Tag Archives: Red-crested Pochard

8th Mar 2020 – Winter, Brecks & Goshawks, Day 3

Day 3 of our three day Winter, Brecks & Goshawks tour, our last day today. It was a rather blustery morning, with the winds dropping in the afternoon, and mostly dry and bright – we managed mostly to dodge the showers. We spent the day up on the North Norfolk coast.

Holkham was our destination for the morning. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see lots of ducks out on the floods on the grazing marsh, mainly Wigeon, with a scattering of Shoveler, Teal and one or two Gadwall. We parked at the north end and as we walked up towards the pines, we stopped to admire a smart pair of Grey Partridge feeding very quietly right by the fence behind the parking attendants’ hut.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – this pair was feeding by Lady Anne’s Drive

There was a blustery wind blowing, so we elected to go round to the hides first, rather than out onto the beach. As we walked west along the track on the inland side of the pines, there were a few tits calling in the trees. We stopped briefly at Salts Hole, where four Little Grebes were diving out on the water. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were out on the grass beyond.

Diverting up onto the boardwalk by Washington Hide, we spotted a Great White Egret out on the grazing marshes. Its large size was immediately apparent and through the scope we could see its long yellow bill. Way off in the distance, we could just make out a few White-fronted Geese over by the road, behind the hedge, but we hoped to see some closer from the next hide.

A Chiffchaff was calling in the bushes by the track the other side of Meals House – it would be nice to think it might be an early spring migrant, but it was just as likely an overwintering bird here.

The first thing we saw when we got into Joe Jordan Hide was the lone Spoonbill asleep down on the pool below the wood, bright white in the morning sunshine. It did wake up at one point and flash its spoon-shaped bill, revealing that it was an immature bird – it also lacked the shaggy crest of the breeding adults. It then hopped into the shelter of the rushes on the edge of the pool. It was the only one we saw here today, the others possibly hiding from the wind in the trees.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – asleep on the pool from Joe Jordan Hide

There were two more Great White Egrets out on the grazing marshes from here, feeding together out in a particularly thick clump of rushes. It was amazing that such a large white bird could completely disappear in the vegetation at times.

There was no sign of the large flock of wintering White-fronted Geese on the old fort today. Most of the Greylags were sleeping out on the marshes and scanning carefully through we did manage to find six White-fronted Geese in with them. They didn’t hang around though, for no apparent reason waking up and flying off, presumably to find the rest of the flock.

Before everyone got too comfortable, we decided to move on. As we walked out earlier, a runner had mentioned there had been a Short-eared Owl out on the beach, so we thought we would check in case it was hunting along the north side of the pines. When we got out into the dunes, there was no sign of the owl, but we did find three Stonechats flitting around in the bushes, the single male singing quietly, and several song-flighting Meadow Pipits fluttering up and parachuting back down.

The large raft of several thousand Common Scoter which has been in the bay all winter was directly offshore from here today, so we stopped for a quick look through them. The tide was out so, despite them being not too far offshore, they were distant from the dunes and it was very choppy. We did manage to pick out a Velvet Scoter in with them, but it was impossible to get everyone onto it in the conditions. More surprisingly, a pair of Pintail and a drake Shoveler were in with the scoter flock too.

It was more sheltered on the north side of the pines, so we decided to walk back through the dunes. It was a good call as it gave us the chance to scan the beach and saltmarsh on the way. We picked up a pair of Ringed Plovers roosting on the shingle, perhaps not for long given the number of dogs running round loose on the beach. Then we picked up five small birds flying round out on the saltmarsh in the distance. As they turned we could see they were fairly pale with contrasting black tails – Shorelarks!

We had a quick look at them from where we were – there was a spaniel running around out on the saltmarsh and heading in their direction and we worried they might fly off. Then we hurried over for a closer look. The Shorelarks were feeding in the low saltmarsh vegetation, but still remarkably hard to see until they lifted their heads. Then their canary yellow faces and black masks gave them away.

Shorelark

Shorelarks – two of the five which were feeding out on the saltmarsh

When the Shorelarks are not feeding in the cordoned-off area at the other end of the beach they can be hard to find, so it was great that we had bumped into them. By the end of this month, they will probably be off to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

Snow Buntings were on the target list for the day too, so we walked east to the cordon to see if we could find them there. Some people we passed had said they were on the beach at the far end, so we headed over there first. There was no sign of them on the beach and it was very windy and sand-blasted here. A quick scan of the sand bars produced a few Sanderling running around on the beach.

Another person further back on the inland side of the dunes waved to us, and as we started to walk over we realised he was watching a small group of Snow Buntings which were feeding between us in a sheltered gap in the dunes. We had a good look at them as they fed. There were six of them at first, but gradually they ran up and disappeared into the dunes.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – six were feeding in the shelter of the dunes

It was then heads down for the walk back, into the wind. It was a relief to get to the Gap and the shelter of the pines. It was time for lunch now, so we took advantage of the Lookout Cafe to get a welcome hot drink and some food, and use the facilities.

The wind seemed to have eased a bit after lunch. It was bright and sunny now and we commented how there was no sign of any of the forecast showers – indeed the forecast had changed and was now not predicting any until mid afternoon. We set off west, but stopped where we had seen the White-fronted Geese very distantly from the other side early this morning.

There were lots of Greylags and Egyptian Geese in the field, and in with them were still at least 50 White-fronted Geese. We parked and got out, being careful not to spook them, and got them in the scope. We could see the white surround to the base of their bills and distinctive black belly bars.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – there were at least 50 still in the field this afternoon

Thankfully, we had all had a chance to get a really good look at the White-fronted Geese when it started to spit with rain. How ironic, given the change to the forecast! We could see some dark clouds now out to the west, so we hopped back into the minibus and drove through a sharp shower and back out into the sunshine.

As we drove through Titchwell village, we noticed a Barn Owl hunting the grassy field by the road. We had just pulled up and were about to get out to watch it, when a young Common Gull which was flying over swooped down straight at it. The Barn Owl dropped sharply, clearly as surprised as we were at this act of unprovoked aggression! It then turned and made a zig-zagging beeline for the hedge, where it dropped down under the bushes in the bottom, looking round nervously. After convincing itself that the coast was clear, it flew out of the back of the hedge and straight into the back of the wood beyond.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – hiding under the hedge after being attacked by a Common Gull

Carrying on past Titchwell, we stopped next at Thornham Harbour. There was no sign of any Twite around the old coal barn. A Black-tailed Godwit in the harbour channel was our first of the weekend and a Curlew was feeding on the saltmarsh opposite. With the wind having dropped, we decided to have a quick walk up to the corner of the seawall to see what we could see.

There were plenty of Common Redshank out in the muddy channels and one or two more Curlews. A small group of Linnets kept flying up from the vegetation in front of us and a Little Egret was on the edge of the saltmarsh just below the bank. Scanning further out in the harbour channel, we picked up a much paler wader. Through the scope, we could confirm it was a Spotted Redshank in silvery-grey non-breeding plumage. We could see the prominent white supercilium bridging the base of the bill, which was long and needle-fine at the tip.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – in the harbour channel at Thornham again

Spotted Redshanks winter in very small numbers here – they are mainly passage migrants, passing through in spring and autumn. There have been two commuting between Thornham and Titchwell this winter, but they disappear into the tidal creeks and can be very hard to find at time. Looking further out, we could see a few Knot and Grey Plover on the tidal flats and a pair of Red-breasted Merganser in the outer channel through the sands.

We headed round to Titchwell next, to finish the afternoon. As we got out of the minibus and stopped to use the facilities, we heard the distinctive calls of Mediterranean Gulls and looked up to see a succession of birds flying in and out overhead.

Checking in at the Visitor Centre, there had been no sign of any Woodcock today but we were told that there were three Red-crested Pochard on Patsy’s Reedbed. We went that way first and quickly found them out on the water. The two drakes were already looking resplendent in the afternoon sun, but then they started displaying to the female, with their bright orange punk haircuts raised. One of the males was more successful, and we watched the pair mating while the second drake played gooseberry!

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – displaying and mating on Patsy’s Reedbed

Otherwise, there were not many other ducks on here today. Two or three Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air out over the reedbed or over towards Brancaster. A Chinese Water Deer appeared on the edge of the reeds briefly.

Back round on the main path, there were a few Common Pochards on the reedbed pool. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes in the reeds. The water level on the freshmarsh is very high again and there was no sign of the shallow islands which had started to be exposed a couple of weeks ago.

There were lots of Avocets trying to find any shallow water in which to feed and most were gathered right in front of Island Hide, so we went in for a closer look. They were right up to their bellies in the water and either swimming or could just get their feet onto the bottom to kick themselves up to try to reach the mud with their bills.

Avocet

Avocet – trying to feed up to its belly in the deep water

There was very little else on the Freshmarsh apart from the gulls, which have taken over the large ‘Avocet Island’ again this year, where the Avocets are supposed to nest. We walked round to Parrinder Hide for a closer look at some Mediterranean Gulls. Another group of Avocets flew in over the saltmarsh, presumably feeding at the moment out in the harbour channels at low tide, and more were roosting in the water where one of the islands would normally have been.

Inside the fenced-off ‘Avocet Island’ we could see lots of gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls, claiming the ground ahead of the breeding season. In with them we counted at least 40 Mediterranean Gulls, all adults coming into breeding plumage with white-speckled jet black hoods contrasting with bright white eyelids, bright red bills and white wing tips. It was good to compare the two species side by side.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there were at least 40 this afternoon on the Freshmarsh

Otherwise, all we could find here today was a single Knot which was roosting on one of the few taller bits of island which were above the water. There was no sign of the Water Pipit again, perhaps not a surprise with so little of the water’s edge exposed. We decided to head out towards the beach.

The tide was in now and with a bigger tide today, Volunteer Marsh was under water. As we walked past, we noticed a couple of little groups of Teal next to the path. The drakes were looking stunning in the afternoon sun and they were calling and displaying.

We walked out to the Tidal Pool to see if we could find some more waders. There were several godwits on here – mostly Black-tailed Godwits, with some starting to show some brighter rusty feathering as they begin to moult into breeding plumage.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – starting to moult into breeding plumage

We managed to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on the edge of the mud – paler and more heavily streaked above that the Black-tailed Godwits – but surprisingly there were not more roosting here given the tide was in. On the spit where they normally gather there were just two Grey Plovers today. There were still quite a few Oystercatchers on the island, together with several Turnstones.

The tide was right in and there was next to no beach left. We had a quick scan of the sea, but all was quiet here – a lone seal and a single distant Great Crested Grebe. As we started to make our way back, a Skylark was dust bathing on the path. It was very confiding and seemed reluctant to stop what it was doing to make way and let us come past.

Unfortunately, we had to get back now, so those with longer journeys back could get away. As we made our way back east along the coast road, a Barn Owl was hunting where we had seen the one earlier, but this time a different paler bird.

 

 

22nd Feb 2020 – Rescheduled Owls

An Owl Tour today, the last one of winter 2020. After having to cancel last weekend’s Owl Tour, as Storm Dennis lashed the UK with high winds, the day was rescheduled to today. Unfortunately, the forecast deteriorated in the day or two beforehand and now winds were forecast to be very gusty again today. And, as it turned out, they were actually much stronger than expected (the forecast is never to be relied upon!), with gusts up to 56mph in the morning. But having agreed to meet up, we decided to carry on regardless and have a go. By the end, we were all very glad we did, as we had a very good day and managed to see a great selection of owls, despite the wind.

After a very windy night, it was perhaps not surprising that there were no Barn Owls out hunting on our drive down to the meeting point this morning. Undaunted, we drove down to the marshes to see if we could find one hiding in a sheltered spot. But it was still very blustery here and there was no sign of any owls.

One of the first birds we did see was a Spoonbill, flying west out across the marshes. They have already been returning ahead of the breeding season in the last couple of weeks and number are slowly starting to build along the coast here. This one was probably just on its way back.

There were a few raptors up now. A Red Kite appeared briefly above the trees, and two Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds. A Sparrowhawk zipped fast and low over the grass, too quick for most of the group to get onto it. The mob of immature Mute Swans was out in the wet grass again, along with a pair of Egyptian Geese. A flock of Meadow Pipits flew over, and a Reed Bunting came up from the reeds on the edge of the ditch.

We drove inland to check out some more sheltered meadows, but there were no Barn Owls here either. We would have another chance later in the afternoon, so hoping the wind would drop, we decided to turn our attention to Tawny Owls instead. As we parked by a field, three Oystercatchers were feeding in the winter wheat next door. We walked down the footpath to the edge of the wood. It was sheltered from the wind on this side, and there were a few rays of early brightness hitting the trees. Several Goldfinches and Chaffinches flew out of the branches above our heads.

We stopped to check out some tits in the trees and a Nuthatch flew across between the branches. When it landed on a bough, a second Nuthatch flew in to join it. A larger bird which flew out briefly to a lower bough was a Great Spotted Woodpecker and then a Treecreeper appeared too, working its way along the underside of one of the larger limbs of the tree. To round it off, a Goldcrest appeared with the tits in the bottom of a pine tree, right in front of us.

When the birds gradually disappeared back into the trees, we continued on down the footpath. As we rounded the corner, we walked out into the full face of the wind again. We wondered whether the Tawny Owl would be in its usual tree hole today, given the wind, but thankfully it was a little more sheltered on the far side. And there was the Tawny Owl, dozing in its hole. We got the scope on it and had a good look.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – in its usual tree hole again today, despite the wind

It was nice to see our first owl of the day, and as one of the most nocturnal of our regular owls, it is always a real treat to see a Tawny Owl during the daylight hours. Having admired it for a while, we set off back along the path. Two Mistle Thrushes had flown over the trees earlier, and as we walked back, they came up from the field the other side. A Song Thrush was singing in the trees, despite the wind.

We headed further inland to look for Little Owls next. It was always going to be an outside chance we could find one today, given the weather, and there was no sign of any at the first three sites we checked. Then it started to rain, which was the final nail in the coffin. We drove on west, out of the worst of the squally shower, but it was still spitting as we checked out a couple more sets of barns, to no avail. Another Sparrowhawk took off from the hedge ahead of us, skimming low over the road before flicking up over the hedge the other side. There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields, mostly hunkered down today, rather than boxing.

As we drove down towards the Wash, we stopped briefly to look at a sugar beet field which had been harvested earlier in the winter. A couple of Pink-footed Geese were feeding in a patch of beet which had been left in a damp corner and another one was in the long grass on the edge of the field. There were a couple of pairs of Egyptian Geese here too.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – one of three in the old beet field on our way to the Wash

Making our way out to the edge of the Wash at Snettisham, a female Goldeneye was busy diving on the sailing club pit. When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was out, and we were presented with a vast expanse of mud. There were a few waders still closer in – Curlew, Redshank, Grey Plover and Knot, but most of the Dunlin were further out. We stopped to admire some of the closer birds in the scope, although it was not a place to linger today, given the wind. There was a liberal scattering of Shelduck over the mud too.

Our main target here was the owls, so we continued on round to see if we could find any. It didn’t take long to find one of the Short-eared Owls, tucked well in to a bramble bush, looking out. It was mostly dozing, its eyes closed. We got it in the scope, but it was very windy and hard to keep the scope steady. It was a little more sheltered a bit further down the path, so we stopped for a second look.

Short-eared Owl 1

Short-eared Owl – roosting in the brambles again

Continuing on round, we found a second Short-eared Owl roosting in the sparser brambles, back in its usual spot. A slightly paler individual, it stood out more against the vegetation. Again, it was mostly dozing but did wake up briefly at one point, flashing its yellow eyes.

Short-eared Owl 2

Short-eared Owl – the second one of the morning, roosting in the brambles

It was good to be back on track with some owls now. After admiring the Short-eared Owls for a while, we decided to head back. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing half-heartedly in the dense brambles on the seawall, sensibly keeping tucked well in.

Making our way back along the seawall, we found a lot of the Dunlin were closer in now, a bit further north towards the start of the chalets. There has been a single Little Stint wintering here, one of probably only a handful wintering in the country, although with all the thousands of waders looking for it can be a bit reminiscent of needles in haystacks. We have mostly seen the Little Stint off Rotary Hide, but surprisingly we found it again, further up here today. It seemed to be mostly keeping to itself, running around on the mud, although it was getting blown around quite a bit in the wind.

Little Stint

Little Stint – out on the mud again, but a bit further up today

As we passed the sailing club pits, there were several Goldeneye now including a nice close male. We stopped to admire its glossy green head, bold white cheek patch, and bright golden yellow eye – whenever it resurfaced from its regular dives. More of a surprise, a darker duck on the pit further up was an immature drake Common Scoter. They are mostly sea ducks and not often seen on the pools here, and had presumably been blown in on the wind.

Goldeneye

Goldeneye – a smart drake, diving on the pits

We made our way over to Titchwell next, for a break for lunch and a welcome hot drink. The ever helpful staff in the Visitor Centre told us that the Woodcock had been showing again this morning, so after lunch we made our way round to Meadow Trail. There were a few people already there who pointed out where it was. The Woodcock was very well hidden today, roosting down among the moss-covered branches, but from the right angle it was possible to get it in the scope for some frame-filling views.

Woodcock

Woodcock – roosting down among the moss-covered branches

Continuing on round to Patsys Reedbed, there were a few ducks out on the water here, mainly a small group of Gadwall and several Common Pochard, but we couldn’t see the drake Red-crested Pochard which was seen here earlier. We got the scope on a drake Gadwall so we could admire the intricacy of its feather patterning. Not just a dull grey bird – the connoisseur’s duck!

There were several Marsh Harriers up over the reedbed, with at least four together at one point, hanging in the wind. One landed on a small bush, where we could get a good look at it in the scope. More Marsh Harriers were further back, over Brancaster Marsh. A Kestrel landed on a tree just in front of the viewpoint too. A Common Buzzard was up along the ridge inland, where four Roe Deer were lying down in one of the fields.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – one of four up together over the reedbed

One of the volunteers told us that the Red-crested Pochard was tucked into the reeds, only visible from the far end of the pool. So we walked down and looked back to see it sleeping with some more Common Pochard. We could see its brighter orange head.

It was quite sheltered round at Patsy’s Reedbed and it seemed like the wind might have dropped. We cut back round onto the main path and when we got out of the shelter of the trees we found it was still very windy, though perhaps not quite as strong as this morning.

We made our way straight up to Island Hide, where we could get out of the wind. There were lots of Teal feeding right in front of the hide, the drakes looking very smart now in their breeding plumage. The numbers of Avocets have been steadily growing, as birds are already returning ahead of the breeding season. Two Black-tailed Godwits were asleep in with the feeding Avocets.

Avocet

Avocet – numbers have been increasing steadily in the last few weeks

There were lots of gulls out on the Freshmarsh, and looking carefully through all the Black-headed Gulls, we found several Mediterranean Gulls in with them. Through the scope, we could see most were starting to get their dark, black hoods, contrasting with their white eyelids, and their bright red bills stood out too. There were several Common Gulls and Herring Gulls with them, and a single yellow-legged Lesser Black-backed Gull too. A Muntjac was working its way along the edge of the reeds.

We didn’t have time to explore the rest of the reserve today. As we walked back past the grazing meadow, there was no sign of the Barn Owl this afternoon, despite it being prime time now for it to be out. Perhaps it was just going to be too windy for them today.

Heading slowly back west, we kept scanning the likely fields, where we know Barn Owls like to hunt. Our luck was in, and as we passed a more sheltered meadow, we spotted a Barn Owl on a post at the back. It took off and flew towards us, but typically a car appeared behind us now and we were pulled up in the middle of the road on a corner.

There was somewhere to pull in further up and we walked back. The Barn Owl was on a post, under the trees, right by the gate now, so we edged our way down, trying not to disturb it. We needn’t have worried too much, as it eventually stayed where it was and didn’t mind us even when we got much closer, to find an angle from where we could get a clear look at it.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – our first of the day, dozing on a post

The Barn Owl was dozing. It looked round at us a couple of times, only half opening its eyes, but then tucked its head back in. It looked like it might be unwell, and it would be no surprise if it was struggling to find food at the moment, given the ongoing windy weather. Eventually it did take off again and flew further back to another post, looking round a little more actively. In windy weather, Barn Owls will often hunt from posts, scanning the ground below.

It was great to get our first Barn Owl of the day, and see it so close. Our luck was really in now, as we turned to see another owl hunting over the grass in the middle of the field. It was much browner than a Barn Owl, longer winged, and flying with stiff wing beats and a rowing-like action. It was a Short-eared Owl!

Short-eared Owl 3

Short-eared Owl – a surprise find, out hunting this afternoon

We watched as the Short-eared Owl worked its way round the far end of the meadow, before disappearing back through the trees. This is not a place we normally see them, so we wondered whether it might have come in from the grazing marshes to try to find somewhere more sheltered to hunt. A very nice bonus! While we were watching the Short-eared Owl, we noticed a second Barn Owl perched low down in the trees at the back of the meadow.

Continuing on to Holkham, we stopped again overlooking the grazing marshes. Five Spoonbills flew up as we arrived and disappeared round behind the trees, but as we stood and scanned, more Spoonbills flew in and out in ones and twos. This is another sheltered spot and we found our third Barn Owl of the afternoon, perched on a post on the edge of the marshes. Again it was not flying round hunting, but made its way between a couple of different perches, scanning the ground below.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – perched on a gate on the edge of the grazing marsh

Scanning the ditches and pools, we found a very distant Great White Egret out on the marshes. Then a second appeared from where it was hiding in a rush-lined ditch much closer and we had a good look at its long, snake-like neck and long, dagger-shaped yellow bill.

We could see a very distant group of White-fronted Geese and another small flock flew round calling, mixed in with some Greylags. Then we found some a little closer, out on the grazing marsh, so we could see their black belly bars and white surround to their bills. A flock of tits flew along the hedge behind us, and we picked out a single Goldcrest in with the Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits as they worked their way past.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – out on the grazing marsh

Time was getting on now and the light was starting to go. We hadn’t managed to see a Little Owl this morning, so we decided to have another throw of the dice and have a quick look at one site on our way back, in case one might be out hunting. It was still very windy though, and there was no sign. One to come back for another day! A Chinese Water Deer ran across the field as we drove round, adding to the day’s deer list.

We had done remarkably well for owls today, considering the weather, and everyone agreed we had enjoyed a great day out, with lots of other birds and wildlife too. We were so pleased we hadn’t had to cancel again. The moral of the story – it is always worth going out regardless!

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