Tag Archives: Salthouse

24th Sept 2016 – Autumn Delights, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was another lovely day, mostly bright and sunny, but with a blustery warm south wind which stopped it from feeling as hot as yesterday, even if it was 21C this afternoon. Not bad for late September!

A Wryneck had been reported at Beeston Bump recently, although seemingly rather elusive. As we were heading east today, we thought we would go and look for it even though, with clear skies overnight, there was a chance it might have moved on. When we arrived there was another problem – every path we took had someone out walking their dogs on a sunny Saturday morning! It quickly became clear that, if the Wryneck was still present, it would be hiding in the bottom of a bush rather than hopping about on one of the paths.

Still we had a quick walk round. The bushes were also rather quiet, being a bit exposed out here in the wind. We had also thought this might be a good spot to see some visible migration (or ‘vizmig’ for short), birds on migration moving along the coast. This certainly proved to be the case this morning and as we approached the cliffs we could see small parties of House Martins together with a few Swallows passing west along the clifftop. We stood for a while and could see more hirundines approaching from the east. Then a great cloud of House Martins passed by just below us. They stopped for a while to hawk for insects in the lee of the Bump and we counted at least 100 birds in the flock. Great stuff.

6o0a1994House Martin – a flock of over 100 flew past us along the cliffs

We did a further quick circuit round via the pit without success and then decided to move on somewhere else. Back to the car, we made our way back along the coast to Salthouse and parked at Iron Road. The muddy pool on the west side of the the track has not been so productive for waders in the last couple of weeks, but is always worth a look just in case. There was nothing on there today but as we stopped at the gate we spotted a Wheatear on the near bank further along. Helpfully, as the cows came over towards us to investigate, they flushed the Wheatear which flew and landed right in front of us.

6o0a2017Wheatear – the first of several we saw today

One of the group then spotted a second Wheatear further over. We walked along to the bridge but couldn’t see any more, but on the way back a Common Snipe flew past and landed out of view in the grass behind us. We were scanning for it, and watching a young Little Egret which had been pushed out of the ditch by another helpful cow, when a couple of very noisy dogs ran past and both the Snipe and the Little Egret promptly flew off.

On the walk round to Babcock Hide, we saw all the birds on Watling Water flush and fly off. With no sign of any raptors that side, it may have been some people who had just gone into the hide. We did see a Common Buzzard but it was circling up over Walsey Hills initially before it then drifted right over the path after everything had flown. It seemed to be taking advantage of the warm sunshine and hanging on the breeze. Just before we got to the hide, we flushed another two Wheatears from the edge of the reeds.

6o0a2037Common Buzzard – drifted right overhead along Attenborough’s Walk

As we sat in the hide, a few birds started to fly back in. A few duck returned – Gadwall, Teal and a single Shoveler – and the Little Grebes came back out from hiding in the reeds. Then three juvenile Ruff dropped in – or more precisely two male Ruff and a female Reeve. The females are noticeably smaller than the males and it was great to see them together for comparison. A single Black-tailed Godwit dropped in with them briefly before flying on west. Then the rest of the Ruff, a mixture of adults and juveniles, returned.

6o0a2044Ruff – two larger male Ruff and a smaller female Reeve

There is a good view east from Babcock Hide and scanning over the reeds beyond we could see a couple of Kestrels hovering in the distance. Then we picked up another falcon much further over, out beyond the shingle ridge. It gradually made its way closer and we could see that it was a Hobby, before it dropped down and disappeared behind the reeds.

On the walk back to the car, a Wheatear flew between the fence posts ahead of us, presumably one of the birds we had seen earlier. A Marsh Harrier flew in from the east, quartering low over the reeds. It was a juvenile but it had remarkably tatty wings, with a couple of big gaps. Hopefully they had just got broken rather than been shot at! A Canada Goose also flying in from Salthouse direction managed to flush a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits from one of the pools further along.

Round at the Visitor Centre, we opted for an early lunch in the September sunshine before exploring the rest of the reserve. On the walk out to the hides, there was no sign of the Whinchats reported earlier by the boardwalk, but it was very breezy round here now. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up from the scrapes and whirled round overhead.

6o0a2047Golden Plover – a large flock flew up from the scrapes as we walked out

Pat’s Pool had a nice selection of waders on it again today. The highlight was a couple of Little Stints feeding out on the mud in the middle. They looked particularly tiny, even on their own, but we could see just how small they were when they were joined by three Dunlin. A larger group of Dunlin were feeding further over. There was still one Golden Plover left out on one of the islands, although it was doing a good job of hiding, blending in well with some tall dead grass. A single Ringed Plover was running around on the mud at first, before flying off. There were also a few Lapwing and a selection of Black-tailed Godwits and more Ruff.

There were a couple of small flocks of gulls here as usual, preening or sleeping. Mostly Black-headed Gulls, there were also several Lesser Black-backed Gulls with them. We didn’t see it fly in but, while we were watching the waders, a Caspian Gull appeared too. It was an immature bird, a 2nd winter. It immediately stood out, with its very white head, shawl of dark spots, long pointed face and long thin bill. Historically breeding around the Black and Caspian Seas, its range has been spreading west in Poland and eastern Germany, with dispersing birds increasingly found in UK. Caspian Gull is a great bird to see, still irregular in its occurrence here.

img_7190Caspian Gull – this 2nd winter dropped in briefly

We watched the Caspian Gull for a while and all had a good look at it in the scope, but when we took our eyes off it for a second it slipped away again as quietly as it had arrived. There were several other things to distract us. A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed before drifting right across the scrape, where it seemed to enjoy flushing the birds. Then it returned to the reedbed where it circled with a female for a while. We could see three more Marsh Harriers in the distance, beyond the East Bank. Several Bearded Tits called from the reeds in the ditch in front of the hide, but they remained tucked down out of view and out of the wind.

6o0a2068Marsh Harrier – two were over the reedbed this afternoon

Works have been underway all week to reprofile Simmond’s Scrape, but the diggers were not working on the weekend. Several Curlew dropped in briefly and a couple of Grey Herons, but otherwise there did not appear to be much on there, possibly as a consequence of all the disruption. Still, we were glad we looked in on Dauke’s Hide because a Common Snipe was feeding in the grass right in front of the hide when we went it. We had stunning close-up views.

6o0a2142Common Snipe – feeding in the grass below the hide

We watched the Common Snipe feeding for a while, creeping around in the grass and drilling its long bill repeatedly into the wet ground. It seemed perfectly happy in its chosen spot but a pair of Mute Swans were in the ditch nearby with their cygnet. Whether it really took offence to the Snipe or not, one of the Swans swam straight over to it and started to climb out towards it. The Snipe understandably reacted and ran up onto the top of the bank, standing there upright and alert. It was loathe to fly, presumably hoping to get back to its chosen feeding place, but the Swan continued up the bank and finally the Snipe flew.


6o0a2161Common Snipe – flushed out onto the bank by a Mute Swan

Several smaller birds found the banks around Simmond’s Scrape much to their liking, where the diggers had been working and scraped back the mud. There were lots of Pied Wagtails feeding on the ground and a couple of Meadow Pipits. Another Wheatear appeared, perched on one of the mounds of muddy earth left behind.

Back to the visitor centre and we drove round to the beach car park. A scan of the sea produced first a Guillemot flying past, then a Marsh Harrier flying in over the water. As well as many of our local breeding Marsh Harriers, many continental breeding harriers come here for the winter and this one was probably just arriving in from Europe. We picked up a few small flocks of ducks flying in too – seven Pintail appeared to go down towards North Scrape and a larger flock of Wigeon headed in towards the reserve. A couple of Brent Geese were just arriving in over the sea too. Migration in action!

The fence alongside the Eye Field can be very good for Whinchats so, with a couple reported earlier on the reserve, we thought this would be a good place to check out. Sure enough, despite the wind, we found three of them perched along the fence line on the walk out to North Scrape. We got a couple of them in the scope, a noticeably paler bird and a slightly darker one.

img_7220Whinchat – 1 of 3 on the Eye Field fence this afternoon

The Whinchats flew on ahead of us as we walked out towards North Scrape, each time landing a little further on, always keeping their distance. Eventually they flew across to the fence out across the Eye Field.

We had hoped there might be a few waders on North Scrape, but that was not the case. There were a few ducks – particularly Shelducks – but no sign of the Pintail we had seen dropping down in this direction earlier. We enjoyed watching a couple of different Reed Buntings in the bushes behind the screen. First a rather streaky first winter appeared, before dropping down out of view. Then a few minutes another Reed Bunting flew in to the same bush – noticeably a different bird, with a darker face and a black bib partly obscured by pale fringing – a winter male.

As we made our way back, another Wheatear flew away from us across the shingle, landing on a large lump of concrete briefly, before flying away again flashing its white rump and tail base. A dark juvenile Gannet and four more Brent Geese flew past over the sea. We walked to the car listening to more House Martins calling as they passed overhead, finishing the day as we had started it.

18th Sept 2016 – Migrants Arriving

An Autumn Migration Tour today. The gusty north wind of the last couple of days had dropped and the cloud of the morning even gave way to some sunny intervals in the afternoon. We met at Cley and started the day out on the reserve.

Lots of ducks and geese have been arriving for the winter over the last few days. As we walked out to the hides, a large flock of Wigeon flew in from the direction of the sea. They circled over the reserve several times, looking for a place to land, possibly fresh in from their Russian breeding grounds. A few dropped down, but most of the flock flew on west. We could see a Marsh Harrier flying across low over the reeds but when we positioned ourselves to get a better view of it, it dropped down out of view.

6o0a1357Wigeon – this flock was probably just arriving from Russia

Teal Hide was our first stop. Appropriately enough, as we opened the shutters, a single (Eurasian) Teal was in the ditch right in front of the hide. With two visitors from Canada in the group today, we discussed the various differences between the species found in North America and Europe and how the changing definition of what makes a ‘species’ had resulted in the separation of the Old World and New World forms of some birds in recent years.

6o0a1362(Eurasian) Teal – in the ditch in front of Teal Hide this morning

With wildfowl arriving from the continent now, it was perhaps no surprise that Pat’s Pool was full of ducks. Unfortunately, they are not looking their best at the moment, with the drakes mostly in eclipse plumage. A Shoveler was swimming around in front of the hide with its head in the water, shovelling. There are plenty of Wigeon in on the reserve already now and lots of Teal as well.

There were a few waders too. We had a look at the flocks of Black-tailed Godwits. Most were asleep, perched on one leg, but a few further back were awake and feeding. Almost all of the Ruff are now in winter plumage – grey-brown above and off white below – but one was confusingly still in partial summer plumage, with lots of black feathering on its belly. A group of six small Dunlin worked their way round to the front of the scrape – digging their bills into the mud rapidly, like a sewing machine. A few Golden Plover dropped in onto one of the islands. A single Common Snipe was hiding in the wet grass, but helpfully came out into the open where we could get a good look at it.

The waders seemed very skittish today, and kept flying round at the slightest provocation. Lots of raptors learn that this is a good place to find a meal, which keeps the other birds on their toes. Looking out across the reedbed, a Peregrine flew inland from the beach over the back of the reeds, and started circling over Walsey Hills, at which point it was promptly mobbed by several of the local Rooks.

The three Greenshank we had seen from Teal Hide had flown off by the time we made our way round to Dauke’s Hide. But still, there was an impressive number of waders on Simmond’s Scrape. There were at least 100 Dunlin on here today, mostly juveniles with black speckled bellies. Around the edges, we also found nine diminutive Little Stints, an impressive number of this rarer passage wader, as well as seven Ringed Plover and two Knot. There was a lone Curlew out on Simmond’s today too. At one point, when the smaller waders were all spooked and flew round, they landed around the Curlew and we were presented with Little Stint next to Curlew – the largest of our regular waders together with our smallest, little and large!!

img_6987Little Stint – an impressive 9 were on Simmond’s Scrape

On the short grass around the edge of the scrape, a couple of Wheatears were feeding, the first of several we would see today. At one point, they flew up and landed on the gatepost out from the hide where we could get a good look at them. Then a Sparrowhawk flew in, flushing everything, and landed on one of the islands. It did push a Green Sandpiper out of hiding, which flew over and seemed to drop down on Whitwell Scrape. However, when we got round there, there was no sign of it. Three Little Egrets were feeding out on Cricket Marsh beyond though.

We decided to make our way back to the visitor centre for coffee. As we walked back, a flock of six Pink-footed Geese flew over, also probably freshly arrived for the coming winter, in their case from their breeding grounds in Iceland. They didn’t stop, but carried on west.

After a short break, we drove along to the Iron Road. The muddy pools here have been good at times  in recent weeks, but there were no waders at all on there today. Looking out towards the shingle ridge and the sea, we could see a small group of six Brent Goose flying in. A flock of four Pintail flew overhead, probably also fresh in. They looked to land on Watling Water but seemed nervous and kept whirling round again rather than dropping down to the water.

6o0a1369Pintail – these four were probably more fresh arrivals

The walk round to Babcock Hide produced another Wheatear, this one much closer, hopping around on the short grassy field in front of us, showing off its sandy orange breast in the sunshine. Further over, we could see several Egyptian Geese in with the Greylags and Canada Geese which all gather her.

6o0a1382Wheatear – feeding on the grazing marshes on the way to Babcock Hide

The water level of Watling Water has increased again after the recent rain, so there were fewer waders on here than recently. A Green Sandpiper was sleeping on one of the islands, back on and flashing its mostly white rear end. We got a smart juvenile Ruff in the scope. Three Curlews dropped in for a bathe and preen.

However, we were more fascinated by the antics of the Mute Swans. A couple of immature birds, with dull orange bills, had landed out on the shallow water. The local pair decided to see them off and the male (cob) set off after one of them, with wings raised. The intruder simply walked away, eventually climbing up onto the bank, before making a cheeky circle round and straight back onto the water.

More exciting, we could see two Hobbys between the hide and the shingle ridge, hawking for dragonflies low over the reeds. A couple of Little Grebes were diving out in the deeper water. Then it was time to head back to the visitor centre at Cley, where we stopped for lunch.

After lunch, we decided to see if we could see the Red-breasted Flycatcher which has spent the last couple of days just along the coast from here. Breeding in northern and eastern Europe, it is a very scarce visitor to the UK. We parked at Salthouse duck pond and walked along to Meadow Lane. A Reed Bunting flicked up from the path into the bushes beside us. We could see a female Marsh Harrier circling ahead of us, which then flew in our direction, chased by a couple of Rooks.

6o0a1404Reed Bunting – feeding along the path at Salthouse

The Red-breasted Flycatcher had by all accounts been elusive before we got there, but we had a very good but brief view of it flicking around on the near edge of the sallows only a minute after we arrived. We stood and waited for more, and it quickly became clear that it was doing a small circuit through the trees.

While we watched, it was amazing how many other birds came out of such a tiny clump of low trees. Two Willow Warblers, with lemon yellow breasts, two lumbering rusty brown Reed Warblers and even a tiny little Goldcrest.The latter was undoubtedly a migrant and we had earlier been talking about how the smallest British bird, weighing no more than a 20p piece, can make its way over the North Sea to winter here. Amazing!

6o0a1412Willow Warbler – two of these appeared in the sallows

The Red-breasted Flycatcher appeared again at our end of the sallows a couple of times, but did not really show itself – either hiding in amongst the leaves or just flicking out for a second before darting back into the middle of the bushes. We were thinking we might have to content ourselves with our earlier views, when it finally came out to the front and perched in full view for about a minute. It was a first winter Red-breasted Flycatcher, without the red breast which is shown only by the adult male, but a smart bird nonetheless. When it turned and flicked away again, we got a good look at its black tail with white sides.

6o0a1444Red-breasted Flycatcher – perched out nicely for us

As we walked back to the car, two more Mute Swans flew towards us and passed just over our heads. Huge birds and we could almost feel the beating of their wings.

Our final destination of the day was Stiffkey Fen. The path out to the fen is rather overgrown at the moment and it is hard to see over the hedges. Early afternoon, the bushes and trees were a little quiet. A male Kestrel perched up on the wires and pylons by the path. We made our way straight out to the seawall, so we could get a good look at the Fen.

6o0a1459Kestrel – on the wires and pylons by the path at Stiffkey Fen

We had hoped to see some Spoonbills at Stiffkey Fen, but there was no immediate sign of any as we got up onto the seawall. There was a nice selection of ducks, including a good number of Wigeon and several Pintail. In with the large gaggle of Greylags. we could see a couple of white ‘farmyard’ geese and the regular two escapee Bar-headed Geese.

There were plenty of waders too. Several large groups of Black-tailed Godwit were scattered around the Fen. Many were roosting in the shallow water, on one leg with head turned and bill tucked in, but a few were awake enough to give us a good view of their long, straight bills. In with them, we could see several Ruff, including one with a striking white head – even in winter plumage, they are still a very variable wader, a very common source of confusion.

We could hear Greenshank calling and saw one flying in from the direction of the harbour. A large group of Common Redshank were roosting in with the godwits, and several more were feeding out in the channel on the harbour side. We could see all the Seals out on the sand banks beyond the end of Blakeney Point. When we turned back to the Fen, a Spoonbill was just flying off NE, towards the saltmarsh – it must have been hiding out of view behind the reeds. As it came past us, we could see its spoon-shaped bill.

6o0a1461Spoonbill – flew off towards the saltmarsh

We noticed a commotion at the far side of the Fen and turned to see all the waders take off and whirl round. A sleek, streamlined shape scythed through them – a Hobby. It had its eyes fixed firmly on a Dunlin which was desperately flying away  ahead of it. When the Dunlin jinked and turned, the Hobby matched it – amazingly manoeuvrable. Somehow, the Dunlin managed to get away and the Hobby towered up and away towards the harbour.

6o0a1473Hobby – chased a Dunlin from the Fen

The tide was still out, but we made our way round to look in the harbour. Two Oystercatchers were feeding on the mud by the channel, the first we had seen today. We flushed a Wheatear from beside the path, which flew off ahead of us, flashing its white rear. It landed on the path briefly, then flew up onto a post nearby, giving us great views. A little further on, a Linnet perched up on a dead branch in the Suaeda bushes.

6o0a1486Wheatear – feeding on the path on the way out to the harbour

There were lots of gulls roosting out in the harbour, on the dry mud banks, and with them we could see several larger white shapes. Through the scope, we confirmed that they were more Spoonbills. We watched two of them preening – doing themselves first, before preening each other’s head and neck. Two more Spoonbills were feeding in the water just below them.

There were lots more Oystercatchers out in the harbour, but with the tide still out it was hard to see many waders. We did manage to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit, out with the Curlew and Shelduck, and a nice Turnstone feeding on the mud down amongst the boats, turning stones over to look for food underneath. A Grey Heron flew in high over the harbour calling. There are often Grey Herons around here, but the way this one flew in made us think it might be a migrant. There have been lots of migrant Grey Herons arriving here in the last few days.

6o0a1495Grey Heron – possibly a freshly arrived migrant

However, the highlight of our time down by the harbour was the Kingfisher. It was perched on the wires on the edge of the deck of one of the boats moored in the channel. Periodically it would dart down into the shallow water after fish, flashing electric blue as it did so, before flying back up to a different part of the boat. It also perched on the edge of the deck and on the anchor chain. At one point, it seemed to take offense at its own reflection in the window of the boat, and flew at it, but it quickly realised the error of its ways and went back to looking the other way, over the side and down into the water below.

It was a lovely way to finish a very productive day’s birding on the coast – watching the Kingfisher going about its business in the harbour. We made our way back and headed for home.

9th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 3

The last day of a three day Private Tour, we were back on the North Norfolk coast today. It was another lovely warm, sunny day, with only a little cloud at times this afternoon, but rather breezy all day.

This morning, we had decided to explore Holkham-Burnham Overy, looking for migrants. We parked at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive and made our way west on the inland side of the pines. A couple of Blackcaps were feeding on the berries in the bushes a short way in, but otherwise the trees were rather quiet on the walk out – perhaps not a great surprise, given the wind. We could hear tits calling from the pines and the occasional Goldcrest.

A single Little Grebe was diving continually on Salt’s Hole, but otherwise there were just a few Mallard on here. There were more ducks on the pool in front of Washington Hide, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal. Most surprisingly, there were about a dozen Pintail on here today. They were trying to sleep but looked rather nervous – possibly new arrivals from the continent, which had pitched down onto the pool here after a long journey. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the grazing marshes beyond.

Continuing westwards, we could hear Jays calling and one flew past along the edge of the trees. A Common Buzzard was soaring over the pines, mewing. An occasional Chiffchaff called from the bushes, but it wasn’t until we got almost to the west end of the pines that we managed to see one or two with a flock of tits. At least the dragonflies were enjoying the weather – particularly lots of Common Darters basking in the sunshine in the shelter of the path.

6o0a0620Common Darter – enjoying the sunshine in the shelter of the path

Out in the dunes, we were even more exposed to the wind. A couple more Chiffchaffs flitted around in the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat flew over and dived into the cover of some brambles. We flushed a very pale Common Buzzard from the top of the dunes and as it flew away, we noticed a young Peregrine circling towards us – our first of the trip.

6o0a0624Peregrine – circled over the dunes

The middle of the dunes was more sheltered, so we walked out a short distance that way. Despite the protection from the wind, there were few birds in the scattered bushes here. We came across a couple of small groups of Stonechats but there was no sign of the big Meadow Pipit flock in the dunes here today – just a couple of birds flying over. Finally we found our first obvious migrant. A Wheatear perched on the fence as we rounded the corner, but it quickly flicked off and disappeared into the dunes.

Given the windy conditions out in the dunes, we decided to head back to the pines along the fence line. We were quickly rewarded with a party of three Whinchats in a small dune slack out of the wind. They flew to the brambles the other side of the fence and started to feed on the berries. One Whinchat then found a sheltered sunny perch on the edge of the bushes where it remained for some time, giving us great views through the scope.

img_6582Whinchat – found a sheltered perch out of the wind

There were few birds out on the grazing marshes, but we could see a few geese over beyond the pools behind Decoy Wood. Looking through the scope, we found a group of about 20 Pink-footed Geese feeding on their own in a patch of wet grassland. The first party of Pink-footed Geese returned from Iceland last weekend, here now for the winter. Despite the windy conditions, there were a few butterflies still out and about. Of note, we found Small Copper and a rather worn Brown Argus. A Common Lizard scuttled across the path.

6o0a0649Brown Argus – a rather worn individual

With the sun now warming the south side of the pines, there were more birds on the walk back. We came across several flocks of tits, particularly groups noisy of Long-tailed Tits, accompanied by Blue Tits and Coal Tits. In with them, we found several more Chiffchaffs and a couple of Treecreepers.

6o0a0654Long-tailed Tits – we met several groups on the walk back

The Pectoral Sandpiper which had been at Salthouse had not been seen for a couple of days, but a report came through yesterday afternoon that the bird had returned to its favourite area of muddy pools by the Iron Road. With news that it was still present this morning, we headed over that way next. There is limited parking here, so we left the car further along, in the village and walked back.

The Pectoral Sandpiper was on show as we walked up and, even better, was a lot closer than it had been earlier in the week. We were treated to some great views of it, right out on the open mud. Away from the reedy margin, it was rather nervous. It kept crouching down, scanning the sky above, and at one point it found a little notch in a muddy ridge to hide in.



img_6864Pectoral Sandpiper – showed very well today

There were not many other waders on here today, but there was a single Green Sandpiper on a small pool over towards the back. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the Pectoral Sandpiper. On the walk back to the car, a Marsh Harrier flushed a flock of gulls from one of the pools on the grazing marshes, which circled up, together with a group of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Ruff. A large party of Swallows flew low west over the reeds, though it was hard to tell for sure whether they were on their way or just feeding.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way round to the beach car park at Cley and scanned the sea while we ate. There was a steady trickle of Gannets passing by offshore and a single Sandwich Tern flew east. The local Black-headed Gulls had a disagreement over who had territorial rights to stand on the shingle next to us to beg for crumbs.

After lunch, we walked out to have a look at North Scrape. The water level has dropped quite a bit since we were here just a couple of days ago and it doesn’t look as good for waders here now. A Peregrine circling over may also have put them off. Given relatively few birds on here, we didn’t stop and headed round to the other side of the reserve instead.

Round at Teal Hide, we could see quite a few small waders out in the middle of the scrape. Chief amongst them were the Curlew Sandpipers, and we eventually managed to count 14 of them on here today, along with a few Dunlin and two juvenile Knot. A little party of Golden Plover was preening on one of the grassy islands. There has also been a notable increase in the number of Wigeon on here in recent days, as more birds return for the winter.

img_6906Curlew Sandpipers – hiding in amongst the Wigeon

Our main destination for the afternoon was Stiffkey Fen, so we didn’t have too long at Cley today. On the walk out to the Fen, we came across a mixed flock of tits in the hedgerow, once again accompanied by a few warblers – several Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. A couple of tatty Speckled Wood butterflies fluttered about the brambles.

From the path, we could just see a line of large white shapes out on the Fen, looking through the vegetation. There is a much better view from up on the seawall and here we could confirm that they were Spoonbills, twelve of them this afternoon. They were mostly asleep – typical Spoonbill behaviour! – but did wake up  from time to time, stretching their wings and flashing their long, spoon-shaped bills.

img_6911Spoonbills – twelve were at Stiffkey Fen this afternoon

Despite the fact that the tide was out in the harbour, the Fen was packed with waders. Possibly they were seeking shelter from the wind. There was a very large flock of Black-tailed Godwits spread out across the front and scanning through we could see several Ruff in with them. We could hear Greenshanks calling and see several flying around. A couple were standing with a large group of Redshank, roosting at the back, and more were sleeping along the grassy edge of the main island. A Common Sandpiper was picking around on the mud just in front of the Spoonbills and scanning the edges we found a couple of Common Snipe and a Green Sandpiper.

There is a good selection of wildfowl on the Fen at the moment too, though the drakes are still mostly in their duller eclipse plumage at this time of year. We could see several Pintail here and, as at Cley, numbers of Wigeon are now increasing as bird return for the winter. A single Common Pochard diving in the deeper water was a nice addition to the weekend’s list.

As we walked round to the harbour, one of the Spoonbills flew over and disappeared out into the middle to feed. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls bathing in the harbour channel and some sizeable groups of mixed large and small gulls preening and roosting out on the mud. Scanning through them, we managed to find a single Mediterranean Gull, a winter adult with white wing tips and black bandit mask.

There were lots of Oystercatchers and quite a few Curlew out on the mud, but not so many other waders today. Quite a few of them were obviously still on the Fen, but with the tide out many were probably tucked down in the channels. What was lacking in raw numbers was made up for in variety, as we managed to find a single Grey Plover and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. A few Ringed Plovers popped up out of the channels into view. A couple of Turnstones were bathing down in the main channel.

There was another culprit which was probably disturbing the waders out here today. On one of the higher sandbars on the edge of the harbour, a lone Peregrine was standing, remarkably our third of the day. The area around it had not surprisingly been cleared of birds!

img_6920Peregrine – our third of the day, out in the harbour

It was lovely standing here, looking out over the harbour towards Blakeney Point in the afternoon sunshine, a nice spot to conclude three great days of autumn birding.

7th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 1

A three day Private Tour this week, we were hoping to catch up with some early autumn migrants. Day 1 today was cloudy but hot and humid. After a late morning start, we spent the rest of the day exploring the east end of the North Norfolk coast.

Our first stop was at Cley. We drove round to the beach car park and walked out to the viewing screen where the old North Hide used to be. There was not a huge number of waders on here today, but there was still a very good selection. We quickly picked up three Little Stints, in one of the bays half way back, which then walked out of view behind the reeds and we didn’t see them again!

A Wood Sandpiper was calling when we arrived, but we couldn’t see it at first. Eventually it appeared from behind the reeds down at the front and walked out into full view. A very elegant little wader, and a great one to see. Even better, at one point it walked past a Green Sandpiper giving us a nice comparison between the two species.

img_6325Wood Sandpiper – at the front of North Scrape

We heard a Spotted Redshank calling overhead and thankfully it dropped in to the front of the scrape. It stood calling for a few seconds, while we watched it, then ran across in front of us to joined a second Spotted Redshank which had appeared nearby. Both were smart winter plumage adults. They didn’t linger long though, and flew off west calling again. A Greenshank remained asleep nearby throughout.

A scan of one of the more distant islands produced a Curlew and a couple of Common Snipe. However, a small wader asleep next to them looked more interesting, even though it was back on to us. When it was disturbed by a passing Redshank our suspicions were confirmed, it was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. Together with several Ringed Plover and Dunlin, that was an impressive haul of waders for our first hour or so.

We made our way back to the car to head round to the other side of the reserve. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up over Blakeney Freshes. The Wheatears and Whinchats though, which have been around the Eye Field in the last week, appeared to have moved on.

From round at Teal Hide, there was plenty of activity on Pat’s Pool. As well was the usual Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were lots of small waders today. We quickly picked out more Curlew Sandpipers in with all the Dunlin. They were hard to count, as many of the birds were feeding behind the main island, but we eventually got to at least 13. All were juveniles in a variety of hues, one in particular with a rather bright orangey wash across its breast. Further round, a single Little Stint was hiding in amongst all the lumps of mud. At one point, it was in the same view as a Dunlin and two Curlew Sandpipers, giving a great side by side comparison.

There was more to see than just waders here. A young Hobby was hawking for insects over the reedbed. A juvenile Water Rail scooted across in front of the reeds at the back of the scrape, unfortunately too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A Kingfisher called and flew in towards the hide, landing in the trees briefly, before zooming off again. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding in the cut reeds just outside the hide.

reed-warblerReed Warbler – here’s one outside the hide from the other day

There seemed to be Common Buzzards on the move today. We looked up above the hide at one point to see a kettle of five circling high overhead, which then drifted off west.

6o0a0504Common Buzzard – on the move, five circled high over the hides

We had a late lunch at Iron Road. The pool here has been very productive for waders in the last week or so, but was surprisingly devoid of life today, so we didn’t linger here. Instead, we walked out to Babcock Hide, past all the Greylags and Egyptian Geese on the grazing marshes. A Whimbrel called high to the east, but it was heading away from us and we couldn’t pick it up.

The water level has gone down nicely on Watling Water, exposing lots of mud. A Common Sandpiper was a nice addition to the day’s list, hiding on the edge of the reeds at the back today. There were several more Common Snipe and Ruff here too, as well as three or four Little Grebes busy diving in the deeper water. On our way back to the car, a couple of Bearded Tits were calling from deep in the reeds along the ditch right beside the path, but wouldn’t show themselves.

The wind had swung round to the east and with the low cloud we thought it might be worth looking to see if any passerine migrants had arrived. We drove round to Salthouse and walked out to Gramborough Hill. Another four Common Buzzards were circling over Salthouse church.

The bushes at Gramborough were rather quiet, just a Stonechat and Chiffchaff, as is often the way – it is boom or bust here! We did get our first Wheatear of the day, a rather richly-toned male with a deep orange breast, feeding on the edge of the grazing marshes as we walked out. On the way back, it flew out across to the shingle ridge and was joined by a second Wheatear.

img_6351Wheatear – a rather rich orange-breasted male

It was starting to get a little misty now, so with a light wind blowing onshore we had a speculative look out to sea. At first it was very quiet we saw nothing more than a few of the local Cormorants, but after a minute a bird appeared flying very low over the sea on the edge of the mist. Through the scope we could see it was a Manx Shearwater. Unfortunately, it was too distant and too murky for everyone to get onto it, so we gave up and headed back to the car.

Our final stop of the day was at Kelling. Walking down the lane to the Water Meadow, there were several birds in the thick hedges. We stopped to watch a couple of Chiffchaffs flicking around in a tall hawthorn. We heard Bullfinches calling and two flew out of the brambles, over our heads and back into the tall trees behind us. A Yellowhammer came up out of the beck beside the path.

The Water Meadow itself has all but dried out, so we carried on down to the Quags. We were almost at the beach when we came across a flurry of activity. We flushed a couple of Reed Buntings from the long grass. A few Linnets were calling from the brambles. Then a Stonechat flew from the Quags across in front of us, swiftly followed by two Whinchats.

6o0a0514Stonechat – perched up nicely in the brambles nearby

The Stonechat perched up nicely in the brambles, but the Whinchats flew off into the field beyond. We did manage to get a nice view of one Whinchat perched on the top of a bush.

img_6361Whinchat – rather less obliging than the Stonechats

We walked a short distance up the hill, but there were no other obvious migrants in the coastal bushes. Another Wheatear flew along the shingle ridge and perched on the top in the distance. A juvenile Gannet drifted past offshore. We were out of time, so we turned to head back. The Whinchats were back by the path and flew ahead of us as we walked along, accompanied by two Common Whitethroats which appeared out of the brambles.

3rd September 2016 – Whinchat, Wheatears & Waders

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was a lovely warm and sunny start to the day, but we knew that rain was forecast for the afternoon, so we had to make the most of it. We made our way east along the coast to Cley.

North Scrape has been the best scrape for waders in recent days on the reserve. It can be difficult viewing here in the heat of the day, looking into the sun, so we decided to go round here first. As we got out of the car in the car park, a Wheatear was on the top of the shingle ridge behind us. A nice start to the day.

6O0A0129Wheatear – on the shingle in the car park when we arrived

Before we had finished unloading the car, we were called over by some people a few cars further along. They had found a freshly dead Dunlin on the shingle nearby and were not sure what it was. It was amazing to look at up close – a juvenile, with black streaks on its belly. It was missing a wing, but otherwise appeared undamaged. An odd injury, it was unclear whether it was killed by the impact from a raptor or perhaps yet another victim of the lethal high tension fence which has inexplicably been put up around that part of the reserve.

IMG_6144Dunlin – this juvenile was found freshly dead on the shingle

As we walked out beside the beach to North Scrape, a Sandwich Tern called and flew past close inshore. A large Grey Seal surfaced just off the beach, before diving again. When we arrived at North Scrape, it appeared strangely quiet compared to recent days. We were informed that a Hobby, 2 Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard had flown over, flushing all the waders – we saw one each of the latter two species while we were there.

Many of the waders had flown off, but the Curlew Sandpipers at least had apparently just flown round the corner out of view. We decided to sit for a while and see what reappeared. A couple of Ringed Plovers were well camouflaged on the nearest, sandy island. Then a single Knot appeared in the water nearby, giving a great view through the scope. A Greenshank was sleeping nearby, along with a couple of Dunlin. Two Green Sandpipers flew in but dropped out of view in the reeds, before flying back off again.

The two Curlew Sandpipers started to walk out into view. They were hard to see well at first, looking through the tops of the reeds in the foreground, and we had to put the scope on the top of the bank. Fortunately, after a while, they flew out and landed in full view at the front of the scrape, where we could see them much better. They were both juveniles, smart birds with scaly backs, a well-marked supercilium and a peachy wash across the breast.

IMG_6151Curlew Sandpiper – a juvenile, dwarfed by a Black-headed Gull

There was no sign of any Wood Sandpipers though, which was the species we had particularly hoped to see here. When the news came through that they had relocated themselves to Pat’s Pool, we decided to drive round and have a look at the other side of the reserve. On the way back to the car park, we stopped to admire a couple of Common Darters which were basking in the morning sunshine in the shelter of the path.

6O0A0136Common Darter – enjoying the morning sun

A couple of Wheatears were chasing each other round the now dried-up pool by the fence. They wouldn’t stop still at first, but finally one landed on the top of a dried poppy plant where we could all have a good look at it through the scope. When it eventually took off again, we had a great view of its white rump as it flew past us.

IMG_6162Wheatear – two were chasing round by the beach

We went round to Bishop Hide first. As we walked along the path, we caught a brief sight of a Hobby hawking for insects low over the reedbed. The hide itself was surprisingly full of people. There was a good flock of Black-tailed Godwits sleeping out on the mud and a selection of Ruff scattered around the scrape. The latter included both brown and buff juveniles and grey and white winter adults. One person thought they had found the two Wood Sandpipers at one point but all we could see when they pointed out where they were looking were a couple of Ruff in the edge of the reeds. We decided to head over to the other hides instead.

As we walked along the boardwalk, our attention was drawn by a small orangey-buff bird on the fence along the edge of the reeds. It was a Whinchat. It kept dropping down into the grass before returning to the fence, where it sat very obligingly for us to admire it.

IMG_6170Whinchat – on the fence by the boardwalk out to the hides

Looking out across the other side of Pat’s Pool from Teal Hide, there was still no sign of the Wood Sandpipers – they had probably flown back to North Scrape! We did have nice close views of three juvenile Black-tailed Godwits feeding just in front of the hide, which were nice to see. A flock of Golden Plover landed on the main island and started to bathe in the shallow water, most still sporting the remnants of their summer black bellies.

6O0A0163Black-tailed Godwit – a juvenile of the Icelandic race

Even better, a couple of Reed Warblers appeared in the cut reeds right outside the hide. One in particular was hopping around in a patch of dead vegetation very close to us, giving us great views.

6O0A0142Reed Warbler – feeding in the cut reeds just outside the hide

From Dauke’s Hide, a quick look at Simmond’s Scrape did not produce much we had not already seen, apart from a sleeping Yellow-legged Gull. This scrape is apparently scheduled to be reworked this month and has been kept drier than normal accordingly over the last couple of weeks, which may explain why it has been quieter on here. So we headed back to the visitor centre for lunch. It had clouded over, but there were still only a few spots of rain for now.

The pool beside Iron Road has been looking great for waders over the last few days, so it was no great surprise to learn that a Pectoral Sandpiper had been found there. After lunch, we made our way over there to try to see it. It had disappeared into the grass when we arrived, but while we waited for it to reappear, there were several other good birds to see. A Yellow Wagtail flew in and landed at the feet of one of the cows nearby, showing off its very bright yellow undertail.

Best of all, we finally caught up with a Wood Sandpiper – getting really good views of one feeding on one of the muddy pools here, admiring its spangled upperparts and well-marked pale supercilium. A Green Sandpiper flew in to the same pool, much darker above, less obviously spotted. There was even a Little Stint on here too, which eventually came out onto a more open patch of mud where we could get a proper look at it.

The Pectoral Sandpiper frustrated us for a while, making a brief appearance out of the grass but quickly being flushed by a passing calf and disappearing back into cover. Then finally, it worked its way to the edge of one of the grassy islands where we could see it, before walking out across in the open. We could see its brown streaked breast, ending in a well-defined curve, the pectoral band.

IMG_6178Pectoral Sandpiper – eventually showed well

A sharp ‘tchooeet’ call alerted us to an approaching Spotted Redshank. It flew in from the east and over our heads, dropping down over the back of the pool towards Babcock Hide. As it was now starting to drizzle a little, we thought it would be a good place to sit for a while, so walked round to the hide.

As we opened the shutters, we could see a Common Sandpiper feeding quietly on the mud in front of the hide, out to the left. It slowly worked its way across in front of us, moving very furtively and bobbing its tail as it went. We could see the tell-tale white spur extending up between the darker breast and the wings.

6O0A0169Common Sandpiper – on the mud in front of Babcock Hide

Then the Spotted Redshank appeared from behind one the islands. It was feeding vigorously in the distinctive way Spotted Redshanks do, head down, sweeping its bill quickly from side to side through the water. It was a dusky grey juvenile, and when it raised its head from time to time we could see the distinctive long, needle sharp bill, with a tiny downward kink near the end.

Even better, the Spotted Redshank progressively worked its way towards the hide and was then joined by a couple of Common Redshanks. It was great to see the two species side by side for comparison. One of the Common Redshanks even tried to copy the Spotted Redshank’s feeding action at one point, following round behind it, before giving up and resuming a more delicate probing in the mud.

IMG_6212Spotted Redshank – a dusky grey juvenile

There were other things to see here too, as we sat out a passing heavier shower. There was no shortage of Snipe, but three flew in and landed on the mud in front of the hide. A Lapwing was feeding on the edge of the vegetation just below us too, looking very colourful despite the gloomy conditions now.

6O0A0218Lapwing – still looking very exotic in the rain

A family of Little Grebes were diving out in the water and one of the adults even came out onto one of the islands at one point – most ungainly birds on dry land! A couple of Marsh Harriers flew in from the east, one duller male doing a very close fly by past the hide. We heard Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but the one which appeared briefly in the tops unfortunately didn’t hang around long enough for everyone to get onto it. The Cormorants gave up trying to dry their wings once the rain started.

When the rain eased again, we got news that a Redstart had been seen the other side of Salthouse at Gramborough Hill, so we made our way over to try to see it. There were a few people working their way round the bushes when we arrived, and we got a very brief glimpse of the Redstart as it dived into cover. We had better views of a smart male Stonechat, which more helpfully perched on the top of the bushes.

Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the brambles and the Redstart flew off again as we tried to work our way round. It disappeared round the hill and couldn’t immediately be refound. At that point it started to rain again. It was already getting on and we had been much luckier with the weather this afternoon than we had expected, so we decided to call it a day. Looking at all the things we had seen, what a great day it had been!

28th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 2

Day 2 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. The fog first thing burnt off before we met up and a nice morning was in prospect with sunny intervals and lighter winds. We made our way back east and slightly inland, to the Glaven Valley for our first stop of the day.

A Song Thrush was singing as we got out of the car and a Chiffchaff was flitting around in the branches above our heads. As we walked up the lane, a variety of different warblers were singing. A Sedge Warbler was pouring out its scratchy song from the reeds in the meadow beyond and performed a short song flight. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the hedge. A Blackcap sang from the bushes.

6O0A1328Chiffchaff – lots of warblers were singing from the hedges this morning

A little further along and we noticed some movement low down in the hedge beside the land. As we watched carefully, out popped a pair of Lesser Whitethroats. They were rather grey over all, clean grey headed and grey-brown on the back, with a white throat and rather whitish underparts – neat little birds. They can be rather skulking so it was great to see them out in the open. Then a bit further still and we heard a Common Whitethroat singing, which also perched up nicely for us. We could see its rusty brown wings, browner back and white throat contrasting with buffy-pinkish breast. It was nice to see the two species like this in quick succession.

We had hoped to find a Cuckoo along here at least, but there was no sound of it so we turned to walk back. We had only gone a few yards when it started up from across the meadows back from where we had been standing. It seemed to be taunting us, because when we got back there again it promptly stopped! Still it is always nice to hear a Cuckoo in the spring. A Brown Hare sat up in the sunshine along the edge of one of the fields.

6O0A1332Brown Hare – enjoying the morning sunshine

On the way back to the car, we could hear a Treecreeper in the trees and then picked it up climbing straight up a tree trunk. A Goldcrest was also singing but was tucked deep in cover. A Sparrowhawk circled up in the distance, high into the sky, before folding its wings in and plummeting vertically back down. A Yellowhammer flew over calling.

As we came out of the trees by the meadow, we could see a Barn Owl out hunting. It flew round over the grass, focused intently on the ground below. It came straight towards us and looked like it would come past, but seemed to notice us standing by the road and turned away again. It dropped down into the grass at one point, but came up empty talonned, before working its way over to the back and disappearing from view.

6O0A1342Barn Owl – out hunting in the middle of the morning

With the weather starting to warm up nicely, we made our way over to one of the heaths. Despite the improvement in conditions, it was still rather quiet at first as we walked round, and we couldn’t find any Dartford Warblers. There were still large patches of hailstones from last night on the ground along the edge of the patches of gorse, so it was still cold down at ground level. We eventually heard a Willow Warbler singing from the birches.

We decided to see if any Adders were still trying to warm themselves up this morning, so we headed over to a favourite spot. We hadn’t been looking long when one slithered away into the undergrowth as we approached. But a second Adder was still curled up on the ground and we managed to get a great look at it before it too slid off into the heather. We thought that was it, but one of them returned almost immediately, back to the sunny edge, and headed straight for one of the group’s boots, before seeing us and freezing, less than a foot away! Both the two on the edge were silvery-grey and black males, but when the second one disappeared into the heather, we could see him together with a much bigger, browner female. It is always a real privilege to see these increasingly scarce reptiles up close like this.

6O0A1356Adder – this male slithered right up to someone’s boot!

6O0A1365Adders – a male and female down in the heather

A pair of Bullfinches were calling from the trees and the odd Chiffchaff was singing now, but otherwise there were not many birds in this corner of the Heath. However, it felt like it was definitely warming up a little, so we made our way back to where the Dartford Warblers should have been. As we rounded the corner, we spotted a pair of Stonechats on the top of the heather on one side of the path. We were just discussing how Dartford Warblers will often follow the Stonechats around when a pair of Dartford Warblers appeared on the gorse on the other side of the path and promptly flew across to join them!

We followed them for a while. The Stonechats were easy to follow, perching on top of the bushes, but the Dartford Warblers were harder to see. We had views of them in flight and quick glimpses of them in the heather before finally the male decided to start singing and perched right up in the top of a gorse bush for a few seconds. That was more like it!

6O0A1373Stonechat –  a pair on the Heath were followed by a pair of Dartford Warblers

We were originally intending to spend a little time exploring the rest of the Heath, but the news came through that the Wryneck had reappeared in someone’s garden back at Cley. With such fresh news, we couldn’t resist another go at seeing it – they are such fantastic birds to see – so we made our way straight over there.

When we arrived, we were told the Wryneck was on a lawn and the owners of one of the houses were letting people in to watch it – luckily they were birders (thanks, Trevor & Gill)! There were several people leaving as we arrived and after taking our boots off and going upstairs to the landing window, we could see the Wryneck down on their neighbours’ lawn. It hopped over to the rockery and had a good look for any ants among the stones. We had a great look at it, the intricate markings of its feathers, before it suddenly flew up and round the other side of the house. We had arrived just in time (and it wasn’t seen again today, as far was we are aware). We made our donations to the charity collection before bidding our farewells and thanks.

IMG_3056Wryneck – here’s a photo and video of it from Tuesday

Back at the car, we were just loading up when a Cetti’s Warbler flew across between the bushes on the other side of the road. It landed briefly in the top of the clump of brambles where we could see it, before dropping back into cover. Then it was over to the visitor centre at Cley for lunch. It was so nice today, we even managed to make use of one of the picnic tables outside. We were glad we did, because several Swifts flew overhead while we ate. There were also loads of hirundines hawking for insects over the reserve this afternoon – Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins – the most we have seen this year.

After lunch, we had a quick look at the Eye Field. There had apparently been several Yellow Wagtails flying west this morning, and we thought some might have landed here. As it was, there weren’t any there although we did hear one overhead. The pools on the edge of the Eye Field did produce a nice White Wagtail and a female Wheatear was on the grass behind. There were lots of Brent Geese preening and bathing on North Scrape. When we got back to the car, another Yellow Wagtail flew over going the other way and this one we saw as it went past.

We had planned to work our way back from Salthouse to the East Bank this afternoon, but as we drove past the latter we caught sight of a large white bird out on the far end of the Serpentine – a Spoonbill. So we parked here and walked out to get a better look at it. It was feeding in the pools at first, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water as it walked. Then it came out onto the bank and started preening, so we could get a great look at it. It was a smart adult, with yellow-tipped bill, in breeding plumage with floppy crest and a yellowy-brown wash on its breast.

6O0A1185Spoonbill – this one taken here a couple of days ago

Looking back the other way, we saw a second Spoonbill emerge from one of the water-filled channels. Then the first took off and flew away to the west, before the second did the same a couple of minutes later, that one flying right past us as it did so.

6O0A1389Spoonbill – this one flew straight past us today

There was a nice selection of waders and ducks out on the grazing marshes here. As we scanned across, we could see several male Ruff of many different colour combinations. A little group of Dunlin was feeding on the muddy grass, many sporting black bellies now, along with a single Ringed Plover. We eventually managed to find a Little Ringed Plover too, extremely well camouflaged against the dry mud bank it was on.

6O0A1226Ruff – the males come in a bewildering variety of colours now

There are always lots of Lapwings and Redshank out here at this time of year, as this is where they breed. We were treated to quite a display from two Lapwings which chased and tumbled in the sky for several minutes this afternoon.

6O0A1387Lapwings – displaying over the grazing marshes

Even though most of them have long since departed on their way back to Russia for the breeding season, there are still a few lingering Wigeon here. On the other side of the bank, a Sedge Warbler was singing away very noisily but when it paused for breath we could hear a Reed Warbler singing too. It was good to listen to the two songs almost simultaneously, to really hear the differences between them. A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds beyond. Arnold’s Marsh is rather full of water at the moment, so a quick visit here didn’t add too much to the day’s list, beyond a better view of a Turnstone and a couple more Ringed Plovers.

We stopped at the Iron Road next. We were just explaining that this is a good place to look for Whimbrel when we found two in the field right next to us. We got out to have a better look at them, and although we spooked them they landed again only a little further over. We got them in the scope, so we could really see their prominent crown stripes.

IMG_3314Whimbrel – like a small, short-billed Curlew

Scanning the rest of the field, we found two Curlew in here as well. Even better, they walked over to join the two Whimbrel, giving us a great side-by-side comparison. As well as the different head pattern, the Whimbrel were noticeably smaller, slimmer, darker, with a much shorter bill.

6O0A1397Whimbrel & Curlew – gave us a great side-by-side comparison

A quick stop down at Beach Road in Salthouse next did not produce the hoped for Yellow Wagtails on the ground, but did hold at least three Wheatears, including a particularly smart male not to far from the road.

6O0A1403Wheatear – a very smart male at Salthouse

Our final destination of the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, a male Marsh Harrier flew across the field opposite. It had clouded over now, and we caught the very edge of a thankfully brief shower as it passed over us before we set off. Possibly as a consequence, it was a little quiet on the way out to the Fen this afternoon. A Kingfisher flying up low along the river was only heard.

From up on the seawall, we could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits out on the Fen and a couple in the channel down on the other side. We had intended to have a look at the Fen first, but with another shower blowing towards us, we elected to have a look at the harbour first.

There are lots of Brent Geese still out in the harbour – they should be on their way back towards Russia too soon. As well as many more Black-tailed Godwits, we found a few Grey Plover and Turnstone, plus a handful of Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plover, but it was not the best time to be searching for waders here, with the tide at its lowest. Three Red-breasted Mergansers were distant out in the harbour, with lots of seals pulled up on the sandbars just beyond them.

6O0A1410Brent Goose – there are lots still out in the harbour

About fifty Sandwich Terns were in a little group down in the bottom of the ‘Pit’. There are meant to be over 2,000 of them back now, so most had obviously gone on a day trip somewhere else today. While we were standing admiring the harbour, a couple each of Swifts and House Martins flew west low overhead.

We walked back to the Fen, but even though the weather had now improved a bit, we couldn’t see a lot more on here. A Common Snipe was feeding along the edge of the reeds and a single Little Ringed Plover was on one of the islands. As we turned to leave, we picked up two adult Mediterranean Gulls flying past over the saltmarsh.

Then it was time to head for home, with the added bonus of a Red Kite which drifted across the road ahead of us on the way back.

15th April 2016 – Singing in the Rain

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. It was forecast to rain today, and it did, but thankfully it was never as heavy as we had been promised. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast in search of migrants.

As we drove along the coast road, it was overcast and damp. At Walsey Hills, a small group of Swallows and Sand Martins had gathered on the wires. There are lots of our breeding hirundines in now, so these could have been locals or birds stopping off on their way further north.

6O0A0174Swallows & Sand Martins – on the wires at Walsey Hills

Our first stop was at Kelling. A Song Thrush was singing half-heartedly by the school. A little further along, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing from the hedge across the other side of the field and then a Chiffchaff started up from the bushes by the lane. Many of the first warblers are now back on territory, and newly arrived they will often sing almost regardless of the weather.

From the first gate overlooking the Water Meadow, a scan of the fields revealed a pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Both adults, we got them in the scope and could see their jet black hoods and white wing tips. Otherwise, the Water Meadow itself looked fairly quiet from here at first. On the other side of the lane, a ‘dopping’ of Shelducks had gathered in a field and were inspecting the rabbit burrows along the edge for suitable nest sites.

6O0A0177Shelducks – pairing up and looking for nest sites

Another small warbler flicked across the path and disappeared into the alexanders on the other side. When we got up to where it had gone, we finally managed to get a good look at it and could see that it was a Willow Warbler. Presumably a migrant, it was feeding actively in the dense vegetation alongside the hedge. We followed it for a while, getting occasional views of it as it worked its way to the edge. As it continued up along the hedge row, it gave a quick burst of song. A Goldcrest came down the hedge the other way and landed in the top of a hawthorn beside us – possibly also a migrant, stopping to feed up before heading out across the North Sea.

6O0A0182Willow Warbler – feeding in the alexanders by the path

We had really hoped to find the Yellow Wagtails which have been here for a couple of days now and just as we got to the end of the tall hedge, so that we could see out across the Water Meadow again, we heard them calling. They came up out of the rushes and flew round. Most dropped straight down back out of view in the tall grass, but three landed on the top of some tall posts. Even better, the Blue-headed Wagtail which has been in with them was one of the three! Through the scope, we could see it’s dark blue-grey cap and contrasting white supercilium, a smart male. Then it dropped down out of view as well.

IMG_2294Blue-headed Wagtail – here’s a photo of it from yesterday

Several of the Yellow Wagtails flew out and landed on the short grass by the pool, so we could get a better look at them. Bright dayglo yellow, they looked stunning running around among the daisies. But the Blue-headed Wagtail did not come out to join them.

There were several other birds on the Water Meadow. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese have four goslings. There were also a few Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler, and a couple of Avocet too. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects low over the water and a single House Martin flew in to join them, flashing its white rump patch. A Common Whitethroat started calling from the bushes behind us, before flying out onto the brambles and bursting into song – another of the warblers to have returned for the summer just in the last couple of days.

Round by the Quags, a male Stonechat was perched on a post at the edge of the sheep field. It kept dropping down to the short grass to feed. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and Linnets along the path up the hill and at least seven Wheatears in the sheep field from the top path. They seemed to be trying to stay just out of view, over the crest of the ridge, but thankfully they kept running out where we could see them.

6O0A0186Stonechat – a male, down by the Quags

A large white bird came high overhead, heading west. Head – and long bill – held stretched out in front and long legs trailing behind, it was a Spoonbill. It didn’t show any signs of stopping, but carried straight on towards Salthouse. We figured it might eventually come down over towards Cley, so thought we would have a look for it on our way that direction later.

There had been no more than light drizzle so far, but it started to rain a little harder now, so we turned round and started to make our way back. We thought perhaps more of the wagtails might have come out onto the short grass, where it was not so wet, but once again there were only a few Yellow Wagtails out in view.

Back at the gate, we stopped for another last scan and a pale shape dropping down into the grass, out of the brambles at the back caught our eye. When it flew back up again we could confirm what it was, a female Common Redstart. This bird was in exactly the same place yesterday, but despite looking on our way past this morning, we hadn’t seen it. It had been very hard to see yesterday too though, and kept disappearing into the brambles or flying over the top into the other side, on the edge of the sheep field, out of view. As it flew between the fence posts, we could see the flash of its orange-red tail and eventually it perched up on the brambles for a few seconds so that we could get it in the scope. Redstart is always a very nice spring migrant to catch up with, as they can be tricky to see at this time of year here.

Our next stop was at Salthouse, down at the end of Beach Road. Scanning from the car, we could see lots of Wheatears out on the short grass, at least a dozen. One or two were a bit nearer to the road, so we got out for a closer look.

IMG_2305Wheatear – at least a dozen were at Salthouse today

Thankfully, we didn’t have to go far from the car, as it was raining a little more persistently now – all the action here came to us! Three more Yellow Wagtails flew in and landed close by as well. Further over, we could see a White Wagtail as well – its pale silvery-grey back contrasting with the black cap, setting it immediately apart from its close relative the Pied Wagtail.

6O0A0188Yellow Wagtail – three were at Salthouse too

It is not just passerines on the move or arriving for the breeding season, waders are a feature of spring too. A Little Ringed Plover was feeding down by one of the small pools in the grass. Through the scope, we could see its golden yellow eye-ring. We could hear the distinctive laughing call of a Whimbrel approaching and looked up to see it fly west overhead. From the other direction, we heard a Greenshank calling and turned round to see two fly in from the west and drop down on one of the pools over by the shingle ridge. Both the Whimbrel and the Greenshanks are just stopping off here on their way further north.

IMG_2312Greenshanks – these two dropped into the pools by the beach at Salthouse

Making our way further back west, a quick stop by Walsey Hills for a scan and we relocated the Spoonbill we had seen flying over earlier. It was out on the pool at Pope’s Marsh and doing what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping! We had a look at it through the scope, although it wouldn’t show off its bill for us.

IMG_2333Spoonbill – sleeping out on Pope’s Marsh

After a break for lunch, we set out to explore the reserve at Cley. The rain had eased off a bit now, but it was still nice to get into the shelter of the hides. Pat’s Pool held a good selection of waders. A Ruff was right down at the front with a couple of Redshank.The male Ruff are in the process of moulting into summer plumage now, and were a mixture of blotchy colours.

6O0A0205Ruff – just moulting into summer plumage

We eventually found the Green Sandpiper when it walked out of a sheltered bay, into view. The lack of the white ‘spur’ on the side, between the breast and wings, is a good way to distinguish from  Common Sandpipers at a distance. A couple of Snipe were lurking round the edges of the scrape. There are no shortage of Avocets here now – paired up and ready for the breeding season.

6O0A0203Avocet – there are lots on the scrapes now

There are always plenty of Black-tailed Godwits here, and most of them are looking very smart now, having moulted into summer plumage. However, one of the godwits stood out, with deep rusty underparts extending right down under the tail, whereas a Black-tailed Godwit should have a black-barred white belly. This was a very smart summer plumage male Bar-tailed Godwit. Round on Simmond’s Scrape, another Bar-tailed Godwit was lacking any deep rusty colour below, a female.

6O0A0224Black-tailed Godwit – looking smart in summer plumage

Also on Simmond’s Scrape, there was a group of smaller waders on the mud on one side. Including at least 12 Dunlin, many of these were also started to attain breeding plumage, sporting small black belly patches and increasingly brightly coloured upperparts. In with them were several Ringed Plovers. A few Lapwing were on the grassy bank in front of the hide.

6O0A0228Lapwing – on the bank right in front of the hide

Given the rain, we had not seen any raptors so far today, but once it eased off a bit, the first Marsh Harrier flew in over the scrape and landed in one of the bushes in the reedbed beyond. A Water Rail squealed from the reeds but did not show itself.

Back to the car, and we had a quick drive round to the beach car park to see if there were any migrants around the Eye Field, but it looked pretty quiet here today so we didn’t linger. A Sparrowhawk perched on a gate by the road meant that the detour was worthwhile.

We rounded off the day with a walk out along the East Bank. There were several Marsh Harriers up now, quartering over the reedbeds on either side.The Spoonbill had disappeared, but a few Wigeon out on Pope’s Marsh were new for the day, and a couple more Little Ringed Plovers were out in the grass.

6O0A0233Marsh Harrier – several came out once the rain eased

We took advantage of the new shelter and had a good look at Arnold’s Marsh. There were lots of Dunlin and Ringed Plover out on here, as well as more Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew. A single Grey Plover was also an addition to the day’s list.

We had time for a quick look at the sea. All we could see at first were a few Cormorants, but then three ducks appeared, a drake and two female Common Scoter. They were diving continually, which made them hard for everyone to get onto at first. A single Red-throated Diver flew past. Then it was time to head back.

The weather had been far from perfect, but the rain had not really been bad all day today – and we had managed a very decent haul of birds despite the conditions. Once again, well worth going out!

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!

6th June 2015 – Heath & Marsh

A Summer Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously sunny day with only patchy cloud, but very windy once again gusting 35-40mph all day.

We started up on the Heath. A Willow Warbler was singing from the bushes as we got out of the car, and we could hear a Garden Warbler further along. We walked down to see if we could see it, but we only got a glimpse of it as it disappeared into the depths of a Blackthorn tree.

As we walked round the heath there was no sound of any Turtle Doves in their favoured area. However, we had only gone a little further when one flew past us and into the trees where we had just left. We could then hear it purring. We walked back, expecting it to be deep within one of the birches, but it was perched right on the top! It was being blown around a bit, but we got a great look at it, the bright rufous-fringed upperparts and delicate black and white streaked neck panel. The UK Turtle Dove population is in precipitous decline and it always a pleasure to see one as well as this.

P1010746Turtle Dove – being blown around in the top of a birch tree

It was blustery out on the open parts of the heath and general bird activity was a little subdued. We saw several Linnets and a couple of Yellowhammers, including a smart male perched in the top of a gorse bush singing, but there were not as many out in the open as usual, probably due to the wind.

P1010750Linnet – still a common bird on the heaths

We found the family of Stonechats in their usual place. We saw the juveniles first – they are becoming more confident now and perching up in the tops of the bushes. The male was busy collecting food nearby, for his hungry brood. We did also have a quick look for the Dartford Warblers, but they have been elusive anyway in recent days and they don’t like the wind, so it was no surprise that we couldn’t find them today. We didn’t waste much time there.

IMG_5346Stonechat – the family was still together on the Heath today

As we walked round back to the car park, the Garden Warbler was still singing away. We stopped nearby, and it seemed to come ever closer, until it was almost right in front of us, and still we couldn’t see it. Suddenly it flew up from within the brambles below us, and perched in full view for a few seconds, still singing. Then it flew back into the dense Blackthorn behind. It was great to get a good look at such an elusive species.

P1010754Garden Warbler – finally flew out right in front of us

The Garden Warbler had found a sheltered corner and when we looked down there were also several Green Hairstreaks in the undergrowth right in front of us. They were looking for nectar, but the bramble flowers were yet to open and they had to make do with some Groundsel.

P1010755Green Hairstreak – there were several on the Heath today, out of the wind

From there, we dropped down onto the coast. As we drove along the main coast road at Salthouse, we could see a large white shape on one of the pools. Sure enough, it was a Spoonbill and sure enough, it was asleep! We pulled up at the Iron Road, but we couldn’t see it over the reeds. However, the pools there held a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwit and we got the scope on a couple of male Shoveler. A smart male Marsh Harrier, with black-tipped, grey wings was quartering the marshes.

It was on to Cley next and our first destination was the East Bank. It was very windy up there, and at times we had trouble standing up! There were lots of Lapwing, Redshank and Avocet out on the Serpentine. We got a good look at both Sedge and Reed Warbler singing from the reedbed. Arnold’s Marsh held a large gathering of Sandwich Terns, clearly sheltering from the choppy conditions out to sea. We had hoped to catch a glimpse of a Bearded Tit, but it was always going to be an outside chance on such a blustery day.

P1010760Lapwing – stunning birds up close, check out the iridescent green upperparts

It was out to Teal Hide next. After our success a couple of days ago, we thought there might be more activity on the reserve proper, but it had gone back to being a little quiet. At least Teal Hide lived up to its name, and we saw a couple of drake Teal. There are large numbers here for the winter, but almost all of them have departed and there have been very few around in recent weeks, so this was a good bird for the day’s list. There were still lots of Avocet here, with several still brooding.

P1010766Avocet – lots at Cley today

There have been lots of Little Gulls along the coast in recent weeks, almost all young 1st summer birds, with black feathers in the wing and with variably patchy black summer hoods. There was one on Pat’s Pool today and another on Simmond’s Scrape.

IMG_5352Little Gull – 1 of 3 today at Cley, all being 1st summer birds

It was round to North Scrape next. This seems to be the best place to see waders at Cley at the moment. There was  a large, noisy crowd there today, but eventually they moved off and we could get a good look at the birds. A little flock of smaller waders consisted of 7 Tundra Ringed Plovers, a Dunlin and a single Little Stint. The latter was clearly much smaller than the other two species. There was also yet another 1st summer Little Gull.

Our last stop of the day was at Holkham. Lady Anne’s Drive was very busy today – I guess it was a Saturday and it was sunny, but the wind looked to be blowing a sandstorm across the beach! Rather than follow the hordes, we turned left and walked along the inside edge of the pines. We did walk up along the boardwalk by Washington Hide and out to take an admiring glance at the sea. It was nice and sheltered on the north side of the pines. We did also see a few Little Terns out over the beach and a single Common Scoter on the sea.

The flowers by Meals House have been very good for butterflies over the last few months. Today, we saw several Wall, a Red Admiral and a Holly Blue. We also saw quite a few Painted Ladys today – this species is a migrant, so they have presumably been carried her on the warm winds in recent days. There was also a nice female Blue-tailed Damselfly by Meals House.

P1010773Blue-tailed Damselfly – a female of the violacea form

There were a few birds along the edge of the pines today, though lots more were hiding from the wind. A Treecreeper flew out and fed in an oak tree beside the path, hanging upside down from a branch and working its way all the way along – its a miracle they don’t fall off!

Out at the Joe Jordan hide, it didn’t take long to find a Spoonbill. At first their was only one short-billed juvenile ‘Tea’-Spoonbill down on the nursery pool. Shortly afterwards, an adult arrived. It seemed to be feeding at first, but then started to wrestle a stick out of the water. There was obviously something substandard about it, so the stick was rejected and it started to pull dry leaves out of the reeds instead. After a while, it found something suitable and flew off into the trees with it.

IMG_5363Spoonbill – this adult was collecting nest material

More adult Spoonbills dropped down to the pool. One in particular, newly arrived from out feeding along the coast, attracted a single juvenile which started to beg, bouncing up and down and flapping its wings. The adult Spoonbill finally gave in and regurgitated a meal for the youngster. More juveniles dropped down as well and two stood out in the open on the nearest edge. We admired their whiter plumage and short, stubby bills. Then they seemed to engage in some sort of spoon-swordfight – it was hard to tell whether it was a friendly greeting, and at times it looked like they were preening each other. Interesting stuff.

IMG_5372Spoonbill – two juveniles jousting today

There were other things to see here as well. The nesting Cormorants also have growing young to feed. Both Little Egrets and Grey Herons were back and forth regularly. The pair of Grey Partridge were feeding in the grass down in front of the hide as usual. Several Marsh Harriers flew past. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits periodically flushed from the pools behind the trees and flew round in a whirl. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.

29th May 2015 – Rain in the East

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast towards Cley.

The weather forecast wasn’t great, so we were prepared for the worst. However, it started bright, so we stopped at Stiffkey Fen on our way east. The sun was shining and the birds were singing. Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Reed & Sedge Warbler, Song Thrush and many more were in all full voice from the bushes by the path. Several Skylarks sang from the sky high above us as we walked out. A Bullfinch flew overhead calling.

Out on the Fen, we picked up first one, then two, then four Little Ringed Plovers. They were chasing each other around on one of the islands, running around like clockwork toys. There were also lots of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, several Redshank, Lapwing, and the ubiquitous Avocets.

From the seawall, looking inland, we could see a smart male Marsh Harrier circling up. A few seconds later a Sparrowhawk appeared with it and proceeded to dive at it repeatedly.

P1010363Blakeney Harbour – the view from Stiffkey Fen out to Blakeney Point

Most of the Brent Geese have now departed for Russia, but as we walked out towards the harbour we saw three flying off west over the saltmarsh and another was standing in one of the channels. The tide was out, but a scan of the mud revealed a couple of Curlews and a little group of Ringed Plovers. A closer look through the scope confirmed the latter were Tundra Ringed Plovers, on their way further north – smaller and darker than our breeding birds. A single adult Mediterranean Gull flew in over the saltmarsh towards Morston, flashing its white wing tips.

Even though it was still sunny, we could already see darker clouds gathering on the horizon. We fled ahead of them towards Cley and made for the East Bank before they could catch up with us. We were glad we did. Half way along the bank, a quick scan of the reeds along the ditch below us revealed a female Bearded Tit. She was working her way methodically along through the reeds, just above the water, occasionally coming out onto the edge and picking at the blanket weed. Great views.

P1010378Bearded Tit – this female showed really well from the East Bank this morning

There were both Reed and Sedge Warblers singing along the East Bank. A particularly obliging Sedge Warbler perched up on the reeds below the path, singing its super-fast, buzzy song. It sang for a while, then launched itself up in song-flight, parachuting back down to the base of the reeds, before moving back to where it had started and doing it all over again.

P1010387Sedge Warbler – singing, and song-flighting, by East Bank

Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Spoonbill on the Serpentine today. A drake Pintail was the surprise here – a late bird, possibly sick or injured. As usual, there was a very obliging Little Egret fishing very close to the bank. We were hoping to get out to Arnold’s Marsh, but the dark cloud had now caught up with us, so we decided discretion was the better part of valour and beat a hasty retreat to the Visitor Centre.

P1010385Little Egret – a smart breeding adult, with full set of plumes

When the rain came, thankfully at first it was not too hard. We walked out onto the reserve and headed for the main hide complex. This seemed like the best place to shelter form the rain. On the way, a Grey Heron posed on the bank of the main freshwater channel by the path.

P1010394Grey Heron – more intent on fishing than watching us

On first glance, both Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape looked a little quiet today. However, as the rain started to fall harder and harder, we were in here for a while. The more we sat, the more we saw things appear or drop in. There were several Avocets sitting on nests in front of the hide. We saw a couple of shift changeovers and watched the adults sitting tight as the rain fell on them.

IMG_5045Avocet – on the nest, hunkered down in the rain

There were also lots of Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and a few Sand Martins out over the reserve. In the rain, they came in to feed low over the scrapes. Amongst the Avocets, three Little Ringed Plovers flew in and proceeded to have a disagreement – about territory, mate, or something. One male flashed his tail, his wings, and then had a swoop at the others. Then a Little Gull appeared on Simmond’s Scrape, a 1st summer. It stood preening for a short while, before flying behind one of the taller islands and disappearing.

IMG_5054Little Gull – first one 1st summer appeared on Simmond’s Scrape

A short while later it reappeared and was promptly joined by a second 1st summer Little Gull which flew in and landed beside it. The two of them stood and preened in the rain for a while. Eventually, they obviously decided it was no fun standing there getting wet and both Little Gulls flew off together.

IMG_5064Little Gull – then a second 1st summer flew in to join it

Six Black-tailed Godwits flew over the reserve and then reappeared, dropping in to Simmond’s Scrape. The next thing we knew, they were joined by another five. Then three smaller waders appeared on the mud. We just had time to get a look at them – two Dunlin and a Sanderling. All three were in summer plumage, the former sporting smart black belly patches and the latter with chestnut above and on the breast, so different from the silvery winter plumage we so often see. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope of them they were off again.

Eventually, the rain started to ease and the sky started to brighten. We made a strategic decision to head back to the Visitor Centre. On the way, a Cetti’s Warbler flew in from the direction of the road and over the freshwater ditch, landing in the reeds on the other side. We watched it feeding quickly along the line of reeds and up into the brambles, before it flew back across the road towards the Visitor Centre.

After lunch, we drove round to the beach. We had intended to walk along to North Scrape, but as we arrived it started to rain yet again. While we had been in the hide earlier, we had seen a large feeding frenzy of terns just off the beach, distantly over the shingle ridge. We had even picked out a couple of Gannets circling with them. We decided to have a look at the sea from the beach shelter while we waited for the rain to clear. The big mob of feeding terns had dispersed, but we still saw feeding Sandwich, Common and Little Terns offshore. Another Gannet circled past. And a pair of Common Scoter flew west over the sea.

With the drizzle continuing, we decided to drive round via Salthouse instead. The pools behind the duck pond and along the Beach Road were quiet, apart from a group of Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallows. However, eventually it brightened up again and we stopped at the Iron Road and walked out to the grazing marshes. Another 1st summer Little Gull was hawking over by the shingle ridge, towards Sea Pool.

Out in the long grass at the back of the pool, we picked up a single drake Wigeon – or should we say, a Wigeon head sticking out from the grass! Most of the Wigeon which were here over the winter have long since departed back to Russia, so one seemed like a good find. However, on the pools on the other side of the track we found another two drake Wigeon. So this is where they have all been hiding! We walked out as far as the bridge over the main drain, and as we turned to come back we spotted a couple of Yellow Wagtails. They were feeding out on the mud which had been dredged from the channels, two females. They flew ahead of us, as we turned to walk back, but then we could see the gathering dark clouds again. We just made it back to the car as the heavens opened.

As that rain blew through, the skies seemed to clear a little from the west, so we headed up to the Heath. However, the wind had picked up and it was now very gusty – not ideal conditions for Dartford Warblers. We had a walk round, but couldn’t even hear any today – they were undoubtedly lying low out of the wind. A couple of Turtle Doves flew past us and landed deep in cover.

P1010400Gorse – the yellow flowers looked stunning once the sun finally came out

We had already started to walk back to the car when the sun finally came out. Some birds finally started to show themselves. A smart golden-headed male Yellowhammer perched up on a dead tree. A male Stonechat appeared from the gorse where we had been searching earlier and started to preen, but we were unfortunately out of time. As we headed back to the car, another Turtle Dove perched up in a birch tree briefly. Then it was time to head back.

We had managed to get a full day’s birding in, despite the rain’s best efforts, and a quick tally at the end of the day revealed we had seen and heard a very respectable 90 species – a very respectable total and well worth the effort.