Tag Archives: Hobby

30th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #3

Day 3 of a three day Summer Tour today, our last day. It was a lovely day to be out, bright with some nice spells of sunshine, slightly less windy than recent days. We set off down to the Brecks.

Our first target was to look for Stone Curlews. At our first stop, a favourite site for them, we pulled up at a gateway and immediately saw four out in a field of pigs. A great start. They were some distance away, so we got out of the car, but as we approached the gate we could see there were more there, at least 10 together in a group, hiding along the edge of the field. What we didn’t realise was that there were many more still, and some were much closer to us, hidden behind a line of tall weeds. Unfortunately they spooked. All of the Stone Curlews took off and we were amazed how many actually were hiding there, we counted 35 in total in the flock as they flew.

Stone Curlew 1Stone Curlews – some of the 35 after they flew out into the middle of the field

Thankfully the Stone Curlews landed again just a little further out. While we were watching them, what appeared to be a different group of ten flew in overhead and out into the field to join them. We couldn’t believe it – 45. However, even then we weren’t finished. We could hear more Stone Curlews calling, away to our right, and looked over to see another ten. At least 55 Stone Curlews!

Stone Curlew 2Stone Curlew – loafing and preening around the fields

We watched the Stone Curlews for some time. They were settled now. Some went to sleep, others were preening. Most moved round until they were tucked back up against the lines of taller vegetation. They usually gather into flocks at the end of the breeding season, but this seems rather early for there to be so many Stone Curlews here. Regardless, it was a fantastic experience, watching so many of them. The group were rendered quite speechless for a while!

Stone Curlew 3Stone Curlews – the pigs occasionally got in the way!

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away. We drove round to another set of pig fields, where there are often large groups of gulls gathering at this time of year. Sure enough, we found a large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls here, so we stopped to scan through them. We found a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls, nice adults with medium grey backs, much paler than the Lesser Black-backs but darker then a Herring Gull, and bright yellow legs.

Yellow-legged GullYellow-legged Gull – with Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the pig fields

Our next stop was over at Lakenheath Fen. We stopped briefly at the Visitor Centre to get an update on what was showing today and were surprised to hear that the Cranes seemed to have flown off already, a couple of days earlier. This is very early this year, as they do not normally leave for the winter until later in August. That was disappointing as we had hoped to see them here today, but still, we went out onto the reserve for a quick look to see what we could find.

New Fen looked quiet at first, with just a family of Coot and a Moorhen on the pool. We picked up a couple of falcons circling over West Wood. The first was a Kestrel, but the second looked more interesting. We got it in the scope and confirmed it was a Hobby. We could see lots of Swifts and hirundines high in the sky over the river. The Hobby circled up, climbing above them, until we eventually lost sight of it in the clouds.

A Kingfisher flew over and disappeared into the trees, just a flash of blue too quick for everyone to see. We could hear it or another calling from the wood behind us, presumably where it is nesting. A little later, it appeared again, and this time hovered for some time, a minute or so, high above a patch of open water in the reeds so that everyone could get a good look at it.

KingfisherKingfisher – hovering over the reeds

Reed Warblers kept zipping back and forth low over the water, in and out of the patch of reeds in the middle of the pool. We heard Bearded Tits calling at one point but it was still a bit breezy today and they kept themselves tucked down in the reeds.

Continuing on across the reserve, we stopped to look at several different dragonflies. There were several different hawkers out – golden-brown-winged Brown Hawkers, a couple of Migrant Hawkers and a smart Southern Hawker which patrolled in front of us at a shady point in the path. There were lots of darters too, several smart red Ruddy Darters along the edge of the reeds and more Common Darters basking on the path.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – there were lots of dragonflies out at Lakenheath Fen today

On one of the pools by the path, an adult Great Crested Grebe was feeding a well grown juvenile, the latter still sporting its black and white striped face.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – a stripy faced juvenile

Out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, we stopped for a break on the benches overlooking the reedbed. Several Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds, mostly chocolate brown juveniles. One of the juveniles flew up from a bush as a male Marsh Harrier flew in towards it. The male was carrying something in its talons and flew up as the juvenile approached, dropping the food for the youngster to catch.

It was quite breezy out over the reeds. We did manage a brief Hobby from here, but it was very distant, over the trees at the back. Another Kingfisher flew over the tops of the reeds and dropped down into the channel, flying away us in a flash of electric blue. There was no sign of any Bitterns while we were there. It was lovely out here in the sunshine, but we couldn’t stop here very long today.

On the walk back, we popped in for a very quick visit to Mere Hide. It was very quiet around the pool here – it is often sheltered, but it was catching the wind today. A Reed Warbler was climbing around on the edge of the reeds.

We stopped for lunch at the visitor centre. Afterwards, we had a quick walk round the car park. A juvenile Redstart has been here for the last day or so, and we found it in the small trees along the edge of the car park, but it was very elusive and flighty. We could just see it flicking out of the tree ahead of us and across the car park a couple of times. It is an unusual bird here, just the third record for the reserve in recent years apparently.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the Forest. We tried several clearings for Woodlark, but it was very quiet. It was the middle of a summer’s afternoon and the end of the breeding season. At one of the stops, we heard a Tree Pipit call briefly as we walked in along a ride, but by the time we got to where we thought it would be we couldn’t find it. There were plenty of Stonechats. We found several family parties – it looks like it has been a good breeding season for them.

Large SkipperLarge Skipper – there were lots out in the Forest today

There were lots of butterflies and dragonflies along the rides, the former feeding in particular on the large quantities of knapweed which are currently flowering. We saw lots of Large Skipper and a single Essex Skipper. A Brimstone flew across a ride in front of us and several Speckled Woods were in the shadier spots. A single Grayling was basking on a patch of bare earth out in the sun and we flushed a couple of Small Heath from the grass nearby. Ringlet was a species which had surprisingly eluded us so far, but at our last stop, we finally found a few of these too. A Roe Deer strolled across a ride in front of us.

Essex SkipperEssex Skipper – our third species of Skipper for the weekend

Our last stop of the day was at Lynford Arboretum. It can sometimes be quiet here in the afternoons, but as we walked into the Arboretum, there were lots of birds around in the trees. A Spotted Flycatcher flicked out across the edge of the path near the cottage gates and darted back in to the bushes. We found it perched on some netting around a newly planted tree. We watched it for a while and it quickly became clear there were at least two, possibly three Spotted Flycatchers feeding around here.

Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher – 2 or 3 were around the entrance to the Arboretum

A Nuthatch appeared on a tree trunk nearby, climbing up and down, probing into the bark. A young Goldcrest was feeding low down in a fir tree. There were several Coal Tits and a couple of Siskins flew over calling. It was nice and sheltered in the top of the Arboretum, but more exposed to the wind once we got out onto the slope beyond.

As we made our way down to the lake, we could hear Marsh Tit calling, but once we got down there there was no sign of it. We walked a short way along the path which runs beside the lake on the far side. There were several Little Grebes out on the water among the lily pads. An adult Little Grebe was feeding two well grown juveniles on the edge of the reeds – it looked stunning in the afternoon sunlight.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – an adult feeding one of its two young

Back at the bridge, we heard the Marsh Tit calling again. It flew down to one of the old fence posts by the bridge and started looking for food. People often put birdseed on the bridge here, but there was none here for it today.

With members of the group heading off in different directions and a long drive it was time to call it a day. It had been a great three days with some really memorable moments – not least the Stone Curlews from this morning, but also the raptors and all the waders we had seen on the previous two days. Great summer birding in Norfolk (and just into Suffolk!).

22nd July 2017 – Raptors & Waders

A single day Summer Tour today, we were looking for birds of prey in the morning and then heading to the coast afterwards. We were lucky with the weather – it was raining early this morning but stopped just as we got out of the car at our first stop, and then we avoided the showers until we got back to the car park at the end of the day!

As we drove to our first destination of the morning, a rather damp Kestrel was perched on some wires by the road in the drizzle. Thankfully we could see blue sky in the west heading our way. A Sparrowhawk zipped across the road and over the hedge the other side. A nice way to start our morning looking for raptors.

We stopped at the bottom of a farm track and walked up to a convenient vantage point from which we could scan the surrounding countryside. A pair of Grey Partridge flew off from the grass as we got out of the car. It was rather cool, not the perfect morning for birds of prey, but after the rain there was still lots of activity, with birds flying around and making the most of the dry weather.

A Common Buzzard was perched in a tree and another circled up over the wood. We saw a Sparrowhawk in the distance and, a little later, one appeared in the top of a dead bush in the hedge at the bottom of the field in front of us. A little while later, it circled up, alternating bouts of flapping with glides, turning in tight circles before heading off towards a nearby wood.

There were other birds besides the raptors. There were lots of Swifts hawking for insects over the fields, gaining height gradually as it started to warm up. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling – a rare breeder in this part of the world these days. A sharp ‘kik’ call alerted us to a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying overhead. A pair of Stock Doves flew over the field towards us, banking away sharply when they spotted us. A Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge and several Skylarks started to sing and flutter up higher into the sky as the sun came out.

6O0A0904Skylark – fluttering up over the fields, singing

With our mission accomplished, we made our way back to the car and headed for Titchwell, which was to be our destination for the rest of the day. It was already late morning by the time we got there. We had a quick look round the overflow car park, although there were a few cars parking in there now. We could hear Bullfinches calling and flushed a couple of Greenfinches out of the bushes as we passed. A Blackcap came up from the brambles into a small elder, calling.

Round at the visitor centre, there were a few Greenfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders, as well as a Blue Tit and Great Tit or two. A Dunnock was hopping around underneath and a streaky juvenile Robin was enjoying the crumbs around the picnic tables. A juvenile Moorhen was eyeing up the birdtable but couldn’t work up the courage to jump up onto it.

6O0A0915Robin – this juvenile was looking for crumbs around the picnic tables

We decided to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed before lunch. As we walked round past Fen Hide, a Hobby flashed past over the reeds and disappeared round behind the trees, the first of several sightings we would get of it today.

There were quite a few ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed today, in particular a good number of Common Pochard. The drake dabbling ducks are all in their drab eclipse plumage now, but we could see there were just Mallard and Gadwall here. There was a single Egyptian Goose too. A couple of stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebes were swimming around the edge of the reeds and there were several Little Grebes too – an adult diving in the pondweed at the back and two drabber juveniles along the bank at the front.

There was quite a bit of juvenile Marsh Harrier action, with several birds flying around over the reeds or chasing each other up over the trees. We got good views of a couple of perched birds which gave us a chance to look at some of the variation in head pattern. One juvenile had a more classic head pattern, with golden orange crown and throat, separated by a dark mask. Another had an almost all chocolate brown head, with just a patch of golden feathers on the back of its crown.

6O0A0925Marsh Harrier – a juvenile, all dark with a golden yellow-orange head

It was time for lunch now, so we walked back, stopping briefly by the dragonfly pool. A Southern Hawker was flying around over the reeds. It looked odd at first, bright rusty orange, until we realised it had caught a butterfly and was in the process of eating it, discarding the wings when it was finished. There were several Common Darter here too.

A young Blackcap, with a rusty brown crown, came up out of the reeds and flew up into the edge of the trees. There were a couple of Reed Warblers in here too and we got nice views of one of them when it flew back into some brambles and started climbing around in the top, looking for insects.

After lunch back in the picnic area, we headed out to explore the rest of the reserve. As we walked down the main path, we heard a Bearded Tit calling nearby and just caught the back end of it as it dived into the reeds. It didn’t reappear, but thankfully we would see several more today. The reedbed pool held a few Mallard, with a single Tufted Duck diving in between them. An adult Great Crested Grebe was sleeping on the edge of the reeds at the back.

Another Hobby shot across the reeds and headed out over the saltmarsh, flushing a variety of birds out of the vegetation. A flock of about 15 Curlew appeared from nowhere and flew round before dropping back into the purple sea lavendar out of view.

As we walked up towards Island Hide, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling and we saw a couple of long-tailed birds zipping over the reeds before dropping down out of view. Thankfully, some of this year’s juvenile Bearded Tits have been showing very well in recent weeks on the edge of the reeds just before the hide, so rather than try to see them in the thicker part of the reedbed, we made our way along to the edge of the freshmarsh.

Sure enough, there were the Bearded Tits. We stood and watched them for a while. We could see at least five tawny coloured juveniles, climbing around the base of the reeds and occasionally hopping out onto the mud in full view. It is great to see them like this and we had some cracking views of them, especially through the scope.

6O0A0955Bearded Tit – at least 5 juveniles were showing very well on the edge of the reeds

There was one other bird we really wanted to make sure we saw here today so, after watching the Bearded Tits for a while, we made our way straight round to the other side of Island Hide. The adult Pectoral Sandpiper was in its usual place, on the mud right below the path. It has been delighting visitors with fantastic close up views here for several days now and we were not disappointed.

Pectoral Sandpiper is an occasional visitor here. They breed in the arctic in eastern Siberia and North America, with most of the population wintering in South America, so this one was a long way from home. Pectoral Sandpipers are small waders, not much bigger than Dunlin, with a heavily streaked breast sharply divided from a white belly, the curved border between which is the pectoral band from which it gets its name.

6O0A0636Pectoral Sandpiper – showing extremely well on the mud by Island Hide

While watching the Pectoral Sandpiper, it was difficult not to get distracted by all the other waders out on the freshmarsh at the moment. It may be summer to us, but it is already autumn for many waders. They have already come back from their arctic breeding areas and gathering here to moult or feed up before continuing further south.

There were several Ruff feeding close to the bank. The males have already lost their distinctive ruffs which they have in breeding plumage and are in the process of moulting their body plumage, losing their bright and gaudy colours. At this stage, they come in a truly bewildering variety of different colours, a major source of confusion to the unaware.

6O0A11076O0A08426O0A0844Ruff – moulting out of breeding plumage, in a huge variety of different colours

In with them were a couple of female Ruff, also traditionally known as ‘Reeves‘. They are much smaller than the males and not as brightly coloured, meaning yet more potential confusion!

A line of Bar-tailed Godwits, roosting on the freshmarsh while high tide covers the beach where they typically feed, were mostly in grey winter plumage, although two summer males in with them were still bright rusty red. There were several groups of Black-tailed Godwits too, feeding in the deeper water at the back or sleeping on the islands.

There were other waders dropping in here all the time, birds on the move, just arriving back from the continent. A Whimbrel dropped in amongst a flock of Oystercatchers on the edge of one of the islands, stopping to bathe and preen before disappearing again. A small group of six Golden Plovers flew in and landed briefly, before carrying on west.

There had been a Curlew Sandpiper reported earlier, but we couldn’t find it in with the small flocks of Dunlin on here. Then a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull flew in and started flying round over the scrape, flushing all the waders, the Avocets being particularly jumpy, taking to the air at the slightest hint of danger and swirling round in a big flock. There have been close to 500 Avocets on the freshmarsh in recent days, both birds which have bred here and others which have come here to moult.

6O0A1001Avocets – swirling round in a huge flock at the slightest hint of danger

As things settled down again, it was clear all the Dunlin had flown off. The Spotted Redshanks settled back down though, and the more we looked, the more we found. There were at least five here today, probably more. They are all moulting adults, all already having lost much of their black summer plumage, with some mottled and one already almost in silvery grey winter plumage. A few Common Redshanks were out the other side of Parrinder Hide.

6O0A1156Spotted Redshank – moulting out of its black summer plumage

A small group of Turnstone flew in, presumably pushed off the beach by the rising tide. A couple were still in pristine breeding plumage, stunning birds with white faces and bright chestnut feathers in their upperparts. A lone Common Sandpiper on the tern island was another migrant on its way south, but the juvenile Little Ringed Plovers had probably been raised on site here.

The Spoonbills were hiding around the far edge of the small overgrown island at the back of the freshmarsh at first. They were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! We could see 4-5 large white shapes. When the gull buzzed the freshmarsh and spooked all the waders, the Spoonbills woke up and shuffled to the edge of the island. We could now see there were actually eight of them.

IMG_6365Spoonbills – at least 8 were sleeping round the back of the small island

There were Spoonbills coming and going too. First, one flew in from Thornham saltmarsh but continued straight on past the freshmarsh. Then another flew in from the same direction, but this one circled round and dropped down onto the edge of the island with the others. Then two of the group took off and flew straight towards us, passing over our heads before continuing on towards Thornham Harbour. They were immatures, with black wing tips still.

6O0A1028Spoonbill – these two flew off over our heads and out towards Thornham Harbour

There are lots of gulls and terns on the freshmarsh too at the moment. Lots of Black-headed Gulls have bred here and there were numerous brown-backed juveniles sitting around on the islands. Occasionally, they would find one of their parents and start hounding them for food, begging. Typical teenagers! About nine pairs of Mediterranean Gulls have bred here this year, in with the Black-headed Gulls. There are several juvenile Mediterranean Gulls around at the moment, very smart and distinctive birds with their scalloped upperparts.

IMG_6453Mediterranean Gull – a smart juvenile, just starting to get a few fresh grey feathers

There have been a few Little Gulls around the freshmarsh for some time now. Eventually we found two of them today, one rather more uniform pale grey above, the other with quite extensive black in the wings and a darker head. Both were first summer birds. There were several Common Terns around the islands too.

We could see dark clouds building to the south, so we decided to make a quick dash for the beach.The tide was already covering the mussel beds when we got there and there were no waders left on the sand. There were lots of white shapes flying back and forth or diving offshore – Sandwich Terns. A smaller tern patrolling back and forth just the beach was a Little Tern. A couple of distant Gannets flew past, but there was no sign of any Arctic Skuas now. We had one eye on the weather and, at this stage, we decided discretion was the better part and bade a quick getaway, back to Parrinder Hide.

As it was, the rain passed to the west of us and we got no rain at Titchwell at this stage. It was woryhwhile coming into the hide anyway. Many of the birds were the same as those we had seen earlier from the main path. However, we were just commenting on how there were no Dunlin here now, when three small waders flew in together. Two of them were Dunlin, but the third was larger and flashed a white rump as it landed. It was a very smart adult summer Curlew Sandpiper, still with mostly rusty chestnut underparts. It started feeding, working its way in and out of the Bar-tailed Godwits, wading in up to its belly in the water.

IMG_6421Curlew Sandpiper – dropped in to the freshmarsh with two Dunlin

We looked back along the near edge, out to the east of Parrinder Hide and were thrilled to see a single Common Snipe. Unfortunately it didn’t stay put for long, but was chased by one of the local Moorhen. The Snipe flicked up but quickly landed again, adopting a threat posture, bowing down and lifting its tail to flash to its aggressor. Pretty quickly, something spooked it and it flew off.

It was time to head back now anyway, but with more dark clouds approaching from the south, we could see it was raining beyond. We walked briskly back to the car, encountering just a small amount of light drizzle before we got back, just in time. It started to rain properly as we loaded up the car, and we then drove into torrential rain. But it didn’t matter now, at the end of the day. Overall, we had been very lucky with the weather – it had been a great day, with some great birds.

25th June 2017 – Summer Weekend, Day 2

The second day of a weekend of Summer birding, looking for some of our scarcer breeding birds, as well as the more regular species we can see here at this time of year. It was mostly cloudy but pleasantly warm and bright, and we managed for the most part to dodge the showers in the afternoon, at least until we had finished for the day.

On the drive down to the Brecks, we saw several Red Kites today, hanging in the air by the road. We took a meandering route, looking for Stone Curlews and other birds on the way down. The pig fields in the northern Brecks were full of Rooks, Jackdaws and gulls. We stopped to look through a particularly large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and were rewarded with a single adult Yellow-legged Gull with them – larger, bulkier and with a much paler grey back and custard yellow legs.

The first couple of fields where we looked for Stone Curlew, we drew a blank. The vegetation is getting very tall now and the birds are getting much harder to see. But on our third stop, we found one Stone Curlew out in the open on rather bare and stony ground. Even though we remained at some considerable distance, it was a little nervous at first, running in a couple of short bursts across towards the edge of the field. We stood still behind the car and it quickly settled down, standing and preening.

Stone Curlew

In the end, we had to tear ourselves away and left the Stone Curlew still standing out in the open in the field. With one of our main target species for the day already in the bag, we decided to head straight over to Lakenheath Fen next.

As we walked out onto the reserve at Lakenheath, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the bushes. There were lots of Reed Warblers feeding in the reeds and weedy vegetation by the path. There were lots of butterflies too – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a smart Large Skipper.

Large SkipperLarge Skipper – on the walk out by the main path

We stopped at New Fen Viewpoint for a scan across the reeds. There were just a few Coots on the pool today, adults and juveniles of varying ages. A Common Tern flew in and started hovering out over the water. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across, and we saw a brief Hobby which was chasing a Magpie over the back of the reeds. A very distant pair of Kestrels circled over West Wood.

A Cuckoo was singing from the poplars as we walked out and, while we stood at the viewpoint, one came out of the trees behind us and flew out across over the reeds. It disappeared into the poplars along the other side. There were several Reed Warblers zipping about in the reeds around the water.

There is only one pair of Common Cranes breeding here this year and they are not in an accessible part of the reserve, so we had assumed we would not see any here today. We had been told by the warden in the visitor centre that six Cranes had been reported earlier, but as they had been flying around we were not sure if they had gone. At this point however they circled up over West Wood, and we watched as they circled across to the river and started drifting east.

Common Crane 1Common Crane – six flew over New Fen while we were there today

It looked like the Cranes would continue east over the river but when they got level with us they turned, and started coming straight towards us over edge of trees. They were not far away when they finally banked over the wood and started to circle up, before drifting back east. A real bonus!

Common Crane 2Common Crane – four of the six circling over East Wood

Continuing out along the main path, we stopped from time to time to look at the various dragonflies. These included good numbers of Black-tailed Skimmers and Ruddy Darters now, although still comparatively few mature red males of the latter species, plus a few Brown Hawkers and plenty of Four-Spotted Chasers still.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – a maturing male, gradually turning red

There was an excellent selection of blue damselflies here too – including several of the regular Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies. The highlight was a single Variable Damselfly – a subtly marked one, with rather full blue antehumeral stripes.

Variable DamselflyVariable Damselfly – with rather complete black antehumeral stripes

Another, this time avian, highlight was the Great Crested Grebe on one of the pools by path near West Wood. On closer inspection, we could see it was carrying two small, stripy juvenile grebes on its back. We could just see their black and white heads sticking out from their parent’s feathers. Why swim when you can ride in comfort!

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – with two juveniles riding on its back

When we got out to Joist Fen Viewpoint, we sat down to rest after the walk out and had a look over the reeds in front. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reedbed and lots of Reed Warblers around the pool in front. A Hobby shot across low over the reeds, giving us much better views than we had of the one earlier.

We had seen a pair of Bearded Tits in the edge of the reeds just as we approached the Joist Fen Viewpoint, but they had flown up and over the bank ahead of us. Sitting on the benches we found ourselves watching non-stop Bearded Tit action. Birds were zipping back and forth over the pool and feeding low around the base of the reeds on the edge of the water.

One pair of Bearded Tits, possibly the one we had seen flying over this way on the way out, was feeding some juveniles hidden down in the reeds right in front of us. The youngsters would occasionally perch up in the reeds begging when one of the adults returned. We had great views of them.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – great views of adults feeding young in front of the viewpoint

This is a great time of year to see Bitterns at Lakenheath Fen, with adults busy feeding growing young in the nest, and so flying back and forth from their favoured feeding areas regularly. But they kept us waiting today. We had one eye on the clock, aiming to get back for lunch, and time was ticking. There was just one tantalising glimpse, which was too quick for anyone to get onto. Eventually, we had nice views when a Bittern flew out of the bushes beside the viewpoint and away across the reeds in front of us, before dropping down into the vegetation. It was perhaps not the best view of Bittern we have had here, but it was good enough and would have to do as we needed to get back.

It seems Bitterns are like buses. Having had to wait to see the first at Joist Fen, we were walking back when one flew up from the reeds in front of us, right next to the path, flushed by someone walking along the path towards us. It was very close, and we had a fantastic look at it as it flew out across the pool, turning to fly past us before dropping back into the reeds. As if that wasn’t good enough, as we were walking past Mere Hide, another Bittern flew towards us low over the reeds beside the path, and carried on straight past us. Fantastic views!

BitternBittern – we were treated to fantastic views of two on the walk back

With a spring in our step, we walked back to the visitor centre, for a later than planned lunch outside at the picnic tables. After lunch, we had a quick look at the Washland. It is getting rather dry now, but still we managed to add a few waders to the day’s list – Lapwings, Oystercatchers, two Little Ringed Plovers, and a single Redshank. There were a few Mallard and Gadwall with ducklings, and a couple of Common Terns too.

We drove back to Thetford Forest for the rest of the afternoon, to try to catch up with some woodland birds. The little clump of trees where the male Redstart was singing a couple of weeks ago is now quiet. However, as we walked round into the clearing, we caught a glimpse of a Woodlark in the corner drop down into the grass. We walked round there to try to get a closer look.

As we made our way over, a Tree Pipit started singing. We watched as it fluttered up and then parachuted down across in front of us, landing again in the back of a large hawthorn bush. We could just see bits of it in the scope. Then, a second Tree Pipit flew over calling, and dropped into the top of another bush further back. This one was out in the open and facing us, so we got a much better look at it in the scope, although it was rather distant.

Carrying on around the clearing, we flushed a Woodlark from the long grass beside the path, possibly the one we had seen earlier. It flew round past us, showing off its short tail, and landed in a nearby pine tree briefly. We got a good look through binoculars, but it dropped down into the thicker branches before we could get it in the scope. A little further on along the path, we flushed another three Woodlarks from the grass, presumably a family party.

Continuing up to the far end of the clearing, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing again. We didn’t see where it came from, but we looked round to see it fly up into the edge of the pines and land on a branch. We got it in the scope and had a proper look at it, much closer this time. It had started spitting with rain as we walked round, and now it started to rain harder. It was still only light, but we made our way quickly back to the car just in case.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – this one perched up nicely for us in the trees

Thankfully the rain stopped almost immediately, as we drove round to Lynford Arboretum for the last hour of the day. We had already seen all our main target species, but we hoped we might be able to catch up with a few commoner woodland species here for our trip list.

As we walked across the road and into the Aboretum, we could hear a Grey Wagtail calling as it flew over the trees above our head, but we couldn’t see it. Several Goldcrests were singing from the fir trees. We stopped to watch a pair of Treecreepers, chasing each other around the trunk of a tree just before the gates to the new cottages. Suddenly a Spotted Flycatcher appeared in the same tree right next to them.

Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher – showed really well as we walked in to the Arboretum

We got a great look at it, but the Spotted Flycatcher quickly flicked back over the other side of the garden wall behind. We walked up to the gates and could see it flitting around the roofs of the cottages. They are very subtle but very smart birds, and full of character. Spotted Flycatchers are getting much scarcer now, so it is always a pleasure to see one, especially as well as this.

Continuing on along the path, we stopped to admire the new wildflower meadow. It is looking really good this year, a riot of colour, and chock full of insects and butterflies. Several Emperor Dragonflies were hawking around over the vegetation. A female Kestrel was perched on a telegraph post in the field, and kept dropping down into the flowers, presumably after something tasty it had seen.

We had only gone a little further when we heard a bird calling from the trees across the field. It was a Hawfinch. We hurried along to a point from where we could scan over the trees and found it perched in the top of a fir tree. We all got a look at it through binoculars, but unfortunately it dropped down before we could get the scope onto it. We walked in along the path where it seemed to drop, but we couldn’t find it again. Hawfinches are regular here in the winter but are as rare as hens’ teeth here in the summer, and difficult to see when there are leaves on the trees too, so this was a real and most unexpected bonus!

Down over the bridge, we too the path along the side of the lake. There were a few tits in the trees and Swallows hawking for insects low over the paddocks. A Little Grebe was diving among the lily pads on the lake. As we turned to walk back, we spotted a juvenile Grey Wagtail lurking on the mud on the edge of the island.

It had been a very productive stop at Lynford and it made a really nice way to end the day and the weekend. We walked back up to the car – arriving just in time, as a heavy shower blew in. Our luck had certainly been in today!

10th June 2017 – Broads Birds, Butterflies & More

A private group tour today down in the Norfolk Broads. It was to be a day spent looking for birds, butterflies and dragonflies plus the odd orchid or two, a nice mixture of general wildlife. The day started cloudy but brightened up nicely and was bright and sunny with blue skies in the afternoon, even if the wind did pick up during the day again.

Our first destination was Potter Heigham. We were particularly hoping to see the Black-winged Stilts which have nested here, but it is possible to see a very good variety of different species here at the moment. As we made our way down along the access road, two Spoonbills were on one of the pools, the first of quite a few we would see here.

As we climbed up onto the bank, we could hear a couple of Reed Warblers singing. We eventually got a good look at one through the scope, perched up in the reeds. Along the river bank, there were a couple of Sedge Warblers singing too, which gave us a great opportunity to listen to the differences between them. One Sedge Warbler showed very nicely in front of us, so we could see its striking off white supercilium, very different from the plain face of the Reed Warbler. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the bushes but typically didn’t show itself.

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – singing from the reeds just ahead of us

Walking round the reeds, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. It seemed unlikely we would see one perched up today, with a fresh breeze blowing, but we had a good look each time called nonetheless. Then two tawny brown long-tailed shapes flicked up into the top of the reeds and stayed there just long enough for us all to get a quick look at them. A pair of Bearded Tits. The male was closest to us and slightly higher up the reeds, so we could see its powder blue head and black moustache.

There were a few hairy Garden Tiger moth caterpillars on the path again this morning – we had to keep one eye on the ground to avoid standing on them. A little later, we saw a Jackdaw on a post trying to eat one. It clearly did not want to eat the hairs, so was trying to pull it apart but appeared to be struggling.

We walked quickly round to where the Black-winged Stilts have been and immediately located one standing in the shallow water on the edge of one of the islands. We got it in the scope and had a look at it. However, it was immediately clear this was not one of the pair, but instead a lone male which has been hanging around the site too, with a black (rather than brown-tinged) mantle but lacking the black on the head of the breeding male. Still, it was a smart bird and a great start.

Black-winged StiltBlack-winged Stilt – we found the lone male first this morning

Just a short walk further along, we found the pair of Black-winged Stilts on a muddy island. At first, the female was looking after the chicks and the male was feeding nearby, before they switched roles and the male took over parenting duties. Black-winged Stilts are not particularly attentive parents, and the tiny juveniles, less than 3 days old were left to wander round the island and feed for themselves. They were quite hard to see in the cut reed stems but looking carefully through the scope, we got a good look at them.

Black-winged StiltsBlack-winged Stilts – the male standing guard, with 2 of the 4 juvs nearby (circled)

The adult Black-winged Stilts would fly up occasionally if a potential predator was detected coming overhead, a Marsh Harrier or a Lesser Black-backed Gull for instance. The Marsh Harriers made several passes over the pools and at one point a female surprised a couple of Coots in the water as it came low over a line of reeds. It looked like it was going to dive after one and hovered over the water for a second, but the Coots saw it at the last minute and managed to escape.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – thinking about attacking a Coot

While we were busy watching the Black-winged Stilts, a shout from a small group of birders further along the path alerted us to a bird flying across in the distance. We thought it was going to be a Bittern at first, but looked up to see it was a Night Heron. There has been a young (1st summer) Night Heron here for the past couple of days, but it had only been seen at dusk as it emerges from the trees where it roosts during the day. It was therefore a nice surprise to see it during the day. We watched as it dropped away from us over the trees.

On the next pool along, we found three Spoonbills. They were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! Occasionally, one would wake up long enough to flash its spoon shaped bill. We stood here for a while, and gradually more Spoonbills flew in from the direction of Hickling Broad, in small groups, and landed with them. Eventually we got up to twelve Spoonbills all together, but later as we walked back to the car, another one flew in so there were possibly 13 today in total.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – another five flying in to the pools at Potter Heigham

All the Spoonbills all appeared to be immature birds, some in their first summer with still extensively fleshy-coloured bills, but others older with yellow-tipped black bills. However, all lacked the full crest of a summer adult and the yellow-brown wash on the breast, or had black in the tips of their wings, which indicated they were still not mature. There were lots of Little Egrets here too, plus a couple of Grey Herons.

Black-winged Stilts and Night Herons are both more southerly European species which have overshot on their way north in the spring. Together with all the Spoonbills and Little Egrets, it gave a real Mediterranean feel to the birding at Potter Heigham this morning. All of which is presumably an indication of our changing climate.

There were not many other waders here this morning, apart from the breeding birds. A lone Ruff was the only wader which doesn’t breed here. As well as the Black-winged Stilts, there were plenty of breeding Avocets, plus Lapwings and a few Redshanks. A few Common Terns were nesting too and flying in and out. We also saw both Great Crested Grebe and Little Grebe on the pools here.

We had been hoping to see one the Garganey which have been lingering here this summer but all our scanning failed to locate one on our way round. There were plenty of other ducks – a single Wigeon, a few Teal and Shoveler, lots of Gadwall and a few Tufted Ducks. A female Common Pochard had a couple of ducklings following her. There were plenty of geese too – Greylags, Canada Geese and a couple of Egyptian Geese. As we turned to walk back, we spotted a drake Garganey flying in and it landed on the island with the Spoonbills. We got a nice look at it through the scopes before it went to sleep.

GarganeyGarganey – flew in and landed between the Spoonbills

The Norfolk Hawker is one of the rarer UK dragonflies, largely restricted in its distribution to the Norfolk Broads and neighbouring parts of Suffolk. So it was great to see one flying up and down the river bank here. It landed briefly, but tucked itself down in the vegetation out of the wind. In the end, we would see quite a few of them today, but this was the only one which stopped long enough for us to get a close look at it.

Norfolk HawkerNorfolk Hawker – landed in the vegetation along the river bank

Back at the car, we had a quick a quick look amongst the cattle on the approach road to see if we could see the Cattle Egret which has been here on and off for a few days, but there was no sign of it. There are lots of cows on the marshes all round here, and it seems possible this bird wanders further afield during the day, as it appears to be seen here mostly early and later in the day.

With an hour or so to spare before lunch, we had a quick walk out from Potter Heigham church and along Weaver’s Way. We could hear a Yellowhammer singing from the hedge further along the road, as we turned off along the footpath. There were lots of dragonflies here, hunting in the shelter of the hedges or basking on the bare ground out of the wind. We saw our first Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-Spotted Chasers of the day.

Walking through the wood, we could hear Blackcap and Willow Warbler singing from the trees. Lots of Azure Damselflies were flying around the edge of the ditch on the far side. Another Norfolk Hawker was hawking up and down along the edge of the footpath along the bank. A Hairy Dragonfly perched up nicely for us, hanging on the leaf of a reed stem at the edge of the path, despite the wind.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – the distinctive hairs on the thorax just visible

We had a quick look out over Hickling Broad, which revealed only a few Mute Swans in the distance and a single pair of Great Crested Grebe. Rush Hill Scrape looked similarly rather quiet today. A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds.

We had come here hoping to see our first Swallowtail butterfly of the day, as we figured this part of the reedbed might be more sheltered from the wind. There were very few butterflies at first along the path, until we found a couple of Small Tortoiseshells feeding on the brambles. We continued on past Rush Hill Scrape and finally found a Swallowtail. It flew in and landed on the brambles close to us, feeding on the flowers. It was keeping well down out of the wind, which hampered the photographic efforts, but we all got a great look at it.

Swallowtail 1Swallowtail – our first of the day, feeding on bramble flowers

Swallowtails are restricted in the UK to the Norfolk Broads and with only a short flight season from May to early July, this is the only time and place to see them. A must see at this time of year! With that one in the bag, we headed back to the car and round to Hickling village for a pub lunch.

After lunch, we made our way over to Upton Fen. This is a particularly good site for dragonflies but we were also hoping to see some orchids. We quickly started to find lots of purple Southern Marsh Orchids and paler Common Spotted Orchids, with their distinctive leaf spots. But there are also some confusing hybrids here – these two species readily mix – so we didn’t stop and look too closely!

Southern Marsh OrchidSouthern Marsh Orchid – common around the Fen

This site is known as one of the few places in the UK where you can see the very rare Fen Orchid. Most of the area where these flowers are found is now fenced off, but we eventually located a single Fen Orchid outside the fence. They are very small and not especially striking orchids at the best of times, but this was not a particularly good example either. The non-orchid enthusiasts in the group were perhaps a little underwhelmed and more impressed with the commoner orchids here!

Fen OrchidFen Orchid – not the best example of this rare species

It was bright and sunny now, and warm, so there was not much bird activity. We heard the occasional Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing in the trees. We thought we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling in the distance, but it was very hard to hear over the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. We made our way along a path towards it and eventually got to spot where we could hear its distinctive song. But the path ran out and it was presumably keeping low down out of the wind, so we couldn’t get near enough to even try to see it.

There were several Swifts hawking low over the open Fen, trying to find insects out of the wind. A Hobby made a quick pass up and down over the edge of the trees. When we got out of the trees and onto the marshes beyond, we could see a could of Marsh Harriers quartering. Then we turned to head back, with a Stock Dove on the wires the most notable bird on the way.

Much of the Fen was rather quiet today, as far as dragonflies were concerned, perhaps because of the wind. We did see a few more Norfolk Hawkers on our travels. However, the highlight was a single Brown Hawker on the walk back along a sheltered path between lines of trees, its golden brown wings glowing in the afternoon sun.

We finished off the day with a quick visit to How Hill on our way back. We were hoping to get better photos of Swallowtails here, but the highlight was probably a Hobby which was hawking over the trees and marshes by the river, passing right over our heads at one point.

HobbyHobby – great views of this one hunting at How Hill this afternoon

There were just a few butterflies on the brambles here at first, several Small Tortoiseshells and a single Large Skipper, which was a new one for the day. A pair of Banded Demoiselles perched in the nettles added to our damselfly list. We had almost got to the end of the path when we spotted two Swallowtails. It was rather windy here and they were very mobile, but eventually came and gave us great close views.

Swallowtail 2Swallowtail – we saw two more at How Hill this afternoon

It was a fitting way to end a day in the Broads with this iconic Broadland species, so we made our way back to the car.

 

4th June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours, our last day. It was a nice sunny day today, not too hot, with some hazy cloud, great weather to be out birding. We headed down to the Brecks to try to see some of the local specialities.

Stone Curlew is a scarce breeding species for which the Brecks is well known – it is one of the best places in the country to see them. There are a few remnants of grass heath left here, their traditional habitat, but many now attempt to nest of farmland. On our way south, we swung round by some regular sites to see if we could find one. After recent rain and warm weather, the vegetation has started to get rather tall, making them quite a bit harder to see. However, our luck was in this morning. At our first stop, we found a pair of Stone Curlews in a field.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair in a field this morning

The Stone Curlews were very hard to see at times in the vegetation, particularly when they sat down. However, with patience we were treated to great views through the scope as they walked around in the field. Even when they sat down, we could still see their heads – the striking yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

A couple of Brown Hares were in the field too. At first, they sat opposite each other, facing off. But then we were treated to a quick boxing bout, as one ran towards the other and they both reared up and flapped their front legs at each other. Then they gave up and went back to feeding quietly.

Brown HaresBrown Hares – this pair treated us to a quick bout of boxing

With great views of Stone Curlew in the bag, we moved quickly on. Lakenheath Fen was to be our main destination for the morning. It is a big reserve and we wanted to allow some time to explore as much of it as possible. We did stop at another couple of sites on our way, but couldn’t find any more Stone Curlews at either of these places today – they were obviously hiding in the vegetation here, perhaps not a surprise for a mostly crepuscular species, and with the day warming up nicely.

We did find a few Red-legged Partridges in the fields on our stops. A family of Mistle Thrushes were feeding down in the grass, a Jay flew across and landed on a fence post and a Marsh Tit calling from a line of trees were all nice additions to the day’s list.

After a rather leisurely journey down, it was already quite late in the morning by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, so we set out straight away onto the reserve. There were lots of butterflies feeding on the brambles by the path in the sunshine – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock. A single Common Blue was in the grass too as we walked past.

Small TortoiseshellSmall Tortoiseshell – several butterflies were feeding on the brambles on the walk out

There were a few warblers singing as we walked out. A Common Whitethroat was lurking in the bushes, we could hear Reed Warblers in the reeds, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed. Both Blackcap and Garden Warbler were singing from deep in the poplars but they were impossible to see amongst all the fluttering leaves.

There was quite a crowd gathered at New Fen viewpoint as we arrived. There had been a report of a possible Little Bittern heard here yesterday, but we didn’t hear anything other than the nattering of all the people. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water in front of the viewpoint, along with its stripy-headed chick. A Grey Wagtail was more of a surprise here, flying overhead before dropping down into the reeds. We could hear a male Cuckoo singing from the poplars and someone pointed out a female Cuckoo lurking in the top of one of the bushes out in the reeds.

CuckooCuckoo – a female, with rusty brown around the upper breast and neck

We got a good look at the female Cuckoo through the scope, noting the rusty brown tones to the upper breast, rather than the clean grey hood of the male. We heard lots of Cuckoos here today – both singing males with the classic ‘cook-coo’, the strange bubbling call of the females, and excited males giving various more elaborate song variations in response. It is such a scarce bird in the wider countryside these days, it is always great to come to a reserve like Lakenheath Fen where they are still relatively common and listen to them.

After a short rest at New Fen, we carried on up the main path. A Kingfisher zipped across out of the poplars and over the bank to New Fen, but too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A smart male Marsh Harrier, with silvery grey wings and black tips, circled up out of the reeds and over West Wood. A single Hobby, our first of the day, flew low across New Fen, just visible over the vegetation on the bank.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path, mostly Azure Damselflies and Blue-tailed Damselflies, but along the path on the edge of West Wood we found quite a few Red-eyed Damselflies in the reeds and nettles too. We had hoped to find a Scarce Chaser along here, but it was rather breezy along here now and there were just a few Four-spotted Chasers.

Red-eyed DamselflyRed-eyed Damselfly – several were along the path by West Wood

With one eye on the clock to make sure we got back in time for lunch, we made our way quickly out to Joist Fen viewpoint. We had been told on the walk out that the Bitterns had been showing very well here this morning, flying back and forth, but it seemed rather quiet at first, when we got there. We couldn’t hear any booming – it was the middle of the day by now, which can be a quieter time. There were at least six Hobbys hawking for insects distantly out over the reeds and several Marsh Harriers circling up. All the group finally got to see a Kingfisher here, with a couple zipping in and out out over the reeds carrying food.

Thankfully we didn’t have too long to wait. Suddenly a Bittern flew up out of the reeds. It turned and flew straight towards us, giving us a great look at it as it flew round and out of sight behind the bushes beyond the shelter. That would have been nice enough, but it then came over the bushes and turned back towards us, flying round close past behind us, croaking as it went. Wow!

BitternBittern – great views as it flew round the Joist Fen viewpoint

The Bittern flew about 180 degrees round the viewpoint, before finally bearing away to our left and dropping down into the reeds beyond, giving us all stunning flight views. A minute or so later, what was presumably the same bird started booming over in that direction. We couldn’t have asked for a better show.

With such great views of Bittern already, we decided that wouldn’t be bettered and started making our way back for lunch. As we walked back along the main track, a couple of Hobbys appeared over West Wood. They were joined by more and soon we had five Hobbys hanging in the air or circling. Even better, a couple of them drifted out over the reeds towards us, giving us our best views of the day overhead.

HobbyHobby – great views overhead on the walk back

Our luck was in with the dragonflies on the way back too. A young male Scarce Chaser flew past, a flash of rich orange, and landed on a reed stem nearby. We had seen a couple of Hairy Dragonflies on the walk out, but a smart male stopped nicely for us in the sun now. We also managed to find a Variable Damselfly with all the Azure Damselflies too.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – a male, with distinctive hairy thorax

After lunch back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off into the Forest to try to find some other of our target birds for the day. There has been a Wood Warbler singing near Brandon for about ten days now and it has been showing very well at times. We drove down the track and parked, before walking along the path to where it has been seen. Even before we got there, we could hear it singing.

As we walked in to the trees, it was clear the Wood Warbler was singing from low down and right by the path. We were treated to some great views as it fluttered around only a couple of metres up in some small trees just a short distance ahead of us, even coming right towards us along the path at one point. We even managed to get it in the scope briefly, when it perched still for a while, singing.  Bill open, its whole body quivered with the effort of delivering its song, sounding rather like a spinning coin slowly settling on a hard surface.

Wood WarblerWood Warbler – showed very well, singing right in front of us

Wood Warbler is a very scarce bird here these days, though it is still found in the wetter woods of the north and west of the country. It used to be a regular breeder here albeit in small numbers, but has now all but disappeared, with just the occasional lone bird found singing, possibly a northbound migrant which has stopped off for some reason to try its luck. This has been a better spring for them, with several seen this year, but still it is unlikely any will manage to pair up and breed. Eventually, the Wood Warbler started to move higher into the trees, so after seeing it so well we moved quickly on.

Our luck was in now, as we headed over to another site in the Forest and immediately heard a Redstart singing from a small group of trees as soon as we arrived. We made our way round to the other side, at a discrete distance so as not to disturb it, and the Redstart suddenly appeared in the top of a large hawthorn. Through the scope, we got a great look at it, bright reddish-orange below, black faced and with its striking white forehead shining in the sun. Male Redstarts are really stunning birds to see.

RedstartRedstart – a cracking male singing on the edge of the Forest

The Redstart kept dropping down out of sight, but then coming back up into the top of the hawthorn to sing. The song is easily overlooked, a series of short, melodic but slightly sad sounding bursts interspersed with long pauses. We stood and listened to it for a while, until it worked its way through the bushes and round to the other side of the trees, out of view.

Like the Wood Warbler, Redstarts used to be much commoner birds in this part of the country, but declined through the last century and are now mostly confined to a few sites around the Forest. So it is always a treat to see one here and particular to hear it singing.

Our final destination for the afternoon saw us park up by a forestry track and walk deeper into the forest. It was rather quiet in the trees, with just the odd Goldcrest or Coal Tit heard in the dense coniferous plantations. We made our way round to a clearing and, as we approached, a pair of Stonechats were perched in the top of an old stump row, calling. They were collecting food, so presumably had young nearby. A couple of Whitethroats appeared with them.

We had come looking for Tree Pipit and a short snatch of half song suggested there might be one close by. We walked round to the other side of some trees and there it was, perched in some dead branches. It stayed there for a few seconds, pumping its tail, and we could see it was colour-ringed, before it flew up into a tall birch tree nearby. Almost immediately it dropped back down towards the clearing and was followed by a second Tree Pipit, presumably a pair.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – appeared in some dead branches in front of us

One of the two Tree Pipits dropped down to the ground out of sight, but the second, presumably the male and the same bird we had seen first, landed in the top of a young fir tree, where we could get it in the scope. We had a great look at it, as it stayed there for ages, preening for a while, looking round, turning so we could see it front on as well.

While we were standing here watching the first Tree Pipit, we just caught what sounded like the song of another way off in the distance. Scanning the young trees, we managed to find it, perched in the top of another small fir, right over the other side of the clearing. It is great to think there might be two pairs here this year.

Eventually, the first Tree Pipit dropped down to the ground out of view, so we left them to feed quietly. It was time to call it a day anyway now, so we made our way back to the car. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, and a great way to round off an exciting three days of summer birding in East Anglia.

24th May 2017 – Two Nightingales Sang…

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day. We had a list of potential target species to look for, an interesting mix of lingering winter visitors and scarce breeding birds.

Our first stop saw us looking for Nightingales. As soon as we got out of the car, we heard one singing. We walked round to the other side of the trees, but it had chosen a really dense clump of bushes to sing from today, so it quickly became clear we wouldn’t be able to see it unless it moved. We stood and listened to it for a few minutes, such a beautiful song, then decided to try looking for another one instead.

As we walked up the lane, there were lots of warblers singing in the hedgerows. A Willow Warbler perched high in the bare branches of a tree. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from a hawthorn and we had a typical glimpse of it as it shot out and disappeared down into the ditch beyond. Several Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a Reed Warbler were all singing too.

When we got to the trees, we could just hear the other Nightingale singing. It has a spot which it favours where it is possible to see it, but it was much deeper into the wood today. It quickly went quiet so we stood and scanned the trees while we waited for it to start up again. A large Cockchafer flew around the bushes in front of us. When the Nightingale did start singing again, we could hear that it had moved and it seemed to be back in its favourite spot. Sure enough, there it was, perched in a tangle of dead branches and brambles, in the sunshine.

6O0A1906Nightingale – great views of this one singing today

We watched the Nightingale for a while, as it perched singing or hopped between the branches. When it finally dropped down into the thicket out of view, we decided to move on. It had been a great way to start the morning.

One of the requests for the day was to try to find a Firecrest. They are patchily distributed in North Norfolk, and it is not the easiest time of year to look for one, but we thought we would give it a go anyway. We parked up on the Holt-Cromer ridge and set off to walk to an area where we know they are present.

As we made our way towards the trees, we passed through an area of fields. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a hedge and we could hear a Yellowhammer calling quietly. A quick scan and we caught sight of its bright yellow head, a smart male perched in the bushes. A couple of partridges flushed from the edge of a field and landed in the open briefly, before scurrying into cover, just long enough for us to see they were Grey Partridges.

When we got to the edge of the trees, a Garden Warbler was singing but well hidden from view, as was a Goldcrest too in the tops of some pines. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us and we could hear a pair of Bullfinches calling plaintively, but the trees were too thick here to see anything.

We continued into the wood, to an area which we know the Firecrests favour. It was already getting quite warm now and it was fairly quiet deep in the trees. We walked up a ride flanked by firs and, when we got to the far end, we heard it – a brief snatch of song, a Firecrest. It sang twice more, just enough for us to get a rough fix on its location, and then went quiet. It seemed to be singing in a tall fir tree a short way into the wood, surrounded by deciduous trees. We scanned the bits we could see, but the Firecrest was probably in the top, which protruded above the canopy and into the sunshine.

As we stood and waited to see if it would sing again, we noticed a falcon circling behind the trees. It was a Hobby and as it drifted out into view we noticed that there was a second Hobby with it. We watched as they circled high overhead, before disappearing behind the trees again. A Common Buzzard drifted over too, and a little later, on our way back, we would see a Red Kite over the trees as well, all enjoying the rising thermals.

6O0A1915Hobby – a pair circled high over the trees

The Firecrest sang another couple of times, and it was clear that it was moving about in the canopy, but it was still impossible to see it, looking up from below the trees. When it sounded like it had moved towards the firs bordering the ride, we went back out and scanned the trees from there, but there was still no sign of it. Then it went quiet and we decided to give up. It was good to hear it singing, but it would have been nice to see it.

As we walked back out of the wood, we came across a family of Treecreepers. A Goldcrest was collecting food and taking it back into a fir, where we presume it had a nest. A Jay flew across the path ahead of us. As we walked back to the car, we could see the two Hobbys still hawking for insects over the ridge.

Stock Dove was another target and as we got back to the car, we could hear one calling from the trees nearby. We were not going to be able to see it in there, but thankfully a second Stock Dove appeared on the wires next to the road, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. The two Stock Doves whooped to each other, before the one on the wires flew off towards the trees.

6O0A1926Stock Dove – perched on the wires next to the car

We made our way round and up onto the Heath next. It was really starting to warm up now, but there were still a few Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing in the trees. We flushed lots of Linnets from the gorse as we walked round, thankfully still a fairly common bird on the heaths although now much more scarce in its traditional farmland habitat. A Kestrel was hovering over an open clearing and as we looked over towards it, we could see a pair of Hobbys circling high beyond, perhaps the pair we had seen earlier working their way along the ridge.

6O0A1929Linnet – still a common bird up on the heaths

Dartford Warbler was one of our targets here, but all was quiet at the first spot we tried. We carried on round to another location where we know they are feeding young at the moment, which should give us a better chance to see them. On the way, we passed through an area where the Woodlarks like to feed, but there was no sign of them either. Someone else looking for them told us that a large group of people had been through here just a little earlier, so the birds had probably been disturbed.

At the next location for Dartford Warblers, it all seemed quiet too, at first. We stood and listened for a minute where they had been a couple of days ago, then decided to have a quiet walk round their territory. As we were walking along a narrow path, the male Dartford Warbler suddenly flew up in front of us singing, hovering in mid air for a second or two, before dropping back behind some tall gorse. We crept round the corner, and there it was, in the gorse just a couple of metres away from us. Stunning!

6O0A1942Dartford Warbler – the male, collecting food

We followed the Dartford Warbler for a few minutes at a discrete distance, as it crept through the gorse, collecting caterpillars. We had some fantastic views of it. Occasionally, it would stop just long enough to deliver a short burst of song, before carrying on the hunt. Finally, when it had collected a bill full of food, it went zooming off over the heather, to deliver it to its hungry brood.

There is another area where the Woodlarks have been collecting food recently, but they weren’t there either. We thought they might be back at the first place we had looked, after a while left in peace, but we still couldn’t find them. We were just about to give up when we heard a Woodlark calling quietly. A careful scan, and we found it perched on a fence post a short distance away. We had a good look at it through the scope before it dropped down to the ground out of view.

It was time for lunch now, so we dropped back down to the coast and along to Cley, where we could sit out on the picnic tables and enjoy the fine weather. After lunch, we had a scan of the scrapes from the visitor centre, and looked at the sightings board, but there didn’t seem to be much on the reserve today, so we decided not to go out to the hides.

Bearded Tit was another target for the day, so we headed round to have a walk out along the East Bank to see if we could find one. A leucistic drake Common Pochard on one of the pools was a bit of an oddity – an interesting bird to see. There were a few Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds as we walked out, and a Reed Bunting or two as well, but no sound of any Bearded Tits at first. Despite the lack of wind, it was perhaps just too hot now, in the early afternoon.

There were more birds around the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh. Several Lapwings and Avocets were down in the grass, a few Common Redshank were calling and displaying. A single Ringed Plover was feeding along the edge of the Serpentine.

6O0A1958Lapwing – on the grazing marsh from East Bank

There were more ducks here too. Several drake Gadwall were chasing round after a female, pursuing her remorselessly all over the grazing marsh and out across the reedbed. As well as the regular Mallard and Shoveler, there were some late winter visitors too. A single drake Eurasian Teal and a lone Wigeon should probably both have been on their way north to breed already.

We were almost at the main drain when we finally heard a Bearded Tit calling. We stopped and listened for a while, and realised there were several birds here, in different places, though they were only calling occasionally. We had frustrating brief glimpses of a couple of birds zipping distantly over the tops of the reeds, which were hard to get onto, until a male Bearded Tit flew up from the reeds close to the near edge and flew off away from us, giving us a nice long flight view. It looked like that would have to do today, better than nothing.

There was a lot of heat haze looking out across Arnold’s Marsh this afternoon. We had heard a Little Tern calling as we walked out and could see one resting on the small island out towards the back. A party of Turnstones appeared on the island too, several in bright summer plumage, looking more appropriately like their full name, Ruddy Turnstone. Three Dunlin were with them, two with their summer black bellies. A careful scan round the edges revealed a single Grey Plover, still in its rather grey winter plumage.

We carried on out to the beach and took a look out to sea. It was very calm today, but there was some sea fret hanging distantly offshore, partly obscuring the wind turbines. There were a few terns offshore, flying back and forth, some carrying fish. Mostly they were Sandwich Terns, but a pair of Little Terns were fishing close inshore and a single Common Tern flew past. Looking further out, on the edge of the fog, we spotted a long line of black ducks flying past. They were Common Scoter and there must have been at least 80 of them. Presumably they were making their way back north for the breeding season.

There were a few butterflies out today in the sunshine – mostly Peacock, Red Admiral and the odd Small Tortoiseshell. We also saw a couple of Painted Ladys on our travels today and, out along the East Bank, our first Common Blue of the year. The numbers of dragonflies are finally increasing now too, in the warm weather, with Four-Spotted Chaser and Blue-tailed Damselfly along the East Bank today.

6O0A1964Common Blue – our first of the year, along the East Bank today

As we walked back along the East Bank, we bumped into one of the reserve volunteers who mentioned that he had seen a Bearded Tit along the edge of the ditch further back. So, as we made our way along, we scanned the bottom of the reeds and sure enough we found it, working its way along the edge of the water, in and out of the reeds. It was a female Bearded Tit.

When we quickly lost sight of it behind some taller reeds along the front edge of the ditch, we could hear another Bearded Tit calling and looked across to see it fly in and land down on the edge of the ditch just a few metres away. We walked back to look for that one, and just at that point it climbed up the reeds carrying something in its bill. It was a cracking male Bearded Tit, with powder blue head and distinctive black moustaches. It perched up in full view in front of us for several seconds, looking round, before flying off back over the reeds.

6O0A1966Bearded Tit – this smart male was collecting food along the ditch

It was great to get such a great view of a Bearded Tit, and a smart male to boot. Worthy reward for our perseverance! With that mission accomplished, we headed back to the car. There were still a few odds and ends on the target list, so we made thought we could squeeze in a quick couple more stops before the end of the day.

We drove back along the coast road to Kelling and had a quick walk down the lane to the Water Meadow. There were a few warblers singing in the hedges beside the lane, despite it being the middle of a hot and sunny afternoon – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. We had hoped to find a Lesser Whitethroat along here, but there was no sign or sound of it here this afternoon.

6O0A1985Chiffchaff – singing in the hedge along the lane this afternoon

There were just the usual ducks on the Water Meadow, a pair of Gadwall, three Mallard and a lone drake Shoveler. One of the resident Egyptian Geese was guarding a gosling in the grass on the edge of the water. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pool. This is often a good spot for Yellow Wagtails in spring, but the grass is rather tall this year making them hard to see. As always, we had a careful scan around the feet of the cows and were duly rewarded with a pair of Yellow Wagtails flitting around the legs of one of them, before the cows moved back into the long grass.

Brent Geese are a common sight around the coast here in winter, but the vast majority of them have now departed on their way back to northern Russia for the breeding season. It is still possible to find the odd one or two with a bit of luck, so we decided to have a look in Blakeney Harbour to finish the day. As we made our way down the path towards Stiffkey Fen, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes the other side of the road, but there was no way to see it from where we were and it seemed to be moving further back into the trees before it went quiet.

When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was already pretty high in the harbour. There was a big party of Oystercatchers gathered to roost out on the edge of the water, but we couldn’t see any Brent Geese where they have been recently. The Fen itself also looked pretty quiet today, with most of the winter waders having departed. There was a single Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands, plus three Common Redshanks which flew off from the edge of the reeds, and plenty of Avocets.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull in with the roosting Herring Gulls was a useful addition to the day’s list and a smart summer adult Common Gull was out on the water just beyond the reeds. A pair each of both Sandwich Tern and Common Tern flew in from the harbour and circled over the pool.

6O0A1990Common Tern – a pair flew in from the harbour and circled over the Fen

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees beyond the Fen, but Brent Goose was our target here, so we focused our attention on trying to find one. Scanning carefully over the saltmarsh finally paid off when we located two Brent Geese feeding in the grass away to the west. Another one for the list and a perfect way to round off the day.

26th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 1

It was Day 1 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour today, but it didn’t really feel like spring! A very cold north wind meant temperatures have dropped right down again. We were forecast wintry showers today, and they came thick and fast early on this morning so there was barely a gap between them. Thankfully it calmed down a bit by the afternoon and we were able to pack in quite a lot of birding. There was even some blue sky on show! Given the wind, we decided to avoid the coast and head for the relative shelter of inland, down in the Brecks.

Heading south from our base in Wells, we stopped off on the way down in an area which is very good for Stone Curlew. These birds are breeding in farmland, rather than their traditional habitat of grass heath. Scanning across an area of fallow ground, we quickly got on to a Stone Curlew. It was huddled down against the wind, half hidden by the growing vegetation, and back onto us at first. Eventually it shifted round a little so that we could see its black-tipped yellow bill and yellow iris – before it closed its eyes again. A Brown Hare was hiding in the grass here too.

Then some dark clouds appeared over us and it started to rain, rapidly turning to hail. We sheltered in the car for several minutes while it blew through, and then came out for another go. We could still see the Stone Curlew tucked down in the grass, so we decided to see if we could get a better view from a different angle. A couple of Skylarks had started singing, hovering up high into the sky. A bright yellow-headed male Yellowhammer was feeding in a bare strip on the edge of a field. Several Lapwings were flying round. We couldn’t see the Stone Curlew at all from here, with too much tall grass now obscuring our view. Another shower was rapidly arriving, so we hurried back to the car and decided to move on.

We continued south, stopping again briefly to scan some pig fields. A Red Kite was circling distantly over the village. A pair of Grey Partridge appeared from among the pig arcs, but the tractor which had been feeding the pigs disturbed them. They scuttled away quickly out of view. The sky behind us turned black again and another squally shower came in fast, so we got back into the car and set off again.

It was still raining when we arrived at our next destination. We stopped on the roadside and listened, from the warmth and comfort of the car. The first bird we could hear singing was a Willow Warbler, a sweet descending scale. Then a Blackcap started up too, very flutey and melodic, and a Common Whitethroat began singing its own scratchy song nearby. These were all completely outclased when a Nightingale started singing. It was beautiful just to listen to, but we had a tantalising glimpse of a shape moving in the tree from which the sound was emanating.

Thankfully the rain dried up and it started to get brighter. We parked the car and went for a walk. Back along road, two Nightingales were singing now. It was a stereo Nightingale show, with one either side. What a performance! But they just wouldn’t show themselves and eventually one went quiet and the other moved further in, away from us.

We walked on over the Common, across to the other side where more Nightingales had been singing recently. On the way, a Green Woodpecker flushed from the grass, but flew off behind the bushes out of sight. When we arrived where the Nightingales should be, it was quiet at first. However, as the sun started to show itself, a Nightingale started singing. Just as we got to the other side of the bushes, and could see it perched on a bare branch, some dog walkers appeared and it flew back into cover. It felt like it wasn’t going to be our day.

There is an area in the middle of the brambles and gorse where this Nightingale sometimes feeds. We found a spot from where we could see the ground and waited. We could hear it croaking in the brambles and the next thing we knew, it flew up into an oak tree right next to us and started singing. Great views! It hopped around between the branches for a while, singing all the time. When it flicked across to a low hawthorn bush, it landed with its back to us with its tail spread, which caught the sun, a stunning orange-red. Quite a show!

6O0A8255Nightingale – eventually put on an amazing show for us

There was a Lesser Whitethroat singing in the brambles nearby. We tried to get a look at it, but it wouldn’t sit still. It kept flying off and then coming back to the same clump, perching only briefly before diving back in. At least we all got good flight views. A Willow Warbler was more obliging. It had been a lovely bright, sunny spell but once again we could see more dark cloud approaching, so we retreated back to the car.

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. The dark clouds followed us and there was a mercifully brief shower when we arrived at the visitor centre. We spent a few minutes watching the feeders – there were several Reed Buntings, males and females, a few Goldfinches and even a couple of Greenfinches here today.

6O0A8293Greenfinch – on the feeders, in the rain

Once the shower had passed overhead, we decided to have a look out over the Washland. It hadn’t been there when we were watching, but when we came outside we flushed a Great Spotted Woodpecker from the feeders. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes on the way.

The first bird we set eyes on at the Washland was the Glossy Ibis, over in the far corner. We got a good look at it through the scope, noting its distinctive long, thick, downcurved bill. This bird has been here for almost three weeks now – a nice one to see here, though it is commoner in its normal home in southern Europe.

IMG_3428Glossy Ibis – out on Hockwold Washes again today

Otherwise, there were fewer ducks on here today – just a handful of Teal and Mallard. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the water. And a Sedge Warbler was singing from the reeds just below us, where we could see it. When yet another shower blew in, we hurried back to the shelter of the visitor centre for lunch.

Over lunch, we sat and watched the feeders again. There were much the same birds as we had seen earlier, but when we had jut about finished the Great Spotted Woodpecker finally came back in, so we could get a good look at it.

6O0A8302Great Spotted Woodpecker – back on the feeders during our lunch break

After lunch the rain finally cleared and it looked to be brightening up nicely. We walked out onto the reserve to see what else we could see. A Cuckoo was singing from the trees behind New Fen Viewpoint, which we could hear as we walked up along the main track. It seemed to be deep in some leafy poplars but, when we continued on along the path towards the river bank, the Cuckoo helpfully came out into the top of a bare tree where we could see it. Through the scope, we admired its barred underparts.

IMG_3461Cuckoo – finally came out into the top of a bare tree

Otherwise on New Fen, there were several Reed Warblers singing. A pair of Tufted Ducks and a couple of Teal were out on the water from viewpoint, along with a family of Coot. A smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds at back. By the pond dipping platform, a cracking summer plumage Great Crested Grebe swam out from the reeds not far from us.

6O0A8310Great Crested Grebe – swam out in front of us by the new pond dipping platform

There were no hirundines feeding over the reeds at New Fen in the wind today, but a trickle of Swallows and House Martins passed overhead as we were leaving. Further on, we found more of them, gathered on the south edge of West Wood, in the lee of the trees, hawking for insects. One Common Swift appeared with them briefly, zipping back and forth a couple of times, before disappearing off over the trees.

Suddenly a larger shape appeared low over the reeds and scythed up through the throng. It was a Hobby. The hirundines all scattered, alarm calling, as the Hobby disappeared, empty handed, off into trees. A brief view but an all-action moment. Another smart male Marsh Harrier then kept us company on the walk on to Joist Fen, circling over the reeds beside the path. It looked stunning in the sunlight as it banked, against the dark clouds of another shower which was mercifully passing us by in the distance.

6O0A8319Marsh Harrier – catching the sun against a dark shower cloud in the distance

Out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, there were more hirundines hawking low over the reeds. A couple of Sand Martins zipped past. There were no more Hobbys out here today, perhaps it was just too windy. Several Marsh Harriers were circling, but there was no sign of a Bittern today. Once we had recovered our breath, we set off again. After a quick look up on the river bank, which was rather windy, we started to walk back.

As we passed New Fen again, another Hobby came over the trees and across the path, before dropping down towards the reeds. As it turned, we could got a good view of its red trousers. The Cuckoo was still singing in trees and we heard a Treecreeper in the poplars too, although it went quiet before we got up to where it had been.

Although we had seen a Stone Curlew earlier in the day, we would like to have had better views. We drove round to another site where they breed, this one a traditional heathland site. As we drove up, a male Linnet was singing on the fence, while a female fed nearby. A male Stonechat flicked between fenceposts ahead of us. It had brightened up nicely now and there was no sign of any more rain here.

6O0A8341Linnet – this male was singing from the fence

As soon as we got out of the car we immediately spotted a Stone Curlew. Perhaps because of the rain earlier, it was very active and put on quite a show. It was walking round, quite quickly at times, then standing still and looking down at the ground. Occasionally it would peck at something, before setting off again. Through the scope we got a great look at it.

IMG_3483Stone Curlew – feeding actively this afternoon, once the rain cleared

While we were watching the Stone Curlew, a quick scan of the surrounding heath produced a single male Wheatear out on a cultivated strip. It was rather distant but still nice to see here. Wheatear used to be a fairly common breeding bird in the Brecks, but the population has all but died out – this could have been a migrant, but it is nice to think it might be staying to breed. A pair of Grey Partridges were feeding out in the grass too.

Having lost some time because of the rain this morning, it was now getting late. Still we wanted to just have a quick look in at Lynford as the weather had improved. It was quiet at first, perhaps still a bit too cold in the trees. A Mistle Thrush flew out of the tops calling, a distant Nuthatch was piping, and we could hear just a single Goldcrest singing. At the feeders by the gate, a lone Coal Tit was feeding on the fat balls. Down by the bridge, there were no seeds on the posts today and consequently just a single Chaffinch here at first.

6O0A8366Chaffinch – looking for any remaining seeds around the bridge

Then we heard a loud ‘chacking’ call and looked up to see a Fieldfare in the trees, with a second calling nearby. Fieldfares are winter visitors, so these should be thinking about heading back to Scandinavia soon. A Nuthatch appeared in the trees above the bridge, climbing up the trunk into the top before flying off towards the Arboretum. A couple of Siskins flew overhead calling.

Down at the lake, we got a good look at a Little Grebe, diving by one of the islands. There were also several Canada Geese and Mallard. A Marsh Tit started calling behind us, and we turned round to find a pair in the trees. The male was collecting food and taking it back to the bushes to feed the female.

6O0A8386Marsh Tit – collecting food in the trees by the lake

As walked back towards the bridge, as well as the Fieldfares, we could now hear Ring Ouzels calling from the edge of the paddocks. Three flew up into the nearest hornbeam, but unfortunately did not hang around for long, and flew off towards the other end of the lake. We turned round again and walked back to see if we could see them. A Treecreeper appeared in the trees in front of us.

As we walked along the path by the lake, we could hear the Ring Ouzels calling in the alders. Then we flushed one from the tops, and it flew out to the far corner of paddocks, and landed it a line of trees. We got it in the scope, but it was a rather dull female, with no white crescent, and we were looking in to the light. When she flew a short distance down along the line of trees, we realised that the other Ring Ouzels were there too. They all landed briefly together, but just as we got them in the scope, they all flew off towards the Arboretum, calling. Ring Ouzels are just migrants passing through here, most often seen on the coast, and always a good bird to find so far inland.

Then, with a big drive back to North Norfolk still, we had to tear ourselves away. Despite the rain at times, it had been a very successful day.