Tag Archives: Honey Buzzard

29th Sept 2016 – Hi, Honey

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour today. It was raining when we met up in Wells, but thankfully the weather front cleared through on our way east along the coast and it was dry, and even sunny at times, through the rest of the day. A very gusty, blustery WSW wind had its pluses and minuses!

It had looked like it might be too wet and windy for Stiffkey Fen this morning, but as the rain appeared to be clearing, we decided to give it a go. A small group of House Martins were flying around over the copse by the path. A Goldcrest stopped to preen in the trees above our head as we walked down by the river. As we walked down along the footpath, we could hear Greenshanks and Wigeon calling from the Fen. As we got to the steps, a small group of Pink-footed Geese were flying west just beyond the seawall – a harbinger of things to come this morning.

From up on the seawall, there is a great view across Stiffkey Fen. It was immediately clear there were lots of birds, but no Spoonbills, which we had really hoped to see. The tide was already on its way out, so perhaps they had already made their way out onto the saltmarsh to feed. There were lots of other birds though. Stacks of duck having arrived here for the winter included lots of Wigeon and Teal, plus a fair few Pintail. In amongst them, we could see quite a few Ruff and down towards the front, lots of Black-tailed Godwits.

A few Greenshank flew off calling, four in total, towards the saltmarsh. It was only when we got a bit further along that we could see there were still 19 Greenshank roosting on the Fen, round behind the reeds. On the other side of the seawall, we heard calling and turned round to see two Kingfishers flying off from the fence around the sluice outfall. They shot past us and over the gate out towards the fields.

img_7441Greenshank – one of at least 23 at Stiffkey Fen today

We walked on round towards the harbour. One of the Greenshanks had dropped down into the channel and was feeding in the shallow water opposite the seawall. We got a nice look at it through the scope. Nearby, on the mud, there were lots of Redshank and a couple of Grey Plover too.

Scanning across the harbour, we could see lots of birds out on the emerging mudflats exposed by the receding tide – Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Grey Plover. There were a few Bar-tailed Godwits too, and we got one in the scope along with a few Black-tailed Godwits for comparison. In amongst the Black-tailed Godwits’ legs, were several Turnstones.

Much further over, out to sea, we could see three or four juvenile Gannets plunge-diving off the Point. There was also a steady stream of little groups of Pink-footed Geese arriving in off the sea, perhaps fresh in from Iceland for the winter. Even further out, we could just make out a Marsh Harrier battling in against the wind, still a long way out over the sea. Another migrant presumably just making its way on from the continent.

It was at this point, scanning between the mud around the harbour and the sea beyond, that we picked up a very distant bird coming in over the sandbar at the entrance to Blakeney Harbour, about 2km away. It was quite low over the sand and beating its wings hard. It was clearly a buzzard and immediately looked long-tailed and small-headed so, despite the distance, we had a pretty good idea what it was. Thankfully, having battled in to the headwind for a while, it tacked and came straight over the harbour towards us. Gradually we were able to confirm our suspicions – it was a juvenile Honey Buzzard, possibly fresh in from over the sea.

6o0a3095Honey Buzzard – this juvenile battled in against the wind over Blakeney Harbour

As it came in over the mud on the nearside of the harbour, all the birds took flight and the Honey Buzzard several of the local gulls started mobbing it. It started to circle higher and we lost it for a minute in the melee. When we picked it up again it was just to the east of us and flying in over the saltmarsh on its own. When it got over the fields, it turned back west towards Stiffkey Fen, flying behind us, where it attracted the attention of the local crows and a male Marsh Harrier, which also started to mob it. At that point it changed direction again and drifted off east and away.

Through the scope, we could see the Honey Buzzard’s distinctive shape – as well as the long tail with several basal bars and small cuckoo-like head, we noted the pale patch under the primaries contrasting with the darker and strongly barred secondaries, the dark carpal batch and underwing coverts. The yellow cere confirmed it was a juvenile. Honey Buzzard is a distinctly uncommon bird here at this time of year, with just a few seen on migration, so this was a great bird to see. More than compensating us for the lack of Spoonbills perhaps!

Making our way back up onto the seawall, another flock of Pink-footed Geese was making its way west and started to whiffle down onto the Fen for a rest and bathe, presumably tired after a long journey over the sea. It was great to watch and listen to them as they dropped down and we got a good look at them through the scope, alongside the local Greylags for comparison.

6o0a3103Pink-footed Geese – dropped into the Fen for a rest on their way

As we walked back along the seawall towards the footpath, we stopped for one last scan and noticed a large white bird in among all the geese on one of the islands. A Spoonbill, at the very last! Even better it was not asleep! It was an adult, preening itself with its long black bill with distinctive yellow tip. A perfect finish to a very successful couple of hours here.

img_7458Spoonbill – had appeared on the Fen on our way back

We had planned to visit Cley today, but with reports of a Lapland Bunting at Weybourne for the last few days, we decided to continue on to there first. We parked in the car park and walked west along the coastal footpath. It was exposed and very blustery here, but at least the sun was out now.

A couple of Meadow Pipits flew up from the grass beside the path and we could see a flock of Goldfinches further along in the bushes, but otherwise it was rather quiet here. We stopped a couple of times to scan the rough grass the other side of the fence and we had not gone too far when we heard the distinctive call of a Lapland Bunting – a dry rattle interspersed with a rather clipped but ringing ‘teu’. It flew in over the low ridge beyond the fence and circled over, but dropped back into the long grass on the ridge out of view. We stopped for a few minutes to see if it might reappear, but there was no further sign. It was perhaps too disturbed at this time of day, with walkers and dogs, for it to come out closer to the path. Still, it was nice to see it in flight and hear it.

Back to Salthouse and we stopped at the Iron Road. The muddy pool here is looking increasingly dry now and there were no birds on the remaining mud. A Little Egret was feeding in the low reeds at the back and a dark juvenile Marsh Harrier flew past. Another flock of Pink-footed Geese were flying in from the east and dropped down onto the marshes before they got to us.

On our way to Babcock Hide, as small bird flew across the grazing marshes and disappeared in the direction of the hide before we could get a good look at it – a Whinchat. Fortunately, looking back in the direction from which it had come, we found a second Whinchat perched on some dead thistles. We had a much better view of that one through the scope.

img_7467Whinchat – on the grazing meadow on the way to Babcock Hide

With little change in the water levels recently, the mud around the scrape from Babcock Hide was also looking rather dry. The ducks are enjoying it here though – mostly Teal, but also a handful of Wigeon, Gadwall and Shoveler. This is a good place to see birds moving along the coast though, and as we sat there a party of seven Swallows flew through on their way west and about 80 Lapwings flew over too.

After lunch round at the Cley visitor centre, we made our way out to the hides in the middle of the reserve. There were some nice waders right in front of Teal Hide – a mixture of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. Three Ruff picked their way across the mud just beyond the bank – a very educational mixture of two larger juvenile males and a single much smaller winter adult female.

6o0a3129Ruff – smaller adult female in front, larger juvenile males behind

Doing a good job of hiding in the vegetation around the edge of the island, we found the two Little Stints which had been reported earlier. Tiny waders, they were picking around on the mud in amongst all the short rushes. A Dunlin just behind them provided a nice size comparison, highlighting just how small they are.

A female Marsh Harrier circled out over the scrape from the reedbed and flushed all the birds, and the smaller waders all landed again out in the open. It was only at this point that we realised there were actually four Little Stints on here, all smart juveniles. They stood with all the Dunlin out in the open for a few seconds, then made their way quickly back into the cover on the island.

A Greenshank had been sleeping over on the far side of the scrape, but had also been flushed by the Marsh Harrier and landed on the near edge just along from the hide. It was walking towards us and we had a good look at it, looking very smart in the afternoon sunshine. Before it got to the hide, it took off and flew straight across right in front of us and dropped over behind us.

6o0a3143Greenshank – flew across right in front of Teal Hide

The mass arrival of Pink-footed Geese was a real theme of the day today and yet another flock dropped in to Simmond’s Scrape briefly, on their way west. Work is underway to reprofile the scrape at the moment and it was probably the approach of the returning excavator (after what appeared to be a rather extended lunch break) which quickly flushed them again. Their higher pitched, yelping calls contrasting with the deeper honking of the local Greylags.

6o0a3138Pink-footed Geese – another flock dropped into Simmond’s Scrape briefly

With all the activity, there was nothing much on Simmond’s Scrape today. A nice Comma butterfly was enjoying the sunshine in the shelter of the hides by the door to Dauke’s. There were also lots of dragonflies around the reserve, despite the wind – Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers.

6o0a3150Comma – enjoying the afternoon sun

It was still very blustery round at the beach car park, but we made our way along the back of the beach towards North Scrape. A Whinchat perched up on the fence at the end of the Eye Field, but apart from a few Shelduck and smattering of other ducks, North Scrape itself looked disappointingly quiet. A few juvenile Gannets were circling offshore and plunge diving.

With a dark shower cloud approaching, we decided to make our way quickly back. As it was, there were no more than a couple of spots of rain. As we drove back along Beach Road, first a Stonechat and then a Wheatear flew up and landed on the fence posts.

6o0a3157Wheatear – on the fence along Beach Road

There was still time for one last quick stop, so we headed back for the shelter of Wells Woods. It was quiet initially walking through the trees – the blustery wind was penetrating even deep into the woods. As we made our way into the Dell, we came across a large tit flock. It was moving quickly, over our heads and back the way we had come. We tried to follow it, but lost it for a few minutes, eventually hearing the Long-tailed Tits calling and catching up with it just as it set off again.

Finally the birds found a slightly more sheltered spot in the trees, with even a bit of late afternoon sunshine catching the leaves, and stopped moving quite so quickly. At this point, we got a little time to watch them. As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue, Great and Coal Tits in the flock. With them were at least three Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap, a couple of Treecreepers and lost of Goldcrests. The Chiffchaffs were flitting around in the low brambles and wild roses, occasionally flycatching for insects. We had great views of a couple of Treecreepers climbing up the pines.

When the tit flock started to move off again it seemed to be heading up into the tops of the pines, so we went back and carried on through the Dell. When we got to the other side, we realised we were running out of time, so we turned to head back towards the car. We hadn’t gone far when we found ourselves surrounded by the tit flock again. Watching a tiny Goldcrest down in a wild rose at our feet was a great way to end two very exciting days of autumn birding.

6o0a3177Goldcrest – feeding down at our feet

19th July 2015 – A Sweet Surprise

Day 3, the final day, of a long weekend of tours today. We met earlier than normal as we had to finish slightly earlier than we might do otherwise, due to a prior commitment. Still we had an excellent day’s birding – and a sweet surprise to boot.

It was originally forecast to be dry today, but in the last 24 hours that had changed to be wet early in the morning. And so it proved to be – just for once the forecast was unfortunately not wrong. Still, the rain was light and mercifully brief and it didn’t make much difference to us. Given the conditions, rather than head up to the Heath first thing, we started at Cley instead. There was some light rain as we walked out to the hides, but thankfully that was about it.

There are lots of waders on the move at the moment. To us, it is still summer, but many birds are already on their way back south at the end of the breeding season. The scrapes at Cley are always a good place to look and there was a good variety on view today.

The only problem was the Avocets. When they have young, they are fiercely protective and there was a half-grown juvenile Avocet at the front of Pat’s Pool today. The adults proceeded to chase anything away that tried to land there. While chasing off Marsh Harriers is understandable, dabbling ducks, small waders and even Pied Wagtails are hardly a threat to them. Still, the adult set off after all of them and saw them off!

P1050777Avocet – the adults were trying to chase off any birds around the scrapes today

A Common Sandpiper was trying to feed around the edge of the scrape. It tried to bob its way along the front of the nearest island, but was chased off. It then tried the near bank of the scrape instead, but that was no better. In the end it flew off slightly further over, onto the mud.

IMG_7100Common Sandpiper – note the white spur between the grey breast and wings

A Green Sandpiper had been feeding quietly on the island at the front of Simmond’s Scrape, but when a second bird flew in the two of them attempted to land together at the front of Pat’s Pool. Once again, the Avocet set off after them and saw them off too. Eventually, by stealth, one of the Green Sandpipers and the Common Sandpiper crept back in along the front edge of the near island. It was great to see them up close and get a chance to look at the differences between them.

IMG_7144Green Sandpiper – darker above and lacks the white spur behind the breast

A lone Whimbrel was out on Simmond’s Scrape. It was bathing and preening and when finished, started to jump around in a mad dance with its wings outstretched. Perhaps it was just trying to get dry? Anyway, eventually it finished what it was doing and flew off on its way west. There were also lots of Black-tailed Godwits in the scrapes as usual, with an increasing number of bright summer plumaged birds, presumably returning adults.

IMG_7172Black-tailed Godwits – a couple of the more brightly coloured individuals

There were not so many smaller waders on view today. A couple of summer plumaged Dunlin were feeding on Pat’s Pool, sporting their distinctive black bellies. Another four flew in and landed on Simmond’s Scrape. There were also still several Little Ringed Plovers on the islands. Good numbers of moulting Ruff have been present in recent days along the coast and today was no exception. With a bewildering variation of plumage, particularly amongst the now moulting males, Ruff is one of the most confusing wader species for the uninitiated. A single Greenshank also flew in and landed at the back of the scrape.

There have been small numbers of Little Gulls along the coast for some time, mostly 1st summer birds. There were still five at Cley on Pat’s Pool today. They were further over than they have been – perhaps due to the overzealous parent Avocet again – but they were easy to pick out amongst the Black-headed Gull due to their much smaller size. The difference in feeding behaviour was also noticeable, with the Black-headed Gulls mostly asleep or preening, whereas the Little Gulls were actively feeding, walking around on the mud, picking for insects on the surface.

There is lots of Marsh Harrier activity around the reserve at the moment, with young birds on the wing now as well as the adults. Needless to say, the Avocets were doing their best to see them off whenever they drifted in the direction of the scrapes.

P1050757Marsh Harrier – being seen off by one of the local Avocets

The highlight behaviour-wise on the reserve this morning had to be the Spoonbills. There were none on view when we first arrived, but before long the first four flew in. Amongst them was a single juvenile. Variously known as ‘teaspoonbills’ or ‘little beggars’, this one was definitely living up to the latter nickname. As soon as it landed, it set off after one of the adult Spoonbills. Even through it was fed almost immediately by its parent, it continued to chase the adult bird all over the scrape, bowing its head constantly as it did so. The poor parent tried feeding it again, but still got no peace. This went on for a long time, before the youngster finally lost interest and the adult stood preening.

IMG_7084Spoonbills – this juvenile pursued its parent relentlessly to be fed…

IMG_7075…and even after being fed, it still wanted more

Whilst it is always interesting to see the adults being pursued by their young, there was more action to see this morning. A little later, another three Spoonbills flew in to Simmond’s Scrape. When we looked back, we could see two of them preening each others necks. As a Spoonbill, it must obviously be hard to preen your own head and neck with a bill like that. Whether this was just a public service or part of pair bonding was not clear. Interestingly, while one of the two Spoonbills was an adult, the other was an immature (2nd calendar year bird) with retained black tips to its primaries, a thinner head and neck and a more extensive and diffuse yellow bill tip.

IMG_7191Spoonbills – these two birds were mutual neck preening

As well as the waders, there are also an increasing number of ducks returning to the scrapes, though the odd bird may have over-summered. There are many more Teal now than there were a month ago and we even found a single Wigeon out there today. A female Shoveler was in the ditch in front of the hide.

P1050767Shoveler – in the ditch right in front of the hide

It was still overcast and cool by this stage, not ideal for the Heath but perfect conditions for North Scrape (reduced heat haze and not looking into the sun). We drove round to the beach car park and walked out to the site of the former North Hide – now of just a very rudimentary viewing screen. On the way, there were lots of Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings, Linnets and Goldfinches in amongst the thistles and weedy vegetation on the shingles.

Unfortunately there was no sign here of the Little Stints which had been around the reserve yesterday. However, we did see several more Green Sandpipers – at least four. Out on the back of the scrape was a single adult Yellow-legged Gull. As well as the obviously leg colour, its dark grey mantle gave it away – not dark enough for Lesser Black-backed and obviously darker than Herring Gull. In the reeds along the side of the scrape, we also spotted at least three juvenile Bearded Tits. They were chasing each other round and perching up nicely in the open where we could see them.

By now it was at least starting to brighten up a little, so we drove up to the Heath. It was still perhaps a little cool and breezy, but we thought we were in with a chance of finding a Dartford Warbler. Little did we know what was about to fly over! As we walked up over the Heath, we could hear Yellowhammers singing and several Linnets flew up from the gorse. We looked up just in time to see a Red Kite drifting over, heading west along the ridge where the land dropped away along the coast. At this point we had a short discussion about how the Holt-Cromer ridge is a good place to look for raptors and other soaring birds, as they often like to move along the higher ground rather than along the coast.

P1050779Red Kite – soared west along the ridge behind the coast

We did not get much further before we heard a Dartford Warbler singing. It was in a very thick block of gorse at first, but we were able to follow the song as it moved. It was keeping down in cover, probably due to the wind. Eventually, after following it for a couple of minutes, we got several quick flight views as it flew between bushes. We could also hear a second bird calling nearby.

We were standing waiting for the Dartford Warbler to sing again when we looked up and saw another raptor hanging in the air over the ridge. Expecting it to be one of the local Common Buzzards, we had a quick look at it through binoculars and got a surprise – it was a Honey Buzzard. The whole group got onto it and we watched it for several minutes, circling and drifting into the breeze. A sweet surprise indeed!

P1050790

We could see the distinctive Honey Buzzard flight action, with wings held flat or downcurved, and the tips flexing down as it turned. The shape as well stood out – quite long-tailed and with a small head protruding cuckoo-like in front of the wings. Even from a distance, it was a noticeably pale bird, as it banked and caught the light. Eventually, it drifted to the north west and disappeared over the crest of the ridge. These are rare birds indeed in Norfolk, and it was a real treat to come across one like this.

Elated by our find, we set off to walk across to the other side of Heath. A Turtle Dove flew round in front of us and disappeared over the trees. But the Heath itself was a little quiet in the wind. We thought it might be difficult to get a better view of a Dartford Warbler than we had already had today, but walking along a favoured path we heard a Dartford Warbler call ahead of us. We repositioned ourselves for a better view and first one then a second bird flew out of the gorse in front of us. One of them perched up very nicely on the top of the gorse for several seconds so we could get a good look at it, before the two of them flew off further. We walked on round to where we had seen them drop in, but by now they had gone completely quiet. Still, it was a real result to see them so well.

By now, the Heath was starting to get much busier, more disturbed, with dog walkers and cyclists in particular. We walked back round, but all we found were more Linnets and Yellowhammers. However, we did come across a Grayling basking on the path ahead of us. It was extremely well camouflaged and hard to see until it flew.

P1050825Grayling – very well camouflaged against the stony path

We decided to move on and drove down to Cley for a late lunch. Afterwards, we headed out for a walk down the East Bank. By now it was very windy, gusting to 35+ mph. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of Bearded Tits here today, though thankfully we had had good views of several already other the weekend. However, the grazing marshes and Serpentine were also surprisingly quiet, not even the usual roosting Black-tailed Godwits – either the birds had just been flushed off here, or perhaps they had flown off to seek somewhere more sheltered from the wind.

There was more activity out at Arnold’s Marsh. There were lots of Sandwich Terns gathered out on the islands and sandbanks, and in amongst them we could see a good number of juveniles. The big colony of Sandwich Terns is out on Blakeney Point, but once the young can fly they are often led down to somewhere like Arnold’s Marsh and left there while the adults go out to see to fish. There were also a small number of smaller, orange-red billed Common Terns in amongst them.

IMG_7198Terns – mostly Sandwich Terns gathering on one of the islands

Out on the water, we could also see a big flock of waders. Getting them in the scope, we could see that most of them were Knot, at least 180 in total. The majority were in grey winter plumage, but amongst them we could still see a smaller number of brighter birds with orange underparts, still in summer plumage. There were also 45+ Dunlin, all adult birds with striking square black belly patches still. A careful scan revealed a handful of Bar-tailed Godwits as well – in winter type plumage, we talked about the key differences to separate them from Black-tailed Godwit. There were also plenty of Redshank, a very smart summer plumaged Turnstone and a Curlew.

With the wind having picked up so much since this morning, we walked out to the beach to see if anything was passing by offshore. The sea was certainly more choppy than it had been earlier, but with the wind still mostly in the west (and with very little north in it), there was little out to sea. There were few terns feeding offshore, given the conditions, and we only managed to see a small number of Gannets moving past.

Unfortunately, with the day getting on, it was now time to head back. We had certainly had a good weekend, with all the main target birds seen and some other surprises along the way, not least the Honey Buzzard we had seen this morning – sweet!