Tag Archives: Peregrine

24th July 2018 – Waders & Other Wildlife

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was another hot and sunny day, although a light sea breeze kept something of a lid on temperatures on the coast.

On our way out this morning, we swung round via the church where the Peregrine has been roosting for the last couple of months. It is not always there, but as we drove up we could see it perched on a protruding stone high on the tower. We got out and got the scope on it, getting a fantastic close-up look at it in the process.

The Peregrine was already looking a bit restless today, facing out, alert, with its wings held half open. Thankfully we had all had a really good look before it stretched its wings out and took off. We watched as it flew off east over the town. Presumably it had enjoyed a lie in and was now off to get its breakfast this morning!

Peregrine

Peregrine – setting off from the church tower

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. It was already starting to get quite warm as we parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive and set off west along the past on the inland side of the pines. It was rather quiet in the trees today. A Chiffchaff and a Blackcap were singing, and we could hear tits and a Treecreeper calling from deep in the pines.

The butterflies were out in force and enjoying the warm weather. The highlight was a Silver-washed Fritillary which flew in and landed on the brambles to feed. This species has been expanding rapidly and spreading out across Norfolk, but is still always a good one to see.

Silver-washed Fritillary

Silver-washed Fritillary – feeding on the brambles

There were also lots of Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown, a few Ringlet and a couple of Speckled Wood along the track here. A second generation Wall Brown landed on the path, but refused to open its wings.

Salts Hole was pretty empty save for a handful of Mallard. A Common Darter dragonfly hovered over the pool and a Southern Hawker was patrolling round the edge of the reeds. We stopped to listen to a Reed Warbler singing it rhythmic song, and it treated us to some masterful mimicry, imitating Blue Tit, Wren and Swallow and weaving them into its song while we stood nearby.

We stopped briefly up on the boardwalk to Washington Hide, to scan the grazing marshes. There was not much out here today, unusually not even any Marsh Harriers, so we continued on. Just beyond Washington Hide, we heard Long-tailed Tits and Coal Tits calling in the trees, we had finally found one of the tit flocks. We thought they might be coming down for a drink, but despite looking like they might be coming out onto the edge of the trees ahead of us, they disappeared back deeper in.

The hemp agrimony is in flower along the path now and is great for butterflies. Scanning the flower heads as we walked along, we added quite a few to the day’s list – Large Skipper, Peacock, Painted Lady and a smart Brown Argus which posed nicely for us. There were several smaller skippers and one did eventually stop long enough for us to see the underside of its antennae – it was a Small Skipper.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus – on the hemp agrimony by the path

As we approached Joe Jordan Hide through the pines, we could see lots of white birds still out on the pool below. When we got up into the hide, we could see they were mostly Spoonbills. Birds were coming and going all the time, but there were at least 15 juveniles, ‘teaspoons’ with only partly grown bills much shorter than the adults, recently fledged from the trees nearby.

We watched as a couple of the juvenile Spoonbills set off after one of the adults, which will have been one of their parents. They walked behind it, flapping their wings and bobbing their heads up and down. They wouldn’t give up either, until they had been fed, pursuing it right across the pool – little beggars! They are starting to disperse along the coast now and numbers will fall here in the next few weeks.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were still at least 15 juveniles on the pool today

There were a few more Marsh Harriers from Joe Jordan Hide, juveniles flying around over the grazing marsh, practising their flying skills. A couple of Common Buzzards started to spiral up too, on the increasingly hot air.

Apparently, there had been a Great White Egret on the bank of one of the ditches just before we arrived, but it had flown back into the trees. Eventually one flew out again, and did a nice fly past, before dropping down into a ditch out of view. Then a second Great White Egret flew back out of the trees and landed out on the grazing marshes beyond.

It was time to start walking back. There were still lots of butterflies in the flowers beside the path and one larger, dull orange one stood out. It was a Dark Green Fritillary. They are fairly common in the dunes here at this time of year and one or two sometimes wander over to this side of the pines to feed. A two-fritillary morning!

Dark Green Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary – feeding on the flowers by the path on the way back

When we got back to Meals House,  we finally found a tit flock out in the open on the edge of the trees, Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits. Three Treecreepers were chasing each other in and out of the trees and one kept landing back on the trunk of the same sycamore. A Blackcap flew up out of the vegetation the other side of the path and we could hear it calling behind us. There were also a couple of Chiffchaff and a Chaffinch with the flock too.

The walk back to the car from there was fairly quiet. A Goldcrest was singing in the pines just past Salts Hole and several House Martins were hawking for insects high over the treetops. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive, a Red Kite was circling over the south side of the grazing marsh and drifted over the road behind the Victoria pub.

Our destination for the afternoon was Titchwell, but when we got there we stopped first for an early lunch in the picnic area. After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. As we came out of the trees, a juvenile Marsh Harrier was circling over the Thornham grazing marsh. It gradually drifted almost overhead, giving us a great view, all dark but for a paler head.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – this juvenile circled above us

The reedbed pool held a nice selection of dabbling ducks, but they are all in their rather dull eclipse plumage at this time of year. Two female Red-crested Pochards floated out from the edge of the reeds and a couple of Little Grebes were diving out towards the back.

A couple of Reed Warblers darted in and out of the reeds as we passed. As we approached Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling and caught a glimpse of one or two as they zoomed across the tops of the reeds.

The Freshmarsh is chock full of birds at the moment, but the first thing we noticed were the Spoonbills. These are birds which have already dispersed from the breeding colony at Holkham. There were several around the small island in the back corner, but a family groups of three, an adult and two juveniles, had landed out in the middle. Just as we had seen at Holkham, the juveniles were pursuing the adult, begging for food. The adult eventually took off and the last we saw of them, it was still being pursued out over the bank and across the saltmarsh

There were lots of waders on the Freshmarsh again today – birds on coming back after the breeding season already, gathering to moult. There are hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits returning from Iceland, and hundred of Avocets gathering here from around the coast. A bewildering variety of Ruff back from Scandinavia, mostly scruffy males in various stages of moult. Three Spotted Redshanks were asleep in amongst them, their black breeding plumage already mostly shed, with just a scattering of black feathers remaining in their increasing pale white underparts.

Avocet

Avocet – a fully grown juvenile, feeding in front of the hide

In amongst the larger waders, there were lots of smaller ones, barely up to the knees of the godwits. There were several small flocks of Dunlin, still sporting their summer black belly patches. Three Curlew Sandpipers with them, on their way south from central Siberia, adults with their rusty underparts now liberally peppered with pale winter feathers.

A Little Stint appeared with them. If the Dunlin were already looking small, the Little Stint was smaller still. A summer adult, rusty coloured with a much shorter bill than the Dunlin. There were several smart summer plumaged Knot too, still bright orange below.

When one of the young Marsh Harriers drifted out over the Freshmarsh, pandemonium ensued. Everything took off and it was really impressive to see all the waders in the air together – you really could appreciate at that point just what an enormous number of birds there was out there.

Waders

Waders – when flushed by a Marsh Harrier, we realised just how many there were!

The gulls have rather taken over the Freshmarsh this summer, mostly Black-headed Gulls but also over 50 pairs of Mediterranean Gull have bred too. A smaller gull was swimming out on the water – a Little Gull. We watched as it paddled round in circles, picking at insects on the water’s surface. We could see just how small it was relative to a juvenile Black-headed Gull nearby, which itself was not yet even fully grown.

Pink-footed Geese are mainly a winter visitor here, and should be in Iceland now, but two injured birds have spent the summer here. They were unable to fly north in the spring, presumably winged by wildfowlers shooting out on the marsh opposite – we could see their mangled wings hanging down. They were right below the windows of Island Hide today, giving us a point blank view of their delicate pink-ringed black bills.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – the two injured birds were right in front of the hide

The Bearded Tits had been ‘pinging’ regularly from the reeds and we had managed to see two juveniles feeding on the mud on the edge of the reeds opposite the hide at one point. Then we heard Bearded Tits calling right in front of the hide and two juveniles appeared in the reeds. One clambered up through the vegetation, and we had a great look at it – rich tawny brown, with black lores.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile, playing hide and seek in the reeds

Heading back out along the main path, we stopped to look at two Little Ringed Plovers on one of the islands just below. We could just make out their golden yellow eye rings.

There is not much to see on the Volunteer Marsh at the moment, but there have been a couple of Lapwings feeding along the edges of the muddy channel just below the path in recent weeks. It is a great opportunity to stop and admire their beautiful iridescent plumage, green with patches of purple and bronze as it catches the sun. Even though they are moulting, they are still stunning birds!

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining in the sunlight on the Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more, after a winter storm filled in the channel which filled and drained them. They have been full of sea water, but with all the warm weather it is gradually evaporating creating a haven for waders, with lots of food in the emerging mud and shallow pools. There was quite a bit of heat haze now, in the late afternoon, but we could see more Redshank and Dunlin, plus several Turnstones and a couple of Ringed Plovers.

The Lesser Yellowlegs which has been around the reserve the last couple of weeks has also taken to feeding on here at the moment. It had gone to sleep when we arrived, sat down in the saltmarsh, and we couldn’t see any more than a pale dot!

We thought we could try again later, and continued on to the beach. A few Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth offshore, but otherwise it was fairly quiet today. There was nothing out on the sand – the tide was just coming in, the mussel beds were covered, and there were quite a few holidaymakers out on the beach today.

When we got back to the non-tidal Tidal Pools, the Lesser Yellowlegs was now awake. It was standing up preening, and despite the heat haze, we could see its yellow legs. This is the first Lesser Yellowlegs ever to grace the reserve here, a rare visitor from the Americas, so a nice one to see.

A short diversion saw us call in at Parrinder Hide on the way back. From here, we had a better side-on view of the massed ranks of roosting godwits and we found a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits in with the more numerous Black-tailed Godwits. We could see the rusty orange of their underparts continuing down under the tail. A Common Snipe dropped in and started feeding along the edge of the reeds to the left of the hide, by the fenced-off island. A Common Sandpiper appeared on the grassy island in front of the hide, amongst the gulls, rounding out an excellent selection of waders here today.

We enjoyed better views of the Mediterranean Gulls from here, the adults now starting to lose their black hoods, and their smart grey-brown, scallop-backed juveniles. There were two more ducks for the day’s list too – a couple of Teal, and a single Wigeon – none of which are looking particularly smart now, as they moult.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – there are lots of juveniles on the Freshmarsh

It had been a great day, and we had seen lots of birds despite the unusually hot weather. We headed for home well-satisfied.

 

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22nd July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. We were heading down to the Brecks today. The weather has been getting progressively hotter, and today was the warmest of the days we were out. It was bright and sunny in the morning and, although it did cloud over a little in the afternoon, it was still hot and humid.

The Peregrine was back on the church tower again this morning, so once we had picked everyone up we took a short detour round to see it. It had just finished devouring its breakfast and was digesting, perched high on one of the stones protruding from the tower, dozing in the morning sunshine. We got the scope on it and had a fantastic, full-frame view.

IMG_5794

Peregrine – back on the church tower again this morning

It was such a treat to get so close views of a Peregrine, we eventually had to tear ourselves away to head off on the journey down to the Brecks.

Once we got into the north Brecks, we took a detour off the road to look for Stone Curlews. At the end of the breeding season they start to gather in larger flocks in favoured fields, and we hoped to find some today. We stopped to scan the field where they have been recently, but we couldn’t find any there this morning. Then we heard Stone Curlews calling and realised they were in the field the other side of the road.

There is a thick hedge the other side of the road and it is impossible to see into the field, so we walked up to try to find a gap from where we could view. Some of the Stone Curlews must have been close to the hedge, because they took off and flew round, over our heads and across the road to the field we had been scanning. Two swung round and dropped down in view, but the rest, at least another ten, flew out to the middle of the field. The ground slopes away here and they dropped in out of view.

Turning our attention to the two Stone Curlews which had dropped down where we could see them, we trained the scope on them and had a great look at them. We could see their staring yellow iris and short black-tipped yellow bill, very unlike a curlew. They are not members of the curlew family at all, just named for their curlew-like calls, but actually members of the thick-knee family.

IMG_5822

Stone Curlew – two landed in view in the field

One of the Stone Curlews sat down in the stony field and promptly all but disappeared – they are very well camouflaged! While we were watching them, we heard Tree Sparrows calling and looked across to see two land in a large bush out in the middle of the field. Through the scope, we could see the black spots in the middle of their white cheeks.

Our main destination for the day was to be Lakenheath Fen. Unfortunately, we had to take a big diversion to get there today. We hit a big traffic jam at Weeting, where the traffic had backed up trying to get into this weekend’s Weeting Steam Rally. The tailback was right through the village and almost back to the main road! The organisers really need to do something about their chaotic parking arrangements next year – they clearly could not cope with the number of cars arriving. The diversion did at least yield a Mistle Thrush on some wires by the road as we passed.

We eventually arrived at Lakenheath to find they had their own ‘bioblitz’ event on today. While we were arranging access permits, we had a quick look at the various creatures they had already gathered. Unfortunately they had not kept many of the most interesting moths from the moth traps, but we did have a look at the Poplar Hawkmoth and Garden Tiger moths which had been put onto one of the screens round the back of the visitor centre.

One of the group had wandered back towards the car park, and saw the first Bittern of the day. It was a distinctive female with an injured leg which hangs down in flight, known as ‘Gammyleg’. It had disappeared off upstream along the river towards Brandon Fen, away from the reserve.

We needed to limit the amount of walking for the group today, so we were granted a disabled permit and drove out to the disabled parking area by New Fen viewpoint. We walked up to the viewpoint and looked out over the reedbed. Apart from a few Coot, a Moorhen and a couple of Mallard, there was not much to see here today. It was already hot, and activity levels seemed to have dropped.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer – basking on the path

The number of dragonflies and damselflies here is starting to tail off now, but walking out along the bank on the south side of New Fen we still saw a good variety. There were lots of Brown Hawkers hawking over the reeds and an Emperor Dragonfly patrolled up and down the path, past us. One or two Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the path and flew off ahead of us. A couple of rather worn Four-spotted Chasers perched on the reeds, but the Ruddy Darters were looking much smarter. Damselflies included Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselfly.

There were a few butterflies too – Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Large White. A Brimstone was feeding on some burdock flowers.

Brimstone

Brimstone – feeding on burdock

One or two Common Whitethroats darted out of the vegetation ahead of us and we saw a couple of Reed Warblers which disappeared into the reeds as we approached. The warden and one of his assistants were out in a boat, collecting things for the ‘bioblitz’, and flushed some Grey Herons from the reeds. When they had all taken to the air, sixteen birds were flying round together in a big flock! Three Little Egrets flew past, upstream along the river and a Green Sandpiper disappeared off that way too.

We hadn’t gone too far before we spotted the first Bittern for the rest of the group. It was rather distant, over the far side of New Fen. It flew across over the reeds and dropped down out of sight. A little further on, we turned to see another Bittern coming round the far corner of the wood back behind us, away in the distance. We watched as it headed steadily towards us.

When it got closer, we could see that it had a dangling leg – it was ‘Gammyleg’, the female Bittern one of the group had seen earlier. It flew in right past us and dropped down into the reeds a short distance ahead of us, giving us great flight views as it did so. It is feeding young at the moment, so had obviously been off along the river collecting food.

Bittern

Bittern – the bird known as ‘Gammyleg’ flying in over the reeds

We walked up to where the Bittern had seemed to go down and scanned the reeds, as much as we could see into them, but there was no sign of it. We hadn’t gone much further along here before we looked back to see ‘Gammyleg’ heading off again, back round the far corner of the wood, presumably back to where it had been feeding earlier.

There had been a family of Bitterns seen from Mere Hide in recent weeks, but they have not been seen for a few days. That much was immediately apparent also from the fact that we had no trouble getting into the hide. When the Bitterns were showing, it was impossible to get in, as the place was packed out with photographers taking up occupation of the place from dawn to dusk! We had a quick sit down and scan, before moving on.

The family of Great Crested Grebes is still on one of the pools by the path out to Joist Fen. The four juveniles are now pretty much fully grown – too big to ride on mum or dad’s back now. They still have stripy faces, which distinguishes them from the adults.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – an adult and one of the now fully grown juveniles

A little further on and a Red Kite appeared from beyond West Wood, flying in low over the river before circling up over the trees. As we got out to Joist Fen, we started to see more Marsh Harriers and there were several juveniles out from the viewpoint, indulging in a bit of flying practice over the reeds.

The Hobbys can be harder to find here at this time of year, but we did manage to locate one from the viewpoint. It was very distant though, circling up right at the back of Joist Fen. There wasn’t much else happening out here today though, so after a short rest we set off back. On the way, a Common Buzzard was circling over the corner of West Wood now.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circling up over West Wood

We could hear a Kingfisher calling from the poplars, but we couldn’t see it. It was getting quiet hot now, so we made our way back to the car and headed back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we walked up to the Washland viewpoint. The water on here is evaporating fast now, which at least has the advantage of making it attractive to waders. There were quite a few Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallow water and a large flock of Lapwing on the mud at the edge. In with the latter, were three Curlew and an Oystercatcher too. A single Common Redshank was wading out in the middle. A few Common Terns were hawking around over the remaining water.

The temperature and timing, in the middle of the afternoon, was not really conducive for looking for passerines, but we headed off to Lynford Arboretum to try our luck. We could hear Siskin calling as we got out of the car and saw one flying off from the top of the larches as we walked down through the arboretum. A Nuthatch was calling from somewhere in the distance, but otherwise it was very quiet in the trees.

We walked down to the bridge and someone had put some seed out on one of the pillars. Several Chaffinches were busy feeding here, but nothing else. A Goldfinch came down to drink in the paddock just beyond. We decided to have a look round the lake.

The Little Grebes here have obviously had a successful breeding season – first we found a very advanced juvenile on its own, then an adult feeding a very well-grown juvenile under the over-hanging trees (we could hear its begging calls first), and finally we came across another pair with three very small juveniles.

Little Grebes

Little Grebes – this pair have three still very small juveniles

There was not much sign of any passerine activity down around the lake either, so we headed on round to the weir to see if we could find one of the Grey Wagtails. The water has largely stopped flowing out of the lake now, beyond a trickle, but as we walked in through the trees a Grey Wagtail flew off from the near bank and landed on an upturned wooden box out in the middle. We watched it bobbing its tail, before it flew back and started to feed along the far edge.

Looking back to the weir, we noticed some ripples in the water at the bottom and looked across to see a small mammal. It appeared to be bathing at first but when we looked more closely, we realised it was feeding, diving under the water. It was a Water Shrew – something we see very rarely. It surfaced with something in its mouth and hopped out onto the rocks, disappearing off to the bank. A few seconds later, it reappeared and ran down into the water again.

We stood and watched the Water Shrew feeding for several minutes – it was fascinating to observe one for an extended period, as normally all you see of them is one disappearing off in the water. We could see its long pointed nose, black fur contrasting with paler silver belly and quite a long tail. Eventually the Water Shrew disappeared into the rocks again and we decided to walk back.

When we got back to the bridge, activity seemed to have picked up a bit. The Chaffinches were still feeding on the seed on the pillar, but as we walked up we heard a Marsh Tit calling immediately behind them. It was flicking around in the trees just beyond, low down, hanging on the branches and picking at the underside of the leaves. A Treecreeper called and appeared from around the back on the trunk of the tree right beside us.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – looking for insects on the underside of the leaves

Walking back up through the middle of the arboretum, we came across a large tit flock. A Nuthatch was with them, in a tall birch tree. Unusually, it was feeding by hovering and trying to pick insects off the leaves – not something you see often. There were also Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits.

The afternoon was getting on now and it was time to be heading back. On the way, we called in briefly at a clearing in the forest. There have been Tree Pipits breeding here, but there was no sign of them this afternoon. A male Yellowhammer appeared briefly in the top of a young oak tree, with food in its bill. Presumably it still has young in the nest nearby.

We had a quick walk to the edge of the clearing. Several birds flew out of the dense bracken and dropped back in further along. A mixed tit flock were feeding in here, possibly finding more food here in the cool, dark conditions, and with them were a couple of Blackcap and one or two Common Whitethroat.

Unfortunately, we were out of time and we had to head for home now. It had been an exciting three days with a great variety of birds and other wildlife, some of the best Norfolk has to offer in summer.

28th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was another cloudy start but the cloud was slower to burn off today. We did have some nice sunny spells, particularly through the afternoon, but it was cool on the coast in the moderate NE wind.

The Peregrine was perched on the church tower again this morning as we were about to drive past, so we stopped for a closer look. It was preening at first but then stopped and turned and stared down at us. It soon lost interest in us though and went back to looking round. It was a great way to start the day.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower again this afternoon

Our first destination proper for the day was Holkham. As we set off along the path which runs on the south side of the pines, a Blackcap was singing high in one of the oaks by the path. A little further along, a Chiffchaff was singing too, but warbler song has definitely declined along here now we are into summer and the birds are busy nesting.

Not far along the path, we found our first tit flock. The Long-tailed Tits have fledged their first broods and are travelling round in big groups again, and they have already started to bring lots of other birds with them.  There was a hive of activity in the trees as the tits passed through. We could hear Coal Tit and Goldcrest singing high in the pines. A Treecreeper and a Chiffchaff were with them too.

There is very little on Salts Hole at the moment, just a few Mallard, but a couple of Marsh Harriers were circling up over the reeds beyond. We heard a Green Woodpecker laughing out in the grass, and a bit further along heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling too, but neither were seen.

Jay

Jay – there were a couple out in the cut grass

The wardens are topping the grazing meadows at the moment, and a couple of Jays were hopping around down in the cut grass. Further over, two Red Kites were following behind the tractor, presumably trying to see what was left behind after the cutting. We didn’t go into Washington Hide but had a quick look from the boardwalk. The Marsh Harriers were still circling out over the grazing marsh beyond the reeds.

As we got back down onto the path, we could hear the frenzied song of a Sedge Warbler in the reedbed. A little further on, and a Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds by the path too.

Past Meals House, we came across another tit flock. Again, there were lots of Long-tailed Tits but feeding with them we watched a family of Coal Tits, the juveniles with yellow faces. There were warblers with them too – both Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler, feeding on the edge of the pines.

There is a great display of foxgloves under the pines at the crosstracks at the moment, which we stopped to admire on our way to Joe Jordan Hide. When we got up into the hide, there appeared to be nothing on the pool at first, but it quickly became clear that everything was hiding down at the front, behind the reeds.

Eventually a couple of Spoonbills came out into the open, an adult and a short-billed juvenile. The latter was pursuing the adult, flapping its wings and bobbing its head, demanding to be fed. Eventually the adult decided it had had enough and flew off up into the trees. Another adult Spoonbill dropped in and started feeding along the back edge of the pool, along the reeds.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and disappeared behind the trees

A couple of Little Egrets flew in and landed down at the front of the pool, out of view. Then a Great White Egret appeared, flying in from the east before disappearing round behind the trees. It was clearly much bigger, with long, rounded wings and slower wingbeats, long legs and a yellow-base to its bill.

There were Marsh Harriers coming and going all the time. One female did a nice pass over in front of the hide. Another, further back on the edge of the pool, appeared to still be collecting nest material. There were a couple of Common Buzzards circling in the distance and another flew out of the pines just beyond the hide and circled out over the grass in front.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled in front of the hide

As we set off to walk back, a Siskin flew high over the pines calling. A pair of Bullfinches came out of the bushes and flew off calling round Meals House.

The sun was starting to come out now and there were noticeably more butterflies out on the way back. Several Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods fluttered over the path and a couple of Ringlet perched up nicely in the vegetation beside. A Small Skipper landed on a grass head where we could see the pale underside to its antennae. Back past Washington Hide, we sat for a minute on the bench and could see three small White-letter Hairstreaks fluttering around the tops of the elm trees opposite.

Ringlet

Ringlet – perched on a leaf by the path

We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell. Over lunch at the visitor centre, we had a look to see if we could find the Tawny Owls. There has been a juvenile here for the last week or so, and often an adult too, but even though they were apparently around earlier there was no sign of them now.

After lunch, we went back to the car to get the scope and then headed out to explore the reserve. As we walked along the path beyond the visitor centre, we spotted the juvenile Tawny Owl back in the alder trees. We got it in the scope, but it flew before everyone got to see it. A minute later it then reappeared back in the alders. We got it in the scope again, but then it flew again, off towards the main path.

We walked out onto the main path and could hear the young Tawny Owl‘s begging calls from deep in the trees. It seemed there was no way to see it from here, but then it flew across the path right above our heads and landed in the tree directly above us. It perched there on a branch for some time, calling, looking down at the people passing below. We had to walk back a short way along the scope to be able to get it in the scope!

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – the juvenile landed in a tree right above us on the path

The juvenile Tawny Owl appears to be much more mobile now, than it has been. Though this may have been exacerbated this afternoon by the disappearance of the adult. The youngster was clearly looking for its parent, calling for it too. The adult Tawny Owl will return, but had possibly had enough of being pestered by its teenage offspring and gone off somewhere quiet for a rest!

Further along the path, we stopped at the reedbed pool next. Several Marsh Harriers were circling up over the reeds, including the first fledged juveniles. One adult Marsh Harrier circling higher seemed to be edging out a Kestrel, moving closer to it each time and causing it to gradually move further off.

Several Mediterranean Gulls were flying over the reeds, back and forth, calling. One Mediterranean Gull dropped in with the Black-headed Gulls to bathe on the pool. In the scope, we could see its darker, jet black hood, brighter red bill and pure white wingtips. A Reed Warbler was flitting around the edge of the pool below.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – several flew over us on the main path

A female Red-crested Pochard was feeding its two juveniles on the edge of the reeds on the left of the reedbed pool. Then something disturbed everything and a big mob of ducks swam out from the reeds on the right. In among the Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard were three drake Red-crested Pochard. They are starting to moult into eclipse plumage now, but still have their bright coral-red bills. A large flock of Teal flushed from the Freshmarsh and circled over the reeds.

When we got to Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. We looked along the edge of the reeds to see if we could find any feeding down on the mud, but it was very exposed to the cool wind on this side of the reeds today. A brief glimpse was the beat we could manage but it disappeared back deeper in before everyone could get onto it.

There were a couple of Avocets and a Black-tailed Godwit feeding in front of the hide today. There were lots of Avocets scattered across the freshmarsh, mostly sleeping on the islands, but there is still a distinct lack of juveniles here – it seems to have been a very poor breeding season for them here. There were lots more Black-tailed Godwits further over too, sleeping on the islands or in a large group in the shallow water. A couple of Ruff were asleep on the low tern island, with three or four Common Terns.

Avocet

Avocet – good views on the Freshmarsh, but a lack of juveniles

The Freshmarsh is still dominated by gulls, which have taken over the fenced-off Avocet Island. There are mostly Black-headed Gulls and a smaller number of Mediterranean Gulls. Scattered around the water, in among the other gulls, were several diminutive Little Gulls, living up to their name. They were mostly swimming today and picking insects from the water’s surface, or sleeping on the islands. We counted at least ten, all young first summer birds.

Little Gulls

Little Gulls – there were at least 10 here today

As we walked round to Parrinder Hide next, there were several more Ruff on the edge of the reeds by the junction of the paths. We stopped to look at them. Once they return from their breeding grounds, they very rapidly start to lose their ornate ruff feathers. These ones were starting to look distinctly tatty already. They were also all different colours – Ruff really are the most variable of waders!

Ruff

Ruff – rapidly moulting out its ornate ruff feathers already

There were lots of gulls loafing and preening on the island in front of Parrinder Hide. We had a better view of the Mediterranean Gulls from here, in direct comparison to the actually brown-headed Black-headed Gulls.

There were a few more waders here. As well as all the Black-tailed Godwits on the same island, a single Dunlin appeared on the far end of the muddy spit, still in breeding plumage and sporting a black belly patch. A Curlew dropped in – possibly a freshly returned migrant, back from the breeding grounds in Scandinavia perhaps. A large flock of Oystercatchers flew in from the beach.

There were three pairs of geese in front of the hide, and they were all different. As well as the expected Greylag Geese, a pair of Pink-footed Geese were walking around picking at the low vegetation on the island. They are common in winter here, but very unusual in summer, but on closer inspection we could see that both had damaged wings, possibly having been shot by wildfowlers and winged. They have been unable to fly back to Iceland for the breeding season, but seem to be surviving here nonetheless. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew round and showed off their striking white wing coverts.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – one of two injured birds summering here

We had a quick look from the other side of the hide, still on the Freshmarsh side. We could see a lot of waders tucked in the far corner, behind the fence. As well as more Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were six Spotted Redshank. They are all still largely in breeding plumage the moment, strikingly mostly black peppered with white spots, although they are already starting to get a few paler winter feathers mixed in too.

There was nothing to see on Volunteer Marsh, and we didn’t think we could make the walk out to the beach today, after the walking we had done earlier, so we started to walk back. A Little Ringed Plover was now running around on the shore of the island, just behind the Ruff we had seen earlier.

Then it was time to head for home. More of the same tomorrow, but different!

22nd June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was a lovely sunny day, barely a cloud in the sky, but still rather cool on the coast in a slightly blustery NW wind.

We started the day at Holkham, with a quick look to see if we could find any newly emerged Hornet Moths. There was no sign of any this morning, perhaps it had been a bit cool overnight. A male Marsh Harrier was quartering the grazing meadows as we walked out and a Common Buzzard appeared, circling over on our way back.

The Marsh Harrier decided to mob the Buzzard, swooping at it repeatedly, the latter just deftly jinking out of the way each time. The Buzzard landed and the Marsh Harrier continued its assault and then continued to chase after it as the Buzzard flew off.

As we set off to walk west from Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing in the bushes, presumably starting to sing again between broods. The warblers are generally a bit quieter at this time of year, with breeding in full swing, but we did hear several Blackcap, a couple of Chiffchaff and a distant Willow Warbler in the trees.

With the sun out, the butterflies have started to appear in greater numbers. There were lots of Speckled Wood along the sides of the path, plus good numbers of Meadow Brown and one or two Ringlet too. Our first Small Skippers of the year were feeding on the thistles and clover on the verge.

Small Skipper

Small Skipper – our first of the year this morning

Many of the tits have successfully fledged their first broods now and we came across various family groups in the trees. An adult Coal Tit was feeding a yellow-faced juvenile in the pines above the path. There were several extended parties of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits too. We could hear Treecreepers calling in the trees and eventually one came out onto a pine trunk by the path. The Goldcrests were slightly less obliging, though we could hear them singing high in the pines.

Several Marsh Harriers circled up over the reedbed in front of Washington Hide as we walked out – it looked like the adults were bringing in food for their young. But by the time we got up onto the boardwalk they had gone quiet again. There were two Little Terns feeding on the pool in front of the hide, presumably seeking more sheltered feeding on the pools on the marshes, given the wind whipping up the sea out on the beach. A Jay few across the reeds in front too.

There were a few dragonflies out, as we got towards the crosstracks. A female Black-tailed Skimmer was basking on the path and a female Ruddy Darter flew up and landed in the bracken by the pines. There were several damselflies in there too – both Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – a female by the path

There is a great display of Foxgloves under the pines at the crosstracks at the moment. Having stopped for a second to admire those, we walked up towards the hide. Through the trees, we could just see a Great White Egret flying across the grazing marsh and we managed to keep track of it until it landed in a ditch. From up in the hide, we could see its long neck and long yellow-based bill sticking up out of the vegetation.

It disappeared from view, but a short while later, two Great White Egrets appeared over the grazing marshes a little further back. As they flew across to the trees, a Little Egret appeared in the same view, tiny by comparison.

There were already a few Spoonbills out on the pool below the trees when we arrived, but as we sat and watched, more dropped down to join them. They were mostly recently fledged juveniles, still with their spoon-shaped bills only about 2/3 grown, ‘TeaSpoonbills‘.

Another adult Spoonbill flew in to join them and two of the juveniles immediately set off after it. They were flapping their wings and bobbing their heads up and down and chased it round the edge of the pool for several minutes, begging to be fed, before the adult eventually relented.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – adults and recently fledged juveniles

There was lots of Marsh Harrier activity from the hide too. We watched a male fly in over the trees and, when it got to the reeds the other side, a female circled up out of the vegetation below. The two circled together for a couple of seconds before the male dropped the food it was carrying for the female to catch. She flew back down into the reeds with it.

Another female Marsh Harrier dropped down into the grass in front of the hide and caught something before flying off west with it, presumably with older juveniles in a nest elsewhere. Two Red Kites were hanging in the wind over the edge of Holkham Park.

As we set off to walk back, we could hear a Siskin calling as it circled over the pines at the cross tracks, but we couldn’t see it from below the canopy. A Common Crossbill called too as it flew over the pines, but we couldn’t see that either.

On the walk back, a Large Skipper feeding on the brambles was a nice addition to the butterfly list. We had heard a Reed Warbler singing on the walk out, but it was now joined by a Sedge Warbler, which was singing perched up in a bush nearby. It was a good opportunity to hear the difference between the more rhythmic Reed Warbler and the mad, buzzy song of the Sedge Warbler. A Common Whitethroat showed itself briefly in the ditch by the path back at Lady Anne’s Drive.

We made our way over to Titchwell next, and it was time for an early lunch in the picnic area as we arrived. Several Mediterranean Gulls flew back and forth overhead, along with the Black-headed Gulls.

There has been a family of Tawny Owls hanging around in the trees by the Visitor Centre in recent weeks, and thankfully they were still present today. One of the reserve staff helpfully came out and showed us which tree they had been in this morning and after a minute or so of scouring the branches, the fluffy juvenile was found with the adult hiding in the leaves nearby.

Tawny Owl 2

Tawny Owl – the fluffy juvenile in the alder trees

The juvenile Tawny Owl could be seen moving as it gave a regular begging call, at low volume with the adult close by so you could only just hear it if you listened carefully. The birds were surprisingly mobile too, for this time of the day, although it seemed to be the attentions of the youngster when it hopped between the branches over to join the adult, which prompted the latter to move! As a result, the adult Tawny Owl came right out into the open, giving us fantastic scope-filling views of it. Amazing!

Tawny Owl 1

Tawny Owl – the adult came out into the open several times

We watched the Tawny Owls for a while – it was very hard to tear ourselves away from such fantastic views of this typically very secretive species. Eventually they moved slightly deeper into the trees and we decided to move on.

It was fairly quiet round at Patsy’s Reedbed again today, with just a single Tufted Duck and a couple of Mute Swans. As we walked on towards Willow Wood, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge and we just had a quick glimpse of it as it dropped down into the brambles in the bottom. A Greenfinch was wheezing away in the hedge too.

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the small pool at the far end of the East Trail. Several Four-spotted Chasers chased each other around the margins before perching up on the reed stems. We had a good look at both Azure and Common Blue Damselflies in the grass around the edge. A couple of male Black-tailed Skimmers flitted ahead of us along the path as we walked round the other side.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – one of several on the pool along East Trail

As we walked back past Patsy’s Reedbed, we could hear a Little Grebe laughing at us. We looked across to see two swimming along the edge of the reeds. A family of Common Pochard, a female with four half-grown ducklings, was swimming just ahead of them. Another pair of Little Grebes was on the dragonfly pool by the junction with Meadow Trail, with one of the adults on a nest platform on the edge of the reeds. We could just make out two small juveniles with it. An Emperor Dragonfly was chasing the Four-spotted Chasers around the pool.

Out on the main path, we stopped to scan the reedbed pool. An adult Mediterranean Gull was bathing with a large group of Black-headed Gulls, but there were few ducks to be seen. The reeds were pretty quiet too today, although a Bearded Tit did zip past and dropped down towards the edge of reedbed, unfortunately before anyone could get a look at it.

There was lots more to see from Island Hide. There are plenty of Avocets on the Freshmarsh at the moment, but there still appears to be a distinct lack of juveniles. It will be interesting to see how successful they have been this year, at the end of the season. A smart iridescent Lapwing was feeding just in front of the hide, although it had already lots its crest.

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining in the sun, though having lost its crest already

The Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep on the islands, separate from most of the Bar-tailed Godwits which were huddled together in the shallow water further over. Most of the Bar-tailed Godwits are in non-breeding plumage, although there was just one bright rusty individual, the colour extending right the way down under the tail. When the Bar-tailed Godwits shuffled round and parted, we could see there were quite a few smaller Knot in amongst them, up to their bellies in the water.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits & Knot – roosting on the Freshmarsh

A single Ruff was in with the Avocets on one of the islands. A moulting male, it had already lost its ornate ruff and was looking distinctly scrawny-necked! There was just one Dunlin here today, an adult with a sharply-defined black belly patch. Three Little Ringed Plovers were feeding on the edges of the islands. There is no shortage of Common Redshanks here, but the three Spotted Redshanks were right over in the far corner of the pool, where we couldn’t really appreciate their stunning black breeding plumage.

The Freshmarsh continues to be dominated by gulls. In among the more numerous Black-headed Gulls scattered around the islands, we could see at least ten much smaller Little Gulls, all immature first summer birds. Most of the other gulls were over in the fenced off island at the back and when a Marsh Harrier flew over it caused complete pandemonium, with hundreds of gulls flying round calling. The Marsh Harrier was quickly chased off.

There were a few terns too. A single Sandwich Tern was asleep among the Avocets but eventually woke up long enough to show us its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy black crest. A couple of Common Terns too were hunkered down in the middle of the low rocky island.

The number of ducks continues to increase, particularly as more Teal return to the reserve to moult. Presumably they are failed breeders or non-breeders which return early from their breeding grounds further north. A lone Pink-footed Goose over by Parrinder Hide is an injured bird which was unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed.

On the walk round to Parrinder Hide, we continued to scan the Freshmarsh and were rewarded with a single Ringed Plover out on the mud. From the hide, we had much closer views of the Little Gulls, several of which were loafing on the islands in front or feeding round the edge of the water. We had a better look at some Mediterranean Gulls too, with several flying in to preen with the Black-headed Gulls.

Little Gull

Little Gull – showed very well in front of Parrinder Hide

From round on this side, we could see that several of the twenty or so Knot in with the Bar-tailed Godwits were in bright rusty breeding plumage. The Avocets on the islands here look like they might be about to have another go at raising a family. Two pairs were looking for a suitable nest site, walking round, picking at the ground, tidying up small patches of bare earth. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers also looked like they might be trying to find a suitable spot to nest.

Little Ringed Plovers

Little Ringed Plovers – hopefully looking for a suitable nest site

You can’t come to Titchwell without at least seeing the sea, so we decided to walk out to the beach next. There was very little to see on Volunteer Marsh again today, but with the tide in there were more birds roosting on the no longer tidal Tidal Pools, having come over from the beach. They were mostly Oystercatchers, but in with them we found three Turnstone including one in nice bright rusty breeding plumage. Further over, four black-bellied Dunlin were feeding on the spit.

There were four Little Terns feeding on the Tidal Pools, hovering above the water before plunging headlong in. We got a great look at them from the path.

Little Tern

Little Tern – feeding on the Tidal Pools

There were more Little Terns out at the beach, feeding just offshore. The Sandwich Terns were much more distant though and we picked up an adult Gannet flying west way out on the horizon, big and white, with black wing-tips.

It was time to head back now. A quick look at the reedbed pool again, as we were passing, revealed seven Red-crested Pochards out on the water towards the back now, four males, plus a female with two well grown juveniles. Several Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler were flitting around the pools below the bank now too.

Back at the Visitor Centre, we couldn’t walk past without taking another look at the Tawny Owls again. They were both perched out in full view still, though with the adult having moved to a different tree, some distance away from the juvenile, presumably where it could have a doze without being pestered!

Tawny Owl 3

Tawny Owl – still showing well on our walk back

Eventually we had to drag ourselves away from the Tawny Owls and head back along the coast.

There was a postscript to the tour today. The Peregrine which had been roosting on a church tower nearby regularly last month seemed to have disappeared in the last few weeks. We had dropped half the group off already when we happened to drive past the church and looked up to see it perched in one of its usual spots. We stopped for a quick look. It seemed to be enjoying the sunshine, closing its eyes.

Peregrine

Peregrine – resting on the church tower again

Then it really was time to call it a day!

1st June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours today. It was a foggy start to the day again, but the fog quickly thinned and then gradually lifted to low cloud through the morning and it even brightened up later in the afternoon. Nothing to stop us seeing some good birds!

As we drove round to collect all the group, the Peregrine was back in position again on the church tower, where it had been a couple of weeks ago. So once we had collected everyone, we went back for a look. It was a bit foggy up around the tower, but we had a good look at it through the scope. A nice way to start the day. Several Common Swifts were zooming around over the rooftops in the fog too.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower in the fog this morning

Our first stop was a short drive east along the coast to Stiffkey. There had been a Red-backed Shrike here yesterday and it was reportedly still there first thing this morning, so we fancied a look at that. As we drove past the wet meadow by the road east of the village, we spotted a large white bird in one of the pools in the mist. You cannot stop along the road here, so we parked further up and walked back.

On our way along the footpath, we stopped to scan the newly cultivated strip on the edge of the field nearby. There were a couple of Stock Doves walking round on the ground and a pair of Oystercatchers further back. A Brown Hare was grooming itself, having a good scratch, on the edge.  A Lesser Black-backed Gull flew over chased off by a noisy Avocet.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – in the cultivated strip in the field by the path

From the corner of the path, we could see the white bird we had spotted on our way past in the car. It was a Spoonbill and it was very busy feeding in the deep water, sweeping its bill from side to side. As we watched it through the scope, we could see that it was colour-ringed and with a bit of effort we managed to read the combination.

The Spoonbill turned out to be one we already knew well – we had been responsible for previous sightings of the very same bird in 2015 and 2016! Originally ringed in the nest in the Netherlands in 2011, it was seen in France and Germany in 2012, back in the Netherlands in 2013-2014, then in Norfolk in 2015 and 2016. It will be interesting to see if it has been seen anywhere else since then.

While we were watching the Spoonbill, a Siskin flew over in the fog, calling. As we made our way back along the footpath, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the hedge. The meadow next to the path was looking stunning, as the poppies are really starting to come into flower now. Two Skylarks flew round just above all the flowers.

As we made our way through the trees and across the road, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were singing in the copse. A little further along, a Reed Warbler was singing in a clump of trees – making an interesting change from their usual choice of reeds.

Up on the seawall, we headed west today along the Coastal Path. A family of Shelduck, two adults with 9 shelducklings were swimming around on the channel below. There were a few more Common Whitethroats in the bushes, a pair carrying food and alarm calling as we passed.

Then three Spoonbills suddenly appeared, flying towards us out of the fog, almost overhead. They turned either side of us, one of them swinging back round and down onto the saltmarsh. We had good views of it in the scope, an adult, we could see the yellow-tip to its bill and its bushy nuchal crest, as it fed in the small pools.

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – one of the three which appeared overhead out of the fog

A little further on, we found a small group gathered. Apparently, there had been no sign of the Red-backed Shrike for the last two hours, since it was first reported earlier this morning. We decided to carry on along the path to see what we could find and we had not gone far before we spotted the shrike up in the top of the hedge at the back of the bushes. We had good views of it through the scope, before it dropped down again out of view.

The rest of the crowd arrived, but the Red-backed Shrike stayed down out of view for a while. We could hear a couple of Lesser Whitethroats alarm calling further back along the path, and saw them flitting agitatedly in and out of the hawthorns. We walked back for a closer look to see what was upsetting them and found the Red-backed Shrike again in the top of a hawthorn. It was a bit further back from the path here, and not so disturbed by people walking up and down.

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike – great views perched in the hawthorns, singing

The Red-backed Shrike was a stunning male, with a rusty back, grey crown and black bandit mask, and a delicate pink wash underneath. It showed very well here, and even started singing at one point! Some video of it singing here yesterday can be seen below.

Red-backed Shrikes used to breed commonly in the UK, but declined steadily and finally disappeared in 1987, with just sporadic breeding records since. They are still scarce but regular migrants passing through on their way to or from Scandinavia. There had been a little flurry of records in the last few days, with birds probably drifting off course in the north-easterly winds and fog.

After enjoying great views of the Red-backed Shrike, we headed back along the path. The Spoonbill was still feeding out on the saltmarsh, where we had left it earlier. Back at Stiffkey Fen, we could see a single Little Ringed Plover and plenty of Avocets out on the islands. A pair of Sedge Warblers were going in and out of the nettles below us. A Cuckoo was singing in the poplars at the back.

On our way back to the car, we could hear Bullfinches calling and a Garden Warbler singing. We managed to find one of the Bullfinches feeding on the buds in a large hawthorn the other side of the river, a cracking pink male.

It had been a very productive walk this morning, despite the fog. We made our way round to Cley for an early lunch. A single Greenshank out on Pat’s Pool was just visible over the reeds through the scope, with a couple of Redshank. While we were eating, a Cuckoo flew over the car park and we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler singing in the ditch the other side of the road.

We had been intending to go up to the Heath one morning, but it had been foggy earlier today. The forecast for tomorrow had been for it to be dry and brighter but it had completely changed this morning – now they were forecasting rain tomorrow. It would be nice if they could make up their minds! So we decided to have a go up on the Heath this afternoon.

When we arrived in the car park, we could hear a Willow Warbler singing. We looked up in the direction of the song, and saw it perched high in a birch tree. A Yellowhammer was singing over the other side and we walked across to get a closer look. It was high in another birch and through the scope, we could see its bright canary-yellow head and breast.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – singing from high in a birch tree

As we walked on across the heath, it was much quieter. There were very few other birds singing, often the way mid-afternoon. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from some trees inn the distance. We did a circuit round one of the Dartford Warbler territories, but there was no activity here, just a few Linnets.

As we got back to where we had started, we noticed a small dark bird with a long tail zip across between two gorse bushes. Then another flew across the other side. Dartford Warblers! We stood and waited, and at first had tantalising glimpses as they flitted around deep in the heather or flew back and forth.

We gradually realised it was a pair of Dartford Warblers carrying food, back and forth repeatedly from where they were feeding in front of us. A couple of times, they perched up in the top of the gorse and the male stopped briefly to sing at one point, even then performing a song flight over the taller gorse behind us.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – we found a pair on the Heath this afternoon

While we were watching the Dartford Warblers, a Nightjar churred from the trees beyond. A bit of a surprise – they are mainly nocturnal, but sometimes one will churr briefly during the day. We left the Dartford Warblers in peace to carry on with their feeding duties, and carried on across the Heath.

It had all gone fairly quiet again, until we turned a corner out from some thick gorse into a more open area and looked across to see a pair of Woodlarks flying towards us. They flew straight past over our heads, before one turned and landed in an area of short heather behind us. We walked over and could see it creeping around in the vegetation. It was presumably the female, as we could hear the male singing quietly from some trees very close by.

The male Woodlark then dropped down to the ground to join the female, and we watched them both for a while walking around and feeding. Eventually, the male flew up onto a nearby fence post and started calling. Then they both flew up over the trees and were lost to view.

Woodlark

Woodlark – the male flew up onto a fence post and started calling

It was great to get such fantastic views of the two main target species up on the Heath – our afternoon visit had really paid off today! We headed round to check up on the pair of Stonechats. They were a bit harder to see at first, but then we heard the male singing, and found him hiding in the top of a young oak.

The cloud had lifted and it had started to brighten up now. There was still enough time to squeeze in one more stop this afternoon, so we made our way back to the car and drove down to Cley. We parked at the end of the East Bank, and set out along it. Looking back, we could see a couple of drake Common Pochard on the pool on the other side of road. The pair of Mute Swans on Don’s Pool now have four cygnets, and a Grey Heron had taken over their nest as a convenient place to preen. There were a couple of Tufted Duck on the water here too.

When we heard a Bearded Tit calling, we turned to get a quick flight view as one zipped across the top of the reeds and dropped back in. Two of three Marsh Harriers were circling up over the back of the reedbed, and we noticed one of the males flying in carrying something in its talons. The female circled up below and the male dropped the food for her to catch, a ‘food pass’.

Lapwing

Lapwing – looking stunning in the afternoon sunshine

There were still one or two Lapwings and Redshank displaying out on the grazing marsh. A few ducks were swimming round on the Serpentine or lurking around the grassy edges – mostly Shelducks, Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler. More unseasonal was the lingering lone drake Wigeon and three Teal. Almost all of the ones which were here over the winter have long since departed north for the breeding season.

The side of the East Bank, covered in flowers, was alive with insects in the afternoon sun. In particular, there were lots of migrant Silver Y moths buzzing round, as well as a couple of Common Blue butterflies. One or two Four-spotted Chasers patrolled the edge of the ditch the other side.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, a few Sandwich Terns had gathered out on the shingle island at the back, along with a couple of Little Terns. There were a few waders on here too. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers were down at the front, the female on the nest. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was out at the back, along with two Dunlin and a Ringed Plover. A male Wheatear was a nice surprise, on one of the gravel spits over towards one side.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – on Arnold’s Marsh

You can’t come all this way without visiting the beach, but it was a bit misty offshore still. A few more Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth, and we saw two Common Terns too.

On the walk back, a Grey Plover had now appeared on Arnolds, and what looked like a second Wheatear, a more richly coloured bird. A Curlew flew in over the grazing marsh and headed off west and a Common Sandpiper was now bathing on the edge of the Serpentine with a Ringed Plover for company. Two Mediterranean Gulls flew over calling.

It was time to head for home. On the drive back, a Red Kite was circling over the fields beside the road, a nice late addition to the day’s list. Let’s see what tomorrow brings too!

12th May 2018 – Norfolk in May, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today, back in Norfolk. It was a lovely bright, sunny and pleasantly warm morning, but it clouded over early afternoon and then started to spit with rain on and off later on. Nothing to stop us getting out and about though!

Driving down to pick everyone up for the day, we spotted a Peregrine out of the corner of an eye, flying up to land on a church tower. We couldn’t stop, but when we had collected the rest of the group, we headed back and thankfully it was still there. It stared down at us at first, as we got out of the car and we stared back up at it. It quickly settled down and seemed completely unconcerned by our presence below.

Peregrine

Peregrine – great views perched and then preening on the church tower this morning

We watched the Peregrine for some time. It perched looking round at first, then started to preen. When it had finished, it began to doze, closing one eye but still looking round with the other. Several Common Swifts were screaming round over the rooftops as we stood there, always a great sight and sound, although they rather played second fiddle to the Peregrine.

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and headed over to Burnham Overy Dunes for the morning. As we walked down across the path over the grazing marshes we could hear Common Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat singing in the hedges. The former perched up nicely and we saw the latter flitting around in the foliage.

Several Sedge Warblers were singing from the bushes all the way out and there are lots of Reed Warblers in too now. We could hear them singing from the reeds along the edge of the ditches by the path and eventually got good views of one or two at the far end.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – one or two showed themselves on the walk out this morning

There were Lapwings, Avocets, Oystercatchers and Redshanks all out on the grazing marshes by the path. A Lapwing put on a nice tumbling display for us and some of the others appeared to be on nests.

There was no shortage of Greylags here and a pair of Egyptian Geese out on the grass too. We added a few ducks to the day’s list, with Shoveler and Gadwall around the small pools. In the channel at the far end of the path, we stopped to admire a smart Little Grebe on the edge of the reeds. A couple of Common Pochard were on the water further back.

Up on the seawall, the tide was out and there were lots of waders down on the mud. There was a large group of Black-tailed Godwits, with one or two in full summer plumage, deep orange on head and neck. A small group of Knot were with them and they too were mostly in bright rusty breeding plumage. Further over, we could see several Grey Plover looking very smart in breeding plumage too, with black faces and bellies.

A lone Wigeon was out on the reedbed pool, a nice addition to the weekend’s list, as the vast majority have already headed off back to Russia for the breeding season. Further along, out on the saltmarsh, we could see a sizeable gaggle of Brent Geese still. Some of these are always later to head back to the Arctic, although the majority will have departed by the end of this month.

A small group of waders whirled round over the grazing marsh and landed out on an island in one of the smalls. Through the scope, we could see there was a nice mixture of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin, and several of the latter were in breeding plumage, sporting contrasting black belly patches.

Out into the dunes, we turned east. We walked out to one of the favourite places for Wheatears, and quickly found one, a female, down on the short grass. Two more were Wheatears high in the dunes above – what looked like a male and another female. We walked round for better look, trying to get the sun behind us, but could only see the two females now. Big and deep orange underneath, they appeared to be Greenland Wheatears, of the subpecies leucorhoa.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a female, presumably of the Greenland race

Heading back to the boardwalk, we continued on out towards Gun Hill. A trickle of hirundines were moving west now, mostly Swallows, but with a few House Martins and a single Sand Martin as well. A sharp call alerted us to a Yellow Wagtail which flew over our heads and continued on west too.

There is no shortage of Meadow Pipits and Linnets out here in the dunes, good to see as both species have declined so markedly in farmland. A male Kestrel perched high in one of the taller dunes. We also found several male Stonechats singing, 2 or 3 on our walk west.

Heading out onto the beach, we stopped to admire a Ringed Plover tucked down in the stones, on its nest out in the middle of the fenced off area. Another Ringed Plover ran in over the stones and we watched as they changed over sitting duty.

We could hear Little Terns but there were none at the top of the beach in the fenced off area. They were all out towards the shore – we could see them flying round, diving into the surf out at the mouth of the channel. One was asleep closer to us, on the sand just across the channel, which we got in the scope and three more flew round over our heads calling, one carrying a fish. There were a couple of Common Terns too, further round, plunge diving in the harbour channel.

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover – we saw several on the beach and around the dunes today

As we walked along beach towards the point, we found more waders. A couple of very smart Turnstones in breeding plumage were feeding in and out of the seaweed covered rocks below us. Two Common Sandpipers flew up from the edge of the water and across the channel calling. There were several more Ringed Plovers too and round in the harbour we found three Bar-tailed Godwits with another Grey Plover out on the mud. A Greenshank flew up calling from the saltmarsh briefly but dropped straight back down into one of the muddy creeks, out of view.

Back at the boardwalk, we made our way back along the seawall. At the reedbed, a Bittern boomed three times in quick succession before going quiet again. A Red Kite was hanging lazily in the air over the fields as we got back to the car.

We had our lunch at Holkham and afterwards, we headed back east. We had been to Cley yesterday and were not intending to go back today, but news of a Temminck’s Stint was too good to resist.

The Temminck’s Stint had been mobile earlier, but then seemed to have settled down on Watling Water. However, when we arrived at Iron Road, we were told it had flown off about half an hour earlier. It had apparently appeared to drop down again towards the pools along the track. We had a good look there, but there was no sign of it, although there were two Ringed Plovers and a Little Ringed Plover.

Other waders were clearly on the move today, as another small mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers dropped in briefly before continuing west. Another Wheatear was on the bank on the far side of the pool and a Hobby flew over, heading off east. It had started to drizzle now, on and off, we so headed round to Babcock Hide on the off chance that the Temminck’s Stint was back.

When we got into the hide, we were delighted to find that the Temminck’s Stint was indeed back out on the mud, having apparently flown back in earlier. We got it in the scope and had great views of it creeping around on the mud around the edge of the pool. It was clearly very small, and we could see its yellow legs and the distinctive scattering of black-centred feathers in its upperparts.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – a well-marked individual on Watling Water

The two Little Ringed Plovers we had seen yesterday were still on the scrape too – and as we had seen with the Common Sandpiper they kept trying to chase the Temminck’s Stint off. Eventually it found a spot where they seemed to lose interest, and stopped to bathe. The Common Sandpiper was still on here too, but had evaded the attention of the plovers as they seemed to focus more on chasing off the stint today!

The rain had now eased off again, and there was still time for a walk out on the East Bank before the end of the day. It didn’t take us long to spot the Spoonbill, a large white shape in the distance, so we headed up along the bank for a closer look. On the way, a scan of Pope’s Pool produced another Common Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover, as well as another lone drake Wigeon, our second of the day. A Marsh Harrier was perched up in one of the bushes out in the reedbed, drying out after the rain.

We had good views of the Spoonbill from here. It was busy feeding in the north end of the Serpentine, head down, sweeping its bill quickly left to right through the water. Occasionally it would flick its head up when it caught something.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding out on the Serpentine

Arnold’s Marsh appears to be drying out rapidly at the moment, and there was not much water left. Still, we found a few waders – a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits, a Curlew, a Grey Plover and a Ringed Plover. A Wheatear on one of the posts out in front of the shingle ridge was a male Greenland Wheatear, deep orange breasted and with brown tones in its grey back. At the far end of Arnold’s, a Hobby was perched preening on a post.

It was time to head back now. A Marsh Harrier dropped down towards the grazing marsh below the bank, mobbed by Avocets, and then flew off, carrying what appeared to be a small mammal rather than one of the young Greylags we had seen there on our walk out. A Hobby flew past and off over the reedbed, possibly the one we had seen on the post earlier, now dried out. Several more Marsh Harriers were up circling over the reeds as we headed for home.

10th Feb 2018 – Winter, Broads & Brecks #2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours, and it was down to the Norfolk Broads today. It was a lovely sunny start to the day, although it clouded over late morning and then tried to rain on and off in the afternoon. Thankfully the rain was only light, just spitting with drizzle at times, so it didn’t stop us getting out.

Our first destination saw us driving along the coast road past Horsey. We had hoped we might find some Cranes along here, particularly on a lovely bright morning, but there was no sign of any today. We found a convenient layby to park and stretch our legs. There were lots of Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing meadows but they were very jumpy, constantly flying up and landing again. A light aircraft flew round over the fields, possibly the source of some of the nervousness.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – flying round, very nervous today

There were also lots of Lapwings and a few Fieldfares out on the grass. We could see several Marsh Harriers circling over the reeds behind us. A couple of large herds of Mute Swans were out in the fields. With all the disturbance, there were not as many birds out here as there often are, so we moved quickly on.

Our next stop was round at Ludham. As we climbed up onto the river bank, we could see a small group of swans out on the grazing marshes. A closer look with the scope confirmed there were six Whooper Swans with a similar number of Mute Swans. We could see the prominent yellow wedge running down the bills to a sharp point on the Whooper Swans, and they were not much smaller than the accompanying Mutes.

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans – 4 of the 6 out on the grazing marshes again today

Three Stock Doves were out in the field next to the cow barn and a couple of Pied Wagtails were picking around the muddy farm yard. Scanning the grass, we could see lots of Lapwing and Golden Plover and several Chinese Water Deer too. Looking along the river, a pair of Gadwall were swimming with a few Coot. But there were no Cranes here today either. It was a lovely morning and the footpath along the river bank was very busy with dog walkers, which meant there was presumably too much disturbance. Were we destined to miss out on the Cranes everywhere today?

We moved on again and headed south. Looking out of the window as we were driving along the road, we finally found our first Cranes of the day, standing in the field where we had seen a big group the other day. At first we could only see five together, on the edge of the maize strip. Then we looked round behind us, just in time to see another 14 Cranes circling in the sky. They disappeared off towards the river, dropping down behind some trees. We didn’t see where they had come from but someone was shooting pigeons a couple of fields over, so may have flushed them.

Common Cranes 1

Common Cranes – this flock of 14 flew round and headed off towards the river

Looking back at the original group, more Cranes started to emerge from the maize strip. Scanning the surrounding fields, we also found another pair nearby. The more we looked, the more we found and by the end we had 15 Cranes together in the field, and there could easily have still been some hiding in the crop. It was quite a sight!

Common Cranes 2

Common Cranes – several of the 15 which were still left down in the fields

There was even some more action. At one point, six of the Cranes flew up and circled round. There was lots of bugling, the calls echoing across the fields. Two flew off, but four of the Cranes dropped back down with the others again. Great stuff!

Common Cranes 3

Common Cranes – six of the group flew round bugling

Having finally found some Cranes – and enjoyed cracking views of a really good number to boot (it is not often we see large flocks such as this here, a significant proportion of the total Broadland population!), we headed on, down to the Yare valley. As we walked down to the gate and scanned the marshes at Cantley, it was rather disappointing. There were almost no geese here today – just a single Egyptian Goose which doesn’t really count! Otherwise, all we could see were Rooks, Lapwings and a few Mute Swans.

Darker clouds were gathering to the south, so we didn’t hang around here too long and made our way back to the car. As we were loading up, we looked across to the nearby sugar beet processing factory and noticed a small shape on the side of the tall steaming chimney. It was a Peregrine. Presumably it had found somewhere to keep warm?

Peregrine

Peregrine – finding a warm spot on the chimney of Cantley Beet Factory

At this point it started to spit with rain. We decided it would be a good moment for an early lunch, so we made our way round to Strumpshaw Fen. As we walked out to the Reception Hide, we stopped to look at all the tits coming down to the feeders A Marsh Tit made several visits as we watched, mostly dropping down to the ground where some seed had been sprinkled. A Jay came up from the path too as we arrived, and a Siskin flew over calling.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – making regular visits down to the ground below the feeders

Looking out across the Reception Hide pool, there were lots of Gadwall and Coot on the water today. A little group of Shoveler didn’t linger and a couple of flocks of Teal flew over without landing. The Black Swan was in hiding today. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds. As well as providing a very welcome hot drink, the Reception Hide also gave us great views of a very well camouflaged Common Snipe feeding in the cut reeds in front.

After lunch, the rain had stopped, so we headed back out towards the coast. A quick detour off the Acle Straight towards Halvergate produced four Bewick’s Swans out on the grazing marshes. This is a traditional stop off point for swans heading back towards the continent in late winter, so can often be a good place to look late in the season, when the wintering birds have departed. We could see immediately that they were small and short-necked compared to the Mute and Whooper Swans we had seen earlier and through the scope we could see the more restricted, squared off yellow patch on their bills.

Bewick's Swans

Bewick’s Swans – these four were on the grazing marshes near Halvergate

Continuing on to Great Yarmouth, we quickly located the Glossy Ibis in its usual field at Bure Park. It was very busy feeding down in the wet grass, finding a few worms while we watched. A wet grassy park in Great Yarmouth in winter must be a far cry from the marshes of southern Spain, but it seemed to be doing OK with a few Moorhens and Black-headed Gulls for company.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis – feeding in the wet grassy fields in front of the car park

After a quick stop to catch up with the Glossy Ibis, we made our way on further south again, down to Waveney Forest. It was spitting with rain now but it was relatively sheltered from the wind in the trees. Looking out across Haddiscoe Island from ‘the mound’, it appeared rather desolate at first. The gates and posts where the Buzzards like to perch were conspicuously empty but scanning more carefully, we quickly found our target. The Rough-legged Buzzard was standing down in the grass today, out in the middle.

It was rather distant, and a bit misty now, but we could see the Rough-legged Buzzard’s pale crown and white spotting in the upperparts, contrasting with its black throat and upper breast and black patches either side of its belly. This is a returning adult, which comes back to these grazing marshes each winter, from its breeding grounds in the arctic.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – out in the mist on Haddiscoe Island

The cherry on the cake was duly provided when the Rough-legged Buzzard took off and flew low across the grass, flashing its distinctive white tail with a contrasting black terminal band. It turned into the wind and started hovering, like a giant Kestrel in slow motion. It repeated this several times – Rough-legged Buzzards are habitual hoverers when they hunt, unlike the more familiar Common Buzzard which will hover only occasionally. After hunting for a few minutes, the Rough-legged Buzzard flew back across and landed again down on the grass close to where it had been earlier.

We took that as our cue to leave. We weren’t sure whether we would make it out to Stubb Mill tonight, given the weather, but by the time we got to the car park at Hickling the rain had eased off again. We decided to give it a go. We took the direct route out today, along the road. Two Egyptian Geese were in one of the fields and four Cormorants flew over.

When we got to Stubb Mill, we immediately spotted two Cranes out on the grass. We had a good look at them through the scope, walking round, before they eventually flew round and dropped down in the reeds at the back. Shortly afterwards, someone spotted another pair, out in one of the meadows further over. And we could hear more Cranes bugling over towards the reserve – based on the noise, another two pairs at least.

Common Cranes 4

Common Crane – one of two pairs out at Stubb Mill this evening

We had already amassed quite a total of Cranes on our travels today. Then another five flew in, low over the grass in front of the watchpoint, and disappeared over towards the reserve. That took us to a massive 38 seen and several more Cranes heard today!

Common Cranes 5

Common Crane – another five flew in to roost at dusk

There were at least 5-6 Marsh Harriers in already, perched out in the bushes in the middle of the reeds or circling round overhead, but others were probably keeping down given the weather. Several more flew in while we were watching. A male Merlin shot across very low, only briefly breaking above the reeds, unfortunately too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A ghostly grey male Hen Harrier appeared in the distance, flying round above the bushes in the reeds where the Marsh Harriers were gathered for a couple of minutes, visible in the scope despite the gathering gloom.

Given the weather, the light was fading fast tonight. We had fared far better than we thought we might at Stubb Mill this evening, it was well worth coming out here. We decided to call it a night and head for home.