Tag Archives: Marsh Harrier

22nd Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today.  We planned to spend the morning down in the Brecks and then return to North Norfolk for the afternoon. It was rather cloudy and grey all day, a bit brighter around the middle of the day, but it stayed dry and the much lighter winds were both a blessing and a hindrance!

On the drive down to the Brecks, a Red Kite over the fields next to the road was a nice addition to the trip list. Otherwise it was a fairly uneventful journey, until we got down to the area where the Stone Curlews are gathering. Before we even got to the layby, we could see a good number from the road as we passed, in the edge of the field just beyond the hedge. There is nowhere to stop here so we continued on to the place where we could park.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the Stone Curlews we had seen from the car were out of view from here today, over a ridge in the field. Fortunately, we could still see a couple of Stone Curlews nestled down in the field. We got the scope out and scanned and found there were actually six here, though only the heads of some of the others were visible. We got the scope on the most obvious and closest bird and had a good look at it. We could see its bright yellow iris, when it opened it eyes, and its black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – one of a group of six we saw at our first stop this morning

We had a good look at the first Stone Curlew, then two of the others stood up from where they were hiding down in the low-growing crop, so we turned the scope on them.

There were a few Red-legged Partridge in the field too and a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over. A brief glimpse of a hawk disappearing away over the trees suggested something more exciting until it came back over the field and we could see it was just a young female Sparrowhawk flying in an odd fashion, with deep and powerful wingbeats more like a display flight.

There have been some more Stone Curlews in another field further on, so we decided to go and check those out, and then if need be come back and try to see the ones we had seen from the road earlier. As we edged in slowly along the path, we realised that some of the Stone Curlews were very close to us, closer than normal, hidden in the vegetation. We froze. A small number of the birds flew, but thankfully landed again just a little further back. Some of the others walked a short distance away, but most of them stayed put.

We got one of the Stone Curlews in the scope, and had a good look at it taking turns. Gradually, over the next half an hour, we were able to edge out into a position from where we could all see some of the birds. They were settled now, untroubled by our presence at a discrete distance, and we had some truly amazing, frame-filling views of them here.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – frame-filling views through the scope

Scanning back and forth over the vegetation, we realised we could see more and more birds, with several hiding or sitting down so only the tops of their heads were visible. At first we could only see about 15-20, but by the end we had managed to count at least 41 Stone Curlews here visible at any one time. An amazing sight!

A flock of Linnets were feeding down in the weedy vegetation too, and kept flying round calling. There were some pig fields not far away and when we made our way round there we could see lots of gulls out amongst the pigs. They were almost entirely Lesser Black-backed Gulls, but looking through them carefully we managed to find a single adult Yellow-legged Gull as well as one or two Herring Gulls, in with them.

It had been an amazingly successful start to the morning and, as we were down in the Brecks now, we thought we would see if we might be able to see a Goshawk. This is not the best time of year to see them, but the juveniles in particular do like to come up and play on windy days. Unfortunately this morning the wind had dropped much more than forecast, and there was also no warmth from the sun which was stuck behind the clouds.

As we drove back along the road, we could see all the other Stone Curlews in the first field we had passed – there were at least another 30 here, but we couldn’t stop. We carried on to a spot on higher ground which overlooks an area of forest. There were lots of Lapwings and Starlings out on the cultivated field in front of the trees. Several Mistle Thrushes kept dropping down from the trees to the field to feed, before flying back up again. In the trees, we could see lots of finches, including a couple of small flocks of Siskin.

At first there were not even any Common Buzzards up in the air over the trees. However, we could see a mass of hirundines. Through the scope, we could make out that they were mostly House Martins out over the forest, but along the edge of the trees and over the fields by the road, there were more Swallows. A small numbers of Swallows came across the field in front of us, seemingly on their way west. Clearly these birds were just stopping off here on migration, heading off to Africa for the winter.

Gradually a few Buzzards started to circle up. They weren’t gaining much height today though. One landed in the top of a pine tree. Another drifted over the field behind us, mobbed by a large flock of Jackdaws.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – mobbed by Jackdaws

Eventually a juvenile Goshawk appeared above the wood in the corner. Unfortunately, it was only visible for a few seconds as it flew over the tops, not long enough for everyone to get onto it, before disappearing behind a line of trees. Despite scanning either side in the hope it would re-emerge, it didn’t come back up again. A Sparrowhawk was more obliging, circling up amongst all the hirundines before flying across and dropping back down into the forest.

We tried another spot a little further on. There were lots of Common Buzzards up now, and a Red Kite too, but still no further sign of any more Goshawks. It was not the best day for raptor watching, so we decided to head back up to North Norfolk. During a quick stop in Wells to use the facilities, we heard Pink-footed Geese calling and looked up to see a flock of 36 high over the town, heading west. Presumably more birds just returning here for the winter.

Pink-footed Geese

We stopped for lunch at Stiffkey, overlooking the saltmarsh. A distant Red Kite was circling out over East Hills and we could see several Curlews, Redshank and Little Egrets were scattered around in the vegetation in front of us. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up a little to the east of us, flying round for a minute or so before disappearing back down into the vegetation.

A single Spoonbill appeared out on the far edge of the saltmarsh, before dropping down out of view to feed in one of the small pools. At times we could just see its head appear, but eventually it climbed out again and we got a good look at it through the scope.

After lunch, we headed along the coast to Blakeney. With a hint of a few migrants in today, we had a quick look around Friary Hills first. It was very quiet in the trees here, with just a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling in trees. As we walked back round along the bottom path, a Chiffchaff was calling in the hedge. Just beyond it, we came across a tit flock, moving fast through the bushes. A grey warbler disappeared round the back before we got a look at it, and despite following the tits along the hedge, all we could see with them now were a few finches.

Walking out along the seawall, a Greenshank was on the mud on the edge of the harbour channel, but was flushed by a couple out walking and disappeared downstream, behind the saltmarsh. We had a better view of a Little Egret, fishing in one of the smaller muddy channels by the path, jiggling its feet in the mud in front of it, trying to flush out something to eat.

Little Egret

Little Egret – fishing in one of the muddy channels

When we got to the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the harbour. We could see lots of Curlew and Redshank on the mud closer to us, but most of the other waders were much further out, around the pools in the bottom of the harbour. Through the scope, we could see Oystercatchers and godwits, one or two Grey Plover and a Ringed Plover and several Turnstones.

Looking out across the Freshes the other side, two juvenile Marsh Harriers were flying back and forth over the reeds, chocolate brown with a contrasting paler head. They were joined by a paler female which came up from the reeds and circled with them for a minute of two before landing on a gate post.

Then the male Marsh Harrier flew in from the harbour behind us. It circled over the rest of the family and looked like it might be preparing for a food pass, despite the fact we couldn’t see anything in its talons. The two juveniles up circled expectantly below it, but it clearly wasn’t here to feed them and gradually drifted off. The juveniles followed, one of them gaining height and swooping down at the male from above. Possibly it was cross that it hadn’t been fed! Eventually the male lost interest and flew back out again towards the harbour.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – the male came in over the harbour behind us

We walked back on the path across the grazing marsh. There were not many birds here today, but we did spot a Stock Dove which flew in and landed with a couple of Wood Pigeons out on the grass.

Stiffkey Fen was our last planned stop of the day. The bushes and brambles by the path were quiet at first today, just a couple of Blue Tits. Then we heard Bullfinches calling in the thicker sallows and looking carefully through the foliage, we could just make them out feeding in the back.

When we got to the point where you can see across the brambles to the Fen beyond, we immediately spotted the Spoonbills. There were twenty of them today, mostly asleep, but we could see a pair preening each others heads and necks. When you have a bill as long as that, you need a bit of help to reach some places! When a juvenile Marsh Harrier flew over, all the Spoonbills woke up and we could see there was a mixture of adults with yellow-tipped black bills and juveniles with shorter dirty fleshy bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were 20 on the Fen today

Over at the back, against the reeds, we could see a single Avocet feeding. Most of them have left already now, for the winter. A Green Sandpiper was right over the back too and a couple of Greenshank flew in calling. When we heard a cacophony of honking just behind us, a wave of Greylags flew in very low over our heads from the fields and dropped down onto the Fen. Quite an experience!

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Spoonbills through the scope. As well as all the Greylags now, there were lots of ducks out on the Fen – mainly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, plus a good number of Pintail.  and a couple of Tufted Ducks.

A big flock of Black-tailed Godwits was roosting down on the Fen and we could see several Redshanks and Ruff, in various shapes and sizes, with them. Down along the edge of the mud in front of the closer reeds we could see a couple of Snipe feeding and a second Green Sandpiper with them. More Greenshanks were flying in from the harbour in ones and twos ahead of the rising tide – we were up to seven already now.

Looking out across the harbour, we could see all the seals hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point and on the sandbars opposite. A couple more large flocks of Pink-footed Geese came in off the sea round the end of the Point, flying on west over the saltmarsh towards Wells and Holkham. A Hobby flew low across the harbour, flushing all the birds around the edge as it did so. With the element of surprise gone, it quickly climbed higher and carried on west.

The tide was coming in fast now. A flock of Oystercatchers had gathered on one of the rapidly disappearing shingle spits on the edge of the harbour. On the spit in front, a single Grey Plover was standing with a lone Curlew until a large flock of Grey Plover and Turnstones flew in to join them. Through the scope, we could see the Grey Plovers were in various stages of moult, with more or less of the summer black face and belly remaining.

News came through that a Wryneck had been seen in Wells. This was a much wanted bird for several members of the group, to the point that we had joked each morning about seeing three or four of them! However, it was very much unexpected today, particularly given the persistent westerly winds and the comparative lack of other migrants coming in. We had to go for a quick look on our way, despite having limited time now before we had to be back.

When we got there, we found a couple of people standing in the car park. They hadn’t been able to find it and no one really knew where it had been seen exactly. We had just got out to talk to them when we noticed a bird drop out of the low hedge just a couple of metres from us, down onto the bare dusty ground on the car park verge – the Wryneck!

It flew again immediately, to a thicker area of trees by the car park entrance. We got everybody out and walked slowly over in that direction. There was the Wryneck, down on the ground on a small grassy bank just the other side of the trees. It froze there, looking round, though seemingly undeterred by the camper vans coming in and out of the caravan park between us and it, from where we were standing on the other side of the entrance road.

It wasn’t easy for everyone to get onto at first, despite it being quite close, as it looked just like a branch or small lump of earth in the grass, but finally the whole group were watching the Wryneck. It was a great view of it here.

Wryneck

Wryneck – what a way to end the day!

Then a Wood Pigeon flew low across over the bank and spooked the Wryneck, which flew into the bushes nearby. We waited a few minutes, in case it might come straight out again, but it was cloudy and cool and the light was fading now. We really had to get everyone back too, or they would be late for dinner! It was a fantastic – and most unexpected – way to end the day, with a Wryneck.

 

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15th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today. After a cloudy start, it brightened up and was then nice and sunny until it clouded over again later in the day. We spent the day today exploring the North Norfolk coast.

As we made our way east along the coast road, we spotted a Barn Owl quartering over some wet grazing marshes. There had been some rain overnight, so perhaps it had struggled to hunt and was therefore still out this morning. We managed to pull up and watch it for a few minutes as it worked its way round and round over the grass. A great start to the day.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hunting over the grazing meadow by the road

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, a grey-winged male Marsh Harrier flew in across the field next to us. We had a good view of it, before it disappeared round behind the trees.

Some birds were feeding in the tramlines through the stubble. As well as a couple of Pheasants, there were four Stock Doves. We had a good look at them through the scope, noting their glossy green neck patches  and black spots on the wings. When the Marsh Harrier returned, the Stock Doves took off and we could see the neat blackish trailing edge to their wings and the lack of any white wing stripe.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – quartering over the stubble

There were two Brown Hares in the field opposite. We could hear a Kestrel alarm calling and a Common Buzzard mewing, but it was still probably a bit too early and too cool for the latter to be up circling above the trees.

Along the footpath beside the river, we found the big tit flock again but the birds were keeping hidden in the trees this morning. We could see several Long-tailed Tits and we heard one or two Chiffchaffs. A male Blackcap appeared on the outside of a bush eating blackberries. While we were watching the flock, three Bullfinches flew in calling and landed in the trees with them, before disappeared off in the other direction along the river bank.

There is a point along the path here where you can see over the brambles to the Fen beyond. When we got there, we were immediately struck by a long line of white birds asleep on one of the islands. A very large group of Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best!

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were at least 36 on the Fen today

There were some waders visible from here too. Eight Greenshanks were tucked up along the edge of the reeds at the back, along with a couple of Green Sandpipers. There were more waders hidden from our view behind the reeds at the front, but while we stood here more flew in to join them, presumably coming in from the harbour as the tide rose. There were flocks of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits dropping in, and a single Bar-tailed Godwit too.

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Spoonbills. Some even woke up briefly and flashed their spoon-shaped bills. One adult on the edge of the flock was pursued remorselessly by a juvenile begging to be fed, bouncing its head up and down and flapping its wings. Through the scope, we could count them properly too – the grand total of 36 Spoonbills here today. Quite an impressive sight!

We could see all the waders roosting out in the water in the middle from here too. As well as all the Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were good numbers of Common Redshank. Looking closely, we found a single Spotted Redshank with them too, noticeably paler grey above, whiter below, and with a more noticeable pale supercilium just visible, despite the fact it was asleep with its bill tucked in.

There are lots of ducks on here now, as birds have returned for the winter. Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and one or two Shoveler. In the water, busy upending, were ten Pintail. There are always plenty of Greylags here, with more dropping in from the fields beyond all the time. Small groups of Pink-footed Geese were flying west overhead all morning, birds returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Goose – several small groups flew west this morning

Looking out across the harbour from the seawall, we could see lots of seals hauled out on the tip of Blakeney Point. Several Sandwich Terns were fishing out in the pit and beyond, in the distance, we could see two dark juvenile Gannets plunge diving in the sea the off the Point.

We picked up a falcon flying in fast and low across the harbour and when it turned and climbed towards the Fen we could see it was a Hobby. It came in over the seawall just beyond us and dropped down low over the Fen. It seemed to realise there was nothing suitably-sized here to chase though, because it promptly climbed and disappeared off west without spooking all the waders.

Continuing on a little further along the seawall, we looked back and scanned the other side of the Fen. There were more Greenshank roosting here, another 20 to add to the eight or so we had seen earlier.

As we walked round towards the harbour, we could see more waders flying round near the edge of the water, beyond the saltmarsh, flushed from where they had been roosting. We watched as a large group of Grey Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwits flew in and landed again.

When we got to the corner, we could just see part of the roosting flocks on a spit of mud. The birds in view were mostly Grey Plover, several still sporting various amounts of black on their underparts. There were Oystercatchers and Curlews on the mud here too. The waders were all flushed by a boat full of rowers which came ashore on the sand, flying round before landing again further round, out of view. Across the other side of the channel, we got the scope on a small roosting flock of Turnstones, up on the edge of the saltmarsh.

We turned and started to make our way back. The sun was coming out now and it was warm in some of the more sheltered spots along the path. Several Speckled Wood butterflies were sunning themselves along the hedge.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – there were several out on our walk back from the Fen

Our next destination was Cley. We arrived there still with some time before lunch, so we decided to have a walk up the East Bank first. As we walked up onto the bank from the car park, we looked back towards Snipe’s Marsh. We could see several waders over there, so we decided to walk over the road first, for a closer look.

Two Spotted Redshanks were sleeping in the cut reeds. We were looking into the sun at first, but we made our way round to where we could get a better view of them. When they woke up, we could see their long, needle fine bills. There were two Green Sandpipers feeding out on the mud too, as well as a good number of Common Snipe, appropriately enough here!

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of two on Snipe’s Marsh

A small bird flew across and landed in the base of the reeds at the far side. Flashing white in the outer tail as it landed, we might have expected it to be a Reed Bunting here but we caught a glint of yellow as it dropped in. It was a Yellowhammer – not quite where we would expect to see one! A Reed Warbler working its way round the base of the reeds at the back was less of a surprise.

Given we were at Walsey Hills now, we had a quick walk in along the footpath through the bushes. We heard several Chiffchaffs calling, and a Coal Tit singing, but nothing else today, despite the fact the ivy here was alive with insects in the sunshine.

Over on the East Bank, it was surprisingly breezy as we walked out. We heard several Bearded Tits calling from various places in the reeds, but not surprisingly they were keeping well down today.

Looking further up, we could see a large white bird in the water at the north end of the Serpentine. It was a Spoonbill, busy feeding, so we walked up there for a closer look. We watched it sweeping its bill methodically back and forth through the shallows, occasionally throwing its head back when it caught something.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding on its own in the Serpentine

Otherwise on the Serpentine there was just a single Black-tailed Godwit, one Snipe and an Avocet, as well as a selection of commoner dabbling ducks. Pope’s Pool beyond held a few more Black-tailed Godwits and a handful of Ruff. A small group of Swallows flew through, heading determinedly west, on their way back to Africa for the winter.

There were not so many birds out on Arnold’s Marsh today, more Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Curlew. We carried on out to the beach, but it was very quiet looking out to sea too, with surprisingly little moving today. So we headed back to the Visitor Centre for lunch.

After lunch, we made our way out to the hides. A quick look at Whitwell Scrape produced just a couple of Lapwing and a few ducks. We could see more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, but by the time we walked round to Dauke’s Hide, the flock of nine Dunlin we had seen drop in had flown off again. There were still two Ringed Plover on here and lots of Black-tailed Godwits busy feeding up to their bellies in the water in front of the hide.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – one of many on Simmond’s Scrape

Looing across to Pat’s Pool, another Spotted Redshank was feeding on the edge of the reeds. Three Dunlin were initially towards the far side, but helpfully then flew round and landed at the front with two juvenile Ruff. Two Common Snipe were very well camouflaged out on the edge of one of the islands, hard to see until you looked through the scope.

We were planning to head out to North Scrape, as we had seen several waders landing over there, but by the time we got back to the Visitor Centre we could see one of the wardens out there on a tractor, topping the grassy edges of the scrape. A quick change of plan, and we drove back to Iron Road instead.

As we walked up along the Iron Road to look at the pools, two Spotted Redshanks flew in and landed on the area of open water just to the east. They looked to be the same two that we had seen on Snipe’s Marsh earlier. A small group of Meadow Pipits flew high overhead calling, but they could just as easily have been local birds as migrants moving.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese – feeding on the grazing meadows by Iron Road

On the other side of Iron Road, there were lots of geese out on the grazing marsh, mainly Greylags but with several pairs of Egyptian Geese too. The escaped Fulvous Whistling Duck was with them – interesting to see, but as it has come out of a cage somewhere it doesn’t count!

We walked round on the path Babcock Hide next. There was no one in the hide and we got quite a shock when we opened the window and found a cow staring back at us, just a few inches away! The cows were feeding right in front of the hide and were very inquisitive, poking their noses in through the flaps. They were not particularly helpful either, blocking the view.

Babcock Hide

Babcock Hide – we got quite a shock when we opened the flaps!

We could just about see what was on the pool here though. On our way out here, we had seen a couple of flocks of Black-tailed Godwits flying in and out from the stubble field across the road, where they were feeding. There were still several loafing about out in the water. Further back, two Pintail were busy feeding, upending in amongst the Mallards. With their rear ends in the air, we could see their more pointed tails.

As we made our way back along the path, we heard a Whimbrel calling. We looked over towards the pool by Iron Road and saw it circle once before continuing on its way west, disappearing off over Walsey Hills. Surprisingly, given the time of year, this was the first migrant wader we had seen on the move today.

On our way back west, we diverted off the coast road and headed inland. We scanned the fields for partridges, but couldn’t see any today, as we made our way up to a regular site for Little Owl. It didn’t take long to find one, perched on the roof of one of the farm buildings. It was rather distant, but we had a good look at it through the scope. It was a suitably appropriate way to end the day, as we had begun, with an owl.

3rd Sep 2018 – Migrants & More, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour up on the North Norfolk coast today. It was mostly a nice, warm, sunny day, but there was some sea fret lingering offshore which was blown in on the moderate NE breeze, so it was a bit foggy on the coast for a couple of hours around the middle of the day.

We made our way west along the coast today – our first destination was at Titchwell. As we got out of the car, a tit flock was in the trees above us. We could see several Long-tailed Tits in the Sycamores, and hear a Coal Tit singing. There were also several  Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches with them, picking around for insects amongst the leaves.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – in the sycamores in the car park first thing

The overflow carpark can be a good place to look for warblers at this time of year, before it gets too busy. There were already several people walking round this morning, but we still managed to find lots of birds. We stopped by a quiet corner, and scanned the brambles, elders and hawthorns laden with berries.

A couple of Reed Warblers appeared first, one of them finding a branch in the morning sun where it stopped to preen. It is always odd to see them clambering round in bushes at this time of year. Several smart silvery grey Lesser Whitethroats clambered around after the berries – they are always much easier to see at this time of year. A rusty brown Common Whitethroat came out too, followed by several Blackcaps. There was a large flock of Goldfinches and Greenfinches up in the top of the trees, and a Song Thrush appeared briefly too.

That was a great selection of birds to start our visit here and so we headed out to the reserve. As we walked out along the main path, we could hear Bearded Tits pinging in the reeds but they were a long way out and hard to see. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the back of the reedbed.

There was nothing of note on the dried up grazing meadow pool, which is getting rather overgrown now, but as we scanned over the reeds a Sparrowhawk flew low towards us over the bare ground. It flushed several Woodpigeons, then landed briefly out of view behind the reeds at the front, before it was off again towards the trees.

The reedbed pool held a few Common Pochard and a pair of Gadwall. A Green Sandpiper flew round calling loudly, before dropping down behind the reeds, and a Common Snipe flew over too, its raspy call alerting us to its approach. A Bearded Tit zipped across over the reeds, too quick for everyone to get onto.

We stopped in at Island Hide first, to see what was on the Freshmarsh. There were lots of birds out here today – mostly ducks and waders. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope in residence for the last few days, a bird we particularly wanted to see. Scanning carefully, we found it right at back, swimming around amongst the ducks. We could see its distinctive shape, short sharp bill and white head and neck with black bandit mask.

Ruff

Ruff – the adults now almost entirely in their non-breeding plumage

There was a great selection of other waders on here too today. The first thing we noticed on the mud in front of the hide were all the Ruff, the adults now mostly in their drab grey-brown and white non-breeding plumage. A huge mass of godwits spread across the middle of the scrape, a mixture of Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. The latter had probably come in from the beach to roost, ahead of the rising tide, and we could see several of them were still sporting the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage.

Scanning through all the godwits, we could see a few much smaller Knot and Dunlin mixed in with them. There was a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper too. When it was asleep, its clean white belly and brighter supercilium set it apart from the Dunlin nearby. When it woke up, we could see its longer, more downcurved bill.

A single Spotted Redshank was lurking in the deeper water right at the back, against the reeds. We could hear a Greenshank calling and looked across the scrape to see three land briefly on the edge of one of the islands. There are still quiet a few Avocets here too, and a Ringed Plover appeared briefly on the mud. A large flock of Golden Plover circled over and dropped down onto the islands. Every so often, all the waders would take off and whirl round as a Marsh Harrier drifted high over the scrape.

Spoonbills 2

Spoonbill – the last of the 21 to arrive

The tide was obviously rising now out on the saltmarsh, as the Spoonbills started to appear, flying in from where they had been feeding. First a pair landed out on the Freshmarsh, an adult pursued by its offspring, demanding to be fed – the ‘little beggar’. This was followed almost immediately by another big group of eighteen. Another loner arrived shortly afterwards, taking us to 21 Spoonbills in total. They landed out in the middle of the Freshmarsh at first, but were quickly spooked by a passing Marsh Harrier and disappeared round the back of Avocet Island out of view.

As we made our way round to Parrinder Hide next, we could already see patches of sea fret in the distance beyond. As we sat in the hide, the fog started to blow in over the Freshmarsh. It was rather eerie, looking at all the birds shrouded in fog.

Fog

Waders in the fog – from Parrinder Hide

Despite the fog, we could still see quite a few birds from the hide. Two Pink-footed Geese were feeding just in front with a single Greylag. The Pink-footed Geese are both birds which have been here all summer, unable to migrate back to Iceland for the summer due to broken wings.

A couple of Snipe were feeding on the edge of the fenced-off island, probing their beaks vigorously into the mud. A Common Sandpiper finished bathing in edge of water, and walked up onto the stony edge of the island to preen.

Given the fog, we were not sure whether or not it would be worth walking out to the beach. At least the fog did seem to be coming and going. As we looked out from the other side of Parrinder Hide, the visibility seemed to improve a bit. The tide was fairly high now, and much of the Volunteer Marsh was under water. We could see a couple of small groups of Curlew roosting in the taller vegetation and one Curlew feeding just below the hide. Several Common Redshanks and three Little Egrets were out on the mud.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh

We decided to continue on, out to the Tidal Pools first. At the back of the pool just beyond the bank, we could see lots more Common Redshanks, with two Greenshanks asleep nearby. Further on, more waders were roosting on the larger island over high tide. We could see lots of Oystercatchers, and a long line of Turnstones, some still in the remains of their brighter summer plumage. There were several Grey Plover too, most of them still in breeding plumage too – we could see their black faces despite them being asleep and facing away from us, into the wind.

There were still wisps of fog blowing in, as we made it to the beach. We looked up to see a Grey Heron flying high in off the sea. It circled over the back of the beach, presumably a migrants coming in from the continent. There were a few Sandwich Terns feeding just offshore, and a little party of Sanderlings on the edge of the sea, with a Turnstone and a Dunlin for company.

Sanderling

Sanderling – one of a small party feeding along the shoreline

As we started to walk back, two juvenile Common Terns circled over the Tidal Pools. We stopped again at the Freshmarsh for a quick scan, as another small flock of Dunlin dropped in out on the mud. But we were then told that there were two Garganey and a Great White Egret round on Patsy’s Reedbed, so we decided to head round there quickly first, before lunch.

As we made our way round via Meadow Trail, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler sub-singing in the trees by the dragonfly pool – good to hear, as we lost so many of them in the cold winter weather earlier in the year. Otherwise, the trees were quiet, so we made our way quickly round to Patsy’s.

When we arrived at Patsy’s, the first thing we saw was the Great White Egret. It was hard to miss, a large white bird as big as a heron with a long, dagger-shaped yellow bill! We had a good look at it through the scope, stalking slowly through the shallows at the back. It had earlier been seen on the saltmarsh at Thornham Point, and then flying off over towards Brancaster, so it had presumably come in to here to feed over high tide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – on Patsy’s Reedbed

There was a great selection of ducks on Patsy’s too today. As well as the usual Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal, there were a few Wigeon. One of the Garganey was busily upending at the back, but we occasionally got a look at its strongly marked face pattern. There were several Common Pochard and a single Tufted Duck too, and two female Red-crested Pochard eventually emerged from the reeds.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling periodically and eventually spotted a male working its way slowly round the base of the reeds along the back edge of the pool. We got it in the scope, and could see its powder blue/grey head and black moustaches.

Then it was time to head back to the picnic area for a late lunch. While we were eating, we heard news that a Pied Flycatcher had been seen over at Holme, so after lunch we decided to head over there to see if we could find any migrants.

There were several butterflies out on the seawall in the afternoon sunshine – Common Blue, Small Copper, Small Heath. A big group of Swallows were hawking for insects low over the saltmarsh beyond, feeding up before heading off south to Africa for the winter.

We headed round to check out the paddocks first, to see what we could find. A Chiffchaff calling loudly and incessantly from the pines by the first house was potentially a good sign, but after that it was quiet apart from lots of House Sparrows in the brambles.

A small dove flew across the paddocks behind us and we turned to see it was short-tailed and flashed a white belly as it banked. It was a Turtle Dove. It flew out across the saltmarsh and dropped down into the low dunes just behind the beach. A nice bonus!

A little further on, we heard Long-tailed Tits calling and found a flock feeding in some bushes by the path. As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue Tits and several warblers – at least three Lesser Whitethroats, two Common Whitethroats, a Blackcap and a few Chiffchaffs. As they disappeared out across the paddocks, we got a good look at the silvery grey Lesser Whitethroats in particular.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – there were several warblers with the tit flock in the paddocks

The Pied Flycatcher had been seen earlier round by the entrance track, so we headed over and checked out the trees. We found the same tit flock again, the other side of the paddocks, but there was no sign of anything else. Presumably the flycatcher was a fresh arrival and had moved on in search of somewhere better to feed.

We were then told there were some Whinchats in the dunes, so we continued along the coastal path towards the reserve. A Whimbrel flew past calling, high over the beach somewhere, but we couldn’t see it from where we were. Eight Spoonbills flew past too, easier to see than the Whimbrel, possibly birds from the flock we had seen earlier at Titchwell, now heading out to feed on the falling tide.

Spoonbills 3

Spoonbills – these eight flew over us at Holme

When we arrived in the dunes, there was no sign of the Whinchats at first – it seemed rather quiet. But searching carefully, we came across a couple of Common Whitethroats and then found three juvenile Stonechats. We figured the Whinchats must surely not be far away and, scanning the tops of the bushes, we found at least two perched up. We had a good look at them through the scope – buffier and more orangey than the darker, rusty Stonechats and with a much more obvious pale supercilium.

We might have set off into the dunes for a closer look, but with one of the group still recovering from a broken ankle, we decided to save our energy for tomorrow. Hopefully it will be another exciting day!

29th May 2018 – Nothing to Fret About

A single day Spring Tour in North Norfolk today. It didn’t particularly feel like spring – it was foggy all day despite a fresh north wind, as the breeze blew in a thick ‘fret’ from the sea, although thankfully it wasn’t cold and it was dry! It didn’t appear particularly encouraging when we met up first thing this morning, but it is remarkable what you can see if you make the effort and get out looking.

The plan was to spend the first part of the morning at Stiffkey Fen, but with thick fog there as we passed, we continued on to Cley to make use of the hides. As we walked out along the boardwalk, the Reed Warblers were still singing away from the reeds and lots of Common Swifts were swooping around low over the hides looking for insects.

Despite the mist, we could still see out across the scrapes. Avocet Hide lived up to its name. There were several families of Avocets on here now, as more young have hatched in recent days. The juveniles were mostly being sheltered by their parents first thing this morning – hiding in the breast feathers of the adults as the latter rested down on their ‘knees’, looking like they had lots of extra legs!

Avocet

Avocet – there were several more families hatched now

The Avocets do a particularly good job of chasing off most of the other waders at this time of year, so there was not much else on here today. There were a few Redshanks around, and one dropped in on the edge of the scrape right in front of the hide.

Redshank

Redshank – dropping onto the edge in front of Avocet Hide

We thought there might be a few more waders on the other scrapes, so we headed round to Dauke’s Hide. Simmond’s Scrape was rather quiet, but looking across to Pat’s Pool the first wader we spotted was a Common Sandpiper bobbing its way along the back edge of the nearest island.

Lurking in the mist further back, we could see a Greenshank too – slightly bigger, sleeker, longer legged than the Redshanks surrounding it. A single summer plumage Dunlin, sporting a black belly patch, dropped into the middle of the scrape briefly before taking off and flying over to Simmond’s where we got a better look at it. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits took off and flew away, back over the reeds. A Little Ringed Plover disappeared off into the fog too.

This is not really the season for wildfowl, but there was a nice selection of ducks here today. A group of Shoveler were lurking at the back of Simmond’s Scrape and there were several ShelduckGadwall and families of Mallard ducklings around the pools. A pair of Tufted Duck were diving in the channel right in front of the hide.

But a single drake Wigeon on the bank on the side of Whitwell Scrape and two Teal on Simmond’s were more of a surprise. Both mainly winter visitors, the majority have long since left for the breeding season further north, leaving just a few stragglers behind. A pair of Mute Swans shepherded there nine cygnets past the front of the hide too.

Mute Swans

Mute Swans – a pair swam past the hide with their seven cygnets

A female Marsh Harrier did a couple of low passes right over the hide and out over the scrapes, causing pandemonium among the waders. It was pursued by a large mob of angry Avocets, which chased it off back to the reedbed beyond. There were lots of Sand Martins out here too, chasing round low over the water in front of the hide. Finding flying insects was probably more tricky than usual today, given the weather.

It was a very productive hour or so in the hides, so we headed back to the visitor centre. The fog seemed to have lifted a bit, so we decided to walk out along the East Bank next. There were a couple of Common Pochard on Snipe’s Marsh and a Kestrel was hovering over the grass over by the road. A Grey Heron dropped out of the trees and down into the ditch on the edge of the reedbed. The Mute Swans on Don’s Pool were still on the nest – they seem to be a little behind the others.

About half way along the bank, we bumped into another birder who told us that the Temminck’s Stints were still on the north end of the Serpentine and showing well just below the bank. So we hurried up for a look and sure enough, there they were, two Temminck’s Stints. They were creeping around the clumps of grass on the near edge of the mud, just beyond the reeds at first, but they were rather jumpy and kept flying out to the water’s edge, where we could get a better look at them through the scope.

Temminck's Stint 1

Temminck’s Stint – one of the two was more extensively marked

Temminck's Stint 2

Temminck’s Stint – the second bird had fewer dark feathers above

Temminck’s Stints are rather scarce spring migrants through here, stopping off on their way from Africa to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia, so always a good bird to see. Even though they were a bit muddy, we could see their distinctive yellowish legs. Temminck’s Stints acquire a rather variable number of contrastingly dark-centred feathers in their upperparts in summer and it was interesting to see the differences between these two individuals.

As we were hurrying up to see the Temminck’s Stints, a Spoonbill had flown in over the reedbed and dropped down onto the north end of the Serpentine too. It had taken rather a backseat to the stints at first, but having had a good look at the stints we then turned our attention back to it.

It is always nice to see a Spoonbill busy feeding, rather than asleep, and it was vigorously sweeping its bill side to side through the water. It seemed to be catching quite a lot too, as every so often it would flick its head up. We could then see the yellow tip to its bill. It had a bushy crest and a mustard brown wash on its breast, all pointing it out as an adult in breeding condition. Eventually it walked up onto the grass beyond the water and then flew off back into the fog.

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – flew in to feed around the Serpentine

There was a Little Egret on the north end of the Serpentine too, and another lingering drake Wigeon. There were still a few Lapwings and Redshanks out around the grazing marsh. Looking back into the murk on Pope’s Pool, we could see a young Great Black-backed Gull with the loafing Cormorants.

We could hear lots of Sandwich Terns calling out on Arnold’s so we made our way up there next and from the hide we could see them lined up out on one of the shingle spits, although it was hard to make out their yellow bill tips in the mist. A small group of Sandwich Terns flew past calling, with a single smaller Common Tern in with them.

There were a few waders hiding in the saltmarsh vegetation down towards the front. As well as the regular Redshanks and Oystercatchers, we picked out a single Ringed Plover and a smart breeding plumaged Turnstone. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers were on a sandier strip closer to us, and we could even see their golden-yellow eye rings.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – down on the front of Arnold’s Marsh

Walking on up to the beach, we could only just see the edge of the sea and there was nothing doing offshore, so we started to make our way back. Just past the hide, someone shouted as a Hobby emerged from the mist and flew past over our heads. Apparently it had just flushed all the waders, including the Temminck’s Stints, so our timing this morning had been lucky!

We had a quick look in at Iron Road next. There had been a Wood Sandpiper here yesterday, though it was apparently rather mobile. There was no sign of it on the pool by the track or from Babcock Hide today, and we had not seen it from the East Bank earlier, so it had possibly moved on. A male Reed Bunting posed nicely by Iron Road.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – this male posed nicely for us by Iron Road

There were a few geese around the marshes and fields here – mostly Greylags but a few Canada and Egyptian Geese were useful additions to the day’s list. There was not much else on Watling Water today – the Avocets still have one juvenile and seem to be doing a good job of chasing the other waders off!

With the breeze coming in off the sea, we had our lunch in the beach shelter at Cley, looking out over the Eye Field. A Silver Y moth flew in to the shelter and proceeded to try to rest on one of our rucksacks and then on someone’s shoe! We moved it carefully onto the wall of the shelter. This is a migrant moth, coming up in variable numbers to the UK from further south into Europe each year, so it would be really interesting to know how far this individual had come to get here.

Silver Y

Silver Y moth – sheltering around our feet over lunch

After lunch, we headed back along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. A Yellowhammer flew over the road and dropped into the field the other side and a Common Whitethroat was signing and display flighting from the hedge as we got out of the car. As we got out our bags, we discovered that the Silver Y moth had somehow managed to stow away on one of them – a different way to continue its migration – so we placed it carefully in the hedge.

The meadow across the road is starting to look stunning, now that the poppies are coming into bloom. There were a few Stock Doves flying round over the field and a couple of Brown Hares lurking in the long grass amongst the flowers. A Marsh Harrier passed over the back.

As we got down to the copse on the corner, we could hear more birds singing – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Wren and Chaffinch, and a quick burst of Goldcrest too. We got a quick look at a Blackcap in the willows the other side of the road, but the Garden Warbler which sang briefly in the bushes was much more elusive. We could hear the delicate piping of a pair of Bullfinches in the trees too.

Looking across to the Fen from the path, over the brambles, we could see a Common Sandpiper working its way along the edge of one of the islands out in the middle. But by the time we got up onto the seawall, it had disappeared. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers on here too, and plenty of Avocets still.

It was low tide now and the harbour channel was mostly mud – much to the delight of the Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Avocets. We walked round to see if we could see much in the harbour, but a combination of the tide being out and the fog meant that we were frustrated. A small group of Linnets were hanging around the bushes on the corner. We headed back to the car, where a female Marsh Harrier did a very nice flypast.

Holkham offered the option of hides and some protection from the fog in the shelter of the trees, so we headed around there for the remainder of the afternoon. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and walked west. It was the middle of the afternoon now, and there were just a few birds singing – Blackcap, Chiffchaff and one or two Reed Warblers.

With limited time, we made our way quickly along to Joe Jordan Hide. We did manage to pick up a few tits in the trees on the way – several family parties now of Long-tailed Tits and a couple of Coal Tits in the pines.

There was a steady procession of Spoonbills in and out of the trees from the hide. Some birds were flying in over the grazing marshes, presumably returning from feeding along the coast. Several others dropped down to the edge of the pool to bathe and preen – at one point there were five Spoonbills gathered there together.

Spoonbill 2

Spoonbill – several were flying in and out of the trees

There were several Little Egrets flying in and out of the trees as well and we eventually managed to find a Great White Egret too. Despite its large size, it was remarkably hard to see at times in a ditch, but occasionally stuck its head up so we could see its long dagger-shaped yellow bill.

There are always several Marsh Harriers on show from here, but one male put on a particularly good show. It flew in across the grass in front of the hide and proceeded to circle round repeatedly over an area of taller rush clumps. It looked like it could see something in there but despite dropping down lower, it never actually made a move. Several Greylag Geese and a Brown Hare on the grass nearby looked on nervously, but we couldn’t see what was hiding down below.

Marsh Harrier 2

Marsh Harrier – circled low over the rushes looking for something

It was a nice way to end the day, sitting in the hide at Holkham watching the Spoonbills and Harriers. Despite the fog, we had enjoyed a great day out and seen a remarkable number of birds, and some good ones too. Nothing to fret about!

13th May 2018 – Norfolk in May, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, back in Norfolk. It was cloudy most of the day, although we didn’t see any of the forecast rain (as so often happens!!). It then brightened up later on and was a lovely warm, sunny finish to the day.

Our first destination for the day was Titchwell – if it was going to rain at all, we thought we could make use of the shelter of the hides here. As it was still fairly quiet when we arrived, we had a look around the overflow car park.  There were a couple of Blackcaps singing and two Stock Doves in a dead tree beyond the paddocks from the gate but no sign of any Turtle Doves which had been here earlier. It seems very early morning is best and they are probably still flying off site to feed during the day. A Common Swift west overhead was the first of many we would see today.

Round at the Visitor Centre, the feeders produced several Goldfinches and a Greenfinch. While we were standing here, we heard a Cuckoo singing just beyond, somewhere along the start of the main path, so we walked round to try to see it. By the time we got  there though it had moved on.

When we got round to Patsy’s reedbed, we could hear the Cuckoo singing again. It had gone round the other side to Willow Wood now, and was obviously hidden somewhere in the trees. There was not much on the pool here today, just a few Tufted Ducks, a pair of Common Pochard and a pair of Shoveler. Two Little Grebes were chased out of the reeds just below the screen by an aggressive Coot.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of two on Patsy’s Reedbed this morning

There were a couple of Marsh Harriers circling over the reeds beyond and several Common Swifts hawking low for insects. As we stood here and scanned, small numbers of hirundines were moving west – Swallows and a few House Martins.

As we walked back round via Meadow Trail, we could hear the Cuckoo again. It sounded like it was round by the back of the Visitor Centre and then beat us back to the main path – it was very mobile! When we got out of the trees, we could hear it singing out over the saltmarsh and we had a quick glimpse of it in the top of a bush in the distance before it headed off towards Thornham Point.

There were lots of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds below the main path, and we had nice views of both feeding up in one of the small sallows. We stopped by the reedbed pool to watch several Bearded Tits flying back and forth low across the water. A couple of pairs chased each other up higher into the air, before dropping back down into the reeds. There were more Swifts now hawking over the reeds, and moving slowly off west.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – in the sallows on the edge of the reedbed

Out on the Freshmarsh, there were not as many waders as we had hoped there might be, given the small groups we had seen dropping in at Cley yesterday afternoon. There were four Ruff, smart males of various colours, asleep on one of the islands. When they woke up they quickly flew off west.

Ruff

Ruff – four males resting on the Freshmarsh before flying off west

Other than those, we could only see one Turnstone, one Black-tailed Godwit and one Common Redshank. There are not that many Avocets on here at the moment either, although we could see a few pairs out in the fenced-off island, and several more feeding out in the water. Four Avocets were busy having an argument just below the path.

There are not many ducks left on here now, with most of the winter visitors having departed. The Red-crested Pochard were probably the most obvious, with a pair on the edge of the reeds shepherding eight ducklings, and another pair over just beyond Parrinder Hide. There were also a few Shelduck and Shoveler and one lone drake Teal, a useful addition to the list! Two Pink-footed Geese feeding on the bank looked to be injured birds, and one had an obviously broken wing.

The Freshmarsh has been largely taken over by gulls and terns and a careful look through them revealed our main target here, a single Little Gull. It was on one of the islands in front of Parrinder Hide, so we made our way round for a closer look. It was a 1st summer, a dainty little gull with a rounded head and thin black bill. Thankfully, we had all had a good look at it through the scope before it flew off.

Little Gull

Little Gull – this 1st summer showed well from Parrinder Hide

The fenced off ‘Avocet Island is now dominated by gulls, mainly Black-headed Gulls which had decided this is a nice safe place to nest. We could see quite a few pairs of Mediterranean Gulls in amongst them, their jet black heads and brighter red bills particularly standing out. One or two Mediterranean Gulls came in to collect nest material from the bank just outside the hide with the Black-headed Gulls.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – collecting nest material from the bank by the hide

Several Common Gulls were loafing on the smaller islands in front of the hide, mostly 1st summers but including one adult which we had a good look at through the scope. There were quite a few Sandwich Terns on here too still and we watched a pair displaying and then mating. It will be interesting to see if they stay to breed here. A pair of Common Terns were keeping to themselves on another island out in the middle.

Sandwich Terns

Moving on. there was very little on Volunteer Marsh today, with the mud baked quite dry now after the recent hot weather. One Curlew was feeding in the channel at far end. The (no longer tidal) Tidal Pools are still flooded with seawater and pretty much devoid of life, apart from a handful of ducks. Three more Red-crested Pochard flew in and landed on here briefly.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – two of three which landed on the Tidal Pools

At the beach, the tide was out now. We could see a selection of waders down on the mussel beds so we walked out for a closer look. There were several very smart Grey Plover, black below and white spangled above. Quite a few Sanderling, looking very different now in breeding plumage, blended in very well against the browns and greys of the mussel beds. There were Turnstone too, several also now looking very smart, and a few Bar-tailed Godwits.

There were a few terns moving back and forth just offshore and we watched one or two Common Terns and Little Terns hunting just beyond the edge of the sand. A careful scan of the sea revealed a single Common Scoter on the water and another flying off west. A couple of Fulmar flew west too, hugging the surface of the sea.

As we walked back, we could hear the Cuckoo again, now singing out towards Thornham, across the other side of the grazing marsh. We managed to find it up perched on the top of a hawthorn bush in the distance and got it in the scope. Finally, we had seen it! Three Little Gulls, all 1st summer, were now hawking over the reedbed pool, catching insects with lots of other gulls.

Almost back to the Visitor Centre, we heard a Siskin singing in the willows above the path. As we walked past, it dropped down onto the feeders. It was time for lunch now so we stopped to eat on one of the picnic tables by the Visitor Centre.

Siskin

Siskin – dropped in to the feeders briefly

After lunch, we headed inland to Choseley. There were a couple of Yellowhammers by the road on the way up but otherwise it was fairly quiet around the drying barns. We dropped down again to the coast at Holme, where we thought we would have a quick look in the paddocks. The sun was out now, and it was quickly warming up.

As we walked back along the bank, a Common Whitethroat was subsinging in the brambles, and appeared to be chasing a female, but remained unusually mostly hidden in the vegetation. A Willow Warbler was singing in a small sallow, and we could see the lovely light lemon yellow wash on its breast in the sunshine. A pair of Lesser Whitethroats were flicking around in the top of a large hawthorn bush briefly before they flew off.

We could hear another Cuckoo singing, but it sounded to be some way off at first. Helpfully, it then flew in and landed in the top of one of the poplars in the paddocks briefly. Everyone had a good look at it through binoculars and one or two through the scope before it quickly moved off west. We could still hear it singing away in the distance.

Stiffkey Fen was to be our final destination. After driving back east, we parked and walked down the permissive path the other side of the road. The meadow here was looking beautiful, peppered with blue flowers, and we watched a couple of Marsh Harriers flying back and forth.

As we got to the copse at the end of the meadow, we  looked back to see a male Marsh Harrier drop down and catch something. We couldn’t see what it was, but we had seen a couple of Brown Hares running back to the spot where it dropped, as it approached. The Hares were still there, looking agitated. The Marsh Harrier flew off out into the middle and dropped down into the reeds.

A minute or so later, a different male Marsh Harrier appeared over the meadow and headed over to where the Hares were, running around and rearing up on their back legs. The Marsh Harrier dropped several times, before it came up with a leveret in its talons. It flew off, chased by one of the Hares on the ground below, disappearing round behind the wood towards the Fen. Nature red in tooth and claw!

There was a small wet flash down in the valley below, a flooded area of grass, and we noticed a small wader on the far side of it. Through the scope, we could see that it was a Wood Sandpiper, one of the scarcer waders which we would hope to come across at this time of year, right at our last stop! We could see its spangled upperparts and pale supercilium.

On the walk out to the Fen, there were lots of insects out in the sunshine. We saw a couple of Four-spotted Chasers, our first dragonflies of the year. Butterflies included Orange Tip and Green-veined White, plus a surprise Painted Lady later up on the seawall, which was also the first of the year. A bee mimic Hoverfly (Volucella bombylans) was also of interest.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – our first dragonfly of the year

We could hear a Greenshank calling as we walked out and just see it over the top of the reeds, on the edge of one of the islands out on the Fen. From up on seawall, we could actually see two Greenshanks, both roosting here over high tide. Otherwise, there were two Little Ringed Plovers, a couple of Redshank and several nesting Avocets.

As we walked along the seawall, a Common Sandpiper flew out from the edge of the channel below us and across to the other side, where we could see it bobbing up and down on the bank. A pair of Common Terns were fishing, diving in the channel, and flew right past us.

Common Tern

Common Tern – a pair were diving in the channel

There were lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and scattered around the edge of the harbour and we could see a pair of Little Terns flying past over the water. The tide was still coming in, but not far off high now – we could see all the boats going out to look at the seals hauled out on the tip of Blakeney Point in the distance. There were a couple of groups of Oystercatchers roosting around the edges of the harbour and a little party of three Dunlin and three Ringed Plover down on the shore nearest us.

There were a few people walking around the edge of the harbour, out across the saltmarsh, and a dog running around too. They flushed a larger flock of waders from somewhere out of sight, which then whirled round over the water. As it landed, there seemed to be a smaller bird in with them. The birds all dropped down again in the distance, and disappeared amongst the stones on a shingle spit.

As they started to move around, we could see mostly Ringed Plover and Dunlin, plus a couple of Turnstone at first. Then the smaller one reappeared on the near edge of the flock, a Little Stint. We could see its rusty fringed upperparts, short bill and clean white underparts. It was very hard to pick out at first, given the heat haze, but eventually it stopped to preen and everyone managed to get a look at it through the scope.

The great wader selection here was completed with a Whimbrel which unfortunately flushed from the edge of the harbour and flew off before everyone got a chance to see it. Just as we were preparing to leave it flew in again past us and landed on the saltmarsh where we could get it in the scope. Very helpful! A male Marsh Harrier flew in right over our heads too.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – this male flew in from the harbour over our heads

It was beautiful out here on the edge of the harbour in the sunshine this afternoon, and with a great selection of birds to look at too. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and make our way back. As we walked back along the path by the Fen, a Barn Owl flew round the bushes in front of us. It saw us and turned sharply, flying back the way it had come. But when we got back to the car, we could see it hunting over the meadow the other side of the hedge.

That was a great way to end the tour, three enjoyable days with an excellent selection of birds along the coast. However, on our way back we noticed the Peregrine was back on the church tower where we had seen it yesterday, to wave us off.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower at the end of the day

14th April 2018 – Early Spring at Last, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours in North Norfolk. It was cloudy most of the day, but dry and mild and with light winds, before the sun came out later in the afternoon. We spent the day up on the coast, looking for spring migrants.

With the possibility that there could be some birds freshly arrived or on the move this morning, with the improvement in the weather after several cold and foggy days, we decided to spend the morning at Holkham and Burnham Overy Dunes.

As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see a couple of Egyptian Geese out on the grazing marshes and several Shoveler around the rushy edges of the pools. When we got out of the car, a more careful scan revealed a few Wigeon still lingering out on the grass (most have already departed on their way back to Russia for the breeding season) and a pair of Gadwall with them. There were also a couple of Oystercatchers and several Curlew. A pair of Lapwing were displaying further back.

Rather than heading out towards the beach, we turned west along the path before the pines. We could hear Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing deep in the trees along the first stretch, both early returning migrants. A Lesser Whitethroat started singing too, further back – it was probably just back from its African wintering grounds.

A Goldcrest started singing in the pines and we looked up to see it flitting around above us. We could hear a Treecreeper singing too, but it remained stubbornly elusive. Eventually we had a brief glimpse but it disappeared back into the pines before everyone could get onto it. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the trees too.

At Salts Hole there were a few Tufted Ducks and a single drake Teal out on the water. Another Chiffchaff was calling in the trees just beyond, and we followed it as it made its way quickly west on the edge of the trees, singing occasionally. Eventually it stopped to feed and we managed to get a better look at it. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the reeds as we scanned the grazing marshes from the gate. It popped up into some brambles briefly but dropped down before everyone could see it. Two Spoonbills flew past.

A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up out in the middle and then a Sparrowhawk appeared above our heads, over the path. From the boardwalk up to Washington Hide, we stopped to watch another pair of Marsh Harriers which were flying in and out of the reeds. The male made several short flights down to the edge of the marsh and then came back with sticks or bits of reed, presumably nest building.

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Marsh Harrier – the male, carrying nest material

Continuing on our way west, we had nice views of a Sedge Warbler in the reeds by Meals House, which perched up more obligingly than the one we had seen earlier. Then it performed a song flight, fluttering up singing, before parachuting back down into the reeds out of view.

There were a few tits in the trees as we walked along. Then just before the crosstracks, we heard a Willow Warbler singing. It was in a bare deciduous tree on the edge of the pines and we had nice views of it as it alternately preened and sang, perched in the morning sunshine. We could see the lemon yellow wash to the supercilium. Then it started to feed actively, still stopping to sing from time to time.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – singing on the edge of the pines

Another longer distance, trans-Saharan migrant, the Willow Warbler was very possibly freshly arrived back. The song is a lovely sweet descending scale, very different from the Chiffchaff, a real sign of spring when the Willow Warblers return.

At this point we received a message to say that some Ring Ouzels had been seen out in the dunes. So, rather than stopping at the hide, we continued straight on towards the end of the pines. We stopped to scan from the gate. A couple of Blackbirds flew out of the bushes, unfortunately lacking the white gorget of their upland cousins. We made our way on into the dunes.

It was rather quiet at first out here. There had apparently been quite a good passage of commoner migrants earlier, but it seemed to have slowed now. There were plenty of Meadow Pipits and Linnets in the bushes or down in the grass as we passed. A male Stonechat on top of a bush looked very smart.

The Ring Ouzels had apparently been with some other thrushes earlier, but we saw the Mistle Thrushes fly off west ahead of us, while a couple of Song Thrushes came up out of the dunes behind us. It was hard to tell which way the Ring Ouzels would most likely have gone, but we then received another message to say one had reappeared a short distance behind us, so we walked back to find it feeding out on the grass beyond the fence.

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Ring Ouzel – this male showed well on the grass beyond the fence

The Ring Ouzel was a smart male, with a bold white gorget. We had great views of it through the scope, as it fed out in the open. We could even see the silvery edges to the wing feathers. It would occasionally disappear back into the bushes, but kept coming out again onto the grass, before eventually moving further back. As we scanned the dunes further along, we spotted another Ring Ouzel perched in the top of a bush away to the west.

The Ring Ouzels are on their way from their wintering grounds in North Africa, back to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and stop off here to feed. There had been six of them earlier, but we were more than happy with the views we had of these two. We decided to venture on a little further to see if we could find a Wheatear which had been seen along here earlier.

We continued on to the next open area in the dunes, but there was no sign of the Wheatear. It was getting very disturbed here now, with several people and families out walking their dogs. We didn’t have time to go all the way to the end of the dunes today, so we decided to head back east and have a look from Joe Jordan Hide on our way. A quick look out at the grazing marshes from the edge of the pines revealed a distant Great White Egret and a presumably feral Barnacle Goose with the Greylags. We could see three Spoonbills in the distance in the trees too.

As we climbed up to Joe Jordan Hide, we spotted a Great White Egret in one of the wet ditches right outside. As well as its large size, its long yellow bill gave it away.  While we were watching it, we noticed another Great White Egret further back. This one had a black bill – their bills change colour when they are in breeding condition. Hopefully they will breed here again this year.

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Great White Egret – one of two we saw from Joe Jordan Hide

A few Little Egrets were coming in and out of the trees now too, which is good to see. The Little Egret population here was very badly hit by the cold weather earlier in the year. It will be interesting to see how many pairs breed here in 2018.

There was a lot of Spoonbill activity today. Several were down around the edges of the pool, bathing & preening. More were flying in and out from the trees, collecting nest material around the reedy margins of the water. We had a good view of them through the scope – the adults with their shaggy nuchal crests blowing in the breeze..

There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the grass around the old fort and looking carefully through we found two Pink-footed Geese with them. We could see they were smaller and darker, with a more delicate bill, dark with a pink bank. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have gone already, back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a very small number normally over-summer here, typically sick or injured birds. One of the two today looked to have a damaged wing, presumably having been shot and winged over the winter.

Several Marsh Harriers were coming and going here too. A Red Kite circled up in the distance. While we were watching a dark Common Buzzard perched on a bush it suddenly took off and dropped sharply down onto the ground. It had caught something, and we watched as it flew off carrying it.

It was time to head back for lunch now. We made good use of the picnic tables at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive. It was nice weather to sit out and eat today, with the bonus of a couple of Spoonbills which flew over while we were there, one right over our heads so we got a very good look at its spoon-shaped bill.

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Spoonbill – flew right over us while we were having lunch

After lunch, we headed further west along the coast road. After a while, we turned inland to see if we could find some farmland birds. A pair of Red-legged Partridges and lots of Brown Hares were in the first fields. Then we spotted a big flock of Linnets lined up on the wires, and more in the hedge by the road, with a Kestrel perched nearby. A little further on, we found several Bramblings with a few Chaffinches in the hedge too. There is a wild bird seed crop growing here and the birds have been here all winter. It will soon be time for the Bramblings to leave.

We stopped again to check out another field where there is a seedy strip. As we scanned round, we spotted several Yellowhammers in the hedges, including a good number of lovely bright yellow males. We could see a distant Corn Bunting in the hedge over the far side too, so we walked a bit further down for a closer look.

When we stopped to scan again, we heard another Corn Bunting singing in the hedge just ahead of us, like a jangling bunch of keys. It was hard to see against the branches, very well camouflaged, but in the end we got a great look at it through the scope, perched up with the Yellowhammers.

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Corn Bunting – perched up on the hedge with the Yellowhammers

Our destination for the rest of the afternoon was Titchwell, so we swung round via Choseley on our way there. A pair of Grey Partridge were feeding in a winter wheat field by the road, the male keeping watch while the female concentrated on finding food.

As we got out of the car at Titchwell, we could hear Mediterranean Gulls calling overhead. Four Common Snipe flew over the car park, but disappeared behind the trees before everyone could get on to them. On the walk to the Visitor Centre, another Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows and, when we got there, a male Blackcap was singing in the tree right above us.

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Blackcap – singing in the trees by the Visitor Centre

A quick look at the feeders revealed several Bramblings. At first a female appeared in the trees behind, then a young male, with a black-speckled head but rather dull orange breast and shoulders still. Finally a third Brambling appeared, a much brighter orange bird, presumably an adult male.

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Brambling – one of at least three at the feeders

There have been a couple of Black Redstarts in the paddocks round by Patsy’s Reedbed for a few days, another early migrant just passing through here, so we went first to look for them. We couldn’t see any sign of them from the gate. The only bird of note on Patsy’s itself were a few Common Pochard,  and a couple of Marsh Harriers were displaying just beyond, the male calling and tumbling down from high in the sky.

We walked over to the end of the paddocks and there was still no sign of the Black Redstart. It had just been seen on one of the stable, but had dropped down out of view, and it didn’t reappear while we waited. There had been some wagtails here too earlier, but there were just a couple of Pied Wagtails now, the Yellow Wagtail having flown off towards the freshmarsh. We decided to head back to the main path.

Walking out across the reserve, the Thornham grazing marsh was quiet and there was nothing singing in the reedbed today. A single Little Grebe was hiding in the channel through the reeds and a few Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks were on the reedbed pool. Then we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling over the edge of the saltmarsh in front of us and looked over to see it flying across. It came past us, back over the main path, and headed away back towards Patsy’s and the paddocks. Another nice spring migrant for the day’s list.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – flying overhead, calling

There were Mediterranean Gulls flying around calling non-stop, with lots of gulls flying back in from the fields inland. We could see the pure white wing-tips on the Mediterraean Gulls, which were translucent from below. The water levels on the Freshmarsh are much better now, much lower than they had been, but the islands seem to have been largely taken over by gulls. As well as loads of Black-headed and good numbers of Mediterranean, we found a few Common, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls too.

With the improvement in the water levels, there are a few more waders back on here now. As well as the ubiquitous Avocets, there were a few Black-tailed Godwits, with many already moulting into their rusty breeding plumage. A lone Ruff was feeding around the edge of the nearest island, but there were mare further back, by the bank beyond Parrinder Hide, with a Redshank alongside providing a nice comparison.

There were still a few ducks on the freshmarsh, mainly Teal, although many have already departed back to their breeding grounds. The sun had come out now and the drake Teal looked particularly stunning in the late afternoon light.

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Teal – a smart drake in the afternoon sun

We had a quick look on Volunteer Marsh, but the tide was already coming in fast and the channel was flooded. There were a few Redshanks and Curlews out on the mud in the middle. We didn’t have time to head out to the beach today, but the tide would be in anyway, so we started to walk back.

As we got back to the reedbed, we heard a Bearded Tit call and watched as it flew in skimming the tops of the reeds and dropped down out of sight. A few seconds later, it flew again, back across the reedbed and disappeared once more. That is often all you see of the Bearded Tits but a little further along, we noticed some movement down low in the reeds at the back of the pools by the path and looked across to see a male Bearded Tit.

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Bearded Tit – a pair were feeding around the edge of the pools by the path

We watched the male Bearded Tit as it weaved its way in and out of the reeds, occasionally picking at the water surface or at the stems, presumably looking for insects. Then it flew across the water and disappeared into a thicker patch of reeds. As we waited to see if it might come out, a female Bearded Tit appeared in the reeds nearby.

Almost back to the trees, a ghostly pale shape flew in across the reeds and over the path. It was a Barn Owl. It headed round to the Thornham grazing marsh and started hunting over the rushy grass. We made our way back to where there is a gap in the trees and had geat views of it flying round. Eventually it dropped sharply down into the grass and when it finally flew up again we could see that it had caught a vole. It flew off with it in its talons, back the way it had come.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – caught a vole on Thornham grazing marsh

That would have been a very nice way to end, but back in the car park, we decided to have a quick look out towards the paddocks from the gates at the back. A quick scan of the stable revealed one of the Black Redstarts on the roof. It was the male, dark slate grey with a black face and an orange-red tail. It was perched, looking into the afternoon sun, presumably warming itself. A nice extra bonus to finish the day.

17th Feb 2017 – Late Winter Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Late Winter Birding tours today, and we made our way down to the Norfolk Broads. It was forecast to be mostly cloudy with some brighter intervals, but it turned out to be bright and sunny for most of the day, an unexpected bonus.

Our first stop was at Hickling Broad. The walk down the track was rather quiet at first. Out on the marshes, we could see a Little Egret on a pool. A line of Eurasian Teal were asleep round the edge, while some noisy Mallard came out of the rushes nearby. We had a quick look in on Bittern Hide, but there was not much to see from here today so we didn’t linger.

Back on the track, we could hear a Marsh Harrier calling high overhead. Scanning the sky, we eventually spotted one, and then another. The more we looked, the more we managed to find, there were soon Marsh Harriers everywhere. A young bird, still overall dark brown apart from a paler head, flew past lower down. Even better, a smart pale male was displaying to a nearby female way up in the sky, ‘skydancing’ – tumbling and rolling, gradually losing height. It was great to watch.

6o0a7018Marsh Harrier – some were displaying, ‘skydancing’, today

We made our way round on the bank beside the Broad, with the sound of Marsh Harriers calling overhead accompanying us all the way. By the observation tower, we heard a deep sound like a foghorn from the reeds and stopped for a listen. A Bittern was booming nearby, but from deep in the reedbed. Unfortunately it didn’t fly up for us to see, but it was great to hear, the first we have heard this year. With Marsh Harriers displaying and Bittern booming, spring was most definitely in the air at Hickling this morning!

Hickling Broad itself looked rather empty. We did stop for a quick look, which revealed a Great Crested Grebe and a distant raft of Tufted Duck, plus a few Mute Swans and Cormorants. As we walked through the trees, we could hear a Green Woodpecker yaffling and several Jays scolding calls in the wood. A Water Rail squealed from the rushes.

We were almost back to the car park when we stopped to listen to a Reed Bunting singing in a small sapling in the reeds. Back a short distance along the path, the way we had come, several Bearded Tits started calling. We walked back and could hear them either side of the path. A male hopped up briefly into the base of a small birch tree, but dropped down again quickly before zooming across the path in front of us and disappearing into the reeds the other side.

Hickling Broad can be a good place to see Cranes and we had hoped we might at least see some flying over or hear them calling today, but it was not to be. So we decided to drive round via some other good Crane sites to see if we could find any there. The first couple of places we tried drew a blank but at the next stop, we spotted a pair of Cranes distantly out on the marshes. We got out and got them in the scope.

img_0638Common Crane – a pair out on the marshes

For such enormous birds, Cranes can be remarkably hard to find. But while we were watching the first pair, we noticed two more Cranes walk out from behind a strawstack. They were quite a bit closer, but we didn’t have a good angle on them from here, so we drove a little further down the road and stopped again.

The second pair of Cranes had now stopped and were preening out in a rough field. As if that wasn’t enough, we looked back towards the first pair and from here we could see a third pair of Cranes walking straight towards them. They had their bustles fluffed up and looked like they might be calling. The first pair quickly got the message and flew off out of sight, but the third pair then set off after them, calling as they flew.

img_0646Common Crane – we found 3 pairs out on the marshes

A short while later, one of the Crane pairs flew back in and landed again and the next thing we knew the other pair was walking towards them. They were separated by a reed lined ditch and the two males seemed to face off to each other across the ditch, they seemed to be calling but we couldn’t hear them. It is that time of the year when the pairs of Cranes are starting to re-establish their territorial boundaries ahead of the breeding season.

After watching the Cranes for a while, we made our way round to Strumpshaw Fen. We didn’t have time to explore the reserve today, but we did stop for a quick look at the pool in front of Reception Hide. The Black Swan is still in residence, and was asleep at first. When it woke up it started calling, although it was giving a strange note which confused several members of the group into thinking it was a Bittern booming at first!

6o0a7039Black Swan – the feral bird still resident on the Reception Hide pool

There were lots of Gadwall out on the pool, along with good numbers of Mallard and Coot. A single drake Shoveler was asleep on the edge of the water. Suddenly the horde of Greylags loafing around on the area of cut reed took fright and most of the ducks took off. We raced back to the viewing screen, as a shout of ‘otter’ came from inside the centre, but unfortunately it was nowhere to be seen.

6o0a7045Gadwall – there were lots on the pool, until all the ducks were flushed

It was nice and sunny, so we had our lunch outside on the picnic tables. While we ate, we kept our eyes on the feeders nearby. A steady stream of Blue Tits and Great Tits came in to eat the seeds and eventually a Marsh Tit sneaked in too, darting in and grabbing a sunflower heart, before disappearing back into the bushes. It did this a second time but then didn’t come back again. A Coal Tit was singing from the trees nearby and a male Siskin was too. We managed to get a quick look at him, before he flew off closely followed by a female Siskin too.

After lunch, we made our way east. Most of the wild swans which have spent the winter in the Broads seem to depart in early February, but there are still some large herds of Mute Swans around. We stopped to look at one on the way and after a careful scan through we managed to find the two lingering Bewick’s Swans with them. They were noticeably much smaller and shorter necked compared to the Mute Swans. We could also see the triangular bills of the Bewick’s Swans with the squared off yellow patch at the base.

img_0672Bewick’s Swans – these two have been lingering with a herd of Mute Swans

From here it was just a short drive round via Great Yarmouth to Burgh Castle. The impressive roman fort here provides a great location from which to scan the marshes of Haddiscoe Island. It didn’t take too long to find the Rough-legged Buzzard on one of its usual posts, aided by the fact it was being mobbed by two Short-eared Owls at the time! It was very distant at first, but after a while it took off and flew round, coming a little closer. It landed on another gatepost for a few seconds before flying back round to where it had started again. At least it flashed its distinctive mostly white tail as it flew.

Scanning the island, we found another Short-eared Owl much closer to us. We watched it quartering the grass below us, flying round on distinctive stiff wings. A fourth Short-eared Owl appeared a little further back. While we were watching the Short-eared Owls, a Barn Owl made several passes back and forth over the reeds in front of us. When one of the group spotted an owl just behind the bushes on the near side of the river, it was assumed it would be a Barn Owl, but when we all got onto it it turned out to be a Short-eared Owl. Unfortunately, it flew quickly over the hedge and disappeared inland behind the fort.

There were a few ducks and waders gathered down on the muddy edge of the river channel in front of the fort. We could see three Shelduck along with a few Wigeon and Teal. There were quite a few Redshanks roosting but two of them looked rather paler. Through the scope, we could see that they were actually Spotted Redshanks, much whiter below and more silvery grey above than the nearby darker Common Redshanks.

One of the group had asked earlier in the car about how to identify Common Gull from Black-headed Gull and, conveniently, when two gulls landed close to us on the grass of the fort we could see that there was one of each. It was a good opportunity to see them side by side, the Black-headed Gull having reddish bill and legs and the Common Gull‘s being yellowish. The Common Gull also lacked the black spot on the head of the winter Black-headed Gull and had a darker grey back and more extensive black wingtips.

6o0a7086Common Gull – landed next to us with a Black-headed Gull for comparison

The Common Gull flew off a bit further across the grass but the Black-headed Gull remained just behind us. When we turned around to look at it again, we could see it was treading feverishly up and down on the spot. The sound of the fast footsteps is meant to resemble rain falling and bring worms and other invertebrates to the surface. It seemed to be working as the Black-headed Gull picked up several worms in the short time we were watching it doing its rain dance.

On our way back round, we stopped off on the south side of Breydon Water. There had been a large flock of Tundra Bean Geese on the grazing fields here for the last couple of days. They had not been seen this morning, but had apparently reappeared this afternoon, so we thought it was worth looking in. Unfortunately, they had already flown off again by the time we got there.

Breydon Water is a large tidal estuary and generally holds a wide selection of ducks and waders. Today was no exception, and we could see a huge throng from up on the South Wall. Scanning through the waders, there were good numbers of Avocet, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin, as well as masses of Lapwing and Golden Plover. The duck included some smart looking Pintail, along with good numbers of Wigeon and Teal.

6o0a7092Breydon Water – huge numbers of waders, ducks and gulls gathered on the mud

We were just working our way through the birds to see what was there when suddenly all the waders erupted. We couldn’t see what had flushed them, possibly one of the local Peregrines, but the air was filled with vast swarms of whirling waders. Most of them were Golden Plover and Lapwing – recent counts here have numbered about 7,000 and 8,000 of each, respectively! It was quite a sight to watch them all in the sky.

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6o0a7113Waders – the whirling flocks over Breydon Water

As is the spectacle of the whirling wader flocks was not enough, we looked through beyond them and could see a large flock of Starlings in the sky, over the grazing marshes the other side of Breydon. The flock started to disperse, then suddenly coalesced again, swirling down towards the ground to be met by another flock of Starlings coming up from the ground below. As well as the mini Wader Spectacular, we had a mini murmuration too!

The sun was already going down fast now and we were running out of time. We still wanted to have a quick look in at Stubb Mill on the way home, so we made our way quickly round there. As we were walking up to the watchpoint, we heard someone call out ‘Cranes‘ and we looked across to see two Cranes flying in over the reeds. They flew across in front of us and disappeared round behind the bushes beyond. Not long after, a second pair of Cranes did exactly the same.

6o0a7126Common Crane – a pair flying in to roost in the mist at dusk

Unfortunately, some mist was starting to build over the ground when we arrived and it rapidly thickened which made it hard to see over to the raptor roost. We could see a few Marsh Harriers flying around and a few more made their way in high as we watched. However, with visibility deteriorating and the light fading, we decided to call it a day. As we drove back from the reserve towards the village, a Chinese Water Deer bounded across the road in front of us and a Barn Owl flew alongside the car, leading the way home.