Tag Archives: Red-necked Phalarope

9th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Private Tour today, our last day. We were planning to head down to the Brecks for the day. It was a nice day today, mostly cloudy but brighter later, lighter winds than of late, and we managed to dodge a couple of quick showers in the afternoon.

As we got down into the northern part of the Brecks, we started to see more pig fields. We stopped by one of them where we could see there was a large mob of gulls. The pig nuts had just been spread out in amongst one group of pigs and the gulls were squabbling in between them trying to help themselves. Then there was a loud ‘Bang!’ as a bird scarer went off and all the gulls took to the air.

When they landed again, down in a dip in the middle of the field, we scanned through the gulls we could see. We had hoped we might find a Caspian Gull, but they were mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls here today, of various ages, plus a couple of Herring Gulls. We had thought we might come back and have another look here later, but our day ended up taking us off in a different direction.

Stone Curlew was our next target and we quickly found a pair in a field by the road. The vegetation is growing up now and they are getting harder to see, particularly when they sit down. It took a careful scan to find them, but we could just see two heads peeping out. We got them in the scope and could see their staring yellow irises. A nice start to the day.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair hiding in the field

When originally discussing possible targets for these three days, Wood Warbler was one species which came up. Unfortunately the bird which had been singing near Brandon last week had not been reported for several days, but we wondered whether this might be just because of the windy weather. We went for a quick look just in case, but all was quiet in the trees where it had been, so we didn’t linger here.

Our next stop was more successful. We parked by a ride in the forest and walked along the track until we got to a large clearing. We could hear Goldcrests and a Treecreeper calling in the pines as we passed. As we approached the clearing we could hear a Stonechat calling and we looked over and saw a smart male perched on the top of an old stump row. A female was perched nearby with food in her bill. They clearly had young in the nest nearby.

StonechatStonechat – the pair in the clearing appear to have young

We were looking for Tree Pipit here and it didn’t take too long to find one. It was perched in the top of an elder tree just along from the Stonechats. We got a good look at it through the scope, swaying about in the wind, before it flew off and up into the pines trees beyond.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – perched in an elder tree briefly

Continuing on round the clearing, we caught a snatch of song, quite sweet and melodic but more rolling than a Blackcap. It seemed an odd place for a Garden Warbler and the first bird we saw come out of the young pine trees was a Whitethroat which led to a brief bout of head scratching – could we have imagined it? Thankfully, a couple of seconds later the Garden Warbler flicked up into the top of some brambles in the stump row behind, a nice bonus to see here and not one we had expected.

Back to the car and we drove round to another part of the forest. There has been a Redstart singing here recently, but we couldn’t hear it today. Whether it was just busy feeding somewhere out of view or has failed to find a mate and moved on was not clear. A smart male Yellowhammer flew in calling and landed on the fence in front of us.

We had a walk round and flushed a Cuckoo from the grass. It landed on a fencepost briefly, before flying off along the fence line. A second Cuckoo appeared and flew out to a small bush nearby, where we got a great view of it in the scope. Then we heard what we assume was the first Cuckoo singing in the distance, so there were two males here. A little later the second Cuckoo flew over and attempted to chase off the first, before flying back to its favoured bush.

CuckooCuckoo – one of two males here today

Another Tree Pipit flew in and dropped down into the long grass. We walked over to try to get a better look at it, but it had managed to sneak away. As we scanned the spot where it had dropped in, the next thing we knew it took off again from further along and flew off towards the trees.

As we turned to walk back, we could hear a Woodlark calling. Suddenly a male Woodlark flew up from a short distance ahead of us and started to sing, fluttering up over our heads, before drifting away over the clearing. We took a few more steps and heard another Woodlark calling. It sounded to be a long way away, but they are masters at throwing their voice and looking at the grass just ahead of us, we spotted it perched on a tussock, presumably the female.

WoodlarkWoodlark – perched on a tussock close to the path

We stopped immediately and had a good look at it through binoculars, but when we tried to get the scope on it, the Woodlark took off and landed in the grass further back, out of view. We headed back to the car and drove on. Having seen Stone Curlew earlier this morning, we were not to worried to see another, but we stopped briefly at Weeting on the way past anyway. We couldn’t find the Stone Curlews here today, but we did find three regular Eurasian Curlews out in the grass, a reminder they still breed in the Brecks in small numbers.

We stopped for lunch at Lakenheath Fen. While we were eating at one of the picnic tables, a Hobby drifted overhead. We had intended to explore the reserve after lunch, but with most of the possible species we might see here already on our list for the three days, another idea sprang to mind. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope at Welney for the last couple of days, which would be a new bird for one of us. It seemed like it would be a great way to round off the trip.

While Welney is not far away as the crow flies, it was a circuitous journey round from Lakenheath, through the Fens. When we arrived at the Welney WWT visitor centre, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling from the bushes outside, but couldn’t see them. We decided to look for them later, and with other things taking priority headed straight out to look for the phalarope. The staff at the visitor centre confirmed it had still been present just a short time ago, so we set off to walk the almost 1km down to Friends Hide.

When we got to the hide, The Red-necked Phalarope was out of view. There were several pairs of Avocets on here and quite a few chicks. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers had a couple of small fluffy juveniles with them too. We had been lucky with the weather today – it was warm and bright as we walked out to the hide – but we had been promised showers in the afternoon and a brief heavy rain shower came through. The adult Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers called to their respective young and sheltered the juveniles under their wings while the rain passed over.

AvocetAvocet – sheltering their chicks under their wings during the rain shower

It quickly brightened up again and the juvenile Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers were let out. The Avocets were being very aggressive. Their idea of childcare is to let the young fend for themselves and chase off potential predators. But they have got their definition of what might be a threat to their young awry – they were busy chasing off anything and everything!

A couple of adult Avocets kept having a go at the poor Little Ringed Plovers, chasing after them while they were trying to protect their young. The adult Little Ringed Plovers tried to lead them away with a distraction display, walking away with wings dangled, trying to look injured. It didn’t really work. The Avocets would follow them at first, then when the Little Ringed Plover felt it had got far enough away, it ran back to its chick but the Avocet simply chased back after it.

Avocet and Little Ringed Plover 1Avocet & Little Ringed Plover – the latter giving a distraction display, feigning injury

The Avocets kept chasing the Red-necked Phalarope too, which was probably why it spent so much time hiding in the reeds at the front of the pool. Every time the Red-necked Phalarope swam out, it was promptly chased off. We had a couple of quick views of it. At one point, when chased, it flew across the front of the scrape and landed on a small patch of mud, but the Avocet was still after it and once again it disappeared back into the reeds.

Eventually, the juvenile Avocets moved away from the Red-necked Phalarope’s favoured corner and it managed to swim about for a while feeding out in the open where we could get a good look at it. It was a male, which in phalarope’s means it is the duller plumaged of the sexes, with the females being brighter. The females do all the displaying and leave the males to incubate and rear the young. This male Red-necked Phalarope was still a smart bird, swimming round non-stop, in and out of the reeds, picking at the waters surface for insects of ducking its head under.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – swimming around in front of the hide

We watched the Red-necked Phalarope for a while, swimming once it finally came out into the open for a while. They are rare visitors here and this bird was probably heading up to Scandinavia or Iceland for the breeding season, though where it had spent the winter is anyone’s guess with Scandinavian birds wintering out in the Arabian Sea but recent studies showing that some of the small number of birds breeding in the Shetland Islands migrating to join the North American population in the South Pacific Ocean! When it finally swam back into the reeds again, we decided to start walking back.

On the way back, we stopped for a quick look in the other hides. There did not seem to be too much on view from Lyle Hide, apart from more Avocets – good to see that they appear to be doing so well at Welney. We heard a song that sounded vaguely reminiscent of jangling keys and looked out of the front of the hide to see a Corn Bunting perched on the top of the vegetation. We got a great look at it as it stayed there for a couple of minutes singing, before being spooked by a big flock of Rooks and dropping back down out of view.

Corn BuntingCorn Bunting – singing in front of Lyle Hide

There were several Black-tailed Godwits out to one side of the hide, but the light was bad here as we were looking into the sun. We got better views from the Nelson-Lyle Hide further back. This confirmed our suspicions that they appeared to be a mix of two different races. Nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit breeds across Europe east from the Netherlands. Only about 50-60 pairs breed in the UK on the Ouse and Nene Washes, including a couple of pairs at Welney. First summer islandica or Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits often remain in UK in rather than migrate up to Iceland to breed. There appeared to be a mixture of the two here, including a couple of nice limosa, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them.

Continental Black-tailed GodwitContinental Black-tailed Godwit – of the nominate race, limosa

Back at the Observatory, we could see a pair of Whooper Swans in front of the hide. This is a pair of injured birds which are not capable of flying back up to Iceland to breed, so have instead nested for the last six years at Welney, where they normally spend the winter. We could only see two of the four cygnets they were meant to have this year, but  presumed the others were hiding in the vegetation. Further back across the washes we could see another six or so Whooper Swans, presumably also all injured birds.

Whooper SwanWhooper Swan – with two cygnets

Back at the visitor centre, there were three more Black-tailed Godwits on Lady Fen. A quick look at the feeders as we were leaving finally got us views of the Tree Sparrows, with at least a couple coming and going, including one with only a half-grown tail.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow – coming to the feeders in front of the visitor centre

It was a lovely way to end three exciting action-packed days of East Anglian summer birding, watching the Red-necked Phalarope and all the other birds at Welney. It rounded off the list nicely – we had managed to see a nice set of rarer birds despite it being early June, as well as a great selection of our resident and scarcer breeding species. A job well done, we set off back for home.

 

14th August 2016 – Spoonbills & Waders

A Late Summer and Wader Tour today. It was good birding weather – not too hot, some nice high cloud this morning but getting sunnier this afternoon. August is a great time of year for seeing waders, so that was one of our main targets today. We managed 20 different species today, and saw a very good selection of other birds as well.

Our first stop was at Titchwell. As we arrived early today, before it got too busy, we had a quick look around the overflow car park. The berries and apples are all developing nicely, and we found several Blackcaps already taking advantage of the growing bounty. There were a few Goldfinches and Greenfinches in the bushes too.

The former grazing meadow ‘pool’ is baked very dry now. There is not much to see there as a consequence, a couple of Lapwings today, but it is always worth a quick look. As we arrived, three Collared Doves flew over heading west, and then a Stock Dove dropped down with the Woodpigeons, giving a nice comparison through the scope.

A scan of the saltmarsh revealed four distant Spoonbills.  We could just make out their heads as they came up out of the long grass from time to time, before they decided to fly off towards Thornham. We watched a dark chocolate juvenile Marsh Harrier circling over the reeds and as it drifted out over the saltmarsh it started to flush everything hiding out there. Lots of waders, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Curlews, appeared. Then the Spoonbills flew back in towards the reserve, giving us great views as they came over the path in front of us.

6O0A8421Spoonbill – flew in from the saltmarsh

There was a nice selection of wildfowl out on the reedbed pool – Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. The ducks are not at their prettiest right now, with the drakes all in dull eclipse plumage. A single Little Grebe was busy diving right at the back.

A couple of Bearded Tits were calling from the reeds as we walked up to Island Hide. We stopped to scan and had some quick flight views at first, as they zipped across the reebed. Then we managed to find a single juvenile Bearded Tit climbing through some bulrushes. It dropped down into the reeds below to preen, where we could just see it through the scope as the breeze moved the vegetation in front. Then it disappeared down out of view.

There were lots of waders out on the freshmarsh from Island Hide. There is still a very good number of Avocets on here and we watched a couple feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills side to side through the shallows. They are aggressive parents and a couple were still chasing off any other waders from the best bits of mud. Including a couple of very obliging Ruff.

6O0A8487Avocet – this one a young bird with some brown feathers above

There are plenty of Black-tailed Godwits here too. Most of them were roosting on one of the low islands over by Parrinder Hide today, with a few more feeding over towards the back. A small group of Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in, probably flushed from the beach. One of them was still mostly in summer plumage, bright rusty underparts extending right down under the tail.

A Common Sandpiper was picking around furtively on the mud over by the reeds. A single winter plumage Spotted Redshank was unhelpfully asleep. Five Golden Plover were running around on one of the grassy islands further over, also still sporting the smart black faces and bellies of summer plumage. The highlight from here was the Little Stint, which we picked up in with a group of Dunlin, white faced and much smaller than its companions.

There was no shortage of Common Terns on the freshmarsh again, a mixture of adults and juveniles. There were fewer gulls than of late, but a scan through revealed a single adult Yellow-legged Gull, conveniently close to a Lesser Black-backed Gull for comparison, the former with a much paler, greyer back.

IMG_5747Common Tern – an adult just starting to moult its black cap

We could hear Bearded Tits calling all the time we were in Island Hide, but they wouldn’t show themselves today. From up on the main path, as we walked further along, there were more Bearded Tits calling from the reeds just below us. We stopped to see if they might appear but they were tucked down on the edge out of view. Very frustrating! We did see several Reed Warblers, a Sedge Warbler and a few Reed Buntings fly in and out. A bright Willow Warbler which dropped into the vegetation by the reeds briefly was more of a surprise here.

6O0A8506  Ruff – a male mostly moulted to winter plumage

While we were standing here, we were treated to some closer views of some of the waders. Several Ruff included a couple of browner juveniles and a smaller adult female (a Reeve) still with unmoulted darker summer upperparts. The variety of plumage in different Ruff can be bewildering at times! A few streaky-bellied juvenile Dunlin were picking around on the mud below us and in with them we were treated to lovely close views of the juvenile Little Stint.

6O0A8528 Little Stint – this juvenile showed really well from the main path

Scanning the freshmarsh from here, we realised there was a second Little Stint further over. We could hear the distinctive call of a Spotted Redshank and a dusky juvenile dropped in briefly before flying off west, calling all the way. Round at the Parrinder Hide, we could see the large flock of Black-tailed Godwit and a good number of Oystercatcher roosting here too now. A party of Turnstones dropped in, disappearing quickly in amongst the Black-tailed Godwits.

We had seen one Spoonbill well from Island Hide, a lone bird out on the freshmarsh. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do at first, sleeping! However, it woke up for a preen, showing off the yellow tip to its long, black, spoon-shaped bill, which identified it as an adult. From Parrinder Hide we could see that there were actually lots of Spoonbills on here today, and the rest of them were all hiding round the back of the islands. We counted at least 19 that we could see, including the one out in full view.

IMG_5740Spoonbill – an adult, with yellow-tipped bill

We heard a couple of Yellow Wagtails flying over while we were up on the main path, and we had a request to see one. Parrinder Hide is normally a good place to see them, but we had to content ourselves with a few Meadow Pipits and a flock of Linnets at first, including a very smart male which flew in for a drink. Eventually the Yellow Wagtails gave themselves up, and three perched up on the fence for us to see.

The Volunteer Marsh is rather dry at the moment, but a very showy Little Egret was fishing just below the path. There were lots of Common Redshank in the tidal channel. Two Grey Plover were right down towards the back, with one starting to moult out of summer plumage, with black belly but brown and white spotted face, but the other already in winter plumage lacking any black below.

6O0A8519 Little Egret – flashing its yellow feet

Out at the beach, we had a quick scan of the sea. A raft of Common Scoter were swimming and diving offshore. A distant Gannet flew east and a few terns were fishing. Then it was time to make our way back. A Whimbrel called out over the saltmarsh and we could see it circle round in the distance. Fortunately, when we got back to the freshmarsh, another Whimbrel had dropped in and was standing out on the mud so we could get a much better look at it.

The Bearded Tits by the main path were still calling and still hiding, but we had a bit more luck back near Island Hide. We stood and waited a while and one flew in, landing in the tops of the reeds briefly before dropping down to the mud below. A second Bearded Tit flew in to join it, but even here they were hard to see, with tall reeds in front and the birds creeping around in among the reed bases. With a bit of patience, everyone got to see them and then it was back for lunch.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Snettisham. The tide was not going to be high enough to get all the waders in close today, but as we arrived we could see the huge flocks of birds swirling out over the edge of the water. Quite a spectacle, even if they were not going to be forced off the Wash. We spent a while admiring the different shapes of the flocks. Stunning stuff!

6O0A8564

6O0A8554Wader flocks – mostly Knot, out over the Wash

There are probably around 60,000 birds here at the moment, of which the largest number are Knot. We could see some huge flocks of Curlew and Oystercatcher, standing around on the drier mud . Most of the other birds were rather distant, with added heat hazee now the sun was out, though we did find a number of Ringed Plovers closer to us, an addition to the day’s list.

We made our way down to Shore Hide. There were a few butterflies out in the sun in the short grass, including several Common Blues and a smart Wall. A Six-spot Burnet moth posed nicely on some Viper’s Bugloss.

6O0A8572  Wall Brown – enjoying the afternoon sun

From the hide, there were lots of Cormorants on the islands, panting in the afternoon sun. There is no shortage of geese here, with lots of noisy Greylags, a good number of Egyptian Geese and even three feral Barnacle Geese today.

Despite the fact that the tide was not high enough to force all the waders off the Wash today, there were still a few birds roosting on the pit. Hiding in amongst the geese, we found a party of eight Spotted Redshanks. We got a better view of them here than at Titchwell – most were already in winter plumage, but two of them were still heavily speckled with black below. There were also a good number of Greenshank sleeping on the gravel islands.

IMG_5770Spotted Redshanks – at least 8 here today

The wader we had really come to see took a bit more searching. We eventually found the Red-necked Phalarope at the back of the pit, tucked in below the shingle on the far side opposite the hide. It was a juvenile, with dark back, white underneath and sporting a distinctive black mask. However the most distinctive thing about the phalaropes is how they like to feed, swimming on the water, picking at the surface for insects. We watched as they Red-necked Phalarope swam up and down below the bank.

IMG_5837Red-necked Phalarope – this juvenile was still at Snettisham today

It was not all about the waders. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared briefly in the bushes in front of the hide, before flying back along the bank. Later we found at least two Lesser Whitethroats in the bushes close to Rotary Hide. One was feeding on berries in the elder bushes right in front of the hide. It chased off another bird that came near, which turned out to be a Common Whitethroat and the two birds perched side by side at one point, giving us a nice comparison.

6O0A8576Lesser Whitethroat – lurking in an elder bush

The largest number of waders on the pit today were Black-tailed Godwits, a massive flock roosting on one of the islands towards the north end of the pit. Viewing from Rotary Hide, we got a better view of the small number of Knot which were roosting in with them.

From the other side of the hide, we could still see the vast flocks of waders swirling around over the Wash. They seemed to be a bit more settled now, with the tide going slack over high tide and not pushing them any further up towards us. Still, it was great to watch them as we walked back, a great way to finish the day.