Tag Archives: Tree Pipit

22nd June 2017 – Summer Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. After the recent hot weather, it finally broke today. But although we dodged the thunder storms successfully, it was rather cool and windy afterwards, through the afternoon.

On our way down, we stopped off first at Weeting Heath. We were immediately rewarded with lovely views of a Stone Curlew feeding in the long grass in front of the hide. It was quite active, running backwards and forwards, looking down at the ground for food and occasionally pecking at something. A careful scan revealed a second Stone Curlew, sat down hidden in the vegetation – we could just see the back of its head! A Mistle Thrush was hopping around on the shorter grass in front of the hide too.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – showing well at Weeting today

One of the targets for the day was to see summer warblers, so we made our way over to another site where we hoped we might find some. We were duly rewarded with a nice selection. Garden Warbler was a particularly sought after species and we found at least two pairs, one of the males singing briefly. A subtle species, it was good to get a proper look at them, as they can be rather skulking.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – we got good views of this species today

We also heard and saw several other species here – Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were all singing and perched around in the bushes. Only Lesser Whitethroat evaded us here – they are present, but probably busy with breeding at the moment and consequently silent and hiding.

This is also a good spot for Nightingale. They were rather quiet at first – it is not the best time of the year to look for them – but we eventually heard one singing. We followed the sound and saw it perched up briefly in a hawthorn. It took a while to get everyone onto it, but thankfully came out onto the same branch again for a second. Then it dropped down out of view. As we continued on round, we heard another Nightingale singing further over and one calling nearby, sounding rather like a frog croaking.

There were a few other birds here too. We flushed several Linnets from the grass and bushes as we walked round. A female Greenfinch flew up in front of us and landed on some brambles, carrying some moss in its bill, presumably busy nest building nearby. We heard a couple of Yellowhammers singing and eventually got a look at one perched on some overhead wires.

GreenfinchGreenfinch – this female was probably nest building nearby

We had heard thunder rumbling and dark clouds starting to gather. The lightning when it started was quite dramatic but thankfully some distance away. Finally it started to spit with rain, so we made our way quickly back to the car. We arrived just in time, as the heavens opened.

The rain had stopped by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, but it was still cloudy and rather cooler than it had been earlier. We headed straight out onto the reserve, with Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers, and Common Whitethroats all singing by the path and showing well. In contrast, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted from deep in the bushes.

There were a few birds on the pool in front of the New Fen Viewpoint. An adult Great Crested Grebe was being followed round by a well grown juvenile, still boasting a black and white striped face. The family of Coot have almost fully grown young too, but the female Tufted Duck was all alone. A Kingfisher zipped out of the trees behind us and disappeared low across the water, returning the same way a minute or so later with fish in bill. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds at the back.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on the pools at New Fen

As we continued out along the main path, there were lots of dragonflies by the path. Several male Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the bare dirt along the track, flying off ahead of us. The vegetation either side was alive with Ruddy Darters today, presumably recently emerged as they seemed to be mostly young males and females. There were butterflies too, with Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells on the brambles. A Large Skipper landed briefly beside the path.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – there were lots out today

On the walk out, we had heard a Cuckoo singing from the poplars in the distance, but it had stopped when we got to New Fen. As we approached the West Wood it flew straight out of the trees towards us and landed in the poplars right by the path. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it flew deeper into the trees and started singing again. A second Cuckoo was still singing in West Wood as we passed.

CuckooCuckoo – landed in the poplars next to the path briefly

Continuing on to Joist Fen viewpoint, there were several RSPB volunteers hanging around staring out across the reeds. They were doing a Bittern survey today. It wasn’t long before we spotted a Bittern for them. It flew up out of the reeds in front of the viewpoint and headed off over the channel, before turning and dropping down into the reeds along one side. There was a lot of Bittern activity today – this is a good time to see them, as the adults are making regular feeding flights to and from their nests.

There were plenty of other birds to see at Joist Fen. Several Marsh Harriers were quartering back and forth over the reeds, a Common Tern was fishing over one of the pools and a Cormorant flew up from one of the channels and headed over towards the river. A flock of over 20 Black-tailed Godwits circled over the reedbed. We heard Bearded Tits calling a couple of times but couldn’t see them – it was getting rather breezy now. There was no sign of any Hobbys here today, but it was perhaps rather too cool and windy after the rain, which was keeping all the insects down.

Climbing up onto the river bank, we had a quick scan across the fields opposite, but it was all rather quiet here. Several Mute Swans were feeding along the river, as was another Great Crested Grebe. Looking back across Joist Fen, we spotted another two Bitterns flying across together further over, before splitting off and dropping down again in different directions.

Back at Mere Hide it was more sheltered and there were more dragonflies, with several Four-Spotted Chasers chasing around over the water. A Red-eyed Damselfly landed on a cut reed stem just in front of the hide. A Kingfisher flew in and looked like it might land on one of the posts out in the water but instead carried on past and landed in the reeds right next to the hide. It was partly obscured by the reeds, but we got a great look at it.

KingfisherKingfisher – landed in the reeds right in front of Mere Hide

Back at New Fen, we stopped by the viewpoint again briefly, but there were still no Hobbys here either. We did see another Bittern, our fourth of the morning, which flew right across low over the reeds and over the river bank, turning and landing just beyond. We walked round there to see if it was close to the path, but when we arrived there was no sign of it.

We made our way back along the river bank to the Washland. It was looking rather dry now, and there were fewer ducks than earlier in the year. We did manage to see a nice selection of waders, including a single Little Ringed Plover, one Redshank, two Black-tailed Godwits and plenty of Oystercatchers & Lapwings. In the distance beyond, e could see a Red Kite circling.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back to the car. We were just getting the food out when we looked up to see a Bittern flying low overhead. A bit of a surprise, as we were some way from any reeds! It disappeared off towards the visitor centre.

BitternBittern – flew low over the car park as we were getting our lunch out

After lunch, we headed back into the forest to look for some typical species which can be found here. Our first stop has been a regular site for Redstart in the last few weeks, but there was no sight nor sound of it here today. Hopefully, this means it has found a female and they have settled down to breed nearby.

We had a walk into the clearing and as we made our way round the edge, a pipit flew overhead and dropped down into the grass. We made our way over to see if we could see it but before we got there we heard a bird calling softly from the trees nearby and looked up to see another pipit perched in a pine. As we hoped, it was a Tree Pipit and we got a great look at it through the scope.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – up in the pines carrying food for its young

The Tree Pipit was carrying food in its bill, so presumably has young nearby. We left it in peace and retreated. We had intended to go to another site for Tree Pipit after this, but there was now no need. So instead we went round to the other side of the clearing to see if we could find any sign of a Redstart.

It was rather quiet here now, the middle of the afternoon and cool and breezy. A flock of tits moved quickly along the edge of the pines – Long-tailed Tits accompanied by a few Blue and Coal Tits. We flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the grass, which flew up into the trees nearby. However, the highlight of our walk here was a Woodlark which perched in the top of a small pine briefly in the middle of the clearing.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. We had hoped that there might be more activity here, out of the wind, but it was rather subdued here too. As we walked round, we did find a couple of Nuthatches dropping down to the ground to feed under a small tree and we heard a Treecreeper calling from the wood. There were quite a few Siskins buzzing round the tops of the firs in the Arboretum and a pair came down and landed a little lower where we could see them briefly. A couple of Goldcrests showed themselves too.

We made our way down to the lake. There are always Little Grebes on here and they seemed to have had a good breeding season. As adult was feeding a small juvenile under the overhanging branches just along from the bridge. Further along, 3-4 fully grown juvenile Little Grebes, still sporting stripey faces, were diving among the lily pads.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of the fully grown juveniles on the lake

When we got the end of the lake, we turned and made our way slowly back to the car to finish the day.

9th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Private Tour today, our last day. We were planning to head down to the Brecks for the day. It was a nice day today, mostly cloudy but brighter later, lighter winds than of late, and we managed to dodge a couple of quick showers in the afternoon.

As we got down into the northern part of the Brecks, we started to see more pig fields. We stopped by one of them where we could see there was a large mob of gulls. The pig nuts had just been spread out in amongst one group of pigs and the gulls were squabbling in between them trying to help themselves. Then there was a loud ‘Bang!’ as a bird scarer went off and all the gulls took to the air.

When they landed again, down in a dip in the middle of the field, we scanned through the gulls we could see. We had hoped we might find a Caspian Gull, but they were mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls here today, of various ages, plus a couple of Herring Gulls. We had thought we might come back and have another look here later, but our day ended up taking us off in a different direction.

Stone Curlew was our next target and we quickly found a pair in a field by the road. The vegetation is growing up now and they are getting harder to see, particularly when they sit down. It took a careful scan to find them, but we could just see two heads peeping out. We got them in the scope and could see their staring yellow irises. A nice start to the day.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair hiding in the field

When originally discussing possible targets for these three days, Wood Warbler was one species which came up. Unfortunately the bird which had been singing near Brandon last week had not been reported for several days, but we wondered whether this might be just because of the windy weather. We went for a quick look just in case, but all was quiet in the trees where it had been, so we didn’t linger here.

Our next stop was more successful. We parked by a ride in the forest and walked along the track until we got to a large clearing. We could hear Goldcrests and a Treecreeper calling in the pines as we passed. As we approached the clearing we could hear a Stonechat calling and we looked over and saw a smart male perched on the top of an old stump row. A female was perched nearby with food in her bill. They clearly had young in the nest nearby.

StonechatStonechat – the pair in the clearing appear to have young

We were looking for Tree Pipit here and it didn’t take too long to find one. It was perched in the top of an elder tree just along from the Stonechats. We got a good look at it through the scope, swaying about in the wind, before it flew off and up into the pines trees beyond.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – perched in an elder tree briefly

Continuing on round the clearing, we caught a snatch of song, quite sweet and melodic but more rolling than a Blackcap. It seemed an odd place for a Garden Warbler and the first bird we saw come out of the young pine trees was a Whitethroat which led to a brief bout of head scratching – could we have imagined it? Thankfully, a couple of seconds later the Garden Warbler flicked up into the top of some brambles in the stump row behind, a nice bonus to see here and not one we had expected.

Back to the car and we drove round to another part of the forest. There has been a Redstart singing here recently, but we couldn’t hear it today. Whether it was just busy feeding somewhere out of view or has failed to find a mate and moved on was not clear. A smart male Yellowhammer flew in calling and landed on the fence in front of us.

We had a walk round and flushed a Cuckoo from the grass. It landed on a fencepost briefly, before flying off along the fence line. A second Cuckoo appeared and flew out to a small bush nearby, where we got a great view of it in the scope. Then we heard what we assume was the first Cuckoo singing in the distance, so there were two males here. A little later the second Cuckoo flew over and attempted to chase off the first, before flying back to its favoured bush.

CuckooCuckoo – one of two males here today

Another Tree Pipit flew in and dropped down into the long grass. We walked over to try to get a better look at it, but it had managed to sneak away. As we scanned the spot where it had dropped in, the next thing we knew it took off again from further along and flew off towards the trees.

As we turned to walk back, we could hear a Woodlark calling. Suddenly a male Woodlark flew up from a short distance ahead of us and started to sing, fluttering up over our heads, before drifting away over the clearing. We took a few more steps and heard another Woodlark calling. It sounded to be a long way away, but they are masters at throwing their voice and looking at the grass just ahead of us, we spotted it perched on a tussock, presumably the female.

WoodlarkWoodlark – perched on a tussock close to the path

We stopped immediately and had a good look at it through binoculars, but when we tried to get the scope on it, the Woodlark took off and landed in the grass further back, out of view. We headed back to the car and drove on. Having seen Stone Curlew earlier this morning, we were not to worried to see another, but we stopped briefly at Weeting on the way past anyway. We couldn’t find the Stone Curlews here today, but we did find three regular Eurasian Curlews out in the grass, a reminder they still breed in the Brecks in small numbers.

We stopped for lunch at Lakenheath Fen. While we were eating at one of the picnic tables, a Hobby drifted overhead. We had intended to explore the reserve after lunch, but with most of the possible species we might see here already on our list for the three days, another idea sprang to mind. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope at Welney for the last couple of days, which would be a new bird for one of us. It seemed like it would be a great way to round off the trip.

While Welney is not far away as the crow flies, it was a circuitous journey round from Lakenheath, through the Fens. When we arrived at the Welney WWT visitor centre, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling from the bushes outside, but couldn’t see them. We decided to look for them later, and with other things taking priority headed straight out to look for the phalarope. The staff at the visitor centre confirmed it had still been present just a short time ago, so we set off to walk the almost 1km down to Friends Hide.

When we got to the hide, The Red-necked Phalarope was out of view. There were several pairs of Avocets on here and quite a few chicks. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers had a couple of small fluffy juveniles with them too. We had been lucky with the weather today – it was warm and bright as we walked out to the hide – but we had been promised showers in the afternoon and a brief heavy rain shower came through. The adult Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers called to their respective young and sheltered the juveniles under their wings while the rain passed over.

AvocetAvocet – sheltering their chicks under their wings during the rain shower

It quickly brightened up again and the juvenile Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers were let out. The Avocets were being very aggressive. Their idea of childcare is to let the young fend for themselves and chase off potential predators. But they have got their definition of what might be a threat to their young awry – they were busy chasing off anything and everything!

A couple of adult Avocets kept having a go at the poor Little Ringed Plovers, chasing after them while they were trying to protect their young. The adult Little Ringed Plovers tried to lead them away with a distraction display, walking away with wings dangled, trying to look injured. It didn’t really work. The Avocets would follow them at first, then when the Little Ringed Plover felt it had got far enough away, it ran back to its chick but the Avocet simply chased back after it.

Avocet and Little Ringed Plover 1Avocet & Little Ringed Plover – the latter giving a distraction display, feigning injury

The Avocets kept chasing the Red-necked Phalarope too, which was probably why it spent so much time hiding in the reeds at the front of the pool. Every time the Red-necked Phalarope swam out, it was promptly chased off. We had a couple of quick views of it. At one point, when chased, it flew across the front of the scrape and landed on a small patch of mud, but the Avocet was still after it and once again it disappeared back into the reeds.

Eventually, the juvenile Avocets moved away from the Red-necked Phalarope’s favoured corner and it managed to swim about for a while feeding out in the open where we could get a good look at it. It was a male, which in phalarope’s means it is the duller plumaged of the sexes, with the females being brighter. The females do all the displaying and leave the males to incubate and rear the young. This male Red-necked Phalarope was still a smart bird, swimming round non-stop, in and out of the reeds, picking at the waters surface for insects of ducking its head under.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – swimming around in front of the hide

We watched the Red-necked Phalarope for a while, swimming once it finally came out into the open for a while. They are rare visitors here and this bird was probably heading up to Scandinavia or Iceland for the breeding season, though where it had spent the winter is anyone’s guess with Scandinavian birds wintering out in the Arabian Sea but recent studies showing that some of the small number of birds breeding in the Shetland Islands migrating to join the North American population in the South Pacific Ocean! When it finally swam back into the reeds again, we decided to start walking back.

On the way back, we stopped for a quick look in the other hides. There did not seem to be too much on view from Lyle Hide, apart from more Avocets – good to see that they appear to be doing so well at Welney. We heard a song that sounded vaguely reminiscent of jangling keys and looked out of the front of the hide to see a Corn Bunting perched on the top of the vegetation. We got a great look at it as it stayed there for a couple of minutes singing, before being spooked by a big flock of Rooks and dropping back down out of view.

Corn BuntingCorn Bunting – singing in front of Lyle Hide

There were several Black-tailed Godwits out to one side of the hide, but the light was bad here as we were looking into the sun. We got better views from the Nelson-Lyle Hide further back. This confirmed our suspicions that they appeared to be a mix of two different races. Nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit breeds across Europe east from the Netherlands. Only about 50-60 pairs breed in the UK on the Ouse and Nene Washes, including a couple of pairs at Welney. First summer islandica or Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits often remain in UK in rather than migrate up to Iceland to breed. There appeared to be a mixture of the two here, including a couple of nice limosa, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them.

Continental Black-tailed GodwitContinental Black-tailed Godwit – of the nominate race, limosa

Back at the Observatory, we could see a pair of Whooper Swans in front of the hide. This is a pair of injured birds which are not capable of flying back up to Iceland to breed, so have instead nested for the last six years at Welney, where they normally spend the winter. We could only see two of the four cygnets they were meant to have this year, but  presumed the others were hiding in the vegetation. Further back across the washes we could see another six or so Whooper Swans, presumably also all injured birds.

Whooper SwanWhooper Swan – with two cygnets

Back at the visitor centre, there were three more Black-tailed Godwits on Lady Fen. A quick look at the feeders as we were leaving finally got us views of the Tree Sparrows, with at least a couple coming and going, including one with only a half-grown tail.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow – coming to the feeders in front of the visitor centre

It was a lovely way to end three exciting action-packed days of East Anglian summer birding, watching the Red-necked Phalarope and all the other birds at Welney. It rounded off the list nicely – we had managed to see a nice set of rarer birds despite it being early June, as well as a great selection of our resident and scarcer breeding species. A job well done, we set off back for home.

 

4th June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours, our last day. It was a nice sunny day today, not too hot, with some hazy cloud, great weather to be out birding. We headed down to the Brecks to try to see some of the local specialities.

Stone Curlew is a scarce breeding species for which the Brecks is well known – it is one of the best places in the country to see them. There are a few remnants of grass heath left here, their traditional habitat, but many now attempt to nest of farmland. On our way south, we swung round by some regular sites to see if we could find one. After recent rain and warm weather, the vegetation has started to get rather tall, making them quite a bit harder to see. However, our luck was in this morning. At our first stop, we found a pair of Stone Curlews in a field.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair in a field this morning

The Stone Curlews were very hard to see at times in the vegetation, particularly when they sat down. However, with patience we were treated to great views through the scope as they walked around in the field. Even when they sat down, we could still see their heads – the striking yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

A couple of Brown Hares were in the field too. At first, they sat opposite each other, facing off. But then we were treated to a quick boxing bout, as one ran towards the other and they both reared up and flapped their front legs at each other. Then they gave up and went back to feeding quietly.

Brown HaresBrown Hares – this pair treated us to a quick bout of boxing

With great views of Stone Curlew in the bag, we moved quickly on. Lakenheath Fen was to be our main destination for the morning. It is a big reserve and we wanted to allow some time to explore as much of it as possible. We did stop at another couple of sites on our way, but couldn’t find any more Stone Curlews at either of these places today – they were obviously hiding in the vegetation here, perhaps not a surprise for a mostly crepuscular species, and with the day warming up nicely.

We did find a few Red-legged Partridges in the fields on our stops. A family of Mistle Thrushes were feeding down in the grass, a Jay flew across and landed on a fence post and a Marsh Tit calling from a line of trees were all nice additions to the day’s list.

After a rather leisurely journey down, it was already quite late in the morning by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, so we set out straight away onto the reserve. There were lots of butterflies feeding on the brambles by the path in the sunshine – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock. A single Common Blue was in the grass too as we walked past.

Small TortoiseshellSmall Tortoiseshell – several butterflies were feeding on the brambles on the walk out

There were a few warblers singing as we walked out. A Common Whitethroat was lurking in the bushes, we could hear Reed Warblers in the reeds, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed. Both Blackcap and Garden Warbler were singing from deep in the poplars but they were impossible to see amongst all the fluttering leaves.

There was quite a crowd gathered at New Fen viewpoint as we arrived. There had been a report of a possible Little Bittern heard here yesterday, but we didn’t hear anything other than the nattering of all the people. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water in front of the viewpoint, along with its stripy-headed chick. A Grey Wagtail was more of a surprise here, flying overhead before dropping down into the reeds. We could hear a male Cuckoo singing from the poplars and someone pointed out a female Cuckoo lurking in the top of one of the bushes out in the reeds.

CuckooCuckoo – a female, with rusty brown around the upper breast and neck

We got a good look at the female Cuckoo through the scope, noting the rusty brown tones to the upper breast, rather than the clean grey hood of the male. We heard lots of Cuckoos here today – both singing males with the classic ‘cook-coo’, the strange bubbling call of the females, and excited males giving various more elaborate song variations in response. It is such a scarce bird in the wider countryside these days, it is always great to come to a reserve like Lakenheath Fen where they are still relatively common and listen to them.

After a short rest at New Fen, we carried on up the main path. A Kingfisher zipped across out of the poplars and over the bank to New Fen, but too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A smart male Marsh Harrier, with silvery grey wings and black tips, circled up out of the reeds and over West Wood. A single Hobby, our first of the day, flew low across New Fen, just visible over the vegetation on the bank.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path, mostly Azure Damselflies and Blue-tailed Damselflies, but along the path on the edge of West Wood we found quite a few Red-eyed Damselflies in the reeds and nettles too. We had hoped to find a Scarce Chaser along here, but it was rather breezy along here now and there were just a few Four-spotted Chasers.

Red-eyed DamselflyRed-eyed Damselfly – several were along the path by West Wood

With one eye on the clock to make sure we got back in time for lunch, we made our way quickly out to Joist Fen viewpoint. We had been told on the walk out that the Bitterns had been showing very well here this morning, flying back and forth, but it seemed rather quiet at first, when we got there. We couldn’t hear any booming – it was the middle of the day by now, which can be a quieter time. There were at least six Hobbys hawking for insects distantly out over the reeds and several Marsh Harriers circling up. All the group finally got to see a Kingfisher here, with a couple zipping in and out out over the reeds carrying food.

Thankfully we didn’t have too long to wait. Suddenly a Bittern flew up out of the reeds. It turned and flew straight towards us, giving us a great look at it as it flew round and out of sight behind the bushes beyond the shelter. That would have been nice enough, but it then came over the bushes and turned back towards us, flying round close past behind us, croaking as it went. Wow!

BitternBittern – great views as it flew round the Joist Fen viewpoint

The Bittern flew about 180 degrees round the viewpoint, before finally bearing away to our left and dropping down into the reeds beyond, giving us all stunning flight views. A minute or so later, what was presumably the same bird started booming over in that direction. We couldn’t have asked for a better show.

With such great views of Bittern already, we decided that wouldn’t be bettered and started making our way back for lunch. As we walked back along the main track, a couple of Hobbys appeared over West Wood. They were joined by more and soon we had five Hobbys hanging in the air or circling. Even better, a couple of them drifted out over the reeds towards us, giving us our best views of the day overhead.

HobbyHobby – great views overhead on the walk back

Our luck was in with the dragonflies on the way back too. A young male Scarce Chaser flew past, a flash of rich orange, and landed on a reed stem nearby. We had seen a couple of Hairy Dragonflies on the walk out, but a smart male stopped nicely for us in the sun now. We also managed to find a Variable Damselfly with all the Azure Damselflies too.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – a male, with distinctive hairy thorax

After lunch back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off into the Forest to try to find some other of our target birds for the day. There has been a Wood Warbler singing near Brandon for about ten days now and it has been showing very well at times. We drove down the track and parked, before walking along the path to where it has been seen. Even before we got there, we could hear it singing.

As we walked in to the trees, it was clear the Wood Warbler was singing from low down and right by the path. We were treated to some great views as it fluttered around only a couple of metres up in some small trees just a short distance ahead of us, even coming right towards us along the path at one point. We even managed to get it in the scope briefly, when it perched still for a while, singing.  Bill open, its whole body quivered with the effort of delivering its song, sounding rather like a spinning coin slowly settling on a hard surface.

Wood WarblerWood Warbler – showed very well, singing right in front of us

Wood Warbler is a very scarce bird here these days, though it is still found in the wetter woods of the north and west of the country. It used to be a regular breeder here albeit in small numbers, but has now all but disappeared, with just the occasional lone bird found singing, possibly a northbound migrant which has stopped off for some reason to try its luck. This has been a better spring for them, with several seen this year, but still it is unlikely any will manage to pair up and breed. Eventually, the Wood Warbler started to move higher into the trees, so after seeing it so well we moved quickly on.

Our luck was in now, as we headed over to another site in the Forest and immediately heard a Redstart singing from a small group of trees as soon as we arrived. We made our way round to the other side, at a discrete distance so as not to disturb it, and the Redstart suddenly appeared in the top of a large hawthorn. Through the scope, we got a great look at it, bright reddish-orange below, black faced and with its striking white forehead shining in the sun. Male Redstarts are really stunning birds to see.

RedstartRedstart – a cracking male singing on the edge of the Forest

The Redstart kept dropping down out of sight, but then coming back up into the top of the hawthorn to sing. The song is easily overlooked, a series of short, melodic but slightly sad sounding bursts interspersed with long pauses. We stood and listened to it for a while, until it worked its way through the bushes and round to the other side of the trees, out of view.

Like the Wood Warbler, Redstarts used to be much commoner birds in this part of the country, but declined through the last century and are now mostly confined to a few sites around the Forest. So it is always a treat to see one here and particular to hear it singing.

Our final destination for the afternoon saw us park up by a forestry track and walk deeper into the forest. It was rather quiet in the trees, with just the odd Goldcrest or Coal Tit heard in the dense coniferous plantations. We made our way round to a clearing and, as we approached, a pair of Stonechats were perched in the top of an old stump row, calling. They were collecting food, so presumably had young nearby. A couple of Whitethroats appeared with them.

We had come looking for Tree Pipit and a short snatch of half song suggested there might be one close by. We walked round to the other side of some trees and there it was, perched in some dead branches. It stayed there for a few seconds, pumping its tail, and we could see it was colour-ringed, before it flew up into a tall birch tree nearby. Almost immediately it dropped back down towards the clearing and was followed by a second Tree Pipit, presumably a pair.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – appeared in some dead branches in front of us

One of the two Tree Pipits dropped down to the ground out of sight, but the second, presumably the male and the same bird we had seen first, landed in the top of a young fir tree, where we could get it in the scope. We had a great look at it, as it stayed there for ages, preening for a while, looking round, turning so we could see it front on as well.

While we were standing here watching the first Tree Pipit, we just caught what sounded like the song of another way off in the distance. Scanning the young trees, we managed to find it, perched in the top of another small fir, right over the other side of the clearing. It is great to think there might be two pairs here this year.

Eventually, the first Tree Pipit dropped down to the ground out of view, so we left them to feed quietly. It was time to call it a day anyway now, so we made our way back to the car. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, and a great way to round off an exciting three days of summer birding in East Anglia.

28th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. The weather is finally improving – although it was cloudy and cool this morning, it was dry all day. By the afternoon we even had some blue sky and sunshine – it even felt like spring!

As we drove west, we decided to have another quick look at Choseley on the way, on the off chance that the Whinchats seen there yesterday were still present. We were just driving up past the drying barns when we spotted a plump bird land on the wires as we passed. A quick stop and we could just see it was a Corn Bunting, but it flew down before anyone could get onto it. We parked the car and got out to see if we could find it again. A Brown Hare was in the field next to us but ran off as we all emerged.

6O0A8543Brown Hare – in the field next to where we parked

The first birds we saw were two Turtle Doves which flew in and landed on the wires. They also dropped down into the field nearby out of view, so we carefully looked round the corner of the hedge. Unfortunately, the Corn Bunting had now disappeared, but the edge of the field was alive with birds. As well as the Turtle Doves, there were quite a few Yellowhammers and a couple of Red-legged Partridge. We stopped to watch them for a while.

6O0A8574Yellowhammer – there were lots at Choseley today, including several bright males

The Turtle Doves flew out further into the field when they saw us, but then flew round and landed on the concrete pad nearby. Most of the Yellowhammers flew over too – at one point we counted 11 Yellowhammers all together. They were all picking around on the concrete looking for any spilled grain. Several Pied Wagtails were feeding in the short grass along the footpath beyond.

IMG_3608Turtle Dove – a pair were around the Drying Barns this morning

6O0A8592Turtle Doves – the female was trying to evade the advances of the male

The birds continued to commute back and forth between the pad and the field. The male Turtle Dove started displaying to the female, chasing after her and bowing. She didn’t seem particularly interested and kept running away, and when he got too persistent she flew up with him still in pursuit. Two Common Whitethroats were singing from hedges and a few Swallows zipped through, but there was still no further sign of the Corn Bunting so we decided to try our luck down on the corner at the bottom of the hill.

When we got there, we could see the Wheatears were still out in the same field they were in yesterday, but we couldn’t find any sign of the Whinchat here today. We were hoping we might hear a Corn Bunting singing here, but it was all quiet. We did see a Corn Bunting fly over though, which disappeared off across the field towards the Thornham road. The surrounding fields were full of Brown Hares. We did get a bit of chasing today, but they quickly lost interest and didn’t start boxing.

Our next destination for the morning was Snettisham Coastal Park. When we arrived, we decided to have a quick look at the Wash, but the tide was still in and there was no sign of any mud emerging yet. We could hear Willow Warblers singing from the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat rattling too. As we walked round to the main path, we could hear Blackcap and Song Thrush singing too, but by the time we got to the other side the Lesser Whitethroat had gone quiet.

As we walked north through the bushes, the place was alive with birdsong. There were loads of Sedge Warblers, sitting in the tops of the bushes or songflighting, fluttering up and parachuting back down.

6O0A8610Sedge Warbler – there were lots singing from the bushes today

This is a great place to see Common Whitethroats. They too were singing from the bushes all the way up and display flighting. There are fewer Chiffchaffs here, but still we heard a couple. We had hoped to catch up with Grasshopper Warbler here today, but they were rather quiet as we walked up, with just a quick bout of reeling heard from some distance away. A Cuckoo accompanied us, singing all the way up, though keeping out of sight the other side of the bushes.

6O0A8597Common Whitethroat – they were singing everywhere today

We had thought we might see some visible migration here today, with the weather gradually improving. Unfortunately, with the wind still in the northwest there were just a few hirundines on the move, lone birds or little groups of Swallows and a handful of House Martins with them. Otherwise, there were a few Linnets and Goldfinches in the bushes and a male Stonechat in the brambles by the seawall.

When we got to the cross-bank, we had another look out to the Wash. It was a very big tide again today, and it was only just starting to go out far enough to expose some mud. The Oystercatchers which had been roosting on the beach further up were starting to feed along the shoreline and in between them we could see several tiny Sanderlings running along the water’s edge. There was a Turnstone here too and a couple of Ringed Plovers which made themselves difficult to see, running up the beach and then standing stock still camouflaged against the stones.

Over the other side of the seawall, on the short grass north of the cross-bank, we found a few Black-tailed Godwits including one in bright orange summer plumage. A Whimbrel was hiding down in the grass too. A pair of white-winged adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over our heads calling.

From over on the inner seawall, we stopped to scan over Ken Hill Marshes. There are always lots of geese here, Greylags, Canada and Egyptian Geese in particular. In addition, there is still a lingering group of Pink-footed Geese, at least 60 here today. We got them in the scope, noting their smaller size and darker heads compared to the Greylags, as well as their more delicate pink-banded mostly dark bills. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have already left, so they should be on their way back to Iceland soon, and there were also a few Wigeon still around the pools here, which should be heading back to Russia for the breeding season.

There were a couple of Reed Warblers singing from deep in the reeds here, but we still couldn’t hear any Grasshopper Warblers. We walked down and through the brambles where a couple of males have been holding territory recently, but they were both quiet. Eventually we heard a snatch of song and managed to find one of the males, but we only saw him zipping across between bushes and heard the odd call too. We really wanted to find a Grasshopper Warbler perched up and in full voice.

As we walked back to the inner seawall, we caught the briefest of glimpses of a blackbird-sized bird as it disappeared round behind a bush. It seemed slimmer than a Blackbird though, with longer tail and wings – it had to be a Ring Ouzel. Unfortunately, when we got round to the other side of the bush, it had completely disappeared.

There happened to be another birding group coming towards us along the inner seawall, and they asked if we had just seen a Ring Ouzel. They too had just had a glimpse of something which they thought might be one as it zipped over the bank and it had gone down into a hawthorn bush by the reeds the other side. As we walked along to where it had gone, we had a quick glimpse of it as it flicked between bushes.

When it finally came out properly it was off, flying strongly inland and out of sight, at which point our suspicions were confirmed, it was a female Ring Ouzel. Not the best of views, but a nice bird to find here. A loose spaniel was running amok out on the grazing marshes at this stage and managed to flush out three Whimbrel and a pair of Grey Partridge for us. We had a good look at the Whimbrel through the scope.

As we carried on south along the seawall, a Grasshopper Warbler suddenly burst into song, from the brambles just below the bank. Just like buses, a second Grasshopper Warbler then started up just a short distance away. We managed to find the first and got the scope on it, watching it reeling away, sounding rather like a grasshopper. It moved around a few times, reeling all the time, before finally dropping down into the grass out of sight. It was worth the wait to get such good views.

6O0A8629Grasshopper Warbler – one of two reeling from the brambles by the inner seawall

As we made our way back to the car along the inner seawall, a small mammal ran out of the taller grass and onto the path. It was small, slim and a distinctive gingery colour – a Harvest Mouse. With all of us walking along, it couldn’t work out how to get to the other side and ended up running over my shoe! We also got distant views of a male Wheatear up on the far seawall and then much closer views of a female down on the short grass in the clearing by the car park.

From up on the outer seawall, the tide was now well out and there was lots of exposed mud. It was covered in thousands of waders – mostly Knot, but we could also see Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers and Dunlin. Something spooked them and we had a quick fly round at one point, allowing us to appreciate just how many there were.

6O0A8633Knot – still large numbers out on the Wash at the moment

After lunch back at the car, we made our way round to Dersingham Bog. Once we got out of the trees, the first birds we found were a pair of Stonechat. There were lots of Linnets everywhere, on the path, perched in the trees or flying round. A large bird appeared high over the bog behind us, flying with stiff wing beats. It was a Short-eared Owl.  It flew very purposefully up towards the trees and disappeared from view.

That was a most unexpected bonus, but imagine our surprise when a second Short-eared Owl flew up from the bog only a minute later. This one circled up over the boardwalk in front of us for a couple of minutes before also disappearing inland.

6O0A8646Short-eared Owl – the second we saw fly up from the Bog today

What we had really hoped to see here was a Tree Pipit, but we couldn’t hear one singing at first. We walked back along the path to some trees where they can often be found, and after scanning carefully found one perched high in a tall oak tree. We had a good look at it in the scope and it did break into song briefly, but was not going to display for us. When it took off, we watched it fly back and chase a second Tree Pipit which was displaying further behind, before returning to its tree. When the Tree Pipit disappeared again, we made our way back to the car park.

A quick diversion on the way back to the north coast and we arrived by the cliffs at Hunstanton. We wanted to see a Fulmar and before we even got out of the car, we spotted one gliding effortlessly along the clifftops. We stood on the grass for a while and watched several Fulmars flying up and down. One flew higher up and overhead too, while another took a detour over the houses the other side of the road. A quick look out to the Wash below produced a single, very distant Great Crested Grebe.

6O0A8697Fulmar – gliding along the cliffs at Hunstanton

We finished the day with a quick walk through the dunes at Holme. As we walked along the boardwalk, a deep rusty orange summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit flew across the saltmarsh and landed on the mud. There were several Common Whitethroats singing from the bushes in the dunes and we finally got a better view of a Lesser Whitethroat here too. There were loads of Linnets feeding in the short grass and a very smart male Wheatear as well, which we had to stop and admire through the scope.

6O0A8741Wheatear – a smart male, feeding in the dunes at Holme

It had been enough of a surprise to see one Short-eared Owl at Dersingham earlier, let alone two. Then here at Holme we came across our third Short-eared Owl of the day! This one was quartering an area of dunes. We watched as it flew back and forth for a couple of minutes, before it dropped down into the grass.

What we had really hoped to see here was a Ring Ouzel and one duly obliged by flying past us. It was a marginally better view than we had enjoyed earlier at Snettisham. We walked over towards where it seemed to have landed, guided by another couple who had seen it fly across too. As we approached, we could hear chacking calls and suddenly a Ring Ouzel flew out of the bushes. It was promptly followed by a second, then a third, and the next thing we knew we had six Ring Ouzels in the air together. They circled round a couple of times over the bushes, giving us a great look at them, before flying right over our heads and back across the dunes.

6O0A8736Ring Ouzel – six flew out of the bushes and over our heads

We had to go back that way, and just along the path we found the other couple of birders watching the Ring Ouzels in the dunes. From a discrete distance, we watched as they flew down from the bushes and hopped around on a sandy bank, a couple of smart males with bright white gorgets and a couple of females with duller buff-brown crescents on their breasts. It was great to get such a good look at these generally very flighty birds.

IMG_3647Ring Ouzel – we eventually got great views of them feeding on a sandy bank

That was a great way to round off the day, so we headed back to the car well pleased. One more final bonus was in store though – as we drove back out along the entrance track a ghostly white Barn Owl appeared and circled over the bushes a couple of times before dropping down towards the paddocks out of view. It had really been quite an owl afternoon!

21st May 2016 – Spring in NW Norfolk

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours. Having gone east yesterday, we made our way in the other direction today, west along the coast.

Our first stop was at Choseley. There has been a single Dotterel here for the last few days, but when we arrived the assembled crowd had not seen anything this morning. We were just getting out of the car when someone stopped to tell us it was visible from the road the other side, so we got back in and drove round that way instead. We were glad we did. The Dotterel was much closer than usual and there was no heat haze this morning, which meant we had great views of it through the scope.

IMG_4402Dotterel – showing well this morning

It was very blustery today, in a fresh SW wind, but we found a sheltered spot behind th hedge. We watched the Dotterel running back and forth, occasionally picking at the ground. At one point, we noticed a Ringed Plover in the same view – it had been hiding in the stones, perfectly camouflaged. When a couple of Brown Hares ran past, the Dotterel flew a short distance and landed back in the field.

There were other birds here too. A couple of Skylarks were tousling out in the field and another fluttered up singing. A pair of Yellowhammers landed briefly in the hedge beside us. Three Red-legged Partridge were picking around in the field. A couple of Marsh Harriers hung in the breeze and two Common Buzzards soared over the other side.

We made our way down to Holme next. We had hoped that it might be relatively sheltered on the far side of the paddocks, but the wind was whistling straight through the trees. There was a steady movement of Swifts west overhead in small groups, with a few House Martins and Swallows in with them.

6O0A3199Swift – there was a steady westward passage today

We could hear Chiffchaff and Common Whitethroat singing from the bushes, but they were keeping tucked down out of the wind today, and there was no sign of any Turtle Doves at first. We walked slowly along to the west end and we were almost at the golf course when we heard one purring briefly as we approached, just audible over the wind. We walked down to where we thought it had been, but it had gone quiet. There were lots of Wall Browns down in the grass in the lee of the bushes, enjoying a bit of sunshine.

6O0A3203Wall Brown – we found lots down in the grass in the dunes

It seemed like we might be out of luck and we had just started to walk back when the Turtle Dove purred again briefly. This time we walked round the other side of the bushes and the next thing we knew it started purring in the bush right beside us. We still couldn’t see it as it was round on the other side, and we eventually just got a quick glimpse as it flew off. It really was too exposed and windy here, so we decided to give up and move on. On the way back to the car, a Cuckoo flew past over the paddocks.

Our next destination was Dersingham Bog. We thought we might find a little shelter from the wind here, and so it proved. At the bottom of the slope we found a family party of Stonechats. The pair of adults were flitting around between the low birch saplings, and as we watched we saw them fly across and feed a recently-fledged streaky juvenile Stonechat down in the heather.

While we were watching the Stonechats, we scanned the trees up on the hill beyond and in the very top of one of them we found a Tree Pipit. We got the scope on it and could see its well-marked face pattern, and the heavily streaked breast contrasting with needle-fine streaking on the flanks. It dropped down out of view, so we started to walk round for a closer look.

We hadn’t gone far when a pair of Woodlarks flew overhead and dropped down into the heather at the base of the slope a short distance away. Through the scope, we had a great view of them as they walked through the grass and patches of cut bracken.

IMG_4424Woodlark – a pair were feeding quietly on bare ground at the base of the slope

We walked round, past where the Tree Pipit had been singing earlier, but there was no sign of it. At the top of the hill the other side, we found ourselves out in the wind, so we decided to double back the way we had come. On the way, we heard the Tree Pipit singing and saw it land in one of the trees again. This time, we got a much better view as it perched on a branch singing, before it dropped down over the ridge out of view. It was great to hear it too, as singing Tree Pipits are so much rarer in North Norfolk now than they used to be. On our way back to the car, we stopped to watch a Roe Deer walking through the bracken. The Tree Pipit was in a different tree, much more distant again now, but we could still hear it singing away.

We had lunch back in the car park and then set off for Titchwell, our destination for the afternoon. We cut the corner off, going inland cross-country, looking for Grey Partridges. Unusually, there was no sign of any today until we got almost back to Choseley. Then we came face to face with a male Grey Partridge walking down the middle of the road towards us! We had a quick stop by the barns, but it was very windy up here now and there was no sign of any Corn Buntings. A smart male Yellowhammer landed briefly on the concrete.

6O0A3205Grey Partridge – walking down the road near Choseley

Round at Titchwell, we walked straight out onto the reserve. A Robin by the visitor centre was probably too full of crumbs from the picnic tables to take any interest in the mealworms proffered by one of the group!

As we made our way along the main path by the reedbed, we could hear a Reed Warbler singing close by. We could just see it perched on a curving reed stem, so we got it in the scope and watched it singing away. Very helpfully, it then climbed up the reeds into full view – great stuff. A little further along, we heard a Sedge Warbler too, which was a great opportunity to stop and talk about the differences between these two often confused species. A Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the reedbed was less of an identification challenge!

6O0A3246Reed Warbler – singing by the main path at Titchwell

A Cuckoo was calling somewhere out across the reeds as we walked out. We stopped by the reedbed pool, but there were not many ducks on here today. We were however treated to repeated Bearded Tits flybys. Firstly, a male Bearded Tit zoomed low over the water and disappeared into the reeds. A short while later it flew back the other way. It repeated this procedure a couple of times, until we had all had a good look at him. A female Bearded Tit then flew out of the reeds and disappeared off behind the bushes in the direction of Fen Hide and the next thing we knew the male went on a long flight in that direction too. It is never normally a good idea to go looking for Bearded Tits on a windy day, so we were doubly lucky with their performance today.

6O0A3328Avocet – showing well as usual

Right in front of Island Hide, a pair of Shelduck were feeding in the sticky mud. There were several Avocets here as usual too. A single White Wagtail was feeding out with several Pied Wagtails still.

6O0A3267Shelduck – a pair were feeding in front of Island Hide

There were a few more waders on the Freshmarsh today. A large group of Oystercatcher were loafing around in the water and were joined by a single Curlew. Five Black-tailed Godwits were feeding between the islands. A flock of around twenty Turnstone flew in to bathe and then up onto one of the low islands to preen. Several of them are now in their stunning summer plumage, with extensive bright rufous feathering in the upperparts and white faces.

IMG_4449Turnstones – several are now in stunning summer plumage

Eventually we found the Little Stint, creeping around the flooded grassy islands over towards Parrinder Hide. When a Lapwing walked past, we could see just how tiny it was. We had seen a distant Little Ringed Plover over that side too, but then one appeared on the mud right in front of the hide. We could see its golden eyering so clearly now. Then from back up on the main path it was even closer. It was running around feeding, stopping to tap a foot on the mud, presumably to try to bring worms or other invertebrates to the surface.

6O0A3317Little Ringed Plover – showed very well from the Main Path

On the approach to Parrinder Hide, we could hear the Bittern booming. Even on the other side of the freshmarsh on such a windy day, it was clearly audible. From inside the hide, we could see the Little Stint much closer now. A smart summer plumaged bird, with bright rusty fringes to its upperparts and rusty feathering around the face. A Spoonbill flew past too, but unfortunately those standing up with the scopes behind the seats missed it as those sitting down didn’t say anything until it had passed.

IMG_4521Little Stint – better views from Parrinder Hide

Some grey clouds came over but went through quickly without dropping any rain, so we decided to brave the wind and head out to the beach. The Volunteer Marsh was rather quiet again, apart from a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover on the side of the channel at the far end. Another was on the Tidal Pools.

The sea has been very quiet recently, with most of the seaduck long since having departed, so a single Common Scoter close inshore was most welcome. Even better, as we scanned across we found two cracking drake Common Eider on the sea too, the first we have seen here this year. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them – beautiful birds. Then further over still, we found a single Great Crested Grebe out on the sea as well.

IMG_4563Eider – these two stunning drakes were on the sea today

There were lots of Sandwich Terns fishing offshore and scanning through them we found a single distant Little Tern too. On the tideline, we could see a couple of flocks of roosting Oystercatcher and a few Sanderling running in and out of the waves. Then more Sanderling flew in to join them and in amongst them we could see a single black-bellied Dunlin.

6O0A3337Common Scoter – flew in over the beach to the Tidal Pools

We were just thinking about leaving when the Common Scoter suddenly flew straight towards us, in over beach. It appeared to go down just behind the dunes, and when we started to walk out there it was on one of the islands on the Tidal Pools. It looked very odd, standing upright and preening, and distinctly out of place for a seaduck on here. It was a male, as evidenced by the mostly black plumage and yellow stripe down the top of the bill, but a young one, with lots of retained brown feathering still and a mottled belly.

IMG_4588Common Scoter – landed on one of the islands to preen

There were still more things to see on the way. Back on the freshmarsh, two Little Terns dropped in to bathe before landing on one of the islands to preen. They dropped in conveniently close to a couple of Common Terns, giving a great side by side comparison and highlighting just how small they really are. A pair of Red-crested Pochard flew in to the front of the reedbed pool, the drake looking especially smart still with his bright red bill and yellow-orange punk haircut. And as we were almost back, a Cuckoo flew out of the trees and away across the saltmarsh towards the dunes.

As a consequence of all the excitement, we were later back to the car than planned, but it had been well worth it, and a great way to round off the day.

7th May 2016 – Stilted Day

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. It was another glorious sunny day, with a most welcome cool breeze at times on the coast. We made our way in the other direction, east along the coast today.

A Black-winged Stilt had been found at Cley first thing this morning. As we were heading that way, we stopped off to try to see it. We had only just got out of the car when we heard it had flown off, so we got back in again and continued on up to the Heath. When we got up there, we heard that the Stilt was back at Cley, but after a quick discussion it was decided that we would explore the Heath first and hope it was still there in the afternoon.

6O0A1922Yellowhammer – one of the first birds we saw on the Heath

As we walked up along the path, a couple of Linnets flew up into the brambles. A little further along and a Yellowhammer flew across landed in a tree. It dropped to the ground and started feeding on the edge of the path, where it’s yellow head shone in the morning sunshine. We could hear Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats singing and a Goldcrest too, which flicked in and out of the bushes in front of us. Several Common Buzzards circled up in the warm air.

Then we heard a Dartford Warbler singing. It was rather distant at first, but we followed the sound and then suddenly it flicked up into the top of a low birch tree in front of us. Unfortunately it didn’t stay long, and shot off back out of view. We waited a while to see if it would reappear – then it started singing behind us. We turned to see if songflighting over the gorse. We followed the Dartford Warbler for a while. It perched up a couple of times, but only briefly, although we had great views of it songflighting. Eventually it disappeared into a thick patch of gorse.

As we walked round to see if we might be able to pick it up again the other side, a clatter of wings and we turned to see a Turtle Dove taking off. It flew round beside us and disappeared into the trees beyond. A Garden Warbler was singing from the trees too. As we walked round, we noticed some movement and looked up to see a Tree Pipit in the very top of a pine. We had a good look at it through the scope before it dropped down out of view. Tree Pipits used to breed here until comparatively recently, so perhaps this one might yet stay here for the summer.

We walked round to the other side of the Heath and stopped to watch a pair of Stonechats. The female appeared in front of us, carrying food and calling nervously. The male hung back, perched on some gorse further over, before flying into the top of a nearby pine and singing. We reasoned they must have a nest close by and did not want to drop in to feed their brood with us close by, so we backed off.

6O0A1924Stonechat – the female was carrying food

We could hear another Turtle Dove calling, a delightful, delicate purring sound, but it was deep in the trees. Another Woodlark flew over, calling. A little later it returned overhead and started singing its distinctive mournful song. It circled round before dropping down out of view. A couple of seconds later, two Woodlarks flew up again and headed off towards the paddocks. Presumably the male had returned to the female to collect her and take her off somewhere to feed.

Then more Dartford Warblers appeared, a pair. They were flying back and forth but would not sit still for a second. We had good flight views, and watched them briefly clambering up through a pine tree. Then, given we had seen all that we wanted to see up on the Heath, we decided to move on and head back to the coast.

We made a brief stop along the Beach Road at Salthouse. When we opened the windows, before we even decided to get out of the car, we could hear a Yellow Wagtail calling. Scanning carefully over the grazing marshes we found him out on the grass, a smart, bright yellow male Yellow Wagtail. There were also several Wheatears further over – we got them in the scope and admired particularly the striking males with black bandit masks.

There had been some Wood Sandpipers overnight and early this morning on the pools by the Iron Road, but by the time we got there we could find no trace of them. Presumably they had flown off. A couple of Whimbrel were feeding out on the grass and we had a good look at them in the scope, admiring their stripy head patterns.

IMG_3953Whimbrel – 2 were by the Iron Road again today

After lunch at Cley, we headed out to explore the reserve. The Black-winged Stilt had not been reported here for some time, and staff at the Visitor Centre had no real idea where it was or what had happened to it. Thankfully, as we set off onto the reserve, we met a friendly birder coming back who told us that the Black-winged Stilt was still showing well. We stopped to admire a smart male Reed Bunting in the bushes by the path on the way. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them today.

6O0A1936Reed Bunting – singing by the path on the way out

We headed straight for Dauke’s Hide but when we got in there, the Black-winged Stilt had settled down in the vegetation for a snooze. All we could see of it was a small white patch through the dead reed stems. We amused ourselves by looking at some of the other birds on Simmond’s Scrape – a Greenshank, Avocets and several Black-tailed Godwits, some still lingering now in bright rusty summer plumage.

6O0A1987Black-tailed Godwit – in bright rusty summer plumage

A Lapwing was out on the bank in front of the hide, its green back looking iridescent in the sunshine. We heard them before we saw them, as five Little Terns flew in and dropped down into the water to bathe. We could see their small size, black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

6O0A1956Lapwing – in front of the hide

Then the Black-winged Stilt woke up. Something spooked all the waders and the Black-winged Stilt responded too, having a fly round over the scrape. It landed down on the water again, rather distant but a fraction closer than it had been , and we all got a good look at it through the scope as it fed in the shallow water. Black-winged Stilts do breed regularly as close as northern France and with a few more breeding attempts in the UK in recent years, it is hoped that this might be the beginning of a long-awaited colonisation.

6O0A1943Black-winged Stilt – a little distant at first

We took our eyes off the Black-winged Stilt for a short while to look at some of the other birds, and when we looked back it seemed to have gone. Some careful scanning for a few seconds and we noticed it had flow over to Pat’s Pool. Even better, it was now right in front of Teal Hide. We raced round there and had great views of it feeding in the channel just before us, before it was chased off further along by a pair of Avocets. Stunning!

6O0A2059Black-winged Stilt – showed very well right in front of Teal Hide at one point

After feasting on such great views of the Black-winged Stilt, we turned our attention to the other waders on Pat’s Pool. There was a largish flock of Black-tailed Godwits over towards the back and in with them we could see several Ruff. Several of the males have already got their outlandish neck feathers (the ‘ruff’), in various colours and patterns. We could see a rusty-ruffed male, one with a black ruff and yet another with an off-white one. Three smaller, scaly-backed females (more properly known as ‘Reeves‘) were in the flock with them.

The male Ruffs were clearly getting excited already. They do not breed here, more’s the pity, so it is rarer to see the males displaying. We were lucky to see several males chasing each other and the Reeves around, with their neck feathers fluffed up today. A real treat to see.

IMG_4037Ruff – a black-necked bird, its ‘ruff’ folded away

A smaller wader found itself in the midst of the displaying Ruffs. It was sporting bright brick red underparts – a summer plumage ‘Red’ Knot. We know them better as just Knot, as we see them mostly in their all grey winter garb, but they are stunning birds in their summer finery. Only in this plumage does the American name of Red Knot finally make sense.

There was a nice little group of Dunlin out in the water too, dwarfed by the godwits, many of them now sporting smart black belly patches. A couple of Common Sandpipers were feeding quietly round the edges of the islands. With more people coming to admire the Black-winged Stilt, we decided to move off and make some space in the hide. On the walk back, a very obliging Sedge Warbler was singing in an elder bush right by the boardwalk. We stopped to watch a Lapwing displaying over Cricket Marsh, flying backwards and forwards with flappy beats of its big, rounded wings, occasionally rising up a tumbling back down.

6O0A2085Sedge Warbler – sang for us on the way back

We walked round past the visitor centre and up on to the East Bank. The grazing marshes and the Serpentine are looking great for waders still, but all seemed a little quiet at first. There were plenty of Lapwing and a few Redshank but not much else today. Then out at the Serpentine, we found a couple of Common Sandpipers feeding along the muddy edge. A Little Ringed Plover was displaying and when it was finished it dropped down onto the dried mud with a second bird. Further over, we found a very smart Turnstone in summer plumage, with white face and bright rusty feathers in its upperparts.

A careful scan of the grazing marshes produced a single White Wagtail – a migrant here, yet to continue its way on north to the continent. There are not so many ducks out here now, but we did stop to admire a pair of Gadwall close to the path. The males are much underrated compared to some of their gaudier cousins, but are delightfully intricately patterned up close. For membership of the Gadwall Appreciation Society, apply here!

IMG_4045Gadwall – the most underrated of drakes

We stopped in the new shelter to have a look at Arnold’s Marsh. There were lots of waders out here today – particularly Dunlin and in with them a good number of Ringed Plover. A careful scan through revealed a couple of Sanderling too. The first couple of Bar-tailed Godwits we found were still in non-breeding plumage, but later two appeared with rusty underparts, the colout extending all the way down onto the vent, unlike the Black-tailed Godwits.

However the highlight were the Grey Plover. There were at least 16 here and many of them are now coming into summer plumage too, with striking black faces and bellies, and white spangled upperparts. Cracking birds! A couple of Sandwich Terns flew over, calling. Then we started to make our way back. A pair of Skylarks were on the dirt on the path on the East Bank, one of which was enjoying a vigorous dust bath.

6O0A2107Skylark – enjoying a dust bath in the East Bank

We stopped briefly for a glimpse of a Water Vole in the ditch by the path. It saw us coming and slipped quietly away in the water. We still had enough time for a quick look in at Bishop Hide on the way past. The waders were much the same from this side, and nothing new seemed to have dropped in. However, we had a couple of different Ruff over this side, one with delightfully barred neck feathers. A summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit was in with the Black-tailed Godwits, allowing a great comparison, when they were not being chased off by the Avocets.

IMG_4070Ruff – a smart male with intricately barred ruff

We could see the Black-winged Stilt still, in the distance in front of the other hides. A Marsh Harrier appeared over the reeds, drifting towards the scrape, but was promptly seen off by a Lapwing and several Avocets keen to defend where they plan to raise their chicks. Then it was time to make our way back to the car and head for home.

6O0A2136Marsh Harrier – chased off by the Lapwings and Avocets

18th July 2015 – Basking in the Brecks

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today, and we headed down to the Brecks for a day of Stone Curlews, Cranes & Bitterns. It certainly lived up to billing, on a lovely sunny day with just enough of a fresh breeze to stop it getting too hot.

We met in north Norfolk and headed south. We made a quick stop off on the way down to see if we could find any Stone Curlews. As well as the heathland remnants in the Brecks, many pairs nest in farmland in the surrounding countryside. However, they can be easier to see earlier in the year here, before the crops get so high. Their favoured fields were also very disturbed this morning with farming activity – several tractors and people walking around – so we moved swiftly on. We did have two Red Kites circling low over our heads.

P1050667Red Kite – one of two which came low overhead this morning

Our first destination proper was Lakenheath Fen. It was already getting warm by the time we got there. Warbler activity is significantly lower at this time of the year compared to the spring – yet we still heard a couple of Whitethroats, a Blackcap, and several Reed and Sedge Warblers as we walked out along the path into the reserve.

New Fen appeared very quiet initially as well, with little in view except a couple of juvenile Coots. Then a shrill call alerted us to an incoming Kingfisher. It flew in and landed initially on the perch right in front of the viewpoint, but unfortunately it saw us and decided not to linger there. Still, it landed again on the reeds a little further back across the pool and we had great views of it in the scope. It dropped into the water with a splash and came up with a fish in its bill. Not stopping, it flew off into the trees behind us in a flash of electric blue – it obviously still has young in the nest to feed. Then a second Kingfisher appeared on the pool.

IMG_6984Kingfisher – several birds were fishing around New Fen today

It was while we were watching the Kingfisher, that we suddenly heard crashing in in the reeds right in front of us. The next thing we knew, a Bittern flew out! It only flew a few metres and landed again on the edge of the reeds. It stood there for a second, looking around, then tried to walk into the reeds. It was obviously not easy going because it stopped, had another look round and decided it needed to persevere, and then finally pushed its way into the vegetation and out of view. Fantastic views and a great start. A short while later, another Bittern flew over the back of New Fen and dropped down into the reeds.

P1050675Bittern – landed on the edge of the reeds in front of us…

P1050676…tried to push its way in, before having second thoughts…

P1050681…had another look round before finally working its way out of view.

There were several Reed Warblers singing around the pool. They can be very good mimics and one in particular began each burst of song with a convincing copy of a Bearded Tit pinging. Finally, as we were about to leave, a Bearded Tit proper appeared, flying across the pool, but it disappeared quickly into the reeds on the island.

P1050690Ruddy Darter – a female

We headed on across the reserve. There were lots of dragonflies in the vegetation along the edge of the path – Brown & Southern Hawkers, Black-tailed Skimmers and Ruddy Darters, plus Blue-tailed, Common Blue & Azure Damselflies. There were plenty of butterflies too – Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Gatekeepers, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells, Commas and a single Small Copper.

P1050698Small Copper – one of many butterflies around the reserve today

As we walked along the main path past the West Wood, a glance to the north and we caught sight of four Cranes circling up from the fields the other side of river. There are two pairs of Cranes at Lakenheath Fen and both have fledged young this year – one pair raised two, and the other one chick. This is great news as they had struggled to raise any in the last couple of years. We presumed that this was one of the two families flying but they quickly disappeared from view behind the trees.

From the Joist Fen Viewpoint we could see several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reeds, and it was also good to see several juveniles amongst them. It was while we were watching these that one of the group spotted a Bittern flying behind us, from the reeds over towards the West Wood. We all got onto it and had great views as it set off on a very long flight, all the way along the river bank and out across Joist Fen almost to the far west end. As it got near to its destination, we could see a second Bittern flying round in the same area. The two landed in much the same place – the first bird dropping in shortly after, where we had seen the first disappear.

P1050713Marsh Harrier – this smart male flew past us on the river bank

After a brief sit down at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, we climbed up onto the river bank to see if we could see the Cranes again. We walked along slowly, scanning the fields across on the other side of the river which the Cranes favour, but at first there was no sign – it looked like the four Cranes we had seen earlier might have continued flying. We were just about to give up when one of the group spotted a head amongst the tall vegetation. We got the scopes onto it, and gradually saw more heads come up. We could see that at least one juvenile was amongst them, but it was only when we eventually saw two juvenile heads up at the same time that we could confirm this was the family of four Cranes. They were a little distant, but we still got good views of them through the scopes.

With that target achieved, we set off on the walk back. We were just about to drop down from the river bank back onto the reserve when we noticed three more Cranes flying away from us, over the fields on the other side of the river. They landed several fields over, rather a long way off but we could still see that there were two adults and a single juvenile – the second Crane family. It was great to be able to see all seven of Lakenheath’s Cranes today!

We had a quick look in at New Fen on the way back, but there was no sign of the Bittern in the reeds around the pool. A Kingfisher was still fishing around the reed edge. We were almost back to the Visitor Centre, when we caught a very brief snatch of Grasshopper Warbler song. We stopped and heard it again a couple of times, but it was rather quiet, possibly distant, and unfortunately we couldn’t see any sign of it in the bushes. A little further along, a Weasel ran ahead of us along the path.

After lunch, we headed over to Weeting Heath. We could hear Stone Curlews calling as soon as we got out of the car. Round at the hide, we could immediately see several Stone Curlews out in the grass. A single adult was  together with two well-grown juveniles a little further over towards the ridge, but then we noticed two adults on the cultivated area not far from the front of the hide. Even better, it clouded over just a little, just enough to relieve the heat haze which is an ever present at this site. We got the scopes on them and had great views, admiring their somewhat prehistoric appearance and staring pale iris.

IMG_7016Stone Curlew – great views at Weeting Heath today

Having admired the closest Stone Curlews preening and walking slowly through the grass, they sat down and merged into the vegetation. We then had time to scan the rest of the grass and could see several more birds scattered across the ridge further over. We counted at least nine Stone Curlews here today, including the juveniles – there are three pairs on site and some young have already fledged. It was great to see the Stone Curlews so well, but unfortunately the Firecrests and Spotted Flycatchers here both appear to have fledged their young in the last couple of weeks and the pines were rather quiet, so we didn’t spend long here.

Next we headed into the Forest and walked out along one of our favourite rides. It was a bit hotter in the afternoon, and there was less benefit from the breeze in the shelter of the trees. Perfect conditions for butterflies and there were lots on the flowers along the sides of the track. It was nice to see both Small & Essex Skippers, a few Small Heath and several more Small Copper.

P1050731Small Skipper – head on, showing the diagnostic pale antenna tips

In a large clearing, we immediately saw lots of activity around the overgrown, rowed up tree stumps. Perched on the very top of the stumps, we could see a male and female Stonechat. In amongst them, we could see a couple of Yellowhammers, Whitethroats and two Tree Pipits.

We walked round to the other side to get a closer look. As well as the male & female Stonechats, we could also see at least two juveniles. They were trying to hide more in the vegetation, less inclined to perch on the tops than the adults. However, on closer inspection we could see that the juvenile Stonechats were colour ringed, part of an ongoing ringing programme in the Brecks.

IMG_7028Stonechat – one of two colour-ringed juveniles in the clearing

The Tree Pipits had been chasing each other around and had appeared to fly off. As we walked around the edge of the clearing, we flushed one from beside the path. It flew off calling with a loud ‘speezz’, into the pine trees where it sat for a few seconds before dropping back into the grass and out of view. While we were watching the Stonechats, one of the Tree Pipits suddenly appeared back with them, perched on a stump below them and half hidden from view. When the Stonechats moved off, it flew up to the top and started to preen, giving us a great look. We could see a pale spot on the face, the yellowing wash behind the bolder streaking across the breast and the very fine streaking on the flanks.

IMG_7053Tree Pipit – perched up on a stump once the Stonechats had moved on

We just had time for one last and very brief stop on our way back, so we popped into Lynford Arboretum. A Treecreeper was calling in the car park but it was rather quiet in the trees,in the heat of a sunny summer afternoon. A couple of Siskin flew overhead calling. Down by the bridge, there was a bit more activity. We came across a big mixed tit flock, and watched it for a while in the alders. There were lots of Long-tailed Tits, plus Blue, Great and Coal Tits, several Treecreepers and a Nuthatch as the flock moved through. We could also hear a Goldcrest singing. We didn’t really have time to do the site justice today and all too soon it was time to call it a day and head for home.