Tag Archives: Hobby

11th July 2021 – Summer Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Summer Tour, our last day. It was cloudier than forecast, particularly in the afternoon, warm & slightly muggy, but it was generally bright and it stayed dry all day. We spent the day down in the Brecks.

On the drive down, we diverted round via some likely areas looking for Stone Curlews. At our first stop, two Eurasian Curlews flew up alarm calling as we got out of the minibus. They landed again in the field opposite. Not quite the ‘curlews’ we had hoped for, but nice to see, particularly as the breeding population of Eurasian Curlew here is so small. A covey of Red-legged Partridge walked out of the crop and into an open ploughed area.

Curlew – not the one we were looking for!

Our next stop was by some pig fields. As we looked out we could see a Stone Curlew preening out in the middle. A great start, we got the scope on it, and while everyone was taking a look, we continued to scan across. We realised there were lots more there too! In the end, we counted at least eleven Stone Curlews scattered around the field, although there may have been more hidden behind the small ridges of dirt and vegetation. They are already starting to gather together post-breeding.

Stone Curlew – 2, with an Oystercatcher

There were a few Oystercatchers in the field with the Stone Curlews too, and several Egyptian Geese. Scanning the bushes in the middle, we noticed a couple of Tree Sparrows perched in the top of one. We got the scope on them for a closer look. When they dropped down out of view, we heard one calling much closer to us and looked up to see another Tree Sparrow on the wires by the road a little further up. Tree Sparrows used to be common here but have disappeared from most of Norfolk now, as they have from much of southern Britain, victims of agricultural intensification. An increasingly rare sight here, so good to see there are some clinging on.

Tree Sparrow – perched on the wires by the road

That was a great way to start the day. Having enjoyed some excellent views of the Stone Curlews, we moved on, driving over to Lakenheath Fen next. We stopped for a coffee break at the Visitor Centre, overlooking the feeders. There were several Blue Tits, Great Tits, Goldfinches and 1-2 Greenfinches in the bushes, coming and going.

As we set off to explore the reserve, it had clouded over now – not what we were expecting. Despite the cloud, there was still a good selection of insects – Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damselflies, diminutive skippers on Viper’s Bugloss which refused to sit still and allow us to see the underside of their antennae, Meadow Brown and Ringlet, and a smart Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata).

Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata)

We stopped at New Fen Viewpoint and scanned over the reedbed from the benches. We could hear Blackcap and Common Whitethroat singing in the poplars behind us. A Reed Warbler kept flying in and out of a small island of reeds in the middle of the pool.

A Bittern came up out of the reeds towards the far corner of the reedbed, flying across behind the bushes, before it dropped back in. We saw Bittern flights several times over the next few minutes – this is the best time to see them, when they are feeding young – but it was hard to tell how many birds were involved. One Bittern flew up from the back again, and headed out towards the river. We expected it to land back in the reedbed, but instead it continued over the riverbank, and appeared to drop down just beyond. There are some pools along the river here, so we headed over straight over to see if we could find it.

By the time we got there, there was no sign of it. Perhaps it continued on upstream, or maybe it was just hidden out of view. We stopped here to scan, hoping it might come out of the vegetation or come back from wherever it was feeding. One or two Common Terns were commuting up and down river – one flew past carrying a fish, presumably to feed a hungry youngster on the Washes.

Common Tern – flying up and down the river

A Cuckoo called from the willows across the river. Most of adults have gone south already, many are already in Europe and some already in Africa, so this one was rather late to still be here. We couldn’t see it in the trees and it went quiet. We did then see another Cuckoo, flying across between the woods right over on the other side of New Fen, but it was too distant to tell whether it was an adult or an early fledged juvenile.

A young Marsh Harrier, dark chocolate brown with a rusty orange head, was exercising its wings, circling back and forth across the river, waiting for its parents to bring in food. A Hobby flew in, hawking for insects ahead of us, low over the washes beside the river, then it flew up over the bank, across over the back of the reedbed and up over West Wood. A Kestrel was hovering behind us too, and then we got the scope on it when it landed in one of the willows across the river.

Marsh Harrier – a juvenile, waiting to be fed

Continuing west along the river bank, we finally had good views of a family of Sedge Warblers in the edge of the reeds below us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into the edge of West Wood, but disappeared into the trees. The other side of West Wood, some of the group saw two Kingfishers chasing over the reeds just beyond, but they had disappeared before we could all catch up.

We cut back in to the reserve at Joist Fen, and got out the sandwiches. We had brought lunch with us today, so we wouldn’t have to hurry back. There were some distant Marsh Harriers out over the reeds and a Red Kite circled high over the railway line. More Reed Warblers zipped about, and another Sedge Warbler flew in and out of the big elder by the last bench, singing. A Kingfisher whizzed low over the reeds across in front of us, before dropping down into the channel where it was lost to view. Almost immediately, it was followed by a second Kingfisher – possibly the two which some of the group had seen earlier.

After lunch, we decided to walk slowly back. Another Kingfisher shot across the path just in front of us, and out over the reeds. We called in at Mere Hide, which is open again, although we had to wait a few minutes to all get in (there were already some people in there and there were six just of us). There were a couple of Greylag families on the water, one with lots of almost fully grown juveniles and the other with only one, before they flew off. Several Reed Warblers were flicking around the water’s edge. There were not so many dragonflies and damselflies flying round the pool today, perhaps not helped by the cloud.

The rest of the walk back to the Visitor Centre was fairly uneventful, and we rewarded our long walk with a sit down and ice cream when we got there (rhubarb & ginger today!). We had to ensure a prompt finish today, so people could get away in good time, but we still had an hour or so of the day left. So on our way back to where we had left the cars this morning, we diverted into the forest.

We stopped by a track, which leads down to a large clearing. For some reason the gate at the top of the track was locked today, so we couldn’t drive in. Instead, we parked by the next ride and walked down through the forest. It was hot and muggy and the mid afternoon lull now, so the trees were rather quiet. We could hear a Nuthatch calling, and a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the pines. The gate into the clearing at the far end was locked too, so we couldn’t get into the clearing, and we had to scan from the fence. A family of Stonechats were on the gate, a female and two juveniles, with the male further down along the fenceline.

We circled back through the trees. There were lots of butterflies on the flowers along the track, Meadow Browns and Ringlets and several skippers. One eventually stayed still long enough so we could get a look at the tips of its antennae – pale on the underside, a Small Skipper.

Small Skipper – not showing the undersides of its antennae here

A little further on, we heard a bird calling quietly, and looked up to see a Tree Pipit in the top of a dead tree ahead of us. We got it in the scope and had a closer look at it – it was pumping its tail up and down as it called, and we could see the yellow wash behind the heavier breast streaking, white on the bellow, with pencil fine streaks on the flanks. It flew and landed again on another dead tree right next to us, then flew back and we lost site of it over the trees.

Tree Pipit – calling quietly above the track

Tree Pipit was one of the birds we had hoped to find down by the clearing. We had been thinking we might have to try to squeeze in one last stop to get it somewhere else on our way back. But we had succeeded at the last here, which meant we could have an unhurried journey back and finish on time. A very enjoyable three days.

5th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Summer Tour today, including a Nightjar Evening. After a grey and cloudy start, it gradually brightened up and then the skies cleared from the west around midday, producing a lovely sunny afternoon. We spent the day down in the Norfolk Broads, then the evening looking for owls and Nightjars.

We started the day with the long drive down to the Broads. There had been a 1st summer male Red-footed Falcon at Hickling Broad reported yesterday and we were hoping to see that and some Swallowtails too. As we got out of the minibus at the NWT car park, several Willow Warblers were singing in the trees nearby and the Peacocks at the next door animal rescue charity were calling too (unfortunately that one doesn’t count!).

We set off down towards the track to Stubb Mill, which was where the falcon had been, stopping on the corner for our first scan. We could immediately see several distant Hobbys in the dead trees out in the reedbed. As we had hoped, the falcons were yet to really get going, with the cloudy start to the day. We could see a small group of other birders further up Whiteslea track, on the bank, looking for the Red-footed Falcon.

We were just debating which way to go, when we noticed a local birder walking back along the track towards us, so we asked him for an update. He told us there was no sign of the Red-footed Falcon this morning and he also suggested that most of the later reports yesterday related to misidentified Hobbys. So it looked increasingly like it hadn’t roosted in the trees here with the Hobbys overnight as we had thought it might have done, and had probably moved swiftly through yesterday. He did tell us about some Garganey on the pools, and we figured we would continue on down the track towards Stubb Mill to see what else we could see.

A couple of Common Whitethroats were flitting around in the bushes by the track ahead of us as we walked along. We had just stopped opposite the second of the pools to scan for the Garganey, when one of the group spotted a Common Crane flying in over the fields behind us. It disappeared behind the trees then reappeared over the track ahead of us, flying out over the pools, before circling round and dropping down into reedbed beyond. A nice start.

Common Crane – flew in

There were lots of hirundines and Swifts hawking low over the pools, including several Sand Martins. It was a good opportunity to compare them with the House Martins. A Common Buzzard and a Marsh Harrier circled high over the trees behind us now. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits were roosting on the short grass by the water. Several Lapwings were flying round calling, and there were a few Avocets out here too.

Most of the ducks were asleep, mainly Gadwall and a few Mallard, plus a single Wigeon and a couple of Teal out on the water beyond. Scanning carefully, we finally found the Garganey, two exclipse drakes in their drabber, female-like plumage, also asleep. For no apparent reason, one of the Avocet decided to run at them, and they woke up briefly, then moving further towards the bank where we couldn’t really get a clear view of them any more. Very helpful of the Avocet!

One of the group was looking at four distant Greylags flying over the back of the reedbed and noticed a large brown bird below. It was a Bittern flying across. Unfortunately it quickly dropped back down into the reeds before all the rest of the group could get on it.

We continued on to where track goes up onto the bank. We were a bit closer to the dead trees and had better views of the Hobbys from here, although it was starting to brighten up and the Hobbys were becoming more active, flying up hawking for insects.

We could see a pair of Ringed Plovers on one of the islands on the pool in front of us, one of which looked to be incubating. They were noticeably paler above than the tundrae Ringed Plovers we had seen at Titchwell yesterday. There were also a couple of Redshank on here and a couple of Common Terns flew over. A Bittern appeared again, from behind the dead trees over the reeds at the back, but again it was distant and hard to pick up against the trees.

We decided to walk back and up the track towards Bittern Hide, hoping for a better view of its namesake. There were several dragonflies flying around now – Four-spotted Chasers – and more damselflies in the vegetation by the path, including Large Red, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

Blue-tailed Damselfly – warming up

We walked up Whiteslea Track now, and a Treecreeper was singing in the trees as we passed. We took the path up onto the bank and scanned the pool, picking up an Egyptian Goose from round on this side. Then we continued on towards the hide. A Bittern flew up again, but again was only up for couple of seconds and some of the group still hadn’t seen one, so we stood for a while on the corner before Bittern Hide. We scanned the reeds, but it didn’t reappear. Four more Cranes circled up slowly in the distance. Behind us, we could see the edge of the front which had brought all the cloud and the skies slowly cleared from the west to sunshine.

We heard Bearded Tits pinging and turned to see a couple fly across the ditch in front of us. A female perched in the edge for a few seconds. Some more Bearded Tits were calling further along, in the reeds by the path, and the male climbed up briefly into the tops, before flying and dropping back in. It seemed like they might have young in here. A couple of times the male flew out across the track and then back in with food.

Bearded Tit – the female in the reeds

It was time to head back for lunch now. We had seen an adult Black-headed Gull walking around on the top of the bank earlier, which seemed odd, and now we realised why. A fluffy Black-headed Gull chick had walked out of the long grass on the edge of the path. We waited for it to go back in before we walked on. A female Common Blue butterfly was nectaring on a buttercup.

Common Blue butterfly – a female

We cut across on the path through the wood, back to the Visitor Centre. There were several Four-spotted Chasers warming themselves on the brambles here in the sunshine. A male Reed Bunting was gathering food and flew across into a dead tree. A Common Whitethroat flitted in and out of the trees ahead of us.

Four-spotted Chaser – basking in the sunshine

We had our lunch in the picnic area in the sunshine. A Garden Warbler was singing in the trees nearby briefly. Our initial plan was to go somewhere different after lunch, but we had to be back early and didn’t have much time now, and figured we could look for Swallowtails here and maybe have another chance for the members of the group who had not caught any of the Bittern flights earlier.

It was warm now, as we set off again. We walked the other way round the reserve this time, out past the hides, towards the Broad, following the Covid one-way system. A couple of Reed Warblers showed well in the young reeds next to path. When we stopped to look at a male Reed Bunting singing in the top of a dead tree, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out of the trees behind and overhead.

We stopped to scan one of the overgrown ditches. There were several more dragonflies here, including a Hairy Dragonfly as well as more Four-spotted Chasers. A small shoal of Common Rudd was in the open water amongst the marestail.

Common Rudd – in one of the ditches

We stopped again at the first viewpoint overlooking the Broad. There were lots of Mute Swans out on the water, but not much else – often the way with the actual Broads themselves. A Marsh Harrier circled over in the sunshine. Continuing along the path, several Willow Warblers were calling in the sallows, collecting food, and one perched right in the top of an alder, singing.

Willow Warbler – in the sallows

We were struggling at first to find any Swallowtails or any flowers out for them to nectar on. Everything is very late this year after the cold spring. Finally, along the path towards the Observation Hide a Swallowtail flew in. But it carried on straight past us, flying very quickly ahead of us along the path. We tried to follow to see if it might land, but then it turned behind some sallows out of view and by the time we got there we had lost track of it.

We had yet another brief glimpse of a Bittern flying over the reeds, over by Bittern Hide, so we decided to head straight round that way. We popped into the hide. The reeds which had been cut in front of the hide are now growing up fast and making it harder to see anything on there. We were running out of time slightly, as we had to be back early today ahead of our evening foray later, but we decided to have a quick rest in the hide, before heading back to car park.

Scanning the dead trees in the distance through binoculars, there were still one or two Hobbys around. When a falcon flew out head on towards us we assumed it was just another Hobby, but it looked to have a rather pale crown and head which appeared to catch the sun, unlike the dark hood of a Hobby or a male Red-footed Falcon (like yesterday’s). But there was a lot of heat haze now and it was a long way off, so we figured we were imagining it. It turned and landed back in the dead trees out of view behind a branch.

It flew out again, another short sally after insects, and it really did look to have a pale head. As it turned to head back to the trees, it looked to have pale orangey underparts too. It couldn’t be though could it? Yesterday’s Red-footed Falcon was a 1st summer male and this one looked like a female. It lLanded again, and this time we realised we needed to get it in the scope quickly. Now we could confirm what we thought we had seen – it was a female Red-footed Falcon!

Red-footed Falcon – we found a female

The Red-footed Falcon was distant and there was a lot of heat haze, but we could see it did have a pale head, orange on top, whiter on the cheeks, with a thin black mask and small moustache. The back and wings looked rather dark grey and the underparts pale orangey-buff. It kept doing little sallies from the trees, shorter flights than the Hobbys, with more gliding, and quick bursts of wingbeats when chasing prey. It even did a brief hover. At one point it landed in the same tree as one of the Hobbys, and was noticeably a little smaller, more compact.

We had come to see someone else’s Red-footed Falcon, been disappointed to find it gone, but then found our own. Hickling is a good site for them and hosted multiple birds just last year, presumably the gathering of Hobbys helping to pull in passing birds. We put the news out – but when we went outside and onto the bank we could see everyone else had long since given up and gone. We were thinking it might be a bit closer from bank, but there was still lots of heat haze. Still what a great bird!

Unfortunately it was really time to go now, or we would be late for our early evening meal. As we set off to walk back, another Swallowtail flew past. This time it turned in front of us and looked like it might land on the flowers growing on the bank. It meant we had a better view, but it changed it’s mind and flew off rather than land. Then it was a quick walk back to the car park and a long drive back home, albeit with a spring in our steps!

Nightjar Evening

After a break and something to eat, we met again early evening. We went looking for Little Owls first. We checked out some barns by the road, but there was no sign. So we tried another site and immediately spotted one perched on the roof half way down one of the barns, enjoying the evening sunshine. We got it in the scope.

While we were watching it, another Little Owl flew across in front, disappearing into the trees nearby. After a few seconds it came back out and landed on the ground by the barns, running around looking for food on the concrete. It then flew up again, then across to the other side, perching on the near edge of the roof the other side. Great views.

Little Owl – hunting around the barns

We dropped down towards the coast to look for Barn Owls next. It was a lovely evening, and we heard several Yellowhammers singing through the open windows as we drove down the country lanes. We drove a quick circuit round via some meadows where they like to hunt, without any success, so we parked up nearby and walked up onto the seawall to scan the marshes. At first, we couldn’t find any owls – but we did see several Brown Hares and a pair of Grey Partridge down in the grass. A Song Thrush was singing from the trees on the far side.

Then a Barn Owl appeared out of the trees, the regular very white one, nicknamed ‘Casper’, which is well known here. It started hunting around a recently cut grass field, we watched it fly round, drop into the grass a couple of times, then come back up. It disappeared behind some trees and looked like it had gone off in the other direction, but then reappeared and flew back towards us. It came much closer, flying past us over the reeds and out along the bank across the marshes. It landed briefly, and we thought about going out for a closer look, but it quickly too off again as some people walked past and we watched it head out away from us.

Barn Owl – ‘Casper’, the white one

It was time to head up to the heath. The sun had already gone down and the temperature was dropping when we arrived and got out of the minibus. We set off out onto the middle of the heath, and we were not even already in position when we heard our first Nightjar churring. We got out of the edge of the trees just in time to hear it stop and take off wing-clapping. We could see it flying round over the gorse further up, and watched it drop down behind the vegetation ahead of us. We walked quickly on down the path but when we got to the area it had seemed to drop, it had disappeared.

Another Nightjar started churring now, right out in the middle. We stopped to listen to it, such an evocative sound, of summer evenings on the heaths. For some time we could only hear one. It flew round at one point – the churring stopped and we heard it wing-clapping as it took off. Then it flew back to the trees where it had been and resumed churring.

When another Nightjar started up behind us, it sounded closer. We walked on to see if we locate this one, but it was still too far from path to give us a chance to find it. A fourth male then started churring in the distance, and we stood and listened to the two of them for a couple of minutes. A Woodcock flew over roding – we could hear its squeaky call, and looked up to see it fly over with exaggerated slow wingbeats. A Tawny Owl called from the trees.

The first male Nightjar we had seen earlier started churring again, so we walked back. It was getting darker now, so we couldn’t see where it was perched on the edge of the trees. It took off and we watched two Nightjars chasing each other through the tops, silhouetted against the last of the light in the sky. One came back down into the gorse not far from us, and we had a quick view of it flying round lower as it broke the skyline. Then it went quiet again.

One of the other Nightjars was still churring out in the middle. We stood and listened to that for a couple more minutes, a lovely way to while away a summer’s evening. Then it was time to head back – it had been a long day, and we had another busy one ahead tomorrow. As we walked off the heath, we were serenaded by another of the Nightjars churring. It was in a tree above the path but too dark to see it perched now. As we walked underneath, we watched it fly out, dropping down out across the Heath.

31st May 2021 – A Day at the Fen

A Private Tour to go looking for Hobbys, and anything else we could find, at Lakenheath Fen today. It was a lovely warm sunny day – the first really warm day we have had for some time – with a light easterly breeze.

We met mid-morning in the car park. As we walked up towards the Visitor Centre, a Willow Warbler was singing in the trees and helpfully flew in to a oak right next to the path, where we were standing. While we queued to get in, we could hear two Cuckoos calling, one either side. Then we headed straight out onto the reserve – we had to be back to meet someone for lunch, so we planned to make a quick dash out to Joist Fen and back.

Willow Warbler – singing above our heads

Walking up the track, we kept stopping to listen to various warblers singing. A Reed Warbler was singing half-heartedly from a sallow by the path, where we could see it flitting around, before it dropped down into the reeds and started to sing more strongly. A couple of Common Whitethroats flitted around a little further along. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds. A Blackcap was singing in the poplars.

We stopped at the viewpoint at New Fen. A pair of Great Crested Grebes looked like they might be displaying – facing each other, one and then the other preened a feather on their backs, then one picked up a piece of weed from the water, but changed its mind and threw it away. Both then swam forward, snorkelling, but it came to nothing.

A pair of Bearded Tits flew low across the water and disappeared into the reeds. Another Cuckoo had been calling in the poplars behind us, but now came out onto the edge, high in the tops. We just had a quick look at it, before it flew deeper in again, chasing after another Cuckoo. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds, and a very distant Hobby was high over the trees on the other side of the river but it was impossible to get onto it. A promising start though.

A Bittern boomed. It sounded like it was quite close, so we walked up to the dragonfly platform to see if we could find it, but two people were already there and said it was still hidden in the reeds. We stopped and scanned, but couldn’t see anything either. We decided to head on to Joist Fen. We paused to watch two female Marsh Harriers as they circled up calling, and then noticed a male coming in high carrying something in its talons. It circled with one of the females and then passed the food to her. There were lots of dragonflies in the reeds by the path and flying back and forth in front of us – several Scarce Chasers and a couple of Hairy Dragonflies.

Scarce Chaser – basking on a reed stem

It is always a nice place to sit out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, and as we rested out legs we spotted a Hobby out over the reeds. It was already quite distant, but as we watched it, we realised there were lots more Hobbys much further back still, very high up, and hawking for insects. We counted at least 17, but some were little more specks and they were very dispersed, so there were probably more. Mission accomplished in finding some Hobbys, but we would have liked better views.

There were more Marsh Harriers, distant too, and a Cormorant on its usual post out in the reeds. Then we got a message to stay the person we were meeting had arrived. It was a quick walk back and then a break for lunch on one of the picnic tables in the shade of the trees.

After lunch, we headed out again, this time up to the Washland Viewpoint. There was a good selection of ducks out on the water, including two drake Garganey. One was still in full breeding plumage, but the other was already moulting, well on its way to drab eclipse plumage, with a patch of grey feathers on the flank and a hint of the white stripe over the eye. There were a few waders here too – a few Avocets, some Lapwings and a Redshank. A male Stonechat was perched on the vegetation just across the river.

Marsh Harrier – circled over the river bank

Walking on up the river bank, a Grey Heron flew past the other side. We could hear Cuckoos calling and Reed Warblers and one or two Sedge Warblers still singing. As we passed New Fen, a Marsh Harrier flew in from the other side of the river and circled right beside us, before flying round us to get to the Fen.

As we got to the far side of West Wood, a Bittern appeared from behind the bushes and flew round over the reeds, across in front of the trees, and dropped back in again further back.

Bittern – good flight views

We dropped down off the river bank to Joist Fen Viewpoint again for a rest. The Hobbys were still there, still very distant. So we decided to try our luck walking further down the river bank, so see if we could get some closer views. As we walked on along the bank, a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes. A closer Hobby appeared briefly from behind the poplars, but by the time we got out of the trees, it had disappeared. Still it was encouraging.

We could still see several Hobbys further up, so we walked on a bit further. A Cuckoo was calling in the bushes by the path and we stopped to look at it in the scope. Suddenly four or five Hobbys drifted back our way and started hunting for dragonflies over the reeds. The wind picked up a little, and one or two of them came in low over the river, really close now. We stood and watched as they caught and ate their prey right in front of us and even right overhead at one point. Stunning views!

Hobby – stunning views
Hobby – almost over our heads
Hobby – we were being watched too!
Hobby – supremely fast & aerodynamic
Hobby vs dragonfly – homing in
Hobby vs dragonfly – brace for impact
Hobby vs dragonfly – there could only be one winner!

We spent about an hour marvelling at the Hobbys catching dragonflies in front of us. Then we had to tear ourselves away – it was time to head back. A Common Tern was feeding along the river too. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling in West Wood as we passed. A Cuckoo flew right over our heads by Trial Wood and the Common Swifts were lower now over New Fen in the breeze.

Cuckoo – flew right over our heads

A very memorable few hours at Lakenheath Fen!

19th May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week. Mostly warm in the long sunny spells, there were some cloudier periods when it felt a bit cooler. Some very dark clouds early afternoon were accompanied by some long rolls of thunder, but thankfully passed well to the south of us, and it wasn’t until we were on our way home that we drove into one of the forecast showers.

With a Caspian Tern over in the Broads for its second day this morning, we decided to head east for the day. It was a long drive over to Potter Heigham, but we left in good time and it was still early when we got to the car park. As we crossed the road and set off down the track, we heard a Cuckoo calling, and turned to see it flying away over the river. It was a cloudy start, and our first Common Swifts off the tour were chasing overhead. A Great Spotted Woodpecker came out of the small copse of trees and flew ahead of us, landing on a low gatepost by the track – an odd place to see one.

A pair of Egyptian Geese were close to the path on the grazing marshes. Further out, among the horses, was a lone Oystercatcher. Several Lapwings were flying round too. We could hear distant Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler singing in the bushes and trees the other side of the marshes. Closer to us, both Sedge and Reed Warblers were singing from the reedy margins of the ditch, but were typically hard to see. Never mind, we would see lots later. A couple of Reed Buntings flew across the track. One or two Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes and a Common Buzzard circled overhead.

Common Buzzard – circled overhead

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the fields which flushed as a local farmer drove past in his truck. They flew across to the pools. At the first pool, as well as the geese, we could see a few Mallard and one or two Gadwall. A Little Egret was out in the shallow water in the far corner.

It’s yelping call alerted us to a Lesser White-fronted Goose in with the Greylags, dwarfed by its much larger cousins. Through the scope, we could see the white blaze extending up its forehead and the golden yellow eye-ring. This would be a rare bird here if it were wild, but unfortunately it is a known escapee which has been hanging around here for the last year or so, presumably having hopped the fence from a wildfowl collection somewhere.

The Caspian Tern had flown off once this morning, but thankfully returned, so we were keen to get round to the other side to see it, while making sure we didn’t miss anything this side on the way. Moving on to the next pool, a quick scan revealed two Common Pochard with more Greylags and a couple of distant Common Terns. The cloud was breaking now and it was warming up nicely as the sun was coming out. Having planned for the risk of rain which was forecast, we had to shed our coats.

Up to the corner, we climbed up onto the bank for a better view. On the corner pool we could see more Pochard, a couple of Tufted Ducks, and three late lingering Wigeon. Looking across to the other side, we could just see the Caspian Tern through the reeds, between some Cormorants roosting on one of the islands. A little further up, we got clear of the reeds and had a better if still distant view – we could see its huge red bill. It was standing in the shallow water next to a Herring Gull and didn’t look much smaller – Caspian Tern is the largest tern, like an enormous oversize Sandwich Tern with a massive red dagger for a bill.

With the Caspian Tern in the bag, we could relax a little, but we continued on round more slowly, for a closer view. A Willow Warbler was signing from the top of an oak across the other side of Candle Dyke. A Common Sandpiper was flushed from a mooring by a passing boat a little further along and a Common Tern flew past, looking much daintier than its cousin on the pools, with a much less threatening bill!

Common Tern – flew past over Candle Dyke

Walking round towards the river, there was lots of activity in the reeds. We finally got to see both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warblers here. We caught a quick glimpse of a Bearded Tit which zipped over the reeds and dropped down. It was carrying food in its bill, so we waited to see if it would come back out. Before it did, a second Bearded Tit flew in, this time the female, also carrying food in her bill. She perched for a few seconds in the reeds, allowing us all to get on her, before she dropped in, as the male flew out and disappeared back away. Obviously they are feeding a hungry brood in the reeds there.

Bearded Tit – the female, carrying food

Walking up beside the river, we arrived opposite the pool where the Caspian Tern was standing. But we had only just put up the scopes before it took off, before everyone could get a look. We watched it fly off east, circling over the reeds for a while, gaining height, before it disappeared from view. We were very pleased we had stopped to look at it distantly on the way round!

Caspian Tern – flew off just as we arrived on the river bank

The Caspian Tern had flown off earlier and returned, so we figured it was probably just heading off to fish somewhere and would most likely be back here again at some point. The only question was how long, but we thought we would have a more leisurely look around now and see what happened. There were two Shoveler out on this pool. A Great Crested Grebe was over in the far corner and then another appeared from behind the reeds at the front. Another male Bearded Tit was chasing a rival round and round over the reeds.

Walking up to the last pool from the river bank, we could see a single Avocet on one of the islands. A pair of Teal nearby would be the only ones we would see – most have left already, heading off to northern Europe for the breeding season. We hadn’t been here long though, before we turned to see the Caspian Tern flying back in behind us. It landed back down on the pool where it had been before, so we walked straight back. Now we all had a really good view of it through the scopes.

Caspian Tern – flew back in and landed on the same pool

Caspian Tern is a rare visitor to the UK, with just a few records most years. They breed in small numbers around the Baltic, as well as further over in SE Europe, wintering down in West Africa. Potter Heigham seems to be a good site for them – there was one here last year too.

We could see dark clouds way off west, so we decided to walk slowly back. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the bushes by the river, and we had a quick flash of a rounded chestnut-red tail as it flew past. Two different male Marsh Harriers flew past over the reeds. A couple of Common Whitethroats were in the trees, three Reed Warblers chased round and a Chiffchaff was singing in the old orchard by the mill.

Marsh Harrier – one of two males over the reeds

We headed round to Hickling Broad to use the facilities and as the sun was out now, we decided to have an early lunch in the picnic area before heading out onto the reserve. A juvenile Robin was calling in the trees behind the Visitor Centre – good to see some early broods are proving productive, despite the cool spring we are having. As we sat down to eat, a Hobby circled high over the trees beyond. A pair of Great Tits were flying in and out of a nearby nest box. Two Bullfinch called, and we looked over to see them fly across the far end of the picnic area.

There were some dark clouds to the south of us, and we heard some long and rather ominous rolls of thunder from that direction, but it looked like they would probably miss us, so we headed out onto the reserve. As we set off down the track, there were House Martins overhead calling and we found a couple of Sand Martins with them.

As we got to the corner with the Stubb Mill track, one of the group spotted a Common Crane flying over high in the distance – the first of many, as it would prove later. There were lots of Hobbys out over the reedbed beyond the water, flying back and forth, hawking for insects, some low, some circling up much higher. Further over, there were more perched in the tops of the dead trees, probably around 15 Hobbys in all, always great to watch these spring gatherings. A Cuckoo flew over the back of the pool, up over the bank, and disappeared behind the trees towards the Visitor Centre.

We walked down the track towards Stubb Mill. There had been a Wood Sandpiper on the marsh here yesterday, so we scanned the islands and the margins of the water. A small flock of seven Ringed Plovers flew up and disappeared off west, presumably of the Tundra race, which are always late migrants through here. Again we heard a Lesser White-fronted Goose calling and looked over on the island to see it in with the Greylags. Presumably the same bird we had seen earlier at Potter Heigham, as it is only a short distance away as the goose flies.

Lesser White-fronted Goose – unfortunately an escapee

A much closer Hobby flew in over the water and over the track behind us. While everyone was watching it, we turned to see a Grey Heron fly up from the reeds beyond the pool and noticed a Common Crane in the reeds too, a little further back. We got it in the scope and watched it for some time, preening, then walking around through the reeds. Then it took off and flew towards us, unfortunately attracting the attention of one of the Shelduck, which decided to mob it as it flew over the water. As the Shelduck finally gave up, we watched as the Common Crane disappeared away over the fields to the north.

Common Crane – pursued by a Shelduck

As we continued on down the track, we could hear a Bittern booming from somewhere deep in the reeds now. We scanned the pools on the way, but the only other waders we could find were Redshanks. When we got to the end, there were more Hobbys zooming about low over the reeds and we looked past them to the east and noticed four Common Cranes circling low over the bushes.

Another four Cranes circled up nearby and all eight then turned and started to fly towards us. They stopped to circle again, giving us a great view, then started calling and drifted away to the north over Stubb Mill, where we lost sight of them behind the trees.

Common Crane – another eight, near Stubb Mill

After watching the Cranes, we turned our attention back to the pools, looking back parallel with the track. It was a better view from up on the top of the bank. There were two Little Grebes diving in the blanket weed here, more Redshanks and several juvenile Lapwings which teased us into thinking they might be a different small wader before we saw them clearly. Then we did find a different small wader right up at the far end, walking in and out of a line of thick reeds and rushes. It was the Wood Sandpiper we had been searching for – a distant view, but better than nothing!

The dark clouds had remained off to the south as we had hoped and the sun had come out again now, encouraging a flush of insects. A Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly was drying its still papery wings on the bank in the sunshine, with several also freshly emerged Azure Damselflies fluttering around nearby. A Small Copper butterfly was trying to find flowers to feed on, our first of the year.

Four-spotted Chaser – drying its wings on the bank

We had been intending to walk up to Bittern Hide, but we met someone here who had just come back from there and had seen nothing we hadn’t already seen. A Great Reed Warbler had been found at Breydon Water this morning and after being very elusive, it now seemed to be showing on and off. As it was just a short drive from here, we decided to go over there to see if we could see it.

As we arrived in the car park, a friendly face walking back confirmed the Great Reed Warbler was still present, so we set off out along the north wall. We could see six people standing on the path on the first corner, looking down across the railway line to the bushes beyond. As we walked up, we could immediately hear the Great Reed Warbler singing.

The Great Reed Warbler was singing from inside the bush and looking in, we could just see it. We got it in the scopes and had various views of different parts of it as it moved around. Great Reed Warblers are scarce visitors from continental Europe, overshooting in spring as they fly back from Africa and ending up in the UK. Normally a bird of reedbeds, like a much larger version of our Reed Warbler, this one had probably been attracted down by the sight of Breydon Water and found the best habitat it could to feed.

After a while it stopped singing and went quiet, disappeared into the bushes. It had earlier come out into the open when it stopped singing, but all we could see now were a couple of Blackcaps, male & female. A regular Reed Warbler appeared too, in the same bush. People were getting tired now so we decided it was time to walk back.

Breydon Water – looking out from the north wall

Some of the group were a little too keen to get back to the minibus and sit down, as they disappeared over the horizon before we the rest of us had packed away our tripods. Those who had brought their scopes out stopped on the way back to scan Breydon Water for waders. The islands of vegetation at the edge of the saltmarsh are a regular roosting site for waders.

We had already seen a flock of Curlews out there, and stopping to scan now we found a group of at least 19 Whimbrel too, tucked down in the vegetation a little further over. A lone wader on the end of a vegetated spit a bit further round was a single Greenshank.

It was a long drive back and time was getting on, so the rest of us headed back to join the others in the minibus. As we cut round past Norwich we drove into a heavy rain shower – we had been very lucky with the weather today. A great start to our three day tour, with two new birds for most of the group.

11th May 2021 – Spring Serenade

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with intermittent dark clouds spreading in particularly from early afternoon and bringing with them some torrential showers. Thankfully we mostly managed to avoid being caught out in the worst of them.

We started the day at Snettisham. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Cuckoo was singing, but it had gone quiet by the time we were ready to set off. As we walked into the Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing in the bushes, Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Chiffchaffs too and we spotted one flicking around in some nearby trees.

Common Whitethroat – there were lots singing this morning

While we were watching the Chiffchaff, we heard a Turtle Dove purring from the bushes. We walked round on the path to try to locate it, and a second male started singing further over, one either side, stereo Turtle Doves! We had a couple of brief glimspses – first of a pair chasing through the bushes, then a male which flew up quickly and then slowly floated back down in display flight. One of the male Turtle Doves was purring now in a bush not far from the path but it was tucked in somewhere out of view. We caught a glimpse of that one as it slipped out the back and then went quiet. The other male was still purring in the thicker bushes the other side.

We walked in further and up onto the outer seawall. Looking out over the Wash, the tide was slowly going out. We had seen a couple of small groups of Oystercatchers flying past earlier, and there were now lots gathered on the exposed mud to the north. Four Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the shore, a Dunlin dropped in with them briefly and then another four Bar-tailed Godwits arrived. They were all either females or young birds, lacking the breeding male’s bright rufous underparts. Five Grey Plover flew past out over the water, a couple of them sporting their summer black faces and bellies. There were lots of Brent Geese on the beach too and two Common Terns distantly over the water.

When we turned round, we could see a Barn Owl hunting the other side, following the inner seawall. It was out late this morning – either the cold spring weather is not helping it to fatten up ahead of the breeding season, or it has hungry young to feed already, although there was no sign of it flying back to feed them.

Barn Owl – out hunting late

We walked back down into the bushes and up through the middle of the park. A Willow Warbler was singing in the sea buckthorn on the seawall and there were lots of Linnets in the bushes. When some darker clouds rolled overhead and it started spitting with rain briefly, there were suddenly lots of Common Swifts zooming back and forth low above us. Presumably migrants on their way over which were pushed down by the weather.

When we heard a Turtle Dove purring again, we looked up to see it perched in a dead tree. Now we had a great view of it through the scopes, with its rufous scaled back and black and white barred panel on the side of its neck. We stood for a while just listening to it now – a wonderful sound of spring, once common but now rare, and still declining at an alarming pace, a victim of the industrialisation of farming here and our obsession with flailing hedges and tidying up any areas of scrub in the countryside. Catch it while you still can!

Turtle Dove – purring in the branches of a dead tree

A pair of Stonechats were alarm calling from the clumps of low gorse nearby, presumably with young in the nest somewhere. The Barn Owl appeared again, weaving in and out of the bushes over the grass.

As we carried on further, finally we heard a Cuckoo calling again, and could see it in the distance, in a tree right at the north end of the park. We got it in the scopes, but it was mobbed by a Meadow Pipit and took off. It flew our way, past us through the bushes, and landed in the same tree where the Turtle Dove was still purring. Two of the classic sounds of spring, both declining, together. We walked back, but the Cuckoo was off again before we could get there.

Carrying on north, we climbed up onto the seawall again. The tide had gone out considerably, with a lot more exposed mud, and the Oystercatchers and Brent Geese were widely scattered. A huge flock of thousands of Knot and Grey Plover flew round out in the middle, half way across to Lincolnshire, catching the light as they twisted and turned.

The Wash – looking out over the mud

We walked along the crossbank to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan over Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of ducks out here on the pools, including a late lingering Wigeon. A Russian White-fronted Goose swimming across one of the pools was a surprise, as most of the wild wintering geese have long since departed. A little further up, we picked out a single Pink-footed Goose too, with a small group of the resident Greylags. The Pink-footed Goose was probably winged and injured by wildfowlers, now unable to fly north with the others but still capable of feeding happily on the marshes, so perhaps the White-fronted Goose was too.

There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets out on the pools. Scanning carefully, we picked out a small group of Black-tailed Godwits at the back. A Ringed Plover together with a small group of Dunlin were feeding on a muddy island closer to us. A lone Whimbrel was down on the short grass nearby.

The Yellow Wagtails were on the move today. We had already heard and seen a few flying south overhead, and a group of four had just gone over. We were just about to move off, when we heard Yellow Wagtails call and turned to see a large group dropping down towards the grass on the near edge of the marshes. There were about a dozen of them, and it is always worth scanning through to see if any of their scarcer cousins are travelling with them. And there were two very smart male Grey-headed Wagtails together down on the grass.

Grey-headed Wagtails – two males in the flock

Looking through the rest of the flock, there were mostly yellow-headed British Yellow Wagtails, males and females, but one female had a noticeably greyer head and paler white supercilium. It is not possible to conclusively identify female Blue-headed Wagtails, as female British Yellow Wagtails are variable in appearance, but this looked like a good candidate.

Then we found another male Grey-headed Wagtail further over. This one appeared to have a tiny speck of white above the lores. All these yellow wagtails are considered just subspecies and they do interbreed – perhaps this little speck of white was a tiny remnant of historic intergradation with Blue-headed Wagtails where they meet in northern Scandinavia?

Grey-headed Wagtail – the third male

They may just be treated as subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtail and therefore not separate ‘ticks’ on the official list, but taxonomy is in a constant state of flux these days and definitions change of what makes a species (Eastern and Western Yellow Wagtail have recently been separated). Like many other families, the yellow wagtails with their myriad forms defy our crude attempts to put them into neat boxes. They are fascinating and beautiful things and well worth recording on our lists, species or not!

Having marvelled at the various Yellow Wagtails for a while, we started to make our way back along the seawall. The Cuckoo was singing from another dead tree, but dropped down before we got back level with it. We found it again and had a good view of it perched in the bushes by the outer seawall, before it was chased off by a Meadow Pipit again.

Cuckoo – on the bushes on the outer seawall

The sun was out and things had warmed up now. The Swifts were very high and we picked up a distant Hobby very high over the marshes, catching insects. There were several Common Buzzards up too, and some other distant raptors beyond the range of our scopes. The Turtle Dove was still in purring away in its favourite tree as we passed. We could see more dark clouds approaching from the south, so we made our way back to the minibus.

We made our way round to Holme and stopped briefly on Beach Road to use the facilities. Then we drove down the track past the payhut to park, and climbed up onto the seawall. It was grey but dry here, although the dark clouds we had seen from Snettisham were passing to the west of us and it looked to be raining over there. Two Hobbys were zooming back and forth low over the reeds out on the grazing marsh hawking for insects.

We could see dark clouds coming our way now, so we decided to have lunch down under the shelter of the minibus tailgate. One of the Hobbys landed on a bramble bush out on the grazing marsh briefly and a Great White Egret flew over. We waited for the shower to pass.

After lunch, it had stopped raining and we went back up onto the seawall again. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reeds now. A lone Whimbrel appeared down on the grass closer to us. There were lots of Brent Geese still lingering on the saltmarsh. It shouldn’t be long before they are off back up to Siberia for the breeding season now. Another shower arrived, so we retired to the minibus again. It appeared to be brighter away to the east, so we decided to head round that way.

Brent Geese – almost time to leave

We diverted inland via Ringstead, scanning the fields while waiting for some more darker clouds to blow through, then swung round to Choseley. A single Corn Bunting was perched in the middle of a bright yellow oilseed rape field. We started to scan the field where the Dotterel had been recently, finding two Wheatears out amongst the stones, but it was starting to rain again now.

Corn Bunting – in the middle of the oilseed rape

There was a report of a Temminck’s Stint at Stiffkey Fen, so we decided to drive further east to see if we could get out of the worst of the weather. At first, things deteriorated as we simply drove into torrential rain. But we could see brighter skies ahead of us and by the time Stiffkey it had stopped raining, even if we were still just under the edge of the darker clouds.

It was cool and breezy now and there weren’t many birds singing as we walked out beside the river. We headed straight out and up onto the seawall, and it was good we didn’t dawdle. There were a couple of people already there and we saw them lift their heads and start to scan with their binoculars as we got to the top of the steps – everything on the Fen had taken off. We stopped and heard the Temminck’s Stint call, as it flew over the seawall just ahead of us. We watched as it flew out over the saltmarsh and dropped down into a channel out of view. Just in time!

The Common Sandpiper which had been feeding on the Fen had returned, so we could still see that working its way round one of the islands. We decided to walk on round to the edge of the harbour to see if we could see into the channel where the stint had landed. We could see a small area of mud, but it was obviously further round the corner, still out of view from here.

There were still plenty of Brent Geese here too. With the tide out, there were lots of gulls loafing on the mud. Further back, we could see terns flying back and forth over the remaining water in the pit, lots of Common Terns and one or two Little Terns. We could see seals in the distance too, hauled out on the sandbank beyond the far end of Blakeney Point.

It was starting to spit with rain again, but it was time to head back anyway. A Garden Warbler was singing in the sallows as we walked back beside the river and we heard a Kingfisher call as it flew upstream along the channel behind the bushes and brambles. Then it was back up to the road to finish.

3rd May 2021 – More Warblers & Waders

Another Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with rain and an increasingly blustery wind spreading in during the afternoon. As ever, we made the most of the dry weather and still managed to see some very good birds as the weather deteriorated.

We started the day at Cley. We could hear the Grasshopper Warbler today from the car park as soon as we got out of the minibus, so we made our way straight over the road. A couple of people were watching it, reeling away in the back of a bush, but it was partly obscured. When it dropped down through the bush and started reeling again from the other side, we had a slightly better view.

Then suddenly the Grasshopper Warbler took off and flew down over the reeds parallel with the path, landing in some low vegetation, where it started reeling again. It was a great view now, just a few metres from the path, perched up in full view on a curl of brambles.

Grasshopper Warbler – still showing well

A Lesser Whitethroat was singing back in the hedge by the car park now. We decided to move on and walked on down along The Skirts path. There were several Sedge Warblers and one or two Reed Warblers singing along here, but neither were particularly easy to see today. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reeds and a Lesser Redpoll flew low overhead calling and disappeared off west.

A Common Whitethroat was singing ahead of us in the bushes by the path and perched up nicely in the top of one. Another male was singing further up. We realised why – a female was there too – and one of the males obviously encroached of the other’s territory resulting in the two of them chasing round after each other.

Common Whitethroat – one of two rival males on The Skirts

Continuing on up onto the East Bank, we could see at least two families of tiny Lapwing chicks still on the grazing marshes. There were Redshanks displaying too, and several Avocets at the back on Pope’s Pool.

We heard our first Yellow Wagtails calling and looked over to see at least five around the feet of the cows, including a couple of smart canary yellow males. They were very mobile, flying round a couple of times, before they were off, carrying on west. But all the time there were more dropping in – it was to be a real theme of the morning, with lots of Yellow Wagtails on the move.

It was breezier today and the ducks were tucked down in the grass. We could still see several Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Shelduck, but it took a bit more scanning to find one or two drake Wigeon too.

Being a bit windier, it didn’t feel like a day for Bearded Tits, which was one species on the wish list. But when we heard one calling, we looked down to see a smart male climbing up the reeds on the far side of the ditch just below the path. It perched out in the open for a few seconds on the outside edge of the reeds, giving us a very good view of its powder grey head and black moustache (not really a beard!), before it flew back along the ditch. A second bird, a female was calling nearby too, and flew past after it. The two of them disappeared deeper in to the reeds. We got good views of several Sedge Warblers along here too.

Sedge Warbler – lots around in the reeds now

A pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled over calling and two Sandwich Terns flew west over the brackish pools. There had apparently been a Curlew Sandpiper with the Dunlin on Arnold’s Marsh earlier. Some of the Dunlin were now asleep in the vegetation on one of the islands on the brackish pool, but looking through we could see it was not with them. Dunlin numbers were down compared to yesterday, so some had probably gone off elsewhere. A small flock of Knot flew in and landed on the edge of the island. Mostly in grey non-breeding plumage, one was just starting to get patchy orange-red underparts. The two drake Pintail were still out on the water, upending.

Turning our attention to Arnold’s Marsh now, we could see only three Dunlin on here now. There were also three Bar-tailed Godwits, and several Ringed Plover. As we started to make our way back, a Whimbrel flew west behind us.

Two more Yellow Wagtails had dropped in with cows, and we heard more calling overhead. A Little Grebe was now on Don’s Pool, along with a female Common Pochard, both of which will probably breed here.

Common Pochard – a female on Don’s Pool

On the walk back along The Skirts, we could see at least one Marsh Harrier again. Several Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over North Scrape. A Greenfinch flew overhead calling.

A Grey-headed Wagtail had dropped in just along the coast at Kelling earlier this morning and had lingered for the last couple of hours. We got a message to stay that it was still there now, so we thought we would go over to try to see it. But as we had seen, the wagtails were very actively on the move this morning, so by the time we got there it was perhaps no surprise that it had finally decided to fly off.

We did see a Blackcap in the lane, and a Chiffchaff was singing down by the copse. There were a couple of Common Whitethroats and lots of Linnets in the bushes around the Water Meadow pool. A quick look at the pool itself produced a Common Sandpiper and a Stock Dove (a species we had only just talked about needing to see!). We decided we would be better to try out luck elsewhere, so we started to walk back. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes in the field nearby, and we could see it moving around in the top of a low hawthorn.

We drove back west inland and stopped just before we got to Wells. We scanned the pools from the parking area – two Brent Geese were out on the grass in front of the pool west of the track. A moulting male Ruff was feeding on the edge of the water, just starting to get part of its barred grey ruff now. Two Little Ringed Plovers were further back.

A short way down the track, we had a better view of one of the Little Ringed Plovers, with its golden eye ring clear now. Then we noticed a small snipe with a distinctive bobbing action in amongst the clumps of rushes close to the track, a Jack Snipe. We had a great view of it as it fed around the base of the rushes, its golden mantle stripes contrasting with its dark upperparts.

Jack Snipe – bobbing up and down in the rushes

We could see a dark cloud approaching from the west, so we walked back to the minibus for lunch under the shelter of the tailgate, while we waited for the shower to pass over.

Two Grey Partridges were in the field opposite. A lone Egyptian Goose was over the back with the Greylags but walked up to the front on its own. Two Common Swifts flew in low over the east pool and right over us, disappearing on west into the drizzle.

Common Swift – one of two which flew past over lunch

After lunch, once the shower had cleared through, we set off back down the track. There were two Yellow Wagtails now, bright yellow males again in the rushes close to the path just to the east, before they flew out to the islands in the middle.

There were more hirundines now, after the rain, hawking low over the pools, and there were several House Martins with them now. A male Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the bushes beyond in the wind, which was starting to pick up.

Marsh Harrier – a pale male over the bushes

We carried on round to take a look at the western pool. There were lots of Avocets down in the grass and lots of Swallows flying round low over the water, but we couldn’t see anything more interesting. We climbed up onto the seawall for a better look. It was windy up here, but looking out over the saltmarsh towards the harbour we could see a Common Tern patrolling up and down one of the main channels. We carried on up to the corner for a closer look, and could see another three Common Terns further back.

A distant Spoonbill was feeding out on the saltmarsh. One or two Whimbrel were a bit closer, down in the vegetation. Two adult Common Gulls flew past calling. Then a Hobby whipped through overhead, disappearing off into the allotments at Wells, presumably a fresh migrant on its way back for the summer.

We had been lucky with a dry interlude, but we could see more dark clouds approaching so we set off to walk back. The Common Gulls were now on one of the pools, with all the Black-headed Gulls. The two male Yellow Wagtails were back by the track, in the rushes on the other side now, and had been joined by a female.

Yellow Wagtail – three were feeding close to the track

It started to rain again, so we headed back to the minibus. We hoped we might drive through it, but it still looked rather grey out to the west when we arrived at Burnham Overy. It was only spitting with rain though as we set off down the track, even if it was getting noticeably windier now.

At least 22 Whimbrel were feeding out on the grass from the gate by the stile, with 2 Curlew in with them providing a good comparison, noticeably bigger and longer-billed. There was no sign of any Ring Ouzels now though in the fields either side – presumably they had retreated to the hedges.

Whimbrel – some of the 22 on the grazing marshes

A little further along, we picked up two injured Pink-footed Geese still out on the grazing marsh, unable to fly north for the summer. Several Common Pochard were on the small pools over by the reeds. We carried on along the track to the seawall. The Sedge Warblers along here were unusually quiet due to the deteriorating weather, with just one singing rather half-heartedly.

Up on the seawall, there was an impressive gathering or hundreds of Swallows over the reedbed and pool. Migrants on their way west, they were presumably finding food and would have a place to roost in the reeds.

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we could see a distant Little Tern over the main harbour channel, so we walked down the seawall to the corner for a closer look. There were three Little Terns here now, flying up and down over the water, stopping to hover and then plunging in to the channel. One of them caught a fish, and the three of them chased up high calling.

There were Avocets and Redshanks on the mud, but from the corner we could see two Grey Plovers on the edge of the harbour channel too, one in breeding plumage with black face and belly. One or two Spoonbills were still flying back and forth.

Spoonbill – flying over the harbour in the rain

It was cold and windy up here and starting to rain harder now. As we walked back to the track, we could see a Great White Egret flying across beyond the reeds and landing in the distance out on the grazing marsh.

With the deteriorating weather, we decided we would try something that didn’t require walking, rather than finish early. So we drove over to Choseley to look for the Dotterel which had been reported there earlier. We started scanning from the top of the field. We were only part way down when we noticed a flock of Golden Plover flying in and they landed behind us, out of view. A couple of Red legged Partridges were easy to see, but it was a big field with lots of places to hide a lone Dotterel in the rain, lots of dips and dead ground, so it would take quite a bit of time to search the whole field.

We messaged someone we knew who had been here earlier, and they told us where the Dotterel was when they saw it, much further along nearer the far end of the field, so drove down to focus our efforts there. Once we knew exactly where to look, it didn’t take long to find the Dotterel now. It was actively moving round the stony field, running a short distance then stopping, extremely hard to see when it stopped still.

Dotterel – just the one here today

Dotterel are just passage migrants through here, stopping off in traditional fields on their way north each spring, between their wintering grounds in North Africa and Scandinavia where they will breed. Having enjoyed good views of the Dotterel, we drove back up to the top of the field for a quick look at the flock of Golden Plover, several resplendent now in breeding plumage with black faces and bellies (rather like their grey-spangled cousin we had seen at Burnham Overy earlier).

The Dotterel was a great way to wrap up a successful day’s spring birding, so we headed for home happy.

26th April 2021 – Nightingales & More

A Private Tour today, down in Suffolk for Nightingales. It was bright and dry but mostly cloudy with some intermittent sunny intervals and a light but chilly easterly breeze.

Our first destination this morning was for Nightingales. As we walked down the road, we stopped to scan the fields and could see the orange face of a male Grey Partridge in the paddocks, the female feeding head down beside it. There were Skylarks singing and we watched one flutter up. We could hear a distant Yellowhammer singing its ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’.

Further down, it was bushier and we started to hear warblers singing. The sweet descending scale of a Willow Warbler contrasting with the repetitive chiffs and chaffs of a Chiffchaff. The beautiful fluting of a male Blackcap, flitting around in the fresh green of a spring hawthorn. The scratchy song of a Common Whitethroat in the more open bushes. There were Wrens, Dunnocks and Robins all singing too.

Chiffchaff – one of several species of warbler singing this morning

We heard the first Nightingale calling first, a strange croaking noise a bit like a frog, coming from a particularly dense tangle of brambles and bushes. As we stood and listened, it began to sing, a succession of loud, fluted, melodic, liquid phrases, pausing for breath in between. Gorgeous! It went quiet for a while, and we carried on down the road, where even more warblers were singing. Then we heard the Nightingale singing again behind us, so walked back for another listen.

The Nightingale was in a particularly dense area of scrub so there was little chance we would see it hear. We decided to tear ourselves away and have a walk round to see if we could find any more. A male Blackcap was singing by the road – a beautiful melodic song and a favourite on any other day, but unfortunately it was keeping elite company today. We found a path in through the bushes further up and weaved our way round. A smart male Yellowhammer perched in the top of a hawthorn above us, calling.

Yellowhammer – calling from the top of a hawthorn

As we came to a more open area, flanked by thick bushes which were providing some shelter from the breeze, we could see some movement under a pine tree. As we walked up the slope past it, another Nightingale sang briefly just beyond. We stopped and listened and heard it again, calling now back behind us. We walked back into the open area and stood in the middle looking back at the sheltered edge, which was warm in the sunshine. it looked like there might be two Nightingales here, but they weren’t going to come out – the most we saw was when one flicked down along the edge briefly, but they were keeping to the thickest bushes and the trail quickly went cold. We could still hear the first Nightingale we had heard earlier, singing on and off behind us.

Continuing round, we noticed several Starlings zooming around the tops of the bushes. They seemed to be flycatching. There were more down on ground, running around snapping at things in the short grass and we could see one close to us had a bill full of insects. We couldn’t see what exactly they were catching, but it was obviously proving very productive here.

Starling – finding lots of insects in the grass

At the top of the hill, we could hear another couple of Nightingales singing. One was in a dense fenced-off area of bushes, but the second was in more open brambles and scrub. The sound seemed to be coming from the front edge, and as we walked along to investigate, we just had a glimpse of its bright orange-red tail as it flicked up from the grass and into the brambles. We could hear it calling further back, so we tried walking in on a path through the bushes. Again, we just saw the back end of it as it disappeared into the bushes.

We left it for a while, as we listened to the other Nightingale singing, then walked in slowly again. It was on the ground once more, but it was too close, behind a bush, and there was no way we could get round without disturbing it. We waited until it had moved further back, but still it was too jumpy and flew round the back as we tried to edge forwards. It wasn’t going to play ball today. We walked over to where the other Nightingale was singing from the thicket and listened to that for a bit. It was mesmerising just to stand and hear them sing.

It was midday now and things were starting to go quiet, so we decided to move on. A Kestrel was hovering out over the open grass in the middle, as we made our way back to the vehicles.

Our destination for the afternoon was Lakenheath Fen. We stopped for lunch first, in the sunshine, then afterwards headed in to explore the reserve. Several smart male Reed Buntings were in the bushes by the feeders. As we headed up to the Washland viewpoint, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds.

There were lots of ducks out on Hockwold Washes again, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, and a few Teal. Scanning round carefully we managed to locate one of the Garganey, right over at the back. It was busy feeding but when it raised its head we got a good view of the striking white stripe over its eye, a stunning spring drake.

Garganey – a smart spring drake on the Washes

There was a nice selection of waders on here too, including several Avocets. Six Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the shallow water along the western edge but right in the far corner we could see three different godwits, slightly smaller and shorted-legged, with slightly upturned bills. Bar-tailed Godwits, normally a mainly coastal species and scarce inland, these are migrants on their way back up to the arctic for the breeding season and just stopping off here to feed. Two were smart spring males, with rusty head and underparts, continuing right down under the tail.

There were a few Common Redshank along that edge and then we noticed a paler wader there as well. It was hard to make out in the heat haze, so we walked a bit further up for a slightly closer look. It was next to one of the Redshanks now and we could see it was a Greenshank, slightly bigger, slimmer, and longer billed, another migrant stopping off here on its way north.

A female Stonechat was flitting around the reeds just this side of the river, landing on a fence, so we had a look at that through the scope. Then we continued on downstream along the river bank. A couple of Sedge Warblers and a Reed Warbler were singing from the reedy ditch on the edge of the reserve, but were tricky to see. The metronomic Reed Warbler song was noticeably different from the mad jumble of phrases from the Sedge Warbler, heard alongside each other. A Willow Warbler was singing from the sallows on the edge of the poplars too.

Looking across to New Fen North, we could see lots of Greylags loafing around on the drier areas in the reeds, with several broods of goslings. A female Mallard with several ducklings was swimming around on one of the pools by the river. A hungry-looking Grey Heron was standing on the other side of the water.

On the far side of West Wood, we cut back in to the reserve. A Cuckoo was singing in the trees, always great to hear this rapidly declining species back in the spring. Round at Joist Fen Viewpoint, we stopped for a break. A Cormorant was on the usual post and several Marsh Harriers were circling beyond. We picked up a distant Hobby, hawking for insects high over the reeds, then another two further back. Thankfully, as we sat and watched, they started to drift closer.

Scanning the pools just beyond the viewpoint, we found a Common Snipe lurking down in the cut reeds on one of the islands. We were just trying to get a look at that, when we noticed a Kingfisher further down towards Mere Hide. It was hovering over one of the pools, but quickly landed out of view before we could all get a look at it. Thankfully, a short while later it flew and came towards us, landing again in the reeds where we could get it in the scope and see its electric blue back.

Cuckoo – flew in past us and landed in a willow nearby

Suddenly it was all action. A Cuckoo flew in over the reeds in front of us, past where we were standing and landed in the willow behind us, just beyond the Viewpoint. We had a great view of it the scope, we could see its golden yellow eyering. It stayed there for some time, singing on and off, and fluttering around in the branches looking for food.

Then a Bittern boomed from the reeds too. Always a great sound to hear. All the time the three Hobbys were now hawking over the reeds just behind us – a much better view now, we could even see their rusty red ‘trousers’ as they twisted and turned in the sunshine. From time to time they would catch something in their talons, then lifting it up to their bills to eat on the wing. For a while, we didn’t know which way to look!

Hobby – one of three over the reedbed today

After recovering from the long walk out, we set off to head back through the reserve. There were more Reed Warblers serenading us on the way – they seem to finally have arrived back in better numbers now. As we walked down the track past New Fen North, we could hear another Bittern booming from the reeds. We stopped to break the journey back at New Fen Viewpoint and we heard it booming again, but it was deep in the reeds and there was no way we would see it today. Still, at this time of year it is all about the amazing sound of Bitterns booming.

Back on the track, a Common Whitethroat was flitting around in the poplars singing. Back at the Visitor Centre, the Reed Buntings had been joined by several Goldfinches on the feeders.

Unfortunately it was now time to call it a day. But what a day, filled with the sounds of spring, wonderful to hear singing Nightingale, lots of warblers, booming Bittern and cuckoo-ing Cuckoo too.

20th Sept 2020 – Autumn & Wader Spectacular, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour & Wader Spectacular, our last day. It was a cloudier day today, though still dry, and the wind though still fresh and from the NE, was perhaps not quite as strong as it had been. Today we would be heading up to the Wash for the Wader Spectacular at Snettisham.

It was an early start to catch the tide, but as we were driving up to Wells to pick the rest of the group up, we found a car across the road with its hazard lights on. We thought there might have been an accident or something, but a woman got out and explained they had decided to close the road to move static caravan. It was obviously not official, and they hadn’t sought any permission to close the road so we were not sure how legal it was, but there was no time to argue and no choice but to go the long way round. The woman just shrugged and gave us a sheepish smile. Consequently, we were slightly later than planned getting away.

On the drive across to the Wash, we passed several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland to feed, coming up from the marshes where they had spent the night. There was flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws in the fields and a Barn Owl on a post by the road, but we had no time to stop now.

When we got to the Wash and up onto the seawall, the tide was already coming in fast, pushed in ahead of time by the fresh NE wind. We made our way straight down to Rotary Hide today, and stopped in front to scan. Huge flocks of Knot and Oystercatchers were gathered out on the mud, along with smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover.

Waders – gathered on the mud ahead of the rapidly rising tide

The waders were all shifting nervously, whether driven by the rapidly rising tide or perhaps there had been a predator around normally. There were no small waders down on the near edge today. The Knot on the edge of the flock out in the middle, those closest to the water, were constantly being caught by the tide and they kept flying up and over the others, landing again on the drier mud higher up.

As we walked down towards the far corner of the Wash, it was a struggle to keep up with the tide today. We did keep stopping to watch every time the waders went up. The Oystercatchers started to give up first, flying up in big groups and in overhead calling noisily, before circling down onto the pit behind us.

Oystercatchers – gave up first and flew in overhead to the pit

Before we could even get to the corner, suddenly all the Knot and other waders went up. We couldn’t see any sign of the Peregrine, but they were definitely nervous and put on quite a show, whirling round out over the Wash. The latest WeBS count total of Knot this week was 68,000 – incredible to see them all in the air together.

Waders – suddenly all the Knot spooked and took off
Waders – whirling round in the air
Waders – different flocks going in different directions

It was amazing to watch all the Knot and other waders up in the sky. Some tried to land back on the mud, but were immediately spooked again. Different flocks were going in different directions. Despite the wind, we could hear was the beating of thousands and thousands of pairs of wings. Some of the Knot started to come in, low overhead – mesmerising to look up and watch – while others towered up over the Wash.

Waders – some of the Knot started to come in low overhead

We turned to watch the Knot coming in and start to drop down onto the pit, but for some reason they wouldn’t settle on the south end today. We watched the birds flying round and round, backwards and forwards, low over the pit in front of the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’ (or ‘not landing’ today!). The birds which had gone high turned back out over the Wash. Some of the others went back out and landed again in the final corner of mud.

Waders – the Knot wouldn’t settle in front of the new hide today

We walked on down to the end. Those Knot which had landed again were quickly forced off, and came in over us again. Tens of thousands were still towering high in the sky. Small flocks of Dunlin flew past out over the Wash, presumably now looking to roost along the shore further up.

There was now nothing left out on the Wash and any remaining mud was covered with water. There were still huge flocks of Knot high in the sky, but we decided to go into the hides to see what was on the pit.

Shore Hide was empty – everyone had gone down to see the new hide. Five Spotted Redshanks were roosting on the concrete blocks out in the middle. We got them in the scopes – one was helpfully awake and we could see its long spiky bill with a needle-fine tip. A juvenile Common Tern was still lingering here, standing on one of the other concrete blocks nearby.

A Little Stint landed on the shore of the shingle island in front of the hide. There was nothing else on there today, and we watched it picking around on the shore between the blobs of foam. It was a juvenile – we could see its distinctive pale ‘braces’. After a while it flew off again. Then a Common Sandpiper landed on the island next and walked around on its own in the middle for a bit.

Little Stint – landed on the island in front of Shore Hide

Scanning the islands further up the pit, there were next to no Knot on any of the islands closest to the seawall today. Only one of the islands across on the other side of the pit was packed shoulder to shoulder with them. A lot of Dunlin (mostly) on one of the nearer islands was more socially distanced. We scanned through, to see if we could find anything more unusual in with them, but couldn’t find anything today.

Looking towards the south end, we could see that the Knot which had come in today were concentrated on the bank, with the Oystercatchers. They were still shuffling nervously.

As we walked round to South Hide, a young Peregrine circled overhead and gradually drifted out over Wash. Perhaps this is why everything was so nervous today. We watched it stoping down, flushing all the Curlews and godwits from out on the saltmarsh. There was a lot of water on there today, with only the taller bushes and higher islands still exposed – a combination of the big tide, backed by the blustery NE wind. Three Marsh Harriers were hunting out over the Wash further back too.

Peregrine – circled over as we walked down to South Hide

With social distancing restrictions in force, we had to wait to get into South Hide today, but thankfully not long. When we donned our masks and got inside, we found the two shingle islands at this end still mostly empty. One Little Stint and a small cluster of Knot was on one, but that was it. Two Common Sandpipers flew round calling below the hide.

Most of the Knot were still on the bank. We watched them jostling nervously. They would settle for a bit, then one end would start to move and a wave would pass through the flock.

We went round to have a look at the new hide, ‘Knots Landing’. It was largely empty now apart from a line of photographers in the corner, packed shoulder to shoulder, lying down at the low camera windows. Every time the Knot on the far bank flew up, there was a cacophony as a barrage of camera shutters fired in unison. Perhaps the amount of noise was putting the birds off from landing on the closer islands?

Two Little Stints and the two Common Sandpipers were now running around on one of the islands. A single Avocet was roosting in with the Oystercatchers gathered on one end, a different variation in monochrome. The last bird in the flock, standing in the water at the end, was a smartly marked juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit.

A line of Knot peeled off from the bank and headed back out. It was an hour after high tide already, so we figured we should go outside and back round to the bank to try to catch the birds as they returned to the Wash. But when we got out, there was still no sign of any mud. With the wind and the amount of water today – the path was even flooded in one spot now – the tide was going to be really slow to go out. The Knot which had come up off the bank flew straight back in and dropped down again in to the pit.

Still, we walked down to the edge of the Wash and got into position. We didn’t have to wait too long before some mud started to reappear in the top corner and once it started, the tide began to go out as quickly as it had come in.

Finally, the Knot started peeling off from the pit again. We were in the perfect position, and they came low in lines making a beeline for the mud, came right over our heads.

Waders – the Knot started flying back out in lines, right overhead

Suddenly we heard a loud whoosh and a larger group came up and flew out towards us. The young Peregrine was over the pit, and spooking everything. We watched it stoop down a couple of times towards the bank, but it didn’t have any height and it looked like it didn’t quite know what to do. It flew further up the pit and flushed all the Knot from the island that end too. We watched as they flew out in lines, low over the bank and out onto the Wash.

The Knot quickly settled in big groups out on the mud, but then the Peregrine circled up from the pit and drifted out over the Wash. Instant pandemonium – the waders all erupted again, taking off, whirling round. The flocks made some amazing shapes, as they twisted and turned, alternately flashing dark and light.

Waders – all flushed by the Peregrine
Waders – the flocks made some amazing shapes. Shark?
Waders – flashed light and dark as they twisted and turned

The Peregrine appeared to successfully get one separated from the flock at one point, but despite chasing after it, it lost it. Again, probably showing its inexperience. A second Peregrine appeared further back, flushed everything behind. It was an amazing show, truly spectacular, and we were endebted to the Peregrines for stirring everything up. We just stood and watched transfixed, to the sounds of the flocks’ wings and oohs and aahs from the crowd.

The waders eventually resettled on the mud, as the Peregrines drifted off. We started to scan through the flock nearest to us. There were several pale silvery grey and white Sanderlings with the Knot now, and the very last bird on the end was a lone juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. We could see the pale peachy wash on its breast and its long downcurved bill.

We could still see an adult Peregrine, on a post in the distance, on the saltmatsh beyond the mud. The waders much further back, in the next bay, were still being stirred up. Presumably the juvenile Peregrine was trying its luck back there now. The waders this end were mostly settled, and started to go to sleep. Occasionally a flock would take off and fly further out across the mud, twisting and turning, catching the sun which had started to come out now.

As we turned to head back, a shout went out and we looked out across the Wash to see a Great Skua flying low over the water beyond the flocks of waders.

We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell, but we had to take a diversion inland to get there. There was so much traffic on the coast road, it had back up from the traffic lights at Heacham. Unheard of in late September, it was like midsummer! The car park at Titchwell is still partly closed and once again was full – they were only letting one in and one out. We were lucky to arrive just as someone was leaving and get straight in.

We decided on an early lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted overhead and a Common Darter was basking on the bench in the sunshine. After lunch, we headed out on to the reserve. We could hear Siskins calling in the trees as we filled out the test and trace form at the Visitor Centre.

Thornham grazing marsh was flooded with saltwater where the pool used to be, after the high tide had come in. A single Stock Dove was out in the vegetation and several Curlews were feeding on the saltmarsh beyond.

A large mob of Greylags was on the Reedbed Pool, but scanning through we managed to find a few Common Pochard in with them, and Coot and Little Grebes right at back. A pair of Gadwall was in the channel just beyond.

A young Hobby was hunting low over the reeds, out in the middle, shooting back and forth. It caught something, presumably a dragonfly, and circled up over the trees by the visitor centre. A Sparrowhawk emerged from the trees and chased after it, presumably trying to steal its catch. It was quite a dogfight for a bit, amazing to watch, before the Sparrowhawk gave up. The Hobby finished its meal and we watched it hunting over Willow Wood at the back of the reedbed.

Up by Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but it was still rather windy and they were keeping well down today. We stopped to scan the Freshmarsh from the bank further up. There were not as many waders on here today. A few Avocets were still here, feeding over towards the back, along with several Black-tailed Godwits. Quite a few Ruff, paler adults and browner juveniles, were closer to the bank. Otherwise, there were a couple of Dunlin and two Golden Plover on one of the islands, in with the Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls.

Ruff – a juvenile, close to the main west bank path

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now as birds return for the winter, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and more Gadwall. They are not looking their best at this time of year though – with the drakes mostly in their dull eclipse plumage.

A Grey Heron was standing motionless, fishing out in the middle of the deeper water towards the back. Next time we looked, there was a Great White Egret next to it. It was good to see the two of them side by side, so we could really appreciate the large size of the Great White Egret.

Great White Egret – appeared out on the Freshmarsh, next to the Grey Heron

There had been some Lapland Buntings on the beach this morning, and someone walking back now told us they were still there, although they had apparently flown up the beach a bit further along to the west. We decided to go to try to look for them.

There was not much on Volunteer Marsh as we passed, just a few Curlew and Common Redshanks on the mud by the channel at the far end. A lone Brent Goose flew over. There was still a lot of water on the Tidal Pools, despite it being close to low tide now, and not much on here either.

The tide was a long way out when we got to the beach, and we couldn’t see anything obvious on the sea. There were lots of people around the mussel beds and not many waders. We set off west along the tide line. Unfortunately there was no sign of any buntings now. Several beachgoers were walking out here, and presumably they had been flushed.

We continued on up to Thornham Point, where we found a little group of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin on the beach. A party of Brent Geese was loafing out on the sand closer to the sea. Rounding the corner, we found several Spoonbills out in the middle of Thornham Harbour. Two flew off as we appeared, but there were still seven preening out on the saltmarsh.

Spoonbills – preening out in the middle of Thornham Harbour

It was time to head back now – after a very early start, everyone was tired now and still had journeys home ahead of them. The memories of this morning’s Wader Spectacular would linger long, a great final day to end the tour.

14th Sept 2020 – Early Autumn Private Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Early Autumn Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It may be autumn, but it felt more like summer, with wall-to-wall blue skies and thankfully a nice light southerly breeze on the coast which kept the temperatures from getting too hot. Not great conditions for migrants perhaps, but fantastic weather to be out birding in Norfolk.

Our first destination for the morning was Wells. As we got out of the minibus and removed our face masks, we could hear a Greenshank calling, presumably flying over. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post in front of us, in the morning sunshine. A small flock of Meadow Pipits flew over calling.

We heard geese calling, the low honking of Greylags, and turned to see a large flock several hundred strong come up from the fields the other side of the road. They flew in over us, calling noisily, and circled round to land over the back of one of the pools.

Greylag Geese – flying in from the fields to the pools

The pools are rapidly drying out now, but the Greylags had landed in the deeper water at the back. In amongst them, we could see lots of Wigeon and Teal, all the drakes now in their drab eclipse plumage. There were several Ruff around the muddy edges and three Dunlin on the front of one of the islands. A flock of Black-tailed Godwit in the deeper water was almost lost in with all the geese.

On the other side of the track, the pools have gone with just some damp mud in the middle. There were no waders on here now, but a small group of Egyptian Geese were feeding in the grass and a Grey Heron and Little Egret on the edge of the deeper channel at the back.

As we walked down the track, a Common Whitethroat flicked out of the bushes. At the far end, we could hear a Kingfisher calling and after a couple of minutes it came up out of a ditch and flew across the track in front of us, in a flash of electric blue. Another flock of Meadow Pipits flew overhead calling. They have been on the move this week, so these were possibly migrants which had stopped here overnight.

There were lots of people out in the sunshine, and a dog running around between the bushes. Perhaps not surprising that there were few birds in here at first, until we got round to the seawall. Here the bushes held lots of finches – Goldfinches, Linnets and Greenfinches – plus several Reed Buntings, Blackcaps and more Common Whitethroats.

As we walked along the seawall, a Chaffinch was feeding on the ground and a Wall butterfly flitted ahead of us. When it finally landed, we edged forward to take some photos, before it was flushed by a couple of joggers coming the other way. This was the first of several we saw here today.

Wall butterfly – by the path on the seawall

Continuing down to the corner, we stopped to look at the western pool. A Green Sandpiper was feeding in the shallow water tucked in the corner and a single Common Snipe was asleep on the bank at the back.

Looking behind us, some people were walking towards us along the bank, and a Wheatear was on the path ahead of them. Thankfully, it just flew down to a post on the edge of the saltmarsh below the bank so we could get a good look at it. Then it dropped down to the ground below to catch something, before flying up to another post further back, flashing its white rump.

Wheatear – flushed from the path down to the edge of the saltmarsh

A flock of geese flew up from the fields off to the south. They were a long way off, but they looked small, dark. Through the scope, we could see they were Pink-footed Geese and as they got a bit closer, we could just hear their yelping calls, much higher pitched than the Greylags we had seen earlier.

Another couple of larger flocks of Pink-footed Geese came up behind them – they clearly weren’t going far because they didn’t form into skeins and remained in untidy groups. We watched them as they flew over Wells town and started to whiffle down towards Quarles Marsh beyond. There were probably up to 1,000 Pink-footed Geese in total, already returned from Iceland. Here for the winter, a reminder that summer is over, even if it didn’t feel like it today!

Pink-footed Geese – several flocks came up from the fields inland

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we could see a couple of white shapes, one larger than the other, a Spoonbill and a Little Egret. The Spoonbill disappeared down into a channel to feed, out of view. We could see its head a couple of times before it came back up out and into view. Almost immediately it took off. It flew in, long neck and bill stretched out in front, towards the pools, but perhaps seeing no other Spoonbills there it turned and disappeared off to the east.

Scanning the rest of the saltmarsh, there were lots more Little Egrets, several Curlew and Redshank. A smart Grey Plover still sporting its summer black face and belly, was in one of the muddy channels. It was time for coffee, so we made our way down off the seawall and back round through the bushes. A small party of Swallows came over, migrants on their way west.

After a break for coffee, we continued east along the coast road to Cley. After a quick stop at the Visitor Centre to use the facilities, we drove round to the beach car park. It was very busy at the beach today – even the overflow was filling up fast. We walked out over the shingle and off to the east, away from the crowds.

Looking out to sea, it was very calm and not surprisingly there didn’t appear to be many birds offshore. Lots of gulls were following a fishing boat. It was warm now and there were not many birds in the vegetation on the beach either. We were hoping to find a Whinchat along the edge of the Eye Field, but the best we could muster were several Pied Wagtails by the small pool.

Over the ridge in the Eye Field, we stopped to scan the reserve. It was a lovely view, and very pleasant with the light breeze in our faces. North Scrape is almost dry now, but we did pick up a Hobby out over the reedbed beyond, hawking back and forth low over the reeds for insects. On the walk back, a Wheatear had appeared on the shingle by the pill box with the Pied Wagtails now.

Wheatear – our second of the day, on the beach at Cley

A very distant Gannet was now offshore and we picked up a large flock of waders flying past. We could see the larger ones were Knot and presumably the smaller ones were Dunlin, but they were a long way out at first. The Knot continued on west, but the smaller waders started to zigzag inshore. They were indeed Dunlin but as they turned, we caught a flash of a couple of white rumps – it looked like there were a couple of Curlew Sandpipers in with them. But rather than continue coming in, they now carried on west.

We stopped for lunch in the car park, and afterwards headed round to Walsey Hills. There was no space and we had several cars behind us, so we drove on, turned round and came back on the right side of the round. Thankfully there were now a couple of parking spaces.

Three juvenile Little Grebes were on Snipes Marsh, one of which looked very ungainly as it climbed out onto the mud. We set off up the East Bank, where two adult Little Grebes kept surfacing in the thick weed on Don’s Pool. There were plenty of dragonflies enjoying the sunshine too, several Common Darters along path and a very obliging Migrant Hawker which landed in the vegetation beside us so we could get a closer look at it.

Migrant Hawker – landed in the vegetation beside the path

Scanning the mud of the Serpentine, we quickly picked out the juvenile Curlew Sandpiper in with several Redshanks. It was busy preening, and as it opened its wings we could see its white rump, as well as its long, downcurved bill.

Curlew Sandpiper – this juvenile was still on the Serpentine

There was a single Common Snipe in the far corner too and a Green Sandpiper which was feeding along the near edge of the water and hard to see behind the low bank. A large flock of Curlew was sleeping in the grass beyond. A male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds further back still.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, there were just two Sandwich Terns out here today. More Curlew and Common Redshanks were scattered around. Several Shelducks were out here too – mostly juveniles, as the majority of the adults have gone off to moult in huge flocks on favoured estuaries, many to the Continent and the Waddensee. One or two adults are left behind to look after the young, and we picked out one here today, noticeably brighter and redder-billed than the juveniles.

There were obviously a couple of Gannets feeding just offshore here. We caught sight of a dark juvenile as it plunge-dived, then watched a sub-adult circle over the beach, before flying off east along the shingle ridge. Then it was back to the minibus and we drove back west to Stiffkey Fen to finish the afternoon.

A Chiffchaff was singing in the trees as we walked down along the permissive path, and several Blackcaps were in the trees down by the river. When we got to a spot where we could just about see through a gap in the vegetation to the Fen beyond, we could see a big gathering of large white shapes on one of the islands.

We counted at least 45 Spoonbills today – they were hard to count as some were sat down or hidden behind the others – and mixed in with lots of Little Egrets too. Viewing was rather restricted from here too. The Spoonbills were mostly asleep – as they normally are when they roost here over high tide. It won’t be long before they are heading off, so it is good to see such a large number still here today.

Spoonbills – we counted at least 45 today, mixed in with the Little Egrets

Continuing on, as we got up onto the seawall, a Greenshank flew in along the harbour channel below and over the bank towards the Fen. We could just see a few Little Egrets from here, and a single Spoonbill, as they were mostly hidden behind the reeds from here today. As the Fen has started to dry out, they have moved where they like to roost.

Beyond the Little Egrets, we picked up a Green Sandpiper in front of the reeds at the back with a couple of Ruff. From further along, we could see another Green Sandpiper in the corner over by the hide, along with seven Greenshanks and lots of Redshanks. A Knot was half hidden in amongst all the Black-headed Gulls on the shore of the island in the middle.

There were lots of moulting ducks, mainly Mallard, Wigeon and Teal, but we found several Pintail asleep in with them. The drakes are all in drab eclipse plumage at the moment, but we did find one awake and swimming in the water, which showed off its still pointed tail as it upended.

Further along still, we looked back into the front corner. Five more Greenshanks were tucked in here and a single Gadwall was on the mud nearby. A Water Rail squealed from down in the reeds below us and we heard two or three Cetti’s Warblers singing while we stopped to scan the Fen.

Looking out across the harbour, the tide was coming in quickly now. A Marsh Harrier flew across over the saltmarsh and disappeared up the harbour. Scanning the edges of the pit, we could see small groups of waders on the remaining shingle islands, more Knot, a few Turnstones and Oystercatchers. There was a lot of disturbance out in the harbour today, lots of people walking on the shore, lots of boats – a large flock of Oystercatchers and Knot flew up from where they had been trying to roost across and disappeared off towards Warham.

It was lovely standing here in the sunshine, looking out across the harbour towards the Point, quite a view. A Kingfisher shot past over the channel and disappeared off east. It was time to head back.

22nd Sept 2019 – Autumn Migration, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Migration tour today. It was another bright and sunny morning, with the temperature soaring to a heady 27C, although the wind picked up in the afternoon and it clouded over later. Thankfully, the rain helpfully held off until after we had finished for the day.

Our first destination for the day was going to be Burnham Overy, but as we made our way over there we drove round via some old barns beside the road. Once again, the Little Owl was sunning itself in the window frame, just where we had seen it a couple of days ago. Always a good way to start the day!

We parked at the head of the track which goes out across the grazing marshes and stopped to scan the fields first. A small group of Golden Plovers was tucked down in the middle of one of the fields, well camouflaged in the stubble. A Pheasant was down along the back edge and looking more closely we found several Grey Partridges with it. A Red Kite circled over and flushed all the Golden Plover, which whirled round calling. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese kept flying up from the grazing marshes and heading over us inland to feed.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – flying inland to feed first thing

Even from here, we could see a couple of white shapes with the cows way out on the grazing marshes which through the scope we could confirm were Cattle Egrets. We set off down the track for a closer look. A Chiffchaff calling in the hedge popped up onto the top briefly.

What was possibly part of the same covey of Grey Partridges was now on the other side of the hedge, on the edge of the grazing marsh which meant we got a much closer view of them, when they came out from the edge. We heard a Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper calling overhead, but couldn’t see them from where we were on the tree-lined track.

The cows were now at the far side of the grazing marsh, below the seawall. As we got to the end of the track, closer to them, we could see one or two Cattle Egrets. But the cows were feeding around the edge of a reed-fringed pool and some were hidden from view. Gradually more appeared from the vegetation or out of the ditch, until we were sure we could see at least six Cattle Egrets here.

From up on the seawall, we had an even better view. The pool is rapidly drying out and the Cattle Egrets were having great success catching and eating frogs which were revealed in the bottom. It was a bit gruesome, but we watched one throwing its catch around to try to kill it and then swallowing it whole. Some video of the moment is below. Three more of the egrets then also caught themselves frogs just while we were standing there watching.

Cattle Egret 1

Cattle Egret – we watched several of them catching and eating frogs

Having watched the Cattle Egrets for a while, we turned our attention to the harbour the other side. There were lots of waders feeding on the mud just below the seawall on our side – mostly Redshanks, but a single juvenile Knot and a few Dunlin were in with them.

Further over, out in the middle of the harbour, we could see a line of Grey Plovers roosting on a sand bar, some of them still sporting the remnants of their summer black bellies and faces. There were also a few Ringed Plovers, Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits out in the harbour, and a single Sanderling on the sand on our side of the main channel.

There are always hundreds of Brent Geese here through the winter, but they are only just starting to return from their breeding grounds in Russia now. We could see ten distantly out in the harbour. There were several Wigeon along the side of the channel, including one smarter drake already seemingly moulting out of its dull eclipse plumage.

We walked back along the seawall to scan the reedbed pool, which produced a couple of Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they were staying tucked down out of the breeze today. A Kingfisher zipped in over the mud behind us and round over the reedbed, in a flash of electric blue. It carried on right past us and seemed to be heading out across the grazing marsh, but changed its mind and did another fly past back the other way before dropping down into one of the pools in the reeds.

A Marsh Harrier came in over the harbour, flushing all the waders and ducks. It then flew in over the seawall past us, a juvenile with dark chocolate brown body and pale head.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew in over the harbour

The sound of Pink-footed Geese yelping was a constant backdrop to the morning, with groups coming and going from the grazing marshes. At one point, a large group seemed to have been flushed from the stubble fields inland where they had been feeding and flew back in. We watched as they whiffled down to join the others already in the grass. While we were scanning from here, we spotted two Great White Egrets flying off away from us towards Holkham.

Continuing out to the boardwalk, a small flock of Swallows came overhead and disappeared off east. Looking out the other way, we picked up three Grey Herons flying high west out over Scolt Head. There were obviously still a few birds on the move today. The bushes around the boardwalk were very quiet today, but there was a lot of disturbance with people and dogwalkers coming and going from the beach and dunes. We picked up a distant Whinchat perched on the suaeda out on the saltmarsh, a nice migrant stopping off on its way south.

While standing here, we heard a single short rattling call – a Lapland Bunting. It then went quiet and we didn’t see where it went. However, a couple of minutes later it came back over calling again, a rattle and a sharp ‘teu’. This time we picked it up flying overhead and we watched it as it disappeared away to the west over Gun Hill. Lapland Buntings are scarce winter visitors here in very variable numbers. They were in very short supply last winter, but the early signs are that it might be a good autumn for them so fingers crossed for a better winter this time.

Continuing out through the dunes to Gun Hill, there were several Stonechats in the bushes, and a Whinchat with them. We got a much better view of this one, as it perched on the top of the bushes, flying up trying to catch flies. The Whinchat was noticeably paler than the Stonechats, with a prominent pale supercilium. There were lots of Linnets in the bushes here too.

The tide had come in quickly in the harbour as we had walked out. The sandbar they had been on was under water, and the Grey Plovers were now roosting up on the saltmarsh with several Redshanks. A large flock of Ringed Plovers was on the opposite bank of the channel, and several Dunlin and one or two Turnstone were with them, thought they were constantly getting flushed by the boats sailing back and forth.

It was lovely out in the dunes in the sunshine, looking out over the harbour, but we had a long walk back ahead of us. Back on the seawall, the Pink-footed Geese were very jumpy, not helped by first a light aircraft and then a helicopter coming low over them – surprising there still aren’t better restrictions to prevent disturbance here.

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – constantly getting spooked by aircraft today

Four Red Kites circled over in the sunshine, as we got back to the reedbed. Down on the track across the grazing marshes several of the Cattle Egrets were feeding with the cows on the short grass by the path now.

Cattle Egret 2

Cattle Egret – feeding around the cows’ feet on the way back

When we got back to the minibus, we drove round to Holkham for lunch at the Lookout cafe. After we had recovered from the morning’s walk, we set off west along the track on the inland side of the trees. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling but they were high in the pines. A Hobby appeared briefly over the tops.

As we got to Salt’s Hole, a Kingfisher zipped across the water at the back and swooped into the trees out of view. There were several Little Grebes out on the water, and they were very active today, chasing each other round, calling like madmen laughing at us. A Jay flew across the back.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – chasing each other round the pool

We heard more Long-tailed Tits calling behind us and turned to find a couple in the holm oaks. They paused briefly but then zipped through and disappeared into the trees round the side of the pool. More birds followed but frustratingly most didn’t stop – we saw Coal Tit and Chaffinch as they came through, but just heard and caught a glimpse of Goldcrest.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – one or two paused briefly in the holm oaks

Carrying on along the track, the wind had picked up and the trees were being caught by the breeze once we got out of the shelter of the poplars on the south side of the track. Two juvenile Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds in front of Washington Hide as we walked up but the sycamores behind the hide were quiet. We could hear more tits deep in the trees opposite.

Continuing west, we stopped as another tit flock flew out of the pines by Meals House, but they flew straight through the sycamores and disappeared into the thick holm oaks in the garden. We were hoping to find some migrants with the tits along the track here this afternoon, but it seemed to be a recurring theme that the flocks were not stopping to feed in the deciduous trees by the path, possibly due to the wind.

We were rewarded with good views of a Hobby above the pines, presumably hunting for dragonflies and other insects. It kept coming out into view over the path and then disappearing back over the treetops, circling.

Hobby

Hobby – hawking for insects over the edge of the pines as we walked out

We had a quick look from Joe Jordan Hide. There had apparently been several Great White Egrets on the pool here earlier, but there was no sign of them now. There were plenty of raptors though. A Peregrine flew in and starting chasing pigeons through the trees in Decoy Wood. A Marsh Harrier circled over the grazing marsh and a Red Kite over the park beyond. One of the very pale Common Buzzards was perched in the top of one of the bushes.

The trees just to the west of the crosstracks were less exposed to the wind but still seemed to be quiet, so we decided to try our luck somewhere else. As we walked back along the track, another Red Kite hung over pines where the Hobby had been earlier.

We drove round to Wells Woods for one last roll of the dice, thinking that it might be a bit more sheltered in the trees there. Their seemed to be a fair few migrants turning up fresh in elsewhere along the coast this afternoon – flycatchers and a Yellow-browed Warbler – so we figured there had to be something in the woods along here somewhere. The ice cream van is strategically places by the gate, and we couldn’t resist the temptation – we ate our ice creams as we walked into the trees.

As we walked through the birches it started to cloud over and the wind picked up even more. Some of the trees were being lashed by the breeze now, and we couldn’t find any birds at first. Undeterred, we continued round the Dell, and on the far side we walked into a tit flock. Suddenly there were birds everywhere and we didn’t know where to look.

There were lots of tits – Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits. A Goldcrest was flitting around low down in a yew trees, giving us a great look. We heard a Treecreeper calling and first one appeared on the trunk of a tree, then a second flew in behind us and landed low down on a pine, working its way slowly up the side.

Then the flock were off, moving quickly through the birches in the Dell. We tried to follow and it seemed like we might have lost them until we walked into the middle of them again on the bank on the north side of the Dell, more Long-tailed Tits and another nice Goldcrest low down in a bush right above our heads.

A small bird then flew in to the lower branches of a pine above us. It seemed wrong for a Goldcrest and when we looked at it, we could see it was very clean white below. Then it turned its head and flashed its long pale superilium – a Yellow-browed Warbler! It flitted around in the pine for a few seconds, but then as the Long-tailed Tits all flew past into the birches, it followed and we lost sight of it.

The tit flock moved really quickly from there, round the east side of the Dell. We followed, but we just got glimpses of the birds as they flew past us between the trees. Then they seemed to stop for a couple of minutes in the sallows either side of the main path. We tried to find the Yellow-browed Warbler again as the flock crossed the path, but there was no sign of it. All we could find were two Chiffchaffs which stopped to feed in a small oak. Then the flock disappeared through the bushes towards the caravan park, where we couldn’t follow. It would have been nice to see the Yellow-browed Warbler for longer, but at least we had seen it!

It was time to call it a day now and get everyone back.