Tag Archives: Wood Sandpiper

28th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #1

Day 1 of a three day Summer Tour today. It was bright this morning, sunny at times, but still slightly cool in a very blustery SW wind. It clouded over in the afternoon, but thankfully we managed largely to avoid any showers.

With the sun out first thing this morning, we headed straight over to the Heath to start the day. As we walked out of the car park, a male Bullfinch flew over calling, its pink underparts catching the light. In a quiet corner, out of the wind, we flushed a family of Blackcaps ahead of us along an overgrown hedgerow. We could hear them calling in the blackthorn and eventually first the male, then one of the juveniles, perched out nicely for us.

BlackcapBlackcap – the male perched up nicely for us

Continuing on across the Heath, a Yellowhammer flew up out of the heather and landed in some tall gorse across a clearing. We got it in the scope, a smart male with bright yellow head. We could hear another Yellowhammer singing nearby. There is still a good number of them on the Heath, always a pleasure to see. A Stonechat flicked up onto the top of the heather briefly, before flying across and disappearing round behind a bush. There were lots of Linnets in the gorse all over the Heath, several families with fledged young following the adults around, calling.

There are several pairs of Dartford Warblers up on the Heath, but it felt like it might be a struggle to see them today, given the wind. We walked round through the territory of one pair first, but all was quiet. They were obviously keeping tucked down out of the wind. One of the other pairs has been feeding young in recent days so we decided to try over there instead. Our route across the Heath took us through the territory of a third pair, and we had just been discussing how these are generally the hardest of the Dartford Warblers to see when we heard a burst of song and looked over to see a male Dartford Warbler parachuting back down to the top of the gorse, just finishing a songflight. We were in luck!

We watched the male Dartford Warbler feeding in the top of the gorse for a minute or so, singing occasionally, before it zipped across over an area of heather and into some more gorse further over. We walked part way across and had great views of it feeding in the top of the gorse.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – the male, singing on top of the gorse today

Eventually, the Dartford Warbler seemed to disappear back deeper into the gorse. We were just about to move on when it flew out, carrying food in its bill. It flew across in front of us and landed in the gorse where we had first seen it, then flew up again a couple of seconds later and darted across the path and down over the gorse beyond. Presumably it has hungry young somewhere to feed.

The area where the Woodlarks had been gathering food for their young earlier in the summer was quiet now, although we did find a pair of Skylarks there instead, which flew across in front of us and then disappeared away across the Heath. There was no sign of the other pair of Dartford Warblers – they were presumably keeping down out of the wind too. We also checked another area which the Woodlarks have been favouring, but there was no sign of them here either – they have probably fledged their second broods already.

It was a lovely bright morning up on the Heath and there were lots of butterflies out despite the wind. We saw lots of Gatekeepers and several Meadow Browns still, many feeding on the flowering bell heather. A smart Painted Lady was basking in the sun on some ivy growing up a fence. We flushed a Small Copper and a Grayling as we walked across an area of open ground, but both settled back down where we could get a good look at them. The Grayling was very hard to see once it settled and folded back its wings, beautifully camouflaged, even when you knew where it had landed.

GraylingGrayling – beautifully camouflaged

When we got back to the car, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from the bushes nearby. We walked over to see if we could see it, but it went quiet and never did show itself. Most of the warblers on the Heath have largely stopped singing now, so it was an unexpected bonus to hear this typically skulking species. Several Common Buzzards circled up over the edge of the Heath.

There was still a little time before lunch, so we dropped down to the coast at Kelling and had a walk down to the Water Meadow. There were a few House Martins around the village and a Greenfinch or two flew off calling from the trees. Otherwise the lane was fairly quiet bird-wise. However, there were a few more butterflies – including a smart Wall basking on the track and Comma. And there were several dragonflies hawking for insects in the lee of the hedges – a Southern Hawker, a couple of Migrant Hawkers and a very smart, golden-brown winged Brown Hawker.

CommaComma – one or two were feeding along the lane to the Water Meadow

There were a few birds on the pool today. A single Common Sandpiper was the highlight – flying round on flickering bowed wings and calling, before landing on the mud at the far end. There were also several Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the deeper water and a couple of Lapwings on the bank. A few Sand Martins were hawking for insects over the pool and we could see two Egyptian Geese feeding in the rushes at the back. A Grey Heron flew in and landed on the Quag, disturbing all the Rooks gathered in the grass, and a Little Egret was enjoying the sunshine on the edge of the reeds.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back to the car and drove along the coast to Cley. After eating our lunch on the picnic tables by the visitor centre, we ventured out onto the reserve. On the walk out to the main hides, we flushed a Reed Warbler from the edge of the reeds and a Bearded Tit flew past calling, before dropping down into the reeds.

The first bird we saw when we got in to Dauke’s Hide was a Yellow-legged Gull, standing on the grass on one of the closer islands, preening. We all had a good look at it through the scope, but the next time we looked back it had flown off. The gulls here often drop in and out regularly during the day.

Yellow-legged GullYellow-legged Gull – showing off its yellow legs, on Simmond’s Scrape

There was a nice selection of waders on the scrapes today. The highlight on Simmond’s Scrape was the Common Sandpipers, at least three of them. We had a good look at one of them through the scope. A gaudy moulting male Ruff dropped in briefly, but flew off. A single juvenile Dunlin was over towards the back and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding up to their bellies down at the front.

Common SandpiperCommon Sandpiper – at least three were on Simmond’s Scrape

As we made our way across to Teal Hide, we heard Bearded Tits calling from the reeds in the middle of the circular boardwalk right in front of us. It was a family party. We watched as they flew out one by one, across the path and into the taller reeds the other side. We got a good but quick look at a couple of juveniles which perched up in the tops before dropping down out of view.

Round at Teal Hide, there were many more waders, in particular loads of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, scattered liberally around Pat’s Pool.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – in good numbers now at Cley

It didn’t take too long to locate the Curlew Sandpiper, a moulting adult with a lot less of its summer rusty colour still on its underparts. Through the scope we could see its comparatively long and downcurved bill. It was feeding on the edge of one of the islands, walking in and out of the grass among the various Ruff. There was a single Knot out on here too, a summer plumaged bird with bright pale orange underparts.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – rapidly moulting to winter plumage now

We made our way back to the car park and round to the East Bank. It was distinctly cool and blustery now, and it was very exposed up on the bank. A Sedge Warbler flicked off ahead of us in the overgrown vegetation below the bank and we could hear a Reed Warbler singing from the reeds.

There were a few ducks on the Serpentine today, mainly Mallard but we did find a pair of much smaller Teal too. There were lots of Greylag Geese and quite a few Canada Geese as well, out on the grass.

We could see a small gathering of (3!) photographers ahead of us, so we hurried along to where they were. There had been a Wood Sandpiper along here this morning, at the far end of the Serpentine, and we immediately saw that this was indeed what they were watching. Even better, it was on the mud very close to the bank, so we could get a great look at it. They are very dainty waders, spangled on the back with a bold pale supercilium. It posed very nicely for us, walking into the edge of the grass and preening for a while, before falling asleep.

Wood SandpiperWood Sandpiper – feeding on the north end of the Serpentine

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away from watching the Wood Sandpiper, always a very smart bird to see. We walked along a little further and stopped to look at Arnold’s Marsh from the new shelter. We had heard the Sandwich Terns calling on the walk out and had seen them all fly round once or twice. From the viewing shelter we could get a much better look at them through the scope, their spiky rear crowns and yellow-tipped black bills. There were quite a few scaly backed juveniles in amongst them and several adults flew in carrying fish while we were watching.

There were more waders on Arnold’s Marsh too – lots of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, with 2-3 Curlews in with them. Seven Dunlin included a mix of black-bellied adults and streaky-bellied juveniles. A careful scan revealed a single Turnstone too, a smart bird in summer plumage, with bright chestnut patches on its back and a white face.

We had a quick look out to sea from the beach. There were lots of Sandwich Terns fishing offshore. Just beyond them, a larger white shape with black wing tips circling out over the sea was a lone Gannet. We spotted a wader flying in low over the water, a Curlew, which turned before it got to us and headed west. It was most likely a continental bird just arriving here on its journey from its breeding grounds, possibly in Russia, coming here to moult, perhaps heading round to the Wash.

Then it was time for us to start making our way back. We stopped briefly for another look at the Wood Sandpiper on the way. It was still feeding very close to the path, giving great views. Then suddenly and for no apparent reason it took off and flew past us, heading strongly on west. Maybe it was time for it to continue on its journey south. Further along, we stopped to watch a pair of Reed Warblers, flitting around first in the vegetation on the bank, moving ahead of us. Then they flew across to the far side of the reedy channel, where they started to work their way along the base of the reeds, just above the water, giving a great chance to look at them properly.

Reed WarblerReed Warbler – a pair were feeding along the ditch this afternoon

Then we made our way back to the car. It had been a lovely day out but it was now time to head for home.

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4th May 2017 – Breezy Broads

A Private Tour today, down in the Norfolk Broads. The weather seemed promising early on, with some brightness first thing, but it clouded over. A cold north-easterly wind, gusting to 30mph plus all day, meant that it was hard going at times, but at least it stayed dry.

After a slightly later than expected departure, due to an alarm clock malfunction for one of the tour participants, we headed over to Potter Heigham. Hickling Broad was our first destination for the morning, or more precisely the Weavers’ Way footpath which runs along the south side and overlooks Rush Hill Scrape.

As we walked out across the fields, a male Yellowhammer sang from the hedge and a female flew across to join it. Making our way through the trees, we could hear Blackcap, Chiffchaff and all singing. From up on the bank, there were lots of Sedge Warblers songflighting up from the reedbed, and a couple of Reed Warblers singing too.

There has been a Savi’s Warbler here for the last couple of weeks, and we were hoping to see it again today. Unfortunately, when we got to the bushes from which it has been reeling, the wind was lashing through them. We waited a while, but there was no sign of it this morning. Over the Broad beyond, we could see lots of Common Swifts and a few House Martins. Both have been in short supply so far this spring, so it was nice to see both species in numbers today. There were several Common Terns hawking over the water too.

We wandered along to the hide overlooking Rush Hill Scrape to see if there was anything on there today.  Apart from a lone Redshank, there were no other waders on here, until a pair of Avocet flew in. A single Wigeon was the highlight of the ducks. While we sat in the hide for a few minutes, to escape from the wind, we could just hear snatches of a Grasshopper Warbler reeling nearby.

Given the windy conditions, we decided to cut our losses and head round to Potter Heigham Marshes. It was well worth it. A quick stop overlooking the first pools revealed a very nice selection of birds to get us started. A Wood Sandpiper appeared from behind the reeds at the front, quickly followed by a second. Further back, we could see about fifteen Ringed Plovers, migrants waiting to continue their journey north, and several Ruff, including a male coming into breeding plumage.

IMG_3806Wood Sandpiper – one of two on the first pool we looked at

On the next pool along, a smart male Garganey swam out from the front and disappeared behind some reeds. There were also three Grey Plover on here, including one looking very smart in full summer plumage, with black face and belly and white spangled upperparts.

6O0A9553Garganey – swam out from the front of one of the pools

The pools at the far end were rather deeper, with just a few ducks and geese. We climbed up onto the bank to make our way round to the river bank and the pools the other side. As we did so, we had a quick look at the grazing marshes beyond and spotted a single Common Crane feeding in the damp grass. We had a great look at it through the scope, looking through the reeds. They were herding cows in the field beyond, and all the activity seemed to unsettle it. The Crane took off and flew over the trees towards Hickling.

IMG_3813Common Crane – feeding on the grazing marshes

There were loads of hirundines hawking over the reedbed this side, mostly House Martins but also a few Swallows. Down at the river, a pair of Great Crested Grebes were out on the water. We made our way along the bank, round past the various pools on that side. The first couple held a few ducks and geese, plus a couple of Little Egrets. A single Common Snipe on a grassy island was a nice bonus.

6O0A9577Great Crested Grebe – a pair were on the river today

There have been several Spoonbills here in recent days, and we were disappointed we had not managed to find them so far. As we approached the last pool, we still hadn’t seen them until we got past the reeds along its near edge. There they were! Four Spoonbills were sleeping in the lee of the reeds, out of the wind, quite close to the bank where we were walking. We stopped where we were but they were surprised by our sudden appearance and walked out into the pool before taking off.

6O0A9582Spoonbills – we surprised them, hiding asleep in the lee of the reeds

The four Spoonbills flew round for a couple of minutes, giving us a great view as they did so, before landing again on one of the other pools, further back from the river bank. Here they quickly settled down to feed.

6O0A9605Spoonbills – flew round and landed back down on the pools to feed

There were more waders on this last pool. Another 20 or so Ringed Plover were accompanied by around 10 Dunlin. Looking through them carefully, we managed to find two diminutive Little Stints, looking very smart in summer plumage, with rusty-tinged upperparts fringed with frosty edges.

A Greenshank flew in and landed out of view. While we were scanning for it, we found a Common Sandpiper creeping around on the far bank. From a little further along, we were able to see the Greenshank where it had landed. Along with a few Avocet, Lapwing and Redshank, that meant this site had provided us with a great haul of waders today, including some nice scarce spring migrants.

We made our way back to the car and drove round to Cantley next. The young (2cy) White-tailed Eagle which has been roaming Norfolk and Suffolk for the last couple of weeks had been refound at Buckenham yesterday afternoon. After spending the night in trees nearby, earlier this morning it had flown over to Cantley Marshes, which was where we were hoping we might catch up with it.

Apparently the White-tailed Eagle had just been sitting on a gatepost for about three hours, but when we arrived it had just had a fly round and landed again down in the grass. We could see it very distantly through the scope, from the car park, being mobbed by a couple of the local Lapwings. It was clearly enormous – it completely dwarfed a couple of Canada Geese nearby! It flew again and landed on a gatepost a bit nearer to us, where we could get a better look at it.

IMG_3824White-tailed Eagle – perched on a gatepost out on the marshes

When the White-tailed Eagle took off again, we watched as it flew low across the marshes, scattering everything as it went. It gained height and seemed to be headed for the trees back at Buckenham, before we lost sight of it.

IMG_3834White-tailed Eagle – took off and flew towards Buckenham

After a short drive round there, we had a quick look out on the marshes at Buckenham, There was no sign of the White-tailed Eagle here – it was not on any of the gates, nor obviously sat out on the grass, and none of the local birds seemed particularly agitated. We figured it must have gone back into the trees somewhere.

The Cattle Egret was reported again at Halvergate earlier, so we drove round there next, but we couldn’t find it. We ate a late lunch overlooking the grazing marshes and scanning for it amongst the hooves of the various herds of cattle. It had probably had the good sense to find somewhere more sheltered, out of the wind which was whistling across the grass. A sharp call alerted us to a single bright male Yellow Wagtail which was feeding around the feet of the cows the other side of the road.

After lunch, we drove over to Winterton. It was even windier out on the coast. We walked up through the dunes and out onto the beach to see the Little Terns. There were lots of people here, busy erecting the electric fence to protect the Little Tern colony for the breeding season. We could see hordes of Little Terns flying round over the fence workers.

We then continued north through the dunes. It was rather quiet here today, with no obvious migrants on show. A Green Woodpecker flew up from the ground ahead of us and disappeared off round behind us. A male Stonechat perched on the top of a dead bush calling. We also flushed several Linnets from the dunes along the way.

6O0A9662Stonechat – one of the few birds perching up in the dunes in the wind

A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling from the brambles by the concrete blocks. We made our way into the trees along the track, hoping to find some birds in the more sheltered conditions here. There had been a few Garden Warblers here in recent days, but we couldn’t hear any today. A single Blackcap was singing intermittently, but a couple of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were more vocal.

We walked inland a short distance. A Brown Hare disappeared ahead of us down the track. Four Stock Doves were feeding in a ploughed field. But there was nothing else of note in the lee of the trees. We decided to make our way back to the car, and with a long drive back up to North Norfolk, we headed for home.

There was one final treat in store. As we were almost back to our starting point, we noticed a small shape perched on the end of the roof of an old barn. It was a Little Owl. As we pulled up alongside, it stopped to stare at us. A nice way to end the day.

7th Sept 2016 – Early Autumn Birding, Day 1

A three day Private Tour this week, we were hoping to catch up with some early autumn migrants. Day 1 today was cloudy but hot and humid. After a late morning start, we spent the rest of the day exploring the east end of the North Norfolk coast.

Our first stop was at Cley. We drove round to the beach car park and walked out to the viewing screen where the old North Hide used to be. There was not a huge number of waders on here today, but there was still a very good selection. We quickly picked up three Little Stints, in one of the bays half way back, which then walked out of view behind the reeds and we didn’t see them again!

A Wood Sandpiper was calling when we arrived, but we couldn’t see it at first. Eventually it appeared from behind the reeds down at the front and walked out into full view. A very elegant little wader, and a great one to see. Even better, at one point it walked past a Green Sandpiper giving us a nice comparison between the two species.

img_6325Wood Sandpiper – at the front of North Scrape

We heard a Spotted Redshank calling overhead and thankfully it dropped in to the front of the scrape. It stood calling for a few seconds, while we watched it, then ran across in front of us to joined a second Spotted Redshank which had appeared nearby. Both were smart winter plumage adults. They didn’t linger long though, and flew off west calling again. A Greenshank remained asleep nearby throughout.

A scan of one of the more distant islands produced a Curlew and a couple of Common Snipe. However, a small wader asleep next to them looked more interesting, even though it was back on to us. When it was disturbed by a passing Redshank our suspicions were confirmed, it was a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper. Together with several Ringed Plover and Dunlin, that was an impressive haul of waders for our first hour or so.

We made our way back to the car to head round to the other side of the reserve. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up over Blakeney Freshes. The Wheatears and Whinchats though, which have been around the Eye Field in the last week, appeared to have moved on.

From round at Teal Hide, there was plenty of activity on Pat’s Pool. As well was the usual Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, there were lots of small waders today. We quickly picked out more Curlew Sandpipers in with all the Dunlin. They were hard to count, as many of the birds were feeding behind the main island, but we eventually got to at least 13. All were juveniles in a variety of hues, one in particular with a rather bright orangey wash across its breast. Further round, a single Little Stint was hiding in amongst all the lumps of mud. At one point, it was in the same view as a Dunlin and two Curlew Sandpipers, giving a great side by side comparison.

There was more to see than just waders here. A young Hobby was hawking for insects over the reedbed. A juvenile Water Rail scooted across in front of the reeds at the back of the scrape, unfortunately too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A Kingfisher called and flew in towards the hide, landing in the trees briefly, before zooming off again. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding in the cut reeds just outside the hide.

reed-warblerReed Warbler – here’s one outside the hide from the other day

There seemed to be Common Buzzards on the move today. We looked up above the hide at one point to see a kettle of five circling high overhead, which then drifted off west.

6o0a0504Common Buzzard – on the move, five circled high over the hides

We had a late lunch at Iron Road. The pool here has been very productive for waders in the last week or so, but was surprisingly devoid of life today, so we didn’t linger here. Instead, we walked out to Babcock Hide, past all the Greylags and Egyptian Geese on the grazing marshes. A Whimbrel called high to the east, but it was heading away from us and we couldn’t pick it up.

The water level has gone down nicely on Watling Water, exposing lots of mud. A Common Sandpiper was a nice addition to the day’s list, hiding on the edge of the reeds at the back today. There were several more Common Snipe and Ruff here too, as well as three or four Little Grebes busy diving in the deeper water. On our way back to the car, a couple of Bearded Tits were calling from deep in the reeds along the ditch right beside the path, but wouldn’t show themselves.

The wind had swung round to the east and with the low cloud we thought it might be worth looking to see if any passerine migrants had arrived. We drove round to Salthouse and walked out to Gramborough Hill. Another four Common Buzzards were circling over Salthouse church.

The bushes at Gramborough were rather quiet, just a Stonechat and Chiffchaff, as is often the way – it is boom or bust here! We did get our first Wheatear of the day, a rather richly-toned male with a deep orange breast, feeding on the edge of the grazing marshes as we walked out. On the way back, it flew out across to the shingle ridge and was joined by a second Wheatear.

img_6351Wheatear – a rather rich orange-breasted male

It was starting to get a little misty now, so with a light wind blowing onshore we had a speculative look out to sea. At first it was very quiet we saw nothing more than a few of the local Cormorants, but after a minute a bird appeared flying very low over the sea on the edge of the mist. Through the scope we could see it was a Manx Shearwater. Unfortunately, it was too distant and too murky for everyone to get onto it, so we gave up and headed back to the car.

Our final stop of the day was at Kelling. Walking down the lane to the Water Meadow, there were several birds in the thick hedges. We stopped to watch a couple of Chiffchaffs flicking around in a tall hawthorn. We heard Bullfinches calling and two flew out of the brambles, over our heads and back into the tall trees behind us. A Yellowhammer came up out of the beck beside the path.

The Water Meadow itself has all but dried out, so we carried on down to the Quags. We were almost at the beach when we came across a flurry of activity. We flushed a couple of Reed Buntings from the long grass. A few Linnets were calling from the brambles. Then a Stonechat flew from the Quags across in front of us, swiftly followed by two Whinchats.

6o0a0514Stonechat – perched up nicely in the brambles nearby

The Stonechat perched up nicely in the brambles, but the Whinchats flew off into the field beyond. We did manage to get a nice view of one Whinchat perched on the top of a bush.

img_6361Whinchat – rather less obliging than the Stonechats

We walked a short distance up the hill, but there were no other obvious migrants in the coastal bushes. Another Wheatear flew along the shingle ridge and perched on the top in the distance. A juvenile Gannet drifted past offshore. We were out of time, so we turned to head back. The Whinchats were back by the path and flew ahead of us as we walked along, accompanied by two Common Whitethroats which appeared out of the brambles.

24th July 2016 – Heath & Marsh

The third and final Summer Tour of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was another glorious summer’s day, with just enough of a breeze to stop us overheating.

We made our way inland and up to the Heath to start, before it got too hot. We could hear a Turtle Dove purring, but it was some distance away. As we walked up from the car park, we could hear a Linnet singing and a couple more flew past. A Common Whitethroat flew out from the trees, perched in the bracken for a few seconds and then disappeared into the long grass. A Yellowhammer was singing too.

As we turned a corner, we could hear the begging calls of juvenile Stonechats and spotted the male Stonechat in the top of a young birch tree. A little further along, we found the whole family – male, female and 3-4 streaky fledged juveniles. They were quite mobile, but the juvenile Stonechats were still sitting around on the bushes begging for food. The female was working hard to feed them, while the male seemed to keep disappearing off – perhaps he wasn’t enjoying being bugged by his unruly teenage offspring!

6O0A6593Stonechat – the female was working hard to feed the juveniles

While we were watching the Stonechats, a Dartford Warbler appeared low in the heather nearby. This is not unusual – Dartford Warblers will often follow Stonechats around, possibly for the protection afforded by their extra vigilence. This Dartford Warbler was a juvenile, rather greyish overall, but was hard to get onto, as it was keeping low and moving constantly. We repositioned ourselves and got a slightly better view, but still not everyone had managed to see it.

We watched the Stonechats coming and going for some time. Suddenly an adult Dartford Warbler flew in from behind us and dropped into the gorse among the Stonechats. Again it was quite difficult to see and we only got a couple of glimpses as it fed. Then it flew back out again in the direction it had come.

6O0A6606Juvenile Stonechat & Linnet – happened to perch in the same bush

Quiet purring behind us alerted us to the presence of another Turtle Dove, such a treat to hear these days, given rapidly how the species is disappearing. We walked round on the path to the other side of the gorse, and we quickly worked out where the noise was coming from but we couldn’t see the Turtle Dove in the thick birch trees. Then suddenly it flew up and started its display flight, flapping higher and then descending in a long glide. It flew out across the heath and landed right in the top of a tall birch, where we could get it in the scope. When it flew again, the Turtle Dove seemed to disappear off over the ridge, but a short while later it was back purring there again. Great views.

IMG_5363Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a birch

As we walked back round, we came across the Stonechat family again and the juvenile Dartford Warbler had reappeared with them. We watched as it flew back and forth across a clearing and then perched briefly in the very top of a young birch tree. This time, everyone got on it.

We carried on across the Heath and at first there seemed to be a surprising lack of butterflies. Then, as we walked down along a sandy path with short heather either side, we came across our first Silver-studded Blues. Several of them were a bit worn now, but we got a good look at the underside of the wings and the distinctive silver studded spots. There were also a few Graylings along the path. They are next to impossible to see unless they move, and we had to really keep our eyes on them after they landed.

6O0A6607Silver-studded Blue – this one with rather poorly marked silver studs

A little further still, as we were following the path round, another juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up beside us. It perched very briefly, but having been surprised by our approach it very quickly disappeared off across the Heath. Not far beyond this, we found a female Dartford Warbler skulking in the gorse. We had several glimpses of her before she flew out and disappeared back across the heather.

While we were trying to keep tabs on the female Dartford Warbler, we heard a male singing back the way we had just come. We raced round there, just in time to see him fly. We followed him round and after a couple of minutes he hopped up briefly into the top of a gorse bush and started singing. After a second or two, he was off again. He flew a bit further away and perched in the top of a large gorse bush to sing. This time he stayed still for a while and we could get him in the scope. When he finally dropped back into the dense gorse, he went quiet.

6O0A6614Dartford Warbler – the male perched up briefly, singing

As we started to walk back to see if we could find the female Dartford Warbler again, we heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying past. It dropped down some distance from us, but knowing the site well it appeared to go towards another path. We hurried round and found it quietly feeding along the path, giving us very good scope views.

That was a great way to start the day, with all the heathland specialities. We decided to move on so started to walk back to the car. On the way , we flushed another two Woodlarks from the grass beside the path. They flew up before we could see them, but circled round and one perched up in the top of a gorse bush – even nicer views through scope this time.

It was getting on towards lunchtime by now, so we headed down to Cley for lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear a Whimbrel calling over the car park. After lunch, we walked out to the hides.

Teal Hide was our first port of call. There were quite a few waders on there and the longer we scanned, the more we found. Two Common Sandpipers were feeding close in front of the hide, bobbing constantly. Further over we could see a single Green Sandpiper and a  Common Sandpiper together, a nice comparison. A lone Greenshank, slim and elegant, was walking quickly across the scrape feeding, out in middle. There were also good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and a variety of Ruff in a confusing mix of stages of moult.

It was round into Simmond’s Hide next. There were even more Black-tailed Godwits on here, mostly Icelandic birds, but again a careful look through them and we discovered a bird which looked good for a Continental Black-tailed Godwit (subspecies limosa). In  amongst the godwits, were three Red Knot, this time living up to their name and sporting their summer plumage orange-red underparts. A single Turnstone was asleep on one of the islands, but when it woke up we finally got a chance to admire its summer plumage

6O0A6693Black-tailed Godwit – a moulting adult islandica

Another Common Sandpiper was hiding in the grass on the edge of one of the islands at the front of the scrape. Several Dunlin were hiding in amongst the godwits legs, including a single juvenile. There are always Avocets on here and today they were particularly argumentative. Two adults and three almost full-grown juveniles seemed to be having some sort of family argument – though it was hard to tell who was who.

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6O0A6670Avocets – arguing

The ducks are all currently in eclipse plumage, so not looking their best. However, a careful scan through revealed a single eclipse drake Wigeon, our first of the autumn (though it could perhaps be a bird which has over-summered somewhere). A family of juvenile Shoveler were in the grass on the edge of the ditch right in front of the hide. Their largish bills, not yet fully grown but still noticeably big, immediately gave away their identity. There were also lots of Shelduck, and a few Teal.

6O0A6639Shoveler – a part-grown juvenile, with a small but already outsized bill

When a Little Egret flew in and walked right to the corner in front of the hide, it surprised a female Gadwall who had just brought her three small ducklings in there. She appeared out of the grass and quickly shooed the egret away.

6O0A6655Little Egret – scared off by a female Gadwall

There were several dark chocolate-brown juvenile Marsh Harriers in the reedbed and they would occasionally fly round to exercise their wings. Every time they drifted over the scrape, pandemonium ensued. This happened repeatedly while we were there. However, te panic seemed to be even more intense when a Hobby whisked through, putting everything up from North Scrape first, before we spotted it hurtling over Simmond’s and then disappearing off inland.

On the way back, we carried on past the visitor centre and paid a very brief visit to Bishop Hide. There were lots of gulls on Pat’s Pool which were better viewed from this side. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, plus four Common Gulls, but there was no sign of the hoped-for Mediterranean Gull today. A nice close Common Sandpiper was a bonus.

6O0A6715Common Sandpiper – our fifth of the day, from Bishop Hide

Our next destination was the East Bank. Two fully-grown juvenile Little Grebes were on the new pool. We could hear and see lots of Reed Warblers in reeds. Out on Pope’s Marsh, there were plenty of adult Redshank, with several juveniles still around the Serpentine. A good number of Curlew were hiding out in the long grass.

6O0A6732Little Grebe – a juvenile, still with a rather stripey face

Arnold’s Marsh looked relatively quiet. There are not so many Sandwich Terns on here this year, possibly because the number breeding on Blakeney Point is well down on previous years. Three or four Ringed Plovers were lurking on the shingle islands. A lone Greenshank was walking back and forth. The single Red Knot promptly flew off just after we arrived.

Returning back to the car, we headed round to the beach car park next. As we walked out towards North Hide (or at least where it used to be!), we stopped by the little pool next to the fence. This was very productive, with at least 3 juvenile Yellow Wagtails, along with a lot of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and two Little Ringed Plover.

Even though the Wood Sandpiper which has been here for the last couple of days, had not been reported today, it still seemed worth a look. The first bird we saw when we sat down was the Wood Sandpiper, conveniently standing with two Redshank for comparison. We watched it picking around on the mud as it walked directly towards the hide, and eventually we lost it to view behind the vegetation in front of the hide. Still, it was well worth coming out here for that alone. There was not much else out here – a small party of Dunlin at the back and several Redshank.

IMG_5411Wood Sandpiper – on North Scrake

Time was getting on, so we decided to head back – it had been a nice way to round of the day with a smart Wood Sandpiper.

15th September 2015 – Cley & Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0544Green Sandpiper – feeding right in front of the hide

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

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

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

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

P1090225Marsh Harrier – circling over Pat’s Pool

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

IMG_0574Sparrowhawk – plucking its unfortunate prey on the bank

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

IMG_0590Whinchat – on the fence by the boardwalk

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

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

P1090264Little Egret – feeding on one of the brackish pools

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

P1090265Speckled Wood – basking in a moment of sunshine this afternoon

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

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

IMG_0618Greenshank – feeding in the saltwater channel at low tide

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

IMG_0600Grey Plover – moulting rapidly out of summer plumage

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

IMG_0648Whimbrel – a very obliging bird feeding by the seawall

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

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

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

P1090278Stiffkey – the rainbow behind us after the rain passed over

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

IMG_0686Spoonbill – one of five feeding on the saltmarsh

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

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

IMG_0693Wheatear – perched up in the sunshine between the rain

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

19th August 2015 – Wonderful Waders

A Private Tour today, for some visitors from Australia. The request was to see some waders and August is certainly a great time of year to go looking for them. We headed up to the North Norfolk coast hoping to see as wide a variety as possible. We were not disappointed.

We started at Cley. It was cloudy first thing and there were lots of House Martins hawking for insects low over the houses as we walked out to the hides. It had been raining overnight and the reeds were very wet. Probably as a consequence, there were lots of birds feeding up in the dead trees. As well as the resident Goldfinches, there were a couple of young Reed Buntings, two Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler. It was particularly nice to see the latter two out in the open side by side.

While it was cloudy we had a quick look at Pat’s Pool first. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding out in the deeper water or sleeping further over amongst the islands. The vast majority of them were Icelandic birds, and mostly moulting adults or greyer 1st summers. However, amongst them a slightly larger godwit with a proportionately longer and deeper based bill stood out. A closer look confirmed it was a juvenile Continental Black-tailed Godwit (of the limosa subspecies), one of two which have been present on the reserve in recent days.

IMG_8347Continental Black-tailed Godwit – one of two juveniles currently at Cley

There are also lots of Ruff around at the moment. The adults have now mostly moulted into winter plumage, but good numbers of juveniles have now joined them. We spent some time looking at the differences between them – the more subtly scaly grey upperparts of the adults and whiter underparts, compared to the buff/brown colour of the juveniles.

There were also some nice groups of Dunlin on the reserve this morning. Juvenile Dunlin now outnumber the adults, and we watched a little flock of juveniles, with black spotted bellies, feeding on the front of the first island. Further over, we could also make out a few black-bellied adults in the flocks.

P1070935Dunlin – the flocks currently comprise more juveniles than adults

The ducks have also started to return in numbers. However, the drakes are all in drab eclipse plumage at the moment, making identification more of a challenge. We spent a little time looking at some of them – a nice group of rusty Wigeon feeding on one of the islands, a couple of large-billed Shoveler and lots of Teal.

We had not been there too long when the sun came out, rather earlier than expected, but a nice surprise. Unfortunately, we found ourselves looking into the sun so we moved round to Dauke’s Hide to check out Simmond’s Scrape instead. There was a lovely flock of Dunlin feeding out in front of us and as we scanned through them we found a couple of different waders in amongst them. First up were the Little Stints. Noticeably smaller than the Dunlin and with very white underparts, they stood out. There were two Little Stints in the flock, and we also admired their shorter, finer bills and whiter faces than the Dunlin.

IMG_8359Little Stint – we found two in with the Dunlin flock this morning

In contrast, the Knot were noticeably larger than the Dunlin. There was no hiding the bright, summer plumage adult, sporting bright orange underparts, but the peachy-breasted juvenile was more subtle. As well as size, the Knot were more rotund and shorter-billed, and lacked the dark belly markings of the Dunlin. On the open mud on the islands nearby, several Ringed Plovers were running around as well.

Out in the far corner of the scrape, we picked up a single Green Sandpiper feeding amongst the vegetation. Thankfully it flew round calling and landed much closer to us, where we could a better look at it through the scope, before it made its way back into one of the more secluded areas, out of view. A large flock of Lapwing flew in and landed on Pat’s Pool and we could hear Golden Plover calling as well as they arrived though couldn’t pick any out looking into the sun at the massed ranks. A single Sandwich Tern was hiding amongst the roosting Black-headed Gulls, from where we could get a great view of the distinctive yellow tip to its black bill.

IMG_8380Sandwich Tern – with a yellow-tipped black bill

One of the other people in the hide thought they had seen a Hobby distantly over the shingle ridge and suddenly not one but two Hobbys powered in towards us from the direction of North Scrape. The birds we had been watching on the scrapes all scattered, particularly the Dunlin flock which whirled round over the water in panic. One of the Hobbys stooped at the flock and in the resulting chaos one of the waders got separated from the group. The two Hobbys then proceeded to take turns stooping at it – unfortunately chasing it round behind the hide where we couldn’t see its fate. Stunning to watch.

As the waders all scattered, we could hear a Wood Sandpiper calling and managed to pick up two distantly, flying off over the Eye Field with a flock of Dunlin. There was very little left on Simmond’s Scrape after that, so we decided to have a look at North Scrape instead. As we walked along the beach, we could see a few distant Gannets passing by offshore.

The Hobbys had also done a good job at clearing out North Scrape of waders, and there were only a handful of Dunlin left, amongst the hordes of ducks. We did see our first Curlew of the day, preening out on one of the islands. And, as we sat and watched for a while, a Greenshank appeared feeding very actively around the edge of the scrape.

Just as things were settling down, a Sparrowhawk flew over. It was chased off by a Little Ringed Plover which came up from the pool behind us by the beach, heading away over Billy’s Wash. As it did so, it flushed a couple of Common Snipe, Green Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers from where they had been lurking out of sight, though they quickly dropped down again amongst the tall grass.

Once the Sparrowhawk had disappeared, the Little Ringed Plover dropped back down onto a shingle island in the pool. As we walked round to get a better look at it, we could see why. A second Little Ringed Plover appeared from the vegetation, this one a scaly backed juvenile, not fully grown and still with fluffy juvenile down on its head. We got a good look at both of them in the scope, particularly noting the bright golden-yellow eye-ring of the adult. While we were watching them, we heard a Common Sandpiper calling and it appeared from over the Eye Field and dropped down onto the island beside them. It stood bobbing its tail for a second, before disappearing round the back out of view.

IMG_8403Little Ringed Plover – an adult with bright yellow eye-ring

We had done really well for waders at Cley this morning, but there were a couple of key target species missing. We decided to head along to Titchwell for the afternoon, to see what else we could add.

On the walk out, we stopped to have a look at the reedbed pool. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out on the water,along with a selection of commoner ducks. A well-grown, stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe swam out into the middle but an adult Little Grebe stayed close to the reed edge with its smaller youngster. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they did not show themselves today – perhaps it was just a touch too breezy.

P1080136Avocet – needless to say, there were plenty still at Titchwell today

The water level on the freshmarsh is still higher than it has been in recent weeks, and there were fewer small waders as a result. From Island Hide, we could see that there were still a few Dunlin, mostly juveniles, lurking around the edges of the islands or the remaining strips of mud over by the edge of the reeds. However, we did see our third Little Stint of the day, over on the islands by the main path – we would have a closer look at that later!

Out in the middle of the freshmarsh was a large flock of roosting waders. Through the scope we could see that they were mostly Bar-tailed Godwits, sleeping out the high tide on the beach. Also asleep amongst the islands, we located one of the wader species we had hoped to see – a small group of 8 Spotted Redshanks. They were mostly asleep, but a couple woke up and had a quick preen, letting us see the long and needle-fine bill, with a small downward kink just at the very tip. They were all mostly in silvery grey and sparkling white winter plumage but a ninth Spotted Redshank joined them, this one still in partial summer plumage with extensive white splotches on its formerly black underparts.

IMG_8458Spotted Redshanks – nine, one still in partial black summer plumage

Over on the edge of the reeds, a Green Sandpiper was feeding in and out of the vegetation. It stopped for a while to preen and we got a great look at it in the scope. A Common Sandpiper appeared next to it – much smaller, paler and greyer-brown above, and with the distinctive white spur between the breast and folded wing. A great side-by-side comparison.

IMG_8426Green Sandpiper – preening by the edge of the reeds

There is no exposed mud in front of Island Hide at the moment, so fewer waders close in. However, those that do come in can be very close indeed. Today we were graced with excellent frame-filling views of a couple of adult Ruff….

P1080145Ruff – an adult, right outside Island Hide

… and Lapwing.

P1080076Lapwing – also right in front of Island Hide

There were also lots of gulls roosting on the freshmarsh. Lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, plus several Herring Gulls and a handful of Common Gulls. In amongst them, a single bird with a mantle intermediate in grey shade between the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and sporting yellow legs, was an adult Yellow-legged Gull. There were also a few Common Terns, as usual.

IMG_8423Common Tern – checking the water level on the freshmarsh

We decided to head round to Parrinder Hide to see if we could add anything else to the day’s list. From up on the bank, we could see the Little Stint still out on the islands. We stopped to watch it and it flew even closer, onto the nearest island and feeding feverishly, it worked its way right round in front of us giving us great views.

IMG_8492Little Stint – great views on the edge of the freshmarsh this afternoon

While we were watching the Little Stint, we picked up a Hobby approaching from further out towards the sea. It came leisurely towards us until it got over the path to Parrinder Hide, when it suddenly turned and dropped into a steep dive towards the freshmarsh. For some reason, rather than targeting something small and bite-sized like a Dunlin, it made straight for an unsuspecting Lapwing. Both birds seemed to get a bit of a shock – the Lapwing realised its impending fate at the last minute and leapt up with wings open, whereupon the size of its target presumably dawned on the Hobby and it veered away sharply. The moment of surprise was squandered and it drifted off towards the reedbed.

It was worth the walk round to Parrinder Hide today. A Common Snipe stood preening on the water’s edge in front before disappearing back into the vegetation. We finally got proper views of a Wood Sandpiper for the day, on one of islands over by the bank, at one point joined by two more Common Sandpipers. Two Yellow Wagtails were flitting round with the Pied Wagtails.

IMG_8502Common Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Parrinder Hide

Out on the Volunteer Marsh, were several Grey Plovers. Most of them are still in stunning summer plumage, with black bellies and faces and bright white speckled upperparts.

IMG_8495Grey Plover – particularly stunning birds in summer plumage

In front of the hide, we also had great views of a particularly obliging Curlew, which walked slowly past us, occasionally stopping to probe into the mud. While we were in the hide, a Marsh Harrier flew over – another passing raptor throwing the waders into a panic once again. A flock of Dunlin swirled round with the Little Stint now in amongst them for safety and landed out on Volunteer Marsh once the panic subsided.

P1080215Curlew – this obliging individual posed in front of Parrinder Hide

Out at the tidal pools, a careful scan revealed a bird hiding in the long grass. It was feeding and occasionally put its head up just long enough to confirm it was a Whimbrel, with pale central crown stripe between two dark lateral stripes, rather different from the plainer head of the Curlew behind. There were also more Black-tailed Godwits feeding out here today, a couple still in rusty summer plumage.

P1080270Black-tailed Godwit – another particularly obliging bird today

There were only a couple of other waders we could possibly see in North Norfolk today and we found both of them out on the beach. Several Turnstone were out on the rocks, mostly still in bright summer plumage. Further east, a couple of Sanderling were feeding out on the wet sand. There were also the usual Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Curlews and Redshanks out there today. A quick look at the sea to round things off produced a single Common Scoter and Great Crested Grebe.

Then it was time to head back, pausing to admire a Little Egret by the path on the way. It had been quite a day – with 24 species of wader to show for it, as well as much more besides.

P1080294Little Egret – by the path on our way back; note the yellow feet

11th August 2015 – Waders & Spoonbills

A Private Tour today. With autumn just around the corner and waders already moving south in some numbers at this time of year, we headed out to explore the coast and try to familiarise ourselves with the wide variety of shorebirds passing through.

Our first destination was Titchwell, but we made our way there through the agricultural hinterland behind the coast, so avoiding the congestion that often marks the main coast road in the summer. The wheat is ripe and golden brown now and where it had been harvested we found Brown Hares in the stubble. At Choseley, we stopped briefly to admire a golden-headed male Yellowhammer feeding along the edge of the road. The hedge nearby was being raided by a noisy rabble of Starlings, their gathering numbers another harbinger of the impending end of summer.

Down at Titchwell, we headed straight out onto the reserve. The verge along the sea wall by the main path was full of insects. We stopped to admire a yellow female Common Darter dragonfly on the brambles and several butterflies, including several Gatekeepers and a few now rather faded Meadow Browns. A Wall butterfly perched rather obligingly – and appropriately – on one of the signs on the sea wall.

P1070275Wall – on a rather appropriate sign

There was a nice selection of commoner ducks on the reedbed pool, all in rather drab eclipse plumage now, including Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. Amongst them, we found three female Red-crested Pochards – their dark brown caps and paler cheeks setting them apart. Diving constantly were a couple of Tufted Ducks and a female Common Pochard as well. As well as ducks, the juvenile Great Crested Grebe was still present, still sporting its stripy head, and a couple of well grown young Little Grebes were being fed by one of their parents along the edge of the reeds. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reedbed.

The freshmarsh was looking as inviting as ever and thronged with waders. There have been record numbers of Avocets on the freshmarsh in the last month or so and there was still an impressive number today – at least 300. We made our way into Island Hide and the mud in front was full of Dunlin. The default ‘small wader’, we spent some time looking closely at them. The majority now are juvenile birds, with white bellies variably speckled with black. Amonst them, we could see a smaller number of adult Dunlin, still sporting the bolder black belly patch of their summer plumage.

P1070395Dunlin – most of the birds present today were juveniles

In amongst the Dunlin, right in front of the hide, were several Ruff. As with the Dunlin, there are more juvenile birds around now, with brighter scaled backs and breasts ranging from deep buff to burnt orange. Amongst them, we could still find several adult Ruff, now mostly in winter plumage, much greyer above and whiter below than the juveniles. Still a couple of tardy males were sporting the last remnants of their bright summer plumage, though looking a bit scruffy now as they finish their moult.

P1070319Ruff – a scaly-backed, buff-breasted juvenile

The godwits were mostly asleep on one of the islands, mostly Black-tailed Godwits at this time of tide. The majority of the Black-tailed Godwits we see along the coast here are birds from Iceland (the islandica subspecies), but amongst them we occasionally get Continental Black-tailed Godwits (the limosa subspecies). Amongst the moulting adult and 1st summer Icelandic birds, we found a single juvenile of the Continental subspecies, much plainer and greyer than the brighter rusty juvenile islandica nearby.

IMG_7846Continental Black-tailed Godwit – the tall, lanky juvenile in mid-photo

There were some scarcer species of wader in amongst the commoner hordes as well, and with some patient scanning we gradually found them. A larger, longer necked bird in amongst the Dunlin was clearly different. A closer look confirmed the bright spangled upperparts and pale supercilium of a Wood Sandpiper. A second Wood Sandpiper was lurking at the back of the freshmarsh with a small group of Ruff – noticeably smaller and sleeker than those.

Also among the Dunlin was a much smaller wader, similar in general colour above but paler below and lacking the black belly patch or streaking and with a rather short, fine bill – a Little Stint. While the Dunlin were generally feeding out in the water or wetter mud, the Little Stint was mostly running around on the drier edges of the islands.

IMG_7869Little Stint – a tiny wader, hiding in amongst the Dunlin flock

We also located a couple of Little Ringed Plovers amongst the smaller waders. Lacking the bold black and white head pattern of adults, these were young birds but we could still see the ghosting of the adult’s distinctive golden-yellow eye ring. A single Ringed Plover was out on the freshmarsh as well. A couple of Golden Plover appeared from amongst the vegetation on one of the islands with the Lapwing, but didn’t linger. However, on our way back later a much larger group of Golden Plover had appeared, presumably from feeding inland, and was bathing and preening back on the islands.

P1070442Little Ringed Plover – a couple were still on the freshmarsh

While we were in Island Hide, we could hear the pinging of Bearded Tits continually from the reeds. Several juveniles have been in the habit of feeding out on the mud in recent weeks, but there was no sign of them at first. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding low down on the edge of the reeds. Only once we were back up on the main path did they appear – four rich, tawny coloured juvenile Bearded Tits, one of them still with only part grown tail. We got a good look at them in the scope.

IMG_7814Bearded Tits – the juveniles on the mud, taken a couple of days earlier

While we were up on the sea wall, the waders suddenly took flight and started whirling round calling. A look overhead revealed a falcon high in the sky. It was quickly joined by a second and the two of them circled over the water, a pair of Hobbys. Their mere presence caused pandemonium below, before they drifted off out of view. Out across the saltmarsh a couple of Marsh Harriers circled.

The Spoonbills have had another successful breeding season in Norfolk and the juveniles, together with their accompanying parents, can still be seen gathering at several sites along the coast. We could see a small group over the back of the freshmarsh when we first arrived, but there was no sign of them from Island Hide. They have a habit of walking round the back of the furthest island to sleep out of view. And Spoonbills do like to spend a lot of time sleeping! We got a better view of them from round at Parrinder Hide, 10 in total. They even woke up on occasion!

IMG_7896Spoonbill – 10 this morning, during one of their waking moments

We added a couple more waders to the day’s list from round at Parrinder Hide as well. In the deeper water at the back, we could see several Spotted Redshanks. Now mostly in winter plumage, much white below and paler silvery grey above than Common Redshank an with a longer needle-fine bill. A couple of Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in with the Black-tailed Godwits – in winter plumage, they were clearly paler and we could see their more streaked upperparts.

The Volunteer Marsh was mostly quiet, apart from a few Common Redshank and a couple of Curlew. However, a quick scan along the tidal channel revealed a very smart Grey Plover, still sporting the black belly and face of summer plumage. There were a couple more Grey Plover on the tidal pools, though one already lacking its black belly and the other moulting it out. Amongst the gathering of Common Redshank, we also found a single Greenshank luring at the back.

As we walked out to the beach, we could hear and see flocks of waders flying up and heading in behind us. The tide was on its way in but this still seemed a little early and when we got out there we could see why, with lots of holidaymakers clambering over the rocks. There were still a few Turnstone, still looking stunning in their brighter summer plumage, plus several Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwits. Further along the beach towards Brancaster, where it was quieter, there was a small flock of Sanderling running in and out of the incoming tide. The sea itself was quiet. A couple of male Common Scoter were swimming past offshore and  few Sandwich Terns fishing.

As we headed back to the car for lunch, we stopped briefly to look at the freshmarsh again. Many of the waders which had been disturbed from the beach were now bathing and roosting there. In particular, there was a much larger flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and a scan through them also revealed a few Knot. Several were still in summer plumage, with bright orange underparts, but one was in the more familiar grey non-breeding plumage which is how we normally see them here during the winter months.

In the afternoon, we headed back along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. The hedgerows along the path were nicely overgrown and full of butterflies. Mostly Gatekeepers again, but amongst them we saw a very faded Ringlet as well.

P1070450Gatekeeper – the overgrown hedgerows were full of them today

As we approached the Fen we could immediately see a large gathering of white shapes on the islands. More Spoonbills, and yet again most of them were asleep. One was feeding rather tentatively in the shallows and as it lifted its head we could see the shorter, paler bill of a juvenile, one of the young born this year. From up on the seawall, we got a chance to count them, a grand total of twenty in all.

P1070468IMG_7908Spoonbill – a total of 20 at Stiffkey Fen today, mostly asleep!

As we scanned over the Fen from up on the sea wall, two of the Spoonbills set off for a walk round. It was immediately obvious that one was pursuing the other and a quick look showed it was one of the juveniles chasing after an adult bird. The juvenile Spoonbills are relentless, begging from their parents when they want to be fed, chasing after them flapping their wings and bouncing their heads up and down. Every time we looked back, the two were still walking round and round the Fen.

P1070474Spoonbills – a ‘little beggar’ juvenile chasing after a parent

We could hear Green Sandpipers calling as we walked out, but there was no sign of them on the Fen when we got there. They played hide and seek for a while, occasionally flying round calling before landing out of view, until they finally gave themselves up and landed at the front. We saw at least three, but there could easily have been more. As we got onto the seawall, there were two Common Sandpipers on the muddy edge of the tidal channel beyond, and they disappeared upstream out of view. Later, as the tide rose and the mud disappeared, they flew back out and onto the Fen. We could see the diagnostic white spur between the grey breast and wings.

As the tide rose in the harbour, the Greenshank started to fly into the Fen as well. First one arrived, calling loudly. As we stood there more dropped in. Eventually a little group of 5 stood together on the edge of one of the islands at the back. There were other commoner waders here as well, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, together with a few Ruff. In amongst the legs of the larger waders, 2-3 Dunlin were feeding. Avocets breed on the Fen and a pair were obviously still feeling protective, even though we could not see if they had any young. Every few minutes they would fly up off the Fen and over towards the sea wall, calling, occasionally coming low overhead.

P1070484Avocet – a pair of adults repeatedly flew over us on the sea wall

The Spoonbills started to become a bit more active as we stood there, and several flew off over our heads and out towards the saltmarsh. At one point, an adult flew over followed by two juveniles – presumably a family group.

P1070494Spoonbill – great flight views as birds headed out to the saltmarsh

With the tide rising, we walked on round to have a look in the harbour. A Kingfisher called and flashed across the reeds, disappearing into the river channel. A short while later, round at the harbour, it reappeared – flying out along the tidal channel beside us in a flash of electric blue and disappearing towards the ‘Pit’.

There were not so many waders left, with the tide covering most of the mud. As we walked round, we could hear Whimbrel calling and picked up a couple of good sized flocks flying high over the harbour, heading west presumably to roost. Several Curlew were also heading the same way. There were little groups of Oystercatcher gathered round the edge with a few Turnstone amongst them. A few waders landed out on the last remaining sandbar. Through the scope we could see several Grey Plover, most still sporting smart black bellies, and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits with two smaller Knot in amongst them. Two even smaller Dunlin flew in as well, but all were quickly pushed off by the tide.

Then it was time to head back, pausing briefly to admire a stunning red-breasted male Linnet. There was time for one more surprise. As we passed the Fen, a small wader flew in and landed on the edge of one of the islands out of view. Working our way round to where we could see it, we found a Little Stint feeding with the two Common Sandpipers. A lovely way to end – a great day out with a particularly nice selection of waders.

P1070480Stiffkey Fen from the seawall

P1070482Blakeney Harbour – the view the other side from the Fen