Tag Archives: Marsh Harrier

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!

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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.

Marsh Harrier 1

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.

Ring Ouzel

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.

Great White Egret

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.

Corn Bunting

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.

Teal

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.

Bearded Tit

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.

24th Sept 2016 – Autumn Delights, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was another lovely day, mostly bright and sunny, but with a blustery warm south wind which stopped it from feeling as hot as yesterday, even if it was 21C this afternoon. Not bad for late September!

A Wryneck had been reported at Beeston Bump recently, although seemingly rather elusive. As we were heading east today, we thought we would go and look for it even though, with clear skies overnight, there was a chance it might have moved on. When we arrived there was another problem – every path we took had someone out walking their dogs on a sunny Saturday morning! It quickly became clear that, if the Wryneck was still present, it would be hiding in the bottom of a bush rather than hopping about on one of the paths.

Still we had a quick walk round. The bushes were also rather quiet, being a bit exposed out here in the wind. We had also thought this might be a good spot to see some visible migration (or ‘vizmig’ for short), birds on migration moving along the coast. This certainly proved to be the case this morning and as we approached the cliffs we could see small parties of House Martins together with a few Swallows passing west along the clifftop. We stood for a while and could see more hirundines approaching from the east. Then a great cloud of House Martins passed by just below us. They stopped for a while to hawk for insects in the lee of the Bump and we counted at least 100 birds in the flock. Great stuff.

6o0a1994House Martin – a flock of over 100 flew past us along the cliffs

We did a further quick circuit round via the pit without success and then decided to move on somewhere else. Back to the car, we made our way back along the coast to Salthouse and parked at Iron Road. The muddy pool on the west side of the the track has not been so productive for waders in the last couple of weeks, but is always worth a look just in case. There was nothing on there today but as we stopped at the gate we spotted a Wheatear on the near bank further along. Helpfully, as the cows came over towards us to investigate, they flushed the Wheatear which flew and landed right in front of us.

6o0a2017Wheatear – the first of several we saw today

One of the group then spotted a second Wheatear further over. We walked along to the bridge but couldn’t see any more, but on the way back a Common Snipe flew past and landed out of view in the grass behind us. We were scanning for it, and watching a young Little Egret which had been pushed out of the ditch by another helpful cow, when a couple of very noisy dogs ran past and both the Snipe and the Little Egret promptly flew off.

On the walk round to Babcock Hide, we saw all the birds on Watling Water flush and fly off. With no sign of any raptors that side, it may have been some people who had just gone into the hide. We did see a Common Buzzard but it was circling up over Walsey Hills initially before it then drifted right over the path after everything had flown. It seemed to be taking advantage of the warm sunshine and hanging on the breeze. Just before we got to the hide, we flushed another two Wheatears from the edge of the reeds.

6o0a2037Common Buzzard – drifted right overhead along Attenborough’s Walk

As we sat in the hide, a few birds started to fly back in. A few duck returned – Gadwall, Teal and a single Shoveler – and the Little Grebes came back out from hiding in the reeds. Then three juvenile Ruff dropped in – or more precisely two male Ruff and a female Reeve. The females are noticeably smaller than the males and it was great to see them together for comparison. A single Black-tailed Godwit dropped in with them briefly before flying on west. Then the rest of the Ruff, a mixture of adults and juveniles, returned.

6o0a2044Ruff – two larger male Ruff and a smaller female Reeve

There is a good view east from Babcock Hide and scanning over the reeds beyond we could see a couple of Kestrels hovering in the distance. Then we picked up another falcon much further over, out beyond the shingle ridge. It gradually made its way closer and we could see that it was a Hobby, before it dropped down and disappeared behind the reeds.

On the walk back to the car, a Wheatear flew between the fence posts ahead of us, presumably one of the birds we had seen earlier. A Marsh Harrier flew in from the east, quartering low over the reeds. It was a juvenile but it had remarkably tatty wings, with a couple of big gaps. Hopefully they had just got broken rather than been shot at! A Canada Goose also flying in from Salthouse direction managed to flush a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits from one of the pools further along.

Round at the Visitor Centre, we opted for an early lunch in the September sunshine before exploring the rest of the reserve. On the walk out to the hides, there was no sign of the Whinchats reported earlier by the boardwalk, but it was very breezy round here now. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up from the scrapes and whirled round overhead.

6o0a2047Golden Plover – a large flock flew up from the scrapes as we walked out

Pat’s Pool had a nice selection of waders on it again today. The highlight was a couple of Little Stints feeding out on the mud in the middle. They looked particularly tiny, even on their own, but we could see just how small they were when they were joined by three Dunlin. A larger group of Dunlin were feeding further over. There was still one Golden Plover left out on one of the islands, although it was doing a good job of hiding, blending in well with some tall dead grass. A single Ringed Plover was running around on the mud at first, before flying off. There were also a few Lapwing and a selection of Black-tailed Godwits and more Ruff.

There were a couple of small flocks of gulls here as usual, preening or sleeping. Mostly Black-headed Gulls, there were also several Lesser Black-backed Gulls with them. We didn’t see it fly in but, while we were watching the waders, a Caspian Gull appeared too. It was an immature bird, a 2nd winter. It immediately stood out, with its very white head, shawl of dark spots, long pointed face and long thin bill. Historically breeding around the Black and Caspian Seas, its range has been spreading west in Poland and eastern Germany, with dispersing birds increasingly found in UK. Caspian Gull is a great bird to see, still irregular in its occurrence here.

img_7190Caspian Gull – this 2nd winter dropped in briefly

We watched the Caspian Gull for a while and all had a good look at it in the scope, but when we took our eyes off it for a second it slipped away again as quietly as it had arrived. There were several other things to distract us. A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed before drifting right across the scrape, where it seemed to enjoy flushing the birds. Then it returned to the reedbed where it circled with a female for a while. We could see three more Marsh Harriers in the distance, beyond the East Bank. Several Bearded Tits called from the reeds in the ditch in front of the hide, but they remained tucked down out of view and out of the wind.

6o0a2068Marsh Harrier – two were over the reedbed this afternoon

Works have been underway all week to reprofile Simmond’s Scrape, but the diggers were not working on the weekend. Several Curlew dropped in briefly and a couple of Grey Herons, but otherwise there did not appear to be much on there, possibly as a consequence of all the disruption. Still, we were glad we looked in on Dauke’s Hide because a Common Snipe was feeding in the grass right in front of the hide when we went it. We had stunning close-up views.

6o0a2142Common Snipe – feeding in the grass below the hide

We watched the Common Snipe feeding for a while, creeping around in the grass and drilling its long bill repeatedly into the wet ground. It seemed perfectly happy in its chosen spot but a pair of Mute Swans were in the ditch nearby with their cygnet. Whether it really took offence to the Snipe or not, one of the Swans swam straight over to it and started to climb out towards it. The Snipe understandably reacted and ran up onto the top of the bank, standing there upright and alert. It was loathe to fly, presumably hoping to get back to its chosen feeding place, but the Swan continued up the bank and finally the Snipe flew.

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6o0a2161Common Snipe – flushed out onto the bank by a Mute Swan

Several smaller birds found the banks around Simmond’s Scrape much to their liking, where the diggers had been working and scraped back the mud. There were lots of Pied Wagtails feeding on the ground and a couple of Meadow Pipits. Another Wheatear appeared, perched on one of the mounds of muddy earth left behind.

Back to the visitor centre and we drove round to the beach car park. A scan of the sea produced first a Guillemot flying past, then a Marsh Harrier flying in over the water. As well as many of our local breeding Marsh Harriers, many continental breeding harriers come here for the winter and this one was probably just arriving in from Europe. We picked up a few small flocks of ducks flying in too – seven Pintail appeared to go down towards North Scrape and a larger flock of Wigeon headed in towards the reserve. A couple of Brent Geese were just arriving in over the sea too. Migration in action!

The fence alongside the Eye Field can be very good for Whinchats so, with a couple reported earlier on the reserve, we thought this would be a good place to check out. Sure enough, despite the wind, we found three of them perched along the fence line on the walk out to North Scrape. We got a couple of them in the scope, a noticeably paler bird and a slightly darker one.

img_7220Whinchat – 1 of 3 on the Eye Field fence this afternoon

The Whinchats flew on ahead of us as we walked out towards North Scrape, each time landing a little further on, always keeping their distance. Eventually they flew across to the fence out across the Eye Field.

We had hoped there might be a few waders on North Scrape, but that was not the case. There were a few ducks – particularly Shelducks – but no sign of the Pintail we had seen dropping down in this direction earlier. We enjoyed watching a couple of different Reed Buntings in the bushes behind the screen. First a rather streaky first winter appeared, before dropping down out of view. Then a few minutes another Reed Bunting flew in to the same bush – noticeably a different bird, with a darker face and a black bib partly obscured by pale fringing – a winter male.

As we made our way back, another Wheatear flew away from us across the shingle, landing on a large lump of concrete briefly, before flying away again flashing its white rump and tail base. A dark juvenile Gannet and four more Brent Geese flew past over the sea. We walked to the car listening to more House Martins calling as they passed overhead, finishing the day as we had started it.

22nd May 2016 – Sunshine in Spring

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, the final day. It was forecast to be rather overcast but surprisingly turned out to be a really glorious spring day, warm with lots of sunshine and light winds – a lovely day to be out birding.

Our first port of call was Holkham. There was lots of activity around the trees, with several Spoonbills flying round and landing in the tops and others flying off to feed. We got a couple in the scope and could see their yellow-tipped, spoon-shaped bills. There were also Grey Herons and Little Egrets coming and going, and we could see lots of Cormorants on their nests in the trees.

A female Marsh Harrier came up from the reeds and circled round in front of us, before perching in the top of a hawthorn. She was probably waiting for the male to return with food. Two Red Kites circled high over the grazing marshes, engaging in a spot of mock combat at one point, one diving down and the other jinking out of the way. A little later one of the Red Kites drifted overhead.

6O0A3356Red Kite – two circled over the grazing marshes

There are always lots of geese out on the grazing marshes at this time of year. Many of the Greylag Geese have goslings of various sizes and there are quite a few Canada and Egyptian Geese here too. Going through them carefully, we managed to find a couple of Pink-footed Geese, although rather distant. There are huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese here in the winter but the very small number which linger here all year are typically sick or injured birds.

Our next destination was Stiffkey Fen. As we pulled up, we could hear several Skylarks singing over the set-aside field opposite. As we walked down along the path, we could hear Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing from the hedges and trees. A couple of Common Whitethroats were delivering their scratchy song too, from the brambles. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the hedge. From the taller sallows we could hear a different song, like a Blackcap, but faster, more rolling, more sustained, a Garden Warbler.

There are also lots of insects out in the warm weather today. Along the path out to Stiffkey Fen, we found several Orange Tip butterflies. An Azure Damselfly rested on a nettle in the sunshine. But out at the seawall we found that all the vegetation along the bank, which had been full of insects in recent days, had been mown. Presumably the responsibility of the Environment Agency, they seem to have done a job lot of North Norfolk’s seawalls the last week or so and no one can quite understand why.

6O0A3366Azure Damselfly – enjoying the sunshine at Stiffkey Fen

From up on the seawall, we had a good view out across the Fen. Several pairs of Avocets here have chicks now, little bundles of fluff on legs! But there were comparatively few other waders on here today. Over on the saltmarsh, several Redshank were perched on prominent bushes and one even on the top of the mast of one of the boats. A Marsh Harrier circled up from the saltmarsh and drifted overhead.

6O0A3370Marsh Harrier – this male circled overhead at Stiffkey Fen

There were a few Brent Geese still out on the saltmarsh and even more out in the harbour. Many have already left, but presumably most of these should still soon be hurrying on their way to Russia to breed. The tide was just going out, but apart from lots of Oystercatchers, there were no other lingering waders out in the harbour today.

IMG_4604Brent Geese – still quite a few are lingering in the harbour

We could see quite a few terns out over the water, which on closer inspection turned out to be mostly Common Terns. A nice bonus was a single Arctic Tern in with them. It was rather distant, but its distinctive shape gave it away, the extra long tail and short head projection, as well as the silvery white primaries and different flight. Several groups of Little Terns were zooming about too, but there were comparatively few Sandwich Terns. Apparently, due to a large number of rats on Blakeney Point this year, many of the Sandwich Terns have moved over to Scolt Head to breed instead. Two distant Mediterranean Gulls flew west along the point and out over the harbour, flashing their pure white wingtips as they went.

On the walk back, a Little Ringed Plover flew past, displaying, and appeared to drop down onto the Fen, but there was no sign of it on there when we got back. As we got back to the car, a smart male Yellowhammer flew past and a Lesser Whitethroat was now singing from the hedge.

The reserve at Cley has been rather quiet in recent days, with lots of Avocets on Pat’s Pool but seemingly rather little else. We decided to walk out to the East Bank, as the wet grazing marshes there have been rather more productive. On the pools at the start of the East Bank a female Common Pochard was leading her nine ducklings around the reedy edges looking for food. A Little Grebe which surfaced nearby was promptly chased off across the pool.

6O0A3401Common Pochard – this female was tending to her nine ducklings

Out on the grazing marshes, we could see several Lapwing chicks of various sizes. It is always good to see youngsters of this sadly declining species. Looking out towards Pope’s Marsh we found a single Common Sandpiper and two Little Ringed Plovers, although rather distant.

We got great views of both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers as we walked out along path. A Sedge Warbler came up to feed on the alexanders by the path, which shows the value in not mowing the banks too early, and the Reed Warblers were feeding along the edge of the ditch below. A Sedge Warbler was singing and song flighting from the edge of the reeds and at one point we had Reed and Sedge Warbler singing either side of the path – a great opportunity to appreciate the differences in song between these two often confusing species. We heard a couple of Bearded  Tits calling, but only managed to see one as it zoomed off over the reeds away from us.

There were not many waders on Arnold’s Marsh either today, apart from the local Avocets and Redshanks – there seems to have been a big clear out in the last few days. We did find three Ringed Plovers, a nice addition to the day’s tally. A smart male Reed Bunting was out on the saltmarsh just in front of the new shelter and their were several Meadow Pipits singing, fluttering up and parachuting back down to the ground as they did so.

6O0A3411Reed Bunting – in front of the shelter at Arnold’s Marsh

We had heard lots of gargling from the trees on our walk out, and seen several Little Egrets flying in and out. One dropped down onto the pools opposite the shelter. This one was in full breeding plumage, with bright pink and lilac bare skin at the base of its bill, and a mass of plumes, two long ones hanging down its nape, and lots of fine filoplumes over the back of its wings. Very smart, although it seemed to have a broken lower mandible.

6O0A3417Little Egret – in full breeding attire

Back at the car park, we enjoyed a late lunch in the sunshine out on the picnic tables. A Common Whitethroat kept us company, singing from the very top of the hawthorn across the road.

6O0A3468Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of a hawthorn

After lunch, we made our way back to Holkham. Lady Anne’s Drive was surprisingly not as busy as we had feared on such a lovely day – perhaps the weather forecast had put visitors off today – which meant there were plenty of places to park. As we walked west on the edge of the pines, two Spoonbills flew right overhead giving us a fantastic view of their spoon-shaped bills. There were a few insects out enjoying the sunshine, lots of Wall Brown butterflies and a couple of Hairy Dragonflies.

6O0A3470Wall Brown – there have been lots on the wing in recent days

The pines were rather quiet at first, which is to be expected in the middle of a warm afternoon. We eventually found a few Coal Tits in the trees and a couple of Goldcrests. Several Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were singing from the bushes. Just before Joe Jordan Hide, we encountered a large flock of Long-tailed Tits and a Treecreeper was in with them, but hard to see in the tops of the trees.

From the hide, we could see a couple of Spoonbills in the trees. Three dropped down to the pool to bathe & preen. They were rather obscured behind the reedy edge at first but one eventually moved along to a more open spot where we could get a better look at it. We could see the yellow tip to its bill, the shaggy nuchal crest and the dirty mustard yellow wash across the breast, the features of an adult in breeding plumage.

IMG_4641Spoonbill – an adult in breeding plumage on the pool

There were several Marsh Harriers flying in and out of the reeds and a Kestrel dust-bathing on a patch of bare ground. We were just scanning for the pair of Grey Partridges which are often out here when they were flushed by the cows and flew down into a ditch out of view. The cows crossed to the other side and when they came back, they very helpfully flushed them out again, straight towards hide. A Red-legged Partridge was flushed out too, but was chased off by the male Grey Partridge. The pair of Grey Partridges then came straight up to the grass right below the hide – cracking views!

6O0A3544Grey Partridge – the male just below the hide

6O0A3494Grey Partridges – the pair feeding together

Time was getting on, so we made out way back to the car,stopping briefly to watch a family of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, which had just been bathing on the edge of the grazing marsh. A Treecreeper with them gave us much better views.

We still had time for one last stop, so we popped in to the local gull colony. As we pulled up, a smart Common Gull was pulling at some rubbish by the road. A Spoonbill flew overhead. From the bank, a Great Crested Grebe was swimming in the harbour channel.

There were lots of gulls on views, mostly Black-headed Gulls but with a good number of Mediterranean Gulls in with them too. We got great views of several of the latter, looking very smart with their jet black hoods, heavier brighter red bills and pure white wingtips, compared to the Black-headed Gulls nearby. There were a handful of Common Gulls and a few Herring Gulls out here too.

IMG_4648Mediterranean Gull – with smart black hood and white wingtips

While we were admiring the gulls, we could hear terns calling too. A couple of Common Terns were loafing on the shingle. A single Sandwich Tern flew off calling. Two Little Terns flew round in formation, displaying to each other, with exaggerated wingbeats. A careful scan through the terns fishing over the channel beyond revealed a single Arctic Tern in among the more numerous Common Terns. Our second Arctic Tern of the day, we had a much better view of this one, much closer than our first as it flew up and down.

In the end we had to drag ourselves away. It was a lovely way to end the weekend, with such a great selection of gulls and terns, a hive of activity in front of us.

6th February 2016 – Back to the Broads

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours and today it was off down to the Broads. The weather forecast throughout the last week had foretold heavy rain all day today. Thankfully the Met Office can be relied upon for one thing… to get it wrong! We barely saw a drop of rain – it was cloudy and rather windy, but mercifully dry.

We started with a drive along the coast road from Sea Palling. We hadn’t gone very far when we spotted our first Cranes of the day. They were in a field some distance from the road, but unfortunately we had nowhere to stop. We pulled into a convenient layby and walked back with the scopes to the spot from where we could see them, but even though we were several fields away they started to look nervous. We just had time to get a look at them in the scope before they took off and dropped down a little further over, out of view.

P1160371Pink-footed Geese – one of several small groups this morning

We carried on along the road, scanning the fields. We came across a couple of small groups of Pink-footed Geese in the grazing meadows. Further along, south of Horsey Mill, we pulled over and got out for a good look round. There was an even bigger flock of Pink-footed Geese here – at least until the farmer arrived. He seemed to object to the Mute Swans in the fields across the road, and shot into the air scaring everything off apart from one stubborn Mute Swan.

P1160379Pink-footed Geese – scared off by one of the local farmers

Before the farmer arrived, there was actually quite a nice selection of birds to look at. There were large numbers of Lapwing out on the grass and a smaller flock of Golden Plover. On the flooded field the other side of the road, we were rather surprised to see a small group of five Knot. Several Marsh Harriers were circling over the reeds behind, and two of them started diving at each other. But we couldn’t find any more Cranes here.

We decided to move on and drove round to Ludham Airfield. Once again, we could see the swans before we left the main road, a white smear across the fields from a distance. We drove round and positioned ourselves where we wouldn’t disturb them as we got out of the car to look at them through the scopes.

IMG_6486Bewick’s Swan – there were at least 85 today

The swans were in two groups today, with most of the Bewick’s Swans sat down in the middle of the winter wheat, whereas most of the Whooper Swans were over on the edge of the field. It was as if they had fallen out with each other and were now not speaking! On closer examination, we did find a small group of four Bewick’s Swans closer to the Whoopers and three Whooper Swans sleeping in with the Bewick’s, so there were obviously a few swans which couldn’t pick sides.

IMG_6496Whooper Swans – over 40 today, mostly on the edge of the field

Despite their attempt at separating by species, we could still get a good comparison between the two – the Whooper Swans noticeably larger, longer necked and longer billed, and with the yellow coming down the bill into a point, unlike the more squared off yellow on the Bewick’s Swans’ bills. There were at least 85 Bewick’s Swans here today, a little down on recent counts, but over 40 Whooper Swans still.

We decided to head down to Great Yarmouth next to look for some gulls. We stopped briefly on the way to see if there was anything on Rollesby or Ormesby Broads. It was pretty rough out in the middle – there were just a few Coots and Tufted Ducks. A Great Crested Grebe swam out from close in to the bank as we pulled up and a very white-headed Cormorant dropped down from a post into the water and swam past. A Grey Heron crept out of the reeds to the water’s edge.

We had wanted to see the Glaucous Gull at Great Yarmouth, but there was not a sign of it today around any of its usual haunts. It seems to have a nasty habit of going missing at times. We had to content ourselves with going to see the Mediterranean Gulls on the beach instead.

IMG_6502Mediterranean Gull – a colour-ringed adult in winter plumage

There were only three Mediterranean Gulls on the beach when we arrived and they promptly flew off. Someone else was obviously feeding them elsewhere. Quickly deploying some choice sliced white bread, they soon came back and brought a few of their friends with them. They were mostly winter adults, but a couple of 2nd winters arrived too. After squabbling over the bread, they all settled on the beach so we could get a good look at them. A crafty Starling came along and ran around our feet after the crumbs.

P1160407Starling – came round our feet for the crumbs

We had a quick look out to sea. There is a large sandbank offshore called Scroby Sands and we could see a large number of seals pulled out of the water. At one end, a black mass on the sand was a big flock of Cormorants – there can be a huge number of them out here. A few Kittiwakes were struggling past into the wind.

From there, we drove inland and down to Strumpshaw Fen. As we got out of the car, we could hear the twittering of Siskins and looked up to see lots of them in the alders. A noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits came through the car park. The reserve itself seemed to be very quiet again, so we just ate our lunch and moved on.

The grazing marshes at Buckenham seemed to be strangely deserted today. There were very few geese – just a few Canada Geese and an odd-looking Canada x Greylag Goose hybrid – but that is not necessarily unusual. However, there were also very few ducks and a distinct shortage of Lapwings and Golden Plover. Presumably, something had disturbed everything off here today. A Chinese Water Deer provided a brief distraction.

IMG_6541Chinese Water Deer – on the grazing marshes at Buckenham

Given the lack of birds, we decided not to walk out at Buckenham, but went round to Cantley instead. At least we found the geese here. There was a big flock of Pink-footed Geese over towards the river. We got the scopes on them and, scanning carefully, we started to find a few White-fronted Geese in with them. There were probably quite a few there, because the more we scanned, the more we found.

As we were looking through the geese, we found something different on the ground in the middle of them – a Peregrine. The geese seemed particularly unconcerned, and more flew in and landed all around it. The Peregrine was hopping about in the grass and perching up on tussocks. Eventually it took off and swept round over the marshes a couple of times, flushing the Lapwings and Golden Plover, before flying straight towards us and then turning off towards Cantley Beet Factory.

P1160458Peregrine – flew past us after standing in with the geese

The afternoon was getting on, and we wanted to get to Stubb Mill in good time for the roost, so we started to make our way back north. We tried various more sites where Cranes are regularly to be found, but there was no sign of any anywhere today. Perhaps they were put off by the wind, which had become very gusty by this stage.

Our timing was right today though. As we walked out towards the Stubb Mill watchpoint from the car park at Hickling Broad, first two Cranes flew over the marshes, and dropped down towards Heigham Holmes. We could see their long necks and long trailing feet. Then we turned to see a ringtail Hen Harrier coming low across the grass in front of the reeds, right in front of us – a great view. It flushed a few Snipe and a big flock of Teal as it went, before turning and working its way back over the reeds. Even better, the sky just brightened a little as we arrived.

There were not so many Marsh Harriers over the reeds and bushes this evening. It was hard to tell how many were already in, or whether they were planning to arrive late due to the wind. There were around 6-8 flying around over the trees at any one time, and a few more trickled in while we were waiting. However, we were treated to a good display from the Hen Harriers. First, another ringtail flew south past the assembled crowd, low over the grazing marshes just in front. Later on, another ringtail flew in from the east.

There was no sign of any Cranes from the watchpoint when we arrived there. Then suddenly the resident pair, which is usually always around, flew in from the reeds at the back and dropped down onto the grass where they should have been. They had obviously been hiding – possibly due to the wind. Where they landed they were out of view at first, but eventually walked out to where we could see them and a little later flew across and landed in the open. Much better!

IMG_6585Cranes – the resident pair finally came out of hiding

There was another Chinese Water Deer out on the marshes, but suddenly we spotted two larger deer further back. A couple of Red Deer were grazing on the grass. At one point, the two Cranes walked out in front of the two Red Deer – not a combination you see every day.

While we were watching them, someone shouted and three more Cranes flew over from the north. They came in slowly over the trees, up in the sky at first – helpfully where we could see them well – before dropping down below treetop level and disappearing from view towards Horsey Mere. That took us to a total of nine Cranes for the day!

IMG_6579-001Cranes – these three flew across, in front of the watchpoint

The light was starting to fade and we had enjoyed a very productive session at Stubb Mill, so we decided to head back. As we turned to go, we could hear the Cranes bugling out across the marshes, a fitting way to end the day.

P1160474Stubb Mill Watchpoint – the view across the marshes to the ruined mill