Tag Archives: Spoonbill

10th July 2021 – Summer Tour, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day Summer Tour, including a Nightjar Evening today. It was a cloudy start, but brightened up nicely with some sunshine and hazy high cloud particularly through the morning. We spent the day in North Norfolk.

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. A couple of Coal Tits were singing in the nearby pine trees as we got out of the minibus. A couple of orange-headed juvenile Marsh Harriers were circling over the meadow across the road as we pulled up, and drifted round behind the trees as we set off down the permissive path. A Gatekeeper fluttered up and landed again in the hedge, our first of the year.

Gatekeeper – our first of the year

There were a few birds singing in the copse at the end, the melodic tones of a couple of Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff doing what it says on the tin, and a Wren making a lot of noise for such a small bird. A Magpie chacked in the trees too. Making our way down along the river bank, we could see a few House Martins around the house on the ridge.

The vegetation between the path and the Fen is very overgrown now, making it difficult to see over but we could make out a sizeable huddle of large white birds. Up onto the seawall, and we had a much better view of the Spoonbills. We counted 29. There were three Little Egrets with them too. The Spoonbills were mostly asleep, but one or two were awake and showing off their spoons, including a recently fledged juvenile with its noticeably shorter, fleshy-coloured bill – a ‘teaspoonbill’.

Spoonbill – some of the 29 on the Fen today

There were lots of waders too – a large roost of Black-tailed Godwits, sitting out the high tide in the harbour; several pairs of Avocets, some still with fluffy young; a couple of Little Ringed Plovers on the island. We got the scope on a Common Sandpiper feeding in the shallow water, and another two flew up from behind the reeds, over the seawall, and disappeared up over the water in the harbour channel. We counted at least five Green Sandpipers feeding round the edges, in and out of the reeds, and seven Greenshank roosting over high, with a small group of Common Redshank.

There were gulls coming in to bathe and loaf too, and a couple of Common Gulls dropped in with the Black-headed Gulls. Several Egyptian Geese were scattered around the islands, along with a lone rusty eclipse drake Wigeon. Two Stock Doves flew in and landed on the grass.

Another large white bird flew in and landed among the Spoonbills, its long neck towering above the sleeping birds, a Great White Egret. We could see its long dagger-like yellow bill. A Grey Heron was asleep in amongst the Spoonbills too – the Great White Egret was clearly pretty comparable to it in size.

The Reed Warblers were very active, flitting around in the reeds below and coming up to feed in the flowers on the bank, along with one or two Sedge Warblers too. A Common Tern was flying up and down over the harbour channel, looking intently down into the water for fish.

Common Tern – hunting over the harbour channel

Continuing on round to the harbour, the tide was starting to go out, and there were now a few waders on the emerging sandbars and muddy edges. There were already several Curlew and more dropping in. A single Whimbrel flew across low over the water but landed out of view. Five Grey Plover dropped in on one of the sandbars, along with a single Dunlin. Several Ringed Plovers were hiding in the short vegetation on the mud on the other side of the channel.

There were lots of Common Terns fishing out in the shallow water in the harbour. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew in past us, heading up the channel towards the Fen, flashing its translucent white wingtips. We could see the seals out on the tip of Blakeney Point too. It is a lovely view from here – we could stand here all day – but we had to tear ourselves away as we had more to do today.

As we were walking back, a small falcon came fast out from the Fen and over the seawall ahead of us. A Hobby. It dropped down low over the saltmarsh and zoomed out to the harbour, before turning and heading off east. It was gone in a flash, a super fast hunter. Back at the Fen, we stopped to watch one of the juvenile Marsh Harriers begging from the male, circling round after it.

We made our way round to Cley next, parking at Walsey Hills. A couple of eclipse drake Tufted Ducks were on Snipe’s Marsh, and a Cormorant was fishing in the ditch opposite as we walked along the road to the East Bank.

There were lots of Reed Warblers flicking around the edges of the reeds and feeding in the flowers at the bottom of the bank. A Sedge Warbler was singing its mad, unstructured, scratchy song from the top of a small bush below the bank, but flicked out into the reeds as we approached. The Bearded Tits were rather quiet today, despite the still conditions – a tawny coloured juvenile perched briefly in the tops, and we saw several zipping back and forth low over the reeds in typical Bearded Tit fashion. The Reed Buntings were, as ever, more obliging.

Reed Bunting – perched up obligingly

The male Yellow Wagtail has been singing here since the middle of May but has still not found a mate. We could hear it on the walk out this morning, but the grass is so long now, we couldn’t see it despite scanning several times. Several small flocks of Starlings flew west over the bank. One group of three included a strikingly pale bird – unfortunately just a leucistic Starling rather than anything more exciting.

There were lots of Greylags out on the grazing marshes and several Curlew in the grass. We had seen a Spoonbill distantly dropping down on the marshes as we got out of the minibus earlier, but there was no sign of it again until it suddenly walked up out of a ditch in the middle. We had a good view in the scope, an adult with a yellow tip to its long black bill.

There were quite a few Avocets on the Serpentine, a small group sleeping on the far edge and more feeding in the water. A flock of Lapwings dropped in. We could see a small wader on Pope’s Pool at the back, and through scope we confirmed it was a Wood Sandpiper. We could see its white-spangled upperparts and more obvious pale supercilium. It was nice to see one after being frustrated by the hiding Wood Sandpiper yesterday. A Greenshank flew over high, calling, and continued on west.

There were lots of gulls on Pope’s Pool, mostly Black-headed Gulls, but several smaller ones were all Little Gulls. We counted at least nine that we could see, with several feeding in the shallow water, moving quickly, pecking at the surface, and others asleep on the nearby mud in with the Black-headed Gulls. The Little Gulls were all immature, 1st summer birds, one with a black hood. A Meadow Pipit was singing, fluttering up and parachuting down onto the short grass of the Serpentine.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, there were lots of terns loafing on the sandbar along the edge. Mostly Sandwich Terns, with shaggy black caps and yellow-tipped black bills, but with a smaller number of Common Terns too. There were more Little Gulls here too, at least five, but with birds coming and going all the time it was hard to know how much double counting there was versus the ones on Pope’s Pool earlier.

Sandwich Terns – and gulls loafing on Arnold’s Marsh

There were lots more gulls loafing over on the back edge. Mostly larger gulls, but looking through we could see a good number of Mediterranean Gulls in with them. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls were behind us on the brackish pools too, where we had a much better view of them in the scope, admiring their jet black hoods and overdone white eyeliner.

Scanning through the big gulls, we noticed one looking rather different. It had a slightly darker mantle than the silvery grey of the nearby Herring Gulls, but not dark enough for a black-backed gull. It was quite big too, long wings pointing down and a jutting keel of a breast. It was an adult Caspian Gull – its small dark eye standing out in its white head. As it preened, we could even see the distinctive pattern on the underside of its primaries. A nice bonus! This is a good time to see Caspian Gulls here as they disperse westwards from their breeding colonies in central Europe.

Caspian Gull – an adult at the back of Arnold’s Marsh

There were not so many waders on here today, but a Whimbrel did drop in briefly. Continuing on out to the beach, there were more Sandwich Terns flying back and forth close in and a huge number of gulls offshore too just away to the east of us.

It was time to head back for lunch now. As we walked back, we could still hear the Yellow Wagtail singing. We stopped for another scan, and this time picked it up on an area of short grass towards the back. We had a good view through the scope, bright canary yellow below, but harder to see when it turned and showed its green, grass-coloured upperparts. There was a Little Grebe on Snipe’s Marsh now too, as we headed back to the minibus.

We ate lunch on the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we could hear a Wood Sandpiper calling on Pat’s Pool, then it flew up, accompanied by a Green Sandpiper, and the two of them flew off over the car park. More waders on the move. After lunch, we drove west.

In the hope of finding any waders which had dropped in, we made a quick stop at Wells. We walked down the track, between the pools, scanning but the best we could find was a Green Sandpiper on either side. There were lots of Lapwings and Avocets at the back and still one or two juvenile Redshanks close in. We decided to move on. A family of Grey Partridge on the track as we left ran into the verge before anyone could get a look at them.

We continued on west to Titchwell. We only had time for a quick look at the Freshmarsh today, so we headed straight out along the main path. A Marsh Harrier was over the reedbed at the back and three Common Pochard on the reedbed pool were an addition to the trip list.

There were Bearded Tits pinging from the reeds occasionally by Island Hide, but again the best we could manage was seeing them zipping in and out over the tops from time to time. While we kept one eye out for them, we scanned the Freshmarsh.

There were lots of waders, particularly Avocets – the latest count was 688 earlier, with birds gathering here at the end of the breeding season. There was a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits too, many still with their rich rusty tan breeding plumage and lots of Lapwings. In amongst them, we could see a selection of Ruff in different stages of moult and at least six Spotted Redshanks, some still mostly in their silvery-spotted, black breeding plumage.

A Whimbrel appeared in with the godwits too, and we had a good view of it through the scope. Shortly afterwards, we heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see a flock of 23 flying overhead. As they headed out over the saltmarsh towards Thornham, they were joined by another Whimbrel which flew up behind them, possibly the one we had just been watching with the godwits, called up to join the others. More waders on the move.

Whimbrel – a flock of 23 flew overhead

Looking through the Black-tailed Godwits more carefully, we found one juvenile. It was standing on one leg, and we could see it was fitted with colour rings, yellow over pale green coded with a black ‘E’. This means it has come from the Fens, Welney or the Ouse Washes, one of the very small British breeding population of nominate limosa Continental Black-tailed Godwits. Possibly one of this years young which has been ‘headstarted’ – first clutches are taken from nesting pairs (giving them time to relay), incubated to hatching and then raised in aviaries on site to try to improve juvenile survival. Breeding productivity without headstarting has been very poor, due to the increasing frequency of summer storms causing flooding of the Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a colour ringed juvenile

The number of ducks here has been increasing steadily, with a good number of Teal back already, although all the drakes are in drab eclipse plumage now. There were several Shoveler too.

Then it was time to walk back – we needed to get back and have something to eat as we would be heading out again this evening.

Nightjar Evening

We set off out again early evening. Before we went to look for Nightjars, we had time to try to find a few owls first. To start with, we drove round by the barns where we had seen the Little Owl yesterday, but the timing was not ideal – it was just spitting with a light shower and some people were getting out of their car nearby – and there was no sign. So we drove on to another set of barns, and this time we could see a Little Owl on the roof as we pulled up. We all got out and got it in the scope for a closer look.

Little Owl – the adult keeping watch

While everyone was taking it in turns to have a look, we scanned down the rest of the roof and realised there were three fluffy juvenile Little Owls a little further along. Needless to say, the adult Little Owl was quickly forgotten and all attention turned to the very cute young ones! They seemed to be very different sizes, one noticeably bigger than the other two – an adaptation to varying prey availability.

Little Owl – three juveniles on the roof

Another Little Owl was on the top of another barn the other side of the road, but was more distant. A couple of Brown Hares posed on the track nearby and we could see flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws gathering on the wires across the fields.

Tearing ourselves away from the Little Owls, we drove down towards Cley. We were just coming in to the back of the village, when we spotted a Barn Owl flying past. Even better, it was the local celebrity, ‘Casper’ the white Barn Owl. We got out and walked back to where it was now hunting round a meadow. We stood and watched it flying round, occasionally turning sharply and dropping down into the grass or stopping to hover and listen.

Barn Owl – ‘Casper’, the local celebrity all-white bird

It was a great setting, the mist rising in the valley, looking across the meadows towards Wiveton church – set off perfectly by the Barn Owl quartering back and forth in the foreground.

Once again, we had to tear ourselves away – it was time to head up onto the heath. As we walked out, we could hear a couple of Song Thrushes singing in the trees. As we got out into the open, we could see it was misting over now, and we could feel a chill in the air as the temperature had dropped.

We got into position out in the middle of the heath just in time to hear the first Nightjar start up. It churred briefly from somewhere on the edge of trees behind us, probably on the ground. Then it called, and churred again. It was still quite early, just after sunset, and still fairly light as the Nightjar flew out. It came right over our heads, and circled round low above us, probably investigating us. A fantastic view, we could see the white flashes through the tips of its wings, a male. Then it flew out over the gorse and we watched it head over to a couple of tall trees further back, where we could then hear it churring again.

Nightjar – a male out over the heath

When the Nightjar stopped churring, we heard wing clapping as it flew out. It seemed to drop down into the gorse in the middle, where we could still hear it churring briefly. Then it flew up again and came back over the track, hunting for food. It circled back round and came back over us, circling right overhead again. More great views.

While we were watching the Nightjar, we heard the squeaky call of a Woodcock roding over the trees. We turned to look for it but unfortunately couldn’t see it beyond the treetops. It did the same thing again a short while later. A second male Nightjar started churring in the distance away to our left.

The first male Nightjar came back in again and did another pass, over the gorse in front of us. Then with the light fading, we decided to call it a night. We were still not done though and, as we walked back, we heard a squeaky Woodcock call again, and turned to see two flying past behind us, a good view silhouetted against the last of light. Then it was back to bed – still another day to go tomorrow.

9th July 2021 – Summer Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Summer Tour. It was a lovely sunny morning, clouding over in the afternoon, but thankfully the rain held off until after we had finished. We spent the day down in the Broads.

Shortly after we set off on the long drive down, we passed a set of barns by the side of the road. As we approached we could see a shape right on the ridge, above the far gable. One of the resident Little Owls still out, enjoying the early sunshine. We stopped for a quick look from the minibus, where we wouldn’t disturb it.

Little Owl – unfortunately soon to be homeless

Unfortunately these barns have been granted planning permission for conversion into housing and have just been sold. The developers are moving in and the Little Owls will soon lose their home. It has been a recurring theme for some time, but has accelerated in the last year or two, with the mad rush to build houses at any cost and the resulting relaxation of planning constraints – many of these barns were deemed unsuitable for development in the last planning review!

Continuing on our way, a Red Kite drifted over. With the windows open, we could hear lots of birds singing. A Yellowhammer was giving its ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeese’, perched on the wires over the road.

When we finally arrived at Hickling Broad, we set off along the track towards Stubb Mill. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the top of one of the bushes ahead of us. There were several Chiffchaffs in the trees and Reed Warblers flitting in and out of the reedy ditch by the path.

Looking over the bank at Brendan’s Marsh, we could see the Black-winged Stilts on the first pool, so we walked back to the junction and up the Whiteslea track instead, up to the viewpoint where we would have a better view from up on the bank. The Black-winged Stilts were feeding behind a low line of reeds but were often visible through a small gap and kept coming out into view beyond the end of the reeds too. We could see their long, bubble-gum pink legs.

Black-winged Stilt – the pair were still on Brendan’s Marsh

There were lots of other waders on the pool too. Several Ruff, in various colours and bewildering different stages of moult, a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, two Common Snipe, a Green Sandpiper briefly before everything was flushed by a passing Marsh Harrier, and a few Avocets. A pair of Egyptian Geese were loafing on one of the islands and two Little Grebes swam across in front.

It is a good vantage point here, from which to scan the surrounding pools and reedbeds. A Bittern came up out of the reeds behind us, flying across low over the tops before dropping back in again. It was a good morning for Bitterns, with the birds very active, probably flying in and out feeding young. We saw at least 4 flights, probably three different birds.

Bittern – flying over the reeds behind us

Two Common Cranes circled up in the distance, beyond the trees, trying to make use of the increasing heat to find a thermal. We watched them in the scopes as they drifted across and dropped back down out of view. A Spoonbill was just visible in the heat haze in the dead trees in the middle of the reedbed, and two flew out, dropping down behind the reeds to the pools further along. A Grey Heron perched up preening in the sunshine.

A Yellow Wagtail flew over behind us calling. A Hooded Crow hybrid flew in to the pools the other side of the track, landing with a Carrion Crow briefly. Three Little Egrets flew in too. A male Marsh Harrier drifted in and hovered over the pools just the other side of the track from us, before flying off.

Marsh Harrier – hovered over the pools in the reeds

There was a good selection of insects here too. One or two Norfolk Hawker dragonflies were hawking over the bank. A selection of butterflies were nectaring on the creeping thistle – Meadow Browns, Small Skippers and some very smart fresh second generation Small Tortoiseshells.

Meadow Brown – nectaring on creeping thistle

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away and walked back to the Stubb Mill track again to explore further along. There were lots of tits in the trees now, including several Long-tailed Tits flitting around in the branches ahead of us.

Scanning with the scope, we picked up a few more waders from the new viewing platform, taking it in turns to come up for a look. There were several Greenshank and Dunlin on here to add to the list, as well as lots more Ruff, but no sign of the Wood Sandpiper or Spotted Redshank we had hoped to find here.

We continued on to the far end of the track, and scanned the pools this end from up on the bank. There were several Lapwings around the pools, a single Teal and Tufted Duck asleep at the back and a couple of Canada Geese with the Greylags. A Spoonbill appeared from behind the reeds at the back, bathing in the water and flashing its long spoon-shaped bill. We just make out a couple more still in the trees beyond, through the hear haze.

It was time to start heading back for lunch, but just as we had turned to leave one of the group spotted another pair of Cranes in the distance over Horsey Mere. We watched as they flew across, continuing over Heigham Holmes before disappearing over the south side of the broad.

Ruddy Darter – one of several basking by the path

There were several Ruddy Darter dragonflies by the path on the way back, as well as Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies. We stopped again at the viewing platform, where a Green Sandpiper was now on the front edge of the pools, for those who had missed it earlier. A Willow Warbler was calling from the bushes by the overflow car park, much more disyllabic than the call of Chiffchaff, and flitted out ahead of us.

We had lunch in the sunshine in the picnic area. A couple of the group even succumbed to the temptation of the gooseberry ice cream! The clouds had started to bubble up over lunch, and it clouded over as we set out again, although it was still very warm. It is the end of the flight season now but there were meant to be still one or two Swallowtails out, so we walked round towards the broad to see if we could find one. We didn’t manage to, but we did see a fresh White Admiral which fluttered around the bushes just beyond the picnic area. Another Norfolk Hawker was flying around here too.

A Green Woodpecker was yaffling in the trees and a Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds by the path as we passed. We had a quick stop at the viewpoint to look out at the Broad, where there were lots of Mute Swans and a couple of distant Common Terns. A Black-tailed Skimmer dragonfly kept landing on the information board just beyond the boat mooring.

Continuing on along the path towards the observatory, it was quiet now in the early afternoon. We did hear a couple of Bearded Tits pinging, and turned to see them fly across the path just behind us. They flew out over the reeds the other side, but dropped straight in out of view. A Reed Warbler flitting around in the tops of the reeds was more obliging.

Reed Warbler – flitting around in the tops of the reeds

Past Whiteslea Lodge, we turned onto the bank back towards the viewpoint. A couple of Common Terns flew over and a Bittern appeared briefly out of the reeds behind us. With the cloud now, the Common Swifts were hawking lower out over the reedbed. As we arrived back at the viewpoint again, we could hear Cranes calling, and just glimpsed two disappearing behind the trees towards Stubb Mill.

The Black-winged Stilts were much closer now, and we had a great view of them through the scope. They were more active, jumping and flapping their wings, then suddenly they took off. They gained height quickly and looked as if they were flying off, but then turned back and dropped steeply back down out of sight onto the last pool. They were only gone a couple of minutes, and as we were looking through the other waders they suddenly flew back in.

Black-winged Stilt – closer views this afternoon

Turning back to the Stilts, we noticed that the Spotted Redshank had appeared between them. We had a good view through the scope, a moulting adult its black breeding plumage mottled with winter white now, but we could see its long needle find bill. There was a single Black-tailed Godwit out here too now. The Wood Sandpiper was not so obliging – we could hear it calling, but couldn’t find it anywhere, so presumably it was hidden behind the reeds.

It continued to taunt us as we made our way back to the Visitor Centre, cutting back along the path through the trees. A male Blackcap flew out of the brambles and across the path in front of us. A Variable Damselfly settled on the vegetation nearby, allowing us to see its broken ante-humeral stripe.

Variable Damselfly – settled on the vegetation

We still had a bit of time left, so we drove round to Potter Heigham thinking we would have a quick look at the marshes there. As we got out of the minibus, we could see threatening dark clouds away to the west, but it wasn’t clear at first whether they were coming our way. We stopped to have a look at the first pool where a Common Sandpiper was on one of the islands, dwarfed by a nearby Little Egret. There were lots of Lapwings on here too.

Carrying on down the track, the reeds were now too tall to see into most of the other pools, although we could occasionally find a gap where we could get a narrow view. We continued on down to the end and up onto the bank, where we could benefit from a bit of height to see over. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds. There was a single rusty eclipse drake Wigeon on the first pool here, and a Great Crested Grebe.

It was clear now that the dark clouds were heading our way, and we could hear thunder in the distance. Discretion is the better part of valour, so we decided to call it a day now and head back rather than risk getting a soaking!

19th June 2021 – Warblers, Waders & More

A Group Tour just for the day, along the North Norfolk coast today. It was a cloudy start and finish, but in between there were some bright and even sunny intervals, which definitely had not been in the forecast. The overnight drizzle dried up just before we met up and it stayed dry all day.

We started the day at Kelling. As we got out of the minibus in the village, a Greenfinch was wheezing from the tree above us. A pair of House Sparrows were mating on the roof of the house across the road. A pair of Stock Doves flew over and one landed on the roof of the converted barn by the main road. A Chaffinch was singing by the school as we set off up the lane.

We walked down the lane towards the Water Meadow. There was not much singing in the hedges this morning, but one of the group did spot a web high up in a tree by the path, which turned out to be a nest of Small Eggar moth caterpillars. One caterpillar was still on the side of the web. Scanning from the gate, we could see one or two Brown Hares in the field beyond.

Small Eggar moth caterpillar – on its web

As we got out into the open by the Water Meadow, there were a couple of Common Whitethroats and several Linnets in the bushes. A Sedge Warbler was singing here, in the brambles just the other side of the hedge. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over the field to the west. Several Sand Martins were hawking for insects low over the Water Meadow pool.

There had been a Marsh Warbler singing here for the last week, and as we got to the crosstrack, we could hear it distantly so we carried straight on along the path down towards the beach. A family of Stonechats was along the fenceline on the hill above as we passed, male, female and a streaky juvenile.

There were a couple of people already there, standing and listening to the Marsh Warbler singing. What an amazing song! Not so much its own, as a constant stream of different calls and songs borrowed from other species it had heard, both in Europe and on its African wintering grounds. We could hear it mimicking Blackbird, Swallow, Blue Tit, Bee-eater (probably Blue-cheeked!), and many more we couldn’t recognise.

The Marsh Warbler was singing from thick vegetation in a reedy ditch, but a couple of times it came up into the tops of the reeds briefly, before flying down along the line of the ditch and diving back into the vegetation. No the best views, but good to see it at all – and with Marsh Warbler it is all about the song. A Reed Warbler started singing nearby for comparison, lacking the varied mimicry of the Marsh Warbler, much more methodical, rhythmic.

There were a few other birds here, out on the Quags – an Egyptian Goose, a couple of Avocets and a Little Egret around the pools and ditches. Several Rooks were feeding out on the grass. A couple of Meadow Pipits perched up on the fence posts.

Rook – several were feeding on the Quags

Carrying on along the path, we climbed up onto the shingle ridge to look at the sea. There were several small lines of Gannets passing offshore, a mixture of adults with their black-tipped white wings and younger more mottled birds. There were one or two Sandwich Terns closer in, but most of the terns were distant off here this morning.

Two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew in from behind us, dropping over the shingle and down towards the sea. We could see their white wing tips, black hoods and bright red bills as they came past us. They dipped down to the water just beyond the breakers and several immature (2nd calendar year) Mediterranean Gulls then drifted in from the east, dip feeding just offshore.

Mediterranean Gull – two adults dropped down to the sea

As we started to walk back along the path by the Quags, a Cuckoo flew past over the hillside above us and landed on the fence by the path up to the gun emplacements, calling. It dropped down to the bushes behind the beach where we could just see it looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn. We walked up the hill a short way and got it in the scope, where it was mobbed by a Common Whitethroat before it dropped down out of view.

Cuckoo – looking for caterpillars in the blackthorn

There were several butterflies out now in the sunshine, including Common Blue and Small Heath. We stopped to look at some Southern Marsh Orchids in the dunes slack. A few Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings and Linnets were flitting around, in and out of the grass and around the fences.

The Marsh Warbler was still singing, so we stopped for another quick listen on our way past. Then we headed back up the lane, stopping briefly to admire a couple of smart pink-breasted male Linnets on the brambles by the path. A Blackcap was singing now in the taller hawthorns by the copse, and several flicked off ahead of us, presumably a family group from the calls. A little further up, two Bullfinch came up from the beck and flew ahead of us a couple of times before disappearing round the back of the hedge.

Linnet – perched on the brambles by the path

We drove back west and parked at Walsey Hills. There was nothing apart from a couple of Coot on the Snipe’s Marsh pool today, but across the road we could see two Spoonbills distantly on the grazing marshes over at the back of the Serpentine. We crossed the road and set off up the East Bank. One or two Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds.

The male Yellow Wagtail is still here and still singing, having failed to attract a female. But with the vegetation having grown considerably it is very hard to see now in the long grass. We kept stopping to scan the ground for it as we walked up. It took several stops, but finally we saw it flying. It sang a couple of times in flight, stalling and parachuting down as it did so, then dropped back down into the long grass again. After a couple of seconds it came out again, and this time landed on a small mound of earth on a bare patch of ground where we could get it in the scopes. A very smart male – bright canary yellow – it would be nice to have them breeding here again.

While we were watching the Yellow Wagtail, we noticed a single Curlew behind it, an early returning bird back for the winter already. A lone drake Wigeon then walked out of the ditch next to it – presumably in this instance one which had decided to over-summer here.

When we heard Bearded Tits pinging behind us, we turned to scan the reedbed. A tawny-coloured juvenile climbed up into the reeds on the back edge of the ditch close by, and we had a great view of it as it flicked around, presumably trying to locate the rest of the family. It flew off down along the ditch.

Bearded Tit – a tawny-coloured juvenile

There were a few more waders around the Serpentine, several Avocets and some Redshank, including a couple of juveniles in the top corner. A Little Ringed Plover was very well camouflaged on the dry mud down at the front and two Dunlin still sporting their summer black belly patches were in the water behind one of the islands further back. When we heard Greenshank calling, two dropped in to Pope’s Pool where we got them in the scopes.

There were three Barnacle Geese on one of the islands on Pope’s Pool two – presumably part of the ever-increasing UK feral population. The Spoonbills were still fast asleep, but one did wake up and flash its spoon-shaped bill briefly.

Spoonbills – mostly asleep as usual

As we walked on towards Arnold’s Marsh, one of the volunteers told us there had been a Little Gull around earlier. The first birds we saw when we scanned were not one but two Little Gulls, both 1st summer birds, asleep by the small shingle island at the back. There were two Sandwich Terns next to them, and nearby, a single Common Tern. A single Ringed Plover was on the sand in the back corner.

Little Gulls – with two Sandwich Terns

The day’s tern list was further swelled with a high count of 21 Little Terns feeding offshore, from the beach. Then it was time to walk back for lunch. As we passed Don’s Pool now, an adult Little Grebe was feeding two stripy-headed juveniles, diving repeatedly under the blanket weed in one corner and resurfacing with an assortment of morsels.

Little Grebe – feeding two hungry juveniles

We stopped for lunch on the picnic tables in front of the Visitor Centre, in the sunshine. Afterwards, we set off further west. A Great White Egret was flying out over the grazing marshes as we passed Holkham.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Titchwell. It had clouded over now, and lots of Swifts and House Martins were hawking low over the reedbed. A couple of Marsh Harriers were up over the back, and we got the scopes on an orange-headed recently fledged juvenile perched in a bush. A Sparrowhawk shot through the sallows with prey in its talons. and a Hobby was perched in one of the dead trees at the back.

From Island Hide, we could see the Spotted Redshanks on the Freshmarsh but they were right back against the reeds on the far side, still in their jet black breeding plumage. They have returned already from their breeding grounds and will moult very quickly over the coming weeks. We had a look from here but figured we could get a slightly closer view from Parrinder Hide.

A single Pintail was the surprise duck on here today. There were still a few Teal, more returning birds already. Plus the resident Common Pochard, the drakes already moulting into drab eclipse plumage, and Tufted Ducks.

Pintail – on the Freshmarsh

As we walked out of Island Hide, a couple of people were photographing two Common Lizards which were basking on the fence by the path, so we stopped for a look too.

Common Lizard – basking on the fence

Walking down the path to Parrinder Hide, a Common Redshank was alarm calling on the top of a post just above us. We managed better views of the Spotted Redshanks from here, until they were flushed by a Marsh Harrier flying over the reeds just behind and they disappeared into the other corner, behind Avocet Island, out of view. Two Bar-tailed Godwits were in with the Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the Freshmarsh too, until they flew off.

Looking carefully through the Black-tailed Godwits we eventually found a single limosa Continental Black-tailed Godwit in amongst the commoner Icelandic birds. Presumably from its colour rings one of the very small and declining breeding population on the Ouse Washes.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – feeding on the Freshmarsh

There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh as we passed and we could only see a couple more Black-tailed Godwits on the Tidal Pools, so we continued straight on to the beach. The tide was coming in and it was breezy out here, so we didn’t stay long. There were lots of gulls on the beach up towards Thornham Point, presumably feeding on shellfish washed up on the northerly winds. There were lots of Oystercatchers along the shoreline and a Curlew and a Bar-tailed Godwit over towards Brancaster.

We had to head back now. A more thorough scan of the Tidal Pools on the way back revealed a small group of Turnstones huddled in the lee of one of the islands. A Little Tern flew over calling. As we passed the Freshmarsh, two Common Terns were flying round now. Then it was back to the car park and time to get everyone home.

4th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Early Summer Tour today. It was bright with some sunshine to start, clouding over through the morning and starting to rain early afternoon. The rain was only light though, not heavy as was the forecast, so it didn’t stop us.

We headed over to Snettisham for the morning. A Sedge Warbler was singing noisily from the brambles nearby as we got out of the minibus. A Greenfinch was wheezing from one of the gardens as we walked up the road. we made our way in on the path in through the bushes. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat rattling over to one side, so we walked round and had a couple of glimpses of it flicking around in the brambles. There was a selection of other warblers, singing here – Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouting. We listened to the metronomic song of song of the Reed Warblers vs the mad chatter of the Sedge Warblers.

A Turtle Dove started purring nearby, deep in the dense bushes. We walked a bit further along to see if we could find an angle to see it, when it flew up and broke into a long gentle glide back down, its display flight. We saw where it landed this time, high in a pine tree, and got it in the scopes, although it was partly obscured by branches. It purred from there for a while, then flew up again, gliding over the path above us, before landing in the top of a large hawthorn the other side. It was a better view through the scopes now, we could see the rusty edges to the feathers of the upperparts.

Turtle Dove – in display flight

The Turtle Dove then flew back over the path again, this time landing in a large willow out of view. We could hear it but couldn’t see it. The next time it flew out, it headed off north away over the bushes out of sight.

We continued on, up onto the outer seawall. The tide was quite a way out still, but we stopped to scan the mud of the Wash. There were lots of waders out on the distant shoreline, predominantly Oystercatchers, plus one or two Curlews. A single lingering Brent Goose was out there too – most of the remaining birds seem to have departed in the last week or so, back to Siberia for the breeding season.

Dropping back down, we walked on up through the middle of the bushes. There were lots of Linnets here, some smart males with pinky red flushes on their breasts, and some brown streaked juveniles now too. A male Stonechat appeared on the top of a bush on the seawall. They bred here and sure enough just a little further up we found a couple of streaky juveniles too. A Meadow Pipit feeding on the short grass nearby was the first of the day.

Linnet – a smart male

There was a nice selection of butterflies here again, despite a fresher breeze today – a couple of Wall, a Brown Argus, a Small Heath. A Mother Shipton, a species of day-flying moth, landed briefly in the grass but was off again before we could really see the supposed likeness of the 16th century witch on its wings, after which it is named.

Two more Turtle Doves flew past heading south, presumably a male and a female. A little later, we saw a male coming back the other way in display flight. We saw it land in the top of a large bush, where it started purring, so we took advantage to have another look through the scopes.

The tide was slowly coming in and we now and a succession of small groups of Oystercatchers flew in off the Wash, heading in to roost on the marshes just inland. We climbed up onto the outer seawall again, by the crossbank. There were more Curlews on the mud now and two Bar-tailed Godwits in the shallow water. We could see their slightly upturned bills, before they tucked them in and went to sleep. Two different Ringed Plovers were hunkered down on the top of the beach, incubating in the roped off cordon nearby. They were very hard to see, well camouflaged against the shingle.

Ringed Plover – nesting in one of the cordons

We walked across at the crossbank and climbed up onto the inner seawall to scan the marshes. We could see some distant Little Gulls on the pool away to our left, so we walked a short way further up for a better look. There were at least three, all immature (1st summer/2nd calendar year) with the black ‘w’ pattern across their wings. We could see lots of Black-headed Gulls nesting, and lots of 2nd calendar year Common Gulls roosting further back, along with a mixture of immature Herring Gulls of various ages and a single young Great Black-backed Gull. A Common Tern flew in, and landed on one of the islands.

There were a couple of waders on the small pool the other side, on the grazing marsh. We had good views of a very close Black-tailed Godwit, a bird with a limp which always seems to be on here. It didn’t look particularly well today.

Black-tailed Godwit – with a limp

A lone Avocet on the mud looked to be incubating. At one point the other member of the pair flew in calling, and the first got up. It looked like they were performing a nest changeover but we couldn’t see an egg in the shallow scrape.

Avocet – changeover time

There were more Avocets and Lapwings out on the marshes. About fifty Black-tailed Godwits were roosting, Icelandic birds in various stages of moult, presumably mostly young birds which have not migrated back to Iceland to breed and not moulted fully into breeding plumage. A large mob of Oystercatchers was now roosting at the back, with more still flying in from the Wash. Two Spoonbills were mostly fast asleep (doing what they like to do best!), waking up and flashing their bills only briefly

Spoonbills – typically asleep

One or two Marsh Harriers flew over occasionally, attracting the ire of all the breeding gulls and waders, which chased up after it calling noisily. A Red Kite drifted over high.

There was a nice selection of ducks out here too, including a single lingering drake Wigeon, on the far bank with some Tufted Ducks. A pair of Mute Swans with just one cygnet swam out of the reeds in the channel below us. As we started to walk back, we scanned through the big flocks of geese – Greylags with lots of goslings, Canada Geese and a few Egyptian Geese – but all we could find different here today were three escaped Swan Geese (which don’t count unfortunately!).

Another Spoonbill was feeding actively in one of the pools among the geese, but disappeared into the rushes before we could get the scopes on it. It would have been nice to see one properly awake, but when we looked back it had climbed out onto the bank and gone straight to sleep! There were several Little Egrets, and two or three Grey Herons out here too.

It was just starting to cloud over now and lots of Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over the bushes, occasionally sweeping low past us, over the bank. A few House Martins appeared too, hard to tell if they are still migrants on the move or just local birds come for the feeding. A couple of Swallows were in with them too.

We headed over to Titchwell for lunch in the picnic area. Thankfully the rain held off. A Blackcap was singing in the trees nearby, and we could just see it flitting around. A Reed Warbler was singing in the sallows – it obviously hadn’t read the book!

After lunch, we decided to have a walk out on the reserve. It was forecast to rain, and we would have the option of shelter in the hides when it did. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew in over the reeds out at the back of the old Thornham grazing marsh pool. A Spoonbill flew in high over the Freshmarsh but carried on away over the west bank and the saltmarsh beyond

We stopped to listen at the reedbed, to see if we could hear a Bearded Tit. We didn’t, but we did see several Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers flying back and forth. A Bittern boomed, but just twice before going quiet again. There were a few Common Pochard in the reedbed channels and a single Great Crested Grebe on the reedbed pool along with lots of Greylags and Gadwall.

It still wasn’t really raining much and there were lots of people in Island Hide already, so we scanned the Freshmarsh from the bank. We could see a small group of waders distantly in front of Parrinder Hide, several Ringed Plover and a lone Dunlin with them. A Little Ringed Plover was up on the back of the island just beyond, but it was hard to see any detail at this range, and it was very well camouflaged against the dry mud.

A couple of drake Teal were new for the day – another duck which is common here in the winter but not many remain right through the summer. A single adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in briefly to bathe. They seem to be much scarcer here this year, for some reason.

Mediterranean Gull – just one briefly

While the rain was holding off, we decided to head straight out to the beach and come back to the hide. There was nothing on Volunteer Marsh, so we carried on to the Tidal Pools where we found several Turnstones picking around the islands. A pair of Shelduck swimming across the water were followed by several shelducklings.

Out at the beach, the tide was coming in and was already half way up the sand. Scanning out to sea, we spotted a Little Tern away to the west, close in, just beyond the breakers. It was flying away west all the time and getting increasingly hard to see against the grey water, but then thankfully turned and came back, giving us a good view now as it flew east past us, just beyond the sand. A few minutes later, another Little Tern flew out over the beach carrying a fish and disappeared off over the water towards Scolt. One or two Sandwich Terns were offshore too, but rather more distant.

With the tide in, there was not much on the beach, but we could see a small flock of Sanderling on the sand half way to Brancaster. They were running around in front of the waves breaking on the beach, in typical Sanderling fashion, but were very different from the silvery grey and white birds we see in winter, being much darker now in their breeding plumage. A pitfall for the unwary!

It was spitting with rain now, so we turned and headed back. A Spoonbill was on one of the pools out on the saltmarsh now, feeding. It climbed up out of the pool it was in and walked slowly across the saltmarsh amongst the thrift to another one a little further over. Nice to finally see one properly awake!

Spoonbill – nice to see one awake!

When we got back to the Freshmarsh, we turned down the path to Parrinder Hide. Just before we got in, we looked across to see a wader fly up from below the bank and land again on the island in front of the hide. A Common Sandpiper, a migrant here, possibly a late bird heading north or perhaps an early returning bird already which had failed to breed successfully. From the shelter of the hide, we watched as it worked its way right down to the front on the mud.

Common Sandpiper – in front of the hide

There were several Ringed Plovers out here still too, we counted twelve now. They came close in too, feeding on the mud right below us. They looked quite small and dark compared to our resident breeders, presumably migrant Tundra Ringed Plovers (of the subspecies tundrae) stopping off on their way north.

Tundra Ringed Plover – stopping off

It was raining a little more heavily now, so we decided to sit it out and admire the waders. A male Redshank was displaying to a female further back, which was not showing much interest. A group of four Avocets gathered for a squabble in front of the hide.

A group of Black-tailed Godwits was busy feeding in the deeper water beyond the islands, mainly 1st summer Icelandic birds which had not gone north to breed. One was on its own a short distance from the others and looked noticeably bigger and longer-billed. It seemed to have a more contrasting pale face and the pale orange on its breast was not as deep as a full adult Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit. We got it in the scope and on closer inspection, noticed it was colour ringed and tagged. This was enough to confirm that it was a Continental Black-tailed Godwit, of the nominate limosa subspecies, rather than the islandica Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits which are more common here.

A quick check with one of the locals who collects colour-ring combinations from here and he was able to confirm immediately that it was one of the very small number Continental Black-tailed Godwits which breed in the UK, on the Ouse Washes. Apparently it failed in its breeding attempt this year, and has already moved to Titchwell to feed and moult. It seems like the UK Continental Black-tailed Godwits, which are already teetering on the edge, have suffered from flooding on the Ouse Washes this year after all the rain in May.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the subspecies limosa

We had come to Parrinder Hide particularly hoping to see the Little Ringed Plover a bit closer, but we hadn’t seen it again yet. We had a careful scan round where it had been now and eventually found it hiding behind the bricks. It was preening, presumably taking advantage of the rain to have a shower. Eventually it came out and ran along the island over to the edge of the reeds, where we could get it in the scopes. Now we could see its golden yellow eyering properly.

The rain had helpfully eased off again now. It was time to head back – it had been a good start, but we had another busy day ahead tomorrow.

1st June 2021 – Birds & More

A Private Tour today in NW Norfolk, looking at more than birds, including a selection of other early summer wildlife. It was another lovely sunny day, warm but with a nice cool breeze off the sea on the north coast. We met in Brancaster and headed over to Snettisham for the morning.

As we walked in through the bushes, we could hear a selection of warblers singing deep in the bushes – Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common and Lesser Whitethroat. The delicate purring of a Turtle Dove filtered through them, so we walked up towards the dense hawthorns, dripping with flowers, from where the sound seemed to be coming. As we were scanning the bushes, the female flew up to join the male on a branch. We had a great view of them through the scope.

While we were watching the Turtle Doves, we heard the distinctive sound of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from somewhere further up. Most of the Grasshopper Warblers have gone quiet now, at least during daylight hours, so it was a bit of a surprise to hear one in the middle of the morning. We walked on to see if we could track it down, but it seemed to be coming from deep in an inaccessible area of scrub and then it went quiet. There were Reed Warblers and one or two Sedge Warblers still singing in the reeds.

Walking out of the bushes, several Linnets were feeding on the short grass below the outer seawall. Our first Brown Argus of the day – we would go on to see quite a few – was flitting around the storksbill. A tiny white moth, a Swan-feather Dwarf (Elachista argentella) flew up from our feet.

Up on the seawall, the tide was coming in and the water was already on the beach. A large flock of thirty or so Sanderlings was put up from the sand by a dogwalker and flew round over the water. As they twisted and turned, we could see one black-bellied Dunlin in with them. They landed down on the shore again and started feeding. In various stages of breeding plumage, they are much darker now than we see in the winter.

We dropped down off the seawall and continued on up through the middle. There were more warblers in the bushes and Linnets on the grass. The pools in the middle held a few Four-spotted Chasers and Azure Damselflies and patches of Water Crowfoot. Butterflies included several Small Copper, Small Heath and a single Painted Lady. As we got up towards the crossbank, a Meadow Pipit flew up onto the bushes on the seawall ahead of us. We stopped to watch our first male Common Blue butterfly of the day, flying fast up and down over the longer grass.

From up on the outer seawall, the tide was in now. A large flock of predominantly Ringed Plovers was trying to roost on the beach, but kept getting flushed by walkers and dogwalkers. We could see a Ringed Plover hunkered down on the top of the beach in one of the cordons, presumably incubating. As two people walked along the shore line with their dogs, well outside the cordon, the Ringed Plover came off the nest and ran up the beach, only returning once they had passed. Just goes to show how sensitive they are to disturbance, which is a huge problem for birds which nest on the beaches here.

Ringed Plover – there were lots trying to roost on the beach

Crossing over to the inner seawall, we looked out across Ken Hill Marshes. There were lots of waders roosting on here, sitting out high tide on the Wash. Hundreds of Oystercatchers were over the back and a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on the slightly closer pools. Scanning through, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit too. There were several groups of Ringed Plovers on here too, and further up we could just see two different waders with some of them on a muddy island. There was too much heat haze to be able to make them out clearly though, so we walked further north along the inner seawall, to see if we could get a closer look.

When we got closer, we could see that as we suspected, they were two Curlew Sandpipers, adults moulting in (or out?) of rusty breeding plumage. They were first reported here almost a week ago now, so are clearly in no hurry to move on. Northbound spring migrants usually move on quickly, and it seems too early for southbound birds already (it can’t really be autumn already?!). Or perhaps they could even have abandoned hope of breeding due to the long, cold weather this spring?

There were at least two Little Gulls out on the marshes too, immatures in their 1st summer/2nd calendar year. We got one in the scope, dwarfed by the surrounding Black-headed Gulls. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were on a small pool on the grazing marshes the other side, along with two Avocets and an Oystercatcher. We stopped to photograph a Green-veined White butterfly on the flowers on the bank. Another Turtle Dove flew past us, heading towards Heacham. A Cuckoo was calling in the distance. A male Marsh Harrier flew in and started circling low over the grass just the other side of the crossbank.

Green-veined White – showing the hindwing underside

There was a nice selection of other birds on the marshes as we walked back, stopping to scan from time to time. A Great White Egret on one of the pools really stood out, and there was a single Spoonbill in with the geese at the back, fast asleep (doing what Spoonbills like to do best!). A nice selection of wildfowl includes a couple of lingering late Wigeon and a feral Barnacle Goose. A Common Tern was hunting for fish in the channel just below the bank. A Hobby flew past, but typically disappeared off fast to the south.

We dropped down off the bank and cut back in to the southern end of the Coastal Park. A Hairy Dragonfly was patrolling one of the pools, chased by the Four-spotted Chasers. Back through the bushes, the Turtle Doves and Grasshopper Warbler were quiet now, but we did find a gorgeous metallic Green Hairstreak basking on a bush by the path.

Green Hairstreak – basking by the path

It was already lunchtime by the time we got back to the minibus, but we elected to drive somewhere more scenic to eat. Thankfully, we were allowed to park just beyond the payhut at Holme, despite not having booked in advance, as it wasn’t full, and we had a late lunch looking out over the saltmarsh towards the beach. The new car park booking system at NWT Holme Dunes is a complete nightmare – it is hard to plan in advance what we might want to do and even harder to know exactly what time we might get there if we are somewhere else for the morning. Not surprisingly the car park seems to be booked almost entirely by beach goers, looking at the occupants of the cars leaving and the almost total lack of anyone looking at any of the wildlife on the reserve!

After lunch, we set off along the coast path into the dunes. There were lots of butterflies in the short grass, several Wall and more Small Heaths. It didn’t take us long to come across our first Southern Marsh Orchids, just coming in to bloom, although these were not our main orchid target here this afternoon.

Southern Marsh Orchid – just coming out

A Cuckoo was calling in the trees and we carried on further in the hope of seeing it, but just caught a quick glimpse before when it landed low on a branch briefly, but it saw us and disappeared back. There were lots more butterflies in here, more Wall, Common Blues and Brown Argus. The moth list was boosted with a single Yellow Belle and several Plain Fanner (Glyphipterix fuscoviridella) which flushed from the grass.

Brown Argus – one posing nicely

It took a bit of searching, but we eventually managed to find a few spikes of Man Orchid. Some look a bit behind, perhaps not a surprise given the cold spring prior to the last couple of days, but a couple were in find condition and much admired!

Man Orchid – we found a few spikes out

Man Orchid was the main target, but we had hoped to look for Early Marsh Orchid too. But all the areas we have seen them in the past seemed to be fenced off for the ponies – we hope the ponies don’t like eating orchids! We followed the fence round, but couldn’t find a way to get where we wanted to go. A Stonechat perched on the fence briefly.

Wandering round trying did produce a nice selection of other things though. When we stopped to photograph some more Southern Marsh Orchids, we noticed movement in the long grass. A small Natterjack Toad was walking through – we could see the distinctive yellow stripe down the middle of its back. We don’t often see them, as they are predominantly nocturnal, so this was a really nice surprise.

Natterjack Toad – hiding in the long grass

Rounding another corner, we came across a mass of tiny Green Long-horn moths (Adela reaumurella), the golden-green metallic males with their outsize antennae dancing in the sunshine around the tops of the trees, trying to attract a female. Quite a spectacle. We did see one or two shorter ‘horned’ females too, in the vegetation below.

Green Long-horn (Adela reaumurella) – a male

We had seen several Hairy Dragonflies this morning, but now we came across one resting on some brambles, which gave us a chance to get some photographs of this normally very active species, and admire its hairy thorax.

Hairy Dragonfly – resting on some brambles

The Cuckoo finally gave itself up as we started to walk back, initially flying off away from us, but then we came out from behind some bushes and found it perched on a dead branch out in the open. We had a quick scan from the top of the dunes, looking out over the beach. There were lots of people out there today and we couldn’t see many birds. We could make out a few Sandwich Terns passing by in the distance offshore. Then it was back to the minibus and time to head for home.

12th May 2021 – Cameras at the Ready

A Private Tour today, with the focus on trying to photograph birds rather than just looking at them. It was meant to be a sunny morning, with cloud increasing in the afternoon and the possibility of showers. Instead, there was more patchy cloud this morning and it was sunny and warm this afternoon – the wrong way round!

We spent the morning at Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked in, a male Greenfinch was on the ground feeding on the short grass. We could hear various warblers singing: Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Sedge and Cetti’s Warbler. But none of them wanted to pose for the cameras. We had a quick look out at the Wash from the outer seawall, but the tide was in and there wasn’t a lot flying past out over the sea.

As we set off up the middle of the Coastal Park, we could hear the distinctive rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat now. It flew across to a large hawthorn on the edge of the reeds where we watched it feeding on one of the longer branches for a minute or so. When it was joined by a second, the two of them flew out and across to the bushes over on the seawall.

Lesser Whitethroat – in one of the hawthorns

There were lots of Goldfinches and Linnets in the bushes, and more warblers, as we made our way north. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling ahead of us in the brambles and flew up into a hawthorn next to the path, where it gave a quick burst of song. It only perched there briefly though, and quickly flew across to the other side of the path, disappearing back into the thicker vegetation.

Cetti’s Warbler – perched up singing briefly

A steady succession of Swallows came low over the bushes, migrants on their way, heading south round the Wash. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove as we walked up towards its favourite tree and when two Turtle Doves flew past away from us and disappeared into the bushes, we thought that was it. We stopped to admire a male Stonechat which perched on some low bushes in the middle, and a female appeared nearby too.

Stonechat – the male in a low briar

While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard the male Turtle Dove purring now from its favourite tree. Had it flown back while we weren’t looking. Then another Turtle Dove started purring from somewhere in the bushes off to our right, in the direction where the pair had disappeared earlier, so presumably different birds. We set up the scope and had a good view of the lone male perched in the branches of a dead tree.

Turtle Dove – purring from a dead tree

Then we noticed a Barn Owl flying around over the short grass out in the middle, beyond the bushes. We didn’t know which way to look! As we walked on along the path, the Turtle Dove took off and launched into its display flight. We found the Barn Owl again, but it was always rather distant ahead of us. We figured we would catch up with it somewhere later.

From up on the seawall again, the tide was going out now and there were lots of Oystercatchers out on the mud. A woman stopped to talk to us, she was a volunteer with the Wash Wader Ringing Group looking for one satellite Oystercatcher with them. Without a current fix, it was like looking for a needle in haystack! More Oystercatchers were still commuting from where they had been roosting on the marshes inland out to the beach.

As we walked across by the crossbank to the inner seawall, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes, along with another Lesser Whitethroat, and a couple more Common Whitethroats. Climbing up onto the inner seawall, the Barn Owl was now hunting over the bank just a little further up. It disappeared behind the bend in the bank, so we went through the gate and walked round on top. The Barn Owl was on a fence post just round the corner and took off when it saw us, but thankfully did a nice fly round, coming straight past below us.

Barn Owl – flew past below us

Turning our attention to Ken Hill Marshes, we picked up a Sparrowhawk disappeared away low over the water. In the reeds beyond, we could see a distant Great White Egret alongside a Little Egret. A good size comparison – the former completely dwarfing the latter.

There were plenty of ducks out on the pools, Shoveler, Gadwall and one or two lingering Wigeon. Four Barnacle Geese were presumably feral birds rather than genuine high Arctic breeders. Two Whimbrel were out on the short grass – one flew off and one disappeared down into a pool out of view as a small group of people walked along the footpath, but both reappeared after they had made it to the seawall.

We hadn’t had sight nor sound of the Cuckoo up to now, but as we walked back we heard it singing and looked ahead of us to see it perched in a dead tree. When we got alongside it, we watched it singing for a couple of minutes. A Chaffinch appeared on the branch next to it, and after a while worked up the courage to chase it off, at which point it was joined by one of the local Meadow Pipits.

Cuckoo – appeared as we started to walk back

Further on, we stopped again. There were several Mute Swans flying round, mostly young birds with dull bills. An adult with a brighter orange bill was bathing in the ditch on the edge of the marshes. There were several Common Swifts zooming about over the pools and one or two swept past us over the bank and the bushes the other side. We had a go at photographing them as they passed – never easy at that speed!

Common Swift – flew past us over the bank

A Mediterranean Gull started calling, a distinctive plaintive miaowing, and we turned to see it circling over the nesting Black-headed Gulls, its white wingtips translucent against the sun. A Chiffchaff posed on the outside of one of the hawthorns below the path briefly. Then we made our way back to the minibus.

As we headed back round to the north coast, we made a diversion into Hunstanton and stopped by the lighthouse. The Fulmars were only just coming above the clifftop occasionally today, but one or two gave some very nice photo opportunities.

Fulmar – circling over the cliffs

There were several House Sparrows in the fenced off vegetation on the top of the cliff and a male posed nicely on the fence. A very smart metallic Starling dropped onto the grass close to us to collect more insects – its bill was already pretty full with a large larva and a couple of flies.

Our mission for the afternoon was to find a feeding Spoonbill. After a break for a pizza in Thornham, we carried on east to Burnham Norton. Three Whimbrel were feeding out on the short grass as we got out of the vehicles. The path out towards the seawall was a bit muddy, but we managed to negotiate it without getting our feet wet.

Two Common Swifts were circling above us and started mating on the wing. They separated but stayed together and then did it again a bit further over. While we were watching the Swifts, we picked up two Hobbys way off in the distance. We watched them catching insects high above the reedbed.

There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds along here and we could hear one or two Reed Warblers too but they were much harder to see. We finally got to see a couple of them, chasing around in the corner of the ditch below the seawall. A flock of four Yellow Wagtails flew over high, calling. They appeared to drop towards the herd of cows out in the middle of the marshes, so we made a mental note to have a look for them on our way back.

Walking along the seawall, the tide was out and we couldn’t see any Spoonbills out on the saltmarsh. The only white shapes flying in and out now were Little Egrets. There were lots of waders along here, several Avocets chasing each other in the muddy channel on the near edge of the saltmarsh and Redshanks flying back and forth over the bank. There were Lapwings here too, and one or two were displaying, singing as they performed their tumbling and rolling display flight.

Lapwing – displaying over the seawall

There were still lots of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh – it won’t be long now before they head off to Siberia for the breeding season. But it looked like we might be out of luck with our main target here today. When we reached the junction with the path which cuts back across the middle of the grazing marshes, we turned for one last scan over the saltmarsh. And there they were, two Spoonbills flying in from the direction of Gun Hill.

One of the Spoonbills landed in one of the big channels and we could just see it distantly from the seawall. The tide was out and there are a couple of baitdiggers’ paths out to the channel here, so we walked out to the edge, picking our way and jumping over some of the narrower runnels. Eventually we got much closer. The Spoonbill was feeding constantly in the shallow water, and appeared to be finding lots of food, regularly flicking its head back as it snapped at something.

Spoonbill – feeding in one of the saltmarsh channels

Eventually the Spoonbill disappeared round the next corner in the channel, out of view. As we made our way back to the seawall, the second Spoonbill dropped in with it. A couple of small squadrons of Cormorants flew past, heading back towards Holkham.

We dropped down onto the path the other side and walked back through the middle of the grazing marshes. The distinctive foghorn of a Bittern booming drifted over to us from the reeds. There were herds of cows on both sides of the path, but looking through the reeds we couldn’t see anything with the ones on the left of the path. We stopped at a gate from where we could see the cows the other side – they were all walking in towards the reeds by the path, and we couldn’t see anything with them at first. Two Wheatears, a smart male and a closer female, were out on the grass just beyond, migrants stopping off on their way north.

It was hard to see through the throng of cows by the reeds at first, but as some started to move further down away from us, we could see a pair of Yellow Wagtails feeding round the feet of one of them. The male with bright day-glo yellow underparts and head, the female rather creamier yellow and shades of greenish-brown.

Yellow Wagtail – a bright yellow male

The cows moved further down so we continued on along the path to the next gate, which is where they seemed to be heading. We had just arrived when another small group of Yellow Wagtails seemed to drop in with the original pair. It is always worth looking through flocks of wagtails at this time of year, as they often contain birds from the continent with different variations of head colour.

In amongst these wagtails, we did indeed find an odd looking one. It had a greyish head and a bold white supercilium, very different to the yellowish heads of the others. It looked too bright for a female, with a very bright yellow vent and belly, but grading to paler yellow on the lower breast and pale yellowish white on the upper breast and throat, and a greenish mantle. With the paler throat, it clearly wasn’t an adult male either. These wagtails are very variable, and the different forms frequently intergrade in the zones where they meet, but the best fit for this one seemed to be a 1st summer male Blue-headed Wagtail, the race which is found across much of continental Europe but is a regular visitor here in spring.

Blue-headed Wagtail – probably a 1st summer male

We spent some time watching the wagtails feeding in among the cows, although they became harder to see as the cows all pressed in closer to the gate. They seemed to have gathered waiting to be fed. Then when the wagtails suddenly took off and flew over the reeds, we continued on our way back.

A Little Egret was feeding in the ditch ahead of us as we got back to the parking area. As we stood by the vehicles for a minute or two, several Brown Hares were running round over the grass. A Barn Owl flew past along the edge of the grazing marshes, disappearing off along the side of the road. Time for us to call it a day.

10th May 2021 – Wagtails & Waders

Another socially distanced small group day tour today, where we didn’t use the minibus. We met on site at Cley in the morning for a couple of walks, travelling in convoy onto Wells mid afternoon to finish the day there. It was cloudy at times with some nice sunny intervals in between, with an increasingly gusty wind in the afternoon, and we mostly managed to avoid the showers.

We set off from the Visitor Centre car park along The Skirts path. We hadn’t gone more than a few metres when a warbler flew up from the alexanders by the path into an elder bush nearby. A Garden Warbler, rather plain grey and featureless with a stocky build and heavy bill. Presumably a migrant, which had dropped in overnight and was now feeding up. It disappeared into the bush, and we could just see it from time to time looking out from behind the branches.

Garden Warbler – probably a migrant fresh-in overnight

The breeding warblers are now back in numbers. As we walked on along the path, a Common Whitethroat flew up into the top of a bush, singing . A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling a little further up, in the hedge across the road, and we could see it moving around in the blackthorn. A Willow Warbler was nearby too. A couple of Long-tailed Tits flitted past. When we heard Lesser Redpoll calling, we looked over to see a party of four flying west, more migrants on the move this morning.

Common Swifts have been passing through in the last few days and from the path we could see several distantly over the reedbed. As we stopped to look at them, a Great White Egret flew over too, big and white with long black legs and feet and a dark bill. In breeding condition, a Great White Egret‘s bill darkens so is no longer the long yellow-orange dagger it is otherwise, a pitfall for the unwary. It dropped down somewhere beyond Bishop Hide out of view.

Great White Egret – and Common Swift over the reedbed

From up on East Bank, we could see a steady passage of Swallows going west. More Swifts and lots of Sand Martins were hawking out over the marshes.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, a large white shape distantly behind the Serpentine was a Spoonbill. It was busy feeding, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round in the shallow pools. Then suddenly it walked up out of the water and took off, flying off west over the path and away over the reeds.

Spoonbill – flew off west

We could hear a Yellow Wagtail singing and eventually found it feeding amongst the clumps of grass, a very smart canary yellow male. There were obviously others on the move today, and when we heard one call we looked across to see a female Yellow Wagtail drop in with a Pied Wagtail up by the Serpentine. A female Wheatear was running around out on the grass too.

Then a smart male Blue-headed Wagtail appeared nearby, with a grey blue head and prominent pale supercilium. The heads of yellow wagtails vary across Europe, with the British Yellow Wagtail having a yellow head and those from across central continental Europe and southern Scandinavia having blue-grey heads, so this one was probably on its way there from its wintering grounds Africa. It flew up and landed amongst the cows much further back, where we lost sight of it behind one cow lying down.

There were fluffy Lapwing chicks down in the grass along with their parents along with several Redshanks. Both those species breed here, but the two Whimbrel feeding in the grass are migrants stopping off to refuel. A lone Black-tailed Godwit on the Serpentine looked like it might be a young bird which will not migrate up to its breeding grounds in Iceland this year.

Duck numbers have thinned out significantly over the last few days, as many are now heading off back to northern Europe after having spent the winter here. A pair of Barnacle Geese were in with the Greylags and Canada Geese, presumably feral birds rather than genuine wild Arctic breeders.

Barnacle Geese – the first pair, behind the Serpentine

There were more waders out on Arnold’s Marsh – a smattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers, several Curlew over on the saltmarsh in one corner, a smart Grey Plover with summer black face and belly and two Bar-tailed Godwits over the back.

Continuing on to the beach, we had a quick look out to sea. There were several Sandwich Terns flying past, along with a single distant Little Tern, and an even more distant Gannet out towards the horizon. But the sea is fairly quiet at this time of year, so we didn’t linger and set off to walk back. A couple more Sandwich Terns flew in over Arnold’s Marsh as we passed, so we could see their yellow-tipped black bills.

Sandwich Tern – flew over Arnold’s Marsh

Somebody who had come out to see the Blue-headed Wagtail we had seen earlier had now found two Grey-headed Wagtails which had dropped in too, so we headed back to see if we could see those too. We just got back in time to see them running around on the grass amongst he cows, before all the wagtails took off and we watched as all six flew off strongly west. It was proving to be a really good day for yellow wagtails! Grey-headed Wagtails breed in northern Scandinavia, a scarce migrant through here and our third yellow wagtail subspecies of the day.

Now we heard a report that a Golden Oriole had been seen flying west past Muckleburgh Hill, just a couple of miles east of us and heading our way. There had been several Golden Orioles seen further east in NE Norfolk too this morning, but none this far west. Still we scanned the sky just in case and after just a few minutes we picked the Golden Oriole up flying over the back of Snipe’s Marsh, presumably having come over the back of Walsey Hills. Unfortunately it was only in view for a few seconds before it disappeared round the back of North Foreland wood. We scanned the other side in case it came out there but it looked like it might have dropped in.

We decided to wait for a bit in case it came out again. An Iceland Gull was reported flying west past Salthouse now, and we managed to see it very distantly before it dropped down out of view, into the fields way off east from us. The Visitor Centre was on the line the Golden Oriole was flying, so we decided to walk back for an early lunch and keep our eyes peeled in case it came out in our direction, but it wasn’t seen again so may have slipped out the back. A male Marsh Harrier circled over as we walked back.

After lunch, we set off back along The Skirts path, past the East Bank and down Attenborough Walk. We stopped to scan through the gulls gathered on Pope’s Marsh, but the Iceland Gull obviously hadn’t decided to join them today. There were now two pairs of Barnacle Geese out on the grazing marsh. We were hoping to find a Whinchat, but just past the gate to Babcock Hide we found a pair of Stonechats instead.

Stonechat – the male

We turned onto Iron Road and walked up to scan the pool. It appeared to be empty at first, but looking more carefully we found several small waders lurking round the edges – two Little Ringed Plovers, and three different Common Sandpipers. An Egyptian Goose was lying down in the grass beyond.

Common Sandpiper – one of three at Iron Road

Continuing on to the bridge over the main drain, we found two female Wheatears on the dry mud on the edge of the channel. It was the wrong time of day really, so perhaps no surprise that there was no sign of any Short-eared Owls here now.

After walking back to the car park, we travelled in convoy on to Wells for the rest of the afternoon. Scanning the pools from the parking area, we could see a couple of Brent Geese out on the grass and two of three Teal on the water, our first of the day. There were lots of Lapwings, with several fluffy juveniles, and a few Redshanks here too.

Walking a short distance down the track, we quickly located one of the Jack Snipe which have been lingering here, on the pool east of the track. It was right out in the open, on the bare mud between the clumps of rushes, probably the best views of it we have had here in the last few weeks. It was busy feeding, probing in the mud. We could see its comparatively short bill and bright golden mantle stripes. Then suddenly something spooked it and it ran back into the rushes out of view.

Jack Snipe – showing very well today

There were several Common Sandpipers here again today, at least four, and two Wood Sandpipers east of the track too, all migrants stopping off to refuel here on their journeys north to breed. Through the scopes, we could see the Wood Sandpipers’ spangled backs and pale superciliums, a little larger, longer legged and longer necked than the Common Sandpipers. Another Wood Sandpiper called behind us and we turned to see it emerging from the thicker clumps of rushes on the pool west of the track.

Wood Sandpiper – one of three here today

There was another Yellow Wagtail here this afternoon, another bright yellow male – they really were an ever-present theme today. This one was quite close to the track, feeding on the mud, at least when it wasn’t being chased off by one of the Lapwings. It obviously thought the Yellow Wagtail posed a grave threat to its young, which were feeding on the edge of the rushes nearby. Lapwings are obviously not the brightest of parents!

Yellow Wagtail – a smart male by the track

Continuing on round to the west pool, the bushes were quiet today, although it was mid afternoon now and the wind had picked up quite a bit. We had a quick scan of the pool from the low bank. There were lots of Avocets on nests on the island, and more Lapwings, but we couldn’t see any other waders on here today. A Brown Hare ran straight towards us along the grass verge on the edge of the pool until it realised we were standing there, froze looking at us for a few seconds, and ran off back the way it had come.

Unfortunately after an action-packed day full of spring migrants it was time to call it a day and head back now.

3rd May 2021 – More Warblers & Waders

Another Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with rain and an increasingly blustery wind spreading in during the afternoon. As ever, we made the most of the dry weather and still managed to see some very good birds as the weather deteriorated.

We started the day at Cley. We could hear the Grasshopper Warbler today from the car park as soon as we got out of the minibus, so we made our way straight over the road. A couple of people were watching it, reeling away in the back of a bush, but it was partly obscured. When it dropped down through the bush and started reeling again from the other side, we had a slightly better view.

Then suddenly the Grasshopper Warbler took off and flew down over the reeds parallel with the path, landing in some low vegetation, where it started reeling again. It was a great view now, just a few metres from the path, perched up in full view on a curl of brambles.

Grasshopper Warbler – still showing well

A Lesser Whitethroat was singing back in the hedge by the car park now. We decided to move on and walked on down along The Skirts path. There were several Sedge Warblers and one or two Reed Warblers singing along here, but neither were particularly easy to see today. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reeds and a Lesser Redpoll flew low overhead calling and disappeared off west.

A Common Whitethroat was singing ahead of us in the bushes by the path and perched up nicely in the top of one. Another male was singing further up. We realised why – a female was there too – and one of the males obviously encroached of the other’s territory resulting in the two of them chasing round after each other.

Common Whitethroat – one of two rival males on The Skirts

Continuing on up onto the East Bank, we could see at least two families of tiny Lapwing chicks still on the grazing marshes. There were Redshanks displaying too, and several Avocets at the back on Pope’s Pool.

We heard our first Yellow Wagtails calling and looked over to see at least five around the feet of the cows, including a couple of smart canary yellow males. They were very mobile, flying round a couple of times, before they were off, carrying on west. But all the time there were more dropping in – it was to be a real theme of the morning, with lots of Yellow Wagtails on the move.

It was breezier today and the ducks were tucked down in the grass. We could still see several Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Shelduck, but it took a bit more scanning to find one or two drake Wigeon too.

Being a bit windier, it didn’t feel like a day for Bearded Tits, which was one species on the wish list. But when we heard one calling, we looked down to see a smart male climbing up the reeds on the far side of the ditch just below the path. It perched out in the open for a few seconds on the outside edge of the reeds, giving us a very good view of its powder grey head and black moustache (not really a beard!), before it flew back along the ditch. A second bird, a female was calling nearby too, and flew past after it. The two of them disappeared deeper in to the reeds. We got good views of several Sedge Warblers along here too.

Sedge Warbler – lots around in the reeds now

A pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled over calling and two Sandwich Terns flew west over the brackish pools. There had apparently been a Curlew Sandpiper with the Dunlin on Arnold’s Marsh earlier. Some of the Dunlin were now asleep in the vegetation on one of the islands on the brackish pool, but looking through we could see it was not with them. Dunlin numbers were down compared to yesterday, so some had probably gone off elsewhere. A small flock of Knot flew in and landed on the edge of the island. Mostly in grey non-breeding plumage, one was just starting to get patchy orange-red underparts. The two drake Pintail were still out on the water, upending.

Turning our attention to Arnold’s Marsh now, we could see only three Dunlin on here now. There were also three Bar-tailed Godwits, and several Ringed Plover. As we started to make our way back, a Whimbrel flew west behind us.

Two more Yellow Wagtails had dropped in with cows, and we heard more calling overhead. A Little Grebe was now on Don’s Pool, along with a female Common Pochard, both of which will probably breed here.

Common Pochard – a female on Don’s Pool

On the walk back along The Skirts, we could see at least one Marsh Harrier again. Several Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over North Scrape. A Greenfinch flew overhead calling.

A Grey-headed Wagtail had dropped in just along the coast at Kelling earlier this morning and had lingered for the last couple of hours. We got a message to stay that it was still there now, so we thought we would go over to try to see it. But as we had seen, the wagtails were very actively on the move this morning, so by the time we got there it was perhaps no surprise that it had finally decided to fly off.

We did see a Blackcap in the lane, and a Chiffchaff was singing down by the copse. There were a couple of Common Whitethroats and lots of Linnets in the bushes around the Water Meadow pool. A quick look at the pool itself produced a Common Sandpiper and a Stock Dove (a species we had only just talked about needing to see!). We decided we would be better to try out luck elsewhere, so we started to walk back. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes in the field nearby, and we could see it moving around in the top of a low hawthorn.

We drove back west inland and stopped just before we got to Wells. We scanned the pools from the parking area – two Brent Geese were out on the grass in front of the pool west of the track. A moulting male Ruff was feeding on the edge of the water, just starting to get part of its barred grey ruff now. Two Little Ringed Plovers were further back.

A short way down the track, we had a better view of one of the Little Ringed Plovers, with its golden eye ring clear now. Then we noticed a small snipe with a distinctive bobbing action in amongst the clumps of rushes close to the track, a Jack Snipe. We had a great view of it as it fed around the base of the rushes, its golden mantle stripes contrasting with its dark upperparts.

Jack Snipe – bobbing up and down in the rushes

We could see a dark cloud approaching from the west, so we walked back to the minibus for lunch under the shelter of the tailgate, while we waited for the shower to pass over.

Two Grey Partridges were in the field opposite. A lone Egyptian Goose was over the back with the Greylags but walked up to the front on its own. Two Common Swifts flew in low over the east pool and right over us, disappearing on west into the drizzle.

Common Swift – one of two which flew past over lunch

After lunch, once the shower had cleared through, we set off back down the track. There were two Yellow Wagtails now, bright yellow males again in the rushes close to the path just to the east, before they flew out to the islands in the middle.

There were more hirundines now, after the rain, hawking low over the pools, and there were several House Martins with them now. A male Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the bushes beyond in the wind, which was starting to pick up.

Marsh Harrier – a pale male over the bushes

We carried on round to take a look at the western pool. There were lots of Avocets down in the grass and lots of Swallows flying round low over the water, but we couldn’t see anything more interesting. We climbed up onto the seawall for a better look. It was windy up here, but looking out over the saltmarsh towards the harbour we could see a Common Tern patrolling up and down one of the main channels. We carried on up to the corner for a closer look, and could see another three Common Terns further back.

A distant Spoonbill was feeding out on the saltmarsh. One or two Whimbrel were a bit closer, down in the vegetation. Two adult Common Gulls flew past calling. Then a Hobby whipped through overhead, disappearing off into the allotments at Wells, presumably a fresh migrant on its way back for the summer.

We had been lucky with a dry interlude, but we could see more dark clouds approaching so we set off to walk back. The Common Gulls were now on one of the pools, with all the Black-headed Gulls. The two male Yellow Wagtails were back by the track, in the rushes on the other side now, and had been joined by a female.

Yellow Wagtail – three were feeding close to the track

It started to rain again, so we headed back to the minibus. We hoped we might drive through it, but it still looked rather grey out to the west when we arrived at Burnham Overy. It was only spitting with rain though as we set off down the track, even if it was getting noticeably windier now.

At least 22 Whimbrel were feeding out on the grass from the gate by the stile, with 2 Curlew in with them providing a good comparison, noticeably bigger and longer-billed. There was no sign of any Ring Ouzels now though in the fields either side – presumably they had retreated to the hedges.

Whimbrel – some of the 22 on the grazing marshes

A little further along, we picked up two injured Pink-footed Geese still out on the grazing marsh, unable to fly north for the summer. Several Common Pochard were on the small pools over by the reeds. We carried on along the track to the seawall. The Sedge Warblers along here were unusually quiet due to the deteriorating weather, with just one singing rather half-heartedly.

Up on the seawall, there was an impressive gathering or hundreds of Swallows over the reedbed and pool. Migrants on their way west, they were presumably finding food and would have a place to roost in the reeds.

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we could see a distant Little Tern over the main harbour channel, so we walked down the seawall to the corner for a closer look. There were three Little Terns here now, flying up and down over the water, stopping to hover and then plunging in to the channel. One of them caught a fish, and the three of them chased up high calling.

There were Avocets and Redshanks on the mud, but from the corner we could see two Grey Plovers on the edge of the harbour channel too, one in breeding plumage with black face and belly. One or two Spoonbills were still flying back and forth.

Spoonbill – flying over the harbour in the rain

It was cold and windy up here and starting to rain harder now. As we walked back to the track, we could see a Great White Egret flying across beyond the reeds and landing in the distance out on the grazing marsh.

With the deteriorating weather, we decided we would try something that didn’t require walking, rather than finish early. So we drove over to Choseley to look for the Dotterel which had been reported there earlier. We started scanning from the top of the field. We were only part way down when we noticed a flock of Golden Plover flying in and they landed behind us, out of view. A couple of Red legged Partridges were easy to see, but it was a big field with lots of places to hide a lone Dotterel in the rain, lots of dips and dead ground, so it would take quite a bit of time to search the whole field.

We messaged someone we knew who had been here earlier, and they told us where the Dotterel was when they saw it, much further along nearer the far end of the field, so drove down to focus our efforts there. Once we knew exactly where to look, it didn’t take long to find the Dotterel now. It was actively moving round the stony field, running a short distance then stopping, extremely hard to see when it stopped still.

Dotterel – just the one here today

Dotterel are just passage migrants through here, stopping off in traditional fields on their way north each spring, between their wintering grounds in North Africa and Scandinavia where they will breed. Having enjoyed good views of the Dotterel, we drove back up to the top of the field for a quick look at the flock of Golden Plover, several resplendent now in breeding plumage with black faces and bellies (rather like their grey-spangled cousin we had seen at Burnham Overy earlier).

The Dotterel was a great way to wrap up a successful day’s spring birding, so we headed for home happy.

2nd May 2021 – Warblers & Waders

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright morning, cloudier in the afternoon, but the weather gods were kind to us and the showers held off until after we had finished. Still feeling rather cool for the time of year, in the brisk N breeze.

Our destination for the morning was Cley. With the hides still closed for the foreseeable future, we set the scope up in the picnic area to scan Pat’s Pool first. Out on the islands, we could see plenty of Avocets, a couple of Black-tailed Godwits and a single moulting male Ruff. A Marsh Harrier circled out over the reedbed beyond and there were at least three Common Swifts zooming back and forth over the hides, along with a selection of Swallows, House Martins & Sand Martins.

We couldn’t hear the Grasshopper Warbler from up in the picnic area this morning, so we walked across the road to The Skirts path to see if we could find it. Several Sedge Warblers and a Reed Warbler were singing in the reeds and Little Egrets were flying back and forth.

We walked a short way up along the path and now we could hear the Grasshopper Warbler reeling ahead of us. It sounded distant at first so we carried on, then realised we had walked past and it was now behind us. It was reeling quite quietly, and we managed to locate it very low down in the nettles and reeds close to the path. It perched nicely where we could see it and we had a very good view just a few metres away.

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling by the path again this morning

The Grasshopper Warbler stopped reeling and crawled down into the vegetation out of sight. When it came up again it was a bit further back, and it reeled again briefly from low in the reeds. Then it disappeared further back still, out of sight. We walked on, but we could still hear it reeling on and off behind us.

There were more Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers along here – the former easy to see, but the latter typically keeping well down out of view. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the blackthorn across the road and a Common Whitethroat sang from the top of hedge above.

Sedge Warbler – singing along The Skirts path

Up onto the East Bank, we noticed we had just missed a message about a White-tailed Eagle over the reserve. We scanned the sky, but there was no sign now – apparently it had gone through very quickly. Three Common Buzzards were circling very high above us. A Little Grebe was down on Don’s Pool, below the bank.

There were a couple of families of Lapwings, each with three small, fluffy chicks – little more than balls of fluff on legs. We heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked over to see it land briefly among the cows, a smart canary yellow male. It didn’t stay long, but took off and carried on its way west. Yellow Wagtails used to breed along the coast here, but these days are just passage migrants.

Lapwing chick – a ball of fluff on legs

Further up, we stopped again to scan the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There was a good selection of ducks still, including several Wigeon and Teal, plus a scattering of Shoveler and Gadwall. We got a drake Gadwall in the scope to admire the complexity of its delicate patterning.

There were more Lapwings displaying here, along with several Redshanks, and two distant Bar-tailed Godwits in the longer grass further back. The islands on Pope’s Pool were adorned with the usual selection of loafing immature Great Black-backed Gulls and Cormorants.

There were lots more Sedge Warblers on the edge of the reedbed from the East Bank, and finally a Reed Warbler put in a brief appearance too. There were several Meadow Pipits in the grass and a steady passage of hirundines over, mainly Swallows and a few House Martins.

Up at the brackish pools, a Little Egret was feeding close to the path. A couple of smart drake Pintail were upending out on the water further back, showing off their long, pin-shaped tails. There were lots of Dunlin roosting around the edges of the islands on here too.

Over the other side of the path, there were more Dunlin on Arnold’s Marsh and several Ringed Plovers with them. A Turnstone dropped in on the shingle islands. Further back, we could see several more Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlews.

We had heard two Mediterranean Gulls calling as we walked up and they had appeared to drop towards the brackish pools, but there was no sign of them with the Black-headed Gulls here now. But when we heard more Mediterranean Gulls calling, we looked up to see four smart black-hooded adults flying in straight towards us. They came right overhead, their white wingtips translucent against the blue sky.

Mediterranean Gulls – these four smart adults came right overhead

Continuing on to the beach, there were quite a few Sandwich Terns flying back and forth, with some quite close in today. We could even see the yellow tip to the long, black bill on one of them. A Great Crested Grebe in breeding plumage was more of a surprise – they do spend the winter on the sea here, but are less common offshore at this time of year.

As we walked back along the East Bank, we heard a Bearded Tit calling, and looked down to see a female briefly on the edge of the ditch below the bank. It flew up, and out over the reedbed, its long tail dipping behind it, before dropping deeper in. Two more Yellow Wagtails, this time females, were out among the cows now – a miracle they don’t get trodden on as they look for insects around the cow’s feet and noses.

Back along The Skirts path, two Marsh Harriers were displaying over the reedbed, the female towering up high, the male twisting and turning below before diving down into the reeds. A Common Buzzard came low overhead.

Common Buzzard – came over The Skirts

We went back to the Visitor Centre to make use of the facilities, and then decided on an early lunch out on the picnic tables in the sunshine. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing its rattling song just across the road, and when it flew over to the brambles in front of us, we could see it had been bathing and was still drying out.

After lunch, we drove west to Wells. We scanned the pools from the parking area first. We could see several Little Ringed Plovers and a moulting male Ruff on the pool west of the track. Two Brent Geese were out on the grass and more Lapwing chicks were hiding in there too.

As we walked down the track, we could see a Common Snipe in the rushes on the pool to the east. Stopping to scan, we found one of the lingering Jack Snipe too, in the rushes a bit further out. Smaller, shorter-billed, and with a different head pattern, lacking a central crown stripe compared to its commoner cousin. A very distant Common Sandpiper flew across and landed on the edge of the water over in the very furthest corner. A Grey Heron was lurking in the rushes close to the track, presumably eyeing up the ducklings and Lapwing chicks.

Grey Heron – lurking in the rushes

As we walked through the bushes beyond, a Sparrowhawk zipped through and a Red Kite drifted overhead. A Whimbrel flew over the seawall, heading out towards the harbour beyond. Scanning the western pool from the low bank, we could see another Common Sandpiper and another moulting male Ruff, before they were chased off by one of the Lapwings.

We climbed up onto the seawall for a better view. There were lots of Avocets nesting on the island, and more feeding on the saltmarsh the other side of the seawall. Three Avocets were having a disagreement on the mud, two were obviously a pair and engaged in some synchronised jumping between chasing after the third bird together. There were several Oystercatchers on the mud too.

Avocets – arguing on the mud

We could see a distant Spoonbill further out on the saltmarsh, although once it dropped down into one of the muddy channels to feed we could then just see its head and neck occasionally when it looked up. There were more Brent Geese out here too.

A male Marsh Harrier drifted in over the bushes and we could see it had something in its talons. The female circled up with it and we expected to see a food pass. But the male dropped down and landed in the grass and the female drifted off over the fields beyond. The male took off again and flew out over the fields too, and it was looking as if it wasn’t going to share what it was carrying until finally the female came close again and the male dropped its prey for the female to catch.

On our way back to the car park, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes. A Spoonbill was now on the pool west of the track, a much better view than the one we had seen earlier, we could see the yellow tip to its black bill, its shaggy nuchal crest and the mustard yellow wash on its breast.

Spoonbill – on one of the pools on our way back

Our final destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Burnham Overy, hoping to catch up with some Ring Ouzels which had been here for the last few days. As we walked down the track towards the grazing marshes, we could hear a Common Whitethroat singing and a couple of Long-tailed Tits were in the hedge beyond.

A couple of Red-legged Partridges ran out from the grassy margin into the cultivated field on the way down. Beyond the stile, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes and the first thing we noticed were a pair of Grey Partridges trying to hide out on the short grass, looking rather like a couple of large clods of earth.

Grey Partridges – a pair on the grazing marshes

While we were looking at the Grey Partridges, we realised the Ring Ouzels were further back in the same field, just over a ridge and largely out of view. They were only briefly visible to the taller members of the group, before disappearing altogether into the dip in the ground. From further up along the track, we could look back and had a better view of the dead ground. Now we could see there were three Ring Ouzels, two males with bright white gorgets, and a duller browner female.

Ring Ouzel – one of the white-gorgetted males

There were quite a few geese out on the grazing marshes, mainly Greylags, but looking through them carefully we found one lingering Pink-footed Goose. With most of the other Pinkfeet having long since flown back north on their way to Iceland for the breeding season, a few birds which were shot and winged during wildfowling here are largely unable to fly and will have to remain.

Three grey-backed White Wagtails were round the small pools further along by the track, and there were a few Skylark out on the short grass. On the other side, we could see a female Pochard and a Little Grebe. A nice close Little Ringed Plover here meant we could see its distinctive golden-yellow eyering through the scope.

We continued on and just up onto the seawall. The tide was low now, and we could only see the regular Avocets and Redshanks in the harbour. It was cold up here in the wind now and with our day almost at an end anyway, we set off back. A flock of at least 21 Whimbrel in the grassy fields by the stile now was a nice way to finish the day.

27th April 2021 – Spring on the Coast

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a cloudy but bright morning, with lighter easterly winds than of late, and although the cloud thickened and it started spitting for a time in the afternoon, thankfully the worst of the rain held off until after we were finished.

We started at Cley. Before we even got out of the car park, we could already hear the Grasshopper Warbler reeling and as we crossed the road we could see it perched on a curl of brambles in the reeds by the path. We stood and watched it for a while. It was amazingly obliging, perching up in full view just a couple of metres from the path. Olive-brown above, streaked with black, this Grasshopper Warbler is particularly bright lemon yellow below, its long undertail coverts with black arrowhead marks. Fantastic views at close quarters, which really allowed us to appreciate the finer details.

Grasshopper Warbler – amazingly obliging performance

Occasionally it would drop down to the ground to feed, disappearing in the tangled vegetation, but after a short while it would reappear again and start reeling once more. Reeling is the name for the some of Grasshopper Warblers, if you can call it a song. It sounds more like a cricket, a mechanical repetitive clicking. It was amazing how long it could sustain a burst of reeling, the volume rising and falling as it turned its head from side to side.

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling continually

There were other things to see as we stood transfixed by the Grasshopper Warbler. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds. A Little Ringed Plover flew over calling and dropped down towards the car park. A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing too, one repeatedly song-flighting up from the reeds, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted a few times from further up.

Marsh Harrier – circling over the reeds

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the Grasshopper Warbler. One of the aims for today was to have a bit of scope tuition – a new purchase needed setting up and some advice in getting used to using it. So we walked back to the car park and got everything out, setting up the scopes in the picnic area and starting with a scan of Pat’s Pool. We could see lots of Avocets, a few Black-tailed Godwits and a single Ruff around the water. A couple of Great White Egrets were chasing each other around, out in the middle of the reedbed, flying up and around. One or two Bearded Tits zoomed past over the reeds.

Great White Egret – one of two chasing round in the reedbed

There seemed to be more warblers around the car park this morning. A Blackcap was singing from the hedge by the road, but a second male was flitting around the edge of the picnic area at the same time. Likewise, a Common Whitethroat was singing from the brambles and we watched another flitting around in the alexanders on the bank below the Visitor Centre. A Willow Warbler sang briefly too, somewhere around the houses further along.

The theme continued as we made our way east along The Skirts path, past the Grasshopper Warbler which was still reeling away. There were lots of warblers in the bushes beside the road, another two or three Willow Warblers, a couple of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats. It felt like there had been a small arrival this morning. We heard several Reed Warblers singing – more seem to have arrived here in the last few days, but they remained hidden down in the reeds. Some of the Sedge Warblers were more obliging, perching up in full view as they sang.

Sedge Warbler – there are lots in and busy singing now

There had been a couple of Swifts earlier, over the East Bank, and we had seen a big flock of hirundines hawking over the front of Walsey Hills as we walked that way, but by the time we got there, they had all disappeared. We set off up the East Bank and stopped to look out over Pope’s Pool with the scopes. There were still lots of ducks here, Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon, plus some smart Gadwall. A pair of Common Pochard flew past. As well as the breeding Redshank and Lapwing down in the grass, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit out here too.

A Spoonbill was feeding in one of the wet channels down in the grass, mostly hidden from view until it broke off and lifted its head. Eventually it worked its way out of the channel into a pool nearer the bank, where we could get a better look at it. A smart adult, with yellow-tipped black bill, bushy nuchal crest, and mustard yellow wash across its breast.

Spoonbill – feeding in the wet channels off the East Bank

The hirundines had obviously drifted off east, as we could see some in the distance now, over the back of Arnold’s Marsh. As they gradually came closer, we could see a mixture of Swallows and Sand Martins, the latter presumably birds from the sand cliffs along the coast to the east. Scanning higher we spotted several Common Swifts with them, with their swept back wings and slim, cigar-shaped bodies. Our first Swifts of the year. Eventually we had some of them right above our heads, with other breaking off to continue on their way west.

Common Swift – our first of the year today

As we continued up along the bank, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked over to see two flying in over the grazing marsh. One continued on west, but the other appeared to drop down onto the Serpentine. We carried on to see if we could find it, but it took off again just as we walked up. It had obviously dropped in with a second Yellow Wagtail which was already on the ground, as we watched the two of them now flying off west.

We stopped again to look out over Arnold’s Marsh. There were several more Bar-tailed Godwits on here, some now fully in bright rusty breeding plumage. A little flock of Dunlin were flitting between the islands, and on the shingle spits on the edge of the water we could see several Ringed Plover and a very smart breeding-plumaged Turnstone, properly justifying its full name of ‘Ruddy Turnstone’ now, with the rich chestnut stripes in its upperparts.

We decided to have a quick look at the sea, but there didn’t appear to be much moving today – a couple of distant Sandwich Terns and we just caught the back end of two Red-breasted Mergansers disappearing off east. So we decided to head back. The Grasshopper Warbler was still reeling next to the path as we walked back to the car park, so we couldn’t resist stopping again for another listen. Bird of the day!

Grasshopper Warbler – still reeling by the path on our walk back

We drove west to Wells next. There were several Brown Hares in the fields as we parked. Scanning the pool to the west of the track first, we could see a couple of Little Ringed Plovers and a single moulting male Ruff out that side, along with all the breeding Lapwing and Redshank. A Common Sandpiper was right over the back of the pool the other side, with another Little Ringed Plover nearby.

Walking down the track, we continued to scan the pools. There had been a couple of Jack Snipe here earlier, feeding around the clumps of rushes, but we couldn’t find any sign of them now (they had presumably disappeared into the vegetation and gone to sleep, as Jack Snipe tend to do during the day!). We could still see several Common Snipe though.

Several of the pairs of Lapwing here already have young and we had a much better view of the tiny balls of fluff on long legs from the path. A flock of Whimbrel flew over and headed out towards the saltmarsh.

Lapwing – an adult with one of its tiny young

After a break for lunch in the car park, we carried on west. A couple of House Martins over the road at Holkham were our first this year. We were planning to spend the afternoon at Burnham Overy, but the weather had deteriorated now and it was rather cooler and greyer. Still, we set off down the track. There had been some Ring Ouzels first thing this morning, in the fields by the stile, but there was no sign of them here now. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling from the hedge just beyond, another fresh (and slightly late) arrival.

Scanning the grazing marshes further up, we did find two Wheatears out on the grass, a very smart male and a browner female. A single Brent Goose in with the Greylags seemed to be having an identity crisis, and was calling loudly while the rest of the Brents flew round and settled out in the harbour. There were a few Tufted Ducks asleep by the reeds.

We had heard several Mediterranean Gulls on the walk out, and now we found one down on the grass which was quickly followed by a second, both smart adults with jet black hoods and bright red bills. Obviously a pair, we watched as they pecked at the grass and tapped each others’ bills. A pair of Little Grebes on one of the pools appeared to be building a nest platform.

Continuing on to the seawall, the tide was out in the harbour. There were a few waders on the mud, including a single Knot and a couple of Grey Plover, but they kept disappearing into the deep channels. We turned to scan the grazing marshes the other side and managed to pick out a distant pair of Barnacle Geese and a couple of Pink-footed Geese scattered in amongst all the Greylags.

Looking back towards the road, we could see a small flock of Starlings feeding down in the grass way off in the distance. As we scanned past them, another black bird dropped down from the hedge and we caught a flash of white on its breast. When it hopped out into view, we could see it was a Ring Ouzel. It was a long way over, but we could see what it was in the scope. A second Ring Ouzel dropped down onto the grass nearby and we thought there might be one or two more out of view- presumably the birds from this morning having moved further along the hedgerow where they couldn’t be seen from the track.

There were no reports of anything more exciting coming in from people out in the dunes, so we decided against walking out all that way with it starting to spit with rain now. As we made our way back along the track over the grazing marshes, a Yellow Wagtail flew over calling and dropped down by a pool at the back of the grass by the reeds. Through the scopes we could see it was a lovely canary-yellow male, feeding down on the grass with a Pied Wagtail.

There had been two Dotterel reported from Choseley earlier, so we decided to head over that way to see if we could see those. There were a few people already standing by the field when we arrived and they were able to quickly point us in the direction of the Dotterel. They were very hard to see at times, disappearing into dips and furrows in the rough ground, but we eventually got a good view of them in the scopes as they worked their way round the field a bit closer. We could see their bright white supercilia meeting in a ‘v’ on the back of the neck, the white breast band with orange below grading to dark brown on the belly.

Dotterel – one of two in the field today

Dotterel are migrants here, passing through on their way from the winter in North Africa to Scandinavia for the breeding season. They stop off at traditional sites in spring and Choseley is one of those places where they appear regularly in late April and May. Numbers vary from year to year and some years there can be very few, so it is always good to see them while you can!

The rain was threatening to get heavier now, so we decided to have a quick drive round the fields to see if we could find any other birds. A narrow strip of bare ground between a field of oilseed rape and a maize game cover crop along the margin had a couple of game feeders placed in it. Several Yellowhammers were flying in and out of the neighbouring hedge, dropping down to the feeders. A large flock of Chaffinches flew up into the hedge from the maize as we pulled up. But surprise find here, was a Chinese Water Deer – not the sort of place you would routinely expect to find one of these!

There was nothing in the hedge or on the wires by the drying barns. It was cool and windy now, with the rain starting. It was time to call it a day now anyway, so we turned round and headed for home.