Tag Archives: White Wagtail

18th & 20th April 2016 – General Birding

A two day special Private Tour, across Monday and Wednesday this week. It was to be two relaxed shorter days of general Norfolk birding, although we could always catch up on some of the less regular species if the opportunity presented itself.

A gentle start to day 1 saw us stopping at Holkham, but not before we had been forced to swerve to avoid two Egyptian Geese in the middle of the main road! The Marsh Harriers were displaying again – we watched the female circling above the trees, before the male flew in and started swooping from side to side, before dropping down into the reeds.

6O0A0336Marsh Harrier – the pair were displaying again today

Two large white birds half visible in the trees were Spoonbills. We could see their bushy nuchal crests flapping in the breeze and just make out their spoon-shaped bills. One of them did a nice fly round over the grazing marsh for us. The trees were also full of Cormorants which are busy nesting at the moment.

There were plenty of Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese out on the marshes, and the odd Canada Goose too. But over on the old fort, we could see some lingering Pink-footed Geese as well, at least 15 today. There are always a few sick or injured birds which stay for the summer, but there are some healthy ones still here too which should soon be on their way back to Iceland. Through the scope, we could see their dark heads and small, mostly dark bills with a pink band around.

We could just make out lots of hirundines swooping around over the grass – mostly House Martins, plus a few Swallows – though they were hard to pick out against the vegetation in the distance, until a couple flew up higher into  the sky.

6O0A0347Grey Partridge – we saw several at Choseley today

Our next destination was Titchwell, but we made a short diversion on the way there, round the back via Choseley, to try to pick up some farmland birds. Our first stop produced a smart Grey Partridge lurking on the edge of a field, tucked in behind a hedge. It was a bit breezy up on the ridge, and cold in the wind, so we had a quick drive round to see if we could find anything else. The hedges were pretty quiet and the birds were obviously keeping themselves tucked down. There was no sign of the Ring Ouzels here unfortunately – they may have moved on or just found somewhere sheltered – and a quick walk along the footpath was similarly unproductive, apart from a pair of Linnets. We decided to move on to Titchwell.

The main car park was already full when we arrived, despite it being a Monday, cool and cloudy. We parked in the overflow car park and had a quick walk round – both Chiffchaff and Blackcap were singing from the sallows, both species now back for the summer. Up to the visitor centre and the feeders were rather quiet – just a few Chaffinches and tits coming in to feed – so we didn’t linger. We could hear a Siskin singing from the trees, but couldn’t see it, and we couldn’t find the Water Rail in the ditch when we went past at this point either.

We swung round via Meadow Trail. There were several Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs singing from the willows and we managed to get good views of both these two very similar species. A female Blackcap was flitting around in the reeds by the dipping pool. A pair of Bullfinches disappeared off over the tops of the trees as we approached.

A quick visit to Fen Hide, and a single drake Red-crested Pochard was out on the water, but flew off just as we sat down. We heard a Bearded Tit ‘ping’ but when it flew off across the reeds it was too quick for everyone to see. A Wren feeding down low on the edge of the cut reeds was behaving just like a Bearded Tit should! Out over the reedbed, there were lots of House Martins hawking for insects, and the odd Sand Martin in with them. There had obviously been a decent arrival of hirundines this morning.

6O0A0349Red-crested Pochard – three drakes were on Patsy’s Reedbed

There was a decent selection of ducks on Patsy’s Reedbed. Three drake Red-crested Pochard were busy feeding, a small group of Tufted Duck and Pochard were asleep on the near bank, and we could see a few Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler too. A couple of Little Grebes were diving constantly. Over the reeds beyond, a couple of Marsh Harriers were circling. As it was getting near to lunchtime, we decided to head back to the car for an early lunch, before exploring the rest of the reserve.

After lunch, we walked back out to the Visitor Centre. There was still not much on the feeders, but we could hear a Siskin singing in the trees and managed to get it in the scope. Another look in the ditch by the main path failed to produce a Water Rail again – surely they couldn’t have disappeared?

IMG_2497Siskin – this male was singing by the Visitor Centre

The grazing marsh ‘pool’ was rather exposed to the cold wind. Still, there were a few wagtails out there today. A closer look revealed at least four White Wagtails, as well as a few of their close cousins the Pied Wagtails, but no sign of any pipits here today. A lone Great Crested Grebe was at the back of the reedbed pool, which also held a selection of ducks – Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard and Tufted Duck.

A particular target species was Avocet and Titchwell is a great place to see them up close. We popped in to Island Hide and were treated to fantastic views of them just in front of the hide. It was great to watch them feeding, sweeping their bills from side to side through the shallows.

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6O0A0399Avocets – great views from Island Hide today

There were also several Teal in front of the hide. Mostly paired up now, the drakes are looking particularly smart. Numbers of duck are well down from the peak of the winter now, as many have departed on their journey north to breed, but a scattering of Gadwall, Shoveler and Mallard remain.

6O0A0397Teal – a smart drake

We could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds, and caught the odd glimpse of a bird zooming off over the reeds. Eventually, we all managed to get on to one which made a quite lengthy cross-reed journey, before dropping back in out of view.

The water levels are going down now on the freshmarsh, and it is looking great for waders, but it still seemed a bit quiet here wader-wise, apart from the Avocets. There was a nice flock of roosting Black-tailed Godwits and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. When we got round to Parrinder Hide, the Bar-tailed Godwit had joined with a single Black-tailed Godwit, a Knot which must have just flown in, and a lone Oystercatcher – which made for an interesting little flock.

IMG_2501Waders – a nice group of Knot, Bar-tailed & Black-tailed Godwit, & Oystercatcher

A Little Ringed Plover flew in and landed on the island in front of the hide. We could see the fine, dark bill and golden-yellow eyering. A careful scan then revealed a second, very well camouflaged against the mud. A single Turnstone was feeding round the edge of the big island, tucked in behind the new Avocet nest protection fence.

IMG_2507Little Ringed Plover – 1 of 2 on the freshmarsh

There are still quite a few Brent Geese at the moment, and they were commuting back and forth between the saltmarsh where they were grazing and the freshmarsh for a wash and brush-up.

6O0A0406Brent Geese – quite a few still here, mostly on the saltmarsh

The Volunteer Marsh was rather quiet, apart from a few Redshank along the sides of the furthest tidal channel, and there was not much new to see on the Tidal Pools either, apart from a single Grey Plover.

Out on the beach, the tide was coming in and the shellfish beds were already covered by the sea. There were a few waders still out on the sand, being pushed ever higher – a few Grey Plover, a single Turnstone and a couple of little groups of silvery grey Sanderling running around like clockwork toys. Looking out to sea, all seemed quiet at first, until we found a couple of Great Crested Grebes and a small raft of Common Scoter.

It was a bit fresh out on the beach, so we didn’t hang around too long. On the way back, another Little Ringed Plover appeared on the Tidal Pools. We stopped to admire  a very smart pair of Shelduck by the path on the Volunteer Marsh. A Lesser Black-backed Gull, sporting bright yellow legs and feet, had appeared on the Freshmarsh. And there was now a pair of Great Crested Grebes on the reedbed pool and even better, they were displaying!

6O0A0419Shelduck – a pair were by the path

We still couldn’t find any pipits on the grazing marsh ‘pool’ but we did manage to find a Water Rail or two. We found the female first, feeding quietly in the water in the bottom of the ditch. Then she was joined by the male, and the two of them fed together for a few seconds, before he disappeared off again. It was great to see the two of them side by side.

6O0A04356O0A0424Water Rails – hard to see in the ditch

We were treated to great views of the Water Rails, and then it was time to call an end to Day 1.

Day 2 saw us starting from Lady Anne’s Drive to walk west. A few Teal were sleeping around the pools alongside the road. We could also see several Shelduck and a single Snipe feeding on the mud.

As we started to walk west along the path on the inland side of the pines, we could hear lots of warblers singing – Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. It was to be a real theme of the morning, with warblers singing all the way. From the bushes in the reeds we added Sedge Warbler to the list and in the scrubbier areas we heard a couple of Lesser Whitethroat. At one point we could hear all five warblers singing at once from where we were standing.

There were also the usual tits in the trees – Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits. Jays called and one flew up into a poplar by the path briefly. A Treecreeper was singing and we managed to see it climbing up a bare trunk, stopping occasionally to deliver another burst of song.

While we were on our way through the trees, news came through of a party of six Cranes seen flying west from Cley. With a good chance they would come over Holkham too, we walked quickly up to Salts Hole where it was more open. We stood here for a while and scanned the sky. There were lots of raptors up – Buzzards and Marsh Harriers. A Sparrowhawk circled up too. But there was no sign of  any Cranes and it looked like they must have gone past before we made it out of the trees.

A Firecrest had been singing earlier just a little way back along the track, so we walked back into the trees the way we had just come. We had only waited a few seconds when we heard it singing further back in the pines. It would be impossible to find in there, but fortunately it flew forwards into the holm oaks by the track. We watched it flitting around in the trees, though it was hard to get onto – Firecrests rarely stay still for long.

Firecrest Holkham 2016-03-25_3Firecrest – this photo taken a few weeks ago here

We heard aggravated calls above us and looked up to see a Herring Gull and Peregrine chasing each other. It was hard to tell who was chasing whom, and we quickly lost sight of them over the trees.

Back on our way west, we had just got past Salts Hole when we received news that the Cranes had been seen again circling over Burnham Overy only five minutes earlier. They had somehow got past us, presumably when we were in the trees. We found a suitable vantage point and scanned the sky to the west, but we could not see anything at first. It really felt like we had missed them. Then finally we picked up two Cranes circling, very  high and very distant. They were not much more than dots in sky, even through binoculars. Then we found the other four too, circling lower down and all six gradually came back together. Through the scope we could just make out the shape, and get a glint of grey wing coverts as they turned and caught the sun. At least we had seen them, but they were not great views.

We carried on west, straight out to the dunes. Two adult Mediterranean Gulls flew past us calling on the way.  We knew exactly where the Ring Ouzels had been in the last few days and, even though several others had failed to see them find them, sure enough they flew out of their usual bushes. One at a time – first one, then a second, followed by a third and a fourth. We saw where they landed in some more bushes and walked round into the dunes to a convenient vantage point. They stayed hidden for several minutes but eventually came out briefly onto the grass, just long enough to get a smart male in scope, showing off the white gorget on his breast. Then they flew off across the dunes.

Ring Ouzel Burnham Overy 2016-04-13_4Ring Ouzel – one of the birds here a week ago

As we walked back towards the main path, the Ring Ouzels suddenly appeared again, flying back in to the bushes where they had been first off. But there were lots of people walking in the dunes today, and they were promptly flushed once more. This time they flew off to the other side of the fence and dropped down out of sight behind the dunes. We had a quick look further west, in the next dune slack, but there was no sign of any Wheatears here today. Then we had a request to head back for lunch.

We got back almost to the pines when we heard birds calling. It sounded like Cranes but surely it couldn’t be? The six Cranes from earlier had been seen going much further west, over Titchwell before heading out to sea over Holme. Distant at first, they progressively got a little louder. Then three Cranes appeared out of the sky, followed by three more. They circled over the grazing marshes in front of us for a minute or two, before drifting off back east. They had obviously got to the Wash and not fancied the sea crossing, so turned back. It was great that they did – we got much better views this time, through the scope.

6O0A0523Cranes – first three reappeared

6O0A0525Cranes – then all six together headed off back east

On the way, we stopped in at Joe Jordan Hide briefly. There were several Spoonbills on the pool in front, but they were mostly tucked down behind the reeds along the near edge. We did manage to see a couple preening through a gap in the vegetation. Two Red Kites were circling over the marshes beyond. Then it was time to head back for what was now a late lunch.

After the distraction of the Cranes in particular, we were running later than expected, so there was not really enough time this afternoon on a short day to go far. We drove round inland via some nearby farmland, where several Wheatears in a stoney field were a nice surprise. Then we made our way down to Burnham Norton. There had been a Green-winged Teal here yesterday, but some local birders were just coming back from a thorough search of the area and told us there was no sign of it today. We had thought we might walk round here anyway, but they informed us that the paths were very wet underfoot, so we moved on.

Back past Burnham Overy Staithe, we had a quick walk out across the fields to the seawall. A Yellowhammer and another Lesser Whitethroat were singing from the bushes beside the path. But there were no Sedge Warblers singing along here this afternoon, where they are normally fairly numerous. The wind had picked up now and it was a little cool out in the open, so perhaps they had decided to hunker down.

Out in the fields, there were lots of Redshanks and Lapwing. A careful scan produced a lone drake Wigeon on one of the pools – most of the birds which spent the winter have now departed on their way back to Russia to breed.There were a few geese out on the grazing marshes too. Mostly Greylags and Egyptian Geese, plus a handful of Brent Geese (most of the Brent Geese prefer to feed out the saltmarsh at this time of year). From up on the seawall we managed to find a few Pink-footed Geese still. Like with the Wigeon, most of the ones which spent the winter here have long since departed, in the case of the Pinkfeet back to Iceland. We had a closer view of these than the ones we had seen yesterday, noting the pink bill band and even the pink legs, though hard to see in the long grass.

A single Spoonbill flew low over the grazing marshes and looked like it might be dropping down onto the pools, but carried on west. Later, we watched two more Spoonbills coming from the direction of Holkham. They flew steadily west, out over the seawall, and seemed to go down in harbour channel back towards Overy Staithe. We walked that way along the path but, by the time we got round, there was no sign of them there. Just when we thought our luck was out, they circled up again from the saltmarsh just beyond the harbour. They seemed unsure of where they wanted to go, but after circling for a second or two, flew straight back past us. Cracking views!

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6O0A0555Spoonbills – flew back past us from the saltmarsh

There were a few waders down on the mud below the seawall, on the edge of the saltmarsh. Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Avocet and Grey Plover. A single Whimbrel flew across the grazing marsh calling and disappeared over the seawall. It was decidedly cool in the fresh easterly breeze up here on the seawall, and we had a request to head back.

There was just enough time left for a quick visit to the local gull colony. In amongst the hordes of Black-headed Gulls, we picked out a smart pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Side by side with a Black-headed Gull, we could see their darker jet black hoods, more extensive on the back of the head, their heavier, brighter red bills and their pure white wing tips. A Common Gull also flew right past in front of us.

IMG_2642Mediterranean Gulls – with a Black-headed Gull for comparison

There were lots of waders on the mud here too and we just had a chance for a quick scan through. Lots of Oystercatchers, a couple of large groups of Turnstone and two Bar-tailed Godwits. Then it was time to head for home.

16th April 2016 – Rain or Shine

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Spring Migration tours. We met again in Wells and today we set off in the other direction, to the west. It was forecast to rain, at least for this morning and possibly most of the afternoon too, so we headed for Titchwell where at least we could get out of the weather in the hides.

The car park at Titchwell was unusually quiet for a weekend, with the weather clearly putting people off. It meant we had a chance to look round the bushes in the overflow car park before it got busy, but there was not much to be seen here today in the rain – the birds had decided to stay at home too! A Willow Warbler was singing from the trees, and a Chiffchaff was doing the same. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted its song at us from deep in the undergrowth.

The feeders by the visitor centre were also rather quiet – apart from a few Chaffinches and tits. A male Pheasant stood on the pallets underneath, looking decidedly wet and miserable.

6O0A0236Pheasant – standing under the feeders in the rain

The ditch where the Water Rail has been all winter was rather full with dirty rainwater, run off the fields and paths. Still, we found the Water Rail a little bit further along, feeding up on an exposed area of mud and rotting leaves. It was hard to get onto it at first, but eventually everyone was treated to great views of it. We had walked a little further along when we heard a Water Rail squealing from the ditch back behind us. We assumed it was the one we had just been watching at first, but turned round to see it was a second Water Rail running away from us with its undertail coverts puffed out.

Having seen the pair of Water Rails mating here a couple of weeks ago, we had an idea what might be coming next. We could only just see the pair today, as they were a way back along the ditch and mostly hidden by overhanging branches. For something which is seen so rarely, we were extraordinarily lucky to see Water Rails mating here a second time!

Water Rail Titchwell 2016-02-17_1Water Rail – here is one of them from a few weeks ago

A quick scan of the dried up grazing meadow ‘pool’ on the way past revealed nothing more than a lot of Black-headed and Common Gulls. It was exposed to the elements out on the mud – and up on the seawall! We continued on and had a look at the reedbed pool next. Two smart drake Red-crested Pochard were out in the middle and a few Common Pochard were down at the front. A pair of Marsh Harriers came up out of the reeds and circled low a couple of times before dropping back in.

6O0A0240Shoveler – feeding with their heads down in the water

Island Hide provided some welcome respite from the rain, although it was thankfully not raining hard. The water level on the freshmarsh is still quite high, and presumably topped up again by all the rain overnight. Most of the hordes of ducks which spent the winter here have now departed, but there were still a few Teal remaining, plus several Shoveler and Gadwall.

6O0A0245Teal – there are still a few around the reserve still

There were not so many waders on here today. A small number of Black-tailed Godwits, resplendent in their rusty summer plumage, were mostly sleeping on the islands or on the edge of a larger roosting flock of Oystercatchers. A single Dunlin flew round and landed briefly, just long enough for us to get it in the scope and admire its summer black belly patch which was starting to appear. There were a few pairs of Avocet on here, but not as many as there might normally be.

6O0A0252Avocet – not as many as normal around the reserve today

A lone Ringed Plover was on one of the islands but was distant from over this side. We got a better view of it from round at Parrinder Hide – noting its black-tipped orange bill and lack of a golden eye-ring. There had apparently been some Little Ringed Plovers here as well before we arrived, but they appeared to have flown off. A single Common Snipe was feeding on the bank beyond the hide and a Turnstone was hiding in the vegetation on the newly fenced off island.

IMG_2369Ringed Plover – just one, on one of the islands on the freshmarsh

There were quite a few Pied Wagtails around the islands, and we found at least one White Wagtail in with them too. The continental race to the British Pied Wagtail, it could be immediately picked out by its much paler silvery-grey back. White Wagtails are regular early migrants here, stopping off on their way back to Europe or Iceland. We were to see a few of them around the reserve today.

A big flock of Brent Geese flew in from the saltmarsh to bathe and preen. While we were looking at them, one of the group spotted a tern which dropped in to one of the small islands over the other side. Through the scope, we could see that it was a Common Tern, sporting a black-tipped red bill, another returning migrant and the first we have seen here this year. It rested on the island for a few minutes, before flying off again.

IMG_2385Common Tern – dropped into the freshmarsh for a few minutes

Volunteer Marsh was disappointingly quiet, apart from a few Redshank. The rain had eased to just a little light spitting and, looking to the north, the sky appeared to be brightening a little so we decided to brave the conditions and walk out further along the main path towards the beach.

There didn’t seem to be much on the Tidal Pools to look at either at first, but a careful scan revealed a single Little Ringed Plover  on a strip of sandy island. Through the scope we could see its finer, dark bill and golden eye-ring, both of which immediately set it apart from the Ringed Plover we had seen earlier. A flock of small waders flew in from the direction of the sea and whirled round over the water before landing on a small island – a mixture of Dunlin and Turnstone.

We surprised ourselves by making it out to the beach and the weather was not as bad out here as we thought it might be. The tide was coming in, but there were still a few Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover on the beach. A group of about a dozen Sanderling flew in along the beach and landed out on the sand in front of us – silvery grey above and sparkling white below, they were about the same size but much paler than the Dunlin we had just seen.

The sea was quite rough in the blustery north-west wind, but we could just make out a small raft of Common Scoter not too far ofshore. We were just trying to all get onto them when several hundred more Common Scoter flew in from further out to sea and circled round in front of us, before dropping down with the others. A single Fulmar was trying to battle past into the wind. We didn’t stay long out here today. Having racked up a few good species for the day, we beat a hasty retreat.

6O0A0249Brent Geese – back out on the saltmarsh, on the way back

The weather continued to improve as we walked back and a few more birds started to appear as a consequence. On the Volunteer Marsh, a couple of Curlew were now in with all the Redshank along the tidal channel and a careful scan revealed two Knot as well, remarkably well camouflaged against the grey of the mud.

When we got to the reedbed, we could hear a couple of Sedge Warblers singing, but they were keeping uncharacteristically well hidden today. We got a couple of quick views of one of them in flight. A Cetti’s Warbler was more typically shouting at us from deep in the bushes. While we were trying to see the Sedge Warblers, we heard a couple of ‘pings’ behind us and turned round just in time to see two Bearded Tits zoom across the top of the reeds before dropping back down out of view.

We could even see a bit of blue sky now, so we stopped by the grazing meadow ‘pool’ again for a proper scan. A Bittern started booming from out in the reeds behind us. A couple of Whimbrel flew across in front of us, calling, and landed out on the saltmarsh. Another Little Ringed Plover was now out on the mud and another White Wagtail appeared from behind the reeds right down at the front.

IMG_2402White Wagtail – we saw several around the reserve today

We were just about to leave when we spotted a small bird tucked into the edge of the reeds at the back, preening. There have been a few Water Pipits on here on and off throughout the winter, so it was good to see one still here and now sporting a lovely pink flush across the breast as it moults into summer plumage.

While we were watching the Water Pipit, a Grasshopper Warbler started reeling from the brambles out on the grazing marsh beyond. It gave several bursts of its distinctive clicking ‘song’ but we couldn’t see it from here, so we walked back a short way to have a look for it from a different angle. Unfortunately then it shut up and we didn’t hear it again.

We took a detour round along the Meadow Trail. There were several Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers singing from the sallows. A male Blackcap dropped down into a small bush by one of the pools. A quick look in at Patsy’s Reedbed added Little Grebe to the day’s list and several Martins hawking for insects over the pool. We could see both plain brown-backed Sand Martins and black-backed House Martins which flashed their square white rump patches as they swooped down over the water. Yet another White Wagtail was feeding quietly along the edge.

Back at the Visitor Centre, we stopped for a well-earned hot drink. There were a few more birds around the feeders, but still just a selection of Chaffinches, Goldfinches, a Greenfinch and several tits (the Bramblings have not been seen for a couple of days, so may finally have moved on). While we were looking, a pair of Mediterranean Gulls circled overhead calling.

After lunch, we made our way up to Choseley. Some Ring Ouzels had just been reported in the fields here and it took no time at all to find them. An upland version of the Blackbird, the main difference is a bold, pale crescent on the upper breast (white in males, dirty off white in females). We could see three Ring Ouzels here, feeding on the short grass and bare ground around the edge of a field. The biggest problem now was heat haze, given that the sun was shining and the sky was blue! The weather had been forecast to improve this afternoon, but this was not what we had expected.

IMG_2416Ring Ouzel – two of the three at Choseley this afternoon

The fields here are always full of Brown Hares. There was some half-hearted boxing from some of them today, although it didn’t seem like their hearts were really in it. Even so, they are great to watch. Three Stock Doves were also feeding on one of the tilled fields.

We finished the day over at Snettisham. The Ring Ouzels along Beach Road here have not been reported for a couple of days, but a quick scan from the car revealed at least one still in the paddocks. As we had already seen the ones at Choseley, we decided not to stop and to make the most of the weather with a walk round the Coastal Park.

The Coastal Park is always good for warblers, and we could hear several different species as we walked out along the path – a Lesser Whitethroat, several Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, a Sedge Warbler and a Cetti’s Warbler or two. Three Swallows zoomed past low over the bushes.

Out in the open grassy area by the seawall, three Wheatears flew up towards us as several dogs approached. The Wheatears perched nervously on the top of the larger hawthorns or smaller bushes for a few minutes until the danger had passed, before dropping down again onto the grass right in front of us. We had great views of them here.

IMG_2425Wheatear – the female lacks the black bandit mask…

IMG_2433Wheatear – …which the male shows

From up on the seawall, the tide was in, covering all the mud out on the Wash. We could also see some very black clouds out on the horizon, over the Lincolnshire coast. We weren’t quite sure whether they would head our way, so we kept a close eye on them as we walked north. There were lots of little flocks of Linnets on the seawall, with several smart males singing from the bushes.

6O0A0267Linnet – singing from the brambles along the seawall

It gradually became clearer that the rain was heading straight for us. As it clouded over again, the birds went quiet once more. We cut across to the inner seawall and started to beat a retreat. There were lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes but on our way back we spotted a darker head sticking out of a thick patch of rushes. Through the scope we could confirm it was a Pink-footed Goose – we could also see the smaller and mostly dark bill with a pink band around it. We were just having a good look at it, when something spooked all the gulls, ducks and geese and four Pink-footed Geese flew up from where we had been watching. They circled round in front of us, giving us a nice flypast.

Then it started to rain, with a bit of hail mixed in for good measure. Thankfully it was not heavy and was at our backs as we walked. It didn’t take us long to get back to the car and it was pretty much time to call it a day anyway by then. We drove back through some heavier, wintry showers and were glad to be in the warm. Despite the weather, we had managed to see a great selection of birds and, when we added it up later, over 90 different species for the day!

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!

6th April 2016 – Migrants & Showers

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was forecast to be windy with April showers, so we set off to see as much as we could while dodging the rain. With native German- and English-speakers, we even managed some instant translation of species names, with a little help from modern technology!

We met in Salthouse this morning. Our first stop was down at Beach Road. A Ruff (Kampfläufer) was feeding on one of the pools beside the road, along with a couple of Avocet (Säbelschnäbler). We had not even got out of the car when we spotted our first Wheatear (Steinschmätzer). There were actually several out on the short grass around the pools. One was nice and close and we got really good views of it through the scope until it flew further back. A few Skylarks (Feldlerche) were flying around as well, with one towering high into the sky singing, despite the weather.

WheatearWheatear – this photo taken a couple of days ago

There were a few Meadow Pipits (Wiesenpieper) on the move this morning – several flew overhead calling while we stood by the road. Then a squally shower came through and we beat a hasty retreat back to the car. We were just pondering whether to get out again once it passed over when we heard  the sharp call of a bird approaching. We got out just in time to see a Yellow Wagtail (Schafstelze) flying towards us. Unfortunately, it didn’t land but continued on west.

The Eye Field at Cley is often a good place to see wagtails on the ground, so we made our way round there next. We pulled up on the road next to the pool just in time to see three wagtails fly across the field towards us and drop in next to the water. These were White Wagtails (Bachstelze), the continental European race of our Pied Wagtail and a regular early migrant along the coast here, most easily distinguished by their pale grey backs rather than the black or darker grey of the Pied Wagtails. We got out of the car and got them in the scope, with just enough time for us all to get a good look at them before they continued on their way. As we were to discover later, there were quite a few White Wagtails on the move today. A Swallow (Rauchschwalbe) swept through too, on its way west.

We parked in the car park and had a quick walk along the path to see if there was anything else in the Eye Field today. The best we could find were a couple more Wheatears – one flew across in front of us, flashing its white tail. A report of an interesting diver had us take a quick look at the sea from the beach shelter, but we couldn’t find it. We did see a single Great Crested Grebe (Haubentaucher) on the water. A couple of Common Scoter (Trauerente) and three Ringed Plovers (Sandregenpfeifer) flew past.

It seemed like a good idea to find a more sheltered spot, so we made our way west along the coast to Holkham. As we pulled up on Lady Anne’s Drive to scan the fields and marshes, another Wheatear flew over the fence and landed on the edge of the road right in front of us. It hopped around picking at the ground for a minute or so, before flying over into the field the other side.

P1190560Wheatear – feeding on the edge of Lady Anne’s Drive

We got out to have a closer look at the four Pink-footed Geese (Kurzschnabelgans) still out on the grazing marsh. The vast majority of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the worst of the winter here have long since departed, but a few tardy individuals are still lingering here. They were asleep at first but eventually one woke up and started feeding, allowing us a proper view of its dark head and short, dark bill with a pink band around the middle.

A Marsh Harrier (Rohrweihe) flew towards us over the grass. It appeared to be hunting, quartering low across the field. It seemed to spot something and dropped down towards the ground a couple of times, but never actually landed. Whatever it was after was in a dip at first, but when it moved we could see that it was a Brown Hare. When the Marsh Harrier dipped down at it, the Hare started trying to box it away. The pursuit continued for several minutes, the Hare moving a few metres and the Marsh Harrier setting off after it again, before it finally gave up and flew off.

P1190578Marsh Harrier – spent several minutes attacking a Brown Hare

There was a nice selection of ducks on the floods the other side of the Drive. Some smart Teal (Krickente), a pair of sleeping Shoveler (Löffelente) and a pair or two of Gadwall (Schnatterente). A Grey Heron (Graureiher) was stalking along the edge of the reeds further over.

There were not many other cars on Lady Anne’s Drive today, so we parked right down at the end and set off to walk west. At that point it started to rain, so we sat out the squall in the car. It blew through really quickly on the blustery wind, so we soon continued on our way.

It was more sheltered along the path. The migrant warblers are now starting to return for the summer. There were lots of Chiffchaffs (Zilpzalp) singing in the trees but a Blackcap (Mönchsgrasmücke) was not quite so vocal and immediately went quiet when we stopped to listen to it. A Sedge Warbler (Schilfrohrsänger) was singing away out in the reeds, but we couldn’t see it. Likewise a Cetti’s Warbler (Seidensänger), although this species is one of only two resident rather than migrant warblers. There were lots of tits and Goldcrests (Wintergoldhähnchen) in the holm oaks and a single Treecreeper (Waldbaumläufer) which was uncharacteristically skulking in a dense evergreen. A Mistle Thrush (Misteldrossel) was feeding out on the grass.

IMG_1544Pink-footed Goose – one of the few still remaining here

We stopped to scan the grazing marshes and found another Pink-footed Goose, this one all on its own. With several Greylag Geese (Graugans) nearby, we had a good opportunity to look at the differences between these two species. A few Egyptian Geese (Nilgans) and a pair of Canada Geese (Kanadagans) added to the day’s list, even if neither really belong here! Three Tufted Duck (Reiherente) were on Salt’s Hole.

The Marsh Harriers were displaying over the reedbed. We could hear one calling and watched it circle high up into the air before performing a series of little swoops. A couple of Red Kites (Rotmilan) drifted out from over the pines.

P1190598Red Kite – two drifted overhead from the pines

With a bit of brighter weather, we made our way all the way along as far as Joe Jordan Hide. There was a lot of activity around the trees. The Cormorants (Kormoran) are bust nesting now and birds were continually making their way in and out of the trees with nest material. Little Egrets (Seidenreiher) were coming and going too. We had hoped we might see a Spoonbill (Löffler) or two, but the first large bird we saw fly out of the trees turned out to be something different – a Great White Egret (Silberreiher).

IMG_1578Great White Egret – flew out of the trees and out across the marshes

The Great White Egret flew across the marshes and eventually landed some distance away on a small pool. Unfortunately it was partly obscured by a fence and thin line of reeds in front, but through the scope we could appreciate its very large size, long neck and very long dagger-shaped yellow-orange bill. Presumably this is still the same bird which we saw regularly over the winter here, although it has not been reported here for a few weeks now. After a while it flew back over and circled over the trees, given us great flight views, before dropping down out of view.

We were given a few tantalising glimpses of Spoonbills in the trees and were planning to start making our way back when we saw another shower approaching. Just as it cleared, a couple of Spoonbills circled up into full view and flew across above the bushes, necks outstretched and showing off their long bills. Perfect timing!

We made our way back to the car and set off back up Lady Anne’s Drive but we hadn’t gone very far when a large white shape on the pool just the other side of the fence caused us to stop and get out again. A Spoonbill was feeding out in the water, head down, sweeping its bill constantly from side to side as it walked. We got it in the scope and had great close up views of it – even the spoon-shaped bill when it periodically stopped feeding momentarily and lifted its head up.

IMG_1616Spoonbill – check out the spoon-shaped bill

It was a smart adult in breeding plumage, with a bushy crest on the back of its head, yellow tip to its bill, a bare yellow patch under its chin and a dirty yellowish wash across its breast.

IMG_1624Spoonbill – a very smart adult

It was ironic that, having waited to get a view of the Spoonbills at the hide earlier, we were now treated to such stunning views of one right by the road! Still it was a great way to end the morning and in the end we had to tear ourselves away to get some lunch.

After lunch, we made our way back east along the coast. The Lapland Buntings (Spornammer) which have been around Blakeney for most of the winter seem to have largely left now, presumably returned to the continent. However, one or two have been reported still in the last few days so, with the weather improving a bit, it seemed worth a look. We parked by the harbour in Blakeney and set off to walk along the seawall, stopping briefly to admire the bright yellow legs of one of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Heringsmöwe).

P1190667Lesser Black-backed Gull – by the harbour again

It was a bit blustery out on the seawall, but not as bad as it might have been. Several flocks of Brent Geese (Ringelgans) flew up from the saltmarsh and flew out towards the Pit. A Curlew (Grosser Brachvogel) was wading deep in the harbour channel and several Oystercatchers (Austernfischer) were nearby.

When we got out to the area where the Lapland Buntings have been favouring in recent weeks, by the gate, all seemed rather quiet. It quickly became clear that the seed which the local photographers had been putting out for them had all been eaten and was no longer being replenished. We had a good look round, up and down the track, but it seemed like we might be out of luck. Several Skylarks were feeding down in the grass, given great views. We had seen a couple more White Wagtails by one of the pools on the walk out and another was tucked in behind a muddy ridge out of the wind, singing. This one we got in the scope and got a much better look at.

IMG_1630White Wagtail – singing out of the wind

We walked a little further along the seawall, but all we could find were more Skylarks and a Meadow Pipit with a rather rich pink flush to its breast. A glimpse of something distantly in flight, chasing a couple of Skylarks round, looked like it might be a Lapland Bunting, but we lost sight of it before we could get a good look at it. We decided we must be out of luck and started to walk back, stopping to admire a little group of Brent Geese on the edge of the harbour.

IMG_1651Brent Geese – feeding on the saltmarsh on the edge of the harbour

When we got back to the gate, a small crowd had gathered. They were looking rather forlornly out across the grass in one direction. As we walked past them, we noticed two small birds in the grass behind them. The first was a Skylark, but the second was a Lapland Bunting, only about two metres from their backs!

It appeared to be a female Lapland Bunting, lacking the black face of the males. It was too close to get the scope on it at first, but we watched with binoculars as it picked around where the seed had previously been spread. As it worked its way back along the path a short distance, we were able to get it in the scope and have a really close look at it before it flew off back into the longer grass. Great stuff and made all the better by the wait and the appearance just when we had all but given up!

IMG_1684Lapland Bunting – just one remains from the group present over the winter

There was just enough time to have a quick look in at Cley on our way back.Two Black-tailed Godwits (Uferschnepfe) were squabbling out on the mud, flashing their black tails. Many more were scattered around the water, most now showing variable amounts of bright rusty-orange summer plumage. There were lots of Avocets feeding on the scrape too. A pair just in front of the hide were perfectly synchronised, sweeping their bills from side to side in time. They should soon be settling down to nest on here. A little group of Ruff should be on their way north soon.

P1190727Avocet – should soon be nesting on the scrapes

A smaller wader right at the front of the scrape was a Green Sandpiper (Waldwasserläufer). A small number spend the winter in Norfolk, mostly inland, but this was most likely a spring migrant, stopping off on its way north.

IMG_1736Green Sandpiper – a migrant, on its way north

A small wader further over, on one of the islands, was a lone Dunlin (Alpenstrandläufer), still in grey and white winter plumage. Two other small waders which flew in and landed on the closest island were Little Ringed Plovers (Flussregenpfeifer). They ran round from the back, right to the front of the island where we could see their golden-yellow eye-rings clearly through the scope.

IMG_1719Little Ringed Plover – one of two on the scrape today

It was a great way to end the day, with a nice selection of waders. The local Marsh Harriers were soaring over the reedbed and we could hear Bearded Tits (Bartmeise) ‘pinging’ from deep in the reeds, though they were keeping well hidden as usual in the blustery wind. We had been remarkably fortunate with the weather and successfully dodged most of the showers today, seeing quite a few good birds in the process.

23rd May 2015 – East of Wells

Day 1 of a two day weekend tour today. It was a bit cloudy and cool this morning, in a NE wind, but brightened up in the afternoon. We met up in Wells and headed east along the coast.

We started up on the Heath. It was colder than we might have hoped this morning, and we thought it might not be the best day to go looking for Dartford Warblers. As it was, we needn’t have worried. We had not been walking for long when we heard the distinctive rattling song of a male Dartford Warbler. It gave us the run-around a bit, singing often from deep in the gorse, but we could see it flicking around and it perched up at nicely one point.

We continued on round the Heath. A Turtle Dove was purring from the birches, though it was tucked well down out of the wind. We couldn’t see it as we walked past the trees, but later on it flew past us, flashing its rusty back as it went.

P1010225Yellowhammer – a smart male in full voice

We had heard a Yellowhammer singing as we walked round, and eventually a smart yellow-headed male performed for us. There were lots up on the Heath today. As we rounded a corner, we stopped to look at another, perched in a dead tree when a second bird appeared next to it, a male Stonechat, and then a third bird, a male Woodlark. We got the Woodlark in the scope first, admiring its striking pale supercilium. Then it circled overhead singing and disappeared off across the Heath.

We turned our attention to the Stonechat next. We also picked up a female nearby and could see the two adults carrying food into a clump of gorse. As they did so, several streaky juveniles flew out to meet them. We spent some time watching them, the adults returning repeatedly with food and the juveniles sitting partly concealed low down in the gorse in between visits from their parents.

IMG_4912Stonechat – the proud father, perching on the top of the gorse

On our walk round, we had not heard another Dartford Warbler, so we swung back to the area we had passed through, as a pair had also been feeding young here recently. We couldn’t find them at first, but eventually heard the distinctive churring call. We saw the male and female Dartford Warblers coming in and out of a dense patch of gorse carrying food and eventually also spotted a short-tailed, grey juvenile hiding down just above the heather.

P1010227Dartford Warbler – perched up briefly

Time was getting on, so we headed back to the car. On our way, we could hear the rolling song of a Garden Warbler from the tops of some birches. We manoeuvred ourselves so we could see one particular tree and eventually the Garden Warbler appeared in full view, singing from the very top.

We headed for Salthouse next, but made an unscheduled stop on the way to our destination. A Spoonbill had been reported by the duck pond and we found it straight away, on the pool behind. It was busy feeding, sweeping its bill from side-to-side through the shallow water, but occasionally lifted its head up, so we could see it above the reedy edge of the pool. A scan of the wet grazing marsh all around also produced a Common Sandpiper feeding in the flooded grass.

P1010213Spoonbill – possibly the Salthouse bird from today, but taken at Cley yesterday

Our planned next stop was at the Iron Road, a little further along. There is a lovely area of flooded grass and pools here, that has been good for birds recently. However, there was no sign of any Little Gulls here at midday – unfortunately they have a habit of wandering along the coast. We did find a nice big flock of Black-tailed Godwits and hiding amongst them was a single Bar-tailed Godwit, still in streak-backed winter plumage.

P1010232Tufted Duck – like a duck out of water!

A pair of Tufted Duck were in the channel and climbed out onto the bank. We stopped to listen to Skylarks and Meadow Pipits singing above our heads. Best of all, a Swallow flew down and landed on a gate beside us, singing.

P1010234Swallow – landed beside us, singing

Cley was out next stop. After lunch, we walked out along the East Bank. The Serpentine and the flooded grazing marsh to the east have also been very productive in recent days but were also a little quiet today. The highlight was a smart male White Wagtail which flew in and landed briefly along the edge of the ditch below us.

P1010246The Serpentine & flooded grazing marsh east of Cley East Bank

The reedbed was the place to look today. We saw several Bearded Tits flying back and forth over the path, seemingly gathering food in the reedy ditches either side. At one point, we could see a female Bearded Tit working her way along the edge of the ditch, low down at the bottom of the reeds and just above the water surface. There were also lots of Reed Warblers singing and eventually we even managed to find a couple that would perch up long enough for us to get them in the scope. A Chinese Water Deer was out in the reedbed, seemingly enjoying the fresh green growth where the reeds were cut over the winter.

P1010245Chinese Water Deer – eating the new reed growth

Arnold’s Marsh was also fairly quiet, but we found a pair of Little Terns, one out on one of the islands and the other fishing nearby. A pair of Sandwich Terns also flew in and landed, one (presumably the male) carrying a fish in its bill, and they circled round each other in a little bout of courtship display until the male lost interest and walked off, still carrying its fish. Another Sandwich Tern was fishing just offshore from the beach.

On the walk back, we stopped to admire a Little Egret out on the grazing marsh. A Grey Heron was standing, stock still, in the reeds by one of the new pools near the road, staring intently at the water oblivious to our presence.

P1010248Little Egret – on the flooded grazing marsh

We finished the day at Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down beside the road, a very smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering the fields to the south. A scan of the Fen from the path revealed a single Little Ringed Plover out on the mud. Aside from the Redshanks, Lapwings, Avocets and a few Black-tailed Godwits, there were no other waders of note today.

We were up on the seawall, and just starting to scan the Fen from a higher vantage point, when a shout from someone nearby alerted us to a Spoonbill flying over. It circled the Fen and dropped in and as it did so, we could see it was sporting some coloured plastic rings. At first it landed with its legs in deep water and we couldn’t see the rings, but eventually it walked up onto the edge of one of the islands and started to preen. We could see the combination of rings on its legs – time will tell if we can identify where it was ringed and where else it has been seen since.

IMG_4925Spoonbill – a colour-ringed bird at Stiffkey Fen today

Walking round to the harbour, a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover was out on the mud on the far side of the creek. The tide was out, but we could still see lots of Brent Geese in the harbour. A Mediterreanean Gull flew over calling and disappeared out towards Blakeney Point, before we could all get onto it. As we walked back, a second Mediterranean Gull flew past at eye level, a summer adult with white wing-tips and black hood, which was much easier to see.

There were some more warblers singing along the side of the river on the way back to the car – a Willow Warbler sat in the top of a hawthorn, a Cetti’s Warbler sang from the river bank unseen, and a Blackcap lurked in the bushes. Then it was time to head back to Wells.

P1010253Blakeney Harbour – the view across to the Point from Stiffkey Fen

26th April 2015 – Wagtail Wonderland

Day 3 of a long weekend of tours today, the last day. We would focus on the eastern end of the North Norfolk coast today, between Kelling and Stiffkey. It had actually rained overnight, the first rain for some time, and the day dawned overcast and cool, but it cleared up through the day and was sunny and warm (out of the wind) by the close.

P1000455Blakeney Freshes from Friary Hills

We started at Friary Hills. This can at times be a very good spot for migrants, but the bushes were quiet today. From the top, we scanned over Blakeney Freshes, picking up a variety of wildfowl for the day. As we walked back, we did hear a Reed Warbler singing from the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat, which eventually showed well.

It was our intention to head round to Kelling, but news of several Blue-headed Wagtails in the Eye Field at Cley saw us take a small diversion on the way. Blue-headed Wagtail is the main central European subspecies, the equivalent of the British Yellow Wagtail, and they form just two of many subspecies of a very widely distributed and very variable species. Several subspecies occur or are suspected to occur in the UK from time to time, but as we were to see today, the subject is even more complicated than that!

It took us a while to find the wagtails, as they were mobile and distant at first. We contented ourselves with looking at several Wheatears intially. Finally we picked up a couple of Yellow Wagtails and a smart male Blue-headed Wagtail dropped in with them. So far, so simple!

IMG_4274Blue-headed Wagtail – a smart male in the Eye Field

In the end, we saw at least 8 ‘yellow’ or flava wagtails, the all-encompassing moniker for the species (Motacilla flava is the Latin name for the species as a whole). There were several male Yellows, as well as at least one male Blue-headed, and a number of females of different hues (it is still not clear where the appearance of female Yellow stops and female Blue-headed starts!).

At one point, the little group of flava wagtails landed with four ‘monochrome’ alba wagtails. In a similar way to the Yellow Wagtail, the British Pied Wagtail is replaced on the continent with the grey-backed White Wagtail (two subspecies of the very widely distributed Motacilla alba – a theme is emerging!). We could see that the group of four in the Eye Field included two smart silvery-grey backed White Wagtails as well as two Pied Wagtails. A great start – four subspecies of Wagtail together!

Round at Kelling, we set off along the track to the beach. A Goldcrest sang from the trees by the school and a couple of Common Whitethroat sang from the hedges. The cows were feeding up by the gate, but there were no wagtails with them as we arrived. However, as we walked further on, we could see two flava wagtails on the short grass by the pool. One was a smart male Yellow Wagtail, but whilst the other resembled a Blue-headed Wagtail, it looked a little pale around the head. Unfortunately they were flushed by a couple of people walking along the track before we could get the scope on them.

We could still hear the odd Yellow Wagtail calling from time to time, but we couldn’t see them at first, until we realised they had flown into the dense clumps of rushes. It was only when the cows started to walk back down the water meadow towards the pool that the wagtails came out. Then we realised there were flava wagtails everywhere – at least 12-15 birds!

At first, we contented ourselves wit watching the bright yellow British Yellow Wagtails. We admired the way they ran in and out of the cows feet and even seemed to get so close to them feeding that it would not have been a surprise to see one get eaten! They looked stunning in amongst the daisies and dandelions in the short grass.

P1000478Yellow Wagtail – a smart ‘British’ male

P1000479Yellow Wagtail – careful, not too close!

There were a couple of nice smart male Blue-headed Wagtails in amongst them as well – nice contrasting blue-grey heads with a strongly marked white supercilium. Then the paler-headed male appeared – unlike the regular Blue-headed males, this one appeared to have a pale silvery grey crown, a ‘Channel’ Wagtail.

P1000458‘Channel’ Wagtail – paler silvery grey on the crown than a regular Blue-headed

Blue-headed and Yellow Wagtails are known to ‘hybridise’ in northern France, and the resulting intergrades are known as ‘Channel’ Wagtails. These show much paler heads than Blue-headed – silvery-grey, powder-blue or even approaching white. They turn up quite regularly with our Yellow Wagtails in the spring.

As if that wasn’t already complicated enough, then another darker headed bird appeared. We glimpsed it a couple of times and it looked really quite striking. At first, it appeared to have an all dark grey head – dark slate grey on the crown and blacker on the ear coverts. However, when we got a good look at it, we could see that it had a very thin supercilium. It also had a rather white upper throat.

IMG_4297flava Wagtail ssp – most likely an intergrade of some form

P1000464flava Wagtail ssp –  a thin white supercilium and white on throat

This bird did not obviously fit any of the regular subspecies or intergrades. Perhaps it was a mixture of Blue-headed and the Italian subspecies, Ashy-headed? We will never know, but it was an interesting bird to see nonetheless. The morning as a whole was a great opportunity to study a variety of different wagtail forms. We spent time discussing the different subspecies and known intergrades between them. At the end of the day, it was just great to watch them all running amongst the cows and spring flowers. Still, after all that we needed a sit down and some lunch!

As we walked back up the track, three young Field Voles were trying to hide in the middle of the path – presumably a dog had dug them out of their nest. We tried to usher them to the safety of the verge, but they kept running back out into the middle.

P1000497Field Vole – three youngsters were in the middle of the path at Kelling

After lunch, we went for a walk at Salthouse. We eventually found the single Snow Bunting feeding in the field about half way towards Gramborough. The flock of Snow Buntings which roamed the beach through the winter appears to have long departed, but this single bird remains. Still, it seemed perfectly happy feeding quietly on its own, until something upset the local Sand Martins and they flew round calling – and the Snow Bunting joined them.

IMG_4327Snow Bunting – the rest of the winter birds have departed

There were also several Wheatears in the field. As with the birds we saw yesterday at Burnham Overy, the males at Salthouse were washed with orange underneath, especially on the throat and upper breast, to varying degrees of intensity – Greenland Wheatears.

P1000504Wheatear – the rich orange wash on the breast suggests a Greenland bird

We finished the day at Stiffkey Fen. As we crossed the road, a Willow Warbler was singing in the sallows by the river. We stopped to try to see it and a Reed Warbler was lumbering around in the same tree. A Cetti’s Warbler sang loudly nearby, and we could hear the scratchy notes of a Sedge Warbler from the Fen. A hooting Tawny Owl was more of a surprise, in the middle of the afternoon.

Scanning the Fen from the path, we could see a selection of waders. A Little Ringed Plover lurked on one of the islands. Several Black-tailed Godwits stood in the water. A smart male Ruff was hiding in the vegetation on the shore and a Common Snipe eventually showed itself, preening nearby.

From up on the seawall, we could get a better look over the Fen. At first we couldn’t see anything we hadn’t seen from the path. Finally, we picked up a Common Sandpiper working its way round the water’s edge at the very back. On the saltmarsh side, a Greenshank was working its way up the creek and quickly disappeared from view. Thankfully, a few moments later, it flew back out and onto the Fen where it proceeded to bathe and preen. There were also several Avocet in the channel by the seawall.

P1000509Avocet – a couple of pairs were in the tidal channel at Stiffkey, more on the Fen

As we walked round towards Blakeney Harbour, we could hear a Whimbrel calling. It then flew in and landed on the edge of the creek opposite us. Eventually, once it came round out of the sun, we could see its pale central crown stripe. It then flew out into the creeks in the harbour.

P1000516Whimbrel – feeding on the edge of the harbour

As we came round the corner, we could see a couple of Common Buzzards soaring up over the fields just behind us and a Red Kite was circling lazily over the saltmarsh. There were still plenty of Brent Geese out in the harbour and we could see lots of gulls and Sandwich Terns out toward Blakeney Point. As we turned to walk back, a pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over us calling.

From back on the seawall, the Common Sandpiper was on the edge of the mud on the tidal channel. But it was very jumpy and flew off as we approached, flicking down the channel on bowed wings. A Redshank flew up from the Fen and over the seawall, displaying over our heads – fluttering its wings fast, again holding them deeply bowed, then gliding for a second, before another burst of quick fluttering, before it glided down across the channel and landed on a post. Stunning to watch. As we walked back, we stopped to admire a cracking male Lapwing feeding quietly in the set-aside field amongst the flowers. A lovely end to the day.

P1000519Blakeney Harbour from Stiffkey Fen seawall

22nd April 2015 – Spring has Sprung

Back to business today and a Spring Tour around the Cley area looking for migrants. It was slightly cool and cloudy first thing up on the coast, in a light north wind, but the sun came out and it warmed up in the afternoon – a lovely April day.

We started off looking – or listening – for Nightingales, which have started to arrive in the last few days. As we got out of the car, we could hear plenty of warblers singing – a couple of Blackcaps, several Chiffchaffs and a Cetti’s Warbler. With all the sounds around us, it felt like a real spring morning. We heard a Bullfinch call and a smart pink male perched up briefly in the bushes in front of us. But there was no sound of the Nightingale at first.

We began to walk down the road. A couple of Long-tailed Tits were calling from the hedgerow and as they flew up we could see some grey lichen in the area they had been – a closer look confirmed our suspicions and we found a beautiful nest tucked in amongst the branches. As we stopped to admire it, the Nightingale started singing back where we had been – but only two brief snatches of song before it went quiet again. It seemed like it might still be too chilly for it to really get going.

P1000269Long-tailed Tit nest – an amazing construction, well concealed in the hedge

Continuing back down the road, we stopped every so often to listen to the bird song around us. A Whitethroat or two were new additions for the day – we got a look at one smart male – and a Lesser Whitethroat rattled from deep in the bushes but didn’t similarly oblige. A male Cuckoo sang from the trees, really adding to the feeling of spring, and then we heard the amazing bubbling sound of a female nearby. We got a look at her perched up in a tree before she flew across the road behind us. Unfortunately, a Cuckoo is not as common a sight (or sound) now as it used to be.

We had gone some way down the road when a second Nightingale started singing just behind us. We turned and walked back a short way to listen to it. It was a delight just to stand there and hear the song, the liquid phrases rolling out from the dense undergrowth. After a while it stopped singing and we could hear it calling (a bit like a frog!), before it flew across the road and disappeared into the hedge the other side, flashing a russet tail as it did so. We listened to it singing there for a while, close beside us, catching another glimpse of it in flight before it finally went quiet again and we headed back. What a magical moment. As we walked back to the car, a Tawny Owl hooted from the trees – not what we were expecting in the middle of the morning!

Heading down to the coast, our next stop was Walsey Hills. There had been a Black Redstart hanging around opposite here for the last couple of days, but there was no  sign today. We had a quick explore along the footpath, and had a good look at a couple of Willow Warblers which were singing from the bushes. But with no sign of any more life, we didn’t hang around.

Further along the coast road, we pulled up outside the visitor centre at Cley. Our intention had been to use the facilities and get a cup of coffee first, but from the car park we could already hear the Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the bushes just across the road. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to get a good look at it, particularly as it has been performing so well of late, so we walked over to see it. Unfortunately, by the time we got over there it had already decided to go quiet. Typical! We stood for a while, and the call of the coffee was growing ever more tempting when we caught a couple of quiet reels. The Grasshopper Warbler sounded like it had moved much further away. Then suddenly it hopped up into some low brambles not 5 metres in front of us. We got a great look at it as it sang in short bursts and clambered about in the nettles close to the ground. After that, we celebrated with a coffee in the visitor centre!

P1000274Grasshopper Warbler – reeling right in front of us today

We were planning to explore the reserve later in the day, so after our coffee we headed back along the coast to Kelling. As we walked down along the lane, a Red Kite drifted over and disappeared to the west. The cows are out on the water meadow early this year and that seemed to have pulled in the Yellow Wagtails. But the first bird we saw was not a typical ‘Yellow’, but a very smart male Blue-headed Wagtail, the continental European subspecies. We got him in the scope and set about admiring his blue-grey crown and striking white supercilium, which contrasted with his bright yellow underparts. As we did so, a male British Yellow Wagtail appeared next to him. As we scanned in amongst the cows feet, we eventually picked up four of them – three males and a duller female. One of the male Yellow Wagtails in particular sat preening in the grass and positively glowed bright canary yellow in the (now) sunshine.

P1000245Blue-headed Wagtail – with 4 Yellow Wagtails amongst the cows today

Down at the pool, there were several Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets wading around in the water. Amongst them was a stunning Spotted Redshank in mostly black summer plumage. Flushed by some walkers along the cross track, it flew towards us and started to feed close by. We admired its white eye-ring, contrasting with the blackish head and neck, the white-spotted upperparts and the long and needle-tipped bill.

IMG_4238Spotted Redshank – a smart bird, in fine black summer plumage

That wasn’t the only good wader down on the pool today. It was hiding on the island at first, but eventually the Knot appeared. It was starting to live up to its proper name of ‘Red Knot‘, beginning to moult into its much brighter summer plumage, rather than the grey winter grab with which we are more familiar. The resident Egyptian Geese had already hatched three goslings, already starting to look quite well grown.

P1000287Red Knot – or ‘Reddish Knot’ perhaps still at the moment

We carried on down towards the beach and up onto the top, hoping that we might pick up a Wheatear or Whinchat. No sign of either of those, but we did find a couple of pairs of Stonechat, presumably local breeding birds. One of the males decided to come down the fence line towards us – another smart bird! As we stood there admiring it, we could hear a Mediterranean Gull calling and after a while we picked up a pair of adults, flashing their white wing-tips, circling high above the field behind.

P1000286Stonechat – one of the males at Kelling today

The morning was long gone, so we eventually managed to tear ourselves away and head back to the car. We drove a short way along the coast to Salthouse for a late lunch on the Beach Road. While we ate, we picked up a small group of Wheatear out on the grazing marshes. A Greenshank appeared on the pools behind the beach.

After lunch, we drove back to Cley and headed out to explore the reserve. The main scrapes were fairly quiet – a smattering of duck (Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard & Shoveler), a few Black-tailed Godwits and lots of Avocets. Looking more closely, we found a pair of Little Ringed Plovers on one of the islands, displaying. There were also lots of Ruff (& Reeves). The first ones we saw still appeared to be in mostly winter plumage, but eventually we found a male with lots of black on head and neck, clearly moulting into summer plumage. It was a good opportunity to look at the variation, and the differences between males and females.

P1000303Shelduck – this pair were mating right outside the hide

The Eye Field seemed a bit quiet as we drove down Beach Road. However, a scan from the car park revealed four Wheatears out on the grass. We set out to walk towards North Hide and as we did so, a lovely male Whinchat appeared on the fence. It was quite flighty and wouldn’t settle near us, but we eventually got it in the scope – another cracker. On the edge of the shingle, we stopped to admire a Ringed Plover on one of the pools and as we did so, we picked up a White Wagtail by the grass. Unfortunately, it didn’t linger and flew off out into the Eye Field and disappeared from view. We did manage to find it again, looking from further along, and got a good look through the scope. A nice haul of classic spring migrants for the list for the day.

IMG_4241Whinchat – a smart male on the Eye Field fence

Billy’s Wash had a few ducks on it, including three Pintail, one of them a smart male. North Scrape was fairly quiet – just a couple more Little Ringed Plover and a few of the other Cley regulars. Then it was time to start heading back, stopping briefly to admire a female Wheatear right by the fence.

P1000320Wheatear – we saw a few at Salthouse & Cley today

We had met in Wells, so made our way back there to finish. A single Common Seal (or perhaps more appropriately ‘Harbour’ Seal) was pulled up and resting nearby.

All-in-all, a decent haul of early spring migrants and incoming breeding birds for the day.

P1000328Common Seal – hanging around in the harbour

27th March 2015 – Sunny on the Coast

Day 1 of three days of tours – based in North Norfolk today. It was a glorious day, mostly clear skies and sunshine, although the recent run of northerly or north-westerly winds has continued to restrict the flow of early migrants. Still, it was a great day to be out, and we saw some really good birds.

Our first stop and we had barely got out of the car before we could hear the Mediterranean Gulls calling. From up on the seawall, we could see several flying around and a couple of pairs landing on the ground. Even better, they were displaying. A great start. No sign of any terns yet – hopefully they will start to arrive soon.

IMG_3522Mediterranean Gulls – pair displaying (with Black-headed Gull, foreground)

Out on the mud, there were lots of waders. Loads of Oystercatcher, whirling flocks of Knot and Dunlin, several Grey Plover, a few Curlew and a couple of Turnstone. Not far away, a big group of Brent Geese had come in for an early morning bathe. A pair of Common Buzzards circled over the trees behind.

We drove on westwards. A Barn Owl, surprisingly late to bed, was still out hunting along the field margins. We turned inland and a small diversion produced a Little Owl perched on the top of a barn by the road. It watched us nervously for a couple of minutes, before dropping down out of sight.

P1010537Little Owl – watching us nervously

We dropped down towards Titchwell, stopping on the way to admire a pair of Grey Partridge in a field. There were lots of Brown Hares as well. Many were lying low in the fields, but we spent some time watching three running around in the winter wheat. There was even a little bit of boxing – it is still March, after all! A pair of Mistle Thrush were still in a field, but there was no sign of the Fieldfare they had been in company with earlier in the week – presumably they had already headed off back to Scandinavia. We saw the odd Yellowhammer, but otherwise there was quite a lot of disturbance from tractors in the fields to walkers on the footpath.

Down in the car park it really felt like spring. Out of the wind, in the sunshine, the Blackthorn was in blossom and a couple of Chiffchaffs were singing. We headed out onto the reserve, and just past the visitor centre we spotted a Water Rail skulking in the ditch by the path. It scuttled along into the vegetation before creeping back out once it thought it wasn’t being watched.

P1010548Water Rail – still in the ditch by the path at Titchwell

The Thornham grazing marsh pool was drained earlier in the winter and had started to look rather parched in recent weeks. However, after a bit of rain in the last couple of days, it seemed a bit more promising. There was not much to see on the first scan, but pausing to look at the Pied Wagtails feeding round one edge (following a question about White Wagtails), a small bird could be seen bouncing up and down behind. It was immediately obvious that it was a snipe from the dark blackish background colour to the upperparts contrasting with the golden stripes, and behaving quite like that, it could really only be one species. It turned round and we could see the short bill and distinctive face pattern – a Jack Snipe. We watched it feeding quietly on the edge of the rushes.

There were several Marsh Harriers out over the reedbed. One circled up higher than the others and started calling. Then it started displaying as well, twisting and tumbling – great to watch. The reedbed pool held two smart male Red-crested Pochards, with their bouffant orange hairdos. In contarst, the moulting Chinese Water Deer which walked across the saltmarsh was looking decidedly scruffy.

P1010555Chinese Water Deer – this scruffy individual was out on the saltmarsh

The freshmarsh held a good selection of waders and wildfowl. We stopped to admire the ducks, enjoying the still rather high water levels (presumably they will be lowered eventually?!). A drake Shoveler was preening by the path – in the sunlight, its normally green head appeared to glow purple.

P1010571Shoveler – a smart drake preening by the path

There were also a few Wigeon, lots of Gadwall and Teal, and the ubiquitous Mallard. The diving ducks were represented by Tufted Duck and Pochard, though numbers appeared to be down on recent weeks, as well as a couple of female Goldeneye. Periodically, groups of Brent Geese dropped in from the saltmarsh towards Thornham or Brancaster.

P1010568Gadwall – still a firm favourite for those who like their ducks more subtle

P1010655Brent Goose – flying in from the saltmarsh

There were plenty of waders, too. With the tide high out on the beach, the godwits on the freshmarsh were all roosting Bar-tailed Godwit. There was also a little group of Knot bathing, a lone Dunlin and a couple of Turnstone on the islands. A single scaly, winter-plumaged Ruff was joined by a much smaller Reeve. The Avocets were looking much happier with the tops of the islands now out of the water, giving them somewhere to stand without getting their feet wet.

P1010652Avocet – feeding by the path again today

The Volunteer Marsh also held a good selection of waders. There were a few Black-tailed Godwit here, including one well-advanced in its moult towards its rusty orange summer plumage. There were also plenty still in mostly winter plumage, giving a good opportunity to hone ID skills compared to the Bar-tailed Godwits nearby.

P1010664Black-tailed Godwit – this one still in grey winter plumage

There were also lots of Redshank and Oystercatcher, a few more Knot and several Curlew. Several Grey Plover were much admired, and we looked closely at the differences between adults and first winter birds. However, the highlight was a single Spotted Redshank which walked up out of a muddy channel and promptly went to sleep on the bank.

P1010580Grey Plover – a smart spangled bird

The Tidal Pools added Pintail to the days list, though only several females today and no sign of any males. A quick look at the sea gave us several Red-breasted Merganser and a couple of distant Eider.

As we walked back, we stopped again to look at the drained Thornham grazing marsh pool. Standing still, half hidden amongst the rushes, was a Water Pipit. Presumably the same bird which has been present most of the winter, it is now coming into summer plumage. Gone are the black streaks on the underparts, to be replaced by a delicate pink flush across the breast. Smart.

It was getting on for lunchtime, but we made a quick diversion round via the Meadow Trail. There were lots of Chiffchaffs flycatching in the sallows – they have really arrived in good numbers now. A pair of Bullfinch called from the trees, but proved hard to see, before the pink male eventually gave himself up.

P1010672Chiffchaff – lots around Titchwell today

Patsy’s Reedbed itself was very quiet, but we were in for a nice surprise on the walk there. We flushed a couple of Pied-type Wagtails from the path as we rounded the corner and one looked very pale grey above as it flew over the hedge. We walked back and peered into the field beyond, but there were only a few Pied Wagtails there. As we returned towards the screen, we could see half a dozen alba wagtails back on the path and amongst them the unmistakable pale grey back and sharply demarcated black cap of a White Wagtail, the continental sub-species which passes through here on migration. Unfortunately, one of the Pied Wagtails clearly took offence to its foreign cousin and promptly chased it off out towards the reedbed. Still it was great to see, a classic early spring migrant.

After a late lunch, we headed back along the coast to Holkham. Another Barn Owl was hunting along the grassy bank to the east of Lady Anne’s Drive as we arrived. We walked west on the inland side of the pines. The trees were rather quiet today, but we still picked up several Goldcrests, Treecreepers and a selection of tits. Several more Chiffchaffs were singing from the bushes.

We climbed up to the Joe Jordan hide and settled down to scan the grazing marshes. It didn’t take long to spot a Spoonbill dropping out of the trees and flying down to the pool nearby. It seemed to feed for a few seconds, sweeping its bill from side to side through the water, before grabbing a stick from the water and flying back up to the trees with it in its bill. We watched this happen repeatedly over the next half an hour, although it was never clear whether only one individual or several was involved. Nice to see the birds back and keeping busy!

P1010685Spoonbill – flying down to collect nest material

There was no sign of any White-fronted Geese amongst the numerous feral Greylags, Canadas and Egyptian Geese today – perhaps they have finally departed on their way back to Russia. However, we did find a couple of Pink-footed Geese. Most of their kind already departed last month, but very small numbers still linger. Some, perhaps sick or injured birds, may remain for the summer. The resident super-pale Common Buzzard was visible distantly, perched in a tree over towards the road – it really stood out with its almost white head and breast.

We walked on to the west end of the pines. There were lots of raptors out now. A couple of Red Kites circled lazily over the grazing marsh. A female Sparrowhawk came out of the trees and flew right overhead. A second pale Common Buzzard sat on one of its usual fence posts. There were also a couple more Barn Owls out hunting over the fields, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

Another buzzard flew up to the fence posts. Despite the fact that we were looking straight into the sun, its pale head immediately stood out. We walked round into the dunes to get a better look and confirmed our suspicions – it was the Rough-legged Buzzard which has been hanging around for the winter. Surely it must only be a matter of time now before it departs back north? We watched it standing on the post, noting the blackish belly patch contrasting with the pale head. Then it took off and flew a little further along the fence line, giving us a great view of its white tail with a terminal black band, particularly as it landed.

IMG_3563Rough-legged Buzzard – still out on the grazing marshes this afternoon

Then it was time to call it a day. The walk back was uneventful, although we reminisced about the highlights of the day and admired the late afternoon weather. It seemed a nice way to end, with great views of the Rough-legged Buzzard. However, we were in the car and driving back up Lady Anne’s Drive when a glance out of the window revealed another Spoonbill feeding on one of the pools right by the road. We leapt out, grabbing cameras and binoculars from the boot and had great views as it swept its bill from side to side through the shallows. A cracking finale.

P1010702Spoonbill – feeding on a pool by Lady Anne’s Drive as we left

30th April 2014 – Dotterels at last

Private tour in North Norfolk today. I had been asked about some possible target species a few days previously. With the Dotterel having reappeared at Choseley the day before, and with that being on the target list, I thought that would be a good place to start the day. If only everything was that easy! When we arrived at the field where they had been seen the previous day (and a couple of days before that), there was no sign. We searched a number of other potential fields in the area, but without success.

We then spent a productive morning at Titchwell. The highlight was a group of 10 White Wagtails behind the beach, and we had a good selection of waders and terns. After lunch, it seemed like the Dotterel were not going to reappear, so we moved on to Burnham Overy to look for migrants. We had almost reached the dunes when news came through to say that the Dotterel were back and there was no hesitation in the request that we have another go. However, to frustrate us even further, by the time we got back to Choseley, the birds seemed to have disappeared again. Just as we were starting to lose hope a second time, a couple of ‘stones’ in the field started to move in front of our eyes and, as if by magic, the Dotterel appeared. Success! And all the sweeter for having had to really work for it.

Here’s one I took earlier…. and a nice Black-tailed Godwit from Titchwell.ImageImage