Tag Archives: Water Rail

23rd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Coast, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Brecks & Coast Tours. Today we would be heading down to the Brecks for the day. It had been forecast to be cloudy and grey, but it was actually bright with some sunny intervals and light winds. Great early spring weather to be out.

After an earlier than normal start, we made our way down to Thetford Forest. As we set off down a ride through the trees, we could see some people already ahead of us. We were hoping to find some Woodlarks here but the clearing either side of the track further on looked quite quiet at first. Perhaps there was too much disturbance here today?

There were lots of finches flying in and out of the pines though – mostly Chaffinches, Bramblings and Siskins. We got the scope on a Brambling perched in some birches on the edge of the clearing, but it flew off before everyone could get a look at it. A Lesser Redpoll then flew over and dropped in too, but it was similarly brief.

Two birds flew up from the long grass on one side of the track some way ahead of us – a pair of Woodlarks. They circled round and dropped down again, with one landing in a small bush by the path, where we could get it in the scope. We decided to walk a bit further down to get a closer view but we didn’t get far before we heard two cyclists approaching quickly along the track behind us. They seemed to get past the Woodlarks without flushing them and we thought we might be in luck, but then they flew. As they fluttered up we could see their short tails and broad rounded wings, before they disappeared off over the trees.

Cutting across to the riverbank, we walked down past the poplars. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers chased each other through the tops and the male landed on the trunk of one of the trees. A good start, but not the woodpecker we were hoping to see here!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – a pair flew in through the trees as we walked up

As we got around the corner, we could see a small group of people standing on the path looking up into the trees. We hurried up to them and they confirmed that they were watching the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, three of them together! They were displaying and we watched them chasing each other through the branches. Each time they landed, we got them in the scope, but they weren’t staying still for long.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers disappeared back into the birches behind, then after a minute or so chased each other back out into the tops of the poplars. Two seemed to be in the lead, with the third woodpecker following behind. They gradually made their way further down through the trees and we managed to follow them for a while. Then they flew off further and we lost sight of them in some thicker trees further downstream.

We walked down to where we had seen the woodpeckers disappear, but there was no sign of them here. If they kept going as they had been they could be anywhere by now! There were a few more birds here. We found a Nuthatch excavating a hole in a tree and could see its head poke out from time to time to throw out the wood shavings. A Treecreeper made its way up the trunk of another tree. We noticed some movement on the vegetation trapped around a fallen tree across the river behind us and turned to see a Grey Wagtail feeding quietly.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – feeding by a fallen tree across the river

Someone coming back from further downstream told us the otters had been along the river much further down, so we thought we would go to try to see them. There were Chiffchaffs singing in the trees and we stopped to admire a Stock Dove whooping on top of a dead trunk. A Common Buzzard circled up over the trees beyond.

Another couple of photographers coming back along the path told us the otters were heading back our way so we stopped and waited but there was no sign of them. We had a quick look up and down the river, but presumably the otters had come out of the water and disappeared. We did find a Kingfisher which zipped off across the river as we approached.

As we made our way back, we looked and listened for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers but there was no further sign of them now. A Water Rail squealed from the far bank of the river and then flew across to our side, disappearing behind some trees. As we walked on, we found it on the other side of the path but it flew off into the reeds.

As we made our way back round by the reedbed, we stopped to admire the finches in the trees where they were coming down to drink from the pines. Finally we had better views of a smart male Brambling which perched up more obligingly. There were Bramblings singing here too – more of a wheeze than a song, but always interesting to hear. It won’t be long now before they are back off to Scandinavia for the breeding season.

It was sunny and warming up nicely now, so we made our way over to a place overlooking the forest. We hadn’t been out of the van long before we picked up two Goshawks circling up away to the east. They were both adults and both males. They soared higher and higher into the sky and we lost sight on one as the other drifted towards us. We could see their very white underparts and broad-based tails.

Goshawk

Goshawk – circled up high above us

We had lost sight of them when a female Goshawk came up out of the trees close to where we had first seen the earlier ones. As it circled over the pines, we could see it was a big and powerful bird, with very pale grey upperparts. With the warm air, it gained height very quickly. Then we spotted a second Goshawk nearby, high in the blue sky. It was noticeably smaller, a male, possibly one of the two we had seen earlier. The female started to display, flying with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. Then presumably having warned off the male, she dropped back down towards the trees.

We were treated to great views of the Goshawks in the 45 minutes or so we spent here. There were lots of Common Buzzards up enjoying the thermals too, and a Kestrel. When a female Sparrowhawk came up out of the trees as well, we could see it looked smaller and darker grey. As it started flapping, we could see its very fast bursts of wingbeats.

There were a few Brown Hares in the fields here and one or two Lapwing and Red-legged Partridges. A Woodlark fluttered across at the back and disappeared over the trees beyond.

It was time for lunch now, so we headed over to Lynford Arboretum and made use of the picnic tables in the parking area. Afterwards, as we made our way over to the road, we heard a Firecrest singing from somewhere high in the fir trees. We stopped to listen for it, but unfortunately it had gone quiet.

Down at the gate, there was not much seed left on the ground and the feeders were looking rather empty too. There were still a few Bramblings and Chaffinches coming down to the leaves beyond the small pool and a Yellowhammer dropped down with them too.

Continuing on down towards the bridge, a large flock of Fieldfares flew over tchacking noisily. We looked up into the fir trees to see the Tawny Owl back hiding in its usual roost spot. It is very hard to see unless you are in just the right spot and the view is generally looking up from underneath it, so you often can’t see its head until it looks down.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in the top of one of the fir trees again

There were a few tits coming in to the seed put out on the pillars of the bridge, so we stopped to see what else we could see. A male Reed Bunting duly appeared. While we were scanning the trees, we noticed some movement deeper in and focusing on it with binoculars we could see a couple of Common Crossbills dropping down through the branches. We thought they might be about to come down to drink under the trees, so we hurried in along the path.

The Crossbills were still perched in the trees but seemed to be in no hurry to drink. At first they were just perched in different trees, but one by one they moved into an alder above the path where we watched them climbing about in the branches and picking at the flowers. By the end, they were right above our heads and we had a really good view of them through the scope. A Marsh Tit was flitting around in the bushes by the path too.

Common Crossbill 1

Crossbill – eventually came down to drink

Then suddenly two of the Crossbills flew over our heads and down into some small trees just above the stream channel by the path. We positioned ourselves and had a great view of them as they came down to drink on the far bank – first a green female and then a rather orangey male. With a diet primarily of resinous pine seeds they need to drink regularly.

The Crossbills all flew back up into the trees towards the bridge, so we made our way back out. It was the turn of the Siskins now. A pair dropped out of the alders above the bridge and down to the reeds in the corner of the lake to drink. We had a great view of the bright yellow-green male when it flew back up into the trees.

Siskin

Siskin – a pair came down to drink by the bridge

Having had great success at the bridge, we decided to walk up to the paddocks to see if we could find a Hawfinch. It was very quiet here in the trees though today – it seems likely that food is now getting in short supply here. It was still a bit too early for them to come in for a pre-roost gathering, so we decided to walk round via the lake.

A Little Grebe laughed at us maniacally from the reeds and another was diving under the overhanging trees on the edge of the island. We stopped to admire a pair of Gadwall on the lake, the drake looking particularly smart with its variety of different feather patterns. Not just a boring grey duck! There were a few Greylags and a pair of Canada Geese on the grass in front of the hall.

Gadwall

Gadwall – not just a boring grey duck!

We walked round the far side of the paddocks, scanning the ground under the trees in the middle to see if we could see anything down in the grass. We found a pair of Goldcrests in the firs on the far side and a Redwing perched high in the poplars in the distance. We figured we could make our way back to the bridge and continue to scan the paddocks in case a Hawfinch should appear.

Back at the bridge, the Water Rail had now appeared. It was hiding in the reeds at first, but eventually came out a bit more into the open where we could get a good look at it.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well when we got back to the bridge

When we heard the ‘glip, glip’ calls of Crossbills, we looked up to see three brighter red males land in the trees above the pool. They made their way gradually down through the branches, before dropping down to the edge of the water to drink. Once again, we were well-placed for a ringside seat!

When they flew back up into the trees, one of the male Crossbills then spent a couple of minutes picking at the bare wood where a large bough had recently broken off one of the alders. Then it perched up in the sunshine on a branch just above.

Common Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – another three males came down to drink later

There was still no sign of the Hawfinches in the paddocks and we still had something else we hoped to do before the end of the day, so we decided to head off. A quick walk round back to the van and we drove over to Weeting Heath.

There had been no sign of the Rough-legged Buzzard for over an hour when we arrived, so we went into the visitor centre. While most of the group were queuing for the facilities, two of us walked back out to the car park. Just in time to see the back end of the Rough-legged Buzzard disappearing into the trees on the edge of the field opposite. There was no further sign of it by the time everyone had come back out again. A (Eurasian) Curlew was feeding in the winter wheat field over to one side.

We decided to go down to West Hide to look for the Stone Curlews. There have been three back already in the last week, and two were helpfully standing in the cultivated area towards the front. They were settled down, back onto us at first, but after a few minutes one of the Stone Curlews woke and stood up, turning round so we could get a good look at its pale iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – great views from the hide today

Being later in the afternoon now, and early in the year, there was next to no heat haze which can often be a problem at this site. So we could get a very good look at the Stone Curlews today. Having all had a really good look at them for a while, we decided to make our way back out.

There were a several people out on the verge now, but rather than looking out over the field opposite they were looking up the road. Apparently, the Rough-legged Buzzard had just been seen in a tree from the field entrance further along and someone had helpfully come over to tell everyone. We decided to walk up the road and sure enough, there was the Rough-legged Buzzard perched in a pine tree on the corner of the wood at the back of the field.

The Rough-legged Buzzard flew back round behind the trees, so we continued on to the field entrance, Shortly after we got there, the Rough-legged Buzzard flew out again and landed in another tree further beyond. We had a great view of its white tail with black terminal band as it flew back. Then it did another fly round and landed back in the pine tree closer to us, where we had seen it first. Now we could see its very pale head and contrasting blackish belly patch.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – showed well when we got back out to the road

A flock of Linnets was whirling round the edge of the field beyond the gate and two Curlews flew up calling. Eventually the Rough-legged Buzzard dropped out of the pine and disappeared back round behind the trees again. It had been a great way to end our first day out, down in the Brecks, and it was time to head for home now.

3rd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Winter Birds, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day tour today, our last day. After two days down in the Brecks, we would spend the day up on the North Norfolk coast today, looking for some of our lingering winter visitors as well as one or two early spring arrivals. It was damp and drizzly for much of the day, but it didn’t stop us getting out and seeing lots of birds.

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. There were still quite a few Wigeon by Lady Anne’s Drive, but it looks like numbers are already starting to drop now as birds which have spent the winter here start heading back to Russia. The regular very pale Common Buzzard was perched on a bush out in the middle of the grazing marshes and six Marsh Harriers were hanging in the air over the reeds the other side.

We made our way straight through the pines and out onto the saltmarsh. A large flock of pipits circled over as we descended the boardwalk and we could hear both Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits calling. Several of the Rock Pipits landed on the edge of the saltmarsh right by the path, where we could get a closer look at them. The Rock Pipits come here from Scandinavia for the winter. We could see some of them were moulting and getting slightly pink on the breast – they can begin to look increasingly like Water Pipits at this time of year, a pitfall for the unwary.

Rock Pipit

Scandinavian Rock Pipit – one of several out on the saltmarsh

As we walked on further east, we scanned the saltmarsh for any movement. We were almost at the cordon before we found the Shorelarks, well hidden in the taller vegetation. At first we could only see one or two when they moved, but as we got closer we could see there were at least 5-6. As we stood and watched them, more and more appeared, so that by the end we had counted a minimum of 12, but it was still hard to know exactly how many were really there.

Shorelarks

Shorelarks – still on the saltmarsh at Holkham

The Shorelarks are always one of the highlights of winter birding here on the coast, so we spent a bit of time watching them. They gradually worked their way closer to the path and we had a great look at them through the scope. Despite the grey weather, their yellow faces still really stood out when they lifted their heads. There were a few Linnets and Meadow Pipits feeding on the saltmarsh with them.

The latest forecast had been for it to be dry all morning, but at this point it started spitting with rain. It was only light, so we carried on out to the beach anyway. As we started scanning the sea, there didn’t look to be much out there today at first. There were a few Great Crested Grebes, and a lone female Common Scoter. Then one of group spotted diver quite close inshore – a Great Northern Diver. It was diving regularly and moving west steadily each time it resurfaced, but eventually we all got some good views of it between dives.

There were not many waders down on the beach today. Several Oystercatchers were standing along the shore, and two Sanderling were running in and out of the waves, at least until they were all flushed by someone walking a pack of dogs along the beach.

Making our way back to Lady Anne’s Drive, we decided to brave the drizzle and walked west along the path on the inland side of the pines. We hadn’t gone far before we heard a Chiffchaff calling in the trees. Along here, it is hard to tell whether this is a bird which has spent the winter here, or an early returning breeding bird. With the unseasonally warm weather at the end of February, Chiffchaffs have already returned very early in several places.

As we passed Salts Hole, we stopped for a quick look. A little group of Tufted Ducks was over on the edge of the reeds and one Little Grebe was still in the far corner. We could see a few geese out on the grazing meadows beyond and through the scope we could see there were several Pink-footed Geese with a pair of Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have already left, on their way back north before they head back to Iceland for the breeding season, but a small number often linger here much later. There was a pair of Egyptian Geese out here too, and a Grey Heron.

A little further on, we stopped for another look out over the grazing marshes. We could see several Shelduck on the small pools out in the middle, and there were two drake Pintail in with them too, although for much of the time we could only see their elongated tail feathers sticking up as they upended. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from the reeds over in front of Washington Hide.

With the drizzle picking up a bit, we made our way quickly on to Joe Jordan Hide, to get out of the rain. It was quite busy in the hide (clearly lots of other people had the same idea to shelter in here!), but eventually we managed to sit down. A Great White Egret was feeding out on the grazing marshes off to the right of the hide.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – out on the grazing marshes from Joe Jordan Hide

The first Spoonbills have already started to return to the breeding colony and we quickly located two out on the marshes, but they were way off in the distance and hard to see in the mist, heads down feeding in a ditch. Thankfully a bit later on one appeared much closer, and we had a better view of it in the scope. We could see its spoon-shaped bill when it lifted its head.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – one of the first returning birds

A Marsh Harrier was perched in a bush out along one of the ditch lines and there were lots of Cormorants in the trees behind the old fort. Down on the pools we could see four Avocets feeding in the shallows and several Shoveler and Teal scattered around.

The pines had been fairly quiet on the way out but as we started to walk back we came across a mixed flock of tits. We had passed some swarms of gnats gathered over the path in the damp conditions earlier and now we watched as a couple of Long-tailed Tits flew out from a large bush on the verge and hovered right out over the middle of the path, trying to catch some of the gnats. They hovered for second or two before flying back into the bush but then came out to try again. Really interesting to watch, and not behaviour you see often. A Goldcrest was flitting around in the bush too.

We stopped for lunch in The Lookout café, out of the rain. After lunch, as we made our way back to the van, we could see lots of gulls swarming over the grazing marsh, and landing down on the grass. We heard the distinctive call of a Mediterranean Gull and looking through the flock could see at least four in with the Black-headed Gulls.

Our next stop was at Holme. We were hoping to see some birds on the sea here so we walked straight out to the beach, where we were sheltered from the wind by the pines. There were lots of Red-breasted Mergansers on the water and scanning through we could see a dark duck in with them. It was a Velvet Scoter. You could just make out a pale spot on its cheek, but it was not until it flew round that you could see the diagnostic white in its wings. A small group of dark-winged Common Scoter flew past just afterwards.

Otherwise, the sea here was fairly quiet, with just a few Great Crested Grebes and a single Guillemot offshore. A couple of small groups of Brent Geese flew past and more unusually we picked up a flock of six Pink-footed Geese coming in off the sea. They should really be going the other way now!

Walking through the dunes to Gore Point, it was windier out of the lee of the Firs, although at least the rain had eased off now. The tide was coming in and there were a few waders roosting on the beach, at first several small groups of Oystercatchers. Further along, out on the point, we got the scopes on a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits. There were several smaller grey Knot in with them, as well as a couple of Grey Plover and a single Dunlin. A lone Turnstone was feeding on the shoreline a bit further along.

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers – there were a few waders roosting on the beach at Holme

The sea was noticeably more choppy on the far side of the point. Scanning the sea from the shelter of the dunes, we could see a distant group of Eiders out on the water. A closer Red-throated Diver was diving constantly but a single Great Northern Diver was a long way out too. A Gannet and a Fulmar flew past.

We had wanted to see the Long-tailed Ducks off here, but they proved rather hard to find and harder still to see. We eventually found a few in with a larger group of Red-breasted Mergansers, but they were quite distant and diving constantly. Out in the choppier water, when they did surface they looked not unlike the froth on the wave crests and they kept disappearing into the troughs.

It was already getting late now, but we drove back along the coast to Titchwell to finish the day. We wanted to at least walk out to Parrinder Hide to get a proper look at the Mediterranean Gulls, but it took some time to find a Water Rail first. We eventually found one when it walked back into the bottom of the ditch from the vegetation in the bank beyond. We got a good look at it then, as it walked along through the water.

Water Rail

Water Rail – eventually showed itself in the ditch

The rain may have eased but the wind had now picked up, and it was rather gusty this evening. The Marsh Harriers seemed to be enjoying it, with several up over the back of the reedbed as we walked out.

Three waders were on the pool out on Lavender Marsh. Two were the usual Common Redshanks, but as we glanced across the one asleep at the back looked rather pale. A quick look through the scope, confirmed it was slightly more silvery grey above, spotted with white, a touch lighter than the Common Redshank next to it. We could also just see tiny bit of pale supercilium, just visible where the bill was tucked into its back. It was a Spotted Redshank. They normally like to roost on the Tidal Pools, but it was perhaps a bit more sheltered on here this evening.

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank – asleep on Lavender March with a Common Redshank

After we had all had a look at it through the scope, the Spotted Redshank woke up briefly and flashed its distinctive longer, needle-fine bill, just in case any of the group had any lingering doubts over its identity. A Grey Plover appeared from behind the vegetation at front.

The water level on the Freshmarsh is still fairly high – good for ducks, but not so good for waders. The Avocets which were on here were roosting on one of the only exposed small islands, by the corner of the path to Parrinder Hide.

Avocets

Avocets – roosting on one of the few exposed islands

As we headed straight down the path for the shelter of Parrinder Hide, we heard a Water Pipit call from the other side of the bank. When we got into the hide, we looked back along the edge of the water but there was no sign of it that way. A quick look out the other side of the hide and we found it feeding on the shore. We had a good look at it through the scope.

Having seen the closely related Rock Pipits this morning, it was interesting to contrast them with the Water Pipit this evening. The Water Pipit was noticeably whiter below, cleaner with more defined black streaks, with whiter wing bars and a whiter supercilium. It was also greyer above, not so oily olive-brown.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding along the water’s edge beyond the hide

The fenced off Avocet Island was chock full of gulls (perhaps it should be renamed ‘Gull Island’!). We had come to see Mediterranean Gulls and there were lots here, in with Black-headed Gulls. Several appeared to be paired up already and were even still displaying. It was a good opportunity to compare the two species – the Mediterranean Gulls with a blacker, more extensive hood, heavier red bill and pure white wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – there are lots back now in with the Black-headed Gulls

There were more gulls coming in to roost, bobbing around on the open water in the middle. As well as all the smaller gulls, we could see several Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Great Black-backed Gulls. We had a look at a few adults of each of the three species and talked about the main differences between them. (we decided to leave the more confusing immatures to a later lesson!).

The Marsh Harriers were gathering over the reedbed beyond to roost. More were flying in all the time – one came in over the Volunteer Marsh and straight over Avocet Island, sending all the gulls up into the air. The Marsh Harriers seemed to be playing in the wind this evening and we counted a minimum of twenty all in the air at the same time.

With all the excitement over the gulls, we had not noticed the time and it was already getting late. Unfortunately it was time to call it a day, and wrap up what had been three very successful day’s birding, despite the weather.

27th Feb 2019 – Has Spring Sprung?

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. A glorious sunny day, unseasonably warm with temperatures up to 16C by the afternoon. With lots of birds singing now, it felt like spring had sprung! But it is not set to last, so we had a good day out trying to make the most of it.

There have been lots of birds on the sea in NW Norfolk in the last few days – divers, grebes, seaduck – so we decided to start the day up there to try to see some of them. On our way west along the coast road, we stopped to admire a Barn Owl which was dozing on a post, warming itself in the early sunshine.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – enjoying the morning sun on a post by the road

The Barn Owl stared at us for a while, seemingly unhappy at being rudely awoken from its slumbers, then flew back across the field and landed on another post on the other side.

Our first scheduled stop of the morning was at Titchwell. As we walked down the path towards the Visitor Centre, a Chiffchaff was singing from somewhere deep in the sallows. They have started singing early this year, lulled into thinking spring is here already with all the recent warm weather. We could hear our first Mediterranean Gulls of the day flying over too.

The feeders had been taken down for refilling, so there were no birds coming in, but there was lots of chattering from high in the trees around the Visitor Centre. We heard a redpoll singing and looked up to find a Lesser Redpoll perched in the very top of one of the trees. There were quite a few redpolls here this morning and several Siskins too. They were very mobile, flying around in the trees. When a little group of redpolls came down into the bushes lower down, we picked up one or two Mealy Redpolls too.

There have been small numbers of finches on the move in the last week or so, birds starting to head back north after spending the winter further south. We would hear small numbers of Siskin in particular moving through the day.

Stopping to scan the Thornham grazing meadow, a distant Common Buzzard was down in the grass in the middle and another was even further off on a bush at the back. Looking down into the ditch below the path, a Water Rail was picking around in the leaves in the bottom. We stopped to watch it, and a second Water Rail ran across the path a bit further up, which we could then see down in the water in the bottom as we walked on.

Water Rail

Water Rail – one of two in the ditch this morning

A couple of Cetti’s Warblers were calling from the edges of the reedbed, but despite one being very close to the path typically it kept well hidden. A male Reed Bunting was more obliging, perched in one of the small bushes. Through the scope we could see that its black head was still partly obscured by brown fringing which it still gradually wearing of.

Several Marsh Harriers were up beyond the bank at the back, over Brancaster marsh. Then another Marsh Harrier appeared closer to us, up from the reedbed. It was a male and as it flew across we could see it was carrying a couple of pieces of reed in its talons. It dropped down again into the reeds, presumably busy building up a nesting platform.

The old pool on Thornham grazing marsh is now getting overgrown and hard to see anything, but a quick look across as we passed revealed a Redshank down on the pool at the front and a smaller birds picking round the edge nearby. It was a Water Pipit. We had a good look at it through the scope, before it worked its way further back into the vegetation and disappeared.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – a nice surprise on the old pool on Thornham GM

The Water Pipit in recent days has mostly been seen feeding on the cut reed by the reedbed pool on the other side of the path, but they can be very difficult to see out here. There was one out here too, this morning. But it wasn’t until the first Water Pipit flew over from the Thornham side that we could see it. It flew across and chased off the new arrival, which returned across the path. What was possibly a third Water Pipit then flew up from the back and disappeared back over the reeds.

Several Common Snipe were also well hidden, roosting in the cut reeds. There were a few ducks out at the back of the reedbed pool – Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks. A Little Grebe was hiding behind the reeds on one of the small pools just below the path. A few Wigeon were feeding out on the saltmarsh behind us.

The Water Level on the Freshmarsh is still very high, although it has started to go down a touch and there was a little more mud exposed around the tallest of the islands. The Avocets were still roosting in the deeper water, with a good number now back here. On the small island by the junction with the path to Parrinder Hide, we could just see a small group of Knot busy bathing and preening on the mud at the back. A lone Golden Plover was standing with the Lapwings on the drier mud in the middle.

Avocets

Avocets – more are back now, roosting out on the Freshmarsh

Some people returning from the beach told us there were a couple of Black-throated Divers offshore, so we decided to head straight out there. We had a quick look at the Volunteer Marsh on our way past. It looked pretty empty at first, apart from a few Redshanks, until a flock of Knot appeared from out of the vegetation and whirled round before flying back out towards the beach. There were more waders along the channel at the far end, more Redshanks, several Curlews, one or two Black-tailed Godwits and a little group of six Dunlin.

With the tide coming in, more waders were roosting on the non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’. The water level has dropped here a little in the warm weather and there is a bit more space for them on here at the moment. There were several more little groups of Knot, with a few Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover standing with them. A few diminutive Dunlin were running round the mud next to them.

By the time we got out to the beach, the Black-throated Divers had drifted east towards Scolt and further out. It was also very hazy offshore, but we managed to get one of the divers in the scope and get a good look at it – we could see the distinctive white flank patch. Several Great Crested Grebes and a single Razorbill were closer in, but everything else was rather distant. There were a few Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneye and three Eider flew past in the distance.

High tide was not until midday today, so we decided to make our way slowly back and head round to Holme to see if there was any more to see on the sea there. We called in at Parrinder Hide to admire the Mediterranean Gulls. Numbers are growing steadily now and it will be interesting to see how many pairs breed in 2019, after the big increase in pairs last year. We could see several pairs displaying in with the more numerous Black-headed Gulls on the fenced off Avocet Island, and we got a couple in the scope to look at the differences between the two species.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – displaying on Avocet Island in with the Black-headed Gulls

There were a few ducks still on the Freshmarsh. A good number of Teal were sleeping along the edge of the bank either side of the hide. Several pairs of Gadwall were roosting on the smaller islands along with a few Shoveler.

As we came out of the hide, we could hear a Marsh Harrier calling high above. We could just see it way up in the blue sky. It was flapping steadily and calling at first, but as it got back over towards the reedbed it started to tumble and twist, skydancing. A couple of Common Buzzards appeared in the sky too, circling over the path before drifting off west, possibly birds on the move.

We cut across by Meadow Trail, where there was no sign of the Woodcock now, round to Patsy’s Reedbed. There were not so many ducks on here today – just a few Gadwall, Common Pochard and Tufted Duck. Several Common Snipe were hiding in the cut reeds along the edge. Two or three Marsh Harrier circled up over the reedbed, and one drifted closer over the back of the pool.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – circled over the back of Patsy’s Reedbed

The highlight here though was the Bearded Tit. We could hear two birds pinging, one in the reeds in front of the right of the viewpoint and a second back on the edge of the reeds on the left of the pool. That second Bearded Tit worked its way closer along the edge of the pool and then perched up for a few seconds in full view – a smart male with powder blue-grey head black moustache. It zipped across the open water and disappeared into the reeds where the first bird had been calling, at which point both then went quiet.

Back to the Visitor Centre and after stopping to get a quick cup of tea, we headed round to Holme. It was lunchtime now, so we walked out to the beach with our food and scanned the sea while we ate. A Red Kite circled over the pines and drifted out over the beach, perhaps another raptor on the move taking advantage of the warm weather.

There were more birds on the sea off The Firs, but it was very hazy here too. The highlight was a Red-necked Grebe, which at one point swam up to join a small group of Great Crested Grebes, giving us a great comparison. There were lots more Red-breasted Mergansers off here and several more Eiders too. We still hadn’t found the Long-tailed Ducks, so once we had finished eating we decided to walk up through the dunes to Gore Point to try our luck there.

Another Marsh Harrier was calling from high over the grazing marshes, and we looked across to see several geese out on the grass. They were mostly Greylags but there were a small number of Pink-footed Geese still here too, smaller, darker-headed and darker-billed. Most of the winter’s Pink-footed Geese have already departed on their way back north, but a few are still lingering along the coast. The Brent Geese stay here a little longer and there was a tight flock out on the grazing marshes and several smaller groups flying in and out from the beach.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – flying past as we walked up to Gore Point

There were a lot more birds on the sea off Gore Point, and it didn’t take long to find the Long-tailed Ducks. They were diving regularly and hard to count, but eventually we got to a total of 21 together. The long tails of the drakes were hard to see when they were diving but when they stopped a couple of the drakes appeared to be displaying, swimming after a female with their tails cocked in the air.

There were even more Red-breasted Mergansers here – there seemed to be a very good number of them today, though they were too spread out to count easily. A distant Velvet Scoter appeared too briefly, but disappeared again when we took our eyes off it. A single Great Northern Diver was very distant, but a closer Slavonian Grebe then appeared. A Fulmar flew past low over the water. Non-avian interest included a Harbour Porpoise which rested at the surface for a few seconds before diving again.

Having walked up to Gore Point, we were a little later than planned leaving Holme which meant we could only enjoy a brief visit to Holkham on our way back east. There were lots of Wigeon still out on the grazing marshes by Lady Anne’s Drive as we parked, but not so many geese here now.

Out through the pines, we walked east on the edge of the saltmarsh. As we got closer to the cordon, we could see lots of pipits out in vegetation. A closer look revealed they were a mixture of Scandinavian Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits. It was interesting to compare the two side by side, and also to compare and contrast the Rock Pipits with the closely related Water Pipit which we had seen earlier. There were a few Skylarks here too and one or two were singing in the sunshine.

There were a few people watching the Shorelarks already. They were quite a long way back in the taller vegetation before the cordon again, and a couple of people couldn’t resist the temptation to walk out onto the saltmarsh to get closer. We stood on the path and admired them through the scope. It was lovely afternoon light now and their bright yellow faces glowed in the sunshine when they lifted their heads.

Shorelark 1

Shorelarks – still out on the saltmarsh

The best strategy with the Shorelarks is to wait and let them come to you, and we could see they were gradually working their way towards the path further along. We walked up and watched them, busily picking around and creeping through the vegetation. We carried on a little further to see if the Dartford Warbler was still around, despite the fact it has not been reported here for a week or two. There was no sign of it and no sign of the Stonechat which has previously helped to tempt it out of the dense buckthorn, so we didn’t linger here.

Shorelark 2

Shorelarks – great views when they worked their way closer to the path

When we returned to the Shorelarks, they were very close to the path now and walking very slowly we were able to position ourselves without disturbing them. It was a great view of them from here. We tried to count them – there were at least 10 in the closer group, but there were still some further back on the saltmarsh which were mostly hidden. We still had one last thing we wanted to try to do today, so we eventually had to tear ourselves away

Continuing on along the coast, we parked and made our way down a track towards the saltmarsh. A male Marsh Harrier was still out hunting and crossed the track ahead of us. A few Chaffinches and tits flew in and out of the hedges ahead of us. We could hear a couple of Yellowhammers singing and had nice views of one of the males perched in the top of the hedge, bright yellow in the evening sun.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – one of two males singing in the hedge

As we got down to the edge of the saltmarsh, a Barn Owl flew past across the grass in front of us. A nice start! A Peregrine was perched out on one of the sandbanks in the distance, but it was a long way off and little more than a blob in the misty haze even through the scope. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the back of the saltmarsh and a couple of late Common Buzzards circled over the edge of the field behind us calling.

Then a Hen Harrier appeared, a ringtail, flying in across the back of the saltmarsh. It was a long way off, but through the scope we could see the white square at the base of its tail. Shortly after, a second ringtail flew in a bit closer. It landed down in the vegetation for a few minutes and when it flew up again it came across and flushed the first Hen Harrier from where it was hiding. We saw the two of them several times over the next 15 minutes or so.

We really wanted to see a Merlin here, but they were a bit elusive this evening. Eventually the one other person down here with us spotted one, right at the back of the saltmarsh, perched on the top of a small bush. It was a long way off, but we could see what it was through the scope.

That was a great way to end, so with the light starting to go now we walked back up the track. There were loads of Brown Hares out in the fields here now. We stopped to listen to a couple of Grey Partridge calling from the next field over, which were then accompanied by a Red-legged Partridge calling too. Then it was time to head for home.

16th Feb 2019 – Last Orders for Owls

An Owl Tour today, the last one we have planned for this owling season. It was cloudy and cool first thing, but while it remained stubbornly grey for most of the day it was mild and dry with light winds. A very pleasant day to be out again.

After several dry nights with no frost – good hunting weather for owls – we worried that the Barn Owls might not be as hungry now and might have reverted to going to roost really early in the morning. When we arrived down at the marshes, we couldn’t see any Barn Owls out at first.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming in the wood behind us and one or two Skylarks started singing, making it feel almost like spring again. The first Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds and a large flock of Curlew came up off the nearest meadow calling.

We walked out along the path, to check if anything might still be on the front of the owl box, but it was all quiet there. Then we spotted a Barn Owl flying across, out in the middle of the marshes behind the reeds. It seemed to be making a beeline for the meadow in the top corner, so we hurried up to intercept it.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – still out hunting over the grazing marshes

The Barn Owl was rather distant at first, hunting over the back of the grass, but we watched it patrolling with slow wingbeats, looking down for any potential prey, occasionally stopping to hover and dropping down once or twice, seemingly without success. It was doing circuits around the field and a couple of times it did a flypast round the front where we could get a good look at it.

Then we noticed a second Barn Owl had appeared a little further back, a paler bird. We watched the two of them hunting over the same field for a while. Then the second Barn Owl flew round to the front of the field, straight past us, and away along the line of reeds below the bank. We had a great view of it as it passed by. It was flying very purposefully, heading back towards the road, possibly on its way to roost.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – flew right past us as it headed in to roost

We turned our attention back to the first Barn Owl, which was still flying round over the same field. It eventually worked its way back and disappeared behind some reeds. Two Barn Owls out hunting – a great start!

There were a few Canada Geese feeding down in the grass. As we turned to go, a couple of Greylag Geese flew over, honking noisily. Just behind them, we noticed a little group of smaller geese following behind. Head on, we could see a distinctive band of white around the base of their bills and, as they turned to head past us, black barring on their bellies. They were Russian White-fronted Geese, ten of them. We watched them fly off west.

White-fronted Goose

Russian White-fronted Geese – four of the ten which flew over us this morning

We decided to head inland to try our luck with Little Owls next. At our first stop, overlooking some farm buildings, we couldn’t see any owls but we did flush a Green Sandpiper from a muddy puddle by the road as we pulled up. As it flew up, we could see its white tail contrasting with dark slate coloured wings and back. The second place we checked didn’t produce any Little Owls either. There was no sunshine this morning for them to sit out in and there was a slight freshness to the light breeze still, before the day had had a chance to warm up.

Our third stop was a little more successful. As we pulled up we could see a distant Little Owl perched on the edge of a barn roof, but by the time we had all got out of the van it had flown off and looked to have disappeared in. We got the scope on the barn and realised we could still just see it, half hidden under the cowl on the top of the roof, just visible as a silhouetted dome of a head. It was a long way off, so we walked up the track towards the end of the farm buildings for a closer look.

From half way up the track, we got a much better look at the Little Owl. It was looking straight at us, and we could see its eyes, then it turned back to face the other way and we could see the false eye pattern on the back of its head. We walked up to the end of the track and realised we couldn’t see it from this angle, and when we walked back again it had gone in.

Little Owl

Little Owl – hiding under the roof

As we made our way back to the van, we stopped to look at a rough grass meadow which was full of Starlings and Fieldfares feeding amongst the molehills. Then we noticed a pale shape on one of the fence posts at the back of the field – another Barn Owl. We got it in the scope and had a look at it, as it looked round and scanned the ground below the post. Then it took off and flew away over the farm buildings beyond.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – perched on a fence post on our way back to the van

From here, we made our way further inland to see if the Tawny Owl was showing on the front of its tree hole again this morning. As we walked in through the gates, there were more birds singing here. Song Thrush, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Robin and Dunnock could all be heard in the trees around us.

Looking up into the top of a large ash tree, there was the Tawny Owl in its usual spot. We had a quick look from where we were and then made our way over a bit closer and found an angle where we could minimise the branches across in front of it. The Tawny Owl is very high in the tree and obviously used to people moving around below. It was a bit more awake than usual today, perched more on the edge of the hole and with its eyes half open. We had a fantastic view of it through the scope.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – in its usual hole high in the tree

Everyone agreed it was well worth the diversion to come here to see the Tawny Owl. It has been one of the highlights of our searches for owls in recent weeks and due thanks must go to the finder, who was kind enough to let us know about it and thus allow people to come and see it.

Moving on, we made our way across to the Wash. There were not many ducks again on the pits at Snettisham as we made our way in, but we did see a redhead Goosander which flew off over the pools as we arrived. The tide was just on its way in when we got to the seawall, and it was not due to be a big high tide today anyway, so there was a vast expanse of exposed mud still. The waders were all very distant and there was quite a bit of misty haze out over the Wash, which meant even the Lincolnshire coast was well hidden.

There were a few waders on the mud in front of Rotary Hide. A couple of close Grey Plover and a few Redshanks in the small pools. Just across the channel, we could see a scattering of Dunlin.

Our main target here was Short-eared Owl. Someone else had just seen one, in a slightly different place to where we normally find them, so we stopped to look at that one first. It was roosting in a fairly open patch of grass, with just a few strands of bramble in front. When we first got the scope on it, it was more awake and we could see its bright yellow eyes. Then it went back to sleep.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – the first of two here today

We continued on a little further, to where we normally find one or two Short-eared Owls. There was no sign of the most regular one in its favoured spot – it has been increasingly erratic here in recent weeks. We did find a second Short-eared Owl though, in another regular spot, very well hidden in some deep brambles. It was hard to see even through the scope until you got your eye in, or until it moved, a much more sensible roosting spot!

It was a bit later than we are here normally now, but rather than stop to eat at Snettisham, the draw of the facilities at Titchwell was too great and the prospect of a hot drink. As we made our way out, a Ringed Plover was displaying over the beach, flying round and round with stiff bat-like wing beats.

We were even further delayed on the way. As we drove through Old Hunstanton, we noticed a shape perched on a road sign right next to the busy A149 coast road. It was a Barn Owl! It was perched on the top, seemingly completely unfazed by the traffic thundering past within a couple of metres.

Barn Owl 4

Barn Owl – perched on a road sign right by the busy A149

We pulled up opposite the Barn Owl, both to have a look ourselves and to try to alert the cars to its presence. If it took off, it could quite easily fly straight into a passing vehicle. It still stayed there, looking round, for a minute or two. Eventually, it flew off over the hedge and then as we pulled away it came back round across the road again.

So it was a late lunch by the time we finally got to Titchwell. There were a few birds coming and going from the feeders as usual – a selection of finches and tits. After a quick bite to eat, we set out to see if the Barn Owls were out here again. Earlier in the week they were out every afternoon, at just this time, but we couldn’t find any sign of them today. Perhaps they were less hungry now and there was not such a pressing need to hunt through the day. A Water Rail was in the ditch next to the main path, so we stopped for a good look at that instead.

Water Rail

Water Rail – in the ditch by the main path again

There was not much activity around the reedbed today – a couple of distant Marsh Harriers out over Brancaster marsh beyond and no ducks at all today on the reedbed pool.

The Freshmarsh is full of water at the moment, so there are not many places for waders to roost or feed. The Avocets are starting to return already and there were at least 40 there today. They looked slightly out of place, with many of them bobbing up and down as they swam in the deep water – not exactly a typical resting place for a wader! A few lucky ones had found the top of one of the sunken islands which they could reach to stand on.

Avocet

Avocets – some of the 40+ on the Freshmarsh

Otherwise, there were just a few ducks and geese on the Freshmarsh today. A flock of Brent Geese had dropped in to bathe and preen, and flew off past us, heading back to the winter wheat field back by the entrance road. There wasn’t enough time to explore the whole reserve today, but we thought we could swing round via Patsy’s Reedbed on our way back to see if there was any sign of a Barn Owl round that side.

On the way along Meadow Trail, we stopped to look at the Woodcock which was still in exactly the same place it has been for the last few days. It was very hard to see if you didn’t know exactly where it was, down under a tangle of branches and trunks deep in the sallows, but it was slightly easier to get the scope on it today. It was head on and you could see its long bill, large eyes and the black bars on the top of its head.

Woodcock

Woodcock – roosting in its usual place again today

There was no sign of any Barn Owls out at Patsy’s Reedbed either, but there was a bit more Marsh Harrier activity now, with three chasing each other low over the reeds. Several Common Snipe were asleep in the cut reeds at the front, in with the Teal and Mallard.

As we drove back east along the coast road, we were alerted to the presence of another Barn Owl in one of the usual spots by a photographer with a large lens resting it on a gate. The owl was perched on a post over towards the back of the meadow. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to stop here so we decided to continue on.

We thought we would try our luck with the Little Owls again, despite the fact that it was still rather grey this afternoon and the afternoon light was already starting to fade. It was unseasonably mild though – reaching over 12C this afternoon, not a typical February temperature! We diverted inland and round by several of the same spots we had tried this morning. The warm temperature was not enough to tempt the owls though and there was no sign of any.

By the time we got to our last stop of the day, it was already dusk. There was no sign of the Barn Owl here again, which we had seen so many times this year. It was impossible to tell this evening whether it has started to venture further afield to hunt now, whether it has already been out and had gone back into the box, or whether it is no longer roosting here. Not to worry today, as we had enjoyed great views of several Barn Owls already today, but one for further investigation when we have a bit more time. We walked down through the trees to the lake, but there was no sign of it over the meadows the other side either.

We had really come here to end the day listening to the Tawny Owls and as we walked back into the trees one started hooting. As we made our way over to where it was calling, we could hear it hooting repeatedly. It was further back in the trees and we couldn’t see it in the tangle of branches in the gloom, although we had one brief glimpse as it flew further back.

We stood and listened to the Tawny Owl for a while. It switched from the full three-part hoot to a single hoot and the female responded. Then we could just hear the male giving a low bubbling call, a courtship call when the female is close by and just audible to us on the edge of the wood. It is that time of the year and the pair will hopefully be getting ready for the breeding season now.

Another male Tawny Owl then started hooting back behind us. It was late getting going again tonight, and it was already getting dark. We heard it hooting several times as we made our way back to the van to head for home, a good way to end the day.

 

14th Feb 2019 – Owls for Two

A Private Owl Tour today. After a chilly start with a light frost, it was a glorious bright sunny day with blue skies and light winds. Great weather to be out looking for owls.

It was a slightly late start by the time we got away, so we headed straight down to the marshes. There were birds singing in the trees at the back as we got out of the van, particularly a Song Thrush one side and a Mistle Thrush the other. It almost felt like spring!

Thankfully the Barn Owls were still out hunting this morning. The first one we spotted was a long way off across the marshes. When we first saw it, it looked to be heading in to roost, flying direct and determinedly over the reeds. But it dropped down and landed on a post, where we could just see it in the scope through the reeds. It stayed there for ages – it didn’t seem to be hunting particularly, so perhaps it was just enjoying the morning sunshine.

A huge flock of Pink-footed Geese flew in calling behind us, numbering several thousand, in long lines. It was quite a sight. As they approached, they split into two. The largest group circled round over the marshes and landed out in middle. The rest peeled off and headed over in the direction of the marshes at Cley, where they too dropped down. Perhaps they had been disturbed from the field inland where they had gone to feed.

The Marsh Harriers started to appear as it began to warm up a bit. At first we could see one or two patrolling over the reeds. Then several started to circle up higher together out over the middle of the marshes. A buzzard appeared with them, and as it turned we caught a flash of a white tail. But when we tried to get the scope on it, it disappeared, presumably down behind the reeds.

When it circled up again and our suspicions were confirmed – it was a Rough-legged Buzzard. As well as the white tail with a clear black band at the end, we could see its pale head and dark belly. It circled with the March Harriers, at least five of them together now, and one or two of the harriers started to swoop at the Rough-legged Buzzard, presumably trying to drive it away. Eventually, it had enough and drifted off west and out of view. An unexpected bonus to see one here!

The Barn Owl took off and started hunting again, though still distant. It landed on another post and a second Barn Owl appeared hunting just behind it. We watched them for a while but there was no sign of them coming in to roost, which might have brought them closer. Presumably they are hungry now and were trying to take advantage of the weather to stay out hunting as long as possible.

With the air starting to warm up now, we decided to head inland to look for Little Owls. It seemed like it might be a good morning for them and at the first set of farm buildings we checked, we found two perched on the roof in the sunshine. They were rather distant, but through the scope we could see they were puffed up like balls of fluff.

Little Owl 1

Little Owl – one of the pair perched up at our first stop

At the second barns we checked, we couldn’t see one out today, but a little further on we did find another Little Owl. This one was a bit closer, but we were looking into the sun – the disadvantage of the better weather! We checked out another site with no reward, so we headed back round to see if we could get a slightly better angle of one of the ones we had seen out. Eventually we found a spot from where we could see one of the first Little Owls slightly closer, but the sun was still proving to be a bit of a problem.

Moving on, we drove further inland to look for the Tawny Owl which likes to perch at the entrance to its tree hole in the daytime. As we got out of the van and walked in, more birds were singing in the trees – a couple of Chaffinches, a Great Tit, a Treecreeper. A Nuthatch was piping and we found it high in the branches of a bare tree.

The Tawny Owl was in its usual spot, high in the tree at the entrance it its hole, dozing. Through the scope we had fill-the-frame views of it – well worth the drive round this way to see it.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual tree again today

Moving on again, we drove west towards the Wash. The main road was closed due to an accident, which required a bit of a diversion across country, but we eventually arrived at Snettisham.

There were not so many ducks today on the pits as we made our way in. When we got up onto the seawall, it was almost high tide but it was not a big tide today so there was still a big area of open mud uncovered. A large flock of Golden Plover was roosting out on the Wash, and as we watched something spooked them. They whirled round, flashing dark and white in the sun, taking lots of Lapwing up with them.

Waders

Waders – whirling round in the sunshine out on the Wash

Lots of Oystercatchers were roosting along the water’s edge. Looking at one group of them through the scope, we could see a line of smaller dumpy grey Knot busy feeding just in front of them. There were several groups of Bar-tailed Godwits too, and one individual stood out, already moulting into summer plumage, bright rusty orange below.

Further back, out in the shallow water, a large group of white birds turned out to be Avocets, at least 80 of them, the most we have seen here for some time. With more at Titchwell as well in the last few days, it seems they are starting to return already, ahead of the breeding season.

Continuing on down to Rotary Hide, there were a few more waders on the nearer mud just in front. We had a look at a little group of small Dunlin, busy feeding on the mud. A close Grey Plover was standing motionless in one of the small pools and a Redshank was more actively feeding in the water next to it.

Our main target here today was Short-eared Owl, so we made our way round to look for them. The usual one was not in its regular roosting spot under the brambles, but with a careful scan, we quickly found a different one, half hidden in the top of the brambles. We had a quick look at that one, and then noticed a second Short-eared Owl, much easier to see a bit further along. We could see its yellow eyes. It was unusually active, stretching, preening and looking round.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of three roosting here today

As if that wasn’t enough, we then found a third Short-eared Owl roosting even further along, in a regular spot. It was very well hidden today, deep in the brambles, and if we didn’t know to look there we might well not have seen it at all.

It was time for lunch now, but rather than eat here we decided to head round to Titchwell to use the facilities there and get a hot drink. As we made our way back out of Snettisham, we finally spotted a pair of Goldeneye on the pits, the male showing off its glossy green head and white cheek patch.

While we ate at the picnic tables by the visitor centre at Titchwell, we kept an eye on the feeders. There were several Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and tits coming and going. After a while a smart male Brambling dropped out of the bushes onto the ground in front. Fortunately we had all had a good look at it before a gas gun bird scarer in the field next door then went off, and flushed everything. Perhaps the local farmer had put it there deliberately to disturb the birds!

Brambling

Brambling – dropped down to feed on the ground in front of the feeders

As we were just finishing lunch, we popped into the visitor centre to check the sightings board. We were just asking what the Barn Owls were up to when one of the volunteers looked out of the door the other side and announced one was over the grazing meadow. Now! We raced straight round and there it was, hunting out over the long grass and sedges.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – the first of the afternoon at Titchwell

The Barn Owl landed on a post, but by the time we had raced back to the van and got the scope it was off again. Thankfully it seemed to be in a bit of a routine and after a few minutes it flew back to the fence. This time it landed on a post very close to us and through the scope we had fill the frame views. We could see all the little eye spots over its head and back. A much better view than the two we had seen early this morning!

The first Barn Owl took off and started hunting again. While we were watching that one, a second Barn Owl appeared right in front of us. The two of them worked backwards and forwards over the grass for a bit and then both of them landed on two fence posts. They seemed to be largely ignoring each other, but when the second owl took off again, it did fly over and hover low over the first for a couple of seconds.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owls – a second one appeared and the two of them landed on the fenceposts

We watched the two Barn Owls hunting for over half an hour, transfixed. We had some very close views as they worked their way round the field, on occasion coming across close in front of us, hovering. We saw them drop down into the grass on several occasions, but we didn’t see either of them actually catch anything.

Barn Owl 4

Barn Owl – hovered in front of us

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – dropped down into the grass several times

Eventually one of the two Barn Owls disappeared, and we watched the other one working its way further back along the edge of the field. It was still a good view through the scope, even there, but we had been spoiled with the earlier performance. We decided to have a walk out onto the reserve.

A quick look in the ditches beside the path produced a Water Rail picking through the rotting leaves in the bottom under the overhanging branches.

There were several Marsh Harriers up over the back of the reedbed. We could see lots of ducks and geese on the reedbed pool so we stopped for a look. Five Red-crested Pochard were swimming around in the middle, diving, including four drakes with bright red bills and orange punk haircuts. They had just returned to the reserve this morning.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – four drakes and a female, back on the reserve today

The water level is very high on the Freshmarsh over the winter, so there as not so much to see on here today. There were a few more ducks, and a large flock of Brent Geese. Two Egyptian Geese were on the small island towards the back.

We could see a Barn Owl hunting the bank beyond Parrinder Hide in the distance and then we turned to see another one out over the saltmarsh behind us. Looking back, a third was still on one of the posts by the grazing meadow, where we had watched the two earlier. One extra one had appeared from somewhere, although it wasn’t clear which one was the new one.

The Barn Owl over the saltmarsh had flown further up away from us, but then it turned and started to fly back just over the other side of bank. It came straight towards us and then right past just a few metres away, another great view. An amazing performance from the Barn Owls here today!

Barn Owl 5

Barn Owl – one then did a close flypast over the edge of the saltmarsh

There wasn’t enough time to explore the whole reserve today, but we swung round via Meadow Trail on the way back. We found the Woodcock again exactly where it had been yesterday, but it was very well hidden today, down in the leaves among lots of branches and trunks. At first all we could see was a patch of rusty feathers, but we eventually found a better angle through the scope. It was preening and we could see its long bill, and its eye staring back at us.

As we set off to drive back east, we spotted another Barn Owl over the meadow by road. Rather surprisingly, given how the owls had been performing at Titchwell this afternoon, we didn’t see any others by the coast road in any of the other regular spots on our way back.

Having had such good views of Barn Owls now, we fancied a go at getting a better look at a Little Owl, so we diverted inland and headed back to where we had seen one this morning. The first thing we found was another Barn Owl out hunting here, our seventh today. It landed on a post, but then took off again before we could get the scope on it. It landed again in the top of a small tree, swaying in the thin branches, and this time we could get it in the scope.

Barn Owl 6

Barn Owl – our seventh of the day!

It was better light now, with the low afternoon sun. We found one of the Little Owls, and even though it was half hidden under the cowl on the roof, it was a much better view than this morning. We could see the false eye pattern on the back of its head and, when it turned, its real eyes.

Little Owl 2

Little Owl – in better light this afternoon

With the diversion for the Little Owl, we were later than normal getting down to the meadows where we normally finish the day. There was no sign of the regular Barn Owl here this evening, but it was impossible to tell if it had gone off to hunt further afield, or if it had been out during the day and had decided to go back into the box.

It was already getting to the time for the Tawny Owls to start hooting, but the trees were rather quiet still. It was a very bright, clear evening, with a big moon, so they might be later than normal today. We decided to walk down through the trees to the lake to see if there was any activity over the meadows the other side. A Kingfisher called, but we didn’t see it in the gathering gloom. A Little Grebe laughed maniacally.

As we walked back through the trees, finally the Tawny Owl started hooting. We made our way back round and stood on the edge of the wood. We could hear the single hoots of a male and female together now, and the male gave its very quiet bubbling call, normally associated with courtship. For a second it seemed like the male might be coming closer to us when it next hooted, but then we heard it move much deeper in the wood. A second male Tawny Owl started up, hooting further off in the distance behind us.

It was a nice way to end the day, standing in the wood listening to the Tawny Owls, but it was getting late now, and it was still not properly dark. The nights are pulling out fast now. It was time to call it a day – what a day!

13th Feb 2019 – Winter Coast Hopping

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was to be a relaxed day of birding and photography along the North Norfolk coast. The weather was kind to us – after a cloudy start, it brightened up late morning and was lovely and sunny in the afternoon. It was so warm, it almost felt like spring!

As we made our way east along the coast road, we spotted a Barn Owl hunting the verge ahead of us. There were trees either side beyond, so it turned and came back towards us, crossing the road right in front before disappearing over the hedge the other side. A pair of Grey Partridges flew across the road too.

Our first destination for the morning was Cley. As we parked at Walsey Hills and walked back to the East Bank, several small flocks of Brent Geese flew east and appeared to head inland.

The grazing marshes from the East Bank looked quiet at first, but on closer inspection we could see quite a few ducks. A flock of Wigeon were just in the process of walking back out from the Serpentine onto the grass to graze. We watched them all, walking in the same direction, heads down feeding. Small parties of Teal were flying round, landing on the pools. Several Gadwall were swimming on the Serpentine. Six Shelduck were on the island on Pope’s Pool then flew across to the grass. A Grey Heron was in the ditch at the back.

Wigeon

Wigeon – feeding on the grazing marshes from the East Bank

Three Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds the other side. One of them landed in a bush, where we could get it in the scope. Another did a nice fly past, one of last year’s juveniles, dark chocolate brown with a pale head. From up by the main drain, we could hear Bearded Tits calling but despite scanning the edges of the reeds we couldn’t see them. They were presumably keeping well down in the reeds as usual.

Arnold’s Marsh had a good number of waders on it today, so we stopped in the shelter for a closer look. There were quite a few Dunlin scattered around the shallow water, and two Ringed Plover with them. A Grey Plover and two Turnstones were feeding on one of the gravel spits on one side. There were plenty of Redshanks and a few Curlews too. A Little Egret was walking around on the brackish pools just behind the shelter.

Over on the beach by sea pool, we could just make out a seal carcass on the shingle. The Glaucous Gull has been feeding on it recently but was not there today – we could see a  young Great Black-backed Gull there instead. From the other side of the shelter, we could see another seal carcass on the beach over towards North Scrape but we couldn’t see the Glaucous Gull at that one either. We spotted a couple of the locals coming back from the beach and they told us that the Glaucous Gull was currently on North Scrape so we decided to walk over there to try to see it.

Before we got to the screen where the hide used to be, we looked across to North Scrape and could see the Glaucous Gull standing in the water on the edge of one of the islands. We got the scope on it and watched it, busy preening. Presumably, after a messy morning feeding on one of the seals it had decided it needed a wash and a tidy up!

Looking out to the sea behind us, we spotted a small flock of Common Scoter flying past. They landed on the sea away to west in the distance. A couple of Red-throated Divers flew across too.

Continuing on to the screen overlooking North Scrape, we had a much closer view of the Glaucous Gull. It was a juvenile – pale biscuit coloured, with subtle slightly darker markings on the wings and back and very pale whitish wing tips. The heavy bill, perfect for tearing into seal carcasses, was pink with a clearly marked black tip. It has been here for over a month now and seems to be finding plenty of food.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull – on North Scrape this morning, busy preening

Otherwise, there were quite a few ducks on North Scrape. Most notably, there were at least 50 Pintail. We got two smart drakes, which had walked out onto one of the islands to preen, in the scope for a closer look. Out of the water, we could see their long pin-shaped tail feathers. Several Shoveler were asleep down towards the front and more Brent Geese flew in and landed out on the water.

There has been a flock of Snow Buntings along the beach here, so when we heard one calling we assumed there was a flock coming. Instead, there was just one Snow Bunting accompanying a flock of Goldfinches. The latter dropped down to feed out on the beach, while the Snow Bunting carried on.

As walked on west towards the beach car park at Cley, we found more Snow Buntings in the weedy vegetation at the top of the shingle. The Goldfinches joined them, but the latter were very jumpy and kept flying up, taking the Snow Buntings with them. Eventually, the Snow Buntings settled down to feed in the vegetation on their own and we could get a better look at them. There were a few Skylarks hiding in the grass here too.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – a flock of about 20 was feeding in the vegetation on the beach

When we heard Pink-footed Geese calling, we looked across to see a huge flock dropping down onto Blakeney Freshes beyond the West Bank. The group stopped to try to photograph the Snow Buntings, and then walked on to the car park, where the van came round to pick them up.

From Cley, we drove back west. From the main road, we could see a flock of Brent Geese feeding in winter wheat east of Wells. There has been a Black Brant at times with the geese here, but there was nowhere to stop on this stretch. When we found somewhere to pull in and let the cars behind us pass, the geese were hidden from view in a dip in the field from here. There were a few more Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh in the middle of the harbour at Wells, but none on the old pitch and putt course today.

After a busy morning a break was called for now, so we stopped for an early lunch at the Victoria in Holkham. Then after lunch, we drove up to the top of Lady Anne’s Drive to park. The wardens were working out on the fields east of the Drive, so there wasn’t much out that side. There were lots of geese and Wigeon on the grazing marshes to the west though. Three Common Buzzards circled over, and all the ducks and Lapwing flushed and whirled round.

A small group of Pink-footed Geese were feeding close to the fence, so we stopped and got the scope on them for a closer look. A couple of Greylags were with them, giving us a nice comparison between the two species alongside each other. A few Brent Geese flew in and landed just the other side of the drive, but a Brown Hare which had probably been disturbed by the wardens ran across and flushed them before they could settle.

Pink-footed Geese_1

Pink-footed Geese – feeding on the grazing marshes by Lady Anne’s Drive

We made our way through the pines and out onto the saltmarsh, turning east along the path below the dunes. When we saw movement in the low vegetation we stopped for a look. There were lots of Rock Pipits, at least ten, feeding on the saltmarsh close to the path. We had really good views of them here, their underparts heavily blotched with dark and oily brown above, with a noticeable pale supercilium. These are Scandinavian Rock Pipits here for the winter. A flock of Linnets flew up from the back of the saltmarsh and whirled round.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit – there were lots feeding on the saltmarsh close to the path

A small group of people had been watching the Shorelarks but were leaving as we arrived. They pointed out where they were, and when we got there it didn’t take us long to relocate them. They were a bit too distant for photographs, but we had a great view through the scope of their yellow faces and black masks. We could only see five at first, so we scanned around for the rest, hoping we might find some closer to the path. Unfortunately, when we found them, they were even further back. Still, Shorelarks are great birds to see and we stopped to admire them for a bit.

The Dartford Warbler is still lingering in the dunes here, so we decided to go to look for that and see if the Shorelarks might come closer later. It didn’t take long to find the Stonechat here, perched up on a curl of bramble stem above the sea buckthorn. True to form, while we were admiring the Stonechat, the Dartford Warbler flew in. It landed right on the top of the bushes for a couple of seconds, before dropping down into cover.

We continued watching the Stonechat, and after a while we saw the Dartford Warbler come up again in the sea buckthorn nearby. It didn’t come right out again, but we could see it creeping around in the branches, feeding on buckthorn berries.

Stonechat

Stonechat – feeding in the dunes below the pines

The Snow Buntings were in the cordoned off area of saltmarsh, but they were hiding in the taller vegetation today. At one point they flew round, at least 40 of them in the flock today, flashing the white in their wings, but landed in cover again. Having enjoyed great views of the Snow Buntings at Cley earlier, we didn’t stop to see them here.

When two people walked right across the middle of the saltmarsh, not surprisingly they flushed the Shorelarks. We heard them calling and turned to see them flying round. We could now see how many there were, still around 25 in the flock, which is the number that have been here on and off for most of the winter.

Most of the Shorelarks flew further back across the saltmarsh and landed out in the really thick vegetation where they would be impossible to see from the path. But three had obviously been separated from the rest and flew round again. We watched one land by the path back towards the Gap, where we had stopped to watch the Rock Pipits earlier. So we walked back and found two Shorelarks now feeding with the pipits.

Shorelark

Shorelark – close views of two by the path on our walk back

Approaching slowly on the path, we were able to get quite close to the Shorelarks and they gradually worked their way closer still, so we were able to enjoy great views of them and finally get some better photos. Their yellow faces positively shone in the low afternoon sunlight.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and walked back to Lady Anne’s Drive. As we  drove on west, we had a quick look in at Brancaster Staithe. It was low tide now and there were a few waders scattered around. A small group of Oystercatchers was roosting down on the edge of the water, a Grey Plover was picking around on the shore in front, and several Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the exposed sandbar beyond.

Titchwell was our final destination for the day. We had a walk round the trails to look for Woodcock first. As we passed the Visitor Centre, there were not many birds on the feeders this afternoon. There was no sign of the regular Woodcock on Fen Trail, but with some helpful directions we were able to quickly locate the one on Meadow Trail. It was very well hidden, below a tangle of branches in the sallows. It took a bit of time, but eventually we found an angle through the scope where we could see its eye staring back at us.

Walking quietly along the main path back towards the Visitor Centre, scanning carefully we found a Water Rail in the ditch. While we were watching it, a second one walked into view along the ditch nearby. One was noticeably bulkier than the other, presumably a male and female. They worked their way quite quickly back along the ditch, not exactly together but not far apart, and the smaller of the two came out slightly more into the open. Then we lost sight of them and they had obviously turned back and disappeared into cover.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch by the main path

There were some Long-tailed Tits in the trees above the ditch and when they started alarm calling, we realised there must be a raptor about. We couldn’t initially see it where we were in the trees, but a Sparrowhawk flew out over the grazing meadow and we watched it land on a post in the distance.

Further out along the path, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler calling in the vegetation right by the path, but it remained typically elusive. A few Marsh Harriers were already in, circling over the back of the reeds or perched in the bushes.

As we walked out to the Freshmarsh, the first thing we noticed were the Avocets, 23 of them today. This is the most we’ve seen this year, with only 2-3 in recent weeks, suggesting they are starting to return to the coast already for the summer. They were flushed by a Marsh Harrier and flew round, flashing black and white. There were lots of Lapwings too, which landed back in the fenced off island, along with a small group of Golden Plover.

Avocets

Avocets – there were 23 back at Titchwell today

There were a few gulls dropping in to bathe, but otherwise with the water level on the Freshmarsh high for the winter, there were just a few ducks and geese. Unfortunately the light was starting to go now, particularly in the lee of the bank, but we watched a little group of Teal displaying on the water below us.

Teal

Teal – we watched a small group displaying on the edge of the Freshmarsh

There were more Marsh Harriers coming in all the time, to join the increasing number gathered over the back of the reedbed. We turned to see a harrier flying straight towards us low over the saltmarsh behind and realised it was a Hen Harrier. It was quite close when it turned and flashed the white square at the base of its tail. It worked its way north over the saltmarsh close to the path, flushing lots of pipits from the vegetation. Some last minute hunting before heading into roost.

The Hen Harrier was a nice way to end, and it was getting late now, so we started to walk back. As we looked out over the reedbed one last time, we could see loads of Marsh Harriers up now all together. A quick count totalled thirty in view at once – quite a sight!

There was one last bird to add to the list. On our drive back, we noticed a small bird perched on the corner of a barn, silhouetted against the last of the light. A Little Owl, coming out just as we were finishing for the day.

10th Feb 2019 – (Some) Rain in N Norfolk

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, our last day. It was forecast to rain for much if not all of the day today. Fortunately, we had a rather drier start to the day and, even though it did rain for a few hours through the middle of the day, it dried out again for much of the afternoon. And the wind had thankfully dropped compared to yesterday. We spent the day up on the North Norfolk coast.

As we drove up towards the coast, we could see a large flock of Pink-footed Geese flying over, coming in from the roost and heading for a recently harvested sugar beet field, where they would spend the day feeding. We drove round to the field and watched them dropping down to join the few geese which were already there. There have been some other geese in with the Pink-footed Geese in recent days and we were keen to try to see them, so we set about scanning through the flock.

It didn’t take long to find the Barnacle Geese. With their pale grey and white bodies, black necks and white faces, they really stood out. We have an increasing number of feral Barnacle Geese turning up here and it is difficult to tell which are really wild these days, but birds which turn up with the Pink-footed Geese are perhaps more likely to have come from one of the Arctic island populations.

Barnacle Geese

Barnacle Geese – these two were in with the thousands of Pinkfeet

More Pink-footed Geese were arriving all the time. We could hear them calling away to the west as they approached, long before we could see them, and we watched as they circled down and landed in the field. We were looking for a couple of Tundra Bean Geese which have been with the geese here but despite scanning through several times we couldn’t find them. We weren’t sure whether they hadn’t arrived yet, or whether they had landed just over a low ridge in the middle of the field, out of view.

We did spot a male Bullfinch feeding in the brambles in the hedge behind the geese, which we could make out through the scope. Several Brown Hares were in the surrounding fields too.

There was still no sign of any Tundra Bean Geese from this end of the field, but we received a message to say one was on view at the other end. We drove a short distance further along the road and joined a couple of people who were scanning the flock from the hillside there. From here, we could see the geese on the other side of the ridge in the middle of the field. There, on the front edge of flock, was a goose with bright day-glo orange legs and bill band – a Tundra Bean Goose.

Tundra Bean Goose

Tundra Bean Goose – with the Pinkfeet

After a good look at the Tundra Bean Goose through the scope, with our mission here accomplished, we dropped down to the coast at Cley and parked at the beach. As we walked out along the shingle, we scanned the sea. A Great Crested Grebe and a Guillemot were diving just offshore and further out, we could see small numbers of Red-throated Divers, flying past or swimming on the calm water.

Crossing the grassy ridge, we flushed a number of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits from the weedy vegetation on the edge of the shingle. A flock of mainly Ringed Plover and a few Dunlin flew over calling. We could see several Pintail feeding on North Scrape.

From the other side of the ridge, we could see the juvenile Glaucous Gull down on the shingle. It has been here for over a month now, feeding on the carcasses of seals washed up in the winter storms, and was busy attacking its current favourite. We walked over for a closer look – as a young gull from the arctic, it has possibly not seen people before arriving here and is very approachable.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull – the juvenile feeding on a seal carcass on the beach at Cley

The Glaucous Gull was very pale, biscuit coloured, on closer inspection patterned with pale grey-brown on the back, much paler and lacking the darker spotting of a nearby young Great Black-backed Gull. We could also see the Glaucous Gull‘s distinctive pale wingtips and its large pink bill with a contrasting dipped-in-ink black tip.

There were dark clouds approaching from the west, and it started to spit with rain, so we turned and walked back. We had been lucky that it had been mostly dry so far this morning. As we drove west along the coast road, we drove into heavier rain. We had a quick look at Wells but there was no sign of any Brent Geese on the fields along Beach Road, so we headed on round to Holkham.

As we got out of the van at Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see lots of Greylags and a few Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing meadows. Groups of Wigeon were scattered liberally over the grass. There were several waders round the pools – mostly Redshank, and Lapwing, plus a few Curlew, a small group of Black-tailed Godwits and one or two Ruff. There were lots of Pied Wagtails feeding in the wet grass too.

With the rain falling steadily now, we stopped for a quick coffee break in ‘The Lookout’ café. There was no sign of it clearing, but it didn’t seem to be coming too hard, so we decided to make a bid for the beach. It had been quite calm on the beach at Cley just an hour back, but when we got to the other side of the pines, we found that the wind had picked up and was driving the rain across the saltmarsh.

There was a lot of standing water on the saltmarsh, which appeared to appeal to the Rock Pipits, as we found at least four feeding around the pools when we stopped to scan. As we got to the cordon, we could see the Snow Buntings feeding down on the sand at the far end, flying up and whirling round occasionally. We walked down for a closer look and the flock flew round and landed right in front of us.

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings – feeding on the saltmarsh

With the saltmarsh so wet today, there was no sign of any Shorelarks. Despite having a thorough search of their favourite areas, we couldn’t find them today. We figured they might be out at the beach, but with everyone cold and wet now, we reluctantly decided to head back.

A flock of Brent Geese was feeding out on the saltmarsh as we turned to head back. Looking more closely, we could see that one was noticeably darker than the others, with a more striking pale flank patch and collar. It was the regular Black Brant hybrid which is often found here.

Black Brant hybrid

Black Brant hybrid – with the Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh

As we made our way back through the pines, two Goldcrests were feeding in the low bushes by the path. We decided to make use of ‘The Lookout’ for lunch, and to try to dry out a bit. A pair of Stonechats were flying around the small bushes out on the grazing marshes.

Finally, the sky looked to be brightening out to the west, so we decided to drive towards it. Before we left Holkham though, a quick scan of the grazing marshes produced a Great White Egret. Big and white, it really stood out, particularly when it flew across.

We took a detour round via Choseley. There was no sign of the reported Rough-legged Buzzard around the drying barns, but we could see several Common Buzzards perched on various hedges. A flock of Yellowhammers was feeding in the weedy edge of a sugar beet field, and with the rain now stopped a flock of Skylarks was flying round over a grassy meadow.

Dropping down to Thornham Harbour, the marshes here all looked rather quiet at first. Down in the harbour channel, a Little Egret was running up and down in the shallow water and a Curlew, a Common Redshank and a lone Black-tailed Godwit were feeding on the muddy bank. There was no sign of any Twite here.

Curlew

Curlew – feeding in the harbour channel at Thornham

We decided to try our luck out along the seawall. There were more waders further out in the harbour. A Spotted Redshank was preening on the edge of the water and a Greenshank was further out on the top of the muddy island. Several Grey Plovers were feeding on the mud.

It was rather fresh up on the seawall, still chilly in the breeze. Scanning from the corner, we spotted the Twite, much further along towards Holme, as they flew up briefly and landed back down on the edge of the saltmarsh.  We set off to walk along for a closer look, but before we could get there the Twite flew up again. They came straight towards us, and landed on the barbed wire fence just below the bank. We had a great view of them through scope – we could see their rusty-orange breasts and yellow bills.

Twite

Twite – three of the thirteen still at Thornham

There were some dog walkers coming the other way along the bank towards us and when the dogs ran along the bank past the Twite they took off again. They came straight over us, and headed back towards the Thornham Harbour. We walked back and found them feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh with a couple of Linnets.

We headed round to Titchwell to finish the afternoon. After having a look in the sightings book in the visitor centre, we were just leaving by the far door when we spotted a Barn Owl hunting over the Thornham grazing marsh beyond the trees. We hurried out to the main path and we were just watching the first Barn Owl hunting when we saw a second one fly across in front of us.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – one of two at Titchwell this afternoon

When the Barn Owls finally disappeared out of view behind the trees, we turned our attention to the ditches below the path. After a quick walk up to the corner and back scanning, we found a Water Rail feeding quietly in the muddy water in the bottom, probing in the wet the leaves. This is a great place to get really good views of this normally secretive species.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch below the main path

Round along Fen Trail, there was no sign of any Woodcock this afternoon, so we continued on to Patsy’ Reedbed. Three Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed in front, dropping down into the reeds then coming back up, occasionally swooping at each other and talon grappling at one point. There were more Marsh Harriers further back, over the bank on the Brancaster side, and we counted at least 15 in the air together at one point.

There were a few ducks out on the water, mainly Common Pochard and a pair of Gadwall. Several Teal were loafing in the cut reeds at the front and scanning carefully we found several Common Snipe asleep in there too.

We made our way back round to the main path via Meadow Trail. As we walked out towards the Freshmarsh, a Water Pipit flew up from the dried up pool on Thornham grazing marsh calling. It flew overhead, across the path and out across the reedbed. A Cetti’s Warbler called from somewhere down in the reeds.

The Freshmarsh is still very full of water, particularly so after the rain, and there was very little exposed island left. There were a few ducks scattered around, mainly Wigeon and Teal, and a flock of Lapwings on the bits of the fenced off Avocet Island which were still above water. A Barn Owl was hunting along the bank by Parrinder Hide, and then crossed over the main path and headed out over the saltmarsh.

We decided to continue on out to the beach. There were a few more waders on Volunteer Marsh. A Ringed Plover was down on the mud and we watched a Grey Plover wrestle with a long worm, finally pulling it out of its hole. There were more Curlews and Redshanks along the channel at the far side, and a closer Black-tailed Godwit.

The no longer tidal ‘Tidal Pools’ are very full of water at the moment too, with very few places for the waders to roost now. The three Avocets which are still clinging on here for the winter were looking rather lost, roosting up to their bellies in the water.

Avocet

Avocets – these three were still trying to roost on the flooded ‘Tidal Pools’

Out at the beach, there were lots of waders on the mussel beds when we arrived, but something spooked them and they all flew round and landed on the beach. There were lots of Knot, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwits, several more Grey Plovers and one or two Turnstones. A few Sanderling were running in and out ahead of the waves breaking along the shoreline. There was not much out on the sea this afternoon. We managed to find just a single distant Goldeneye and two Great Crested Grebes.

It was time to head back now. The weather had finally improved, a bit late in the day, and we were treated to a glorious sunset away to the west as we walked back along the main path.

Sunset Titchwell

Sunset – over Titchwell

5th Feb 2019 – A Great Day for Owls

Another Owl Tour today. After a sharp frost overnight it was a lovely, bright sunny morning with light winds. Perfect weather for owling. It did cloud over in the afternoon, and a cooler breeze picked up a bit late on, but the forecast rain thankfully didn’t arrive until just after we had packed up to go home. Great timing!

We started the day down on the grazing marshes. The grass was white, covered in frost, but when we got out of the van we immediately spotted a Barn Owl hunting the fields right by the road. We watched it flying round and round, doing several circuits out over the grass and back across the reeds to the field the other side. It crossed the road and flew along the bank, landing on a fence post for a few seconds. Then back across the road and it landed on a road sign. It was lovely crisp morning light and a great way to start the day.

Eventually the Barn Owl flew across the road again and we watched as it cut across over the reeds and headed out over the grazing marshes. We followed it, down along the path but lost sight of it.

There were other things to see out here. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds or perched in the bushes. A small line of Brent Geese flew past and we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling in the distance too. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming somewhere beyond the village. A flock of Curlew flew past, presumably looking for a field which was not quite so frozen in which to feed. Two Grey Herons flew low across over the grass.

A white spot on the owl box caught our attention and we were surprised to see a Barn Owl perched on the platform on the front. It was different to the one we had just been watching, a darker, browner bird. It was hunched up, with its eyes half-closed, facing into the sun, presumably warming itself. We looked away and when we next turned back it had gone, presumably inside the box to roost because there was no sign of it still out hunting.

Eventually, we spotted the first Barn Owl again, way off in the distance. It was perched right on the top of a tall telegraph post, an unusually high spot for a Barn Owl to use but perhaps it was trying to warm up in the sun. It worked its way back along the line of posts, perching in turn on several of them, much as a Barn Owl might often do along a fence line, but just at much greater height. Then it dropped down and started hunting again. It was coming back towards us, but we lost sight of it behind the reeds.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – our first of the day, heading back in to roost

The Barn Owl reappeared on a fence post just below the bank a bit further on, where we could get it in the scope. It perched there for a couple of minutes, looking round, before setting off again. It cut across, back towards the road, over the reeds in front of us, giving us a lovely close fly past. It seemed pretty determined now, presumably heading in to roost.

When it was almost at the road, we heard a Kestrel call and looked over to see it making a beeline for the Barn Owl. It dived at it and the two of them flew up and locked talons. The Barn Owl dropped, did a quick circle to take it away from the Kestrel, and then headed straight over the bank towards its current favoured roost spot.

By the time we had walked over, there was no further sign. Presumably it had gone in to roost. The Kestrel was perched on one of the bushes where the Barn Owl roosts. One of the Grey Herons we had seen flying this way earlier was standing on the edge of a ditch in the sunshine.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – standing on the edge of the ditch in the sunshine

It was a lovely bright morning and, despite the cold frost, we thought we could detect some warmth in the sun’s rays. We headed inland to look for Little Owls. Our first stop immediately bore fruit, although it was a very distant one, perched on the roof of some farm buildings across a couple of fields. Still it was good to get a Little Owl in the bag, and we all had a look at it through the scope.

At the second place we tried, there was no sign of any Little Owls and it looked initially like we would draw a blank at our third stop too. There wasn’t one perched up on the barns nearer the road, but scanning around we spotted one more distantly in the yard beyond, perched on the top of a pile of wooden pallets.

As we walked up the track to get a bit closer, several Fieldfares flew up from a grassy field, tchacking loudly. Before we could get closer to where it was perched, the Little Owl took off. Helpfully, it flew across and landed on the roof of the barn closest to path. We had a great look at it now, through the scope, perched on the edge of the roof, facing in to the morning sunshine.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a barn roof, in the morning sunshine

Then we noticed another Barn Owl, perched on a post along the edge of the field the other side of the track. We didn’t know where to look! The Barn Owl flew across and disappeared behind the barn where the Little Owl was perched. A Yellowhammer flew up from the long grass and perched in the top of a small tree behind us, and a covey of Grey Partridges flew across the field just beyond, calling loudly.

Eventually the Little Owl flew again, across to the next barn over where it disappeared in under the roof. At which point, we turned round to see the Barn Owl flying back across just behind us, really close now. It had been trying to sneak past without us noticing!  A great view.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – flew back across right behind us

We watched as the Barn Owl worked its way over the rough grass away from us, hunting along the verge of the track, back towards the road. It landed in the top of a small tree, right beside where the van was parked, but unfortunately we were still some way off, although we still stopped to have a good look at it through the scope. We thought it would have flown off before we got back, particularly when it was flushed by a passing car, but it dropped down into the long grass just across the road.

As we walked back, a Green Woodpecker dropped down onto the verge, but saw us and quickly flew off. A Sparrowhawk zoomed in across the road towards us, dropping low to the ground and heading straight across the grassy field beside the track, scattering the Fieldfares we had seen on the walk out, plus a flock of Starlings and several Lapwings too.

As we got back to the van, the Barn Owl flew up from the grass and landed in another small tree on the verge just across the road. It perched there, staring at the grass below, swaying slightly as it tried to get its balance on the small twigs. We were much closer to it now and we had a great view of it through the scope. We could see the small grey eye-like spots over the top of its head and down its back.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – perched slightly unsteadily in a small tree as we got back to the van

It flew again and landed on another sapling a little further back, again surveying the ground below for a couple of minutes. It did this several times, gradually working its way back away from us. We had certainly been spoilt with the views of Barn Owl this morning!

There is a Tawny Owl which sometimes perches up in the mouth of a hole in the trunk of a tree further inland from here, so we thought we would try our luck and see if it was out this morning. There were several Jackdaws in the top of the tree when we arrived, and we thought they might have disturbed it, but when we got round to where we could see the mouth of the whole, there was the Tawny Owl.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – perched in the hole in the top of the tree again

The Tawny Owl was dozing, its eyes shut, seemingly unaware it was being admired from down below. We had a great look at it through the scope. There were more birds singing here in the sunshine. A Dunnock as we walked in, then Chaffinch, Coal Tit and Song Thrush. Is spring on its way? It felt like it this morning. Two Nuthatches climbed up and down on a tree trunk. Having admired the Tawny Owl, we decided to move on.

Our next destination was Snettisham, up on the Wash. As we made our way in, there didn’t seem to be as many ducks on the pits today. There were still a few Goldeneye but seemingly fewer Tufted Ducks and not so many Wigeon.

Goldeneye

Goldeneye – there were still a few on the pits today

The tide was out and from up on the seawall we were greeted by a vast expanse of mud. It had clouded over a bit here, and it was a bit misty further out. Most of the waders were out of range, but we managed to find a few Dunlin, a Grey Plover, several Redshank and one or two Curlew. Shelduck were scattered liberally all over the mud and a flock of Teal was roosting on the bank of one of the channels.

Our target here today was to find a Short-eared Owl, so we made our way round to look for them. It didn’t find us long to find the first, roosting under a bramble bush in its regular favoured spot. We had a look at it through the scope – it was dozing, but looked round at one point to flash its yellow eyes. Scanning across, we quickly found a second Short-eared Owl in the brambles a bit further over, though this one was much better hidden.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two roosting in the brambles again

It was getting on for lunchtime now, so we made our way back to the van and round to Titchwell where we could make good use of the facilities and get ourselves a hot drink. We had lunch on the picnic tables overlooking the feeders. There were lots of birds coming and going, a good variety of finches but just Great Tits while we were there. Two Bramblings flew in at one point, making a brief visit to the feeders before something spooked all the birds and they flew off into the trees.

Brambling

Brambling – one of two coming to the feeders over lunch

Once we had finished, we were told that a Barn Owl had just been seen on the Thornham grazing marsh, so we walked over for a look. It was perched on a post, quite close to the path. We watched as it dropped down into the grass, then flew back up to another post.

Barn Owl 4

Barn Owl – on the posts on the edge of the Thornham grazing meadow

When the Barn Owl eventually flew, it dropped quickly down into the reeds just beyond the fence. We didn’t see it come up again, because we were distracted by a Water Rail feeding in the ditch just below us, flicking the wet leaves over and probing in the mud beneath.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch below the path

We had a quick look for the Woodcock, which had been seen earlier along Fen Trail, but it had disappeared into the thick tangle of branches and there was no sign of it now. Then it was time to start making our way back east.

As we were passing Holkham, we noticed a tall white bird out on the grazing marshes, so we stopped for a quick look. As we suspected, it was a Great White Egret. There had been a report of a Short-eared Owl this morning by the road west of Wells, so we drove round that way to see if it might still be out hunting. There was no sign of it, but we did stop to look at a large flock of Brent Geese feeding on the old pitch & putt.

When we eventually arrived at our final destination for the day, there was no sign of the regular Barn Owl hunting the water meadows. It was rather overcast now and the temperature had dropped as the wind had picked up. We didn’t know whether the Barn Owl had gone off elsewhere to hunt, or had possibly gone back into the box for a rest, particularly if it had been out hunting earlier during the day.

We walked through the trees to have a look at the meadows the other side. It was quiet there too, no sign of the Barn Owl. A large flock of Greylag Geese were on the grass in the trees on the other side of the lake.

When we got back to the water meadow, the Barn Owl had appeared. Presumably it had been in the box, as it was now perched in the hedge just below it. We got the scope on it and stood watching it for a while. It seemed to be showing no inclination to head out hunting, and was mostly dozing, with its eyes half shut. Perhaps it had been out hunting already today and had been successful.

Barn Owl 5

There was a hoot from trees, so we walked in and positioned ourselves overlooking the ivy-covered tree where the Tawny Owl roosts. It dropped out silently though tonight and disappeared straight back into the trees, before anyone could get onto it. At least we had enjoyed fantastic views of the one earlier.

There was no further sign of any Tawny Owls at first, and it seemed like it might be a quiet night. Then finally the male gave its familiar hoot from deep in the trees and the female answered with a more bubbling version. We stood and listened, as the male hooted several more times. A second male then started up, hooting away the other side of us. It was getting dark now, but it was a nice way to finish the day – listening to the Tawny Owls hooting in the trees at dusk.

2nd Feb 2019 – Looking for Owls & More

An Owl Tour today. There was a very hard frost overnight and it was cold all day today in a biting north wind. But we successfully managed to dodge the wintry showers and enjoyed a great day looking for owls and a lot more besides.

It was a slightly late start, by the time we had got everyone together, and a wintry shower passed over just as we were loading up, so we assumed any self-respecting Barn Owl would probably be into roost already. However, when we got down to the marshes, we were surprised to see a Barn Owl still out. It was a long way off though and we quickly lost sight of it behind the reeds.

Then a second Barn Owl appeared from behind the trees, a paler bird, the resident male. Rather than heading in to the box to roost, it too flew out to the far side of the marshes, hunting. We could still see it from time to time as it appeared up over the reeds. We walked up to position ourselves, with a good view of the box, hoping it would come back over to our side.

There were several Marsh Harriers up over the reeds now. A small flock of Brent Geese flew past, and a lone Pink-footed Goose came high overhead calling. We could hear the whistling of their wings as a pair of Mute Swans flew over too. Several Curlews came up from the grass and a Brown Hare ran across.

The male Barn Owl perched on a post out in the middle at one point, where we could get it in the scope, but it was still rather distant. Then eventually it turned to come back. It flew very differently now, purposefully, higher over the reeds, no longer hunting. We thought it might head for the box where it had been roosting earlier in the winter, but it flew straight over it, and made a beeline for the trees. It disappeared in, presumably heading for a different roosting spot.

We could see dark clouds approaching – perhaps the Barn Owl had seen them too – so we made our way back to the van.  As we drove inland to look for Little Owls, the shower passed away behind us and the skies brightened up a little. At the first barns we stopped at, we couldn’t see any owls today. Perhaps it was just too cold and windy? At the second place we checked, we also drew a blank. Then at our third stop, we were more lucky. In the distance, we could just make out two round shapes on the roof of a barn. Through the scope, we could see they were Little Owls. A long way off, but a good start.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – flew right past us as we were looking at a couple of Little Owls

Everyone was just taking it in turns to look at the Little Owls through the scope, when we noticed a Barn Owl flying towards us along the verge beside the road. It turned and worked its way round the tall grass on the edge of the concrete pad where we had stopped, pausing to hover for a second before continuing round and disappearing off down the road the other side. Seemingly oblivious to us standing there enjoying great views of it.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – hunting the grass verge by the road

A couple of Brown Hares in the neighbouring field looked like they might be about to box, but thought better of it and one ran off alone. The Little Owls were still on the roof, so we thought we would try to get a bit closer, walking up along the path which leads towards the barns.

A flock of Fieldfares was hopping around in a grassy field beside the track, in amongst the molehills, along with several Lapwings. A Kestrel flew across and landed on a telegraph post, finding a sheltered spot out of the wind behind the transformer.

Fieldfare

Fieldfares – a flock was feeding in the short grass

The Barn Owl suddenly reappeared ahead of us, coming up from the long grass the other side of the track, and flew round behind us and disappeared away over the road. We flushed a small flock of Yellowhammers too, which flew off calling.

Half way up the track, we stopped for a better view of the Little Owls. The two were perched together on the roof, in the lee of the cowl where they would be out of the wind, enjoying the view. When we got up to the far end of the path, one of the Little Owls had already gone back in already. The second turned to look at us, but seemed unconcerned by our presence, as we were still some way off. It resumed staring off into the distance, but then a gas gun bird scarer went off in the field next door and it was off, disappearing in under the cowl further along.

Little Owls

Little Owls – sheltering from the wind, on the roof

A couple of Red-legged Partridges were on the roof too, sheltering in the lee of the ridge. It was certainly cold out in the wind, so having enjoyed great views of the Little Owls we decided to head back to the warmth of the van. It was nice to spend a bit of time driving to warm up, as we made our way further inland.

A Tawny Owl has been roosting in a tree and perching up in the morning sun, but we weren’t sure whether it would be out in the cold today. As we walked in to the trees, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and we looked over to see it flying across. A Nuthatch was working its way up the trunk of a tree in front of us. A Coal Tit was singing – even though it didn’t feel particularly like spring today.

Looking up into the tree where the Tawny Owl likes to roost, we could see it was there this morning, despite the wind which we could see ruffling its feathers. It seemed particularly unconcerned, perched there with its eyes closed in the mouth of the hole in the trunk. We had a great close up view of it through the scope.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – perched up in the hole opening, despite the cold windy weather

We stood and watched the Tawny Owl for a while and then, with threatening dark clouds away to the west, we headed back to the van. We avoided the snow falling, but it was lying thick on the road as we made our way west. The main road was closed at one point for an accident, so we had to make a short diversion.

Eventually, we made it up to the Wash. There were several Goldeneye and Tufted Ducks on the first pit, as we made our way in. Three Little Grebes were swimming together.

Up on the sea wall, the tide was out. Still, there were quite a few waders closer in today. We stopped to look at them, several Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Redshank, with little flocks of Dunlin whirling round. A Bar-tailed Godwit flew past. There were a lot more waders way off in the distance, over towards the water’s edge. A line of Teal was roosting on the mud on the bank of one of the channels, and Shelduck were scattered liberally all over.

There were more Dunlin on the mud in front of Rotary Hide, and when we stopped to look we noticed a much smaller wader with them. It was a Little Stint, the same bird we had found exactly here just over a week ago. It was good to compare it side by side with the Dunlin, the Little Stint having a noticeably shorter bill as well as being smaller.

Little Stint and Dunlin

Little Stint – feeding with the Dunlin in front of Rotary Hide

As we made our way over the causeway, we stopped to admire a small group of Wigeon on one of the shingle islands on the pits. There were several Greylag Geese here too, showing off their orange carrot bills. We stopped to admire a small group of Gadwall too, through they were too far off to really appreciate the finer detail of their feather patterns. A drake Goldeneye was diving out in middle, the green gloss to its head shining in the sunshine.

What we were really here to look for was a Short-eared Owl. Thankfully, it didn’t take us long to find one, hiding under a bramble bush. It was mostly asleep but looked round at one point, showing us its yellow eyes. A little further on, a second Short-eared Owl was better hidden in the brambles but we could just make out its outline.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two in the brambles again today

Mission accomplished, we headed back to the van to warm up. On our way out, we noticed a Guillemot on the crossbank.  It flapped and clambered away from us over the grass. This is not where you would expect a Guillemot to be – it should be out on the sea – which suggested that it might not be well. Thankfully, we bumped into a member of RSPB staff on our way, so mentioned it to them.

Guillemot

Guillemot – on the bank above the Pits

There were more dark clouds to the north as we got back to the main road, and we made our way through a heavy wintry shower, sleet first then snow, as we drove round to Titchwell. Thankfully the snow cleared quickly through before we got there, and we were able to enjoy a late lunch and a welcome hot drink at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we kept an eye on the feeders, where a succession of finches and tits came in and out.

A Barn Owl was hunting the field just beyond, which we could see through the trees. After lunch, we thought we would check if it was in the paddocks. While the group were using the facilities back in the car park, we found the Woodcock under the sallows nearby. Unfortunately by the time everyone was back, it had disappeared again.

We left it in peace for a few minutes while we had a quick look at paddocks, with no sign of the owl, and by the time we came back the Woodcock was out again. We watched it walking round between the moss covered trunks probing its long bill into the leaf litter looking for worms.

Woodcock

Woodcock – eventually showed well in the leaves under the sallows

We walked back down past the Visitor Centre to the main path, but there was no sign of the Barn Owl now on Thornham grazing marshes either. We did get great views of a bonus Water Rail, feeding in one of the ditches. It kept hiding under some logs which had been places across the water as a bridge, but eventually came out and showed itself very well to us.

Water Rail

Water Rail – great views in the ditch by the main path

As we made our way back east along the coast road, we were surprised once again that there were no Barn Owls out hunting in any of their regular sites. It was prime time for them now too. Perhaps they are still not hungry enough, finding too much food during the night that they do not need to come out in daylight at the moment.

As we drove past one of the churches, we noticed a shape perched high up on a ledge on the tower. We found somewhere convenient to stop and got out for a closer look. It was the Peregrine back again. The feathers of its underparts looked damp and matted and it was busy preening, tidying itself up. It has been very erratic in the last few months and this is the first time we have seen it here this year, so another bonus to catch it today. It was a great close up view through the scope.

Peregrine

Peregrine – on the church tower again, busy preening

Having stopped for the Peregrine, we were a bit later than planned arriving at our last destination for the day. We drove round via the far end of the water meadows and scanned from the van as we passed, but there was no sign of any Barn Owls here. We parked up at the top end and walked down to scan, but there was no sign of the regular female Barn Owl from here either. Had it gone off to hunt further afield already or had it gone back into the box, out of the wind?

The meadows the other side of the trees would be more sheltered from the wind we figured so we turned to head off to check there. As we did so, the Barn Owl flew in up the meadow behind us. Thankfully, we turned round just in time to catch it, but it flew straight into the box.

We stood and waited, to see if it would reappear. Two Common Buzzards circled over the trees on the hillside behind us. A Green Woodpecker flew across the meadow and we heard a Cetti’s Warbler calling from the rushes.

Several skeins of Greylag Geese came over in noisy flocks, heading off towards the coast to roost. As one flock came towards us, we noticed ten smaller geese with them. As they turned, we could see they were Russian White-fronted Geese, an unexpected surprise to see them here. They had possibly been displaced from somewhere by the recent cold weather.

Suddenly the Barn Owl reappeared, climbing out onto the platform on the front of the box. We watched through the scope as it perched there, dozing, seemingly working up the energy to head off hunting again. It heard something in the grass below and instantly woke up, staring down at the ground, before going back to dozing.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – eventually reappeared on the front of the box

Finally, the Barn Owl stretched and then dropped off the platform. We watched it hunting, flying round over the meadow, occasionally hovering or dropping down into the grass. We didn’t see it catch anything this evening, before it disappeared away behind the trees.

While we were watching the Barn Owl, we heard a Tawny Owl hoot in the trees behind us. It was getting time for it to emerge from its roost, so we made our way in and positioned ourselves overlooking its favoured ivy-covered tree. It hooted again, and then dropped from the tree.

Unfortunately there was a bit of disturbance in the woods today, and it shot straight out and away into the wood before everyone could get a look at it. Not to worry, we had enjoyed such good views of one earlier and it was suitably evocative to just hear it hooting in the woods at dusk. It was getting dark now and the temperature was dropping again, so we headed for home.

1st Feb 2019 – Owls & Other Birds

A Private Tour today, mostly looking for Owls but also trying to catch up with a few of our other wintering specialities on the way. We were lucky that the snow which hit much of southern England overnight didn’t make it this far north. It was a grey, cold and windy start, but it brightened up through the morning and we even enjoyed some sunny intervals in the afternoon.

Hoping to catch a Barn Owl still out hunting, we headed straight down to the grazing marshes first thing. It was exposed out here, with no shelter from the wind, and we couldn’t see any sign of the Barn Owl when we arrived. But we happened to turn round just in time to get a glimpse of it flying in from the more sheltered fields behind us, on the other side of the road. It normally hunts the fields where we were standing before going to roost, but it didn’t today – it disappeared behind some bushes and didn’t come out the other side.

We walked over to the field on the other side in case we could find it still on a post, but it had obviously gone straight in to roost in one of the bushes. After several nights with a hard frost, there was surprisingly no sign of any on the grass this morning, so perhaps it hadn’t had such a hard night hunting last night and could afford to turn in early and get out of the wind. There was a big flock of Curlews in the field just beyond.

In case one of the other Barn Owls might still be out, we had a quick walk out across the grazing marshes anyway. Three Marsh Harriers hung in the air over the reeds. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they were sensibly keeping tucked down out of the wind. A little party of Brent Geese circled over and a small flock of Pink-footed Geese came up from the grass calling.

Thinking we would be better trying our luck elsewhere, we headed round to Blakeney. A Curlew was feeding in the harbour as we parked. We climbed up onto the seawall and scanned the marshes, but there was no sign of any Barn Owls still out here either. There was a commotion down on the bank of the duck pond, as a rowdy mob of Black-headed Gulls was squabbling over the food put out for the ducks.

One larger gull was with them. With its back a shade of grey darker then Herring and odd fleshy legs not as yellow as a Lesser Black-backed Gull, it is a hybrid between the two. It returns here each winter, to take advantage of the easy pickings around the duck pond. Something spooked all the gulls and the Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrid flew round and landing on the water in the harbour channel.

Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrid

Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull hybrid – still at Blakeney

Out on the saltmarsh in the middle of the harbour, we could see a small group of Brent Geese and Wigeon. There were Lapwings here too, and through the scope we could make out several Golden Plover, very well camouflaged in amongst the browns and golds of the saltmarsh vegetation.

It was low tide so we walked up to the corner of the seawall and scanned the exposed mud. There were lots of Dunlin scuttling around, occasionally whirling round in small flocks. Several Curlew and Redshanks were scattered around more sparsely, along with one or two Grey Plover. Further out, lots of Oystercatchers were out in the middle of the harbour. A few Reed Buntings flew backwards and forwards across the path, and we flushed a Meadow Pipit from the grass. Several Marsh Harriers quartered the reeds.

It looked like the sky was starting to brighten up a fraction, and perhaps the wind had dropped just a touch. We decided to head inland to see if we could find a Little Owl out, despite the cold and windy weather. Surprisingly, we were in luck. At our first stop, we scanned some distant barns and found a Little Owl, hiding in a sheltered spot on the roof. It was a bit distant, but it was a good start.

A flock of Brent Geese flew over, heading inland from the coast. They circled round and landed in some winter wheat a couple of fields back. A quick scan through them with the scope, and we found a Pale-bellied Brent in with the regular Dark-bellied Brents. More Brent Geese flew in and circled down to join them, but just as we started to look through them again something spooked them. The whole flock flew round and landed back down again, but now they were behind a hedge and we couldn’t see the whole flock any more.

At the next set of barns, there was no sign of the Little Owl. It was a bit more exposed here. But a bit further on, we spotted another Little Owl on another group of farm buildings. A path leads down past these barns so we walked up for a closer look. There were lots of Fieldfares feeding in the grassy meadow beside the path as we passed. An adult Mediterranean Gull circled overhead, possibly wondering what on earth we were doing out on a day like today – it certainly didn’t feel very Mediterranean today! Two Brown Hares ran across the path ahead of us.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – circled over our heads flashing its white wings

From the top of the path, we had a much better view of the Little Owl. It had found a sheltered spot, hiding under the cowl on the roof, on the side in the lee of the wind. It stared at us, but we were far enough away that we wouldn’t disturb it, and it quickly settled down and ignored us. We scanned across the roof and found a second Little Owl hiding further over, our third of the morning and a surprise to see so many out today given the cold, windy morning.

Little Owl

Little Owl – sheltering under the roof, out of the wind

Back in the warmth of the van, we made our way back down to the coast and headed west. As we passed Holkham, we looked across to see a Great White Egret out on the marshes. Big and white, it stood out like a sore thumb. A Red Kite hung in the air over the road.

We headed straight over to Snettisham. We had a look through the Ducks on the pits on our way in. There were several Goldeneye and Tufted Ducks on the sailing club pit. Over the crossbank, and there were more Wigeon and three Little Grebes on the next pit. But we couldn’t find any sign of the Smew this morning.

Goldeneye

Goldeneye – there were several on the Pits at Snettisham again

From up on the sea wall, we could see that the tide was out. A buzzard was flying towards us, over the fields on the other side of the pits. It stopped to hover – it was a Rough-legged Buzzard, we could see its white head and contrasting blackish belly. We lost sight of it as it dropped below the bank, but then it came up again further along, behind us. We could see its white tail with a clear cut black terminal band as it flew off inland.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – flew over Snettisham and off inland as we arrived

As we walked over the causeway, we stopped again to scan the pits. We picked up a few Shoveler and some Gadwall, the latter a bit too distant to really approach the fine detail of their plumage patterns today. Two feral Barnacle Geese were feeding in the grass round on the far side, down towards South Hide.

Our main target here today was Short-eared Owl. We made our way round to a spot overlooking some bushes and stopped to scan. It didn’t take long to find our first Short-eared Owl hiding under some brambles. It has chosen a remarkably open spot in which to roost. Further on, we found a second Short-eared Owl, better hidden in some more bushes.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two hiding in the brambles

Something spooked all the waders out on the Wash and we looked over to see some distant flocks whirling round. With the tide out, they were a long way off today, but we did see a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits which flew in a little closer.

Moving on, we drove round to the north coast. It was almost time for lunch, but we made a quick stop Thornham Harbour. As we got out of the van, the flock of Twite flew round and dropped down into the car park for a drink at the puddles. They didn’t stop long, but flew back to the grass – and one to the bench – just beyond. Then they flew round again and landed on the saltmarsh below the seawall. Here we had a good look at them through scope – we could see their orange breasts and faces and yellow bills.

Twite

Twite – came in to drink at the car park

With the tide out, there were a few waders feeding down in the muddy harbour channels – several Common Redshanks, a couple of Black-tailed Godwits and Curlews. A little further out, on the mud bank in the middle of the main channel, we could see a Grey Plover and two Ringed Plovers.

Over a late lunch and a welcome hot drink at the Visitor Centre at Titchwell, we stopped to watch the feeders. There were lots of birds coming and going, a selection of finches and tits, but no sign of any Brambling while we were eating. The cloud was starting to break up now and the first rays of sun appeared through the trees.

We had been told that a Barn Owl had been hanging around in the paddocks beyond the car park earlier, but when we walked round there after lunch there was no sign of it. We couldn’t find it around Patsy’s Reedbed either. A Common Snipe was feeding in between the roosting ducks in the cut reeds at the front of the pool. More ducks were gathered on the edge of the ice at the back, including several Common Pochard.

Round via the Meadow Trail, we had a look at the Thornham grazing meadow, but it was rather more exposed this side. We did find one of the Water Rails, feeding in the wet leaves in the bottom of one of the ditches, busily flicking the leaves aside and probing into the wet mud below looking for invertebrates.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch by the main path

Walking back towards the Visitor Centre, a quick look at the feeders the other side produced a Brambling in the tree above. It dropped down onto one of the feeders briefly, then flew off again.

On our way back east along the coast road, we were slightly surprised no Barn Owls were out. Late afternoon is often prime time for them along here, if they are hungry, but perhaps they are still finding enough food during the night and are not feeling the need to come out too early.

A bit later than planned, we arrived at our final destination of the day. As we walked down to the water meadows, the Barn Owls were out already, but right down at far end. They were both out, male and female, and busy hunting already. One flew off across the field and over the road out of view and the other disappeared behind some trees. We walked down, thinking we might be able to find it still hunting the field margins there, but by the time we got there it had disappeared completely.

We turned to come back, thinking we may have to go for a drive to try to relocate one of them. A Water Vole showed itself briefly in the ditch beside the path to one of the group. Two Bullfinches flew out of the brambles and off across the water meadow.

Almost back to the van, one of the Barn Owls flew out of the trees ahead of us, straight towards us. It had obviously looped back round. It did a quick circuit of the grassy bank above us, then headed off down to the far end of the meadows again and disappeared from view. It was covering ground very quickly today, and didn’t seem to be stopping to hunt anywhere concertedly. Perhaps it was struggling to find food tonight? A couple of minutes later, we spotted it coming back again over the meadows. It flew right past us and off into the trees again.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – busy hunting this afternoon

We were just about to walk into the trees ourselves, thinking we might look for it over the fields the other side, when the Barn Owl reappeared. This time it landed on a post, and stopped for a rest, so finally we could get a good view of it through the scope. It hopped to a second post. Then it was off again hunting down to the far end of the meadows.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – nice views when it landed on a post

The light was starting to go now and we heard the first Tawny Owl hoot. We made our way into the trees and positioned ourselves overlooking the ivy-covered tree where the male likes to roost. The female hooted next, a more bubbling version of the male’s hoot from deeper in the trees, and then called, a sharp ‘kewick’. The male Tawny Owl answered with a hoot then dropped out of the ivy, and flew off through the trees. We could see its broad rounded wings. It landed but was hidden from view, then it was off again deeper into the wood. We could still hear both the Tawny Owls hooting further into the trees and another male answered from over the other side.

It had been a very successful day of owls, despite the cold and windy weather. Now it was time to call it a night.