Tag Archives: Lesser Yellowlegs

Scillies – October 2020

With tours on hold again due to the latest UK Covid lockdown (we hope to restart again as soon as lockdown ends), I thought I would write a blog post about my recent trip to the Isles of Scilly – something to read as the winter nights draw in! This was the 25th year I have stayed on Tresco, with only one or two missed years, and we spent 12 days on the island(s) this year after a couple of unplanned extensions, from 17th-29th October.

This year’s trip started badly. With lots of talk ahead of time about the possibility of a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown over half term, we brought forward our departure by two days. So we drove down on Friday night and were just having coffee early on Saturday morning, before the heliport opened, when news came through that a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (aka Rufous Bush Chat) had just been found back in Norfolk. Even worse, it was at Stiffkey, about 15 minutes from home and a site I visit regularly, including on Friday morning!

Things didn’t get any better as we checked in for our 8.30am helicopter flight to St Mary’s. This is the first year of the new helicopter service and we thought we would try it out. As we sat in the lounge, the helicopter was towed out onto the landing pad, started up and promptly shut down again. After the engineers had stared under the bonnet for a bit, it was towed back into the hangar. We were then informed that there was a technical fault with the helicopter – although we weren’t told that it had already been out of action for most of the previous two days! With only one helicopter leased to run the service, there is no alternative when it goes wrong – a bit of a disadvantage compared to some of the other travel options available like Skybus.

With it being a Saturday, if we didn’t travel today we wouldn’t get over until Monday, losing two days of our trip. We were offered no other option but to travel on the MV Scillonian (rather than putting us on a Skybus flight instead), which would still lose us the best part of a day. Despite the boat being much cheaper than the helicopter tickets, we were refused a refund of the difference and were told we couldn’t book ourselves on the boat and take a refund on the cancelled flight. Not great customer service and not a good first impression for the new helicopter service – an experience we would certainly bear in mind before booking on it again.

When we got down to the Scillonian, we had to wait on the quay because we didn’t have any tickets. When we finally got on board, we took our seats up on deck as it started to drizzle! Thankfully things improved from there, as the skies cleared from the west as we steamed out of the harbour at 10.25. The crossing was unusually calm – good for those with sensitive stomachs, but it did mean there were not so many birds today, aside from the regular Gannets, Kittiwakes and little flocks of auks, and two Arctic Skuas as we neared the islands.

It was mid afternoon before we finally got over to Tresco and were transferred to the cottage where we were staying. After a very late lunch, there was just time for a quick walk round the island. The first impression was rather quiet bird-wise. There had been a good arrival of American birds the week before, but they had gradually dwindled, moved on in the clear weather. With a run of easterlies since, most of the best birds arriving had been on the other side of the country. Still, there were a couple of lingering rarities remaining on St Agnes, so I resolved to head over there tomorrow.

After a quick walk round early morning, which yielded a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and a small flock of six Common Crossbills flying over as the highlights, I met fellow Tresco regular Steve Broyd on the quay at New Grimsby for the 10.15 boat to St Agnes, and we were joined by John who was staying in the New Inn.

There was no news of either of our targets by the time we arrived on St Agnes and we made our way down to Horse Point fearing the worst. Thankfully just as we were scouring the area looking for the American Buff-bellied Pipit someone called us over to say they had just refound it. We watched it for some time, feeding on the short grass between the rocks and low stunted clumps of bracken and brambles. The bird was mostly on its own but sometimes loosely associating with Meadow Pipits.

American Buff-bellied Pipit – feeding on the short grass at Horse Point

There have been 48 previous records of American Buff-bellied Pipit in Britain up to the end of 2019, so they are fairly regular here these days. This was the third I have seen on the Isles of Scilly, but the first since 2012, so always good to have a refresher, particularly as they can turn up anywhere, not just in the SW.

While we were watching the Buff-bellied Pipit, news came through that the ‘Eastern Stonechat‘ had been refound on Gugh, the neighbouring island attached to St Agnes by a bar. Thankfully the tide was low, allowing us to cross, so we made our way over there next. There were only a couple of other photographers present and the bird was now showing really well in the tall bracken, flicking round catching insects.

Eastern Stonechat‘ is the current term used for two aggregated species – Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus) and Stejneger’s Stonechat (S. stejnegeri). Only recently treated as separate species, the authorities currently require a DNA test to determine which is which (and we had neglected to bring a DNA testing lab with us!). But it may transpire that they are fairly easily separable in the field, and some individuals certainly appear to be distinctive enough. This one looked like a slam dunk Siberian Stonechat (maurus) to my eyes, pale and frosty, with a pale peachy-coloured rump.

Siberian Stonechat – a lovely pale frosty individual
Siberian Stonechat – with a pale peachy-coloured rump

It was a lovely sunny day now and there seemed to be birds on the move. There were several Chiffchaffs flycatching in the nearby pittosporum and others appeared to be making their way through the bracken and brambles. There had been a report of a Red-breasted Flycatcher on Gugh earlier, so we decided to explore. We didn’t find the flycatcher – it turned out the directions given were not especially accurate and we had looked in the wrong place – but we spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering round Gugh.

We still had over an hour before our boat back was supposed to leave, so we decided to cross back to St Agnes and circle round via The Parsonage. As we walked along the road towards the front wall, we could hear a distinctive call, a repeated ‘tsk, tsk’ rather like someone tutting, coming from the front garden. It was a Dusky Warbler! It had gone quiet when we got to the wall and looked over, and someone walked round the house and went in through the front door.

We stopped to scan the garden – a Pied Flycatcher and a Spotted Flycatcher were flitting around in the trees above. Further along, from the top of the driveway, there were several thrushes under the apple trees and one or Blackcaps. As I was looking through them, something small shot across through the foreground of my bins. Steve saw where it landed, in the far corner of the garden, and announced it was a Pallas’s Warbler! As I got onto it, I noticed some movement in the pittosporum just behind and the Dusky Warbler popped out briefly.

We watched the Pallas’s Warbler as it fed in the ivy in the sunshine, hovering and flashing its lemon-yellow rump, before it disappeared up into the trees behind the annexe. There was a Yellow-browed Warbler in there too. Then the Dusky Warbler started calling again, from the hedge behind the apple trees and we had fleeting views as it flicked in and out several times, before making its way round behind the house.

Several people had gathered here now, and the Dusky Warbler had disappeared back into the tangles in the front garden, where we could still hear it calling on and off. It was time for us to make our way back to the quay to catch our boat back to Tresco. What an amazingly productive hour it had been at The Parsonage!

There had been several Little Buntings on Tresco over the last week, and one was refound while we were on St Agnes, behind New Grimsby along the track up to Castle Down. By the time we got back, it had disappeared – there were lots of people out walking, up and down the track. But the following morning I found it again, before it got too busy. It was initially in the gardens in front of the Coastguards Cottages, but eventually moved back to the track where it proved to be very obliging.

Little Bunting – this very obliging bird was lingered behind New Grimsby

Things then settled down over the next few days and there seemed to be little in the way of new arrivals. The excitement of yesterday’s Dusky and Pallas’s Warblers did not continue. With a strong southerly airflow from the Mediterranean building, I had high hopes for some overshoots but a lone Glossy Ibis on 21st was the only notable new bird. After touring St Agnes, Gugh and St Mary’s it made the briefest of visits to Tresco mid afternoon. Thankfully it flew in past me and landed on the grassy heliport, just in time for Steve to see it as he waited for his flight off. It only stayed three minutes before flying off towards Carn Near, and was back on St Mary’s soon after.

Glossy Ibis – flew in and landed on Tresco heliport for just three minutes!

The southerly airflow also brought with it a small arrival of Black Redstarts. I usually see them here at this time of year, in variable numbers depending on the prevailing weather conditions. Most of them are grey female/first winters, but a smart male Black Redstart took up residence in the churchyard at Old Grimsby for a couple of days.

Black Redstart – this smart male spent a couple of days in the churchyard

I had taken with me a small portable Skinner 20W actinic moth trap but the southerly airflow failed to produce much in the way of migrant moths on Tresco, despite high hopes. Two Palpita vitrealis (Olive-tree Pearl) were all I had to show for my efforts, despite there being a couple of Crimson Speckled on other islands. This year proved to be rather quiet for moths.

Palpita vitrealis – the only migrant moths I managed to find on Tresco

The next couple of days felt a little like Groundhog Day. There were 5 or 6 lingering Yellow-browed Warblers on Tresco and the variety was provided by which I could find where on different days. A couple of Ring Ouzels were in the fields between New and Old Grimsby at the start of our stay but seemed to move on after a few days in the calm, clear weather.

Ring Ouzel – there were a couple on the island at the start of our stay

There were small numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings on the island throughout and the lull in new arrivals did at least give me a chance to spend some time studying some of the Redwings more closely. Many of them were noticeably darker than the Scandinavian birds we typically get back in Norfolk, more heavily streaked and blotched below and with more noticeable dark markings in the undertail coverts. They looked like Icelandic Redwings, of the race coburni, though there was clearly a lot of variation which only added to the interest.

Presumed Icelandic Redwing – of the race coburni

I have blogged before about the changes I have seen on Tresco over the years. This year, my wanderings around the island were continually disturbed by the grinding noise of the tractor flailing the pittosporum hedges. In places they are now getting very thin, as the flailing goes ever deeper each year (it must be no fun for the tractor driver just to trim one year’s growth – it makes a much better noise if you can really dig it in to the thicker branches!) and the cattle are pushing through and making big gaps. Perhaps this is deliberate – I am sure if the hedges were to die then the larger fields would make it easier for managing the cattle.

Flailing – the hedges on Tresco were taking a bashing again

I remembered fondly my first visit to Tresco back in the 1980s. The fields along Pool Road were still used for growing bulbs and vegetables back then and by October were full of weeds. The fields were smaller and the hedges overgrown, full of brambles. There were lots of birds. Now, with a combination of improved grass and overcut hedges, they are much less attractive to wildlife.

For many years, the fields at Borough Farm were still managed the old way, but since they have been taken back under the control of the Tresco Estate for the last couple of years they are now grassed over and the hedges have been cut back here too. I have fond memories of all the birds I have seen here over the years as well but they are sadly increasingly a shadow of their former selves too. Shame. It really brought it home spending time on St Agnes this year, which is still more like the Scilly Isles of old (as are most of the other islands), with weedy fields and overgrown hedges, full of birds.

There are still some good, birdy places on Tresco though. The areas around the Great Pool and Abbey Pool are some of the most promising still, but despite my best efforts, I hadn’t yet managed to find anything unusual here this year. A Firecrest and a late Reed Warbler in the sallows, along with 2-3 of the Yellow-browed Warblers. Shelduck, Shoveler, Pintail and Tufted Duck put in appearances. The three Black Swans which have taken up residence here this year provided a welcome distraction.

Black Swan – one of three which have taken up residence this year

The wind swung round to the west on 23rd and the weather became more unsettled. It was wet and windy on 24th with the arrival of a weather system straight across the Atlantic bringing a passing weather front. Late in the day a Rose-breasted Grosbeak was found on Gugh. The change in the weather had done the trick and brought with it some new birds from North America!

There was no way to get to Gugh that day, but I resolved to head over to St Agnes on the scheduled boat tomorrow morning. Louis Cross, another Tresco regular and friend of mine, had recently arrived and I told him of my plans that evening. We bumped into each other first thing the following morning and spent an hour or so birding around the Great Pool. An early boat had gone across from St Mary’s to St Agnes and now negative news came back – there was no sign of the Grosbeak. I changed my mind – I figured there would be lots of birders on St Agnes and I had a better chance of finding something good on Tresco, brought in on the same weather system. Louis had arranged to go to St Agnes with his family, so decided he would go anyway.

Needless to day, I failed to find anything on Tresco that morning – a Reed Bunting by Abbey Pool was the only new bird. I was already kicking myself for not going to St Agnes when news came through mid morning of a Red-eyed Vireo there. Then, after heading back to the cottage for lunch, I had a call from Louis on St Agnes. Words to the effect of ‘I’m looking at a bird and I’m not sure what it is’ but with a bit more ‘colour’, I immediately knew it had to be something good!

Louis sent me a photo, taken with his phone off the back of his camera, but it came through upside down and there was a reflection across the screen so it was hard to make out. He had already mentioned the possibility of it being a North American bunting – and when he sent me another, better photo it looked good for Indigo Bunting. I quickly downloaded a photo of the Ramsey Island bird from 1996 and sent it to him, while reassuring him that a 1st winter female Indigo needn’t have any blue in the tail, which seemed to be his main reservation. Then someone he had called over to the see the bird posted a photo on the Scilly WhatsApp group and the news went out.

Cue scramble to get to St Agnes! I could see people over on the quay at New Grimsby waiting for one of the St Mary’s boats, so while I cycled over to see if I could get over via St Mary’s, my wife tried to contact Tresco Boat Services. Despite it being a Sunday, she got through and managed to arrange a jet boat special to St Agnes. The game was on! On my way back to the quay, I scooped up a fellow Norfolk birder who was over on Tresco from St Mary’s and we had a nervous wait as the jet boat failed to appear. ‘Straight away’, turned into ‘3pm’ and eventually at 3.15pm finally the boat appeared.

We were whisked across to St Agnes (despite a big swell once we got out of the lee of Samson) and Louis met us on the quay to lead us to the bird. Several birders over from St Mary’s were leaving but there was still a small group watching the Indigo Bunting which was feeding on the path by the old bonfire with a couple of Chaffinches.

Indigo Bunting – feeding with a Chaffinch

Indigo Buntings breed in eastern North America and winter from southern Florida down to northern South America. They are extremely rare visitors here with only two previously accepted records – apart from the 1996 Ramsey Island bird, one was photographed on a bird table on Anglesey in May 2013 but only identified retrospectively. The adult males are bright indigo blue in summer, but first winters, particularly young females, can lack any blue at all.

Indigo Bunting – only the third record for Britain

A fantastic find by Louis – many congratulations to him – and it was nice to be able to share the moment with him, watching it together. We even had time to nip round and see the Red-eyed Vireo nearby, another vagrant from North America, before our jet boat returned to take us back to Tresco. Not surprisingly, we had a couple of celebratory pints in the New Inn afterwards (before we both had to go back to family duties)!

We were supposed to be leaving the next day, but it felt like there had to be more to find on the islands. With all the excitement on the Scillies, my elder son, Luke, announced that he was coming down from Spurn for a few days with a couple of his friends, Jacob & Bethan. We decided to stay on too, although it required some hasty rearrangement of travel plans and we would have to move cottage in the morning.

I got up early to pack up, and figured I had enough time for a quick couple of hours birding before we had to move cottage at 9.30am. I thought the pools offered the best chance to find something in the time available, so rather than setting off on foot I cycled down to Swarovski Hide. There was no sign of anything on the Great Pool and the bushes along Pool Road were pretty quiet as I cycled down to the far end. I left the bike propped up against the bushes and had a walk round the bushes.

As I started to walk over towards Abbey Pool, I noticed I had a message from Dick Filby on St Mary’s. He had photographed a rainbow which appeared to end on the south end of Tresco and had joked ‘And today’s #ScillyBirds rarity is awarded to….Abbey Pool, Tresco!’. Little did he know how right he was! I had a quick look over the bracken on the east side of Abbey Pool, but couldn’t see anything of note, so cut across round the woodpile and out to Pentle Beach.

When I got back to the SE corner of Abbey Pool, I walked through the bracken to check along the near edge of the water. I could see a wader on the shore now, right up in the NE corner. It seemed to have yellow legs, but I just had my bins and camera with me and it was too far to be sure. I had a pretty good idea what it was, but I spent the next 10 minutes or so working my way carefully up along the shore, using the vegetation as cover so as not to disturb it. I needn’t have worried. As I got up towards it, the juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs turned and walked back along the shore towards me, before walking past about three feet from me! It was too close to focus on!

Lesser Yellowlegs – this juvenile was a nice find on Abbey Pool

So the rainbow and Dick were both right – the Scilly rarity of the day was indeed on Abbey Pool! I messaged him back with a photo. Louis came over to see it and then I headed back rather later than planned. Lesser Yellowlegs is another visitor from North America, not as rare as the others but a nice find nonetheless.

It really felt like there should be more North American vagrants to find on the Scillies, given the birds which had appeared over the last couple of days, but we couldn’t find anything else on Tresco that day and the other islands came up blank too. The Indigo Bunting had flown off before Luke and friends arrived that day, so we went back to St Agnes the following day in the hope it might reappear. It didn’t, but we did finally manage some great views of the Red-eyed Vireo just before we had to leave.

Red-eyed Vireo – finally showed well just as we were about to leave

The sun had come out by the time we got back to Tresco and we figured the light would be great at Abbey Pool. With the last of the birders over from St Mary’s departing as we arrived, we had the Lesser Yellowlegs to ourselves now. The gusty wind had whipped up foam which had piled up along the shore, and it was great to watch the Yellowlegs feeding, picking at the foam, as it made its way up and down the edge of the water, at times just a couple of metres away from us.

Lesser Yellowlegs – feeding in the foam whipped up along the shore

It was very windy the next day, as ex-hurricane Epsilon came in across the Atlantic, bringing with it some huge swells. The combination of the wind and swell produced some impressive waves which were amazing to watch from the top of Castle Down as they battered the north end of Tresco, Bryher and crashed over the lighthouse on the top of Round Island.

Waves – striking the north end of Tresco
Waves – crashing up and over Round Island!

On my way back from watching the waves in the morning, I called in at Gimble Porth to catch up with the bunting double – a Lapland Bunting and another Little Bunting were both feeding with the finches in the fields there and eventually showed very well. With no inter-island boats due to the weather, we had them to ourselves today.

Little Bunting – showed well with the finches at Gimble Porth
Lapland Bunting – also with the finches at Gimble Porth

Epsilon did bring with it some more North American vagrants across the Atlantic, but unfortunately not to the Isles of Scilly. We were almost out of time again anyway and had to content ourselves with a couple of late additions to the Scillies 2020 list – a smart male Golden Pheasant along Abbey Drive last thing that afternoon and the Hooded Crow which had been around all week but finally put in an appearance as we were getting ready to leave the following morning.

Golden Pheasant – feeding by Abbey Drive at dusk

Unfortunately our departure from Tresco was to be no less eventful than our arrival! Not the fault of the helicopter service this time, but Tresco Estate. We had waved Luke, Jacob & Bethan off on the Firethorn in the morning, as they were flying from St Mary’s, and after lunch in the New Inn we walked over to the heliport. We had left our luggage outside the cottage for delivery to the heliport, but when we arrived there was no sign of it. We were repeatedly assured it was on its way, but the longer we waited the more worried we became. Eventually just two of the six bags there should have been arrived!

We were spun a right old web of stories and excuses before eventually it all unravelled. The Estate office had clearly made a mistake and somehow thought all our luggage was Luke and his friends’ (despite them having taken their own bags), so unbeknownst to any of us they had put our bags on Firethorn and we had unknowingly waved them off with Luke earlier! Despite there being no one on St Mary’s to claim them, they had just left all our bags there on the quay. Once they realised the mistake, presumably when we arrived at the heliport, rather than confess and ask us how many bags there were, they had tried to cover it up while they sent a jet boat over to St Mary’s to try to find them. The person sent over had found two bags and assumed – wrongly – that was all of them.

Our helicopter was now due to depart, so I had to send the rest of the family on ahead while I tried to track down the rest of our bags. Another jet boat was dispatched and the rest of lost baggage was eventually found and returned. Luke had run over to the quay on St Mary’s and was able to confirm the correct bags were on their way. I would like to say that the Estate Office staff apologised for all the upset and delay it caused us but instead they pointed out how much it had inconvenienced them having to send two jet boats to collect the luggage they had lost! The best I can say is that in 25 years of staying on Tresco, this is the first time we have had problems like this, so hopefully it was a one-off and will never happen again. And I eventually managed to catch the next helicopter across to Penzance, together with the four bags, and we were only an hour late setting off on the long drive back to Norfolk.

So leaving aside the unusually chaotic travel experience this year, looking back on the trip now and scanning through the great list of birds seen it was well worth the effort again! Perhaps one to think about as a possibility for a future tour, once Covid is behind us?

24th July 2018 – Waders & Other Wildlife

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was another hot and sunny day, although a light sea breeze kept something of a lid on temperatures on the coast.

On our way out this morning, we swung round via the church where the Peregrine has been roosting for the last couple of months. It is not always there, but as we drove up we could see it perched on a protruding stone high on the tower. We got out and got the scope on it, getting a fantastic close-up look at it in the process.

The Peregrine was already looking a bit restless today, facing out, alert, with its wings held half open. Thankfully we had all had a really good look before it stretched its wings out and took off. We watched as it flew off east over the town. Presumably it had enjoyed a lie in and was now off to get its breakfast this morning!

Peregrine

Peregrine – setting off from the church tower

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. It was already starting to get quite warm as we parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive and set off west along the past on the inland side of the pines. It was rather quiet in the trees today. A Chiffchaff and a Blackcap were singing, and we could hear tits and a Treecreeper calling from deep in the pines.

The butterflies were out in force and enjoying the warm weather. The highlight was a Silver-washed Fritillary which flew in and landed on the brambles to feed. This species has been expanding rapidly and spreading out across Norfolk, but is still always a good one to see.

Silver-washed Fritillary

Silver-washed Fritillary – feeding on the brambles

There were also lots of Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown, a few Ringlet and a couple of Speckled Wood along the track here. A second generation Wall Brown landed on the path, but refused to open its wings.

Salts Hole was pretty empty save for a handful of Mallard. A Common Darter dragonfly hovered over the pool and a Southern Hawker was patrolling round the edge of the reeds. We stopped to listen to a Reed Warbler singing it rhythmic song, and it treated us to some masterful mimicry, imitating Blue Tit, Wren and Swallow and weaving them into its song while we stood nearby.

We stopped briefly up on the boardwalk to Washington Hide, to scan the grazing marshes. There was not much out here today, unusually not even any Marsh Harriers, so we continued on. Just beyond Washington Hide, we heard Long-tailed Tits and Coal Tits calling in the trees, we had finally found one of the tit flocks. We thought they might be coming down for a drink, but despite looking like they might be coming out onto the edge of the trees ahead of us, they disappeared back deeper in.

The hemp agrimony is in flower along the path now and is great for butterflies. Scanning the flower heads as we walked along, we added quite a few to the day’s list – Large Skipper, Peacock, Painted Lady and a smart Brown Argus which posed nicely for us. There were several smaller skippers and one did eventually stop long enough for us to see the underside of its antennae – it was a Small Skipper.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus – on the hemp agrimony by the path

As we approached Joe Jordan Hide through the pines, we could see lots of white birds still out on the pool below. When we got up into the hide, we could see they were mostly Spoonbills. Birds were coming and going all the time, but there were at least 15 juveniles, ‘teaspoons’ with only partly grown bills much shorter than the adults, recently fledged from the trees nearby.

We watched as a couple of the juvenile Spoonbills set off after one of the adults, which will have been one of their parents. They walked behind it, flapping their wings and bobbing their heads up and down. They wouldn’t give up either, until they had been fed, pursuing it right across the pool – little beggars! They are starting to disperse along the coast now and numbers will fall here in the next few weeks.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were still at least 15 juveniles on the pool today

There were a few more Marsh Harriers from Joe Jordan Hide, juveniles flying around over the grazing marsh, practising their flying skills. A couple of Common Buzzards started to spiral up too, on the increasingly hot air.

Apparently, there had been a Great White Egret on the bank of one of the ditches just before we arrived, but it had flown back into the trees. Eventually one flew out again, and did a nice fly past, before dropping down into a ditch out of view. Then a second Great White Egret flew back out of the trees and landed out on the grazing marshes beyond.

It was time to start walking back. There were still lots of butterflies in the flowers beside the path and one larger, dull orange one stood out. It was a Dark Green Fritillary. They are fairly common in the dunes here at this time of year and one or two sometimes wander over to this side of the pines to feed. A two-fritillary morning!

Dark Green Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary – feeding on the flowers by the path on the way back

When we got back to Meals House,  we finally found a tit flock out in the open on the edge of the trees, Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits. Three Treecreepers were chasing each other in and out of the trees and one kept landing back on the trunk of the same sycamore. A Blackcap flew up out of the vegetation the other side of the path and we could hear it calling behind us. There were also a couple of Chiffchaff and a Chaffinch with the flock too.

The walk back to the car from there was fairly quiet. A Goldcrest was singing in the pines just past Salts Hole and several House Martins were hawking for insects high over the treetops. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive, a Red Kite was circling over the south side of the grazing marsh and drifted over the road behind the Victoria pub.

Our destination for the afternoon was Titchwell, but when we got there we stopped first for an early lunch in the picnic area. After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. As we came out of the trees, a juvenile Marsh Harrier was circling over the Thornham grazing marsh. It gradually drifted almost overhead, giving us a great view, all dark but for a paler head.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – this juvenile circled above us

The reedbed pool held a nice selection of dabbling ducks, but they are all in their rather dull eclipse plumage at this time of year. Two female Red-crested Pochards floated out from the edge of the reeds and a couple of Little Grebes were diving out towards the back.

A couple of Reed Warblers darted in and out of the reeds as we passed. As we approached Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling and caught a glimpse of one or two as they zoomed across the tops of the reeds.

The Freshmarsh is chock full of birds at the moment, but the first thing we noticed were the Spoonbills. These are birds which have already dispersed from the breeding colony at Holkham. There were several around the small island in the back corner, but a family groups of three, an adult and two juveniles, had landed out in the middle. Just as we had seen at Holkham, the juveniles were pursuing the adult, begging for food. The adult eventually took off and the last we saw of them, it was still being pursued out over the bank and across the saltmarsh

There were lots of waders on the Freshmarsh again today – birds on coming back after the breeding season already, gathering to moult. There are hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits returning from Iceland, and hundred of Avocets gathering here from around the coast. A bewildering variety of Ruff back from Scandinavia, mostly scruffy males in various stages of moult. Three Spotted Redshanks were asleep in amongst them, their black breeding plumage already mostly shed, with just a scattering of black feathers remaining in their increasing pale white underparts.

Avocet

Avocet – a fully grown juvenile, feeding in front of the hide

In amongst the larger waders, there were lots of smaller ones, barely up to the knees of the godwits. There were several small flocks of Dunlin, still sporting their summer black belly patches. Three Curlew Sandpipers with them, on their way south from central Siberia, adults with their rusty underparts now liberally peppered with pale winter feathers.

A Little Stint appeared with them. If the Dunlin were already looking small, the Little Stint was smaller still. A summer adult, rusty coloured with a much shorter bill than the Dunlin. There were several smart summer plumaged Knot too, still bright orange below.

When one of the young Marsh Harriers drifted out over the Freshmarsh, pandemonium ensued. Everything took off and it was really impressive to see all the waders in the air together – you really could appreciate at that point just what an enormous number of birds there was out there.

Waders

Waders – when flushed by a Marsh Harrier, we realised just how many there were!

The gulls have rather taken over the Freshmarsh this summer, mostly Black-headed Gulls but also over 50 pairs of Mediterranean Gull have bred too. A smaller gull was swimming out on the water – a Little Gull. We watched as it paddled round in circles, picking at insects on the water’s surface. We could see just how small it was relative to a juvenile Black-headed Gull nearby, which itself was not yet even fully grown.

Pink-footed Geese are mainly a winter visitor here, and should be in Iceland now, but two injured birds have spent the summer here. They were unable to fly north in the spring, presumably winged by wildfowlers shooting out on the marsh opposite – we could see their mangled wings hanging down. They were right below the windows of Island Hide today, giving us a point blank view of their delicate pink-ringed black bills.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – the two injured birds were right in front of the hide

The Bearded Tits had been ‘pinging’ regularly from the reeds and we had managed to see two juveniles feeding on the mud on the edge of the reeds opposite the hide at one point. Then we heard Bearded Tits calling right in front of the hide and two juveniles appeared in the reeds. One clambered up through the vegetation, and we had a great look at it – rich tawny brown, with black lores.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile, playing hide and seek in the reeds

Heading back out along the main path, we stopped to look at two Little Ringed Plovers on one of the islands just below. We could just make out their golden yellow eye rings.

There is not much to see on the Volunteer Marsh at the moment, but there have been a couple of Lapwings feeding along the edges of the muddy channel just below the path in recent weeks. It is a great opportunity to stop and admire their beautiful iridescent plumage, green with patches of purple and bronze as it catches the sun. Even though they are moulting, they are still stunning birds!

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining in the sunlight on the Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more, after a winter storm filled in the channel which filled and drained them. They have been full of sea water, but with all the warm weather it is gradually evaporating creating a haven for waders, with lots of food in the emerging mud and shallow pools. There was quite a bit of heat haze now, in the late afternoon, but we could see more Redshank and Dunlin, plus several Turnstones and a couple of Ringed Plovers.

The Lesser Yellowlegs which has been around the reserve the last couple of weeks has also taken to feeding on here at the moment. It had gone to sleep when we arrived, sat down in the saltmarsh, and we couldn’t see any more than a pale dot!

We thought we could try again later, and continued on to the beach. A few Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth offshore, but otherwise it was fairly quiet today. There was nothing out on the sand – the tide was just coming in, the mussel beds were covered, and there were quite a few holidaymakers out on the beach today.

When we got back to the non-tidal Tidal Pools, the Lesser Yellowlegs was now awake. It was standing up preening, and despite the heat haze, we could see its yellow legs. This is the first Lesser Yellowlegs ever to grace the reserve here, a rare visitor from the Americas, so a nice one to see.

A short diversion saw us call in at Parrinder Hide on the way back. From here, we had a better side-on view of the massed ranks of roosting godwits and we found a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits in with the more numerous Black-tailed Godwits. We could see the rusty orange of their underparts continuing down under the tail. A Common Snipe dropped in and started feeding along the edge of the reeds to the left of the hide, by the fenced-off island. A Common Sandpiper appeared on the grassy island in front of the hide, amongst the gulls, rounding out an excellent selection of waders here today.

We enjoyed better views of the Mediterranean Gulls from here, the adults now starting to lose their black hoods, and their smart grey-brown, scallop-backed juveniles. There were two more ducks for the day’s list too – a couple of Teal, and a single Wigeon – none of which are looking particularly smart now, as they moult.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – there are lots of juveniles on the Freshmarsh

It had been a great day, and we had seen lots of birds despite the unusually hot weather. We headed for home well-satisfied.

 

21st July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was another sunny day – lovely weather to be out and about, even if the temperature does mean that a lot of the smaller birds go quiet in the heat of the day.

Our first destination was Holkham. As we got out of the car at the north end of Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear Grey Partridge calling from the grazing meadow. It was just visible for a couple of seconds before it walked back into the taller grass and disappeared.

There were not many birds singing now as we set off west along the track on the edge of the pines. We did hear a Blackcap deep in the trees and a Wren on this first stretch of the path. It wasn’t long before we encountered a tit flock – suddenly we didn’t know where to look, with Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits feeding in the trees either side of us. A Treecreeper appeared in a pine tree close by, allowing us to get a good look at it as it climbed up the trunk. Three Goldcrests were calling and flicking their wings in a small group high above the track.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – showed well in a pine by the path

Salts Hole just held a few Mallard and a Moorhen, so we continued on. We saw quite a few butterflies in the brambles and bushes by the path Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet, both Large and Green-veined WhiteRed Admiral and Peacock. When we got to the elms just before Washington Hide, we stopped and scanned the tops of the trees. It didn’t take long to find a small butterfly fluttering around the branches, a White-letter Hairstreak. It eventually landed in view and we could see the distinctive white line on the underside of its wings.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper – we saw lots of butterflies along the path today

There is a better view from higher up on the boardwalk, so we stopped just outside Washington Hide to scan the grazing marshes. There were a couple of juvenile Marsh Harriers practicing their flying skills out over the reeds. We saw our first Spoonbills of the day too, two of them circling out over the middle of the marshes, and there were a couple of others perched in the trees in the distance. A Great White Egret  flew up out of the reeds by the pool in front of the hide, but dropped down behind the sallows before everyone could get a look at it.

As we approached Meals House, a male Bullfinch flew off from the reeds by the garden and landed in a sallow at the back. It perched in full view, so we got a good look at it, bright pink underneath with a black cap. It flew across and landed down on the edge of the garden and we could see it feeding on the brambles by the fence when we looked from the gate. A female Bullfinch was feeding with it here too.

Before we even got to Joe Jordan Hide, we could see all the Spoonbills on the edge of the pool out in front. From up in the hide, we could count them. There were at least 15 juveniles, ‘teaspoonbills’ with partly grown bills, and 3-4 adults with them, although there was steady coming and going. Several of the juvenile Spoonbills were begging for food from their parents – bobbing their heads up and down and flapping their wings. We watched them pursue the adults relentlessly around the pool!

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – there were still at least 15 juveniles on the pool today

A Great White Egret appeared, flying in over the grazing marsh, but quickly dropped down into a ditch out of view. A little while later, another Great White Egret flew out of the trees and across the grass of the fort, before dropping down into the same place.

There were more juvenile Marsh Harriers in front of the hide here too, practicing their flying. Three Common Buzzards circled up over the grass and a Kestrel perched in a hawthorn out on the edge of one of the ditches.

Leaving the hide, we walked through the pines and out into the dunes. The orchids here are now largely over, but there were one or two Marsh Helleborines still flowering. We were hoping to catch up with some butterflies here, but it was rather quiet at first. A Common Blue fluttered past and then a Brown Argus appeared. We found a couple of Six-spot Burnet moths feeding on the thistles. Eventually one Dark Green Fritillary put in an appearance, but it was just a quick fly past – blink, and you missed it!

Brown Argus

Brown Argus – out in the dunes

Scanning the beach from the top of the dunes, it all looked very quiet, bird-wise at least. Two Gannets flew east offshore, way off in the distance. On the way back through the dunes, there were a few more Dark Green Fritillaries, but they were very mobile in the heat. One did drop down into the grass briefly but it was quickly on its way again.

The trees were even quieter now, in the heat of the middle of the day. We did find a Drinker moth on the path on our way back. A Jay was feeding in the shade underneath the trees by the path.

Jay

Jay – feeding in the shade underneath the trees

It was time for lunch when we arrived at Titchwell, where we planned to spend the afternoon. We made good use of the tables in the picnic area. A Southern Hawker was feeding around the sallows just across the path while we ate.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. There is nothing on the dried-up grazing meadow ‘pool’ now, but there were lots of ducks on the reedbed pool. Most of the drakes are in their drab eclipse plumage now, but in with the Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard, we did find two female Red-crested Pochards. Two Little Grebes were diving along the edge of the reeds towards the back.

We heard Bearded Tits pinging in the reeds by the path and saw one or two zooming across the tops before diving in. One perched up briefly. There were several Reed Warblers too. The juvenile Marsh Harriers were flying round over the reeds here too and were joined at one point by a smart grey-winged male.

Just before Island Hide, we stopped to scan the Freshmarsh. There were more Bearded Tits here, with birds pretty much constantly flying back and forth between the reeds either side of the mud.  On the edge of the island at the back, we could see more Spoonbills, at least ten of them at first, with another two then flying in to join them. A single Little Gull, a first summer, was swimming round in circles along the edge of the reeds, picking at the surface.

There are lots of waders on the Freshmarsh at the moment – particularly Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. In amongst one of the roosting flocks of the latter, we found a summer-plumage Bar-tailed Godwit – even though it was asleep, we could see the rusty colour of its underparts extending right down under the tail. There were a few Knot with them too, all still in orange breeding plumage. Three adult Curlew Sandpipers were feeding together nearby, still sporting their summer rusty underparts, and there were several small groups of Dunlin too.

Some of the Spotted Redshanks have been back a while now and have been moutling fast out of their black breeding plumage. The first one we saw was almost completely in its silvery-grey winter plumage already.

There were some Ruff right in front of Island Hide, so we popped in for a closer look. They are also moulting fast, the males losing their ornate ruff feathers very soon after they get back. With birds in different states of moult, and still sporting some breeding feathers in a variety of colours, the variation in appearance is really amazing!

Ruff

Ruff – a moulting male in front of the hide

Having disappeared yesterday, the Lesser Yellowlegs was relocated on the Tidal Pools just as we arrived at Titchwell. Helpfully, by the time we got out to the Freshmarsh, it had flown back on here. We quickly found it, right out in the middle with all the other waders. It stood out, small and slim, with a very fine bill.

It was also interesting to watch the Lesser Yellowlegs feeding, sweeping its bill side to side through the water, rather like a Spotted Redshank. We had a nice comparison at one point while it was feeding next to a couple of Common Redshanks. Four Golden Plover dropped in to one of the islands, to round off the wader collection here nicely.

As well as all the waders, there are still lots of gulls on the Freshmarsh. The Mediterranean Gulls have had a great breeding season and we could see a good number of juveniles still, as well as some very smart adults. There were several Common and Sandwich Terns too, but the only Little Tern was chased off by an Avocet and headed out towards the beach.

While we scanned the Freshmarsh, we kept one eye on the edge of the reeds. We had a couple of brief views of Bearded Tits there before three tawny brown juveniles came out onto the mud opposite the hide. They hopped up and down along the edge, in and out of the reeds, feeding. Now we had some nice scope views of them.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – three juveniles came out onto the edge of the reeds

Back up on the main path, we found a juvenile Little Ringed Plover feeding on the mud just below the bank. The two injured Pink-footed Geese appeared from behind the vegetation on one of the islands. They appear unable to fly and have not been able to return to Iceland for the breeding season, but seem to be surviving here.

Carrying on towards the beach, there is not much on Volunteer Marsh at the moment. A Common Redshank walked up out of the channel below the path as we passed and we stopped to admire a couple of Lapwings, their iridescent green upperparts shining bronze and purple in the sunshine. Several Curlews were feeding along the edges of the channel at the far side.

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining bronze and purple in the sunshine

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’, which have been flooded with seawater since the winter, are steadily starting to dry out a little, exposing some of the muddy islands. There are lots of waders on here at the moment. As well as the usual Oystercatchers, which roost on here over high tide, there were lots of Dunlin and several Turnstones at the back, mostly asleep. The heat haze was a bit of a problem now and we couldn’t find the Temminck’s Stint which had been reported earlier – there are too many places for it to hide here!

Out at the beach, we couldn’t see much out to sea, beyond a few Sandwich Terns passing. The tide was just starting to go out and the mussel beds were still under water, so there were not many waders out here. Two Ringed Plover were feeding on the sand out towards Brancaster. A flock of small waders flew across over the edge of the sea – a group of Sanderling, still in their darker breeding plumage. They doubled back and landed on the edge of the water, where we could get a good look at them in the scope.

On the way back, we stopped to scan the Freshmarsh again. Two Common Snipe had appeared on the mud beside the reeds below the bank out to Parrinder Hide. As we looked beyond them, we saw that the Lesser Yellowlegs had flown in and was now feeding right in front of the hide. We took a quick diversion for a closer look.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs – feeding right in front of Parrinder Hide

We had a great view of the Lesser Yellowlegs now, feeding right out in front of the hide. Much better than earlier, when it was right out in the middle. It was wading in deeper water now, up to its belly, and probing down into the mud below, rather than sweeping its bill.

It was time to head back, but we had one more diversion on the way. A couple of Bearded Tits were feeding in the reeds around the pools just below the main path and we stopped to watch them. While we were doing so, we heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see two flying high west overhead, presumably freshly back from the continent.

Then, with a busy evening ahead and needing to get something to eat beforehand, we made our way back to the car.

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours rest, we met up again early in the evening. We headed out to look for Little Owls first, up to some barns which are a good place to find them. As we drove up, we noticed a shape on one of the roofs right beside the road and looked up to see a Little Owl staring back at us.

Little Owl

Little Owl – staring at us as we first drove up

We pulled up in the middle of the road for a look, but just at that moment a car was coming the other way and we had to move. The Little Owl disappeared as the other car passed, so we parked further up along the road and got out. We scanned the roofs of the farm buildings on the other side of the road and found another Little Owl right on the top of a grain silo some distance away. Then a third Little Owl popped up on the top of another silo a little further over. We had a good look at them in the scope.

A couple of Red-legged Partridges were standing on one of the roofs and dropped down to feed on the edge of the concrete below. A smart male Yellowhammer perched high on the top of another, calling. A Brown Hare ran past between the buildings and a large flock of Rooks flew over, heading off to roost. A Hobby flashed past, over the fields and away towards the trees beyond.

Then the first Little Owl reappeared, back on the roof where we had seen it earlier, much closer to us. It had found a spot, tucked down behind the ridge where it could perch and not be easily seen, but we found a good angle and got some nice views through scope.

Having enjoyed such great success with Little Owls, we made our way down towards the coast to look for Barn Owls next. When they have young to feed, the Barn Owls are often out hunting early, but now many of the young have fledged, there are not so many out in the early evening. We drove round and checked out all the various fields where we see them regularly, but no joy.

We had an appointment with some Nightjars, so we couldn’t wait too long for the Barn Owls to appear tonight. We parked and got out, and scanned across a large expanse of marshes. Finally a Barn Owl appeared, albeit rather distantly, and it landed on a post so we could get it in the scope.

It was time to make our way up to the heath now. We parked and walked out to the middle. It was all quiet now, apart from a pair of Stonechats calling out on the gorse.

The first Nightjar started up bang on time. It called from somewhere in the trees first, before churring briefly. Then it flew out of the trees and round in front of us and landed on its favourite perch, right in the scope. We had a great look at it, but unfortunately it only stayed a few seconds before it was off again. It flew round, in and out of the trees, before churring again from somewhere deeper in.

When it came out of the trees again, the Nightjar did another circuit in front of us, then flew straight past us. We had a great view, as it flew past with stiff wing beats, flashing its white wing patches. It flew up into a dense leafy oak behind us, before disappearing off across heath.

Nightjar

Nightjar – this male flew right past us and out over the heath

A second Nightjar started up, churring away in the distance, and what was probably the one we had just been watching responded, churring from somewhere out in the middle. They were a bit slow to get going this evening, perhaps given the stage of the breeding season, but as we walked on another two Nightjars started to churr.

We headed over to where we could watch a couple of the favourite perches used by one of the other males, but there was no sign of it coming in tonight. We could still hear the two male Nightjars churring against each other out in the middle. It was great simply to stand for a while and listen to them as the light faded.

It was starting to get dark now, and we were just about to walk back when a Nightjar called along the edge of the trees behind us. It was the male, and it flew in and did a circuit round by the trees, silhouetted against the last of the light. It didn’t land on one of its perches, but flew back out to another favourite oak tree, and started churring again.

As we walked back to the car, we were serenaded by another one or two males churring from the trees across the other side of the heath. We heard one calling, and looked up to see two Nightjars flying round, feeding around the tops of trees, silhouetted against the moon. A fitting way to end a lovely evening out on the heath.

16th July 2018 – Summer Waders

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny day, hot but with a nice light breeze just to take the edge off it along the coast. It was the first big tide of the ‘autumn’ season, so with an early start, we headed over to the Wash to look at the waders.

The tide was already starting to come in when we first arrived up on the seawall, but there was still a lot of exposed mud, so we stopped for a scan. Several Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers were feeding down just below the bank and they were joined by a Dunlin. Some larger flocks of Dunlin were still feeding feverishly out on the other side of the channel, but started to fly further up as the tide began to rise.

One or two Black-tailed Godwits were feeding on the near edge of the channel too, while further out we could see large stains across the mud, big flocks of Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot. Gradually all the waders started to move higher up the mud, and a couple of Turnstone flew in past us.

The gulls and terns were gathered away to our right still, but flew in and landed on the mud out in front of us. Amongst the Black-headed Gulls, we could see one or two white-winged Mediterranean Gulls. We got nice views of Sandwich and Little Tern with them too, along with the Common Terns which were flying in and out of the pits behind us carrying food.

Snettisham

The Wash – there was still lost of exposed mud when we first arrived

It wasn’t long before the mud in front of us was covered by the rising water, so we carried on along the seawall to Rotary Hide, where we stopped to scan again. The Oystercatchers appeared to flow across the mud like a large slick of liquid as they walked up away from the tide, whereas the Knot and the godwits flew across and landed again further from the approaching water.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – walking up ahead of the rising tide

There were lots of Curlew too, gathering on the edge of the vegetation at the back. The Dunlin gave up early today, flying up in a succession of flocks and in over the seawall, flashing their black belly patches, before dropping down onto the pits behind us.

Dunlin

Dunlin – flying in off the Wash to roost on the pits

The Oystercatchers were next to start heading in. Rather than flying in one big group, they took off in small flocks and lines, coming in over our heads. There were little groups of Avocets too, passing overhead. We gradually made our way down to the corner, as the tide progressively covered the open mud and the remaining birds were pushed further and further in.

The Knot and the Bar-tailed Godwits resisted longest. Then a Marsh Harrier flew in across the saltmarsh just behind, close enough to spook them. The waders erupted and several large flocks of Knot headed in. All we could hear was the whirring of hundreds of wings as they passed by. The Marsh Harrier was quickly chased off by a zealous Avocet.

Many of the Bar-tailed Godwits landed again and tried to settle in with the Curlews, which were looking to roost out on in the shorter vegetation on the edge of the saltmarsh. Gradually, the rising tide pushed them out again, and we had great views of several large flocks of Bar-tailed Godwits as they flew in overhead. Most were still in bright breeding plumage, with their rusty underparts extending right down under their tails.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwits – flying in off the Wash to roost

Two Common Sandpipers were disturbed by the rising tide from the near edge of the saltmarsh, just below us, and flew off over the water with flicking wingbeats and bowed wings. A seal surfaced just offshore, presumably looking for fish in the now flooded channels out in the mud. Something spooked all the waders from the pits behind us and they whirled round, flashing alternately dark and light as they twisted and turned. It seemed to be a false alarm though, and they quickly settled back down again.

With most of the waders now pushed in by the tide, we made our way round to the temporary hide round at the south end of the pits to see what we could find there. As we looked out, the islands close to us were covered in waders. Scanning through them, we could see they were predominantly Dunlin, mainly adult birds still in breeding plumage, with black bellies.

Waders

Waders – Dunlin, Knot & Redshank gathered on the islands on the pits

In with them, we found several Knot, again mostly in their bright rusty breeding plumage, and Common Redshank. The number of Knot today seemed to be down on what we would normally expect at this time of year – they seem to be slightly late returning from Greenland this year. Still, there was plenty to look at.

The Oystercatchers were all roosting on the shingle bank down along the left. Opposite, on the bank on the other side of the water, were all the Black-tailed Godwits and in with them lots more of the Knot. A Common Sandpiper flew across and landed on its own on an unoccupied area along the gravel edge of the pit, bobbing up and down as it did so.

As we scanned carefully through, we spotted several Spotted Redshanks on the edge of the water below the godwits and Knot. They were already well advanced in their moult, their black breeding plumage already liberally patterned with silvery grey and white feathers, to a greater or lesser degree. We could see their long, needle-fine bills, longer and thinner than the Common Redshanks nearby.

We couldn’t find anything else in with all the waders at this end today, so we made our way round to Shore Hide to have a look from there. There were fewer waders from here, but there were some nice terns on the island right in front of the hide. Several of the Sandwich Terns had scaly-backed juveniles in tow, begging to be fed, and there appeared to be some squabbles between the families. We had a nice view of Common Tern and Sandwich Tern side by side, for comparison.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – several adults had juveniles with them

The tide was slowly starting to recede now, but we decided to move on. We made our way back to the car and round to Titchwell. It was hot now and the trees around the car park were quite quiet. We could hear a Chiffchaff singing and there were some Goldfinches in the bushes. There wasn’t much happening at the feeders by the Visitor Centre so, after a quick look in the sightings book, we headed out onto the reserve.

A Reed Bunting was singing out in the reeds as we walked out. We stopped to scan and found a juvenile Marsh Harrier perched up in one of the small sallows towards the back of the reedbed. Through the scope, we could see it was very dark chocolate brown with a rather gingery orange head. Across the Thornham Grazing Marsh the other side, a Common Buzzard was perched on a post in the distance.

The Thornham Grazing Marsh pool had been bone dry in recent weeks, but has filled up with saltwater after the high tides. This is not part of the reserve and used to be a lovely deep freshwater pool up until a couple of years ago when it was allowed to drain for no apparent reason – it is a complete travesty the way it is being mismanaged by the landowner. There were a few Lapwing, a Curlew and a Grey Heron on here today.

There were lots of ducks out on the reedbed pool, Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard and one or two Common Pochard too. They are all looking rather drab now, in eclipse plumage. A smart adult Great Crested Grebe sailed out into the middle and a Little Grebe appeared in the channel just beyond. A Common Snipe was busy feeding in the near corner of the Freshmarsh.

We heard Bearded Tits calling, but all we got were several brief flight views as they zipped across over the tops of the reeds before crashing back in out of view. A Reed Warbler was still singing out in the reedbed and we managed to get a look at another which clambered up into the tops of the reeds. The Bearded Tits are often easier to see from Island Hide, so we carried on up to there.

While we kept one eye on the edge of the reeds, we scanned the freshmarsh to see what we could find. There were good numbers of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits here. A couple of Ruff were feeding on the mud in front of the reeds – we saw lots here today, all moulting males which have moulted out their ornate ruff feathers and are in a bewildering array of colours and patterns.

Ruff

Ruff – a moulting male, still sporting some colourful breeding plumage

A Little Gull was swimming out on the water here too, circling round and picking at the water’s surface. Despite the lack of any other gulls immediately around, it was noticeably very small, a young bird, a first summer with black feathers still in the wings and a winter-pattern to the head.

There were some Spoonbills on the small island over towards the back of the Freshmarsh too. At first there was only one, doing what Spoonbills like to do best, sleeping. Then, when we looked again more had appeared, presumably from round the back of the island. They started to preen and we could see their spoon-shaped bills.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically and kept looking back at the edge of the reeds. Eventually we managed to get a look at one or two, creeping along low down at the back of the mud. We got a bit of a surprise when we heard ‘pinging’ from right in front of the hide, but the Bearded Tits down here knew just how to keep tantalisingly out of view!

Looking out of the flaps on the other side of Island Hide, we noticed another Ruff on the mud close to us. A second wader walked out next to it and we did a double-take – a Lesser Yellowlegs! This is a rare visitor here from North America, which had been on the reserve three days ago but had not been seen since. As a measure of its rarity here, it was apparently the first ever to have been seen at Titchwell. Where it had been hiding since then nobody knows, but it was a nice surprise to find that it had returned for us!

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs – a rare visitor from North America

After letting various people know that the Lesser Yellowlegs had reappeared, we set about having a good look at it. It was smaller than the Ruff, with a medium-short, fine bill and long yellow legs (appropriately enough!).

A Common Redshank appeared on the mud nearby and decided to try to chase it off, which gave us a nice chance to see the two species side by side – Lesser Yellowlegs is in many ways the North American equivalent of the Redshank. Again, the Lesser Yellowlegs was noticeably smaller and daintier, as well as their legs being a different colour.

We had a closer look at the Lesser Yellowlegs from up on the main path. Then, as a small crowd started to gather, we decided to move on. Another stop and scan and we noticed a Little Ringed Plover out in the middle of the freshmarsh, but by the time we got the scope on it, it had been disturbed by a couple of Ruff. They can often be found from Parrinder Hide, so we decided to have a look for it from there.

It has been an amazing year for breeding Mediterranean Gulls at Titchwell this year, and there were loads of recently fledged juveniles with scaly backs scattered around the islands in front of Parrinder Hide today. There were plenty of adults loafing here too, and we had a good look at them.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gull – an adult and juvenile in front of Parrinder Hide

The Little Ringed Plover was feeding on the edge of the mud out of one side of the hide. The bird we first got the scope on was a fairly conventional one – buff-brown, with black and white striped face and golden yellow eye ring. But when we looked back, a much whiter bird had appeared in its place. It was a leucistic Little Ringed Plover, ectensively patterned with pale off white feathers, a rather odd looking washed-out thing. The first Little Ringed Plover then appeared from behind the reeds, just to convince us we hadn’t imagined it!

There were lots of Greylag Geese on the islands in front of the hide, and two Pink-footed Geese walked out to join them. They are both injured birds, most likely shooting casualties, which have been unable to make the journey back up to Iceland for the breeding season, so they have remained here all summer.

Continuing on, out towards the beach, we looked up to see a couple of Wigeon flying over. There was one male which appeared to be over-summering earlier in the year, but it was possible that these two were the first birds we have seen returning from their breeding grounds in Russia. Autumn is definitely upon us, in terms of birds at least! A young Marsh Harrier was quartering back and forth over the Volunteer Marsh, flushing everything.

We stopped to admire a couple of Lapwings feeding on the edge of the muddy channel just below the path. Even though they are moulting and have largely lost their crests, they are still stunning birds. We watched as their glossy green upperparts flashed bronze and purple as they turned in the sunlight.

Lapwing

Lapwing – glowing green, bronze and purple in the sunlight

There had apparently been some Greenshank roosting at the back of the Tidal Pools earlier, but they had now disappeared, probably heading off to feed with the tide falling. There were still at least five Spoonbills out here though, as well as 15 Little Egrets. Some of the Spoonbills were asleep, but the two that were awake had rather short bills – juvenile ‘Teaspoonbills’.

The tide had not yet gone out very far when we got to the beach and with several people out enjoying the sand and sea, there were few waders here beyond a group of roosting Oystercatchers with all the Herring Gulls over towards Brancaster. Out to sea, we could see a few Sandwich Terns flying past.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we set off to walk back. When we got to the reedbed, we looked across to see four Marsh Harriers circling, three dark chocolate juveniles and a grey-winged male. We had just missed a food-pass, the male having brought in from food for the young. We had a great view of the male as it flew towards us and crossed over the path just behind.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us, having just brought in some food for its young

We made our way back to the car and headed off to get some lunch. It was an early finish today, but we had enjoyed a great morning out in the sunshine, action-packed!