Tag Archives: Stiffkey Fen

10th Oct 2019 – Mid-Autumn Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a four day Autumn Migration tour. It was a bright start, clouding over in the afternoon, but staying dry with a blustery SW wind all day.

To start the day, we headed to the pools just east of Wells. As we got out on the minibus, we could see a Great White Egret on the back of the pools to the west of the track. Through the scope, we could see its long, dagger-shaped yellow bill. It was heading for the corner by the track, but by the time we were ready to head down there, it was flushed and flew back out to the middle, before working its way the other way down towards the back corner.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding on the pool west of the track

There were lots of Greylags in the grass around the pools the other side, and a good number of Egyptian Geese with them. Further back, we could see plenty of Wigeon and Teal too. There was no sign of the Little Stint here this morning unfortunately, but a Common Snipe flew round in front of us.

Walking through the bushes beyond the pools, we stopped to look at several Greenfinches feeding in the brambles – an uncommon bird these days. Then we made our way up onto the seawall beyond, where we could see several Brent Geese, Redshanks and Curlews out in the muddy channels in the harbour. A paler wader, its whiter underparts catching the sunlight, caught our attention. Through the scope we could see it was a Greenshank, a nice early addition to the list.

There seemed to be quite a few birds on the western pool, so we walked over for a closer look. There were more ducks on here, plus a few waders, notably two winter adult Ruff (one with a limp) and two Common Snipe busily probing in the mud. When all the birds spooked we looked across to see a Sparrowhawk coming through low, flushing everything.

While we were standing on the seawall, several Blue Tits and three Dunnocks came up out of the bushes in front of us. The way they circled up high into the sky before heading off strongly west suggested they were migrants on the move. Looking out over the saltmarsh, we saw several small groups of Carrion Crows heading west too. Migration in action.

As we walked back along the seawall, a smart male Yellowhammer flew in high and dropped down into the bushes. It disappeared in, but after a few minutes it flew out again and landed in the top of one of the larger hawthorns where we could get a good look at it. There were several Reed Buntings in the bushes here too. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew high over calling and disappeared off towards Wells – possibly another bird on the move.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – dropped into the bushes by the seawall

We carried on east along the Coastal Path – there had been a Dusky Warbler further down at Warham Greens for the last few days, although it hadn’t been seen this morning as far as we could tell. We decided to have a look ourselves anyway. A flock of Long-tailed Tits made its way quickly along the hedge past us, but we couldn’t see anything with it as it did so. A couple of Song Thrushes flushed from the hedge and flew off inland, presumably freshly arrived migrants which had been taking a break. Two Kingfishers flew in across the saltmarsh and disappeared off behind us.

There were a few people looking and they confirmed there had been no sign of the Dusky Warbler. While we stood for a few minutes and listened, we looked out over the saltmarsh. There were good numbers of Pink-footed Geese coming in today – we saw some flocks arriving from distantly out beyond the beach, over the sea, while others came in from the east across the saltmarsh, presumably having made landfall already earlier. As they got closer, we could hear their distinctive yelping calls. A Marsh Harrier was hunting along the edge of the dunes. A flock of Golden Plovers circled up in the distance.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – there were good numbers arriving this morning

Somebody walking in from the other way told us they had just seen a Whinchat beyond the pit, so we decided to head over that way to see if we could find it. As we were walking past the pit, several Reed Buntings and Goldfinches were in the bushes and then we heard a distinctive chacking call. A Ring Ouzel! We had a couple of glimpses as it flew between the bushes before it disappeared out the back. We walked round the other side and it flew up out of the suaeda, calling. We watched as it flew out over the saltmarsh and disappeared off to the east. Another migrant.

We found the Whinchat, feeding distantly out on the saltmarsh. We could see its pale sandy colouration and distinctive pale superciliun through the scope. There were two Stonechats too, a pair. And we could now see some of the Golden Plovers tucked down in the vegetation in the distance, amazingly well camouflaged.

We walked back to the pools at Wells, but there was still no sign of the Little Stint. Four more Ruff had dropped in on the pools by the track now. We watched as a Marsh Harrier over the field beyond, flushed lots of Skylarks and Linnets from the stubble.

It was getting on for lunchtime now, so we made our way back to the minibus and headed round to Wells beach car park. A Common Buzzard flew low over the car park and several Jays flew back and forth from the pines.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – flew low over the beach car park at lunchtime

After lunch, we walked up onto the seawall and had a look out over the harbour. There were lots of Brent Geese and Oystercatchers on the mud across from the lifeboat station.

Looking out the other side, towards the sea, we could see a Grey Plover down on the edge of the channel. On the sand the other side, we found several Bar-tailed Godwits roosting in with the Oystercatchers and a few Turnstones in amongst the Redshanks. Further out, a Great Black-backed Gull was feeding on a dead seal on the sand in the distance and a single Sanderling was running around it. A Rock Pipit flew over calling.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of several on the boating lake

From the harbour, we made our way into the woods. As we passed the boating lake, we could see several Little Grebes diving, out on the water. Juts beyond, as we headed for the trees, we heard a Bullfinch calling from the bushes by the path, and had a quick glimpse as it shot past.

It felt like the wind had picked up this afternoon, and it was blustery in the trees – not ideal conditions. We walked in through the birches and round the Dell, finding very little. Only on the far side, did we finally find a tit flock. We tried to follow them, but they were moving very quickly, not stopping for long in the branches which were being blown around by the wind.

Eventually the flock stopped in the bushes by the main path – we walked round the corner and found ourselves surrounded by Long-tailed Tits. We could hear Chiffchaffs calling and saw one or two flitting around in the branches, along with a Blackcap. Then we heard the distinctive call of a Yellow-browed Warbler – just the bird we had hoped to find – but it seemed to be deep in the trees. The flock looked like they might come down to drink and bathe in the puddles on the path, two Coal Tits kept trying to drop down but were too nervous. Then the whole flock disappeared back towards the birches over by the toilet block.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we chased a tit flock through the Woods

We walked all the way round to the birches and found the tit flock again in the trees. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the Yellow-browed Warbler with them now, although we did have a nice view of several Goldcrests feeding low in the birches. Then the whole disappeared up into the tops of the pines.

There were lots of Pink-footed Geese out on Quarles Marsh, but nothing in the bushes in the open area the other side of the main path today. We walked on as far as the drinking pool, but it was quiet here too. A Jay flew up from where it had been bathing and stopped to preen in the trees. It was just too breezy this afternoon and the tit flocks all seemed to have gone into the pines to find shelter. We decided to cut our losses and headed back to the car park.

Jay

Jay – preening after bathing in the drinking pool

To finish the afternoon, we headed round to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down by the river, we found a tit flock in the trees. A Goldcrest was in with them, but despite following them through the sallows all the way down to the seawall we couldn’t find anything else.

From up on the seawall, we could see a single Spoonbill out on one of the islands. It was awake but quickly went to sleep – typical Spoonbill! Most of the large flock which gathered here at the end of the summer had departed now, probably to Poole Harbour where they like to spend the winter, but a small number are still around, for the time being at least. Five Little Egrets were tucked up in front of the reeds at the back, out of the wind. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in from the harbour and dropped down onto the Fen.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there was still one left on the Fen this afternoon

Looking out the other way, we could see a distant Marsh Harrier quartering over the Point. A Kingfisher skimmed low over the harbour channel below us and disappeared upstream. Through the scope, we could see three Red-breasted Mergansers out in the harbour. Lots of Oystercatchers, Brent Geese and gulls were scattered around the muddy edges.

Unfortunately it was time to head back now. As we walked down the path beside the river, a Green Sandpiper flew up from the direction of the Fen and disappeared off west. A nice bird to end the day on, but we were looking forward to more tomorrow.

12th Sept 2019 – Two Autumn Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour exploring the North Norfolk coast. It was a nice bright sunny day today,  and warm in the afternoon out of the fresh SW wind.

Our first destination this morning was Stiffkey Fen. There were lots of cars overflowing the main bait diggers’ layby this morning, but we found a safe place to pull off the road further down. We made our way very carefully down the road and onto the footpath down by the river.

As we walked through the trees, we could hear tits calling above our heads. It is always worth paying attention to tit flocks at this time as they often have other birds accompanying them, and we looked up to see a Chiffchaff with the Blue Tits, up in the willow leaves. We followed the birds quietly as they made our way ahead of us through the bushes.

As we got out into the open, there were still a couple of House Martins around the house on the hill. A Blackcap flitted up into one of the hawthorns by the path, with a Chiffchaff and a couple of Chaffinches. We could hear a large group of people approaching along the path behind us and, as they overtook us, many of the birds moved off into the trees. We waited for them to get out of earshot, then continued along the path.

A little further along, we found another flock of small birds in the trees just across the river. There were good numbers of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in with them today – the former flitting around in the leaves, or flycatching in the sunshine; the latter stopping to feed on the blackberries. We could hear a Lesser Whitethroat calling too, but couldn’t see it from where we were.

Looking over the brambles towards the Fen, we could see a line of Spoonbills roosting in with all the geese. We were looking into the sun from here, so we hurried on to the seawall.

Little Egret

Little Egret – with some rather dirty summer plumes

When we got to the seawall, the first thing we saw was a Greenshank down in the harbour channel just beyond. It looked very white below in the sunshine, particularly compared to the Common Redshank feeding on the mud next to it. A Whimbrel walked out from behind the bank further along the channel and a Curlew followed, giving us a great comparison side by side. A Little Egret feeding down in the water in the channel still had fluffy breeding filoplumes on its back although they were rather brown-stained now.

Turning our attention to the Fen, the Spoonbills were mostly asleep on the island, but a small group in the water were busy preening. We could see most of them were juveniles, with flesh-coloured bills, shorter than the adult nearby that had a longer black bill with a yellow tip. We counted twenty two in the group.

There were not many waders out on the Fen today, with the tide already well out in the harbour, but we did find three Pintail roosting in with all the Wigeon and other ducks. A Lesser Whitethroat flew across and landed in an elder bush out in the reeds, where a Reed Bunting was already perched in the top. A Sand Martin flew past along the seawall, on its way west.

As we walked on along the seawall, we stopped to talk to one of the locals walking the other way and another Spoonbill flew in from the harbour and circled in to join the others. The next time we looked back we saw it being chased by a juvenile. The adult Spoonbill flew round and the youngster flew after it. When they landed again, the juvenile walked after it, bobbing its head up and down. When the adult stopped the juvenile started batting it with its wing, begging to be fed. Whatever the adult did, it couldn’t get any peace. This is a common enough sight in the summer, but you would have thought the young Spoonbill might have been old enough to feed for itself by now!

On our way round to the harbour, we stopped to look at a Grey Plover on the mud in the middle of the channel, already in its grey winter plumage. Another Greenshank was roosting on the side of the channel out at the harbour and there were lots of Oystercatchers and Curlew out on the mudflats beyond. We managed to find a couple of Knot too, but the other waders were much further out, with the tide out. When we turned to head back, a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit had appeared in the channel behind us and we had a good look at it through the scope.

As we walked back towards the seawall, we saw one Common Buzzard drifting west over the back of the Fen and when we got there a second Buzzard was circling over the poplars. A male Marsh Harrier flew in from the saltmarsh and over the Fen, flushing all the Lapwings, which swirled round over the Fen with a flock of Starlings.

We turned to see more Spoonbills coming towards us from the direction of the harbour, thirteen more which flew in and dropped down onto the Fen. A quick look through the scope confirmed there were now at least 36 there. The peak count a couple of weeks ago here was well over 50, and birds have been starting to move off on their way to the south coast for the winter, but it was still an impressive sight, one of the highlights of late summer as the Spoonbills gather here after the breeding season at Holkham.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were at least 36 on the Fen as we walked back

As we made our way back along the path beside the river, there were several Speckled Wood butterflies out now, basking in the sunshine, and lots of Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies. We found a Willow Emerald dragonfly too, fluttering around one of the willows, an increasingly common sight along the coast here as they spread rapidly. Another Marsh Harrier, this time a female, was circling over the road as we walked back to the car.

Our next stop was at Wells. As we got out of the minibus, a Marsh Harrier was hunting out over the fields. It was definitely a morning for raptors today, in the sunshine. A Red Kite appeared and flew back and forth over the hedge just beyond the pools, occasionally mobbed by a Jackdaw but just nonchalantly shifting a wing to avoid it. Three Buzzards circled up from the tress on the hill further back and we found another two Red Kites hanging in the air over the fields too.

We scanned the pools on one side of the track, finding a single Green Sandpiper on the mud but not much else. There were a lot more birds on the other side – not least a large mob of hundreds of Greylag Geese. There were some little groups of Egyptian Geese and Canada Geese in with them. The ducks were mainly Wigeon and Teal, with a few Shoveler. We managed to find a couple of Pintail out on the water at the back.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits gathered over the far side and several groups of Ruff. As we walked down the track, we found three Common Snipe on the mud on the edge of one of the pools at the far end. The pair of Pink-footed Geese must have been sleeping in the middle of the Greylags because, when two of the latter took off from the throng, the Pink-footed Geese took off with them. They flew across the track just ahead of us, giving us a good view of their dark heads and mostly dark bills, much smaller than the Greylags they were with, and we watched them disappear off west.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – this pair flew off past us as we walked down the track

A Spoonbill flew across out over the harbour, but dropped down out of view behind the hedge on the hillside ahead of us. Then, as we turned to come back, we got a glimpse of four white shapes fly up and down again in the far corner of the pool. When we walked back a short way, we could see four more Spoonbills here. A Whinchat on the fence on the edge of the field was also a nice bonus – through the scope we could see the pale orange wash on its breast and its pale supercilium.

We had been informed that a couple of interesting moths had been brought in to the moth morning at Cley this morning. A couple of messages confirmed where and when they would be on view and with the help of some of the moth group we were able to get to see them. The Cypress Pug is only the 9th record of the species in Norfolk. It was first recorded in the UK in Cornwall in 1959 having been thought to have been introduced with imported conifers and has since spread along along the south coast.

More impressive but not as rare was the large Convolvulus Hawkmoth. They are migrants from southern Europe and appear here fairly regularly in small numbers at this time of year. Quite a beast and amazing to think that it had managed to migrate all the way here.

Convolulus Hawkmoth

Convolvulus Hawkmoth – a scarce migrant from southern Europe

We headed over to Titchwell for the afternoon. Over lunch there, we talked a little about migrant moths, and the way rapidly changing populations of some species may be harbingers of a changing climate.

After lunch, we set out to explore the reserve. It was windy once we got out of the trees, but warm in the sunshine. A Cetti’s Warbler seemed to be practicing singing but kept well hidden down in a clump of sallows. The reedbed pool held a few ducks, Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks, as well as three Little Grebes.

It was too windy out in the reeds for the Bearded Tits today, but as soon as we got into the hide we spotted one feeding out on the edge of the mud. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, a tawny brown juvenile, before it disappeared back into the reeds. Out of the side of the hide, we then noticed a Water Rail working its way along the edge of the water. We got a great view of that too.

Water Rail

Water Rail – worked its way along the edge of the reeds

There were plenty of waders out on the Freshmarsh this afternoon. A large group of roosting Black-tailed Godwits out in the middle were joined by a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits that flew in from the beach. We could just about see their more contrastingly patterned upperparts, despite the fact that they were facing directly towards us, into the wind. There were three or four Knot roosting in with them too, and two feeding a little further round. A little group of Dunlin was out in the shallow water too.

The water level on the Freshmarsh is very low now, and not helped with the strong SW wind which always blows the water away from the hide the mud in front is getting dry now. The Ruff are feeding further back, on the water’s edge, and the Avocets were mostly over towards the back corner. The juvenile Little Ringed Plover was still with the three Ringed Plovers, but further over between Island and Parrinder hide. Through the scope, we could still see its ghosting of the adult’s yellow eye ring.

As if we hadn’t seen enough Spoonbills already, there were two on the Freshmarsh today. They were roosting on the small brick island at first, but did wake up and walk out into the water, before going back to sleep. Easy life, being a Spoonbill!

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – there were two on the Freshmarsh today

We decided to walk out to the beach next. There didn’t seem to be anything over by Parrinder Hide, so we carried on past. There were three Redshanks down in the channel below the West Bank on Volunteer Marsh and a Little Egret on the pool at the corner. Looking down the channel at the far end, we could only find more Redshanks and several Curlews today.

The water level on the non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ is very high after the recent high tides. There were just a few waders on the remaining island but they were tucked well into the vegetation – a few Turnstones and a single Grey Plover.

Out at the beach, the tide was coming in and the mussel beds were already covered. All the Oystercatchers were roosting out on the beach today, midway between here and Brancaster. Through the scope we could see a few Bar-tailed Godwits with them. There has been a Purple Sandpiper out here this morning again and with the tide coming in we had hoped that it might be back on the old concrete bunker now. Unfortunately, there were several people walking round it and no birds. We scanned the beach and found a little group of Knot and Redshank.

Grey Plovers

Grey Plovers – moulting quickly out of breeding plumage now

There was not much out on the sea today, just a very distant Great Crested Grebe, so we set off to walk back. We had seen a flock of Grey Plover fly across behind us while we were on the beach, and we found them now roosting on the ‘Tidal Pools’. They are moulting quickly out of breeding plumage now, and they were variously spotted and speckled with the remains of their black underparts.

As we continued on, we heard a Whimbrel calling behind us and turned to see it flying in over the pool. We whistled a response and it circled round us, but obviously wasn’t too impressed with our impression as it flew on west.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – flew west over the Tidal Pools as we walked back

As we got back past the junction to Parrinder Hide, we stopped to have another quick look at the Freshmarsh. There didn’t seem to be anything new dropped in, but we did get a better look at the Bar-tailed Godwits from this angle. A couple were still sporting the remnants of breeding plumage, their rusty underparts looking decidedly patchy now. A Bearded Tit called in the reeds right in front of us but remained tucked down out of the wind.

We could see three or four people looking at the bank by the path a little further along, one down on their knees with a camera. When we got back to them, they showed us a Wasp Spider on its web in the grass. There had been 2-3 along here a couple of weeks ago, but this is the first one we have seen when we have been here. An impressive spider, they are recent colonists from the continent and seem to be spreading quickly now into Norfolk.

Wasp Spider

Wasp Spider – on its web in the grass on the West Bank

We diverted round via Meadow Trail and Fen Trail on the way back. A flock of Long-tailed Tits passed through the trees over our heads as we walked round, but we couldn’t see anything different with them. The bushes round past Fen Trail and along the Tank Road were quiet today, in the wind.

We stopped at the screen overlooking Patsy’s Reedbed. There were lots of ducks on the water – more Common Pochard, Gadwall, Mallard. A single Pintail was preening in amongst one large group of Greylags and a Mute Swan was in with another gaggle. Scanning over the reeds beyond, we spotted a Turtle Dove flying in from the directions of Brancaster Marsh, but it turned and flew across in front of Willow Wood and disappeared behind the bushes.

It was lovely sitting in the sunshine listening to the rustling of the reeds in the wind, but it was time to call it a day now and head back.

8th Sept 2019 – Early Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today, our last day. The wind had dropped after yesterday and after a cloudy start, there were lots of bright sunny intervals and it even warmed up nicely by the afternoon.

With a light easterly wind over southern Norway overnight, and northerlies still to bring birds in to the North Norfolk coast, we thought it worth a look to see if we could find any drift migrants carried across the North Sea. We headed down to Wells Woods first thing. There were several Little Grebes out on the boating lake as we walked in along the track. It sounded like they were laughing at us – did they know something we didn’t?

A Chiffchaff flitted ahead of us and perched in the top of a hawthorn and a Blackcap was hopping around in a dense patch of brambles, feeding on the berries. But both were more likely local birds than migrants. As we walked into the birches it seemed rather quiet, there were just a few Coal Tits calling from the trees. We walked round the Dell, hoping to run into one of the tit flocks, but there was nothing here.We stopped to watch a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers high in the pines.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – we stopped to watch a pair high in the pines

So we changed tack and walked across the main track to check out the bushes the other side. There were a couple of Greenfinches in the trees, a Jay appeared briefly in a pine and a couple of Muntjacs were out on the grazing marshes beyond. Not what we were hoping to find. As we walked back through the birches, we heard the yelping calls of a flock of Pink-footed Geese flying over behind us.

We walked back along the main track but thought we would cut through round the east side of the Dell just in case we could find a tit flock here. There were just a couple of Chiffchaff and Blackcap calling at first, but when we got back to the birches by the toilet block we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling. Suddenly we were surrounded by so many birds, we didn’t know where to look!

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – in the tit flock

As well as the Long-tailed Tits, there were Blue and Great Tits and several Coal Tits, feeding actively in the trees all around us. A couple of Goldcrests flitted around in the branches of the big old pine tree above us and higher up, a Treecreeper worked its way up the trunk. A Green Woodpecker called and flew past through the tops.

There were warblers with them, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Then we caught a glimpse of a different warbler high up in one of the birch trees. It was greenish above with a yellow wash on its throat, and plain faced, lacking the distinct supercilium of the Chiffchaffs, with rather a beady dark eye as a result. It was a bit bigger too, and moved more heavily through the foliage.

The warbler kept disappearing into the leaves and a couple of times we thought it had possibly moved off, before it reappeared again. Gradually, over several minutes, we built up a composite picture of it. It had a distinct pale panel in the secondaries when we could see its wings and, viewed from underneath, it seemed to have a rather broad bill with an bright orange base. It was obviously one of the Hippolais warblers, with Icterine Warbler far and away the most likely here, particularly given the conditions. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to tell apart from the very similar Melodious Warbler and we just couldn’t the primary projection, the clinching identification criteria.

As the tit flock moved back through the trees away from us, the warbler did finally disappear. We thought it might have gone with the tits, so we set off after them. It was hard to see the birds deep in the birches but eventually the flock came out onto the edge of the main track. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the warbler with them. Frustrating!

Rather than waste the whole day trying to find it again, we decided to move on and drove round to Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, a large flock of Pink-footed Geese was circling round over the grazing marshes and as we got out they whiffled down and disappeared from view.

We made our way west along the track on the inland side of the pines and it wasn’t far before we found another tit flock. We had good views of another Treecreeper climbing up the trunk of one of the pines, but we couldn’t see anything different in with them before they disappeared into the trees. Carrying on, there were several Little Grebes on Salts Hole and a Kestrel hovering over the grazing marshes beyond.

Chiffchaff

Chiffchaff – in the sycamores behind Washington Hide

We walked up the boardwalk behind Washington Hide. This can be a good area for migrants, but the only bird we could find in the sycamores was a single Chiffchaff. There was more activity on the pool in front of the hide – as we walked round on the boardwalk we spotted a Great White Egret standing on the post in the middle of the pool, preening. We got the scope on it and had a look, admiring its long, dagger-shaped yellow orange bill, as a Grey Heron walked past below for a good size comparison. Then it was pushed off by a Cormorant which decided it was a good place to dry its wings.

Great White Egret 1

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

There were three other large white birds around the edges of the pool, which were three Spoonbills. We watched as they worked their way in and out of the reeds, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallows.

Carrying on along the path, we headed for Joe Jordan hide. The trees behind Meals House were very quiet too – it seemed like we might be out of luck trying to find any migrants here. Then just before we got to the crosstracks, we heard the distinctive call of a Pied Flycatcher in the trees. It flicked across the path in front of us into a large oak tree, where we managed to get a few glimpses of it. Then it disappeared out the back.

We walked slowly along the track, and could hear the Pied Flycatcher calling again in a large hawthorn beside the path ahead of us. Just as we tried to position ourselves to see it, a second Pied Flycatcher flicked up in the small oak right beside us. It shot across the path but when we tried to follow it, we lost track of it. Then we turned round and it was back in the small oak tree again. We were in a better position now and we stood back and had a great view of it when it flicked out and landed on the outside of the tree.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – eventually flicked out onto the outside of the oak

We could still hear a Pied Flycatcher calling from deeper in the trees, and then the second bird appeared in the small oak too. But when we looked at it, it wasn’t calling and the sound was still coming from further back. There were actually at least three here! Pied Flycatchers are migrants here, passing through on their way from Scandinavia south for the winter. There had obviously been a small fall of them on the coast today.

We had a quick look out at the grazing marshes from up in Joe Jordan Hide. We could see lots of Pink-footed Geese down in the grass from here. A Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and circled out over the grass. It flushed a big flock of Meadow Pipits which circled up above it, determined to keep it below them where they could see it! A Common Buzzard was perched on the scaffold tower out in the middle and a Kestrel flew across in front of the hide with something in its talons.

We decided to set off back, so we wouldn’t be too late for lunch. With the sun out, it was very warm now out of the wind in the lee of the trees. There were lots of dragonflies – Common and Ruddy Darters which flushed from the bushes by the track as we passed, and clouds of Migrant Hawkers zipping back and forth on the edge of the trees.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker – there were lots out along the track in the sun today

After lunch back at the Lookout Cafe, we set off back east. We were aiming to finish the day at Stiffkey, but we still had a little extra time available so we called in at Wells again. We had stopped to check out the pools here on our first morning, but had not managed to look around the bushes as it started to rain, so we thought we would try again now.

As we got out of the minibus, we could see a Great White Egret working its way along the back edge of the pools on the left of the track, our second of the day. We had a look at it in the scope, before it disappeared from view behind the vegetation. A Green Sandpiper, a Common Redshank and two Common Snipe were on the pools this side too.

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – on the pools at Wells this afternoon

We set off down the track. There were a few more Pink-footed Geese with the Greylags and Egyptian Geese today, presumably more birds arriving back from Iceland, but no sign of any Barnacles. There had apparently been some Pintail here this morning, but despite scanning through the ducks carefully, we couldn’t find any. There was no sign of the Garganey either, but lots of the ducks were asleep in the grass at the back.

There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on the pools and more Ruff today. A large flock of Black-tailed Godwits was wheeling round over the stubble field beyond, but we couldn’t see why. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was feeding on the mud with five Dunlin, a bit distant in the heat haze but nice to see one to keep up our unbroken record across each of the three days! We could hear Greenshank calling and when we got to the far side, we looked back to see four on the mud behind the vegetation along the far edge.

As we got to the bushes beyond the pools, we could hear a soft tacking call, more of a ‘tsk’ than a hard ‘tack’, and as we turned to watch a Lesser Whitethroat came out of the leaves and started to feed on the blackberries. It was grey-brown on the back, with a soft grey head, slightly darker mask and bright white throat and underparts.

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat – feeding on the blackberries

As we carried on round through the bushes, we found at least two more Lesser Whitethroats. A Common Whitethroat flew across and landed on the top of some low brambles briefly and we heard one or two Blackcaps calling, a distinctly harder ‘tack’ than the Lesser Whitethroat. There were Goldfinches and one or two Greenfinches in the bushes too, as well as a few Reed Buntings and a Yellowhammer which flew off towards the fields beyond.

Our last stop was at Stiffkey Fen. The permissive path between the hedges on the verge is too overgrown to walk down, so we had to make our way carefully along the road today, until we got to the footpath down by the river. A cacophony of shooting started up over the fields inland – with the close season now, presumably it was some sort of clay pigeon shooting event. There were a few House Martins still circling round the house on the hill, but there was not much to see in the bushes along the path this afternoon.

As we got to the point where the brambles are low enough to see over the Fen, we realised something was wrong. The islands were half empty, and the geese were walking nervously away from the side nearest the road, honking. Five duck flew up and disappeared off, three Pintail leading, followed by a pair of Wigeon. There should have been around 35 Spoonbills on here, but we could only see two.

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – there were only two left on the Fen after all the shooting

From up on the seawall, we could see that the noise of all the shooting had scared almost everything off. We could still see the two Spoonbills in with all the Greylags, but there were no ducks at all. The island at the back, closest to the noise and which is normally packed with roosting birds, was completely empty. There were very few waders on the Fen either – just three Greenshank (joined briefly by a fourth) and much fewer Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Ruff than normal. We did manage to find a single Green Sandpiper along the far shore. All in all, very disappointing.

We decided to walk round to the harbour. There were still a few people and boats around, enjoying the sunshine, but there was a lot less disturbance here than last week. The Spoonbills were out on the saltmarsh. They were rather distant and hard to count, with some hidden in the vegetation and quite a bit of heat haze now, but we could see at least 25 here. The two which were left on the Fen flew overhead and out to join the others. Numbers have already started to drop in the last few days, and it won’t be long now before they have left us, heading down to the south coast for the winter.

Spoonbills 2

Spoonbills – the two flew out to join the others in the harbour

It was just after high tide, and there were lots of gulls roosting on the mud on the edge of the harbour. In with them, we found a few waders – several Ringed Plovers, a few Black-tailed Godwit and a Turnstone. A flock of Redshank flew in and landed in the shallow water behind them. A large mob of teenage Mute Swans was in the water further along and on the sandbank beyond them we could see more waders – a large roost of Oystercatchers, lots of godwits and a few Grey Plover, still sporting their summer black faces and bellies.

The surprise of the afternoon was a summer plumage Red-throated Diver swimming in the harbour, just off one of the spits of mud out in front of us. Presumably it had come into the harbour to get away from the choppy sea in all the wind yesterday. Its red throat was hard to see, but we could see its grey head, dark back and uptilted bill.

When a little flock of small waders shot across over the harbour, we looked up to see a distant falcon heading straight in towards us. It was clearly in a long stoop, coming very fast, but we couldn’t make out what it was at first, head on. When it got almost to the near shore, it changed its angle and dropped quickly down. It turned sharply and we watched as it chased after a small wader which had taken off from the mud and was trying to fly away over the water. It was now clear what it was, a Hobby. The wader quickly got away, and the Hobby circled up over the water and drifted in towards us, before flying off west.

Hobby

Hobby – came in over the harbour after the waders

It was great to watch the Hobby in action and a lovely way to wrap up what had been an exciting three days of Autumn birding in Norfolk.

27th Aug 2019 – Intro to UK Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour for a guest from Hong Kong. We would spend the two days along the North Norfolk coast looking for a good selection of both our commoner breeding birds and any more interesting species we might come across. We would be trying to get photographs of as many of the birds as possible too. Today was sunny and hot, although with a bit of hazy cloud in the afternoon and a pleasant light breeze on the coast which meant it didn’t get too uncomfortable.

Our first stop was at Wells. As we walked down along the track, there were lots of Reed Buntings in the bushes. A couple of Common Whitethroat flitted off ahead of us – we could see their rusty wings when they perched in the open briefly. A much greyer warbler was a Lesser Whitethroat which landed together with one of them in a bush at one point.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – there were lots in the bushes along the track

Looking up, we saw a Spoonbill flying in from the direction of the harbour, its neck held outstretched in front. It landed at the back of the pool on the other side of the track, and training the scope on it we could see there were now five Spoonbills together there, along with several more Little Egrets too.

The pools nearest the track are drying up fast now, so most of the birds were over towards the back. There were lots of Greylag Geese and in with them a mix of ducks, Teal and Shoveler. We could see several Black-tailed Godwits in the deeper water and a single Common Snipe probing vigorously in the mud with its long bill, but it was rather distant and we were looking into the sun.

On the other side of the track, we found a single Green Sandpiper in the shallow pools and an adult Mediterranean Gull flew over, flashing its white wing tips, disappearing out towards the saltmarsh. There were lots of birds in the distance over Wells town, mostly Starlings but we picked up a few lingering Common Swifts still too, zooming back and forth. It won’t be long now before they have all left us.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we watched a tit flock moving through the bushes

Continuing on past the pools, we decided to have a look in the bushes to see if there were any more warblers here, given the early activity along the track. We could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff calling and although they proved hard to see initially, we eventually got views of both species here. There were Chaffinches in the hedge too, and a flock of tits zipped through pausing to feed in the bushes, the Blue Tits attacking some elder berries and a Long-tailed Tit showing well in the top of a hawthorn.

When the tit flock moved on, we walked round to see if we could find it further along. There were more birds here but no sign of the Long-tailed Tits so maybe a different group. We stopped by one hawthorn on the edge of a reedy ditch, where there was a succession of birds moving through. Several Blue Tits and another Lesser Whitethroat. Then a couple of Reed Warblers, which gave good views up out of the reeds here.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – feeding in the bushes with the tit flock

As the flock moved on again, we continued round. A small bird appeared on the top of one of the bushes in the middle. Its bold pale supercilium caught the morning sun, a Whinchat, a passage migrant and a real bonus to find one here. It perched up nicely a couple of times for us, before disappeared behind the bushes. When we turned round, a different bird was perched on the top of a small hawthorn behind us, this time a Wheatear. Another passage migrant passing through, it flicked away over the reeds flashing the white base to its tail.

Whinchat

Whinchat – a migrant, appeared on the top of the bushes

As we walked back along the track, there were still lots of Reed Buntings which flew up from the vegetation and landed in the bushes. A Yellowhammer flew in calling and joined them briefly, before dropping down into the long grass out in the middle.

When we got back to the minibus, a couple of other birders had their scopes on the pools and had found a wader asleep on one of the islands at the back. It was hard to tell what it was, hunkered down and at distance in the heat haze, but as we started to pull away they called over to say that it had woken up and started to walk around, a Greenshank.

Our next destination was Cley, but we ran into gridlock in Stiffkey village, with a long tailback of vehicles, probably due to one of the much bigger buses they are using for the revised Coasthopper service these days – it seems to be an increasing problem. Thankfully, we could take a diversion inland and were not held up this time. Two Stock Doves on the roof of a barn by the road were a nice bonus, the iridescent green on the side of one of the bird’s neck glowing in the sun.

When we got to Cley, we decided to head out to Bishop Hide first. As we walked into the hide, we were pointed to six Common Snipe on the mud right in front. We had a good look at them but they were already looking round nervously and were quickly spooked and flew off further back.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – one of six in front of Bishop Hide when we arrived

There were lots of other waders on the scrape here further back. Two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers were feeding in with a few Dunlin. A delicate, spangled-backed Wood Sandpiper was picking around the lumps of mud in front of one of the islands with several Ruff. Black-tailed Godwits were scattered liberally around and there were a handful of Knot too.

When someone in the hide announced there was a Bearded Tit, we initially thought they meant it was in the reeds right at the back, where they have often been recently. But they had heard one calling from the reeds just out to one side of the hide, so we walked over to take a look. A cracking male Bearded Tit climbed up one of the reed stems. It quickly shuffled down again, but then came up a second time and perched in full view. We had a great look at its powder blue head and black moustaches, before it flew across in front of the hide and disappeared into the reeds the other side.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – this male climbed up the reeds just outside the hide

As we made our way along the skirts path to the other hides, we could see a Marsh Harrier distantly hunting out over the reeds towards the West Bank. It gradually worked its way towards us and we eventually met it halfway, a dark male. When it saw us, it turned and heading off over the scrapes, flushing everything in the process.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us over the reeds as we walked out to the hides

There were a few more waders on Simmond’s Scrape when we got into Daukes Hide. Four Avocets were asleep on the front of the nearest island – they did wake up later and a couple spent some time feeding on the mud in front of the hide. There were several Ringed Plovers on the mud further back and a single Golden Plover which was easily overlooked in the lumps where the cattle had churned up the scrape. The tiny Little Stint was even harder to find in the same place!

Looking out of the side of the hide, we could see 3-4 Green Sandpipers on Whitwell Scrape. One gradually worked its way down to the front, where it was hidden behind some small wisps of reed from where we were. We decided to head round to Avocet Hide to try to catch it right in front – with our cameras – but just as we got into the hide, one of the other Green Sandpipers flew over and chased it off. The two of them flew over the bank to Simmond’s Scrape.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – one of 3-4 on Whitwell Scrape again today

There were also two juvenile Black-tailed Godwits on the scrape here too and one of them did walk over and round the edge right in front of the hide. Some consolation for the photographers! Their rusty necks and extensively marked feathers on the upperparts showed they were both juveniles of the Icelandic race.

Black-tailed Godwit

Before we raced round to try to catch the Green Sandpiper, there had been a Wood Sandpiper feeding on the mud in front of Teal Hide. By the time we made it round there, the Wood Sandpiper had moved further back but we could see several Dunlin feeding on the mud just to the right of us with one of the two Curlew Sandpipers in attendance. They were busy feeding and working their way towards us and eventually passed in front of the hide giving us a great view.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre and made good use of the picnic tables. It was a lovely day to be sitting outside looking out over the marshes. After lunch, we popped into the Centre briefly and when we came out again we could hear Whimbrel calling. They responded to a whistled response and two of them flew in towards us, at least until they realised that the impression was not really as good as it sounded at a distance. They circled back and dropped down towards the scrapes.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – flew in over the marshes calling

We drove round to Walsey Hills next. As we got out of the minibus, we could see a Little Grebe on the pool, though it was doing its best to hide in the cut reed stems at the back. We had a quick walk in along the footpath through the bushes, to see if we could pick up any more passerines for the list, but it was rather quiet – perhaps not surprising in the middle of a hot afternoon. A few Blue Tits were in the bushes around the feeders and we could hear a couple of Chiffchaff calling.

There was no sign of the Common Pochard which has been on Snipe’s Marsh, but we found it instead on Don’s Pool along with another Little Grebe, as we set off to walk up the East Bank. There were more ducks on the Serpentine – mainly Gadwall and Shoveler, and lots of Shelduck. None of them are looking their best at the moment, with the drakes currently in their drab eclipse plumage. A Green Sandpiper flew up from the mud, there were a couple of Redshanks along the edge of the water and several Lapwing in the grass.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, we could see a single Great Black-backed Gull standing in with all the loafing Cormorants on the island at the back, leaving not much room for anything else. One Sandwich Tern was standing on the mud further across. There were quite a few Curlew over in the vegetation in the back corner and several Redshanks on the mud, but nothing else on here today.

As we walked on towards the beach, we noticed some movement in the vegetation on the side of the path. A Willow Warbler flicked out. It started to fly off but then circled round and dropped back in to the spot it had just left in a seedy dock. This is not a place you would normally expect to find a Willow Warbler, so this was probably a migrant which had just arrived in off the sea, over from Scandinavia. Exhausted, it was trying to feed and was obviously reluctant to leave the plants where it had found something to eat.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – an exhausted migrant probably fresh in off the sea

A little further on, a couple of Meadow Pipits were also looking for insects in the vegetation along the side of the path and flew off as we approached. We carried on out to the beach and had a quick look at the sea, which was mostly quiet apart from a single immature Gannet which flew past.

Having made our way back to the minibus, we drove back west to our last stop of the day at Stiffkey Fen. The permissive path is very overgrown at the moment, so we walked rather carefully down along the road to get to the footpath. The bushes down by the river were quiet, but there were lots of House Martins over the field.

When we got to the spot where the brambles are low enough to see over, we had a look across at the Fen. We could see lots of white shapes in amongst the hordes of geese – mostly Spoonbills, along with a good number of Little Egrets. We had a better view from up on the seawall, from where we could get a more accurate count – we could see at least 47 Spoonbills today, mostly doing what Spoonbills like to do best and sleeping! One or two were preening or bathing so we could see their distinctive spoon-shaped bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – at least 47 were roosting on the Fen over high tide today

It was high tide out in the harbour, which was why the Spoonbills had gathered here to roost. An impressive sight at this time of the year, they are birds which have dispersed from the breeding colony at Holkham, a mixture of adults and juveniles from this year’s breeding season.

There was a good selection of waders on the Fen too, also roosting over high tide. We counted at least 14 Greenshanks, half in a group on their own but half roosting with some of the Common Redshanks. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Ruff, with several more of the former still flying in from the harbour while we were there. Scanning round the edge of the reeds we found 2-3 Green Sandpipers too.

The geese were mostly Greylags but there were several Canada Geese with them and at least one Greylag x Canada Goose hybrid! Looking carefully through the mass of ducks produced one rusty eclipse drake Wigeon, an early returning bird back for the winter from spending the breeding season in Russia.

We carried on round to the harbour to see if we could pick up any different waders round the shore, but despite it being midweek there were still lots of holiday makers here making the most of the lovely weather, swimming, sailing and walking out across the mud. There was a big flock of Oystercatchers right out in the middle of the harbour on a sandbank, and through the scope we could see about ten Bar-tailed Godwits with them. But there was nowhere else which was undisturbed enough for birds to roost.

It was time to head back. A Chiffchaff was calling in the hedge and in the sallows along the river we came across another tit flock, which gave some more opportunities to try to get Long-tailed Tit photos. It had been a great day – let’s hope for the same again tomorrow…

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.

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!