Tag Archives: White-letter Hairstreak

21st July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was another sunny day – lovely weather to be out and about, even if the temperature does mean that a lot of the smaller birds go quiet in the heat of the day.

Our first destination was Holkham. As we got out of the car at the north end of Lady Anne’s Drive, we could hear Grey Partridge calling from the grazing meadow. It was just visible for a couple of seconds before it walked back into the taller grass and disappeared.

There were not many birds singing now as we set off west along the track on the edge of the pines. We did hear a Blackcap deep in the trees and a Wren on this first stretch of the path. It wasn’t long before we encountered a tit flock – suddenly we didn’t know where to look, with Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits feeding in the trees either side of us. A Treecreeper appeared in a pine tree close by, allowing us to get a good look at it as it climbed up the trunk. Three Goldcrests were calling and flicking their wings in a small group high above the track.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – showed well in a pine by the path

Salts Hole just held a few Mallard and a Moorhen, so we continued on. We saw quite a few butterflies in the brambles and bushes by the path Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet, both Large and Green-veined WhiteRed Admiral and Peacock. When we got to the elms just before Washington Hide, we stopped and scanned the tops of the trees. It didn’t take long to find a small butterfly fluttering around the branches, a White-letter Hairstreak. It eventually landed in view and we could see the distinctive white line on the underside of its wings.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper – we saw lots of butterflies along the path today

There is a better view from higher up on the boardwalk, so we stopped just outside Washington Hide to scan the grazing marshes. There were a couple of juvenile Marsh Harriers practicing their flying skills out over the reeds. We saw our first Spoonbills of the day too, two of them circling out over the middle of the marshes, and there were a couple of others perched in the trees in the distance. A Great White Egret  flew up out of the reeds by the pool in front of the hide, but dropped down behind the sallows before everyone could get a look at it.

As we approached Meals House, a male Bullfinch flew off from the reeds by the garden and landed in a sallow at the back. It perched in full view, so we got a good look at it, bright pink underneath with a black cap. It flew across and landed down on the edge of the garden and we could see it feeding on the brambles by the fence when we looked from the gate. A female Bullfinch was feeding with it here too.

Before we even got to Joe Jordan Hide, we could see all the Spoonbills on the edge of the pool out in front. From up in the hide, we could count them. There were at least 15 juveniles, ‘teaspoonbills’ with partly grown bills, and 3-4 adults with them, although there was steady coming and going. Several of the juvenile Spoonbills were begging for food from their parents – bobbing their heads up and down and flapping their wings. We watched them pursue the adults relentlessly around the pool!

Spoonbills 1

Spoonbills – there were still at least 15 juveniles on the pool today

A Great White Egret appeared, flying in over the grazing marsh, but quickly dropped down into a ditch out of view. A little while later, another Great White Egret flew out of the trees and across the grass of the fort, before dropping down into the same place.

There were more juvenile Marsh Harriers in front of the hide here too, practicing their flying. Three Common Buzzards circled up over the grass and a Kestrel perched in a hawthorn out on the edge of one of the ditches.

Leaving the hide, we walked through the pines and out into the dunes. The orchids here are now largely over, but there were one or two Marsh Helleborines still flowering. We were hoping to catch up with some butterflies here, but it was rather quiet at first. A Common Blue fluttered past and then a Brown Argus appeared. We found a couple of Six-spot Burnet moths feeding on the thistles. Eventually one Dark Green Fritillary put in an appearance, but it was just a quick fly past – blink, and you missed it!

Brown Argus

Brown Argus – out in the dunes

Scanning the beach from the top of the dunes, it all looked very quiet, bird-wise at least. Two Gannets flew east offshore, way off in the distance. On the way back through the dunes, there were a few more Dark Green Fritillaries, but they were very mobile in the heat. One did drop down into the grass briefly but it was quickly on its way again.

The trees were even quieter now, in the heat of the middle of the day. We did find a Drinker moth on the path on our way back. A Jay was feeding in the shade underneath the trees by the path.

Jay

Jay – feeding in the shade underneath the trees

It was time for lunch when we arrived at Titchwell, where we planned to spend the afternoon. We made good use of the tables in the picnic area. A Southern Hawker was feeding around the sallows just across the path while we ate.

After lunch, we made our way out onto the reserve. There is nothing on the dried-up grazing meadow ‘pool’ now, but there were lots of ducks on the reedbed pool. Most of the drakes are in their drab eclipse plumage now, but in with the Mallard, Gadwall and Common Pochard, we did find two female Red-crested Pochards. Two Little Grebes were diving along the edge of the reeds towards the back.

We heard Bearded Tits pinging in the reeds by the path and saw one or two zooming across the tops before diving in. One perched up briefly. There were several Reed Warblers too. The juvenile Marsh Harriers were flying round over the reeds here too and were joined at one point by a smart grey-winged male.

Just before Island Hide, we stopped to scan the Freshmarsh. There were more Bearded Tits here, with birds pretty much constantly flying back and forth between the reeds either side of the mud.  On the edge of the island at the back, we could see more Spoonbills, at least ten of them at first, with another two then flying in to join them. A single Little Gull, a first summer, was swimming round in circles along the edge of the reeds, picking at the surface.

There are lots of waders on the Freshmarsh at the moment – particularly Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. In amongst one of the roosting flocks of the latter, we found a summer-plumage Bar-tailed Godwit – even though it was asleep, we could see the rusty colour of its underparts extending right down under the tail. There were a few Knot with them too, all still in orange breeding plumage. Three adult Curlew Sandpipers were feeding together nearby, still sporting their summer rusty underparts, and there were several small groups of Dunlin too.

Some of the Spotted Redshanks have been back a while now and have been moutling fast out of their black breeding plumage. The first one we saw was almost completely in its silvery-grey winter plumage already.

There were some Ruff right in front of Island Hide, so we popped in for a closer look. They are also moulting fast, the males losing their ornate ruff feathers very soon after they get back. With birds in different states of moult, and still sporting some breeding feathers in a variety of colours, the variation in appearance is really amazing!

Ruff

Ruff – a moulting male in front of the hide

Having disappeared yesterday, the Lesser Yellowlegs was relocated on the Tidal Pools just as we arrived at Titchwell. Helpfully, by the time we got out to the Freshmarsh, it had flown back on here. We quickly found it, right out in the middle with all the other waders. It stood out, small and slim, with a very fine bill.

It was also interesting to watch the Lesser Yellowlegs feeding, sweeping its bill side to side through the water, rather like a Spotted Redshank. We had a nice comparison at one point while it was feeding next to a couple of Common Redshanks. Four Golden Plover dropped in to one of the islands, to round off the wader collection here nicely.

As well as all the waders, there are still lots of gulls on the Freshmarsh. The Mediterranean Gulls have had a great breeding season and we could see a good number of juveniles still, as well as some very smart adults. There were several Common and Sandwich Terns too, but the only Little Tern was chased off by an Avocet and headed out towards the beach.

While we scanned the Freshmarsh, we kept one eye on the edge of the reeds. We had a couple of brief views of Bearded Tits there before three tawny brown juveniles came out onto the mud opposite the hide. They hopped up and down along the edge, in and out of the reeds, feeding. Now we had some nice scope views of them.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – three juveniles came out onto the edge of the reeds

Back up on the main path, we found a juvenile Little Ringed Plover feeding on the mud just below the bank. The two injured Pink-footed Geese appeared from behind the vegetation on one of the islands. They appear unable to fly and have not been able to return to Iceland for the breeding season, but seem to be surviving here.

Carrying on towards the beach, there is not much on Volunteer Marsh at the moment. A Common Redshank walked up out of the channel below the path as we passed and we stopped to admire a couple of Lapwings, their iridescent green upperparts shining bronze and purple in the sunshine. Several Curlews were feeding along the edges of the channel at the far side.

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining bronze and purple in the sunshine

The now non-tidal ‘Tidal Pools’, which have been flooded with seawater since the winter, are steadily starting to dry out a little, exposing some of the muddy islands. There are lots of waders on here at the moment. As well as the usual Oystercatchers, which roost on here over high tide, there were lots of Dunlin and several Turnstones at the back, mostly asleep. The heat haze was a bit of a problem now and we couldn’t find the Temminck’s Stint which had been reported earlier – there are too many places for it to hide here!

Out at the beach, we couldn’t see much out to sea, beyond a few Sandwich Terns passing. The tide was just starting to go out and the mussel beds were still under water, so there were not many waders out here. Two Ringed Plover were feeding on the sand out towards Brancaster. A flock of small waders flew across over the edge of the sea – a group of Sanderling, still in their darker breeding plumage. They doubled back and landed on the edge of the water, where we could get a good look at them in the scope.

On the way back, we stopped to scan the Freshmarsh again. Two Common Snipe had appeared on the mud beside the reeds below the bank out to Parrinder Hide. As we looked beyond them, we saw that the Lesser Yellowlegs had flown in and was now feeding right in front of the hide. We took a quick diversion for a closer look.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs – feeding right in front of Parrinder Hide

We had a great view of the Lesser Yellowlegs now, feeding right out in front of the hide. Much better than earlier, when it was right out in the middle. It was wading in deeper water now, up to its belly, and probing down into the mud below, rather than sweeping its bill.

It was time to head back, but we had one more diversion on the way. A couple of Bearded Tits were feeding in the reeds around the pools just below the main path and we stopped to watch them. While we were doing so, we heard Whimbrel calling and looked up to see two flying high west overhead, presumably freshly back from the continent.

Then, with a busy evening ahead and needing to get something to eat beforehand, we made our way back to the car.

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours rest, we met up again early in the evening. We headed out to look for Little Owls first, up to some barns which are a good place to find them. As we drove up, we noticed a shape on one of the roofs right beside the road and looked up to see a Little Owl staring back at us.

Little Owl

Little Owl – staring at us as we first drove up

We pulled up in the middle of the road for a look, but just at that moment a car was coming the other way and we had to move. The Little Owl disappeared as the other car passed, so we parked further up along the road and got out. We scanned the roofs of the farm buildings on the other side of the road and found another Little Owl right on the top of a grain silo some distance away. Then a third Little Owl popped up on the top of another silo a little further over. We had a good look at them in the scope.

A couple of Red-legged Partridges were standing on one of the roofs and dropped down to feed on the edge of the concrete below. A smart male Yellowhammer perched high on the top of another, calling. A Brown Hare ran past between the buildings and a large flock of Rooks flew over, heading off to roost. A Hobby flashed past, over the fields and away towards the trees beyond.

Then the first Little Owl reappeared, back on the roof where we had seen it earlier, much closer to us. It had found a spot, tucked down behind the ridge where it could perch and not be easily seen, but we found a good angle and got some nice views through scope.

Having enjoyed such great success with Little Owls, we made our way down towards the coast to look for Barn Owls next. When they have young to feed, the Barn Owls are often out hunting early, but now many of the young have fledged, there are not so many out in the early evening. We drove round and checked out all the various fields where we see them regularly, but no joy.

We had an appointment with some Nightjars, so we couldn’t wait too long for the Barn Owls to appear tonight. We parked and got out, and scanned across a large expanse of marshes. Finally a Barn Owl appeared, albeit rather distantly, and it landed on a post so we could get it in the scope.

It was time to make our way up to the heath now. We parked and walked out to the middle. It was all quiet now, apart from a pair of Stonechats calling out on the gorse.

The first Nightjar started up bang on time. It called from somewhere in the trees first, before churring briefly. Then it flew out of the trees and round in front of us and landed on its favourite perch, right in the scope. We had a great look at it, but unfortunately it only stayed a few seconds before it was off again. It flew round, in and out of the trees, before churring again from somewhere deeper in.

When it came out of the trees again, the Nightjar did another circuit in front of us, then flew straight past us. We had a great view, as it flew past with stiff wing beats, flashing its white wing patches. It flew up into a dense leafy oak behind us, before disappearing off across heath.

Nightjar

Nightjar – this male flew right past us and out over the heath

A second Nightjar started up, churring away in the distance, and what was probably the one we had just been watching responded, churring from somewhere out in the middle. They were a bit slow to get going this evening, perhaps given the stage of the breeding season, but as we walked on another two Nightjars started to churr.

We headed over to where we could watch a couple of the favourite perches used by one of the other males, but there was no sign of it coming in tonight. We could still hear the two male Nightjars churring against each other out in the middle. It was great simply to stand for a while and listen to them as the light faded.

It was starting to get dark now, and we were just about to walk back when a Nightjar called along the edge of the trees behind us. It was the male, and it flew in and did a circuit round by the trees, silhouetted against the last of the light. It didn’t land on one of its perches, but flew back out to another favourite oak tree, and started churring again.

As we walked back to the car, we were serenaded by another one or two males churring from the trees across the other side of the heath. We heard one calling, and looked up to see two Nightjars flying round, feeding around the tops of trees, silhouetted against the moon. A fitting way to end a lovely evening out on the heath.

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7th July 2018 – Summer Birds & Wildlife

A single day Summer Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a glorious sunny day, hot out of the wind but with a fresh east wind on the coast.

Our destination for the morning was Holkham. We wanted to visit before it got too busy, and there were not too many cars in the car park as we arrived at Lady Anne’s Drive. The grazing marshes are looking quite dry here now, but as we set off to walk west along the track on the inland side of the pines, we looked across to see a couple of Little Egrets flying towards us, presumably heading off to find somewhere wetter to feed.

With a combination of the hot weather, and the breeding season now being well advanced, there were not so many birds singing in the trees today. We heard a Chiffchaff calling in the poplars by the path, and eventually found one singing too.

The tits are already forming into flocks and when we heard Long-tailed Tits calling, we stopped to look. We could see a family of Long-tailed Tits in the trees, and they were accompanied by several Coal Tits and Blue Tits. A Goldcrest was singing from high in the pines the other side of the path and we could hear a Treecreeper calling from somewhere deep in the trees.

There were good numbers of butterflies on the wing today, mainly Meadow Brown and Ringlet in the grass beside the path. A small, dark ‘blue’ butterfly flew past and landed in the vegetation. It folded its wings up but on closer inspection we could confirm it was a Brown Argus. Then a White Admiral flew in and landed on the brambles, where it started to feed on the flowers. We watched it for a while, until it flew off. A Gatekeeper then appeared in the same bush.

White Admiral

White Admiral – feeding on the brambles by the path

There were no ducks or grebes on Salt’s Hole still, but we did stop to listen to a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds. An Emperor Dragonfly was patrolling over the water, chasing off any other dragonflies it could see. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the trees behind us and we could hear another Goldcrest singing.

There is a small group of elm trees by the path before Washington Hide, and this is a regular spot for White-letter Hairstreaks, the trees being their larval food plant. There was no sign of any feeding around the brambles or privet lower down, but after watching the tree tops we did find one White-letter Hairstreak high in the trees. It landed, thankfully somewhere we could get the scope on it, and see the white ‘w’ letter on the underside of its hindwing, from which it gets its name.

Just before we got to Washington Hide, we stopped by the gate to listen to a Sedge Warbler singing. We could see it perched in the brambles on the near edge of the reeds and through the scope we could see its bold, pale supercilium. It was quite mobile, moving from bush to bush, singing. A juvenile Marsh Harrier was flying round over the grass, dark chocolate brown but for an orangey buff head, before it landed in the top of a bush out in the reeds.

The other side of Meals House, we ran into another tit flock on the edge of the trees. A stop to scan through them paid off when one of the group spotted a Treecreeper on the trunk of one of the pines. It stopped for a few seconds and  was very hard to see, camouflaged against the bark. When it flew out to another dead tree briefly, it was followed by a second Treecreeper, so possibly there was a family party in the flock.

As we walked up along the path towards Joe Jordan Hide, we could already see a large flock of white birds on the edge of the pool out on the grazing marsh – Spoonbills. From the hide, we got them in the scope and could see they were mostly juveniles. There were about 25 Spoonbills in total, of which at least 20 were recently fledged youngsters, ‘Teaspoonbills’. The juveniles gather here in a crèche while they wait for their parents to return from feeding.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – mostly juveniles gathering on the edge of the pool

When an adult Spoonbill returned from a feeding trip along the coast and landed on the pool, we watched as two juveniles set off after it. They were begging to be fed – bobbing their heads up and down and flapping their wings. The pester power was relentless – they followed the adult for ages until it eventually stopped to regurgitate some food.

We were hoping to see Great White Egret here today too, but they were slightly less helpful. We watched one three times circle low over the reeds before disappearing behind the trees again, but you had to be quick to see it. Another Great White Egret could be seen way off in the distance towards Burnham Overy Staithe, miles away and flying further away from us too.

There was plenty of Marsh Harrier action from the hide again, with one or two juveniles up, flying round and exercising their wings. At one point, we heard a Marsh Harrier calling, and the next thing we knew a male appeared above the wood displaying. It did a series of swoops and somersaults, gradually losing height until it landed on the grass. Unusual to see at this time of year.

Dark Green Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary – several were out in the dunes, but very mobile

From Joe Jordan hide, we had a quick walk out into the dunes beyond the pines. We quickly spotted a Dark Green Fritillary flying low over the grass, but it wasn’t stopping and disappeared off over the ridge. We found several more, but they were all very active in the heat of the day, with only one landing down in the short grass briefly.

Nearby, in one of the dune slacks, was a great carpet of wild flowers, including a good number of orchids. There were lots of purple Southern Marsh Orchids, although most of them are a little past their best now. The Marsh Helleborines are just out, so were looking very smart.

Marsh Helleborine

Marsh Helleborine – flowering now in the dunes

The beach back at Holkham Gap was packed with people, perhaps not surprisingly given the weather, and their was quite a bit of disturbance from walkers and horse riders even down to the far end of the pines. We could hear Little Terns calling and looked across to see four flying round over the fenced area between us and the Gap. They headed out towards the sea, so we decided not to head back via the beach.

There were lots of skippers flying now, on our way back on the other side of the pines, and several Ruddy Darters. A Jay was feeding in the shadows under the trees. We heard a couple of Goldcrests singing and stopped to see if we could get a look at them, but they were very hard to see high in the pines.

Titchwell was the destination for the afternoon. On the drive west, we looked out over Burnham Norton marshes from the coast road and saw a large white bird fly up. It circled round over the reeds and fortunately there was nothing  coming so we could pull up for a second to confirm it was another Great White Egret. It dropped down into a ditch and we continued on our way, admiring the tight groups of Common Swifts zooming around over the roofs of the villages we passed through. We could hear them screaming through the open windows.

It was lunch time when we arrived at Titchwell, so we stopped for a bite to eat in the picnic area. Afterwards, we headed out onto the reserve. There was a nice fresh breeze once we got out of the trees. A couple of Reed Buntings were still singing out in the reedbed and several young Marsh Harriers were flying round over the reeds.

Someone had just seen a couple of Bearded Tits disappear into the reeds close to the path, so we waited a couple of minutes but they didn’t reappear. We did see a couple of Reed Warblers zipping back and forth across the small pools. We stopped again by the reedbed pool where a large raft of ducks included Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler and Common Pochard, with the drakes all in their rather dull eclipse plumage now. A stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe was out towards the back and one of the adults then appeared from the reeds with a fish to feed it.

The Freshmarsh is chock-full of birds at the moment, so it is hard to know where to look. We started in Island Hide, with a Ruff on the mud just in front of the windows. There are lots of Ruff here at the moment, mostly males returned from their breeding grounds and already rapidly losing their ornate ruff feathers. As a consequence, they are looking rather scruffy! No two are alike, which is a source of constant confusion for the unwary. If you see a wader and don’t know what it is, think Ruff!

Ruff

Ruff – the males are moulting and starting to look rather scruffy

There are lots of Avocets on here too at the moment, with lots of birds coming to the Freshmarsh from elsewhere, after the breeding season, to moult. We didn’t count them all, but in recent days there have been over 500 here. Black-tailed Godwit numbers have been increasing too, as birds return from Iceland, with most of them still for now sporting their bright rusty breeding plumage.

The Spotted Redshanks were all asleep around the islands when we first looked, but gradually some of them started to wake up and walk around or feed for a bit, so we could see their long, needle-fine bills. Several have already started to moult and their black breeding plumage is now liberally peppered with silvery grey, but one in particular was still largely black. It looked very smart when it finally woke up and walked round for a few seconds.

A few Dunlin had dropped in, with at least 16 now scattered around the edges of the islands or in among the legs of the roosting godwits (apparently they had not been there earlier). While we were looking through them, we noticed that one was colour-ringed, with a red flag on its right leg. At the time of writing, it looks like this was possibly ringed in Spain, though we are waiting to hear back with more details.

There were a few ducks and geese on here today, mainly Teal, though again with the drakes not at their best now, and Shelduck. A pair of Egyptian Geese swam across to the island to join all the Greylags. We had a look along the edge of the reeds for any Bearded Tits but the breeze was catching the vegetation here and the water was also lapping up on the mud at the base of the reeds, so despite hearing some pinging calls, we couldn’t see any.

Little Gull

Little Gull – one of at least nine 1st summer birds here

We had seen two or three Little Gulls swimming around between the hide and the reedbed, at one point with a juvenile Black-headed Gull for size comparison, but we got a better look at them from back up on the main path, where another three were loafing on the edge of the nearest island. The Little Gulls are all young, 1st summer birds and we counted at least nine scattered around the freshmarsh today.

The island in front of Parrinder Hide is covered in Avocets at the moment and they spent much of the time we were in there today squabbling. A group of four were arguing right in front of the hide when we arrived.

Avocet

Avocets – a group of four squabbling

A single Little Ringed Plover dropped in on the island right in front of the hide. It was close enough that we could see the golden yellow ring round its eye, as well as its pointy black bill and flesh coloured legs.

The Freshmarsh is still dominated by the gulls though. The fenced off Avocet Island has been taken over this year, but it has resulted in over 50 pairs of Mediterranean Gulls nesting with all the Black-headed Gulls. Many of the young have now started to fledge and we had a good look at some of the scaly-backed juvenile Mediterranean Gulls loafing around the islands today.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – a recently fledged juvenile

Continuing on, out towards the beach, we stopped to have a look at the Volunteer Marsh. A single Curlew was out along the edge of the channel at the far end, but walked up onto the saltmarsh where it was remarkably well camouflaged. A white Little Egret in the same view stood out a little more obviously!

A Lapwing was feeding on the edge of the channel, just below the path. Even though it was moulting too, and had lost its crest, it still looked stunning as its metallic green upperparts caught the light, shining bronze and purple.

Lapwing

Lapwing – shining on the Volunteer Marsh

There were lots of Oystercatchers roosting on the Tidal Pools (which are no longer tidal!), and a few Common Redshank, but we couldn’t seem much else out here today. Out on the beach, the tide was just going out. More Oystercatchers were loafing on the sand, along with lots of Herring Gulls. There had been some Sanderling here earlier, but they had gone off along the beach towards Thornham Point, We could just make out some small dots running around on the shore in the heat haze!

We had a quick look out to sea, but there was nothing moving apart from Sandwich Terns, flying back in towards Scolt Head from feeding out in the mouth of the Wash. We decided to head back. At the Tidal Pools, a Common Tern was fishing. It dived into the water, caught a fish and headed off towards the Freshmarsh. A few seconds later it was back again.

Bearded Tit had been on the wish list for the day, so we stopped back at the reedbed to have another go. It wasn’t long before we heard some ‘pinging’ and looked across to see two Bearded Tits fly across one of the channels. One perched up very briefly in the tops of the reeds, but quickly dropped in out of view.

Thankfully, a minute or so later the two Bearded Tits flew again. It looked like they might drop down behind the bank, but they flew straight over it and came down into the reeds at the back of one of the small pools just below the path. They landed in the base of the reeds and we could see them perched on a reed stem, side by side, preening. It was a pair and we got them in the scope, eventually getting a really good look at both of them, including the male with its powder grey head and black moustache.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – we watched a pair preening in the base of the reeds

Eventually, the Bearded Tits finished preening and started to feed, working their way round the edge of the pool at the base of the reeds. When they finally disappeared in, we carried on back to the car. It was a nice way to end a very enjoyable day of Summer birding.