Tag Archives: Nightjar

22nd-23rd July 2019 – Brecks, Coast & Nightjars

A two day Private Tour in Norfolk, we spent Monday in the Brecks before heading up to North Norfolk for an evening looking for owls and Nightjars. On Tuesday, we were out on the North Norfolk coast. The weather was sunny with mostly clear blue skies, and hot, although there was a keen and rather blustery wind on Monday which had died down the following day.

We met down in the Brecks. As it was already approaching mid-morning, we headed straight over to Weeting Heath to look for Stone Curlews before it got too hot. When we got into East Hide, there was no obvious sign of anything on view but a careful scan with the scope revealed a Stone Curlew hunkered down in the grass and flowers, looking rather like a clod of earth, but slightly paler than the clods around it. We had a look at it through the scope, and could see its yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill as it turned its head.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – in the flowers out on the heath from East Hide

Then another Stone Curlew stood up a little further over to the left. This was a much better view, and we watched it as it walked slowly over towards the first bird. Eventually, it settled down into the grass and disappeared again, so we took that as our cue to move on.

There had been a few tits and a Nuthatch high in the pines on our walk out, but on the way back to the car park we heard a Marsh Tit calling in the bushes ahead of us, its distinctive sneezing call. It flew towards us and landed in an elder right next to the path, just a few feet from us. So close, you didn’t even need binoculars!

From there, we made our way over to Lakenheath Fen. Having checked in at the Visitor Centre, we stopped briefly to look at the feeders. A few tits and Goldfinches were coming and going and a male Reed Bunting made several visits to the feeding table.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – coming in to the feeders by the Visitor Centre

It was a bit too windy out along the main track for butterflies today, but still we saw lots of Red Admirals and a Comma landed on the brambles briefly. A couple of Brown Hawkers were hawking over the reeds and several Ruddy Darters were flying around and perching in the grass by the path. Most of the damselflies were hiding in the vegetation, but we did see one or two Azure Damselflies.

We stopped at the New Fen Viewpoint and looked out over the pool below. A Great Crested Grebe was still on its nest on the edge of the reeds, and what was presumably its partner appeared and swam out into the middle of the water. There were a couple of well-grown broods of Gadwall and some moulting Mallard at the back, along with several Coot and Moorhen. A Reed Warbler was feeding low down along the edge of the reeds at the back.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – still on the nest in front of New Fen Viewpoint

Continuing on along the track towards Mere Hide, there were one or two Black-tailed Skimmers basking on the gravel which kept flying on ahead of us. We had a junior member of the group with us who could hear loud buzzing in the grass by the track, whereas the grown-ups couldn’t hear it above the wind. It was a Roesel’s Bush-cricket and following the noise, we eventually found several in the vegetation and watched one stridulating.

Roesel's Bush Cricket

Roesel’s Bush Cricket – there were lots in the grass, inaudible to the grown-ups!

From the hide, we could see a family of Little Grebes away to the left at the back of the open channel, an adult feeding two well-grown juveniles. A flock of five Little Egrets flew over towards, heading over towards Joist Fen. Several Four-spotted Chasers were flying around the edges of the water or perching on reed stems. Otherwise it was rather quiet here today, we we decided to continue on to Joist Fen.

As we sat on the benches looking out over Joist Fen, it was rather quiet here too at first. A few Marsh Harriers circled up from the reeds from time to time, a male with the silvery-grey panel it is upperwings, a female and one or two dark chocolate brown juveniles. A couple of Common Terns commuted back and forth from the pools out in the middle of the reeds.

One or two Reed Warblers flicked in and out on the edge of the reeds. We heard Bearded Tits calling several times, but they were mostly hidden behind the reeds down at the front of the pool, just below the viewpoint, until a juvenile flew back across the water and landed in the reeds at the back.

Then two Common Cranes appeared, flying across low over the reeds, before dropping down away from us into the reeds out in the middle out of sight. As well as the breeding pair which still has a youngster which has not yet fledged, there have been two different Cranes seen from time to time around the reserve recently. They were presumably the ones we saw, possibly returning juveniles from 2018 according to reserve staff. Several Little Egrets had already flown in and out and when a Great White Egret appeared. It came up out of the reeds, much larger, with slower wingbeats, and flew back away from us.

We had been hoping to see a Bittern here, and normally this is a good time to see them as they fly back and forth regularly with food for their young, but they have not been very active this summer. The reserve staff hope that there are still good numbers breeding, after a record count of eleven booming males in spring here, and think they may just be walking to find food due to the conditions.

It was nice sitting here in the sunshine with the breeze over the reeds, so we decided to wait some more. A Grey Heron came up and did a fly round. When it dropped down out of sight in the reeds again, it chased a second Grey Heron out. Finally, a Bittern put in an appearance, flying up out of the reeds over towards the river bank, across low over the tops, before dropping back in out in the middle. Success!

It was a long walk back to the Visitor Centre and was early afternoon already by the time we got back. We stopped for a cold drink and a snack to recover. With evening activities planned too, we didn’t have much time this afternoon, but we called in quickly at Lynford Arboretum. There was lots of activity around a tree laden with berries in the car park – several Blackbirds coming and going, and a family of Garden Warblers. We watched the adult feeding one of the juveniles up in the top.

As we walked down the path towards the bridge, a Siskin flew over calling. There were not many birds out in the heat of the afternoon, so we carried on down to the lake. Several Little Grebes out among the lilypads, including an adult feeding two juveniles. An Emperor Dragonfly was hawking over the water. Making our way back up towards the car park, we stopped to look at the feeders by the cottages and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of several on the lake at Lynford

On our way north, we stopped off again in the forest. We parked by a clearing and walked a short way out along a ride through the middle. A Yellowhammer was singing from the top of the pines on one side, and we found an Essex Skimmer in the grass (we could see the black tips to the underside of its antennae) but there was not much else here today so we carried on our way.

After a break to get checked in and get something to eat, we met again in the evening. First, we drove over to a site to look for Little Owls. As soon as we pulled up, we could see one of the adults perched on the roof of some old farm buildings. We watched from the minibus as it stood there staring at us, a great view.

Little Owl

Little Owl – one of the adults, hiding under the roof

As the adult Little Owl seemed fairly settled, we pulled a little further forwards and could see two paler grey, fluffier juvenile Little Owls on the same roof a little further down. They were more active, looking round, stretching their wings, running up under cover and back down into the open. We stayed and watched them for a short while, then headed down to the coast to look for Barn Owls.

We drove round through an area of meadows where the Barn Owls like to hunt, but there was no sign of any out yet. So we parked and walked down along the bank by the grazing marshes. Several Common Swifts were screaming around the rooftops of the village nearby – it won’t be long now before they are off, on their way south. A few House Martins circled in with them. A Grey Partridge was feeding in the grass on the edge of a ditch across the meadows.

Scanning from the bank, we picked up a very distant Barn Owl out over the back of the marshes, hunting. As we watched it, it seemed to be coming a bit closer, flying towards us, but then it turned and went back out into the middle. At least we had seen a Barn Owl. We turned to walk back to the minibus and another Barn Owl appeared from behind the reeds back towards the road. It was the regular all-white male, a stunning bird! It flew straight past us and disappeared round over the bank.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – the all-white male flew past us over the reeds

It was time to get up to the heath for this evening’s main event now. As we walked out into the middle of the heath, we spotted a large bat flying over the tops of the pines, probably a Noctule.

We didn’t have long to wait before we heard the first Nightjar of the evening calling. It sounded like it was flying round in the trees at first, but then it came out over the edge of the heath, circling round a few times in front of the trees. Then it turned and came right past us, heading out into the middle. A male, we could see its white wing patches as it came past. It dropped down out of view and started churring.

Another Nightjar called from trees. It too flew round like the other had done earlier. It landed briefly on a branch, one of its favourite churring posts, and we got it in scope, but it didn’t stay long. It flew round past us and out into the middle of the heath too,another male. We stood and listened to the churring and from time to time could see one flying round, hawking for insects.

Then one of the male Nightjars flew back in low over the heath and came back right past us, another good view. It flew up into an oak tree quite close to where we were standing and started churring. Great to hear up close. Unfortunately it was obscured by leaves where we were standing and as we tried to walk round to the other side to see if we could see it, it dropped out of the tree and flew back out into middle again.

After a long day, it was time to call it a night. We could hear another Nightjar churring as we walked back to the minibus, and a Tawny Owl hooting away in the distance. It was time for bed.

After our late night last night, we had a more relaxed start to the morning today. After  we met up, we headed down to Wells. As we parked, we could already see the Spoonbills. There were at least six, tucked in the grass, asleep. There were several Little Egrets with them too and hard to tell what some of the white shapes were from here, further over hidden by the vegetation.

After a while, two of the Spoonbills woke up. One was one of this year’s juveniles, from the breeding colony at Holkham. When they want to be fed they are relentless, and we watched the juvenile as it walked over towards the adult and started begging, bobbing its head up and down and flapping its wings. The adult tried walking away, but the juvenile followed. After a while, the adult tried flying away but the juvenile just flew after it and carried on begging when it landed. In the end, the adult gave in.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – sleeping on one of the islands

There were a few waders on the pools here too. We could see a distant Greenshank roosting on the back of one pool, but then found another feeding close to the track on the other side. A Green Sandpiper appeared from behind one of the islands too. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was out in the middle and there were still plenty of Lapwings, presumably the local breeding birds. There is just one pair of Avocets left here now though. Most have finished breeding and moved off elsewhere to moult, but these ones still have a cute, half-grown fluffy juvenile. Moulting will have to wait until family duties have finished!

Greenshank

Greenshank – one of two here this morning

We watched a lovely grey male Marsh Harrier circling over the fields beyond the pools. Then a female appeared and flew in over the pools and past us.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew inland over the pools

There were several Reed Buntings along the track, and Linnets and Goldfinches in the bushes, along with a few House Sparrows. When we heard a Sedge Warbler calling, we turned and could see it climbing around in the base of a large hawthorn by the edge of the ditch behind us.

We moved on from here, driving west along the coast road all the way to Holme. It was hot already, but there was a nice breeze coming in off the sea as we walked out through the dunes. A big dragonfly flew past – an emperor, but with a dark abdomen with a bright blue segment at the base. A Lesser Emperor! It disappeared straight off east through the dunes, presumably fresh in. There were hirundines on the move too today, little groups of Swallows and Sand Martins heading along the coast.

As we walked out towards the beach, we could hear Sandwich Terns calling, from the shore we could see a steady stream flying past. They were heading back to the breeding colony at Scolt, most carrying fish for their young which they had presumably caught in the Wash. Some of them came past us very close, so we could clearly see the yellow tip to their black bills (despite them being full of fish!). A couple of orange-red billed Common Terns came past too.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern – flying back to the breeding colony with fish

There were a couple of Little Terns diving just off the beach at the point away to our west, so we walked along to try to get a closer view. There were two at first, then four. They drifted off west, and when they came back again there were at least ten. We had great views of them fishing just offshore. As well as the small size, we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

Little Tern

Little Tern – there were at least ten fishing offshore

There was a single Bar-tailed Godwit on the point and several Ringed Plovers higher up on the beach. A flock of waders flew in and landed on the point. We got them in the scope and could see they were mostly Sanderling, at least 150 of them, with the majority still largely in dark breeding plumage. Very different from the silvery grey and white ones we see in the winter. There were around ten Dunlin in with them, the black bellies of their breeding plumage immediately identifying them.

Sanderling

Sanderling – at least 150 flew in to roost on the point

Looking away to the west, towards the mouth of the Wash, we watched as a huge flock of birds flew up. They were largely Knot, probably at least 2,500 of them. It was amazing to watch as they whirled round out over the sea, presumably having been spooked from where they were roosting over high tide. Some flew over our way and past over the sea, and we could see they were also mostly still in their rusty breeding plumage.

Knot

Knot – part of the flock which whirled out over the sea

It was very pleasant out on the beach today, particularly with so much to see, and our junior correspondent even went for a paddle. Eventually, it was time to walk back and get some lunch. We drove round to the village to the White Horse for a cold drink and a sandwich. Then it was on to Titchwell for the rest of the afternoon.

Making out way out onto the reserve, we stopped first at the reedbed pool where a Great White Egret was lurking in the reeds on one side. Through the scope, we could see its long snake-like neck and dagger-shaped yellow bill. There were several ducks on here, Common Pochard and Tufted Duck being new for the trip list, and two Great Crested Grebes, one adult and a juvenile.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – hiding in the reeds on the reedbed pool on our way out

We particularly wanted to see the Semipalmated Sandpiper which had been here for a few days now, so we decided to head straight out towards the Tidal Pools which was where it had been seen todat.

On the way, we spotted at least six Spoonbills on the island at the back of the Freshmarsh. A smart Black-tailed Godwit was feeding at the front on the mud, and as we walked along the bank more flew up and headed out west, flashing their distinctive black and white wings. Several Ruff were also feeding on the mud below the bank, bewildering in their variation with no two looking the same and all looking patchy, at different stages of moult.

Ruff

Ruff – a moulting male, no two look the same at this time of year

We stopped briefly to look at an adult Mediterranean Gull roosting in with the Black-headed Gulls on one the islands, one of the other birds we had hoped to catch up with here today. We could see its brighter, heavier red bill, blacker hood, and white wing tips, compared to the neighbouring Black-headed Gulls.

Pressing on to the Tidal Pools, when we got there the Semipalmated Sandpiper had just been chased off by Turnstones and walked into the vegetation out of view. We had a look at the Turnstones, still mostly in their bright breeding plumage. There was also a small group of Dunlin, feeding on the edge of the island, plus Redshanks and Oystercatchers roosting.

The Semipalmated Sandpiper did walk out for a couple of seconds but went back in before we could all get a look at it. At least it was still there. We didn’t have too long this afternoon though, so we decided to walk back to Parrinder Hide and come back again later. A friend who was still waiting promised to let us know if it reappeared.

The Great White Egret was now on the Freshmarsh, preening out on one of the islands amongst all the gulls, looking oddly out of place. A single orange Knot in breeding plumage was feeding nearby, so we could get this one in the scope and have a better look at it than the ones which had flown past earlier.

From the hide, we could really appreciate just how many Avocets there are on the Freshmarsh now, with over 600 counted in the last day or so. They gather here to moult at this time of the year, so some of these birds may have come from very different places. They were mostly sleeping on the islands. We also had a nice close view of a Black-tailed Godwit still in breeding plumage in front of the hide, where we could clearly see the rusty colour of the head extending down to the breast and then barred with black on a white belly.

Avocets

Avocets – numbers soar, as birds come here to moult

Several juvenile Pied Wagtails were flitting around in front of the hide and out on the short grassy islands. A juvenile Yellow Wagtail was in with them, browner above and creamy yellow below. Some of the Spoonbills were awake now, and we watched a couple of juveniles practicing feeding, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallow water. We could see there were more Mediterranean Gulls here, in with Black-headed Gulls. A good opportunity to practice newly-learnt Mediterranean Gull identification and pick them out!

The phone buzzed, as a message arrived to say that the Semipalmated Sandpiper had come out, so we walked quickly back to the Tidal Pools. By the time we got there, it had of course disappeared back into the vegetation again but after scanning for a minute or so, we found it standing in a patch of short samphire. It was rather tucked in at first, but then put its head up, looking round. Then suddenly all the waders took off and headed straight out towards the beach. The Semipalmated Sandpiper appeared to go down with them.

We walked up onto the dunes and scanned the beach from the top. The tide was just going out and the mussel beds were only starting to be exposed in a few places. Thankfully it meant there weren’t too may places to hide and we quickly relocated the Semipalmated Sandpiper with a Dunlin feeding down on the shore. It was distant from here, so we walked down for a closer view, and had a really good view of it from the beach.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper – finally showed well, out on the beach

Semipalmated Sandpiper is a rare visitor here from North America, closely related to our Little Stint. It is more often seen on the west coast, and particularly unusual here in Norfolk. It gets its name from the small amount of webbing between the base of its toes, which is not shown by our stints.

It was a nice way to end our two days. After seeing a good variety of our breeding bids, as well as a selection of returning passage waders, we got to round it off with a proper rarity. Unfortunately we had to get back as there was a train to catch. It had been a very enjoyable couple of summer days out.

6th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 2

Day 2 of a long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was originally meant to be sunny and warm today, but the forecast changed a couple of days ago to rain in the middle of the day and cooler. The rain came early – it was already spitting with drizzle when we met up and it continued on and off through the morning. Thankfully, it was only light and intermittent and it didn’t really stop us getting out, and it dried up in the afternoon.

Having been east along the coast yesterday, we drove west today. A Red Kite drifted over the road as we made our way to Holme. As we got out of the minibus, a Sedge Warbler was singing, but it was keeping tucked down out of view this morning. We could see a couple of dark juvenile Marsh Harriers flying round over the bushes out in the middle of the grazing marsh. When the male flew past, they thought they were going to get fed, but were disappointed when it didn’t stop. Up on the seawall, we could see one of the juveniles standing in a recently cut silage field, presumably trying to find something for itself.

It was already spitting with rain, but we thought we would be OK for an hour or so, based on the forecast. Enough time to get out to the beach and back. It was a very high tide this morning and lots of Redshanks were roosting out on the islands of vegetation on the saltmarsh. Five Little Egrets were roosting too. The Meadow Pipits and Skylarks had been forced off the saltmarsh and up into the dunes by the water, and we flushed several as we walked out.

Looking out over the dunes, we could see a Little Tern distantly over the beach. A Bar-tailed Godwit was feeding on the edge of the water. A Fulmar flew past offshore. When we got out to the beach, we found there was very little sand left exposed. A few Oystercatchers and gulls were roosting on the bit of beach left exposed. We could see a few Sandwich Terns flying past over the sea.

As we walked a little further down along the edge of the dunes, a Ringed Plover ran ahead of us. We had seen one on the nest here recently, but the area where it had been looked to be under water now. A Sanderling appeared on the sand on the edge of the dunes too, still in its dark breeding plumage.

Sanderling

Sanderling – still in dark breeding plumage

One of the Little Terns flew over calling. It started to drizzle more heavily now, so we decided to walk back to get our waterproofs from the minibus. From the dunes, we could see the pair of Little Terns mobbing an Oystercatcher back on the beach. Hopefully they had not been impacted by the high tides.

Little Tern

Little Tern – flew over calling

It had stopped drizzling again when we got back on the coastal path. Lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits were in feeding in the dunes. Back at the minibus, we layered up just in case. A Cuckoo flew across the grazing marshes on the other side of the track and when we looked across we could see a second Cuckoo perched on the top of some brambles. We had a look at it in the scope. It will not be long now before the adults leave and head off back south, their breeding season over and the surrogate parents left to raise the young.

We wanted to have a quick look in the old paddocks, so we walked back round and up onto the coastal path. But when we got there it started drizzling more heavily again, so we decided to change plans and head round to Titchwell instead, where we could use the hides. When we got to Titchwell, we had a quick look at the latest rainfall radar and realised the rain band looked to be moving over quickly, so we stopped for coffee at the Visitor Centre. Afterwards the rain had eased off again, so we headed out onto the reserve.

When we got out to the reedbed, a Reed Bunting was singing from the top of a small sallow. A few Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers were flitting round the small pools below the path. A small flock of waders flying in over the saltmarsh turned out to be a Whimbrel with ten Redshank. The latter dropped down on the saltmarsh, but we watched the Whimbrel disappear out over the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of ducks on the reedbed pool, mainly Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard with a single Tufted Duck. The drakes are now all in their drab eclipse plumage. A single Red-crested Pochard sailed out from the reeds. It looked rather like a female, apart from its bright coral-red bill – it was a drake in eclipse too. A couple of Mediterranean Gulls flew off over the reeds, flashing their white wing tips.

We continued on to Island Hide. There were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the mud in front of the hide. One of them was bearing a collection of colour rings including one with the letter ‘E’ and a flag with the number ’27’. This bird is a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, from the very small UK breeding population on the Nene Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a bird from the small UK breeding population

In order to try to help the struggling UK breeding population of Continental Black-tailed Godwits, a number of eggs are now being hatched and raised in captivity each year, before being released once they are fully grown. ‘E27’ is one of those, raised in 2018. After spending the winter in Spain, it has since toured East Anglia.

Most of the birds here are Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, which are faring much better. There were lots of them out on the Freshmarsh today, and there seemed to be birds moving too. A large flock had flown off as we walked up towards Island Hide, disappearing off west. We saw more flying off or over during the morning, and others dropping in.

A small group of Knot was out with the Black-tailed Godwits when we first arrived and we had a look at them through scope. But they had disappeared when we looked back, possibly out to the beach or perhaps they were on the move today too. We counted 44 Dunlin on the Freshmarsh, but there had apparently been 83 earlier – again waders were obviously dropping in and moving on.

Ruff

Ruff – scrawny-necked, having already moulted its ruff

There were about a dozen Ruff here today, all of them different colours. They are all males which have finished breeding, and already moulted their ornate ruffs. Some were looking very scruffy, with very scrawny necks. An adult Avocet and a well-grown juvenile were feeding in front of the hide, but there were lots more resting on the islands out in the middle. The Avocets are gathering here to moult now, with birds travelling here from elsewhere, and over 400 were counted here today. A single Spotted Redshank was visible over by the fenced-off Avocet Island but was rather distant from here.

The juvenile Bearded Tits like to feed along the edge of the reeds in front of Island Hide and we looked across to see three working their way round, hopping out onto the edge of the mud. We had a great look at them, tawny brown with black backs and black masks.

Bearded Tits

Bearded Tit – three juveniles, on the mud on the edge of the reeds

Spoonbills were reported on the Freshmarsh this morning, but they were apparently over in the back corner and not in view from here. One of the volunteers radioed through to a colleague over by Parrinder to check they were still present, and the reply came through that they were just taking off. We looked over to see six of them flying low towards us, they passed right in front of the hide, before disappearing off west over the bank, presumably heading to to feed.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – five of the six which flew off from the Freshmarsh

There are still lots of gulls out here, and plenty of Mediterranean Gulls loafing around on the islands in with all the Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Common Terns were out on one of the islands too.

Four Barnacle Geese flew in over the back from the direction of Brancaster and landed on the island in front of Parrinder Hide. When we walked round, we had a better look from there. They are presumably feral birds from the now established UK breeding population, which tend to wander.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – two of the four which dropped in on the Freshmarsh

We had a closer look at the gulls from Parrinder Hide. There were lots of juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, much greyer and scalier than the rather dark brown juvenile Black-headed Gulls. Several of the juvenile Mediterrnaean Gulls were begging from the adults.

There was a much better view of the Spotted Redshank by the Avocet Island fence from here too. It was still mostly in sooty black breeding plumage but starting to moult now with patches of paler grey emerging. At least four more Spotted Redshanks were right over the far side, on the edge of the reeds. A couple of those were already noticeably whiter below than the others.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – starting to moult out of its black breeding plumage

There were more ducks loafing on the islands over this side of the Freshmarsh, the drake all in drab eclipse plumage. Teal and Shoveler were both additions to the day’s list. Hundreds of Swifts had gathered over the reeds, and we could see a few House Martins and Sand Martins in with them. They were hawking low, trying to find insects in the cool and rain. There had been a steady passage of Swifts moving west along the coast today.

It was lunchtime now, so we set off to walk back. We had a quick look over the wall at Volunteer Marsh, but there wasn’t much on there – a single Curlew, an Oystercatcher, and a Lapwing. We hadn’t got back to the trees before it started to spit with rain again. As we didn’t fancy sitting out in the rain, we decided to divert round via Meadow Trail before lunch. A Song Thrush was singing on Fen Trail, perched right on the top of a dead tree. We stopped to watch a pair of Blackcaps feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide.

Blackcap

Blackcap – a pair were feeding their young in the bushes behind Fen Hide

The drizzle had stopped by the time we got round to Patsy’s and there were lots more warblers in the bushes around the screen, coming out to feed after the rain. We saw several Common Whitethroats and a couple of Chiffchaffs, as well the usual Reed Warblers. A couple of Bearded Tits zipped back and forth across the reeds.

There were lots of ducks on Patsy’s, mainly Mallard and Gadwall, the drakes all in eclipse. A female Common Pochard with several ducklings was diving out in the middle. Two more Red-crested Pochard were again drakes in eclipse, given away by their bright red bills.

When we finally got back to the Visitor Centre, it was time for a rather late lunch. We were very kindly allowed to eat inside as it was not busy today and the clouds still looked rather threatening. Afterwards, we made our way back east along the coast and stopped again at Burnham Overy Staithe.

As we walked out along the seawall, we saw a distant Spoonbill fly across over the harbour towards the dunes. A male Kestrel landed in the top of the hawthorn bushes on the near edge of the grazing marshes and a couple of Greylag heads popped up from time to time out of the long grass beyond. A Little Grebe was diving in the channel on the edge of the reeds and we stopped to watch a family of Sedge Warblers down in the wet grass below the bank.

There were a few waders out in the harbour. A flock of Redshanks around the small pools on the sandbanks and more with a flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits on the mud on the corner. There were several Oystercatchers too, but it was very disturbed today with several boats in the channel and people walking out over the middle of the saltmarsh and round the edge of the harbour.

We stopped on the corner by the reedbed pool. There were lots of Coot and a few ducks on the water and we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Then a Black Tern appeared over the pool. It circled round over the reeds, giving us a good look at it. It was a very smart adult, still in sooty black breeding plumage. Then as quickly as it had appeared it flew up and over the bank and disappeared out over the harbour. There had apparently been a Black Tern here a couple of days ago, so it was possibly lingering here.

Black Tern

Black Tern – a smart adult, appeared over the reedbed pool briefly

There were some cattle grazing on the marshes further up along the bank, so we walked over. There had been some Cattle Egrets with them earlier this week, but there didn’t seem to be anything there at first today. We stood and looked out over the grazing marshes and we were just about to head back, when the Cattle Egrets suddenly appeared. They were not feeding around the cows, but on a small pool hidden in the long grass in between them. We couldn’t see the Cattle Egrets behind the tall vegetation until they happened to walk out into the open, just in time.

We had a good view of the Cattle Egrets through the scope. They were looking particularly smart, in breeding plumage with a pale orange wash on the top of the head, the back and breast. Then they flew back to join the cows further back and we lost them from view again in the long grass.

Cattle Egrets

Cattle Egrets – feeding on a small pool in between the cows

A Spoonbill flew in over the harbour and out across the grazing marshes, heading for the breeding colony. As we walked back, we were almost at the car park and had stopped to look out over the marshes, when another Spoonbill dropped in behind us into the harbour channel. It would have been a great view, but there were more people out with dogs paddling in the harbour, and they flushed it as we turned round to look at it.

We were heading out again this evening, looking for Nightjars, so it was time to head back now, so we could all have a break and get something to eat.

Nightjar Evening

When we met again in the early evening, the weather was much improved, and the sun was even shining. We headed over first to look for Little Owls at a nearby complex of barns. We were in luck tonight. As we pulled up and started to scan the roofs, we spotted two fluffy juvenile Little Owls perched on the top enjoying the evening sun.

Little Owls

Little Owls – two juveniles enjoying the evening sun on the roof

One of the adult Little Owls appeared on the roof opposite, and one of the juveniles flew over to see if it was going to be fed. We stopped and watched them for a while and there was lots of flying backwards and forwards between the roofs. A second adult appeared on another roof, which we assumed was the other parent, but the first adult flew over straight at it as if it was trying to chase it off. The second Little Owl flew a short distance, but it landed on the same place we had first seen the two juveniles and was ignored thereafter, so it was hard to be sure what its relationship was to the others.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away – we could have stayed watching the Little Owls all evening but we wanted to head down to the coast to look for Barn Owls. We drove round some meadows where they like to hunt, but there was no sign initially of any out tonight. We stopped, and walked up onto a bank from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

When we looked back, we found a Barn Owl out hunting the field behind us, where we had just been looking. It flew round and landed on some bales, but by the time we got the scopes out, it was off again. It landed a second time, on a fence below the bank by the reeds, and this time we had a good view, perched looking at us. It dropped down to the ground and flew back up to the fence. Then it was away over the reeds.

We turned to see a second Barn Owl had flown along the bank right behind us and was disappeared off out over the marshes. It was a striking almost all-white male, a regular bird here. It disappeared away out of view before we could get a good look at it, but thankfully quickly caught something and came back with a vole in its talons.

It flew straight towards us initially, then veered off and disappeared into the trees, presumably heading back to its nest to feed its young. Only a short while later, it was out hunting again. It flew round over the meadows, where we had seen the first Barn Owl, then came past us across reeds and disappeared out over marshes.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – the ghostly white male caught a vole

It was time now to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. It was quiet as we walked out to the middle, but not long before we heard our first Nightjar calling. We looked over to see it flying round the treetops in the distance. It started churring so we walked over to look for it.

The Woodcock were still roding too. We heard a squeaky call, and looked up to see one flying over, with flicking wingbeats, it distinctive display flight. It or another came right over us a couple of times this evening.

The Nightjar was churring in a dense oak, and impossible to see in the evening gloom. We stood nearby and listened and after a while it dropped out and came towards us over the heath. Then a female appeared, and came in to investigate, hovering right in front of us. We had a great view as it flew round just above our heads.

Nightjar

Nightjar – flew round above our heads

When the female Nightjar flew back towards the trees, a second male came in, and the two of them flew round together calling, the flashing the white in his wings and tail. The first male was still churring out in the middle of the heath, while an intruder was on its territory. These two birds often seem to have dispute, and after a while the first Nightjar flew back off towards its territory.

We stood for a while and listened to the Nightjars churring. Occasionally one would fly in and circle round above us again. A Tawny Owl hooted from deep in the woods behind. The light was fading now, so we set off to walk back. We heard another couple of churring male Nightjars on our way back to the minibus. Then it was time for bed – we had another busy day tomorrow.

21st June 2019 – Solstice Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of two days of Summer Tours today. It was a sunny start with clear blue skies and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon, it remained bright and warm. A lovely day to be out on the North Norfolk coast.

To start the day, we set off east along the coast. It was coming up to high tide, so we called in first at Stiffkey Fen to see if any waders had come in to roost from the harbour. As we got out of the minibus, a Barn Owl disappeared round behind the barns. Probably with young to feed somewhere, it was still out hunting into the morning. A Yellowhammer was singing from the tops of the pines and we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the brambles. Having gone quiet while they raised their first broods, the Lesser Whitethroats have started singing again now ahead of a second breeding attempt.

Down along the permissive path, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were singing in the copse. We could hear a Bullfinch calling somewhere in the trees ahead of us too. There was a mixed tit flock feeding down by the road, a large group of Long-tailed Tits plus Blue Tits, Great Tits and a family of Coal Tits. We watched the latter feeding in the pines above the road, the juveniles with light yellow cheeks.

Down along the path by the river, there were rather few House Martins around the house on the hill, which seems to be a worrying theme this year. A Cetti’s Warbler was shouting intermittently from deep in the sallows. Half way down, we could just about see over the brambles to the Fen, where four Spoonbills were roosting. We had a better view of them from up on the seawall, where we could see there were three adults and one short-billed juvenile, a ‘teaspoonbill’. The first juveniles have started to disperse from the breeding colony at Holkham, and are then creched at favoured sites along the coast.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – the juvenile was chasing after one of the adults

The juvenile Spoonbill started begging, trying to persuade one of the adults to feed it. Initially it bobbed its head up and down and started to flap its wings. When the adult tried to walk away, the juvenile set off after it. We watched the two of them walking round for at least 10 minutes, the juvenile Spoonbill relentless. At one point the adult tried to run away but the juvenile simply ran too.

A single Sandwich Tern was loafing in with the Black-headed Gulls. Three Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the harbour calling, two adults and a 1st summer, but they didn’t land and flew on west. A Common Tern was fishing in the harbour channel and kept coming past us while we stood on the bank, occasionally plunging down into the water.

Common Tern

Common Tern – fishing in the harbour channel

There were three Greenshanks on the Fen, roosting over high tide, asleep in the taller vegetation on the island. There were lots of Avocets, with one or two juveniles still. But no other waders on here this morning. Someone came to open up some equipment down by the sluice, and when we asked what it was for, they explained that they were monitoring the movements of the local sea trout population in the River Stiffkey and harbour.

After walking back, we made our way on to Kelling Heath. A Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler were singing in the car park and the first of many Painted Lady butterflies was basking on a bush. There has been a large invasion in recent weeks from the continent and there are still lots around.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – the first of many, basking on a bush in the car park

We had a quick walk round to see if we could find any Adders. They are warm now though and the only one we came across slithered away as we approached, possibly alerted to our approach by all the footsteps. A Garden Warbler was singing in the blackthorn nearby.

Walking on up the hill, a Woodlark flew overhead calling. Unfortunately it didn’t look like coming down and we watched it disappear away into the distance over the car park. There are lots of Silver-studded Blue butterflies out now and we stopped by a good area for them. There were good numbers of blue males fluttering round over the low heather and we found a mating pair, which gave us a good chance to have a closer look at the diagnostic underwing markings. There were a couple of July Belle moths out here too.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair showing the distinctive underwings

Carrying on round the Heath, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler perched in a birch tree. A Common Whitethroat was flitting about in the gorse and another Woodlark flushed from the path ahead of us. A smart male Yellowhammer was singing in a small birch tree. We came across one Stonechat, a male, down by the railway cutting, and another pair the other side of the crossing feeding young in the gorse. There were lots of Linnets here but no sign of any Dartford Warblers again – they seem to be struggling this year.

Linnet

Linnet – a red-breasted male

The surprise of the morning came as we were crossing the railway. We looked up at the gorse bushes the other side, to see a Nightjar flying over them. A couple walking a dog had just gone across ahead of us, so had possibly flushed it. It flew along the top of the bushes, then turned and came across the railway a short distance away. It looped round and landed beneath a birch tree by the path back where we had just come. We walked back to see if we could find it but it flew again, and this time disappeared off through the trees.

It was already after midday, so we headed back to the minibus and dropped down to Cley for lunch at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we could see the 1st summer Little Gull dip feeding out on Pat’s Pool distantly. Afterwards, we walked out to the hides in the middle. Several Sand Martins were hawking over the reeds.

Out first stop was in Teal Hide –  where, appropriately enough, the first bird we saw was the Green-winged Teal. It was swimming out in the middle of the water with several Eurasian Teal, the vertical white foreflank stripe on the Green-winged Teal setting it apart from the horizontal white-lined Eurasians. It was feeding constantly, swimming round with its head mostly under water, only coming up for air occasionally.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – on the left, with a Eurasian Teal on the right

There was a nice selection of other ducks on here too, including Gadwall and Shoveler, the drakes mostly moulting into their drab eclipse plumage already. There were several Shoveler too, with one pair at the back shepherding a large creche of 27 shelducklings.

We spent some time looking closely at the waders here too. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits of two types – mostly Icelandic birds (subspecies islandica), but two Continental Black-tailed Godwits (nominate limosa) were sporting coloured plastic rings which gave their identity away.  The particular combinations identified them as birds from the very small breeding population on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, having wandered here post-breeding.

Waders 1

Waders – Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot and a couple of Avocets

In with the Black-tailed Godwits were a few Bar-tailed Godwits. Most of them were in non-breeding plumage, paler and more heavily streaked above than the equivalent plumage of Black-tailed Godwit, with a more obvious pale supercilium and slightly upturned bill. They were noticeable shorter-legged too, wading with their longer-legged cousins. The Knot with them barely came up to their knees. Again, most were in grey non-breeding plumage but one or two were in their smarter rusty-orange breeding plumage. Several Avocets were feeding in front of the hide, as was a still not fully grown juvenile Redshank.

The waders were all very jumpy and kept flying up. We soon found out why when there was another commotion and we looked up to see a Peregrine flying over with something in its talons. It turned out it had just caught a Redshank flying over behind the hide (hopefully not the youngster we had just seen!). We watched it disappear off east – possibly one of the birds from Cromer church.

Waders 2

Waders – spooked by a Peregrine hunting over the scrapes

Back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off back west, stopping again on our way at Wells. As we parked and got out, we could hear the raspy call of a Grey Partridge in the field next door, but couldn’t see it in all the growing crop. Scanning the islands, we found three more Spoonbills, one of them another juvenile, lurking in the vegetation. When a fourth Spoonbill flew in, it dropped down in the near corner of the pool, down close the track, so we walked down for a closer look.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the corner of the pool by the track

The Spoonbill was busy feeding, with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side in the water as it walked. When it lifted its head, we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult, and the bushy nuchal crest and brownish wash on the breast marked it out as a bird in breeding condition. We had a nice view of it before it flew again and went right to the back of the pool.

The pools here have been very good for waders recently and, although there was nothing today which we hadn’t already seen at Cley, there was still a nice selection. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits were out in the middle, occasionally getting spooked and whirling round overhead. A lone bird, smart in rusty breeding plumage, was feeding on its own in the corner. Several Redshanks flew back and forth, and there were lots of Avocets and Lapwing in the grass.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – in rusty breeding plumage

A small group of Egyptian Geese were loafing in the grass close to the track, and there was a good selection of other wildfowl. As we were about to walk back, a Sedge Warbler started singing and flew up to the front edge of one of the hawthorn bushes to pose. We had a good look at it through the scope, with its bold white supercilium. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.

 

18th June 2019 – East to West & back

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a mostly bright and sunny day with patchy high cloud, until later in the day when a band of rain spread in, thankfully just as we were finishing up. We had a particular target list of species for the day, which saw us working the coast from end to end.

We met in Salthouse and headed inland, up to the heath to start. We really wanted to see Dartford Warbler, but with the population here seemingly struggling this year, we knew it would be difficult. As we arrived in the car park, we could hear Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing. Walking up along the path, several Linnets flew round over the gorse and we heard a Yellowhammer singing. There has been a Woodlark feeding in the area here, but there was no sign of it as we passed.

There were lots of butterflies out this morning. There are still plenty of Painted Ladys around, following the invasion in recent days, although some of them are starting to look a bit battered now. The Silver-studded Blues have been slow to emerge this year, but are now out in increasing numbers. We also flushed several July Belle moths from the vegetation by the paths too, today.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – some are now starting to look a little battered

We thought we would try our luck again and see if the Nightjar we had found the other day was roosting back on the same perch today, but unsurprisingly there was no sign of it. However, as we walked back round to the main path, we accidentally flushed another Nightjar from its roosting site hidden down in the bracken. It was a male, we could see its white wing flashes and corners to its tail as it flew up and disappeared into the trees.

Continuing on round the heath, we found several Stonechats, but no Dartford Warblers. An alarm calling family of Common Whitethroats was the closest we got. An Adder, basking on the path, slithered off into the heather as we approached. We flushed a pair of Yellowhammers collecting food in the gorse and bracken.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – a female, collecting food in the gorse and bracken

A Woodlark was reported singing earlier from back up where we had looked by the car park on our way out, so we decided to have a look for that instead. A Garden Warbler was singing from the birches on our way back, but despite walking all round the area where the Woodlark had been, there was no sign of it now. We decided to cut our losses and try something else.

Firecrest was the nest species on the list, so we headed over to Holt Country Park. We were not sure whether the Firecrests would be singing now, but as we were trying to pay for a parking ticket at the faulty pay & display ticket machine, we heard one singing from the trees behind us. Once we had gathered in the car park to listen, it had gone quiet, but thankfully then started up again closer to the road after a few minutes. We followed the sound and had some good views of it flitting around in the ivy-covered trees. We could see its bold white supercilium. A Goldcrest was singing nearby too.

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing in the ivy-covered trees

We were back on track now, and with our target here achieved so quickly, we had time to sit down and get a coffee at the cafe. A Siskin flew over calling while we were enjoying the morning sunshine.

From Holt, we had a long drive all the way over to the opposite end of the coast to look for Turtle Doves. We parked on the beach road at Holme and walked along the track towards the Firs. Two Stock Doves, three Collared Doves and a couple of Woodpigeons were all perched together in a small group of sallows in one of the gardens, but there was no sign of their rarer cousin. We could hear a Cuckoo calling, and turned to see it fly across the meadows the other side of the road. A Sparrowhawk circled up in the distance, along with a couple of Marsh Harriers.

A Cetti’s Warbler was singing further along. This was also on the target list for today, but it is a species which is rarely seen, and generally just heard. We walked down a narrow path along by the river, heading towards where we had heard the Cetti’s Warbler singing. A Sedge Warbler and a Chiffchaff were feeding in the vegetation down in the water.

The Cetti’s Warbler sang again, further up along the path, so we walked on. As we came out from under some trees, it suddenly appeared out of a bed of nettles right by the path, flying up into the low branches of an overhanging willow. We had just a brief view, before it dropped back down into the bushes by the river, and then flew round behind us, but it was more than we had hoped for. As we walked back along the path, the Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from some bushes ahead, but it had returned to being more typically elusive and we didn’t see it again.

Past the last house, we walked round and up onto the coast path. A flock of Starlings whirled round out over the saltmarsh. We took the coast path back west to the old paddocks, where a Common Whitethroat was singing from the hawthorns. We had just stopped to listen to a Lesser Whitethroat further along when two Turtle Doves flew out of the trees and over the path ahead of us. We followed them out over the saltmarsh, and watched as they dropped down over the dunes towards the beach.

We decided to walk round to the beach to see if we could get another look. We had to take a bit of a long diversion round the cordon on the beach erected for nesting birds. An Oystercatcher walked off over the stones as we passed and a Ringed Plover was feeding down in the bottom of a sandy creek. A Little Tern flew up calling and circled round overhead.

Little Tern

Little Tern – circled round overhead calling

As we rounded the far end of the cordon, the two Turtle Doves flew up from the dunes ahead of us. They circled round and dropped down again further over, in the middle of the fenced off area. The path through the dunes on the inland side of the cordon took us past that area, but the grass in the middle was very long and we couldn’t see any sign of them, so we climbed up onto the dune ridge to scan distantly from a higher vantage point.

One of the Turtle Doves flew up again, circled round, and dropped back down into the long grass. Then two Turtle Doves came up and circled round together. When they dropped down again, three came up the next time. This time they flew over towards the saltmarsh, the pair coming straight past us before heading back over to the paddocks. We had much better flight views this time – we could see the rusty scaling on their backs – worth the walk out here.

Turtle Doves

Turtle Doves – two of the three feeding out in the dunes

We walked back along the path towards the golf course. A Common Blue butterfly fluttered up from the dunes as we passed. Several Stock Doves came out of the grass, suggesting there must be lots of food out here for them at the moment. Then we crossed back to where we had left the minibus and had lunch on one of the picnic benches by the entrance to the car park.

Our next destination was Titchwell. Calling in at the Visitor Centre, we were told that a Hobby was hunting from the dead trees at the back of the reedbed, another species on our list. We walked straight round to Patsy’s Reedbed and had good views of the Hobby through the scope from there, perched in the trees. It kept flying off, making sorties to hunt, but returned each time to a different perch.

Several Red-crested Pochards were feeding out on the water in front of the screen, one of the easier target birds to tick off the list. Three drakes were just starting to moult, variously starting to get some browner feathers in their upperparts, but the fourth male was already in eclipse, looking rather like a female but with a bright coral-red bill. There were also a few Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks, and a Little Grebe on the water here this afternoon.

6O0A0589

Red-crested Pochard – the smartest of the four drakes on Patsy’s this afternoon

There were several Mediterranean Gulls in with the Black-headed Gulls bathing out in the water. Once you got your eye in, they were easy to pick out with their black hoods and white wing tips. We knew we could get better views out on the Freshmarsh though. There were several Bearded Tits in the reeds here, but they kept dropping down out of view. There was no sign of the Purple Heron in the short time we were there, but we didn’t want to waste hours waiting for it to reappear.

Out along Meadow Trail, a couple of Reed Warblers were flitting round the edge of the dragonfly pool, and one flew up to sing in the trees by the path. Along the main path by the reedbed, there were several Reed Buntings singing and Sedge Warblers flying in and out of the reeds by the small pools in front. We could hear more Bearded Tits calling and they were a bit easier to get onto here, flying back and forth across the channel through the reeds and across the front of the main reedbed pool, if a little more distant.

We stopped it at Island Hide. Several Avocets were feeding on the mud and shallow water in front of the hide, along with a few Black-tailed Godwits. There were quite a few Common Redshanks on here today, but we couldn’t see any Spotted Redshanks from where we were. A distant Little Ringed Plover was on one of the islands over by Parrinder Hide.

There are noticeably more Teal on the Freshmarsh now, with birds starting to return already from their breeding grounds further north. The local Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler are looking a bit tatty, moulting into eclipse plumage now.

From round at Parrinder Hide, we found the Spotted Redshanks, right over at the back against the reeds today. There were six in total, all still largely in their very smart sooty black breeding plumage, very different from the grey-brown Common Redshanks. As expected, there were plenty of Mediterranean Gulls here too, with a good number of them now loafing on the islands in front of the hide. There were lots of 2nd summers in with them today, looking like summer adults with their black hoods but still with black in their wingtips. The fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ is still chock full of noisy nesting gulls.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – loafing on the islands in front of the hide

A couple of Little Ringed Plovers flew round calling, right below the front of the hide. We watched one land on one of the islands and run quickly over to a shallow depression in the ground. It seemed to be scrape building, as it looked to work at the ground with its legs and then pick round the edge as if tidying up. When another Little Ringed Plover approached, the two of them walked in parallel across the island, stopping and bobbing they heads, or picking at the ground.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – appeared to be scrape building on the island

It was time to head back, as we had one last stop we wanted to make as we returned east along the coast. We could see darker cloud building from the west and it started to spit with rain as we walked along the bank towards the Visitor Centre.

Our final destination for the afternoon was at Wells. We could see several Spoonbills on the pools without even getting out of the minibus. We did get out and walked down along the track for a closer look. There were several adults busy feeding in the water, and two juveniles still with only partly grown bills over on the far bank. Two of the adults were feeding together, almost synchronised, walking side by side and sweeping their bills through the water in unison. We could see the mustard wash on their breasts and their shaggy nuchal crests and, when they caught something and lifted their heads, we could see the yellow tips to their black bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – these two adults were sychronised feeding

Egyptian Geese was another one on the list and another nice easy one here. There were seven together, loafing in the grass close to the track. It had been spitting lightly with rain but at this point it started to fall more heavily. We decided it was time to call it a day and head for home. We still had a couple more birds to add to the list on the way – a Grey Heron out on the marshes at Cley, and a Barn Owl hunting the grazing marshes by the road as we drove back in to Salthouse to round things off nicely.

16th June 2019 – Birds & Butterflies, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Summer Tours looking for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. It was mostly bright and sunny this morning, if a little breezy, with more cloud in the afternoon when we had to dodge some showers. Thankfully we managed to stay – mostly – dry.

Our first destination for this morning was up on the heath. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing in the tall birch trees on one side of the car park. It came a bit closer, into a smaller tree, but all we managed to get were brief glimpses as it moved through the branches before it dropped out of view. Thankfully, a couple of minutes later, it flew round to the blackthorn on the other side of the car park at perched right out in some dead branches in the top, singing.

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler – singing in the trees in the car park

As we walked up the path out onto the heath, we could hear a Yellowhammer singing. A small bird flew up from one of the cut areas ahead of us. It was a Woodlark. It flew up in front of us, then circled round behind – we could see its short tail and broad rounded wings – and we lost sight of it behind the trees.

A little further on, we stopped to look at a male Silver-studded Blue butterfly, a very localised heathland species. They have been slow to emerge this year, probably due to the cold, wet weather over the last week or so, but we would see several out today, in the warmer conditions, including one which appeared to be so newly emerged it was still to be filling out its wings. While we were looking at the Silver-studded Blue, a male Yellowhammer flew up into the top of a small tree nearby.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue – we saw several, some freshly emerged, today

We had a look round a couple of traditional territories where there are usually Dartford Warblers, but we drew a blank. They have been very hard to find in recent weeks – hopefully that just means they have been busy breeding, rather than anything else, although it does look like numbers on the Heath are down again this year, a worrying trend. We did find a family of Willow Warblers calling from some scrubby bushes and saw one of the adults out looking for food in a low birch tree. There were several families of Linnets in the gorse too.

On our travels, we also came across an Adder basking on the edge of the gorse which slithered quickly in when we stopped to look at it. A Common Lizard ran through the heather too. There were several Painted Lady butterflies out again today, and we found one or two July Belle moths which flushed from the heather beside the path.

We decided to try our luck on another part of the Heath and as we made our way round, we happened to notice a shape on top of a dead stump not far from the path. It was a roosting Nightjar! It opened one eye and looked at us as we set up the scope on it, but was obviously relying on its fantastic camouflage to assume we couldn’t see it. We took it in turns, one at a time so as not to create too much disturbance, to look at it. Fantastic!

Nightjar

Nightjar – roosting on a dead stump

After enjoying the sound of Nightjars churring last night, and watching them flying round above our heads in the twilight, it was great to see one in daylight today and admire its cryptic plumage. A real bonus as we rarely find them perched out in the daytime.

There were one or two more Silver-studded Blue butterflies out on the other side of the Heath. We found a pair of Stonechats here too, the male and female both alarm calling and collecting food, suggesting they may have a nest somewhere close with young in it. A Common Whitethroat flew up in a song flight and a Coal Tit worked its way through the gorse. Several Common Buzzards started to circle up and we watched two chasing each other above the trees. But we couldn’t find any Dartford Warblers over here either, so we decided to head back.

On the way, we stopped to look at a flowering bush that was covered in butterflies – at least 12 Painted Ladys and several Red Admirals. As we walked through a group of pine trees, we could hear a Goldcrest singing and we looked up to see it flitting around in the branches. Back at the car park, the Garden Warbler was still singing.

Moving on, we dropped down to the coast at Cley, stopping at the Visitor Centre briefly to use the facilities before driving round to Walsey Hills. There were several Common Pochard on the pool at Snipe’s Marsh, including a female with seven small ducklings. Common Pochard is a scarce breeding bird in the UK, so it is always good to see successful breeding.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – a female with one of seven ducklings

We could see a Spoonbill feeding in the Serpentine further out along the East Bank, so we walked out to have a look at it. There were several Reed Warblers singing in the reeds and a Reed Bunting perched up in a small elder in the reedbed. We heard a Bearded Tit calling and caught a glimpse of it zooming off over the reeds, but it was a little breezy for them out here today.

There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes, along with four Curlew, early returning birds, possibly failed breeders or non-breeders. There were several Shelduck on Pope’s Pool. A pair of Avocet had nested on the bare mud here and had two small juveniles – balls of grey fluff with long legs and a short, slightly uptilted bill. A Lapwing was still on the nest. A Little Ringed Plover appeared briefly on an area of short muddy grass.

The Spoonbill was busy feeding further back in the water, where it was hard to see, but now flew over to the far northernmost corner. We could see it better here and we watched it walking round with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the shallow water. Occasionally it would flick its head up when it caught something. It worked its way back towards us along the grassy edge and came right past along the edge of the Serpentine. We could see the yellow tip to its black bill and its shaggy crest, a breeding adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – an adult, feeding on the Serpentine

A second Spoonbill was hidden down in a smaller low pool behind the bank at the back, but obviously encountered the ire of a pair of Avocets, which chased it out. It joined the first Spoonbill on the Serpentine for a bit, before deciding the coast was clear and heading back to the pool where it had been feeding before.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, past the main drain where a Little Grebe was diving, we went into the shelter to get out of the wind. There were lots of Sandwich Terns packed in on one of the small islands and others bathing and preening further over. Through the scope we could see their yellow-tipped black bills and shaggy crests. A single Common Tern was loafing nearby – noticeably different, with its black-tipped red bill and red legs, and its smooth black crown.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – loafing on Arnold’s Marsh

Scanning around the edges of Arnold’s Marsh, we found a Little Gull right over at the back. It was a young one, in its first summer, with a non-breeding black spot behind its eye and small black cap. We had a look at it through the scope, before it walked back into the vegetation and went to sleep. Otherwise, there were a few Redshanks on here today but no other waders.

We couldn’t come this far and not at least have a quick look at the sea. There were several Sandwich Terns feeding just offshore, plunge diving into the surf after fish, and we found at least six Little Terns in with them too. They were tiny by comparison, with black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

It was time for lunch now, so we walked back along the East Bank to Walsey Hills. It was spitting with rain when we got back to the minibus, as a dark cloud passed over, but we could see bright blue sky approaching from the south-west. We sat down at the picnic tables by the visitor centre, in the light rain, but our faith was vindicated as the sun promptly came out again. A few Sand Martins skimmed back and forth low over the reeds.

We set the scope up here and scanned Pat’s Pool over lunch. There were some Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallow water, and we found another Little Gull swimming over by the reeds, picking insects from the surface of the water. Next time we looked back there were a load more waders which had just flown in. Through the scope, we could see they were mainly Bar-tailed Godwits, about 80 of them, along with 20 Knot. They were mostly in non-breeding plumage, but we did get a smart rusty breeding adult Bar-tailed Godwit in the scope, next to a breeding plumage Black-tailed Godwit for comparison.

After lunch, we headed west along the coast to Wells. We could see dark clouds ahead of us, but the worst of them seemed to be heading out to sea. When we got to Wells however, we could see there were more dark clouds heading our way. We got out and had a quick look at the pools. We could see a couple of Spoonbills over towards the far side, so we set off down the track. A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing along the edges of the ditches either side and two Yellowhammers flew in landed in a bush right next to the path.

From somewhere in the vegetation beside the path ahead of us, a House Sparrow flew out and caught a dragonfly (a Four-spotted Chaser) in mid air. It landed on the track with it and we watched it shaking it to dismember it, detaching the wings first and then breaking the abdomen into bite-sized chunks.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow – eating a Four-spotted Chaser it just caught

It was becoming increasingly clear we would not escape the rain and as it started spitting we beat a hasty retreat to the minibus, just in time before the heaven’s opened. A quick check revealed there was a narrow bank of rain coming in from the west, so we decided on a quick change of plan. We drove west to Titchwell instead, coming out of the rain on our way there.

As we walked down the path to the Visitor Centre, it was clear it had just rained very heavily here based on the big puddles. A Blackcap was singing in the trees above the path and a flock of Long-tailed Tits was working its way through the sallows.

As we walked out along the main path beside the reedbed, we could hear Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers singing. Bearded Tits were zooming back and forth over the tops of the reeds but not perching up today. Several Marsh Harriers were circling over towards the back. A Great Crested Grebe was swimming in and out of the reeds in one of the channels. Several Swifts and House Martins were hawking for insects over the reeds.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding in front of Island Hide

Out at Island Hide, there were several Avocets feeding in the shallow water in front of the hide. A flock of twenty four Bar-tailed Godwits, together with two Knot and two Black-tailed Godwits were roosting out in the middle. We really wanted to see the Spotted Redshanks which had been on the Freshmarsh earlier, but we couldn’t find any sign of them from here.

The number of Teal on the Freshmarsh is already increasing again, as birds return early from their breeding grounds on the continent. Otherwise, there was the regular selection of Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall and Mallard on here. The Freshmarsh is still dominated by gulls, which have taken over ‘Avocet Island’ to nest. We managed to pick out our first Mediterranean Gulls amongst the massed ranks of Black-headed Gulls. Ironically, the Mediterranean Gulls’ blacker hoods set them apart! There were one or two Common Terns in with the gulls too.

As we made our way round to Parrinder Hide, there was a great commotion in the gull colony, as everything flew up calling. A Marsh Harrier had flown in over the island and we watched it drop down and grab a juvenile Black-headed Gull. It took off again and flew off over the bank at the back, pursued by a mob of angry gulls. Nature in the raw!

From round at Parrinder Hide, everything had settled down again. We had an even better view of the Mediterranean Gulls from here, with several loafing in with all the Black-headed Gulls on the islands in front of the hide. As well as their blacker hoods, we could see their contrasting white eyelids, brighter red bill and white wing-tips.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – in with the Black-headed Gulls from Parrinder Hide

We could see the Spotted Redshanks from here, two of them right over in the far corner of the Freshmarsh by the reeds. Through the scope, we got a better look at them, still in their jet black breeding plumage peppered with silvery white spots on their wings. These are either failed breeders or the first returning females, which leave the males behind to take on childcare duties! Smart birds when they first return, they will now quickly moult into grey non-breeding plumage. Two Little Ringed Plovers flew across in front of the hide and landed on the island out to the right.

The gulls in the breeding colony were nervous, and there was one false alarm when part of the island started to erupt before settling back down again. Then the Marsh Harrier came in again and everything went up. We watched it drop down into the vegetation on the island through the mass of white gulls. It came up with a juvenile Black-headed Gull in its talons again and flew off towards the bank, despite a frenzied attack from several of the adult gulls diving at it. The Marsh Harrier had obviously realised it was worth undergoing the attacks for the reward of Black-headed Gull chicks.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – carrying off a Black-headed Gull chick

We wanted to have a quick look in at Patsy’s Reedbed before the end of the day, so we set off on our way back. Up on the main path, we noticed a Spotted Redshank had just dropped in down just below the bank. We had a great view of it here, but it was not happy with all the people walking on the bank and quickly flew off again as some people approached from the other direction. As our summer is (hopefully!) just beginning, it is amazing to think that their summer is over already. Autumn wader migration is here!

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – a smart returning adult still in black breeding plumage

Round at Patsy’s Reedbed we could see a small crowd gathered by barrier at the end of East Trail. There has been a Purple Heron in the area for some time. It had disappeared for a week, but reappeared again earlier today. It hadn’t been seen for several hours though, but we kept one eye on the reeds over there just in case, while we scanned the pool.

There were several Red-crested Pochard on the pool – two drakes starting to moult out of their bright breeding plumage, and one already in female-like eclipse plumage with its coral-red bill giving it away, plus a single female. A Little Grebe was lurking in the edge of the reeds down at the front and several Mediterranean Gulls were bathing out in the middle with a larger flock of Black-headed Gulls.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – one of the drakes still largely in breeding plumage

One or two Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed beyond. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge behind us. They typically go quiet when they are breeding and then start singing again before they have a second brood, so this one has probably just finished raising its first.

Then unfortunately it was time for us to head back. A male Sparrowhawk was a late addition to the list as we drove home, skimming the top of the tarmac ahead of us before diverting into a garden beside the road and landing on a fence. It had been a great weekend, with a nice selection of birds and other summer wildlife, with some memorable moments.

15th June 2019 – Birds & Butterflies, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Summer Tours looking for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. It was bright and sunny, with patchy high cloud for most of the morning, but cloudier and cooler as the breeze picked up a little in the afternoon. We made our way down to The Broads for the day.

As we set off, we hadn’t gone far when we spotted a Little Owl in the window opening of an old barn. We pulled up a discrete distance away but before we could get out it had disappeared inside. The rest of the journey down to the Broads was fairly quiet, the only bird of real note being a Grey Wagtail which flew up from the side of the road at one point.

Early reports suggested that the Lesser Grey Shrike which has spent the last week along the Nelson Head track at Horsey was still present this morning, so we headed straight round there first. A Swallow was singing from under the eaves of the Nelson Head pub.

Swallow

Swallow – singing under the eaves of the pub

As we walked down the road, a Common Whitethroat was singing from an oak tree in the hedge on the edge of one of the fields. There were small flocks of Linnets flying in and out of another oilseed rape field, feeding on the seeds. We took the track out towards the dunes and several Skylarks towered up into the blue sky, probably making the most of it after the last week’s rain. A Reed Warbler sang from a reedy ditch by the path, but remained mostly out of view, even though we could see the reeds moving. A male Reed Bunting perched on some brambles was singing too, as best it could!

There were a few people gathered already this morning, looking at the Lesser Grey Shrike, so we joined them. The bird was out at the back of a grassy meadow with scattered bushes. It was perched on a branch low on the edge of a clump of sallows at first, so we got it in the scope. We could see its black mask extending up over its forehead and the pink flush to its breast. It was very active, flying between bushes and sallying out over the grass for insects.

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike – feeding from the bushes out in the meadow

Lesser Grey Shrike is a scarce visitor to the UK from south-eastern Europe, with on average only 1-2 seen each year. We stood and watched it for a few minutes, before it flew round behind a large area of bushes and we lost sight of it. A Hobby shot through low over the grass, hunting dragonflies. We decided to walk on to the dunes.

There has been an invasion of Painted Lady butterflies from the continent in the last few days and there were lots here this morning. Everywhere we looked over the grassy meadows, we could see them flying round. Along the edge of the path, there were small groups feeding on any nectar-bearing flowers that were open. An impressive sight to see so many here.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – there has been an invasion from the continent

Further along the path, the verges were lined with several clumps of purple Southern Marsh Orchids coming into flower. A Curlew flew high overhead calling, heading south. Amazing to think, but the first waders are already coming back after the breeding season further north and there have been a few Curlews on the move in recent days. Their summer is over already, just as ours is hopefully beginning!

We carried on out to the dunes and climbed up to the top to look at the sea. There were a few gulls offshore and a Grey Seal diving just off the groynes. We had a quick scan from up here but there were lots of small beetles buzzing around in clouds which started to get in people’s hair, so we decided to make our way back.

We were just about to descend when we noticed a Hobby, possibly the one we had seen earlier, hawing for insects low over the top of the dunes just to our right. It came along the line of the dunes towards us, then shot fast and low down over the grassy slope right below us, catching something low over the grass and then coming back up to eat it as it passed.

Hobby

Hobby – flew past us catching insects low over the dunes

As we made our way back to the track, a pair of Stonechats were on the fence. They flicked off ahead of us, landing each time a bit further along. The male flashed a bright white rump as it flew – a characteristic more typical of continental Stonechats rather than the darker British race hibernans. The taxonomic status of the Stonechats on the coast here is uncertain and it is possible that continental rubicola Stonechats intergrade with hibernans here.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male flashed a bold white rump as it flew

The Lesser Grey Shrike had come out again and was now feeding along a fence line across the fields, repeatedly sallying out from a dead stem and returning to the same perch. It attracted the attentions of the Stonechat and a Reed Bunting here, which perched close by, the Stonechat chasing after it at one point. The Lesser Grey Shrike seemed to take little notice.

On the way back to the minibus, we stopped to help a Garden Tiger moth caterpillar off the path and rescue a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly from a puddle. A pair of Common Whitethroats was carrying food in and out of the hedge and a Greenfinch was wheezing from the top of an ash tree.

We headed round to Potter Heigham next. As we made our way in along the track, there were lots of dragonflies zooming around between the reeds, Norfolk Hawkers and Black-tailed Skimmers. A pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grazing meadows. We could see a Spoonbill on the back of one of the pools, busy feeding with its head down and moving its bill quickly from side to side through the shallow water. The next pool had a large area of exposed mud in the middle. Several Lapwing were on here, including a good number of well-grown juveniles. A Little Ringed Plover was lurking in between two sleeping Shelducks.

At the end of the track, we climbed up onto the bank. Our main target for the day was Swallowtail butterfly and as we came through the trees one shot past us over the tops of the reeds. We saw several as we walked along here, but they were all flying fast and none were showing any signs of settling. The brambles and thistles are not in flower yet this year, so there are not so many sources of nectar here for them to feed on. Still, it was a good start.

We stopped to scan the pools on the corner from up on the bank. Two Spoonbills and two Little Egrets were standing on the grassy bank at the back. We had a good look at the Spoonbills in the scope, two immatures. After a while, they took off and flew round, landing back out of view on one of the other pools, presumably to feed. A Chinese Water Deer ran round the bank on the edge of the water.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were two immature birds on the pool on the corner

There was a good selection of ducks, most of the drakes already starting to moult into their duller eclipse plumage. As well as the regular Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall, a single drake Wigeon was standing on the bank among the Greylag Geese. We could see a couple of Great Crested Grebes in the edge of the reeds at the back and a pair of Little Grebes diving in the floating vegetation in the middle.

Scanning carefully, we found a drake Garganey too. It was asleep at first, but we could still see the bold pale stripes on the sides of its head. A second drake Garganey flew in and landed on the water nearby. It was further advanced in its moult, and a lot duller than the first. It swam over to the bank and walked over to the other one, waking it up. The two Garganey then walked higher up the bank and went to sleep together.

Garganey

Garganey – the two drakes sleeping on the bank

We walked a short distance further along the bank. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds ahead of us and we could see its bold pale supercilium. A Willow Warbler and a Blackcap were both singing in the scattered trees along the bank. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds. Several Avocets and Common Terns flew in and out of the pools and a male Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds.

It was getting on for lunchtime now, so we decided to turn back. There were a few small blue damselflies in the vegetation along the edge of the path, and we picked out one Variable Damselfly amongst them. There were a few more butterflies along the lower track – as well as the ever-present Painted Ladys, there were several Red Admirals but no sign of any more Swallowtails. A Drinker moth caterpillar was on a dead reed stem overhanging the track. A pair of Stock Doves were flying round the old tin shed.

It clouded over as we drove round to Strumpshaw Fen, but thankfully the darkest of the clouds passed away to the west. As we walked across the road from the overflow car park, we could hear a Cuckoo calling in the trees nearby. We sat out on the picnic tables by Reception to eat our lunch. It was showing signs of trying to brighten up, but the wind had picked up a bit too. We decided to walk round to the ‘Doctor’s garden’, where it would be more sheltered, to see if there were any butterflies out there.

A couple of Bullfinches called from the trees as we walked along the track and as we got to the garden there were several dragonflies flying round bushes opposite. As well as a couple of Norfolk Hawkers, a couple of Scarce Chasers were perched on the brambles. The flowers in the garden were covered in Painted Ladys – we counted at least 20 in the two small patches by the track – but there were no Swallowtails at first. We decided to wait, as the sun came out at that point, and it wasn’t too long before a Swallowtail flew in and joined the Painted Ladys nectaring on the Dianthus.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail – nectaring on Dianthus

The Swallowtail was not the smartest individual, having sustained some damage and lots its ‘swallow tails’, but it was still good to get a close look at one. There were several Brimstones around the garden too, including a pair which were engaged in courtship flight. When the Swallowtail eventually flew off, we headed back round by the Reception and out onto the reserve.

It had clouded over again now, so there were not as many insects out as earlier now. We had a quick look at the Common Twayblades on the edge of the trees and stopped to watch a Bank Vole which climbed up into an elder and was feeding on the flowers. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flew through the bushes. There were a few damselflies in the vegetation around the pool at the start of Meadow Trail, including Large Red and another Variable alongside the commoner Azure Damselflies. A Marsh Click Beetle was perched on the top of a broken dead reed stem.

The wind was catching the bushes out along Sandy Wall and there was not so much to see out here. We did find a single Large Skipper in a sheltered spot and someone brought over a Buff-tip moth they had just found, to show us. A Willow Warbler was singing, appropriately, in the willows and a Reed Warbler from down in the reeds.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – sheltering from the wind in the brambles

Fen Hide can often be quiet, but we decided to have a quick look just in case. It was nice just sitting there listening to the wind in the reeds. A Marsh Harrier was perched in the top of one of the trees out in the middle of the reedbed, and several Common Swifts were zooming back and forth low over the reeds, but there were few other birds here.

We had just got up to leave when someone else in the hide announced ‘I think I’ve got a Bittern‘. A quick scan confirmed there was indeed a Bittern, which had just climbed into the top of the reeds in front of the hide. It was tucked down in amongst the reeds at first and harder to see. It ruffled its feathers and had a shake, then stretched its neck up out of the reeds to look around, at which point it was much easier to get onto.

Bittern 1

Bittern – climbed up into the top of the reeds in front of Fen Hide

The Bittern stayed in the top of the reeds, looking around for a few minutes. It seemed like it was getting ready to fly, checking that the coast was clear first. Then suddenly it was off, labouring up heavily clear of the reeds and then disappearing off back away from us over the reedbed.

Bittern 2

Bittern – eventually took off and flew back away over the reedbed

That was a great way to finish off our day in the Broads, so we made our way back to the minibus, for the long drive back. We were almost home when we spotted the Little Owl in the window of the same old barn where we had seen it perched earlier. This time, it stayed put when we stopped, but disappeared inside again before we could all get out.

Nightjar Evening

After a break to relax and get something to eat, we set off again in the evening. We drove back round to where we had seen the Little Owl and third time lucky, got a better look at it. It was more active now, out hunting around the barns. It flew and landed on one edge, right next to the road, as we drove up, but flew back and landed on the edge of the roof. We stopped a discrete distance away and got out, getting a good look at it before it flew again and disappeared round the far side. We got back in the minibus and drove slowly past. The Little Owl was perched on a low wall just beyond the barns and we had a really good look at it from the bus.

Little Owl

Little Owl – we finally got a better look at it this evening

Our next target was Barn Owl, so we drove down towards the coast and round by an area that they usually like to hunt. There was no sign of any here, so we parked and set off down along a track through the marshes. It was cloudier here than it had been inland, and there was a fresh breeze blowing. A Red Kite was perched on a post. We flushed a Grey Partridge from the track, which flew out and landed on the grazing meadows. We got it in the scope and could see its orange face as it stood in the grass calling.

We heard Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ from the reeds behind us, and turned to see two juveniles climbing up into the tops. We had some great views of them as we stood and watched over the next few minutes, as the looked for food in the top of the reeds. Two more juveniles flew in and joined them, but the when the adult male flew in it dropped straight down into the reeds out of view.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – one of the juveniles in the reeds this evening

There was no sign of any owls out here, so we turned to go. As we walked back to the minibus, we spotted a Barn Owl flying through the bushes the other side of the road. It was carrying prey and disappeared into the trees. A few seconds later it was back out again – it clearly had young to feed in a nest somewhere in there. It did well to catch something else almost immediately, and went back up into the trees again. When it flew back out, we drove round to the area where it appeared to be hunting. There was no sign of the male Barn Owl but a female flew back past us heading for the nest.

We needed to get a move on now, or we would late for the evening’s main event. We headed inland to one of the heaths to look for Nightjars. With the cloud tonight, it was getting dark quickly as we walked out to the middle. The first Nightjar of the evening started churring in the trees.

A squeaky call alerted to a Woodcock overhead. We turned to see it flying past, with rhythmic beats of its wings, roding. We would see it or another Woodcock several times this evening, flying over in this distinctive display flight.

We were had just arrived at the territory of one of the Nightjars when it started churring in the top of an oak tree right ahead of us, beside the path. Unfortunately it was on the far side from us, and when we started to walk round it flew, dropping off the branch with its wings raised, before flying out into the middle of the heath. We could still hear it churring in the distance.

We stood hear and listened for a while – then the Nightjar flew back in right past us. We thought it might be heading for another of its favourite churring posts, but instead a second Nightjar appeared, the female. The two of them flew round just above our heads calling. They did this several times, drifting away before coming back in for another look. The female disappeared but the male came in again, right over our heads, hanging in the air at times with its wings raised and tail fanned, flashing its white wing and tail patches. Amazing to watch!

The male Nightjar then flew up into a nearby oak tree and started churring again. Through a gap in the leaves we could see it perched on a branch, silhouetted against the last of the light, and we got it in the scope. Then it dropped out of the tree and flew out across the heath again. It started to spit with some very light rain now – which was not in the forecast! We stood and listened to it churring from some trees in the distance, then the male came in and flew round past us once more. The light was going fast, so we decided to call it a night.

As we walked back to the minibus, two more Nightjars had started churring further over. We had a brief glimpse of one silhouetted against the sky as it flew past. Back at the car park, yet another Nightjar was churring across the road and a Tawny Owl was hooting away in the distance.

 

20th July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It has been a proper summer for the last few weeks here – and it was hot and sunny this morning, with little wind. It clouded over a bit in the afternoon and the breeze picked up a touch, which helped to cool it down a little, but we saw no sign of any thunderstorms which had been forecast might make just it up here.

To start the day, we headed up to one of the heaths. We were hoping we might be able to beat the worst of the heat, but by the time we made it up there, the temperature was already rising fast. There was not much activity as we walked up along the path, apart from the butterflies – Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Small/Essex Skippers which didn’t stop so we could identify them. A Common Lizard scuttled off into the long grass ahead of us.

An area here has been burned by a small fire in the last few weeks, although thankfully it was caught quickly before it could spread. A small square of gorse and birch trees were burnt and as we got up to it, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and Coal Tits singing. A mixed tit flock flew in from our right and made a beeline for the burnt trees. There were other birds with them too – Blue Tits, a family of Great Tits and several Chiffchaffs – and they stopped to feed in the scorched trees.

We watched the tit flock feeding in the burnt trees for a while, before they started to move off into the birches beyond. We carried on to an area where a pair of Dartford Warblers have been feeding their recently fledged young in recent days. It was all quiet as we walked round through the gorse here though – either they have moved the young or they were keeping out of the heat today.

We did see a male Yellowhammer with food, which perched up in the top of a small birch briefly, before dropping down into the gorse with it. And there were lots of Linnets around, perching up in the gorse, including some nice smart males with rusty backs and red breasts.

Linnet

Linnet – we saw lots of them as we walked round the Heath

With the temperature rising steadily, we decided to try our luck elsewhere. The Common Buzzards were taking advantage of the early thermals, spiralling up along the ridge. We walked on through another Dartford Warbler territory but these birds have just fledged their first brood and have probably started on their next, which is why they have gone quiet in the last few days.

This is a very good site for Silver-studded Blue butterflies, but we are right at the end of their flight season now. As we walked down along one of the wider paths, we noticed a dark female ‘blue’ butterfly fluttering around the heather on the verge. When it landed, we could see the silvery-blue-centred spots on the underwing, confirming it was a female Silver-studded Blue.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue – one of the last ones on the wing today

As we walked down beside the railway cutting, we could hear a rather noisy diesel approaching. As it passed by just beside us, we noticed two small birds fly up from the verge on the other side of the cutting, two Woodlarks. We watched them fly and drop down towards one of the paths out on the heath the other side, so we decided to head round and try to get a better look at them.

When we got round there, the Woodlarks were on the path. Even though we walked round really slowly, the first one flew up before we got to it, quickly followed by three more. The first flew off behind some gorse, but the others landed back on the path a little further along. We could see that two of the Woodlarks were fully grown juveniles, so possibly a family party. Then one of the adults flew up and landed in the top of a gorse bush, where we could get a good look at it through the scope.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one perched up in the top of a gorse bush briefly

There was a family of Stonechats here too. We found one juvenile flicking around in a small pine tree first, then a second juveniles in the top of the gorse beyond. Then the male put in a brief appearance too.

We turned onto another small and less used path across the heath. We hadn’t got very far when three birds flew up from the vegetation ahead of us – Nightjars! It was a family group – a male and two three-quarter grown juveniles. Presumably the female has started to incubate a second clutch already nearby, while the male looks after the first brood.

The two short-tailed youngsters flew a short distance and landed back down in the gorse, while the male Nightjar doubled back round behind us and seemed to land back down on the main path. We walked round there cautiously, but it was off again before we got there. We had a fantastic long flight view of it though, as it flew round over the heather, showing off its bold white patches across the tips of its wings.

That was a real bonus, seeing the Nightjars, so with our luck in we decided to swing back round and have another go for the Dartford Warblers. Unfortunately it was not to be and there was still no sign of them. The tit flock had returned and were feeding in the burnt trees again though.

As we got back to the car park, we could hear a Blackcap alarm calling in the blackthorn and just saw it moving around in the dense branches. There were several birds in here and they moved down through the bushes towards the road. When we saw something moving in the branches, we thought it would be the Blackcap again, but a Garden Warbler appeared instead. We only had a brief view of it though, before it flew back into the blackthorn.

It was after midday already, so we dropped back down to the coast and along to the visitor centre at Cley, where we stopped for an early lunch. There were lots of birds on the reserve, so we got the scope out and scanned the scrapes while we ate. We were looking for the Curlew Sandpiper, when we spotted an adult Water Rail preening at the back of the water, against the reeds. Shortly afterwards, we found the Curlew Sandpiper too, but it was hard to see where it was.

A Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds at the back, and one or two Grey Herons and Little Egrets flew in and out. We could hear Bearded Tits calling and a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds just across the road.

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. We made our way along to Bishop Hide first, as that seemed like it might be the best vantage point from which to see the Curlew Sandpiper. Sure enough, there it was, on the mud on the edge of one of the islands with a couple of Dunlin. It was starting to moult out of breeding plumage, but still largely rusty-coloured below.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a moulting adult, on Pat’s Pool

There were lots of Avocets on Pat’s Pool, which was liberally coated in them and Black-headed Gulls. The Avocets appear to have had a good breeding season and there were lots of juveniles in with them. One juvenile came down into the shallow water just in front of the hide, where we watched it sweeping its bill from side to side. We saw it catch a small fish, which it proceeded to wash in the water for several seconds before finally swallowing it.

Avocet

Avocet – this juvenile caught a small fish in front of Bishop Hide

In amongst all the Black-headed Gulls out on the scrape, there were several Ruff too, returning males which have already moulted out their ornate ruff feathers. They are rather scruffy now and come in a huge variety of colours and patterns, a potential source of confusion. There were a few Lapwing too. The Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep on one of the islands, mostly adults still sporting their bright rusty breeding plumage.

We spotted an adult Little Ringed Plover on the mud right over the back of the scrape and could just about make out its golden yellow eye ring through the scope. Then we looked back at the mud right in front of the hide and there were two juvenile Little Ringed Plovers there, perfectly camouflaged against the brown of the dried mud when they stood still.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – there were two juveniles in front of Bishop Hide

A juvenile Little Egret flew in and landed right in front of the hide too, still with grey-green legs and its dagger-like bill shorter than fully grown. There were several young Shoveler sleeping with the Mallard and Gadwall on the bank below the hide, and a Coot feeding a well grown juvenile here too. A Stoat running along the bank, in and out of the long grass, was only visible from one end of the hide though.

There was a Green Sandpiper feeding just beyond the bank, but it was hidden behind the vegetation at first. Thankfully it walked back towards us and moved out into the open mud, where we could get a good look at it, noting the differences from Common Sandpiper, particularly the lack of the white notch between the breast and the wings, as well as its slightly larger size.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – eventually came out onto the open mud right in front of the hide

Eventually, we decided to tear ourselves away from all the activity here and walk out to the other hides out in the middle. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding in the reeds along the other side of the ditch beside the path. Several House Martins were hawking for insects overhead. A smart Red Admiral butterfly was basking on the boardwalk, along with a Ruddy Darter dragonfly.

When we got out to Dauke’s Hide, the first thing we noticed were the Spoonbills. There were three of them here, two juveniles with still only partly grown bills, ‘teaspoons’, and one adult. One of the young ones was awake and preening allowing us to get a good look at it through the scope.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – a youngster, with only partly grown ‘teaspoon’

There were more waders on here, particularly Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning through a group of the latter which were feeding out to the left of the hide, we could see one bird with a mass of colour rings on its legs. The yellow flag was carrying a geolocator and a lime-green ring marked with a black ‘E’ signalled it out as a bird from the small breeding population on the Nene Washes. These are Continental Black-tailed Godwits, of the nominate subspecies limosa, rather than the Icelandic race which comprise the vast bulk of the Black-tailed Godwits we see here.

In amongst the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits further out was a single Knot, also still in its rusty breeding plumage. Eleven Dunlin were feeding out towards the back and a Common Snipe appeared on the edge of the reeds right at the rear of the scrape. Another Green Sandpiper dropped in on the margin of one of the islands briefly and two more juvenile Little Ringed Plovers were hard to see, feeding on the narrow strip of mud just beyond the bank in front of the hide. It looks like they have had a productive breeding season here too.

On one of the islands, about twenty large gulls were mostly asleep. The majority of them were slaty-backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls but amongst the paler-mantled Herring Gulls two had noticeably but slightly darker grey upperparts. When they finally awoke and stood up, we could see they had yellow legs too, different from the pink-legged Herring Gulls. They were Yellow-legged Gulls from continental Europe, an increasingly common late summer visitor here.

One of the paler backed gulls woke up too, and stood up. It looked rather unlike a Herring Gull, with a long sloping face and long parallel-sided bill. It had a darkish eye too. When it finally turned round we could confirm it was a Caspian Gull, an immature, in its third calendar year, with faded grey brown feathers in its wing and dark black-based tertials. This is a rarer but increasingly regular visitor here so a nice bird to find.

Caspian Gull

Caspian Gull – this third calendar year immature was on one of the islands

Back at the car, we drove the short distance along to the East Bank, although the car park was full and we had to park at Walsey Hills. We could hear a Cetti’s Warbler calling in the reeds and a Blackcap appeared in the bushes. An adult and two juvenile Little Grebes were out on Snipe’s Marsh. As we set off up the East Bank, several Common Pochard were in with the Mallards on Don’s Pool.

The grazing marsh here is mostly dried out now, but there is still water in the Serpentine. We could see a few people gathered further up along the bank, by the north end, so we continued on to join them. They were watching the Temminck’s Stint which had been found here earlier in the day and it soon emerged from behind the grass and started feeding on the edge of the mud.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – feeding around the edge of the north end of the Serpentine

The Temminck’s Stint was creeping around on the mud in typical fashion. Through the scope, we could see its pale yellowish legs and the distinctive pattern of black-centred feathers in its upperparts. A Lapwing walked along the edge towards it and pushed the Temminck’s Stint off ahead of it. Next to the Lapwing, we could really see just how small it was.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling behind us, we turned round to see one flying fast just over the tops of the reeds, before crashing back in out of view, in typical fashion. We walked further up, and heard and glimpsed one or two more, before one flew in towards us and landed briefly in full view for a couple of seconds before it disappeared in.

There were two juvenile Marsh Harriers perched up in the bushes out in the middle of the reeds and we got one in the scope. It was plain, dark chocolate brown with a contrasting golden-orangey head. A little further along, a Sedge Warbler flew past us.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, we stopped in the shelter for a scan. There were a few Sandwich Terns on one of the small gravel islands and a Ringed Plover popped up briefly on the edge of the saltmarsh in front of them. A small group of Dunlin was feeding out towards the back and there were several Redshank and Curlew out here too. Two Oystercatchers flew in, calling noisily, and landed on the saltmarsh towards the front.

A lone Brent Goose on the saltmarsh is most likely a sick or injured bird which was unable to make the journey back to Russia for the breeding season and has spent the summer here. There were several Cormorants drying their wings here and a young Great Black-backed Gull too. You cannot come all the way out here without at least looking at the sea, so we carried on out to the beach. A couple of Meadow Pipits flew up from the shingle ahead of us.

Looking out to sea, it all looked rather quiet at first. A few Sandwich Terns flew back and forth. Then a distant group of dark ducks were Common Scoter, probably birds just returning from Scandinavia for the winter and heading in towards the Wash. Five Curlew flew in towards us over the sea too, before turning west, again most likely migrants on their way here, fresh arrivals just coming back from the continent for the winter.

It had been a really good day, despite the heat, but it was now time to walk back to the car and head for home. More again tomorrow!