Tag Archives: Wells

6th June 2021 – Early Summer, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Early Summer Tour today, our last day. It was a mostly bright day with some sunny periods and although there were some ominously threatening dark clouds approaching around the middle of the day, they passed by to the south of us and we didn’t get any rain.

There had been a Rose-coloured Starling at Kelling yesterday and news came through that it was still present this morning, so we drove over there first. As we set off down the track, we could hear Chiffchaffs singing in the hedge and an Orange-tip butterfly fluttered around above us.

Some people walking back told us that the Rose-coloured Starling was currently in view, so we quickened our pace down to the gate beyond the copse. There were a couple of people already there who quickly put us onto it and we soon found ourselves watching a rather smart pale powder-puff pink-tabarded Rose-coloured Starling perched on the wires at the back.

Rose-coloured Starling – on the fence

We walked a little further down, where we could see over the brambles from the bank the other side of the track and the views of the Rose-coloured Starling were slightly closer. It spent some time just perched on the wires looking slightly lifeless, but then suddenly dropped down to the short grass below and started walking around. Then it took off, flying out to join the large flock of regular Starlings which were feeding on the Water Meadow, dropping down into the tall rushes out of view.

There were lots of Brown Hares in the field beyond and one on the ridge of the field behind us.

Brown Hare – one of many

We took the disappearance from view of the Rose-coloured Starling as our cue to move on. We continued on down the track to the Water Meadow. A Common Whitethroat flew across the track into the brambles. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the yellow-green alexanders on the corner.

Sedge Warbler – singing in the alexanders

There was nothing of particularly note on the Water Meadow pool, one of the regular pair of Egyptian Geese, plus a few Mallard and Gadwall and a couple of Moorhen. More unusually, we looked up over the ridge to see a Fulmar flying towards us over Weybourne Camp. It banked round over the gun emplacements, and headed back out to sea.

We decided to move on, and drove up to check out one of the local heaths. As we walked out of the car park, we could hear a Bullfinch calling and had a quick glimpse as it flew across the path. As we came out of the thick blackthorn, we heard a Nightjar churring briefly. They will churr sometimes in the daytime, but they are better looked for at dusk, as we had seen last night. Some Long-tailed Tits were calling in the trees, and we saw one as it flew across. A Goldcrest was singing too, but there were few warblers singing now. The nearby pines were rather quiet, apart from a Siskin which called overhead, but was not seen.

There was a large group of cyclists chatting on the track ahead of us, so we turned onto a side path. We had hoped it would be quieter, but there were several walkers and dog walkers here too and no sign of the hoped for Woodlarks. About half way along, we heard a burst of Dartford Warbler singing. We stopped to listen more carefully, and try to work out where exactly the sound was coming from, but it had gone quiet. We scanned the tops of the gorse bushes but there was no sign of it. We walked on a bit further, still listening, then decided to turn back. A couple of Green Hairstreak butterflies were flying around the emerging bracken fronds.

Green Hairstreak – on a young bracken frond

The cyclists had gone now, so we walked on along the main track and took another smaller path out into the middle of the heath. A family of Stonechats were flicking around on the gorse ahead of us here, male, female and at least two streaky juveniles. There were plenty of Linnets too. We checked another favoured spot for a Woodlark but drew a black again.

As we cut back round, suddenly a small bird flew out of the gorse ahead of us. It looked dark slate grey, with a noticeably long tail, a Dartford Warbler! It landed in a young pine tree, where we could just see it moving around in the lower branches, then dropped down into the gorse below. We walked on round on the path and positioned ourselves looking at the clump of gorse into which it had disappeared. Luckily one of the group was looking the other way, as it had obviously moved and was now perched on a low gorse bush right by the path. It flew across and landed on the top of a larger clump where it remained for several seconds, giving us a great view.

Dartford Warbler – a great view

We decided to leave the Dartford Warbler in peace We set off back along the path but we didn’t get far before we flushed a Woodlark from the edge. We could see its short tail as it flew up, and we watched as it circled round and landed in the top of a pine tree a bit further over. We got it in the scopes and could see it had food in its bill, before it flew down to the ground just where we had been looking for it earlier.

By the time we got back round, the Woodlark was back up in the top of the pine. It dropped down again, and we could just see it walking around on the ground. Then it flew up and landed on a nearby fencepost, giving us a great view. It was already after midday, so we walked back towards the car park. Another Woodlark circled overhead calling on the way.

We drove down to Cley, and as we dropped back down to the main road, a Grey Partridge ran off the verge by the houses, ran across the road ahead of us and onto the old parking area the other side. An odd place to see one! The NWT car park was strangely full of cyclists. Apparently there was a big cycle event round Norfolk today, but it seemed odd that they had been allowed to take over the car park as one of their stops on one of the busiest weekends of the year. Speaking to the staff in the Visitor Centre it didn’t sound like they had even asked for permission to use the site.

Thankfully, it looked like the cyclists were starting to disperse and we managed to find a picnic table as several of them left. While we were eating, a Great White Egret flew across over the reserve – we could see its long legs and slow leisurely wingbeats. It was overtaken by a Little Egret, which was a great way to see the size difference.

Great White Egret – flew over at lunch

After lunch, we planned to have a walk up the East Bank. There were some threatening dark clouds approaching from the south, so we decided to drive to Walsey Hills and walk from there, so we wouldn’t be too far from the minibus in case it started to rain. There were just two Tufted Ducks today on Snipes Marsh.

As we started to walk up the East Bank, we could hear the Yellow Wagtail singing. It took a bit of finding in the long grass, partly because it seemed to mostly have its green back to us. When it finally turned round it was much more obvious – its bright canary yellow head and breast standing out. We had some good views of it through the scopes.

Yellow Wagtail – the male, still singing

There were several Cormorants drying their wings on the islands on Pope’s Pool and a throng of loafing immature Great Black-backed Gulls. There were several Avocets too. We could hear Bearded Tits calling behind us, but we couldn’t see them.

News came through now that a Red-backed Shrike had just been found not far away, inland at Aylmerton. Even better, it was a smart male. We didn’t have a lot of time available, and we were not sure exactly where it was or how long it would take us to see it, so we decided to head over there immediately. As it was, we managed to get precise directions while we were on the way and it wasn’t too far to walk after we got there and we found ourselves watching the stunning male Red-backed Shrike.

The Red-backed Shrike was perched in a small oak tree sticking out of a hedge between two fields, next to a footpath. It kept making small sallies out either side, catching insects, coming back to the same tree of one a bit further along. We had a great view of it through the scopes, rusty red-backed, grey-headed with a black bandit mask, and pink on the breast.

Red-backed Shrike – a stunning male

The dark clouds had passed over, but it was still cloudy, warm and muggy. Lots of Common Swifts, Sand Martins and House Martins, were hawking for insects low over the fields too. After watching the Red-backed Shrike for a while, we decided to head off back.

Cutting across inland, we made good time on our way back to Wells and still had about 45 minutes before we were due to finish, so we stopped at the pools just east of town. A pair of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass nearby. A Grey Heron flew over the parking area, some distance from the pools, but still a squadron of Avocets flew out after it, and one continued to chase it away over the field beyond.

Down the track, we stopped to scan the pools and could see why. There were several families of cute fluffy juvenile Avocets, being defended by their parents. There were three darker brown small juvenile Redshanks too, the first we have seen here this year. The juvenile Lapwings are much more advanced, and are now well grown. There was a pair of Shelducks with a family of shelducklings out in the middle of the water too. All the parents were very aggressive, chasing away any potential predators.

Common Gull and Redshanks – defensive parents!

There were some other waders on here too. A single Knot, in grey non-breeding plumage, was the first we had seen on the three days, a last minute addition to the list. Two Little Ringed Plovers were distant at first in the heat haze, but one came closer, so we could see its golden yellow eye ring through the scopes.

A Marsh Harrier, a pale male circled over the field beyond, hunting. As we walked back a short while later we watched it come in over the pools with food in its talons. The female was following, presumably expecting to be the recipient of the prey, but the male flew on and landed in the field the other side. For some reason, it was not going to give it up.

It was time now to call it a day and head on to Wells to drop people off. It had been a very exciting three days, with some great birds and a good selection of other summer wildlife too.

30th May 2021 – Coast & Heath

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely sunny morning before clouding over from mid afternoon as the sun lost its battle with the cloud which had been hanging offshore all day. The NE breeze kept a lid on temperatures.

We met in Cley and parked at Walsey Hills. As we walked up to the start of the East Bank, we could hear Little Egrets bubbling in the wood and one or two flying in and out. A couple of distant Marsh Harriers were circling low over the reedbed.

We had a request to see a Yellow Wagtail and as if on cue, a quick scan of the grazing marshes revealed the bright canary yellow male on the grass in the distance. We could just hear it singing from where we were, so we walked further up for a much better view in the scope. It would be great to have Yellow Wagtails back breeding here, but unfortunately he shows no sign of attracting a female.

There were still plenty of Lapwings and Redshanks on the grazing marshes. The Lapwing chicks which had been little balls of fluff are getting much bigger now, but there was still no sign of any young Redshanks. The males were still singing and displaying, but there was no sign of any getting down to nesting. There were Avocets further back on Pope’s Pool and when we heard Curlew calling, we looked over to see four flying off west, maybe finally heading back to the continent to breed.

Redshank – still displaying around the grazing marshes

What we thought was a lone drake Wigeon was walking around on the mud on the edge of the Serpentine, whistling occasionally. Then we spotted another pair much further back, on Pope’s Pool. Most of the Wigeon have left, heading back to Russia to breed, but perhaps these will stay here now. There were also a few Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard and Shelduck, lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese.

A couple of Reed Buntings were singing from the small bushes out in the middle of the reedbed, occasionally chasing after each other or a passing female. There were Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing too, with one of the latter perching up particularly obligingly. We heard occasional pinging calls of Bearded Tits and managed to see one or two zooming back and forth low over reeds.

There were quite a few Common Swifts zooming round overhead, but they didn’t seem to be heading anywhere today, so possibly just local birds rather than migrants on their way through. We could see a few Sand Martins and one or two Swallows too. As we continued on past the Serpentine, a Water Rail was calling in the reeds.

Common Swift – zooming around overhead

Four terns and some small waders were on the small gravel island at the back of Arnold’s Marsh, so we went into the shelter to set up the scope. It was cool in here today, out of sun and not offering much shelter facing straight into the NE breeze. The pair of Sandwich Terns were more obvious, but two Little Terns were hunkered down just over the top.

Two Grey Plover were roosting in amongst the terns, and on the muddy edge we could see were a Turnstone, and two Sanderling with two Dunlin. Something spooked the birds, and the small waders flew round and landed closer. The Sanderling then took that as a cue to move off, and we watched them fly up high and head north over the shingle ridge. Next stop the arctic? We could now see there were several Ringed Plovers too, in the vegetation on the shingle banks out to the left.

As we walked back, the male Yellow Wagtail was still singing out on the grass. As we passed Snipe’s Marsh on our way back to the minibus, a Little Grebe was diving continually and a drake Common Pochard was asleep out in the middle of the water.

Sandpit Blood Bee Sphecodes pellucidus – in the car park

Our next stop was up on Kelling Heath. There were lots of small bees buzzing around the sandy ground in the car park, Sandpit Mining Bees (Andrena barbilabris). We could see where they had been digging their burrows, small piles of darker earth, some flattened by passing feet and tyres. There were a couple of blood bees around the holes too, red-abdomened Sandpit Blood Bees (Sphecodes pellucidus). These blood bees are cleptoparasites of the Sandpit Mining Bees, laying their eggs in cells in the mining bees’ nests. The wonderful world of bees!

As we walked along a small path through the gorse, we saw several bright metallic Green Hairstreaks, fluttering round the gorse or sunning themselves.

Green Hairstreak – sunning itself

We took the main track down towards the Level Crossing. Suddenly we were surrounded by birds, we didn’t know where to look. A Yellowhammer flew up from the side of the track ahead of us. Then we heard a Woodlark singing, from the clear area away to our right, probably flushed by a group of dogwalkers walking across, and we had a quick glimpse of it was it flew round behind us, but we were distracted by a Common Crossbill calling. We looked up, but all we could see were Linnets flying round and perched on the gorse nearby.

We could still hear Crossbills calling quietly, and this was a particular target for us, so we started to scan for them in the pines. A female flew over our heads but disappeared deep into a tree, where we couldn’t see it. We could still hear calls from ahead of us, so we walked a short way further down the track, and turning the corner found a couple watching some Crossbills deep in a pine overhanging the path, feeding on cones.

We could just see an orangey male Common Crossbill, probably an immature, feeding on a cone. We got it in the scope, fill the frame views, but deep in the trees there were always branches in the way. There were clearly several birds in here and they started flying across to the next tree, further in. Scanning the branches, we found a smart red male out in the open in a much smaller young pine now. We watched it feeding, snipping off cones and carrying them to a branch to extract the seeds, then hanging on other cones and extracting the seeds in situ.

Common Crossbill – feeding on the cones

While we were watching the Crossbills, we heard a Nightjar churring from somewhere deep in the trees. They are mostly crepuscular and start to chur at dusk but will occasionally do so in the middle of the day, particularly early in the season. We had a quick look for any Dartford Warblers, but it was the middle of the day and all was quiet. Two Stonechats perched up as we passed. We were keen to start making our way back now or it would be a very late lunch. A Green Tiger Beetle flew ahead of us along the path.

As we walked on round, several Common Buzzards circled up over the ridge, at one point five in the air together. The trees here were rather quiet, there were few warblers singing, probably not helped by the cool breeze coming up over the ridge. We passed several Common Heath moths fluttering round in the heather.

Common Heath – a day-flying moth

We dropped back down to Cley for lunch on the picnic tables overlooking the marshes. A Lesser Whitethroat was flitting around in the hedge down by the road, but there were people in the way as it disappeared off right. A few minutes later it flew back the other way. After lunch, we drove west to Wells. A Red Kite was hanging in the air over road, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over on the outskirts of Stiffkey.

As we set off down the track, we could hear a Little Ringed Plover displaying and just see it flying round out towards the back of the pool on the right. A couple of Brown Hares were in the meadow, behind the carpet of buttercups and campion, quite a picture!

The young Lapwings are growing up fast here too, but several of the pairs of Avocets have small chicks now. We heard one pair alarm calling loudly, and looked over to see them mobbing a pair of Mute Swans with seven cygnets. A risky thing to do! Another Avocet was busying itself chasing off the Pied Wagtails and a pair of Shoveler from anywhere near its two fluffy juveniles. Much safer than attacking the swans, but of dubious value!

There were at least a dozen Redshanks bathing out in the middle and several more scattered around – here too, no sign of them breeding. We could see two very distant Little Ringed Plover, on the mud towards the back, behind the rushes. We got them in the scope, but it was not a great view, with quite a bit of heat haze too.

The bushes beyond the pools were quiet. It had clouded over now and the breeze was picking up. A nice male Reed Bunting perched up in the hawthorn flowers singing. There were lots of Goldfinches, and one or two Chaffinches, plus a Chiffchaff singing.

Reed Bunting – singing from the top of a hawthorn

From up on the seawall, we could see more Avocets feeding on the mud on the saltmarsh below. A very distant white shape standing out on the saltmarsh was probably a Spoonbill, but there was just too much haze to say for sure. The Avocets were commuting in and out of the west pool, were several were still on nests. The vegetation is now getting too high to see anything else on here.

When all the gulls and corvids rose up from the pig fields on the ridge inland, we figured something significant must have spooked them. We couldn’t see a likely candidate at first, but a couple of minutes later, looked back to see a Peregrine flying up and away to the east.

It was time to head back. One of the Little Ringed Plovers was much closer now, and through the scope we could see its golden eye ring. As we climbed into the minibus, a smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the field beyond.

21st May 2021 – Three Spring Days, Day 3

Day 3 of a rescheduled 3 day Spring Tour, to take advantage of the relaxation of Covid restrictions this week, our last day. A wet & windy day today. We managed to get some birding in during the morning, but as the weather deteriorated into the afternoon, the vote was for an early finish.

We headed down to Cley for the morning and parked in the bottom car park, below the Visitor Centre. It was dry, but very grey with a rather blustery wind, but not as bad as forecast. We decided to make a bid for the East Bank while we could. There were a few birds in the trees as we set off, including our first Long-tailed Tit of the tour.

As we walked along The Skirts, a bird flew up from the short grass right next to the path, on the left. With its olive-brown back and long rounded tail, which drooped behind it as it flew, it was obviously a Grasshopper Warbler. It dropped back down into the short grass about five metres further on. We took a couple of steps forward, intending to try to find it again, and another Grasshopper Warbler flew up from the right of the path. This one flew round behind us and landed in some low brambles just a few metres away. With its rather bright lemon-yellow throat it was immediately recognisable as the male we watched reeling regularly here at the end of April and beginning of May. Hopefully it has found a mate, which would explain why it has gone quiet now.

Grasshopper Warbler – one of two flushed by the path

After watching the Grasshopper Warbler for a while, it dropped down out of view. We set off again along the path as a pair of Common Pochard flew past the other way, over the reeds. There were lots of Common Swifts and hirundines hawking over the pools in the middles. A couple of Swallows and a House Martin were zooming back and forth low over the coast road, trying to find insects in the shelter of the bushes the other side.

Despite the weather, there were still warblers singing in the bushes – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Cetti’s Warbler, and a Common Whitethroat calling its buzzy call. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds behind us, but the Sedge Warblers were sensibly quiet, keeping down out of the wind. A Common Buzzard was hanging in the breeze over North Foreland, until it was mobbed by one of the local Rooks.

Up on the East Bank, there were more hirundines flying round low over the grazing marshes, particularly lots of Sand Martins now. A few Swifts and House Martins flew through, up over the bank and on west, birds on the move despite the weather. Fewer than yesterday, but the movement of Swifts was a real theme of the last two days.

Common Swift – lots on the move the last two days

The grazing marshes here are perfect for breeding waders. The Lapwing chicks which were small bundles of fluff a couple of weeks ago are now getting much bigger. The Redshanks are still displaying – we saw one pair, the male fluttering his wings vigorously and calling, while the female looked disinterested and walked away. There were a few Avocets in the Serpentine and on Pope’s Pool further back.

Lapwing – the juveniles are getting bigger

We could hear a buzzy sound just carrying to us from out on the grazing marshes and careful scanning revealed the source – a Yellow Wagtail. This bird has been lingering here for a couple of weeks now, singing. The song is not much to write home about – just a couple of buzzy notes. We got the Yellow Wagtail in the scopes, a bright canary yellow male, and watched as it worked its way through the thick grass feeding, then climbed up onto a tussock to sing. Yellow Wagtails used to breed more commonly along the coast here, so it would be nice to think that they might return.

Yellow Wagtail – singing from the grazing marshes

We stopped again to scan the margins of the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were lots of Greylags and a few Canada Geese, several Gadwall, Mallard and Shelduck but we couldn’t pick out anything different. The Great Black-backed Gulls were starting to gather to loaf on the islands at the back.

A Yellow Wagtail called, and we turned to see the male fly round over the bank, before landing briefly on the grass behind the reeds below us. It didn’t stay though, flying straight back out to the middle where it had been singing. As it flew back, a second Yellow Wagtail flew up too, but didn’t follow the male, landing on the edge of the Serpentine. We could see it was a female – just a shame she wasn’t showing any interest in the singing male!

Carrying on to Arnold’s Marsh, we got into the shelter, out of the wind, just as it started to rain. A couple of people already in the shelter asked what the wader at the back was. So we set up our scopes to find it was a lone grey Knot (with a limp). There were also two Dunlin, a Ringed Plover and a Turnstone with it. A couple of Curlew were roosting in the far corner and another was sheltering behind a low suaeda bush the other side. There were a few more Redshanks on here too.

Two other Ringed Plovers emerged from the low saltmarsh vegetation at the back – the slightly larger paler one, chasing after the slightly smaller darker bird. Two different subspecies of Ringed Plover, the smaller, darker birds are northern, tundra breeders (race tundrae), compared to the larger paler local breeders (race hiaticula). The Tundra Ringed Plovers are later migrants, passing through at this time of year. Another nine Tundra Ringed Plovers then dropped in just to illustrate the point, along with three more Dunlin.

One of the group spotted a distant Hobby, over the reedbed at the back, flying towards Salthouse, heading inland presumably out of the deteriorating weather. A Little Tern hovering over Sea Pool was similarly distant, but a Sandwich Tern dropped in at the back of Arnold’s, with more flying through past the shelter. A single Wheatear on the sand right at the back was flitting in and out of the low vegetation, trying to feed. There is still a trickle of late Wheatears coming through, dark northern breeders, but this was the first we had seen this tour.

There were several Avocets coming and going from the pool down at the front, with a couple sat down on the bank beyond, presumably incubating. When a female stopped and stood with neck bent down and bill held horizontal just above the surface, the male walked round her preening and flicking his bill in the water. We knew what was coming and sure enough we then watched the pair mating.

Avocets – the pair mating

As the rain eased, we continued on to the beach. We counted nine Little Terns offshore, slowly working their way east, and several Sandwich Terns passed the other way, one with a large sand eel in its bill. We steeled ourselves and turned into the wind for the walk back. We had intended to call in at Bishop Hide on the way back, as this is open again now, but we found several people camped in there already, out of the weather. We scanned from the door and couldn’t see anything of note on Pat’s Pool anyway, so we walked back. A pair of Mute Swans with cygnets were on the channel up from the bridge.

We figured it might be a bit more sheltered at Kelling, so we headed over there next. As we walked into the lane, we could hear a Greenfinch wheezing. Several Goldfinches were feeding on the school playing field and a Chaffinch was singing from somewhere in the school grounds as we passed. The hedges either side were rather quiet, despite being out of the wind. We did hear a Common Whitethroat calling, a Blackcap singing and a Chiffchaff flew across. A Red-legged Partridge ran ahead of us all the way down the lane to the copse.

We stopped to scan from the gate. There were lots of Brown Hares in the field beyond the Water Meadow, in the shelter of the hedge, and loads of Woodpigeons and Rooks. All we could find was a single Robin on the sheltered edge of the copse.

We continued down to the cross track to look at the pool, but there was just a single Egyptian Goose and a few Mallard on there today. It was rather exposed out here in the increasingly blustery wind. We scanned the bushes around the Quags, but everything seemed to have gone somewhere more sheltered. As we turned to walk back, there were a couple of Linnets in the edge of the field and a slightly bedraggled Common Whitethroat feeding in the low alexanders by the path which flew up into the brambles as we passed.

Common Whitethroat – flew up into the brambles

Kelling Heath seemed like a place which might offer a bit of shelter, and there have been Garden Warblers singing here in the last week, but it was windier than we thought in the car park. At least it wasn’t raining, so we had a quick walk round the bushes. A Blackcap was singing from deep in the blackthorn by the car park and a Bullfinch called as we walked round the back.

Then we heard a Garden Warbler across the road, so we crossed over to see if we could find it. It was singing in some dense blackthorn, moving around, and we couldn’t see it before it went quiet. We did find a family of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes, and a Willow Warbler and Goldcrest flitting around in the birches.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back down to Cley to try to find some shelter. We parked the minibus in front of the beach shelter and ate our lunch in there. It was a bit damp on the bench, but standing in one side it was drier and had the added advantage of being able to see the sea. A steady stream of Sandwich Terns flew past, along with one or two Little Terns and a single Common Tern.

After lunch, we drove round to Iron Road for a short walk to see if any waders had dropped in there. There was nothing new on the large pool, but a Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the reeds at the back. On the other side of the main drain, over the bridge, we did find a small group of Tundra Ringed Plovers and several Dunlin on the muddy brackish pools. A Yellow Wagtail flew round calling but landed in the long grass with the cows further back, out of view.

The plan had been to finish up at Wells, so we decided to head over there now, with a view to finishing slightly early. The forecast was for heavy rain all this afternoon, and it finally arrived on our way there. The wind had picked up too – it had been forecast to be gusting 50mph+ all day, so we had actually been lucky to have had nothing like that up til now.

We got out of the minibus and started to scan the pools from the parking area. We could see a Little Ringed Plover on the pool west of the track. We thought about a walk down to the far end of the pools to see if there was anything hiding in the rushes, but there was no appetite for even a short walk now. It was already 3pm, and we had made the most of it, so with everyone having a long drive home we decided to call it a day.

It was a good call, as it only got wetter on the way back. But despite the deteriorating weather at the end, we could look back on a very productive three days of spring birding and we had seen some very good birds too.

10th May 2021 – Wagtails & Waders

Another socially distanced small group day tour today, where we didn’t use the minibus. We met on site at Cley in the morning for a couple of walks, travelling in convoy onto Wells mid afternoon to finish the day there. It was cloudy at times with some nice sunny intervals in between, with an increasingly gusty wind in the afternoon, and we mostly managed to avoid the showers.

We set off from the Visitor Centre car park along The Skirts path. We hadn’t gone more than a few metres when a warbler flew up from the alexanders by the path into an elder bush nearby. A Garden Warbler, rather plain grey and featureless with a stocky build and heavy bill. Presumably a migrant, which had dropped in overnight and was now feeding up. It disappeared into the bush, and we could just see it from time to time looking out from behind the branches.

Garden Warbler – probably a migrant fresh-in overnight

The breeding warblers are now back in numbers. As we walked on along the path, a Common Whitethroat flew up into the top of a bush, singing . A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling a little further up, in the hedge across the road, and we could see it moving around in the blackthorn. A Willow Warbler was nearby too. A couple of Long-tailed Tits flitted past. When we heard Lesser Redpoll calling, we looked over to see a party of four flying west, more migrants on the move this morning.

Common Swifts have been passing through in the last few days and from the path we could see several distantly over the reedbed. As we stopped to look at them, a Great White Egret flew over too, big and white with long black legs and feet and a dark bill. In breeding condition, a Great White Egret‘s bill darkens so is no longer the long yellow-orange dagger it is otherwise, a pitfall for the unwary. It dropped down somewhere beyond Bishop Hide out of view.

Great White Egret – and Common Swift over the reedbed

From up on East Bank, we could see a steady passage of Swallows going west. More Swifts and lots of Sand Martins were hawking out over the marshes.

Looking out across the grazing marshes, a large white shape distantly behind the Serpentine was a Spoonbill. It was busy feeding, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round in the shallow pools. Then suddenly it walked up out of the water and took off, flying off west over the path and away over the reeds.

Spoonbill – flew off west

We could hear a Yellow Wagtail singing and eventually found it feeding amongst the clumps of grass, a very smart canary yellow male. There were obviously others on the move today, and when we heard one call we looked across to see a female Yellow Wagtail drop in with a Pied Wagtail up by the Serpentine. A female Wheatear was running around out on the grass too.

Then a smart male Blue-headed Wagtail appeared nearby, with a grey blue head and prominent pale supercilium. The heads of yellow wagtails vary across Europe, with the British Yellow Wagtail having a yellow head and those from across central continental Europe and southern Scandinavia having blue-grey heads, so this one was probably on its way there from its wintering grounds Africa. It flew up and landed amongst the cows much further back, where we lost sight of it behind one cow lying down.

There were fluffy Lapwing chicks down in the grass along with their parents along with several Redshanks. Both those species breed here, but the two Whimbrel feeding in the grass are migrants stopping off to refuel. A lone Black-tailed Godwit on the Serpentine looked like it might be a young bird which will not migrate up to its breeding grounds in Iceland this year.

Duck numbers have thinned out significantly over the last few days, as many are now heading off back to northern Europe after having spent the winter here. A pair of Barnacle Geese were in with the Greylags and Canada Geese, presumably feral birds rather than genuine wild Arctic breeders.

Barnacle Geese – the first pair, behind the Serpentine

There were more waders out on Arnold’s Marsh – a smattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers, several Curlew over on the saltmarsh in one corner, a smart Grey Plover with summer black face and belly and two Bar-tailed Godwits over the back.

Continuing on to the beach, we had a quick look out to sea. There were several Sandwich Terns flying past, along with a single distant Little Tern, and an even more distant Gannet out towards the horizon. But the sea is fairly quiet at this time of year, so we didn’t linger and set off to walk back. A couple more Sandwich Terns flew in over Arnold’s Marsh as we passed, so we could see their yellow-tipped black bills.

Sandwich Tern – flew over Arnold’s Marsh

Somebody who had come out to see the Blue-headed Wagtail we had seen earlier had now found two Grey-headed Wagtails which had dropped in too, so we headed back to see if we could see those too. We just got back in time to see them running around on the grass amongst he cows, before all the wagtails took off and we watched as all six flew off strongly west. It was proving to be a really good day for yellow wagtails! Grey-headed Wagtails breed in northern Scandinavia, a scarce migrant through here and our third yellow wagtail subspecies of the day.

Now we heard a report that a Golden Oriole had been seen flying west past Muckleburgh Hill, just a couple of miles east of us and heading our way. There had been several Golden Orioles seen further east in NE Norfolk too this morning, but none this far west. Still we scanned the sky just in case and after just a few minutes we picked the Golden Oriole up flying over the back of Snipe’s Marsh, presumably having come over the back of Walsey Hills. Unfortunately it was only in view for a few seconds before it disappeared round the back of North Foreland wood. We scanned the other side in case it came out there but it looked like it might have dropped in.

We decided to wait for a bit in case it came out again. An Iceland Gull was reported flying west past Salthouse now, and we managed to see it very distantly before it dropped down out of view, into the fields way off east from us. The Visitor Centre was on the line the Golden Oriole was flying, so we decided to walk back for an early lunch and keep our eyes peeled in case it came out in our direction, but it wasn’t seen again so may have slipped out the back. A male Marsh Harrier circled over as we walked back.

After lunch, we set off back along The Skirts path, past the East Bank and down Attenborough Walk. We stopped to scan through the gulls gathered on Pope’s Marsh, but the Iceland Gull obviously hadn’t decided to join them today. There were now two pairs of Barnacle Geese out on the grazing marsh. We were hoping to find a Whinchat, but just past the gate to Babcock Hide we found a pair of Stonechats instead.

Stonechat – the male

We turned onto Iron Road and walked up to scan the pool. It appeared to be empty at first, but looking more carefully we found several small waders lurking round the edges – two Little Ringed Plovers, and three different Common Sandpipers. An Egyptian Goose was lying down in the grass beyond.

Common Sandpiper – one of three at Iron Road

Continuing on to the bridge over the main drain, we found two female Wheatears on the dry mud on the edge of the channel. It was the wrong time of day really, so perhaps no surprise that there was no sign of any Short-eared Owls here now.

After walking back to the car park, we travelled in convoy on to Wells for the rest of the afternoon. Scanning the pools from the parking area, we could see a couple of Brent Geese out on the grass and two of three Teal on the water, our first of the day. There were lots of Lapwings, with several fluffy juveniles, and a few Redshanks here too.

Walking a short distance down the track, we quickly located one of the Jack Snipe which have been lingering here, on the pool east of the track. It was right out in the open, on the bare mud between the clumps of rushes, probably the best views of it we have had here in the last few weeks. It was busy feeding, probing in the mud. We could see its comparatively short bill and bright golden mantle stripes. Then suddenly something spooked it and it ran back into the rushes out of view.

Jack Snipe – showing very well today

There were several Common Sandpipers here again today, at least four, and two Wood Sandpipers east of the track too, all migrants stopping off to refuel here on their journeys north to breed. Through the scopes, we could see the Wood Sandpipers’ spangled backs and pale superciliums, a little larger, longer legged and longer necked than the Common Sandpipers. Another Wood Sandpiper called behind us and we turned to see it emerging from the thicker clumps of rushes on the pool west of the track.

Wood Sandpiper – one of three here today

There was another Yellow Wagtail here this afternoon, another bright yellow male – they really were an ever-present theme today. This one was quite close to the track, feeding on the mud, at least when it wasn’t being chased off by one of the Lapwings. It obviously thought the Yellow Wagtail posed a grave threat to its young, which were feeding on the edge of the rushes nearby. Lapwings are obviously not the brightest of parents!

Yellow Wagtail – a smart male by the track

Continuing on round to the west pool, the bushes were quiet today, although it was mid afternoon now and the wind had picked up quite a bit. We had a quick scan of the pool from the low bank. There were lots of Avocets on nests on the island, and more Lapwings, but we couldn’t see any other waders on here today. A Brown Hare ran straight towards us along the grass verge on the edge of the pool until it realised we were standing there, froze looking at us for a few seconds, and ran off back the way it had come.

Unfortunately after an action-packed day full of spring migrants it was time to call it a day and head back now.

3rd May 2021 – More Warblers & Waders

Another Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright but mostly cloudy morning, with rain and an increasingly blustery wind spreading in during the afternoon. As ever, we made the most of the dry weather and still managed to see some very good birds as the weather deteriorated.

We started the day at Cley. We could hear the Grasshopper Warbler today from the car park as soon as we got out of the minibus, so we made our way straight over the road. A couple of people were watching it, reeling away in the back of a bush, but it was partly obscured. When it dropped down through the bush and started reeling again from the other side, we had a slightly better view.

Then suddenly the Grasshopper Warbler took off and flew down over the reeds parallel with the path, landing in some low vegetation, where it started reeling again. It was a great view now, just a few metres from the path, perched up in full view on a curl of brambles.

Grasshopper Warbler – still showing well

A Lesser Whitethroat was singing back in the hedge by the car park now. We decided to move on and walked on down along The Skirts path. There were several Sedge Warblers and one or two Reed Warblers singing along here, but neither were particularly easy to see today. A Marsh Harrier circled over the reeds and a Lesser Redpoll flew low overhead calling and disappeared off west.

A Common Whitethroat was singing ahead of us in the bushes by the path and perched up nicely in the top of one. Another male was singing further up. We realised why – a female was there too – and one of the males obviously encroached of the other’s territory resulting in the two of them chasing round after each other.

Common Whitethroat – one of two rival males on The Skirts

Continuing on up onto the East Bank, we could see at least two families of tiny Lapwing chicks still on the grazing marshes. There were Redshanks displaying too, and several Avocets at the back on Pope’s Pool.

We heard our first Yellow Wagtails calling and looked over to see at least five around the feet of the cows, including a couple of smart canary yellow males. They were very mobile, flying round a couple of times, before they were off, carrying on west. But all the time there were more dropping in – it was to be a real theme of the morning, with lots of Yellow Wagtails on the move.

It was breezier today and the ducks were tucked down in the grass. We could still see several Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Shelduck, but it took a bit more scanning to find one or two drake Wigeon too.

Being a bit windier, it didn’t feel like a day for Bearded Tits, which was one species on the wish list. But when we heard one calling, we looked down to see a smart male climbing up the reeds on the far side of the ditch just below the path. It perched out in the open for a few seconds on the outside edge of the reeds, giving us a very good view of its powder grey head and black moustache (not really a beard!), before it flew back along the ditch. A second bird, a female was calling nearby too, and flew past after it. The two of them disappeared deeper in to the reeds. We got good views of several Sedge Warblers along here too.

Sedge Warbler – lots around in the reeds now

A pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled over calling and two Sandwich Terns flew west over the brackish pools. There had apparently been a Curlew Sandpiper with the Dunlin on Arnold’s Marsh earlier. Some of the Dunlin were now asleep in the vegetation on one of the islands on the brackish pool, but looking through we could see it was not with them. Dunlin numbers were down compared to yesterday, so some had probably gone off elsewhere. A small flock of Knot flew in and landed on the edge of the island. Mostly in grey non-breeding plumage, one was just starting to get patchy orange-red underparts. The two drake Pintail were still out on the water, upending.

Turning our attention to Arnold’s Marsh now, we could see only three Dunlin on here now. There were also three Bar-tailed Godwits, and several Ringed Plover. As we started to make our way back, a Whimbrel flew west behind us.

Two more Yellow Wagtails had dropped in with cows, and we heard more calling overhead. A Little Grebe was now on Don’s Pool, along with a female Common Pochard, both of which will probably breed here.

Common Pochard – a female on Don’s Pool

On the walk back along The Skirts, we could see at least one Marsh Harrier again. Several Common Swifts were hawking for insects low over North Scrape. A Greenfinch flew overhead calling.

A Grey-headed Wagtail had dropped in just along the coast at Kelling earlier this morning and had lingered for the last couple of hours. We got a message to stay that it was still there now, so we thought we would go over to try to see it. But as we had seen, the wagtails were very actively on the move this morning, so by the time we got there it was perhaps no surprise that it had finally decided to fly off.

We did see a Blackcap in the lane, and a Chiffchaff was singing down by the copse. There were a couple of Common Whitethroats and lots of Linnets in the bushes around the Water Meadow pool. A quick look at the pool itself produced a Common Sandpiper and a Stock Dove (a species we had only just talked about needing to see!). We decided we would be better to try out luck elsewhere, so we started to walk back. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling in the bushes in the field nearby, and we could see it moving around in the top of a low hawthorn.

We drove back west inland and stopped just before we got to Wells. We scanned the pools from the parking area – two Brent Geese were out on the grass in front of the pool west of the track. A moulting male Ruff was feeding on the edge of the water, just starting to get part of its barred grey ruff now. Two Little Ringed Plovers were further back.

A short way down the track, we had a better view of one of the Little Ringed Plovers, with its golden eye ring clear now. Then we noticed a small snipe with a distinctive bobbing action in amongst the clumps of rushes close to the track, a Jack Snipe. We had a great view of it as it fed around the base of the rushes, its golden mantle stripes contrasting with its dark upperparts.

Jack Snipe – bobbing up and down in the rushes

We could see a dark cloud approaching from the west, so we walked back to the minibus for lunch under the shelter of the tailgate, while we waited for the shower to pass over.

Two Grey Partridges were in the field opposite. A lone Egyptian Goose was over the back with the Greylags but walked up to the front on its own. Two Common Swifts flew in low over the east pool and right over us, disappearing on west into the drizzle.

Common Swift – one of two which flew past over lunch

After lunch, once the shower had cleared through, we set off back down the track. There were two Yellow Wagtails now, bright yellow males again in the rushes close to the path just to the east, before they flew out to the islands in the middle.

There were more hirundines now, after the rain, hawking low over the pools, and there were several House Martins with them now. A male Marsh Harrier was hanging in the air over the bushes beyond in the wind, which was starting to pick up.

Marsh Harrier – a pale male over the bushes

We carried on round to take a look at the western pool. There were lots of Avocets down in the grass and lots of Swallows flying round low over the water, but we couldn’t see anything more interesting. We climbed up onto the seawall for a better look. It was windy up here, but looking out over the saltmarsh towards the harbour we could see a Common Tern patrolling up and down one of the main channels. We carried on up to the corner for a closer look, and could see another three Common Terns further back.

A distant Spoonbill was feeding out on the saltmarsh. One or two Whimbrel were a bit closer, down in the vegetation. Two adult Common Gulls flew past calling. Then a Hobby whipped through overhead, disappearing off into the allotments at Wells, presumably a fresh migrant on its way back for the summer.

We had been lucky with a dry interlude, but we could see more dark clouds approaching so we set off to walk back. The Common Gulls were now on one of the pools, with all the Black-headed Gulls. The two male Yellow Wagtails were back by the track, in the rushes on the other side now, and had been joined by a female.

Yellow Wagtail – three were feeding close to the track

It started to rain again, so we headed back to the minibus. We hoped we might drive through it, but it still looked rather grey out to the west when we arrived at Burnham Overy. It was only spitting with rain though as we set off down the track, even if it was getting noticeably windier now.

At least 22 Whimbrel were feeding out on the grass from the gate by the stile, with 2 Curlew in with them providing a good comparison, noticeably bigger and longer-billed. There was no sign of any Ring Ouzels now though in the fields either side – presumably they had retreated to the hedges.

Whimbrel – some of the 22 on the grazing marshes

A little further along, we picked up two injured Pink-footed Geese still out on the grazing marsh, unable to fly north for the summer. Several Common Pochard were on the small pools over by the reeds. We carried on along the track to the seawall. The Sedge Warblers along here were unusually quiet due to the deteriorating weather, with just one singing rather half-heartedly.

Up on the seawall, there was an impressive gathering or hundreds of Swallows over the reedbed and pool. Migrants on their way west, they were presumably finding food and would have a place to roost in the reeds.

Looking out across the saltmarsh, we could see a distant Little Tern over the main harbour channel, so we walked down the seawall to the corner for a closer look. There were three Little Terns here now, flying up and down over the water, stopping to hover and then plunging in to the channel. One of them caught a fish, and the three of them chased up high calling.

There were Avocets and Redshanks on the mud, but from the corner we could see two Grey Plovers on the edge of the harbour channel too, one in breeding plumage with black face and belly. One or two Spoonbills were still flying back and forth.

Spoonbill – flying over the harbour in the rain

It was cold and windy up here and starting to rain harder now. As we walked back to the track, we could see a Great White Egret flying across beyond the reeds and landing in the distance out on the grazing marsh.

With the deteriorating weather, we decided we would try something that didn’t require walking, rather than finish early. So we drove over to Choseley to look for the Dotterel which had been reported there earlier. We started scanning from the top of the field. We were only part way down when we noticed a flock of Golden Plover flying in and they landed behind us, out of view. A couple of Red legged Partridges were easy to see, but it was a big field with lots of places to hide a lone Dotterel in the rain, lots of dips and dead ground, so it would take quite a bit of time to search the whole field.

We messaged someone we knew who had been here earlier, and they told us where the Dotterel was when they saw it, much further along nearer the far end of the field, so drove down to focus our efforts there. Once we knew exactly where to look, it didn’t take long to find the Dotterel now. It was actively moving round the stony field, running a short distance then stopping, extremely hard to see when it stopped still.

Dotterel – just the one here today

Dotterel are just passage migrants through here, stopping off in traditional fields on their way north each spring, between their wintering grounds in North Africa and Scandinavia where they will breed. Having enjoyed good views of the Dotterel, we drove back up to the top of the field for a quick look at the flock of Golden Plover, several resplendent now in breeding plumage with black faces and bellies (rather like their grey-spangled cousin we had seen at Burnham Overy earlier).

The Dotterel was a great way to wrap up a successful day’s spring birding, so we headed for home happy.

2nd May 2021 – Warblers & Waders

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a bright morning, cloudier in the afternoon, but the weather gods were kind to us and the showers held off until after we had finished. Still feeling rather cool for the time of year, in the brisk N breeze.

Our destination for the morning was Cley. With the hides still closed for the foreseeable future, we set the scope up in the picnic area to scan Pat’s Pool first. Out on the islands, we could see plenty of Avocets, a couple of Black-tailed Godwits and a single moulting male Ruff. A Marsh Harrier circled out over the reedbed beyond and there were at least three Common Swifts zooming back and forth over the hides, along with a selection of Swallows, House Martins & Sand Martins.

We couldn’t hear the Grasshopper Warbler from up in the picnic area this morning, so we walked across the road to The Skirts path to see if we could find it. Several Sedge Warblers and a Reed Warbler were singing in the reeds and Little Egrets were flying back and forth.

We walked a short way up along the path and now we could hear the Grasshopper Warbler reeling ahead of us. It sounded distant at first so we carried on, then realised we had walked past and it was now behind us. It was reeling quite quietly, and we managed to locate it very low down in the nettles and reeds close to the path. It perched nicely where we could see it and we had a very good view just a few metres away.

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling by the path again this morning

The Grasshopper Warbler stopped reeling and crawled down into the vegetation out of sight. When it came up again it was a bit further back, and it reeled again briefly from low in the reeds. Then it disappeared further back still, out of sight. We walked on, but we could still hear it reeling on and off behind us.

There were more Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers along here – the former easy to see, but the latter typically keeping well down out of view. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the blackthorn across the road and a Common Whitethroat sang from the top of hedge above.

Sedge Warbler – singing along The Skirts path

Up onto the East Bank, we noticed we had just missed a message about a White-tailed Eagle over the reserve. We scanned the sky, but there was no sign now – apparently it had gone through very quickly. Three Common Buzzards were circling very high above us. A Little Grebe was down on Don’s Pool, below the bank.

There were a couple of families of Lapwings, each with three small, fluffy chicks – little more than balls of fluff on legs. We heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked over to see it land briefly among the cows, a smart canary yellow male. It didn’t stay long, but took off and carried on its way west. Yellow Wagtails used to breed along the coast here, but these days are just passage migrants.

Lapwing chick – a ball of fluff on legs

Further up, we stopped again to scan the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There was a good selection of ducks still, including several Wigeon and Teal, plus a scattering of Shoveler and Gadwall. We got a drake Gadwall in the scope to admire the complexity of its delicate patterning.

There were more Lapwings displaying here, along with several Redshanks, and two distant Bar-tailed Godwits in the longer grass further back. The islands on Pope’s Pool were adorned with the usual selection of loafing immature Great Black-backed Gulls and Cormorants.

There were lots more Sedge Warblers on the edge of the reedbed from the East Bank, and finally a Reed Warbler put in a brief appearance too. There were several Meadow Pipits in the grass and a steady passage of hirundines over, mainly Swallows and a few House Martins.

Up at the brackish pools, a Little Egret was feeding close to the path. A couple of smart drake Pintail were upending out on the water further back, showing off their long, pin-shaped tails. There were lots of Dunlin roosting around the edges of the islands on here too.

Over the other side of the path, there were more Dunlin on Arnold’s Marsh and several Ringed Plovers with them. A Turnstone dropped in on the shingle islands. Further back, we could see several more Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlews.

We had heard two Mediterranean Gulls calling as we walked up and they had appeared to drop towards the brackish pools, but there was no sign of them with the Black-headed Gulls here now. But when we heard more Mediterranean Gulls calling, we looked up to see four smart black-hooded adults flying in straight towards us. They came right overhead, their white wingtips translucent against the blue sky.

Mediterranean Gulls – these four smart adults came right overhead

Continuing on to the beach, there were quite a few Sandwich Terns flying back and forth, with some quite close in today. We could even see the yellow tip to the long, black bill on one of them. A Great Crested Grebe in breeding plumage was more of a surprise – they do spend the winter on the sea here, but are less common offshore at this time of year.

As we walked back along the East Bank, we heard a Bearded Tit calling, and looked down to see a female briefly on the edge of the ditch below the bank. It flew up, and out over the reedbed, its long tail dipping behind it, before dropping deeper in. Two more Yellow Wagtails, this time females, were out among the cows now – a miracle they don’t get trodden on as they look for insects around the cow’s feet and noses.

Back along The Skirts path, two Marsh Harriers were displaying over the reedbed, the female towering up high, the male twisting and turning below before diving down into the reeds. A Common Buzzard came low overhead.

Common Buzzard – came over The Skirts

We went back to the Visitor Centre to make use of the facilities, and then decided on an early lunch out on the picnic tables in the sunshine. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing its rattling song just across the road, and when it flew over to the brambles in front of us, we could see it had been bathing and was still drying out.

After lunch, we drove west to Wells. We scanned the pools from the parking area first. We could see several Little Ringed Plovers and a moulting male Ruff on the pool west of the track. Two Brent Geese were out on the grass and more Lapwing chicks were hiding in there too.

As we walked down the track, we could see a Common Snipe in the rushes on the pool to the east. Stopping to scan, we found one of the lingering Jack Snipe too, in the rushes a bit further out. Smaller, shorter-billed, and with a different head pattern, lacking a central crown stripe compared to its commoner cousin. A very distant Common Sandpiper flew across and landed on the edge of the water over in the very furthest corner. A Grey Heron was lurking in the rushes close to the track, presumably eyeing up the ducklings and Lapwing chicks.

Grey Heron – lurking in the rushes

As we walked through the bushes beyond, a Sparrowhawk zipped through and a Red Kite drifted overhead. A Whimbrel flew over the seawall, heading out towards the harbour beyond. Scanning the western pool from the low bank, we could see another Common Sandpiper and another moulting male Ruff, before they were chased off by one of the Lapwings.

We climbed up onto the seawall for a better view. There were lots of Avocets nesting on the island, and more feeding on the saltmarsh the other side of the seawall. Three Avocets were having a disagreement on the mud, two were obviously a pair and engaged in some synchronised jumping between chasing after the third bird together. There were several Oystercatchers on the mud too.

Avocets – arguing on the mud

We could see a distant Spoonbill further out on the saltmarsh, although once it dropped down into one of the muddy channels to feed we could then just see its head and neck occasionally when it looked up. There were more Brent Geese out here too.

A male Marsh Harrier drifted in over the bushes and we could see it had something in its talons. The female circled up with it and we expected to see a food pass. But the male dropped down and landed in the grass and the female drifted off over the fields beyond. The male took off again and flew out over the fields too, and it was looking as if it wasn’t going to share what it was carrying until finally the female came close again and the male dropped its prey for the female to catch.

On our way back to the car park, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes. A Spoonbill was now on the pool west of the track, a much better view than the one we had seen earlier, we could see the yellow tip to its black bill, its shaggy nuchal crest and the mustard yellow wash on its breast.

Spoonbill – on one of the pools on our way back

Our final destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Burnham Overy, hoping to catch up with some Ring Ouzels which had been here for the last few days. As we walked down the track towards the grazing marshes, we could hear a Common Whitethroat singing and a couple of Long-tailed Tits were in the hedge beyond.

A couple of Red-legged Partridges ran out from the grassy margin into the cultivated field on the way down. Beyond the stile, we stopped to scan the grazing marshes and the first thing we noticed were a pair of Grey Partridges trying to hide out on the short grass, looking rather like a couple of large clods of earth.

Grey Partridges – a pair on the grazing marshes

While we were looking at the Grey Partridges, we realised the Ring Ouzels were further back in the same field, just over a ridge and largely out of view. They were only briefly visible to the taller members of the group, before disappearing altogether into the dip in the ground. From further up along the track, we could look back and had a better view of the dead ground. Now we could see there were three Ring Ouzels, two males with bright white gorgets, and a duller browner female.

Ring Ouzel – one of the white-gorgetted males

There were quite a few geese out on the grazing marshes, mainly Greylags, but looking through them carefully we found one lingering Pink-footed Goose. With most of the other Pinkfeet having long since flown back north on their way to Iceland for the breeding season, a few birds which were shot and winged during wildfowling here are largely unable to fly and will have to remain.

Three grey-backed White Wagtails were round the small pools further along by the track, and there were a few Skylark out on the short grass. On the other side, we could see a female Pochard and a Little Grebe. A nice close Little Ringed Plover here meant we could see its distinctive golden-yellow eyering through the scope.

We continued on and just up onto the seawall. The tide was low now, and we could only see the regular Avocets and Redshanks in the harbour. It was cold up here in the wind now and with our day almost at an end anyway, we set off back. A flock of at least 21 Whimbrel in the grassy fields by the stile now was a nice way to finish the day.

27th April 2021 – Spring on the Coast

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a cloudy but bright morning, with lighter easterly winds than of late, and although the cloud thickened and it started spitting for a time in the afternoon, thankfully the worst of the rain held off until after we were finished.

We started at Cley. Before we even got out of the car park, we could already hear the Grasshopper Warbler reeling and as we crossed the road we could see it perched on a curl of brambles in the reeds by the path. We stood and watched it for a while. It was amazingly obliging, perching up in full view just a couple of metres from the path. Olive-brown above, streaked with black, this Grasshopper Warbler is particularly bright lemon yellow below, its long undertail coverts with black arrowhead marks. Fantastic views at close quarters, which really allowed us to appreciate the finer details.

Grasshopper Warbler – amazingly obliging performance

Occasionally it would drop down to the ground to feed, disappearing in the tangled vegetation, but after a short while it would reappear again and start reeling once more. Reeling is the name for the some of Grasshopper Warblers, if you can call it a song. It sounds more like a cricket, a mechanical repetitive clicking. It was amazing how long it could sustain a burst of reeling, the volume rising and falling as it turned its head from side to side.

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling continually

There were other things to see as we stood transfixed by the Grasshopper Warbler. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reeds. A Little Ringed Plover flew over calling and dropped down towards the car park. A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing too, one repeatedly song-flighting up from the reeds, and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted a few times from further up.

Marsh Harrier – circling over the reeds

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the Grasshopper Warbler. One of the aims for today was to have a bit of scope tuition – a new purchase needed setting up and some advice in getting used to using it. So we walked back to the car park and got everything out, setting up the scopes in the picnic area and starting with a scan of Pat’s Pool. We could see lots of Avocets, a few Black-tailed Godwits and a single Ruff around the water. A couple of Great White Egrets were chasing each other around, out in the middle of the reedbed, flying up and around. One or two Bearded Tits zoomed past over the reeds.

Great White Egret – one of two chasing round in the reedbed

There seemed to be more warblers around the car park this morning. A Blackcap was singing from the hedge by the road, but a second male was flitting around the edge of the picnic area at the same time. Likewise, a Common Whitethroat was singing from the brambles and we watched another flitting around in the alexanders on the bank below the Visitor Centre. A Willow Warbler sang briefly too, somewhere around the houses further along.

The theme continued as we made our way east along The Skirts path, past the Grasshopper Warbler which was still reeling away. There were lots of warblers in the bushes beside the road, another two or three Willow Warblers, a couple of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats. It felt like there had been a small arrival this morning. We heard several Reed Warblers singing – more seem to have arrived here in the last few days, but they remained hidden down in the reeds. Some of the Sedge Warblers were more obliging, perching up in full view as they sang.

Sedge Warbler – there are lots in and busy singing now

There had been a couple of Swifts earlier, over the East Bank, and we had seen a big flock of hirundines hawking over the front of Walsey Hills as we walked that way, but by the time we got there, they had all disappeared. We set off up the East Bank and stopped to look out over Pope’s Pool with the scopes. There were still lots of ducks here, Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon, plus some smart Gadwall. A pair of Common Pochard flew past. As well as the breeding Redshank and Lapwing down in the grass, we found a single Bar-tailed Godwit out here too.

A Spoonbill was feeding in one of the wet channels down in the grass, mostly hidden from view until it broke off and lifted its head. Eventually it worked its way out of the channel into a pool nearer the bank, where we could get a better look at it. A smart adult, with yellow-tipped black bill, bushy nuchal crest, and mustard yellow wash across its breast.

Spoonbill – feeding in the wet channels off the East Bank

The hirundines had obviously drifted off east, as we could see some in the distance now, over the back of Arnold’s Marsh. As they gradually came closer, we could see a mixture of Swallows and Sand Martins, the latter presumably birds from the sand cliffs along the coast to the east. Scanning higher we spotted several Common Swifts with them, with their swept back wings and slim, cigar-shaped bodies. Our first Swifts of the year. Eventually we had some of them right above our heads, with other breaking off to continue on their way west.

Common Swift – our first of the year today

As we continued up along the bank, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked over to see two flying in over the grazing marsh. One continued on west, but the other appeared to drop down onto the Serpentine. We carried on to see if we could find it, but it took off again just as we walked up. It had obviously dropped in with a second Yellow Wagtail which was already on the ground, as we watched the two of them now flying off west.

We stopped again to look out over Arnold’s Marsh. There were several more Bar-tailed Godwits on here, some now fully in bright rusty breeding plumage. A little flock of Dunlin were flitting between the islands, and on the shingle spits on the edge of the water we could see several Ringed Plover and a very smart breeding-plumaged Turnstone, properly justifying its full name of ‘Ruddy Turnstone’ now, with the rich chestnut stripes in its upperparts.

We decided to have a quick look at the sea, but there didn’t appear to be much moving today – a couple of distant Sandwich Terns and we just caught the back end of two Red-breasted Mergansers disappearing off east. So we decided to head back. The Grasshopper Warbler was still reeling next to the path as we walked back to the car park, so we couldn’t resist stopping again for another listen. Bird of the day!

Grasshopper Warbler – still reeling by the path on our walk back

We drove west to Wells next. There were several Brown Hares in the fields as we parked. Scanning the pool to the west of the track first, we could see a couple of Little Ringed Plovers and a single moulting male Ruff out that side, along with all the breeding Lapwing and Redshank. A Common Sandpiper was right over the back of the pool the other side, with another Little Ringed Plover nearby.

Walking down the track, we continued to scan the pools. There had been a couple of Jack Snipe here earlier, feeding around the clumps of rushes, but we couldn’t find any sign of them now (they had presumably disappeared into the vegetation and gone to sleep, as Jack Snipe tend to do during the day!). We could still see several Common Snipe though.

Several of the pairs of Lapwing here already have young and we had a much better view of the tiny balls of fluff on long legs from the path. A flock of Whimbrel flew over and headed out towards the saltmarsh.

Lapwing – an adult with one of its tiny young

After a break for lunch in the car park, we carried on west. A couple of House Martins over the road at Holkham were our first this year. We were planning to spend the afternoon at Burnham Overy, but the weather had deteriorated now and it was rather cooler and greyer. Still, we set off down the track. There had been some Ring Ouzels first thing this morning, in the fields by the stile, but there was no sign of them here now. A Lesser Whitethroat was rattling from the hedge just beyond, another fresh (and slightly late) arrival.

Scanning the grazing marshes further up, we did find two Wheatears out on the grass, a very smart male and a browner female. A single Brent Goose in with the Greylags seemed to be having an identity crisis, and was calling loudly while the rest of the Brents flew round and settled out in the harbour. There were a few Tufted Ducks asleep by the reeds.

We had heard several Mediterranean Gulls on the walk out, and now we found one down on the grass which was quickly followed by a second, both smart adults with jet black hoods and bright red bills. Obviously a pair, we watched as they pecked at the grass and tapped each others’ bills. A pair of Little Grebes on one of the pools appeared to be building a nest platform.

Continuing on to the seawall, the tide was out in the harbour. There were a few waders on the mud, including a single Knot and a couple of Grey Plover, but they kept disappearing into the deep channels. We turned to scan the grazing marshes the other side and managed to pick out a distant pair of Barnacle Geese and a couple of Pink-footed Geese scattered in amongst all the Greylags.

Looking back towards the road, we could see a small flock of Starlings feeding down in the grass way off in the distance. As we scanned past them, another black bird dropped down from the hedge and we caught a flash of white on its breast. When it hopped out into view, we could see it was a Ring Ouzel. It was a long way over, but we could see what it was in the scope. A second Ring Ouzel dropped down onto the grass nearby and we thought there might be one or two more out of view- presumably the birds from this morning having moved further along the hedgerow where they couldn’t be seen from the track.

There were no reports of anything more exciting coming in from people out in the dunes, so we decided against walking out all that way with it starting to spit with rain now. As we made our way back along the track over the grazing marshes, a Yellow Wagtail flew over calling and dropped down by a pool at the back of the grass by the reeds. Through the scopes we could see it was a lovely canary-yellow male, feeding down on the grass with a Pied Wagtail.

There had been two Dotterel reported from Choseley earlier, so we decided to head over that way to see if we could see those. There were a few people already standing by the field when we arrived and they were able to quickly point us in the direction of the Dotterel. They were very hard to see at times, disappearing into dips and furrows in the rough ground, but we eventually got a good view of them in the scopes as they worked their way round the field a bit closer. We could see their bright white supercilia meeting in a ‘v’ on the back of the neck, the white breast band with orange below grading to dark brown on the belly.

Dotterel – one of two in the field today

Dotterel are migrants here, passing through on their way from the winter in North Africa to Scandinavia for the breeding season. They stop off at traditional sites in spring and Choseley is one of those places where they appear regularly in late April and May. Numbers vary from year to year and some years there can be very few, so it is always good to see them while you can!

The rain was threatening to get heavier now, so we decided to have a quick drive round the fields to see if we could find any other birds. A narrow strip of bare ground between a field of oilseed rape and a maize game cover crop along the margin had a couple of game feeders placed in it. Several Yellowhammers were flying in and out of the neighbouring hedge, dropping down to the feeders. A large flock of Chaffinches flew up into the hedge from the maize as we pulled up. But surprise find here, was a Chinese Water Deer – not the sort of place you would routinely expect to find one of these!

There was nothing in the hedge or on the wires by the drying barns. It was cool and windy now, with the rain starting. It was time to call it a day now anyway, so we turned round and headed for home.

17th April 2021 – A Socially Distanced Group Walk

A small group day tour with a socially distanced difference today. Rather than using the minibus, we met on site in the morning and walked out to explore the dunes. As there were only a few of us, we then travelled on in convoy in the afternoon to visit a couple of different places. The weather was good – sunshine and blue skies for most of the day, although the light NE breeze had a slight chill to it, coming in off the North Sea.

We met in a small car park looking out over the grazing marshes. A couple of Red-legged Partridges were out in the middle of the field behind us and Skylarks were singing in the blue sky. A Red Kite circled lazily over the field on the other side of the road. We could see a Great White Egret on the grazing marshes way off in the distance.

Heading down the track, a Chiffchaff was singing and a male Blackcap flicked up onto the top of the hedge ahead of us. At the bottom, looking through the gap in the hedge we could see a pair of Grey Partridges in the next field, the male standing upright, its orange face visible above the long grass. A distant Spoonbill flew high west, presumably heading out onto the saltmarsh to feed. We could hear Bullfinches calling in the hedge and a Song Thrush was feeding out on the grass.

Continuing on down the track, the blackthorn is in full flower now, but the Lesser Whitethroats are not in yet. They are late this year, a lot of migrants seem to be delayed by the persistent cool northerly airflow we have had for the last couple of weeks. Out on the grazing marsh opposite, we could see lots of Greylags and Linnets, several each of Avocets and Lapwings. At least the Sedge Warblers are in already and singing – one was belting out its song from a patch of briar next to the path.

Sedge Warbler – singing by the track

Cetti’s Warblers are resident here all year round, but they are always one of the most elusive of species, normally skulking deep in thick cover and heard more often than seen. So it was a surprise to see one perched up in the top of the brambles by the track today and even more of a surprise that it stayed there, out in full view, for several minutes.

Cetti’s Warbler – unusually showy today

We could hear a couple of Mediterranean Gulls calling, and picked up a young bird (in its 2nd calendar year) circling high over the grazing marshes. Around the pools, we could see a nice selection of lingering winter ducks – Teal, Shoveler, a few Wigeon still – plus a drake Common Pochard. A Little Grebe was swimming in the water. A Little Ringed Plover appeared on the mud with a couple of Avocets and we could see its golden yellow eye ring. When it flew round, we realised there were another two Little Ringed Plovers further back and there was a bit of territorial aggression.

Up on the seawall, the tide was in. A small group of waders was visible roosting on a small spit on the saltmarsh, amongst the vegetation. In with a couple of Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank, we picked out one paler grey Knot. A Grey Plover further out in the harbour flew across.

Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since left, back to Iceland for the breeding season. Most of the geese here in the summer are Greylags, but distantly beyond the reedbed pool and half hidden behind a line of reeds we could just see two smaller geese, with darker heads, two lingering Pinkfeet. One clearly had a very mangled wing, and probably both birds had been shot and winged and are now unable to make the long journey back to Iceland. The Brent Geese always linger longer and there were still quite a few out on the saltmarsh, although it won’t be long now before they too are off, back to Russia for them.

A Reed Bunting perched on top of a bush on the edge of the reedbed calling. A small group of five Golden Plover circled in the distance, dropping down in front of dunes. We walked on to the last corner of the seawall for a closer look. A couple of Lapwings were displaying overhead, always a great sight and sound at this time of year. A big female Sparrowhawk was feeding on a kill out on the grass.

When we got to the boardwalk, we turned east through the dunes. This is usually a good place for migrants and to see migration in progress, but it was disappointingly quiet. There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits but not much else today, not even any Wheatears in their favourite place or any hirundines on the move. The NE wind was obviously holding things back still. We continued on to the end of the pines and scanned out to sea. Two very distant Sandwich Terns were offshore. The view wasn’t bad too!

Dunes – a great view, looking out towards Holkham Beach

There were no obvious migrants in the bushes at the end of the dunes, so we stopped to scan the grazing marshes the other side. A small group of Curlews were feeding out in the grass and a slimmer, darker bird was nearby but obviously separate from them, doing its own thing. It was a lone Whimbrel, a passage migrant which passes through here in spring.

It would be more sheltered on the southern edge of the pines, so we carried on east along the path to see if there was anything fresh in along there. We heard another Sedge Warbler and a couple of Chiffchaffs singing. Then as we got almost to the crosstracks, we heard a Reed Warbler. It seemed to be close to a path in through the reeds, so we headed in to see if we could see it. It was keeping well down at first, but just as we were turning to leave it appeared in a low sallow bush. The first one we have seen or heard this year, a fresh arrival back from Africa just in the last day or two.

As we got back to the main path, we heard a Willow Warbler singing in the sallows ahead of us, and we could see it silhouetted against the sky. Having sung a perfectly normal Willow Warbler song several times, it then sang again and added some Chiffchaff song at the end. It is not unusual to find ‘mixed singers’ sometimes. A bona fide Chiffchaff was singing nearby and the Willow Warbler then set off after it, chasing it round and round, in and out of the bushes and all the way up into the pines beyond, which we haven’t seen them do before. Perhaps its mixed song was also leading to some species confusion!

Willow Warbler – an interesting ‘mixed singer’

All hides are still closed at the moment, but we walked on to Joe Jordan Hide and looked over the wall below. A Great White Egret flew in from the west, low over the pools out in the middle. It had a noticeably dark bill, not the usually bright yellow dagger, which they develop just in the breeding season, a pitfall for the unwary!

Two Spoonbills were already on the further pool when we arrived, busy bathing and preening. After a while, another Spoonbill dropped out of the trees onto the nearer pool and started feeding, sweeping its bill from side to side in the shallow water. We had a good view of it now, we could see its shaggy nuchal crest and, when it lifted its head, its yellow-tipped bill, both indicating it was an adult in breeding condition.

Spoonbill – a smart breeding adult

After a snack and a short rest, we set off to walk back. The Willow Warbler was singing again in the same place we had seen it earlier. We stopped to listen to it, hoping to hear more mixed singing, but at first all we got was the beautiful descending scale of pure Willow Warbler song. Eventually, it switched and we got several variations, of mixed chiffs and chaffs.

Back on the seawall, the two Pink-footed Geese were a little easier to see now. Another Great White Egret flew past, heading out across the grazing marshes, it too sporting an all dark bill with bright facial skin.

Great White Egret – flew past on our walk back

Back at the cars, it was time for a late lunch in the edge of the field, looking out across the grazing marshes, in the sunshine. Afterwards, we headed east along the coast road to Wells.

Scanning from the car park, we quickly picked out a Ruff on the closest pool, disappointingly grey and still not really showing any sign of acquiring breeding plumage. There were a couple of Common Snipe on here too.

At the back of the pool the other side of the track, a large white shape was another Spoonbill, standing preening. There were lots of gulls on here too and in among all the Black-headed Gulls, we picked out an immature Common Gull and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, their yellow legs catching the sun as they swam past. A male Marsh Harrier drifted over, flushing quite a few birds from the water and attracting the ire of the local Lapwings, which chased it over in our direction.

Marsh Harrier – chased towards the car park by the local Lapwings

Two wagtails dropped in by the cattle pens. They both had grey backs and sharply demarcated black crowns, although one was slightly patchy in the middle. One stopped to bask in the sun and we could see the grey of its back extending down between its wings. Two White Wagtails, the continental equivalent of our Pied Wagtail, stopping off on their way north.

We walked on down the track to the far corner and looked back across the pool to the east. It didn’t take long for the Grey Phalarope to appear in its favoured corner, swimming out from behind the rushes. Still in grey non-breeding plumage, it looked like a diminutive gull from a distance, grey and white and swimming around on the water. Through the scopes, we could see its black mask. These arctic-breeding waders normally spend the non-breeding season out at sea off W Africa, and are rare here in spring. After northerly gales a couple of weeks, several were blown in and have lingered along the coast.

Grey Phalarope – swimming around right in the far corner

We walked on through the bushes, which were rather quiet, a distinct lack of migrants and freshly arrived warblers here too, a recurring theme it seems today. We climbed up onto the small bank overlooking the western pool and scanned the margins. Another male Ruff was over the back, this one starting to moult into breeding plumage with extensively black patterned head and neck.

A Swallow zipped over and was joined by a second over the field beyond. Then two Sand Martins appeared with them. Had they just arrived or have they been lingering here, finding insects around the pools? Our first hirundines of the day, and a very welcome sign that spring migration is still happening, birds are getting through despite the cold airflow.

A small wader flew up from the middle of the densely vegetated island – a snipe, but rather small and with a shortish bill, a Jack Snipe! It landed before anyone could really get onto it and disappeared into the vegetation on the far edge. We scanned the place it had landed and after a few seconds a Common Snipe walked out. Surely we didn’t get that one wrong – the first bird definitely looked too small?

We climbed up onto the seawall, a little further away but we had a better view of the island from up here. We could see the Common Snipe again, and then we saw some movement in front of it and the Jack Snipe showed itself. A bit smaller, and significantly more secretive, the Jack Snipe could completely disappear in the low vegetation but at times we had a great view of the two snipe species side by side. As well as being smaller with a shorter bill, we could see the Jack Snipe‘s more contrasting golden mantle stripes and the different head pattern, lacking the Common Snipe‘s central crown stripe.

We still had a little bit of time to play with so we headed back to the cars and decided to move on for one last stop. Further east still, we parked by the quay at Morston. There had been a Ring Ouzel in the field by the car park, but it had been spooked by a flyover Red Kite before we arrived and flown into the hedge. There were still several Blackbirds and Song Thrushes out on the grass.

While we waited for it to arrive, we walked on to the harbour, where a Whimbrel had been feeding on the mud right down at the front. We arrived just in time to see it spooked by a photographer, but thankfully it landed on the saltmarsh behind. A little later, another one appeared on the mud on the far side of the channel. We could see its striped crown. A Greenshank was busy feeding in the channel a bit further along.

Whimbrel – feeding on the mud in the harbour channel

There was still no sign of the Ring Ouzel emerging from the hedge, but two more Ring Ouzels had been reported earlier, a little further along the coast path, in the horse paddocks. We walked down for a look, but we couldn’t see any there either. Then we received a message to say the Ring Ouzel was back out by the car park. We turned and could already see it distantly on the short grass, so we walked back for a better look.

Ring Ouzel – finally showed well in the field by the car park

The Ring Ouzel performed very well now, feeding on the grass. A smart male, like a Blackbird with a bright white gorget, pale silvery wing edges and scaly fringes below. Ring Ouzels are scarce passage migrants here, these ones probably on their way from their wintering grounds in the Atlas Mountains, up to Scandinavia for the breeding season. They are normally mountain or moorland birds, but stop off here in fields along the coast before heading out across the North Sea. One we had hoped to see today, and we managed to squeeze it in right at the last.

The Red Kite drifted over again and the Ring Ouzel flew back up into the hedge. It was time for us to call it a day and make our separate ways home.

14th Apr 2021 – Back to Work

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. After 6 months (to the day!) since our last tour, with everything in between cancelled due to COVID restrictions, it was very nice to be able to get back out again. The plan was to try to pick up some lingering winter visitors, as well as try to find some early spring migrants. It was mostly bright, with sunny intervals, cool in the morning particularly in the northerly breeze but warming up nicely in the afternoon, and with just a brief shower at lunchtime.

We started the day at Snettisham. Stopping by the entrance to the car park, a Barn Owl was hunting over the grass down along the inner seawall, flying across the road in front of us and disappearing off into the Coastal Park. A pair of Goldcrests were flitting around in some conifers by the pavement, the male singing and fluffing out its bright gold and flame-coloured crown feathers.

The fields either side of the road here can be good for Ring Ouzels at this time of year, but all we could find this morning were a couple of unringed Ouzels (also known as Blackbirds!). There were lots of Curlews feeding out on the grass too. We set off to walk up to the gate into the Coastal Park and a Greenfinch was singing and doing its fluttering song-flight over the garden of the nearby cottage. The sweet, descending scale of a Willow Warbler drifted out from the bushes. We could hear the distinctive call of Mediterranean Gulls too.

As we got to the gate, a couple with a rather lively dog were just ahead of us, the dog running in and out of the bushes either side of the path, significantly reducing our chances of seeing anything. We diverted up onto the outer seawall, and looked out across the Wash. We received a message to say that an Osprey had been seen over Ken Hill Marshes, just behind us, but had flown south. So we scanned across that way and picked up a large bird or prey way off in the distance, hovering slowly. Even through the scopes, it was right at the limit, too far to make out any detail, but as it broke off from hovering and turned, we could see it was very long-winged, a distinctive flight silhouette – the Osprey, but not the best views of one we have ever had!

The tide was in. Some more dogwalkers down along the beach further up flushed several Ringed Plovers as they walked along. There were lots of birds out on the water, but rather than seaduck they turned out to be several rafts of Teal and Wigeon, along with a small party of Cormorants and, further out, lots of large gulls.

Chaffinch – this very smart male perched up beside the path as we passed

As we dropped back down off the seawall and onto the path through the Coastal Park, a couple of Sedge Warblers were singing, and we eventually found one perched half way up a small bush in the reeds. There were lots of Chiffchaffs and one or two Blackcaps singing too, the early returning summer breeding warblers, although number of returning birds have probably been held up by the cold northerly winds over the last couple of weeks. A very smart male Chaffinch perched up on the top of a Hawthorn as we passed and there were lots of Linnets all the way up. We came across the Barn Owl again, hunting over the grassy area in the middle of the Coastal Park.

Linnet – a male; there were lots in the Coastal Park

There was a distinct lack of migrants moving overhead today, again a consequence of the northerly winds, but as we got up towards the crossbank, we heard a Yellow Wagtail calling and picked it up high in the sky approaching from the south. The first couple of calls sounded pretty conventional, but the next two or three had a distinctly rasping quality to them. Yellow Wagtails come in lots of different forms, and it would have been interesting to see this one on the ground, but unfortunately we watched as it flew off north into the distance.

Walking across to the inner seawall, we climbed up to the top and scanned the grass to the north of the crossbank. There were no cows out, which explained why the wagtail didn’t stop. The Barn Owl was out hunting here now. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and a couple of Skylarks, along with a pair of Grey Partridge. Two smaller, slimmer, shorter-billed birds in with a small group of Curlew were confirmed as two Whimbrel through the scope. They were a bit distant, but turning our attention across to Ken Hill Marshes the other side, we realised there was another Whimbrel on the grass just beyond the ditch. We had a really good view of the striped crown on this one.

There were lots of Avocets, Redshanks and Lapwings on the new pools. Scanning carefully, we found several Common Snipe around the vegetated islands too. There was a nice selection of wildfowl, lots of ducks including a single pair of Pintail. In with the commoner geese, we found a single Pink-footed Goose, its smaller size, dark head and more delicate and mostly dark bill distinguishing it from the nearby Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since left, although a few are still lingering, some having been shot and winged and unable to make the journey back to Iceland. Our first Marsh Harrier of the day was hunting out over the water.

Barn Owl – out hunting all the time we were in the Coastal Park

The Barn Owl seemed to be following us! It flew back south over the crossbank as we turned to head back along the inner seawall. Most of the way, it kept flying off ahead of us, before coming back again. Great to watch, but it must have been hungry to be out mid-morning, and we didn’t see it catch anything all the time it was in view. A single Swallow and a Sand Martin flew past, surprisingly the only hirundines we saw here this morning. Back to the minibus, another Grey Partridge was out with the Curlew now and a Sparrowhawk came in low from the direction of the marshes. There was still no sign of any Ring Ouzels in the paddocks though.

One request for this morning was to try to see some waders, and there is no better place than Snettisham for that! The tide was already going out fast by the time we got down to the pits and up on the seawall by the Wash. Looking out across the mud, we could see thousands of birds out here still, loads of Knot, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Redshank and Oystercatcher. A Grey Plover moulting into breeding plumage looked very smart with its black face and white-spangled upperparts. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the mouth of the channel, most already in their orange summer attire, feeding up before heading off to Iceland to breed. A similarly dressed Bar-tailed Godwit further up on the water’s edge was noticeably different, with the rusty colour extending right down under the tail.

Wash Waders – there were thousands of birds out on the mud still

Unlike many of the other waders, the Avocets don’t spend the winter here but there are already lots back. There was a liberal scattering across the mud all the way down to the hides. We just wanted to have a quick look at the southern pit today, which has been taken over by hundreds of breeding gulls. Scanning from the causeway, in amongst the more numerous Black-headed Gulls we found a few Mediterranean Gulls, with their more extensive jet black hoods and white wing tips, and a single Common Gull too.

Avocet – there are lots back already

We had lots we wanted to try to pack in today, so we moved on. A brief check of some paddocks at Hunstanton, where there had been Ring Ouzels a few days ago, failed to produce any here either. Rounding the corner of the coast, we drove into some dark clouds and a sharp shower. It had already stopped by the time we got to Holme, but it was now rather cool and cloudy and a couple of brief stops listening for Grasshopper Warblers drew a blank. We did manage to get a hot drink down at The Firs and stopped to eat our lunch. A young Peregrine flew through quickly towards Thornham before circling back more slowly a little later and five more lingering Pink-footed Geese were out on the grazing marshes.

Our next stop was at Titchwell. We wouldn’t have long here today, but we wanted to have a quick look at the Freshmarsh at least, so we headed straight out. As we got out of the trees on the main path, a Red Kite drifted out across the reedbed and another was hunting out over the dunes. A few Pied Wagtails were feeding out on the former pool on Thornham grazing marsh. The reedbed pool produced a few Tufted Ducks and Common Pochard, but a Little Grebe remained hidden in the reeds and we could only hear it laughing at us. There were still quite a few Brent Geese here, commuting between the Freshmarsh and the saltmarsh the other side of the west bank. In the next month or so, they will be off back up to Russia to breed.

Brent Geese – still here, commuting between the Freshmarsh and saltmarsh

We stopped on the bank by one of the benches to scan the Freshmarsh. Apart from several Avocets, there were no many waders on here. The water level is still quite high, and there is not much exposed mud. On the small area which has appeared in front of Parrinder Hide, we could see two Little Ringed Plovers which have returned already for the breeding season. With the hides closed, they were not particularly close but we could see their golden yellow eye-rings through the scopes.

Little Ringed Plovers – these two were out in front of the closed Parrinder Hide

The large, fenced off island has been taken over by gulls again, with several pairs of Mediterranean Gull in among the Black-headed Gulls. We were hoping to find some Sandwich Terns on the Freshmarsh, but there weren’t any now – there had been earlier, but presumably they had gone out to the sea. Some very smart Teal were feeding just below us, on the near edge of the water. A couple of the drakes were squabbling and the more aggressive displayed too, squashing itself up before throwing its head back. Sometimes, one or two may stay all summer but most will be moving on soon.

Teal – displaying just below the main path

A small falcon came in high over the Freshmarsh now, grey-brown and compact, a Merlin. It carried on across Volunteer Marsh and when it got out to the dunes it turned and disappeared off to the east. Another lingering winter visitor here. We decided to make a quick dash out to the beach to see if we could find a Sandwich Tern out there. A single Redshank was hiding in the channel at the front of Volunteer Marsh and there were a few Curlew in the wide channel at the far end. We couldn’t see anything of note on the Tidal Pool today.

The sea was quiet. After a couple of minutes scanning with the scopes, we did manage to pick up a Sandwich Tern flying past – mission accomplished! A single Great Crested Grebe still out on the sea was a nice bonus. Most of the waders were further up along the beach towards Thornham Point, and despite the shimmer we managed to pick out a few Sanderling in the haze. A couple of Turnstone flew in and landed on the mussel beds, along with a flock of Knot.

With time getting on now and a few more things to try to squeeze in to the itinerary this afternoon, we decided to head straight back. As we walked back past the reedbed, we could hear a Bittern booming out in the reeds.

Continuing on east along the coast road, we stopped past Burnham Overy at the top of Whincover. There had been four Ring Ouzels seen from the track earlier this morning, so we thought we would try our luck as we were passing. With no further reports since, it was probably no surprise we couldn’t find them where they had been and another lone Pink-footed Goose and a Little Grebe were the best we could find out on the grazing marshes.

We were just about to give up and head back when we received a message to say that three had been seen again somewhere nearby, although the location given didn’t make sense. We had an idea where they might mean and thankfully we guessed right – we were almost down the seawall towards Burnham Overy Staithe when a revised message come through with the right directions.

Scanning the field, we thought for a few minutes like our luck might be out again. We could see a couple of Blackbirds, two Mistle Thrushes and a Song Thrush, but no sign of any Ring Ouzels. They do have a habit of disappearing into cover when they are disturbed though, so we carried on down the seawall and kept looking. Thankfully it didn’t take too long until a smart male Ring Ouzel appeared on a fence post on the edge of the field. It dropped down onto the grass and started feeding, and through the scopes we had a good view of its bright white gorget and silvery-edged wings.

Ring Ouzel – we finally managed to catch up with this male

With another target in the bag, we set off back along the seawall towards Whincover. A Great White Egret was flying away from us across the grazing marshes – we could see that its bill was dark, rather than yellow, as the colour changes in the breeding season which can be a pitfall for the unwary. Back along the track across the grazing marshes, a Sedge Warbler was singing away in full view now in one of the briar clumps.

Sedge Warbler – singing from the briar patches by the track

Our last destination for the afternoon was going to be back at Wells, but on the way there we made a very brief stop. We had surprisingly failed to come across any Spoonbills on our travels so far, but now we could see several distantly in the trees and flying in and out. As it was, we needn’t have worried.

There was meant to be a Grey Phalarope on the pools at Wells, which we were hoping to see to end the day. It had apparently flown off at dawn but had thankfully reappeared after a couple of hours. We knew it was favouring the far side of the pool east of the track, right in the far corner and only visible from further down, but as we walked down the track towards there we met a couple looking through their scope the wrong way. They told us that the phalarope had apparently flown off again, across the pool west of the track, just a few minutes before we arrived. Our hearts sank – we were just too late! We stopped anyway and lifted our binoculars and the first thing we saw was the Grey Phalarope flying straight towards us! It came right over our heads, and then flew back to its favoured spot over in the far corner.

Grey Phalarope – flew right over our heads on its way back to its favoured corner

A large white shape over at the back of the pool to the east was another Spoonbill. Before we could get to the corner, it took off and flew straight towards us, passing over the track just behind us. A much better view than the ones we had seen on our brief stop on the way here.

Spoonbill – flew off over the track behind us

From the edge of the track at the far side of the pools, we set up our scopes again and looked back into the far corner. Sure enough, the Grey Phalarope was back in its favourite spot in the south-east corner of the eastern pool. It was swimming round in between several Avocets which were busily upending in the deep water, presumably stirring up the mud at the bottom and bringing food up for the phalarope to pick up.

It was a nice way to end the day, and it was now time to head for home. Despite the cool northerlies, we had succeeded in seeing a very selection of spring migrants, as well as picking up a good number of lingering winter visitors. It was great to be out again – hopefully we can now slowly get back to normal and resume a full programme of tours as planned in the coming months.

If you would like to come out birding in Norfolk, we are ready to go!

8th Oct 2020 – Four Autumn Days, Day 1

Day 1 of a four day Autumn Tour in Norfolk. It was mostly a rather grey, damp and breezy day, but the showers were well spaced and no more than very light drizzle and we managed to avoid the worst of them. And it didn’t stop us kicking the four days off in style with some good birds.

It was raining first thing, but it was expected to clear from the west. We decided to head over to Snettisham. It was not a big tide today, but perhaps it would be enough to push some waders in. As we made our way west, we saw several skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying inland from the grazing marshes where they had spent the night to feed. Flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws came up from the fields as we passed.

As we made our way out at Snettisham, we stopped for a quick scan of the sailing club pit. Two Little Grebes and two Great Crested Grebes were out on the water.

When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was still coming in. We could see a large roost of Oystercatchers gathered on the mud up by the sailing club. Several small groups of Golden Plover flew past us, out to the mud in the middle.

Knot – a Peregrine was stirring up the huge flocks

While we stood and scanned the Wash, the huge flocks of thousands of Knot came up from the mud further out and started swirling round over the water, twisting and turning, making different shapes. There had to be something spooking them and there was a young Peregrine chasing after them.

We watched as the Peregrine flew round through the flocks and it quickly managed to get one Knot separate from the rest. It chased after it, up and down, back and forth, for some time. The Peregrine looked like a juvenile, inexperienced, and did not seem to know how to catch its quarry at first. Eventually the Knot started to tire, flew down closer to the water and stopped changing direction so quickly. The Peregrine took its chance and grabbed it, then started to fly in towards the shore with the Knot in its talons.

The Peregrine had just got to the shore when we noticed a second one appeared, flying very low over the mud. It headed straight for the first and when it got close it swooped up. A Peregrine dogfight ensued, the new bird chased after the first for a minute, diving at it repeatedly.

Finally the first Peregrine dropped the dead Knot, which seemed to fall into the grass at the top of the beach, but strangely neither of them went down after it. Both seemed to lose interest and drifted off. One flew towards us along the shore, flushing all the Oystercatchers.

Oystercatchers – flushed by one of the Peregrines

We turned our attention back to the mud in front of us. The Golden Plover had flown off, presumably spooked by all the excitement, but the others slowly started to drift back in. Some of the Dunlin returned to the edge of the channel. We looked through but couldn’t find anything with them today, apart from one or two Sanderling. There were several Grey Plover scattered on the mud, and we got a Bar-tailed Godwit in the scopes.

The bulk of the Knot, the large flocks, settled back down again off in the distance, but a couple flew in and landed on the mud at the bottom of the bank just below us, giving us a closer view. A small group of Ringed Plovers were roosting among the rocks at the bottom of the bank.

There were quite a few Shelduck on the water, presumably lingering birds which had gathered here to moult. Groups of Teal and a few Mallard were scattered around on the mud. A small group of ducks in the shallows on the edge included several Pintail, much larger than the Teal they were with, the drakes still in their drab eclipse plumage.

Despite the weather, there were a few birds on the move today. Several small flocks of Starlings flew over the pits, heading south. A few Meadow Pipits flew past over the beach, one stopping briefly to feed around the rocks. A Rock Pipit flew past calling too.

It was high tide now and there didn’t seem to be much more movement of waders. The rain seemed to have cleared through, so we decided to move on. We headed round to Titchwell next today – given the weather, we had no problem parking today!

Through the new ‘Welcome Hub’, we headed straight out onto the main path. A quick scan through the trees out over the Thornham grazing marshes produced a couple of distant Common Buzzards on the bushes at the back.

Almost up to the junction with Meadow Trail, we heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call ahead of us. We hurried up after it, just as a tit flock came out of the sallows and across the path. We followed it up through the trees by the path, looking to see what was with. We found several Goldcrests and one or two Chiffchaff, but there was no further sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler, before the flock came back over the track and disappeared out into the bushes in the middle of the reedbed.

As we came out of the trees, a wisp of about a dozen Common Snipe flew overhead and out over the saltmarsh. We could see lines of Black-tailed Godwits flying up from the Freshmarsh and over the reedbed, heading inland to feed in the fields.

There was nothing on the Reedbed Pool today, but the channel just beyond did provide a Coot, a pair of Gadwall and a pair of Mute Swans. It started to drizzle now, so we hurried on to Island Hide and donned our face masks to find some welcome shelter.

There was still a sizeable flock of godwits out in the middle of the Freshmarsh, and through the scopes we could see they were a mixture of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits. Even though they were asleep, we could see the Bar-tailed Godwits were smaller, shorter, with paler upperparts contrastingly streaked with dark.

Four Avocets were sheltering behind the small brick island, the hardiest individuals who will try to stay here for the winter rather than heading off south like most of the others have already done. A large group of Ruff were in the shallow water over towards the reeds. Several Golden Plover were on the grassy island in front of Parrinder Hide, along with a single Dunlin.

Avocets – just four on the Freshmarsh today

There were lots of Teal, the drakes still mostly in drab eclipse plumage though one or two are starting to smarten up again new. One of the drake Shoveler was also more advanced in its moult back to breeding plumage, but the drake Gadwall and Mallard are already mostly moulted back out again. We couldn’t see any Wigeon on here today.

It had stopped raining now, so we headed back out to the main path and continued on towards the beach. The tide was in and the Volunteer Marsh was still covered with water. There were several Curlew and Redshank on the wet mud in the middle and we found a few Wigeon swimming on the channel at the far side.

Over the bank, we stopped to scan the Tidal Pool. It was rather grey and gloomy, but we managed to find two Spotted Redshanks today, asleep at the back, noticeably paler white below than the Common Redshanks. There were several Black-tailed Godwits and one or two Dunlin too. With more Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits and Turnstones roosting on the spit.

Spotted Redshanks – two were asleep on the back of the Tidal Pool

Out on the beach, the Wheatear was still feeding along the tideline. It worked its way off away to the east as we arrived, but a couple of minutes later then reappeared right in front of us. A great view – still very tame and obliging, it fed completely unconcerned at all the people here. A couple of Skylarks flew in and landed on the tideline further down too.

Wheatear – the very tame bird, still feeding on the high tide line

The tide was just starting to go out here, and there were not many waders on the shore. Looking out to sea, we could see a few Great Crested Grebe on the water. Several Gannets were flying past, white adults and dark juveniles, mostly distant but a couple came through a little closer. We ould see small groups of Common Scoter flying around right out on the horizon, in front of the wind turbines.

As we passed the Thornham grazing marsh reedbed, we heard Bearded Tits pinging. We looked across to see two fly up, skimming over the tops of the reeds before dropping straight back in. That would probably be the best we could hope for today, in the wind.

Back to the Visitor Centre, we turned out along Fen Trail. Along the boardwalk out towards Fen Hide, we stopped to watch a Goldcrest in the sallows. It was busy feeding right by the path, within a few feet of us and totally unconcerned by our presence, too close to focus optics on!

We had a quick look at the pool at Patsy’s Reedbed. There were just a few commoner ducks on here today, plus a few Coot and a Little Grebe, nothing else of any note. As we turned to walk back, several thousand Pink-footed Geese came up from the fields inland, before dropping back down again.

We made our way back round via Meadow Trail, but there was no sign of the tit flock or any warblers now. So we carried on back to the Visitor Centre for a hot drink and a break for lunch. A Brambling called from somewhere back in the trees while we ate.

After lunch, we headed back east. We drove into the drizzle again, and it was very misty looking out over the marshes as we passed Holkham. We turned inland at Wells and then down a minor road through the fields towards Wighton. Despite the weather, there were still a few cars already parked here.

We joined the small group of people on the edge of the field watching the Hoopoe down on the track just beyond the hedge. It was very close today, and we had great views as it fed, periodically pulling a tasty morsel out of the wet ground and throwing its head back to swallow it.

Hoopoe – still lingering in fields at Wighton

Widely distributed across the warmer parts of the continent in the summer, Hoopoes are migrants which mostly spend the winter in Africa, so this bird looked particularly out of place in a cold and damp October day in North Norfolk! They turn up fairly regularly in the UK, mostly as overshooting migrants in spring. There has been some debate about how long this Hoopoe has been here – there were a few records along the coast in spring and one was reported from Wighton back at the start of August.

We carried on east inland, along some narrow country lanes – the only sighting of note being a speeding white van coming the other way, which smashed into the wing mirror of the bus as it raced past. Very annoying! It didn’t stop, so we continued on our way.

We cut back down to the coast road at Salthouse and parked by the duckpond. It had stopped raining now, so we got out and looked across to a small pool in the middle of the grazing marshes. There had been a Red-necked Phalarope here for several days but there was no sign of it now at first. It can be hard to see if it gets tucked in around the edges, so we stood and watched. A Stock Dove flew over.

Four Shoveler swam back out into the middle and started to feed, heads down. The Red-necked Phalarope has often been feeding in amongst them, but it didn’t reappear straight away. We decided to walk out along the footpath across the marshes to try a different angle, but we hadn’t got far along the side of the main road when we looked back and saw a small white bird swimming along in front of the reeds, tucked in the corner.

We stopped and set up the scopes and there was the Red-necked Phalarope. It swam round in circles in front of the reeds, picking at the surface of the water for small invertebrates it stirred up. It gradually worked its way along the back edge of the pool and then swam out to join the Shoveler in the middles. The ducks are obviously doing a good job of stirring up the water themselves, and the Red-necked Phalarope is taking advantage to help it find food.

Red-necked Phalarope – feeding with the ducks at Salthouse

A juvenile, the Red-necked Phalarope has possibly come from Scandinavia. They normally spend the winter out at sea, the birds from there flying all the way down to the Arabian Sea, so it has a long journey ahead of it.

There was nothing of note with the gulls on the duckpond, nor with those loafing on the fields off Beach Road. A large group of Canada Geese were on the grass towards Gramborough Hill. So we headed back west and stopped again just before Wells.

As we got out of the minibus, a couple of Brown Hares were in the far corner of the field in front of the parking area. A Marsh Harrier flew over the field west of the track. We turned our attention to the pool the other side, where a large white bird by the bank at the back was a Great White Egret. Through the scopes, we could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill.

Great White Egret – at the back of one of the pools at Wells

There were lots of gulls flying back and forth over the recently harvested potato field beyond. Most were Black-headed Gulls but two noticeably smaller gulls were in with them. We could see their more rounded pale upperwings and contrasting blackish underwings, two Little Gulls.

There were lots of ducks but not many waders on the pool today and we couldn’t see the Little Stint at first. After a while scanning it appeared from behind the Wigeon, Teal, Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls on one of the grassy islands. It was so small it was easily hidden. It was rather distant, but we had a good view of it through the scope, short-billed with rather clean white underparts, we could see its ‘braces’, the distinctive pale mantle stripes shown by juvenile Little Stints.

It started to drizzle again now, so as time was already getting on we decided to call it a day. We had enjoyed a good start today, and there would be more to see tomorrow.