Tag Archives: Woodcock

16th Feb 2019 – Last Orders for Owls

An Owl Tour today, the last one we have planned for this owling season. It was cloudy and cool first thing, but while it remained stubbornly grey for most of the day it was mild and dry with light winds. A very pleasant day to be out again.

After several dry nights with no frost – good hunting weather for owls – we worried that the Barn Owls might not be as hungry now and might have reverted to going to roost really early in the morning. When we arrived down at the marshes, we couldn’t see any Barn Owls out at first.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming in the wood behind us and one or two Skylarks started singing, making it feel almost like spring again. The first Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds and a large flock of Curlew came up off the nearest meadow calling.

We walked out along the path, to check if anything might still be on the front of the owl box, but it was all quiet there. Then we spotted a Barn Owl flying across, out in the middle of the marshes behind the reeds. It seemed to be making a beeline for the meadow in the top corner, so we hurried up to intercept it.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – still out hunting over the grazing marshes

The Barn Owl was rather distant at first, hunting over the back of the grass, but we watched it patrolling with slow wingbeats, looking down for any potential prey, occasionally stopping to hover and dropping down once or twice, seemingly without success. It was doing circuits around the field and a couple of times it did a flypast round the front where we could get a good look at it.

Then we noticed a second Barn Owl had appeared a little further back, a paler bird. We watched the two of them hunting over the same field for a while. Then the second Barn Owl flew round to the front of the field, straight past us, and away along the line of reeds below the bank. We had a great view of it as it passed by. It was flying very purposefully, heading back towards the road, possibly on its way to roost.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – flew right past us as it headed in to roost

We turned our attention back to the first Barn Owl, which was still flying round over the same field. It eventually worked its way back and disappeared behind some reeds. Two Barn Owls out hunting – a great start!

There were a few Canada Geese feeding down in the grass. As we turned to go, a couple of Greylag Geese flew over, honking noisily. Just behind them, we noticed a little group of smaller geese following behind. Head on, we could see a distinctive band of white around the base of their bills and, as they turned to head past us, black barring on their bellies. They were Russian White-fronted Geese, ten of them. We watched them fly off west.

White-fronted Goose

Russian White-fronted Geese – four of the ten which flew over us this morning

We decided to head inland to try our luck with Little Owls next. At our first stop, overlooking some farm buildings, we couldn’t see any owls but we did flush a Green Sandpiper from a muddy puddle by the road as we pulled up. As it flew up, we could see its white tail contrasting with dark slate coloured wings and back. The second place we checked didn’t produce any Little Owls either. There was no sunshine this morning for them to sit out in and there was a slight freshness to the light breeze still, before the day had had a chance to warm up.

Our third stop was a little more successful. As we pulled up we could see a distant Little Owl perched on the edge of a barn roof, but by the time we had all got out of the van it had flown off and looked to have disappeared in. We got the scope on the barn and realised we could still just see it, half hidden under the cowl on the top of the roof, just visible as a silhouetted dome of a head. It was a long way off, so we walked up the track towards the end of the farm buildings for a closer look.

From half way up the track, we got a much better look at the Little Owl. It was looking straight at us, and we could see its eyes, then it turned back to face the other way and we could see the false eye pattern on the back of its head. We walked up to the end of the track and realised we couldn’t see it from this angle, and when we walked back again it had gone in.

Little Owl

Little Owl – hiding under the roof

As we made our way back to the van, we stopped to look at a rough grass meadow which was full of Starlings and Fieldfares feeding amongst the molehills. Then we noticed a pale shape on one of the fence posts at the back of the field – another Barn Owl. We got it in the scope and had a look at it, as it looked round and scanned the ground below the post. Then it took off and flew away over the farm buildings beyond.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – perched on a fence post on our way back to the van

From here, we made our way further inland to see if the Tawny Owl was showing on the front of its tree hole again this morning. As we walked in through the gates, there were more birds singing here. Song Thrush, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Robin and Dunnock could all be heard in the trees around us.

Looking up into the top of a large ash tree, there was the Tawny Owl in its usual spot. We had a quick look from where we were and then made our way over a bit closer and found an angle where we could minimise the branches across in front of it. The Tawny Owl is very high in the tree and obviously used to people moving around below. It was a bit more awake than usual today, perched more on the edge of the hole and with its eyes half open. We had a fantastic view of it through the scope.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – in its usual hole high in the tree

Everyone agreed it was well worth the diversion to come here to see the Tawny Owl. It has been one of the highlights of our searches for owls in recent weeks and due thanks must go to the finder, who was kind enough to let us know about it and thus allow people to come and see it.

Moving on, we made our way across to the Wash. There were not many ducks again on the pits at Snettisham as we made our way in, but we did see a redhead Goosander which flew off over the pools as we arrived. The tide was just on its way in when we got to the seawall, and it was not due to be a big high tide today anyway, so there was a vast expanse of exposed mud still. The waders were all very distant and there was quite a bit of misty haze out over the Wash, which meant even the Lincolnshire coast was well hidden.

There were a few waders on the mud in front of Rotary Hide. A couple of close Grey Plover and a few Redshanks in the small pools. Just across the channel, we could see a scattering of Dunlin.

Our main target here was Short-eared Owl. Someone else had just seen one, in a slightly different place to where we normally find them, so we stopped to look at that one first. It was roosting in a fairly open patch of grass, with just a few strands of bramble in front. When we first got the scope on it, it was more awake and we could see its bright yellow eyes. Then it went back to sleep.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – the first of two here today

We continued on a little further, to where we normally find one or two Short-eared Owls. There was no sign of the most regular one in its favoured spot – it has been increasingly erratic here in recent weeks. We did find a second Short-eared Owl though, in another regular spot, very well hidden in some deep brambles. It was hard to see even through the scope until you got your eye in, or until it moved, a much more sensible roosting spot!

It was a bit later than we are here normally now, but rather than stop to eat at Snettisham, the draw of the facilities at Titchwell was too great and the prospect of a hot drink. As we made our way out, a Ringed Plover was displaying over the beach, flying round and round with stiff bat-like wing beats.

We were even further delayed on the way. As we drove through Old Hunstanton, we noticed a shape perched on a road sign right next to the busy A149 coast road. It was a Barn Owl! It was perched on the top, seemingly completely unfazed by the traffic thundering past within a couple of metres.

Barn Owl 4

Barn Owl – perched on a road sign right by the busy A149

We pulled up opposite the Barn Owl, both to have a look ourselves and to try to alert the cars to its presence. If it took off, it could quite easily fly straight into a passing vehicle. It still stayed there, looking round, for a minute or two. Eventually, it flew off over the hedge and then as we pulled away it came back round across the road again.

So it was a late lunch by the time we finally got to Titchwell. There were a few birds coming and going from the feeders as usual – a selection of finches and tits. After a quick bite to eat, we set out to see if the Barn Owls were out here again. Earlier in the week they were out every afternoon, at just this time, but we couldn’t find any sign of them today. Perhaps they were less hungry now and there was not such a pressing need to hunt through the day. A Water Rail was in the ditch next to the main path, so we stopped for a good look at that instead.

Water Rail

Water Rail – in the ditch by the main path again

There was not much activity around the reedbed today – a couple of distant Marsh Harriers out over Brancaster marsh beyond and no ducks at all today on the reedbed pool.

The Freshmarsh is full of water at the moment, so there are not many places for waders to roost or feed. The Avocets are starting to return already and there were at least 40 there today. They looked slightly out of place, with many of them bobbing up and down as they swam in the deep water – not exactly a typical resting place for a wader! A few lucky ones had found the top of one of the sunken islands which they could reach to stand on.

Avocet

Avocets – some of the 40+ on the Freshmarsh

Otherwise, there were just a few ducks and geese on the Freshmarsh today. A flock of Brent Geese had dropped in to bathe and preen, and flew off past us, heading back to the winter wheat field back by the entrance road. There wasn’t enough time to explore the whole reserve today, but we thought we could swing round via Patsy’s Reedbed on our way back to see if there was any sign of a Barn Owl round that side.

On the way along Meadow Trail, we stopped to look at the Woodcock which was still in exactly the same place it has been for the last few days. It was very hard to see if you didn’t know exactly where it was, down under a tangle of branches and trunks deep in the sallows, but it was slightly easier to get the scope on it today. It was head on and you could see its long bill, large eyes and the black bars on the top of its head.

Woodcock

Woodcock – roosting in its usual place again today

There was no sign of any Barn Owls out at Patsy’s Reedbed either, but there was a bit more Marsh Harrier activity now, with three chasing each other low over the reeds. Several Common Snipe were asleep in the cut reeds at the front, in with the Teal and Mallard.

As we drove back east along the coast road, we were alerted to the presence of another Barn Owl in one of the usual spots by a photographer with a large lens resting it on a gate. The owl was perched on a post over towards the back of the meadow. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to stop here so we decided to continue on.

We thought we would try our luck with the Little Owls again, despite the fact that it was still rather grey this afternoon and the afternoon light was already starting to fade. It was unseasonably mild though – reaching over 12C this afternoon, not a typical February temperature! We diverted inland and round by several of the same spots we had tried this morning. The warm temperature was not enough to tempt the owls though and there was no sign of any.

By the time we got to our last stop of the day, it was already dusk. There was no sign of the Barn Owl here again, which we had seen so many times this year. It was impossible to tell this evening whether it has started to venture further afield to hunt now, whether it has already been out and had gone back into the box, or whether it is no longer roosting here. Not to worry today, as we had enjoyed great views of several Barn Owls already today, but one for further investigation when we have a bit more time. We walked down through the trees to the lake, but there was no sign of it over the meadows the other side either.

We had really come here to end the day listening to the Tawny Owls and as we walked back into the trees one started hooting. As we made our way over to where it was calling, we could hear it hooting repeatedly. It was further back in the trees and we couldn’t see it in the tangle of branches in the gloom, although we had one brief glimpse as it flew further back.

We stood and listened to the Tawny Owl for a while. It switched from the full three-part hoot to a single hoot and the female responded. Then we could just hear the male giving a low bubbling call, a courtship call when the female is close by and just audible to us on the edge of the wood. It is that time of the year and the pair will hopefully be getting ready for the breeding season now.

Another male Tawny Owl then started hooting back behind us. It was late getting going again tonight, and it was already getting dark. We heard it hooting several times as we made our way back to the van to head for home, a good way to end the day.

 

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14th Feb 2019 – Owls for Two

A Private Owl Tour today. After a chilly start with a light frost, it was a glorious bright sunny day with blue skies and light winds. Great weather to be out looking for owls.

It was a slightly late start by the time we got away, so we headed straight down to the marshes. There were birds singing in the trees at the back as we got out of the van, particularly a Song Thrush one side and a Mistle Thrush the other. It almost felt like spring!

Thankfully the Barn Owls were still out hunting this morning. The first one we spotted was a long way off across the marshes. When we first saw it, it looked to be heading in to roost, flying direct and determinedly over the reeds. But it dropped down and landed on a post, where we could just see it in the scope through the reeds. It stayed there for ages – it didn’t seem to be hunting particularly, so perhaps it was just enjoying the morning sunshine.

A huge flock of Pink-footed Geese flew in calling behind us, numbering several thousand, in long lines. It was quite a sight. As they approached, they split into two. The largest group circled round over the marshes and landed out in middle. The rest peeled off and headed over in the direction of the marshes at Cley, where they too dropped down. Perhaps they had been disturbed from the field inland where they had gone to feed.

The Marsh Harriers started to appear as it began to warm up a bit. At first we could see one or two patrolling over the reeds. Then several started to circle up higher together out over the middle of the marshes. A buzzard appeared with them, and as it turned we caught a flash of a white tail. But when we tried to get the scope on it, it disappeared, presumably down behind the reeds.

When it circled up again and our suspicions were confirmed – it was a Rough-legged Buzzard. As well as the white tail with a clear black band at the end, we could see its pale head and dark belly. It circled with the March Harriers, at least five of them together now, and one or two of the harriers started to swoop at the Rough-legged Buzzard, presumably trying to drive it away. Eventually, it had enough and drifted off west and out of view. An unexpected bonus to see one here!

The Barn Owl took off and started hunting again, though still distant. It landed on another post and a second Barn Owl appeared hunting just behind it. We watched them for a while but there was no sign of them coming in to roost, which might have brought them closer. Presumably they are hungry now and were trying to take advantage of the weather to stay out hunting as long as possible.

With the air starting to warm up now, we decided to head inland to look for Little Owls. It seemed like it might be a good morning for them and at the first set of farm buildings we checked, we found two perched on the roof in the sunshine. They were rather distant, but through the scope we could see they were puffed up like balls of fluff.

Little Owl 1

Little Owl – one of the pair perched up at our first stop

At the second barns we checked, we couldn’t see one out today, but a little further on we did find another Little Owl. This one was a bit closer, but we were looking into the sun – the disadvantage of the better weather! We checked out another site with no reward, so we headed back round to see if we could get a slightly better angle of one of the ones we had seen out. Eventually we found a spot from where we could see one of the first Little Owls slightly closer, but the sun was still proving to be a bit of a problem.

Moving on, we drove further inland to look for the Tawny Owl which likes to perch at the entrance to its tree hole in the daytime. As we got out of the van and walked in, more birds were singing in the trees – a couple of Chaffinches, a Great Tit, a Treecreeper. A Nuthatch was piping and we found it high in the branches of a bare tree.

The Tawny Owl was in its usual spot, high in the tree at the entrance it its hole, dozing. Through the scope we had fill-the-frame views of it – well worth the drive round this way to see it.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual tree again today

Moving on again, we drove west towards the Wash. The main road was closed due to an accident, which required a bit of a diversion across country, but we eventually arrived at Snettisham.

There were not so many ducks today on the pits as we made our way in. When we got up onto the seawall, it was almost high tide but it was not a big tide today so there was still a big area of open mud uncovered. A large flock of Golden Plover was roosting out on the Wash, and as we watched something spooked them. They whirled round, flashing dark and white in the sun, taking lots of Lapwing up with them.

Waders

Waders – whirling round in the sunshine out on the Wash

Lots of Oystercatchers were roosting along the water’s edge. Looking at one group of them through the scope, we could see a line of smaller dumpy grey Knot busy feeding just in front of them. There were several groups of Bar-tailed Godwits too, and one individual stood out, already moulting into summer plumage, bright rusty orange below.

Further back, out in the shallow water, a large group of white birds turned out to be Avocets, at least 80 of them, the most we have seen here for some time. With more at Titchwell as well in the last few days, it seems they are starting to return already, ahead of the breeding season.

Continuing on down to Rotary Hide, there were a few more waders on the nearer mud just in front. We had a look at a little group of small Dunlin, busy feeding on the mud. A close Grey Plover was standing motionless in one of the small pools and a Redshank was more actively feeding in the water next to it.

Our main target here today was Short-eared Owl, so we made our way round to look for them. The usual one was not in its regular roosting spot under the brambles, but with a careful scan, we quickly found a different one, half hidden in the top of the brambles. We had a quick look at that one, and then noticed a second Short-eared Owl, much easier to see a bit further along. We could see its yellow eyes. It was unusually active, stretching, preening and looking round.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of three roosting here today

As if that wasn’t enough, we then found a third Short-eared Owl roosting even further along, in a regular spot. It was very well hidden today, deep in the brambles, and if we didn’t know to look there we might well not have seen it at all.

It was time for lunch now, but rather than eat here we decided to head round to Titchwell to use the facilities there and get a hot drink. As we made our way back out of Snettisham, we finally spotted a pair of Goldeneye on the pits, the male showing off its glossy green head and white cheek patch.

While we ate at the picnic tables by the visitor centre at Titchwell, we kept an eye on the feeders. There were several Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and tits coming and going. After a while a smart male Brambling dropped out of the bushes onto the ground in front. Fortunately we had all had a good look at it before a gas gun bird scarer in the field next door then went off, and flushed everything. Perhaps the local farmer had put it there deliberately to disturb the birds!

Brambling

Brambling – dropped down to feed on the ground in front of the feeders

As we were just finishing lunch, we popped into the visitor centre to check the sightings board. We were just asking what the Barn Owls were up to when one of the volunteers looked out of the door the other side and announced one was over the grazing meadow. Now! We raced straight round and there it was, hunting out over the long grass and sedges.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – the first of the afternoon at Titchwell

The Barn Owl landed on a post, but by the time we had raced back to the van and got the scope it was off again. Thankfully it seemed to be in a bit of a routine and after a few minutes it flew back to the fence. This time it landed on a post very close to us and through the scope we had fill the frame views. We could see all the little eye spots over its head and back. A much better view than the two we had seen early this morning!

The first Barn Owl took off and started hunting again. While we were watching that one, a second Barn Owl appeared right in front of us. The two of them worked backwards and forwards over the grass for a bit and then both of them landed on two fence posts. They seemed to be largely ignoring each other, but when the second owl took off again, it did fly over and hover low over the first for a couple of seconds.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owls – a second one appeared and the two of them landed on the fenceposts

We watched the two Barn Owls hunting for over half an hour, transfixed. We had some very close views as they worked their way round the field, on occasion coming across close in front of us, hovering. We saw them drop down into the grass on several occasions, but we didn’t see either of them actually catch anything.

Barn Owl 4

Barn Owl – hovered in front of us

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – dropped down into the grass several times

Eventually one of the two Barn Owls disappeared, and we watched the other one working its way further back along the edge of the field. It was still a good view through the scope, even there, but we had been spoiled with the earlier performance. We decided to have a walk out onto the reserve.

A quick look in the ditches beside the path produced a Water Rail picking through the rotting leaves in the bottom under the overhanging branches.

There were several Marsh Harriers up over the back of the reedbed. We could see lots of ducks and geese on the reedbed pool so we stopped for a look. Five Red-crested Pochard were swimming around in the middle, diving, including four drakes with bright red bills and orange punk haircuts. They had just returned to the reserve this morning.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard – four drakes and a female, back on the reserve today

The water level is very high on the Freshmarsh over the winter, so there as not so much to see on here today. There were a few more ducks, and a large flock of Brent Geese. Two Egyptian Geese were on the small island towards the back.

We could see a Barn Owl hunting the bank beyond Parrinder Hide in the distance and then we turned to see another one out over the saltmarsh behind us. Looking back, a third was still on one of the posts by the grazing meadow, where we had watched the two earlier. One extra one had appeared from somewhere, although it wasn’t clear which one was the new one.

The Barn Owl over the saltmarsh had flown further up away from us, but then it turned and started to fly back just over the other side of bank. It came straight towards us and then right past just a few metres away, another great view. An amazing performance from the Barn Owls here today!

Barn Owl 5

Barn Owl – one then did a close flypast over the edge of the saltmarsh

There wasn’t enough time to explore the whole reserve today, but we swung round via Meadow Trail on the way back. We found the Woodcock again exactly where it had been yesterday, but it was very well hidden today, down in the leaves among lots of branches and trunks. At first all we could see was a patch of rusty feathers, but we eventually found a better angle through the scope. It was preening and we could see its long bill, and its eye staring back at us.

As we set off to drive back east, we spotted another Barn Owl over the meadow by road. Rather surprisingly, given how the owls had been performing at Titchwell this afternoon, we didn’t see any others by the coast road in any of the other regular spots on our way back.

Having had such good views of Barn Owls now, we fancied a go at getting a better look at a Little Owl, so we diverted inland and headed back to where we had seen one this morning. The first thing we found was another Barn Owl out hunting here, our seventh today. It landed on a post, but then took off again before we could get the scope on it. It landed again in the top of a small tree, swaying in the thin branches, and this time we could get it in the scope.

Barn Owl 6

Barn Owl – our seventh of the day!

It was better light now, with the low afternoon sun. We found one of the Little Owls, and even though it was half hidden under the cowl on the roof, it was a much better view than this morning. We could see the false eye pattern on the back of its head and, when it turned, its real eyes.

Little Owl 2

Little Owl – in better light this afternoon

With the diversion for the Little Owl, we were later than normal getting down to the meadows where we normally finish the day. There was no sign of the regular Barn Owl here this evening, but it was impossible to tell if it had gone off to hunt further afield, or if it had been out during the day and had decided to go back into the box.

It was already getting to the time for the Tawny Owls to start hooting, but the trees were rather quiet still. It was a very bright, clear evening, with a big moon, so they might be later than normal today. We decided to walk down through the trees to the lake to see if there was any activity over the meadows the other side. A Kingfisher called, but we didn’t see it in the gathering gloom. A Little Grebe laughed maniacally.

As we walked back through the trees, finally the Tawny Owl started hooting. We made our way back round and stood on the edge of the wood. We could hear the single hoots of a male and female together now, and the male gave its very quiet bubbling call, normally associated with courtship. For a second it seemed like the male might be coming closer to us when it next hooted, but then we heard it move much deeper in the wood. A second male Tawny Owl started up, hooting further off in the distance behind us.

It was a nice way to end the day, standing in the wood listening to the Tawny Owls, but it was getting late now, and it was still not properly dark. The nights are pulling out fast now. It was time to call it a day – what a day!

13th Feb 2019 – Winter Coast Hopping

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was to be a relaxed day of birding and photography along the North Norfolk coast. The weather was kind to us – after a cloudy start, it brightened up late morning and was lovely and sunny in the afternoon. It was so warm, it almost felt like spring!

As we made our way east along the coast road, we spotted a Barn Owl hunting the verge ahead of us. There were trees either side beyond, so it turned and came back towards us, crossing the road right in front before disappearing over the hedge the other side. A pair of Grey Partridges flew across the road too.

Our first destination for the morning was Cley. As we parked at Walsey Hills and walked back to the East Bank, several small flocks of Brent Geese flew east and appeared to head inland.

The grazing marshes from the East Bank looked quiet at first, but on closer inspection we could see quite a few ducks. A flock of Wigeon were just in the process of walking back out from the Serpentine onto the grass to graze. We watched them all, walking in the same direction, heads down feeding. Small parties of Teal were flying round, landing on the pools. Several Gadwall were swimming on the Serpentine. Six Shelduck were on the island on Pope’s Pool then flew across to the grass. A Grey Heron was in the ditch at the back.

Wigeon

Wigeon – feeding on the grazing marshes from the East Bank

Three Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds the other side. One of them landed in a bush, where we could get it in the scope. Another did a nice fly past, one of last year’s juveniles, dark chocolate brown with a pale head. From up by the main drain, we could hear Bearded Tits calling but despite scanning the edges of the reeds we couldn’t see them. They were presumably keeping well down in the reeds as usual.

Arnold’s Marsh had a good number of waders on it today, so we stopped in the shelter for a closer look. There were quite a few Dunlin scattered around the shallow water, and two Ringed Plover with them. A Grey Plover and two Turnstones were feeding on one of the gravel spits on one side. There were plenty of Redshanks and a few Curlews too. A Little Egret was walking around on the brackish pools just behind the shelter.

Over on the beach by sea pool, we could just make out a seal carcass on the shingle. The Glaucous Gull has been feeding on it recently but was not there today – we could see a  young Great Black-backed Gull there instead. From the other side of the shelter, we could see another seal carcass on the beach over towards North Scrape but we couldn’t see the Glaucous Gull at that one either. We spotted a couple of the locals coming back from the beach and they told us that the Glaucous Gull was currently on North Scrape so we decided to walk over there to try to see it.

Before we got to the screen where the hide used to be, we looked across to North Scrape and could see the Glaucous Gull standing in the water on the edge of one of the islands. We got the scope on it and watched it, busy preening. Presumably, after a messy morning feeding on one of the seals it had decided it needed a wash and a tidy up!

Looking out to the sea behind us, we spotted a small flock of Common Scoter flying past. They landed on the sea away to west in the distance. A couple of Red-throated Divers flew across too.

Continuing on to the screen overlooking North Scrape, we had a much closer view of the Glaucous Gull. It was a juvenile – pale biscuit coloured, with subtle slightly darker markings on the wings and back and very pale whitish wing tips. The heavy bill, perfect for tearing into seal carcasses, was pink with a clearly marked black tip. It has been here for over a month now and seems to be finding plenty of food.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull – on North Scrape this morning, busy preening

Otherwise, there were quite a few ducks on North Scrape. Most notably, there were at least 50 Pintail. We got two smart drakes, which had walked out onto one of the islands to preen, in the scope for a closer look. Out of the water, we could see their long pin-shaped tail feathers. Several Shoveler were asleep down towards the front and more Brent Geese flew in and landed out on the water.

There has been a flock of Snow Buntings along the beach here, so when we heard one calling we assumed there was a flock coming. Instead, there was just one Snow Bunting accompanying a flock of Goldfinches. The latter dropped down to feed out on the beach, while the Snow Bunting carried on.

As walked on west towards the beach car park at Cley, we found more Snow Buntings in the weedy vegetation at the top of the shingle. The Goldfinches joined them, but the latter were very jumpy and kept flying up, taking the Snow Buntings with them. Eventually, the Snow Buntings settled down to feed in the vegetation on their own and we could get a better look at them. There were a few Skylarks hiding in the grass here too.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – a flock of about 20 was feeding in the vegetation on the beach

When we heard Pink-footed Geese calling, we looked across to see a huge flock dropping down onto Blakeney Freshes beyond the West Bank. The group stopped to try to photograph the Snow Buntings, and then walked on to the car park, where the van came round to pick them up.

From Cley, we drove back west. From the main road, we could see a flock of Brent Geese feeding in winter wheat east of Wells. There has been a Black Brant at times with the geese here, but there was nowhere to stop on this stretch. When we found somewhere to pull in and let the cars behind us pass, the geese were hidden from view in a dip in the field from here. There were a few more Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh in the middle of the harbour at Wells, but none on the old pitch and putt course today.

After a busy morning a break was called for now, so we stopped for an early lunch at the Victoria in Holkham. Then after lunch, we drove up to the top of Lady Anne’s Drive to park. The wardens were working out on the fields east of the Drive, so there wasn’t much out that side. There were lots of geese and Wigeon on the grazing marshes to the west though. Three Common Buzzards circled over, and all the ducks and Lapwing flushed and whirled round.

A small group of Pink-footed Geese were feeding close to the fence, so we stopped and got the scope on them for a closer look. A couple of Greylags were with them, giving us a nice comparison between the two species alongside each other. A few Brent Geese flew in and landed just the other side of the drive, but a Brown Hare which had probably been disturbed by the wardens ran across and flushed them before they could settle.

Pink-footed Geese_1

Pink-footed Geese – feeding on the grazing marshes by Lady Anne’s Drive

We made our way through the pines and out onto the saltmarsh, turning east along the path below the dunes. When we saw movement in the low vegetation we stopped for a look. There were lots of Rock Pipits, at least ten, feeding on the saltmarsh close to the path. We had really good views of them here, their underparts heavily blotched with dark and oily brown above, with a noticeable pale supercilium. These are Scandinavian Rock Pipits here for the winter. A flock of Linnets flew up from the back of the saltmarsh and whirled round.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit – there were lots feeding on the saltmarsh close to the path

A small group of people had been watching the Shorelarks but were leaving as we arrived. They pointed out where they were, and when we got there it didn’t take us long to relocate them. They were a bit too distant for photographs, but we had a great view through the scope of their yellow faces and black masks. We could only see five at first, so we scanned around for the rest, hoping we might find some closer to the path. Unfortunately, when we found them, they were even further back. Still, Shorelarks are great birds to see and we stopped to admire them for a bit.

The Dartford Warbler is still lingering in the dunes here, so we decided to go to look for that and see if the Shorelarks might come closer later. It didn’t take long to find the Stonechat here, perched up on a curl of bramble stem above the sea buckthorn. True to form, while we were admiring the Stonechat, the Dartford Warbler flew in. It landed right on the top of the bushes for a couple of seconds, before dropping down into cover.

We continued watching the Stonechat, and after a while we saw the Dartford Warbler come up again in the sea buckthorn nearby. It didn’t come right out again, but we could see it creeping around in the branches, feeding on buckthorn berries.

Stonechat

Stonechat – feeding in the dunes below the pines

The Snow Buntings were in the cordoned off area of saltmarsh, but they were hiding in the taller vegetation today. At one point they flew round, at least 40 of them in the flock today, flashing the white in their wings, but landed in cover again. Having enjoyed great views of the Snow Buntings at Cley earlier, we didn’t stop to see them here.

When two people walked right across the middle of the saltmarsh, not surprisingly they flushed the Shorelarks. We heard them calling and turned to see them flying round. We could now see how many there were, still around 25 in the flock, which is the number that have been here on and off for most of the winter.

Most of the Shorelarks flew further back across the saltmarsh and landed out in the really thick vegetation where they would be impossible to see from the path. But three had obviously been separated from the rest and flew round again. We watched one land by the path back towards the Gap, where we had stopped to watch the Rock Pipits earlier. So we walked back and found two Shorelarks now feeding with the pipits.

Shorelark

Shorelark – close views of two by the path on our walk back

Approaching slowly on the path, we were able to get quite close to the Shorelarks and they gradually worked their way closer still, so we were able to enjoy great views of them and finally get some better photos. Their yellow faces positively shone in the low afternoon sunlight.

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and walked back to Lady Anne’s Drive. As we  drove on west, we had a quick look in at Brancaster Staithe. It was low tide now and there were a few waders scattered around. A small group of Oystercatchers was roosting down on the edge of the water, a Grey Plover was picking around on the shore in front, and several Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding on the exposed sandbar beyond.

Titchwell was our final destination for the day. We had a walk round the trails to look for Woodcock first. As we passed the Visitor Centre, there were not many birds on the feeders this afternoon. There was no sign of the regular Woodcock on Fen Trail, but with some helpful directions we were able to quickly locate the one on Meadow Trail. It was very well hidden, below a tangle of branches in the sallows. It took a bit of time, but eventually we found an angle through the scope where we could see its eye staring back at us.

Walking quietly along the main path back towards the Visitor Centre, scanning carefully we found a Water Rail in the ditch. While we were watching it, a second one walked into view along the ditch nearby. One was noticeably bulkier than the other, presumably a male and female. They worked their way quite quickly back along the ditch, not exactly together but not far apart, and the smaller of the two came out slightly more into the open. Then we lost sight of them and they had obviously turned back and disappeared into cover.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding in the ditch by the main path

There were some Long-tailed Tits in the trees above the ditch and when they started alarm calling, we realised there must be a raptor about. We couldn’t initially see it where we were in the trees, but a Sparrowhawk flew out over the grazing meadow and we watched it land on a post in the distance.

Further out along the path, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler calling in the vegetation right by the path, but it remained typically elusive. A few Marsh Harriers were already in, circling over the back of the reeds or perched in the bushes.

As we walked out to the Freshmarsh, the first thing we noticed were the Avocets, 23 of them today. This is the most we’ve seen this year, with only 2-3 in recent weeks, suggesting they are starting to return to the coast already for the summer. They were flushed by a Marsh Harrier and flew round, flashing black and white. There were lots of Lapwings too, which landed back in the fenced off island, along with a small group of Golden Plover.

Avocets

Avocets – there were 23 back at Titchwell today

There were a few gulls dropping in to bathe, but otherwise with the water level on the Freshmarsh high for the winter, there were just a few ducks and geese. Unfortunately the light was starting to go now, particularly in the lee of the bank, but we watched a little group of Teal displaying on the water below us.

Teal

Teal – we watched a small group displaying on the edge of the Freshmarsh

There were more Marsh Harriers coming in all the time, to join the increasing number gathered over the back of the reedbed. We turned to see a harrier flying straight towards us low over the saltmarsh behind and realised it was a Hen Harrier. It was quite close when it turned and flashed the white square at the base of its tail. It worked its way north over the saltmarsh close to the path, flushing lots of pipits from the vegetation. Some last minute hunting before heading into roost.

The Hen Harrier was a nice way to end, and it was getting late now, so we started to walk back. As we looked out over the reedbed one last time, we could see loads of Marsh Harriers up now all together. A quick count totalled thirty in view at once – quite a sight!

There was one last bird to add to the list. On our drive back, we noticed a small bird perched on the corner of a barn, silhouetted against the last of the light. A Little Owl, coming out just as we were finishing for the day.

2nd Feb 2019 – Looking for Owls & More

An Owl Tour today. There was a very hard frost overnight and it was cold all day today in a biting north wind. But we successfully managed to dodge the wintry showers and enjoyed a great day looking for owls and a lot more besides.

It was a slightly late start, by the time we had got everyone together, and a wintry shower passed over just as we were loading up, so we assumed any self-respecting Barn Owl would probably be into roost already. However, when we got down to the marshes, we were surprised to see a Barn Owl still out. It was a long way off though and we quickly lost sight of it behind the reeds.

Then a second Barn Owl appeared from behind the trees, a paler bird, the resident male. Rather than heading in to the box to roost, it too flew out to the far side of the marshes, hunting. We could still see it from time to time as it appeared up over the reeds. We walked up to position ourselves, with a good view of the box, hoping it would come back over to our side.

There were several Marsh Harriers up over the reeds now. A small flock of Brent Geese flew past, and a lone Pink-footed Goose came high overhead calling. We could hear the whistling of their wings as a pair of Mute Swans flew over too. Several Curlews came up from the grass and a Brown Hare ran across.

The male Barn Owl perched on a post out in the middle at one point, where we could get it in the scope, but it was still rather distant. Then eventually it turned to come back. It flew very differently now, purposefully, higher over the reeds, no longer hunting. We thought it might head for the box where it had been roosting earlier in the winter, but it flew straight over it, and made a beeline for the trees. It disappeared in, presumably heading for a different roosting spot.

We could see dark clouds approaching – perhaps the Barn Owl had seen them too – so we made our way back to the van.  As we drove inland to look for Little Owls, the shower passed away behind us and the skies brightened up a little. At the first barns we stopped at, we couldn’t see any owls today. Perhaps it was just too cold and windy? At the second place we checked, we also drew a blank. Then at our third stop, we were more lucky. In the distance, we could just make out two round shapes on the roof of a barn. Through the scope, we could see they were Little Owls. A long way off, but a good start.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – flew right past us as we were looking at a couple of Little Owls

Everyone was just taking it in turns to look at the Little Owls through the scope, when we noticed a Barn Owl flying towards us along the verge beside the road. It turned and worked its way round the tall grass on the edge of the concrete pad where we had stopped, pausing to hover for a second before continuing round and disappearing off down the road the other side. Seemingly oblivious to us standing there enjoying great views of it.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – hunting the grass verge by the road

A couple of Brown Hares in the neighbouring field looked like they might be about to box, but thought better of it and one ran off alone. The Little Owls were still on the roof, so we thought we would try to get a bit closer, walking up along the path which leads towards the barns.

A flock of Fieldfares was hopping around in a grassy field beside the track, in amongst the molehills, along with several Lapwings. A Kestrel flew across and landed on a telegraph post, finding a sheltered spot out of the wind behind the transformer.

Fieldfare

Fieldfares – a flock was feeding in the short grass

The Barn Owl suddenly reappeared ahead of us, coming up from the long grass the other side of the track, and flew round behind us and disappeared away over the road. We flushed a small flock of Yellowhammers too, which flew off calling.

Half way up the track, we stopped for a better view of the Little Owls. The two were perched together on the roof, in the lee of the cowl where they would be out of the wind, enjoying the view. When we got up to the far end of the path, one of the Little Owls had already gone back in already. The second turned to look at us, but seemed unconcerned by our presence, as we were still some way off. It resumed staring off into the distance, but then a gas gun bird scarer went off in the field next door and it was off, disappearing in under the cowl further along.

Little Owls

Little Owls – sheltering from the wind, on the roof

A couple of Red-legged Partridges were on the roof too, sheltering in the lee of the ridge. It was certainly cold out in the wind, so having enjoyed great views of the Little Owls we decided to head back to the warmth of the van. It was nice to spend a bit of time driving to warm up, as we made our way further inland.

A Tawny Owl has been roosting in a tree and perching up in the morning sun, but we weren’t sure whether it would be out in the cold today. As we walked in to the trees, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and we looked over to see it flying across. A Nuthatch was working its way up the trunk of a tree in front of us. A Coal Tit was singing – even though it didn’t feel particularly like spring today.

Looking up into the tree where the Tawny Owl likes to roost, we could see it was there this morning, despite the wind which we could see ruffling its feathers. It seemed particularly unconcerned, perched there with its eyes closed in the mouth of the hole in the trunk. We had a great close up view of it through the scope.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – perched up in the hole opening, despite the cold windy weather

We stood and watched the Tawny Owl for a while and then, with threatening dark clouds away to the west, we headed back to the van. We avoided the snow falling, but it was lying thick on the road as we made our way west. The main road was closed at one point for an accident, so we had to make a short diversion.

Eventually, we made it up to the Wash. There were several Goldeneye and Tufted Ducks on the first pit, as we made our way in. Three Little Grebes were swimming together.

Up on the sea wall, the tide was out. Still, there were quite a few waders closer in today. We stopped to look at them, several Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Redshank, with little flocks of Dunlin whirling round. A Bar-tailed Godwit flew past. There were a lot more waders way off in the distance, over towards the water’s edge. A line of Teal was roosting on the mud on the bank of one of the channels, and Shelduck were scattered liberally all over.

There were more Dunlin on the mud in front of Rotary Hide, and when we stopped to look we noticed a much smaller wader with them. It was a Little Stint, the same bird we had found exactly here just over a week ago. It was good to compare it side by side with the Dunlin, the Little Stint having a noticeably shorter bill as well as being smaller.

Little Stint and Dunlin

Little Stint – feeding with the Dunlin in front of Rotary Hide

As we made our way over the causeway, we stopped to admire a small group of Wigeon on one of the shingle islands on the pits. There were several Greylag Geese here too, showing off their orange carrot bills. We stopped to admire a small group of Gadwall too, through they were too far off to really appreciate the finer detail of their feather patterns. A drake Goldeneye was diving out in middle, the green gloss to its head shining in the sunshine.

What we were really here to look for was a Short-eared Owl. Thankfully, it didn’t take us long to find one, hiding under a bramble bush. It was mostly asleep but looked round at one point, showing us its yellow eyes. A little further on, a second Short-eared Owl was better hidden in the brambles but we could just make out its outline.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl – one of two in the brambles again today

Mission accomplished, we headed back to the van to warm up. On our way out, we noticed a Guillemot on the crossbank.  It flapped and clambered away from us over the grass. This is not where you would expect a Guillemot to be – it should be out on the sea – which suggested that it might not be well. Thankfully, we bumped into a member of RSPB staff on our way, so mentioned it to them.

Guillemot

Guillemot – on the bank above the Pits

There were more dark clouds to the north as we got back to the main road, and we made our way through a heavy wintry shower, sleet first then snow, as we drove round to Titchwell. Thankfully the snow cleared quickly through before we got there, and we were able to enjoy a late lunch and a welcome hot drink at the Visitor Centre. While we were eating, we kept an eye on the feeders, where a succession of finches and tits came in and out.

A Barn Owl was hunting the field just beyond, which we could see through the trees. After lunch, we thought we would check if it was in the paddocks. While the group were using the facilities back in the car park, we found the Woodcock under the sallows nearby. Unfortunately by the time everyone was back, it had disappeared again.

We left it in peace for a few minutes while we had a quick look at paddocks, with no sign of the owl, and by the time we came back the Woodcock was out again. We watched it walking round between the moss covered trunks probing its long bill into the leaf litter looking for worms.

Woodcock

Woodcock – eventually showed well in the leaves under the sallows

We walked back down past the Visitor Centre to the main path, but there was no sign of the Barn Owl now on Thornham grazing marshes either. We did get great views of a bonus Water Rail, feeding in one of the ditches. It kept hiding under some logs which had been places across the water as a bridge, but eventually came out and showed itself very well to us.

Water Rail

Water Rail – great views in the ditch by the main path

As we made our way back east along the coast road, we were surprised once again that there were no Barn Owls out hunting in any of their regular sites. It was prime time for them now too. Perhaps they are still not hungry enough, finding too much food during the night that they do not need to come out in daylight at the moment.

As we drove past one of the churches, we noticed a shape perched high up on a ledge on the tower. We found somewhere convenient to stop and got out for a closer look. It was the Peregrine back again. The feathers of its underparts looked damp and matted and it was busy preening, tidying itself up. It has been very erratic in the last few months and this is the first time we have seen it here this year, so another bonus to catch it today. It was a great close up view through the scope.

Peregrine

Peregrine – on the church tower again, busy preening

Having stopped for the Peregrine, we were a bit later than planned arriving at our last destination for the day. We drove round via the far end of the water meadows and scanned from the van as we passed, but there was no sign of any Barn Owls here. We parked up at the top end and walked down to scan, but there was no sign of the regular female Barn Owl from here either. Had it gone off to hunt further afield already or had it gone back into the box, out of the wind?

The meadows the other side of the trees would be more sheltered from the wind we figured so we turned to head off to check there. As we did so, the Barn Owl flew in up the meadow behind us. Thankfully, we turned round just in time to catch it, but it flew straight into the box.

We stood and waited, to see if it would reappear. Two Common Buzzards circled over the trees on the hillside behind us. A Green Woodpecker flew across the meadow and we heard a Cetti’s Warbler calling from the rushes.

Several skeins of Greylag Geese came over in noisy flocks, heading off towards the coast to roost. As one flock came towards us, we noticed ten smaller geese with them. As they turned, we could see they were Russian White-fronted Geese, an unexpected surprise to see them here. They had possibly been displaced from somewhere by the recent cold weather.

Suddenly the Barn Owl reappeared, climbing out onto the platform on the front of the box. We watched through the scope as it perched there, dozing, seemingly working up the energy to head off hunting again. It heard something in the grass below and instantly woke up, staring down at the ground, before going back to dozing.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – eventually reappeared on the front of the box

Finally, the Barn Owl stretched and then dropped off the platform. We watched it hunting, flying round over the meadow, occasionally hovering or dropping down into the grass. We didn’t see it catch anything this evening, before it disappeared away behind the trees.

While we were watching the Barn Owl, we heard a Tawny Owl hoot in the trees behind us. It was getting time for it to emerge from its roost, so we made our way in and positioned ourselves overlooking its favoured ivy-covered tree. It hooted again, and then dropped from the tree.

Unfortunately there was a bit of disturbance in the woods today, and it shot straight out and away into the wood before everyone could get a look at it. Not to worry, we had enjoyed such good views of one earlier and it was suitably evocative to just hear it hooting in the woods at dusk. It was getting dark now and the temperature was dropping again, so we headed for home.

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.

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.