Tag Archives: Red-crested Pochard

14th Feb 2019 – Owls for Two

A Private Owl Tour today. After a chilly start with a light frost, it was a glorious bright sunny day with blue skies and light winds. Great weather to be out looking for owls.

It was a slightly late start by the time we got away, so we headed straight down to the marshes. There were birds singing in the trees at the back as we got out of the van, particularly a Song Thrush one side and a Mistle Thrush the other. It almost felt like spring!

Thankfully the Barn Owls were still out hunting this morning. The first one we spotted was a long way off across the marshes. When we first saw it, it looked to be heading in to roost, flying direct and determinedly over the reeds. But it dropped down and landed on a post, where we could just see it in the scope through the reeds. It stayed there for ages – it didn’t seem to be hunting particularly, so perhaps it was just enjoying the morning sunshine.

A huge flock of Pink-footed Geese flew in calling behind us, numbering several thousand, in long lines. It was quite a sight. As they approached, they split into two. The largest group circled round over the marshes and landed out in middle. The rest peeled off and headed over in the direction of the marshes at Cley, where they too dropped down. Perhaps they had been disturbed from the field inland where they had gone to feed.

The Marsh Harriers started to appear as it began to warm up a bit. At first we could see one or two patrolling over the reeds. Then several started to circle up higher together out over the middle of the marshes. A buzzard appeared with them, and as it turned we caught a flash of a white tail. But when we tried to get the scope on it, it disappeared, presumably down behind the reeds.

When it circled up again and our suspicions were confirmed – it was a Rough-legged Buzzard. As well as the white tail with a clear black band at the end, we could see its pale head and dark belly. It circled with the March Harriers, at least five of them together now, and one or two of the harriers started to swoop at the Rough-legged Buzzard, presumably trying to drive it away. Eventually, it had enough and drifted off west and out of view. An unexpected bonus to see one here!

The Barn Owl took off and started hunting again, though still distant. It landed on another post and a second Barn Owl appeared hunting just behind it. We watched them for a while but there was no sign of them coming in to roost, which might have brought them closer. Presumably they are hungry now and were trying to take advantage of the weather to stay out hunting as long as possible.

With the air starting to warm up now, we decided to head inland to look for Little Owls. It seemed like it might be a good morning for them and at the first set of farm buildings we checked, we found two perched on the roof in the sunshine. They were rather distant, but through the scope we could see they were puffed up like balls of fluff.

Little Owl 1

Little Owl – one of the pair perched up at our first stop

At the second barns we checked, we couldn’t see one out today, but a little further on we did find another Little Owl. This one was a bit closer, but we were looking into the sun – the disadvantage of the better weather! We checked out another site with no reward, so we headed back round to see if we could get a slightly better angle of one of the ones we had seen out. Eventually we found a spot from where we could see one of the first Little Owls slightly closer, but the sun was still proving to be a bit of a problem.

Moving on, we drove further inland to look for the Tawny Owl which likes to perch at the entrance to its tree hole in the daytime. As we got out of the van and walked in, more birds were singing in the trees – a couple of Chaffinches, a Great Tit, a Treecreeper. A Nuthatch was piping and we found it high in the branches of a bare tree.

The Tawny Owl was in its usual spot, high in the tree at the entrance it its hole, dozing. Through the scope we had fill-the-frame views of it – well worth the drive round this way to see it.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual tree again today

Moving on again, we drove west towards the Wash. The main road was closed due to an accident, which required a bit of a diversion across country, but we eventually arrived at Snettisham.

There were not so many ducks today on the pits as we made our way in. When we got up onto the seawall, it was almost high tide but it was not a big tide today so there was still a big area of open mud uncovered. A large flock of Golden Plover was roosting out on the Wash, and as we watched something spooked them. They whirled round, flashing dark and white in the sun, taking lots of Lapwing up with them.

Waders

Waders – whirling round in the sunshine out on the Wash

Lots of Oystercatchers were roosting along the water’s edge. Looking at one group of them through the scope, we could see a line of smaller dumpy grey Knot busy feeding just in front of them. There were several groups of Bar-tailed Godwits too, and one individual stood out, already moulting into summer plumage, bright rusty orange below.

Further back, out in the shallow water, a large group of white birds turned out to be Avocets, at least 80 of them, the most we have seen here for some time. With more at Titchwell as well in the last few days, it seems they are starting to return already, ahead of the breeding season.

Continuing on down to Rotary Hide, there were a few more waders on the nearer mud just in front. We had a look at a little group of small Dunlin, busy feeding on the mud. A close Grey Plover was standing motionless in one of the small pools and a Redshank was more actively feeding in the water next to it.

Our main target here today was Short-eared Owl, so we made our way round to look for them. The usual one was not in its regular roosting spot under the brambles, but with a careful scan, we quickly found a different one, half hidden in the top of the brambles. We had a quick look at that one, and then noticed a second Short-eared Owl, much easier to see a bit further along. We could see its yellow eyes. It was unusually active, stretching, preening and looking round.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of three roosting here today

As if that wasn’t enough, we then found a third Short-eared Owl roosting even further along, in a regular spot. It was very well hidden today, deep in the brambles, and if we didn’t know to look there we might well not have seen it at all.

It was time for lunch now, but rather than eat here we decided to head round to Titchwell to use the facilities there and get a hot drink. As we made our way back out of Snettisham, we finally spotted a pair of Goldeneye on the pits, the male showing off its glossy green head and white cheek patch.

While we ate at the picnic tables by the visitor centre at Titchwell, we kept an eye on the feeders. There were several Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and tits coming and going. After a while a smart male Brambling dropped out of the bushes onto the ground in front. Fortunately we had all had a good look at it before a gas gun bird scarer in the field next door then went off, and flushed everything. Perhaps the local farmer had put it there deliberately to disturb the birds!

Brambling

Brambling – dropped down to feed on the ground in front of the feeders

As we were just finishing lunch, we popped into the visitor centre to check the sightings board. We were just asking what the Barn Owls were up to when one of the volunteers looked out of the door the other side and announced one was over the grazing meadow. Now! We raced straight round and there it was, hunting out over the long grass and sedges.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – the first of the afternoon at Titchwell

The Barn Owl landed on a post, but by the time we had raced back to the van and got the scope it was off again. Thankfully it seemed to be in a bit of a routine and after a few minutes it flew back to the fence. This time it landed on a post very close to us and through the scope we had fill the frame views. We could see all the little eye spots over its head and back. A much better view than the two we had seen early this morning!

The first Barn Owl took off and started hunting again. While we were watching that one, a second Barn Owl appeared right in front of us. The two of them worked backwards and forwards over the grass for a bit and then both of them landed on two fence posts. They seemed to be largely ignoring each other, but when the second owl took off again, it did fly over and hover low over the first for a couple of seconds.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owls – a second one appeared and the two of them landed on the fenceposts

We watched the two Barn Owls hunting for over half an hour, transfixed. We had some very close views as they worked their way round the field, on occasion coming across close in front of us, hovering. We saw them drop down into the grass on several occasions, but we didn’t see either of them actually catch anything.

Barn Owl 4

Barn Owl – hovered in front of us

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – dropped down into the grass several times

Eventually one of the two Barn Owls disappeared, and we watched the other one working its way further back along the edge of the field. It was still a good view through the scope, even there, but we had been spoiled with the earlier performance. We decided to have a walk out onto the reserve.

A quick look in the ditches beside the path produced a Water Rail picking through the rotting leaves in the bottom under the overhanging branches.

There were several Marsh Harriers up over the back of the reedbed. We could see lots of ducks and geese on the reedbed pool so we stopped for a look. Five Red-crested Pochard were swimming around in the middle, diving, including four drakes with bright red bills and orange punk haircuts. They had just returned to the reserve this morning.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – four drakes and a female, back on the reserve today

The water level is very high on the Freshmarsh over the winter, so there as not so much to see on here today. There were a few more ducks, and a large flock of Brent Geese. Two Egyptian Geese were on the small island towards the back.

We could see a Barn Owl hunting the bank beyond Parrinder Hide in the distance and then we turned to see another one out over the saltmarsh behind us. Looking back, a third was still on one of the posts by the grazing meadow, where we had watched the two earlier. One extra one had appeared from somewhere, although it wasn’t clear which one was the new one.

The Barn Owl over the saltmarsh had flown further up away from us, but then it turned and started to fly back just over the other side of bank. It came straight towards us and then right past just a few metres away, another great view. An amazing performance from the Barn Owls here today!

Barn Owl 5

Barn Owl – one then did a close flypast over the edge of the saltmarsh

There wasn’t enough time to explore the whole reserve today, but we swung round via Meadow Trail on the way back. We found the Woodcock again exactly where it had been yesterday, but it was very well hidden today, down in the leaves among lots of branches and trunks. At first all we could see was a patch of rusty feathers, but we eventually found a better angle through the scope. It was preening and we could see its long bill, and its eye staring back at us.

As we set off to drive back east, we spotted another Barn Owl over the meadow by road. Rather surprisingly, given how the owls had been performing at Titchwell this afternoon, we didn’t see any others by the coast road in any of the other regular spots on our way back.

Having had such good views of Barn Owls now, we fancied a go at getting a better look at a Little Owl, so we diverted inland and headed back to where we had seen one this morning. The first thing we found was another Barn Owl out hunting here, our seventh today. It landed on a post, but then took off again before we could get the scope on it. It landed again in the top of a small tree, swaying in the thin branches, and this time we could get it in the scope.

Barn Owl 6

Barn Owl – our seventh of the day!

It was better light now, with the low afternoon sun. We found one of the Little Owls, and even though it was half hidden under the cowl on the roof, it was a much better view than this morning. We could see the false eye pattern on the back of its head and, when it turned, its real eyes.

Little Owl 2

Little Owl – in better light this afternoon

With the diversion for the Little Owl, we were later than normal getting down to the meadows where we normally finish the day. There was no sign of the regular Barn Owl here this evening, but it was impossible to tell if it had gone off to hunt further afield, or if it had been out during the day and had decided to go back into the box.

It was already getting to the time for the Tawny Owls to start hooting, but the trees were rather quiet still. It was a very bright, clear evening, with a big moon, so they might be later than normal today. We decided to walk down through the trees to the lake to see if there was any activity over the meadows the other side. A Kingfisher called, but we didn’t see it in the gathering gloom. A Little Grebe laughed maniacally.

As we walked back through the trees, finally the Tawny Owl started hooting. We made our way back round and stood on the edge of the wood. We could hear the single hoots of a male and female together now, and the male gave its very quiet bubbling call, normally associated with courtship. For a second it seemed like the male might be coming closer to us when it next hooted, but then we heard it move much deeper in the wood. A second male Tawny Owl started up, hooting further off in the distance behind us.

It was a nice way to end the day, standing in the wood listening to the Tawny Owls, but it was getting late now, and it was still not properly dark. The nights are pulling out fast now. It was time to call it a day – what a day!

24th April 2015 – Spring Migrants in NW Norfolk

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today and we headed up to NW Norfolk. It was a lovely, sunny start to the day and we had high hopes of seeing some birds on the move.

We started at Thornham. There have been a couple of Ring Ouzels around the cricket pitch in recent days and as soon as we got out of the car we picked up a fine male on the far side by the hedge. We got it in the scope and got a great look at it, its white gorget shining in the morning sun. Nearby, a slightly duller, browner female Ring Ouzel was on the edge of the cricket square, with a Mistle Thrush for company.

IMG_4254Ring Ouzel – the male at Thornham this morning

Our next destination was Snettisham Coastal Park, where we hoped to see some visible migration in action. The bushes were alive with warblers – lots of Lesser Whitethroats, Whitethroats, Blackcaps, plenty of Willow Warblers and several singing Chiffchaffs, Sedge Warblers and Cetti’s Warblers. There were lots of Linnets in the bushes and more small groups moving south overhead, together with a few Goldfinches.

The real star migrants of the morning were the Yellow Wagtails. It started with one or two moving along the coast, their sharp ‘pseep’ calls giving them away as they flew overhead. It peaked with a single flock of 20 which flew south past us, calling as they went. Great to see. There were also a couple of Wheatears which moved south through the bushes, stopping briefly as they went.

P1000340Wheatear – stopped briefly on a bush on its way through

There has been a Little Bunting at Snettisham Coastal Park for the last couple of days, but it has been very elusive, so we held out little hope of seeing it. As we got further along, we were told that it had just been showing, so we decided to have a look. There was no sign of it at first – it had flown into a dense area of low Sea Buckthorn bushes and disappeared. As we waited, we had the odd glimpse of movement as it worked its way slowly round on the ground below, but even when we got a slightly better look at it, it was hard to get everyone onto it. Eventually the Little Bunting flew out and landed briefly on the grass in the open. Unfortunately, it didn’t stay long, before darting straight back into cover. Not great views, but at least we had all finally seen it! We decided to move on.

A little further along, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the bushes. We worked our way round and saw it sitting in the top of a low Hawthorn, but before everyone could get onto it it dropped down out of view. When it started reeling again it had moved over to the other side of the bushes – by the time we managed to get round there it had disappeared, probably back to the original side!

As we walked back round to the beach, we could hear Sandwich Terns calling offshore. From up on the seawall, we had a quick look and immediately latched onto a Little Tern flying past. At one point, we even managed to get the Little Tern in the same view as the Sandwich Tern, a great size comparison. As it worked its way past, we could see it had brought its friends – a loose group of 8 Little Terns flew past. The Little Terns have only started to arrive in the last few days, so it was really good to see them.

P1000341Little Tern – a group of 8 were off Snettisham this morning

We gradually made our way back to the car for lunch. As we sat outside in the sunshine eating, a flock of about 20 Curlew flew past over the edge of the Wash. A quick scan through revealed a bonus – a couple of Whimbrel in amongst them. After lunch, we drove round ‘the corner’ to Titchwell, taking a diversion along the cliff tops at Hunstanton to admire a Fulmar flying past.

At Titchwell, the car park was very busy and so rather quiet for birds. We walked out onto the reserve, pausing briefly to look at the Thornham grazing marsh pool – this is still dry and now rather devoid of birdlife. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew over, calling, and flashing their white wingtips.

P1000343Mediterranean Gull – a pair of adults flew over, calling

The reedbed pool held a couple of pairs each of Tufted Duck and Pochard, but no sign of the Red-crested Pochard today. Thankfully, it didn’t take us long to find them. A little further on, a smart pair of Red-crested Pochard were on the freshmarsh, right by the main footpath (we later saw more flying over and 6 on Patsy’s Reedbed).

P1000381Red-crested Pochard – this pair were right by the main path today

As usual, there was a good selection of dabbling ducks on the freshmarsh as well and we stopped to admire the Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall in particular, all looking rather splendid in their spring finery.

P1000354Gadwall – such a subtly pretty duck up close

There were not as many waders on the freshmarsh as in recent weeks. Just one Black-tailed Godwit, two Dunlin, a couple of Ruff and two Little Ringed Plovers on the islands. Lest we forget them, there were at least lots of Avocet and several of them were feeding right in front of Island Hide, affording us up close and personal views.

P1000351Avocet – no post about Titchwell is complete without a photo!

The Volunteer Marsh was also rather quiet today, but the Tidal Pools were slightly more interesting. As well as several more Black-tailed Godwits to admire, in both winter and summer plumage, a Greenshank was feeding quietly along the edge.

P1000389Black-tailed Godwit – no sign of summer plumage

The beach was where the action was at today. The tide was just going out, and the waders were just beginning to gather. As well as lots of Oystercatcher and Turnstone, we found a few Sanderling on the beach and a small group of Grey Plover and a single Ringed Plover on the rocks. While we were watching the waders starting to spread out along the beach, we picked up a single Whimbrel in with the Grey Plovers along the shoreline. It looked like it was fresh in, taking a short rest, before it flew off again calling. A little later, we saw a small flock of Whimbrel further out, flying west.

There were a few terns offshore too. A couple of Sandwich Terns were feeding off the beach, plunging into the sea. Three more Little Terns flew west close inshore. While we were watching them, a single Common Tern flew past, further out to sea – another good one for the day.

There were small numbers of hirundines flying along the coast all day today, but perhaps not as many as we thought there might be today. As we walked back a flock of 11 Sand Martins whisked through over the reedbed.

We took a quick detour on the way back via Meadow Trail. There were lots of Blackcaps in the sallows, presumably some migrants as well as some planning to stay for the summer. The Marsh Harriers were showing well from the boardwalk near Fen Hide, and we paused to admire them. Patsy’s Reedbed was rather quiet, apart from the aforementioned Red-crested Pochards, although a smart summer-plumaged Little Grebe did grab our attention as it swam past.

We finished the day with a quick drive round via Choseley drying barns. There were several bright Yellowhammers in the fields on the way up and a couple of Stock Doves by the barns themselves. But the highlight was down in the fields beyond the barns. The wind had picked up a little and lots of Yellowhammers were feeding down on a recently sown patch of ground. Amongst them, we found two pairs of Corn Bunting. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, before they were spooked and flew up into the hedge. We could hear a male singing – rather like a bunch of jangling keys. We had decided to call it a day and were driving off when we realised all the Yellowhammers had flown out to the other side, on a bare strip beside the road. There, in amongst them, was a Corn Bunting – great views and a good way to end the day.

P1000392Corn Bunting – feeding on a bare strip by the road this afternoon

27th March 2015 – Sunny on the Coast

Day 1 of three days of tours – based in North Norfolk today. It was a glorious day, mostly clear skies and sunshine, although the recent run of northerly or north-westerly winds has continued to restrict the flow of early migrants. Still, it was a great day to be out, and we saw some really good birds.

Our first stop and we had barely got out of the car before we could hear the Mediterranean Gulls calling. From up on the seawall, we could see several flying around and a couple of pairs landing on the ground. Even better, they were displaying. A great start. No sign of any terns yet – hopefully they will start to arrive soon.

IMG_3522Mediterranean Gulls – pair displaying (with Black-headed Gull, foreground)

Out on the mud, there were lots of waders. Loads of Oystercatcher, whirling flocks of Knot and Dunlin, several Grey Plover, a few Curlew and a couple of Turnstone. Not far away, a big group of Brent Geese had come in for an early morning bathe. A pair of Common Buzzards circled over the trees behind.

We drove on westwards. A Barn Owl, surprisingly late to bed, was still out hunting along the field margins. We turned inland and a small diversion produced a Little Owl perched on the top of a barn by the road. It watched us nervously for a couple of minutes, before dropping down out of sight.

P1010537Little Owl – watching us nervously

We dropped down towards Titchwell, stopping on the way to admire a pair of Grey Partridge in a field. There were lots of Brown Hares as well. Many were lying low in the fields, but we spent some time watching three running around in the winter wheat. There was even a little bit of boxing – it is still March, after all! A pair of Mistle Thrush were still in a field, but there was no sign of the Fieldfare they had been in company with earlier in the week – presumably they had already headed off back to Scandinavia. We saw the odd Yellowhammer, but otherwise there was quite a lot of disturbance from tractors in the fields to walkers on the footpath.

Down in the car park it really felt like spring. Out of the wind, in the sunshine, the Blackthorn was in blossom and a couple of Chiffchaffs were singing. We headed out onto the reserve, and just past the visitor centre we spotted a Water Rail skulking in the ditch by the path. It scuttled along into the vegetation before creeping back out once it thought it wasn’t being watched.

P1010548Water Rail – still in the ditch by the path at Titchwell

The Thornham grazing marsh pool was drained earlier in the winter and had started to look rather parched in recent weeks. However, after a bit of rain in the last couple of days, it seemed a bit more promising. There was not much to see on the first scan, but pausing to look at the Pied Wagtails feeding round one edge (following a question about White Wagtails), a small bird could be seen bouncing up and down behind. It was immediately obvious that it was a snipe from the dark blackish background colour to the upperparts contrasting with the golden stripes, and behaving quite like that, it could really only be one species. It turned round and we could see the short bill and distinctive face pattern – a Jack Snipe. We watched it feeding quietly on the edge of the rushes.

There were several Marsh Harriers out over the reedbed. One circled up higher than the others and started calling. Then it started displaying as well, twisting and tumbling – great to watch. The reedbed pool held two smart male Red-crested Pochards, with their bouffant orange hairdos. In contarst, the moulting Chinese Water Deer which walked across the saltmarsh was looking decidedly scruffy.

P1010555Chinese Water Deer – this scruffy individual was out on the saltmarsh

The freshmarsh held a good selection of waders and wildfowl. We stopped to admire the ducks, enjoying the still rather high water levels (presumably they will be lowered eventually?!). A drake Shoveler was preening by the path – in the sunlight, its normally green head appeared to glow purple.

P1010571Shoveler – a smart drake preening by the path

There were also a few Wigeon, lots of Gadwall and Teal, and the ubiquitous Mallard. The diving ducks were represented by Tufted Duck and Pochard, though numbers appeared to be down on recent weeks, as well as a couple of female Goldeneye. Periodically, groups of Brent Geese dropped in from the saltmarsh towards Thornham or Brancaster.

P1010568Gadwall – still a firm favourite for those who like their ducks more subtle

P1010655Brent Goose – flying in from the saltmarsh

There were plenty of waders, too. With the tide high out on the beach, the godwits on the freshmarsh were all roosting Bar-tailed Godwit. There was also a little group of Knot bathing, a lone Dunlin and a couple of Turnstone on the islands. A single scaly, winter-plumaged Ruff was joined by a much smaller Reeve. The Avocets were looking much happier with the tops of the islands now out of the water, giving them somewhere to stand without getting their feet wet.

P1010652Avocet – feeding by the path again today

The Volunteer Marsh also held a good selection of waders. There were a few Black-tailed Godwit here, including one well-advanced in its moult towards its rusty orange summer plumage. There were also plenty still in mostly winter plumage, giving a good opportunity to hone ID skills compared to the Bar-tailed Godwits nearby.

P1010664Black-tailed Godwit – this one still in grey winter plumage

There were also lots of Redshank and Oystercatcher, a few more Knot and several Curlew. Several Grey Plover were much admired, and we looked closely at the differences between adults and first winter birds. However, the highlight was a single Spotted Redshank which walked up out of a muddy channel and promptly went to sleep on the bank.

P1010580Grey Plover – a smart spangled bird

The Tidal Pools added Pintail to the days list, though only several females today and no sign of any males. A quick look at the sea gave us several Red-breasted Merganser and a couple of distant Eider.

As we walked back, we stopped again to look at the drained Thornham grazing marsh pool. Standing still, half hidden amongst the rushes, was a Water Pipit. Presumably the same bird which has been present most of the winter, it is now coming into summer plumage. Gone are the black streaks on the underparts, to be replaced by a delicate pink flush across the breast. Smart.

It was getting on for lunchtime, but we made a quick diversion round via the Meadow Trail. There were lots of Chiffchaffs flycatching in the sallows – they have really arrived in good numbers now. A pair of Bullfinch called from the trees, but proved hard to see, before the pink male eventually gave himself up.

P1010672Chiffchaff – lots around Titchwell today

Patsy’s Reedbed itself was very quiet, but we were in for a nice surprise on the walk there. We flushed a couple of Pied-type Wagtails from the path as we rounded the corner and one looked very pale grey above as it flew over the hedge. We walked back and peered into the field beyond, but there were only a few Pied Wagtails there. As we returned towards the screen, we could see half a dozen alba wagtails back on the path and amongst them the unmistakable pale grey back and sharply demarcated black cap of a White Wagtail, the continental sub-species which passes through here on migration. Unfortunately, one of the Pied Wagtails clearly took offence to its foreign cousin and promptly chased it off out towards the reedbed. Still it was great to see, a classic early spring migrant.

After a late lunch, we headed back along the coast to Holkham. Another Barn Owl was hunting along the grassy bank to the east of Lady Anne’s Drive as we arrived. We walked west on the inland side of the pines. The trees were rather quiet today, but we still picked up several Goldcrests, Treecreepers and a selection of tits. Several more Chiffchaffs were singing from the bushes.

We climbed up to the Joe Jordan hide and settled down to scan the grazing marshes. It didn’t take long to spot a Spoonbill dropping out of the trees and flying down to the pool nearby. It seemed to feed for a few seconds, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water, before grabbing a stick from the water and flying back up to the trees with it in its bill. We watched this happen repeatedly over the next half an hour, although it was never clear whether only one individual or several was involved. Nice to see the birds back and keeping busy!

P1010685Spoonbill – flying down to collect nest material

There was no sign of any White-fronted Geese amongst the numerous feral Greylags, Canadas and Egyptian Geese today – perhaps they have finally departed on their way back to Russia. However, we did find a couple of Pink-footed Geese. Most of their kind already departed last month, but very small numbers still linger. Some, perhaps sick or injured birds, may remain for the summer. The resident super-pale Common Buzzard was visible distantly, perched in a tree over towards the road – it really stood out with its almost white head and breast.

We walked on to the west end of the pines. There were lots of raptors out now. A couple of Red Kites circled lazily over the grazing marsh. A female Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and flew right overhead. A second pale Common Buzzard sat on one of its usual fence posts. There were also a couple more Barn Owls out hunting over the fields, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

Another buzzard flew up to the fence posts. Despite the fact that we were looking straight into the sun, its pale head immediately stood out. We walked round into the dunes to get a better look and confirmed our suspicions – it was the Rough-legged Buzzard which has been hanging around for the winter. Surely it must only be a matter of time now before it departs back north? We watched it standing on the post, noting the blackish belly patch contrasting with the pale head. Then it took off and flew a little further along the fence line, giving us a great view of its white tail with a terminal black band, particularly as it landed.

IMG_3563Rough-legged Buzzard – still out on the grazing marshes this afternoon

Then it was time to call it a day. The walk back was uneventful, although we reminisced about the highlights of the day and admired the late afternoon weather. It seemed a nice way to end, with great views of the Rough-legged Buzzard. However, we were in the car and driving back up Lady Anne’s Drive when a glance out of the window revealed another Spoonbill feeding on one of the pools right by the road. We leapt out, grabbing cameras and binoculars from the boot and had great views as it swept its bill from side to side through the shallows. A cracking finale.

P1010702Spoonbill – feeding on a pool by Lady Anne’s Drive as we left

23rd November 2014 – Rain Doesn’t Stop Play

Day 3 of the 3 day tour. We planned to visit the Titchwell area today – the weather forecast pointed to rain and it seemed like a good idea to be near some hides, where we might be able to find some shelter. Certainly, rain wasn’t going to stop us getting out.

We drove out to Thornham Harbour first. This winter has, so far, been a very good one for Twite. The number of birds over the last couple of years has been slightly disappointing, but several good flocks have been along the coast in recent weeks, one of which has been around Thornham. It was raining quite hard when we arrived but, no sooner had we got out of the car than a flock of 15-20 promising looking finches flew across the saltmarsh and over Thornham Bank. We walked up the bank and followed it along towards Holme, but could not relocate them. Battered by the rain, we were almost back to the car when they flew past again. This time we got a better look at them – Twite. But they circled round and disappeared back over the bank again.

P1090942Titchwell – Freshmarsh & Parrinder Hide

We drove on to Titchwell. There were lots of birds around the feeders by the visitor centre as we passed – mixed flocks of both finches and tits. Thankfully, the rain had eased a little as we headed out onto the reserve. The Thornham Marsh pool was relatively quiet, but the reedbed pool held some ducks. A quick look revealed a little group of Red-crested Pochards, a single drake with bright orange crown and red bill and three pale-cheeked females. We stopped for a minute to watch them through the scope, and also picked up Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed.

P1090941Teal – large numbers were on the freshmarsh

We visited Island Hide first. Disappointingly, the heavy rain overnight appeared to have had a significant impact on water levels on the freshmarsh – most of the mud was now flooded and the exposed reed edge was gone. Wader numbers had dropped correspondingly, compared to recent weeks. Still, the wildfowl were enjoying it – lots of Teal and Wigeon, together with smaller numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall, a few Shelduck, a group of Brent Geese and a single Greylag.

IMG_1878Wigeon – seemed to be enjoying the recently cut vegetation on the islands

Having dried out a little, we decided to brave the next leg on to Parrinder Hide. The vegetation on the islands has recently been cut and, combined with the raised water level, this seemed to have created some ideal feeding conditions. Scanning through the throng of ducks on the edge of the nearest island to the hide, we picked up first a Ruff and then a couple of Snipe. A smaller bird was also feeding along the water’s edge, a Water Pipit.  As we found at Cley yesterday, these can sometimes be hard to see but this particular bird was obviously finding lots of small worms on the flooded island and had nowhere to hide. We got fantastic views of it.

IMG_1866Water Pipit – this bird showed very well outside the hide

From the shelter of the Parrinder Hide, we also picked up several other species out on the Freshmarsh islands which we had not seen from the other side. Other waders included 3 Avocet, 2 Black-tailed Godwit and 5 Dunlin, plus a couple more Ruff. Later on, the Dunlin were also joined briefly by 3 Ringed Plovers. A drake Pintail was also hiding amongst the other ducks.

P1090967Snipe – trying to hide on a small island of cut vegetation

We also spent some time looking at the Volunteer Marsh, where there was a good selection of saltmarsh waders to add to our list for the day. Most of the smaller waders were hiding in the vegetation – a surprising number of Dunlin appeared from nowhere when the birds were spooked by a passing Marsh Harrier. Amongst them were several grey winter-plumaged Knot. A single Bar-tailed Godwit and some more Black-tailed Godwits allowed us to get a good look at the differences between the two. There were also several Curlew and lots of Redshank. However, the star performers were the Grey Plover. We could hear their haunting ‘pee-oo-wee’ calls and see their black armpits as they flew round. One bird in particular came down to the front of the marsh, providing a great photo opportunity. The most surprising appearance on the volunteer marsh was a Chinese Water Deer which wandered across the mud looking particularly forlorn.

P1100005Grey Plover – there were lots out on the Volunteer Marsh today

After Titchwell, we made a brief visit back to Thornham to see if the Twite would be more co-operative. However, despite the rain having eased and us walking most of the way along Thornham Bank towards Holme, we could not locate them again. The light had been rather poor all day, but started to fade early in the afternoon, so we set off for one last stop.

We headed back along the coast before turning inland and heading for the Red Kite roost. It wasn’t clear how well they might perform, given the conditions, but as soon as we got out of the car we could see 6 circling overhead. Rather than coming in to the trees to pre-roost, the birds just continued to soar above the trees, with more coming in to join them. Scanning the skyline, we picked up a second group further away, circling similarly. After a while, the first group drifted over to join them and we had a total of 18 Red Kites in the sky together above the trees in front of us.

P1100012Red Kite – some of the flock of 18 which went in to roost this evening

It was a great way to end the tour, after a very successful three days out in the field, and just goes to show that it is worth going out whatever the weather.

13th November – Titchwell Manor Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of this year’s tour run in conjunction with the Titchwell Manor boutique hotel, we spent the morning exploring the RSPB reserve at Titchwell. However, before we even set off we stopped to admire the large flock of Brent Geese feeding on the winter wheat field in front of the hotel. Several groups of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead and inland to feed on the discarded sugar beet tops, but five had settled with the Brents, giving us a good chance to compare them side-by-side, before the Pinkfeet flew off to join their peers.

On to the reserve, and we started with a quick look around the bramble bushes and apple trees in the car park. We spent a short time watching a mixed flock of tits working its way round the hedges, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over, several smart male Chaffinches were feeding on the ground and a Redpoll came overhead calling. One of the extremely confiding resident Robins came to investigate – unfortunately, we had not brought it any breakfast!

Robin TitchwellRobin – the birds in the car park are always very confiding

At the visitor centre, several tits and finches were coming in to the feeders. However, one of the Moorhens seemed to be monopolising the fat balls, perched rather precariously on a feed tray half way up the feeder stand! The flocks of finches along the main path held a single Siskin amongst the Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A single Chiffchaff swept through amongst the Long-tailed Tits.

Moorhen TitchwellMoorhen – this bird had taken a liking to the fat balls by the visitor centre

The grazing marsh pool held a selection of duck, including several Tufted Duck and Little Grebes. But at the back of the reedbed pool we picked up a small party of Red-crested Pochard – a single drake with his bright orange head with three duller females. Lurking on the edge of the reeds , they eventually came out and allowed us to get a good look at them. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering over Thornham Marsh, a Cetti’s Warbler sang from the bushes in the reedbed and a Reed Bunting perched up by the entrance to Island Hide.

Freshmarsh TitchwellTitchwell freshmarsh

The freshmarsh held a good selection of waders and wildfowl. Among the former, a couple of Spotted Redshank were trying to hide on the edge of the large flock of Black-tailed Godwit – they woke up long enough for us to get a good look at their long needle-fine bill, with a distinctive small drooping tip. We also saw Avocets, Lapwings with a single Ruff, Dunlin and an enormous flock of Golden Plover in the distance, up on the fields behind the reserve. A Common Snipe on the edge of the reeds in front of the hide also drew some admiring looks. Lots of Teal were gathered in front of the hide, allowing us to look closely at the intricate detail of their plumage, with Shelduck, Wigeon and Shoveler also out on the water. However, the highlight was a Water Rail which appeared on the edge of the reeds. Initially coming out too briefly for everyone to get onto it, it then came out for a second look and proceeded to bathe and preen for several minutes before running along the edge of the reedbed.

IMG_1782Water Rail – bathed and preened for several minutes on the edge of the reeds

From the Parrinder Hide, we added Common Redshank to the day’s list and got a good look at a couple of Curlew out on the Volunteer Marsh. A single Knot eventually came much closer and allowed us to get a good look at it. A small group of Linnets fed out amongst the vegetation. On the saltwater pools, we got a chance to compare Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits.

Waders TitchwellBlack-tailed Godwit & Redshank – feeding on the saltwater pools

Out on the beach, lots of Oystercatchers were gathered along the tideline, small groups of Turnstone flew past and several Sanderling were running in front of the waves. The big surprise was three Sandwich Terns out on the beach – these birds should probably be on their way to Africa but have been lingering here, possibly in response to the unseasonably mild weather conditions.

Looking out to sea, the highlight was two male Long-tailed Ducks, though it was a struggle to get everyone in the group onto them. We also saw several Common Scoter, Eider, Great Crested Grebes, Red-throated Divers, Guillemot and Razorbill. By now, the wind was starting to take its toll, so we beat a hasty retreat. We stopped just long enough to admire a large flock of Brent Geese which circled in noisily and landed on the freshmarsh – these were the birds we had been watching first thing this morning in front of the hotel, either spooked from the field, or just come in to bathe. Then it was back to the hotel for a warming bowl of soup and some sandwiches to wrap up a very successful couple of days.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese – flew from the field by the hotel to the freshmarsh

22nd July 2014 – Raptors & Titchwell

A day tour in North Norfolk today, looking for rare breeding birds, Spoonbills and waders. We spent the morning looking for raptors. Our first stop yielded the bonus of at least 3 Turtle Doves, which perched up on the wires and gave us great views all round. At the second site we visited, a juvenile Cuckoo flew ahead of us along the track and perched up just long enough for get the scopes on it. Wherever we went, we were serenaded by the sounds of Norfolk farmland – lots of singing Skylarks and Yellowhammers. Amongst the commoner species of raptor, we saw Red Kite, Common Buzzard, several Marsh Harriers and Kestrels.

We drove on up to Titchwell for lunch. As we walked out onto the reserve early in the afternoon, the grazing marsh pool held a good variety of ducks, including a family of at least 8 Red-crested Pochard. The freshmarsh looked really good for waders, with lots of exposed mud, and we were not to be disappointed – it was teeming with life.

P1080081Red-crested Pochard – female on the grazing marsh poolP1080090Waders galore!

The best of the waders were two Wood Sandpipers which showed really well alongside the main footpath. At least 10 Spotted Redshanks included two still mostly in their smart black summer plumage, with the others in various stages of moult, and a single Greenshank lurked in amongst them and the large number of Redshank. Similarly a good smattering of Ruff included a bewildering variety of males in different colours and states. Several Whimbrel dropped in while we were there and flew off ‘laughing’. Large numbers of Black-tailed and a smaller group of Bar-tailed Godwits gave us a good opportunity to compare and contrast, as did both Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers.

P1080088Avocet – several juveniles were present

Waders and ducks were not the only birds we saw. A Yellow Wagtail was also out amongst the large number of Pied Wagtails. Surprisingly, we only saw a single Spoonbill (6 were present earlier in the day, but had probably dispersed to feed), which flew off from the freshmarsh, over the footpath and landed out in one of the creeks on Thornham marsh.The biggest surprise was seeing 4 Arctic Skuas fly over the freshmarsh, probably blown in from the sea by the keen N wind.

All-in-all, a very successful and enjoyable day out.

P1080116Little Egret – nice yellow feet!