Tag Archives: Kingfisher

11th July 2021 – Summer Tour, Day 3

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

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

Curlew – not the one we were looking for!

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

Stone Curlew – 2, with an Oystercatcher

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

Tree Sparrow – perched on the wires by the road

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

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

Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculata)

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

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

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

Common Tern – flying up and down the river

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

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

Marsh Harrier – a juvenile, waiting to be fed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Skipper – not showing the undersides of its antennae here

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

Tree Pipit – calling quietly above the track

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

26th April 2021 – Nightingales & More

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

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

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

Chiffchaff – one of several species of warbler singing this morning

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

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

Yellowhammer – calling from the top of a hawthorn

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

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

Starling – finding lots of insects in the grass

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

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

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

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

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

Garganey – a smart spring drake on the Washes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hobby – one of three over the reedbed today

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

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

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

14th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 4

Day 4 of a four-day Autumn Tour today, our last day. It was meant to rain all day today and, although it was wet at times, it was nowhere near as bad as we might have feared based on the forecast. The wind was very light in the morning, but swung round to the north and picked up a bit more in the afternoon.

With the forecast of rain, we headed over to Cley first thing, so we could take shelter in the hides. But when we got there, it wasn’t raining, so we decided to make the most of it and drove round to the beach first.

As we walked along the shingle, a large flock of Linnets came out of the weedy vegetation the other side of the fence accompanied by Goldfinches and followed by a number of Meadow Pipits. We were looking for a Snow Bunting, which had been here for a few days, but there was no sign of it with these other birds here.

Continuing on to where the vegetation grows out over the open shingle, we walked through amongst the sparse tall weeds around the edge. A couple of Skylarks came up from the edge of the grass and disappeared off towards the Eye Field, and then a Wheatear flew out and landed on a lump of concrete on the beach. It was looking rather bedraggled, presumably from the wet vegetation, and stood there watching us.

Wheatear

Wheatear – this bedraggled individual was feeding out on the edge of the beach

Just a couple of metres further along, we noticed something moving on the shingle right in front of us, as we almost trod on the Snow Bunting. It was feeding quietly on the top of the beach, where some low weeds were growing through the stones. Snow Buntings are often very tame, coming from places where they probably are not used to seeing people, and this one was very accommodating. It was a male, but rather dark grey and brown, an Icelandic Snow Bunting of the insulae subspecies.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – feeding quietly on the top of the shingle ridge

A large flock of Ringed Plover flew round over the sea and landed back on the beach some distance further up ahead of us. Looking through the scopes, we could see there were a few Dunlin with them too, but the birds were remarkably hard to see on the stones and part of the flock was hidden from view over a rise in the beach.

There was quite a bit of activity over the rather calm sea this morning, so we stood for a while and scanned out over the water. A steady stream of Gannets came past, mostly flying east, a variety of different colours and ages, from dark grey-brown juveniles, to the white adults with black-tipped wings, and various stages in between.

Gannet

Gannet – several dark grey juveniles were among those flying past

Several Red-throated Divers were swimming on the water and we had a closer look at both an adult still mostly in breeding plumage and one already in grey and white winter attire. A Shag flew west along the shoreline, past us.

At this time of year, birds are arriving from the continent for the winter and there was a nice selection of wildfowl coming in over the sea today. A steady stream of small lines of Brent Geese flew past low over the sea, coming back from their breeding grounds in Russia, and we saw several flocks of Wigeon and Teal too. Two Red-breasted Mergansers flew past just off the beach together with a couple of Teal and a few Common Scoter went past further out.

Looking inland, a Marsh Harrier was standing down on the short grass on the edge of North Scrape, but there didn’t seem to be much else on there today. A Common Snipe and two Redshank were feeding on Billy’s Wash. Remarkably, the rain was still holding off – despite it being forecast to rain all morning – so we thought we would push our luck and head round to the East Bank for a walk. A pair of Grey Seals was bobbing in the water just off the beach, watching the people walking past, as we made our way back to the car.

The East Bank car park was quite full, so we parked at Walsey Hills instead. We stopped to have a look at Snipe’s Marsh first. We could see a Little Egret feeding on the mud amongst the cut reeds, but there didn’t appear to be any waders here at first. However, a careful scan around the edges eventually produced the hoped for Jack Snipe, well spotted by one of the group, asleep in the reeds on one side.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – showed well, sleeping on the edge of reeds

We had a good look at the Jack Snipe through the scope. It woke up at one point and we could see its bill, thicker and shorter than a Common Snipe. We could also see the distinctive head pattern. A Water Rail ran across the mud the other side but disappeared into the reeds before anyone could get onto it. Helpfully it re-emerged a little later and walked back the other way.

There seemed to be some smaller birds on the move this morning, and we could hear Chaffinches calling overhead as we stood by Snipe’s Marsh. One or two Bramblings gave their wheezy calls too. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from time to time from the reeds and a Bullfinch was calling over by North Foreland wood.

There looked to be some darker clouds approaching now, so we decided to have a quick look in the trees at Walsey Hills. As we walked along the footpath, we could hear Robins and a Chiffchaff calling. We had been lucky with the weather up until now but at this point it finally started to rain. We walked up to the top to have a look in the trees, but beat a hasty retreat.

It was time to head for the hides and get out of the weather. Having been to the Visitor Centre to get our permits, we walked quickly out along the boardwalk and straight into Dauke’s Hide. As soon as we got inside, someone very kindly pointed out a Kingfisher, which was perched down on the mud right in front.

The Kingfisher was wrestling with a stickleback. It had dropped it on the mud, but hopped down and picked it up and proceeded to beat it against the small mound it was standing on. It dropped it again and stood looking down at it, before finally picking it up once more and eating it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – was wrestling with a stickleback on the mud in front of the hide

We enjoyed stunning views of the Kingfisher – it kept coming closer to the hide, perching on a post in the channel just in front. Eventually, it flew off up the channel but a few minutes later it was back again on its favourite post.

Dragging our attention away from the Kingfisher, we noticed a Little Stint with ten Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape. It was hard to see properly from Dauke’s, particularly to get an angle for the scopes, so we hurried round to Avocet Hide for a closer look. The Little Stint was noticeably smaller than the accompanying Dunlin, with a shorter bill and cleaner white underparts.

Little Stints have been thin on the ground this autumn. The passage of juveniles through here way outnumbers adults, so it could be that they have had a poor breeding season, or perhaps just the persistent westerlies mean that the numbers reaching here have been low. Either way, it was nice to catch up with one today.

Little Stint

Little Stint – a juvenile with 10 Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape

The Dunlin and Little Stint were spooked by something and flew back across to Simmond’s Scrape, so we went back round to Dauke’s Hide. The Kingfisher had disappeared, but a Water Rail was now running around down in front of the hide, giving great views.

There were a few other waders out on Simmond’s Scrape today, including a Curlew, and a couple of Ringed Plovers. A flock of Golden Plover dropped in. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deeper water on Pat’s Pool.

There are lots of ducks back for the winter already, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shoveler. Looking through them carefully, we found a single Pintail, a drake starting to moult out of eclipse plumage. There was a big RSPB group in Dauke’s Hide today, so there was nowhere for us to sit. They had given up looking at the birds though and had settled in to eat their lunch. Eventually, all the loud discussions about double cherry bakewells and their different home made chutneys started to make us hungry, so we decided to head somewhere more appropriate to eat our lunch. Thankfully, the rain had now stopped again.

The shelter round at the beach car park was the perfect spot, out of the wind, which had now swung round to the north. After lunch, we had a quick look out at the sea. There were still lots of Gannets moving, plus one or two plunge diving just offshore now. Several Sandwich Terns were patrolling up and down. A Razorbill flew past, and a Guillemot was diving, out on the sea just off the beach.

There had apparently been an arrival of Blackbirds and Robins overnight, with a few seen around Cley first thing, so we thought we would see if there was any sign of activity down at Kelling Water Meadow. However, the lane was disappointingly quiet, just a few Chaffinches in the trees. Perhaps it had been too disturbed during the morning to hold anything here. There were lots of Pheasants in the fields, and Red-legged Partridges calling – this is a shooting estate after all. Rooks and Jackdaws were flying around the trees or on the hillside beyond the Water Meadow.

Down at the pool, the first thing we noticed were the gulls. There were quite a few Black-headed Gulls, but one young bird immediately stood out. It was a young Mediterranean Gull, a 1st winter. Continuing down to the corner for a better look, we found another two Mediterranean Gulls on here as well, a second 1st winter and also a 2nd winter. There were a few Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls too.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – one of three immatures on the Water Meadow this afternoon

It was rather exposed when we got out of the shelter of the lane, and it was spitting with rain again. With the lack of any obvious sign of any migrants, we decided to head somewhere more sheltered.

On our way back west, we had a look up at the church tower and could see the Peregrine back again. It didn’t look particularly happy though, facing in to the wall and hunched up, presumably sheltering from wind & drizzle. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it – eventually it even turned its head to look round.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower, sheltering from the wind & rain

Wells Woods seemed like a good place to finish, where we could get out of the northerly breeze. Several Little Grebes were diving out on the boating lake as we passed. We made our way in and up to the Dell, before we came to a tit flock. One of the first birds we got our binoculars on was a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was feeding in a small birch and we all managed to get a good look at it. A Goldcrest flew into one of the low bushes right next to us to feed, giving us a chance to appreciate just how small they are.

Their glipping calls alerted us to some Common Crossbills in the pines and we quickly realised they were right above our heads. We watched them flying down to the lower branches to find cones, before taking them higher up to deal with. They have been rather few and far between over the last year or so here, so it was great to see them and quite well.

Crossbill

Common Crossbill – feeding above our heads in the pines by the Dell

We followed the tit flock as it made its way through the trees for a few mins. As well as all the Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits, we could hear Treecreeper and Chiffchaff calling. Eventually, the Long-tailed Tits led the other high up into the pines and they disappeared.

It was a productive few minutes, and a nice way to end the tour, in Wells Woods. We got as far as the drinking pool, but it was time to head back, with people wanting to get away quickly. It had been a very good four days too, with a nice selection of different Autumn birds.

25th Sept 2018 – Fen & Marshes

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, a relaxed day out on the coast looking for birds and other wildlife. It was a beautiful sunny autumn day, even feeling warm out of the fresh SW breeze. After a later than normal start, due to the vagaries of the local public transport system, we headed over to Stiffkey Fen. It was a little after high tide now, but it was a big tide today and we were hopeful we might still find some birds on here.

As we got out of the car, we could hear Pink-footed Geese and a small group flew across the stubble field in front of us, presumably having roosted locally. As we made our way down along the path, two Stock Doves flew across the meadow in front of us and dropped down over the far side. As we crossed the road, a Marsh Harrier was creating pandemonium, flying over the Fen and flushing all the Wigeon.

There was no sign of the large tit flock in the bushes by the river, just a couple of Blue Tits. As we got to the thicker sallows we could hear a family of Bullfinches calling and we had a couple of glimpses of them as they flew ahead of us between the trees. A Chiffchaff was calling here too and as we stopped to scan the Fen, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing in the brambles. The latter was presumably a young bird and in need of practice, as the song wasn’t quite right yet!

Looking across to the Fen, we could see a line of large white shapes on the island, asleep amongst all the Greylag Geese. They were the Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best! One or two would wake up occasionally and flash their long spoon-shaped bills before going back to sleep.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – at least 18 of them, still on the Fen today

There is a fuller view of the Fen from up on the seawall, and we got the scope trained on the Spoonbills from here so we could get a better look at them. We could see there was a mixture of adults and juveniles, the former with yellow-tipped black bills and the young ones with shorter and dirty flesh coloured bills.

It was nice to see a good number of Spoonbills still here today. As well the risk they may already have started to drift off to feed out on the saltmarsh, with the tide dropping now, it seems like the Norfolk Spoonbills are probably starting to head off to the south coast for the winter. They may not be here much longer.

There were a few birds in the harbour channel the other side of the seawall. As we walked up, we could see four Little Egrets busy fishing just below us, trying to catch something on the falling tide. A little further upstream, a Greenshank and a Redshank were feeding in the muddy water too, when a Kingfisher flew in and landed on a post just behind them.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – feeding in the harbour channel on the falling tide

The Kingfisher population here was hit by the cold weather in March, so it is good to see them back again at some of their regular sites now. This one kept diving into the water and returning to its perch. At one point, it landed back on to us and we had a great view of the electric blue streak down its back, which shone as it caught the morning sun.

Turning our attention back to the Fen, we could see lots of ducks out on the water and roosting on the islands – mainly Wigeon and Teal, but also with at least a dozen Pintail with them too. When something spooked them, many of the ducks took off and several waves of them flew over our heads and out into the harbour. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew off too, heading back out with the falling tide now exposing large areas of mud again. The Spoonbills just woke up, looked around, and went back to sleep!

Several more groups of Pink-footed Geese flew over calling as we stood on the seawall. It seemed like there were probably mostly birds which had roosted here though, as they seemed to come in low from the west, rather than fresh arrivals back from Iceland. We could see them circling round away to the east, looking for a suitable field to land in.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – several small flocks flew over calling

From a little further along the seawall, we looked back at the far side of the Fen and could see more waders still out on the mud. As well as more Black-tailed Godwits, there were several Redshanks and Ruff. A single Green Sandpiper was feeding on its own along the far edge. A Common Buzzard circled up over the fields just beyond.

As we walked round to the corner of the harbour, a Curlew was standing on the large open area of mud on the bend in the channel. There were several Redshanks on here too.

The tide was well out now and there was lots of exposed mud out in the middle of the harbour too. As well as lots of gulls, we could see lots of waders – the ones we could see were mainly Oystercatchers and Curlews but one or two Grey Plover too. Looking across to the far side, the seals were hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point and the sand flats opposite. A couple of people walking out onto the mud flushed all the Oystercatchers and they all circled round over the harbour.

A flock of wildfowl came up from the bottom somewhere too and in with the smaller ducks we could see some larger, blackish birds with bright white under their tails. They were Brent Geese, thirteen of them, the first we have seen here this autumn, just returned from Siberia for the winter. In the next few weeks, there should be lots more back here but it is always nice to see the first few back. There was a large flock of Shelducks out here too, all adults – perhaps they moulted here or perhaps they have just returned too, from the moult migration to the Waddensee?

Blakeney Harbour

Blakeney Harbour – the view across to the Point

The view from here is stunning, particular on a glorious sunny day like today. We could probably have stood here all day! We had other places we wanted to explore though, so we headed back. A flock of Linnets were in the bushes by the path and we stopped to look at them perched in the tops before they flew off across the channel.

The sunshine had brought lots of insects out today. We saw a nice selection of butterflies on the walk back – as well as the usual Speckled Woods along the path, a couple of Small Coppers and a Red Admiral flew past and a lovely bright Comma posed nicely on the hedge, basking in the sun. There were dragonflies out too – a couple of Common Darter were catching the sun on the wooden steps, a few Migrant Hawkers were busy hunting and a Southern Hawker was patrolling up and down the hedge.

Comma

Comma – enjoying the sun

We still had some time before lunch, so we made our way back to Cley and parked at Walsey Hills. The two Spotted Redshanks were still on Snipe’s Marsh, busy feeding in the shallow water in between the cut reed stems, along with a couple of Little Egrets. We had a good look at the Spotted Redshanks through the scope, noting their long, needle-fine bills.

Two Common Buzzards were playing over the near edge of North Foreland Wood, tumbling and talon-grappling. When they strayed over enough to disturb the Little Egrets, the Spotted Redshanks were spooked too and flew off across the road. Three Common Snipe down on the mud on the edge of the reeds were not so easily disturbed though, so we had a good look at those through the scope too. A couple of Little Grebes were diving in the deeper water at the front.

We had a quick walk up the East Bank. We could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reeds, but the breeze had picked up a bit and once again they were keeping well hidden. We did eventually get a quick flight view of one as it came up out of the reeds and flew low over the tops, before diving back into cover. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reeds off in the distance and a Kestrel was hovering over the grazing marshes the other side.

Several Teal were feeding in the Serpentine and a small group of Shoveler were asleep on the back shore. Scanning the grazing marshes, we could see lots of Wigeon on Pope’s Pool and a small party of six or so Pink-footed Geese in the grass just in front. Through the scope, we could see their dark bills with a distinctive pink band around.

Arnold’s Marsh held a few waders, mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, and a group of Cormorants roosting on the small island at the back. Looking round more carefully, we found a few Dunlin too, and three Ringed Plover on one of the shingle spits, hiding in the vegetation.

Little Egret

Little Egret – fishing in the brackish pools

Carrying on towards the beach, we stopped to watch a Little Egret fishing in the brackish pools by the path. The sea was very calm today, and there wasn’t much out on the water – a single Grey Seal surfaced offshore. A long way out, beyond the wind farm, through the scope we could make out several Gannets and Sandwich Terns fishing, diving into the water. Three Wigeon flew in high off the sea, birds just arriving back from the continent for the winter.

We made our way back and headed round to the Visitor Centre for lunch. It was a lovely day to sit out on the picnic tables today, looking out across the reserve. A steady stream of gulls were commuting in and out between the reserve and the fields behind us, which were being cultivated. We picked up a couple of young Mediterranean Gulls in amongst them.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – two flew over while we were having lunch

Three Skylarks flew overhead calling too, while we were eating. Looking out towards the sea, we picked up a large skein of geese coming in. More Pink-footed Geese, these were surely birds just returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

After lunch, we made our way out to the hides. A Red Admiral was basking on the boardwalk, as were several Common Darters. We went into Dauke’s Hide first and as soon as we arrived, one of the volunteers in there told us that the Pectoral Sandpiper was back on Simmond’s Scrape. We had seen it on the reserve several days ago but it had disappeared later that day and not been seen since, so it was a nice surprise that it was back! There are lots of little pools and other wet areas on the reserve, not visible from any hides, where it could lose itself.

Pectoral Sandpiper

We had a good look at the Pectoral Sandpiper through the scope. It was creeping round the edge of the larger island at the back, and kept walking into the grass. When it came out we could see its distinctive streaked breast cleanly demarcated from the white belly. It fed next to a couple of Dunlin at one point, and the Pectoral Sandpiper was about the same size, shorter billed, brighter with pale braces on its back and a clean belly lacking the streaks of the young Dunlin. Then, while we were looking the other way, it disappeared!

As well as the Dunlin, there were also several Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits on Simmond’s Scrape, and a large group of roosting Lapwing. A Common Snipe was very well camouflaged, motionless tucked against the front edge of the closer island. Its mournful three-note call alerted us to a Grey Plover flying in. As it landed on the island just behind the Snipe, we could see its black armpits. It was a juvenile, strongly patterned above and lacking any traces of the black belly which adults show in breeding plumage.

Looking out the side of the hide, a Common Sandpiper was feeding on the island down at the front of Whitwell Scrape. Then we heard a Green Sandpiper calling and it dropped in on the other side of the same island. It was good to see the two of them close to each other – the Green Sandpiper was larger and darker than the Common Sandpiper, and lacked the obvious notch of white extending up between the darker breast and wings.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – flew in and landed on the island at the front of Whitwell Scrape

A Sparrowhawk flew in and landed on the grass in front of Billy’s Wash, so we got that in the scope next. It was a young bird, brown on the back and slightly rusty round the nape. We could see its bright yellow iris and barred belly.

The water level is going down nicely on Pat’s Pool now, but a quick look in at Teal Hide failed to produce anything here we hadn’t already seen on Simmond’s Scrape – more Dunlin, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. We heard Bearded Tits calling from the reedy ditch out to the right of the hide, but they failed to come our way.

We wanted to have a quick look in at Babcock Hide before we finished but we knew we didn’t have much time left. We drove round to Iron Road and walked briskly out along the grassy path. A Kestrel was perched on a gate post along the reedy ditch. There were lots of Greylags on the grazing marshes and several Egyptian Geese with them – we could see their striking chocolate eye patches.

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose – on the grazing marsh near Babcock Hide

There are often flocks of waders at the moment on Watling Water, commuting in from the stubble fields across the road, but there were none on here when we arrived in the hide. There were plenty of Greylags, Teal and Mallard, and a couple of Curlew on the mud at the back. It was very relaxing, sitting in the hide, staring out over the pool and listening to the wind in the reeds, but we had a bus to catch! As we walked back along the path, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in across the road and dropped down onto the pool in front of the hide.

We made it round to the bus stop in good time for the bus. It had been a beautiful day to be out exploring the coast and we had seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife too.

24th June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. It was glorious sunny weather, blue skies and hot! We headed down to the Brecks for the day.

It was already warming up nicely when we got down to the Brecks, so we headed straight over to Weeting Heath. We wanted to try to catch up with the Stone Curlews before the heat haze got too bad, which it often can be here in the middle of the day, when the birds can also be less active. The grass is very long too, as a consequence of a sharp decline in the rabbit population. We were therefore very pleased when we opened the flaps and saw a Stone Curlew out in the long grass.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – in the long grass at Weeting

The Stone Curlew was busy feeding, walking quickly, stopping, picking at the ground. We had a good look at it through the scopes, but it disappeared into the long grass after a couple of minutes.

A (Common) Curlew flew in from behind us, giving its beautiful bubbling song as it glided down and landed on the grass close to where the Stone Curlew had been. We were watching the Curlew when the Stone Curlew appeared out of the longer grass again. It eventually walked across and we had the two species side by side.

The Stone Curlew then walked off and stood where we could get a good look at it. The next thing we knew, a second Stone Curlew stood up right beside it, from where it had been hidden in the grass. It was obviously changeover time at the nest. The first Stone Curlew then settled down into the grass and the second bird walked off a short distance, where it stood preening for a few minutes.

When the second Stone Curlew walked off into the longer grass to feed, we took that as our cue to move on. There has been a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in the trees by the hide here, but we couldn’t find them when we emerged. They have already fledged their first brood, so they have become more mobile. We decided to walk down to the hide at the west end to look at the feeders and see if we could find them on the way.

We heard a couple of Coal Tits high in the pines on the walk, and had a brief view of a Nuthatch up in the canopy of the trees. A Goldcrest showed a little better and a Treecreeper was calling too. There were plenty of birds around the feeders – lots of young Blue Tits and Great Tits. A couple of Yellowhammers were feeding on the ground below and one came in for a drink at the small pool. Another Nuthatch made a quick ‘smash and grab’ visit too.

On the walk back, as we got to the junction with the path to West Hide, we could hear the Spotted Flycatchers calling. We eventually had nice views of one or two of them when they perched where we could see them, although they could be hard to see up in the trees.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – eventually perched up nicely

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. As we came out of the visitor centre, a couple of photographers had their lenses fixed on one of the sallows by the pool just outside. A Kingfisher was perched up in the outside of the bush, half hidden in the leaves. It dived down into the pool and then flew up again back into the leaves, where we could just see it.

Thankfully, the next time the Kingfisher dropped, it flew back up and landed on one of the branches down in the water, right out in the open, where we could get a much better look at it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – fishing on the pool behind the visitor centre

As we walked out along the main path into the reserve, we could hear Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing. A Sedge Warbler perched up nicely in the top of a small sallow in the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes further over. There were a few Common Whitethroats flitting around in the vegetation too.

When we got to New Fen Viewpoint, a flock of Gadwall flew over. We were just looking in the field guide to show why they were identifiable as Gadwall, when a Bittern was called by some of the other people there, flying up from the reeds. It was only a brief sighting, but we were too busy looking in the book! Not to worry, we should hopefully get another chance.

Two Hobbys were circling high over West Wood, way off in the distance, and a Marsh Harrier circled up to join them. An adult and an almost fully grown but still stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe were out on the pool below.

As we walked along the bank on the south side of New Fen, there were loads of dragonflies in the vegetation either side. We saw lots of Ruddy Darters and several Brown Hawkers out to day, as well as Four-spotted Chasers and Black-tailed Skimmers. There were one or two Banded Demoiselles along the path too. Looking carefully through all the Azure Damselflies we found a few Variable Damselflies and Red-eyed Damseflies in with them.

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle – there were lots of dragonflies & damselflies out today

About half way along the bank, a couple ahead of us called to say they had found a Bittern. We walked up to them and they pointed it out, standing on the edge of the reeds. We had a great look at it through the scope. While we were watching it, a second Bittern flew back over the reeds. A Green Woodpecker flew past too.

The first Bittern stood on the edge of the reeds in the sun, preening and looking round, then walked a short distance and started to look for food, leaning over with its bill down close to the water. It snapped at something a couple of times, possibly insects on the water surface, before eventually walking back into the reeds.

Bittern

Bittern – standing on the edge of the reeds at New Fen

Now the Bittern floodgates opened! A little further down the path, we looked up along one of the channels cut through the reeds and saw another Bittern flying down low over the water, before turning and disappearing into the reeds on one side. As we got up almost to the junction with the path to Mere Hide, we spotted yet another one, flying in over the reeds. It appeared to drop down in front of the hide, so we hurried round.

Before we got to the hide, we scanned the edge of the reeds from the boardwalk and noticed some movement. There were two Bitterns. They started walking quickly along through some short sparse reeds on the edge – it almost looked like it was a race at one point! They made it to a patch of thicker reed and disappeared in, but then came back out onto the edge and stood half hidden. They looked slightly small and it turned out they were recent fledglings, not quite yet fully grown.

Bitterns

Bittern – two recent fledglings on the edge of the reeds

Having had such great views of the Bitterns from the boardwalk, we didn’t go into the hide, but headed on towards Joist Fen. We continue to scan over the reeds and we were about half way there when we spotted a bird flying beyond the Joist Fen viewpoint. It was yet another Bittern. It came in past the viewpoint, and continued on right past us and eventually landed in the reeds somewhere near Mere Hide. A very long feeding flight!

A Cuckoo was singing from somewhere deep in West Wood,  but we couldn’t see it. The family of Great Crested Grebes are still on one of the pools by the path, but the four young ones are well grown now. It looked like one of them was still keen to try to ride on its parent’s back though!

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the juveniles are well grown now

Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, we stopped for a rest. There did not appear to be too much happening, but it was nice to have a sit down. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes close by – nice to hear them now, as their numbers have dropped sharply in East Anglia after the cold winter. There were a couple of Marsh Harriers circling in the distance too. Then yet another Bittern flew across over the reeds.

After resting out legs, we got up to walk back. As we did so, a Cuckoo flew past over the reeds and disappeared out towards the paddocks. We had heard a couple of Bearded Tits on the walk out, but they can be very hard to see here. As we walked along the path, we heard one call and turned to see a male fly up out of the reeds close in front of us and disappear off behind us.

Along the main path by New Fen, we looked up to see a Kestrel circling. Scanning the sky, we found a Hobby too, much further over and very high up. It gradually drifted our way and dropped a little lower and we watched it catching insects high overhead.

Hobby

Hobby – catching insects high overhead

There was one last addition to the day’s list here, when we were most of the way back. We finally found a couple of male Scarce Chaser dragonflies, perched up on the reeds by the path. Then it was back to the visitor centre for a rather later then planned lunch and another welcome rest after the long walk in the sun.

After lunch, we headed back into the Forest. We parked by a ride and walked into the pines. There were lots of butterflies buzzing around the Viper’s Bugloss, a mixture of Small and Essex Skippers. We had a closer look at them and even managed to see the key difference in the colour of the underside of their antennae!

Small Skipper

Small Skipper – with a pale underside to the antennae

It was very quiet when we got out to the clearing at the far end, but then it was the middle of the afternoon on the hottest day of the year so far! We found a male Yellowhammer perched up on one of the stump rows and, just behind it, a Stonechat was flycatching, but dropping back down out of view.

There has been a pair of Common Redstarts here and they have been feeding their recently fledged young in the last few days, so we went round to try to see them. It was all quiet where they have been though. We carried on a little further and noticed a bird fly up from the ground in the shade under a large oak tree. It headed straight up into the canopy, where we just managed to get a glimpse of a red tail. It was one of the Redstarts. Unfortunately it then stopped moving somewhere high in the canopy. We walked on a short way, and when we came back it did exactly the same thing again!

It was obviously too hot for much activity now. We walked back to the edge of the clearing, where all was very quiet. As we walked along the path though, we caught a distant snippet of a bird sub-singing. It sounded like a Tree Pipit, but as we stepped round the trees we noticed a Woodlark perched in the top of a young pine. A second Woodlark flew up from the ground at out feet and perched nearby where we could get a good look at it.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of the pair in the clearing

Then the Tree Pipit flew up from right in front of us and landed in another small fir tree. It was carrying food in its bill so presumably has young to feed nearby. As we looked more closely we could see it was fitted with a combination of colour rings. It was an old friend, an individual we saw in pretty much exactly the same place last year. It seems to be very successful here as, according to the ringer, it was already feeding its second brood!

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – a colour-ringed individual we have seen here the last couple of years

It was time to start heading back now. It had been a very successful three days, with a great selection of our breeding birds, as well as insects and other wildlife.

27th March 2018 – Brecks Birding Again

A Private Tour down in the Brecks today. The forecast earlier in the week was for heavy rain all day, which by yesterday was tempered to heavy rain clearing mid morning. As it was, we didn’t get any heavy rain at all, although it did rain in the morning and stayed stubbornly grey and misty all afternoon. Still, the weather almost never stops us getting out and seeing some good birds.

Our first target for the day was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. As we parked in the Forestry Commission car park it was drizzling still, so we donned boots and waterproofs and set off. On our way down to the bridge, we could hear Bramblings singing in the trees – more of a wheeze than a song. We found several in the trees by the feeders and had a good look at one male in particular which perched nicely above us.

Brambling

Brambling – several were singing down by the bridge

 

As we set off along the river bank path, a Treecreeper was singing in the first poplars and we eventually located it in a tree right above the path. A little further along, we found a Chiffchaff flitting around in the sallows above the ditch. This was the first of several we came across this morning, feeding low down along the edge of the river.

Although there has been the odd Chiffchaff singing here in recent weeks, these seemed like they might be new arrivals, returning for the summer.

Chiffchaff

Chifchaff – feeding feverishly along the river bank

We hadn’t gone much further when two Kingfishers flashed past, one over the reeds on one side of the path and the other back past us along the river. With a shout of ‘Kingfisher‘, half the group watched one as half saw the other and only afterwards we realised we were looking at different birds!

The Kingfisher which had flown along the river landed in one of the bushes overhanging the water just behind us, where we had a nice look at it, before it dropped down into the river and then flew off again.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – one of the two which flew past us simultaneously

As we were walking on along the path, we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call in the distance. Unfortunately, it was a long way back from the river and on the other side to us. We stood for a minute or so and listened in case it should call again, but it would be impossible to see it here anyway, so we decided to carry on to another favoured spot and try our luck there.

A little further on, and we found our first Mandarins of the day, a pair. At first we noticed the female, on a grassy pool just beyond the far bank. Then the drake swam out into view too. Stunning birds, and the first of many we would see today – they were hard to count!

Mandarin

Mandarin Duck – our first pair of the day were on a grassy pool by the river

It was non-stop action along the river bank at first, but once we got to the area where we hoped to find the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, all was quiet at first. As we walked slowly along, scanning the trees and listening carefully, we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and drumming and then found it high in a poplar by the river.

There were flocks of Redwings in the trees too and Siskins flying back and forth. We heard a couple of Marsh Tits singing and found a pair of Nuthatches flying around high in the trees. Thankfully the rain eased off a little as we stood and waited.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long. A series of sharp ‘ki,ki,ki,ki…’ calls alerted us to the arrival of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and a few seconds later we spotted it as it flew over to another tree. We got it in the scope and could see it working its way up a dead branch high in one of the poplars. It stayed just long enough for everyone to get a quick look at it through the scope, and then flew across to another.

We could still see the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker through binoculars, but it was on the move constantly. When it flew again, we lost sight of it in the branches further along. We walked up to where it had seemed to land, and a minute or so later flew again. This time it seemed to go a long way, although again we lost sight of it from where we were and couldn’t see whether it had flown across the river.

We walked back slowly along the path, listening and scanning the trees, but the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker didn’t call again, so perhaps it had gone away across the river. Having seen it already, we decided not to wait any longer for it to reappear and started to make our way back. Another pair of Mandarins had been flying round constantly as we waited and now we found them perched up in the trees beside the river. A different male landed on the water below, before they all flew off again.

As we got back to the bridge, a pair of Siskins were flitting around in the sallows and the male started songflighting. We had a quick look in the poplars by the road, but all was quiet. When we got back to the car, we heard Mandarin calling and looked up to see a group of five flying over the trees up towards the church.

It was time for a coffee break, so we drove down to the picnic area at St Helens. As we got out of the car there were lots of Redwings chattering in the trees. A male Grey Wagtail was singing from the handrail of the footbridge before flying off upstream. Yet another pair of Mandarins flew over calling and dropped down towards the river.

The coffee stop was quickly interrupted as a pair of Woodlarks dropped down into the cultivated field nearby. We managed to get one of them in the scope, but they quickly flew again, the female Woodlark up into a nearby beech tree while the male started to sing, fluttering round in circles on butterfly wings over the field.

Woodlark

Woodlark – the female turned out to be colour-ringed

 

When the female Woodlark dropped down into the field again to feed, much closer this time, we could get a better look at her. We could see that she was colour-ringed, with a combination of different coloured plastic rings. This normally would allow us to find out the details of where and when she was ringed and has been seen since, but at the time of writing this is proving harder to find out than it should! We watched as the Woodlark crept around in and out of the clods of earth.

It had stopped raining now, but it was still showing no signs of brightening up. We had been hoping to look for Goshawks, but we knew it would be difficult in the cold, grey and misty conditions. We headed over there anyway, but took a detour on the way to see if we could find any Stone Curlews. They are only back in very small numbers so far, possibly not a surprise given all the recent cold weather, and they proved elusive today too.

We did have nice views of a Tree Sparrow in a hedge while we were looking. There were a few Shelducks and a couple of Oystercatchers in the pig fields. A rather pale Common Buzzard was perched in a tree, but a second Buzzard flew low past us and we noticed a Red Kite circling over a nearby wood. The first raptor activity we had seen today.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow – hiding in the hedge

 

 

 

It was time for lunch so we decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and headed over to an area to try our luck for Goshawks. As we ate, we scanned the trees, but there was not a single raptor visible, not even a Common Buzzard up here today. A little group of Yellowhammers perched up in a bush with a couple of Reed Buntings. Several Roe Deer were out feeding in the edge of one of the fields and a pair of Greylag Geese were hiding in the winter wheat too.

The highlight was a pair of Curlew which flew in calling and circled down slowly into one of the fields. They are still very scarce breeders here, so it is always good to see a pair presumably back on territory.

After lunch, we decided to move on and try our luck with Willow Tits instead, while waiting to see if it might brighten up. We walked in to an area of plantation where some feeding tables have been set up for them. Just as we arrived, a brief sighting on one of the tables looked good for a Willow Tit, but it didn’t hang around or reappear.

As we stood and watched for a few minutes, a succession of Coals Tits, Marsh Tits and other tits came in and out. Then a Willow Tit started singing from the trees nearby. We followed the song, and eventually found a Willow Tit high in one of the pines. It seemed like there might be a pair here today, as at one point there appeared to be two birds present.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting in the early afternoon

 

It was still cloudy and grey, but it felt like the cloud had lifted a little, so we thought we could have one last look to see if there were any raptors up. On our way round, we spotted a Barn Owl on a post out among the bushes in a grassy meadow. They can be seen out hunting much more often in the daytime at the moment, probably still hungry after the recent snow.

Our efforts were rewarded with a lone Red Kite which appeared briefly above the trees, but there was still no sign even of any Common Buzzards taking to the air. Then the cloud base descended again and it started to rain once more, so we decided to admit defeat.

 

Our final destination for the day was Lynford Arboretum. Thankfully we drove out of the rain and it was dry again when we arrived. As we got out of the car, we noticed a small bird flitting around in one of the deciduous trees by the car park and a quick look confirmed it was a Firecrest.

Firecrest

Firecrest – flitting around in the trees by the car park

 

It was hard to make out any detail on the Firecrest at first, high in the trees, but it would periodically chase after an insect on the wing and flutter down lower, where we could see its strongly marked face pattern and brighter green upperparts than a Goldcrest. A second Firecrest then started singing from one of the fir trees nearby, but it was presumably deep in the thick foliage and we couldn’t see it.

We made our way quickly down towards the paddocks, stopping briefly to look at the feeders from the gate. Even though there were more fatballs today and more seed spread on the ground, it was rather quiet here, just a few tits and a Chaffinch. There was very little seed left out for the birds at the bridge, so we added a couple of generous helpings of sunflower seeds and headed down to check out the paddocks.

As we walked up to a gap in the hedge, one of the group spotted the first Hawfinch high in one of the hornbeams. We had a good look at it through the scope – it was a smart male, bright chestnut coloured. Shortly afterwards, it was joined by a duller grey-brown female and then a second male Hawfinch appeared with them too.

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – a bright male up in one of the hornbeams

 

When the Hawfinches all dropped down out of the tops of the trees, we scanned the ground underneath. We couldn’t see them there, but we did find a female Hawfinch right out in the open, in the middle of the grass with the Redwings! It hopped around for a couple of minutes, in and out of the tussocks, picking at the ground, before it flew back to the trees.

Hawfinch 2

Hawfinch – this female was hopping around in the middle of the grass

 

Having enjoyed great views of the Hawfinches, we made our way back to the bridge to see what was coming in to feed on the seed we had put out earlier. There were plenty of tits coming in and out, and we had great close views of several Marsh Tits here. Three different Nuthatches kept zooming in to grab beakfuls of seeds too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in for sunflower seeds down at the bridge

Then suddenly all the birds spooked and disappeared off into the trees. We looked around but couldn’t see any sign of something which might have frightened them. We decided to go and have a look around the lake. As we set off along the path, a quick look up into the trees in the paddocks and we noticed lots of birds in the tops. A closer look through the scope confirmed there were now at least seven Hawfinches here, though they were hard to count from here as there were several well hidden in the branches.

The Hawfinches all gradually dropped down through the branches, and we continued on. A Treecreeper was feeding on the trunk of one of the trees by the path and proved remarkably tame, allowing us to walk almost alongside. A second Treecreeper appeared too and we followed them for several minutes as they moved ahead of us along the path.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – great views feeding by the path beside the lake

There were not many ducks on the lake today – just a couple of pairs of Gadwall and a Mallard or two. Two Canada Geese were on the lawn beyond, along with several Moorhens. Our final pair of Mandarins for the day flew over the paddocks calling. We could hear Little Grebes laughing at us and eventually found one hiding in the reeds.

It was time to start heading back now. A quick glance back over the trees revealed a large, long-winged, long-tailed raptor in the distance, flying steadily towards us out of the clouds. Through the scope, we could see it was a Marsh Harrier, not what we were expecting here and possibly a bird migrating back north. When we got back to the bridge, the birds had all returned to feed again, including a female Reed Bunting now.

Then it was a nice gentle walk back to the car and off to make our way home. Despite the difficult weather, we had enjoyed a great day out and seen a very good selection of Breckland birds.

6th & 7th Jan 2017 – NW Norfolk in Winter

This was a Private Tour, over a day and a half, for a group based in NW Norfolk. It was to be a relaxed paced tour, enjoying some of the sights and sounds of the coast in winter.

Saturday 6th January

After an earlier than normal start, our first destination was Snettisham. It was a big high tide forecast for this morning, although not big enough to cover all the mud and force all the waders off the Wash. Still we hoped the thousands of waders forced in by the rising water might put on a good display for us.

As we arrived up on the seawall, the tide was already well in. A couple of swirling lines of waders overtook us on their way to the remaining mud in the far corner. We made our way quickly down towards Rotary Hide and then stopped to scan the water. There were lots of duck just offshore, bobbing on the tide, mainly Shelduck and Mallard closer in. Beyond them, we could see a couple of big rafts of Teal, which flew up and circled round before landing back in the water, along with a few Wigeon. Nearby, we found a handful of Pintail too, including some smart drakes sporting their elongated tail feathers.

There was a light mist this morning, but further out we could see a large flock of geese also swimming on the tide. They were Pink-footed Geese which had roosted here overnight. As we stood and watched, they started to take off, flying in towards the shore a few hundred at a time. As they approached us, they turned and started trying to gain height, presumably fearful we might be shooting at them with something other than cameras, before turning inland again further up the beach.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – a few of the many flying over us early this morning

As the number of Pink-footed Geese flying over gradually dwindled, we turned our attention to the waders. Through the mist, we could see a dark slick smeared across the mud and through the scope we could see it was a massed throng of birds. The tide was still coming in and they were shifting gradually up ahead of the rising water. More birds were flying in to join them from further up the Wash, long lines of Oystercatchers and Knot.

Waders

Waders – the vast throng gathering in the mist this morning

We walked on, down to the grass opposite Shore Hide. From here we could see the waders more clearly. In the deeper water at the front, were the Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits. Behind them on the mud were the Knot, tightly packed in their tens of thousands, looking almost like a single amorphous mass. Behind those on the drier mud, we could see lots of Grey Plover with the diminutive Dunlin in amongst them, the birds here more widely spaced. At the back, towards the saltmarsh beyond, were the much larger Curlews.

The Oystercatchers started to peel off quite early, flying in towards us in small groups, piping noisily. Over our heads, they dropped down towards the pit behind to roost. In one group, we spotted a single Avocet in with them. The vast majority of the Avocets have gone south to warmer climes for the winter, but a small number hang on here right through, as long as it doesn’t get too cold.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers & Avocet – one hiding in with the others

A couple of times, the Knot all flushed, bursting into the air and wheeling around high over the water before settling back down onto the ever-shrinking area of mud. There didn’t seem to be any immediate reason to panic; though a Marsh Harrier was patrolling the saltmarsh some distance behind them. After one of the flushes, with the exposed mud fast diminishing, several long lines of Knot flew in past us and dropped down onto the pit behind to roost.

Knot 1

Knot – a long line, flying in off the Wash and down to the pit to roost

The tide had stopped rising and the waders all seemed to have settled down on the last semicircle of mud. We started to think that would be it, when suddenly everything erupted. We looked at the clouds of birds and in the middle of them spotted a Peregrine. It swept through the Knot as they took off, scattering them, before swooping up and turning for another stoop. A small wader peeled off from the flock and the Peregrine set off after it for a second before turning back to the throng again.

Knot 3

Knot 2

Knot – tens of thousands twisting and turning over the Wash

The flocks of Knot swirled and twisted, making some amazing patterns as they turned, flashing alternately grey and white. Then they started to gain height. The Peregrine flew up too, trying to get above them, but it had lost the element of surprise now and eventually gave up.

The Peregrine started to fly in towards us, away from the swirling flocks of waders, high over the water. As it got in over the saltmarsh, it started to fly down until it was skimming low over the ground as it came in over the grass. It accelerated as it flew in, up over the bank before it turned sharply and disappeared down into the pit where the waders were all roosting.

Presumably mass panic ensued, but it was a surprising few seconds before we saw anything. Perhaps they were just hidden from our view, behind the bank, but at first the few Oystercatchers we could see over the far side did not seem to react. Then a large flock of Knot burst over the bank and low over the grass right past us. All we could hear was the whoosh of thousands of pairs of wings beating. A second flock of Knot followed a second later, the same noise. What a sight!

Knot 4

Knot – thousands of birds flew right past us

The Oystercatchers were up too now, as were flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover. Most of the waders headed out over the water again and circled as the Peregrine climbed into the sky again and flew off north, empty talonned. We could see it was a young bird, still a juvenile, so rather inexperienced.

We headed in to the hide now. Once the Peregrine had disappeared, many of the waders settled back down onto the pit. There were lots of Oystercatchers on the shingle banks around the south end of the pit and in one corner they were accompanied by some large and tightly packed groups of grey Knot.

Knot 5

Knot & Oystercatchers – packed into tight flocks to roost on the pit

Up the other end, there was a sizeable party of Redshank asleep on the tip of one of the spits. A single Ruff flew in and landed right in the middle of them – we could see its paler face and scallop-patterned back. There were also lots of Turnstone on the rocks out in the middle and a good number of Lapwing scattered all around.

There were plenty of ducks out on the water here too. Lots of Wigeon and Mallard, a few Shoveler and eventually we found a lone pair of Gadwall too, asleep on the bank at the back. There were diving ducks too, a liberal scattering of Tufted Ducks and a good number of Goldeneye. We got a couple of the male Goldeneye in the scope for a closer look – very smart ducks!

The geese on here were almost all Greylags, but a single Canada Goose was with them too. One of the group then spotted a much smaller Barnacle Goose, hiding in amongst the Greylags. We do get wild Barnacle Geese here sometimes, usually with the Pinkfeet, but given the company it was keeping this one was most likely a feral bird.

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose – most likely a feral bird, associating with the local Greylags

It had felt quite mild here at the start of the day, despite the light mist and a patchy frost inland, but we noticed the wind in our faces on the walk back to the car. It had picked up while we were in the hide, and there was now a noticeable chill. A small flock of Fieldfares flew south over our heads, possibly cold-weather migrants arrived from the continent – we have seen a few along the coast in the past few days.

Round at Titchwell, we stopped at the visitor centre for a warming coffee. The feeders were just in the process of being filled, and as soon as they were they were covered in the usual selection of finches – Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch. After the coffee break, we had a look in the ditches either side of the main path on our walk out onto the reserve. We couldn’t see any Water Rails at this point, but a Redwing flew in and landed in the trees in front of us before dropping down onto a post on the edge of the grazing marsh.

Redwing

Redwing – landed in the trees by the main path briefly

As we walked up along the main path, we could see a few people with telescopes gathered overlooking the grazing marsh pool. They were looking at a Rock Pipit out on the bare ground and as we set up the scope to get a better look at it, we noticed something else moving down at the front, much closer to us. A quick look through binoculars confirmed it was a Water Pipit, the bird we really wanted to see here.

We got the Water Pipit in the scope first and all had a really good look at it down on the mud. We then turned our attention back to the Rock Pipit which was still feeding a little further behind. It was really good to be able to compare these two similar species – the Water Pipit was noticeably much paler below, less dirty looking, and greyer above.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – great views feeding at the front of the grazing marsh pool

Several Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the reeds. We stopped again to scan around the edges of Lavendar Marsh next. There were lots of Lapwing down in the vegetation and on closer inspection we found four Common Snipe in with them too, feeding in between them, probing vigorously in the mud with their long bills. They were very well camouflaged against the yellow and browns of the vegetation.

There is a lot of water on the freshmarsh at the moment, which the ducks seem to be enjoying. As well as the usual selection of dabbling ducks, particularly Teal and Wigeon, we found a smart pair of Pintail which we had a look at it in the scope. Further back, there were a few Common Pochard in with the larger raft of Tufted Ducks. Several Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh and landed out on the water.

Avocets

Avocets – the five that are currently hanging on here

With most of the islands under water, there are not many places for waders to rest here at the moment. Five Avocets were asleep on the small remnant of one of the islands by the path to Parrinder Hide, the brave souls which are hanging on here through the winter, and a couple of Snipe were feeding on there too. We wanted to have a quick look at the sea first, so we continued on up the main path.

There were more waders on Volunteer Marsh – several Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Curlew. We had just stopped to look at them when we heard a Spotted Redshank call. We looked across to see it fly in and land in the channel at the far end of the marsh. We hurried up there and got it in scope – we could see its pale silvery grey upperparts spotted with white, paler than the Common Redshanks next to it, and its much longer, finer bill.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – flew in and landed on Volunteer Marsh

It was cold in the wind out at the Tidal Pools, so we hurried straight on to the beach. Unfortunately the sea was rather choppy now that the wind had picked up and it was harder to see the ducks. The Common Scoter were easier to see, dark black and brown, contrasting against the water, but even they kept disappearing in the waves. Several Long-tailed Ducks were with them and were more difficult to pick out in the swell, despite being mostly white. Eventually everyone got their eye in and managed to see them.

There were a few Goldeneye out here too and we managed to find a single Red-throated Diver on the sea close enough in to see. The tide was still fairly high, so there was not so much to see on the beach today – lots of gulls, and a few Sanderling running in and out between them. It was rather cold and exposed out here today, so we beat a hasty retreat to somewhere warmer!

Back at the Parrinder Hide, with the sun shining now we were looking straight into the light. As well as all the ducks as before, we had a closer look at the Golden Plover and Lapwings which were roosting on the bits of the fenced off island which were not under water. A single Snipe was on the island too.

The light was better on the other side of Parrinder Hide, looking over the Volunteer Marsh. A close Bar-tailed Godwit gave us a good opportunity to look at it in detail. There was also a Grey Plover and two Knot in front of the hide, as well as the usual Redshanks. A small flock of Linnet flew across in front of us.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – showing well in front of Parrinder Hide

It had been an action packed morning and we still hadn’t managed to stop for lunch, so we headed back towards the visitor centre. As we got into the trees, we scanned the ditches carefully again and this time we spotted a Water Rail just below the path. It was skulking underneath a tangle of branches, and hard to see until you knew exactly where it was. Eventually we all got good views of it feeding in the rotting leaves on the edge of the water.

Water Rail

Water Rail – skulking under a tangle of branches

We retired to the pub for a late lunch today. A nice opportunity to warm up over a plate of sandwiches. It was tempting not to venture out into the cold again but we did!

After lunch, we headed inland. We stopped by a cover strip sown on the edge of a field. The hedge alongside was full of birds, mainly Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers, which kept dropping down into the field to feed. A few Tree Sparrows were in with them, we could see their chestnut caps and black cheek spots. A nice bird to see – once a common countryside bird, just a few years ago, they are getting very scarce here now.

Carrying on inland, our next stop was at Roydon Common. The afternoon was already getting on, and the sun was starting to drop in the sky as we walked out across the heath. It was quiet at first as we made our way to the ridge, but we didn’t have to wait long. A Hen Harrier appeared up out of the vegetation in the bottom, a ringtail. It flew across, flashing the distinctive white square at the base of its tail, before landing again on the top of the heather.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – a ringtail, out over the heather

We had a good look at the Hen Harrier in the scope while it perched for some time. Then it took off again and flew low out across the heath, possibly a late hunt for food, over to the far side where it dropped down again out of sight.

As we waited to see if it or another Hen Harrier would appear, we could see a band of dark clouds to the north. It looked like they might miss us at first, but we were just caught by the edge and a mercifully brief shower. It passed through quickly, but the light was really going now, so we decided to head for home.

Sunday 7th January

The next morning, we met in Thornham again and this time headed east along the coast road to Holkham. It was a lovely morning, mostly clear with some patches of cloud, heading in to a beautiful sunrise. It was certainly nice in the car, but cold out of it in a blustery NE wind!

As we drove along the main road, we could see lots of geese in the fields alongside. We pulled up and had a quick scan – they were mostly Greylags, a few Pink-footed Geese too, and then we spotted two White-fronted Geese in with them. This was a species we were hoping to see here today, so we found somewhere to park off the road and walked back to look at them.

White-fronted Goose

White-fronted Goose – one of two by the road this morning

We had great views of the White-fronted Geese through the scope – we could see their black belly bars and the white surround to the base of their bills. We had a close look at the Pink-footed Geese and Greylags too. It was great to see the three species side by side, and get such good comparisons.

After watching the geese for a while, we continued on to Lady Anne’s Drive. As we turned off the main road, we could see several thrushes on the wet grass field next to the drive, so we pulled up for a look. There were several Fieldfares, possibly more fresh arrivals fleeing cold weather on the continent, and two Mistle Thrushes were with them. A little further along and four Grey Partridges were feeding on the edge of the drive, before running off into the field as we approached.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges – feeding beside Lady Anne’s Drive early morning

As we parked at the top end of the Drive, we could see three Brent Geese feeding very close to the fence, a nice chance to take a good look closely at our smallest geese, dark slate grey with a white half collar and paler streaked flanks. There were lots more Pink-footed Geese out on the grass and a single Egyptian Goose too.

We made our way out towards the beach first, through the pines before walking east along the edge of the saltmarsh. There were quite a few Skylarks tucked down in the saltmarsh vegetation, along with a couple of Rock Pipits and a Meadow Pipit flew off ahead of us calling.

Our target out here was Shorelark. There has been a flock of eight of them here, on and off, for the last few weeks, but there was no sign of them in their favoured spot when we arrived. We carried on east. As we got out of the lee of the trees, it was cold with the wind in our faces, so we headed across to the comparative shelter of the dunes, where we thought they might be hiding. There was still no sign of the Shorelarks along the high tide line here. We got almost to the beach huts at Wells, but it was exposed and windswept out on the beach beyond here, with lots of people too.

We started to walk back. We hadn’t gone far before we spotted another birder in the distance ahead of us stop and put up his scope. Scanning in front of him with binoculars, we could see eight tiny pale dots running around on the flats – the Shorelarks. We had a quick look through the scope, even though we couldn’t make out any detail at that distance but just in case they flew off, and then we hurried over.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – five of the eight birds feeding out on the mudflats

When we got within range, we stopped and got the Shorelarks in the scope. We all had a good look at them, their bright yellow faces catching the sun and contrasting strongly with the black mask and bib. It was just in time – suddenly, for no reason, they took off and flew in the direction we had just come, landing back down on the tideline by the dunes in the distance.

Shorelark

Shorelark – flew past us and back down the beach

On the walk back, we stopped for a more leasurely look to admire the Skylarks and Rock Pipits on the saltmarsh. We got the scope on them, and looked at the differences between larks and pipits. When they spooked and suddenly all took off, we were amazed at how many had been hiding in the stunted vegetation – at least 40 Skylarks appeared from nowhere!

Once we got back to the pines, we caught some movement in the trees and looked across to see a Treecreeper scaling a trunk. It flew across to another tree and, in typical fashion, disappeared round the back! After we encircled the tree, it had nowhere to hide and it came out so we could get a good look at it.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – scaling the trunk of a pine tree

There was more movement above the Treecreeper in the pines and we looked up to see two Goldcrests flitting around in the branches. Unfortunately, just at that moment, two people with a dog walked right in front of us, just where we were looking with our binoculars, and underneath the Goldcrests, flushing them up into the tops. Very helpful!

On the other side of the pines, we walked west along the track. It was nice in the sun here, sheltered from the wind. A pale Common Buzzard flew overhead and disappeared over the tops of the trees. We found a couple more tit flocks in the trees beside the path – Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, and another Goldcrest flashing its golden yellow crown stripe in the sun.

We stopped for a couple of minutes by Salts Hole. Several Little Grebes were out on the water, diving. We watched their feathers puffed out when they were up and the surface and then how they flattened them just before they dived. There were also lots of Wigeon sleeping out on the pool here, the smart drakes with chestnut heads and a creamy yellow stripe up their foreheads looking like it had been painted on. A Marsh Harrier hunted over the grazing marsh behind.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – several were diving out on Salts Hole

It was surprisingly warm in Washington Hide, the dark boards had obviously absorbed a lot of heat from the sun’s rays, a great place to rest for a few minutes. Unfortunately, we were looking straight into the sun, but the light catching the reeds in front of us was stunning. A Marsh Harrier was hanging in the breeze just beyond and a Common Buzzard was perched on bush behind that. As we were looking at it, a Red Kite was flushed from the grassy field behind by another Marsh Harrier. It landed again, and was mobbed by a third Marsh Harrier having a go at it.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the warmth of the hide and we made our way back to the car. When we got to Lady Anne’s Drive, a Red Kite was hanging in the wind over the grazing marsh in front of the car, possibly the same one we had just been watching.

We only had a half day out today, so we started to make our way back west. We arrived back in Thornham with a little bit of time to spare, so we made our way out to the Harbour. There was no sign of any Twite around the car park today, but it was very busy with lots of people out for a Sunday stroll. There was lots of disturbance – a couple of boys strangely decided to walk right out across the thick mud from the car park to the seawall – and in entirely unsuitable footwear!

Up on the seawall, it was exposed and very windy now. There were several Redshank scattered around the harbour channel and a lone Curlew was huddled up asleep, trying to shelter behind a spit of saltmarsh vegetation, out of the wind but catching the sun.

Curlew

Curlew – asleep in the sunshine, trying to shelter from the wind

We walked a short distance out along the seawall. A female Stonechat was working her way along the fence line on the edge of the grazing marsh below the bank, flying down to the ground and back up to perch on the next post along. This is another area the Twite often feed, but it was no quieter here – a dog ran down the bank and out onto the saltmarsh, chasing back and forth across the muddy channel trying to catch the Redshanks, which just flew off calling.

Unfortunately, we were out of time, so we turned and headed back to the car. We were almost back to the car park when we glanced across the saltmarsh to see a bright blue jewel sparkling on the mud the other side. It was a Kingfisher. It looked absolutely stunning in the sunshine, against the dark oily brown muddy bank on which it was perched. We stopped to admire it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – glowing in the winter sunshine

The Kingfisher was a fitting way to end the tour, one and a half days of great winter birding on the North Norfolk coast. Then it was off to the warmth of the pub for Sunday lunch.

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.