Tag Archives: Swallow

15th April 2018 – Early Spring at Last, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours in North Norfolk. Having been west along the coast yesterday, we headed out east for the day today. It had been forecast to be cloudier than yesterday, but we were not expecting to have the fog which clung on along the coast all day. It meant that migration along the coast was limited today, but we still managed to find a few migrants despite the weather.

Our first destination was Cley. It had looked to be brightening up as we drove along the coast road, but by the time we got to the East Bank, we could see the fog rolling in out towards the coast. A Kestrel was hovering over the edge of the reedbed. It gradually worked its way closer and then, as we watched it, it dropped steeply down into the grass just beyond the car park. When it came up again it had a vole in its talons. A Grey Heron dropped out of the trees and down towards the pools.


Kestrel – caught a vole just by the car park

Up on the bank, we could see several Common Pochard on Don’s Pool, along with a single drake Tufted Duck. They were all diving constantly. Over the other side of the bank, we could see lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes. There were still a few Wigeon out here too, plus several Teal, a couple of Shoveler and a pair of Gadwall.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – a smart drake on Don’s Pool


The Redshanks were displaying here today – they were very vocal and we saw several in display flight, fluttering their bowed wings as they called. The Lapwings were a bit more subdued in the weather, though we did see one or two tumbling. There were plenty of Avocets but they were right at the back, on Pope’s Pool, in the fog. We could hear them calling noisily. We stopped to look at a Ruff feeding on the edge of the Serpentine.

A Bearded Tit pinged from the reedbed, but remained stubbornly down out of view today. A Marsh Harrier circled out over Pope’s reedbed, in the fog, and then another appeared much closer, over the reeds the other side.

We made our way on Arnold’s Marsh and took advantage of the shelter. There was a good selection of waders out on here today. There were several Bar-tailed Godwits, some still in non-breeding plumage, but several starting to moult and one particularly smart individual already in summer plumage, deep rusty coloured below, right down to under the tail.

There was a good number of Dunlin on the mud at the back, accompanied by a couple of Ringed Plovers. A single Grey Plover on one of the shingle spits was still in grey non-breeding plumage. There were plenty of Avocets and Redshanks on here too.


Redshank – on the brackish pools by Arnold’s Marsh

We managed to pick out two Sandwich Terns on the small shingle island at the back, and we could see their shaggy crests even if they were mostly sleeping. Then more Sandwich Terns flew in and landed with them and there was lots of calling and displaying, so we could see their yellow-tipped black bills. We went to have a look out at the sea, but it was too foggy now to even see the waves, so we headed back.

It was brighter back at the car, but we drove back into the fog along Beach Road. The edge of the Eye Field is a good place to look for Wheatears and thankfully we found a couple close to the edge, where we could see them. They were feeding down in the grass just beyond the fence, but one came out onto the shingle and perched on a couple of the fence posts.


Wheatear – one of two at the Eye Field this morning

Both the Wheatears were males and both looked to be large and richly coloured below, with a comparatively deep burnt orange wash across the breast. They looked to be Greenland Wheatears, stopping off on their way before making the long journey most of the way across the Atlantic

With our mission here accomplished, we decided not to linger in the fog and drove back east along the coast road. A quick stop at Salthouse duckpond and scan of the pools beyond didn’t produce anything new, but we did stop to admire a pair of Gadwall. The drakes in particular are very intricately patterned, belying there ‘grey and boring’ image. There was also a Canada Goose on the pond and more Wigeon and Teal on the wet grazing marshes beyond.


Gadwall – an intricately patterned drake

The pools along Salthouse Beach Road can be good for migrants, but there was nothing here today. It was very foggy now along the shingle ridge and with few migrants apparently moving along the coast today, we decided it probably wasn’t going to be worth walking out to Gramborough Hill.

Continuing on to Kelling, we drove back into the sunshine as we headed slightly inland. As we parked in village the, a Common Buzzard was soaring high overhead, above the thing hazy cloud. A Swallow appeared overhead, hawking or insects, and disappeared off towards the road. When we got over there, we found a pair of Swallows on the wires. Rather than being on their way through, these birds had probably returned here to breed.


Swallows – two returned already in Kelling village

A pair of Pied Wagtails and a couple of Goldfinches were feeding on the playing field and a Chiffchaff was singing in the grounds of the school opposite. As we walked along the lane, a male Blackcap flew across in front of us and landed briefly in the bushes. Up at the copse, another Blackcap was singing in the trees and a pair of Chiffchaffs were fliting around, the male stopping to sing from time to time as it followed what was presumably a female.

It was increasingly foggy again as we got closer to the coast. Down at the Water Meadow, there were good numbers of Avocet feeding out in the water and calling noisily, plus a single lone Redshank and a few Teal. As we walked along the cross track on the north side of the water meadow, we heard a Whimbrel call. We looked across the Quags and saw it emerge from the fog and fly past us. It didn’t stop and headed off SE. Another good spring migrant.

We walked down towards the beach but it was very foggy down by the sea now. We had a quick scan of the Quags pools, but couldn’t see anything of note in the mist, so wee decided to head back to the Visitor Centre at Cley for lunch.

The weather was not too bad at Cley, so we ate our lunch outside, on the picnic tables. One or two Pied Wagtails kept flying back and forth overhead, commuting to the field behind. Just as we finished our lunch, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked up to see it flying east in front of us. It turned back just before North Foreland Wood, and came back around over behind the Visitor Centre. It dropped down and looked like it might be landing in the field behind. We walked up to the back of the Visitor Centre to look for it, but there was no sign of it in the field, just one of the Pied Wagtails.

After lunch we paid a quick visit to the Iron Road. As we got out of the car, we could see three Egyptian Geese asleep in the grass with the Greylags. Two Brent Geese flew in to join them, Dark-bellied birds yet to set off back to Russia to breed. A Little Egret was feeding on one of the wet flashes in the grass.

It was a bit clearer now, so we walked up along the track to the pool. There were several Ruff around the muddy margins, and we stopped to look at a small group. Of the six birds, one was much smaller, a female ‘Reeve’. Most of the Ruff were rather pale, but one male was very dark, blackish speckled. They are the most variable of waders and they are now starting to moult into breeding plumage, although the males will not get their elaborate ruffs for a while yet. There were a couple of Redshanks on the pool too, for comparison.

There had been a White Wagtail here this morning and we found it again feeding on one of the grassy island. White Wagtail is the continental cousin of our Pied Wagtail and just passes through here on migration in the spring. This one had stopped off to feed. We could see its silvery grey back, much paler than the black or slate grey backs of our Pied Wagtails. A Swallow flew over, heading west, the first hirundine we had seen on the move today, they were obviously held up further south by the weather.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – feeding on the pool by Iron Road


There seemed to be more fret rolling in from the east, so we decided to head inland, up to the Heath to try to find some brighter weather. It was nice and bright, sunny with some high hazy cloud, when we arrived in the car park. We could hear Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler singing in the trees.

We headed first for a sheltered corner which always catches the afternoon sun. We could hear Bullfinches calling, flew and a pair flew across in front of us and disappeared into trees. We were looking at the margins of the gorse to see if we could find any Adders, when a small bird flew up ahead of us calling a distinctive ‘speez, speez’. It was a Tree Pipit. They used to breed up here on the Heath, but have died out in recent years, so this was most likely a migrant, stopping just off on its way further north.

We walked round the corner to see if we could find the Tree Pipit on the ground, but it was obviously hiding in the trees. It then flew out and landed in the birches behind us briefly, then flew again and disappeared. It seemed to be trying to come back down into the grass to feed, so we left it in peace. You can find migrants inland, not just on the coast!

Scanning the leaf litter on the bank which faces the sun, we spotted our first Adder. Unfortunately, it headed straight into cover but the second Adder we found was more obliging, and stayed curled up in the grass for a few seconds before it decided our combined presence was too much and it disappeared into a hole in the vegetation.


Adder – warming itself in the sun in the leaf litter

While we were watching the Adder, one of the group spotted a Common Lizard basking nearby. Then a young Common Frog hopped out of the leaves too. It was all action in this corner of the Heath this afternoon!


Common Lizard

Common Lizard – basking on a leaf


Walking back up the track, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler in the top of a small birch tree, as a Red Kite drifted overhead. We heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying towards us. It circled round over a more open area of grass, singing – a beautiful if slightly melancholic song. Then it appeared to drop down beyond the trees behind us. We walked back and found two Woodlarks on the ground.

The male Woodlark didn’t stay long, but took off again and started to fly round singing, while the female fed quietly in the grass. It was remarkably hard to see against the browns of the dead bracken, until it moved. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it too took off and headed away in the direction the male Woodlark had flown.


Woodlark – very well camouflaged against the dead bracken


As we walked across the Heath and entered one of the traditional Dartford Warbler territories, we could hear one calling ahead of us. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it had gone quiet and despite walking round the area for a couple of minutes we didn’t hear it again. Still it was a good start.

We made our way further on, to another territory, and stopped to listen again. Once more, it was all quiet, despite the warmth from the sun, perhaps because it was now late in the afternoon. As we turned to leave, we saw something flit across in a dense clump of gorse right next to us. As we stood and watched a Dartford Warbler stuck its head out.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – feeding in the gorse flowers


The Dartford Warbler appeared to be feeding on the bright yellow gorse flowers, presumably looking for insects. It was on the move constantly and very hard to see, only occasionally appearing on top of the bush. We followed it for a while as it fed quietly before it eventually dropped down out of view as the sun disappeared behind some clouds.

Another Woodlark flew over calling, and a few seconds later presumably the same bird came back the other way singing, right over our heads. There were plenty of Linnets around the Heath and we could hear several Yellowhammers calling, but the one resident of the Heath we hadn’t yet come across was Stonechat. We headed over to an area where a pair have taken up residence, but couldn’t see them on a quick circuit of the path, before a male Stonechat popped up in front of us as we got back to the start!

It was a nice way to end the day, and the weekend, up on the Heath. We had been very successful on our quick visit here, so we headed for home well pleased with our tally.

7th Apr 2017 – Signs of Spring

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today. It was nice and dry all day, but a bit cloudy and cool in the W/NW breeze. That seemed to keep a cap on migration, although we still managed to see a nice selection of birds on the move and some early returning summer visitors.

Starting from Wells, we headed west along the coast. Our first stop was at Holkham where we were immediately watching Spoonbills in the tops of the trees. There were two in view at first, one looked to be trying to gather sticks, pulling at thin branches, presumably busy nestbuilding. Periodically they would fly round and drop back into the trees out of view, with the same or another then coming back up into the tops. When perched high in the trees, through the scope we could see their spoon-shaped bills. There were lots of Cormorants in the trees too.

Another large white shape appeared out of one of the ditches further over, a Great White Egret. It quickly took off and flew across in front of us, landing down out of view again. In flight, we could see its large size, and heavy flight on long broad bowed wings. A short while later, it flew again and disappeared down behind some reeds further west.

Despite the cool temperature, there was plenty of raptor activity. A shrill call above alerted us to the presence of a displaying Marsh Harrier. We watched as it tumbled down out of the sky and dropped into the reeds. A female Marsh Harrier appeared out of the reeds away to our left and flew up into a tree. When we got it in the scope, we could see a Common Buzzard in the tree behind, perched waiting for the air to warm up a bit. The female Marsh Harrier then dropped down to the ground in front of the reeds and flushed a second male Marsh Harrier out of the grass, presumably a pair.

IMG_3089Marsh Harrier – the female perched in a tree

Most of the geese down on the grazing marshes are Greylags now, with the majority of the winter geese having departed north already, en route to their breeding grounds. Scattered among them, we found a few Egyptian Geese, a Canada Goose and a single Pink-footed Goose. The latter appeared to have an injured wing – a few sick or injured Pink-footed Geese remain year round at Holkham, normally birds which have been shot and wounded and are unable to complete the journey back to Iceland.

A larger group of geese were feeding on the grass on the fort. Through the scope we could see that they were mostly Pink-footed Geese too, about 30-40 of them. These are just the laggards, with no excuse for not heading off, they are just awaiting suitable conditions to make the journey.

Our next stop was at Titchwell. A couple of Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap were singing from the trees around the car park, our earliest returning summer warblers. The tame local Robins came straight over to the car as we got out, hoping for a very early lunch! Round at the visitor centre, the winter finches appear to have departed now, but we still managed to add Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch to the day’s list, at the feeders.

6O0A4431Common Pochard – a pair in the pools by the main path

As we walked out along the main path, the dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’ appeared deserted. On the other side, a pair of Common Pochard were feeding around one of the small pools by the path, the male closely shepherding the female. Looking around the larger reedbed pool, we could see three Red-crested Pochard lurking on the edge of the reeds. Through the scope, we could see the coral red bills of the two drake, and their orange punk hairstyles.

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds nearby, but they were hard to see today. Given the chill in the breeze, they were keeping low. Occasionally, one would climb up a reed stem briefly, before dropping back into cover, and eventually we all managed to get a look at one. We decided to have another look on the way back, hoping it might have warmed up a little.

As we waited for the Bearded Tits to show themselves, we were aware of several little groups of finches flying west. They were Linnets and Goldfinches, on their way north, following the coast round. A couple of little groups of Meadow Pipit flew over too. Great to see migration in action, despite the cooler weather.

The water levels of the Freshmarsh are still quite high at the moment, which means that not much mud is exposed. Consequently, there were few waders on here today, and rather more ducks. Several Teal were feeding along the edge by the path, the drakes looking very fine at the moment. There were also good numbers of Shoveler and a few Shelduck out on the water.

6O0A4496Teal – the drakes are looking very smart now

The waders were mainly represented by Avocets. A few were sleeping out in the shallow water around one of the submerged islands in the middle, but others were feeding, either up to their bellies in the deeper water or around the edge. It was clear that many were already paired up, the birds out feeding mostly in twos.

6O0A4459Avocets – many are paired up already

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the Freshmarsh, but by the time we got to Parrinder Hide they had flown off. A quick scan of the lower islands which were not underwater revealed a single Little Ringed Plover, but unfortunately that flew off over the bank before we could all get a look at it through the scope. Little Ringed Plovers are summer visitors, so this was another early returning bird. The Ruff were more amenable, with several feeding in the grass on the fenced off island, among the Black-headed Gulls.

From the hide, we could see a few lingering Wigeon around the islands. Most appear to have departed already, on their way back to Russia to breed. A pair of Gadwall were feeding just outside the hide and another pair of Red-crested Pochard were sleeping further out. A couple of Meadow Pipits dropped in along the edge for a quick feed and drink, possibly more migrants stopping off briefly on their way.

6O0A4466Gadwall – a pair feeding out from Parrinder Hide

The Volunteer Marsh was mostly quiet – with small tides at the moment, the surface was mainly dry. Only around the lower lying channel around the far edge did we find a few Redshanks, a couple of Curlew and a single Grey Plover which was very well camouflaged against the mud.

There were more waders out on the Tidal Pools. The Black-tailed Godwits were on here feeding in the shallower water, several now getting into their brighter orange summer plumage. More Avocets were sleeping on the spit towards the back and in with them we found two smaller, pale grey Knot, also asleep.

IMG_3099Black-tailed Godwit – now moulting into orange summer plumage

A pair of Shoveler were asleep right by the path, and the drake helpfully awoke briefly as we walked past and flashed its enormous bill, having a quick yawn, before going back to sleep. Yet another two Red-crested Pochard were asleep on the island here – there seem to be a lot of them back here now.

6O0A4478Shoveler – a pair, the drake showing off its enormous bill

Out on the beach, we could see a long oil slick of black ducks out the sea, Common Scoters. Through the scope we could see the black drakes and the browner females. There were still several hundred offshore here today, some closer in but a larger raft a bit further out. In with the closer ones, we could see several Long-tailed Ducks, including one or two handsome drakes. It was nice to see several of these winter visitors still lingering, it has been a good winter for them here, though presumably they should also soon be departing north. Scanning through the Common Scoter we counted at least 35 Long-tailed Ducks still here today.

IMG_3125Long-tailed Ducks – at least 35 were still on the sea today

Also out on the sea, we found a few Great Crested Grebes still. There were quite a few gulls offshore, particularly hassling the larger raft of Common Scoter. Three paler, slimmer winged birds which flew past closer inshore were Sandwich Terns, early returning birds back for the breeding season.

Down on the mussel beds, there were lots of Oystercatchers. A closer look also revealed a small party of Knot and a good number of Turnstone hidden in the seaweed. Further along the beach towards Brancaster, there were still a few Bar-tailed Godwits in with the other waders, but numbers of there have declined now as we get into spring.

It was a bit fresh out on the beach, so we decided to make our way back. As we turned to leave the beach, a large group of Brent Geese flew in over the beach and headed towards the reserve. When we got back to the Freshmarsh, they were all out on the water, chattering to each other. Yet more lingering winter visitors, they should soon be on their way back to Russia to breed.

6O0A4487Brent Geese – flew in to the Freshmarsh from the beach

A stop to scan the Freshmarsh, revealed not one but three Little Ringed Plovers now out on the islands. We got one in the scope and had a look at it. As we were scanning through the gulls, we picked up two paler birds flying in over the bank from the direction of Brancaster. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls, they dropped down into the fenced off island amongst the Black-headed Gulls and started displaying. Through the scope, we could see the Mediterranean Gulls’ more extensive, jet black hoods and white wing tips.

We stopped for a rest on the bench back by the reedbed, but at first their was no sound of any Bearded Tits. Then we spotted one flying across one of the reedy channels, and then back again. A closer look revealed a pair of them feeding in the reeds along the edge. We even managed to get the male in the scope briefly.

A quick scan of the grazing meadow ‘pool’ on the way back revealed a single wagtail out on the dry mud. It was noticeably paler than the Pied Wagtails we had seen earlier, with a silvery grey back contrasting with its black cap, a White Wagtail. White Wagtails are passage migrants through here, on their way north to Iceland or Scandinavia, a nice bird to see.

After a late lunch back at the visitor centre, with a welcome hot drink to warm us up, we started to make our way back east. We called in briefly at Brancaster Staithe, but there was a lot of disturbance here today. That didn’t seem to deter the Turnstones which were still running around in and out of the cars.

6O0A4512Turnstone – running around the car park, despite the disutrbance today

Our next stop was at Burnham Norton. There has been a Green-winged Teal here for several days now and another couple of local birders quickly located it for us half hidden in a small pool out on the grazing meadow, while we were admiring a Mistle Thrush out on the short grass. From round on the bank the other side, with a bit mroe elevation, we had a great view of the Green-winged Teal.

The North American cousin of our (Eurasian) Teal, Green-winged Teal differs principally in having a bold white vertical stripe on the foreflank and lacking the white horizontal stripe above the flanks which our Teal shows. Helpfully, there was even a drake Teal nearby for comparison!

IMG_3179Green-winged Teal – a drake, showing off its bold white vertical flank stripe

There was lots of other avian action here while we were watching the Green-winged Teal. Two Swallows flew west, the first we have seen in Norfolk this year. A Sedge Warbler was singing away from the reeds behind us, another early returning summer visitor. A drake Garganey flew up from one of the ditches, but unfortunately dropped down again out of view before anyone could get onto it. We had a look along the ditch where it landed, but we couldn’t see it in there in the open water and it had probably disappeared into the reeds.

The Marsh Harriers provided another highlight. We could hear one calling and looked up to see a male displaying high overhead, swooping and tumbling. It gradually lost height and dropped down steeply into the reeds. The next thing we knew a second male Marsh Harrier appeared and the two of them proceeded to chase each other round over the reedbed, while a female circled nearby.

6O0A4582Marsh Harriers – two grey-winged males, chasing each other round the reedbed

We made our way inland, through farmland, back to Wells. A couple of Red Kites circled over the fields and we also saw a few Kestrels on the way, our first of the day. A brief stop produced a couple of Brown Hares in a field and several Red-legged Partridges to add to the day’s list. Then it was time to head for home. Despite the cool weather, we had seen several reassuring signs today that spring is here, with several warblers back and singing, and birds on the move.


16th October 2015 – More from the East

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. Norfolk has been enjoying a real purple patch in the last week, with a succession of rare vagrants from the east turning up in the county, brought to us on an ongoing easterly airflow originating from far across onto the continent. We set out to try to catch up with a few of those today.

Our first stop saw us drive east along the coast to Beeston Common, just beyond Sheringham. It was overcast and blustery when we arrived, but that doesn’t seem to put off our first target. As soon as we got out onto the Common we could see the Isabelline Shrike perched atop a hawthorn bush, looking all around. We got it in the scope and watched it catch a wasp and eat it.

IMG_2003Isabelline Shrike – still present on Beeston Common today & showing well

Suddenly it flew towards us, and landed in another bush much closer by. It was obviously actively looking for food, as it flew again to another perch. It dropped sharply down to the ground, but disappeared deep into a holly when it flew back out so we couldn’t see what it had caught this time. We waited a few minutes and it reappeared on our side of the holly, before flying across back to the hawthorn it had just come from.

From there, it dropped down into the grass again and this time flew up with a small frog. It took it into the hawthorn and we could just see it through the scope, impaling the frog on a thorn. Shrikes are also traditionally known as ‘butcher birds’, as they will store excess food in a ‘larder’ by impaling them on a thorny bush or even barbed wire for later consumption. The Isabelline Shrike seemed unsure whether to eat its frog now or leave it for later. It appeared to eat a little, then moved back to the outside of the bush to resume hunting, before changing its mind and dropping back in to eat some more. Fascinating to watch.

There have been thrushes arriving in numbers for days now, and out on the common we saw a Blackbird or two drop into the bushes and a large flock of Redwing flew over our heads calling. A Sparrowhawk flew over as well – there is a real bounty for predators at the moment, with many small birds arriving here exhausted from the continent.

Having enjoyed such great views of the Isabelline Shrike, we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. Heading back west along the coast, we stopped at Muckleburgh Hill next. An Olive-backed Pipit had been found here yesterday, but it had been very elusive. They have a habit of creeping surreptitiously through the grass unseen, so it seemed like it might be difficult for us to see this one. A text message also confirmed that it had been elusive so far this morning. We thought we might as well have a go.

When we finally found the assembled crowd, the Olive-backed Pipit was on show, but getting everyone onto it was easier said than done at first. It was creeping around on an area of cut bracken, amongst the dead stalks and short regrowth, so had lots of places to hide. We kept getting glimpses of it. Frustrating. Finally it crept over to a more obvious place under a large rowan tree and proceeded to work its way round the edge of the taller bracken at its base. Now everyone got onto it, we managed to get it in the scopes and get some cracking views.

IMG_2040Olive-backed Pipit – eventually showed very well at Muckleburgh Hill

Olive-backed Pipits breed in Siberia and just into European Russia, migrating down to India and south Asia for the winter. They are a rare visitor to our shores, though they turn up more often these days than they used to. They are still a great bird to see and full of character, as they creep around pumping their tails slowly up and down.

We left the crowd to it, and continued our way back west, stopping off next at Stiffkey Greenway. A Great Grey Shrike had been seen earlier in the morning, but had disappeared off to the west along the coastal path. There were lots of people here, birdwatchers as well as dog walkers and joggers, so we didn’t fancy our chances of seeing it. This is a good site to look for other recent arrivals in the coastal bushes, so we decided to go for a walk anyway.

Scanning the saltmarsh, we could see lots of Brent Geese out amongst the vegetation. A Greenshank dropped in on the path out across the marshes and started to feed around the small pools. A Grey Plover was on the path further out and there were lots of Curlew and Redshank. Several of the scattered pools also held a Little Egret.

P1110756Brent Geese – feeding out on the saltmarsh

There were not so many birds in the hawthorns and brambles as there have been in the last couple of days. Perhaps fewer new birds had arrived overnight, or possibly they had already moved off inland, disturbed by all the activity up and down the path. We did see plenty of Goldcrests in the bushes, and flushed a steady stream of Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. There were several finches – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, though they were keeping down in the bushes out of the wind. We caught up with a tit flock – Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits – working their way through the gorse around the whirligig. In amongst them we found a couple of Chiffchaff.

We only went as far as the eastern track at Warham Greens. As we walked out at the whirligig, a small falcon swept up along the edge of the saltmarsh and powered away behind us, a Merlin. We scanned the marshes out towards East Hills and initially picked up nothing more than a couple of distant Marsh Harriers. Then a smaller, sleeker, slimmer-winged harrier swept up above the horizon briefly before dropping back down and resuming quartering low over the vegetation. Through the scopes we could see the paler underparts and square white patch at the base of the tail – its was a young ringtail Hen Harrier.

With no sign of the shrike and time getting on towards lunch, we decided to walk back. On the way, we stopped briefly to admire a bush cricket which walked out onto the muddy path – a Short-winged Conehead.

P1110778Short-winged Conehead – a type of bush cricket, on the coastal path

We ate lunch at Lady Anne’s Drive and afterwards walked west along the path on the inner edge of the pines. It was fairly quiet at first, apart from the ubiquitous Goldcrests and the regular Little Grebes on the pool at Salts Hole. Just beyond there, we could see some other birders on the top of a low bank, scanning the bushes in the reeds by the path. There has been another Isabelline Shrike here at Holkham in the last few days (there have been an unprecedented three in Norfolk!), but apparently we had just missed it. It had dropped down from one of the bushes and disappeared. We decided to walk a little further along to the gate, from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

There was no sign of the shrike from further along either, but we did see a rather late Common Whitethroat in a low rose bush by the gate. There are lots here in the summer, but this one should probably be well on its way towards Africa by now. Out on the grazing marshes, we could see a few Pink-footed Geese together with the Greylags. It was while we were scanning the marshes, that someone coming along the path broke the news to us that the shrike had reappeared further back along the path.

We walked back quickly and there it was – perched up in a wild rose bush amongst the reeds, our second Isabelline Shrike of the day. How greedy! It was rather similar to the one that we had seen at Beeston Common in the morning, but noticeably more extensively marked with dark chevrons on its pale underparts. There is typically some variation between individuals.

IMG_2046Isabelline Shrike – our second of the day, at Holkham

When it flew down again, we continued on our way west along the path. We stopped periodically to scan through the Goldcrests, in case there might be something more interesting in amongst them. It has been amazing just how many there were here in recent days – it would be fascinating to know how many have come in from the continent and moved on inland this week.

Just past the crosstracks, we came to the clump of sallows which the Red-flanked Bluetail has been frequenting, since Monday at least. There is always something of a dilemma – whether to try to see it flicking around quietly in the sallows, or whether to wait our by the brambles where it likes to come to feed on blackberries occasionally. We decided on the latter.

We didn’t have to wait too long until the Red-flanked Bluetail put in a typically brief appearance on the brambles. It perched for a few seconds feeding on the blackberries, but it was mostly hidden within the foliage. Then it flew across the front. Most of the group got a glimpse – a flash of the blue tail as it went. We waited again and then got a repeat performance – the Bluetail fed on a blackberry from within the brambles and then flashed off. It was clearly nervous – the local Robins have been giving it a hard time, chasing it away.

IMG_2062Red-flanked Bluetail – showing off its orange flank patches

Finally, on its third visit of our vigil, the Red-flanked Bluetail came out onto the brambles in full view. We could see its rather Robin-like appearance front on, but lacking the red (orange!) breast and instead sporting two orange flank patches and a triangular white throat patch. We were missing its best feature from this angle, but it even did the decent thing and turned round, flashing its bright blue tail at us. What a cracker! Than it darted off back into the sallows.

IMG_2076Red-flanked Bluetail – helpfully turned around to show off its bright blue tail

Red-flanked Bluetails breed in the Siberian taiga and migrate down to spend the winter in SE Asia. They were almost a mythical rarity in the UK in years gone by but only in the last 10-15 years have they become annual visitors and are now almost an expected find after a period of east winds at this time of year. This is probably because they have been expanding their breeding range steadily westwards and now breed in eastern Finland. Still, that does not detract at all from the delight at seeing one – electric blue tail, and all.

After great views such as those, we set off back suitably elated. Once again, we paused regularly to check through the flocks of Goldcrests and tits on the way back. Two Swallows hawking for insects low over the pines around Washington Hide were another unseasonal surprise, with most of their brethren well on their way to Africa by now.

There had been a Pallas’s Warbler in the trees further along from Lady Anne’s Drive towards Wells during the day, so we thought we might walk that way and try to see it. Unfortunately, the weather started to close in a little on our way back and the light levels dropped early. The trees where the Pallas’s Warbler had been were quiet. It had been a tiring day in the field and energy levels were waning by this stage, so we decided to make our way slowly back. But what a day it had been – 2 Isabelline Shrikes, Olive-backed Pipit and Red-flanked Bluetail amongst others. We needed to leave something for tomorrow!

5th April 2015 – What Do Two Swallows Make?

If one Swallow does not make a summer, what do two Swallows make? A lovely early spring tour in North Norfolk today, Easter Sunday. The weather forecast said it would be grey, overcast and cool all day today – but the skies cleared in the afternoon and it was beautifully sunny, even slightly warm, a great day to be out.

We started at Titchwell. There were already quite a few cars in the car park when we arrived, but the overflow area was still fairly quiet, so we had a quick look round. We could immediately hear a couple of Chiffchaffs singing and then a Bullfinch started calling. As we walked round, we could see it feeding on buds in the top of the sallows, a smart male Bullfinch. It flew further round and we found it again, in a Blackthorn amongst the flowers and emerging bright green leaves. A female Bullfinch was also nearby, and the two called to each other softly as they fed.

P1020449Bullfinch – a pair was feeding in the trees around the car park at Titchwell

A couple of Cetti’s Warblers were also singing from the bushes around the car park, but we didn’t see them (they rarely show themselves – though read on…). A little group of Long-tailed Tits came through, calling. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew west overhead.

We walked out onto the reserve. The Thornham grazing marsh pool is still fairly dry, though with a few puddles after the recent rain. There was not much to see on there today. We were scanning over the mud when one member of the group spotted a shape walk out from the reeds. A Water Rail came right out into the open and poked about in the mud. We got a really good look at it through the scope before it suddenly turned and ran back into the reeds.

IMG_3712Water Rail – on the Thornham grazing marsh pool

It didn’t take us long to find the Red-crested Pochards – a pair were lurking in the first of the dykes across the reedbed. Another three were on the main reedbed pool, with a smart pair right down at the front. A single Great Crested Grebe was at the back of that pool, completing the gaudy selection.

On a smaller and browner note, a Cetti’s Warbler was singing from some brambles in the reedbed. No surprise there, but a quick look in the direction of the noise revealed that it was actually sitting up in a small bare tree growing up through it. It stayed there for ages, dropping down for a second, before climbing back up again (it was still sitting in the same tree when we walked back an hour or so later!). For once, we got a really good look at it in the scope. We could also hear several Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, but they were less obliging – the best we could do was a quick flash as one shot across the reedbed pool.

IMG_3731Cetti’s Warbler – perching up in full view, just for a change

There were birds on the move as we walked out along the main path. A little flock of Starlings flew high over the reserve, heading east. A small group of Carrion Crows also looked like they were on their way somewhere – although we think of them as resident, some do migrate along the coast in the early spring. There was also a steady trickle of Meadow Pipits flying west overhead. Migration is underway and the early birds are on their way.

Marsh Harriers were much in evidence, but were not displaying today. We could hear one calling over the Thornham grazing marsh pool and later saw it circling over the saltmarsh, where it landed in a small Suaeda bush. The pair of Marsh Harriers in the main reedbed were busy nest building, flying back and forth from the reeds along the edge of the freshmarsh, carrying vegetation.

The freshmarsh is looking great now – the water levels have dropped and there are several islands back in view. There were lots of Avocets standing around on them today. A nice mixed group of godwits were roosting on the freshmarsh – giving us a great opportunity to look at the differences between the winter-plumaged Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. Several of the Black-tailed Godwits are now looking very orange, as they are well-advanced in their moult to summer plumage. There were three smaller Knot hiding amongst them. Belying their ‘proper’ name of Red Knot, they were all still looking very grey!

P1020502Black-tailed Godwit – some are now getting very orange

There were other waders to see as well. A couple of Turnstone were skulking on the islands and two Grey Plover were asleep nearby. A pair of Oystercatcher had taken occupation of a loose pile of old bricks on one of the islands and a Snipe attempting to hide next to them was not very well camouflaged! A couple of Ruff and a much smaller Reeve were working their way round the edges – one of the males was much more advanced in moult, with lots of rufous tiger-striped feathers in its upperparts. A close group of about twenty Redshank was bathing off one of the spits and a couple of Greenshank suddenly dropped in with them. They joined in the bathing for a while, before flying off calling noisily.

The number of ducks seems to have dropped a bit, like the water levels. There were still quite a few Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler, but fewer than in recent weeks. Large flocks of Brent Geese were still out in Thornham Harbour and over towards Brancaster, and some of them dropped into the reserve. However, the surprise was finding a couple of Pink-footed Geese on the top of the bank around the freshmarsh – most of them left in February!

P1020520Gadwall – mostly sleeping today

The Volunteer Marsh was rather quiet today. On the tidal pools, we stopped to admire a pair of Pintail, though they were a little more distant today. A pair of Avocet were feeding by the path. Out on the beach, the tide was on its way out. There were several Ringed Plover out on the sand towards Brancaster. The Sanderling were all miles off in that direction at first as well, but a couple of them flew round with some Oystercatcher and Grey Plover and landed on the shoreline in front of us. A tight flock of Dunlin flew west just offshore. The sea was flat calm, but mostly empty apart from three distant Common Scoter and a brief Harbour Porpoise which was even further out.

P1020546Avocet – no write-up is complete without an Avocet photo!

We walked back via the Meadow Trail and a quick detour via Patsy’s Reedbed. There was nothing new out there – another three Red-crested Pochards. But while we were standing there, a Swallow appeared over the water. It didn’t linger, and flew quickly west over the Fen Hide. One Swallow

IMG_3746Red-crested Pochard – lots on the reserve at the moment

When we got back to the car park, it was full – lots of cars and lots of people. We decided to head somewhere quieter for lunch, so drove up to Choseley. The area around the drying barns was quiet, apart from a couple of Yellowhammers, but at least the sun came out as we had lunch. We had a drive round the area, but we couldn’t find any Corn Buntings – they seem to be very thin on the ground this year. There were lots of Brown Hares – at least 30 in one field. And we almost ran over a pair of Grey Partridge which ran across the road.

P1020570Yellowhammer – a couple flew round the hedges as we ate lunch

After lunch, we headed over to Holkham. Lady Anne’s Drive was full almost to bursting, but we still managed to find a space down near the end, as some people had obviously moved on after a morning on the beach. It was quieter walking west inland of the pines, especially once we got beyond Washington Hide. There were more Chiffchaffs singing from the trees, several Goldcrests feeding in the Holm Oaks with a variety of tits and Treecreepers calling. A small group of Siskin were feeding high in the pines by Meals House, presumably waiting for an opportunity to head off back north.

P1020598Goldcrest – feeding in the Holm Oaks by the path

We headed up to Joe Jordan Hide and as soon as we sat down we picked out a single Spoonbill on the front of the pool. We could see it collecting nest material and once it had a bill-full, it flew up into the trees. There didn’t seem to be much more activity – perhaps nest building has already proceeded apace. However, there were other things to look at from the hide.

Lots of Marsh Harriers were circling over the grazing marsh. Scanning though the Greylags and Egyptian Geese, we picked up a few lingering Pink-footed Geese. Two of them clearly were injured, with obviously drooping wings, but the other three showed no signs of injury. Four Jays were probing around on the bank of a ditch – presumably having forgotten where they buried the acorns last autumn! A Stoat was sniffing around amongst the molehills.

We decided to move on to look for migrants in the dunes. A little further on, looking from the track, it was suddenly clear why the Spoonbills were not making themselves visible – we could see two sleeping in the trees.

From up in the edge of the dunes, we scanned the grazing marshes. Far off in the distance, over the Burnham Overy seawall, we could see a raptor circling. Even though we were looking into the sun, it could only be one thing. We could just see its white tail catch the light. There has not been any report of the wintering Rough-legged Buzzard for several days, but it was still present after all. Then it turned towards us and sailed down to one of its favourite fenceposts. Business as usual. Despite the heat haze, we could clearly make out the pale head and blackish belly patch. Surely it can’t be long now before it leaves?

IMG_3756Rough-legged Buzzard – still present after all

We walked on west through the dunes. We had been told about a Wheatear along the fence line, but we couldn’t find it. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and Linnets feeding in the short grass. We got almost to the end of the boardwalk on the seawall, before we ran out of time and had to turn back. As we did, there was the Wheatear, back where it had been before we had looked for it. It was a very smart male. We watched it for some time, running back and forth, before it suddenly disappeared again.

IMG_3780Wheatear – a cracking male in the dunes

While we were looking for the Wheatear, we picked up another Swallow heading west along the top of the dunes. Our second of the day – does that mean it is summer? It certainly felt like spring now, with the sun shining. We were desperately shedding layers, as it started to warm up, in stark contrast to the cold morning.

The walk back was fairly uneventful – the Spoonbills still sleeping in the trees and the tits and Goldcrests still in the pines and Holm Oaks – at least until we got to Lady Anne’s Drive. It had been a surprise not to see a Barn Owl out over the grazing marshes from the dunes, but one was perched on a fence post as we got back. We walked over to look at it and then a second one flew in and landed right next to it – two Barn Owls together. They sat there for some time, giving us great views through the scope, before one flew off along the bank behind. As we watched it fly off, we realised yet another Barn Owl was flying in along the bank from the other direction, with a fourth Barn Owl just behind it. Wow! We stood transfixed as we watched them all hunting in the afternoon sun. A stunning way to end the day.

IMG_3797Barn Owls – two of the four hunting close together today

4th April 2015 – Easter Brecks

A relaxed day in the Brecks today – we had a requirement to go easy on the walking. The weather was grotty on the drive down, with persistent drizzle, but it had dried up by the time we met up, although it remained mostly cloudy and cool through the day.

We started at Lynford Arboretum. As we walked out of the car park, three Marsh Tits were having an argument – the resident pair obviously trying to see off an interloper above our heads. Then a Firecrest started singing behind us. We had a quick look for it, but it worked its way back into the trees away from us. Not to worry – there is no shortage of them at Lynford at the moment!

From the gate, there were four Bramblings feeding on the seed down on the ground as we walked up, a male and three females. The male was much brighter orange on breast and shoulders and had more black on the head, though still extensively fringed with pale brown.

IMG_3687Brambling – one of the females feeding down on the ground

There were plenty of other birds to look at as well. A Nuthatch came down and grapped a sunflower seed from the ground in front of us. A steady stream of tits flew down to the feeders. But there was no immediate sign of any Hawfinches. Then we heard some quiet ‘ticking’ from the trees. Walking a little further up the path and looking back, we could see a male Hawfinch sitting up in the tops. We had just enough time to get everyone on it, but unfortunately not enough time to go back and get the scope, before it flew off into the forest.

P1020389Hawfinch – perched up briefly

We could hear another Firecrest singing from the trees while we were looking for the Hawfinch, and it didn’t take us long to find it. It was fairly high up in some fir trees, but moving around all the time. We followed it round for a while, and eventually got a fairly good look at it – the stripey face and whitish underparts. We were just looking at a picture of it in the field guide when it obviously took offense to the fact that we were not watching it any more. Glancing up and the Firecrest flew into a small tree no more than 2 metres away from us and down at eye level – cracking views. This bird seems to have taken a shine to a local Goldcrest and spent most of its time chasing round after it, singing all the time. The Goldcrest seemed to realise it was not a match made in heaven and kept flying away!

We walked on round the Arboretum. A couple of times we picked up the distinctive call of Hawfinches again, but they were very mobile and elusive in the trees. They have been spending more time feeding on buds and the seeds from fir trees around the Arboretum in recent days. However, there were Firecrests singing everywhere, so it was hard to know how many exactly there were. At one point we had Firecrests singing on either side of us. There were also some very noisy Nuthatches and a Treecreeper which finally perched up for us briefly. And lots of Siskin buzzing around in the tops of the trees.

Heading back round towards the gate, we could hear Hawfinches calling yet again. Then two flew out of the tops of some pine trees and overhead. One disappeared off over the Arboretum, but the other looked like it might be heading towards the gate, so we went over for another look. One male and one female Brambling were still there, but nothing else of note. We decided to move on.

Once again, it wasn’t really Goshawk weather – cold and cloudy, threatening drizzle at times – but we thought we would have a look anyway. We drove deep into the Forest and set off to walk along a ride. At the first clearing we came to, a Woodlark flew up and circled round calling, giving us a great view of its distinctive short-tailed silhouette. Then it landed in the top of a tree in the middle and we got it in the scope, noting its striking pale supercilium. Further on, we could hear another Woodlark singing, and a Skylark too. A pair of Mistle Thrushes flew up into the trees.

The weather brightened a little and we even saw a patch of blue sky, but there was still no raptor activity, not even a Common Buzzard nor a Kestrel. Then the dark clouds blew over again, so we decided not to hang around. On the walk back, a single Common Buzzard flew low over the treetops.

We called in at Weeting Heath next – after our walk, it seemed to offer the perfect combination of a hide close to the car park. On the way to the hide, we stopped to admire a Long-tailed Tit nest under construction on an ivy covered pine tree next to the path.

P1020393Long-tailed Tit nest

The Stone Curlews have returned now – two pairs, apparently – but there was no sign of them when we arrived. We sat in the hide and scanned. There were lots of Lapwing and lots of Rabbits! A Common Buzzard perched up in the trees at the back. We were just about to give up when a Stone Curlew appeared. It had obviously been sitting down in a dip in the ground and we hadn’t been able to see it. Even standing up it was well camouflaged and did a reasonably impression of a stone or a Rabbit! It disappeared and then another Stone Curlew appeared from the other side of the dip and stood preening. When it sat down again, it all but disappeared from view once more.

IMG_3701Stone Curlew – doing its best to hide from us out on the grass

After lunch, we headed over to Lakenheath Fen. There were lots of birds around the feeders by the visitor centre – particularly lots of Reed Buntings again. We didn’t have time to explore the whole reserve, but we headed over to the Washland viewpoint. On the way, a Chiffchaff was singing from the sallows and a Cetti’s Warbler was answering, rather loudly, from the reeds.

P1020423Reed Bunting – still lots around the feeders by the visitor centre

The water level on Hockwold Washes has risen considerably after the recent rains, and there was much less mud around the edges than in the last couple of weeks. There were very few egrets out on the water today – none to start with, then a single Little Egret flew in to the river bank in front of us and finally two more arrived at the back of the Washes. But there was no sign of the Great White Egret again – they seem to be getting rather elusive, hopefully an indication they may be up to something!

There were lots of ducks out on the Washes – Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler and Tufted Duck, but no sign of the Garganey today. There were plenty of Mute Swans too, but no others. A single Oystercatcher flew in – the only wader. The Great Crested Grebes were nice – looking splendid now in their full breeding finery. A pair or two was out on the Washes and another pair swam past along the river. Cracking birds.

IMG_3703Great Crested Grebe – always a crowd pleaser, but not dancing today

While we were standing there, we could hear the distinctive ‘tchak-tchak’ call of a Fieldfare and, looking up, a flock of around 60 were flying east along the river overhead. There were a couple of smaller Redwings in with them as well. Presumably on their way back to Scandinavia. A chunky-looking pipit flew up briefly from the front edge of the Washes and dropped straight back down out of view – possibly one of the Water Pipits which has been seen in recent days. However, the highlight was a single Swallow which flew west over the Washes and along the river. Out first of the year – does that make it summer yet?

After a relaxing hour or two, we had time and just about enough strength left in limbs for one last walk. We drove back into the Forest and parked up by the usual ride. As soon as we reached the clearing, we could see the Great Grey Shrike perched up on a line of old tree stumps. It dropped down a couple of times, returning to the same perch or one nearby. We got a great look at it in the scope, such a striking bird. We walked round to the far side of the clearing and found a male Stonechat perched up on a stump. Then we turned to look for the shrike again, but it had disappeared. Unfortunately, then it was time to call it a day, after a gentle walk back to the car.

IMG_3708Great Grey Shrike – still out in its usual clearing