Tag Archives: Mediterranean Gull

22nd July 2017 – Raptors & Waders

A single day Summer Tour today, we were looking for birds of prey in the morning and then heading to the coast afterwards. We were lucky with the weather – it was raining early this morning but stopped just as we got out of the car at our first stop, and then we avoided the showers until we got back to the car park at the end of the day!

As we drove to our first destination of the morning, a rather damp Kestrel was perched on some wires by the road in the drizzle. Thankfully we could see blue sky in the west heading our way. A Sparrowhawk zipped across the road and over the hedge the other side. A nice way to start our morning looking for raptors.

We stopped at the bottom of a farm track and walked up to a convenient vantage point from which we could scan the surrounding countryside. A pair of Grey Partridge flew off from the grass as we got out of the car. It was rather cool, not the perfect morning for birds of prey, but after the rain there was still lots of activity, with birds flying around and making the most of the dry weather.

A Common Buzzard was perched in a tree and another circled up over the wood. We saw a Sparrowhawk in the distance and, a little later, one appeared in the top of a dead bush in the hedge at the bottom of the field in front of us. A little while later, it circled up, alternating bouts of flapping with glides, turning in tight circles before heading off towards a nearby wood.

There were other birds besides the raptors. There were lots of Swifts hawking for insects over the fields, gaining height gradually as it started to warm up. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling – a rare breeder in this part of the world these days. A sharp ‘kik’ call alerted us to a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying overhead. A pair of Stock Doves flew over the field towards us, banking away sharply when they spotted us. A Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge and several Skylarks started to sing and flutter up higher into the sky as the sun came out.

6O0A0904Skylark – fluttering up over the fields, singing

With our mission accomplished, we made our way back to the car and headed for Titchwell, which was to be our destination for the rest of the day. It was already late morning by the time we got there. We had a quick look round the overflow car park, although there were a few cars parking in there now. We could hear Bullfinches calling and flushed a couple of Greenfinches out of the bushes as we passed. A Blackcap came up from the brambles into a small elder, calling.

Round at the visitor centre, there were a few Greenfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders, as well as a Blue Tit and Great Tit or two. A Dunnock was hopping around underneath and a streaky juvenile Robin was enjoying the crumbs around the picnic tables. A juvenile Moorhen was eyeing up the birdtable but couldn’t work up the courage to jump up onto it.

6O0A0915Robin – this juvenile was looking for crumbs around the picnic tables

We decided to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed before lunch. As we walked round past Fen Hide, a Hobby flashed past over the reeds and disappeared round behind the trees, the first of several sightings we would get of it today.

There were quite a few ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed today, in particular a good number of Common Pochard. The drake dabbling ducks are all in their drab eclipse plumage now, but we could see there were just Mallard and Gadwall here. There was a single Egyptian Goose too. A couple of stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebes were swimming around the edge of the reeds and there were several Little Grebes too – an adult diving in the pondweed at the back and two drabber juveniles along the bank at the front.

There was quite a bit of juvenile Marsh Harrier action, with several birds flying around over the reeds or chasing each other up over the trees. We got good views of a couple of perched birds which gave us a chance to look at some of the variation in head pattern. One juvenile had a more classic head pattern, with golden orange crown and throat, separated by a dark mask. Another had an almost all chocolate brown head, with just a patch of golden feathers on the back of its crown.

6O0A0925Marsh Harrier – a juvenile, all dark with a golden yellow-orange head

It was time for lunch now, so we walked back, stopping briefly by the dragonfly pool. A Southern Hawker was flying around over the reeds. It looked odd at first, bright rusty orange, until we realised it had caught a butterfly and was in the process of eating it, discarding the wings when it was finished. There were several Common Darter here too.

A young Blackcap, with a rusty brown crown, came up out of the reeds and flew up into the edge of the trees. There were a couple of Reed Warblers in here too and we got nice views of one of them when it flew back into some brambles and started climbing around in the top, looking for insects.

After lunch back in the picnic area, we headed out to explore the rest of the reserve. As we walked down the main path, we heard a Bearded Tit calling nearby and just caught the back end of it as it dived into the reeds. It didn’t reappear, but thankfully we would see several more today. The reedbed pool held a few Mallard, with a single Tufted Duck diving in between them. An adult Great Crested Grebe was sleeping on the edge of the reeds at the back.

Another Hobby shot across the reeds and headed out over the saltmarsh, flushing a variety of birds out of the vegetation. A flock of about 15 Curlew appeared from nowhere and flew round before dropping back into the purple sea lavendar out of view.

As we walked up towards Island Hide, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling and we saw a couple of long-tailed birds zipping over the reeds before dropping down out of view. Thankfully, some of this year’s juvenile Bearded Tits have been showing very well in recent weeks on the edge of the reeds just before the hide, so rather than try to see them in the thicker part of the reedbed, we made our way along to the edge of the freshmarsh.

Sure enough, there were the Bearded Tits. We stood and watched them for a while. We could see at least five tawny coloured juveniles, climbing around the base of the reeds and occasionally hopping out onto the mud in full view. It is great to see them like this and we had some cracking views of them, especially through the scope.

6O0A0955Bearded Tit – at least 5 juveniles were showing very well on the edge of the reeds

There was one other bird we really wanted to make sure we saw here today so, after watching the Bearded Tits for a while, we made our way straight round to the other side of Island Hide. The adult Pectoral Sandpiper was in its usual place, on the mud right below the path. It has been delighting visitors with fantastic close up views here for several days now and we were not disappointed.

Pectoral Sandpiper is an occasional visitor here. They breed in the arctic in eastern Siberia and North America, with most of the population wintering in South America, so this one was a long way from home. Pectoral Sandpipers are small waders, not much bigger than Dunlin, with a heavily streaked breast sharply divided from a white belly, the curved border between which is the pectoral band from which it gets its name.

6O0A0636Pectoral Sandpiper – showing extremely well on the mud by Island Hide

While watching the Pectoral Sandpiper, it was difficult not to get distracted by all the other waders out on the freshmarsh at the moment. It may be summer to us, but it is already autumn for many waders. They have already come back from their arctic breeding areas and gathering here to moult or feed up before continuing further south.

There were several Ruff feeding close to the bank. The males have already lost their distinctive ruffs which they have in breeding plumage and are in the process of moulting their body plumage, losing their bright and gaudy colours. At this stage, they come in a truly bewildering variety of different colours, a major source of confusion to the unaware.

6O0A11076O0A08426O0A0844Ruff – moulting out of breeding plumage, in a huge variety of different colours

In with them were a couple of female Ruff, also traditionally known as ‘Reeves‘. They are much smaller than the males and not as brightly coloured, meaning yet more potential confusion!

A line of Bar-tailed Godwits, roosting on the freshmarsh while high tide covers the beach where they typically feed, were mostly in grey winter plumage, although two summer males in with them were still bright rusty red. There were several groups of Black-tailed Godwits too, feeding in the deeper water at the back or sleeping on the islands.

There were other waders dropping in here all the time, birds on the move, just arriving back from the continent. A Whimbrel dropped in amongst a flock of Oystercatchers on the edge of one of the islands, stopping to bathe and preen before disappearing again. A small group of six Golden Plovers flew in and landed briefly, before carrying on west.

There had been a Curlew Sandpiper reported earlier, but we couldn’t find it in with the small flocks of Dunlin on here. Then a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull flew in and started flying round over the scrape, flushing all the waders, the Avocets being particularly jumpy, taking to the air at the slightest hint of danger and swirling round in a big flock. There have been close to 500 Avocets on the freshmarsh in recent days, both birds which have bred here and others which have come here to moult.

6O0A1001Avocets – swirling round in a huge flock at the slightest hint of danger

As things settled down again, it was clear all the Dunlin had flown off. The Spotted Redshanks settled back down though, and the more we looked, the more we found. There were at least five here today, probably more. They are all moulting adults, all already having lost much of their black summer plumage, with some mottled and one already almost in silvery grey winter plumage. A few Common Redshanks were out the other side of Parrinder Hide.

6O0A1156Spotted Redshank – moulting out of its black summer plumage

A small group of Turnstone flew in, presumably pushed off the beach by the rising tide. A couple were still in pristine breeding plumage, stunning birds with white faces and bright chestnut feathers in their upperparts. A lone Common Sandpiper on the tern island was another migrant on its way south, but the juvenile Little Ringed Plovers had probably been raised on site here.

The Spoonbills were hiding around the far edge of the small overgrown island at the back of the freshmarsh at first. They were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! We could see 4-5 large white shapes. When the gull buzzed the freshmarsh and spooked all the waders, the Spoonbills woke up and shuffled to the edge of the island. We could now see there were actually eight of them.

IMG_6365Spoonbills – at least 8 were sleeping round the back of the small island

There were Spoonbills coming and going too. First, one flew in from Thornham saltmarsh but continued straight on past the freshmarsh. Then another flew in from the same direction, but this one circled round and dropped down onto the edge of the island with the others. Then two of the group took off and flew straight towards us, passing over our heads before continuing on towards Thornham Harbour. They were immatures, with black wing tips still.

6O0A1028Spoonbill – these two flew off over our heads and out towards Thornham Harbour

There are lots of gulls and terns on the freshmarsh too at the moment. Lots of Black-headed Gulls have bred here and there were numerous brown-backed juveniles sitting around on the islands. Occasionally, they would find one of their parents and start hounding them for food, begging. Typical teenagers! About nine pairs of Mediterranean Gulls have bred here this year, in with the Black-headed Gulls. There are several juvenile Mediterranean Gulls around at the moment, very smart and distinctive birds with their scalloped upperparts.

IMG_6453Mediterranean Gull – a smart juvenile, just starting to get a few fresh grey feathers

There have been a few Little Gulls around the freshmarsh for some time now. Eventually we found two of them today, one rather more uniform pale grey above, the other with quite extensive black in the wings and a darker head. Both were first summer birds. There were several Common Terns around the islands too.

We could see dark clouds building to the south, so we decided to make a quick dash for the beach.The tide was already covering the mussel beds when we got there and there were no waders left on the sand. There were lots of white shapes flying back and forth or diving offshore – Sandwich Terns. A smaller tern patrolling back and forth just the beach was a Little Tern. A couple of distant Gannets flew past, but there was no sign of any Arctic Skuas now. We had one eye on the weather and, at this stage, we decided discretion was the better part and bade a quick getaway, back to Parrinder Hide.

As it was, the rain passed to the west of us and we got no rain at Titchwell at this stage. It was woryhwhile coming into the hide anyway. Many of the birds were the same as those we had seen earlier from the main path. However, we were just commenting on how there were no Dunlin here now, when three small waders flew in together. Two of them were Dunlin, but the third was larger and flashed a white rump as it landed. It was a very smart adult summer Curlew Sandpiper, still with mostly rusty chestnut underparts. It started feeding, working its way in and out of the Bar-tailed Godwits, wading in up to its belly in the water.

IMG_6421Curlew Sandpiper – dropped in to the freshmarsh with two Dunlin

We looked back along the near edge, out to the east of Parrinder Hide and were thrilled to see a single Common Snipe. Unfortunately it didn’t stay put for long, but was chased by one of the local Moorhen. The Snipe flicked up but quickly landed again, adopting a threat posture, bowing down and lifting its tail to flash to its aggressor. Pretty quickly, something spooked it and it flew off.

It was time to head back now anyway, but with more dark clouds approaching from the south, we could see it was raining beyond. We walked briskly back to the car, encountering just a small amount of light drizzle before we got back, just in time. It started to rain properly as we loaded up the car, and we then drove into torrential rain. But it didn’t matter now, at the end of the day. Overall, we had been very lucky with the weather – it had been a great day, with some great birds.

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7th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Private Tour. We spent today in North Norfolk. It was a cloudy start, brightening up through the day and sunny later, with a a very strong and blustery wind, gusting as high as 48mph.

To start the day, we headed inland to look for farmland birds. As we drove along, a couple of partridges ran across the road in front of us and, once we got closer, we could see they were Grey Partridges. The male stood for a second or two in the road before following the female into the hedge on the other side.

A Barn Owl was still out hunting, circling around a field behind a hedge, so we could just see it through the gaps. It was wet and windy last night, so presumably it was having to continue hunting to feed a hungry brood. We saw a couple of Red Kites on our journey, hanging effortlessly in the stiff breeze over the fields beside the road.

Red KiteRed Kite – we saw a couple on our journey this morning

We stopped by a farm track and walked up to a point from which we could get a good view over the surrounding fields. A pair of Yellowhammers flew off from the track as we walked up. A couple of Skylarks were singing over the fields and a Common Whitethroat was singing in the hedge.

Raptors were a target here, but we thought it might be a bit too windy this morning. As it started to warm up, we could see several Common Buzzards circling up over the trees – it certainly didn’t seem to put them off. So too a Kestrel, which zoomed back and forth over a field. There were other things to see here too – a Green Woodpecker flew across in front of us, and a little later went back the other way, presumably nesting in one of the woods nearby. A pair of Mistle Thrushes did the same. We could see a swarm of House Martins feeding in the lee of some trees in the distance.

After watching from here for a while, we headed back to the car. It was nice to get out of the wind and we set off towards Titchwell where we planned to spend a few hours exploring the reserve. A brief stop by another set aside field on the way yielded very nice views of Brown Hare, hunkered down against the wind, plus a pair of nesting Oystercatcher, a Pied Wagtail and several Red-legged Partridges, quite an eclectic mix.

Brown HareBrown Hare – hunkered down in a set aside field by the road

It was late morning by the time we got to Titchwell. We had a quick look round the car parks, but there was no sign of any Turtle Doves – it was rather exposed to the wind here. The field beyond held just a few Woodpigeons and Red-legged Partridges, plus a single Egyptian Goose in the paddocks beyond.

We had enough time to explore Fen Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed before lunch. On the walk down to the visitor centre, we heard first a Chiffchaff and then a Goldcrest singing, and saw the latter in a tree over the path right above our heads. Some Long-tailed Tits were calling from the sallows too.

Fen Trail was rather quiet – again it was rather windy here in the trees today – but there was more activity out at Patsy’s Reedbed. Just about the first bird we saw was a male Red-crested Pochard in the middle of the water, its coral red bill really shining in the sun. When a duller brown female flew in a little later and landed near the bank, he steamed straight over to her and the two of them started feeding together.

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

The water was rather choppy and most of the other ducks were sleeping around the edge. There were quite a few Common Pochard and several Tufted Duck, plus the usual Mallard and Gadwall. There were a couple of smart Great Crested Grebes too and one of them gave us a nice flyby.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on Patsy’s Reedbed

After lunch back in the picnic area, we set out along the main trail to explore the rest of the reserve. The Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ was very dry and pretty lifeless – apart from lots of Woodpigeons! The reedbed pool was rather quiet too today, perhaps because of the wind. We did see a Little Grebe on here and a Bearded Tit did a brief zoom across one way and then back the other shortly after.

Island Hide provided a welcome opportunity to get out of the wind and check out the freshmarsh. The first bird we picked up was a Little Tern, roosting on one of the islands. There were actually three on here today, with another pair resting further over, always great birds to see. There have been several Little Gulls here recently, all young 1st summer birds, and a scan of the freshmarsh confirmed that there were still three of those here too.

Little GullLittle Gull – one of three on the freshmarsh today

We watched the Little Gulls for a while, flying up into the wind, hanging in the air, and dip feeding in the shallow water behind one of the islands. Interestingly, there seems to be a turnover of different Little Gulls on the site, as the rather dark headed one we saw here a few days ago was not one of the three here today.

Early June is not the best time of year for waders, although it is only a matter of days before the first returning birds (of ‘autumn’?!) start to appear. There are plenty of the breeding waders here though, particularly Avocets, a small number of which had small juveniles scattered around the mud. There were a couple of Redshanks here too, though more of these are out on the saltmarsh.

AvocetAvocet – always easy to see on the freshmarsh here at this time of year

A group of non-breeding Black-tailed Godwits, most likely first summer birds, was sleeping on one of the islands and a larger group of Bar-tailed Godwits had probably fled the wind and tide out at the beach and was roosting in the shallow water. A lone male Ruff was out on the mud. This bird has been here for a while now, having moulted into summer plumage but not developed a distinctive ‘ruff’. It appears to have no intention of going north for the breeding season, again possibly a young 1st summer male.

Bar-tailed GodwitsBar-tailed Godwits – escaping the beach to roost on the Freshmarsh

Summer is not the season for large flocks of dabbling ducks, with most of the wintering birds having gone north to breed. However, there are plenty of Shelduck and Gadwall here still, plus a few Shoveler. There were a few more Teal today, more than we have seen for a while, perhaps failed breeders or early moving drakes which have not come from so far away.

Braving the wind again, we made our way round to the shelter of Parrinder Hide next. The Little Gulls were a little closer from here, but we were looking into the sun which hindered our photographic efforts. We had a look at the fenced off island which now houses a sizeable colony of Black-headed Gulls. The vegetation is really growing up now, but we managed to get a look at two or three Mediterranean Gulls which are nesting in there too.

The tide was starting to come in again now and, coupled with the wind, was probably encouraging more waders to leave the beach. A small flock of Oystercatchers flew in and landed on the edge of the mud, bringing with them a single Turnstone. We decided to brave the beach ourselves, for a quick look at the sea.

There was almost nothing on Volunteer Marsh as we passed, just a few Avocets and Black-headed Gulls. Once we got out of the lee of the bank, it was very gusty out at the Tidal Pools. A small party of Turnstone flew in and tried to land in the vegetation at the back, while being buffeted by the wind. There were more Avocets here and several of these had small chicks. We watched a pair trying to lead their brood across a deep channel, with the fluffy juveniles swimming in the choppy water.

It was very windy out at the beach, and the sand was being blown across. With the tide coming in, there were very few birds here now. The sea itself was churning and very brown with sand, and there was next to nothing feeding offshore.

We walked back quickly to the comparative shelter of the bank and stopped to have a quick look at freshmarsh again. There were more waders on here now, in particular more Turnstones in with the Bar-tailed Godwits. A closer look revealed a party of five grey Knot with them too. The pair of Little Terns took off and flew past us, standing on the bank, disappearing out towards Thornham Harbour presumably to feed.

Little TernLittle Tern – flew past us from the Freshmarsh out towards Thornham Harbour

Back at the car, we started to make our way back east. We stopped at Holkham on the way, for a quick scan from the roadside. We could see several large white birds circling round over the trees. Spoonbills, possibly including some newly fledged juveniles making their first flights. A few more Spoonbills were perched in the trees below them, just visible through the scope.

A Great White Egret flew low across the grazing marshes and landed in the rushes out of view. A quick view, but always nice to see. A pair of Marsh Harriers were flying around over the field nearby, the male circling overhead, the female landing down in the grass below.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – the male circling over in front of us

The plan was to walk out from Lady Anne’s Drive, but when we got there the gate was closed. A parking attendant in a high viz jacket was standing nearby, so we stopped to ask what the problem was. We thought it was due to the building work going on there, but instead we were told it was due to the wind. ‘Health & Saftety guv’nor’ was the response, as he pointed to the trees. Falling branches or trees were conspicuous by their absence and the wind has been much stronger here without any problems, but this is typical of the culture we live in today. He directed us to Wells to walk in from there – neglecting to realise that this would mean walking through the pines!

A quick rethink, and we decided to head for Stiffkey Fen instead. A smart pale male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the field by the road as we parked. Blackcap and Chiffchaff were singing in the trees as we walked down the path. There had been rather few butterflies out today in the wind, but we started to see a few in the sunny sheltered spots along the hedgerows – Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral.

Meadow BrownMeadow Brown – the highlight of the butterflies on a windy day

When we got to a point from which we could see over the brambles, we stopped to have a quick look out at the Fen. The first thing we saw was a Spoonbill. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do best, and fast asleep. Two Little Ringed Plovers were on the grassy edge of one of the islands. Otherwise, the water level on here was surprisingly high today, and the birds were dominated by lots of large gulls. A few Avocets appeared to be nesting still.

From up on the seawall, we had a better look over the Fen. Amongst the Herring Gulls, we could see several Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple of immature Great Black-backed Gulls. We could the distinctive call of Mediterranean Gulls and turned to watch as two smart adults flew in from the harbour. They were joined by a third, and all of them circled over the Fen calling for a minute or so, before disappearing off inland. A short while later, another two Mediterranean Gulls flew in, again both adults, and we got great views as they flew right past us.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – we saw several flying around the Fen today

We had a quick look out at the harbour from the seawall. One of the seal boats flushed a Spoonbill from the far side, which flew across towards us before flying off west over the saltmarsh. It was an adult, so possible heading back to the colony at Holkham.We could see a few distant terns, with several Little Terns and Common Terns. One bird right over the far side looked more interesting – pale wing tips and rather long-tailed, possibly an Arctic Tern. We walked round to the edge of the harbour for a closer look.

There are not so many waders here at this time of year, but we did find two Bar-tailed Godwits with the large group of roosting Oystercatchers. There were two Ringed Plovers out on the mud at the near side of the harbour too. Two men were out walking their dog around the harbour, right out on the edge of the water. They flushed various birds as they went, but two terns which flew up looked like Arctic Terns. Unfortunately, they quickly landed again and didn’t come back up, so we couldn’t all get on them.

The afternoon was getting on now, and we had more to do this evening, so it was time to head for home.

One target for these three days was to look for for Nightjars, and tonight looked the best option in terms of weather. The wind seemed to be dropping as forecast early evening, but by 8.30pm it had picked up again. Still, it was not as windy as earlier, so we decided to give it a go anyway.

It was rather cool and breezy as we walked out over the heath. A Woodcock called – rather like a squeaky gate – and we watched as it flew along the edge of the trees, roding. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees behind us. We positioned ourselves by a favoured Nightjar perch, and right on cue, one of the males called and then started churring. But at that point it started to spit with rain – this was definitely not in the forecast!

The other male Nightjars eventually started churring, and at one point we could hear three at same time on different sides of us, but after a few minutes two of them went quiet. One of the males normally comes in to the perch in front of us to churr at some point, but it became clear it was not coming in to its favoured post tonight. Perhaps it was the weather. We decided to walk across the heath to try to see one of the other churring males, but he too went quiet before we got there.

There was still one Nightjar churring in the distance and a second started up behind us, so we stood and listened to them for a couple of minutes. It is a great sound. Then we walked back to where we had been standing earlier. When we got back near the tree, we could hear wing clapping out over heather. The light was fading fast now, but we could just see a pair of Nightjars chasing around, the white flashes on the wings and tail of the male standing out in the gloom.

We walked down another path, thinking from the lower ground there we might be able to get them against the sky rather than the heather, but instead the Nightjars seemed to come in to investigate. The next thing we knew we had them circling round us, wing-clapping. Great stuff! We stood for a short while and watched them, before they disappeared back into the gloom, a nice way to end the day. It was getting rather dark now, so we made our way back.

25th May 2016 – All Weather Spring Birding

Another Private Tour today. It has to be said, the weather forecast was not ideal, even if it had improved from the worst predictions yesterday and the wind had dropped from yesterday. Still, it was cloudy all day and drizzled during the morning, but it is amazing what you can see if you go looking anyway.

Our first stop was at Cley. We were hoping that conditions might improve a little while we were there, so we walked out along the East Bank. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pools just beyond the car park, and many of them were stopping to perch in the reeds. These birds had almost certainly come here from the local breeding colonies, in an attempt to find somewhere to find food. The female Pochard was still here with her ducklings, although we couldn’t see how many she had today, as they kept tucked in to the edge of the reeds.

Despite the weather, a couple of Sedge Warblers were still singing away and song flighting from the reeds beside the path. We could hear an occasional Reed Warbler singing too.

Looking across to the Serpentine towards Pope’s Marsh, we could see several Lapwings and their chicks still. A Little Ringed Plover flew across and landed out of view on the far edge of the grass and a single Ringed Plover was feeding on the open mud on the edge of the pool.

6O0A3592Arnold’s Marsh – looking rather grey this morning

The new shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh was very welcome this morning, an opportunity to get out of the light misty drizzle which was falling. There were plenty of Avocets and Redshanks feeding on here as usual. A few more Ringed Plovers were to be found with a bit of looking, on the shingle spits around the edge.

6O0A3597Avocet – feeding on Arnold’s Marsh

Over towards the back was a large group of bigger waders, godwits. A quick look through the scope confirmed they were Bar-tailed Godwits. Most appeared to be still in brown non-breeding plumage, so these were possibly younger 1st summer birds. They do not breed in their first year and often remain on the wintering grounds. One smaller male had started to develop rather chestnut-ish underparts, but it was still rather patchy. Hiding in amongst the legs of the Bar-tailed Godwits was a smaller wader, a single Knot, similarly in grey non-breeding plumage.

We had seen a couple of adult Gannets just breaking the horizon over the shingle ridge as we walked out, making their way east, white with prominent black wing tips. So we walked up to have a quick look at the sea. Another Gannet passed by some distance offshore and a Fulmar went through in the other direction, the latter probably a local breeding bird. A Sandwich Tern flew past just offshore.

Otherwise, there was not much happening out here, so we made our way back. As we walked along the bank towards the car, a Bearded Tit flew up from the reedy ditch beside the path and out across the reedbed the other side, a nice bonus and a surprise this morning.

The cloud base appeared to have lifted a little, although this may have been wishful thinking on our part, so we decided to have a go up on the Heath, which was meant to be our primary destination for the morning. We made our way across to where we had seen the family of Dartford Warblers yesterday afternoon. On the way, there were several Willow Warblers still singing despite the weather, and a Blackcap too from deep in the bushes. A couple of Bullfinches were piping to each other from the hedge further over.

There was no sign of the Dartford Warblers initially, but we didn’t stop as we were distracted by a male Stonechat perched on the top of a dead tree and Yellowhammer singing further along, so walked across to have a look at them, intending to swing back this way. Needless to say, there was no sign of the Nightjar on the perch where it had been yesterday – that was clearly going to be a one-off!

A Woodlark appeared above the trees for a split second, unfortunately too brief for everyone to get onto it, and appeared to drop down onto a clear area further back, so we decided to walk over to see if we could find it. On our way, we ran into a couple of other birders who had just seen the Dartford Warblers, flying into exactly the area where we had seen them yesterday. We stopped to see if we could see them too, although again it all seemed rather quiet at first.

6O0A3602Linnet – a male, singin’ in the rain

A male Linnet appeared from the gorse and appeared to be carrying a faecal sack. It perched up nicely on the gorse in front of us, twittering away, and when the female emerged too the two of them flew off a short distance.

Then we glimpsed a Dartford Warbler, a small dark shape zipping low across the heather and diving into cover. Then another glimpse as one shot across in the other direction. With a bit of patience, we could see (and hear) what they were doing. The adults had stashed several juveniles in the gorse and were flying in and out bringing food for them. After a feeding visit, one of the juveniles hopped out into view in front of us, paler, greyer than the adults, still shorter tailed and with a bright yellow gape. The adult Dartford Warblers were mostly keeping down in cover, not a great surprise given the weather, but eventually the male flew in and perched right on top of the gorse in front of us for a few seconds, tail cocked, before disappearing back in. Great stuff!

With good views of Dartford Warbler finally achieved, we walked round to see if we could find the Woodlark. Unfortunately, at this point it started to rain a little harder and there was no sign of it here now. A pair of Stock Doves were feeding out in the clearing. As the rain turned back to drizzle again, we walked back round, stopping on the way to admire a pale male Stonechat perched up on the gorse, with three streaky juveniles hopping about on the low vegetation below, looking for food.

We made our way in a wide circuit round the Heath, in the hope we might bump into another Woodlark on the way, but the vegetation where they like to feed was getting quite wet now. As we were walking along a path, we happened to glance to one side through a gap in the bushes and something caught our eye, a dark shape looked out of place on a much paler stump. Stopping abruptly, we had a quick confirmatory look through binoculars and there in front of us was a stunning Nightjar.

6O0A3650Nightjar – amazing views of another day roosting bird today

It is unusual to come across a day roosting Nightjar, so to find two different birds in two days is fairly unprecedented. Still, we weren’t going to complain. We trained the scopes on it for frame-filling views, marvelling at the intricately marked cryptic plumage, even if it wasn’t particularly well camouflaged against the stump on which this one had chosen to rest today. It sat perfectly still, despite the rain dripping off its tail, with only its eyes opening and closing slightly as we watched. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and backed off quietly, leaving the Nightjar in peace.

Back to the car, and we dropped back down to the coast and made our way west. We stopped off at the local gull colony next. We could hear the cacophony of noise as we walked up onto the bank. Scanning through the mass of Black-headed Gulls, we could see quite a few Mediterranean Gulls in there too. Their more extensive jet black hoods marked them out instantly from the chocolate brown hoods of the misnamed Black-headed Gulls. Ironically, the latin name of Mediterranean Gull is more accurate, translating as ‘black-headed gull’!

IMG_4759Mediterranean Gull – showing off its jet black hood

We could see a smart pair of Common Gulls too, further over, and lots of terns were wheeling round over the colony. Three Sandwich Terns were chasing each other noisily, one of them bearing a gift in the form of a small fish. A couple of Little Terns were fishing over the channel beyond, dwarfed by a nearby Common Tern. Several of the latter were flying in and out carrying fish.

6O0A3661Common Tern – busy fishing in the harbour

We walked round to the harbour to see what we could see. The tide was on its way out and there were lots of Oystercatchers on the exposed mud beyond. Scanning through, we found a group of four Curlew too.

Out in the middle of the harbour channel we could see a pair of Great Crested Grebes diving. Then down in a smaller side channel we noticed a white duck diving, a stunning drake Eider. A drake Eider would be a great sight in itself, but this one was fishing actively, diving repeatedly and quickly resurfacing with something each time. Through the scope, we could see that it was actually catching small crabs.

Even better, the Eider seemed to be very cleverly taking the claws off before swallowing them. It would flick the crab round until it was holding it by its legs or claws, then give it a good shake until the leg(s)/claw detached. The body of the crab would drop into the water and it would catch it again quickly before repeating the process. After doing this a few times, it would swallow the dismembered body whole. Fascinating to watch! Eventually the Eider, clearly full of crabs, walked up onto a sandbar nearby.

IMG_4795Eider – resting after catching crabs in the harbour channel

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Holkham. The grazing marshes were full of geese as usual, Greylags and Canada Geese, together with a good scattering of Egyptian Geese. We could see a couple of white shapes in the trees, which on closer inspection could be seen to be Spoonbills. A couple of other Spoonbills flew out east, their long necks and bills held outstretched in front of them, distinguishing them instantly from the steady flow of Little Egrets in and out too.

There were lots of Swifts and House Martins zooming about low over the pools, the best place to look for insects in the cool and cloudy conditions. A male Marsh Harrier appeared from the reeds in front of us and flew slowly round before crashing back in.

We parked at the end of Lady Anne’s Drive, which was unsurprisingly rather empty of cars today, and walked west on the edge of the pines. At least it had stopped drizzling now. The trees were rather quiet, apart from a several Coal Tits calling, plus a Goldcrest or two and a few Chiffchaffs singing. We bumped into one of the wardens who told us that three Bitterns had been seen earlier, flying around out from Washington Hide, so we headed over there first.

We couldn’t see any sign of the Bitterns now, but we did find two Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. Both appeared to have damaged wings – one was trailing its left and the other had a large gap in the primaries of its right when it flapped.That would explain why these two had not made the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season.

A large group of over 150 Black-tailed Godwits flew up from the marshes at one point, whirling round and flashing their black and white wings and tails before dropping back down out of sight. A female Marsh Harrier flew up from the reeds and circled over, before chasing off a second Marsh Harrier which had drifted into the area.

6O0A3674Marsh Harrier – circled up over the reeds

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, we could see a few Spoonbills circling over the trees from time to time. One landed in the top of the bushes at one point, stopping to preen. Then another Spoonbill appeared on the pool in front. It was feeding, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water. When the flock of Black-tailed Godwits appeared again, clearly flushed from the marshes by something, and swirled round over the pools, the Spoonbill took flight and headed back into the trees.

IMG_4813Spoonbill – feeding on the pool from Joe Jordan Hide

On the walk back, we found a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees by the path. There were several brown-faced juveniles in there, plus a few Blue Tits. A single male Blackcap appeared in the trees too. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds. Further along, a Sparrowhawk flew low across the path ahead of us, in from the direction of the grazing marshes, and disappeared into the pines.

Then it was time to call it a day. Despite the weather, we had enjoyed a fantastic day’s birding – it just goes to show that it is always worth going out regardless.

22nd May 2016 – Sunshine in Spring

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

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

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

6O0A3356Red Kite – two circled over the grazing marshes

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

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

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

6O0A3366Azure Damselfly – enjoying the sunshine at Stiffkey Fen

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

6O0A3370Marsh Harrier – this male circled overhead at Stiffkey Fen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A3417Little Egret – in full breeding attire

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

6O0A3468Common Whitethroat – singing from the top of a hawthorn

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

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

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

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

IMG_4641Spoonbill – an adult in breeding plumage on the pool

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

6O0A3544Grey Partridge – the male just below the hide

6O0A3494Grey Partridges – the pair feeding together

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

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

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

IMG_4648Mediterranean Gull – with smart black hood and white wingtips

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

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

22nd April 2016 – Migrants & More, Day 1

Day 1 of a long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. As this looked like it might be the best day, weather-wise, we started with a walk out to Burnham Overy Dunes.

A Common Whitethroat was singing from the hedge by the main road where we parked and as we walked down along the lane a second was singing from deep in the hedge. They have been thin on the ground here until now, so these were presumably fairly recent arrivals. A couple of Skylarks were singing overhead and a Chiffchaff was demonstrating how it got its name – it really sounded like spring, even if it was a bit cold in the NE wind.

Our first Lesser Whitethroat was rattling from a rather distant hedge, but a little further along one was singing in the blackthorn right by the track. It proceeded to fly back and forth across the path a couple of times, and then very helpfully landed up in a small hawthorn in full view in front of us. Lovely views of this usually rather shy warbler. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing on either side of us on the walk out. Most were tucked down out of the breeze, but eventually we found one perched in a bramble clump. We all had great views of it through the scope, but typically it flew down out of sight just as we got round to trying to get a photo! A Willow Warbler zipped past us along the track, heading back inland. Presumably a recently arrived migrant on its way.

IMG_2781Brown Hare – a couple were out on the grazing meadows

We found one Brown Hare hunkered down in the middle of the grazing meadows. We had just had a good look at it through the scope, when one of the group spotted a second Hare a bit closer and out in the open on the other side. One of the wardens was just walking round the marshes further back, so had probably just disturbed it.

There were plenty of Egyptian Geese and Greylags out on the grass today. Three Brent Geese obviously preferred being on here to out on the saltmarsh. But there was no sign of any Pink-footed Geese today, nor the drake Wigeon which has been here recently – perhaps the warden had flushed them on his rounds.

IMG_2783Brent Geese – three were still favouring the grazing marshes

We could see a nice pair of Gadwall, two or three Teal asleep in the grass by a pool and a few Tufted Duck. A Common Pochard flew over. A Little Grebe was laughing maniacally from the ditch below us, but two out on one of the reedy pools were easier to see.

At that point, we looked up to see a Spoonbill flying in from the direction of the harbour. It had a stick in its spoon-shaped bill, presumably nest material, which it was carrying back to the colony.

6O0A0639Spoonbill – flying back with nest material

Out on the grazing marshes, we could also see numerous Lapwing, Redshanks and Oystercatchers. Three Avocets were also on one of the pools. Three Ruff flew past over the track. A couple of the Lapwings started displaying, tumbling acrobatically in the air. The Redshanks and Oystercatchers were very vocal too – their breeding season is here. When a Marsh Harrier and a Grey Heron both flew over at the same time, the birds responded by trying to chase them off, the Heron distracting most of the attention from the Harrier.

There were more waders out in the harbour, once we got up onto the seawall. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly in bright orange breeding plumage. In contrast, of the three Grey Plover we could see, only one was just starting to show a little black on the belly. We heard a Whimbrel calling and could see it heading our way over the saltmarsh. Thankfully it then landed down with the other waders right in front of us, where we could see its stripy head and next to a Black-tailed Godwit, the two were rather similar in size.

IMG_2790Whimbrel – flew in to join the other waders in the harbour

The reedbed was rather quiet. The wind was whistling through the reeds today. We did get one burst of booming from the resident Bittern, but generally it seemed a little reluctant to perform today.

There were more Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh further along. A careful scan produced one that was a little darker than the rest, with a more obvious white flank patch and collar. This is the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid, which returns here every winter with our regular Russian Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Many of the Brent Geese which were here through the winter have already left, and it won’t be long now before most of these last flocks depart for Russia too.

There were lots of Linnets in the Suaeda bushes by the path and a smart Redshank perched up on a post for us to give it some admiring looks.

IMG_2801Redshank – perched nicely for us on a post

When we got to the dunes, we turned east. It was nice to get some shelter from the wind, but there were not many birds at first. Then we started to encounter a few Meadow Pipits and then increasingly large flocks of Linnets. We looked up to see two Red Kites circling lazily over the back of the dunes. A couple of Swallows were on the move, heading west. In their favoured dune slack, we only managed to find one Wheatear today, a female, but at least that was a start.

There was no sign of the Ring Ouzels today in the bushes they have been favouring recently, but as we walked a little further over the dunes we eventually spotted one in a bush distantly the other side of the fence. We got it in the scope and had a quick look, in case it flew off. A second Ring Ouzel appeared on the grass next to it briefly.

We made our way over the dunes to try to get a bit closer, and had just got the scope onto one Ring Ouzel on the grass when it flew further back into the bushes out of sight. The warden then appeared from round the other side! We positioned ourselves in the dunes so that we would see them if they dropped back out onto the grass to feed, but the next thing we knew they took off and flew out over the dunes calling, three of them. We had great views of them as the Ring Ouzels flew over us.

Ring Ouzel Burnham Overy 2016-04-13_3Ring Ouzel – one in flight from here last week

Even better, a few minutes later a fourth Ring Ouzel flew out too and this one landed right in the top of a bush in the dunes. A smart male, with a bold white gorget across his breast, he sat in full view for some time, allowing us to get a great look at him.

IMG_2806Ring Ouzel – this make perched up for us in a bush

While we had a rest in the dunes, we scanned across the pools and marshes in front of us to see what we could see. A very distant white blob perched in a tree turned out to be a Spoonbill. It was a bit hazy, but we could make out its bushy nuchal crest blowing in the breeze. Then another big white bird appeared from out of a ditch and flew across towards the same trees. When it landed again, we could confirm that it was the Great White Egret – we could see its large size and long neck. When two Greylags nearly dropped down on it, it flew again and landed in a dead tree nearby.

The walk back through the dunes did not produce anything else of note, but from back up on the seawall a scan of the grazing marshes produced another two Wheatears on the grass, this time including a smart male sporting a black bandit mask. Four more Whimbrel flew over the grazing marsh calling. And one of the singing Sedge Warblers finally performed for the camera, perched out on a long aerial bramble stem, even though it was getting blown all over the place in the wind.

IMG_2826Sedge Warbler – lots are in and singing now

We were almost back across the grazing marshes when we noticed two more Spoonbills, circling over the trees way off to the east. They turned towards us and we waited for them to come our way. They took remarkably little time to reach us, with the benefit of a strong tail wind, and headed swiftly out towards the harbour.

6O0A0645Spoonbill – these two were heading out towards the harbour

We had lunch back at Holkham, in a slightly more sheltered spot. Several Swallows and House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees. A Sparrowhawk circled up distantly. Then, after lunch, we made our way east to Stiffkey Fen.

A pair of Marsh Harriers were circling over the valley, the smart grey-winged male above and the darker brown female below. He made a couple of playful stoops at her, and she turned upside down and they talon-grappled at one point, all part of the courtship display, before dropping down into the reeds.

A lone Stock Dove was in the weedy field by the path and its iridescent green neck patch shone in the afternoon sunshine. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge and a Common Whitethroat was doing the same across the road. As we walked down alongside the river, a couple of Bullfinches were piping from the sallows ahead of us, but were hard to see until they flew. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the brambles and a Willow Warbler sang from the trees. Several Swallows, a couple of House Martins and a Sand Martin were hawking for insects over the water.

From up on the seawall, we could see a smart summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit down in the harbour channel beyond. There was also a large group of Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the Fen, with a few still in their duller grey-brown non-breeding plumage. In between the legs of the Godwits, we spotted a single Knot, much smaller by comparison, shorter billed, and still in its grey winter plumage. Further over, on one of the islands at the back of the Fen, two Little Ringed Plovers were chasing each other round on the mud.

IMG_2830Black-tailed Godwit – there were still lots at Stiffkey Fen today

We walked on, round towards the harbour. A lovely male Marsh Harrier with silvery grey wings looked a picture quartering along the edge of a bright-yellow oilseed rape field. A Whimbrel flew across the channel and started probing in the muddy bank along one side. An Orange Tip butterfly in the shelter of the bank stopped to feed on a dandelion flower in the sunshine.

6O0A0652Orange Tip – out in the sunshine

Looking out across the harbour, we could see lots of Sandwich Terns shimmering in the heat haze. It was only when they were spooked by something later and flew up into the sky that we could see them clearly. The tide was still out, so there were not many waders in view and those we could see were rather distant. Still, we managed to find a Ringed Plover for the day’s list and while we were watching it a cracking summer-plumage male Bar-tailed Godwit, with deep rusty underparts extending right down under the tail, walked past.

After enjoying the sunshine for a few minutes while we scanned the harbour, we turned to head back. Along the edge of the reeds at the Fen, a Common Snipe had appeared. It was very well camouflaged and tricky to see at first against the similarly coloured reed stems, but easier through the scope.

We still had time for one last stop, so we headed for the local gull colony. There are normally Mediterranean Gulls at Stiffkey Fen, but we hadn’t seen any today, so this gave us another chance to catch up with the species. Sure enough, out amongst the hordes of noisy Black-headed Gulls, we spotted a much darker jet black head (Black-headed Gulls have dark chocolate brown heads!). A cracking adult Mediterranean Gull, we could also see its heavier, brighter red bill and we noted the way the black hood extends further down the back of the neck. Out on the edge of the colony we could also see a pair of white-headed Common Gulls.

IMG_2842Mediterranean Gull – in with lots of Black-headed Gulls

A quick look at the waders out in the harbour produced a good number of Turnstone in with the Oystercatchers and a couple of Curlew. A female Wigeon roosting on the edge of a sandbar was a bit of a surprise. Further out, several Common Seals were hauled out in the shallows on the edge of the main channel. Then it was time to head for home.

7th April 2016 -An Introduction to Norfolk

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, for visitors from the USA. The target was to see a good variety of species, rather than chasing rarities, so we set off to see as many different birds as we could, in as relaxed a fashion as possible. It was windy and cold to start, but we managed to work round the April showers and had some brighter, calmer weather to end the day.

We met in Wells and a quick early morning detour brought us to the local Black-headed Gull colony. A careful scan and we found a smart adult Mediterranean Gull in with them, its jet black head setting it apart from the ironically named Black-headed Gulls (which actually have chocolate brown hoods in summer). It was perched down in the marram grass, preening, so we couldn’t see its white wing tips, but we did admire its contrasting white eye shadow and heavy, deep-red bill.

IMG_1738Mediterranean Gull – just after a Black-headed Gull landed in front

There were lots of Brent Geese flying around over the saltmarsh but it was cold and exposed in the brisk wind, so we beat a hasty retreat after we had seen our target bird here. A Chiffchaff was singing from the trees as we made our way back to the car.

There had been a few Pink-footed Geese at Lady Anne’s Drive yesterday, so we made a quick stop there on our way west. On the way, a Red Kite drifted over the field beside the road. There was no sign of the geese today, but we did get to see a nice selection of other wildfowl – Shelduck, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. The Northern Lapwing stole the show though – such stunning birds, we are all too often in danger of taking them for granted but they are appreciated in all their glory by those who have not seen them before! The spiky black crest and iridescent green upperparts really stand out.

IMG_1750Lapwing – one or our most stunning birds

There were also a couple of Mistle Thrushes out on the grass, big bold and heavily spotted below. The plan was not to linger here, and we were on our way back up the Drive when a small bird appeared on the verge. A smart male Wheatear, he flicked up onto a fence post when we stopped and then dropped down into the field beyond out of view when we tried to reverse back. This bird was in exactly the same place we had seen a Wheatear yesterday, so presumably it was the same one.

Our next stop was at Burnham Overy Staithe. On the way there, we had a brief stop on the main road to admire a pair of Grey Partridge in a field before approaching traffic meant we had to move on. We parked in the harbour car park and set off along the seawall.

We could hear a Chiffchaff singing from the bushes and possibly a second was then spotted flitting around in the Alexanders on the bank. So many of the Chiffchaffs have already arrived that it can be hard to tell now which are onward-bound migrants stopping off and which are here for the summer. A Willow Warbler which flew along the bank towards us was most likely a migrant. It landed in the brambles close by, before flying on towards the village. The Sedge Warblers are also in in numbers now and we could here several singing from the brambles below the seawall, a constant rolling medley of trills, whistles and scratchy notes. We got one in the scope and admired its bold pale supercilium.

IMG_1779Sedge Warbler – several were singing along the seawall

We could hear one or two Little Grebes cackling maniacally from the reeds and eventually spotted one in the ditch, although it kept diving as it swam away from us. There were several Tufted Ducks in the ditch too.

On the other side of the seawall, a Spoonbill took off from the saltmarsh but unfortunately flew away from us. We had OK flight views, if a little distant – we could see the long bill held out in front, the neck outstretched in flight. We turned our attention to the waders in the harbour. As well as the Redshanks and Oystercatchers, a little group of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot were feeding on the mud just below the bank. The Black-tailed Godwits are now really starting to acquire their rusty summer plumage, but the Knots were still in full winter attire. Known as Red Knot on North America, after their summer garb, they should probably be called Grey Knot here!

IMG_1754Knot – still in their grey winter plumage

Out on the sandbank in the middle of the harbour channel, we could see a group of Brent Geese. Nearby, were some small waders and a closer look through the scope revealed they were Ringed Plover, with a single silvery grey Sanderling in with them. There were actually quite a lot of Ringed Plover out on the sand, perhaps birds on their way further north, rather than just the small number of birds which breed here. There was also a Grey Plover with them and a little further along were a few Bar-tailed Godwit. Over on the other side of the channel we could see an Avocet too.

We walked on to the reedbed, which seemed a little quite at first today. We finally located some of the few lingering here Pink-footed Geese – a flock of about thirty was out on the grazing marshes beyond. While we were watching them, we heard a Bittern booming from the reeds – a remarkable sound, a little like a foghorn! We dropped down off the seawall onto the path below, out of the wind, to get a better listen to it. It boomed several times while we were there, not far into the reeds today, but it stayed well hidden. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from deep in the bushes, similarly reluctant to show itself.

A glimpse of a Snipe dropping down onto the grazing marshes saw us walk a little further on and we were busy scanning the grass for it when a Spoonbill flew just above our heads. It may have come up from the reedbed pool and low over the reeds out of sight, but as it flew right over us we could see its spoon-shaped bill clearly. We could see grey clouds approaching from the west now, so we beat a hasty retreat and got back to the car just in time, as it started to rain.

A quick stop back at Holkham to use the facilities and we made a short diversion into the Park to have a look at Holkham Hall. As well as the resident herd of Fallow Deer, there was a large flock of feral Barnacle Geese on the lawn. Over by the lake, a pair of Grey Herons chased each other off over the grass, and we could see several Swallows hawking for insects around the island.

We took a diversion inland from here, to try to find some farmland birds. A couple more Red Kites hung in the air next to the road. Another pair of Grey Partridge were feeding out on some water meadows. We stopped to look at a party of Rooks feeding in a field. The rain was intermittent but began to fall more heavily now, which meant the birds were a bit harder to find.

At Choseley, there were lots of Brown Hares and Red-legged Partridge in the fields. We stopped to watch three Wheatear which were making there way up the road, flitting between the hedges and occasionally landing in the road itself. We could see a Yellowhammer distantly on the wires, but then several flew in and landed in the bare field in front of us, including a very bright yellow-headed male. It was time for lunch now, so we headed on down to Titchwell.

After lunch, we made our way out to the Visitor Centre. The feeders in front were rather quiet, apart from a Chaffinch and a couple of tits. The feeders the other side looking similarly devoid of life at first and there was no sign of any Bramblings , so we we went for a quick look in the ditch by the main path. Almost immediately, we found the Water Rail feeding among some fallen branches on the bank, once again getting great views of this often very secretive species.

P1190766Water Rail – still feeding in the ditch by the main path

We could hear a Siskin singing from the alder trees above and when we turned round it was on the bird table below – a smart male.

P1190792Siskin – a nice bright male on the bird table

Back to the feeders again and quickly more birds started to appear now – a lovely bright green male Greenfinch dropped in, then a stunning Goldfinch. The Bramblings had obviously been hiding on the ground below the feeders, in amongst the wooden pallets, because first a female flew into the bushes, followed shortly after by a male. We got a good look at them while they were in the bushes, but when they dropped down to the ground again they were much harder to see once more.

While we were focused on the Bramblings one of the group saw a white shape fly across the grazing meadow beyond. It could only be one thing, so we hurried back over and sure enough there was a Barn Owl hunting out over the long grass. There is often a Barn Owl to be found here later in the afternoon, but this was an early outing even by its standards! It flew off away from us at first, then made a circuit back and right across in front of us, dropping down into the grass a couple of times.

P1190824Barn Owl – out early over the grazing meadow today

Even better, the Barn Owl then flew towards us and landed on the fence right at the front. It was half hidden behind some reeds at first, but then it helpfully flew along a couple of posts and landed again where we had a much clearer view. Stunning!

P1190830Barn Owl – then perched obligingly on a fence post right in front

When the Barn Owl finally flew off again, we made our way out onto the reserve. A pair of Long-tailed Tits were feeding in the sallows by the path.

P1190835Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the sallows by the main path

We stopped by the grazing meadow pool, which is still pretty much dried out, save for a couple of puddles. There were several wagtails out on the mud and a closer look through the scope confirmed there were at least four White Wagtails. The continental European version of our (mostly) British Pied Wagtail, they have a much paler grey back. Lurking right over at the back, half in the reeds, preening, we eventually found one of the Water Pipits. They are getting into summer plumage now, with a lovely pale pink wash on the breast. Nearby, even more obscured from view, we managed to locate another two Water Pipits. But there was no sign of any Little Ringed Plovers on here at this stage.

The reedbed pool on the way out yielded a distant Great Crested Grebe and a pair of Red-crested Pochard, plus a few Common Pochard. We could hear Bearded Tits pinging from the reeds, but they were not inclined to show themselves. Perhaps they were put off by the strength of the wind earlier, even if it was now starting to ease off. A Marsh Harrier perched up in one of the bushes in the reeds and, as we walked on towards the freshmarsh, one was displaying, dropping down out of the sky in a rollercoaster of tumbles, swoops and loop-the-loops.

The freshmarsh is still pretty full of water, so we didn’t stop at Island Hide today. There were lots of Brent Geese enjoying the conditions, flown in from feeding out on the saltmarsh to bathe and preen. We could see some very dark clouds gathering to the northwest and although we had thought they might miss us, it gradually became clear we were in for a heavy shower. We got to Parrinder Hide just as the rain started. All the birds either huddled down or flew off to find shelter elsewhere.

IMG_1792Brent Geese – just as the rain started to fall

There were various distractions from the hide as the rain fell. A nice selection of duck included some smart Teal just below the hide. The Gadwall is one of the most under-rated of wildfowl and we had time to admire a drake on the mud, the intricate patterning of its plumage.

IMG_1800Gadwall – a drake with its intricately marked plumage

The water levels have started to drop a little, which might be encouraging some of the waders. A lone Snipe was feeding on the exposed mud along the edge of the bank, incredibly well camouflaged against the cut reeds and dead vegetation. A single Grey Plover flew in and started preening as the rain began to ease. Known as Black-bellied Plover in North America, we usually see them in the winter when they lack their black bellies – hence the name Grey Plover is more appropriate here.

IMG_1813Grey Plover – flew in to preen as the rain eased

One the rain stopped, we made our way over to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were several Avocet just below the hide, and we watched as they fed, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallow mud. Apart from lots of Shelduck, plus a few Redshank and more Grey Plover, there didn’t appear to be much else of note on here today.

P1190857Avocet – more were on the Volunteer Marsh today

The Tidal Pools were also rather quiet, so we continued on to the beach. There was a little raft of Common Scoter just offshore. We had a look at them and talked about the distinguishing differences from the American equivalent, Black Scoter. Further over, out in the middle of the Wash, we could just make out a vast flock of Common Scoter looking a but like a distant oil slick. In the other direction, over towards Brancaster, we could see a little group of Red-breasted Merganser out on the sea.

The tide was coming in, but there were still a few waders out on the shore. We just had enough time to find a Turnstone and a small party of Dunlin, both additions to the day’s list, before all the waders were pushed off by the incoming sea. The dark clouds seemed to be missing us now, but with more out west, we decided to make our way back just in case.

Back at the reedbed pool, the Great Crested Grebe was now right down at the front. We had just got it in the scope when a second appeared and they started to display. At first, they swam to face each other, crests raised and proceeded to turn away in turn, preening their back feathers as they did so. After a minute or so, they seemed to lose interest and swam off in opposite directions, but a short while later the male swam back with a bill full of vegetation. This time they stood upright, paddling vigorously with their feet, breast to breast. They are fantastic looking birds and it is always a stunning display to watch.

IMG_1826Great Crested Grebes – this pair were displaying today

One of the drake Red-crested Pochard had also swum down to the front so we got a much better view of that too, orange punk hairstyle, bright coral-red bill, and all.

IMG_1849Red-crested Pochard – showing well on the way back

We could hear the pinging calls of Bearded Tits again, but this time they sounded much closer. The wind had dropped and it was now quite calm and still, which probably helped. A quick scan and we picked up a small group working their way low down along the edge of the reeds just across the water. We got then in the scope and could see a couple of males and a female, the males with powder blue heads and black moustaches (not beards!). Even better, a pair then flew across to the reed by one of the pools just below the main path. We hurried back just in time to get really close views of them working their way across. Cracking views!

IMG_1858

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IMG_1864Bearded Tit – a male striking various poses

The walk back was further enlivened with a much closer Water Pipit out on the grazing marsh ‘pool’. When we stopped to look at it, we could found two Little Ringed Plovers as well on here, lurking over towards the back. A Stoat ran along the far edge of the reeds an out across the mud, pursued as it did so by 8-10 wagtails, a mixture of Pied and White Wagtails. We then took a detour round via the Meadow Trail to the Visitor Centre, which was further rewarded with a Willow Warbler in the willows and a Goldcrest too.

Then it was time to call it a day and head back to Wells to finish. A last Wheatear on the hedge beside the road at Holkham rounded off the day.

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