Tag Archives: Wood Warbler

17th Apr 2018 – Bright & Breezy

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. A day of general birdwatching on the coast, looking for spring migrants and some of our regular breeding birds. It was cloudy in the morning, then bright and sunny in the afternoon, but with a rather blustery wind all day.

Our first destination for the morning was Holkham. As we drove up Lady Anne’s Drive, we had a quick look on the pools on the edge of the grazing marsh, where a few Teal and Shoveler were mostly asleep. A Spoonbill flew over and disappeared off east towards Wells, presumably to feed out on the saltmarsh. Parking at the top, a couple of Egyptian Geese were out on the grass opposite.

It was already quite breezy, and the larger birds of prey seemed to be enjoying the updraft provided by the edge of the trees. We watched a Common Buzzard and a couple of Marsh Harriers circling up over the pines. Two Red Kites drifted past over the grazing marsh, the second in heavy wing moult with big gaps in both its wings.

Red Kite

Red Kite – moulting its wing feathers

As we made our way west along the path on the inland side of the pines, it seemed rather quiet at first. However, we quickly started to hear a few warblers singing – first a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap, then our first Willow Warbler of the day. They were hard to see in the wind though today and the tits seemed to be keeping mostly to the pines too.

At Salts Hole, a couple of Tufted Ducks were diving out in the middle and a single drake Teal was lurking under one of the overhanging trees. Another Spoonbill circled up from the marshes beyond and flew off towards the trees out in the middle. A Redpoll flew over calling, but we couldn’t see it.

When we got to the gate just before Washington Hide, a Sedge Warbler was singing from somewhere in the reeds. We could see one of the wardens walking out across the marshes, doing a survey. Given the disturbance this would mean, we decided to walk straight on towards Joe Jordan Hide. A Lesser Whitethroat sang briefly from somewhere deep in the bushes just before the crosstracks and a Blackcap was more obliging, perching up nicely for us to look at it in the scope.

From up in the hide, we could see several Spoonbills down on the pool below. We got one of them in the scope and could see its yellow-tipped black bill, bushy nuchal crest and mustard wash on its breast, all singling it out as a breeding adult. We could see its spoon-shaped bill too.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – out on the pool below Joe Jordan Hide

The Spoonbills were coming and going from the trees beyond. We saw a couple of Little Egrets flying in and out too, which is good to see after they were hit so badly by the cold weather over the winter. A Grey Heron dropped into the trees too, but there was no sign of any of the Great White Egrets from here this morning.

An Egyptian Goose was standing on the grass right in front of the hide and took off as another flew past, flashing its boldly marked black and white wings. There were plenty of Greylag Geese out on the grass too and, after searching through them carefully, we found a couple of Pink-footed Geese in with them. Looking at the two species through the scope, side by side, the Pink-footed Geese were noticeably smaller and darker headed, with a more delicate dark bill with a pink band. A Barnacle Goose, presumably a feral bird from the Park, was with another group of Greylags further over.

There were more Marsh Harriers out here and at one point we watched as a female grappled talons with first one and then quickly afterwards a second male. She didn’t seem attached to either and both looked like aggressive encounters. A Kestrel which dropped down to perch on the grassy bank below the hide. A Muntjac out in the middle of the grazing marshes seemed completely unperturbed by a pair of Greylags noisily hissing and honking at it.

After a while, we headed on towards the dunes. When we got to the gate at the end of the pines, we saw the warden again walking out across the middle of the marshes. A Great White Egret flew up briefly, but then dropped back down out of view. A small group of geese flushed from over towards the seawall and flew round towards us – six more Pink-footed Geese. Three of them had obvious damage to their wing feathers, presumably enough to make make the journey back to Iceland difficult.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – another six flew round over Burnham Overy grazing marshes

Out into the dunes, the bushes beyond the fence were very quiet today. There was no obvious sign of any new migrants and we couldn’t find any Ring Ouzels either here today. It was rather exposed and windy here though. We continued on a little further and noticed a black bird on a bramble on the top of the dunes ahead of us. Through the scope, we confirmed that it was a Ring Ouzel.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel – this female was in the dunes today

The Ring Ouzel was a female, with a rather dull crescent on its breast, lacking the bright white one of a male. We could see its silvery edged wings too. We managed to get a little bit closer to it, but it was very flighty and eventually headed off over the dunes.

There were a few Linnets and a Meadow Pipit or two in the dunes, but no obvious sign of large numbers of birds moving. Then we heard a whistling call and looked up to see a Whimbrel flying over. We could see it was distinctly smaller and more streamlined than a Curlew, with a shorter bill.

A flash of a white rump alerted us to a Wheatear flying away ahead of us. It dropped down the other side of a grassy ridge and by walking round on to some higher ground we were able to get a good look at it in the scope. It looked to be a male Greenland Wheatear, large and long-winged, richly-coloured below and with brown tones in the grey mantle.

The Wheatear was very flighty too and suddenly shot off over the dunes. We found the female Ring Ouzel again, in a sheltered area in the dunes, but it also flew off before we could look at it properly. Time was getting on and we had a long walk back to the car, so we decided this was as far as we could go today. We turned to head back.

We had a walk back through the middle of the dunes, hoping we might find a male Ring Ouzel lurking somewhere, but it was quiet here. A couple of Swallows flew over us and disappeared off west. Scanning the grazing marshes from the top of the dunes, just before we got back to the pines, we finally got a better look at a Great White Egret. One was feeding in a ditch out on the marshes and through the scope we could see its long, yellow, dagger-shaped bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – out on the grazing marshes from the dunes

The walk back was fairly uneventful until we got to the crosstracks. We thought it might be worth a look along the path which heads into the trees to the north, as it can be a little more sheltered in here. We had just stopped to watch a pair of Long-tailed Tits collecting feathers when another bird popped out onto the edge of one of the trees in front of us.

It was a small warbler, with a bright lemon yellow supercilium and breast, contrasting white belly and moss green upperparts – a Wood Warbler! This is a very scarce spring migrant here, but unfortunately it dropped back into the trees before everyone could get onto it and we lost sight of it. Despite searching, we couldn’t find it again – it had probably gone back into the pines out of the wind.

Eventually we had to give up and continue on our walk back.  A Sedge Warbler singing from some brambles in the reeds just beyond Meals House was more obliging. We could see the blue sky approaching as we got back to Lady Anne’s Drive, but it was very windy here so we decided to head over to Titchwell for lunch. On the way, we spotted a Grey Wagtail on the driveway by Burnham Overy Watermill. We stopped for a second to watch it and could see it was collecting nest material.

As we walked over to the picnic area from the car park at Titchwell, we could hear Redpolls calling and we could just make out one high in the pines with the Goldfinches. Thankfully, they then flew out of the pines and into the alders above the picnic area and we could see there were four Mealy Redpolls.

Mealy Redpoll

Mealy Redpoll – there were four around the picnic area at lunchtime

With the sun out and in the shelter of the trees, it was nice sitting in the picnic area. Several butterflies appreciated the improvement in the weather too, with Brimstone and Peacock both flying past. A female Blackcap appeared on the edge of the sallows, closely followed by a male, which proceeded to sing and feed in front of us.

After lunch, we headed over to the Visitor Centre. There were a few Chaffinches and Greenfinches around the feeders, and we quickly found a Brambling in the trees just behind. We watched for a while and at least three different Bramblings came in to feed.

Brambling

Brambling – one of three around the feeders

We made our way round to Patsy’s Reedbed first. There had been a few different birds here earlier this morning, but there was very little to see now. A couple of Swallows flew across over our heads and carried on west, as did a Siskin and a couple of Linnets – a trickle of migrants moving. We had a look in the paddocks, but there was just one Pied Wagtail in here today. We made our way back round via Meadow Trail.

It was very blustery once we got onto the main path and out of the trees. We stopped to look at Thornham grazing marsh, but it was hard to keep the scope still. We couldn’t see the Little Ringed Plover which had been here earlier. A single Grey Plover was on the Lavendar Marsh Pool. There were a few Common Pochard on the reedbed pool and a Sedge Warbler singing from somewhere deep in the brambles in the reeds.

Island Hide provided a very welcome shelter from the wind. The water level on the freshmarsh is much better for waders now, but the whole area is completely dominated by the gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls. We had heard a few Mediterranean Gulls on the walk out, and seen their pure white wingtips as they flew overhead, but now we got a chance to see the two species side by side on the water.

A Common Tern was hiding on the back of one of the islands, behind a big group of Black-tailed Godwits. It was hard to see at first, until it was chased out into the open by a gull. This is the first Common Tern we have seen back here this year.

Common Tern

Common Tern – the first one we have seen back here this year

The number of ducks on here continue to decline, as birds head back to the continent for the breeding season. There were still a few Teal around the edges and a couple of pairs of Shoveler. The Brent Geese kept flying in from the saltmarsh whenever they got spooked, sometimes staying for a bathe and a preen. They should be heading off back to Russia too soon.

Brent Geese

Brent Geese – kept flying in to the Freshmarsh from the saltmarsh

There are quite a few Avocets on the freshmarsh now, busy feeding in the deeper water. A couple of little groups of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping on the islands or in the shallows. Some of the Black-tailed Godwits are moulting now, and starting to get the bright rusty orange head and breast of breeding plumage. There were a couple of Ruffs too – a paler male and one more heavily speckled with black.

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit – moulting into rusty orange breeding plumage

Scanning the bank over the far side, we picked up a small group of 5-6 hirundines flying towards the reserve. They were Sand Martins and they gradually worked their way across the Freshmarsh and away to the west, the first we have seen this year.

We decided to brave the wind again and head out to the beach. There was not much to see on Volunteer Marsh until we got to the channel at the far side. Here there were a couple more Black-tailed Godwits, several Redshanks and one or two Curlew. Down in the muddy channel in the middle we picked up a small group of Knot. The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more and full of water now – storms over the winter blocked up the drainage channel – so there was nothing to see here again.

The sand on the beach was being whipped up by the wind. There were lots of Oystercatchers and a couple of Curlew on the mussel beds at the bottom of the beach, but not much else. All the other waders were scattered out on the sand towards Thornham Point. They were distant, but we could make out Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Sanderling all to add to the day’s list.

Scanning the sea produced several Great Crested Grebes and a few Common Scoter lingering offshore. But it was not especially pleasant out on the beach today, so we decided to start making our way back.

As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, a female Red-crested Pochard flew in from the direction of the Tidal Pools and dropped down towards the Freshmarsh. There was still no sign of the Little Ringed Plover out in the open on the Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’ but it must have been lurking somewhere out of sight because it flew up just as we had passed and headed off back towards the Freshmarsh. On the way to the car park, we stopped to listen to a Brambling singing – though it sounds more like a wheeze than a song!

When we got back to the car, we still had time for one last stop on our way home. There had been a Pied Flycatcher in Burnham Thorpe village all afternoon, so we took a quick detour inland. There were only a couple of other people looking by the time we arrived, but we found it fairly quickly in the trees at the end of the small park.

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher – feeding in the trees in the middle of Burnham Thorpe

We watched the Pied Flycatcher for a bit, as it dropped down into the hedge at the back and then made several sallies out after insects. It made its way along the other side of the hedge past us, stopping on several fence posts on the way. You could just see it each time, if you found the right angle to line up with a gap through the hedge.

It was a great way to end the day, watching the Pied Flycatcher in the afternoon sunshine. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head for home.

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4th June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours, our last day. It was a nice sunny day today, not too hot, with some hazy cloud, great weather to be out birding. We headed down to the Brecks to try to see some of the local specialities.

Stone Curlew is a scarce breeding species for which the Brecks is well known – it is one of the best places in the country to see them. There are a few remnants of grass heath left here, their traditional habitat, but many now attempt to nest of farmland. On our way south, we swung round by some regular sites to see if we could find one. After recent rain and warm weather, the vegetation has started to get rather tall, making them quite a bit harder to see. However, our luck was in this morning. At our first stop, we found a pair of Stone Curlews in a field.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair in a field this morning

The Stone Curlews were very hard to see at times in the vegetation, particularly when they sat down. However, with patience we were treated to great views through the scope as they walked around in the field. Even when they sat down, we could still see their heads – the striking yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

A couple of Brown Hares were in the field too. At first, they sat opposite each other, facing off. But then we were treated to a quick boxing bout, as one ran towards the other and they both reared up and flapped their front legs at each other. Then they gave up and went back to feeding quietly.

Brown HaresBrown Hares – this pair treated us to a quick bout of boxing

With great views of Stone Curlew in the bag, we moved quickly on. Lakenheath Fen was to be our main destination for the morning. It is a big reserve and we wanted to allow some time to explore as much of it as possible. We did stop at another couple of sites on our way, but couldn’t find any more Stone Curlews at either of these places today – they were obviously hiding in the vegetation here, perhaps not a surprise for a mostly crepuscular species, and with the day warming up nicely.

We did find a few Red-legged Partridges in the fields on our stops. A family of Mistle Thrushes were feeding down in the grass, a Jay flew across and landed on a fence post and a Marsh Tit calling from a line of trees were all nice additions to the day’s list.

After a rather leisurely journey down, it was already quite late in the morning by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, so we set out straight away onto the reserve. There were lots of butterflies feeding on the brambles by the path in the sunshine – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock. A single Common Blue was in the grass too as we walked past.

Small TortoiseshellSmall Tortoiseshell – several butterflies were feeding on the brambles on the walk out

There were a few warblers singing as we walked out. A Common Whitethroat was lurking in the bushes, we could hear Reed Warblers in the reeds, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed. Both Blackcap and Garden Warbler were singing from deep in the poplars but they were impossible to see amongst all the fluttering leaves.

There was quite a crowd gathered at New Fen viewpoint as we arrived. There had been a report of a possible Little Bittern heard here yesterday, but we didn’t hear anything other than the nattering of all the people. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water in front of the viewpoint, along with its stripy-headed chick. A Grey Wagtail was more of a surprise here, flying overhead before dropping down into the reeds. We could hear a male Cuckoo singing from the poplars and someone pointed out a female Cuckoo lurking in the top of one of the bushes out in the reeds.

CuckooCuckoo – a female, with rusty brown around the upper breast and neck

We got a good look at the female Cuckoo through the scope, noting the rusty brown tones to the upper breast, rather than the clean grey hood of the male. We heard lots of Cuckoos here today – both singing males with the classic ‘cook-coo’, the strange bubbling call of the females, and excited males giving various more elaborate song variations in response. It is such a scarce bird in the wider countryside these days, it is always great to come to a reserve like Lakenheath Fen where they are still relatively common and listen to them.

After a short rest at New Fen, we carried on up the main path. A Kingfisher zipped across out of the poplars and over the bank to New Fen, but too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A smart male Marsh Harrier, with silvery grey wings and black tips, circled up out of the reeds and over West Wood. A single Hobby, our first of the day, flew low across New Fen, just visible over the vegetation on the bank.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path, mostly Azure Damselflies and Blue-tailed Damselflies, but along the path on the edge of West Wood we found quite a few Red-eyed Damselflies in the reeds and nettles too. We had hoped to find a Scarce Chaser along here, but it was rather breezy along here now and there were just a few Four-spotted Chasers.

Red-eyed DamselflyRed-eyed Damselfly – several were along the path by West Wood

With one eye on the clock to make sure we got back in time for lunch, we made our way quickly out to Joist Fen viewpoint. We had been told on the walk out that the Bitterns had been showing very well here this morning, flying back and forth, but it seemed rather quiet at first, when we got there. We couldn’t hear any booming – it was the middle of the day by now, which can be a quieter time. There were at least six Hobbys hawking for insects distantly out over the reeds and several Marsh Harriers circling up. All the group finally got to see a Kingfisher here, with a couple zipping in and out out over the reeds carrying food.

Thankfully we didn’t have too long to wait. Suddenly a Bittern flew up out of the reeds. It turned and flew straight towards us, giving us a great look at it as it flew round and out of sight behind the bushes beyond the shelter. That would have been nice enough, but it then came over the bushes and turned back towards us, flying round close past behind us, croaking as it went. Wow!

BitternBittern – great views as it flew round the Joist Fen viewpoint

The Bittern flew about 180 degrees round the viewpoint, before finally bearing away to our left and dropping down into the reeds beyond, giving us all stunning flight views. A minute or so later, what was presumably the same bird started booming over in that direction. We couldn’t have asked for a better show.

With such great views of Bittern already, we decided that wouldn’t be bettered and started making our way back for lunch. As we walked back along the main track, a couple of Hobbys appeared over West Wood. They were joined by more and soon we had five Hobbys hanging in the air or circling. Even better, a couple of them drifted out over the reeds towards us, giving us our best views of the day overhead.

HobbyHobby – great views overhead on the walk back

Our luck was in with the dragonflies on the way back too. A young male Scarce Chaser flew past, a flash of rich orange, and landed on a reed stem nearby. We had seen a couple of Hairy Dragonflies on the walk out, but a smart male stopped nicely for us in the sun now. We also managed to find a Variable Damselfly with all the Azure Damselflies too.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – a male, with distinctive hairy thorax

After lunch back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off into the Forest to try to find some other of our target birds for the day. There has been a Wood Warbler singing near Brandon for about ten days now and it has been showing very well at times. We drove down the track and parked, before walking along the path to where it has been seen. Even before we got there, we could hear it singing.

As we walked in to the trees, it was clear the Wood Warbler was singing from low down and right by the path. We were treated to some great views as it fluttered around only a couple of metres up in some small trees just a short distance ahead of us, even coming right towards us along the path at one point. We even managed to get it in the scope briefly, when it perched still for a while, singing.  Bill open, its whole body quivered with the effort of delivering its song, sounding rather like a spinning coin slowly settling on a hard surface.

Wood WarblerWood Warbler – showed very well, singing right in front of us

Wood Warbler is a very scarce bird here these days, though it is still found in the wetter woods of the north and west of the country. It used to be a regular breeder here albeit in small numbers, but has now all but disappeared, with just the occasional lone bird found singing, possibly a northbound migrant which has stopped off for some reason to try its luck. This has been a better spring for them, with several seen this year, but still it is unlikely any will manage to pair up and breed. Eventually, the Wood Warbler started to move higher into the trees, so after seeing it so well we moved quickly on.

Our luck was in now, as we headed over to another site in the Forest and immediately heard a Redstart singing from a small group of trees as soon as we arrived. We made our way round to the other side, at a discrete distance so as not to disturb it, and the Redstart suddenly appeared in the top of a large hawthorn. Through the scope, we got a great look at it, bright reddish-orange below, black faced and with its striking white forehead shining in the sun. Male Redstarts are really stunning birds to see.

RedstartRedstart – a cracking male singing on the edge of the Forest

The Redstart kept dropping down out of sight, but then coming back up into the top of the hawthorn to sing. The song is easily overlooked, a series of short, melodic but slightly sad sounding bursts interspersed with long pauses. We stood and listened to it for a while, until it worked its way through the bushes and round to the other side of the trees, out of view.

Like the Wood Warbler, Redstarts used to be much commoner birds in this part of the country, but declined through the last century and are now mostly confined to a few sites around the Forest. So it is always a treat to see one here and particular to hear it singing.

Our final destination for the afternoon saw us park up by a forestry track and walk deeper into the forest. It was rather quiet in the trees, with just the odd Goldcrest or Coal Tit heard in the dense coniferous plantations. We made our way round to a clearing and, as we approached, a pair of Stonechats were perched in the top of an old stump row, calling. They were collecting food, so presumably had young nearby. A couple of Whitethroats appeared with them.

We had come looking for Tree Pipit and a short snatch of half song suggested there might be one close by. We walked round to the other side of some trees and there it was, perched in some dead branches. It stayed there for a few seconds, pumping its tail, and we could see it was colour-ringed, before it flew up into a tall birch tree nearby. Almost immediately it dropped back down towards the clearing and was followed by a second Tree Pipit, presumably a pair.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – appeared in some dead branches in front of us

One of the two Tree Pipits dropped down to the ground out of sight, but the second, presumably the male and the same bird we had seen first, landed in the top of a young fir tree, where we could get it in the scope. We had a great look at it, as it stayed there for ages, preening for a while, looking round, turning so we could see it front on as well.

While we were standing here watching the first Tree Pipit, we just caught what sounded like the song of another way off in the distance. Scanning the young trees, we managed to find it, perched in the top of another small fir, right over the other side of the clearing. It is great to think there might be two pairs here this year.

Eventually, the first Tree Pipit dropped down to the ground out of view, so we left them to feed quietly. It was time to call it a day anyway now, so we made our way back to the car. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, and a great way to round off an exciting three days of summer birding in East Anglia.

13th May 2017 – Spring Warblers & Waders

A Spring Tour today in North Norfolk. It was rather cloudy in the morning, with a few light showers passing through, but brightened up with some nice sunny spells in the afternoon.

Our destination for the morning was Titchwell, but on the way there we stopped to avoid a Grey Wagtail in the road, near the old Burnham Overy water mill. It quickly flew up onto the edge of the roof of one of the cottages nearby, which allowed us to drive on past.

When we arrived at Titchwell we could hear a Turtle Dove purring from deep in a leafy sycamore next to the car park. We had a look to see if we could see it, but it was clearly tucked in out of sight. A smart male Greenfinch was more obliging, wheezing from the trees next to the car. A Red Kite drifted over head.

At that point, one of the reserve volunteers came over to tell us that a Wood Warbler was singing by the visitor centre and a Spotted Flycatcher had been seen around the picnic area. Wood Warbler is a very scarce visitor here, so we hurried along to see if we could find it. We heard it singing as we walked along and came across a small crowd looking up into the trees along the entrance road. We got great views of the Wood Warbler as it flitted around in an oak, stopping every few seconds to sing, before it moved off quickly further up the line of trees out of sight.

6O0A0701Wood Warbler – singing in the trees along the access road this morning

Having had a good look at the Wood Warbler, we made our way back to the picnic area to see if we could find the Spotted Flycatcher. We waited here a few minutes, scanning the trees, but there was no more sign of it. Another favoured area for them here is the pool along Fen Trail, so we walked round to see if it might be there. It wasn’t, but we did get a nice look at a Reed Warbler hopping about in the reeds here.

The Turtle Doves had apparently been visible in the trees behind Fen Hide earlier, so we made our way along to there next. There was no sign of them at first, but as a brief shower passed over, we took shelter in the hide. A pair of Common Pochard were diving on the edge of the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler flew low across the pool and dropped down into the base of a bush. We came out again, just in time to see a pair of Turtle Doves fly over and circle round in front of us before dropping back down into the trees.

On our way to Patsy’s Reedbed, we stopped to look at a Bloody-nosed Beetle walking along the boardwalk. There were several around the paths today – both live ones and a couple which had been crushed underfoot. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles.

6O0A0713Bloody-nosed Beetle – commonly seen around the paths on the reserve

At Patsy’s Reeded, we quickly located a single drake Red-crested Pochard asleep on the bank with a couple of Tufted Ducks. A pair of Little Grebes were diving out in the middle. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed and dropped down into the reeds out of view. There were good numbers of Swifts swooping for insects over the water.

6O0A0714Red-crested Pochard – this drake was asleep on Patsy’s Reedbed

We made our way back and round via the Meadow Trail out to the main path. The former pool on the Thornham grazing marsh is now looking very dry and uninviting, so we focused our attention on the reedbed. There were lots of warblers singing today – Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers, and the odd Cetti’s Warbler shouting at us occasionally from the bushes. A male Reed Bunting showed very well by the pools.

Something on the path seemed to be causing a stir amongst the people ahead of us, and we walked over to see a Common Shrew running along the edge of the path. Unfortunately, it didn’t look well. It was missing some fur from the back of its neck, so perhaps something had had a go at it. A Mediterranean Gull flew over calling. A Cuckoo shot over the path and headed out over the saltmarsh.

6O0A0731Common Shrew – was running along the edge of the main path

At this point, it started to rain again, so we hurried on towards the shelter of Island Hide. A Grey Plover on the saltmarsh pool opposite was looking smart with its summer black face and belly.

The water levels have started to drop a bit on the freshmarsh now, and there were a few more waders on here today. Our main target here was a Little Stint which had been reported earlier and we quickly located it on one of the islands. We could see how small it was  – creeping around on the mud, next to the much larger ducks. It was very flighty though, and kept flying round before coming back to the islands. Migrant waders at this time of year are often in a hurry to get on their way. We could also see a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, way over the other side, close to Parrinder Hide.

There is rarely any shortage of Avocets here, and we had some nice views of them feeding in front of the hide. There were also good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits back on here again. Presumably they are mostly young birds, born last year, which will not breed or migrate to Iceland this year. They also don’t moult fully into breeding plumage – most were still in their winter greys, but a few had a scattering of orange feathers. A single Ruff was on the mud close to the hide – also not yet in full breeding plumage, but starting to moult its head and neck.

6O0A0768Ruff – starting to get some summer feathers on head and neck

There are several Common Terns around the freshmarsh now, which are always nice to see. Through the scope, we could see their black-tipped red bills and red legs. There were also three Sandwich Terns on here today, including a pair mating. Presumably they will be looking to nest in the colony on nearby Scolt Head. There is a large Black-headed Gull colony on the fenced off Avocet island and in among them are several pairs of Mediterranean Gulls. We picked one out with the scope – its much blacker head and bright red bill standing out even at a distance.

IMG_4154Sandwich Terns – this pair were mating on the freshmarsh today

There are not so many ducks around the freshmarsh now. In particular, the number of Teal have finally dropped as birds have departed on their journey north to breed. We still found a single pair of Teal here today. There are still good numbers of Gadwall and  Mallard and lots of Shelduck, all of which breed here. We stopped to admire a drake Gadwall – not the gaudiest of ducks, rather grey and black, but a wonderfully subtle mix of patterns. The Brent Geese have not all departed for Russia yet, and a small group came onto the freshmarsh to bathe.

6O0A0848Gadwall – with intricately patterned feathers

By the time we got round to Parrinder Hide, the Little Stint had disappeared. We did get closer views of the Little Ringed Plovers through the scope, so we could see their golden yellow eye rings. However, it was the baby Avocets which drew the most attention. Like little balls of fur, with long legs and a little upturned bill. Two females had one chick each today, and one of them was feeding quite close to the hide. The adult Avocets are not the most attentive parents and as the young ones wandered away, it seemed no surprise that they are very vulnerable to predation.

6O0A0897Avocet – a small chick was feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

The weather had improved now, so we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. There was not much to see on the Volunteer Marsh today – a drake Shoveler close to the path and several Avocets feeding along the channel at the far end. The Tidal Pools were also rather quiet, apart from a single Bar-tailed Godwit. We got it in the scope and talked about the differences between Bar-tailed Godwit and the Black-tailed Godwits we had seen earlier on the Freshmarsh.

As we walked up over the dunes, we could see a couple of groups of black ducks flying round over the sea beyond. From the beach, we got them in the scope and could see they were mostly Common Scoter. Looking carefully through them, we picked out two or three Velvet Scoters too, getting a flash of the white in their wings as they flapped or seeing the white diagonal line on their sides. There was also still a singe Red-breasted Merganser offshore.

There were a few waders still distantly out on the mussel beds, despite the rising tide. As well as lots of Oystercatchers and several more Bar-tailed Godwits, we found a little group of Sanderling and Turnstone, both coming into summer plumage now. A small flock of Knot flew off along the shoreline. At that point we noticed some dark cloud approaching fast behind us. It started to rain, but thankfully it was just a few spits and spots.

Once the rain stopped, we decided to make our way back for lunch. There were two or three Little Egrets out on the saltmarsh, but when a larger white bird took off, a quick look at it confirmed it was a Spoonbill. It circled round and landed back down in one of the channels on the saltmarsh out of view. A Grey Heron was more obliging. It flew in to the pools right by the main path, causing a female Mallard to leave her brood of ducklings and chase after it. The Grey Heron didn’t seem too fussed and landed on the edge of the reeds where it started to preen.

6O0A0921Grey Heron – stood preening on the edge of the reeds

With the skies brightening up nicely now, we ate our lunch in the picnic area. There was still no sign of any Spotted Flycatchers here, but a Goldcrest showed well in the pine trees. We could still hear the Wood Warbler singing, back towards the car park, and after lunch we walked to the car to find it in the oak tree just above! We had another nice look at it before it flew back deeper into the trees.

The Turtle Dove was still purring from the leafy sycamore and helpfully waited until we had packed the scope away before flying out and across to a bare tree where we could finally get a good look at it. By the time we got the scope out again and set up, needless to say it flew back to the sycamore out of view!

6O0A0941Turtle Dove – finally showed itself briefly in a bare tree in the car park

While we were at Titchwell, reports had come through of a trip of Dotterel in a field just up the road at Choseley, so we drove up there for a look. We found a few people standing in the entrance to a field, who showed us where the birds were, but they were miles away. The bare stoney field was picking up the heat from the sun, resulting in a lot of shimmer, so that even with the scope we couldn’t make out much more than a few small blurry shapes.

We decided to head down the footpath to try to find a vantage point a little closer to them, but some people coming back the other way explained that because of a ridge in the field, the Dotterel were not visible from along there. We carried on anyway, reasoning that they were moving round the field, but when we got to the end we found they were right. A Yellowhammer was singing in the hedge nearby.

It looked like it was back to Plan A, distant views from back at the road, but as we walked back we scanned the field just in case. Bingo! Just at that point, the Dotterel appeared over the ridge across the field in front of us. We all had a great look at them through the scope, just in time before they sat down just over the ridge – we could just see the tops of a couple of their heads!

IMG_4160Dotterel – a quick record shot of one before they all sat down

On the way back, we just had time for a short stop at Holkham and a quick walk down to the hides. It was sunny now and in the heat of the afternoon, there were still a few warblers singing on the walk out, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, plus the regular Coal Tits, Treecreeper and Goldcrest.

We stopped to scan the grazing marshes just before Washington Hide and spotted a large white shape out on one of the pools. It was a Spoonbill, dropped in to bathe on its way back to the colony. We got it in the scope and could see its bushy crest blowing in the wind. A second Spoonbill appeared and started preening nearby, before the first flew off back towards the trees.

From up in the Joe Jordan Hide, there was a steady coming and going of Spoonbills, Little Egrets and Cormorants to and from the trees. One or two Spoonbills came down repeatedly to collect vegetation from the edge of the pool for their nests and a little group gathered half hidden behind the rushes at the front to bathe.

IMG_4200Spoonbill – collecting nest material from the edge of the pool

It was a nice way to finish the day here. As well as all the activity around the trees, we could see several Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards out over the grazing marshes. A Hobby was catching insects rather distantly away to the west. The one thing we hadn’t seen here today was one of the Great White Egrets, but just as we were thinking about heading back one flew up out of the reeds and circled round before disappearing behind the wood. With that one to wrap things up nicely, we walked back to the car, with a Jay on the way to round off the day’s list.

7th May 2017 – Three Spring Days, Part 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Spring Tours today, our last day. It was another rather cold and windy day, still un-spring-like, but at least once again it was mostly dry, at least until we had finished at the end of the day. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast today.

Our first destination was Kelling. We had received a message to say some Yellow Wagtails had dropped in with the cows there, so we thought it might be worth a look, in case they might stop to feed for a while. As we parked in the village a couple of House Martins were prospecting nest sites under the eaves of the buildings there. A Coal Tit appeared in one of the fir trees by the school.

It was rather sheltered in the lane and there were warblers singing in the hedges. We could hear a couple of Chiffchaff singing on the walk down and a Blackcap was calling in the copse (it would have found its full voice by the time we walked back!). A Lesser Whitethroat rattled in the hawthorns and then flew across the lane in front of us, perching out in the open in the top of the hedge briefly.

As we got down to the Water Meadow, a couple of Skylarks were singing over the fields. There are always plenty of Rooks here and a pair of Carrion Crows down in the grass too gave us a good opportunity to talk about the differences between them. A Sedge Warbler was belting out its song from the top of the brambles, despite being exposed to the cold north wind out in the open here. As we approached, it flew up from its perch and parachuted down into the grass in the middle of the field beyond.

6O0A9914Sedge Warbler – singing from the top of the brambles, despite the wind

The cows on the Water Meadow were huddled up in the lee of the hedge and most of them had sat down. Unfortunately there was no sign of any Yellow Wagtails with them – they had obviously continued on their way. From where we were standing we could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling, but it was obviously tucked down deep in the brambles today and we couldn’t see it before it went quiet again.

A steady stream of Sand Martins came to feed over the water, along with a few Swallows. There were a few ducks on the pool too – several Gadwall and Teal, a pair of Shoveler and a pair of Shelduck. We could hear a couple of Reed Warblers singing. The first, from the reeds by the track, was down low and not visible, but we found the second clambering around in the bushes, looking for food and singing as it did so.

We walked round to the beach in the hope that there might be some migrants on the move, but the skies overhead were quiet. A pair of Stonechats were feeding on the ground behind the beach, out of the wind, and there were a few Meadow Pipits here but nothing else. It was cold here in the wind, so we beat a hasty retreat.

Heading to the Heath next, we thought we would try our luck. Up on the ridge here, it can be cold and windswept in conditions like we had today. A Garden Warbler was singing in the car park, but it was deep in the thick blackthorn bushes and we couldn’t see it. As we walked up along the track, we could hear lots of other warblers singing – several Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Blackcap.

We heard another Garden Warbler singing from a birch tree by the path and tracked the sound as it moved round in the leaves until it appeared briefly on the outside where we could see it. There were quite a few Garden Warblers singing and calling up on the Heath today, which are always great to hear.

Walking round through the territory of one of the pairs of Dartford Warblers, we couldn’t hear or see any sign of them. There were a few Linnets twittering in the gorse and we came across a pair of Stonechats, which quickly moved away as we appeared. There seemed to be small groups of schoolchildren hiking everywhere today, we saw them at Kelling and Cley as well, presumably doing something like Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions. One group came crashing across the middle of the heath at this point with what we presumed were their teachers. They were obviously lost, it sounded like they couldn’t find the path, and one of the staff was having to carry his dog as when he put it down it clearly couldn’t walk on the spiky cut gorse! We decided to try a quieter spot.

There is a particular place where we have seen Woodlarks regularly in the last few weeks, so we decided to walk round via there. As we approached, we could see a Woodlark walking round on the ground. Through binoculars, we could see it was collecting bright green caterpillars – it had a bill full of them already. Presumably, it had young nearby to feed.

6O0A9938Woodlark – collecting caterpillars to feed to its young

Then a second Woodlark appeared close by, also with a bill full of the same green caterpillars. They were obviously a pair. We enjoyed a great view as we watched the two of them for several minutes as they walked around between the branches, looking for more. Eventually, one disappeared and the second flew up and landed out of view.

It seemed like it might be just too cold and windy for the Dartford Warblers today, but it is always a nice walk round the Heath anyway. We had stopped and were talking about the Heath when we heard a male Dartford Warbler singing a little further along the path from us. We hurried over and found it perched right on the top of some gorse.

6O0A9966Dartford Warbler – singing from the top of the gorse, despite the cold wind

It dropped down before everyone could get onto it, but we waited a minute and remarkably the male Dartford Warbler came up and started singing again. This time everyone had a great look at it. When it dropped down again, we could just about see it working its way through the gorse. Then the Dartford Warbler came up onto the top of the gorse a third time, singing, this time even closer to us. Great stuff!

With great views of both Dartford Warbler and Woodlark this morning, we decided to head back. Three Common Buzzards were circling over the wood beyond the Heath, despite the lack of any sunshine. As we walked back, we could hear juvenile Linnets calling from deep in the gorse and we watched as the parents flew round and perched nearby. Another Garden Warbler was singing in the birches, but it was hard to get onto with all the leaves moving in the wind – we could just see it flicking round between branches from time to time.

Back at the car, we made our way over to Cley. It was just about lunchtime, so we stopped at the NWT visitor centre and ate our lunch. A flock of about 30 Black-tailed Godwits came up from the scrapes and flew off towards Blakeney Harbour. A Marsh Harrier drifted over from the reedbed, causing all the Avocets to start alarm calling. A Grey Heron stood motionless in the reeds.

Looking at the sightings board in the visitor centre, there didn’t seem to be much on the reserve today. There has been a dearth of spring migrant waders at Cley in the last week or so, which could be due to the weather or to the lingering impact of the saltwater inundation during the floods in January.

We decided to head over to Walsey Hills instead of going out to the hides. There had been a Wood Warbler here earlier, but no one seemed to know where it was when we arrived. A Pied Flycatcher was apparently showing occasionally in the pines on the top of the hill, so we thought we would look for that first. When we got up there, we discovered it was spending most of its time deep in the pines. We walked into the trees and could just see a shape flitting around occasionally, but clearly we were not going to be able to get a really good look at it.

At that point, a message came round that the Wood Warbler had reappeared, so we made our way back down to the footpath. It was difficult viewing with all the bushes, and quite a crowd of people in here. We got a quick view of it in the back of the trees, flitting around, but then it disappeared again. It was clearly going to be impossible for everyone to get a really good look at it, so we decided to move on and try something different.

The birds from the East Bank were a lot easier to see. A pair of Common Pochard and several Tufted Duck were on the pools in the reedbed, along with a noisy group of Greylags. A good number of Swifts have now arrived, but finding insects in this weather was presumably challenging, and we had great views of them as they zoomed around low over the pools and the bank. One came within a few inches of the head of one of the group!

6O0A9989Common Swift – zooming around over the East Bank

Over the other side of the bank, a couple of Lapwings were displaying over the grazing marshes, putting on quite a display, chasing each other and tumbling through the air, singing their distinctive song.

6O0A0107Lapwings – displaying over the grazing marshes

It was the chicks which stole the show though. A lone female Lapwing was huddled down in the grass not far from the bank on the edge of some water. We could just see one small chick tucked in underneath it, while another was wandering around just behind them. It still looked a bit unsteady on its feet! Mum was paying surprisingly little attention to it.

6O0A0131Lapwing and chick – the latter still a bit unsteady on its feet

There were also a few Redshanks out on the grazing marshes. A little later, we watched one displaying, a male flying up with bowed wings fluttering, then dropping down to land next to the female who looked distinctly unimpressed. A couple of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding distantly on Pope’s Marsh.

As well as the usual ducks, three or four lingering Wigeon were grazing around the pools. They should be off on their way back to Russia for the breeding season soon. In contrast, the Little Egrets breed nearby, so they don’t have far to go. One was fishing in a small pool near the bank and we could see it had bright pink facial skin, an indication that it was in breeding condition. We also admired its ornate plumes.

6O0A0125Little Egret – a breeding adult, with pink facial skin

Two Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed at the back of Pope’s Marsh, but then flew over towards the East Bank, flushing everything on the grazing marshes as they went. A single Whimbrel came up from somewhere in the grass and flew off calling.

6O0A0136Marsh Harrier – flew over the East Bank, flushing everything from the grazing marshes

There as a nice selection of birds on Arnold’s Marsh again today. A single Ringed Plover was on one of the islands with a little group of Dunlin. The latter were in various stages of moult into summer plumage, with spotted black belly patches. A Grey Plover in contrast looked to be pretty much there already, looking stunning with black face and belly and bright white spangled upperparts. A lone Knot was also in its orange summer plumage, and several of the Bar-tailed Godwits were too. There were a couple of Turnstone hiding in the saltmarsh vegetation and one of those looked stunning with its white face and chestnut upperparts.

Two small waders down towards the front of the saltmarsh were Little Ringed Plovers. Through the scope, we could see their golden yellow eye rings. The female was preening and appeared rather disinterested in the male’s display. He appeared to be trying to impress her with a potential nest scrape, bowing and sitting down in it, fanning his tail up in the air. She barely moved!

IMG_4050Little Ringed Plover – showing off a potential nest scrape to an unimpressed female

There were no terns on Arnold’s Marsh today, but a quick look out at the sea produced two Sandwich Terns making their way west offshore. It was very breezy out on the beach, so we then beat a hasty retreat.

We had a quick look down at Iron Road to finish the day. There were lots of Gadwall on the pool here, but not much else of note. We looked up to see four Ruff flying off east. As we walked out towards Babcock Hide, there were plenty of geese on the grazing marshes – Greylags, Canada and a pair of Egyptian Geese. More of a surprise was a Fulmar flying west over the fields inland of the coast road!

A  quick look out from the hide, and the scrape looked rather quiet. A single Common Sandpiper appeared, walking round the front of one of the islands, but then quickly flew off. Out at the back, we managed to find a single Ringed Plover and a single Little Ringed Plover. Otherwise, there were just a couple of Redshank to make up the waders.

There were a few of the regular ducks out on the pool, the most noteworthy being a male Common Pochard. More interesting were the gulls. Several immature (2cy & 3cy) Great Black-backed Gulls were sleeping on the islands, presumably on here to get away from the wind at the beach. In with them, we found a single adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and a 1st winter. The Lesser Black-backed Gulls were completely dwarfed by the Great Black-backs.

6O0A0156Lesser Black-backed & Great Black-backed Gulls – roosting on the islands

Unfortunately it was time for us to start making our way back. As we walked back towards the car, we could hear Greenshanks calling, and looked up to see a flock of 8 flying high NE. They did not stop, presumably there is something about Cley which means it is not proving attractive to migrant waders at the moment.

As we drove back towards Wells, it started to drizzle. We had been lucky that it stayed dry pretty much all day again today. It had been another cold and windy day, but despite the conditions we had racked up a list of 90 species today. Not bad going, especially as we spent much of the day at rather specialised sites such as the Heath and Walsey Hills!