Tag Archives: Whitethroat

23rd April 2016 – Migrants & More, Day 2

Day 2 of a long weekend of Spring Migration tours today. This time we headed east along the coast, starting the day with our first stop at Kelling.

As we walked down along the track to the Water Meadow, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the dense blackthorn. We could just see it hopping around in the branches as it sang. Down by the copse, a Chiffchaff was singing too. We had good views of that as it sang in a small tree and a second Chiffchaff flew back and forth across the path at the same time.

We got down to the gate overlooking the Water Meadow and could feel the cold and blustery north wind in our faces. A Brown Hare was hunkered down on the edge of the grass in the shelter of a dense clump of rushes. At this point, we could see dark shower cloud approaching, so we too shelter behind the hedge. Thankfully, it quickly passed over us on the breeze.

Looking over the brambles, across to the field the other side, we could see a Ring Ouzel out on the short grass. We got it in the scope and could see its white gorget. A second Ring Ouzel appeared nearby. A female Wheatear appeared in the same field. There are quite a few Common Whitethroat which have arrived in the last few days and there were lots around Kelling now. One particularly obliging individual landed in the brambles beside us singing. It proceeded to song flight, hovering above our heads at one point, and perching on various bushes.

6O0A0661Common Whitethroat – this one performed very well right next to us

There were a few ducks out on the pool. Several Shoveler were swimming round in circles with their heads under the water feeding. Three Teal were hiding down in the vegetation on the near bank. The pair of Egyptian Geese still have four goslings so far, and they are growing steadily now. There were a couple of Avocet on here too. From round the other side, we could see a single Common Snipe. It was extremely well camouflaged, sitting tight up against the rushes, and very hard to see until it finally moved out a little.

As it brightened up a little, first a Swallow appeared, zooming back and forth low over the path, and then several Sand Martins. They all began to hawk for insects low over the water.

It looked like the Ring Ouzels might be showing much closer from the path over the other side, but by the time we got round there they had been flushed by several people standing by the edge of the field and flown to the hedge further down along the Water Meadow. We could see them perched up in the top of a bush briefly, before they dropped down out of view. We contented ourselves with watching a nice pair of Stonechats instead as they fed from the fenceposts or small dead thistles out in the field.

IMG_2849Stonechat – a pair were feeding in the corner of the field

We had a quick walk down past the Quag and up the hillside beyond. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling, but didn’t stop and headed straight on west. A Sedge Warbler was singing from deep in the bushes. A Little Egret was tucked down in a ditch, resembling a piece of white wind-blown rubbish until it flew off. A male Pied Wagtail was displaying to a female on the edge of one of the small pools.

We flushed several Linnets and Meadow Pipits from the grass and bushes as we walked along and a smart male Reed Bunting was feeding down on the shorter turf in a dune slack. It was a bit too exposed up on the ridge here, and we could see another squally shower cloud coming in off the sea, so we turned round and made our way back.

There was still no sign of the Ring Ouzels in their favoured corner as we walked past, but from the other side of the Water Meadow we could see one distantly again in a bramble clump and it dropped back down onto the edge of the field once more. Then we headed back to the car.

IMG_2852Ring Ouzel – in the field behind the Water Meadow

In between the showers, there were now some increasingly bright intervals, so we thought it might be worth a quick look up on the Heath, in some of the more sheltered spots. When we got there, it seemed rather quiet, despite being warm in places out of the wind. We had a quick walk round  – the highlight was a single Adder slithering away into a tussock from the bank where it had been basking out of the wind. A couple of Buzzards circled high overhead. A Lesser Redpoll flew over, calling. A pair of Bullfinches were piping from the bushes by the car park. A Goldcrest was feeding up in a pine tree and a Willow Warbler was singing from the birches.

We moved swiftly on and made our way down to Cley for lunch. There were several people milling around in the car park as a Wryneck had been reported earlier, but it had not been seen by anyone after the first sighting. Just as most of the group headed into the visitor centre to make use of the facilities, a Hobby zipped overhead and stooped down after a couple of Meadow Pipits in the fields beyond, before disappearing over the hill behind North Foreland wood.

After lunch, we walked out onto the reserve. A Cetti’s Warbler was calling from the bushes and actually perched up in full view for a few seconds, before flying across the road and disappearing into cover again. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the top of the brambles but launched itself into song flight just as we got the scope onto it. A Water Rail squealed from out in the reeds.

As we settled into Teal Hide, we could see a nice selection of waders out on the scrape just in front. We were just working our way through them in turn, when we were distracted by a very smart black, summer plumage Spotted Redshank just behind them, so we had a good look at that first. There were also several Common Redshanks around for comparison and we had a good view of one in its rather more subtle summer plumage and one in winter still, side by side.

IMG_2890Spotted Redshank – looking very smart in summer plumage

There were a couple of Ruff in front of the hide, both gradually moulting into their own summer plumage. Though yet to develop their characteristic ruffs, they were already looking rather different – one still rather grey-brown with black speckles and the chestnut headed with black bars. Ruff are the most variable wader in appearance.

IMG_2874

IMG_2918Ruffs – two rather different moutling males

There were plenty of Avocets on here, as usual, and we watched one feeding right in front of the hide, sweeping its bill from side to side through the top of the mud.

6O0A0681Avocet – this one was feeding in front of the hide

There is no shortage of Black-tailed Godwits at Cley either. Many are now also in summer plumage, with a striking rusty-orange head and breast. One particularly smart individual was feeding just in front of Dauke’s Hide when we got round there – it looked stunning when the sun came out. There were also about a dozen Dunlin on Simmond’s Scrape, one of which had already starting developing its summer black belly.

IMG_2934Black-tailed Godwit – a stunning summer-plumaged individual

There are not so many ducks on the reserve now, with many having departed after the winter. A single drake Wigeon dropped in to Pat’s Pool at one point and a female Shoveler in the ditch in front of the hides was noted for its enormous shovel of a bill. A single male Marsh Harrier quartered over the reedbed at the back, in the wind.

6O0A0695Shoveler – this female was showing off her enormous bill

As the weather seemed to have improved a little, we decided to brave a walk round to the East Bank. We were almost round there when we heard a Whimbrel calling and looked up to see two flying away over the fields beyond. They appeared to be dropping down and from up on the Bank we could see them distantly out on the grass.

It is not normally advisable to go looking for Bearded Tits in the wind, as they generally stay well down in the reeds on days like this. So we were pleased initially just to hear a couple ‘pinging’ and get a glimpse of them zipping across and dropping back into the reeds. They appeared to have gone down into a channel through the reeds, so we walked along a short way to where we could look down along it from the Bank. There, down on a reed stem by the water, was a stunning male Bearded Tit. A female appeared too, and we watched the two of them creeping around in the reeds.

6O0A0710Bearded Tit – a stunning male, a nice surprise on a windy day

They disappeared out of view a couple of times, but kept coming back to the edge and worked their way right down towards us. Great stuff! Eventually, they just melted into the reeds.

There were three Little Ringed Plovers out on Pope’s Marsh and at first they wouldn’t settle, but kept flying round displaying. Eventually they all landed together. It appeared there might be two males, because they puffed their chests out and stood posturing at each other, while the third looked on. The Lapwings nest out on the grazing marshes here and they are now very aggressive, chasing after Crows, Redshanks, and even other Lapwings. There was also yet another differently coloured Ruff out on the Serpentine, this one with a pure white head.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, there didn’t seem to be so many waders at first today. What was there were mostly Avocet and Redshank. A careful scan revealed a couple of Ringed Plovers out on the islands at the back and a Curlew was asleep out there too. There had been lots of Dunlin out here earlier in the week, and after a while a large flock flew in from the direction of the beach and proceeded to whirl round over the water, alternately flashing dull grey upperparts and bright white underneath.

We had seen a little group of four Sandwich Terns disappearing out over the shingle bank as we arrived, but standing in the new shelter here we heard more coming. Several singles or small groups flew in from the east, presumably having been out fishing further along the coast, and they continued straight overhead, back towards Blakeney Point.

6O0A0719Sandwich Tern – several flew west this afternoon

Then it was time to call it a day and head for home. We walked back with the sun shining – it was glorious now out here, even if it was still cool in the wind. We were almost back to the visitor centre when we stopped on the path to join someone waiting for the Water Voles to appear. We didn’t have to wait long – first one swam across to the other side, then a different one swam straight towards us. A lovely way to finish the day.

6O0A0724Water Vole – several were in the ditch

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16th October 2015 – More from the East

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. Norfolk has been enjoying a real purple patch in the last week, with a succession of rare vagrants from the east turning up in the county, brought to us on an ongoing easterly airflow originating from far across onto the continent. We set out to try to catch up with a few of those today.

Our first stop saw us drive east along the coast to Beeston Common, just beyond Sheringham. It was overcast and blustery when we arrived, but that doesn’t seem to put off our first target. As soon as we got out onto the Common we could see the Isabelline Shrike perched atop a hawthorn bush, looking all around. We got it in the scope and watched it catch a wasp and eat it.

IMG_2003Isabelline Shrike – still present on Beeston Common today & showing well

Suddenly it flew towards us, and landed in another bush much closer by. It was obviously actively looking for food, as it flew again to another perch. It dropped sharply down to the ground, but disappeared deep into a holly when it flew back out so we couldn’t see what it had caught this time. We waited a few minutes and it reappeared on our side of the holly, before flying across back to the hawthorn it had just come from.

From there, it dropped down into the grass again and this time flew up with a small frog. It took it into the hawthorn and we could just see it through the scope, impaling the frog on a thorn. Shrikes are also traditionally known as ‘butcher birds’, as they will store excess food in a ‘larder’ by impaling them on a thorny bush or even barbed wire for later consumption. The Isabelline Shrike seemed unsure whether to eat its frog now or leave it for later. It appeared to eat a little, then moved back to the outside of the bush to resume hunting, before changing its mind and dropping back in to eat some more. Fascinating to watch.

There have been thrushes arriving in numbers for days now, and out on the common we saw a Blackbird or two drop into the bushes and a large flock of Redwing flew over our heads calling. A Sparrowhawk flew over as well – there is a real bounty for predators at the moment, with many small birds arriving here exhausted from the continent.

Having enjoyed such great views of the Isabelline Shrike, we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. Heading back west along the coast, we stopped at Muckleburgh Hill next. An Olive-backed Pipit had been found here yesterday, but it had been very elusive. They have a habit of creeping surreptitiously through the grass unseen, so it seemed like it might be difficult for us to see this one. A text message also confirmed that it had been elusive so far this morning. We thought we might as well have a go.

When we finally found the assembled crowd, the Olive-backed Pipit was on show, but getting everyone onto it was easier said than done at first. It was creeping around on an area of cut bracken, amongst the dead stalks and short regrowth, so had lots of places to hide. We kept getting glimpses of it. Frustrating. Finally it crept over to a more obvious place under a large rowan tree and proceeded to work its way round the edge of the taller bracken at its base. Now everyone got onto it, we managed to get it in the scopes and get some cracking views.

IMG_2040Olive-backed Pipit – eventually showed very well at Muckleburgh Hill

Olive-backed Pipits breed in Siberia and just into European Russia, migrating down to India and south Asia for the winter. They are a rare visitor to our shores, though they turn up more often these days than they used to. They are still a great bird to see and full of character, as they creep around pumping their tails slowly up and down.

We left the crowd to it, and continued our way back west, stopping off next at Stiffkey Greenway. A Great Grey Shrike had been seen earlier in the morning, but had disappeared off to the west along the coastal path. There were lots of people here, birdwatchers as well as dog walkers and joggers, so we didn’t fancy our chances of seeing it. This is a good site to look for other recent arrivals in the coastal bushes, so we decided to go for a walk anyway.

Scanning the saltmarsh, we could see lots of Brent Geese out amongst the vegetation. A Greenshank dropped in on the path out across the marshes and started to feed around the small pools. A Grey Plover was on the path further out and there were lots of Curlew and Redshank. Several of the scattered pools also held a Little Egret.

P1110756Brent Geese – feeding out on the saltmarsh

There were not so many birds in the hawthorns and brambles as there have been in the last couple of days. Perhaps fewer new birds had arrived overnight, or possibly they had already moved off inland, disturbed by all the activity up and down the path. We did see plenty of Goldcrests in the bushes, and flushed a steady stream of Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. There were several finches – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, though they were keeping down in the bushes out of the wind. We caught up with a tit flock – Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits – working their way through the gorse around the whirligig. In amongst them we found a couple of Chiffchaff.

We only went as far as the eastern track at Warham Greens. As we walked out at the whirligig, a small falcon swept up along the edge of the saltmarsh and powered away behind us, a Merlin. We scanned the marshes out towards East Hills and initially picked up nothing more than a couple of distant Marsh Harriers. Then a smaller, sleeker, slimmer-winged harrier swept up above the horizon briefly before dropping back down and resuming quartering low over the vegetation. Through the scopes we could see the paler underparts and square white patch at the base of the tail – its was a young ringtail Hen Harrier.

With no sign of the shrike and time getting on towards lunch, we decided to walk back. On the way, we stopped briefly to admire a bush cricket which walked out onto the muddy path – a Short-winged Conehead.

P1110778Short-winged Conehead – a type of bush cricket, on the coastal path

We ate lunch at Lady Anne’s Drive and afterwards walked west along the path on the inner edge of the pines. It was fairly quiet at first, apart from the ubiquitous Goldcrests and the regular Little Grebes on the pool at Salts Hole. Just beyond there, we could see some other birders on the top of a low bank, scanning the bushes in the reeds by the path. There has been another Isabelline Shrike here at Holkham in the last few days (there have been an unprecedented three in Norfolk!), but apparently we had just missed it. It had dropped down from one of the bushes and disappeared. We decided to walk a little further along to the gate, from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

There was no sign of the shrike from further along either, but we did see a rather late Common Whitethroat in a low rose bush by the gate. There are lots here in the summer, but this one should probably be well on its way towards Africa by now. Out on the grazing marshes, we could see a few Pink-footed Geese together with the Greylags. It was while we were scanning the marshes, that someone coming along the path broke the news to us that the shrike had reappeared further back along the path.

We walked back quickly and there it was – perched up in a wild rose bush amongst the reeds, our second Isabelline Shrike of the day. How greedy! It was rather similar to the one that we had seen at Beeston Common in the morning, but noticeably more extensively marked with dark chevrons on its pale underparts. There is typically some variation between individuals.

IMG_2046Isabelline Shrike – our second of the day, at Holkham

When it flew down again, we continued on our way west along the path. We stopped periodically to scan through the Goldcrests, in case there might be something more interesting in amongst them. It has been amazing just how many there were here in recent days – it would be fascinating to know how many have come in from the continent and moved on inland this week.

Just past the crosstracks, we came to the clump of sallows which the Red-flanked Bluetail has been frequenting, since Monday at least. There is always something of a dilemma – whether to try to see it flicking around quietly in the sallows, or whether to wait our by the brambles where it likes to come to feed on blackberries occasionally. We decided on the latter.

We didn’t have to wait too long until the Red-flanked Bluetail put in a typically brief appearance on the brambles. It perched for a few seconds feeding on the blackberries, but it was mostly hidden within the foliage. Then it flew across the front. Most of the group got a glimpse – a flash of the blue tail as it went. We waited again and then got a repeat performance – the Bluetail fed on a blackberry from within the brambles and then flashed off. It was clearly nervous – the local Robins have been giving it a hard time, chasing it away.

IMG_2062Red-flanked Bluetail – showing off its orange flank patches

Finally, on its third visit of our vigil, the Red-flanked Bluetail came out onto the brambles in full view. We could see its rather Robin-like appearance front on, but lacking the red (orange!) breast and instead sporting two orange flank patches and a triangular white throat patch. We were missing its best feature from this angle, but it even did the decent thing and turned round, flashing its bright blue tail at us. What a cracker! Than it darted off back into the sallows.

IMG_2076Red-flanked Bluetail – helpfully turned around to show off its bright blue tail

Red-flanked Bluetails breed in the Siberian taiga and migrate down to spend the winter in SE Asia. They were almost a mythical rarity in the UK in years gone by but only in the last 10-15 years have they become annual visitors and are now almost an expected find after a period of east winds at this time of year. This is probably because they have been expanding their breeding range steadily westwards and now breed in eastern Finland. Still, that does not detract at all from the delight at seeing one – electric blue tail, and all.

After great views such as those, we set off back suitably elated. Once again, we paused regularly to check through the flocks of Goldcrests and tits on the way back. Two Swallows hawking for insects low over the pines around Washington Hide were another unseasonal surprise, with most of their brethren well on their way to Africa by now.

There had been a Pallas’s Warbler in the trees further along from Lady Anne’s Drive towards Wells during the day, so we thought we might walk that way and try to see it. Unfortunately, the weather started to close in a little on our way back and the light levels dropped early. The trees where the Pallas’s Warbler had been were quiet. It had been a tiring day in the field and energy levels were waning by this stage, so we decided to make our way slowly back. But what a day it had been – 2 Isabelline Shrikes, Olive-backed Pipit and Red-flanked Bluetail amongst others. We needed to leave something for tomorrow!