Tag Archives: Wheatear

29th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #2

Day 2 of a three day Summer Tour today. It was a beautifully bright and sunny morning, clouding over later on, but dry all day and not as windy as yesterday, a great day to be out. The plan for this morning was to go looking for birds of prey. With the good weather we set off full of optimism and a Kestrel on a telegraph post by the roadside was a nice start.

We parked up on the edge of a farm track, by a rough grass field. As we were unloading the car, one of the group asked “what’s that on the wires” and we looked over to see it was a juvenile Cuckoo perched on the wires across the field. We got it in the scope and had a look at it – a great bird to see, particularly in farmland these days, with the population having declined dramatically in recent years.

With the scope left on the Cuckoo for people to look at, we turned our attention back to unloading the car. The same member of the group then asked “what’s that next to the Cuckoo“. A second bird had appeared a little further along. We expected it to be the resident Kestrel which is often perched here, but were very surprised to look over and see a second juvenile Cuckoo on the wires.

Cuckoo 2Cuckoos – 2 juveniles together on the wires

Cuckoos and uncommon enough anyway, but it is very unusual to see two juveniles together, particularly these days. As the female Cuckoo lays just a single egg in the host’s nest, you don’t get multiple birds in a brood like other species. Perhaps a female Cuckoo earlier in the year had parasitised multiple nests in the immediate area earlier in the year and both juveniles had fledged at around the same time. Perhaps they had independently found a good feeding area. Whatever the reason, it was a great sight to see.

The Cuckoos periodically dropped down into the grass below, presumably looking for food, before flying back up to the wires. Eventually one flew off, back over the field. Then, while we were still marveling at the Cuckoos, a ghostly white shape appeared over the rough grass in front of us as a Barn Owl flew across. It landed on a post on the back, where we could get it in the scope.

Barn OwlBarn Owl – flew across in front of us and landed on a post

After a wet night last night, the Barn Owl was presumably still out hunting, probably trying to feed a growing brood. The Kestrel was on the top of a telegraph post nearby too. What a great start to the morning!

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from where we had parked and we walked up along the farm track to a suitable vantage point from which we could scan the surrounding countryside. It was warming up nicely now and several Common Buzzards circled up out of the trees. We could hear them calling.

There were several Skylarks up singing too now, or flying around over the stubble in front of us. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the nearby wood a couple of times, before flying over the field past us. A Yellow Wagtail called once, but we didn’t manage to pick it up.

A Brown Hare came running up the stubble field towards us. It was in a dip and stopped just short of the ridge, looking at us. It came a little closer and stopped again, so we could now see its head and shoulders. It was clearly nervous at our presence, and sat there watching us. Finally it decided it was too risky to come out in front of us and it turned and ran back down through the stubble.

Brown HareBrown Hare – watching us from the stubble

After a pleasant and successful hour watching the fields for raptors, we walked back to the car. A Marsh Harrier was now quartering the back of the rough grass field, a nice addition to the morning’s list of birds of prey.

Our next destination was Titchwell, so we cut in round via Choseley on the way there. There were lots of birds along the road, in and out of the hedges. We caught the back end of a couple of Yellowhammers and one of group asked if we could get a better look at one, so we decided to make a quick stop at the barns. There were lots more Brown Hares in the recently harvested fields and a few Red-legged Partridges too. We could hear a Yellowhammer singing, ‘a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeese’, and looked across to see a very smart male perched in the top of an oak tree, its bright yellow head glowing in the sun.

There were more birds along the road down to Titchwell. The hedges were clearly providing protection from the wind, creating a sheltered microclimate. Several juvenile Goldfinches were bathing in a puddle. We pulled up to look at a flock of birds on the tarmac and found three juvenile Yellow Wagtails in with a large group of Pied Wagtails, presumably finding lots of insects on the road.

Down at Titchwell, we had a quick look round the car parks first. A couple of Greenfinches flew out of an elder as we passed and a family of Reed Warblers were clambering about in the bushes calling noisily, including a recent fledgling with short tail and still carrying some fluffy down around its head. We scanned over the fields at the back, but the only bird of note here was a single Stock Dove. We were hoping to see the Turtle Doves which have been breeding here, but there was no sign of them. Apparently the male had been purring here only an hour or so earlier, but had now gone quiet.

There was a bit of time before lunch, so we decided to head round to Patsy’s Reedbed and also have a look along the Autumn Trail, which had just been opened this morning for the first time this year. As we passed the visitor centre, the feeders were full of Greenfinches and Chaffinches, along with a few Great Tits and Blue Tits. Walking along Fen Trail, a tit flock passing quickly through the sallows included several Long-tailed Tits, but there was no sign of the Turtle Doves in the trees here.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – a golden-headed chocolate brown juvenile

Round at the viewing screen overlooking Patsy’s reedbed, the first bird we saw was a juvenile Marsh Harrier circling up over the reeds. It was a typical juvenile, with a golden-orange head and the rest of it dark chocolate brown. We saw several juvenile Marsh Harriers around the reedbed today, with varying amounts of pale feathering on the head, one with just a small patch of gold on the back of the neck.

Scanning the pool, a Common Sandpiper flew across on fluttering bowed wings and landed along the near edge before running into the vegetation out of view. There were a few Little Grebes and a couple of Common Pochard among the Mallard. A Grey Heron was standing statue-like on the edge of the reeds, staring down into the water. Lots of House Martins and Sand Martins were hawking for insects low over the water and the reeds beyond.

Looking over towards Brancaster, we caught sight of a very distant Turtle Dove as it flew across and disappeared behind Willow Wood, but not all the group could get onto it and the views were not entirely satisfactory. Frustrating! With the Autumn Trail having just opened this morning, we wanted to have a look along there and we thought there was a chance we might see the Turtle Dove again, but it didn’t reappear.

As we walked along East Trail, we heard Whimbrel calling over towards the freshmarsh and looked across to see four flying up over the reeds. They circled over towards us, instantly identifiable even from their distinctive whistling call, before disappearing away to the SW. We had a quick look from up on the bank at the start of the Autumn Trail extension, which produced a very distant Arctic Skua flying past out over beach, before we lost sight of it behind the dunes.

Spoonbill 1Spoonbill – an adult, with yellow-tipped bill

As we made our way along to the end of Autumn Trail, we could see a large white shape on the freshmarsh, a Spoonbill. Even better, it was awake, preening, and we could see its yellow-tipped black bill, an adult. There were a few waders out on the freshmarsh too from this end, but they would be easier to see close up round at the hides. A Common Sandpiper was chased off by an Egyptian Goose and flew up onto the fence around Avocet Island. A second Egyptian Goose was standing on one of the fence posts – and was still there when we looked across from Parrinder Hide later in the afternoon!

We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but couldn’t see them in the reeds, and another juvenile Marsh Harrier patrolled up and down the bank ahead of us. Then it was time to head back for lunch. On the way, we stopped to look at a Burying Beetle which was trying to bury the corpse of a Common Shrew in the middle of the path. It seemed to realise eventually it had bitten off more than it could chew, trying to dig into the hardcore of the path on its own, and flew off.

The group really wanted to see a Turtle Dove, but it felt like we might be out of luck. Still we scanned all the likely trees on the way back. We were just walking past Patsy’s Reedbed when we spotted a shape in the top of a bush ahead of us. Yes – a Turtle Dove! It was perched in the top of an elder, preening. We got it in the scope from where we were standing, and had a quick look in case it flew off.

People coming from the other direction walked right past the Turtle Dove, seemingly without even noticing it. We were some distance away and reckoned we could get much closer. We gradually narrowed the distance until we were quite close, and had stunning views of it, we didn’t even need the scope now. It seemed totally unconcerned by our presence, eventually finishing preening at which point it dropped down into the bushes. Great stuff!

Turtle DoveTurtle Dove – gave stunning views on our way back for lunch

After a late lunch in the picnic area, given our distraction with the Turtle Dove, we headed out onto the main part of the reserve. There were just a few Mallard and Gadwall out on the reedbed pool, and a distant Bearded Tit flew across while we were scanning the water. A Cetti’s Warbler sang a quick half burst from the reeds below the path as we passed by.

There were lots of waders from Island Hide, though mostly the larger ones today. There are lots of Ruff on here at the moment. They are moulting rapidly, some now pretty much in grey winter plumage, but others still with varying numbers of gaudy summer feathers.

Ruff 1Ruff – some still with a few remaining bright summer feathers still

Ruff 2Ruff – others almost entirely in grey winter plumage already

There are lots of Avocets on the reserve at the moment, with recent counts in excess of 500 now. As well as the birds which had bred here, many more gather here at this time of year to moult. in front of hide. Several were feeding right in front of the hide, until they were flushed by another juvenile Marsh Harrier.

AvocetAvocet – over 500 on the freshmarsh at the moment

There are lots of Black-tailed Godwits here at the moment too, many still largely in rusty orange summer plumage. We could also see three Spotted Redshanks further over, towards the Parrinder bank, but they were asleep at this point. There were three Spoonbills on the freshmarsh now, but they were all asleep too, on the edge of the small island at the back.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – still largely in summer plumage

There is a nice selection of smaller gulls on here a the moment. There are lots of Black-headed Gulls, both adults and chocolate brown juveniles. In amongst them, on the nearest island, we found two diminutive Little Gulls, both first summer birds. We had a look at a couple of Mediterranean Gulls from here too, the adults gradually losing their black heads now but still sporting a heavy and bright red bill and clean white wing tips.

While we were scanning the freshmarsh, we could periodically hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. We kept looking over to the edge of the mud but couldn’t see them at first. Finally, like buses, first one, then several more appeared. They eventually showed well, feeding at the base of the reeds.

Bearded Tit

From back up on the main path, we got better views of the Spotted Redshanks. They had multiplied in the meantime, up to four now, and had woken up and started feeding so we could get a good look at their long, needle-fine bills. Like the Ruff earlier, the Spotted Redshanks were in different stages of moult from their black summer plumage. One was pretty much in silvery grey winter plumage already, but the others were still variously speckled with black on their underparts.

Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank – this one pretty much in winter plumage already

We had a quick look in at Parrinder Hide on our way out. There were several scaly-backed juvenile Mediterranean Gulls on the islands in front of the hide. Further out, four summer plumaged Knot had dropped in while we had been walking round.

It was already late afternoon and we wanted to have a look at the sea, so we hurried out to the beach. The tide was out and the usual waders were feeding out on the mussel beds. We had a look at a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits in the scope and a single Sanderling flew in with two Turnstones and dropped in on the beach. Out to sea, lots of Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth and a single Great Crested Grebe was out on the water.

The first surprise here was a Spoonbill, which flew out over the dunes and landed on the beach. Even more bizarre was a single Egyptian Goose which suddenly appeared out on the mussel beds, before flying west along the tideline. You don’t often see Egyptian Geese on the beach!

Spoonbill 2Spoonbill – flew out past us and landed on the beach

Then it was time to head back, in good time to allow everyone to get something to eat. The plan was to go looking for Nightjars this evening, but the weather forecast was really terrible, with heavy rain expected to move in from around 8pm. We feared it might be a wash out. It was already starting to spit with rain when we met again at 7.30pm, but we set off anyway to see what we could see before the rain set in properly.

We started by looking for Little Owls. They like to perch out in the evening sunshine, but it was already cool and cloudy, it seemed unlikely we would find one today. We started scanning the roofs of the farm buildings where they like to sit. There were a few Red-legged Partridges and an Oystercatcher here. Several Brown Hares were running round in the yard below. A few Greylag Geese had gathered in a field of cut straw nearby before flying down to the coast for the night and a large flock of Rooks and Jackdaws was similarly gathering before heading off to roost.

A Mistle Thrush appeared on the roof, then a second joined it. The next thing we knew, there were 8 Mistle Thrushes together. We were just watching them through scope when a Wheatear appeared with them. It was a juvenile, presumably dispersing from somewhere after the breeding season, although there aren’t any breeding close to her, so this was an unexpected bonus. A male Yellowhammer joined all the other birds on the roof too.

It was still not raining properly but it started to spit with rain more heavily now. It was clear we were very unlikely to find any Little Owls so we decided to move on. Normally at this stage of the evening, we would go looking for Barn Owls, but it was unlikely they would be out hunting in this weather either. At least we had seen one this morning, so we decided on a change of plan.

Late in the evening, particularly at this time of year, a good number of large gulls drop in to the scrapes at Cley to bathe and preen before heading off to roost. There have been several Caspian Gulls dropping in over recent nights, so we decided to try that instead. At least we would have the shelter of the hides if the rain did get much worse.

As we drove towards Cley, news came through that an adult Caspian Gull had just been seen there. We walked quickly out to the hides and, with a bit of help from the committed gull watchers in the hide, we were straight onto it.

Caspian GullCaspian Gull – an adult, on Simmond’s Scrape at Cley at dusk

Adult Caspian Gulls are particularly subtle birds and this gave us a great opportunity to study it and talk about the key identification features. It was a noticeably big, tall gull, particularly compared to the Lesser Black-backed Gulls next to it. The dark eye stood out on the white head, with a long face and long parallel sided bill.

The Caspian Gull was preening and as it turned, it stuck one of its long wings out to the side, so we could see the pattern on the underneath of the wing tip. This was the real clincher – the distinctive under-primary pattern, with a white tip, then a narrow band of black before a long tongue of white.

There were also meant to be two juvenile Caspian Gulls here this evening, but although we could see the birds, they were asleep and facing us so we couldn’t see any detail. There was a good number of other large gulls, especially Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We could see several Yellow-legged Gulls in amongst them too, and we got the scope on a nice adult.

The light was fading fast tonight, given the dark clouds. We had already stayed a little longer than planned at Cley, but we decided to drive up to the heath anyway and try our luck, we had nothing to lose. As we came out of hide, it started to rain properly and it really felt like we would be out of luck. But the rain had eased again by the time we got up to the heath and as we opened the car door, we could hear a Nightjar churring already.

We walked quickly out to the middle, with two more Nightjars churring, one each side of us on the way out. It was very gloomy already out on the heath, but at least we were surrounded by Nightjars churring. We had a glimpse or two of one of the males flying around the trees, but it was hard for everyone to get onto it. It stayed further out tonight, not coming in to its favourite perch, it was mixing churring and hawking for insects from the tree it had chosen. Eventually it perched up on the edge of the tree and we could get it in the scope, silhouetted against the very last of the light.

We stood there for a few more minutes listening to the Nightjars churring. It was getting too dark to see them now, so we decided to call it a night. It was the right move, as they had all gone quiet by the time we got back to the car. There had been a surprising amount of Nightjar activity tonight, given the conditions and we had been very lucky given the weather forecast. On the drive back, the heavens finally opened.

21st May 2017 – Late Spring Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours today, our last day. It was lovely weather to be out and about – lots of sunshine and only patchy cloud, and a light SW breeze to keep the humidity down.

We started the day with a walk out over the grazing marshes at Burnham Overy. There were lots of warblers singing in the hedges, but they weren’t all making themselves easy to see today. A Blackcap was hiding in the bushes from where it we could hear its melodic song, and the Common Whitethroats were being unusually skulking this morning too. A Cetti’s Warbler typically shouted at us from deep in the undergrowth. A Chiffchaff was more amenable, working its way round the leaves in the tops of an oak tree, alternating looking for food and singing.

6O0A1627Chiffchaff – singing in the top of an oak tree by the path

There were plenty of Sedge Warblers along the path too, and even they were not posing quite as well as they normally do today. A Lesser Whitethroat stuck its head out of a hawthorn briefly, then flew round across the path and into another bush.

An approaching family party of Long-tailed Tits gave themselves away with lots of calling, and we stopped and watched them as they fed in the bushes next to us for a short while, the adults busy collecting food and the sooty faced juveniles begging noisily. As quickly as they arrived, they then departed across the path and away down the hedge line.

6O0A1655Long-tailed Tit – a juvenile enjoying the morning sun in the hedge

Stopping to scan the grazing marshes, we could see lots of geese out on the grass – with the winter geese now almost entirely departed, they were mainly Greylag Geese but also several Egyptian Geese with them. There were waders too, Avocets nesting round the little pools which had benefited from some overnight rain, plus a few Lapwings, Oystercatchers and a Redshank, all of which breed here.

Looking ahead, a large white shape in one of the deeper pools further along was a Spoonbill, feeding vigorously, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side as it walked round. We hurried along to where we were alongside it and had a fantastic view of it. It was an adult, with mustard wash across the breast, shaggy crest and, when it lifted its head occasionally, a yellow tip to its black bill.

6O0A1683Spoonbill – feeding in one of the shallow ponds by the path

Some video of the Spoonbill feeding is below:

Eventually, the Spoonbill walked up out of the pool and across the grass, descending into another pool a little further back, so we moved on. A Reed Warbler was singing from the feeds by the ditch as we got to the gate at the far end, and another two Reed Warblers were chasing each other round on the other side of the path. Finally, we found a Sedge Warbler performing as they should, perched high on some brambles, out in the open, singing away.

Climbing up onto the seawall, we could see across the harbour. The tide was out but there were not so many waders here now, with most of the birds which had spent the winter here having departed north for the breeding season. There were a few more Avocets and Redshanks out on the mud.

As we walked past the reedbed, we could hear a Reed Bunting singing and found it perched on the top of a bush right out in the middle of the reeds. We heard a Bearded Tit ping briefly, but we couldn’t see any sign of it. A Marsh Harrier quartered the reeds at the back.

Continuing on out along the seawall, there were several Linnets in the bushes on the edge of the saltmarsh. A Skylark flew in across the path and landed down on the grass. We managed to get it in the scope, just in time to see a small head appear out of the grass next to it, bill open, begging for food, one of its hungry brood. We could hear a Redshank alarm calling and looked over to see a pair on the grazing marsh not far from the fence. The male, much more heavily streaked with black below, was piping loudly from a tussock, while the plainer female fed quietly in the grass.

6O0A1721Redshank – the heavily marked male was piping loudly

The seawall is a great vantage point, so as we walked, we scanned the skies. A small falcon appeared from the direction of the dunes. It was a long way off, but as it turned and flew west over the boardwalk, we could see it was a Merlin. This is a winter visitor here in Norfolk, so this was a late one, which should soon be on its way back to the moors to breed. We watched as it disappeared off towards Scolt Head. A few minutes later, we picked up another falcon, this time a Hobby, circling over the grazing marshes, hawking for insects. In contrast to the Merlin, the Hobby is a summer visitor here.

We could see quite a number of Swifts in the sky too this morning. They seemed to be on the move today, with birds passing west, occasionally stopping to hawk for insects up and down the seawall. We were almost at the boardwalk when we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked across to see it flying over the grazing marshes. It didn’t stop unfortunately, but continued on west, over the seawall behind us and out across the saltmarsh. Another migrant on its way.

From the boardwalk, we walked east into the dunes. We quickly found our target, Wheatears.  One female was down on the short cropped grass, standing still by the entrance to a rabbit burrow. A second female was perched on a fence post a little further along, by the path. As a group of walkers came along the path towards us, this second Wheatear flicked along the line of posts towards us, before finally flying off back into the dunes beyond.

6O0A1705Wheatear – flushed from along the fence line by a group of walkers

It was nice to see the female Wheatears, but we really wanted to find a male. We walked a little further into the dunes, to an area favoured by Wheatears, and quickly found another two females. As we turned and started walking back, a male had appeared with the female from earlier, on the other side of the fence. It was a cracking bird – with a smart black bandit mask. When it turned, it was rich orangey on the throat and breast – a male Greenland Wheatear. The later migrants which pass through here are mostly of the Greenland race, and the males are more richly coloured below than the nominate form which breeds further south.

Given the sunny weather, there were not surprisingly good numbers of butterflies out in the dunes today. Wall Brown was the most numerous, but we also saw a couple of Small Copper and a single Small Heath. The Cinnabar Moths are also on the wing at the moment, brightly coloured day-flying moths, they are unpalatable to predators.

6O0A1713Cinnabar – a brightly coloured, and unpalatable, moth

We would not be able to explore the dunes fully today, so we made our way back to the boardwalk and had a quick look out at the beach. Being a sunny Sunday, there were quite a few people – and dogs – out on the sand. We could see a few Sandwich Terns and Little Terns offshore, but as the tide was out, they were quite distant. We turned to head back.

The seawall was very busy now, as we walked back, with lots of people out for a stroll in the sun. A male Reed Bunting perched up nicely for us, singing in the bushes by the edge of the saltmarsh. We got a much improved view of it, compared to the one we had seen distantly out in the the reedbed earlier.

6O0A1718Reed Bunting – singing on the edge of the saltmarsh on the walk back

We stopped again by the reedbed to listen for Bearded Tits. We hoped we might at least hear one and perhaps see one whizzing over the tops of the reeds. A Bittern booming very distantly was a nice bonus while we listened. We heard snippets of Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ at first, but couldn’t see any. Then a male Bearded Tit appeared out in the middle of the reeds briefly, climbing up to the top of a stem, but dropping down again before everyone could get onto it.

We thought that might be the best of it, but we heard more ‘pinging’ closer to us and then another male Bearded Tit came zooming over the reeds towards us. Even better, it came right to the front of the reedbed and dropped down on the edge of grass just below the bank. This time we got a great look at it.

6O0A1731Bearded Tit – this male eventually came right out on the front of the reedbed

It was a real bonus to get such great views of a male Bearded Tit, so we headed back to the car well pleased with the morning’s birding. We made our way round to Holkham for lunch and surprisingly given the weather, Lady Anne’s Drive was not too busy and we were able to get a picnic table. A couple of Jackdaws were hopping over the other tables looking for crumbs. Two Spoonbills flew over while we were eating, heading back to the colony, presumably from the saltmarsh out beyond Wells. We finished our lunch with an ice cream from the van nearby – it felt just like summer in the sunshine!

After lunch, we had a quick walk out west on the inland side of the pines, up to the hides. There were still several warblers singing in the trees – a Blackcap or two, several Chiffchaffs and Common Whitethroats. We could hear more Long-tailed Tits calling from the pines. We managed to find a Coal Tit, up in the top of a tree, calling, where we could get it in the scope.

We were alerted to the presence of a Jay by various birds alarm calling, and it flew towards us and landed in a pine tree. It perched there for several minutes, preening and enjoying the sunshine, before dropping down to the ground and hunting around in the leaf little close by, giving us a great view.

6O0A1745Jay – sunning itself in a pine tree, on the way out to the hides

Up in the Joe Jordan Hide, there was a steady stream of Spoonbills coming & going. Several were bathing and preening on the edge of the pool in front of the hide, and a couple were still collecting nest material around the edge. When two Spoonbills flew up out of the trees, one looked quite a bit smaller than the other. As they banked, we could see that the smaller one had a very short bill. It was a juvenile, one of this years young, already fledged and presumably taking one of its first flights. They dropped back into the trees again.

There was lots of other activity here. Little Egrets were coming and going too, and a Grey Heron flew in as well. There were lots of Cormorants in the trees. A Marsh Harrier gave us a great close fly by, though it was too quick for the cameras – we were a bit slow in the after lunch lull! We could have sat here enjoying the view for longer, but we had one more destination we wanted to fit in this afternoon, so we packed up and walked back to the car.

We made our way back east and over to Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the footpath by the road, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the trees on the other side. A male Marsh Harrier circled up over the wood, calling. As we got across the road and onto the footpath by the river, we found a tree had come down across the path. Thankfully everyone was game to clamber over. With the two stiles here as well, it was a bit of an assault course to get to the Fen today!

Down along the edge of the river, there were more warblers singing – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. From the reeds around the edge of the Fen, we could hear Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler too. From up on the seawall, we could see the tide was in now. An Avocet was feeding along the edge of the flooded channel.

6O0A1778Avocet – feeding in the channel below the seawall

We stopped on the bank to scan the Fen. We had glimpsed a Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands on the walk out, but it wasn’t in the same place now. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to find it, on one of the other islands. This is normally a good place for Black-tailed Godwits, but there was only one here today – not in full summer plumage, but this one did at least have some rusty feathering on the breast. The only other waders on here today were the Avocets.

Three Wigeon were feeding on the edge of one of the islands. They are common here in winter, but the vast majority have now left for Russia for the breeding season, leaving just these three behind. Otherwise the Fen was dominated by gulls – as well as the breeding Black-headed Gulls, we could see several Lesser Black-backed Gulls with the Herring Gulls, and a couple of young (1st summer) Common Gulls.

Walking down along the seawall, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the distance. It seemed to be getting a little closer, so we had a scan of the trees on the far side of the Fen. The Cuckoo was perched on the edge of the last tree. We got the scope on it and could see it singing. Then we continued on round to have a look at the harbour.

IMG_4516Cuckoo – singing from the trees beyond the Fen

The harbour looked rather quiet at first, but as we scanned over the remaining mud, we found more birds. There were plenty of Oystercatchers, with a large group roosting on one of the spits ahead of the incoming tide. There are not so many other waders here now, but a careful scan revealed a few still. A little group of Ringed Plover were well camouflaged on the mud, until they moved. Three Dunlin were nearby, all sporting black belly patches now. A smart summer plumage Turnstone appeared on the mud too.

A small group of Brent Geese were feeding on the edge of the water, again late lingering winter visitors (most of the many Brent Geese which are here through the winter have long since departed). There are very few terns on Blakeney Point again this year, after the rat infestation last year caused most of them to decamp to Scolt Head instead. There were two Little Terns resting on the mud on the edge of the water. We got them in the scope and could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

As we started to make our way back, we could hear a Mediterranean Gull calling. Up on the seawall, we stopped to scan the Fen, and heard what we presumed was the same bird calling behind us, over the edge of the harbour. We looked round to see a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull flying across over the saltmarsh. It circled round, encountering some half-hearted aggression from a couple of the Black-headed Gulls, before flying in over the seawall to the Fen. When it dropped down onto one of the islands, we noticed there was another 1st summer Mediterranean Gull on there already.

6O0A1787Mediterranean Gull – a first summer which dropped in to Stiffkey Fen this afternoon

Unfortunately, it was now time to be heading back. On the way, there were several butterflies in the brambles, Peacocks and Red Admirals enjoying the afternoon sun. In the field by the layby, we could see two Red-legged Partridges and several Brown Hares hiding in the fast growing wheat.

6O0A1800Red Admiral – enjoying the afternoon sun on the brambles

It had been a very enjoyable day’s birding today, in the sunshine, to round off a very productive three days. We made our way back to Wells, to end the tour.

6th May 2017 – Three Spring Days, Part 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Spring Tours today. It was forecast to be cloudy, and it was thick enough for some intermittent light drizzle early morning which thankfully cleared up after an hour or two. It was still windy, with a fresh ENE. We might have walked out to the dunes from Burnham Overy today, but given the wind and early drizzle we decided to make our way in that direction from Holkham, where we could get a bit of shelter in the lee of the pines or in the hides if need be.

Having parked at Lady Anne’s Drive, we walked up towards the pines. A Sedge Warbler had found a sheltered spot in the brambles to sing from, and we were able to get a great look at it through the scope.

6O0A9748Sedge Warbler – singing from the shelter of the brambles

As we walked west along the path, in the lee of the pines, we could hear lots of warblers singing in the trees. As well as more Sedge Warblers, there were several Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats and a distant Willow Warbler. One of the Chiffchaffs perched up nicely where we could get it in the scope. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from deep in the bushes, as usual.

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees but we couldn’t see it on our way out. We stopped at Salts Hole to scan the grazing marshes beyond and about thirty Swallows were feeding around the trees in the reeds and low over the grass nearby, presumably trying to find food in this more sheltered spot.

One of the group had seen a Bullfinch fly over the path on our way there, but it had disappeared. When we got to Washington Hide,it flew in and landed in one of the bushes in the reeds and even stayed long enough for us to get it in the scope, a smart pink male. An occasional Spoonbill flew past, heading out to feed or back into the colony.

A female Marsh Harrier perched up on the top of a bush and a little while later a male flew in carrying some prey and landed down in the reeds. We had hoped we might see a food pass, but presumably it had decided to eat whatever it had caught itself. The Swallows were now hawking for insects out over the grazing marshes and as we looked out towards them we could see there were lots of Swifts zooming back and forth now too.

Continuing our way west, a Jay flew across the path and landed in an oak tree briefly. We could hear a Goldcrest singing and a pair of them appeared in a low hawthorn before working their way through the trees and past us. A Treecreeper was singing in the pines, but was too deep in to see. A couple of Coal Tits were feeding in the emerging leaves of an oak tree.

We were told there had been a Peregrine out on the beach on a kill so when we got to the crosstracks, we made our way out to the dunes for a quick look. It wasn’t there any more and it was cold and windy here, so we beat a hasty retreat and headed back to Joe Jordan hide.

There were a couple of people in the hide already when we walked up the steps. As we went in, they kindly told us that a Bittern had just flown in to a clump of rushes not far from the hide. We quickly got seated and after just a couple of minutes it walked out in full view. It stood there for several seconds before walking back across the short grass and flying off again. What perfect timing!

6O0A9761Bittern – walked out of the rushes shortly after we arrived in Joe Jordan Hide

As well as the Bittern, there were lots of other things to see here too. More Spoonbills were coming and going, flying in and out of the trees. Most landed out of view, but two or three flew down to the pool in front to collect nest material, giving us a better look at them. A Great White Egret spent most of its time hiding in a reedy ditch, walking out onto the bank briefly where we could see it, before flying off behind the trees. A single Pink-footed Goose was asleep in the grass, most likely one which has been shot and injured and cannot make the journey back to Iceland to breed.

The weather had improved considerably now, so we decided to make our way along to the west end of the pines and up into the dunes. As we got to the gate at the end of the track, we stopped to look out over the grazing marshes as a male Marsh Harrier flew past. Several thrushes flew out of the bushes and landed in the short grass and you can imagine our surprise when we found they were two Mistle Thrushes, a Ring Ouzel and a Fieldfare!

IMG_3930Fieldfare – a late straggler, which should be on its way to Scandinavia

Fieldfare is a winter visitor here and most have long since departed back to Scandinavia. We had a great view of both it and the Mistle Thrushes from the gate, but the Ring Ouzel quickly disappeared into a dip in the ground. So we walked round and up into the edge of the dunes where we could look down on it – a smart male Ring Ouzel with a bright, clean white gorget.

IMG_3940Ring Ouzel – a smart male with a white gorget

We made our way further up into the dunes and stopped for a while to admire the view. The bushes just beyond the fence here can be good for migrants, but they were quiet today in the wind. Scanning out across the grazing marshes a Great White Egret flew across and landed distantly out of view in some reeds and a second Great White Egret was visible about a mile away in the grass.

One of the group particularly wanted to get a better look at a Wheatear, so we walked a little further into the dunes to an area which they favour. We flushed two or three more Ring Ouzels from the dunes as we went. They were typically very flighty, and as soon as we appeared over a rise they were off.

When we got to the right spot, we quickly found a male Wheatear, hopping about on the short grass. Then a male Stonechat appeared on the fence a short distance ahead of us and when we looked, a second bird also on the fence a little further along turned out to be a stunning male Redstart. What a bonus! Everyone had a look at it through the scope before it dropped back behind the dune beyond.

6O0A9794Stonechat – we saw a couple of males in the dunes today

As we walked back through the dunes, we flushed another Wheatear which flew off ahead of us flashing its white rear, and another male Stonechat. It was nice to get back into the lee of the pines and out of the wind. We were almost back to Lady Anne’s Drive when we heard the Cuckoo singing again from the trees. It sounded quite close, but was in the back of a poplar behind a pine tree. Still, we managed to find an angle from which we could see it and get it in the scope so everyone could get a look at it.

It was lunchtime by the time we got back to the car, so we made use of the picnic tables at the top of Lady Anne’s Drive, which were reasonably sheltered from the wind by the pines. We had just sat down to eat when we noticed another Ring Ouzel along the edge of the field next to us, over by the hedge. It spent all the time we were eating feeding in the grass nearby.

IMG_3982Ring Ouzel – feeding in the field next to where we were having lunch

Yesterday, we had struggled to get good views of the Red-breasted Flycatcher at Holme, but we found out it was still there this morning and “showing well on and off”, or so we were told. We decided to head back there for another go. When we pulled into the car park, we could see a small crowd gathered in the corner. We got out and walked over and this time there was no need to wait – the Red-breasted Flycatcher was immediately on show!

6O0A9893-001Red-breasted Flycatcher – feeding in the trees on the edge of the car park

The Red-breasted Flycatcher was feeding in a sycamore right in the corner of the car park. It was very active, flying up after insects before landing back down on a branch, and very mobile, flitting between different parts of the tree. It was hard to see until it moved, but by spotting the movement and following it when it flew it was possible to see where it landed. Regularly it would perch where we could see it and quickly we all got great views of it. We even managed to get it in the scope on occasion.

It was a cracking male, with an orange (not really red!) throat and upper breast. When it flew and spread its tail, we could see the white outer edges to the base of the black tail. It called a couple of times, a dry rattle. Red-breasted Flycatchers breed in eastern Europe up through the Baltics into southern Scandinavia, so this one had been blown off course on its way north from its wintering grounds in western Asia. An exciting bird to see and well worth coming back again to see properly.

6O0A9875-001Red-breasted Flycatcher – blown off course on its way north

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and we walked back along the access road towards the horse paddocks. At first all we could see were Wheatears, but there were several of them here, males of different shades and a couple of females. We got some great looks at them through the scope.

IMG_3995Wheatear – there were several in the horse paddocks at Holme

There was meant to be Redstart and Whinchat here too, but we couldn’t find them at first. After a short while, the Whinchat appeared on the fence at the back. It was a female, not as boldly marked as the males we had seen yesterday. It kept disappearing, at times feeding down on the ground, before reappearing back on one of the fences.

Then the Redstart finally showed itself as well, another male, our second of the day. It was very mobile too, not staying still for long. dropping down to the ground before flying back up to the fence or the brambles. We kept getting it in the scope and eventually everyone got to see its black face and contrasting silvery white forehead which caught the light face on. When it flew back up to the fence, sometimes it spread its tail which flashed orange red.

IMG_4029Redstart – our second male of the day, at Holme

The temperature had dropped noticeably now and it had turned slightly misty. It seemed a shame to leave the paddocks, with all these migrants here, but we made our way back to the car. We finished the day with a drive round the fields inland. We had hoped we might chance upon a Dotterel in one of the traditional fields they visit when on their way north, but we couldn’t find any today. We did surprise a Song Thrush which was bashing a snail on the tarmac on the edge of a minor road. A lone adult Mediterranean Gull walking around in a stoney field looked rather out of place and there were several Wheatears up here too.

6O0A9910Mediterranean Gull – this adult was walking around in a field all on its own

Then it was time to head for home, after a very exciting migrant-filled day.

27th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour. It was meant to rain today, at least in the afternoon, but although it was cloudy all day and it did drizzle a little on and off at times, it was not as bad as forecast. It was a day back in North Norfolk today.

Given the forecast of rain, we decided to spend at least part of the day at Titchwell, where we could take shelter in the hides. On the way there, we took a short detour up to Choseley. In a ploughed field by the road, a number of Wheatears were running around. W counted at least seven of them, including several smart males with their black bandit masks. There were also good numbers of Brown Hares in the fields, although they were mostly hunkered down. A strikingly pale Common Buzzard perched briefly on the ground a couple of fields away before flying and disappearing behind a hedge.

IMG_3536Wheatear – a smart male in the ploughed field

As soon as we got out of the car in the car park at Titchwell, we could hear a Turtle Dove. The delicate purring song of the male is now an increasingly rare sound, which is a real shame, so it was great to listen to it. It seemed to be coming from deep in a very leafy sycamore at first, where we couldn’t see it. Then, more helpfully, it took off and did a short display flight, flapping up quickly, then gliding down and dropping towards the overflow car park.

We walked round to the other side and shortly after we arrived, the Turtle Dove flew up again and glided down into the top of a dead tree. We managed to get a quick look at it there, through the scope, before it flew again, back to the main car park. We thought it might have gone back to the sycamore but instead it had landed on a dead branch out in full view. This time, we all got a good view of it in the scope. Then it flew off again towards visitor centre. We were heading that way, so we followed on behind.

6O0A8394Turtle Dove – displaying in the car parks at Titchwell this morning

As we walked towards the visitor centre, we could hear a Goldcrest singing in the trees beyond the picnic area. There is a small path which goes in to the trees here, so we walked in to see if we could find it. There was no sign of the Goldcrest but one of the group did spot a cracking pink male Bullfinch high in the oak trees, feeding on buds. The browner female was nearby, and we could hear the two of them calling to each other quietly. They were in the trees above the access road and the two of them flew off calling as a car came along, though thankfully not before we had all had a good look at them.

The feeders by the visitor centre were quiet today, apart from a single Jackdaw swinging on the peanuts. So we headed straight out onto the reserve. It has been very high spring tides for the last few days, so the pool on the Thornham grazing marsh, which should be full of freshwater but has been allowed to dry out for the last couple of years, had been flooded with saltwater. The landowner (this is not part of the reserve) has been in dispute with everyone seemingly for the last few years and appears to have done this out of spite, even though he is in breach of his stewardship conditions. Unfortunately Natural England seem to show no inclination to pursue him, so in the meantime this site is being damaged with salt water.

At least, with a few pools on there today, a single Little Ringed Plover was enjoying it. Even through it was towards the back, we could see the golden yellow eye ring through the scope. Two or three Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reeds, and a smart male made a nice fly past for us. The warblers were a little subdued today, in the cold and windy weather, apart from a Sedge Warbler which was singing and display flighting constantly. A couple of Reed Warblers sang rather half-heartedly from deep in the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us occasionally too.

The reedbed pool was quiet today, but while we had stopped to scan the reeds, one of the reserve volunteers very kindly came back to tell us that some Bearded Tits were showing from the main path a little further along. We hurried over and had great views as the pair worked their way around the base of the reeds at the back of the small pools below the path. They were a pair – a smart male, with powder blue head and black moustache, following behind a browner female.

6O0A8420Bearded Tit – the female, by the pools below the main path

This was a real bonus today – Bearded Tits can be very hard to see on cold windy days normally! Eventually they flew up over the brambles behind the pools and disappeared into the main reedbed. While we were standing there, we could also see at least four drake Red-crested Pochard in one of the channels.

6O0A8433Red-crested Pochard – 2 of the 4 drakes we could see in the reedbed channel

It started to drizzle at this point so we decided to head for the shelter of Island Hide. The water level on the Freshmarsh is still very high, which means there are not many waders on here at the moment. There were several pairs of Avocets, but those that were trying to feed on here were up to their bellies in water. There were a few Black-headed Gulls roosting on one of the shallower patches and several Ruff were running around amongst them. There was one larger male, though not yet sporting its summer ruff, and several smaller female Reeves.

6O0A8462Avocet – up to its belly in the deep water

The water on here is more to the liking of the ducks, but numbers have dropped now as many have headed off on their their way north already. There were still a few Gadwall and Shoveler, plus a few lingering Teal and a lone pair of Wigeon in fenced off ‘Avocet Island’. The number of Brent Geese is also dropping now, but a pair flew past the hide and one was still out on the water, though most of them were feeding out on the saltmarsh.

6O0A8468Teal – the number of remaining winter wildfowl has dropped now

There were more gulls on the Freshmarsh than anything else at the moment. The Black-headed Gulls have taken a liking to the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and a sizeable gull colony is forming on there. Black-headed Gulls actually have chocolate brown heads in summer, but in with them we could see a good number of darker black heads. There were around 20 Mediterranean Gulls which have joined the colony here and through the scope we could see their heavier and brighter red bills and pure white wing tips. They are very smart looking birds.

A small group of immature Herring Gulls were standing in the water just outside the fence. One of them instantly stood out – it was very white headed, with a long face and a long bill. It was a 2nd calendar year (also known as 1st summer) Caspian Gull. When it climbed up onto a submerged rock we could see it had rather long thin legs too.

IMG_3551Caspian Gull – a 1st summer bird, a bit of a rarity at Titchwell

Caspian Gulls were originally to be found breeding north of the Black Sea and further east, but they have spread north and west in recent years and now also breed in Poland and eastern Germany. They have also been turning up more regularly here as a consequence. They are still a bit of a rarity, particularly at Titchwell, so we sent a message back to some of the birders at the visitor centre. Pretty soon a small crowd arrived in the hide and there was a flurry of activity as everyone got onto the bird. We all watched it for a while, before eventually it took off, circled round, and disappeared over the bank out towards the beach.

The rain had stopped now and it appeared to be brightening up, so we made a dash for the beach. The Volunteer Marsh was quiet. Around the channel at the far end, we found a few Black-tailed Godwits, two Grey Plover, one grey and one black-bellied, and a single Knot still in grey winter plumage. There was not much to see on the Tidal Pools either today, but it had been a big high tide this morning and everything was still looking a bit wet.

There were lots more birds out at the beach. Out on the sea, we could see several flocks of black dots. A couple of groups closer in included around 20 Velvet Scoter – we got a good look at these through the scope, the white in the wing being visible when they flapped and on some swimming birds too. A vast slick of up to 2,000 Common Scoter were smeared across the water further out. A single young drake Eider was swimming close inshore in the breakers but a long way away to the east, towards Brancaster.

There were lots of gulls out on the beach, feeding on the debris washed up by the strong north winds of the last couple of days. The resident Black-headed Gull followed us around for a while, but it wasn’t time for lunch yet. Around the mussel beds by the shore, we could see a variety of waders, so we walked down for a closer look. There were several little groups of Sanderlings together with a few Turnstones running around on the beach. Several Bar-tailed Godwits and a few more Knot were down on the mussel beds.

6O0A8473Black-headed Gull – hoping for some food from the birders at the beach

It was pretty cool out out on the beach, in the wind. After a quick look at the waders, we headed back. It was time for lunch when we got to the visitor centre and a warm drink was most welcome too. After lunch, we drove a short distance west to Thornham.

There have been a few Whimbrel reported on the playing fields at Thornham recently, but it has mostly been early morning, probably before they get too disturbed. Despite it being the middle of the day and with lots of cars coming and going from the car park, we found four Whimbrel still out on the short grass. They were mostly at the back, where we could get a good view of their striped heads through the scope, although two did fly in and land much closer to use, in the middle of the cricket pitch at one point.

6O0A8482Whimbrel – four were on the playing field at Thornham this lunchtime

Whimbrel is just a passage migrant here, so it was great to see some birds which had stopped off on their way north. We had a quick look down at Thornham Harbour, as we were in the vicinity. Another couple of Whimbrel flew across the road as we drove down – presumably this is one of the places they come to when they are disturbed from the playing fields. One landed right next to the car, and started feeding on the saltmarsh, which gave us a great chance to look at it up close.

6O0A8499Whimbrel – another two were down by the harbour

Otherwise, it was fairly quiet here with the tide out. A Little Egret flew off from the channel as we approached and we could see a distant Grey Plover out on the mud. We decided not to stop, so turned around and set off back east along the coast road. We called in briefly at Brancaster Staithe on the way, but it was very busy, lots of cars and boats in the car park, and very few birds.

We were heading for Holkham for the rest of the afternoon. When we got out of the car at Lady Anne’s Drive, we could see several Egyptian Geese and Greylags on the grazing marshes. A Common Buzzard was perched on a post on the bank preening. A female Grey Partridge was tucked down in the grass and a Mistle Thrush flew over and up into the pines.

Rather than head out to the beach, we took the path west on the inland side of the pines. Two Blackcaps were singing in the trees, right next door to each other, but both were tucked well in and neither would show themselves. A Goldcrest was flicking around in the pines overhead. We flushed a couple of Jays as we walked along, flying away with a flash of a white rump, but one perched up nicely by the side of the path for us briefly. A Chiffchaff singing in the trees was more obliging, and we got a good look at it as it flitted between the branches of a bare elm.

6O0A8502Jay – this one perched up nicely for us briefly

We could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers singing noisily from the reeds by Washington Hide. From the raised vantage point of the boardwalk to the hide, we had a quick scan of the marshes. A late pair of Pintail on one of the pools were a nice addition to the trip list.

As we continued west along the path, past Meals House, we stopped several times to look out at the grass. We were rewarded with a small group of four Pink-footed Geese. There are always a small number here right through the summer, when all the vast hordes of them have long since departed for Iceland, mostly injured birds which can’t make the journey north. One of the Pinkfeet had obviously been shot and winged, holding its wing at a jaunty angle. A pair of Barnacle Geese had presumably just come over from the feral flock in Holkham Park. Two more drake Pintail were upending on the pools beyond.

As we approached the Joe Jordan Hide we could hear a Willow Warbler singing from the trees out on the freshmarsh. From up in the hide, we could see Spoonbills coming and going from the trees constantly. Most were flying in and out and landing out of view, but occasionally, one would perch up on the edge of the trees, where we could get it in the scope. IMG_3568Spoonbill – one would occasionally perch up in the trees where we could see it

There was not much activity down on the pool today until later on, when a couple of Spoonbills came down to bathe and preen and one came down to collect nest material, giving us another chance of a better look at them. Most were breeding adults, with yellow tipped blackbills, a shaggy crest on the back of the head and a dirty yellow wash across the breast.

We hadn’t seen it down in the reeds, but suddenly a Great White Egret flew up from the back of the pool, and disappeared behind the trees. It was just a brief flight view, but its enormous size was immediately apparent, flying with long rounded wings and slow deep wingbeats. A little while later, what was possibly the same flew Great White Egret flew out of the trees and landed down in a ditch the other side.

IMG_3583Great White Egret – we saw two from the hide at Holkham today

While we were watching that, a second Great White Egret flew over, buzzed the first, and dropped in nearby. The two of them seemed to feed happily for a short while, a reasonable distance apart, until one decided to chase off the other. The first flew back to the trees, while the second circled back and landed again, before resuming feeding in the ditch.

There were lots of other things to see while we sat in the hide. A steady succession of Marsh Harriers kept coming and going. A Common Swift was flying back and forth over the trees. A Chinese Water Deer walked along the edge of the ditch below us. It is a lovely spot here to sit and watch all the activity. But eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head for home. Back at the car, a couple of Spoonbills did a flypast over Lady Anne’s Drive, heading back to the colony, bidding us farewell.

24th Sept 2016 – Autumn Delights, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was another lovely day, mostly bright and sunny, but with a blustery warm south wind which stopped it from feeling as hot as yesterday, even if it was 21C this afternoon. Not bad for late September!

A Wryneck had been reported at Beeston Bump recently, although seemingly rather elusive. As we were heading east today, we thought we would go and look for it even though, with clear skies overnight, there was a chance it might have moved on. When we arrived there was another problem – every path we took had someone out walking their dogs on a sunny Saturday morning! It quickly became clear that, if the Wryneck was still present, it would be hiding in the bottom of a bush rather than hopping about on one of the paths.

Still we had a quick walk round. The bushes were also rather quiet, being a bit exposed out here in the wind. We had also thought this might be a good spot to see some visible migration (or ‘vizmig’ for short), birds on migration moving along the coast. This certainly proved to be the case this morning and as we approached the cliffs we could see small parties of House Martins together with a few Swallows passing west along the clifftop. We stood for a while and could see more hirundines approaching from the east. Then a great cloud of House Martins passed by just below us. They stopped for a while to hawk for insects in the lee of the Bump and we counted at least 100 birds in the flock. Great stuff.

6o0a1994House Martin – a flock of over 100 flew past us along the cliffs

We did a further quick circuit round via the pit without success and then decided to move on somewhere else. Back to the car, we made our way back along the coast to Salthouse and parked at Iron Road. The muddy pool on the west side of the the track has not been so productive for waders in the last couple of weeks, but is always worth a look just in case. There was nothing on there today but as we stopped at the gate we spotted a Wheatear on the near bank further along. Helpfully, as the cows came over towards us to investigate, they flushed the Wheatear which flew and landed right in front of us.

6o0a2017Wheatear – the first of several we saw today

One of the group then spotted a second Wheatear further over. We walked along to the bridge but couldn’t see any more, but on the way back a Common Snipe flew past and landed out of view in the grass behind us. We were scanning for it, and watching a young Little Egret which had been pushed out of the ditch by another helpful cow, when a couple of very noisy dogs ran past and both the Snipe and the Little Egret promptly flew off.

On the walk round to Babcock Hide, we saw all the birds on Watling Water flush and fly off. With no sign of any raptors that side, it may have been some people who had just gone into the hide. We did see a Common Buzzard but it was circling up over Walsey Hills initially before it then drifted right over the path after everything had flown. It seemed to be taking advantage of the warm sunshine and hanging on the breeze. Just before we got to the hide, we flushed another two Wheatears from the edge of the reeds.

6o0a2037Common Buzzard – drifted right overhead along Attenborough’s Walk

As we sat in the hide, a few birds started to fly back in. A few duck returned – Gadwall, Teal and a single Shoveler – and the Little Grebes came back out from hiding in the reeds. Then three juvenile Ruff dropped in – or more precisely two male Ruff and a female Reeve. The females are noticeably smaller than the males and it was great to see them together for comparison. A single Black-tailed Godwit dropped in with them briefly before flying on west. Then the rest of the Ruff, a mixture of adults and juveniles, returned.

6o0a2044Ruff – two larger male Ruff and a smaller female Reeve

There is a good view east from Babcock Hide and scanning over the reeds beyond we could see a couple of Kestrels hovering in the distance. Then we picked up another falcon much further over, out beyond the shingle ridge. It gradually made its way closer and we could see that it was a Hobby, before it dropped down and disappeared behind the reeds.

On the walk back to the car, a Wheatear flew between the fence posts ahead of us, presumably one of the birds we had seen earlier. A Marsh Harrier flew in from the east, quartering low over the reeds. It was a juvenile but it had remarkably tatty wings, with a couple of big gaps. Hopefully they had just got broken rather than been shot at! A Canada Goose also flying in from Salthouse direction managed to flush a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits from one of the pools further along.

Round at the Visitor Centre, we opted for an early lunch in the September sunshine before exploring the rest of the reserve. On the walk out to the hides, there was no sign of the Whinchats reported earlier by the boardwalk, but it was very breezy round here now. A large flock of Golden Plover flew up from the scrapes and whirled round overhead.

6o0a2047Golden Plover – a large flock flew up from the scrapes as we walked out

Pat’s Pool had a nice selection of waders on it again today. The highlight was a couple of Little Stints feeding out on the mud in the middle. They looked particularly tiny, even on their own, but we could see just how small they were when they were joined by three Dunlin. A larger group of Dunlin were feeding further over. There was still one Golden Plover left out on one of the islands, although it was doing a good job of hiding, blending in well with some tall dead grass. A single Ringed Plover was running around on the mud at first, before flying off. There were also a few Lapwing and a selection of Black-tailed Godwits and more Ruff.

There were a couple of small flocks of gulls here as usual, preening or sleeping. Mostly Black-headed Gulls, there were also several Lesser Black-backed Gulls with them. We didn’t see it fly in but, while we were watching the waders, a Caspian Gull appeared too. It was an immature bird, a 2nd winter. It immediately stood out, with its very white head, shawl of dark spots, long pointed face and long thin bill. Historically breeding around the Black and Caspian Seas, its range has been spreading west in Poland and eastern Germany, with dispersing birds increasingly found in UK. Caspian Gull is a great bird to see, still irregular in its occurrence here.

img_7190Caspian Gull – this 2nd winter dropped in briefly

We watched the Caspian Gull for a while and all had a good look at it in the scope, but when we took our eyes off it for a second it slipped away again as quietly as it had arrived. There were several other things to distract us. A juvenile Marsh Harrier circled over the reedbed before drifting right across the scrape, where it seemed to enjoy flushing the birds. Then it returned to the reedbed where it circled with a female for a while. We could see three more Marsh Harriers in the distance, beyond the East Bank. Several Bearded Tits called from the reeds in the ditch in front of the hide, but they remained tucked down out of view and out of the wind.

6o0a2068Marsh Harrier – two were over the reedbed this afternoon

Works have been underway all week to reprofile Simmond’s Scrape, but the diggers were not working on the weekend. Several Curlew dropped in briefly and a couple of Grey Herons, but otherwise there did not appear to be much on there, possibly as a consequence of all the disruption. Still, we were glad we looked in on Dauke’s Hide because a Common Snipe was feeding in the grass right in front of the hide when we went it. We had stunning close-up views.

6o0a2142Common Snipe – feeding in the grass below the hide

We watched the Common Snipe feeding for a while, creeping around in the grass and drilling its long bill repeatedly into the wet ground. It seemed perfectly happy in its chosen spot but a pair of Mute Swans were in the ditch nearby with their cygnet. Whether it really took offence to the Snipe or not, one of the Swans swam straight over to it and started to climb out towards it. The Snipe understandably reacted and ran up onto the top of the bank, standing there upright and alert. It was loathe to fly, presumably hoping to get back to its chosen feeding place, but the Swan continued up the bank and finally the Snipe flew.

6o0a2151

6o0a2161Common Snipe – flushed out onto the bank by a Mute Swan

Several smaller birds found the banks around Simmond’s Scrape much to their liking, where the diggers had been working and scraped back the mud. There were lots of Pied Wagtails feeding on the ground and a couple of Meadow Pipits. Another Wheatear appeared, perched on one of the mounds of muddy earth left behind.

Back to the visitor centre and we drove round to the beach car park. A scan of the sea produced first a Guillemot flying past, then a Marsh Harrier flying in over the water. As well as many of our local breeding Marsh Harriers, many continental breeding harriers come here for the winter and this one was probably just arriving in from Europe. We picked up a few small flocks of ducks flying in too – seven Pintail appeared to go down towards North Scrape and a larger flock of Wigeon headed in towards the reserve. A couple of Brent Geese were just arriving in over the sea too. Migration in action!

The fence alongside the Eye Field can be very good for Whinchats so, with a couple reported earlier on the reserve, we thought this would be a good place to check out. Sure enough, despite the wind, we found three of them perched along the fence line on the walk out to North Scrape. We got a couple of them in the scope, a noticeably paler bird and a slightly darker one.

img_7220Whinchat – 1 of 3 on the Eye Field fence this afternoon

The Whinchats flew on ahead of us as we walked out towards North Scrape, each time landing a little further on, always keeping their distance. Eventually they flew across to the fence out across the Eye Field.

We had hoped there might be a few waders on North Scrape, but that was not the case. There were a few ducks – particularly Shelducks – but no sign of the Pintail we had seen dropping down in this direction earlier. We enjoyed watching a couple of different Reed Buntings in the bushes behind the screen. First a rather streaky first winter appeared, before dropping down out of view. Then a few minutes another Reed Bunting flew in to the same bush – noticeably a different bird, with a darker face and a black bib partly obscured by pale fringing – a winter male.

As we made our way back, another Wheatear flew away from us across the shingle, landing on a large lump of concrete briefly, before flying away again flashing its white rump and tail base. A dark juvenile Gannet and four more Brent Geese flew past over the sea. We walked to the car listening to more House Martins calling as they passed overhead, finishing the day as we had started it.

18th Sept 2016 – Migrants Arriving

An Autumn Migration Tour today. The gusty north wind of the last couple of days had dropped and the cloud of the morning even gave way to some sunny intervals in the afternoon. We met at Cley and started the day out on the reserve.

Lots of ducks and geese have been arriving for the winter over the last few days. As we walked out to the hides, a large flock of Wigeon flew in from the direction of the sea. They circled over the reserve several times, looking for a place to land, possibly fresh in from their Russian breeding grounds. A few dropped down, but most of the flock flew on west. We could see a Marsh Harrier flying across low over the reeds but when we positioned ourselves to get a better view of it, it dropped down out of view.

6o0a1357Wigeon – this flock was probably just arriving from Russia

Teal Hide was our first stop. Appropriately enough, as we opened the shutters, a single (Eurasian) Teal was in the ditch right in front of the hide. With two visitors from Canada in the group today, we discussed the various differences between the species found in North America and Europe and how the changing definition of what makes a ‘species’ had resulted in the separation of the Old World and New World forms of some birds in recent years.

6o0a1362(Eurasian) Teal – in the ditch in front of Teal Hide this morning

With wildfowl arriving from the continent now, it was perhaps no surprise that Pat’s Pool was full of ducks. Unfortunately, they are not looking their best at the moment, with the drakes mostly in eclipse plumage. A Shoveler was swimming around in front of the hide with its head in the water, shovelling. There are plenty of Wigeon in on the reserve already now and lots of Teal as well.

There were a few waders too. We had a look at the flocks of Black-tailed Godwits. Most were asleep, perched on one leg, but a few further back were awake and feeding. Almost all of the Ruff are now in winter plumage – grey-brown above and off white below – but one was confusingly still in partial summer plumage, with lots of black feathering on its belly. A group of six small Dunlin worked their way round to the front of the scrape – digging their bills into the mud rapidly, like a sewing machine. A few Golden Plover dropped in onto one of the islands. A single Common Snipe was hiding in the wet grass, but helpfully came out into the open where we could get a good look at it.

The waders seemed very skittish today, and kept flying round at the slightest provocation. Lots of raptors learn that this is a good place to find a meal, which keeps the other birds on their toes. Looking out across the reedbed, a Peregrine flew inland from the beach over the back of the reeds, and started circling over Walsey Hills, at which point it was promptly mobbed by several of the local Rooks.

The three Greenshank we had seen from Teal Hide had flown off by the time we made our way round to Dauke’s Hide. But still, there was an impressive number of waders on Simmond’s Scrape. There were at least 100 Dunlin on here today, mostly juveniles with black speckled bellies. Around the edges, we also found nine diminutive Little Stints, an impressive number of this rarer passage wader, as well as seven Ringed Plover and two Knot. There was a lone Curlew out on Simmond’s today too. At one point, when the smaller waders were all spooked and flew round, they landed around the Curlew and we were presented with Little Stint next to Curlew – the largest of our regular waders together with our smallest, little and large!!

img_6987Little Stint – an impressive 9 were on Simmond’s Scrape

On the short grass around the edge of the scrape, a couple of Wheatears were feeding, the first of several we would see today. At one point, they flew up and landed on the gatepost out from the hide where we could get a good look at them. Then a Sparrowhawk flew in, flushing everything, and landed on one of the islands. It did push a Green Sandpiper out of hiding, which flew over and seemed to drop down on Whitwell Scrape. However, when we got round there, there was no sign of it. Three Little Egrets were feeding out on Cricket Marsh beyond though.

We decided to make our way back to the visitor centre for coffee. As we walked back, a flock of six Pink-footed Geese flew over, also probably freshly arrived for the coming winter, in their case from their breeding grounds in Iceland. They didn’t stop, but carried on west.

After a short break, we drove along to the Iron Road. The muddy pools here have been good at times  in recent weeks, but there were no waders at all on there today. Looking out towards the shingle ridge and the sea, we could see a small group of six Brent Goose flying in. A flock of four Pintail flew overhead, probably also fresh in. They looked to land on Watling Water but seemed nervous and kept whirling round again rather than dropping down to the water.

6o0a1369Pintail – these four were probably more fresh arrivals

The walk round to Babcock Hide produced another Wheatear, this one much closer, hopping around on the short grassy field in front of us, showing off its sandy orange breast in the sunshine. Further over, we could see several Egyptian Geese in with the Greylags and Canada Geese which all gather her.

6o0a1382Wheatear – feeding on the grazing marshes on the way to Babcock Hide

The water level of Watling Water has increased again after the recent rain, so there were fewer waders on here than recently. A Green Sandpiper was sleeping on one of the islands, back on and flashing its mostly white rear end. We got a smart juvenile Ruff in the scope. Three Curlews dropped in for a bathe and preen.

However, we were more fascinated by the antics of the Mute Swans. A couple of immature birds, with dull orange bills, had landed out on the shallow water. The local pair decided to see them off and the male (cob) set off after one of them, with wings raised. The intruder simply walked away, eventually climbing up onto the bank, before making a cheeky circle round and straight back onto the water.

More exciting, we could see two Hobbys between the hide and the shingle ridge, hawking for dragonflies low over the reeds. A couple of Little Grebes were diving out in the deeper water. Then it was time to head back to the visitor centre at Cley, where we stopped for lunch.

After lunch, we decided to see if we could see the Red-breasted Flycatcher which has spent the last couple of days just along the coast from here. Breeding in northern and eastern Europe, it is a very scarce visitor to the UK. We parked at Salthouse duck pond and walked along to Meadow Lane. A Reed Bunting flicked up from the path into the bushes beside us. We could see a female Marsh Harrier circling ahead of us, which then flew in our direction, chased by a couple of Rooks.

6o0a1404Reed Bunting – feeding along the path at Salthouse

The Red-breasted Flycatcher had by all accounts been elusive before we got there, but we had a very good but brief view of it flicking around on the near edge of the sallows only a minute after we arrived. We stood and waited for more, and it quickly became clear that it was doing a small circuit through the trees.

While we watched, it was amazing how many other birds came out of such a tiny clump of low trees. Two Willow Warblers, with lemon yellow breasts, two lumbering rusty brown Reed Warblers and even a tiny little Goldcrest.The latter was undoubtedly a migrant and we had earlier been talking about how the smallest British bird, weighing no more than a 20p piece, can make its way over the North Sea to winter here. Amazing!

6o0a1412Willow Warbler – two of these appeared in the sallows

The Red-breasted Flycatcher appeared again at our end of the sallows a couple of times, but did not really show itself – either hiding in amongst the leaves or just flicking out for a second before darting back into the middle of the bushes. We were thinking we might have to content ourselves with our earlier views, when it finally came out to the front and perched in full view for about a minute. It was a first winter Red-breasted Flycatcher, without the red breast which is shown only by the adult male, but a smart bird nonetheless. When it turned and flicked away again, we got a good look at its black tail with white sides.

6o0a1444Red-breasted Flycatcher – perched out nicely for us

As we walked back to the car, two more Mute Swans flew towards us and passed just over our heads. Huge birds and we could almost feel the beating of their wings.

Our final destination of the day was Stiffkey Fen. The path out to the fen is rather overgrown at the moment and it is hard to see over the hedges. Early afternoon, the bushes and trees were a little quiet. A male Kestrel perched up on the wires and pylons by the path. We made our way straight out to the seawall, so we could get a good look at the Fen.

6o0a1459Kestrel – on the wires and pylons by the path at Stiffkey Fen

We had hoped to see some Spoonbills at Stiffkey Fen, but there was no immediate sign of any as we got up onto the seawall. There was a nice selection of ducks, including a good number of Wigeon and several Pintail. In with the large gaggle of Greylags. we could see a couple of white ‘farmyard’ geese and the regular two escapee Bar-headed Geese.

There were plenty of waders too. Several large groups of Black-tailed Godwit were scattered around the Fen. Many were roosting in the shallow water, on one leg with head turned and bill tucked in, but a few were awake enough to give us a good view of their long, straight bills. In with them, we could see several Ruff, including one with a striking white head – even in winter plumage, they are still a very variable wader, a very common source of confusion.

We could hear Greenshank calling and saw one flying in from the direction of the harbour. A large group of Common Redshank were roosting in with the godwits, and several more were feeding out in the channel on the harbour side. We could see all the Seals out on the sand banks beyond the end of Blakeney Point. When we turned back to the Fen, a Spoonbill was just flying off NE, towards the saltmarsh – it must have been hiding out of view behind the reeds. As it came past us, we could see its spoon-shaped bill.

6o0a1461Spoonbill – flew off towards the saltmarsh

We noticed a commotion at the far side of the Fen and turned to see all the waders take off and whirl round. A sleek, streamlined shape scythed through them – a Hobby. It had its eyes fixed firmly on a Dunlin which was desperately flying away  ahead of it. When the Dunlin jinked and turned, the Hobby matched it – amazingly manoeuvrable. Somehow, the Dunlin managed to get away and the Hobby towered up and away towards the harbour.

6o0a1473Hobby – chased a Dunlin from the Fen

The tide was still out, but we made our way round to look in the harbour. Two Oystercatchers were feeding on the mud by the channel, the first we had seen today. We flushed a Wheatear from beside the path, which flew off ahead of us, flashing its white rear. It landed on the path briefly, then flew up onto a post nearby, giving us great views. A little further on, a Linnet perched up on a dead branch in the Suaeda bushes.

6o0a1486Wheatear – feeding on the path on the way out to the harbour

There were lots of gulls roosting out in the harbour, on the dry mud banks, and with them we could see several larger white shapes. Through the scope, we confirmed that they were more Spoonbills. We watched two of them preening – doing themselves first, before preening each other’s head and neck. Two more Spoonbills were feeding in the water just below them.

There were lots more Oystercatchers out in the harbour, but with the tide still out it was hard to see many waders. We did manage to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit, out with the Curlew and Shelduck, and a nice Turnstone feeding on the mud down amongst the boats, turning stones over to look for food underneath. A Grey Heron flew in high over the harbour calling. There are often Grey Herons around here, but the way this one flew in made us think it might be a migrant. There have been lots of migrant Grey Herons arriving here in the last few days.

6o0a1495Grey Heron – possibly a freshly arrived migrant

However, the highlight of our time down by the harbour was the Kingfisher. It was perched on the wires on the edge of the deck of one of the boats moored in the channel. Periodically it would dart down into the shallow water after fish, flashing electric blue as it did so, before flying back up to a different part of the boat. It also perched on the edge of the deck and on the anchor chain. At one point, it seemed to take offense at its own reflection in the window of the boat, and flew at it, but it quickly realised the error of its ways and went back to looking the other way, over the side and down into the water below.

It was a lovely way to finish a very productive day’s birding on the coast – watching the Kingfisher going about its business in the harbour. We made our way back and headed for home.

7th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 1

A three day Private Tour this week, we were hoping to catch up with some early autumn migrants. Day 1 today was cloudy but hot and humid. After a late morning start, we spent the rest of the day exploring the east end of the North Norfolk coast.

Our first stop was at Cley. We drove round to the beach car park and walked out to the viewing screen where the old North Hide used to be. There was not a huge number of waders on here today, but there was still a very good selection. We quickly picked up three Little Stints, in one of the bays half way back, which then walked out of view behind the reeds and we didn’t see them again!

A Wood Sandpiper was calling when we arrived, but we couldn’t see it at first. Eventually it appeared from behind the reeds down at the front and walked out into full view. A very elegant little wader, and a great one to see. Even better, at one point it walked past a Green Sandpiper giving us a nice comparison between the two species.

img_6325Wood Sandpiper – at the front of North Scrape

We heard a Spotted Redshank calling overhead and thankfully it dropped in to the front of the scrape. It stood calling for a few seconds, while we watched it, then ran across in front of us to joined a second Spotted Redshank which had appeared nearby. Both were smart winter plumage adults. They didn’t linger long though, and flew off west calling again. A Greenshank remained asleep nearby throughout.

A scan of one of the more distant islands produced a Curlew and a couple of Common Snipe. However, a small wader asleep next to them looked more interesting, even though it was back on to us. When it was disturbed by a passing Redshank our suspicions were confirmed, it was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. Together with several Ringed Plover and Dunlin, that was an impressive haul of waders for our first hour or so.

We made our way back to the car to head round to the other side of the reserve. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up over Blakeney Freshes. The Wheatears and Whinchats though, which have been around the Eye Field in the last week, appeared to have moved on.

From round at Teal Hide, there was plenty of activity on Pat’s Pool. As well was the usual Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were lots of small waders today. We quickly picked out more Curlew Sandpipers in with all the Dunlin. They were hard to count, as many of the birds were feeding behind the main island, but we eventually got to at least 13. All were juveniles in a variety of hues, one in particular with a rather bright orangey wash across its breast. Further round, a single Little Stint was hiding in amongst all the lumps of mud. At one point, it was in the same view as a Dunlin and two Curlew Sandpipers, giving a great side by side comparison.

There was more to see than just waders here. A young Hobby was hawking for insects over the reedbed. A juvenile Water Rail scooted across in front of the reeds at the back of the scrape, unfortunately too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A Kingfisher called and flew in towards the hide, landing in the trees briefly, before zooming off again. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding in the cut reeds just outside the hide.

reed-warblerReed Warbler – here’s one outside the hide from the other day

There seemed to be Common Buzzards on the move today. We looked up above the hide at one point to see a kettle of five circling high overhead, which then drifted off west.

6o0a0504Common Buzzard – on the move, five circled high over the hides

We had a late lunch at Iron Road. The pool here has been very productive for waders in the last week or so, but was surprisingly devoid of life today, so we didn’t linger here. Instead, we walked out to Babcock Hide, past all the Greylags and Egyptian Geese on the grazing marshes. A Whimbrel called high to the east, but it was heading away from us and we couldn’t pick it up.

The water level has gone down nicely on Watling Water, exposing lots of mud. A Common Sandpiper was a nice addition to the day’s list, hiding on the edge of the reeds at the back today. There were several more Common Snipe and Ruff here too, as well as three or four Little Grebes busy diving in the deeper water. On our way back to the car, a couple of Bearded Tits were calling from deep in the reeds along the ditch right beside the path, but wouldn’t show themselves.

The wind had swung round to the east and with the low cloud we thought it might be worth looking to see if any passerine migrants had arrived. We drove round to Salthouse and walked out to Gramborough Hill. Another four Common Buzzards were circling over Salthouse church.

The bushes at Gramborough were rather quiet, just a Stonechat and Chiffchaff, as is often the way – it is boom or bust here! We did get our first Wheatear of the day, a rather richly-toned male with a deep orange breast, feeding on the edge of the grazing marshes as we walked out. On the way back, it flew out across to the shingle ridge and was joined by a second Wheatear.

img_6351Wheatear – a rather rich orange-breasted male

It was starting to get a little misty now, so with a light wind blowing onshore we had a speculative look out to sea. At first it was very quiet we saw nothing more than a few of the local Cormorants, but after a minute a bird appeared flying very low over the sea on the edge of the mist. Through the scope we could see it was a Manx Shearwater. Unfortunately, it was too distant and too murky for everyone to get onto it, so we gave up and headed back to the car.

Our final stop of the day was at Kelling. Walking down the lane to the Water Meadow, there were several birds in the thick hedges. We stopped to watch a couple of Chiffchaffs flicking around in a tall hawthorn. We heard Bullfinches calling and two flew out of the brambles, over our heads and back into the tall trees behind us. A Yellowhammer came up out of the beck beside the path.

The Water Meadow itself has all but dried out, so we carried on down to the Quags. We were almost at the beach when we came across a flurry of activity. We flushed a couple of Reed Buntings from the long grass. A few Linnets were calling from the brambles. Then a Stonechat flew from the Quags across in front of us, swiftly followed by two Whinchats.

6o0a0514Stonechat – perched up nicely in the brambles nearby

The Stonechat perched up nicely in the brambles, but the Whinchats flew off into the field beyond. We did manage to get a nice view of one Whinchat perched on the top of a bush.

img_6361Whinchat – rather less obliging than the Stonechats

We walked a short distance up the hill, but there were no other obvious migrants in the coastal bushes. Another Wheatear flew along the shingle ridge and perched on the top in the distance. A juvenile Gannet drifted past offshore. We were out of time, so we turned to head back. The Whinchats were back by the path and flew ahead of us as we walked along, accompanied by two Common Whitethroats which appeared out of the brambles.