Tag Archives: Montagu’s Harrier

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

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

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

Grey Heron

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

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

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


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

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

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


Ruff – looking smart now, in full breeding plumage

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

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

Bearded Tit

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Little Tern

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

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

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – showed very nicely off the East Bank

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

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


Wheatear – this male was around the beach behind North Scrape

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

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

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

White-winged Black Tern

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – on the marshes at Wells Woods

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

Nightjar Evening

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

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

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

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

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

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – a striking white bird at Cley

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

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

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

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

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

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

26th May 2015 – Time for Tea-spoons

Another Spring Tour today. After a cool start, it was mostly a lovely sunny day with light winds. The plan was to visit Titchwell and Holkham, but we decided to head towards Choseley first, cross-country via a few inland country roads.

The first birds we came upon were a pair of Stone Curlew in a field beside the road. A real conservation success story, this species has spread north in recent years from its traditional stronghold in the Brecks. A great way to start the day. A Grey Partridge was trying to hide in the grass nearby. A little further along, we found a Turtle Dove perched up in the top of a hawthorn. Unfortunately, just as we got the scope onto it, it flew off. There were also lots of Skylarks singing, Linnets flying round calling and a Whitethroat giving its scratchy song from the wires above us.

Stopping to scan the sky from a suitable high vantage point, we had hoped to add a Buzzard or a Red Kite to the day’s list. However, the biggest surprise of the day was a ringtail Montagu’s Harrier which circled up in the distance, not a bird we had expected to see here today. We got it in the scope and could just make out the white uppertail coverts before it flew off strongly.

P1010322Yellowhammer – taking a bath in a puddle right beside us

There were smart male Yellowhammers with glowing yellow heads everywhere as we drove towards Choseley – in the road, on the wires. We also came across a Corn Bunting in the hedge beside the road. As we rolled the car back to get a better look at it, it flew round ahead of us and was joined by a second. We could just see the two of them feeding in the bushes. Up on the top of the ridge, as we got out of the car, another Corn Bunting was singing, like a bunch of jangling keys. A male Yellowhammer was singing behind us as well. As we walked out along the track, a female Yellowhammer dropped down to a puddle in front of us to bathe.

P1010298Chaffinch – this smart male was catching flies in the verge

By this stage, the sun had come out and it was starting to get rather warm. There was increasing heat haze across the field where the Dotterel have been in recent weeks. Two had been reported earlier in the morning, but we couldn’t find them today. They have the ability to blend in amongst the stones once they sit down anyway, but with the growth of the sugar beet and rogue potato plants in the field, they have got harder and harder to pick up unless they are running around. Rather than waste too much time looking for them this morning, we decided to head down to Titchwell.

P1010300Bloody-nosed Beetle – also by the path at Choseley today

A Blackcap was singing in the car park as we arrived at Titchwell. As we walked out onto the reserve, we could hear several Reed Warblers singing either side of the path. The Sedge Warblers have gone a little quieter now than they were when they first arrived, but one perched up in the brambles where we could get it in the scope and gave a burst of song to allow us to compare it to its plainer cousins. The Cetti’s Warblers are also less vocal now than they were – now that they are too busy breeding. One Cetti’s Warbler kept flying out of a particular patch of brambles into the reeds, then returning a few seconds later, presumably taking food back to its nest. We only really saw it in flight, but we could see its distinctive reddish chestnut upperparts.

There were several dragonflies and damselflies by the path today – their numbers have really increased as the weather has warmed up recently. We saw Hairy Dragonfly and Four-spotted Chaser amongst the former and Large Red Damselfly and Blue-tailed Damselfly amongst the latter.

P1010329Large Red Damselfly – by the main path at Titchwell

One of the channels through the reeds held a female Red-crested Pochard, which we got in the scope. Then a male dropped into the reedbed pool a little further along and we had a good look at him too. There were also Common Pochards to compare, and a couple of Tufted Ducks, out on the pool today.

We could hear a Cuckoo singing distantly at first. Then it gradually made its way closer before flying out over the Thornham saltmarsh. We saw it do a circuit and head back to the trees by the visitor centre, before returning right past us and landing briefly in the sallows by Island Hide. It didn’t stop there long, but flew out across the reedbed rather like a cross between a hawk and a falcon and landed in the top of a bush, where we could get a proper look at it.

We could hear several Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ out in the reedbed as well. However, in typical fashion all we saw was them darting about over the tops of the reeds before dropping into cover. A pair perched briefly once, but too briefly to get everyone onto them. The Reed Buntings were more accommodating.

P1010331Little Gull – 1 of at least 6 birds on the freshmarsh today, all 1st summers

There was lots of activity out on the freshmarsh from Island Hide as usual. As soon as we arrived, we could see a young (1st summer) Little Gull swimming close to the hide, twirling round and picking insects off the surface of the water. A closer look revealed at least six Little Gulls, all 1st summer birds, out on the freshmarsh. It was hard to judge just how small they were out on their own, but their small size became apparent as soon as they came close to any other birds.

We had already seen a couple of Common Terns patrolling over the reedbed pool on our way out. Two Little Terns were on one of the islands from the hide, and we got them in the scope and admired their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads. A single Sandwich Tern flew in and around the freshmarsh briefly, before heading off towards Brancaster. A good selection of terns.

There were lots of noisy Avocets in front of the hide, as usual. At one point, two pairs decided to have a bit of an argument. They started by facing off against each other, in pairs, dipping their bills into the water. Then one would dive across at the other pair, flapping its wings. Eventually they lost interest, and the two pairs walked off in opposite directions.

P1010343P1010346Avocets – two pairs having a turf war in front of Island Hide today

There were still a few ducks out on the freshmarsh. Several pairs of the under-rated and very subtle Gadwall and quite a few big-billed Shoveler. The Shelduck in particular are looking very good at the moment. However, much of the wildfowl which was here over the winter has now departed. We only saw three Brent Geese today, out over the saltmarsh towards Thornham Harbour.

P1010342Shelduck – a very good-looking Sheldrake

Wader numbers have also tailed off and wader migration has been a little disappointing in recent days. There was the usual group of Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the biggest island at the back, with three birds more helpfully feeding in the water a little closer. Aside from that, and other than a few Redshank, the only waders of note today were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers. At least we got a good look at them from Parrinder Hide, and we could see their golden-yellow eye-rings from up close.

IMG_4996Little Ringed Plover – two were on the mud in front of Parrinder Hide today

The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were both quiet again today. Out on the beach, the tide was quite well in. The only waders were a little group of summer-plumaged Sanderling which flew past along the shoreline. Several Sandwich Terns were feeding offshore. And there was a single drake Common Scoter on the sea.

We walked back for a late lunch, stopping briefly to look again at the reedbed pool. We had hoped to pick up the Great Crested Grebe which is often on here for the day’s list, and it duly obliged. However, the bonus came in the shape of a pair of Garganey which swam out into the middle from the reeds. The female proceeded to bathe, while the male stood guard nearby, flashing his white headstripe in the sunshine.

After lunch, we drove back along the coast road to Holkham. Lady Anne’s Drive was very busy, but we found a parking space and as soon as we turned west before the pines we left behind the crowds which were almost all heading straight out onto the beach.

It was a little quiet in the trees in the heat of the early afternoon. A couple of Chiffchaff sang from the tops of the bushes and an interesting Willow Warbler, a ‘mixed singer’, started off with a convincing short burst of Chiffchaff-like song before relapsing to more appropriate Willow Warbler repertoire. A pair of Coal Tits fed on the edge of a Holm Oak and a couple of groups of Long-tailed Tits called from the pines. We could also hear Goldcrests singing and Treecreepers calling, but neither gave themselves up today.

The view from Joe Jordan hide initially seemed quite tranquil. The usual pair of Grey Partridge fed quietly in the grass below the hide. A few Grey Herons and Little Egrets flew back and forth, and a steady passage of Cormorants came and went from the trees. There were quite a few Marsh Harriers flying around and a nice male in particular made a low pass across the grass in front of us.

P1010359Marsh Harrier – flew low past us in front of Joe Jordan hide

On first inspection, the ‘nursery pool’ below the heronry looked fairly empty. However, after we had been siting in the hide for a short while, we realised there were actually several large white shapes concealed in the rushes on the front edge. They were asleep at first, but once they woke up, we could see that they were actually juvenile Spoonbills – or Teaspoonbills, given their half grown bills. The first birds have obviously fledged in the last couple of days and were now creched on the edge of the pool.

IMG_5010Spoonbills – freshly fledged juveniles with partly grown teaspoon-bills

As we sat and watched them, a steady stream of adult Spoonbills flew down from the trees to bathe and preen on the edge of the pool. At one stage, we could see at least 8 adults and 4 juveniles standing around. It was great to see the adults and juveniles together. As well as having diminutive bills, the young Spoonbills were clearly smaller and whiter than the grown-ups.

IMG_5016Spoonbills – large-billed adult preening with small-billed juveniles nearby

IMG_5038Spoonbill – probably a 1st summer, with full-sized bill and black wing tips

We spent some time watching the comings and goings of the Spoonbill families, and all the other birds. A Red Kite circled up over the trees. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over calling. There was non-stop action from the Joe Jordan hide this afternoon and in the end we had to tear ourselves away and head for home.