Tag Archives: Otter

21st Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today.  We spent the day up on the north coast. The forecast was poor, with a wind warning out, but it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as we feared. It was a bit gusty, but not as bad as recent days, and it was mostly dry, apart from a squally shower which almost passed us by as we ate our lunch under cover and some rain just as we finished this afternoon. Certainly another day well worth going out!

Heading east along the coast road this morning, we called in at Kelling first. As we walked up along the lane, a Robin was singing from the fir tree by the school and a few Goldfinches dropped down into the hedge beyond. There were several Chaffinches in the taller trees further along, but when we got to the copse, all was quiet.

A couple of House Martins flew over us, heading west, presumably birds on their way to Africa now. A flock of Linnets was feeding down in the stubble field beyond and flew round as we passed, but there didn’t seem to be many birds in the hedgerows. It was rather cool and breezy.

There were quite a few gulls on the Water Meadow again – mostly Black-headed Gulls, either swimming on the pool or loafing on the bank. A few Herring Gulls of various ages were with them and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull dropped in too. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese were in with the gulls on the grass and a noisy mob of Canada Geese flew in and landed on the water.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese – the resident pair were in with the loafing gulls

A Common Snipe circled over the Water Meadow but seemed to change its mind and headed out over the Quags. It seemed to change its mind again when it felt the wind and cam back in, landing in the long grass on the far side of the pool. When we walked to the corner, we could just see it lurking in the grass, watching us, before it flew up again and away.

Down along the track to the beach, a Reed Bunting flew across and dropped into the reeds where it disappeared. Walking up the hillside, a Meadow Pipit flew up out of the grass, but dropped straight back in again further back. There was a big flock of Goldfinches in the bushes and feeding on the ground in the shelter of the old sand pit.

As we walked up to the gun emplacements, we scanned out to sea. A couple of Sandwich Terns were battling into the wind offshore. Then a couple of Gannets flew past, quite close in, banking and tacking downwind, dark slaty grey juveniles. For the next couple of minutes there was a steady trickle of Gannets passing offshore, adults white with black wing tips and some in between.

It was windy and exposed up here on the hillside, so we headed back down. As we walked back towards the Water Meadow, a small warbler flicked out of the brambles ahead of us and dropped straight back in again. Unfortunately we didn’t get a good look at it – we were looking into the sun – and it didn’t emerge again.

Along the cross track, we stopped to scan the muddy ditch which runs across the Quags. While most of us were scanning the edges further back, one of the group noticed a Common Snipe crouching behind a piece of plastic sack down in the grass right in front of us. It pretended it wasn’t there for several minutes before eventually flying off.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – trying to convince us it wasn’t there!

We had a bit more luck finding birds in the hedges in the lane on our way back – perhaps because it brightened up a bit and we could even feel the warmth of the sun. First, a Common Whitethroat appeared in the brambles, where we watched it eating blackberries. Then we came across a Willow Warbler flicking around low in the bushes along the edge of the field. Further up the lane still, a Chiffchaff was singing rather half-heartedly from a holly tree.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – in the brambles by the Water Meadow on the way back

There was a tractor rough cultivating one of the stubble fields beside the lane. A Red-legged Partridge ran away from us up the edge of the field. A Brown Hare was hiding in the longer green growth out in the middle, looking just like a clod of brown earth, and the tractor flushed a second Hare as it worked its way round.

Several Black-headed Gulls were following the tractor, landing in the cultivated strip behind, and we could see a few larger gulls too which were feeding out of view higher up the field but flew up as the tractor passed. A 1st winter Mediterranean Gull flew in to see what was happening, we could see its black outer primaries and secondaries, contrasting with silvery grey midwing panel and mantle, as it flew past us and disappeared up over the rise in the field.

Back to the car, we made our way back west. We stopped at Iron Road next and had a walk up to the pools. There were a few Greylag Geese here, and a couple of Lapwing, but it looked from the recent tyre treads heading through the gate like someone had been in there recently.

We walked back and made our way round towards Babcock Hide. A few Swallows flew past over the grazing marshes, more birds on migration, heading off back to Africa for the winter. A big flock of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass with the Greylags. A group Curlew circled over – several dropped down onto the pool in front of the hide, but the rest continued over towards the grazing marshes by the East Bank.

Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits – there were quite a few on Watling Water today

When we opened the flaps in the hide, the first thing we noticed was a flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting and preening in the water in front. Several more were feeding on the mud nearby. Several were brightly coloured juveniles, with an orange wash around the neck and across the breast, which marks them out as birds of the Icelandic race. Amazing to think they were raised up in Iceland just a few weeks ago!

There were several Ruff on here too, further back, and a few Curlew asleep towards the back, possibly the ones we had seen fly in earlier. Several flocks of Lapwing flew past – possibly just local birds moving, but perhaps they had just arrived from further afield?

We saw a nice selection of ducks on here today, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, one or two Shoveler, and 12 Pintail. The Fulvous Whistling Duck with the large mob of Greylags doesn’t count – it is an escapee from someone’s collection, that seems to think it is a goose! Behind the Greylags, a family of five Pink-footed Geese obviously did not want to mix with their commoner cousins. Possibly freshly returned from Iceland, the goose and three full-grown juveniles were busy feeding while the gander stood guard nearby.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – this family of five was not mixing with the Greylags in front

A Sparrowhawk flew over the back, keeping low, and disappeared behind the reeds. Then we noticed a Hobby over towards Little Eye. Several times it flew up before stooping vertically down at something below, at which point each time we lost sight of it. Then it gave up and flew powerfully low over the grass towards us, before turning and heading across over the grazing meadows just to the south of us.

Hobby

Hobby – flew past us in Babcock Hide

As if that wasn’t already enough, the highlight from our stop in Babcock Hide was the Otter which was feeding in the deeper water in the back. It was very active, diving repeatedly. Twice we saw it surface with a large fish. The first time, it swam with it across to one of the reedy islands and we thought it would hide in there for some time, eating. But just a few minutes later, it was back out fishing again. The next time it caught what appeared to be an even larger fish. It swam across to the same island, but a minute later reappeared and swam across with the fish still in its jaws, disappearing round behind the reeds along the edge.

When the Otter finally disappeared, we made our way back to the car and drove a little further along, to Walsey Hills. As soon as we got out of the car, we could see the two Spotted Redshanks out on Snipe’s Marsh. They were feeding very actively in the shallow water amongst the mud and cut reed stems. One was still largely in juvenile plumage, dusky grey, but the other was more advanced in its moult to winter plumage, whiter below and paler silvery grey above. We could also see their long, needle-fine bills.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – one of the two still on Snipe’s Marsh

There was a nice selection of other birds on here too. Four Green Sandpipers were feeding around the edge of the mud at the back. A single Common Snipe was very well camouflaged against the cut reeds. There were also a few Little Grebes and a single Tufted Duck out on the water.

It had clouded over a bit more now, so we decided to head round to the beach car park and use the shelter for lunch. It was a good move, as we could see a squally shower coming in, which mostly passed to the south of us, although we just caught the trailing corner of it. There were a few Sandwich Terns offshore and while we were eating lunch we spotted two Arctic Skuas flying in to chase them. We watched the ensuing aerial dogfight for a couple of minutes before the skuas eventually realised they weren’t going to be able to steal a free lunch and gave up. One or two more Gannets flew past, too.

After lunch, we drove round to the Visitor Centre and then walked out onto the reserve, to the hides. A quick look out from Avocet Hide revealed not very much on Whitwell Scrape – a handful of ducks and a single Green Sandpiper in the vegetation in the far corner.

There were more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, so we moved straight on to Dauke’s Hide. There were six Dunlin on here, picking around on the muddy edges of the islands, juveniles with black-streaked bellies. We could see a few more Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Ruff and a Curlew. There were plenty of ducks too. A Marsh Harrier flew in and circled over the reeds at the back.

Ruff

Ruff – there were quite a few on Pat’s Pool

We looked across to Pat’s Pool and could see even more birds on there. There were several juvenile Ruff with a couple of Redshank right down at the front. A male Ruff was strikingly larger than the several females with it. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on here, and a single Green Sandpiper right at the back on the mud.

There were a couple of Dunlin on Pat’s Pool too, but they were mobile, flying round nervously in the wind. When they landed at one point, with the godwits, right over the far side, in front of Bishop Hide, a third small wader was with them. It was noticeably brighter marked above than the Dunlin, with obvious tramlines, clean white below, with a comparatively short beak. When it turned, we could see its streaked breast was neatly demarcated from its white belly. A juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper!

We had just got the Pectoral Sandpiper in the scope, when someone came round from Teal Hide to let us know they had seen it too. It was distant at first, so after a quick look we made our way round to Teal Hide where we had a better view. All the small waders were still rather easily spooked, and eventually it came a bit closer. We had a really good look at it through the scope.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper – eventually we got some very good views of it

There have been quite a few North American waders turning up in UK in the past week or two, courtesy of the active Jetstream. Presumably this Pectoral Sandpiper had most likely come from there, rather than Eastern Siberia, where they are also found. There was also a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit on here, but it rather played second fiddle to the Pectoral Sandpiper.

When the Pectoral Sandpiper flew back and landed on the mud over near Bishop Hide, we headed round there. It was only a short distance beyond the visitor centre, where the car was parked, anyway. We had an even better view of it from here, when it flew out and landed in the middle just behind the roosting gulls.

There are always lots of ducks loafing on the bank between the hide and the scrape, and we had great views of an eclipse drake Wigeon which was bathing in the channel in front of the hide, before climbing out onto the grass beyond.

Wigeon

Wigeon – this eclipse drake was bathing in front of the hide

Eventually, we managed to tear ourselves away from all the action here. As we walked back towards the visitor centre, a male Marsh Harrier flew in over the road and dropped down into the reedbed. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese flew past, and as they got closer we could hear their yelping calls. Probably more birds just returning from Iceland, coming here for the winter.

We had stayed rather longer than intended at Cley this afternoon, with all the excitement over the Pectoral Sandpiper. We still had just about enough time to call in quickly at Stiffkey on the way back, but as we drove west we could see dark clouds and when we got there it was raining. We decided to save that for another day, and try our luck elsewhere.

As we drove up to the church, the usual perches where the Peregrine likes to stand were empty, but then we noticed it a little further along, on the stone ledge. We got out of the car and set the scopes up and were treated to close up views of it. It was looking around, checking out the traffic passing below and the people walking through the churchyard, seemingly unphased by it all, blinking occasionally.

Peregrine

Peregrine – perched up on the church tower again today

It was a nice way to finish off what had been a great first day out. So much for the dire predictions of the Met Office! Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

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4th Sep 2018 – Migrants & More, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour up on the North Norfolk coast today. It was a different day to yesterday, cloudy all day with a fresh N wind off the Continent, which brought with it the promise of arriving migrants.

This time we made our way east along the coast. We made a quick stop at Stiffkey first. As we got out of the car, several House Martins and Swallows were hawking for insects over the trees, presumably fuelling up before heading off. We wanted to have a walk through the coastal bushes to see if anything had arrived overnight. A couple of other people had the same idea, so we agreed to keep in touch and let each other know if there was anything about.

Several Curlews and Redshanks flew up from the saltmarsh as we passed. Some small flocks of Golden Plover wheeled round further out, calling plaintively. We could hear a Greenshank too and a rasping call alerted us to a Snipe flying overhead. There were a few Little Egrets out on the saltmarsh too.

A Marsh Harrier was quartering the cordgrass beds out towards the beach and a second bird flew across the saltmarsh closer to us, flushing all the waders from the grass as it did so. A Peregrine was perched out on a sandbank in the distance – we got a better view of it through the scope.

We walked out as far as the whirligig and had a good look in the bushes, but it all seemed very quiet. We only heard a single Blackcap calling from deep in the hawthorns here. It appeared that not only had there been no new arrivals overnight but that a lot of the birds which had been here had decided to move on. We received messages to say that neither of the other two people here had seen anything so we decided to head back to the car and try something different.

Carrying on along the coast to Cley, we walked out to the hides to see if we could find any waders. We called in to Avocet Hide first. There were several ducks feeding right in front of the hide – Teal and Shoveler.

Shoveler

Shoveler – feeding right in front of Avocet Hide

There were not many waders on this scrape at first sight, but scanning carefully we found a couple of Little Ringed Plover at the back of the main island. A Green Sandpiper was calling, and following the sound, we found it hiding in the cut reeds on the far corner of the same island. A Common Snipe crept into the cut reeds in front of it and melted away into the vegetation.

Our next stop was going to be in Dauke’s Hide, but we couldn’t resist a quick look over from here at Simmond’s Scrape next door. There seemed to be more waders on there, lots of Ruff and quite a few Dunlin in particular. We found a juvenile Spotted Redshank asleep with the ducks and an Avocet on the front of the closest island. We got the scope on it and could see its dusky grey overall colouration, spotted on the wings with silvery white dots, and even though it was asleep we could see its white brow back to the eye.

Wigeon and Dunlin

Wigeon & Dunlin – spooked from Simmond’s Scrape

Then most of the birds on the scrape took off – all the Ruff and Dunlin and most of the ducks too. They whirled round over the reeds and scrapes – a small group of Wigeon flew round in front of us, with a couple of Dunlin for company. Most of the waders flew off, but the ducks returned. The Spotted Redshank woke up briefly, flashed its long, fine bill, and went back to sleep!

We found out what the culprit was – a Marsh Harrier had drifted over from the reedbed at the back, an adult male. It disappeared off over Cricket Marsh. A short while later, a juvenile Marsh Harrier did exactly the same thing, scattering everything again.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – the juvenile, spooking all the birds on Simmond’s Scrape

With most of the waders gone from Simmond’s Scrape now, we decided to head round to have a look at Pat’s Pool next instead. The water level on here has gone up in the last few days – presumably they have let some more water on. Consequently, there weren’t many waders on here either. There were just some Ruff, presumably some of them come over from Simmond’s, and a few Lapwings.

While we scanned round the scrape, we kept one eye on Simmond’s to see if the waders might return, but only a few Ruff and four of the Dunlin drifted back in. A single Pintail was notable amongst the commoner ducks. We had a quick look in at Dauke’s Hide anyway, adding a Black-tailed Godwit feeding in deeper water in the far corner to the day’s list. The Spotted Redshank was still asleep! We decided to head round to the East Bank next.

It was a bit breezy up on the bank. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but they were keeping well tucked down today. There were quite a few Meadow Pipits chasing each other round the grazing meadow the other side and we heard a Skylark too.

There were quite a few waders out on Pope’s Pool – mostly Ruff, probably including some which had flown here when they were flushed from Simmond’s Scrape. There was a Common Sandpiper too, and several Common Snipe, but there was a surprising amount of shimmer in the air which made it hard to make out any detail at that range. Thankfully, we found another Common Sandpiper feeding along the edge of the Serpentine, which was much easier to see.

We had a quick look in the main drain as we passed, but there was no sign of the Otter. Just a rather distant Little Grebe diving in the channel. So we carried straight on to the shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh.

There were lots of birds on Arnold’s – a large flock of waders and another of Sandwich Terns. Through the scope, we could see the waders were mainly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. In amongst them were several much smaller Dunlin and four Ringed Plovers. A small party of Curlews were roosting in the vegetation off to one side. This was where most of the waders were now hiding!

The Black-tailed Godwits were already starting to drift off back towards the reserve, in small groups, when everything erupted. We looked up to see two Hobbys shooting across the sky, one following after the other. Having sown pandemonium, they gained height and then one of them set off at speed after a Dunlin, chasing it off over Pope’s Pool, followed by the second. The Dunlin was too quick for them – they had lost the element of surprise – and the two Hobbys gave up, flying off over the reedbed towards the reserve.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns & Black-tailed Godwits – spooked by a pair of Hobbys

Most of the waders settled quickly back down again on Arnold’s, but some headed off back towards the reserve too. We stopped to scan through them again and about five minutes later, the Hobbys were back for another go, putting everything up again, but powering straight on through without stopping.

A distant flock of ducks caught our eye, coming in over the sea just beyond the shingle ridge. There were about forty of them, mostly Wigeon but with a few Teal mixed in, fresh arrivals from the Continent coming here for the winter, migration in action! With a moderate north wind, there had been some seabirds seen along the coast too this morning, so we thought we would have a quick look. We headed out to the beach.

As we got out to the shingle ridge, another group of six Wigeon flew past above us and four more Teal came in low over the sea. Several of the Sandwich Terns were now fishing just offshore and further out, we picked up some larger white birds flying past over the sea, Gannets. There was a steady trickle of Gannets past as we stood on the beach, and a single Fulmar. We also spotted a couple of distant groups of Common Scoter flying past, more returning migrants.

Gannets

Gannets – there was a steady trickle past over the sea

It was a bit chilly standing around in the wind out on the beach so, when someone told us the Otter had been showing earlier in the main drain, we headed back for a look. It had apparently been close to the sluice but had now swum further down the channel. We could see it in the distance, diving in the green blanket weed and we had a good look at it through the scope.

The Hobbys did yet another pass, coming in low over the grazing marsh and heading off over the reedbed, much closer this time. We didn’t know which way to look – Hobbys or Otter?!

The Otter caught an eel and climbed out onto the bank. Then it slipped back into the water and started swimming towards us. It kept diving and each time it resurfaced it was much closer. We stood quietly on the sluice and waited. It came closer and closer, before it was just a few metres from us. It came through the sparse reeds along the edge of the channel and then swam out right in front of us. We could even see the Otter still had the eel in its mouth, before it dived and the trail of bubbles disappeared through the sluice right below us! Amazing.

Otter

Otter – swam through the sluice right below us

That was a great way to end the morning, and we headed round to the visitor centre for lunch, very pleased with what we had seen. After lunch, we drove back along to the Iron Road. We were a bit disappointed to see that they had just been topping the grazing meadows with a tractor, presumably causing lots of disturbance, although the tractor driver appeared to have gone off for his lunch now.

The Iron Road pool looked quite dry and deserted, so we made our way along the path towards Babcock Hide. Several Egyptian Geese had already moved back in to the recently cut grass.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – a juvenile from Iceland

When we got to the hide and opened the flaps, we could see lots of waders in the water just in front. Most of them appeared to be Common Redshanks but there were a couple of juvenile Black-tailed Godwits too, which had come here from Iceland where they had been raised over the summer.

There were 26 Common Redshanks together in the flock but with them was one bird which looked subtly different. It was a touch darker grey, more brightly spotted on the wings, with bright white above the lores meeting over the bill and a slightly longer and finer bill. It was another juvenile Spotted Redshank.

It was really good to see the two species side by side, particularly watching their subtly different feeding actions, the Spotted Redshank sweeping its bill more quickly and vigorously from side to side through the shallow water.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank & Common Redshanks – spot the odd one out!

As we made our way back towards the road, along the track from the hide, we happened to glimpse something dropping down by the cattle gates at the top. It could have been anything and was almost certainly nothing interesting, but just the way it flew triggered some unconscious interest. We walked up to the gates but couldn’t see anything.

The tractor had been driven away earlier and the main gate out to the road left open, so rather than walk out through the pedestrian gate at the side, we walked out towards the main road. As we did so, a bird flew out of a very small bramble just before the bridge over the ditch. It was rather pale grey-brown, probably just one of the regular House Sparrows which are often along here, but as it flew away from us down the line of the ditch it looked oddly long-tailed. As it turned and dropped into the grassy bank beside the ditch, it looked like a Wryneck.

With the group standing on the path back towards the car and one of us walking back along the road, we were hoping the bird would fly back out to the fence or one of the bramble bushes further along the ditch. But before we could all get in place, the bird took off again. It flew up several metres into the sky, circled round and headed off over the road. This time we could see it definitely was a Wryneck! Unfortunately, it flew away strongly over the field the other side and was gone.

Wryneck is a scarce visitor here, a drift migrant which only arrives if the wind is coming off the continent when it is on its way from Scandinavia down to Africa, so this was a great bird to find. And all the more so here, a totally unexpected place to see one!

With the chance that migrants were starting to arrive, we returned to the car and carried on along the coast road to Kelling. It was rather quiet as we walked along the lane towards the Water Meadow. A Chiffchaff and a Blackcap both called from somewhere in the hedge, both probably local birds rather than migrants. There was no sign of anything of interest around the copse. A little flock of Linnets was in the brambles by the Water Meadow.

Linnet

Linnet – a small flock was around the Water Meadow

When we got to the cross track and could look back at the pool, we could see lots of gulls bathing and a small group loafing in the grass on the edge. There was a nice selection – mostly Black-headed Gulls, but also a few Herring Gulls, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull. There were a few ducks too, largely Teal and Shoveler, but also another lone Pintail – they are starting to return now and this is an unusual place to see one, so the two we saw today may have been fresh returnees.

We carried on along the track towards the beach, scanning the bushes and brambles to see if we could find any grounded migrants, but there was no sign of any here. A Brown Hare ran down the hillside towards us, but stopped and started to feed in the long grass. Another Brown Hare had found a sheltered spot, out of the wind, in the lee of the bushes behind the beach.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – sheltering from the wind

As we walked along the track up the hillside just behind the beach, we scanned the sea to see if anything was passing offshore. Several Sandwich Terns flew past, presumably returning from fishing further along the coast. A fairly close-in Fulmar was also notable, but we couldn’t see anything more interesting.

There were no birds around the gun emplacements but we did eventually managed to locate a rather distant Stonechat, looking out across Weybourne Camp to the radar towers. There was still no sign of any migrants here, so we started to make our way back.

As we got back to the village, we could see four Common Buzzards over the hillside beyond, where the land rises up onto the Holt-Cromer ridge. With a north wind blowing, there was presumably quite an updraft for them today and they were hanging almost completely still, seemingly effortlessly. They were playing too, two of the swooping at each other, talon grappling. We stood for a couple of minutes watching them.

It was a lovely way to end a couple of very enjoyable days spent looking for migrants and more along the coast here.

22nd Sept 2017 – Autumn Equinox, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was a glorious sunny day, warming up through the morning so we were shedding layers after a cool couple of days, with light winds. A glorious day to be out on the coast.

After meeting in Wells, we made our way east to Cley. The car park at the bottom of the East Bank was surprisingly busy, but we managed to park at Walsey Hills which was empty. As we walked back to the East Bank, we could hear tits calling in North Foreland wood, but there was too much traffic to catch them properly and we couldn’t see them.

There were lots geese out on the grazing marshes on Pope’s Marsh, mainly Greylags with smaller numbers of Canada Geese and a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. A few Teal were dabbling around the small pools in the grass. Further over, we could see more ducks, a selection of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Shoveler. We managed to pick out a rather distant Pintail on Pope’s Pool too.

There were fewer waders out here today, but still a number of Lapwing down in the grass and several Ruff around the Serpentine, mostly brown juveniles. A Common Snipe was preening in the grass along the far edge. A Greenshank flew in calling landed behind us on Snipe’s Marsh. We could hear a couple of Water Rails squealing out in the reeds the other side.

RuffRuff – there were still several on Pope’s Marsh, mostly juveniles

A raptor circling over the reeds as we looked across the reedbed turned out to be a Common Buzzard. They do drift over this way occasionally, but we wondered whether perhaps this was a sign that they were going to be on the move again today, taking advantage of the warmth in the air. So it would prove to be, as we saw a number circling up and heading west throughout the day. A Marsh Harrier was more predictably circling up over the reeds too.

Skylarks have been scarce recently, but we heard several calling overhead as we walked out. Perhaps it was the glorious sunny weather we were treated to this morning which has brought them out? A Reed Bunting perched up nicely in the top of the reeds. A Reed Warbler was slightly less obliging, feeding low along the edge of the ditch by the reedbed until we turned to look at it, at which point it disappeared back into the reeds, before flying off.

We heard Bearded Tits several times as we walked out along the bank, but they were hard to see at first. One perched up briefly out in the middle, but just before flying off and disappearing back down into the reeds further back. It was not until we got to the main drain that a noisy flock of six Bearded Tits flew in and landed in the reeds in front of us, climbing up into the tops for a few seconds before dropping back down again.

Bearded TitsBearded Tits – circling up, thinking about setting off

The Bearded Tits have been very active and vocal in the last few days here. This is the time of year when they disperse and they are getting itchy feet. Sure enough the six Bearded Tits took off and flew round, starting to circle up higher into the sky. It looked like they might be off, but a minute or so later, after we had lost sight of them, they dropped back steeply into the reeds where they had just left.

There have been Otters on and off in the main drain at Cley for some weeks now. A quick scan down the channel and we spotted a head sticking out of the weed which is now carpeting the water. A second head surfaced nearby. The two Otters started to swim towards us, ducking under the weed, looking for food. We could see the little patches of reed along the edge of the channel shaking as they swam through them. They were busy looking for food as they approached the sluice right below us, it was great to watch the heads pop out of the weed and then their long bodies and tails curve into the water as they dived. It was hard to tell how many there were now, at one point some of the group thought a third Otter had joined them.

OtterOtter – eating a crab in the main drain right by the sluice

We weren’t sure what the Otters would do at the sluice, whether they might come up out of the water, but they ended up swimming straight through. We could see the reeds rustling the other side and then a head popped up out of the weed again. This time it had caught something and we watched it holding it in its front paws and crunching on it. It looked rather like a crab and looking at photos later confirmed this. While the first Otter swam with its crab across the channel and into the reeds the other side, we could hear the second crunching on something just below us, out of sight in the reeds by the sluice.

Once it had finished its crab, the first Otter swam back across the channel into the reeds the other side. We could hear the two of them calling, but they didn’t come back out again for a few minutes. It had been great to watch them fishing, but we decided to move on.

As we walked down the East Bank earlier, we had been told that a Red-necked Phalarope had been seen on Sea Pool this morning. We were looking into the light at Arnold’s Marsh from here, so we decided to head straight along to Sea Pool instead. It didn’t take long to find the Red-necked Phalarope, exactly where it had been earlier, along the edge of the reeds on the far side, but we had to walk some way further along so we were not looking straight into the sun.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – a ‘record shot’ of the juvenile this morning

Given the sun, there was quite a bit of heat haze from the expanse of shingle in front and it was always rather distant, but we had a good look at the Red-necked Phalarope as it swam in and out of the reeds. We could see its black mask, golden-straw striped dark back and needle like bill.

While we were standing admiring the Red-necked Phalarope, we also kept looking out over the sea the other side. There were small numbers of geese and ducks moving offshore, Brent Geese and Wigeon coming in from Russia for the winter, little flocks of Teal and a more distant line of Common Scoter.

A couple of very distant Gannets flew past, right out in front of the windfarm. Three Sandwich Terns were still fishing offshore. A Red-throated Diver helpfully flew closer in and we could get it in the scope. One of the group picked up a bird flapping across the surface of the water and it turned out to be a Guillemot being chased by a Grey Seal. The Grey Seal gave up and the Guillemot swam off in the other direction.

A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up from Pope’s reedbed. Beyond, over the hillside behind, we noticed three more Common Buzzards circling up on a thermal. They really were on the move this morning.

Walking back, it was better light to look at Arnold’s Marsh from this side. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits here, along with several Redshank and Curlew. We could see a small group of Dunlin preening or dozing in the saltmarsh on the near side, and as we walked back towards them, two Dunlin were feeding in the edge of the water. A smaller wader walked out next to them, a Little Stint,but unfortunately it promptly took off and we watched it fly away west, over the East Bank.

On our way back along the bank, a Kingfisher flew off over the reeds but was too quick for most of the group to get onto. As we walked towards the car, we could see a Grey Heron standing on the edge of the reeds on Snipe’s Marsh and a couple of Little Grebes were busy diving the other side.

It was already midday by the time we got back to the car, so it was decided to have an early lunch and use the facilities back at the visitor centre. It was lovely sitting out in the sunshine today. We looked up at one point to see three more Common Buzzards circling overhead.

Common BuzzardCommon Buzzard – one of several moving today

After lunch, we drove round to the beach car park and set off to walk out to North Scrape. The cows were all feeding on the north side of Eye Field and in between them we noticed a small group of Golden Plover, which we stopped to look at in the scope. There were lots of Starlings feeding down in the grass too.

As we walked across the shingle, several Meadow Pipits came up from the vegetation and a little flock of Linnets flew up from the weeds. A couple of Pied Wagtails were feeding around the muddy edge of the pool. There were several Wheatear here a week or so back, but they had all moved off ahead of the recent cool weather. We were just saying how it the sort of day when more Wheatear could appear when one landed on the post right in front of us.

WheatearWheatear – landed on a post right in front of us

The Wheatear stayed on the post for about a minute, looking at us nervously, while we watched it through binoculars. Then it flew off across the shingle, flashing its white rump. We could still see it further over, hopping about on the stone in amongst the vegetation.

North Scrape has been rather full of water in recent weeks and consequently somewhat devoid of waders. After recent management work on the reserve, it has gone from one extreme to the other and is now a large expanse of mud. It is looking really good for waders now, and no surprise that most of the waders have moved in here from the other scrapes.

North ScrapeNorth Scrape – lots of exposed mud after recent management work

The light can be difficult on North Scrape, looking into the sun, and the birds can be distant, but we quickly located two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers down the left side. They were with a couple of Ruff and through the scope we could see their long, downcurved bills and peachy-orange wash across the breast.

Across the other side, a Ringed Plover walked out from behind the reeds, quickly followed by a Little Stint. It was tiny in comparison! More birds followed, and we had counted five Little Stints and six Ringed Plover before they were spooked by something and flew round. There were plenty of Dunlin on here too, and when everything landed again they were even more distant. Still, as they started to feed and spread out, we could make out at least ten Little Stints in with them. A Greenshank was slightly easier to see, when it walked out from behind the reeds, much closer, with a Redshank nearby for comparison.

On the walk back to the car, a Wheatear was on the fence across the other side of the shingle from the path, on the edge of the Eye Field. It was quickly joined by a second Wheatear which flew up from the grass – they had multiplied in the short time we had been out at North Scrape! A little further on, what was possibly a third Wheatear flew across the shingle to where they had been a few moments earlier.

Our destination for the second half of the afternoon was Kelling. As we started walking down the lane, we could hear Chiffchaffs calling from the hedge. A couple of Greenfinches were lurking in the top of the blackthorn but finally hopped out and showed themselves. A Chaffinch flew in to join them.

Out in the stubble field, we could see lots of Red-legged Partridges. They have been released here in big numbers for shooting. We flushed a Pheasant from beside the path too. As we got to the copse, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. We looked up into the trees to see them feeding there. It was a mixed tit flock – as well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue Tits and Great Tits, and at least one Chiffchaff too. Unfortunately there was nothing rarer with them today!

Long-tailed TitLong-tailed Tit – we came across a mixed tit flock in the lane

A Hornet was buzzing backwards and forwards low around the bushes and ivy on the edge of the copse, it seemed to be looking for food. Suddenly it seemed to spot a spider in the middle of its web and it went for it, diving into the web. The spider dropped off its web onto the nettles below, while the Hornet struggled to free itself from the strands of silk at first. Once it was free, the Hornet buzzed around the nettles to see if it could find it, but the spider had sensibly disappeared into cover.

A Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge along the lane just north of the copse unfortunately did not hang around long enough for everyone to see it, disappearing into the bushes as a couple of people walked past from the other direction.

It is hard to see the Water Meadow over the brambles at first now, as you walk up along the lane.  We could see a few Ruff and a Redshank or two around the edge of the water. Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls had dropped in to bathe. It was only when we got almost to the cross track, and looked back, that we spotted the Curlew Sandpiper. It was feeding in the shallow water on the near edge, wading up to its belly. Two Dunlin were on the mud nearby. Through the scope, we got a much better view of this Curlew Sandpiper than we had of the two on North Scrape earlier.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – this juvenile showed much better on the Water Meadow

After watching the Curlew Sandpiper for a few minutes, we carried on down towards the beach. The Quag looked rather quiet, so we turned right and started to make our way up the hill before the beach. We flushed a couple of Meadow Pipits from the rough grass as we passed. Three Stonechats flew across the path in front of us and landed out on some tall stems in the middle of teh grass. A Linnet flew in to join them.

We had another quick look out to sea. A couple more Gannets flew past offshore, closer in than the ones we had seen earlier, which meant everyone could get onto them this time. Another line of distant Common Scoter flew past too, but it didn’t seem as lively as it had been earlier this morning.

It was time to start heading back now, so we walked back to the car and set off back towards Wells. There was still time for one last surprise though. We had looked for the Cattle Egret in the field east of Stiffkey on our way out earlier this morning, but it hadn’t been with the cows. Pulling up on the road on the way back, we spotted the Cattle Egret immediately, out with the cows. Thankfully, there were no cars coming along the road and we were able to pull up and spend a couple of minutes looking at it. That was a nice way to end the day.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – a good way to round off the day, back with the cows

4th October 2015 – Titchwell & Beyond

Day 3 of a long weekend of tours today, our last day. It was a cloudy and misty start again, but brightened up through the morning. It was not as warm as recent days in a light north wind, but still very pleasant to be out. We wanted to head west this morning, with Titchwell as our main destination for the day.

It was still rather quiet when we arrived, so we went to explore the overflow car park before the crowds appeared. There were several Song Thrushes around the bushes and a couple of Blackcaps dived for cover in the brambles as we walked through. Chaffinches are much more in evidence now, with birds arriving from the continent for the winter. A Grey Wagtail flew overhead calling. As we turned to walk towards the reserve, we looked up to see four Grey Herons flying west.

P1100931Siskin – we came across a flock feeding in the alders by the path

We had heard Siskins calling over the car park, but as we walked out onto the reserve we could hear some more in the alders by the path. With all the leaves still on the trees, they were hard to see but eventually we got great views of several of them, one in particular hanging upside down and feeding on the alder cones. As we were about to move on, one Siskin even perched up nicely for us in a dead tree. We had heard a Redpoll or two calling overhead as well, but a little further along three dropped down into one of the small sallows in the edge of the reedbed. We could just see one, a tawny brown Lesser Redpoll, in amongst the leaves, before they all flew off.

There was a big flock of tits which came through the sallows on the edge of the reedbed as well – Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits plus a couple of Goldcrests and a single Chiffchaff. We had heard several Cetti’s Warblers singing loudly from deep in the undergrowth on our walk out, but they were impossible to see as usual. However, when two Blue Tits dropped into one of the sallows the resident Cetti’s Warbler seemed to take objection and hopped up next to them singing. A great, if somewhat brief, view.

As we walked towards the grazing meadow pool, a couple of Bearded Tits flew up from the reedbed, across the path and dropped down into the reeds the other side. We heard lots of Bearded Tits again today, and saw several zooming around over the reeds. We did get lucky with one male Bearded Tit which worked its way up to the top of a reed stem and perched out in full view for a couple of seconds before flying off.

The grazing meadow pool itself was rather quiet again, as it has been since it was drained last winter – a few Lapwings, a couple of Redshank and a single Dunlin. We were about to move on when a Water Rail suddenly ran out onto the mud in the middle. It seemed to realise belatedly that it was out in the open and froze, not knowing which way to run. It darted one way, then the other, then made for the channel along the side. But rather than run across into the reeds, it made its way right along the edge of the mud towards us. Head on, we could see how narrow-bodied it was, perfect for squeezing through among the reeds. The usual raft of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck was on the reedbed pool, plus a few Mallard.

IMG_1516Teal – some of the drakes are moulting out of eclipse

There were lots of ducks out on the freshmarsh from Island Hide. A few of the drake Teal are now coming out of eclipse and starting to show the smart green and rusty head pattern of breeding plumage. We picked out a few Shoveler and Gadwall among the throng. The Wigeon were over the back around the islands. A large gaggle of Greylag Geese flew in and took over one of the islands. A little later, a small flock of Brent Geese flew in to bathe and preen.

It was high tide, so many of the waders had come in from the beach to roost on the freshmarsh. There was a big mixed flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot, either preening or asleep. A few Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deep water behind, along with a few Ruff. There are not many Avocets left here now – we could only see five today. Small wader numbers are also very much reduced with only a handful of Dunlin and a single Ringed Plover on the freshmarsh today. There was a larger flock of Golden Plover – as usual very jumpy and taking flight at the slightest provocation – and Lapwing.

We decided to head round to Parrinder Hide and were just on our way back up the slope to the main path when another Water Rail appeared on the edge of the reeds by Island Hide. We got it in the scope and got a great view of it – our second of the day, and again feeding very obligingly out in the open.

IMG_1524Water Rail – appeared out of the reeds near Island Hide

A little further along the path, a scan of the muddy islands on the edge of the freshmarsh revealed a Common Snipe hiding among the dead docks, preening. It was tricky to pick out at first, but eventually walked out of the vegetation to where we could get a better look at it.

IMG_1542Common Snipe – showing well eventually from the main path

A Chinese Water Deer was feeding on the saltmarsh the other side of the seawall. This is the same tatty individual we have been seeing on and off all year, with ragged ears and a big bald patch on its back. It still doesn’t look in very good condition, possibly affected by mange, but at least it doesn’t seem to have worsened recently.

P1100941Chinese Water Deer – the tatty individual was out on the saltmarsh again

From Parrinder Hide, we could see a small group of waders sleeping in the far corner of the freshmarsh. Through the scope, we could see that there were several Greenshank and a couple of Spotted Redshank as well. They all had their bills tucked in but we could just about see their legs.

With the tide high, the Volunteer Marsh was under water again today, so we decided to head out towards the beach. However, from the main path we could see a Curlew attempting to cross between islands where the vegetation was still exposed. It appeared to be swimming across the deepest water! We then had great views of it through the scope as it fed at its destination.

IMG_1549Curlew – swimming between islands on the flooded Volunteer Marsh

There were a lot more waders on the tidal pools again. As usual, a (the?) Black-tailed Godwit was feeding close to the path providing great close-ups.

P1100956Black-tailed Godwit – showing well on the tidal pools

Out at the back, a Spotted Redshank was sleeping beside a Common Redshank – very hard to tell apart without seeing their bills, but the former was slightly bigger with a paler breast and face. There are always quite a few Common Redshank feeding out here. A couple of Greenshank flew over calling, towards the beach.

IMG_1598Grey Plover – there were several roosting on the tidal pools over high tide

There were a couple of Grey Plover feeding around the muddy edges of the islands near the path, giving us great views. Nearby, a Ringed Plover was very well camouflaged on the mud.

IMG_1609Ringed Plover – hiding on one of the muddy islands

Further over, we could see more waders roosting here over high tide on the beach. A flock of sleeping Oystercatcher were at the back. In front of them, on the spit of an island, was a mixed group of Grey Plover, Knot, Dunlin and Turnstone, together with a couple of Redshank. It was great to see them all side by side and get a real appreciation of the relative sizes of all the different species.

Out on the beach, the sea was very calm. In principle, this is great for seeing the birds, as there are few waves for them to hide behind, but unfortunately they can be further out in these conditions. We did manage to find a distant Red-throated Diver on the sea, as well as several Great Crested Grebes. Four redhead Red-breasted Mergansers were diving offshore until they took off and flew away to the west. A Red-necked Grebe was too distant to get anyone onto – initially flying past next to a much larger Cormorant, it landed on the sea so far out it was impossible to see. A single slatey-grey juvenile Gannet flew past. With the tide in, there were no waders out here today.

We started to walk back in good time for lunch. Little did we know the excitement that lay in store to distract us on the way back! As we came off the beach, we could see a helicopter circling over – it appeared to be over the freshmarsh, and turned inland to land over by the village. Needless to say, all the birds scattered and the resulting pandemonium saw many of the roosting waders from the tidal pools flee as well.

We had got as far as the Volunteer Marsh when we spotted yet another Water Rail out in the open, our third of the day – what had got into them today? It was feeding along the muddy channel by the reeds. We had stopped to watch it, when a flock of small waders dropped in further back, presumably having been flushed by the helicopter. They were mostly Dunlin and started to feed feverishly on the exposed mud. Carefully scanning through, one of them was slightly larger, longer-winged, longer-legged and longer-billed. It was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper.

IMG_1679Curlew Sandpiper – this juvenile dropped into the Volunteer Marsh

It was very hard to get everyone onto the Curlew Sandpiper at first. It was over towards the back and in amongst the mob of Dunlin. Then, very obligingly, it flew down towards the front and started to feed up on the exposed mud on its own. Cracking views!

That delayed our return for a while, as we admired the Curlew Sandpiper. Then we hurried on back along the path. An adult Mediterrean Gull flew over, flashing its pure white wingtips (lacking the black spots of the 2nd winter we had seen yesterday). Two Pink-footed Geese were a surprise addition to the reedbed pool on the way back. Looking up, we could see a ‘v’ of birds flying slowly west – a flock of 11 Grey Herons! After the birds we had seen earlier this morning, there were obviously quite a few Grey Herons on the move today.

We were alongside the reedbed when we heard something crashing about in the reeds right below the path. All we could see at first was the reeds thrashing from side to side, which at least allowed us to track it as it moved through them. When it got to one of the pools we finally got to see what it was – as we suspected, an Otter swam out and across the open water.

P1100988Otter – in the reeds right below the path in the middle of the day

We followed the Otter for a while, but most of the time it kept to the reeds. We did get another quick view of it as it swam across the edge of one of the other pools further back. Then it really was time to head back for a rather later than planned lunch.

Afterwards, we headed back out to Patsy’s Reedbed and the Autumn Trail. We were just past the visitor centre, at the very start of Fen Trail, when we heard a single call of a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was very hard to see in the tops of the trees, mostly obscured by leaves. Then it dropped down out of the back and out of view. We were almost at Fen Hide when we heard a second Yellow-browed Warbler – and this one called constantly for several seconds. Unfortunately, we had just got to the place in the trees where it was calling when it fell silent. Typical! We did see it flick up briefly out of the sallows but it flew off out of view.

Round at Patsy’s Reedbed, there were lots of ducks loafing around – Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Pochard. But pride of place went to a very smart pair of Gadwall – the most underrated of our ducks. The drake was already out of eclipse and looking very smart in greys, browns and black.

IMG_1691Gadwall – a very smart pair of ducks

A skein of Pink-footed Geese flew west calling. A little later a skein flew east – possibly the same birds, having turned back at the corner of the Wash along the coast. Several more skeins came over this afternoon – yet more Pink-footed Geese presumably arriving from Iceland for the winter already.

P1100994Pink-footed Geese – one of the skeins that flew over this afternoon

We had a quick look along the Autumn Trail. Apart from several dragonflies enjoying the autumn sunshine – Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters – it was quiet. A smart male Kestrel perched up in the tops of the dead trees. We wanted to have a quick look at Choseley, so we headed back to the car. We stopped briefly by the feeders in front of the visitor centre to add both Coal Tit and Marsh Tit to the day’s list – both dropping down repeatedly but briefly to grab a morsel before flying to cover to consume it.

Once again, there were not many birds around the drying barns, aside from a few Collared Doves. A little further along, we stopped at one of the field entrances and down in the stubble were at least seven Brown Hares. They sat in the sun, with their black-tipped ears raised.

P1100995Brown Hare – several were in the fields up around Choseley

There were lots of Red-legged Partridges around the fields today and plenty in the roads too, running along in front of the car and refusing to get out of the way. Presumably most of them have been hand-reared and released ready for the shooting season. Amongst them, we found a few Grey Partridge as well. The Grey Partridges can be more wary, but as these were running around with the Red-leggeds, perhaps some have been released here for shooting as well.

P1110023Grey Partridges – we found several with the more common Red-leggeds

As we made our way round the back, we came across a flock of Pink-footed Geese dropping down into the fields. Some of them landed in a stubble field by the road, but they hadn’t settled and as we pulled up they raised their heads looking nervous and took off.

P1110032Pink-footed Geese – in the stubble fields inland from the coast

It had certainly been an action-packed final day. With that, we dropped back to the coast road and headed for home.