Tag Archives: Kingfisher

30th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KingfisherKingfisher – hovering over the reeds

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

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

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

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

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – a stripy faced juvenile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18th Sept 2016 – Migrants Arriving

An Autumn Migration Tour today. The gusty north wind of the last couple of days had dropped and the cloud of the morning even gave way to some sunny intervals in the afternoon. We met at Cley and started the day out on the reserve.

Lots of ducks and geese have been arriving for the winter over the last few days. As we walked out to the hides, a large flock of Wigeon flew in from the direction of the sea. They circled over the reserve several times, looking for a place to land, possibly fresh in from their Russian breeding grounds. A few dropped down, but most of the flock flew on west. We could see a Marsh Harrier flying across low over the reeds but when we positioned ourselves to get a better view of it, it dropped down out of view.

6o0a1357Wigeon – this flock was probably just arriving from Russia

Teal Hide was our first stop. Appropriately enough, as we opened the shutters, a single (Eurasian) Teal was in the ditch right in front of the hide. With two visitors from Canada in the group today, we discussed the various differences between the species found in North America and Europe and how the changing definition of what makes a ‘species’ had resulted in the separation of the Old World and New World forms of some birds in recent years.

6o0a1362(Eurasian) Teal – in the ditch in front of Teal Hide this morning

With wildfowl arriving from the continent now, it was perhaps no surprise that Pat’s Pool was full of ducks. Unfortunately, they are not looking their best at the moment, with the drakes mostly in eclipse plumage. A Shoveler was swimming around in front of the hide with its head in the water, shovelling. There are plenty of Wigeon in on the reserve already now and lots of Teal as well.

There were a few waders too. We had a look at the flocks of Black-tailed Godwits. Most were asleep, perched on one leg, but a few further back were awake and feeding. Almost all of the Ruff are now in winter plumage – grey-brown above and off white below – but one was confusingly still in partial summer plumage, with lots of black feathering on its belly. A group of six small Dunlin worked their way round to the front of the scrape – digging their bills into the mud rapidly, like a sewing machine. A few Golden Plover dropped in onto one of the islands. A single Common Snipe was hiding in the wet grass, but helpfully came out into the open where we could get a good look at it.

The waders seemed very skittish today, and kept flying round at the slightest provocation. Lots of raptors learn that this is a good place to find a meal, which keeps the other birds on their toes. Looking out across the reedbed, a Peregrine flew inland from the beach over the back of the reeds, and started circling over Walsey Hills, at which point it was promptly mobbed by several of the local Rooks.

The three Greenshank we had seen from Teal Hide had flown off by the time we made our way round to Dauke’s Hide. But still, there was an impressive number of waders on Simmond’s Scrape. There were at least 100 Dunlin on here today, mostly juveniles with black speckled bellies. Around the edges, we also found nine diminutive Little Stints, an impressive number of this rarer passage wader, as well as seven Ringed Plover and two Knot. There was a lone Curlew out on Simmond’s today too. At one point, when the smaller waders were all spooked and flew round, they landed around the Curlew and we were presented with Little Stint next to Curlew – the largest of our regular waders together with our smallest, little and large!!

img_6987Little Stint – an impressive 9 were on Simmond’s Scrape

On the short grass around the edge of the scrape, a couple of Wheatears were feeding, the first of several we would see today. At one point, they flew up and landed on the gatepost out from the hide where we could get a good look at them. Then a Sparrowhawk flew in, flushing everything, and landed on one of the islands. It did push a Green Sandpiper out of hiding, which flew over and seemed to drop down on Whitwell Scrape. However, when we got round there, there was no sign of it. Three Little Egrets were feeding out on Cricket Marsh beyond though.

We decided to make our way back to the visitor centre for coffee. As we walked back, a flock of six Pink-footed Geese flew over, also probably freshly arrived for the coming winter, in their case from their breeding grounds in Iceland. They didn’t stop, but carried on west.

After a short break, we drove along to the Iron Road. The muddy pools here have been good at times  in recent weeks, but there were no waders at all on there today. Looking out towards the shingle ridge and the sea, we could see a small group of six Brent Goose flying in. A flock of four Pintail flew overhead, probably also fresh in. They looked to land on Watling Water but seemed nervous and kept whirling round again rather than dropping down to the water.

6o0a1369Pintail – these four were probably more fresh arrivals

The walk round to Babcock Hide produced another Wheatear, this one much closer, hopping around on the short grassy field in front of us, showing off its sandy orange breast in the sunshine. Further over, we could see several Egyptian Geese in with the Greylags and Canada Geese which all gather her.

6o0a1382Wheatear – feeding on the grazing marshes on the way to Babcock Hide

The water level of Watling Water has increased again after the recent rain, so there were fewer waders on here than recently. A Green Sandpiper was sleeping on one of the islands, back on and flashing its mostly white rear end. We got a smart juvenile Ruff in the scope. Three Curlews dropped in for a bathe and preen.

However, we were more fascinated by the antics of the Mute Swans. A couple of immature birds, with dull orange bills, had landed out on the shallow water. The local pair decided to see them off and the male (cob) set off after one of them, with wings raised. The intruder simply walked away, eventually climbing up onto the bank, before making a cheeky circle round and straight back onto the water.

More exciting, we could see two Hobbys between the hide and the shingle ridge, hawking for dragonflies low over the reeds. A couple of Little Grebes were diving out in the deeper water. Then it was time to head back to the visitor centre at Cley, where we stopped for lunch.

After lunch, we decided to see if we could see the Red-breasted Flycatcher which has spent the last couple of days just along the coast from here. Breeding in northern and eastern Europe, it is a very scarce visitor to the UK. We parked at Salthouse duck pond and walked along to Meadow Lane. A Reed Bunting flicked up from the path into the bushes beside us. We could see a female Marsh Harrier circling ahead of us, which then flew in our direction, chased by a couple of Rooks.

6o0a1404Reed Bunting – feeding along the path at Salthouse

The Red-breasted Flycatcher had by all accounts been elusive before we got there, but we had a very good but brief view of it flicking around on the near edge of the sallows only a minute after we arrived. We stood and waited for more, and it quickly became clear that it was doing a small circuit through the trees.

While we watched, it was amazing how many other birds came out of such a tiny clump of low trees. Two Willow Warblers, with lemon yellow breasts, two lumbering rusty brown Reed Warblers and even a tiny little Goldcrest.The latter was undoubtedly a migrant and we had earlier been talking about how the smallest British bird, weighing no more than a 20p piece, can make its way over the North Sea to winter here. Amazing!

6o0a1412Willow Warbler – two of these appeared in the sallows

The Red-breasted Flycatcher appeared again at our end of the sallows a couple of times, but did not really show itself – either hiding in amongst the leaves or just flicking out for a second before darting back into the middle of the bushes. We were thinking we might have to content ourselves with our earlier views, when it finally came out to the front and perched in full view for about a minute. It was a first winter Red-breasted Flycatcher, without the red breast which is shown only by the adult male, but a smart bird nonetheless. When it turned and flicked away again, we got a good look at its black tail with white sides.

6o0a1444Red-breasted Flycatcher – perched out nicely for us

As we walked back to the car, two more Mute Swans flew towards us and passed just over our heads. Huge birds and we could almost feel the beating of their wings.

Our final destination of the day was Stiffkey Fen. The path out to the fen is rather overgrown at the moment and it is hard to see over the hedges. Early afternoon, the bushes and trees were a little quiet. A male Kestrel perched up on the wires and pylons by the path. We made our way straight out to the seawall, so we could get a good look at the Fen.

6o0a1459Kestrel – on the wires and pylons by the path at Stiffkey Fen

We had hoped to see some Spoonbills at Stiffkey Fen, but there was no immediate sign of any as we got up onto the seawall. There was a nice selection of ducks, including a good number of Wigeon and several Pintail. In with the large gaggle of Greylags. we could see a couple of white ‘farmyard’ geese and the regular two escapee Bar-headed Geese.

There were plenty of waders too. Several large groups of Black-tailed Godwit were scattered around the Fen. Many were roosting in the shallow water, on one leg with head turned and bill tucked in, but a few were awake enough to give us a good view of their long, straight bills. In with them, we could see several Ruff, including one with a striking white head – even in winter plumage, they are still a very variable wader, a very common source of confusion.

We could hear Greenshank calling and saw one flying in from the direction of the harbour. A large group of Common Redshank were roosting in with the godwits, and several more were feeding out in the channel on the harbour side. We could see all the Seals out on the sand banks beyond the end of Blakeney Point. When we turned back to the Fen, a Spoonbill was just flying off NE, towards the saltmarsh – it must have been hiding out of view behind the reeds. As it came past us, we could see its spoon-shaped bill.

6o0a1461Spoonbill – flew off towards the saltmarsh

We noticed a commotion at the far side of the Fen and turned to see all the waders take off and whirl round. A sleek, streamlined shape scythed through them – a Hobby. It had its eyes fixed firmly on a Dunlin which was desperately flying away  ahead of it. When the Dunlin jinked and turned, the Hobby matched it – amazingly manoeuvrable. Somehow, the Dunlin managed to get away and the Hobby towered up and away towards the harbour.

6o0a1473Hobby – chased a Dunlin from the Fen

The tide was still out, but we made our way round to look in the harbour. Two Oystercatchers were feeding on the mud by the channel, the first we had seen today. We flushed a Wheatear from beside the path, which flew off ahead of us, flashing its white rear. It landed on the path briefly, then flew up onto a post nearby, giving us great views. A little further on, a Linnet perched up on a dead branch in the Suaeda bushes.

6o0a1486Wheatear – feeding on the path on the way out to the harbour

There were lots of gulls roosting out in the harbour, on the dry mud banks, and with them we could see several larger white shapes. Through the scope, we confirmed that they were more Spoonbills. We watched two of them preening – doing themselves first, before preening each other’s head and neck. Two more Spoonbills were feeding in the water just below them.

There were lots more Oystercatchers out in the harbour, but with the tide still out it was hard to see many waders. We did manage to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit, out with the Curlew and Shelduck, and a nice Turnstone feeding on the mud down amongst the boats, turning stones over to look for food underneath. A Grey Heron flew in high over the harbour calling. There are often Grey Herons around here, but the way this one flew in made us think it might be a migrant. There have been lots of migrant Grey Herons arriving here in the last few days.

6o0a1495Grey Heron – possibly a freshly arrived migrant

However, the highlight of our time down by the harbour was the Kingfisher. It was perched on the wires on the edge of the deck of one of the boats moored in the channel. Periodically it would dart down into the shallow water after fish, flashing electric blue as it did so, before flying back up to a different part of the boat. It also perched on the edge of the deck and on the anchor chain. At one point, it seemed to take offense at its own reflection in the window of the boat, and flew at it, but it quickly realised the error of its ways and went back to looking the other way, over the side and down into the water below.

It was a lovely way to finish a very productive day’s birding on the coast – watching the Kingfisher going about its business in the harbour. We made our way back and headed for home.

24th September 2015 – Inland Birding

Day 2 of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. With few new migrants appearing on the coast yesterday, we decided to head inland to try for something different. After heavy rain overnight, it had pretty much cleared through by the morning, though was still cloudy and a bit damp at first. It brightened up nicely during the day, but was still cool in the blustery west wind.

We drove down to the Wensum Valley first. There had been an Osprey here for some days previously, stopping off on its way south to Africa, and we thought it might be a nice way to start the day today. It has been roaming up and down the river, visiting various fishing lakes. Unfortunately there was no sign of it at its favourite site, or any of its usual haunts. A Common Buzzard sat in the tree overlooking the lakes. Behind us, a Kestrel perched in the top of a hawthorn eyeing us curiously.

IMG_1118Kestrel – not the Osprey we had hoped to see this morning

Still, there were lots of other birds to see here. A Kingfisher zipped back and forth across the lake in front of us. A Grey Wagtail flew over – its very sharp call and, once we then saw it, its bounding flight and very long tail gave it away. A short while later, two Grey Wagtails flew back the other way, right over our heads. There were Siskin here as well – part of the huge influx we have seen in recent weeks. A party of twelve flew in calling and landed in the ash tree right in front of us, dropping down to an alder by the lakes, before flying off again.

Three Stock Doves perched up on the wires. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, noting the differences from Woodpigeon – the smaller size, lack of a white neck patch and the glossy green there instead, the black spots in the wings. A flock of Golden Plover circled up distantly above the fields beyond. A few lingering Swallows and House Martins flew over.

There was no shortage of Egyptian Geese here. When we arrived, two were in the Osprey’s favourite dead tree, and they stayed there pretty much throughout. Another very noisy party of eight flew in along the river. It was lovely down by the lakes this morning, but it gradually became clear that there had been no sign of the Osprey all morning. We decided to head on inland.

P1090699Egyptian Geese – flashing their white wing panels as they flew over

From there, we made our way down into the Brecks. The region is well known for the Stone Curlews which breed here and early autumn is a good time to look for large post-breeding flocks which gather in favoured fields at this time of year. We tried one of the best sites for them but unfortunately there was lots of disturbance today, people working in the fields and lots of tractors driving back and forth. We drove around the area to see if we could find them at any other sites, but there was no sign. We did see lots of other farmland birds – big flocks of corvids around the pig fields, coveys of both Grey Partridge and Red-legged Partridge, both flushed by tractors in the fields, flocks of finches and lots of Pied Wagtails.

With the morning getting on, we decided to head further into the Brecks to Lynford Arboretum to try to add some woodland birds to the list. We walked round the top part of the arboretum before lunch. There were lots of birds, but they were hard to see at times in the tops of the trees. It was rather windy and they were keeping to cover today. Coal Tits outnumbered the rest, with little groups feeding in the fir trees, plus Blue and Great Tits. We also saw several Treecreepers, Goldcrests and a couple of Nuthatches.

After lunch, we walked further into the arboretum, down to the lake. There was a Marsh Tit calling as we reached the bridge, but it disappeared into the trees as we walked up. We tried the woodland walk to see if we could find it again, but as we got back to the bridge it was there again, calling. It was particularly windy by the lake and all the birds were proving hard to see. We walked back up through the arboretum again, seeing much the same as we had earlier. We had to get ourselves back up to the coast to finish, but with the report of a Barred Warbler at Kelling and “showing well”, we decided to head that way earlier than planned to try to see it.

The walk along the lane was fairly quiet today – obviously lots of people had been up and down there already. A few Chaffinches were in the hedges. There were still several butterflies out in the sunshine – Speckled Woods and Red Admirals. We had seen a single Southern Hawker among the trees in the car park at Lynford Arboretum over lunch, but most of the dragonflies out today were Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers. While we were walking down the lane at Kelling a single Migrant Hawker landed on the brambles & nettles along the path, giving us a great opportunity to admire it up close.

P1090718Migrant Hawker – enjoying the sun along the lane at Kelling

Out on the water meadow, we could see the regular pair of Egyptian Geese and a smattering of duck – several Teal and three Shoveler, the latter with their heads down constantly in the water, feeding. A lone Curlew was probing in the grass on the edge. A Little Egret was fishing along the north side and a single Grey Heron sat preening in the sunshine in the reeds along the drainage channel on the Quags.

IMG_1130Stonechat – one of the males down at the water meadow

The Barred Warbler had been seen along the hedge between the path and the water meadow, but there had been no further sign of it for a couple of hours by the time we got there. With all the disturbance up and down the lane, it had presumably hidden itself in cover. A party of Stonechat were feeding around the Quags – at least four, two males and two females.  They were very active, flying back and forth between vantage points, dropping down to the ground after prey or flycatching up into the air. It was hard to keep up with them. There were also lots of Linnet and Goldfinch around the Quags.

P1090734Stonechat – a female perched on the dead thistle head along the lane

It was lovely down by the water meadow in the afternoon sunshine, so we stood for a while just in case the main target might show itself again. Lines of gulls were making their way west overhead, presumably heading off to roost, and a few Black-headed Gulls dropped in to bathe. Finally we were out of time and had to make our way back. A Great Spotted Woodpecker perched in the top of one of the fir trees back by the main road, calling, as we left.

20th September 2015 – Water, Water almost Everywhere

Day 3, the final day, of a long weekend of tours today. We made our way east this time, towards Cley. It was another lovely day, a bit hazy on the coast at times, but very pleasant in the sunshine.

The movement of Siskins overhead along the coast has been very much a feature of the past few days and today was no exception. As soon as we got out of the car at Cley, we could hear a small flock calling as they flew west. As we walked out to the hides, a little group of Blue Tits was feeding around the trees.

P1090446Blue Tit – outside the hides at Cley & showing very well

Just as we approached the hides, a Sparrowhawk appeared low over the marshes from the direction of Simmond’s Scrape. Two Dunlin flew off calling as it came over. The Sparrowhawk circled up over the Eye Field and was promptly joined by another which flew in from the direction of the West Bank. There was a big difference between them, the bigger bird an adult female and the much smaller one a browner young male. After a brief circle together, they flew off in different directions.

We thought the Sparrowhawk may have cleared all the waders off the scrapes, even though we hadn’t seen many flying off, but once we got into the hides we found them covered with water. After the rain we had late in the week, the water levels are very high again – not good for small waders. There were just a couple of Greenshank on Simmond’s and the usual crowds of Black-tailed Godwit and a few Ruff on Pat’s Pool. The high water levels are good for ducks, and there were plenty of Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler, but not looking their best at the moment, with the drakes still in eclipse plumage.

A young Marsh Harrier perched up in one of the bushes out in the reedbed, preening. A Sparrowhawk appeared and started to buzz it, presumably one of the ones we had seen earlier, although the harrier looked distinctly disinterested. There was not much else to see here, so we decided to try round the other side of the reserve.

IMG_1020Marsh Harrier – a pale-headed, dark-bodied juvenile

As we drove round towards the beach, a Kingfisher flew up out of the ditch beside the road and disappeared over the grazing marsh. From the beach car park, we walked east along the shingle, pausing to scan the sea as we went. There was a steady stream of Gannets moving east offshore, lots of slaty-grey juveniles and fewer white adults. A few lingering Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore. A little party of three Red-throated Divers flew past and four Common Scoter went the other way. A Guillemot was out on the sea, but it was hard to get in the scope as it was diving constantly.

P1090463Gannets – a white adult following a slaty-grey juvenile

There were a couple of Wheatears out in the Eye Field, flashing their white tails as they flew, and several Skylarks hiding in the long grass. As well as the Siskins, there were a few parties of Meadow Pipits on the move today and a Grey Wagtail came low overhead with one of them as we walked along the beach (one of several we heard overhead today).

We had a quick look at North Scrape but here too the water levels were too high today. Apart from more ducks, there was very little to see, just four Redshank. However, while we were scanning around the scrape, a shape appeared over the water just in front of us – a Short-eared Owl. We noted its stiff-winged flight action as it came past, before gliding away from us towards Eye Field. It circled out over the grass, turning back towards us before dropping down to the ground on Billy’s Wash, out of view. A few of the local Jackdaws and Rooks thought about mobbing it but couldn’t work up the courage, circling above it for a while. A real bonus – Short-eared Owls are mainly winter visitors but there have been several on and off along the coast throughout this year.

P1090454Short-eared Owl – circling over Billy’s Wash

We carried on along the beach as far as the East Bank and had a quick look at Arnold’s Marsh. There was not much of note here either today, lots of Redshank, a flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Curlew and four Dunlin. We heard a Spotted Redshank overhead, flying back and forth over the reserve, presumably struggling to find somewhere where it wanted to settle to feed. The Little Egret was in its usual place on the brackish pools by the path.

P1090469Little Egret – back feeding in its usual place on the brackish pools

We had originally intended to spend more of the morning at Cley, but with the high water levels, we decided to try our luck elsewhere. As we walked back to the car, as well as the steady stream of Gannets, we picked up a flock of wildfowl flying in over the sea. It was a bit of a mixed bag – several each of Wigeon and Teal, a single Pintail at the front and four Brent Geese bringing up the rear. Amazing to think that they were just arriving from the continent, from Scandinavia or further across into Russia.

From Cley, we drove a short distance further east along the coast to Kelling and walked down the lane to the Water Meadow. The hedgerows were full of berries and there were lots of Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches in there too. A large party of Blue Tits came past with a Chiffchaff singing just behind them. Down at the copse, a Goldcrest appeared briefly on the edge of the trees, followed shortly after by a male Blackcap.

The pool on the Water Meadow was also full of water, though there is no way of managing the water level here to get it lower. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese were sleeping on the grass by the edge and a single Dunlin was rooting around in the wet grass beyond.

IMG_1046Stonechat – a smart male in the sunshine

We had really come here looking for chats. Down by the Quags, it didn’t take long for us to locate the local Stonechats. There were at least six of them today, a mixture of adults and moulting juveniles, perching up on the barbed wire fence and dropping down into the field after insects or flycatching from the brambles. Nearby, we found our first Whinchat as well – paler than the Stonechats and with a striking pale supercilium. It was a bit further over, so we decided to walk up the hill to get a better look.

Just around the corner, we almost walked past a Meadow Pipit creeping through the grass right next to the path. It froze as we approached and was next to impossible to see until you knew where it was hiding. Finally, we got too close and it flew up and dropped into the field beyond the fence.

P1090499Meadow Pipit – creeping through the grass by the path

When we got up onto the hill, we couldn’t find the Whinchat among the brambles any more. But walking round to where the Stonechats had been earlier on the fence, it suddenly reappeared and with a second Whinchat too. They were very active, flycatching and flicking between patches of brambles, flashing the white patches in the base of the tail as they went. We managed to get them in the scope, but the Stonechats did not appreciate their presence, and chased the Whinchats off back over the other side of the field.

IMG_1031Whinchat – one of two at Kelling Quags today

We were about to leave when a falcon flew quickly overhead. A Hobby, it flew out over the Quags and circled up. We watched it hawking for insects – when it caught something, it would bring its feet up to its bill to eat it on the wing. Behind us, we heard the roar of an old aircraft engine and turned to see a Spitfire looping and rolling in the sky over towards Weybourne, presumably part of the Holt/Sheringham 1940s weekend. Not the sort of bird we were looking for, and it put on almost as good a display as the Hobby.

On our way back, the Hobby clearly felt it needed to do one more pass and came low over our heads again as we walked back up the lane. We also flushed some Bullfinches from the hedgerow, probably a family party, we could see at least one young bird before they flew back up the lane calling.

P1090501Hobby – hawking for insects overhead

We had our lunch at the picnic tables back at Cley, to the soundtrack of a Water Rail screeching from the reeds just across the road. Afterwards, we made our way back west along the coast road to Stiffkey and walked out along the path to the Fen. Once again, we found it very full of water, to the extent that there was almost nothing left of the islands.

There had been 17 Spoonbills reported here earlier in the morning, but there was no sign of any at first when we got up onto the seawall. With the tide having gone out, they had probably flown out to feed. We heard a Kingfisher calling and turned to see it fly across the saltwater channel and land on the fence by the further sluice. We just had time to get a look at it in the scope before it flew again. It came straight towards us and looked as though it might land on the sluice right next to us, but seemed to notice us at the last minute. It veered away, passing below us in a flash of electric blue, then turned sharply, up over the seawall, round through the bushes and hard right down into the River Stiffkey channel out of view, calling as it went.

We turned back to the Fen, and there suddenly were two Spoonbills. Presumably they had been feeding out of view and had walked back out behind us while we were watching the Kingfisher over the other side. We got them in the scope and could see they were both adults, with yellow tips to their black bills. They stood preening for a while, before one of them started to feed, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side deep in the water.

IMG_1050Spoonbills – these two reappeared while our backs were turned

There was not much else on the Fen, given the high water levels. Mostly Greylag Geese with a few Canada Geese too, and a selection of ducks. The highlight of the latter was several Pintail, though the drakes were in dull eclipse plumage and they were all asleep. There was also a lot of disturbance down here today – dog walkers and cyclists up and down the path, and even several people walking out across the mudflats.

Round at the harbour, we could see lots of Oystercatcher out on the mud. We didn’t count them ourselves, but we were told there were at least 350 by someone who did. There were a few other waders as well – mainly Redshank and Curlew. A group of grey winter Knot were feeding on the edge of one of the channels. We could see several Turnstone way out in the distance, but one was feeding on the edge of the channel in front of us. It was doing just what it should – turning stones over to look for food! A single Grey Plover was on the mud nearby. There were also a good number of Brent Geese out in the harbour again today.

We walked back to the car, pausing briefly to look at Stiffkey Fen again, where an extra Spoonbill had now joined the two adults, this one a juvenile with fleshy bill lacking a yellow tip. Then we drove a short distance back further west to the other side of Stiffkey and parked down at the end of Greenway.  There were lots of cars in the car park and several people staring out at the saltmarsh, but we set off to walk west towards Warham Greens. It was all rather quiet bird-wise at first, possibly not a surprise given the number of dogwalkers, cyclists and people out for a Sunday stroll along the path, as well as the odd blackberry picker lurking in the hedges.

Just past the whirligig, we flushed a Greenshank from the edge of the saltmarsh. A little mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits made its way along the hedge beside us. Then, on the top of one of the hay bales by the path, we noticed a Wheatear. It had found itself a good vantage point and kept dropping down into the grass to feed before returning to its perch.

IMG_1065Wheatear – looking for food from the top of a hay bale

Then we picked up a lone Spoonbill feeding out on the saltmarsh. A second bird flew in from the east and dropped down nearby. Then we saw another two flying in as well. We could see them walking across the islands of vegetation before dropping down into the muddy pools to feed.

A Hen Harrier had been reported here earlier and we had hoped that we might bump into it ourselves, but it seemed like it was not to be. However, we were just about to turn round to head back, when we spotted a shape hunting low over the saltmarsh near East Hills. We got it in the scope and it was indeed the Hen Harrier, a ringtail. We got it in the scope and could see the characteristic white square at the base of the tail. It quartered low over the saltmarsh for a while before it dropped down out of view.

That seemed like a great day to wrap up the day, so we started to make our way back. Suddenly there seemed to be more life about. A Yellowhammer called from the top of the hawthorns by the path. A Brown Hare sat up in the field catching the afternoon sun. We had expected to see a Whimbrel out on the saltmarsh earlier, but we were almost back to the car when one finally flew up and past us close by. A nice way to end, then it was time to call it a day.

P1090508Brown Hare – sunning itself in the late afternoon light

2nd September 2015 – September Spectacular

A Wader Spectacular tour today. It was an early start, to get up to the Wash in time for the high tide, but it is always well worth it. The weather was kind to us as well, after all the recent rain, with patchy cloud and even some sunny intervals in the morning, and only a couple of brief light showers in the afternoon.

On our way to Snettisham, we stopped to look at a line of pigeons perched on some wires. Amongst the larger, fatter Woodpigeons were several smaller doves. A quick scan through revealed that, as well as a couple of the ubiquitous Collared Doves, there were two more delicate Turtle Doves. We could just make out their rusty scalloped upperparts as they sat preening in the morning light.

P1080436Turtle Dove – small & delicately built compared to the nearby Woodpigeon

Even before we got to the seawall at Snettisham, we could see a huge flock of waders take to the air. From the edge of the Wash we could see a vast cloud whirling around over the water in the distance. Something had obviously just flushed them. They settled again but further away. No problem today – the tide was going to be a high one and they would eventually be forced back towards us.

There were still little groups of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers feeding on the closest mud by the seawall. Scanning through them, we found our first Little Stint of the day. Smaller and shorter-billed than the Dunlin, the Little Stint was also clearly much brighter white below, lacking the Dunlin‘s dark belly markings. We got a good look at it but it was hard to get the scope onto it, as the birds were feeding fast, moving rapidly ahead of the fast rising tide.

IMG_0271Little Stint – our first of the day, with Dunlin and Ringed Plover on the mud

The Oystercatchers had not been so easily spooked as the other waders and were still gathered together on the mud from the seawall. As the tide rose, we could see the flock shuffling, the birds moving across the mud ahead of the incoming water. It was amazing to watch, the Oystercatchers all appearing synchronised so the flock appeared to flow across the mud.

P1080469Oystercatchers – still packed in a tight flock out from the seawall

They clearly knew what was coming because, even before the tide got too high, the Oystercatchers started to take off and fly over the bank in front of us and onto the old gravel pits. We watched them peel off in large groups and drop down again the other side.

P1080474P1080493Oystercatchers – some of the first waders to fly over to the pits

With the sun rising behind us, between breaking clouds, it made for a stunning backdrop against which to watch the birds all flying inland.

P1080487Oystercatchers – amongst the broken clouds

As the tide rose ever higher, the amount of exposed mud became ever smaller. Many of the waders are very reluctant to leave and so the birds squeezed themselves into the decreasing space. The flocks of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit which had gone out across the Wash returned and joined the ever growing throng.

P1080497Waders – concentrated onto the ever smaller area of exposed mud

Eventually, the birds were forced into the air. Small groups were peeling off all the time and flying overhead, in to the pits to roost over the high tide. Finally, the whole flock took off, thousands upon thousands, tens of thousands of birds, all in the air at once. They came over the top of us – amazing to hear the sound of all those wings beating. A truly stunning sight.

P1080522 P1080529 P1080557 P1080561 P1080572 P1080580Waders – finally the whole flock took to the air and flew overhead

Once the mud had been pretty much emptied by this vast eruption of birds, we headed for the hides which overlook the pits. Many of the birds headed inland to roost on the fields, but there were still some huge groups of birds packed onto the islands. This is where they roost over the high tide, before they can get back out to the Wash and resume feeding once the water drops again.

P1080611The waders left the Wash to roost on islands on the old gravel pits

P1080648Knot – here a huge flock is packed tightly onto one small island

While the birds spend a lot of time sleeping, they are easily spooked into taking flight again. Many times today huge flocks burst up from where they were roosting and whirled round over the pits in tightly packed groups, before landing back down on the islands.

P1080629 P1080640 The waders whirled round over the pits and landed back on the islands

Sometimes, when the flocks were spooked into flight, small groups would fly back out towards the Wash, quickly returning once they realised that the water had not yet receded enough to expose the mud. Eventually, about an hour or so after high water, the mud started to reappear. As it did so, the birds started flying back out from the pits. They came in a series of waves – some of the larger birds, Oystercatchers, Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits, settling first. Then the vast hordes of Knot poured out from the pits – another amazing sight.

P1080675 P1080690 P1080717 P1080736Waders – eventually the birds poured from the pits back to the Wash

While the waders were all roosting on the pits, it gave us a chance to look at some of them up close, and to see some of the species which we had not spotted on the rising tide. There were several Little Stints in amongst the vast hordes of Dunlin and Knot, so small they can be hard to see in with their larger brethren. Fortunately, one came out to feed around the unoccupied island right in front of the hide. A Common Sandpiper also dropped in there to feed briefly.

IMG_0314Little Stint – one of at least three on the pits over high tide today

There are lots of Common Redshanks which feed out on the Wash and gather on the pits. Amongst them, we found some of their less common namesake. Spotted Redshanks are mostly a passage migrant here, but good numbers often pass through at this time of year. We could see at least 10 today, out on the pits. Most were adults in silvery grey and white winter plumage. A darker grey speckled juvenile Spotted Redshanks landed with Common Redshanks right in front of the hide today and we got a great view of its needle-fine bill and even the small downward kink it shows towards the end.

IMG_0340Spotted Redshank – sporting a needle-fine bill with slightly down-kinked tip

To complete the set of ‘shanks’, a couple of Greenshanks also came in to the island. One of them fed around the edge right below the hide. We got a great view of the green legs from which it gets its name.

P1080601Greenshank – feeding below the hide

There were some other birds around the pits as well. A single Spoonbill was roosting amongst the Cormorants. It spent most of the time asleep, but did eventually wake up and flash its spoon-shaped bill. As well as the resident Egyptian Geese, the escapee Bar-headed Goose was on the pits again today.

IMG_0325Spoonbill – roosting on the pits with the Cormorants

The Common Terns nesting on the islands still have chicks to raise – one of them still very small. We watched the adult birds returning repeatedly with fish for their young. A Kingfisher put in an all too brief appearance. It flew in and landed in the brambles right in front of the hide, on the edge of the water. The resulting excited shouts from the crown were probably too much for it and it promptly flew off again. We did get a great view of the Kingfisher later on – as the water started to recede out on the Wash, it flew past us and circled round right in front, catching the sun on its electric blue upperparts as it did so. What a beauty.

Out on the seawall, amongst the grass, were lots of Meadow Pipits and several Skylarks. Little groups of Linnets were feeding on the seed-bearing weedy growth. Several Pied Wagtails were flying back and forth along the beach on the edge of the Wash. We heard several Yellow Wagtails overhead, but it was only when we started to walk back that one appeared on the path in front of us.

With most of the waders having returned back out to the mud, we decided to move on. We drove back around the corner and up onto the North Norfolk coast, and headed for Titchwell. After an early lunch – well deserved after our early start – we headed out to explore the reserve.

After the recent rain, there was a bit of water on the grazing marsh pool which has been drained since the early winter. A single Greenshank was feeding on there today, along with several Lapwing. Further along, on the reedbed pool, was a selection of commoner ducks – including Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but couldn’t see them.

The water level on the freshmarsh was much higher as well, after the recent rain we have had. There was still a good selection of larger waders present, but numbers of the smaller species were much down on recent weeks. There were still lots of Ruff – adults in winter plumage with pale-scalloped grey upperparts and whiter underparts, and much browner but very variable juveniles.

P1080791Ruff – a browner-toned juvenile

Numbers of Avocets are well down on the record counts of last month, but there is never a shortage of Avocets at Titchwell. It is always a delight to watch such stunning birds. There were also several Golden Plover out on the islands, some still sporting the remnants of summer plumage in the form of black bellies.

P1080812Avocet – feeding in the shallows in front of Island Hide

There were lots of gulls on the freshmarsh as usual today. The smaller ones were mostly Black-headed Gulls, but amongst them was a single Mediterranean Gull. An adult in winter plumage, we could see its white wing tips. There were also several Lesser Black-backed Gulls amongst the Herring Gulls.

IMG_0351Mediterranean Gull – an adult with white wing tips next to a Black-headed Gull

A brief shower passed over while we were in Island Hide and, when it brightened up again afterwards, we decided to make straight for the beach. There didn’t appear to be much on Volunteer Marsh at first – a distant Grey Plover and a Curlew or two. But as we got to the tidal channel on the far side, a scan revealed a single Whimbrel amongst more Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshanks. We got the Whimbrel in the scope and could see its pale crown stripe.

P1080765Black-tailed Godwit – feeding in the wet mud on the Volunteer Marsh

A Little Egret also seemed to have found a good place to feed. It was standing in the tidal channel, staring at the base of a waterfall as the remains of the morning’s high tide flowed off the marsh.

P1080760Little Egret – looking for food in the water flowing off Volunteer Marsh

Out on the beach, there were not as many waders as usual. There were a couple of Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone on the rocks, plus a smart Grey Plover still mostly in summer plumage with black face and belly. Out on the sea, we could see a single Common Scoter. A Tufted Duck flew past out to sea. As did a single young Gannet.

We could see some very dark clouds coming in from the west, so we beat a hasty retreat back to Parrinder Hide and sat out the resulting shower. There was not much on this side of the freshmarsh which we hadn’t already seen on our way out. Three more Spotted Redshanks were preening right over towards the back corner. While we were scanning the marsh, suddenly everything took to the air in a panic. The culprit soon became apparent as a young Peregrine flew in from the direction of the sea. It made a couple of stoops – one at an unsuspecting Dunlin, which it missed, before flying off towards Thornham.

We did have time for one last surprise. Scanning the reeds at the far side of the freshmarsh, we picked up a couple of small tawny coloured shapes working their way along the base of the reeds. Finally, a couple of Bearded Tits. Unfortunately, they disappeared back into the reeds again fairly quickly.

Then it was time to head back – suitably tired after our early start this morning. But what a spectacle it had been!

24th July 2015 – Summer Rain in the Brecks

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today and we were bound for the Brecks. The weather forecast wasn’t great – and for once unfortunately it was right!! – but we made the most of a bright morning and got all the target birds before the worst of the afternoon rain.

We stopped off at Weeting Heath briefly. The pines were quiet again today, apart from a single Goldcrest singing. However, it was the Stone Curlews we were really after and there were several on show as we got into the hide, including a couple that were fairly close. With the early start and the cool cloudy conditions meaning little in the way of heat haze today, we got a good look at them through the scope. We admired the bright yellow iris and black and white striped wing panel.

IMG_7292Stone Curlew – one of several at Weeting Heath today

While the grass is kept closely cropped by the resident rabbits, the ragwort is now getting quite tall. Over on the ridge, it is also quite thick, making it difficult to count the total number of Stone Curlews present. We could see at least seven, the maximum simultaneously in view at any one time. They were also quite vocal at times – we could hear where they got one of their old names ‘wailing heath chicken’! Following the sound, we could eventually see five Stone Curlews chasing round in a group among the ragwort.

There were not so many other birds to see. A little group of Lapwing were out in the grass. A single Mistle Thrush appeared nearby and ran in and out of the ragwort clumps feeding. We could hear a Green Woodpecker yaffling and it flew up onto the trunk of a pine tree briefly before disappearing over the field beyond. We wanted to make the most of the dry weather, so we moved swiftly on.

It was cloudy and cool at Lakenheath as we arrived. Walking out along the main path, a Cetti’s Warbler called from the sallows and then flew across in front of us. A couple of Reed Warblers sang half-heartedly from the reeds and a Blackcap did the same from the trees.

New Fen Viewpoint once again seemed a little quiet at first, apart from the family of Coot and a couple of Mallard. As we stood and watched, we could see Reed Warblers coming out to feed along the edge of the reeds. We could hear Bearded Tits calling and, as they made their way in our direction we could see the reeds shaking vigorously. However, rather than coming out in front of us they suddenly took to the air and flew off in the opposite direction.

We hadn’t been there long when one of the group spotted a shape flying over the tops of the reeds – a Bittern. It made a lovely long feeding flight – all the way from the back of New Fen almost to the north-east corner, giving us a great chance to get a good look at it. A perfect start!

As we walked out across the reserve, we could see the darker clouds arriving from the west. There were still a few dragonflies and damselflies out, despite the cool weather – plenty of Ruddy Darter and Blue-tailed Damselflies. And a smattering of butterflies – a couple of Gatekeepers and a rather faded Ringlet.

P1060344Blue-tailed Damselfly – a few still out today, despite the cool weather

As we got out almost to the Joist Fen Viewpoint, it started to rain. Thankfully it was only light and not enough to stop us. However, raptor activity was decidedly limited. A Kestrel came out of West Wood as we walked past. A Common Buzzard flew low, back past us in the direction of the trees. A single juvenile Marsh Harrier sat perched in one of the bushes.

IMG_7320-001Marsh Harrier – this juvenile was hiding in the bushes at Joist Fen

The sky was a little brighter to the west, so we decided to make a bid for the open exposed height of the river bank. The Cranes seem to be spending more of their time over the other side of the river now that the young have fledged, so we wanted to at least have a chance to look for them before the weather deteriorated further. A Reed Bunting was feeding in the umbellifer heads along the edge of the path as we walked past.

P1060366Reed Bunting – feeding in the umbellifer heads in the rain

It was fairly quiet along the river today. A couple of Grey Herons stood on the bank and two Little Egrets flew up from Joist Fen and disappeared over into Norfolk. A Common Tern perched on its usual fence post just over the other side. We flushed a Common Whitethroat from the overgrown vegetation by the path and it flew up into one of the large sallows.

We did see more Bitterns. From up on the river bank, one flew up from Joist Fen and headed back in the direction of the viewpoint. Again, it was in the air for a long time before we lost it behind the trees – another great, long flight. Then yet another Bittern, this one a slightly darker bird, flew up from the same area. This time it headed over towards the railway line before dropping down out of view. Such a privilege to see so much Bittern action and a testament to the success of the habitat creation at Lakenheath Fen.

All the time, as we walked along the river bank, we scanned the fields the other side for any sign of the Cranes. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t find them there today. Finally, with everyone getting slightly damp now, we reluctantly turned to head back. But we were not to be disappointed! We hadn’t gone too far when a quick glance over the shoulder revealed four large birds flying straight towards us from further out across the fields. Cranes!

P1060383Cranes – flying towards us over the fields across the river

As they got over their favoured fields, the four Cranes turned and headed west. We could see that they were the family of four – two adults and their two recently fledged juveniles. We watched them for some time until they finally disappeared behind the trees. Great stuff!

P1060389Cranes – two adults in front and their two juveniles following behind

It is such a pleasure to see the young Cranes flying here. After a few years with no success, both of the Lakenheath Fen pairs of Cranes have raised young this year – the twins we saw today and a single juvenile for the second pair.

Even better, it had stopped raining by now, if only for a little bit. As we walked back along the bank, there were lots of warblers feeding amongst the vegetation by the path. Presumably, the reeds were now very wet and the more open plant life here was a more attractive option. We had great views of both Reed Warblers and several Sedge Warblers.

P1060401Sedge Warbler – feeding along the river bank path in the rain

We headed back swiftly across the reserve. The rain had started again by the time we got to the New Fen Viewpoint so we paused to catch our breath in the shelter. We heard a Kingfisher calling and saw it briefly flying across the reeds before it dropped down into a channel out of view. A short while later, it was off again and flew over to the pool in front of us. It landed for a second on the reeds at the edge, but didn’t find its footing and flew once more. Unfortunately this time, it headed out to the back of the pool and disappeared into the reeds.

A single male Marsh Harrier was perched on a dead stump across New Fen. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it – it didn’t seem particularly impressed by the weather! Eventually it took off and circled over the reeds for a while, before turning and heading back across the reserve and out of sight. We took that as a cue to leave ourselves.

IMG_7330Marsh Harrier – this male perched up in the rain

Back at the visitor centre, we settled in to dry out and enjoy a late lunch. The feeders just outside provided a welcome distraction from the weather – a steady stream of Blue Tits and Great Tits, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches dropped in to feed, plus the odd Reed Bunting. Some of them were looking decidedly wet!

P1060409Greenfinches – looking rather wet on the feeders

However, the highlight was the juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker which appeared and hung on the peanuts for a while.

P1060448Great Spotted Woodpecker – a red-crowned juvenile

The rain was showing no signs of easing, but we decided to have a go at getting out again. Lynford Arboretum seemed like a good option, with the trees offering the possibility of some shelter. However, as we walked round the main part of the arboretum there were very few birds to look at – we could hear a few Goldcrests but not see them in the densest fir trees. A single Siskin perched in the top of a conifer briefly.

There was a little more activity down around the lake. We found several Little Grebes on the water – two fully grown juveniles near the bridge and an adult feeding a younger juvenile below the Hall. A mixed tit flock in the alders was easy to hear but proved harder to see – we glimpsed Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and a Treecreeper. Time was getting on – and we were getting wet – so we decided to head back and call it a day.

Thankfully we had made the most of the morning and seen all the main target birds, despite the weather – Stone Curlews, Cranes and Bitterns.

17th May 2015 – Bright & Breezey

Day 3, the final day of a long weekend of Spring Tours today. The focus was on the area around Wells and Holkham. It was a lovely sunny morning, a little cloudier in the afternoon, but there was quite a strong westerly breeze again all day which kept it cool.

We started with a visit to a local gull colony. The vast majority of nests were Black-headed Gulls, and very noisy they were too. But in amongst them, we could pick out a few pairs of Mediterranean Gulls, their jet black hoods standing out against the (ironically) chocolate brown hoods of the Black-headed Gulls.

IMG_4830Mediterranean Gull – a smart adult collecting nest material

We spent some time watching the Mediterranean Gulls collecting nest material – several adults with pure white wing tips, but also several 2nd summer birds with a small amount of black in the wings still. One of the 2nd summers had a full black hood, but the other still had lots of white around the face. Still, both of them appeared to be paired up.

IMG_4839Mediterranean Gull – a 2nd summer bird with black markings in the wing tip

There were other gulls to look at here as well. Common Gulls are not the commonest gulls in this part of the world (gull names are really confusing!), though we do get more in the winter, but a few pairs nest here too. They were looking really smart today, with their pure white heads, dark eyes and yellow bills. Very dainty compared to the more menacing Herring Gulls which were hanging round the edge of the colony as well.

As well as the gulls, there are a few terns nesting here. The most obvious are the Common Terns, and several were flying round and calling loudly. When they landed, we got a good look at them through the scope, their longish, bright red bills tipped with black. After looking for a while, we eventually saw a pair of Arctic Terns fly in and land on the beach. We could see their shorter, darker, blood-red bills, lacking a black tip, and their long tails projecting clearly beyond the wing tips. Smart birds. We are at the southern edge of the breeding range for Arctic Terns here, so it is always nice to see them. We could also see (and hear) some Little Terns feeding in the channel and a little group flew in and landed on the beach so we could get a good look at them too.

Through the winter, there is normally a good selection of waders here, but most of them have now departed. There were plenty of Oystercatchers out on the mud and a single Ringed Plover, but that was it. However, as we were packing up to leave, a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits flew past. A nice bonus.

Our next stop was Burnham Overy. We walked out along the track across the grazing marshes towards the seawall. There were several Whitethroats singing on the way out, and a single Lesser Whitethroat doing the same but from deep within a thick bank of hawthorn. It was showing no inclination to come out in the windy conditions. The Sedge Warblers, as usual, were a little more obliging, though even they were keeping lower down in the bushes today.

P1000922Sedge Warbler – singing from the shelter of a wild rose

We could also hear a male Cuckoo singing. It was some way off at first, towards Burnham Overy Staithe, but as we walked it seemed to be coming a little closer. Finally we saw it fly out from the trees and disappear behind a hedge, looking rather like a cross between a hawk and a falcon as it flew.

There were quite a few geese out on the grazing marshes, though none of the really big flocks which spend the winter here. Most of them were feral Greylags, but with several Egyptian Geese as well. Scanning through them, we picked up a smaller grey goose, with a dark head – a properly wild Pink-footed Goose. We got it in the scope and admired its pink bill-band, legs and feet. Most of the Pink-footed Geese left in February, but a small number of mostly sick or injured birds remain here right through the summer.

As we were walking out, a single Spoonbill flew over from the direction of Holkham and disappeared over the seawall in the direction of Burnham Overy harbour. We climbed up onto the seawall and could see it very distantly, feeding out towards Gun Hill. There were not so many waders out on the saltmarsh here today either  – mostly a few Oystercatcher and Redshank, but there were a handful of Grey Plover now in very smart summer plumage with jet black bellies and faces. Stunning! A single Whimbrel flew up from the saltmarsh, calling, and we later found it feeding out on the grazing marshes near the dunes. They have been surprisingly scarce so far this spring.

IMG_4852Grey Plovers – looking stunning in summer plumage

There were several Swifts flying close around us up on the seawall, enjoying the wind. There were lots up in the sky over the grazing marsh as well. In fact, all day there seemed to be Swifts overhead, gradually making their way west. There was also a steady trickle of hirundines on the move – Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. This migration was most obvious out in the dunes, little groups of Swallows especially flying past us every few minutes. It is always nice to see visible migration in action. However, there was few other signs of it today. As we got out to the boardwalk, a single Yellow Wagtail flew over calling.

The dunes were also rather quiet, apart from the ubiquitous Linnets and Meadow Pipits here. There were not many butterflies today either, just several Cinnabar Moths keeping low in the dunes and still being battered by the wind.

P1000925Cinnabar Moth – keeping low out of the wind in the dunes

It was only when we got to the far side of Gun Hill that we found our first Wheatear. It was sheltering behind a concrete block, trying to get out of the wind. The Greenland Wheatears in the dunes have been very obliging recently, but this one was very jumpy today in the blustery conditions and flew off as we approached.

There was no sign of the Spoonbill in the harbour initially – we presumed it must have flown off as we walked out. But as we stood on the beach we saw a head appear behind the ridge of mud in front of us. The Spoonbill was still there, feeding quietly on the edge of the channel, and we watched it walk past, mostly with its head down and sweeping its bill from side to side through the shallow water.

IMG_4856Spoonbill – this smart adult was feeding in the channel at Overy harbour

As we walked back to Gun Hill, we flushed the Wheatear again from the edge of the dunes and realised there was a second bird there now, another female. Unfortunately, they were both equally jumpy. We walked back to the boardwalk and a little beyond, to a nice sheltered bowl in the dunes where we thought there might be some birds. There were two more Wheatears as well here, but no sign of any other migrants today.

P1000928Wheatear – the females in the dunes were very jumpy today

While we were standing there in the dunes, we could hear the sound of a Bittern booming. It was obviously carried on the wind, as we were a long way from the reeds here. We decided to walk back along the seawall and get a bit closer. We sat down on the bank by the reedbed and waited, and before long we could hear the Bittern again. We heard it several times, but there was no fly round today while we were there. We did see a few Bearded Tits zooming back and forth over the reeds, which was a nice bonus. And another Spoonbill feeding on the reedbed pool.

It was time to head back for lunch. We heard the male Cuckoo singing again, and saw him fly off distantly across the grazing marsh. Then, as we walked back, we heard the distinctive bubbling call of a female Cuckoo from the hedgerows. The local Meadow Pipits and Dunnocks had better watch out!

After lunch at Lady Anne’s Drive, we walked out west by Holkham Pines. It was still rather windy, even on the edge of the pines today, and there were fewer warblers singing than usual. A single Little Grebe was on Salts Hole.

From Joe Jordan hide, a couple of Spoonbills were on show as we arrived, preening down by the pool. As we sat in the hide and watched, we saw more fly in and out of the colony. There are always other things to see here as well. There were lots of Marsh Harriers flying around the trees, despite the wind. At one point, a smart male came in low over the grass in front of the hide, carrying some prey. He circled over the reeds and a female flew up, at which point he passed the food to her and flew off. A closer look at photos later suggested that he may have eaten half the meal before he brought it back for her!

P1000937Marsh Harrier – this male brought back food for the female

We also watched a pair of Grey Partridge feeding quietly in the grass below the hide. Another Yellow Wagtail flew past us calling.

P1000944Grey Partridge – this pair were feeding below the Joe Jordan hide

We carried on west and had a quick look in the dunes at the end of the pines. A single Lesser Whitethroat was the only bird of note. We were just leaving when a Hobby flashed past us. Watching it fly low into the dunes, a Red Kite appeared just above it, hanging on the breeze. An unlikely combination, we had both of them in the same view together, before the Hobby disappeared and the Red Kite drifted right past us, pursued by a Carrion Crow.

P1000946Red Kite – hunting over the dunes this afternoon

There was a bit more activity on the edge of the pines on our way back. There were a few more Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs singing, we heard several Goldcrests and a couple of Treecreepers, and saw a variety of tits. Back at Salts Hole, we heard a Kingfisher calling and found it perched low in an oak tree. We just had time to all get a look at it through the scope before it darted off across the water. They are really lovely birds.

A short detour inland on the way back saw us stop in some farmland where another pair of Turtle Doves perched up for us. They are very scarce birds in Norfolk these days, so we did really well to see as many as we did over the long weekend. Then it was time to head back.