Tag Archives: North Norfolk

22nd July 2017 – Raptors & Waders

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A0904Skylark – fluttering up over the fields, singing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A1156Spotted Redshank – moulting out of its black summer plumage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6421Curlew Sandpiper – dropped in to the freshmarsh with two Dunlin

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

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

20th July 2017 – Owls & Nightjars

A Private Tour this evening, looking for owls and Nightjars. There had been some thundery showers in the morning, but these had passed through, the sky had cleared and the wind had dropped, even if it was a bit cooler tonight than of late. It looked like a good evening to be out.

Our first target for the evening was Little Owl. We drove round via one site, but there was no sign of the birds on the ruined barns where they like to sit. There were no Little Owls either at first at the second site we tried. We stopped here anyway and, having scanned from the road, had a walk down along a footpath, which took us round to the back of the farm buildings.

It was a pleasant walk. There were lots of Brown Hares in fields, always nice to see. A Stock Dove perched on the roof of a barn next to a Woodpigeon for comparison and an Oystercatcher seemed to be enjoying a similar vantage point on the ridge of one roof. A large flock of Jackdaws and Rooks had started to gather in a recently cut wheat field, before heading off to roost. A Yellowhammer was singing from an overturned potato crate in the corner of a field. But there was no sign of a Little Owl anywhere.

We had a schedule to keep so we couldn’t stay here any longer. As we got back to the car, we glanced over to the buildings opposite where we had parked, which we had scanned when we first arrived, and there was a Little Owl on the roof. It had come out to bask in evening sun.

IMG_6302Little Owl – basking in the evening sunshine

After a good look at the Little Owl through the scope, we moved on and made our way down to the coast. We drove round past some of meadows where Barn Owls regularly hunt, but we couldn’t see any out yet. So we parked and walked down along the seawall to scan the marshes. Swifts and House Martins were twittering overhead. We could hear Bearded Tits in the reeds, and looked across to see several perched up nicely in the tops. We got a good look at them in the scope. A Marsh Harrier circled distantly over marshes.

The first Barn Owl of the evening appeared, flying over the reeds behind some bushes where there is a Barn Owl box, but it was rather distant. Then we spotted a second, out hunting over the marshes. We couldn’t see the entrance to the box from where we were standing and we were looking straight into the setting sun, but we just could see some movement on the platform on the front of the box and a Barn Owl dropped out and down behind the reeds out of view. The young Barn Owls here must be near to fledging now.

One of the Barn Owls out hunting caught a vole and flew back towards the box. We thought it might be heading back to feed the youngsters, but it landed on post instead and ate it. We watched it in the scope, before it flew back and continued hunting along the bank. It started making its way towards us and this time we got closer views, before it turned again and headed off other way.

It was time to think about heading up to the heath now – we had a date with some Nightjars! As we turned to head back to the car, we could see a white shape behind the railings by the road behind us, back near to where we had parked. Another Barn Owl. We had a quick look through binoculars then made our way quickly back, hoping to get a better view of it from back at the car, but just at that moment a very noisy motorbike came along the road and flushed it. We watched as it resumed hunting over the meadow on the other side of the road.

6O0A0393Barn Owl – one of several we saw out hunting this evening

It was already dusk by the time we got up to the heath, and walked out into the middle of the gorse and heather. A Tawny Owl called from the trees. We didn’t have to wait long before the first Nightjar called and, after a couple more minutes,  it flew high out over the tops of the trees, turned and dropped down onto a dead branch on the front edge close to where we were standing. It perched there for some time, silent, where we could get a great look at it in the scope.

IMG_6326Nightjar – perched nicely on a branch in front of us

The Nightjars were slow to start churring this evening – perhaps because it was a bit cooler tonight. Eventually one started up over the other side of the heath. The male we were watching then flew out from the trees and disappeared out over the heather behind us. Given that, we were surprised to hear a quick burst of churring still coming from the trees in front of us. The first male flew back in and a second male Nightjar promptly flew out of the trees. The two of them perched on the dead branches together just a metre or so apart. There was clearly a minor territorial dispute, as they spread their tails and started turning from side to side where they were perched, flashing their white tail patches.

One of the male Nightjars flew off across heath again and the other stayed perched for a while, where we got a very prolonged look at it through the scope. It made a couple of  sallies out, short display flights over our heads and past us, with exaggerated wing beats, and tail spread flashing its white corners, before flying back to its perch in the trees. After one of these sallies, it flew into the trees and we could hear it wing clapping, before disappearing into another leafy oak where it started churring again. A female Nigthjar then appeared, lacking the white wing and tail patches of the male, and started flying low in and out of the trees hunting. At one point it came out over the edge of the heath and right over our heads. Great views.

When this male Nightjar finally went quiet, we walked a short distance across the heath into the territory of another. We could hear it now, churring from somewhere in an oak tree out in the middle. We listened to it for a while in the distance, before it took off – we could hear it wing clapping as it did so. We couldn’t see it flying with the light starting to fade now, but it flew in and landed on one of its favourite perches, in an oak close to us. We watched it churring, silhouetted against the last of the light on a bare branch. Between bouts of churring, it flew little sallies out from its perch, hawking for insects.

IMG_6331

It was a lovely way to end the evening. Eventually it flew back away from us and disappeared into the night. We walked back to the car, listening to another two churring male Nightjars on our way.

26th June 2017 – Summer with Cameras

A Private Tour today, with a difference. We were particularly targeting certain species and hoping to get photographs of them too. It was a lovely sunny day, warm out of the breeze which picked up on the coast in the afternoon. Perhaps a little too nice?

After a relaxed start, the target for the first part of the morning was to look for raptors. As we drove along, a Red Kite circled over the road, together with a Common Buzzard. We parked at the start of a farm track and walked up to the top of a rise, from where we could get a good view over the surrounding countryside.

We saw a good selection of birds of prey from our vantage point here. First, a Kestrel flew past as we walked along the track. Looking back towards the meadow where we had parked, a Barn Owl was out hunting, presumably still with hungry young in the nest to feed and having to work hard accordingly. As the air warmed, several Common Buzzards circled up out of the trees. Unfortunately, the warming air also meant that the heat haze quickly increased, making photography rather more challenging!

There were other birds too. Best of them all, a Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. They were once more common but are now very scarce in the breeding season across most of Norfolk. One or two pairs cling on in farmland and hopefully this one is breeding somewhere around here. Some distinctive calls alerted us to five Mediterranean Gulls circling high overhead, presumably looking for a suitable field to feed in. Skylarks fluttered up over the fields singing and a Common Whitethroat flitted about in the hedge.

When we had had our fill of raptors, we walked back to the car. Our destination for the rest of the morning was up on the Heath. A particular target here was Garden Warbler. They can be very elusive, often lurking deep in the bushes, but have at least started singing more again in the last week or so, presumably between broods. As we pulled up in the car park, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing but we were pleasantly surprised to look over and see it perched out on the near edge of the blackthorn, close by.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – posing for the cameras in the car park

Having posed unusually well at first, the Garden Warbler quickly dropped back down into cover. Normal service was resumed – we could still hear it singing but from deep in the blackthorn! Still, it was a great start and we set off out onto the Heath feeling rather hopeful.

Our second target here today was Woodlark. Unfortunately, they were not quite so accommodating. They are onto their second broods now and, with the females probably on eggs, they are not at their most visible. Getting towards the middle of the day, it was also not the best time to look for them. When we set off from the car park, we met some other local birders returning who told us they had seen a pair of Woodlarks earlier. We went straight round to the place where they had been, but we couldn’t find them – presumably they had flown off already. We did find a pair of Skylarks feeding nearby, which was not quite what we were looking for, even if very nice to see close to on the ground.

We had a walk round to another area where the Woodlarks have been feeding often in recent weeks, but the vegetation here is growing up fast now making them harder to see. We listened as we circled round the area, but we couldn’t hear any either. There were plenty of Linnets around the gorse and several Yellowhammers singing, although even these were not posing for the cameras quite as they might normally have done today. A couple of juvenile Stonechats were flitting around the bushes out in the middle of the Heath.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – there were several males singing around the Heath today

The butterflies were more obliging. There are large numbers of Silver-studded Blues out at the moment, one of the specialities of the Heath, so we stopped to admire a couple of them on our way round.

Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue – large numbers are out on the Heath at the moment

There wasn’t much time to explore the Heath before it was time for lunch, so we walked back to the car for a break. Typically, we were just in the process of eating our sandwiches in a shady spot when we noticed a couple of Woodlarks flying in low over the trees. They dropped down out of view in the distance and we had a pretty good idea the area where they were heading. We quickly put our food down and grabbed our gear.

We couldn’t see them at first when we got round to the place where the Woodlarks had gone down, so we weren’t sure if they had continued on or landed. We followed the path up a slight rise, and unfortunately they flew up without calling from the far side just as we appeared over the top, three of them. They didn’t go far, but landed again in the long grass just a short distance ahead of us. We could see one of them through the scope, creeping around in the grass.

The Woodlarks were a bit far for photographs, particularly with the heat haze today, so we decided to try to circle round to the other side of them. They can be very obliging, but not today and as we edged forwards they were off again.

After finishing our lunch, we set off again around the Heath to see if we could find any Dartford Warblers. It was early afternoon now, the warmest part of the day, but we hoped a light breeze would be enough to encourage the birds into some activity. It was not the case. Like the Woodlarks, the Dartford Warblers are on second broods now and the females are on eggs. The males still often sing now, but early and late are definitely best.

We did hear a Turtle Dove purring in the trees, but as it was not a target species for the day we did not go off looking for it. We also bumped into a nice selection of insects. As well as the Silver-studded Blues, there were lots of other butterflies, especially lots of Small Skippers feeding on the Viper’s Bugloss. A large Emperor Dragonfly was hawking around other heather. And we saw several bright Green Tiger Beetles on the paths.

Small SkipperSmall Skipper – feeding on Viper’s Bugloss

With no further sign of the Woodlarks either, we decided to head down to the coast at Cley for a walk. There were quite a few cars (though not so many birders in evidence!), so when we found a place to park, we headed out along the East Bank. As we set off, a Little Egret flew past and disappeared off towards North Foreland wood. A Grey Heron flew in over the reeds too, and disappeared into the trees.

Little EgretLittle Egret – flew in to North Foreland wood

The pool at the start of the East Bank held a few ducks. Among them, a female Common Pochard was diving. She appeared to be down to just one duckling, although by now it was at least well on its way to being fully grown. Otherwise, there were just a variety of ages of Mallard on here.

The grazing marshes east of the East Bank still have quite a bit of water on them this year. There were still plenty of Lapwing around the small pools and in the grass, though not so many juveniles with them. Predation often tends to be high with wader chicks here.

LapwingLapwing – several adults though not so many juveniles in evidence

Interestingly, the Redshanks seemed to be doing a little better in their parental duties and as well as a good number of adults, there were several juveniles around the edges of the Serpentine, which was good to see. Looking further over, towards Pope’s Pool, there were lots of Avocet and more adult Redshank, plus a single Black-tailed Godwit and one Ringed Plover. The early waders are already starting to return from the north, often failed breeders first, and a lone Whimbrel flying east over the start of the East Bank as we looked back probably fits that category.

RedshankRedshank – one of several juveniles around the Serpentine

As there has been over the last few weeks, there was a nice selection of wildfowl around the Serpentine, even if the drakes are starting to moult into eclipse plumage. As well as the usual Mallard and Gadwall, including a nice little family party of the latter with several small ducklings, there were also two Wigeon and quite a few Teal, both species which are more winter visitors. How many of these have remained here all summer, and how many have been around either here or nearby right the way through, is hard to tell. There were loads of Greylag Geese too, with no shortage of young ones with them, already well grown now.

There was quite a fresh breeze blowing in, with the wind having turned north-east this afternoon. The Sand Martins seemed to be enjoying it. There was quite a flock of them, hawking for insects. They kept swinging out over the marshes, before returning en masse and swooping around the bank.

Sand MartinSand Martin – a large flock were hawking for insects around the East Bank

We had hoped we might find a Bearded Tit along here, but it was perhaps a bit too windy to get a good look at one. We did hear some calling. One was in the reeds in the ditch on the east side of the bank. The light was perfect this side, although it was most exposed to the wind. We stood close by hoping it would climb up into the reeds but unfortunately it flew off down the line of the reeds. There were quite a few Reed Warblers, which showed quite well, and a male Reed Bunting perched in the top of the reeds singing.

There were quite a few Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh, and plenty of Great Black-backed Gulls, but not much else of note today. We were told there had been a Little Gull offshore here, but by the time we got out to the beach it had moved on. There were lots of Sandwich Terns offshore, as well as a single adult Mediterranean Gull with the Black-headed Gulls.

There were more waders moving, to add to the Whimbrel we had seen earlier. A single Curlew flew west over Arnold’s Marsh, flying straight through without stopping. Then while we were looking out to see, we noticed three more Curlews flying west just offshore, presumably just arriving fresh in from the Continent. More waders on migration, which is always interesting to see.

CurlewCurlew – these three were probably just arriving from the Continent this afternoon

We had an appointment with Nightjars this evening, so with an eye on the clock and the need to get something to eat beforehand we headed back to the car. A Little Ringed Plover flew off from the Serpentine as we passed, presumably having dropped in while we were at the beach.

Having had a break and eaten, we met up again later in the evening. We were just looking for Nightjars this evening, so we made our way straight up to the heath. We arrived in good time and with a few minutes to spare, we had a quick walk round looking for some good places to stand.

As we walked past a clump of gorse, we heard a very soft churr which meant that a Nightjar was very close. Peering over the vegetation, we could just see it through a narrow gap, perched on a branch lying on the ground. Unfortunately, as we tried to get everyone up onto it, it took off. We had a nice flight view as it flew round and up into some trees. It was a male – we could see the white corners to its tail and white bands across the tips of its wings as it flew. We saw roughly where it went, so we walked over in the direction.

The Nightjar hadn’t landed on one of its regular perches. It was now about time for them to start churring anyway, and it duly obliged by bursting into ‘song’. We could hear where it was, a bit further along than normal, so we made our way carefully round the trees. It was perched right out in the open on a dead branch, but again we struggled to get everyone onto it before it flew. They never stay in one place for long, especially early in the evening. As it took off, a second male Nightjar joined it, and the two of them circled up over the edge of the trees calling. This is a territorial boundary, so there was probably a bit of a discussion going on!

We followed one of the two male Nightjars as it flew off across the Heath. We know exactly where it likes to perch, so it was just a matter of which tree it might head for. At first it was not settling and we quickly realised why – there was a female Nightjar there too! The male flew after her, following her from branch to branch, wing-clapping. The female was much harder to follow in the gloom, lacking the male’s white wing and tail patches.

When the female Nightjar flew on again, this time the male remained perched and gave us a chance to get it in the scope. It stayed there churring for a minute or two. There was still just enough light to get a really good look at it – and some photos. Great stuff!

NightjarNightjar – this male eventually settled and started churring

When that male Nightjar finally flew again, we could hear a different bird churring across the Heath. We looked across and it was perched in a tree, perfectly silhouetted against the last of the light, a classic Nightjar view. When it finally moved away, we decided to head back.

The light was fading fast now and we had already enjoyed some unforgettable Nightjar views, so we decided to call it a night. They really are the most fascinating of birds and there is nothing better than standing on a heath on a summer’s evening listening to them churring and watching them flying round. It is always a great way to end a day of Summer birding.

24th June 2017 – Summer Weekend, Day 1

The first day of a weekend of Summer birding, looking for some of our scarcer breeding birds, plus any late or early migrants as well as the regular species we can see here a this time of year. We were basing ourselves in North Norfolk today. It was a pleasant day, cloudy with sunny intervals, warm, with a lighter wind than of late.

The target for the first part of the morning was to look for raptors. As we parked at the start of a farm track, a Barn Owl flew across the meadow nearby and disappeared into the trees. Many pairs have well grown young to feed now and can be seen out hunting later into the morning and again early evening.

Barn Owl 1Barn Owl – a very pale male, out hunting still this morning

As we walked along the track on the edge of the meadow, we flushed a couple of Grey Partridge from the grass, which flew off calling noisily. A Swallow was hawking for insects low over the grass. We could hear a couple of Yellowhammers and a Common Whitethroat singing from the hedges and several Skylarks singing up in the sky above the fields. We stopped to look at a young Brown Hare, a leveret, hiding in one of the tramlines across a field.

Up at the top of a rise, from where we could get a good view over the surrounding countryside, we stopped to scan for raptors. We saw an excellent variety of birds of prey from here. A Kestrel was hovering over the fields. A Sparrowhawk flew across in front of us, brief bouts of flapping interspersed with long glides. As the day warmed up, several Common Buzzards circled up out of the woods in all directions. A Red Kite hung in the air – it was some distance away, but its distinctive shape and flight action, turning its tail and flexing its wings down, easily gave its identity away. Target achieved.

It is a great spot up here from which just to stand and admire the gently rolling Norfolk countryside. A pair of Stock Doves flew over. A Green Woodpecker flew across the field in front of us, commuting between blocks of trees.With our target for the morning duly achieved, we moved on.

Our next destination for the rest of the morning was Titchwell. As we took a quick walk round the overflow car park, a pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over, calling loudly. We had almost got right round to the other side, when a Turtle Dove finally flew out of the bushes above our heads. There has been a pair nesting here and they have just successfully fledged a single youngster, so we were hoping to see them here.

The Turtle Dove flew round to the other side of the car park, where we had just walked. We could see it perched in a tree, preening. So we headed back that way and as we stood and watched it, a second Turtle Dove flew in and landed in another tree, further back. We watched the pair of Turtle Doves for a while, they seem to be used to people in the car park now and we had great views of them close up through the scope.

Turtle DoveTurtle Dove – showed really well in the car park this morning

Eventually the first Turtle Dove finished preening and flew back the way it had come. The second Turtle Dove promptly flew off after it, so we moved on. Over by the Visitor Centre, there were several Greenfinches on the feeders, along with the usual selection of Chaffinches, Great Tit and Blue Tit.

As we walked out onto the reserve along the main path, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the grazing meadow. As we got out of the trees, we stopped to scan but we couldn’t see it – it sounded like it was down in the deep vegetation out in the middle. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds beyond.

A Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds, a frenetic mixture of rattles and churrs, very different from the more metronimic Reed Warblers the other side of the path. We saw several Reed Warblers chasing round in the reeds that side. A male Reed Bunting was perched up on top of a bush, singing away, although its song is not much to write home about! We could hear Bearded Tits calling, and turned to see a family party flying up from the reeds. They kept moving a short distance at a time, and we could see them each time they came back up, a male, female and two black-masked tawny juveniles.

There was nothing of note on the Grazing Meadow ‘pool’, and just a few Mallard visible on the reedbed pool, so we made our way quickly up to Island Hide.

There has been a steady succession of Little Gulls, all 1st summer birds, on the reserve in recent weeks and we quickly found the two here today, on the nearest island. They were suitably dwarfed by the nearby Black-headed Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull. Over in the fenced off island at the back, we picked out a smart pair of Mediterranean Gulls among the nesting Black-headed Gulls. There were also a few terns – as well as the regular Common Terns, three Sandwich Terns were roosting on the island.

Little GullLittle Gull – dwarfed by the Lesser Black-backed Gull behind

Even though it is only June still, the first waders are already starting to return, on their way south from the arctic. At first, all we found were the regular waders. There are lots of Avocets, as usual, many of them loafing over on one of the islands with a mob of Black-tailed Godwits. The majority of the latter are 1st summer Icelandic birds which have not gone north this year, although we did manage to find a single Continental Black-tailed Godwit in with them.

AvocetAvocet – increasing numbers on the freshmarsh

The single Ruff has been here throughout, and is also presumably a first summer bird, so a non-breeder this year. Although sporting a bright rufous head and neck, he never developed the distinctive ruff of a breeding male. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers too.

The wader highlight from here was a single Spotted Redshank which appeared on the edge of the reeds. A real cracker, it was in full breeding plumage, jet black with silvery white spots on its upperparts. This bird is freshly in from the arctic on its way back south. This is the time to see them at their best, as they quickly start to moult into silvery grey winter plumage and get very patchy after a week or so.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – a stunning bird in full black summer plumage

As we sat in the hide, we could see more Marsh Harriers over the main reedbed. A rather dark chocolate brown bird appeared with them, with very restricted pale on the back of the head – one of the first juvenile Marsh Harriers to fledge this year, up practicing flying. There are not so many ducks here now, and what is here is mostly drakes in eclipse. There were a few Teal, starting to moult, and the usual Shelduck.

As we made our way out along the bank, a small crowd of locals were gathered around one of the benches. They kindly pointed out a Common Sandpiper which had just appeared on one of the islands, another returning migrant wader for the day’s list.

Continuing out towards the beach, there was nothing of particular note on either the Volunteer Marsh or the Tidal Pools today. However, as we were walking past, another local birder called to us and pointed to three Spoonbills which had flown across thre freshmarsh behind us. We watched as they heading out towards Brancaster, circling for a minute or so over the saltmarsh.

A quick look at the sea produced a raft of around 30 Common Scoter out on the water. There were quite a few terns flying back and forth, which were mostly Sandwich Terns. Scanning the beach we could see a few waders down on the mussel beds, despite the disturbance from lots of people clambering over them. A Curlew was the most notable, again possibly an early returning bird, alongside several Bar-tailed Godwits and lots of Oystercatchers. A pair of Shoveler on the beach were rather out of place!

It was already lunch time and we had a long walk back ahead of us, so we didn’t linger too long on the beach. On the way, we had a quick stop when we heard some Bearded Tits calling near the path. The Bearded Tits perched up nicely in the reeds for us briefly, just as a Cetti’s Warbler did exactly the same further along, so we didn’t know which way to look.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – a pair showed well on the walk back

After a late lunch in the picnic area, we drove back east along the coast road. We stopped at Holkham and took the path to the west on the inland side of the pines. There were a few warblers singing in the trees – a Blackcap and a couple of Chiffchaffs, plus a distant Lesser Whitethroat. We heard a Jay calling in the pines too. Otherwise the trees were rather quiet, perhaps not surprising in mid afternoon.

Stopping to scan the grazing marshes, we could see the heads of quite a few geese sticking out of the long grass. Most of them were Greylag Geese – sporting bright orange carrots as bills – but a couple of darker heads and bills appeared with them. Two Pink-footed Geese walked out, probably birds which have been shot and injured and could not make the journey back north to Iceland to breed. There were also a few Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese here too.

There were a few butterflies out, in the brambles and bushes alongside the path. Mostly they were Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells but as we got closer to the crosstracks we found several White Admirals too.

Even before we got into the hide, we could see a huddle of white shapes on the edge of the pool. From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, we got the scope on them and confirmed they were mostly Spoonbills. There were several recently fledged juveniles with only partly grown bills – nicknamed ‘teaspoonbills’, as well a few adults still sporting nuchal crests. One of the juvenile Spoonbills decided to start harrassing its parent, chasing round after it, bobbing its head vigorously up and down, flapping its wings and begging. The adult Spoonbill tried to walk away but was pursued around the pool by the youngster.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills & Little Egrets – including some recently fledged young

As well as the juvenile Spoonbills on the pool, there were two or three recently fledged Little Egrets too. There was a steady coming and going of Little Egrets, but suddenly two larger egrets appeared over the trees. They were Great White Egrets. They flew across and dropped down out of view behind the bank. A little later, we could see one Great White Egret feeding out on the grazing marsh beyond the trees.

There were plenty of Marsh Harriers here too, and a couple made nice close passes in front of the hide, giving us great views. One female in particular seemed to like hunting over the grass just to one side of the hide.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – gave great views from the hide

With a busy evening planned, it was time to walk back if we were to have a chance to get something to eat beforehand. On the way, we saw a few more tits in the trees. A mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits and Coal Tits had probably been down to bathe or drink and we caught them as they made their way back into the pines. At least one Goldcrest was with them. We also heard a Treecreeper calling just before we got back to the car.

After a couple of hours break, we met again later for the Nightjar Evening. The plan was to go looking for owls first, so we made our way first over to a good site for Little Owls. When we arrived at the farm buildings, there was no sign of any owls at first. A Yellowhammer was singing from the top of a tree nearby and we could see few Red-legged Partridges and a pair of Oystercatchers asleep on the roof of one of the buildings.

There were several Brown Hares around too. We had stopped at the start of a track to watch two of them when a Stoat ran across the path in front, followed by three almost fully grown young ones. A few seconds it was followed by another Stoat and another two youngsters, presumably all one family on an evening’s outing. A nice surprise.

Making our way down towards the coast next, we stopped to look at a Barn Owl hunting  over a field by the road. It disappeared over the hedge at the back, and we had a look across from the next field, but it had disappeared. We went back to the first field and a second Barn Owl appeared. Again, it flew up into the hedge but this time it didn’t appear the other side. It had clearly landed, as a couple of minutes later we saw it again as it flew away along the line of the hedge.

Barn Owl 2Barn Owl – one of five we saw this evening in a brief look

We had another stop briefly in another area where there is a pair of Barn Owls nesting in an owl box. We watched them hunting and bringing food back to the box. A third Barn Owl, a much darker bird, flew across carrying food and landed in a bush out of view. We had an appointment with some Nightjars so unfortunately we couldn’t linger here long this evening.

Up on the heath, we got ourselves in position in time for the Nightjars to start churring. They took a while to get started but then, after a brief churr, two male Nightjars appeared and started chasing each other round, in and out of the trees. One of them flew towards us and landed in an oak tree in front of us before beginning to churr. We managed to get it in the scope, but it was hard to pick out against the dark branches and it flew again before everyone could get a look at it. It flew past us, so we followed on after it.

The Nightjar had landed in another oak further across the heath. We could hear it churring so we made our way round to the side where we thought it would be perched. There it was, on a dead branch. We got it in the scope and this time everyone got a quick look at it before it flew again. This time it landed on one of its favourite perches, a dead branch which sticks out from one the trees. We crept round to where we could see it out in the open, churring away with its throat feathers puffed out, giving us great views.

NightjarNightjar – churring from one of its favourite branches

When this Nightjar finally flew off, we turned towards another male churring further over. We could see it silhouetted against the last of the evening’s light, a classic Nightjar view. We stood for a few minutes, listening to all the Nightjars churring around us, a great sound on a summer’s evening up on the heath. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees and we could hear the squeaky call of a juvenile Tawny Owl too. Then with the light fading, we started to make our way back. A great evening to round off our first day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on Patsy’s Reedbed

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

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

Little GullLittle Gull – one of three on the freshmarsh today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6th June 2017 – Dartfords & a Downpour!

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today. The weather forecast was not great – it was meant to be windy all day, with heavy rain expected to arrive in the afternoon. We had thought about going west today, to seek out the safety of the hides at Titchwell, but a quick discussion about possibilities when we met up suggested an attempt to look for Dartford Warblers was preferred this morning.

As we drove east along the coast, a Barn Owl flew high over the road and disappeared off across the fields. After a wet & windy night last night, it was probably having to hunt out later this morning, perhaps with hungry young to feed at the moment.

When we arrived up on the Heath, we were pleasantly surprised. The wind had dropped completely and, although still cloudy, it had brightened up considerably – not what we were expecting but we would gladly accept it! A couple of Common Whitethroats were singing around the car park and, as we walked along the path, the first of several Willow Warblers was singing from the birch trees.

A male Yellowhammer was singing from the top of a rather bare birch tree and we flushed several pairs or little family parties of Linnets on the way.

LinnetLinnet – we saw lots up on the Heath today

When we got to the first Dartford Warbler territory, it all seemed rather lifeless at first. Still, we had a quiet look round and listen to see if we could hear one call. We walked along a path flanked by high gorse either side and as we came out the other side, we spotted a small, dark shape zipping away over the heather. It was a female Dartford Warbler. It perched in the top of the heather briefly, before dropping down out of sight.

We walked round to where we might see it better and could just see it from time to time flitting around in the heather and young birch trees. Then we heard more Dartford Warblers calling from the other side of the path and realised there was a family party here. Watching quietly from a discrete distance, we could just make out several short-tailed juvenile Dartford Warblers hiding in a big clump of gorse and birch as they moved around.

Standing here for a while, we watched as the female Dartford Warbler flew in to feed the juveniles a couple of times, zooming in fast and low, a dark blur with a long tail, before zooming out again across the path and down into the heather. At least we were seeing Dartford Warblers, but it was hard to get a really good view of one like this. Perseverance was required!

We had heard it singing some distance away but then the male Dartford Warbler flew in to join the female. It didn’t stay long and made its way off in the other direction, so figuring we would stand a better chance of getting a good view of the male perched up singing, we followed it. It did indeed land in the top of the gorse briefly for us, but then flew off over the top of a big clump of young trees and disappeared.

The views we were getting of Dartford Warbler were steadily improving, so we went back to the female and juveniles. Again, they were well tucked down in the vegetation, but after a while the female called the youngsters across the path and we saw at least five of them follow after her – a good clutch, and nice to confirm that this pair have done so well.

Then the male Dartford Warbler reappeared nearby and started singing again, so we followed the sound once more. This time we got a really good look at it, perched in the top of the heather, albeit a reasonable distance away. At last!

Dartford Warbler 1Dartford Warbler – finally, we got a good look at the male perched up singing

With some good views of Dartford Warbler achieved, we left the family group to feed and carried on around the Heath. We hadn’t gone very far when we heard another male Dartford Warbler singing, #2 for the morning! This one was tucked well down in a big clump of gorse and birch and we could just see it creeping around in the vegetation. It was never going to be easy to see this one well, so we didn’t stop.

There is an interesting ‘tent’ of Small Eggar moth caterpillars in a bush by one of the paths so we went over for a look at it. We could hear Garden Warblers alarm calling as we approached and one flew across into a young oak tree nearby, where we got a brief view of it before it went further back into the trees. Then a second Garden Warbler appeared in the top of the bush right in front of us, also scolding us. They obviously have a nest nearby, so we left them in peace.

Small Eggar moth caterpillarSmall Eggar moth caterpillars – in, and on, their silk tent

As we continued on across the Heath, we heard yet another Dartford Warbler calling and looked round to see another male perched on the top of the heather. It darted back into the gorse behind and disappeared but a few seconds later flew out again. It flew straight towards us, past us within a couple of metres and dropped into a large patch of tall gorse the other side of the path. Dartford Warbler male #3.

We could hear now the mournful song of a Woodlark away in the distance, but as we carried on along the path we gradually got closer to it. It went quiet for a while and then suddenly it fluttered up in front of us and started singing again. We stood and listened to it for a while, watching as it flew round in circles, slowly gaining height. It looked rather bat-like, with rapidly fluttering broad wings and short tail.

WoodlarkWoodlark – singing high in the sky above our heads

The Woodlark was showing no sign of coming back down to earth, so we carried on our way. It seemed to follow us though and was still singing very high overhead, just a dot in the sky, when we caught a flash of another Woodlark flying over the path in front of us just above head height.

It dropped down into the heather out of sight, so we walked round to a gap in the gorse through which we could see over to the area where it had gone down. The next thing we knew, a pair of Woodlarks flew up out of the heather and disappeared away over the Heath. Perhaps this was why the first male Woodlark was singing so persistently, with another pair in its territory.

A little further on, we had just stopped to admire some more Linnets, when we heard yet another male Dartford Warbler singing, amazingly #4 of the morning! We walked round to the other side of a large gorse bush and there it was, sitting up in full view, albeit quite a distance away.

It was already turning out to be an amazing morning for Dartford Warblers, but there was still one last twist. As we looked at it, male #4 flew straight towards us and landed in the top of a gorse bush right next to us, just a couple of metres away. It was so close, we could almost reach out and touch it! It was a stunning view, and it stayed there for several seconds. It was carrying food in its bill (presumably it has some juveniles to feed somewhere) and gave another burst of song, before flying across the path and away, dropping down again some distance off. Wow!

Dartford Warbler 2Dartford Warbler – this male flew in and landed right next to us!

It had been a phenomenal morning for Dartford Warblers, culminating in such great views. We set off to see if we could get better views of a Woodlark now, making out way over to an area where they can sometimes be found feeding, and where the singing male from earlier seemed to have headed off to. A Jay was hopping around under an oak tree by the path and gave us a great look at it when it flew up into the lowest branches.

JayJay – feeding around an oak tree out on the Heath

At this point, it started to rain but we could see brighter sky away to the west, so we were confident it was only a shower. So it proved and it quickly stopped again. We paused to watch a family of Stonechats, the adult male, browner female and 2-3 streaky juveniles.

StonechatStonechat – the female perched up nicely for us during the rain shower

Just as we got to the area where we had hoped to find the Woodlark, it started singing again some distance away, back where we had first heard it, so it was immediately obvious we wouldn’t find it here. We turned and made our way back.

A pair of Turtle Doves flew across ahead of us, but disappeared behind the trees before everyone could see them. We headed over in the direction they had seemed to be going in the hope the male might start purring, but there was no sound. The male Yellowhammer we had seen earlier was back in the same tree again, preening and stretching after the rain, as we passed by.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – a male in its favourite tree

We had not seen many butterflies today up on the Heath, probably not a surprise given the cloudy and cool weather, but as we made our way back towards the car we were in for one final treat. A blue butterfly fluttered across the path and landed in the cut heather in front of us. A quick look confirmed it was a Silver-studded Blue, a rare and localised species for which the Heath is one of the only sites where it can be found locally.

Silver-studded Blue 1Silver-studded Blue – now starting to emerge on the Heath

This is the first Silver-studded Blue we have seen this year and, following reports from Suffolk in the last couple of days, they have probably only just started to emerge here. It was quite sluggish in the cooler weather and we got a great look at it, noting the distinctive silvery-blue centred spots on the underside of the hindwing from which it gets its name. As we walked on along the path, we found a second Silver-studded Blue in the heather.

With the rain forecast to arrive in the afternoon, and having spent most of the morning on the Heath, we had hoped to have a quick walk down on the coast before lunch. However, as we drove down we could see dark clouds ahead of us and the next thing we knew it was raining hard.

We headed round to the visitor centre at Cley and went inside for a cup of tea, in the hope that it might be just another shower, but it quickly became clear the main band of rain had arrived early. We could see plenty of Shelducks and Avocets on Pat’s Pool from the centre, but with most of the group not having a full set of waterproofs with them (not something you generally pack for summer!), we were not going to be able to get out to the hides without getting soaked.

After an early lunch in the car, with Common Swifts and Sand Martins hawking for insects in the rain low over the car park, we drove round to the beach. The wind had picked up now and it was really blustery, with gusts up to around 40mph already. We nipped across from the car to the beach shelter, where we could get out of the wind and rain, and had a look at the sea. There were lots of Sandwich Terns feeding close in offshore and we picked out several Little Terns and a couple of Common Terns too.

Sandwich TernSandwich Tern – feeding just offshore in the wind & rain

Our only hope now was that the rain, having arrived earlier than forecast, would go through more quickly too. We had hoped to spend the afternoon at Holkham, so we started to drive slowly west, stopping on the way at several sites where we could look out from the car. The harbours at Blakeney and Morston were largely devoid of birds. At Stiffkey Greenway, the only large white shape we could see was a Little Egret but visibility was somewhat hampered by the rain. There was more to see at Wells Harbour, with a couple of Common Terns and a Little Tern flying round or perched on one of the sandbars.

At this point, the group decided it might be an idea to call it a day. Finally managing to pick up a decent 4G mobile signal in Wells, we checked the rainfall radar in the hope it might show that the rain was passing through quickly, but the opposite appeared to be the case, so we made our way back to where we started. It was a disappointing way to end, but at least we had made the most of the good weather this morning. Those views of Dartford Warbler will live long in the memory!

3rd June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The thunderstorms overnight had passed through but the associated weather front was slow to clear this morning, resulting in a cloudy and cool start. However, it brightened up nicely in the afternoon and was sunny and warm by the end of the day.

Given the weather, we decided to start at Cley today. A Black-winged Stilt had been reported here first thing, so we went out to see if we could see it. We walked out to the hides and found a few people in there who pointed it straight out to us.

Black-winged StiltBlack-winged Stilt – still a rare visitor to North Norfolk

Black-winged Stilts were formerly a mainly Mediterranean species, but have spread north in recent years and are occurring more regularly in the UK. Birds have stayed to breed in the past and, after a significant influx of Black-winged Stilts into the UK earlier in the year, there are some attempting to breed this year. Over the longer term, with a warming climate, it is a species which might be expected to colonise here. As well as pairs which may breed, there are some wandering lone birds here this year and the Cley Black-winged Stilt was one of those. A very nice bird to see here and very distinctive with its long pink legs and black wings.

While we were in the hides, we had a scan of the scrapes. On Simmond’s Scrape, there were a few other waders – Avocets, Redshanks and a lone Dunlin with summer black belly patch. There were several Little Ringed Plovers out on the islands and a pair were displaying, the male flying round after the female with exaggerated wingbeats. When they landed again, the male stood in front of the female with his white chest pushed out – she didn’t seem particularly impressed and ran away!

Little Ringed PloverLittle Ringed Plover – there were several on Simmond’s Scrape today

The big creche of Shelducklings was still here, but split into two groups today. The smaller ones were huddled in the grass with the female Shelduck, whereas the eight larger ducklings were feeding feverishly, swimming round in circles in the water. There were lots of Gadwall too, all drakes and all sat around on one of the islands sleeping, presumably having largely finished their limited parenting role already.

Looking over on Pat’s Pool, there were several Avocets nesting on the islands and a couple of small chicks running around, as usual largely ignored by their parents. Is it any wonder they are so vulnerable to predation! A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds beyond.

Avocet chicksAvocet chicks – these two were running around unattended on Pat’s Pool

We made our way back to the visitor centre and then round to the East Bank next. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the thin line of reeds along the ditch on the east side of the path, giving us a great chance to get a proper look at it. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing and displaying along the East Bank this morning, which was nice to hear. The Reed Warblers in contrast have gone rather quiet though we saw odd ones flicking around on the edge of the reeds.

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – showing very well along the East Bank

As we walked out along the bank, we scanned the grazing marshes around the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were quite a few Lapwings and Redshanks out here as usual, both of which breed here. A Common Snipe along the edge of the Serpentine was more of a surprise. They used to breed here but sadly not any more and now are mostly seen in winter. This is the first we have seen here for several weeks now.

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – feeding on the edge of the Serpentine

There were the usual ducks and geese on the grazing marshes here – Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler and Greylag Goose. Most of the wintering species have long since departed, but there are still a few birds lingering here. We found two drake Wigeon here as usual this morning, but there seemed to be more Teal today, including a couple of pairs.

It was quite windy today, so not an ideal day for looking for Bearded Tits. We heard one or two calling briefly from out in the reedbed on the walk out but couldn’t see them – they were presumably keeping tucked well down in the reeds. When we heard another call, we turned to look hoping to catch a glimpse of one zooming past over the tops of the reeds and were pleasantly surprised to see a male Bearded Tit flying straight towards us which dropped down on the near edge of reeds.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – this male was collecting food along the edge of the reeds

The Bearded Tit spent several minutes feeding along the edge of the reeds in front of us, clambering around through the reed stems just above the surface of the ditch. It was collecting food, and kept stopping to look down into the water or to pick around in the reed debris on the bank beyond. We got great views of it as it did so.

When the Bearded Tit finally disappeared back into the reeds, we continued along the bank to Arnold’s Marsh. There were not as many birds on here as there have been recently, but we still managed to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit, a lone Dunlin and one Ringed Plover hiding in the saltmarsh at the back. Otherwise it was just the usual Avocets and Redshanks on here today. A Meadow Pipit was singing and song flighting, fluttering up and parachuting down, to a fencepost nearby.

We made our way out to have a look at the sea. It can be rather quiet at this time of the year, but there were a few Sandwich Terns flying past offshore, which was a new bird for the weekend’s list. A Little Tern flew east but was gone before everyone could get onto it. Thankfully, a short while later four Little Terns flew back west overhead, calling noisily. A pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over behind us, helpfully also calling which alerted us to their presence. We could see their distinctive white wing tips as they passed.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – one of a pair of adult which flew past us

Scanning out over the sea, we picked up a line of Common Scoter flying west, fourteen of them flying low over the sea, followed shortly after by another four. One of the group then spotted a distant Guillemot on the sea, which we just all managed to see before it flew off. Three Gannets flew east.

The weather forecast had been for it to brighten up this morning, but the cloud was only now starting to break up as we walked back. We decided to stop for lunch back at the visitor centre before heading up onto the Heath for the afternoon.

As soon as we got out of the car up on the Heath, we could hear Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats singing. As we walked up the path, a Yellowhammer was singing too, perched in the top of a birch tree. There were plenty of Linnets in the gorse as we walked round, in small family parties now, twittering noisily as they flew off.

LinnetLinnet – still a relatively common bird up in the Heath

There was no sign of any Dartford Warblers today at the first place we checked – they can be very elusive, keeping hidden in the heather and gorse – so we carried on round the Heath to try another spot. We stopped to look at a group of Small Eggar Moth caterpillars in their silk ‘tent’ in the bushes and while we were standing there a Garden Warbler started alarm calling nearby. It flew up into a small oak tree where we could just see it flitting around in the leaves before it flew off deeper into the trees.

Small Eggar moth caterpillarsSmall Eggar Moth caterpillars – in their ‘tent’

As we walked down along a wide path, a Woodlark flew up from across the Heath and started to sing, circling around above us. We could hear its rather mournful song, before it fluttered away from us out of earshot, still singing, and dropped back down to the ground some distance away. We saw it twice today – a little later, it flew up again and came back over us singing, before dropping back down over where it had first come up from. With the male Woodlark flying round and singing on his own again, perhaps this pair of Woodlarks are now incubating their second brood already.

While we were watching the Woodlark singing overhead, we could hear the scratchy song of a Dartford Warbler in the distance too, so made our way quickly round to where it appeared to be coming from. It was all quiet when we got there, but we stood and listened for a while. A pair of Stonechats kept us entertained, perching up on the top of the gorse calling and dropping down to the ground to look for food.

Suddenly a Dartford Warbler started singing and we turned to see the male on the top of a gorse bush just a couple of metres away from us. It had probably been feeding quietly down in the gorse all the time we had been standing there! We had a great view of him. After a couple of seconds he dropped back into the vegetation, but a minute or so later he flew up and started songflighting, hovering in the air and singing.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – the male suddenly appeared right next to us, singing

The male Dartford Warbler dropped down out of view further along the path, so we walked quietly round after him. Suddenly a bird appeared out on the edge of the path, but it was shorter tailed than an adult Dartford Warbler and rather duller coloured. It was a recently fledged juvenile, out of the nest now, but with its tail not yet fully grown. Once the young are big enough, the adults lead them from the nest and feed them in the heather and gorse, moving round their territory.

The juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up into a small birch tree by the path and we stood back to watch from a discrete distance. It was mostly hidden by the leaves, but we could see it was being fed by an adult and when that bird hopped up onto a bush nearby, it was the female Dartford Warbler, not so richly coloured below as the male.

We stood and watched the Dartford Warblers quietly for some time as the female kept returning to feed the juveniles, which were now well hidden deep in the heather. There was no sign of the male for quite a while, but then suddenly he flew in again, and started singing. We listened to him for a few minutes, but as he moved away across the Heath we decided it was then time for us to move on too.

The afternoon was already getting on, but we had a quick look round the rest of the Heath. There is a pair of Turtle Doves here, and we checked out a couple of favoured spots, but we couldn’t hear them today. Now that the sun had come out, there was a bit of raptor activity – several Buzzards circled up over the ridge and we came across a Kestrel flying round between the trees. There were butterflies too – the highlight being a Green Hairstreak fluttering around a gorse bush. Then we decided to head back back to the car – we all needed  a break and a chance to get something to eat before the evening’s activities began.

Green HairstreakGreen Hairstreak – the butterfly highlight on the Heath this afternoon

After a break, we met up again later, in the early evening. We were heading out to look for Nightjars later, but we thought we would see if we could find any owls first. We swung round via some old farm buildings, a good site for Little Owl, but there was no sign of any out in the early evening sunshine. Perhaps it was still a bit early? A couple of Brown Hares chased each other round between the buildings, but quickly lost interest. A pair of Red-legged Partridges were perched up on roof enjoying the sun.

We had other things we wanted to do tonight, so we moved quickly on. We had more luck at the second site we stopped at. We got out of the car and as we were walking down along the path, we saw our first Barn Owl out hunting in the distance. A second Barn Owl appeared too, possibly a pair, although this is a good area for them and there can be several birds here. We watched the birds hunting out over the grass. They were rather distant at first, but then one flew in towards us and landed on a post briefly – we just had time for everyone to get a good look at it in the scope before it was off hunting again.

Barn Owl 1Barn Owl – out hunting in the early evening sunshine

Walking on a bit further down the path, we could still see one of the Barn Owls out hunting along the bank some way ahead of us. It dropped down into the grass a couple of times, but came up empty taloned. Finally it caught something, probably a vole. It flew back towards us carrying it in its talons and was just about to fly past us when a Kestrel suddenly appeared from nowhere and swooped at it. The two of them tangled in a flurry of wings and the Kestrel made a grab for the vole, they looked locked together for a split second. They parted again and the Barn Owl dropped to the ground, with the Kestrel swooping at it from above.

The Kestrel backed off, and after a few seconds the Barn Owl flew up again with the vole in its bill now. But the Kestrel had not given up and set off after it again. We lost sight of the two of them behind some buildings, but a few seconds later, the Barn Owl reappeared with no sign of its prey. It sat on a post looking slightly lost – all that effort for nothing!

Barn Owl 3Barn Owl – perched on a post after apparently losing its prey to a Kestrel

It was getting time to go looking for Nightjars now, so we made our way up to the heath. It was quiet at first as we walked out. We flushed a Roe Deer from beside the path, which ran off into the trees. A squeaky call, rather like a gate which needs oiling, alerted us to the first roding Woodcock of the evening, flying over the tops of the trees. We stopped to listen for more Woodcock but we heard a Nightjar instead, just a quick burst of churring, before it went quiet. It was a bit earlier than normal so we moved on and got ourselves into position.

While we were standing there, another two Woodcock flew out of the trees calling and away overhead. It was a lovely evening now, with a bright half moon in the sky and Jupiter visible close by. After that early churr, the Nightjars were then slow to get started properly this evening. Eventually we heard one call, and then some more quiet churring.

Then finally the Nightjars got going properly. We stood and listened to them churring for a while, at least three males, possibly four in earshot from where we were standing. We were waiting for one male in particular, but it sounded like he had gone off in the wrong direction across the heath and it began to seem like wouldn’t be coming in to his favourite churring post, which we could see in front of us.

Eventually, we decided to walk down the path to see if we could find where it had gone. Suddenly we heard a burst of wing clapping out over the gorse and the Nightjar flew in low right towards us. It swooped up onto its favourite branch but unfortunately this was just at the moment when we were walking past the tree. We were too close – it saw us and flew again, across and up into the next tree over. This one has more leaves so the Nightjar is harder to see, but we eventually found him perched. We got it in the scope, and could see it silhouetted against the fading light behind, churring.

NightjarNightjar – silhouetted against the fading light in a leafy tree

We stood and listened to the Nightjar for a while. Then it was off again – it swooped down across path the path and away low over the heath. It was starting to get too dark to see them clearly now, so we we started to make our way back. Two more Nightjars were churring from the trees as we walked back, slipping away into the night as we approached. There is no better way to spend an early summer’s evening than up on the heath listening to the amazing churring of Nightjars.