Tag Archives: Tawny Owl

28th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was another cloudy start but the cloud was slower to burn off today. We did have some nice sunny spells, particularly through the afternoon, but it was cool on the coast in the moderate NE wind.

The Peregrine was perched on the church tower again this morning as we were about to drive past, so we stopped for a closer look. It was preening at first but then stopped and turned and stared down at us. It soon lost interest in us though and went back to looking round. It was a great way to start the day.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower again this afternoon

Our first destination proper for the day was Holkham. As we set off along the path which runs on the south side of the pines, a Blackcap was singing high in one of the oaks by the path. A little further along, a Chiffchaff was singing too, but warbler song has definitely declined along here now we are into summer and the birds are busy nesting.

Not far along the path, we found our first tit flock. The Long-tailed Tits have fledged their first broods and are travelling round in big groups again, and they have already started to bring lots of other birds with them.  There was a hive of activity in the trees as the tits passed through. We could hear Coal Tit and Goldcrest singing high in the pines. A Treecreeper and a Chiffchaff were with them too.

There is very little on Salts Hole at the moment, just a few Mallard, but a couple of Marsh Harriers were circling up over the reeds beyond. We heard a Green Woodpecker laughing out in the grass, and a bit further along heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling too, but neither were seen.

Jay

Jay – there were a couple out in the cut grass

The wardens are topping the grazing meadows at the moment, and a couple of Jays were hopping around down in the cut grass. Further over, two Red Kites were following behind the tractor, presumably trying to see what was left behind after the cutting. We didn’t go into Washington Hide but had a quick look from the boardwalk. The Marsh Harriers were still circling out over the grazing marsh beyond the reeds.

As we got back down onto the path, we could hear the frenzied song of a Sedge Warbler in the reedbed. A little further on, and a Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds by the path too.

Past Meals House, we came across another tit flock. Again, there were lots of Long-tailed Tits but feeding with them we watched a family of Coal Tits, the juveniles with yellow faces. There were warblers with them too – both Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler, feeding on the edge of the pines.

There is a great display of foxgloves under the pines at the crosstracks at the moment, which we stopped to admire on our way to Joe Jordan Hide. When we got up into the hide, there appeared to be nothing on the pool at first, but it quickly became clear that everything was hiding down at the front, behind the reeds.

Eventually a couple of Spoonbills came out into the open, an adult and a short-billed juvenile. The latter was pursuing the adult, flapping its wings and bobbing its head, demanding to be fed. Eventually the adult decided it had had enough and flew off up into the trees. Another adult Spoonbill dropped in and started feeding along the back edge of the pool, along the reeds.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and disappeared behind the trees

A couple of Little Egrets flew in and landed down at the front of the pool, out of view. Then a Great White Egret appeared, flying in from the east before disappearing round behind the trees. It was clearly much bigger, with long, rounded wings and slower wingbeats, long legs and a yellow-base to its bill.

There were Marsh Harriers coming and going all the time. One female did a nice pass over in front of the hide. Another, further back on the edge of the pool, appeared to still be collecting nest material. There were a couple of Common Buzzards circling in the distance and another flew out of the pines just beyond the hide and circled out over the grass in front.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled in front of the hide

As we set off to walk back, a Siskin flew high over the pines calling. A pair of Bullfinches came out of the bushes and flew off calling round Meals House.

The sun was starting to come out now and there were noticeably more butterflies out on the way back. Several Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods fluttered over the path and a couple of Ringlet perched up nicely in the vegetation beside. A Small Skipper landed on a grass head where we could see the pale underside to its antennae. Back past Washington Hide, we sat for a minute on the bench and could see three small White-letter Hairstreaks fluttering around the tops of the elm trees opposite.

Ringlet

Ringlet – perched on a leaf by the path

We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell. Over lunch at the visitor centre, we had a look to see if we could find the Tawny Owls. There has been a juvenile here for the last week or so, and often an adult too, but even though they were apparently around earlier there was no sign of them now.

After lunch, we went back to the car to get the scope and then headed out to explore the reserve. As we walked along the path beyond the visitor centre, we spotted the juvenile Tawny Owl back in the alder trees. We got it in the scope, but it flew before everyone got to see it. A minute later it then reappeared back in the alders. We got it in the scope again, but then it flew again, off towards the main path.

We walked out onto the main path and could hear the young Tawny Owl‘s begging calls from deep in the trees. It seemed there was no way to see it from here, but then it flew across the path right above our heads and landed in the tree directly above us. It perched there on a branch for some time, calling, looking down at the people passing below. We had to walk back a short way along the scope to be able to get it in the scope!

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – the juvenile landed in a tree right above us on the path

The juvenile Tawny Owl appears to be much more mobile now, than it has been. Though this may have been exacerbated this afternoon by the disappearance of the adult. The youngster was clearly looking for its parent, calling for it too. The adult Tawny Owl will return, but had possibly had enough of being pestered by its teenage offspring and gone off somewhere quiet for a rest!

Further along the path, we stopped at the reedbed pool next. Several Marsh Harriers were circling up over the reeds, including the first fledged juveniles. One adult Marsh Harrier circling higher seemed to be edging out a Kestrel, moving closer to it each time and causing it to gradually move further off.

Several Mediterranean Gulls were flying over the reeds, back and forth, calling. One Mediterranean Gull dropped in with the Black-headed Gulls to bathe on the pool. In the scope, we could see its darker, jet black hood, brighter red bill and pure white wingtips. A Reed Warbler was flitting around the edge of the pool below.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – several flew over us on the main path

A female Red-crested Pochard was feeding its two juveniles on the edge of the reeds on the left of the reedbed pool. Then something disturbed everything and a big mob of ducks swam out from the reeds on the right. In among the Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard were three drake Red-crested Pochard. They are starting to moult into eclipse plumage now, but still have their bright coral-red bills. A large flock of Teal flushed from the Freshmarsh and circled over the reeds.

When we got to Island Hide, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. We looked along the edge of the reeds to see if we could find any feeding down on the mud, but it was very exposed to the cool wind on this side of the reeds today. A brief glimpse was the beat we could manage but it disappeared back deeper in before everyone could get onto it.

There were a couple of Avocets and a Black-tailed Godwit feeding in front of the hide today. There were lots of Avocets scattered across the freshmarsh, mostly sleeping on the islands, but there is still a distinct lack of juveniles here – it seems to have been a very poor breeding season for them here. There were lots more Black-tailed Godwits further over too, sleeping on the islands or in a large group in the shallow water. A couple of Ruff were asleep on the low tern island, with three or four Common Terns.

Avocet

Avocet – good views on the Freshmarsh, but a lack of juveniles

The Freshmarsh is still dominated by gulls, which have taken over the fenced-off Avocet Island. There are mostly Black-headed Gulls and a smaller number of Mediterranean Gulls. Scattered around the water, in among the other gulls, were several diminutive Little Gulls, living up to their name. They were mostly swimming today and picking insects from the water’s surface, or sleeping on the islands. We counted at least ten, all young first summer birds.

Little Gulls

Little Gulls – there were at least 10 here today

As we walked round to Parrinder Hide next, there were several more Ruff on the edge of the reeds by the junction of the paths. We stopped to look at them. Once they return from their breeding grounds, they very rapidly start to lose their ornate ruff feathers. These ones were starting to look distinctly tatty already. They were also all different colours – Ruff really are the most variable of waders!

Ruff

Ruff – rapidly moulting out its ornate ruff feathers already

There were lots of gulls loafing and preening on the island in front of Parrinder Hide. We had a better view of the Mediterranean Gulls from here, in direct comparison to the actually brown-headed Black-headed Gulls.

There were a few more waders here. As well as all the Black-tailed Godwits on the same island, a single Dunlin appeared on the far end of the muddy spit, still in breeding plumage and sporting a black belly patch. A Curlew dropped in – possibly a freshly returned migrant, back from the breeding grounds in Scandinavia perhaps. A large flock of Oystercatchers flew in from the beach.

There were three pairs of geese in front of the hide, and they were all different. As well as the expected Greylag Geese, a pair of Pink-footed Geese were walking around picking at the low vegetation on the island. They are common in winter here, but very unusual in summer, but on closer inspection we could see that both had damaged wings, possibly having been shot by wildfowlers and winged. They have been unable to fly back to Iceland for the breeding season, but seem to be surviving here nonetheless. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew round and showed off their striking white wing coverts.

Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose – one of two injured birds summering here

We had a quick look from the other side of the hide, still on the Freshmarsh side. We could see a lot of waders tucked in the far corner, behind the fence. As well as more Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were six Spotted Redshank. They are all still largely in breeding plumage the moment, strikingly mostly black peppered with white spots, although they are already starting to get a few paler winter feathers mixed in too.

There was nothing to see on Volunteer Marsh, and we didn’t think we could make the walk out to the beach today, after the walking we had done earlier, so we started to walk back. A Little Ringed Plover was now running around on the shore of the island, just behind the Ruff we had seen earlier.

Then it was time to head for home. More of the same tomorrow, but different!

Advertisements

22nd June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was a lovely sunny day, barely a cloud in the sky, but still rather cool on the coast in a slightly blustery NW wind.

We started the day at Holkham, with a quick look to see if we could find any newly emerged Hornet Moths. There was no sign of any this morning, perhaps it had been a bit cool overnight. A male Marsh Harrier was quartering the grazing meadows as we walked out and a Common Buzzard appeared, circling over on our way back.

The Marsh Harrier decided to mob the Buzzard, swooping at it repeatedly, the latter just deftly jinking out of the way each time. The Buzzard landed and the Marsh Harrier continued its assault and then continued to chase after it as the Buzzard flew off.

As we set off to walk west from Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing in the bushes, presumably starting to sing again between broods. The warblers are generally a bit quieter at this time of year, with breeding in full swing, but we did hear several Blackcap, a couple of Chiffchaff and a distant Willow Warbler in the trees.

With the sun out, the butterflies have started to appear in greater numbers. There were lots of Speckled Wood along the sides of the path, plus good numbers of Meadow Brown and one or two Ringlet too. Our first Small Skippers of the year were feeding on the thistles and clover on the verge.

Small Skipper

Small Skipper – our first of the year this morning

Many of the tits have successfully fledged their first broods now and we came across various family groups in the trees. An adult Coal Tit was feeding a yellow-faced juvenile in the pines above the path. There were several extended parties of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits too. We could hear Treecreepers calling in the trees and eventually one came out onto a pine trunk by the path. The Goldcrests were slightly less obliging, though we could hear them singing high in the pines.

Several Marsh Harriers circled up over the reedbed in front of Washington Hide as we walked out – it looked like the adults were bringing in food for their young. But by the time we got up onto the boardwalk they had gone quiet again. There were two Little Terns feeding on the pool in front of the hide, presumably seeking more sheltered feeding on the pools on the marshes, given the wind whipping up the sea out on the beach. A Jay few across the reeds in front too.

There were a few dragonflies out, as we got towards the crosstracks. A female Black-tailed Skimmer was basking on the path and a female Ruddy Darter flew up and landed in the bracken by the pines. There were several damselflies in there too – both Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – a female by the path

There is a great display of Foxgloves under the pines at the crosstracks at the moment. Having stopped for a second to admire those, we walked up towards the hide. Through the trees, we could just see a Great White Egret flying across the grazing marsh and we managed to keep track of it until it landed in a ditch. From up in the hide, we could see its long neck and long yellow-based bill sticking up out of the vegetation.

It disappeared from view, but a short while later, two Great White Egrets appeared over the grazing marshes a little further back. As they flew across to the trees, a Little Egret appeared in the same view, tiny by comparison.

There were already a few Spoonbills out on the pool below the trees when we arrived, but as we sat and watched, more dropped down to join them. They were mostly recently fledged juveniles, still with their spoon-shaped bills only about 2/3 grown, ‘TeaSpoonbills‘.

Another adult Spoonbill flew in to join them and two of the juveniles immediately set off after it. They were flapping their wings and bobbing their heads up and down and chased it round the edge of the pool for several minutes, begging to be fed, before the adult eventually relented.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – adults and recently fledged juveniles

There was lots of Marsh Harrier activity from the hide too. We watched a male fly in over the trees and, when it got to the reeds the other side, a female circled up out of the vegetation below. The two circled together for a couple of seconds before the male dropped the food it was carrying for the female to catch. She flew back down into the reeds with it.

Another female Marsh Harrier dropped down into the grass in front of the hide and caught something before flying off west with it, presumably with older juveniles in a nest elsewhere. Two Red Kites were hanging in the wind over the edge of Holkham Park.

As we set off to walk back, we could hear a Siskin calling as it circled over the pines at the cross tracks, but we couldn’t see it from below the canopy. A Common Crossbill called too as it flew over the pines, but we couldn’t see that either.

On the walk back, a Large Skipper feeding on the brambles was a nice addition to the butterfly list. We had heard a Reed Warbler singing on the walk out, but it was now joined by a Sedge Warbler, which was singing perched up in a bush nearby. It was a good opportunity to hear the difference between the more rhythmic Reed Warbler and the mad, buzzy song of the Sedge Warbler. A Common Whitethroat showed itself briefly in the ditch by the path back at Lady Anne’s Drive.

We made our way over to Titchwell next, and it was time for an early lunch in the picnic area as we arrived. Several Mediterranean Gulls flew back and forth overhead, along with the Black-headed Gulls.

There has been a family of Tawny Owls hanging around in the trees by the Visitor Centre in recent weeks, and thankfully they were still present today. One of the reserve staff helpfully came out and showed us which tree they had been in this morning and after a minute or so of scouring the branches, the fluffy juvenile was found with the adult hiding in the leaves nearby.

Tawny Owl 2

Tawny Owl – the fluffy juvenile in the alder trees

The juvenile Tawny Owl could be seen moving as it gave a regular begging call, at low volume with the adult close by so you could only just hear it if you listened carefully. The birds were surprisingly mobile too, for this time of the day, although it seemed to be the attentions of the youngster when it hopped between the branches over to join the adult, which prompted the latter to move! As a result, the adult Tawny Owl came right out into the open, giving us fantastic scope-filling views of it. Amazing!

Tawny Owl 1

Tawny Owl – the adult came out into the open several times

We watched the Tawny Owls for a while – it was very hard to tear ourselves away from such fantastic views of this typically very secretive species. Eventually they moved slightly deeper into the trees and we decided to move on.

It was fairly quiet round at Patsy’s Reedbed again today, with just a single Tufted Duck and a couple of Mute Swans. As we walked on towards Willow Wood, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge and we just had a quick glimpse of it as it dropped down into the brambles in the bottom. A Greenfinch was wheezing away in the hedge too.

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies around the small pool at the far end of the East Trail. Several Four-spotted Chasers chased each other around the margins before perching up on the reed stems. We had a good look at both Azure and Common Blue Damselflies in the grass around the edge. A couple of male Black-tailed Skimmers flitted ahead of us along the path as we walked round the other side.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – one of several on the pool along East Trail

As we walked back past Patsy’s Reedbed, we could hear a Little Grebe laughing at us. We looked across to see two swimming along the edge of the reeds. A family of Common Pochard, a female with four half-grown ducklings, was swimming just ahead of them. Another pair of Little Grebes was on the dragonfly pool by the junction with Meadow Trail, with one of the adults on a nest platform on the edge of the reeds. We could just make out two small juveniles with it. An Emperor Dragonfly was chasing the Four-spotted Chasers around the pool.

Out on the main path, we stopped to scan the reedbed pool. An adult Mediterranean Gull was bathing with a large group of Black-headed Gulls, but there were few ducks to be seen. The reeds were pretty quiet too today, although a Bearded Tit did zip past and dropped down towards the edge of reedbed, unfortunately before anyone could get a look at it.

There was lots more to see from Island Hide. There are plenty of Avocets on the Freshmarsh at the moment, but there still appears to be a distinct lack of juveniles. It will be interesting to see how successful they have been this year, at the end of the season. A smart iridescent Lapwing was feeding just in front of the hide, although it had already lots its crest.

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining in the sun, though having lost its crest already

The Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep on the islands, separate from most of the Bar-tailed Godwits which were huddled together in the shallow water further over. Most of the Bar-tailed Godwits are in non-breeding plumage, although there was just one bright rusty individual, the colour extending right the way down under the tail. When the Bar-tailed Godwits shuffled round and parted, we could see there were quite a few smaller Knot in amongst them, up to their bellies in the water.

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits & Knot – roosting on the Freshmarsh

A single Ruff was in with the Avocets on one of the islands. A moulting male, it had already lost its ornate ruff and was looking distinctly scrawny-necked! There was just one Dunlin here today, an adult with a sharply-defined black belly patch. Three Little Ringed Plovers were feeding on the edges of the islands. There is no shortage of Common Redshanks here, but the three Spotted Redshanks were right over in the far corner of the pool, where we couldn’t really appreciate their stunning black breeding plumage.

The Freshmarsh continues to be dominated by gulls. In among the more numerous Black-headed Gulls scattered around the islands, we could see at least ten much smaller Little Gulls, all immature first summer birds. Most of the other gulls were over in the fenced off island at the back and when a Marsh Harrier flew over it caused complete pandemonium, with hundreds of gulls flying round calling. The Marsh Harrier was quickly chased off.

There were a few terns too. A single Sandwich Tern was asleep among the Avocets but eventually woke up long enough to show us its yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy black crest. A couple of Common Terns too were hunkered down in the middle of the low rocky island.

The number of ducks continues to increase, particularly as more Teal return to the reserve to moult. Presumably they are failed breeders or non-breeders which return early from their breeding grounds further north. A lone Pink-footed Goose over by Parrinder Hide is an injured bird which was unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed.

On the walk round to Parrinder Hide, we continued to scan the Freshmarsh and were rewarded with a single Ringed Plover out on the mud. From the hide, we had much closer views of the Little Gulls, several of which were loafing on the islands in front or feeding round the edge of the water. We had a better look at some Mediterranean Gulls too, with several flying in to preen with the Black-headed Gulls.

Little Gull

Little Gull – showed very well in front of Parrinder Hide

From round on this side, we could see that several of the twenty or so Knot in with the Bar-tailed Godwits were in bright rusty breeding plumage. The Avocets on the islands here look like they might be about to have another go at raising a family. Two pairs were looking for a suitable nest site, walking round, picking at the ground, tidying up small patches of bare earth. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers also looked like they might be trying to find a suitable spot to nest.

Little Ringed Plovers

Little Ringed Plovers – hopefully looking for a suitable nest site

You can’t come to Titchwell without at least seeing the sea, so we decided to walk out to the beach next. There was very little to see on Volunteer Marsh again today, but with the tide in there were more birds roosting on the no longer tidal Tidal Pools, having come over from the beach. They were mostly Oystercatchers, but in with them we found three Turnstone including one in nice bright rusty breeding plumage. Further over, four black-bellied Dunlin were feeding on the spit.

There were four Little Terns feeding on the Tidal Pools, hovering above the water before plunging headlong in. We got a great look at them from the path.

Little Tern

Little Tern – feeding on the Tidal Pools

There were more Little Terns out at the beach, feeding just offshore. The Sandwich Terns were much more distant though and we picked up an adult Gannet flying west way out on the horizon, big and white, with black wing-tips.

It was time to head back now. A quick look at the reedbed pool again, as we were passing, revealed seven Red-crested Pochards out on the water towards the back now, four males, plus a female with two well grown juveniles. Several Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler were flitting around the pools below the bank now too.

Back at the Visitor Centre, we couldn’t walk past without taking another look at the Tawny Owls again. They were both perched out in full view still, though with the adult having moved to a different tree, some distance away from the juvenile, presumably where it could have a doze without being pestered!

Tawny Owl 3

Tawny Owl – still showing well on our walk back

Eventually we had to drag ourselves away from the Tawny Owls and head back along the coast.

There was a postscript to the tour today. The Peregrine which had been roosting on a church tower nearby regularly last month seemed to have disappeared in the last few weeks. We had dropped half the group off already when we happened to drive past the church and looked up to see it perched in one of its usual spots. We stopped for a quick look. It seemed to be enjoying the sunshine, closing its eyes.

Peregrine

Peregrine – resting on the church tower again

Then it really was time to call it a day!

20th June 2018 – Summer Special

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. The weather was mostly fine and bright, apart from one dark cloud which passed overhead very quickly early afternoon and produced just a few spots of light drizzle, barely enough to notice. But it was very windy all day, which made life difficult at times.

As we drove west along the coast towards Titchwell, our first Marsh Harrier of the day was quartering the fields by the road. A Red Kite hung in the air over a small copse of trees. The raptors were up enjoying the wind.

When we got to Titchwell, a quick walk round the car park before it got too busy produced singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff in the trees, plus a Greenfinch wheezing in the bushes and a couple of Chaffinches and Goldfinches too. A pair of Red-legged Partridges in the field beyond the gates at the far end ran off as we approached. There were just a few tits and finches on the feeders by the Visitor Centre, so we headed straight out onto the reserve.

It was exposed to the wind once we got out onto the main path. We could hear a couple of Reed Buntings and a Reed Warbler singing, but they were keeping well tucked down today. There seemed little chance of finding a Bearded Tit – the one thing they don’t seem to like is wind. We did see a Cuckoo though, which flew across the reedbed and away over Island Hide and out across the saltmarsh.

The reedbed pool held a couple of drake Red-crested Pochard, but they were right out towards the back today. We headed towards the Freshmarsh and the shelter of the hides. As we approached Island Hide, a Common Redshank was fluttering up over the edge of the reeds calling, and was joined by a second. Then we realised why – down on the mud below them were two half grown juveniles.

Redshank

Common Redshank – hovering over its two juveniles on the mud just below

There were a few other waders out on the Freshmarsh, although it was clear that numbers were down this morning, probably due to the wind. About thirty Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep on the nearest island, and in with them we could see a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits too. Even though they were head on to us, we could see their more obvious pale supercilia and slightly upturned bills.

There were only about a dozen Dunlin, and they were all huddled around the rocks along the edge of the tern island. There was no sign of the Curlew Sandpiper though, so presumably it had flown off with some of the other Dunlin. With the strong wind having blown the water away from Island Hide, the few Avocets which were not sleeping were feeding out along the edge of the reeds.

There are lots of gulls out on the Freshmarsh at the moment, with Avocet Island having been taken over by them. In amongst the scattered Black-headed Gulls feeding in the water around the islands, we picked out several Little Gulls. The more we looked, the more we found – there were at least 10 here, all young, first summer birds, with extensive black markings in the wings and lacking the full black summer hood of an adult.

Little Gulls

Little Gulls – three of the ten on the Freshmarsh this morning

A pair of Common Terns were settled down on Tern Island where we could get them in the scope, but a Little Tern flew off past the hide and out towards Thornham saltmarsh without stopping. We headed round to Parrinder Hide, and were rewarded with better views of a Little Tern which flew in and helpfully landed on one of the islands.

A couple of the Little Gulls were feeding right in front of the hide, dipping down to pick insects from the surface of the water or picking round the edges of the islands. We had a great view of the inverted ‘w’ pattern on their wings.

Little Gull

Little Gull – dip feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

There were plenty of other gulls too – a small group of immature Common Gulls, a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a few Herring Gulls. A careful look through all the Black-headed Gulls in the fenced off island revealed several Mediterranean Gulls in with them. Through the scope, we could see their jet black hoods with contrasting white eyelids and brighter red bills, as well as their white wing tips.

Duck numbers are increasing again, as birds return from breeding attempts further north. The number of Teal is the most noticeable, and there was a little gang of them asleep on Tern Island, along with Shoveler, Gadwall and a Common Pochard. The ducks are all starting to moult into eclipse plumage too now, losing their smart breeding attire.

A single Brent Goose which appeared on the water behind Avocet Island was a bit of a surprise. There are lots here during the winter, but they should all be up in Russia now. The first returning Brent Geese don’t normally reach here until August, so perhaps this one has decided to stay here all summer. Two Pink-footed Geese swimming over the back of the Freshmarsh and injured birds, probably shot, which are unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed.

There were lots more Avocets on the islands on this side, mostly asleep in a big mob. Once again, there were no juveniles amongst them, although a few looked like they might still be incubating and other pairs were mating or looking for a suitable nest site, presumably getting ready for a second attempt. When a Great Black-backed Gull flew over, all the Avocets woke up and flew round calling, after which several started to feed in front of the hide, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallow water.

We had seen a Little Ringed Plover distantly from Island Hide, but when one flew in and landed on one of the islands just in front we got a much better look at it. We could see its bright golden yellow eye ring.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – flew in and landed in front of Parrinder Hide

The Dunlin out on Tern Island seemed to have woken up and there were more of them now, so presumably some had returned. We could see a slightly larger bird in with them, lacking the Dunlin‘s black belly patch and with a longer and more strongly downcurved bill. It was the Curlew Sandpiper which had returned and was feeding in the water with the Dunlin now, so we had a good look at it through the scope.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – feeding with the Dunlin

Despite the wind, we decided to make a quick pilgrimage out to the beach. There is not much on Volunteer Marsh at the moment, but a quick look over the wall did produce a Lapwing out on the mud, its iridescent plumage shining in the sun.

Lapwing

Lapwing – we admired the beautiful iridescence of its plumage

The tide was in when we got out to the sea, so there were no birds out on the beach. We had a quick look offshore, which produced two or three Sandwich Terns flying past, but little else today in the wind. We decided to head back.

A Reed Bunting had been singing out on the saltmarsh as we walked out, and was still at it as we returned. But now a second male Reed Bunting had appeared and was singing too, in response. This second bird’s favourite song bush happens to be right next to the path, so it regularly attracts a crowd of admirers. It was struggling to hold itself steady in the wind today, but still continued to sing.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – singing on a bush right by the path

Just past the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh, we heard Bearded Tits calling in the reeds. We thought we might get lucky and see one flying across but as we looked over the bank, we noticed a male Bearded Tit shuffling up a reed stem. Despite the wind, it stayed there for several seconds, allowing us to get a great look at it through our binoculars. We could see its powder blue-grey head and black moustache. It then flew towards us and landed in the reeds even closer, but didn’t stay long and then disappeared off round behind the bushes. What a bonus!

From there, we took a detour round via Meadow Trail and out to Patsy’s Reedbed. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge as we passed, so we stopped to listen. In typical fashion, it stayed well hidden as it sang, but we did eventually see it briefly when it flew out and round the back of the hedge.

There were very few birds on Patsy’s Reedbed today, just a few wildfowl, a Tufted Duck, a family of Common Pochard and a Greylag. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from somewhere in the bushes. The Marsh Harriers put on a good display over the reedbed beyond though. Two different females circled up over different areas of the reeds, before dropping back in.

Then a male Marsh Harrier appeared from the fields inland, flying in over Willow Wood. One of the females appeared out of the reeds and the two circled together before the male dropped its prey for the female to catch. The female disappeared back down into the reeds, while the male headed off inland again to resume hunting. Presumably it has growing young to feed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – several birds put on a good display behind Patsy’s Reedbed

There has been a juvenile Tawny Owl roosting in the trees by the Visitor Centre in recent weeks and a few people were looking for it as we got back to the start of Fen Trail. We couldn’t see it at first, but eventually someone spotted it – there was only a very narrow window where you could see it through the leaves. We got it in the scope, a large ball of fluff just getting some adult feathers.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – this juvenile has been roosting in the trees by the Visitor Centre

After lunch back in the picnic area, we headed off along the coast to Holme. It was very windy when we got out of the car by the paddocks and very blustery up on the coast path. We heard a couple of Common Whitethroats and a single Lesser Whitethroat singing from the bushes, but they were keeping well tucked down out of the wind today.

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees ahead of us, and we had a quick glimpse of it as it flew away, but it then taunted us by singing off in the distance on and off as we walked round. A pair of Linnets were more obliging, perching up in the bushes. The male Linnet was looking particularly smart now, with red breast and forehead spot.

Linnet

Linnet – a pair perched up in the bushes in the paddocks

It was at this point that it started to spit with rain, so we took a detour across to the access road, and headed back to the car just in case. As it was, the clouds cleared through very quickly, before we got there. We headed back along the coast to Holkham for the remainder of the afternoon.

The wind had picked up even more when we got to Holkham, so we were happy to get into the shelter of the trees. An Egyptian Goose was the only bird of note on the new pools by the building site. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge nearby, but there were not many other warblers singing now, as we made our way west.

A Jay appeared low down in an oak tree. There were a few flocks of tits in the trees – family groups of Long-tailed Tits that flicked through the vegetation calling, carrying a few Blue Tits or Great Tits with them already. We heard a Treecreeper singing and stopped to see if we could see it. First one flew across, and then a second, and we could still hear a third calling further back – it seemed like a family party.

The Treecreepers proved hard to see though, until one flew round from the back of the pine where it had been feeding and landed down on the needles right at the base of the trunk. It stretched out and spread its wings and appeared to be sunning itself. It stayed there, splayed out on the ground, for a couple of minutes before it finally took off and flew back into the trees. A couple of Coal Tits were feeding high in the pines above too.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – appeared to be sunning itself at the base of a pine tree

There was nothing on Salts Hole today, so we continued on to Washington Hide. We stood on the boardwalk for a few minutes while we watched a male Marsh Harrier hunting out on the grazing marshes. It dropped down into the grass and appeared to come up with something in its talons, but it was very small.

It couldn’t decide whether to stick or twist – it chased after a Meadow Pipit which flew up out of the grass. When the pipit escaped, the Marsh Harrier flew back in carrying the small morsel it had managed to catch and dropped down into the reeds with it.

The display of Foxgloves is looking very smart now in the pines, but as we walking through them towards Joe Jordan we saw all the Spoonbills taking off from the pool out on the grazing marshes. Something had spooked them and when we got up into the hide we could see what – one of the wardens was driving out to the colony to check up on the breeding birds.

Five of the Spoonbills disappeared straight off over the grazing marshes towards Burnham Overy. Several of the others circled high over the trees – at least we could get a look at them in flight, their necks outstretched, very different from the Little Egrets which were coming and going from the trees too. Just two Grey Herons were left out on the pool, and they were having a dispute over who was going to feed there.

We sat for a while and watched the comings and goings. There were lots of Cormorants on nests out in the trees and more flying back in from the sea. One or two Marsh Harriers flew in and out too and a Kestrel came up from the grass in front of the hide. A Common Buzzard circled up above the trees in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, some of the Spoonbills plucked up the courage to return to the pool. First one flew down and landed on the edge of the water, followed quickly by another four. They were all recently fledged juveniles, still not quite fully grown and with much shorter bills than the adults – TeaSpoonbills!

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – these five juveniles finally returned to the pool

We had a look at the Spoonbills through the scope. They were practising feeding, sweeping their bills from side to side in the water as they walked round the edge of the pool. It was great to see some on the ground.

That was a fitting way to end the day, so we set off back to the car and then on home.

4th Feb 2018 – Owls & More

An Owl Tour today, back in North Norfolk. The weather forecast was far from ideal – we were warned to expect cold and blustery NE winds bringing wintry showers in off the North Sea. Still, it didn’t turn out as bad as forecast and it is amazing what you can find when you go out looking, despite the weather!

After meeting up, we headed straight down to the coastal marshes to see if any Barn Owls might be out hunting still. It was cold and windy and, after passing through a sleet shower on our way down to the coast this morning, it was perhaps no surprise they had already gone in to roost. Not to worry. We hoped we might get another opportunity to look for Barn Owls later in the day, weather permitting.

There were other birds to see here. Several Marsh Harriers hung in the air over the reeds, coming out of their roost. A flock of Curlew flew up from feeding down in the damp grass in the grazing meadows below us. Little groups of Brent Geese flew back and forth. A Water Pipit came up from the recently cut reeds and flew off calling, and a Grey Wagtail flew high over us the other way.

We decided to try our luck inland and look for some Little Owls instead. At the first site we stopped at, we got out of the car and looked across to the roof of some farm buildings across the other side of a field. There, tucked in below the ridge out of the wind, facing into the few rays of morning sun coming through the clouds, were two Little Owls. We had a good look at them through the scope, spotted with white above and streaked below. It was nice to get the first owls of the day under our belts. Three Stock Doves were on the roof too, a little further along.

Little Owls

Little Owls – these two were standing on a barn roof out of the wind

From here, we meandered our way west. We were heading up to the Wash, but had a quick look at some other owl sites on the way, just in case any others might still be out. There weren’t any more owls, but we did have a nice variety of other things on the way. A pair of Grey Partridges were hiding in a stubble field. A Green Sandpiper was bathing in a stream but flew up and away as we pulled up. A Bullfinch zipped across the road in front of us and disappeared into the brambles, flashing its white rump. There were a few raptors too – a Red Kite flapped lazily across a field beside the road, a Sparrowhawk circled up, plus several Common Buzzards and Kestrels.

Eventually, we arrived at the Wash. As we got up to the seawall, we could see the tide was just going out. There were still lots of waders on the mud, chasing the rapidly receding waters down, so we stopped to take a closer look. The sky had cleared now and the first thing that struck us was a large flock of Golden Plover positively shining in the sunshine out on the mud.

Golden Plovers 1

Golden Plover – catching the sun, out on the Wash

Through the scope, we could see more waders. Large tight flocks of Knot and Oystercatcher, lines of Bar-tailed Godwits, plus Dunlin and Grey Plover more liberally scattered over the mud. In amongst them, we found two Avocets, hardy individuals which have probably decided to linger here through the winter (although others are already starting to move back). A few Redshank were picking around on the mud just below us and a Ringed Plover flew in and landed briefly nearby.

The waders were constantly on the move, following the tide. Periodically, a flock would fly up, whirl round and land again further down. It was great to watch the Knot in particularly, swirling out over the water, flashing alternately white and dark grey. The Golden Plover put on a show too, whooshing across in front of us, before circling up and then dropping back down to the mud. There was no sign of any raptors though, they were probably just nervous in the wind.

Golden Plovers 2

Golden Plover – the flock swirled around in front of us

There were ducks here too. The mud was covered with a sprinkling of white Shelduck, whereas the dark mass gathered on the edge of the water was a large flock of Teal. More Shelduck were swimming in the mouth of the channel and in with them we could see several Pintail too. A drake Goldeneye flew past behind us, flashing black of white, the first of several we saw here today.

However, we had not come here to look out at the delights of the Wash, so we tore ourselves away and headed round to the pits.

Goldeneye

Goldeneye – this drake flew past us over the pits

There have been a couple of Short-eared Owls roosting here this winter and, carefully scanning the bushes on our way round, we quickly found one of them hunched up under a mass of brambles. We got it in the scope and could see its ear tufts and staring yellow eyes.

Short-eared Owls

Short-eared Owl – roosting under the brambles again

Once we had all had a good look at the Short-eared Owl, we decided to head back to the car. The weather was much improved, but it was still cold in the wind and exposed out by the vast expanse of the Wash. We headed round to Titchwell for a couple of hours ahead of the afternoon owl shift.

It was time for lunch but, as we made our way from the car park to the Visitor Centre, we noticed a little patch of rusty colour, subtly contrasting with the browner leaves, half hidden underneath the sallows. A quick look confirmed it was a Woodcock! Gathering the group together, we had frame-filling views of it through the scope. Not an owl, but a real highlight to see one of these often so elusive birds so well.

Woodcock

Woodcock – feeding beneath the sallows between the car park & Visitor Centre

The Woodcock was tucked up asleep at first. After lunch (and a very welcome hot drink!), as we made our way back to the car to put away our bags, it was feeding more actively. We watched it walking round slowly, probing in the leaves, before it turned and disappeared beneath the branches.

There were a few birds around the feeders – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, plus Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. As we started to make our way out onto the reserve, a quick look in the ditch by the main path revealed a Water Rail feeding on the far bank. It tried to hide under the overhanging brambles at first, before coming right out into the open for us, probing in the rotting leaves.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well in the ditch below the main path

The old pool out on Thornham grazing marsh looked particularly devoid of life at first. Scanning more carefully, we found a Reed Bunting feeding in some dead seedheads down near the front and, while we were watching it, a head popped up nearby. The Water Pipit was hard to see at first, lurking in a line of taller vegetation, picking around unobtrusively. Occasionally it would appear in an opening, and eventually we all got a good look at it through the scope.

A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds at the back and another was out over the reedbed the other side. Continuing on our way, the reedbed pool held a few Tufted Ducks and a scan of the Lavender Marsh as we passed revealed a single Grey Plover on the pool and a lone Black-tailed Godwit on the saltmarsh with a couple of Wigeon and Teal.

The freshmarsh is still flooded with water at the moment, meaning that there is not so much to see on here currently. The ducks like it though, with a number of Common Pochard in particular in a big raft towards the back. On the small piece of island remaining exposed above the flood by the junction to Parrinder Hide, we could see several Red-crested Pochards too, the males standing out with their bright orange heads (despite the fact they were all fast asleep), very different from their commoner cousins.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochards – the drakes sporting bright orange heads

With some dark clouds out towards the beach, we opted for safety and headed for Parrinder Hide. It was a wise call, as shortly after we arrived the skies opened and it started to hail heavily. Thankfully, it was just a shower and passed through quickly, but we were certainly pleased to be inside as it did.

There was not so much else to see on the freshmarsh today. There were lots of Lapwing on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and a few Golden Plover in with them too. A flock of 14 Avocet flew in after the shower, but ended up landing out in the water, given the lack of islands to stand on. We watched them swimming for a while, bobbing up and down, looking decidedly out of place, before they finally plucked up the courage to fly over and join all the Lapwing.

Avocets

Avocets – swimming on the freshmarsh, given the high water levels

As the rain stopped, we made our way round to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were a few waders out on the mud in front of the hide at first, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Avocet, but they all flushed as a Marsh Harrier flew over and landed further back.

With the break in the weather, we made a quick dash out further along the main path. The sun even came out for a time! We had great views of several more waders close in along the near edge of the Volunteer Marsh, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Redshank. A Lapwing looked particularly stunning, its upperparts gleaming metallic green, bronze and even purple in the sunshine!

Lapwing

Lapwing – looking stunning in the bright sunshine

The Tidal Pools looked quite quiet as we stuck our heads up over the bank, apart from a couple of Little Grebes diving just below us. A more careful scan revealed a pale silvery grey and white wader asleep, tucked down on the edge of the saltmarsh, a lone Spotted Redshank in winter plumage. A nice bonus!

There was no time to head out to the beach today, as our focus needed to be back on owls for the afternoon. We made our way quickly back to the car, and set off back east. With the cold winds along the coast, we decided to head inland to see if we could find any sheltered spots where Barn Owls might be hunting.

Almost immediately, on our way down to the first meadows we wanted to check, a Barn Owl flew across the road in front of us. It disappeared round behind some houses, before reappearing again, back across the road and down to the meadows where we had hoped to find it. It worked its way quickly down a hedge through the middle of the meadow, flicking over either side, before landing on a post on the bottom of the field. We had a good look at it here, but by the time we got the scope up, it was on the move again and disappeared out the back.

That was a positive start, but we hoped to have more prolonged views of Barn Owls out hunting this afternoon. Spurred on, we drove round to another area where they like to hunt, and once again we spotted a Barn Owl before we even arrived! We followed it down to the main meadow and found somewhere to park. As we got out of the car to watch it, a second Barn Owl appeared.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – out hunting over the meadows this afternoon

The two Barn Owls quartered the meadow for a while, each seemingly oblivious to the other, focused solely on its search for prey. The second bird disappeared over the hedge at the back – we could still see it hunting over another meadow further down – before a third Barn Owl appeared over the grass in front of us.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – one of three out hunting these meadows this afternoon

For over half an hour, we watched transfixed as the Barn Owls hunted. They worked their way back and forth, round and round the meadows, seemingly in a random pattern, searching the grass. Occasionally, one would drop down into the grass, but we didn’t see them successfully catch anything while we were there. We did get a good look at them through the scope down on the ground though. In particular, as a light snow shower passed over briefly, they settled for a minute.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – they would drop down in the grass occasionally

Eventually, the remaining two Barn Owls started to move off, heading away in different directions, hunting different patches. We decided to move on too. We made our way back down to the coast road and headed back east. There were no more Barn Owls out hunting along here this afternoon, but we didn’t stop to look too hard, after enjoying such fantastic views of them earlier.

We had an appointment down in the woods at dusk. We were a little early arriving this evening, so we walked through to look out over the meadows beyond as dusk fell. We had to retreat to the shelter of the trees on our first attempt, as another wintry shower passed through. As it cleared, we walked back to find a Barn Owl perched on a post on the edge of the meadows. We watched it for a while as it resumed hunting, flying round over the grass, occasionally dropping down into the taller vegetation.

A Tawny Owl hooted and we made our way back into the trees and down to an area where one of the males is known to favour. The Tawny Owls were a bit subdued this evening, possibly due to the weather, and it got dark rather quickly given the cloud. We did hear another pair hooting back behind us, deeper in the woods. Eventually, the male Tawny Owl we were listening for hooted again a couple of times. We set off along the path to see if we could see it, but it went quiet again before we got there. The next time we heard it, it had moved further off.

We stood and listened to the male Tawny Owl hooting for a while, a really evocative sound and always great to hear, before it started to get too dark and we called it a night.

 

27th Jan 2018 – Owling in the Wind

An Owl Tour today. The weather forecast was not ideal. It started fine, with a lovely sunrise, but clouded over quickly and the wind picked up. There was some light drizzle too through the middle of the day but it wasn’t enough to put us off, and the rain stopped mid afternoon, so we were able to make the most of it. And see some owls!

After meeting up, we headed straight down to the coastal grazing marshes in the hope we might be able to find a late Barn Owl still out hunting. As we scanned the grass, there was no sign of any at first. It was a lovely bright morning, after a nice clear night, and it seemed like the owls might have gone in to roost already.

There were plenty of other birds to look at. We heard a Grey Partridge and looked over in that direction just in time to see the female fly across and land down in the grass. Just behind, the male was calling, standing upright, showing off the black kidney on its grey underparts and its orange face. It ran over towards the female. A large flock of Curlews was feeding a damper area in the meadow.

There were lots of geese flying round. Several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew in, dropping down onto the grass in the distance to graze. We had a look at them in the scope. Several more disorderly groups of smaller Brent Geese were flying back and forth too.

Pink-footed Geese 1

Pink-footed Geese – coming in to the grazing marshes this morning

The daytime predators were already out hunting. A Kestrel perched briefly in a tree but was seen off by the attentions of a Rook. Three Marsh Harriers circled up over reeds, the male calling. He then tried to chase off one of last year’s juveniles, swooping down at it as the three of them flew round. Then a pale grey shape appeared low over the reeds, a stunning male Hen Harrier. We watched as it flew right across the marshes – even having time to get it in the scope for a closer look.

Just when it looked like we might not find a Barn Owl this morning, a ghostly white shape appeared from round the corner of the bank. It floated silently across the grazing marsh and spent a couple of minutes hunting in and out of the reeds. We had hoped it might come out and land on one of the posts, but it flew straight up to a nearby owl box and disappeared inside. Always a good start to the day, to get a Barn Owl under our belts, particularly today given the forecast for the afternoon!

Our next target was to find a Little Owl. We drove inland, up to a regular site where they can often be found. It was cool in the breeze, but the sun was still poking through the clouds, so we hoped we might find one out. We scanned the roofs of the farm buildings and quickly found a ball of feathers tucked up in the lee of the ridge, a Little Owl.

Little Owl

Little Owl – warming itself in the morning sun

The Little Owl had found a sheltered spot, out of the wind and facing into the morning sun, where it could warm itself. We had a good look at it in the scope. It was fluffed up and facing away from us at first, but then it turned to look towards the sun. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the fields nearby and a large flock of Brent Geese flew over, heading inland to feed.

We continued on our way west, via several other sets of old barns where Little Owls live, but it was clouding over steadily now and there was no sign of any others out this morning. We did find a few Stock Doves on the farm buildings. Several Brown Hares were running around in the fields already. There were lots of Lapwings gathered in large flocks.

A Red Kite flew lazily past us beside the road – the first of a number we saw on our journey today. There were also several Kestrels hovering over the verges or perched in the trees as we passed, and a few Common Buzzards up enjoying the breeze.

Red Kite

Red Kite – the first of several we saw on our journey today

Our next destination was Snettisham. On our way there, it had already started to spit with rain and it was exposed on the edge of the Wash. We had a quick walk up to see if the Shorelark was still here, but we couldn’t find it today. A flock of Goldfinches was feeding along the tideline and flew up ahead of us.

The tide was still out and the Wash was a vast expanse of mud. A large dark mass out in the middle turned out to be a big group of Teal roosting on the edge of one of the muddy channels. The white Shelducks stood out much better against the grey, and were scattered liberally over the whole area, feeding.

Shelduck

Shelduck – out on the mud of the Wash, feeding

A flock of Dunlin was running round on the near edge of the mud, just in front of us, and there were several Redshanks and a Curlew close in too. Most of the waders were further out in the murk, but we could pick out lines of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits as well as a few Grey Plovers. Something spooked the big flock of Golden Plovers which had been asleep out on the mud and they flew up and over the seawall, dropping down to the fields inland.

It was not a day to be standing out on the edge of the Wash, so we turned our attention back to owls. There have been a couple of Short-eared Owls roosting here and after a short walk we found them, both in their usual spots, unusually choosing somewhere where they can be seen.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – roosting under a bramble bush

We had a good look at the Short-eared Owls through the scope. The first had found a sheltered spot under a bramble bush, but was turned towards us so we could see its bright yellow eyes. The second was perched up in the brambles a little further over. It had its head turned in, but would occasionally look round.

There were a few other birds on the Pit here as we walked round. A selection of ducks, mostly tucked up by bank out of the wind, plenty of Wigeon plus a handful of Gadwall. A few Tufted Ducks and a pair of Goldeneye, which were diving continually. With our mission here accomplished today, having seen the Short-eared Owls, we didn’t linger and headed back to the warmth of the car.

Given the weather, we decided to head round to Titchwell where we could find some shelter in the hides. On our way back to the main road, we stopped to look at a small group of Pink-footed Geese in a field. We could see their dark brown heads, and small dark bills with a narrow pink band, very different from the Greylags we had been seen earlier. A pair of Egyptian Geese were nearby.

Pink-footed Geese 2

Pink-footed Geese – by the road on our way back from Snettisham

On our way round the coast, we called in briefly at Thornham Harbour. It was damp and blustery but we wanted to have a quick look to see if the Twite were around. As we walked up to the edge of the saltmarsh, they flew over calling and landed down in the vegetation in front of us, a flock of about 20 of them.

The Twite didn’t stop here very long though. After a couple of minutes, they flew up, circled round and dropped down behind us in the car park, to drink and bathe in the puddles. Again they didn’t stay long, but we had a great look at them here for a couple of minutes, before they were spooked by a car door slamming and flew off.

Twite

Twite – the regular flock came down to drink in the car park

It was time for lunch when we reached Titchwell. A Goldcrest was feeding in the trees right in front of the car when we arrived, just a metre or two from us. We headed over to the visitor centre for a hot drink and while we ate, we kept an eye on the feeders. As well as the regular Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, there were a couple of Bramblings too today, a female on the feeders in front and a brighter male on the ones round the other side.

After lunch, we had a quick walk round Fen Trail and Meadow Trail, in the shelter of the trees. There was nothing to see from Fen Hide today and no sign of the Woodcock under the trees. But we did have great views of one of the Water Rails in the ditch by the main path, picking around in the dead leaves on the bank.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well in the ditch

We decided to make a bid for the shelter of Parrinder Hide. On the way out, a Marsh Harrier was circling out over the reedbed, enjoying the wind. A lone Grey Plover was on the edge of the large pool out on Lavender Marsh and several Teal and Wigeon were feeding on the saltmarsh nearby.

The water levels on the freshmarsh are very high through the winter and there was little of note on here today. The raft of Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks were mostly tucked up against the reeds at the back. A lone Curlew dropped in for a bathe and preen on the edge of one of the few exposed bits of dry land.

The other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh, was much more productive and we had good views of several species of wader from here. A single Knot was feeding on the mud just below the hide, though a larger group were weaving in and out of the vegetated islands further back. There were also several Dunlin, including a little mixed group with Knot giving a chance to compare the two side by side.

Knot

Knot – there were several on the saltmarsh in front of Parrinder Hide

Further over, we could see one or two Grey Plover, standing still surveying the mud for potential food, they were extremely well camouflaged until they moved. A couple of Ringed Plovers were running around as well. We had nice views of a Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on the mud and further back a couple of Black-tailed Godwits were hiding in one of the muddy channels. A Curlew or two and an Oystercatcher rounded off the selection nicely here.

The weather was improving, and it had stopped raining now, even if it was still a but blustery, so we decided to head out further across the reserve. There were some more nice views of waders close to the main path on the Volunteer Marsh, down in the shelter of the main channel. In particularly a Black-tailed Godwit was busy probing deep into the mud, flashing its black tail as it did so.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – feeding close to the main path

Emboldened by the improvement in the weather, we decided to make a bid for the beach. There were lots more birds on the tidal pools, including a couple of nice close Bar-tailed Godwits which gave us a great chance to compare them with several more Black-tailed Godwits nearby. They were also helpfully flying across occasionally, flashing their very different respective wing and tail patterns.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – nice views on the tidal pools

This is also where the Avocets were hiding. We counted at least thirteen today, though they were huddled up roosting along the spit at the back and it was hard to see all of them. Numbers are gradually starting to increase again, as birds start to return. There was also a large roost of Oystercatchers on the saltmarsh nearby.

A pair of Goldeneye were diving out on the Tidal Pools today, giving us better views than we had managed earlier at Snettisham. We had a great look at the male through the scope. There were also a few Pintail out here, including a couple of smart drakes, showing off their long pin-shaped central tail feathers as they upended to feed in the shallow water. One of the Little Grebes was diving just beyond the bushes right below the path.

It was nice to get out to the beach and into the shelter of the dunes, out of the wind. There were more waders out on the beach, even though it was around high tide now. More Bar-tailed Godwits were lined up along the water’s edge, with one or two Sanderlings running around in between them. A Turnstone walked past, picking at the seaweed along the high tide line, and another Sanderling ran past too.

It wasn’t as choppy as it might have been, given the wind, so we managed to find a few birds out on the sea. There was a group of six Long-tailed Ducks diving just offshore, including several smart drakes. We got them in the scope, but they took off before everyone had a chance to get a good look at them. They circled round offshore, before flying and landing back down much further out.

A line of dark, blackish Common Scoters was out there too, as well as a good number of Goldeneye. A couple of Guillemots were swimming just beyond the ducks and there were several Great Crested Grebes out on the water, but a Red-throated Diver was harder to see, diving constantly. Several Little Gulls flew past while we were watching the sea, the adults flashing alternately their black underwings and pale silvery grey upperwings.

The afternoon was getting on now and we had an appointment elsewhere at dusk, so we made a quick dash back to the car, heads down into the wind. We headed off inland on our way back east and checked out a couple of places in passing to see if there might be any more Barn Owls out, but they were probably in no hurry to come out this evening, given the wind.

When we got to the woods and started to walk along the track, we hadn’t gone very far when a male Tawny Owl started hooting from the trees behind us. It was an auspicious start, as we weren’t sure how active they would be given the wind tonight. We turned and walked back in the direction of the sound, and positioned ourselves where we know that particular Tawny Owl likes to perch up in the trees sometimes.

After a short wait, a dark shape flew towards us through the tops and landed in the back of an ivy-covered tree in front of us. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it from where we were standing so we stood very quietly and were rewarded a few seconds later when the Tawny Owl flew again, right over our heads and into a tree close by. They are big owls up close, with very broad, rounded wings when they fly. It turned to look down at us.

We had a great view of the Tawny Owl perched there for a minute or so,  but it knew we were watching it from below and was spooked by a car passing on the road. It flew off again deeper into the trees. We knew roughly where it had gone and followed after it. Then helpfully it started hooting again, so we could work out exactly where it was and get it in the scope. We had a good view of it silhouetted against the last of the light, high in the branches, hooting, turning round.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – silhouetted against the sky, hooting

The Tawny Owl flew off a little further into the trees, where it landed briefly and called, before dropping away again. As we walked back to the car, we could still hear it hooting, a great way to end the day.

20th Jan 2018 – Seeking Owls

An Owl Tour today. It was cloudy and rather cold all day, but with light winds and the rain mostly held off – just a little light drizzle late morning and spots of rain for a time again early afternoon.

With an early start, we hoped to catch a Barn Owl out hunting still, and so it proved. After meeting up, we drove straight down to the grazing marshes on the coast and climbed up onto the seawall. There was a Barn Owl flying round over the grass. It flew up and down, landing a couple of times on a fence post, where we could get it in the scope. We all had a good look at it before it took off again and disappeared round the back of the reeds.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – out hunting still on our arrival this morning

The Barn Owl had been a bit distant from where we were standing, so we walked up along the seawall for a closer look. We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds as we passed. Then a Water Pipit flew up calling from an area of recently cut reed and two Grey Partridge flew across and dropped down in the middle of the same cut area, presumably to feed on any spilled seed. A flock of Curlew flew past us calling, heading inland.

The Barn Owl reappeared again, and was much closer to us now. We watched as it flew round again, staring intently down into the grass. It dropped down at one point, but came up again quickly with no sign of having caught anything, before landing on a nearby post briefly. When it took off again, it flew straight over towards us and made its way right past below the bank, before heading off inland presumably to roost.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – a nice flypast as it headed off to roost

There were other birds here too. One or two Marsh Harriers quartered the reeds and we spotted a Kestrel perched on a telegraph post. Several geese were flying back and forth – including six Brent Geese which came right over our heads, and a couple of skeins of Pink-footed Geese further out over the grass. A Little Egret and a Rock Pipit were both feeding on the pools on the saltmarsh beyond the seawall. Another Barn Owl was only seen as it disappeared into a box to roost, before anyone could get onto it.

Little Egret

Little Egret – feeding on the pools on the edge of the saltmarsh

With the Barn Owls here having probably gone to roost now, we walked back to the car. We could hear Grey Partridge calling and looked across to see a pair on the bank in front of us. They then flew down into the grass, where we got a good look at them in the scope.

Some movement in the reeds on the edge of the ditch below us turned out to be a Chiffchaff. Mostly this is just a summer visitor and passage migrant here, but with increasingly mild winters a few stay on. In contract, Cetti’s Warbler is resident. We had heard a couple calling on our walk and, having just explained how it was unusual to see one out in the open, a Cetti’s Warbler flew past us and landed briefly in the top of a clump of brambles!

Our next target for the morning was Little Owl. On our drive inland to look for them, we noticed a white shape flying along the verge beside the road in front of us, another Barn Owl still out hunting. We drove slowly behind it for several minutes, watching it – it seemed oblivious to our presence. It landed briefly on a road sign, then carried on hunting. When it turned down a side road, it flicked over the hedge out of view, working the edge of the field. Then it came back over the hedge further along, crossing the road in front of us and going over the hedge the other side, before flying back the other way, behind us. Great to watch!

We stopped by a set of farm buildings where we know there are Little Owls. There was no obvious sign of them at first – perhaps not a great surprise as they like to perch up in the morning sun and today was cold and cloudy! As we walked round the other side, scanning carefully, we found one tucked in under the roof of an old barn. It was not easy to see from here – we could only see half of it and it was facing the other way – but we could make out its back spotted with white and the false eye pattern on the back of its head.

Little Owl

Little Owl – we could jut see the back of this one, hiding under the roof

We walked back round to the front of the barns, but the Little Owl had tucked itself in so well it was not visible at all from this side. There were a few other birds here – a few Brent Geese, Common Gulls and Curlew in the fields, and a pair of Stock Doves on the roof of one of the other barns.

The weather looked like it might be brightening a little, so we carried on our way west, hoping we might find another Little Owl elsewhere. However, we hadn’t gone far before it started to spit with rain. We drove past several more sets of occupied barns on our way, but there was no sign of any of the other Little Owls. It was just not the weather now for them to be sitting out, and we weren’t helped by lots of disturbance today too – a farmer with his dog was walking round the buildings at one site, a shoot was gathering outside another. We did see another late Barn Owl still out, perched on a post out in a field, looking slightly bedraggled.

Our next destination was Snettisham. As we got up onto the seawall, a smart drake Goldeneye was diving on the pit below the bank. The tide was out, and we were greeted by a vast expanse of mud stretching across to Lincolnshire in the distance, the Wash. There were a few smaller waders on the near edge, little groups of grey Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plover too with nearest of them.

Dunlin

Dunlin – feeding out on the mud of the Wash

There were clearly lots of waders out on the mud in the distance. Further out, we could see a few Grey Plover and Curlew. A tighter group beyond them was a line of Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot, busy feeding. A slick of Golden Plover was spread out across the mud, remarkably hard to see until we got them in the scope. Another flock of Golden Plover whirled round over the fields just inland, before dropping down out of view.

There were ducks out on the Wash too, lots of Teal and Mallard in flocks asleep on the edge of the muddy channels. Shelduck were liberally scattered across the mud. Inland, a big flock of Wigeon flew up calling before dropping back down behind the inner seawall.

There has been a Shorelark here in recent weeks, but we hadn’t heard anything about it for a while. We had a quick walk up along the tideline to see if it was still here and just as it seemed like it might have gone, we noticed some movement in all the seaweed and dry vegetation lined up along the top of the beach. Sure enough, it was the Shorelark. We had great views of it as it crept around in and out of the piles of vegetation, looking for seeds, its pale yellow face with distinctive black bandit mask and collar.

Shorelark

Shorelark – along the tideline at Snettisham again this morning

As we made our way back along the track, we caught sight of a smart drake Pintail on the water below the bank. There were more Goldeneye diving out on the pits, and a couple of Little Grebes too. A flock of Tufted Duck flew off past us. On the main pit there were good numbers of Wigeon and a couple of Gadwall too, plus lots of Greylag Geese.

Walking round, we scanned the bushes and spotted a shape under the brambles. It was a Short-eared Owl roosting. We got it in the scope and had a look at it, but it was facing away from us at first. Another scan and we found a second Short-eared Owl in the bushes nearby. This one was looking straight at us.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two roosting here today

We stood and watched the Short-eared Owls for a few minutes. They were not doing very much, but would occasionally turn their heads. A pair of Brown Hares came chasing through the bushes towards them and ran straight into the brambles where the second Short-eared Owl was perched. We watched as it looking round and down towards them, making sure there wasn’t any threat, before going back to sleep.

After lunch back at the car, we started to make our way back east. We had hoped to have another go at finding another Little Owl on our way back, but having eased off earlier it now started to spit with rain again. Not surprisingly, there was no sign of any more owls still. We did find a big flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field beside the road and had a quick stop to look at them.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – feeding in a recently harvested sugar beet field

When we got back to the coast, it stopped raining again, so we went back to the grazing marshes to see if any owls were coming out to hunt. As walked out on the seawall, we heard a Water Pipit call and looked down to see it feeding on the edge of a puddle where the reeds had just been cut. This time we had a good look at it through the scope, noting it pale off-white underparts with neat black streaking, and its prominent pale supercilium. A pair of Stonechats was feeding nearby too.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding around a puddle in the recently cut reeds

It was getting late now, and the light was starting to fade. We could see a big flock of Brent Geese feeding out on the grass in the distance and watched as they took off and flew across the marshes, heading off to roost.

A Barn Owl appeared behind us. It flew in over the reeds, past us on the bank, and headed out across the grazing marshes. It was a noticeably darker bird than the one we had seen here this morning. It hunted for a minute or so around the edge of the reeds out in the middle, then headed off over the other side.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – a different bird, came out to hunt late this afternoon

It was getting late now. We already had a good haul of owls for the day, but there was one more still we wanted to try to see, so we headed inland again, and up to the woods. We walked through the trees and stood looking out over the grazing marshes as we waited for the light to fade. As we watched, several ducks flew in and landed down in the pools to feed, Mallard and Gadwall.

Then a Tawny Owl hooted from the trees behind us. We walked back into the wood and it hooted again. We looked over in that direction and saw a large shape fly out, disappearing off through the trees, as the Tawny Owl came out of its roost and headed off for the night.

We walked down along a path to an area where we know another male Tawny Owl favours. We had a short wait, but after a while it finally appeared through trees, and perched high above us. We managed to get it in the scope, silhouetted against the last of the day’s light, and watched it hooting, turning round on the branch, looking down towards us.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – silhouetted against the last of the light, hooting

The Tawny Owl stayed in the trees above us for several minutes, hooting on and off, before eventually it took off and disappeared deeper into the wood. We could still hear it, hooting in the distance, as we walked back to the car. It was a great way to end a very successful day out, seeking owls.

12th Jan 2018 – Norfolk Winter & Owls #1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The plan was to spend some of the time looking for a selection of our regular winter birds and some of the time trying to find owls. After two foggy days, it seemed like it might be more of the same today but then, contrary to all the forecasts, the sun came out! It was a lovely day to be out.

Holkham was our first destination this morning. As we turned into Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see several thrushes out on the wet grass feeding around one of the pools. We pulled up for a quick look and could see they were mainly Fieldfares along with a couple of Redwings too.  A short distance further on, a little covey of Grey Partridges was feeding in the grass on the other side.

As we got out of the car at the top of the Drive, a couple of Marsh Harriers flew low overhead, presumably heading out from the roost to feed. The first was a male, quite a dark one, possibly a young bird although greyness does not always correlate with age in male Marsh Harriers! This was closely followed by a female, dark brown with paler creamy yellow head and shoulders.

6O0A5898

Marsh Harrier – this male flew low over Lady Anne’s Drive

There were plenty of wildfowl here too. Little groups of Pink-footed Geese flew over calling, before landing out in the fields – we could hear their squeaky calls, higher pitched than the more familiar Greylags. A larger flock of Brent Geese arrived from the direction of Wells. On the other side, a big group of Wigeon was flushed by another passing harrier and flew round whistling, before landing back down in the grass.

6O0A5901

Brent Geese – flying in to feed on the grazing marshes

As we made our way through the trees towards the beach, a Treecreeper was calling in the pines. We walked east along the path on the edge of the saltmarsh. A couple of Skylarks flew over calling and a big flock of Meadow Pipits flushed from out in the vegetation.

There was no sign of any Shorelark in their usual favoured spot out on the saltmarsh. We continued on a little further, scanning all the time, and finally spotted one in the distance on a strip of shingle in a gap in the dunes. A couple walking their dog were just coming off the beach beyond, walking straight towards it. We all had a quick look at it through the scope in case it flushed, but thankfully it stayed put.

We walked over half way towards it and stopped again for a closer look through the scope. We could see its creamy yellow face and black bandit mask. We could see now that the Shorelark appeared to be on its own and was rather nervous. We could hear it calling, presumably trying to locate the rest of the group here. Then it flew over us and landed back on the saltmarsh where we had just been. We walked back, but the Shorelark was calling all the time now. It took off and circled round over the saltmarsh, before flying off over the dunes to the beach.

6O0A5666

Shorelark – just one this morning, this photo taken the other day

Out on the beach, we could feel the warmth of the sun, which was just high enough to reach here over the pines behind. Scanning the sea, we found a group of Red-breasted Mergansers. Several smart males were chasing round after a single female, showing off their spiky haircuts.

There were lots of Cormorants standing on the sand and several more diving out on the sea, along with a handful of Great Crested Grebes. Looking carefully, we managed to find a single Red-throated Diver with them, but it was hard to get onto, diving all time. There were not many waders on the beach, just a few Oystercatchers, but three Sanderling flew past just offshore, shining white in the morning sunshine.

As we walked back towards Holkham Gap, a movement in the dunes just below the trees caught our eye. A female Stonechat had landed down in the marram grass. It flew up and very helpfully posed in front of us on the top of a young pine.

6O0A5904

Stonechat – feeding in the dunes below the pines

Back through the pines, we headed west along the track on the other side of the trees. It was fairly quiet until we reached Salts Hole. Here, we could see two Little Grebes asleep on the edge of the reeds on the far side, in the sun. A couple of Coot were busy diving, and a female Goldeneye swam out into the middle to join them. A big flock of Wigeon flushed from the grazing marsh behind, and several flew in and landed on the water whistling noisily.

6O0A5909

Goldeneye – this female was diving out on Salts Hole

The drawback of it being such a lovely morning was that at Washington Hide, we were looking into the sun. There was no sign of anything on the pool in front of the hide today, although we did hear a Bearded Tit calling from the reeds.

One of the Great White Egrets then appeared, landing on the grazing marsh just to the west of us. A Grey Heron flew across and chased after it – a good size comparison, we could see that there was nothing between them. The Grey Heron seemed to lose interest pretty quickly and the Great White Egret landed again, before walking down into one the reedy ditches.

We carried on our way west. We were almost up to the crosstracks when we came across a big flock of tits. We heard the Long-tailed Tits first and they dropped out of the pines and made their way through the bushes across to the other side of the track. They were followed by several Coal Tits and Goldcrests. A few seconds later, a rather wet Coal Tit flew back to the bushes on the edge of the pines and perched in the top of one preening. A wet Goldcrest followed. They had obviously been down for a drink and a bathe in one of the ditches.

As we opened the windows of Joe Jordan Hide, we could see lots of geese on the grass just below. They were mainly Greylags, but a single Pink-footed Goose was with them. It was a good comparison – we could see the large orange carrot of a bill on the Greylag Geese compared to the more delicate and darker bill of the Pinkfoot.

IMG_9482

White-fronted Geese – more today, feeding out on the old fort

There were more geese further back, feeding on the grass on the top of the old fort. Through the scope we could see they were White-fronted Geese – we could see the distinctive white surround to the base of their bills and their dark belly bars. These birds come here from their breeding grounds in Russia for the winter in very variable numbers. There have been rather few present so far this winter but numbers have just started to increase, possibly in response to colder weather out on the continent. 

Another Great White Egret appeared, landing out in the wet grass between the hide and the pool. It looked huge next to the Greylag Geese feeding nearby. Through the scope we could see its long, dagger-shaped yellow bill.

IMG_9492

Great White Egret – showing off its size relative to the Greylags

There were a few ducks around the pool beyond, mainly Teal along with a few Shoveler. A couple of Mistle Thrushes landed on the grass below the hide, feeding in amongst the molehills with a Fieldfare. A female Kestrel was walking around looking for worms in the grass too.

Looking out of the side window, we noticed a good number of waders around the pools down in the grass. Through the scope, we had good views of Ruff and a nice comparison with a Common Redshank. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits too and several diminutive Dunlin running around between them. A few Curlew were feeding out on the grass as well, until everything was flushed by a passing Marsh Harrier.

It was getting on for lunch time now, so we made our way back to the car. As we ate, a Red Kite flew lazily across over the grazing marshes.

After lunch, we headed inland. We drove round via a couple of sets of barns where Little Owls live, but there was no sign of any at first. Unfortunately, it had clouded over a bit now. At our third attempt, we found one. It was rather distant and tucked down under the lip of the roof, but we could see its speckled breast, and the white spots on its brown back.

The afternoon was getting on now and it was already starting to get rather dull. We made our way back down to the coast and out onto the grazing marshes. A distant Barn Owl was already out hunting on our arrival, but it didn’t come round our way as we had hoped. We could hear Bearded Tits and Reed Buntings calling in the reedbed below the seawall, and a nice male Bearded Tit perched up in the top of the reeds briefly for us.

Thousands of Pink-footed Geese flushed from the far side of the grazing marshes. It was quite a sight and sound. Some of them landed back down on the grass, but some flew off over our heads calling. Very noisy!

6O0A5940

Pink-footed Geese – thousands flushed from the grazing marshes

We drove round to the other side of the grazing marshes to see if we could find where the Barn Owl had gone. There was no sign of it here either. We did get a glimpse of a second Barn Owl out hunting, a darker bird, but it dropped down behind the reeds out in the middle before everyone could see it and didn’t reappear. We drove back inland, round via some other sites where Barn Owls like to hunt, but there was no sign of any – they must not be hungry enough to come out feeding in the daylight at the moment.

It was starting to get dark now, so we headed up to the wood. We stood on the edge for a few minutes and looked out over the meadows below, where a Water Rail was squealing. Then the first Tawny Owl starting hooting behind us, so we walked back into the trees. We stopped on the corner of the track and waited.

After a few minutes, a female Tawny Owl called behind us. Then we heard another male hooting in the distance. Finally, a third male Tawny Owl started hooting close to us. We stood and listened for a while and eventually this one flew towards us. It landed in a tree in front of us briefly, but it looked like it saw us and flew across the track and deeper into the trees. It seemed like the opportunity might have passed.

Then we heard the Tawny Owl hooting again and it seemed to be coming from the edge of the track a little further down. We walked along and scanning the branches managed to find it perched high in tree above us. We managed to get it in the scope, silhouetted against the last of the light. It stayed there for several minutes, first hooting, then calling,  before dropping back through the trees in the direction it had first come. As we walked back to the car, we could still hear it hooting from deeper in the wood.

It was a great way to end our first day, watching Tawny Owls at dusk. But it was getting dark now, so it was time to call it a day.