Tag Archives: Willow Warbler

27th Aug 2019 – Intro to UK Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of a two day Private Tour for a guest from Hong Kong. We would spend the two days along the North Norfolk coast looking for a good selection of both our commoner breeding birds and any more interesting species we might come across. We would be trying to get photographs of as many of the birds as possible too. Today was sunny and hot, although with a bit of hazy cloud in the afternoon and a pleasant light breeze on the coast which meant it didn’t get too uncomfortable.

Our first stop was at Wells. As we walked down along the track, there were lots of Reed Buntings in the bushes. A couple of Common Whitethroat flitted off ahead of us – we could see their rusty wings when they perched in the open briefly. A much greyer warbler was a Lesser Whitethroat which landed together with one of them in a bush at one point.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – there were lots in the bushes along the track

Looking up, we saw a Spoonbill flying in from the direction of the harbour, its neck held outstretched in front. It landed at the back of the pool on the other side of the track, and training the scope on it we could see there were now five Spoonbills together there, along with several more Little Egrets too.

The pools nearest the track are drying up fast now, so most of the birds were over towards the back. There were lots of Greylag Geese and in with them a mix of ducks, Teal and Shoveler. We could see several Black-tailed Godwits in the deeper water and a single Common Snipe probing vigorously in the mud with its long bill, but it was rather distant and we were looking into the sun.

On the other side of the track, we found a single Green Sandpiper in the shallow pools and an adult Mediterranean Gull flew over, flashing its white wing tips, disappearing out towards the saltmarsh. There were lots of birds in the distance over Wells town, mostly Starlings but we picked up a few lingering Common Swifts still too, zooming back and forth. It won’t be long now before they have all left us.

Long-tailed Tit

Long-tailed Tit – we watched a tit flock moving through the bushes

Continuing on past the pools, we decided to have a look in the bushes to see if there were any more warblers here, given the early activity along the track. We could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff calling and although they proved hard to see initially, we eventually got views of both species here. There were Chaffinches in the hedge too, and a flock of tits zipped through pausing to feed in the bushes, the Blue Tits attacking some elder berries and a Long-tailed Tit showing well in the top of a hawthorn.

When the tit flock moved on, we walked round to see if we could find it further along. There were more birds here but no sign of the Long-tailed Tits so maybe a different group. We stopped by one hawthorn on the edge of a reedy ditch, where there was a succession of birds moving through. Several Blue Tits and another Lesser Whitethroat. Then a couple of Reed Warblers, which gave good views up out of the reeds here.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – feeding in the bushes with the tit flock

As the flock moved on again, we continued round. A small bird appeared on the top of one of the bushes in the middle. Its bold pale supercilium caught the morning sun, a Whinchat, a passage migrant and a real bonus to find one here. It perched up nicely a couple of times for us, before disappeared behind the bushes. When we turned round, a different bird was perched on the top of a small hawthorn behind us, this time a Wheatear. Another passage migrant passing through, it flicked away over the reeds flashing the white base to its tail.


Whinchat – a migrant, appeared on the top of the bushes

As we walked back along the track, there were still lots of Reed Buntings which flew up from the vegetation and landed in the bushes. A Yellowhammer flew in calling and joined them briefly, before dropping down into the long grass out in the middle.

When we got back to the minibus, a couple of other birders had their scopes on the pools and had found a wader asleep on one of the islands at the back. It was hard to tell what it was, hunkered down and at distance in the heat haze, but as we started to pull away they called over to say that it had woken up and started to walk around, a Greenshank.

Our next destination was Cley, but we ran into gridlock in Stiffkey village, with a long tailback of vehicles, probably due to one of the much bigger buses they are using for the revised Coasthopper service these days – it seems to be an increasing problem. Thankfully, we could take a diversion inland and were not held up this time. Two Stock Doves on the roof of a barn by the road were a nice bonus, the iridescent green on the side of one of the bird’s neck glowing in the sun.

When we got to Cley, we decided to head out to Bishop Hide first. As we walked into the hide, we were pointed to six Common Snipe on the mud right in front. We had a good look at them but they were already looking round nervously and were quickly spooked and flew off further back.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe – one of six in front of Bishop Hide when we arrived

There were lots of other waders on the scrape here further back. Two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers were feeding in with a few Dunlin. A delicate, spangled-backed Wood Sandpiper was picking around the lumps of mud in front of one of the islands with several Ruff. Black-tailed Godwits were scattered liberally around and there were a handful of Knot too.

When someone in the hide announced there was a Bearded Tit, we initially thought they meant it was in the reeds right at the back, where they have often been recently. But they had heard one calling from the reeds just out to one side of the hide, so we walked over to take a look. A cracking male Bearded Tit climbed up one of the reed stems. It quickly shuffled down again, but then came up a second time and perched in full view. We had a great look at its powder blue head and black moustaches, before it flew across in front of the hide and disappeared into the reeds the other side.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – this male climbed up the reeds just outside the hide

As we made our way along the skirts path to the other hides, we could see a Marsh Harrier distantly hunting out over the reeds towards the West Bank. It gradually worked its way towards us and we eventually met it halfway, a dark male. When it saw us, it turned and heading off over the scrapes, flushing everything in the process.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – flew past us over the reeds as we walked out to the hides

There were a few more waders on Simmond’s Scrape when we got into Daukes Hide. Four Avocets were asleep on the front of the nearest island – they did wake up later and a couple spent some time feeding on the mud in front of the hide. There were several Ringed Plovers on the mud further back and a single Golden Plover which was easily overlooked in the lumps where the cattle had churned up the scrape. The tiny Little Stint was even harder to find in the same place!

Looking out of the side of the hide, we could see 3-4 Green Sandpipers on Whitwell Scrape. One gradually worked its way down to the front, where it was hidden behind some small wisps of reed from where we were. We decided to head round to Avocet Hide to try to catch it right in front – with our cameras – but just as we got into the hide, one of the other Green Sandpipers flew over and chased it off. The two of them flew over the bank to Simmond’s Scrape.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – one of 3-4 on Whitwell Scrape again today

There were also two juvenile Black-tailed Godwits on the scrape here too and one of them did walk over and round the edge right in front of the hide. Some consolation for the photographers! Their rusty necks and extensively marked feathers on the upperparts showed they were both juveniles of the Icelandic race.

Black-tailed Godwit

Before we raced round to try to catch the Green Sandpiper, there had been a Wood Sandpiper feeding on the mud in front of Teal Hide. By the time we made it round there, the Wood Sandpiper had moved further back but we could see several Dunlin feeding on the mud just to the right of us with one of the two Curlew Sandpipers in attendance. They were busy feeding and working their way towards us and eventually passed in front of the hide giving us a great view.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre and made good use of the picnic tables. It was a lovely day to be sitting outside looking out over the marshes. After lunch, we popped into the Centre briefly and when we came out again we could hear Whimbrel calling. They responded to a whistled response and two of them flew in towards us, at least until they realised that the impression was not really as good as it sounded at a distance. They circled back and dropped down towards the scrapes.


Whimbrel – flew in over the marshes calling

We drove round to Walsey Hills next. As we got out of the minibus, we could see a Little Grebe on the pool, though it was doing its best to hide in the cut reed stems at the back. We had a quick walk in along the footpath through the bushes, to see if we could pick up any more passerines for the list, but it was rather quiet – perhaps not surprising in the middle of a hot afternoon. A few Blue Tits were in the bushes around the feeders and we could hear a couple of Chiffchaff calling.

There was no sign of the Common Pochard which has been on Snipe’s Marsh, but we found it instead on Don’s Pool along with another Little Grebe, as we set off to walk up the East Bank. There were more ducks on the Serpentine – mainly Gadwall and Shoveler, and lots of Shelduck. None of them are looking their best at the moment, with the drakes currently in their drab eclipse plumage. A Green Sandpiper flew up from the mud, there were a couple of Redshanks along the edge of the water and several Lapwing in the grass.

Continuing on to Arnold’s Marsh, we could see a single Great Black-backed Gull standing in with all the loafing Cormorants on the island at the back, leaving not much room for anything else. One Sandwich Tern was standing on the mud further across. There were quite a few Curlew over in the vegetation in the back corner and several Redshanks on the mud, but nothing else on here today.

As we walked on towards the beach, we noticed some movement in the vegetation on the side of the path. A Willow Warbler flicked out. It started to fly off but then circled round and dropped back in to the spot it had just left in a seedy dock. This is not a place you would normally expect to find a Willow Warbler, so this was probably a migrant which had just arrived in off the sea, over from Scandinavia. Exhausted, it was trying to feed and was obviously reluctant to leave the plants where it had found something to eat.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – an exhausted migrant probably fresh in off the sea

A little further on, a couple of Meadow Pipits were also looking for insects in the vegetation along the side of the path and flew off as we approached. We carried on out to the beach and had a quick look at the sea, which was mostly quiet apart from a single immature Gannet which flew past.

Having made our way back to the minibus, we drove back west to our last stop of the day at Stiffkey Fen. The permissive path is very overgrown at the moment, so we walked rather carefully down along the road to get to the footpath. The bushes down by the river were quiet, but there were lots of House Martins over the field.

When we got to the spot where the brambles are low enough to see over, we had a look across at the Fen. We could see lots of white shapes in amongst the hordes of geese – mostly Spoonbills, along with a good number of Little Egrets. We had a better view from up on the seawall, from where we could get a more accurate count – we could see at least 47 Spoonbills today, mostly doing what Spoonbills like to do best and sleeping! One or two were preening or bathing so we could see their distinctive spoon-shaped bills.


Spoonbills – at least 47 were roosting on the Fen over high tide today

It was high tide out in the harbour, which was why the Spoonbills had gathered here to roost. An impressive sight at this time of the year, they are birds which have dispersed from the breeding colony at Holkham, a mixture of adults and juveniles from this year’s breeding season.

There was a good selection of waders on the Fen too, also roosting over high tide. We counted at least 14 Greenshanks, half in a group on their own but half roosting with some of the Common Redshanks. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Ruff, with several more of the former still flying in from the harbour while we were there. Scanning round the edge of the reeds we found 2-3 Green Sandpipers too.

The geese were mostly Greylags but there were several Canada Geese with them and at least one Greylag x Canada Goose hybrid! Looking carefully through the mass of ducks produced one rusty eclipse drake Wigeon, an early returning bird back for the winter from spending the breeding season in Russia.

We carried on round to the harbour to see if we could pick up any different waders round the shore, but despite it being midweek there were still lots of holiday makers here making the most of the lovely weather, swimming, sailing and walking out across the mud. There was a big flock of Oystercatchers right out in the middle of the harbour on a sandbank, and through the scope we could see about ten Bar-tailed Godwits with them. But there was nowhere else which was undisturbed enough for birds to roost.

It was time to head back. A Chiffchaff was calling in the hedge and in the sallows along the river we came across another tit flock, which gave some more opportunities to try to get Long-tailed Tit photos. It had been a great day – let’s hope for the same again tomorrow…

11th April 2015 – April Showers & Early Migrants

An early Spring Tour in North Norfolk today. We really wanted to see some migrants and catch up with some of the regular birds along the coast.

We started off heading to Holme to explore the dunes, looking for grounded migrants. It was spitting with rain as we drove up, but we thought we might get away with it. We had a look round the paddocks – there were lots of Chiffchaffs singing, but not much else of note. We turned to walk back towards the dunes, hoping to have a look for Ring Ouzels, but we could already see the sky darkening. We only got a little further before it started to rain harder, so we made a quick dash back to the car. Time for a change of plan.

P1030170Dunnock – a portrait of one of our commoner birds

We had intended to go to Titchwell anyway today, but we just headed there earlier than planned. It was back to spitting with rain again when we arrived, so we set off to have a look round the car parks. However, we hadn’t got far when the heavens opened and we had a short downpour. We sheltered in the trees and thankfully it was short-lived. There was not much around the car park once the rain eased – a Bullfinch called from the hedge. But a scan of the fields beyond produced a single lingering Pink-footed Goose in amongst the throng of feral Greylags and Canadas. Then a call alerted us to a Little Ringed Plover flying overhead, which diverted and seemed to head over towards the Freshmarsh. A nice early migrant.

We walked out onto the reserve. As the rain had swept in, the wind had picked up and it was now very blustery along the main path. We had a quick look at the Thornham grazing marsh pool, still devoid of water and fairly devoid of birds today. The reedbed pool, however, provided us our first pair of Red-crested Pochard today, as well as Common Pochard and Tufted Duck.

IMG_4013Red-crested Pochard – several pairs around the reserve today

We took shelter in Island Hide to have a look at the Freshmarsh. One of the first birds we picked up was the Little Ringed Plover, on one of the islands with a couple of Ringed Plover. It was a good opportunity to see the two species side-by-side. A couple of Avocets flew over and started to feed in front of the hide, but the water was still very deep where they landed – it was hard to tell whether they were standing on the bottom or swimming!

P1030211Avocet – trying to feed in the deep & choppy water

There was a good selection of ducks on view, including Shelduck, lots of Gadwall, still several Teal but fewer than in recent weeks, Mallard and Shoveler. Some of the Shoveler were feeding right in front of the hide, so we got a great look at them – particularly their oversized bills! A pair of Red-crested Pochard were asleep on one of the islands.

P1030192Shoveler – check out the size of that bill!

We walked round to Parrinder Hide during a lull in the rain. As we walked up towards the hide, we could see a small crowd looking out along the top of the bank beyond. Just beyond them was a little group of Yellow Wagtails. They looked stunning, bright yellow, at least 8 of them feeding along the path. They were obviously on their way somewhere, but had stopped off for a short while, possibly encouraged to land by the rain. We watched them working their way along the path towards us – they got quite close at one point. Then suddenly they took off and disappeared, continuing on their way to wherever they were headed.

P1030271P1030305Yellow Wagtails – 8+ dropped in to feed for a few minutes today

There were plenty of other waders to see as well. A little group of three Bar-tailed Godwits were sleeping, tucked down behind one of the islands, proving a challenge to spot the differences from the more plentiful Black-tailed Godwits. There were several Ruff, both larger males and the smaller female Reeves. Some of the male Ruff were looking smart, getting more advanced in their moult into summer plumage. On the Volunteer Marsh we added Curlew and Grey Plover, as well as getting nice close-up views of some more Black-tailed Godwits.

P1030311Black-tailed Godwit – getting more of its brighter orange summer plumage

There wasn’t much to see out on the Tidal Pools today. A smart pair of Pintail spent most of the time with their heads under the water. It was a bit too windy on the beach  – the sea was very choppy and the tide was in. There were several Sanderling running in and out of the waves. We managed to pick up a Great Crested Grebe and a couple of Common Scoter out on the sea. Then we decided it would be better to get out of the wind, so we headed back.

P1030335Pintail – a pair were on the Tidal Pools again today

We walked back via the Meadow Trail. It was less windy in the trees, and by now the rain had blown over and it was blue skies and sunshine overhead. A couple of Willow Warblers were singing from deep in the sallows. Eventually we saw one, flicking around low down in the trees. There were several Chiffchaffs singing as well, and we finally got a better look at one of those. A male Blackcap was not singing, but we did still manage to pick him out, moving more slowly around amongst the branches.

Fen Hide was fairly quiet, though more birds than usual – a Mute Swan, a drake Pochard, a drake Mallard and a Coot! Patsy’s Reedbed similarly struggled to add anything new for the day’s list. We did get good views of at least four Marsh Harriers over the reedbed though.

After lunch, we drove back along the coast to Holkham. It was still very windy – if anything the wind had strengthened further. So we headed for the shelter of the trees. It was not calm, even along the path on the inland side of the pines, and as a consequence it seemed a bit quiet bird-wise. No shortage of Chiffchaffs – every few yards, another one seemed to be singing – and another Willow Warbler singing too. But the tits and Goldcrests seemed to be sheltering in the trees. We only heard a single Treecreeper as we walked along.

We had gone some way when we decided to have a look in a more sheltered, sunny corner of the trees. We were really hoping to see a Goldcrest or two, but instead we heard the distinctive song of a Firecrest. It was distant, some way back in the trees, but we followed the sound and eventually found it flitting around the trunk of an ivy-covered pine tree. We could see its black and white face stripes and bronzey neck-side patch. A good bird to see at this time of year here.

Feeling chuffed with our find, we headed on to the Joe Jordan hide. We had not even climbed up the steps when we spotted the first Spoonbills, feeding on the pool below the trees. As we sat in the hide, birds were back and forth between the trees and the pool pretty much constantly. A couple of them returned to the trees carrying nest material. We sat and watched them for some time and there were lots of other things to look at, too – lots of Marsh Harriers hanging in the wind, plus Grey Herons, Little Egrets and Cormorants coming and going from the colony.

IMG_4042Spoonbill – its nuchal crest blowing around in the strong wind

With time getting on, we decided to explore the dunes. Having been thwarted by the rain this morning in our attempt to find some migrants at Holme, it seemed like another good place to look. However, we had a good look round amongst the bushes but it seemed pretty devoid of life. We flushed a single Song Thrush, presumably a migrant. Otherwise, it was just lots of Meadow Pipits and a few Linnets. There had been surprisingly few hirundines moving today, but we did finally get a single Swallow flying wets through the dunes.

Having already walked some way, we decided to give it one last push and head for the next dune ridge before turning for home. The flat area before the ridge was sheltered from the wind and there was a very big flock of Linnets on the ground in the lee. Duly encouraged, we stopped and scanned the flock and there nearby was a cracking male Wheatear. We had a good look at it, the mostly monochrome grey/black/white plumage, with its black bandit mask, and this one had quite a strong orangey wash on the breast. While we were watching it a female Wheatear appeared on the dunes next to the male.

IMG_4062Wheatear – a pair were in the dunes this afternoon

That was pretty good, a nice migrant to see up on the coast, but perhaps not what we were hoping for. Then there was a real commotion. Two dogs were running around in the dunes, completely out of control. We could hear their owner shouting at them and whistling from miles away, but the dogs were not interested – they were having too much fun chasing Rabbits. They were in the Nature Reserve as well, though thankfully at this time of year there were not too many birds already nesting. The Linnets scattered, the Wheatears flew off to the higher dunes.

We were just about to start cursing the dogs and their owner when two thrush-sized black birds flew up from the dunes as well. Two Ring Ouzels, just what we had been looking for, and they landed, one of them in a bush. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to get the scope on them before the ongoing commotion flushed them again, as the dogs continued to run riot. The Ring Ouzels flew across in front of us, two males, flashing the bright white crescents on their breasts as they went.

We had a quick skirt round the dunes but we couldn’t find them again – presumably they had headed further west towards Gun Hill. We were out of time, so we walked back. What a great way to end – two Ring Ouzels, the classic early spring migrant here on the coast, on their way north to the moors and mountainsides.