Tag Archives: Whimbrel

27th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 2

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

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

IMG_3536Wheatear – a smart male in the ploughed field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A8462Avocet – up to its belly in the deep water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A8499Whimbrel – another two were down by the harbour

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

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

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

6O0A8502Jay – this one perched up nicely for us briefly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


21st Apr 2017 – Spring Warblers & More

A Private Tour today in N Norfolk. It was rather cool and cloudy, with an increasingly blustery west wind in the afternoon and no sign of the promised sunny intervals, but it was dry all day.

The main target for the day was to try to find warblers and, if possible, Garganey. Snettisham seemed like the best bet, so we set off west along the coast road. A quick stop on the way at Titchwell and there was no sign of the Turtle Dove which had been in the car park early yesterday morning. The weather wasn’t particularly conducive, so we didn’t stop here long.

Arriving at Snettisham, we set off to explore the Coastal Park. As soon as we parked, we could hear warblers singing. A male Blackcap perched up obligingly in the top of a bush and a Common Whitethroat was songflighting, before landing on a tall bramble stem. We quickly heard our first Lesser Whitethroat of the day and set off along one of the smaller paths to try to see it. They can be elusive at this time of year at the best of times, often singing from deep in the bigger bushes. We did manage to see the Lesser Whitethroat a couple of times as it flew across between hawthorns, but it was perhaps too much to hope that it might come out and sing for us on a cool morning like today.

The Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were a little more accommodating. There were good numbers of both singing in the park today. Willow Warbler in particular is not as widely distributed as it used to be so it is always nice to hear their distinctive song, a sweet descending scale, at this time of year. A pair of Bullfinches in the bushes were a nice, non-warbler, addition to the day’s list.

6O0A7900Willow Warbler – several singing in the park today, this one taken yesterday

An occasional resident Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we walked past and the damper areas in the middle were alive with singing Sedge Warblers today. They are really back in force now and making their presence known. There are smaller numbers of Reed Warblers which have returned so far, but we did hear a few as we explored the area. One was singing from the reeds by one of the paths which cross through the middle of the park, but despite our best efforts we could not see it – it was keeping tucked well down in the reeds this morning.

As we walked in through the park earlier, we had seen couple of large flocks of Knot circling distantly out over the Wash beyond the sea wall. As we walked back towards the sea wall out of the reeds, we heard loud calls ahead of us and looked up to see two Peregrines chasing each other over the bank. They had presumably been spooking the waders on the Wash earlier!

One of the Peregrines quickly disappeared away beyond the bank, but the other, a juvenile, circled towards us and right over our heads, before heading off north over the park. Great stuff!

6O0A7924Peregrine – this juvenile came right over our heads, in from the Wash

This is often a good spot to see Cuckoos at this time of year, and we were not to be disappointed today. After we heard our first singing male in the middle of the Coastal Park, we were never far away from one. It really made it feel like spring, to hear Cuckoos singing, despite the not particularly spring-like conditions.

There were at least three Cuckoos here today, possibly more – it was hard to tell as they were flying around constantly, with birds regularly passing overhead whenever we looked up. They have a few regular bushes from which they like to sing and we got great views through the scope of one male in particular, from up on the inner seawall, when it returned to one of its favourite song posts.

6O0A7840Cuckoo – this photo taken yesterday, but singing from the same tree again today

Grasshopper Warbler was one species of warbler we had expected to at least hear here today, but as we passed the first couple of areas where birds have been reeling recently, all was rather quiet. Thankfully, as we walked along the path further up we heard the distinctive song of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, sounding more like an insect than a bird. Helpfully, it was in an area of quite open bushes with a narrow path running through, so we set off in pursuit.

We could see the Grasshopper Warbler perched up in the top of some brambles, so we stopped and set up our scopes. Typically, just as we got them lined up, it dropped back into cover. We walked round to one side of the brambles and positioned ourselves, thinking it might come up again to sing further along the clump. After a few seconds it did just that – half hidden at first and then climbing up right out in full view, up onto some thin rose stems. We had a great view of it through the scope.

IMG_3277Grasshopper Warbler – reeling from a bramble clump this morning

In the end, we heard at least three reeling Grasshopper Warblers as we walked round here today. They were possibly just a bit slow to get going this morning!

While we were waiting for the Grasshopper Warbler to reappear, we watched one of the Cuckoos flying over beyond and it swooped down towards a large hawthorn bush and flushed a second Cuckoo from the top of it. The two of them proceeded to chase each other round over the bushes, coming very close to us at one point, just as the Grasshopper Warbler reappeared. We didn’t know which way to look!

6O0A7947Cuckoos – chasing each other over our heads as we watched the Grasshopper Warbler

After completing our target set of warblers for the morning, we walked up as far as the cross bank and climbed up onto the seawall to look out over the Wash. There are still good numbers of waders here at the moment. The tide was still about half way out, but through the scopes we could see them all out on the mud. There were several hundred Knot, most still in grey winter plumage but a few starting to go orange. The same was true of the Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover, though a couple of the latter were already looking quite smart with black bellies and white spangled upperparts.

There were a few smaller waders in amongst the Knot out towards the shoreline, mostly Dunlin but a careful scan produced a single silvery grey and white Sanderling. There were more flocks of Dunlin closer to us, scattered across the mud, and in with them we found a single Ringed Plover. We lost sight of it when the flock flew, but the next thing we knew it appeared on the beach in front of us and started displaying with a second Ringed Plover, the two of them flying round over the sand with stiff wing beats.

6O0A7975Ringed Plover – two were displaying over the beach

There were a few Curlew out on the mud, but the Whimbrel seem to prefer to feed on the short grass. Looking across on the inland side of the seawall, we found two Whimbrel walking around beyond the pools, nice spring migrants for the trip list.

The Wash coast is a good place to watch visible migration (or ‘vizmig’ for short), with flocks of birds passing overhead on their journeys, being forced south here if they want to avoid crossing the Wash on their way north along the coast. There were a few birds moving today, but it was possibly a bit slow due to the weather. We did have several small flocks of Meadow Pipits passing overhead, along with a few Linnets and Goldfinches. A single White Wagtail dipped low enough over the bushes that we could see its pale grey back before continuing south along the seawall. There was a steady trickle of hirundines moving all morning – almost entirely Swallows today, apart from one House Martin which we managed to catch as it flew through.

There had been a pair of Garganey here in the last week or so, although there was apparently no sign of them yesterday. We headed over to the inner seawall to scan the pools to see if we could find them. They were not on the pools today where they had been previously, but we did see a nice selection of other wildfowl. Two small flocks of around 30 Pink-footed Geese each were out on the grass. Most of the Pink-footed Geese have long since departed on their way north to Iceland for the breeding season, but these few were leaving it rather later. There were also the resident Greylag, Canada and Egyptian Geese here. Ducks included Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and a few lingering Wigeon.

The wind was starting to pick up now and it was rather cold up on the inner seawall, so we opted to walk back through the shelter of the bushes. We should have continued south along the inner seawall as, little did we know at that stage, but the Garganey were on another pool back towards the road. Thankfully, we bumped into another couple of birders on our way back who told us about them and we were able to cut back across and up onto the bank to look. We found the drake Garganey tucked tight up against the bank of the pool asleep, sheltered from the wind. Through the scope we could still see its distinctive white head stripe and the elongated ornamental feathers hanging down over its flanks.

IMG_3287Garganey – asleep, tucked into the edge of one of the pools

It was getting on for lunchtime when we got back to the car, so we drove inland to a sheltered spot for lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out onto Dersingham Bog. We had hoped to find a Tree Pipit singing here, but it was a bit cold and windy and a quiet time of the day now. They are summer visitors so they may not all be back in here yet. We did find a couple of pairs of Stonechat and flushed a Green Woodpecker from beside the path. It quickly became clear it was rather quiet here so we didn’t stay long.

6O0A7984Stonechat – Dersingham Bog is a good place for this species

Grey Partridge was another target species for the afternoon. They are sometimes to be found at Snettisham, but they can be disturbed by the large number of dog walkers here. We took a diversion on our way back, inland via Ringstead. This is often a good area for Grey Partridge and a stop to scan a likely looking field quickly found us a pair, with a second pair on the edge of a field as we dropped back down to the coast road at Choseley.

6O0A7994Grey Partridge – one of two pairs we found on our short diversion inland

Our destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Holkham. We made a quick stop to scan the grazing marshes from the road and were rewarded with distant views of several Spoonbills in the trees. A long, snaking white head appeared occasionally out of an overgrown ditch and eventually a Great White Egret climbed out, helpfully with a Grey Heron then walking right in front of it to give a great size comparison. It then flew off back into the trees. There were several Barnacle Geese out on the grazing marshes too, presumably feral birds from Holkham Park.

Driving round to Lady Anne’s Drive, we headed out along the path to the hides. It was rather quiet in the trees in the strengthening breeze. A few Chiffchaffs were singing, along with a couple of Sedge Warblers from the reeds in front of Washington Hide. We did manage to find a Treecreeper hiding in a holm oak by Meals House. Then as we approached Joe Jordan Hide, we finally heard a Willow Warbler singing, usually a fairly regular sound here in spring.

There was a large white bird standing on the edge of a ditch out on the grazing marsh between Meals House and Joe Jordan Hide – a Great White Egret, possibly the same one we had seen earlier. In the breeding season the bill can go black, making it look rather more similar to a Little Egret. A couple of Greylag Geese walking in front of it left us in no doubt as to its large size. Through the scope we also admired the bright blue-green facial skin at the base of its bill. A couple of drake Pintail out on one of the pools beyond were a nice surprise.

IMG_3300Great White Egret – in a weedy ditch out on the grazing marsh

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, it didn’t take long to find a Spoonbill, perched up obligingly in the top of the sallows behind the fort. They were coming and going pretty much constantly from the trees while we were there. Several flew down to the pool below to collect nest material, before carrying it back up to the trees. Others were flying in and out from further along the coast in both directions, where they had presumably been feeding. We could see the bushy nuchal crest on the breeding adults, as well as the mustard yellow wash across the breast.

IMG_3322Spoonbill – collecting nest material

There were other birds coming and going here too. Lots of Marsh Harriers were quartering out over the marshes and a nice male came through close in front of the hide. A Red Kite circled lazily over Holkham Park and a Sparrowhawk flapped up distantly out of the trees. There are plenty of Common Buzzards here too, including a couple of rather striking pale ones which are always a source of confusion for the unwary.

6O0A8015Marsh Harrier – this male flew past in front of the hide

Three House Martins were lingering over the trees, hawking for insects. A few Swallows were still making their way west, along with a couple of Sand Martins. A single Pink-footed Goose, presumably a sick or injured bird which is destined to stay here for the summer, was down on the grass with all the Greylags.

Then it was time to start to make our way back. As we strolled back along the path, there seemed to be a little more activity in the late afternoon. We heard a couple of Willow Warblers singing now, and a single Blackcap which we had not heard on the walk out. A Goldcrest fed quietly in a holm oak above our heads.

It had been a very enjoyable day, with all our main targets achieved. Despite the cooler weather, we had seen a great variety of spring birds.

6th May 2016 – Hot Spring

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. It was a glorious sunny day, some hazy cloud in the morning and a nice cooling easterly breeze on the coast in the afternoon. We met in Wells and headed west today.

Our first stop was at Choseley. The Dotterel which have been in the fields here for the last few days had not been reported yet this morning, but when we arrived there were several people watching them. They seemed unconcerned by the tractor spraying the field. They were feeding in a strip at the back of the field which had more dried weedy stems, which made them extra difficult to see at times. However, eventually we all got good views of them through the scope.

Dotterel Choseley 2016-05-03_7Dotterel – here are a couple for a few days ago

When we had finished watching the Dotterel, we turned out attention to the surrounding farmland. There were lots of Brown Hares in the fields, chasing each other round in circles, but not boxing today. A Marsh Harrier was quartering one of the fields and managed to flush a couple of Red-legged Partridge out from the winter wheat.

6O0A1872Marsh Harrier – quartering the fields at Choseley

We could hear a Corn Bunting singing behind us and when we turned round we found it perched in the top of the hedge. It flew round the field several times, singing from a high vantage point each time wherever it landed.

IMG_3753Corn Bunting – singing from the top of the hedges

Our next destination was at Snettisham. As we walked up through the Coastal Park, lots of warblers were singing from the trees, bushes and reeds. We could hear lots of Sedge Warblers, one or two Reed Warblers and the odd Cetti’s Warbler, lots of Common Whitethroats plus one or two Lesser Whitethroats and several Blackcaps, and both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler.

It was only when we got further in that we heard our first Grasshopper Warbler. We followed the strange, rather cricket-like reeling sound, but discovered it had tucked itself away in a rather inaccessible area. A second Grasshopper Warbler then started up, reeling quite close by. Unfortunately, that one went quiet before we could get over to it. It seemed like we might struggle to see a Grasshopper Warbler until we heard our third reeling bird of the morning. This one was in a more open area, but still took some tracking down. It was singing initially from low down in the bushes and only when it worked its way higher up could we get it in the scope and get a good look at it. It tried to keep itself well hidden in a hawthorn, but by carefully positioning the scope we could see all the requisite details.

IMG_3758Grasshopper Warbler – 1 of 3 reeling today

We had not seen many obviously new migrants this morning and, unlike in recent days, there was no obvious visible migration overhead. However, while we were tracking down the third Grasshopper Warbler, our attention was drawn to a bird which flicked out of the trees beyond. It was a Spotted Flycatcher. Though they breed in the UK, there are increasingly scarce in Norfolk and this one was clearly a migrant which had stopped off on its way north. Which watched it make a couple of sallies out from the branches, after insects, before a male Blackcap chased it off.

We had a quick look out at the Wash. The tide was well out now and it was a bit hazy. However, out in the distance we could see a huge slick across the mud. Through the scope, we could see there were thousands of waders. Mostly Knot, but it was hard to make out any other species amongst them at this distance.

At this point, news came through of a Purple Heron which had been seen only a short distance to the north of where we were. We walked up along the inner seawall to where we thought the bird had last been seen, as best as we could tell, but there was no one there and no sign of it. We did see a couple of Grey Herons preening on the bank of a ditch and later flying off into the trees. A Little Egret was feeding in a flooded reedy area which looked great for a migrant heron, but it was not there either. This is a huge area, with lots of places for a heron to hide, so after a quick search we decided we had to move on.

We could hear a Cuckoo singing in the trees in the distance, but it didn’t show itself today. A Whimbrel was picking about in the long grass. There is no shortage of Greylag Geese here, but a darker head which appeared out of the vegetation was a single Pink-footed Goose. Through the scope we could see it was the bird with the damaged wing again. Most of its kin have now gone north to Iceland, but it seems destined to be stuck here for the summer. A Large Red Damselfly which settled on a bramble bush in front of us was our first Dragonfly / Damselfly of the year.

6O0A1878Large Red Damselfly – our first of the year

We made our way round to Holme for lunch. Afterwards, we had a quick walk around the paddocks. It was now the middle of the day so perhaps it was not a surprise we could not hear any sound from the Turtle Dove. There were lots of Common Whitethroats singing from the bushes.

6O0A1880Common Whitethroat – singing in the bushes at Holme

Out on the short grass on the edge of the dunes, a small orange butterfly which fluttered by was a Small Heath, also our first of the year. The warmer weather now is obviously finally bringing out more insects.

6O0A1885Small Heath – out on the short grass on the edge of the dunes

We walked back along the road. A pair of Swallows were preening from the wires. A Mistle Thrush was out on the grass in the horse paddocks. There were lots of House Sparrows in the brambles.

6O0A1891Swallows – on the wires over the road

Our final destination for the day was Titchwell. There had been a little group of Wood Sandpipers on the grazing meadow ‘pool’ over high tide this morning, but unfortunately they had moved quickly on. We did manage to find a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, their golden yellow eye-rings shining in the sun. Further over, towards the back, were two Common Sandpipers around one the remaining pools.

The reedbed pool held a selection of diving ducks – three Red-crested Pochard including two males with bright orange punk haircuts and coral red bills, plus quite a few Common Pochard and a couple of Tufted Ducks. A pair of Little Grebes swam out of the reeds and down to the front.

We could hear lots of Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers out in the reeds. Occasionally, a Cetti’s Warbler would shout at us from the brambles. However, the pinging of the Bearded Tits alerted us to their presence too, and we got good views of a female clambering around in the tops of the reeds. A male appeared, but promptly flew off in the direction of Fen Hide.

The water level on the Freshmarsh is still quite high and as a consequence there was nothing in front of Island Hide today. We continued straight along the main path. There were a couple of pairs of Common Terns on the nearest island to the path. From out at Parrinder Hide, there was a nice selection of ducks – Shoveler, several pairs of Teal, Gadwall and a few Shelduck.

6O0A1894Shoveler – a pair were right in front of Parrinder Hide again

We had a more careful scan of the freshmarsh for waders from here. There were plenty of Avocets as usual. A single Black-tailed Godwit was preening out in the shallows. A Grey Plover appeared on one the nearer islands, still moulting into summer plumage, with patches of new black feathers below. Another Common Sandpiper appeared along the edge of the bank, just along from the hide, and a Little Ringed Plover was there as well.

There has been a single Little Stint here for several days now, and two were reported yesterday, but we were told when we arrived that they had not been seen today – yet! Checking methodically round the edges of some of the islands eventually produced the goods, with the two Little Stints together. They were inside the new Avocet fence at first, which meant it was not a great view. But after they flew off, they reappeared on the nearest island in front of the hide. Much better!


IMG_3864Little Stints – we eventually found the two still on the Freshmarsh

The Little Stints are starting to get their summer plumage, with some brighter rusty fringed feathers appearing. When a couple of Avocets walked past, we could see just how tiny they are. Having enjoyed great views of them, we set off to walk out to the beach.

Another Avocet was feeding on the Volunteer Marsh, in the channel just below the main path, drawing some admiring glances and getting the cameras out as we went past.

6O0A1908Avocet – the obligatory photo of this species from Titchwell

Otherwise, the Volunteer Marsh was rather devoid of life again until we got almost to the bank at the far end. A Whimbrel was feeding on the mud close by here.

6O0A1909Whimbrel – feeding on the Volunteer Marsh

We had a quick look out on the beach. The tide was coming in fast, and the shellfish beds were completely covered. There were a lot of Sanderling along the shoreline today, more even than usual. They are probably stopping off on the their way north. Most of them are no longer in silvery-grey and white winter plumage, but are starting to get increasingly dark speckled or even rusty. Further over, towards Brancaster, we could see a high tide roost of Oystercatcher on the beach. As well as loads more Sanderling, a single Bar-tailed Godwit was with them.

The day was all but gone now, so we beat a retreat. On the way back, a quick look again at the Freshmarsh revealed that a couple of pairs of Little Tern had joined with the Common Terns. The Little Terns were mostly asleep, but did wake up regularly enough to be able to see their black-tipped orange bills. Then it was time to wrap up and head back to the car.

1st May 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 5

Day 5 of a five day Spring Migration tour today, the final day. It was another gloriously bright and sunny spring day, and much warmer than of late too. Once again, a great day to be out birding in Norfolk.

Our first stop was at Holkham. There was lots of activity around the trees and grazing marshes – lots of Cormorants on their nests and Egrets coming and going. We could see several Spoonbills perched up in the bushes and, through the scope, could see their shaggy crests and yellow-tipped spoon-shaped bills. Several flew out and circled round and two dropped down into the wet rushy pools out on the grazing marshes where they started feeding, heads down and consequently quickly disappeared from view in the vegetation.

As usual, there were lots of geese out on the grass, mostly Greylags, but with a good scattering of Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese too. A careful scan of some more distant geese on the old fort revealed three Pink-footed Geese just in view behind the bank. We could see their dark heads and smaller, darker bills that the nearby Greylags.

There were lots of Marsh Harriers circling round. We watched a male collecting nest material, carrying it back into the reeds. When a Common Buzzard flew towards the trees, he dive bombed it, the Buzzard turning upside down and raising its talons in response. displaying. As we were getting ready to leave, he started displaying, swooping down in a series of switchbacks.

6O0A1581Marsh Harrier – collecting nest material

There were lots of warblers singing from the hedges, as we walked out across the fields towards Burnham Overy Dunes –  Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and a smart male Blackcap.

6O0A1606Blackcap – singing from the hedge along the track

There was a bit of a breeze, which meant that the Sedge Warblers along the ditches either side of the track were mostly keeping down in the brambles, but we eventually found one which perched up in view.

IMG_3580Sedge Warbler – one eventually perched up singing for us

The stockman came down the lane in his Land Rover and went out into the fields to check on his cattle. As he did so we heard a Whimbrel calling as it flew off. Thankfully it circled round and landed in the field on the other side, where we could have a good look at it through the scope, admiring its humbug-striped crown.

IMG_3559Whimbrel – feeding on the grazing marshes

From up on the seawall, we could see more waders out in the harbour. A little group of godwits down in one of the channels including three Bar-tailed Godwits in with the more numerous Black-tailed Godwits. There were several Grey Plover including one coming into summer plumage, starting to sport a smart black face and belly and a brighter white forehead and upperparts. Two more Whimbrel were feeding in and out of the vegetation along the drier edge of the mud.

IMG_3570Godwits – three Bar-taileds were in with the Black-taileds

We could hear Mediterranean Gulls calling and looked up to see a pair circling high overhead, together with two Black-headed Gulls and a 1st summer Common Gull. Smart adults, we could see through their translucent pure white wing tips from below, unlike the other gulls.

6O0A1611Mediterranean Gull – with translucent white wing tips from below

Out on the saltmarsh, there were still lots of Brent Geese. They should soon be departing on their way to Russia for the breeding season. A small party was feeding closer by and one of them was sporting colour rings. This bird (called BYB=) has been here for a few weeks now. It was ringed on the Taymyr Peninsula in Russia in July 2008, and has been seen here early in 2011 and 2013 too, but has also been seen in previous winters in the Netherlands and France, and in the spring in Germany.

Interestingly, BYB=, the colour-ringed Brent Goose appears to be paired with another interesting bird, which seems to have much paler flanks than the other, regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese. It is possible that this is an intergrade or hybrid between two subspecies, a cross between a Dark-bellied Brent and a Pale-bellied Brent.

IMG_3609Brent Geese – a colour-ringed bird with a paler flanked than normal individual.

It was very busy out here today, perhaps not surprisingly given the fact that it was a sunny Sunday on a Bank Holiday weekend. Out at the boardwalk, we turned right into dunes. There were rather fewer than normal birds here, perhaps due to all the disturbance. A sizeable flock of Linnets flushed from the edge of the dunes as we passed, but settled back down again behind us.

We did find a nice group of Wheatears in a dune slack. They clearly wanted to be out in the middle, but had found somewhere quiet behind the fence where they were not so disturbed. There were several females and a could of smart males too, sporting their black bandit masks. A male Stonechat perched in the top of a bush, but we could find no trace of the Whinchats which were reported here yesterday.

IMG_3616Wheatear – a small group had found a quieter spot beyond the fence

A Cuckoo shot past, looking rather like a cross between a falcon and a hawk, with pointed wings, grey back and long tail. It had a Meadow Pipit in close pursuit. It landed briefly, but the Meadow Pipit proceeded to mob it remorselessly until it flew again.

Over the grazing marshes, we could see two Spoonbills approaching and we had a nice view of them as they flew past us, just to the south of the dunes, and continued on over the seawall towards the harbour.

6O0A1630Spoonbills – these two flew past over the grazing marshes

After the recent cold weather, many birds had obviously responded to the rising temperature to continue on their migration. There was a steady stream of birds overhead all morning. Several parties of Swifts and Sand Martins, a trickle of House Martins and Swallows. We heard a lot more Yellow Wagtails than we saw – their sharp flight call gives them away, even when they are too distant to be seen easily – but eventually we had a good view of one flying low past us.

There were also good numbers of Siskins passing overhead today. Again, their distinctive flight calls gave them away. In amongst some of the small flocks were Goldfinches on the move too. With all the Linnets in the dunes, it is always hard to tell here whether birds flying over are migrants or just local birds.

At the West End of the pines we could hear Mistle Thrushes calling. When one flew up into the trees, it was followed by a Ring Ouzel. It landed in the middle of a pine, on a branch close to the trunk, but we could just get it in the scope where it was. It was a smart male, black with a very prominent white gorget. When it flew out again, a browner female flew off behind it.

There are lots of Rabbit burrows in the dunes, providing a great food source for the local Stoats. While we were making our way round through the dunes, a Stoat ran across in front of us, followed shortly after by a second. They made a circuit round the bushes, then both ran off. When one Stoat came back, it made its way straight to a rabbit burrow. After looking at us nervously for a few seconds, it disappeared inside. We were hoping to see it come out with a Rabbit, but a few seconds later, just a head came out and looked around, before disappearing back inside.

6O0A1641Stoat – two were chasing Rabbits in the dunes

We made our way back through the dunes, and continued on for a quick look out to Gun Hill. There were plenty of people and fewer birds here too. A single Wheatear was out on the short grass. Three Little Terns fishing in the harbour were nice to see. And we flushed five Whimbrel up from one of the saltmarsh creeks as we passed by on our way. Back across the fields, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the blackthorn and showed briefly as it clambered about.

6O0A1654Lesser Whitethroat – singing from the bushes by the path

While we had been out in the dunes, news had come through of a ‘trip’ of Dotterel along the coast at Choseley. We stopped for lunch at Burnham Norton on the way there – a lovely spot with beautiful views across the marshes. A Weasel ran across the path in front of us while we ate – much smaller and shorter-tailed than the Stoats we had seen earlier.

Up at Choseley, we found where the Dotterel were straight away. They were out in the middle of a large stony field. Some were running around, others were crouched in the furrows or preening. When they stopped still they were very hard to count. There were at least seven which we could see – though as may as nine had been reported earlier. Unusually, the female Dotterel is brighter than the male and we could see several smart females through the scope, with darker rusty bellies, a better-marked white line across the breast, and bolder white supercilia meeting at the back in a shallow ‘v’.

IMG_3626Dotterel – difficult to photograph with the heat haze!

There was a surprising number of other birds in what appeared at first glance to be a barren field. There were several Wheatear hopping around, a few Skylark, a couple of Pied Wagtails and two Red-legged Partridge. Several Brown Hares included a pair which indulged in a brief bout of boxing. A drive round via Choseley produced fewer than hoepd for small birds in the hedges, but its was increasingly windy this afternoon. However, we did come across several more Brown Hares in the fields.

6O0A1657Brown Hare – there were plenty in the fields this afternoon

Back at Holkham, we had enough time for a quick walk out along the edge of the pines. Blackcap and Chiffchaff were singing from the poplars. A pair of Treecreepers flew past calling, and one landed on a tree nearby in full view. We could hear various tits and a Goldcrest singing.

We stopped to scan the grazing marshes. There was no shortage of Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese as usual, but out on the grass we found a few Barnacle Geese too. Unfortunately, these are not true wild birds, but part of a local feral flock. In with them was rather odd-looking Ross’s Goose x Barnacle Goose hybrid, which is regularly around here and often mistaken for something rarer by the unaware.

A Spoonbill flew across in front of us and dropped down onto one of pools. It was hidden in the grass from where we were standing, so we walked along to Washington Hide for a better look. From the hide, we could see it bathing in the water, its nuchal crest blowing in the breeze. After a few minutes smartening itself up, it flew off back towards the colony.

6O0A1662Spoonbill – dropped in to bathe on its way back this afternoon

A Common Buzzard was perched in the top of a hawthorn bush out in the reeds. This was a rather regular looking brownish bird. But over in the distance we spotted a much paler one, with almost pure white underparts. Very pale Common Buzzards seem to be on the increase and provide another pitfall for the unwary, this one often being misidentified as a much rarer Rough-legged Buzzard.

Unfortunately, by this stage we were out of time and had to head for home so everyone could get away in good time, wrapping up a very successful bumper 5 day Spring Migration Tour. We had certainly seen some great birds!

28th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 2

Day 2 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. The fog first thing burnt off before we met up and a nice morning was in prospect with sunny intervals and lighter winds. We made our way back east and slightly inland, to the Glaven Valley for our first stop of the day.

A Song Thrush was singing as we got out of the car and a Chiffchaff was flitting around in the branches above our heads. As we walked up the lane, a variety of different warblers were singing. A Sedge Warbler was pouring out its scratchy song from the reeds in the meadow beyond and performed a short song flight. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the hedge. A Blackcap sang from the bushes.

6O0A1328Chiffchaff – lots of warblers were singing from the hedges this morning

A little further along and we noticed some movement low down in the hedge beside the land. As we watched carefully, out popped a pair of Lesser Whitethroats. They were rather grey over all, clean grey headed and grey-brown on the back, with a white throat and rather whitish underparts – neat little birds. They can be rather skulking so it was great to see them out in the open. Then a bit further still and we heard a Common Whitethroat singing, which also perched up nicely for us. We could see its rusty brown wings, browner back and white throat contrasting with buffy-pinkish breast. It was nice to see the two species like this in quick succession.

We had hoped to find a Cuckoo along here at least, but there was no sound of it so we turned to walk back. We had only gone a few yards when it started up from across the meadows back from where we had been standing. It seemed to be taunting us, because when we got back there again it promptly stopped! Still it is always nice to hear a Cuckoo in the spring. A Brown Hare sat up in the sunshine along the edge of one of the fields.

6O0A1332Brown Hare – enjoying the morning sunshine

On the way back to the car, we could hear a Treecreeper in the trees and then picked it up climbing straight up a tree trunk. A Goldcrest was also singing but was tucked deep in cover. A Sparrowhawk circled up in the distance, high into the sky, before folding its wings in and plummeting vertically back down. A Yellowhammer flew over calling.

As we came out of the trees by the meadow, we could see a Barn Owl out hunting. It flew round over the grass, focused intently on the ground below. It came straight towards us and looked like it would come past, but seemed to notice us standing by the road and turned away again. It dropped down into the grass at one point, but came up empty talonned, before working its way over to the back and disappearing from view.

6O0A1342Barn Owl – out hunting in the middle of the morning

With the weather starting to warm up nicely, we made our way over to one of the heaths. Despite the improvement in conditions, it was still rather quiet at first as we walked round, and we couldn’t find any Dartford Warblers. There were still large patches of hailstones from last night on the ground along the edge of the patches of gorse, so it was still cold down at ground level. We eventually heard a Willow Warbler singing from the birches.

We decided to see if any Adders were still trying to warm themselves up this morning, so we headed over to a favourite spot. We hadn’t been looking long when one slithered away into the undergrowth as we approached. But a second Adder was still curled up on the ground and we managed to get a great look at it before it too slid off into the heather. We thought that was it, but one of them returned almost immediately, back to the sunny edge, and headed straight for one of the group’s boots, before seeing us and freezing, less than a foot away! Both the two on the edge were silvery-grey and black males, but when the second one disappeared into the heather, we could see him together with a much bigger, browner female. It is always a real privilege to see these increasingly scarce reptiles up close like this.

6O0A1356Adder – this male slithered right up to someone’s boot!

6O0A1365Adders – a male and female down in the heather

A pair of Bullfinches were calling from the trees and the odd Chiffchaff was singing now, but otherwise there were not many birds in this corner of the Heath. However, it felt like it was definitely warming up a little, so we made our way back to where the Dartford Warblers should have been. As we rounded the corner, we spotted a pair of Stonechats on the top of the heather on one side of the path. We were just discussing how Dartford Warblers will often follow the Stonechats around when a pair of Dartford Warblers appeared on the gorse on the other side of the path and promptly flew across to join them!

We followed them for a while. The Stonechats were easy to follow, perching on top of the bushes, but the Dartford Warblers were harder to see. We had views of them in flight and quick glimpses of them in the heather before finally the male decided to start singing and perched right up in the top of a gorse bush for a few seconds. That was more like it!

6O0A1373Stonechat –  a pair on the Heath were followed by a pair of Dartford Warblers

We were originally intending to spend a little time exploring the rest of the Heath, but the news came through that the Wryneck had reappeared in someone’s garden back at Cley. With such fresh news, we couldn’t resist another go at seeing it – they are such fantastic birds to see – so we made our way straight over there.

When we arrived, we were told the Wryneck was on a lawn and the owners of one of the houses were letting people in to watch it – luckily they were birders (thanks, Trevor & Gill)! There were several people leaving as we arrived and after taking our boots off and going upstairs to the landing window, we could see the Wryneck down on their neighbours’ lawn. It hopped over to the rockery and had a good look for any ants among the stones. We had a great look at it, the intricate markings of its feathers, before it suddenly flew up and round the other side of the house. We had arrived just in time (and it wasn’t seen again today, as far was we are aware). We made our donations to the charity collection before bidding our farewells and thanks.

IMG_3056Wryneck – here’s a photo and video of it from Tuesday

Back at the car, we were just loading up when a Cetti’s Warbler flew across between the bushes on the other side of the road. It landed briefly in the top of the clump of brambles where we could see it, before dropping back into cover. Then it was over to the visitor centre at Cley for lunch. It was so nice today, we even managed to make use of one of the picnic tables outside. We were glad we did, because several Swifts flew overhead while we ate. There were also loads of hirundines hawking for insects over the reserve this afternoon – Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins – the most we have seen this year.

After lunch, we had a quick look at the Eye Field. There had apparently been several Yellow Wagtails flying west this morning, and we thought some might have landed here. As it was, there weren’t any there although we did hear one overhead. The pools on the edge of the Eye Field did produce a nice White Wagtail and a female Wheatear was on the grass behind. There were lots of Brent Geese preening and bathing on North Scrape. When we got back to the car, another Yellow Wagtail flew over going the other way and this one we saw as it went past.

We had planned to work our way back from Salthouse to the East Bank this afternoon, but as we drove past the latter we caught sight of a large white bird out on the far end of the Serpentine – a Spoonbill. So we parked here and walked out to get a better look at it. It was feeding in the pools at first, head down, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water as it walked. Then it came out onto the bank and started preening, so we could get a great look at it. It was a smart adult, with yellow-tipped bill, in breeding plumage with floppy crest and a yellowy-brown wash on its breast.

6O0A1185Spoonbill – this one taken here a couple of days ago

Looking back the other way, we saw a second Spoonbill emerge from one of the water-filled channels. Then the first took off and flew away to the west, before the second did the same a couple of minutes later, that one flying right past us as it did so.

6O0A1389Spoonbill – this one flew straight past us today

There was a nice selection of waders and ducks out on the grazing marshes here. As we scanned across, we could see several male Ruff of many different colour combinations. A little group of Dunlin was feeding on the muddy grass, many sporting black bellies now, along with a single Ringed Plover. We eventually managed to find a Little Ringed Plover too, extremely well camouflaged against the dry mud bank it was on.

6O0A1226Ruff – the males come in a bewildering variety of colours now

There are always lots of Lapwings and Redshank out here at this time of year, as this is where they breed. We were treated to quite a display from two Lapwings which chased and tumbled in the sky for several minutes this afternoon.

6O0A1387Lapwings – displaying over the grazing marshes

Even though most of them have long since departed on their way back to Russia for the breeding season, there are still a few lingering Wigeon here. On the other side of the bank, a Sedge Warbler was singing away very noisily but when it paused for breath we could hear a Reed Warbler singing too. It was good to listen to the two songs almost simultaneously, to really hear the differences between them. A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds beyond. Arnold’s Marsh is rather full of water at the moment, so a quick visit here didn’t add too much to the day’s list, beyond a better view of a Turnstone and a couple more Ringed Plovers.

We stopped at the Iron Road next. We were just explaining that this is a good place to look for Whimbrel when we found two in the field right next to us. We got out to have a better look at them, and although we spooked them they landed again only a little further over. We got them in the scope, so we could really see their prominent crown stripes.

IMG_3314Whimbrel – like a small, short-billed Curlew

Scanning the rest of the field, we found two Curlew in here as well. Even better, they walked over to join the two Whimbrel, giving us a great side-by-side comparison. As well as the different head pattern, the Whimbrel were noticeably smaller, slimmer, darker, with a much shorter bill.

6O0A1397Whimbrel & Curlew – gave us a great side-by-side comparison

A quick stop down at Beach Road in Salthouse next did not produce the hoped for Yellow Wagtails on the ground, but did hold at least three Wheatears, including a particularly smart male not to far from the road.

6O0A1403Wheatear – a very smart male at Salthouse

Our final destination of the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, a male Marsh Harrier flew across the field opposite. It had clouded over now, and we caught the very edge of a thankfully brief shower as it passed over us before we set off. Possibly as a consequence, it was a little quiet on the way out to the Fen this afternoon. A Kingfisher flying up low along the river was only heard.

From up on the seawall, we could see lots of Black-tailed Godwits out on the Fen and a couple in the channel down on the other side. We had intended to have a look at the Fen first, but with another shower blowing towards us, we elected to have a look at the harbour first.

There are lots of Brent Geese still out in the harbour – they should be on their way back towards Russia too soon. As well as many more Black-tailed Godwits, we found a few Grey Plover and Turnstone, plus a handful of Dunlin and a couple of Ringed Plover, but it was not the best time to be searching for waders here, with the tide at its lowest. Three Red-breasted Mergansers were distant out in the harbour, with lots of seals pulled up on the sandbars just beyond them.

6O0A1410Brent Goose – there are lots still out in the harbour

About fifty Sandwich Terns were in a little group down in the bottom of the ‘Pit’. There are meant to be over 2,000 of them back now, so most had obviously gone on a day trip somewhere else today. While we were standing admiring the harbour, a couple each of Swifts and House Martins flew west low overhead.

We walked back to the Fen, but even though the weather had now improved a bit, we couldn’t see a lot more on here. A Common Snipe was feeding along the edge of the reeds and a single Little Ringed Plover was on one of the islands. As we turned to leave, we picked up two adult Mediterranean Gulls flying past over the saltmarsh.

Then it was time to head for home, with the added bonus of a Red Kite which drifted across the road ahead of us on the way back.

24th April 2016 – Migrants & More, Day 3

Day 3, the last day, of a long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. After exploring the east and the centre of the North Norfolk coast, it was time to go west. It was hailing and sleeting just before we met up this morning. Thankfully it was just a squally shower which passed over quickly on the blustery NW wind. The weather was forecast to improve, so we thought we would start up on the Wash looking for waders, before we went looking for passerine migrants which might be hiding in the rain.

The birding starts already on the way though – we often see birds from the car. We headed off cross country and had not gone too far when we noticed a Little Owl perched on the top of a barn roof ahead of us. We stopped the car and it looked at us for a few seconds wondering what to do, before flying off.

We were almost at our first destination when a white shape in the hedge caught the eye. It might have been a piece of wind-blown rubbish, but when we managed to pull over on the busy road we could see it was indeed a Barn Owl. It had found a spot out of the wind and was dozing in the morning sun.

6O0A0732Barn Owl – dozing in the morning sun

Up on the Wash, the tide was just starting to go out. It was not one of the biggest tides of the month, but was still pretty substantial and most of the mud had been covered with water. Over in the far corner, on the last bit of mud which had remained, we could see a huge gathering of waders. Through the scope, we could see a vast mass made up of thousands and thousands of grey blobs.

We had a quick look in Rotary Hide while we waited for the bulk of the waders to wake up and follow the outgoing tide down. There were quite a lot of Black-tailed Godwits on the pits, most over on the bank but a good number on one of the islands. Next to the latter was a small (by Wash standards!) huddle of Knot. There were also loads of Oystercatcher down at the far end and a party of Redshank too.

IMG_2945Black-tailed Godwits & Knot – roosting on the pits over high tide

There were several smaller flocks of Oystercatcher out on the Wash which were first to fly and follow the tide out. When the large flock of waders took off, we went back outside to watch them. They looked like an enormous dark grey cloud blowing low across the mud. With nothing chasing after them, they didn’t swirl around at first but landed back down on the mud nearer the tideline. Through the scope we could see they were mostly Knot, tens of thousands of them, plus good numbers of Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit too.


6O0A0734Waders – the vast flock following the outgoing tide down

While we were outside, we heard a Cuckoo calling from the bushes along the bank by the hide. We just caught a glimpse of it as it flew off and it seemed to land again back close to where we had parked. We walked back and the Cuckoo came out of the bushes again and flew off across the water. It perched for a second or two on a concrete block, before flying off behind the bushes.

There were lots of waders now feeding feverishly out on the mud. As well as the ones already mentioned, there were plenty of Dunlin, plus a few Ringed Plover and the odd Turnstone too. The vast flock of Knot and other waders took off a couple more times to move closer to the shore, with a good part of it at one point doing some aerial manoeuvres. Eventually, the waders starting to come of the pits too. The Oystercatchers came over first, followed by the Redshanks, in dribs and drabs. As two birds came up over the bank, one of them called, a distinctive ‘tchueet’, the unmistakable call of a Spotted Redshank. We looked up to see a lovely blackish bird flying over with a much greyer Redshank.

IMG_2946Ringed Plover – out on the mud of the Wash

With the weather improving now, we set off back to Snettisham Coastal Park. As we walked out, there were lots of warblers singing from the bushes – Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Quite a selection! Then, to cap it off, we heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling – the distinctive song which consists of a rattling series of very fast clicks. Unfortunately it was singing from deep in an impenetrable area of wet reeds and bushes.

A second Cuckoo flew past low over the bushes, flushing all the finches as it did so. A trickle of House Martins flew over, heading north. Then one of the group spotted a small bird flick up into a bush. It was a female Common Redstart – as it flew again, we could see its bright orange-red tail. Unfortunately, it disappeared deep into cover before the rest of the group could get onto it and didn’t reappear, even after we had sheltered out a brief passing shower. We decided to have another look here on our way back.

The middle section of the Coastal Park was a little quiet, apart from the occasional warbler, but when we got up towards the north end, we heard another Grasshopper Warbler reeling. It was very quiet and seemed to be a long way off, but we walked in the direction of the sound up to a clump of brambles. As we approached, we saw a promising looking shape fly in but the reeling at first still seemed to be further away. Then suddenly it hopped up onto a branch of the brambles right in front of us. Stunning!

IMG_2954Grasshopper Warbler – hopped up in front of us, reeling

The Grasshopper Warbler was being blown around in the wind, but still stayed up in the top for a good time, giving us plenty of opportunity to get a good look at it. Then it dropped back down and went silent.

The walk round the top of the Park did not yield anything new, and we turned and started to walk back along the inner seawall. A flock of House Martins and Swallows were hawking for insects around some cows on the bank a little further along. There were a few ducks on the grazing meadows – Shelduck, Gadwall, a single Wigeon and a Mallard with ducklings. There was no sign at first of the little group of Pink-footed Geese we have seen here recently. But a careful scan as we walked revealed a dark head down in the grass and it eventually stood up and walked across. It was a Pink-footed Goose, but it appeared to be sick or injured, which would explain why it was not joining its mates on the long journey back north.

When all the gulls and ducks took off from the grazing marshes in a panic, we turned to see a large female Peregrine scything down through the flocks. It made a couple of passes, but came up empty talonned each time. Then it circled up high over Ken Hill Wood before drifting off back towards the Wash.

We cut across back to where we had seen the Redstart earlier, flushing a couple of Common Snipe from the wet grass by a large puddle on the way. As we rounded the corner, the Redstart flicked off into the low trees again. We played a game of cat and mouse for a while before it finally came out well enough for all the group to get onto it. A nice bird to catch up with today.

Our next destination was Titchwell, but on the way we made a short detour to see the Fulmars hanging over the clifftop in Hunstanton. As we drove round the coast, we happened to spot a lone Whimbrel on the cricket pitch at Thornham, so we pulled in to have a quick look at it, before it flew off.

6O0A0771Whimbrel – on the cricket pitch at Thornham

After lunch at Titchwell, we headed out to explore the reserve. The feeders in front of the visitor centre were rather quiet, but those round the back held a selection of finches – Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches – at least until the Jackdaws moved in and scared everything off. The Water Rail was in its usual ditch again, but took a bit of finding today as it was tucked down in the most overgrown stretch, under the near bank. We followed it for a while as it made its way along the edge of the water and eventually came out into the open where we could get a great view of it.

6O0A0789Water Rail – in the ditch as usual

From the main path by the reedbed, we could hear warblers singing out in the reeds. A Reed Warbler was hard to hear behind the barrage of whistles and buzzy phrases pouring out from a nearby Sedge Warbler which perched up nicely in a small sallow for us. Only when the Sedge Warbler occasionally paused for breath could we hear the quieter, more rhythmic song of the Reed Warbler behind. The Reed Warblers are only now returning from Africa where they have spent the winter and this one seemed yet to get into full voice. Periodically, a Cetti’s Warbler would shout at us from the bushes too.

The grazing meadow ‘pool’ remains mostly dry, although the recent rain has topped up the puddles. There were several Pied Wagtails on here today and in with them we picked out at least three White Wagtails as well – their silvery grey backs setting them apart from the black or slaty-grey backed Pieds. A pair of Little Ringed Plover dropped in too and through the scope we got a good view of the golden yellow eyering on one of them.

IMG_2967Little Ringed Plover – on the grazing meadow ‘pool’

Out on the deeper reedbed pool, we could see a single drake Red-crested Pochard, showing off his bright orange punk haircut and coral red bill. A female Common Pochard was preening by the reeds at the front and a male was sleeping nearby. We stopped to watch the Marsh Harriers quartering over the reedbed and could hear Bearded Tits calling. This is often a good spot to watch hirundines hawking for insects in windy weather, but there were none here on our walk out.

6O0A0813Marsh Harrier – a male, over the reedbed

The water level on the freshmarsh has gone up again, perhaps due to the recent rain. We popped into Island Hide but with little exposed mud over this side there was not much here today. A pair of Common Teal were swimming right outside and the drake was looking very smart.

6O0A0819Common Teal – in front of Island Hide

The Avocets normally steal the show here and a pair obliged us by feeding just in front of the hide. They were struggling a bit, up to their bellies in the deep water, but it was just possible to see that they were still sweeping their bills from side to side deep underwater by the movement of their tails! A little party of Black-tailed Godwits, most in bright orange breeding plumage, were sleeping further over by one of the islands.

6O0A0830Avocet – feeding in the deep water in front of Island Hide

We made our way round to Parrinder Hide to have a look from the other side. There had been a Little Stint and Common Sandpiper here for the last couple of days, but there was no sign of them when we arrived. They often seem to disappear round the back of the islands, so while we waited for them to come out, we admired the pair of Shoveler below the hide. They would occasionally raise their heads from the water and indulge in a quick bout of synchronised head bobbing display. The drake was also quite aggressive, chasing off any Gadwall and Teal that came too close. An adult Mediterranean Gull flew over the bank, calling.

6O0A0872Shoveler – the drake from Parrinder Hide

It didn’t take too long for the Little Stint to put in an appearance, on the small island inside the new ‘Avocet fence’. We could immediately see how small it was, creeping around on the mud, but that was made even more obvious when it flew over to the bank and joined a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, which it dwarfed. Then the Common Sandpiper appeared on the bank too and walked back past them. At one point, we had the three species in the scope together.

IMG_2982Little Stint – on one of the islands inside the new fence

With the main targets here acquired, we headed on towards the beach. The Volunteer Marsh and Tidal Pools were rather quiet again today, so we went straight out to look at the sea. On our way, a small warbler flew in along the path and disappeared inland – presumably a freshly arrived Willow Warbler.

It was rather cold and exposed on the beach, despite some sunshine, given the north wind blowing, so we didn’t hang around too long out here. A small raft of Common Scoter was bobbing about in the waves a short distance offshore. There were lots of gulls along the shoreline and in among their legs we could see several little Sanderling running around in and out of the waves.

6O0A0876Brent Goose – a pair had appeared on the Tidal Pools

On the walk back, a pair of Brent Geese had appeared on the near edge of the Tidal Pools, giving us some nice close-up views. Then back at the reedbed pool, as we stopped to have another scan, a couple of Common Swifts appeared, hawking for insects over the reeds with a Swallow or two. These are the first Swifts we have seen this year. A Great Crested Grebe was lurking at the very back of the pool and a Little Grebe appeared nearby briefly too. A Bearded Tit ‘pinged’ and shot off over the tops of the reeds all the way over towards Fen Hide.

We detoured round to have a quick look at Patsy’s Reedbed. On the way, a Willow Warbler was singing from the sallows along Meadow Trail. There were not many birds on Patsy’s itself, a few Greylag Geese and commoner ducks, but two drake Red-crested Pochard were sleeping on here this afternoon. We could still see the two Common Swifts and a couple of Marsh Harriers over the reedbed beyond. A pleasant spot to end the day.

22nd April 2016 – Migrants & More, Day 1

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

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

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

IMG_2781Brown Hare – a couple were out on the grazing meadows

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

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

IMG_2783Brent Geese – three were still favouring the grazing marshes

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

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

6O0A0639Spoonbill – flying back with nest material

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2801Redshank – perched nicely for us on a post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2826Sedge Warbler – lots are in and singing now

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

6O0A0645Spoonbill – these two were heading out towards the harbour

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A0652Orange Tip – out in the sunshine

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

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

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

IMG_2842Mediterranean Gull – in with lots of Black-headed Gulls

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