Tag Archives: Ring Ouzel

8th Oct 2017 – Autumn Weekend, Day 2

Day 2 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was cloudy all day, and although it was spitting with rain first thing (which wasn’t forecast!), thankfully the rain quickly stopped and it even brightened up a little bit.

As we drove west along the coast road, there were lots of geese in the stubble fields beyond Holkham. We slowed down and could see they were mostly Greylags, with a good number of Pink-footed Geese in with them as well as several Egyptian Geese too.

Our first destination for the morning was Titchwell. As it was still fairly quiet when we arrived in the car park, we headed round to take a look in the bushes in the oevrflow car park first. As well as the usual Dunnocks and Robins, we heard a Blackcap calling in the apple trees as we rounded the corner, just in time to see it drop down into the brambles. There were several Blackbirds in the trees, very active, suggesting they had just arrived. A couple of Redwings flew over calling, as did a Grey Wagtail. There were clearly birds on the move and newly arrived in from the continent this morning.

The feeders around the visitor centre held the usual selection of finches and tits, so we made our way straight out to Fen Trail. We were hoping to track down the Yellow-browed Warbler which has probably been here for some time now, but the sallows were fairly quiet. More Redwings were calling from the trees.

There were quite a few ducks on Patsy’s reedbed, particularly several each of Common Pochard and Tufted Duck, both of which were new additions for the weekend’s list. There were a few gulls too, loafing and preening, mostly Black-headed Gulls with a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls too. A larger gull at the back of them had a distinctive grey mantle, not as dark as the slaty-backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls but noticeably darker than the Black-headed Gulls. It was also noticeably pale headed, with limited fine streaking. It was a Yellow-legged Gull, but unfortunately it remained in the deeper water where we couldn’t see its bright yellow legs properly.

Scanning over the reedbed and beyond, we noticed a large heron-like bird flying in from the direction of Brancaster. It was a Bittern and thankfully it kept coming, flying right across in front of us over the reeds at the back of Patsy’s before dropping down somewhere out in front of Fen Hide the other side. A great way to start the morning, with a Bittern!

BitternBittern – flew in from Brancaster & dropped down in front of Fen Hide

Continuing on along the East Trail, there were more birds migrating overhead. Two more Grey Wagtails flew high over calling, as did a flock of Linnets. A couple of groups of Siskins flew out of the wood ahead of us and circled up calling, before flying off west, presumably fresh arrivals from the continent. A Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and flew away across the paddocks, that one presumably a local bird.

There were lots of thrushes in the hedges which flew out as we walked along, presumably birds freshly arrived from the continent which had stopped off to feed. As well as more Redwings, we flushed several Song Thrushes, and four Mistle Thrushes flew past us along the line of the hedge, heading purposefully west. When we got to Willow Wood, there were lots of Blackbirds in the trees and feeding down on the edge of the reeds. At one point we thought we heard a harsher ‘tchacking’ call from the trees, which sounded a bit like a Ring Ouzel. But when we stopped to listen properly, it had gone quiet.

At that point we were distracted. There has been a Little Owl around here for the last couple of weeks, and we heard it calling from somewhere over around the paddocks. We walked back to try to see it. It was not on the fence at the back of the paddocks, but as we scanned along the other side of the big hedge, we just noticed a small patch of grey brown hidden in amongst the leaves. When we got it in the scope, we could confirm it was indeed the Little Owl.

Little OwlLittle Owl – half hidden in the top of the hedge

It was hard enough to see, even when you knew where it was, but eventually we all got a good look at the Little Owl. While we were standing there watching it, a blackbird-like shape flew up from the edge of the wood and into the top of an oak tree. It stayed there just long enough to get a quick look at it. It was the Ring Ouzel – we could see the distinctive pale edges to the wing feathers forming a pale panel, although it was a young one, a first winter, lacking a well-marked pale gorget. Then it dropped out of the tree, flew across in front of us and disappeared into the hedge.

We couldn’t see the Ring Ouzel again in the hedge, so we made our way on around Autumn Trail to the back corner of the freshmarsh. With the tide high, this is the place where the Spotted Redshanks like to roost and we immediately located a line of six of them there today. They were with four Greenshanks, but the Spotted Redshanks were all asleep, making them harder to separate. One Spotted Redshank did wake up briefly, just long enough for us to see its long, needle-fine-tipped bill.

Little StintLittle Stint – this juvenile was feeding in the back corner of the freshmarsh

Down on the mud in the near corner, a single Little Stint was feeding. It was nice and close so we could get a good look at it. There were supposed to be two here today, but they were obviously not on speaking terms! There was a lone juvenile Ruff too. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds and a Kingfisher shot past.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see several perched in the top of the reeds. It was a lovely still day, so they were coming up to feed on the seedheads. There were a couple of small groups here and they were calling constantly. This is also the time of year when Bearded Tits disperse, and some were itching to be on their way this morning. We watched as one group of four circled up out of the reeds and high into the sky, before changing their minds and dropping sharply back into the reeds again.

Bearded Tit 1Bearded Tits – we saw several groups in the reeds today

One group of Bearded Tits started to make their way closer, over towards the path. We walked back to where they seemed to be headed and before we knew it we had them all perched up in the top of the reeds right in front of us. Stunning views!

Bearded Tit 2

Bearded Tit 3Bearded Tits – stunning views along Autumn Trail this morning

The Bearded Tits seemed totally unconcerned by our presence, and stayed perched in the top of the reeds right in front of us for several minutes, before finally deciding to fly a little further back into the reeds. It was a real treat to see them so well and for so long.

We started to make our way back. A crowd had now gathered to try to see the Ring Ouzel, so we didn’t linger. A Little Grebe laughed at us – or them – from out on Patsy’s Reedbed as we passed. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made their way quickly down along the hedge beside the path, in the opposite direction, but there was no sign of anything more interesting with them.

Making our way slowly back along Fen Trail, the sallows were still quiet. We stopped to listen by the dragonfly pools and finally heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call. It came from somewhere round on Meadow Trail, so we made our way quickly round there. Unfortunately, it didn’t call again and there was no sign of any movement in the trees, apart from a couple of Blue Tits and a few Blackbirds.

It was clear that this Yellow-browed Warbler was not going to make our lives easy, so with the morning passing quickly, we decided to head out onto the reserve. There were lots of people gathered on the main path by the former Thornham grazing marsh pool, and they told us they had seen up to 40 Bearded Tits either side of the path here. We could hear Bearded Tits calling and looked across to see a large group of at least 15 in the tops of the reeds on the Thornham side. There were more calling from the reeds behind us. It was definitely a good day for Bearded Tits!

CurlewCurlew – very well camouflaged on the saltmarsh

Continuing on our way, a smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering the reedbed. A lone Curlew was down on the near edge of the saltmarsh. It was very well-camouflaged here, among the grasses, but easier to see when it was walking round feeding.

In Island Hide, we stopped to have a look at the Freshmarsh. There were lots of waders on here, principally a very large flock of Golden Plover which had probably flown in from the stubble fields inland to bathe, preen and sleep. Behind them was a long line of Black-tailed Godwits, again mostly asleep. Scattered around the islands and edges were a good number of Ruff, both browner juveniles and paler, orange-legged adults. There were several little flocks of Dunlin too, and we finally found the second Little Stint running around on the top of one of the drier islands among all the Lapwing, looking tiny by comparison.

RuffRuff – a paler winter adult, one of several on the freshmarsh

The biggest surprise on here was when one of the group said they had found a Grey Partridge and we looked over to see a male walking out across the mud. A bizarre sight, it clearly thought it was a wader! It didn’t stay long though, and quickly realised the error of its ways and went back to the bank.

There are more ducks on the Freshmarsh now, mainly Wigeon and Teal which have returned here for the winter. A flock of Brent Geese flew in from out on the saltmarsh  to bathe and preen, before heading back the way they had just come.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding on the edge of the Freshmarsh

From back up on the main path, a close Black-tailed Godwit was feeding down on the mud below us. A little further along, at the start of the Volunteer Marsh, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too. Even though they weren’t side by side, we looked at some of the ways to tell these two species apart in non-breeding plumage.

There were also a few Common Redshank on the Volunteer Marsh and more waders along the banks of the channel at the far side. Three Grey Plover here were the most notable, all now in their grey non-breeding plumage.

RedshankCommon Redshank – the Volunteer Marsh is a good place to see them up close

After the recent high tides, the Tidal Pools were full of water and most of the islands were flooded. Consequently, there were fewer birds on here than normal. We did see at least four Little Grebes which have presumably now taken up residence here for the winter.

Climbing up into the dunes, we stopped to scan the sea. The first birds we saw were three Common Scoter close inshore. A moulting drake Goldeneye was just off the beach the other side. It was pretty calm today, so many of the birds were further out. There were quite a few Great Crested Grebes offshore but the single Red-throated Diver we found was very distant.

With the tide going out now and the mussel beds starting to be exposed again, there were plenty of waders down in the beach. As well as lots of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits, we could see a few Turnstone feeding on the mussel beds. Six Knot flew past along the beach. A few Sanderling were running in and out of the gulls along the sand away to the west.

It was time for lunch, so we started to make our way back. We were almost back to the trees, when a big tit flock came towards us, zipping between the sallows. We thought we might find something with all the tits, but despite looking carefully as they worked their way quickly past us, the best we could find was a single Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests. We took a detour round via Meadow Trail, but there was no further sight nor sound of the Yellow-browed Warbler here either.

After lunch back in the picnic area, we made our way back west. We decided to head for Holkham. Several Yellow-browed Warblers had been reported here in the morning, and with the possibility of catching up with other species too, we thought it would be a good place to try.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of four on Salts Hole this afternoon

It was quiet at first in the trees as we made our way west on the path inland of the pines. At Salts Hole, we counted four Little Grebes. As we started to walk on, a Kingfisher flew in, did a quick circuit, landed briefly on the fence at the back, did another quick circuit and disappeared again. There were lots of Jays flying back and forth through the trees.

The sycamores by Washington Hide were empty, but a quick look out across the grazing marsh did at least produce a Common Buzzard, which was new for the weekend’s list. We got to Meals House before we finally found a tit flock. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported here earlier, so we thought we were in with a good chance, but the only warbler we could see with them was a single Chiffchaff. As they moved quickly through and across the path, we had a very brief view of a Firecrest in the top of a tree, before it disappeared into the pines.

We continued on to the west end of the pines, where another Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported. When we got there, we could hear Long-tailed Tits deep in the trees. At first we couldn’t tell where they were headed, but after walking back a short way along the path and then up again, we ran into them just as we got back to the west end. Just as we arrived, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling and saw it drop out of the pines, across the path, and into the sallows.

The Yellow-browed Warbler was calling constantly, but it was hard to see deep in the sallows at first. Slowly, it worked its way towards us and we could see it flitting around among the branches. It appeared on the edge briefly, before disappearing back in. Then it reappeared in the top of an ivy-covered tree in full view, but only for a second. Eventually everyone got a look at it, although often it was a matter of only seeing bits of it at a time between the leaves and building up a ‘composite’ view!

After disappearing back into the sallows, the tit flock started to make its way back across the path and the Yellow-browed Warbler eventually followed. We could see it flitting around high in the pines for a while, before it disappeared back into the trees. Although the tit flock came back out of the pines pretty quickly and dropped back into the trees along the edge, we couldn’t find the Yellow-browed Warbler again and it had stopped calling. It was time for us to start making our way back.

FirecrestFirecrest – a very blurred shot, the best we could manage, with the light fading!

As we passed Meals House, the tit flock here was back out of the pines and feeding in the birches south of the track. We stopped to look through them. While we were looking, we heard the Firecrest calling from the holm oak right behind us. It was not much easier to see than the Yellow-browed Warbler had been, particularly with the light fading now. Eventually, everyone got a look at it when it came out onto the edge of the tree, before being chased off by a Goldcrest.

Then it was time to head for home. It had been a great couple of days with some memorable birds, a typical Norfolk autumn weekend!

 

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6th May 2017 – Three Spring Days, Part 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Spring Tours today. It was forecast to be cloudy, and it was thick enough for some intermittent light drizzle early morning which thankfully cleared up after an hour or two. It was still windy, with a fresh ENE. We might have walked out to the dunes from Burnham Overy today, but given the wind and early drizzle we decided to make our way in that direction from Holkham, where we could get a bit of shelter in the lee of the pines or in the hides if need be.

Having parked at Lady Anne’s Drive, we walked up towards the pines. A Sedge Warbler had found a sheltered spot in the brambles to sing from, and we were able to get a great look at it through the scope.

6O0A9748Sedge Warbler – singing from the shelter of the brambles

As we walked west along the path, in the lee of the pines, we could hear lots of warblers singing in the trees. As well as more Sedge Warblers, there were several Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats and a distant Willow Warbler. One of the Chiffchaffs perched up nicely where we could get it in the scope. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from deep in the bushes, as usual.

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees but we couldn’t see it on our way out. We stopped at Salts Hole to scan the grazing marshes beyond and about thirty Swallows were feeding around the trees in the reeds and low over the grass nearby, presumably trying to find food in this more sheltered spot.

One of the group had seen a Bullfinch fly over the path on our way there, but it had disappeared. When we got to Washington Hide,it flew in and landed in one of the bushes in the reeds and even stayed long enough for us to get it in the scope, a smart pink male. An occasional Spoonbill flew past, heading out to feed or back into the colony.

A female Marsh Harrier perched up on the top of a bush and a little while later a male flew in carrying some prey and landed down in the reeds. We had hoped we might see a food pass, but presumably it had decided to eat whatever it had caught itself. The Swallows were now hawking for insects out over the grazing marshes and as we looked out towards them we could see there were lots of Swifts zooming back and forth now too.

Continuing our way west, a Jay flew across the path and landed in an oak tree briefly. We could hear a Goldcrest singing and a pair of them appeared in a low hawthorn before working their way through the trees and past us. A Treecreeper was singing in the pines, but was too deep in to see. A couple of Coal Tits were feeding in the emerging leaves of an oak tree.

We were told there had been a Peregrine out on the beach on a kill so when we got to the crosstracks, we made our way out to the dunes for a quick look. It wasn’t there any more and it was cold and windy here, so we beat a hasty retreat and headed back to Joe Jordan hide.

There were a couple of people in the hide already when we walked up the steps. As we went in, they kindly told us that a Bittern had just flown in to a clump of rushes not far from the hide. We quickly got seated and after just a couple of minutes it walked out in full view. It stood there for several seconds before walking back across the short grass and flying off again. What perfect timing!

6O0A9761Bittern – walked out of the rushes shortly after we arrived in Joe Jordan Hide

As well as the Bittern, there were lots of other things to see here too. More Spoonbills were coming and going, flying in and out of the trees. Most landed out of view, but two or three flew down to the pool in front to collect nest material, giving us a better look at them. A Great White Egret spent most of its time hiding in a reedy ditch, walking out onto the bank briefly where we could see it, before flying off behind the trees. A single Pink-footed Goose was asleep in the grass, most likely one which has been shot and injured and cannot make the journey back to Iceland to breed.

The weather had improved considerably now, so we decided to make our way along to the west end of the pines and up into the dunes. As we got to the gate at the end of the track, we stopped to look out over the grazing marshes as a male Marsh Harrier flew past. Several thrushes flew out of the bushes and landed in the short grass and you can imagine our surprise when we found they were two Mistle Thrushes, a Ring Ouzel and a Fieldfare!

IMG_3930Fieldfare – a late straggler, which should be on its way to Scandinavia

Fieldfare is a winter visitor here and most have long since departed back to Scandinavia. We had a great view of both it and the Mistle Thrushes from the gate, but the Ring Ouzel quickly disappeared into a dip in the ground. So we walked round and up into the edge of the dunes where we could look down on it – a smart male Ring Ouzel with a bright, clean white gorget.

IMG_3940Ring Ouzel – a smart male with a white gorget

We made our way further up into the dunes and stopped for a while to admire the view. The bushes just beyond the fence here can be good for migrants, but they were quiet today in the wind. Scanning out across the grazing marshes a Great White Egret flew across and landed distantly out of view in some reeds and a second Great White Egret was visible about a mile away in the grass.

One of the group particularly wanted to get a better look at a Wheatear, so we walked a little further into the dunes to an area which they favour. We flushed two or three more Ring Ouzels from the dunes as we went. They were typically very flighty, and as soon as we appeared over a rise they were off.

When we got to the right spot, we quickly found a male Wheatear, hopping about on the short grass. Then a male Stonechat appeared on the fence a short distance ahead of us and when we looked, a second bird also on the fence a little further along turned out to be a stunning male Redstart. What a bonus! Everyone had a look at it through the scope before it dropped back behind the dune beyond.

6O0A9794Stonechat – we saw a couple of males in the dunes today

As we walked back through the dunes, we flushed another Wheatear which flew off ahead of us flashing its white rear, and another male Stonechat. It was nice to get back into the lee of the pines and out of the wind. We were almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive when we heard the Cuckoo singing again from the trees. It sounded quite close, but was in the back of a poplar behind a pine tree. Still, we managed to find an angle from which we could see it and get it in the scope so everyone could get a look at it.

It was lunchtime by the time we got back to the car, so we made use of the picnic tables at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, which were reasonably sheltered from the wind by the pines. We had just sat down to eat when we noticed another Ring Ouzel along the edge of the field next to us, over by the hedge. It spent all the time we were eating feeding in the grass nearby.

IMG_3982Ring Ouzel – feeding in the field next to where we were having lunch

Yesterday, we had struggled to get good views of the Red-breasted Flycatcher at Holme, but we found out it was still there this morning and “showing well on and off”, or so we were told. We decided to head back there for another go. When we pulled into the car park, we could see a small crowd gathered in the corner. We got out and walked over and this time there was no need to wait – the Red-breasted Flycatcher was immediately on show!

6O0A9893-001Red-breasted Flycatcher – feeding in the trees on the edge of the car park

The Red-breasted Flycatcher was feeding in a sycamore right in the corner of the car park. It was very active, flying up after insects before landing back down on a branch, and very mobile, flitting between different parts of the tree. It was hard to see until it moved, but by spotting the movement and following it when it flew it was possible to see where it landed. Regularly it would perch where we could see it and quickly we all got great views of it. We even managed to get it in the scope on occasion.

It was a cracking male, with an orange (not really red!) throat and upper breast. When it flew and spread its tail, we could see the white outer edges to the base of the black tail. It called a couple of times, a dry rattle. Red-breasted Flycatchers breed in eastern Europe up through the Baltics into southern Scandinavia, so this one had been blown off course on its way north from its wintering grounds in western Asia. An exciting bird to see and well worth coming back again to see properly.

6O0A9875-001Red-breasted Flycatcher – blown off course on its way north

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and we walked back along the access road towards the horse paddocks. At first all we could see were Wheatears, but there were several of them here, males of different shades and a couple of females. We got some great looks at them through the scope.

IMG_3995Wheatear – there were several in the horse paddocks at Holme

There was meant to be Redstart and Whinchat here too, but we couldn’t find them at first. After a short while, the Whinchat appeared on the fence at the back. It was a female, not as boldly marked as the males we had seen yesterday. It kept disappearing, at times feeding down on the ground, before reappearing back on one of the fences.

Then the Redstart finally showed itself as well, another male, our second of the day. It was very mobile too, not staying still for long. dropping down to the ground before flying back up to the fence or the brambles. We kept getting it in the scope and eventually everyone got to see its black face and contrasting silvery white forehead which caught the light face on. When it flew back up to the fence, sometimes it spread its tail which flashed orange red.

IMG_4029Redstart – our second male of the day, at Holme

The temperature had dropped noticeably now and it had turned slightly misty. It seemed a shame to leave the paddocks, with all these migrants here, but we made our way back to the car. We finished the day with a drive round the fields inland. We had hoped we might chance upon a Dotterel in one of the traditional fields they visit when on their way north, but we couldn’t find any today. We did surprise a Song Thrush which was bashing a snail on the tarmac on the edge of a minor road. A lone adult Mediterranean Gull walking around in a stoney field looked rather out of place and there were several Wheatears up here too.

6O0A9910Mediterranean Gull – this adult was walking around in a field all on its own

Then it was time to head for home, after a very exciting migrant-filled day.

30th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 5

Day 5, the final day of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was a lovely day, with sunshine and blue skies, but a nagging easterly wind picked up during the morning.

Our first destination for the day was Burnham Overy Dunes. As we walked out across the grazing marshes we spotted a lone Whimbrel out on the grazing marshes, so we had a quick look at it through the scope.  A little further along, and a second Whimbrel flew low overhead, then was we rounded the hedge we could see two more on the ground, this time much closer.

IMG_3693Whimbrel – we had a good look at two on the grazing marshes

We got a great look at these last two, and could see their boldly marked heads. We talked a little about the identification of Whimbrel versus Curlew, the different body shape of the two being a good clue to identification, as well as the shorter bill of the Whimbrel. We could see the slim body and long wings of the two Whimbrel out on the grass.

There were other waders out on the grazing marshes too. Three Oystercatchers were asleep, possibly waiting for the tide to go out in the harbour. There were quite a few Lapwings and one or two Redshank. All three of these species breed here, unlike the Whimbrel which are just passage migrants. There were also a few ducks out on the pools, and lots of geese all over on the grass, Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese predominating at this time of year.

The summer warblers are now here in force and singing, claiming their territory and trying to attract a mate. A Common Whitethroat sang from the top of the bushes by the gate and a Chiffchaff was flitting around in a sallow just beyond, helpfully breaking into song just after we had been looking at it. There are lots of Sedge Warblers all along the track here, singing from the brambles by the ditches. A resident Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we approached and we stood for a while to see if we could see it, and it duly zoomed past between bushes a couple of times.

6O0A8963Sedge Warbler – several were singing from the bushes along the track

With the sun out, there were even a few butterflies out today, with both Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell finding some shelter, basking in the wheel ruts out of the wind. We also saw a couple of Small Coppers out in the dunes.

As we approached the seawall, we could head Mediterranean Gulls calling. We looked up to see a couple of them circling over the harbour beyond, their white wingtips flashing bright in the sunshine. While we were watching the Mediterranean Gulls, we noticed Stuart, former proprietor of The Bird ID Company, coming towards us, on his way back from an early morning in the dunes. He stopped for a quick chat about what he had seen.

When we got up onto the seawall, we could see it was high tide. All the mud was covered by water and small groups of waders were roosting around the edges or on little islands of vegetation. There was a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwits closer to us, some already in orange summer plumage, and a few Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover further back.  Some of the Grey Plover were already showing quite a bit of black on their bellies.

IMG_3697

Even though they were asleep, with their heads tucked in, and mostly face on to us, we could see the differences in colour and pattern of the underparts between the summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. A small flock of Knot flew past, with some of them too in orange summer plumage. A few Brent Geese were still lingering in the harbour – they should soon be on their way to Russia for the breeding season.

The dunes here are always full of Linnets and Meadow Pipits and there were quite a few already around the boardwalk bushes, along with a couple of Reed Buntings too. We turned west and headed out towards Gun Hill. On the way, we came across several Wheatears feeding on the short grass, which flew ahead of us flashing their white rumps. A lone Willow Warbler was in bushes, presumably a migrant on its way up to Scandinavia.

There had been a Whinchat here earlier, so we wade a circuit of all the bushes looking for it. While we were walking along a narrow path between clumps of brambles, a female Common Redstart flew down into the path in front of us. It got a bit of a shock when it saw us and darted straight back into a small sycamore, flashing its orange red tail as it went. Unfortunately it was all too quick and impossible for most of the group to get onto on such a narrow path. While they stood and watched from a suitable vantage point, one of us circled round the back and tried to see if the Redstart might fly out again, but it had completely disappeared. Despite looking all round the area, we unfortunately couldn’t relocate it, nor could we find the Whinchat.

From the dunes, we could see several Little Terns feeding out over the harbour. We decided to walk round on the beach to see if any were resting on the stones, but we couldn’t get round the tern fence, which extended right out into the water, not where it is normally put. We did stop and scan the beach from here and found a nice selection of waders roosting out on the point over the high tide. There was a nice flock of Bar-tailed Godwits feeding along the high tide line, including one colour-ringed bird. Subsequent contact with the ringing scheme has revealed it was ringed at Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania in January!

There was also a single Ringed Plover and a smart summer plumage Turnstone with white face and rusty shoulders. A lone Common Sandpiper fed up and down the tide line before flying off across the harbour. A White Wagtail feeding on the beach with all the waders had presumably stopped off to rest on its journey along the coast, a welcome bonus.

6O0A8995Common Sandpiper – feeding on the beach at Gun Hill at high tide

We had to walk back past Gun Hill to get out onto the beach the other side of the point. A large flock of Sanderling was just in the process of being chased off by a couple of people walking along the sand. There were several more Ringed Plover on the beach behind the tern fence, but further along it had been washed away by the tide and more people were walking through the area where the Little Terns should be settling. We notified the wardens and it should be repaired, but it did mean there were no Little Terns on the beach today.

While we were scanning the beach, we spotted three larger terns flying across the harbour the other side of the point, some distance away from us. They disappeared out of sight behind the dunes but a few seconds later reappeared over our heads. They flew straight out across the beach and turned east over the sea. They were Arctic Terns on their migration north, and it turned out there was a huge passage of them today, as we were also to see later. It was remarkable to think that they were on their way north to the arctic having just come from spending our winter around the antarctic ocean!

As we walked back up into dunes, we heard the shrill call of a Yellow Wagtail and looked up to see it flying west overhead. Another migrant on its way, it did not stop but as it came low past us it was the first we were able to get onto properly, and we could see a flash of bright yellow underparts.

We made our way back to the boardwalk and continued on past it, east through the dunes. The wind was picking up now, but in a sheltered spot out of the breeze, we found several more Wheatears feeding. As we were walking past them, we heard a loud chacking call and a Ring Ouzel flew out of a bush and disappeared over the dunes in front of us. We could hear it again round the other side, calling from some more bushes, and as we walked towards the sound it flew again. This time it landed briefly on the top of a dune where we could get a look at it. It was a female, with a poorly marked, dull gorget. It then flew off strongly west over the dunes and disappeared from sight.

6O0A9024Wheatear – there were several in the dunes today

There were plenty of Stonechats in the dunes today – they breed here and we saw males singing and a few females and pairs too. But there was no sign of the hoped for Whinchat on our walk towards the pines. As we approached the west end of the trees, we could hear a Woodlark singing, although we had been expecting it as it had been reported here earlier.

The Woodlark was distant at first, a spot hovering over the dunes, but we got closer and eventually we had it hovering right over ours heads, singing its slightly melancholy sounding song. We also got a great look at its distinctive flight profile – broad rounded wings and short tail. It was getting rather windy now and the bushes south of the fence were being blown around, so we couldn’t see any activity around them from where we were.

6O0A9046Woodlark – hovered right over our heads, singing, in the dunes

As we turned to start making our way back, a Ring Ouzel flew past, this time a smart male with bright white gorget. It flew past the bushes and then turned and flew up into the dunes at the end of the pines. Looking away in the other direction, we could see a Spoonbill distantly flying out towards the harbour.

Scanning the bushes as we went back, we finally found a Whinchat. It was perched on top of a small hawthorn bush in the dunes south of the fence. We got the scope on it, but it flew off before everyone could get a look at it. Perhaps because of the wind, it was feeding on the ground today with the Wheatears, and it kept getting itself tucked down in little sheltered hollows in the dunes where we couldn’t see it. Once everyone had enjoyed OK views of the Whinchat, we carried on back to the boardwalk.

There were now lots of reports from elsewhere along the coast of Arctic Terns and Black Terns passing offshore, so we walked up to the top of a dune to scan the sea. We managed to see another Arctic Tern flying east just offshore, but it was very windy and exposed up here, so we didn’t stay long. As we walked back along the seawall, a Red Kite flew over the grazing marshes nearby, mobbed by a couple of Lapwings.

To get out of the wind, we made our way back to Holkham for lunch. Lady Anne’s Drive was predictably very busy, it being a bank holiday weekend, but we were surprised how many cars were up at the hall. Eventually we found somewhere where we could park and ate our lunch down on the grass, watching a pair of Mistle Thrushes flying back and forth in and out of the trees with food for their young.

With all the terns on the move today, we thought it would be nice to have a look at them from somewhere a bit more sheltered, so we made our way along to Cley after lunch. There were still some Arctic Terns moving, but unfortunately it appeared we had missed the bulk of the Black Terns already. In about half an hour, we saw over 40 Arctic Terns fly past, including one flock of around 20, plus a few Common Terns, a Little Tern, a Fulmar, 2-3 Gannets, and a single Great Skua which landed on the sea. A Grey Seal was lurking just offshore. Not a bad return for our efforts!

There had been a Wryneck reported earlier from Walsey Hills, but they can be elusive at the best of times. When it was seen again, we thought it might be worth a look, with suitable warnings that it might be difficult to see. When we arrived on the steps where it had been reported, there were several people standing around and no one seemed to know when it had last been seen. We hadn’t been there five minutes when someone announced ‘there it is’ and the Wryneck hopped out into view!

6O0A9120Wryneck – showed very well after just five minutes wait!

The Wryneck was quite tricky to get onto at first, feeding on the ground in among the young bracken shoots on the bank. They are also very well camouflaged, with their cryptic plumage, but it quickly hopped out into a clearer patch where we could all get a really good look at it. Wrynecks are a very scarce migrant passing through here these days, so smiles all round – it was a great bird to see!

While we were watching the Wryneck, we learned that there had been five Black Terns out on Arnold’s Marsh. Unfortunately, although they had apparently been there for some time, no one seemed to have told anyone before they flew off! We went for a quick walk up along the East Bank anyway. As we suspected, there were just Sandwich Terns present now, which were still nice to see properly. There were also good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover and Dunlin, with several now in smart summer plumage.

IMG_3698Sandwich Terns – roosting on Arnolds Marsh in the wind

With the blustery wind, we didn’t hang around out here today, but made our way back to the car. Back at Walsey Hills, two Little Grebes were calling, like madmen laughing, and we saw them swim across and disappear into the reeds.

Stiffkey Fen was our last destination for the day. On the walk out, a couple of Blackcaps were singing from the bushes and a few Swallows and House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees. There were lots of gulls out on the Fen, but all we could find here today were Black-headed Gulls. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep in the water down at the front. There were a few ducks, including a single Common Pochard and a couple of late Wigeon.

With the tide out, we were hoping to find some waders in the channel, but there was nothing visible upstream and just a couple of Avocets, a Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit opposite the Fen. We walked along to the end of the seawall, but there were several people crossing the water out on the near edge of the harbour with a couple of dogs, so no birds there. The only thing we could see of note from here were three smart summer Common Gulls resting on the mud in the channel.

As we turned to walk back, a Grey Heron flew up out of the reeds on the Fen and landed next to a Little Egret on the edge of the water. It was funny to see them side by side, little and large.

This is normally a good spot for Greenshank, a species we had not yet caught up with on our five days, so we were disappointed not to see one, although they can get out in the smaller muddy channels in the harbour at low tide. We were almost back to the steps when we took a last look up the channel next to the seawall and noticed three waders come round the corner from further up. Through the scope we confirmed they were Greenshank – just in the nick of time!

IMG_3709Greenshank – 2 of the 3 at Stiffkey Fen today

There is the occasional Greenshank which spends the whole winter here, but these are presumably migrants, stopping off on their way back north. They are in summer plumage now, with extensive black spotting down their breasts.

Suddenly the Greenshank took off and flew past us round onto the Fen. Then everything took off, whirling round before landing again – something was clearly spooking all the birds. It was a minute or so later that a juvenile Peregrine finally flew in over the Harbour!

6O0A9184Peregrine – this juvenile flew in from the Harbour

The Peregrine circled over the edge of the Fen for a minute or so, giving us a great view, before flying high across the water and disappearing away over the fields beyond. Having been spooked earlier, all the birds on the Fen were completely disinterested when it finally made its flyby.

It was a great way to end the day, and to round off a very exciting five days of spring birding in Norfolk. The weather had been somewhat mixed this week, but despite its best efforts we had seen a remarkable number of different birds. A very successful tour!

28th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. The weather is finally improving – although it was cloudy and cool this morning, it was dry all day. By the afternoon we even had some blue sky and sunshine – it even felt like spring!

As we drove west, we decided to have another quick look at Choseley on the way, on the off chance that the Whinchats seen there yesterday were still present. We were just driving up past the drying barns when we spotted a plump bird land on the wires as we passed. A quick stop and we could just see it was a Corn Bunting, but it flew down before anyone could get onto it. We parked the car and got out to see if we could find it again. A Brown Hare was in the field next to us but ran off as we all emerged.

6O0A8543Brown Hare – in the field next to where we parked

The first birds we saw were two Turtle Doves which flew in and landed on the wires. They also dropped down into the field nearby out of view, so we carefully looked round the corner of the hedge. Unfortunately, the Corn Bunting had now disappeared, but the edge of the field was alive with birds. As well as the Turtle Doves, there were quite a few Yellowhammers and a couple of Red-legged Partridge. We stopped to watch them for a while.

6O0A8574Yellowhammer – there were lots at Choseley today, including several bright males

The Turtle Doves flew out further into the field when they saw us, but then flew round and landed on the concrete pad nearby. Most of the Yellowhammers flew over too – at one point we counted 11 Yellowhammers all together. They were all picking around on the concrete looking for any spilled grain. Several Pied Wagtails were feeding in the short grass along the footpath beyond.

IMG_3608Turtle Dove – a pair were around the Drying Barns this morning

6O0A8592Turtle Doves – the female was trying to evade the advances of the male

The birds continued to commute back and forth between the pad and the field. The male Turtle Dove started displaying to the female, chasing after her and bowing. She didn’t seem particularly interested and kept running away, and when he got too persistent she flew up with him still in pursuit. Two Common Whitethroats were singing from hedges and a few Swallows zipped through, but there was still no further sign of the Corn Bunting so we decided to try our luck down on the corner at the bottom of the hill.

When we got there, we could see the Wheatears were still out in the same field they were in yesterday, but we couldn’t find any sign of the Whinchat here today. We were hoping we might hear a Corn Bunting singing here, but it was all quiet. We did see a Corn Bunting fly over though, which disappeared off across the field towards the Thornham road. The surrounding fields were full of Brown Hares. We did get a bit of chasing today, but they quickly lost interest and didn’t start boxing.

Our next destination for the morning was Snettisham Coastal Park. When we arrived, we decided to have a quick look at the Wash, but the tide was still in and there was no sign of any mud emerging yet. We could hear Willow Warblers singing from the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat rattling too. As we walked round to the main path, we could hear Blackcap and Song Thrush singing too, but by the time we got to the other side the Lesser Whitethroat had gone quiet.

As we walked north through the bushes, the place was alive with birdsong. There were loads of Sedge Warblers, sitting in the tops of the bushes or songflighting, fluttering up and parachuting back down.

6O0A8610Sedge Warbler – there were lots singing from the bushes today

This is a great place to see Common Whitethroats. They too were singing from the bushes all the way up and display flighting. There are fewer Chiffchaffs here, but still we heard a couple. We had hoped to catch up with Grasshopper Warbler here today, but they were rather quiet as we walked up, with just a quick bout of reeling heard from some distance away. A Cuckoo accompanied us, singing all the way up, though keeping out of sight the other side of the bushes.

6O0A8597Common Whitethroat – they were singing everywhere today

We had thought we might see some visible migration here today, with the weather gradually improving. Unfortunately, with the wind still in the northwest there were just a few hirundines on the move, lone birds or little groups of Swallows and a handful of House Martins with them. Otherwise, there were a few Linnets and Goldfinches in the bushes and a male Stonechat in the brambles by the seawall.

When we got to the cross-bank, we had another look out to the Wash. It was a very big tide again today, and it was only just starting to go out far enough to expose some mud. The Oystercatchers which had been roosting on the beach further up were starting to feed along the shoreline and in between them we could see several tiny Sanderlings running along the water’s edge. There was a Turnstone here too and a couple of Ringed Plovers which made themselves difficult to see, running up the beach and then standing stock still camouflaged against the stones.

Over the other side of the seawall, on the short grass north of the cross-bank, we found a few Black-tailed Godwits including one in bright orange summer plumage. A Whimbrel was hiding down in the grass too. A pair of white-winged adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over our heads calling.

From over on the inner seawall, we stopped to scan over Ken Hill Marshes. There are always lots of geese here, Greylags, Canada and Egyptian Geese in particular. In addition, there is still a lingering group of Pink-footed Geese, at least 60 here today. We got them in the scope, noting their smaller size and darker heads compared to the Greylags, as well as their more delicate pink-banded mostly dark bills. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have already left, so they should be on their way back to Iceland soon, and there were also a few Wigeon still around the pools here, which should be heading back to Russia for the breeding season.

There were a couple of Reed Warblers singing from deep in the reeds here, but we still couldn’t hear any Grasshopper Warblers. We walked down and through the brambles where a couple of males have been holding territory recently, but they were both quiet. Eventually we heard a snatch of song and managed to find one of the males, but we only saw him zipping across between bushes and heard the odd call too. We really wanted to find a Grasshopper Warbler perched up and in full voice.

As we walked back to the inner seawall, we caught the briefest of glimpses of a blackbird-sized bird as it disappeared round behind a bush. It seemed slimmer than a Blackbird though, with longer tail and wings – it had to be a Ring Ouzel. Unfortunately, when we got round to the other side of the bush, it had completely disappeared.

There happened to be another birding group coming towards us along the inner seawall, and they asked if we had just seen a Ring Ouzel. They too had just had a glimpse of something which they thought might be one as it zipped over the bank and it had gone down into a hawthorn bush by the reeds the other side. As we walked along to where it had gone, we had a quick glimpse of it as it flicked between bushes.

When it finally came out properly it was off, flying strongly inland and out of sight, at which point our suspicions were confirmed, it was a female Ring Ouzel. Not the best of views, but a nice bird to find here. A loose spaniel was running amok out on the grazing marshes at this stage and managed to flush out three Whimbrel and a pair of Grey Partridge for us. We had a good look at the Whimbrel through the scope.

As we carried on south along the seawall, a Grasshopper Warbler suddenly burst into song, from the brambles just below the bank. Just like buses, a second Grasshopper Warbler then started up just a short distance away. We managed to find the first and got the scope on it, watching it reeling away, sounding rather like a grasshopper. It moved around a few times, reeling all the time, before finally dropping down into the grass out of sight. It was worth the wait to get such good views.

6O0A8629Grasshopper Warbler – one of two reeling from the brambles by the inner seawall

As we made our way back to the car along the inner seawall, a small mammal ran out of the taller grass and onto the path. It was small, slim and a distinctive gingery colour – a Harvest Mouse. With all of us walking along, it couldn’t work out how to get to the other side and ended up running over my shoe! We also got distant views of a male Wheatear up on the far seawall and then much closer views of a female down on the short grass in the clearing by the car park.

From up on the outer seawall, the tide was now well out and there was lots of exposed mud. It was covered in thousands of waders – mostly Knot, but we could also see Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers and Dunlin. Something spooked them and we had a quick fly round at one point, allowing us to appreciate just how many there were.

6O0A8633Knot – still large numbers out on the Wash at the moment

After lunch back at the car, we made our way round to Dersingham Bog. Once we got out of the trees, the first birds we found were a pair of Stonechat. There were lots of Linnets everywhere, on the path, perched in the trees or flying round. A large bird appeared high over the bog behind us, flying with stiff wing beats. It was a Short-eared Owl.  It flew very purposefully up towards the trees and disappeared from view.

That was a most unexpected bonus, but imagine our surprise when a second Short-eared Owl flew up from the bog only a minute later. This one circled up over the boardwalk in front of us for a couple of minutes before also disappearing inland.

6O0A8646Short-eared Owl – the second we saw fly up from the Bog today

What we had really hoped to see here was a Tree Pipit, but we couldn’t hear one singing at first. We walked back along the path to some trees where they can often be found, and after scanning carefully found one perched high in a tall oak tree. We had a good look at it in the scope and it did break into song briefly, but was not going to display for us. When it took off, we watched it fly back and chase a second Tree Pipit which was displaying further behind, before returning to its tree. When the Tree Pipit disappeared again, we made our way back to the car park.

A quick diversion on the way back to the north coast and we arrived by the cliffs at Hunstanton. We wanted to see a Fulmar and before we even got out of the car, we spotted one gliding effortlessly along the clifftops. We stood on the grass for a while and watched several Fulmars flying up and down. One flew higher up and overhead too, while another took a detour over the houses the other side of the road. A quick look out to the Wash below produced a single, very distant Great Crested Grebe.

6O0A8697Fulmar – gliding along the cliffs at Hunstanton

We finished the day with a quick walk through the dunes at Holme. As we walked along the boardwalk, a deep rusty orange summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit flew across the saltmarsh and landed on the mud. There were several Common Whitethroats singing from the bushes in the dunes and we finally got a better view of a Lesser Whitethroat here too. There were loads of Linnets feeding in the short grass and a very smart male Wheatear as well, which we had to stop and admire through the scope.

6O0A8741Wheatear – a smart male, feeding in the dunes at Holme

It had been enough of a surprise to see one Short-eared Owl at Dersingham earlier, let alone two. Then here at Holme we came across our third Short-eared Owl of the day! This one was quartering an area of dunes. We watched as it flew back and forth for a couple of minutes, before it dropped down into the grass.

What we had really hoped to see here was a Ring Ouzel and one duly obliged by flying past us. It was a marginally better view than we had enjoyed earlier at Snettisham. We walked over towards where it seemed to have landed, guided by another couple who had seen it fly across too. As we approached, we could hear chacking calls and suddenly a Ring Ouzel flew out of the bushes. It was promptly followed by a second, then a third, and the next thing we knew we had six Ring Ouzels in the air together. They circled round a couple of times over the bushes, giving us a great look at them, before flying right over our heads and back across the dunes.

6O0A8736Ring Ouzel – six flew out of the bushes and over our heads

We had to go back that way, and just along the path we found the other couple of birders watching the Ring Ouzels in the dunes. From a discrete distance, we watched as they flew down from the bushes and hopped around on a sandy bank, a couple of smart males with bright white gorgets and a couple of females with duller buff-brown crescents on their breasts. It was great to get such a good look at these generally very flighty birds.

IMG_3647Ring Ouzel – we eventually got great views of them feeding on a sandy bank

That was a great way to round off the day, so we headed back to the car well pleased. One more final bonus was in store though – as we drove back out along the entrance track a ghostly white Barn Owl appeared and circled over the bushes a couple of times before dropping down towards the paddocks out of view. It had really been quite an owl afternoon!

26th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 1

It was Day 1 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour today, but it didn’t really feel like spring! A very cold north wind meant temperatures have dropped right down again. We were forecast wintry showers today, and they came thick and fast early on this morning so there was barely a gap between them. Thankfully it calmed down a bit by the afternoon and we were able to pack in quite a lot of birding. There was even some blue sky on show! Given the wind, we decided to avoid the coast and head for the relative shelter of inland, down in the Brecks.

Heading south from our base in Wells, we stopped off on the way down in an area which is very good for Stone Curlew. These birds are breeding in farmland, rather than their traditional habitat of grass heath. Scanning across an area of fallow ground, we quickly got on to a Stone Curlew. It was huddled down against the wind, half hidden by the growing vegetation, and back onto us at first. Eventually it shifted round a little so that we could see its black-tipped yellow bill and yellow iris – before it closed its eyes again. A Brown Hare was hiding in the grass here too.

Then some dark clouds appeared over us and it started to rain, rapidly turning to hail. We sheltered in the car for several minutes while it blew through, and then came out for another go. We could still see the Stone Curlew tucked down in the grass, so we decided to see if we could get a better view from a different angle. A couple of Skylarks had started singing, hovering up high into the sky. A bright yellow-headed male Yellowhammer was feeding in a bare strip on the edge of a field. Several Lapwings were flying round. We couldn’t see the Stone Curlew at all from here, with too much tall grass now obscuring our view. Another shower was rapidly arriving, so we hurried back to the car and decided to move on.

We continued south, stopping again briefly to scan some pig fields. A Red Kite was circling distantly over the village. A pair of Grey Partridge appeared from among the pig arcs, but the tractor which had been feeding the pigs disturbed them. They scuttled away quickly out of view. The sky behind us turned black again and another squally shower came in fast, so we got back into the car and set off again.

It was still raining when we arrived at our next destination. We stopped on the roadside and listened, from the warmth and comfort of the car. The first bird we could hear singing was a Willow Warbler, a sweet descending scale. Then a Blackcap started up too, very flutey and melodic, and a Common Whitethroat began singing its own scratchy song nearby. These were all completely outclased when a Nightingale started singing. It was beautiful just to listen to, but we had a tantalising glimpse of a shape moving in the tree from which the sound was emanating.

Thankfully the rain dried up and it started to get brighter. We parked the car and went for a walk. Back along road, two Nightingales were singing now. It was a stereo Nightingale show, with one either side. What a performance! But they just wouldn’t show themselves and eventually one went quiet and the other moved further in, away from us.

We walked on over the Common, across to the other side where more Nightingales had been singing recently. On the way, a Green Woodpecker flushed from the grass, but flew off behind the bushes out of sight. When we arrived where the Nightingales should be, it was quiet at first. However, as the sun started to show itself, a Nightingale started singing. Just as we got to the other side of the bushes, and could see it perched on a bare branch, some dog walkers appeared and it flew back into cover. It felt like it wasn’t going to be our day.

There is an area in the middle of the brambles and gorse where this Nightingale sometimes feeds. We found a spot from where we could see the ground and waited. We could hear it croaking in the brambles and the next thing we knew, it flew up into an oak tree right next to us and started singing. Great views! It hopped around between the branches for a while, singing all the time. When it flicked across to a low hawthorn bush, it landed with its back to us with its tail spread, which caught the sun, a stunning orange-red. Quite a show!

6O0A8255Nightingale – eventually put on an amazing show for us

There was a Lesser Whitethroat singing in the brambles nearby. We tried to get a look at it, but it wouldn’t sit still. It kept flying off and then coming back to the same clump, perching only briefly before diving back in. At least we all got good flight views. A Willow Warbler was more obliging. It had been a lovely bright, sunny spell but once again we could see more dark cloud approaching, so we retreated back to the car.

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. The dark clouds followed us and there was a mercifully brief shower when we arrived at the visitor centre. We spent a few minutes watching the feeders – there were several Reed Buntings, males and females, a few Goldfinches and even a couple of Greenfinches here today.

6O0A8293Greenfinch – on the feeders, in the rain

Once the shower had passed overhead, we decided to have a look out over the Washland. It hadn’t been there when we were watching, but when we came outside we flushed a Great Spotted Woodpecker from the feeders. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes on the way.

The first bird we set eyes on at the Washland was the Glossy Ibis, over in the far corner. We got a good look at it through the scope, noting its distinctive long, thick, downcurved bill. This bird has been here for almost three weeks now – a nice one to see here, though it is commoner in its normal home in southern Europe.

IMG_3428Glossy Ibis – out on Hockwold Washes again today

Otherwise, there were fewer ducks on here today – just a handful of Teal and Mallard. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the water. And a Sedge Warbler was singing from the reeds just below us, where we could see it. When yet another shower blew in, we hurried back to the shelter of the visitor centre for lunch.

Over lunch, we sat and watched the feeders again. There were much the same birds as we had seen earlier, but when we had jut about finished the Great Spotted Woodpecker finally came back in, so we could get a good look at it.

6O0A8302Great Spotted Woodpecker – back on the feeders during our lunch break

After lunch the rain finally cleared and it looked to be brightening up nicely. We walked out onto the reserve to see what else we could see. A Cuckoo was singing from the trees behind New Fen Viewpoint, which we could hear as we walked up along the main track. It seemed to be deep in some leafy poplars but, when we continued on along the path towards the river bank, the Cuckoo helpfully came out into the top of a bare tree where we could see it. Through the scope, we admired its barred underparts.

IMG_3461Cuckoo – finally came out into the top of a bare tree

Otherwise on New Fen, there were several Reed Warblers singing. A pair of Tufted Ducks and a couple of Teal were out on the water from viewpoint, along with a family of Coot. A smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds at back. By the pond dipping platform, a cracking summer plumage Great Crested Grebe swam out from the reeds not far from us.

6O0A8310Great Crested Grebe – swam out in front of us by the new pond dipping platform

There were no hirundines feeding over the reeds at New Fen in the wind today, but a trickle of Swallows and House Martins passed overhead as we were leaving. Further on, we found more of them, gathered on the south edge of West Wood, in the lee of the trees, hawking for insects. One Common Swift appeared with them briefly, zipping back and forth a couple of times, before disappearing off over the trees.

Suddenly a larger shape appeared low over the reeds and scythed up through the throng. It was a Hobby. The hirundines all scattered, alarm calling, as the Hobby disappeared, empty handed, off into trees. A brief view but an all-action moment. Another smart male Marsh Harrier then kept us company on the walk on to Joist Fen, circling over the reeds beside the path. It looked stunning in the sunlight as it banked, against the dark clouds of another shower which was mercifully passing us by in the distance.

6O0A8319Marsh Harrier – catching the sun against a dark shower cloud in the distance

Out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, there were more hirundines hawking low over the reeds. A couple of Sand Martins zipped past. There were no more Hobbys out here today, perhaps it was just too windy. Several Marsh Harriers were circling, but there was no sign of a Bittern today. Once we had recovered our breath, we set off again. After a quick look up on the river bank, which was rather windy, we started to walk back.

As we passed New Fen again, another Hobby came over the trees and across the path, before dropping down towards the reeds. As it turned, we could got a good view of its red trousers. The Cuckoo was still singing in trees and we heard a Treecreeper in the poplars too, although it went quiet before we got up to where it had been.

Although we had seen a Stone Curlew earlier in the day, we would like to have had better views. We drove round to another site where they breed, this one a traditional heathland site. As we drove up, a male Linnet was singing on the fence, while a female fed nearby. A male Stonechat flicked between fenceposts ahead of us. It had brightened up nicely now and there was no sign of any more rain here.

6O0A8341Linnet – this male was singing from the fence

As soon as we got out of the car we immediately spotted a Stone Curlew. Perhaps because of the rain earlier, it was very active and put on quite a show. It was walking round, quite quickly at times, then standing still and looking down at the ground. Occasionally it would peck at something, before setting off again. Through the scope we got a great look at it.

IMG_3483Stone Curlew – feeding actively this afternoon, once the rain cleared

While we were watching the Stone Curlew, a quick scan of the surrounding heath produced a single male Wheatear out on a cultivated strip. It was rather distant but still nice to see here. Wheatear used to be a fairly common breeding bird in the Brecks, but the population has all but died out – this could have been a migrant, but it is nice to think it might be staying to breed. A pair of Grey Partridges were feeding out in the grass too.

Having lost some time because of the rain this morning, it was now getting late. Still we wanted to just have a quick look in at Lynford as the weather had improved. It was quiet at first, perhaps still a bit too cold in the trees. A Mistle Thrush flew out of the tops calling, a distant Nuthatch was piping, and we could hear just a single Goldcrest singing. At the feeders by the gate, a lone Coal Tit was feeding on the fat balls. Down by the bridge, there were no seeds on the posts today and consequently just a single Chaffinch here at first.

6O0A8366Chaffinch – looking for any remaining seeds around the bridge

Then we heard a loud ‘chacking’ call and looked up to see a Fieldfare in the trees, with a second calling nearby. Fieldfares are winter visitors, so these should be thinking about heading back to Scandinavia soon. A Nuthatch appeared in the trees above the bridge, climbing up the trunk into the top before flying off towards the Arboretum. A couple of Siskins flew overhead calling.

Down at the lake, we got a good look at a Little Grebe, diving by one of the islands. There were also several Canada Geese and Mallard. A Marsh Tit started calling behind us, and we turned round to find a pair in the trees. The male was collecting food and taking it back to the bushes to feed the female.

6O0A8386Marsh Tit – collecting food in the trees by the lake

As walked back towards the bridge, as well as the Fieldfares, we could now hear Ring Ouzels calling from the edge of the paddocks. Three flew up into the nearest hornbeam, but unfortunately did not hang around for long, and flew off towards the other end of the lake. We turned round again and walked back to see if we could see them. A Treecreeper appeared in the trees in front of us.

As we walked along the path by the lake, we could hear the Ring Ouzels calling in the alders. Then we flushed one from the tops, and it flew out to the far corner of paddocks, and landed it a line of trees. We got it in the scope, but it was a rather dull female, with no white crescent, and we were looking in to the light. When she flew a short distance down along the line of trees, we realised that the other Ring Ouzels were there too. They all landed briefly together, but just as we got them in the scope, they all flew off towards the Arboretum, calling. Ring Ouzels are just migrants passing through here, most often seen on the coast, and always a good bird to find so far inland.

Then, with a big drive back to North Norfolk still, we had to tear ourselves away. Despite the rain at times, it had been a very successful day.

12-16th Apr 2017 – Easter in Scotland

Not a tour, but we spent three days in Scotland catching up on some of the local specialities over Easter, with another day either side journeying up and back from Norfolk. As I haven’t been up to Speyside for a few years, it seemed about time for a return visit.

Arriving early for our overnight stop on the way north, we decided to have a quick look up on the moors. We were quickly rewarded with good views of at least 10 male Black Grouse. They were not doing much this evening, but we had high hopes for more activity the following day! Heading on higher up, we found our first Red Grouse of the trip too, though they too were keeping their heads down from the blustery wind.

It was an early start the following morning, to get up onto the moor for dawn. As we drove over the ridge and looked down into the valley below, we could see a scattering of black dots in the grass – 19 displaying male Black Grouse on the lek. They are far enough away here so as not to disturb them, so we got out of the car and could immediately hear their bubbling calls. We got them in the scope and watched them running round, flapping their wings and leaping in the air, with their body feathers puffed out, tail fanned and white undertail feathers fluffed up. It was quite a sight! There were a smaller number of grey-brown females there too, looking slightly non-plussed by all the action around them.

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6O0A5073Black Grouse – great to watch them displaying on the lek

A little further along, we managed to find a single male Black Grouse closer to the road, so we could get some photos. The Red Grouse up on the tops were now calling and displaying. There were also displaying Common Snipe in the valley and several Curlew and Golden Plover on the moors. It had certainly been well worth the stop here. Then it was on with the journey up to the Highlands.

One of our main targets for our stay here was Ptarmigan. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for our stay was not ideal – windy with blustery showers. Not great for hiking up to the Cairngorm plateau. The best day appeared to be on our first full morning there, but it didn’t look good first thing with snow overnight on the tops and low cloud lingering. Thankfully, after breakfast, the cloud base lifted and we could see a short window of opportunity.

We had hoped we might find a Ptarmigan on the slopes below the fresh snow this morning, but it didn’t help that there were lots of people walking up despite the weather today, it being Easter weekend. We got up to a plateau above 1000m where it was safer to stray from the path and a bit of exploration was quickly rewarded with a Ptarmigan running away from us over the snow. We followed it slowly and were eventually able to get quite close to it. A smart bird!

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6O0A5511Ptarmigan – on the Cairngorm plateau above 1000m

The view was impressive up here too, with all the snow on the mountains. However, we could see some darker cloud approaching, so we decided to call it a day and head back down. We were glad we did, as it started to spit with rain for a time and the tops disappeared again into the cloud.

Scotland April 2017 Cairngorms ascent_4Cairngorm Plateau – still with plenty of snow

On our ascent, we had seen a few Red Grouse, but on the way back down we were able to appreciate just how many of them there were on the moors here, and watch them displaying.

6O0A5354Red Grouse – plentiful on the moors lower down

Back down near the car park, a Ring Ouzel flew up from the shorter grass below the ski lifts.

6O0A5570Ring Ouzel – this smart male was feeding around the ski lifts

Crested Tit is one of the other key target species for any visit to the Highlands and we were not disappointed. They can be harder to see in the summer months, and familiarity with their distinctive call certainly helps in locating them. We heard quite a few Crested Tits, when we were in the Caledonian Forest, and got great views of two pairs. The second pair, we watched collecting nest material and the male courtship feeding the female. They are certainly full of character!

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6O0A5922Crested Tits – great birds to watch, we found this pair collecting nest material

As well as the Ospreys at the RSPB’s Loch Garten reserve, we saw several elsewhere. The best moment was probably one flying past the window of our B&B while we were eating our breakfast one morning!

6O0A6028Osprey – a female, calling from the nest, while the male was presumably off fishing

With just a couple of days to play with in the Highlands, and the best morning reserved for the hike up into the Cairngorms, we were always likely to be at the mercy of the weather with our other targets. On our second morning, despite cloud and showers, we headed up to the Findhorn Valley to look for eagles. As we drove up, we could see dark clouds over the head of the valley and when we got there the wind was whistling in and regular sleet showers were blowing through. Not ideal!

We sat in the car for an hour, scanning the hills, but a brief brighter interval produced just a couple of Common Buzzards. Two Wheatears were feeding on the grass in front of the car park and a pair of Common Gulls were hanging around there too. It seemed unlikely there would be any eagles this morning, so we decided to move on.

As we headed down the valley, it brightened up a little lower down. We made our way up over the hills and down the other side to the RSPB reserve at Loch Ruthven. Between the showers, we walked along to the hide. We could see three Slavonian Grebes out on the water, but they were all rather distant while we were there. There are still a lot more to return here yet. A summer plumage Red-throated Diver was fishing on the loch too, along with a few ducks – Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal and Mallard.

6O0A5850Slavonian Grebe – one of three out on the loch today

With the weather improving a little, and after lunch back at the car park, we decided to have another go at the Findhorn Valley. As we arrived, the head of the valley was still in cloud and another wintry shower blew through. But we could see some blue cloud coming in from behind us and we hadn’t been back five minutes when a 1st winter Golden Eagle appeared over the ridge at the back of the car park. Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and we just got a quick look at it as it disappeared back over the top. A short while later, the Golden Eagle reappeared much further down and we watched as it flew across the valley being mobbed by a Raven. A Peregrine was flying around the hill behind us too.

It seemed unlikely we would better that today and with the day getting on, we headed back down the valley. We took a different route back and stopped off by another loch on the way. It was very windy and  the wind was whipping up the water so it was quite choppy. Scanning with the scope in the lee of the car we were able to locate a single Black-throated Diver, a stunning bird in full summer plumage.

There were various other birds which we caught up with on our travels around Speyside. We heard lots of crossbills, but they were rather flighty and often hard to see. We had nice views of Common Crossbill in the forest and of a family which came down to the small deciduous trees alongside the river in Carrbridge, presumably to drink. There were more crossbills in Abernethy Forest, and we heard both Common and Scottish/Parrot Crossbill flight calls from birds passing overhead. Some larger billed birds resembling Scottish Crossbill were feeding in the trees around the car park at Forest Lodge on a couple of occasions but did not hang around long enough for us to get a prolonged look at them.

6O0A5621Common Crossbill – along the river at Carrbridge

Exploring along various rivers produced a few additional species too, including Goosander, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail. However, the pick of the bunch was Dipper – it was great to watch them feeding in the shallows, dipping under the water.

6O0A5830Chestnut-bellied Dipper – the native British subspecies of Dipper

Mammalian interest on this trip was provided chiefly by the Red Squirrels which we saw at several sites. Two Mountain Hares were seen at the top of the Findhorn Valley. We also saw the herd of (re)introduced Reindeer in the Cairngorms and a few Bank Voles running around under the feeders at Loch Garten.

6O0A5599Red Squirrel – thankfully not uncommon around the forest here

After that, unfortunately our short visit to Scotland had to end and we started to make our way south…

8th Oct 2016 – Arrivals from the East, Part 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of Autumn Migration Tours today. Thankfully the overnight rain cleared through just before we met up this morning. The rest of the day was mostly bright with sunny intervals, and even the couple of dark clouds which went over later in the afternoon produced no more than a couple of drops of rain. It was a lovely autumn day to be out.

Our destination for the morning was Warham Greens. We parked at the start of one of the tracks and walked along towards the coast. In the first field, they were just starting to harvest potatoes. As the tractor and trailer drove in, it flushed a large flock of Golden Plover, which flew up calling mournfully, followed by a flock of Lapwing. As the harvester started to make its way through the middle of the field, it was pursued by a noisy mob of Black-headed Gulls.

The track was lined with thick hedges which are dripping with berries at this time of year. We flushed lots of birds from the bushes as we walked along, presumably mostly migrants fresh in from the continent. There were thrushes galore – Blackbirds, Redwings and a few Song Thrushes. Several harsh scolding ‘tchack’ calls alerted us to the presence of a Ring Ouzel, but it was hiding deep in the hedge. We just got a glimpse of it before it flew out the back and across the field.

The birds were hard to see perched, because they either flew ahead of us or dived deep into the hedge. But it is quite a spectacle to see so many birds, migrants which have just arrived here. Every few metres we flushed another Robin or Blackcap. We could hear lots of Goldcrests too and see them occasionally flitting around in the bushes – amazing to think that these tiny birds had probably just flown in across the North Sea. Three Bramblings flew off ahead of us, calling. An exhausted Chaffinch was easier to see, feeding just a few metres ahead of us on the path, probably tired after a long flight.

6o0a3552Chaffinch – exhausted and feeding just ahead of us on the path

The Yellowhammers here are most likely residents and we heard a couple calling as we walked along. The rain overnight had filled up the deeper ruts and left lots of good puddles, which the birds were taking advantage of. We watched as a Yellowhammer came down to bathe in one of them.

6o0a3558Yellowhammer – having a bath in one of the puddles

As we got further down the track, a bird flicked out of the hedge ahead of us, flashing an orange-red tail as it flew along for a few metres, before diving back in. It was a Redstart. We made our way slowly down to where it had gone in, but unfortunately it had disappeared, probably out through the other side of the hedge.

Down at the end of the track, we could see a couple of small groups of Brent Geese feeding out on the saltmarsh. There were plenty of Little Egrets too – at one point we had a group of seven together, all in a line. More Golden Plover would periodically whirl round, calling, alternately flashing white and gold as they turned in the sunshine. As well as lots of Curlew out in the vegetation, a single Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and landed on one of the small pools, where we could get it in the scope. A Peregrine was very distant, circling up over the marshes towards Wells lifeboat station, and a Marsh Harrier wasn’t much closer, out over the Spartina beds towards the beach.

As we approached the pit, we could hear the ‘tchacking’ of another Ring Ouzel in the bushes. Again, it stayed deep in cover, moving ahead of us, and we couldn’t see it. The biggest surprise of the day came next. While we were standing waiting for the Ring Ouzel, we heard Bearded Tits calling and turned to see a flock of nine flying past us low over the edge of the saltmarsh. They don’t look like particularly strong fliers, but Bearded Tits do disperse over some distance and these ones were certainly in a hurry, flying off strongly east.

Continuing west, as we reached the end of Garden Drove, a friendly face beckoned us over to say that the Red-breasted Flycatcher was in the small copse there. We could hear it calling, but it was hard to see on the outside of the trees, so we made our way in to where a couple of photographers were already standing.

The Red-breasted Flycatcher seemed to be favouring a couple of sycamores and kept returning to them. It was hard to pick up when it stopped still, but by following it when it made little sorties out after insects and then looking where it had landed, it was possible to get some very good views of it at times. It was a first winter, so born earlier in the summer, and blown off course on its way from NE Europe to W Asia for the winter. They are quite rare visitors here normally, but a few have turned up along the coast in the last few days on the easterly winds – hence this was the second we had seen in two days!

6o0a3599Red-breasted Flycatcher – in the trees at the end of Garden Drove

Having all enjoyed the Red-breasted Flycatcher, we made our way on a little further west. We were walking along the coastal path but someone else was walking along the edge of the field the other side of the hedge and flushed a Redstart. Again, we just got a glimpse as it flew back along the hedge, so we made our way round so we could see the direction in which it had gone.

The Redstart had found a hawthorn out of the wind and in the sunshine and was perched out in full view, periodically dropping down to the edge of the field below after food. We could see the orange-red tail after which it is named. At one point, a Chiffchaff perched up in the tree with it.

We could head a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees on Garden Drove, so we made our way back and walked a short distance up the track. It was calling periodically, but it was hard to see in the tall sycamores, especially as we were looking into the sun. There were lots of Goldcrests flitting about too, which made it more complicated still to know which bird to look at. However, it was possible to see the Yellow-browed Warbler in the trees with a bit of effort.

As we made our way back east along the coastal footpath, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. The first group were too far off, but then we heard closer calls and turned to see a skein of about two hundred flying west just over the fields. Presumably these were birds just arriving for the winter, and they seemed to be on course for the grazing marshes at Holkham. On the walk back up the middle track, there were several more people now and fewer birds, although we did find another Yellowhammer bathing in a different puddle.

A short drive east and we stopped at Morston Harbour for lunch. It was lovely sitting out in the sunshine, with more flocks of Golden Plover whirling around over the saltmarshes. Although it wasn’t as quiet as we might have hoped, with all the seal boats returning just at that moment.

The afternoon was spent at Stiffkey Fen. As we made our way along the permissive footpath by the road, a couple of Common Buzzards flew past over the field. Stopping to scan , we could see another three Common Buzzards over the woods beyond. They were obviously all taking advantage of the autumn sunshine! Down by the river and we flushed more Blackcaps from the brambles as we walked. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made its way noisily through the sallows ahead of us.

It is hard to see much of the Fen from the path, as all the vegetation has grown up so high. We could hear lots of Wigeon calling as we walked along. However, the view is much better up on the seawall. From here, we could see lots of ducks, though they are not looking their best at this time of year, with the majority of them still in dull eclipse plumage. There were certainly loads of Wigeon, plus several Pintail, a good number of Teal and a scattering of Mallard and Gadwall too.

The find of the afternoon was a Jack Snipe, which was feeding along the edge of the reeds. We just had time for everyone to look at it through the scope before it disappeared back into the reeds and we didn’t see it again. As usual, there were lots of Black-tailed Godwits here and, in amongst them, a few Ruff. We could hear Greenshank calling periodically and watched as several flew off and over the seawall out towards the harbour, but they were tucked in behind the reeds at the front. Two Common Snipe flew off calling too.

Another Peregrine, a juvenile, was a bit closer this time. It circled over the trees at the back of the Fen before flying off fast and low over the fields to the east. A male Marsh Harrier flew in over the fields just afterwards, making for the harbour.

We were just walking off in that direction ourselves, when we turned to see a Spoonbill flying in from the harbour. It flew past behind us, over the seawall and circled before dropping down onto the Fen, giving us a great view of its spoon-shaped bill as it did so. We walked back to get a better look at it, and found the Spoonbill bathing over towards the back corner. It was a juvenile, with a fleshy-coloured bill, probably raised at Holkham this summer. Just as we were watching it through the scope, it walked back behind the reeds out of view.

6o0a3605Spoonbill – flew in from the harbour & dropped down on the Fen

Turning back again along the seawall, we walked out to the edge of the harbour. A single Grey Plover was feeding on the mud by the channel, as was a Curlew. We got good views of both of them through the scope.

6o0a3621Grey Plover – on the edge of the saltmarsh channel

The male Marsh Harrier reappeared, flying along the edge of the saltmarsh. We were watching it as it suddenly dropped down and caught a Black-headed Gull. The gull must have been ill, because it put up very little resistance. The Marsh Harrer was just starting to pluck its prey, with us watching it and enjoying great views of it through the scope, when it suddenly took off and dropped the dead gull back onto the ground.

We could see three Carrion Crows harassing it, which wouldn’t have seemed the most likely reason for it to desert its prey so quickly, but then we noticed a Peregrine was with them, and making a couple of short dives down towards the harrier, presumably trying to steal its prey. The Peregrine was eventually chased off by the Crows, and the Marsh Harrier flew low along the saltmarsh and out of view. We didn’t see if it managed to retrieve its precious lunch!

Looking out over harbour, the tide was out. We could see hundreds of Oystercatchers in big groups out on the mud. In with one of the groups we could just see several Knot running around in and out of the Oystercatchers. There were also more Curlew, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits.

6o0a3616Brent Geese – flying around over the saltmarsh and harbour

Little groups of Brent Geese were flying around over the saltmarsh and we could see a whole load more out on the mud in the harbour in the distance. Numbers are increasing steadily now, but there are still a lot yet to come for the winter. A large group of Mute Swans was also swimming about in the harbour.

We spotted a Greenshank asleep in front of a rock, down in the channel in front of us. We had a look at it in the scope, and we could see it regularly opening its eye, even though it was sleeping – if you are a bird, you often do not have the luxury of going to sleep completely, particularly with hungry Peregrines and other predators about! We had almost forgotten about it and were looking at something else when one of the group noticed that it had woken up and started feeding. This was a much better view.

img_7496Greenshank – eventually woke up and started feeding

It is a lovely place to sit on a sunny afternoon, looking out across the harbour, but with time getting on we eventually had to tear ourselves away and start to walk back. Migrants were continuing to arrive even now. A large party of Redwings flew in over the harbour and circled over the fields back towards the Fen, before disappearing inland. As we got to the seawall, we could hear Bramblings calling and looked across to see a couple land in the hedge nearby. The leading members of the group just got to see them in the top of a hawthorn, but when a couple of dogwalkers came along the path the other way, they dropped down out of view, before we could get them in the scope. The next thing we knew, the Bramblings flew off calling – four of them in total.

A loud call alerted us to a Kingfisher flying along the river channel beyond which landed on the wooden sluice. Unfortunately, before we could get it in the scope, it was off again and disappeared further up along the river. Back at the Fen, there was still no sign of the Spoonbill.

As we made our way back along the footpath the other side of the road and came out of the trees, we flushed a Barn Owl from the far edge of the wood. We watched it fly away from us to the grazing meadow beyond, where it started to hunt, flying back and forth over the grass. Suddenly it dropped down to the ground and we could only just see the top of its head. It stayed on the ground for some time and when it flew up again we could see that it had caught a vole. The Barn Owl deftly transferred the vole from its bill to its talons and flew over into some trees to eat.

6o0a3622Brown Hare – a couple were in the field on the way back to the car

As we walked back to the car, we could see a couple of Brown Hares in the grassy field by the path. One of them was looking decidedly mad, leaping up and kicking its feet out – despite the fact it certainly isn’t March! Then it was time to head for home.