Tag Archives: Tree Pipit

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.

26th June 2015 – Hot in the Brecks

A Summer Tour to the Brecks today. It was a little overcast with a light breeze, but bright and warm first thing – perfect birding weather! However, the sun came out and it warmed up a lot in the afternoon.

We met up in Mundford and headed over to our first stop at Weeting Heath. Walking through the trees, we could hear Goldcrests and Coal Tits calling, and a Nuthatch appeared in the trees above the path briefly. We walked over to where we had found the Spotted Flycatcher nest a couple of weeks ago and could immediately see the birds flashing through the trees. They were moving about so fast , it was hard to get everyone onto them. Then one of the parents dropped down to the nest almost unseen and, after a lightning feed, flew off again.

P1030608Spotted Flycatcher – the nest with nestlings, amongst the ivy

Eventually the Spotted Flycatchers settled down a little. One flew in and perched up for a minute or so right in front of us with food, before dropping back onto the nest. Much better views!

P1030637Spotted Flycatcher – the adults eventually gave great views

While we were standing watching the Spotted Flycatchers, we could hear a Firecrest singing in the pines above us. After a bit of scanning we managed to find it, but the views from directly underneath were not that illuminating! Thankfully, it dropped down to another tree a little further away and we could get a good look at its head pattern. It continued singing for much of the time we were admiring the flycatchers.

Round at the hide, it didn’t take us long to pick up a Stone Curlew. One in particular came quite close today and, with the breeze and cloud, there wasn’t so much heat haze so we got good views of them. There were another two a little further over and a fourth just over the ridge at the back, but some of the vegetation has grown up a lot and it was hard to see if there were any more. There was a lot of Stone Curlew calling while we were there as well, which was good to hear why they got their English name (given that all the other members of the family are known as Thick-Knees).

IMG_6334Stone Curlew – good views at Weeting today, and calling as well

With one of our main targets for the day in the bag already, and a great supporting cast, we moved on to our next destination, Lakenheath Fen. There were lots of warblers singing as we walked out onto the reserve – Whitethroats perching up nicely on the bushes and song-flighting, the very melodic Blackcaps in the trees, Reed Warblers appropriately enough in the reeds and Cetti’s Warblers lurking unseen in the undergrowth.

The view from the New Fen viewpoint was a little quiet at first, but it didn’t take long to hot up. A Kingfisher called from the trees behind us and then flashed out over the water before perching up in the top of the reeds the other side. We got it in the scope and got a great look at it. It dropped down into the water a few times, but then returned back to a different spot in the top of the reeds empty-billed. Finally it decided to try its luck elsewhere and disappeared off over the reeds in a flash of electric blue.

IMG_6362Kingfisher – fishing from the reeds around New Fen

We were just thinking about moving on when a shout alerted us to a Bittern flying over the reeds. It circled round and flew leisurely away from us along one of the channels before dropping down out of sight. Great stuff.

There was a light breeze blowing which kept the temperature and humidity down this morning, but the dragonflies were also a little subdued. We did see a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers, and there were lots of damselflies alongside the path, mostly Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

P1030655Blue-tailed Damselfly – abundant at Lakenheath Fen

As we walked out past the West Wood, we saw our first Marsh Harriers of the day, a female circling at first and then a male, which flew towards her and seemed as if he might be about to make a food pass, save for the absence of any food! Instead, he took a little swerve towards her with talons down and she took evasive action. There were lots of Reed Warblers and a few Sedge Warblers singing, and a couple of Reed Buntings as well.

IMG_6368Reed Bunting – lots of singing still today

Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, we could see a couple more adult Marsh Harriers circling. A quick scan over the bushes revealed two juveniles sat in an elder bush. They looked very dark blackish, the colour of dark chocolate, with contrasting orangey heads. A little further round we saw a female which appeared to be trying to get another juvenile to fly. It had a quick circle round before dropping back down into the reeds beside her, obviously not too impressed by the lesson. It is fledging time for the Marsh Harriers.

While we were watching them, a Hobby appeared. It was catching insects above the reeds, occasionally bringing its feet up and bending its head down to devour something. Occasionally, it would sweep fast down into one of the pools of channels out of view, presumably chasing dragonflies. At the same time, another Bittern flew over the reeds away from us, but it was not up long enough to get everyone onto it, before it dropped back in out of view.

P1030681Banded Demoiselle – lots were along the river

We headed up onto the river bank next, to see if we could see any Cranes. There were lots of Banded Demoiselles amongst the plants on the bank and out along the edge of the water. However, we walked some way along the path and we couldn’t see any Cranes. They just didn’t appear to be in their usual area, no matter how hard we looked, nor anywhere else in view. The vegetation has grown up a lot over the past few weeks, which doesn’t help. Eventually we had to turn back – a shame to miss them.

On our way we stopped to admire a Sedge Warbler. We had heard a couple on our walk out, but this one really performed for the assembled crowd. It kept returning to the same little clump of reeds, belting out its song. We got it in the scope and got a really good look at it, particularly the bold white supercilium.

IMG_6376Sedge Warbler – we have a lot to thank this one for…

If it hadn’t been for that Sedge Warbler we would have walked on. While we were looking at it through the scope, a last scan of the reeds behind us revealed a long neck hidden among the reeds. It just came up a little for a second, so we swung the scope round and there was a Crane. Finally! Despite it being obscured, we could see the black and white face and red on the crown. We couldn’t see its partner or chick, but that was not a surprise given the amount of vegetation it was in. The fact it was still there, feeding quietly, suggests all is well. For a bird which stands over a metre tall, it is amazing how they can hide!

IMG_6387Crane – we managed to find a head among the reeds, just as we were leaving

Satisfied, we headed back. It was a hot walk back to the visitor centre – the sun had come out by now and the wind had dropped.

After lunch, we moved on to have a look in the Forest. We parked up and walked down a ride to one of our favourite clearings. It was a little quiet at first, in the heat of the day, but as we looked we gradually started to see a few birds. A smart male Stonechat perched up on the top of some brambles. We could hear it calling, sounding like two flints knocked together, from where it gets its name. There were also a few Yellowhammers around the clearing, looking resplendent in the sunshine.

IMG_6395Stonechat – a smart male, sounding like two stones knocked together

Another bird appeared in the top of a small pine nearby, altogether slimmer and more elegant. A Tree Pipit. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. It was half-singing quietly, but it obviously didn’t feel up to song-flighting in the heat of the afternoon.

IMG_6402Tree Pipit – half singing, quietly

There were several Linnets flying round the clearing as well. A Sparrowhawk appeared overhead and they all flew off, calling. Then a Cuckoo started singing from the trees at the back. A careful scan and we found it sitting high in a larch tree. We could also hear several Skylarks, and found one perched up on a dead stump, but no sign of any Woodlarks today.

The other nice thing here was the number of butterflies. There were lots of skippers all over the Viper’s Bugloss flowers beside the path – mostly Small Skippers but a couple of Large Skippers as well. We could also see a couple of Common Blue, a few Small Heath and lots of Meadow Brown.

P1030697Small Skipper – lots around the woodland clearings today

We still had time for one last stop before the end of the day. Lynford Arboretum was almost on our way, so we stopped in there for a quick look round. Not surprisingly, it was a little quiet in the heat of the afternoon. There were lots of Siskin flying around overhead, though rarely stopping. We saw Goldcrest, Nuthatch and a few tits, and we heard a couple of Treecreepers and a Marsh Tit calling. We flushed a couple of Song Thrush from the ground in the arboretum. Down by the lake, we found a couple of Little Grebes. However, we didn’t really have time to do it justice today, and all too soon it was time to call it a day.

7th June 2015 – Fen & Forest

Another Summer Tour today, but this time we headed down to the Brecks. Another lovely sunny day and, even better, the wind dropped. It was a glorious day to be out.

We started at Weeting Heath. We wanted to see the Stone Curlews before the heat haze got too bad, so we headed straight for West Hide. We could see three pairs of Stone Curlews – two were a little more distant, but one pair was feeding out on the grass with two already well-grown chicks. They are not the most doting of parents, and for the greater part of the time left the chicks to fend for themselves, though remaining nearby and keeping a watchful eye out for any predators.

IMG_5397Stone Curlew – adult and well-grown chick

We could hear a Firecrest singing while we were in the hide, so we stepped back outside to try to track it down. It was singing from the very tops of the pines, further along. We walked a little further down the main path and could see it flitting around below the canopy of the trees and it dropped down into an ivy-covered trunk.

The Spotted Flycatchers seemed to be a little elusive at first. We were just about to move on when we spotted one briefly, flying through the trees. Next thing we knew it appeared on a dead branch right in front of us, then flicked round and dropped into the ivy. It had landed on a nest! It was next to impossible to see, so well camouflaged, but we could just see a head and eye looking out.

P1010775Spotted Flycatcher – on the nest, can you see it?

Lakenheath Fen was the next stop on the itinerary. It was very busy in the car park – lots of people are seemingly still visiting in the hope of glimpsing the secretive Little Bittern. As we walked out along the main path, we had a chance to catch up with a few of the regular warblers singing again. There were lots of Common Whitethroats, several Blackcaps, many Reed Warblers and the odd Sedge Warbler, and a few very noisy Cetti’s Warblers. New Fen viewpoint was a little quiet, but a Kingfisher flew into the pool in front and landed in the reeds. It caught a fish – unfortunately out of view – and then flew off with in into the trees. A Cuckoo flew overhead.

P1010778Common Whitethroat – there were lots singing at Lakenheath today

As the temperature warmed, suddenly the Hobbys appeared. Before we knew it, we had at least three circling together round above us catching flying insects. It was great to just stand there and watch them, marvel at their effortless flight and exceptional manoeuvrability!

P1010791Hobby – we watched several hawking for insects over New Fen

We could hear a Bittern (a Great Bittern!) booming from the reeds in front of the New Fen Viewpoint, and we could hear it even better further along the path. At the west end of the West Wood, we caught up with the crowds awaiting the appearance of the Little Bittern. Normally a native of Central and Southern Europe, they have bred in Somerset in recent years. This one overshot the continent on its return migration this spring and has ended up here – if only it could find a female! We only waited a short time, and we really wanted to hear it (some people have waited many hours just to catch a glimpse of it). Eventually it started ‘singing’ – or should we say ‘barking’. It sounds rather like a cross between a dog bark and a toad croak, issued repeatedly. What a treat – to hear two species of Bittern within a few hundred yards of each other!

We walked up onto the river bank and, after a little while searching, we located a couple of adult Common Cranes in the reeds. We could see two long necks periodically stretching up, with black and white necks and red crowns. Standing over a metre tall, they can be surprisingly hard to see. They have a chick in tow, so we were careful not to disturb them,; we had a quick look and then headed back to the reserve.

On our way back, we stopped in at Mere Hide. There were several young Coot on the pond, together with their parents. Another Cuckoo sang from the trees. A Sedge Warbler kept coming down to the reeds in front of the hide to gather food, presumably for a hungry brood somewhere. Several Reed Warblers lurked more furtively in the reeds. We could hear Bearded Tits calling on a few occasions, but only glimpsed a shape flying up and over the reeds briefly.

P1010805Four-spotted Chaser – it was a good day for the number of dragonflies today

There was a good selection of Dragon- and Damselflies to look at as well today. Numbers of Four-spotted Chasers and Black-tailed Skimmers are starting to increase, but we also saw a few Hairy Dragonflies. Damseflies includes Large Red, Azure, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselflies. As well as the regular butterflies, there were notable numbers of Painted Ladys again today.

After lunch, we headed into the Forest. Walking along a sunny ride, the grassy margins either side were alive with butterflies and day-flying moths. The butterflies were mostly Common Blues, along with a single electric Green Hairstreak. The moths were all Speckled Yellows, an enormous number of them.

P1010819Speckled Yellow – enormous numbers of this day-flying moth on the wing

We came to a large clearing, which is always good for pipits and larks, but an unusual song drew our attention to one corner. There, amongst the trees, a very smart male Redstart was singing. A slightly odd place to find one, they are very rare these days away from the Stanford battle area, so this was a real treat. We got him in the scope and got a good look and then stood and listened to him singing.

IMG_5425Redstart – singing in a clearing in the Forest

Out beyond the Redstart, we could hear a different song carried across the clearing. A quick scan revealed a Tree Pipit singing from the very top of a pine tree. There were other birds around the clearing as well – a family of Mistle Thrushes, several smart male Yellowhammers, and Skylarks singing.

IMG_5436Yellowhammer – singing from the same clearing today

We finished the day with a quick visit to Lynford Arboretum. We hadn’t even left the car park, when we heard the first Firecrest singing. A Goldcrest singing nearby gave a great opportunity for comparison. We ended up hearing at least 4 singing Firecrests around the Arboretum this afternoon. We managed to see one of them flicking surreptitiously around a fir tree.

There were other birds to see here as well – tits, Treecreepers, a smart pair of Siskin and a very pink male Bullfinch. Unfortunately, then we had to call it a day and head back, but what an enjoyable day it had been.

31st May 2015 – Better than Forecast in the West

Day 3 of a long weekend of tours. The weather forecast for today was terrible – rain and wind. But thankfully it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as forecast, we mostly dodged the showers, and we still had a cracking day out with a total of 99 species seen and heard during the day!

We headed to Titchwell first. With heavy rain forecast, we thought we could get out of the rain and in the hides and at least still see some birds. There had been some rain overnight, but it was not even raining when we arrived. And the car park was empty. Empty on the Sunday of half term week – unheard of!

P1010456Titchwell – an empty car park of Sunday of half term week

We walked out to the visitor centre and had just stopped to look at the feeders when one of the group spotted a Barn Owl hunting over the grazing meadow beyond. It had presumably struggled to feed in the rain overnight and was making the most of the dryer weather. We walked out onto the main path and could see it out over the grass. It flew round in front of us several times, with its eyes down focused on the ground below, hovering periodically. Once it dropped down but came up again empty-taloned. Stunning birds. At one point a cracking male Marsh Harrier flew across just behind it as well. It was non-stop action this morning!

P1010485Barn Owl – hunting over the Thornham grazing meadow this morning

There were several Reed Warblers singing on the walk out and a couple of Sedge Warblers as well, but as we got in sight of the reedbed pool we could see several warblers flicking about on the edge of the reeds by the pools next to the main path. One flew across and we could see its rich, dark chestnut upperparts – a Cetti’s Warbler. As we stopped to watch, we realised that there were actually at least two Cetti’s Warblers collecting food on the edge of the reeds and carrying it back into the bushes. Another was singing nearby and in response the male Cetti’s Warbler flew up to the brambles and perched up singing. Great views of this usually so elusive species. There were several Reed and Sedge Warblers flying around here as well and we got good views of those too.

The reedbed pool held its usual good selection of diving ducks. There were several Red-crested Pochards, including a nice close pair with the male flaunting his bright orange punk haircut. There were also a few Common Pochard for comparison and a couple of Tufted Duck. A Little Grebe disappeared into the reeds.

IMG_5157Red-crested Pochard – check out that haircut

It was a bit damp, but still not raining, as we made for Island Hide. The first thing we saw was the throng of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits out on the freshmarsh, over 120 of them today, in various plumages from winter to almost full summer, grey to bright rusty orange. From this side of the marsh, there looked to be a slightly disappointing selection of waders here today – but later on we could see how first impressions could be deceptive. However, there were the usual Avocets to admire.

P1010527Avocet – the obligatory Titchwell photo

The prize for the most out-of-place bird went to the White-faced Whistling Duck which was out on the freshmarsh. Native to Africa and South America, it is a common bird in captivity and had presumably escaped from a collection somewhere. It didn’t look too pleased to be here. Three Barnacle Geese also flew in and landed on the freshmarsh. We do sometimes get birds from a presumed wild origin, most often arriving with Pink-footed Geese in the winter, but there is a large feral population so that is the most likely origin for today’s birds. Plastic fantastic today!

IMG_5180White-faced Whistling Duck – presumably an escapee

There were lots of other ducks to see. Most of the species which are common over the winter have already departed, but the odd straggler sometimes remains. The single female Pintail which has been lingering here recently was still present today. There was also just one female Teal, the first we have seen here for a while. We saw lots of both species more regularly over the winter months. As well as these lonely individuals, there were several families of Mallards with ducklings, and still quite a few Shoveler and Gadwall.

P1010556Shoveler – this smart drake dropped down in front of the hide briefly

There have been several 1st summer Little Gulls out on the freshmarsh for some time now. Numbers have varied, but recent counts have been as high as 11. We had no trouble finding Little Gulls today, but there were no more than 4 to start with. They were mostly walking around on the islands, feeding. At one point, we had a Little Gull and a Black-headed Gull side by side in the scope, which really highlighted how ‘Little’ they are. It was only later in the day, as we walked back from the beach, that we found more of them as a bigger group flew in and started hawking for insects over the water, calling. At that point we could count a minimum of 9 Little Gulls, all 1st summer birds.

P1010511Little Gull – one of the 9+ 1st summers on the freshmarsh today

It had brightened up a little as we walked from Island Hide round to Parrinder Hide, but we could see darker clouds and rain moving in from the west. We got our game plan just right, as were safely in the hide as it passed over us. It got a bit misty and grey for a time, but it didn’t stop us seeing lots of birds – and only sitting in the Parrinder Hide did we realise how many waders were actually out on the islands.

IMG_5193Snipe – appeared from the dense vegetation to feed on the bank

A Common Snipe was one of the first birds we picked up. It was flushed out of the dense vegetation below the bank by a family of Mallard and proceeded to skulk around before getting a bit of confidence and coming out to feed on the mud. Such cryptically patterned birds, they can blend in so it was great to see it out in the open. The longer we looked, the more we saw. A couple of Dunlin appeared from behind one of the islands, sporting their summer black bellies. A Common Sandpiper disappeared into the far corner along the bank, bobbing its tail, before it later flew out and perched on one of the piles of bricks. A chestnut coloured summer plumage Sanderling appeared briefly on the shore of one of the islands.

There have been several Little Ringed Plovers in front of Parrinder Hide in recent weeks, but the first plover we picked up today was a Ringed Plover. After a while, we realised there were several feeding unobtrusively around the margins. A closer look confirmed these were all Tundra Ringed Plovers, of the smaller, darker tundrae race which passes through here on its way north at this time of year. Even better, a slightly larger, slightly paler Ringed Plover then flew in. It was aggressive towards the tundrae race birds, trying to chase them off. This was one of the more southern race birds (hiaticula), which is the race which breeds here. There were also several Little Ringed Plovers as usual – their golden yellow eye rings gave them away.

P1010548Tundra Ringed Plover – two races of Ringed Plover were present today

Once it brightened up a little again we decided to head out towards the beach. The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were quiet again, but we did manage to find a single Brent Goose out on the saltmarsh opposite. The bigger group which had been lingering here until recently appears finally to have departed back to Russia. We had heard a Cuckoo singing distantly while we were in Parrinder Hide but as we arrived at the beach another one flew in over the sand and disappeared over the dunes.

There was a good variety of waders on the rocks below the beach to add to the day’s list. A handful of Bar-tailed Godwit were all in winter plumage still, as were a couple of Grey Plover. The latter flew round at one point, flashing their black armpits. The Turnstones were keeping to the shelter on the far side of the rocks, but one did walk up onto the top so we could get a good look at it. Several more Sanderling were feeding on the beach as well, in a mixture of plumages.

The sea has been fairly quiet of late, but a single Great Crested Grebe was just offshore today. While we were looking at it, we could see a long line of black shapes much further out – a big raft of Common Scoter. There were also a few Sandwich and Common Terns flying around out over the sea.

We walked back via the Meadow Trail, where we paused briefly to admire all the Southern Marsh Orchids now coming out and several Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies hiding in the grass on the meadow. The detour out to Patsy’s Reedbed added Bullfinch calling from the bushes. A pair of Little Grebes appeared to be nest building below the screen. Most of the Red-crested Pochards were loafing around here as usual.

P1010570Little Grebe – one of the pair on Patsy’s Reedbed

While we were looking out from the screen, we hadn’t noticed a squally shower sneaking up behind us. As it started to rain, we made a quick dash for the safety of Fen Hide while it passed over us. And that was the only time we really got rained on today. Once the rain stopped, we headed back for lunch. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Spotted Flycatcher which had been seen in the car park earlier.

After lunch, we drove along the coast to Holme. We had wanted to try to see the Turtle Doves in the paddocks, but it was very exposed and windy there. The best we could do was a Common Whitethroat and a Linnet having a bath in a puddle. Otherwise, it was disappointingly quiet. Rather than press on into the dunes, we decided on a quick change of plan and headed somewhere more sheltered.

We carried on along the coast and round the corner of the Wash, heading south to Dersingham Bog. It was much better out of the wind, in the lee of the trees and the ‘cliff’. Almost as soon as we got out of the car, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing. There were several Blackcaps singing too. Down in the Bog, we followed the call of a Stonechat and found a family party. We could see the male and female at first and from the way they were behaving we knew they had young stashed nearby. As we walked past them along the path, the streaky juvenile Stonechats came out and we could see they had been colour-ringed in various combinations.

IMG_5212Stonechat – the adult male

While we were watching the Stonechats, we heard the distinctive song of a Tree Pipit. We followed the sound and found it perched in the top of a small tree high up on the hillside above us. We got a pretty good look at it in the scope. Then it took off singing and flew over the way we had just come. We walked back and it flew up again, parachuting down in the top of an oak tree right above our heads. We got great views of it this time.

IMG_5231Tree Pipit – parachuted into the top of an oak tree above our heads

As we walked on round, a Red Kite came out of the trees and circled lazily round us over the Bog. Up in the trees, we came across several tits feeding, including our first Coal Tit of the day. A Nuthatch was climbing up and down a Pine Tree. But the surprise here was a Firecrest singing. Unfortunately we couldn’t see it in the dense fir trees, our way towards it blocked by thick rhododendrons, but a Goldcrest singing nearby allowed us a great comparison of the two songs.

Once we got back to the car, it was time to start making our way back to base. However, we still had enough time for a couple of quick stops en route. Taking a detour round via the seafront at Hunstanton, we stopped to watch the Fulmars pulling aerobatic manoeuvres above the cliffs. It was still very windy, and with the wind blowing in from the wash, they seemed to be enjoying the resulting updraft along the cliff face.

P1010584Fulmar – aerobatic moves in the strong winds today

Heading back along the north coast, we diverted up to the drying barns at Choseley. A Corn Bunting was singing from the wires – we listened to the sound like jangling keys – and was joined by a second. A smart male Yellowhammer was bathing in a puddle. A Grey Partridge was calling from behind a hedge and a couple of Brown Hares ran off as we drove along. Someone had poured several piles of grain out on the concrete pad by the drying barns and the birds had arrived to take advantage – another Corn Bunting, lots of Yellowhammers, Linnet, Chaffinches and a couple of Stock Doves.

P1010605Corn Bunting – singing on the wires at Choseley

As we drove back home, we reflected on what a great day we had enjoyed, compared to our expectations having seen the weather forecast this morning. It really is worth going out whatever the weather, and certainly whatever the forecaster says the weather is going to be!

24th May 2015 – West of Wells

Day 2 of a two day weekend tour today. We were forecast some rain this afternoon, but thankfully it wasn’t as bad as forecast and we pretty much got a full day’s birding in. Once again we met up in Wells, but this time we were heading west.

First of all, we headed out to the local gull colony. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls, noisy as ever. On the edge of the melee were a few Common Gulls, not so common in the summer in this part of the world. They were looking particularly smart, with pure white rounded head, offsetting the dark eye, and a bright yellow bill. In the middle of the colony, we could pick out a few Mediterranean Gulls. Unlike the Black-headed Gulls, which actually have a chocolate brown hood, the Mediterranean Gulls have a jet black hood which extends further down the nape – like they have pulled down their balaclavas properly! Their darker black heads really stood out amongst the tussocks of grass where the gulls were nesting. We could also hear their distinctive calls as they flew round overhead and see their distinctive white wing tips in flight.

IMG_4927Common Terns – on the stones on the edge of the gull colony

It was not just the gulls we had come for, but the terns as well. As soon as we arrived, we could see several Common Terns fishing in the channel and standing on the stones on the edge of the gulls. We got them in the scope, and could see their black-tipped orange/red bills. Further over, we could see another tern on the shingle, but this one had a shorter, darker blood-red bill – an Arctic Tern. A second Arctic Tern was fishing, hovering out over the water beyond. We could see its longer tail and pale wing tips with a very neat narrow black line on the trailing edge of the outer wing underside. With several Common Terns in the air as well, we got a good chance to study the differences.

P1010256Common Tern – feeding over the channel in front of the colony

There were other terns as well. Down on the beach below several Little Terns had gathered. They would also periodically fly round fishing in front of us. A Sandwich Tern also patrolled up the channel, and with Sandwich and Little Terns together at one point, we could really see the size difference. This is a great place to watch terns, with four species in view at the same time! Great stuff.

Holkham was out next port of call. Walking west behind the pines, there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, Cetti’s, Sedge and Reed Warblers – a good opportunity to try to recognise the different songs. There were the usual groups of tits, particularly Long-tailed Tits calling from the trees, and a Coal Tit came out of the pines and performed nicely for the crowd. Some quiet contact calls alerted us to the presence of a Treecreeper and we got a lovely view of it working its way methodically up a pine. There were yet more Treecreepers, tits and Goldcrests singing from the trees unseen.

By Meals House came the surprise of the morning. We had just stopped to listen to some warblers singing when one of the group pointed down along a little grassy path and asked ‘what’s that?’. Creeping through the grass was a pipit, and as it turned we could see that it was a Tree Pipit. It walked towards us, then saw us and turned and crept stealthily into the longer grass out of view, pumping its tail quietly. Tree Pipits here are generally migrants and this bird had probably dropped in to feed here on its way north. A cracking performance, rather than the more usual view of migrants calling as they pass overhead.

P1010262Tree Pipit – creeping through the grass by Meals House today

We called in at the Joe Jordan hide, as usual. There was plenty of activity around the cormorant and heron colony, with a couple of Spoonbills coming in or going out towards the saltmarsh at Wells or Burnham Overy to feed. Even more Spoonbills were just flying out of the trees, circling round and landing back again out of view. From the path later we got one in the scope in the trees, but in typical Spoonbill fashion it was fast asleep!

There was quite a bit of Marsh Harrier activity as well. One smart grey-winged male came low in front of the hide, and continued west pursued by Lapwings and Jackdaws. The pair of Grey Partridge was still present, feeding on the grass below the hide. And we marvelled at the way the song of a couple of Sedge Warblers carried to us from a long way across the grazing marshes – two males on opposite sides of the hide clearly trying to out-sing each other.

With some Scandianvian migrants arriving elsewhere along the coast this morning, and encouraged by our own earlier Tree Pipit, we thought it was worth a look in the dunes. However, the bushes were rather quiet today. We flushed a family of Mistle Thrushes which flew up into the trees and watched a pair of Kestrels hanging in the air above the dunes. From up on the top of the dunes, we could see a raft of several hundred Common Scoter still distantly out on the sea.

There were little groups of Swallows still moving west today, on their way somewhere. Amongst them, we picked out a couple of House Martins and a single Sand Martin as well. The number of Wheatears in the dunes has tailed off now, but we eventually found a very smart male Greenland Wheatear in one of their favoured areas. We got it in the scope and admired its richly-coloured burnt orange throat and upper breast.

IMG_4948Greenland Wheatear – a male in the dunes still today

It was forecast to rain today and, on cue, we could see the clouds starting to build from the west. Rather than continue on through the dunes, we headed back to the pines. We stopped briefly on the way to admire the first Marsh Orchids emerging in the dune slacks. On the walk back to the car, the rain finally caught up with us. Thankfully, it was not heavy, mostly a little drizzle, and we were not too wet by the time we got back.

P1010273Marsh Orchid – the first few spikes are starting to appear in the dunes

We headed west to Titchwell and thankfully we drove underneath the weather front and out of the rain as we did so. After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve, stopping to listen to a Song Thrush singing from the trees by the visitor centre on our way. On the reedbed pool, we found our first pair of Red-crested Pochard for the day, as well as a few Common Pochard and Tufted Duck, and a single Great Crested Grebe. It was still overcast after the rain and in the cloudy conditions there were lots of Swifts hawking for insects low over the reedbed and whooshing past us on the bank.

While we were standing there, there was a loud ‘BANG!’ as a flare appeared from over towards the village – who knows why. All the birds on the freshmarsh took to the air, and we watched a flock of Black-tailed Godwits fly over us and off towards Thornham. Whether it was the fault of the flare, or the two Sparrowhawks that flew over the freshmarsh as we got into the Island Hide, or both, but there were fewer waders than recent days by the time we got to scan the mud. We found a single Ruff with a couple of Redshank, and a few Black-tailed Godwits left behind. At least the Avocets had not been put off.

P1010284Avocet – one of the Titchwell regulars, with its catch of the day

There were still five Little Gulls scattered around the freshmarsh, all 1st summer birds with a black ‘W’ pattern on the upperwings and sporting a varying amount of black hood, from almost full winter white head with black spot to about 3/4 complete black hood. From up on the main footpath, a small group of gulls had gathered to bathe and we got a great chance to see just how little the Little Gulls are as they stood next to the Black-headed Gulls, preening.

IMG_4965Little Gull – a 1st summer bird with a partly acquired black hood

As we arrived in the Parrinder Hide there was a bit of a commotion as one of the people already in there announced they thought they could see a Bittern on the edge of the reeds on the far side of the water. Unfortunately, there has been a rather convincing piece of brown rubbish, shaped not completely unlike a crouched Bittern, tucked into the reeds on that side for some time now. Excitement over, unfortunately.

We did manage to find a couple of Little Ringed Plovers lurking amongst the emergent vegetation on the island in front of the hide. Through the scope, we could see their golden yellow eye rings. Better still, a single Ringed Plover was nearby and at one point we had the two species side by side, which gave a great size comparison for us. A single female Pintail was the only other surprise, a rather late lingering bird as most of the Pintail which we enjoyed watching over the winter have long since departed.

IMG_4970Little Ringed Plover – check out the distinctive golden yellow eye-ring

The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were both very quiet today, so we headed straight to the beach. The tide was just going out and the rocks were only just starting to emerge from the waves. As the first piece appeared, two Oystercatchers flew in to occupy it and were soon joined by three Turnstone, one coming into its smart white-faced, rusty-backed summer plumage. There was precious little space left, but a small flock of Sanderling decided to try their luck as well. Unable to land at first, they eventually found some space as the sea receded a little further. At this time of the year, with their scaly dark-patterned summer plumage, they look rather different to the silvery Sanderlings we see running around on the shore over the winter. There were also still a few Grey Plovers on the beach in various states of summer plumage. The sea was typically quite quiet, apart from a few terns passing offshore from the colony at Scolt Head.

By this stage, time was getting on so we headed back to the car park and drove up to Choseley. Remarkably, there were still five Dotterel present. It has been an amazing year for this species here, with trips of Dotterel of one size or another in one of the fields at Choseley mostly since April 13th (with only a few days when none were picked up). It took us some time to find them today. The sun had come out by that stage and there was a fresh NW wind up on the ridge. The Dotterel had settled down to sleep in the furrows and with the young sugar beet plants growing then they were even harder to find than usual. For such colourful birds, they can really disappear when they sit down! Eventually one put its head up and we were onto them. We could see them shuffling round and catch a flash of bright white supercilium as they lifted their heads.

IMG_4985Dotterel – hiding amongst the emerging sugar beet plants

That seemed like a good way to finish, and with some of the group with long journeys ahead of them, we headed back to Wells. Once again, we had a very productive weekend with a good selection of birds to be seen.

12th April 2015 – Blustery Brecks

A Private Tour today, and a request to visit the Brecks. It was a birthday gift between friends, so a relaxed day of birding was in order.

We started at Lynford Arboretum. Firecrest was a key target, which was a good thing as there have been several singing in recent days. In the walled garden. a Grey Wagtail was singing but remained stubbornly out of view. Lots of Siskin buzzed around in the trees. We walked up past the gate, which was very quiet again – no food in the feeders and no birds, apart from a couple of hungry Chaffinches.

Thankfully we didn’t have to go too much further before we heard our first Firecrest singing. It was high up in a fir tree at first, and we were looking into the light, but we could see it flitting around. While we tried to move round to the other side it sneaked out behind us and over to another conifer. It gave away its new hiding place by singing again! The light was better this time, but it was still hard to see in the dense branches. Then it did the decent thing and flew out into a deciduous tree – the leaves are only now starting to burst into like so it was much easier to see there. We got a really good look at its face pattern, the white supercilium and black eyestripe, as well as the bronzey yellow patch on the side of its neck which positively glowed in the morning sun.

Walking round the Arboretum, we could hear the Hawfinches calling. But they flew overhead and disappeared into the fir trees where we couldn’t see them. We had all seen the Hawfinches well already over the winter, so no one was too interested in chasing round after them in the trees, so we left them to it.

Further on, we could hear another two Firecrests singing, very close to each other. The first was in a very dense, dark conifer – we could hear it, but couldn’t see it. Eventually it came out onto the edge and we got an even better look at this one, contrasted against the dark foliage. While we were watching it, a smart male Siskin came and perched right above our heads, rather annoyed that we were paying too much attention to the Firecrest!

P1030397Siskin – this smart male perched above our heads

We wanted to explore the wilder areas beyond the formal Arboretum today. We walked down around the lake, stopping to admire a Little Grebe on the water which kept diving as it tried to swim away from us. A pair of Nuthatches were in the trees beside the water, the male sitting out in the top calling while the female fed quietly below.

P1030411Nuthatch – calling loudly from the treetop

By this stage the wind was picking up, so we sought some shelter. There were lots of birds in the woodland. We heard a couple of Blackcap singing from the depths of the trees, and lots of Chiffchaffs. There were plenty of tits flicking around in the bushes, plus the odd Treecreeper and Goldcrest. We could also hear yet another Firecrest singing. We had hoped that we might pick up some woodpeckers – we heard a distant Green Woodpecker calling, but otherwise it was all quiet in the wind. Then we headed back to the car, pausing briefly to note our fifth singing Arboretum Firecrest of the morning near the car park.

We drove into the Forest and headed off along a ride to a large clearing. On our way, we stopped to listen to a pair of Firecrests in the trees beside the path – it really was a Firecrest day today!

We had hoped we might get lucky and see a Goshawk, but the wind was an issue. There were no raptors at all in sight when we arrived. After a while, a single Sparrowhawk flew past above the trees. Then a couple of Buzzards appeared, but they were not going up very high today. Eventually a Goshawk did show itself, circling very distantly up above the trees, but as we tried to get everyone on it in the scope it disappeared again. A short while later, it did exactly the same thing, frustratingly closer. Then the wind picked up even further and the little activity there had been died off completely. It was not going to be our day for raptors.

We did better with passerines. A Woodlark appeared as soon as we got to the clearing, flying past calling. It landed on a fence post and we got a good look at it in the scope. We walked along the path and could see a pair on one side, out in the clearing, and a single bird on its own which flew in and landed on the other side. When it flew again, it was joined by a second Woodlark, presumably a female coming up from the nest, making a second pair.

IMG_4071Woodlark – two pairs were in the clearing today

We were then surprised by a couple of buzzy calls overhead, and two small birds dropped into a pine tree on the edge of the clearing. We could see them in the scope, sitting there half hidden amongst the branches. A pair of Tree Pipits – a real surprise. Tree Pipits are summer visitors to the Forest, and birds heading further afield have been on the move along the coast in the last couple of days, but these are the first we have seen in the Brecks this year. After we had turned to look at a distant raptor, there was no sign of them in the pine and we couldn’t find them feeding on the edge of the trees either. They may just have been passing over and dropped down to try to find shelter from the wind. They could have been heading for a different part of the Forest. Still, a really good bird to see.

As the wind picked up, we headed round to the sheltered side of the clearing, in the lee of the trees. The second pair of Woodlarks flew in and landed nearby, before coming out onto the path right in front of us. They were clearly trying to get out of the wind as well. We had great views as we watched them collecting food – getting their bills full before flying out into the clearing and dropping down. They returned a short while later and started again, so they were obviously feeding young (we had seen the first pair carrying food as well, earlier in the week). At one point, we saw one of the Woodlarks put down the food it had collected to one side while it pecked at something in the bare earth on the side of the track, before picking up its load of food again. It was fantastic to watch them like this.

IMG_4077Woodlark – one pair was collecting food right in front of us on the path

By now, it was getting on for lunch time, so we started to walk back. Before we had left the clearing though, a Swallow came in over the trees and made a low pass over the bare ground. It was probably difficult to find food to sustain it on its journey above the trees today, so it saw the clearing as a good opportunity try to find some insects close to the bare ground.

We parked up in a convenient car park for lunch, where we could find some shelter. It was beautiful sunshine, and warm out of the wind. While we ate, a little Weasel ran across the car park into the verge. It came out again a short while later, empty handed, but stood for a while out in the open, before racing off again.

P1030424Weasel – ran across the car park at lunch time

In the afternoon, we headed for Santon Downham. We walked down to the river and headed west along the bank. Just below the bridge, we heard a Brambling calling from the bushes. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see it until it flew across the river and disappeared over the other side. As it flew, we could see it was a smart male, with a good black head.

We had been talking about spring butterflies and how most of the species we had seen were those which overwinter as adults and simply reappear on the first warm days of spring – butterflies such as Brimstone, Comma, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. A little way further along the bank, a smart male Orange Tip fluttered past, the first of the butterflies to emerge from a chrysalis – and a real sign that spring has arrived.

P1030437Orange Tip – a sure sign that spring is really here

Continuing along the path, we could see a duck asleep on the other bank. A quick look through binoculars confirmed it was a female Mandarin. It woke up briefly, so we could see its white eye-ring and eye-stripe, before tucking its head back in. There have been several along the river bank in recent weeks, mostly in pairs, but this bird appeared to be on its own.

P1030448Mandarin – this female was (mostly) asleep on the river bank

As we watched it, we could see movement beyond it, where the bank sloped away behind and we couldn’t see. Then a head appeared – it was the male Mandarin. He was clearly feeling a lot more shy than the female, as the head kept disappearing before popping up again and having a look round. Eventually he edged forward and sat down next to her, but was still not brave enough to show himself properly, in all his splendour!

P1030460Mandarin – the male was more reluctant to show himself today

Otherwise, it was quiet along the river – perhaps not surprising, given the way the wind was gusting through the trees. There were no woodpeckers of any species calling or drumming, though it was always a bit speculative to try in the middle of the day. Early morning is usually best. We heard the odd Nuthatch piping and we did find a nice pair of Marsh Tits calling to each other. It was lovely down by the river but, given the lack of activity, we decided to head back.

We had almost reached the bridge, when we heard a Redpoll singing. A scan of the bushes revealed a pair of Lesser Redpoll which had obviously just been down to bathe, the male sporting a bright red breast. Unfortunately, just as we tried to get the rest of the group on them, they disappeared. How annoying. By the bridge, we heard a Grey Wagtail calling as it flew along the river and thankfully it was a little more accommodating – it landed on the river bank just below the bridge, where we could see it feeding along the shore.

We had time for one last stop, so we headed over to Weeting Heath. When we arrived, we were warned that the Stone Curlews were not showing – they seemed to have sensibly chosen to hunker down out of the wind. We walked round to the West Hide anyway, stopping briefly to admire the Long-tailed Tit nest nearby, and settled in. By now it had clouded over a little and the afternoon was getting on – Stone Curlews are always more active early and late in the day, so we felt we might be in with a good chance. And it didn’t take long before one stood up and showed itself.

IMG_4084Stone Curlew – we saw a pair displaying at Weeting today

The Stone Curlew seemed a little uncertain at first. It stood up and we could see it calling – even if we couldn’t hear it in the wind. Then it sat down again, and we could only just see the top of its head. After a while, it finally stood up properly and began to walk quickly along the ridge. Suddenly a second Stone Curlew appeared with it and the first bird began to display, bowing deeply and raising its tail high. It was well worth the wait, and we finally got a really good look at them through the scope. When they both sat down again, we decided it was time to call it a day and headed for home.