Tag Archives: Kelling Heath

30th May 2021 – Coast & Heath

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny morning before clouding over from mid afternoon as the sun lost its battle with the cloud which had been hanging offshore all day. The NE breeze kept a lid on temperatures.

We met in Cley and parked at Walsey Hills. As we walked up to the start of the East Bank, we could hear Little Egrets bubbling in the wood and one or two flying in and out. A couple of distant Marsh Harriers were circling low over the reedbed.

We had a request to see a Yellow Wagtail and as if on cue, a quick scan of the grazing marshes revealed the bright canary yellow male on the grass in the distance. We could just hear it singing from where we were, so we walked further up for a much better view in the scope. It would be great to have Yellow Wagtails back breeding here, but unfortunately he shows no sign of attracting a female.

There were still plenty of Lapwings and Redshanks on the grazing marshes. The Lapwing chicks which had been little balls of fluff are getting much bigger now, but there was still no sign of any young Redshanks. The males were still singing and displaying, but there was no sign of any getting down to nesting. There were Avocets further back on Pope’s Pool and when we heard Curlew calling, we looked over to see four flying off west, maybe finally heading back to the continent to breed.

Redshank – still displaying around the grazing marshes

What we thought was a lone drake Wigeon was walking around on the mud on the edge of the Serpentine, whistling occasionally. Then we spotted another pair much further back, on Pope’s Pool. Most of the Wigeon have left, heading back to Russia to breed, but perhaps these will stay here now. There were also a few Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard and Shelduck, lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese.

A couple of Reed Buntings were singing from the small bushes out in the middle of the reedbed, occasionally chasing after each other or a passing female. There were Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing too, with one of the latter perching up particularly obligingly. We heard occasional pinging calls of Bearded Tits and managed to see one or two zooming back and forth low over reeds.

There were quite a few Common Swifts zooming round overhead, but they didn’t seem to be heading anywhere today, so possibly just local birds rather than migrants on their way through. We could see a few Sand Martins and one or two Swallows too. As we continued on past the Serpentine, a Water Rail was calling in the reeds.

Common Swift – zooming around overhead

Four terns and some small waders were on the small gravel island at the back of Arnold’s Marsh, so we went into the shelter to set up the scope. It was cool in here today, out of sun and not offering much shelter facing straight into the NE breeze. The pair of Sandwich Terns were more obvious, but two Little Terns were hunkered down just over the top.

Two Grey Plover were roosting in amongst the terns, and on the muddy edge we could see were a Turnstone, and two Sanderling with two Dunlin. Something spooked the birds, and the small waders flew round and landed closer. The Sanderling then took that as a cue to move off, and we watched them fly up high and head north over the shingle ridge. Next stop the arctic? We could now see there were several Ringed Plovers too, in the vegetation on the shingle banks out to the left.

As we walked back, the male Yellow Wagtail was still singing out on the grass. As we passed Snipe’s Marsh on our way back to the minibus, a Little Grebe was diving continually and a drake Common Pochard was asleep out in the middle of the water.

Sandpit Blood Bee Sphecodes pellucidus – in the car park

Our next stop was up on Kelling Heath. There were lots of small bees buzzing around the sandy ground in the car park, Sandpit Mining Bees (Andrena barbilabris). We could see where they had been digging their burrows, small piles of darker earth, some flattened by passing feet and tyres. There were a couple of blood bees around the holes too, red-abdomened Sandpit Blood Bees (Sphecodes pellucidus). These blood bees are cleptoparasites of the Sandpit Mining Bees, laying their eggs in cells in the mining bees’ nests. The wonderful world of bees!

As we walked along a small path through the gorse, we saw several bright metallic Green Hairstreaks, fluttering round the gorse or sunning themselves.

Green Hairstreak – sunning itself

We took the main track down towards the Level Crossing. Suddenly we were surrounded by birds, we didn’t know where to look. A Yellowhammer flew up from the side of the track ahead of us. Then we heard a Woodlark singing, from the clear area away to our right, probably flushed by a group of dogwalkers walking across, and we had a quick glimpse of it was it flew round behind us, but we were distracted by a Common Crossbill calling. We looked up, but all we could see were Linnets flying round and perched on the gorse nearby.

We could still hear Crossbills calling quietly, and this was a particular target for us, so we started to scan for them in the pines. A female flew over our heads but disappeared deep into a tree, where we couldn’t see it. We could still hear calls from ahead of us, so we walked a short way further down the track, and turning the corner found a couple watching some Crossbills deep in a pine overhanging the path, feeding on cones.

We could just see an orangey male Common Crossbill, probably an immature, feeding on a cone. We got it in the scope, fill the frame views, but deep in the trees there were always branches in the way. There were clearly several birds in here and they started flying across to the next tree, further in. Scanning the branches, we found a smart red male out in the open in a much smaller young pine now. We watched it feeding, snipping off cones and carrying them to a branch to extract the seeds, then hanging on other cones and extracting the seeds in situ.

Common Crossbill – feeding on the cones

While we were watching the Crossbills, we heard a Nightjar churring from somewhere deep in the trees. They are mostly crepuscular and start to chur at dusk but will occasionally do so in the middle of the day, particularly early in the season. We had a quick look for any Dartford Warblers, but it was the middle of the day and all was quiet. Two Stonechats perched up as we passed. We were keen to start making our way back now or it would be a very late lunch. A Green Tiger Beetle flew ahead of us along the path.

As we walked on round, several Common Buzzards circled up over the ridge, at one point five in the air together. The trees here were rather quiet, there were few warblers singing, probably not helped by the cool breeze coming up over the ridge. We passed several Common Heath moths fluttering round in the heather.

Common Heath – a day-flying moth

We dropped back down to Cley for lunch on the picnic tables overlooking the marshes. A Lesser Whitethroat was flitting around in the hedge down by the road, but there were people in the way as it disappeared off right. A few minutes later it flew back the other way. After lunch, we drove west to Wells. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over road, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over on the outskirts of Stiffkey.

As we set off down the track, we could hear a Little Ringed Plover displaying and just see it flying round out towards the back of the pool on the right. A couple of Brown Hares were in the meadow, behind the carpet of buttercups and campion, quite a picture!

The young Lapwings are growing up fast here too, but several of the pairs of Avocets have small chicks now. We heard one pair alarm calling loudly, and looked over to see them mobbing a pair of Mute Swans with seven cygnets. A risky thing to do! Another Avocet was busying itself chasing off the Pied Wagtails and a pair of Shoveler from anywhere near its two fluffy juveniles. Much safer than attacking the swans, but of dubious value!

There were at least a dozen Redshanks bathing out in the middle and several more scattered around – here too, no sign of them breeding. We could see two very distant Little Ringed Plover, on the mud towards the back, behind the rushes. We got them in the scope, but it was not a great view, with quite a bit of heat haze too.

The bushes beyond the pools were quiet. It had clouded over now and the breeze was picking up. A nice male Reed Bunting perched up in the hawthorn flowers singing. There were lots of Goldfinches, and one or two Chaffinches, plus a Chiffchaff singing.

Reed Bunting – singing from the top of a hawthorn

From up on the seawall, we could see more Avocets feeding on the mud on the saltmarsh below. A very distant white shape standing out on the saltmarsh was probably a Spoonbill, but there was just too much haze to say for sure. The Avocets were commuting in and out of the west pool, were several were still on nests. The vegetation is now getting too high to see anything else on here.

When all the gulls and corvids rose up from the pig fields on the ridge inland, we figured something significant must have spooked them. We couldn’t see a likely candidate at first, but a couple of minutes later, looked back to see a Peregrine flying up and away to the east.

It was time to head back. One of the Little Ringed Plovers was much closer now, and through the scope we could see its golden eye ring. As we climbed into the minibus, a smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the field beyond.

21st May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week, our last day. A wet & windy day today. We managed to get some birding in during the morning, but as the weather deteriorated into the afternoon, the vote was for an early finish.

We headed down to Cley for the morning and parked in the bottom car park, below the Visitor Centre. It was dry, but very grey with a rather blustery wind, but not as bad as forecast. We decided to make a bid for the East Bank while we could. There were a few birds in the trees as we set off, including our first Long-tailed Tit of the tour.

As we walked along The Skirts, a bird flew up from the short grass right next to the path, on the left. With its olive-brown back and long rounded tail, which drooped behind it as it flew, it was obviously a Grasshopper Warbler. It dropped back down into the short grass about five metres further on. We took a couple of steps forward, intending to try to find it again, and another Grasshopper Warbler flew up from the right of the path. This one flew round behind us and landed in some low brambles just a few metres away. With its rather bright lemon-yellow throat it was immediately recognisable as the male we watched reeling regularly here at the end of April and beginning of May. Hopefully it has found a mate, which would explain why it has gone quiet now.

Grasshopper Warbler – one of two flushed by the path

After watching the Grasshopper Warbler for a while, it dropped down out of view. We set off again along the path as a pair of Common Pochard flew past the other way, over the reeds. There were lots of Common Swifts and hirundines hawking over the pools in the middles. A couple of Swallows and a House Martin were zooming back and forth low over the coast road, trying to find insects in the shelter of the bushes the other side.

Despite the weather, there were still warblers singing in the bushes – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Cetti’s Warbler, and a Common Whitethroat calling its buzzy call. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds behind us, but the Sedge Warblers were sensibly quiet, keeping down out of the wind. A Common Buzzard was hanging in the breeze over North Foreland, until it was mobbed by one of the local Rooks.

Up on the East Bank, there were more hirundines flying round low over the grazing marshes, particularly lots of Sand Martins now. A few Swifts and House Martins flew through, up over the bank and on west, birds on the move despite the weather. Fewer than yesterday, but the movement of Swifts was a real theme of the last two days.

Common Swift – lots on the move the last two days

The grazing marshes here are perfect for breeding waders. The Lapwing chicks which were small bundles of fluff a couple of weeks ago are now getting much bigger. The Redshanks are still displaying – we saw one pair, the male fluttering his wings vigorously and calling, while the female looked disinterested and walked away. There were a few Avocets in the Serpentine and on Pope’s Pool further back.

Lapwing – the juveniles are getting bigger

We could hear a buzzy sound just carrying to us from out on the grazing marshes and careful scanning revealed the source – a Yellow Wagtail. This bird has been lingering here for a couple of weeks now, singing. The song is not much to write home about – just a couple of buzzy notes. We got the Yellow Wagtail in the scopes, a bright canary yellow male, and watched as it worked its way through the thick grass feeding, then climbed up onto a tussock to sing. Yellow Wagtails used to breed more commonly along the coast here, so it would be nice to think that they might return.

Yellow Wagtail – singing from the grazing marshes

We stopped again to scan the margins of the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese, several Gadwall, Mallard and Shelduck but we couldn’t pick out anything different. The Great Black-backed Gulls were starting to gather to loaf on the islands at the back.

A Yellow Wagtail called, and we turned to see the male fly round over the bank, before landing briefly on the grass behind the reeds below us. It didn’t stay though, flying straight back out to the middle where it had been singing. As it flew back, a second Yellow Wagtail flew up too, but didn’t follow the male, landing on the edge of the Serpentine. We could see it was a female – just a shame she wasn’t showing any interest in the singing male!

Carrying on to Arnold’s Marsh, we got into the shelter, out of the wind, just as it started to rain. A couple of people already in the shelter asked what the wader at the back was. So we set up our scopes to find it was a lone grey Knot (with a limp). There were also two Dunlin, a Ringed Plover and a Turnstone with it. A couple of Curlew were roosting in the far corner and another was sheltering behind a low suaeda bush the other side. There were a few more Redshanks on here too.

Two other Ringed Plovers emerged from the low saltmarsh vegetation at the back – the slightly larger paler one, chasing after the slightly smaller darker bird. Two different subspecies of Ringed Plover, the smaller, darker birds are northern, tundra breeders (race tundrae), compared to the larger paler local breeders (race hiaticula). The Tundra Ringed Plovers are later migrants, passing through at this time of year. Another nine Tundra Ringed Plovers then dropped in just to illustrate the point, along with three more Dunlin.

One of the group spotted a distant Hobby, over the reedbed at the back, flying towards Salthouse, heading inland presumably out of the deteriorating weather. A Little Tern hovering over Sea Pool was similarly distant, but a Sandwich Tern dropped in at the back of Arnold’s, with more flying through past the shelter. A single Wheatear on the sand right at the back was flitting in and out of the low vegetation, trying to feed. There is still a trickle of late Wheatears coming through, dark northern breeders, but this was the first we had seen this tour.

There were several Avocets coming and going from the pool down at the front, with a couple sat down on the bank beyond, presumably incubating. When a female stopped and stood with neck bent down and bill held horizontal just above the surface, the male walked round her preening and flicking his bill in the water. We knew what was coming and sure enough we then watched the pair mating.

Avocets – the pair mating

As the rain eased, we continued on to the beach. We counted nine Little Terns offshore, slowly working their way east, and several Sandwich Terns passed the other way, one with a large sand eel in its bill. We steeled ourselves and turned into the wind for the walk back. We had intended to call in at Bishop Hide on the way back, as this is open again now, but we found several people camped in there already, out of the weather. We scanned from the door and couldn’t see anything of note on Pat’s Pool anyway, so we walked back. A pair of Mute Swans with cygnets were on the channel up from the bridge.

We figured it might be a bit more sheltered at Kelling, so we headed over there next. As we walked into the lane, we could hear a Greenfinch wheezing. Several Goldfinches were feeding on the school playing field and a Chaffinch was singing from somewhere in the school grounds as we passed. The hedges either side were rather quiet, despite being out of the wind. We did hear a Common Whitethroat calling, a Blackcap singing and a Chiffchaff flew across. A Red-legged Partridge ran ahead of us all the way down the lane to the copse.

We stopped to scan from the gate. There were lots of Brown Hares in the field beyond the Water Meadow, in the shelter of the hedge, and loads of Woodpigeons and Rooks. All we could find was a single Robin on the sheltered edge of the copse.

We continued down to the cross track to look at the pool, but there was just a single Egyptian Goose and a few Mallard on there today. It was rather exposed out here in the increasingly blustery wind. We scanned the bushes around the Quags, but everything seemed to have gone somewhere more sheltered. As we turned to walk back, there were a couple of Linnets in the edge of the field and a slightly bedraggled Common Whitethroat feeding in the low alexanders by the path which flew up into the brambles as we passed.

Common Whitethroat – flew up into the brambles

Kelling Heath seemed like a place which might offer a bit of shelter, and there have been Garden Warblers singing here in the last week, but it was windier than we thought in the car park. At least it wasn’t raining, so we had a quick walk round the bushes. A Blackcap was singing from deep in the blackthorn by the car park and a Bullfinch called as we walked round the back.

Then we heard a Garden Warbler across the road, so we crossed over to see if we could find it. It was singing in some dense blackthorn, moving around, and we couldn’t see it before it went quiet. We did find a family of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, and a Willow Warbler and Goldcrest flitting around in the birches.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back down to Cley to try to find some shelter. We parked the minibus in front of the beach shelter and ate our lunch in there. It was a bit damp on the bench, but standing in one side it was drier and had the added advantage of being able to see the sea. A steady stream of Sandwich Terns flew past, along with one or two Little Terns and a single Common Tern.

After lunch, we drove round to Iron Road for a short walk to see if any waders had dropped in there. There was nothing new on the large pool, but a Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the reeds at the back. On the other side of the main drain, over the bridge, we did find a small group of Tundra Ringed Plovers and several Dunlin on the muddy brackish pools. A Yellow Wagtail flew round calling but landed in the long grass with the cows further back, out of view.

The plan had been to finish up at Wells, so we decided to head over there now, with a view to finishing slightly early. The forecast was for heavy rain all this afternoon, and it finally arrived on our way there. The wind had picked up too – it had been forecast to be gusting 50mph+ all day, so we had actually been lucky to have had nothing like that up til now.

We got out of the minibus and started to scan the pools from the parking area. We could see a Little Ringed Plover on the pool west of the track. We thought about a walk down to the far end of the pools to see if there was anything hiding in the rushes, but there was no appetite for even a short walk now. It was already 3pm, and we had made the most of it, so with everyone having a long drive home we decided to call it a day.

It was a good call, as it only got wetter on the way back. But despite the deteriorating weather at the end, we could look back on a very productive three days of spring birding and we had seen some very good birds too.

21st June 2019 – Solstice Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of two days of Summer Tours today. It was a sunny start with clear blue skies and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon, it remained bright and warm. A lovely day to be out on the North Norfolk coast.

To start the day, we set off east along the coast. It was coming up to high tide, so we called in first at Stiffkey Fen to see if any waders had come in to roost from the harbour. As we got out of the minibus, a Barn Owl disappeared round behind the barns. Probably with young to feed somewhere, it was still out hunting into the morning. A Yellowhammer was singing from the tops of the pines and we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the brambles. Having gone quiet while they raised their first broods, the Lesser Whitethroats have started singing again now ahead of a second breeding attempt.

Down along the permissive path, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were singing in the copse. We could hear a Bullfinch calling somewhere in the trees ahead of us too. There was a mixed tit flock feeding down by the road, a large group of Long-tailed Tits plus Blue Tits, Great Tits and a family of Coal Tits. We watched the latter feeding in the pines above the road, the juveniles with light yellow cheeks.

Down along the path by the river, there were rather few House Martins around the house on the hill, which seems to be a worrying theme this year. A Cetti’s Warbler was shouting intermittently from deep in the sallows. Half way down, we could just about see over the brambles to the Fen, where four Spoonbills were roosting. We had a better view of them from up on the seawall, where we could see there were three adults and one short-billed juvenile, a ‘teaspoonbill’. The first juveniles have started to disperse from the breeding colony at Holkham, and are then creched at favoured sites along the coast.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – the juvenile was chasing after one of the adults

The juvenile Spoonbill started begging, trying to persuade one of the adults to feed it. Initially it bobbed its head up and down and started to flap its wings. When the adult tried to walk away, the juvenile set off after it. We watched the two of them walking round for at least 10 minutes, the juvenile Spoonbill relentless. At one point the adult tried to run away but the juvenile simply ran too.

A single Sandwich Tern was loafing in with the Black-headed Gulls. Three Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the harbour calling, two adults and a 1st summer, but they didn’t land and flew on west. A Common Tern was fishing in the harbour channel and kept coming past us while we stood on the bank, occasionally plunging down into the water.

Common Tern

Common Tern – fishing in the harbour channel

There were three Greenshanks on the Fen, roosting over high tide, asleep in the taller vegetation on the island. There were lots of Avocets, with one or two juveniles still. But no other waders on here this morning. Someone came to open up some equipment down by the sluice, and when we asked what it was for, they explained that they were monitoring the movements of the local sea trout population in the River Stiffkey and harbour.

After walking back, we made our way on to Kelling Heath. A Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler were singing in the car park and the first of many Painted Lady butterflies was basking on a bush. There has been a large invasion in recent weeks from the continent and there are still lots around.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – the first of many, basking on a bush in the car park

We had a quick walk round to see if we could find any Adders. They are warm now though and the only one we came across slithered away as we approached, possibly alerted to our approach by all the footsteps. A Garden Warbler was singing in the blackthorn nearby.

Walking on up the hill, a Woodlark flew overhead calling. Unfortunately it didn’t look like coming down and we watched it disappear away into the distance over the car park. There are lots of Silver-studded Blue butterflies out now and we stopped by a good area for them. There were good numbers of blue males fluttering round over the low heather and we found a mating pair, which gave us a good chance to have a closer look at the diagnostic underwing markings. There were a couple of July Belle moths out here too.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair showing the distinctive underwings

Carrying on round the Heath, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler perched in a birch tree. A Common Whitethroat was flitting about in the gorse and another Woodlark flushed from the path ahead of us. A smart male Yellowhammer was singing in a small birch tree. We came across one Stonechat, a male, down by the railway cutting, and another pair the other side of the crossing feeding young in the gorse. There were lots of Linnets here but no sign of any Dartford Warblers again – they seem to be struggling this year.

Linnet

Linnet – a red-breasted male

The surprise of the morning came as we were crossing the railway. We looked up at the gorse bushes the other side, to see a Nightjar flying over them. A couple walking a dog had just gone across ahead of us, so had possibly flushed it. It flew along the top of the bushes, then turned and came across the railway a short distance away. It looped round and landed beneath a birch tree by the path back where we had just come. We walked back to see if we could find it but it flew again, and this time disappeared off through the trees.

It was already after midday, so we headed back to the minibus and dropped down to Cley for lunch at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we could see the 1st summer Little Gull dip feeding out on Pat’s Pool distantly. Afterwards, we walked out to the hides in the middle. Several Sand Martins were hawking over the reeds.

Out first stop was in Teal Hide –  where, appropriately enough, the first bird we saw was the Green-winged Teal. It was swimming out in the middle of the water with several Eurasian Teal, the vertical white foreflank stripe on the Green-winged Teal setting it apart from the horizontal white-lined Eurasians. It was feeding constantly, swimming round with its head mostly under water, only coming up for air occasionally.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – on the left, with a Eurasian Teal on the right

There was a nice selection of other ducks on here too, including Gadwall and Shoveler, the drakes mostly moulting into their drab eclipse plumage already. There were several Shoveler too, with one pair at the back shepherding a large creche of 27 shelducklings.

We spent some time looking closely at the waders here too. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits of two types – mostly Icelandic birds (subspecies islandica), but two Continental Black-tailed Godwits (nominate limosa) were sporting coloured plastic rings which gave their identity away.  The particular combinations identified them as birds from the very small breeding population on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, having wandered here post-breeding.

Waders 1

Waders – Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot and a couple of Avocets

In with the Black-tailed Godwits were a few Bar-tailed Godwits. Most of them were in non-breeding plumage, paler and more heavily streaked above than the equivalent plumage of Black-tailed Godwit, with a more obvious pale supercilium and slightly upturned bill. They were noticeable shorter-legged too, wading with their longer-legged cousins. The Knot with them barely came up to their knees. Again, most were in grey non-breeding plumage but one or two were in their smarter rusty-orange breeding plumage. Several Avocets were feeding in front of the hide, as was a still not fully grown juvenile Redshank.

The waders were all very jumpy and kept flying up. We soon found out why when there was another commotion and we looked up to see a Peregrine flying over with something in its talons. It turned out it had just caught a Redshank flying over behind the hide (hopefully not the youngster we had just seen!). We watched it disappear off east – possibly one of the birds from Cromer church.

Waders 2

Waders – spooked by a Peregrine hunting over the scrapes

Back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off back west, stopping again on our way at Wells. As we parked and got out, we could hear the raspy call of a Grey Partridge in the field next door, but couldn’t see it in all the growing crop. Scanning the islands, we found three more Spoonbills, one of them another juvenile, lurking in the vegetation. When a fourth Spoonbill flew in, it dropped down in the near corner of the pool, down close the track, so we walked down for a closer look.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the corner of the pool by the track

The Spoonbill was busy feeding, with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side in the water as it walked. When it lifted its head, we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult, and the bushy nuchal crest and brownish wash on the breast marked it out as a bird in breeding condition. We had a nice view of it before it flew again and went right to the back of the pool.

The pools here have been very good for waders recently and, although there was nothing today which we hadn’t already seen at Cley, there was still a nice selection. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits were out in the middle, occasionally getting spooked and whirling round overhead. A lone bird, smart in rusty breeding plumage, was feeding on its own in the corner. Several Redshanks flew back and forth, and there were lots of Avocets and Lapwing in the grass.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – in rusty breeding plumage

A small group of Egyptian Geese were loafing in the grass close to the track, and there was a good selection of other wildfowl. As we were about to walk back, a Sedge Warbler started singing and flew up to the front edge of one of the hawthorn bushes to pose. We had a good look at it through the scope, with its bold white supercilium. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.

 

24th May 2017 – Two Nightingales Sang…

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

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

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

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

6O0A1906Nightingale – great views of this one singing today

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A1915Hobby – a pair circled high over the trees

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A1929Linnet – still a common bird up on the heaths

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

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

6O0A1942Dartford Warbler – the male, collecting food

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A1958Lapwing – on the grazing marsh from East Bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24th July 2016 – Heath & Marsh

The third and final Summer Tour of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was another glorious summer’s day, with just enough of a breeze to stop us overheating.

We made our way inland and up to the Heath to start, before it got too hot. We could hear a Turtle Dove purring, but it was some distance away. As we walked up from the car park, we could hear a Linnet singing and a couple more flew past. A Common Whitethroat flew out from the trees, perched in the bracken for a few seconds and then disappeared into the long grass. A Yellowhammer was singing too.

As we turned a corner, we could hear the begging calls of juvenile Stonechats and spotted the male Stonechat in the top of a young birch tree. A little further along, we found the whole family – male, female and 3-4 streaky fledged juveniles. They were quite mobile, but the juvenile Stonechats were still sitting around on the bushes begging for food. The female was working hard to feed them, while the male seemed to keep disappearing off – perhaps he wasn’t enjoying being bugged by his unruly teenage offspring!

6O0A6593Stonechat – the female was working hard to feed the juveniles

While we were watching the Stonechats, a Dartford Warbler appeared low in the heather nearby. This is not unusual – Dartford Warblers will often follow Stonechats around, possibly for the protection afforded by their extra vigilence. This Dartford Warbler was a juvenile, rather greyish overall, but was hard to get onto, as it was keeping low and moving constantly. We repositioned ourselves and got a slightly better view, but still not everyone had managed to see it.

We watched the Stonechats coming and going for some time. Suddenly an adult Dartford Warbler flew in from behind us and dropped into the gorse among the Stonechats. Again it was quite difficult to see and we only got a couple of glimpses as it fed. Then it flew back out again in the direction it had come.

6O0A6606Juvenile Stonechat & Linnet – happened to perch in the same bush

Quiet purring behind us alerted us to the presence of another Turtle Dove, such a treat to hear these days, given rapidly how the species is disappearing. We walked round on the path to the other side of the gorse, and we quickly worked out where the noise was coming from but we couldn’t see the Turtle Dove in the thick birch trees. Then suddenly it flew up and started its display flight, flapping higher and then descending in a long glide. It flew out across the heath and landed right in the top of a tall birch, where we could get it in the scope. When it flew again, the Turtle Dove seemed to disappear off over the ridge, but a short while later it was back purring there again. Great views.

IMG_5363Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a birch

As we walked back round, we came across the Stonechat family again and the juvenile Dartford Warbler had reappeared with them. We watched as it flew back and forth across a clearing and then perched briefly in the very top of a young birch tree. This time, everyone got on it.

We carried on across the Heath and at first there seemed to be a surprising lack of butterflies. Then, as we walked down along a sandy path with short heather either side, we came across our first Silver-studded Blues. Several of them were a bit worn now, but we got a good look at the underside of the wings and the distinctive silver studded spots. There were also a few Graylings along the path. They are next to impossible to see unless they move, and we had to really keep our eyes on them after they landed.

6O0A6607Silver-studded Blue – this one with rather poorly marked silver studs

A little further still, as we were following the path round, another juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up beside us. It perched very briefly, but having been surprised by our approach it very quickly disappeared off across the Heath. Not far beyond this, we found a female Dartford Warbler skulking in the gorse. We had several glimpses of her before she flew out and disappeared back across the heather.

While we were trying to keep tabs on the female Dartford Warbler, we heard a male singing back the way we had just come. We raced round there, just in time to see him fly. We followed him round and after a couple of minutes he hopped up briefly into the top of a gorse bush and started singing. After a second or two, he was off again. He flew a bit further away and perched in the top of a large gorse bush to sing. This time he stayed still for a while and we could get him in the scope. When he finally dropped back into the dense gorse, he went quiet.

6O0A6614Dartford Warbler – the male perched up briefly, singing

As we started to walk back to see if we could find the female Dartford Warbler again, we heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying past. It dropped down some distance from us, but knowing the site well it appeared to go towards another path. We hurried round and found it quietly feeding along the path, giving us very good scope views.

That was a great way to start the day, with all the heathland specialities. We decided to move on so started to walk back to the car. On the way , we flushed another two Woodlarks from the grass beside the path. They flew up before we could see them, but circled round and one perched up in the top of a gorse bush – even nicer views through scope this time.

It was getting on towards lunchtime by now, so we headed down to Cley for lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear a Whimbrel calling over the car park. After lunch, we walked out to the hides.

Teal Hide was our first port of call. There were quite a few waders on there and the longer we scanned, the more we found. Two Common Sandpipers were feeding close in front of the hide, bobbing constantly. Further over we could see a single Green Sandpiper and a  Common Sandpiper together, a nice comparison. A lone Greenshank, slim and elegant, was walking quickly across the scrape feeding, out in middle. There were also good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and a variety of Ruff in a confusing mix of stages of moult.

It was round into Simmond’s Hide next. There were even more Black-tailed Godwits on here, mostly Icelandic birds, but again a careful look through them and we discovered a bird which looked good for a Continental Black-tailed Godwit (subspecies limosa). In  amongst the godwits, were three Red Knot, this time living up to their name and sporting their summer plumage orange-red underparts. A single Turnstone was asleep on one of the islands, but when it woke up we finally got a chance to admire its summer plumage

6O0A6693Black-tailed Godwit – a moulting adult islandica

Another Common Sandpiper was hiding in the grass on the edge of one of the islands at the front of the scrape. Several Dunlin were hiding in amongst the godwits legs, including a single juvenile. There are always Avocets on here and today they were particularly argumentative. Two adults and three almost full-grown juveniles seemed to be having some sort of family argument – though it was hard to tell who was who.

6O0A6666

6O0A6668

6O0A6670Avocets – arguing

The ducks are all currently in eclipse plumage, so not looking their best. However, a careful scan through revealed a single eclipse drake Wigeon, our first of the autumn (though it could perhaps be a bird which has over-summered somewhere). A family of juvenile Shoveler were in the grass on the edge of the ditch right in front of the hide. Their largish bills, not yet fully grown but still noticeably big, immediately gave away their identity. There were also lots of Shelduck, and a few Teal.

6O0A6639Shoveler – a part-grown juvenile, with a small but already outsized bill

When a Little Egret flew in and walked right to the corner in front of the hide, it surprised a female Gadwall who had just brought her three small ducklings in there. She appeared out of the grass and quickly shooed the egret away.

6O0A6655Little Egret – scared off by a female Gadwall

There were several dark chocolate-brown juvenile Marsh Harriers in the reedbed and they would occasionally fly round to exercise their wings. Every time they drifted over the scrape, pandemonium ensued. This happened repeatedly while we were there. However, te panic seemed to be even more intense when a Hobby whisked through, putting everything up from North Scrape first, before we spotted it hurtling over Simmond’s and then disappearing off inland.

On the way back, we carried on past the visitor centre and paid a very brief visit to Bishop Hide. There were lots of gulls on Pat’s Pool which were better viewed from this side. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, plus four Common Gulls, but there was no sign of the hoped-for Mediterranean Gull today. A nice close Common Sandpiper was a bonus.

6O0A6715Common Sandpiper – our fifth of the day, from Bishop Hide

Our next destination was the East Bank. Two fully-grown juvenile Little Grebes were on the new pool. We could hear and see lots of Reed Warblers in reeds. Out on Pope’s Marsh, there were plenty of adult Redshank, with several juveniles still around the Serpentine. A good number of Curlew were hiding out in the long grass.

6O0A6732Little Grebe – a juvenile, still with a rather stripey face

Arnold’s Marsh looked relatively quiet. There are not so many Sandwich Terns on here this year, possibly because the number breeding on Blakeney Point is well down on previous years. Three or four Ringed Plovers were lurking on the shingle islands. A lone Greenshank was walking back and forth. The single Red Knot promptly flew off just after we arrived.

Returning back to the car, we headed round to the beach car park next. As we walked out towards North Hide (or at least where it used to be!), we stopped by the little pool next to the fence. This was very productive, with at least 3 juvenile Yellow Wagtails, along with a lot of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and two Little Ringed Plover.

Even though the Wood Sandpiper which has been here for the last couple of days, had not been reported today, it still seemed worth a look. The first bird we saw when we sat down was the Wood Sandpiper, conveniently standing with two Redshank for comparison. We watched it picking around on the mud as it walked directly towards the hide, and eventually we lost it to view behind the vegetation in front of the hide. Still, it was well worth coming out here for that alone. There was not much else out here – a small party of Dunlin at the back and several Redshank.

IMG_5411Wood Sandpiper – on North Scrake

Time was getting on, so we decided to head back – it had been a nice way to round of the day with a smart Wood Sandpiper.

25th May 2016 – All Weather Spring Birding

Another Private Tour today. It has to be said, the weather forecast was not ideal, even if it had improved from the worst predictions yesterday and the wind had dropped from yesterday. Still, it was cloudy all day and drizzled during the morning, but it is amazing what you can see if you go looking anyway.

Our first stop was at Cley. We were hoping that conditions might improve a little while we were there, so we walked out along the East Bank. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pools just beyond the car park, and many of them were stopping to perch in the reeds. These birds had almost certainly come here from the local breeding colonies, in an attempt to find somewhere to find food. The female Pochard was still here with her ducklings, although we couldn’t see how many she had today, as they kept tucked in to the edge of the reeds.

Despite the weather, a couple of Sedge Warblers were still singing away and song flighting from the reeds beside the path. We could hear an occasional Reed Warbler singing too.

Looking across to the Serpentine towards Pope’s Marsh, we could see several Lapwings and their chicks still. A Little Ringed Plover flew across and landed out of view on the far edge of the grass and a single Ringed Plover was feeding on the open mud on the edge of the pool.

6O0A3592Arnold’s Marsh – looking rather grey this morning

The new shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh was very welcome this morning, an opportunity to get out of the light misty drizzle which was falling. There were plenty of Avocets and Redshanks feeding on here as usual. A few more Ringed Plovers were to be found with a bit of looking, on the shingle spits around the edge.

6O0A3597Avocet – feeding on Arnold’s Marsh

Over towards the back was a large group of bigger waders, godwits. A quick look through the scope confirmed they were Bar-tailed Godwits. Most appeared to be still in brown non-breeding plumage, so these were possibly younger 1st summer birds. They do not breed in their first year and often remain on the wintering grounds. One smaller male had started to develop rather chestnut-ish underparts, but it was still rather patchy. Hiding in amongst the legs of the Bar-tailed Godwits was a smaller wader, a single Knot, similarly in grey non-breeding plumage.

We had seen a couple of adult Gannets just breaking the horizon over the shingle ridge as we walked out, making their way east, white with prominent black wing tips. So we walked up to have a quick look at the sea. Another Gannet passed by some distance offshore and a Fulmar went through in the other direction, the latter probably a local breeding bird. A Sandwich Tern flew past just offshore.

Otherwise, there was not much happening out here, so we made our way back. As we walked along the bank towards the car, a Bearded Tit flew up from the reedy ditch beside the path and out across the reedbed the other side, a nice bonus and a surprise this morning.

The cloud base appeared to have lifted a little, although this may have been wishful thinking on our part, so we decided to have a go up on the Heath, which was meant to be our primary destination for the morning. We made our way across to where we had seen the family of Dartford Warblers yesterday afternoon. On the way, there were several Willow Warblers still singing despite the weather, and a Blackcap too from deep in the bushes. A couple of Bullfinches were piping to each other from the hedge further over.

There was no sign of the Dartford Warblers initially, but we didn’t stop as we were distracted by a male Stonechat perched on the top of a dead tree and Yellowhammer singing further along, so walked across to have a look at them, intending to swing back this way. Needless to say, there was no sign of the Nightjar on the perch where it had been yesterday – that was clearly going to be a one-off!

A Woodlark appeared above the trees for a split second, unfortunately too brief for everyone to get onto it, and appeared to drop down onto a clear area further back, so we decided to walk over to see if we could find it. On our way, we ran into a couple of other birders who had just seen the Dartford Warblers, flying into exactly the area where we had seen them yesterday. We stopped to see if we could see them too, although again it all seemed rather quiet at first.

6O0A3602Linnet – a male, singin’ in the rain

A male Linnet appeared from the gorse and appeared to be carrying a faecal sack. It perched up nicely on the gorse in front of us, twittering away, and when the female emerged too the two of them flew off a short distance.

Then we glimpsed a Dartford Warbler, a small dark shape zipping low across the heather and diving into cover. Then another glimpse as one shot across in the other direction. With a bit of patience, we could see (and hear) what they were doing. The adults had stashed several juveniles in the gorse and were flying in and out bringing food for them. After a feeding visit, one of the juveniles hopped out into view in front of us, paler, greyer than the adults, still shorter tailed and with a bright yellow gape. The adult Dartford Warblers were mostly keeping down in cover, not a great surprise given the weather, but eventually the male flew in and perched right on top of the gorse in front of us for a few seconds, tail cocked, before disappearing back in. Great stuff!

With good views of Dartford Warbler finally achieved, we walked round to see if we could find the Woodlark. Unfortunately, at this point it started to rain a little harder and there was no sign of it here now. A pair of Stock Doves were feeding out in the clearing. As the rain turned back to drizzle again, we walked back round, stopping on the way to admire a pale male Stonechat perched up on the gorse, with three streaky juveniles hopping about on the low vegetation below, looking for food.

We made our way in a wide circuit round the Heath, in the hope we might bump into another Woodlark on the way, but the vegetation where they like to feed was getting quite wet now. As we were walking along a path, we happened to glance to one side through a gap in the bushes and something caught our eye, a dark shape looked out of place on a much paler stump. Stopping abruptly, we had a quick confirmatory look through binoculars and there in front of us was a stunning Nightjar.

6O0A3650Nightjar – amazing views of another day roosting bird today

It is unusual to come across a day roosting Nightjar, so to find two different birds in two days is fairly unprecedented. Still, we weren’t going to complain. We trained the scopes on it for frame-filling views, marvelling at the intricately marked cryptic plumage, even if it wasn’t particularly well camouflaged against the stump on which this one had chosen to rest today. It sat perfectly still, despite the rain dripping off its tail, with only its eyes opening and closing slightly as we watched. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and backed off quietly, leaving the Nightjar in peace.

Back to the car, and we dropped back down to the coast and made our way west. We stopped off at the local gull colony next. We could hear the cacophony of noise as we walked up onto the bank. Scanning through the mass of Black-headed Gulls, we could see quite a few Mediterranean Gulls in there too. Their more extensive jet black hoods marked them out instantly from the chocolate brown hoods of the misnamed Black-headed Gulls. Ironically, the latin name of Mediterranean Gull is more accurate, translating as ‘black-headed gull’!

IMG_4759Mediterranean Gull – showing off its jet black hood

We could see a smart pair of Common Gulls too, further over, and lots of terns were wheeling round over the colony. Three Sandwich Terns were chasing each other noisily, one of them bearing a gift in the form of a small fish. A couple of Little Terns were fishing over the channel beyond, dwarfed by a nearby Common Tern. Several of the latter were flying in and out carrying fish.

6O0A3661Common Tern – busy fishing in the harbour

We walked round to the harbour to see what we could see. The tide was on its way out and there were lots of Oystercatchers on the exposed mud beyond. Scanning through, we found a group of four Curlew too.

Out in the middle of the harbour channel we could see a pair of Great Crested Grebes diving. Then down in a smaller side channel we noticed a white duck diving, a stunning drake Eider. A drake Eider would be a great sight in itself, but this one was fishing actively, diving repeatedly and quickly resurfacing with something each time. Through the scope, we could see that it was actually catching small crabs.

Even better, the Eider seemed to be very cleverly taking the claws off before swallowing them. It would flick the crab round until it was holding it by its legs or claws, then give it a good shake until the leg(s)/claw detached. The body of the crab would drop into the water and it would catch it again quickly before repeating the process. After doing this a few times, it would swallow the dismembered body whole. Fascinating to watch! Eventually the Eider, clearly full of crabs, walked up onto a sandbar nearby.

IMG_4795Eider – resting after catching crabs in the harbour channel

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Holkham. The grazing marshes were full of geese as usual, Greylags and Canada Geese, together with a good scattering of Egyptian Geese. We could see a couple of white shapes in the trees, which on closer inspection could be seen to be Spoonbills. A couple of other Spoonbills flew out east, their long necks and bills held outstretched in front of them, distinguishing them instantly from the steady flow of Little Egrets in and out too.

There were lots of Swifts and House Martins zooming about low over the pools, the best place to look for insects in the cool and cloudy conditions. A male Marsh Harrier appeared from the reeds in front of us and flew slowly round before crashing back in.

We parked at the end of Lady Anne’s Drive, which was unsurprisingly rather empty of cars today, and walked west on the edge of the pines. At least it had stopped drizzling now. The trees were rather quiet, apart from a several Coal Tits calling, plus a Goldcrest or two and a few Chiffchaffs singing. We bumped into one of the wardens who told us that three Bitterns had been seen earlier, flying around out from Washington Hide, so we headed over there first.

We couldn’t see any sign of the Bitterns now, but we did find two Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. Both appeared to have damaged wings – one was trailing its left and the other had a large gap in the primaries of its right when it flapped.That would explain why these two had not made the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season.

A large group of over 150 Black-tailed Godwits flew up from the marshes at one point, whirling round and flashing their black and white wings and tails before dropping back down out of sight. A female Marsh Harrier flew up from the reeds and circled over, before chasing off a second Marsh Harrier which had drifted into the area.

6O0A3674Marsh Harrier – circled up over the reeds

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, we could see a few Spoonbills circling over the trees from time to time. One landed in the top of the bushes at one point, stopping to preen. Then another Spoonbill appeared on the pool in front. It was feeding, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water. When the flock of Black-tailed Godwits appeared again, clearly flushed from the marshes by something, and swirled round over the pools, the Spoonbill took flight and headed back into the trees.

IMG_4813Spoonbill – feeding on the pool from Joe Jordan Hide

On the walk back, we found a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees by the path. There were several brown-faced juveniles in there, plus a few Blue Tits. A single male Blackcap appeared in the trees too. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds. Further along, a Sparrowhawk flew low across the path ahead of us, in from the direction of the grazing marshes, and disappeared into the pines.

Then it was time to call it a day. Despite the weather, we had enjoyed a fantastic day’s birding – it just goes to show that it is always worth going out regardless.

24th May 2016 – Heathland & Farmland

A Private Tour today, and rather different to a normal day. There were some specific target birds we wanted to find and we would mostly be avoiding the coast. It was rather cool, in a blustery north wind, which in theory was not ideal for what we wanted to see, but you never know how things will turn out!

Our main destination this morning was up on the Heath. We particularly wanted to see Dartford Warbler and Turtle Dove. We walked up to one of the favourite places for Dartford Warblers, but it was rather exposed and windy here. A quick circuit around the heather and gorse produced a pair of Stonechats, the male quite a strikingly pale individual, a smart male Yellowhammer singing and the usual smattering of Linnets.

StonechatStonechat – the male, taken earlier in the year on a sunnier day!

The melancholy song of a Woodlark drifted over towards us and a quick scan of the sky revealed it in full song flight, fluttering hard, but only making slow progress forwards as it sang.

With no sign of the Dartford Warblers here, we thought we would try another favoured spot across the Heath. The walk across there was quieter than normal, with many of the warblers in particular rather subdued due to the wind. Still, we did hear several Willow Warblers, a Common Whitethroat and a Blackcap singing from deep in the trees. As we came around a corner, another Woodlark flew up from the path in front of us. It flew up into the sky away from us, then turned and started singing.

Unusually, we saw the Turtle Doves before we heard them. The male flew up from some dead trees and started to glide round in a wide circle, with tail spread and wings held out, its distinctive display flight. When it landed back in the dead trees again, the female Turtle Dove flew in too and alighted nearby. The male then performed its bowing display to the female, bobbing up and down on a branch. All great to watch. He then settled himself down and started purring, such a wonderful sound and very sad it is not heard so often these days.

When we heard Linnets and Yellowhammers calling agitatedly, we looked up to see a small falcon flying over. The shape, with swept-back wings, immediately told us it was a Hobby and a quick look through binoculars revealed a slate grey back, black head with white cheeks and, as it banked, its rufous trousers. It flew through fast, just above the tops of the young trees, before dropping over the ridge and away out of sight. A nice bonus.

The Turtle Doves were flushed by some passing walkers and flew across to land in a nearby pine tree. We worked our way round so we could see the male on a branch and he started to purr again.

IMG_4692Turtle Dove – the male was purring to the female

A Woodlark started singing again and we turned to see one land in the top of one of the dead trees back where the Turtle Dove had just been. This time, we got it in the scope and had a much better view of it, noting the distinctive face pattern and strongly marked supercilium. A second Woodlark was singing in the sky, further back beyond it. Another male Stonechat appeared in the same dead tree too.

IMG_4694Woodlark – singing from the top of a dead tree

We had a walk round the area where the Dartford Warblers are normally to be found, but this side was very quiet too, apart from more Linnets. A Coal Tit flew out of the pines across in front of us. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the trees.

When we heard someone whistling, we turned to see a local birder, who had just walked past, calling to us. We thought at first he was calling us over to say he had found the Dartford Warblers but when we got within earshot he explained that he had just found a Nightjar. We walked back with him and he pointed us straight in the direction of the Nightjar, day roosting on a dead branch out in the open in full view.

Nightjars normally like to roost where they are very hard to see, so this was an unbelievable treat. We got it in the scope and had a great look at it. We could see the finely marked plumage, great camouflage, which would render it invisible on the ground in the leaf litter, but which was no help on the branch it had chosen today!

IMG_4736Nightjar – day roosting on a branch out in the open

We left the Nightjar sleeping quietly and went back to resume our search for the Dartford Warblers. We made another circuit of the area but there was still not a sign, so we made our way back across the Heath to try the first place we had looked again. As we walked up, this time we did hear a Dartford Warbler calling briefly, but it seemed to be heading for a large patch of very dense gorse. We circled round the area a couple of times slowly, but it had all gone quiet again.

It had been a very successful morning on the Heath, with the exception of the warblers, so we decided to move on and try something else. We made our way inland, through farmland behind the coast. We stopped a few times to scan the fields.

It was not a great day to look for raptors on paper, but we saw a good variety on our travels. A Red Kite flew up into a pine tree beside the road with some carrion, while a second soared over above it. We watched the first picking at the food while it perched in the tree. The skies brightened up a bit and, despite the wind, we found several Common Buzzards up, soaring above little blocks of woodland and out across the fields. A Sparrowhawk, flew up high into the sky on bursts of rapid flapping interspersed with glides. And there were Kestrels too, of course.

6O0A3582Red Kite – feeding on some carrion, perched in a pine tree

The usual farmland birds were in evidence too. We saw several Yellowhammers and Common Whitethroats in the hedges. A pair of Grey Partridge flushed from the edge of the field made a nice change from the more common Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants. A lovely pair of Stock Doves flew past in front of us and we admired their smart grey wings with distinctive dark trailing edges.

A Lapwing displaying over a massive dry arable field, rowed up for a root crop, will surely struggle to raise a brood here. The family of Shelduck were also still by the large puddle on the edge of a field where we have seen them recently. They too will presumably find life difficult if the water dries up any time soon – it does not seem a sensible place to try to raise a family.

6O0A3587Shelducks – this family continues to survive on a puddle in a field

After our diversion inland, we dropped back down to the coast at Holkham. We could see several Spoonbills perched in the trees and one did a nice fly round too. There were Little Egrets and Grey Herons around the trees too, and lots of Cormorants on their nests. Out on the grazing marshes were plenty of geese as usual, Greylags and a few Egyptian Geese.

We had originally intended to finish the afternoon on the coast, but one thing was still nagging at us. Despite achieving all our other targets, there was one we had missed – we had not managed to see a Dartford Warbler. The weather had brightened up a little, so we decided to have another go.

When we arrived at the car park, we were told by another birder just leaving that the Dartford Warblers had been showing at one of the sites where we had been this morning. We made our way straight over there, but when we arrived we found it was as quiet as it had been earlier. We made a quick circuit of the area – we could hear Woodlark singing again and a Turtle Dove was perched in the dead trees, although with none of the display activity we had seen earlier. But there was no sign of the Dartford Warblers.

Then we heard a Dartford Warbler call. We walked over to where we thought it had come from, but couldn’t find anything. We tried around the back of the gorse bushes to no avail, but when we walked back round again a small, dark, long-tailed bird zipped across over the back of the heather and dived into the gorse. We made our way straight round on the path to where it seemed to go and suddenly a male Dartford Warbler hopped up onto the top of the heather right in front of us. It cocked its tail in typical Dartford Warbler style, before diving back into cover. A second Dartford Warbler flew out as well. A great view! Finally, our last target bird found.

We backed off and left them in peace, and walked back to the other site where we had tried and failed this morning. Lo and behold, there was another Dartford Warbler, exactly where we had been looking earlier. This one wasn’t right in front of us, so we were able to watch it at a discrete distance. It was a smart male, with dark slate-grey upperparts and deep wine-red underparts. Even better, it then hopped up to the top of some low gorse and started singing.

We heard it call too and then heard another Dartford Warbler calling from behind us. The next thing we knew, a female Dartford Warbler hopped up onto the gorse too, slightly duller coloured both above and below than the male. We watched the two of them feeding in the heather and gorse for a few minutes, before they worked their way back out of view. Fantastic!

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – here’s one from a few weeks ago

We were very pleased we had decided to persevere and come back for a second go for the Dartford Warblers. It rounded out the day nicely, and with that we headed for home.

20th May 2016 – Warblers, Nightingales & More

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. We met in Wells and made our way east, turning off the coast road and continuing our way along a little inland.

We pulled up at the start of a quiet, overgrown country lane and got out of the car. Immediately, we could hear a great variety of bird song on all sides of us. A Song Thrush was singing from deep in the trees, and a Chaffinch from above our heads. A Chiffchaff was doing a passable rendition of its name. We could hear the lovely, fluid notes of a Blackcap too. A little further along, and we picked up the high-pitched song of a Goldcrest. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we passed.

A shape perched up in the dead branches of a tree beside the road was a cracking male Bullfinch, bright pinkish-red below with a smart black cap. He stayed there for several seconds while we admired him, but before the scope was on him he flew off calling, with a second Bullfinch calling nearby.

We stood for a while where the hedges are at their most overgrown. A pair of Common Whitethroats were busy flicking in and out of the bushes. More Blackcaps were singing from the trees and we could see a female, with brown cap, in one of the willows. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the poplars and a Treecreeper appeared, climbing up one of the larger tree trunks.

Our hope was to hear a Nightingale singing here. We did get one very brief phrase, but then it went quiet, before everyone could hear it. It was a bit cool first thing this morning, cloudy, with a rather blustery wind coming through the trees – not hot and sunny, like a Nightingale might prefer. We could hear a Cuckoo singing further up the road, so we decided to walk up there to look for that instead, and come back later to see if the Nightingale had woken up properly.

As we got to the gate which overlooks the meadows beyond the wood, we saw the Cuckoo fly across into the willows beyond. We just had time to get it in the scope, before it flew again and this time we could see that there were two Cuckoos, a pair. They chased each other in and out of the trees for some time, back and forth across the meadow in front of us. Occasionally perching up where we could see them. At one point, the female landed in a low tree out across the meadow right in front of us. The male Cuckoo wasn’t singing much, and the female was silent, but we were treated to great views of them.

IMG_4295Cuckoo – the female perched in a low tree in front of us

Eventually, the two Cuckoos disappeared back into the trees and we decided to make our way back. We stopped again where we had heard the Nightingale briefly earlier, but all seemed quiet. Then suddenly it started singing right behind us! It was still not in full song but gave us a couple of bursts, to let us know where it was hiding. We could hear that it was moving away along the hedge, then suddenly it flicked up out of the bushes and darted across the road, fanning its rusty orange tail and flashing it at us as it dived into the hedge the other side.

After a minute of two, the Nightingale started singing again further up. We followed the sound and stood listening to it, such a magical song, before it darted back across the road again. It worked its way back along the hedge past us, deep in cover, singing on and off as it went. Then we decided to leave it in peace.

As we walked back towards the car, we could hear a delicate tacking call, more of a tutting, ‘tsk, tsk’, coming from a hawthorn bush beside the road. It was a Lesser Whitethroat, the call notably softer than a Blackcap, but it was hiding deep on the other side of the hedge from us. We stood patiently for a minute or so and gradually it worked its way up higher, to where we could see it. Almost back to the car, and a Red Kite drifted leisurely up the valley past us.

The forecast had suggested it would brighten up quickly this morning, but that wasn’t the case and it had remained stubbornly cool and cloudy so far. We decided we would head on up to the Heath anyway. As we walked up along the path, we could hear Willow Warblers singing. A Woodlark flew overhead, looking strikingly short-tailed. As we crossed the road, a Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the trees.

We made our way down to where one of the pairs of Dartford Warblers have been. A couple of days ago they were feeding newly fledged youngsters here, so the likelihood is that they shouldn’t have gone far. But we couldn’t find them today in any of the likely spots.

There were lots of other birds to see here. A Woodlark flew across and disturbed a male Stonechat from the top of a dead tree, before dropping down into the grass. We walked over to see if we could find it again, but the vegetation was a bit tall. There was a pair of Stonechats perched on the tops of some low gorse bushes and a streaky juvenile Stonechat appeared with them. The Stonechat we had seen knocked off its perch was nearby, a second male, a paler interloper. When it flew back up to the top of the dead tree, it joined a smart male Yellowhammer up there now, with a lovely bright yellow head. Lots of Linnets were twittering from the gorse, including some increasingly bright red-breasted males.

6O0A3160Linnet – there are lots on the Heath, including several smart red males

We walked round some other likely areas, listening for the calls of the young Dartford Warblers. We couldn’t hear them anywhere, but we did hear a most unexpected sound. A Nightjar started churring, in the middle of the day! The Heath is a good place for Nightjars, but they generally don’t make a sound until dusk.

Round in a new clearing, a couple of Mistle Thrushes were feeding amongst the fallen branches and grass, before a passing walker flushed them and they flew into the top of a low pine tree. We could hear Willow Warblers all over the Heath and eventually we found one singing from the top of a birch tree. We got it in the scope, noting the long wings, pale legs and well-marked, lemon-yellow washed supercilium, all good features to help distinguish Willow Warbler from the very similar Chiffchaff.

IMG_4326Willow Warbler – singing from the top of a birch tree

The family of Dartford Warblers were nowhere to be found, so we decided to move on and try to find another pair. The next ones we tried have been much harder to see in recent days but as we stood quietly in one of their favoured areas, the male Dartford Warbler hopped up onto a low gorse bush in front of us. As we watched him flitting between the gorse and heather, the duller female appeared with him. We got them in the scope and had a great look at them.

6O0A3051Dartford Warbler – this photo of one taken previously here

After watching the Dartford Warblers for some time, enjoying some great prolonged views, we eventually tore ourselves away and headed back to the car for lunch. While we ate, a Turtle Dove flew over the car park and disappeared off towards the trees. A Sparrowhawk circled up above us, gaining height before flying off over the ridge, bursts of rapid flapping interspersed with glides in typical Sparrowhawk fashion.

Our next stop was at Felbrigg Park, where we walked down through the trees towards the lake. We stopped to scan the flooded grazing meadow on the way. A couple of Egyptian Geese were asleep in the grass, with a pair of Greylags and a pair of Canada Geese nearby too. A Lapwing was feeding on the edge of the shallow water. There was no sign of the Garganey here at this point, but it has been on the lake more often recently so we figured it must be there.

More excitement here was provided by a battle between a male Pheasant and a pair of Moorhens. The Pheasant was clearly feeling confident, having just seen off a rival, when the Moorhens attacked, presumably having a nest nearby, raising their winds to make themselves look as big as possible. One of the Moorhens lunged repeatedly at it, flapping its wings and striking it with its feet. Eventually the Pheasant saw sense and retreated.

6O0A3168Pheasant vs Moorhens – the Moorhens won!

As we continued along the path a small bird flew out of a hawthorn bush in front of us and across the path. As it flew in front of us, we could see a bright orange tail – it was a stunning male Redstart! It darted into a clump of gorse the other side and we could just see it perched for a couple of seconds – white forehead, black face and bright orange underneath – before it dropped down out of view. Redstarts used to breed at Felbrigg but have not done so for several years and these days they are just very occasional visitors, so this was a particularly nice surprise.

We made our way down to the lake and the first thing we noticed was a drake Mandarin. Rather than being out on the water it had chosen a particularly odd place to go to sleep, on a rather thin bare branch hanging out across the water. There were a few other ducks here too – a pair each of Tufted Ducks and Gadwall, and several Mallard and their domesticated cousins. But there was no sign of the Garganey on here either.

IMG_4336Mandarin Duck – sleeping on a rather narrow branch out over the water

A couple of Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds and a male Reed Bunting perched up on the top of a bulrush. Along the edge of the reeds, we could see a Sedge Warbler clambering around just above the water’s surface.

As we walked across the grass beside the lake, a Mistle Thrush dropped down in front of us, where a recently fledged juvenile Mistle Thrush was waiting for it. The youngster was presented with a rather large worm, which it didn’t seem interested in. The trees round the other side were rather quiet, apart from a Nuthatch piping away from deep in the wood, so we walked back round towards the water meadow.

IMG_4340Mistle Thrush – a pair were feeding a recently fledged juvenile in the grass

Back there, we bumped into a local birder who told us that he had just seen the Garganey. After some careful searching, and with his help, we finally located it hiding in the vegetation. It was feeding, pulling at the plants in the water, but all we could see at first was its head appearing occasionally out of the greenery, a lovely rich reddish brown with a striking white stripe across it, a cracking drake.

Then the Garganey did the decent thing and swam out into full view. They are stunning little ducks, beautifully patterned. It started calling, a funny croaking rattle, and bobbing its head up and down. When it swam over to the other side, one of the local Coots started chasing it. Initially it climbed out onto the bank and sat down for a few seconds. When it tried to go back into the water the Coot was after it again and eventually it decided it had had enough and flew off towards the lake.

IMG_4360Garganey – the stunning drake at Felbrigg still

We made our way back to the car and headed back down towards the coast. We didn’t have much time left, but had a look at a few spots along the way. A Hobby powered out of some trees and circled up beside the road. We managed to follow it, slowly in the car, and suddenly it started twisting and turning. When we pulled up we could see it was chasing a Swift. A second Hobby appeared with it and the two of them chased the Swift away and out of view.

As we passed the duck pond at Salthouse, we could see a few Tufted Ducks but one of them was noticeably duller, with grey-brown stained flanks rather than the pure white of a normal male. On closer inspection, it had a chestnut tone to its dark breast and a dark chestnut face and crown contrasting with a green-glossed back of its head. The crest was also not long enough for a Tufted Duck.

6O0A3188Tufted Duck x Ferruginous Duck hybrid – has been hanging around for several days

This bird has been around here for a couple of days now and appears to be a Tufted Duck x Ferruginous Duck hybrid. Who knows where it might have come from, but the 2013 storm surge here on the coast set free several captive ducks from the collection at Blakeney, so perhaps we are now seeing the results of that. There have been several odd ducks along the coast here in recent weeks.

There are always lots of people feeding the ducks at Salthouse and lots of food remains lying around on the ground at the end of the day. The local Brown Rats have obviously learnt to take advantage of the free food too!

6O0A3193Brown Rat – eating the leftover food at the duck pond

A quick scan of the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh didn’t reveal anything of note, although a Little Grebe was on Snipe’s Marsh the other side of the road. Then unfortunately it was time for us to head back to Wells.

28th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 2

Day 2 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. The fog first thing burnt off before we met up and a nice morning was in prospect with sunny intervals and lighter winds. We made our way back east and slightly inland, to the Glaven Valley for our first stop of the day.

A Song Thrush was singing as we got out of the car and a Chiffchaff was flitting around in the branches above our heads. As we walked up the lane, a variety of different warblers were singing. A Sedge Warbler was pouring out its scratchy song from the reeds in the meadow beyond and performed a short song flight. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the hedge. A Blackcap sang from the bushes.

6O0A1328Chiffchaff – lots of warblers were singing from the hedges this morning

A little further along and we noticed some movement low down in the hedge beside the land. As we watched carefully, out popped a pair of Lesser Whitethroats. They were rather grey over all, clean grey headed and grey-brown on the back, with a white throat and rather whitish underparts – neat little birds. They can be rather skulking so it was great to see them out in the open. Then a bit further still and we heard a Common Whitethroat singing, which also perched up nicely for us. We could see its rusty brown wings, browner back and white throat contrasting with buffy-pinkish breast. It was nice to see the two species like this in quick succession.

We had hoped to find a Cuckoo along here at least, but there was no sound of it so we turned to walk back. We had only gone a few yards when it started up from across the meadows back from where we had been standing. It seemed to be taunting us, because when we got back there again it promptly stopped! Still it is always nice to hear a Cuckoo in the spring. A Brown Hare sat up in the sunshine along the edge of one of the fields.

6O0A1332Brown Hare – enjoying the morning sunshine

On the way back to the car, we could hear a Treecreeper in the trees and then picked it up climbing straight up a tree trunk. A Goldcrest was also singing but was tucked deep in cover. A Sparrowhawk circled up in the distance, high into the sky, before folding its wings in and plummeting vertically back down. A Yellowhammer flew over calling.

As we came out of the trees by the meadow, we could see a Barn Owl out hunting. It flew round over the grass, focused intently on the ground below. It came straight towards us and looked like it would come past, but seemed to notice us standing by the road and turned away again. It dropped down into the grass at one point, but came up empty talonned, before working its way over to the back and disappearing from view.

6O0A1342Barn Owl – out hunting in the middle of the morning

With the weather starting to warm up nicely, we made our way over to one of the heaths. Despite the improvement in conditions, it was still rather quiet at first as we walked round, and we couldn’t find any Dartford Warblers. There were still large patches of hailstones from last night on the ground along the edge of the patches of gorse, so it was still cold down at ground level. We eventually heard a Willow Warbler singing from the birches.

We decided to see if any Adders were still trying to warm themselves up this morning, so we headed over to a favourite spot. We hadn’t been looking long when one slithered away into the undergrowth as we approached. But a second Adder was still curled up on the ground and we managed to get a great look at it before it too slid off into the heather. We thought that was it, but one of them returned almost immediately, back to the sunny edge, and headed straight for one of the group’s boots, before seeing us and freezing, less than a foot away! Both the two on the edge were silvery-grey and black males, but when the second one disappeared into the heather, we could see him together with a much bigger, browner female. It is always a real privilege to see these increasingly scarce reptiles up close like this.

6O0A1356Adder – this male slithered right up to someone’s boot!

6O0A1365Adders – a male and female down in the heather

A pair of Bullfinches were calling from the trees and the odd Chiffchaff was singing now, but otherwise there were not many birds in this corner of the Heath. However, it felt like it was definitely warming up a little, so we made our way back to where the Dartford Warblers should have been. As we rounded the corner, we spotted a pair of Stonechats on the top of the heather on one side of the path. We were just discussing how Dartford Warblers will often follow the Stonechats around when a pair of Dartford Warblers appeared on the gorse on the other side of the path and promptly flew across to join them!

We followed them for a while. The Stonechats were easy to follow, perching on top of the bushes, but the Dartford Warblers were harder to see. We had views of them in flight and quick glimpses of them in the heather before finally the male decided to start singing and perched right up in the top of a gorse bush for a few seconds. That was more like it!

6O0A1373Stonechat –  a pair on the Heath were followed by a pair of Dartford Warblers

We were originally intending to spend a little time exploring the rest of the Heath, but the news came through that the Wryneck had reappeared in someone’s garden back at Cley. With such fresh news, we couldn’t resist another go at seeing it – they are such fantastic birds to see – so we made our way straight over there.

When we arrived, we were told the Wryneck was on a lawn and the owners of one of the houses were letting people in to watch it – luckily they were birders (thanks, Trevor & Gill)! There were several people leaving as we arrived and after taking our boots off and going upstairs to the landing window, we could see the Wryneck down on their neighbours’ lawn. It hopped over to the rockery and had a good look for any ants among the stones. We had a great look at it, the intricate markings of its feathers, before it suddenly flew up and round the other side of the house. We had arrived just in time (and it wasn’t seen again today, as far was we are aware). We made our donations to the charity collection before bidding our farewells and thanks.

IMG_3056Wryneck – here’s a photo and video of it from Tuesday

Back at the car, we were just loading up when a Cetti’s Warbler flew across between the bushes on the other side of the road. It landed briefly in the top of the clump of brambles where we could see it, before dropping back into cover. Then it was over to the visitor centre at Cley for lunch. It was so nice today, we even managed to make use of one of the picnic tables outside. We were glad we did, because several Swifts flew overhead while we ate. There were also loads of hirundines hawking for insects over the reserve this afternoon – Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins – the most we have seen this year.

After lunch, we had a quick look at the Eye Field. There had apparently been several Yellow Wagtails flying west this morning, and we thought some might have landed here. As it was, there weren’t any there although we did hear one overhead. The pools on the edge of the Eye Field did produce a nice White Wagtail and a female Wheatear was on the grass behind. There were lots of Brent Geese preening and bathing on North Scrape. When we got back to the car, another Yellow Wagtail flew over going the other way and this one we saw as it went past.

We had planned to work our way back from Salthouse to the East Bank this afternoon, but as we drove past the latter we caught sight of a large white bird out on the far end of the Serpentine – a Spoonbill. So we parked here and walked out to get a better look at it. It was feeding in the pools at first, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water as it walked. Then it came out onto the bank and started preening, so we could get a great look at it. It was a smart adult, with yellow-tipped bill, in breeding plumage with floppy crest and a yellowy-brown wash on its breast.

6O0A1185Spoonbill – this one taken here a couple of days ago

Looking back the other way, we saw a second Spoonbill emerge from one of the water-filled channels. Then the first took off and flew away to the west, before the second did the same a couple of minutes later, that one flying right past us as it did so.

6O0A1389Spoonbill – this one flew straight past us today

There was a nice selection of waders and ducks out on the grazing marshes here. As we scanned across, we could see several male Ruff of many different colour combinations. A little group of Dunlin was feeding on the muddy grass, many sporting black bellies now, along with a single Ringed Plover. We eventually managed to find a Little Ringed Plover too, extremely well camouflaged against the dry mud bank it was on.

6O0A1226Ruff – the males come in a bewildering variety of colours now

There are always lots of Lapwings and Redshank out here at this time of year, as this is where they breed. We were treated to quite a display from two Lapwings which chased and tumbled in the sky for several minutes this afternoon.

6O0A1387Lapwings – displaying over the grazing marshes

Even though most of them have long since departed on their way back to Russia for the breeding season, there are still a few lingering Wigeon here. On the other side of the bank, a Sedge Warbler was singing away very noisily but when it paused for breath we could hear a Reed Warbler singing too. It was good to listen to the two songs almost simultaneously, to really hear the differences between them. A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds beyond. Arnold’s Marsh is rather full of water at the moment, so a quick visit here didn’t add too much to the day’s list, beyond a better view of a Turnstone and a couple more Ringed Plovers.

We stopped at the Iron Road next. We were just explaining that this is a good place to look for Whimbrel when we found two in the field right next to us. We got out to have a better look at them, and although we spooked them they landed again only a little further over. We got them in the scope, so we could really see their prominent crown stripes.

IMG_3314Whimbrel – like a small, short-billed Curlew

Scanning the rest of the field, we found two Curlew in here as well. Even better, they walked over to join the two Whimbrel, giving us a great side-by-side comparison. As well as the different head pattern, the Whimbrel were noticeably smaller, slimmer, darker, with a much shorter bill.

6O0A1397Whimbrel & Curlew – gave us a great side-by-side comparison

A quick stop down at Beach Road in Salthouse next did not produce the hoped for Yellow Wagtails on the ground, but did hold at least three Wheatears, including a particularly smart male not to far from the road.

6O0A1403Wheatear – a very smart male at Salthouse

Our final destination of the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, a male Marsh Harrier flew across the field opposite. It had clouded over now, and we caught the very edge of a thankfully brief shower as it passed over us before we set off. Possibly as a consequence, it was a little quiet on the way out to the Fen this afternoon. A Kingfisher flying up low along the river was only heard.

From up on the seawall, we could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits out on the Fen and a couple in the channel down on the other side. We had intended to have a look at the Fen first, but with another shower blowing towards us, we elected to have a look at the harbour first.

There are lots of Brent Geese still out in the harbour – they should be on their way back towards Russia too soon. As well as many more Black-tailed Godwits, we found a few Grey Plover and Turnstone, plus a handful of Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plover, but it was not the best time to be searching for waders here, with the tide at its lowest. Three Red-breasted Mergansers were distant out in the harbour, with lots of seals pulled up on the sandbars just beyond them.

6O0A1410Brent Goose – there are lots still out in the harbour

About fifty Sandwich Terns were in a little group down in the bottom of the ‘Pit’. There are meant to be over 2,000 of them back now, so most had obviously gone on a day trip somewhere else today. While we were standing admiring the harbour, a couple each of Swifts and House Martins flew west low overhead.

We walked back to the Fen, but even though the weather had now improved a bit, we couldn’t see a lot more on here. A Common Snipe was feeding along the edge of the reeds and a single Little Ringed Plover was on one of the islands. As we turned to leave, we picked up two adult Mediterranean Gulls flying past over the saltmarsh.

Then it was time to head for home, with the added bonus of a Red Kite which drifted across the road ahead of us on the way back.

23rd April 2016 – Migrants & More, Day 2

Day 2 of a long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. This time we headed east along the coast, starting the day with our first stop at Kelling.

As we walked down along the track to the Water Meadow, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the dense blackthorn. We could just see it hopping around in the branches as it sang. Down by the copse, a Chiffchaff was singing too. We had good views of that as it sang in a small tree and a second Chiffchaff flew back and forth across the path at the same time.

We got down to the gate overlooking the Water Meadow and could feel the cold and blustery north wind in our faces. A Brown Hare was hunkered down on the edge of the grass in the shelter of a dense clump of rushes. At this point, we could see dark shower cloud approaching, so we too shelter behind the hedge. Thankfully, it quickly passed over us on the breeze.

Looking over the brambles, across to the field the other side, we could see a Ring Ouzel out on the short grass. We got it in the scope and could see its white gorget. A second Ring Ouzel appeared nearby. A female Wheatear appeared in the same field. There are quite a few Common Whitethroat which have arrived in the last few days and there were lots around Kelling now. One particularly obliging individual landed in the brambles beside us singing. It proceeded to song flight, hovering above our heads at one point, and perching on various bushes.

6O0A0661Common Whitethroat – this one performed very well right next to us

There were a few ducks out on the pool. Several Shoveler were swimming round in circles with their heads under the water feeding. Three Teal were hiding down in the vegetation on the near bank. The pair of Egyptian Geese still have four goslings so far, and they are growing steadily now. There were a couple of Avocet on here too. From round the other side, we could see a single Common Snipe. It was extremely well camouflaged, sitting tight up against the rushes, and very hard to see until it finally moved out a little.

As it brightened up a little, first a Swallow appeared, zooming back and forth low over the path, and then several Sand Martins. They all began to hawk for insects low over the water.

It looked like the Ring Ouzels might be showing much closer from the path over the other side, but by the time we got round there they had been flushed by several people standing by the edge of the field and flown to the hedge further down along the Water Meadow. We could see them perched up in the top of a bush briefly, before they dropped down out of view. We contented ourselves with watching a nice pair of Stonechats instead as they fed from the fenceposts or small dead thistles out in the field.

IMG_2849Stonechat – a pair were feeding in the corner of the field

We had a quick walk down past the Quag and up the hillside beyond. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling, but didn’t stop and headed straight on west. A Sedge Warbler was singing from deep in the bushes. A Little Egret was tucked down in a ditch, resembling a piece of white wind-blown rubbish until it flew off. A male Pied Wagtail was displaying to a female on the edge of one of the small pools.

We flushed several Linnets and Meadow Pipits from the grass and bushes as we walked along and a smart male Reed Bunting was feeding down on the shorter turf in a dune slack. It was a bit too exposed up on the ridge here, and we could see another squally shower cloud coming in off the sea, so we turned round and made our way back.

There was still no sign of the Ring Ouzels in their favoured corner as we walked past, but from the other side of the Water Meadow we could see one distantly again in a bramble clump and it dropped back down onto the edge of the field once more. Then we headed back to the car.

IMG_2852Ring Ouzel – in the field behind the Water Meadow

In between the showers, there were now some increasingly bright intervals, so we thought it might be worth a quick look up on the Heath, in some of the more sheltered spots. When we got there, it seemed rather quiet, despite being warm in places out of the wind. We had a quick walk round  – the highlight was a single Adder slithering away into a tussock from the bank where it had been basking out of the wind. A couple of Buzzards circled high overhead. A Lesser Redpoll flew over, calling. A pair of Bullfinches were piping from the bushes by the car park. A Goldcrest was feeding up in a pine tree and a Willow Warbler was singing from the birches.

We moved swiftly on and made our way down to Cley for lunch. There were several people milling around in the car park as a Wryneck had been reported earlier, but it had not been seen by anyone after the first sighting. Just as most of the group headed into the visitor centre to make use of the facilities, a Hobby zipped overhead and stooped down after a couple of Meadow Pipits in the fields beyond, before disappearing over the hill behind North Foreland wood.

After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling from the bushes and actually perched up in full view for a few seconds, before flying across the road and disappearing into cover again. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the top of the brambles but launched itself into song flight just as we got the scope onto it. A Water Rail squealed from out in the reeds.

As we settled into Teal Hide, we could see a nice selection of waders out on the scrape just in front. We were just working our way through them in turn, when we were distracted by a very smart black, summer plumage Spotted Redshank just behind them, so we had a good look at that first. There were also several Common Redshanks around for comparison and we had a good view of one in its rather more subtle summer plumage and one in winter still, side by side.

IMG_2890Spotted Redshank – looking very smart in summer plumage

There were a couple of Ruff in front of the hide, both gradually moulting into their own summer plumage. Though yet to develop their characteristic ruffs, they were already looking rather different – one still rather grey-brown with black speckles and the chestnut headed with black bars. Ruff are the most variable wader in appearance.

IMG_2874

IMG_2918Ruffs – two rather different moutling males

There were plenty of Avocets on here, as usual, and we watched one feeding right in front of the hide, sweeping its bill from side to side through the top of the mud.

6O0A0681Avocet – this one was feeding in front of the hide

There is no shortage of Black-tailed Godwits at Cley either. Many are now also in summer plumage, with a striking rusty-orange head and breast. One particularly smart individual was feeding just in front of Dauke’s Hide when we got round there – it looked stunning when the sun came out. There were also about a dozen Dunlin on Simmond’s Scrape, one of which had already starting developing its summer black belly.

IMG_2934Black-tailed Godwit – a stunning summer-plumaged individual

There are not so many ducks on the reserve now, with many having departed after the winter. A single drake Wigeon dropped in to Pat’s Pool at one point and a female Shoveler in the ditch in front of the hides was noted for its enormous shovel of a bill. A single male Marsh Harrier quartered over the reedbed at the back, in the wind.

6O0A0695Shoveler – this female was showing off her enormous bill

As the weather seemed to have improved a little, we decided to brave a walk round to the East Bank. We were almost round there when we heard a Whimbrel calling and looked up to see two flying away over the fields beyond. They appeared to be dropping down and from up on the Bank we could see them distantly out on the grass.

It is not normally advisable to go looking for Bearded Tits in the wind, as they generally stay well down in the reeds on days like this. So we were pleased initially just to hear a couple ‘pinging’ and get a glimpse of them zipping across and dropping back into the reeds. They appeared to have gone down into a channel through the reeds, so we walked along a short way to where we could look down along it from the Bank. There, down on a reed stem by the water, was a stunning male Bearded Tit. A female appeared too, and we watched the two of them creeping around in the reeds.

6O0A0710Bearded Tit – a stunning male, a nice surprise on a windy day

They disappeared out of view a couple of times, but kept coming back to the edge and worked their way right down towards us. Great stuff! Eventually, they just melted into the reeds.

There were three Little Ringed Plovers out on Pope’s Marsh and at first they wouldn’t settle, but kept flying round displaying. Eventually they all landed together. It appeared there might be two males, because they puffed their chests out and stood posturing at each other, while the third looked on. The Lapwings nest out on the grazing marshes here and they are now very aggressive, chasing after Crows, Redshanks, and even other Lapwings. There was also yet another differently coloured Ruff out on the Serpentine, this one with a pure white head.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, there didn’t seem to be so many waders at first today. What was there were mostly Avocet and Redshank. A careful scan revealed a couple of Ringed Plovers out on the islands at the back and a Curlew was asleep out there too. There had been lots of Dunlin out here earlier in the week, and after a while a large flock flew in from the direction of the beach and proceeded to whirl round over the water, alternately flashing dull grey upperparts and bright white underneath.

We had seen a little group of four Sandwich Terns disappearing out over the shingle bank as we arrived, but standing in the new shelter here we heard more coming. Several singles or small groups flew in from the east, presumably having been out fishing further along the coast, and they continued straight overhead, back towards Blakeney Point.

6O0A0719Sandwich Tern – several flew west this afternoon

Then it was time to call it a day and head for home. We walked back with the sun shining – it was glorious now out here, even if it was still cool in the wind. We were almost back to the visitor centre when we stopped on the path to join someone waiting for the Water Voles to appear. We didn’t have to wait long – first one swam across to the other side, then a different one swam straight towards us. A lovely way to finish the day.

6O0A0724Water Vole – several were in the ditch