Tag Archives: Kingfisher

2nd September 2015 – September Spectacular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1080487Oystercatchers – amongst the broken clouds

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

P1080497Waders – concentrated onto the ever smaller area of exposed mud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1080601Greenshank – feeding below the hide

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

IMG_0325Spoonbill – roosting on the pits with the Cormorants

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

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

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

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

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

P1080791Ruff – a browner-toned juvenile

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

P1080812Avocet – feeding in the shallows in front of Island Hide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24th July 2015 – Summer Rain in the Brecks

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

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

IMG_7292Stone Curlew – one of several at Weeting Heath today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1060366Reed Bunting – feeding in the umbellifer heads in the rain

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

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

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

P1060383Cranes – flying towards us over the fields across the river

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_7330Marsh Harrier – this male perched up in the rain

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

P1060409Greenfinches – looking rather wet on the feeders

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

P1060448Great Spotted Woodpecker – a red-crowned juvenile

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

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

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

17th May 2015 – Bright & Breezey

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

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

IMG_4830Mediterranean Gull – a smart adult collecting nest material

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1000922Sedge Warbler – singing from the shelter of a wild rose

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

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

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

IMG_4852Grey Plovers – looking stunning in summer plumage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1000928Wheatear – the females in the dunes were very jumpy today

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

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

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

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

P1000937Marsh Harrier – this male brought back food for the female

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

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

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

P1000946Red Kite – hunting over the dunes this afternoon

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

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

6th February 2015 – Brrrr Brecks

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today, and down to the Brecks. Thankfully, the weather forecast was right for once and there was no snow – just a bright and mostly clear day, though a little on the cold side.

We started at Santon Downham. A Greenfinch was singing in the car park and a couple of Chaffinches were doing the same over by the river. There were also several Bramblings in the trees around the houses, including a couple of males starting to get their black heads, though still with plenty of brown fringes to the feathers showing. A Song Thrush was singing in the bushes by the bridge. Hopefully, all this vocal activity is a sign that spring is on its way!

Along the river bank, the ground and the ditches were still frozen. A Water Rail scuttled across the path ahead of us and another flew across to the near bank – presumably encouraged out by the icy conditions. We saw several more as we walked further along by the river this morning – about five in total.

P1110467Water Rail – we saw several along the river bank this morning

A Kingfisher flashed along the river and perched up ahead of us briefly. It stayed one step ahead of us all the way along – and back – and we eventually got good views of it perched up in the trees by the bank. There were lots of other things to see as well – Nuthatches calling, a pair of Marsh Tits feeding in the alders, loads of Siskin zooming about overhead. Four small ducks flew up from the river bank and circled round – Teal. Then another two ducks flew overhead and turned to drop down into the damp scrub – but these were Mandarins!

The sun was doing its best to try to warm up the air, but with a cold north-easterly straight from Russia it was fighting a losing battle. Despite the birds singing, the woodpeckers were slow to get started. We had heard a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling as we walked out, but it was not until mid-morning that we heard any drumming. Even then it was a bit half-hearted. A Green Woodpecker was calling from across the river as well. But that was it and unfortunately we had an appointment elsewhere.

We drove to another part of Thetford Forest and positioned ourselves for the vigil. No sooner had we got ourselves ready than a hawk flew up from the trees ahead of us and started to circle up. Unfortunately, it was too small, and flew with rapid wingbeats, despite its best efforts to look more interesting in the sunlight. A Sparrowhawk. There were several Common Buzzards around, but they were not up too much – perhaps it was just a bit too cold. They would circle up for a short while, before dropping back into the trees. A couple landed in the pines in front of us and sat there looking like they had had enough already. A Kestrel circled overhead, several Skylarks were singing and a flock of Fieldfare flew over heading north.

IMG_2509Common Buzzard – spent some time sitting around in the pines

Just as we started to think we might be out of luck, all the pigeons erupted from the trees, scattering in all directions. One of the Common Buzzards was flying round with them, but surely that wouldn’t spook them in such a fashion? Then another bird appeared. It was big – almost the same size as the Buzzard; it was powerful, with deep wingbeats; it was steely grey above and very white below; it was the prize we were waiting for – a Goshawk. It circled for a while, in the same view as the Common Buzzard – a great opportunity to see them side-by-side, as it is always hard to judge the size of a lone bird in the sky. We watched in awe. Then it turned and with a couple of deep downbeats of its wings it powered down into the trees. Wow!

P1110473Hockwold Washes

With that one in the bag, we decided to head for Lakenheath Fen for lunch. We didn’t have enough time to explore the whole reserve today, but we had really come to have a look at Hockwold Washes (and use the facilities!). Lots of Reed Buntings were around the feeders at the visitor centre. A couple of Stonechats were in the reeds by the river. From the river bank, we could see lots of Mute Swans and gulls on the water (Black-headed, Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls), a few ducks including Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and a couple of Wigeon; a Marsh Harrier flew over; and a Redshank and a Little Egret fed on the margins.

Then, along the other riverbank to the east, we picked up an altogether bigger egret. A Great White Egret or two have been here for the last few weeks and this was just what we had come to see. At one point a Little Egret flew down and landed just along from it – and was completely dwarfed by it. The Great White Egret stood and preened for a while and stretched its neck up – such a long neck! We could see its long yellow bill as well. Then, while we were scanning the other way, it flew past us (having been flushed by a dog walker on the other bank), and landed just along to the west. We could see its long legs and dark feet as it flew.

IMG_2522Great White Egret – check out the very long neck and long yellow bill

We headed round to Lynford Arboretum next. There was a large posse of photographers clustered round the gate talking loudly. It appeared that a couple of Hawfinches had been feeding there earlier but they were there no longer. Not to worry – we set off for a walk round. Unfortunately, the birds are not seen in the paddocks as often as they used to be these days. It was quite windy in the open, but as we were walking back towards the arboretum, we picked up a shape sitting in the top of a fir tree, being blown around. A quick look through the bins confirmed our suspicions – a Hawfinch. We got it in the scopes, but rather than drop down out of the wind, it sat there for ages, turning round to show us its better side. A cracking bird.

IMG_2580IMG_2578Hawfinch – a female, sat in the top of a tall fir tree in the wind

Having watched that for a while, we left it where it was and walked on to explore the arboretum. A Grey Wagtail was by the lake in the trees. There were also lots of Siskin in the alders, singing and calling, a constant chatter, and we finally got a better look at one.

IMG_2581Siskin – lots were feeding in the alders at Lynford again

The bridges are often adorned with birdseed and other treats, and today the restaurant was open and the diners were flocking in – a couple of Marsh Tits, plus Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Nuthatches, Chaffinches and more! A couple of Treecreepers fed in the trees overhead – at one point right above our heads.

P1110477Marsh Tit – taking advantage of the food put out

P1110481Treecreeper – feeding in the tree right above us

We were about to leave when someone spotted a flash of blue across the lake and a Kingfisher perched up in the trees close by. We were just admiring it in the scope, when it took off and flew straight towards us. It almost landed in the tree right next to us, veering away, but still landing close by. It looked absolutely stunning in the late afternoon sun.

P1110483P1110490Kingfisher – fishing in the lake

With the sun sinking in the sky and the temperature starting to drop, we still had enough time for one more treat. We walked over to have a look at the lakes. The first was fairly quiet, just a little flock of Tufted Duck out on the water and a few Gadwall in the reeds. The other one looked empty as well, at first, but a white shape over by the trees caught out eye. A beautiful drake Goosander, with a redhead female swimming nearby. A great way to end the day.

16th January 2015 – Broads Bonanza

The first day of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. We headed down to the Broads to catch up on a few of the local specialities. We picked up a couple of participants on the way, in Aylsham, and were rewarded with a Barn Owl hunting down by the river. A good start to the day.

The first stop proper was at Ludham. We could already see the swans from a good mile away. One collective noun for them is a “whiteness of swans” and this seemed particularly apt as 200 large white birds in a flat open landscape really stand out! We stopped nearby and spent some time studying them in the scopes. The majority (175+) were Bewick’s Swans and amongst them were a smaller number (25+) of Whooper Swans. It is always great to be able to see them side-by-side, to see the differences in size and structure, and the pattern of yellow on their respective bills.

P1100961IMG_2269Bewick’s & Whooper Swans – a herd of around 200 was at Ludham today

From there we moved on to Horsey. A drive along the coast road quickly yielded our next target – a pair of Common Cranes in their ‘usual’ field close to the road. We pulled over and watched them feeding for a while before they suddenly took flight and dropped down over a bank of reeds. Fantastic views! While we were still standing there, yet another Crane flew over. Unfortunately this one seemed to be injured – one of its legs was dangling beneath. It landed on the other side of the road and, whilst still able to move about and probably feed, it was clearly unsteady and would frequently raise its wings to steady itself. Such a great shame to see such a majestic bird in this state.

P1100966Common Cranes – these two were feeding close to the road

P1100969P1100973Common Crane – this poor bird unfortunately appeared to have an injured leg

With Cranes all around, we spent some time surveying the surrounding fields. Lots of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Fieldfare, Starling and even a Common Buzzard were out on the open grass. There were also quite a few Pink-footed Geese on view, but the bulk of the flock today were feeding further away. As we left and drove on up the road, we could see all three Cranes, two on one side and the injured bird on the other.

P1100981P1100985Grey Seals – the rookery at Horsey has had a record year

We stopped further on at Horsey Corner and walked behind the dunes out to the viewpoint for the Grey Seals. The rookery here has had another successful breeding season, with over 800 pups now recorded. Numbers have now dropped from the peak in November/December, but there were still a few pups out on the sand, as well as a selection of adults loafing on the beach.

While we there, we spent a while scanning the sea, which produced a couple of Red-throated Divers and a Great Crested Grebe for the day’s list, as well as a single Sanderling running along the beach and plenty of gulls taking advantage of the remains of those pups which didn’t make it to sea. Both on the walk out, and the way back, we were accompanied for part of the journey by a pair of Stonechats perching along the fence posts in front of us.

P1100977Stonechat – a pair was along the fence at Horsey

Due to roadworks, we had been forced to drive round via Hemsby to get to and from Horsey today. This should have been to our advantage, as several Tundra Bean Geese have been in with Pink-footed Geese at Hemsby recently. Unfortunately a metal detecting enthusiast had chosen today to prospect the fields they had been in, so the geese had moved on. So did we – we headed round to Strumpshaw for lunch. While we ate, we enjoyed a good selection of tits coming to the feeders, including a couple of Marsh Tits.

The Taiga Bean Geese which normally winter in the Yare Valley have been feeding somewhere other than their regular sites this year. With 7 reported from Cantley Marshes this morning, it seemed worth a look. However, in keeping with recent form they were nowhere to be found, so we moved swiftly on.

IMG_2274IMG_2275Rough-legged Buzzard – put on a good display this afternoon

A short drive to Halvergate and no sooner had we got out of the car than we were wondering where to look. On one side of the road, a Short-eared Owl was hunting back and forth across the grazing marshes. On the other,  the Rough-legged Buzzard was sat on a fence post. What a dilemma! We watched the Short-eared Owl for a while, as it was putting on by far and away the best performance initially. It looked stunning in the late afternoon sun.

Finally, as if in recognition of the fact that its lack of activity was costing it the attention it deserved, the Rough-legged Buzzard took to the air and spent a while hunting, hovering over the marshes. Through the scope, we could get a great look at its black-banded white tail and white underparts with contrasting black belly and carpal patches. At one point, it was even pursued by a second Short-eared Owl.

P1100988Short-eared Owl – 2 were hunting at Halvergate this afternoon

With the afternoon drawing on, we made for Hickling and walked out to Stubb Mill for the evening roost. The Marsh Harriers were already starting to gather and yet another two Common Cranes were feeding out across the marshes. As we scanned the fields, a steady stream of Marsh Harriers were drifting in to roost (we counted at least 30) and eventually we managed to pick up our first ringtail Hen Harrier briefly. Then a male Hen Harrier appeared, an ghostly apparition in pale grey, it flew in and dropped down behind the reeds. Then another ringtail appeared and spent some time circling over the reeds. A Merlin shot through, all too briefly before anyone could get onto it. A Kingfisher flew round in front of us and dropped into the ditch behind – it perched up on the bank for a while where we could get it in the scope. A Chinese Water Deer walked across the marsh.

However the day undoubtedly belonged to the Cranes. After the three we had seen so well earlier, it seemed like we couldn’t hope for better, but as the light faded a flock (herd?) of 8 flew lazily across in front of the watchpoint – quite a sight. Thinking that was a fitting end to the day, we set off back to the car. But as we walked yet three more Cranes appeared over the trees and, as we stood silently on the road they flew right over our heads and off over to Hickling Broad to roost. Simply awesome.

22nd November 2014 – Brant & Buntings & Harriers

Day 2 of the 3 day tour. The plan was to work our way east along the north coast today. The weather forecast did not look promising, and the day started cloudy with drizzle, but luckily it was not going to be as bad as it first looked.

P1090905Wells Harbour – a damp & misty start

We started out at Wells and had a quick look out across the harbour. Several Marsh Harriers were flying about over the saltmarsh. Groups of Brent Geese came low overhead and landed in the creek to bathe, before flying to the fields to graze. A Little Egret waded just off the mud and several Redshank and Turnstone, plus a Curlew and a Grey Plover were on the sandbanks. A small group of Redwing flew overhead and inland. Best of all, a Kingfisher flashed across and landed on a pontoon in the harbour.

P1090909Little Egret – one of many seen today

A short drive along the coast and just past Cley we could see several large groups of Brent Geese flying alongside us from the reserve to the grazing meadows by the road. We stopped to look through the gathering flock and it wasn’t long before we managed to locate the Black Brant which has been with our ‘Dark-bellied’ Brents in the Cley area for the last couple of weeks. After the Black Brant hybrid which we saw yesterday, this was the real deal, an altogether more impressive beast. Much darker, almost black back and belly with brown rather than grey tones, and with a very bright white flank patch and collar, the latter complete under the chin and continuing extensively round to the rear of the neck. It really stood out among the Dark-bellieds.

IMG_1828Black Brant – a much more striking bird than the hybrid we saw yesterday

While we were sitting in the car watching it, a Chiffchaff appeared in a bush in front of us. Presumably a migrant on the move, it flew off along the ditch by the road. We got out of the car very carefully and managed to get great views through the scope of the Black Brant, but we could see several people gathering in the field across the road and then the shooting started. The geese took flight and all the birds around took to the air. As a large covey of Red-legged Partridges fled from the guns we saw a Woodcock amongst them – thankfully it escaped unscathed.

We drove on to Salthouse and parked on the beach road. Walking up on to the shingle, we stopped to look at a group of Dunlin feeding on the pools behind the beach. A couple of Turnstone were in amongst them and more were feeding around the remains of the old shingle bank.  While we were standing there, a small flock of Snow Buntings flew in from the west, their calls first giving away their arrival, and we watched them land on the edge of the pools. We spent some time watching them through the scope, running quickly along the mud and feeding in the grass along the edge.

We walked east along the beach. A large flock of Linnets was on the shingle where the old car park used to be. Looking out to sea was quiet – a single Red-breasted Merganser flew past, some more Brent Geese arrived presumably from the continent and a lone Gannet circled distantly offshore. The one thing we could see was small groups of Blackbirds flying in off the sea. One landed on the beach exhausted – it took two goes to fly up the beach before dropping down into cover on the other side. At Gramborough Hill, there were a couple more in the bushes and yet more flew in as we walked round. It was to be a theme of the day, with small groups arriving wherever we went.

P1090932Blackbird – this exhausted new arrival took two goes to get up the beach

Back to Cley and we headed along the path by the road and up onto the East Bank. The new pools on the edge of the reedbed held a Grey Heron and a small group of Teal with the Mallard. Scanning along the edge, a pair of Stonechat were by the reeds. Then a sharp call alerted us to a Water Pipit overhead, which thankfully dropped in amongst the reed regrowth around the margin of the pools. We managed to get the scope on it and everyone got a quick look before it disappeared into cover.

P1090934Teal – feeding on the new pools by the East Bank

There were several Marsh Harriers over the reeds, both on the old reserve and over Pope’s Marsh. One of the group spotted another harrier flying in from behind us, which looked slightly different. A quick look revealed a stunning male Hen Harrier. We watched it fly west across the reedbed, over the reserve and disappear away over the West Bank. Out in the reeds, their distinctive ‘ping’ calls alerted us to the presence of Bearded Tits. They were keeping low down in the vegetation, but occasionally would fly between groups of reeds, allowing us to see them. Several Reed Buntings were slightly more accommodating.

P1090936Marsh Harrier – over the reedbed at Cley

There were lots of ducks out on the marsh – Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Shelduck. A single Black-tailed Godwit flew overhead. The sea itself was still quiet, but more Blackbirds were seen flying in. The walk back towards the car was accompanied by several small groups overhead, or flying past us over the reeds.

We finished the day at Stiffkey. The forecast had been for rain later in the afternoon, but it was actually dry with the cloud even breaking up in places. It seemed worth a go at seeing the harrier roost. There were several Marsh Harriers over the saltmarsh, but it didn’t take long for us to see our first Hen Harrier, a ringtail, in this case a young bird which flew east over the saltings. Then a second ringtail appeared distantly to the west, and it too flew past us, before turning and doing a much closer flypast back west. Finally, to round off the performance, a beautiful male Hen Harrier appeared. Possibly the same bird we had seen earlier at Cley, it worked its way slowly west past us, giving us prolonged scope views.

There are always lots of Little Egrets on the saltmarsh at Stiffkey, but as the light started to fade, even more began to appear, flying east in small groups to roost. In the space of about half an hour we saw more than 50 fly past, with the largest group comprising 13 birds together. And they were still coming when we decided the light was getting too poor to stay any longer and called it a day.

P1090939Sunset – Stiffkey looking towards Wells over the saltmarsh