Tag Archives: North Norfolk

10th July 2021 – Summer Tour, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day Summer Tour, including a Nightjar Evening today. It was a cloudy start, but brightened up nicely with some sunshine and hazy high cloud particularly through the morning. We spent the day in North Norfolk.

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. A couple of Coal Tits were singing in the nearby pine trees as we got out of the minibus. A couple of orange-headed juvenile Marsh Harriers were circling over the meadow across the road as we pulled up, and drifted round behind the trees as we set off down the permissive path. A Gatekeeper fluttered up and landed again in the hedge, our first of the year.

Gatekeeper – our first of the year

There were a few birds singing in the copse at the end, the melodic tones of a couple of Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff doing what it says on the tin, and a Wren making a lot of noise for such a small bird. A Magpie chacked in the trees too. Making our way down along the river bank, we could see a few House Martins around the house on the ridge.

The vegetation between the path and the Fen is very overgrown now, making it difficult to see over but we could make out a sizeable huddle of large white birds. Up onto the seawall, and we had a much better view of the Spoonbills. We counted 29. There were three Little Egrets with them too. The Spoonbills were mostly asleep, but one or two were awake and showing off their spoons, including a recently fledged juvenile with its noticeably shorter, fleshy-coloured bill – a ‘teaspoonbill’.

Spoonbill – some of the 29 on the Fen today

There were lots of waders too – a large roost of Black-tailed Godwits, sitting out the high tide in the harbour; several pairs of Avocets, some still with fluffy young; a couple of Little Ringed Plovers on the island. We got the scope on a Common Sandpiper feeding in the shallow water, and another two flew up from behind the reeds, over the seawall, and disappeared up over the water in the harbour channel. We counted at least five Green Sandpipers feeding round the edges, in and out of the reeds, and seven Greenshank roosting over high, with a small group of Common Redshank.

There were gulls coming in to bathe and loaf too, and a couple of Common Gulls dropped in with the Black-headed Gulls. Several Egyptian Geese were scattered around the islands, along with a lone rusty eclipse drake Wigeon. Two Stock Doves flew in and landed on the grass.

Another large white bird flew in and landed among the Spoonbills, its long neck towering above the sleeping birds, a Great White Egret. We could see its long dagger-like yellow bill. A Grey Heron was asleep in amongst the Spoonbills too – the Great White Egret was clearly pretty comparable to it in size.

The Reed Warblers were very active, flitting around in the reeds below and coming up to feed in the flowers on the bank, along with one or two Sedge Warblers too. A Common Tern was flying up and down over the harbour channel, looking intently down into the water for fish.

Common Tern – hunting over the harbour channel

Continuing on round to the harbour, the tide was starting to go out, and there were now a few waders on the emerging sandbars and muddy edges. There were already several Curlew and more dropping in. A single Whimbrel flew across low over the water but landed out of view. Five Grey Plover dropped in on one of the sandbars, along with a single Dunlin. Several Ringed Plovers were hiding in the short vegetation on the mud on the other side of the channel.

There were lots of Common Terns fishing out in the shallow water in the harbour. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew in past us, heading up the channel towards the Fen, flashing its translucent white wingtips. We could see the seals out on the tip of Blakeney Point too. It is a lovely view from here – we could stand here all day – but we had to tear ourselves away as we had more to do today.

As we were walking back, a small falcon came fast out from the Fen and over the seawall ahead of us. A Hobby. It dropped down low over the saltmarsh and zoomed out to the harbour, before turning and heading off east. It was gone in a flash, a super fast hunter. Back at the Fen, we stopped to watch one of the juvenile Marsh Harriers begging from the male, circling round after it.

We made our way round to Cley next, parking at Walsey Hills. A couple of eclipse drake Tufted Ducks were on Snipe’s Marsh, and a Cormorant was fishing in the ditch opposite as we walked along the road to the East Bank.

There were lots of Reed Warblers flicking around the edges of the reeds and feeding in the flowers at the bottom of the bank. A Sedge Warbler was singing its mad, unstructured, scratchy song from the top of a small bush below the bank, but flicked out into the reeds as we approached. The Bearded Tits were rather quiet today, despite the still conditions – a tawny coloured juvenile perched briefly in the tops, and we saw several zipping back and forth low over the reeds in typical Bearded Tit fashion. The Reed Buntings were, as ever, more obliging.

Reed Bunting – perched up obligingly

The male Yellow Wagtail has been singing here since the middle of May but has still not found a mate. We could hear it on the walk out this morning, but the grass is so long now, we couldn’t see it despite scanning several times. Several small flocks of Starlings flew west over the bank. One group of three included a strikingly pale bird – unfortunately just a leucistic Starling rather than anything more exciting.

There were lots of Greylags out on the grazing marshes and several Curlew in the grass. We had seen a Spoonbill distantly dropping down on the marshes as we got out of the minibus earlier, but there was no sign of it again until it suddenly walked up out of a ditch in the middle. We had a good view in the scope, an adult with a yellow tip to its long black bill.

There were quite a few Avocets on the Serpentine, a small group sleeping on the far edge and more feeding in the water. A flock of Lapwings dropped in. We could see a small wader on Pope’s Pool at the back, and through scope we confirmed it was a Wood Sandpiper. We could see its white-spangled upperparts and more obvious pale supercilium. It was nice to see one after being frustrated by the hiding Wood Sandpiper yesterday. A Greenshank flew over high, calling, and continued on west.

There were lots of gulls on Pope’s Pool, mostly Black-headed Gulls, but several smaller ones were all Little Gulls. We counted at least nine that we could see, with several feeding in the shallow water, moving quickly, pecking at the surface, and others asleep on the nearby mud in with the Black-headed Gulls. The Little Gulls were all immature, 1st summer birds, one with a black hood. A Meadow Pipit was singing, fluttering up and parachuting down onto the short grass of the Serpentine.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, there were lots of terns loafing on the sandbar along the edge. Mostly Sandwich Terns, with shaggy black caps and yellow-tipped black bills, but with a smaller number of Common Terns too. There were more Little Gulls here too, at least five, but with birds coming and going all the time it was hard to know how much double counting there was versus the ones on Pope’s Pool earlier.

Sandwich Terns – and gulls loafing on Arnold’s Marsh

There were lots more gulls loafing over on the back edge. Mostly larger gulls, but looking through we could see a good number of Mediterranean Gulls in with them. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls were behind us on the brackish pools too, where we had a much better view of them in the scope, admiring their jet black hoods and overdone white eyeliner.

Scanning through the big gulls, we noticed one looking rather different. It had a slightly darker mantle than the silvery grey of the nearby Herring Gulls, but not dark enough for a black-backed gull. It was quite big too, long wings pointing down and a jutting keel of a breast. It was an adult Caspian Gull – its small dark eye standing out in its white head. As it preened, we could even see the distinctive pattern on the underside of its primaries. A nice bonus! This is a good time to see Caspian Gulls here as they disperse westwards from their breeding colonies in central Europe.

Caspian Gull – an adult at the back of Arnold’s Marsh

There were not so many waders on here today, but a Whimbrel did drop in briefly. Continuing on out to the beach, there were more Sandwich Terns flying back and forth close in and a huge number of gulls offshore too just away to the east of us.

It was time to head back for lunch now. As we walked back, we could still hear the Yellow Wagtail singing. We stopped for another scan, and this time picked it up on an area of short grass towards the back. We had a good view through the scope, bright canary yellow below, but harder to see when it turned and showed its green, grass-coloured upperparts. There was a Little Grebe on Snipe’s Marsh now too, as we headed back to the minibus.

We ate lunch on the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we could hear a Wood Sandpiper calling on Pat’s Pool, then it flew up, accompanied by a Green Sandpiper, and the two of them flew off over the car park. More waders on the move. After lunch, we drove west.

In the hope of finding any waders which had dropped in, we made a quick stop at Wells. We walked down the track, between the pools, scanning but the best we could find was a Green Sandpiper on either side. There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets at the back and still one or two juvenile Redshanks close in. We decided to move on. A family of Grey Partridge on the track as we left ran into the verge before anyone could get a look at them.

We continued on west to Titchwell. We only had time for a quick look at the Freshmarsh today, so we headed straight out along the main path. A Marsh Harrier was over the reedbed at the back and three Common Pochard on the reedbed pool were an addition to the trip list.

There were Bearded Tits pinging from the reeds occasionally by Island Hide, but again the best we could manage was seeing them zipping in and out over the tops from time to time. While we kept one eye out for them, we scanned the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of waders, particularly Avocets – the latest count was 688 earlier, with birds gathering here at the end of the breeding season. There was a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits too, many still with their rich rusty tan breeding plumage and lots of Lapwings. In amongst them, we could see a selection of Ruff in different stages of moult and at least six Spotted Redshanks, some still mostly in their silvery-spotted, black breeding plumage.

A Whimbrel appeared in with the godwits too, and we had a good view of it through the scope. Shortly afterwards, we heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see a flock of 23 flying overhead. As they headed out over the saltmarsh towards Thornham, they were joined by another Whimbrel which flew up behind them, possibly the one we had just been watching with the godwits, called up to join the others. More waders on the move.

Whimbrel – a flock of 23 flew overhead

Looking through the Black-tailed Godwits more carefully, we found one juvenile. It was standing on one leg, and we could see it was fitted with colour rings, yellow over pale green coded with a black ‘E’. This means it has come from the Fens, Welney or the Ouse Washes, one of the very small British breeding population of nominate limosa Continental Black-tailed Godwits. Possibly one of this years young which has been ‘headstarted’ – first clutches are taken from nesting pairs (giving them time to relay), incubated to hatching and then raised in aviaries on site to try to improve juvenile survival. Breeding productivity without headstarting has been very poor, due to the increasing frequency of summer storms causing flooding of the Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a colour ringed juvenile

The number of ducks here has been increasing steadily, with a good number of Teal back already, although all the drakes are in drab eclipse plumage now. There were several Shoveler too.

Then it was time to walk back – we needed to get back and have something to eat as we would be heading out again this evening.

Nightjar Evening

We set off out again early evening. Before we went to look for Nightjars, we had time to try to find a few owls first. To start with, we drove round by the barns where we had seen the Little Owl yesterday, but the timing was not ideal – it was just spitting with a light shower and some people were getting out of their car nearby – and there was no sign. So we drove on to another set of barns, and this time we could see a Little Owl on the roof as we pulled up. We all got out and got it in the scope for a closer look.

Little Owl – the adult keeping watch

While everyone was taking it in turns to have a look, we scanned down the rest of the roof and realised there were three fluffy juvenile Little Owls a little further along. Needless to say, the adult Little Owl was quickly forgotten and all attention turned to the very cute young ones! They seemed to be very different sizes, one noticeably bigger than the other two – an adaptation to varying prey availability.

Little Owl – three juveniles on the roof

Another Little Owl was on the top of another barn the other side of the road, but was more distant. A couple of Brown Hares posed on the track nearby and we could see flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws gathering on the wires across the fields.

Tearing ourselves away from the Little Owls, we drove down towards Cley. We were just coming in to the back of the village, when we spotted a Barn Owl flying past. Even better, it was the local celebrity, ‘Casper’ the white Barn Owl. We got out and walked back to where it was now hunting round a meadow. We stood and watched it flying round, occasionally turning sharply and dropping down into the grass or stopping to hover and listen.

Barn Owl – ‘Casper’, the local celebrity all-white bird

It was a great setting, the mist rising in the valley, looking across the meadows towards Wiveton church – set off perfectly by the Barn Owl quartering back and forth in the foreground.

Once again, we had to tear ourselves away – it was time to head up onto the heath. As we walked out, we could hear a couple of Song Thrushes singing in the trees. As we got out into the open, we could see it was misting over now, and we could feel a chill in the air as the temperature had dropped.

We got into position out in the middle of the heath just in time to hear the first Nightjar start up. It churred briefly from somewhere on the edge of trees behind us, probably on the ground. Then it called, and churred again. It was still quite early, just after sunset, and still fairly light as the Nightjar flew out. It came right over our heads, and circled round low above us, probably investigating us. A fantastic view, we could see the white flashes through the tips of its wings, a male. Then it flew out over the gorse and we watched it head over to a couple of tall trees further back, where we could then hear it churring again.

Nightjar – a male out over the heath

When the Nightjar stopped churring, we heard wing clapping as it flew out. It seemed to drop down into the gorse in the middle, where we could still hear it churring briefly. Then it flew up again and came back over the track, hunting for food. It circled back round and came back over us, circling right overhead again. More great views.

While we were watching the Nightjar, we heard the squeaky call of a Woodcock roding over the trees. We turned to look for it but unfortunately couldn’t see it beyond the treetops. It did the same thing again a short while later. A second male Nightjar started churring in the distance away to our left.

The first male Nightjar came back in again and did another pass, over the gorse in front of us. Then with the light fading, we decided to call it a night. We were still not done though and, as we walked back, we heard a squeaky Woodcock call again, and turned to see two flying past behind us, a good view silhouetted against the last of light. Then it was back to bed – still another day to go tomorrow.

19th June 2021 – Warblers, Waders & More

A Group Tour just for the day, along the North Norfolk coast today. It was a cloudy start and finish, but in between there were some bright and even sunny intervals, which definitely had not been in the forecast. The overnight drizzle dried up just before we met up and it stayed dry all day.

We started the day at Kelling. As we got out of the minibus in the village, a Greenfinch was wheezing from the tree above us. A pair of House Sparrows were mating on the roof of the house across the road. A pair of Stock Doves flew over and one landed on the roof of the converted barn by the main road. A Chaffinch was singing by the school as we set off up the lane.

We walked down the lane towards the Water Meadow. There was not much singing in the hedges this morning, but one of the group did spot a web high up in a tree by the path, which turned out to be a nest of Small Eggar moth caterpillars. One caterpillar was still on the side of the web. Scanning from the gate, we could see one or two Brown Hares in the field beyond.

Small Eggar moth caterpillar – on its web

As we got out into the open by the Water Meadow, there were a couple of Common Whitethroats and several Linnets in the bushes. A Sedge Warbler was singing here, in the brambles just the other side of the hedge. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over the field to the west. Several Sand Martins were hawking for insects low over the Water Meadow pool.

There had been a Marsh Warbler singing here for the last week, and as we got to the crosstrack, we could hear it distantly so we carried straight on along the path down towards the beach. A family of Stonechats was along the fenceline on the hill above as we passed, male, female and a streaky juvenile.

There were a couple of people already there, standing and listening to the Marsh Warbler singing. What an amazing song! Not so much its own, as a constant stream of different calls and songs borrowed from other species it had heard, both in Europe and on its African wintering grounds. We could hear it mimicking Blackbird, Swallow, Blue Tit, Bee-eater (probably Blue-cheeked!), and many more we couldn’t recognise.

The Marsh Warbler was singing from thick vegetation in a reedy ditch, but a couple of times it came up into the tops of the reeds briefly, before flying down along the line of the ditch and diving back into the vegetation. No the best views, but good to see it at all – and with Marsh Warbler it is all about the song. A Reed Warbler started singing nearby for comparison, lacking the varied mimicry of the Marsh Warbler, much more methodical, rhythmic.

There were a few other birds here, out on the Quags – an Egyptian Goose, a couple of Avocets and a Little Egret around the pools and ditches. Several Rooks were feeding out on the grass. A couple of Meadow Pipits perched up on the fence posts.

Rook – several were feeding on the Quags

Carrying on along the path, we climbed up onto the shingle ridge to look at the sea. There were several small lines of Gannets passing offshore, a mixture of adults with their black-tipped white wings and younger more mottled birds. There were one or two Sandwich Terns closer in, but most of the terns were distant off here this morning.

Two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew in from behind us, dropping over the shingle and down towards the sea. We could see their white wing tips, black hoods and bright red bills as they came past us. They dipped down to the water just beyond the breakers and several immature (2nd calendar year) Mediterranean Gulls then drifted in from the east, dip feeding just offshore.

Mediterranean Gull – two adults dropped down to the sea

As we started to walk back along the path by the Quags, a Cuckoo flew past over the hillside above us and landed on the fence by the path up to the gun emplacements, calling. It dropped down to the bushes behind the beach where we could just see it looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn. We walked up the hill a short way and got it in the scope, where it was mobbed by a Common Whitethroat before it dropped down out of view.

Cuckoo – looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn

There were several butterflies out now in the sunshine, including Common Blue and Small Heath. We stopped to look at some Southern Marsh Orchids in the dunes slack. A few Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings and Linnets were flitting around, in and out of the grass and around the fences.

The Marsh Warbler was still singing, so we stopped for another quick listen on our way past. Then we headed back up the lane, stopping briefly to admire a couple of smart pink-breasted male Linnets on the brambles by the path. A Blackcap was singing now in the taller hawthorns by the copse, and several flicked off ahead of us, presumably a family group from the calls. A little further up, two Bullfinch came up from the beck and flew ahead of us a couple of times before disappearing round the back of the hedge.

Linnet – perched on the brambles by the path

We drove back west and parked at Walsey Hills. There was nothing apart from a couple of Coot on the Snipe’s Marsh pool today, but across the road we could see two Spoonbills distantly on the grazing marshes over at the back of the Serpentine. We crossed the road and set off up the East Bank. One or two Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds.

The male Yellow Wagtail is still here and still singing, having failed to attract a female. But with the vegetation having grown considerably it is very hard to see now in the long grass. We kept stopping to scan the ground for it as we walked up. It took several stops, but finally we saw it flying. It sang a couple of times in flight, stalling and parachuting down as it did so, then dropped back down into the long grass again. After a couple of seconds it came out again, and this time landed on a small mound of earth on a bare patch of ground where we could get it in the scopes. A very smart male – bright canary yellow – it would be nice to have them breeding here again.

While we were watching the Yellow Wagtail, we noticed a single Curlew behind it, an early returning bird back for the winter already. A lone drake Wigeon then walked out of the ditch next to it – presumably in this instance one which had decided to over-summer here.

When we heard Bearded Tits pinging behind us, we turned to scan the reedbed. A tawny-coloured juvenile climbed up into the reeds on the back edge of the ditch close by, and we had a great view of it as it flicked around, presumably trying to locate the rest of the family. It flew off down along the ditch.

Bearded Tit – a tawny-coloured juvenile

There were a few more waders around the Serpentine, several Avocets and some Redshank, including a couple of juveniles in the top corner. A Little Ringed Plover was very well camouflaged on the dry mud down at the front and two Dunlin still sporting their summer black belly patches were in the water behind one of the islands further back. When we heard Greenshank calling, two dropped in to Pope’s Pool where we got them in the scopes.

There were three Barnacle Geese on one of the islands on Pope’s Pool two – presumably part of the ever-increasing UK feral population. The Spoonbills were still fast asleep, but one did wake up and flash its spoon-shaped bill briefly.

Spoonbills – mostly asleep as usual

As we walked on towards Arnold’s Marsh, one of the volunteers told us there had been a Little Gull around earlier. The first birds we saw when we scanned were not one but two Little Gulls, both 1st summer birds, asleep by the small shingle island at the back. There were two Sandwich Terns next to them, and nearby, a single Common Tern. A single Ringed Plover was on the sand in the back corner.

Little Gulls – with two Sandwich Terns

The day’s tern list was further swelled with a high count of 21 Little Terns feeding offshore, from the beach. Then it was time to walk back for lunch. As we passed Don’s Pool now, an adult Little Grebe was feeding two stripy-headed juveniles, diving repeatedly under the blanket weed in one corner and resurfacing with an assortment of morsels.

Little Grebe – feeding two hungry juveniles

We stopped for lunch on the picnic tables in front of the Visitor Centre, in the sunshine. Afterwards, we set off further west. A Great White Egret was flying out over the grazing marshes as we passed Holkham.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Titchwell. It had clouded over now, and lots of Swifts and House Martins were hawking low over the reedbed. A couple of Marsh Harriers were up over the back, and we got the scopes on an orange-headed recently fledged juvenile perched in a bush. A Sparrowhawk shot through the sallows with prey in its talons. and a Hobby was perched in one of the dead trees at the back.

From Island Hide, we could see the Spotted Redshanks on the Freshmarsh but they were right back against the reeds on the far side, still in their jet black breeding plumage. They have returned already from their breeding grounds and will moult very quickly over the coming weeks. We had a look from here but figured we could get a slightly closer view from Parrinder Hide.

A single Pintail was the surprise duck on here today. There were still a few Teal, more returning birds already. Plus the resident Common Pochard, the drakes already moulting into drab eclipse plumage, and Tufted Ducks.

Pintail – on the Freshmarsh

As we walked out of Island Hide, a couple of people were photographing two Common Lizards which were basking on the fence by the path, so we stopped for a look too.

Common Lizard – basking on the fence

Walking down the path to Parrinder Hide, a Common Redshank was alarm calling on the top of a post just above us. We managed better views of the Spotted Redshanks from here, until they were flushed by a Marsh Harrier flying over the reeds just behind and they disappeared into the other corner, behind Avocet Island, out of view. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were in with the Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the Freshmarsh too, until they flew off.

Looking carefully through the Black-tailed Godwits we eventually found a single limosa Continental Black-tailed Godwit in amongst the commoner Icelandic birds. Presumably from its colour rings one of the very small and declining breeding population on the Ouse Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Freshmarsh

There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh as we passed and we could only see a couple more Black-tailed Godwits on the Tidal Pools, so we continued straight on to the beach. The tide was coming in and it was breezy out here, so we didn’t stay long. There were lots of gulls on the beach up towards Thornham Point, presumably feeding on shellfish washed up on the northerly winds. There were lots of Oystercatchers along the shoreline and a Curlew and a Bar-tailed Godwit over towards Brancaster.

We had to head back now. A more thorough scan of the Tidal Pools on the way back revealed a small group of Turnstones huddled in the lee of one of the islands. A Little Tern flew over calling. As we passed the Freshmarsh, two Common Terns were flying round now. Then it was back to the car park and time to get everyone home.

6th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Summer Tour today, our last day. It was a mostly bright day with some sunny periods and although there were some ominously threatening dark clouds approaching around the middle of the day, they passed by to the south of us and we didn’t get any rain.

There had been a Rose-coloured Starling at Kelling yesterday and news came through that it was still present this morning, so we drove over there first. As we set off down the track, we could hear Chiffchaffs singing in the hedge and an Orange-tip butterfly fluttered around above us.

Some people walking back told us that the Rose-coloured Starling was currently in view, so we quickened our pace down to the gate beyond the copse. There were a couple of people already there who quickly put us onto it and we soon found ourselves watching a rather smart pale powder-puff pink-tabarded Rose-coloured Starling perched on the wires at the back.

Rose-coloured Starling – on the fence

We walked a little further down, where we could see over the brambles from the bank the other side of the track and the views of the Rose-coloured Starling were slightly closer. It spent some time just perched on the wires looking slightly lifeless, but then suddenly dropped down to the short grass below and started walking around. Then it took off, flying out to join the large flock of regular Starlings which were feeding on the Water Meadow, dropping down into the tall rushes out of view.

There were lots of Brown Hares in the field beyond and one on the ridge of the field behind us.

Brown Hare – one of many

We took the disappearance from view of the Rose-coloured Starling as our cue to move on. We continued on down the track to the Water Meadow. A Common Whitethroat flew across the track into the brambles. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the yellow-green alexanders on the corner.

Sedge Warbler – singing in the alexanders

There was nothing of particularly note on the Water Meadow pool, one of the regular pair of Egyptian Geese, plus a few Mallard and Gadwall and a couple of Moorhen. More unusually, we looked up over the ridge to see a Fulmar flying towards us over Weybourne Camp. It banked round over the gun emplacements, and headed back out to sea.

We decided to move on, and drove up to check out one of the local heaths. As we walked out of the car park, we could hear a Bullfinch calling and had a quick glimpse as it flew across the path. As we came out of the thick blackthorn, we heard a Nightjar churring briefly. They will churr sometimes in the daytime, but they are better looked for at dusk, as we had seen last night. Some Long-tailed Tits were calling in the trees, and we saw one as it flew across. A Goldcrest was singing too, but there were few warblers singing now. The nearby pines were rather quiet, apart from a Siskin which called overhead, but was not seen.

There was a large group of cyclists chatting on the track ahead of us, so we turned onto a side path. We had hoped it would be quieter, but there were several walkers and dog walkers here too and no sign of the hoped for Woodlarks. About half way along, we heard a burst of Dartford Warbler singing. We stopped to listen more carefully, and try to work out where exactly the sound was coming from, but it had gone quiet. We scanned the tops of the gorse bushes but there was no sign of it. We walked on a bit further, still listening, then decided to turn back. A couple of Green Hairstreak butterflies were flying around the emerging bracken fronds.

Green Hairstreak – on a young bracken frond

The cyclists had gone now, so we walked on along the main track and took another smaller path out into the middle of the heath. A family of Stonechats were flicking around on the gorse ahead of us here, male, female and at least two streaky juveniles. There were plenty of Linnets too. We checked another favoured spot for a Woodlark but drew a black again.

As we cut back round, suddenly a small bird flew out of the gorse ahead of us. It looked dark slate grey, with a noticeably long tail, a Dartford Warbler! It landed in a young pine tree, where we could just see it moving around in the lower branches, then dropped down into the gorse below. We walked on round on the path and positioned ourselves looking at the clump of gorse into which it had disappeared. Luckily one of the group was looking the other way, as it had obviously moved and was now perched on a low gorse bush right by the path. It flew across and landed on the top of a larger clump where it remained for several seconds, giving us a great view.

Dartford Warbler – a great view

We decided to leave the Dartford Warbler in peace We set off back along the path but we didn’t get far before we flushed a Woodlark from the edge. We could see its short tail as it flew up, and we watched as it circled round and landed in the top of a pine tree a bit further over. We got it in the scopes and could see it had food in its bill, before it flew down to the ground just where we had been looking for it earlier.

By the time we got back round, the Woodlark was back up in the top of the pine. It dropped down again, and we could just see it walking around on the ground. Then it flew up and landed on a nearby fencepost, giving us a great view. It was already after midday, so we walked back towards the car park. Another Woodlark circled overhead calling on the way.

We drove down to Cley, and as we dropped back down to the main road, a Grey Partridge ran off the verge by the houses, ran across the road ahead of us and onto the old parking area the other side. An odd place to see one! The NWT car park was strangely full of cyclists. Apparently there was a big cycle event round Norfolk today, but it seemed odd that they had been allowed to take over the car park as one of their stops on one of the busiest weekends of the year. Speaking to the staff in the Visitor Centre it didn’t sound like they had even asked for permission to use the site.

Thankfully, it looked like the cyclists were starting to disperse and we managed to find a picnic table as several of them left. While we were eating, a Great White Egret flew across over the reserve – we could see its long legs and slow leisurely wingbeats. It was overtaken by a Little Egret, which was a great way to see the size difference.

Great White Egret – flew over at lunch

After lunch, we planned to have a walk up the East Bank. There were some threatening dark clouds approaching from the south, so we decided to drive to Walsey Hills and walk from there, so we wouldn’t be too far from the minibus in case it started to rain. There were just two Tufted Ducks today on Snipes Marsh.

As we started to walk up the East Bank, we could hear the Yellow Wagtail singing. It took a bit of finding in the long grass, partly because it seemed to mostly have its green back to us. When it finally turned round it was much more obvious – its bright canary yellow head and breast standing out. We had some good views of it through the scopes.

Yellow Wagtail – the male, still singing

There were several Cormorants drying their wings on the islands on Pope’s Pool and a throng of loafing immature Great Black-backed Gulls. There were several Avocets too. We could hear Bearded Tits calling behind us, but we couldn’t see them.

News came through now that a Red-backed Shrike had just been found not far away, inland at Aylmerton. Even better, it was a smart male. We didn’t have a lot of time available, and we were not sure exactly where it was or how long it would take us to see it, so we decided to head over there immediately. As it was, we managed to get precise directions while we were on the way and it wasn’t too far to walk after we got there and we found ourselves watching the stunning male Red-backed Shrike.

The Red-backed Shrike was perched in a small oak tree sticking out of a hedge between two fields, next to a footpath. It kept making small sallies out either side, catching insects, coming back to the same tree of one a bit further along. We had a great view of it through the scopes, rusty red-backed, grey-headed with a black bandit mask, and pink on the breast.

Red-backed Shrike – a stunning male

The dark clouds had passed over, but it was still cloudy, warm and muggy. Lots of Common Swifts, Sand Martins and House Martins, were hawking for insects low over the fields too. After watching the Red-backed Shrike for a while, we decided to head off back.

Cutting across inland, we made good time on our way back to Wells and still had about 45 minutes before we were due to finish, so we stopped at the pools just east of town. A pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass nearby. A Grey Heron flew over the parking area, some distance from the pools, but still a squadron of Avocets flew out after it, and one continued to chase it away over the field beyond.

Down the track, we stopped to scan the pools and could see why. There were several families of cute fluffy juvenile Avocets, being defended by their parents. There were three darker brown small juvenile Redshanks too, the first we have seen here this year. The juvenile Lapwings are much more advanced, and are now well grown. There was a pair of Shelducks with a family of shelducklings out in the middle of the water too. All the parents were very aggressive, chasing away any potential predators.

Common Gull and Redshanks – defensive parents!

There were some other waders on here too. A single Knot, in grey non-breeding plumage, was the first we had seen on the three days, a last minute addition to the list. Two Little Ringed Plovers were distant at first in the heat haze, but one came closer, so we could see its golden yellow eye ring through the scopes.

A Marsh Harrier, a pale male circled over the field beyond, hunting. As we walked back a short while later we watched it come in over the pools with food in its talons. The female was following, presumably expecting to be the recipient of the prey, but the male flew on and landed in the field the other side. For some reason, it was not going to give it up.

It was time now to call it a day and head on to Wells to drop people off. It had been a very exciting three days, with some great birds and a good selection of other summer wildlife too.

4th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Summer Tour today. It was bright with some sunshine to start, clouding over through the morning and starting to rain early afternoon. The rain was only light though, not heavy as was the forecast, so it didn’t stop us.

We headed over to Snettisham for the morning. A Sedge Warbler was singing noisily from the brambles nearby as we got out of the minibus. A Greenfinch was wheezing from one of the gardens as we walked up the road. we made our way in on the path in through the bushes. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling over to one side, so we walked round and had a couple of glimpses of it flicking around in the brambles. There was a selection of other warblers, singing here – Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouting. We listened to the metronomic song of song of the Reed Warblers vs the mad chatter of the Sedge Warblers.

A Turtle Dove started purring nearby, deep in the dense bushes. We walked a bit further along to see if we could find an angle to see it, when it flew up and broke into a long gentle glide back down, its display flight. We saw where it landed this time, high in a pine tree, and got it in the scopes, although it was partly obscured by branches. It purred from there for a while, then flew up again, gliding over the path above us, before landing in the top of a large hawthorn the other side. It was a better view through the scopes now, we could see the rusty edges to the feathers of the upperparts.

Turtle Dove – in display flight

The Turtle Dove then flew back over the path again, this time landing in a large willow out of view. We could hear it but couldn’t see it. The next time it flew out, it headed off north away over the bushes out of sight.

We continued on, up onto the outer seawall. The tide was quite a way out still, but we stopped to scan the mud of the Wash. There were lots of waders out on the distant shoreline, predominantly Oystercatchers, plus one or two Curlews. A single lingering Brent Goose was out there too – most of the remaining birds seem to have departed in the last week or so, back to Siberia for the breeding season.

Dropping back down, we walked on up through the middle of the bushes. There were lots of Linnets here, some smart males with pinky red flushes on their breasts, and some brown streaked juveniles now too. A male Stonechat appeared on the top of a bush on the seawall. They bred here and sure enough just a little further up we found a couple of streaky juveniles too. A Meadow Pipit feeding on the short grass nearby was the first of the day.

Linnet – a smart male

There was a nice selection of butterflies here again, despite a fresher breeze today – a couple of Wall, a Brown Argus, a Small Heath. A Mother Shipton, a species of day-flying moth, landed briefly in the grass but was off again before we could really see the supposed likeness of the 16th century witch on its wings, after which it is named.

Two more Turtle Doves flew past heading south, presumably a male and a female. A little later, we saw a male coming back the other way in display flight. We saw it land in the top of a large bush, where it started purring, so we took advantage to have another look through the scopes.

The tide was slowly coming in and we now and a succession of small groups of Oystercatchers flew in off the Wash, heading in to roost on the marshes just inland. We climbed up onto the outer seawall again, by the crossbank. There were more Curlews on the mud now and two Bar-tailed Godwits in the shallow water. We could see their slightly upturned bills, before they tucked them in and went to sleep. Two different Ringed Plovers were hunkered down on the top of the beach, incubating in the roped off cordon nearby. They were very hard to see, well camouflaged against the shingle.

Ringed Plover – nesting in one of the cordons

We walked across at the crossbank and climbed up onto the inner seawall to scan the marshes. We could see some distant Little Gulls on the pool away to our left, so we walked a short way further up for a better look. There were at least three, all immature (1st summer/2nd calendar year) with the black ‘w’ pattern across their wings. We could see lots of Black-headed Gulls nesting, and lots of 2nd calendar year Common Gulls roosting further back, along with a mixture of immature Herring Gulls of various ages and a single young Great Black-backed Gull. A Common Tern flew in, and landed on one of the islands.

There were a couple of waders on the small pool the other side, on the grazing marsh. We had good views of a very close Black-tailed Godwit, a bird with a limp which always seems to be on here. It didn’t look particularly well today.

Black-tailed Godwit – with a limp

A lone Avocet on the mud looked to be incubating. At one point the other member of the pair flew in calling, and the first got up. It looked like they were performing a nest changeover but we couldn’t see an egg in the shallow scrape.

Avocet – changeover time

There were more Avocets and Lapwings out on the marshes. About fifty Black-tailed Godwits were roosting, Icelandic birds in various stages of moult, presumably mostly young birds which have not migrated back to Iceland to breed and not moulted fully into breeding plumage. A large mob of Oystercatchers was now roosting at the back, with more still flying in from the Wash. Two Spoonbills were mostly fast asleep (doing what they like to do best!), waking up and flashing their bills only briefly

Spoonbills – typically asleep

One or two Marsh Harriers flew over occasionally, attracting the ire of all the breeding gulls and waders, which chased up after it calling noisily. A Red Kite drifted over high.

There was a nice selection of ducks out here too, including a single lingering drake Wigeon, on the far bank with some Tufted Ducks. A pair of Mute Swans with just one cygnet swam out of the reeds in the channel below us. As we started to walk back, we scanned through the big flocks of geese – Greylags with lots of goslings, Canada Geese and a few Egyptian Geese – but all we could find different here today were three escaped Swan Geese (which don’t count unfortunately!).

Another Spoonbill was feeding actively in one of the pools among the geese, but disappeared into the rushes before we could get the scopes on it. It would have been nice to see one properly awake, but when we looked back it had climbed out onto the bank and gone straight to sleep! There were several Little Egrets, and two or three Grey Herons out here too.

It was just starting to cloud over now and lots of Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over the bushes, occasionally sweeping low past us, over the bank. A few House Martins appeared too, hard to tell if they are still migrants on the move or just local birds come for the feeding. A couple of Swallows were in with them too.

We headed over to Titchwell for lunch in the picnic area. Thankfully the rain held off. A Blackcap was singing in the trees nearby, and we could just see it flitting around. A Reed Warbler was singing in the sallows – it obviously hadn’t read the book!

After lunch, we decided to have a walk out on the reserve. It was forecast to rain, and we would have the option of shelter in the hides when it did. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew in over the reeds out at the back of the old Thornham grazing marsh pool. A Spoonbill flew in high over the Freshmarsh but carried on away over the west bank and the saltmarsh beyond

We stopped to listen at the reedbed, to see if we could hear a Bearded Tit. We didn’t, but we did see several Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers flying back and forth. A Bittern boomed, but just twice before going quiet again. There were a few Common Pochard in the reedbed channels and a single Great Crested Grebe on the reedbed pool along with lots of Greylags and Gadwall.

It still wasn’t really raining much and there were lots of people in Island Hide already, so we scanned the Freshmarsh from the bank. We could see a small group of waders distantly in front of Parrinder Hide, several Ringed Plover and a lone Dunlin with them. A Little Ringed Plover was up on the back of the island just beyond, but it was hard to see any detail at this range, and it was very well camouflaged against the dry mud.

A couple of drake Teal were new for the day – another duck which is common here in the winter but not many remain right through the summer. A single adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in briefly to bathe. They seem to be much scarcer here this year, for some reason.

Mediterranean Gull – just one briefly

While the rain was holding off, we decided to head straight out to the beach and come back to the hide. There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh, so we carried on to the Tidal Pools where we found several Turnstones picking around the islands. A pair of Shelduck swimming across the water were followed by several shelducklings.

Out at the beach, the tide was coming in and was already half way up the sand. Scanning out to sea, we spotted a Little Tern away to the west, close in, just beyond the breakers. It was flying away west all the time and getting increasingly hard to see against the grey water, but then thankfully turned and came back, giving us a good view now as it flew east past us, just beyond the sand. A few minutes later, another Little Tern flew out over the beach carrying a fish and disappeared off over the water towards Scolt. One or two Sandwich Terns were offshore too, but rather more distant.

With the tide in, there was not much on the beach, but we could see a small flock of Sanderling on the sand half way to Brancaster. They were running around in front of the waves breaking on the beach, in typical Sanderling fashion, but were very different from the silvery grey and white birds we see in winter, being much darker now in their breeding plumage. A pitfall for the unwary!

It was spitting with rain now, so we turned and headed back. A Spoonbill was on one of the pools out on the saltmarsh now, feeding. It climbed up out of the pool it was in and walked slowly across the saltmarsh amongst the thrift to another one a little further over. Nice to finally see one properly awake!

Spoonbill – nice to see one awake!

When we got back to the Freshmarsh, we turned down the path to Parrinder Hide. Just before we got in, we looked across to see a wader fly up from below the bank and land again on the island in front of the hide. A Common Sandpiper, a migrant here, possibly a late bird heading north or perhaps an early returning bird already which had failed to breed successfully. From the shelter of the hide, we watched as it worked its way right down to the front on the mud.

Common Sandpiper – in front of the hide

There were several Ringed Plovers out here still too, we counted twelve now. They came close in too, feeding on the mud right below us. They looked quite small and dark compared to our resident breeders, presumably migrant Tundra Ringed Plovers (of the subspecies tundrae) stopping off on their way north.

Tundra Ringed Plover – stopping off

It was raining a little more heavily now, so we decided to sit it out and admire the waders. A male Redshank was displaying to a female further back, which was not showing much interest. A group of four Avocets gathered for a squabble in front of the hide.

A group of Black-tailed Godwits was busy feeding in the deeper water beyond the islands, mainly 1st summer Icelandic birds which had not gone north to breed. One was on its own a short distance from the others and looked noticeably bigger and longer-billed. It seemed to have a more contrasting pale face and the pale orange on its breast was not as deep as a full adult Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit. We got it in the scope and on closer inspection, noticed it was colour ringed and tagged. This was enough to confirm that it was a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, of the nominate limosa subspecies, rather than the islandica Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits which are more common here.

A quick check with one of the locals who collects colour-ring combinations from here and he was able to confirm immediately that it was one of the very small number Continental Black-tailed Godwits which breed in the UK, on the Ouse Washes. Apparently it failed in its breeding attempt this year, and has already moved to Titchwell to feed and moult. It seems like the UK Continental Black-tailed Godwits, which are already teetering on the edge, have suffered from flooding on the Ouse Washes this year after all the rain in May.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the subspecies limosa

We had come to Parrinder Hide particularly hoping to see the Little Ringed Plover a bit closer, but we hadn’t seen it again yet. We had a careful scan round where it had been now and eventually found it hiding behind the bricks. It was preening, presumably taking advantage of the rain to have a shower. Eventually it came out and ran along the island over to the edge of the reeds, where we could get it in the scopes. Now we could see its golden yellow eyering properly.

The rain had helpfully eased off again now. It was time to head back – it had been a good start, but we had another busy day ahead tomorrow.

1st June 2021 – Birds & More

A Private Tour today in NW Norfolk, looking at more than birds, including a selection of other early summer wildlife. It was another lovely sunny day, warm but with a nice cool breeze off the sea on the north coast. We met in Brancaster and headed over to Snettisham for the morning.

As we walked in through the bushes, we could hear a selection of warblers singing deep in the bushes – Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common and Lesser Whitethroat. The delicate purring of a Turtle Dove filtered through them, so we walked up towards the dense hawthorns, dripping with flowers, from where the sound seemed to be coming. As we were scanning the bushes, the female flew up to join the male on a branch. We had a great view of them through the scope.

While we were watching the Turtle Doves, we heard the distinctive sound of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from somewhere further up. Most of the Grasshopper Warblers have gone quiet now, at least during daylight hours, so it was a bit of a surprise to hear one in the middle of the morning. We walked on to see if we could track it down, but it seemed to be coming from deep in an inaccessible area of scrub and then it went quiet. There were Reed Warblers and one or two Sedge Warblers still singing in the reeds.

Walking out of the bushes, several Linnets were feeding on the short grass below the outer seawall. Our first Brown Argus of the day – we would go on to see quite a few – was flitting around the storksbill. A tiny white moth, a Swan-feather Dwarf (Elachista argentella) flew up from our feet.

Up on the seawall, the tide was coming in and the water was already on the beach. A large flock of thirty or so Sanderlings was put up from the sand by a dogwalker and flew round over the water. As they twisted and turned, we could see one black-bellied Dunlin in with them. They landed down on the shore again and started feeding. In various stages of breeding plumage, they are much darker now than we see in the winter.

We dropped down off the seawall and continued on up through the middle. There were more warblers in the bushes and Linnets on the grass. The pools in the middle held a few Four-spotted Chasers and Azure Damselflies and patches of Water Crowfoot. Butterflies included several Small Copper, Small Heath and a single Painted Lady. As we got up towards the crossbank, a Meadow Pipit flew up onto the bushes on the seawall ahead of us. We stopped to watch our first male Common Blue butterfly of the day, flying fast up and down over the longer grass.

From up on the outer seawall, the tide was in now. A large flock of predominantly Ringed Plovers was trying to roost on the beach, but kept getting flushed by walkers and dogwalkers. We could see a Ringed Plover hunkered down on the top of the beach in one of the cordons, presumably incubating. As two people walked along the shore line with their dogs, well outside the cordon, the Ringed Plover came off the nest and ran up the beach, only returning once they had passed. Just goes to show how sensitive they are to disturbance, which is a huge problem for birds which nest on the beaches here.

Ringed Plover – there were lots trying to roost on the beach

Crossing over to the inner seawall, we looked out across Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of waders roosting on here, sitting out high tide on the Wash. Hundreds of Oystercatchers were over the back and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on the slightly closer pools. Scanning through, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too. There were several groups of Ringed Plovers on here too, and further up we could just see two different waders with some of them on a muddy island. There was too much heat haze to be able to make them out clearly though, so we walked further north along the inner seawall, to see if we could get a closer look.

When we got closer, we could see that as we suspected, they were two Curlew Sandpipers, adults moulting in (or out?) of rusty breeding plumage. They were first reported here almost a week ago now, so are clearly in no hurry to move on. Northbound spring migrants usually move on quickly, and it seems too early for southbound birds already (it can’t really be autumn already?!). Or perhaps they could even have abandoned hope of breeding due to the long, cold weather this spring?

There were at least two Little Gulls out on the marshes too, immatures in their 1st summer/2nd calendar year. We got one in the scope, dwarfed by the surrounding Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were on a small pool on the grazing marshes the other side, along with two Avocets and an Oystercatcher. We stopped to photograph a Green-veined White butterfly on the flowers on the bank. Another Turtle Dove flew past us, heading towards Heacham. A Cuckoo was calling in the distance. A male Marsh Harrier flew in and started circling low over the grass just the other side of the crossbank.

Green-veined White – showing the hindwing underside

There was a nice selection of other birds on the marshes as we walked back, stopping to scan from time to time. A Great White Egret on one of the pools really stood out, and there was a single Spoonbill in with the geese at the back, fast asleep (doing what Spoonbills like to do best!). A nice selection of wildfowl includes a couple of lingering late Wigeon and a feral Barnacle Goose. A Common Tern was hunting for fish in the channel just below the bank. A Hobby flew past, but typically disappeared off fast to the south.

We dropped down off the bank and cut back in to the southern end of the Coastal Park. A Hairy Dragonfly was patrolling one of the pools, chased by the Four-spotted Chasers. Back through the bushes, the Turtle Doves and Grasshopper Warbler were quiet now, but we did find a gorgeous metallic Green Hairstreak basking on a bush by the path.

Green Hairstreak – basking by the path

It was already lunchtime by the time we got back to the minibus, but we elected to drive somewhere more scenic to eat. Thankfully, we were allowed to park just beyond the payhut at Holme, despite not having booked in advance, as it wasn’t full, and we had a late lunch looking out over the saltmarsh towards the beach. The new car park booking system at NWT Holme Dunes is a complete nightmare – it is hard to plan in advance what we might want to do and even harder to know exactly what time we might get there if we are somewhere else for the morning. Not surprisingly the car park seems to be booked almost entirely by beach goers, looking at the occupants of the cars leaving and the almost total lack of anyone looking at any of the wildlife on the reserve!

After lunch, we set off along the coast path into the dunes. There were lots of butterflies in the short grass, several Wall and more Small Heaths. It didn’t take us long to come across our first Southern Marsh Orchids, just coming in to bloom, although these were not our main orchid target here this afternoon.

Southern Marsh Orchid – just coming out

A Cuckoo was calling in the trees and we carried on further in the hope of seeing it, but just caught a quick glimpse before when it landed low on a branch briefly, but it saw us and disappeared back. There were lots more butterflies in here, more Wall, Common Blues and Brown Argus. The moth list was boosted with a single Yellow Belle and several Plain Fanner (Glyphipterix fuscoviridella) which flushed from the grass.

Brown Argus – one posing nicely

It took a bit of searching, but we eventually managed to find a few spikes of Man Orchid. Some look a bit behind, perhaps not a surprise given the cold spring prior to the last couple of days, but a couple were in find condition and much admired!

Man Orchid – we found a few spikes out

Man Orchid was the main target, but we had hoped to look for Early Marsh Orchid too. But all the areas we have seen them in the past seemed to be fenced off for the ponies – we hope the ponies don’t like eating orchids! We followed the fence round, but couldn’t find a way to get where we wanted to go. A Stonechat perched on the fence briefly.

Wandering round trying did produce a nice selection of other things though. When we stopped to photograph some more Southern Marsh Orchids, we noticed movement in the long grass. A small Natterjack Toad was walking through – we could see the distinctive yellow stripe down the middle of its back. We don’t often see them, as they are predominantly nocturnal, so this was a really nice surprise.

Natterjack Toad – hiding in the long grass

Rounding another corner, we came across a mass of tiny Green Long-horn moths (Adela reaumurella), the golden-green metallic males with their outsize antennae dancing in the sunshine around the tops of the trees, trying to attract a female. Quite a spectacle. We did see one or two shorter ‘horned’ females too, in the vegetation below.

Green Long-horn (Adela reaumurella) – a male

We had seen several Hairy Dragonflies this morning, but now we came across one resting on some brambles, which gave us a chance to get some photographs of this normally very active species, and admire its hairy thorax.

Hairy Dragonfly – resting on some brambles

The Cuckoo finally gave itself up as we started to walk back, initially flying off away from us, but then we came out from behind some bushes and found it perched on a dead branch out in the open. We had a quick scan from the top of the dunes, looking out over the beach. There were lots of people out there today and we couldn’t see many birds. We could make out a few Sandwich Terns passing by in the distance offshore. Then it was back to the minibus and time to head for home.

30th May 2021 – Coast & Heath

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny morning before clouding over from mid afternoon as the sun lost its battle with the cloud which had been hanging offshore all day. The NE breeze kept a lid on temperatures.

We met in Cley and parked at Walsey Hills. As we walked up to the start of the East Bank, we could hear Little Egrets bubbling in the wood and one or two flying in and out. A couple of distant Marsh Harriers were circling low over the reedbed.

We had a request to see a Yellow Wagtail and as if on cue, a quick scan of the grazing marshes revealed the bright canary yellow male on the grass in the distance. We could just hear it singing from where we were, so we walked further up for a much better view in the scope. It would be great to have Yellow Wagtails back breeding here, but unfortunately he shows no sign of attracting a female.

There were still plenty of Lapwings and Redshanks on the grazing marshes. The Lapwing chicks which had been little balls of fluff are getting much bigger now, but there was still no sign of any young Redshanks. The males were still singing and displaying, but there was no sign of any getting down to nesting. There were Avocets further back on Pope’s Pool and when we heard Curlew calling, we looked over to see four flying off west, maybe finally heading back to the continent to breed.

Redshank – still displaying around the grazing marshes

What we thought was a lone drake Wigeon was walking around on the mud on the edge of the Serpentine, whistling occasionally. Then we spotted another pair much further back, on Pope’s Pool. Most of the Wigeon have left, heading back to Russia to breed, but perhaps these will stay here now. There were also a few Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard and Shelduck, lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese.

A couple of Reed Buntings were singing from the small bushes out in the middle of the reedbed, occasionally chasing after each other or a passing female. There were Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing too, with one of the latter perching up particularly obligingly. We heard occasional pinging calls of Bearded Tits and managed to see one or two zooming back and forth low over reeds.

There were quite a few Common Swifts zooming round overhead, but they didn’t seem to be heading anywhere today, so possibly just local birds rather than migrants on their way through. We could see a few Sand Martins and one or two Swallows too. As we continued on past the Serpentine, a Water Rail was calling in the reeds.

Common Swift – zooming around overhead

Four terns and some small waders were on the small gravel island at the back of Arnold’s Marsh, so we went into the shelter to set up the scope. It was cool in here today, out of sun and not offering much shelter facing straight into the NE breeze. The pair of Sandwich Terns were more obvious, but two Little Terns were hunkered down just over the top.

Two Grey Plover were roosting in amongst the terns, and on the muddy edge we could see were a Turnstone, and two Sanderling with two Dunlin. Something spooked the birds, and the small waders flew round and landed closer. The Sanderling then took that as a cue to move off, and we watched them fly up high and head north over the shingle ridge. Next stop the arctic? We could now see there were several Ringed Plovers too, in the vegetation on the shingle banks out to the left.

As we walked back, the male Yellow Wagtail was still singing out on the grass. As we passed Snipe’s Marsh on our way back to the minibus, a Little Grebe was diving continually and a drake Common Pochard was asleep out in the middle of the water.

Sandpit Blood Bee Sphecodes pellucidus – in the car park

Our next stop was up on Kelling Heath. There were lots of small bees buzzing around the sandy ground in the car park, Sandpit Mining Bees (Andrena barbilabris). We could see where they had been digging their burrows, small piles of darker earth, some flattened by passing feet and tyres. There were a couple of blood bees around the holes too, red-abdomened Sandpit Blood Bees (Sphecodes pellucidus). These blood bees are cleptoparasites of the Sandpit Mining Bees, laying their eggs in cells in the mining bees’ nests. The wonderful world of bees!

As we walked along a small path through the gorse, we saw several bright metallic Green Hairstreaks, fluttering round the gorse or sunning themselves.

Green Hairstreak – sunning itself

We took the main track down towards the Level Crossing. Suddenly we were surrounded by birds, we didn’t know where to look. A Yellowhammer flew up from the side of the track ahead of us. Then we heard a Woodlark singing, from the clear area away to our right, probably flushed by a group of dogwalkers walking across, and we had a quick glimpse of it was it flew round behind us, but we were distracted by a Common Crossbill calling. We looked up, but all we could see were Linnets flying round and perched on the gorse nearby.

We could still hear Crossbills calling quietly, and this was a particular target for us, so we started to scan for them in the pines. A female flew over our heads but disappeared deep into a tree, where we couldn’t see it. We could still hear calls from ahead of us, so we walked a short way further down the track, and turning the corner found a couple watching some Crossbills deep in a pine overhanging the path, feeding on cones.

We could just see an orangey male Common Crossbill, probably an immature, feeding on a cone. We got it in the scope, fill the frame views, but deep in the trees there were always branches in the way. There were clearly several birds in here and they started flying across to the next tree, further in. Scanning the branches, we found a smart red male out in the open in a much smaller young pine now. We watched it feeding, snipping off cones and carrying them to a branch to extract the seeds, then hanging on other cones and extracting the seeds in situ.

Common Crossbill – feeding on the cones

While we were watching the Crossbills, we heard a Nightjar churring from somewhere deep in the trees. They are mostly crepuscular and start to chur at dusk but will occasionally do so in the middle of the day, particularly early in the season. We had a quick look for any Dartford Warblers, but it was the middle of the day and all was quiet. Two Stonechats perched up as we passed. We were keen to start making our way back now or it would be a very late lunch. A Green Tiger Beetle flew ahead of us along the path.

As we walked on round, several Common Buzzards circled up over the ridge, at one point five in the air together. The trees here were rather quiet, there were few warblers singing, probably not helped by the cool breeze coming up over the ridge. We passed several Common Heath moths fluttering round in the heather.

Common Heath – a day-flying moth

We dropped back down to Cley for lunch on the picnic tables overlooking the marshes. A Lesser Whitethroat was flitting around in the hedge down by the road, but there were people in the way as it disappeared off right. A few minutes later it flew back the other way. After lunch, we drove west to Wells. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over road, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over on the outskirts of Stiffkey.

As we set off down the track, we could hear a Little Ringed Plover displaying and just see it flying round out towards the back of the pool on the right. A couple of Brown Hares were in the meadow, behind the carpet of buttercups and campion, quite a picture!

The young Lapwings are growing up fast here too, but several of the pairs of Avocets have small chicks now. We heard one pair alarm calling loudly, and looked over to see them mobbing a pair of Mute Swans with seven cygnets. A risky thing to do! Another Avocet was busying itself chasing off the Pied Wagtails and a pair of Shoveler from anywhere near its two fluffy juveniles. Much safer than attacking the swans, but of dubious value!

There were at least a dozen Redshanks bathing out in the middle and several more scattered around – here too, no sign of them breeding. We could see two very distant Little Ringed Plover, on the mud towards the back, behind the rushes. We got them in the scope, but it was not a great view, with quite a bit of heat haze too.

The bushes beyond the pools were quiet. It had clouded over now and the breeze was picking up. A nice male Reed Bunting perched up in the hawthorn flowers singing. There were lots of Goldfinches, and one or two Chaffinches, plus a Chiffchaff singing.

Reed Bunting – singing from the top of a hawthorn

From up on the seawall, we could see more Avocets feeding on the mud on the saltmarsh below. A very distant white shape standing out on the saltmarsh was probably a Spoonbill, but there was just too much haze to say for sure. The Avocets were commuting in and out of the west pool, were several were still on nests. The vegetation is now getting too high to see anything else on here.

When all the gulls and corvids rose up from the pig fields on the ridge inland, we figured something significant must have spooked them. We couldn’t see a likely candidate at first, but a couple of minutes later, looked back to see a Peregrine flying up and away to the east.

It was time to head back. One of the Little Ringed Plovers was much closer now, and through the scope we could see its golden eye ring. As we climbed into the minibus, a smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the field beyond.

21st May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week, our last day. A wet & windy day today. We managed to get some birding in during the morning, but as the weather deteriorated into the afternoon, the vote was for an early finish.

We headed down to Cley for the morning and parked in the bottom car park, below the Visitor Centre. It was dry, but very grey with a rather blustery wind, but not as bad as forecast. We decided to make a bid for the East Bank while we could. There were a few birds in the trees as we set off, including our first Long-tailed Tit of the tour.

As we walked along The Skirts, a bird flew up from the short grass right next to the path, on the left. With its olive-brown back and long rounded tail, which drooped behind it as it flew, it was obviously a Grasshopper Warbler. It dropped back down into the short grass about five metres further on. We took a couple of steps forward, intending to try to find it again, and another Grasshopper Warbler flew up from the right of the path. This one flew round behind us and landed in some low brambles just a few metres away. With its rather bright lemon-yellow throat it was immediately recognisable as the male we watched reeling regularly here at the end of April and beginning of May. Hopefully it has found a mate, which would explain why it has gone quiet now.

Grasshopper Warbler – one of two flushed by the path

After watching the Grasshopper Warbler for a while, it dropped down out of view. We set off again along the path as a pair of Common Pochard flew past the other way, over the reeds. There were lots of Common Swifts and hirundines hawking over the pools in the middles. A couple of Swallows and a House Martin were zooming back and forth low over the coast road, trying to find insects in the shelter of the bushes the other side.

Despite the weather, there were still warblers singing in the bushes – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Cetti’s Warbler, and a Common Whitethroat calling its buzzy call. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds behind us, but the Sedge Warblers were sensibly quiet, keeping down out of the wind. A Common Buzzard was hanging in the breeze over North Foreland, until it was mobbed by one of the local Rooks.

Up on the East Bank, there were more hirundines flying round low over the grazing marshes, particularly lots of Sand Martins now. A few Swifts and House Martins flew through, up over the bank and on west, birds on the move despite the weather. Fewer than yesterday, but the movement of Swifts was a real theme of the last two days.

Common Swift – lots on the move the last two days

The grazing marshes here are perfect for breeding waders. The Lapwing chicks which were small bundles of fluff a couple of weeks ago are now getting much bigger. The Redshanks are still displaying – we saw one pair, the male fluttering his wings vigorously and calling, while the female looked disinterested and walked away. There were a few Avocets in the Serpentine and on Pope’s Pool further back.

Lapwing – the juveniles are getting bigger

We could hear a buzzy sound just carrying to us from out on the grazing marshes and careful scanning revealed the source – a Yellow Wagtail. This bird has been lingering here for a couple of weeks now, singing. The song is not much to write home about – just a couple of buzzy notes. We got the Yellow Wagtail in the scopes, a bright canary yellow male, and watched as it worked its way through the thick grass feeding, then climbed up onto a tussock to sing. Yellow Wagtails used to breed more commonly along the coast here, so it would be nice to think that they might return.

Yellow Wagtail – singing from the grazing marshes

We stopped again to scan the margins of the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese, several Gadwall, Mallard and Shelduck but we couldn’t pick out anything different. The Great Black-backed Gulls were starting to gather to loaf on the islands at the back.

A Yellow Wagtail called, and we turned to see the male fly round over the bank, before landing briefly on the grass behind the reeds below us. It didn’t stay though, flying straight back out to the middle where it had been singing. As it flew back, a second Yellow Wagtail flew up too, but didn’t follow the male, landing on the edge of the Serpentine. We could see it was a female – just a shame she wasn’t showing any interest in the singing male!

Carrying on to Arnold’s Marsh, we got into the shelter, out of the wind, just as it started to rain. A couple of people already in the shelter asked what the wader at the back was. So we set up our scopes to find it was a lone grey Knot (with a limp). There were also two Dunlin, a Ringed Plover and a Turnstone with it. A couple of Curlew were roosting in the far corner and another was sheltering behind a low suaeda bush the other side. There were a few more Redshanks on here too.

Two other Ringed Plovers emerged from the low saltmarsh vegetation at the back – the slightly larger paler one, chasing after the slightly smaller darker bird. Two different subspecies of Ringed Plover, the smaller, darker birds are northern, tundra breeders (race tundrae), compared to the larger paler local breeders (race hiaticula). The Tundra Ringed Plovers are later migrants, passing through at this time of year. Another nine Tundra Ringed Plovers then dropped in just to illustrate the point, along with three more Dunlin.

One of the group spotted a distant Hobby, over the reedbed at the back, flying towards Salthouse, heading inland presumably out of the deteriorating weather. A Little Tern hovering over Sea Pool was similarly distant, but a Sandwich Tern dropped in at the back of Arnold’s, with more flying through past the shelter. A single Wheatear on the sand right at the back was flitting in and out of the low vegetation, trying to feed. There is still a trickle of late Wheatears coming through, dark northern breeders, but this was the first we had seen this tour.

There were several Avocets coming and going from the pool down at the front, with a couple sat down on the bank beyond, presumably incubating. When a female stopped and stood with neck bent down and bill held horizontal just above the surface, the male walked round her preening and flicking his bill in the water. We knew what was coming and sure enough we then watched the pair mating.

Avocets – the pair mating

As the rain eased, we continued on to the beach. We counted nine Little Terns offshore, slowly working their way east, and several Sandwich Terns passed the other way, one with a large sand eel in its bill. We steeled ourselves and turned into the wind for the walk back. We had intended to call in at Bishop Hide on the way back, as this is open again now, but we found several people camped in there already, out of the weather. We scanned from the door and couldn’t see anything of note on Pat’s Pool anyway, so we walked back. A pair of Mute Swans with cygnets were on the channel up from the bridge.

We figured it might be a bit more sheltered at Kelling, so we headed over there next. As we walked into the lane, we could hear a Greenfinch wheezing. Several Goldfinches were feeding on the school playing field and a Chaffinch was singing from somewhere in the school grounds as we passed. The hedges either side were rather quiet, despite being out of the wind. We did hear a Common Whitethroat calling, a Blackcap singing and a Chiffchaff flew across. A Red-legged Partridge ran ahead of us all the way down the lane to the copse.

We stopped to scan from the gate. There were lots of Brown Hares in the field beyond the Water Meadow, in the shelter of the hedge, and loads of Woodpigeons and Rooks. All we could find was a single Robin on the sheltered edge of the copse.

We continued down to the cross track to look at the pool, but there was just a single Egyptian Goose and a few Mallard on there today. It was rather exposed out here in the increasingly blustery wind. We scanned the bushes around the Quags, but everything seemed to have gone somewhere more sheltered. As we turned to walk back, there were a couple of Linnets in the edge of the field and a slightly bedraggled Common Whitethroat feeding in the low alexanders by the path which flew up into the brambles as we passed.

Common Whitethroat – flew up into the brambles

Kelling Heath seemed like a place which might offer a bit of shelter, and there have been Garden Warblers singing here in the last week, but it was windier than we thought in the car park. At least it wasn’t raining, so we had a quick walk round the bushes. A Blackcap was singing from deep in the blackthorn by the car park and a Bullfinch called as we walked round the back.

Then we heard a Garden Warbler across the road, so we crossed over to see if we could find it. It was singing in some dense blackthorn, moving around, and we couldn’t see it before it went quiet. We did find a family of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, and a Willow Warbler and Goldcrest flitting around in the birches.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back down to Cley to try to find some shelter. We parked the minibus in front of the beach shelter and ate our lunch in there. It was a bit damp on the bench, but standing in one side it was drier and had the added advantage of being able to see the sea. A steady stream of Sandwich Terns flew past, along with one or two Little Terns and a single Common Tern.

After lunch, we drove round to Iron Road for a short walk to see if any waders had dropped in there. There was nothing new on the large pool, but a Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the reeds at the back. On the other side of the main drain, over the bridge, we did find a small group of Tundra Ringed Plovers and several Dunlin on the muddy brackish pools. A Yellow Wagtail flew round calling but landed in the long grass with the cows further back, out of view.

The plan had been to finish up at Wells, so we decided to head over there now, with a view to finishing slightly early. The forecast was for heavy rain all this afternoon, and it finally arrived on our way there. The wind had picked up too – it had been forecast to be gusting 50mph+ all day, so we had actually been lucky to have had nothing like that up til now.

We got out of the minibus and started to scan the pools from the parking area. We could see a Little Ringed Plover on the pool west of the track. We thought about a walk down to the far end of the pools to see if there was anything hiding in the rushes, but there was no appetite for even a short walk now. It was already 3pm, and we had made the most of it, so with everyone having a long drive home we decided to call it a day.

It was a good call, as it only got wetter on the way back. But despite the deteriorating weather at the end, we could look back on a very productive three days of spring birding and we had seen some very good birds too.

20th May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week. It was a cloudy but dry morning, with an increasingly blustery wind picking up towards midday. It started spitting with rain early afternoon, and although we managed to avoid the heavy downpour, it remained damp on and off for the rest of the day. We didn’t get wet and it didn’t put us off!

We headed over to Snettisham for the morning. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Greenfinch was wheezing in the top of a nearby conifer. A smart pink male Bullfinch was perched in a hawthorn as we walked along the road. A little further back, our first Turtle Dove of the morning was perched on a telegraph post, and as we stopped to look at it we could hear it purring. We got it in the scopes and had a closer look at it, before it flapped up into the air and flew down in a long glide, its display flight, landing further up by the path in.

From up by the gate, we could see it now, purring on the wires by the path. But before we could get the scopes set up, it was flushed by someone walking out and flew up in another display flight, landing back on the post where it had been earlier. As we walked in through the bushes, a second Turtle Dove started purring ahead of us in a large hawthorn. The first was still on its favoured post, and with both singing now, we had Turtle Dove stereo, surround sound. What a great sound, and such a shame it is now getting so rare.

We set the scopes up and had a fantastic view of this second Turtle Dove perched in the top of the hawthorn. We could see the broad rusty orange fringes to the feathers of its upperparts and the small black and white barred panel on the sides of its neck. A couple of times, it flew up and performed its display flight, before coming back to the same bush.

Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a hawthorn

When the Turtle Dove finally landed in a different bush, further in, we continued on through the bushes. There were lots of warblers singing in here today – Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Cetti’s Warbler. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling ahead of us, but when we walked further up to see if we could find it, it had now moved behind us. We turned to scan the bushes, but it disappeared deeper in still and kept well hidden.

Up on the seawall, the tide was coming in. We could see lots of Brent Geese and Oystercatchers along the water’s edge. In amongst them, we found several groups of Bar-tailed Godwits, and well hidden on the mud a small party of Knot, one or two of both in bright rusty breeding plumage. Several Sanderling were feeding further up along the shore, now in their darker breeding plumage and looking very different from the silvery grey birds we see through the winter.

A single Grey Plover dropped in, looking stunning with its summer black face and belly and bright white spangled upperparts. More Grey Plover in several small flocks flew past over the mud from further up the Wash, and we could see Curlews and more Grey Plover on the mud to the south of us. Looking beyond the waders in the mud, two Great Crested Grebes were out on the Wash.

As we turned back to the bushes, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling, and just managed to pick it up as it flew over, heading south. A migrant on its way. We dropped back down off the seawall, and continued north. There were lots of Common Swifts on the move too, zooming around low over the bushes looking for insects. We could see more over the marshes just inland, and we remarked that it would be the day to find a rare swift, travelling with its commoner cousins. A trickle of Swallows flew south too.

Common Swift – there were lots moving today

There were lots of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits which flew up calling as we passed. A Cetti’s Warbler singing from the bushes by the path remained well hidden but a Chiffchaff posed nicely on a bare branch of an elder bush.

Chiffchaff – posed on an elder bush

We heard the male Stonechat first, alarm calling. It was in a different place to normal and scanning the bushes confirmed our suspicions – its young had fledged and we could see at least two streaky juveniles nearby. We could hear their squeaky begging calls. A Green Woodpecker disappeared off through the bushes.

Stonechat – one of at least two streaky juveniles

Our third Turtle Dove of the morning now started purring from a dead tree ahead of us, as we carried on north. A couple of Bullfinches chased each other off into the bushes. A small bird dropped out of the sky onto a low bush on the seawall and we turned to see it was a Lesser Redpoll. It was presumably attracted down by some Linnets in the bushes, but didn’t linger and flew off calling back along the seawall.

When we got to the crossbank, we had another look out over the Wash. The tide was coming in fast now. We could see more Oystercatchers and Sanderling on the beach to the north, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers. Another Ringed Plover was in one of the cordoned off areas higher up on the top of the sandy beach, but was disturbed by a dog which came running out of the bushes and up onto the seawall above it. The Ringed Plover walked away down the beach. The dog’s owner emerged from the bushes blowing on a whistle and eventually got their pet back under control.

We walked over to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan the marshes the other side. It didn’t take long to spot a Little Gull hawking for insects over the pools, it’s buoyant flight more tern-like. A second Little Gull appeared with it, both of them young, 1st summers or 2nd calendar year birds with a black ‘w’ pattern across the upperwings.

Little Gull – hawking for insects over the water

There were lots of Oystercatchers on the pools at the back, come on here to roost over high tide. We could see several groups of Black-tailed Godwits too, doing the same thing. The Avocets, Lapwings and a few Redshank are breeding on here, all species which are benefiting from the recent creation of these marshes.

There were ducks too, including two or three late lingering Wigeon, several Tufted Ducks and one or two Common Pochard. Scanning carefully through the Greylags, Canada and Egyptian Geese, we eventually found two Pink-footed Geese asleep. We couldn’t see but these are most likely injured birds which were probably show and winged and are now unable to make the long journey back to Iceland to breed.

While we were looking at the geese, one of the group spotted a Golden Plover by a small pool on the grassy area across the middle of the marshes, a very smart summer adult with dark face and bellow. A Whimbrel was a bit further back on the grass.

Golden Plover – a smart summer bird

An Alpine Swift had been seen flying past West Runton and Cley earlier – as we had predicted, it was a day for a rare swift. Now news came through that it had passed quickly over Titchwell and Holme. There were still hundreds of Common Swifts pouring down along the coast towards us and gathering to feed over the marshes, so we started scanning through, in case it should come through here. It took a while for the Alpine Swift to get to Hunstanton, then it turned south over cliffs, seemingly heading our way. We could even see Hunstanton in the distance to the north of us, but despite our best efforts we couldn’t find it. It had probably turned out across the Wash before it got to us – so near, and yet so far!

We walked back to the minibus. There had been a pratincole for the last hour or so over Cley and Salthouse, so we thought we might head over there to try to see it. But we had just set off in the minibus when a message came through to say that it had flown off high west. So we diverted to Titchwell for lunch and to use the facilities.

It was still dry but cloudy when we got to Titchwell, so we had lunch in the picnic area. A Marsh Harrier drifted over and a couple of Blackcaps were singing in the sallows. It had just started spitting with rain as we packed up. There was still no further news of the pratincole, so we decided to head out onto the reserve, where we would have hides to shelter in, should the forecast heavy rain arrive.

As we got out of the trees on the main path, we could hear a Cuckoo calling somewhere round the back towards Fen Hide. A Bittern was booming from deep in the reedbed. We stopped to scan the Reedbed Pool, but all we could see there today were lots of Greylag Geese and a few Common Pochard.

The hides here are thankfully now open again and we arrived at Island Hide just in time, as it started to rain heavily. Looking through the gulls on the small strip island we found several Mediterranean Gulls, including some smart black-hooded adults, in with the Black-headed Gulls (with the brown heads – don’t ask!).

Mediterranean Gulls – there were several with the Black-headed Gulls

There was a nice selection of terns on the Freshmarsh too. A male Common Tern flew in with a fish for the female, which was resting on the low brick island, but was sent straight back out for more. Two Little Terns were hunkered down on the far end of the island where all the gulls were, but a Sandwich Tern flew in and landed right in amongst the gulls, joined by a second shortly afterwards.

Apart from Avocets, there didn’t appear to be many waders on here today, but looking more carefully we did manage to find a few. There were at least three Little Ringed Plovers, mostly over the far side by Parrinder Hide, although two flew past us at one point with one calling and displaying. There were two Turnstones picking around at the back with a Dunlin. When the Turnstones flew off, the Dunlin flew to the gull island, and was joined by second.

Avocet – there were several on the Freshmarsh

There were lots of Swallows and House Martins hawking low over the water. We looked through them to see if we could find anything with them and did find a single Sand Martin too. A lone Spoonbill flew in from the west, but continued straight over the Freshmarsh without stopping and disappeared over the bank at the back. Thankfully it stopped raining fairly quickly, so we decided to venture out and make a bid for the beach.

The Volunteer Marsh looked quiet as we passed, but we did find a few waders in the wide muddy channel at the far end. Several Grey Plover at the back included two in smart breeding plumage, one of which flew towards us, but just to chase off another in non-breeding plumage about half way down.

As we got to the Tidal Pools, another Spoonbill which had been feeding in the shallow water at the back flew off. There were several Little Terns flying round calling, with one hovering over one of the pools out on the saltmarsh. Two Common Terns were roosting on the end of the spit. There were more waders out here too, a small group of very smart breeding plumage Turnstones on the grass and another summer plumage Grey Plover.

Little Tern – one of several on the Tidal Pools

Continuing on to the beach, the tide was coming in and had already covered the mussel beds. A single Little Tern was on the beach away to the east and several Sandwich Terns flew back and forth over the sea. A single adult Gannet with its black-tipped white wings was plunge fishing offshore before heading off east. It was starting to spit with rain again, so we set off back.

We stopped in at Parrinder Hide and were rewarded with much better views of one of the Little Ringed Plovers. We could see its golden yellow eye ring now. Several Marsh Harriers were up and down out of the reedbed.

Little Ringed Plover – better view from Parrinder Hide

A Little Grebe was diving in one of the reedbed channels as we continued walking back. We negotiated the one way system and went round to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes by the Tank Road as we passed.

There didn’t appear to be much on Patsy’s today. An odd looking Greylag Goose swam out from behind the reeds. Clearly unwell, it was very low in the water and seemed to be barely afloat. Through the scope, we could see its skin was bare on the top of its head and around its eyes and bright pink. Its bill was bright reddish too. It sailed out in the direction of a pair of Mute Swans with three cygnets in the middle. The male swan was determined to defend its brood and attacked it, but seemed taken aback that the Greylag didn’t respond. It looked like the swan would drown it.

A Kestrel was perched in one of the dead trees (where a Hobby should be instead!). Several Marsh Harriers circled low over the reedbed, including a couple of smart males, one of which drifted over the pool in front of us. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the hedge behind us.

Marsh Harrier – drifted out over Patsy’s

We could see dark clouds behind us and it started spitting with rain again. We had been comparatively lucky with the weather today, given the forecast for heavy rain all afternoon, and it was time to call it a day and head back before we got wet.

12th May 2021 – Cameras at the Ready

A Private Tour today, with the focus on trying to photograph birds rather than just looking at them. It was meant to be a sunny morning, with cloud increasing in the afternoon and the possibility of showers. Instead, there was more patchy cloud this morning and it was sunny and warm this afternoon – the wrong way round!

We spent the morning at Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked in, a male Greenfinch was on the ground feeding on the short grass. We could hear various warblers singing: Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Sedge and Cetti’s Warbler. But none of them wanted to pose for the cameras. We had a quick look out at the Wash from the outer seawall, but the tide was in and there wasn’t a lot flying past out over the sea.

As we set off up the middle of the Coastal Park, we could hear the distinctive rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat now. It flew across to a large hawthorn on the edge of the reeds where we watched it feeding on one of the longer branches for a minute or so. When it was joined by a second, the two of them flew out and across to the bushes over on the seawall.

Lesser Whitethroat – in one of the hawthorns

There were lots of Goldfinches and Linnets in the bushes, and more warblers, as we made our way north. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling ahead of us in the brambles and flew up into a hawthorn next to the path, where it gave a quick burst of song. It only perched there briefly though, and quickly flew across to the other side of the path, disappearing back into the thicker vegetation.

Cetti’s Warbler – perched up singing briefly

A steady succession of Swallows came low over the bushes, migrants on their way, heading south round the Wash. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove as we walked up towards its favourite tree and when two Turtle Doves flew past away from us and disappeared into the bushes, we thought that was it. We stopped to admire a male Stonechat which perched on some low bushes in the middle, and a female appeared nearby too.

Stonechat – the male in a low briar

While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard the male Turtle Dove purring now from its favourite tree. Had it flown back while we weren’t looking. Then another Turtle Dove started purring from somewhere in the bushes off to our right, in the direction where the pair had disappeared earlier, so presumably different birds. We set up the scope and had a good view of the lone male perched in the branches of a dead tree.

Turtle Dove – purring from a dead tree

Then we noticed a Barn Owl flying around over the short grass out in the middle, beyond the bushes. We didn’t know which way to look! As we walked on along the path, the Turtle Dove took off and launched into its display flight. We found the Barn Owl again, but it was always rather distant ahead of us. We figured we would catch up with it somewhere later.

From up on the seawall again, the tide was going out now and there were lots of Oystercatchers out on the mud. A woman stopped to talk to us, she was a volunteer with the Wash Wader Ringing Group looking for one satellite Oystercatcher with them. Without a current fix, it was like looking for a needle in haystack! More Oystercatchers were still commuting from where they had been roosting on the marshes inland out to the beach.

As we walked across by the crossbank to the inner seawall, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes, along with another Lesser Whitethroat, and a couple more Common Whitethroats. Climbing up onto the inner seawall, the Barn Owl was now hunting over the bank just a little further up. It disappeared behind the bend in the bank, so we went through the gate and walked round on top. The Barn Owl was on a fence post just round the corner and took off when it saw us, but thankfully did a nice fly round, coming straight past below us.

Barn Owl – flew past below us

Turning our attention to Ken Hill Marshes, we picked up a Sparrowhawk disappeared away low over the water. In the reeds beyond, we could see a distant Great White Egret alongside a Little Egret. A good size comparison – the former completely dwarfing the latter.

There were plenty of ducks out on the pools, Shoveler, Gadwall and one or two lingering Wigeon. Four Barnacle Geese were presumably feral birds rather than genuine high Arctic breeders. Two Whimbrel were out on the short grass – one flew off and one disappeared down into a pool out of view as a small group of people walked along the footpath, but both reappeared after they had made it to the seawall.

We hadn’t had sight nor sound of the Cuckoo up to now, but as we walked back we heard it singing and looked ahead of us to see it perched in a dead tree. When we got alongside it, we watched it singing for a couple of minutes. A Chaffinch appeared on the branch next to it, and after a while worked up the courage to chase it off, at which point it was joined by one of the local Meadow Pipits.

Cuckoo – appeared as we started to walk back

Further on, we stopped again. There were several Mute Swans flying round, mostly young birds with dull bills. An adult with a brighter orange bill was bathing in the ditch on the edge of the marshes. There were several Common Swifts zooming about over the pools and one or two swept past us over the bank and the bushes the other side. We had a go at photographing them as they passed – never easy at that speed!

Common Swift – flew past us over the bank

A Mediterranean Gull started calling, a distinctive plaintive miaowing, and we turned to see it circling over the nesting Black-headed Gulls, its white wingtips translucent against the sun. A Chiffchaff posed on the outside of one of the hawthorns below the path briefly. Then we made our way back to the minibus.

As we headed back round to the north coast, we made a diversion into Hunstanton and stopped by the lighthouse. The Fulmars were only just coming above the clifftop occasionally today, but one or two gave some very nice photo opportunities.

Fulmar – circling over the cliffs

There were several House Sparrows in the fenced off vegetation on the top of the cliff and a male posed nicely on the fence. A very smart metallic Starling dropped onto the grass close to us to collect more insects – its bill was already pretty full with a large larva and a couple of flies.

Our mission for the afternoon was to find a feeding Spoonbill. After a break for a pizza in Thornham, we carried on east to Burnham Norton. Three Whimbrel were feeding out on the short grass as we got out of the vehicles. The path out towards the seawall was a bit muddy, but we managed to negotiate it without getting our feet wet.

Two Common Swifts were circling above us and started mating on the wing. They separated but stayed together and then did it again a bit further over. While we were watching the Swifts, we picked up two Hobbys way off in the distance. We watched them catching insects high above the reedbed.

There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds along here and we could hear one or two Reed Warblers too but they were much harder to see. We finally got to see a couple of them, chasing around in the corner of the ditch below the seawall. A flock of four Yellow Wagtails flew over high, calling. They appeared to drop towards the herd of cows out in the middle of the marshes, so we made a mental note to have a look for them on our way back.

Walking along the seawall, the tide was out and we couldn’t see any Spoonbills out on the saltmarsh. The only white shapes flying in and out now were Little Egrets. There were lots of waders along here, several Avocets chasing each other in the muddy channel on the near edge of the saltmarsh and Redshanks flying back and forth over the bank. There were Lapwings here too, and one or two were displaying, singing as they performed their tumbling and rolling display flight.

Lapwing – displaying over the seawall

There were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they head off to Siberia for the breeding season. But it looked like we might be out of luck with our main target here today. When we reached the junction with the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marshes, we turned for one last scan over the saltmarsh. And there they were, two Spoonbills flying in from the direction of Gun Hill.

One of the Spoonbills landed in one of the big channels and we could just see it distantly from the seawall. The tide was out and there are a couple of baitdiggers’ paths out to the channel here, so we walked out to the edge, picking our way and jumping over some of the narrower runnels. Eventually we got much closer. The Spoonbill was feeding constantly in the shallow water, and appeared to be finding lots of food, regularly flicking its head back as it snapped at something.

Spoonbill – feeding in one of the saltmarsh channels

Eventually the Spoonbill disappeared round the next corner in the channel, out of view. As we made our way back to the seawall, the second Spoonbill dropped in with it. A couple of small squadrons of Cormorants flew past, heading back towards Holkham.

We dropped down onto the path the other side and walked back through the middle of the grazing marshes. The distinctive foghorn of a Bittern booming drifted over to us from the reeds. There were herds of cows on both sides of the path, but looking through the reeds we couldn’t see anything with the ones on the left of the path. We stopped at a gate from where we could see the cows the other side – they were all walking in towards the reeds by the path, and we couldn’t see anything with them at first. Two Wheatears, a smart male and a closer female, were out on the grass just beyond, migrants stopping off on their way north.

It was hard to see through the throng of cows by the reeds at first, but as some started to move further down away from us, we could see a pair of Yellow Wagtails feeding round the feet of one of them. The male with bright day-glo yellow underparts and head, the female rather creamier yellow and shades of greenish-brown.

Yellow Wagtail – a bright yellow male

The cows moved further down so we continued on along the path to the next gate, which is where they seemed to be heading. We had just arrived when another small group of Yellow Wagtails seemed to drop in with the original pair. It is always worth looking through flocks of wagtails at this time of year, as they often contain birds from the continent with different variations of head colour.

In amongst these wagtails, we did indeed find an odd looking one. It had a greyish head and a bold white supercilium, very different to the yellowish heads of the others. It looked too bright for a female, with a very bright yellow vent and belly, but grading to paler yellow on the lower breast and pale yellowish white on the upper breast and throat, and a greenish mantle. With the paler throat, it clearly wasn’t an adult male either. These wagtails are very variable, and the different forms frequently intergrade in the zones where they meet, but the best fit for this one seemed to be a 1st summer male Blue-headed Wagtail, the race which is found across much of continental Europe but is a regular visitor here in spring.

Blue-headed Wagtail – probably a 1st summer male

We spent some time watching the wagtails feeding in among the cows, although they became harder to see as the cows all pressed in closer to the gate. They seemed to have gathered waiting to be fed. Then when the wagtails suddenly took off and flew over the reeds, we continued on our way back.

A Little Egret was feeding in the ditch ahead of us as we got back to the parking area. As we stood by the vehicles for a minute or two, several Brown Hares were running round over the grass. A Barn Owl flew past along the edge of the grazing marshes, disappearing off along the side of the road. Time for us to call it a day.

11th May 2021 – Spring Serenade

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with intermittent dark clouds spreading in particularly from early afternoon and bringing with them some torrential showers. Thankfully we mostly managed to avoid being caught out in the worst of them.

We started the day at Snettisham. As we parked and got out of the minibus, a Cuckoo was singing, but it had gone quiet by the time we were ready to set off. As we walked into the Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing in the bushes, Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Chiffchaffs too and we spotted one flicking around in some nearby trees.

Common Whitethroat – there were lots singing this morning

While we were watching the Chiffchaff, we heard a Turtle Dove purring from the bushes. We walked round on the path to try to locate it, and a second male started singing further over, one either side, stereo Turtle Doves! We had a couple of brief glimspses – first of a pair chasing through the bushes, then a male which flew up quickly and then slowly floated back down in display flight. One of the male Turtle Doves was purring now in a bush not far from the path but it was tucked in somewhere out of view. We caught a glimpse of that one as it slipped out the back and then went quiet. The other male was still purring in the thicker bushes the other side.

We walked in further and up onto the outer seawall. Looking out over the Wash, the tide was slowly going out. We had seen a couple of small groups of Oystercatchers flying past earlier, and there were now lots gathered on the exposed mud to the north. Four Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the shore, a Dunlin dropped in with them briefly and then another four Bar-tailed Godwits arrived. They were all either females or young birds, lacking the breeding male’s bright rufous underparts. Five Grey Plover flew past out over the water, a couple of them sporting their summer black faces and bellies. There were lots of Brent Geese on the beach too and two Common Terns distantly over the water.

When we turned round, we could see a Barn Owl hunting the other side, following the inner seawall. It was out late this morning – either the cold spring weather is not helping it to fatten up ahead of the breeding season, or it has hungry young to feed already, although there was no sign of it flying back to feed them.

Barn Owl – out hunting late

We walked back down into the bushes and up through the middle of the park. A Willow Warbler was singing in the sea buckthorn on the seawall and there were lots of Linnets in the bushes. When some darker clouds rolled overhead and it started spitting with rain briefly, there were suddenly lots of Common Swifts zooming back and forth low above us. Presumably migrants on their way over which were pushed down by the weather.

When we heard a Turtle Dove purring again, we looked up to see it perched in a dead tree. Now we had a great view of it through the scopes, with its rufous scaled back and black and white barred panel on the side of its neck. We stood for a while just listening to it now – a wonderful sound of spring, once common but now rare, and still declining at an alarming pace, a victim of the industrialisation of farming here and our obsession with flailing hedges and tidying up any areas of scrub in the countryside. Catch it while you still can!

Turtle Dove – purring in the branches of a dead tree

A pair of Stonechats were alarm calling from the clumps of low gorse nearby, presumably with young in the nest somewhere. The Barn Owl appeared again, weaving in and out of the bushes over the grass.

As we carried on further, finally we heard a Cuckoo calling again, and could see it in the distance, in a tree right at the north end of the park. We got it in the scopes, but it was mobbed by a Meadow Pipit and took off. It flew our way, past us through the bushes, and landed in the same tree where the Turtle Dove was still purring. Two of the classic sounds of spring, both declining, together. We walked back, but the Cuckoo was off again before we could get there.

Carrying on north, we climbed up onto the seawall again. The tide had gone out considerably, with a lot more exposed mud, and the Oystercatchers and Brent Geese were widely scattered. A huge flock of thousands of Knot and Grey Plover flew round out in the middle, half way across to Lincolnshire, catching the light as they twisted and turned.

The Wash – looking out over the mud

We walked along the crossbank to the inner seawall and climbed up to scan over Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of ducks out here on the pools, including a late lingering Wigeon. A Russian White-fronted Goose swimming across one of the pools was a surprise, as most of the wild wintering geese have long since departed. A little further up, we picked out a single Pink-footed Goose too, with a small group of the resident Greylags. The Pink-footed Goose was probably winged and injured by wildfowlers, now unable to fly north with the others but still capable of feeding happily on the marshes, so perhaps the White-fronted Goose was too.

There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets out on the pools. Scanning carefully, we picked out a small group of Black-tailed Godwits at the back. A Ringed Plover together with a small group of Dunlin were feeding on a muddy island closer to us. A lone Whimbrel was down on the short grass nearby.

The Yellow Wagtails were on the move today. We had already heard and seen a few flying south overhead, and a group of four had just gone over. We were just about to move off, when we heard Yellow Wagtails call and turned to see a large group dropping down towards the grass on the near edge of the marshes. There were about a dozen of them, and it is always worth scanning through to see if any of their scarcer cousins are travelling with them. And there were two very smart male Grey-headed Wagtails together down on the grass.

Grey-headed Wagtails – two males in the flock

Looking through the rest of the flock, there were mostly yellow-headed British Yellow Wagtails, males and females, but one female had a noticeably greyer head and paler white supercilium. It is not possible to conclusively identify female Blue-headed Wagtails, as female British Yellow Wagtails are variable in appearance, but this looked like a good candidate.

Then we found another male Grey-headed Wagtail further over. This one appeared to have a tiny speck of white above the lores. All these yellow wagtails are considered just subspecies and they do interbreed – perhaps this little speck of white was a tiny remnant of historic intergradation with Blue-headed Wagtails where they meet in northern Scandinavia?

Grey-headed Wagtail – the third male

They may just be treated as subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtail and therefore not separate ‘ticks’ on the official list, but taxonomy is in a constant state of flux these days and definitions change of what makes a species (Eastern and Western Yellow Wagtail have recently been separated). Like many other families, the yellow wagtails with their myriad forms defy our crude attempts to put them into neat boxes. They are fascinating and beautiful things and well worth recording on our lists, species or not!

Having marvelled at the various Yellow Wagtails for a while, we started to make our way back along the seawall. The Cuckoo was singing from another dead tree, but dropped down before we got back level with it. We found it again and had a good view of it perched in the bushes by the outer seawall, before it was chased off by a Meadow Pipit again.

Cuckoo – on the bushes on the outer seawall

The sun was out and things had warmed up now. The Swifts were very high and we picked up a distant Hobby very high over the marshes, catching insects. There were several Common Buzzards up too, and some other distant raptors beyond the range of our scopes. The Turtle Dove was still in purring away in its favourite tree as we passed. We could see more dark clouds approaching from the south, so we made our way back to the minibus.

We made our way round to Holme and stopped briefly on Beach Road to use the facilities. Then we drove down the track past the payhut to park, and climbed up onto the seawall. It was grey but dry here, although the dark clouds we had seen from Snettisham were passing to the west of us and it looked to be raining over there. Two Hobbys were zooming back and forth low over the reeds out on the grazing marsh hawking for insects.

We could see dark clouds coming our way now, so we decided to have lunch down under the shelter of the minibus tailgate. One of the Hobbys landed on a bramble bush out on the grazing marsh briefly and a Great White Egret flew over. We waited for the shower to pass.

After lunch, it had stopped raining and we went back up onto the seawall again. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reeds now. A lone Whimbrel appeared down on the grass closer to us. There were lots of Brent Geese still lingering on the saltmarsh. It shouldn’t be long before they are off back up to Siberia for the breeding season now. Another shower arrived, so we retired to the minibus again. It appeared to be brighter away to the east, so we decided to head round that way.

Brent Geese – almost time to leave

We diverted inland via Ringstead, scanning the fields while waiting for some more darker clouds to blow through, then swung round to Choseley. A single Corn Bunting was perched in the middle of a bright yellow oilseed rape field. We started to scan the field where the Dotterel had been recently, finding two Wheatears out amongst the stones, but it was starting to rain again now.

Corn Bunting – in the middle of the oilseed rape

There was a report of a Temminck’s Stint at Stiffkey Fen, so we decided to drive further east to see if we could get out of the worst of the weather. At first, things deteriorated as we simply drove into torrential rain. But we could see brighter skies ahead of us and by the time Stiffkey it had stopped raining, even if we were still just under the edge of the darker clouds.

It was cool and breezy now and there weren’t many birds singing as we walked out beside the river. We headed straight out and up onto the seawall, and it was good we didn’t dawdle. There were a couple of people already there and we saw them lift their heads and start to scan with their binoculars as we got to the top of the steps – everything on the Fen had taken off. We stopped and heard the Temminck’s Stint call, as it flew over the seawall just ahead of us. We watched as it flew out over the saltmarsh and dropped down into a channel out of view. Just in time!

The Common Sandpiper which had been feeding on the Fen had returned, so we could still see that working its way round one of the islands. We decided to walk on round to the edge of the harbour to see if we could see into the channel where the stint had landed. We could see a small area of mud, but it was obviously further round the corner, still out of view from here.

There were still plenty of Brent Geese here too. With the tide out, there were lots of gulls loafing on the mud. Further back, we could see terns flying back and forth over the remaining water in the pit, lots of Common Terns and one or two Little Terns. We could see seals in the distance too, hauled out on the sandbank beyond the far end of Blakeney Point.

It was starting to spit with rain again, but it was time to head back anyway. A Garden Warbler was singing in the sallows as we walked back beside the river and we heard a Kingfisher call as it flew upstream along the channel behind the bushes and brambles. Then it was back up to the road to finish.