Tag Archives: Little Owl

30th June 2018 – Summer Night Special

A Private Nightjar Evening tonight. It was a lovely bright, sunny evening, with a fresh ENE breeze on the coast. A perfect evening to be out, for owls and Nightjars.

We met up in the early evening and headed out first to look for owls. Little Owl was the initial target, so we made our way over to some farm buildings we know they frequent. It was still bright and warm when we arrived and got out of the car. A quick scan of the barn roofs revealed a Little Owl out sunning itself.

Little Owl

Little Owl – preening on a hot roof!

The Little Owl was quite well tucked in at first, but then hopped out onto the roof itself and started to stretch and preen, tidying itself up ahead of a busy evening hunting presumably. There was still quite a bit of heat haze, but we got a good look at it through the scope.

A second Little Owl was on the barn roof on the other side of the road, more distant than the first. Through the scope, we could see that it was a juvenile, still with fluffy down around the head and shoulders. We thought we might go over that way and try to get a bit closer to it, but while we turned our attention back to the first Little Owl for a minute, the juvenile disappeared, presumably back under the roof.

A Brown Hare and a Red-legged Partridge ran down the track between the barns too, while we were watching the Little Owls. It had been a very successful first stop, so we decided to move on and see if we could find any Barn Owls.

We drove round via an area where we have seen Barn Owls out hunting regularly in the last few weeks, but we couldn’t find any today. It was still quite bright, so perhaps they were waiting for the light to fade a bit today?

We made our way on to another area which is good for Barn Owls and had a walk out along the bank which overlooks the grazing marshes. It was a lovely evening, with Common Swifts screaming overhead and we watched as several Little Egrets flew over, heading off to roost. But there was no sign of the resident Barn Owls here either.

They had to be out hunting sooner or later, so we figured it was worth driving round and back to where we had first looked earlier. As we got back there, we looked across the grazing marshes and could see a white shape on the support wire for a telegraph post away in the distance. A quick look through the binoculars confirmed it was indeed a Barn Owl. Where it was we could see was by a side road, so we drove round.

The Barn Owl was very close to the road here, so we got out very carefully. It remained perched on the wire, although it looked at us to make sure we weren’t likely to be any threat. It quickly resumed what it was doing, scanning the ground, so we set up the scope and had a really good, close look at it.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – perched on the support wire for a telegraph post

Suddenly the Barn Owl took off. It flew a few metres out into the field, hovered and then dropped vertically down into the grass. It was down in the vegetation for several minutes, so we thought it might have caught something, but after a while it emerged from the grass empty talonned.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – hunting in the evening light

The Barn Owl quartered over the meadow for a while, hunting – it was a fantastic sight, looking in to the low evening light. Then it flew over to the edge of the trees at the back and landed on a tall stump. After a few minutes, it took off again and resumed hunting, flying round over the tall grass, before coming back towards us and landing back on the wire where we had first seen it.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – came back towards us and landed back where it had first been

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from watching the Barn Owl, particularly as it was so obliging this evening. But we had a date up on the heath with some Nightjars!

As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Nightjar calling and looked over to see it flying over the gorse. It was a couple of minutes early tonight! We watched as it flew across to the edge of the trees and lost sight of it. A couple of second later, it started churring, just a short burst.

We made our way round to where it had gone down to see if we could find it, but when it churred again briefly, we realised it was somewhere in the trees. Then it flew out, wing clapping and circled low over the gorse in front of us, with its tail fanned and its wings held up, flashing its white wing stripes and tail corners. Then it dropped back down under the oak tree.

Something was upsetting this male Nightjar, and we gradually realised what. It flew out again, across low over the heather in front of us, and up onto one of its favourite churring branches, where we could get it in the scope. It was a great view, but as it started to churr, we could hear a second male churring quietly back near the oak tree.

Nightjar 1

Nightjar – on one of its favourite branches, churring

The first male flew back across, wing clapping and calling, and dropped in below the oak tree again. Several times, it flew out and did a small circuit over the gorse nearby, with its tail fanned and held sideways to show off the white spots to maximum effect. In between, twice more it flew across and landed on the branch in front of us to churr briefly.

Eventually the two male Nightjars flew out, both males, and they started to chase each other in and out of the trees, with lots of calling and wing clapping. It was a fantastic display – we stood mesmerised. Presumably a territorial dispute. The two Nightjars gradually worked their way along the edge of the trees and then disappeared out across the heath. We presumed one of the males had prevailed.

Nightjar 2

Nightjar – we had fantastic flight views, wing clapping with tail fanned

The Woodcock here seem to have largely finished roding already, but we did have one male fly along the edge of the trees. We heard its squeaky call first and looked up to see a pot-bellied, long-billed silhouette flying past.

More Nightjars were starting to churr now, so we headed off across the heath to try to see one of the other regular males. We had been distracted a little too long by the two males though, and the third male had already flown in from a dense oak out in the middle to the exposed perch where we were hoping to see it. As we walked up along the path, we just managed to get into a place where we could see it when it took off. It flew back to the oak tree.

We stood for a while and listened to it churring, as a fourth Nightjar started up further over – stereo! It was great to just stand and listen, the atmosphere only slightly ruined by loud music, which sounded like a poor Elvis impersonator, blaring out in the distance!

The light was starting to go now, so we turned to head back. No sooner had we done so, than the Nightjar we had just been waiting for flew back in from the oaks to the trees by the path. Typical! But there was still an orange glow in the sky behind us, so we hurried back and got a great view of it, perched on the branch, silhouetted against the sunset. Classic!

It was time to head back now, so we set off across the heath, very pleased with the great views of Nightjars we had already enjoyed, listening to them still churring. When we got back past where we had seen the two males earlier, we realised they were still chasing each other round. They were both flying in and out of the top of an oak tree, churring and calling. It seemed they must have been arguing for the last hour!

We stopped to watch the two bickering Nightjars, silhouetted against the sky. They dropped down out of sight against the dark of the gorse but when we heard one call, we realised it was flying straight towards us. We saw it coming and there was a second bird with it, the two flying parallel just a few metres apart. One seemed to stall in front of us, but the second circled right above our heads and then started hovering!

What an amazing way to end the evening. This time we did have to leave, so we walked back to the car with another male churring us back.

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23rd June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 2 & Nightjars

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was another mostly bright and sunny day, with the winds dropping but still with a freshness to the light northerly on the coast.

With the lighter winds, we decided to head up to the Heath this morning. As we got out of the car, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes in the car park. As we set off along the path, we could hear a couple of Common Whitethroats alarm calling in the bushes and one appeared on the outside of a large hawthorn.

As we walked round a small copse of trees, we could hear a Garden Warbler half singing. As we came around the other side, we could see movement in the dense blackthorn beyond and eventually a Garden Warbler stuck its head out. Another was still calling deeper in the vegetation, and it appeared there was a family group in there. We stood and watched for a while and saw three or four Garden Warblers, as well as a Blackcap.

It was a lovely sunny morning, and the Silver-studded Blue butterflies were out in force. This heathland specialist is sparsely distributed so it is always nice to see them when they are on the wing. We also flushed several July Belle moths from the grass, another very localised species.

SIlver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

As we walked round the Heath, we heard several Yellowhammers singing. We eventually found a smart yellow-headed male perched up nicely in the top of a small oak tree. There were lots of Linnets too, which flew up from the heather in ones and twos as we passed.

Dartford Warbler was one of our main targets for this morning, but there was no sign of any at the first site we tried. This pair have already fledged their first brood, so the female is possibly on eggs again which is why they have gone quiet. We tried a second territory, also with no joy, and it was starting to look like we might be out of luck.

Third time lucky. As we walked into the middle of another territory, we heard a Dartford Warbler call and turned to see it fly across across between two large clumps of tall gorse with food in its bill. It flew again and disappeared down into some lower gorse. We repositioned ourselves so we could see where it had gone in from a discrete distance and over the next ten minutes or so we had some lovely views of a pair of Dartford Warblers coming in and out several times. At one point, we had both adults perched up nicely just a few feet apart in the top of the gorse for a few seconds.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – we watched a pair coming in and out of the gorse

We decided to leave the Dartford Warblers in peace and carried on round the Heath. We walked over to a place where several Woodlarks have been feeding recently, but it was very disturbed here today with walkers and cyclists. But as we walked on across the Heath, we looked up to see a Woodlark flying over. It came over our heads, but showed no signs of landing and disappeared away off the edge of the Heath.

A little further on, we stopped to watch a pair of Stonechats. The male kept returning to the top of a small birch tree, while the female was feeding from a perch on the heather below. While we were watching the Stonechats, another bird flew up from the ground and landed on a dead branch close to them. It was another Woodlark. We got it in the scope and could see it was a juvenile, presumably from an earlier brood and now independent.

The Woodlark dropped down to the ground and we carried on along the path, which took us eventually round the other side of the bushes. As we walked past, what was presumably the same Woodlark flew up from beside the path. It was time to make our way back to the car now, but as we walked back we could hear Bullfinches calling. We found them in a birch tree, there were three or four of them, presumably a family group.

There had been a Pied Crow along the coast at Cromer for a few days. This is a species from sub-Saharan Africa, not really a candidate for vagrancy under its own steam. It had most likely travelled here by boat from somewhere, or it might have escaped from a collection. They are smart birds, so we decided to have a very quick look to see if we could see it.

We couldn’t park in Cromer anywhere near the fish & chip shop it had been frequenting, so we stopped in the Runton Road car park further along, where it had also been seen from time to time. We walked a short distance down towards the pier, but we could see several people with binoculars just standing around, not looking at anything. It had been seen first thing this morning, but had flown off and not yet reappeared.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we decided to have a bite to eat back at the car and scan the cliffs to the west at the same time. There were several Fulmars landing on the cliffs and we had great views of them as they flew up and down along the clifftop right in front of us. A single Mediterranean Gull flew past offshore and we could see a few Sandwich Terns out over the sea too. But the only corvids we could see were Rooks and Jackdaws.

Fulmar

Fulmar – flying up and down the clifftop at Cromer

After lunch, we had a quick walk back towards the pier but it was immediately clear the Pied Crow had still not been seen, so we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. It was the right call, as the Pied Crow was not seen again! We made our way back along the coast to Cley.

We parked at Walsey Hills. A pair of Kestrels was alarm calling over North Foreland Wood as we got out of the car. Something had got them really agitated, because they hovered over the tops of the trees and kept swooping down into the canopy. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see what they were mobbing and nothing moved, despite all their attentions. Eventually they landed in the treetops, still calling agitatedly.

As we made our way up along the East Bank, a female Common Pochard with a couple of juveniles was on Don’s Pool. They are a scarce breeder here, so it is always good to see young. We heard a couple of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds below the bank, but they were very hard to see. A male Reed Bunting was much more obliging, as was a Marsh Harrier which perched up in the top of a bush out in the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – perched in a bush out in the reedbed

We heard a Bearded Tit pinging and looked across to see one perched up in the top of the reeds. It didn’t stay long though, and flew off away from us before dropping in out of view. There were a few more Bearded Tits in the reeds further up along the Bank though, so everyone got to see at least one.

A scan of Pope’s Marsh and the Serpentine did not produce anything out of the ordinary – Lapwing, Redshank and some of the commoner ducks. We did spot a Mediterranean Gull flying in from the east, which turned and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh when we got there, and two Common Terns dropped in to join them briefly. A careful scan through the Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls produced four Mediterranean Gulls on here this afternoon, which was a bit of a surprise. There were three very different 1st summers and a 2nd summer too, the latter with a rather adult-like head but still with black in the wingtips.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – gathered on Arnold’s Marsh

The waders on Arnold’s Marsh were mostly Common Redshanks, but a careful scan did produce two Ringed Plovers and a single Dunlin as well. The sea looked fairly quiet, as we got out to the beach, apart from a couple of Little Terns fishing just offshore, patrolling back and forth. A distant Fulmar flew east.

As we walked back along the bank, three Curlews flew in from the east and continued on over the reedbed, possibly birds freshly returned from their breeding grounds further north. Someone walking the other way stopped us to ask if we had seen any Bearded Tits. We were just explaining where we had seen them, when we looked over and saw a pair perched up in the tops of the reeds just ahead of us!

Back at the car, the Kestrels were still alarm calling and we still could not see why. We happened to glance back out across the grazing marshes and saw a large white shape in the distance, at the far end of the Serpentine. A Spoonbill had just flown in, having waited until we had left. Thankfully we had seen plenty yesterday.

Popping into the Cley Visitor Centre briefly, it sounded like there were a few waders out on the reserve, so we decided to head out to the hides for the last hour or so. As we walked out along the boardwalk, four more Spoonbills flew up from out on Billy’s Wash and circled round over the north end of the reserve. Three headed off west, but one circled back onto the reserve.

We went into Dauke’s Hide and a quick scan of the scrapes revealed a small wader on Pat’s – Pool with rusty underparts and a long, downcurved bill. It was a Curlew Sandpiper, a smart adult just starting to moult out of breeding plumage. We had a great look at it through the scope. Presumably it had just dropped in on its way south from its central Siberian breeding grounds.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a smart adult still in breeding plumage

There were a couple of Spotted Redshanks too, one each on Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape. We had much better views of these than the ones we had seen at Titchwell yesterday, looking resplendent in their silver-spotted black breeding plumage. There was a single Ruff here too, another tatty looking individual, rapidly moulting out first its ornate ruff.

Numbers of Black-tailed Godwits here have been building nicely and as we looked through the flock, we spotted one which was decorated with a load of coloured plastic lings on each leg. It was a bit distant at first, but then something flushed all the waders and it eventually landed back down near the front. Now we could confirm one of the rings was lime green with a black ‘E’, which meant it was a nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit from the Nene Washes. We could also see it was carrying a geolocator on one of its rings.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a nominate limosa from the Nene Washes

There are two races of Black-tailed Godwit which turn up here regularly. Most of the birds we normally see are birds from Iceland, islandica. There are only about 40 pairs of Continental Black-tailed Godwit which breed in this country, on the Ouse and Nene Washes, so it is always an interesting bird to see.

A Spoonbill appeared from the reeds in the back corner of Simmond’s Scrape – presumably the one we had seen earlier, doubling back in this direction. There were lots of Teal out on the scrapes too. When we heard Bearded Tit calling close by, we looked out of the flaps on one side of the hide, to see one of this year’s juveniles in the reeds nearby.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile, perched up in the reeds

It was time to head back now. We still had a busy evening ahead and needed to get something to eat beforehand.

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours rest, we met up again early in the evening. Our first target was Little Owl, so we headed up to a regular site for them.

As we got out of the car and started scanning the roofs of the farm buildings, one of the group noticed a bird perched on a wooden crate just across from where we had parked. A Little Owl! We had a good look at it through binoculars, as it stood there looking at us, before it eventually flew back over the field behind and we lost site of it.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a wooden crate near where we parked

We couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the evening. We carried on our scan of the farm buildings, and promptly found another Little Owl sunning itself on one of the roofs. This one we got in the scope. There was also a Red-legged Partridge on the roof of one of the sheds and a smart male Yellowhammer in perched in the top of the oilseed rape in the field next door.

Having scored so quickly with the Little Owls, we moved on to look for Barn Owls next. We had just started to drive round a site where we see them regularly, when we noticed what looked like a piece of white plastic tucked in among the branches of a tree. We reversed back for a closer look and our suspicions were confirmed – it was the almost pure white Barn Owl again.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – the almost pure white bird was out again this evening

We were busy watching the white Barn Owl when one of the group noticed a second, normal coloured Barn Owl flying across the meadows further back. While we were looking at that one, disappearing off over the road on the far side, the white bird took off and flew past us. It quartered the meadow, then flew round and disappeared back behind a line of trees.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – this normal one flew right past us, hunting

We walked back up the road for another look, but there was no further sign of the white Barn Owl. We did find a normal one out hunting. We had great views of it flying round over the meadows, then it came in and flew right past in front of us. It landed on an old pump on the edge of a drainage ditch and stood there for a few minutes looking round.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – landed on an old pump out on the marshes

After a while, the Barn Owl flew back over the marshes and landed in the dead branches right in the top of a line of bushes over the far side. We drove on and when we stopped again, we could see the white Barn Owl again, hunting round a different field this time. We had a quick walk out along the bank which runs round the edge of the marshes here, but there were no more Barn Owls. We did find a nice pair of Grey Partridge in the grass beside the track.

The owls had done us proud tonight, and it was now time to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. We were still walking out to the middle of the heath and not even in position when the first Nightjar called, a touch early tonight. We turned to see it flying across to the edge of the trees.

We walked a short distance further up to where we could see across, and found the Nightjar perched on one of its favourite branches, churring. We got it in the scope and everyone managed to have a quick look at it before it took off again, unfortunately not stopping to pose for photos tonight. We watched as it disappeared off over the heath.

After an early start from the first Nightjar, the others were very slow to get going tonight. It was a clear night, with a very bright half moon and the temperature was dropping too. We walked on to another territory and stood listening. Eventually a Nightjar started churring in the distance, quickly followed by another further over.

The Woodcock were very slow to get going tonight too. Finally we heard a squeaky call and looked across to see two roding, flying in close formation high across the heath with slow flappy wingbeats. They disappeared behind some trees.

Finally, the Nightjar whose territory we had come over to started churring, in a large oak tree out in the middle. We stood and listened and after a while it flew in straight towards us. It flew right round us, flashing the white patches in its wings and the corners of its tail which was held spread out. Great close flight views! It didn’t go over to its favourite churring perch though, but landed down in the gorse just behind us, out of view. A few seconds later it flew out again, right past us, and back out to the oak tree in the middle.

It felt like the Nightjar had come in to check us out. We stood and listened to it churring out in the middle, but it never did come in to favourite its churring perch tonight – perhaps it was put off by us standing there? We could hear two other Nightjars churring either side.

The light was finally starting to fade so it was time to head back. On our way to the car, another different male Nightjar started churring in a tree just above us as we walked past. Unfortunately it didn’t stay for us to find it, but took off, wing clapping, as we walked round to try to look for it. It did serenade us as we walked off the heath though, a good way to end the day.

2nd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours today. It was misty or cloudy pretty much all day, although it lifted a bit at times. However, it was thankfully mostly dry – with just a brief period when it was spitting with rain in the morning.

We headed over to Titchwell first, with the option of the hides if we did need to shelter from the weather. The car park was quiet when we arrived, so we had a look around before it got busy. There were Blackcaps and Long-tailed Tits in the trees where we parked, and a pair of Song Thrushes collecting food in the overflow car park. Looking out from the gate at the back, a Red-legged Partridge was feeding on the track beyond and a Marsh Harrier was perched in one of the dead trees out  in the reedbed beyond. A Spoonbill flew off high to the east, away from us.

Out onto the reserve, we made our way round on Fen Trail out to Patsy’s Reedbed first. A Blackcap showed well in the trees right above the path and we got a quick look at both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler in the reeds in front of Fen Hide as we passed.

Patsy’s Reedbed held a few duck, notable among them a single drake Red-crested Pochard. There were five Teal on here too today – almost all of the birds which spent the winter here have long since departed, but a small number typically oversummer here. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed beyond.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – this drake was sleeping on Patsy’s Reedbed

It started to spit with rain now, so we started to make our way over towards the main path. A Chiffchaff was singing above the boardwalk as we passed. The rain had pretty much stopped by the time we got round there, so we stopped to see what we could find in the reeds.

A Jay flew across above the reeds and landed in one of the sallows. As it did so, what sounded like a Tawny Owl called quietly. We had a look in the bush, but there was no sign of one that we could see from the bank. There were lots of Reed Warblers zipping back and forth across the pools on the near edge of the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – in the reeds around the pools near the main path

The reedbed pool held a single Great Crested Grebe, as well as two more Red-crested Pochard. Two or three Bearded Tits flew back and forth over the water and a Little Grebe laughed at us from the channel just beyond. There was a large melee of gulls and Jackdaws circling over the reeds at the edge of freshmarsh, presumably hawking for insects.

As we opened the windows in Island Hide, we noticed a good numbers of godwits out on the nearest island. On closer inspection, we could see a mixture of both Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits together. Something spooked them and they flew before everyone could get a look at them through the scope, but thankfully after circling for a minute or so they settled again, this time largely separating themselves into two separate flocks.

There were not many other waders on here today, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets. There seem to be fewer of them this year here too, although there appears to be no shortage elsewhere along the coast. Perhaps the colony of gulls, which is dominating the freshmarsh this year, has put them off? Two Little Terns were resting on one of the islands and through the scope we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

As we set off along the main path again, we scanned back over the reeds. The gulls had all spread out now and we could see two immature Little Gulls hawking back and forth among all the Black-headed Gulls.

The mist started to roll in again, so we headed straight round to Parrinder Hide. When we got there, one of the Little Gulls had landed on the edge of one of the islands in front of the hide, so we got a much better look at that now. A 1st summer, we could see the extensive black feathering in the wings, the dark spot behind the eye and a pale pink suffusion on its underparts.

Little Gull

Little Gull – one of the 1st summers landed out from Parrinder Hide

An adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in on one of the other islands, where a number of Black-headed Gulls and 1st summer Common Gulls had gathered to loaf and preen. Through the scope, we noted the jet black hood with contrasting white eyelids, bright red bill and legs, and the pure white wing tips. There were also a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls with the Herring Gulls standing in the water further back.

There were better views of the godwits to be had from here, including a smart Bar-tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage, with rusty underparts extending right down under the tail. Four Avocets were busy feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallow water. When the Avocets started to alarm call, we looked up to see a Hobby flashing low across in front of the hide, disappearing off towards Island Hide.

The mist lifted again, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. There was very little on Volunteer Marsh today, but as we got over the bank at the far end, we noticed a large white bird out on the saltmarsh the other side. It was a Spoonbill, busy feeding, walking around with its head down in the water. It seemed to be catching a lot, as every few steps it seemed to flick its head up, at which point we could see its distinctive bill, with the yellow tip indicating it was an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding out on Thornham saltmarsh

While we were watching the Spoonbill, a smart male Linnet landed in the bushes just below us. A little further on, two male Reed Buntings were singing against each other, with one perched nicely just out from the path.

Linnet

Linnet – this male landed in the bushes by the main path

The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more and largely full of deep water, so there are very few birds on here these days. A group of twenty or so Oystercatchers were sleeping on the saltmarsh towards the back. That was because, out at the beach the tide was just going out and was still covering the mussel beds. Consequently, there were not many waders out here yet, just a few more Oystercatchers on the sand.

It was still rather misty offshore, but it rolled back just enough for us to see a steady procession of terns flying back and forth, mainly Sandwich Terns but also a couple of Common Terns and Little Terns too. Two Fulmars flew past as well, hugging the sea. Then it was time to head back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we paid a quick visit to Holme. It was the wrong time of the day now, but we wanted to try our luck to see if we might be able to find a Turtle Dove here. As we walked round via the paddocks, it was rather quiet. A Common Whitethroat called from the brambles and a Greenfinch was singing out in the bushes. We could hear a Cuckoo singing too, off in the distance.

As we got to the far end of the paddocks, we heard some hissing calls coming from a large hawthorn bush. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees further back, appearing to answer the hissing calls. We had a look in the bushes but we couldn’t see anything.

Continuing on down towards Beach Road, a Cuckoo flew across as we got out of the trees into grassy the car park. Another Cuckoo was still singing in the distance ahead of us, so there were two of them here today. We walked over to see if we could find the second bird, but it seemed to move further away, off towards the coast road the next time we heard it.

Walking back along the Holme Dunes entrance track, a Swallow landed on the wires just above us. While we were watching it, two Cuckoos flew in and dropped down into the trees at the back of the paddocks. As they landed, the male gave its traditional ‘cuckoo’ song, and the female answered with a bubbling call.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – the female perched in the trees while the males had a sing-off

Then a second male Cuckoo flew in and landed on a dead branch in the top of a tree behind us. The two males started singing off against each other, getting very over-excited. There were lots of extra ‘cucks’ given to each ‘oo’! Then the female flew off towards Redwell Marsh and the males drifted away too. As we walked back to the car, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted to us from one of the ditches.

We drove back east to Holkham to finish the day, walking west on the inland side of the pines. It was fairly quiet here now, apart from lots of people out walking their dogs! We could hear one or two Blackcaps and Chiffchaff singing in the trees. A Treecreeper was singing too, but deep in the pines. A Goldcrest was slightly more accommodating – we could see it flitting round in an oak tree briefly. A large family party of Long-tailed Tits, with several recently fledged juveniles flew across the path.

At Joe Jordan Hide, we had only just opened the flaps when a Great White Egret flew in round the back of the trees. It landed out of view at first, behind some reeds, but then flew again and landed in a shallow ditch. We could see it as it walked along, its head, neck and shoulders sticking up into view. We could see its bill was mostly dark but with a yellow base. A little while later, another Great White Egret flew out of the trees and off east. We could tell it was a different bird as it had an all dark bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and landed in a ditch

There were Spoonbills coming and going from the trees too, flying in and out either side. One perched up nicely where we could get a good look at it through the scope, noting its shaggy nuchal crest, a sign of an adult in breeding plumage. There were a few Little Egrets flying back and forth to and from the trees too, and lots of Cormorants visible in their nests in the branches.

Then it was time to head back – we had a busy evening ahead. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive towards the road, a Grey Partridge was feeding in the edge of one of the fields, just beyond the fence.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – feeding in the field by Lady Anne’s Drive

 

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours to rest and get something to eat, we met again early in the evening.  It had been raining all day further east, but fortuitously had stopped in time for our evening activities.

There were several Brown Hares we had to avoid in the road, on our way up to look for Little Owls first. We stopped by some farm buildings and scanned the roofs to see if we could find one out already, but all we could see at first was a Stock Dove. However, when we looked over at some other buildings the other side of the road, there was a Little Owl perched out in the open on the metal framework on a silo.

It was distant from here, but we had a look at the Little Owl through scope. We could see the ‘false face’ on the back of its head, which made it look like it was looking back at us. We made our way over to those building and got much closer, better views. This time it looked round at us properly.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched up nicely for us on some metal framework

Having enjoyed good views of Little Owl, we drove round to try to find a Barn Owl next. There was no sign of any around a series of favoured hunting meadows we tried at first, so we stopped and got out for walk. We hadn’t gone far when one of the group spotted a Barn Owl flying past behind us. It was carrying prey and we watched as it crossed the road back where we had parked and continued on over the fields beyond, presumably taking the food back to a brood of hungry owlets somewhere.

It was time to head up to the heath now, in time for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to middle the middle, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from a clump of birch trees.

The first Woodcock appeared pretty much bank on time. We heard its squeaky call first, and then spotted a dark, pot-bellied shape flying towards us with strange stiff, rapid wingbeats. It was a male doing its distinctive ‘roding’ display flight. As it came overhead, we could see its long straight bill.

Woodcock

Woodcock – flew overhead on one of its roding display flights

The Woodcock were regular from then on – we could hear them flying round and several times they passed overhead, at one with two males flying together out across the heath, before they split and headed off in two different direction.

A short while after the first Woodcock, a Nightjar churred briefly from the edge of the trees just ahead of us. Trying to anticipate where it would fly to first, we were just getting into position when it came up out of the trees. It landed briefly on one of its favourite perches, but unfortunately didn’t settle and was off again before we could get the scope onto it.

It flew round, then went high up over the trees, calling. When it came down again, the Nightjar flew in and circled round over our heads. A great view! We could see it was a male, with bold white wing patches. It flew back to the trees, weaving in and out, then off over low over the heath past us. As we walked back to the main path, it came back in behind us and landed on the perch again, but only briefly, before heading off once more.

Nightjar

Nightjar – circled round above our heads, showing off its white patches

As we walked on across the heath, we could hear a Tawny Owl hooting in the trees away in the distance. A second male Nightjar started churring out in the middle ahead of us. We made our way over to one of his favourite branches, hoping it might fly in to visit that next. But before we could get there, it flew past and landed on just the perch we were hoping it would visit. We managed to get it in the scope, but before everyone could get a look it was off again.

The Nightjar headed back out into the middle of the heath, and started churring from another tree. It seemed to be responding to a third male which had started up, churring much further over. We stood and listened – stereo churring!

It was great standing out on the heath as the light faded, listening to the Nightjars churring around us, but it was getting dark and time to call it a night. On the walk back, we could hear the Woodcock still roding, and a pair of Nightjar flew past in front of us calling, silhouetted against the last of the light.

There were a few Common Toads out tonight, after the rain earlier. We had to be careful not to tread on them. There was one more surprise in store for us too – a Slow Worm on the edge of the path. It stopped motionless in the torchlight for a couple of minutes, allowing us a great close-up look at it, before it slid off into the bushes by the path. A great way to end the evening.

23rd May 2018 – Late Spring Birds, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day Late Spring Tour today. It was originally forecast to be sunny today, but by this morning that had changed to cloud all day. So it was to be. It was rather misty first thing, but the cloud lifted through the day. There was still a cool breeze but at least it had dropped considerably compared to yesterday, which meant it didn’t feel quite as cold.

Given the early mist, we headed round to Cley to start the day, thinking we could get out of the weather in the hides. As we walked out to the hides, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the brambles by the ditch – good to head as numbers have dropped dramatically after the cold winter. A Grey Heron was standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk as we passed. We heard a Bearded Tit call and turned to see it fly across and drop straight down into the reeds.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk

From the shelter of Dauke’s Hide, we had a scan of Simmond’s Scrape first. There were a few waders to be found on here. Two Common Sandpipers and two Tundra Ringed Plovers were feeding around the edge of the islands and another seven Tundra Ringed Plovers dropped in to join them. There were two Little Ringed Plovers on here too and a Greenshank which was fast asleep on the island at the back.

The scrapes are dominated by the Avocets now, many of which have small juveniles already. We could see several groups of little ones out on the scrapes or sheltering beneath the adults. The Avocets are very aggressive and will chase off anything which lands anywhere near. It was funny to watch them trying to battle with the local Shelducks.

Avocet

Avocet – sheltering a single juvenile, with just its one leg visible

Lots of Sand Martins were flying backwards and forwards low over the reeds and the scrapes, looking for insects, together with a few House Martins for company. A couple of Marsh Harriers patrolled the reedbed at the back. Two pairs of Tufted Duck were swimming around on the ditch right in front of the hide.

Looking across to Pat’s Pool, the first thing we noticed were the Ruff. There were five of them on here, all males and all different! One male was particularly striking, with a fully grown rufous ruff and black crest feathers. The breeding plumage of the other Ruffs was not quite as well developed – a second rufous one and a black one lacked the full crest feathers, as did a white one, and another blackish one didn’t have much of a ruff yet. Unfortunately there was no female today, for them to display to.

Ruff

Ruff – looking smart now, in full breeding plumage

There were also still a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on Pat’s Pool, mostly asleep and loafing around on the edge of one of the islands. A second Greenshank was feeding over in a sheltered bay in the far corner but whenever it ventured out into the open, it was chased back in by one of the Avocets.

It was cool in the hides, to we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre to warm up over a cup of coffee. On the way back along the boardwalk, we heard Bearded Tits calling again and looked up to see a female perched in the reeds beside the path ahead of us. A cracking male then flew in and landed just below, before the two of them flew across the boardwalk to the reeds the other side. They were followed by two juvenile Bearded Tits, still with only partly grown tails. We walked up to where they had crossed and had a great view of them climbing up and down in the reeds.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a pair flew across the boardwalk with their two juveniles

As we got back to the bridge across the ditch by the road, we heard the Cetti’s Warbler again so we stopped to see if we could find it. We could see a Reed Warbler flicking around low in the reeds along the edge of the water. Then something else flew out, chased it, and then landed in the brambles. It was the Cetti’s Warbler. It sang once and we could just see it perched on the edge of the bush before it dropped into the vegetation.

After our coffee break, we had a look round at the Iron Road. The pool here was fairly quiet today – just a couple of Redshanks and Lapwings and a single Little Ringed Plover lurking in the reeds at the back.

As we walked round to Babcock Hide, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over and landed in the field the other side of the road. A well-grown Lapwing chick was trying to hide in the grass by the path while one of the adults flew round above calling agitatedly. The pool in front of Babcock Hide was a bit disappointing today. Apart from lots of Greylags, there were just a few Avocets, including a pair with a single chick.

We decided to try our luck out on East Bank instead. The low cloud had lifted a little now and it had started to brighten up a touch. Two male Marsh Harriers had a brief tussle over the reedbed as we got out of the car, before one then headed off over Pope’s Marsh. There were a few Lapwings and Redshanks out on the grazing marsh and we picked up a distant Common Sandpiper on Pope’s Pool. A single drake Wigeon and three Teal on the north end of the Serpentine were notable. Most of the ones that spent the winter here have long since departed, so it will be interesting to see how long these ones stay.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – flew over and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh

As we continued on to Arnold’s Marsh, we noticed four largish waders flying in over the reedbed. They were Whimbrel – we could see there down-curved bills, not as long as a Curlew. They dropped down onto Arnold’s so we continued on to there and got them in the scope. We could see their distinctive striped head patterns. They didn’t stay long though, only around 10 minutes. After a preen and a doze, they took off and headed out over the beach and out to sea, presumably on their way to Scandinavia.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on the island at the back again – through the scope we could see their shaggy black crests and mostly black bills. There were not too many waders on here today, but we could see another five Tundra Ringed Plovers and a smart summer plumage Turnstone.

We couldn’t come all this way without a quick look at the sea, so we continued on to the beach. There were lots of Little Terns feeding just offshore, flying up and down just behind the breakers and occasionally diving straight down into the water.

Little Tern

Little Tern – there were lots feeding off the end of the East Bank

On the walk back, we had nice views of a male Bearded Tit briefly in the reeds down below the bank. It appeared to be carrying a feather, possibly nest material, before it shot off back behind us along the ditch. One of the Marsh Harriers also showed very nicely, flying round over the reeds just ahead of us, before heading out across the grazing marshes, chased by various Avocets and Lapwings.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – showed very nicely off the East Bank

Given the fresh breeze, we decided to head round to the beach car park and eat our lunch in the shelter there. A few parties of Sandwich Terns flew past over the Eye Field while we ate. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out to North Scrape.

We couldn’t see anything of note on Billy’s Wash, but as we got to the shingle behind North Scrape, a Wheatear flew up. It was a male, quite a bright pale one. It landed on the fence beyond briefly, then flew again, up onto the top of the screen overlooking the scrape. It dropped down onto the picnic table and we thought we might be able to get round for a closer look, but before we could get there it was off again, down onto the grazing marsh beyond.

Wheatear

Wheatear – this male was around the beach behind North Scrape

There was nothing of note on North Scrape, but at that point we received a message to say that there was a White-winged Black Tern along the coast at Burnham Overy. We decided to head round there to see if we could see it.

As we walked out along the track which cuts across the grazing marshes, we heard two Lesser Whitethroats singing in the hedge. In typical fashion, we had a couple of quick glimpses as they flew between bushes, dropping straight into cover. One or two Reed Warblers were singing from the ditch beside the path.

We could see the White-winged Black Tern before we got to the seawall, visible above the reeds as it flew round over the pool in the middle, but it was a better view once we got up to the top. What a stunning bird! Its mostly white upperwings and tail contrasted with its jet black body. When it turned, we could see its black underwing coverts.

White-winged Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern – feeding over the reedbed pool at Burnham Overy

The White-winged Black Tern was flying round over the pool with very buoyant wingbeats, occasionally dropping down to the water’s surface, looking for insects. A great bird to watch!

While we were watching the tern, we kept one eye out over the harbour the other side and we noticed a harrier come up over the saltmarsh beyond the harbour channel. It was very slim, with narrow, pointed wings and through the scope we could see the white patch on its uppertail coverts and its faded buff/orange underparts, with a darker hood. It was a Montagu’s Harrier, a young one, a 2nd calendar year. We watched it hunting over the saltmarsh before it gradually worked its way back and out of view.

One or two Spoonbills flew past as we stood up on the bank. As we made our way back across the grazing marshes, we heard a Greenshank calling. While we were looking for it, we turned to see a Spoonbill flying low right over our heads!

There was still a little time left before we had planned to finish today, so we headed round to Wells Woods. A Wood Sandpiper had been reported earlier, on the marshes south of the pines, although the latest update suggested it might have flown off. Still, we walked out for a look. On our way out, another Greenshank flew over the pines calling.

As we scanned the pools and flooded grassland, one of the group spotted a wader which was disturbed from the wet grass by a gull flapping nearby. It was the Wood Sandpiper. Through the scope, we got a good look at it, noting its white spangled upperparts and striking pale supercilium.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – on the marshes at Wells Woods

It had proved to be a very productive afternoon and that was a nice way to end the day’s activities. With more to come later tonight!

Nightjar Evening

After couple of hours off to recover and get something to eat, we met again early evening. We headed out to look for owls first. It was still cool and rather breezy – not ideal weather, though not the forecast fog thankfully. We drove to an area of farm buildings where we know Little Owls breed first.

There was no sign of any Little Owls at first, it was a bit too cold to find them out basking! As we walked round, we saw a Brown Hares and a couple of Red-legged Partridge on a farm track. A Grey Partridge ran out across a recently planted potato field, and stood up nicely on the ridges, showing off its black belly patch.

We eventually found a Little Owl but it was hiding on the ridge of one of the farm buildings, tucked in under the cowl on the top of the roof. It was back on to us and we could just see its head and shoulders. It was not a great view of one, but better than nothing!

Our next target was to look for Barn Owls. We drove down to the back of Cley, figuring it might be sheltered from the wind here, and immediately spotted a white shape on a post by the road, a Barn Owl. We drove past and parked some distance beyond, hoping we might be able to see it without disturbing it but it flew off as we got out. It landed again on another post across the field, where we could see it in the scope.

It was a strikingly white Barn Owl, much paler than a normal one, a known individual which has been in the area for a year or so now.  Then it took off again and flew straight back towards us. For about ten minutes, we watched as it flew around hunting in front of us. Great views! A second Barn Owl appeared further back, a normal coloured one, landing on a bush briefly before flying off over the road the other side.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – a striking white bird at Cley

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the Barn Owl and head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from some dense bushes. A male Stonechat perched up nicely where we could see it. It was still rather cool, but we were sheltered from the wind by the trees.

It wasn’t long before we heard the first Woodcock calling, and looked across to see one flying straight towards us. It was roding. the display flight of the male, flying round over its territory with stiff flapping wingbeats. We would see it or hear it several times over the course of the evening.

Shortly afterwards, the first Nightjar started churring. We positioned ourselves to try to see it, hoping it would fly up to one of its favourite perches to churr. But suddenly two birds appeared, flying up from the edge of the trees. We could see they were both males, both with white wing flashes and white corners to their tails, and they were chasing each other.

The two Nightjars flew in and out of the trees, calling and wing clapping. They held their tails fanned and at an angle to show off the white spots to maximum effect. They landed down on the ground briefly, out of view, but were quickly up again, chasing each other out over the heath. One circled back and flew round just above our heads, calling – amazing views!

Then both the Nightjars headed away and we could one of them churring some way further over. We tried to make our way over as quickly as possible, as sure enough it was on a favoured branch, but just as we got within scope range it was off again. It was great to listen to them churring, but they wouldn’t stay still for long this evening and quickly started to go quiet.

It had been a fantastic display anyway, so we decided to call it a night. We walked back to the car to the sound of more Nightjars churring either side.

4th Feb 2018 – Owls & More

An Owl Tour today, back in North Norfolk. The weather forecast was far from ideal – we were warned to expect cold and blustery NE winds bringing wintry showers in off the North Sea. Still, it didn’t turn out as bad as forecast and it is amazing what you can find when you go out looking, despite the weather!

After meeting up, we headed straight down to the coastal marshes to see if any Barn Owls might be out hunting still. It was cold and windy and, after passing through a sleet shower on our way down to the coast this morning, it was perhaps no surprise they had already gone in to roost. Not to worry. We hoped we might get another opportunity to look for Barn Owls later in the day, weather permitting.

There were other birds to see here. Several Marsh Harriers hung in the air over the reeds, coming out of their roost. A flock of Curlew flew up from feeding down in the damp grass in the grazing meadows below us. Little groups of Brent Geese flew back and forth. A Water Pipit came up from the recently cut reeds and flew off calling, and a Grey Wagtail flew high over us the other way.

We decided to try our luck inland and look for some Little Owls instead. At the first site we stopped at, we got out of the car and looked across to the roof of some farm buildings across the other side of a field. There, tucked in below the ridge out of the wind, facing into the few rays of morning sun coming through the clouds, were two Little Owls. We had a good look at them through the scope, spotted with white above and streaked below. It was nice to get the first owls of the day under our belts. Three Stock Doves were on the roof too, a little further along.

Little Owls

Little Owls – these two were standing on a barn roof out of the wind

From here, we meandered our way west. We were heading up to the Wash, but had a quick look at some other owl sites on the way, just in case any others might still be out. There weren’t any more owls, but we did have a nice variety of other things on the way. A pair of Grey Partridges were hiding in a stubble field. A Green Sandpiper was bathing in a stream but flew up and away as we pulled up. A Bullfinch zipped across the road in front of us and disappeared into the brambles, flashing its white rump. There were a few raptors too – a Red Kite flapped lazily across a field beside the road, a Sparrowhawk circled up, plus several Common Buzzards and Kestrels.

Eventually, we arrived at the Wash. As we got up to the seawall, we could see the tide was just going out. There were still lots of waders on the mud, chasing the rapidly receding waters down, so we stopped to take a closer look. The sky had cleared now and the first thing that struck us was a large flock of Golden Plover positively shining in the sunshine out on the mud.

Golden Plovers 1

Golden Plover – catching the sun, out on the Wash

Through the scope, we could see more waders. Large tight flocks of Knot and Oystercatcher, lines of Bar-tailed Godwits, plus Dunlin and Grey Plover more liberally scattered over the mud. In amongst them, we found two Avocets, hardy individuals which have probably decided to linger here through the winter (although others are already starting to move back). A few Redshank were picking around on the mud just below us and a Ringed Plover flew in and landed briefly nearby.

The waders were constantly on the move, following the tide. Periodically, a flock would fly up, whirl round and land again further down. It was great to watch the Knot in particularly, swirling out over the water, flashing alternately white and dark grey. The Golden Plover put on a show too, whooshing across in front of us, before circling up and then dropping back down to the mud. There was no sign of any raptors though, they were probably just nervous in the wind.

Golden Plovers 2

Golden Plover – the flock swirled around in front of us

There were ducks here too. The mud was covered with a sprinkling of white Shelduck, whereas the dark mass gathered on the edge of the water was a large flock of Teal. More Shelduck were swimming in the mouth of the channel and in with them we could see several Pintail too. A drake Goldeneye flew past behind us, flashing black of white, the first of several we saw here today.

However, we had not come here to look out at the delights of the Wash, so we tore ourselves away and headed round to the pits.

Goldeneye

Goldeneye – this drake flew past us over the pits

There have been a couple of Short-eared Owls roosting here this winter and, carefully scanning the bushes on our way round, we quickly found one of them hunched up under a mass of brambles. We got it in the scope and could see its ear tufts and staring yellow eyes.

Short-eared Owls

Short-eared Owl – roosting under the brambles again

Once we had all had a good look at the Short-eared Owl, we decided to head back to the car. The weather was much improved, but it was still cold in the wind and exposed out by the vast expanse of the Wash. We headed round to Titchwell for a couple of hours ahead of the afternoon owl shift.

It was time for lunch but, as we made our way from the car park to the Visitor Centre, we noticed a little patch of rusty colour, subtly contrasting with the browner leaves, half hidden underneath the sallows. A quick look confirmed it was a Woodcock! Gathering the group together, we had frame-filling views of it through the scope. Not an owl, but a real highlight to see one of these often so elusive birds so well.

Woodcock

Woodcock – feeding beneath the sallows between the car park & Visitor Centre

The Woodcock was tucked up asleep at first. After lunch (and a very welcome hot drink!), as we made our way back to the car to put away our bags, it was feeding more actively. We watched it walking round slowly, probing in the leaves, before it turned and disappeared beneath the branches.

There were a few birds around the feeders – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, plus Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. As we started to make our way out onto the reserve, a quick look in the ditch by the main path revealed a Water Rail feeding on the far bank. It tried to hide under the overhanging brambles at first, before coming right out into the open for us, probing in the rotting leaves.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well in the ditch below the main path

The old pool out on Thornham grazing marsh looked particularly devoid of life at first. Scanning more carefully, we found a Reed Bunting feeding in some dead seedheads down near the front and, while we were watching it, a head popped up nearby. The Water Pipit was hard to see at first, lurking in a line of taller vegetation, picking around unobtrusively. Occasionally it would appear in an opening, and eventually we all got a good look at it through the scope.

A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds at the back and another was out over the reedbed the other side. Continuing on our way, the reedbed pool held a few Tufted Ducks and a scan of the Lavender Marsh as we passed revealed a single Grey Plover on the pool and a lone Black-tailed Godwit on the saltmarsh with a couple of Wigeon and Teal.

The freshmarsh is still flooded with water at the moment, meaning that there is not so much to see on here currently. The ducks like it though, with a number of Common Pochard in particular in a big raft towards the back. On the small piece of island remaining exposed above the flood by the junction to Parrinder Hide, we could see several Red-crested Pochards too, the males standing out with their bright orange heads (despite the fact they were all fast asleep), very different from their commoner cousins.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochards – the drakes sporting bright orange heads

With some dark clouds out towards the beach, we opted for safety and headed for Parrinder Hide. It was a wise call, as shortly after we arrived the skies opened and it started to hail heavily. Thankfully, it was just a shower and passed through quickly, but we were certainly pleased to be inside as it did.

There was not so much else to see on the freshmarsh today. There were lots of Lapwing on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and a few Golden Plover in with them too. A flock of 14 Avocet flew in after the shower, but ended up landing out in the water, given the lack of islands to stand on. We watched them swimming for a while, bobbing up and down, looking decidedly out of place, before they finally plucked up the courage to fly over and join all the Lapwing.

Avocets

Avocets – swimming on the freshmarsh, given the high water levels

As the rain stopped, we made our way round to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were a few waders out on the mud in front of the hide at first, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Avocet, but they all flushed as a Marsh Harrier flew over and landed further back.

With the break in the weather, we made a quick dash out further along the main path. The sun even came out for a time! We had great views of several more waders close in along the near edge of the Volunteer Marsh, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Redshank. A Lapwing looked particularly stunning, its upperparts gleaming metallic green, bronze and even purple in the sunshine!

Lapwing

Lapwing – looking stunning in the bright sunshine

The Tidal Pools looked quite quiet as we stuck our heads up over the bank, apart from a couple of Little Grebes diving just below us. A more careful scan revealed a pale silvery grey and white wader asleep, tucked down on the edge of the saltmarsh, a lone Spotted Redshank in winter plumage. A nice bonus!

There was no time to head out to the beach today, as our focus needed to be back on owls for the afternoon. We made our way quickly back to the car, and set off back east. With the cold winds along the coast, we decided to head inland to see if we could find any sheltered spots where Barn Owls might be hunting.

Almost immediately, on our way down to the first meadows we wanted to check, a Barn Owl flew across the road in front of us. It disappeared round behind some houses, before reappearing again, back across the road and down to the meadows where we had hoped to find it. It worked its way quickly down a hedge through the middle of the meadow, flicking over either side, before landing on a post on the bottom of the field. We had a good look at it here, but by the time we got the scope up, it was on the move again and disappeared out the back.

That was a positive start, but we hoped to have more prolonged views of Barn Owls out hunting this afternoon. Spurred on, we drove round to another area where they like to hunt, and once again we spotted a Barn Owl before we even arrived! We followed it down to the main meadow and found somewhere to park. As we got out of the car to watch it, a second Barn Owl appeared.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – out hunting over the meadows this afternoon

The two Barn Owls quartered the meadow for a while, each seemingly oblivious to the other, focused solely on its search for prey. The second bird disappeared over the hedge at the back – we could still see it hunting over another meadow further down – before a third Barn Owl appeared over the grass in front of us.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – one of three out hunting these meadows this afternoon

For over half an hour, we watched transfixed as the Barn Owls hunted. They worked their way back and forth, round and round the meadows, seemingly in a random pattern, searching the grass. Occasionally, one would drop down into the grass, but we didn’t see them successfully catch anything while we were there. We did get a good look at them through the scope down on the ground though. In particular, as a light snow shower passed over briefly, they settled for a minute.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – they would drop down in the grass occasionally

Eventually, the remaining two Barn Owls started to move off, heading away in different directions, hunting different patches. We decided to move on too. We made our way back down to the coast road and headed back east. There were no more Barn Owls out hunting along here this afternoon, but we didn’t stop to look too hard, after enjoying such fantastic views of them earlier.

We had an appointment down in the woods at dusk. We were a little early arriving this evening, so we walked through to look out over the meadows beyond as dusk fell. We had to retreat to the shelter of the trees on our first attempt, as another wintry shower passed through. As it cleared, we walked back to find a Barn Owl perched on a post on the edge of the meadows. We watched it for a while as it resumed hunting, flying round over the grass, occasionally dropping down into the taller vegetation.

A Tawny Owl hooted and we made our way back into the trees and down to an area where one of the males is known to favour. The Tawny Owls were a bit subdued this evening, possibly due to the weather, and it got dark rather quickly given the cloud. We did hear another pair hooting back behind us, deeper in the woods. Eventually, the male Tawny Owl we were listening for hooted again a couple of times. We set off along the path to see if we could see it, but it went quiet again before we got there. The next time we heard it, it had moved further off.

We stood and listened to the male Tawny Owl hooting for a while, a really evocative sound and always great to hear, before it started to get too dark and we called it a night.

 

27th Jan 2018 – Owling in the Wind

An Owl Tour today. The weather forecast was not ideal. It started fine, with a lovely sunrise, but clouded over quickly and the wind picked up. There was some light drizzle too through the middle of the day but it wasn’t enough to put us off, and the rain stopped mid afternoon, so we were able to make the most of it. And see some owls!

After meeting up, we headed straight down to the coastal grazing marshes in the hope we might be able to find a late Barn Owl still out hunting. As we scanned the grass, there was no sign of any at first. It was a lovely bright morning, after a nice clear night, and it seemed like the owls might have gone in to roost already.

There were plenty of other birds to look at. We heard a Grey Partridge and looked over in that direction just in time to see the female fly across and land down in the grass. Just behind, the male was calling, standing upright, showing off the black kidney on its grey underparts and its orange face. It ran over towards the female. A large flock of Curlews was feeding a damper area in the meadow.

There were lots of geese flying round. Several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew in, dropping down onto the grass in the distance to graze. We had a look at them in the scope. Several more disorderly groups of smaller Brent Geese were flying back and forth too.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – coming in to the grazing marshes this morning

The daytime predators were already out hunting. A Kestrel perched briefly in a tree but was seen off by the attentions of a Rook. Three Marsh Harriers circled up over reeds, the male calling. He then tried to chase off one of last year’s juveniles, swooping down at it as the three of them flew round. Then a pale grey shape appeared low over the reeds, a stunning male Hen Harrier. We watched as it flew right across the marshes – even having time to get it in the scope for a closer look.

Just when it looked like we might not find a Barn Owl this morning, a ghostly white shape appeared from round the corner of the bank. It floated silently across the grazing marsh and spent a couple of minutes hunting in and out of the reeds. We had hoped it might come out and land on one of the posts, but it flew straight up to a nearby owl box and disappeared inside. Always a good start to the day, to get a Barn Owl under our belts, particularly today given the forecast for the afternoon!

Our next target was to find a Little Owl. We drove inland, up to a regular site where they can often be found. It was cool in the breeze, but the sun was still poking through the clouds, so we hoped we might find one out. We scanned the roofs of the farm buildings and quickly found a ball of feathers tucked up in the lee of the ridge, a Little Owl.

Little Owl

Little Owl – warming itself in the morning sun

The Little Owl had found a sheltered spot, out of the wind and facing into the morning sun, where it could warm itself. We had a good look at it in the scope. It was fluffed up and facing away from us at first, but then it turned to look towards the sun. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the fields nearby and a large flock of Brent Geese flew over, heading inland to feed.

We continued on our way west, via several other sets of old barns where Little Owls live, but it was clouding over steadily now and there was no sign of any others out this morning. We did find a few Stock Doves on the farm buildings. Several Brown Hares were running around in the fields already. There were lots of Lapwings gathered in large flocks.

A Red Kite flew lazily past us beside the road – the first of a number we saw on our journey today. There were also several Kestrels hovering over the verges or perched in the trees as we passed, and a few Common Buzzards up enjoying the breeze.

Red Kite

Red Kite – the first of several we saw on our journey today

Our next destination was Snettisham. On our way there, it had already started to spit with rain and it was exposed on the edge of the Wash. We had a quick walk up to see if the Shorelark was still here, but we couldn’t find it today. A flock of Goldfinches was feeding along the tideline and flew up ahead of us.

The tide was still out and the Wash was a vast expanse of mud. A large dark mass out in the middle turned out to be a big group of Teal roosting on the edge of one of the muddy channels. The white Shelducks stood out much better against the grey, and were scattered liberally over the whole area, feeding.

Shelduck

Shelduck – out on the mud of the Wash, feeding

A flock of Dunlin was running round on the near edge of the mud, just in front of us, and there were several Redshanks and a Curlew close in too. Most of the waders were further out in the murk, but we could pick out lines of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits as well as a few Grey Plovers. Something spooked the big flock of Golden Plovers which had been asleep out on the mud and they flew up and over the seawall, dropping down to the fields inland.

It was not a day to be standing out on the edge of the Wash, so we turned our attention back to owls. There have been a couple of Short-eared Owls roosting here and after a short walk we found them, both in their usual spots, unusually choosing somewhere where they can be seen.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – roosting under a bramble bush

We had a good look at the Short-eared Owls through the scope. The first had found a sheltered spot under a bramble bush, but was turned towards us so we could see its bright yellow eyes. The second was perched up in the brambles a little further over. It had its head turned in, but would occasionally look round.

There were a few other birds on the Pit here as we walked round. A selection of ducks, mostly tucked up by bank out of the wind, plenty of Wigeon plus a handful of Gadwall. A few Tufted Ducks and a pair of Goldeneye, which were diving continually. With our mission here accomplished today, having seen the Short-eared Owls, we didn’t linger and headed back to the warmth of the car.

Given the weather, we decided to head round to Titchwell where we could find some shelter in the hides. On our way back to the main road, we stopped to look at a small group of Pink-footed Geese in a field. We could see their dark brown heads, and small dark bills with a narrow pink band, very different from the Greylags we had been seen earlier. A pair of Egyptian Geese were nearby.

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – by the road on our way back from Snettisham

On our way round the coast, we called in briefly at Thornham Harbour. It was damp and blustery but we wanted to have a quick look to see if the Twite were around. As we walked up to the edge of the saltmarsh, they flew over calling and landed down in the vegetation in front of us, a flock of about 20 of them.

The Twite didn’t stop here very long though. After a couple of minutes, they flew up, circled round and dropped down behind us in the car park, to drink and bathe in the puddles. Again they didn’t stay long, but we had a great look at them here for a couple of minutes, before they were spooked by a car door slamming and flew off.

Twite

Twite – the regular flock came down to drink in the car park

It was time for lunch when we reached Titchwell. A Goldcrest was feeding in the trees right in front of the car when we arrived, just a metre or two from us. We headed over to the visitor centre for a hot drink and while we ate, we kept an eye on the feeders. As well as the regular Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, there were a couple of Bramblings too today, a female on the feeders in front and a brighter male on the ones round the other side.

After lunch, we had a quick walk round Fen Trail and Meadow Trail, in the shelter of the trees. There was nothing to see from Fen Hide today and no sign of the Woodcock under the trees. But we did have great views of one of the Water Rails in the ditch by the main path, picking around in the dead leaves on the bank.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well in the ditch

We decided to make a bid for the shelter of Parrinder Hide. On the way out, a Marsh Harrier was circling out over the reedbed, enjoying the wind. A lone Grey Plover was on the edge of the large pool out on Lavender Marsh and several Teal and Wigeon were feeding on the saltmarsh nearby.

The water levels on the freshmarsh are very high through the winter and there was little of note on here today. The raft of Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks were mostly tucked up against the reeds at the back. A lone Curlew dropped in for a bathe and preen on the edge of one of the few exposed bits of dry land.

The other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh, was much more productive and we had good views of several species of wader from here. A single Knot was feeding on the mud just below the hide, though a larger group were weaving in and out of the vegetated islands further back. There were also several Dunlin, including a little mixed group with Knot giving a chance to compare the two side by side.

Knot

Knot – there were several on the saltmarsh in front of Parrinder Hide

Further over, we could see one or two Grey Plover, standing still surveying the mud for potential food, they were extremely well camouflaged until they moved. A couple of Ringed Plovers were running around as well. We had nice views of a Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on the mud and further back a couple of Black-tailed Godwits were hiding in one of the muddy channels. A Curlew or two and an Oystercatcher rounded off the selection nicely here.

The weather was improving, and it had stopped raining now, even if it was still a but blustery, so we decided to head out further across the reserve. There were some more nice views of waders close to the main path on the Volunteer Marsh, down in the shelter of the main channel. In particularly a Black-tailed Godwit was busy probing deep into the mud, flashing its black tail as it did so.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – feeding close to the main path

Emboldened by the improvement in the weather, we decided to make a bid for the beach. There were lots more birds on the tidal pools, including a couple of nice close Bar-tailed Godwits which gave us a great chance to compare them with several more Black-tailed Godwits nearby. They were also helpfully flying across occasionally, flashing their very different respective wing and tail patterns.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – nice views on the tidal pools

This is also where the Avocets were hiding. We counted at least thirteen today, though they were huddled up roosting along the spit at the back and it was hard to see all of them. Numbers are gradually starting to increase again, as birds start to return. There was also a large roost of Oystercatchers on the saltmarsh nearby.

A pair of Goldeneye were diving out on the Tidal Pools today, giving us better views than we had managed earlier at Snettisham. We had a great look at the male through the scope. There were also a few Pintail out here, including a couple of smart drakes, showing off their long pin-shaped central tail feathers as they upended to feed in the shallow water. One of the Little Grebes was diving just beyond the bushes right below the path.

It was nice to get out to the beach and into the shelter of the dunes, out of the wind. There were more waders out on the beach, even though it was around high tide now. More Bar-tailed Godwits were lined up along the water’s edge, with one or two Sanderlings running around in between them. A Turnstone walked past, picking at the seaweed along the high tide line, and another Sanderling ran past too.

It wasn’t as choppy as it might have been, given the wind, so we managed to find a few birds out on the sea. There was a group of six Long-tailed Ducks diving just offshore, including several smart drakes. We got them in the scope, but they took off before everyone had a chance to get a good look at them. They circled round offshore, before flying and landing back down much further out.

A line of dark, blackish Common Scoters was out there too, as well as a good number of Goldeneye. A couple of Guillemots were swimming just beyond the ducks and there were several Great Crested Grebes out on the water, but a Red-throated Diver was harder to see, diving constantly. Several Little Gulls flew past while we were watching the sea, the adults flashing alternately their black underwings and pale silvery grey upperwings.

The afternoon was getting on now and we had an appointment elsewhere at dusk, so we made a quick dash back to the car, heads down into the wind. We headed off inland on our way back east and checked out a couple of places in passing to see if there might be any more Barn Owls out, but they were probably in no hurry to come out this evening, given the wind.

When we got to the woods and started to walk along the track, we hadn’t gone very far when a male Tawny Owl started hooting from the trees behind us. It was an auspicious start, as we weren’t sure how active they would be given the wind tonight. We turned and walked back in the direction of the sound, and positioned ourselves where we know that particular Tawny Owl likes to perch up in the trees sometimes.

After a short wait, a dark shape flew towards us through the tops and landed in the back of an ivy-covered tree in front of us. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it from where we were standing so we stood very quietly and were rewarded a few seconds later when the Tawny Owl flew again, right over our heads and into a tree close by. They are big owls up close, with very broad, rounded wings when they fly. It turned to look down at us.

We had a great view of the Tawny Owl perched there for a minute or so,  but it knew we were watching it from below and was spooked by a car passing on the road. It flew off again deeper into the trees. We knew roughly where it had gone and followed after it. Then helpfully it started hooting again, so we could work out exactly where it was and get it in the scope. We had a good view of it silhouetted against the last of the light, high in the branches, hooting, turning round.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – silhouetted against the sky, hooting

The Tawny Owl flew off a little further into the trees, where it landed briefly and called, before dropping away again. As we walked back to the car, we could still hear it hooting, a great way to end the day.

20th Jan 2018 – Seeking Owls

An Owl Tour today. It was cloudy and rather cold all day, but with light winds and the rain mostly held off – just a little light drizzle late morning and spots of rain for a time again early afternoon.

With an early start, we hoped to catch a Barn Owl out hunting still, and so it proved. After meeting up, we drove straight down to the grazing marshes on the coast and climbed up onto the seawall. There was a Barn Owl flying round over the grass. It flew up and down, landing a couple of times on a fence post, where we could get it in the scope. We all had a good look at it before it took off again and disappeared round the back of the reeds.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – out hunting still on our arrival this morning

The Barn Owl had been a bit distant from where we were standing, so we walked up along the seawall for a closer look. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds as we passed. Then a Water Pipit flew up calling from an area of recently cut reed and two Grey Partridge flew across and dropped down in the middle of the same cut area, presumably to feed on any spilled seed. A flock of Curlew flew past us calling, heading inland.

The Barn Owl reappeared again, and was much closer to us now. We watched as it flew round again, staring intently down into the grass. It dropped down at one point, but came up again quickly with no sign of having caught anything, before landing on a nearby post briefly. When it took off again, it flew straight over towards us and made its way right past below the bank, before heading off inland presumably to roost.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – a nice flypast as it headed off to roost

There were other birds here too. One or two Marsh Harriers quartered the reeds and we spotted a Kestrel perched on a telegraph post. Several geese were flying back and forth – including six Brent Geese which came right over our heads, and a couple of skeins of Pink-footed Geese further out over the grass. A Little Egret and a Rock Pipit were both feeding on the pools on the saltmarsh beyond the seawall. Another Barn Owl was only seen as it disappeared into a box to roost, before anyone could get onto it.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding on the pools on the edge of the saltmarsh

With the Barn Owls here having probably gone to roost now, we walked back to the car. We could hear Grey Partridge calling and looked across to see a pair on the bank in front of us. They then flew down into the grass, where we got a good look at them in the scope.

Some movement in the reeds on the edge of the ditch below us turned out to be a Chiffchaff. Mostly this is just a summer visitor and passage migrant here, but with increasingly mild winters a few stay on. In contract, Cetti’s Warbler is resident. We had heard a couple calling on our walk and, having just explained how it was unusual to see one out in the open, a Cetti’s Warbler flew past us and landed briefly in the top of a clump of brambles!

Our next target for the morning was Little Owl. On our drive inland to look for them, we noticed a white shape flying along the verge beside the road in front of us, another Barn Owl still out hunting. We drove slowly behind it for several minutes, watching it – it seemed oblivious to our presence. It landed briefly on a road sign, then carried on hunting. When it turned down a side road, it flicked over the hedge out of view, working the edge of the field. Then it came back over the hedge further along, crossing the road in front of us and going over the hedge the other side, before flying back the other way, behind us. Great to watch!

We stopped by a set of farm buildings where we know there are Little Owls. There was no obvious sign of them at first – perhaps not a great surprise as they like to perch up in the morning sun and today was cold and cloudy! As we walked round the other side, scanning carefully, we found one tucked in under the roof of an old barn. It was not easy to see from here – we could only see half of it and it was facing the other way – but we could make out its back spotted with white and the false eye pattern on the back of its head.

Little Owl

Little Owl – we could jut see the back of this one, hiding under the roof

We walked back round to the front of the barns, but the Little Owl had tucked itself in so well it was not visible at all from this side. There were a few other birds here – a few Brent Geese, Common Gulls and Curlew in the fields, and a pair of Stock Doves on the roof of one of the other barns.

The weather looked like it might be brightening a little, so we carried on our way west, hoping we might find another Little Owl elsewhere. However, we hadn’t gone far before it started to spit with rain. We drove past several more sets of occupied barns on our way, but there was no sign of any of the other Little Owls. It was just not the weather now for them to be sitting out, and we weren’t helped by lots of disturbance today too – a farmer with his dog was walking round the buildings at one site, a shoot was gathering outside another. We did see another late Barn Owl still out, perched on a post out in a field, looking slightly bedraggled.

Our next destination was Snettisham. As we got up onto the seawall, a smart drake Goldeneye was diving on the pit below the bank. The tide was out, and we were greeted by a vast expanse of mud stretching across to Lincolnshire in the distance, the Wash. There were a few smaller waders on the near edge, little groups of grey Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plover too with nearest of them.

Dunlin

Dunlin – feeding out on the mud of the Wash

There were clearly lots of waders out on the mud in the distance. Further out, we could see a few Grey Plover and Curlew. A tighter group beyond them was a line of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot, busy feeding. A slick of Golden Plover was spread out across the mud, remarkably hard to see until we got them in the scope. Another flock of Golden Plover whirled round over the fields just inland, before dropping down out of view.

There were ducks out on the Wash too, lots of Teal and Mallard in flocks asleep on the edge of the muddy channels. Shelduck were liberally scattered across the mud. Inland, a big flock of Wigeon flew up calling before dropping back down behind the inner seawall.

There has been a Shorelark here in recent weeks, but we hadn’t heard anything about it for a while. We had a quick walk up along the tideline to see if it was still here and just as it seemed like it might have gone, we noticed some movement in all the seaweed and dry vegetation lined up along the top of the beach. Sure enough, it was the Shorelark. We had great views of it as it crept around in and out of the piles of vegetation, looking for seeds, its pale yellow face with distinctive black bandit mask and collar.

Shorelark

Shorelark – along the tideline at Snettisham again this morning

As we made our way back along the track, we caught sight of a smart drake Pintail on the water below the bank. There were more Goldeneye diving out on the pits, and a couple of Little Grebes too. A flock of Tufted Duck flew off past us. On the main pit there were good numbers of Wigeon and a couple of Gadwall too, plus lots of Greylag Geese.

Walking round, we scanned the bushes and spotted a shape under the brambles. It was a Short-eared Owl roosting. We got it in the scope and had a look at it, but it was facing away from us at first. Another scan and we found a second Short-eared Owl in the bushes nearby. This one was looking straight at us.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two roosting here today

We stood and watched the Short-eared Owls for a few minutes. They were not doing very much, but would occasionally turn their heads. A pair of Brown Hares came chasing through the bushes towards them and ran straight into the brambles where the second Short-eared Owl was perched. We watched as it looking round and down towards them, making sure there wasn’t any threat, before going back to sleep.

After lunch back at the car, we started to make our way back east. We had hoped to have another go at finding another Little Owl on our way back, but having eased off earlier it now started to spit with rain again. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of any more owls still. We did find a big flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field beside the road and had a quick stop to look at them.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field

When we got back to the coast, it stopped raining again, so we went back to the grazing marshes to see if any owls were coming out to hunt. As walked out on the seawall, we heard a Water Pipit call and looked down to see it feeding on the edge of a puddle where the reeds had just been cut. This time we had a good look at it through the scope, noting it pale off-white underparts with neat black streaking, and its prominent pale supercilium. A pair of Stonechats was feeding nearby too.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding around a puddle in the recently cut reeds

It was getting late now, and the light was starting to fade. We could see a big flock of Brent Geese feeding out on the grass in the distance and watched as they took off and flew across the marshes, heading off to roost.

A Barn Owl appeared behind us. It flew in over the reeds, past us on the bank, and headed out across the grazing marshes. It was a noticeably darker bird than the one we had seen here this morning. It hunted for a minute or so around the edge of the reeds out in the middle, then headed off over the other side.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – a different bird, came out to hunt late this afternoon

It was getting late now. We already had a good haul of owls for the day, but there was one more still we wanted to try to see, so we headed inland again, and up to the woods. We walked through the trees and stood looking out over the grazing marshes as we waited for the light to fade. As we watched, several ducks flew in and landed down in the pools to feed, Mallard and Gadwall.

Then a Tawny Owl hooted from the trees behind us. We walked back into the wood and it hooted again. We looked over in that direction and saw a large shape fly out, disappearing off through the trees, as the Tawny Owl came out of its roost and headed off for the night.

We walked down along a path to an area where we know another male Tawny Owl favours. We had a short wait, but after a while it finally appeared through trees, and perched high above us. We managed to get it in the scope, silhouetted against the last of the day’s light, and watched it hooting, turning round on the branch, looking down towards us.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – silhouetted against the last of the light, hooting

The Tawny Owl stayed in the trees above us for several minutes, hooting on and off, before eventually it took off and disappeared deeper into the wood. We could still hear it, hooting in the distance, as we walked back to the car. It was a great way to end a very successful day out, seeking owls.