Tag Archives: Stonechat

24th September 2015 – Inland Birding

Day 2 of a 5 day Autumn Tour today. With few new migrants appearing on the coast yesterday, we decided to head inland to try for something different. After heavy rain overnight, it had pretty much cleared through by the morning, though was still cloudy and a bit damp at first. It brightened up nicely during the day, but was still cool in the blustery west wind.

We drove down to the Wensum Valley first. There had been an Osprey here for some days previously, stopping off on its way south to Africa, and we thought it might be a nice way to start the day today. It has been roaming up and down the river, visiting various fishing lakes. Unfortunately there was no sign of it at its favourite site, or any of its usual haunts. A Common Buzzard sat in the tree overlooking the lakes. Behind us, a Kestrel perched in the top of a hawthorn eyeing us curiously.

IMG_1118Kestrel – not the Osprey we had hoped to see this morning

Still, there were lots of other birds to see here. A Kingfisher zipped back and forth across the lake in front of us. A Grey Wagtail flew over – its very sharp call and, once we then saw it, its bounding flight and very long tail gave it away. A short while later, two Grey Wagtails flew back the other way, right over our heads. There were Siskin here as well – part of the huge influx we have seen in recent weeks. A party of twelve flew in calling and landed in the ash tree right in front of us, dropping down to an alder by the lakes, before flying off again.

Three Stock Doves perched up on the wires. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, noting the differences from Woodpigeon – the smaller size, lack of a white neck patch and the glossy green there instead, the black spots in the wings. A flock of Golden Plover circled up distantly above the fields beyond. A few lingering Swallows and House Martins flew over.

There was no shortage of Egyptian Geese here. When we arrived, two were in the Osprey’s favourite dead tree, and they stayed there pretty much throughout. Another very noisy party of eight flew in along the river. It was lovely down by the lakes this morning, but it gradually became clear that there had been no sign of the Osprey all morning. We decided to head on inland.

P1090699Egyptian Geese – flashing their white wing panels as they flew over

From there, we made our way down into the Brecks. The region is well known for the Stone Curlews which breed here and early autumn is a good time to look for large post-breeding flocks which gather in favoured fields at this time of year. We tried one of the best sites for them but unfortunately there was lots of disturbance today, people working in the fields and lots of tractors driving back and forth. We drove around the area to see if we could find them at any other sites, but there was no sign. We did see lots of other farmland birds – big flocks of corvids around the pig fields, coveys of both Grey Partridge and Red-legged Partridge, both flushed by tractors in the fields, flocks of finches and lots of Pied Wagtails.

With the morning getting on, we decided to head further into the Brecks to Lynford Arboretum to try to add some woodland birds to the list. We walked round the top part of the arboretum before lunch. There were lots of birds, but they were hard to see at times in the tops of the trees. It was rather windy and they were keeping to cover today. Coal Tits outnumbered the rest, with little groups feeding in the fir trees, plus Blue and Great Tits. We also saw several Treecreepers, Goldcrests and a couple of Nuthatches.

After lunch, we walked further into the arboretum, down to the lake. There was a Marsh Tit calling as we reached the bridge, but it disappeared into the trees as we walked up. We tried the woodland walk to see if we could find it again, but as we got back to the bridge it was there again, calling. It was particularly windy by the lake and all the birds were proving hard to see. We walked back up through the arboretum again, seeing much the same as we had earlier. We had to get ourselves back up to the coast to finish, but with the report of a Barred Warbler at Kelling and “showing well”, we decided to head that way earlier than planned to try to see it.

The walk along the lane was fairly quiet today – obviously lots of people had been up and down there already. A few Chaffinches were in the hedges. There were still several butterflies out in the sunshine – Speckled Woods and Red Admirals. We had seen a single Southern Hawker among the trees in the car park at Lynford Arboretum over lunch, but most of the dragonflies out today were Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers. While we were walking down the lane at Kelling a single Migrant Hawker landed on the brambles & nettles along the path, giving us a great opportunity to admire it up close.

P1090718Migrant Hawker – enjoying the sun along the lane at Kelling

Out on the water meadow, we could see the regular pair of Egyptian Geese and a smattering of duck – several Teal and three Shoveler, the latter with their heads down constantly in the water, feeding. A lone Curlew was probing in the grass on the edge. A Little Egret was fishing along the north side and a single Grey Heron sat preening in the sunshine in the reeds along the drainage channel on the Quags.

IMG_1130Stonechat – one of the males down at the water meadow

The Barred Warbler had been seen along the hedge between the path and the water meadow, but there had been no further sign of it for a couple of hours by the time we got there. With all the disturbance up and down the lane, it had presumably hidden itself in cover. A party of Stonechat were feeding around the Quags – at least four, two males and two females.  They were very active, flying back and forth between vantage points, dropping down to the ground after prey or flycatching up into the air. It was hard to keep up with them. There were also lots of Linnet and Goldfinch around the Quags.

P1090734Stonechat – a female perched on the dead thistle head along the lane

It was lovely down by the water meadow in the afternoon sunshine, so we stood for a while just in case the main target might show itself again. Lines of gulls were making their way west overhead, presumably heading off to roost, and a few Black-headed Gulls dropped in to bathe. Finally we were out of time and had to make our way back. A Great Spotted Woodpecker perched in the top of one of the fir trees back by the main road, calling, as we left.

23rd May 2015 – East of Wells

Day 1 of a two day weekend tour today. It was a bit cloudy and cool this morning, in a NE wind, but brightened up in the afternoon. We met up in Wells and headed east along the coast.

We started up on the Heath. It was colder than we might have hoped this morning, and we thought it might not be the best day to go looking for Dartford Warblers. As it was, we needn’t have worried. We had not been walking for long when we heard the distinctive rattling song of a male Dartford Warbler. It gave us the run-around a bit, singing often from deep in the gorse, but we could see it flicking around and it perched up at nicely one point.

We continued on round the Heath. A Turtle Dove was purring from the birches, though it was tucked well down out of the wind. We couldn’t see it as we walked past the trees, but later on it flew past us, flashing its rusty back as it went.

P1010225Yellowhammer – a smart male in full voice

We had heard a Yellowhammer singing as we walked round, and eventually a smart yellow-headed male performed for us. There were lots up on the Heath today. As we rounded a corner, we stopped to look at another, perched in a dead tree when a second bird appeared next to it, a male Stonechat, and then a third bird, a male Woodlark. We got the Woodlark in the scope first, admiring its striking pale supercilium. Then it circled overhead singing and disappeared off across the Heath.

We turned our attention to the Stonechat next. We also picked up a female nearby and could see the two adults carrying food into a clump of gorse. As they did so, several streaky juveniles flew out to meet them. We spent some time watching them, the adults returning repeatedly with food and the juveniles sitting partly concealed low down in the gorse in between visits from their parents.

IMG_4912Stonechat – the proud father, perching on the top of the gorse

On our walk round, we had not heard another Dartford Warbler, so we swung back to the area we had passed through, as a pair had also been feeding young here recently. We couldn’t find them at first, but eventually heard the distinctive churring call. We saw the male and female Dartford Warblers coming in and out of a dense patch of gorse carrying food and eventually also spotted a short-tailed, grey juvenile hiding down just above the heather.

P1010227Dartford Warbler – perched up briefly

Time was getting on, so we headed back to the car. On our way, we could hear the rolling song of a Garden Warbler from the tops of some birches. We manoeuvred ourselves so we could see one particular tree and eventually the Garden Warbler appeared in full view, singing from the very top.

We headed for Salthouse next, but made an unscheduled stop on the way to our destination. A Spoonbill had been reported by the duck pond and we found it straight away, on the pool behind. It was busy feeding, sweeping its bill from side-to-side through the shallow water, but occasionally lifted its head up, so we could see it above the reedy edge of the pool. A scan of the wet grazing marsh all around also produced a Common Sandpiper feeding in the flooded grass.

P1010213Spoonbill – possibly the Salthouse bird from today, but taken at Cley yesterday

Our planned next stop was at the Iron Road, a little further along. There is a lovely area of flooded grass and pools here, that has been good for birds recently. However, there was no sign of any Little Gulls here at midday – unfortunately they have a habit of wandering along the coast. We did find a nice big flock of Black-tailed Godwits and hiding amongst them was a single Bar-tailed Godwit, still in streak-backed winter plumage.

P1010232Tufted Duck – like a duck out of water!

A pair of Tufted Duck were in the channel and climbed out onto the bank. We stopped to listen to Skylarks and Meadow Pipits singing above our heads. Best of all, a Swallow flew down and landed on a gate beside us, singing.

P1010234Swallow – landed beside us, singing

Cley was out next stop. After lunch, we walked out along the East Bank. The Serpentine and the flooded grazing marsh to the east have also been very productive in recent days but were also a little quiet today. The highlight was a smart male White Wagtail which flew in and landed briefly along the edge of the ditch below us.

P1010246The Serpentine & flooded grazing marsh east of Cley East Bank

The reedbed was the place to look today. We saw several Bearded Tits flying back and forth over the path, seemingly gathering food in the reedy ditches either side. At one point, we could see a female Bearded Tit working her way along the edge of the ditch, low down at the bottom of the reeds and just above the water surface. There were also lots of Reed Warblers singing and eventually we even managed to find a couple that would perch up long enough for us to get them in the scope. A Chinese Water Deer was out in the reedbed, seemingly enjoying the fresh green growth where the reeds were cut over the winter.

P1010245Chinese Water Deer – eating the new reed growth

Arnold’s Marsh was also fairly quiet, but we found a pair of Little Terns, one out on one of the islands and the other fishing nearby. A pair of Sandwich Terns also flew in and landed, one (presumably the male) carrying a fish in its bill, and they circled round each other in a little bout of courtship display until the male lost interest and walked off, still carrying its fish. Another Sandwich Tern was fishing just offshore from the beach.

On the walk back, we stopped to admire a Little Egret out on the grazing marsh. A Grey Heron was standing, stock still, in the reeds by one of the new pools near the road, staring intently at the water oblivious to our presence.

P1010248Little Egret – on the flooded grazing marsh

We finished the day at Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down beside the road, a very smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering the fields to the south. A scan of the Fen from the path revealed a single Little Ringed Plover out on the mud. Aside from the Redshanks, Lapwings, Avocets and a few Black-tailed Godwits, there were no other waders of note today.

We were up on the seawall, and just starting to scan the Fen from a higher vantage point, when a shout from someone nearby alerted us to a Spoonbill flying over. It circled the Fen and dropped in and as it did so, we could see it was sporting some coloured plastic rings. At first it landed with its legs in deep water and we couldn’t see the rings, but eventually it walked up onto the edge of one of the islands and started to preen. We could see the combination of rings on its legs – time will tell if we can identify where it was ringed and where else it has been seen since.

IMG_4925Spoonbill – a colour-ringed bird at Stiffkey Fen today

Walking round to the harbour, a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover was out on the mud on the far side of the creek. The tide was out, but we could still see lots of Brent Geese in the harbour. A Mediterreanean Gull flew over calling and disappeared out towards Blakeney Point, before we could all get onto it. As we walked back, a second Mediterranean Gull flew past at eye level, a summer adult with white wing-tips and black hood, which was much easier to see.

There were some more warblers singing along the side of the river on the way back to the car – a Willow Warbler sat in the top of a hawthorn, a Cetti’s Warbler sang from the river bank unseen, and a Blackcap lurked in the bushes. Then it was time to head back to Wells.

P1010253Blakeney Harbour – the view across to the Point from Stiffkey Fen