Tag Archives: Whimbrel

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_3795

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.

6O0A0740

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.

15th April 2016 – Singing in the Rain

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. It was forecast to rain today, and it did, but thankfully it was never as heavy as we had been promised. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast in search of migrants.

As we drove along the coast road, it was overcast and damp. At Walsey Hills, a small group of Swallows and Sand Martins had gathered on the wires. There are lots of our breeding hirundines in now, so these could have been locals or birds stopping off on their way further north.

6O0A0174Swallows & Sand Martins – on the wires at Walsey Hills

Our first stop was at Kelling. A Song Thrush was singing half-heartedly by the school. A little further along, we could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing from the hedge across the other side of the field and then a Chiffchaff started up from the bushes by the lane. Many of the first warblers are now back on territory, and newly arrived they will often sing almost regardless of the weather.

From the first gate overlooking the Water Meadow, a scan of the fields revealed a pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Both adults, we got them in the scope and could see their jet black hoods and white wing tips. Otherwise, the Water Meadow itself looked fairly quiet from here at first. On the other side of the lane, a ‘dopping’ of Shelducks had gathered in a field and were inspecting the rabbit burrows along the edge for suitable nest sites.

6O0A0177Shelducks – pairing up and looking for nest sites

Another small warbler flicked across the path and disappeared into the alexanders on the other side. When we got up to where it had gone, we finally managed to get a good look at it and could see that it was a Willow Warbler. Presumably a migrant, it was feeding actively in the dense vegetation alongside the hedge. We followed it for a while, getting occasional views of it as it worked its way to the edge. As it continued up along the hedge row, it gave a quick burst of song. A Goldcrest came down the hedge the other way and landed in the top of a hawthorn beside us – possibly also a migrant, stopping to feed up before heading out across the North Sea.

6O0A0182Willow Warbler – feeding in the alexanders by the path

We had really hoped to find the Yellow Wagtails which have been here for a couple of days now and just as we got to the end of the tall hedge, so that we could see out across the Water Meadow again, we heard them calling. They came up out of the rushes and flew round. Most dropped straight down back out of view in the tall grass, but three landed on the top of some tall posts. Even better, the Blue-headed Wagtail which has been in with them was one of the three! Through the scope, we could see it’s dark blue-grey cap and contrasting white supercilium, a smart male. Then it dropped down out of view as well.

IMG_2294Blue-headed Wagtail – here’s a photo of it from yesterday

Several of the Yellow Wagtails flew out and landed on the short grass by the pool, so we could get a better look at them. Bright dayglo yellow, they looked stunning running around among the daisies. But the Blue-headed Wagtail did not come out to join them.

There were several other birds on the Water Meadow. The resident pair of Egyptian Geese have four goslings. There were also a few Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler, and a couple of Avocet too. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects low over the water and a single House Martin flew in to join them, flashing its white rump patch. A Common Whitethroat started calling from the bushes behind us, before flying out onto the brambles and bursting into song – another of the warblers to have returned for the summer just in the last couple of days.

Round by the Quags, a male Stonechat was perched on a post at the edge of the sheep field. It kept dropping down to the short grass to feed. There were lots of Meadow Pipits and Linnets along the path up the hill and at least seven Wheatears in the sheep field from the top path. They seemed to be trying to stay just out of view, over the crest of the ridge, but thankfully they kept running out where we could see them.

6O0A0186Stonechat – a male, down by the Quags

A large white bird came high overhead, heading west. Head – and long bill – held stretched out in front and long legs trailing behind, it was a Spoonbill. It didn’t show any signs of stopping, but carried straight on towards Salthouse. We figured it might eventually come down over towards Cley, so thought we would have a look for it on our way that direction later.

There had been no more than light drizzle so far, but it started to rain a little harder now, so we turned round and started to make our way back. We thought perhaps more of the wagtails might have come out onto the short grass, where it was not so wet, but once again there were only a few Yellow Wagtails out in view.

Back at the gate, we stopped for another last scan and a pale shape dropping down into the grass, out of the brambles at the back caught our eye. When it flew back up again we could confirm what it was, a female Common Redstart. This bird was in exactly the same place yesterday, but despite looking on our way past this morning, we hadn’t seen it. It had been very hard to see yesterday too though, and kept disappearing into the brambles or flying over the top into the other side, on the edge of the sheep field, out of view. As it flew between the fence posts, we could see the flash of its orange-red tail and eventually it perched up on the brambles for a few seconds so that we could get it in the scope. Redstart is always a very nice spring migrant to catch up with, as they can be tricky to see at this time of year here.

Our next stop was at Salthouse, down at the end of Beach Road. Scanning from the car, we could see lots of Wheatears out on the short grass, at least a dozen. One or two were a bit nearer to the road, so we got out for a closer look.

IMG_2305Wheatear – at least a dozen were at Salthouse today

Thankfully, we didn’t have to go far from the car, as it was raining a little more persistently now – all the action here came to us! Three more Yellow Wagtails flew in and landed close by as well. Further over, we could see a White Wagtail as well – its pale silvery-grey back contrasting with the black cap, setting it immediately apart from its close relative the Pied Wagtail.

6O0A0188Yellow Wagtail – three were at Salthouse too

It is not just passerines on the move or arriving for the breeding season, waders are a feature of spring too. A Little Ringed Plover was feeding down by one of the small pools in the grass. Through the scope, we could see its golden yellow eye-ring. We could hear the distinctive laughing call of a Whimbrel approaching and looked up to see it fly west overhead. From the other direction, we heard a Greenshank calling and turned round to see two fly in from the west and drop down on one of the pools over by the shingle ridge. Both the Whimbrel and the Greenshanks are just stopping off here on their way further north.

IMG_2312Greenshanks – these two dropped into the pools by the beach at Salthouse

Making our way further back west, a quick stop by Walsey Hills for a scan and we relocated the Spoonbill we had seen flying over earlier. It was out on the pool at Pope’s Marsh and doing what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping! We had a look at it through the scope, although it wouldn’t show off its bill for us.

IMG_2333Spoonbill – sleeping out on Pope’s Marsh

After a break for lunch, we set out to explore the reserve at Cley. The rain had eased off a bit now, but it was still nice to get into the shelter of the hides. Pat’s Pool held a good selection of waders. A Ruff was right down at the front with a couple of Redshank.The male Ruff are in the process of moulting into summer plumage now, and were a mixture of blotchy colours.

6O0A0205Ruff – just moulting into summer plumage

We eventually found the Green Sandpiper when it walked out of a sheltered bay, into view. The lack of the white ‘spur’ on the side, between the breast and wings, is a good way to distinguish from  Common Sandpipers at a distance. A couple of Snipe were lurking round the edges of the scrape. There are no shortage of Avocets here now – paired up and ready for the breeding season.

6O0A0203Avocet – there are lots on the scrapes now

There are always plenty of Black-tailed Godwits here, and most of them are looking very smart now, having moulted into summer plumage. However, one of the godwits stood out, with deep rusty underparts extending right down under the tail, whereas a Black-tailed Godwit should have a black-barred white belly. This was a very smart summer plumage male Bar-tailed Godwit. Round on Simmond’s Scrape, another Bar-tailed Godwit was lacking any deep rusty colour below, a female.

6O0A0224Black-tailed Godwit – looking smart in summer plumage

Also on Simmond’s Scrape, there was a group of smaller waders on the mud on one side. Including at least 12 Dunlin, many of these were also started to attain breeding plumage, sporting small black belly patches and increasingly brightly coloured upperparts. In with them were several Ringed Plovers. A few Lapwing were on the grassy bank in front of the hide.

6O0A0228Lapwing – on the bank right in front of the hide

Given the rain, we had not seen any raptors so far today, but once it eased off a bit, the first Marsh Harrier flew in over the scrape and landed in one of the bushes in the reedbed beyond. A Water Rail squealed from the reeds but did not show itself.

Back to the car, and we had a quick drive round to the beach car park to see if there were any migrants around the Eye Field, but it looked pretty quiet here today so we didn’t linger. A Sparrowhawk perched on a gate by the road meant that the detour was worthwhile.

We rounded off the day with a walk out along the East Bank. There were several Marsh Harriers up now, quartering over the reedbeds on either side.The Spoonbill had disappeared, but a few Wigeon out on Pope’s Marsh were new for the day, and a couple more Little Ringed Plovers were out in the grass.

6O0A0233Marsh Harrier – several came out once the rain eased

We took advantage of the new shelter and had a good look at Arnold’s Marsh. There were lots of Dunlin and Ringed Plover out on here, as well as more Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Curlew. A single Grey Plover was also an addition to the day’s list.

We had time for a quick look at the sea. All we could see at first were a few Cormorants, but then three ducks appeared, a drake and two female Common Scoter. They were diving continually, which made them hard for everyone to get onto at first. A single Red-throated Diver flew past. Then it was time to head back.

The weather had been far from perfect, but the rain had not really been bad all day today – and we had managed a very decent haul of birds despite the conditions. Once again, well worth going out!

15th September 2015 – Cley & Beyond

A Private Tour today, based in the Cley area. A relaxed day of general autumn birdwatching, we headed out to see what we could find.

With a cloudy start and a little bit of drizzle at first, we headed down to the reserve at Cley Marshes first and the shelter of the hides. As it was, we didn’t need it with the weather drying up before we got there. The first thing we noticed as we opened up the hide window was a stream of House Martins and Swallows pouring west. Apparently there had been a very big movement of House Martins in particular along the coast during the early morning and we were just in time to catch the tail end of the rush hour! It continued at a slower pace all day, with little groups of hirundines moving through. Real migration in action.

It was a good thing we headed to the hides first thing. The other thing we immediately noticed out on the scrapes were the waders. We could hear the distinctive ringing call of Greenshank and looked out to see a little group of six feeding actively on Simmond’s Scrape. A little while later they flew over to Pat’s Pool where a seventh Greenshank was sleeping. A tight flock of about 20 Dunlin was also out on the edge of the mud and a closer look revealed two smaller waders amongst them. With their white bellies and pale faces and short bills, we could see that they were Little Stints.

IMG_0568Little Stints – two diminutive juveniles were in amongst the larger Dunlin

There was quite a bit of disturbance over the other side of the reserve, with the warden out cutting grass on his tractor. Unfortunately, he had obviously managed to get it stuck in the mud and had to get a bigger tractor in to drag it out! That was to our benefit as it had probably flushed a lot of waders off Billy’s Wash or North Scrape and some of them came over to the scrapes on our side. The highlight was a Wood Sandpiper which dropped into Simmond’s Scrape briefly. We managed to get a great look at it in the scope, noting its well-marked pale supercilium and spangled upperparts, before it flew across and dropped into the vegetation out of view. There were also at least two Green Sandpipers around today and one dropped in right down at the front outside the hide.

IMG_0544Green Sandpiper – feeding right in front of the hide

There was a good selection of commoner species too. Several long-billed Black-tailed Godwits, most of the adults now in grey winter plumage but also several more patterned juveniles in with them. A single Redshank flew in and three scaly-backed gingery juvenile Ruff worked their way along the front edge of the scrape.

P1090224Ruff – a buff-brown juvenile, one of three in front of Dauke’s Hide

The waders were very flighty today and it didn’t help when the warden came over to our side to mow the back of Simmond’s Scrape. Many of the birds flew over to Pat’s Pool while he did so, so we moved round to Teal Hide. A scan of Pat’s Pool from there added three young Little Ringed Plovers to the morning’s tally, very well camouflaged hiding on the drier mud and vegetation of the island.

The number of ducks is now steadily increasing, as birds arrive for the winter. There are lots of Wigeon now, their distinctive whistling call a real feature of the coast from here on, and good numbers of Teal. In with them, we found a smaller number of large-billed Shoveler and a few Gadwall. Although the odd drake Gadwall was starting to gain breeding plumage already, most of the male ducks are still in rather drab and female-like eclipse plumage. It is not the best season to admire wildfowl in all its finery at the moment.

P1090225Marsh Harrier – circling over Pat’s Pool

One of the reason the birds are jumpy at the moment is the regular appearance of birds of prey overhead, looking to cash in on the presence of so much potential prey. A female Marsh Harrier circled over, scattering all the ducks and waders, including a couple Common Snipe which had obviously been in hiding in the vegetation around the margin of the Simmond’s. At that point, the flock of Dunlin and Little Stint went back to Pat’s Pool. A short while later, everything scattered from there and we turned to see a Sparrowhawk with something in its talons. The Sparrowhawk landed on the bank and started to pluck its unfortunate victim, looking round nervously. We got a fantastic view of it in the scope as it sat and fed.

IMG_0574Sparrowhawk – plucking its unfortunate prey on the bank

We had enjoyed a great morning in the hides but the impact of all the disturbance, warden and raptors, had served to clear out a lot of the birds we had been enjoying. We decided to head round to the beach. On the walk back to the car along the boardwalk, a small bird appeared on the fence along the edge of the reeds. It was a Whinchat, an autumn migrant stopping off on its way south, and we watched it dropping down into the grass and back up to a prominent viewpoint, working its way along the fenceline. While we were watching it, we could hear the distinctive calls of Bearded Tits ‘pinging’ from the reeds, but they weren’t prepared to show themselves in the cool and breezy conditions.

IMG_0590Whinchat – on the fence by the boardwalk

We parked round at the beach car park and walked east along the shingle. A couple of Gannets soared gracefully past, a white adult with neat black wing tips and a darker immature bird. There were also still a couple of Sandwich Terns feeding offshore, plunging down into the waves just off the beach.

There wasn’t much on North Scrape today, probably not a surprise given all the disturbance this morning. Further east we picked up our first Curlew of the day on the brackish pools. Arnold’s Marsh was also a little quiet. The highlight was our only Avocet of the day – most of the birds which were around the reserve over the summer appear to have departed (from the scrapes we can see, at least!). Two graceful Pintail were feeding quietly at the back. Lots of Meadow Pipits were zooming round. A Little Egret fed quietly in the pools the other side of the East Bank, flashing its bright yellow feet.

P1090264Little Egret – feeding on one of the brackish pools

After such a productive morning, we had worked up an appetite by now so we drove back round to the visitor centre for lunch. We even managed to sit outside! In the afternoon, we drove west along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. The trees along the path were laden with berries – blackberries and lots of haws. A couple of Migrant Hawkers buzzed about our heads. A Speckled Wood basked out of the wind.

P1090265Speckled Wood – basking in a moment of sunshine this afternoon

The Fen itself has far too much water on it at the moment, so that there was almost nothing left of the islands in view. The big flock of noisy Greylag Geese dominated what was left, with a few Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff clustered in amongst them on the small area of remaining dry land. There were a few ducks, particularly Wigeon again and a few more Pintail. Unfortunately, there was no sign of any Spoonbills her today. We decided to walk round and check out the mud in the harbour.

As we walked along the seawall, a piping call alerted us to a Kingfisher. It shot over the bank from the direction of the Fen and low across the channel beyond, flashing electric blue on the back before dropping down into one of the channels out on the saltmarsh.

IMG_0618Greenshank – feeding in the saltwater channel at low tide

A couple of Greenshank were feeding in the saltwater channel, very elegant birds with pale heads and light grey backs. There were more waders on the mud alongside, mostly darker grey Redshanks but in with them a Grey Plover. A second Grey Plover flew in, this one sporting the remnants of its summer black belly, and the two began calling mournfully. With several Curlews calling too, it was a real soundtrack to the saltmarsh in winter!

IMG_0600Grey Plover – moulting rapidly out of summer plumage

Out in the harbour there were lots of gulls gathered on the mud and large numbers of Oystercatcher. With them, we picked up two distant Bar-tailed Godwits. Further over, towards Blakeney Point, we could see as many as 19 Little Egrets gathered in the deepest remaining water, feeding. Numbers of Brent Geese are growing steadily now, as the birds return from Russia for the winter, and we could see several small groups out on the mud.

IMG_0648Whimbrel – a very obliging bird feeding by the seawall

As we turned to head back, a Whimbrel flew past and appeared to drop down out of view on the saltmarsh. Back at the seawall, we discovered it had landed on the edge of the channel. We stood and watched it for a while and it worked its way right towards us, picking regularly at the stones as it clearly found plenty of food. We got stunning views of it, smaller and shorter-billed than the Curlew with a distinctive head pattern which it flashed at us as it bent down to pick up morsels from the mud. While we were standing there a young Brown Hare (a Leveret) came running along the path in front of us. It only seemed to notice us at the last minute, turning sharply and racing off back whence it came.

IMG_0638Whimbrel – close up, great views of the distinctive head pattern

We still had a little time left, so it seemed like a good idea to have a look at the saltmarshes a little further west. We drove into Stiffkey and down to the coast. On our way, we could see dark grey clouds gathering in front of us. From the car park, we could see some large white shapes on the saltmarsh but we could also see the rain approaching. We decided to sit it out and a good thing too as a heavy squall passed over. Flocks of Golden Plover flew up from the saltmarsh and headed inland overhead as it came in. Finally, the sky started to brighten again beyond and we walked out through the last drops of rain into the sunshine, with a beautiful rainbow in the sky behind us.

P1090278Stiffkey – the rainbow behind us after the rain passed over

We were glad we did so. Not only was it a great view, but we could see the Spoonbills fly round as the sun came out. Thankfully they dropped back down to the saltmarsh ahead of us. When the path came out into the open where we could see them, we discovered they were now quite close by, five Spoonbills. We got great views of them feeding in the saltmarsh pools, sweeping their spoon-shaped bills from side to side, yellow-tipped in the adult and dark in the four juveniles. One of the young birds started begging from the adult, chasing it round endlessly, calling and bouncing its head up and down. We have seen the young Spoonbills doing this since the summer, but even now they are not giving their parents any peace!

IMG_0686Spoonbill – one of five feeding on the saltmarsh

There were several Marsh Harriers out quartering the saltmarsh and just before we turned to head back, a quick scan revealed another large bird further out. Its distinctive rowing wing action immediately gave its identity away, a Short-eared Owl. It circled up high into the sky – a real bonus.

We thought that would be a good way to end and, with more grey clouds gathering, we started to walk back. However, the day had not finished yet. A short way down the path, a Barn Owl appeared hunting over the field just inland. We only got a quick glimpse of it, but as we came out of the bushes into a more open area we stopped to scan the field and a Whinchat appeared on the top of some dead umbellifers along the margin. Then a second Whinchat popped up nearby. Several Brown Hares were also in with them. Further up the field, another bird perched up on the tall stubble – a Wheatear sunning itself. It looked stunning in the afternoon sun with the dark grey clouds gathering beyond.

IMG_0693Wheatear – perched up in the sunshine between the rain

A Sparrowhawk shot through low across the field, scattering the little group of birds we had been watching, as we packed up and continued on our way back. But just round the corner, we spotted the Barn Owl again, hunting along the grass on the edge of the saltmarsh. We watched it working its way away from us, before it dropped down into the Suaeda where we could just see it perched through the scope, before it continued up into the campsite wood beyond. What a great way to finish the afternoon, but it was now time for us to call it a day and head home.

5th September 2015 – When the North Wind Blows

An Autumn Tour today. It felt like Autumn too! The temperature just hit a maximum of 14C in the cold and blustery North winds, which were gusting over 35mph at times. At least it was mostly dry, with even some sunny intervals at times.

We headed along the coast to Titchwell first – seeking the benefit of hides to offer us some shelter from the wind and the threat of some early showers. Walking out onto the reserve along the main path, we stopped briefly to look at the grazing meadow pool. Despite the recent rain, this is still very dry. A few Lapwing were out around the shallow pools and a pair of Red-legged Partridge were sheltering from the wind below the reeds.

Out on the reedbed pool, there were a few Gadwall on the water. A closer scan through them revealed a slightly larger duck, dark-capped and pale-cheeked, a female Red-crested Pochard. A couple of Common Pochard were diving at the back and a single Tufted Duck at the front. There were lots of hirundines out over the reeds, mostly House Martins, flying low as they tried to find insects in the wind. In amongst them we picked up a couple of late Swifts, the first we have seen for a few days now – most of our Swifts have already departed.

While we were still on the main footpath, we saw a commotion over the freshmarsh and all the birds took to the air. We couldn’t see what caused it from where we were standing, but a big group of Lapwing and Ruff flew over the path ahead of us and dropped down on the saltmarsh. Small groups of Lapwing were also huddled round the small pools and in amongst them we could see a few Redshank and a single Grey Plover.

P1080820Dunlin – a flock of around 60 on the freshmarsh today, all juveniles

The water levels on the freshmarsh have dropped again, after all the rain last week, and there were more waders around once more today. In particular there were more Dunlin than during the week, with a tight flock of around 60 feeding on the exposed mud. All of them were juveniles, with black-streaked bellies. They were very jumpy – not helped by the wind which often seems to make the birds more nervous – and kept taking to the air and whirling round. On the edge of the islands, there were quite a few Ringed Plover today as well – at least 10.

Many of the waders were sheltering from the combined effects of the impending high tide out on the beach and the North wind. There was a good flock of roosting Bar-tailed Godwits, mostly now in winter plumage but with several juveniles and the odd bird still sporting the remnants of orange summer underparts. Amongst them were a few Knot – much smaller, dumpier and greyer. Another flock of Knot flew back in and landed on the edge of one of the larger islands with a group of Turnstone. Several more Turnstone were sheltering amongst the bricks on one of the smaller islands. The high tide and wind had also brought a number of gulls in off the beach – a good selection of the regular species, including both Great & Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Plenty of the ever-present Avocets were still out on the freshmarsh, though not in the record numbers of a month or two ago. We watched one feeding in front of the hide, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water as it walked forward. There were also still good numbers of Ruff – the adults now in winter plumage, plus many browner juveniles.

P1080826Ruff – paler winter plumage adult to left, browner juvenile to right

The waders were getting spooked easily in the wind, but when everything went up in unison again, in a mass panic, a scan of the sky revealed a young Peregrine flying over.It didn’t attempt to chase after anything but was still seen off by one of the local Lapwings. There are also increasing numbers of duck now on the reserve. It has been a feature of the last few days, with flocks of ducks arriving over the sea from the continent. A large flotilla of Wigeon out on the freshmarsh probably contained several birds which may have arrived from Russia that very morning.

We had looked along the edge of the reeds from Island Hide for any Bearded Tits, but it seemed unlikely we would see any today in the windy conditions. However, from round at Parrinder Hide one was visible across the freshmarsh, working its way low along the base of the reeds on the edge of the mud. We got it in the scope and got a quick look at it before it disappeared back into cover. The other highlight from this side of the freshmarsh was the group of 10 Spotted Redshanks in the corner by the bank. All now in silvery grey winter plumage, we admired their needle fine bills.

P1080869Volunteer Marsh – completely flooded by the tide & wind today

A combination of a reasonably big high tide and the North wind meant that the Volunteer Marsh was completely flooded by the sea today. However, there was a lot more activity (or inactivity!) on the tidal pools. Many more waders were roosting on here, sheltering from the wind and waves on the beach. There was a big flock of Oystercatchers hiding in amongst the saltmarsh vegetation and several Grey Plovers on one of the spits of mud. Hiding on one of the small islands we found a single Greenshank in amongst a small group of Redshank, much greyer backed compared to the browner Redshanks. Several Black-tailed Godwits had come out here to feed around the edges of the mud.

P1080841Black-tailed Godwit – several feeding on the tidal pools today close to the path

It was very windy out on the beach – the sand was being whipped up as we climbed over the remains of the dunes. The tide was very high, and the sea was very rough. However, the view was stunning – it is always amazing to see the power of the sea on day’s like today. There was even some blue sky!

P1080865The beach – high tide & big waves in the wind

There were several Gannets passing by offshore, and four birds arced past us quite close in. We could see an adult in the lead, with black-tipped white wings, two dark grey juveniles and an immature bird in between. A little group of waders came along the shoreline – four Dunlin accompanying a single Sanderling. The latter presumably didn’t fancy running in and out of the waves on the beach on a day like today!

P1080856Gannets – passing by offshore, over a rough sea

Is was blustery and exposed out on the beach, so we didn’t hang around. We walked quickly back along the path. We had just about walked past the grazing meadow pool when a quick glance back and we spotted a Common Sandpiper feeding on the mud in the front corner.

We took the detour round via Meadow Trail to Patsy’s. The sallows along Meadow Trail itself were quiet, but further along and out of the wind by the junction to Fen Trail we came across a large mixed flock of tits – Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits, together with one or two Chiffchaffs and a few Chaffinches.

There were lots of moulting ducks on the islands on Patsy’s Reedbed, mostly Mallard and Gadwall, plus a couple of Shoveler and Common Pochard. There were not many waders, apart from several more Ruff, mostly brown-toned juveniles. However, a single Snipe feeding on the bank was a nice addition to the day’s list. Always smart birds to see.

IMG_0364Snipe – feeding on the bank round at Patsy’s Reedbed

After scanning Patsy’s Reedbed, we had a quick look round along the Autumn Trail. There were lots of Common Darters sheltering from the wind along the path, trying to warm up in the sunnier intervals.

P1080881Common Darter – trying to bask out of the wind on the Autumn Trail

 

A Bloody-nosed Beetle was also making its way slowly along the path and further along a Common Toad walked past. Round at the back of the freshmarsh, another Common Sandpiper flew across from the edge of the reeds towards the bank ahead of us, out of view. Then we headed back to the car for lunch. A Bullfinch was calling from the trees in the car park, but wouldn’t show itself.

P1080892Bloody-nosed Beetle – walking along the Autumn Trail

After lunch, we drove back along the coast to Warham Greens. We were hoping for some passerines to add to our tally for the day and this is always a good place to look for warblers in early autumn. However, it was still just too windy today, despite the wind easing a touch. We flushed a Whimbrel from the edge of the saltmarsh, and it flew a short distance and landed again, so that we could get a good look at it in the scope. There were some big flocks of Golden Plover out on the saltmarsh, very hard to see roosting amongst the vegetation but a couple of times they were spooked and flew round in a tight flock. A single Greenshank flew west, calling.

IMG_0370Whimbrel – feeding out on the saltmarsh

Further out, two Marsh Harriers were quartering the saltmarsh. Much closer, a Kestrel was hovering over the grass by the path. The trees and hedges were quiet today but we did manage to find a few passerines in the bushes in the shelter of the old pit. Several Reed Buntings flew up from the Suaeda bushes by the path as we approached and dropped down into cover. In amongst the brambles and elder bushes  we could hear a couple of Blackcaps calling and a smart male flew across and landed briefly in front of us. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared from the brambles, looking very smart with powder-grey crown and grey-brown back. Not surprisingly, given the weather, there was no sign today of the Barred Warbler which has been in the bushes in the pit recently. We didn’t hang around too long, and headed back to get out of the wind. On the way back, a Sparrowhawk flew up along the path ahead of us.

From there, we drove on to Stiffkey Fen. In the wood alongside the path, we came across another tit flock, but they were hard to see in the shelter of the trees. A Blackcap was calling from the brambles by the river, but did not venture out. At the Fen itself, we were disappointed to see that the water level was still very high and there were almost none of the islands left exposed. It looked like it might be a wash out as we walked out but then, amongst a small flock of Black-headed Gulls, we noticed a larger white shape, a single Spoonbill. Even better, it was not up to its usual tricks – this Spoonbill was awake!

IMG_0382Spoonbill – this adult was on the Fen briefly this afternoon

From up on the seawall, we could get the scope on the Spoonbill. It was busy preening, but when it stopped we could see its spoon-shaped bill, The yellow tip confirmed it was an adult. There was very little else of note out on the Fen today – a few Ruff and, as elsewhere along the coast, an increasing number of duck. However, a closer scan through the Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Wigeon revealed a couple of Pintail feeding on one of the islands. Unfortunately, all the ducks are in eclipse plumage at the moment so the males are not looking their best, in more female-like brown plumage.

On the other side of the seawall, there was a very noisy dog which had been allowed by its owner to run amok. It was swimming about in the creek and barking loudly. Needless to say, there were no birds left. We walked round to the harbour and could see a selection of the usual birds out on the mud – lots of Oystercatcher, several Curlew and Redshank, and lots of assorted gulls. Closer, a Grey Plover and a Turnstone were feeding in the creek in front of us.

P1080911Blakeney Harbour – the view across to Blakeney Point from Stiffkey Fen

It was still very windy, so again we didn’t linger too long out in the harbour before we headed back to the Fen. By now, the unruly dog had gone. As we walked back along the seawall, a Common Sandpiper flew along the opposite bank of the creek in front of us. It landed for a while, bobbing its tail up and down, before flying off again onto the saltmarsh. A Whimbrel flew in calling. Then a Greenshank dropped into the creek with a couple of Redshank. It fed for a while along the opposite side and we got a good look at it in the scope.

IMG_0390Greenshank – dropped in to the muddy creek to feed

There was no sign of the Spoonbill when we got back – we had been lucky to see it when we did. There was nothing else new on the Fen and, with the afternoon getting on, it was unfortunately time to call it a day.

21st July 2015 – Farmland Birds & Waders

A North Norfolk summer day tour today – the plan was to explore the farmland inland in the morning and drop down to the coast for the afternoon. It was a lovely day, bright & sunny, with a good breeze blowing which served to keep down the heat haze and keep us from overheating as well!

Once again, we meandered our way along the country lanes and parked up by one of our favourite farmland tracks. As soon as we got out of the car, we could hear Yellowhammers singing either side of us, the familiar sound of a ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeeese’ as it was always described when we were young. We found one male perched up in the top of a hawthorn, its bright yellow head glowing in the sunshine.

P1050974Yellowhammer – there were several males singing in the hedgerows today

Many birds have fledged young now and we encountered several family parties on our way. A little group of Whitethroats were feeding in the overgrown vegetation between the track and the hedge and they flew ahead of us as we walked. When one of the adult Whitethroats flew up into the bottom of the hedge, one of the juveniles flew up with it, begging, and was duly fed. A family party of Blue Tits came along the hedge as well, calling noisily.

There were lots of butterflies along the verge too, flitting about in the vegetation. At this time of year, Meadow Browns and Ringlets tend to predominate and there was no shortage of those today. The Ringlets are a little faded now – they are much blacker when fresh – and rather brown themselves, but quite a bit smaller than the Meadow Browns and noticeably different when perched. There were also several Gatekeepers and Small Tortoiseshells. In the shorter grass along the track itself, we flushed several small orange butterflies, fast flying skippers. On close inspection of the ones we got to see perched, we could see distinctive black-tipped antennae, the key distinguishing feature of the Essex Skipper.

P1050980Essex Skipper on clover flower – note the black-tipped antennae

From up on the higher ground, we stopped at a place with a good panoramic view over the surrounding countryside. Here we stood for a while and scanned for raptors. We certainly saw a good selection. Several Buzzards circled over the trees, hanging in the breeze or drifted out over the fields.

There is lots of farming activity at the moment – the wheat and barley are ripe and ready and the combine harvesters are out. We saw several Kestrels taking advantage of the disturbance to catch small mammals forced out from the crop as it was cut. The Yellowhammers and Linnets were making hay in the sunshine too, flying in and out of the fields presumably to try to find any insects or spilt grain, though there is unfortunately precious little of the latter these days with modern machinery. The local Carrion Crows were looking to cash in on the bounty as well, but were chased off by the resident raptors when they got too close.

We stood here for a while, watching the interplay between modern industrial farming activity and the wildlife which tries to make a living here. Then, as we turned to leave, a pair of Grey Partridge burst noisily from the verge and disappeared into the uncut crop on the other side.

As we drove off, we could see an Oystercatcher sitting in a horse paddock. It appeared to be nesting, tucked down in the short grass next to a couple of dock rosettes. A little further on, its partner stood on the grassy verge, looking on warily. While often thought of as coastal birds, Oystercatchers do also attempt to nest inland and often some way from water. However, productivity can be pretty poor in the modern industrial farming landscape.

P1050998Oystercatcher – its partner attempting to nest in a nearby horse paddock

Our next destination was Choseley. On the way there, we saw several more Yellowhammers along the sides of the roads or on the wires and a couple more families of Kestrels, again around the freshly cut stubble fields. We stopped briefly to admire a Stock Dove coming down to drink at a puddle. We drove around the back lanes first, to see if we could find the pair of Corn Buntings we have seen regularly in recent weeks. There was no sign as we drove past at first, but on the way back down, one of the birds flew out across the field behind us. We reversed back and could see it had landed in the top of a single weed growing in the middle of the barley. When it flew back into the hedge, we got out and got the scopes onto it – and promptly found a second Corn Bunting perched in the hedge nearby.

Round at the drying barns, it was fairly quiet again, as it has been in recent days. A dog walker was just coming out of the footpath and there was lots of activity around the barns themselves, presumably with the harvest being brought in. There were several Linnets on the wires, hungrily eyeing up the grain spread on the concrete. A pair of  Collared Doves flew in to join them. A Marsh Harrier quartered the fields along the ridge. We decided to drop down to Titchwell for lunch.

Feeling suitably refreshed afterwards, we walked out across the reserve. At the reedbed pool, a single Red-crested Pochard was amongst the ducks out on the water – we noted its mostly dark bill with pinkish tip. There was a good selection of wildfowl on here again today – also a couple of Common Pochard diving next to the reeds, a little group of Gadwall at the front, plus a couple of Teal and a Shoveler further back. However, with the drakes all in female-like eclipse plumage now, none of them are arguably looking their finest! The juvenile Great Crested Grebe was hiding at the back by the reeds, but we couldn’t see its parents today.

The water levels on the freshmarsh are perfect for waders at the moment and there has been an amazing number and variety of birds present in the last week or so. Today was no exception – the mud was alive, covered with them. The counts of Avocets in particular have been hitting record levels – presumably post-breeding birds from elsewhere moving in to take advantage of the perfect feeding conditions. We counted at least 400 today, but lots more were asleep on the islands. The official reserve counts have been over 600 in recent days!

P1060106Avocet – amazing numbers gathering on the reserve at the moment

The variety of waders can change all the time and the surprise today was the number of Dunlin present. We counted a minimum of 375, the vast majority adults still sporting their summer plumage black bellies, but amongst them a few juveniles with black streaks below. Hiding in with the Dunlin, we could see a couple of Curlew Sandpipers as well. Slightly larger, and with a longer, more downcurved bill, they were both adults still partly in summer plumage, their chestnut underparts increasingly dappled with white.

IMG_7265Curlew Sandpiper – two moulting adults were in with the Dunlin today

There have been several Little Stints here in recent days, but at first we could only find one with the Dunlin flock. Easy to pick out if you look really closely, the Little Stint is noticeably smaller, with a shorter bill and bright white belly. It was only later, while we were looking at a couple of Golden Plover bathing on the edge of one of the islands, that we spotted the other six Little Stints, hiding amongst the rocks on the shoreline. All the waders had apparently been flushed earlier by a raptor and the Little Stints had obviously decided to vacate the open mud for a while for the safety of some cover. A couple of bright orange summer-plumaged Knot were also nearby. Later, as we walked back, all the Little Stints were back out again with the Dunlin feeding on the open mud.

The numbers of Ruff have also been impressive in recent days, though not in the sheer quantity of some of the other waders. They are also more scattered around the freshmarsh rather than gathered in a single mass, making them harder to cound. We didn’t try today – but numbers have been over 60. However, we did spend some time admiring the amazing variation in plumage. The male Ruffs in summer come in a wide variety of colours and now with the vagaries of moult to add in as well, they can be one of the most confusing waders to identify. There were also several females, sometimes known as Reeves, amongst them – smaller and less garishly plumaged.

P1060215

P1060184Ruff – large numbers present today but in a confusing array of plumages

There were perhaps fewer Black-tailed Godwits on the freshmarsh than in recent days, but still very good numbers and some very close to Island Hide giving us great views. Again, they were in a variety of plumages, with more moulting adults now still with mostly bright chestnut bodies and black belly bars, to add to the more variable 1st summer birds, some of which have been present all summer. We spent some time looking at them and talking about the key identification features, Black-tailed Godwit versus Bar-tailed Godwit. The black tail is usually hidden by the folded wings at rest, but some of the birds were dropping their tails while feeding so we could see the solid black.

P1060076Black-tailed Godwits – in bright summer & grey winter plumage

Out towards the back of the freshmarsh, where the water was deeper, we could see several Spotted Redshanks – a closer look revealed at least seven today. Some were still mostly in black summer plumage, but with an increasing amount of white feathering appearing now in the underparts, but a couple were looking increasingly silvery-grey. Three Greenshanks were walking around feeding very actively. Several Common Redshanks completed the set and provided a good comparison.

Looking closely amongst the vast hordes of waders, we could pick out a few individuals of other species as well. A couple of Common Sandpipers were feeding unobtrusively round the edges of the freshmarsh. A juvenile Yellow Wagtail nearby was a good spot. A Whimbrel dropped in briefly to rest on the edge of one of the islands, before flying off calling, its distinctive repeated piping whistle sounding a little like it is laughing. A 1st summer Little Gull amongst the Black-headed Gulls looked obviously much smaller by comparison.

IMG_7278Whimbrel – this one dropped in briefly before flying off west calling

We could see five Spoonbills from Island Hide, asleep on one of the islands. Typical Spoonbill behaviour! From round at Parrinder Hide we got a much closer look at them, and several even woke up briefly. We could see there were three shorter-, darker-billed juveniles and two adults – when the latter finally put their heads up, we could see the bright yellow bill tip.

P1060165Spoonbills – five, including three juveniles, were mostly sleeping!

There were several Little Ringed Plovers on the exposed mud in front of Parrinder Hide, a mixture of adults and juveniles. We could see the golden eye ring on the adults and the ghost of a paler eye ring on the juveniles. Out on the open mud with the other small waders there were a couple of Ringed Plovers as well.

P1060168Little Ringed Plover – an adult sporting a golden yellow eye ring

P1060302Little Ringed Plover – a juvenile with a ghosting of the adult’s eye ring

The Volunteer Marsh and tidal pools were quiet today, as they have been in recent weeks. There were several butterflies along the verges. A smart Gatekeeper basking on the path was clearly struggling for some reason when it finally flapped off into the grass.

P1060146Gatekeeper – basking on the path

Out on the beach, the sea itself looked fairly quiet. We managed to find a little group of four Common Scoter out on the water and several Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth offshore, fishing. The tide was out and the rocks were exposed. There were several Curlew feeding around the rock pools and nearby, we picked up a single, smaller, sleeker Whimbrel. While we were standing there, we also heard several more Whimbrel flying past behind us, calling. In amongst the birds on the rocks, we also picked out a few Bar-tailed Godwits – it was good to look at the differences from the Black-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier.

We picked up three Turnstones as they flew and when they landed we could see they were still in bright summer plumage, with rusty orange backs and white faces. A closer look down on the shore revealed a couple of Dunlin and next to them a little group of Sanderling, looking rather different to the bright silvery grey and white birds we see here in the winter in their spangled summer plumage.

Then unfortunately it was time to head back. Still, what an amazing spectacle of waders here today – the sheer number and the great variety.