Tag Archives: Wheatear

8th June 2018 – Summer Birds & Insects

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. The plan was to explore some particular sites, looking for birds and other wildlife on the way. It was cool and cloudy, with only a couple of brief signs of the promised brighter intervals, but it stayed dry all day which is always welcome!

To start this morning, we headed up to the heath. A Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes in the car park when we got out of the car. It is not the best time of year to see them, but we had a quick look to see if we could find any Adders first. A Common Lizard was basking on the gravel at the edge of the car park but scuttled away into the grass as we passed. A Brown Silver-line flushed from the side of the path was our first moth of the day.

A single Adder was curled up at the base of the gorse, half hidden in the vegetation, but we got a good look at it before it slithered deeper in. A second Adder a little further along more typically did not even wait before moving off as we approached. They are warmed up now, at this stage of the year, and quick to move when anyone approaches.

As we got back onto the main path, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing in the thick hawthorns at the back to the clearing. A Common Whitethroat was alarm calling ahead of us, before flying up out of the vegetation and disappearing into a bramble patch across the path. There were lots of Linnets in the gorse as we walked out across the heath.

Linnet

Linnet – nice to see them in numbers still up on the heath

As we walked through a particularly thick patch of gorse, we heard a Dartford Warbler calling. We stopped and looked at the bushes where the sound was coming from and after a minute or so it started to work its way out through the bushes into the heather – we could just see it moving in the vegetation. Then it flew and landed in a smaller gorse bush out in the middle – we could see it was a male Dartford Warbler. Unfortunately it quickly dropped in out of view.

We waited a couple of minutes to see if it might reappear, but the trail seemed to have gone cold. A Nightjar churring briefly from the trees nearby was a bit of a surprise, in the middle of the morning. This particular bird seems to have a habit of day-churring at the moment – we have heard it several times recently here.

Making our way back through the dense gorse, we could hear the Dartford Warbler singing now over the other side. Somehow it had got round behind us! Again, it wasn’t particularly obliging, probably not helped by the cool and cloudy conditions this morning. We saw it fly a couple of times and it perched on the top of the gorse briefly twice, before it dropped down into the thicker stuff. We decided to move on.

The next moth we came across in the grass was a July Belle. This species is probably regular in the right habitat in Norfolk but appears to be under-recorded, so it was a nice one to see today. There were several Silver Y moths flying around too – it seems to be a very good year for this migrant species.

July Belle

July Belle – probably a regular but under-recorded moth

There were several dragonflies up on the heath, despite the cool weather – and the absence of water. A female Broad-bodied Chaser and an Emperor Dragonfly patrolling around the heath were probably not so much of a surprise as an Azure Damselfly which flew up from the grass and landed on a gorse bush.

Many of the birds have already fledged their first broods and we encountered a couple of families on our walk round – a large flock of Long-tailed Tits and a separate flock of Blue Tits. We could hear Coal Tit singing in the trees too. As we walked through a small group of young oaks, we could hear the delicate piping calls of Bullfinches. The smart pink male Bullfinch perched up only briefly before disappearing deeper into the trees.

We went looking for Woodlarks next. There was no sign of any in the first place we looked when we arrived there. A male Yellowhammer was singing from the gorse nearby. We had walked away along the path when we turned to see two Woodlarks dropping in behind us, back where we had just been. We could see their short tails as they flew in. We made our way quickly back but they flew again before we could get a look at them and this time landed down over the bank out of view. We got some more nice flight views as they did, though.

Further down along the path, we heard a Stonechat calling and looked across to see a bright male on a post. It flew to some bushes further back and landed in the very top of one of them. A second bird appeared below, on the edge of the bush, a juvenile Stonechat. The male then dropped down to the ground, caught something, and flew back up to feed the young one.

We heard a Siskin calling and realised it was flying towards us. It landed in the top of a birch tree right in front of us, but we couldn’t really see it in all the leaves before it flew again.

On our way back, the Woodlarks flew up again from beside the path in front of us. This time they landed in a relatively clear area further along and by walking up quietly we were able to approach without disturbing them. We got them in the scope and watched them picking about on the bare earth among the small heather and bramble plants. Lovely views.

Woodlark

Woodlark – a pair were feeding quietly by the path

Sometimes it is possible to find Nightjars roosting, and the last week or so we have found a couple of them during the day. So emboldened by hearing one earlier, we headed over to another location where we have seen them before, to try our luck. The first few likely spots we looked, we drew a blank. But perseverance paid off – at the last place we tried, we crept up towards a clump of gorse and peered gingerly over to find a Nightjar looking back at us.

We made sure we kept a good distance away, as Nightjars are very easy to flush from their roost sites. We managed to find an angle where we could just get the scope onto it, and crept up one at a time for a look. The Nightjar was fantastically well camouflaged against the branches and litter below the gorse – what a stunning bird!

Nightjar

Nightjar – this roosting bird was hiding under a gorse bush

We backed off and left the Nightjar in peace. It was getting on for lunch by the time we got back to the car, so we drove down to the coast at Cley and made good use of the facilities at the Visitor Centre.

As we sat eating at the picnic tables in front, we heard a Swallow alarm call and turned to see a Hobby zoom low over the bushes just behind us and out across the reserve. It was going so fast, it managed to get most of the way across Pat’s Pool before anything even noticed it coming! Finally a Lapwing chased it off towards North Scrape.

A Marsh Harrier was flying round in the distance, over Blakeney Freshes. While we were watching it, we heard an Avocet calling behind us, and looked round to see it flying over the car park, an odd place for an Avocet. We quickly worked out why it was there –  another Marsh Harrier was quartering the field just behind the Visitor Centre. It was definitely an all action lunch break – there were several Grey Herons and one or two Little Egrets flying backwards and forwards too.

After lunch, we drove along the coast road to Kelling and walked down the lane towards the Water Meadow. We could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing in the hedges on our way. There were more Silver Y moths feeding on the flowers on the verges, along with one or two Speckled Wood butterflies. A Painted Lady flew up from basking on the path and landed on the brambles briefly. We also flushed a Black-tailed Skimmer from the bushes as we passed.

The Water Meadow itself help a selection of typical birds. A Lapwing flew up from the margin calling and a couple of Avocet were busy feeding on the pool. There were several Shelduck, a pair of Gadwall and a few Mallard on the water. A Sand Martin swooped down for a drink.

There were a couple of Common Whitethroats singing in the brambles by the path alongside the Water Meadow and, when we got down to the corner, we heard a brief snatch of Lesser Whitethroat rattle song too, in the dense blackthorn. A Reed Bunting was more obliging – singing in the reeds by the path and letting us pass by within just a few feet.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – this obliging male was singing just a few feet from us

There were more Linnets in the bushes as we took the permissive path up the hill from the Quag. We stopped to watch a Meadow Pipit displaying, fluttering up chipping before the song gradually accelerated and it parachuted back down again. A flash of white past us was a Wheatear, which landed briefly in the bushes down by the beach before being chased off its perch by one of the Linnets and disappearing down into the grass behind. It is getting late now for a northbound spring migrant – perhaps some birds might oversummer here this year, given the weather.

A quick look out to sea produced a single Fulmar flying past and a Sandwich Tern offshore. There was a nice display of Southern Marsh Orchid in flower on the edge of the Camp, so we decided to have a quick look to see if any Bee Orchid were out yet. We couldn’t find any – the verge is a bit overgrown here these days, but it is probably also early here, given how exposed the site is.

On our way back down, a Red Kite was circling over the fields the other side of the Quags, where the grass was being harvested for silage. There were a couple of Skylarks singing on the edge of the Camp, and a family of Pied Wagtails was feeding around the gun emplacements. A Meadow Pipit posed nicely on a fence post by the path.

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit – posed nicely on a fence post by the path

Our final destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, the first thing which struck us was the fantastic display of Poppies in the meadow opposite. We went over for a closer look – and some obligatory photos!

Poppies

Poppies – the meadow next to the path is looking stunning at the moment

There are some nice hedges by the path here and some sheltered areas out of the wind, which meant for a nice selection of insects as we walked along. First, we flushed an Orange Tip from the edge of the path. Then we stopped to admire several bee mimic hoverflies, Volucella bombylans, in the brambles. They look very like bumblebees and are variable in appearance as they even mimic different species of bee! There were a couple of different moths in the vegetation along the path here too, Silver-ground Carpet and Straw Dot.

Volucella bombylans

Volucella bombylans – a bee mimic hoverfly, one of many in the brambles

When we got to the gap in the trees where you can see over the brambles to the Fen, the first thing we noticed was a large white bird on one of the islands. It was a Spoonbill, and it was doing what Spoonbills like to do best. Sleeping!

 

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – doing what every Spoonbill like to do best!

Up onto seawall, we had a better view across the whole of the Fen. We had a look at the Spoonbill in the scope, noting its rather sparse bushy crest blowing in the wind – possibly a sub-adult bird. When it took off, we thought it might fly up past us and out towards the harbour to feed, but instead it just landed straight back down again behind the reeds, where we couldn’t see it. There were lots of Avocets on the Fen, including several small juveniles. We found one Little Ringed Plover too, on one of the islands.

Making our way round to the harbour, a Reed Warbler and a Common Whitethroat were feeding in the dense vegetation just below us, on the seawall. The Reed Warbler was singing rather half-heartedly. A gang of eight noisy Oystercatchers chased each over round overhead.

Out in the harbour, the tide was about half way out. A large mob of teenage Mute Swans were swimming in the channel. Mute Swans take several years to mature and there appeared to be several different ages here, based on the colour of their bills. A group of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers were feeding further out, on the mud. We could see all the seals in the distance out on Blakeney Point.

As we turned to walk back, a male Marsh Harrier flew past just behind the hedge and helpfully came up into view. A Common Tern flew past along the harbour channel. Back at the Fen, the Spoonbill was still asleep. A Speckled Wood posed nicely in the brambles along the footpath back towards the road.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – posed nicely by the path on the way back

It was time to head for home now. It had been a very interesting day out – some new sites for the group, and lots of interesting wildlife, not just birds today.

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

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

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

Grey Heron

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

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

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

Avocet

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

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

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

Ruff

Ruff – looking smart now, in full breeding plumage

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

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

Bearded Tit

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

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

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

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

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

Whimbrel

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

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

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

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

Little Tern

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

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

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – showed very nicely off the East Bank

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

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

Wheatear

Wheatear – this male was around the beach behind North Scrape

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

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

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

White-winged Black Tern

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – on the marshes at Wells Woods

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

Nightjar Evening

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

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

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

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

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

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – a striking white bird at Cley

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

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

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

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

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

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

16th May 2018 – The North Wind Blows

A single day Spring Tour today in North Norfolk. It was cloudy all day but thankfully stayed dry. A blustery and cold north wind would make like slightly difficult for us, keeping some birds down, but adverse weather can also lead to new birds dropping in, as we would find out.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we noticed two pairs of Grey Partridge feeding quietly on the edge of the grazing meadows by the side of the road. A nice start to the day.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – one of two pairs by the Drive at Holkham this morning

A little further on, we pulled up and got out to scan the rushy pools on the grazing marsh. A pair of Avocet were feeding down at the front, but a pale wader half hidden out at the back caught our eye. Through the rushes we could see it was a Greenshank, a spring migrant stopping off here on its way north. Perhaps a sign of things to come today? There was also no shortage of Greylag Geese and a few Shelduck out on the marshes.

Parking at the north end, we took the track west on the inland side of the pines, which gave us a bit of shelter from the cold wind this morning. Still, it was rather subdued in the trees today, although we did hear a few warblers singing – a few Blackcap, one or two Chiffchaff, and the sweet descending scale of a Willow Warbler.

There were no birds on Salts Hole this morning – it seems to be more popular as a swimming pool for dogs at this time of year! In the reeds just beyond we heard a Sedge Warbler singing and a little further on there were several Reed Warblers too, but they were all keeping well tucked down out of the wind today.

A male Marsh Harrier was patrolling the marshes and flew off carrying a small rodent which it had caught. There were lots of Common Swifts zooming back and forth low over the marshes today too, trying to find insects in the wind. We headed for Joe Jordan Hide.

When we got to the hide, one of the wardens was driving around out on the marshes, surveying, so there was not much to see at first. Thankfully, after a short while, he flushed a Great White Egret and after flying around various pools and ditches for a while it landed out in the grassy pools in front of the hide.

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – one of two we saw at Holkham today

This Great White Egret was sporting an all dark bill, which they can do in the breeding season. A second Great White Egret which flew out of the trees still had an all yellow bill. It landed out of view in a ditch behind some bushes. There were a few Little Egrets flying in and out of the trees too, but numbers still appear to be down on previous years, after the cold March weather took its toll.

The Spoonbills are the chief draw here, but they were rather elusive at first. We saw a couple circle up out of the trees and drop back in again, and the warden helpfully flushed one from behind the trees along with a great gaggle of Greylags and mass of Woodpigeons, which did a nice fly round. We could just see the heads of a pair of Spoonbills in the vegetation behind the fort.

Eventually one Spoonbill did the decent thing and flew down to the pool. It did land behind the reeds at first, but then walked out and started to bathe and preen, so that we could get a good look at its yellow-tipped spoon-shaped bill. Its shaggy nuchal crest was blowing around in the wind.

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – eventually one dropped down onto the pool

There were a few Cormorants coming and going to and from the trees too. We watched a Marsh Harrier drop into a small clump of reeds, clearly after something it had seen. It wrestled its way into the thick vegetation and eventually emerged with what looked like a young Moorhen.

There are plenty of Greylag Geese out on the marshes here, many with small goslings now. One goose in the corner of the pool stood out – smaller, with a dark head and smaller mostly dark bill, the latter very different from the big orange carrots sported by the Greylags. It was a lone Pink-footed Goose, and we had a good look at it through the scope side by side with one of its larger cousins. Almost all the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have gone north to Iceland to breed, but just a handful of sick or injured birds will remain through the summer.

Back to the car, we headed east along the coast road to Cley, with the prospect of some shelter in the hides and hoping for some waders out on the reserve. Our first stop was down at the beach. There were no terns fishing offshore today in the wind – a single Sandwich Tern took the alternative route back to the Point today , inland across the Eye Field. We decided on a bracing walk along the beach towards North Scrape.

Our braveness quickly paid off, with a smart male Wheatear sheltering amongst the concrete blocks out on the shingle. We had a great look at it, just a few metres in front of us, before it flew off, flashing the white rump from which it gets its name.

Wheatear

Wheatear – sheltering on the beach behind some concrete blocks

From the ridge on the edge of the Eye Field, we stopped to scan Billy’s Wash and North Scrape, but both looked to be pretty quiet today. Given the wind, we decided not to continue on further and headed back to the car park where we made good use of the beach shelter to have our lunch. Afterwards, we drove round to the visitor centre to get our permits for the reserve and as we came out, a Yellow Wagtail flew over our heads calling and dropped down towards the scrapes.

There were lots more Common Swifts hanging in the air low over the Visitor Centre and they zoomed round low over our heads as we walked out to the hides, before drifting off and gathering over the trees behind the village. A couple of Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds along the ditch, but kept their heads down out of the wind.

Common Swift

Common Swift – there were lots at Cley today, feeding low in the wind

We popped into Avocet Hide first, to see if there was anything on Whitwell Scrape. A pair of Gadwall were feeding just below the hide as we opened the flaps and a lone drake Teal was swimming on the edge of the reeds right at the back. A couple of Sandwich Terns were hiding in with the Black-headed Gulls before flying off calling.

We could see a couple of Avocets hunkered down on the nest on the first island. A third Avocet flew in and stopped to preen in the water briefly before walking up to one of the nests and replacing its partner, taking its turn at incubating the eggs.

Avocet

Avocets – we watched this changeover at one of the nests

There was clearly much more to be seen on Simmond’s Scrape, so we made our way round to Dauke’s Hide for a closer look. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits on here, busy feeding, probing their long bills down into the mud in the deeper water. About twenty Dunlin were scattered around the edges of the muddy islands, most sporting summer black belly patches to a greater or lesser extent, along with a single Ringed Plover.

Then a small wader on a spit over in the far corner caught our eye. Obviously smaller than the Dunlin the other side, through the scope we could see it was mostly brown with scattered black-centred feathers in its upperparts, clean white below and with yellowish legs. It was a Temminck’s Stint, a scarce migrant wader which passed through in small numbers each spring. A nice bird to find here.

Thankfully just after everyone had a chance to look at it through the scope, everything on the scrape erupted, flushed by a passing Marsh Harrier over the reeds beyond. The Black-tailed Godwits settled back on Pat’s Pool but the Temminck’s Stint and the Dunlin all seemed to disappear off over the reserve.

Turning our attention to Pat’s Pool, a couple of Ruff were hiding in with the godwits now, including a smart black male which was starting to get its distinctive summer ruff. Out on the mud, we spotted a Greenshank, which then helpfully walked up beside a Common Redshank to give us a nice side by side comparison.

Greenshank

Greenshank – feeding on the mud on Pat’s Pool

More waders were clearly dropping in, probably encouraged to stop off on their journey north by the cold and windy weather. When we next looked back where the Greenshank was feeding, it had been replaced by a Wood Sandpiper. Much smaller than the accompanying Redshanks, through the scope we could see its white-spangled upperparts and prominent pale supercilium. Another scarce spring migrant wader, and another nice one to add to the day’s list.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – appeared on Pat’s Pool with the Redshank

The Dunlin returned to Simmond’s Scrape after a while and then someone found the Temminck’s Stint back again, asleep on one of the islands. There were two Little Terns out here now too – through the scope, we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

When the Temminck’s Stint woke up, it had a quick preen, and then helpfully flew round and landed on the island in front of the hide where we could get a really good look at it. We had seen a Temminck’s Stint here on Saturday, but this was clearly now a new bird, not quite as extensively marked with dark-centred feathering as the bird the other day.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – eventually showed very well on Simmond’s Scrape

Very pleased with what we had seen here today, we made our way back to the Visitor Centre and drove round to Iron Road next. There was very little to be seen on the pool by the track, so we walked out to Babcock Hide to have a look at Watling Water. We had not even got to the hide when we spotted the five Spoonbills which had been wandering round the reserve today. Unfortunately, where they were standing was completely hidden from view from the hide, behind the reeds!

There were a few other birds to look at one here. A Common Sandpiper was feeding up and down along the edge of one of the islands, before it flew over back over the reeds. Two Little Ringed Plovers were sheltering on the other side of the island, in the lee of the wind. Through the scope, we could see their distinctive golden yellow eye rings.

The Spoonbills eventually emerged from where they were hiding and flew over to the back of the pool, where they started to feed, their heads down in the water, sweeping their bills quickly from side to side.

Spoonbill 2

Spoonbills – there were five at Cley today, feeding on Watling Water

There was still a little bit of time left, so we decided to brave the wind and walk up along the East Bank. Thankfully, it had dropped a bit but it was still rather chilly and blustery. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds just the other side of the channel below the bank and we had a quick look at it through the scope before it dropped down out of view.

There did not appear to be much out on the Serpentine or Pope’s Pool today, but we did find a single lingering drake Wigeon, a useful addition to the day’s list. Almost all the Wigeon which spent the winter here have long since departed, back to Russia for the breeding season. Arnold’s Marsh was also fairly quiet today, with a few Redshank and Ringed Plover, and a single Turnstone hiding in the vegetation along the edge.

It was time to head back now, but it had been a very productive day despite the wind, with a great selection of spring waders in particular.

24th Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 4

Day 4 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. After three days up on the North Norfolk coast, we headed down to the Broads – not least because there were several good birds to see down there. It was thankfully less windy than yesterday but, after spitting on and off from late morning, it finally started to rain around 3pm, unusually around the time it was forecast!

It was a long drive down to the Broads this morning. A Pallid Harrier had been found on the coast between Horsey and Winterton yesterday and was reported to be still around today, so we headed straight over there first. We parked in the car park at Winterton and set off north through the dunes.

We could see four or five people standing on the top of a tall dune in the distance and we met one of the locals coming back who told us that was the best place to head for first, even though the bird had headed off north. As we made our way over the dunes, there were Wheatears everywhere, flying off in all directions ahead of us.

Wheatear

Wheatear – there were lots in the North Dunes today

When we got up onto the top of the tall dune, the message was the same as we had heard earlier – the Pallid Harrier had been seen flying off north and lost to view. Still, it had been back once or twice already, so this seemed like the best place to stand for now.

There were several dog walkers out this morning and one of them flushed a small group of Ring Ouzels, which flew off ahead of them and landed in the tops of a small group of scrubby trees down in the bottom of the dunes. We just got them in the scope before they were flushed again and flew off further north.

While we were all watching the Ring Ouzels, one of the group asked ‘what’s this bird over here?’. We turned around to see the Pallid Harrier a short distance away! It was chasing a Skylark over the dunes, twisting and turning. The Skylark got away and the Pallid Harrier turned towards the dune where we were standing and flew right past just below us. Wow!

Pallid Harrier 2

Pallid Harrier – came right past just below where we were standing

We could see the Pallid Harrier‘s pale collar, set off by the dark ‘boa’ just behind. It was much slimmer winged and more streamlined than a Hen Harrier too. It headed off south towards the car park, then turned and started to make its way back, along the seaward edge of the dunes. It came past us again, a bit more distant this time, and we watched as it disappeared away to the north. It was clearly doing a regular circuit of the dunes, between the beach car park and Horsey to the north.

Having enjoyed such fantastic views of the Pallid Harrier, we set off down into the dunes to try to get a better look at the Ring Ouzels now. There were more Wheatears here and a male Stonechat, which perched up obligingly in the top of a small tree next to the path.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male perched up obligingly near the path

Before we even got to where we thought the Ring Ouzels had gone, we flushed one from a bramble clump ahead of us. It flew off over the crest of the dune calling. When we got to the top, we saw three Ring Ouzels fly again, from a ridge further over. They seemed to be very flighty today. We swung round in a wide arc to the north, to try to find somewhere to try to view them from a safe distance, but they were off again.

This time the Ring Ouzels, now four of them, flew across and landed in front of a large dune where some people were sitting looking for the Pallid Harrier. We made our way round to the back of the dune and crept up the side. When we looked over the edge we could see the Ring Ouzels on the next dune ridge over. They were feeding happily and we had a good look at them through the scope, several males and at least one female, before they dropped down the other side of the ridge out of view.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – at least four of them showed very well from a discrete distance

As we walked up to join the others on the top of the dune, they alerted us to the fact that the Pallid Harrier was doing another pass behind us. We followed it as it disappeared off to the south again, down to the car park. A few minutes later, it was back and we watched as the Pallid Harrier headed off north low over the dunes. Great views again! We had been spoiled now, with the performance the Pallid Harrier had put on for us, so we decided to move on and see what else we could find.

Pallid Harrier 1

Pallid Harrier – we watched it do another couple of passes through the dunes

As we made our way back south through the dunes, there didn’t seem to be as many birds as on our way up earlier, particularly we didn’t see any more Wheatears. Probably they had all been flushed out of this part of the dunes by all the people walking through. There were lots of Skylarks singing and we did come across a smart male Yellowhammer perched in the top of a small tree.

We carried on south, over the road and on into the south dunes. As we got up to the first trees, we could see a small warbler flitting around in the bare branches and picking at the leaf buds which were just starting to open. It was a Lesser Whitethroat and we watched it for a couple of minutes as it worked its way through the branches. A Chiffchaff flew in and started singing from higher up in the same tree.

A little further on, we found a Willow Warbler and a Blackcap. The Willow Warbler was singing from time to time, a beautiful, sweet descending scale, and showed well in some low hawthorns. The Blackcap kept low in the brambles, subsinging.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – we saw several in the south dunes

As we continued on south, there were more warblers in the trees and bushes. Another Lesser Whitethroat, another couple of Willow Warblers, another Blackcap. A Common Whitethroat started singing but disappeared off ahead of us.

There were not many birds moving today. We did see a small number of Swallows, but only about 4-5, heading north through the dunes, and next to nothing else. There were plenty of Linnets and a few Meadow Pipits in the dunes.

Linnet

Linnet – still quite common in the dunes

As we turned to head back, a male Stonechat was singing from the brambles in the middle of the Valley. A particularly bright, lemon-yellow breasted Willow Warbler was flitting around in one of the small oaks in the next clump of trees. We made our way slowly back to the car.

News had come through that the Black-winged Stilt, which had been found at Potter Heigham yesterday, was still present today. So we made our way over there next. When we got there, it was time for lunch. As we ate, a male Marsh Harrier was displaying high over our heads, calling.

Scanning the first pool we passed, we spotted a very smart drake Garganey out in the middle, so we stopped to have a look at it through the scope. There were lots of other ducks on here too – Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Duck. Plus both Little and Great Crested Grebes, both in breeding plumage.

We had just started to walk on when we received a phone call to say the Black-winged Stilt had just flown over our way. Sure enough, we found it on the next pool, quite close, down towards the front. We got it in the scope, noting its black mantle and black markings on the head, suggesting it is a male.

Black-winged Stilt

Black-winged Stilt – this lone male was very mobile around the pools today

The water levels are quite high here at the moment, so there are not that many places for it to feed and it appears to be very mobile. The Black-winged Stilt made its way along the edge of a flooded grassy island, then flew over to the next pool. We watched it on there for a few minutes before it was off again, and flew over to the pools at the back by the river.

From here we could see two more Garganey on the bank at the back of this pool. A flock of hirundines was hawking over the water, mainly Swallows and House Martins. One Common Swift was in with them.

We were told that a couple of Spoonbills had flown in and landed on one of the other pools, along the access track. We walked back there but couldn’t see them at first – they were not where they had been earlier. Then we picked them up, feeding with their heads down half hidden behind a line of reeds. Eventually they put their heads up briefly and we could just about see them properly.

There were lots more duck on these pools and a group of five Garganey were down towards the front. There were four smart drakes, with bold white stripes on their heads, and a single browner female. It is great to see groups of Garganey like this – a scene more like spring in the Mediterranean than the UK. There was also a single drake Pintail lingering here.

Garganey

Garganey – a flock of five, including four drakes

It was starting to rain now, but we wanted to see if we could find any Cranes. We headed back past the car park. A couple of Sedge Warblers were singing from the reeds and then we heard a Reed Warbler too – much more structured and rhythmical.

Continuing on, we came to an open area where we could scan a large expanse of grazing marsh. The first thing we set eyes on was a pair of Cranes over in the distance. We got them in the scope and there was no mistaking them. As it was raining harder now, we made our way back to the car. A Grasshopper Warbler reeled briefly from deep in the bushes out in the reeds.

Having achieved all our targets here, we decided to head back towards North Norfolk and stop to see if we could find anything from the car on the way. We made our way up to Cromer and turned west along the coast road.

Our first detour was at West Runton where we had a quick look in the paddocks along the road down to the beach. A single Wheatear was perched on one of the fence posts, looking decidedly soggy. It was too wet to have a look at Beeston Bump now, so we continued on to Salthouse and drove up the Beach Road. A single Wheatear was out in the grass just north of the main drain.

Our last detour was at Cley, where once again we headed down along the road to the beach. We stopped at the bend and scanned out along the fence line. The first bird we set eyes on was a cracking male Whinchat, preening in the wet. A great bonus at the end of the day! There were also dozens of Swallows here too, perching on the fence or hawking low over the reeds, along with several Sand Martins and one or two House Martins.

Hirundines

Hirundines – gathered on the fence in the rain

We had a quick look at the sea from the beach shelter, but there was not much happening offshore. A couple of Sandwich Terns flew past calling.

We had enjoyed a great day out, despite the rain setting in later, and see a really good selection of birds. We decided to call time and head for home.

22nd Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 2

Day 2 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. It was mostly another lovely sunny day and warm too – up to 24C. There were forecast to be thunderstorms from about 3pm this afternoon, but thankfully they didn’t arrive until 4.30pm, when we were all but finished for the day.

Cley was our first destination for the morning. We wanted to see whether any migrants were moving along the coast, so we headed up to the beach car park first. A couple of Ruff were feeding around the pool in the Eye Field when we drove up. As we got out of the car and scanned the grass, we could already see several Wheatears – it was going to be a good day for them today!

Walking east along the shingle, a pair of Common Redshank flew up from the grass just beyond the fence and perched on the posts as we approached. They dropped down to the small pool just beyond and started to display, walking round each other calling with tails fanned. The female then bowed and the male started to flutter his wings, calling all the time. He did this for a couple of minutes and finally it looked like they were about to mate, but just as he flew up, the female walked off!

Redshank

Common Redshank – one of a pair by the Eye Field

From the grassy ridge, we stopped to scan the field and Billy’s Wash beyond. We could see several more Wheatears out in the grass from here – we reckoned there must be at least 10 out there this morning, a big increase on recent days. There were plenty of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits too.

There was a nice selection of ducks out on Billy’s Wash, including a pair of Wigeon and a male Pintail asleep in the grass. A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were next to a couple of young Great Black-backs, giving a nice size comparison.

There were quite a few Ruff around the muddy edges and one or two Black-tailed Godwits in the water too. But it was only as we were packing up to move on that one of the group spotted a Green Sandpiper on a small bare island. It was only there for a minute or so, but enough for us to get a good look at it. It was quite distant, but even at that range we could see that it lacked the white notch between the breast and wing of Common Sandpiper.

Migrants were just starting to move along the coast. We had our first Yellow Wagtail fly past with a sharp ‘tshreep’ call and one or two Swallows go west over the Eye Field. There are some birds which are less obviously migrants, but you can still spot some of them which appear to be on the move. A small group of five Carrion Crows flew past determinedly east, followed a short while later by another six. Then ten or so more dropped down into the grass for a second before continuing on their way.

Carrion Crows

Carrion Crow – one of several small groups moving east this morning

North Scrape looked pretty quiet at first, but a careful scan revealed a single Common Snipe lurking on the edge of the reeds right down at the front. The number of Ruff has been steadily increasing as birds start to make their way back north again, stopping off here before heading back to the continent. There was a nice flock of twenty or so out here this morning, accompanied by a single Dunlin. A Whimbrel or two flew past behind us, calling.

While we were admiring the waders, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call behind us and turned round to see a flock of eight flying past over the shingle. They dropped down onto the ridge of the Eye Field and we had a good view of them in the scope, feeding in the grass. There were several stunningly bright yellow males, which positively shone in the morning sun. Another four Yellow Wagtails then flew past over the edge of North Scrape and dropped down to join them. It is always a real sign of spring migration when the Yellow Wagtails are moving and a delight to witness.

The Yellow Wagtails flew up and appeared to drop back into the grass on the other side of the ridge, so we decided to start to make our way back to try to get a closer look at them. As we walked back, three Sandwich Terns flew past just offshore. Four Wheatears flew up from the near corner of the Eye Field and two of them perched up on the fence posts ahead of us, a male and a female. It was hard to tell whether they were part of the group we had seen on our walk out or new additions.

Wheatears

Wheatear – there were lots in the Eye Field today

As we got up onto the ridge, we saw a group of Yellow Wagtails fly past. They were possibly the same ones we had seen earlier, but this time they were accompanied by a couple of White Wagtails. We saw the latter drop down onto the small pool by the fence where we had seen the Redshanks earlier. When we got back there, we had great views of the two White Wagtails and two smart male Yellow Wagtails too. We could see the pale silvery grey backs of the White Wagtails, very different from the darker black or slate grey of our Pied Wagtails.

Back at the car, we made our way further east along the coast road to Kelling. As we walked up along the lane, it was rather quiet at first. A Chiffchaff was singing in the grounds of the school. As we got to the copse, we could hear another Chiffchaff and a Blackcap singing. Two male Blackcaps then appeared in the trees on the other side of the path, before chasing each other back into the copse.

In the dense bramble hedge bordering the Water Meadow, we could hear a Common Whitethroat subsinging at first. We stood and listened for a second and waited for it to appear, and eventually it flew up from the vegetation and hovered above singing, before dropping back into the brambles further along. It proceeded to sing from various points as it moved down the hedge ahead of us. They are only just starting to return from their wintering grounds in Africa now, so it is always a pleasure to head a Common Whitethroat.

Common Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – back in and singing in the hedge alongside the Water Meadow

There were a few bits and pieces on the pool itself, but nothing out of the ordinary – a few Avocets and a Redshank, plus a variety of ducks including Teal and Shoveler. As we continued on down towards the Quags, a Sedge Warbler was singing in the reeds and a Lesser Whitethroat rattled at us from deep in the flowering blackthorn. A pair of Stock Doves flew over and dropped down on the edge of the shingle ridge.

We kept scanning the bushes and brambles as we walked down towards the beach. There were loads of Linnets and another Common Whitethroat flew out ahead of us and down to the corner. Before we got there, we happened to look back and noticed a small bird on the brambles half way up the slope. A quick look through the scope confirmed it was a cracking male Whinchat, a regular but rather scarce migrant through here in spring. We all had a good look at it through the scope, but then it dropped down and completely disappeared.

Stopping to scan the Quags, we could see yet more Wheatears out in the grass. They really were coming through in numbers today. Someone walking past mentioned that there had been a sandpiper out here earlier and thankfully, just a short while afterwards, a helicopter flew past and a Common Sandpiper flicked up from the far side of the island out in the middle of the small pool briefly.

We had to wait a short while longer until the Common Sandpiper eventually walked round onto the near side of the island and we could get a better look at it. Unlike the Green Sandpiper we had seen earlier, we could see the obvious notch of white extending up between the breast and the wing on this one.

There were more migrants moving here too. A few Sand Martins were possibly local birds, but a handful of House Martins flew through west too, along with one or two Swallows. More small groups of Yellow Wagtails flew overhead, their shrill calls alerting us each time to their passing, along with several parties of Linnets.

News came through that two Common Cranes had been seen flying west past Cromer, so we walked up onto the ridge to see whether we could see them. We flushed a few Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting from the grass. A male Stonechat up in the bushes appeared to be carrying food, or possibly nest material. There was no sign of the Cranes – it turned out they had headed inland and dropped back to the coast later, at Cley. But we did pick up a couple of Red Kites flying east and several Common Buzzards circling up over the ridge inland.

A couple of Ring Ouzels had been seen earlier, on the edge of Weybourne Camp, so we walked back down and along the front to see if we could find them again. We couldn’t, but we did see yet more Yellow Wagtails flying past. Three drake Common Scoter were diving offshore and we could see the yellow stripe up the front of the bill in the sunshine.

Common Scoter

Common Scoter – these three were diving just offshore

After a quick walk back to the car, we made our way round to the Visitor Centre at Cley for lunch. A Marsh Harrier was circling up out over the reserve and House Sparrows were chirping from the bushes as we ate.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. As we walked out along the boardwalk to the hides, we could hear Bearded Tits calling. A male perched up briefly in the reeds before flying off over the tops, then several more flitted back and forth across the path ahead of us. A pair of Lapwing were displaying over the edge of Cricket Marsh, tumbling and twisting in unison, and singing – such an amazing song for a wader.

Lapwing

Lapwings – displaying over Cricket Marsh

We headed straight into Dauke’s Hide first. We could immediately see lots of waders out on both Simmond’s Scrape and Pat’s Pool. In particular, there were good numbers of both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit. The former are quite common here, but Bar-tailed Godwits are more normally found out in the harbour or on Arnold’s Marsh. They were quite possibly migrants, stopping off here to rest on their way north.

It was nice to see the two species of godwit alongside each other for comparison. The Bar-tailed Godwits were noticeably smaller and shorter legged with a more obviously up-turned bill, and in non-breeding plumage with paler sandy upperparts strongly streaked with dark, very different from the rather plain grey upperparts of the Black-tailed Godwits. Several of the Black-tailed Godwits were already starting to moult extensively into their rusty breeding plumage, as was one of the Bar-tailed Godwits.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit – moulting into rusty breeding plumage

In with the godwits, there were fifteen or more Knot too, much smaller and greyer, with a shorter straight bill. A couple of Dunlin were already starting to moult into breeding plumage, already showing a black belly patch.

There were lots more Ruff out here too. They are already starting to moult into breeding plumage too, the males getting variegated with brighter summer feathering in various colours, although none are yet starting to get their breeding ruffs. There were much bigger numbers of females now, which are noticeably and substantially smaller than the males. They really are one of the most confusing of waders, with the variety of sizes and colours!

White Wagtails were liberally scattered over the scrapes – we managed to count at least six on view at the same time. They are passing through in good numbers at the moment, heading back north, across to the continent for the summer.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – we counted at least 6 on the scrapes at Cley

There have been a couple of Great White Egrets along this section of the coast in the last few days, migrants or wandering birds different from the residents at Holkham. One Great White Egret chose that moment to stick its neck up out of the ditch which leads away to one side of the hide – we could see its long, yellow, dagger-like bill.

It was working its way slowly towards us along the ditch, but when the door to the hide was slammed shut it flew up and out and landed on the bank further back, which at least meant we got a good look at it in all its glory. It then walked back into the ditch beyond.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – feeding in one of the ditches out from the hides

A good number of Black-headed Gulls were gathered on one of  the islands on Pat’s Pool, sleeping or preening. A couple of young Common Gulls were in with them. At the far end of the island, a couple of Sandwich Terns were lurking amongst them and through the scope we could see their yellow-tipped black bills and shaggy crests.

We had a quick look in at Avocet Hide, but there was no sign of the pair of Garganey which were around the area yesterday. There are lots of Avocets on here and they look to be getting down to nesting – the new scrape seems to be very much to their liking. One Avocet was tidying up the island in front of the hide and another pair were mating further back.

When all the Avocets started alarm calling and flew up from the scrapes, we looked up to scan for raptors. It is normally just one of the local Marsh Harriers, but this time a small adult male Peregrine came zipping over high from behind the hide and out towards the Eye Field, scattering everything, before turning back towards the village.

A group of bigger gulls were half hidden in the long grass out on Billy’s Wash and someone in the hide then spotted a juvenile Glaucous Gull which had walked out to the end of the group. We could see its striking black-tipped, pink-based bill and it looked generally washed out and pale. When it flapped its wings, we could see its distinctive pale primaries too. This bird has been hanging around here, on and off, for some time now, joining the other loafing gulls here in the afternoon.

After walking back to the Visitor Centre, we drove the short distance round to the Iron Road and made our way out to Babcock Hide. Three Little Ringed Plovers were on the grassy spit out to one side of the hide and it quickly became apparent that they were a pair and a third bird. The male of the pair was clearly trying to see off the other bird and proceeded to chase it right across in front of the hide. It was pretty relentless and wouldn’t let it settle, but it meant we got stunning close views of them – it was very easy to see the striking golden yellow eye ring at this close range!

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – one of the three in front of Babcock Hide

There were more Ruff on the scrape here, including a rusty-coloured male which was feeding with a Redshank right at the front. Up close, we could see it had lost all its neck feathers and the new ones were just starting to grow, in pin. Presumably it won’t be too long before this one is sporting its smart breeding ruff.

Ruff 2

Ruff – this male has moulted its neck feathers already

A pair of Pied Wagtails were also feeding on the mud right in front of the hide and it was a good opportunity to look closely at them and compare them to the White Wagtails we had seen earlier. The male Pied Wagtail was pretty obvious, with a glossy black mantle, but the female had a rather plain but slate grey back, much darker than the White Wagtails.

The Black-necked Grebe finally appeared from behind the reeds at the back – the bird we had come here hoping to see. It has been around for several days now and it was well worth the effort – it really is stunning in full breeding plumage, mostly black with chestnut flanks, and then a tuft of bright golden feathers flaring out behind its bright red eye.

Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe – a stunning bird, in full breeding plumage

The Spoonbill was less obliging, doing what Spoonbills like to do best, fast asleep in the reeds at the back. We could just see its shaggy nuchal crest blowing in the wind, but it kept its bill tucked in.

Heading back to the car, we walked on up the Iron Road to the pool. There were several more Wheatears here – at least 3 – feeding in the short grass around the edge of the scrape. Another couple of White Wagtails were out on the mud in the middle. It really was the day for migrant Wheatears and wagtails today – great to see!

There were more Ruff and a couple of Redshanks on here too – this pool is looking just right for waders at the moment, although it is now starting to dry out so they had better hurry up. We could see dark clouds gathering to west, and flashes of lightning offshore, so we walked back to the car. We were just in time – it started to rain as we drove back towards Cley.

We stopped at the Visitor Centre for a break and to scan the scrapes to see if the rain bright down any migrants and when we got inside, the heavens opened. All the birds were standing out on the pools, rowed up, facing up, looking into the rain, trying to let it wash off them. We were fortunate – the thunder storms had been forecast for much earlier in afternoon. We had pretty much finished anyway for the day now. As it started to ease off, we made a quick dash for car the and headed for home.

Here’s looking forward to another day out tomorrow!

21st Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 1

Day 1 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. It was a cloudy start, but brightened up in the afternoon – a lovely sunny and warm end to the day.

Our destination for the morning was Burnham Overy Dunes. A Marsh Harrier was calling away towards the village as we got out of the car. As we walked down along Whincover, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing its distinctive rattle from deep in the blackthorn hedge. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us too, as we passed – good to hear one here as they have been very scarce in recent weeks, after the cold weather in March.

The cowman had been down and left the gate open, which meant we didn’t have to climb over the stile, and when he drove out into the field to the cows, he flushed a couple of Grey Partridge. They flew across a ditch towards us but despite seeing where they had landed they were hard to see in the long grass. The male spent more time with his neck up, looking around while the female fed – we could see his grey neck and orange face.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – hard to see in the long grass

As we approached the next gate, we could hear the first Sedge Warbler singing, a mad concoction of scratches and rattles, with no real rhythm. There were several Sedge Warblers singing in the brambles and briars along this stretch, up to the seawall, but the first was the best performer, perched in the top of a bush right in front of us, flashing its orange gape as it sang.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – there are lots in now and singing

There were a few Greylags and Egyptian Geese scattered around the grazing marshes, which look very good at the moment, with quite a bit of water still in the pools and flashes. Despite this, there do not appear to be many Lapwing out here currently, hopefully there are more yet to return to nest. There were a few Redshank too.

We could hear a Bittern booming rather intermittently from the reedbed, but it had stopped by the time we got up onto the seawall. There were Bearded Tits calling too, but they kept themselves mostly well down in the reeds. Occasionally, we could just see one whizzing over the tops before dropping back into cover.

A few Common Pochard and Tufted Duck were diving out on the pool in the middle of the reeds. There were one or two Wigeon here too, lingering birds which have not yet departed, on their way back to Russia for the breeding season.

There were a couple of Little Egrets around the pools and ditches out on the grazing marshes, another bird which was hit hard by the cold weather earlier in the year. Further back, we could see another, larger white bird with a long, snake-like neck. It was a Great White Egret. One of the best ways to distinguish them from Little Egret normally is bill colour (which is normally yellow-orange in Great White Egret), but in breeding condition the Great White Egret‘s bill darkens too. This bird had a nice dark bill – hopefully they will breed at Holkham again this year.

A smart male Wheatear was out in the middle of the grazing marsh too. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. We could see it had brown feathering in the grey of the upperparts and a very rich, burnt orange wash to the throat and breast, suggesting it was a Greenland Wheatear.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a male of the Greenland race

A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew in from the direction of the harbour. We could hear their distinctive calls before we could see them. As they flew past us, we could see their white wing tips and deep black hoods.

There was a small flock of Brent Geese feeding out on the saltmarsh. Most of them were Dark-bellied Brents, but there is often a Black Brant hybrid out here with them. So, when we got a glimpse of a brighter white flank patch, we assumed initially it would be that bird before it walked out of the vegetation. In addition to the bold and extensive flank patch, it had restricted white neck-side patches and appeared a shade or so lighter than the nearby Dark-bellied Brents. It looked most likely to be a Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied Brent intergrade, an interesting bird.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – possibly a Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied hybrid

The tide was coming in out in the harbour. A large flock of waders whirled round and dropped down onto the saltmarsh. We could see three sizes of birds as they flew round – the larger Grey Plovers with variable black specking underneath and black armpits, plain grey Knot a size down, and then smaller Dunlin with them. They landed around some pools out on the saltmarsh, where we could get the Grey Plover and Knot in the scope, but the Dunlin disappeared into the vegetation.

When we got out to the boardwalk, we noticed a toad crossing in front of us. The dunes here are a very good site for Natterjack Toad and sure enough, when we got close enough we could see the distinctive pale yellow stripe down the middle of the back. It is not very common to see the Natterjacks here, as they are mostly nocturnal, so this was really great to come across out in the daytime.

Natterjack Toad 1

Natterjack Toad – crossed the boardwalk as we were heading out to the dunes

As we got into the dunes, there were three people ahead of us who flushed several Wheatears from the grass. We saw them fly round, flashing their white rumps, before landing on the top of the dune ridge beyond. One female Wheatear then flew back and landed on the path in front of us, before flying up and over the fence.

They had probably also just flushed a Whimbrel, because it flew back in shortly after and landed down on the short grass where it walked around for a minute or so allowing us to get a good look at it. It was clearly smaller than a Curlew, and slimmer in build, with a shorter bill and a more boldly marked, stripy head pattern. Then it flew again, further back, up into the dunes.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding on the short grass in the dunes

There were reports of a couple of Ring Ouzels in the dunes this morning, a regular but scarce migrant through here on its way to the breeding grounds in Scandinavia, so we went looking for them. We walked quite quickly east, up towards the end of the pines, scanning the dunes and the bushes south of the fence, but there was no sign at first. They can be very mobile and when we got almost to the pines, we stopped to scan again.

A Bittern was booming out in the middle of the grazing marsh. It was probably the same one we had heard earlier, but the sound seemed to be coming from closer to us now. A flock of eight Redpoll flew west overhead calling. A little later another single bird flew over us the other way, towards the pines, which looked to be a Mealy Redpoll. A few seconds later it came back west again. They are probably birds which have spent the winter in the UK and are now looking to head back to Scandinavia.

From up in the dunes, we looked back and saw a male Ring Ouzel perched in the brambles some distance away, on the south side of the fence. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope on it, it had flown again, up into the dunes, followed by a second Ring Ouzel. We walked quickly back through the middle of the dunes and saw one flying further away in the distance. Then another flew up from behind a bush ahead of us and disappeared round the back of a large dune.

We followed the Ring Ouzels round the dunes again, but there were several people the other side and the birds were on the move again. They really were extremely flighty today. We had another brief view of one perched in a pine tree, before they shot back over the dunes once more. We decided to leave them in peace.

There were a few Swallows on the move now, several singles and pairs, but they flew past us heading east. Most birds on the move along the coast head west, so they were going the wrong way! Five Carrion Crows came in over the dunes from the direction of the sea, heading east too.

We passed the boardwalk and continued on west towards Gun Hill. There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits out here, and a male Stonechat singing, but no sign of any migrants on the ground. Several of the Swallows had obviously changed their minds and came back west past us.

Their scratchy ‘kerrick’ calls alerted us to several Sandwich Terns flying past offshore. We had a quick look down on the beach, where a couple of pairs of Ringed Plover were down on the stones behind the rope fence. Someone was flying a drone over the channel between Gun Hill and Scolt Head, which flushed all the Oystercatchers and a large group of Sanderling from the shore.

There was a large school group out in the dunes today, and we could hear them coming out towards Gun Hill. We had a quick look out in the harbour, as they walked past, then headed back away from all the noise. As we got back to the boardwalk, a Natterjack Toad was walking across the path, in the opposite direction to the one we had seen earlier. We couldn’t immediately tell if it was the same one we had seen two hours earlier, but photos confirmed it was a second Natterjack. They are like buses – you wait ages for one Natterjack Toad and then two come along at once!!

Natterjack Toad 2

Natterjack Toad – the second of the day, in almost exactly the same place

We walked quickly back along the seawall and down onto the Whincover track. A Little Egret was feeding on one of the pools nearby and, as we rounded a couple of bushes, we could see a Spoonbill preening just behind.

We stopped to get the Spoonbill in the scope and could see its shaggy nuchal crest, yellow-tipped black bill and mustard wash on the breast, all marking it out as a breeding adult. When it took off, we thought it was about to fly off but the Spoonbill then landed on another pool right next to the track!

Spoonbill 1

Spoonbill – flew in to one of the pools right by the track

The Spoonbill stood for a minute or so here, looking at us, then started to feed in the pool. With its bill down in the water, it swept it rapidly from side to side as it walked round. It seemed to be very successful here – every few seconds it would flick its head back as it caught something.

Spoonbill 2

Spoonbill – we watched it feeding on a shallow pool

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from watching the Spoonbill. Nearby, another Whimbrel was feeding on the edge of the grazing marsh, right by the path. We had a good look at it through the scope and could see its pale central crown strips.

A large flock of geese appeared in the sky out over the harbour, flying in towards the grazing marsh. As they got nearer, we could see they were predominantly Pink-footed Geese, about 95 of them. They had been seen about an hour earlier flying over Titchwell and then Burnham Deepdale, so had obviously stopped off somewhere. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter here have long since departed, so it was very odd to see such a large flock here now. Where might they have come from?

When the Pink-footed Geese got closer, we could see there were actually two Barnacle Geese with them too. There is a feral group of Barnacle Geese in Holkham Park, but it is possible these two had come from further afield, the way they flew in with the Pink-footed Geese. Perhaps they were even genuine wild birds, looking to head back north.

As we stopped to listen to the Lesser Whitethroat singing again, we heard a shrill call from the other side of the hedge – a Yellow Wagtail. The cows were tucked in the other side, behind the thick vegetation, where we couldn’t see them, but helpfully they started to move out into the middle. As they did, it didn’t take long to see the Yellow Wagtails, three of them, feeding amongst the cows’ hooves. It always looks to be a miracle they don’t get trodden on! There was a very smart male, bright yellow, with two slightly duller females.

We ate our lunch at Burnham Overy Staithe, looking out over the harbour. It was lovely and warm now with the sun out. There were a few more butterflies out now – Holly Blue and Orange Tip, to add to the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock we had seen earlier. After lunch, we headed over to Burnham Norton.

The track out to the seawall was rather muddy, but we picked our way round. There were a few ducks out on the grazing marsh – a few Teal in with the Mallards and Common Pochards in the ditches. There were four more Pink-footed Geese out with the Greylags here, these perhaps more likely to be sick or injured birds which will be unable to make the journey back to Iceland to breed. A pair of Lapwing was displaying out over the grass, tumbling and twisting in the sky.

 

Lapwing

Lapwing – displaying over the grazing marsh

There were more warblers singing here – another Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge, a Willow Warbler in the sallows, and several Sedge Warblers in the brambles. As we approached the corner of the seawall, we could hear a more rhythmic song than the Sedge Warbler’s. It was a Reed Warbler, the first we have heard this year. It was keeping well tucked down in the reeds, as was a second Reed Warbler which then started singing the other side of the path. We could just see this second one moving about in the vegetation.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding out in one of the channels on Norton saltmarsh

When we stopped to admire a couple of Avocets feeding in the muddy channel below the seawall with a couple of Oystercatchers, one of the group spotted another Spoonbill out on a pool in the saltmarsh. After a minute or so, it took off and flew past us, heading off out across the grazing marsh.

Spoonbill 3

Spoonbill – flew in from the saltmarsh past us

There were some cows out in the middle of the grazing marsh and, scanning carefully with the scope we could see several Yellow Wagtails down in the grass amongst them. There were three more Wheatears along the fence line just in front of them. They were all a bit distant from here, so we thought we would try to make our way round via the middle path to get a closer look.

The freshwater pools by the seawall held a few waders – several Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, along with the usual Lapwings and Avocets. The ducks included another lingering pair of Wigeon.

The path across the middle of the grazing marshes was not too wet, and we stopped to scan the wagtails again when we got to the cows. We could see at least six Yellow Wagtails here now, feeding in the grass among their hooves, although we had a good scan just in case there were any other wagtails with them. When we got back to the car, a couple of House Martins overhead were a nice addition to the day’s list.

With a little bit of time still before we were due to finish for the day, we headed inland to an area of farmland. There were several Skylarks singing as we got out of the car and a scattering of Linnets in the roughly cultivated fields. We could see a couple of pairs of Red-legged Partridge out in the middle and we flushed two pairs of Grey Partridge from beside the road.

There were at least three Wheatears in the fields here too, despite us being some way from the coast. This is always a popular spot for them. A very pale Common Buzzard circled overhead.

Then it was time for us to make our way back, after an action-packed first day. More tomorrow!

18th Apr 2018 – North Norfolk in the Sun

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely day, more like summer than spring – the weather seems to lurch from one extreme to another at the moment. Blue sky and up to 24C, with a still rather strong wind to start the morning easing off.

We headed up to NW Norfolk to start the day, in the hope of seeing some migration. As we walked in to Snettisham Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler and then a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the bushes. A Willow Warbler called and we saw it flitting around low in the hawthorns, possibly a fresh arrival back from Africa.

A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from somewhere deep in the reeds – good to  hear as the population of Cetti’s Warbler here appears to have been hit quite hard by the winter weather. But there was no sign of the Ring Ouzel where it had been a couple of days ago – presumably some birds had moved on in the clear weather.

A few Mediterranean Gulls passed over heading south, in ones and twos. We could hear their strange nasal calls before we saw them. When they came overhead, we could see through their translucent white wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – several flew over Snettisham this morning

One of the locals told us there were some Wheatears on the clear area a bit further up so we walked over. There had been a male earlier, but we could only find two females now, flashing their white rumps as they flew up and away from us, feeding on the short grass.

A few birds had started to fly past along the seawall, migrating birds on their way to their breeding grounds. There was a steady trickle of Linnets, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits. We heard the distinctive calls of redpolls as a small group passed overhead, but we couldn’t see enough of them to identify them to species.

A sharp ‘tchreep’ alerted us to a Yellow Wagtail flying past. It was nice and low so we could get a good look at it – a smart male, with bright yellow face and underparts. It was the first of several we would hear or see here moving along the coast this morning. However, there were no Swallows or Martins moving this morning, which we might have expected at this time of year and given the weather.

There were several more Lesser Whitethroats singing before we came across a single Common Whitethroat. We stopped to watch it, songflighting from the tops of the bushes. We could see its grey head, white throat, and rusty wing edges. The Lesser Whitethroats have already returned in good numbers but the Common Whitethroats are only now starting to arrive.

A pair of Stonechats appeared on the bushes on the seawall and flicked off ahead of us as we approached. Then we spotted a lark feeding quietly down in the short grass nearby. Even before we looked at it, it appeared to be rather short-tailed and through the scope we could see that it was a Woodlark. We could see its well-marked pale supercilium, short crest and distinctive black and white marked feathers on the bend of the wing.

Woodlark

Woodlark – presumably a migrant stopped off to feed

Woodlarks nest not far from here, inland on the heaths, but they are not so regular down on the coast. This was most likely a migrant, stopping off here on its journey to feed and refuel.

The tide was high, so there wasn’t much to see out on the Wash this morning. Crossing over to the inner seawall, we scanned the grazing marshes and quickly located a large flock of Curlew roosting out in the long grass. Nearby, two slightly smaller, slimmer waders were busy feeding in the grass – two Whimbrel. Lots of Curlew spend the winter out on the Wash, but Whimbrel are just a spring migrant through here, so always nice to see at this time of year.

There were lots more warblers singing from the bushes as we walked back along the inner seawall. We had gone about halfway when we heard a distinctive reeling noise ahead of us – a Grasshopper Warbler. They have just started to return in the last few days, so we hurried towards where the sound appeared to be coming from. When we got there, we realised there were actually two Grasshopper Warblers singing against each other, presumably establishing a territorial boundary.

They were singing intermittently, but we eventually narrowed down the location of one of the Grasshopper Warblers to a large clump of brambles. Unfortunately, it didn’t want to show itself – it was still rather breezy and it was keeping well tucked down, unlike a Sedge Warbler which climbed up into the top of the same clump.

When we got back to the clear area where the Wheatears had been earlier, we found one of the females had been replaced by a smart male, with a bold black face mask. The Wheatears passing through here now are large, with richly marked burnt orange throat and breast, and a brown tinge to the grey of their upperparts. They are Greenland Wheatears, on their long journey from Africa most of the way across the Atlantic to Greenland to breed, an amazing feat for such a small bird.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a smart male of the Greenland race

With a small amount of time before lunch, we decided to head inland next to Dersingham Bog, just a short distance away. As we drove back towards the main road, we noticed a Swallow flying round near the houses, surprisingly the first we had seen today. Presumably it was a breeding bird already returned, rather than a migrant.

As we walked down through the trees, we could hear a Nuthatch calling and found it high in the branches of an old oak tree. It flew across to a pine nearby and a Great Spotted Woodpecker appeared next to it. As we watched, we noticed the Great Spotted Woodpecker climbed up to a fresh hole in the tree, presumably where it is or is planning to nest.

The wind had dropped and, with the sun out, the temperature was really climbing now. Perhaps as a consequence, it was very quiet out in the open. A male Stonechat sang from the top of the heather and song-flighted, hovering in front of us, but there was no sign of any Tree Pipits now. As we got back into the trees, we could hear a Goldcrest high in the pines.

Stonechat

Stonechat – Dersingham is a good site for this species

Lunch was eaten back at the car, joined by one of the other local birders who had just had a quick look out on the heath too. Then we headed over to Titchwell for the afternoon.

A quick look at the feeders in front of the visitor centre revealed a couple of Bramblings with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches. The Bramblings should be on their way back to Scandinavia soon. There was a report in the log of a Slavonian Grebe on Patsy’s Reedbed earlier, but no one in the visitor centre seemed to know anything about it. We decided to head round there first to check it out.

A single female Common Pochard was on the pool in front of Fen Hide, but there was no sign of any grebes on Patsy’s Reedbed. A small group of Black-headed Gulls was bathing out in the middle of the water, and one or two Mediterranean Gulls dropped in to join them briefly – looking very smart with their jet black hoods, white eyelids and bright red bills. A pair of Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed just beyond.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – one of the males over the reedbed

There was nothing in the paddocks today apart from a single Jackdaw – we had hoped there might be some wagtails stopping off to feed here – so we headed round via Meadow Trail and out onto the main part of the reserve.

The dried up ‘pool’ on Thornham grazing marsh looked empty at first too, as we scanned the puddles over towards the back. Then we realised the Little Ringed Plover was right down at the front, just beyond the reeds. We got it in the scope and could see its bright golden yellow eye ring.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – on the Thornham GM ‘pool’ again

The water level on the freshmarsh is looking great at the moment, but it is being rather dominated by the gulls which have taken over the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’. There were hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, with good numbers of Mediterranean Gulls in with them, plus a scattering of Common Gulls, Herring Gulls and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

There was one Common Tern back yesterday, but the numbers had doubled today – there were two. They spent most of the time we were there asleep in amongst the Black-headed Gulls on one of the strips of mud.

Common Tern

Common Tern – numbers had doubled today, now up to 2!

There were a few waders on the Freshmarsh. A scattering of Black-tailed Godwits included one or two birds already moulting into their smart rusty breeding plumage, ahead of the long journey back to Iceland to breed. There were a small number of Ruff and a couple of Redshank. Over beyond Parrinder Hide, we could see another Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands in the distance. There are a few Avocet on here too, but not as many as we might expect at this time of year.

Duck numbers are dwindling steadily, though there are still quite a few Teal here and several pairs of Shoveler. A good number of Brent Geese remain too, commuting between the saltmarsh out towards Thornham and the freshmarsh, where they fly in to bathe and preen. They should be leaving on their way back to Russia for the breeding season soon.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – still a good number remain

The Volunteer Marsh looked fairly quiet today – a few Redshank, a Curlew and a handful of Avocet feeding, plus several Shelduck. There were a few more waders in the channel at the far end, including a couple more Black-tailed Godwits. The Tidal Pools are still flooded, so we went straight on out to the beach.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding on Volunteer Marsh

The tide was out but there didn’t appear to be many waders out on the beach again today, apart from lots of Oystercatchers on the mussel beds. A lone Turnstone was feeding on there too. Scanning away to the west, we found a very distant couple of Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Curlew.

The only grebes we could find on the sea this afternoon were good numbers of Great Crested Grebes. Further out, we found a distant raft of Common Scoter and a couple of Red-breasted Merganser. Several Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth just offshore.

We made our way back to the car. As we passed the picnic area, we could hear a couple of Bramblings singing in the trees – although it can hardly be described as a song, more of a wheeze.

There had been a report of a Ring Ouzel in a field near Burnham Market, so we decided to try our luck there on our way back. There was no sign of it, but we did see a couple of pairs of Grey Partridge. A Red Kite circled lazily over. Then unfortunately it was time to call it a day and head for home.