Tag Archives: Natterjack Toad

21st Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 1

Day 1 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. It was a cloudy start, but brightened up in the afternoon – a lovely sunny and warm end to the day.

Our destination for the morning was Burnham Overy Dunes. A Marsh Harrier was calling away towards the village as we got out of the car. As we walked down along Whincover, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing its distinctive rattle from deep in the blackthorn hedge. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us too, as we passed – good to hear one here as they have been very scarce in recent weeks, after the cold weather in March.

The cowman had been down and left the gate open, which meant we didn’t have to climb over the stile, and when he drove out into the field to the cows, he flushed a couple of Grey Partridge. They flew across a ditch towards us but despite seeing where they had landed they were hard to see in the long grass. The male spent more time with his neck up, looking around while the female fed – we could see his grey neck and orange face.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – hard to see in the long grass

As we approached the next gate, we could hear the first Sedge Warbler singing, a mad concoction of scratches and rattles, with no real rhythm. There were several Sedge Warblers singing in the brambles and briars along this stretch, up to the seawall, but the first was the best performer, perched in the top of a bush right in front of us, flashing its orange gape as it sang.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – there are lots in now and singing

There were a few Greylags and Egyptian Geese scattered around the grazing marshes, which look very good at the moment, with quite a bit of water still in the pools and flashes. Despite this, there do not appear to be many Lapwing out here currently, hopefully there are more yet to return to nest. There were a few Redshank too.

We could hear a Bittern booming rather intermittently from the reedbed, but it had stopped by the time we got up onto the seawall. There were Bearded Tits calling too, but they kept themselves mostly well down in the reeds. Occasionally, we could just see one whizzing over the tops before dropping back into cover.

A few Common Pochard and Tufted Duck were diving out on the pool in the middle of the reeds. There were one or two Wigeon here too, lingering birds which have not yet departed, on their way back to Russia for the breeding season.

There were a couple of Little Egrets around the pools and ditches out on the grazing marshes, another bird which was hit hard by the cold weather earlier in the year. Further back, we could see another, larger white bird with a long, snake-like neck. It was a Great White Egret. One of the best ways to distinguish them from Little Egret normally is bill colour (which is normally yellow-orange in Great White Egret), but in breeding condition the Great White Egret‘s bill darkens too. This bird had a nice dark bill – hopefully they will breed at Holkham again this year.

A smart male Wheatear was out in the middle of the grazing marsh too. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. We could see it had brown feathering in the grey of the upperparts and a very rich, burnt orange wash to the throat and breast, suggesting it was a Greenland Wheatear.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a male of the Greenland race

A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the direction of the harbour. We could hear their distinctive calls before we could see them. As they flew past us, we could see their white wing tips and deep black hoods.

There was a small flock of Brent Geese feeding out on the saltmarsh. Most of them were Dark-bellied Brents, but there is often a Black Brant hybrid out here with them. So, when we got a glimpse of a brighter white flank patch, we assumed initially it would be that bird before it walked out of the vegetation. In addition to the bold and extensive flank patch, it had restricted white neck-side patches and appeared a shade or so lighter than the nearby Dark-bellied Brents. It looked most likely to be a Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied Brent intergrade, an interesting bird.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – possibly a Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied hybrid

The tide was coming in out in the harbour. A large flock of waders whirled round and dropped down onto the saltmarsh. We could see three sizes of birds as they flew round – the larger Grey Plovers with variable black specking underneath and black armpits, plain grey Knot a size down, and then smaller Dunlin with them. They landed around some pools out on the saltmarsh, where we could get the Grey Plover and Knot in the scope, but the Dunlin disappeared into the vegetation.

When we got out to the boardwalk, we noticed a toad crossing in front of us. The dunes here are a very good site for Natterjack Toad and sure enough, when we got close enough we could see the distinctive pale yellow stripe down the middle of the back. It is not very common to see the Natterjacks here, as they are mostly nocturnal, so this was really great to come across out in the daytime.

Natterjack Toad 1

Natterjack Toad – crossed the boardwalk as we were heading out to the dunes

As we got into the dunes, there were three people ahead of us who flushed several Wheatears from the grass. We saw them fly round, flashing their white rumps, before landing on the top of the dune ridge beyond. One female Wheatear then flew back and landed on the path in front of us, before flying up and over the fence.

They had probably also just flushed a Whimbrel, because it flew back in shortly after and landed down on the short grass where it walked around for a minute or so allowing us to get a good look at it. It was clearly smaller than a Curlew, and slimmer in build, with a shorter bill and a more boldly marked, stripy head pattern. Then it flew again, further back, up into the dunes.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding on the short grass in the dunes

There were reports of a couple of Ring Ouzels in the dunes this morning, a regular but scarce migrant through here on its way to the breeding grounds in Scandinavia, so we went looking for them. We walked quite quickly east, up towards the end of the pines, scanning the dunes and the bushes south of the fence, but there was no sign at first. They can be very mobile and when we got almost to the pines, we stopped to scan again.

A Bittern was booming out in the middle of the grazing marsh. It was probably the same one we had heard earlier, but the sound seemed to be coming from closer to us now. A flock of eight Redpoll flew west overhead calling. A little later another single bird flew over us the other way, towards the pines, which looked to be a Mealy Redpoll. A few seconds later it came back west again. They are probably birds which have spent the winter in the UK and are now looking to head back to Scandinavia.

From up in the dunes, we looked back and saw a male Ring Ouzel perched in the brambles some distance away, on the south side of the fence. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope on it, it had flown again, up into the dunes, followed by a second Ring Ouzel. We walked quickly back through the middle of the dunes and saw one flying further away in the distance. Then another flew up from behind a bush ahead of us and disappeared round the back of a large dune.

We followed the Ring Ouzels round the dunes again, but there were several people the other side and the birds were on the move again. They really were extremely flighty today. We had another brief view of one perched in a pine tree, before they shot back over the dunes once more. We decided to leave them in peace.

There were a few Swallows on the move now, several singles and pairs, but they flew past us heading east. Most birds on the move along the coast head west, so they were going the wrong way! Five Carrion Crows came in over the dunes from the direction of the sea, heading east too.

We passed the boardwalk and continued on west towards Gun Hill. There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits out here, and a male Stonechat singing, but no sign of any migrants on the ground. Several of the Swallows had obviously changed their minds and came back west past us.

Their scratchy ‘kerrick’ calls alerted us to several Sandwich Terns flying past offshore. We had a quick look down on the beach, where a couple of pairs of Ringed Plover were down on the stones behind the rope fence. Someone was flying a drone over the channel between Gun Hill and Scolt Head, which flushed all the Oystercatchers and a large group of Sanderling from the shore.

There was a large school group out in the dunes today, and we could hear them coming out towards Gun Hill. We had a quick look out in the harbour, as they walked past, then headed back away from all the noise. As we got back to the boardwalk, a Natterjack Toad was walking across the path, in the opposite direction to the one we had seen earlier. We couldn’t immediately tell if it was the same one we had seen two hours earlier, but photos confirmed it was a second Natterjack. They are like buses – you wait ages for one Natterjack Toad and then two come along at once!!

Natterjack Toad 2

Natterjack Toad – the second of the day, in almost exactly the same place

We walked quickly back along the seawall and down onto the Whincover track. A Little Egret was feeding on one of the pools nearby and, as we rounded a couple of bushes, we could see a Spoonbill preening just behind.

We stopped to get the Spoonbill in the scope and could see its shaggy nuchal crest, yellow-tipped black bill and mustard wash on the breast, all marking it out as a breeding adult. When it took off, we thought it was about to fly off but the Spoonbill then landed on another pool right next to the track!

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – flew in to one of the pools right by the track

The Spoonbill stood for a minute or so here, looking at us, then started to feed in the pool. With its bill down in the water, it swept it rapidly from side to side as it walked round. It seemed to be very successful here – every few seconds it would flick its head back as it caught something.

Spoonbill 2

Spoonbill – we watched it feeding on a shallow pool

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from watching the Spoonbill. Nearby, another Whimbrel was feeding on the edge of the grazing marsh, right by the path. We had a good look at it through the scope and could see its pale central crown strips.

A large flock of geese appeared in the sky out over the harbour, flying in towards the grazing marsh. As they got nearer, we could see they were predominantly Pink-footed Geese, about 95 of them. They had been seen about an hour earlier flying over Titchwell and then Burnham Deepdale, so had obviously stopped off somewhere. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since departed, so it was very odd to see such a large flock here now. Where might they have come from?

When the Pink-footed Geese got closer, we could see there were actually two Barnacle Geese with them too. There is a feral group of Barnacle Geese in Holkham Park, but it is possible these two had come from further afield, the way they flew in with the Pink-footed Geese. Perhaps they were even genuine wild birds, looking to head back north.

As we stopped to listen to the Lesser Whitethroat singing again, we heard a shrill call from the other side of the hedge – a Yellow Wagtail. The cows were tucked in the other side, behind the thick vegetation, where we couldn’t see them, but helpfully they started to move out into the middle. As they did, it didn’t take long to see the Yellow Wagtails, three of them, feeding amongst the cows’ hooves. It always looks to be a miracle they don’t get trodden on! There was a very smart male, bright yellow, with two slightly duller females.

We ate our lunch at Burnham Overy Staithe, looking out over the harbour. It was lovely and warm now with the sun out. There were a few more butterflies out now – Holly Blue and Orange Tip, to add to the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock we had seen earlier. After lunch, we headed over to Burnham Norton.

The track out to the seawall was rather muddy, but we picked our way round. There were a few ducks out on the grazing marsh – a few Teal in with the Mallards and Common Pochards in the ditches. There were four more Pink-footed Geese out with the Greylags here, these perhaps more likely to be sick or injured birds which will be unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed. A pair of Lapwing was displaying out over the grass, tumbling and twisting in the sky.

 

Lapwing

Lapwing – displaying over the grazing marsh

There were more warblers singing here – another Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge, a Willow Warbler in the sallows, and several Sedge Warblers in the brambles. As we approached the corner of the seawall, we could hear a more rhythmic song than the Sedge Warbler’s. It was a Reed Warbler, the first we have heard this year. It was keeping well tucked down in the reeds, as was a second Reed Warbler which then started singing the other side of the path. We could just see this second one moving about in the vegetation.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding out in one of the channels on Norton saltmarsh

When we stopped to admire a couple of Avocets feeding in the muddy channel below the seawall with a couple of Oystercatchers, one of the group spotted another Spoonbill out on a pool in the saltmarsh. After a minute or so, it took off and flew past us, heading off out across the grazing marsh.

Spoonbill 3

Spoonbill – flew in from the saltmarsh past us

There were some cows out in the middle of the grazing marsh and, scanning carefully with the scope we could see several Yellow Wagtails down in the grass amongst them. There were three more Wheatears along the fence line just in front of them. They were all a bit distant from here, so we thought we would try to make our way round via the middle path to get a closer look.

The freshwater pools by the seawall held a few waders – several Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, along with the usual Lapwings and Avocets. The ducks included another lingering pair of Wigeon.

The path across the middle of the grazing marshes was not too wet, and we stopped to scan the wagtails again when we got to the cows. We could see at least six Yellow Wagtails here now, feeding in the grass among their hooves, although we had a good scan just in case there were any other wagtails with them. When we got back to the car, a couple of House Martins overhead were a nice addition to the day’s list.

With a little bit of time still before we were due to finish for the day, we headed inland to an area of farmland. There were several Skylarks singing as we got out of the car and a scattering of Linnets in the roughly cultivated fields. We could see a couple of pairs of Red-legged Partridge out in the middle and we flushed two pairs of Grey Partridge from beside the road.

There were at least three Wheatears in the fields here too, despite us being some way from the coast. This is always a popular spot for them. A very pale Common Buzzard circled overhead.

Then it was time for us to make our way back, after an action-packed first day. More tomorrow!

4th May 2016 – Sun & Birding

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously sunny day, great weather to be out and about. We met in Wells and headed west along the coast.

Our first stop was at Choseley. There have been several Dotterel here for a few days now and it didn’t take us long to get onto them. There were meant to be 18 of them today, but we could only see 14 – not a surprise, as they can disappear completely amongst the stones in the field if they stop and sit down. They were a bit distant, but through the scope we could see them well, running around out in the field. A great way to start the day, before the heat haze gets too bad here.

IMG_3699Dotterel – here’s one from yesterday

As we drove down to the Dotterel, there were lots of Yellowhammers in the hedges by the road, but no sign of any Corn Buntings this morning. On our way further west, we drove with the windows down and eventually heard the distinctive sound of jangling keys that is a Corn Bunting singing. We stopped the car and got out to look at it, a surprisingly big and chunky bunting, singing from the wires by the road.

6O0A1753Corn Bunting – sounding like a bunch of jangling keys

Our next stop proper was at Snettisham Coastal Park. There were lots of warblers singing as we walked out through the bushes. Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Blackcap first, then Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Several Lesser Whitethroats were flitting around, less vocal than some of their peers this morning. A Garden Warbler was a nice surprise, the first we have heard here this spring. Further along, in the wetter, reedier bits, we could hear Reed Warblers singing and a Cetti’s Warbler or two shouting at us.

We were almost at the north end when eventually we heard a Grasshopper Warbler, just audible in the distance above the noise of the vehicle cutting the banks along the inner seawall. We walked over and it seemed to come closer too, so that eventually we could hear it not far in front of us. It appeared in a low hawthorn, then flitted over to a larger bush. We could hear it still reeling on and off, and then found it perched deep among the branches. We had a great view of it through the scope, but it wouldn’t come out into full view today. That did though take us to a cool 10 warbler species for the day, and for the Coastal Park today.

IMG_3705Grasshopper Warbler – reeling from deep in the bushes today

There were lots of other birds to see here. The Coastal Park is always chock full of Linnets and Goldfinches. Several small parties also seemed to be on the move, flying south overhead, though it is often difficult to tell migrants from local birds here. The Yellow Wagtails were definitely on the move, and we had a steady trickle over here this morning.

6O0A1757Linnet – a male with a red-pink flushed breast

We had a quick look out at the Wash, but the tide was out. We could see vast flocks of waders out in the distance, mostly Knot, but also godwits and Grey Plover. Closer in, just below the bank, was a single Ringed Plover.

We cut across to the inner seawall at the north end. Several Whimbrel were feeding out in the grass the other side of the cross bank. The grazing marshes on the inland side of the seawall added a variety of commoner waterfowl.

Snettisham Coastal Park is normally a good site for Cuckoo, but we had neither seen nor heard one on our walk round today. We were almost back at the car when a Cuckoo appeared flying through the bushes. It did a wide circuit round us, before landing in the top of a hawthorn where we could see it well. Then it flew off and disappeared out of view, although we could still hear it ‘cuckoo-ing’ in the distance.

IMG_3721Cuckoo – finally appeared as we were almost back to the car

We made our way back along the coast road and a quick detour at Hunstanton added Fulmar to the day’s list without even stopping, with a couple of them hanging in the air over the clifftops as we passed. Holme was our next destination, and we parked up and had a quick walk round past the paddocks.

A Common Whitethroat sang from the bushes as we walked along, and a Goldcrest singing in the pines finally showed itself too. There were Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats too, and a small flock of tits passed through the area. A few Swifts and hirundines were moving through here as well, including several House Martins and Sand Martins. But there was no sign of any Turtle Doves – one had been seen a little earlier, but had gone to ground. It was the middle of the day, which is always a quieter time.

6O0A1766Common Whitethroat – singing by the path at Holme

We drove down to the Firs for lunch, stopping on the way for a couple of Wheatears in the horse paddocks. After lunch, we continued our way back along the coast.

Our visit to Titchwell was brief, but successful. Several Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds, and we finally got a good look at one. These have only returned here in the last week or so. There were good numbers of Sedge Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler too.

6O0A1775Reed Warbler – great views at Titchwell

We stopped to look at the increasingly dry grazing meadow ‘pool’. At first it looked pretty dead, but we eventually found a single silvery-grey backed White Wagtail, and a black-backed Pied Wagtail for comparison.

There were a few ducks out on the reedbed pool, including a couple of smart drake Red-crested Pochard, looking mighty fine with their bright orange punk haircuts. A single female Goldeneye was a late surprise. A Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the reeds beyond. A Bearded Tit ‘pinged’ and flew across before ditching back into the reeds.

There had been a Little Gull around the reserve earlier, and suddenly it appeared in front of us. A superb, smart summer adult, we could see the small size, dainty flight, blackish underwings and pale white wing tips.

6O0A1780Little Gull – a cracking adult

There is still quite a lot of water on the freshmarsh at the moment. On first glance, it can look rather empty, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets and there was a tight group of around 50 Black-tailed Godwit. A pair of Common Terns were resting on the nearest island.

We walked round to Parrinder Hide for a better look. On the way , we stopped to admire a couple of Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands, their golden yellow eyering shining in the sunlight. A pair of Shoveler were feeding just below the bank.

6O0A1788Shoveler – feeding just below the main bank today

From Parrinder Hide, it didn’t take us long to locate the main attraction. The Little Stint was feeding on the edge of the main ‘Avocet’ island, inside the new boundary fence. It was not a great view looking through the fence, but we could still see what it was.

IMG_3729Little Stint – hard to see behind the new anti-predator fence

With our main target acquired, we moved on. The Volunteer Marsh was quiet again today, apart from a smart couple of Grey Plover along the tidal channel. A couple of Avocets were feeding right by the main path.

6O0A1798Avocet – no visit to Titchwell is complete without an Avocet photo

The Tidal Pools were also rather devoid of life, apart from a large flock of Turnstone which had moved in to one of the islands, including some very smart increasingly summer-plumaged birds. We made our way straight out to the beach. The tide was well in, but there were still a few waders out on the sand. Several of the Sanderling are now getting in to summer plumage, so are not quite so silvery-grey on the upperparts. Little groups were running in and out of the waves. Further over, there were a couple of flocks of Oystercatcher on the beach. Then four Bar-tailed Godwits flew in and landed in amongst them.

IMG_3744

A couple of Sandwich Terns were fishing offshore, over towards Scolt Head and a Little Tern flew past, hovering up in the air before diving down into the water a couple of times. There appeared to be nothing else of note out to sea, so we made our way back. A smart Yellow Wagtail was in with the Pied and White Wagtails back on the grazing meadow pool now.

We still had time to stop in at Holkham next.A quick stop along the road produced a couple of Spoonbills flying round the trees. One headed over towards us, but dropped down into a reedy pool out of view. There were lots of geese out on the grazing meadows, mostly Greylags, but in with them we found a small group of lingering Pink-footed Geese. Most have now left for Iceland, but a handful of mostly sick or injured birds will normally stay right through the summer.

At least six Whimbrel were in one of the fields along Lady Anne’s  Drive and a couple of Curlew were further over. The walk west alongside the pines added various species to the day’s list. A Coal Tit was feeding in the pines. We could hear a Treecreeper singing, and then it appeared suddenly as it flew out a small tree in front of us. A Jay called and we managed to see it flying across through the tops of the pines.

It was lovely and warm now and there were lots of butterflies out – many Peacocks, plus Orange Tip, Holly Blue and Comma. As we got out into the dunes, we could hear Natterjack Toads calling. Even better, as we walked along, one strolled across the path in front of us. We could see the yellow stripe down its back.

6O0A1818

6O0A1819Natterjack Toad – with the distinctive yellow dorsal stripe

Unfortunately, we were running out of time and didn’t have a chance to explore the dunes more thoroughly today. A quick scoot round the dunes at the end of the pines added a few bits and pieces to the day’s list. There were several Wheatears in the dunes, but we couldn’t find much else in the way of migrants here. A male Stonechat perched up in the bushes. A Mistle Thrush was feeding on the short grass.

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6O0A1823Wheatear – there were several in the dunes this afternoon

Then we had to make our way back. A Little Egret perched precariously in a bush by Salt’s Hole as we passed. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive on the way back to Wells, a pair of Grey Partridge were in one of the fields.

It had been a whistlestop tour round several sites, but we had seemingly amassed quite a tally of birds for the day. It was only back at base that we got a chance to add it all up – 108 species and 1 subspecies (White Wagtail). Not bad at all for a day when we had not set out to see as many birds as possible. The joys of spring birding in Norfolk!