Tag Archives: Norfolk

7th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 3

Day 3 of a long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. It was forecast to cloud over with the chance of a shower from late morning, so we thought we should make the most of the early brightness. But it remained stubbornly warm and mostly sunny with no sign of the forecast thicker cloud all day. We spent the day down in the Brecks.

In order to try to avoid the heat haze which can be a problem there later in the day, we called at Weeting first. We headed straight out to West Hide, where we quickly got onto a Stone Curlew standing in the wild flowers in the middle of the cultivated area. It was not too far from the hide. We got it in the scope, and although there was already a bit of heat haze it was a good view. Then it sat down in the flowers and merged into the vegetation.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – preening in the flowers this morning

There was also a normal, Eurasian Curlew out in the grass, walking around feeding, given away by its long down-curved bill. Stone Curlew and Eurasian Curlew are not closely related, but both named after their call, the former actually belonging to a family called Thick-knees (but Eurasian Thick-knee doesn’t have the same ring to it). We could see several Lapwings too, and a distant Green Woodpecker – or more precisely its head popping up out of the tall grass from time to time.

There are sometimes a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in the trees behind the hide, so we went out to see if we could find them. There was a fresh breeze blowing through though, and no sign of them this morning. Another Green Woodpecker was calling, and a Goldcrest was singing high in the pines, where we also found a Chiffchaff feeding.

We walked all the way down to the feeders at the end of the pines. A selection of tits and Goldfinches were coming and going initially, but there was no sign of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers we had seen on the live video feed at the Visitor Centre as we arrived earlier. A smart male Greenfinch dropped in and a Nuthatch made several visits to the peanuts.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in to the peanuts at the feeders

Back past the Visitor Centre, we walked on to East Hide. There are usually some Stone Curlews here too, but we couldn’t see them at first, just a pair of Eurasian Curlews. But scanning very carefully with the scope, we found a shape hidden in the grass – a Stone Curlew on the nest.

Just as we were all trying to get onto it, one of the group spotted a second Stone Curlew walking in from the longer grass off to the right. We had a much better view of this one as it came out into the open, closer to the hide. It walked quickly, but kept stopping, looking round. It made its way over to where the other Stone Curlew was sitting in the grass and stood nearby, looking round. Then the bird on the nest stood up and they changed over.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – one of the pair from East Hide

We planned to spend the rest of the morning at Lakenheath Fen, so we drove over there next. As we walked out onto the reserve, several Reed Warblers were flitting around in the reeds by the path, and a Common Whitethroat was singing and song flighting. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over, and disappeared into the poplars.

There were already lots of dragonflies here – several Brown Hawkers hawking for insects, and lots of Ruddy Darters perched in the vegetation alongside the path. We could see plenty of blue damselflies too, mostly Azure Damselflies but looking carefully we found a couple of the rarer Variable Damselflies in with them. We saw a one or two Blue-tailed Damselflies here as well.

Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly – in with the other blue damselflies by the path

There were good number of butterflies out in the sunshine too – lots of Red Admirals, several Commas, both Large and Small Whites, Meadow Browns. A Large Skipper was resting on the vegetation as we passed.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – resting on the vegetation

We stopped at the viewpoint overlooking New Fen. It was nice gazing out over the reedbed, but it looked pretty quiet  bird-wise – a few ducks, several Coot, and a Moorhen with small juveniles on the edge of the reeds. A Great Crested Grebe was sitting on a nest platform. A distant Marsh Harrier was quartering over the other side of the river.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – sitting on its nest platform

After a short rest here, we carried on to Mere Hide. There were lots more dragonflies buzzing round over the water in front of the hide, mostly Four-Spotted Chasers. Two Emperor Dragonflies were ovipositing and a Red-eyed Damselfly landed on the blanket weed.

There were not many birds here either. Several Coot and another Great Crested Grebe, this one with a well-grown stripy-headed juvenile at the back of the channel to the side of the hide. We heard a Kingfisher call but unfortunately didn’t see it as it presumably shot past over the reeds somewhere off to the left of us.

Continuing on to Joist Fen, we flushed a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers ahead of us along the path. Sitting on the benches at the viewpoint, looking out over the reedbed, a Cormorant was on its usual post. One or two Marsh Harriers circled up from time to time, the male first. Then the female came in from over the river, carrying food, and was met by a dark chocolate brown juvenile which came up out of the reeds. The female dropped the food for the youngster.

A Hobby was hawking for insects out over the pools in the reeds, distantly at first. At one point it climbed higher and was mobbed by two Common Terns. Later on, the Hobby drifted closer to the viewpoint and we got a much better look at it. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the bushes beside the viewpoint, and a Bearded Tit zipped over the reeds just in front of us, but dropped down out of view. After a while, another juvenile Bearded Tit did perch up on the edge of the reeds further back.

We were hoping to see a Bittern here, but there was surprisingly little activity today. We had one very brief flight view, but not everyone saw it as it disappeared behind some bushes and then dropped straight back into the reeds. We waited a while and we were just about to leave when another Bittern flew in over the reeds. It was coming straight towards us and we thought it might fly over the viewpoint but it quickly dropped down into the reeds again, not far from the edge of the channel.

Bittern

Bittern – flew in and dropped into the reeds by the channel

We scanned along the reeds beside the channel, thinking the Bittern might come out onto the edge, but couldn’t see it. Again, we were just about to leave when it flew out again. Initially it was going away from us over the channel, but then it turned and flew across over the reeds. A good view – well worth the wait.

On the walk back, it was warm now in the sunshine. A Common Tern was hawking over the pools by West Wood. We had a quick stop at New Fen to break the journey, then carried on back to the Visitor Centre for a rather late lunch. We were just about to eat when someone came in to tell us about an impressive caterpillar they had just found on the path in front of the visitor centre. We had a look at it – it was a Puss Moth caterpillar, normally green but this one was dark pinkish, just about to pupate.

Puss Moth caterpillar

Puss Moth caterpillar – found on the path by the Visitor Centre

There was a steady succession of Reed Buntings, finches and tits coming in to the feeders by the Visitor Centre. There had been a Great Spotted Woodpecker earlier, but there was no sign while we were there – it was a bit of a recurring theme with Great Spotted Woodpeckers on feeders today!

After we had finally managed to eat our lunch, we drove back into the Forest. We stopped at the head of a ride, and were surprised to find a big group of people having a barbecue in the small parking area. Presumably quite a fire risk! We wanted to have a quick look for Woodlark here, but thought maybe it would be too disturbed. As we walked down the track, it was all quiet. It was the heat of mid-afternoon, so perhaps unsurprisingly birds might be hard to find now.

Then a Woodlark flew up from the bushes by the track. We could see its short tail and broad round wings. It circled round behind us calling and dropped down by the track again back the way we had just come. We decided to walk back to try to see it, but before we could get there it flew again, and disappeared off into the trees. Still, it was good to see one, even if just in flight. A pair of Stonechats were perched calling in the all bracken beside the track. They had one or two streaky juveniles with them.

Stonechat

Stonechat – a family were in the bracken by the path

A small skipper feeding on the Vipers Bugloss on the side of the track stayed still long enough for us to get a closer look, revealing the black underside to the tips of its antennae. An Essex Skipper, a new one for the butterfly list for the day.

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper – showing of the black tips to the underside of its antennae

We called in at Lynford Arboretum briefly as we were making our way past. It was quiet here too, but we had a quick walk round through the trees. We heard a few Siskin flying over and saw one which landed in the top of a holly tree by the cottages. We decided not to linger here too long, as we had one last stop we wanted to make this afternoon.

We drove on to another area of Forest and parked by a large clearing. As we got out of the minibus we could hear a Yellowhammer singing, but otherwise it seemed quiet here too initially. As we walked down the track into the clearing, we looked across to see a bird on the wires over the other side. It was a Tree Pipit, just what we had come here to try to see.

We had a look at the Tree Pipit through the scope from where we were standing and we were just about to walk over for a closer view when it flew. It landed in the top of a tall tree closer to us, but again it didn’t stop long. When it took off again it flew past us and landed in an oak right next to the path. We were looking into the sun, so we tried to walk round, but it dropped out and disappeared by the time we got to the other side of the tree.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – we had nice views of one at our last stop today

While we stood and scanned the trees, one of the group walked a short distance further down the track to look for butterflies and two Woodlarks flew up from the grass. The first flew round behind the oak and we lost sight of it, but the second landed in the top of the tree. We stood underneath looking up at it, as it looked down at us. It had a bill full of insects, and obviously had young to feed somewhere nearby.

The Tree Pipit reappeared in the top of a tree nearby, and we got a much better look at it in the scope now. Then the Woodlark flew down and across to the same tree, landing on a branch halfway down. Now we were not looking straight up from below it, we got a much better view of it too.

Woodlark

Woodlark – gathering food in the clearing

It had been a very successful last stop, with great views of both Tree Pipit and Woodlark. A nice way to wrap up the trip, it was time to head back.

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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.

 

21st May 2019 – Breck & Fen

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks and neighbouring Fens. It was a lovely clear, sunny day, nice and warm out of the wind, which was a fresh north-westerly.

With an early start to the day, we headed into the forest and parked at  the top of a ride, by a large clearing. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing, and we looked across to see it perched in the top of a tree across the far side. We had just got the scope on it, when a second Tree Pipit flew up from the grass in the middle of the clearing. It fluttered up, singing, and then spiralled down towards us and landed in one of the trees right in front of us.

The Tree Pipit perched in the tree for a minute or so, singing quietly on and off. Then it launched into another song flight, fluttering up again and spiralling down to the top of another tree a bit further along.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the trees by the parking area

A Yellowhammer was singing nearby too, and that flew in and landed in the trees in front of us briefly. We decided to walk a bit further on down the track, in the hope of hearing a Woodlark, but they are busy nesting now and have gone rather quiet. Another Tree Pipit was singing further on, from the top of a tree out in the middle of the clearing.

Looking back behind us, a Barn Owl had appeared out over the clearing, hunting. It was still quiet early, but it had already been light for several hours, so presumably it had a hungry brood somewhere which it needed to feed. We watched it flying round an round over the grass silently.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting this morning, probably with hungry chicks to feed

It is a bit more wooded further on, and we stopped to listen to the tits in the trees – we saw a couple of Coal Tits fly up into the tops of the pines, and several Long-tailed Tits crossing the path. We had a lot we wanted to pack in this morning, so we started to walk back. A Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the bushes.

Our next target was Stone Curlew. We drove round to a stony field which they like and it didn’t take long for us to find one. It was rather distant though, and although it was still early there was already quite a lot of shimmer. We tried another field a little further on, and this time we found a slightly closer Stone Curlew. There was still a bit of haze from the stony field, but we had a nice view of it in the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – our second of the morning

There was also an Oystercatcher in the field, and a Shelduck in the one next door. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing from some bushes along the hedge line between the two.

As we drove on, we spotted another Barn Owl still out, quartering a grassy field beside the road. It is that time of year when they have to work harder. Our next target for the morning was Nightingale. It seemed very quiet when we arrived. The birds have been in a while now, and are singing much less as they get down to the business of breeding. We walked up to the top of the hill, which is often a good spot for them. As we walked through the bushes, we flushed a Green Woodpecker from the grass. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles.

Just as it seemed like we might be out of luck here, we finally heard the distinctive song of a Nightingale away in the distance. We followed the sound and eventually got to where it was singing, deep in bushes. We stood and listened – a wonderful sound. Then another Nightingale started singing nearby. Perhaps that was the trigger, but shortly afterwards the first Nightingale appeared deep in a holly bush. We could see its body shaking as it sang.

Nightingale

Nightingale – singing from deep in a holly bush

As we turned to go, a third Nightingale started singing behind us. And as we walked back down the hill, we heard another two, but just giving short snatches of song rather than in full voice. It is good to know they are back in good numbers again. A Willow Warbler was singing from the top of a tree too, and then a Reed Warbler started up in some bushes. An odd place for it, miles from any reeds, but not unusual for late arrivals to turn up in odd places.

In the morning sunshine, there were lots of Speckled Yellow moths fluttering about over the short grass, and we found a single Latticed Heath as well. There were plenty of butterflies too – including our first Painted Lady of the year, and good numbers of Common Blue.

Before it got too hot, we wanted to get over to Lakenheath Fen. As we walked out from the Visitor Centre, a Cuckoo was calling from the willows but we couldn’t see where it was. We could hear lots of warblers singing – Reed Warblers, Common Whitethroats. A Garden Warbler was singing from the elders over by the railway line.

We stopped to scan over the reeds from New Fen Viewpoint, but it looked pretty quiet. There were a few ducks out on the water, including a couple of Tufted Ducks. A Great Crested Grebe appeared. A Kingfisher zipped from the trees the other side of the viewpoint and disappeared away over the reeds. The path on the top of the bank, which was open last year and gave a good view out over New Fen, is closed this year. So we had to walk down along the main track, which is much lower and the view is not so good. We could get up to the top of the bank again at the corner of West Wood. A Cuckoo flew out across the reeds and two more Cuckoos were singing in the trees. A distant Marsh Harrier over towards the river was mobbed by Jackdaws. A Red Kite drifted over, and a Common Buzzard circled up too.

We had a look in at Mere Hide, where a Grey Heron was stalking the newly opened out area of reeds to the left. A family of Coot were right in front of the hide, the adults pulling up weed and carefully feeding the four chicks – youngsters which only their parents could appreciate! A Great Crested Grebe was diving behind the reeds, but then made its way right out into the pool in front of the hide. One or two Reed Warblers zipped back and forth across the water.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – in front of Mere Hide

There was still no sign of any Bitterns by this point, and none on the edge of the reeds from the hide. While we were sitting there, we looked out towards Joist Fen and a Bittern flew across. We watched it flying away from us, before it dropped down into the reeds somewhere beyond the main track.

Having at least seen our first Bittern of the day now, we decided to continue on up the path towards Joist Fen, to see if we could improve on the views we had already had. There were lots of ducks asleep in the area of newly cut reedbed by the main track –  Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler. Three smaller ducks were lingering Teal. A couple of Redshank and Lapwings were enjoying the areas of bare mud.

As we walked up along the path, we spotted another Bittern distantly over the Joist Fen reedbed. We were heading that way, and had almost got to the Joist Fen viewpoint when two more Bitterns came up from the reeds right next to the path. They circled round and round calling right next to us, almost directly over our heads at one point, and low too. What views!

Bittern 1

Bitterns – these two circled up from the reedbed right beside us, calling

The Bitterns looked to be a male and a female. Looking at the photos, we realised that the female was ringed. We have seen this bird in almost exactly the same place for the last two summers. It was originally picked up exhausted as a juvenile near Stevenage in September 2016, and after a couple of days was deemed fit for release at nearby Rye Meads. We then photographed it here in June 2017, before it was back in Herts at Amwell later that year. It was then photographed back at Lakenheath again in May/June 2018.

So it was great to see it here again for another year today. We watched the two Bitterns as they circled slowly back towards Mere Hide and dropped down into the reeds.

Bittern 2

Bittern – the female was ringed, and has been here the last two summers

After all the excitement, we continued on to Joist Fen viewpoint. There were lots of Hobbys up, mostly distantly out over the reeds, and we counted at least twenty in the air together, probably more. Lakenheath Fen is a great place to see large aggregations of Hobbys in the spring, but they are already starting to disperse now, heading off to breed.

There are more dragonflies out, now that the weather is finally starting to warm up. We had seen a few on our way out, but on the walk back we saw more – a couple of Hairy Dragonflies and lots of Four-Spotted Chasers. Azure, Large Red and Red-eyed Damselflies.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – there were more dragonflies out today, in the sunshine

Passing the Visitor Centre, we walked straight on to the Washland Viewpoint. Hockwold Washes are drying out fast now – apparently the owners (it is not owned by the RSPB) may be chasing some grant money for wet grassland creation, so have drained it. If so, it is a great shame. There were just a few commoner ducks, Black-headed Gulls and Rooks on there now. A Hobby circling over provided a nice distraction.

Hobby

Hobby – circled over the Washland viewpoint

It was time for lunch now, so we made use of the picnic tables by the car park. Afterwards, we headed back into the Forest. We had a listen for Firecrest at Santon Downham churchyard, but all we could hear was a Goldcrest singing.

Walking into the trees, a Treecreeper was feeding, climbing up the tree trunks. We heard Blackcap singing, and found another Goldcrest flitting around in some fir trees. Down by the river, a pair of Mandarins were swimming just below the bridge.

Mandarin

Mandarin – a pair were on the river just below the bridge

We still hadn’t found a Woodlark, but they can be difficult at this time of year, as they are less vocal and more secretive when they are breeding. We parked and walked down a ride where they are often found. It seemed very quiet, not helped by it being the heat of the afternoon too. But scanning the open patches of ground we found a Woodlark feeding quietly on the short grass. It eventually flew up and round behind us, calling softly.

Woodlark

Woodlark – feeding quietly in the short grass

We stopped at another clearing on our way back round. The trees here were quiet, but there were lots of Rooks, Jackdaws and Starlings feeding in the short grass. A pair of Cuckoos landed in a large hawthorn bush. We flushed a few butterflies as we walked round – including Small Copper and Small Heath.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford. We were hoping activity might have picked up again but the Arboretum was quiet. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were flying around the feeders by the cottages. We found one or two Goldcrests, but no sign of any Firecrests here. As we walked down towards the lake, we could hear the Little Grebes laughing.

As we made our way round the paddocks, a Siskin came out of the pines singing and we watched its fluttering songflight. A Blackcap was feeding in the trees by the path. Finally we found a Firecrest – we heard it singing first, then saw it flitting around quite high in the fir trees. With that target accomplished, we walked back round to the lake, where a Grey Wagtail was gathering insects on the weir.

Back at the bridge, birds were coming down to bathe and drink now. First a Siskin dropped in, then a mixed flock of tits. Two Nuthatches were with them and we watched them climbing up and down the trees nearby. We followed the flock back up the hill, and were rewarded with a brief view of a Marsh Tit too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – a pair were in the trees by the bridge on our way back

It had been a long day with the early start this morning, and unfortunately it was time to pack up and head for home now.

26th Mar 2019 – Gentle Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. It was a lovely bright, sunny start to the day, although it clouded over late morning, a few hours earlier than forecast. With some restrictions on our mobility we would have a slightly different itinerary today, but we would still be aiming to see as many of the key Brecks species as possible.

To start the day, we headed into the Forest and took a short walk along a ride to look for Woodlarks. As we made our way down the track and out into the clearing, there were lots of finches flying back and forth overhead, up to feed in the pines and down towards the river to drink, Bramblings, Chaffinches and Siskin. One or two of the Bramblings were singing – not much of a song, more of a wheeze! They weren’t sitting still, but we eventually got one of the males in the scope long enough to get a proper look at it.

While we were looking at the finches, two larger birds flew in past us, their distinctive broad wings and short tails identifying them as a pair of Woodlarks. They dropped down to the ground by the track back the way we had just come, and we walked back a short way to get a closer look at them. We could only see one now, presumably the male, perched on a clod of earth, preening. We could see its short crest, rusty cheeks and prominent supercilium, the two sides meeting in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – one of a pair which flew in and landed in the clearing

The Woodlark started to pick around in the bare earth and the walked further off into the grass beyond. Then it flew up into a small oak tree at the back of the clearing, where it perched silently and we got some more great views of it through the scope. There was no sign of the second bird now.

We heard a woodpecker drumming from somewhere beyond the clearing and listening carefully the sustained rapid bursts told us it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We shifted our position to try to triangulate the sound and it seemed to be coming from somewhere over by the road. We couldn’t get easily round there on foot, so we decided to walk back to the van and drive down. Unfortunately, despite it having been drumming on and off for several minutes when we were in the clearing, it had gone quiet by the time we got to where we thought it might have been. Another Brambling was feeding on the buds of a willow by the road.

Brambling

Brambling – another male, feeding in a willow by the road

There has been a Rough-legged Buzzard at Weeting Heath for the last few weeks, so we headed over there next to see if we could catch up with it, and the Stone Curlews. We stopped first at the field entrance just before the reserve to look for the buzzard – it has been favouring the trees beyond here. There was already somebody here looking and we were told it had just flown round to the back of one of the trees, and landed out of view.

There was a nice male Wheatear out on the short grass in the field away to the left though – a bit distant, but a nice spring migrant to catch up with here. A Blackcap was singing in the trees behind us too, another returning migrant and always nice to hear. With Skylarks singing too, it almost felt like spring! Two (Eurasian) Curlews were feeding in the winter wheat field out in front of the gate.

It was starting to warm up a bit now and we could see several Common Buzzards circling up above the trees. While we scanned the sky for raptors, just in case the Rough-legged Buzzard might have taken off while no one was looking, we noticed a different bird of prey rising into the sky. It was a Goshawk, a juvenile, and it started to display, flapping with deep, exaggerated wingbeats.

Another Goshawk circled up just below it, this time an adult, silvery grey above and almost white below, and it gave a few deep, slow wing flaps too.  Presumably this was designed to see off the youngster, as the two birds then drifted off in different directions. Goshawk was one of our target birds for the day, but not one we had expected to get here, so this was another bonus! It didn’t look like the Rough-legged Buzzard was going to reappear in a hurry, so we decided to go and try our luck with Stone Curlews and have another look for it later.

When we got to the Visitor Centre, we were told that the Stone Curlews were not showing from the hide today, but there were two in the field across the road. Looking across from the path just beyond West Hide, we were quickly put on to one of them. It was sat down in the grass, which made it hard to see, not helped by the heat haze which was already starting to develop – a perennial problem here, despite it being early in the morning on a cool March day!

Scanning the grass, we eventually managed to find the second Stone Curlew. It was much easier to see as it was standing up and it ran over towards the first in a series of bursts. Its yellow legs really stood out in the spring sunshine! We then realised we could see the Rough-legged Buzzard from here too, perched on the back of the tree where it had disappeared to earlier. It was rather distant, but through the scope we could see its pale head and contrasting black belly patch.

We had a quick look from West Hide, just in case. There was a Lapwing and a single Curlew out in the long grass, but as we had been informed, no sign of any Stone Curlews from here today. So we headed back to the Visitor Centre for a coffee break.

While the group was having coffee, a quick look across the road revealed that the Rough-legged Buzzard had flown across and landed in the top of one of the pines opposite the reserve. Unfortunately, before we could all get back across to the gate it had flown again, back towards the trees where it had been earlier. We decided to drive down to the field entrance, as it was on our way, and see if it was on view and we hadn’t gone more than a few metres before we saw it perched on the corner of the pines.

From the gate, we had a great view of the Rough-legged Buzzard. It was perched back onto us at first, so we could see its white tail with a wide black bar towards the tip. Then it flapped and gave us a good flash of its wings and tail, before settling round the other way, face onto us. Well worth the extra stop for the much better views.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – showed very well as we were leaving

It clouded over now and the morning sunshine disappeared. We had planned to go looking for Goshawks next, thinking it would stay sunny until early afternoon at least, but it didn’t look so good for them now. At least we had already seen a couple of Goshawks this morning. Still, we drove over to a convenient spot overlooking the forest and stopped to scan over the trees.

There were a few Common Buzzards circling up and it didn’t take us long to find our first hawk. Unfortunately it was the wrong one – a Sparrowhawk. We could see it was small and rather dark, and when it started to flap it did so in rapid bursts. A short while later, another Sparrowhawk circled up the over on the other side.

It felt quite cool now, with a fresh NW wind, and we wondered whether we might have missed the main Goshawk activity in the sunshine earlier. Eventually a Goshawk appeared, circling away to our left. We got it in the scope and had a look at it before it drifted off over the trees and disappeared. We started to wonder whether that might be the lot.

There were other birds to see here though. A flock of Fieldfares flew in and landed in the trees behind us, tchacking. Then a pair of Mistle Thrushes flew out and across the field. There were Lapwings displaying and lots of Meadow Pipits down in the rough grass. We could hear one or two Skylarks singing and then a Woodlark started up away behind us too.

Finally another Goshawk came up over the trees in front of us. As it was turning in regular circles, we could get it in the scope and get a really good look at it – an adult, with pale grey upperparts and whitish below. We could see its broad, rounded tail. It gradually gained height, going higher and higher into the clouds. At one point, we had the Goshawk circling in the same view as a Red Kite, a couple of Buzzards and a Kestrel!

Goshawk

Goshawk – finally one circled up in front of us

It didn’t look like it was going to do anything, but then the Goshawk did a quick burst of slow-flapping display and then swooped sharply down, before turning back up almost vertically and stalling at the top. Even one rollercoaster display was welcome, but after circling again for a minute or so, the Goshawk suddenly launched into a series of swoops. On the last one, it folded its wings and plunged straight back down into the trees. Great to watch!

That seemed a good signal to move on. We drove round to a couple of clearings to see if we could find any more Woodlarks singing next. On our way, we saw several Brown Hares in the fields. At the first clearing, we just listened from the van and all was quiet. But at the second clearing, as we drove up we could hear a Woodlark calling. We parked and got out and could see one perched in the top of a small oak tree by the path through the middle. We decided to have a short walk down the path for a closer look.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – one of a pair in a small oak tree

A second Woodlark flew up into the tree too, then dropped down to the long grass in the clearing below. From down along the path, we had a great view of the first, perched on a branch preening. It looked like it might sing at one point, fluttering out from the tree and round in front of us, but decided to land again. A Yellowhammer flew up into the top of the tree above. When the second Woodlark came up out of the clearing again, the pair flew off out into the middle together. We could still see them walking about in the grass between the rows of young trees.

The day was getting on now. We decided to drive back to Lynford Arboretum and make use of the picnic tables for a late lunch. As we stopped in the car park and got out, we could hear a Firecrest singing. We walked over to the trees and could see it high in the bare branches of a beech, but unfortunately it dropped back into the firs behind before everyone could get over to see it.

We could still hear it singing and thankfully the Firecrest then decided to fly back out into the open again. It perched in some bare branches in front of us singing and we could see its body shaking with the effort. We had a great look at it, before it flew back into the firs again. This was one of the other main targets for the day, so another mission accomplished. Then it was definitely time for lunch!

Firecrest

Firecrest – came out to sing in the bare trees by the car park

There were a few other birds in the trees above the picnic tables while we ate – one or two Goldcrests, several Coal Tits and a Siskin feeding on the opening pine cones. After lunch, we set off to explore the Arboretum. We still wanted to try to see Hawfinch and Crossbill this afternoon.

Stopping first at the gate, there were still a few Bramblings feeding down on the ground in the leaves under the trees. One smart male was really starting to get a black head now. It won’t be long before they are on their way back to Scandinavia for the breeding season. A couple of Yellowhammers flew down to feed on the seed too.

Most of the feeders on the trees were empty, but one or two still had food in and a succession of tits came in to look for something to eat. Then somebody noticed a Treecreeper on one of the feeders and we watched as it picked away at the compacted food in the bottom behind the mesh. Not something you see very often!

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – came in to feed at one of the feeders

Continuing on, there were more Yellowhammers feeding at the hopper out in the orchard, which contains the food for the ducks and chickens. As we walked down past the meadow, we looked up at the pines at the back and noticed a bulky looking bird perched in the top of one. Through the scope, we could see it was a male Common Crossbill.

It took off and flew in towards us, ‘glipping’ loudly, and we could hear a second Crossbill answering from the trees on the edge of the Arboretum. When the first bird landed in the top of one of the trees, we could see there was a pair in the branches together. We were looking into the light from here, but we could see the distinctive crossed mandibles through the scope, before they flew off. Further back, on the edge of the Hall grounds, we could see lots of Fieldfares and Redwings in the tops of some more trees.

At the bottom of the hill, we stopped to look in the firs to see if the Tawny Owl was in its regular roosting spot. It was, but you had to be in just the right spot to see it, high up close to the trunk, half hidden in the branches.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual spot, high in a fir tree

As we walked up over the bridge, we could see more Redwings and Fieldfares flying up into the tops of the poplars just beyond. A quick glance up and we noticed a slightly smaller bird in with them – a Hawfinch! We got it in the scope, but unfortunately it flew before everyone had a chance to look at it. We watched it drop down with the Redwings and disappear into the leafiest of the hornbeams in the paddocks.

We hurried on to the gap in the hedge overlooking the trees. We couldn’t see it at first, although we could hear it calling. Then another Hawfinch appeared in one of the other bare trees, again in amongst all the thrushes. Again, it was very flighty and dropped down before we could get the scope on it. Finally then one of the Hawfinches appeared in the bare branches of the same tree and this time stayed still a bit longer. Now, we could all get a good look at it, its thick neck and huge, cherry stone-cracking bill. It was calling and we could see its bill moving.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – finally one stayed still long enough for us all to get a good look at it

That Hawfinch then flew over and disappeared into the leafier tree too. At which point, a couple of people who had started to walk back towards the bridge called to us to say there were some Crossbills in the top of the poplars there. We walked back so we could see the tops of the trees and got the Crossbills in the scope. There were at least six of them, and they appeared to be mostly females but at least one redder male was with them.

When they started to drop down through the branches, we figured the Crossbills would be coming down to drink so we walked back and took the path into the trees. We could hear several of the Crossbills flying off from the tops of the trees as we arrived, but then we spotted two fly up ahead of us. They had probably been down to drink already and we had missed it, but thankfully they landed not too high in the trees where we could get them in the scope.

Common Crossbill

Common Crossbill – we watched a pair preening in the trees

We stood and watched the Crossbills for a while. They flew over to a branch on the other side of the path, where they weren’t against the light and we could get a really good look at them. We watched them climbing about picking at the bark and then the two of them perched together preening for several minutes.

Eventually, the Crossbills disappeared into the branches and we walked back to the bridge. There was lots of activity here now, with a steady stream of birds coming down to the selection of food which had put out around the pillars and balustrades. A male Reed Bunting was feeding on the top of one of the pillars and the variety of tits included regular visits from at least one Marsh Tit. The Nuthatches were making the most of the peanuts put out today, coming in and out repeatedly, grabbing a nut each time and presumably stashing it somewhere in the trees to eat later.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – carrying off the peanuts to stash in the trees

As we stood on the bridge and looked down into the rushes below, we could just see a Water Rail moving around in the vegetation. It seemed to know we were watching and initially kept itself fairly well hidden. We knew where it was because we could see the rushes moving. Finally it got a bit bolder and showed itself a bit better, walking through some of the more open patches.

It was a nice way to end the day, watching the comings and goings at the bridge, but we were tired now after the exertions of the day and it was time to make our way slowly back up the hill. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, with all our target species seen and seen well, and a lot more besides!

16th Mar 2019 – Brecks Bonanza

A group day tour down in the Brecks today. The weather forecast looked pretty apocalyptic earlier in the week – a weather warning for strong winds and rain expected all through the morning at least – to the point where there were thoughts of cancelling. However, holding our nerve it looked like the forecast was improving slightly as we got closer to the day. As it turned out, it was another windy day, but bearable, and it stayed dry all day. And we had a fantastic day out with loads of birds!

Our first destination for the morning saw us park up by a ride into the forest. As we walked in along the track, a Woodlark flew up from the clearing next to us and started singing, just what we were hoping to see here. We watched it towering up into the sky – noting its rounded wings and very short tail. Given the wind this morning it was remarkable just how high it went and how hard it was having to work to maintain its position.

Eventually the Woodlark descended again and dropped down onto the short heather a bit further along. We walked over to try to get a closer look but before we could get there it flew again and disappeared into some long grass over by the trees at the back of the clearing. We carried on down to where the path cuts through under the railway, flushing a Yellowhammer from the bushes by the path on the corner.

As we stopped to scan the open area beyond the path, three Woodlarks flew up from the long grass over the other side in front of the trees. Two of them, presumably a pair, flew away behind us but the other one, a lone male hovered up singing again before dropping down into the short grass. Now we could get a really good look at it on the ground in the scope.

Woodlark

Woodlark – dropped down to feeding in the short grass

With really good views of Woodlark secured, we followed the path round by the reedbed towards the river. A pair of Long-tailed Tits flitted through the brambles ahead of us and a Reed Bunting called from somewhere in the reeds. One or two Siskins periodically flew over calling. Two Greylag Geese flew high overhead, following the river valley, and three Teal flew low over the reeds past us.

Down at the river, the trees seemed very quiet. It was grey and cool and rather windy, with the wind lashing the tops of the poplars, so perhaps no surprise that the birds were hiding themselves, probably feeding in the denser alders and birches. We walked slowly down to the furthest stand of poplars, listening for any sound of woodpeckers on the way.

A Nuthatch called from the back of the trees and eventually showed itself on one of the trunks in front of us. A pair of Stock Doves flew through the trees the other side of the river. We scanned the alders across the river from here, which have been a good spot for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in recent days, but it didn’t seem like we would be lucky here today.

With other things to do this morning, we decided to give up and walk back. The trees half way back are sometimes a bit more sheltered from the wind, so we stopped to have a brief scan of the alders across the river here. There seemed to be a bit more life here – a Great Tit was singing at least – but there didn’t seem to anything much in the trees. We were just walking away when we looked across the river and noticed something move in the branches. Lifting our binoculars and looking where it seemed to land we found a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!

It dropped down and we lost sight of it, but at least we now knew where at least one of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers was hiding. As we stood and stared at the trees, one of the group spotted a red crown looking round from behind one of the alder trunks – a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It was obviously working its way slowly up the other side of the trunk, out of view, but would occasionally come round onto the side, where we could see it. As well as its red crown, we could see its ladder-striped back and appreciate its small size.

As it kept disappearing from view behind the tree, it was hard to get the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the scope for any lengthy period but eventually it came round onto the side for a bit longer. Unfortunately, not all the group got to see it in the scope before it set off along a side branch and then flew up into the tops beyond. When we tried to get the scope on it again, it moved and we lost sight of it. We alerted the other people along the river bank, but despite lots of pairs of eyes scanning we couldn’t find it again. Someone did find a Great Spotted Woodpecker though, on the rotting stump of a dead tree, which was a bit more accommodating, giving much more prolonged scope views.

The skies seemed to have lightened a little, even though it was still remaining solidly cloudy. With the morning getting on now, it was time to go looking for Goshawks, so we headed back to the van, stopping on the way to admire a female Stonechat which flew across the path ahead of us and perched on the sheltered side of a bush to preen. Then we drove over to a spot overlooking an area of forest.

We were barely out of the van and set up before the first Goshawk appeared above the trees, a big female. She was up for some time, trying to display despite the wind, flapping with very deep, very slow, exaggerated beats. Then she dropped back down behind the trees.

Goshawk 1

Goshawk – several birds were displaying, despite the wind

We had just stopped to talk about Goshawks and their display, when another one appeared over the trees further across, this time a smaller male. It spend several minutes patrolling over the tops too before disappeared down into the trees again.

It was all action today. After a few minutes, we looked away to our right to see two Goshawks away to our right. Up in the air together, we could see the size difference between them, one a male and the other a female. One of them was a young bird too, a 2nd calendar year raised in 2018, darker grey-brown above and streaked below. It had strayed over the adults’ territory and one of them had come up to warn it off. The youngster seemed to drift away and the adult flew back across and dropped into the trees.

A short while later, we looked back in that direction as all the pigeons started to scatter from the trees. The young Goshawk was chasing them! We watched as it soared up and then swooped down through the tops of the trees. It didn’t get particularly close to any of the pigeons, but it did come much closer to us as it came out of the trees again and over the edge of the field, before flying up and away. Great to watch!

Goshawk 2

Goshawk – this young bird was chasing pigeons out of the trees

That wasn’t the end of it! Another Goshawk appeared over the trees in front of us but quite a bit further back and started displaying. It could have been the male we had seen earlier, but it was hard to tell. It was up for a while and easier to get in the scopes where it was. Even better, after a long bout of slow flapping display, it launched into the full rollercoaster – swooping down, dropping sharply before turning back up, slowing as it climbed and stalling at the top before repeating again and again. Then it dropped sharply down into the trees.

It was not just Goshawks. There were several Common Buzzards up enjoying the wind, and a Sparrowhawk flew over the field in front of us. A Skylark was up singing too. A Brown Hare loped along the edge of the field right in front of us, seemingly thinking we couldn’t see it behind the open sheep wire! It stopped at the open gate, contemplating whether to brave the opening, but turned and ran back the way it had come.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – trying to hide behind the sheep wire!

We couldn’t have hoped for a much better display from the Goshawks, a great show despite the cloud and wind. We decided to head over to Brandon to get some shelter, some lunch and a welcome hot drink to warm up. On the way there, a Red Kite hung in the wind low over the road right in front of us.

While we were eating lunch, we kept an eye on the feeders, where a succession of tits came in. We were just finishing when we heard a Firecrest singing from the back of the car park. It was distant at first but seemed to be getting closer. We walked over to see if we could find it but it went quiet and when we heard it again it had moved much further back into the trees.

After lunch, we had a quick walk down to the lake. There were lots of Mallard loafing around on the grass as usual and we looked over to see a single drake Mandarin walking along the bank on the edge of the water. It dropped in to join a female already swimming and the two of them made their way back to the far edge. As we walked round the lake, they swam out into the middle again where they were joined by a second pair. Nice to see them back here again!

Mandarin

Mandarin – there were two pairs back again today

It was a bit more exposed to the wind in the trees around the lake, and we couldn’t find many birds here today. There were also quite a few people out for a walk this afternoon. We heard a Marsh Tit calling.

We headed back up to Lynford Arboretum next. We had only just got there when we got a message to say that the Great Grey Shrike was back in the clearing south of Brandon, close to where we had just had lunch! It was probably a good thing we hadn’t got the message earlier, as we decided to press on and have a look round the Arboretum first, figuring we would be better trying to see the birds here before it got too late.

As we walked in to the Arboretum, there were quite a few birds in the larches again but all we could see were Siskins and Goldfinches in the tops today. A Goldcrest flew across and fed out in the open on the nearest branches where we could get a really good look at it.

We stopped at the gate to look at the feeders. Several Bramblings flew up into the trees as we approached and gradually started to filter back down to the ground or the feeders. The feeders are a bit low on food at the moment and the seed on the ground was looking a bit sparse too, so there were not as many birds here as there have been recently. Still, we counted at least 8 Bramblings down together and a very smart male with an increasingly black head dropped down into the pool to drink.

Brambling

Brambling – we counted at least 8 here still

There were one or two Yellowhammers feeding on the ground under the feeders again, but there were more coming to poach the chicken food out in the orchard beyond! Several were perched up in the flowering blackthorn on the edge of the orchard too.

Continuing on down the path, we couldn’t see the regular Tawny Owl in the fir trees today – possibly it had chosen somewhere else to roost today, given the wind and rain overnight last night. There wasn’t much food left on the pillars – it looked like no one had been down here today. There were a few tits still coming to the feeders and a Coal Tit perched  nicely in the bushes.

We continued on to the paddocks. There were several Redwings in one of the hornbeams out in the middle, but there didn’t seem to be much else here. Again, it looked rather windy and uninviting. We stopped to scan the trees and while we were doing so we heard a Common Crossbill flying over calling. They have been coming down to drink by the bridge regularly in recent weeks, so we looked back and found it perched in the top of one of the trees back by the path, a smart red male.

We hurried back for a closer look and got the Crossbill in the scope, perched high above us in the trees. Then it dropped down into the dense bushes on the corner of the path. Rather than coming down to drink at one of the open pools today, it was obviously looking to drop down to the ditch below. We could see it perched in amongst the tangle of branches.

Common Crossbill

Common Crossbill – waiting to come down to drink

Eventually the Crossbill plucked up the courage to drop down. We couldn’t see it when it was down in the ditch and then, rather than fly back up into the trees after it had finished, it flew off over the paddocks calling.

As we walked back along the path to have another look at the paddocks, we noticed a bird right in the top of the ash trees in the middle. A Hawfinch! We hurried up to the gap in the hedge and got the scopes on it. It didn’t stay long though, so it was good we hurried back. It dropped down a little into the branches and then after a minute or so took off, followed by two more Hawfinches. We watched the three of them circle round over the paddocks several times before flying back and up into the pines beyond. One of them perched right in the top of one of the trees where we got it in the scopes again.

We could still hear Hawfinches calling in one of the hornbeams, but before we had a chance to look for them, they flew up too and headed off away over the paddocks. It seemed like they had decided to head off to roost early today, given the grey and windy weather, so it was good we had come down here first.

With both Hawfinch and Crossbill seen, and still time to spare before it got too late, we decided to make a quick dash back to the other side of Brandon to try our luck with the Great Grey Shrike. Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic in Brandon and we got to the ride in the forest quickly. Another group was just leaving and told us the shrike was still there when they had left the clearing.

As we walked in along the ride, four geese flew over. Two looked distinctly smaller and as they came over the trees past us we could see them, looking up through the tops. There were two small Barnacle Geese accompanying two much larger Canada Geese. Really odd to see them flying over here – who knows where they had come from and where they were heading to!

We made our way quickly out to the clearing at the end, stopping briefly to listen to some Siskin twittering in the pines. As we approached the clearing, we stopped to scan the low pines in the middle and couldn’t see the Great Grey Shrike, but as we got out beyond the tall trees flanking the ride, we looked across to see it perched on the fence away to our left. We walked slowly over that way on the path, stopping from time to time to look at it in the scopes.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – on the fence on the edge of the clearing

We had some great views of the Great Grey Shrike. It kept dropping down to the ground below the fence, then flying up again a bit further along. Eventually, as it got closer to the corner, it turned and flew back along the fence. It stopped to hover high above the trees – presumably looking for prey below – the dropped to perch on one of the pines. We walked round onto the track which runs alongside the clearing, but the Great Grey Shrike was now heading back out into the middle of the clearing. We saw it perched in the top of a spindly birch sapling, then it dropped down into the young pines out of view.

That was a great way to finish off what had been a very successful day’s birding in the Brecks, well worth the last minute dash over here. We had a more leisurely walk back down the ride to the van and were not much later than planned finishing the day back where we had started.

21st Dec 2018 – Two Winter Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour in North Norfolk today. As ever, the forecasters couldn’t make up their minds over the last few days what the weather would be doing today, but they had finished up typically pessimistic this morning. It was a damp, drizzly, grey and gloomy start, at which point it looked like they might be right, but then it dried up and brightened up and ended up being not too bad at all in the end.

We were heading west today, but on our way we made a quick stop at Holkham first. As we got out of the car, we could hear a pair of Egyptian Geese calling from the trees. We could hear lots of Pink-footed Geese too, and looked across to see a large flock fly up from the grazing marshes. They came straight over us and headed off inland. A steady succession of skeins flew over, but still more circled back round and landed down on the grazing marshes again. We could still see thousands of geese out on the grass.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – thousands flying up from the grazing marshes again this morning

There were Greylag Geese too, a much smaller flock out in the field in front of us. We could see they were paler grey with a big orange carrot for a bill. Just beyond the hedge, through a gap, we spotted a group of about ten Russian White-fronted Geese. We all had a good look at them through the scope, noting the white surround to the base of their pink pills and their distinctive black belly bars. Then suddenly they took off for no apparent reason and we realised there had been a lot more hidden behind the hedge, about 55 in total. They flew off back over the grazing marshes.

A large white bird also out on the grazing marshes was a Great White Egret. It was obviously very tall and, through the scope, we could see its long yellow dagger of a bill. A Marsh Harrier was perched in a tree in front.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding out on the grazing marshes

By the time we got to Titchwell, it had at least stopped drizzling, although it was still very dull and grey. There were not many cars yet, so we had a quick look round the overflow car park. There were lots of finches in the bushes, feeding on the brambles, mainly Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but with several Greenfinches too. We heard a Bullfinch calling and a smart pink male flew out and across the car park, but disappeared straight into the bushes. We had a couple of brief views of it in the brambles but it would never stay still long enough to get it in the scope.

A flock of Long-tailed Tits came round through the car park, and as we made our way along the path towards the Visitor Centre what was presumably the same flock was calling in the sallows. A Goldcrest appeared in the bushes by the path ahead of us, and we stopped to watch it fluttering around in the branches. A second Goldcrest appeared above our heads, hovering around an ivy-covered trunk. We followed one of the Goldcrests almost all the way to the Visitor Centre.

There were a few more finches on the feeders in front of the Visitor Centre, but the ones the other side had been taken over by a Grey Squirrel. We had a quick look as we passed, but there was no sign of the Water Rail in the ditch, so we continued on out onto the reserve.

As we came out of the trees, several Lapwings and a small group of Golden Plover flew over, heading inland. When we got to the reedbed, we could see a much larger flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing circling over the Freshmarsh. We couldn’t see what had flushed them, possibly a Marsh Harrier, but they quickly landed back down again.

A Water Pipit came up calling from the cut reeds below the path ahead of us. It flew across the path and headed out over the dried up Thornham grazing marsh pool, from where a second Water Pipit flew up to join it. The two of them circled together briefly before the second bird dropped straight back down again, out of view. The first Water Pipit then flew back across the path and disappeared out over the Freshmarsh.

We stopped to look at a couple of Marsh Harriers circling over the back of the reedbed, and noticed four more were perched together in one of the dead trees. Then looking out across the Freshmarsh, four more harriers were hanging in the wind over the bank beyond, at the back of the Volunteer Marsh. One was noticeably smaller, and through the scope we could see the white square at the base of its tail. It was a Hen Harrier, a juvenile, noticeably rusty orange below, streaked darker.

It looked like the three Marsh Harriers were mobbing the Hen Harrier at first, but two drifted off and the Hen Harrier ended up tussling just with one juvenile Marsh Harrier, giving as good as it got. The two of them kept swooping at each other for ages – great to watch and giving us a good view of the Hen Harrier as they did so. At one point, a couple of Carrion Crows joined in too.

Avocet was a key target for the day. Most of them go south for the winter, but a few normally try to cling on here. From Island Hide, we quickly located the group of about 12 Avocets which are lingering here this year. Initially they were rowed up on the end of a long line of Lapwings, but then something spooked all the waders again, and everything took off. The Avocets landed back down with a small group of roosting Shelduck, where the tern island used to be.

Avocet

Avocets – there are still about 12 hanging on here for the winter

The water level on the Freshmarsh is now very high for the winter, and there are not many of the islands left exposed. Consequently, most of the waders are now feeding elsewhere. Apart from the roosting Avocets and the large flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover, we managed to find just one Dunlin this morning.

The wildfowl are enjoying all the water. A small flock of Brent Geese had joined with the Greylags on the water in front of the reedbed. They had just dropped in for a wash and brush up before heading back out to the Thornham saltmarsh to feed. There are more diving ducks on here now, with a small raft of Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard next to the geese. The other regular winter ducks here – Wigeon, Teal and a few Shoveler – were mostly over towards the back of the Freshmarsh today.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – flying back out to the saltmarsh to feed

It didn’t seem like the weather could make up its mind. It had been drizzling again briefly while we were in the hide, but now it seemed to be brightening up. So we decided to try our luck and walk out towards the beach. The tide was out and there was not much on Volunteer Marsh, just a rather tame Common Redshank in the channel just below the path.

The Hen Harrier was still playing with the Marsh Harrier over the bank at the far side. We stopped to watch them again, before the Hen Harrier disappeared behind the bank towards the beach. From the top of the bank, we could see the Hen Harrier hunting along the dunes beyond and when it landed in the top of a bush, we got it in the scope and had another good look at it.

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ are very full of water at the moment, and the one remaining island is getting much smaller. It was fairly packed with roosting duck today – lots of Wigeon, Teal and several Shoveler. A wader appeared briefly on the corner from behind the vegetation, and we had a glimpse of a long, needle-fine bill and distinctive white supercilium. We walked further up for a better angle and our suspicions were confirmed, it was a Spotted Redshank.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – roosting on the ‘Tidal Pools’

Out at the beach, we stopped first to scan the sea. One of the locals was just leaving and informed us that there had not been much of note out here today. We quickly found a small raft of Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Goldeneye just offshore. Four brown female Eider were close in, just beyond the mussel beds. Another drake Goldeneye flew in to join them, its green head with white cheek patch shining in a welcome burst of sunshine. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew past out to sea, but unfortunately it was too far out for everyone to get onto.

There was a nice selection of waders around the mussel beds, so we walked down the beach for a closer look. There were lots of Oystercatchers and a few Curlew and Grey Plover. Several pale, streaked Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the edge of the sand, and a Black-tailed Godwit was on the mussel bed nearby for comparison. A mixture of Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstones were running around in between. Scanning carefully, we managed to find a small group of Knot too, and it was good to see them through the scope, feeding next to the Dunlin for comparison.

On our way back, we remembered we had not seen the drake Pintail on the Tidal Pools on our walk out. So we scanned again from the inner edge of the dunes, and from this angle we quickly found it fast asleep on the island with the other ducks. Not the best of views, but another one for the list. The Little Egret which was now feeding in the channel on the Volunteer Marsh right next to the path put on a much better show. We got a good look at its yellow feet.

Little Egret

Little Egret – showing off its yellow feet

The other bird we had not seen on the way out was the Water Rail, and that too we found on the way back. It was feeding just where we had looked earlier, in the ditch by the path, but was still hard to see down in the water underneath all the tree branches. With a bit of patience, it eventually showed very well though.

Water Rails are a bit like buses, and there was also a second one here now, in the ditch on the other side of the path. It was right out in the open when we first saw it, but as soon as it noticed us watching it, it scuttled remarkably swiftly across and squeezed through a small gap underneath the muddy bowl of a fallen tree, where it was well hidden.

Water Rail

Water Rail – one of two we saw on the walk back

It was lunchtime now, and we felt like we had earned it this morning, so we headed round to the White Horse in Holme for a very welcome quick bite of lunch and a chance to warm up in front of the fire. Afterwards, we drove back to Thornham Harbour.

It had clouded over again now and was feeling rather grey again. A Curlew flushed from the saltmarsh as we drove in, but otherwise it initially looked rather quiet here. A car load of photographers were huddled in their vehicle in the car park with their long lenses pointed out at an empty puddle, where there was a distinct lack of any Twite action.

We walked across the car park and down to the sluice just beyond. As we did so a flock of small birds flew up from the saltmarsh just in front of us. We could hear Goldfinch and Linnet and also the distinctive ‘tveeet’ calls of Twite (from which they get their name) as they circled round above us.

Twite

Twite – two of at least ten feeding on the edge of the harbour

After circling several times they landed back down on the edge of the saltmarsh and we got a good view through the scope as they perched up feeding on some of the taller seedheads. It was really good to see Twite and Linnet in the scope together, the former richer brown overall with an orangey breast and yellow bill.

There were at least ten Twite today and one of them was sporting a collection of colour-rings which identify it as an individual which was ringed in Derbyshire earlier in the year. The dwindling Pennine breeding population is the source of our declining winter population of Twite here in Norfolk.

Having admired the Twite, we got back in the car and headed on west. A large flock of Pink-footed Geese were feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field close to the road so we stopped for a quick look. We were just scanning through when one of the group spotted something different in with them. It was a Pale-bellied Brent Goose. We found somewhere we could stop and got out for a better look through the scope.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

Pale-bellied Brent Goose – feeding with Pink-footed Geese on harvested sugar beet

Pale-bellied Brent Goose is a different subspecies compared to our regular wintering Russian Dark-bellied Brents. They breed from Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, across through northern Greenland to Canada. Birds from eastern Canada migrate through Iceland to winter mainly in Ireland and it is probably in Iceland that lone or lost birds may join up with the flocks of Pink-footed Geese (it being better to be with them than travel alone!), which bring them to Norfolk in small numbers. While we were watching the geese, we noticed several Ruff feeding in the muddy field in amongst them.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Snettisham. With all the grey cloud again, the light was already starting to go. It didn’t help that today was the shortest day of the year! From up on the seawall, we could see several Goldeneye on the first pit.

The tide was coming in now but there was still a huge expanse of exposed mud. It was not due to be one the biggest tides today, and it was still a couple of hours to high tide, but the waders were already starting to gather. A large brown slick across the mud out in the middle on closer inspection was a huge flock of Golden Plover. Through the scope, we could also see quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits gathered just behind. More waders down on the water’s edge further back were mostly Knot. A big group of Oystercatchers were roosting on the edge of the beach away to the north.

We were hoping to see a Short-eared Owl here this afternoon, but it was damp and grey with a cool breeze and there was perhaps unsurprisingly no sign of any out hunting. Fortunately we did find one hunkered down under a bramble bush, where it had spent the day roosting. It was only half awake and looking towards us, and we could see the short tufts of feathers on the top of its head, its ‘ears’.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – roosting under a bramble bush

There were lots of ducks and geese on the pits, mainly Greylags and Wigeon. A feral Barnacle Goose was standing on the grass just beyond. A large number of Cormorants had come in to roost on the islands.

It was starting to get dark now, but we could see two white shapes at the far end of the pit. The first was a Little Egret, but the second looked a bit bigger. Through the scope our suspicions were confirmed, it was a Spoonbill. The vast majority of the Spoonbills which were here in the summer have long since headed off south for the winter, with just one or two still remaining here, so this was a real bonus.

Back at the Wash, a large group of Knot had now gathered together in another dark slick spread across the mud, out in the middle. We had thought we might have a quick look at the pit from Rotary Hide, but just at that point something spooked all the waders. All the Golden Plover took off and started to whirl round in the air, and the Knot zoomed back and forth low over the mud, twisting and turning, flashing dark and light.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – a huge flock gathered out on the Wash

Knot

Knot – twisting and turning low over the mud

It was a nice way to end our two days out, watching the huge flocks of waders whirling out over the Wash. We had hoped we might be able to catch the first of the geese coming in to roost from here, but it was still a bit early and unfortunately we had to get back to the village in time for a pick-up. While we were waiting in the car at the rendezvous point though, the skeins of Pink-footed Geese started to come over calling, thousands of them. One of the real sights and sounds of Norfolk in the winter and a very fitting finish.