Tag Archives: Stiffkey Fen

5th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was a lovely warm, sunny day – a nice day to be out on the North Norfolk coast.

With a big high tide this morning, we stopped at Stiffkey Fen first on our way past to see if any waders had come in to roost. As we got out of the minibus, a couple of Swallows were hawking for insects low over the field nest door and a Yellowhammer was singing somewhere in the trees. Across the road, there were lots of butterflies in the grass, Meadow Browns and Ringlets. The path is getting rather overgrown now, but as we walked down between the hedges, a Banded Demoiselle flitted ahead of us.

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle – flitted ahead of us along the hedge

As we got into the small copse of trees, a couple of Bullfinches flew up from the path calling. We could just see them on a branch over the path before they flew off further into the wood. We could hear a flock of tits calling down by the road – Blue Tits and Coal Tits – and a Jay in the trees.

Several House Martins were swooping in and out of the eaves of the house on the hill when we got out into the open again. There were more tits down by the river, and a Chiffchaff with them. When we got to the point where the brambles are lower, we could just see out over the Fen. We could see a group of Spoonbills and lots of roosting waders, including a small party of Greenshank on the islands, but it was hard to see over the vegetation now that it is getting taller.

There was a better view of the Fen from the seawall. The Spoonbills were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! They like to roost over high tide and feed out on the saltmarsh when the tide goes out. We counted sixteen of them, and occasionally one or two would wake up and show us their distinctive bills. There were quite a few juveniles with them – as birds disperse from the breeding colony at Holkham, the adults creche the youngsters on pools closer to their favoured feeding areas.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – we counted 16 roosting on the Fen today

We had a better view of the waders up here too. There were ten Greenshanks roosting together in a group on their own further back. Most of the waders were Black-tailed Godwits, many still in rusty breeding plumage, with several Redshank in with them. A single Ruff was in with the Lapwings and Avocets in the middle. We eventually managed to find two Little Ringed Plovers which were hiding in the taller vegetation at the back of the island, though it was not a great view of them!

Most of the gulls on the Fen are Black-headed Gulls, but we could see a couple of Common Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed Gull too. There were plenty of Greylag Geese and a single Egyptian Goose with two small goslings.

A male Marsh Harrier flew in from the fields beyond, spooking many of the birds and temporarily even waking the Spoonbills. Two juvenile Marsh Harriers came up to meet it, hoping to be fed. We could see they were very dark, chocolate brown with tawny orange heads.

A Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a bush a bit further down along the coastal path and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted intermittently from the sallows on the edge of the reeds. A Reed Bunting was singing its rather limited song out on the saltmarsh across the channel.

The tide was in out in the harbour. We could see the seals pulled out on Blakeney Point over the other side of the water. A Common Tern was patrolling up and down the channel, fishing, periodically twisting and plunging down into the water. A male Marsh Harrier quartered over the saltmarsh – the light was perfect and it was great to watch it.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – a male was quartering the saltmarsh out in the harbour

As we walked back, a Lesser Whitethroat flew across and landed briefly in the top of one of the sallows by the path. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was in the willows closer to the road, along with a female Blackcap. There were several nice, fresh Gatekeepers in the brambles and hedges this morning, with the first ones having just emerged in the last few days. One posed nicely for us on the hedge by the path.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper – recently emerged and looking very fresh

We made our way over to Kelling Heath next. As we got out of the minibus, a Garden Warbler was singing in the blackthorn, but it went quiet as we walked over to look for it. There were lots of butterflies out here too, as we made our way up the path – a Comma, a nice fresh Painted Lady, and several Small Skippers. We managed to get a view of the underside of their antennae, to confirm their ID – pale in Small Skipper and black in the very similar Essex Skipper.

When we got to an area of low-cut heather by the path, we found plenty of Silver-studded Blues still on the wing. Some of them are looking a bit faded and tatty now , but a smart blue male posed nicely for us.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue – we managed to find one still smart male

We made our way round through an area where there have been Dartford Warblers in the past. We haven’t seen one in this territory this year, so we weren’t expecting to find one here today but suddenly we heard one singing behind us. We could see it climbing around in a small birch tree growing out of some tall gorse, but it flew quickly and dropped down out of view. It continued singing on and off then flew across the path and dropped down into the gorse the other side. We hoped it might perch up singing for us, but it disappeared back and we didn’t hear it again.

Continuing on across the heath, we flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the grass. A little further on we found one of them again, feeding on a stony path, collecting insects. It had quite a bill-full already – presumably it had hungry young to feed somewhere nearby.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – collecting insects on the path

The next couple of areas we checked out were quite quiet now, so we walked over to where one of the pairs of Stonechats have bred. We quickly found the pair – the male and female flycatching from the tops of the bushes, with the young mostly hiding in the vegetation below but popping up occasionally. We stopped to watch a family of Linnets, flying around and perching obligingly on the top of the gorse bushes. We heard a Willow Warbler calling and looked over to see it perched nearby. Unusually it remained still long enough for us even to get it in the scope.

A dark shape flicked out of the gorse and we looked over to see another Dartford Warbler flying low across, skimming the top of the heath. It dropped down into another gorse bush and seemed to have disappeared, but just as we were about to give up it flew out again. This time it flew into a large dense gorse clump and went quiet.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way back to the car park and drove down to the Visitor Centre at Cley to make use of the picnic tables. The main car park was roped off, so we had to park in the overflow car park. From the picnic area we could see why – a Little Ringed Plover had chosen to nest in the middle of the car park! It was very well camouflaged against the gravel and hard to see until you knew where it was, or it got up and walked around.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – nesting in the Visitor Centre car park

As we ate our lunch, a flock of House Martins came in too and started landing on the now vacant car park. Two Common Buzzards circled over. Looking out over the reserve, something spooked everything out on the scrapes. Lots of waders flew round calling and nine Spoonbills came up and circled over. Some of them dropped down again, but several flew off.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. A Reed Warbler was singing from the ditch by the path, but remained well hidden. Then from the bridge a little further along, we found two more Reed Warblers feeding in the reeds, and one of them showed very well, picking insects from the sparse reed stems out in the middle of the water.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – feeding in the ditch below the bridge

Out at Dauke’s Hide, there were still three Spoonbills, and they too were asleep, on one of the islands. There were lots of waders – Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, eight Knot and a few Dunlin still in breeding plumage and sporting their black belly patches. No two of the several Ruff were alike, the males are so variable. Most had already lost their ornate ruffs, looking rather scrawny-necked. A pale, leucistic Little Ringed Plover was running around on the edge of one of the islands at the back.

Looking round from the side of the hide at Whitwell Scrape, we could see a Green Sandpiper hiding in the low reeds on the edge of the island towards the back. An Avocet is nesting on the island at the front and we watched it settle down on to brood its four eggs.

There were plenty of Teal on the scrapes, but there had been no report today of the Green-winged Teal which has been here for a couple of weeks now. Looking carefully through the ducks, we managed to find it and we could see why it had not been spotted earlier. It is moulting fast into eclipse plumage, and we could just see the remains of the white foreflank stripe which distinguishes Green-winged Teal from the other regular Eurasian Teal. It was now reduced to just a white spot on the side of the breast and you had to look very carefully to see it. It won’t be long before it, and therefore the bird itself, disappears completely!

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – moulting fast into eclipse plumage

A Marsh Harrier flew high over the scrape and everything flushed, at which point we lost sight of the Green-winged Teal. We took that as a cue to move on, round to Teal Hide. There were much the same waders on Pat’s Pool as we had seen on Simmond’s Scrape. There were several more Ruff, one of which was still sporting the remains of its ornate ruff. Three more Little Ringed Plovers were well camouflaged on the mud on the edge of the island. Two half-grown juvenile Redshanks were on the near edge of the water.

Scanning the reeds at the back of the scrape, we picked up a juvenile Bearded Tit working its way along the water’s edge. There had been a Water Rail on the mud at the back earlier, but we couldn’t find it, although we did hear it squealing. We were just about to leave when someone spotted it again. We got it in the scopes and watched it creeping in and out of the base of the reeds.

We drove round  to Walsey Hills next. Several Coot were out on Snipe’s Marsh and a single Little Grebe was diving in front of the reeds. Several Common Pochard included a female still with three small ducklings. We watched the ducklings diving, leaping up in the air to get themselves down into the water. Across the road, we could see lots of damselflies flying low over the water in the ditch. They included several Small Red-eyed Damselflies, including a pair which we watched ovipositing.

Small Red-eyed Damselflies

Small Red-eyed Damselflies – we watched this pair ovipositing

Walking out along the East Bank, several Reed Warblers were flitting around the edge of Don’s Pool. We heard Bearded Tit calling but couldn’t see it. A large flock of Sand Martins were flying round over the bank further up and when we got over there we could see they were landing in the tops of the reeds on the edge of the dicth. We couldn’t see what they were feeding on though. They flew off as some people walked past, and then started settling out on the dried mud by the Serpentine.

Sand Martin

Sand Martin – a large flock was landing in the reeds by the bank

Several Cormorants were drying their wings on the island out on Pope’s Pool. In front, we could see lots of Curlew in the grass. They are returning in numbers from their breeding grounds on the continent now. We heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see three flying over, followed shortly after by one of the Curlews for comparison. We could see the Whimbrel were noticeably smaller and slimmer, with a shorter bill. A single Little Ringed Plover was on the mud by the Serpentine.

As we got to Arnold’s Marsh, we had a quick scan and spotted a Little Gull swimming out on the water. At one point it was in the same scope view as a Black-headed Gull giving a chance to see just how small it was by comparison. Then when we took our eyes off it, it disappeared, presumably back to the scrapes where it had been seen earlier. Several young Great Black-backed Gulls were loafing in the vegetation at the back. There were a few waders on here too – Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and a few Curlew. A Brown Hare ran across the dry mud just beyond the water.

There were several Meadow Pipits on the path, flying up to catch insects from the overhanging vegetation. One started displaying behind us, and as it parachuted down it suddenly changed from singing to alarm calling as it hovered over the grass. A Weasel ran out and across the path.

Walking on to the beach, a Ringed Plover over calling. As we got to the shingle, another Whimbrel flew in off the sea. They were clearly on the move today, freshly arrived back from the continent on their way south. A few Sandwich Terns were passing offshore.

We were tipped off by a local about some Graylings a short way down along the old shingle ridge, so we walked down to look for them. They were very hard to see unless you flushed them, very camouflaged against stones, but we eventually found two when they flew up and settled again. A very localised butterfly, they are always nice to see when they are on the wing and these were the first we have seen this year.

Grayling

Grayling – we eventually found two hiding on the shingle

It was lovely out at the beach this afternoon, in the sunshine, but we were out of time and we had to head back. As we got to the East Bank, four Spoonbills flew overhead and dropped down towards the reserve. We stopped to look at a skipper in the grass on the edge of the path and this one had distinctive black tips to the underside of its antennae – an Essex Skipper this time. A nice last addition to the butterfly list as we headed for home.

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21st June 2019 – Solstice Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of two days of Summer Tours today. It was a sunny start with clear blue skies and although it clouded over a bit in the afternoon, it remained bright and warm. A lovely day to be out on the North Norfolk coast.

To start the day, we set off east along the coast. It was coming up to high tide, so we called in first at Stiffkey Fen to see if any waders had come in to roost from the harbour. As we got out of the minibus, a Barn Owl disappeared round behind the barns. Probably with young to feed somewhere, it was still out hunting into the morning. A Yellowhammer was singing from the tops of the pines and we could hear the rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat in the brambles. Having gone quiet while they raised their first broods, the Lesser Whitethroats have started singing again now ahead of a second breeding attempt.

Down along the permissive path, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were singing in the copse. We could hear a Bullfinch calling somewhere in the trees ahead of us too. There was a mixed tit flock feeding down by the road, a large group of Long-tailed Tits plus Blue Tits, Great Tits and a family of Coal Tits. We watched the latter feeding in the pines above the road, the juveniles with light yellow cheeks.

Down along the path by the river, there were rather few House Martins around the house on the hill, which seems to be a worrying theme this year. A Cetti’s Warbler was shouting intermittently from deep in the sallows. Half way down, we could just about see over the brambles to the Fen, where four Spoonbills were roosting. We had a better view of them from up on the seawall, where we could see there were three adults and one short-billed juvenile, a ‘teaspoonbill’. The first juveniles have started to disperse from the breeding colony at Holkham, and are then creched at favoured sites along the coast.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – the juvenile was chasing after one of the adults

The juvenile Spoonbill started begging, trying to persuade one of the adults to feed it. Initially it bobbed its head up and down and started to flap its wings. When the adult tried to walk away, the juvenile set off after it. We watched the two of them walking round for at least 10 minutes, the juvenile Spoonbill relentless. At one point the adult tried to run away but the juvenile simply ran too.

A single Sandwich Tern was loafing in with the Black-headed Gulls. Three Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the harbour calling, two adults and a 1st summer, but they didn’t land and flew on west. A Common Tern was fishing in the harbour channel and kept coming past us while we stood on the bank, occasionally plunging down into the water.

Common Tern

Common Tern – fishing in the harbour channel

There were three Greenshanks on the Fen, roosting over high tide, asleep in the taller vegetation on the island. There were lots of Avocets, with one or two juveniles still. But no other waders on here this morning. Someone came to open up some equipment down by the sluice, and when we asked what it was for, they explained that they were monitoring the movements of the local sea trout population in the River Stiffkey and harbour.

After walking back, we made our way on to Kelling Heath. A Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler were singing in the car park and the first of many Painted Lady butterflies was basking on a bush. There has been a large invasion in recent weeks from the continent and there are still lots around.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – the first of many, basking on a bush in the car park

We had a quick walk round to see if we could find any Adders. They are warm now though and the only one we came across slithered away as we approached, possibly alerted to our approach by all the footsteps. A Garden Warbler was singing in the blackthorn nearby.

Walking on up the hill, a Woodlark flew overhead calling. Unfortunately it didn’t look like coming down and we watched it disappear away into the distance over the car park. There are lots of Silver-studded Blue butterflies out now and we stopped by a good area for them. There were good numbers of blue males fluttering round over the low heather and we found a mating pair, which gave us a good chance to have a closer look at the diagnostic underwing markings. There were a couple of July Belle moths out here too.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair showing the distinctive underwings

Carrying on round the Heath, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler perched in a birch tree. A Common Whitethroat was flitting about in the gorse and another Woodlark flushed from the path ahead of us. A smart male Yellowhammer was singing in a small birch tree. We came across one Stonechat, a male, down by the railway cutting, and another pair the other side of the crossing feeding young in the gorse. There were lots of Linnets here but no sign of any Dartford Warblers again – they seem to be struggling this year.

Linnet

Linnet – a red-breasted male

The surprise of the morning came as we were crossing the railway. We looked up at the gorse bushes the other side, to see a Nightjar flying over them. A couple walking a dog had just gone across ahead of us, so had possibly flushed it. It flew along the top of the bushes, then turned and came across the railway a short distance away. It looped round and landed beneath a birch tree by the path back where we had just come. We walked back to see if we could find it but it flew again, and this time disappeared off through the trees.

It was already after midday, so we headed back to the minibus and dropped down to Cley for lunch at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we could see the 1st summer Little Gull dip feeding out on Pat’s Pool distantly. Afterwards, we walked out to the hides in the middle. Several Sand Martins were hawking over the reeds.

Out first stop was in Teal Hide –  where, appropriately enough, the first bird we saw was the Green-winged Teal. It was swimming out in the middle of the water with several Eurasian Teal, the vertical white foreflank stripe on the Green-winged Teal setting it apart from the horizontal white-lined Eurasians. It was feeding constantly, swimming round with its head mostly under water, only coming up for air occasionally.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – on the left, with a Eurasian Teal on the right

There was a nice selection of other ducks on here too, including Gadwall and Shoveler, the drakes mostly moulting into their drab eclipse plumage already. There were several Shoveler too, with one pair at the back shepherding a large creche of 27 shelducklings.

We spent some time looking closely at the waders here too. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits of two types – mostly Icelandic birds (subspecies islandica), but two Continental Black-tailed Godwits (nominate limosa) were sporting coloured plastic rings which gave their identity away.  The particular combinations identified them as birds from the very small breeding population on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, having wandered here post-breeding.

Waders 1

Waders – Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot and a couple of Avocets

In with the Black-tailed Godwits were a few Bar-tailed Godwits. Most of them were in non-breeding plumage, paler and more heavily streaked above than the equivalent plumage of Black-tailed Godwit, with a more obvious pale supercilium and slightly upturned bill. They were noticeable shorter-legged too, wading with their longer-legged cousins. The Knot with them barely came up to their knees. Again, most were in grey non-breeding plumage but one or two were in their smarter rusty-orange breeding plumage. Several Avocets were feeding in front of the hide, as was a still not fully grown juvenile Redshank.

The waders were all very jumpy and kept flying up. We soon found out why when there was another commotion and we looked up to see a Peregrine flying over with something in its talons. It turned out it had just caught a Redshank flying over behind the hide (hopefully not the youngster we had just seen!). We watched it disappear off east – possibly one of the birds from Cromer church.

Waders 2

Waders – spooked by a Peregrine hunting over the scrapes

Back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off back west, stopping again on our way at Wells. As we parked and got out, we could hear the raspy call of a Grey Partridge in the field next door, but couldn’t see it in all the growing crop. Scanning the islands, we found three more Spoonbills, one of them another juvenile, lurking in the vegetation. When a fourth Spoonbill flew in, it dropped down in the near corner of the pool, down close the track, so we walked down for a closer look.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding in the corner of the pool by the track

The Spoonbill was busy feeding, with its head down, sweeping its bill from side to side in the water as it walked. When it lifted its head, we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult, and the bushy nuchal crest and brownish wash on the breast marked it out as a bird in breeding condition. We had a nice view of it before it flew again and went right to the back of the pool.

The pools here have been very good for waders recently and, although there was nothing today which we hadn’t already seen at Cley, there was still a nice selection. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits were out in the middle, occasionally getting spooked and whirling round overhead. A lone bird, smart in rusty breeding plumage, was feeding on its own in the corner. Several Redshanks flew back and forth, and there were lots of Avocets and Lapwing in the grass.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – in rusty breeding plumage

A small group of Egyptian Geese were loafing in the grass close to the track, and there was a good selection of other wildfowl. As we were about to walk back, a Sedge Warbler started singing and flew up to the front edge of one of the hawthorn bushes to pose. We had a good look at it through the scope, with its bold white supercilium. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.

 

19th June 2019 – Exploring the NE Coast

A Private Tour today with a difference – having recently moved to Norfolk, the request from our guests was to visit some different sites slightly off the beaten track along the NE coast. We were not going to worry particularly about when we would be seeing in the way of birds today. It was a largely bright but cloudy day, but it stayed dry and we didn’t see any signs of the forecast showers until after we had finished up.

As we met in Wells, we started with a visit to the pools east of town. The Spoonbills were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! They were right at the back of the water, by the far bank, but we could count at least 14 here this morning, a mixture of off-white adults and brighter white juveniles.

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – sleeping over by the far bank

We walked down the track, where a Sedge Warbler was singing from the bushes. A family of Reed Buntings was in the long grass beyond the ditch, one of the juveniles flying to the fence in front of us calling.

The Egyptian Geese were still in the grass by the pool on the other side of the track and at least one pair of Shelducks had a large brood of growing shelducklings. There was a good number of (Eurasian) Teal here today, with birds already returning now from their breeding grounds further north. Otherwise, there were a few Gadwall, Mallard and Shoveler, the drakes now moulting into their drabber eclipse plumage.

There were several juvenile Avocets of various ages around the pools. They appear to be doing well, despite the limited attention paid to them by the adults. A couple of young Redshank were out in the middle too and there were still a few Lapwings visible in the long grass round the edge. We heard what sounded like a Spotted Redshank call towards the back at one point, but it was possibly flying over as we couldn’t see any sign of it.

The Grey Herons which have been doing their best to reduce the number of young birds on here were still around, being chased back and forth by the Avocets. One of the Grey Herons landed in the corner of the pools by the track, and immediately attracted the attention of one of an adult Lapwing which mobbed it relentlessly until it flew off again.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – mobbed by one of the Lapwings

We continued on past the first pools, but as the seawall is closed for works at the moment, we turned left and walked through the grass towards the westernmost pool. There were more warblers in the reeds and bushes here. A couple of Reed Warblers flicking around in the hawthorns and a family of Sedge Warblers down in the vegetation beyond the sedges. We watched a recently fledged juvenile, still with a short tail, begging and eventually being fed by one of the adults. There were a few Common Whitethroats and a Lesser Whitethroat singing.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warblers – feeding time for one of the recently fledged young

The pool at the end held a few more Avocets, Lapwings and a Redshank, but no sign of any Spotted Redshank here either. We made our way slowly back to the minibus, a Song Thrush was singing and flew up into the top of the hawthorns briefly.

Making our way east, we stopped again at Stiffkey Fen. A Yellowhammer was singing from the top of the pines by the layby and a Marsh Harrier quartered the field next door. As we crossed the road, another Marsh Harrier was down in the valley the other side. A bright pink Cinnabar Moth fluttered up from the vegetation by the path and a Chiffchaff flicked ahead of us along the hedge.

Into the copse, and a pair of Bullfinches flew out of the trees, the female landing briefly on a branch across the path. Out of the trees the other side of the road, and a few House Martins were flying in and out of the eaves of the house at the top of the hill, but there seen to be fewer here than usual, which appears to be a recurring theme everywhere this year. A family of Sedge Warblers were in the long grass below the willows along the path, and the juveniles scrambled away through the vegetation as the adults alarm called.

Looking over the brambles towards the Fen, we could see a small group of four Spoonbills asleep on the island. Three Greenshanks were roosting in the grass nearby and a Green Sandpiper was feeding along the far edge, a nice selection of waders already making their way back south and our first of the ‘autumn’ of each species.

Spoonbills 2

Spoonbills – there were four roosting on the Fen this morning

We had a better view over the Fen from up on the seawall. We got the Spoonbills and the various waders in the scope. But there was no much more visible from up here that we hadn’t seen on the walk out, a few Common Redshanks and a single Black-tailed Godwit which flew off soon after we arrived.

The tide was just going out in the harbour and we made our way on, past the end of the seawall and out to the corner of the coast path to have a scan. Two pairs of Shelduck were displaying down at the bottom of the grassy bank as we passed and looked like they might be still prospecting for nest sites.

A frenzy of Common Terns was gathered out over the middle of the harbour, presumably having found a shoal of fish. A Sandwich Tern was on one of the sandbars nearby, its partner returning periodically with a fish to present to it. There were not many waders out here yet, apart from the Oystercatchers which have spent the summer here. A single Curlew was out on the mud and two more flew over, more early returning birds. We could see a few seals pulled out on the shingle on Blakeney Point in the distance.

Greenshanks

Greenshanks – two of the three from the Fen, flying out to the harbour

As we walked back to the seawall, a male Marsh Harrier flew in across the reedbed out out towards the edge of the saltmarsh. The Greenshanks started calling and took off, flying past us and out towards the harbour, presumably looking to feed again on the falling tide. On the way back along the path to the road, a Cetti’s Warbler flicked up out of the bushes by the river and disappeared into the willows, the sight of a chestnut tail disappearing into the vegetation being a typical view of a Cetti’s Warbler!

A Green-winged Teal had been reported this morning from the hides at Cley, so we thought we would call in there next, on our way past. As we walked out along the boardwalk, we heard a Bearded Tit calling and turned to see a male flying straight towards us over the reeds. It dropped across the path just ahead of us and disappeared straight into the reeds the other side.

We stood on the boardwalk where it had gone in and could see the reed moving as it worked its way through. It came back towards us, passed by just a few feet away but tucked down mostly out of view, before flying up and out again back across the boardwalk. A little further on, another Bearded Tit was more obliging, perched in the reeds with a large caterpillar in its bill. It didn’t seem to know quite what to do with it!

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – wondering what to do with a caterpillar

We went in to Teal Hide first, as the drake Green-winged Teal had been reported from Pat’s Pool earlier. There were quite a few Eurasian Teal swimming round on the water or asleep on the islands. After a short while, the Green-winged Teal swam out with the other Teal. It was busy feeding, with its head mostly down in the water, but we could see the distinctive thick white vertical stripe on the foreflank. Several drake Eurasian Teal were swimming with it, giving us a good comparison of the two species, the Eurasian Teal showing instead a horizontal white stripe.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal – showing the distinctive vertical white foreflank stripe

Green-winged Teal is the North American cousin of our regular Eurasian Teal, and is a scarce but regular visitor across this side of the Atlantic. Given the number of Eurasian Teal returning here at the moment, it seems most likely that the Green-winged Teal had come here with them, rather than arriving fresh across ‘the Pond’.

There was a nice selection of waders on the scrapes here too, split between Pat’s and Simmond’s. There were at least 120 Knot, hard to count exactly as they were mobile between the hides and kept splitting into different groups. Most of them were in grey non-breeding plumage, though there were two or three rusty birds in with them. They are probably 1st summer birds which have not bred this year.

Knot

Knot – mostly in grey non-breeding plumage

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits too and looking through them we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit in amongst them, sleeping on the back of one of the islands. The Black-tailed Godwits are mostly Icelandic birds (of the race islandica), but there was a colour-ringed bird of the Continental race, limosa, in with them, a moulting adult. At one point, we had the Continental Black-tailed Godwit, the Bar-tailed Godwit and one of the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits all in the scope together, giving us a great 3-way comparison.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a colour-ringed bird from the Nene Washes

While the population of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits has been increasing, the Continental Black-tailed Godwit has been struggling. There are only about 40 pairs which breed in the UK, in the Fens on the Nene and Ouse Washes, where they are very vulnerable to summer flooding. They are the subject of urgent conservation action, through ‘Project Godwit’ and the headstarting programme.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre and made use of the picnic tables outside. A Green Sandpiper circled over calling while we were sitting there, possibly a fresh returning migrant. After lunch, we continued on our way east.

Our next stop was at Iron Road, where we had a quick look at the pool. It has filled up with water again after the recent rains, although there were no waders on here today, but it is always a good place to check when birds are on the move. As we turned to walk back to the minibus, a Barn Owl was out hunting over the marshes. It was a wet night last night and it probably has young to feed somewhere.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting in the middle of the afternoon

Our final destination for the afternoon was Kelling. A Greenfinch was singing from the top of the fir tree by the school as we set off along the lane, and there were a few Goldfinches and Chaffinches in the bushes, but otherwise the hedges were rather quiet here. When we got to the copse, we stopped to scan from the gate. There were lots of Brown Hares out on the hillside beyond, a couple of them sprawled out across the grass fast asleep. We had to get the scope on them to double check they were actually still alive!

The pool on the Water Meadow was very full of water, with no muddy edge suitable for waders now. The pair of Egyptian Geese still have two goslings which are getting very big now, not far off fully grown. A Common Whitethroat flew across to the brambles on one edge carrying food. Continuing on down towards the beach, there were a few Linnets and Meadow Pipits.

We took the permissive path up the hill towards the gun emplacements. Looking out to sea, a few Sandwich Terns flew past and a couple of Little Terns were fishing just offshore. Given the walk out had been rather quiet, we decided to continue on round on a circular walk back towards the village. A Marsh Harrier was hunting over the grassy field above the Water Meadow.

Meadow Brown

Meadow Brown – feeding on the brambles

We had just remarked how few butterflies we had seen out today, when we started to find them. First we found a couple of Meadow Browns in the grass and nectaring on the brambles by the path. Then we started to come across Painted Ladys. There has been a noticeable invasion from the continent in the last week or so and we have been seeing large numbers most days. There were a few basking on the path but when we stopped to admire all the poppies growing in the strip left fallow at the top of the field we realised it was full of Painted Ladys.

By the time we got back down to the village it was time to call it a day and make our way back. We had seen a few of the different sites along the coast today, and we had even managed to squeeze in a few good birds on the way!

17th May 2019 – A Spring Stint

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk, looking for spring migrants. It was rather grey and cloudy for most of the day with the odd brighter interval, and decidedly cool for May in the light-moderate NE wind, but at least it stayed dry all day until after we had finished.

Our first destination for the morning was Kelling. As we got out of the minibus in the village, we could hear Greenfinches singing in the trees and saw two perched in the top of a pine tree. Walking down the lane, a Tawny Owl hooted once, a bit of a surprise, but some birds will hoot in the daytime. We didn’t hear it again, but a distant Lesser Whitethroat was rattling away on the hillside, and Blackcap and Common Whitethroat were singing from the hedge beside the track. Down at the copse, a Chiffchaff was chiffing and chaffing.

We stopped at the gate overlooking the Water Meadow and scanned the fields. A pair of Grey Partridges were hiding in the grass. We could see the male’s orange face and just see the back of the female, which was keeping well tucked down amongst the tussocks where the cows had been grazing.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridges – hiding in the grass on the Water Meadow

There were lots of Brown Hares feeding on the grassy hillside beyond the Water Meadow and a couple more very skittish individuals kept running in and out of view just in front of us. We couldn’t see the Ring Ouzel though – it had apparently been disturbed and flown back into the rushes out in the middle.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – running around on the Water Meadow

Continuing on, we had a nice view of a Common Whitethroat which perched up in the brambles beside the track, singing. From the cross-track, we stopped to scan the Water Meadow. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking low over the water, with one or two landing on the barbed wire fence from time to time. A Common Sandpiper was bobbing along the muddy margin of the pool towards the back, and a pair of Lapwings were feeding in the grass nearby, with the resident pair of Egyptian Geese.

Down past the Quags. a Sedge Warbler was half singing from the reeds in the ditch but refused to show itself. There were several Linnets in the brambles and we stopped to admire one smart red-breasted male in the scope. As we walked up the hillside beyond, we could hear Meadow Pipits and Skylarks singing, and watched one of the former doing its parachute display flight. A male Stonechat was perched on the fence further up.

We walked up to the top of the hill and looked back down to the back of the Water Meadow, but all it produced was a pair of Red-legged Partridges. It was a bit fresh in the breeze up here, so we turned to walk back. A female Wheatear appeared now on the concrete wall around the gun emplacements, before dropping down out of view.

Back at the Water Meadow, we watched some of the local Rooks feeding their recently fledged young around the edge of the pool. An Avocet flew in straight past us and landed in the shallow water. As we walked back up the lane, the Lesser Whitethroat was still singing from somewhere off in the hedge to the east, just audible from where we were. It was asked if we could get closer to try to hear it better, but typically by the time we had walked round it had gone quiet.

We made our way round to the Visitor Centre at Cley to warm up over a hot drink next. Four Whimbrel flew over calling as we got out of the minibus. From the cafe, we could see lots of Swifts and House Martins hawking low over the reeds. One or two Marsh Harriers circled up out of the reedbed.

Afterwards, we headed out to the hides. As we walked along the path, we could hear Reed Warblers singing from the reeds along the edge of the ditch. The first remained stubbornly hidden, but the second was perched up nicely on a bent reed, in full view, where we could get a really good look at it.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – singing from the reeds by the ditch

Out at boardwalk, the Swifts were zooming back and forth very low over the hides, just above our heads. A Sedge Warbler was singing from just outside Teal Hide, and we could just see it perched briefly on the fence in between the bushes before it dropped down out of view.

We went into Dauke’s Hide first. The Temminck’s Stints have been on Simmond’s Scrape and sure enough we found two of them straight away, on the near edge of the nearest island. We had a really good view of them creeping around on the edge of the mud. There had been five earlier, but we couldn’t find any sign of the other three at the moment, but two was plenty for us!

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – two were showing very well this morning

Temminck’s Stints are scarce migrants here, passing through in small numbers in early May from their wintering grounds in Africa to Scandinavia for the breeding season, so they are always good birds to catch up with. There were also several Black-tailed Godwits on Simmond’s Scrape, but they were mostly asleep, roosting on one of the islands, and a few Redshanks. A Ringed Plover was bathing in the shallow water by one of the islands towards the back, and there was a Little Ringed Plover too but it was rather mobile today. Several Avocets were hunkered down, nesting on the back of Whitwell Scrape.

There was a nice variety of ducks here too, with several lingering Wigeon and Teal of note. They are both common here in the winter, but most have long since departed now for their breeding grounds further east on the continent. A pair of Common Pochard on Whitwell Scrape may well be breeding somewhere here, as we watched the male shepherding the female while she fed, before flying off together. The drake then returned alone and, after a quick preen, went to sleep.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – the drake flew back in to Whitwell Scrape

We went round to Teal Hide next to have a closer look at Pat’s Pool. A Little Ringed Plover flew past as we got inside and opened the flaps. There were several Black-tailed Godwits, these ones awake and feeding in front of the hide. They included one or two in breeding plumage, with rusty head, neck and breast. A single Common Sandpiper was feeding around the edge of the more distant island over towards Bishop Hide.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – one or two are in full breeding plumage now

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back towards the Visitor Centre. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the top of a bush in the reeds by the boardwalk now and seemed completely unphased by us stopping to watch it just a few feet away. We had a great view, very different from the Reed Warbler we had seen on the way out. As well as the different song, much less rhythmical, the Sedge Warbler had a bold pale supercilium. bordered with dark above, and more patterned upperparts.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – singing from a bush by the boardwalk

It was a bit too chilly to use the picnic tables at the Visitor Centre today, so we made our way round to the beach for lunch in the shelter. Afterwards, we had a quick look out at the sea. Two Little Terns flew past just offshore and a Sandwich Tern was perched on the post of the old wreck. Through the scope, we could see its shaggy crest and yellow-tipped black bill. It was a bit cold out on the beach, so beat a quick retreat.

We drove back round to Walsey Hills. A female Common Pochard was diving with two ducklings on the pool as we got out, a rare breeder here so always good to see them with young. As we walked in through the bushes, there were lots of Chaffinches, and tits including a Coal Tit, coming in to the feeders. Just beyond, a bird shot across the path ahead of us, flashing a red tail, a Redstart, a migrant presumably having just dropped in. It flicked back again the other way, but then disappeared into the bushes. Otherwise, there were a few birds singing in here, including Chiffchaff and Cetti’s Warbler, and a Song Thrush was an addition to the day’s list.

There had apparently been two Spoonbills asleep from Babcock Hide earlier, but we were not sure if they would still be there. We set off to walk over that way, but we hadn’t even got as far as the start of the East Bank when we saw them flying over. They turned and headed out over the reserve, disappearing off west.

We decided to continue on up the East Bank instead. The cloud had thickened this afternoon and it seemed to be threatening rain now away to the east. It was exposed here and cooler now in the wind, so the reeds were rather quiet today. There were not many birds around the Serpentine either, just a few ducks, and several Lapwings around the pools.

We headed straight on to Arnold’s Marsh, where we hoped to find a few different waders on the brackish pools. The first bird we got the scope on was a smart Grey Plover in breeding plumage, with a black face and belly, very different to the grey ones we see through the winter here. There were several Bar-tailed Godwits here, including one male moulting into breeding plumage, with the rusty feathering extending right down under its tail. A few Turnstones were picking around the shingle islands, also starting to moult into their brighter breeding plumage too.

After a brisk walk back to the minibus, we drove back west and stopped again at Stiffkey. As we got out, we could see a flock of Greylag Geese feeding in the field by the road, seemingly unconcerned by the scarecrow or the bird scarer! A single Brent Goose was in with them. Across the other side of the road, a Stock Dove was tucked down in the ploughed strip beyond the grass.

Diamond-back Moth

Diamond-back Moth – one of many along the path, here with a weevil

As we walked down the sheltered path between the hedges, lots of small moths came up out of the vegetation as we passed. We stopped to look at one and realised they were Diamond-back Moths, migrants from continent, presumably just arrived on the NE winds. There must have been at least 50 along this small stretch of path, a significant arrival. It was only later we discovered that there had been a big movement of them in recent days, with big numbers in Finland a week ago, arriving into Sweden just yesterday. Amazing to think of the huge distances these tiny moths had covered.

Back to birds, and a smart grey male Marsh Harrier circled up over the field beyond the path, before perching in the top of a hedge where we could get a good look at it through the scope. A second male then drifted in over the valley too.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – one of the two males landed in the hedge

A Lesser Whitethroat was singing just across the road, and it was good to get a better chance to hear its distinctive rattling song than the one we had looked for this morning. It was sheltered here and there were a few other birds singing. A bright male Yellowhammer perched in the top of a pine tree singing and a Chiffchaff was singing from the trees further along.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – singing from the top of a pine tree

The bushes down alongside the river were quieter this afternoon – it seemed like most of the birds were round on the more sheltered side of the trees. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in cover. A pair of Marsh Harriers circled up from the near corner of the Fen, and we watched the male fly out across the middle of the pool, stirring up all the Avocets which flew up to mob it.

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Fen. A Common Sandpiper was working its way around the muddy edges of the islands and over twenty Black-tailed Godwits were gathered down in the water in the near corner, feeding.

Looking out across the harbour, the tide was coming in. There were lots more Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh and we could see the seals on Blakeney Point beyond. Scanning the edge of the harbour from the seawall, we could see a few waders gathering around the edge – mostly Oystercatchers, but a little group of Dunlin were new for the day, we could see their black belly patches in the scope.

It was cool out here, exposed to the wind which wasn’t especially strong but had a distinct chill to it. We decided not to walk out to the edge of the harbour – it was time to head back now anyway. Back at the minibus, the Brent Geese were now gathering in the field with the scarecrow and the bird scarer, several hundred of them with more flying in as we packed up.

10th May 2019 – Spring Migration, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours on the North Norfolk coast. After a cloudy morning we had a brief spell of light rain through the middle of the day, which thankfully passed over while we were having lunch, before it brightened up in the afternoon, although there was a chill to the light NE wind all day. We made our way east along the coast this morning.

There has been a Great Spotted Cuckoo at Weybourne Camp for over a week now. A rare visitor from southern Europe, it is a young bird which overshot on its first return journey north from Africa and ended up in Norfolk. It can normally be viewed from Muckleburgh Hill, as the Camp itself is private land, so we headed over there first thing to see if we could see it.

As we walked in through the trees there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. A Common Whitethroat was songflighting from the top of the hedge. We watched three Lesser Whitethroats chasing each other round the bushes, with one perching up in the top of a hawthorn briefly. A Garden Warbler was singing on the front side of Muckleburgh from deep in the blackthorn and we had a quick view of it as it flew across.

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler – singing from the bushes on Muckleburgh Hill

There were a few people gathered looking for the Great Spotted Cuckoo but there was no sign at first, as someone was walking about in the trees out  on Weybourne Camp where it had been seen earlier. Eventually, when the disturbance ceased, the Great Spotted Cuckoo flew out and landed on the brambles in the distance over by the coast. It was rather distant and there was already a bit of heat haze despite the cloud, so it was hard to see at first unless you knew where it was. Then it turned and its pale underparts caught the light and it was much easier to see. We all had a look at it through the scope before it dropped down behind the brambles and disappeared.

We decided to have a walk round the hillside bushes. A male Linnet was singing from the top of the gorse just behind us, already getting pinkish-red on the breast. A pair of Yellowhammers flew over calling and dropped into a bush, the male perching up on the outer edge briefly.

Linnet

Linnet – singing from the top of the gorse

A Willow Warbler was singing but from somewhere deep in the trees, its lovely descending scale a real sound of spring. A Chiffchaff showed itself much better, feeding low down on the outside of the bushes and we could even see it had been ringed. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing its distinctive rattle and when we got back to where we had heard the Garden Warbler earlier it was still singing. We could see it moving through the blackthorn, and it showed itself briefly. There had been a Wood Warbler in the trees on the other side yesterday, so we stopped to listen but there was no sign of it today.

We moved on to Kelling. As we parked in the village, a Greenfinch was singing from the treetops. A Common Buzzard was being chased by a Rook which was then joined in its efforts by a Jackdaw. A pair of Swallows were perched on the wires as we walked underneath.

Swallow

Swallow – perched on the wires looking at us we walked underneath

Walking down the lane towards the coast, the bushes were quieter than normal. A couple of Blackcaps were singing in the hedges down towards the copse, but we could hear Lesser Whitethroat and Common Whitethroat more distantly off across the field. We stopped by the gate overlooking the Water Meadow, but there were no Yellow Wagtails with the cows today.

As we looked over the brambles, we could see a Wood Sandpiper on the edge of the pool on the Water Meadow, so we walked on to the track at the end where we could get a better view of it in the scope. We could see its white-spangled upperparts and clear pale supercilium. Wood Sandpiper are spring migrants, passing through here in small numbers on their way north to Scandinavia in May, so they are always nice to see.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – feeding on the pool on the Water Meadow

There were also two Common Sandpipers bobbing round the muddy margins of the pool. Four Whimbrel flew west calling over towards the coast. The pair of Egyptian Geese have two goslings and the male tried to show off his courage by chasing off a harmless pair of Gadwall.

There were lots of Sand Martins feeding low over the water, hawking for insects, and more were perching on the wires, preening. They breed in the sandy cliffs along the coast both west and east of here. A Reed Bunting was singing from the brambles behind us and we could see lots of Brown Hares in the field up beyond the Water Meadow.

Sand Martin

Sand Martin – feeding around the Water Meadow

There had apparently been two Wheatears on the Quags earlier, so we walked round there to look for them. We couldn’t find them now, so they had possibly moved on already. As we walked up the hill beyond, behind the beach, we could see the Great White Egret which had been reported at Salthouse, away in the distance. Its long white neck was sticking out of one of the ditches and through the scope we could see its dagger-shaped yellow bill.

A male Stonechat was perched in the bushes down towards the beach, and further on we found the female on the fence. We did find a couple of Wheatears around the gun emplacements, more migrants stopping off on their way north, but with quite a few along the coast today they may not have been the ones which were down on the Quags earlier. We had a good look at the female through the scope, perched on the bunkers and feeding down on the short grass. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were singing all around us, always great to hear.

With grey clouds building to the south, we decided it would be prudent to walk back. Two Avocets had dropped in on the Water Meadow pool now to feed. Two Red-legged Partridges were hiding in the winter wheat just the other side and when we got back to the gate by the copse we could see a Grey Partridge in the field beyond – nice to see the two species in quick succession to compare them. It was starting to spit with rain now, so we headed back to the minibus.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back west to Cley. On our way, we had a quick look from the Beach Road at Salthouse, but there was no sign of the Great White Egret in the ditches here now. After a quick stop at the NWT Visitor Centre to use the facilities, we drove down to Cley Coastguards and had lunch in the shelter, out of the rain. We got distracted a couple of times looking at the sea. A couple of Sandwich Terns were plunge diving offshore and then two Little Terns flew west. Further out, two Gannets flew the other way. Five Common Scoters were swimming and diving out on the sea, and we had a look at them in the scope, lingering winter visitors.

While we were eating, the rain stopped and it started to brighten up. We noticed a Wheatear on the pillbox further along the beach and then found another two on the fence posts by the Eye Field, including a smart male. They worked their way along the edge of the field past us. A Skylark was feeding on the short grass in the overflow car park right next to us while we were watching the Wheatears.

Wheatear

Wheatear – there were at least three by the Eye Field over lunch

While we were eating, we had seen three Golden Plovers circling round over the Eye Field. They had landed in the grass, and now we could see them just beyond the fence. One was looking very smart with a dark face and belly, a ‘northern’ male. A Marsh Harrier circled over the grass behind the beach away to the west.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – a smart black-faced ‘northern’ male

After lunch, we drove back round and parked at Walsey Hills. There were several Common Pochard on Snipes Marsh, including a female with two ducklings. They are rare breeders here so it is always good to see evidence of confirmed breeding.

As we walked up the East Bank, we could hear several Reed Warblers singing, but they were keeping well tucked down in the reeds. A Bearded Tit was ‘pinging’ and we turned to see it climbing up into the top of the reeds on the edge of a channel. It was a juvenile, so presumably there was a family party here. A couple of Sedge Warblers flew across the channel and we could see them in the bottom of the reeds on the other side. Further along, we found another Reed Warbler in the ditch the other side of the bank, perched on the reeds singing where it was much easier to see.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – one of several singing in the reeds along the bank

There was a small group Black-tailed Godwits and a single Dunlin with a black belly patch feeding out on Pope’s Marsh, so we had a look at them through the scope. Further up on the mud by the Serpentine, we could see a Little Ringed Plover. We had a quick look at it from here and it was good that we did because by time we had walked up there, it had disappeared. There were a few Shoveler and Teal around the Serpentine.

Up at Arnold’s Marsh, we found a few more waders. As well as another small group of Black-tailed Godwits, there were several Bar-tailed Godwits over towards the back. One was mostly in rusty breeding plumage, so we had a look at it through the scope and could see the rusty colour extended down under the tail. There were a few Curlew here too and a Ringed Plover flew in and landed on the stony island, next to a Sandwich Tern. Another Wheatear was hopping around on the saltmarsh at the front.

It was decidedly cool in the shelter overlooking Arnold’s, with the cool easterly breeze having picked up a touch since the rain earlier. It was much nicer round the back in the sunshine, out of the wind. Before everyone got too comfortable, we decided to walk back. A drake Wigeon on Pope’s Pool was a late lingering winter visitor – most of the Wigeon which spent the winter here have already left on their way back to Russia to breed.

We had a quick walk down to the pool on the Iron Road. There were a few waders on here today, including another Wood Sandpiper and three Common Sandpipers. A Jack Snipe was more of a surprise. It was hiding in the vegetation at first, and we could just see it creeping around, before it eventually came out a little more, and we could see it bouncing up and down.

There were lots of Pied Wagtails on the bare mud around the pool and in with them we could see three paler ones, with silvery grey backs – White Wagtails from the continent. A shrill call alerted us to a bright male Yellow Wagtail which flew in and landed at the feet of one of the cows in front of us. It didn’t stop long and almost immediately was off again and flew off west.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail – dropped in with the cows by the Iron Road briefly

We still had time for one last stop on our way back west, at Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down the path by the road, two male Marsh Harriers quartered the fields. There were more warblers singing here – Blackcap in the trees, and Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler along the bank of the river the other side.

Up on the seawall, a pair of Avocets and several Shelduck were down in the harbour channel beyond. There were lots of Brent Geese still out on the saltmarsh in the harbour. They should be heading off soon now, on their way up to Siberia for the breeding season. We could see the seals too, distantly out on the sandbars beyond Blakeney Point.

There were a few waders still on the Fen – five Black-tailed Godwits, including one moulting into breeding plumage which gave a nice contrast to the rusty Bar-tailed Godwit we had seen at Cley earlier, as well as several Redshanks. A Green Sandpiper was feeding on the edge of the mud at the back and a Little Ringed Plover was walking around on one of the grassy islands.

Marsh Harrier

Unfortunately it was time to head back. One of the Marsh Harriers was still quartering the field by the path as we made our way back to the minibus, giving us a great view of it. As we drove back into Wells, a Common Cuckoo flew across the road to wrap up the day.

It had been a good first day, with a nice selection of spring migrants. We were looking forward to more tomorrow.

24th Apr 2019 – Spring has Sprung

A Day Tour in North Norfolk today. It was another lovely warm, sunny morning. It did cloud over early afternoon, and we had a brief shower, but it passed through very quickly and then brightened up again afterwards – not enough to put a dampener on another lovely spring day’s birding.

We headed out to Burnham Overy Dunes for the morning, with the warblers in and in full voice again. As we walked down the track, a Common Whitethroat was singing in the top of the hedge. Over the stile, a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling, with a Blackcap singing the other side and our first Sedge Warbler tucked down out of view in the brambles beside the ditch. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us and flew across the track, flashing its deep chestnut upperparts.

The grazing marshes by the track here are drying out fast. There were still a few Lapwings, with one displaying over the remaining muddy pools, and several Oystercatchers, but there are fewer waders than usual here. Five Golden Plover were walking around out on the short grass, moulting into summer plumage, with one in particular sporting a noticeable black face and belly.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover – five were out on the grazing meadow this morning

Continuing on down the track, we heard several more Sedge Warblers singing but they were hiding too and we had mostly glimpses. We heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling ahead of us, and walked up slowly towards it. Scanning the brambles, we spotted it half hidden in the top of one clump. We got it in the scope and had a look at it. We were hoping to get a bit closer, but just at that point two Environment Agency vehicles came steaming down the track and it dived back into cover.

We carried on to the end of the track, where a more obliging Sedge Warbler was singing, climbing up to the top of a small briar, before songflighting over to the brambles by the seawall, singing from there for a bit and then songflighting back again. We stopped to watch it, getting a good look at its bold creamy white supercilium. The Grasshopper Warbler started reeling again, back along the track.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – the last one along the track was much more obliging

When we finally got up on the seawall, we could see why the Environment Agency workers had been in such a hurry – they were still sat in the vehicles drinking tea! They had come to mow the seawall, but had only got half the job done yesterday and were clearly in no hurry to finish.

The tide was in out in the harbour and there were a few waders roosting in the vegetation on the saltmarsh. We stopped to look at the Black-tailed Godwits, increasingly rusty as they moult into breeding plumage, and a single Grey Plover still in noon-breeding plumage. A small group of Turnstones were roosting further back, on the edge of the harbour channel. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled high over the harbour, calling.

As we walked on along the sea wall, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds along the ditch below. Its rhythmic song was very different to the Sedge Warblers we had heard earlier. A large flock of Brent Geese flew in across the harbour and landed on the saltmarsh, lingering winter visitors. Two Whimbrel were feeding nearby. Slim, short-billed and dark brown, through the scope we could their distinctive central crown stripe too. A Sand Martin flew over, surprisingly the only hirundine we saw on the move again today.

Stopping on the last corner of the seawall, we scanned the grazing marshes. Three Wheatears were hoping around in the short grass. There is a bit more water still in the pools here, and some of the Lapwings here had small fluffy chicks which were feeding around the edges. We could see some ducks around the muddy margins too – a few lingering Wigeon and Teal, plus Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have long since departed north, but a gaggle of about 100 was still out on the marshes beyond, with a pair of Barnacle Geese too.

While watching the geese, one of the group spotted an Otter walking across the middle of the grass. The geese put their heads up, and the whole flock of Pink-footed Geese seemed to be shepherding the Otter. It flushed a Brown Hare from the grass too, which ran up and down in front of the geese. From time to time the Otter would lie down in the grass – we couldn’t tell whether it was resting or looking for something to eat, perhaps eggs or a young nestling?

Otter

Otter – being shepherded by Pink-footed Geese and flushing a Hare

Out at the boardwalk, a Chiffchaff was  flitting around in the bushes, probably a freshly arrived migrant. Heading on into the dunes, there were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding in the short grass. And lots more Wheatears, lingering migrants, feeding up before continuing journey north, flashing their white tails as they flew off ahead of us.

We walked up to the top of the first ridge and stopped to scan the dunes, but there was no sign of any Ring Ouzels here today. As we Continued on east, a Cuckoo flew off behind us, chased by Meadow Pipit. A pair of Stonechats were perched on the bushes and we spotted a Whinchat down on the grass just beyond the fence. While we were looking at it through the scope, it flew and we didn’t see where it went.

A Song Thrush was feeding on the top of the next ridge and when it flew back into a small holm oak just beyond, two darker birds flew in with it – Ring Ouzels. We could see a female tucked in the middle of the bush, with a brown-tinged pale gorget, though it was not a great view. They flew back down into the dunes so we walked up to the ridge to see if we could see them on the ground.

They are often very nervous and flighty here and as soon as we put our heads over the top, three Ring Ouzels flew off over dunes behind us calling. We thought that might be it, but then another one started chacking, still in the bushes. As we tried to get round to the other side, it flew out and helpfully landed in the top of some nearby brambles, where we could get a good look at it. It was a smart male, with a bright white gorget.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this male perched up nicely in the brambles

Looking out across the grazing meadows from the dunes, we could see a few Spoonbills distantly on the pool below the wood. Nearby, we could just make out two Cattle Egrets walking around with the cows. A Great White Egret was easier to see, standing on the edge of the reeds. Looking out the other way, towards the sea, a small flock of Common Scoter was flying past distantly offshore.

As we walked back through the dunes, there were still lots of Wheatears. One male perched on a fence post and didn’t fly off as we approached. We stopped to photograph it, then as we walked on, it stayed put. Eventually it allowed us to walk up until we were all just a few metres away from it. It seemed to like having its photo taken!

Wheatear

Wheatear – this male allowed us to get within just a few metres

Back out on the seawall, the breeze had picked up noticeably. Two Red Kites hung in the air over the seawall, before drifting away over the grazing marshes. The Environment Agency workmen had already finished the small amount of mowing with their remote-controlled mowers and were now sat in the van eating sandwiches. Tough work!

Along the track back towards the road, there were more butterflies out now in the shelter of the hedges. We had seen a few Speckled Woods on our walk out, but now there were a few Orange Tips and Holly Blues too.

Red Kite

Red Kite – two were hanging in the breeze along the seawall

It was almost time for lunch, so we climbed back into the van, but on our way we drove round via a complex of old barns. As we passed we could see a shape in one of the window openings, so we turned round and stopped to admire a Little Owl perched sunning itself. It looked at us nervously, considered its options for a bit, then flew inside.

Little Owl

Little Owl – sunning itself in the window of an old barn

We went to Holkham for lunch, where we could use the facilities in The Lookout café and get a drink. Afterwards, a quick check of the pool in front revealed a Little Ringed Plover and a Pied Wagtail feeding around the edge. Two Mistle Thrushes were feeding out on the grazing marshes in front of the van.

Our first stop of the afternoon was at Wells. As we walked down the track, we could see lots of ducks on the pools – more Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, and one or two Wigeon still with them. A drake Garganey was feeding over towards the far side and when it raised its head from time to time we could see its bold white supercilium.

Garganey

Garganey – a drake feeding out on the pools

There were lots of spring passage waders on here too. We could see four Greenshanks together and then heard at least one more calling out of view away to our right. There were several Ruff, males which had mostly acquired their bright breeding plumage but not yet the ornate ruffs – although one had already lost its neck feathers in preparation. We got a rather dark blackish one in the scope for a closer look. A Common Sandpiper was bobbing its way along the far bank and a Common Snipe was hiding in the rushes in the middle.

Scanning the pools the other side of the track, we could see at least five Wood Sandpipers, with bright white spangled backs and well marked pale supercilium, although they kept disappearing into the wet grass. Four Spotted Redshanks were a little further back, a couple of them already getting quite dusky as they moult into breeding plumage.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpipers – two of at least five here today

It had clouded over now and we could see some rather dark clouds gathering just inland but we thought we had enough time for a quick look at westernmost pool. A Wood Sandpiper was on here too, but as the birds had been flying around it was hard to say whether it was one of the five or a different bird. There were lots of Avocets, but no sign of any Snipe in the grass here today.

We decided to try to walk back before the rain arrived, but we hadn’t got far before it began to spit. We got caught by the shower, but thankfully it wasn’t one of the forecast thundery downpours but just very brief and very light. It had dried up before we even got back to the van. A Grey Partridge was calling, and ran out onto the track.

Moving on to Stiffkey, a Brown Hare and several Skylarks were in the meadow opposite the layby, and we could hear Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap singing as we walked down the path. A Willow Warbler in an oak tree by the road was giving a rather half-hearted rendition of its song, but we got a good look at it as it flitted around in the half emerged leaves. Down by the river, we found a pair of Long-tailed Tits.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – feeding in an oak tree by the road

Looking across to the Fen from the path, we could see a Green Sandpiper at the back, against the reeds, and two Common Sandpipers. The Little Gull was still here, hawking out over the water, occasionally dipping down or soaring up, alternately flashing its bright silvery grey upperparts and blackish underwings.

Little Gull

Little Gull – showing off its dark underwings

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the whole Fen. Several Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshanks were roosting in the shallow water. Over to one side, we found a Spotted Redshank feeding on the mud as well, another dusky bird, and we had a nice side by side comparison in the scope with one of the Common Redshanks. We could get the Green Sandpiper in the scope from here too.

There were lots of Black-headed Gulls out on the Fen, but we heard Mediterranean Gulls calling behind us and looked round to see a pair flying in low over saltmarsh behind us and in over seawall. A male Marsh Harrier flew low over the Fen and flushed everything, including a Yellow Wagtail which flew round calling.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – two adults flew in low of the seawall

The tide was right out now but we had a quick walk round to look in the harbour. A Small Copper butterfly was basking on the gorse in the sun, the first we have seen this year. There were loads of Brent Geese loafing around on the mud in the harbour – it won’t be long now before they are on their way back to Siberia for the breeding season. There were some gulls out on the mud banks too, including several Great Black-backed Gulls.

We could see some very distant waders out on the mud in the middle, including several Bar-tailed Godwits, mostly now in bright rusty breeding plumage. One of them was carrying colour-rings, and we could make out a red flag on one thigh, but where it was walking most of its legs were hidden behind the mud in front.

Unfortunately it was time to start walking back now. We still managed to add a few birds to the day’s list on our way back to the van, a little group of Blue Tits and two Jays flying across the path into the wood. It had been another great day of spring migration birding out on the coast.

22nd Apr 2019 – Spring Migrants, Day 3

Day 2 of a three day Easter weekend tour today. It was another glorious, sunny day but a bit cooler than yesterday, in a fresher ENE wind. Still, it was lovely weather to be out again. We spent most of the day further east along the north Norfolk coast today.

Holkham has been very busy over Easter, with the car park filling up as lots of visitors came out enjoying the good weather, so we figured we would need to get in and out early. As we walked west on the inland side of the pines, there were lots of warblers singing in the trees and bushes – Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler.

A Swallow flew over the pines heading east and we heard a Greenshank flying over too, calling. We saw our first Jays of the weekend in the poplars and lots of Speckled Wood butterflies flying over the path.

Jay

Jay – we saw several in the woods at Holkham

Salts Hole was quiet – part from the noisy Egyptian Geese flying in and out of the trees. Continuing on to Washington Hide, we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling and the more rhythmic song of a Reed Warbler singing too in the reedbed, but both stayed well hidden.

Continuing on to Joe Jordan Hide, the first things we spotted as we opened the flaps were the two Cattle Egrets. They were some way off at first, not with the cows, feeding in a low-lying wet area further back. Then they flew in to join the cattle, coming a bit closer where we could get a better look at them in the scope. We watched one of them picking insects off the back of a calf which was lying down in the grass.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret – the two were still with the cattle at Holkham

There was lots of Spoonbill activity this morning, with regular comings and goings as birds flew down from the trees to the big pool below and back up again. One or two birds were bathing, while others were feeding in the shallow water or looking for nest material around the margins.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there was lots of coming and going this morning

A Grey Heron was standing motionless out on one of the smaller wet areas in the grass and several Little Egrets flew in and out of the trees too. A selection of ducks, Avocets and Redshanks were also down around the pools. A Mistle Thrush was feeding down in the grass below the hide.

We could have spent a lot longer here, but we wanted to move on before it got too busy. By the time we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, there were lots of cars already parked most of the way down towards the main road now, and lots of people, dogs and horses, mostly heading straight out to the beach. We made a quick visit to The Lookout café, to use the facilities, and a Little Ringed Plover dropped down onto the pool in front calling. Then we made quick escape!

We drove east to Kelling next. There were a few warblers singing as we walked up the lane, including one or two Lesser Whitethroats rattling in the hedge. When we got to the copse, we found a few people looking for the Pied Flycatcher which had been seen here earlier, but there had been no sign of it for over an hour apparently. A Chiffchaff and a Blackcap were singing in the trees.

Rather than linger here, we continued straight on to the Water Meadow. A Common Sandpiper was bobbing up and down, feeding along the muddy edge, and a single Ruff was also feeding on the margin at the back. A dusky grey Spotted Redshank, still moulting into breeding plumage, was feeding out in the deeper water in the middle amongst several noisy Black-tailed Godwits. A nice selection of spring migrant waders.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – gradually moulting into breeding plumage

With lots of people coming down to look for the flycatcher, it was busy down here now, with a steady stream of people walking past the pool. There had been a Wood Sandpiper here earlier but that had apparently flown off, and there was no sign of any Green Sandpiper or Greenshank either. In spring, birds are in a hurry to get to their breeding grounds, so they often don’t stay long. A lone Dunlin did fly in and drop down onto the shore while we were there, a migrant stopping off briefly to feed.

We walked back up the lane to where the cows were grazing at the other end of the Water Meadow. We could just see one or two Yellow Wagtails in the long grass, but there was still no sign of the Blue-headed Wagtail which had been with them earlier. Again it had presumably moved on quickly.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail – still two with the cows when we arrived

Two of the locals who just arrived from Cley told that two Wood Sandpipers were showing well from the East Bank there, so we decided to head straight over. As we parked at Walsey Hills, we noticed a Common Buzzard flying out of the trees with a big gap in one wing – possibly it had been shot at. It didn’t seem to be affecting its flying ability too badly though, and we watched as it decided to have a tussle with a second paler Buzzard over the trees.

Common Buzzards

Common Buzzard – fighting over the wood

A quick walk out on the East Bank was instantly rewarded with the two Wood Sandpipers, feeding on the small pools just below bank. They were very close and we had a really good look at them, dainty little birds with white-spangled upperparts and a noticeable pale supercilium. Wood Sandpipers are passage migrants here, passing through from their wintering grounds in Africa to breed in Scandinavia, and as we had found at Kelling can often move on quickly in spring, so it was great to catch up with them.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – two were showing very well, close to the East Bank

There was a smart rusty male Ruff on the pools here too, just moulting into breeding plumage. It had already lots most of its pale grey/brown and white winter plumage, but was yet to get an ornate ruff and headdress. Male Ruffs have a two stage moult, getting a new set of body feathers first, before moulting the head and neck again later. There is no point carrying round that ruff for any longer than is necessary! Over the next month or so, this bird will acquire the rest of its breeding plumage before moving on to its breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

Ruff

Ruff – moulting into breeding plumage, but no ruff yet

It was rather cool up on the bank in the fresh easterly breeze. We had a quick scan of the rest of the marshes but otherwise we could only see a few ducks on Serpentine, mainly Teal and Gadwall. There were a few gulls on Pope’s Pool. It was already around 1pm so we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre for lunch.

After lunch, we drove back towards Salthouse for a quick look at the Iron Road. The pools here are drying out fast now, and looked to be quiet at first when we scanned from the road. Still, we walked down for a closer look and found a nice selection of birds still. The highlight was a smart White Wagtail which was feeding on the dried out mud on the front edge. We could see its bright silvery-grey upperparts, contrasting with the black top to its head.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – feeding on the dry margin of the pool at Iron Road

There were a few waders too. Two Little Ringed Plovers were well camouflaged down on the dry mud, two Dunlin were picking around the edge of the water, and there were several Ruff towards the back, including a couple of females, Reeves. One of the Reeves was noticeably much smaller than the male Ruff it was with. A Marsh Harrier flew round low over the reeds beyond.

Carrying on back west, we stopped next at Stiffkey Fen. Two Grey Partridges were in the field across the road – we could see their heads when they stood up. The male was mostly keeping lookout, with the female presumably feeding, as it only put its head up once or twice. There were more warblers singing here – a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the hedge, and one or two Blackcaps in the copse. A Yellowhammer flew over.

From the path down along the river, we could see a Green Sandpiper on the Fen beyond, but by the time we had got the scopes up it had disappeared behind the reeds. Continuing on up onto the seawall, we found two Green Sandpipers now feeding along the back edge. Four Little Ringed Plovers were flying round, chasing each other. There were also lots of Avocets, a few Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits, and a single Grey Plover on the mud at the back.

There are always lots of gulls on the Fen through the summer, with a good number of breeding pairs of Black-headed Gulls. As we looked through, we could see two or three Common Gulls in amongst them. Then we noticed the Little Gull standing on the edge of one of the islands. It was much smaller than the Black-headeds, with white wing-tips and brighter orange legs. It is still moulting into breeding plumage, lacking a complete black hood yet. It took off, and we watched it hawking over the water, dip feeding, very agile, more like a tern, its pale silvery-grey upperwings contrasting with its blackish underwings.

Little Gull

Little Gull – dip feeding out over the water

After making our way back to the van, we continued on our way west to Wells. As we walked down the track, we scanned the pools. There were lots of ducks here on the flooded fields – Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, and a few lingering Wigeon. Scanning through carefully, we found the pair of Garganey in with them, what we had come to see. Through the scopes we could see the bold white head stripe on the drake, when it lifted its head from feeding, and the ornate plumes on the grey back.

Garganey

Garganey – a pair, on the pools at Wells

There were lots of waders on the pool on the other side of the track. Two Spotted Redshanks were feeding in the shallow water, one was noticeably more dusky grey than the other, further advanced in its moult into its black breeding plumage. There was a Greenshank and another Wood Sandpiper with them too. There were certainly plenty of spring passage waders dropping in along the coast today.

A few Ruff were out on the pools too and scanning the clumps of rushes and wet grass carefully, we found two Common Snipe feeding. A Golden Plover flew overhead calling, and dropped down onto the grass at the back of the pool, presumably another migrant heading north.

There had apparently been a Jack Snipe seen earlier on another pool by the seawall, so we went over to look for it. We found several more Common Snipe here, but no sign of the Jack Snipe. Presumably it had gone into the thick grass and gone to sleep, as they typically do. Another Common Sandpiper was feeding along the bottom of the bank at the back. A male Marsh Harrier was displaying, twisting and tumbling high overhead.

It was time to wrap up now and head back. We had enjoyed a great three days out, with lots of spring migrants, in lovely weather and great company. Classic Norfolk April birding.