Tag Archives: Marsh Harrier

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

29th January 2016 – Breezy Broads

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today, and it was down to the Norfolk Broads. We were ready for anything – Storm Gertrude was on its way and it was forecast to be rather windy!

We started with a drive along the coast south of Sea Palling, scanning the fields for Cranes as we went. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese circled over the trees inland and dropped down out of view. Otherwise it seemed rather quiet here, with many birds presumably hunkered down out of the wind. South of Horsey Mill, we pulled over and got out of the car – getting knocked sideways by the wind in the process (we later discovered it was gusting to 52+mph!). There was a small herd of Mute Swans in the fields here, but not much else – this area is normally alive with birds but there were very few today. A Kingfisher skimmed away from us along a ditch, low over the water, flashing electric blue as it went.

We turned around and headed back towards the Mill, and this time picked up two Cranes. They were tucked down in a wet meadow behind a hedge and initially obscured almost completely from view. Only by repositioning ourselves so we were looking through a gap in the hedge could we see them properly, feeding mostly with heads down but occasionally raising their necks up to look around. Surprisingly hard to see for a bird which stands around a metre tall!

IMG_5683Cranes – a record shot, it was hard to keep the tripod steady in the wind!

That was a good start, but it was clear we needed to try to keep out of the wind as much as possible. We decided to drive inland to look for the wild swans next. We didn’t have to look very hard – before we had even left the main road we could see the smear of white across the field in the distance. We drove round to where they were and found they were actually too close to the road – we didn’t want to get out and disturb them. So we made our way down a track until we were far enough away and only then got out.

IMG_5689Bewick’s & Whooper Swans – at least 160 today

We could immediately see that there were both Bewick’s and Whooper Swans there, as usual here. The subtle difference in size and shape is noticeable from a distance and, through the scope particularly, we could see the differences in bill pattern too. The Whooper Swans have a longer bill with a large area of yellow extending down towards the tip in a point, whereas the yellow on the smaller bill of a Bewick’s Swan is more squared-off. It is always great to see the two species side by side like this, to really appreciate the differences.

IMG_5701Whooper & Bewick’s Swans – showing the size and bill differences well

We did a quick count of the herd – there were at least 160, possibly 170 swans in total today. It was too windy to spend too long trying to work out how many of each though, but there have been only 20-25 Whooper Swans for most of the winter and the remainder have been Bewick’s Swans.

Again, we wanted to try to keep out of the worst of the wind, so we made our way down to Great Yarmouth. There has been a juvenile Glaucous Gull hanging around close to the seafront for a week or two. It is a slightly incongruous setting for an arctic gull, in amongst the seaside hotels and tourist attractions shuttered for the winter. We couldn’t find it at first around any of its favourite haunts. We amused ourselves watching a Common Gull doing a ‘rain dance’ on the grass, stomping its feet rapidly up and down on the spot, trying to tempt the worms into thinking it’s raining.

P1150575Common Gull – doing a ‘rain dance’

We didn’t think the Glaucous Gull was around and were just getting into the car to leave when it suddenly appeared overhead with all the Black-headed Gulls. We got a good look at it as it circled over the road, before drifting over the houses towards the playing fields. However, round at the playing fields there was no sign of it. A quick visit to the corner shop was called for and a few minutes later, after the strategic deployment of half a loaf of sliced white, it reappeared with a large throng of other gulls.

P1150606Glaucous Gull – tempted in with some bread

The Glaucous Gull flew around just overhead, giving us some stunning views. Rather plain, mealy, biscuit coloured all over its body, apart from its wing tips which are plain off-white, lighter than the rest of its wings. It kept swooping down with the hordes for a bit, before landing a short distance away on the grass. Its huge size was now obvious, much bigger than the local Herring Gulls, and it was sporting a massive bill, pinkish at the base with a contrasting black tip. It stood there for a few minutes before deciding it had had enough and there wasn’t going to be any more bread, so flew off.

P1150645Glaucous Gull – big and pale, with a massive two-tone bill

We still had half a loaf left, so we made our way a little further along the seafront and walked out onto the beach opposite all the amusement arcades, between the two piers. Further along the beach, a huddle of smaller gulls were braving the wind and as soon as we walked onto the prom they realised what was about to happen and flew to the beach in front of us. We kept them waiting for a bit while we had a good look at them.

They were mainly Mediterranean Gulls, at least ten of them. This is a well-known spot for them in winter and there are often a lot more than this – the rest must have been hiding from the wind somewhere. They were mostly adults with pure white wing tips, but in amongst them were a couple of 2nd winters, with paler bills and black spots in their wings. Only once we had enjoyed a really good look at them did they get the bread.

IMG_5703Mediterranean Gull – an adult starting to get its black summer hood

IMG_5712Mediterranean Gull – a 2nd winter

While we had been feeding the gulls, news had come through of a Green-winged Teal at Ranworth Broad. It seemed like their might be some shelter from the wind there, so we decided to drive over there to try to see it. We parked in the village and had our lunch overlooking Malthouse Broad. There were lots of Tufted Duck and Coot out on the water, along with a couple of Great Crested Grebes. Several of the Coot came out to feed on the grass in front of us.

P1150679Coot – feeding on the grass at lunchtime

A flock of Long-tailed Tits had passed us a couple of times while we were eating, and once we had finished we looked up into the alders nearby to see if we could see anything else with them. Feeding on the cones, we could see several Goldfinches and with them a few Siskin. We had a good look at one of the latter in the scope. A Treecreeper came to the front of the trees as well and proceeded to climb up one in front of us.

IMG_5756Siskin – in the alders by the car park

We walked round and out to Ranworth Broad itself along the boardwalk. It was only when we got out there that we realised the scale of the task. A small crowd had gathered but they had lost sight of the Green-winged Teal in a vast flock of ducks out on the water towards the back of the Broad. There were hundreds and hundreds of birds – mainly Wigeon and Teal, with a smaller number of Shoveler and a few Gadwall and Pintail. Even worse, they were all constantly on the move, swimming around or just drifting in the wind.

Green-winged Teal is the American cousin of our (Eurasian) Teal and it looks very similar, apart mainly from a bold white vertical stripe on the sides of the drake’s breast. We eventually found it again, but it was an impossible task to get all the group onto it. As soon as somebody else took over the scope, it had drifted or swum out of view again and had to be refound. After trying in vain for some time, in the end we had to give it up.

We walked back along the boardwalk, where a Marsh Tit was calling from the trees. A Goldcrest was singing and more Siskins were in the alders over the road.

We wanted to get back in time for the raptor roost at Stubb Mill, so we started to make our way round there. We stopped off several times to look for Cranes, but we couldn’t find any more at any of their favoured sites this afternoon. A tractor was ploughing a field beside the road, pursued by a mass of gulls. Nearby, a Common Buzzard was perched on a large clod of earth, watching, mobbed by a couple of Carrion Crows.

Out at Stubb Mill, we immediately spotted the two Cranes which are regular here, in pretty much their usual spot. They spent most of the time we were there standing behind the reeds, with their necks up, looking round. Unfortunately, only when the light started to fade and it was too dull for photos did they fly round and land directly in front of the viewpoint. Still, it was a great flight view.

IMG_5771Crane – the usual two suspects at Stubb Mill

There were lots of Marsh Harriers already flying in and out among the trees in the reeds when we arrived. They didn’t seem to want to settle in the trees today, possibly due to the wind. At one point, they all circled up high into the air – we could see around 50 Marsh Harriers all up in the sky together. A stunning spectacle. Still they kept on coming, and there must have been at least 60 Marsh Harriers in the roost by the time we left.

P1150709Marsh Harriers – about 50 were in the sky together this evening

We didn’t see the Hen Harriers come in this evening, but the next thing we knew there were two ringtails flying around the ruined mill with the Marsh Harriers. We got them in the scope and you could just make out the white square at the base of their tails and they circled round.

Then the dark clouds rolled in, just as the wind seemed to ease a little and we lost the best of the light. We had already seen what we had come to see, so we decided to call it a day and head for home.

14th December 2015 – Winter in the Broads

Winter is a very good time of year to visit the Norfolk Broads. In preparation for the regular Winter Tours planned to explore the area in early 2016, we have made several visits in recent weeks. We had a very good day in the Broads last Monday.

We started with a stop near Sea Palling to catch up with a Cattle Egret which had been hanging around appropriately with the local cattle. It looked slightly incongruous here on a damp, misty December morning. More at home in southern Europe, Cattle Egret has been rather slower to expand its range northwards than its cousin, the Little Egret. There is a shortage of cattle outside at this time of year, which presumably does not help encourage them to hang around.

IMG_4172Cattle Egret – feeding in the mud amongst the cattle

IMG_4199Cattle Egret – muddy yellow bill and just a smudge of an orange crown

Some video of the Cattle Egret feeding in with the cattle can be seen below.

One of the highlights of a visit to the Broads at this time of the year is a chance to catch up with the regular wintering herd of wild swans. Numbers always tend to increase through the winter, but the mild weather has perhaps meant this has been a little slow this year as birds have probably remained on the continent longer than normal. They do seem to be on the increase now, with at least 45 on Monday, a mixture of Bewick’s Swans and Whooper Swans.

It is always good to be able to see the two species side by side. Bewick’s Swans are noticeably smaller with less extensive yellow on the bill; the yellow on the bill of Whooper Swan also extends further down the bill forming a sharper point, compared to the blunter, more squared off yellow on Bewick’s Swans.

IMG_4208Whooper & Bewick’s Swans – part of the regular mixed herd in the Broads

IMG_4214Bewick’s Swan – flanked by two Whooper Swans

The Broads are also a great place to catch up with a variety of different species of geese. There are lots of Pink-footed Geese here for the winter, perhaps not surprisingly given the variety of food available – extensive grazing marshes and also lots of sugar beet tops after the harvest. There is still a lot of sugar beet grown here, with Cantley Beet Factory being one of the main sites for processing it once it has been harvested. Cantley and Buckenham Marshes are also good sites for White-fronted Geese, with peak counts of over 120 already in recent weeks.

However, the real speciality here are the Taiga Bean Geese. There are only two regular wintering sites for this (sub)species in the UK, the Yare Valley in Norfolk and the Slamannan plateau in southern Scotland, and they are remarkably site faithful returning to the same area year after year from their breeding grounds in Sweden. It didn’t take us long to find them today – just as we arrived at Cantley a flock of around 20 Taiga Bean Geese flew in to feed on the grazing marshes. Very helpful timing!

A couple of weeks ago, a more thorough exploration of the area was required to find them and had located two Taiga Bean Geese on their own at Buckenham and a flock of 20+ at neighbouring Cantley, which was when the following photos were taken. Tundra Bean Geese, the other form of Bean Goose we get here, winter mainly on the continent and are occasional visitors, often among the vast flocks of Pink-footed Geese. The Taiga Bean Geese are slightly larger, longer-necked and have on average more extensive orange colouration on their longer bills. It is interesting to look at the variation in bill pattern between individuals.

IMG_3401

IMG_3384

IMG_3380Taiga Bean Geese – part of the regular wintering flock

Cranes are also one of the iconic species we look for in the Broads, also known as Common or Eurasian Cranes. Our birds are not to be confused with those being reintroduced into Somerset. While Cranes were wiped out as a breeding species in the UK in the 17th Century, a pair first returned to the Norfolk Broads of their own accord in 1979 and breeding was first recorded in 1982. The population of Cranes here has grown steadily from there.

We had no problem finding Cranes today – we came across at least 14 on our travels. First we found two family parties feeding distantly out on the fields – one pair of adults were accompanied by two juveniles and the other pair were with a single youngster. Next, we stopped at a favourite feeding area and as we pulled off the road we realised that a pair of Cranes were right next to the car. They immediately started to walk away,  and as they did so we realised that a third Crane was nearby. We stayed in the car and once they got out into the middle of the field they seemed to relax and resume feeding.

The larger of the pair was carrying an old corn cob, possibly a male and following what appeared to be a smaller female. At one point, he raised his wings and leapt into the air in what was presumably a little piece of dance display. Great to watch.

P1130567

P1130576Cranes – this pair were in a field right next to the road

We also had time today to explore some different parts of the Broads, which we don’t visit so often. As well as more Cranes, there were several Marsh Harriers enjoying the afternoon sunshine. We came across several little groups of winter thrushes feeding on berries, Fieldfares and Redwings. A Water Pipit flew up from the edge of a flooded field.

A visit to Stubb Mill is a great way to end the day in the Broads. There is a very large harrier roost here and it is always an impressive sight to see so many Marsh Harriers. There were already quite a few out in the bushes in the reeds when we arrived, so it was hard to say how many were in the roost today. We counted at least 30 at one point, with more still arriving. A ringtail Hen Harrier was using the last of the afternoon to hunt and came in low across the grazing marsh in front of us.

An early Barn Owl was out hunting as well and lots of Fieldfares and Redwings were in the hedgerows. This is also a good place to find Cranes and there is generally a pair hanging around the fields here. Unfortunately, we had to leave slightly early this afternoon but it was still suitably evocative to walk back listening to the bugling of the pair of Cranes, and a lovely way to finish the day.

Stubb Mill 2015-02-07Stubb Mill viewpoint – the view across the marshes earlier in the year

Tours to the Broads will run regularly through January and February 2016. If you would like to join us to look for the Cranes, geese, swans and raptors and enjoy the unique scenery, please get in touch.

20th November 2015 – The Calm Before The Storm

The first of two days of tours based in North Norfolk. The weather forecast was cloudy and breezy with the chance of wintry showers later on – it was mostly right today for once, but we were surprised to find some pleasant sunshine at times this morning.

We met in Wells and spent a brief moment looking at the harbour. There were some large groups of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh or flying across to the main channel to bathe. One lone Brent Goose was swimming around in the water just in front of us, which gave us chance for a good look up close. It was one of our regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese, which come in from Russia to spend the winter here in good numbers.

IMG_3018Brent Goose – a regular Dark-bellied bird in the harbour this morning

There were several Marsh Harriers quartering out over the saltmarsh too. A few Little Egrets were fishing along the channel and a nice selection of waders were along the muddy edges – plenty of Redshank, a few Curlew, a Lapwing and a smart Grey Plover.

IMG_3025Grey Plover – feeding on the mud in Wells Harbour

We made our way east along the coast to Cley, which was our first proper destination for the morning. We had a quick look at the fields along Beach Road, but there was no sign of the flock of Brent Geese along there yet today. So we headed onto the reserve instead.

A Cetti’s Warbler sang half-heartedly from the bushes but wouldn’t how itself. Along the path to Bishop Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. We thought it was a bit too windy to see them perched out on the tops, but we managed to find a female feeding on a seed head, though it wasn’t easy to see through the reed stems even in the scope.

As we walked out to the hide, a Merlin whisked past and powered away inland along the hedgeline. A little while later, from the hide, we saw a second Merlin chasing what was presumably a Meadow Pipit over towards the beach. They towered high into the sky, the pipit at first climbing steeply, then swerving wildly as the Merlin dived at it repeatedly, at times missing it by fractions. Finally the pipit dropped vertically towards the cover of the beach. The Merlin, presumably realising it might be about to lose its target, plunged down after it, and we lost sight of them behind the reeds.

The Marsh Harriers put on a good display too. There were at least six of them up at one point. One of the resident females perched nicely in the top of one of the bushes in the reedbed in the morning sun, so we could get her in the scope. Later, she quartered over the reeds right in front of the hide.

P1120664Marsh Harrier – this female flew right past the hide

There was a good selection of other birds out on Pat’s Pool. A small party of Dunlin were feeding feverishly on the mud round the edges of the islands. Further over, a group of Black-tailed Godwit were mostly asleep. Five hardy Avocets were easy to overlook, also asleep amongst the gulls – most of them have gone south for the winter, but a few choose to hang on here.

There are lots of ducks in now for the winter. A good number of Wigeon were grazing on the islands. There were fewer Teal out on the water here than in recent days, but a group of four smart drakes were quite close. Four Shoveler were asleep further over. But the prize for the smartest of all goes to the pair of Pintail – although the male was still not in full breeding plumage, with a few brown feathers still to be moulted and his long pin-shaped tail feathers a bit shorter than full length.

IMG_3033Pintail – this pair were on Pat’s Pool this morning

As we walked out of the hide, a male Stonechat was perched briefly on a dead stem by the reed screen but flew off as soon as it saw us. There are a few around the reserve at the moment and, when we got to the start of the East Bank, we found another pair along the edge of the path below. The male disappeared off along the reedy channel, but the female stayed put and spent some time flycatching from the bushes.

IMG_3052Stonechat – this female was one of several around Cley today

We could hear more Bearded Tits calling here but couldn’t see any at first. Again, it seemed unlikely they would come out given the wind. But then we spotted some movement along the mud at the bottom of the reeds opposite and realised there was a group of Bearded Tits feeding there. They didn’t hang around, and quickly disappeared out of view, but thankfully a few more followed along behind and we managed to get a cracking male in the scope. A Water Pipit was more elusive. It flew up calling from the mud as we first got up onto the bank and disappeared behind some reeds. It had found a sheltered spot and we only had another quick glimpse of it as it disappeared round a corner of the mud further along.

There were lots more ducks and a few Brent Geese on Pope’s Marsh. Scanning through them, the one addition to the day’s list we managed was a single Common Snipe feeding in the wet grass. Out on Arnold’s Marsh, we could see another big group of Dunlin and more Redshank, with a single Ringed Plover and Turnstone on one of the islands.

As we walked out towards the beach, a small falcon came flying towards us chasing something. As it got alongside us, we could see it was a Kestrel and it was chasing an exhausted Blackbird. The Blackbird dived into the reeds and the Kestrel hovered briefly overhead, before flying off. Out here, we assumed the Blackbird had probably just arrived in over the North Sea, coming here for the winter from Northern Europe. This was confirmed by what we saw on the beach. We were looking out to sea when we spotted another five Blackbirds battling in low over the waves into the wind – they made it safely in and over the beach.

It was windy out on the beach and the sea had quite a swell, but there was quite a lot of activity out there. A few Guillemots and Razorbills were riding out the waves offshore and more auks were whirring past over the waves left and right in ones and twos. Several Gannets were fishing offshore, folding back their wings and plunging into the water, both slate-grey juveniles and adults with black-tipped white wings. While we were watching one Gannet fly past, we spotted a Red-throated Diver riding the surf below it. Further out, a melee of gulls contained three darker shapes and a look through the scope revealed three Great Skuas harrying them.

There were a few ducks and geese battling in over the sea, presumably fresh in from the continent – a little party of four Teal, a pair of Gadwall, a couple of Brent Geese. However, the highlight was a single young Velvet Scoter which flew past, flashing white trailing edges to its wings and two bright white face spots as it went.

We were on our way back along the East Bank when we saw a large flock of Brent Geese come overhead and disappear off east, before circling back round and dropping down behind Walsey  Hills. We took a short detour along the road and down the footpath up to the fields behind there. We couldn’t see the Brent Geese at first, although a very noisy group of Pink-footed Geese were in the field further over behind the wood.

We climbed up to the top of the hill to get a better look and could see a few Brent Geese feeding on the winter wheat, but nothing like the number we had seen fly in. The ground here undulates and it was quickly clear that the flock had managed to hide themselves in a dip in the ground! We walked back down and then further along the footpath and the rest of the flock magically appeared. Even better, there on the front edge was our target – a Black Brant. Its brighter white flank patch positively glowed in the sunshine and we could see its better marked white collar when it raised its head.

IMG_3060Black Brant – the whiter collar and flanks give it away

We were edging our way along the path trying not to flush the flock. The birds had seen us, but seemed to start to settle. Then suddenly they panicked and all took to the air. The Black Brant came right over our heads, but also in the flock we saw another Brent Goose with a much paler belly than any of the others – a Pale-bellied Brent Goose. We thought at first we might actually have disturbed the geese, but then a man appeared over the hill, a walker coming along another footpath which ran right through the field where the geese were feeding. Typical timing! It would have been great to get a better view of all the subspecies of Brent Goose together.

We made our way back to the Visitor Centre for lunch. No sooner had we arrived than the Brent Goose flock flew in overhead from the fields behind and dropped down onto the reserve. We could see the Black Brant and the Pale-bellied Brent Goose in with them. While we were eating our sandwiches a Peregrine flew off the reserve and inland, carrying its own lunch! It had clearly just caught some unsuspecting bird out over the reserve.

After lunch, we had thought we might go out onto the new part of the reserve, ‘Salthouse Marshes’. We drove along to Iron Road, but the wind had picked up and was whistling across and there were people pounding in new fenceposts out along the track past Babcock Hide. We could see there were very few birds in front of the hide today. There were a few Ruff in with the Lapwing on the marshes by Iron Road though.

We drove back to Cley and down Beach Road again, as we had first thing this morning. While we were having lunch, it had looked like some of the Brent Geese had headed this way. Sure enough, about half way down Beach Road, we spotted a small flock of about 30 Brent Geese out on the grazing marshes. We pulled into the side and scanned with binoculars and once again the Black Brant immediately stood out from the throng, so we parked up and got the scope out. There was the Black Brant but, even better, there was the Pale-bellied Brent as well – the three (main?) subspecies of Brent Goose together in one small flock. What a treat!

IMG_3066Brent Geese – 3 subspecies togther: Black Brant, Pale- & Dark-bellied

Brent Geese of the various forms are found breeding all around the arctic, with Dark-bellied Brents breeding in central and west Siberia, Pale-bellied Brents breeding in Franz Josef Land, Svalbard, Greenland and the Canadian high arctic and Black Brants breeding in NE Canada, Alaska and far eastern Siberia. Dark-bellied Brent Geese winter commonly here – an estimated half the population winters in southern England. Black Brants are rare stragglers which should winter along the coasts of the Pacific.

A few Golden Plover were in the same field as the geese, but were very nervous and after circling around a couple of times and landing again, they flew off. After enjoying the geese, we drove on to the beach car park to turn around. An even larger flock of Golden Plover had now gathered in the Eye Field, hunched down in the grass face on into the wind. Their gold-spangled backs shone in the sunshine.

Next, we drove back west past Wells to Holkham. As we did so, we could see some very dark clouds being pushed past on the gusty wind. It was clearly raining hard out over the sea. When we got to Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see we were just about to catch the back edge of it. Rather than walk out to Washington Hide immediately , we decided to drive a little further west and scan the marshes.

We were pleased we did. Our first stop only yielded a few Greylags and a couple more Pink-footed Geese. However, on our next scan a tall white shape was apparent on the edge of one of the ditches – a Great White Egret. This bird has been present here since the end of August, but can be very elusive, particularly in the last few weeks, so it was great to catch up with it again today.

IMG_3077Great White Egret – in one of the ditches out on the grazing marsh

The Great White Egret flew across and landed on the grass next to a Grey Heron, a great side-by-side comparison. If anything, it was actually a little larger than the heron! The Grey Herons seemed to object to its presence and actually chased it off a couple of times, but it seemed to like the area and kept returning to the ditches here.

We had hoped to see some White-fronted Geese from here – that was the main reason for coming this way, and the egret was a surprise bonus. We were not disappointed as there were at least 30 scattered across the grass in front of the Great White Egret, once we had taken our eyes off it. Most of the White-fronted Geese were adults, with white blaze around the base of the bill and black belly bars, but there were also several plainer juveniles which lacked these diagnostic features. Nearby, a lone Barnacle Goose was accompanied by a rather odd looking hybrid – local feral geese.

IMG_3084White-fronted Geese – we could see at least 30 here today

The clouds moved through quickly and the skies cleared again while we were scanning the marshes, so we drove back down to Lady Anne’s Drive, stopping on the way to admire a little group of Pink-footed Geese in the field nearby. It was great to be able to look at them up close, and see the differences from all the other geese we had seen through the day.

IMG_3100Pink-footed Geese – nice close-up views along Lady Anne’s Drive

We set off to walk west along the edge of the pines to Washington Hide. However, we hadn’t gone very far before we heard the yelping of Pink-footed Geese behind us and turned to see several hundred flying in from the fields. They turned and dropped down onto the grazing marshes where we had been watching the others earlier. Just before we got to the pines, we heard a Chiffchaff calling and could just see it flicking around in the low brambles. Most of the Chiffchaffs have departed south for the winter, but in mild years there is often one or two which lingers in the pines.

We were just past Salts Hole when we heard Long-tailed Tits calling from the trees. We stopped to look at them and realised there were a few Goldcrests with them. Then a sharper call alerted us to the presence of a Firecrest as well, in fact two Firecrests. They were in the trees south of the track, looking towards the evening sky and the sun had already set, which meant it was harder to make them out clearly. Then they flew across and landed in a Holm Oak the other side of the track. They only stopped in there briefly, but this time we could see one of them more clearly. The male Firecrest flashed his orange crown stripe before disappearing back towards the pines.

We continued on to Washington Hide and could already see quite a few Pink-footed Geese already out on the grass. Unfortunately, the clouds were building once more and the light was starting to fade fast now. We decided to call it a day and make our way home. And a very nice day it had been, too!

P1120702Sunset – over Salts Hole at Holkham

3rd October 2015 – From Cranes to Snow Bunting

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. After a cloudy and misty start, the weather brightened up in the afternoon and it was warm again in the sunshine and light winds.

We met in Wells this morning. Fortuitously, just as we arrived, a timely message reported that two Common Cranes were flying west from Stiffkey Fen. That should put them on course straight for Wells. We walked out onto the edge of the quay and scanned the sky. After only a minute or so, the two Cranes appeared over the houses on the east side of Wells. We could see their huge size, long legs and necks. They flew steadily over towards the quay, before turning slightly and heading off towards Holkham. What a great start to the day!

P1100670Common Cranes – flew over Wells towards Holkham this morning

With some new migrants arriving yesterday, we decided to have a look in Wells Woods this morning, to see if we could find anything new. There were lots of Goldcrests calling as we walked into the trees. It didn’t take us long to find a tit flock this morning, just on the edge of the Dell. As well as more Goldcrests, we could see Long-tailed, Coal, Blue and Great Tits, Treecreepers, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a couple of Chiffchaffs. Quite a variety, but no suggestion of any new migrants having dropped in overnight.

We worked our way west through the trees, checking out all the most likely spots. We saw lots more of the same, but nothing out of the ordinary. West of the drinking pool, we found another flock of Long-tailed Tits. We followed them through the trees for a while, looking to see what might be with them. Again, a single Chiffchaff was the highlight. We lost them for a while as we searched further west, but picked the flock up again as we turned to head back.

The Long-tailed Tits were feeding low down in the hawthorn and rose by the path, so we stopped to admire them. Suddenly, a Firecrest appeared with them – its black and white striped face immediately distinguishing it from the nearby Goldcrests. It was also cleaner, whiter below and brighter green above, with a bronzey shawl. Firecrests are very smart birds!

P1100689Long-tailed Tit – there were several flocks in the Woods today

There were more Siskins flying around the Woods again today, but we mostly just heard them flying above the pines. One flock appeared to drop in to a dense pine tree so we worked our way over through the undergrowth to try to see them. Unfortunately, they were tucked well in to the top and flew off again before we could get to see them. There were also more Redpolls flying overhead today, calling, but similarly elusive. The highlight of the flyover calling finches was a Crossbill which we heard coming over the pines. Unfortunately, we could only glimpse it through the tree tops and it kept going.

A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported by the caravan site, so we took a short detour down the path along the west side on our way back. A Reed Warbler was working its way noisily through the reeds along the ditch, but proved hard to see. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese dropped down into the fields – it was nice to see some on the ground, after them giving us the run around yesterday.

P1100719Pink-footed Geese – this group showed themselves on the ground

There appeared to be no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler so, having seen a couple yesterday, we started to walk back. We hadn’t gone far when we heard the distinctive call of a Yellow-browed Warbler and the bird flew across into the sallows. It was hard to see at first – very mobile, flying back and forth along the line of trees. Eventually it settled in a sycamore and after flitting around high up in the top for a bit, it dropped down a bit lower and gave us some cracking views of all its stripes.

P1100086Yellow-browed Warbler – here’s one from Wells earlier in the week

We drove east along the coast to Cley next. The plan was to get a bit of variety and look for some waders and wildfowl on the reserve there. We parked at the visitor centre and popped into Bishop Hide quickly before lunchtime. We could hear a Water Rail squealing from deep in the reeds, not unlike a young pig, as we walked along the path. In front of the hide, we could hear two Water Rails – one squealing either side of us.

We could hear Bearded Tits as well, ‘pinging’ from the reeds outside the hide, but they were rather elusive. We saw them fly a couple of times. A smart male Marsh Harrier was easier to see, quartering the reedbed. It flew towards us, before hovering and dropping down into the reeds.

P1100730P1100733Marsh Harrier – flew past and hovered before dropping into the reeds

The water levels are still quite high on the reserve, which has really hindered the variety of waders here in recent weeks, though it is better than it was. There were a couple of Dunlin out on Pat’s Pool, but more larger waders again – several Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff.

P1100721Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on Pat’s Pool

The wader highlight was the flock of Golden Plover. There were a few already on the scrape when we arrived, but more flocks proceeded to drop in as we watched. They had come in from the fields for a wash and a brush up – many were bathing and preening.

IMG_1482Golden Plover – large numbers dropped in to bathe on Pat’s Pool

The Golden Plover seemed settled for a while, but they proved to be very nervous and suddenly all took off for no apparent reason, whirling round in a tight flock, alternately flashing yellow-spangled upperparts and white underparts. It was a recurring theme as we walked around the reserve today – the Golden Plover would drop in for a bit before flushing again and heading off inland.

There were lots of ducks out on Pat’s Pool, particularly Wigeon. We could hear them calling all the time, a pretty whistled ‘wee-oo’. A couple of Pintail dropped in with them, an eclipse drake just starting to moult into breeding plumage again, and a female. Another flock of 13 Pintail circled over, but appeared to drop down on North Scrape instead. There were plenty of Teal and Shoveler too, with a few of the drakes now starting to look much smarter, as they also moult out of eclipse.

It was getting on by now, so we decided to make our way back to the visitor centre for a late lunch. On our way back along the path, we saw a group of six Bearded Tits fly in and drop into the reeds. Even better, two females worked their way up the stems and sat in the tops, in full view, before flying off further out into the reedbed. We could hear another Bearded Tit calling from the reeds by the path further along, so we walked up to it. It was calling quietly no more than a couple of feet from us – we could see the reeds moving – but unfortunately it wouldn’t show itself until it flew off calling.

P1100748Bearded Tit – one of two females which perched up in the tops of the reeds

After lunch, we walked out to the main complex of hides. It was warm now in the sunshine and the insects were out. A Common Darter basked on the boardwalk and a Migrant Hawker flew along the ditch next to the path.

P1100762Common Darter – basking on the boardwalk

We had seen a couple of Greenshank drop into Simmond’s Scrape earlier, from over in Bishop Hide, so we hoped there might be more waders on here today. There was no sign of the Greenshank but there were a few more Dunlin on there, plus more Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit. A Common Snipe flew up from the back of the scrape, circled round and dropped back down into the grass along the edge. We could see it feeding, tucked into the vegetation. A second Snipe was preening in the taller grass on the edge of one of the islands.

There were a couple more Marsh Harriers out over the reeds. First a female flew past – mostly dark brown but with a pale head and yellowish patches on the leading edge of the innerwing. Later a juvenile flew across as well – darker brown then the female and lacking the pale patches in the wings.

We eventually made our way back, stopping to admire a large flock of Goldfinch dropping down to feed on the seeding thistles on the grazing marshes. We had seen a noisy flock of House Sparrows in the bushes by the car park at lunchtime and now they were all gathered in a hawthorn by the path, enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

P1100777House Sparrow – a noisy flock was enjoying the sunshine

Our next stop was round at the beach car park. A Leach’s Petrel had been reported past Salthouse and the East Bank earlier, but the assembled throng of seawatchers at this end had been disappointed – it hadn’t made it this far. We joined them for a while and scanned the sea. There was a steady stream of Gannets flying east, mostly dark, slatey grey juveniles. Several Guillemots were on the sea, pale-headed in winter plumage now.

We continued to scan the sea as we walked east along the beach. A Mediterranean Gull flew over the beach and dropped down towards the sea, where we got it in the scope. It was a second winter – mostly very pale grey/white like an adult, but with some black flecks in the wing tips. A Razorbill was fishing just offshore nearby, diving constantly. A few Sandwich Terns were still patrolling offshore – the bulk of the breeding birds appear to have left for warmer climes already. An Arctic Skua flew past low over the sea. Several little groups of Brent Geese flew in over the sea, presumably just on their way in from Russia for the winter.

Not far along the beach we could see three photographers standing in a cluster with their lenses pointed down at the shingle in front of them. We went over to join them and could see the subject of their photographic efforts. A Snow Bunting was feeding on the weedy vegetation. It was ridiculously tame – approaching us to within a couple of metres at one point. It appeared to be a 1st winter male, so perhaps it had never seen a human before?

P1100889Snow Bunting – a very confiding individual, feeding on the shingle

It fed along the old path, in and out of the vegetation at first. Then it hopped out onto the shingle and sat enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, looking at us from time to time but totally unaffected by our presence and the clicking of cameras. We stood and marvelled at it for a while. It was almost too close to focus the scope on it, but looking through we could see amazing details of every individual feather. What a lovely bird and a fitting way to end the day.

P1100813Snow Bunting – flashing the white in its wings as it stretched its wings

26th September 2015 – Catching Up on the Coast

Day 4 of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. Having headed west yesterday, we decided to go the other way along the coast this morning. It was glorious weather to be out on the coast – sunshine, blue skies and light winds. It could almost have been summer!

We drove along to Cley first and headed out to walk around the south side of the reserve. We could hear Bearded Tits calling almost immediately – there was a lot of ‘pinging’ coming from the reedbed this morning. As we walked along the path, suddenly four Bearded Tits flew up from the reeds and started climbing up into the sky. This is the time of year when little parties of them disperse along the coast but they could not pluck up the courage to move today and eventually dropped back into the reeds. It was perfect conditions for looking for Bearded Tits – sunny and still.

We walked round to where we thought we might be able to see them better and, between more bouts of ‘pinging’, we saw eight Bearded Tits flying around the tops of the reeds together. They kept flying round and dropping into the reeds, but eventually they landed and climbed up into the tops where we could get them in the scope. They looked amazing in the morning sun, with three cracking males with grey heads and drooping black moustaches (beards!).

IMG_1235Bearded Tit – cracking views of at least 8 today, including 3 stunning males

Nearby, a female Marsh Harrier was perched in the top of one of the bushes in the reedbed. We got her in the scope and enjoyed amazing views of her too. She sat there for a while looking round, then started calling. A Magpie came to investigate but just hopped around in the bush below her and she ignored it. She seemed to yawn a couple of times, opening her bill and stretching her neck up – she looked like she might be calling, but though we had heard her earlier we didn’t when she did this.

IMG_1259IMG_1254Marsh Harrier – stunning views of this female preening & yawning

She preened for a while and stretched, hanging out her left wing at one point, giving us a great view of the pale leading edge to the inner wing shown by adult female Marsh Harriers. Stunning views!

IMG_1264Marsh Harrier – stretching to show us the pale leading edge to the wing

The water levels on the reserve have been high in the last couple of weeks, which is good for the ducks arriving for the winter, but with all scrapes in a similar state it means there have not been so many waders. We had a quick look at Pat’s Pool and could see that there was still a lot of water. There were lots of birds present – especially ducks, mostly Wigeon and Teal, with a few Shoveler and a couple of Pintail. Most of the drakes are still in drab eclipse plumage, but a drake Teal was more advanced in its moult and already showing a rather smart head pattern. A single Gadwall was also a smart drake.

There were lots of larger waders present, but limited variety – a large mob of Black-tailed Godwits and lots of Lapwing. Amongst them were a few Ruff. They were mostly adults, with whiter underparts and white-scalloped grey-brown uppers. There was only one much browner juvenile.

P1090890Little Grebe – catching lots of fish in the channel in front of the hide

There was a young Little Grebe fishing in the channel right in front of the hide. It seemed to be doing very well, catching lots of small fish. Some of the group saw a Water Rail briefly along the channel as well, while the rest of us were still bewitched by the Bearded Tits.

P1090905Marsh Harrier – seen off by the Lapwings

When the Marsh Harrier had finished stretching and preening, she flew out across the reedbed and circled around the back of the scrape. She didn’t seem to be hunting – perhaps she did it just to cause mayhem in the birds loafing on Pat’s Pool. She certainly caused a stir, as all the birds over the back of the scrape took to the air. Several Lapwing set off after her, but she didn’t really seem to be perturbed as she drifted back to the reedbed. All the ducks and waders quickly settled again. A single Common Snipe had obviously been brought out by the activity, as it suddenly appeared out in the middle as everything else landed.

P1090911Pat’s Pool – the Marsh Harrier stirred up all the birds as it circled over

With not much else to tempt us out onto the reserve, we decided to move on further east along the coast. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported again this morning at Walsey Hills – it had been present for a few days but had been elusive earlier on in its stay. We popped in to have a look, but quickly discovered that it hadn’t been seen or heard of since early this morning. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs in the bushes and lots of insects buzzing round the flowering ivy. We didn’t linger, and continued on.

We had tried to see the Barred Warbler at Kelling a couple of days ago, without success. It seemed to have been showing more reliably this morning, so we decided to give it another go. A couple of Bullfinches flew ahead of us, calling, as we walked up the lane. One perched up in the top of an ash tree and we could see that it was a juvenile – more rusty-brown coloured and lacking a black cap.

There was a little crowd gathered for the Barred Warbler as we arrived. We waited patiently for a while and it flicked into view. It was rather furtive, working its way through the brambles and occasionally flying back up into the hawthorn, picking at berries. It kept showing itself as it lumbered around in the undergrowth – a large, pale grey warbler – though it kept dropping back into cover. It was good to catch up with it, having missed it earlier in the week. A couple of Blackcap were in the brambles as well and a Whitethroat was in the hedge further along.

There were lots of finches in the hedgerows and weedy fields  – Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Linnets. A couple of Redpolls flew over calling. A Yellowhammer flew up and perched in the hedge, just long enough for us to get it in the scope.

P1090926Egyptian Geese – the resident pair on the Water Meadow

There was a lot of water on the Water Meadow still today – not so much of a surprise here, after all the recent rain, as there is no way to control the levels. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese were present as usual, along with a smattering of Teal and  a single Shoveler asleep.

Walking round on the path, a Common Lizard slithered quickly off the path and disappeared into the verge. There were two Stonechats as usual on the hillside above the Quags. We followed the path up and could see another four more distantly on the fence over on Weybourne Camp. The sea was flat calm, but a small group of Wigeon were offshore and some very distant Gannets were flying past.

IMG_1044Stonechat – at least 6 at Kelling today, this one from the other day

The warm sunny weather meant perfect conditions for raptors moving along the coast. While we were watching the Barred Warbler, we had seen a little kettle of nine Common Buzzards circling up over the fields beyond. It was to be a bit of a theme today. When we got back to the car, another two Common Buzzards drifted off the ridge on the edge of Kelling Heath and over the village. Later in the afternoon, we saw more kettles circling along the coast.

After lunch, we started to make our way back west. Stiffkey Fen was our next post of call. There were Long-tailed Tits calling from the trees as we made our way our way along the path. We could just see a large white blob out amongst the geese as we walked past the Fen, through the overgrown vegetation. From up on the seawall, everyone could see it was a Spoonbill. It was asleep at first, doing what every self-respecting Spoonbill likes to do most, but woke up a couple of times briefly, just long enough to flash its long, spoon-shaped bill. The yellow tip confirmed it was an adult.

IMG_1293Spoonbill – during one of its waking moments, an adult

While we were watching the first Spoonbill sleeping, a second flew in from the direction of the saltmarsh. It circled over the Fen, dropping down towards the water. We could see it was a young bird from the black tips to its wings. Unfortunately it landed out of view behind the reeds. A Kingfisher called and flashed past upriver.

There was not much else of note out on the Fen. Once again, the water levels are too high here. There were lots of Greylag and Canada Geese and a respectable congregation of ducks, including a few more Pintail. Lapwing represented the bulk of the waders, plus a handful of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. A Greenshank was feeding in the saltwater channel on the other side of the seawall together with a Redshank, giving us a nice side-by-side comparison of the two species.

We walked round to the harbour, with the view out to Blakeney Point beyond looking beautiful in the sunshine. The tide was still out, but we could see lots of birds out on the mud. The large gathering of gulls included both Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, the latter’s custard-yellow legs glowing in the sun. There are already a good number of Brent Geese in here, plus there was a small group of Mute Swans out in the channel. When a small boat sailed past, a large flock of Wigeon took to the air and circled round over it. Pink-footed Geese were a big theme of yesterday, with many hundreds arriving in the afternoon. We had a couple more groups coming in over the harbour – heading off in different directions, both east and west along the coast.

The waders were mostly distant. Once again there were lots of Oystercatcher roosting on the mud and good numbers of Curlew. Another Greenshank was asleep in the channel in front of us, again with a Redshank for company. While we were standing there, we heard more Greenshank calling and seven more flew in over our heads and dropped down towards the Fen.

We still had time for one last stop on our way back, so we called in at Warham Greens briefly. Another Yellow-browed Warbler had been seen here earlier in the morning, but by the time we got there a few forelorn souls were searching in vain – it seemed to have moved off with one of the local Long-tailed Tit flocks a few hours earlier and no one seemed to know which way it had gone. We walked down to the end of the track and had a look in the sycamores. We saw a couple of Goldcrests on our way down and two Chiffchaffs flycatching in the late afternoon sun in the trees. We stopped to admire the big flock of Golden Plover out on the saltmarsh. Then it was time to call it a day.

24th June 2015 – Broads Birds & Butterflies

A Private Tour today, the first day of a five day programme put together for a US client, a mixture of private and scheduled group days. Given the planned itinerary for the regular weekend tours, we headed down to the Broads today.

We started at Hickling Broad. The car park was alive with tits, finches and warblers – Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. A nice gentle introduction to birding in Europe.

Rather than head to the hides first, we decided to see if the family of Eurasian Cranes was in their usual fields. We could see a head briefly, distantly in the taller reeds at the back, but they were not really playing ball today. So we decided to walk on and come back later in the morning. As we headed out across the reserve, suddenly two Cranes appeared over the path ahead of us and we watched them fly and glide slowly towards the Broad. We got great flight views, and we could hear them bugling as they disappeared.

P1030144Crane – these two flew over in front of us today

The trees along the side of the track were alive with birds. A big mixed tit flock passed through – lots of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits, together with Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. As we walked up to the oak tree they had gone into, we discovered that in their place was a pair of Yellowhammers, looking for caterpillars in the foliage. We could hear a Whitethroat alarm calling in the trees as well – a female carrying food was too wary of our presence at first to fly down to its nest in some brambles.

P1030162Yellowhammer – a pair were feeding in an oak tree

We had not gone much further when three Brown Hares ran out of the grass and proceeded to chase each other around on the track in front of us. One disappeared again but, even though it is now the end of June, the other two started ‘boxing’. Quite a sight – mad as a June hare!?

P1030167Brown Hares – boxing in June

We spent a bit of time in Bittern Hide, but unfortunately there was no sign of its namesake today. We did see several Eurasian Hobbys hawking for insects over the reedbed. There were also several Marsh Harriers up, and we saw both a food-pass and a male displaying, sky-dancing and calling. Great action. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, and saw the back end of a couple of birds disappearing into the reeds.

Along the bank by the Broad, there were lots of warblers singing. We could hear both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers and it was good to note the differences in song between the two. We also heard our first Cetti’s Warblers, shouting from the bushes beside us but doing their usual playing hard to get. The Sedge Warblers were most obliging, perching up in full view and songflighting. We heard more Bearded Tits as well and saw one come up out of the reeds.

IMG_6085Sedge Warbler – singing from a nice obvious perch in the reedbed

We had seen a few Swallowtails already, on our walk round, but as we got back almost to the Cadbury Hide the Marsh Thistles were alive with them, we lost count of how many. Such stunning butterflies and such a privilege to see them, particularly as the Broads is the only place Swallowtails are found in the UK (and the only place the British subspecies is found).

P1030282P1030261Swallowtail butterflies – put on a great display again today

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the reserve as well today. We saw several of the other local speciality, Norfolk Hawker, lots of Four-spotted Chasers, a couple of Emperor Dragonflies and a single Hairy Dragonfly. Amongst the many Azure Damselflies, we picked out a few Variable Damselflies as well.

P1030140Variable Damselfly – we found a few amongst the more common Azures

It had been quite an action-packed morning, the sun was shining and it was starting to get quite warm, so we made use of one of the picnic tables for an early lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk back along the track to see if the family of Cranes had come out onto the wet meadows. We couldn’t see any sign of them, but while we were walking along two heads appeared in the wheat field on the other side of the road, two Cranes looking slightly incongruous in such a setting. We got a good look at them in the scope, but they were already looking nervous. After a couple of minutes they took off and flew away over the trees, bugling as they went. They were obviously a pair, but presumably not the nesting pair as there was no sign of any juveniles.

IMG_6092Crane – one of two heads which appeared in a wheat field by the track

After that, we headed over to Upton Fen. The birds were a little quiet today, in the muggy early afternoon. We did add a few species to the day’s list – Eurasian Jay, Marsh Tit and a Song Thrush heard singing. However, there was lots of dragonfly action – especially more Norfolk Hawkers. And a few butterflies, including couple of Ringlets which were new for the day.

P1030311Ringlet – we saw a couple at Upton Fen today

There were also lots of orchids as usual. Mostly they were Southern Marsh Orchids in various shades of purple, but we found a small group of Common Spotted Orchids, and several of intermediate appearance (not a surprise, given the propensity of these species to hybridise). We also saw several Fen Orchids, the real speciality here, though a rather under-stated little yellow flower.

P1030319Fen Orchid – not the most striking of the orchids in flower at the moment

Our final stop of the day was at Ranworth. We stopped to look at the first Great Crested Grebes of the day on Malthouse Broad and a pair of Treecreepers appeared in the trees beside us. They were feeding very quietly, climbing up the tree trunks before spiralling down and starting again on the neighbouring tree. House Martins over the village were new for the day and a couple of Mistle Thrushes were hopping around in the grass in the boatyard.

P1030334Treecreeper – a pair were in the trees by Malthouse Broad

Out at Ranworth Broad, the nesting Black-headed Gulls were being very noisy, but we were more interested in the Common Terns. At first, they refused to come near us, flying in and out overhead. However, when it clouded over just a little they suddenly started to land on the posts in front of us. One in particular had caught a rather large fish – for a Common Tern – and spent several minutes trying to swallow it whole.

IMG_6140Common Tern – eventually landed on the posts so we could get a good look

The Great Crested Grebes stole the show. One particular family group was swimming about right by the staithe, including three large stripy-headed juveniles. While small young are often carried on their parents’ backs, these birds had obviously outgrown that privilege. However, that didn’t stop them chasing after one of the adult Great Crested Grebes and trying their luck to see if they could climb aboard. The adult did not seem very impressed.

P1030357Great Crested Grebe – the young too big to ride on mum’s back

There were a few other birds around as well. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the bushes, but would not show itself. Amongst the masses of Greylag Geese, we found a few Egyptian Geese as well. A Kingfisher called behind us and we turned round just in time to see it disappear over the trees. Then, with time running out, we headed back to the car.

There was still one last surprise left in the day. As we approached the car park, we stopped to look at the feeders in a garden. Suddenly, next to it in the tree, a Spotted Flycatcher appeared. We watched it swooping out, sallying forth after insects before wheeling back and landing in the tree again. After a little while, we realised that there were actually two Spotted Flycatchers in the same tree, presumably a pair. It was great to stand and watch them feeding, and a lovely way to wrap up the day.

P1030458Spotted Flycatcher – a pair were feeding in a garden today

22nd June 2015 – Birds & Orchids

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. The weather was mixed – cool and windy at times, with some heavy showers, but we had a great day out and enjoyed the sunny intervals.

We met up at Titchwell and journeyed east along the coast to Holkham first. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and walked west on the inland side of the pines. We could hear birds singing, but they were mostly keeping low in the cooler conditions. A Sedge Warbler perched up nicely and a Whitethroat performed a little song flight before disappearing back into the undergrowth. We could hear little groups of tits up in the pine trees, together with Goldcrests and Treecreepers but they were hard to see high up in the trees.

P1020750Foxgloves – looking beautiful in the dappled sunshine through the pines

There were fewer birds on the pool from the Joe Jordan hide this morning, apart from a pair of Shelducks with ten shelducklings. There were no Spoonbills down on the pool today, perhaps keeping to the trees in the windy conditions. We could just see the top of a white head poking out from the trees. Several of the juveniles have already started to disperse along the coast with their parents in the last few days, but hopefully their are still more to come. The Cormorants appear to be doing well, with lots of well grown juveniles in the nests among the trees. A big flock of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits was swirling round over the pools periodically.

There were lots of geese out on the grazing marshes as usual. Mostly they were feral Greylag Geese. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew in and landed on the grass. Then a darker head appeared from behind a grassy bank. A closer look through the scope confirmed that it had a smaller, darker bill that a Greylag Goose, with a narrow pink band around it. It was a Pink-footed Goose. Thousands of Pink-footed Geese come here for the winter, but most left already in February. Only a handful of presumably sick or injured birds remain through the summer.

The Marsh Harriers performed well, as ever. There were several birds whirling around the trees and quartering the grazing marshes. One bird dropped down out of sight into a ditch and came up with some dead wet reeds, presumably some additional material to enhance its nest – a bit of late home improvement! One of the resident female Marsh Harriers perched up on a dead tree where we could get a good look at her through the scope. She stood there for some time, presumably waiting for the male to return with food, though she eventually got impatient and flew off.

P1020746Marsh Harrier – quartering the grazing marshes below us

We walked back along the path towards Washington Hide and took a diversion out along the boardwalk to look at the beach. As soon as we got out there, we could see dark clouds heading our way and we just managed to get back to the hide as the heavens opened. Thankfully the rain passed through very quickly. As soon as it brightened up, we headed back to the car. A Jay flew along the fence beside Lady Anne’s Drive, dropped down into the field and then landed on a fence post with a tasty morsel. It perched up nicely for us while it devoured whatever it had found there.

P1020757Jav – perched up on a fence post feeding on an unidentified morsel

We had been talking about orchids earlier in the day, so knowing of an amazing display of Marsh Orchids back along the coast we decided to make a quick change of itinerary and a short diversion. We walked through the dunes, stopping to admire the odd spike,  before we came into a large dune slack and found the main attraction, a stunning purple carpet spread out across the grass.

P1020808Marsh Orchids – a stunning carpet of flowers in the dunes

P1020796Southern Marsh Orchids – most of the flowers were shades of regular purple

The vast majority of the flowers were Southern Marsh Orchids, and mostly the regular form in a variety of shades of purple. However, there were also lots of white spikes obvious amongst them, the white-flowered albifrons variety of Southern Marsh Orchid, unusual to see in such profusion.

P1020787Southern Marsh Orchid var. albifrons – the white-flowered form

As we walked along the path through the orchids, we managed to pick out spikes of other species as well. There were quite a few Early Marsh Orchids of the sub-species coccinea, with deep red flowers, and some with slightly paler flowered spikes which may either be natural variation of intermediate forms. We also came across a few bright pink, conical flower spikes of Pyramidal Orchid, just starting to come into bloom. And here and there we found a few pale Common Spotted Orchid as well.

P1020825Early Marsh Orchid – either subspecies coccinea or intermediate

P1020819Pyramidal Orchid – just coming into bloom

It was a real privilege to walk among such a beautiful display of orchids and well worth the diversion. We headed back to the car for lunch and we were just sitting outside enjoying the sunshine when another shower swept in on the breeze and saw us scurry for shelter inside, although it was very brief.

After lunch, we drove back to Titchwell and walked out onto the reserve. It was lovely weather out on the footpath at first, despite a brisk wind. The Reed Warblers were singing from down in the shelter of the reeds, and the Cetti’s Warblers shouting at us from the cover of the sallows, but a nice showy Sedge Warbler perched up on a bulrush.

P1020849Sedge Warbler – singing from the top of a bulrush

There were lots of Swifts zooming around low over the reeds, and a few House Martins in amongst them. Out on the reedbed pool, we stopped to admire several Red-crested Pochards, the males still sporting their bright orange punk haircuts, as well as a few Common Pochard and Tufted Duck. However, with the clouds darkening to the west, we made for the shelter of Island Hide, where it was nice to get out of the wind as well.

As usual, there were several Avocets in front of the hide – always nice to watch them feeding, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallow water. We could also see lots of Black-tailed Godwits, mostly 1st summer Icelandic birds in a variety of different colours from grey-brown winter-like plumage to bright rusty-orange summer dress. Further over on the freshmarsh was  a little group of paler Bar-tailed Godwits, mostly asleep, and with them a few smaller, dumpier grey Knot. A single black-bellied summer plumage Dunlin did its best to hide on one of the islands.

P1020861Avocet – the obligatory Titchwell photo opportunity

The sky over the Parrinder Hide beyond gradually turned darker and eventually the rain swept in. It was a particularly impressive downpour and the freshmarsh appeared to empty as many of the birds seemed to seek shelter – most of the godwits flew off and the Avocets made for the reeds and islands. However, it was hard to even see across the freshmarsh for a minute or so!

P1020878Parrinder Hide – with the sky blackening behind

P1020888Freshmarsh – appeared to empty as the heavy rain swept in

P1020893Avocets & Lapwing – sought shelter in the reeds

Thankfully, once again the rain passed through very quickly and it brought an unexpected bonus. There were two Spoonbill on one of the islands at the back of the freshmarsh before the rain, but they were up to their usual activity or lack thereof – fast asleep. After the worst of the rain had gone past, they woke up and walked out onto the water to preen. We finally got a chance to get a better look at them.

IMG_5974Spoonbills – finally woke up after the rain

There were other birds to look out out on the freshmarsh as well. A variety of ducks, including lots of Gadwall, several large-billed Shoveler, and an increasing number of Teal already returning now. There have been a few Little Gulls around for several weeks and today was no exception, with at least three 1st summer birds feeding around the islands.

IMG_5988Little Gull – one of the 1st summer birds still on the freshmarsh

As the skies brightened again and the rain stopped, we walked round to the Parrinder Hide. On the way, out on the saltmarsh, we could see a Chinese Water Deer feeding. This individual has been here for many months now and is distinguished by its increasingly tatty condition. As well as the bare patch on its back and ragged ears, it appeared to have something wrong with one of its eyes today, which was half-closed. Sad to see, but presumably there is little that can be done for it out here unfortunately.

P1020921Chinese Water Deer – this individual looks in increasingly poor condition

There was little new to be seen from Parrinder Hide, though we got closer views of many of the ducks from round here. A Snipe appeared from the vegetation and ran along one of the islands but disappeared back in again too quickly to get everyone on it and didn’t re-emerge. We had hoped to get a better look at the Spoonbills from here but having dried out a bit, they had obviously decided to fly off while we were on the path to the hide and couldn’t see them depart.

P1020927Reed Bunting – singing from a Suaeda bush

With more dark clouds gathering away in the distance to the west, we decided to make the best of the break in the weather and walk to the beach. A smart male Reed Bunting was singing from the Suaeda on the saltmarsh and a Little Egret on the tidal pools gave stunning close-up views.

P1020944Little Egret – feeding stealthily on the tidal pools

With the tide half way out, there were lots of Bar-tailed Godwits out on the rocks and a few Knot as well – possibly the birds which had been roosting on the freshmarsh earlier. A Ringed Plover was an addition to the day’s list, as was a Sandwich Tern fishing offshore. But with the threat of more rain and time running out with a train to catch, we walked quickly back.

There was still time for one more treat on our way. A Barn Owl was out hunting over the grazing meadow and we stopped to watch it circling round over the grass, occasionally stopping to hover or dropping suddenly into the vegetation. Always nice to see, and a great way to end the day.

P1020962P1020965Barn Owl – out hunting over the grazing meadow this afternoon

19th June 2015 – Day & Night Birds

A Summer Tour today, to look for Birds of Prey in the morning and head up to the coast for some more general birding in the afternoon.

We started by heading inland, meandering through the farmland behind the coast. We hadn’t gone very far when we spotted our first Red Kite drifting over the road. We pulled in at a convenient spot and watched as it circled right overhead. It was a very tatty individual – very often this is down to wear and moult, but this bird had some interesting looking holes in some of its feathers! When we scanned the skies around us, we could see several Common Buzzards starting to circle up as well.

P1020234Red Kite – a very tatty bird drifted over the road

We continued on our way, and our next unscheduled stop was to admire a Little Owl perched in a gnarled old tree by the road. It eyed us warily at first, but seemed happy as long as we remained at a discrete distance in the car.

P1020283Little Owl – watching us from an oak tree, watching it from the car

It seemed to be a morning for owls, probably because they have young to feed and that forces them to hunt during daylight hours at times (there aren’t so many daylight hours either, as we approach the shortest day). Further on, we came across a Barn Owl hunting along the verge of the road, which disappeared over the hedge as it finally saw us in front of it. Then we spotted yet another Little Owl, this time perched on an old barn, sunning itself. It seemed a bit more wary, and flew off when we stopped.

Having enjoyed some great birds on our drive, our first walk of the day took us along an overgrown farm track. Several warblers were still singing from the high hedges – Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and even a couple of Willow Warblers. We could also hear the plaintive piping of Bullfinches calling from the bushes. There were lots of Yellowhammers singing too, though they were hard to see from down in the lane. As we got out into more open fields, we could see them more easily, flying back and forth.

From up on the high ground, there was a good selection of raptors on view – lots more Common Buzzards, particularly as the sun came out briefly and the temperature lifted accordingly. A Sparrowhawk circled up out of the wood. Several Common Kestrels flew back and forth.

P1020251Common Buzzard – we saw lots circling up this morning

We saw several butterflies along the track too, particularly large numbers of Speckled Wood. A single Painted Lady was resting on a bare patch of ground – there have been lots of these migrant butterflies around in recent days. We also had to watch where we walked, to avoid stepping on the large number of Bloody-nosed Beetles walking on the track. A Brown Hare surprised a Red-legged Partridge and gave itself a bit of a shock.

We headed back to the car and drove back the way we had come. The Little Owl was back on the old barn again. This time it less us pull up alongside it, perching for a time on an old window frame, looking at us nervously, before flying off inside. Quite a haul of owls for the morning!

P1020321Little Owl – our second of the morning, on an old barn

We moved on to another site, where we parked with a good view of the surrounding countryside. There were lots of Linnets perching on the overhead wires and dropping to feed on the ground below. A Mistle Thrush perched up as well. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared in the hedge right beside the car, feeding unobtrusively deep in the bushes but occasionally working its way to the outside briefly.  As we parked, we flushed a pair of Grey Partridge from close by, which disappeared into the long grass. We could hear another pair calling from the field, further over.

Several Marsh Harriers quartered the fields or circled overhead. One in particularly suddenly swooped down to some thickish vegetation and two Grey Partridge leapt out. Whether there were young birds in there we couldn’t see, but the Marsh Harrier stooped at the ground a couple of times, with the partridges seemingly defending it or themselves. The Marsh Harrier then landed on the ground nearby and a hen Pheasant appeared from the undergrowth as well. The Pheasant stared at the harrier in a stand-off for a minute or two before the Marsh Harrier finally flew off.

IMG_5692Marsh Harrier – landed on the ground after a altercation with some partridges

We had hoped to find Turtle Doves here, but the area of dense, overgrown hedges which they traditionally favour has recently been burnt (by the farmer burning some old straw bales). We did see a couple of Turtle Doves which flew past, but they didn’t stop and not all the group got onto them.

From there we drove down to Cley, and spent the afternoon on the reserve. Even from the Visitor Centre we could see several large shapes out on Simmond’s Scrape. From Dauke’s Hide we could see they were Spoonbills and doing what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping! A closer look through the scope confirmed that there were three whiter juveniles and one buffier-coloured adult. We could also see the shorter, fleshy bills of the juveniles and the yellow-tipped bill of the adult when they occasionally stirred.

IMG_5700Spoonbills – three short-billed, whiter juveniles

A little later, another adult Spoonbill flew in and dropped down onto the scrape. One of the juveniles immediately awoke and set off towards it. It started bouncing its head up and down and raising its wings as it did so. It pursued the adult backwards and forwards across the scrape in this fashion, relentlessly. The poor adult had no chance. Eventually it gave in and fed the youngster, opening its bill and regurgitating food into the juvenile Spoonbills bill.

IMG_5765Spoonbills – this adult was pursued relentlessly by the juvenile to be fed

There were other things to see on the scrapes as well. Lots of Little Gulls today, at least 6 on Pat’s Pool, again all were 1st summer birds. Some were paler headed than others, the birds differing in the degree to which they had acquired the black hood of summer adults.

IMG_5714IMG_5752Little Gulls – six 1st summers at Cley today, with differing amounts of black

There was also a good selection of waders on show. Lots of Avocets, many still on the nest. About 30 Black-tailed Godwits dropped in. Several Little Ringed Plovers tried to hide on the islands. But the highlight was two Greenshank which flew in, one in summer plumage with dark streaking around the head and breast, and the other much paler.

We headed out to the East Bank next. There were a couple of Little Egrets along the pools by the path, and several Grey Herons as well, both adults and grey-headed juveniles. Out on the flooded grazing marsh, there were plenty of Redshanks and Lapwings, the latter in particular chasing off anything and everything that moved. There were Avocets too – they were most vocal when a 1st summer Great Black-backed Gull flew overhead, and they rose up and attempted to chase it away. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits was dozing on the bank of the Serpentine and more were out on the pools further over. There were not so many ducks as in recent weeks, but we did find a few Teal and a little group of Tufted Duck, all asleep in the grass.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, we could see lots of terns out on the islands. A large group of Sandwich Terns were loafing. A single Little Tern was asleep and another was fishing, hovering over the main drainage channel. There were a few waders as well. In particular a good flock of almost 30 Knot – they were in grey winter-type plumage (probably 1st summer birds), so not living up to their proper name of ‘Red Knot‘. There were also three Bar-tailed Godwit hiding amongst the islands – it was interesting to compare them with the Black-tailed Godwits we had just seen. Waders are on the move already and while we were standing there we could hear Curlew calling. A flock of 13 Curlew flew west over our heads together with a moulting adult Bar-tailed Godwit. Is this a sign that autumn is coming?

P1020330Reed Bunting – lots were still singing around the reedbeds today

We got good views of the main small reedbed dwellers as we walked round – Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting. But what we really wanted to see was a Bearded Tit. We could hear them calling as we walked out and while we looked through all the waders and terns, but we didn’t manage to get a good look at one. Only as we turned to head back did a Bearded Tit fly up out of the main reedbed and it carried on over the East Bank in front of us and dropped down into the reedy ditch on the other side. That was good, but we thought this was our chance to see it really well, so we waited for it to reappear. Needless to say, there was no sign of it. It was only when we had given up that it popped up and sat in the tops of the reeds behind us – we turned around and saw it perched there, a very smart moustachioed male Bearded Tit.

That seemed like a good way to finish, so we headed back to the car. As we walked back by the road, a juvenile Spoonbill flew over from the reserve and seemed to drop down towards the Serpentine. Then an adult appeared in the sky as well, but it dropped down onto the pools in front of us where it stopped to have a drink. We had a good look at it close up, before it took off again and it too headed for the Serpentine.

P1020359Spoonbill – dropped in for a quick drink…

P1020363…then flew off towards the Serpentine to feed

Nightjar Evening

After a break to rest and get something to eat, we met up again in the evening to go out and look for owls and nightjars. We had pretty much avoided any rain in the day, despite a slightly gloomy forecast, but as we arrived later on the light drizzle started. It seemed inauspicious for owls.

We drove round some regular Barn Owl locations, but there seemed to be no sign of any tonight. We stopped to listen to a Song Thrush singing from the trees. The rain was only very light, so we decided to walk out anyway onto the marshes. It was a good job we did.

We had not gone very far when we spotted our first Barn Owl, a male out hunting. Shortly afterwards, a second bird appeared much closer, a female this time. We watched them silently quartering the grazing marshes. The male dropped into the grass and came up with a vole, and he proceeded to fly back to a nest box with it and present it to presumably some juveniles inside. A further one or two birds appeared from behind us – presumably this is rich hunting territory, pulling in birds from around the area. We were treated to a great display of Barn Owls out hunting.

IMG_5785Barn Owl – one of at least 3-4 out hunting this evening

The local Marsh Harriers were also still out quartering the marshes. And while we watched them and the owls, we picked up at least three individual Spoonbills flying along the coast, presumably heading off to roost.

It would normally have still been a bit early to go looking for Nightjars, but the dull conditions meant it was darker than it would normally have been, so we decided to head up to the Heath anyway. Lucky that we did. As we walked out across the heath, we bumped into one of the locals who had located a male Nightjar roosting in a tree. We walked over to it and had great views of him in the scope before it even started to get properly dark. Stunning! After a while, still before any Nightjars would normally be awake, he headed off to another perch further over to start churring.

IMG_5798Nightjar – great views of a bird early on this evening

There were also Woodcock roding overhead pretty much constantly, making their distinctive squeaky flight call and we could even hear the quieter grunting as they passed low overhead. Then the male Nightjar returned to where he had been roosting and sat back down on the branch. Shortly afterwards, a second male Nightjar started churring nearby. This prompted the first male to respond, and he flew back in close to us, calling and displaying with the distinctive flicking wing action. He flew round above us several times. As the gloom descended, what was presumably a female flew in as well.

It was an all-action Nightjar evening, with great views of the birds despite what seemed initially like very inopportune weather conditions. Then it was time to retire to bed – happy.

12th June 2015 – Afternoon Around Wells

A half day tour today, in the Wells and Holkham area this afternoon. It was gloriously sunny again – cool in the East wind coming in off the sea, but lovely out of it.

We met up in Wells and headed down to the harbour first, to the gull colony. There was lots of activity, as usual, and the Black-headed Gulls were making lots of noise. There were plenty of fluffy brown juveniles already. Those that wandered away from their nest site or down onto the beach were aggressively pecked at by the other neighbouring adults. With the odd Great Black-backed Gull hanging around as well, it is a perilous existence for a young gull away from the nest. A pair of Common Gulls down on the edge of the beach were particularly smart – we admired their pure white, rounded heads, dark eye and yellow bills.

We heard the Mediterranean Gulls first, their calls are very distinctive and could be heard quite clearly even over all the background noise. Then we picked out a pair of adults wheeling in the melee above the colony. We watched them flying back and forth, flashing their white wingtips. Even better, they then landed on the beach below us. We got them in the scope and could see their jet black hoods (unlike the inappropriately named, chocolate-brown headed Black-headed Gulls!). Very smart birds.

P1010981Mediterranean Gull – this pair of adults landed on the beach below us

There were lots of terns to look at too. On the edge of the gull colony, several Common Terns were sitting on the shingle. We got them in the scope and noted their bright orange-red bills with a distinctive black-tip. Eventually. we managed to find a single Arctic Tern as well – its slightly shorter, darker, blood red bill gave it away, as did its longer tail streamers which stuck out noticeably beyond the tips of its wings. The Little Terns were all feeding over the channel, plunge diving. One in particular came very close in front of us and we could see its yellow bill and white forehead patch, which help to distinguish them from the others. Their small size also gives them away, and this was most obvious when a Common Tern joined them fishing.

With the tide on its way in, we could see lots of waders being pushed up the mudflats on the opposite side. There were lots of Oystercatcher, but also a few smaller waders. A flock of 7 Knot was notable, in all grey winter plumage, and a couple of Turnstone. A single Curlew was also probing around in the muddy channels higher up the beach.

Our next stop was at Holkham. Despite the warmth of the afternoon, there were still a few warblers singing. A Blackcap sang from the shade of the trees by the end of Lady Anne’s Drive. There were several Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats still in full voice, and a single Willow Warbler in the edge of the pines. From out in the reeds by Washington Hide, we could hear both Sedge and Reed Warblers, but they were not so easy to see.

The usual tits were also present. We came across a nice family of Long-tailed Tits which dropped out of the pines to feed in a Sycamore, with lots of sooty-faced juevniles. While we were watching them, a Treecreeper appeared in the same tree and worked its way up and out along the branches. We could also hear several Goldcrests singing. The local Jays can be a bit elusive sometimes in the warmth of an afternoon, but we saw several today. Often, the alarm calling of the tits and warblers gave away their presence – there should be lots of nests for them to raid at this time of year.

P1010996Jay – very active today, even in the heat of the afternoon

As soon as we arrived at the Joe Jordan Hide, we could see a collection of white shapes on the bank of the nursery pool – Spoonbills. They were mostly asleep – sleeping is what Spoonbills do best! There were 5 dazzling white juveniles, not fully grown yet and so slightly smaller still than the more dirty-coloured adults. Another juvenile was more obliging, practising its feeding action out in the middle of the pool, and we could see its short, teaspoon-shaped bill. As we sat in the hide, there was plenty of coming and going, with Spoonbills moving backwards and forwards between the trees and the pool. An adult returning from a feeding foray was instantly set upon by its young, pursuing it, bouncing up and down, until it got fed.

Spoonbill juv Holkham 2015-06-06_3Spoonbill – a recent short-billed juvenile at Holkham

There were other birds coming and going as well – Little Egrets and Cormorants back and forth to the colony, bringing food for hungry beaks. There were still several Grey Herons around as well. Down on the pools, there were several Avocets feeding and flocks of Black-tailed Godwit which flushed periodically and whirled round flashing their black and white wings and tails. A Kingfisher was flushed by a Marsh Harrier from out of a ditch, but disappeared too quickly for everyone to get on it – a wise move, given that the Marsh Harrier took a swoop at it as it did so!

There are always lots of geese at Holkham, at this time of year mostly Greylags and Egyptian Geese. However, a scan of the grazing marshes revealed a couple of Pink-footed Geese still as well. There are often tens of thousands here during the winter, but almost all of them leave for Iceland in the late winter or early spring. Only a few remain through the summer, often sick or injured birds. We could see their distinctive dark heads and small, dark bills compared to the Greylags.

Holkham is also a great place to watch Marsh Harriers. We could see a pretty constant stream of birds flying back and forth from the Joe Jordan hide, but we stopped in a Washington Hide on our way back. We were glad we did – a particularly fine male Marsh Harrier passed right in front of the hide, and proceeded to spend several minutes wheeling over the reeds and back and forth over the grazing marsh just to the east. We saw a good selection of other regular raptors as well – a distant Red Kite or two over Holkham Park, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.

P1010988P1010992Marsh Harrier – this fine male put on a great display today

Also from the hide, we watched a family of young Swallows in the dead trees below. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the bushes on the edge of the reeds. And a line of five Spoonbills flew out east over the grazing marshes, presumably heading to the saltmarsh to feed. Then it was time to head back.