Tag Archives: Woodlark

11th May 2018 – Norfolk in May, Day 1

lDay 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today, back in Norfolk. We would be spending the days looking for spring migrants and summer visitors along the coast. It was a dry and bright day today, sunny at times, but with a strong and blustery wind.

We started the day with a drive round via a couple of sites for Nightingales first thing, as we made our way east. Numbers seem to be down again this year, but they are still just about clinging on in North Norfolk. They have been rather quiet this year too, not singing as much as in previous years, and it was perhaps not a surprise that we didn’t hear one today. They are always best at dawn or dusk and the cold wind didn’t help today either.

Still, we had a nice walk at the second location and there were plenty of other birds singing. We heard several Blackcaps and a nice male perched up in the brambles in front of us. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs duetting too, and a Song Thrush deep in the bushes. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the trees.

Blackcap

Blackcap – there were several singing this morning

We didn’t linger here long today. There was a report of a couple of Garganey down at Kelling, so we headed straight down there, figuring we could explore in the shelter of the lane on our walk out. When we arrived in the village, there were several Swallows and a couple of House Martins over the village, the latter prospecting the eaves of the tea rooms again.

A Hobby appeared over the fields just beyond the tea rooms and we watched as it hung in the air and gradually drifted towards us. We could see its orange ‘trousers’ as it turned in the sun. It was joined by a second Hobby, we could see they were a pair, and they dropped down behind the houses out of view. Smart birds and a good start!

The lane was quiet at first as we walked down, apart from all the Rooks in the wood behind the school, which were decidedly noisy! A Kestrel was hovering at the base of Muckleburgh Hill. As we got down to the copse, there was a bit more activity. A Chiffchaff was singing from a dead branch at the top of a tree beside the lane. Two Blackcaps were singing off against each other in the copse itself.

As we approached the Water Meadow, we could just see two Grey Partridge which had been spooked and flew across the water towards us. They landed out on the grass briefly before scurrying off into the rushes. In the cultivated field the other side, a single Stock Dove was feeding with the Woodpigeons and a Brown Hare was just behind.  There were several Sand Martins hawking for insects over the water and we had nice views of one of the Common Whitethroats singing in the top of the hedge.

Whitethroat

Whitethroat – singing in the hedge along the lane

From this side of the pool, we could see a few ducks out on the water – three Shoveler and a pair of Gadwall – but there was no sign of any Garganey at first. Thankfully they were just asleep in the grass on the bank at the top end, and we couldn’t see them until got down to the crosstrack.

There were two smart drake Garganey here. We got them in the scope and could see the bold white supercilium on the one which was out in the open. We walked down to the far corner for a better view, and when we got there they were both awake and feeding, swimming in and out of the flooded grass around the edge of the pool, snapping at insects. Great to watch!

Garganey

Garganey – two drakes were on the Water Meadow this morning

There were a few other birds around the Water Meadow today. An Avocet flew in calling. A Reed Warbler was singing away from the reeds by the path, though it kept down out of view, and a Sedge Warbler was singing too, a little further along.

We had nice views of Reed Buntings – a male singing, and a female in the top of the blackthorn. While we were watching the female, a Lesser Whitethroat appeared in the branches just behind. Typically more skulking than the Common Whitethroats, we got a couple of good looks at it. As usual, there were lots of Linnets here, always good to see.

Linnet

Linnet – there were lots in the brambles around the Water Meadow

As we walked up the path over the hillside beyond, we could hear a Stonechat. We looked over to see the male on a bramble stem. He flew across and we noticed the female dart into a bush, presumably going in to the nest. A few moments later, she reappeared nearby. There were plenty of Meadow Pipits here too, flying up from the grass as we passed.

From the top of the hill, we had a quick look out to sea. Several terns were flying back and forth just offshore – at least six Little Terns, and a couple of Sandwich Terns too. Further out, we spotted a line of twelve adult Gannets flying east – it would be interesting to know where they were off to at this time of year. A lone Kittiwake flew past too.

On our way back down towards the Quags, a Kestrel hovered above us. It then turned to chase off a passing Marsh Harrier, a young male. As we walked back past the Water Meadow, another Marsh Harrier appeared, a different bird, a female, hunting the fields to the west. It was promptly chased by a couple of Carrion Crows, and circled up right over our heads.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – two were hunting the fields by the Water Meadow today

It was nice and sheltered in the lane and had warmed up now in the sunshine. On the walk back, we saw a nice selection of butterflies – Orange Tip, Green-veined and Small White, and Speckled Wood.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – we saw a couple on our walk back up the lane

We headed round towards Cley next. We wanted to stop at Iron Road, but there were too many cars there already, so we drove back and parked at Salthouse green. It was not too far to walk back to Iron Road, and there were lots of geese out on the grazing marshes – Greylags, Canadas and a pair of Egyptian Geese.

There was not much of note on the Iron Road pool, despite it looking great for waders at the moment. We could just see a Redshank, a Lapwing, and a few Gadwall hiding in the grass at the back.  So we walked round to Babcock Hide to try our luck there. Two small young Lapwings were down in the grass around the pools by Attenborough Walk.

From the hide, we could see two Little Ringed Plovers on the mud towards the back. A Common Sandpiper was over to one side. When the Common Sandpiper walked over towards the plovers, they chased it off. Thankfully, it landed down on the mud in front of the hide, where we had much better views of it.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper – showed well in front of Babcock Hide

It is that time of year, when birds are getting down to breeding. It was all happening in front of Babcock Hide today! We were watching a pair of Avocets out in the water, standing around preening. The female then bent forward and held her head with the bill straight, just above the water. The male walked round for a few seconds before eventually flying up and landing on her back.

Avocets

Avocets – this pair were mating out on Watling Water

A pair of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the mud right in front of the hide. When the female stopped and stood still, the male started an elaborate display, shuffling round her with wings and tail spread, turned towards her with one wing in the air. Eventually the female bowed and lifted her tail and we watched them mating.

Pied Wagtails

Pied Wagtails – mating in front of Babcock Hide

Time was getting on now, so we headed round to the Visitor Centre at Cley for a late lunch, and made good use of the picnic tables outside. We got the scope out and scanned Pat’s Pool, where we could see lots of godwits out in the water. There were both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits here, although they seemed to have segregated themselves into two separate groups.

Several of the godwits were coming into breeding plumage, and we had a closer look at one very smart Bar-tailed Godwit, which was already deep rusty below, continuing all the way down under the tail. We could also see two Knot and two Dunlin with the Bar-tailed Godwits. Several Marsh Harriers were coming and going too, and we picked up three Common Swifts feeding out over North Scrape, our first of the day.

After lunch, we headed up to the Heath. It was exposed and a bit windy up here this afternoon, not ideal conditions. We checked out a couple of spots for Dartford Warblers, but they were keeping well tucked down today. We did see a nice Hobby which flew in along the ridge, right past us and out across the Heath.

Hobby

Hobby – our third of the day, over the Heath

There were lots of Linnets around the gorse and we eventually found a smart male Stonechat perched in the top of one clump. We tried a couple of places for Woodlark but couldn’t find any where we thought they might be. However, we were just walking away from the second spot when we heard singing in the distance and watched as a Woodlark flew in and circled over right where we had been standing just a couple of minutes earlier!

There were a few warblers up on the Heath this afternoon. On our walk back, we heard a Garden Warbler singing deep in the trees. A Willow Warbler was singing too and we watched it in a small oak tree by the path, flitting around the among emerging leaves.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler – singing in a small oak tree on our walk back

Unfortunately, it was time to call a close to day one and head back. More tomorrow!

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23rd Apr 2018 – Five Days of Spring, Day 3

Day 3 of five days of Spring Migration tours today. The weather had turned after the mini heatwave of the last few days and it was cloudy and much cooler today, with a rather fresh and blustery WSW wind. Normal service has resumed!

We made our way over to the Wash coast to start the day, up to Snettisham Coastal Park. It was noticeably colder than of late when we got out of the car and it called for an extra layer of clothing to be donned all round! Given the wind too, it was rather quieter than normal as we walked in to the park. The bushes here are normally alive with warblers singing at this time of the year. At first, all we could hear were a Chiffchaff and a Blackcap.

The open grassy area north of the car park was fairly deserted, but there were loads of dogs here today, so it was rather disturbed. A flock of Linnets whirled round and dropped down up on the seawall. The tide was still coming in as we got up onto the seawall. There were hundreds of Oystercatcher out on the mud, along with a handful of Curlew and a few Brent Geese, but we couldn’t see anything else out there today.

As we made our way slowly north in and out of the bushes, there were gradually more warblers singing. First one or two Lesser Whitethroats, though keeping well tucked down. Then a couple of Sedge Warblers out in the reeds. A Common Whitethroat was subsinging quietly in the bushes and a second was singing but around the bases of some small hawthorns. It was quite a bit further up before we heard our first Willow Warbler.

There were a few birds moving again today, but not as many as yesterday. A couple of small flocks of Linnets looked to be on the move. Two Yellow Wagtails flew overhead silently. There was a steady trickle of Swallows heading south too, with smaller numbers of House Martin and Sand Martin as well.

As we approached the cross-bank at the north end of the Coastal Park, we could just hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from somewhere in the bushes, although it was getting drowned out by the wind and a Sedge Warbler which was much closer to us. There were already two people looking for it, but as we walked up towards them it went quiet. We waited a while but it did not start reeling again.

Whitethroat

Common Whitethroat – the only one to be singing from the top of the bushes

We decided to walk up onto the inner seawall and scan the grazing marshes, and see if it started up again while we were away. We could hear another Common Whitethroat singing from the bushes and a Lesser Whitethroat just behind. As we got up onto the seawall, the Common Whitethroat flew up into the very top of the bush to sing – what they should be doing at this time of year.

Looking out across the grazing marshes just to the north, we found a Whimbrel feeding out in the short grass. We had a good look at it through the scope – we could see its stripy head pattern.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel – feeding out in the short grass on the grazing marshes

There was still no hint of the Grasshopper Warbler starting to reel again, so we decided to walk back along the inner seawall to an area where there have been two Grasshopper Warblers with abutting territories recently. It was windy and hard to hear much on the seawall but sure enough, as we approached the area, we could hear both of the two Grasshopper Warblers singing intermittently.

We walked on to where there is a path down and made our way slowly in amongst the bushes, heading for one of the two reeling birds. We knew we were getting close, but as we slowly rounded a bramble patch, the Grasshopper Warbler saw us and flew off, appearing to land in another bush a bit further back. We made our way back round to where we had a clear view of it and thankfully after only a minute or so it started reeling again and we spotted it in the brambles.

Grasshopper Warbler

Grasshopper Warbler – reeling in the brambles

Everybody got a good look at it through the scope, before the Grasshopper Warbler eventually dropped down into the brambles. A Cuckoo was singing away in the distance, off to the south. The Grasshopper Warbler reeled again briefly and we had another quick look, but the trail had gone cold and it then went quiet. We had enjoyed a great look at it, so we left it in peace.

We walked back listening for the Cuckoo, but it too had gone quiet again now. We cut back across to the inner seawall and several Sedge Warblers were singing in the bushes in the reeds, where we could get a look at them. Another Grasshopper Warbler started reeling from somewhere deep in the vegetation, out of view.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler – several eventually showed well

Up on the seawall, we made our way a short distance back to the north to scan the pools out on Ken Hill Marshes. There were several geese and ducks out around the water, including a single drake Wigeon, a lingering individual. As we turned to head back south again, a Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds down below the bank. A Common Swift flew past, heading south, our first of the year.

Back in the clear grassy area north of the car park, the Wheatears had reappeared. There were now at least three of them hopping around on the short grass, two females and a smart Greenland Wheatear male.

Wheatear

Wheatear – reappeared in the clear area N of the car park

When we got back to the car, there was still a bit of time before lunch, so we decided to swing round via Dersingham Bog and have a quick look there. As we walked down through the trees, we could hear various tits calling and a Coal Tit singing. A Treecreeper appeared behind us, climbing up the trunk of a large sycamore. Down at the bottom, a Willow Warbler was singing in the birches.

As we walked out onto the open heath at the bottom, we spotted a Stonechat, typically perched right on the top of the tallest heather, in full view. We could hear another Grasshopper Warbler reeling here too, but that typically was skulking down in some low brambles out on the edge of the heather. Having had such good views of one earlier, we didn’t waste any time trying to see it.

Stonechat

Stonechat – this male typically perched up nicely

From somewhere up over the ridge, we could hear a Woodlark singing. It was probably in song flight, as it seemed to be moving, but appeared to be out of our view over the brow.

As we turned to walk back the other way, we heard the distinctive deep guttural ‘kronk’ of a Raven. These are still very scare birds here in Norfolk, but one has been reported in this area in recent weeks. It called again and seemed to be coming towards us, from over the trees on the top of the ridge, but although we stood and scanned for a minute it didn’t appear. We kept our eyes on the top of the ridge as we walked on and eventually saw a large black corvid briefly appear along the tree line some distance away to the north.

Further along, we could hear a Woodlark, possibly the same as we had heard earlier ot even a second bird. It did appear over the ridge briefly, hovering up in the sky, before dropping back down towards the ground and out of view. When we got up onto the ridge, it had disappeared. We did see a Green Woodpecker perched on a dead branch on the edge of the trees.

Making our way back through the trees, a Siskin was singing high in the top of the pines. We came across a couple of Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits in the trees too, and another Treecreeper. As we got back to the car, we heard a Nuthatch piping down in the wood. We made our way back to the car for lunch and afterwards headed inland.

We parked by a grassy field with a seed cover strip through the middle. The grass was peppered with a fantastic display of bright yellow flowers, thousands of Cowslip, all in bloom. Skylarks were singing overhead. We could see a few Yellowhammers in the hedge in the corner, dropping down into the cover strip. As we walked along the path on the edge of the field, they all flew up from down in the vegetation, at least 15 of them. A couple of browner birds were with them – Corn Buntings. The hedges are now quickly coming into leaf so the birds were hard to see in the bushes, but eventually we found one perched in the hedge where we could see it in the scope.

Our destination for the rest of the afternoon would be Holme dunes. We parked by the golf course and walked in past paddocks. the bushes here were rather exposed to the wind and quiet, apart from a rattling Lesser Whitethroat deep in cover and a couple of Greenfinches. A little further along the footpath, we heard yet another Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the bushes down by the access road, amazingly our sixth of the day!

Walking into the dunes, lots of Linnets came up from the short grass and a Common Whitethroat sang from the bushes. As we walked further in, we could see a couple of people looking over a bank with binoculars and rounding the corner of the dune blocking our view we could see why. Two Ring Ouzels, a male and a female, were feeding on the bare earth and short grass on the edge of the bushes. It was nice to see some on the ground, after getting mostly flight views the other day, so we had a good look at them through the scope.

Ring Ouzel 1

Ring Ouzel – first we saw a male and female together

We got a good look at the pure white gorget on the blacker male Ring Ouzel, and through the scope we also saw the fine white chevrons on its underparts. The browner female had an off-white gorget peppered with darker marks.

When the Ring Ouzels hopped up over the bank, we walked back a few metres the way we had just come and could see them feeding out in the open on a sandy area in the dunes. A movement just beyond, at the base of the bushes, caught our eye and there was a smart male Redstart perched low above the grass. We got it in the scope but just at that moment the couple we had seen earlier walked round the back of the bushes, and the Redstart flew off before everyone got a chance to look at it. The Ring Ouzels went off too across the dunes, chacking.

There was no sign of the Redstart now, so we walked to the south edge of the dunes and scanned the grazing marshes. We could hear a Bittern booming out in the reeds in the distance. A group of at least 30 Pink-footed Geese were standing out in the grass with the local Greylags. Most of the Pink-footed Geese which spent the winter have long since left, so these ones should be heading off to Iceland for the breeding season soon too.

Scanning the muddy pools towards the front, we spotted a Common Snipe in the grass. When we got it in the scope, a Little Ringed Plover appeared just behind. There were several Ruff out here too, feeding around the muddy edges. A flock of around 25 Golden Plover flew up from the grass away over the grazing marshes south of The Firs. They circled round for several minutes, before dropping down again out of view, the first we have seen in the last few days.

Heading back into the dunes, we hoped the Redstart might have reappeared, but there was still no sign of it as we walked quietly round the bushes. There were a few hirundines moving, a trickle of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. We could see a Wheatear and a male Stonechat flicking around between the isolated bushes further back.

We found the Ring Ouzels again but they had gone back to being very flighty again, we could still see a male and a female together. Eventually two birds flew back in to the same place where we had first seen them and once again they settled down and allowed us to get a good look at them. However, there were now two females together and no sign of the male. Still we had a great view of them feeding down in the short grass.

Ring Ouzel 2

Ring Ouzel – one of the two females which showed very well

It was clear the Redstart had gone to ground and we were unfortunately running out of time, so we started to make our way back. The Grasshopper Warbler was still reeling down by the access road but was now perched up in full view in the top of the brambles, despite the wind. We had a great look at it through the scope before it dropped back down into cover.

As we got back to the car, a Sparrowhawk zipped over the car park. It was time to call it a day and head for home. Despite the wind and generally cooler conditions, we had seen or heard 96 species just today, which wasn’t at all bad!

18th Apr 2018 – North Norfolk in the Sun

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a lovely day, more like summer than spring – the weather seems to lurch from one extreme to another at the moment. Blue sky and up to 24C, with a still rather strong wind to start the morning easing off.

We headed up to NW Norfolk to start the day, in the hope of seeing some migration. As we walked in to Snettisham Coastal Park, there were lots of warblers singing – Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler and then a Lesser Whitethroat rattling in the bushes. A Willow Warbler called and we saw it flitting around low in the hawthorns, possibly a fresh arrival back from Africa.

A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from somewhere deep in the reeds – good to  hear as the population of Cetti’s Warbler here appears to have been hit quite hard by the winter weather. But there was no sign of the Ring Ouzel where it had been a couple of days ago – presumably some birds had moved on in the clear weather.

A few Mediterranean Gulls passed over heading south, in ones and twos. We could hear their strange nasal calls before we saw them. When they came overhead, we could see through their translucent white wing tips.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – several flew over Snettisham this morning

One of the locals told us there were some Wheatears on the clear area a bit further up so we walked over. There had been a male earlier, but we could only find two females now, flashing their white rumps as they flew up and away from us, feeding on the short grass.

A few birds had started to fly past along the seawall, migrating birds on their way to their breeding grounds. There was a steady trickle of Linnets, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits. We heard the distinctive calls of redpolls as a small group passed overhead, but we couldn’t see enough of them to identify them to species.

A sharp ‘tchreep’ alerted us to a Yellow Wagtail flying past. It was nice and low so we could get a good look at it – a smart male, with bright yellow face and underparts. It was the first of several we would hear or see here moving along the coast this morning. However, there were no Swallows or Martins moving this morning, which we might have expected at this time of year and given the weather.

There were several more Lesser Whitethroats singing before we came across a single Common Whitethroat. We stopped to watch it, songflighting from the tops of the bushes. We could see its grey head, white throat, and rusty wing edges. The Lesser Whitethroats have already returned in good numbers but the Common Whitethroats are only now starting to arrive.

A pair of Stonechats appeared on the bushes on the seawall and flicked off ahead of us as we approached. Then we spotted a lark feeding quietly down in the short grass nearby. Even before we looked at it, it appeared to be rather short-tailed and through the scope we could see that it was a Woodlark. We could see its well-marked pale supercilium, short crest and distinctive black and white marked feathers on the bend of the wing.

Woodlark

Woodlark – presumably a migrant stopped off to feed

Woodlarks nest not far from here, inland on the heaths, but they are not so regular down on the coast. This was most likely a migrant, stopping off here on its journey to feed and refuel.

The tide was high, so there wasn’t much to see out on the Wash this morning. Crossing over to the inner seawall, we scanned the grazing marshes and quickly located a large flock of Curlew roosting out in the long grass. Nearby, two slightly smaller, slimmer waders were busy feeding in the grass – two Whimbrel. Lots of Curlew spend the winter out on the Wash, but Whimbrel are just a spring migrant through here, so always nice to see at this time of year.

There were lots more warblers singing from the bushes as we walked back along the inner seawall. We had gone about halfway when we heard a distinctive reeling noise ahead of us – a Grasshopper Warbler. They have just started to return in the last few days, so we hurried towards where the sound appeared to be coming from. When we got there, we realised there were actually two Grasshopper Warblers singing against each other, presumably establishing a territorial boundary.

They were singing intermittently, but we eventually narrowed down the location of one of the Grasshopper Warblers to a large clump of brambles. Unfortunately, it didn’t want to show itself – it was still rather breezy and it was keeping well tucked down, unlike a Sedge Warbler which climbed up into the top of the same clump.

When we got back to the clear area where the Wheatears had been earlier, we found one of the females had been replaced by a smart male, with a bold black face mask. The Wheatears passing through here now are large, with richly marked burnt orange throat and breast, and a brown tinge to the grey of their upperparts. They are Greenland Wheatears, on their long journey from Africa most of the way across the Atlantic to Greenland to breed, an amazing feat for such a small bird.

Wheatear

Wheatear – a smart male of the Greenland race

With a small amount of time before lunch, we decided to head inland next to Dersingham Bog, just a short distance away. As we drove back towards the main road, we noticed a Swallow flying round near the houses, surprisingly the first we had seen today. Presumably it was a breeding bird already returned, rather than a migrant.

As we walked down through the trees, we could hear a Nuthatch calling and found it high in the branches of an old oak tree. It flew across to a pine nearby and a Great Spotted Woodpecker appeared next to it. As we watched, we noticed the Great Spotted Woodpecker climbed up to a fresh hole in the tree, presumably where it is or is planning to nest.

The wind had dropped and, with the sun out, the temperature was really climbing now. Perhaps as a consequence, it was very quiet out in the open. A male Stonechat sang from the top of the heather and song-flighted, hovering in front of us, but there was no sign of any Tree Pipits now. As we got back into the trees, we could hear a Goldcrest high in the pines.

Stonechat

Stonechat – Dersingham is a good site for this species

Lunch was eaten back at the car, joined by one of the other local birders who had just had a quick look out on the heath too. Then we headed over to Titchwell for the afternoon.

A quick look at the feeders in front of the visitor centre revealed a couple of Bramblings with the Chaffinches and Goldfinches. The Bramblings should be on their way back to Scandinavia soon. There was a report in the log of a Slavonian Grebe on Patsy’s Reedbed earlier, but no one in the visitor centre seemed to know anything about it. We decided to head round there first to check it out.

A single female Common Pochard was on the pool in front of Fen Hide, but there was no sign of any grebes on Patsy’s Reedbed. A small group of Black-headed Gulls was bathing out in the middle of the water, and one or two Mediterranean Gulls dropped in to join them briefly – looking very smart with their jet black hoods, white eyelids and bright red bills. A pair of Marsh Harriers were circling over the reedbed just beyond.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – one of the males over the reedbed

There was nothing in the paddocks today apart from a single Jackdaw – we had hoped there might be some wagtails stopping off to feed here – so we headed round via Meadow Trail and out onto the main part of the reserve.

The dried up ‘pool’ on Thornham grazing marsh looked empty at first too, as we scanned the puddles over towards the back. Then we realised the Little Ringed Plover was right down at the front, just beyond the reeds. We got it in the scope and could see its bright golden yellow eye ring.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – on the Thornham GM ‘pool’ again

The water level on the freshmarsh is looking great at the moment, but it is being rather dominated by the gulls which have taken over the fenced off ‘Avocet Island’. There were hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, with good numbers of Mediterranean Gulls in with them, plus a scattering of Common Gulls, Herring Gulls and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

There was one Common Tern back yesterday, but the numbers had doubled today – there were two. They spent most of the time we were there asleep in amongst the Black-headed Gulls on one of the strips of mud.

Common Tern

Common Tern – numbers had doubled today, now up to 2!

There were a few waders on the Freshmarsh. A scattering of Black-tailed Godwits included one or two birds already moulting into their smart rusty breeding plumage, ahead of the long journey back to Iceland to breed. There were a small number of Ruff and a couple of Redshank. Over beyond Parrinder Hide, we could see another Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands in the distance. There are a few Avocet on here too, but not as many as we might expect at this time of year.

Duck numbers are dwindling steadily, though there are still quite a few Teal here and several pairs of Shoveler. A good number of Brent Geese remain too, commuting between the saltmarsh out towards Thornham and the freshmarsh, where they fly in to bathe and preen. They should be leaving on their way back to Russia for the breeding season soon.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese – still a good number remain

The Volunteer Marsh looked fairly quiet today – a few Redshank, a Curlew and a handful of Avocet feeding, plus several Shelduck. There were a few more waders in the channel at the far end, including a couple more Black-tailed Godwits. The Tidal Pools are still flooded, so we went straight on out to the beach.

Avocet

Avocet – feeding on Volunteer Marsh

The tide was out but there didn’t appear to be many waders out on the beach again today, apart from lots of Oystercatchers on the mussel beds. A lone Turnstone was feeding on there too. Scanning away to the west, we found a very distant couple of Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Curlew.

The only grebes we could find on the sea this afternoon were good numbers of Great Crested Grebes. Further out, we found a distant raft of Common Scoter and a couple of Red-breasted Merganser. Several Sandwich Terns were flying back and forth just offshore.

We made our way back to the car. As we passed the picnic area, we could hear a couple of Bramblings singing in the trees – although it can hardly be described as a song, more of a wheeze.

There had been a report of a Ring Ouzel in a field near Burnham Market, so we decided to try our luck there on our way back. There was no sign of it, but we did see a couple of pairs of Grey Partridge. A Red Kite circled lazily over. Then unfortunately it was time to call it a day and head for home.

15th April 2018 – Early Spring at Last, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours in North Norfolk. Having been west along the coast yesterday, we headed out east for the day today. It had been forecast to be cloudier than yesterday, but we were not expecting to have the fog which clung on along the coast all day. It meant that migration along the coast was limited today, but we still managed to find a few migrants despite the weather.

Our first destination was Cley. It had looked to be brightening up as we drove along the coast road, but by the time we got to the East Bank, we could see the fog rolling in out towards the coast. A Kestrel was hovering over the edge of the reedbed. It gradually worked its way closer and then, as we watched it, it dropped steeply down into the grass just beyond the car park. When it came up again it had a vole in its talons. A Grey Heron dropped out of the trees and down towards the pools.

Kestrel

Kestrel – caught a vole just by the car park

Up on the bank, we could see several Common Pochard on Don’s Pool, along with a single drake Tufted Duck. They were all diving constantly. Over the other side of the bank, we could see lots of Greylag Geese out on the grazing marshes. There were still a few Wigeon out here too, plus several Teal, a couple of Shoveler and a pair of Gadwall.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard – a smart drake on Don’s Pool

 

The Redshanks were displaying here today – they were very vocal and we saw several in display flight, fluttering their bowed wings as they called. The Lapwings were a bit more subdued in the weather, though we did see one or two tumbling. There were plenty of Avocets but they were right at the back, on Pope’s Pool, in the fog. We could hear them calling noisily. We stopped to look at a Ruff feeding on the edge of the Serpentine.

A Bearded Tit pinged from the reedbed, but remained stubbornly down out of view today. A Marsh Harrier circled out over Pope’s reedbed, in the fog, and then another appeared much closer, over the reeds the other side.

We made our way on Arnold’s Marsh and took advantage of the shelter. There was a good selection of waders out on here today. There were several Bar-tailed Godwits, some still in non-breeding plumage, but several starting to moult and one particularly smart individual already in summer plumage, deep rusty coloured below, right down to under the tail.

There was a good number of Dunlin on the mud at the back, accompanied by a couple of Ringed Plovers. A single Grey Plover on one of the shingle spits was still in grey non-breeding plumage. There were plenty of Avocets and Redshanks on here too.

Redshank

Redshank – on the brackish pools by Arnold’s Marsh

We managed to pick out two Sandwich Terns on the small shingle island at the back, and we could see their shaggy crests even if they were mostly sleeping. Then more Sandwich Terns flew in and landed with them and there was lots of calling and displaying, so we could see their yellow-tipped black bills. We went to have a look out at the sea, but it was too foggy now to even see the waves, so we headed back.

It was brighter back at the car, but we drove back into the fog along Beach Road. The edge of the Eye Field is a good place to look for Wheatears and thankfully we found a couple close to the edge, where we could see them. They were feeding down in the grass just beyond the fence, but one came out onto the shingle and perched on a couple of the fence posts.

Wheatear

Wheatear – one of two at the Eye Field this morning

Both the Wheatears were males and both looked to be large and richly coloured below, with a comparatively deep burnt orange wash across the breast. They looked to be Greenland Wheatears, stopping off on their way before making the long journey most of the way across the Atlantic

With our mission here accomplished, we decided not to linger in the fog and drove back east along the coast road. A quick stop at Salthouse duckpond and scan of the pools beyond didn’t produce anything new, but we did stop to admire a pair of Gadwall. The drakes in particular are very intricately patterned, belying there ‘grey and boring’ image. There was also a Canada Goose on the pond and more Wigeon and Teal on the wet grazing marshes beyond.

Gadwall

Gadwall – an intricately patterned drake

The pools along Salthouse Beach Road can be good for migrants, but there was nothing here today. It was very foggy now along the shingle ridge and with few migrants apparently moving along the coast today, we decided it probably wasn’t going to be worth walking out to Gramborough Hill.

Continuing on to Kelling, we drove back into the sunshine as we headed slightly inland. As we parked in village the, a Common Buzzard was soaring high overhead, above the thing hazy cloud. A Swallow appeared overhead, hawking or insects, and disappeared off towards the road. When we got over there, we found a pair of Swallows on the wires. Rather than being on their way through, these birds had probably returned here to breed.

Swallows

Swallows – two returned already in Kelling village

A pair of Pied Wagtails and a couple of Goldfinches were feeding on the playing field and a Chiffchaff was singing in the grounds of the school opposite. As we walked along the lane, a male Blackcap flew across in front of us and landed briefly in the bushes. Up at the copse, another Blackcap was singing in the trees and a pair of Chiffchaffs were fliting around, the male stopping to sing from time to time as it followed what was presumably a female.

It was increasingly foggy again as we got closer to the coast. Down at the Water Meadow, there were good numbers of Avocet feeding out in the water and calling noisily, plus a single lone Redshank and a few Teal. As we walked along the cross track on the north side of the water meadow, we heard a Whimbrel call. We looked across the Quags and saw it emerge from the fog and fly past us. It didn’t stop and headed off SE. Another good spring migrant.

We walked down towards the beach but it was very foggy down by the sea now. We had a quick scan of the Quags pools, but couldn’t see anything of note in the mist, so wee decided to head back to the Visitor Centre at Cley for lunch.

The weather was not too bad at Cley, so we ate our lunch outside, on the picnic tables. One or two Pied Wagtails kept flying back and forth overhead, commuting to the field behind. Just as we finished our lunch, we heard a Yellow Wagtail call and looked up to see it flying east in front of us. It turned back just before North Foreland Wood, and came back around over behind the Visitor Centre. It dropped down and looked like it might be landing in the field behind. We walked up to the back of the Visitor Centre to look for it, but there was no sign of it in the field, just one of the Pied Wagtails.

After lunch we paid a quick visit to the Iron Road. As we got out of the car, we could see three Egyptian Geese asleep in the grass with the Greylags. Two Brent Geese flew in to join them, Dark-bellied birds yet to set off back to Russia to breed. A Little Egret was feeding on one of the wet flashes in the grass.

It was a bit clearer now, so we walked up along the track to the pool. There were several Ruff around the muddy margins, and we stopped to look at a small group. Of the six birds, one was much smaller, a female ‘Reeve’. Most of the Ruff were rather pale, but one male was very dark, blackish speckled. They are the most variable of waders and they are now starting to moult into breeding plumage, although the males will not get their elaborate ruffs for a while yet. There were a couple of Redshanks on the pool too, for comparison.

There had been a White Wagtail here this morning and we found it again feeding on one of the grassy island. White Wagtail is the continental cousin of our Pied Wagtail and just passes through here on migration in the spring. This one had stopped off to feed. We could see its silvery grey back, much paler than the black or slate grey backs of our Pied Wagtails. A Swallow flew over, heading west, the first hirundine we had seen on the move today, they were obviously held up further south by the weather.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail – feeding on the pool by Iron Road

 

There seemed to be more fret rolling in from the east, so we decided to head inland, up to the Heath to try to find some brighter weather. It was nice and bright, sunny with some high hazy cloud, when we arrived in the car park. We could hear Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler singing in the trees.

We headed first for a sheltered corner which always catches the afternoon sun. We could hear Bullfinches calling, flew and a pair flew across in front of us and disappeared into trees. We were looking at the margins of the gorse to see if we could find any Adders, when a small bird flew up ahead of us calling a distinctive ‘speez, speez’. It was a Tree Pipit. They used to breed up here on the Heath, but have died out in recent years, so this was most likely a migrant, stopping just off on its way further north.

We walked round the corner to see if we could find the Tree Pipit on the ground, but it was obviously hiding in the trees. It then flew out and landed in the birches behind us briefly, then flew again and disappeared. It seemed to be trying to come back down into the grass to feed, so we left it in peace. You can find migrants inland, not just on the coast!

Scanning the leaf litter on the bank which faces the sun, we spotted our first Adder. Unfortunately, it headed straight into cover but the second Adder we found was more obliging, and stayed curled up in the grass for a few seconds before it decided our combined presence was too much and it disappeared into a hole in the vegetation.

Adder

Adder – warming itself in the sun in the leaf litter

While we were watching the Adder, one of the group spotted a Common Lizard basking nearby. Then a young Common Frog hopped out of the leaves too. It was all action in this corner of the Heath this afternoon!

 

Common Lizard

Common Lizard – basking on a leaf

 

Walking back up the track, we stopped to look at a Willow Warbler in the top of a small birch tree, as a Red Kite drifted overhead. We heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying towards us. It circled round over a more open area of grass, singing – a beautiful if slightly melancholic song. Then it appeared to drop down beyond the trees behind us. We walked back and found two Woodlarks on the ground.

The male Woodlark didn’t stay long, but took off again and started to fly round singing, while the female fed quietly in the grass. It was remarkably hard to see against the browns of the dead bracken, until it moved. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it too took off and headed away in the direction the male Woodlark had flown.

Woodlark

Woodlark – very well camouflaged against the dead bracken

 

As we walked across the Heath and entered one of the traditional Dartford Warbler territories, we could hear one calling ahead of us. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it had gone quiet and despite walking round the area for a couple of minutes we didn’t hear it again. Still it was a good start.

We made our way further on, to another territory, and stopped to listen again. Once more, it was all quiet, despite the warmth from the sun, perhaps because it was now late in the afternoon. As we turned to leave, we saw something flit across in a dense clump of gorse right next to us. As we stood and watched a Dartford Warbler stuck its head out.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – feeding in the gorse flowers

 

The Dartford Warbler appeared to be feeding on the bright yellow gorse flowers, presumably looking for insects. It was on the move constantly and very hard to see, only occasionally appearing on top of the bush. We followed it for a while as it fed quietly before it eventually dropped down out of view as the sun disappeared behind some clouds.

Another Woodlark flew over calling, and a few seconds later presumably the same bird came back the other way singing, right over our heads. There were plenty of Linnets around the Heath and we could hear several Yellowhammers calling, but the one resident of the Heath we hadn’t yet come across was Stonechat. We headed over to an area where a pair have taken up residence, but couldn’t see them on a quick circuit of the path, before a male Stonechat popped up in front of us as we got back to the start!

It was a nice way to end the day, and the weekend, up on the Heath. We had been very successful on our quick visit here, so we headed for home well pleased with our tally.

27th March 2018 – Brecks Birding Again

A Private Tour down in the Brecks today. The forecast earlier in the week was for heavy rain all day, which by yesterday was tempered to heavy rain clearing mid morning. As it was, we didn’t get any heavy rain at all, although it did rain in the morning and stayed stubbornly grey and misty all afternoon. Still, the weather almost never stops us getting out and seeing some good birds.

Our first target for the day was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. As we parked in the Forestry Commission car park it was drizzling still, so we donned boots and waterproofs and set off. On our way down to the bridge, we could hear Bramblings singing in the trees – more of a wheeze than a song. We found several in the trees by the feeders and had a good look at one male in particular which perched nicely above us.

Brambling

Brambling – several were singing down by the bridge

 

As we set off along the river bank path, a Treecreeper was singing in the first poplars and we eventually located it in a tree right above the path. A little further along, we found a Chiffchaff flitting around in the sallows above the ditch. This was the first of several we came across this morning, feeding low down along the edge of the river.

Although there has been the odd Chiffchaff singing here in recent weeks, these seemed like they might be new arrivals, returning for the summer.

Chiffchaff

Chifchaff – feeding feverishly along the river bank

We hadn’t gone much further when two Kingfishers flashed past, one over the reeds on one side of the path and the other back past us along the river. With a shout of ‘Kingfisher‘, half the group watched one as half saw the other and only afterwards we realised we were looking at different birds!

The Kingfisher which had flown along the river landed in one of the bushes overhanging the water just behind us, where we had a nice look at it, before it dropped down into the river and then flew off again.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – one of the two which flew past us simultaneously

As we were walking on along the path, we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call in the distance. Unfortunately, it was a long way back from the river and on the other side to us. We stood for a minute or so and listened in case it should call again, but it would be impossible to see it here anyway, so we decided to carry on to another favoured spot and try our luck there.

A little further on, and we found our first Mandarins of the day, a pair. At first we noticed the female, on a grassy pool just beyond the far bank. Then the drake swam out into view too. Stunning birds, and the first of many we would see today – they were hard to count!

Mandarin

Mandarin Duck – our first pair of the day were on a grassy pool by the river

It was non-stop action along the river bank at first, but once we got to the area where we hoped to find the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, all was quiet at first. As we walked slowly along, scanning the trees and listening carefully, we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and drumming and then found it high in a poplar by the river.

There were flocks of Redwings in the trees too and Siskins flying back and forth. We heard a couple of Marsh Tits singing and found a pair of Nuthatches flying around high in the trees. Thankfully the rain eased off a little as we stood and waited.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long. A series of sharp ‘ki,ki,ki,ki…’ calls alerted us to the arrival of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and a few seconds later we spotted it as it flew over to another tree. We got it in the scope and could see it working its way up a dead branch high in one of the poplars. It stayed just long enough for everyone to get a quick look at it through the scope, and then flew across to another.

We could still see the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker through binoculars, but it was on the move constantly. When it flew again, we lost sight of it in the branches further along. We walked up to where it had seemed to land, and a minute or so later flew again. This time it seemed to go a long way, although again we lost sight of it from where we were and couldn’t see whether it had flown across the river.

We walked back slowly along the path, listening and scanning the trees, but the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker didn’t call again, so perhaps it had gone away across the river. Having seen it already, we decided not to wait any longer for it to reappear and started to make our way back. Another pair of Mandarins had been flying round constantly as we waited and now we found them perched up in the trees beside the river. A different male landed on the water below, before they all flew off again.

As we got back to the bridge, a pair of Siskins were flitting around in the sallows and the male started songflighting. We had a quick look in the poplars by the road, but all was quiet. When we got back to the car, we heard Mandarin calling and looked up to see a group of five flying over the trees up towards the church.

It was time for a coffee break, so we drove down to the picnic area at St Helens. As we got out of the car there were lots of Redwings chattering in the trees. A male Grey Wagtail was singing from the handrail of the footbridge before flying off upstream. Yet another pair of Mandarins flew over calling and dropped down towards the river.

The coffee stop was quickly interrupted as a pair of Woodlarks dropped down into the cultivated field nearby. We managed to get one of them in the scope, but they quickly flew again, the female Woodlark up into a nearby beech tree while the male started to sing, fluttering round in circles on butterfly wings over the field.

Woodlark

Woodlark – the female turned out to be colour-ringed

 

When the female Woodlark dropped down into the field again to feed, much closer this time, we could get a better look at her. We could see that she was colour-ringed, with a combination of different coloured plastic rings. This normally would allow us to find out the details of where and when she was ringed and has been seen since, but at the time of writing this is proving harder to find out than it should! We watched as the Woodlark crept around in and out of the clods of earth.

It had stopped raining now, but it was still showing no signs of brightening up. We had been hoping to look for Goshawks, but we knew it would be difficult in the cold, grey and misty conditions. We headed over there anyway, but took a detour on the way to see if we could find any Stone Curlews. They are only back in very small numbers so far, possibly not a surprise given all the recent cold weather, and they proved elusive today too.

We did have nice views of a Tree Sparrow in a hedge while we were looking. There were a few Shelducks and a couple of Oystercatchers in the pig fields. A rather pale Common Buzzard was perched in a tree, but a second Buzzard flew low past us and we noticed a Red Kite circling over a nearby wood. The first raptor activity we had seen today.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow – hiding in the hedge

 

 

 

It was time for lunch so we decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and headed over to an area to try our luck for Goshawks. As we ate, we scanned the trees, but there was not a single raptor visible, not even a Common Buzzard up here today. A little group of Yellowhammers perched up in a bush with a couple of Reed Buntings. Several Roe Deer were out feeding in the edge of one of the fields and a pair of Greylag Geese were hiding in the winter wheat too.

The highlight was a pair of Curlew which flew in calling and circled down slowly into one of the fields. They are still very scarce breeders here, so it is always good to see a pair presumably back on territory.

After lunch, we decided to move on and try our luck with Willow Tits instead, while waiting to see if it might brighten up. We walked in to an area of plantation where some feeding tables have been set up for them. Just as we arrived, a brief sighting on one of the tables looked good for a Willow Tit, but it didn’t hang around or reappear.

As we stood and watched for a few minutes, a succession of Coals Tits, Marsh Tits and other tits came in and out. Then a Willow Tit started singing from the trees nearby. We followed the song, and eventually found a Willow Tit high in one of the pines. It seemed like there might be a pair here today, as at one point there appeared to be two birds present.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting in the early afternoon

 

It was still cloudy and grey, but it felt like the cloud had lifted a little, so we thought we could have one last look to see if there were any raptors up. On our way round, we spotted a Barn Owl on a post out among the bushes in a grassy meadow. They can be seen out hunting much more often in the daytime at the moment, probably still hungry after the recent snow.

Our efforts were rewarded with a lone Red Kite which appeared briefly above the trees, but there was still no sign even of any Common Buzzards taking to the air. Then the cloud base descended again and it started to rain once more, so we decided to admit defeat.

 

Our final destination for the day was Lynford Arboretum. Thankfully we drove out of the rain and it was dry again when we arrived. As we got out of the car, we noticed a small bird flitting around in one of the deciduous trees by the car park and a quick look confirmed it was a Firecrest.

Firecrest

Firecrest – flitting around in the trees by the car park

 

It was hard to make out any detail on the Firecrest at first, high in the trees, but it would periodically chase after an insect on the wing and flutter down lower, where we could see its strongly marked face pattern and brighter green upperparts than a Goldcrest. A second Firecrest then started singing from one of the fir trees nearby, but it was presumably deep in the thick foliage and we couldn’t see it.

We made our way quickly down towards the paddocks, stopping briefly to look at the feeders from the gate. Even though there were more fatballs today and more seed spread on the ground, it was rather quiet here, just a few tits and a Chaffinch. There was very little seed left out for the birds at the bridge, so we added a couple of generous helpings of sunflower seeds and headed down to check out the paddocks.

As we walked up to a gap in the hedge, one of the group spotted the first Hawfinch high in one of the hornbeams. We had a good look at it through the scope – it was a smart male, bright chestnut coloured. Shortly afterwards, it was joined by a duller grey-brown female and then a second male Hawfinch appeared with them too.

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – a bright male up in one of the hornbeams

 

When the Hawfinches all dropped down out of the tops of the trees, we scanned the ground underneath. We couldn’t see them there, but we did find a female Hawfinch right out in the open, in the middle of the grass with the Redwings! It hopped around for a couple of minutes, in and out of the tussocks, picking at the ground, before it flew back to the trees.

Hawfinch 2

Hawfinch – this female was hopping around in the middle of the grass

 

Having enjoyed great views of the Hawfinches, we made our way back to the bridge to see what was coming in to feed on the seed we had put out earlier. There were plenty of tits coming in and out, and we had great close views of several Marsh Tits here. Three different Nuthatches kept zooming in to grab beakfuls of seeds too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in for sunflower seeds down at the bridge

Then suddenly all the birds spooked and disappeared off into the trees. We looked around but couldn’t see any sign of something which might have frightened them. We decided to go and have a look around the lake. As we set off along the path, a quick look up into the trees in the paddocks and we noticed lots of birds in the tops. A closer look through the scope confirmed there were now at least seven Hawfinches here, though they were hard to count from here as there were several well hidden in the branches.

The Hawfinches all gradually dropped down through the branches, and we continued on. A Treecreeper was feeding on the trunk of one of the trees by the path and proved remarkably tame, allowing us to walk almost alongside. A second Treecreeper appeared too and we followed them for several minutes as they moved ahead of us along the path.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – great views feeding by the path beside the lake

There were not many ducks on the lake today – just a couple of pairs of Gadwall and a Mallard or two. Two Canada Geese were on the lawn beyond, along with several Moorhens. Our final pair of Mandarins for the day flew over the paddocks calling. We could hear Little Grebes laughing at us and eventually found one hiding in the reeds.

It was time to start heading back now. A quick glance back over the trees revealed a large, long-winged, long-tailed raptor in the distance, flying steadily towards us out of the clouds. Through the scope, we could see it was a Marsh Harrier, not what we were expecting here and possibly a bird migrating back north. When we got back to the bridge, the birds had all returned to feed again, including a female Reed Bunting now.

Then it was a nice gentle walk back to the car and off to make our way home. Despite the difficult weather, we had enjoyed a great day out and seen a very good selection of Breckland birds.

19th March 2018 – Brecks & Fens

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks, but with a difference. We had a specific list of target species, which meant we would aim to spend the morning in the Brecks themselves and the afternoon at Lakenheath Fen and the surrounding area. After a frosty night, it was a lovely bright, clear, sunny day, but cold in the still blustery NE wind.

After an earlier than normal start, we headed out to look for Stone Curlews first. A few early birds have already arrived back and presumably must be regretting it! It had snowed a little yesterday and the fields were covered in a light dusting of snow this morning.

The first field we checked, where we had seen them a couple of days ago, was empty today, apart from a couple of Red-legged Partridges. We checked out the other field they favour and at first it appeared devoid of life too until somebody noticed two shapes huddled up tight against the hedge – the Stone Curlews. They were clearly trying to get out of the cold wind, despite the fact they were up to their knees in snow!

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of two sheltering from the wind in the snow this morning

The Stone Curlews walked out a short distance into the field, where we had a very good look at them through the scope, before they headed back in to the shelter of the hedge once more. Further over, out in the middle of the field, a pair of Grey Partridge were trying to hide in one of the wheel ruts.

Goshawk was another target for the day, but it was still a bit cold for them to be up. We drove round via a good site for them but a quick scan from the warmth of the car revealed very little aerial activity. There were several Fieldfares feeding on the ground out in the field nearby, along with a couple of Mistle Thrush and a few Chaffinches. We would come back later, when it had warmed up a little (relatively speaking!). In the meantime, we headed off to look for Woodlarks.

As we walked along the ride past the first clearing, there was quite a bit of snow covering the ground. It didn’t look especially promising. The second clearing we looked in was even worse. There is some farmland just beyond the forest here, and we figured they might have moved out to the fields to look for food, so we headed over that way.

As we walked past the third clearing towards the fields, we heard a Woodlark call and looked across to see two come up off the bare ground beyond. They flew over towards us and did a circuit of the clearing, calling to each other. The male twittered, but never really broke into full song. While one of them flew quickly back to the fields, the male Woodlark landed in the top of a small oak tree on the edge of the clearing, where he did start to sing rather half-heartedly.

 

We walked round to the oak tree for a closer look and got the Woodlark in the scope, getting a good look at it before he took off and flew away over the clearing and dropped down again onto the field beyond. Satisfied with what we had seen, we turned to go but we hadn’t got very far before a pair of Woodlarks flew in calling again. They circled round and landed only a short distance away from us, in a small patch in the clearing which was relatively free of lying snow.

Woodlark

Woodlark – a pair flew in and landed in a snow-free patch in the clearing

 

As we walked back to the car, it was still very cold in the wind but it felt like the sun was starting to get a bit more warmth to it, so we headed off to look for Goshawks. We hadn’t been there long before the first Common Buzzards started to appear, first one or two, then a group of three circled up behind.

Not too long afterwards, a Goshawk circled up too. It was rather distant, but through the scope we could see it was an adult, pale grey above and bright whitish below, a male by the looks of things. It didn’t gain much height as it circled, drifting slowly across and eventually dropping back down behind the trees. It wasn’t the best view, but at least we had seen a Goshawk. It was rather cold here standing out in the open, so we decided to head off and look for something else.

Willow Tit was the next species on the list. We drove round to a spot where some feeding tables have been set up in the hope of tempting them in. As we walked up the ride, a Redwing appeared in the trees by the path.

The feeding tables were well stocked with sunflower seeds and a steady stream of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits were coming in to take advantage, or flitting around in the pines nearby. A Marsh Tit appeared in the trees by the path – a bit too plain and grey compared to the one we were hoping for. We had nice views of a Nuthatch climbing down a tree trunk here too.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit – there were lots around the feeders today

 

We didn’t have to wait long before we heard a Willow Tit, a male singing deep in the plantation behind one the feeders. For a minute or so, it sang repeatedly, a series of loud, ringing ‘tseeooo’ notes, and it seemed like it might be working its way towards us. Then it went quiet. We scanned the edge of the trees in case it came out but about ten minutes later, we got two more ‘tseeooo’s from about the same place, and that was it.

It gradually became clear that was all we were going to get for a while. We were about to leave when we looked up and saw a raptor circling low over the trees – a Goshawk. It disappeared back over the trees but a couple of minutes later, we saw it fly across the ride further up, closely followed be a second Goshawk. We thought there was a good chance they might start to display, so we walked up to a spot where there was an opening in the trees.

When we got there, we could see one of the two Goshawks still up above the pines. It was hanging in the wind, not really displaying, but with its white undertail coverts puffed out. It was a much better view than the distant one we had seen earlier. It gradually drifted away and dropped down behind the trees again.

Goshawk

Goshawk – hanging in the wind, with its undertail coverts fluffed out

As we walked back, the two Goshawks appeared again, high over the ride. The male was displaying now, way up in the sky, flying with deep, exaggerated wingbeats, while the larger female circled below.

Apart from actually seeing a Willow Tit, we had found all our Brecks targets already, and had very good views of all the rest of them. We decided to head off and try something different – we could always swing back round here on our way back later.

Common Crane was next on the list, which meant a drive over into the edge of the Fens. We had a look round several of the places they like to feed and, after stopping to check through various Greylag and Canada Geese off in the distance, we spotted a lone Common Crane flying over the meadows. It dropped down behind an area of thick rushes, where it started to feed.

Common Crane

Common Crane – on its own today

There is usually a pair of Common Cranes here and they are rarely seen apart, so hopefully the fact that it was on its own may suggest that this pair are getting down to breeding already.

It was getting on to lunchtime now, so we made our way round to Lakenheath Fen next, where we stopped for a bite to eat. After lunch, we headed out towards the Washland viewpoint. There were lots of Reed Buntings around the feeders outside the visitor centre.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – along the river from the Washland viewpoint

 

As we walked up onto the river bank at the Washland, the first bird we saw was a Great White Egret, a short distance away to the east along the river. Just behind it, a swan on the edge of the reeds turned out to be a lone Whooper Swan. They are not often on their own here and this one didn’t look entirely well, so perhaps it had been unable to follow the rest of the Whooper Swans back towards Iceland.

There were lots of ducks out on the Washland too, mainly Shoveler, Wigeon and Shelduck. A couple of small parties of Tufted Duck were down on the river, along with a few Teal.

The bird we had really hoped to see here was Water Pipit. There are usually quite a few along the river here, but they can be horribly elusive. Today, however, our luck was in as we quickly spotted one picking around one of the islands of rushes just below the viewpoint. It appeared to be in moult, gradually losing its streaked underparts before gaining the brighter pink breast of summer plumage.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – in the middle of moulting to summer plumage

Spoonbill is an unusual bird down here – much commoner up on the coast – so it was not one we had predicted as a possible today. However, following news that one was here yesterday, we had learnt at the visitor centre that it was still present today, along the river. We hadn’t ventured far from the Washland viewpoint, when we spotted a large white shape further downstream, feeding along the far bank. Through the scope, we could confirm it was the Spoonbill.

We walked up the bank until we were roughly opposite the Spoonbill and had a good look at it. We could see the yellow tip to its spoon-shaped bill, the mustard wash across its breast and a flowing crest blowing around in the wind, suggesting it was an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – on the river bank opposite New Fen

 

We were now opposite New Fen, so we cut back in onto the reserve. A pair of Gadwall and a couple of Little Grebe were the only new birds here. With out targets achieved so quickly, we decided not to walk out around the rest of the reserve and made our way back to the visitor centre.

Willow Tit was the only one of the species we had set out to see today which still eluded us, so we decided to head back over for one more go, on our way back to where we had started the day. When we arrived, we met a couple of people leaving who told us that it had just been singing and calling pretty constantly, but remained rather elusive.

Siskin

Siskin – had now joined the tits on the feeding table

 

We walked back up to the feeding stations, where a smart male Siskin had joined the tits down on the sunflower seeds. We stood and watched the comings and goings for a while, but it started to seem like we might be out of luck. Then we heard a Willow Tit calling in the plantation on the other side of the ride, a deep, nasal scolding. Once again, it sounded like it might be heading our way, so we stood and scanned the edge of the trees.

This time the Willow Tit did come out, but it flew from the tops of the pines of one side of the ride, right over our heads. It appeared to be dropping down towards one of the feeding tables, but then seemed to go down into the bushes beyond. We focused on the feeding table, expecting it to make a visit there, but we didn’t see it. The next thing we knew, it started singing from the pines behind.

The Willow Tit was not far into the plantation this time, so we followed the song and found ourselves standing below the tree where it was. It sang and sang for about 10 minutes, but even though we knew exactly which tree it was in, it was almost impossible to see. It was high in the top and not moving. Eventually, it started to move and we get a quick look at it when it came to the outer branches of the tree, before moving off and going quiet.

Perhaps not the best view ever of a Willow Tit, but at least we had seen it now. It meant we had completed the set, all the target species we had set out to find today. With long journeys back and after our early start, we decided to call it a day and head for home.

17th March 2018 – ‘Mini-Beast’ in the Brecks

A group tour today down in the Brecks. With the so-called ‘Mini-Beast from the East’ due to arrive with us overnight, we were forecast plunging temperatures, blustery easterly winds and snow flurries. Not exactly ideal conditions – but as we know, forecasts are notoriously unreliable these days.

When we looked more closely, the detailed forecasts were not necessarily that bad, the worst of the snow was predicted to fall on Saturday night, there was just 10-20% risk of precipitation during daylight hours today (Apparently! It turned out to be a bit more than that.) and there was even the chance of some sunny intervals. With the group keen to give it a go, we pressed ahead (despite two of the group dropping out at the last minute, early in the morning). We were all very glad we did!

A quick check on the way confirmed a Stone Curlew was in one of its regular locations, tucked down in a field, so after meeting up down in the Brecks, we headed straight out to see it. Unfortunately, by the time we got back there just a short time later, there was no sign of it. It had started to snow now and, although it wasn’t settling, it was whipping across the field on the blustery wind. We decided to have another look later, once the weather calmed down again.

We headed off into the forest to look for Woodlarks instead. They should be singing at this time of year, but in the cold and snow they were quiet early this morning. We walked round the edge of a couple of clearings where they are regularly to be found, but it was very quiet. So we decided to try to find a more sheltered spot. As we walked down a ride between two plantations, several Song Thrushes were feeding on the path. Two Great Tits and a pair of Coal Tits had dropped down to feed in the grass on the edge of the trees.

As we came out of the plantations, there were open fields on one side of the path. Scanning over the trees beyond, we saw a big flock of Woodpigeons erupt in the distance and a few seconds later picked up two raptors tussling even further off behind. They looked like Goshawks – one of our main targets for the day – but unfortunately as we tried to get everyone onto them, we lost them in the swirling snow. They had probably dropped straight back down out of view. It didn’t feel like our lucky day.

Fortunately, our luck was about to change. We made our way round to another clearing which was more sheltered behind the trees. As we walked up, we could see a big flock of Fieldfares and Redwings out on the far side, flying up periodically and dropping down into the grass. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was calling in the pines beside us and we could hear a Goldcrest singing too.

Walking quietly along the most sheltered edge, we heard a Woodlark call. It was very quiet, and it seemed like it might be way out in the clearing, but they are great ventriloquists and often sound much further away than they really are. We stopped and scanned, then as we turned a Woodlark came out of a furrow not ten metres away from us! We had a great view of it, as it picked its way through the grass – we could see its bold pale supercilium and, from behind, they way they met in a shallow ‘v’ at the back.

Woodlark

Woodlark – feeding quietly in the grass very close to us

We stood quietly and watched for a while. Suddenly a second Woodlark appeared, next to the first. A pair were feeding here together, the male occasionally uttering a brief song phrase, while he accompanied the female. They could be nesting soon, as soon as the weather improves, so the females in particular need to feed up now. The two Woodlarks gradually worked their way away from us, back the way we had just come.

The snow had eased off now, so we headed over to another part of the forest to have a go to see if we could find any Willow Tits. Walking down along the ride, it was very quiet at first, until we came to an area with two feeding tables set up. There were lots of tits constantly coming and going, and in amongst the commoner Blue, Great and Coal Tits, we picked out one or two Marsh Tits. They would dart in, grab a seed, and dart back to the bushes nearby. But there were no birds singing today and few even calling, which would make our chances of locating the Willow Tits much more difficult.

We hadn’t been there long when the sky started to brighten. First we could see the sun through the clouds, then we saw a patch of blue above us. It even started to feel a little milder! We could wait and see if the Willow Tits started to sing now, but this was probably our best chance to see a Goshawk today. The latter was our real priority today, so we hurried back to the car and headed round to a nearby site to try our luck.

On our way, we spotted a Red Kite circling over a field beside the road, a good sign. It was already clouding over again when we arrived, but as we got out of the car, a Common Buzzard was hanging in the wind over the trees. We only had to wait a few minutes before we picked out two Goshawks in the distance.

The two Goshawks were chasing each other, gradually getting closer towards us. It appeared to be an adult after a juvenile, presumably trying to chase it out of its territory. We got them in the scope so everyone could get a good look at them. One dropped down into the trees, sending the Woodpigeons scattering. The other turned and headed towards the road, keeping low and eventually dropping below the tree line too.

Goshawk 1

Goshawk – one of three we saw this morning, when the weather improved

It was a bit brighter still on the other side of the road, and first one Goshawk crossed away in the distance, then another came over much closer, scattering the Lapwings and Starlings from the fields behind. Remarkably, one of the Goshawks, the juvenile, then started to display over the trees, starting with a bout of slow-flapping with deep, exaggerated wingbeats, then doing a quick rollercoaster dive before turning back up vertically.

Even better, a third Goshawk then appeared over the field too, another juvenile, this one with rather tatty wings. We watched it as it headed over to the trees at the back too, and once again managed to get good views of it in the scope here. A couple of minutes later, we picked one of them up again, circling up high in the distance.

Goshawk 2

Goshawk – the rather tatty-winged juvenile

To have such good views of Goshawks on a day like today was a real bonus. But they do like the wind, more so than a bright but still day, which undoubtedly helped, as well as the briefly brighter skies. We were glad we had hurried over. We were then given a tip off that two Stone Curlews had been seen flying across to one of the other fields, back where we had started out this morning, where they had taken shelter along the edge. Having had such good views of the Goshawks and with the snow still holding off, we decided to head straight round there next.

When we arrived, we had a quick scan around the field edge from the other side of the road, but couldn’t immediately see anything. As we walked up to the hedge, suddenly a Stone Curlew flew up from the long grass on the far side of the field and helpfully landed right out in the middle. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it – the staring eye with bright yellow iris really stood out.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – flew out and landed in the middle of the field

The Stone Curlew stood in the field for a couple of minutes, then ran across towards the other side in stages, stopping still for a while each time, before eventually disappearing from our view behind the trees. It was great to catch up with it here this time.

With three of our main targets for the day already seen and seen well, we decided to have a go at catching up with Lesser Spotted Woodpecker next. Unfortunately, when we got to Santon Downham we found that the footpath alongside the river had been closed.

This footpath is always muddy and slippery in winter, particularly if you try to walk along the sloping parts of the bank which appear superficially drier. A few days ago, a birdwatcher down looking for the woodpeckers had unfortunately slipped and seemingly broken her ankle. It is not an easy place for the emergency services to access anyway and there seemed to be a misunderstanding initially that the casualty was stuck in the mud, which she was not. There was quite a response as a result – two fire engines, fire support vehicles and two fire officers’ cars, one ambulance, one paramedics car, and a police car!

Hopefully the birdwatcher concerned was eventually rescued without too much distress and we wish her a speedy recovery. However, in the light of this incident it appears the Forestry Commission have closed off the whole footpath for an indefinite period, which means there is no access to look for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in their favoured spot.

We contented ourselves with a quick walk round the area instead. There were lots of Chaffinches and Goldfinches in the trees, plus a couple of Marsh Tits, one of which was singing beside the road. A large flock of Redwings, about 50-60 strong, flew up from the paddocks and into the poplars by the river, along with a group of Starlings. A Great Spotted Woodpecker landed high in the poplars too.

A quick look at the feeders in the garden by the bridge revealed several Bramblings. A brighter male showed particularly well, on the ground and perched in a nearby tree, as well as several slightly duller females.

Brambling

Brambling – several were in the gardens down by the bridge

We had intended to eat our lunch down along the river bank, but instead we drove down to St Helens picnic area. It was quiet and fairly birdless here today, so after eating and having a quick look down at the river, we decided to make our way round to Lynford Arboretum.

As we walked in along the track past the Arboretum, we stopped for a quick look at the feeders from the gate. There was very little food left, just a few fatballs in the cage feeder which had attracted a handful of tits. Nothing was feeding on the ground here this afternoon.

Continuing on down the hill towards the bridge, a Redwing was feeding under the trees with a couple of Blackbirds. The latter flew off, but the Redwing appeared pretty fearless. Perhaps it was hungry, and we had great close views of it as it probed around the base of the trunks, hiding in the buttresses, or hopped out across the grass between the trees.

Redwing

Redwing – this fearless individual was feeding around the base of trees

There was no food put out for the birds down at the bridge either this afternoon, but thankfully we had brought a bag of sunflower seeds with us. Within seconds of spreading some out, first the Blue Tits arrived, quickly followed by Great Tits and Marsh Tits. This is a great place to get close up views of the latter in particular.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming down to sunflower seeds at the bridge

Eventually the Nuthatches got involved too, with several different individuals coming in to the seed from time to time. They are a bit shyer than some of the other birds, and spent quite a bit of time perched in the trees nearby before making a very swift visit.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – waiting to come down to the sunflower seeds at the bridge

There were other birds here too. Robins, Dunnocks and Chaffinches came in to investigate the seed too. Several Long-tailed Tits were hanging on one of the feeders which still had a couple of fatballs left. We heard a Treecreeper calling but it didn’t show itself today. There were lots of Siskins in the alders and we watched a male singing and displaying to a female above our heads.

After a while, a large group of people out for an afternoon stroll came down along the path beside the lake and stopped on the bridge. We took this as our cue to go and look for Hawfinches in the paddocks. As we walked down along the path beside the fields, towards one of the larger gaps in the hedge, we could see lots of Redwings in the hornbeams in the middle, along with a Mistle Thrush.

It was not forecast to snow again until later tonight, but at that point a thick flurry started once more, which for a minute or two made it difficult to see into the trees. It eased off a bit and we did manage to have a good look, but there was no immediate sign of any Hawfinches there and very few other finches feeding below the trees today. When all the Redwings and Chaffinches which had been there spooked and flew off towards the Arboretum, we decided to go for a walk round.

There were several pairs of Gadwall on the lake and two Canada Geese on the lawn in front of the Hall, along with several Moorhens. We could hear a Little Grebe laughing at us, but didn’t see it here. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was in the trees beside the path, before flying off behind us as we passed. A little further on, we flushed a drake Mandarin from the water under the trees beside the path, which flew off into the wood beyond, and we eventually found two Little Grebes tucked in under the overhanging vegetation, fast asleep.

Circling round through the trees, it was fairly quiet, apart from the far side where a Marsh Tit called as it came in for some seed. As we made our way round to the far side of the paddocks, we stopped to look in the top of the firs beyond, to see if any Hawfinches were coming in. It was snowing quite heavily now, although at least it was still not settling on the ground, and the wind seemed to have picked up again, which meant it was hard to see them perching in the tops of the trees for long.

It felt like we might have run out of luck at the last hurdle, but as we walked back beside the paddocks we could see all the Redwings were now busy feeding under the hornbeams. We have seen the Hawfinches feeding in with the Redwings before, so we stopped for another careful scan and there was a cracking male Hawfinch down on the ground. We all managed to get a good look at it through the scope, before something spooked all the birds and they flew up into the trees.

Making our way back up to the car park, we had nice views of a Goldcrest in the low fir trees here. We continued on to the old gravel pits beyond, where there were not as many ducks as there have been in recent weeks. There were plenty of Tufted Ducks and a few Cormorants. A flock of Gadwall dropped in, accompanied by a few Teal. On the larger pit, it was pretty exposed – the pair of Great Crested Grebe were still present, but swimming around at the back.

With occasional flurries of snow still falling, it was time to call it a day and head back to the warmth of home! Once again, we had seen the benefit of getting out despite the weather and giving it a go, seeing all the main species we might have hoped to see today.