Tag Archives: Ruff

21st June 2015 – Waders & Warblers

A Summer Tour today, it was billed as Spoonbills & Dartford Warblers and that was exactly what we did. And a lot more besides!

The day started cloudy and cool. Rather than head up to the Heath first, as we might normally do, we thought it might be better to have a look around Cley this morning. We were glad we did. As we walked into Teal Hide, we could see a few small waders on the mud on the island in front. A quick look through the scope confirmed that one of them was the White-rumped Sandpiper, a rare visitor from North America which has been around the reserve intermittently for over a week now.

IMG_5863White-rumped Sandpiper – we just got a good look at it before it flew off

It was feeding with three Dunlin, their black belly patches immediately distinguishing them, and a single Ringed Plover. We had just had a good look at them when suddenly the little group took off and disappeared away to the north-east, out over to the sea. That was the last time the White-rumped Sandpiper was seen all day.

There were lots of other birds on the scrapes today – it was a real wader-fest. It was a slow spring for waders, so it was great to see so many today. At this time of year, it is hard to tell whether they are late birds heading north or, more likely now, early birds already returning south. First two Greenshank dropped into Pat’s Pool and they were steadily joined by more until we had at least six together. Then a lovely black summer plumage Spotted Redshank flew in. What a stunner! It fed next to a Common Redshank first, before flying over to join the Greenshank, giving us a great opportunity to compare the structure of the three ‘shanks.

Several Little Ringed Plovers were out on the islands – we could see their golden yellow eye-rings through the scope – and a small group of Ringed Plovers (of the tundrae race) were feeding on the mud in front of Dauke’s Hide. Three Knot, one sporting a little bit of orange on its underparts, were in amongst the Black-tailed Godwits. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was sleeping in front of one of the islands on Simmond’s Scrape.

The Avocets put on a good show as usual. There was a little family of four fluffy little juveniles on the island in front of Teal Hide. They seemed to be happy enough feeding out on the mud, but when mum called, they ran over to her, she knelt down and they snuggled in underneath her belly feathers.

IMG_5884Avocet & chicks – now you see them…

IMG_5897…and now you don’t!

There have been several Little Gulls at Cley for some time now and today was no exception. We counted five, again all 1st summer birds and again all sporting varying amounts of black summer-plumage hood.

IMG_5867Little Gull – five 1st summers at Cley again today

Out on Simmond’s Scrape, we could see a long line of white blobs – Spoonbills, twelve of them today. Once again, they were all doing what Spoonbills like to do most, sleeping. They did wake up occasionally, and when they did we could see they were a mixture of adults and juveniles, the latter smaller and with their bills not yet fully grown. The adults also sported a black bill with yellow tip, lacking in the youngsters, and a crest of feathers on the back of the head.

P1020653Spoonbills – twelve on Simmond’s Scrape this morning

IMG_5907Spoonbills – four short-billed juveniles

Having enjoyed all the excitement on the scrapes, we decided to go for a walk round to the East Bank. It was very windy up on the bank itself, and hard to focus on the birds at times. There were several Lapwing and Redshank on the flooded grazing marshes, as usual, and a few Avocets on the pools. A single Golden Plover out on the grass was a surprise. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits asleep in the grass. Duck excitement was provided by a little group of Teal – numbers are slowly creeping up again now.

While we were scanning the Serpentine, there was a huge commotion over Arnold’s Marsh, as hundreds of waders and terns took to the air in a cacophony of noise. A quick look soon revealed the culprit – a Marsh Harrier was flying over, pursued by a little posse of Avocets. They chased it right overhead and out onto the reedbed.

P1020674Marsh Harrier – mobbed by Avocet

As the waders settled back down, lots of them came into land on the grass by the Serpentine. Mostly, they were more Black-tailed Godwits, but looking through the flock we discovered a single male Ruff, still in stunning summer plumage, with exotic looking rufous and white neck feathers. Down on the mud on the bank of the Serpentine, we could see a couple of Ringed Plovers, this time larger, paler birds of the local breeding race hiaticula.

There were lots of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers around the reedbed as usual, but they were hard to see in the wind today. The Reed Buntings were a little more obvious. However, we really wanted to see Bearded Tits. We could hear them and we had several frustratingly quick flight views, before we eventually found a smart male which perched up in the tops of the reeds briefly. A pair also then flew past us close and landed in the reeds the other side of the bank.

P1020644Reed Bunting – more obliging than the warblers at Cley in the wind today

A lot of the birds we had seen circling earlier, as the Marsh Harrier went over, had landed back on Arnold’s Marsh. There was an impressive flock of waders roosting out on the water. Scanning through, we could see that the largest number were Knot, at least 130 today and almost all mostly in grey winter plumage apart from one more orangey one. There were also good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit as well, numbering at least 60 and again with only one sporting any degree of orange summer plumage. We had seen a little group of around 10 Grey Plover in flight but they were more scattered around the various islands now. However, a couple were still in stunning black-bellied plumage. There were also two large Curlew on the edge of the throng.

As well as all the waders, there was a noisy flock of terns out on Arnold’s. Mostly Sandwich Terns, with shaggy crests and yellow-tipped black bills. Tucked down on one of the shingle islands, we could see three Common Terns as well, smaller, slimmer, with a sleeker black crest and black-tipped orange-red bill.

By this stage, it was already getting on for lunchtime, so we were glad to walk back and get off the East Bank and out of the wind. Still, it wasn’t so bad at ‘ground level’ that we couldn’t sit outside and eat our lunch at the picnic tables. A female Marsh Harrier drifted past close by and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the reeds across the road.

After lunch, we headed up to the Heath. A windy day is not the best to explore here, as the birds can often be tucked down, but we did remarkably well today all things considering. A Turtle Dove had been purring from some birch trees, but we couldn’t see it at first. It was only as we were walking away that we spotted it flying between branches. We got the scope on it and could see it amongst the foliage, particularly as the wind periodically parted it.

IMG_5936Turtle Dove – hiding amongst the leaves of a birch tree

We could hear a Dartford Warbler singing, but it seemed to be keeping down deep in a large clump of gorse. The next thing we knew it had moved a distance away out of the back, and we just caught a glimpse of it singing from the top of a bush. It flew back towards us, dropping into the gorse and heather a couple of times, before coming right past us. We could see it was carrying nesting material.

We carried on round the heath. There were lots of Linnets and several Yellowhammers singing as usual. We heard another Turtle Dove purring briefly, but couldn’t find it once it went quiet. A Cuckoo was singing and a Hobby flashed over. There was no sign of the other male Dartford Warbler which has been singing this week – it was possibly too windy for it to perform. However, while we were waiting for it, a Woodlark appeared on a dead tree stump, giving us nice scope views. A smart male Stonechat also perched up nicely, as they tend to do.

We walked back the way we had come. The first male Dartford Warbler was still singing, in much the same area as we had heard it earlier. We patiently followed it, singing almost all the time as it moved through the gorse. Eventually it hopped up onto the top, gave a quick burst of song and launched itself into a song flight. It dropped back down into the dense gorse, still singing, before a female Dartford Warbler flew across to join it. Then the two of them disappeared into the undergrowth and went quiet.

On the walk back, we stopped to admire a little group of Silver-studded Blue butterflies fluttering amongst the grass in a clear area. We could see the wider black margins to the blue upperwings and the silvery blue-centred marginal spots on the hindwings.

P1020725Silver-studded Blue male – the black margins are wider than Common Blue

P1020710Silver-studded Blue – with silver-centred black spots on the underwing

We still had time for one last walk, so on our way back we stopped at Salthouse. We could see a single adult Spoonbill feeding out on the pools in front of the pub as we drove past, and another three Spoonbills by the Iron Road. We walked out along the latter and had a good look at them before they flew off – two juveniles and a presumed 1st summer.

IMG_5942IMG_5961Spoonbills – another three by the Iron Road this afternoon

There were also lots of Sand Martins hunting low over the water. A couple of Meadow Pipits were song-flighting, fluttering up before parachuting back down to the ground. A fly-over Pochard was another addition to the day’s list. Then it was time to call it a day and head home.

Spoonbill – check, Dartford Warbler – check, and don’t forget everything else!

7th May 2015 – Migrants & May Showers

A Spring Tour in the Cley area today. It started off bright and sunny, a lovely spring morning, but a quick shower at lunchtime was a harbinger of things to come and it was a bit damp in the afternoon. As usual, it didn’t put us off and we dodged the showers and saw some more good birds.

P1000690Common Gorse – in full flower on the heath & looking great in the sunshine

We started off by heading up to the heath. There were warblers singing everywhere. A Common Whitethroat was in full voice on top of the gorse by the car park, but a Garden Warbler was a little more elusive, hidden deep in the Blackthorn. There were plenty of Blackcaps too. Almost every second tree seemed to hold a Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler, their songs very different from two somewhat similar looking birds.

It didn’t take us long to find the warbler we were really looking for. Its rather scratchy rattling song gave its presence away and we were soon watching a cracking male Dartford Warbler flitting around through the gorse. It was singing all the time and even did a quick song flight for us – fluttering up, butterfly-like, singing, before coasting back down into cover. Eventually it stopped long enough for us all to get a really good look at it, perched in a low birch sapling.

The Woodlarks were more elusive today – they had just flown off when we arrived – but we did find a lovely pair of Stonechats. We watched the male collecting food – so good to have them back breeding on the heath again, after a couple of years with none.

P1000692Yellowhammer – a bright yellow male

There were other birds to see as well – lots of Linnets, including some smart males with rusty backs and increasingly pink-toned breastst, and several bright yellow male Yellowhammers. Both species were once common farmland birds, but now seem to be more common on heaths, and coastal dunes in the case of Linnets. A pair of Bullfinch flew overhead, calling. A Goldcrest was elusive, singing amongst the trees, and a Tawny Owl heard hooting in the middle of the day was a bit of a surprise (though they seem to be doing this a lot more often at the moment).

P1000687Bluebells – also in flower at the moment and looking beautiful

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the heath and we headed down towards the coast. As we started to drop down off the ridge, a glance out of the side window of the car and we noticed five rather large shapes walking across a field. A quick stop and we were looking at a little herd of Red Deer, five hinds.

P1000696Red Deer – 2 of the 5 seen on our way down to the coast this morning

We decided to have a look at Kelling Water Meadow before lunch. There were more Whitethroats and Blackcaps singing along the lane, and lots of Goldfinches and Chaffinches. Unfortunately, there were no Yellow Wagtails today amongst the cows. But the pool held a nice summer-plumage Dunlin sporting a smart black belly patch and two Avocet, as well as the pair of Egyptian Geese together with their brood of goslings now seemingly reduced to two.

There were several Swallows hawking for insects over the pool when we arrived, but shortly afterwards a bigger group of Sand Martins appeared. We got great views of them, zooming back and forth low over the water. They seemed to have come in to bathe and, having splashed into the water, they landed on the fence close by to preen.

P1000700Sand Martin – preening on the fence at Kelling WM

We were told about a Ring Ouzel seen earlier in the morning behind the beach on Weybourne Camp, so we decided to walk that way to take a look. A pair of Stonechat was feeding beside the path as we walked down towards the beach. They were not the only ones we saw here – a little further on, we came across another male Stonechat sporting some brightly coloured plastic rings. Ringed as a nestling on Kelling Heath in July 2012, he is getting on a bit in Stonechat terms!

Turning the corner by the beach, a scythe-winged shape appeared low over the hill in front of us. We just had time to get everyone onto it as it whizzed through and disappeared over towards the Water Meadow. A Hobby, it was probably after the local Swallows and Sand Martins. Along the front of Weybourne Camp, we found several Wheatears and a single Whimbrel feeding on the grass. But there was no sign of the Ring Ouzel – it was probably too disturbed now, with several walkers back and forth along the coast path.

It was time to head back for lunch, and as we turned round we could see a patch of dark cloud on the horizon. We were almost back to the car before it started to rain and thankfully it was just a quick shower.

By the time we got to Cley, the sky had cleared again and we were able to sit out on one of the picnic tables for lunch in the sunshine. While we were doing so, a shape appeared on the sedum roof of the Cley Marshes visitor centre behind us. A closer look revealed two Greenland Wheatears hopping about up there. The ‘green roof’ was obviously to their liking as a place to feed!

P1000707Greenland Wheatear – one of two feeding on the Cley visitor centre roof

After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve. One or other of the pair of Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed most of the time we were there. We watched the male return with food but unfortunately, rather than make a food pass to the female in front of us, he dropped down into the reeds with it instead. Our second Hobby of the day circled over the hides. This time we got a much longer look at it, as it hawked for insects.

P1000710Sedge Warbler – singing from the brambles by the path at Cley

We stopped to listen to a couple of Sedge Warblers singing by the path. Often rather confiding, they seemed to be a bit shy today, until one eventually performed for its audience. A Reed Warbler was singing from deep in the reeds on the way out to the hides, but we couldn’t see it. Thankfully, another Reed Warbler was slightly more accommodating, perching up and singing in the mostly-dead willows (killed by the Dec’13 storm surge) by the hides.

P1000718Reed Warbler – this one sat up obligingly, singing

We could see more dark clouds approaching as we walked out to the hides. We got inside just in time, as it started to rain. This time, it rained hard for a time. In the hide, we were safely out of the weather but there was not much to see on the scrapes today. There were lots of Avocet, a nice group of Black-tailed Godwit and several Redshank, but no other waders apart from a couple of Little Ringed Plover which flew round and round high over the water and didn’t come in to land. There were lots of Shelduck, several Gadwall and a couple of Shoveler. A couple of Tufted Duck hid on one of the smaller pools and the odd Pochard flew over.

Eventually, the worst of the rain passed over and it lightened to drizzle. Only at that point did the Spoonbill appear. It was over on Billy’s Wash, but we could see it moving around through the reeds, occasionally raising its head – and ‘spoon’. Finally, it stopped to preen and we got a better look at it through the scope.

IMG_4523Spoonbill – preening on Billy’s Wash in the drizzle

We decided to walk back to the car and, while the weather was still feeling unhelpful, we drove round to the Eye Field. There were a couple more Wheatears on the posts along the road and another pair on the north side of the Eye Field, but no sign of anything else. With more rain arriving, we sat out the worst of it in the beach shelter for a few minutes, watching the Sandwich Terns flying back and forth offshore.

As it cleared again, we drove round to the East Bank. The grazing marsh towards Pope’s Marsh is looking really good at the moment, and we were not disappointed with the birds. We had not seen any Ruff on the main scrapes, and it quickly became apparent why. Four male Ruffs and a single female Reeve were feeding on the flooded grass, the males coming in to summer plumage and in various combinations of black, rusty and white plumage. It was a very good illustration of the amount of variation in this extremely variable species.

IMG_4536Ruff – four multi-coloured Ruffs and a Reeve were on Pope’s Marsh

A quick scan revealed a very black-headed gull standing, partly concealed in the grass. Ironically, the commonest Black-headed Gulls have chocolate-coloured hoods in summer, so this was going to be something different. A closer look confirmed that it was a stunning adult Little Gull. It flew off before we could all get a good look at it through the scope, appearing to land over on Arnold’s Marsh, but thankfully reappeared back a few minutes later. As well as the small size, black hood, thin dark bill, grey and white upperwings and black underwings, we could see that it had a lovely light pink flush to its underparts. What a cracker!

IMG_4544Little Gull – this very smart adult appeared on Pope’s Marsh between the rain

We walked on to Arnold’s Marsh. There were a few waders on show – a little flock of Dunlin, several Ringed Plover, a Curlew and a few Black-tailed Godwits, as well as the regular Redshank. Several Sandwich Terns were loafing around and more were flying over, calling loudly. A different call alerted us to the approach of a pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls. They flew in from the direction of Salthouse and almost overhead – we got a great view of their white wingtips, black hoods (not unlike the Little Gull in that respect) and bright red bills. Then, with another band of black cloud approaching, it was time to call it a day.