Tag Archives: Ruff

28th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 2

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

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

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower again this afternoon

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

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

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

Jay

Jay – there were a couple out in the cut grass

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

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

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

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

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

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and disappeared behind the trees

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

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

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled in front of the hide

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

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

Ringlet

Ringlet – perched on a leaf by the path

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

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

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

Tawny Owl

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

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

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

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

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – several flew over us on the main path

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

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

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

Avocet

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

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

Little Gulls

Little Gulls – there were at least 10 here today

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

Ruff

Ruff – rapidly moulting out its ornate ruff feathers already

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

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

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

Pink-footed Goose

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

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

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

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

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23rd May 2018 – Late Spring Birds, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day Late Spring Tour today. It was originally forecast to be sunny today, but by this morning that had changed to cloud all day. So it was to be. It was rather misty first thing, but the cloud lifted through the day. There was still a cool breeze but at least it had dropped considerably compared to yesterday, which meant it didn’t feel quite as cold.

Given the early mist, we headed round to Cley to start the day, thinking we could get out of the weather in the hides. As we walked out to the hides, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the brambles by the ditch – good to head as numbers have dropped dramatically after the cold winter. A Grey Heron was standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk as we passed. We heard a Bearded Tit call and turned to see it fly across and drop straight down into the reeds.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk

From the shelter of Dauke’s Hide, we had a scan of Simmond’s Scrape first. There were a few waders to be found on here. Two Common Sandpipers and two Tundra Ringed Plovers were feeding around the edge of the islands and another seven Tundra Ringed Plovers dropped in to join them. There were two Little Ringed Plovers on here too and a Greenshank which was fast asleep on the island at the back.

The scrapes are dominated by the Avocets now, many of which have small juveniles already. We could see several groups of little ones out on the scrapes or sheltering beneath the adults. The Avocets are very aggressive and will chase off anything which lands anywhere near. It was funny to watch them trying to battle with the local Shelducks.

Avocet

Avocet – sheltering a single juvenile, with just its one leg visible

Lots of Sand Martins were flying backwards and forwards low over the reeds and the scrapes, looking for insects, together with a few House Martins for company. A couple of Marsh Harriers patrolled the reedbed at the back. Two pairs of Tufted Duck were swimming around on the ditch right in front of the hide.

Looking across to Pat’s Pool, the first thing we noticed were the Ruff. There were five of them on here, all males and all different! One male was particularly striking, with a fully grown rufous ruff and black crest feathers. The breeding plumage of the other Ruffs was not quite as well developed – a second rufous one and a black one lacked the full crest feathers, as did a white one, and another blackish one didn’t have much of a ruff yet. Unfortunately there was no female today, for them to display to.

Ruff

Ruff – looking smart now, in full breeding plumage

There were also still a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on Pat’s Pool, mostly asleep and loafing around on the edge of one of the islands. A second Greenshank was feeding over in a sheltered bay in the far corner but whenever it ventured out into the open, it was chased back in by one of the Avocets.

It was cool in the hides, to we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre to warm up over a cup of coffee. On the way back along the boardwalk, we heard Bearded Tits calling again and looked up to see a female perched in the reeds beside the path ahead of us. A cracking male then flew in and landed just below, before the two of them flew across the boardwalk to the reeds the other side. They were followed by two juvenile Bearded Tits, still with only partly grown tails. We walked up to where they had crossed and had a great view of them climbing up and down in the reeds.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a pair flew across the boardwalk with their two juveniles

As we got back to the bridge across the ditch by the road, we heard the Cetti’s Warbler again so we stopped to see if we could find it. We could see a Reed Warbler flicking around low in the reeds along the edge of the water. Then something else flew out, chased it, and then landed in the brambles. It was the Cetti’s Warbler. It sang once and we could just see it perched on the edge of the bush before it dropped into the vegetation.

After our coffee break, we had a look round at the Iron Road. The pool here was fairly quiet today – just a couple of Redshanks and Lapwings and a single Little Ringed Plover lurking in the reeds at the back.

As we walked round to Babcock Hide, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over and landed in the field the other side of the road. A well-grown Lapwing chick was trying to hide in the grass by the path while one of the adults flew round above calling agitatedly. The pool in front of Babcock Hide was a bit disappointing today. Apart from lots of Greylags, there were just a few Avocets, including a pair with a single chick.

We decided to try our luck out on East Bank instead. The low cloud had lifted a little now and it had started to brighten up a touch. Two male Marsh Harriers had a brief tussle over the reedbed as we got out of the car, before one then headed off over Pope’s Marsh. There were a few Lapwings and Redshanks out on the grazing marsh and we picked up a distant Common Sandpiper on Pope’s Pool. A single drake Wigeon and three Teal on the north end of the Serpentine were notable. Most of the ones that spent the winter here have long since departed, so it will be interesting to see how long these ones stay.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – flew over and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh

As we continued on to Arnold’s Marsh, we noticed four largish waders flying in over the reedbed. They were Whimbrel – we could see there down-curved bills, not as long as a Curlew. They dropped down onto Arnold’s so we continued on to there and got them in the scope. We could see their distinctive striped head patterns. They didn’t stay long though, only around 10 minutes. After a preen and a doze, they took off and headed out over the beach and out to sea, presumably on their way to Scandinavia.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on the island at the back again – through the scope we could see their shaggy black crests and mostly black bills. There were not too many waders on here today, but we could see another five Tundra Ringed Plovers and a smart summer plumage Turnstone.

We couldn’t come all this way without a quick look at the sea, so we continued on to the beach. There were lots of Little Terns feeding just offshore, flying up and down just behind the breakers and occasionally diving straight down into the water.

Little Tern

Little Tern – there were lots feeding off the end of the East Bank

On the walk back, we had nice views of a male Bearded Tit briefly in the reeds down below the bank. It appeared to be carrying a feather, possibly nest material, before it shot off back behind us along the ditch. One of the Marsh Harriers also showed very nicely, flying round over the reeds just ahead of us, before heading out across the grazing marshes, chased by various Avocets and Lapwings.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – showed very nicely off the East Bank

Given the fresh breeze, we decided to head round to the beach car park and eat our lunch in the shelter there. A few parties of Sandwich Terns flew past over the Eye Field while we ate. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out to North Scrape.

We couldn’t see anything of note on Billy’s Wash, but as we got to the shingle behind North Scrape, a Wheatear flew up. It was a male, quite a bright pale one. It landed on the fence beyond briefly, then flew again, up onto the top of the screen overlooking the scrape. It dropped down onto the picnic table and we thought we might be able to get round for a closer look, but before we could get there it was off again, down onto the grazing marsh beyond.

Wheatear

Wheatear – this male was around the beach behind North Scrape

There was nothing of note on North Scrape, but at that point we received a message to say that there was a White-winged Black Tern along the coast at Burnham Overy. We decided to head round there to see if we could see it.

As we walked out along the track which cuts across the grazing marshes, we heard two Lesser Whitethroats singing in the hedge. In typical fashion, we had a couple of quick glimpses as they flew between bushes, dropping straight into cover. One or two Reed Warblers were singing from the ditch beside the path.

We could see the White-winged Black Tern before we got to the seawall, visible above the reeds as it flew round over the pool in the middle, but it was a better view once we got up to the top. What a stunning bird! Its mostly white upperwings and tail contrasted with its jet black body. When it turned, we could see its black underwing coverts.

White-winged Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern – feeding over the reedbed pool at Burnham Overy

The White-winged Black Tern was flying round over the pool with very buoyant wingbeats, occasionally dropping down to the water’s surface, looking for insects. A great bird to watch!

While we were watching the tern, we kept one eye out over the harbour the other side and we noticed a harrier come up over the saltmarsh beyond the harbour channel. It was very slim, with narrow, pointed wings and through the scope we could see the white patch on its uppertail coverts and its faded buff/orange underparts, with a darker hood. It was a Montagu’s Harrier, a young one, a 2nd calendar year. We watched it hunting over the saltmarsh before it gradually worked its way back and out of view.

One or two Spoonbills flew past as we stood up on the bank. As we made our way back across the grazing marshes, we heard a Greenshank calling. While we were looking for it, we turned to see a Spoonbill flying low right over our heads!

There was still a little time left before we had planned to finish today, so we headed round to Wells Woods. A Wood Sandpiper had been reported earlier, on the marshes south of the pines, although the latest update suggested it might have flown off. Still, we walked out for a look. On our way out, another Greenshank flew over the pines calling.

As we scanned the pools and flooded grassland, one of the group spotted a wader which was disturbed from the wet grass by a gull flapping nearby. It was the Wood Sandpiper. Through the scope, we got a good look at it, noting its white spangled upperparts and striking pale supercilium.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – on the marshes at Wells Woods

It had proved to be a very productive afternoon and that was a nice way to end the day’s activities. With more to come later tonight!

Nightjar Evening

After couple of hours off to recover and get something to eat, we met again early evening. We headed out to look for owls first. It was still cool and rather breezy – not ideal weather, though not the forecast fog thankfully. We drove to an area of farm buildings where we know Little Owls breed first.

There was no sign of any Little Owls at first, it was a bit too cold to find them out basking! As we walked round, we saw a Brown Hares and a couple of Red-legged Partridge on a farm track. A Grey Partridge ran out across a recently planted potato field, and stood up nicely on the ridges, showing off its black belly patch.

We eventually found a Little Owl but it was hiding on the ridge of one of the farm buildings, tucked in under the cowl on the top of the roof. It was back on to us and we could just see its head and shoulders. It was not a great view of one, but better than nothing!

Our next target was to look for Barn Owls. We drove down to the back of Cley, figuring it might be sheltered from the wind here, and immediately spotted a white shape on a post by the road, a Barn Owl. We drove past and parked some distance beyond, hoping we might be able to see it without disturbing it but it flew off as we got out. It landed again on another post across the field, where we could see it in the scope.

It was a strikingly white Barn Owl, much paler than a normal one, a known individual which has been in the area for a year or so now.  Then it took off again and flew straight back towards us. For about ten minutes, we watched as it flew around hunting in front of us. Great views! A second Barn Owl appeared further back, a normal coloured one, landing on a bush briefly before flying off over the road the other side.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – a striking white bird at Cley

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the Barn Owl and head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from some dense bushes. A male Stonechat perched up nicely where we could see it. It was still rather cool, but we were sheltered from the wind by the trees.

It wasn’t long before we heard the first Woodcock calling, and looked across to see one flying straight towards us. It was roding. the display flight of the male, flying round over its territory with stiff flapping wingbeats. We would see it or hear it several times over the course of the evening.

Shortly afterwards, the first Nightjar started churring. We positioned ourselves to try to see it, hoping it would fly up to one of its favourite perches to churr. But suddenly two birds appeared, flying up from the edge of the trees. We could see they were both males, both with white wing flashes and white corners to their tails, and they were chasing each other.

The two Nightjars flew in and out of the trees, calling and wing clapping. They held their tails fanned and at an angle to show off the white spots to maximum effect. They landed down on the ground briefly, out of view, but were quickly up again, chasing each other out over the heath. One circled back and flew round just above our heads, calling – amazing views!

Then both the Nightjars headed away and we could one of them churring some way further over. We tried to make our way over as quickly as possible, as sure enough it was on a favoured branch, but just as we got within scope range it was off again. It was great to listen to them churring, but they wouldn’t stay still for long this evening and quickly started to go quiet.

It had been a fantastic display anyway, so we decided to call it a night. We walked back to the car to the sound of more Nightjars churring either side.

21st May 2018 – Fen & Marshes

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny day again, with mostly blue skies and only the occasional patch of high cloud, but still with a bit of a chill in the NE wind.

We started at Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, we looked across to see a couple of Brown Hares in the meadow the other side of the road. They started to chase each other round and round and were quickly joined by two more Hares. Them they started boxing, rearing up on their hind legs and hitting out at each other with their front ones. It was great to watch!

Brown Hares

Brown Hares – boxing at Stiffkey this morning

There were a couple of Stock Doves in the field too, but they had disappeared by the time we had finished watching the Hares. One flew past as we walked along the permissive path and when we got to the copse an impressive flock of 11 Stock Doves flew in and landed over the ridge.

It was starting to warm up nicely now and our first Marsh Harrier of the day circled up out of the valley below. A Sparrowhawk emerging from the wood beyond was chased by a Jackdaw but wasn’t going to just take it and started to chase the Jackdaw back, before it dropped back down into the trees.

As we walked into the copse, we could hear a Blackcap singing, a lovely melodic song, and two Chiffchaffs having a sing-off against each other. A Robin and a Wren were singing too, the latter certainly punching above its weight in the volume stakes!

There were lots of House Martins and a couple of Swallows flying around the house on the hill, as we got out of the trees. We could hear all the Avocets on the Fen alarm calling as another Marsh Harrier passed over.

As we made our way along the path to the seawall, we could hear a pair of Bullfinches piping in the sallows and had a couple of glimpses as they flew off ahead of us and then back round behind us. A Sedge Warbler was more obliging – sitting up in the reeds singing. As we got up onto the seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. It was over in the poplars at the back of the Fen today and showed no signs of coming out so we could see it.

Shelduck

Shelducks – the proud parents with their ten Shelducklings

The tide was still coming in out in the harbour. An Oystercatcher was down on the mud by the first sluice and a Redshank was on the other side. A pair of Shelducks were escorting their ten Shelducklings down the channel. Further out on the saltmarsh, we could see there were still good numbers of Brent Geese lingering. A Spoonbill flew in across the saltmarsh on the edge of the harbour, but continued on straight east past us.

There were not so many waders on the Fen again today. We managed to find one Common Sandpiper, feeding along the edge of one of the islands, before it flew behind the reeds. There were at least three Little Ringed Plovers displaying, flying round over the reeds with bat-like wingbeats, calling. Otherwise, their was just one Black-tailed Godwit feeding in the deeper water, and the regular Avocets.

A pair of Teal dropped in on the water – common here in winter, but more unusual at this time of year. There was a pair of Tufted Ducks out here too, but otherwise not so many ducks now.

As we walked along the seawall towards the harbour, a Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a small hawthorn bush ahead of us. A Linnet was singing in the top of the hedge by the path as we continued on.

There were a few waders around the muddy edges of the harbour, gathering ahead of the tide. A large roost of Oystercatchers were mostly sleeping away on one side. On the stonier spits, we could see several distant Turnstone among the Brent Geese and a little flock of Ringed Plover accompanied by a single Dunlin. Two Whimbrel which landed distantly out on the saltmarsh were hard to see given the heathaze.

Out on the end of Blakeney Point, we could see a small number of seals hauled out on the sand through the scope. A party of nine Gannets flying past over the sea beyond stood out as their mostly white plumage shone in the morning light. A Marsh Harrier passing over the Point upset the Black-headed Gulls and Sandwich Terns which all whirled round over the dunes. We could see a few Common Terns and Little Terns out over the harbour too, and a single Common Tern flew past us and up the channel.

One of the Marsh Harriers flew in over the saltmarsh and we could see it circle back where the Shelducklings were back in the channel. One of the adult Shelducks flew up and started to mob it, chasing round after it. The Marsh Harrier stooped a couple of times but appeared to come up empty talonned. When we got back along the seawall, we could see that the brood was still intact. Walking back along the path towards the road, we had great views of the Marsh Harrier as it circled low over the trees ahead of us, before flying off over our heads.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew off over our heads

With the warmer weather, there was a nice selection of butterflies out today. We watched a Green Hairstreak ovipositing and had nice views of Speckled Wood along the path. There were quite a few whites out again – Green-veined White and Small White – and several Red Admirals today. More dragonflies were out too, with Four-spotted Chaser, Azure Damselfly and Large Red Damselfly all seen along the path.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – one of several butterflies on the wing today

We made our way round to Cley next and headed straight out to the hides. Along the Skirts path, several House Martins were coming down to collect mud from the pools just behind the cattle pens.

A Reed Warbler was skulking in the reeds singing, just the other side of the main freshwater channel, although it did hop out briefly. A Sedge Warbler singing from the top of a bush by the boardwalk was much more accommodating, as was a Reed Bunting. We heard a couple of Bearded Tits calling and saw them zipping across over the reeds a couple of times, but not the views we were hoping for here.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing from the top of a bush by the boardwalk

It was rather cold in the hides again today, out of the sun. We had a look at Whitwell Scrape first. The highlight was the Avocets nesting on the island in front of the hide. The nest which had one chick hatched a couple of days ago is now empty, but the birds were still sitting tight on the other two nests. We watched a couple of changeovers, and one of the birds kept fidgeting and turning its eggs – perhaps they are about to hatch?

Avocet

Avocet – this one still sitting on eggs

Otherwise, there was a nice pair of Gadwall feeding just below the hide and we stopped to admire the intricate patterning on the drake. The connoisseur’s duck! While scanning carefully round the edge, the surprise was a Common Snipe hiding in the reeds at the back, the first we have seen here for a while, with most of the birds which spent the winter here long since having left.

There were more birds on Simmond’s Scrape, so we made our way round to Dauke’s Hide. There are still good numbers of Black-tailed Godwit and in with them we found a single Knot, still in its grey non-breeding plumage. Two Greenshanks were feeding nearby.

There were two Ruff on here, both getting their smart ruffs. One was largely dark, with a barred ruff, whereas the other had a mostly white head and neck. Over on Pat’s Pool we could see another three Ruff, including a particularly striking bird in full breeding plumage, with a bright rusty coloured ruff and ornate crest. Stunning to look at!

There were four more Greenshanks on Pat’s Pool too – there had obviously been an arrival of them this morning, stopping off to feed up on their way north. But we couldn’t find any sign of the Temminck’s Stints on the scrapes here today.

It was nice to get out of the hide to warm up, and we made our way slowly back. The breeze had picked up a little, and there was no sign of any Bearded Tits now. They were clearly keeping their heads down! The highlight of the walk back was a brood of Shoveler ducklings accompanied by the female in the freshwater channel by the bridge.

Shoveler

Shoveler – the female with her four ducklings

After lunch back at the Visitor Centre, we made our way round to the East Bank. As we walked out, we could hear Bearded Tits calling, but we couldn’t see them down in the reeds. A Lapwing put on a fine display though, flying round, singing, twisting and tumbling. We thought it was great – the female Lapwing down in the grass had her back turned and was clearly unimpressed!

There were two Spoonbills busy feeding in the Serpentine, walking up and down sweeping their bills from side to side. Before we got to them, we stopped to admire a summer plumage Turnstone, down on the mud below the bank. Through the scope, we could see the lovely rich chestnut patterning in its upperparts. While we were watching the Turnstone, the Spoonbills stopped feeding and suddenly flew, landing again in a ditch over the back of Pope’s Marsh.

Turnstone

Turnstone – very smart now, in breeding plumage

There were a few more waders out on the pool at the back, including a couple of Sanderling and a mixed flock of Ringed Plovers and a couple of Little Ringed Plovers feeding on the open mud. The drake Wigeon was still on the north end of the Serpentine – it shows no sign currently of heading off for the breeding season.

Just before we got to the main drain, we heard a Bearded Tit calling again and looked across to see one fly in and dive down into the reeds just a foot or so in from the edge. We stood for a while, hoping it might work its way through to the edge of the ditch but, despite it calling again several times, it never did show itself. A pair of Reed Buntings put on a much better show and even the Reed Warblers perched up nicely in the sunshine.

We continued on to Arnold’s Marsh, where a noisy group of Sandwich Terns had gathered on one of the islands. Through the scope we could see their bushy crests and yellow-tipped black bills. There were a couple of Little Terns with them too. There were a few more Turnstones out here and a handful of Redshank. The highlight was a pair of Little Ringed Plovers which were on a sandy area in the edge of the saltmarsh down at the front. Through the scope we had a great view of their golden yellow eye rings.

A quick visit to the beach produced more terns flying back and forth close inshore over the sea, including several more Little Terns. Then we started to make our way back.

The Spoonbills had done a circuit and returned to the Serpentine. When we got back, one of them was still busy feeding out in the water and we had a great look at it through the scope. It appeared to be finding lots of food – it kept flicking its head up out of the water.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – flicking its head back to eat its prey

We were almost back to the car park when we heard a Bearded Tit call and looked over to see two birds chasing each other into the reeds not far from the bank. We stood again and watched and didn’t have to wait too long before they came up again.

We could see there was a male Bearded Tit chasing after a female, but they disappeared down into the reeds again. The third time they came up, they landed higher up in the reeds and the male shuffled up a stem and perched in full view. Finally!

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – this male showed really well, as we were nearly back to the car

It had been worth the wait, as we now had a fantastic look at the male Bearded Tit. We could see its powder blue-grey head and black moustaches. It stayed in the same place for a minute or so, then the two of them flew again, back up the ditch away from us. We saw the male Bearded Tit again, perched in the tops of the reeds further back, before it dropped down out of view.

That was a great way to finish the day, so we made our way back to the car and headed for home.

18th May 2018 – Second-time Stint

A single day Spring Tour in North Norfolk. Thankfully the wind had dropped today and even though it was cloudy and cool in the morning, the sun came out and it was blue skies in the afternoon. A nice day to be out birding.

Our first destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we pulled up by the road, two Stock Doves were in the field and four more were perched on the roof of the barns nearby. A Common Whitethroat was singing and a Yellowhammer was calling, with the latter flying up from the hedge and out over the field as we walked along the path.

In the copse at the far end, we could hear a couple of Blackcaps singing against each other and managed to find a Chiffchaff singing in one of the trees just above the path. Crossing the road, we could hear a different song coming from the trees by the river, a little like a Blackcap but faster, more rolling, tumbling. It was a Garden Warbler and we had a couple of glimpses of it as it flew between the bushes, always keeping well tucked in though.

A quiet plaintive whistle alerted us to a Bullfinch in the trees by the path. It was tricky to see deep in the foliage, but then flew out past us, a smart pink male. Several House Martins were flying round over the meadow and up to the eaves of the house beyond. We had stopped to listen to a Reed Warbler which was singing in one of the big sallows, when a Cuckoo started singing up towards the seawall. We got it in the scope and most of us managed a look at it before it flew off. We could still hear it singing away to the east when we got up onto the seawall.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – singing by the seawall at Stiffkey Fen

The tide was high already in the harbour and the saltmarsh was flooded. There were still plenty of Brent Geese swimming around among the bushes – yet to head off back to Siberia for the breeding season.

We got the scope out to scan the Fen, but there were just a few waders on here today despite the tide. We managed to find two Common Sandpipers bobbing round the edge of the islands, and a Greenshank with two Redshank in the far corner. A pair of Little Ringed Plover were chasing each other round the islands initially, before flying off past us calling. A presumed intersex Eurasian Teal, a female showing intermediate male-type characteristics, was also interesting to see.

As we made our way round towards the harbour, a Spoonbill flew past over the saltmarsh, disappearing off east towards Morston. Several Common Terns were flying around the harbour, diving into the water, and we managed to pick out a single Arctic Tern too, hunting up over the flooded saltmarsh channels.

There were not many waders around the edges of the water in the harbour now, with the tide right in, just a few Oystercatchers. However, we did manage to find a Whimbrel out on the saltmarsh, which was subsequently joined by a second. Through the scope, we could see their small size, striped crown and short bills. Another four Whimbrel flew up and circled over the saltmarsh further out towards the water.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding out on the saltmarsh in the harbour

There were a few Linnets and a Kestrel in the bushes by the harbour. As we walked back, a family of Dunnocks were feeding on the path – the two youngsters, unable to fly, hopped away ahead of us and eventually scrambled back into the hedgerow.

The Sedge Warbler, which had quickly disappeared into cover when we walked past earlier, was now singing from the top of a reed stem, out in full view where we could get a good look at it through the scope. They always tend to be more accommodating than Reed Warblers and now that the wind had dropped this one was performing very well.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing from the reeds along the ditch below the seawall

There had been one or two Marsh Harriers around the Fen. A rather pale male had flown very quickly through, before it could attract the worst of the attention from the Avocets nesting down on the islands below. However, when we got back to the car we had a much better view of one. A male Marsh Harrier was circling over the copse, and then flew towards us, passing by just over the edge of the field to the south.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us as we got back to the car

We made our way further east along the coast road to Cley next. There had been a nice selection of waders here over the past couple of days, but asking at the Visitor Centre as we got our permits, it sounded like a number of them had moved on overnight. Still, we made our way out to the hides, to see what we could find.

On the walk out, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing in the thin strip of reeds the other side of the ditch by the path. Unlike the Sedge Warbler we had seen earlier, it was keeping well down in cover. However, a careful scan and we could see it, perched about half way up through the reeds. We had a good look at it through the scope, noting its rather plain appearance and relatively unmarked face, with pale just on the lores and over the eye and a small pale crescent below.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – singing in the reeds by the path out to the hides

There were a few more House Martins back and prospecting the eaves of the warden’s house – good to see as numbers have been worryingly low in recent days, for the time of year. Hopefully there are more still to come.

As we got to the boardwalk, we heard a Bearded Tit calling, and turned to see a male zipping over the tops of the reeds. It flew round behind us, then out towards the hides, dropping back in further up beside the path. We walked round to where it had dropped and got there just as it flew again, but were surprised to see two or three more Bearded Tits in the reeds, perched half hidden just a couple of metres in. They were juveniles – with black masks and black backs, with their tails only half grown. The male had obviously been in to feed them, but they dropped back down before everyone could get onto them.

From Avocet Hide, a pair of Gadwall were feeding just below the windows in front, and we got a very good look at the intricate patterning of the drake. There are good numbers of Avocets nesting on here at the moment and, over towards the back, we could see that one pair already had three very small chicks. The nests at the front were still on eggs, but we watched a couple of times as the other adult flew in, stopped to preen for a couple of minutes and then walked over and took over incubation duties from its partner.

Avocet

Avocets – changeover at the nest

There were not that many other waders on here though today. A single Little Ringed Plover was busy preening on the top of the island amongst the nesting Black-headed Gulls. A lone Black-tailed Godwit was feeding in the deeper water between the islands. We had a good look for the Temminck’s Stint just in case, around the reedy margins of the scrape where it had been yesterday, but we couldn’t see any sign of it and it hadn’t been seen all morning today.

Round at Dauke’s Hide, there were lots more Black-tailed Godwits, a few starting to come into rusty breeding plumage, but mostly in shades of grey/brown. The Avocets were chasing them whenever they came within range of a nesting pair and we had great views of two godwits squabbling on the bank in front of the hide.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – there were lots on both Simmond’s & Pat’s Pool today

A striking mostly summer-plumage Ruff, largely black with an already well-developed dark barred ruff, was feeding around the edge of one of the islands. A couple of Tundra Ringed Plovers were feeding on the mud at the back, but there was no sign of any of the Dunlin or Curlew Sandpipers from yesterday – it appeared that some of the waders had moved on with the drop in the wind.

Looking across to Pat’s Pool, we could see more Black-tailed Godwits feeding just beyond the bank at the front. There were two female Ruff, also known as Reeves, with them, much smaller than the males and plainer grey brown, patterned with dark. A couple more male Ruff coming into breeding plumage were feeding around the islands further back.

Two Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in with the Black-tailed Godwits, stopping to preen next to them for a few minutes before going to sleep. They were presumably migrants, stopping off for a break on their way north. We had a nice side-by-side comparison of the two species together, and the shorter legs of the Bar-tailed Godwits were particularly obvious, with them up to their bellies in the water whereas we could see a good length of leg still on the Black-tailed Godwits.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre. It had started to brighten up nicely now, so we made good use of the picnic tables overlooking the reserve. An adult Mediterranean Gull circled high overhead with several Black-headed Gulls.

After lunch, we made our way over to the East Bank. There were several Lapwings and Redshanks around the small pools on the grazing marsh as we walked up towards the sea. A lone lingering drake Wigeon was on the north end of the Serpentine, along with a Common Sandpiper nearby. We could just see a single Little Ringed Plover out on Pope’s Pool at back.

There is not too much on Arnold’s Marsh at the moment, but we did see a pair of Little Terns on the small island out towards the back. A Grey Plover flew in to join them and a bright summer-plumage Turnstone was a nice addition to the day’s list. We had a quick look out at the beach, but there was nothing moving out to sea today.

We had received a message on the walk out to say that the Temminck’s Stint had reappeared on the scrapes, so we decided it was worthwhile heading back round there to try to see it. As we walked back along the bank, a couple of Little Egrets flew past. One landed down by the bank, feeding on a small pool. It is good to see a few Little Egrets back here, after we lost a good number in the cold weather over the winter.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding on one of the pools by the Serpentine

When we got back round to Avocet Hide, we quickly got onto the Temminck’s Stint, creeping around on the back edge of the scrape, just where it had been yesterday and we had looked for it earlier. Second time lucky! It was very well camouflaged against the mud but we could see its yellowish legs and pattern of scattered dark-centred feathers in the upperparts.

While we were watching the stint, we noticed a small female Ruff walking past one the males over on Simmond’s Scrape. The male Ruff started displaying, puffing out its ornate ruff feathers, drooping its wings and bowing. The female seemed particularly unimpressed and carried on feeding, working its way slowly along the edge of the island.

That took the female Ruff within range of a second male, which had been preening quietly further back. The first male chased over to it and the two of them had a brief tussle, rearing up and kicking out at each other, Both then started displaying, but the first was clearly dominant and after a couple more scuffles, the second Ruff sloped off back through the grass.

The first male Ruff then had the female to itself, and tried more display, bowing again, before crouching down, back to her with wings spread. Still the female seemed decidedly unimpressed and carried on round the back of the island. It was amazing to watch – we get Ruffs here over the winter and passing through in spring, but they head off to the continent to breed so it is rare to see them displaying here.

When we left the hide, we could hear the Bearded Tits still in the reeds by the boardwalk. The adult female came in a couple of times to feed the juveniles, and we had a better looks at the young ones perching in the reeds this time.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – one of the juveniles in the reeds by the boardwalk

Returning to the car, we headed back west to Holkham, a little later than planned. As we walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines, we could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing, and the sweet descending scale of a Willow Warbler. A drake Mallard and a family of Moorhen were the only birds on Salts Hole this afternoon.

Just beyond, we stopped to listen to a Goldcrest singing in the trees, and found it flitting around in the tops of the elms, just below the pines. A Coal Tit was in the pines nearby too. As we walked on, a Cuckoo started singing in the trees just behind us.

It was nice and sunny now, and warmer in the lee of the pines. There were a few more butterflies out – several Orange Tips, a few whites, a Peacock. A striking Green Hairstreak landed on the path in front of us.

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak – landed on the path on the walk out at Holkham

We made our way straight out to Joe Jordan Hide. It was quiet at first, but quickly the  Spoonbills started to appear. First one flew in from the east, and dropped down into the trees, then another two flew in from the west. After a whole, one or two started dropping down onto the pool below the trees and through the scope we got a better look at their distinctive spoon-shaped bills. We could also see the shaggy nuchal crest on one, a sign of a bird in breeding condition.

While watching the Spoonbills through the scope, a Great White Egret flew in and landed on the pool just in front of them. It flew again, and this time landed just to the right of the hide. We had a great view of it here – particularly its long, yellow bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and landed on a pool below the Hide

There were a few Little Egrets flying in and out of the trees too, and several Grey Herons. Marsh Harriers were coming and going and there were lots of Greylags and the odd Egyptian Goose out on the grass. A Mistle Thrush dropped out of the trees to feed on the bank in front of us.

Unfortunately, it was time for us to head back. We had one more bird to add to the list as we were leaving, with a pair of Grey Partridge feeding on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive as we drove out. A nice way to finish a very enjoyable day out.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – a pair were by Lady Anne’s Drive as we left

22nd July 2017 – Raptors & Waders

A single day Summer Tour today, we were looking for birds of prey in the morning and then heading to the coast afterwards. We were lucky with the weather – it was raining early this morning but stopped just as we got out of the car at our first stop, and then we avoided the showers until we got back to the car park at the end of the day!

As we drove to our first destination of the morning, a rather damp Kestrel was perched on some wires by the road in the drizzle. Thankfully we could see blue sky in the west heading our way. A Sparrowhawk zipped across the road and over the hedge the other side. A nice way to start our morning looking for raptors.

We stopped at the bottom of a farm track and walked up to a convenient vantage point from which we could scan the surrounding countryside. A pair of Grey Partridge flew off from the grass as we got out of the car. It was rather cool, not the perfect morning for birds of prey, but after the rain there was still lots of activity, with birds flying around and making the most of the dry weather.

A Common Buzzard was perched in a tree and another circled up over the wood. We saw a Sparrowhawk in the distance and, a little later, one appeared in the top of a dead bush in the hedge at the bottom of the field in front of us. A little while later, it circled up, alternating bouts of flapping with glides, turning in tight circles before heading off towards a nearby wood.

There were other birds besides the raptors. There were lots of Swifts hawking for insects over the fields, gaining height gradually as it started to warm up. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling – a rare breeder in this part of the world these days. A sharp ‘kik’ call alerted us to a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying overhead. A pair of Stock Doves flew over the field towards us, banking away sharply when they spotted us. A Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge and several Skylarks started to sing and flutter up higher into the sky as the sun came out.

6O0A0904Skylark – fluttering up over the fields, singing

With our mission accomplished, we made our way back to the car and headed for Titchwell, which was to be our destination for the rest of the day. It was already late morning by the time we got there. We had a quick look round the overflow car park, although there were a few cars parking in there now. We could hear Bullfinches calling and flushed a couple of Greenfinches out of the bushes as we passed. A Blackcap came up from the brambles into a small elder, calling.

Round at the visitor centre, there were a few Greenfinches and Chaffinches on the feeders, as well as a Blue Tit and Great Tit or two. A Dunnock was hopping around underneath and a streaky juvenile Robin was enjoying the crumbs around the picnic tables. A juvenile Moorhen was eyeing up the birdtable but couldn’t work up the courage to jump up onto it.

6O0A0915Robin – this juvenile was looking for crumbs around the picnic tables

We decided to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed before lunch. As we walked round past Fen Hide, a Hobby flashed past over the reeds and disappeared round behind the trees, the first of several sightings we would get of it today.

There were quite a few ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed today, in particular a good number of Common Pochard. The drake dabbling ducks are all in their drab eclipse plumage now, but we could see there were just Mallard and Gadwall here. There was a single Egyptian Goose too. A couple of stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebes were swimming around the edge of the reeds and there were several Little Grebes too – an adult diving in the pondweed at the back and two drabber juveniles along the bank at the front.

There was quite a bit of juvenile Marsh Harrier action, with several birds flying around over the reeds or chasing each other up over the trees. We got good views of a couple of perched birds which gave us a chance to look at some of the variation in head pattern. One juvenile had a more classic head pattern, with golden orange crown and throat, separated by a dark mask. Another had an almost all chocolate brown head, with just a patch of golden feathers on the back of its crown.

6O0A0925Marsh Harrier – a juvenile, all dark with a golden yellow-orange head

It was time for lunch now, so we walked back, stopping briefly by the dragonfly pool. A Southern Hawker was flying around over the reeds. It looked odd at first, bright rusty orange, until we realised it had caught a butterfly and was in the process of eating it, discarding the wings when it was finished. There were several Common Darter here too.

A young Blackcap, with a rusty brown crown, came up out of the reeds and flew up into the edge of the trees. There were a couple of Reed Warblers in here too and we got nice views of one of them when it flew back into some brambles and started climbing around in the top, looking for insects.

After lunch back in the picnic area, we headed out to explore the rest of the reserve. As we walked down the main path, we heard a Bearded Tit calling nearby and just caught the back end of it as it dived into the reeds. It didn’t reappear, but thankfully we would see several more today. The reedbed pool held a few Mallard, with a single Tufted Duck diving in between them. An adult Great Crested Grebe was sleeping on the edge of the reeds at the back.

Another Hobby shot across the reeds and headed out over the saltmarsh, flushing a variety of birds out of the vegetation. A flock of about 15 Curlew appeared from nowhere and flew round before dropping back into the purple sea lavendar out of view.

As we walked up towards Island Hide, we could hear more Bearded Tits calling and we saw a couple of long-tailed birds zipping over the reeds before dropping down out of view. Thankfully, some of this year’s juvenile Bearded Tits have been showing very well in recent weeks on the edge of the reeds just before the hide, so rather than try to see them in the thicker part of the reedbed, we made our way along to the edge of the freshmarsh.

Sure enough, there were the Bearded Tits. We stood and watched them for a while. We could see at least five tawny coloured juveniles, climbing around the base of the reeds and occasionally hopping out onto the mud in full view. It is great to see them like this and we had some cracking views of them, especially through the scope.

6O0A0955Bearded Tit – at least 5 juveniles were showing very well on the edge of the reeds

There was one other bird we really wanted to make sure we saw here today so, after watching the Bearded Tits for a while, we made our way straight round to the other side of Island Hide. The adult Pectoral Sandpiper was in its usual place, on the mud right below the path. It has been delighting visitors with fantastic close up views here for several days now and we were not disappointed.

Pectoral Sandpiper is an occasional visitor here. They breed in the arctic in eastern Siberia and North America, with most of the population wintering in South America, so this one was a long way from home. Pectoral Sandpipers are small waders, not much bigger than Dunlin, with a heavily streaked breast sharply divided from a white belly, the curved border between which is the pectoral band from which it gets its name.

6O0A0636Pectoral Sandpiper – showing extremely well on the mud by Island Hide

While watching the Pectoral Sandpiper, it was difficult not to get distracted by all the other waders out on the freshmarsh at the moment. It may be summer to us, but it is already autumn for many waders. They have already come back from their arctic breeding areas and gathering here to moult or feed up before continuing further south.

There were several Ruff feeding close to the bank. The males have already lost their distinctive ruffs which they have in breeding plumage and are in the process of moulting their body plumage, losing their bright and gaudy colours. At this stage, they come in a truly bewildering variety of different colours, a major source of confusion to the unaware.

6O0A11076O0A08426O0A0844Ruff – moulting out of breeding plumage, in a huge variety of different colours

In with them were a couple of female Ruff, also traditionally known as ‘Reeves‘. They are much smaller than the males and not as brightly coloured, meaning yet more potential confusion!

A line of Bar-tailed Godwits, roosting on the freshmarsh while high tide covers the beach where they typically feed, were mostly in grey winter plumage, although two summer males in with them were still bright rusty red. There were several groups of Black-tailed Godwits too, feeding in the deeper water at the back or sleeping on the islands.

There were other waders dropping in here all the time, birds on the move, just arriving back from the continent. A Whimbrel dropped in amongst a flock of Oystercatchers on the edge of one of the islands, stopping to bathe and preen before disappearing again. A small group of six Golden Plovers flew in and landed briefly, before carrying on west.

There had been a Curlew Sandpiper reported earlier, but we couldn’t find it in with the small flocks of Dunlin on here. Then a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull flew in and started flying round over the scrape, flushing all the waders, the Avocets being particularly jumpy, taking to the air at the slightest hint of danger and swirling round in a big flock. There have been close to 500 Avocets on the freshmarsh in recent days, both birds which have bred here and others which have come here to moult.

6O0A1001Avocets – swirling round in a huge flock at the slightest hint of danger

As things settled down again, it was clear all the Dunlin had flown off. The Spotted Redshanks settled back down though, and the more we looked, the more we found. There were at least five here today, probably more. They are all moulting adults, all already having lost much of their black summer plumage, with some mottled and one already almost in silvery grey winter plumage. A few Common Redshanks were out the other side of Parrinder Hide.

6O0A1156Spotted Redshank – moulting out of its black summer plumage

A small group of Turnstone flew in, presumably pushed off the beach by the rising tide. A couple were still in pristine breeding plumage, stunning birds with white faces and bright chestnut feathers in their upperparts. A lone Common Sandpiper on the tern island was another migrant on its way south, but the juvenile Little Ringed Plovers had probably been raised on site here.

The Spoonbills were hiding around the far edge of the small overgrown island at the back of the freshmarsh at first. They were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! We could see 4-5 large white shapes. When the gull buzzed the freshmarsh and spooked all the waders, the Spoonbills woke up and shuffled to the edge of the island. We could now see there were actually eight of them.

IMG_6365Spoonbills – at least 8 were sleeping round the back of the small island

There were Spoonbills coming and going too. First, one flew in from Thornham saltmarsh but continued straight on past the freshmarsh. Then another flew in from the same direction, but this one circled round and dropped down onto the edge of the island with the others. Then two of the group took off and flew straight towards us, passing over our heads before continuing on towards Thornham Harbour. They were immatures, with black wing tips still.

6O0A1028Spoonbill – these two flew off over our heads and out towards Thornham Harbour

There are lots of gulls and terns on the freshmarsh too at the moment. Lots of Black-headed Gulls have bred here and there were numerous brown-backed juveniles sitting around on the islands. Occasionally, they would find one of their parents and start hounding them for food, begging. Typical teenagers! About nine pairs of Mediterranean Gulls have bred here this year, in with the Black-headed Gulls. There are several juvenile Mediterranean Gulls around at the moment, very smart and distinctive birds with their scalloped upperparts.

IMG_6453Mediterranean Gull – a smart juvenile, just starting to get a few fresh grey feathers

There have been a few Little Gulls around the freshmarsh for some time now. Eventually we found two of them today, one rather more uniform pale grey above, the other with quite extensive black in the wings and a darker head. Both were first summer birds. There were several Common Terns around the islands too.

We could see dark clouds building to the south, so we decided to make a quick dash for the beach.The tide was already covering the mussel beds when we got there and there were no waders left on the sand. There were lots of white shapes flying back and forth or diving offshore – Sandwich Terns. A smaller tern patrolling back and forth just the beach was a Little Tern. A couple of distant Gannets flew past, but there was no sign of any Arctic Skuas now. We had one eye on the weather and, at this stage, we decided discretion was the better part and bade a quick getaway, back to Parrinder Hide.

As it was, the rain passed to the west of us and we got no rain at Titchwell at this stage. It was woryhwhile coming into the hide anyway. Many of the birds were the same as those we had seen earlier from the main path. However, we were just commenting on how there were no Dunlin here now, when three small waders flew in together. Two of them were Dunlin, but the third was larger and flashed a white rump as it landed. It was a very smart adult summer Curlew Sandpiper, still with mostly rusty chestnut underparts. It started feeding, working its way in and out of the Bar-tailed Godwits, wading in up to its belly in the water.

IMG_6421Curlew Sandpiper – dropped in to the freshmarsh with two Dunlin

We looked back along the near edge, out to the east of Parrinder Hide and were thrilled to see a single Common Snipe. Unfortunately it didn’t stay put for long, but was chased by one of the local Moorhen. The Snipe flicked up but quickly landed again, adopting a threat posture, bowing down and lifting its tail to flash to its aggressor. Pretty quickly, something spooked it and it flew off.

It was time to head back now anyway, but with more dark clouds approaching from the south, we could see it was raining beyond. We walked briskly back to the car, encountering just a small amount of light drizzle before we got back, just in time. It started to rain properly as we loaded up the car, and we then drove into torrential rain. But it didn’t matter now, at the end of the day. Overall, we had been very lucky with the weather – it had been a great day, with some great birds.

19th May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather forecast was terrible – rain all day and strong winds. Thankfully, once again it was nowhere near as bad as forecast and we had a great day, with over 100 species of bird on the list already!

It was cloudy and spitting with light rain as we made our way west along the coast road. A Cuckoo flew out of the hedge and across the road, right in front of the car, luckily just avoiding us, before disappearing away over the fields. We were heading for Titchwell today, but took a short diversion inland to Choseley. There have been some Dotterel in the fields here in the last few days, something we were keen to see.

It was very wet underfoot, but thankfully not raining, as we made our way to the edge of the field where the Dotterel have been. As we scanned across the stony ground, we could see a few Red-legged Partridges. An Oystercatcher was sitting tight, possibly trying to nest. Then, much further down the field, we found a single Dotterel. We had a look at it in the scope, but it was distant, so we decided to walk down the footpath and have a look from the other end.

When we got to the end of the hedge and started to scan the field, we realised that the Dotterel was very close in front of us. It had sat itself down in among the emerging sugar beet seedlings and was quite hard to see at first, other than through the scope, until it finally stood up. It appeared to be a male, not as contrasting as a female with a streaked cap – the sexes are reversed in Dotterel, so the female is the brighter.

IMG_4244Dotterel – the first we saw this morning, a male

We heard something calling behind us and turned to see another Dotterel flying in. It circled round and landed in the field, even closer to us than the one we had just been watching! Unfortunately, just at that moment, a large group of walkers were coming along the footpath and it took off again. As it did so, a third Dotterel flew in and joined it, and the two of them landed again further down the field.

These two Dotterel were females, so we decided to walk down along the footpath to try to get a better view of them. As we did so, a Corn Bunting flew up from the rough strip on the edge of the field and landed a bit further along, so we could get a look at it. There were a few Yellowhammers around the hedge as we walked along too. A Hobby came zipping in, low over the field behind us and disappeared back towards the barns.

The two female Dotterel were feeding actively, walking quickly along the field, in and out of the ruts, stopping every now and then to look round. We had a great view of them through the scope. We had been watching them for some time, when we noticed them stop and begin to call quietly. The next thing we noticed was another four Dotterel walking up the field towards them, all bright females again. The six of them gradually worked their way back over the field, so having enjoyed such fantastic views of them today, we decided to move on.

IMG_4259Dotterel – one of the six brighter females in the field today

It was cool and damp when we got down to Titchwell but we could immediately hear a Turtle Dove purring quietly. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the overflow car park, but when we got there it had gone silent. We walked round quietly and found it hiding deep in one of the trees, but managed to find an angle from which we got an unrestricted view of it head on. Turtle Doves are such scarce birds these days, it is always a delight to see one.

IMG_4280Turtle Dove – hiding in the bushes in the early rain

On the walk to the visitor centre, we could hear a Song Thrush singing, and eventually found it high in one of the trees next to the path. A Chiffchaff was singing from the sallows, doing a passable impression of its name. There were a few Chaffinches and Goldfinches on the feeders, although the ones the other side of the visitor centre were being monopolised by several Jackdaws.

Heading out along the main path, we came across a large flock of Long-tailed Tits, a family party with several sooty-faced juveniles. We could hear several Reed Warblers singing from the reedbed and stopped to watch a pair of them clambering around the edge of one of the pools, collecting nest material. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes and we had a glimpse of it as it flew across the pool.

After the rain, the former Thornham grazing marsh pool had at least got a few puddles on it today, which were being occupied by several Shelduck. Several Swifts were hawking for insects over the reeds. There was not much of note on the reedbed pool, just a handful of Tufted Ducks, so we headed for the shelter of Island Hide, stopping briefly to look at a summer plumage Grey Plover on the saltmarsh.

There are a few more waders using the freshmarsh again, now that the water levels have started to drop. There was a nice flock of godwits roosting on the edge of one of the islands, a nice mixture of Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits, the latter having presumably come in from the beach with the rising tide. Running around on the mud nearby, were several Sanderling, moulting into darker summer plumage now, and six black-bellied Dunlin. A flock of Turnstone flew in and whirled round over the islands, but didn’t stop. Over the other side, on the mud near Parrinder Hide, we could see at least three Ringed Plover and a single Little Ringed Plover.

IMG_4306Ruff – a moulting male, with bright rusty head and neck

Needless to say, there is no shortage of Avocet here, although there were some nice ones feeding close in front of the hide. But it was the Ruff which stole the wader show. First, a rusty headed male Ruff appeared on the mud on the edge of the reeds. It was very striking, very brightly coloured but still moulting into breeding plumage and lacking the distinctive ‘ruff’.

When the godwit flock shuffled around and parted, we noticed a second Ruff in amongst them. Even though it was asleep, the wind was catching its feathers and we could see it had a full summer ‘ruff’. It was not as brightly coloured as the rusty-headed male, more subtly white barred with black, but when it woke up we could appreciate just how amazing its ‘ruff’ was. It started to feed and even raised its black crown feathers a couple of times, although it was a bit far away from where we were in Island Hide.

Many of the ducks have departed now, gone north for the breeding season – there were no Teal or Wigeon left here today. However, there are still plenty of Gadwall and Shelduck, plus a few Mallard and Shoveler. A pair of Gadwall feeding right in front of the hide gave us the opportunity to admire the intricacy of the drake’s patterning.

6O0A1327Gadwall – a beautifully patterned drake in front of Island Hide

There were several Common Terns loafing around on the islands. The Black-headed Gulls have taken over the fenced off Avocet Island, and in alongst them we could make out a few Mediterranean Gulls too, blacker-headed and with brighter red bills and pure white wing tips.

There were lots of House Martins and a fair few Swallows too around the reserve today, presumably including many migrants which have stopped off on their way to try to find some food. As we walked round to Parrinder Hide, a group of them were hawking low up and down the water’s edge just below the bank.

We got a better view of the stunning male Ruff from Parrinder Hide, before it flew off to feed on the mud over the other side. The Little Ringed Plover appeared briefly on one of the islands, as did a single Ringed Plover, but neither stayed long enough for everyone to get a good look through the scope.

IMG_4347Ruff – in full breeding plumage, with black-barred white ruff and black crown

There was still some misty dampness in the air, but we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were both quiet today, as we passed and out at the sea, the tide was in. There was still a sizeable group of Oystercatchers gathered on the sand and a large flock of Sanderling whirled round over the beach and dropped down along the shore.

There are still quite a few seaduck here, but the sea was rough today, given the wind, and the scoter flocks were some way out. We did manage to find a distant group of Common Scoter which was still visible on the sea though. A couple of Fulmars flew past with barely a flew of their wings. It was not the weather to be standing around on the beach today, so we decided to head back.

6O0A1353Little Tern – hovering over the Tidal Pools on our way back

As we got over the dunes, a Little Tern was hovering along the edge of the Tidal Pools. Back at the reedbed, we heard a Bearded Tit calling and managed to catch a brief glimpse of a male which shot across the top of the reeds carrying food, although it was too quick for most of the group to get onto. Two gaudy drake Red-crested Pochard had appeared at the back of the reedbed pool.

There seemed to be even more Swifts around on the way back – small groups appeared to be moving through, while others were gathering to feed. We bumped into one of the locals who told us that he had seen a Spotted Flycatcher by the dragonfly pool, so we swung round via the Meadow Trail, but there was no sign of it when we arrived. A Little Grebe was diving out on the water, a pair of Reed Warblers were chasing around in the reeds nearby and a Red Kite circled overhead.

6O0A1401Red Kite – circled over Meadow Trail

After lunch back at the visitor centre and a very welcome warming hot drink, we walked round to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Great Crested Grebe was looking particularly resplendent in its breeding finery. Several drake Common Pochard were asleep around the edge and a single hybrid Pochard x Tufted Duck was diving out on the water. There were lots of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins hawking for insects low over the water here too now.

A quick look over the hedge in the horse paddocks paid dividends, with a single female Yellow Wagtail feeding on the short grass with three Pied Wagtails.

IMG_4367Yellow Wagtail – a female, feeding in the horse paddocks behind Patsy’s Reedbed

There were several Marsh Harriers circling over the reedbed and we watched a male come in over the paddocks from the fields beyond, carrying something in its talons. As it approached the reeds, a female Marsh Harrier circled up and started calling, at which point the male dropped the food it had brought and the female caught it in mid air – a ‘food pass’.

6O0A1408Marsh Harrier – several were flying round over the reeds, including this male

Back at the car park, the Turtle Dove was purring more actively now that the weather had brightened up. We got a great look at it, perched in the top of a dead tree. Then we set off to drive round to Thornham Harbour.

On our way down the road to the harbour, a ghostly white shape suddenly appeared from behind the hedge and drifted across the road in front of us, a Barn Owl. As if by coincidence, one of the group had asked not half an hour earlier whether there was any chance of seeing one this weekend, and we had discussed how the overnight rain last night meant their had to be a possibility one would be out hunting. As if by magic!

We turned round and drove into the pub car park. The Barn Owl was now hunting over the meadow just beyond and we had a great view of it as it worked its way round over the grass. After a few minutes, it dropped down to the ground out of view. When it came up again, we could see it had a large vole in its bill. It flew up over the hedge and disappeared off carrying it, presumably off to feed its hungry brood nearby.

6O0A1434Barn Owl – out hunting early this afternoon, after a wet night overnight

From up in the harbour car park, we could see there were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and sandbanks. Most of the Brent Geese which spent the winter here have already departed back to Russia, and presumably most of these lingering birds should be on their way as well soon. There were also quite a few striking Grey Plovers, with their black faces and bellies now.

We walked up onto the seawall, from where we could get an even better view over the harbour. In the distance, beyond the Brent Geese, we could see three Eider asleep on the sand. They were all young drakes, 1st summers, so have not headed north this year to breed. As we walked along the bank, a female Wheatear flew off ahead of us, flashing its white rump, before landing in a Suaeda bush. Away over the grazing marshes, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the distance.

IMG_4376Wheatear – a female, along the seawall at Thornham Harbour

As we made our way back east along the coast, we headed off inland to see if we could add to our tally of farmland birds. Another Red Kite circled over a field. We could see a pair of Grey Partridge in the distance. A Tawny Owl hooted unseen from a wood. And there were lots of Brown Hares in the fields.

6O0A1449Brown Hare – we saw lots in the fields today

Our final stop of the day was at Holkham. We didn’t have enough time to explore the reserve today, but we stopped at a convenient vantage point overlooking the grazing marshes. A Great White Egret appeared from a ditch, its size obvious even at distance. A second Great White Egret was hiding in a patch of reeds over the other side. A steady stream of Spoonbills was coming and going, but down in the trees we could see three white shapes perched up in the tops. Through the scope, we could see two well-grown juvenile Spoonbills, together with an adult.

There is no shortage of Greylag Geese here at this time of year, and a fair few Canada Geese too. Almost all of the Pink-footed Geese which were here over the winter have departed, back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a very small number remain through the summer, mainly injured or sick birds. We could see two Pink-footed Geese asleep in the grass today, one of which had a damaged wing, presumably having been shot and wounded.

Barn Owls are much like buses, as having already seen one at Thornham earlier, a second now appeared, hunting over the grazing marshes here.It spent some time flying round, covering quite a large area, before the next thing we knew, we saw it heading off purposefully with something in its talons. We watched it fly all the way off towards some distant outbuildings, preumably where it had its hungry brood waiting. Then it was time for us to head off home too.

9th May 2016 – Nightingales & More

A very relaxed, part day Private Tour today, a birthday present for one of the participants. The request was to go looking for Nightingales and anything else which might be around within close proximity. Once again, it was a glorious sunny day with a pleasant cool easterly breeze on the coast.

It was a later than normal start as we drove to a local site which is a regular place for Nightingales. They are best listened for at dawn or dusk, but will sing right through the day, particularly early in the season. We had only just got out of the car when we heard our first Nightingale singing. It was being rather drowned out by a Song Thrush singing too, at first, so we walked further round to try to hear it better.

As we made our way along the edge of the trees, we could hear croaking, a bit like a frog, which was the Nightingale calling and just saw it flit away into cover – it had obviously been perched up in a sunny spot. As we walked back towards the car, a Goldcrest was singing in the trees. Then the Nightingale started singing again, closer to us this time, so we stopped to listen to it for a while. Magical.

We walked on in the other direction. There were lots of warblers singing from the bushes, particularly Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs. A Lesser Whitethroat called from deep in cover. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed. Then a Treecreeper started singing from the trees. As we walked along, a second Nightingale started singing close by. Again, we stopped to listen to it, but this one was tucked down deep in some bushes and wouldn’t come out to show itself. Still, it was great to just stand there and listen to it singing.

We carried on further and heard a Cuckoo calling in the distance. We followed the sound and were told it had been seen flying round in some poplars. It took a few minutes walking up and down as it flew back and forth through the trees out of view, before it eventually perched up in full view for us to see it. There were several butterflies out in the hedgerows in the warm sunshine, particularly Speckled Woods and Orange Tips.

6O0A2390Speckled Wood – several butterflies were out in the sunshine

We were just listening to the second Nightingale again, when another couple of local birders called to us from further along. A Spotted Flycatcher was making sallies out from a dense clump of sallows, catching insects. We could see it flicking around and perched up briefly in amongst the leaves, before it disappeared deeper into cover. There have been good numbers of migrant Spotted Flycatchers passing through in recent days, but it would be nice to think that this one might hang around here.

6O0A2395Blackcap – this male had just finished bathing in the beck

From here, we drove down to the coast and had a short walk along the lane at Kelling before lunch. A Blackcap perched in the blackthorn preening, having just finished bathing in the beck below. Several Chiffchaffs and lots of Common Whitethroats were singing. A smart male Chaffinch was also singing, just above our heads.

6O0A2398Chaffinch – the males are very smart at this time of year

There was not much on the Water Meadow itself today. The resident Egyptian Geese have four fast growing goslings and the male insists on chasing any duck which tries to stop here, as well as some of the waders! There was a single drake Shoveler on the water as we walked down, which was swiftly moved on. A lone drake Teal was trying to hide from view on the island. An Avocet had been left alone and was feeding quietly along one edge. There were several Sand Martins and Swallows hawking for insects over the water.

We walked round the Quag and a smart male Stonechat was perched in the brambles, dropping down occasionally to the ground below to look for insects. There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits out in the grass too, plus a few Skylarks. We walked up the hill beyond, scanning the sea as we went, where a few Sandwich Terns were flying past. In the top of the sheep field, we found three Wheatears out on the short grass and one flew over and landed on a fence post in front of us.

6O0A2408Wheatear – there were at least three in the sheep field still today

It was a bit exposed and breezy on the top of the hill, and slightly cool with it, so we dropped back down and set off to walk back. Opposite the Water Meadow, our attention was caught by a movement on the edge of the field just beyond the reeds. We couldn’t see it at first, but by carefully positioning ourselves so we could see through the vegetation we could see a smart female Whinchat on the electric fence. Unfortunately, she quickly dropped down out of view.

We walked back round the corner, from where we could see the whole of the fenceline, but there was no sign of the Whinchat there now. When we got back to the gate, we discovered why – she had flown all the way across to the other side of the field and through the scope we could now get a better look at her.

We had lunch at Cley and afterwards walked out onto the reserve. The tame Reed Bunting was singing from the top of one of its usual trees but the Sedge Warbler was a little more shy and tried to keep itself half hidden behind the emerging leaves.

6O0A2297Reed Bunting – this tame male sings to passers by from the bushes by the boardwalk

There was a nice selection of waders on Pat’s Pool again today. The Ruff are looking particularly smart at the moment, with their brightly coloured ruffs, and no two of the males are alike. Two rather different chestnut-ruffed males were in front of the hide, at least they were when they were not being chased away by the over-protective breeding Avocets! A couple of iridescent black-ruffed males were further over but the smartest Ruff of all was hiding right over the back – a delightful combination of golden buff and shiny black. Even better, he had his ruff slightly fluffed up in the presence of a female (‘Reeve‘) nearby.

6O0A2286Ruff – this male was in front of the hide, before being chased off by an Avocet

A Greenshank walked towards the hide just below the bank right in front of us and seemed like it would pass close by until the Avocet intervened again just at the crucial moment. However, we still had a great look at it on its way and when it landed again a little further on. We also spent some time watching the Avocets feeding, sweeping their bills back and forth through the shallows.

6O0A2448Greenshank – before being chased off by the Avocet

There were a couple of large groups of Black-tailed Godwits on both Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape. Relatively few are now left which are in full rusty orange summer plumage – presumably many of the adults have now departed on their way north to Iceland, and a greater proportion of non-breeding first summer birds remain.

6O0A2470Black-tailed Godwit – this one only in partial summer plumage

There were fewer small waders on the scrapes here than in recent days, but apparently a Peregrine had been hanging around earlier in the day. Still, there were a couple of small flocks of tundrae Ringed Plovers with two summer plumage black-bellied Dunlin in with them.

At one point a Reed Warbler appeared low down in the reeds in front of the hide, just across the other side of the channel. Having heard a few singing, it was nice to be able to see one too.

6O0A2460Reed Warbler – perched in the reeds in front of Dauke’s Hide

We had intended to finish the day with a gentle walk out to the East Bank, but when we got back towards the Visitor Centre the prospect seemed to become less appealing and a request was made to head for home instead. It was only back at the car that we discovered that a bag had been left behind in one of the hides, so while one of the group waited in the Centre, the other two of us walked back. We successfully retrieved the bag and were also rewarded for our efforts with two Bearded Tits which flew past us calling and dropped down into the reeds just beyond the boardwalk.