Tag Archives: Snettisham

22nd May 2018 – Late Spring Birds, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Late Spring Tour today. We spent the day up in NW Norfolk. It was meant to be a sunny day, a bit breezy but nothing too bad. It turned out to be very windy all day, with gusts up to 36mph around the Wash, and clouded over late morning too, though at least it was dry.

We started the day at Snettisham Coastal Park. When we got out of the car and felt the full strength of the wind, we knew it would be a challenge here this morning. Still, we set off to see what we could find. A Greenfinch was singing and doing its butterfly display flight over the bushes by the entrance and we heard the piping calls of a couple of Bullfinch which flew off deeper into the bushes as we approached. A Chiffchaff was singing from the wires and a Common Whitethroat was singing too, from deep in a hawthorn.

Cutting across on the path through the reeds, to see if we could find any shelter, we could hear first a Reed Warbler and then a Sedge Warbler singing. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in cover. It was fairly windy here, but even more so when we got up onto the inner seawall.

At least the Swifts were enjoying the wind. There were quite a few over the Park today, flying low trying to find insects, and a couple of them came zooming low past us as we were up on the seawall.

Swift

Common Swift – there were several feeding low in the wind today

As we started to make our way north along the inner seawall, we noticed a bird fly up out of the trees and flutter up higher into the sky. It was a Turtle Dove, one of the birds we were hoping to find here, and it was doing a display flight. It towered up and then glided down, disappearing from view in the bushes.

A short while later, the Turtle Dove did a display flight again, but this time landed high up in a tall willow. It was rather distant, but we got it in the scope and had a quick look at it. We made our way a little closer, and took the path down off the seawall to where it was a bit more sheltered. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it had disappeared. We walked on north through the bushes. A singing Willow Warbler was a nice addition to the day’s warbler list.

When we got to the cross bank, we climbed up onto the outer seawall to have a look out over the Wash. It was still some time before high tide, but the mud was already completely covered – presumably the north wind was pushing the water in. We could see a large roost of Oystercatcher further up, gathered on the beach like a large oil slick. Several Gannets were flying up and down offshore, presumably blown into the Wash on the wind.

Gannets

Gannets – there were several offshore in the Wash this morning

A couple of Lapwing, several Shelduck, an Avocet and another Oystercatcher were all we could see on the pools to the north of the cross bank. Making our way over to the inner seawall again, Ken Hill Marshes provided just a few Greylag Geese and a pair of Gadwall. A Grey Heron flew past.

Surprisingly, given the weather, we saw quite a few butterflies and dragonflies. A Green Hairstreak was basking on a bramble leaf and a Common Blue perched up nicely on the vegetation too. A Hairy Dragonfly hung on the gorse right by a narrow path and didn’t fly off even as we walked right past it, presumably having found a warm spot out of the wind.

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak – basking on a bramble leaf

We started to make our way back south, through the bushes initially where it was more sheltered. We came across a family of Stonechats, the adults perching on the top of the bushes alarm calling, while the juveniles hid in the vegetation below. When we got up onto the inner seawall again, we stopped to talk to another birder walking the other way and a Turtle Dove flew past just below us.

Once we got back to the car, we decided to try something different. With the wind blowing the tide up into the Wash, we headed down to the hides at the pits to see if it had pushed any waders in with it. As we made our way in along the track, a few Sanderling flew up along the tideline and dropped on the shore together with a smart summer plumage Turnstone. A Ringed Plover on the beach was guarding a single very young juvenile, no more than a ball of fluff on stilts, and chased off anything which landed close by. A drake Pintail was sleeping on the edge of the water on the pit the other side.

When we got down to Rotary Hide, we could see there was still some mud left uncovered by the tide, out in front, and there were lots of waders out there. We took shelter in the hide and set about looking through them. Down towards the front were lots of smaller waders – an even mixture of black-bellied Dunlin and lots of white-bellied Sanderling in a bewildering variety of different plumages. There was a smart rusty summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit in with them, and a few more brown ones further back.

Waders

Waders – gathered out on the Wash ahead of the tide

Just beyond a large gathering of Oystercatchers was a big group of Grey Plover. Most of them were looking absolutely stunning now in full summer plumage, with black faces and bellies, bright white around the rest of the head and neck, and black and white spangled upperparts. There were even more Grey Plover on the mud much further out into the Wash, a huge flock mixed with lots of Knot too.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover – looking stunning now in breeding plumage

A pair of Avocet on the mud below the hide rounded out the waders here. There were also a few terns – several Common Terns flying backwards and forwards in front of the hide, calling noisily, and a pair of Little Terns further out, over the edge of the water. We had a quick look out on the pit behind us too. Apart from all the gulls and terns, the main thing of note was two drake Wigeon on the water at the back.

It had been well worth making the trip down here, but it was getting on for lunch time now, so we headed back to the car and round to Titchwell for the afternoon. After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. As we came out of the trees, a male Marsh Harrier flew right over our heads and out over Thornham Marsh. There is no shortage of Marsh Harriers here and we saw another two or three out over the reedbed too.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew over our heads as we got out of the trees

There was not much to see on the Thornham grazing marsh’s former pool, but a Spoonbill circled out over the saltmarsh and dropped down where we could get a quick look at it through the scope, before it walked down into a ditch and disappeared. It popped up a couple of times more briefly, as we walked on.

A couple of Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds beside the path, but keeping well tucked down out of the wind. We did see one or two flying across the small pools, but they dived swiftly into cover.

We had not expected to see any Bearded Tits given the wind today, but when we heard some pinging calls, we turned to see a female fly in and drop straight down into the reeds nearby. A few minutes later, she flew again and disappeared further back. Then a male Bearded Tit started calling from the reeds further along the path before flying up and coming straight past us.

There were lots of Common Swifts hawking for insects out over the reedbed pool. A drake Red-crested Pochard swam out from the reeds and out into the middle of the water. A Little Grebe laughed at us from the edge of one of the channels.

Given the wind, we thought we would head straight round to Parrinder Hide and check out the freshmarsh from there, but half way along the path we got distracted. A pair of Avocets were feeding just below the path, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallow water, and when we stopped to look at them we noticed a Little Ringed Plover on the nearest island.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – showing off its golden yellow eye ring

It flew back to the next island, but a few minutes later was back again, this time with a second Little Ringed Plover and a single Ringed Plover. We got a great look at them through the scope – particularly the golden yellow eye ring on the Little Ringed Plover and the orange legs and black-tipped orange bill on the Ringed Plover.

A Common Sandpiper was running around on the edge of one of the other islands, a migrant stopping off here on its way further north. Through the scope we could see the white notch running up between the grey of its breast and its wings.

There were two Little Gulls preening on the island further back. The next time we looked there were three, then four Little Gulls, all 1st summers. Two tiny Little Terns were next to them too – we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads. The Little Gulls put on a great show for us, flying round in front of us, dipping down to the water surface or down onto the mud, so we could get a good look at the ‘w’ pattern on their upperwings.

Little Gull 1

Little Gull – one of four 1st summers here today

Little Gull 2

Little Gull – showing off the black ‘w’ upperwing pattern

It was getting a bit chilly standing around out on the main path, so we eventually managed to tear ourselves away from all the birds here and head round to Parrinder Hide. It was not exactly tropical inside, but at least we were out of the wind.

There were more gulls on display here. We got a good look at a smart adult Mediterranean Gull preening on the island in front of the hide, next to several Black-headed Gulls for comparison. We could see the Mediterranean Gull’s jet black hood, contrasting white eyeliner, brighter red bill and legs and white wing tips. There were also lots of 1st summer Common Gulls on the island, plus a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls which dropped in to bathe and preen, and several Herring Gulls.

As well as the Little Terns, there were a couple of Common Terns on the Freshmarsh today too. A Sandwich Tern then helpfully dropped down onto the island where all the gulls were gathered. Through the scope, we could see its shaggy black crest and yellow-tipped black bill.

There are not many ducks on here now, with most of them having left for the summer. There were a few Gadwall and Shoveler, as well as a couple of broods of Mallard ducklings. A lone Teal was swimming around over the far side. A small group of Brent Geese dropped in from where they had been feeding out on the saltmarsh.

Sanderling

Sanderling – looking very different, in breeding plumage now

There were a few more waders visible from here too. We had seen a couple of Sanderling from out on the main path, but there were at least four out on the mud in front of the hide. They were looking very different from how we are most used to seeing Sanderling here, running around out on the beach in the winter in their silvery grey and white non-breeding attire. They were in breeding plumage now, much darker, peppered with black and rust in their upperparts, face and breast. They were causing lots of confusion amongst the other people in the hide!

There were several Ringed Plover out on the mud in front of the hide too. As they came close, we could see that one of them was noticeably larger, differently shaped with a bigger head, and also noticeably paler buff-brown on the upperparts.

A small number of Ringed Plover still breed along the coast here, as we had seen earlier at Snettisham. These are birds of the nominate race, hiaticula. At this time of year, we also get Tundra Ringed Plovers, of the race tundrae, which pass through on their way north to arctic Scandinavia. The Tundra Ringed Plovers are slightly smaller and darker – what we had here was a single local bird in with a flock of migrant tundrae.

Ringed Plover hiaticula

Ringed Plover – a larger paler bird of the nominate race hiaticula

Tundra Ringed Plover

Tundra Ringed Plover – a smaller darker bird of the arctic race tundra

It was really interesting to have the opportunity to compare the two races of Ringed Plover side by side. There were also three Little Ringed Plovers along the edge of the reeds below the bank. The Common Sandpiper flew in too and started to work its way along the edge of the island in front of the hide.

We had a quick look out at Volunteer Marsh from the other side of Parrinder Hide. There has not been much on here lately, and this appeared to be the case again today. We did find four summer plumage Grey Plovers though, after a careful scan.

It was too windy to brave the beach today, so we started to make our way back. We swung round via Meadow Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. There were four more Red-crested Pochard on here, three drakes and a female, and a Great Crested Grebe was a useful addition to the day’s list.

It was exposed and cold out at Patsy’s, so we didn’t stay long. We beat a hasty retreat, back to the warmth of the car. It was time to head for home.

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23rd Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 3

Day 3 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. The weather had turned after the mini heatwave of the last few days and it was cloudy and much cooler today, with a rather fresh and blustery WSW wind. Normal service has resumed!

We made our way over to the Wash coast to start the day, up to Snettisham Coastal Park. It was noticeably colder than of late when we got out of the car and it called for an extra layer of clothing to be donned all round! Given the wind too, it was rather quieter than normal as we walked in to the park. The bushes here are normally alive with warblers singing at this time of the year. At first, all we could hear were a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap.

The open grassy area north of the car park was fairly deserted, but there were loads of dogs here today, so it was rather disturbed. A flock of Linnets whirled round and dropped down up on the seawall. The tide was still coming in as we got up onto the seawall. There were hundreds of Oystercatcher out on the mud, along with a handful of Curlew and a few Brent Geese, but we couldn’t see anything else out there today.

As we made our way slowly north in and out of the bushes, there were gradually more warblers singing. First one or two Lesser Whitethroats, though keeping well tucked down. Then a couple of Sedge Warblers out in the reeds. A Common Whitethroat was subsinging quietly in the bushes and a second was singing but around the bases of some small hawthorns. It was quite a bit further up before we heard our first Willow Warbler.

There were a few birds moving again today, but not as many as yesterday. A couple of small flocks of Linnets looked to be on the move. Two Yellow Wagtails flew overhead silently. There was a steady trickle of Swallows heading south too, with smaller numbers of House Martin and Sand Martin as well.

As we approached the cross-bank at the north end of the Coastal Park, we could just hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from somewhere in the bushes, although it was getting drowned out by the wind and a Sedge Warbler which was much closer to us. There were already two people looking for it, but as we walked up towards them it went quiet. We waited a while but it did not start reeling again.

Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – the only one to be singing from the top of the bushes

We decided to walk up onto the inner seawall and scan the grazing marshes, and see if it started up again while we were away. We could hear another Common Whitethroat singing from the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat just behind. As we got up onto the seawall, the Common Whitethroat flew up into the very top of the bush to sing – what they should be doing at this time of year.

Looking out across the grazing marshes just to the north, we found a Whimbrel feeding out in the short grass. We had a good look at it through the scope – we could see its stripy head pattern.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding out in the short grass on the grazing marshes

There was still no hint of the Grasshopper Warbler starting to reel again, so we decided to walk back along the inner seawall to an area where there have been two Grasshopper Warblers with abutting territories recently. It was windy and hard to hear much on the seawall but sure enough, as we approached the area, we could hear both of the two Grasshopper Warblers singing intermittently.

We walked on to where there is a path down and made our way slowly in amongst the bushes, heading for one of the two reeling birds. We knew we were getting close, but as we slowly rounded a bramble patch, the Grasshopper Warbler saw us and flew off, appearing to land in another bush a bit further back. We made our way back round to where we had a clear view of it and thankfully after only a minute or so it started reeling again and we spotted it in the brambles.

Grasshopper Warbler

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling in the brambles

Everybody got a good look at it through the scope, before the Grasshopper Warbler eventually dropped down into the brambles. A Cuckoo was singing away in the distance, off to the south. The Grasshopper Warbler reeled again briefly and we had another quick look, but the trail had gone cold and it then went quiet. We had enjoyed a great look at it, so we left it in peace.

We walked back listening for the Cuckoo, but it too had gone quiet again now. We cut back across to the inner seawall and several Sedge Warblers were singing in the bushes in the reeds, where we could get a look at them. Another Grasshopper Warbler started reeling from somewhere deep in the vegetation, out of view.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – several eventually showed well

Up on the seawall, we made our way a short distance back to the north to scan the pools out on Ken Hill Marshes. There were several geese and ducks out around the water, including a single drake Wigeon, a lingering individual. As we turned to head back south again, a Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds down below the bank. A Common Swift flew past, heading south, our first of the year.

Back in the clear grassy area north of the car park, the Wheatears had reappeared. There were now at least three of them hopping around on the short grass, two females and a smart Greenland Wheatear male.

Wheatear

Wheatear – reappeared in the clear area N of the car park

When we got back to the car, there was still a bit of time before lunch, so we decided to swing round via Dersingham Bog and have a quick look there. As we walked down through the trees, we could hear various tits calling and a Coal Tit singing. A Treecreeper appeared behind us, climbing up the trunk of a large sycamore. Down at the bottom, a Willow Warbler was singing in the birches.

As we walked out onto the open heath at the bottom, we spotted a Stonechat, typically perched right on the top of the tallest heather, in full view. We could hear another Grasshopper Warbler reeling here too, but that typically was skulking down in some low brambles out on the edge of the heather. Having had such good views of one earlier, we didn’t waste any time trying to see it.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male typically perched up nicely

From somewhere up over the ridge, we could hear a Woodlark singing. It was probably in song flight, as it seemed to be moving, but appeared to be out of our view over the brow.

As we turned to walk back the other way, we heard the distinctive deep guttural ‘kronk’ of a Raven. These are still very scare birds here in Norfolk, but one has been reported in this area in recent weeks. It called again and seemed to be coming towards us, from over the trees on the top of the ridge, but although we stood and scanned for a minute it didn’t appear. We kept our eyes on the top of the ridge as we walked on and eventually saw a large black corvid briefly appear along the tree line some distance away to the north.

Further along, we could hear a Woodlark, possibly the same as we had heard earlier ot even a second bird. It did appear over the ridge briefly, hovering up in the sky, before dropping back down towards the ground and out of view. When we got up onto the ridge, it had disappeared. We did see a Green Woodpecker perched on a dead branch on the edge of the trees.

Making our way back through the trees, a Siskin was singing high in the top of the pines. We came across a couple of Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits in the trees too, and another Treecreeper. As we got back to the car, we heard a Nuthatch piping down in the wood. We made our way back to the car for lunch and afterwards headed inland.

We parked by a grassy field with a seed cover strip through the middle. The grass was peppered with a fantastic display of bright yellow flowers, thousands of Cowslip, all in bloom. Skylarks were singing overhead. We could see a few Yellowhammers in the hedge in the corner, dropping down into the cover strip. As we walked along the path on the edge of the field, they all flew up from down in the vegetation, at least 15 of them. A couple of browner birds were with them – Corn Buntings. The hedges are now quickly coming into leaf so the birds were hard to see in the bushes, but eventually we found one perched in the hedge where we could see it in the scope.

Our destination for the rest of the afternoon would be Holme dunes. We parked by the golf course and walked in past paddocks. the bushes here were rather exposed to the wind and quiet, apart from a rattling Lesser Whitethroat deep in cover and a couple of Greenfinches. A little further along the footpath, we heard yet another Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the bushes down by the access road, amazingly our sixth of the day!

Walking into the dunes, lots of Linnets came up from the short grass and a Common Whitethroat sang from the bushes. As we walked further in, we could see a couple of people looking over a bank with binoculars and rounding the corner of the dune blocking our view we could see why. Two Ring Ouzels, a male and a female, were feeding on the bare earth and short grass on the edge of the bushes. It was nice to see some on the ground, after getting mostly flight views the other day, so we had a good look at them through the scope.

Ring Ouzel 1

Ring Ouzel – first we saw a male and female together

We got a good look at the pure white gorget on the blacker male Ring Ouzel, and through the scope we also saw the fine white chevrons on its underparts. The browner female had an off-white gorget peppered with darker marks.

When the Ring Ouzels hopped up over the bank, we walked back a few metres the way we had just come and could see them feeding out in the open on a sandy area in the dunes. A movement just beyond, at the base of the bushes, caught our eye and there was a smart male Redstart perched low above the grass. We got it in the scope but just at that moment the couple we had seen earlier walked round the back of the bushes, and the Redstart flew off before everyone got a chance to look at it. The Ring Ouzels went off too across the dunes, chacking.

There was no sign of the Redstart now, so we walked to the south edge of the dunes and scanned the grazing marshes. We could hear a Bittern booming out in the reeds in the distance. A group of at least 30 Pink-footed Geese were standing out in the grass with the local Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter have long since left, so these ones should be heading off to Iceland for the breeding season soon too.

Scanning the muddy pools towards the front, we spotted a Common Snipe in the grass. When we got it in the scope, a Little Ringed Plover appeared just behind. There were several Ruff out here too, feeding around the muddy edges. A flock of around 25 Golden Plover flew up from the grass away over the grazing marshes south of The Firs. They circled round for several minutes, before dropping down again out of view, the first we have seen in the last few days.

Heading back into the dunes, we hoped the Redstart might have reappeared, but there was still no sign of it as we walked quietly round the bushes. There were a few hirundines moving, a trickle of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. We could see a Wheatear and a male Stonechat flicking around between the isolated bushes further back.

We found the Ring Ouzels again but they had gone back to being very flighty again, we could still see a male and a female together. Eventually two birds flew back in to the same place where we had first seen them and once again they settled down and allowed us to get a good look at them. However, there were now two females together and no sign of the male. Still we had a great view of them feeding down in the short grass.

Ring Ouzel 2

Ring Ouzel – one of the two females which showed very well

It was clear the Redstart had gone to ground and we were unfortunately running out of time, so we started to make our way back. The Grasshopper Warbler was still reeling down by the access road but was now perched up in full view in the top of the brambles, despite the wind. We had a great look at it through the scope before it dropped back down into cover.

As we got back to the car, a Sparrowhawk zipped over the car park. It was time to call it a day and head for home. Despite the wind and generally cooler conditions, we had seen or heard 96 species just today, which wasn’t at all bad!

18th Apr 2018 – North Norfolk in the Sun

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely day, more like summer than spring – the weather seems to lurch from one extreme to another at the moment. Blue sky and up to 24C, with a still rather strong wind to start the morning easing off.

We headed up to NW Norfolk to start the day, in the hope of seeing some migration. As we walked in to Snettisham Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler and then a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the bushes. A Willow Warbler called and we saw it flitting around low in the hawthorns, possibly a fresh arrival back from Africa.

A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from somewhere deep in the reeds – good to  hear as the population of Cetti’s Warbler here appears to have been hit quite hard by the winter weather. But there was no sign of the Ring Ouzel where it had been a couple of days ago – presumably some birds had moved on in the clear weather.

A few Mediterranean Gulls passed over heading south, in ones and twos. We could hear their strange nasal calls before we saw them. When they came overhead, we could see through their translucent white wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – several flew over Snettisham this morning

One of the locals told us there were some Wheatears on the clear area a bit further up so we walked over. There had been a male earlier, but we could only find two females now, flashing their white rumps as they flew up and away from us, feeding on the short grass.

A few birds had started to fly past along the seawall, migrating birds on their way to their breeding grounds. There was a steady trickle of Linnets, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits. We heard the distinctive calls of redpolls as a small group passed overhead, but we couldn’t see enough of them to identify them to species.

A sharp ‘tchreep’ alerted us to a Yellow Wagtail flying past. It was nice and low so we could get a good look at it – a smart male, with bright yellow face and underparts. It was the first of several we would hear or see here moving along the coast this morning. However, there were no Swallows or Martins moving this morning, which we might have expected at this time of year and given the weather.

There were several more Lesser Whitethroats singing before we came across a single Common Whitethroat. We stopped to watch it, songflighting from the tops of the bushes. We could see its grey head, white throat, and rusty wing edges. The Lesser Whitethroats have already returned in good numbers but the Common Whitethroats are only now starting to arrive.

A pair of Stonechats appeared on the bushes on the seawall and flicked off ahead of us as we approached. Then we spotted a lark feeding quietly down in the short grass nearby. Even before we looked at it, it appeared to be rather short-tailed and through the scope we could see that it was a Woodlark. We could see its well-marked pale supercilium, short crest and distinctive black and white marked feathers on the bend of the wing.

Woodlark

Woodlark – presumably a migrant stopped off to feed

Woodlarks nest not far from here, inland on the heaths, but they are not so regular down on the coast. This was most likely a migrant, stopping off here on its journey to feed and refuel.

The tide was high, so there wasn’t much to see out on the Wash this morning. Crossing over to the inner seawall, we scanned the grazing marshes and quickly located a large flock of Curlew roosting out in the long grass. Nearby, two slightly smaller, slimmer waders were busy feeding in the grass – two Whimbrel. Lots of Curlew spend the winter out on the Wash, but Whimbrel are just a spring migrant through here, so always nice to see at this time of year.

There were lots more warblers singing from the bushes as we walked back along the inner seawall. We had gone about halfway when we heard a distinctive reeling noise ahead of us – a Grasshopper Warbler. They have just started to return in the last few days, so we hurried towards where the sound appeared to be coming from. When we got there, we realised there were actually two Grasshopper Warblers singing against each other, presumably establishing a territorial boundary.

They were singing intermittently, but we eventually narrowed down the location of one of the Grasshopper Warblers to a large clump of brambles. Unfortunately, it didn’t want to show itself – it was still rather breezy and it was keeping well tucked down, unlike a Sedge Warbler which climbed up into the top of the same clump.

When we got back to the clear area where the Wheatears had been earlier, we found one of the females had been replaced by a smart male, with a bold black face mask. The Wheatears passing through here now are large, with richly marked burnt orange throat and breast, and a brown tinge to the grey of their upperparts. They are Greenland Wheatears, on their long journey from Africa most of the way across the Atlantic to Greenland to breed, an amazing feat for such a small bird.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a smart male of the Greenland race

With a small amount of time before lunch, we decided to head inland next to Dersingham Bog, just a short distance away. As we drove back towards the main road, we noticed a Swallow flying round near the houses, surprisingly the first we had seen today. Presumably it was a breeding bird already returned, rather than a migrant.

As we walked down through the trees, we could hear a Nuthatch calling and found it high in the branches of an old oak tree. It flew across to a pine nearby and a Great Spotted Woodpecker appeared next to it. As we watched, we noticed the Great Spotted Woodpecker climbed up to a fresh hole in the tree, presumably where it is or is planning to nest.

The wind had dropped and, with the sun out, the temperature was really climbing now. Perhaps as a consequence, it was very quiet out in the open. A male Stonechat sang from the top of the heather and song-flighted, hovering in front of us, but there was no sign of any Tree Pipits now. As we got back into the trees, we could hear a Goldcrest high in the pines.

Stonechat

Stonechat – Dersingham is a good site for this species

Lunch was eaten back at the car, joined by one of the other local birders who had just had a quick look out on the heath too. Then we headed over to Titchwell for the afternoon.

A quick look at the feeders in front of the visitor centre revealed a couple of Bramblings with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches. The Bramblings should be on their way back to Scandinavia soon. There was a report in the log of a Slavonian Grebe on Patsy’s Reedbed earlier, but no one in the visitor centre seemed to know anything about it. We decided to head round there first to check it out.

A single female Common Pochard was on the pool in front of Fen Hide, but there was no sign of any grebes on Patsy’s Reedbed. A small group of Black-headed Gulls was bathing out in the middle of the water, and one or two Mediterranean Gulls dropped in to join them briefly – looking very smart with their jet black hoods, white eyelids and bright red bills. A pair of Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed just beyond.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – one of the males over the reedbed

There was nothing in the paddocks today apart from a single Jackdaw – we had hoped there might be some wagtails stopping off to feed here – so we headed round via Meadow Trail and out onto the main part of the reserve.

The dried up ‘pool’ on Thornham grazing marsh looked empty at first too, as we scanned the puddles over towards the back. Then we realised the Little Ringed Plover was right down at the front, just beyond the reeds. We got it in the scope and could see its bright golden yellow eye ring.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – on the Thornham GM ‘pool’ again

The water level on the freshmarsh is looking great at the moment, but it is being rather dominated by the gulls which have taken over the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’. There were hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, with good numbers of Mediterranean Gulls in with them, plus a scattering of Common Gulls, Herring Gulls and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

There was one Common Tern back yesterday, but the numbers had doubled today – there were two. They spent most of the time we were there asleep in amongst the Black-headed Gulls on one of the strips of mud.

Common Tern

Common Tern – numbers had doubled today, now up to 2!

There were a few waders on the Freshmarsh. A scattering of Black-tailed Godwits included one or two birds already moulting into their smart rusty breeding plumage, ahead of the long journey back to Iceland to breed. There were a small number of Ruff and a couple of Redshank. Over beyond Parrinder Hide, we could see another Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands in the distance. There are a few Avocet on here too, but not as many as we might expect at this time of year.

Duck numbers are dwindling steadily, though there are still quite a few Teal here and several pairs of Shoveler. A good number of Brent Geese remain too, commuting between the saltmarsh out towards Thornham and the freshmarsh, where they fly in to bathe and preen. They should be leaving on their way back to Russia for the breeding season soon.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – still a good number remain

The Volunteer Marsh looked fairly quiet today – a few Redshank, a Curlew and a handful of Avocet feeding, plus several Shelduck. There were a few more waders in the channel at the far end, including a couple more Black-tailed Godwits. The Tidal Pools are still flooded, so we went straight on out to the beach.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding on Volunteer Marsh

The tide was out but there didn’t appear to be many waders out on the beach again today, apart from lots of Oystercatchers on the mussel beds. A lone Turnstone was feeding on there too. Scanning away to the west, we found a very distant couple of Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Curlew.

The only grebes we could find on the sea this afternoon were good numbers of Great Crested Grebes. Further out, we found a distant raft of Common Scoter and a couple of Red-breasted Merganser. Several Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth just offshore.

We made our way back to the car. As we passed the picnic area, we could hear a couple of Bramblings singing in the trees – although it can hardly be described as a song, more of a wheeze.

There had been a report of a Ring Ouzel in a field near Burnham Market, so we decided to try our luck there on our way back. There was no sign of it, but we did see a couple of pairs of Grey Partridge. A Red Kite circled lazily over. Then unfortunately it was time to call it a day and head for home.

11th March 2018 – More Snowy on the Coast

Sunday was a day off, and Mother’s Day, so with family commitments to attend to it looked like it would be a day in. Then news came through that the Snowy Owl had been relocated at Snettisham RSPB and was ‘showing well’. As quickly as we might be allowed, we ate our Sunday lunch and then headed up to the coast.

The Snowy Owl had been hunkered down in the grass before we arrived. Thankfully, it was in a fenced off area where it couldn’t be disturbed, and it was not at all phased by all the people gathered behind the fence. By the time we arrived, it had flown up onto a nearby fence post, where it continued to doze.

Snow Owl 2

Snow Owl 3

Snow Owl 4

Snow Owl 5

Snowy Owl – showed amazingly well at Snettisham

We watched the Snowy Owl here for some time. It was clearly still rather sleepy, and would regularly close its eyes, but also spent a lot of time looking round, presumably to see if any threats might be approaching. It showed no interest in a Brown Hare which ran almost underneath it and a couple of Red-legged Partridges walking through the grass nearby.

At one point, a group of Black-headed Gulls circled overhead and started to mob it briefly, the Snowy Owl ducking a couple of time, but remaining essentially unmoved. It stretched and preened a couple of times, showing off its enormous rounded wings, bigger than a Common Buzzard’s!

Snow Owl 8

Snowy Owl – having a stretch

As the afternoon wore on, it gradually started to become more active and alert. Eventually, after craning its neck to look round, the Snowy Owl took off and flew a short distance, landing again on another fence post just a little further down.

Snow Owl 9

Snow Owl 10

Snowy Owl – flew along to another fence post

Here the Snowy Owl was even closer to the fence, and it was now very much awake. Still, it stayed here for some time, clearly waiting for the right time to head out hunting or to head off on its way.

Snow Owl 6

Snow Owl 7

Snowy Owl – woke up as the light started to fade

Some video of the Snowy Owl this afternoon is linked below:

 

Eventually, with the light starting to fade, the Snowy Owl flew again, up onto the top of the inner seawall beyond. At that point, we had to leave. Apparently it then flew again, circling up and heading off south. At the time of writing it had disappeared and not been seen again.

It is almost 27 years since I was lucky enough to see the last Snowy Owl to turn up in Norfolk, in March 1991. Before that, you had to go back to 1938 to see one! It is certainly a rare bird here, and a magnificent one too. Well worth the effort to go and see again!

4th Feb 2018 – Owls & More

An Owl Tour today, back in North Norfolk. The weather forecast was far from ideal – we were warned to expect cold and blustery NE winds bringing wintry showers in off the North Sea. Still, it didn’t turn out as bad as forecast and it is amazing what you can find when you go out looking, despite the weather!

After meeting up, we headed straight down to the coastal marshes to see if any Barn Owls might be out hunting still. It was cold and windy and, after passing through a sleet shower on our way down to the coast this morning, it was perhaps no surprise they had already gone in to roost. Not to worry. We hoped we might get another opportunity to look for Barn Owls later in the day, weather permitting.

There were other birds to see here. Several Marsh Harriers hung in the air over the reeds, coming out of their roost. A flock of Curlew flew up from feeding down in the damp grass in the grazing meadows below us. Little groups of Brent Geese flew back and forth. A Water Pipit came up from the recently cut reeds and flew off calling, and a Grey Wagtail flew high over us the other way.

We decided to try our luck inland and look for some Little Owls instead. At the first site we stopped at, we got out of the car and looked across to the roof of some farm buildings across the other side of a field. There, tucked in below the ridge out of the wind, facing into the few rays of morning sun coming through the clouds, were two Little Owls. We had a good look at them through the scope, spotted with white above and streaked below. It was nice to get the first owls of the day under our belts. Three Stock Doves were on the roof too, a little further along.

Little Owls

Little Owls – these two were standing on a barn roof out of the wind

From here, we meandered our way west. We were heading up to the Wash, but had a quick look at some other owl sites on the way, just in case any others might still be out. There weren’t any more owls, but we did have a nice variety of other things on the way. A pair of Grey Partridges were hiding in a stubble field. A Green Sandpiper was bathing in a stream but flew up and away as we pulled up. A Bullfinch zipped across the road in front of us and disappeared into the brambles, flashing its white rump. There were a few raptors too – a Red Kite flapped lazily across a field beside the road, a Sparrowhawk circled up, plus several Common Buzzards and Kestrels.

Eventually, we arrived at the Wash. As we got up to the seawall, we could see the tide was just going out. There were still lots of waders on the mud, chasing the rapidly receding waters down, so we stopped to take a closer look. The sky had cleared now and the first thing that struck us was a large flock of Golden Plover positively shining in the sunshine out on the mud.

Golden Plovers 1

Golden Plover – catching the sun, out on the Wash

Through the scope, we could see more waders. Large tight flocks of Knot and Oystercatcher, lines of Bar-tailed Godwits, plus Dunlin and Grey Plover more liberally scattered over the mud. In amongst them, we found two Avocets, hardy individuals which have probably decided to linger here through the winter (although others are already starting to move back). A few Redshank were picking around on the mud just below us and a Ringed Plover flew in and landed briefly nearby.

The waders were constantly on the move, following the tide. Periodically, a flock would fly up, whirl round and land again further down. It was great to watch the Knot in particularly, swirling out over the water, flashing alternately white and dark grey. The Golden Plover put on a show too, whooshing across in front of us, before circling up and then dropping back down to the mud. There was no sign of any raptors though, they were probably just nervous in the wind.

Golden Plovers 2

Golden Plover – the flock swirled around in front of us

There were ducks here too. The mud was covered with a sprinkling of white Shelduck, whereas the dark mass gathered on the edge of the water was a large flock of Teal. More Shelduck were swimming in the mouth of the channel and in with them we could see several Pintail too. A drake Goldeneye flew past behind us, flashing black of white, the first of several we saw here today.

However, we had not come here to look out at the delights of the Wash, so we tore ourselves away and headed round to the pits.

Goldeneye

Goldeneye – this drake flew past us over the pits

There have been a couple of Short-eared Owls roosting here this winter and, carefully scanning the bushes on our way round, we quickly found one of them hunched up under a mass of brambles. We got it in the scope and could see its ear tufts and staring yellow eyes.

Short-eared Owls

Short-eared Owl – roosting under the brambles again

Once we had all had a good look at the Short-eared Owl, we decided to head back to the car. The weather was much improved, but it was still cold in the wind and exposed out by the vast expanse of the Wash. We headed round to Titchwell for a couple of hours ahead of the afternoon owl shift.

It was time for lunch but, as we made our way from the car park to the Visitor Centre, we noticed a little patch of rusty colour, subtly contrasting with the browner leaves, half hidden underneath the sallows. A quick look confirmed it was a Woodcock! Gathering the group together, we had frame-filling views of it through the scope. Not an owl, but a real highlight to see one of these often so elusive birds so well.

Woodcock

Woodcock – feeding beneath the sallows between the car park & Visitor Centre

The Woodcock was tucked up asleep at first. After lunch (and a very welcome hot drink!), as we made our way back to the car to put away our bags, it was feeding more actively. We watched it walking round slowly, probing in the leaves, before it turned and disappeared beneath the branches.

There were a few birds around the feeders – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, plus Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. As we started to make our way out onto the reserve, a quick look in the ditch by the main path revealed a Water Rail feeding on the far bank. It tried to hide under the overhanging brambles at first, before coming right out into the open for us, probing in the rotting leaves.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well in the ditch below the main path

The old pool out on Thornham grazing marsh looked particularly devoid of life at first. Scanning more carefully, we found a Reed Bunting feeding in some dead seedheads down near the front and, while we were watching it, a head popped up nearby. The Water Pipit was hard to see at first, lurking in a line of taller vegetation, picking around unobtrusively. Occasionally it would appear in an opening, and eventually we all got a good look at it through the scope.

A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds at the back and another was out over the reedbed the other side. Continuing on our way, the reedbed pool held a few Tufted Ducks and a scan of the Lavender Marsh as we passed revealed a single Grey Plover on the pool and a lone Black-tailed Godwit on the saltmarsh with a couple of Wigeon and Teal.

The freshmarsh is still flooded with water at the moment, meaning that there is not so much to see on here currently. The ducks like it though, with a number of Common Pochard in particular in a big raft towards the back. On the small piece of island remaining exposed above the flood by the junction to Parrinder Hide, we could see several Red-crested Pochards too, the males standing out with their bright orange heads (despite the fact they were all fast asleep), very different from their commoner cousins.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochards – the drakes sporting bright orange heads

With some dark clouds out towards the beach, we opted for safety and headed for Parrinder Hide. It was a wise call, as shortly after we arrived the skies opened and it started to hail heavily. Thankfully, it was just a shower and passed through quickly, but we were certainly pleased to be inside as it did.

There was not so much else to see on the freshmarsh today. There were lots of Lapwing on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and a few Golden Plover in with them too. A flock of 14 Avocet flew in after the shower, but ended up landing out in the water, given the lack of islands to stand on. We watched them swimming for a while, bobbing up and down, looking decidedly out of place, before they finally plucked up the courage to fly over and join all the Lapwing.

Avocets

Avocets – swimming on the freshmarsh, given the high water levels

As the rain stopped, we made our way round to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were a few waders out on the mud in front of the hide at first, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Avocet, but they all flushed as a Marsh Harrier flew over and landed further back.

With the break in the weather, we made a quick dash out further along the main path. The sun even came out for a time! We had great views of several more waders close in along the near edge of the Volunteer Marsh, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Redshank. A Lapwing looked particularly stunning, its upperparts gleaming metallic green, bronze and even purple in the sunshine!

Lapwing

Lapwing – looking stunning in the bright sunshine

The Tidal Pools looked quite quiet as we stuck our heads up over the bank, apart from a couple of Little Grebes diving just below us. A more careful scan revealed a pale silvery grey and white wader asleep, tucked down on the edge of the saltmarsh, a lone Spotted Redshank in winter plumage. A nice bonus!

There was no time to head out to the beach today, as our focus needed to be back on owls for the afternoon. We made our way quickly back to the car, and set off back east. With the cold winds along the coast, we decided to head inland to see if we could find any sheltered spots where Barn Owls might be hunting.

Almost immediately, on our way down to the first meadows we wanted to check, a Barn Owl flew across the road in front of us. It disappeared round behind some houses, before reappearing again, back across the road and down to the meadows where we had hoped to find it. It worked its way quickly down a hedge through the middle of the meadow, flicking over either side, before landing on a post on the bottom of the field. We had a good look at it here, but by the time we got the scope up, it was on the move again and disappeared out the back.

That was a positive start, but we hoped to have more prolonged views of Barn Owls out hunting this afternoon. Spurred on, we drove round to another area where they like to hunt, and once again we spotted a Barn Owl before we even arrived! We followed it down to the main meadow and found somewhere to park. As we got out of the car to watch it, a second Barn Owl appeared.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – out hunting over the meadows this afternoon

The two Barn Owls quartered the meadow for a while, each seemingly oblivious to the other, focused solely on its search for prey. The second bird disappeared over the hedge at the back – we could still see it hunting over another meadow further down – before a third Barn Owl appeared over the grass in front of us.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – one of three out hunting these meadows this afternoon

For over half an hour, we watched transfixed as the Barn Owls hunted. They worked their way back and forth, round and round the meadows, seemingly in a random pattern, searching the grass. Occasionally, one would drop down into the grass, but we didn’t see them successfully catch anything while we were there. We did get a good look at them through the scope down on the ground though. In particular, as a light snow shower passed over briefly, they settled for a minute.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – they would drop down in the grass occasionally

Eventually, the remaining two Barn Owls started to move off, heading away in different directions, hunting different patches. We decided to move on too. We made our way back down to the coast road and headed back east. There were no more Barn Owls out hunting along here this afternoon, but we didn’t stop to look too hard, after enjoying such fantastic views of them earlier.

We had an appointment down in the woods at dusk. We were a little early arriving this evening, so we walked through to look out over the meadows beyond as dusk fell. We had to retreat to the shelter of the trees on our first attempt, as another wintry shower passed through. As it cleared, we walked back to find a Barn Owl perched on a post on the edge of the meadows. We watched it for a while as it resumed hunting, flying round over the grass, occasionally dropping down into the taller vegetation.

A Tawny Owl hooted and we made our way back into the trees and down to an area where one of the males is known to favour. The Tawny Owls were a bit subdued this evening, possibly due to the weather, and it got dark rather quickly given the cloud. We did hear another pair hooting back behind us, deeper in the woods. Eventually, the male Tawny Owl we were listening for hooted again a couple of times. We set off along the path to see if we could see it, but it went quiet again before we got there. The next time we heard it, it had moved further off.

We stood and listened to the male Tawny Owl hooting for a while, a really evocative sound and always great to hear, before it started to get too dark and we called it a night.

 

20th Jan 2018 – Seeking Owls

An Owl Tour today. It was cloudy and rather cold all day, but with light winds and the rain mostly held off – just a little light drizzle late morning and spots of rain for a time again early afternoon.

With an early start, we hoped to catch a Barn Owl out hunting still, and so it proved. After meeting up, we drove straight down to the grazing marshes on the coast and climbed up onto the seawall. There was a Barn Owl flying round over the grass. It flew up and down, landing a couple of times on a fence post, where we could get it in the scope. We all had a good look at it before it took off again and disappeared round the back of the reeds.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – out hunting still on our arrival this morning

The Barn Owl had been a bit distant from where we were standing, so we walked up along the seawall for a closer look. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds as we passed. Then a Water Pipit flew up calling from an area of recently cut reed and two Grey Partridge flew across and dropped down in the middle of the same cut area, presumably to feed on any spilled seed. A flock of Curlew flew past us calling, heading inland.

The Barn Owl reappeared again, and was much closer to us now. We watched as it flew round again, staring intently down into the grass. It dropped down at one point, but came up again quickly with no sign of having caught anything, before landing on a nearby post briefly. When it took off again, it flew straight over towards us and made its way right past below the bank, before heading off inland presumably to roost.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – a nice flypast as it headed off to roost

There were other birds here too. One or two Marsh Harriers quartered the reeds and we spotted a Kestrel perched on a telegraph post. Several geese were flying back and forth – including six Brent Geese which came right over our heads, and a couple of skeins of Pink-footed Geese further out over the grass. A Little Egret and a Rock Pipit were both feeding on the pools on the saltmarsh beyond the seawall. Another Barn Owl was only seen as it disappeared into a box to roost, before anyone could get onto it.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding on the pools on the edge of the saltmarsh

With the Barn Owls here having probably gone to roost now, we walked back to the car. We could hear Grey Partridge calling and looked across to see a pair on the bank in front of us. They then flew down into the grass, where we got a good look at them in the scope.

Some movement in the reeds on the edge of the ditch below us turned out to be a Chiffchaff. Mostly this is just a summer visitor and passage migrant here, but with increasingly mild winters a few stay on. In contract, Cetti’s Warbler is resident. We had heard a couple calling on our walk and, having just explained how it was unusual to see one out in the open, a Cetti’s Warbler flew past us and landed briefly in the top of a clump of brambles!

Our next target for the morning was Little Owl. On our drive inland to look for them, we noticed a white shape flying along the verge beside the road in front of us, another Barn Owl still out hunting. We drove slowly behind it for several minutes, watching it – it seemed oblivious to our presence. It landed briefly on a road sign, then carried on hunting. When it turned down a side road, it flicked over the hedge out of view, working the edge of the field. Then it came back over the hedge further along, crossing the road in front of us and going over the hedge the other side, before flying back the other way, behind us. Great to watch!

We stopped by a set of farm buildings where we know there are Little Owls. There was no obvious sign of them at first – perhaps not a great surprise as they like to perch up in the morning sun and today was cold and cloudy! As we walked round the other side, scanning carefully, we found one tucked in under the roof of an old barn. It was not easy to see from here – we could only see half of it and it was facing the other way – but we could make out its back spotted with white and the false eye pattern on the back of its head.

Little Owl

Little Owl – we could jut see the back of this one, hiding under the roof

We walked back round to the front of the barns, but the Little Owl had tucked itself in so well it was not visible at all from this side. There were a few other birds here – a few Brent Geese, Common Gulls and Curlew in the fields, and a pair of Stock Doves on the roof of one of the other barns.

The weather looked like it might be brightening a little, so we carried on our way west, hoping we might find another Little Owl elsewhere. However, we hadn’t gone far before it started to spit with rain. We drove past several more sets of occupied barns on our way, but there was no sign of any of the other Little Owls. It was just not the weather now for them to be sitting out, and we weren’t helped by lots of disturbance today too – a farmer with his dog was walking round the buildings at one site, a shoot was gathering outside another. We did see another late Barn Owl still out, perched on a post out in a field, looking slightly bedraggled.

Our next destination was Snettisham. As we got up onto the seawall, a smart drake Goldeneye was diving on the pit below the bank. The tide was out, and we were greeted by a vast expanse of mud stretching across to Lincolnshire in the distance, the Wash. There were a few smaller waders on the near edge, little groups of grey Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plover too with nearest of them.

Dunlin

Dunlin – feeding out on the mud of the Wash

There were clearly lots of waders out on the mud in the distance. Further out, we could see a few Grey Plover and Curlew. A tighter group beyond them was a line of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot, busy feeding. A slick of Golden Plover was spread out across the mud, remarkably hard to see until we got them in the scope. Another flock of Golden Plover whirled round over the fields just inland, before dropping down out of view.

There were ducks out on the Wash too, lots of Teal and Mallard in flocks asleep on the edge of the muddy channels. Shelduck were liberally scattered across the mud. Inland, a big flock of Wigeon flew up calling before dropping back down behind the inner seawall.

There has been a Shorelark here in recent weeks, but we hadn’t heard anything about it for a while. We had a quick walk up along the tideline to see if it was still here and just as it seemed like it might have gone, we noticed some movement in all the seaweed and dry vegetation lined up along the top of the beach. Sure enough, it was the Shorelark. We had great views of it as it crept around in and out of the piles of vegetation, looking for seeds, its pale yellow face with distinctive black bandit mask and collar.

Shorelark

Shorelark – along the tideline at Snettisham again this morning

As we made our way back along the track, we caught sight of a smart drake Pintail on the water below the bank. There were more Goldeneye diving out on the pits, and a couple of Little Grebes too. A flock of Tufted Duck flew off past us. On the main pit there were good numbers of Wigeon and a couple of Gadwall too, plus lots of Greylag Geese.

Walking round, we scanned the bushes and spotted a shape under the brambles. It was a Short-eared Owl roosting. We got it in the scope and had a look at it, but it was facing away from us at first. Another scan and we found a second Short-eared Owl in the bushes nearby. This one was looking straight at us.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two roosting here today

We stood and watched the Short-eared Owls for a few minutes. They were not doing very much, but would occasionally turn their heads. A pair of Brown Hares came chasing through the bushes towards them and ran straight into the brambles where the second Short-eared Owl was perched. We watched as it looking round and down towards them, making sure there wasn’t any threat, before going back to sleep.

After lunch back at the car, we started to make our way back east. We had hoped to have another go at finding another Little Owl on our way back, but having eased off earlier it now started to spit with rain again. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of any more owls still. We did find a big flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field beside the road and had a quick stop to look at them.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field

When we got back to the coast, it stopped raining again, so we went back to the grazing marshes to see if any owls were coming out to hunt. As walked out on the seawall, we heard a Water Pipit call and looked down to see it feeding on the edge of a puddle where the reeds had just been cut. This time we had a good look at it through the scope, noting it pale off-white underparts with neat black streaking, and its prominent pale supercilium. A pair of Stonechats was feeding nearby too.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding around a puddle in the recently cut reeds

It was getting late now, and the light was starting to fade. We could see a big flock of Brent Geese feeding out on the grass in the distance and watched as they took off and flew across the marshes, heading off to roost.

A Barn Owl appeared behind us. It flew in over the reeds, past us on the bank, and headed out across the grazing marshes. It was a noticeably darker bird than the one we had seen here this morning. It hunted for a minute or so around the edge of the reeds out in the middle, then headed off over the other side.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – a different bird, came out to hunt late this afternoon

It was getting late now. We already had a good haul of owls for the day, but there was one more still we wanted to try to see, so we headed inland again, and up to the woods. We walked through the trees and stood looking out over the grazing marshes as we waited for the light to fade. As we watched, several ducks flew in and landed down in the pools to feed, Mallard and Gadwall.

Then a Tawny Owl hooted from the trees behind us. We walked back into the wood and it hooted again. We looked over in that direction and saw a large shape fly out, disappearing off through the trees, as the Tawny Owl came out of its roost and headed off for the night.

We walked down along a path to an area where we know another male Tawny Owl favours. We had a short wait, but after a while it finally appeared through trees, and perched high above us. We managed to get it in the scope, silhouetted against the last of the day’s light, and watched it hooting, turning round on the branch, looking down towards us.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – silhouetted against the last of the light, hooting

The Tawny Owl stayed in the trees above us for several minutes, hooting on and off, before eventually it took off and disappeared deeper into the wood. We could still hear it, hooting in the distance, as we walked back to the car. It was a great way to end a very successful day out, seeking owls.

14th Jan 2018 – Norfolk Winter & Owls #3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, our last day, and we were back exploring North Norfolk. It was another dull and cloudy day, but rather mild with very light winds and dry once again.

After meeting up this morning, we headed west before turning inland off the coast road. We hadn’t gone far when a ghostly shape flew across the road in front of us – a Barn Owl. It landed on a post by a gate, but flew off behind the hedge as we pulled up. We didn’t see it disappear across the field so we had a hunch it might have landed on another post further along, and as we looked round the hedge there was the Barn Owl. It flew again, across the grassy paddock, but landed on the fence the other side in full view.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – finally, we had really good views of one this morning

The Barn Owl stayed standing on the post for some time – now we could get a really good look at it. Eventually it dropped down into the grass and appeared to catch something. It flew back up to the post briefly, and then disappeared off silently through the trees behind. There seem to be rather few Barn Owls out hunting in daylight hours at the moment, presumably because they are not struggling to hunt at night, so it was great to get one out during the morning.

Our first scheduled stop of the morning was at Thornham. There had been a couple of Waxwings here for the last few days, feeding on windfall apples in the orchards, and we were hoping to see them. Reports had suggested that they had flown off yesterday afternoon, but thankfully we received a message to say they were back this morning.

When we arrived, we found a couple of cars and several people with binoculars standing around in the car park not really looking anywhere. We decided to check the orchard the Waxwings had been favouring yesterday and were on our way over when we looked up into the tall tree by the entrance and there was a Waxwing! We got it in the scope and had a nice look at it.

Waxwings are very smart birds – from the punk crest to the delicate wing markings with red waxy tips to the wing coverts and yellow tip to the tail. It dropped down into the orchard and disappeared, presumably to feed, but a few minutes later it was back up again in another tree. This time it flew across and landed on top of a telegraph post on the other side of the car park.

Waxwing

Waxwing – perched for ages on a telegraph post in the car park

The Waxwing stayed on the top of the post for some time. There was no sign of the second bird which has been with it in recent days, so perhaps it was looking for it, or any other Waxwings which might be around. It meant we had a great opportunity to admire it. Eventually, the lone Waxwing flew over us calling and dropped back down into the orchard.

There were a few other birds here. A couple of Fieldfares were in the tall tree when we first located the Waxwing, and more appeared up from the orchard at one point, along with a few Redwings and a Song Thrush.

However, the other stars of the show were across the road, a huge flock of hundreds of Linnets on the wires across a weedy field. They kept flying down to feed, in flocks of several hundred at a time, before flying back up to the wires. Linnets used to be common farmland birds here but have declined substantially in recent years, so it is great to see such a large number and goes to show what can happen when food is left for them.

Linnets

Linnets – in their hundreds, lining up on the wires

It was just a short drive from here round to the harbour. As we drove down the road by the saltmarsh, we could see several people with telescopes pointing down into the vegetation. When we got out, we could see they were watching a flock of Twite. We got out of the car and had a look at them – we could see their orange breasts and yellow bills, which in winter set Twite apart from Linnets. We could also hear the nasal, twangy ‘tveet’ calls from which they get their name.

This is another species which used to be much more common here, but it is not the loss of habitat in Norfolk which is the problem, as they feed mostly out on saltmarsh. Twite are just winter visitors here, and these birds come from the Pennines where the breeding population of Twite has declined markedly in recent years. Thornham is one of the last regular wintering sites, and there are just 20-30 here these days.

Twite

Twite – we had great views of the flock right by the road today

It was proving to be a successful morning, so after admiring the Twite we made our way round to Titchwell next. As we made our way out onto the reserve, we had a quick look at the feeders by the visitor centre, but there were just a few Chaffinches, Goldfinches and the commoner tits here today.

Walking up the main path, we scanned the ditches either side carefully, looking for any movement. One of the group spotted something lurking down in the vegetation and sure enough it turned out to be the Water Rail. It scuttled away deeper in, but then worked its way back towards us and we had a nice view of it feeding in the rotting leaves down in the water.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch by the main path again

Next stop was by the Thornham grazing meadow pool. At first it looked rather quiet here, but scanning carefully around the edges we found a Water Pipit creeping around on the mud on the edge of the reeds. We got it in the scope and everyone had a look at it – noting particularly its pale, off-white underparts neatly streaked with black – before it disappeared back into the reeds.

Out on the freshmarsh, the water level is still very high but there were fewer ducks than of late. There were still plenty of Shelduck and Teal, plus a few Gadwall. Several Common Pochard were lurking around the small island towards the back and a small group of Tufted Ducks were diving out in the middle of the water.

Teal

Teal – looking very smart now in breeding plumage

With the water level high, there are few waders on here at the moment, apart from a few Lapwings and Golden Plover. A little more of the top of the island by the junction with the path to Parrinder Hide was visible today. As well as the Lapwing on here, and a single Golden Plover, a small group of Knot had flown in to bathe, along with a few Dunlin.

The tide was out and the Volunteer Marsh was rather dry now.  We managed to get a Grey Plover in the scope, and could see a scattering of Curlew, Redshank, Knot and Dunlin out on the mud. We also had good views of a Black-tailed Godwit in the channel at the front by the main path.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Volunteer Marsh

Out at the Tidal Pools, we found where all the ducks were hiding. There were lots of Shoveler out here today, all asleep with their bills tucked in, as well as more Teal. Several Wigeon were feeding on the islands of saltmarsh. There were about half a dozen Pintail here too, including some smart drakes, though they were busy feeding with their heads under water for much of the time. A few Little Grebes were diving out on the pools.

Eight Avocets were sleeping out on the end of one of the muddy spits, a slight increase on the five that we have seen here recently. Otherwise, there were not many other waders on the Tidal Pools today, just a few more Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks.

Avocets

Avocets – eight were here today, sleeping on the Tidal Pools

Most of the interest at Titchwell today was out on the sea, so we hurried out to the beach. The tide was out, so everything was distant from the top of the beach, but we scanned from the dunes to see what we could see. There has been a little group of Long-tailed Ducks here for a while now, and we could see them diving close to the shore away to the west of us.

Scanning through the Goldeneye, we could see two much larger ducks, with a prominent wedge shaped head and bill – Common Eider. There are always several Common Scoter offshore here but it took us a bit of time to find the single Velvet Scoter. It was rather distant, but everyone had a look at it through the scope and managed to see the white in the wings which is one of the easiest ways to distinguish Velvet Scoter from Common Scoter. A small grebe offshore with clean black cap and white cheeks was a winter-plumaged Slavonian Grebe.

With the Long-tailed Ducks close inshore today, we decided to walk out across the sand towards Thornham Point to get a better views. With only very light winds today, it was pleasant out in the open on the sand. We stood on the shore opposite where the Long-tailed Ducks were feeding and had cracking views of them, swimming on the sea, diving for shellfish or preening. There were at least nine of them, including several stunning males. Close up, we could see the striking elongated central tail feathers on the drakes, from which they get their name.

Long-tailed Ducks

Long-tailed Ducks – great views just offshore today from down on the beach

After we had enjoyed a great look at the Long-tailed Ducks, they had a brief fly round for us, before landing back down on the water a little further out. There were several Common Scoter here too, close inshore, and from this range we could even see the yellow stripe down the top of the bill of the otherwise black drake.

Some of the other divers and grebes had apparently drifted off further west, so we walked down along the shore to Thornham Point. There were lots of waders out on the beach here, mainly Bar-tailed Godwits, walking round probing in the sand with their long, slightly upturned bills. There were a couple of Dunlin and Oystercatchers with the godwits and a few Sanderling and Turnstones flew past along the edge of the sea.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwits – feeding out on the beach towards Thornham Point

As we arrived at Thornham Point, several people were just leaving. They had not seen the Black-necked Grebe which was supposedly down this end. We stopped to scan the sea, but it was hard to see the birds being so low down on beach, they were disappearing in the light swell despite the sea being fairly flat calm. They were also diving all the time. We did manage to find the Black-necked Grebe, briefly but we lost track of it again before everyone could get to see it.

It was getting late now, and we still hadn’t eaten. After a brisk walk back along the beach we headed straight back to the visitor centre for a rather late lunch.

After lunch, we made our way over to Snettisham. The light was already going by the time we arrived. Looking out across the Wash, there was a vast expanse of mud – it was not a big tide today, and the tide was just starting to come in. The waders were scattered widely across the mud, apart from a couple of big groups of Oystercatchers which were huddled up together. There were lots of ducks here too, especially Shelduck out on the water’s edge and Mallard gathered around the channels in the mud. We had a quick walk up along the tide line but there was no sign of the Shorelark here now today.

We had come here mainly looking for owls. There was no sign of any out hunting yet, but scanning the bushes carefully we found a Short-eared Owl roosting under bramble. A second Short-eared Owl was roosting in the brambles nearby. They were both still asleep, with their heads tucked down, but they did look round a couple of times so we could see them properly through the scope.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two roosting in the brambles today

Short-eared Owls can often be found out hunting in the late afternoon, so we stood here for a few minutes to see if they might wake up and start flying round, but they were obviously not hungry enough at moment. They are probably finding enough food at night.

We saw a few other birds here. There were several Goldeneye on the pits, as well as a couple of Little Egrets. Some Greylag were on the pits, but more were gathering noisily in the fields just inland, before going to roost. There is a large roost of Pink-footed Geese on the Wash off Snettisham, but there was no sign of any here yet.

It was starting to get dark so it was time to make our way back. As we did, we could see long lines of dots approaching in the sky. We watched and listened as thousands and thousands of Pink-footed Geese flew in from the fields and headed out towards the Wash, coming in to roost. We stayed for several minutes as more and more birds came over. It was stunning sight and a great way to end the three days.