Tag Archives: Wells

23rd May 2018 – Late Spring Birds, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day Late Spring Tour today. It was originally forecast to be sunny today, but by this morning that had changed to cloud all day. So it was to be. It was rather misty first thing, but the cloud lifted through the day. There was still a cool breeze but at least it had dropped considerably compared to yesterday, which meant it didn’t feel quite as cold.

Given the early mist, we headed round to Cley to start the day, thinking we could get out of the weather in the hides. As we walked out to the hides, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the brambles by the ditch – good to head as numbers have dropped dramatically after the cold winter. A Grey Heron was standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk as we passed. We heard a Bearded Tit call and turned to see it fly across and drop straight down into the reeds.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk

From the shelter of Dauke’s Hide, we had a scan of Simmond’s Scrape first. There were a few waders to be found on here. Two Common Sandpipers and two Tundra Ringed Plovers were feeding around the edge of the islands and another seven Tundra Ringed Plovers dropped in to join them. There were two Little Ringed Plovers on here too and a Greenshank which was fast asleep on the island at the back.

The scrapes are dominated by the Avocets now, many of which have small juveniles already. We could see several groups of little ones out on the scrapes or sheltering beneath the adults. The Avocets are very aggressive and will chase off anything which lands anywhere near. It was funny to watch them trying to battle with the local Shelducks.


Avocet – sheltering a single juvenile, with just its one leg visible

Lots of Sand Martins were flying backwards and forwards low over the reeds and the scrapes, looking for insects, together with a few House Martins for company. A couple of Marsh Harriers patrolled the reedbed at the back. Two pairs of Tufted Duck were swimming around on the ditch right in front of the hide.

Looking across to Pat’s Pool, the first thing we noticed were the Ruff. There were five of them on here, all males and all different! One male was particularly striking, with a fully grown rufous ruff and black crest feathers. The breeding plumage of the other Ruffs was not quite as well developed – a second rufous one and a black one lacked the full crest feathers, as did a white one, and another blackish one didn’t have much of a ruff yet. Unfortunately there was no female today, for them to display to.


Ruff – looking smart now, in full breeding plumage

There were also still a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on Pat’s Pool, mostly asleep and loafing around on the edge of one of the islands. A second Greenshank was feeding over in a sheltered bay in the far corner but whenever it ventured out into the open, it was chased back in by one of the Avocets.

It was cool in the hides, to we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre to warm up over a cup of coffee. On the way back along the boardwalk, we heard Bearded Tits calling again and looked up to see a female perched in the reeds beside the path ahead of us. A cracking male then flew in and landed just below, before the two of them flew across the boardwalk to the reeds the other side. They were followed by two juvenile Bearded Tits, still with only partly grown tails. We walked up to where they had crossed and had a great view of them climbing up and down in the reeds.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a pair flew across the boardwalk with their two juveniles

As we got back to the bridge across the ditch by the road, we heard the Cetti’s Warbler again so we stopped to see if we could find it. We could see a Reed Warbler flicking around low in the reeds along the edge of the water. Then something else flew out, chased it, and then landed in the brambles. It was the Cetti’s Warbler. It sang once and we could just see it perched on the edge of the bush before it dropped into the vegetation.

After our coffee break, we had a look round at the Iron Road. The pool here was fairly quiet today – just a couple of Redshanks and Lapwings and a single Little Ringed Plover lurking in the reeds at the back.

As we walked round to Babcock Hide, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over and landed in the field the other side of the road. A well-grown Lapwing chick was trying to hide in the grass by the path while one of the adults flew round above calling agitatedly. The pool in front of Babcock Hide was a bit disappointing today. Apart from lots of Greylags, there were just a few Avocets, including a pair with a single chick.

We decided to try our luck out on East Bank instead. The low cloud had lifted a little now and it had started to brighten up a touch. Two male Marsh Harriers had a brief tussle over the reedbed as we got out of the car, before one then headed off over Pope’s Marsh. There were a few Lapwings and Redshanks out on the grazing marsh and we picked up a distant Common Sandpiper on Pope’s Pool. A single drake Wigeon and three Teal on the north end of the Serpentine were notable. Most of the ones that spent the winter here have long since departed, so it will be interesting to see how long these ones stay.


Whimbrel – flew over and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh

As we continued on to Arnold’s Marsh, we noticed four largish waders flying in over the reedbed. They were Whimbrel – we could see there down-curved bills, not as long as a Curlew. They dropped down onto Arnold’s so we continued on to there and got them in the scope. We could see their distinctive striped head patterns. They didn’t stay long though, only around 10 minutes. After a preen and a doze, they took off and headed out over the beach and out to sea, presumably on their way to Scandinavia.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on the island at the back again – through the scope we could see their shaggy black crests and mostly black bills. There were not too many waders on here today, but we could see another five Tundra Ringed Plovers and a smart summer plumage Turnstone.

We couldn’t come all this way without a quick look at the sea, so we continued on to the beach. There were lots of Little Terns feeding just offshore, flying up and down just behind the breakers and occasionally diving straight down into the water.

Little Tern

Little Tern – there were lots feeding off the end of the East Bank

On the walk back, we had nice views of a male Bearded Tit briefly in the reeds down below the bank. It appeared to be carrying a feather, possibly nest material, before it shot off back behind us along the ditch. One of the Marsh Harriers also showed very nicely, flying round over the reeds just ahead of us, before heading out across the grazing marshes, chased by various Avocets and Lapwings.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – showed very nicely off the East Bank

Given the fresh breeze, we decided to head round to the beach car park and eat our lunch in the shelter there. A few parties of Sandwich Terns flew past over the Eye Field while we ate. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out to North Scrape.

We couldn’t see anything of note on Billy’s Wash, but as we got to the shingle behind North Scrape, a Wheatear flew up. It was a male, quite a bright pale one. It landed on the fence beyond briefly, then flew again, up onto the top of the screen overlooking the scrape. It dropped down onto the picnic table and we thought we might be able to get round for a closer look, but before we could get there it was off again, down onto the grazing marsh beyond.


Wheatear – this male was around the beach behind North Scrape

There was nothing of note on North Scrape, but at that point we received a message to say that there was a White-winged Black Tern along the coast at Burnham Overy. We decided to head round there to see if we could see it.

As we walked out along the track which cuts across the grazing marshes, we heard two Lesser Whitethroats singing in the hedge. In typical fashion, we had a couple of quick glimpses as they flew between bushes, dropping straight into cover. One or two Reed Warblers were singing from the ditch beside the path.

We could see the White-winged Black Tern before we got to the seawall, visible above the reeds as it flew round over the pool in the middle, but it was a better view once we got up to the top. What a stunning bird! Its mostly white upperwings and tail contrasted with its jet black body. When it turned, we could see its black underwing coverts.

White-winged Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern – feeding over the reedbed pool at Burnham Overy

The White-winged Black Tern was flying round over the pool with very buoyant wingbeats, occasionally dropping down to the water’s surface, looking for insects. A great bird to watch!

While we were watching the tern, we kept one eye out over the harbour the other side and we noticed a harrier come up over the saltmarsh beyond the harbour channel. It was very slim, with narrow, pointed wings and through the scope we could see the white patch on its uppertail coverts and its faded buff/orange underparts, with a darker hood. It was a Montagu’s Harrier, a young one, a 2nd calendar year. We watched it hunting over the saltmarsh before it gradually worked its way back and out of view.

One or two Spoonbills flew past as we stood up on the bank. As we made our way back across the grazing marshes, we heard a Greenshank calling. While we were looking for it, we turned to see a Spoonbill flying low right over our heads!

There was still a little time left before we had planned to finish today, so we headed round to Wells Woods. A Wood Sandpiper had been reported earlier, on the marshes south of the pines, although the latest update suggested it might have flown off. Still, we walked out for a look. On our way out, another Greenshank flew over the pines calling.

As we scanned the pools and flooded grassland, one of the group spotted a wader which was disturbed from the wet grass by a gull flapping nearby. It was the Wood Sandpiper. Through the scope, we got a good look at it, noting its white spangled upperparts and striking pale supercilium.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – on the marshes at Wells Woods

It had proved to be a very productive afternoon and that was a nice way to end the day’s activities. With more to come later tonight!

Nightjar Evening

After couple of hours off to recover and get something to eat, we met again early evening. We headed out to look for owls first. It was still cool and rather breezy – not ideal weather, though not the forecast fog thankfully. We drove to an area of farm buildings where we know Little Owls breed first.

There was no sign of any Little Owls at first, it was a bit too cold to find them out basking! As we walked round, we saw a Brown Hares and a couple of Red-legged Partridge on a farm track. A Grey Partridge ran out across a recently planted potato field, and stood up nicely on the ridges, showing off its black belly patch.

We eventually found a Little Owl but it was hiding on the ridge of one of the farm buildings, tucked in under the cowl on the top of the roof. It was back on to us and we could just see its head and shoulders. It was not a great view of one, but better than nothing!

Our next target was to look for Barn Owls. We drove down to the back of Cley, figuring it might be sheltered from the wind here, and immediately spotted a white shape on a post by the road, a Barn Owl. We drove past and parked some distance beyond, hoping we might be able to see it without disturbing it but it flew off as we got out. It landed again on another post across the field, where we could see it in the scope.

It was a strikingly white Barn Owl, much paler than a normal one, a known individual which has been in the area for a year or so now.  Then it took off again and flew straight back towards us. For about ten minutes, we watched as it flew around hunting in front of us. Great views! A second Barn Owl appeared further back, a normal coloured one, landing on a bush briefly before flying off over the road the other side.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – a striking white bird at Cley

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the Barn Owl and head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from some dense bushes. A male Stonechat perched up nicely where we could see it. It was still rather cool, but we were sheltered from the wind by the trees.

It wasn’t long before we heard the first Woodcock calling, and looked across to see one flying straight towards us. It was roding. the display flight of the male, flying round over its territory with stiff flapping wingbeats. We would see it or hear it several times over the course of the evening.

Shortly afterwards, the first Nightjar started churring. We positioned ourselves to try to see it, hoping it would fly up to one of its favourite perches to churr. But suddenly two birds appeared, flying up from the edge of the trees. We could see they were both males, both with white wing flashes and white corners to their tails, and they were chasing each other.

The two Nightjars flew in and out of the trees, calling and wing clapping. They held their tails fanned and at an angle to show off the white spots to maximum effect. They landed down on the ground briefly, out of view, but were quickly up again, chasing each other out over the heath. One circled back and flew round just above our heads, calling – amazing views!

Then both the Nightjars headed away and we could one of them churring some way further over. We tried to make our way over as quickly as possible, as sure enough it was on a favoured branch, but just as we got within scope range it was off again. It was great to listen to them churring, but they wouldn’t stay still for long this evening and quickly started to go quiet.

It had been a fantastic display anyway, so we decided to call it a night. We walked back to the car to the sound of more Nightjars churring either side.


23rd Sept 2016 – Autumn Delights, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was a glorious day to be out – sunny, blue skies, and warm after the sun saw off the typical cool of an autumn morning. Not great perhaps for bringing in new migrants, but a lovely day to catch up with those already here.

Our first destination was Wells Woods. As we walked across the car park, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling, their distinctive high-pitched yelping, and we looked up to see a small skein of about thirty flying west. A sign that autumn is definitely here, with geese arriving for the winter!

There were Long-tailed Tits calling from the pines as we walked past the boating lake and just beyond, in the top of a birch, we picked up a Chiffchaff. We started to walk along the path to the right, but heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling behind us, so headed back to the junction and took the other fork. We could hear Bullfinches calling on the other side of the track, as we stood scanning the trees where we thought the Yellow-browed Warbler should be. There were Goldfinches in the treetops and a Chaffinch in a hawthorn by the path.

After a while, the Yellow-browed Warbler called again and we managed to find it flitting around low down in a birch tree. It was hard to see at first, but we got a few glimpses of it before it flew across in front of us and went up into the treetops.

6o0a1903Yellow-browed Warbler – elusive at first, in the birches

It seemed to disappear, so we were going to move on, but as we walked past the tree we found the Yellow-browed Warbler again, in a bush the other side. This time it showed much better. It was still on the move constantly, but over a period of time we all managed to get good views of it. We could see its bright pale yellow supercilium (its ‘brow’) and double wing bars.

6o0a1908Yellow-browed Warbler – with pale yellow ‘brow’ and wing bars

While we were watching it flitting around in the birches, we noticed a second bird in the same tree, which turned out to be a second Yellow-browed Warbler! It has been a great autumn already for this species, and there have been perhaps between 15-20 in the trees between Wells and Holkham alone. Breeding in Siberia and wintering in SE Asia, Yellow-browed Warbler used to be much rarer here, but they are now a scarce but regular visitor at this time of year, perhaps due to westward expansion or a shift in migration strategy. Whatever is behind it, they are still great little birds, lovely to see.

6o0a1936Yellow-browed Warbler – two were in the birches together at one point

Finally, when the Yellow-browed Warblers made their way back deeper into the trees, we carried on into the woods. As we walked quietly through the trees, we could see more birds flitting about ahead of us. First a Garden Warbler appeared in a birch right in front of us. Larger and more lumbering, it eventually came out into full view. Then a Blackcap flew appeared in the same tree and flew across in front of us.

A Pied Flycatcher appeared briefly, but flew round out of view behind a large hawthorn. We were just watching a Blackcap in the top of the bush, when the flycatcher shot off up into the pines. A minute or so later it was calling from the birches further back, so we walked round to try to see it. The Pied Flycatcher proved tricky for everyone to get onto, feeding very high in the trees and either perching motionless or flicking quickly between the birches, before zooming off over our heads.

While trying to see the flycatcher, we found ourselves in a sheltered glade of birch trees. This was alive with birds. As well as several more Chiffchaffs, there were a couple of smart Willow Warblers, similar to a Chiffchaff but brighter lemon yellow washed on paler underparts, a stronger face pattern, sleeker outline with longer wings, and paler legs. There were also several Goldcrests and we got great views of them flitting constantly around in the trees, flashing their golden crown stripes. Another Yellow-browed Warbler started calling further back in the trees.

Most of the small birds here are probably migrants, though a few may have bred in the pines. Many will be on their way south from Scandinavia, stopping to feed up here having crossed the North Sea. The Willow Warblers will soon be on their way down to Africa and across the Sahara. Even the tiny Goldcrests, weighing barely more than a 20p piece, make the long sea crossing to get here for the winter. Amazing!

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and we walked round through the trees and back out onto the main path. The clear scrubby area just south of the path was fairly quiet, apart from a Blackcap or two flushed from the brambles. However, with the sun starting to warm things up nicely, the first Common Buzzard of the day circled overhead.

6o0a1943Common Buzzard – circled overhead as the day warmed up

We carried on west to the drinking pool. There is not too much water in here these days, but still just about enough for birds to drop down for a drink or to bathe. As we arrived, a Blue Tit had just finished and was preening in one of the low bushes on the edge. A Coal Tit dropped in next, followed by a Goldcrest. We could hear more Goldcrests calling, but couldn’t find any other birds of note around the pool.

Continuing further along, it seemed rather quiet at first – perhaps because it was getting warm and the birds had retreated into the trees. We could hear a few tits calling quietly so we stopped on the path and immediately caught a flash of another Pied Flycatcher as it disappeared into some oaks. Unfortunately, it didn’t reappear, but some movement in the same tree alerted us to yet another Yellow-browed Warbler – which promptly did the same trick before anyone could get onto it. It was very thick and dark in the trees, with all the leaves still on the oaks. A Goldcrest low in the birches by the path proved easier to see and gave lovely close views.

We tried to follow the tit flock as they made their way through the trees, hoping to see what else might be with them, but they moved off quickly and the undergrowth was too thick. We went back to the main path and tried to get ahead of them, but they didn’t come our way. We decided to make our way back.

Along the main path, we finally ran into one of the big mixed tit flocks that can be found in the woods at this time of year. We heard the Long-tailed Tits calling first, and the next thing we knew that were all around us. There were Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Great Tits too. One of the Great Tits found a large and very hairy caterpillar. We watched as it took it to a branch and, holding it with one foot, proceeded to pull all the hairs off before pulling it apart and eating it.

6o0a1959Great Tit – pulling the hairs off a large, hairy caterpillar

As well as all the tits, there were lots of Goldcrests with the flock and a couple of Treecreepers. We had great views of them as they worked their way methodically up several trees alongside the path.

The raptor action was hotting up even more, as the warming air provided plenty of thermals. A Red Kite circled low over the trees while we were watching the tits, before being mobbed by a Common Buzzard as it gained height. Three more Common Buzzards were soaring ever higher into the sky. A couple of Kestrels circled over too, but views of a Sparrowhawk were typically brief as it shot low over the trees.

6o0a1967Red Kite – circled low over the trees

With all the warm weather, there were lots of insects out today. Butterflies included good numbers of Red Admirals, several Small Coppers and a few Speckled Woods enjoying the autumn sunshine. Dragonflies were represented by numerous Common Darters and a couple of Migrant Hawkers.

6o0a1941Red Admiral – enjoying the autumn sunshine

After a very enjoyable and successful morning in the woods, we headed back to the car for lunch. We decided to go up onto the harbour wall to sit and enjoy the view while eating. A Wheatear was feeding on the rough ground just below the path, along with a Meadow Pipit.

6o0a1975Wheatear – feeding on the harbour wall

The tide was in and out in the middle of the harbour we could see a large flock of Brent Geese spread out across the water. On the shingle spit in front of us, we could see a little group of roosting waders, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone. More yelping calls alerted us to another flock of Pink-footed Geese flying in from the direction of the sea.

6o0a1980Pink-footed Geese – we saw several small flocks flying in

After lunch, we made our way along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. The hedges here are rather overgrown now and full of berries, but we saw little on the walk out. There is a much better view all round from up on the seawall and amongst the hordes of birds out on the Fen, we could immediately see a line of white shapes. Two of them were feral white ‘farmyard’ geese in with the Greylags, but the other thirty were all Spoonbills.

6o0a1988Spoonbills – 15 of the 30 on Stiffkey Fen today

The Spoonbills were mostly asleep, doing what they seem to like doing best. Periodically, one would wake up for a shuffle or a preen, and we could see its long, spoon-shaped bill. The majority if not all of these will most likely have come from the breeding colony just along the coast at Holkham, the only breeding Spoonbills in the UK. At the end of the season, they like to gather in large flocks along the coast. It has apparently been a good breeding season for them this year.

img_7129Spoonbills – occasionally one would wake up and show off its bill

The tide was just starting to go out on the other side of the seawall, and lots of birds had come onto the Fen to roost, not just the Spoonbills. There were lots of waders – mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank. In with them, were quite a few Ruff too. We could hear Greenshanks calling, but they seemed to be hiding out of view at the front, behind the reeds. Over towards the back, a good number of Lapwing had gathered and we found a Common Snipe stabbing vigourously into the grassy bank. As the mud started to appear in the harbour, little groups of Redshank began flying off from the Fen and out over the seawall to feed.

The number of ducks on here continues to increase, as more and more return for the winter. The Fen was packed with Wigeon today and, as we stood and watched, several more groups flew in to join them, possibly fresh arrivals from their Russian breeding grounds. Looking through them, we could see a good number of Pintail too. Down at the front were more Teal and Mallard and in with them, we found a smart drake Gadwall, already emerging from eclipse plumage.

As we walked round to look in the harbour, a Greenshank flew overhead calling, from the direction of the Fen. Out on the mud, we could see lots of Oystercatchers and a fair few Curlew. Scanning through them closely, we found several Bar-tailed Godwits as well. Further over, on the edge of the receding tide, were all the Grey Plovers.

There were more Brent Geese in the harbour too, and a large selection of gulls. All the birds were nervous and we could see why as a Peregrine circled over, mobbed by a Herring Gull, before disappearing off west. A short while later, a second Peregrine appeared, a larger bird, presumably a female, which put all the birds in the harbour up again.

On the walk back, we could hear Greenshanks calling again and this time found two further up the channel below the seawall, with several Redshank. We got one of the Greenshanks in the scope and had it side by side with a Redshank, a nice comparison. On the other side of the seawall, a Kingfisher flashed low over the reeds but disappeared down into the river channel before everyone could get onto it.

We still had time for one very quick last stop, so we called in at Stiffkey Greenway on the way back. We had planned to walk west towards the whirligig but a group coming back from that direction told us it was all quiet that way. However, they did also tell us they thought they had seen a Red-breasted Flycatcher earlier the other way, in the campsite wood, so we thought we should check that out instead.

There was no sign of the flycatcher, but it was fairly disturbed in there, with several dog walkers passing us on the path. A flock of Long-tailed Tits passed overhead, pausing to feed in a large sycamore. As we stopped to turn round and head back, a Kestrel in the field on an untidy pile of straw was enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. It had certainly been a lovely day for it – great to be out birding.

img_7138Kestrel – enjoying the late afternoon sunshine

9th June 2016 – Relaxed North Norfolk

A Private Tour today, for a family party from Australia. With a couple of more elderly participants, it was to be a relaxed day with just some gentle walking. The day dawned cloudy and a bit misty, but thankfully the cloud burnt off by midday and it was a lovely sunny afternoon.

We started at Holkham. When we got out of the car we could immediately see a Spoonbill in the trees, but it promptly settled down on a nest and went to sleep. We could still just make it out through the scope. Other Spoonbills were flying round in the bushes, occasionally perching up briefly.

Another large white bird flew in across the freshmarsh and dropped down into the rushes in front of us. Its large size, long black legs and leisurely flight action immediately identified it as a Great White Egret, very different from the small, flappy Little Egrets which were coming and going constantly from the trees. The Great White Egret didn’t linger long, but took off again and flew off.

There were several Marsh Harriers perched on the tops of bushes scattered around the freshmarsh. A Common Buzzard circled out of the trees behind us and overhead.

6O0A3966-001Common Buzzard – circled out of the trees and overhead

We headed into Holkham Park next. As we drove down towards the Hall, we could see lots of deer. A large herd of Fallow Deer were feeding out on the open grass and a larger animal with them was a single Red Deer. On the other side of the road, on the edge of the trees, was a stunning Red Deer stag, its antlers in velvet.

6O0A3969Red Deer – a stag in velvet

We had a short walk down to look at the Hall. A Jay flew across the road and landed briefly in a tree. Two Red Kites circled high overhead. There were lots of Swifts and hirundines, Swallows and House Martins, hawking for insects over the Hall. Jackdaws and Pied Wagtails were feeding on the short grass and an Oystercatcher seemed to be finding lots of worms here too.

There is a large group of feral Barnacle Geese which lives in the Park and many of them were out on the grass behind the cricket square today. A few Egyptian Geese were in with them too and when we looked more closely we could see a Mistle Thrush hopping about on the grass in amongst them. Out on the lake, we could see a long line of Greylag Geese, plus several Gadwall and a raft of Tufted Duck. As we walked back to the car, we could hear several Goldcrests singing in the trees. As we drove out of the park, another Red Kite circled over the houses by the main road.

6O0A3971Red Kite – we saw three at Holkham today

Our next stop was at the local gull colony. We could hear the cacophony of noise as we approached. There are lots of Black-headed Gulls nesting here but it didn’t take us long to find a few pairs of Mediterranean Gull in with them, their more extensive jet black hoods immediately setting them apart from the chocolate-brown hooded Black-headed Gulls. Some of the Mediterranean Gulls were coming and going, flying in and out of the colony overhead, showing off their pure white wingtips, translucent when viewed from below.

6O0A3981Mediterranean Gull – showing off its pure white wingtips

There are quite a few brown fluffy juvenile Black-headed Gulls in the colony now. A pair of Herring Gulls had been loafing around on the edge of the throng and when one of them took off it was immediately chased by lots of the smaller gulls. Undeterred, it flew straight into the middle of the colony, grabbed a fluffy juvenile, and flew back to where it had been resting. The poor gull chick was promptly gulped down whole. Nearby, a Common Gull perched on a post rounded out the selection of gulls.

A Common Tern was hunting up and down between the boats in front of us. When it caught a fish, it flew over and presented it to its mate, perched on one of the jetty’s nearby. We watched it doing this several times. Further out in the harbour, we could see a couple of Little Terns fishing.

IMG_4909Common Tern – waiting to be fed

The tide was just going out in the harbour. A couple of Great Crested Grebes were diving out in the channel. A large group of Oystercatchers were roosting on a sandbank across the other side.

The afternoon was spent at Cley. The sun was now out, with blue sky overhead, in stark contrast to the weather earlier this morning. On the walk out to the hides, a Common Whitethroat was singing from the bushes by the path. A male Reed Bunting was singing from the bushes in the reeds.

A little group of Lapwings was out on the scrape in front of the hide. A couple of Redshank were in with them. There were plenty of Avocets here as usual, but they were feeding out in the middle and there was no sign of any juveniles today. Predation of Avocet chicks is high and it would appear that most of the youngsters which were on here in the last week have fallen prey.

A Shelduck was having more luck in raising a family – a female with four shelducklings was swimming around at the front of the scrape. A pair of Shoveler were preening further over, and when they finished and started to swim off, the drake began to display, bobbing its head up and down. A drake Gadwall kept flying in to the channel right in front of the hide – perhaps the female is still on a nest somewhere close by.

6O0A3990Gadwall – kept returning to the channel below the hide

We walked slowly back to the visitor centre and then drove along to the car park at the base of the East Bank. In the afternoon sunshine, there were a few Blue-tailed Damselflies in the vegetation along the edges of the paths. A single Four-spotted Chaser was resting in the long grass.

6O0A3999Blue-tailed Damselfly – a few were around when the sun came out

We had a gentle walk up along the East Bank. The grazing marshes here are starting to dry out a bit now, but there is still lots of water in the Serpentine. This is where the waders were – Lapwings and Redshanks. There were also quite a few Avocets out here.

There are still some juvenile waders out here on the grazing marshes. Two pairs of Redshank were arguing, possible because one pair had a couple of young hidden in the grass nearby. A careful scan revealed a Little Ringed Plover on the drier ground behind the Serpentine. When a Greylag Goose started to walk past, the Little Ringed Plover got agitated, feigning injury as it tried to lead the goose away. We could then see why, as a second adult Little Ringed Plover ran out of a dip in the ground and led two little balls of fluff on legs back into cover while its mate was busy distracting the goose.

The surprise here was the number of Teal. They are predominantly non-breeding visitors here, and have been thin on the ground in recent weeks since they departed north to breed. Today there were 21 drake Teal in a group together, feeding in the Serpentine, plus a separate pair feeding closer to the bank. Presumably these are birds already returning from the breeding grounds to moult.

There were several Reed Warblers singing from the reeds. A Marsh Harrier circled up and drifted east over the bank ahead of us. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home.

6O0A4025Marsh Harrier – circled up from the reedbed

25th May 2016 – All Weather Spring Birding

Another Private Tour today. It has to be said, the weather forecast was not ideal, even if it had improved from the worst predictions yesterday and the wind had dropped from yesterday. Still, it was cloudy all day and drizzled during the morning, but it is amazing what you can see if you go looking anyway.

Our first stop was at Cley. We were hoping that conditions might improve a little while we were there, so we walked out along the East Bank. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pools just beyond the car park, and many of them were stopping to perch in the reeds. These birds had almost certainly come here from the local breeding colonies, in an attempt to find somewhere to find food. The female Pochard was still here with her ducklings, although we couldn’t see how many she had today, as they kept tucked in to the edge of the reeds.

Despite the weather, a couple of Sedge Warblers were still singing away and song flighting from the reeds beside the path. We could hear an occasional Reed Warbler singing too.

Looking across to the Serpentine towards Pope’s Marsh, we could see several Lapwings and their chicks still. A Little Ringed Plover flew across and landed out of view on the far edge of the grass and a single Ringed Plover was feeding on the open mud on the edge of the pool.

6O0A3592Arnold’s Marsh – looking rather grey this morning

The new shelter overlooking Arnold’s Marsh was very welcome this morning, an opportunity to get out of the light misty drizzle which was falling. There were plenty of Avocets and Redshanks feeding on here as usual. A few more Ringed Plovers were to be found with a bit of looking, on the shingle spits around the edge.

6O0A3597Avocet – feeding on Arnold’s Marsh

Over towards the back was a large group of bigger waders, godwits. A quick look through the scope confirmed they were Bar-tailed Godwits. Most appeared to be still in brown non-breeding plumage, so these were possibly younger 1st summer birds. They do not breed in their first year and often remain on the wintering grounds. One smaller male had started to develop rather chestnut-ish underparts, but it was still rather patchy. Hiding in amongst the legs of the Bar-tailed Godwits was a smaller wader, a single Knot, similarly in grey non-breeding plumage.

We had seen a couple of adult Gannets just breaking the horizon over the shingle ridge as we walked out, making their way east, white with prominent black wing tips. So we walked up to have a quick look at the sea. Another Gannet passed by some distance offshore and a Fulmar went through in the other direction, the latter probably a local breeding bird. A Sandwich Tern flew past just offshore.

Otherwise, there was not much happening out here, so we made our way back. As we walked along the bank towards the car, a Bearded Tit flew up from the reedy ditch beside the path and out across the reedbed the other side, a nice bonus and a surprise this morning.

The cloud base appeared to have lifted a little, although this may have been wishful thinking on our part, so we decided to have a go up on the Heath, which was meant to be our primary destination for the morning. We made our way across to where we had seen the family of Dartford Warblers yesterday afternoon. On the way, there were several Willow Warblers still singing despite the weather, and a Blackcap too from deep in the bushes. A couple of Bullfinches were piping to each other from the hedge further over.

There was no sign of the Dartford Warblers initially, but we didn’t stop as we were distracted by a male Stonechat perched on the top of a dead tree and Yellowhammer singing further along, so walked across to have a look at them, intending to swing back this way. Needless to say, there was no sign of the Nightjar on the perch where it had been yesterday – that was clearly going to be a one-off!

A Woodlark appeared above the trees for a split second, unfortunately too brief for everyone to get onto it, and appeared to drop down onto a clear area further back, so we decided to walk over to see if we could find it. On our way, we ran into a couple of other birders who had just seen the Dartford Warblers, flying into exactly the area where we had seen them yesterday. We stopped to see if we could see them too, although again it all seemed rather quiet at first.

6O0A3602Linnet – a male, singin’ in the rain

A male Linnet appeared from the gorse and appeared to be carrying a faecal sack. It perched up nicely on the gorse in front of us, twittering away, and when the female emerged too the two of them flew off a short distance.

Then we glimpsed a Dartford Warbler, a small dark shape zipping low across the heather and diving into cover. Then another glimpse as one shot across in the other direction. With a bit of patience, we could see (and hear) what they were doing. The adults had stashed several juveniles in the gorse and were flying in and out bringing food for them. After a feeding visit, one of the juveniles hopped out into view in front of us, paler, greyer than the adults, still shorter tailed and with a bright yellow gape. The adult Dartford Warblers were mostly keeping down in cover, not a great surprise given the weather, but eventually the male flew in and perched right on top of the gorse in front of us for a few seconds, tail cocked, before disappearing back in. Great stuff!

With good views of Dartford Warbler finally achieved, we walked round to see if we could find the Woodlark. Unfortunately, at this point it started to rain a little harder and there was no sign of it here now. A pair of Stock Doves were feeding out in the clearing. As the rain turned back to drizzle again, we walked back round, stopping on the way to admire a pale male Stonechat perched up on the gorse, with three streaky juveniles hopping about on the low vegetation below, looking for food.

We made our way in a wide circuit round the Heath, in the hope we might bump into another Woodlark on the way, but the vegetation where they like to feed was getting quite wet now. As we were walking along a path, we happened to glance to one side through a gap in the bushes and something caught our eye, a dark shape looked out of place on a much paler stump. Stopping abruptly, we had a quick confirmatory look through binoculars and there in front of us was a stunning Nightjar.

6O0A3650Nightjar – amazing views of another day roosting bird today

It is unusual to come across a day roosting Nightjar, so to find two different birds in two days is fairly unprecedented. Still, we weren’t going to complain. We trained the scopes on it for frame-filling views, marvelling at the intricately marked cryptic plumage, even if it wasn’t particularly well camouflaged against the stump on which this one had chosen to rest today. It sat perfectly still, despite the rain dripping off its tail, with only its eyes opening and closing slightly as we watched. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and backed off quietly, leaving the Nightjar in peace.

Back to the car, and we dropped back down to the coast and made our way west. We stopped off at the local gull colony next. We could hear the cacophony of noise as we walked up onto the bank. Scanning through the mass of Black-headed Gulls, we could see quite a few Mediterranean Gulls in there too. Their more extensive jet black hoods marked them out instantly from the chocolate brown hoods of the misnamed Black-headed Gulls. Ironically, the latin name of Mediterranean Gull is more accurate, translating as ‘black-headed gull’!

IMG_4759Mediterranean Gull – showing off its jet black hood

We could see a smart pair of Common Gulls too, further over, and lots of terns were wheeling round over the colony. Three Sandwich Terns were chasing each other noisily, one of them bearing a gift in the form of a small fish. A couple of Little Terns were fishing over the channel beyond, dwarfed by a nearby Common Tern. Several of the latter were flying in and out carrying fish.

6O0A3661Common Tern – busy fishing in the harbour

We walked round to the harbour to see what we could see. The tide was on its way out and there were lots of Oystercatchers on the exposed mud beyond. Scanning through, we found a group of four Curlew too.

Out in the middle of the harbour channel we could see a pair of Great Crested Grebes diving. Then down in a smaller side channel we noticed a white duck diving, a stunning drake Eider. A drake Eider would be a great sight in itself, but this one was fishing actively, diving repeatedly and quickly resurfacing with something each time. Through the scope, we could see that it was actually catching small crabs.

Even better, the Eider seemed to be very cleverly taking the claws off before swallowing them. It would flick the crab round until it was holding it by its legs or claws, then give it a good shake until the leg(s)/claw detached. The body of the crab would drop into the water and it would catch it again quickly before repeating the process. After doing this a few times, it would swallow the dismembered body whole. Fascinating to watch! Eventually the Eider, clearly full of crabs, walked up onto a sandbar nearby.

IMG_4795Eider – resting after catching crabs in the harbour channel

The rest of the afternoon was spent at Holkham. The grazing marshes were full of geese as usual, Greylags and Canada Geese, together with a good scattering of Egyptian Geese. We could see a couple of white shapes in the trees, which on closer inspection could be seen to be Spoonbills. A couple of other Spoonbills flew out east, their long necks and bills held outstretched in front of them, distinguishing them instantly from the steady flow of Little Egrets in and out too.

There were lots of Swifts and House Martins zooming about low over the pools, the best place to look for insects in the cool and cloudy conditions. A male Marsh Harrier appeared from the reeds in front of us and flew slowly round before crashing back in.

We parked at the end of Lady Anne’s Drive, which was unsurprisingly rather empty of cars today, and walked west on the edge of the pines. At least it had stopped drizzling now. The trees were rather quiet, apart from a several Coal Tits calling, plus a Goldcrest or two and a few Chiffchaffs singing. We bumped into one of the wardens who told us that three Bitterns had been seen earlier, flying around out from Washington Hide, so we headed over there first.

We couldn’t see any sign of the Bitterns now, but we did find two Pink-footed Geese out on the grazing marshes. Both appeared to have damaged wings – one was trailing its left and the other had a large gap in the primaries of its right when it flapped.That would explain why these two had not made the journey back to Iceland for the breeding season.

A large group of over 150 Black-tailed Godwits flew up from the marshes at one point, whirling round and flashing their black and white wings and tails before dropping back down out of sight. A female Marsh Harrier flew up from the reeds and circled over, before chasing off a second Marsh Harrier which had drifted into the area.

6O0A3674Marsh Harrier – circled up over the reeds

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, we could see a few Spoonbills circling over the trees from time to time. One landed in the top of the bushes at one point, stopping to preen. Then another Spoonbill appeared on the pool in front. It was feeding, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water. When the flock of Black-tailed Godwits appeared again, clearly flushed from the marshes by something, and swirled round over the pools, the Spoonbill took flight and headed back into the trees.

IMG_4813Spoonbill – feeding on the pool from Joe Jordan Hide

On the walk back, we found a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the trees by the path. There were several brown-faced juveniles in there, plus a few Blue Tits. A single male Blackcap appeared in the trees too. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the reeds. Further along, a Sparrowhawk flew low across the path ahead of us, in from the direction of the grazing marshes, and disappeared into the pines.

Then it was time to call it a day. Despite the weather, we had enjoyed a fantastic day’s birding – it just goes to show that it is always worth going out regardless.

22nd April 2016 – Migrants & More, Day 1

Day 1 of a long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. As this looked like it might be the best day, weather-wise, we started with a walk out to Burnham Overy Dunes.

A Common Whitethroat was singing from the hedge by the main road where we parked and as we walked down along the lane a second was singing from deep in the hedge. They have been thin on the ground here until now, so these were presumably fairly recent arrivals. A couple of Skylarks were singing overhead and a Chiffchaff was demonstrating how it got its name – it really sounded like spring, even if it was a bit cold in the NE wind.

Our first Lesser Whitethroat was rattling from a rather distant hedge, but a little further along one was singing in the blackthorn right by the track. It proceeded to fly back and forth across the path a couple of times, and then very helpfully landed up in a small hawthorn in full view in front of us. Lovely views of this usually rather shy warbler. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing on either side of us on the walk out. Most were tucked down out of the breeze, but eventually we found one perched in a bramble clump. We all had great views of it through the scope, but typically it flew down out of sight just as we got round to trying to get a photo! A Willow Warbler zipped past us along the track, heading back inland. Presumably a recently arrived migrant on its way.

IMG_2781Brown Hare – a couple were out on the grazing meadows

We found one Brown Hare hunkered down in the middle of the grazing meadows. We had just had a good look at it through the scope, when one of the group spotted a second Hare a bit closer and out in the open on the other side. One of the wardens was just walking round the marshes further back, so had probably just disturbed it.

There were plenty of Egyptian Geese and Greylags out on the grass today. Three Brent Geese obviously preferred being on here to out on the saltmarsh. But there was no sign of any Pink-footed Geese today, nor the drake Wigeon which has been here recently – perhaps the warden had flushed them on his rounds.

IMG_2783Brent Geese – three were still favouring the grazing marshes

We could see a nice pair of Gadwall, two or three Teal asleep in the grass by a pool and a few Tufted Duck. A Common Pochard flew over. A Little Grebe was laughing maniacally from the ditch below us, but two out on one of the reedy pools were easier to see.

At that point, we looked up to see a Spoonbill flying in from the direction of the harbour. It had a stick in its spoon-shaped bill, presumably nest material, which it was carrying back to the colony.

6O0A0639Spoonbill – flying back with nest material

Out on the grazing marshes, we could also see numerous Lapwing, Redshanks and Oystercatchers. Three Avocets were also on one of the pools. Three Ruff flew past over the track. A couple of the Lapwings started displaying, tumbling acrobatically in the air. The Redshanks and Oystercatchers were very vocal too – their breeding season is here. When a Marsh Harrier and a Grey Heron both flew over at the same time, the birds responded by trying to chase them off, the Heron distracting most of the attention from the Harrier.

There were more waders out in the harbour, once we got up onto the seawall. A small group of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly in bright orange breeding plumage. In contrast, of the three Grey Plover we could see, only one was just starting to show a little black on the belly. We heard a Whimbrel calling and could see it heading our way over the saltmarsh. Thankfully it then landed down with the other waders right in front of us, where we could see its stripy head and next to a Black-tailed Godwit, the two were rather similar in size.

IMG_2790Whimbrel – flew in to join the other waders in the harbour

The reedbed was rather quiet. The wind was whistling through the reeds today. We did get one burst of booming from the resident Bittern, but generally it seemed a little reluctant to perform today.

There were more Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh further along. A careful scan produced one that was a little darker than the rest, with a more obvious white flank patch and collar. This is the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid, which returns here every winter with our regular Russian Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Many of the Brent Geese which were here through the winter have already left, and it won’t be long now before most of these last flocks depart for Russia too.

There were lots of Linnets in the Suaeda bushes by the path and a smart Redshank perched up on a post for us to give it some admiring looks.

IMG_2801Redshank – perched nicely for us on a post

When we got to the dunes, we turned east. It was nice to get some shelter from the wind, but there were not many birds at first. Then we started to encounter a few Meadow Pipits and then increasingly large flocks of Linnets. We looked up to see two Red Kites circling lazily over the back of the dunes. A couple of Swallows were on the move, heading west. In their favoured dune slack, we only managed to find one Wheatear today, a female, but at least that was a start.

There was no sign of the Ring Ouzels today in the bushes they have been favouring recently, but as we walked a little further over the dunes we eventually spotted one in a bush distantly the other side of the fence. We got it in the scope and had a quick look, in case it flew off. A second Ring Ouzel appeared on the grass next to it briefly.

We made our way over the dunes to try to get a bit closer, and had just got the scope onto one Ring Ouzel on the grass when it flew further back into the bushes out of sight. The warden then appeared from round the other side! We positioned ourselves in the dunes so that we would see them if they dropped back out onto the grass to feed, but the next thing we knew they took off and flew out over the dunes calling, three of them. We had great views of them as the Ring Ouzels flew over us.

Ring Ouzel Burnham Overy 2016-04-13_3Ring Ouzel – one in flight from here last week

Even better, a few minutes later a fourth Ring Ouzel flew out too and this one landed right in the top of a bush in the dunes. A smart male, with a bold white gorget across his breast, he sat in full view for some time, allowing us to get a great look at him.

IMG_2806Ring Ouzel – this make perched up for us in a bush

While we had a rest in the dunes, we scanned across the pools and marshes in front of us to see what we could see. A very distant white blob perched in a tree turned out to be a Spoonbill. It was a bit hazy, but we could make out its bushy nuchal crest blowing in the breeze. Then another big white bird appeared from out of a ditch and flew across towards the same trees. When it landed again, we could confirm that it was the Great White Egret – we could see its large size and long neck. When two Greylags nearly dropped down on it, it flew again and landed in a dead tree nearby.

The walk back through the dunes did not produce anything else of note, but from back up on the seawall a scan of the grazing marshes produced another two Wheatears on the grass, this time including a smart male sporting a black bandit mask. Four more Whimbrel flew over the grazing marsh calling. And one of the singing Sedge Warblers finally performed for the camera, perched out on a long aerial bramble stem, even though it was getting blown all over the place in the wind.

IMG_2826Sedge Warbler – lots are in and singing now

We were almost back across the grazing marshes when we noticed two more Spoonbills, circling over the trees way off to the east. They turned towards us and we waited for them to come our way. They took remarkably little time to reach us, with the benefit of a strong tail wind, and headed swiftly out towards the harbour.

6O0A0645Spoonbill – these two were heading out towards the harbour

We had lunch back at Holkham, in a slightly more sheltered spot. Several Swallows and House Martins were hawking for insects over the trees. A Sparrowhawk circled up distantly. Then, after lunch, we made our way east to Stiffkey Fen.

A pair of Marsh Harriers were circling over the valley, the smart grey-winged male above and the darker brown female below. He made a couple of playful stoops at her, and she turned upside down and they talon-grappled at one point, all part of the courtship display, before dropping down into the reeds.

A lone Stock Dove was in the weedy field by the path and its iridescent green neck patch shone in the afternoon sunshine. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the hedge and a Common Whitethroat was doing the same across the road. As we walked down alongside the river, a couple of Bullfinches were piping from the sallows ahead of us, but were hard to see until they flew. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the brambles and a Willow Warbler sang from the trees. Several Swallows, a couple of House Martins and a Sand Martin were hawking for insects over the water.

From up on the seawall, we could see a smart summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit down in the harbour channel beyond. There was also a large group of Black-tailed Godwits roosting on the Fen, with a few still in their duller grey-brown non-breeding plumage. In between the legs of the Godwits, we spotted a single Knot, much smaller by comparison, shorter billed, and still in its grey winter plumage. Further over, on one of the islands at the back of the Fen, two Little Ringed Plovers were chasing each other round on the mud.

IMG_2830Black-tailed Godwit – there were still lots at Stiffkey Fen today

We walked on, round towards the harbour. A lovely male Marsh Harrier with silvery grey wings looked a picture quartering along the edge of a bright-yellow oilseed rape field. A Whimbrel flew across the channel and started probing in the muddy bank along one side. An Orange Tip butterfly in the shelter of the bank stopped to feed on a dandelion flower in the sunshine.

6O0A0652Orange Tip – out in the sunshine

Looking out across the harbour, we could see lots of Sandwich Terns shimmering in the heat haze. It was only when they were spooked by something later and flew up into the sky that we could see them clearly. The tide was still out, so there were not many waders in view and those we could see were rather distant. Still, we managed to find a Ringed Plover for the day’s list and while we were watching it a cracking summer-plumage male Bar-tailed Godwit, with deep rusty underparts extending right down under the tail, walked past.

After enjoying the sunshine for a few minutes while we scanned the harbour, we turned to head back. Along the edge of the reeds at the Fen, a Common Snipe had appeared. It was very well camouflaged and tricky to see at first against the similarly coloured reed stems, but easier through the scope.

We still had time for one last stop, so we headed for the local gull colony. There are normally Mediterranean Gulls at Stiffkey Fen, but we hadn’t seen any today, so this gave us another chance to catch up with the species. Sure enough, out amongst the hordes of noisy Black-headed Gulls, we spotted a much darker jet black head (Black-headed Gulls have dark chocolate brown heads!). A cracking adult Mediterranean Gull, we could also see its heavier, brighter red bill and we noted the way the black hood extends further down the back of the neck. Out on the edge of the colony we could also see a pair of white-headed Common Gulls.

IMG_2842Mediterranean Gull – in with lots of Black-headed Gulls

A quick look at the waders out in the harbour produced a good number of Turnstone in with the Oystercatchers and a couple of Curlew. A female Wigeon roosting on the edge of a sandbar was a bit of a surprise. Further out, several Common Seals were hauled out in the shallows on the edge of the main channel. Then it was time to head for home.

11th April 2016 – Early Spring Migrant Day

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, with the brief to avoid some of the main nature reserves. We met up in Brancaster Staithe and set off to explore the coast and see if we could find some spring migrants. It was lovely and sunny for most of the day, but felt quite chilly in a blustery east wind.

Our first stop was at Burnham Overy. As we walked out across the fields, a Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge and flew off ahead of us as we approached. There were lots of Curlew in the fields and plenty of Lapwing too, but there are not as many geese here now. Apart from the Greylag and Canada Geese, we could see one Brent Goose on the grazing marshes today and no sign of any Pink-footed Geese.

Just before the seawall, we could hear first one, then two Sedge Warblers singing. They were keeping mostly tucked down out of the wind, although one of them was occasionally songflighting up out of the brambles. We climbed up onto the seawall and walked along a short way so we could view the sheltered side of a favoured bush and then got great views of the more showy one of them perched up.

IMG_2106Sedge Warbler – two were singing in the bushes below the seawall

The tide was in out in the harbour and it was a big tide today, so that the saltmarsh was pretty much all covered. A few waders were braving it on the remaining islands – we could see a couple of Grey Plover and a little group of Black-tailed Godwit looking very smart now in their rusty summer plumage. When a Marsh Harrier flew low across the flooded saltmarsh, two Snipe flew up in alarm. They circled round a couple of times and only when the danger had passed did they eventually land back pretty much where they had taken off from.

A Bittern boomed once from the reeds further long, but it was hard to hear above the wind. Unfortunately it then went quiet and there was no sound when we got to where it had been booming. We heard a brief ‘ping’ from a Bearded Tit and got the briefest glimpse as one dropped down into the reeds, too quick for everyone to get on to. It was too windy today for Bearded Tits – they were keeping well down in the reeds today.

Just beyond the reeds, a big white shape out on one of the pools on the grazing marsh was a Spoonbill. We could see it, head down, sweeping its bill vigorously from side to side as it walked back and forth through the water. It was probably only exploring the pools here because the tide was so high in the harbour and unfortunately it didn’t linger long. We just got it in the scope for a few seconds before it took off.

IMG_2109Spoonbill – feeding on one of the pools out on the grazing marsh

As the Spoonbill flew across in front of us, we got a good view of its long neck, held outstretched in flight (unlike the Little Egrets), and we could even see the spoon-shaped bill. It looked like it might be heading out over the saltmarsh, but then turned and dropped down behind the seawall, presumably heading for the pools near the path in the direction we had just come.

There is no shortage of Linnets here, and we could hear several flying past as we walked along. A male then perched up in the bushes on the edge of the saltmarsh and we got a better look at it, starting to develop a bit of reddish flush on the breast and on the patch above the bill.

IMG_2121Linnet – perched in the bushes on the edge of the saltmarsh

Out at the boardwalk, we turned east and headed into the dunes. We had hoped it might be more sheltered here, but the wind was still whistling through. At the first more sheltered area, we found a little group of Linnets feeding on the short turf. It was only when we walked a little further that we found a Wheatear. First one, then a couple more – two smart males, with bold black bandit masks, and a more subtle female.

WheatearWheatear – this photo from the dunes a few days ago

It was hard going walking into the wind, and the group did not want to walk too far today, so we decided to turn round and make our way slowly back. Another Wheatear flew across in front of us as we returned towards the boardwalk and two were then feeding on the short grass on the edge of the grazing marshes, along with a Skylark and a Goldfinch!

The tide had started to go out now, and a bit of dryish land was appearing out on the saltmarsh as the water level dropped. As well as lots of Black-headed Gulls, a few Brent Geese had returned to feed there. A quick scan revealed the friendly face of the winter resident Black Brant hybrid again. Subtly a shade or so darker in body plumage than our regular Russian Dark-bellied Brent Geese, it also sports a slightly bolder white flank patch. The progeny of a wandering Black Brant from NE Siberia / NW North America and one of our own Brent Geese, it returns to the same area to winter every year.

IMG_2145Black Brant hybrid – out on the saltmarsh again

We stopped back at the reedbed again, but this time we climbed down the bank and stood at the bottom of the seawall, where it was less exposed to the wind and quieter. After a short wait, this time we could hear the Bittern booming properly. Perhaps understandly, it kept itself tucked well down in the reeds, as did the Bearded Tits. We heard one again, but they were obviously still keeping low out of wind.

A little further back, along the path across the marshes, we stopped to listen to a Chiffchaff singing. It sounded a little odd. Rather than a jaunty, alternating series of ‘chiffs’ and ‘chaffs’, this one repeated the same syllable several times in succession – ‘chaff-chaff-chaff, chiff-chiff-chiff’. It sounded slightly reminiscent of Iberian Chiffchaff, previously considered a race of our Chiffchaff but now treated as a species in its own right, but it wasn’t quite right for that either. it is suggested that Iberian Chiffchaff and Common Chiffchaff hybridise in Spain, but some Chiffchaffs just seem to pick up a little bit of Spanish language on their winter holidays. An interesting bird to listen to.

A request as to whether we might be able to see a Mediterranean Gull today saw us make a short diversion to a local Black-headed Gull colony. A few pairs of Mediterranean Gull nest in with them and it didn’t take us long to find one, despite the windy conditions. A smart adult, with jet black head extending further down the back of the head than the actually dark chocolate brown hood of the Black-headed Gull, and a heavier blood red bill. It then turned round to flash its white wingtips. A second Mediterranean Gull flew over the throng.

IMG_2151Mediterranean Gull – in with the Black-headed Gulls

After lunch, we drove west, cutting across inland to the Wash coast. Several Ring Ouzels have taken up temporary residence in paddocks at Snettisham, and after our longer walk this morning, this was a much easier place to get to. The Ring Ouzels were on show pretty much as soon as we arrived. The female appeared first, on the grass at the back. Much like a Blackbird, but with a conspicuous white gorget, the female’s is slightly brown tinged whereas the male’s is purer white. We watched her hopping about on the short grass, amongst the numerous Rabbits.

The female Ring Ouzel was spooked a couple of times and flew down into an overgrown ditch / hedge just behind. Coming out gingerly again a minute or so later back onto the grass. The second time she did so, we noticed the male Ring Ouzel in a bush in the hedge. The female flew up to join him and a Blackbird appeared next to them, just for comparison. While we were waiting for the Ring Ouzels to re-emerge, a couple of Lapwings also delighted us with some vigorous display flights, swooping and tumbling over the paddocks.

IMG_2160Ring Ouzel – the male flew up into the hedge

We had a gentle stroll into the south end of the Coastal Park. We could hear several Willow Warblers singing from deep in the bushes, but eventually we found one close to the path and watched it flitting around, appropriately enough in a young willow tree. There were lots of other warblers singing here too – Chiffchaffs, Sedge Warbler and a Blackcap are all returning migrants, but the Cetti’s Warbler is a resident, here all year round though more vocal now than through the winter and still very skulking.

From over towards the Wash, we could hear Golden Plover calling. Up on the seawall, we could see the tide was now a long way out. Right out on the edge of the water, we could just make out a huge oil slick of waders smeared across the mud. It was hard to make out any detail at this range, even through a scope, but we know they were mostly Knot, thousands and thousands of them. Nearby, a smaller and slightly more golden brown slick was the Golden Plover. Suddenly, something spooked them and all the waders took to the air. They all swirled round for a minute or two, making different shapes in the sky as they twisted and turned, alternately flashing white underwings in the sun and darker upperparts. It was obviously not a major alert as they quickly settled back down, but not before having treated us to a great display.

Walking back towards the car, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. We looked across to see six circling over the grazing marshes inland. As they turned, we could see their dark heads and small, mostly dark bills. These were the only Pink-footed Geese we saw today. Of the tends of thousands which spend the middle of the winter here, most have long gone, making their way back towards Iceland to breed via an extended stopover further north, perhaps in eastern Scotland. A smaller number linger here longer, but even these have mostly gone north now. In contrast, a couple of Swallows flying over were returning for the summer.

Back round along the coast at Holme, we parked by the seawall and walked out to the paddocks. A few Avocets were out on the saltmarsh pools, commuting from there back and forth towards Redwell Marsh. A Little Egret in one of the channels stopped to preen, showing us its ornate plumes which it develops in the breeding season – the two long ‘aigrettes’ down the back of the head blowing in the breeze and the puffy mass of feathers over the back and tail. These were the feathers for which the species was hunted extensively, particularly in the 19th Century.

IMG_2175Redstart – still lingering in the paddocks

A Redstart has been frequenting the paddocks at Holme for a few days now. Like the Ring Ouzels, this bird is just taking a break here on its way north. As we rounded the corner, the first bird we saw in the paddocks was the Redstart, perched low on one side of a large hawthorn bush. It was a stunning spring male – black face, bright orange breast and belly, and grey back. Its white forehead shone in the afternoon sunshine when it turned to face us. It kept dropping down to the ground, looking for insects, flashing the orange-red tail from which it gets its name when it flew, before flying back up to the bush. We had a great view of it through the scope.

A Pied Flycatcher had been reported earlier in the day, further along at the Firs. Another classic spring migrant, stopping off here on its way, but this one probably fresh in this morning. We just had enough time still to make our way along there and see if we could find it. Thankfully, when we arrived in the car park there were a couple of friendly faces there and they pointed us straight to where the Pied Flycatcher was perched in a pine tree. Once again a smart male, mostly black above and white below but with a white flash in the wings and a blob of white on the forehead above the bill, slightly browner wing feathers suggested it was most likely a 1st summer male.

IMG_2210Pied Flycatcher – stopped off in the pines at Holme

We watched it flycatching, making frequent sorties out from the trees before flying back to a perch. It was mostly dropping down to ground, presumably finding more insects down there than flying round in the air in the later afternoon, even though it had tucked itself into a sheltered sunny spot in the trees. We had a great look at it – then it was time to call it a day and head back. As well as all the other things we had seen, it had been great to catch up with Wheatears, Ring Ouzels, Redstart and Pied Flycatcher all in a day – a classic day of early spring migrants here on the North Norfolk coast.

7th April 2016 -An Introduction to Norfolk

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk, for visitors from the USA. The target was to see a good variety of species, rather than chasing rarities, so we set off to see as many different birds as we could, in as relaxed a fashion as possible. It was windy and cold to start, but we managed to work round the April showers and had some brighter, calmer weather to end the day.

We met in Wells and a quick early morning detour brought us to the local Black-headed Gull colony. A careful scan and we found a smart adult Mediterranean Gull in with them, its jet black head setting it apart from the ironically named Black-headed Gulls (which actually have chocolate brown hoods in summer). It was perched down in the marram grass, preening, so we couldn’t see its white wing tips, but we did admire its contrasting white eye shadow and heavy, deep-red bill.

IMG_1738Mediterranean Gull – just after a Black-headed Gull landed in front

There were lots of Brent Geese flying around over the saltmarsh but it was cold and exposed in the brisk wind, so we beat a hasty retreat after we had seen our target bird here. A Chiffchaff was singing from the trees as we made our way back to the car.

There had been a few Pink-footed Geese at Lady Anne’s Drive yesterday, so we made a quick stop there on our way west. On the way, a Red Kite drifted over the field beside the road. There was no sign of the geese today, but we did get to see a nice selection of other wildfowl – Shelduck, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. The Northern Lapwing stole the show though – such stunning birds, we are all too often in danger of taking them for granted but they are appreciated in all their glory by those who have not seen them before! The spiky black crest and iridescent green upperparts really stand out.

IMG_1750Lapwing – one or our most stunning birds

There were also a couple of Mistle Thrushes out on the grass, big bold and heavily spotted below. The plan was not to linger here, and we were on our way back up the Drive when a small bird appeared on the verge. A smart male Wheatear, he flicked up onto a fence post when we stopped and then dropped down into the field beyond out of view when we tried to reverse back. This bird was in exactly the same place we had seen a Wheatear yesterday, so presumably it was the same one.

Our next stop was at Burnham Overy Staithe. On the way there, we had a brief stop on the main road to admire a pair of Grey Partridge in a field before approaching traffic meant we had to move on. We parked in the harbour car park and set off along the seawall.

We could hear a Chiffchaff singing from the bushes and possibly a second was then spotted flitting around in the Alexanders on the bank. So many of the Chiffchaffs have already arrived that it can be hard to tell now which are onward-bound migrants stopping off and which are here for the summer. A Willow Warbler which flew along the bank towards us was most likely a migrant. It landed in the brambles close by, before flying on towards the village. The Sedge Warblers are also in in numbers now and we could here several singing from the brambles below the seawall, a constant rolling medley of trills, whistles and scratchy notes. We got one in the scope and admired its bold pale supercilium.

IMG_1779Sedge Warbler – several were singing along the seawall

We could hear one or two Little Grebes cackling maniacally from the reeds and eventually spotted one in the ditch, although it kept diving as it swam away from us. There were several Tufted Ducks in the ditch too.

On the other side of the seawall, a Spoonbill took off from the saltmarsh but unfortunately flew away from us. We had OK flight views, if a little distant – we could see the long bill held out in front, the neck outstretched in flight. We turned our attention to the waders in the harbour. As well as the Redshanks and Oystercatchers, a little group of Black-tailed Godwits and Knot were feeding on the mud just below the bank. The Black-tailed Godwits are now really starting to acquire their rusty summer plumage, but the Knots were still in full winter attire. Known as Red Knot on North America, after their summer garb, they should probably be called Grey Knot here!

IMG_1754Knot – still in their grey winter plumage

Out on the sandbank in the middle of the harbour channel, we could see a group of Brent Geese. Nearby, were some small waders and a closer look through the scope revealed they were Ringed Plover, with a single silvery grey Sanderling in with them. There were actually quite a lot of Ringed Plover out on the sand, perhaps birds on their way further north, rather than just the small number of birds which breed here. There was also a Grey Plover with them and a little further along were a few Bar-tailed Godwit. Over on the other side of the channel we could see an Avocet too.

We walked on to the reedbed, which seemed a little quite at first today. We finally located some of the few lingering here Pink-footed Geese – a flock of about thirty was out on the grazing marshes beyond. While we were watching them, we heard a Bittern booming from the reeds – a remarkable sound, a little like a foghorn! We dropped down off the seawall onto the path below, out of the wind, to get a better listen to it. It boomed several times while we were there, not far into the reeds today, but it stayed well hidden. A Cetti’s Warbler sang from deep in the bushes, similarly reluctant to show itself.

A glimpse of a Snipe dropping down onto the grazing marshes saw us walk a little further on and we were busy scanning the grass for it when a Spoonbill flew just above our heads. It may have come up from the reedbed pool and low over the reeds out of sight, but as it flew right over us we could see its spoon-shaped bill clearly. We could see grey clouds approaching from the west now, so we beat a hasty retreat and got back to the car just in time, as it started to rain.

A quick stop back at Holkham to use the facilities and we made a short diversion into the Park to have a look at Holkham Hall. As well as the resident herd of Fallow Deer, there was a large flock of feral Barnacle Geese on the lawn. Over by the lake, a pair of Grey Herons chased each other off over the grass, and we could see several Swallows hawking for insects around the island.

We took a diversion inland from here, to try to find some farmland birds. A couple more Red Kites hung in the air next to the road. Another pair of Grey Partridge were feeding out on some water meadows. We stopped to look at a party of Rooks feeding in a field. The rain was intermittent but began to fall more heavily now, which meant the birds were a bit harder to find.

At Choseley, there were lots of Brown Hares and Red-legged Partridge in the fields. We stopped to watch three Wheatear which were making there way up the road, flitting between the hedges and occasionally landing in the road itself. We could see a Yellowhammer distantly on the wires, but then several flew in and landed in the bare field in front of us, including a very bright yellow-headed male. It was time for lunch now, so we headed on down to Titchwell.

After lunch, we made our way out to the Visitor Centre. The feeders in front were rather quiet, apart from a Chaffinch and a couple of tits. The feeders the other side looking similarly devoid of life at first and there was no sign of any Bramblings , so we we went for a quick look in the ditch by the main path. Almost immediately, we found the Water Rail feeding among some fallen branches on the bank, once again getting great views of this often very secretive species.

P1190766Water Rail – still feeding in the ditch by the main path

We could hear a Siskin singing from the alder trees above and when we turned round it was on the bird table below – a smart male.

P1190792Siskin – a nice bright male on the bird table

Back to the feeders again and quickly more birds started to appear now – a lovely bright green male Greenfinch dropped in, then a stunning Goldfinch. The Bramblings had obviously been hiding on the ground below the feeders, in amongst the wooden pallets, because first a female flew into the bushes, followed shortly after by a male. We got a good look at them while they were in the bushes, but when they dropped down to the ground again they were much harder to see once more.

While we were focused on the Bramblings one of the group saw a white shape fly across the grazing meadow beyond. It could only be one thing, so we hurried back over and sure enough there was a Barn Owl hunting out over the long grass. There is often a Barn Owl to be found here later in the afternoon, but this was an early outing even by its standards! It flew off away from us at first, then made a circuit back and right across in front of us, dropping down into the grass a couple of times.

P1190824Barn Owl – out early over the grazing meadow today

Even better, the Barn Owl then flew towards us and landed on the fence right at the front. It was half hidden behind some reeds at first, but then it helpfully flew along a couple of posts and landed again where we had a much clearer view. Stunning!

P1190830Barn Owl – then perched obligingly on a fence post right in front

When the Barn Owl finally flew off again, we made our way out onto the reserve. A pair of Long-tailed Tits were feeding in the sallows by the path.

P1190835Long-tailed Tit – feeding in the sallows by the main path

We stopped by the grazing meadow pool, which is still pretty much dried out, save for a couple of puddles. There were several wagtails out on the mud and a closer look through the scope confirmed there were at least four White Wagtails. The continental European version of our (mostly) British Pied Wagtail, they have a much paler grey back. Lurking right over at the back, half in the reeds, preening, we eventually found one of the Water Pipits. They are getting into summer plumage now, with a lovely pale pink wash on the breast. Nearby, even more obscured from view, we managed to locate another two Water Pipits. But there was no sign of any Little Ringed Plovers on here at this stage.

The reedbed pool on the way out yielded a distant Great Crested Grebe and a pair of Red-crested Pochard, plus a few Common Pochard. We could hear Bearded Tits pinging from the reeds, but they were not inclined to show themselves. Perhaps they were put off by the strength of the wind earlier, even if it was now starting to ease off. A Marsh Harrier perched up in one of the bushes in the reeds and, as we walked on towards the freshmarsh, one was displaying, dropping down out of the sky in a rollercoaster of tumbles, swoops and loop-the-loops.

The freshmarsh is still pretty full of water, so we didn’t stop at Island Hide today. There were lots of Brent Geese enjoying the conditions, flown in from feeding out on the saltmarsh to bathe and preen. We could see some very dark clouds gathering to the northwest and although we had thought they might miss us, it gradually became clear we were in for a heavy shower. We got to Parrinder Hide just as the rain started. All the birds either huddled down or flew off to find shelter elsewhere.

IMG_1792Brent Geese – just as the rain started to fall

There were various distractions from the hide as the rain fell. A nice selection of duck included some smart Teal just below the hide. The Gadwall is one of the most under-rated of wildfowl and we had time to admire a drake on the mud, the intricate patterning of its plumage.

IMG_1800Gadwall – a drake with its intricately marked plumage

The water levels have started to drop a little, which might be encouraging some of the waders. A lone Snipe was feeding on the exposed mud along the edge of the bank, incredibly well camouflaged against the cut reeds and dead vegetation. A single Grey Plover flew in and started preening as the rain began to ease. Known as Black-bellied Plover in North America, we usually see them in the winter when they lack their black bellies – hence the name Grey Plover is more appropriate here.

IMG_1813Grey Plover – flew in to preen as the rain eased

One the rain stopped, we made our way over to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were several Avocet just below the hide, and we watched as they fed, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallow mud. Apart from lots of Shelduck, plus a few Redshank and more Grey Plover, there didn’t appear to be much else of note on here today.

P1190857Avocet – more were on the Volunteer Marsh today

The Tidal Pools were also rather quiet, so we continued on to the beach. There was a little raft of Common Scoter just offshore. We had a look at them and talked about the distinguishing differences from the American equivalent, Black Scoter. Further over, out in the middle of the Wash, we could just make out a vast flock of Common Scoter looking a but like a distant oil slick. In the other direction, over towards Brancaster, we could see a little group of Red-breasted Merganser out on the sea.

The tide was coming in, but there were still a few waders out on the shore. We just had enough time to find a Turnstone and a small party of Dunlin, both additions to the day’s list, before all the waders were pushed off by the incoming sea. The dark clouds seemed to be missing us now, but with more out west, we decided to make our way back just in case.

Back at the reedbed pool, the Great Crested Grebe was now right down at the front. We had just got it in the scope when a second appeared and they started to display. At first, they swam to face each other, crests raised and proceeded to turn away in turn, preening their back feathers as they did so. After a minute or so, they seemed to lose interest and swam off in opposite directions, but a short while later the male swam back with a bill full of vegetation. This time they stood upright, paddling vigorously with their feet, breast to breast. They are fantastic looking birds and it is always a stunning display to watch.

IMG_1826Great Crested Grebes – this pair were displaying today

One of the drake Red-crested Pochard had also swum down to the front so we got a much better view of that too, orange punk hairstyle, bright coral-red bill, and all.

IMG_1849Red-crested Pochard – showing well on the way back

We could hear the pinging calls of Bearded Tits again, but this time they sounded much closer. The wind had dropped and it was now quite calm and still, which probably helped. A quick scan and we picked up a small group working their way low down along the edge of the reeds just across the water. We got then in the scope and could see a couple of males and a female, the males with powder blue heads and black moustaches (not beards!). Even better, a pair then flew across to the reed by one of the pools just below the main path. We hurried back just in time to get really close views of them working their way across. Cracking views!



IMG_1864Bearded Tit – a male striking various poses

The walk back was further enlivened with a much closer Water Pipit out on the grazing marsh ‘pool’. When we stopped to look at it, we could found two Little Ringed Plovers as well on here, lurking over towards the back. A Stoat ran along the far edge of the reeds an out across the mud, pursued as it did so by 8-10 wagtails, a mixture of Pied and White Wagtails. We then took a detour round via the Meadow Trail to the Visitor Centre, which was further rewarded with a Willow Warbler in the willows and a Goldcrest too.

Then it was time to call it a day and head back to Wells to finish. A last Wheatear on the hedge beside the road at Holkham rounded off the day.