having limited time now before we had to be back.

When we got there, we found a couple of people standing in the car park. They hadn’t been able to find it and no one really knew where it had been seen exactly. We had just got out to talk to them when we noticed a bird drop out of the low hedge just a couple of metres from us, down onto the bare dusty ground on the car park verge – the Wryneck!

It flew again immediately, to a thicker area of trees by the car park entrance. We got everybody out and walked slowly over in that direction. There was the Wryneck, down on the ground on a small grassy bank just the other side of the trees. It froze there, looking round, though seemingly undeterred by the camper vans coming in and out of the caravan park between us and it, from where we were standing on the other side of the entrance road.

It wasn’t easy for everyone to get onto at first, despite it being quite close, as it looked just like a branch or small lump of earth in the grass, but finally the whole group were watching the Wryneck. It was a great view of it here.

Wryneck

Wryneck – what a way to end the day!

Then a Wood Pigeon flew low across over the bank and spooked the Wryneck, which flew into the bushes nearby. We waited a few minutes, in case it might come straight out again, but it was cloudy and cool and the light was fading now. We really had to get everyone back too, or they would be late for dinner! It was a fantastic – and most unexpected – way to end the day, with a Wryneck.

 

21st Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today.  We spent the day up on the north coast. The forecast was poor, with a wind warning out, but it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as we feared. It was a bit gusty, but not as bad as recent days, and it was mostly dry, apart from a squally shower which almost passed us by as we ate our lunch under cover and some rain just as we finished this afternoon. Certainly another day well worth going out!

Heading east along the coast road this morning, we called in at Kelling first. As we walked up along the lane, a Robin was singing from the fir tree by the school and a few Goldfinches dropped down into the hedge beyond. There were several Chaffinches in the taller trees further along, but when we got to the copse, all was quiet.

A couple of House Martins flew over us, heading west, presumably birds on their way to Africa now. A flock of Linnets was feeding down in the stubble field beyond and flew round as we passed, but there didn’t seem to be many birds in the hedgerows. It was rather cool and breezy.

There were quite a few gulls on the Water Meadow again – mostly Black-headed Gulls, either swimming on the pool or loafing on the bank. A few Herring Gulls of various ages were with them and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull dropped in too. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese were in with the gulls on the grass and a noisy mob of Canada Geese flew in and landed on the water.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese – the resident pair were in with the loafing gulls

A Common Snipe circled over the Water Meadow but seemed to change its mind and headed out over the Quags. It seemed to change its mind again when it felt the wind and cam back in, landing in the long grass on the far side of the pool. When we walked to the corner, we could just see it lurking in the grass, watching us, before it flew up again and away.

Down along the track to the beach, a Reed Bunting flew across and dropped into the reeds where it disappeared. Walking up the hillside, a Meadow Pipit flew up out of the grass, but dropped straight back in again further back. There was a big flock of Goldfinches in the bushes and feeding on the ground in the shelter of the old sand pit.

As we walked up to the gun emplacements, we scanned out to sea. A couple of Sandwich Terns were battling into the wind offshore. Then a couple of Gannets flew past, quite close in, banking and tacking downwind, dark slaty grey juveniles. For the next couple of minutes there was a steady trickle of Gannets passing offshore, adults white with black wing tips and some in between.

It was windy and exposed up here on the hillside, so we headed back down. As we walked back towards the Water Meadow, a small warbler flicked out of the brambles ahead of us and dropped straight back in again. Unfortunately we didn’t get a good look at it – we were looking into the sun – and it didn’t emerge again.

Along the cross track, we stopped to scan the muddy ditch which runs across the Quags. While most of us were scanning the edges further back, one of the group noticed a Common Snipe crouching behind a piece of plastic sack down in the grass right in front of us. It pretended it wasn’t there for several minutes before eventually flying off.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – trying to convince us it wasn’t there!

We had a bit more luck finding birds in the hedges in the lane on our way back – perhaps because it brightened up a bit and we could even feel the warmth of the sun. First, a Common Whitethroat appeared in the brambles, where we watched it eating blackberries. Then we came across a Willow Warbler flicking around low in the bushes along the edge of the field. Further up the lane still, a Chiffchaff was singing rather half-heartedly from a holly tree.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – in the brambles by the Water Meadow on the way back

There was a tractor rough cultivating one of the stubble fields beside the lane. A Red-legged Partridge ran away from us up the edge of the field. A Brown Hare was hiding in the longer green growth out in the middle, looking just like a clod of brown earth, and the tractor flushed a second Hare as it worked its way round.

Several Black-headed Gulls were following the tractor, landing in the cultivated strip behind, and we could see a few larger gulls too which were feeding out of view higher up the field but flew up as the tractor passed. A 1st winter Mediterranean Gull flew in to see what was happening, we could see its black outer primaries and secondaries, contrasting with silvery grey midwing panel and mantle, as it flew past us and disappeared up over the rise in the field.

Back to the car, we made our way back west. We stopped at Iron Road next and had a walk up to the pools. There were a few Greylag Geese here, and a couple of Lapwing, but it looked from the recent tyre treads heading through the gate like someone had been in there recently.

We walked back and made our way round towards Babcock Hide. A few Swallows flew past over the grazing marshes, more birds on migration, heading off back to Africa for the winter. A big flock of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass with the Greylags. A group Curlew circled over – several dropped down onto the pool in front of the hide, but the rest continued over towards the grazing marshes by the East Bank.

Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits – there were quite a few on Watling Water today

When we opened the flaps in the hide, the first thing we noticed was a flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting and preening in the water in front. Several more were feeding on the mud nearby. Several were brightly coloured juveniles, with an orange wash around the neck and across the breast, which marks them out as birds of the Icelandic race. Amazing to think they were raised up in Iceland just a few weeks ago!

There were several Ruff on here too, further back, and a few Curlew asleep towards the back, possibly the ones we had seen fly in earlier. Several flocks of Lapwing flew past – possibly just local birds moving, but perhaps they had just arrived from further afield?

We saw a nice selection of ducks on here today, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, one or two Shoveler, and 12 Pintail. The Fulvous Whistling Duck with the large mob of Greylags doesn’t count – it is an escapee from someone’s collection, that seems to think it is a goose! Behind the Greylags, a family of five Pink-footed Geese obviously did not want to mix with their commoner cousins. Possibly freshly returned from Iceland, the goose and three full-grown juveniles were busy feeding while the gander stood guard nearby.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – this family of five was not mixing with the Greylags in front

A Sparrowhawk flew over the back, keeping low, and disappeared behind the reeds. Then we noticed a Hobby over towards Little Eye. Several times it flew up before stooping vertically down at something below, at which point each time we lost sight of it. Then it gave up and flew powerfully low over the grass towards us, before turning and heading across over the grazing meadows just to the south of us.

Hobby

Hobby – flew past us in Babcock Hide

As if that wasn’t already enough, the highlight from our stop in Babcock Hide was the Otter which was feeding in the deeper water in the back. It was very active, diving repeatedly. Twice we saw it surface with a large fish. The first time, it swam with it across to one of the reedy islands and we thought it would hide in there for some time, eating. But just a few minutes later, it was back out fishing again. The next time it caught what appeared to be an even larger fish. It swam across to the same island, but a minute later reappeared and swam across with the fish still in its jaws, disappearing round behind the reeds along the edge.

When the Otter finally disappeared, we made our way back to the car and drove a little further along, to Walsey Hills. As soon as we got out of the car, we could see the two Spotted Redshanks out on Snipe’s Marsh. They were feeding very actively in the shallow water amongst the mud and cut reed stems. One was still largely in juvenile plumage, dusky grey, but the other was more advanced in its moult to winter plumage, whiter below and paler silvery grey above. We could also see their long, needle-fine bills.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of the two still on Snipe’s Marsh

There was a nice selection of other birds on here too. Four Green Sandpipers were feeding around the edge of the mud at the back. A single Common Snipe was very well camouflaged against the cut reeds. There were also a few Little Grebes and a single Tufted Duck out on the water.

It had clouded over a bit more now, so we decided to head round to the beach car park and use the shelter for lunch. It was a good move, as we could see a squally shower coming in, which mostly passed to the south of us, although we just caught the trailing corner of it. There were a few Sandwich Terns offshore and while we were eating lunch we spotted two Arctic Skuas flying in to chase them. We watched the ensuing aerial dogfight for a couple of minutes before the skuas eventually realised they weren’t going to be able to steal a free lunch and gave up. One or two more Gannets flew past, too.

After lunch, we drove round to the Visitor Centre and then walked out onto the reserve, to the hides. A quick look out from Avocet Hide revealed not very much on Whitwell Scrape – a handful of ducks and a single Green Sandpiper in the vegetation in the far corner.

There were more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, so we moved straight on to Dauke’s Hide. There were six Dunlin on here, picking around on the muddy edges of the islands, juveniles with black-streaked bellies. We could see a few more Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Ruff and a Curlew. There were plenty of ducks too. A Marsh Harrier flew in and circled over the reeds at the back.

Ruff

Ruff – there were quite a few on Pat’s Pool

We looked across to Pat’s Pool and could see even more birds on there. There were several juvenile Ruff with a couple of Redshank right down at the front. A male Ruff was strikingly larger than the several females with it. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on here, and a single Green Sandpiper right at the back on the mud.

There were a couple of Dunlin on Pat’s Pool too, but they were mobile, flying round nervously in the wind. When they landed at one point, with the godwits, right over the far side, in front of Bishop Hide, a third small wader was with them. It was noticeably brighter marked above than the Dunlin, with obvious tramlines, clean white below, with a comparatively short beak. When it turned, we could see its streaked breast was neatly demarcated from its white belly. A juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper!

We had just got the Pectoral Sandpiper in the scope, when someone came round from Teal Hide to let us know they had seen it too. It was distant at first, so after a quick look we made our way round to Teal Hide where we had a better view. All the small waders were still rather easily spooked, and eventually it came a bit closer. We had a really good look at it through the scope.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper – eventually we got some very good views of it

There have been quite a few North American waders turning up in UK in the past week or two, courtesy of the active Jetstream. Presumably this Pectoral Sandpiper had most likely come from there, rather than Eastern Siberia, where they are also found. There was also a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit on here, but it rather played second fiddle to the Pectoral Sandpiper.

When the Pectoral Sandpiper flew back and landed on the mud over near Bishop Hide, we headed round there. It was only a short distance beyond the visitor centre, where the car was parked, anyway. We had an even better view of it from here, when it flew out and landed in the middle just behind the roosting gulls.

There are always lots of ducks loafing on the bank between the hide and the scrape, and we had great views of an eclipse drake Wigeon which was bathing in the channel in front of the hide, before climbing out onto the grass beyond.

Wigeon

Wigeon – this eclipse drake was bathing in front of the hide

Eventually, we managed to tear ourselves away from all the action here. As we walked back towards the visitor centre, a male Marsh Harrier flew in over the road and dropped down into the reedbed. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese flew past, and as they got closer we could hear their yelping calls. Probably more birds just returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

We had stayed rather longer than intended at Cley this afternoon, with all the excitement over the Pectoral Sandpiper. We still had just about enough time to call in quickly at Stiffkey on the way back, but as we drove west we could see dark clouds and when we got there it was raining. We decided to save that for another day, and try our luck elsewhere.

As we drove up to the church, the usual perches where the Peregrine likes to stand were empty, but then we noticed it a little further along, on the stone ledge. We got out of the car and set the scopes up and were treated to close up views of it. It was looking around, checking out the traffic passing below and the people walking through the churchyard, seemingly unphased by it all, blinking occasionally.

Peregrine

Peregrine – perched up on the church tower again today

It was a nice way to finish off what had been a great first day out. So much for the dire predictions of the Met Office! Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

15th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. After a cloudy start, it brightened up and was then nice and sunny until it clouded over again later in the day. We spent the day today exploring the North Norfolk coast.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we spotted a Barn Owl quartering over some wet grazing marshes. There had been some rain overnight, so perhaps it had struggled to hunt and was therefore still out this morning. We managed to pull up and watch it for a few minutes as it worked its way round and round over the grass. A great start to the day.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hunting over the grazing meadow by the road

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, a grey-winged male Marsh Harrier flew in across the field next to us. We had a good view of it, before it disappeared round behind the trees.

Some birds were feeding in the tramlines through the stubble. As well as a couple of Pheasants, there were four Stock Doves. We had a good look at them through the scope, noting their glossy green neck patches  and black spots on the wings. When the Marsh Harrier returned, the Stock Doves took off and we could see the neat blackish trailing edge to their wings and the lack of any white wing stripe.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – quartering over the stubble

There were two Brown Hares in the field opposite. We could hear a Kestrel alarm calling and a Common Buzzard mewing, but it was still probably a bit too early and too cool for the latter to be up circling above the trees.

Along the footpath beside the river, we found the big tit flock again but the birds were keeping hidden in the trees this morning. We could see several Long-tailed Tits and we heard one or two Chiffchaffs. A male Blackcap appeared on the outside of a bush eating blackberries. While we were watching the flock, three Bullfinches flew in calling and landed in the trees with them, before disappeared off in the other direction along the river bank.

There is a point along the path here where you can see over the brambles to the Fen beyond. When we got there, we were immediately struck by a long line of white birds asleep on one of the islands. A very large group of Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best!

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were at least 36 on the Fen today

There were some waders visible from here too. Eight Greenshanks were tucked up along the edge of the reeds at the back, along with a couple of Green Sandpipers. There were more waders hidden from our view behind the reeds at the front, but while we stood here more flew in to join them, presumably coming in from the harbour as the tide rose. There were flocks of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits dropping in, and a single Bar-tailed Godwit too.

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Spoonbills. Some even woke up briefly and flashed their spoon-shaped bills. One adult on the edge of the flock was pursued remorselessly by a juvenile begging to be fed, bouncing its head up and down and flapping its wings. Through the scope, we could count them properly too – the grand total of 36 Spoonbills here today. Quite an impressive sight!

We could see all the waders roosting out in the water in the middle from here too. As well as all the Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were good numbers of Common Redshank. Looking closely, we found a single Spotted Redshank with them too, noticeably paler grey above, whiter below, and with a more noticeable pale supercilium just visible, despite the fact it was asleep with its bill tucked in.

There are lots of ducks on here now, as birds have returned for the winter. Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and one or two Shoveler. In the water, busy upending, were ten Pintail. There are always plenty of Greylags here, with more dropping in from the fields beyond all the time. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese were flying west overhead all morning, birds returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Goose – several small groups flew west this morning

Looking out across the harbour from the seawall, we could see lots of seals hauled out on the tip of Blakeney Point. Several Sandwich Terns were fishing out in the pit and beyond, in the distance, we could see two dark juvenile Gannets plunge diving in the sea the off the Point.

We picked up a falcon flying in fast and low across the harbour and when it turned and climbed towards the Fen we could see it was a Hobby. It came in over the seawall just beyond us and dropped down low over the Fen. It seemed to realise there was nothing suitably-sized here to chase though, because it promptly climbed and disappeared off west without spooking all the waders.

Continuing on a little further along the seawall, we looked back and scanned the other side of the Fen. There were more Greenshank roosting here, another 20 to add to the eight or so we had seen earlier.

As we walked round towards the harbour, we could see more waders flying round near the edge of the water, beyond the saltmarsh, flushed from where they had been roosting. We watched as a large group of Grey Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwits flew in and landed again.

When we got to the corner, we could just see part of the roosting flocks on a spit of mud. The birds in view were mostly Grey Plover, several still sporting various amounts of black on their underparts. There were Oystercatchers and Curlews on the mud here too. The waders were all flushed by a boat full of rowers which came ashore on the sand, flying round before landing again further round, out of view. Across the other side of the channel, we got the scope on a small roosting flock of Turnstones, up on the edge of the saltmarsh.

We turned and started to make our way back. The sun was coming out now and it was warm in some of the more sheltered spots along the path. Several Speckled Wood butterflies were sunning themselves along the hedge.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – there were several out on our walk back from the Fen

Our next destination was Cley. We arrived there still with some time before lunch, so we decided to have a walk up the East Bank first. As we walked up onto the bank from the car park, we looked back towards Snipe’s Marsh. We could see several waders over there, so we decided to walk over the road first, for a closer look.

Two Spotted Redshanks were sleeping in the cut reeds. We were looking into the sun at first, but we made our way round to where we could get a better view of them. When they woke up, we could see their long, needle fine bills. There were two Green Sandpipers feeding out on the mud too, as well as a good number of Common Snipe, appropriately enough here!

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of two on Snipe’s Marsh

A small bird flew across and landed in the base of the reeds at the far side. Flashing white in the outer tail as it landed, we might have expected it to be a Reed Bunting here but we caught a glint of yellow as it dropped in. It was a Yellowhammer – not quite where we would expect to see one! A Reed Warbler working its way round the base of the reeds at the back was less of a surprise.

Given we were at Walsey Hills now, we had a quick walk in along the footpath through the bushes. We heard several Chiffchaffs calling, and a Coal Tit singing, but nothing else today, despite the fact the ivy here was alive with insects in the sunshine.

Over on the East Bank, it was surprisingly breezy as we walked out. We heard several Bearded Tits calling from various places in the reeds, but not surprisingly they were keeping well down today.

Looking further up, we could see a large white bird in the water at the north end of the Serpentine. It was a Spoonbill, busy feeding, so we walked up there for a closer look. We watched it sweeping its bill methodically back and forth through the shallows, occasionally throwing its head back when it caught something.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on its own in the Serpentine

Otherwise on the Serpentine there was just a single Black-tailed Godwit, one Snipe and an Avocet, as well as a selection of commoner dabbling ducks. Pope’s Pool beyond held a few more Black-tailed Godwits and a handful of Ruff. A small group of Swallows flew through, heading determinedly west, on their way back to Africa for the winter.

There were not so many birds out on Arnold’s Marsh today, more Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Curlew. We carried on out to the beach, but it was very quiet looking out to sea too, with surprisingly little moving today. So we headed back to the Visitor Centre for lunch.

After lunch, we made our way out to the hides. A quick look at Whitwell Scrape produced just a couple of Lapwing and a few ducks. We could see more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, but by the time we walked round to Dauke’s Hide, the flock of nine Dunlin we had seen drop in had flown off again. There were still two Ringed Plover on here and lots of Black-tailed Godwits busy feeding up to their bellies in the water in front of the hide.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – one of many on Simmond’s Scrape

Looing across to Pat’s Pool, another Spotted Redshank was feeding on the edge of the reeds. Three Dunlin were initially towards the far side, but helpfully then flew round and landed at the front with two juvenile Ruff. Two Common Snipe were very well camouflaged out on the edge of one of the islands, hard to see until you looked through the scope.

We were planning to head out to North Scrape, as we had seen several waders landing over there, but by the time we got back to the Visitor Centre we could see one of the wardens out there on a tractor, topping the grassy edges of the scrape. A quick change of plan, and we drove back to Iron Road instead.

As we walked up along the Iron Road to look at the pools, two Spotted Redshanks flew in and landed on the area of open water just to the east. They looked to be the same two that we had seen on Snipe’s Marsh earlier. A small group of Meadow Pipits flew high overhead calling, but they could just as easily have been local birds as migrants moving.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese – feeding on the grazing meadows by Iron Road

On the other side of Iron Road, there were lots of geese out on the grazing marsh, mainly Greylags but with several pairs of Egyptian Geese too. The escaped Fulvous Whistling Duck was with them – interesting to see, but as it has come out of a cage somewhere it doesn’t count!

We walked round on the path Babcock Hide next. There was no one in the hide and we got quite a shock when we opened the window and found a cow staring back at us, just a few inches away! The cows were feeding right in front of the hide and were very inquisitive, poking their noses in through the flaps. They were not particularly helpful either, blocking the view.

Babcock Hide

Babcock Hide – we got quite a shock when we opened the flaps!

We could just about see what was on the pool here though. On our way out here, we had seen a couple of flocks of Black-tailed Godwits flying in and out from the stubble field across the road, where they were feeding. There were still several loafing about out in the water. Further back, two Pintail were busy feeding, upending in amongst the Mallards. With their rear ends in the air, we could see their more pointed tails.

As we made our way back along the path, we heard a Whimbrel calling. We looked over towards the pool by Iron Road and saw it circle once before continuing on its way west, disappearing off over Walsey Hills. Surprisingly, given the time of year, this was the first migrant wader we had seen on the move today.

On our way back west, we diverted off the coast road and headed inland. We scanned the fields for partridges, but couldn’t see any today, as we made our way up to a regular site for Little Owl. It didn’t take long to find one, perched on the roof of one of the farm buildings. It was rather distant, but we had a good look at it through the scope. It was a suitably appropriate way to end the day, as we had begun, with an owl.

14th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. It was a nice bright and sunny start, and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon it stayed dry all day. With reports of a couple of interesting birds down in East Norfolk yesterday, and a few more migrants around there, we headed down to the Broads.

As we drove down towards Winterton, which was to be our first destination for the day, we scanned the fields for any sign of Cranes, but we couldn’t see any this morning. They are not so easy to find at this time of year.

When we got to Winterton, we headed straight off into the South Dunes. As we got to the first trees, we could see Blue Tits in the sycamores, but there didn’t appear to be anything else with them. Just beyond, some movement in the dense brambles on the slope turned out to be a Lesser Whitethroat, once it came out enough for us to see it. Probably a migrant, stopped here to feed on its journey south.

A little further along, there was lots of activity in the bushes. A big flock of House Sparrows was chattering away in the white flowers of old man’s beard. A Chiffchaff flew out and darted into the brambles and then a Common Whitethroat appeared there too. Another bird flew up and perched on the top of the bushes next to the sparrows – a Whinchat. It flew again, into some thick elders, where it thought we couldn’t see it. But from the right angle, we could get a clear look at it in the scope.

Whinchat

Whinchat – perched in the elders, thinking we couldn’t see it

The trees just beyond held more Blue Tits and a Blackcap. Another Chiffchaff showed nicely in a birch tree, fluttering around in the leaves looking for insects. Another bird flew out and landed in the trees higher up the slope. A Redstart – another migrant breaking its journey here. It was quite hard to see, perched motionless in the leaves, until it flew again, darting across the path and disappearing round the back of some oaks the other side.

We walked round to the other side of the trees, but there was no further sign of the Redstart. However, we could see two crows feeding on the grassy slope of the dunes across the valley. They were noticeably grey around the nape and through the scope we could see they were Hooded Crow hybrids. One had more grey on it than the other, but neither had enough, in the right places to be a pure Hooded Crow. They intergrade fairly commonly with Carrion Crows, which was clearly the case with these two. Interesting birds to see anyway.

Hooded Crow hybrids

Hooded Crow hybrids – feeding in the dunes

As we carried on south, there were several more warblers in the bushes – it was nice to see a few migrants here, despite the SW winds. A small flock of Meadow Pipits flew over calling, possibly on their way south.

There had been a Barred Warbler here yesterday, but when we got to the bushes where it was last seen we found several people looking, but no sign of the bird. Our second Lesser Whitethroat of the morning showed nicely on the outside of the hawthorns, eating blackberries, and while we were watching it a Sparrowhawk circled up over the houses at the top of the ridge. Another Chiffchaff was flitting about in the bushes too.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – feeding up, in the birches

When we heard Swallows alarm calling, we looked up to see a flock flying over followed a few seconds later by a Hobby. It was a lovely clear view as it flew past at eye level, before climbing up and disappearing over the ridge. As it banked, we could see its orange-red trousers.

There were quite a few butterflies out in the sunshine this morning, mostly various whites. On the walk back, a Grayling basked on the brambles, angling itself to catch the sun and a Small Copper landed nearby, down in the grass.

Grayling

Grayling – basking in the brambles

A Reeve’s Muntjac was feeding in the bushes half way up the slope. It stopped eating, stared at us for a minute or so, and then resumed its lunch. It seemed completely unconcerned by us passing close by.

Muntjac

Reeve’s Muntjac – stood and stared at us

As we got back to the road, it had clouded over and it felt like the wind had picked up a little, although we had been sheltered from it in the valley. We still had some time before lunch, so we decided to continue on into the North Dunes, to see if we could find a Wheatear. However, as we walked through the dunes, we were surprised to find almost no birds at all, not even a Meadow Pipit or a Linnet!

We got as far as the ‘east pond’, but it was cool and breezy here now and there were no signs of any Willow Emerald around the single small sallow. These damselflies are only very recent colonists in the UK and this can be a good place to see them. Up at the top of the dunes just beyond, we had a great panoramic view, but once again there was a surprising lack of  birds. We decided to head back.

On our way back past the ‘east pond’, we at least had a brief view of two Willow Emerald damselflies around the sallow, although they quickly disappeared back in. There were several Common Darters which were more obliging, one or two Migrant Hawkers buzzing round, and a single Blue-tailed Damselfly down in the rushes in the edge of the water.

When we got back to the car park, it was time for lunch. As we ate, looking out to sea next to the boat sheds, a damselfly flew in and landed right at our feet. It was a Willow Emerald! It narrowly avoided being trodden on and flew up to bask on one of the sheds where we had a much better view of it than the two we had seen briefly earlier.

Willow Emerald

Willow Emerald – basked briefly on one of the boat sheds

There were a few Mediterranean Gulls moving offshore, flying north along the coast. Two landed on the sea, an adult with bright red bill, black bandit mask and clean white wing tips, and a more subtle first winter.

After lunch, we headed inland to Potter Heigham to look for wildfowl and any waders. There were lots of Greylags out on the grazing meadows as we made our way in, accompanied by a pair of Egyptian Geese.

From up on the bank, we could scan the pools and we immediately spotted several Ruff out on the mud and a good number of Common Snipe around the edges of the reeds. Two Common Sandpipers were working their way round different parts of the shore. A flock of Golden Plover flew up and circled round calling and another group of smaller waders flew in and landed on the mud in the middle – nine Ringed Plover accompanied by a single Dunlin.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – flying round over the pools

There were plenty of ducks here too, though the majority of the drakes are currently in their dull eclipse plumage, so they are not looking their best. Still, we could see a nice selection of Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon.

As we continued round on the bank, we could see a Marsh Harrier quartering the back of the grazing marshes in the distance, the other side of the channel. Their high pitched yelping calls alerted us to a flock of Pink-footed Geese high overhead. Flocks of these geese have been seen along the coast, returning from Iceland for the winter, in the last few days. These might well have just been returning here too, as this area is a regular roost site for Pink-footed Geese in the winter.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – likely fresh arrivals just back from Iceland

When we got to the river bank over the far side of the pools, we looked back to see a Hobby over hanging in the air over the grazing marshes the other side. It kept swooping down behind the trees before flying up again, presumably catching dragonflies low over the wet grass.

The pools over on this side have dried out a lot over the summer, but there are still some nice areas of water. When we heard a Greenshank calling, we looked across to find one asleep in some small tufts of grass on the edge of the mud. Three Green Sandpipers were feeding in one of the pools, along with a Ruff.

Otherwise, there were also more geese and ducks on this side, including a smart drake Wigeon back in breeding plumage already. A large group of Cormorants were sleeping on one of the islands.

The cloud had thickened progressively through the afternoon and the sky was now rather grey. We decided to walk back. On the way, we found two more Green Sandpipers on one of the other pools. A smart grey-winged male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the drier areas of the marshes.

With a long journey ahead of us, we decided to head for home. More again tomorrow…

4th Sep 2018 – Migrants & More, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour up on the North Norfolk coast today. It was a different day to yesterday, cloudy all day with a fresh N wind off the Continent, which brought with it the promise of arriving migrants.

This time we made our way east along the coast. We made a quick stop at Stiffkey first. As we got out of the car, several House Martins and Swallows were hawking for insects over the trees, presumably fuelling up before heading off. We wanted to have a walk through the coastal bushes to see if anything had arrived overnight. A couple of other people had the same idea, so we agreed to keep in touch and let each other know if there was anything about.

Several Curlews and Redshanks flew up from the saltmarsh as we passed. Some small flocks of Golden Plover wheeled round further out, calling plaintively. We could hear a Greenshank too and a rasping call alerted us to a Snipe flying overhead. There were a few Little Egrets out on the saltmarsh too.

A Marsh Harrier was quartering the cordgrass beds out towards the beach and a second bird flew across the saltmarsh closer to us, flushing all the waders from the grass as it did so. A Peregrine was perched out on a sandbank in the distance – we got a better view of it through the scope.

We walked out as far as the whirligig and had a good look in the bushes, but it all seemed very quiet. We only heard a single Blackcap calling from deep in the hawthorns here. It appeared that not only had there been no new arrivals overnight but that a lot of the birds which had been here had decided to move on. We received messages to say that neither of the other two people here had seen anything so we decided to head back to the car and try something different.

Carrying on along the coast to Cley, we walked out to the hides to see if we could find any waders. We called in to Avocet Hide first. There were several ducks feeding right in front of the hide – Teal and Shoveler.

Shoveler

Shoveler – feeding right in front of Avocet Hide

There were not many waders on this scrape at first sight, but scanning carefully we found a couple of Little Ringed Plover at the back of the main island. A Green Sandpiper was calling, and following the sound, we found it hiding in the cut reeds on the far corner of the same island. A Common Snipe crept into the cut reeds in front of it and melted away into the vegetation.

Our next stop was going to be in Dauke’s Hide, but we couldn’t resist a quick look over from here at Simmond’s Scrape next door. There seemed to be more waders on there, lots of Ruff and quite a few Dunlin in particular. We found a juvenile Spotted Redshank asleep with the ducks and an Avocet on the front of the closest island. We got the scope on it and could see its dusky grey overall colouration, spotted on the wings with silvery white dots, and even though it was asleep we could see its white brow back to the eye.

Wigeon and Dunlin

Wigeon & Dunlin – spooked from Simmond’s Scrape

Then most of the birds on the scrape took off – all the Ruff and Dunlin and most of the ducks too. They whirled round over the reeds and scrapes – a small group of Wigeon flew round in front of us, with a couple of Dunlin for company. Most of the waders flew off, but the ducks returned. The Spotted Redshank woke up briefly, flashed its long, fine bill, and went back to sleep!

We found out what the culprit was – a Marsh Harrier had drifted over from the reedbed at the back, an adult male. It disappeared off over Cricket Marsh. A short while later, a juvenile Marsh Harrier did exactly the same thing, scattering everything again.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – the juvenile, spooking all the birds on Simmond’s Scrape

With most of the waders gone from Simmond’s Scrape now, we decided to head round to have a look at Pat’s Pool next instead. The water level on here has gone up in the last few days – presumably they have let some more water on. Consequently, there weren’t many waders on here either. There were just some Ruff, presumably some of them come over from Simmond’s, and a few Lapwings.

While we scanned round the scrape, we kept one eye on Simmond’s to see if the waders might return, but only a few Ruff and four of the Dunlin drifted back in. A single Pintail was notable amongst the commoner ducks. We had a quick look in at Dauke’s Hide anyway, adding a Black-tailed Godwit feeding in deeper water in the far corner to the day’s list. The Spotted Redshank was still asleep! We decided to head round to the East Bank next.

It was a bit breezy up on the bank. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but they were keeping well tucked down today. There were quite a few Meadow Pipits chasing each other round the grazing meadow the other side and we heard a Skylark too.

There were quite a few waders out on Pope’s Pool – mostly Ruff, probably including some which had flown here when they were flushed from Simmond’s Scrape. There was a Common Sandpiper too, and several Common Snipe, but there was a surprising amount of shimmer in the air which made it hard to make out any detail at that range. Thankfully, we found another Common Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the Serpentine, which was much easier to see.

We had a quick look in the main drain as we passed, but there was no sign of the Otter. Just a rather distant Little Grebe diving in the channel. So we carried straight on to the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh.

There were lots of birds on Arnold’s – a large flock of waders and another of Sandwich Terns. Through the scope, we could see the waders were mainly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. In amongst them were several much smaller Dunlin and four Ringed Plovers. A small party of Curlews were roosting in the vegetation off to one side. This was where most of the waders were now hiding!

The Black-tailed Godwits were already starting to drift off back towards the reserve, in small groups, when everything erupted. We looked up to see two Hobbys shooting across the sky, one following after the other. Having sown pandemonium, they gained height and then one of them set off at speed after a Dunlin, chasing it off over Pope’s Pool, followed by the second. The Dunlin was too quick for them – they had lost the element of surprise – and the two Hobbys gave up, flying off over the reedbed towards the reserve.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns & Black-tailed Godwits – spooked by a pair of Hobbys

Most of the waders settled quickly back down again on Arnold’s, but some headed off back towards the reserve too. We stopped to scan through them again and about five minutes later, the Hobbys were back for another go, putting everything up again, but powering straight on through without stopping.

A distant flock of ducks caught our eye, coming in over the sea just beyond the shingle ridge. There were about forty of them, mostly Wigeon but with a few Teal mixed in, fresh arrivals from the Continent coming here for the winter, migration in action! With a moderate north wind, there had been some seabirds seen along the coast too this morning, so we thought we would have a quick look. We headed out to the beach.

As we got out to the shingle ridge, another group of six Wigeon flew past above us and four more Teal came in low over the sea. Several of the Sandwich Terns were now fishing just offshore and further out, we picked up some larger white birds flying past over the sea, Gannets. There was a steady trickle of Gannets past as we stood on the beach, and a single Fulmar. We also spotted a couple of distant groups of Common Scoter flying past, more returning migrants.

Gannets

Gannets – there was a steady trickle past over the sea

It was a bit chilly standing around in the wind out on the beach so, when someone told us the Otter had been showing earlier in the main drain, we headed back for a look. It had apparently been close to the sluice but had now swum further down the channel. We could see it in the distance, diving in the green blanket weed and we had a good look at it through the scope.

The Hobbys did yet another pass, coming in low over the grazing marsh and heading off over the reedbed, much closer this time. We didn’t know which way to look – Hobbys or Otter?!

The Otter caught an eel and climbed out onto the bank. Then it slipped back into the water and started swimming towards us. It kept diving and each time it resurfaced it was much closer. We stood quietly on the sluice and waited. It came closer and closer, before it was just a few metres from us. It came through the sparse reeds along the edge of the channel and then swam out right in front of us. We could even see the Otter still had the eel in its mouth, before it dived and the trail of bubbles disappeared through the sluice right below us! Amazing.

Otter

Otter – swam through the sluice right below us

That was a great way to end the morning, and we headed round to the visitor centre for lunch, very pleased with what we had seen. After lunch, we drove back along to the Iron Road. We were a bit disappointed to see that they had just been topping the grazing meadows with a tractor, presumably causing lots of disturbance, although the tractor driver appeared to have gone off for his lunch now.

The Iron Road pool looked quite dry and deserted, so we made our way along the path towards Babcock Hide. Several Egyptian Geese had already moved back in to the recently cut grass.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – a juvenile from Iceland

When we got to the hide and opened the flaps, we could see lots of waders in the water just in front. Most of them appeared to be Common Redshanks but there were a couple of juvenile Black-tailed Godwits too, which had come here from Iceland where they had been raised over the summer.

There were 26 Common Redshanks together in the flock but with them was one bird which looked subtly different. It was a touch darker grey, more brightly spotted on the wings, with bright white above the lores meeting over the bill and a slightly longer and finer bill. It was another juvenile Spotted Redshank.

It was really good to see the two species side by side, particularly watching their subtly different feeding actions, the Spotted Redshank sweeping its bill more quickly and vigorously from side to side through the shallow water.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank & Common Redshanks – spot the odd one out!

As we made our way back towards the road, along the track from the hide, we happened to glimpse something dropping down by the cattle gates at the top. It could have been anything and was almost certainly nothing interesting, but just the way it flew triggered some unconscious interest. We walked up to the gates but couldn’t see anything.

The tractor had been driven away earlier and the main gate out to the road left open, so rather than walk out through the pedestrian gate at the side, we walked out towards the main road. As we did so, a bird flew out of a very small bramble just before the bridge over the ditch. It was rather pale grey-brown, probably just one of the regular House Sparrows which are often along here, but as it flew away from us down the line of the ditch it looked oddly long-tailed. As it turned and dropped into the grassy bank beside the ditch, it looked like a Wryneck.

With the group standing on the path back towards the car and one of us walking back along the road, we were hoping the bird would fly back out to the fence or one of the bramble bushes further along the ditch. But before we could all get in place, the bird took off again. It flew up several metres into the sky, circled round and headed off over the road. This time we could see it definitely was a Wryneck! Unfortunately, it flew away strongly over the field the other side and was gone.

Wryneck is a scarce visitor here, a drift migrant which only arrives if the wind is coming off the continent when it is on its way from Scandinavia down to Africa, so this was a great bird to find. And all the more so here, a totally unexpected place to see one!

With the chance that migrants were starting to arrive, we returned to the car and carried on along the coast road to Kelling. It was rather quiet as we walked along the lane towards the Water Meadow. A Chiffchaff and a Blackcap both called from somewhere in the hedge, both probably local birds rather than migrants. There was no sign of anything of interest around the copse. A little flock of Linnets was in the brambles by the Water Meadow.

Linnet

Linnet – a small flock was around the Water Meadow

When we got to the cross track and could look back at the pool, we could see lots of gulls bathing and a small group loafing in the grass on the edge. There was a nice selection – mostly Black-headed Gulls, but also a few Herring Gulls, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull. There were a few ducks too, largely Teal and Shoveler, but also another lone Pintail – they are starting to return now and this is an unusual place to see one, so the two we saw today may have been fresh returnees.

We carried on along the track towards the beach, scanning the bushes and brambles to see if we could find any grounded migrants, but there was no sign of any here. A Brown Hare ran down the hillside towards us, but stopped and started to feed in the long grass. Another Brown Hare had found a sheltered spot, out of the wind, in the lee of the bushes behind the beach.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – sheltering from the wind

As we walked along the track up the hillside just behind the beach, we scanned the sea to see if anything was passing offshore. Several Sandwich Terns flew past, presumably returning from fishing further along the coast. A fairly close-in Fulmar was also notable, but we couldn’t see anything more interesting.

There were no birds around the gun emplacements but we did eventually managed to locate a rather distant Stonechat, looking out across Weybourne Camp to the radar towers. There was still no sign of any migrants here, so we started to make our way back.

As we got back to the village, we could see four Common Buzzards over the hillside beyond, where the land rises up onto the Holt-Cromer ridge. With a north wind blowing, there was presumably quite an updraft for them today and they were hanging almost completely still, seemingly effortlessly. They were playing too, two of the swooping at each other, talon grappling. We stood for a couple of minutes watching them.

It was a lovely way to end a couple of very enjoyable days spent looking for migrants and more along the coast here.

22nd July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. We were heading down to the Brecks today. The weather has been getting progressively hotter, and today was the warmest of the days we were out. It was bright and sunny in the morning and, although it did cloud over a little in the afternoon, it was still hot and humid.

The Peregrine was back on the church tower again this morning, so once we had picked everyone up we took a short detour round to see it. It had just finished devouring its breakfast and was digesting, perched high on one of the stones protruding from the tower, dozing in the morning sunshine. We got the scope on it and had a fantastic, full-frame view.

IMG_5794

Peregrine – back on the church tower again this morning

It was such a treat to get so close views of a Peregrine, we eventually had to tear ourselves away to head off on the journey down to the Brecks.

Once we got into the north Brecks, we took a detour off the road to look for Stone Curlews. At the end of the breeding season they start to gather in larger flocks in favoured fields, and we hoped to find some today. We stopped to scan the field where they have been recently, but we couldn’t find any there this morning. Then we heard Stone Curlews calling and realised they were in the field the other side of the road.

There is a thick hedge the other side of the road and it is impossible to see into the field, so we walked up to try to find a gap from where we could view. Some of the Stone Curlews must have been close to the hedge, because they took off and flew round, over our heads and across the road to the field we had been scanning. Two swung round and dropped down in view, but the rest, at least another ten, flew out to the middle of the field. The ground slopes away here and they dropped in out of view.

Turning our attention to the two Stone Curlews which had dropped down where we could see them, we trained the scope on them and had a great look at them. We could see their staring yellow iris and short black-tipped yellow bill, very unlike a curlew. They are not members of the curlew family at all, just named for their curlew-like calls, but actually members of the thick-knee family.

IMG_5822

Stone Curlew – two landed in view in the field

One of the Stone Curlews sat down in the stony field and promptly all but disappeared – they are very well camouflaged! While we were watching them, we heard Tree Sparrows calling and looked across to see two land in a large bush out in the middle of the field. Through the scope, we could see the black spots in the middle of their white cheeks.

Our main destination for the day was to be Lakenheath Fen. Unfortunately, we had to take a big diversion to get there today. We hit a big traffic jam at Weeting, where the traffic had backed up trying to get into this weekend’s Weeting Steam Rally. The tailback was right through the village and almost back to the main road! The organisers really need to do something about their chaotic parking arrangements next year – they clearly could not cope with the number of cars arriving. The diversion did at least yield a Mistle Thrush on some wires by the road as we passed.

We eventually arrived at Lakenheath to find they had their own ‘bioblitz’ event on today. While we were arranging access permits, we had a quick look at the various creatures they had already gathered. Unfortunately they had not kept many of the most interesting moths from the moth traps, but we did have a look at the Poplar Hawkmoth and Garden Tiger moths which had been put onto one of the screens round the back of the visitor centre.

One of the group had wandered back towards the car park, and saw the first Bittern of the day. It was a distinctive female with an injured leg which hangs down in flight, known as ‘Gammyleg’. It had disappeared off upstream along the river towards Brandon Fen, away from the reserve.

We needed to limit the amount of walking for the group today, so we were granted a disabled permit and drove out to the disabled parking area by New Fen viewpoint. We walked up to the viewpoint and looked out over the reedbed. Apart from a few Coot, a Moorhen and a couple of Mallard, there was not much to see here today. It was already hot, and activity levels seemed to have dropped.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer – basking on the path

The number of dragonflies and damselflies here is starting to tail off now, but walking out along the bank on the south side of New Fen we still saw a good variety. There were lots of Brown Hawkers hawking over the reeds and an Emperor Dragonfly patrolled up and down the path, past us. One or two Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the path and flew off ahead of us. A couple of rather worn Four-spotted Chasers perched on the reeds, but the Ruddy Darters were looking much smarter. Damselflies included Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselfly.

There were a few butterflies too – Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Large White. A Brimstone was feeding on some burdock flowers.

Brimstone

Brimstone – feeding on burdock

One or two Common Whitethroats darted out of the vegetation ahead of us and we saw a couple of Reed Warblers which disappeared into the reeds as we approached. The warden and one of his assistants were out in a boat, collecting things for the ‘bioblitz’, and flushed some Grey Herons from the reeds. When they had all taken to the air, sixteen birds were flying round together in a big flock! Three Little Egrets flew past, upstream along the river and a Green Sandpiper disappeared off that way too.

We hadn’t gone too far before we spotted the first Bittern for the rest of the group. It was rather distant, over the far side of New Fen. It flew across over the reeds and dropped down out of sight. A little further on, we turned to see another Bittern coming round the far corner of the wood back behind us, away in the distance. We watched as it headed steadily towards us.

When it got closer, we could see that it had a dangling leg – it was ‘Gammyleg’, the female Bittern one of the group had seen earlier. It flew in right past us and dropped down into the reeds a short distance ahead of us, giving us great flight views as it did so. It is feeding young at the moment, so had obviously been off along the river collecting food.

Bittern

Bittern – the bird known as ‘Gammyleg’ flying in over the reeds

We walked up to where the Bittern had seemed to go down and scanned the reeds, as much as we could see into them, but there was no sign of it. We hadn’t gone much further along here before we looked back to see ‘Gammyleg’ heading off again, back round the far corner of the wood, presumably back to where it had been feeding earlier.

There had been a family of Bitterns seen from Mere Hide in recent weeks, but they have not been seen for a few days. That much was immediately apparent also from the fact that we had no trouble getting into the hide. When the Bitterns were showing, it was impossible to get in, as the place was packed out with photographers taking up occupation of the place from dawn to dusk! We had a quick sit down and scan, before moving on.

The family of Great Crested Grebes is still on one of the pools by the path out to Joist Fen. The four juveniles are now pretty much fully grown – too big to ride on mum or dad’s back now. They still have stripy faces, which distinguishes them from the adults.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – an adult and one of the now fully grown juveniles

A little further on and a Red Kite appeared from beyond West Wood, flying in low over the river before circling up over the trees. As we got out to Joist Fen, we started to see more Marsh Harriers and there were several juveniles out from the viewpoint, indulging in a bit of flying practice over the reeds.

The Hobbys can be harder to find here at this time of year, but we did manage to locate one from the viewpoint. It was very distant though, circling up right at the back of Joist Fen. There wasn’t much else happening out here today though, so after a short rest we set off back. On the way, a Common Buzzard was circling over the corner of West Wood now.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circling up over West Wood

We could hear a Kingfisher calling from the poplars, but we couldn’t see it. It was getting quiet hot now, so we made our way back to the car and headed back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we walked up to the Washland viewpoint. The water on here is evaporating fast now, which at least has the advantage of making it attractive to waders. There were quite a few Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallow water and a large flock of Lapwing on the mud at the edge. In with the latter, were three Curlew and an Oystercatcher too. A single Common Redshank was wading out in the middle. A few Common Terns were hawking around over the remaining water.

The temperature and timing, in the middle of the afternoon, was not really conducive for looking for passerines, but we headed off to Lynford Arboretum to try our luck. We could hear Siskin calling as we got out of the car and saw one flying off from the top of the larches as we walked down through the arboretum. A Nuthatch was calling from somewhere in the distance, but otherwise it was very quiet in the trees.

We walked down to the bridge and someone had put some seed out on one of the pillars. Several Chaffinches were busy feeding here, but nothing else. A Goldfinch came down to drink in the paddock just beyond. We decided to have a look round the lake.

The Little Grebes here have obviously had a successful breeding season – first we found a very advanced juvenile on its own, then an adult feeding a very well-grown juvenile under the over-hanging trees (we could hear its begging calls first), and finally we came across another pair with three very small juveniles.

Little Grebes

Little Grebes – this pair have three still very small juveniles

There was not much sign of any passerine activity down around the lake either, so we headed on round to the weir to see if we could find one of the Grey Wagtails. The water has largely stopped flowing out of the lake now, beyond a trickle, but as we walked in through the trees a Grey Wagtail flew off from the near bank and landed on an upturned wooden box out in the middle. We watched it bobbing its tail, before it flew back and started to feed along the far edge.

Looking back to the weir, we noticed some ripples in the water at the bottom and looked across to see a small mammal. It appeared to be bathing at first but when we looked more closely, we realised it was feeding, diving under the water. It was a Water Shrew – something we see very rarely. It surfaced with something in its mouth and hopped out onto the rocks, disappearing off to the bank. A few seconds later, it reappeared and ran down into the water again.

We stood and watched the Water Shrew feeding for several minutes – it was fascinating to observe one for an extended period, as normally all you see of them is one disappearing off in the water. We could see its long pointed nose, black fur contrasting with paler silver belly and quite a long tail. Eventually the Water Shrew disappeared into the rocks again and we decided to walk back.

When we got back to the bridge, activity seemed to have picked up a bit. The Chaffinches were still feeding on the seed on the pillar, but as we walked up we heard a Marsh Tit calling immediately behind them. It was flicking around in the trees just beyond, low down, hanging on the branches and picking at the underside of the leaves. A Treecreeper called and appeared from around the back on the trunk of the tree right beside us.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – looking for insects on the underside of the leaves

Walking back up through the middle of the arboretum, we came across a large tit flock. A Nuthatch was with them, in a tall birch tree. Unusually, it was feeding by hovering and trying to pick insects off the leaves – not something you see often. There were also Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits.

The afternoon was getting on now and it was time to be heading back. On the way, we called in briefly at a clearing in the forest. There have been Tree Pipits breeding here, but there was no sign of them this afternoon. A male Yellowhammer appeared briefly in the top of a young oak tree, with food in its bill. Presumably it still has young in the nest nearby.

We had a quick walk to the edge of the clearing. Several birds flew out of the dense bracken and dropped back in further along. A mixed tit flock were feeding in here, possibly finding more food here in the cool, dark conditions, and with them were a couple of Blackcap and one or two Common Whitethroat.

Unfortunately, we were out of time and we had to head for home now. It had been an exciting three days with a great variety of birds and other wildlife, some of the best Norfolk has to offer in summer.