Tag Archives: Swallowtail

15th June 2019 – Birds & Butterflies, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Summer Tours looking for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. It was bright and sunny, with patchy high cloud for most of the morning, but cloudier and cooler as the breeze picked up a little in the afternoon. We made our way down to The Broads for the day.

As we set off, we hadn’t gone far when we spotted a Little Owl in the window opening of an old barn. We pulled up a discrete distance away but before we could get out it had disappeared inside. The rest of the journey down to the Broads was fairly quiet, the only bird of real note being a Grey Wagtail which flew up from the side of the road at one point.

Early reports suggested that the Lesser Grey Shrike which has spent the last week along the Nelson Head track at Horsey was still present this morning, so we headed straight round there first. A Swallow was singing from under the eaves of the Nelson Head pub.

Swallow

Swallow – singing under the eaves of the pub

As we walked down the road, a Common Whitethroat was singing from an oak tree in the hedge on the edge of one of the fields. There were small flocks of Linnets flying in and out of another oilseed rape field, feeding on the seeds. We took the track out towards the dunes and several Skylarks towered up into the blue sky, probably making the most of it after the last week’s rain. A Reed Warbler sang from a reedy ditch by the path, but remained mostly out of view, even though we could see the reeds moving. A male Reed Bunting perched on some brambles was singing too, as best it could!

There were a few people gathered already this morning, looking at the Lesser Grey Shrike, so we joined them. The bird was out at the back of a grassy meadow with scattered bushes. It was perched on a branch low on the edge of a clump of sallows at first, so we got it in the scope. We could see its black mask extending up over its forehead and the pink flush to its breast. It was very active, flying between bushes and sallying out over the grass for insects.

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike – feeding from the bushes out in the meadow

Lesser Grey Shrike is a scarce visitor to the UK from south-eastern Europe, with on average only 1-2 seen each year. We stood and watched it for a few minutes, before it flew round behind a large area of bushes and we lost sight of it. A Hobby shot through low over the grass, hunting dragonflies. We decided to walk on to the dunes.

There has been an invasion of Painted Lady butterflies from the continent in the last few days and there were lots here this morning. Everywhere we looked over the grassy meadows, we could see them flying round. Along the edge of the path, there were small groups feeding on any nectar-bearing flowers that were open. An impressive sight to see so many here.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – there has been an invasion from the continent

Further along the path, the verges were lined with several clumps of purple Southern Marsh Orchids coming into flower. A Curlew flew high overhead calling, heading south. Amazing to think, but the first waders are already coming back after the breeding season further north and there have been a few Curlews on the move in recent days. Their summer is over already, just as ours is hopefully beginning!

We carried on out to the dunes and climbed up to the top to look at the sea. There were a few gulls offshore and a Grey Seal diving just off the groynes. We had a quick scan from up here but there were lots of small beetles buzzing around in clouds which started to get in people’s hair, so we decided to make our way back.

We were just about to descend when we noticed a Hobby, possibly the one we had seen earlier, hawing for insects low over the top of the dunes just to our right. It came along the line of the dunes towards us, then shot fast and low down over the grassy slope right below us, catching something low over the grass and then coming back up to eat it as it passed.

Hobby

Hobby – flew past us catching insects low over the dunes

As we made our way back to the track, a pair of Stonechats were on the fence. They flicked off ahead of us, landing each time a bit further along. The male flashed a bright white rump as it flew – a characteristic more typical of continental Stonechats rather than the darker British race hibernans. The taxonomic status of the Stonechats on the coast here is uncertain and it is possible that continental rubicola Stonechats intergrade with hibernans here.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male flashed a bold white rump as it flew

The Lesser Grey Shrike had come out again and was now feeding along a fence line across the fields, repeatedly sallying out from a dead stem and returning to the same perch. It attracted the attentions of the Stonechat and a Reed Bunting here, which perched close by, the Stonechat chasing after it at one point. The Lesser Grey Shrike seemed to take little notice.

On the way back to the minibus, we stopped to help a Garden Tiger moth caterpillar off the path and rescue a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly from a puddle. A pair of Common Whitethroats was carrying food in and out of the hedge and a Greenfinch was wheezing from the top of an ash tree.

We headed round to Potter Heigham next. As we made our way in along the track, there were lots of dragonflies zooming around between the reeds, Norfolk Hawkers and Black-tailed Skimmers. A pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grazing meadows. We could see a Spoonbill on the back of one of the pools, busy feeding with its head down and moving its bill quickly from side to side through the shallow water. The next pool had a large area of exposed mud in the middle. Several Lapwing were on here, including a good number of well-grown juveniles. A Little Ringed Plover was lurking in between two sleeping Shelducks.

At the end of the track, we climbed up onto the bank. Our main target for the day was Swallowtail butterfly and as we came through the trees one shot past us over the tops of the reeds. We saw several as we walked along here, but they were all flying fast and none were showing any signs of settling. The brambles and thistles are not in flower yet this year, so there are not so many sources of nectar here for them to feed on. Still, it was a good start.

We stopped to scan the pools on the corner from up on the bank. Two Spoonbills and two Little Egrets were standing on the grassy bank at the back. We had a good look at the Spoonbills in the scope, two immatures. After a while, they took off and flew round, landing back out of view on one of the other pools, presumably to feed. A Chinese Water Deer ran round the bank on the edge of the water.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – there were two immature birds on the pool on the corner

There was a good selection of ducks, most of the drakes already starting to moult into their duller eclipse plumage. As well as the regular Mallard, Shoveler and Gadwall, a single drake Wigeon was standing on the bank among the Greylag Geese. We could see a couple of Great Crested Grebes in the edge of the reeds at the back and a pair of Little Grebes diving in the floating vegetation in the middle.

Scanning carefully, we found a drake Garganey too. It was asleep at first, but we could still see the bold pale stripes on the sides of its head. A second drake Garganey flew in and landed on the water nearby. It was further advanced in its moult, and a lot duller than the first. It swam over to the bank and walked over to the other one, waking it up. The two Garganey then walked higher up the bank and went to sleep together.

Garganey

Garganey – the two drakes sleeping on the bank

We walked a short distance further along the bank. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds ahead of us and we could see its bold pale supercilium. A Willow Warbler and a Blackcap were both singing in the scattered trees along the bank. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reeds. Several Avocets and Common Terns flew in and out of the pools and a male Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds.

It was getting on for lunchtime now, so we decided to turn back. There were a few small blue damselflies in the vegetation along the edge of the path, and we picked out one Variable Damselfly amongst them. There were a few more butterflies along the lower track – as well as the ever-present Painted Ladys, there were several Red Admirals but no sign of any more Swallowtails. A Drinker moth caterpillar was on a dead reed stem overhanging the track. A pair of Stock Doves were flying round the old tin shed.

It clouded over as we drove round to Strumpshaw Fen, but thankfully the darkest of the clouds passed away to the west. As we walked across the road from the overflow car park, we could hear a Cuckoo calling in the trees nearby. We sat out on the picnic tables by Reception to eat our lunch. It was showing signs of trying to brighten up, but the wind had picked up a bit too. We decided to walk round to the ‘Doctor’s garden’, where it would be more sheltered, to see if there were any butterflies out there.

A couple of Bullfinches called from the trees as we walked along the track and as we got to the garden there were several dragonflies flying round bushes opposite. As well as a couple of Norfolk Hawkers, a couple of Scarce Chasers were perched on the brambles. The flowers in the garden were covered in Painted Ladys – we counted at least 20 in the two small patches by the track – but there were no Swallowtails at first. We decided to wait, as the sun came out at that point, and it wasn’t too long before a Swallowtail flew in and joined the Painted Ladys nectaring on the Dianthus.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail – nectaring on Dianthus

The Swallowtail was not the smartest individual, having sustained some damage and lots its ‘swallow tails’, but it was still good to get a close look at one. There were several Brimstones around the garden too, including a pair which were engaged in courtship flight. When the Swallowtail eventually flew off, we headed back round by the Reception and out onto the reserve.

It had clouded over again now, so there were not as many insects out as earlier now. We had a quick look at the Common Twayblades on the edge of the trees and stopped to watch a Bank Vole which climbed up into an elder and was feeding on the flowers. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flew through the bushes. There were a few damselflies in the vegetation around the pool at the start of Meadow Trail, including Large Red and another Variable alongside the commoner Azure Damselflies. A Marsh Click Beetle was perched on the top of a broken dead reed stem.

The wind was catching the bushes out along Sandy Wall and there was not so much to see out here. We did find a single Large Skipper in a sheltered spot and someone brought over a Buff-tip moth they had just found, to show us. A Willow Warbler was singing, appropriately, in the willows and a Reed Warbler from down in the reeds.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – sheltering from the wind in the brambles

Fen Hide can often be quiet, but we decided to have a quick look just in case. It was nice just sitting there listening to the wind in the reeds. A Marsh Harrier was perched in the top of one of the trees out in the middle of the reedbed, and several Common Swifts were zooming back and forth low over the reeds, but there were few other birds here.

We had just got up to leave when someone else in the hide announced ‘I think I’ve got a Bittern‘. A quick scan confirmed there was indeed a Bittern, which had just climbed into the top of the reeds in front of the hide. It was tucked down in amongst the reeds at first and harder to see. It ruffled its feathers and had a shake, then stretched its neck up out of the reeds to look around, at which point it was much easier to get onto.

Bittern 1

Bittern – climbed up into the top of the reeds in front of Fen Hide

The Bittern stayed in the top of the reeds, looking around for a few minutes. It seemed like it was getting ready to fly, checking that the coast was clear first. Then suddenly it was off, labouring up heavily clear of the reeds and then disappearing off back away from us over the reedbed.

Bittern 2

Bittern – eventually took off and flew back away over the reedbed

That was a great way to finish off our day in the Broads, so we made our way back to the minibus, for the long drive back. We were almost home when we spotted the Little Owl in the window of the same old barn where we had seen it perched earlier. This time, it stayed put when we stopped, but disappeared inside again before we could all get out.

Nightjar Evening

After a break to relax and get something to eat, we set off again in the evening. We drove back round to where we had seen the Little Owl and third time lucky, got a better look at it. It was more active now, out hunting around the barns. It flew and landed on one edge, right next to the road, as we drove up, but flew back and landed on the edge of the roof. We stopped a discrete distance away and got out, getting a good look at it before it flew again and disappeared round the far side. We got back in the minibus and drove slowly past. The Little Owl was perched on a low wall just beyond the barns and we had a really good look at it from the bus.

Little Owl

Little Owl – we finally got a better look at it this evening

Our next target was Barn Owl, so we drove down towards the coast and round by an area that they usually like to hunt. There was no sign of any here, so we parked and set off down along a track through the marshes. It was cloudier here than it had been inland, and there was a fresh breeze blowing. A Red Kite was perched on a post. We flushed a Grey Partridge from the track, which flew out and landed on the grazing meadows. We got it in the scope and could see its orange face as it stood in the grass calling.

We heard Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ from the reeds behind us, and turned to see two juveniles climbing up into the tops. We had some great views of them as we stood and watched over the next few minutes, as the looked for food in the top of the reeds. Two more juveniles flew in and joined them, but the when the adult male flew in it dropped straight down into the reeds out of view.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – one of the juveniles in the reeds this evening

There was no sign of any owls out here, so we turned to go. As we walked back to the minibus, we spotted a Barn Owl flying through the bushes the other side of the road. It was carrying prey and disappeared into the trees. A few seconds later it was back out again – it clearly had young to feed in a nest somewhere in there. It did well to catch something else almost immediately, and went back up into the trees again. When it flew back out, we drove round to the area where it appeared to be hunting. There was no sign of the male Barn Owl but a female flew back past us heading for the nest.

We needed to get a move on now, or we would late for the evening’s main event. We headed inland to one of the heaths to look for Nightjars. With the cloud tonight, it was getting dark quickly as we walked out to the middle. The first Nightjar of the evening started churring in the trees.

A squeaky call alerted to a Woodcock overhead. We turned to see it flying past, with rhythmic beats of its wings, roding. We would see it or another Woodcock several times this evening, flying over in this distinctive display flight.

We were had just arrived at the territory of one of the Nightjars when it started churring in the top of an oak tree right ahead of us, beside the path. Unfortunately it was on the far side from us, and when we started to walk round it flew, dropping off the branch with its wings raised, before flying out into the middle of the heath. We could still hear it churring in the distance.

We stood hear and listened for a while – then the Nightjar flew back in right past us. We thought it might be heading for another of its favourite churring posts, but instead a second Nightjar appeared, the female. The two of them flew round just above our heads calling. They did this several times, drifting away before coming back in for another look. The female disappeared but the male came in again, right over our heads, hanging in the air at times with its wings raised and tail fanned, flashing its white wing and tail patches. Amazing to watch!

The male Nightjar then flew up into a nearby oak tree and started churring again. Through a gap in the leaves we could see it perched on a branch, silhouetted against the last of the light, and we got it in the scope. Then it dropped out of the tree and flew out across the heath again. It started to spit with some very light rain now – which was not in the forecast! We stood and listened to it churring from some trees in the distance, then the male came in and flew round past us once more. The light was going fast, so we decided to call it a night.

As we walked back to the minibus, two more Nightjars had started churring further over. We had a brief glimpse of one silhouetted against the sky as it flew past. Back at the car park, yet another Nightjar was churring across the road and a Tawny Owl was hooting away in the distance.

 

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10th June 2017 – Broads Birds, Butterflies & More

A private group tour today down in the Norfolk Broads. It was to be a day spent looking for birds, butterflies and dragonflies plus the odd orchid or two, a nice mixture of general wildlife. The day started cloudy but brightened up nicely and was bright and sunny with blue skies in the afternoon, even if the wind did pick up during the day again.

Our first destination was Potter Heigham. We were particularly hoping to see the Black-winged Stilts which have nested here, but it is possible to see a very good variety of different species here at the moment. As we made our way down along the access road, two Spoonbills were on one of the pools, the first of quite a few we would see here.

As we climbed up onto the bank, we could hear a couple of Reed Warblers singing. We eventually got a good look at one through the scope, perched up in the reeds. Along the river bank, there were a couple of Sedge Warblers singing too, which gave us a great opportunity to listen to the differences between them. One Sedge Warbler showed very nicely in front of us, so we could see its striking off white supercilium, very different from the plain face of the Reed Warbler. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the bushes but typically didn’t show itself.

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – singing from the reeds just ahead of us

Walking round the reeds, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. It seemed unlikely we would see one perched up today, with a fresh breeze blowing, but we had a good look each time called nonetheless. Then two tawny brown long-tailed shapes flicked up into the top of the reeds and stayed there just long enough for us all to get a quick look at them. A pair of Bearded Tits. The male was closest to us and slightly higher up the reeds, so we could see its powder blue head and black moustache.

There were a few hairy Garden Tiger moth caterpillars on the path again this morning – we had to keep one eye on the ground to avoid standing on them. A little later, we saw a Jackdaw on a post trying to eat one. It clearly did not want to eat the hairs, so was trying to pull it apart but appeared to be struggling.

We walked quickly round to where the Black-winged Stilts have been and immediately located one standing in the shallow water on the edge of one of the islands. We got it in the scope and had a look at it. However, it was immediately clear this was not one of the pair, but instead a lone male which has been hanging around the site too, with a black (rather than brown-tinged) mantle but lacking the black on the head of the breeding male. Still, it was a smart bird and a great start.

Black-winged StiltBlack-winged Stilt – we found the lone male first this morning

Just a short walk further along, we found the pair of Black-winged Stilts on a muddy island. At first, the female was looking after the chicks and the male was feeding nearby, before they switched roles and the male took over parenting duties. Black-winged Stilts are not particularly attentive parents, and the tiny juveniles, less than 3 days old were left to wander round the island and feed for themselves. They were quite hard to see in the cut reed stems but looking carefully through the scope, we got a good look at them.

Black-winged StiltsBlack-winged Stilts – the male standing guard, with 2 of the 4 juvs nearby (circled)

The adult Black-winged Stilts would fly up occasionally if a potential predator was detected coming overhead, a Marsh Harrier or a Lesser Black-backed Gull for instance. The Marsh Harriers made several passes over the pools and at one point a female surprised a couple of Coots in the water as it came low over a line of reeds. It looked like it was going to dive after one and hovered over the water for a second, but the Coots saw it at the last minute and managed to escape.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – thinking about attacking a Coot

While we were busy watching the Black-winged Stilts, a shout from a small group of birders further along the path alerted us to a bird flying across in the distance. We thought it was going to be a Bittern at first, but looked up to see it was a Night Heron. There has been a young (1st summer) Night Heron here for the past couple of days, but it had only been seen at dusk as it emerges from the trees where it roosts during the day. It was therefore a nice surprise to see it during the day. We watched as it dropped away from us over the trees.

On the next pool along, we found three Spoonbills. They were doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! Occasionally, one would wake up long enough to flash its spoon shaped bill. We stood here for a while, and gradually more Spoonbills flew in from the direction of Hickling Broad, in small groups, and landed with them. Eventually we got up to twelve Spoonbills all together, but later as we walked back to the car, another one flew in so there were possibly 13 today in total.

SpoonbillsSpoonbills – another five flying in to the pools at Potter Heigham

All the Spoonbills all appeared to be immature birds, some in their first summer with still extensively fleshy-coloured bills, but others older with yellow-tipped black bills. However, all lacked the full crest of a summer adult and the yellow-brown wash on the breast, or had black in the tips of their wings, which indicated they were still not mature. There were lots of Little Egrets here too, plus a couple of Grey Herons.

Black-winged Stilts and Night Herons are both more southerly European species which have overshot on their way north in the spring. Together with all the Spoonbills and Little Egrets, it gave a real Mediterranean feel to the birding at Potter Heigham this morning. All of which is presumably an indication of our changing climate.

There were not many other waders here this morning, apart from the breeding birds. A lone Ruff was the only wader which doesn’t breed here. As well as the Black-winged Stilts, there were plenty of breeding Avocets, plus Lapwings and a few Redshanks. A few Common Terns were nesting too and flying in and out. We also saw both Great Crested Grebe and Little Grebe on the pools here.

We had been hoping to see one the Garganey which have been lingering here this summer but all our scanning failed to locate one on our way round. There were plenty of other ducks – a single Wigeon, a few Teal and Shoveler, lots of Gadwall and a few Tufted Ducks. A female Common Pochard had a couple of ducklings following her. There were plenty of geese too – Greylags, Canada Geese and a couple of Egyptian Geese. As we turned to walk back, we spotted a drake Garganey flying in and it landed on the island with the Spoonbills. We got a nice look at it through the scopes before it went to sleep.

GarganeyGarganey – flew in and landed between the Spoonbills

The Norfolk Hawker is one of the rarer UK dragonflies, largely restricted in its distribution to the Norfolk Broads and neighbouring parts of Suffolk. So it was great to see one flying up and down the river bank here. It landed briefly, but tucked itself down in the vegetation out of the wind. In the end, we would see quite a few of them today, but this was the only one which stopped long enough for us to get a close look at it.

Norfolk HawkerNorfolk Hawker – landed in the vegetation along the river bank

Back at the car, we had a quick a quick look amongst the cattle on the approach road to see if we could see the Cattle Egret which has been here on and off for a few days, but there was no sign of it. There are lots of cows on the marshes all round here, and it seems possible this bird wanders further afield during the day, as it appears to be seen here mostly early and later in the day.

With an hour or so to spare before lunch, we had a quick walk out from Potter Heigham church and along Weaver’s Way. We could hear a Yellowhammer singing from the hedge further along the road, as we turned off along the footpath. There were lots of dragonflies here, hunting in the shelter of the hedges or basking on the bare ground out of the wind. We saw our first Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-Spotted Chasers of the day.

Walking through the wood, we could hear Blackcap and Willow Warbler singing from the trees. Lots of Azure Damselflies were flying around the edge of the ditch on the far side. Another Norfolk Hawker was hawking up and down along the edge of the footpath along the bank. A Hairy Dragonfly perched up nicely for us, hanging on the leaf of a reed stem at the edge of the path, despite the wind.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – the distinctive hairs on the thorax just visible

We had a quick look out over Hickling Broad, which revealed only a few Mute Swans in the distance and a single pair of Great Crested Grebe. Rush Hill Scrape looked similarly rather quiet today. A Marsh Harrier quartered over the reeds.

We had come here hoping to see our first Swallowtail butterfly of the day, as we figured this part of the reedbed might be more sheltered from the wind. There were very few butterflies at first along the path, until we found a couple of Small Tortoiseshells feeding on the brambles. We continued on past Rush Hill Scrape and finally found a Swallowtail. It flew in and landed on the brambles close to us, feeding on the flowers. It was keeping well down out of the wind, which hampered the photographic efforts, but we all got a great look at it.

Swallowtail 1Swallowtail – our first of the day, feeding on bramble flowers

Swallowtails are restricted in the UK to the Norfolk Broads and with only a short flight season from May to early July, this is the only time and place to see them. A must see at this time of year! With that one in the bag, we headed back to the car and round to Hickling village for a pub lunch.

After lunch, we made our way over to Upton Fen. This is a particularly good site for dragonflies but we were also hoping to see some orchids. We quickly started to find lots of purple Southern Marsh Orchids and paler Common Spotted Orchids, with their distinctive leaf spots. But there are also some confusing hybrids here – these two species readily mix – so we didn’t stop and look too closely!

Southern Marsh OrchidSouthern Marsh Orchid – common around the Fen

This site is known as one of the few places in the UK where you can see the very rare Fen Orchid. Most of the area where these flowers are found is now fenced off, but we eventually located a single Fen Orchid outside the fence. They are very small and not especially striking orchids at the best of times, but this was not a particularly good example either. The non-orchid enthusiasts in the group were perhaps a little underwhelmed and more impressed with the commoner orchids here!

Fen OrchidFen Orchid – not the best example of this rare species

It was bright and sunny now, and warm, so there was not much bird activity. We heard the occasional Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing in the trees. We thought we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling in the distance, but it was very hard to hear over the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. We made our way along a path towards it and eventually got to spot where we could hear its distinctive song. But the path ran out and it was presumably keeping low down out of the wind, so we couldn’t get near enough to even try to see it.

There were several Swifts hawking low over the open Fen, trying to find insects out of the wind. A Hobby made a quick pass up and down over the edge of the trees. When we got out of the trees and onto the marshes beyond, we could see a could of Marsh Harriers quartering. Then we turned to head back, with a Stock Dove on the wires the most notable bird on the way.

Much of the Fen was rather quiet today, as far as dragonflies were concerned, perhaps because of the wind. We did see a few more Norfolk Hawkers on our travels. However, the highlight was a single Brown Hawker on the walk back along a sheltered path between lines of trees, its golden brown wings glowing in the afternoon sun.

We finished off the day with a quick visit to How Hill on our way back. We were hoping to get better photos of Swallowtails here, but the highlight was probably a Hobby which was hawking over the trees and marshes by the river, passing right over our heads at one point.

HobbyHobby – great views of this one hunting at How Hill this afternoon

There were just a few butterflies on the brambles here at first, several Small Tortoiseshells and a single Large Skipper, which was a new one for the day. A pair of Banded Demoiselles perched in the nettles added to our damselfly list. We had almost got to the end of the path when we spotted two Swallowtails. It was rather windy here and they were very mobile, but eventually came and gave us great close views.

Swallowtail 2Swallowtail – we saw two more at How Hill this afternoon

It was a fitting way to end a day in the Broads with this iconic Broadland species, so we made our way back to the car.

 

8th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Private Tour. With more autumn migrants seen in East Norfolk yesterday, we decided to head over that way today to see what we could catch up with. It was a glorious warm, sunny day – great weather to be out birding.

Winterton Dunes was our first port of call. There had been a Red-backed Shrike seen here yesterday and we were keen to try to catch up with it. There was no news as we drove down but thankfully as we started walking north through the dunes, a message came through to say that it was still present.

6o0a0520Small Heath – there were lots of butterflies out in the dunes

There was plenty to see as we walked along. In the sunshine, there were lots of butterflies out, as well as the regular species we saw a good number of Small Heath and Grayling. The dragonflies were also enjoying the weather, with loads of Common Darters and a few Migrant Hawkers too. A Whinchat appeared in the top of a bush in the dunes as we passed.

6o0a0517Grayling – also plentiful in the dunes today

We eventually got to the area where the Red-backed Shrike had been. As we walked up along the path, there was no immediate sign of it, but when we turned to walk back we found that it had reappeared behind us in the bushes right by the path! We were looking into the sun, so when it disappeared again back into the bushes, we tried to work our way back round the other side, but it had moved again.

At least we knew where the Red-backed Shrike was now and it didn’t take us long to find the bush it was favouring. Positioning ourselves, we were then treated to some stunning views as it perched on a branch. It kept dropping down to the ground below and flying back up. A couple of times we saw it return with prey – first a moth, then a beetle. Fantastic stuff!

img_6415Red-backed Shrike – we had great views of this juvenile in the dunes

When the Red-backed Shrike caught the beetle, it flew back to a clump of brambles just beyond. We were watching it perched on the top when it suddenly dropped down into cover. A couple of seconds later, we saw why. A Hobby was flying low over the ground, straight towards the bush and straight towards us! At the last minute, it saw us standing there and veered away to our left. What a cracking view!

Having enjoyed such good views of the shrike, we turned to make our way back. There were now two Hobbys hawking for insects over the trees, calling. A Marsh Harrier circled up too, and a couple of Common Buzzards. We walked over across the dunes to have a quick look at the sea, which produced a distant juvenile Gannet flying past and a few Cormorants.

On the walk back, we found a couple more Whinchats, on the fence around one of the natterjack pools. We came across a couple of pairs of Stonechats too. There was a steady stream of Swallows passing through over the dunes, on their way south.

When we got to the road, rather than head back to the car park, we crossed over and continued on into the South Dunes. At the first trees we came to, we could hear a Willow Warbler calling. It was very agitated at first, because there was a Sparrowhawk in the same sallow, although it flew off when we arrived. We watched as it flitted through to a nearby holly tree.

6o0a0527Willow Warbler – calling in the trees

It was getting rather hot now, particularly as we were more sheltered here from the cooling breeze. It felt like we might need a bit of luck to find some migrants, but we persevered. A small bird flew along the edge of the path in front of us and landed in the bushes, pumping its tail. A Redstart, a nice migrant to find, we had a good look at it in the scope.

img_6432Redstart – flew along the edge of the path ahead of us

We walked on a little further but, apart from a couple of Chiffchaffs, it seemed pretty quiet. As we turned back, we decided to walk through the trees in the middle of the valley and as we turned a corner, a Pied Flycatcher flicked across into a small tree in front of us. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop long and dropped quickly out the back out of view. As we walked further along, it flew again, into a larger group of oak trees.

When we got up to the oaks, there was no sign of the Pied Flycatcher, but as we walked through the trees a Spotted Flycatcher appeared instead. This was much more obliging – after flitting around deep in the tree at first, it came out onto a branch right in front of us, giving us stunning views. That rounded off an excellent selection of migrants in the Dunes.

img_6499Spotted Flycatcher – another migrant in the dunes

After lunch back at the car park, we headed over to Strumpshaw Fen for the afternoon. The lone Black Swan was on the pool by the Reception Hide as usual. Otherwise, there were lots of Gadwall and Mallard on here and a single Grey Heron. In the heat of the afternoon, the trees were quiet, so we made our way straight round to Tower Hide.

We had been told the hide was really busy today, but when we got there we had it to ourselves. It didn’t take long to find the Glossy Ibis, which has been here for over two weeks now. It looked thoroughly at home, wading around in the water with its head down, feeding. The light was perfect, really showing off the iridescent green gloss on its wings.

img_6530Glossy Ibis – looking very glossy indeed in the afternoon sunlight

There were lots of geese and ducks out on the water, or sleeping around the margins. The mob of Greylag Geese included a couple of white ‘farmyard’ geese. The ducks were predominantly Teal, Shoveler and Mallard. We had a careful scan through them at first for a Garganey, but it was only when a noisy Grey Heron flew over and flushed all the sleeping ducks out of the reeds and onto the water that we found one. The Garganey then showed really well and we got a great look at its boldly marked face pattern.

img_6541Garganey – showed really well once flushed out by a passing Grey Heron

There was a nice selection of waders here too. A limping Ruff was hobbling about on the mud right in front of the hide, but several more able bodied birds were feeding over towards the back. Nearby, we found three Common Snipe out on the open mud and with them a single Green Sandpiper. Then a Water Rail appeared out on the open mud too, which was really good to see.

The hide had filled up now, so having seen all we wanted to, we were just about to leave when someone asked us if the small birds on the mud next to the Snipe were Bearded Tits. We put the scope down again and sure enough they were – two juvenile Bearded Tits feeding out on the edge of the reeds.

A quick look in Fen Hide didn’t produce many birds of note, but we did see a Chinese Water Deer which walked out of the reeds onto one of the cut areas. On the walk back, we did see lots more butterflies and dragonflies. The highlight was a late second brood Swallowtail which flew over the path and landed on a branch above our heads briefly, before disappearing back towards the reedbed. As well as the regular dragonflies, we also came across several Willow Emerald Damselflies. These are now regular feature here at this time of year, although a very recent colonist having first been seen in this country only as recently as 2007.

6o0a0611Willow Emerald – we saw several of these damselflies at Strumpshaw today

Then it was back to the Reception Hide for a well deserved cold drink and an ice cream before heading for home.

24th June 2015 – Broads Birds & Butterflies

A Private Tour today, the first day of a five day programme put together for a US client, a mixture of private and scheduled group days. Given the planned itinerary for the regular weekend tours, we headed down to the Broads today.

We started at Hickling Broad. The car park was alive with tits, finches and warblers – Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. A nice gentle introduction to birding in Europe.

Rather than head to the hides first, we decided to see if the family of Eurasian Cranes was in their usual fields. We could see a head briefly, distantly in the taller reeds at the back, but they were not really playing ball today. So we decided to walk on and come back later in the morning. As we headed out across the reserve, suddenly two Cranes appeared over the path ahead of us and we watched them fly and glide slowly towards the Broad. We got great flight views, and we could hear them bugling as they disappeared.

P1030144Crane – these two flew over in front of us today

The trees along the side of the track were alive with birds. A big mixed tit flock passed through – lots of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits, together with Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. As we walked up to the oak tree they had gone into, we discovered that in their place was a pair of Yellowhammers, looking for caterpillars in the foliage. We could hear a Whitethroat alarm calling in the trees as well – a female carrying food was too wary of our presence at first to fly down to its nest in some brambles.

P1030162Yellowhammer – a pair were feeding in an oak tree

We had not gone much further when three Brown Hares ran out of the grass and proceeded to chase each other around on the track in front of us. One disappeared again but, even though it is now the end of June, the other two started ‘boxing’. Quite a sight – mad as a June hare!?

P1030167Brown Hares – boxing in June

We spent a bit of time in Bittern Hide, but unfortunately there was no sign of its namesake today. We did see several Eurasian Hobbys hawking for insects over the reedbed. There were also several Marsh Harriers up, and we saw both a food-pass and a male displaying, sky-dancing and calling. Great action. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, and saw the back end of a couple of birds disappearing into the reeds.

Along the bank by the Broad, there were lots of warblers singing. We could hear both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers and it was good to note the differences in song between the two. We also heard our first Cetti’s Warblers, shouting from the bushes beside us but doing their usual playing hard to get. The Sedge Warblers were most obliging, perching up in full view and songflighting. We heard more Bearded Tits as well and saw one come up out of the reeds.

IMG_6085Sedge Warbler – singing from a nice obvious perch in the reedbed

We had seen a few Swallowtails already, on our walk round, but as we got back almost to the Cadbury Hide the Marsh Thistles were alive with them, we lost count of how many. Such stunning butterflies and such a privilege to see them, particularly as the Broads is the only place Swallowtails are found in the UK (and the only place the British subspecies is found).

P1030282P1030261Swallowtail butterflies – put on a great display again today

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the reserve as well today. We saw several of the other local speciality, Norfolk Hawker, lots of Four-spotted Chasers, a couple of Emperor Dragonflies and a single Hairy Dragonfly. Amongst the many Azure Damselflies, we picked out a few Variable Damselflies as well.

P1030140Variable Damselfly – we found a few amongst the more common Azures

It had been quite an action-packed morning, the sun was shining and it was starting to get quite warm, so we made use of one of the picnic tables for an early lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk back along the track to see if the family of Cranes had come out onto the wet meadows. We couldn’t see any sign of them, but while we were walking along two heads appeared in the wheat field on the other side of the road, two Cranes looking slightly incongruous in such a setting. We got a good look at them in the scope, but they were already looking nervous. After a couple of minutes they took off and flew away over the trees, bugling as they went. They were obviously a pair, but presumably not the nesting pair as there was no sign of any juveniles.

IMG_6092Crane – one of two heads which appeared in a wheat field by the track

After that, we headed over to Upton Fen. The birds were a little quiet today, in the muggy early afternoon. We did add a few species to the day’s list – Eurasian Jay, Marsh Tit and a Song Thrush heard singing. However, there was lots of dragonfly action – especially more Norfolk Hawkers. And a few butterflies, including couple of Ringlets which were new for the day.

P1030311Ringlet – we saw a couple at Upton Fen today

There were also lots of orchids as usual. Mostly they were Southern Marsh Orchids in various shades of purple, but we found a small group of Common Spotted Orchids, and several of intermediate appearance (not a surprise, given the propensity of these species to hybridise). We also saw several Fen Orchids, the real speciality here, though a rather under-stated little yellow flower.

P1030319Fen Orchid – not the most striking of the orchids in flower at the moment

Our final stop of the day was at Ranworth. We stopped to look at the first Great Crested Grebes of the day on Malthouse Broad and a pair of Treecreepers appeared in the trees beside us. They were feeding very quietly, climbing up the tree trunks before spiralling down and starting again on the neighbouring tree. House Martins over the village were new for the day and a couple of Mistle Thrushes were hopping around in the grass in the boatyard.

P1030334Treecreeper – a pair were in the trees by Malthouse Broad

Out at Ranworth Broad, the nesting Black-headed Gulls were being very noisy, but we were more interested in the Common Terns. At first, they refused to come near us, flying in and out overhead. However, when it clouded over just a little they suddenly started to land on the posts in front of us. One in particular had caught a rather large fish – for a Common Tern – and spent several minutes trying to swallow it whole.

IMG_6140Common Tern – eventually landed on the posts so we could get a good look

The Great Crested Grebes stole the show. One particular family group was swimming about right by the staithe, including three large stripy-headed juveniles. While small young are often carried on their parents’ backs, these birds had obviously outgrown that privilege. However, that didn’t stop them chasing after one of the adult Great Crested Grebes and trying their luck to see if they could climb aboard. The adult did not seem very impressed.

P1030357Great Crested Grebe – the young too big to ride on mum’s back

There were a few other birds around as well. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly from the bushes, but would not show itself. Amongst the masses of Greylag Geese, we found a few Egyptian Geese as well. A Kingfisher called behind us and we turned round just in time to see it disappear over the trees. Then, with time running out, we headed back to the car.

There was still one last surprise left in the day. As we approached the car park, we stopped to look at the feeders in a garden. Suddenly, next to it in the tree, a Spotted Flycatcher appeared. We watched it swooping out, sallying forth after insects before wheeling back and landing in the tree again. After a little while, we realised that there were actually two Spotted Flycatchers in the same tree, presumably a pair. It was great to stand and watch them feeding, and a lovely way to wrap up the day.

P1030458Spotted Flycatcher – a pair were feeding in a garden today

Looking for Swallowtails & other Butterflies

2014 has been a great year for butterflies. As well as the well-known garden species, we often run into many others on our general tours, but sometimes it is worth going to different areas for specific butterflies.

Swallowtail How Hill 2014-06-23_1Swallowtail – only found in the Norfolk Broads

Swallowtail is the butterfly we are most often asked about. Our largest native butterfly, the British subspecies is restricted to the Norfolk Broads, so it is particularly sought after here. They are a real sight to behold, flying powerfully over the reedbeds or feeding around fenland flowers. June is the best time to see them (flight period is end May to early July, sometimes with a smaller second generation in August), though as with all butterflies sightings are rather weather dependent. I am considering running tours to the Broads in 2015 to try to catch up with this spectacular species, amongst other things, so if you might be interested in coming along, please let me know.

We have seen lots of butterflies on our tours in 2014, so here is a selection of some of the other species we have seen this year. Many species of fritillary used to be much more abundant, but changing land use and in particular the demise of traditional woodland coppicing has seen most disappear. Only two species are know found in Norfolk. The Dark Green Fritillary continues to thrive in the dunes of the North and East coasts, and recent years have seen the Silver-washed Fritillary recolonise the county.

Silver-washed Fritillary Holt CP 2014-06-26_1Dark Green Fritillary Burnham Overy 2014-07_2Silver-washed (left) and Dark Green Fritillaries

The White Admiral has also spread more widely across Norfolk in recent years, and is now found in most areas of large woodland. At the right time of year, there are also several species of Hairstreak to be found in the same habitat – White-letter and Purple Hairstreak are typically found around the tops of mature elms and oaks respectively, in suitable areas. In contrast, Green Hairstreak is more of a heathland species and 2014 was a particularly good year for seeing these.

White Admiral Holt CP 2014-06-26_2Green Hairstreak Kelling Heath 2014-05-16_2 White Admiral (left) & Green Hairstreak (right)

We also run into several species of Blue on our tours. Silver-studded Blues are restricted to a small number of inland heaths (often seen when looking for Dartford Warblers!) and Chalkhill Blue has been introduced to one site in North Norfolk. We also regularly encounter other species such as Brown Argus, Common Blue and Holly Blue.

Silver-studded Blue Kelling Heath 2014-06-06_3Chalkhill Blue male Warham 2014-07-27_1Silver-studded Blue (left) & Chalkhill Blue (right)

Then there are the species that tend to get less attention. Skippers are also commonly encountered. Large Skipper is the most widespread, but we have also seen lots of Small and Essex Skippers this year. Separating these last two can be a bit of a challenge for the uninitiated – the best way to tell them apart is by the colour of the underside of the antenna tip (black in Essex, orange in Small).

Small Skipper Santon Downham 2014-06-28_1Essex Skipper Hindolveston 2014-07-15_1Common Skipper (left) & Essex Skipper (right)

On the heaths and coastal grasslands, we see plenty of Graylings and Small Heaths, and the hedgerows have been alive with Browns this year, including Ringlets and Gatekeepers.

Grayling Kelling Heath 2014-08-04Small Heath Kelling 2014-06-06_1Grayling (left) & Small Heath (right)

Ringlet How Hill 2014-06-23Gatekeeper Hindolveston 2014-07-15Ringlet (left) & Gatekeeper (right)

Last but not least, the Whites are a family which tends to get overlooked (unless they are in the garden, where they can be a real pest). Large, Small and Green-veined White are commonly seen. However, spending a bit of time on closer inspection can reveal the subtleties of the species.

Green-veined White Kelling WM 2014-07_3Small White Kelling WM 2014-07_2Green-veined White (left) & Small White (right)

So our tours are not just about birds – we see a wide variety of other wildlife when we are out and about. Some butterflies, particularly our native Swallowtails, are well worth going to look for in their own right.