Tag Archives: Stiffkey Fen

23rd Sept 2017 – Autumn Equinox, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The weather was not as good as yesterday, cloudy with a bit of very light drizzle on and off first thing. But it dried out quickly and then even brightened up in the afternoon.

Our first destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. There was no sign of the Cattle Egret in the field with the cows where we saw it yesterday, but then it does seem to be a late riser. As we parked the car, three Common Buzzards were hanging in the air over the small copse by the road.

The field by the permissive path has been recently cultivated and there were quite a few Black-headed Gulls and Lapwings in there this morning. As we walked along the path, we noticed some Stock Doves too. They were hard to see through the hedge so we continued on to the copse at the end and looked back. There were at least six of them and we had a good look at a couple of them in the scope, even though they had flown further over as we walked past. They were with a few Woodpigeons, allowing a good comparison.

Stock DovesStock Doves – there were at least 6 in this field this morning

Down on the footpath along the river, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling. A male Blackcap flicked ahead of us through the trees on the bank, but was hard to see in all the leaves. A Cetti’s Warbler was trying to sing from the brambles the other side of the river, but hadn’t quite got it right yet. A Kingfisher called from deep in the thickest part of the trees beside the water.

As we got to the point where there is a gap in the trees and we could see over to the Fen, we noticed two large white shapes in the water amongst all the Greylag Geese. They were two Spoonbills. We found a point from where we could get one of them in the scope and it was a juvenile, with a dull, fleshy coloured bill. The second Spoonbill walked back to join it and we could see it was an adult, with a longer black bill with a distinct yellow tip.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – 1 of 2 at the Fen today, this one a juvenile

The two Spoonbills had a good preen and then started to walk out view behind the reeds, the adult having a quick look for food on the way, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water. There have been large numbers of Spoonbills here in recent weeks, adults and juveniles dispersing from the breeding colony at Holkham. Presumably as birds have started to head off south for the winter, the number has steadily declined so it was nice to see two still here today.

Having had a good look at the Spoonbills, we made our way on and up onto the seawall. The tide was still in and it was a big high tide today, so the channel and harbour the other side were full of water. Normally, this means that many of the waders from the harbour are roosting on the Fen, but there were actually fewer than normal on here today. They had obviously gone off to roost elsewhere.

There were plenty of ducks out on the Fen today – mostly Wigeon and Teal. A couple of Pintail were right down at the front of all the ducks, noticeably larger than the Teal just behind. The drakes of all these species are in their rather drab eclipse plumage at the moment, so they are not looking at their best. There were a few Gadwall too, and the drakes of these are already looking a lot smarter, as they moult earlier.

At this point, it had started to spit with drizzle, so we decided to walk a little further along the seawall. We looked back into the corner of the Fen and could see around 20 Greenshanks roosting in their usual spot. Unlike the godwits and Redshanks, they had come in as normal today. The Kingfisher called again and we turned to see it shooting across the seawall and disappearing out across the saltmarsh.

With the tide so high, we thought it might be difficult to see any waders roosting around the harbour this morning. Looking across in that direction, we spotted a pair of Brent Geese swimming past and behind them we noticed a group of waders roosting, including a Grey Plover still in breeding plumage. So we decided to head round there for a closer look. As we got to the bushes at the end of the seawall, we could hear a Goldcrest calling, presumably a migrant out here. It stayed tucked down out of the drizzle and we didn’t see it.

As we got round to the harbour, the group of waders took off and started to whirl round over the water in a tight flock. Thankfully, most of them landed again and through the scope we could see they were mostly Turnstones and a few Dunlin too. The smart Grey Plover had disappeared, but scanning along the southern edge we found several more Grey Plover roosting and, through the scope, we could see a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits asleep too. An Oystercatcher walked up into view. Out on the tip of Blakeney Point, we could see all the seals hauled out, Grey Seals and Common Seals.

Possibly the same two Brent Geese we had seen earlier then flew in and landed in the harbour channel in front of us. We had a great look at them, presumably a pair, with the larger male sporting a particularly bold white half collar. The Brent Geese are only now returning for the winter, as we saw yesterday, and there are still only small numbers back here so far.

Brent GeeseBrent Geese – this pair landed in the harbour channel in front of us

We had been scanning the boats periodically to see if the Kingfisher might be perched on one of them, as it sometimes likes to do, and on one scan we spotted it perched on the roof of an old boat out on the saltmarsh. Unfortunately, just as we tried to get it in the scope, it flew again. It hovered high over one of the saltmarsh channels for a couple of seconds before dropping back down out of view.

As we made our way back to the seawall, we could see one of the Spoonbills circling round. It dropped back down below the bank, but when we got up there we couldn’t see them where they had been on the Fen. A minute or so later, they flew up from behind the reeds, circled round in front of us, and disappeared off towards Morston, holding their necks and bills stretched out in front of them. A few more waders had appeared on the Fen – more Ruff, a handful of Redshank and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits, but it was still quieter than it should normally be.

Speckled WoodSpeckled Wood – a rather tatty individual, basking in the sun

It had brightened up a bit as we walked back along the path towards the road. A tit flock flicked ahead of us through the sallows. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called. A small group of Greenfinches flew up from the brambles. There were a few butterflies and dragonflies out now – Red Admiral and Speckled Wood, Common Darter and Migrant Hawker – enjoying the sunshine.

After our experience yesterday, we thought it might be worth another look to see if the Cattle Egret had reappeared. We continued on down the permissive path which leads to the field where the cows are. As we turned the corner and saw all the cattle we immediately noticed a white bird in with them. The Cattle Egret had returned.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – back with the cows later this morning

It was a much better view of the Cattle Egret from here, rather than viewing from the car on the road. We had a good look through the scope, noting its small yellow bill. It also had a wash of light orange on the crown, but otherwise looked quite white. The cows were all being rather lazy, sitting down, so the Cattle Egret wandered off through the grass and back to the ditch beyond. There were a couple of Grey Herons here too.

A couple of members of the group had asked about the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, which had been at Burnham Overy since last Sunday, and were talking about possibly going down after we finished this evening to try to see it. It had not been reported today and has been a real skulker anyway, as is typical for the species – others have stood for 4-5 hours and not seen it. There has also been some trouble with twitchers cutting wire fences and trespassing in the fields to try to see it, so we have been steering clear of the site this week. But we had an hour to spare before lunch and it is a nice walk out beside the harbour, so we decided to head round that way. At least then, the group members concerned could see the lie of the land.

The tide had gone out now so we parked in the car park at Burnham Overy Staithe. We were just setting off when we looked up to see a Peregrine fly overhead and out across the channel. It was a young one, brown above and streaked below, and small so probably a male.We watched it fly off across the saltmarsh. As we got up onto the seawall, there were lots of Starlings and House Sparrows in the bushes. A Jay flew across the field beyond. A smart male Kestrel was perched in the top of the hedge and we got a great look at it before it finally took off.

KestrelKestrel – perched in the hedge at Burnham Overy Staithe

There were lots of waders out in the harbour as we walked out along the seawall. We stopped periodically to look through them. There were quite a few Ringed Plover out on the sandbank and a Grey Plover too. On the bank beyond, we could see more Ringed Plover with some Dunlin and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. A Spoonbill appeared nearby, before walking back into one of the saltmarsh channels. Further on, as we turned the corner, there were lots more Redshanks and a few Curlew.

CurlewCurlew – feeding out in the harbour at Burnham Overy

We could see a small crowd of people further along the seawall – waiting for the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler to appear. When we got round to them, we asked if there had been any sightings of the bird today and they confirmed there hadn’t. We had a quick chat about the bushes it had been favouring earlier, just in case the others should decide to come back again for a longer vigil later.

We did manage to add a few species to our tour list here. A couple of House Martins appeared overhead, flying back and forth. Most of the swallows and martins have left for the winter now, but there are still a small number lingering. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese circled over the grazing marshes. We decided not to hang around here, so set off back for lunch. We were almost back to the car park when we looked across towards Holkham and saw several thousand Pink-footed Geese in the distance, flying in from the fields and down to the grazing marshes.

After a nice break for lunch on the benches overlooking the harbour, we headed round to Holkham for the rest of the afternoon. After parking at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, we set off to walk west on the inland side of the pines. We heard a Goldcrest calling from the holm oaks right at the start but expected to see quite a few of them along here today. However, it was unusually quiet in the trees.

A quick stop at Salts Hole produced four Little Grebes. We could hear lots of Pink-footed Geese calling from out on the grazing marsh and stopped to have a look at them from the gate before Washington Hide. There were at least a thousand in view, scattered across the grass, and many more besides just out of sight behind the reeds and hedges.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Goose – there were thousands already back at Holkham today

There were a few ducks on the pool in front of Washington Hide, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard and Shoveler, mostly hiding along the edge of the reeds. A juvenile Marsh Harrier flew in and dropped down into the reeds. A Red Kite circled over Holkham Park, off in the distance. There was no sign of any of the Great White Egrets at first though, until one walked out from behind the reeds and proceeded to walk slowly along the back of the pool, periodically stopping to peer into the reeds. It was clearly very big, tall, long-necked, and sporting a long yellow bill.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – walked across the back of the pool at Washington Hide

After having a good look at the Great White Egret, we carried on west along the path. We had been hoping to run into several tit flocks along here this afternoon, but they were all hiding in the trees. We came across one just before the crosstracks, but they were all deep in a very leafy holm oak. We could see the odd bird when it came out onto the edge, tits, Goldcrests and a couple of Chiffchaffs. But they never came out into the oaks and sycamores in front and quickly disappeared back into the pines behind. We then didn’t hear much more than a couple of Chiffchaffs between there and the west end of the pines, which is rather unusual.

We had not even seen a Hobby on our walk out, which has been a regular feature here in recent weeks. When we got to the end of the pines, we heard a tit flock calling and set off to try to see them. When the Long-tailed Tits started alarm calling, we looked across to see a Hobby scything through the open area of trees. It landed in the top of a pine briefly, where we could just see it through the branches, before turning and flying back out of the trees the way it had come.

Probably spooked by the Hobby, the tit flock moved quickly out of the sycamores and back into the pines. We tried to follow it for a couple of minutes, but it went up into the tops of the trees, where it was hard to see and moved rapidly deeper into the pines. We did see a Treecreeper working its way up the trunks. A quick look in the start of the dunes failed to produce anything, but we didn’t have time to go any further. We started to make our way back

Just the other side of the cross-tracks, a Hobby appeared right over our heads. It flew round above us, then suddenly powered across and scythed vertically down behind an oak tree. Wow! When it reappeared a few seconds later, it was eating something, lifting its feet up to its bill as it flew away, probably a dragonfly as there were lots out here in the sunshine. The Hobby circled round again over the edge of the trees and then landed in the top of a pine. We had to move a few metres back along the path to get the angle, but then we for it in the scope and had a great look at it. A stunning bird.

HobbyHobby – catching insects around the edge of the pines

The Hobby stayed there for some time, looking round, but eventually dropped down from its perch and disappeared away through the trees. We continued our walk back. We were almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive when we found another tit flock. This time they were out of the pines and in the bushes and poplars on the south side of the path. We got much better views of Goldcrest and Treecreeper. There were Coal Tits and a couple of Chiffchaff with them too, but nothing more exotic today.

As the tit flock moved back into the pines, it was time for us to go too.

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19th Sept 2017 – Relaxed Autumn Birding

A Private Tour today. It was to be a relaxed day of general birding on the North Norfolk coast. After getting caught by a brief shower first thing, the clouds cleared, the blue sky appeared and the sun came out. It was even quite warm by the end of the day. A lovely day to be out.

Our first stop for the morning was to be Stiffkey Fen. On our way there, we drove slowly past the wet meadows just east of the village, trying to work out where the cows were today. A Sparrowhawk came out of the hedge beside the road and flew low over the tarmac ahead of us before swooping up into a tree the other side. We eventually found the cows towards the eastern end of the meadow and even before we pulled up, we could see a white shape with them. It was a Cattle Egret.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – with the cows at Stiffkey again today

The Cattle Egret has been hanging around with the cows here on and off for a while now. We managed to stop the car for a minute, while there was no traffic, and have a look at it through binoculars. We could see its short yellow bill. A couple of Grey Herons were loafing next to the cows too.

After parking a little further along the road, we walked out towards Stiffkey Fen. A pair of Bullfinches were calling from the trees beside the road, but we couldn’t see them from the path. As we started down the footpath by the river, a Chiffchaff was calling above our heads and flitting about in the willows, and a Goldcrest appeared with it briefly too. We could hear Long-tailed Tits in the bushes by the river and caught the back of a mixed tit flock, with Blue Tits and Great Tits too. A Greenfinch and a Chaffinch flushed from the brambles as we walked past.

When we got to a gap in the trees where the brambles and reeds are low enough to see over, we had a look out across the Fen. The first thing we saw were the Spoonbills, nine of them. We had a quick look at them from here, then headed up onto the seawall for a better view. It was not long after we got up onto the seawall that it started to rain. We took shelter down by the sluice and thankfully it was just a brief shower.

From back up on the seawall, we had a good look at the Spoonbills. Some were asleep, as usual, but one was busy preening and when it lifted its head we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult. Another two Spoonbills were walking around in the shallow water, one was an adult but the other was a juvenile with a fleshy-coloured bill. The juvenile was chasing behind the adult, bobbing its head up and down and begging for food. The adult kept trying to walk away, but there was no respite.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – four of the nine on the Fen today

The tide in the harbour was already half way out, so a lot of the waders had already left the Fen and gone out into the harbour to feed. There were several Redshanks down in the harbour channel below the seawall. We could hear Greenshanks calling, but couldn’t see them in their usual place on the Fen. They were hiding behind the reeds today, and the next thing we knew they flew up and over the seawall, heading off across the saltmarsh and out into the harbour. A Kingfisher flew the same way too, up from the river in front of us, across the reeds and over the seawall.

There were still a few waders left on the Fen, mostly Ruff which we had a look at through the scope. A Black-tailed Godwit was fast asleep in the middle of a big group of feeding Ruff. There was a single Avocet on here too today, looking slightly lonely.

A good number of Greylag Geese were scattered around the islands on the Fen and, in between them, we could see a variety of ducks. The drakes are mostly not at their best at the moment, in their rather drab eclipse plumage. We did manage to get a smart drake Gadwall in the scope, but it was just too far to appreciate the fine detail and complexity of its feather patterns. There are plenty of Teal and Wigeon on here now, in addition to all the Mallard. Over at the back, we found a small group of Pintail too.

At that point, something spooked all the birds on the Fen and most of them took to the air. We didn’t see what it was, there was no sign of a raptor about and it might have been the geese taking off noisily to head off to the fields, but whatever it was, by the time things settled down again, there were much fewer birds left behind. Many of the ducks and waders headed off to the harbour to feed, so we decided to head round that way ourselves.

As we walked round to the harbour, we could see several waders down on the mud in the channel. They were mostly Redshank, but in with them was a single Grey Plover, so we had a good look at it through the scope, already in its grey non-breeding plumage. When we got to the corner, we stopped to look at the harbour. A Greenshank flew up from the channel and off across the mud. We heard the Kingfisher call again and looked across to see it perched on the gunwale of one of the boats in the channel. We got it in the scope, but it didn’t stay long and flew off back up the channel.

Blakeney HarbourBlakeney Harbour & Point – after the sun came out

The sun was shining now and it was a fantastic view across the harbour to Blakeney Point beyond. We stood for a while and admired the view, while we scanned for birds out on the mudflats. Most of the waders were presumably further out, out of view down in the Pit. We could still see quite a few from here though – a nice selection including Oystercatchers, more Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwits, a few Curlew and a little group of Turnstone.

Four Brent Geese flew in and landed distantly on the edge of the water down in the Pit. They have only just started to return from the Russian breeding grounds in the last couple of days and these are the first ones we have seen here this autumn. In a few weeks time, the area will be busy with them, but it was great to see the first ones return.

As we turned to head back, we bird call, a sound like two stones being knocked together, and turned to see a Stonechat perched on the top of a Suaeda bush on the edge of the saltmarsh. It was joined by a second Stonechat and the two of them gradually worked their way towards us, dropping down out of view, but returning to perch right on top of the bushes.

StonechatStonechat – one of a pair on the edge of the saltmarsh

On the walk back, with the sun out, there were several butterflies and dragonflies enjoying the warmth along the hedgerow beside the path, Red Admiral, Comma and Speckled Wood, Common Darter and Migrant Hawker. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the bushes.

Our next destination was Cley and we set off to walk out along the East Bank. There were lots of geese out on the grazing marshes to the east, Greylags, Canadas and a few Egyptian Geese in with them too. We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling away in the distance, presumably birds just flying in, but we couldn’t see them.

We heard Bearded Tits too, calling from the reedbed, but they too remained elusive, keeping down out of the breeze. A Swallow flew low across the grazing marsh, over the bank and west on across the reeds. It was followed by several more. They are on their way down to Africa for the winter already, and these were the only hirundines we saw today. Autumn is definitely here already.

Scanning the wet grass down on the grazing marshes, we found quite a few waders, mainly Lapwings and Ruff. A single Common Snipe was busy probing away into the mud in amongst the tussocks, but then shuffled off out of view. At the north end of the Serpentine, we came across a small group of Dunlin out on the open mud. We were just looking at them when two Little Stints flew across to join them. We had a great view of the two species side by side in the scope.

Little StintLittle Stint – one of two juveniles on the edge of the Serpentine

Arnold’s Marsh had a lot of birds on it, but they were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks. A couple of Curlew were feeding at the back. Several Cormorants were drying their wings on the stony island. After resting our legs for a few minutes in the hide, we continued on to the beach. We could hear a Water Rail squealing from the north edge of the reedbed, tucked well in and out of view.

The sea looked quiet at first. A couple of distant Gannets flew past, low over the sea. Two Sandwich Terns flew across a bit closer in. There has been a lot of wildfowl returning in the past few days, and it wasn’t long before we picked up a single Brent Goose flying past offshore, with three Cormorants following close behind, taking advantage of it to make their short journey easier. A little while later, another 13 Brent Geese flew pas in a line, all just returning from their Russian breeding grounds for the winter.

A couple of large groups of Shelduck flew past over the sea too. The adult Shelducks fly off to the Wadden Sea to moult at the end of the breeding season. Once their moult is complete, they start to return here and these are some of the first to return. A couple of Curlew flew past too, also returning from Europe for the winter.

ShelduckShelducks – returning after going to the Wadden Sea to moult

We headed back for lunch back at the visitor centre, stopping on the way to admire the two Little Stints which were now busy bathing in a small pool on the edge of the grazing marsh. While we were eating our lunch, we noticed a large white shape circling over the hides. It was a Spoonbill and after a minute or so it flew off west.

After lunch, we headed out to the main hides. There had been a report of four Curlew Sandpipers on Simmond’s Scrape earlier, but when we got there we could only find one and it was on Pat’s Pool. It was nice and close though, so we had a good look at it through the scope, a juvenile with scaly patterned back and a peachy wash across the breast. After a few minutes, it flew back to join the Dunlin on Simmond’s.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – feeding on Pat’s Pool and then Simmond’s Scrape

There were lots more Little Stints on Simmond’s Scrape too. They were rather hard to see at first, very small and creeping about on the low vegetation on the wetter islands, but the more we looked the more we found. In the end, we could see at least 9 Little Stints on the scrape, all juveniles. There were three Ringed Plover out on the islands too.

There were a few other waders on here too. Several Lapwing looked particularly irridescent in the sunshine, well worth a quick look through the scope at their glossy green, purple and bronze tinged upperparts. There were a few more Ruff here and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits half hidden in the deep water, with their heads under probing vigorously in the mud below. Three more Avocets were asleep on Pat’s Pool.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding in the deep water in front of the hide

There were a couple of Marsh Harriers which flew up over the reeds at the back of the scrape at one point. A Little Egret was feeding up and down on the water along the front edge.

As we walked back to the car, it was lovely in the sunshine, listening to the wind in the reeds. It was an early finish today, then back home to put our feet up.

17th Sept 2017 – Three Autumn Days #3

Day 3 of a three day Autumn Tour today, our last day. It was cool and cloudy again, threatening showers first thing, so we donned warm clothes and waterproofs. Then the sun came out and we spent the latter part of the morning shedding layers. It ended up being a lovely autumn day, great birding weather.

Our first destination of the day was Holkham. We parked at Lady Anne’s Drive and walked down towards the pines. There were lots of hirundines hawking low over the grazing marsh along the hedge to the west, Swallows and House Martins, looking for food out of the wind in the shelter of the trees. We heard our first Pink-footed Geese of the day – their distinctive higher pitched yelping calls were once again the soundtrack to our morning. A Pheasant out on the grazing marsh was joined by a family group of three Grey Partridge.

Grey PartridgeGrey Partridge – on the grazing marsh by Lady Anne’s Drive

As we turned west and started to walk along the path on the inland side of the pines, we could hear a Pied Flycatcher calling from the trees. Unfortunately, as we walked through to try to find it, it promptly went quiet. We came out on the edge of the track through to the beach from Lady Anne’s Drive, where the first bird we saw was a Lesser Whitethroat flitting around in the bushes. It seemed to be loosely associated with a mixed tit flock which came along the edge of the trees and disappeared into the pines. It was a great start, but we thought this meant there might be lots of migrants in the woods today.

Continuing on our way west, we heard Treecreeper calling and looked into the trees to see one climbing up the trunk of a very tall pine. We heard Goldcrests calling but they were mostly deeper in the trees and hard to see. We did manage to get on one which was flitting around high up on the edge of the pines. A Jay called from deep in the wood. We had a quick look at Salts Hole, where there were at least three Little Grebes out on the water, diving regularly.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – 1 of at least 3 on Salts Hole

At the gate just before Washington Hide, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes. There were quite a few Pink-footed Geese out in the grass and this gave us an opportunity to look at them in the scope. We could see their dark heads and delicate, dark, pink-banded bills, very different from the carrot-billed Greylag Geese we had seen earlier. A small bird was perched on the top of a line of reeds and kept dropping down into the grass looking for food and flying back up to another perch. Through the scope we could see it was a Whinchat, another autumn migrant. We could see its well-marked pale supercilium.

WhinchatWhinchat – feeding out on the grazing marsh

The sycamores outside Washington Hide were quiet, no sign of any migrants here, so we turned our attention back to the grazing marsh. There were several ducks down on the pool in front of the hide – mostly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, plus a single drake Gadwall. A Pintail appeared briefly, upending out in the middle, showing off its pointed rear end, but quickly disappeared behind the reeds again. A very pale Common Buzzard was perched in a bush further back.

Another couple of birders coming out of the hide told us that they had seen a Great White Egret way off over the back of the grazing marsh, but it had landed out of view. There have been several here all year and they bred this summer for the first time, which was great news. It was presumably one of the other Great White Egrets therefore which walked out from behind the reeds on the pool right in front of us, giving us a great view, especially filling the frame through the scope.

Great White EgretGreat White Egret – on the pool right in front of Washington Hide

The Great White Egret was clearly big and very long necked. We could see its bright orange-yellow bill. It walked very slowly along the reed edge at the back of the pool, occasionally standing stock still and staring down into the water, looking for fish.

Continuing on west, the trees were surprisingly quiet today, with a distinct lack of tit flocks. Perhaps the tits have taken to feeding more in the pines in the recent windy weather. At Meals House, we heard a couple of Chiffchaffs calling, and a Cetti’s Warbler singing. A Jay showed well in the top of a pine tree. We looked up just in time to see a Hobby flying towards us, which continued on straight over our heads.

There had been a report earlier this morning of a Yellow-browed Warbler at the west end of the pines, so we continued straight on past Joe Jordan Hide. We finally found a tit flock half way from there to the end of the trees. We heard the Long-tailed Tits first, and as they came out onto the edge the other tits followed. A couple of Chiffchaffs flitted around in the sallows in the sun, which had started to shine now.

The tits were clinging to the edge of the pines, not coming out properly into the sallows and trees along the path. It seemed like we would not be able to see the whole flock. Then a small warbler flew across the path and landed in the deciduous tree on the south side, and fortunately it was the Yellow-browed Warbler. Unusually, it stayed where it was for a couple of minutes, scratching and wing stretching, which allowed us all to get onto it. We could see its bold pale supercilium and double pale wing bars.

Yellow-browed WarblerYellow-browed Warbler – with the tit flock, near the west end of the pines

Eventually, the Yellow-browed Warbler flew back across the path and into the sallows on the other side. We thought it might feed there for a while, but it was chased off by one of the Chiffchaffs, and flew up into the trees. We could see it perched high in one of the pines, before it flew again and disappeared back out of view. A Willow Warbler flew across from the sallows too, and then the whole tit flock disappeared back into the pines.

Yellow-browed Warblers breed in Siberia and winter in SE Asia, so North Norfolk might not be the first place you would expect to see one. However, in recent years they have become increasingly common and are now an expected sight at this time of year. It is always great to see the first Yellow-browed Warbler, as it means autumn migration has stepped up a gear.

The pressure was off now, having seen a Yellow-browed Warbler, but we continued on to the end of the pines to see if we could find any other migrants. A Blackcap called from the bushes by the path. There were several dragonflies out enjoying the autumn sunshine – lots of Common Darters, a Ruddy Darter and a few Migrant Hawkers. There were butterflies too – Red Admiral, Comma and several Speckled Wood.

Common DarterCommon Darter – a female, basking in the sunshine

It was rather quiet at the end of the pines and in the edge of the dunes. We walked round through the trees, but there were next to no birds in the usually attractive spots. We had a quick look out across the grazing marsh from the edge of the dines, and then decided to make our way back, to see if we could find any more interesting birds en route, now that the sun was out.

There was a tit flock high in the tops of the pines at the crosstracks, possibly the one which the Yellow-browed Warbler had been with earlier, but it was hard to see anything clearly up there. We heard more Long-tailed Tits calling just past Meals House, and we got better views of Goldcrest here, but the birds moved quickly back into the trees.

The highlight of the walk back was a Hobby which was hanging in the air over the edge of the pines, catching insects. At one point, it caught something and hung in the air right over our heads eating it, bringing its feet up to its bill so it could devour what it had caught on the wing. Something disturbed the Pink-footed Geese and there was a cacophony of calling as they took off, although we couldn’t see them through the trees. There were clearly a lot more than we had seen earlier now on the grazing marsh.

HobbyHobby – eating its insect prey right over our heads

Almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we came across another tit flock moving between the pines and the poplars on the south side of the path. At first, all we could see were more tits, Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, etc, and a couple of Treecreepers. Then a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared with them, flying out from the edge of the pines and into one of the poplars. It disappeared into the trees, but a few minutes later, as the Long-tailed Tits started to make their way back across the path, it appeared again and we could see it up in the poplar. Our second Yellow-browed Warbler of the day! Then it flew back into the pines and we lost sight of it.

We had intended to eat our lunch at the picnic tables by Lady Anne’s Drive, but we got back to find they were all fenced off. There is a new path being constructed and for the dreaded ‘Health & Safety’ reasons, we were deemed incapable of reaching them without injuring ourselves! We got in the car and drove round to Wells Beach, where we ate lunch in the car park instead.

An Arctic Warbler had been found here earlier in the morning, so after lunch we went into the woods to see if we could see it. Thankfully it was showing well when we arrived at the right spot, and very quickly all the group had seen it. We followed it for about 30 minutes, flicking around in the birches, fluttering and flycatching, and had some great views of it. It would disappear into the leafy trees at times, but after a couple of minutes someone would find it again.

Arctic WarblerArctic Warbler – we enjoyed great views of this rarity in Wells Woods today

Arctic Warbler is a very rare visitor here in Norfolk, although it is an annual visitor to the UK, more commonly on the Northern Isles. They breed in arctic forests, from north Scandinavia eastwards, wintering in SE Asia, so this one was rather off course. They can be very hard to see, but this particular Arctic Warbler was unusually obliging! A great bird to see.

Having spent quite a lot of time in the woods today, we decided to do something different and go looking for some waterbirds for the rest of the afternoon. Stiffkey Fen seemed like a good place to go. It was lovely and sunny now, warm out of the wind, which was still rather blustery. There were not so many birds in the trees and bushes this afternoon, but we did flush several Greenfinches and Chaffinches from the brambles as we passed.

It is hard to see the Fen from the path now, as the reeds and brambles have grown tall over the summer. There are one or two places where you can still get a vantage point, and we could see lots of white blobs huddled up on one of the islands on the Fen, a mix of Spoonbills and Little Egrets. There was nowhere easy to set up the scope here, so we decided to have a look from up on the seawall.

Unfortunately, when we got up onto the seawall, we couldn’t see where the Spoonbills were roosting, it was hidden behind the reeds. There were lots of other things to see on here though. A nice selection of waders included several Greenshanks along with lots of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits out on the Fen. A few Ruff were out in the water with them. We got all the waders in the scope to have a good look at them. More Redshanks were gathering in the harbour channel the other side of the seawall, as the tide was coming in now.

There were plenty of ducks on the Fen – Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard and Teal. A single Pintail was busy upending out at the back. A very large and noisy gaggle of Greylags flew in from the neighbouring field. A Kingfisher flew up from the reeds calling, but was gone in a flash of electric blue, over the seawall and out over the saltmarsh.

We made our way round to have a look in the harbour. The tide was coming in fast now. We heard a Kingfisher call and looked round to see it perched on a mooring chain fixed to the far bank of the channel. It was presumably the bird we had seen earlier, heading in this direction. We had a good look at it through the scope, it was back on to us and we could see the stripe of bright blue down its back. Then it dropped down into the water and caught a fish, flying back up to its perch and beating the fish on the chain repeatedly before swallowing it. Then the Kingfisher flew off up the channel.

KingfisherKingfisher – fishing in the harbour channel

Out around the harbour, we could see lots of waders gathering. They were mostly on the shore round out of view, but we could see a large huddle of Oystercatchers and, further over, a big group of Grey Plover. More waders were flying in across the harbour all the time, forced off from where they had been feeding by the rising water. We saw a little flock of Bar-tailed Godwits, several groups of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, another flock of Grey Plover.

Most of the waders landed out of view, but we did manage to get a few in the scope. A single Dunlin and a lone Turnstone were trying to roost on a spit of mud, but it didn’t take long before it was covered by water and they flew off. Two Sandwich Terns on the same spit were also pushed off by the rising tide. A Curlew was preening down on the front edge of the mud.

While we were scanning through the waders, we found a Great Crested Grebe on the water. A line of Mute Swans swam past us up the channel, with a single Greylag Goose with them. Presumably the Greylag was confused and thought it was a swan!

It was a great spot to stand and take in the view on a sunny autumn afternoon, looking out across the harbour to Blakeney Point beyond. We could see all the seals gathered out on the far point. It made a fitting end to the day, and it was now time to head back. On the way, we stopped along the path and managed to find a spot where we could get the Spoonbills in the scope. As usual, they were mostly asleep, but one or two did wake up briefly, just long enough to flash their spoon-shapes bills before they went back to sleep, at which point it was easier to distinguish them from the white Little Egrets roosting with them.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills & Little Egrets – roosting on one of the islands at Stiffkey Fen

It had been a great three days of Autumn birding. The weather had not been anywhere near as bad as forecast, and we had mostly managed to dodge the showers, with the help of a hide or two. We had seen lots of birds, including several exciting ones, scarce Autumn migrants and some of the regular delights of birdwatching in Norfolk.

13th Sept 2017 – Autumnal Day 2

A Private Tour today, the second of our two days. It felt really autumnal today. Storm Aileen blew in overnight, bringing heavy rain and gale force winds, gusting up to 60mph first thing this morning. Thankfully it had calmed down a little by the time we met up, the rain had stopped and there were even some brighter intervals, but the wind was still gusting up to 48mph through the morning. Undaunted, we went out to see what we could see.

Our first destination was Stiffkey Fen. On the way there, three Red Kites hung in the air over the road, enjoying the breeze. We were met by a very gusty wind when we got out of the car, but it was not so bad once we got into the shelter of the hedge along the path. A Kestrel was standing out in the middle of a recently cultivated field, presumably looking for invertebrates. Easier work than trying to hover in the wind!

As we got into the trees, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. A tit flock came through the wood and seemed to be making for the sunny sheltered edge along the roadside. We could just see some of the tits in the trees above us, but they were hard to see today with the movement of the branches and leaves. A couple of Chiffchaffs were calling too.

Down beside the river, we flushed a couple of Greenfinches and Chaffinches from the brambles. We could hear a Blackcap calling from the bushes too, but the birds were harder than usual to see along here, presumably they were keeping tucked well down today. The sun came out and in the shelter of the hedges a few butterflies even appeared – a couple of Red Admirals and Speckled Woods. A Green Sandpiper flew low overhead calling, presumably coming up from the Fen before continuing on its way west.

There is one spot along the path where it is possible to see over the brambles across to the Fen. We knew it was likely to be windy up on the seawall, so we stopped to look from here first. The first thing we saw was the Spoonbills. There were 12 of them at first, mostly asleep, but two were awake and walking around. A closer look revealed that it was a juvenile, one of this year’s young raised just along the coast, which was pursuing its parent begging for food. Every time the adult Spoonbill stopped, the juvenile kept pecking at its bill, so the adult kept walking. The youngster then followed behind, bobbing its head up and down. The pester power was relentless!

Spoonbills 1Spoonbills – this juvenile kept begging for food from its parent

There were lots of geese on the Fen, mostly Greylags but a few Canada Geese too. There are more ducks on here too now, in various stages of moult. As well as all the local Mallard, there were Wigeon, Gadwall and Teal. A couple of Tufted Ducks were diving out in the middle.

After a good look from the path, we decided to brave the seawall. It was not quite as windy up here as we had feared and we had a good view out across the harbour. The tide was on its way in and the channel below the seawall was starting to fill up. Several Redshank were still feeding on the remaining mud along the edge, along with a Curlew.

There is a much better view of the Fen from up on the seawall. There were lots of waders asleep in the water just beyond the reeds, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning the islands, in amongst the ducks and geese, we could see several Ruff, including one with a strikingly white head. Over in their usual corner, a dozen Greenshank were already in to roost, standing in the water out of the wind. A single Redshank was with them and through the scope, we had a good comparison between the two, the Greenshank being much paler, sleeker and slightly larger too.

As the tide was rising out in the harbour, more birds flew in to roost. Another three Spoonbills came in to join the twelve already out on the Fen. More Redshank flew in from the harbour. A Greenshank took advantage of the opportunity for a quick last feed on the edge of the mud down in the harbour channel before flying up over the seawall and across to join the others.

We decided to walk round to have a look out in the harbour. On the way, a Common Buzzard was hovering out over the edge of the saltmarsh. There were not so many small birds along here today – we flushed a Meadow Pipit from the grass and a Common Whitethroat from the weeds beside the path.

The water out in the harbour was already quite high and a lot of the waders were already roosting out of view. We could still see quite a few Oystercatchers and Curlew. A small party of Turnstone, accompanied by a single Dunlin, flew in and landed on the near shore, amongst all the Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. A single Bar-tailed Godwit flew west, before another five flew in and dropped down out of view. Out on the end of Blakeney Point, we could see a number of seals hauled out on the beach.

It was a bit exposed and breezy out on the edge of the harbour, so we started to make our way back. The Spoonbills on the Fen had multiplied in our absence, with more birds flying in from the harbour and saltmarsh ahead of the rising tide. One flew off towards Morston as we walked back, but their were still 26 now out on the Fen when we got back to count them. An adult Spoonbill was still being pursued around the island by a begging juvenile – quite possibly the two birds we had seen much earlier!

Spoonbills 2Spoonbills – most of the 26 which were on the Fen on our walk back

It was nice to get off the seawall and back into the shelter of the hedge beside the path. We could hear Bullfinches calling from the sallows, but couldn’t see them today. The tit flock was still feeding in the trees. When we got back to the car, we could see a flock of Lapwing out in the field next door and when we stopped to scan, we found a couple of Stock Doves here too. One of the Stock Doves was helpfully standing next to a Woodpigeon, giving us a nice side-by-side comparison through the scope.

There has been a Pectoral Sandpiper at Cley for the last few days and news had come through that it was still present this morning, so we headed round to try to see it next. We parked at the base of the East Bank and started to walk up. There were lots of martins flying low over the pools on the edge of the reedbed and skimming the bank in front of us, so we stopped to watch them. They were mostly House Martins, flashing a white rump as they banked but in with them were several plain brown backed Sand Martins too. We got some really close up views as they zoomed round us, hawking for insects.

Sand MartinSand Martin – hawking for insects around the East Bank

Further along the path, we could see a small group of people. We assumed they were watching the Pectoral Sandpiper, so we walked up to join them, but when we got there they pointed to the bird they were watching (which they thought was it) and it was a Ruff! There was no immediate sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper here, and we were not entirely sure whether it had actually been seen where they were looking, so we started to walk slowly on along the bank, scanning the grass and pools carefully, to see if we could refind it.

Then all the birds erupted from the grass and started to whirl round and a shout from further along alerted us to an incoming Hobby. It flew fast and low right past us, skimming over the grass, before stopping to chase something back towards the road, climbing suddenly and sharply before stooping vertically back down again. It then made for all the hirundines over the pools, which scattered, before the Hobby climbed higher and flew off over North Foreland wood.

HobbyHobby – flew right past us low over the grazing marsh

When the birds all settled again, there was still no sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper. There were plenty of Ruff down around the Serpentine, and lots of Black-tailed Godwits further over in the grass. As we made our way further on, we found a couple of Dunlin on the mud. At the north end of the Serpentine, an Avocet was feeding out in the water and a very pale silvery grey and white winter plumage Spotted Redshank was on the mud nearby. The Spotted Redshank waded out into the water and started feeding too, sweeping its bill rapidly from side to side, just like the juvenile we had seen at Titchwell yesterday.

There were plenty of Greylag Geese already out on the grazing marshes, but some high pitched yelping calls alerted us to another six geese flying in behind us. These were Pink-footed Geese, probably freshly arrived from Iceland for the winter. They circled over the grass but seemed to decide not to land and continued on east. A short while later they reappeared and dropped down onto the grass behind Arnold’s Marsh. Here we could get the Pink-footed Geese in the scope, noting their small size relative to the Greylags, their dark heads and dark pink-banded bills.

Pink-footed GeesePink-footed Geese – six, probably just arriving from Iceland for the winter

The new shelter overlooking Arnold’s gave us somewhere welcome to get out of the wind. There were quite a lot of waders out on the water and we settled in to work our way through them. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, along with a few Curlew. Looking carefully through the godwits, we found a couple which were more strongly marked on the back, browner, streaked with black, two Bar-tailed Godwits.

On our first scan, their were just a couple of Dunlin but as we looked back we came across another group of four. A slightly larger wader was with them and through the scope we could see it was a Curlew Sandpiper, a juvenile. We could see the peachy wash across its breast and unstreaked white belly. Its bill was a little longer than the Dunlins’ and cleanly downcurved, rather like a miniature Curlew (hence its name!).

We had seen a large mob of Sandwich Terns out over the sea beyond the shingle bank and they started to fly in and land on one of the smaller islands. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, noting their black bills with small yellow tips. They were in winter plumage now, with white crowns and the black on their heads now restricted to a line running back from the eye to the shaggy crest at the back.

Sandwich TernsSandwich Terns – came in to land on one of the islands

At that point, someone came into the shelter and informed us that the Pectoral Sandpiper had reappeared, back at the south end of the Serpentine. Thankfully it didn’t take us long to locate it, when it ran out along the edge of a muddy pool, before disappearing back into the grass. Thankfully, with a bit of patience, it showed very well and we had several very good looks at it through the scope. It kept going into the long grass out of view but after a while it would come out onto the edge again. We could see its distinctive streaked breast, cleanly demarcated from the white belly.

Pectoral SandpiperPectoral Sandpiper – this photo of it taken a couple of days ago!

The Pectoral Sandpiper gradually worked its way a little closer towards us along the edge of the pool. Suddenly it stopped on the mud and stood up tall, then took off and flew across the water, landing down on the front edge behind the grass where we couldn’t see it. We had already had a great view, so we decided to head back to the visitor centre for lunch. It was a relief to get off the East Bank and out of the wind!

After lunch, we decided to have a quick look out on the reserve. There is management work underway at the moment on Whitwell Scrape, with a large excavator digging it out. This is causing a lot of disturbance to the other main scrapes, but we thought it worth a quick look just in case something had dropped down on here. On the walk out, we could see a Marsh Harrier quartering the reedbed, this one a dark chocolate brown juvenile.

There didn’t seem to be much on Simmond’s Scrape when we looked out from the hide. Scanning carefully, we did find a couple of Ringed Plover out on one of the islands, with a single Dunlin. A Ruff was over the far side, picking its way along the edge. A couple of Shoveler were feeding down in front of the hide, barely raising their heads out of the water.

ShovelerShoveler – almost raising its head out of the water

A Little Egret flew in and started feeding along the near edge of the scrape. A family of Mute Swans were in the channel in front of the hide. The Pied Wagtails liberally scattered around the islands seemed to be the only ones completely unconcerned with all the machinery working nearby.

Another Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds the other side of the scrape, a dark male we could just see some small patches of grey in the upperwing and the paler underwings with black wingtips. A little while later, another Marsh Harrier flew back the other way, from the direction of North Scrape – a different bird again, this one a female.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a dark male flying over the reeds behind Simmond’s Scrape

There was not much on Pat’s Pool either, a few more Ruff, a handful of Black-tailed Godwits, some Lapwings and a few assorted gulls and ducks. We were just thinking about heading back to the visitor centre when we noticed a rather black cloud approaching behind the hide. The worst of the rain passed to the south of us, but we could hear rumbles of thunder as it did so. When it cleared through, we made our way back. A Common Whitethroat flicked ahead of us in and out of the brambles along the Skirts path.

It was already starting to ease, but we decided to finish the day with a visit to Kelling, hoping to get out of the wind. As we set off along the lane, a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches flew up into the dense blackthorn hedge from the stream. We could hear a couple of Chiffchaffs calling and a little further along one perched out briefly on the sunny edge of the hedge. There were a few more butterflies out in the sunnier more sheltered spots. The stubble field half way down was full of Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants, released ready for the shooting season.

We made our way down to the Water Meadow. At first the pool looked rather quiet, but the more carefully we looked, the more we found. By the end we had counted at least three Redshanks and five Ruff around the reedy edges. When we got down to the cross track and looked back at the muddy margin on the near side, we could see a Green Sandpiper over in the far corner. A couple of Dunlin down in the near corner caught our eye, just as a Common Snipe sneaked out of cover and walked across the mud, before disappearing back into the grass.

Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper – on the back of the pool at Kelling WM

Continuing on along the path down towards the beach, it was fairly quiet at first, a Cetti’s Warbler calling from the reeds being the only bird of note. When we got to the corner and turned onto the path up the hill, we saw movement around the fence. A male Stonechat appeared and perched on the top strand of wire, and a Common Whitethroat appeared on the wire below. Turning to look back across the Quags, a careful scan produced a single Wheatear out on the short grass in the middle.

From half way up the hill, we turned to scan the sea. There were quite a few Sandwich Terns flying back west just offshore. An Arctic Skua appeared, flying low over the sea just behind them. We noticed a Great Crested Grebe swimming out on the water and as we watched it, a drake Eider took off from the sea just behind it and flew past us. We got the Great Crested Grebe in the scope, but after a minute it took off and flew off west too.

After that little flurry of activity, the sea went a little quiet. We were out of time anyway, so we turned and started to make our way back. The wind had dropped now and the sun was out, with blue skies overhead as we got back to the car. The wind had not stopped us today and we had enjoyed a very successful day out despite its best efforts. It had been a productive two days out, with a very good variety of birds seen.

7th Sept 2017 – Early Autumn Action

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. The weather was good – sunny and warm in the morning, clouding over in the afternoon but still staying dry until after dark. A great day to be out. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast.

Our first stop this morning was at Stiffkey Fen. As we made our way down along the footpath, a Marsh Harrier flew low over the field beside us. Through binoculars, we could see it was carrying green wing tags, but it was too far away for us to read the all-important code on them. It hung in the air or a second over the trees and was joined by  second Marsh Harrier, this time a dark chocolate brown juvenile. As we continued along the path, a Green Woodpecker flew over the field and disappeared across the path behind us.

In the trees down by the river, a couple of Chiffchaffs were calling. We could hear a flock of Long-tailed Tits coming, and as we came out of the trees we found a mixed tit flock moving ahead of us. In with the tits were several Blackcaps and a single Reed Warbler too, feeding high up in the sallows. As we walked on along the path, we flushed a good number of Greenfinches from the brambles, where they were feeding on the blackberries, along with a couple of Chaffinches and Goldfinches. A small number of lingering House Martins were still fluttering around the eaves of the house on the hill and a Mistle Thrush over.

The vegetation is tall along here now, so it is hard to see much of the Fen from the path. However, through a gap in the trees we could make out a long line of large white shapes over towards one side, amongst all the geese. A big group of Spoonbills. There is a better view from up on the seawall and now we could see them properly and count them – 39 in total, all in one group.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – 39 in one flock, out on Stiffkey Fen, all asleep!

The Spoonbills were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! Just occasionally one would lift its head briefly, but it was still great to see so many together like this, the product of a productive breeding season here this summer.

On the way out, we had heard the distinctive ringing call of Greenshanks. We found them in one corner of the Fen, a flock of 24 of them roosting together. They come in to here from the muddy channels out on the saltmarsh to roost over high tide. There was a big flock of Redshank too, closer to us, just beyond the reeds. The tide was already going out fast and first the Redshanks started heading back out, calling noisily.  Several of them dropped down onto the mud beside the harbour channel just beyond the seawall and they were joined by a single Greenshank, giving us a great comparison side by side through the scope.

There were also lots of Black-tailed Godwit asleep here, roosting on the Fen, but they seemed to be showing no inclination to head back out to the harbour. Several Ruff were picking around the islands among the masses of Greylag Geese and ducks. There were plenty of Mallard and a few Gadwall, but numbers of Teal are starting to increase as well now as birds return for the winter and we found a handful of Wigeon in amongst them too.

It was already looking like a good day for raptors. A Hobby flew in low and fast over the saltmarsh and zipped away inland across the field just beyond the Fen. Then we looked up to see seven Common Buzzards circling in the sunshine. They were trying to make their way west, but turned to head out over the edge of the saltmarsh, looking for thermals. There were clearly a few Common Buzzards on the move today, as these would not be the only ones we saw.

Common BuzzardsCommon Buzzards – 2 of the 7 which circled west this morning

Continuing along the path out towards the harbour, a small group of Meadow Pipits flew over calling, also on the move today, heading west. A female Yellowhammer which flew off calling from the top of the hedge was most likely a local bird.

Out in the harbour, the number of waders is increasing steadily now. With the tide going out fast, they were starting to spread out across the mud. We could see lots of black and white Oystercatchers and several Curlew. A cracking Grey Plover still in full breeding plumage caught our attention, with jet black face and belly surrounded in gleaming white. Stunning. There were lots more Grey Plover further out on the mud, in various different stages of moult to greyer winter plumage.

There were several Black-tailed Godwits feeding out on the mud now, and in with them we could see several smaller waders. The larger, dumpier, greyer ones were Knot, the smaller ones were Dunlin. A Ringed Plover stood out with its black and white ringed head. A single Bar-tailed Godwit was further out on the mud.

As we turned to walk back, a Stonechat appeared on a low Suaeda bush next to the path. It flicked across to the other side and then more Stonechats appeared following it, there was clearly a little group of them. They didn’t appear to be a family party, so most likely this was a small post-breeding group which you sometimes get at this time of year. After they had gone, we flushed a Whitethroat which was skulking in the vegetation by the path.

Speckled WoodSpeckled Wood – there were several out in the sunshine this morning

On the way back, there were several insects out enjoying the sunshine. We saw several Speckled Wood butterflies and a nice selection of dragonflies – Migrant Hawker, plus Common Darter and Ruddy Darter. We picked up the tit flock again, in the sallows by the path, and while we were following them we heard a couple of Bullfinches calling plaintively, getting a brief glimpse of them as they flew across overhead. A Cetti’s Warbler sang rather half-heartedly from the river bank. singing. Then back at the car, we stopped to look at the Stock Doves with the Woodpigeons in the field beside us. The metallic green neck patch on the one we got in the scope was really shining in the sun.

Our next destination was Cley. We still had a bit of time before lunch, so we made our way round to the beach car park. On our way there, a Wheatear flicked across the road right in front of the car, flashing its white rump. It landed on the West Bank right beside us, so we stopped to get a closer look at it. But another car pulled up right behind us and they were impatient, clearly in a great hurry to get to the car park beyond, and honked their horn. The Wheatear promptly flew off. We drove into the car park and stopped, and as we got out we saw the car behind in discussion with the attendant. Presumably they didn’t want to pay, as they turned round and headed back up Beach Road. So much for them being in such a hurry to get here!

We headed out along the beach towards North Scrape. Thankfully there were several more Wheatears on the fence posts along here, so we got a chance to stop and look at them at our leisure. Smart birds, autumn migrants stopping off to feed on their way south. There was no sign of any of the Whinchat with them though, which had been reported earlier. A Green Sandpiper was calling incessantly out on Billy’s Wash, but we couldn’t see it from the path.

WheatearWheatear – one of several along the Eye Field fence today

Out at North Scrape, yet another Wheatear was perched obligingly on the reed screen, reluctant to leave the area of strimmed grass where it had presumably been feeding. There seemed to be lots of water on the scrape and didn’t look to be much of note on there at first, mostly a few ducks, Teal, Shoveler and Shelduck.

There was the grand total of five waders on the edge of the nearest island so we had a quick look at them. A juvenile Ruff and two Redshank were predictable enough, but the two smaller ones turned out to be a Curlew Sandpiper with a lone Dunlin. The Curlew Sandpiper was a juvenile, with a peachy orange wash across the breast and scaly back. We got a good view through the scope, at one point the two of them were feeding together, the Curlew Sandpiper noticeably bigger and with a longer, more down-curved bill.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – a juvenile on North Scrape

A real long distance migrant, it was remarkable to think that this Curlew Sandpiper had stopped off here to feed on its way from arctic Siberia, where it was raised over the summer, to Africa for the winter.

As we got up to walk back, we could see someone photographing the Wheatears along the fence line back towards the car park. Just beyond, we could see another smaller bird perched on the fence. Through the scope we confirmed that it was the Whinchat. We had a quick look from here, then hurried back along the path before it might be flushed. The photographer was so focused on one of the Wheatears that she hadn’t seen it. Thankfully it was still there when we got there and we got a good look at it through the scope.

WhinchatWhinchat – had reappeared on the fence on our way back

The Whinchat was more strongly marked than the Wheatears, patterned brown and black on the upperparts and with a noticeable pale supercilium. It dropped down from the fence and flew into the field, where it perched on a dead dock seedhead for a while, scanning the ground below for insects, occasionally dropping down into the grass. Eventually it moved further out into the field and was lost to view. As well as more Wheatears, we flushed several Meadow Pipits and Linnets from the vegetation on the shingle on the walk back.

After lunch back at the visitor centre, we headed out to the hides. There was a nice selection of waders on Simmond’s Scrape. Several Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff were feeding down at the front, giving us better views than we had had of them earlier. A couple of Common Snipe were hiding down in the wet grass on the edge of the scrape, only really visible when they ran up and across the bank, striking birds with their long bills and golden stripes.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – feeding down at the front of the scrape

Further back, two Knot were busily feeding on the wet mud with a small flock of Dunlin. A Common Sandpiper was feeding along the back edge of the scrape, bobbing up and down as it worked its way along the edge of the grass. We could hear another Green Sandpiper and looked out of the side of the hide to see it on the edge of the water out behind Whitwell Scrape. A Greenshank flew past calling.

There were two more Spoonbills here on the scrape. One was asleep, just like the birds we had seen earlier, but a juvenile Spoonbill was walking round on island, pecking at the mud. It seemed like it had not got the hang of feeding yet – it should be in the water! But at least we could see its distinctive spoon-shaped bill, plain fleshy brown on a juvenile.

A few Black-headed Gulls were dotted around the scrape, now in winter plumage and lacking their summer brown heads. Further over were three larger gulls and one of them caught our attention. It was smaller than the two Great Black-backed Gulls it was with, and we could see that although it was obviously a young bird, juvenile/1st winter or 1st calendar year, it already had a strikingly pale whitish head. It was hard to see properly at first, hiding behind the larger gulls, but eventually it came out and our suspicions were confirmed, it was a Caspian Gull.

Caspian GullCaspian Gull – appeared briefly on the scrape

After a good look at the Caspian Gull through the scope, we discussed some of the finer identification points with the benefit of some photos. The rather solid grey-brown wing coverts with neat pale edges and contrasting dark tertials with bright white ‘thumbnail’ tips are all juvenile feathers. It has already moulted its mantle extensively, with lots of new and rather plain grey 1st winter feathers. Caspian Gulls are regular here at this time of the year, but they are mostly seen coming in very late in the evening on their way to roost, so it was great to see one so well in the middle of the afternoon.

At that point, everything flushed and scattered as a Hobby appeared overhead. It was joined by a second Hobby, the two of them buzzing the scrapes, scything through the startled birds. One of them stooped at an unsuspecting Dunlin, the latter successfully taking evasive action as the Hobby turned and climbed again sharply. They made a pass or two right in front of the hide, giving us stunning close up views.

HobbyHobby – one of two which started buzzing the scrapes

Then two Marsh Harriers joined in, circling out over the scrape, possibly hoping to take advantage of the general pandemonium. The two Hobbys started to mob the Marsh Harriers, stooping at them, trying to drive them back to the reedbed. It was real all-action stuff! We didn’t know where to look.

Hobby vs Marsh Harrier 1

Hobby vs Marsh Harrier 2Hobby – mobbing one of the local Marsh Harriers

Eventually, the Hobbys gave up and moved on. As things started to settle down again, four more Common Buzzards circled over the reeds and drifted off west over the hide. The Spoonbills had taken off too, even the adult which had been sleeping almost constantly since we arrived had woken up. They circled round and landed in front of the hide, on the edge of the nearest island, giving us a great view now. We could see the adult Spoonbill’s black bill with distinctive yellow tip, very different from the juvenile’s fleshy bill.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – the adult coming into land, flashing its yellow bill tip

Most of the small waders had cleared out after the Hobbys and Marsh Harriers had done their stuff. We walked round to Teal Hide and had a quick look on Pat’s Pool. The Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff and Lapwing had all settled back down onto the scrape, but other than that there were just a couple of Dunlin and a single Ringed Plover left on here.

After walking back to the car, we headed out to East Bank. A single Sand Martin flew past over the reeds – numbers of hirundines are steadily dropping now as birds head off south already. Apart from a large gaggle of Greylags and Canada Geese, we could see a few Lapwing down in the grass with several moulting juvenile Starlings in amongst them. A Ruff and a Common Snipe were hiding down on the edge of one of the small pools. Four Avocets were busy feeding, up to their bellies out on the Serpentine.

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – hiding in the grass on Pope’s Marsh

Further over, on Pope’s Pool, there were lots of Teal and Redshank. Looking through them carefully, we found a single Spotted Redshank too, paler silvery grey above and white below compared to the Common Redshanks. Its feeding action stood out too, walking around in circles with its long bill down in the water, sweeping it from side to side.

The biggest surprise of the day came when we were scanning the grazing marsh to the east of the East Bank. We picked up a tight flock of small birds flying directly towards us low over the grass. As they flew up and over the bank we could see they were Tree Sparrows, eight of them. They used to be common birds, but Tree Sparrows are now very scarce here, victims of agricultural intensification. Back in the 1970s, counts of migrating Tree Sparrows numbering in the hundreds were not unknown on some days on the coast, but sadly this is now a thing of the past and only very small numbers are seen these days on passage.

The Tree Sparrows continued on strongly west over the reedbed the other side of the path. There were a few more Meadow Pipits flying west too, more birds on the move already. Further along, we heard a Bearded Tit calling, and turned to catch a glimpse as one flew across, skimming the top of the reeds. Despite more calling, we didn’t see another one, but it was rather breezy up here this afternoon.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, there were several Cormorants standing around or dying their wings around the island at the back. A good number of Black-tailed Godwit on here were mostly asleep, although one rather rusty bird, still sporting quite a bit of bright summer plumage, drew attention to itself. Otherwise, there were several Curlew and a plenty of Redshanks here. A Brown Hare on one of the vegetated shingle spits was quite hard to see, its black tipped ears more visible through the scope.

Even though it was cloudy, we stood and admired the view, looking out east across the marshes towards the cliffs at Weybourne and Sheringham. The saltmarsh vegetation, samhpire and sea lavender, was striped in various autumnal shades of orange and red.

Arnold's MarshArnold’s Marsh – looking east towards Weybourne & Sheringham

As we walked on towards the beach, several Little Egrets were flying around or preening on the edge of the pools. We talked about how this used to be a rare bird here in UK, so at least some things are doing well, while others like Tree Sparrow seem in unstoppable decline. Six Wigeon flew in off the sea and dropped down towards North Scrape, presumably freshly arrived from their breeding grounds in Russia for the winter.

Out at the beach, the sea was calm and quiet. A Fulmar circled offshore. A small group of four Ringed Plover flew west along the shoreline, yet more birds on the move today. The migration season is certainly well underway now. Unfortunately, at this stage, it was time to call it a day and head for home. It had been a great day though, with lots of action and different things to see, plenty of memorable moments.

7th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day Private Tour. We spent today in North Norfolk. It was a cloudy start, brightening up through the day and sunny later, with a a very strong and blustery wind, gusting as high as 48mph.

To start the day, we headed inland to look for farmland birds. As we drove along, a couple of partridges ran across the road in front of us and, once we got closer, we could see they were Grey Partridges. The male stood for a second or two in the road before following the female into the hedge on the other side.

A Barn Owl was still out hunting, circling around a field behind a hedge, so we could just see it through the gaps. It was wet and windy last night, so presumably it was having to continue hunting to feed a hungry brood. We saw a couple of Red Kites on our journey, hanging effortlessly in the stiff breeze over the fields beside the road.

Red KiteRed Kite – we saw a couple on our journey this morning

We stopped by a farm track and walked up to a point from which we could get a good view over the surrounding fields. A pair of Yellowhammers flew off from the track as we walked up. A couple of Skylarks were singing over the fields and a Common Whitethroat was singing in the hedge.

Raptors were a target here, but we thought it might be a bit too windy this morning. As it started to warm up, we could see several Common Buzzards circling up over the trees – it certainly didn’t seem to put them off. So too a Kestrel, which zoomed back and forth over a field. There were other things to see here too – a Green Woodpecker flew across in front of us, and a little later went back the other way, presumably nesting in one of the woods nearby. A pair of Mistle Thrushes did the same. We could see a swarm of House Martins feeding in the lee of some trees in the distance.

After watching from here for a while, we headed back to the car. It was nice to get out of the wind and we set off towards Titchwell where we planned to spend a few hours exploring the reserve. A brief stop by another set aside field on the way yielded very nice views of Brown Hare, hunkered down against the wind, plus a pair of nesting Oystercatcher, a Pied Wagtail and several Red-legged Partridges, quite an eclectic mix.

Brown HareBrown Hare – hunkered down in a set aside field by the road

It was late morning by the time we got to Titchwell. We had a quick look round the car parks, but there was no sign of any Turtle Doves – it was rather exposed to the wind here. The field beyond held just a few Woodpigeons and Red-legged Partridges, plus a single Egyptian Goose in the paddocks beyond.

We had enough time to explore Fen Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed before lunch. On the walk down to the visitor centre, we heard first a Chiffchaff and then a Goldcrest singing, and saw the latter in a tree over the path right above our heads. Some Long-tailed Tits were calling from the sallows too.

Fen Trail was rather quiet – again it was rather windy here in the trees today – but there was more activity out at Patsy’s Reedbed. Just about the first bird we saw was a male Red-crested Pochard in the middle of the water, its coral red bill really shining in the sun. When a duller brown female flew in a little later and landed near the bank, he steamed straight over to her and the two of them started feeding together.

Red-crested PochardRed-crested Pochard – this drake was on Patsy’s Reedbed

The water was rather choppy and most of the other ducks were sleeping around the edge. There were quite a few Common Pochard and several Tufted Duck, plus the usual Mallard and Gadwall. There were a couple of smart Great Crested Grebes too and one of them gave us a nice flyby.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on Patsy’s Reedbed

After lunch back in the picnic area, we set out along the main trail to explore the rest of the reserve. The Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ was very dry and pretty lifeless – apart from lots of Woodpigeons! The reedbed pool was rather quiet too today, perhaps because of the wind. We did see a Little Grebe on here and a Bearded Tit did a brief zoom across one way and then back the other shortly after.

Island Hide provided a welcome opportunity to get out of the wind and check out the freshmarsh. The first bird we picked up was a Little Tern, roosting on one of the islands. There were actually three on here today, with another pair resting further over, always great birds to see. There have been several Little Gulls here recently, all young 1st summer birds, and a scan of the freshmarsh confirmed that there were still three of those here too.

Little GullLittle Gull – one of three on the freshmarsh today

We watched the Little Gulls for a while, flying up into the wind, hanging in the air, and dip feeding in the shallow water behind one of the islands. Interestingly, there seems to be a turnover of different Little Gulls on the site, as the rather dark headed one we saw here a few days ago was not one of the three here today.

Early June is not the best time of year for waders, although it is only a matter of days before the first returning birds (of ‘autumn’?!) start to appear. There are plenty of the breeding waders here though, particularly Avocets, a small number of which had small juveniles scattered around the mud. There were a couple of Redshanks here too, though more of these are out on the saltmarsh.

AvocetAvocet – always easy to see on the freshmarsh here at this time of year

A group of non-breeding Black-tailed Godwits, most likely first summer birds, was sleeping on one of the islands and a larger group of Bar-tailed Godwits had probably fled the wind and tide out at the beach and was roosting in the shallow water. A lone male Ruff was out on the mud. This bird has been here for a while now, having moulted into summer plumage but not developed a distinctive ‘ruff’. It appears to have no intention of going north for the breeding season, again possibly a young 1st summer male.

Bar-tailed GodwitsBar-tailed Godwits – escaping the beach to roost on the Freshmarsh

Summer is not the season for large flocks of dabbling ducks, with most of the wintering birds having gone north to breed. However, there are plenty of Shelduck and Gadwall here still, plus a few Shoveler. There were a few more Teal today, more than we have seen for a while, perhaps failed breeders or early moving drakes which have not come from so far away.

Braving the wind again, we made our way round to the shelter of Parrinder Hide next. The Little Gulls were a little closer from here, but we were looking into the sun which hindered our photographic efforts. We had a look at the fenced off island which now houses a sizeable colony of Black-headed Gulls. The vegetation is really growing up now, but we managed to get a look at two or three Mediterranean Gulls which are nesting in there too.

The tide was starting to come in again now and, coupled with the wind, was probably encouraging more waders to leave the beach. A small flock of Oystercatchers flew in and landed on the edge of the mud, bringing with them a single Turnstone. We decided to brave the beach ourselves, for a quick look at the sea.

There was almost nothing on Volunteer Marsh as we passed, just a few Avocets and Black-headed Gulls. Once we got out of the lee of the bank, it was very gusty out at the Tidal Pools. A small party of Turnstone flew in and tried to land in the vegetation at the back, while being buffeted by the wind. There were more Avocets here and several of these had small chicks. We watched a pair trying to lead their brood across a deep channel, with the fluffy juveniles swimming in the choppy water.

It was very windy out at the beach, and the sand was being blown across. With the tide coming in, there were very few birds here now. The sea itself was churning and very brown with sand, and there was next to nothing feeding offshore.

We walked back quickly to the comparative shelter of the bank and stopped to have a quick look at freshmarsh again. There were more waders on here now, in particular more Turnstones in with the Bar-tailed Godwits. A closer look revealed a party of five grey Knot with them too. The pair of Little Terns took off and flew past us, standing on the bank, disappearing out towards Thornham Harbour presumably to feed.

Little TernLittle Tern – flew past us from the Freshmarsh out towards Thornham Harbour

Back at the car, we started to make our way back east. We stopped at Holkham on the way, for a quick scan from the roadside. We could see several large white birds circling round over the trees. Spoonbills, possibly including some newly fledged juveniles making their first flights. A few more Spoonbills were perched in the trees below them, just visible through the scope.

A Great White Egret flew low across the grazing marshes and landed in the rushes out of view. A quick view, but always nice to see. A pair of Marsh Harriers were flying around over the field nearby, the male circling overhead, the female landing down in the grass below.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – the male circling over in front of us

The plan was to walk out from Lady Anne’s Drive, but when we got there the gate was closed. A parking attendant in a high viz jacket was standing nearby, so we stopped to ask what the problem was. We thought it was due to the building work going on there, but instead we were told it was due to the wind. ‘Health & Saftety guv’nor’ was the response, as he pointed to the trees. Falling branches or trees were conspicuous by their absence and the wind has been much stronger here without any problems, but this is typical of the culture we live in today. He directed us to Wells to walk in from there – neglecting to realise that this would mean walking through the pines!

A quick rethink, and we decided to head for Stiffkey Fen instead. A smart pale male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the field by the road as we parked. Blackcap and Chiffchaff were singing in the trees as we walked down the path. There had been rather few butterflies out today in the wind, but we started to see a few in the sunny sheltered spots along the hedgerows – Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral.

Meadow BrownMeadow Brown – the highlight of the butterflies on a windy day

When we got to a point from which we could see over the brambles, we stopped to have a quick look out at the Fen. The first thing we saw was a Spoonbill. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do best, and fast asleep. Two Little Ringed Plovers were on the grassy edge of one of the islands. Otherwise, the water level on here was surprisingly high today, and the birds were dominated by lots of large gulls. A few Avocets appeared to be nesting still.

From up on the seawall, we had a better look over the Fen. Amongst the Herring Gulls, we could see several Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple of immature Great Black-backed Gulls. We could the distinctive call of Mediterranean Gulls and turned to watch as two smart adults flew in from the harbour. They were joined by a third, and all of them circled over the Fen calling for a minute or so, before disappearing off inland. A short while later, another two Mediterranean Gulls flew in, again both adults, and we got great views as they flew right past us.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – we saw several flying around the Fen today

We had a quick look out at the harbour from the seawall. One of the seal boats flushed a Spoonbill from the far side, which flew across towards us before flying off west over the saltmarsh. It was an adult, so possible heading back to the colony at Holkham.We could see a few distant terns, with several Little Terns and Common Terns. One bird right over the far side looked more interesting – pale wing tips and rather long-tailed, possibly an Arctic Tern. We walked round to the edge of the harbour for a closer look.

There are not so many waders here at this time of year, but we did find two Bar-tailed Godwits with the large group of roosting Oystercatchers. There were two Ringed Plovers out on the mud at the near side of the harbour too. Two men were out walking their dog around the harbour, right out on the edge of the water. They flushed various birds as they went, but two terns which flew up looked like Arctic Terns. Unfortunately, they quickly landed again and didn’t come back up, so we couldn’t all get on them.

The afternoon was getting on now, and we had more to do this evening, so it was time to head for home.

One target for these three days was to look for for Nightjars, and tonight looked the best option in terms of weather. The wind seemed to be dropping as forecast early evening, but by 8.30pm it had picked up again. Still, it was not as windy as earlier, so we decided to give it a go anyway.

It was rather cool and breezy as we walked out over the heath. A Woodcock called – rather like a squeaky gate – and we watched as it flew along the edge of the trees, roding. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees behind us. We positioned ourselves by a favoured Nightjar perch, and right on cue, one of the males called and then started churring. But at that point it started to spit with rain – this was definitely not in the forecast!

The other male Nightjars eventually started churring, and at one point we could hear three at same time on different sides of us, but after a few minutes two of them went quiet. One of the males normally comes in to the perch in front of us to churr at some point, but it became clear it was not coming in to its favoured post tonight. Perhaps it was the weather. We decided to walk across the heath to try to see one of the other churring males, but he too went quiet before we got there.

There was still one Nightjar churring in the distance and a second started up behind us, so we stood and listened to them for a couple of minutes. It is a great sound. Then we walked back to where we had been standing earlier. When we got back near the tree, we could hear wing clapping out over heather. The light was fading fast now, but we could just see a pair of Nightjars chasing around, the white flashes on the wings and tail of the male standing out in the gloom.

We walked down another path, thinking from the lower ground there we might be able to get them against the sky rather than the heather, but instead the Nightjars seemed to come in to investigate. The next thing we knew we had them circling round us, wing-clapping. Great stuff! We stood for a short while and watched them, before they disappeared back into the gloom, a nice way to end the day. It was getting rather dark now, so we made our way back.

24th May 2017 – Two Nightingales Sang…

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day. We had a list of potential target species to look for, an interesting mix of lingering winter visitors and scarce breeding birds.

Our first stop saw us looking for Nightingales. As soon as we got out of the car, we heard one singing. We walked round to the other side of the trees, but it had chosen a really dense clump of bushes to sing from today, so it quickly became clear we wouldn’t be able to see it unless it moved. We stood and listened to it for a few minutes, such a beautiful song, then decided to try looking for another one instead.

As we walked up the lane, there were lots of warblers singing in the hedgerows. A Willow Warbler perched high in the bare branches of a tree. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from a hawthorn and we had a typical glimpse of it as it shot out and disappeared down into the ditch beyond. Several Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a Reed Warbler were all singing too.

When we got to the trees, we could just hear the other Nightingale singing. It has a spot which it favours where it is possible to see it, but it was much deeper into the wood today. It quickly went quiet so we stood and scanned the trees while we waited for it to start up again. A large Cockchafer flew around the bushes in front of us. When the Nightingale did start singing again, we could hear that it had moved and it seemed to be back in its favourite spot. Sure enough, there it was, perched in a tangle of dead branches and brambles, in the sunshine.

6O0A1906Nightingale – great views of this one singing today

We watched the Nightingale for a while, as it perched singing or hopped between the branches. When it finally dropped down into the thicket out of view, we decided to move on. It had been a great way to start the morning.

One of the requests for the day was to try to find a Firecrest. They are patchily distributed in North Norfolk, and it is not the easiest time of year to look for one, but we thought we would give it a go anyway. We parked up on the Holt-Cromer ridge and set off to walk to an area where we know they are present.

As we made our way towards the trees, we passed through an area of fields. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a hedge and we could hear a Yellowhammer calling quietly. A quick scan and we caught sight of its bright yellow head, a smart male perched in the bushes. A couple of partridges flushed from the edge of a field and landed in the open briefly, before scurrying into cover, just long enough for us to see they were Grey Partridges.

When we got to the edge of the trees, a Garden Warbler was singing but well hidden from view, as was a Goldcrest too in the tops of some pines. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us and we could hear a pair of Bullfinches calling plaintively, but the trees were too thick here to see anything.

We continued into the wood, to an area which we know the Firecrests favour. It was already getting quite warm now and it was fairly quiet deep in the trees. We walked up a ride flanked by firs and, when we got to the far end, we heard it – a brief snatch of song, a Firecrest. It sang twice more, just enough for us to get a rough fix on its location, and then went quiet. It seemed to be singing in a tall fir tree a short way into the wood, surrounded by deciduous trees. We scanned the bits we could see, but the Firecrest was probably in the top, which protruded above the canopy and into the sunshine.

As we stood and waited to see if it would sing again, we noticed a falcon circling behind the trees. It was a Hobby and as it drifted out into view we noticed that there was a second Hobby with it. We watched as they circled high overhead, before disappearing behind the trees again. A Common Buzzard drifted over too, and a little later, on our way back, we would see a Red Kite over the trees as well, all enjoying the rising thermals.

6O0A1915Hobby – a pair circled high over the trees

The Firecrest sang another couple of times, and it was clear that it was moving about in the canopy, but it was still impossible to see it, looking up from below the trees. When it sounded like it had moved towards the firs bordering the ride, we went back out and scanned the trees from there, but there was still no sign of it. Then it went quiet and we decided to give up. It was good to hear it singing, but it would have been nice to see it.

As we walked back out of the wood, we came across a family of Treecreepers. A Goldcrest was collecting food and taking it back into a fir, where we presume it had a nest. A Jay flew across the path ahead of us. As we walked back to the car, we could see the two Hobbys still hawking for insects over the ridge.

Stock Dove was another target and as we got back to the car, we could hear one calling from the trees nearby. We were not going to be able to see it in there, but thankfully a second Stock Dove appeared on the wires next to the road, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. The two Stock Doves whooped to each other, before the one on the wires flew off towards the trees.

6O0A1926Stock Dove – perched on the wires next to the car

We made our way round and up onto the Heath next. It was really starting to warm up now, but there were still a few Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing in the trees. We flushed lots of Linnets from the gorse as we walked round, thankfully still a fairly common bird on the heaths although now much more scarce in its traditional farmland habitat. A Kestrel was hovering over an open clearing and as we looked over towards it, we could see a pair of Hobbys circling high beyond, perhaps the pair we had seen earlier working their way along the ridge.

6O0A1929Linnet – still a common bird up on the heaths

Dartford Warbler was one of our targets here, but all was quiet at the first spot we tried. We carried on round to another location where we know they are feeding young at the moment, which should give us a better chance to see them. On the way, we passed through an area where the Woodlarks like to feed, but there was no sign of them either. Someone else looking for them told us that a large group of people had been through here just a little earlier, so the birds had probably been disturbed.

At the next location for Dartford Warblers, it all seemed quiet too, at first. We stood and listened for a minute where they had been a couple of days ago, then decided to have a quiet walk round their territory. As we were walking along a narrow path, the male Dartford Warbler suddenly flew up in front of us singing, hovering in mid air for a second or two, before dropping back behind some tall gorse. We crept round the corner, and there it was, in the gorse just a couple of metres away from us. Stunning!

6O0A1942Dartford Warbler – the male, collecting food

We followed the Dartford Warbler for a few minutes at a discrete distance, as it crept through the gorse, collecting caterpillars. We had some fantastic views of it. Occasionally, it would stop just long enough to deliver a short burst of song, before carrying on the hunt. Finally, when it had collected a bill full of food, it went zooming off over the heather, to deliver it to its hungry brood.

There is another area where the Woodlarks have been collecting food recently, but they weren’t there either. We thought they might be back at the first place we had looked, after a while left in peace, but we still couldn’t find them. We were just about to give up when we heard a Woodlark calling quietly. A careful scan, and we found it perched on a fence post a short distance away. We had a good look at it through the scope before it dropped down to the ground out of view.

It was time for lunch now, so we dropped back down to the coast and along to Cley, where we could sit out on the picnic tables and enjoy the fine weather. After lunch, we had a scan of the scrapes from the visitor centre, and looked at the sightings board, but there didn’t seem to be much on the reserve today, so we decided not to go out to the hides.

Bearded Tit was another target for the day, so we headed round to have a walk out along the East Bank to see if we could find one. A leucistic drake Common Pochard on one of the pools was a bit of an oddity – an interesting bird to see. There were a few Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds as we walked out, and a Reed Bunting or two as well, but no sound of any Bearded Tits at first. Despite the lack of wind, it was perhaps just too hot now, in the early afternoon.

There were more birds around the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh. Several Lapwings and Avocets were down in the grass, a few Common Redshank were calling and displaying. A single Ringed Plover was feeding along the edge of the Serpentine.

6O0A1958Lapwing – on the grazing marsh from East Bank

There were more ducks here too. Several drake Gadwall were chasing round after a female, pursuing her remorselessly all over the grazing marsh and out across the reedbed. As well as the regular Mallard and Shoveler, there were some late winter visitors too. A single drake Eurasian Teal and a lone Wigeon should probably both have been on their way north to breed already.

We were almost at the main drain when we finally heard a Bearded Tit calling. We stopped and listened for a while, and realised there were several birds here, in different places, though they were only calling occasionally. We had frustrating brief glimpses of a couple of birds zipping distantly over the tops of the reeds, which were hard to get onto, until a male Bearded Tit flew up from the reeds close to the near edge and flew off away from us, giving us a nice long flight view. It looked like that would have to do today, better than nothing.

There was a lot of heat haze looking out across Arnold’s Marsh this afternoon. We had heard a Little Tern calling as we walked out and could see one resting on the small island out towards the back. A party of Turnstones appeared on the island too, several in bright summer plumage, looking more appropriately like their full name, Ruddy Turnstone. Three Dunlin were with them, two with their summer black bellies. A careful scan round the edges revealed a single Grey Plover, still in its rather grey winter plumage.

We carried on out to the beach and took a look out to sea. It was very calm today, but there was some sea fret hanging distantly offshore, partly obscuring the wind turbines. There were a few terns offshore, flying back and forth, some carrying fish. Mostly they were Sandwich Terns, but a pair of Little Terns were fishing close inshore and a single Common Tern flew past. Looking further out, on the edge of the fog, we spotted a long line of black ducks flying past. They were Common Scoter and there must have been at least 80 of them. Presumably they were making their way back north for the breeding season.

There were a few butterflies out today in the sunshine – mostly Peacock, Red Admiral and the odd Small Tortoiseshell. We also saw a couple of Painted Ladys on our travels today and, out along the East Bank, our first Common Blue of the year. The numbers of dragonflies are finally increasing now too, in the warm weather, with Four-Spotted Chaser and Blue-tailed Damselfly along the East Bank today.

6O0A1964Common Blue – our first of the year, along the East Bank today

As we walked back along the East Bank, we bumped into one of the reserve volunteers who mentioned that he had seen a Bearded Tit along the edge of the ditch further back. So, as we made our way along, we scanned the bottom of the reeds and sure enough we found it, working its way along the edge of the water, in and out of the reeds. It was a female Bearded Tit.

When we quickly lost sight of it behind some taller reeds along the front edge of the ditch, we could hear another Bearded Tit calling and looked across to see it fly in and land down on the edge of the ditch just a few metres away. We walked back to look for that one, and just at that point it climbed up the reeds carrying something in its bill. It was a cracking male Bearded Tit, with powder blue head and distinctive black moustaches. It perched up in full view in front of us for several seconds, looking round, before flying off back over the reeds.

6O0A1966Bearded Tit – this smart male was collecting food along the ditch

It was great to get such a great view of a Bearded Tit, and a smart male to boot. Worthy reward for our perseverance! With that mission accomplished, we headed back to the car. There were still a few odds and ends on the target list, so we made thought we could squeeze in a quick couple more stops before the end of the day.

We drove back along the coast road to Kelling and had a quick walk down the lane to the Water Meadow. There were a few warblers singing in the hedges beside the lane, despite it being the middle of a hot and sunny afternoon – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. We had hoped to find a Lesser Whitethroat along here, but there was no sign or sound of it here this afternoon.

6O0A1985Chiffchaff – singing in the hedge along the lane this afternoon

There were just the usual ducks on the Water Meadow, a pair of Gadwall, three Mallard and a lone drake Shoveler. One of the resident Egyptian Geese was guarding a gosling in the grass on the edge of the water. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pool. This is often a good spot for Yellow Wagtails in spring, but the grass is rather tall this year making them hard to see. As always, we had a careful scan around the feet of the cows and were duly rewarded with a pair of Yellow Wagtails flitting around the legs of one of them, before the cows moved back into the long grass.

Brent Geese are a common sight around the coast here in winter, but the vast majority of them have now departed on their way back to northern Russia for the breeding season. It is still possible to find the odd one or two with a bit of luck, so we decided to have a look in Blakeney Harbour to finish the day. As we made our way down the path towards Stiffkey Fen, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes the other side of the road, but there was no way to see it from where we were and it seemed to be moving further back into the trees before it went quiet.

When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was already pretty high in the harbour. There was a big party of Oystercatchers gathered to roost out on the edge of the water, but we couldn’t see any Brent Geese where they have been recently. The Fen itself also looked pretty quiet today, with most of the winter waders having departed. There was a single Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands, plus three Common Redshanks which flew off from the edge of the reeds, and plenty of Avocets.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull in with the roosting Herring Gulls was a useful addition to the day’s list and a smart summer adult Common Gull was out on the water just beyond the reeds. A pair each of both Sandwich Tern and Common Tern flew in from the harbour and circled over the pool.

6O0A1990Common Tern – a pair flew in from the harbour and circled over the Fen

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees beyond the Fen, but Brent Goose was our target here, so we focused our attention on trying to find one. Scanning carefully over the saltmarsh finally paid off when we located two Brent Geese feeding in the grass away to the west. Another one for the list and a perfect way to round off the day.