Tag Archives: Woodcock

30th June 2018 – Summer Night Special

A Private Nightjar Evening tonight. It was a lovely bright, sunny evening, with a fresh ENE breeze on the coast. A perfect evening to be out, for owls and Nightjars.

We met up in the early evening and headed out first to look for owls. Little Owl was the initial target, so we made our way over to some farm buildings we know they frequent. It was still bright and warm when we arrived and got out of the car. A quick scan of the barn roofs revealed a Little Owl out sunning itself.

Little Owl

Little Owl – preening on a hot roof!

The Little Owl was quite well tucked in at first, but then hopped out onto the roof itself and started to stretch and preen, tidying itself up ahead of a busy evening hunting presumably. There was still quite a bit of heat haze, but we got a good look at it through the scope.

A second Little Owl was on the barn roof on the other side of the road, more distant than the first. Through the scope, we could see that it was a juvenile, still with fluffy down around the head and shoulders. We thought we might go over that way and try to get a bit closer to it, but while we turned our attention back to the first Little Owl for a minute, the juvenile disappeared, presumably back under the roof.

A Brown Hare and a Red-legged Partridge ran down the track between the barns too, while we were watching the Little Owls. It had been a very successful first stop, so we decided to move on and see if we could find any Barn Owls.

We drove round via an area where we have seen Barn Owls out hunting regularly in the last few weeks, but we couldn’t find any today. It was still quite bright, so perhaps they were waiting for the light to fade a bit today?

We made our way on to another area which is good for Barn Owls and had a walk out along the bank which overlooks the grazing marshes. It was a lovely evening, with Common Swifts screaming overhead and we watched as several Little Egrets flew over, heading off to roost. But there was no sign of the resident Barn Owls here either.

They had to be out hunting sooner or later, so we figured it was worth driving round and back to where we had first looked earlier. As we got back there, we looked across the grazing marshes and could see a white shape on the support wire for a telegraph post away in the distance. A quick look through the binoculars confirmed it was indeed a Barn Owl. Where it was we could see was by a side road, so we drove round.

The Barn Owl was very close to the road here, so we got out very carefully. It remained perched on the wire, although it looked at us to make sure we weren’t likely to be any threat. It quickly resumed what it was doing, scanning the ground, so we set up the scope and had a really good, close look at it.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – perched on the support wire for a telegraph post

Suddenly the Barn Owl took off. It flew a few metres out into the field, hovered and then dropped vertically down into the grass. It was down in the vegetation for several minutes, so we thought it might have caught something, but after a while it emerged from the grass empty talonned.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – hunting in the evening light

The Barn Owl quartered over the meadow for a while, hunting – it was a fantastic sight, looking in to the low evening light. Then it flew over to the edge of the trees at the back and landed on a tall stump. After a few minutes, it took off again and resumed hunting, flying round over the tall grass, before coming back towards us and landing back on the wire where we had first seen it.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – came back towards us and landed back where it had first been

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from watching the Barn Owl, particularly as it was so obliging this evening. But we had a date up on the heath with some Nightjars!

As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Nightjar calling and looked over to see it flying over the gorse. It was a couple of minutes early tonight! We watched as it flew across to the edge of the trees and lost sight of it. A couple of second later, it started churring, just a short burst.

We made our way round to where it had gone down to see if we could find it, but when it churred again briefly, we realised it was somewhere in the trees. Then it flew out, wing clapping and circled low over the gorse in front of us, with its tail fanned and its wings held up, flashing its white wing stripes and tail corners. Then it dropped back down under the oak tree.

Something was upsetting this male Nightjar, and we gradually realised what. It flew out again, across low over the heather in front of us, and up onto one of its favourite churring branches, where we could get it in the scope. It was a great view, but as it started to churr, we could hear a second male churring quietly back near the oak tree.

Nightjar 1

Nightjar – on one of its favourite branches, churring

The first male flew back across, wing clapping and calling, and dropped in below the oak tree again. Several times, it flew out and did a small circuit over the gorse nearby, with its tail fanned and held sideways to show off the white spots to maximum effect. In between, twice more it flew across and landed on the branch in front of us to churr briefly.

Eventually the two male Nightjars flew out, both males, and they started to chase each other in and out of the trees, with lots of calling and wing clapping. It was a fantastic display – we stood mesmerised. Presumably a territorial dispute. The two Nightjars gradually worked their way along the edge of the trees and then disappeared out across the heath. We presumed one of the males had prevailed.

Nightjar 2

Nightjar – we had fantastic flight views, wing clapping with tail fanned

The Woodcock here seem to have largely finished roding already, but we did have one male fly along the edge of the trees. We heard its squeaky call first and looked up to see a pot-bellied, long-billed silhouette flying past.

More Nightjars were starting to churr now, so we headed off across the heath to try to see one of the other regular males. We had been distracted a little too long by the two males though, and the third male had already flown in from a dense oak out in the middle to the exposed perch where we were hoping to see it. As we walked up along the path, we just managed to get into a place where we could see it when it took off. It flew back to the oak tree.

We stood for a while and listened to it churring, as a fourth Nightjar started up further over – stereo! It was great to just stand and listen, the atmosphere only slightly ruined by loud music, which sounded like a poor Elvis impersonator, blaring out in the distance!

The light was starting to go now, so we turned to head back. No sooner had we done so, than the Nightjar we had just been waiting for flew back in from the oaks to the trees by the path. Typical! But there was still an orange glow in the sky behind us, so we hurried back and got a great view of it, perched on the branch, silhouetted against the sunset. Classic!

It was time to head back now, so we set off across the heath, very pleased with the great views of Nightjars we had already enjoyed, listening to them still churring. When we got back past where we had seen the two males earlier, we realised they were still chasing each other round. They were both flying in and out of the top of an oak tree, churring and calling. It seemed they must have been arguing for the last hour!

We stopped to watch the two bickering Nightjars, silhouetted against the sky. They dropped down out of sight against the dark of the gorse but when we heard one call, we realised it was flying straight towards us. We saw it coming and there was a second bird with it, the two flying parallel just a few metres apart. One seemed to stall in front of us, but the second circled right above our heads and then started hovering!

What an amazing way to end the evening. This time we did have to leave, so we walked back to the car with another male churring us back.

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2nd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours today. It was misty or cloudy pretty much all day, although it lifted a bit at times. However, it was thankfully mostly dry – with just a brief period when it was spitting with rain in the morning.

We headed over to Titchwell first, with the option of the hides if we did need to shelter from the weather. The car park was quiet when we arrived, so we had a look around before it got busy. There were Blackcaps and Long-tailed Tits in the trees where we parked, and a pair of Song Thrushes collecting food in the overflow car park. Looking out from the gate at the back, a Red-legged Partridge was feeding on the track beyond and a Marsh Harrier was perched in one of the dead trees out  in the reedbed beyond. A Spoonbill flew off high to the east, away from us.

Out onto the reserve, we made our way round on Fen Trail out to Patsy’s Reedbed first. A Blackcap showed well in the trees right above the path and we got a quick look at both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler in the reeds in front of Fen Hide as we passed.

Patsy’s Reedbed held a few duck, notable among them a single drake Red-crested Pochard. There were five Teal on here too today – almost all of the birds which spent the winter here have long since departed, but a small number typically oversummer here. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled over the reedbed beyond.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – this drake was sleeping on Patsy’s Reedbed

It started to spit with rain now, so we started to make our way over towards the main path. A Chiffchaff was singing above the boardwalk as we passed. The rain had pretty much stopped by the time we got round there, so we stopped to see what we could find in the reeds.

A Jay flew across above the reeds and landed in one of the sallows. As it did so, what sounded like a Tawny Owl called quietly. We had a look in the bush, but there was no sign of one that we could see from the bank. There were lots of Reed Warblers zipping back and forth across the pools on the near edge of the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – in the reeds around the pools near the main path

The reedbed pool held a single Great Crested Grebe, as well as two more Red-crested Pochard. Two or three Bearded Tits flew back and forth over the water and a Little Grebe laughed at us from the channel just beyond. There was a large melee of gulls and Jackdaws circling over the reeds at the edge of freshmarsh, presumably hawking for insects.

As we opened the windows in Island Hide, we noticed a good numbers of godwits out on the nearest island. On closer inspection, we could see a mixture of both Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits together. Something spooked them and they flew before everyone could get a look at them through the scope, but thankfully after circling for a minute or so they settled again, this time largely separating themselves into two separate flocks.

There were not many other waders on here today, apart from the ubiquitous Avocets. There seem to be fewer of them this year here too, although there appears to be no shortage elsewhere along the coast. Perhaps the colony of gulls, which is dominating the freshmarsh this year, has put them off? Two Little Terns were resting on one of the islands and through the scope we could see their black-tipped yellow bills and white foreheads.

As we set off along the main path again, we scanned back over the reeds. The gulls had all spread out now and we could see two immature Little Gulls hawking back and forth among all the Black-headed Gulls.

The mist started to roll in again, so we headed straight round to Parrinder Hide. When we got there, one of the Little Gulls had landed on the edge of one of the islands in front of the hide, so we got a much better look at that now. A 1st summer, we could see the extensive black feathering in the wings, the dark spot behind the eye and a pale pink suffusion on its underparts.

Little Gull

Little Gull – one of the 1st summers landed out from Parrinder Hide

An adult Mediterranean Gull dropped in on one of the other islands, where a number of Black-headed Gulls and 1st summer Common Gulls had gathered to loaf and preen. Through the scope, we noted the jet black hood with contrasting white eyelids, bright red bill and legs, and the pure white wing tips. There were also a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls with the Herring Gulls standing in the water further back.

There were better views of the godwits to be had from here, including a smart Bar-tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage, with rusty underparts extending right down under the tail. Four Avocets were busy feeding in front of the hide, sweeping their bills from side to side in the shallow water. When the Avocets started to alarm call, we looked up to see a Hobby flashing low across in front of the hide, disappearing off towards Island Hide.

The mist lifted again, so we made a quick dash out to the beach. There was very little on Volunteer Marsh today, but as we got over the bank at the far end, we noticed a large white bird out on the saltmarsh the other side. It was a Spoonbill, busy feeding, walking around with its head down in the water. It seemed to be catching a lot, as every few steps it seemed to flick its head up, at which point we could see its distinctive bill, with the yellow tip indicating it was an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – feeding out on Thornham saltmarsh

While we were watching the Spoonbill, a smart male Linnet landed in the bushes just below us. A little further on, two male Reed Buntings were singing against each other, with one perched nicely just out from the path.

Linnet

Linnet – this male landed in the bushes by the main path

The Tidal Pools are not tidal any more and largely full of deep water, so there are very few birds on here these days. A group of twenty or so Oystercatchers were sleeping on the saltmarsh towards the back. That was because, out at the beach the tide was just going out and was still covering the mussel beds. Consequently, there were not many waders out here yet, just a few more Oystercatchers on the sand.

It was still rather misty offshore, but it rolled back just enough for us to see a steady procession of terns flying back and forth, mainly Sandwich Terns but also a couple of Common Terns and Little Terns too. Two Fulmars flew past as well, hugging the sea. Then it was time to head back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we paid a quick visit to Holme. It was the wrong time of the day now, but we wanted to try our luck to see if we might be able to find a Turtle Dove here. As we walked round via the paddocks, it was rather quiet. A Common Whitethroat called from the brambles and a Greenfinch was singing out in the bushes. We could hear a Cuckoo singing too, off in the distance.

As we got to the far end of the paddocks, we heard some hissing calls coming from a large hawthorn bush. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees further back, appearing to answer the hissing calls. We had a look in the bushes but we couldn’t see anything.

Continuing on down towards Beach Road, a Cuckoo flew across as we got out of the trees into grassy the car park. Another Cuckoo was still singing in the distance ahead of us, so there were two of them here today. We walked over to see if we could find the second bird, but it seemed to move further away, off towards the coast road the next time we heard it.

Walking back along the Holme Dunes entrance track, a Swallow landed on the wires just above us. While we were watching it, two Cuckoos flew in and dropped down into the trees at the back of the paddocks. As they landed, the male gave its traditional ‘cuckoo’ song, and the female answered with a bubbling call.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – the female perched in the trees while the males had a sing-off

Then a second male Cuckoo flew in and landed on a dead branch in the top of a tree behind us. The two males started singing off against each other, getting very over-excited. There were lots of extra ‘cucks’ given to each ‘oo’! Then the female flew off towards Redwell Marsh and the males drifted away too. As we walked back to the car, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted to us from one of the ditches.

We drove back east to Holkham to finish the day, walking west on the inland side of the pines. It was fairly quiet here now, apart from lots of people out walking their dogs! We could hear one or two Blackcaps and Chiffchaff singing in the trees. A Treecreeper was singing too, but deep in the pines. A Goldcrest was slightly more accommodating – we could see it flitting round in an oak tree briefly. A large family party of Long-tailed Tits, with several recently fledged juveniles flew across the path.

At Joe Jordan Hide, we had only just opened the flaps when a Great White Egret flew in round the back of the trees. It landed out of view at first, behind some reeds, but then flew again and landed in a shallow ditch. We could see it as it walked along, its head, neck and shoulders sticking up into view. We could see its bill was mostly dark but with a yellow base. A little while later, another Great White Egret flew out of the trees and off east. We could tell it was a different bird as it had an all dark bill.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – flew in and landed in a ditch

There were Spoonbills coming and going from the trees too, flying in and out either side. One perched up nicely where we could get a good look at it through the scope, noting its shaggy nuchal crest, a sign of an adult in breeding plumage. There were a few Little Egrets flying back and forth to and from the trees too, and lots of Cormorants visible in their nests in the branches.

Then it was time to head back – we had a busy evening ahead. As we drove back up Lady Anne’s Drive towards the road, a Grey Partridge was feeding in the edge of one of the fields, just beyond the fence.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – feeding in the field by Lady Anne’s Drive

 

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours to rest and get something to eat, we met again early in the evening.  It had been raining all day further east, but fortuitously had stopped in time for our evening activities.

There were several Brown Hares we had to avoid in the road, on our way up to look for Little Owls first. We stopped by some farm buildings and scanned the roofs to see if we could find one out already, but all we could see at first was a Stock Dove. However, when we looked over at some other buildings the other side of the road, there was a Little Owl perched out in the open on the metal framework on a silo.

It was distant from here, but we had a look at the Little Owl through scope. We could see the ‘false face’ on the back of its head, which made it look like it was looking back at us. We made our way over to those building and got much closer, better views. This time it looked round at us properly.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched up nicely for us on some metal framework

Having enjoyed good views of Little Owl, we drove round to try to find a Barn Owl next. There was no sign of any around a series of favoured hunting meadows we tried at first, so we stopped and got out for walk. We hadn’t gone far when one of the group spotted a Barn Owl flying past behind us. It was carrying prey and we watched as it crossed the road back where we had parked and continued on over the fields beyond, presumably taking the food back to a brood of hungry owlets somewhere.

It was time to head up to the heath now, in time for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to middle the middle, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from a clump of birch trees.

The first Woodcock appeared pretty much bank on time. We heard its squeaky call first, and then spotted a dark, pot-bellied shape flying towards us with strange stiff, rapid wingbeats. It was a male doing its distinctive ‘roding’ display flight. As it came overhead, we could see its long straight bill.

Woodcock

Woodcock – flew overhead on one of its roding display flights

The Woodcock were regular from then on – we could hear them flying round and several times they passed overhead, at one with two males flying together out across the heath, before they split and headed off in two different direction.

A short while after the first Woodcock, a Nightjar churred briefly from the edge of the trees just ahead of us. Trying to anticipate where it would fly to first, we were just getting into position when it came up out of the trees. It landed briefly on one of its favourite perches, but unfortunately didn’t settle and was off again before we could get the scope onto it.

It flew round, then went high up over the trees, calling. When it came down again, the Nightjar flew in and circled round over our heads. A great view! We could see it was a male, with bold white wing patches. It flew back to the trees, weaving in and out, then off over low over the heath past us. As we walked back to the main path, it came back in behind us and landed on the perch again, but only briefly, before heading off once more.

Nightjar

Nightjar – circled round above our heads, showing off its white patches

As we walked on across the heath, we could hear a Tawny Owl hooting in the trees away in the distance. A second male Nightjar started churring out in the middle ahead of us. We made our way over to one of his favourite branches, hoping it might fly in to visit that next. But before we could get there, it flew past and landed on just the perch we were hoping it would visit. We managed to get it in the scope, but before everyone could get a look it was off again.

The Nightjar headed back out into the middle of the heath, and started churring from another tree. It seemed to be responding to a third male which had started up, churring much further over. We stood and listened – stereo churring!

It was great standing out on the heath as the light faded, listening to the Nightjars churring around us, but it was getting dark and time to call it a night. On the walk back, we could hear the Woodcock still roding, and a pair of Nightjar flew past in front of us calling, silhouetted against the last of the light.

There were a few Common Toads out tonight, after the rain earlier. We had to be careful not to tread on them. There was one more surprise in store for us too – a Slow Worm on the edge of the path. It stopped motionless in the torchlight for a couple of minutes, allowing us a great close-up look at it, before it slid off into the bushes by the path. A great way to end the evening.

23rd May 2018 – Late Spring Birds, Day 2 & Nightjar Evening

Day 2 of a three day Late Spring Tour today. It was originally forecast to be sunny today, but by this morning that had changed to cloud all day. So it was to be. It was rather misty first thing, but the cloud lifted through the day. There was still a cool breeze but at least it had dropped considerably compared to yesterday, which meant it didn’t feel quite as cold.

Given the early mist, we headed round to Cley to start the day, thinking we could get out of the weather in the hides. As we walked out to the hides, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from deep in the brambles by the ditch – good to head as numbers have dropped dramatically after the cold winter. A Grey Heron was standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk as we passed. We heard a Bearded Tit call and turned to see it fly across and drop straight down into the reeds.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron – standing motionless in the wet grass by the boardwalk

From the shelter of Dauke’s Hide, we had a scan of Simmond’s Scrape first. There were a few waders to be found on here. Two Common Sandpipers and two Tundra Ringed Plovers were feeding around the edge of the islands and another seven Tundra Ringed Plovers dropped in to join them. There were two Little Ringed Plovers on here too and a Greenshank which was fast asleep on the island at the back.

The scrapes are dominated by the Avocets now, many of which have small juveniles already. We could see several groups of little ones out on the scrapes or sheltering beneath the adults. The Avocets are very aggressive and will chase off anything which lands anywhere near. It was funny to watch them trying to battle with the local Shelducks.

Avocet

Avocet – sheltering a single juvenile, with just its one leg visible

Lots of Sand Martins were flying backwards and forwards low over the reeds and the scrapes, looking for insects, together with a few House Martins for company. A couple of Marsh Harriers patrolled the reedbed at the back. Two pairs of Tufted Duck were swimming around on the ditch right in front of the hide.

Looking across to Pat’s Pool, the first thing we noticed were the Ruff. There were five of them on here, all males and all different! One male was particularly striking, with a fully grown rufous ruff and black crest feathers. The breeding plumage of the other Ruffs was not quite as well developed – a second rufous one and a black one lacked the full crest feathers, as did a white one, and another blackish one didn’t have much of a ruff yet. Unfortunately there was no female today, for them to display to.

Ruff

Ruff – looking smart now, in full breeding plumage

There were also still a good number of Black-tailed Godwits on Pat’s Pool, mostly asleep and loafing around on the edge of one of the islands. A second Greenshank was feeding over in a sheltered bay in the far corner but whenever it ventured out into the open, it was chased back in by one of the Avocets.

It was cool in the hides, to we decided to head back to the Visitor Centre to warm up over a cup of coffee. On the way back along the boardwalk, we heard Bearded Tits calling again and looked up to see a female perched in the reeds beside the path ahead of us. A cracking male then flew in and landed just below, before the two of them flew across the boardwalk to the reeds the other side. They were followed by two juvenile Bearded Tits, still with only partly grown tails. We walked up to where they had crossed and had a great view of them climbing up and down in the reeds.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a pair flew across the boardwalk with their two juveniles

As we got back to the bridge across the ditch by the road, we heard the Cetti’s Warbler again so we stopped to see if we could find it. We could see a Reed Warbler flicking around low in the reeds along the edge of the water. Then something else flew out, chased it, and then landed in the brambles. It was the Cetti’s Warbler. It sang once and we could just see it perched on the edge of the bush before it dropped into the vegetation.

After our coffee break, we had a look round at the Iron Road. The pool here was fairly quiet today – just a couple of Redshanks and Lapwings and a single Little Ringed Plover lurking in the reeds at the back.

As we walked round to Babcock Hide, a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over and landed in the field the other side of the road. A well-grown Lapwing chick was trying to hide in the grass by the path while one of the adults flew round above calling agitatedly. The pool in front of Babcock Hide was a bit disappointing today. Apart from lots of Greylags, there were just a few Avocets, including a pair with a single chick.

We decided to try our luck out on East Bank instead. The low cloud had lifted a little now and it had started to brighten up a touch. Two male Marsh Harriers had a brief tussle over the reedbed as we got out of the car, before one then headed off over Pope’s Marsh. There were a few Lapwings and Redshanks out on the grazing marsh and we picked up a distant Common Sandpiper on Pope’s Pool. A single drake Wigeon and three Teal on the north end of the Serpentine were notable. Most of the ones that spent the winter here have long since departed, so it will be interesting to see how long these ones stay.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – flew over and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh

As we continued on to Arnold’s Marsh, we noticed four largish waders flying in over the reedbed. They were Whimbrel – we could see there down-curved bills, not as long as a Curlew. They dropped down onto Arnold’s so we continued on to there and got them in the scope. We could see their distinctive striped head patterns. They didn’t stay long though, only around 10 minutes. After a preen and a doze, they took off and headed out over the beach and out to sea, presumably on their way to Scandinavia.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on the island at the back again – through the scope we could see their shaggy black crests and mostly black bills. There were not too many waders on here today, but we could see another five Tundra Ringed Plovers and a smart summer plumage Turnstone.

We couldn’t come all this way without a quick look at the sea, so we continued on to the beach. There were lots of Little Terns feeding just offshore, flying up and down just behind the breakers and occasionally diving straight down into the water.

Little Tern

Little Tern – there were lots feeding off the end of the East Bank

On the walk back, we had nice views of a male Bearded Tit briefly in the reeds down below the bank. It appeared to be carrying a feather, possibly nest material, before it shot off back behind us along the ditch. One of the Marsh Harriers also showed very nicely, flying round over the reeds just ahead of us, before heading out across the grazing marshes, chased by various Avocets and Lapwings.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – showed very nicely off the East Bank

Given the fresh breeze, we decided to head round to the beach car park and eat our lunch in the shelter there. A few parties of Sandwich Terns flew past over the Eye Field while we ate. Afterwards, we had a quick walk out to North Scrape.

We couldn’t see anything of note on Billy’s Wash, but as we got to the shingle behind North Scrape, a Wheatear flew up. It was a male, quite a bright pale one. It landed on the fence beyond briefly, then flew again, up onto the top of the screen overlooking the scrape. It dropped down onto the picnic table and we thought we might be able to get round for a closer look, but before we could get there it was off again, down onto the grazing marsh beyond.

Wheatear

Wheatear – this male was around the beach behind North Scrape

There was nothing of note on North Scrape, but at that point we received a message to say that there was a White-winged Black Tern along the coast at Burnham Overy. We decided to head round there to see if we could see it.

As we walked out along the track which cuts across the grazing marshes, we heard two Lesser Whitethroats singing in the hedge. In typical fashion, we had a couple of quick glimpses as they flew between bushes, dropping straight into cover. One or two Reed Warblers were singing from the ditch beside the path.

We could see the White-winged Black Tern before we got to the seawall, visible above the reeds as it flew round over the pool in the middle, but it was a better view once we got up to the top. What a stunning bird! Its mostly white upperwings and tail contrasted with its jet black body. When it turned, we could see its black underwing coverts.

White-winged Black Tern

White-winged Black Tern – feeding over the reedbed pool at Burnham Overy

The White-winged Black Tern was flying round over the pool with very buoyant wingbeats, occasionally dropping down to the water’s surface, looking for insects. A great bird to watch!

While we were watching the tern, we kept one eye out over the harbour the other side and we noticed a harrier come up over the saltmarsh beyond the harbour channel. It was very slim, with narrow, pointed wings and through the scope we could see the white patch on its uppertail coverts and its faded buff/orange underparts, with a darker hood. It was a Montagu’s Harrier, a young one, a 2nd calendar year. We watched it hunting over the saltmarsh before it gradually worked its way back and out of view.

One or two Spoonbills flew past as we stood up on the bank. As we made our way back across the grazing marshes, we heard a Greenshank calling. While we were looking for it, we turned to see a Spoonbill flying low right over our heads!

There was still a little time left before we had planned to finish today, so we headed round to Wells Woods. A Wood Sandpiper had been reported earlier, on the marshes south of the pines, although the latest update suggested it might have flown off. Still, we walked out for a look. On our way out, another Greenshank flew over the pines calling.

As we scanned the pools and flooded grassland, one of the group spotted a wader which was disturbed from the wet grass by a gull flapping nearby. It was the Wood Sandpiper. Through the scope, we got a good look at it, noting its white spangled upperparts and striking pale supercilium.

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper – on the marshes at Wells Woods

It had proved to be a very productive afternoon and that was a nice way to end the day’s activities. With more to come later tonight!

Nightjar Evening

After couple of hours off to recover and get something to eat, we met again early evening. We headed out to look for owls first. It was still cool and rather breezy – not ideal weather, though not the forecast fog thankfully. We drove to an area of farm buildings where we know Little Owls breed first.

There was no sign of any Little Owls at first, it was a bit too cold to find them out basking! As we walked round, we saw a Brown Hares and a couple of Red-legged Partridge on a farm track. A Grey Partridge ran out across a recently planted potato field, and stood up nicely on the ridges, showing off its black belly patch.

We eventually found a Little Owl but it was hiding on the ridge of one of the farm buildings, tucked in under the cowl on the top of the roof. It was back on to us and we could just see its head and shoulders. It was not a great view of one, but better than nothing!

Our next target was to look for Barn Owls. We drove down to the back of Cley, figuring it might be sheltered from the wind here, and immediately spotted a white shape on a post by the road, a Barn Owl. We drove past and parked some distance beyond, hoping we might be able to see it without disturbing it but it flew off as we got out. It landed again on another post across the field, where we could see it in the scope.

It was a strikingly white Barn Owl, much paler than a normal one, a known individual which has been in the area for a year or so now.  Then it took off again and flew straight back towards us. For about ten minutes, we watched as it flew around hunting in front of us. Great views! A second Barn Owl appeared further back, a normal coloured one, landing on a bush briefly before flying off over the road the other side.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – a striking white bird at Cley

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the Barn Owl and head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. As we walked out to the middle of the heath, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from some dense bushes. A male Stonechat perched up nicely where we could see it. It was still rather cool, but we were sheltered from the wind by the trees.

It wasn’t long before we heard the first Woodcock calling, and looked across to see one flying straight towards us. It was roding. the display flight of the male, flying round over its territory with stiff flapping wingbeats. We would see it or hear it several times over the course of the evening.

Shortly afterwards, the first Nightjar started churring. We positioned ourselves to try to see it, hoping it would fly up to one of its favourite perches to churr. But suddenly two birds appeared, flying up from the edge of the trees. We could see they were both males, both with white wing flashes and white corners to their tails, and they were chasing each other.

The two Nightjars flew in and out of the trees, calling and wing clapping. They held their tails fanned and at an angle to show off the white spots to maximum effect. They landed down on the ground briefly, out of view, but were quickly up again, chasing each other out over the heath. One circled back and flew round just above our heads, calling – amazing views!

Then both the Nightjars headed away and we could one of them churring some way further over. We tried to make our way over as quickly as possible, as sure enough it was on a favoured branch, but just as we got within scope range it was off again. It was great to listen to them churring, but they wouldn’t stay still for long this evening and quickly started to go quiet.

It had been a fantastic display anyway, so we decided to call it a night. We walked back to the car to the sound of more Nightjars churring either side.

4th Feb 2018 – Owls & More

An Owl Tour today, back in North Norfolk. The weather forecast was far from ideal – we were warned to expect cold and blustery NE winds bringing wintry showers in off the North Sea. Still, it didn’t turn out as bad as forecast and it is amazing what you can find when you go out looking, despite the weather!

After meeting up, we headed straight down to the coastal marshes to see if any Barn Owls might be out hunting still. It was cold and windy and, after passing through a sleet shower on our way down to the coast this morning, it was perhaps no surprise they had already gone in to roost. Not to worry. We hoped we might get another opportunity to look for Barn Owls later in the day, weather permitting.

There were other birds to see here. Several Marsh Harriers hung in the air over the reeds, coming out of their roost. A flock of Curlew flew up from feeding down in the damp grass in the grazing meadows below us. Little groups of Brent Geese flew back and forth. A Water Pipit came up from the recently cut reeds and flew off calling, and a Grey Wagtail flew high over us the other way.

We decided to try our luck inland and look for some Little Owls instead. At the first site we stopped at, we got out of the car and looked across to the roof of some farm buildings across the other side of a field. There, tucked in below the ridge out of the wind, facing into the few rays of morning sun coming through the clouds, were two Little Owls. We had a good look at them through the scope, spotted with white above and streaked below. It was nice to get the first owls of the day under our belts. Three Stock Doves were on the roof too, a little further along.

Little Owls

Little Owls – these two were standing on a barn roof out of the wind

From here, we meandered our way west. We were heading up to the Wash, but had a quick look at some other owl sites on the way, just in case any others might still be out. There weren’t any more owls, but we did have a nice variety of other things on the way. A pair of Grey Partridges were hiding in a stubble field. A Green Sandpiper was bathing in a stream but flew up and away as we pulled up. A Bullfinch zipped across the road in front of us and disappeared into the brambles, flashing its white rump. There were a few raptors too – a Red Kite flapped lazily across a field beside the road, a Sparrowhawk circled up, plus several Common Buzzards and Kestrels.

Eventually, we arrived at the Wash. As we got up to the seawall, we could see the tide was just going out. There were still lots of waders on the mud, chasing the rapidly receding waters down, so we stopped to take a closer look. The sky had cleared now and the first thing that struck us was a large flock of Golden Plover positively shining in the sunshine out on the mud.

Golden Plovers 1

Golden Plover – catching the sun, out on the Wash

Through the scope, we could see more waders. Large tight flocks of Knot and Oystercatcher, lines of Bar-tailed Godwits, plus Dunlin and Grey Plover more liberally scattered over the mud. In amongst them, we found two Avocets, hardy individuals which have probably decided to linger here through the winter (although others are already starting to move back). A few Redshank were picking around on the mud just below us and a Ringed Plover flew in and landed briefly nearby.

The waders were constantly on the move, following the tide. Periodically, a flock would fly up, whirl round and land again further down. It was great to watch the Knot in particularly, swirling out over the water, flashing alternately white and dark grey. The Golden Plover put on a show too, whooshing across in front of us, before circling up and then dropping back down to the mud. There was no sign of any raptors though, they were probably just nervous in the wind.

Golden Plovers 2

Golden Plover – the flock swirled around in front of us

There were ducks here too. The mud was covered with a sprinkling of white Shelduck, whereas the dark mass gathered on the edge of the water was a large flock of Teal. More Shelduck were swimming in the mouth of the channel and in with them we could see several Pintail too. A drake Goldeneye flew past behind us, flashing black of white, the first of several we saw here today.

However, we had not come here to look out at the delights of the Wash, so we tore ourselves away and headed round to the pits.

Goldeneye

Goldeneye – this drake flew past us over the pits

There have been a couple of Short-eared Owls roosting here this winter and, carefully scanning the bushes on our way round, we quickly found one of them hunched up under a mass of brambles. We got it in the scope and could see its ear tufts and staring yellow eyes.

Short-eared Owls

Short-eared Owl – roosting under the brambles again

Once we had all had a good look at the Short-eared Owl, we decided to head back to the car. The weather was much improved, but it was still cold in the wind and exposed out by the vast expanse of the Wash. We headed round to Titchwell for a couple of hours ahead of the afternoon owl shift.

It was time for lunch but, as we made our way from the car park to the Visitor Centre, we noticed a little patch of rusty colour, subtly contrasting with the browner leaves, half hidden underneath the sallows. A quick look confirmed it was a Woodcock! Gathering the group together, we had frame-filling views of it through the scope. Not an owl, but a real highlight to see one of these often so elusive birds so well.

Woodcock

Woodcock – feeding beneath the sallows between the car park & Visitor Centre

The Woodcock was tucked up asleep at first. After lunch (and a very welcome hot drink!), as we made our way back to the car to put away our bags, it was feeding more actively. We watched it walking round slowly, probing in the leaves, before it turned and disappeared beneath the branches.

There were a few birds around the feeders – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, plus Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits. As we started to make our way out onto the reserve, a quick look in the ditch by the main path revealed a Water Rail feeding on the far bank. It tried to hide under the overhanging brambles at first, before coming right out into the open for us, probing in the rotting leaves.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well in the ditch below the main path

The old pool out on Thornham grazing marsh looked particularly devoid of life at first. Scanning more carefully, we found a Reed Bunting feeding in some dead seedheads down near the front and, while we were watching it, a head popped up nearby. The Water Pipit was hard to see at first, lurking in a line of taller vegetation, picking around unobtrusively. Occasionally it would appear in an opening, and eventually we all got a good look at it through the scope.

A Marsh Harrier was circling over the reeds at the back and another was out over the reedbed the other side. Continuing on our way, the reedbed pool held a few Tufted Ducks and a scan of the Lavender Marsh as we passed revealed a single Grey Plover on the pool and a lone Black-tailed Godwit on the saltmarsh with a couple of Wigeon and Teal.

The freshmarsh is still flooded with water at the moment, meaning that there is not so much to see on here currently. The ducks like it though, with a number of Common Pochard in particular in a big raft towards the back. On the small piece of island remaining exposed above the flood by the junction to Parrinder Hide, we could see several Red-crested Pochards too, the males standing out with their bright orange heads (despite the fact they were all fast asleep), very different from their commoner cousins.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochards – the drakes sporting bright orange heads

With some dark clouds out towards the beach, we opted for safety and headed for Parrinder Hide. It was a wise call, as shortly after we arrived the skies opened and it started to hail heavily. Thankfully, it was just a shower and passed through quickly, but we were certainly pleased to be inside as it did.

There was not so much else to see on the freshmarsh today. There were lots of Lapwing on the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ and a few Golden Plover in with them too. A flock of 14 Avocet flew in after the shower, but ended up landing out in the water, given the lack of islands to stand on. We watched them swimming for a while, bobbing up and down, looking decidedly out of place, before they finally plucked up the courage to fly over and join all the Lapwing.

Avocets

Avocets – swimming on the freshmarsh, given the high water levels

As the rain stopped, we made our way round to the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the Volunteer Marsh. There were a few waders out on the mud in front of the hide at first, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Avocet, but they all flushed as a Marsh Harrier flew over and landed further back.

With the break in the weather, we made a quick dash out further along the main path. The sun even came out for a time! We had great views of several more waders close in along the near edge of the Volunteer Marsh, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Redshank. A Lapwing looked particularly stunning, its upperparts gleaming metallic green, bronze and even purple in the sunshine!

Lapwing

Lapwing – looking stunning in the bright sunshine

The Tidal Pools looked quite quiet as we stuck our heads up over the bank, apart from a couple of Little Grebes diving just below us. A more careful scan revealed a pale silvery grey and white wader asleep, tucked down on the edge of the saltmarsh, a lone Spotted Redshank in winter plumage. A nice bonus!

There was no time to head out to the beach today, as our focus needed to be back on owls for the afternoon. We made our way quickly back to the car, and set off back east. With the cold winds along the coast, we decided to head inland to see if we could find any sheltered spots where Barn Owls might be hunting.

Almost immediately, on our way down to the first meadows we wanted to check, a Barn Owl flew across the road in front of us. It disappeared round behind some houses, before reappearing again, back across the road and down to the meadows where we had hoped to find it. It worked its way quickly down a hedge through the middle of the meadow, flicking over either side, before landing on a post on the bottom of the field. We had a good look at it here, but by the time we got the scope up, it was on the move again and disappeared out the back.

That was a positive start, but we hoped to have more prolonged views of Barn Owls out hunting this afternoon. Spurred on, we drove round to another area where they like to hunt, and once again we spotted a Barn Owl before we even arrived! We followed it down to the main meadow and found somewhere to park. As we got out of the car to watch it, a second Barn Owl appeared.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – out hunting over the meadows this afternoon

The two Barn Owls quartered the meadow for a while, each seemingly oblivious to the other, focused solely on its search for prey. The second bird disappeared over the hedge at the back – we could still see it hunting over another meadow further down – before a third Barn Owl appeared over the grass in front of us.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – one of three out hunting these meadows this afternoon

For over half an hour, we watched transfixed as the Barn Owls hunted. They worked their way back and forth, round and round the meadows, seemingly in a random pattern, searching the grass. Occasionally, one would drop down into the grass, but we didn’t see them successfully catch anything while we were there. We did get a good look at them through the scope down on the ground though. In particular, as a light snow shower passed over briefly, they settled for a minute.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – they would drop down in the grass occasionally

Eventually, the remaining two Barn Owls started to move off, heading away in different directions, hunting different patches. We decided to move on too. We made our way back down to the coast road and headed back east. There were no more Barn Owls out hunting along here this afternoon, but we didn’t stop to look too hard, after enjoying such fantastic views of them earlier.

We had an appointment down in the woods at dusk. We were a little early arriving this evening, so we walked through to look out over the meadows beyond as dusk fell. We had to retreat to the shelter of the trees on our first attempt, as another wintry shower passed through. As it cleared, we walked back to find a Barn Owl perched on a post on the edge of the meadows. We watched it for a while as it resumed hunting, flying round over the grass, occasionally dropping down into the taller vegetation.

A Tawny Owl hooted and we made our way back into the trees and down to an area where one of the males is known to favour. The Tawny Owls were a bit subdued this evening, possibly due to the weather, and it got dark rather quickly given the cloud. We did hear another pair hooting back behind us, deeper in the woods. Eventually, the male Tawny Owl we were listening for hooted again a couple of times. We set off along the path to see if we could see it, but it went quiet again before we got there. The next time we heard it, it had moved further off.

We stood and listened to the male Tawny Owl hooting for a while, a really evocative sound and always great to hear, before it started to get too dark and we called it a night.

 

11th Feb 2017 – More Owls & More

Another Owl Tour today. The weather forecast was not ideal for owls – cold, cloudy and windy with the risk of snow showers! Thankfully, once again it was not as bad as forecast and we had a great day. We managed to find some owls and some other good birds besides.

We started with a drive round to see if we could find some Barn Owls still out hunting, but with the conditions it was perhaps no surprise to find that they had already gone in to roost. At one brief stop two Stock Dove flew past, we flushed a Little Egret from a wet meadow and listened to Greylag Geese flying inland honking. A little further along and we could see a large skein of several hundred geese flying towards us over the fields. Pink-footed Geese presumably looking for a recently harvested sugar beet field on which to feed. We pulled over and listened to them as they flew overhead, their distinctive higher pitched yelping calls very different from the Greylags we had heard earlier.

6o0a6356Pink-footed Geese – a large skein flew over the road calling

Making our way further inland, we headed for one of our regular Little Owl spots. It didn’t take long to find our first Little Owl, perched up in a sheltered spot on the roof of one of the farm buildings. It was a long way off, so we drove along the road for a slightly closer look. We could see it better from here but it was still some way away, a little ball of feathers fluffed up against the cold.

A short distance down a footpath, we made our way round to the back of some other farm buildings which are more sheltered. Sure enough, here we found another two Little Owls, a little closer still. They too were hunched up under the roof of a barn. One of them did fly out onto the roof at one point, but clearly thought better of it and headed back quickly to where it had been tucked up out of the wind.

On our way back to the car, we disturbed a Brown Hare, which ran across the path in front of us at high speed and disappeared into the trees. A stubble field nearby held a nice flock of Curlew, all but invisible until they flew round. A group of Lapwing flew inland from the direction of the coast.

Carrying on our drive westwards, we stopped briefly at another couple of sets of barns, which we know are occupied by both Little Owls and Barn Owls. Given the weather, it was perhaps not a great surprise that no owls were perched out here today. We did see some nice farmland birds on our drive. A covey of Red-legged Partridges next to the road were accompanied by a pair of Grey Partridges – always nice to see. Several Kestrels were perched on posts or wires, looking down from there for food rather than hovering this morning. And we saw several more Brown Hares, although they were mostly hunkered down in the fields.

6o0a6364Grey Partridge – a pair were by the road with a covey of Red-legged Partridges

A little further on, we had hoped to catch up with a flock of geese in a recently harvested sugar beet field, where they have been feeding for the last few days. However, when we got there, we couldn’t find any sign of them. We thought they might be loafing in another field further back, so we drove round there to have a look, only to find a long line of twenty or more men with shotguns strung out across the landscape. Perhaps it was no surprise that we couldn’t find any geese today! With the shooting season for most game having closed at the beginning of this month, they were shooting Brown Hares. We could see that many of them had dead Hares hanging from their waists. Sad to see such beautiful animals like this.

With the morning getting on, we decided to head for Titchwell to do some more general birding and resume our search for owls later. As we set off from the car to head for the visitor centre, one of the group asked about the Woodcock which has been seen recently by the path here. Often it is further back in the trees out of view, but today we were lucky. Just as we were talking about it, we glanced into the bushes and there was the Woodcock less than 10 metres from the path!

6o0a6419Woodcock – great views, feeding by the path at Titchwell

The Woodcock was feeding actively, walking about among the branches and probing its long bill into the wet leaves looking for earthworms and other invertebrates. They are surprisingly large, chunky birds, with very intricate patterning which provides great camouflage. Against the rather dark brown rotting leaves here, this Woodcock’s rusty colouration meant it rather stood out! We watched it for a while as it worked its way further back into the trees and disappeared from view. Given Woodcock are mainly nocturnal, it was great to see one so well, a rare treat.

The feeders by the Visitor Centre held a nice selection of finches, mainly Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch. But in amongst them we managed to find a single female Brambling, which kept flying out of the bushes behind and hovering by one of the feeders, but it seemed reluctant to land. We scanned the alders for redpolls, but all we could find in the trees today were more Goldfinches and Greenfinches.

The Water Rails were more obliging. As we got out onto the main path, one was feeding in the ditch straight ahead of us. We had a great look at it as it walked around nervously out in the open, probing in the dead leaves. A little further along, a second Water Rail was in the ditch on the other side of the path briefly.

6o0a6441Water Rail – feeding in the ditch by the path again

Out of the shelter of the trees, there was a keen cold breeze, so we made our way quickly along the path. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed at the back of the still dry Thornham grazing marsh ‘pool’. The Water Pipit appeared briefly out of the ditch along one side, but flew off behind the reeds before everyone could get onto it. Otherwise, it was very quiet on here again today. The reedbed pool held a single Tufted Duck and a few Mallard.

The water level on the freshmarsh is still rather high, but has now dropped a fraction. We made our way straight round to Parrinder Hide to scan from the comparative warmth inside! There was a nice selection of winter ducks on here today, including several Pintail sleeping in front of the hide. Through the scope, we could see the drakes’ long, pin-shaped tails.

6o0a6460Pintail & Wigeon – sleeping on the freshmarsh

A single Bar-tailed Godwit was bathing on the edge of the mud, and then flew across to join the ducks in the shallower water and preen. A single Black-tailed Godwit dropped in nearby too, and we were able to get a good comparison looking between them  and see the key differences between these rather similar species in winter plumage. A few Knot flew in too and in with them we found a single Ruff (a female, or Reeve), similar sized but longer legged and with distinctive scaly-patterned upperparts.

The thirteen over-wintering Avocet have returned to the freshmarsh, now that the water level has dropped a little. The fenced off island was covered with roosting Lapwing and in one corner were several Golden Plover which had obviously just been bathing and were now preening and flapping. While we watched, another large flock of Golden Plover flew in from the fields and dropped in to join them.

From the other side of Parrinder Hide, we had a look out across the Volunteer Marsh. There was a nice selection of waders in front of the hide here. Several dumpy grey Knot were feeding on the mud just below the windows with a few smaller and browner Dunlin nearby for comparison. A Grey Plover was hard to pick out against the mud until it moved. There were also several Curlew and Redshank.

6o0a6483Knot – in grey winter plumage

Having warmed up in the hide, we decided to make a quick dash out to the beach. On the way, we stopped briefly to admire a Black-tailed Godwit on the mud just below the path on the Volunteer Marsh and a couple of close Little Grebes on the near edge of the tidal pools.

6o0a6507Little Grebe – on the tidal pools

There was a chill in the north-easterly wind out on the beach, so we didn’t want to stay out there long. The tide was out but we had a quick look at the sea from the edge of the dunes. About 30 Velvet Scoter were diving just offshore, hunting for shellfish. We could see the twin white spots of the females, although the young males with them are now looking mostly dark headed. We could see the white in the wings, visible on the flanks of several which were holding their wings loosely and on others as they flapped. The Common Scoter were much further out, probably about 2,000 today, visible as a long black slick spread out across the water.

While we were watching the Velvet Scoter, a couple of Long-tailed Ducks appeared with them briefly. We just had time for a quick look at them through the scope, before they flew off. There were also a few Goldeneye and a pair of Red-breasted Merganser out on the sea today. Then, with the group starting to get cold, we made a quick turnaround and walked back.

After finishing lunch back at the car (the first sitting had been held in Parrinder Hide), we set off again. It was still a bit early for owls, so we had a quick look in the harbour at Thornham first. There was no sign of the Twite here today, but we did find a few waders in the channel – including Black- and Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew. A very obliging pair of Brent Geese fed on the tiny strip of saltmarsh between the road and the boats.

6o0a6535Brent Goose – one of a very obliging pair at Thornham today

A quick look in at Brancaster Staithe produced a few more waders. The highlights were a few Turnstone and Oystercatcher feeding around the piles of discarded mussels. Several Goldeneye were diving down in the harbour channel. Then, with the afternoon progressing, we made our way back west to look for owls again. We stopped off at several regular Barn Owl sites on the way, but with the weather as it was it always seemed unlikely we would encounter too many out hunting before dark. We would need a bit of luck!

There were no Barn Owls out yet at Holkham either. We scanned the freshmarsh for geese too, but all was quiet here apart from a Grey Heron. There are still good numbers of White-fronted Geese here normally, but there was no sign here today. A few hundred metres further down the road we found out why – they were all in a field beside the road! We pulled up with our hazard lights on and had a look at them from the car so as not to flush them. There were more than a hundred White-fronted Geese here, we could see the white around their bills and black belly-barring on the adults, along with a few Greylags.

6o0a6554White-fronted Geese – over a hundred were next to the road at Holkham

A little further along, we found a single Egyptian Goose  in the same field and at Lady Anne’s Drive we stopped to look at a small group of Pink-footed Geese out on the grass. The wind had picked up and it was quite blustery on the coast, so we decided to continue our search inland. We stopped at a set of barns where a pair of Barn Owls roost, but there was no sign of them out hunting yet today, despite it being around the time they usually emerge.

We drove on, round via several more sites where Barn Owls like to hunt. We had just checked out one grassy field, without success, and were driving away when we happened to glance over and caught a glimpse of a white shape through the trees. Reversing carefully, we pulled up in a gateway and could see it was indeed a Barn Owl on a post.

6o0a6573Barn Owl – on a post

There was a convenient path we could walk along to overlook a rather overgrown field which was sheltered on all sides by a belt of trees. From here, we had a great view of the Barn Owl perched on a fence post. Given the wind, it was probably trying to hunt by sight, and it worked its way down along the fence line in short hops, stopping each time to scan the ground below.

Then a second Barn Owl appeared, flying over the field at the back. It landed in a tree further over. While we were watching it, the first Barn Owl then started to hunt more actively, circling round over the field, dropping down into the tall grass from time to time. It came much closer, hunting round into the corner of the field closest to us, great to watch. Eventually, it retreated to the trees where it perched and the second Barn Owl started to hunt over the grass. We watched them both for some time, leaving them only when both had disappeared into the trees to rest.

6o0a6596Barn Owl – eventually started hunting over the field in front of us

These two Barn Owls had obviously found a sheltered field to hunt, which was why they were out here today and showed no inclination to go anywhere else. Great for us. It was already getting on towards Tawny Owl time, but we had a quick swing round via some other meadows where there are often Barn Owls, without further success.

We arrived at the woods just in time. As we got out of the car, we could already hear a Tawny Owl hooting, earlier than normal tonight, possibly due to the grey and overcast skies meaning the light was fading fast. We made our way quickly down to the area where we know one of the Tawny Owls likes to roost, just in time to hear it hooting from the roost trees. At least this meant we knew roughly where it was going to emerge tonight.

After a couple more hoots, the Tawny Owl flew out of the trees and straight towards us. It normally likes to perch up further back first, but perhaps because of the wind, it came further through the trees. It landed on a perch not far from us, but was hard to see against the dark background of ivy-covered trunks. Before we could get it in the scope it took off again, possibly surprised by our presence, and disappeared back into the trees. Then it went silent.

The other Tawny Owls had stopped hooting too, and it seemed for a few minutes like that might be it for tonight. We tried a quick whistled hoot, but got no response. The trees were quiet, but for the raucous coughing of the many Pheasants going to roost in the trees. We were about to give up, but tried one more whistle. Without a sound, a large dark shape came out of the trees behind us and flew over our heads. The Tawny Owl was back!

I had disappeared back into the trees again, but after a few seconds it flew back out and landed in a tree right above us. Once again, the Tawny Owl was frustratingly hard for the group to get onto here, against the ivy in the gloom, despite the fact that it was only a few metres above us. We tried to get it in the scope, but before we could it was off again. Thankfully, this time it flew across the path and landed in a bare tree, silhouetted against the sky. Now everyone could see it. It perched there for some time hooting, before flying back through the trees towards us and landing above us again. Fantastic stuff!

6o0a6632Tawny Owl – perched above our heads, hooting at dusk

The Tawny Owl remained above us hooting for a couple of minutes. At one point it flew across the path, right over our heads, to a tree the other side. It was great to see it overhead, to get a real sense of its large size and broad, rounded wings. Eventually, it dropped back into the trees and was lost to view. It was getting dark as we made our way back to the car, but we still had the evocative hooting of the Tawny Owls from the trees to listen too, a great way to end another very successful Owl Tour.

 

 

3rd March 2016 -Back to North Norfolk

A Private Tour today, in North Norfolk. As a journey east along the coast had already been made earlier in the week, we decided to head west. It was a lovely bright, clear, sunny morning – a perfect day to be out birding.

A request was made to look for Shore Larks. None of the regular wintering birds had been seen for a week, but they have gone missing and then reappeared before, so it was worth a look at least. And Burnham Overy is a great place to walk, with lots of other things to see on the way. We parked at Overy Staithe and could hear the plaintive calls of Grey Plovers as we got out of the car. Two were on the mud in the harbour, looking resplendent in the sunshine, along with several Ringed Plovers. Nearby, in the harbour channel, were a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers.

IMG_8963Red-breasted Merganser – a pair were in the harbour channel

There were lots more waders along the edges of the channel as we walked out along the seawall. As well as more Ringed Plovers and Grey Plovers, there were lots of Redshanks, chasing each other round now and calling, plus a handful of Dunlin. A flock of dark, blackish-brown Turnstones wheeled round landed on the sandbank and in amongst them a very pale silvery grey wader was a single Sanderling.

IMG_9134Grey Plover – there were plenty along the edges of the harbour channel

There are normally a few godwits here too, but there was no sign of any out on the mud this morning. Predictably, the Black-tailed Godwits were out on the wet grass the other side of the seawall, feeding in amongst the flocks of Wigeon and Brent Geese. Several of them are now just starting to get their first brighter orange feathers of summer plumage. More surprisingly, the Bar-tailed Godwits were out on the grass as well today – they normally prefer the salty mud. It had rained hard overnight and there were actually lots of waders around the pools and puddles – lots of Curlew, a big flock of Dunlin and a single Ruff – which were all spooked repeatedly and whirled round in the sky before landing back down.

The Brent Geese were commuting between the harbour channel, the reedbed pool and the grazing marshes. A large group of them settled quite close to the seawall, so we stopped for a quick scan through them. It didn’t take long to find the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent hybrid in with them. Even looking into the sun, we could see that it was sporting a much more obvious, more solid white flank patch and bolder white collar than the regular Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Up close, through the scope, we could see that its back and belly were subtly darker than the others, but not black enough to be a pure Black Brant. This bird has been returning to the same fields here every winter for several years now and can normally be found in with the Brent flocks here, a pitfall for the unwary.

IMG_8974Black Brant hybrid – in with the regular wintering Dark-bellied Brents

Further out towards the dunes, we could see a Red Kite circling lazily. It flushed the large flock of Golden Plovers lurking out in the grass and they whirled round, catching the sun and flashing alternately dark and white as they turned. The Red Kite landed and we could see there was a second bird already down on the ground. A third Red Kite was flying along the dunes to the west, out towards Gun Hill. The sunny weather was presumably getting the raptors out.

As we got out through the dunes to the beach, we stopped for a quick scan of the sea. A couple of Great Crested Grebes were already coming into summer plumage, but the Red-throated Diver was not, still very white-faced in its winter garb. A couple more Red-throated Divers flew past distantly. The beach was looking stunning in the early spring sunshine and, even better, as we turned to make our way west we had it all to ourselves at first – a magical place to be.

P1170726Burnham Overy – we had the beach to ourselves at first

As we walked along the beach, we could hear Pink-footed Geese calling from out towards the saltmarsh and a skein of about 150 birds appeared in the sky from behind the dunes. The numbers of Pink-footed Geese have already dropped substantially, with the peak here for the winter normally between November and early February. Many have already departed on their way further north, where they will stop off to feed up before continuing on to Iceland for the summer. These birds seemed to be on their way, taking advantage of the weather, as they flew out over Scolt Head Island towards the sea.

P1170730Pink-footed Geese – on their way back towards Iceland after the winter

There were quite a few waders up on the top of the beach, roosting around the high tide line. Several Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings flew off down towards the shore as we walked along. Then we noticed a couple of smaller birds picking around the piles of dead seaweed and saltmarsh vegetation ahead of us and a quick look confirmed they were Snow Buntings.

We edged our way towards them so we could get a better look. Snow Buntings can be remarkably tame if approached with care and not startled and these were no exception. We eventually found six of them today, four together here and another two further along. As we stood quietly, they made their way quietly right towards us. Great birds!

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IMG_9129Snow Buntings – six were on the beach today

We watched the Snow Buntings feeding along the edge of the dunes for some time. Eeventually we had to tear ourselves away, as some dog walkers were approaching behind us and we wanted to explore the rest of the beach before it got disturbed. Despite being first out along the beach, there was no sign of the Shore Larks here again today. They were getting moved about constantly by dogs and people last time we saw them, so perhaps it is no surprise they have chosen somewhere quieter to feed or moved on already. Out in the harbour channel from beyond Gun Hill we could see several more Red-breasted Mergansers and a single Goldeneye. A flock of waders roosting on the mud beyond was mostly Grey Plovers and Dunlins but with a couple of Knot in there too.

On the walk back, there were even more raptors up than there had been on the way out. As well as several Red Kites still, there were numerous Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards circling in the clear blue sky. In the harbour channel, normal service was resumed as the Bar-tailed Godwits flew back out onto the mud. A Mediterranean Gull flew over calling, and we managed to pick it out high in the sky, flashing its pure white wing tips as it circled.

We made a brief stop at Brancaster Staithe on our way past, as we continued on our way west. As usual, there was a good selection of waders around the harbour. Several Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding along the waters edge and a single Black-tailed Godwit was on the mud nearby. Turnstones were running around the car park between the cars. More surprising was a single Common Snipe in one of the muddy channels. Further over, towards Scolt Head, three more Red Kites were spiralling up on the edge of the water. We often get a movement of Red Kites along the coast on warm days in the spring, and it seemed like this was happening today.

IMG_9143Siskin – managed to find a place on the busy feeders

After lunch at Titchwell, we walked out onto the reserve. The feeders around the visitor centre were packed with finches, as usual. A couple of Siskin managed to find a space on the feeders in front, amongst all the Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches. Round on the other side of the visitor centre, a female Brambling was hiding in the tree above the feeders there, before dropping down briefly grabbing a seed and disappearing back into the bushes to eat it.

The Water Rail was in its usual place in the ditch beside the main path. It was slightly hidden from view at first, lurking under the overhanging vegetation at the back, but gradually worked up the courage to come out into view, digging around in the damp rotting leaves. A Song Thrush flew down and started feeding nearby too.

P1170760Water Rail – in its usual ditch

There were lots of pipits and quite a few Pied Wagtails around the still dried-up grazing meadow ‘pool’ today. Most of the pipits were Rock Pipits, oily green above and dirty below, so we had a good look at a couple of those first. Then we found a single cleaner, whiter Water Pipit towards the back. We got it in the scope and had three different pipits together at one point, as well as Water and Rock, a single Meadow Pipit walked into the same view as well!

While we were admiring the pipits, we could hear a Kingfisher calling from the reeds right in front of us. It was a devil of a job to see at first, although it perched up in a tangle where we could just get onto it through the swaying reeds in front. Eventually, it flew out of the reeds, across the path and perched up in full view in a bush on the edge of the main reedbed briefly, before flying away down one of the channels.

P1170802Kingfisher – hiding in the reeds

There was a bit more activity on the reedbed pool today. As well as the regular Greylag Geese and Coot, there was a small group of Tufted Ducks at the back and a single female Common Pochard diving in front of them. Three Red-crested Pochards swam out from behind the reeds, the two drakes now looking particularly replendent with their bright orange punk haircuts and coral red bills. A single Great Crested Grebe in smart summer plumage swam out from the reeds as well.

Out on the freshmarsh, the water level is still very low and the management work is now underway. One of the islands is being fenced in to protect the breeding Avocets from mammalian predators, having not raised a successful brood here for the last two years. With all the disturbance, there was still a remarkable number of birds on here, although much quieter than normal. As well as a smattering of ducks, mainly Teal and Gadwall, there were big flocks of Golden Plover and Dunlin out on the exposed mud.

Given all the disturbance, we moved swiftly on to look at the Volunteer Marsh. As well as lots of Redshank, Curlew and Shelduck plus several Grey Plover and a couple of Ringed Plovers, much as usual, a couple of Black-tailed Godwit were feeding in the channel right by the path. It was great to see them up close. A little further along, three Avocets were doing the same.

P1170836Black-tailed Godwit – starting to show a few orange summer feathers

Out on the Tidal Pools, there were several Bar-tailed Godwits and we spent a little time looking at the differences between the two species. At one point, we even managed to get Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit in the same view together, providing a really  good opportunity to compare them. There was also a nice close Knot, dumpy and grey, a much better view than the ones we had seen distantly earlier. Further along, there were not as many ducks on the pools today, just a couple of female Pintail and a single Goldeneye.

IMG_9172Bar-tailed Godwit – several were on the Tidal Pools

The tide was still quite high out on the beach. A quick scan of the sea revealed four Common Scoters fairly close inshore so we got those in the scope first to have a good look at them. Further out, a long slick of black on the sea revealed itself to be several hundred more Common Scoters diving offshore for shellfish. There were lots of Great Crested Grebes still out on the water, but mostly a long way out given the fairly calm conditions today, but no sign of any other grebes off here today.

On the walk back, we spotted a Barn Owl hunting distantly over the back of the reedbed by the east bank. It perched on the top of a post for a few seconds so we could get it in the scope. Further along, another distant Barn Owl appeared, way over towards Thornham village. It was only when we were almost back to the visitor centre that we found a closer Barn Owl – there is usually one hunting over the grazing meadow here late in the day. It did a quick circuit of the grass, dropping down to the ground at one point, before landing on one of the fence posts.

IMG_9181Barn Owl – hunting over the grazing meadow as usual

It had clouded over by this stage, late in the afternoon, but we had enjoyed such fabulous weather for most of the day, so we couldn’t complain. We wanted to make a quick circuit round the back of Titchwell to look for Rough-legged Buzzards, hoping that they might be out hunting here. The birds which have spent much of the winter around Choseley had not been reported for almost a week now, but one had been seen over the reserve earlier in the morning. When something has not been reported for a day or two, people often stop looking, so we reasoned they may still be in the area.

As we drove up past the drying barns,we stopped to scan the fields. There are always lots of Brown Hares here, but at this time of day they were all busy feeding rather than boxing. While we were looking at one, the head of a Grey Partridge appeared out of the winter wheat behind it – we could see its orange face. There was no shortage of black and white-faced Red-legged Partridges up here too, the lucky ones which have managed to survive the shooting season.

We swung round onto Chalkpit Lane and stopped to scan the trees where the Rough-legged Buzzards had liked to perch through the winter. Bingo! There was a Rough-legged Buzzard! We hopped out of the car and got it in the scope quickly, noting its very pale whitish head and contrasting blackish belly patch. Then it dropped out of the hedge and flew low across the field and over the road in front of us. We could see its very white tail with a clear black terminal band as it swooped down at something in the field. It flew along the hedge for some way, before disappearing over the other side and out of view. Fantastic stuff, a great way to end the day.

Rough-legged Buzzard Choseley 2016-01-06_1Rough-legged Buzzard – here’s one from earlier in the winter

There was still one surprise in store for us. As we drove up along Chalkpit Lane towards the main road, we could see a funny shape in the middle of the road in front of us. It was not dissimilar in size to a partridge, but was clearly the wrong shape. As we got closer we could see it was a Woodcock! We slowed down and it walked up into the verge as we pulled up right alongside. It was clearly rather surprised, because it stood in the grass for several seconds only a metre or so from the car. Stunning. Then it came to its senses and flew up and over the hedge.

We headed for home, with another Barn Owl on the way back rounding things off nicely.

19th June 2015 – Day & Night Birds

A Summer Tour today, to look for Birds of Prey in the morning and head up to the coast for some more general birding in the afternoon.

We started by heading inland, meandering through the farmland behind the coast. We hadn’t gone very far when we spotted our first Red Kite drifting over the road. We pulled in at a convenient spot and watched as it circled right overhead. It was a very tatty individual – very often this is down to wear and moult, but this bird had some interesting looking holes in some of its feathers! When we scanned the skies around us, we could see several Common Buzzards starting to circle up as well.

P1020234Red Kite – a very tatty bird drifted over the road

We continued on our way, and our next unscheduled stop was to admire a Little Owl perched in a gnarled old tree by the road. It eyed us warily at first, but seemed happy as long as we remained at a discrete distance in the car.

P1020283Little Owl – watching us from an oak tree, watching it from the car

It seemed to be a morning for owls, probably because they have young to feed and that forces them to hunt during daylight hours at times (there aren’t so many daylight hours either, as we approach the shortest day). Further on, we came across a Barn Owl hunting along the verge of the road, which disappeared over the hedge as it finally saw us in front of it. Then we spotted yet another Little Owl, this time perched on an old barn, sunning itself. It seemed a bit more wary, and flew off when we stopped.

Having enjoyed some great birds on our drive, our first walk of the day took us along an overgrown farm track. Several warblers were still singing from the high hedges – Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs and even a couple of Willow Warblers. We could also hear the plaintive piping of Bullfinches calling from the bushes. There were lots of Yellowhammers singing too, though they were hard to see from down in the lane. As we got out into more open fields, we could see them more easily, flying back and forth.

From up on the high ground, there was a good selection of raptors on view – lots more Common Buzzards, particularly as the sun came out briefly and the temperature lifted accordingly. A Sparrowhawk circled up out of the wood. Several Common Kestrels flew back and forth.

P1020251Common Buzzard – we saw lots circling up this morning

We saw several butterflies along the track too, particularly large numbers of Speckled Wood. A single Painted Lady was resting on a bare patch of ground – there have been lots of these migrant butterflies around in recent days. We also had to watch where we walked, to avoid stepping on the large number of Bloody-nosed Beetles walking on the track. A Brown Hare surprised a Red-legged Partridge and gave itself a bit of a shock.

We headed back to the car and drove back the way we had come. The Little Owl was back on the old barn again. This time it less us pull up alongside it, perching for a time on an old window frame, looking at us nervously, before flying off inside. Quite a haul of owls for the morning!

P1020321Little Owl – our second of the morning, on an old barn

We moved on to another site, where we parked with a good view of the surrounding countryside. There were lots of Linnets perching on the overhead wires and dropping to feed on the ground below. A Mistle Thrush perched up as well. A Lesser Whitethroat appeared in the hedge right beside the car, feeding unobtrusively deep in the bushes but occasionally working its way to the outside briefly.  As we parked, we flushed a pair of Grey Partridge from close by, which disappeared into the long grass. We could hear another pair calling from the field, further over.

Several Marsh Harriers quartered the fields or circled overhead. One in particularly suddenly swooped down to some thickish vegetation and two Grey Partridge leapt out. Whether there were young birds in there we couldn’t see, but the Marsh Harrier stooped at the ground a couple of times, with the partridges seemingly defending it or themselves. The Marsh Harrier then landed on the ground nearby and a hen Pheasant appeared from the undergrowth as well. The Pheasant stared at the harrier in a stand-off for a minute or two before the Marsh Harrier finally flew off.

IMG_5692Marsh Harrier – landed on the ground after a altercation with some partridges

We had hoped to find Turtle Doves here, but the area of dense, overgrown hedges which they traditionally favour has recently been burnt (by the farmer burning some old straw bales). We did see a couple of Turtle Doves which flew past, but they didn’t stop and not all the group got onto them.

From there we drove down to Cley, and spent the afternoon on the reserve. Even from the Visitor Centre we could see several large shapes out on Simmond’s Scrape. From Dauke’s Hide we could see they were Spoonbills and doing what Spoonbills like to do most – sleeping! A closer look through the scope confirmed that there were three whiter juveniles and one buffier-coloured adult. We could also see the shorter, fleshy bills of the juveniles and the yellow-tipped bill of the adult when they occasionally stirred.

IMG_5700Spoonbills – three short-billed, whiter juveniles

A little later, another adult Spoonbill flew in and dropped down onto the scrape. One of the juveniles immediately awoke and set off towards it. It started bouncing its head up and down and raising its wings as it did so. It pursued the adult backwards and forwards across the scrape in this fashion, relentlessly. The poor adult had no chance. Eventually it gave in and fed the youngster, opening its bill and regurgitating food into the juvenile Spoonbills bill.

IMG_5765Spoonbills – this adult was pursued relentlessly by the juvenile to be fed

There were other things to see on the scrapes as well. Lots of Little Gulls today, at least 6 on Pat’s Pool, again all were 1st summer birds. Some were paler headed than others, the birds differing in the degree to which they had acquired the black hood of summer adults.

IMG_5714IMG_5752Little Gulls – six 1st summers at Cley today, with differing amounts of black

There was also a good selection of waders on show. Lots of Avocets, many still on the nest. About 30 Black-tailed Godwits dropped in. Several Little Ringed Plovers tried to hide on the islands. But the highlight was two Greenshank which flew in, one in summer plumage with dark streaking around the head and breast, and the other much paler.

We headed out to the East Bank next. There were a couple of Little Egrets along the pools by the path, and several Grey Herons as well, both adults and grey-headed juveniles. Out on the flooded grazing marsh, there were plenty of Redshanks and Lapwings, the latter in particular chasing off anything and everything that moved. There were Avocets too – they were most vocal when a 1st summer Great Black-backed Gull flew overhead, and they rose up and attempted to chase it away. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits was dozing on the bank of the Serpentine and more were out on the pools further over. There were not so many ducks as in recent weeks, but we did find a few Teal and a little group of Tufted Duck, all asleep in the grass.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, we could see lots of terns out on the islands. A large group of Sandwich Terns were loafing. A single Little Tern was asleep and another was fishing, hovering over the main drainage channel. There were a few waders as well. In particular a good flock of almost 30 Knot – they were in grey winter-type plumage (probably 1st summer birds), so not living up to their proper name of ‘Red Knot‘. There were also three Bar-tailed Godwit hiding amongst the islands – it was interesting to compare them with the Black-tailed Godwits we had just seen. Waders are on the move already and while we were standing there we could hear Curlew calling. A flock of 13 Curlew flew west over our heads together with a moulting adult Bar-tailed Godwit. Is this a sign that autumn is coming?

P1020330Reed Bunting – lots were still singing around the reedbeds today

We got good views of the main small reedbed dwellers as we walked round – Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting. But what we really wanted to see was a Bearded Tit. We could hear them calling as we walked out and while we looked through all the waders and terns, but we didn’t manage to get a good look at one. Only as we turned to head back did a Bearded Tit fly up out of the main reedbed and it carried on over the East Bank in front of us and dropped down into the reedy ditch on the other side. That was good, but we thought this was our chance to see it really well, so we waited for it to reappear. Needless to say, there was no sign of it. It was only when we had given up that it popped up and sat in the tops of the reeds behind us – we turned around and saw it perched there, a very smart moustachioed male Bearded Tit.

That seemed like a good way to finish, so we headed back to the car. As we walked back by the road, a juvenile Spoonbill flew over from the reserve and seemed to drop down towards the Serpentine. Then an adult appeared in the sky as well, but it dropped down onto the pools in front of us where it stopped to have a drink. We had a good look at it close up, before it took off again and it too headed for the Serpentine.

P1020359Spoonbill – dropped in for a quick drink…

P1020363…then flew off towards the Serpentine to feed

Nightjar Evening

After a break to rest and get something to eat, we met up again in the evening to go out and look for owls and nightjars. We had pretty much avoided any rain in the day, despite a slightly gloomy forecast, but as we arrived later on the light drizzle started. It seemed inauspicious for owls.

We drove round some regular Barn Owl locations, but there seemed to be no sign of any tonight. We stopped to listen to a Song Thrush singing from the trees. The rain was only very light, so we decided to walk out anyway onto the marshes. It was a good job we did.

We had not gone very far when we spotted our first Barn Owl, a male out hunting. Shortly afterwards, a second bird appeared much closer, a female this time. We watched them silently quartering the grazing marshes. The male dropped into the grass and came up with a vole, and he proceeded to fly back to a nest box with it and present it to presumably some juveniles inside. A further one or two birds appeared from behind us – presumably this is rich hunting territory, pulling in birds from around the area. We were treated to a great display of Barn Owls out hunting.

IMG_5785Barn Owl – one of at least 3-4 out hunting this evening

The local Marsh Harriers were also still out quartering the marshes. And while we watched them and the owls, we picked up at least three individual Spoonbills flying along the coast, presumably heading off to roost.

It would normally have still been a bit early to go looking for Nightjars, but the dull conditions meant it was darker than it would normally have been, so we decided to head up to the Heath anyway. Lucky that we did. As we walked out across the heath, we bumped into one of the locals who had located a male Nightjar roosting in a tree. We walked over to it and had great views of him in the scope before it even started to get properly dark. Stunning! After a while, still before any Nightjars would normally be awake, he headed off to another perch further over to start churring.

IMG_5798Nightjar – great views of a bird early on this evening

There were also Woodcock roding overhead pretty much constantly, making their distinctive squeaky flight call and we could even hear the quieter grunting as they passed low overhead. Then the male Nightjar returned to where he had been roosting and sat back down on the branch. Shortly afterwards, a second male Nightjar started churring nearby. This prompted the first male to respond, and he flew back in close to us, calling and displaying with the distinctive flicking wing action. He flew round above us several times. As the gloom descended, what was presumably a female flew in as well.

It was an all-action Nightjar evening, with great views of the birds despite what seemed initially like very inopportune weather conditions. Then it was time to retire to bed – happy.