Tag Archives: Stone Curlew

26th Mar 2019 – Gentle Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. It was a lovely bright, sunny start to the day, although it clouded over late morning, a few hours earlier than forecast. With some restrictions on our mobility we would have a slightly different itinerary today, but we would still be aiming to see as many of the key Brecks species as possible.

To start the day, we headed into the Forest and took a short walk along a ride to look for Woodlarks. As we made our way down the track and out into the clearing, there were lots of finches flying back and forth overhead, up to feed in the pines and down towards the river to drink, Bramblings, Chaffinches and Siskin. One or two of the Bramblings were singing – not much of a song, more of a wheeze! They weren’t sitting still, but we eventually got one of the males in the scope long enough to get a proper look at it.

While we were looking at the finches, two larger birds flew in past us, their distinctive broad wings and short tails identifying them as a pair of Woodlarks. They dropped down to the ground by the track back the way we had just come, and we walked back a short way to get a closer look at them. We could only see one now, presumably the male, perched on a clod of earth, preening. We could see its short crest, rusty cheeks and prominent supercilium, the two sides meeting in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – one of a pair which flew in and landed in the clearing

The Woodlark started to pick around in the bare earth and the walked further off into the grass beyond. Then it flew up into a small oak tree at the back of the clearing, where it perched silently and we got some more great views of it through the scope. There was no sign of the second bird now.

We heard a woodpecker drumming from somewhere beyond the clearing and listening carefully the sustained rapid bursts told us it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We shifted our position to try to triangulate the sound and it seemed to be coming from somewhere over by the road. We couldn’t get easily round there on foot, so we decided to walk back to the van and drive down. Unfortunately, despite it having been drumming on and off for several minutes when we were in the clearing, it had gone quiet by the time we got to where we thought it might have been. Another Brambling was feeding on the buds of a willow by the road.

Brambling

Brambling – another male, feeding in a willow by the road

There has been a Rough-legged Buzzard at Weeting Heath for the last few weeks, so we headed over there next to see if we could catch up with it, and the Stone Curlews. We stopped first at the field entrance just before the reserve to look for the buzzard – it has been favouring the trees beyond here. There was already somebody here looking and we were told it had just flown round to the back of one of the trees, and landed out of view.

There was a nice male Wheatear out on the short grass in the field away to the left though – a bit distant, but a nice spring migrant to catch up with here. A Blackcap was singing in the trees behind us too, another returning migrant and always nice to hear. With Skylarks singing too, it almost felt like spring! Two (Eurasian) Curlews were feeding in the winter wheat field out in front of the gate.

It was starting to warm up a bit now and we could see several Common Buzzards circling up above the trees. While we scanned the sky for raptors, just in case the Rough-legged Buzzard might have taken off while no one was looking, we noticed a different bird of prey rising into the sky. It was a Goshawk, a juvenile, and it started to display, flapping with deep, exaggerated wingbeats.

Another Goshawk circled up just below it, this time an adult, silvery grey above and almost white below, and it gave a few deep, slow wing flaps too.  Presumably this was designed to see off the youngster, as the two birds then drifted off in different directions. Goshawk was one of our target birds for the day, but not one we had expected to get here, so this was another bonus! It didn’t look like the Rough-legged Buzzard was going to reappear in a hurry, so we decided to go and try our luck with Stone Curlews and have another look for it later.

When we got to the Visitor Centre, we were told that the Stone Curlews were not showing from the hide today, but there were two in the field across the road. Looking across from the path just beyond West Hide, we were quickly put on to one of them. It was sat down in the grass, which made it hard to see, not helped by the heat haze which was already starting to develop – a perennial problem here, despite it being early in the morning on a cool March day!

Scanning the grass, we eventually managed to find the second Stone Curlew. It was much easier to see as it was standing up and it ran over towards the first in a series of bursts. Its yellow legs really stood out in the spring sunshine! We then realised we could see the Rough-legged Buzzard from here too, perched on the back of the tree where it had disappeared to earlier. It was rather distant, but through the scope we could see its pale head and contrasting black belly patch.

We had a quick look from West Hide, just in case. There was a Lapwing and a single Curlew out in the long grass, but as we had been informed, no sign of any Stone Curlews from here today. So we headed back to the Visitor Centre for a coffee break.

While the group was having coffee, a quick look across the road revealed that the Rough-legged Buzzard had flown across and landed in the top of one of the pines opposite the reserve. Unfortunately, before we could all get back across to the gate it had flown again, back towards the trees where it had been earlier. We decided to drive down to the field entrance, as it was on our way, and see if it was on view and we hadn’t gone more than a few metres before we saw it perched on the corner of the pines.

From the gate, we had a great view of the Rough-legged Buzzard. It was perched back onto us at first, so we could see its white tail with a wide black bar towards the tip. Then it flapped and gave us a good flash of its wings and tail, before settling round the other way, face onto us. Well worth the extra stop for the much better views.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – showed very well as we were leaving

It clouded over now and the morning sunshine disappeared. We had planned to go looking for Goshawks next, thinking it would stay sunny until early afternoon at least, but it didn’t look so good for them now. At least we had already seen a couple of Goshawks this morning. Still, we drove over to a convenient spot overlooking the forest and stopped to scan over the trees.

There were a few Common Buzzards circling up and it didn’t take us long to find our first hawk. Unfortunately it was the wrong one – a Sparrowhawk. We could see it was small and rather dark, and when it started to flap it did so in rapid bursts. A short while later, another Sparrowhawk circled up the over on the other side.

It felt quite cool now, with a fresh NW wind, and we wondered whether we might have missed the main Goshawk activity in the sunshine earlier. Eventually a Goshawk appeared, circling away to our left. We got it in the scope and had a look at it before it drifted off over the trees and disappeared. We started to wonder whether that might be the lot.

There were other birds to see here though. A flock of Fieldfares flew in and landed in the trees behind us, tchacking. Then a pair of Mistle Thrushes flew out and across the field. There were Lapwings displaying and lots of Meadow Pipits down in the rough grass. We could hear one or two Skylarks singing and then a Woodlark started up away behind us too.

Finally another Goshawk came up over the trees in front of us. As it was turning in regular circles, we could get it in the scope and get a really good look at it – an adult, with pale grey upperparts and whitish below. We could see its broad, rounded tail. It gradually gained height, going higher and higher into the clouds. At one point, we had the Goshawk circling in the same view as a Red Kite, a couple of Buzzards and a Kestrel!

Goshawk

Goshawk – finally one circled up in front of us

It didn’t look like it was going to do anything, but then the Goshawk did a quick burst of slow-flapping display and then swooped sharply down, before turning back up almost vertically and stalling at the top. Even one rollercoaster display was welcome, but after circling again for a minute or so, the Goshawk suddenly launched into a series of swoops. On the last one, it folded its wings and plunged straight back down into the trees. Great to watch!

That seemed a good signal to move on. We drove round to a couple of clearings to see if we could find any more Woodlarks singing next. On our way, we saw several Brown Hares in the fields. At the first clearing, we just listened from the van and all was quiet. But at the second clearing, as we drove up we could hear a Woodlark calling. We parked and got out and could see one perched in the top of a small oak tree by the path through the middle. We decided to have a short walk down the path for a closer look.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – one of a pair in a small oak tree

A second Woodlark flew up into the tree too, then dropped down to the long grass in the clearing below. From down along the path, we had a great view of the first, perched on a branch preening. It looked like it might sing at one point, fluttering out from the tree and round in front of us, but decided to land again. A Yellowhammer flew up into the top of the tree above. When the second Woodlark came up out of the clearing again, the pair flew off out into the middle together. We could still see them walking about in the grass between the rows of young trees.

The day was getting on now. We decided to drive back to Lynford Arboretum and make use of the picnic tables for a late lunch. As we stopped in the car park and got out, we could hear a Firecrest singing. We walked over to the trees and could see it high in the bare branches of a beech, but unfortunately it dropped back into the firs behind before everyone could get over to see it.

We could still hear it singing and thankfully the Firecrest then decided to fly back out into the open again. It perched in some bare branches in front of us singing and we could see its body shaking with the effort. We had a great look at it, before it flew back into the firs again. This was one of the other main targets for the day, so another mission accomplished. Then it was definitely time for lunch!

Firecrest

Firecrest – came out to sing in the bare trees by the car park

There were a few other birds in the trees above the picnic tables while we ate – one or two Goldcrests, several Coal Tits and a Siskin feeding on the opening pine cones. After lunch, we set off to explore the Arboretum. We still wanted to try to see Hawfinch and Crossbill this afternoon.

Stopping first at the gate, there were still a few Bramblings feeding down on the ground in the leaves under the trees. One smart male was really starting to get a black head now. It won’t be long before they are on their way back to Scandinavia for the breeding season. A couple of Yellowhammers flew down to feed on the seed too.

Most of the feeders on the trees were empty, but one or two still had food in and a succession of tits came in to look for something to eat. Then somebody noticed a Treecreeper on one of the feeders and we watched as it picked away at the compacted food in the bottom behind the mesh. Not something you see very often!

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – came in to feed at one of the feeders

Continuing on, there were more Yellowhammers feeding at the hopper out in the orchard, which contains the food for the ducks and chickens. As we walked down past the meadow, we looked up at the pines at the back and noticed a bulky looking bird perched in the top of one. Through the scope, we could see it was a male Common Crossbill.

It took off and flew in towards us, ‘glipping’ loudly, and we could hear a second Crossbill answering from the trees on the edge of the Arboretum. When the first bird landed in the top of one of the trees, we could see there was a pair in the branches together. We were looking into the light from here, but we could see the distinctive crossed mandibles through the scope, before they flew off. Further back, on the edge of the Hall grounds, we could see lots of Fieldfares and Redwings in the tops of some more trees.

At the bottom of the hill, we stopped to look in the firs to see if the Tawny Owl was in its regular roosting spot. It was, but you had to be in just the right spot to see it, high up close to the trunk, half hidden in the branches.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual spot, high in a fir tree

As we walked up over the bridge, we could see more Redwings and Fieldfares flying up into the tops of the poplars just beyond. A quick glance up and we noticed a slightly smaller bird in with them – a Hawfinch! We got it in the scope, but unfortunately it flew before everyone had a chance to look at it. We watched it drop down with the Redwings and disappear into the leafiest of the hornbeams in the paddocks.

We hurried on to the gap in the hedge overlooking the trees. We couldn’t see it at first, although we could hear it calling. Then another Hawfinch appeared in one of the other bare trees, again in amongst all the thrushes. Again, it was very flighty and dropped down before we could get the scope on it. Finally then one of the Hawfinches appeared in the bare branches of the same tree and this time stayed still a bit longer. Now, we could all get a good look at it, its thick neck and huge, cherry stone-cracking bill. It was calling and we could see its bill moving.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – finally one stayed still long enough for us all to get a good look at it

That Hawfinch then flew over and disappeared into the leafier tree too. At which point, a couple of people who had started to walk back towards the bridge called to us to say there were some Crossbills in the top of the poplars there. We walked back so we could see the tops of the trees and got the Crossbills in the scope. There were at least six of them, and they appeared to be mostly females but at least one redder male was with them.

When they started to drop down through the branches, we figured the Crossbills would be coming down to drink so we walked back and took the path into the trees. We could hear several of the Crossbills flying off from the tops of the trees as we arrived, but then we spotted two fly up ahead of us. They had probably been down to drink already and we had missed it, but thankfully they landed not too high in the trees where we could get them in the scope.

Common Crossbill

Common Crossbill – we watched a pair preening in the trees

We stood and watched the Crossbills for a while. They flew over to a branch on the other side of the path, where they weren’t against the light and we could get a really good look at them. We watched them climbing about picking at the bark and then the two of them perched together preening for several minutes.

Eventually, the Crossbills disappeared into the branches and we walked back to the bridge. There was lots of activity here now, with a steady stream of birds coming down to the selection of food which had put out around the pillars and balustrades. A male Reed Bunting was feeding on the top of one of the pillars and the variety of tits included regular visits from at least one Marsh Tit. The Nuthatches were making the most of the peanuts put out today, coming in and out repeatedly, grabbing a nut each time and presumably stashing it somewhere in the trees to eat later.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – carrying off the peanuts to stash in the trees

As we stood on the bridge and looked down into the rushes below, we could just see a Water Rail moving around in the vegetation. It seemed to know we were watching and initially kept itself fairly well hidden. We knew where it was because we could see the rushes moving. Finally it got a bit bolder and showed itself a bit better, walking through some of the more open patches.

It was a nice way to end the day, watching the comings and goings at the bridge, but we were tired now after the exertions of the day and it was time to make our way slowly back up the hill. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, with all our target species seen and seen well, and a lot more besides!

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23rd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Coast, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Brecks & Coast Tours. Today we would be heading down to the Brecks for the day. It had been forecast to be cloudy and grey, but it was actually bright with some sunny intervals and light winds. Great early spring weather to be out.

After an earlier than normal start, we made our way down to Thetford Forest. As we set off down a ride through the trees, we could see some people already ahead of us. We were hoping to find some Woodlarks here but the clearing either side of the track further on looked quite quiet at first. Perhaps there was too much disturbance here today?

There were lots of finches flying in and out of the pines though – mostly Chaffinches, Bramblings and Siskins. We got the scope on a Brambling perched in some birches on the edge of the clearing, but it flew off before everyone could get a look at it. A Lesser Redpoll then flew over and dropped in too, but it was similarly brief.

Two birds flew up from the long grass on one side of the track some way ahead of us – a pair of Woodlarks. They circled round and dropped down again, with one landing in a small bush by the path, where we could get it in the scope. We decided to walk a bit further down to get a closer view but we didn’t get far before we heard two cyclists approaching quickly along the track behind us. They seemed to get past the Woodlarks without flushing them and we thought we might be in luck, but then they flew. As they fluttered up we could see their short tails and broad rounded wings, before they disappeared off over the trees.

Cutting across to the riverbank, we walked down past the poplars. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers chased each other through the tops and the male landed on the trunk of one of the trees. A good start, but not the woodpecker we were hoping to see here!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – a pair flew in through the trees as we walked up

As we got around the corner, we could see a small group of people standing on the path looking up into the trees. We hurried up to them and they confirmed that they were watching the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, three of them together! They were displaying and we watched them chasing each other through the branches. Each time they landed, we got them in the scope, but they weren’t staying still for long.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers disappeared back into the birches behind, then after a minute or so chased each other back out into the tops of the poplars. Two seemed to be in the lead, with the third woodpecker following behind. They gradually made their way further down through the trees and we managed to follow them for a while. Then they flew off further and we lost sight of them in some thicker trees further downstream.

We walked down to where we had seen the woodpeckers disappear, but there was no sign of them here. If they kept going as they had been they could be anywhere by now! There were a few more birds here. We found a Nuthatch excavating a hole in a tree and could see its head poke out from time to time to throw out the wood shavings. A Treecreeper made its way up the trunk of another tree. We noticed some movement on the vegetation trapped around a fallen tree across the river behind us and turned to see a Grey Wagtail feeding quietly.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – feeding by a fallen tree across the river

Someone coming back from further downstream told us the otters had been along the river much further down, so we thought we would go to try to see them. There were Chiffchaffs singing in the trees and we stopped to admire a Stock Dove whooping on top of a dead trunk. A Common Buzzard circled up over the trees beyond.

Another couple of photographers coming back along the path told us the otters were heading back our way so we stopped and waited but there was no sign of them. We had a quick look up and down the river, but presumably the otters had come out of the water and disappeared. We did find a Kingfisher which zipped off across the river as we approached.

As we made our way back, we looked and listened for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers but there was no further sign of them now. A Water Rail squealed from the far bank of the river and then flew across to our side, disappearing behind some trees. As we walked on, we found it on the other side of the path but it flew off into the reeds.

As we made our way back round by the reedbed, we stopped to admire the finches in the trees where they were coming down to drink from the pines. Finally we had better views of a smart male Brambling which perched up more obligingly. There were Bramblings singing here too – more of a wheeze than a song, but always interesting to hear. It won’t be long now before they are back off to Scandinavia for the breeding season.

It was sunny and warming up nicely now, so we made our way over to a place overlooking the forest. We hadn’t been out of the van long before we picked up two Goshawks circling up away to the east. They were both adults and both males. They soared higher and higher into the sky and we lost sight on one as the other drifted towards us. We could see their very white underparts and broad-based tails.

Goshawk

Goshawk – circled up high above us

We had lost sight of them when a female Goshawk came up out of the trees close to where we had first seen the earlier ones. As it circled over the pines, we could see it was a big and powerful bird, with very pale grey upperparts. With the warm air, it gained height very quickly. Then we spotted a second Goshawk nearby, high in the blue sky. It was noticeably smaller, a male, possibly one of the two we had seen earlier. The female started to display, flying with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. Then presumably having warned off the male, she dropped back down towards the trees.

We were treated to great views of the Goshawks in the 45 minutes or so we spent here. There were lots of Common Buzzards up enjoying the thermals too, and a Kestrel. When a female Sparrowhawk came up out of the trees as well, we could see it looked smaller and darker grey. As it started flapping, we could see its very fast bursts of wingbeats.

There were a few Brown Hares in the fields here and one or two Lapwing and Red-legged Partridges. A Woodlark fluttered across at the back and disappeared over the trees beyond.

It was time for lunch now, so we headed over to Lynford Arboretum and made use of the picnic tables in the parking area. Afterwards, as we made our way over to the road, we heard a Firecrest singing from somewhere high in the fir trees. We stopped to listen for it, but unfortunately it had gone quiet.

Down at the gate, there was not much seed left on the ground and the feeders were looking rather empty too. There were still a few Bramblings and Chaffinches coming down to the leaves beyond the small pool and a Yellowhammer dropped down with them too.

Continuing on down towards the bridge, a large flock of Fieldfares flew over tchacking noisily. We looked up into the fir trees to see the Tawny Owl back hiding in its usual roost spot. It is very hard to see unless you are in just the right spot and the view is generally looking up from underneath it, so you often can’t see its head until it looks down.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in the top of one of the fir trees again

There were a few tits coming in to the seed put out on the pillars of the bridge, so we stopped to see what else we could see. A male Reed Bunting duly appeared. While we were scanning the trees, we noticed some movement deeper in and focusing on it with binoculars we could see a couple of Common Crossbills dropping down through the branches. We thought they might be about to come down to drink under the trees, so we hurried in along the path.

The Crossbills were still perched in the trees but seemed to be in no hurry to drink. At first they were just perched in different trees, but one by one they moved into an alder above the path where we watched them climbing about in the branches and picking at the flowers. By the end, they were right above our heads and we had a really good view of them through the scope. A Marsh Tit was flitting around in the bushes by the path too.

Common Crossbill 1

Crossbill – eventually came down to drink

Then suddenly two of the Crossbills flew over our heads and down into some small trees just above the stream channel by the path. We positioned ourselves and had a great view of them as they came down to drink on the far bank – first a green female and then a rather orangey male. With a diet primarily of resinous pine seeds they need to drink regularly.

The Crossbills all flew back up into the trees towards the bridge, so we made our way back out. It was the turn of the Siskins now. A pair dropped out of the alders above the bridge and down to the reeds in the corner of the lake to drink. We had a great view of the bright yellow-green male when it flew back up into the trees.

Siskin

Siskin – a pair came down to drink by the bridge

Having had great success at the bridge, we decided to walk up to the paddocks to see if we could find a Hawfinch. It was very quiet here in the trees though today – it seems likely that food is now getting in short supply here. It was still a bit too early for them to come in for a pre-roost gathering, so we decided to walk round via the lake.

A Little Grebe laughed at us maniacally from the reeds and another was diving under the overhanging trees on the edge of the island. We stopped to admire a pair of Gadwall on the lake, the drake looking particularly smart with its variety of different feather patterns. Not just a boring grey duck! There were a few Greylags and a pair of Canada Geese on the grass in front of the hall.

Gadwall

Gadwall – not just a boring grey duck!

We walked round the far side of the paddocks, scanning the ground under the trees in the middle to see if we could see anything down in the grass. We found a pair of Goldcrests in the firs on the far side and a Redwing perched high in the poplars in the distance. We figured we could make our way back to the bridge and continue to scan the paddocks in case a Hawfinch should appear.

Back at the bridge, the Water Rail had now appeared. It was hiding in the reeds at first, but eventually came out a bit more into the open where we could get a good look at it.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well when we got back to the bridge

When we heard the ‘glip, glip’ calls of Crossbills, we looked up to see three brighter red males land in the trees above the pool. They made their way gradually down through the branches, before dropping down to the edge of the water to drink. Once again, we were well-placed for a ringside seat!

When they flew back up into the trees, one of the male Crossbills then spent a couple of minutes picking at the bare wood where a large bough had recently broken off one of the alders. Then it perched up in the sunshine on a branch just above.

Common Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – another three males came down to drink later

There was still no sign of the Hawfinches in the paddocks and we still had something else we hoped to do before the end of the day, so we decided to head off. A quick walk round back to the van and we drove over to Weeting Heath.

There had been no sign of the Rough-legged Buzzard for over an hour when we arrived, so we went into the visitor centre. While most of the group were queuing for the facilities, two of us walked back out to the car park. Just in time to see the back end of the Rough-legged Buzzard disappearing into the trees on the edge of the field opposite. There was no further sign of it by the time everyone had come back out again. A (Eurasian) Curlew was feeding in the winter wheat field over to one side.

We decided to go down to West Hide to look for the Stone Curlews. There have been three back already in the last week, and two were helpfully standing in the cultivated area towards the front. They were settled down, back onto us at first, but after a few minutes one of the Stone Curlews woke and stood up, turning round so we could get a good look at its pale iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – great views from the hide today

Being later in the afternoon now, and early in the year, there was next to no heat haze which can often be a problem at this site. So we could get a very good look at the Stone Curlews today. Having all had a really good look at them for a while, we decided to make our way back out.

There were a several people out on the verge now, but rather than looking out over the field opposite they were looking up the road. Apparently, the Rough-legged Buzzard had just been seen in a tree from the field entrance further along and someone had helpfully come over to tell everyone. We decided to walk up the road and sure enough, there was the Rough-legged Buzzard perched in a pine tree on the corner of the wood at the back of the field.

The Rough-legged Buzzard flew back round behind the trees, so we continued on to the field entrance, Shortly after we got there, the Rough-legged Buzzard flew out again and landed in another tree further beyond. We had a great view of its white tail with black terminal band as it flew back. Then it did another fly round and landed back in the pine tree closer to us, where we had seen it first. Now we could see its very pale head and contrasting blackish belly patch.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – showed well when we got back out to the road

A flock of Linnets was whirling round the edge of the field beyond the gate and two Curlews flew up calling. Eventually the Rough-legged Buzzard dropped out of the pine and disappeared back round behind the trees again. It had been a great way to end our first day out, down in the Brecks, and it was time to head for home now.

12th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 2

Day 2 of a four-day Autumn Tour today. It was rather cloudy all day and very breezy again, but at least it stayed dry. With birds we wanted to try to see in the Brecks and down in the Broads, we decided to venture further afield today.

Our first target for the day was Stone Curlew. At the end of the summer, they gather together in big post breeding flocks in the Brecks. Numbers typically peak in September and start to decline in October as birds move off for the winter, but we figured we should still be able to find some of them here.

As we drove down the road, we could see several birds in the field the other side of the hedge and a glance over confirmed that there was a mixture of Stone Curlews and Lapwings. Unfortunately there is nowhere to stop here, so we continued on to try another site, in the knowledge that we could always come back if need be.

Stopping at a gate overlooking a large area of open fields, we quickly located two Stone Curlews. They were some distance over and facing away from us, into the wind, sheltering behind a line of green vegetation. Still it was a good start and we had a look at them through the scopes, so we could make out their staring yellow irises and short, black-tipped yellow bills.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – we found two at the first place we stopped to scan

As we stood here watching the Stone Curlew, several small flocks of Song Thrushes, Redwings and Skylarks flew over our heads. As we had seen yesterday, birds were on the move again today – with their migration visible even down here in the Brecks.

With Stone Curlew in the bag, we decided to have a go and see if we could find a closer one. We drove over to another field they have been favouring this autumn. The weedy vegetation here has grown up in recent weeks and there are more places to hide, but it didn’t take long to find another Stone Curlew, this one much closer than the two we had seen earlier. We edged along the path beside the field so as not to disturb it, to where we could set up all the scopes and admire it.

While everyone had a good look at this Stone Curlew in the scope, we scanned the vegetation more carefully. On each sweep, we located another one hiding in the weeds until we had found at least four Stone Curlews here. Looking out to the bare stony ground beyond, we spotted another four Stone Curlews hiding up against a small ridge of earth.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – we found several closer ones at the next place we stopped

After getting great views of the Stone Curlews, we decided to scan the pig fields nearby. In the first field, several Egyptian Geese were walking around the pig troughs in the middle. A Stock Dove flew in and dropped down out of view with the Woodpigeons in the middle.

At the second set of pig fields, we could see a very large flock of gulls asleep in the middle. They were almost entirely Lesser Black-backed Gulls, along with a few Black-headed Gulls and a single Common Gull. Scanning through them more carefully, we could see a larger gull asleep, half hidden in with the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. It had a paler mantle, a bit too dark for a Herring Gull, and through the scope we could see its comparatively plain white head, with just a few pencil streaks,  When it opened its eye, it had a pale iris and a noticeable reddish orbital ring. It was an adult Yellow-legged Gull.

Yellow-legged Gull

Yellow-legged Gull – asleep in with the Lesser Black-backeds

It felt like it was brightening up and for a second we could feel a bit of the sun’s warmth in the air. Combined with the brisk wind, we thought it might be a good day to try to see a Goshawk up enjoying the breeze. On our way round, we stopped briefly to look at a flock of Chaffinches in some small bushes by the road and found two Bramblings in with them.

By the time we got round to a high spot overlooking the forest, the warmth in the air had disappeared again and it was back to cold, grey and windy. As we got out of the car, it was clear there was very little aerial activity over the trees and it didn’t help that there was a pheasant shoot under way a couple of fields over which was very noisy and causing a lot of disturbance, with vehicles and dogs along the edge of the trees.

A Mistle Thrush flew across over the edge of the trees in front of us, and two unseasonal House Martins circled over – most of them have already left, off to Africa for the winter. We stood and watched for a few minutes and a few Common Buzzards circled up over the trees but never gained much height. A Sparrowhawk shot across, skimming above the treetops. We had a lot of ground we wanted to cover today, so we decided to move on and get away from the noise!

There has been a Rose-coloured Starling lingering on a housing estate on the outskirts of Norwich for the last few days, so on our way across to the Broads, we decided to call in for a quick look. It turned out it had been hiding in the back garden of one of the houses today, not visible from outside, but the homeowner was very kindly letting people in for a quick look whenever it appeared on the lawn. Unfortunately, it was only coming down to feed every 20-30 minutes and then only lingering there very briefly.

When we arrived, there were already several people waiting. Not long afterwards, the Rose-coloured Starling reappeared down on the lawn, the front door opened and everyone rushed in for a look. Unfortunately, due to the viewing angle, only the first few people inside could see the lawn where the bird was feeding. Only half the group got a quick look at the Rose-coloured Starling, before it flew up and disappeared into the hedge again.

We filed back outside and waited to see if there might be another showing, but it looked like the homeowner had taken a break for lunch and was no longer keeping an eye on the garden, so we decided to head on elsewhere instead.

Gadwall

Gadwall – the connoisseur’s duck, on the pool by Reception Hide

It wasn’t too far from here to Strumpshaw Fen, where we stopped for our lunch on the picnic tables by Reception Hide. The front of the pool was packed with ducks, mostly Gadwall which we stopped to admire, along with a few Mallard and a couple of Teal. The resident feral Black Swan eventually appeared with the Mute Swans, before swimming over to the front and climbing out onto the bank to preen. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds beyond.

A steady stream of Blue Tits and Great Tits were coming in to the feeders. A sharper call alerted us to a Marsh Tit which shot in, grabbed a sunflower seed and flew over to an elder bush nearby to eat it. It came in several times over lunch, at one point joined by a second Marsh Tit, giving us a chance to get a good look at them. A Siskin flew over calling too.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – two kept coming in to the feeders over lunch time

After lunch, we headed round to Buckenham Marshes. As we drove down the road, a Red Kite was hanging over one of the fields and was we crossed the railway line, two more appeared over the grazing marsh right in front of us.

Red Kite

Red Kite – one of two, over the grazing marshes

Scanning from the gate, we could see a few geese out on the grazing marsh and through the scopes we could see there were several groups of Canada Geese and Pink-footed Geese, along with a smaller number of Greylags. There had been a report of White-fronted Geese here this morning, but we couldn’t see them at first.

As we walked down the track towards the river, we could hear them calling and looked across to see a family of three White-fronted Geese out on the grass. They were presumably just returned here for the winter, as they were calling regularly and very mobile, flying round between the different patches of marsh. Through the scope we could see there were two adults, with white surrounding the base of their bills and black bars on their grey bellied, and a juvenile which lacked those.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese – a family of three, just returned for the winter

These were the first White-fronted Geese we have seen this autumn, and should be the first of many to return to the marshes here, where a few hundred normally spend the winter.

A flock of Barnacle Geese flew in next, circling round over the marshes before dropping down to feed with the Canada Geese. These are feral birds, which also spend the winter here. Despite their non-wild origins, they are still beautiful geese, so we did have an admiring look at them through the scopes.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – this flock flew in and landed with the Canada Geese

While we were watching the geese, a Common Snipe flew up from the edge of the ditch in front of us and zig-zagged off away over the marshes. There were a couple of Chinese Water Deer out in the grass too.

Continuing on along the track, we stopped to scan the pools over towards the river bank. There were lots of ducks here, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shoveler. This is a very important site for wintering Wigeon, but there are still a lot yet to return here from their Russian breeding grounds.

We had really come here to look for waders, and in particular two Pectoral Sandpipers which have been on the pools here for the last few days. We could see a little group of Ruff, including a winter satellite male with a striking white head, and several Dunlin. Through the scopes, it didn’t take long to find first one and then the second of the Pectoral Sandpipers, feeding on the mud along the edge of the vegetation just behind the water.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper – one of the two juveniles at Buckenham

We had a good look at the Pectoral Sandpipers from the gate on the edge of the marshes. It was a bit windy out here, but we could see they were both juveniles, with neatly pale-fringed dark feathers in the upperparts. We could see there distinctive streaked breasts, sharply demarcated against their white bellies in a neat pectoral band. They were abot the same size as the Dunlin, but with shorted bills. There were several more Common Snipe feeding on the edge of the vegetation near them too.

Continuing on to the river bank, we had another quick look at the Pectoral Sandpipers from the shelter of the hide. It was a bit further away, but out of the wind. Then it was time to head back, with a long drive ahead of us.

22nd Sept 2018 – Autumn Tour, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Autumn Tour in Norfolk today.  We planned to spend the morning down in the Brecks and then return to North Norfolk for the afternoon. It was rather cloudy and grey all day, a bit brighter around the middle of the day, but it stayed dry and the much lighter winds were both a blessing and a hindrance!

On the drive down to the Brecks, a Red Kite over the fields next to the road was a nice addition to the trip list. Otherwise it was a fairly uneventful journey, until we got down to the area where the Stone Curlews are gathering. Before we even got to the layby, we could see a good number from the road as we passed, in the edge of the field just beyond the hedge. There is nowhere to stop here so we continued on to the place where we could park.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the Stone Curlews we had seen from the car were out of view from here today, over a ridge in the field. Fortunately, we could still see a couple of Stone Curlews nestled down in the field. We got the scope out and scanned and found there were actually six here, though only the heads of some of the others were visible. We got the scope on the most obvious and closest bird and had a good look at it. We could see its bright yellow iris, when it opened it eyes, and its black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – one of a group of six we saw at our first stop this morning

We had a good look at the first Stone Curlew, then two of the others stood up from where they were hiding down in the low-growing crop, so we turned the scope on them.

There were a few Red-legged Partridge in the field too and a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over. A brief glimpse of a hawk disappearing away over the trees suggested something more exciting until it came back over the field and we could see it was just a young female Sparrowhawk flying in an odd fashion, with deep and powerful wingbeats more like a display flight.

There have been some more Stone Curlews in another field further on, so we decided to go and check those out, and then if need be come back and try to see the ones we had seen from the road earlier. As we edged in slowly along the path, we realised that some of the Stone Curlews were very close to us, closer than normal, hidden in the vegetation. We froze. A small number of the birds flew, but thankfully landed again just a little further back. Some of the others walked a short distance away, but most of them stayed put.

We got one of the Stone Curlews in the scope, and had a good look at it taking turns. Gradually, over the next half an hour, we were able to edge out into a position from where we could all see some of the birds. They were settled now, untroubled by our presence at a discrete distance, and we had some truly amazing, frame-filling views of them here.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – frame-filling views through the scope

Scanning back and forth over the vegetation, we realised we could see more and more birds, with several hiding or sitting down so only the tops of their heads were visible. At first we could only see about 15-20, but by the end we had managed to count at least 41 Stone Curlews here visible at any one time. An amazing sight!

A flock of Linnets were feeding down in the weedy vegetation too, and kept flying round calling. There were some pig fields not far away and when we made our way round there we could see lots of gulls out amongst the pigs. They were almost entirely Lesser Black-backed Gulls, but looking through them carefully we managed to find a single adult Yellow-legged Gull as well as one or two Herring Gulls, in with them.

It had been an amazingly successful start to the morning and, as we were down in the Brecks now, we thought we would see if we might be able to see a Goshawk. This is not the best time of year to see them, but the juveniles in particular do like to come up and play on windy days. Unfortunately this morning the wind had dropped much more than forecast, and there was also no warmth from the sun which was stuck behind the clouds.

As we drove back along the road, we could see all the other Stone Curlews in the first field we had passed – there were at least another 30 here, but we couldn’t stop. We carried on to a spot on higher ground which overlooks an area of forest. There were lots of Lapwings and Starlings out on the cultivated field in front of the trees. Several Mistle Thrushes kept dropping down from the trees to the field to feed, before flying back up again. In the trees, we could see lots of finches, including a couple of small flocks of Siskin.

At first there were not even any Common Buzzards up in the air over the trees. However, we could see a mass of hirundines. Through the scope, we could make out that they were mostly House Martins out over the forest, but along the edge of the trees and over the fields by the road, there were more Swallows. A small numbers of Swallows came across the field in front of us, seemingly on their way west. Clearly these birds were just stopping off here on migration, heading off to Africa for the winter.

Gradually a few Buzzards started to circle up. They weren’t gaining much height today though. One landed in the top of a pine tree. Another drifted over the field behind us, mobbed by a large flock of Jackdaws.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – mobbed by Jackdaws

Eventually a juvenile Goshawk appeared above the wood in the corner. Unfortunately, it was only visible for a few seconds as it flew over the tops, not long enough for everyone to get onto it, before disappearing behind a line of trees. Despite scanning either side in the hope it would re-emerge, it didn’t come back up again. A Sparrowhawk was more obliging, circling up amongst all the hirundines before flying across and dropping back down into the forest.

We tried another spot a little further on. There were lots of Common Buzzards up now, and a Red Kite too, but still no further sign of any more Goshawks. It was not the best day for raptor watching, so we decided to head back up to North Norfolk. During a quick stop in Wells to use the facilities, we heard Pink-footed Geese calling and looked up to see a flock of 36 high over the town, heading west. Presumably more birds just returning here for the winter.

Pink-footed Geese

We stopped for lunch at Stiffkey, overlooking the saltmarsh. A distant Red Kite was circling out over East Hills and we could see several Curlews, Redshank and Little Egrets were scattered around in the vegetation in front of us. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up a little to the east of us, flying round for a minute or so before disappearing back down into the vegetation.

A single Spoonbill appeared out on the far edge of the saltmarsh, before dropping down out of view to feed in one of the small pools. At times we could just see its head appear, but eventually it climbed out again and we got a good look at it through the scope.

After lunch, we headed along the coast to Blakeney. With a hint of a few migrants in today, we had a quick look around Friary Hills first. It was very quiet in the trees here, with just a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling in trees. As we walked back round along the bottom path, a Chiffchaff was calling in the hedge. Just beyond it, we came across a tit flock, moving fast through the bushes. A grey warbler disappeared round the back before we got a look at it, and despite following the tits along the hedge, all we could see with them now were a few finches.

Walking out along the seawall, a Greenshank was on the mud on the edge of the harbour channel, but was flushed by a couple out walking and disappeared downstream, behind the saltmarsh. We had a better view of a Little Egret, fishing in one of the smaller muddy channels by the path, jiggling its feet in the mud in front of it, trying to flush out something to eat.

Little Egret

Little Egret – fishing in one of the muddy channels

When we got to the corner of the seawall, we stopped to scan the harbour. We could see lots of Curlew and Redshank on the mud closer to us, but most of the other waders were much further out, around the pools in the bottom of the harbour. Through the scope, we could see Oystercatchers and godwits, one or two Grey Plover and a Ringed Plover and several Turnstones.

Looking out across the Freshes the other side, two juvenile Marsh Harriers were flying back and forth over the reeds, chocolate brown with a contrasting paler head. They were joined by a paler female which came up from the reeds and circled with them for a minute of two before landing on a gate post.

Then the male Marsh Harrier flew in from the harbour behind us. It circled over the rest of the family and looked like it might be preparing for a food pass, despite the fact we couldn’t see anything in its talons. The two juveniles up circled expectantly below it, but it clearly wasn’t here to feed them and gradually drifted off. The juveniles followed, one of them gaining height and swooping down at the male from above. Possibly it was cross that it hadn’t been fed! Eventually the male lost interest and flew back out again towards the harbour.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – the male came in over the harbour behind us

We walked back on the path across the grazing marsh. There were not many birds here today, but we did spot a Stock Dove which flew in and landed with a couple of Wood Pigeons out on the grass.

Stiffkey Fen was our last planned stop of the day. The bushes and brambles by the path were quiet at first today, just a couple of Blue Tits. Then we heard Bullfinches calling in the thicker sallows and looking carefully through the foliage, we could just make them out feeding in the back.

When we got to the point where you can see across the brambles to the Fen beyond, we immediately spotted the Spoonbills. There were twenty of them today, mostly asleep, but we could see a pair preening each others heads and necks. When you have a bill as long as that, you need a bit of help to reach some places! When a juvenile Marsh Harrier flew over, all the Spoonbills woke up and we could see there was a mixture of adults with yellow-tipped black bills and juveniles with shorter dirty fleshy bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were 20 on the Fen today

Over at the back, against the reeds, we could see a single Avocet feeding. Most of them have left already now, for the winter. A Green Sandpiper was right over the back too and a couple of Greenshank flew in calling. When we heard a cacophony of honking just behind us, a wave of Greylags flew in very low over our heads from the fields and dropped down onto the Fen. Quite an experience!

From up on the seawall, we had a better view of the Spoonbills through the scope. As well as all the Greylags now, there were lots of ducks out on the Fen – mainly Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler, plus a good number of Pintail.  and a couple of Tufted Ducks.

A big flock of Black-tailed Godwits was roosting down on the Fen and we could see several Redshanks and Ruff, in various shapes and sizes, with them. Down along the edge of the mud in front of the closer reeds we could see a couple of Snipe feeding and a second Green Sandpiper with them. More Greenshanks were flying in from the harbour in ones and twos ahead of the rising tide – we were up to seven already now.

Looking out across the harbour, we could see all the seals hauled out on the end of Blakeney Point and on the sandbars opposite. A couple more large flocks of Pink-footed Geese came in off the sea round the end of the Point, flying on west over the saltmarsh towards Wells and Holkham. A Hobby flew low across the harbour, flushing all the birds around the edge as it did so. With the element of surprise gone, it quickly climbed higher and carried on west.

The tide was coming in fast now. A flock of Oystercatchers had gathered on one of the rapidly disappearing shingle spits on the edge of the harbour. On the spit in front, a single Grey Plover was standing with a lone Curlew until a large flock of Grey Plover and Turnstones flew in to join them. Through the scope, we could see the Grey Plovers were in various stages of moult, with more or less of the summer black face and belly remaining.

News came through that a Wryneck had been seen in Wells. This was a much wanted bird for several members of the group, to the point that we had joked each morning about seeing three or four of them! However, it was very much unexpected today, particularly given the persistent westerly winds and the comparative lack of other migrants coming in. We had to go for a quick look on our way, despite having limited time now before we had to be back.

When we got there, we found a couple of people standing in the car park. They hadn’t been able to find it and no one really knew where it had been seen exactly. We had just got out to talk to them when we noticed a bird drop out of the low hedge just a couple of metres from us, down onto the bare dusty ground on the car park verge – the Wryneck!

It flew again immediately, to a thicker area of trees by the car park entrance. We got everybody out and walked slowly over in that direction. There was the Wryneck, down on the ground on a small grassy bank just the other side of the trees. It froze there, looking round, though seemingly undeterred by the camper vans coming in and out of the caravan park between us and it, from where we were standing on the other side of the entrance road.

It wasn’t easy for everyone to get onto at first, despite it being quite close, as it looked just like a branch or small lump of earth in the grass, but finally the whole group were watching the Wryneck. It was a great view of it here.

Wryneck

Wryneck – what a way to end the day!

Then a Wood Pigeon flew low across over the bank and spooked the Wryneck, which flew into the bushes nearby. We waited a few minutes, in case it might come straight out again, but it was cloudy and cool and the light was fading now. We really had to get everyone back too, or they would be late for dinner! It was a fantastic – and most unexpected – way to end the day, with a Wryneck.

 

16th Sept 2018 – Early Autumn, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Autumn Tour today, our last day. After a cloudy start, it brightened up nicely, although there was a rather fresh wind which picked up during the morning. We planned to spend the first part of the day down in the Brecks, and then head back up to North Norfolk for the afternoon.

As we made our way south, a Red Kite flapped alongside us, over the field next to the road, a nice addition to the list.

When we got into the heart of the Brecks, we stopped to look for Stone Curlews. After the summer they gather together in large post-breeding flocks, which can be an impressive sight. The first field we tried is a regular site for them at this time of year and we immediately found ourselves looking at a sizeable flock.

Stone Curlews

Stone Curlews – part of a large flock in the first field we visited

The Stone Curlews were gathered on the edge of the field, in the lee of a hedge, sheltered from the wind. The more we scanned up and down, the more we could see. We counted 46 Stone Curlews here, but we couldn’t see some birds which were hunkered down in a dip in the field. Someone else had counted 60 here a short while earlier.

When a lorry thundered past on the road, it spooked the birds and most of flock flew out into the middle of the field. We could really appreciate the numbers now. Most of the Stone Curlews ran quickly back to the edge, but some settled down out on the bare ground, where they disappeared. They are very well camouflaged!

Carrying on a little further along the road, we stopped at another field. At first it looked empty. But as we scanned carefully, we found more Stone Curlews hiding in the low vegetation on a patch of rough ground. Each time we scanned across, we spotted more – there were at least another 23 Stone Curlews here. The birds were a bit closer here and we had some great views of them in the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – we had some great views of them today

We drove on to another spot overlooking a large pig field. There were lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and hundreds of corvids, Rooks, Jackdaws and Carrion Crows, in amongst the pigs. We checked along the margins of the field opposite, where we found some Red-legged Partridges, another new bird for the weekend’s list.

The cloud had started to break now, and we could feel the warmth of the sun. The breeze was strengthening too, good conditions for raptors. We thought we would try our luck, so we drove to a spot of high ground overlooking the forest. There were several Common Buzzards in the air already, hanging in the breeze. A Mistle Thrush flew across and landed in top of trees.

We didn’t have to wait long before a Goshawk appeared. It was a juvenile, brown above and orangey-buff below as it turned in the sunlight. A Kestrel appeared next to it, tiny by comparison, and proceeded to mob it, and the Goshawk responded by having a go back. The two of them circled up, periodically swooping at each other. They seemed to be doing it just for fun, enjoying the wind.

For several minutes, the Goshawk and the Kestrel circled up, gaining height. Finally, the Kestrel decided it had had enough and drifted away. The Goshawk closed its wings and dropped vertically out of the sky, straight down into the trees below. It had certainly been a great start to the day, down in Brecks.

We headed back up to North Norfolk for the rest of the day. Titchwell was already busy when we arrived, and the car parks were pretty full. We found a space in the overflow car park but with all the disturbance now the bushes and brambles here were quiet. As we walked along the path towards the visitor centre, we could hear a tit flock in the sallows. We stopped for a minute and could see Long-tailed Tits flitting around and a Goldcrest with them.

A quick look at the feeders by the visitor centre produced a good selection of finches –  several Greenfinches, as well as Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A Dunnock was hopping around on the ground below. We still had some time before lunch, so we decided to head out along Fen Trail. We met the tit flock again in the sallows this side, and a Chiffchaff was calling right above us. As we passed Fen Hide, we looked up to see a Red Underwing, a large moth resting on the side wall, well camouflaged against the wooden boards.

Red Underwing

Red Underwing – resting on the side of Fen Hide

Round at Patsy’s reedbed, we immediately spotted the two Red-crested Pochards busy upending in front of the screen. They are both females, pale-cheeked, dark-capped and with a pale-tipped dark bill. There were also a few Common Pochards too, in with the commoner dabbling ducks – lots of Gadwall, a few Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochards – two females on Patsy’s Reedbed

As we stood and scanned across the reedbeds, we saw several Swallows flying past, heading west. They are on their way now, heading off to Africa for the winter, autumn migration in action.

The Autumn Trail is open at this time of year, so we carried on round towards the far corner of the Freshmarsh. There were lots of Common Darter dragonflies along the path, basking down on the gravel, which flew up ahead of us. A Bloody-nosed Beetle was slowly crossing the path as well.

Bloody-nosed Beetle

Bloody-nosed Beetle – crossing the path on the Autumn Trail

At the end of Autumn Trail we could see several larger white shapes in with the roosting gulls out on the Freshmarsh. They were five Spoonbills, doing what they like to do best, and mostly asleep. It was high tide, so they had come in from the saltmarsh channels to roost. We have been spoilt for Spoonbills this weekend, so they weren’t quite the attraction now compared to the earlier ones we had seen!

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – in with the roosting gulls on the back of the Freshmarsh

A Common Snipe was busy feeding down on the edge of the reeds and a single Ruff was out on the open mud in front. We could hear Bearded Tits calling in the reedbed but they were unsurprisingly keeping tucked down in the now very brisk breeze. However, as we headed back for lunch, one flew up from the other side of the bank and across the path behind us, disappearing straight out over the reedbed.

After lunch, we headed out along the main path onto the reserve. The reedbed pool was quiet today. We heard another Bearded Tit calling from somewhere down in the reeds. We continued on to Island Hide and started to scan the Freshmarsh. It didn’t take too long to pick up the Curlew Sandpiper. It was a juvenile, scaly-backed and white bellied with a pale orangey wash on the breast. It was with a couple of streaky-bellied juvenile Dunlin, so we had a nice side-by-side comparison in the scope.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a juvenile, out on the Freshmarsh

There are still good numbers of Ruff on the reserve, but they are all in either non-breeding or juvenile plumage now. A large flock of godwits was roosting around the islands. Through the scope, we could see they were mostly Black-tailed Godwits, but with a smaller number of Bar-tailed Godwits in with them too. Some of the Bar-tailed Godwits still had the remnants of their rusty breeding plumage.

We could see several Golden Plovers too, hiding in amongst the vegetation on the islands. Some of them were also still sporting some black on the belly left over from their summer plumage. Three or four Ringed Plovers were running around on the mud and we could see a few Avocets scattered around the water still too.

The smaller waders were very jumpy in the wind and kept flying round and landing again. It was hard to keep tabs on where the Curlew Sandpiper was. The presence of several raptors didn’t help either – one or two Marsh Harriers over the reedbed and a brief Hobby over the seawall at the back of the Freshmarsh.

Continuing on out along the main path towards the beach, we stopped to watch a Ruff in down in the far corner of the Freshmarsh, just below path. We could see its loose feathers ruffled in the swirling wind.

Ruff

Ruff – feeding in the corner of the Freshmarsh, just below the path

The Volunteer Marsh looked quite quiet as we walked past, but there were more waders in the channel at the far end. The tide was going out now and lots of Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits and a couple of Curlews were busy feeding on the wet mud. One Grey Plover was hiding down in the channel right at the back. We had better views of a nice close Black-tailed Godwit just below the path. We noted its plain grey-brown upperparts, in non-breeding plumage now.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – showed well by the path on Volunteer Marsh

The ‘Tidal Pools’ are not tidal any more and are now very full of water again after the recent very high tides. Just a small area of island is still exposed. The Oystercatchers were roosting on here, in the vegetation, and we could see several Grey Plover and Knot, and a single Turnstone here too. One particularly smart Grey Plover emerged from the vegetation – its was still pretty much in breeding plumage, with black face and belly and bright white brow and breast sides. It has presumably only just returned and will start to moult very soon.

Out at the beach, the tide was still going out. We could see a large flock of godwits down on the shore, waiting for the mussel beds to emerge from the sea. The sea was quite choppy but as we scanned across, we spotted a smart Red-throated Diver on the water, not too far out. It was still in breeding plumage and as it turned into the sun, we could see its red throat. There were several Great Crested Grebes out on the sea too and we managed to find a single drake Common Scoter but it was tricky to see in the swell.

Several Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth and having just remarked that there should be an Arctic Skua out here, one flew in. It landed on the water, then took off again and started chasing after a Sandwich Tern, the two of them twisting and turning in front of the wind farm. We couldn’t see if the Arctic Skua was successful in getting the tern to surrender its last catch, but the skua dropped down again onto the sea. One or two Gannets passed by offshore too.

On our way back, we stopped in at Parrinder Hide. There were several Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits in the vegetation on the islands and a flock of Linnets dropped in for a drink. A scan round the margins located a Common Snipe, feeding just inside the fence on Avocet Island. We couldn’t find any other different waders from here today though. A Chinese Water Deer was chomping on the reeds in the edge of the reedbed opposite.

We had not seen or heard so many Pink-footed Geese moving today, until late on in the afternoon. We looked across towards Brancaster and could see several large skeins flying over, heading inland. Presumably they were just returned from Iceland for the winter, on their way to Snettisham and cutting the corner off rather than following the coast. A small group came our way, flying in low over the Freshmarsh, where it looked like they might drop in. But they continued on over our heads and away to the west.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – there were more on the move again late afternoon

We made our way back to the car park – its was time to head for home. It had been a very enjoyable three days exploring some different parts of Norfolk, and we had seen a very good selection of birds and other wildlife.

22nd July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. We were heading down to the Brecks today. The weather has been getting progressively hotter, and today was the warmest of the days we were out. It was bright and sunny in the morning and, although it did cloud over a little in the afternoon, it was still hot and humid.

The Peregrine was back on the church tower again this morning, so once we had picked everyone up we took a short detour round to see it. It had just finished devouring its breakfast and was digesting, perched high on one of the stones protruding from the tower, dozing in the morning sunshine. We got the scope on it and had a fantastic, full-frame view.

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Peregrine – back on the church tower again this morning

It was such a treat to get so close views of a Peregrine, we eventually had to tear ourselves away to head off on the journey down to the Brecks.

Once we got into the north Brecks, we took a detour off the road to look for Stone Curlews. At the end of the breeding season they start to gather in larger flocks in favoured fields, and we hoped to find some today. We stopped to scan the field where they have been recently, but we couldn’t find any there this morning. Then we heard Stone Curlews calling and realised they were in the field the other side of the road.

There is a thick hedge the other side of the road and it is impossible to see into the field, so we walked up to try to find a gap from where we could view. Some of the Stone Curlews must have been close to the hedge, because they took off and flew round, over our heads and across the road to the field we had been scanning. Two swung round and dropped down in view, but the rest, at least another ten, flew out to the middle of the field. The ground slopes away here and they dropped in out of view.

Turning our attention to the two Stone Curlews which had dropped down where we could see them, we trained the scope on them and had a great look at them. We could see their staring yellow iris and short black-tipped yellow bill, very unlike a curlew. They are not members of the curlew family at all, just named for their curlew-like calls, but actually members of the thick-knee family.

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Stone Curlew – two landed in view in the field

One of the Stone Curlews sat down in the stony field and promptly all but disappeared – they are very well camouflaged! While we were watching them, we heard Tree Sparrows calling and looked across to see two land in a large bush out in the middle of the field. Through the scope, we could see the black spots in the middle of their white cheeks.

Our main destination for the day was to be Lakenheath Fen. Unfortunately, we had to take a big diversion to get there today. We hit a big traffic jam at Weeting, where the traffic had backed up trying to get into this weekend’s Weeting Steam Rally. The tailback was right through the village and almost back to the main road! The organisers really need to do something about their chaotic parking arrangements next year – they clearly could not cope with the number of cars arriving. The diversion did at least yield a Mistle Thrush on some wires by the road as we passed.

We eventually arrived at Lakenheath to find they had their own ‘bioblitz’ event on today. While we were arranging access permits, we had a quick look at the various creatures they had already gathered. Unfortunately they had not kept many of the most interesting moths from the moth traps, but we did have a look at the Poplar Hawkmoth and Garden Tiger moths which had been put onto one of the screens round the back of the visitor centre.

One of the group had wandered back towards the car park, and saw the first Bittern of the day. It was a distinctive female with an injured leg which hangs down in flight, known as ‘Gammyleg’. It had disappeared off upstream along the river towards Brandon Fen, away from the reserve.

We needed to limit the amount of walking for the group today, so we were granted a disabled permit and drove out to the disabled parking area by New Fen viewpoint. We walked up to the viewpoint and looked out over the reedbed. Apart from a few Coot, a Moorhen and a couple of Mallard, there was not much to see here today. It was already hot, and activity levels seemed to have dropped.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer – basking on the path

The number of dragonflies and damselflies here is starting to tail off now, but walking out along the bank on the south side of New Fen we still saw a good variety. There were lots of Brown Hawkers hawking over the reeds and an Emperor Dragonfly patrolled up and down the path, past us. One or two Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the path and flew off ahead of us. A couple of rather worn Four-spotted Chasers perched on the reeds, but the Ruddy Darters were looking much smarter. Damselflies included Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselfly.

There were a few butterflies too – Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Large White. A Brimstone was feeding on some burdock flowers.

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Brimstone – feeding on burdock

One or two Common Whitethroats darted out of the vegetation ahead of us and we saw a couple of Reed Warblers which disappeared into the reeds as we approached. The warden and one of his assistants were out in a boat, collecting things for the ‘bioblitz’, and flushed some Grey Herons from the reeds. When they had all taken to the air, sixteen birds were flying round together in a big flock! Three Little Egrets flew past, upstream along the river and a Green Sandpiper disappeared off that way too.

We hadn’t gone too far before we spotted the first Bittern for the rest of the group. It was rather distant, over the far side of New Fen. It flew across over the reeds and dropped down out of sight. A little further on, we turned to see another Bittern coming round the far corner of the wood back behind us, away in the distance. We watched as it headed steadily towards us.

When it got closer, we could see that it had a dangling leg – it was ‘Gammyleg’, the female Bittern one of the group had seen earlier. It flew in right past us and dropped down into the reeds a short distance ahead of us, giving us great flight views as it did so. It is feeding young at the moment, so had obviously been off along the river collecting food.

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Bittern – the bird known as ‘Gammyleg’ flying in over the reeds

We walked up to where the Bittern had seemed to go down and scanned the reeds, as much as we could see into them, but there was no sign of it. We hadn’t gone much further along here before we looked back to see ‘Gammyleg’ heading off again, back round the far corner of the wood, presumably back to where it had been feeding earlier.

There had been a family of Bitterns seen from Mere Hide in recent weeks, but they have not been seen for a few days. That much was immediately apparent also from the fact that we had no trouble getting into the hide. When the Bitterns were showing, it was impossible to get in, as the place was packed out with photographers taking up occupation of the place from dawn to dusk! We had a quick sit down and scan, before moving on.

The family of Great Crested Grebes is still on one of the pools by the path out to Joist Fen. The four juveniles are now pretty much fully grown – too big to ride on mum or dad’s back now. They still have stripy faces, which distinguishes them from the adults.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – an adult and one of the now fully grown juveniles

A little further on and a Red Kite appeared from beyond West Wood, flying in low over the river before circling up over the trees. As we got out to Joist Fen, we started to see more Marsh Harriers and there were several juveniles out from the viewpoint, indulging in a bit of flying practice over the reeds.

The Hobbys can be harder to find here at this time of year, but we did manage to locate one from the viewpoint. It was very distant though, circling up right at the back of Joist Fen. There wasn’t much else happening out here today though, so after a short rest we set off back. On the way, a Common Buzzard was circling over the corner of West Wood now.

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Common Buzzard – circling up over West Wood

We could hear a Kingfisher calling from the poplars, but we couldn’t see it. It was getting quiet hot now, so we made our way back to the car and headed back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we walked up to the Washland viewpoint. The water on here is evaporating fast now, which at least has the advantage of making it attractive to waders. There were quite a few Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallow water and a large flock of Lapwing on the mud at the edge. In with the latter, were three Curlew and an Oystercatcher too. A single Common Redshank was wading out in the middle. A few Common Terns were hawking around over the remaining water.

The temperature and timing, in the middle of the afternoon, was not really conducive for looking for passerines, but we headed off to Lynford Arboretum to try our luck. We could hear Siskin calling as we got out of the car and saw one flying off from the top of the larches as we walked down through the arboretum. A Nuthatch was calling from somewhere in the distance, but otherwise it was very quiet in the trees.

We walked down to the bridge and someone had put some seed out on one of the pillars. Several Chaffinches were busy feeding here, but nothing else. A Goldfinch came down to drink in the paddock just beyond. We decided to have a look round the lake.

The Little Grebes here have obviously had a successful breeding season – first we found a very advanced juvenile on its own, then an adult feeding a very well-grown juvenile under the over-hanging trees (we could hear its begging calls first), and finally we came across another pair with three very small juveniles.

Little Grebes

Little Grebes – this pair have three still very small juveniles

There was not much sign of any passerine activity down around the lake either, so we headed on round to the weir to see if we could find one of the Grey Wagtails. The water has largely stopped flowing out of the lake now, beyond a trickle, but as we walked in through the trees a Grey Wagtail flew off from the near bank and landed on an upturned wooden box out in the middle. We watched it bobbing its tail, before it flew back and started to feed along the far edge.

Looking back to the weir, we noticed some ripples in the water at the bottom and looked across to see a small mammal. It appeared to be bathing at first but when we looked more closely, we realised it was feeding, diving under the water. It was a Water Shrew – something we see very rarely. It surfaced with something in its mouth and hopped out onto the rocks, disappearing off to the bank. A few seconds later, it reappeared and ran down into the water again.

We stood and watched the Water Shrew feeding for several minutes – it was fascinating to observe one for an extended period, as normally all you see of them is one disappearing off in the water. We could see its long pointed nose, black fur contrasting with paler silver belly and quite a long tail. Eventually the Water Shrew disappeared into the rocks again and we decided to walk back.

When we got back to the bridge, activity seemed to have picked up a bit. The Chaffinches were still feeding on the seed on the pillar, but as we walked up we heard a Marsh Tit calling immediately behind them. It was flicking around in the trees just beyond, low down, hanging on the branches and picking at the underside of the leaves. A Treecreeper called and appeared from around the back on the trunk of the tree right beside us.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – looking for insects on the underside of the leaves

Walking back up through the middle of the arboretum, we came across a large tit flock. A Nuthatch was with them, in a tall birch tree. Unusually, it was feeding by hovering and trying to pick insects off the leaves – not something you see often. There were also Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits.

The afternoon was getting on now and it was time to be heading back. On the way, we called in briefly at a clearing in the forest. There have been Tree Pipits breeding here, but there was no sign of them this afternoon. A male Yellowhammer appeared briefly in the top of a young oak tree, with food in its bill. Presumably it still has young in the nest nearby.

We had a quick walk to the edge of the clearing. Several birds flew out of the dense bracken and dropped back in further along. A mixed tit flock were feeding in here, possibly finding more food here in the cool, dark conditions, and with them were a couple of Blackcap and one or two Common Whitethroat.

Unfortunately, we were out of time and we had to head for home now. It had been an exciting three days with a great variety of birds and other wildlife, some of the best Norfolk has to offer in summer.

29th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was our last day and we would be heading down to the Brecks. It was a lovely sunny day, though it was a little hot, particularly out of the light but fresh NE breeze.

With the sun out and the heat haze only likely to increase, we headed straight over to Weeting Heath first. As we walked down towards the West Hide, through the trees, we could hear a Blackcap singing. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the pines too. There were quite a few tits in the bushes and after a couple of Great Tits the next bird to appear in front of us was a Marsh Tit. There were Coal Tits singing in the tops of the pines too.

Just before we got to West Hide, we could hear Spotted Flycatchers calling in the trees, but it sounded like they were along the sunny edge and slightly further down from the hide. There is a family party here, two adults with their fledged first brood young. We scanned the trees, but it looked like we couldn’t see them from here. We decided to keep an ear out in case they moved closer, and in the meanwhile have a look from the hide.

Looking out across the grass, there was already quite a bit of heat haze building. The vegetation is very overgrown at the moment due to a lack of rabbits, which have been hit badly by disease. We scanned the heath but couldn’t see any sign of the Stone Curlews initially. We knew they were out there though – we had just seen them on the CCTV in the visitor centre! Eventually a Stone Curlew appeared out of the thick grass. We got it in the scope, and we could just about make it out.

The Spotted Flycatchers called from somewhere behind the hide, so we headed out for a quick look. One appeared overhead, on a branch, preening, but unfortunately by the time everyone had made it out of the hide it had moved off again and we could hear them calling still along the edge.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – we finally got good views of them in the trees by the hide

Thankfully, this time one of the Spotted Flycatchers had decided to perch on a dead branch in the sunshine where we could see it from the hide access ramp. We even managed to find an angle where we could get the scope on it.

Back in the hide, the Stone Curlew had moved and by changing our viewing angle, we got a much better look at it. It stood stock still, looking around, and after a couple of minutes a second Stone Curlew stood up out of the grass nearby. The first bird walked over to it and settled down where it had been sitting, promptly disappearing completely into the vegetation. Changeover time at the nest! The second Stone Curlew then walked off into the grass.

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Stone Curlews – the pair out in the grass

Having managed some better views of the Stone Curlews now, we had a gentle stroll down to the Woodland Hide at the far end. There were lots of tits on the feeders – Blue Tits and Great Tits, including lots of juveniles. Several came down to bathe too, and were joined by a Coal Tit, which was dwarfed by the Great Tit next to it.

There were lots of young Goldfinches coming and going too, but the stars of the show were the Yellowhammers. One male dropped in under the feeders to feed. Then another came down to the small pool in front of the hide for a bath.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – bathing in the pool in front of Woodland Hide

With a busy morning planned, we headed back to the car and on to Lakenheath Fen. With a limit to the amount of walking we could do, we asked at the visitor centre and were kindly granted disabled access to the reserve, which meant that we could drive up to New Fen. With the windows down, we could hear a Common Whitethroat singing in the sallows by the track and watched as it flew out, low over the reeds.

We sat on the benches at New Fen viewpoint, to gather our energy for the walk ahead. It was already hot, but at least there was a bit of a breeze. There was not much activity around the pool in front, apart from the families of Coot. A couple of Reed Warblers zipped around the edges of the reeds and a Bearded Tit shot across the water, unfortunately too quickly for anyone to get onto it.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – there were lots of dragonflies out today

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies along the bank which runs along the south side of New Fen. We managed to find a Variable Damselfly with the AzureCommon Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies on the corner. A couple of Brown Hawkers zoomed past, and an Emperor patrolled up and down the path. A Scarce Chaser perched up briefly and there were several Ruddy Darters and Black-tailed Skimmers out too.

We saw a few butterflies too – several Meadow Browns, plus one or two Ringlet, Large White, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. A Comma posed nicely in the reeds along the side of the path.

Comma

Comma – posed nicely on the reeds by the path

The season for adult Cuckoos is almost at an end already, and this is the first time in recent weeks we haven’t heard one here. We did manage to see one though, which flew across high over the reeds from West Wood and disappeared off towards the viewpoint.

Finally, a Bittern put in an appearance, a long flight view in from the back of New Fen, straight across towards us, before dropping down into the reeds between us and the viewpoint. There were no other Bittern flights on our walk along the bank here today, despite the fact that they should be busy with feeding flights at the moment.

We stopped to admire a couple of Great Crested Grebes on one of the pools in the reeds, an adult and an almost fully-grown stripy-headed juvenile. The adult was trying to doze, but the juvenile was swimming around it, calling quietly. A second adult Great Crested Grebe, presumably the other parent, had swum off a discrete distance and was sleeping in peace!

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Great Crested Grebes – an adult and juvenile, the parent trying to sleep

There has been a family of Bitterns showing well in front of Mere Hide this week, so we thought we would head over there for a sit down and see if we could catch up with them. We could barely get into the hide at first, with a photographer’s tripod right across the doorway! The benches were packed with photographers too, some of which had been there for over six and a half hours, leaving no room for anyone else. Eventually two of them left, making space for another couple who had been waiting ahead of us, and then after waiting a few minutes we managed to sit down too. We had obviously arrived just in time, as several were leaving for lunch!

There was no sign of the Bitterns unfortunately today – they were probably camera shy. Even the Kingfisher just did a brief flyby, zooming past over the reeds at the back, too quick for anyone to get onto. After resting here for a while, we decided to head back for lunch in the cool of the visitor centre.

After lunch, we headed back towards the Forest. It was hot and with limited scope for walking any distance now, we decided not to head to our usual clearing in the trees for Tree Pipit. Instead, we had a drive round through farmland first, checking out some fields.

We stopped by a recently sown maize strip. As we got out of the car, we could see an Oystercatcher standing in the middle. Scanning with binoculars, we then spotted two Stone Curlews along the far edge. We got the scope on them and looked again and realised there was another Stone Curlew further along the edge, and two more hiding in the grass just beyond, five in total. There was still quite a bit of heat haze, but the views were a bit better than we had enjoyed at Weeting earlier and we could make out a bit more detail.

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Stone Curlews – two of the five on a recently sown maize strip

As we drove on, we noticed a dove perched on the wires beside the road. Typically, we had a car right behind us, so we had to find somewhere to pull over and wait for them to pass. As we got out of the car we could see that it was a Turtle Dove, the first we have seen here in recent years. Unfortunately it flew before we could get the scope out and disappeared out into the field the other side of the road.

We headed round to another clearing in the Forest, which wouldn’t be as far to walk. There had been Tree Pipits here a few weeks ago, but we weren’t sure what they would be up to in the heat of the afternoon. It all looked pretty quiet as we got out of the car, apart from a Yellowhammer singing in one of the trees beside the path and a group of juvenile Swallows hawking for insects from the wires across the clearing.

As we walked down along the path, there were lots of butterflies fluttering around the vegetation either side, mainly Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Skippers. A Large Skipper perched nicely in the sun.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – perched nicely in the sun

The combination of the walk and the afternoon sun was proving too much, so we turned back. We were almost back to the car when we noticed a small bird in one of the trees by the path, perched on a dead branch. It was a Tree Pipit. It stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope, then took off and flew out into the middle of the clearing.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – in a tree by the path, just as we got back to the car

That was a nice way to end the day, so we set off for home. We had enjoyed a very good three days out birdwatching and seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife, some of the best that Norfolk has to offer in summer.