Tag Archives: Woodlark

26th June 2017 – Summer with Cameras

A Private Tour today, with a difference. We were particularly targeting certain species and hoping to get photographs of them too. It was a lovely sunny day, warm out of the breeze which picked up on the coast in the afternoon. Perhaps a little too nice?

After a relaxed start, the target for the first part of the morning was to look for raptors. As we drove along, a Red Kite circled over the road, together with a Common Buzzard. We parked at the start of a farm track and walked up to the top of a rise, from where we could get a good view over the surrounding countryside.

We saw a good selection of birds of prey from our vantage point here. First, a Kestrel flew past as we walked along the track. Looking back towards the meadow where we had parked, a Barn Owl was out hunting, presumably still with hungry young in the nest to feed and having to work hard accordingly. As the air warmed, several Common Buzzards circled up out of the trees. Unfortunately, the warming air also meant that the heat haze quickly increased, making photography rather more challenging!

There were other birds too. Best of them all, a Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. They were once more common but are now very scarce in the breeding season across most of Norfolk. One or two pairs cling on in farmland and hopefully this one is breeding somewhere around here. Some distinctive calls alerted us to five Mediterranean Gulls circling high overhead, presumably looking for a suitable field to feed in. Skylarks fluttered up over the fields singing and a Common Whitethroat flitted about in the hedge.

When we had had our fill of raptors, we walked back to the car. Our destination for the rest of the morning was up on the Heath. A particular target here was Garden Warbler. They can be very elusive, often lurking deep in the bushes, but have at least started singing more again in the last week or so, presumably between broods. As we pulled up in the car park, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing but we were pleasantly surprised to look over and see it perched out on the near edge of the blackthorn, close by.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – posing for the cameras in the car park

Having posed unusually well at first, the Garden Warbler quickly dropped back down into cover. Normal service was resumed – we could still hear it singing but from deep in the blackthorn! Still, it was a great start and we set off out onto the Heath feeling rather hopeful.

Our second target here today was Woodlark. Unfortunately, they were not quite so accommodating. They are onto their second broods now and, with the females probably on eggs, they are not at their most visible. Getting towards the middle of the day, it was also not the best time to look for them. When we set off from the car park, we met some other local birders returning who told us they had seen a pair of Woodlarks earlier. We went straight round to the place where they had been, but we couldn’t find them – presumably they had flown off already. We did find a pair of Skylarks feeding nearby, which was not quite what we were looking for, even if very nice to see close to on the ground.

We had a walk round to another area where the Woodlarks have been feeding often in recent weeks, but the vegetation here is growing up fast now making them harder to see. We listened as we circled round the area, but we couldn’t hear any either. There were plenty of Linnets around the gorse and several Yellowhammers singing, although even these were not posing for the cameras quite as they might normally have done today. A couple of juvenile Stonechats were flitting around the bushes out in the middle of the Heath.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – there were several males singing around the Heath today

The butterflies were more obliging. There are large numbers of Silver-studded Blues out at the moment, one of the specialities of the Heath, so we stopped to admire a couple of them on our way round.

Silver-studded BlueSilver-studded Blue – large numbers are out on the Heath at the moment

There wasn’t much time to explore the Heath before it was time for lunch, so we walked back to the car for a break. Typically, we were just in the process of eating our sandwiches in a shady spot when we noticed a couple of Woodlarks flying in low over the trees. They dropped down out of view in the distance and we had a pretty good idea the area where they were heading. We quickly put our food down and grabbed our gear.

We couldn’t see them at first when we got round to the place where the Woodlarks had gone down, so we weren’t sure if they had continued on or landed. We followed the path up a slight rise, and unfortunately they flew up without calling from the far side just as we appeared over the top, three of them. They didn’t go far, but landed again in the long grass just a short distance ahead of us. We could see one of them through the scope, creeping around in the grass.

The Woodlarks were a bit far for photographs, particularly with the heat haze today, so we decided to try to circle round to the other side of them. They can be very obliging, but not today and as we edged forwards they were off again.

After finishing our lunch, we set off again around the Heath to see if we could find any Dartford Warblers. It was early afternoon now, the warmest part of the day, but we hoped a light breeze would be enough to encourage the birds into some activity. It was not the case. Like the Woodlarks, the Dartford Warblers are on second broods now and the females are on eggs. The males still often sing now, but early and late are definitely best.

We did hear a Turtle Dove purring in the trees, but as it was not a target species for the day we did not go off looking for it. We also bumped into a nice selection of insects. As well as the Silver-studded Blues, there were lots of other butterflies, especially lots of Small Skippers feeding on the Viper’s Bugloss. A large Emperor Dragonfly was hawking around other heather. And we saw several bright Green Tiger Beetles on the paths.

Small SkipperSmall Skipper – feeding on Viper’s Bugloss

With no further sign of the Woodlarks either, we decided to head down to the coast at Cley for a walk. There were quite a few cars (though not so many birders in evidence!), so when we found a place to park, we headed out along the East Bank. As we set off, a Little Egret flew past and disappeared off towards North Foreland wood. A Grey Heron flew in over the reeds too, and disappeared into the trees.

Little EgretLittle Egret – flew in to North Foreland wood

The pool at the start of the East Bank held a few ducks. Among them, a female Common Pochard was diving. She appeared to be down to just one duckling, although by now it was at least well on its way to being fully grown. Otherwise, there were just a variety of ages of Mallard on here.

The grazing marshes east of the East Bank still have quite a bit of water on them this year. There were still plenty of Lapwing around the small pools and in the grass, though not so many juveniles with them. Predation often tends to be high with wader chicks here.

LapwingLapwing – several adults though not so many juveniles in evidence

Interestingly, the Redshanks seemed to be doing a little better in their parental duties and as well as a good number of adults, there were several juveniles around the edges of the Serpentine, which was good to see. Looking further over, towards Pope’s Pool, there were lots of Avocet and more adult Redshank, plus a single Black-tailed Godwit and one Ringed Plover. The early waders are already starting to return from the north, often failed breeders first, and a lone Whimbrel flying east over the start of the East Bank as we looked back probably fits that category.

RedshankRedshank – one of several juveniles around the Serpentine

As there has been over the last few weeks, there was a nice selection of wildfowl around the Serpentine, even if the drakes are starting to moult into eclipse plumage. As well as the usual Mallard and Gadwall, including a nice little family party of the latter with several small ducklings, there were also two Wigeon and quite a few Teal, both species which are more winter visitors. How many of these have remained here all summer, and how many have been around either here or nearby right the way through, is hard to tell. There were loads of Greylag Geese too, with no shortage of young ones with them, already well grown now.

There was quite a fresh breeze blowing in, with the wind having turned north-east this afternoon. The Sand Martins seemed to be enjoying it. There was quite a flock of them, hawking for insects. They kept swinging out over the marshes, before returning en masse and swooping around the bank.

Sand MartinSand Martin – a large flock were hawking for insects around the East Bank

We had hoped we might find a Bearded Tit along here, but it was perhaps a bit too windy to get a good look at one. We did hear some calling. One was in the reeds in the ditch on the east side of the bank. The light was perfect this side, although it was most exposed to the wind. We stood close by hoping it would climb up into the reeds but unfortunately it flew off down the line of the reeds. There were quite a few Reed Warblers, which showed quite well, and a male Reed Bunting perched in the top of the reeds singing.

There were quite a few Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh, and plenty of Great Black-backed Gulls, but not much else of note today. We were told there had been a Little Gull offshore here, but by the time we got out to the beach it had moved on. There were lots of Sandwich Terns offshore, as well as a single adult Mediterranean Gull with the Black-headed Gulls.

There were more waders moving, to add to the Whimbrel we had seen earlier. A single Curlew flew west over Arnold’s Marsh, flying straight through without stopping. Then while we were looking out to see, we noticed three more Curlews flying west just offshore, presumably just arriving fresh in from the Continent. More waders on migration, which is always interesting to see.

CurlewCurlew – these three were probably just arriving from the Continent this afternoon

We had an appointment with Nightjars this evening, so with an eye on the clock and the need to get something to eat beforehand we headed back to the car. A Little Ringed Plover flew off from the Serpentine as we passed, presumably having dropped in while we were at the beach.

Having had a break and eaten, we met up again later in the evening. We were just looking for Nightjars this evening, so we made our way straight up to the heath. We arrived in good time and with a few minutes to spare, we had a quick walk round looking for some good places to stand.

As we walked past a clump of gorse, we heard a very soft churr which meant that a Nightjar was very close. Peering over the vegetation, we could just see it through a narrow gap, perched on a branch lying on the ground. Unfortunately, as we tried to get everyone up onto it, it took off. We had a nice flight view as it flew round and up into some trees. It was a male – we could see the white corners to its tail and white bands across the tips of its wings as it flew. We saw roughly where it went, so we walked over in the direction.

The Nightjar hadn’t landed on one of its regular perches. It was now about time for them to start churring anyway, and it duly obliged by bursting into ‘song’. We could hear where it was, a bit further along than normal, so we made our way carefully round the trees. It was perched right out in the open on a dead branch, but again we struggled to get everyone onto it before it flew. They never stay in one place for long, especially early in the evening. As it took off, a second male Nightjar joined it, and the two of them circled up over the edge of the trees calling. This is a territorial boundary, so there was probably a bit of a discussion going on!

We followed one of the two male Nightjars as it flew off across the Heath. We know exactly where it likes to perch, so it was just a matter of which tree it might head for. At first it was not settling and we quickly realised why – there was a female Nightjar there too! The male flew after her, following her from branch to branch, wing-clapping. The female was much harder to follow in the gloom, lacking the male’s white wing and tail patches.

When the female Nightjar flew on again, this time the male remained perched and gave us a chance to get it in the scope. It stayed there churring for a minute or two. There was still just enough light to get a really good look at it – and some photos. Great stuff!

NightjarNightjar – this male eventually settled and started churring

When that male Nightjar finally flew again, we could hear a different bird churring across the Heath. We looked across and it was perched in a tree, perfectly silhouetted against the last of the light, a classic Nightjar view. When it finally moved away, we decided to head back.

The light was fading fast now and we had already enjoyed some unforgettable Nightjar views, so we decided to call it a night. They really are the most fascinating of birds and there is nothing better than standing on a heath on a summer’s evening listening to them churring and watching them flying round. It is always a great way to end a day of Summer birding.

25th June 2017 – Summer Weekend, Day 2

The second day of a weekend of Summer birding, looking for some of our scarcer breeding birds, as well as the more regular species we can see here at this time of year. It was mostly cloudy but pleasantly warm and bright, and we managed for the most part to dodge the showers in the afternoon, at least until we had finished for the day.

On the drive down to the Brecks, we saw several Red Kites today, hanging in the air by the road. We took a meandering route, looking for Stone Curlews and other birds on the way down. The pig fields in the northern Brecks were full of Rooks, Jackdaws and gulls. We stopped to look through a particularly large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and were rewarded with a single adult Yellow-legged Gull with them – larger, bulkier and with a much paler grey back and custard yellow legs.

The first couple of fields where we looked for Stone Curlew, we drew a blank. The vegetation is getting very tall now and the birds are getting much harder to see. But on our third stop, we found one Stone Curlew out in the open on rather bare and stony ground. Even though we remained at some considerable distance, it was a little nervous at first, running in a couple of short bursts across towards the edge of the field. We stood still behind the car and it quickly settled down, standing and preening.

Stone Curlew

In the end, we had to tear ourselves away and left the Stone Curlew still standing out in the open in the field. With one of our main target species for the day already in the bag, we decided to head straight over to Lakenheath Fen next.

As we walked out onto the reserve at Lakenheath, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the bushes. There were lots of Reed Warblers feeding in the reeds and weedy vegetation by the path. There were lots of butterflies too – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a smart Large Skipper.

Large SkipperLarge Skipper – on the walk out by the main path

We stopped at New Fen Viewpoint for a scan across the reeds. There were just a few Coots on the pool today, adults and juveniles of varying ages. A Common Tern flew in and started hovering out over the water. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across, and we saw a brief Hobby which was chasing a Magpie over the back of the reeds. A very distant pair of Kestrels circled over West Wood.

A Cuckoo was singing from the poplars as we walked out and, while we stood at the viewpoint, one came out of the trees behind us and flew out across over the reeds. It disappeared into the poplars along the other side. There were several Reed Warblers zipping about in the reeds around the water.

There is only one pair of Common Cranes breeding here this year and they are not in an accessible part of the reserve, so we had assumed we would not see any here today. We had been told by the warden in the visitor centre that six Cranes had been reported earlier, but as they had been flying around we were not sure if they had gone. At this point however they circled up over West Wood, and we watched as they circled across to the river and started drifting east.

Common Crane 1Common Crane – six flew over New Fen while we were there today

It looked like the Cranes would continue east over the river but when they got level with us they turned, and started coming straight towards us over edge of trees. They were not far away when they finally banked over the wood and started to circle up, before drifting back east. A real bonus!

Common Crane 2Common Crane – four of the six circling over East Wood

Continuing out along the main path, we stopped from time to time to look at the various dragonflies. These included good numbers of Black-tailed Skimmers and Ruddy Darters now, although still comparatively few mature red males of the latter species, plus a few Brown Hawkers and plenty of Four-Spotted Chasers still.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – a maturing male, gradually turning red

There was an excellent selection of blue damselflies here too – including several of the regular Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies. The highlight was a single Variable Damselfly – a subtly marked one, with rather full blue antehumeral stripes.

Variable DamselflyVariable Damselfly – with rather complete black antehumeral stripes

Another, this time avian, highlight was the Great Crested Grebe on one of the pools by path near West Wood. On closer inspection, we could see it was carrying two small, stripy juvenile grebes on its back. We could just see their black and white heads sticking out from their parent’s feathers. Why swim when you can ride in comfort!

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – with two juveniles riding on its back

When we got out to Joist Fen Viewpoint, we sat down to rest after the walk out and had a look over the reeds in front. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reedbed and lots of Reed Warblers around the pool in front. A Hobby shot across low over the reeds, giving us much better views than we had of the one earlier.

We had seen a pair of Bearded Tits in the edge of the reeds just as we approached the Joist Fen Viewpoint, but they had flown up and over the bank ahead of us. Sitting on the benches we found ourselves watching non-stop Bearded Tit action. Birds were zipping back and forth over the pool and feeding low around the base of the reeds on the edge of the water.

One pair of Bearded Tits, possibly the one we had seen flying over this way on the way out, was feeding some juveniles hidden down in the reeds right in front of us. The youngsters would occasionally perch up in the reeds begging when one of the adults returned. We had great views of them.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – great views of adults feeding young in front of the viewpoint

This is a great time of year to see Bitterns at Lakenheath Fen, with adults busy feeding growing young in the nest, and so flying back and forth from their favoured feeding areas regularly. But they kept us waiting today. We had one eye on the clock, aiming to get back for lunch, and time was ticking. There was just one tantalising glimpse, which was too quick for anyone to get onto. Eventually, we had nice views when a Bittern flew out of the bushes beside the viewpoint and away across the reeds in front of us, before dropping down into the vegetation. It was perhaps not the best view of Bittern we have had here, but it was good enough and would have to do as we needed to get back.

It seems Bitterns are like buses. Having had to wait to see the first at Joist Fen, we were walking back when one flew up from the reeds in front of us, right next to the path, flushed by someone walking along the path towards us. It was very close, and we had a fantastic look at it as it flew out across the pool, turning to fly past us before dropping back into the reeds. As if that wasn’t good enough, as we were walking past Mere Hide, another Bittern flew towards us low over the reeds beside the path, and carried on straight past us. Fantastic views!

BitternBittern – we were treated to fantastic views of two on the walk back

With a spring in our step, we walked back to the visitor centre, for a later than planned lunch outside at the picnic tables. After lunch, we had a quick look at the Washland. It is getting rather dry now, but still we managed to add a few waders to the day’s list – Lapwings, Oystercatchers, two Little Ringed Plovers, and a single Redshank. There were a few Mallard and Gadwall with ducklings, and a couple of Common Terns too.

We drove back to Thetford Forest for the rest of the afternoon, to try to catch up with some woodland birds. The little clump of trees where the male Redstart was singing a couple of weeks ago is now quiet. However, as we walked round into the clearing, we caught a glimpse of a Woodlark in the corner drop down into the grass. We walked round there to try to get a closer look.

As we made our way over, a Tree Pipit started singing. We watched as it fluttered up and then parachuted down across in front of us, landing again in the back of a large hawthorn bush. We could just see bits of it in the scope. Then, a second Tree Pipit flew over calling, and dropped into the top of another bush further back. This one was out in the open and facing us, so we got a much better look at it in the scope, although it was rather distant.

Carrying on around the clearing, we flushed a Woodlark from the long grass beside the path, possibly the one we had seen earlier. It flew round past us, showing off its short tail, and landed in a nearby pine tree briefly. We got a good look through binoculars, but it dropped down into the thicker branches before we could get it in the scope. A little further on along the path, we flushed another three Woodlarks from the grass, presumably a family party.

Continuing up to the far end of the clearing, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing again. We didn’t see where it came from, but we looked round to see it fly up into the edge of the pines and land on a branch. We got it in the scope and had a proper look at it, much closer this time. It had started spitting with rain as we walked round, and now it started to rain harder. It was still only light, but we made our way quickly back to the car just in case.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – this one perched up nicely for us in the trees

Thankfully the rain stopped almost immediately, as we drove round to Lynford Arboretum for the last hour of the day. We had already seen all our main target species, but we hoped we might be able to catch up with a few commoner woodland species here for our trip list.

As we walked across the road and into the Aboretum, we could hear a Grey Wagtail calling as it flew over the trees above our head, but we couldn’t see it. Several Goldcrests were singing from the fir trees. We stopped to watch a pair of Treecreepers, chasing each other around the trunk of a tree just before the gates to the new cottages. Suddenly a Spotted Flycatcher appeared in the same tree right next to them.

Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher – showed really well as we walked in to the Arboretum

We got a great look at it, but the Spotted Flycatcher quickly flicked back over the other side of the garden wall behind. We walked up to the gates and could see it flitting around the roofs of the cottages. They are very subtle but very smart birds, and full of character. Spotted Flycatchers are getting much scarcer now, so it is always a pleasure to see one, especially as well as this.

Continuing on along the path, we stopped to admire the new wildflower meadow. It is looking really good this year, a riot of colour, and chock full of insects and butterflies. Several Emperor Dragonflies were hawking around over the vegetation. A female Kestrel was perched on a telegraph post in the field, and kept dropping down into the flowers, presumably after something tasty it had seen.

We had only gone a little further when we heard a bird calling from the trees across the field. It was a Hawfinch. We hurried along to a point from where we could scan over the trees and found it perched in the top of a fir tree. We all got a look at it through binoculars, but unfortunately it dropped down before we could get the scope onto it. We walked in along the path where it seemed to drop, but we couldn’t find it again. Hawfinches are regular here in the winter but are as rare as hens’ teeth here in the summer, and difficult to see when there are leaves on the trees too, so this was a real and most unexpected bonus!

Down over the bridge, we too the path along the side of the lake. There were a few tits in the trees and Swallows hawking for insects low over the paddocks. A Little Grebe was diving among the lily pads on the lake. As we turned to walk back, we spotted a juvenile Grey Wagtail lurking on the mud on the edge of the island.

It had been a very productive stop at Lynford and it made a really nice way to end the day and the weekend. We walked back up to the car – arriving just in time, as a heavy shower blew in. Our luck had certainly been in today!

22nd June 2017 – Summer Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. After the recent hot weather, it finally broke today. But although we dodged the thunder storms successfully, it was rather cool and windy afterwards, through the afternoon.

On our way down, we stopped off first at Weeting Heath. We were immediately rewarded with lovely views of a Stone Curlew feeding in the long grass in front of the hide. It was quite active, running backwards and forwards, looking down at the ground for food and occasionally pecking at something. A careful scan revealed a second Stone Curlew, sat down hidden in the vegetation – we could just see the back of its head! A Mistle Thrush was hopping around on the shorter grass in front of the hide too.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – showing well at Weeting today

One of the targets for the day was to see summer warblers, so we made our way over to another site where we hoped we might find some. We were duly rewarded with a nice selection. Garden Warbler was a particularly sought after species and we found at least two pairs, one of the males singing briefly. A subtle species, it was good to get a proper look at them, as they can be rather skulking.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – we got good views of this species today

We also heard and saw several other species here – Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were all singing and perched around in the bushes. Only Lesser Whitethroat evaded us here – they are present, but probably busy with breeding at the moment and consequently silent and hiding.

This is also a good spot for Nightingale. They were rather quiet at first – it is not the best time of the year to look for them – but we eventually heard one singing. We followed the sound and saw it perched up briefly in a hawthorn. It took a while to get everyone onto it, but thankfully came out onto the same branch again for a second. Then it dropped down out of view. As we continued on round, we heard another Nightingale singing further over and one calling nearby, sounding rather like a frog croaking.

There were a few other birds here too. We flushed several Linnets from the grass and bushes as we walked round. A female Greenfinch flew up in front of us and landed on some brambles, carrying some moss in its bill, presumably busy nest building nearby. We heard a couple of Yellowhammers singing and eventually got a look at one perched on some overhead wires.

GreenfinchGreenfinch – this female was probably nest building nearby

We had heard thunder rumbling and dark clouds starting to gather. The lightning when it started was quite dramatic but thankfully some distance away. Finally it started to spit with rain, so we made our way quickly back to the car. We arrived just in time, as the heavens opened.

The rain had stopped by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, but it was still cloudy and rather cooler than it had been earlier. We headed straight out onto the reserve, with Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers, and Common Whitethroats all singing by the path and showing well. In contrast, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted from deep in the bushes.

There were a few birds on the pool in front of the New Fen Viewpoint. An adult Great Crested Grebe was being followed round by a well grown juvenile, still boasting a black and white striped face. The family of Coot have almost fully grown young too, but the female Tufted Duck was all alone. A Kingfisher zipped out of the trees behind us and disappeared low across the water, returning the same way a minute or so later with fish in bill. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds at the back.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on the pools at New Fen

As we continued out along the main path, there were lots of dragonflies by the path. Several male Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the bare dirt along the track, flying off ahead of us. The vegetation either side was alive with Ruddy Darters today, presumably recently emerged as they seemed to be mostly young males and females. There were butterflies too, with Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells on the brambles. A Large Skipper landed briefly beside the path.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – there were lots out today

On the walk out, we had heard a Cuckoo singing from the poplars in the distance, but it had stopped when we got to New Fen. As we approached the West Wood it flew straight out of the trees towards us and landed in the poplars right by the path. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it flew deeper into the trees and started singing again. A second Cuckoo was still singing in West Wood as we passed.

CuckooCuckoo – landed in the poplars next to the path briefly

Continuing on to Joist Fen viewpoint, there were several RSPB volunteers hanging around staring out across the reeds. They were doing a Bittern survey today. It wasn’t long before we spotted a Bittern for them. It flew up out of the reeds in front of the viewpoint and headed off over the channel, before turning and dropping down into the reeds along one side. There was a lot of Bittern activity today – this is a good time to see them, as the adults are making regular feeding flights to and from their nests.

There were plenty of other birds to see at Joist Fen. Several Marsh Harriers were quartering back and forth over the reeds, a Common Tern was fishing over one of the pools and a Cormorant flew up from one of the channels and headed over towards the river. A flock of over 20 Black-tailed Godwits circled over the reedbed. We heard Bearded Tits calling a couple of times but couldn’t see them – it was getting rather breezy now. There was no sign of any Hobbys here today, but it was perhaps rather too cool and windy after the rain, which was keeping all the insects down.

Climbing up onto the river bank, we had a quick scan across the fields opposite, but it was all rather quiet here. Several Mute Swans were feeding along the river, as was another Great Crested Grebe. Looking back across Joist Fen, we spotted another two Bitterns flying across together further over, before splitting off and dropping down again in different directions.

Back at Mere Hide it was more sheltered and there were more dragonflies, with several Four-Spotted Chasers chasing around over the water. A Red-eyed Damselfly landed on a cut reed stem just in front of the hide. A Kingfisher flew in and looked like it might land on one of the posts out in the water but instead carried on past and landed in the reeds right next to the hide. It was partly obscured by the reeds, but we got a great look at it.

KingfisherKingfisher – landed in the reeds right in front of Mere Hide

Back at New Fen, we stopped by the viewpoint again briefly, but there were still no Hobbys here either. We did see another Bittern, our fourth of the morning, which flew right across low over the reeds and over the river bank, turning and landing just beyond. We walked round there to see if it was close to the path, but when we arrived there was no sign of it.

We made our way back along the river bank to the Washland. It was looking rather dry now, and there were fewer ducks than earlier in the year. We did manage to see a nice selection of waders, including a single Little Ringed Plover, one Redshank, two Black-tailed Godwits and plenty of Oystercatchers & Lapwings. In the distance beyond, e could see a Red Kite circling.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back to the car. We were just getting the food out when we looked up to see a Bittern flying low overhead. A bit of a surprise, as we were some way from any reeds! It disappeared off towards the visitor centre.

BitternBittern – flew low over the car park as we were getting our lunch out

After lunch, we headed back into the forest to look for some typical species which can be found here. Our first stop has been a regular site for Redstart in the last few weeks, but there was no sight nor sound of it here today. Hopefully, this means it has found a female and they have settled down to breed nearby.

We had a walk into the clearing and as we made our way round the edge, a pipit flew overhead and dropped down into the grass. We made our way over to see if we could see it but before we got there we heard a bird calling softly from the trees nearby and looked up to see another pipit perched in a pine. As we hoped, it was a Tree Pipit and we got a great look at it through the scope.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – up in the pines carrying food for its young

The Tree Pipit was carrying food in its bill, so presumably has young nearby. We left it in peace and retreated. We had intended to go to another site for Tree Pipit after this, but there was now no need. So instead we went round to the other side of the clearing to see if we could find any sign of a Redstart.

It was rather quiet here now, the middle of the afternoon and cool and breezy. A flock of tits moved quickly along the edge of the pines – Long-tailed Tits accompanied by a few Blue and Coal Tits. We flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the grass, which flew up into the trees nearby. However, the highlight of our walk here was a Woodlark which perched in the top of a small pine briefly in the middle of the clearing.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. We had hoped that there might be more activity here, out of the wind, but it was rather subdued here too. As we walked round, we did find a couple of Nuthatches dropping down to the ground to feed under a small tree and we heard a Treecreeper calling from the wood. There were quite a few Siskins buzzing round the tops of the firs in the Arboretum and a pair came down and landed a little lower where we could see them briefly. A couple of Goldcrests showed themselves too.

We made our way down to the lake. There are always Little Grebes on here and they seemed to have had a good breeding season. As adult was feeding a small juvenile under the overhanging branches just along from the bridge. Further along, 3-4 fully grown juvenile Little Grebes, still sporting stripey faces, were diving among the lily pads.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of the fully grown juveniles on the lake

When we got the end of the lake, we turned and made our way slowly back to the car to finish the day.

9th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Private Tour today, our last day. We were planning to head down to the Brecks for the day. It was a nice day today, mostly cloudy but brighter later, lighter winds than of late, and we managed to dodge a couple of quick showers in the afternoon.

As we got down into the northern part of the Brecks, we started to see more pig fields. We stopped by one of them where we could see there was a large mob of gulls. The pig nuts had just been spread out in amongst one group of pigs and the gulls were squabbling in between them trying to help themselves. Then there was a loud ‘Bang!’ as a bird scarer went off and all the gulls took to the air.

When they landed again, down in a dip in the middle of the field, we scanned through the gulls we could see. We had hoped we might find a Caspian Gull, but they were mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls here today, of various ages, plus a couple of Herring Gulls. We had thought we might come back and have another look here later, but our day ended up taking us off in a different direction.

Stone Curlew was our next target and we quickly found a pair in a field by the road. The vegetation is growing up now and they are getting harder to see, particularly when they sit down. It took a careful scan to find them, but we could just see two heads peeping out. We got them in the scope and could see their staring yellow irises. A nice start to the day.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair hiding in the field

When originally discussing possible targets for these three days, Wood Warbler was one species which came up. Unfortunately the bird which had been singing near Brandon last week had not been reported for several days, but we wondered whether this might be just because of the windy weather. We went for a quick look just in case, but all was quiet in the trees where it had been, so we didn’t linger here.

Our next stop was more successful. We parked by a ride in the forest and walked along the track until we got to a large clearing. We could hear Goldcrests and a Treecreeper calling in the pines as we passed. As we approached the clearing we could hear a Stonechat calling and we looked over and saw a smart male perched on the top of an old stump row. A female was perched nearby with food in her bill. They clearly had young in the nest nearby.

StonechatStonechat – the pair in the clearing appear to have young

We were looking for Tree Pipit here and it didn’t take too long to find one. It was perched in the top of an elder tree just along from the Stonechats. We got a good look at it through the scope, swaying about in the wind, before it flew off and up into the pines trees beyond.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – perched in an elder tree briefly

Continuing on round the clearing, we caught a snatch of song, quite sweet and melodic but more rolling than a Blackcap. It seemed an odd place for a Garden Warbler and the first bird we saw come out of the young pine trees was a Whitethroat which led to a brief bout of head scratching – could we have imagined it? Thankfully, a couple of seconds later the Garden Warbler flicked up into the top of some brambles in the stump row behind, a nice bonus to see here and not one we had expected.

Back to the car and we drove round to another part of the forest. There has been a Redstart singing here recently, but we couldn’t hear it today. Whether it was just busy feeding somewhere out of view or has failed to find a mate and moved on was not clear. A smart male Yellowhammer flew in calling and landed on the fence in front of us.

We had a walk round and flushed a Cuckoo from the grass. It landed on a fencepost briefly, before flying off along the fence line. A second Cuckoo appeared and flew out to a small bush nearby, where we got a great view of it in the scope. Then we heard what we assume was the first Cuckoo singing in the distance, so there were two males here. A little later the second Cuckoo flew over and attempted to chase off the first, before flying back to its favoured bush.

CuckooCuckoo – one of two males here today

Another Tree Pipit flew in and dropped down into the long grass. We walked over to try to get a better look at it, but it had managed to sneak away. As we scanned the spot where it had dropped in, the next thing we knew it took off again from further along and flew off towards the trees.

As we turned to walk back, we could hear a Woodlark calling. Suddenly a male Woodlark flew up from a short distance ahead of us and started to sing, fluttering up over our heads, before drifting away over the clearing. We took a few more steps and heard another Woodlark calling. It sounded to be a long way away, but they are masters at throwing their voice and looking at the grass just ahead of us, we spotted it perched on a tussock, presumably the female.

WoodlarkWoodlark – perched on a tussock close to the path

We stopped immediately and had a good look at it through binoculars, but when we tried to get the scope on it, the Woodlark took off and landed in the grass further back, out of view. We headed back to the car and drove on. Having seen Stone Curlew earlier this morning, we were not to worried to see another, but we stopped briefly at Weeting on the way past anyway. We couldn’t find the Stone Curlews here today, but we did find three regular Eurasian Curlews out in the grass, a reminder they still breed in the Brecks in small numbers.

We stopped for lunch at Lakenheath Fen. While we were eating at one of the picnic tables, a Hobby drifted overhead. We had intended to explore the reserve after lunch, but with most of the possible species we might see here already on our list for the three days, another idea sprang to mind. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope at Welney for the last couple of days, which would be a new bird for one of us. It seemed like it would be a great way to round off the trip.

While Welney is not far away as the crow flies, it was a circuitous journey round from Lakenheath, through the Fens. When we arrived at the Welney WWT visitor centre, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling from the bushes outside, but couldn’t see them. We decided to look for them later, and with other things taking priority headed straight out to look for the phalarope. The staff at the visitor centre confirmed it had still been present just a short time ago, so we set off to walk the almost 1km down to Friends Hide.

When we got to the hide, The Red-necked Phalarope was out of view. There were several pairs of Avocets on here and quite a few chicks. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers had a couple of small fluffy juveniles with them too. We had been lucky with the weather today – it was warm and bright as we walked out to the hide – but we had been promised showers in the afternoon and a brief heavy rain shower came through. The adult Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers called to their respective young and sheltered the juveniles under their wings while the rain passed over.

AvocetAvocet – sheltering their chicks under their wings during the rain shower

It quickly brightened up again and the juvenile Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers were let out. The Avocets were being very aggressive. Their idea of childcare is to let the young fend for themselves and chase off potential predators. But they have got their definition of what might be a threat to their young awry – they were busy chasing off anything and everything!

A couple of adult Avocets kept having a go at the poor Little Ringed Plovers, chasing after them while they were trying to protect their young. The adult Little Ringed Plovers tried to lead them away with a distraction display, walking away with wings dangled, trying to look injured. It didn’t really work. The Avocets would follow them at first, then when the Little Ringed Plover felt it had got far enough away, it ran back to its chick but the Avocet simply chased back after it.

Avocet and Little Ringed Plover 1Avocet & Little Ringed Plover – the latter giving a distraction display, feigning injury

The Avocets kept chasing the Red-necked Phalarope too, which was probably why it spent so much time hiding in the reeds at the front of the pool. Every time the Red-necked Phalarope swam out, it was promptly chased off. We had a couple of quick views of it. At one point, when chased, it flew across the front of the scrape and landed on a small patch of mud, but the Avocet was still after it and once again it disappeared back into the reeds.

Eventually, the juvenile Avocets moved away from the Red-necked Phalarope’s favoured corner and it managed to swim about for a while feeding out in the open where we could get a good look at it. It was a male, which in phalarope’s means it is the duller plumaged of the sexes, with the females being brighter. The females do all the displaying and leave the males to incubate and rear the young. This male Red-necked Phalarope was still a smart bird, swimming round non-stop, in and out of the reeds, picking at the waters surface for insects of ducking its head under.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – swimming around in front of the hide

We watched the Red-necked Phalarope for a while, swimming once it finally came out into the open for a while. They are rare visitors here and this bird was probably heading up to Scandinavia or Iceland for the breeding season, though where it had spent the winter is anyone’s guess with Scandinavian birds wintering out in the Arabian Sea but recent studies showing that some of the small number of birds breeding in the Shetland Islands migrating to join the North American population in the South Pacific Ocean! When it finally swam back into the reeds again, we decided to start walking back.

On the way back, we stopped for a quick look in the other hides. There did not seem to be too much on view from Lyle Hide, apart from more Avocets – good to see that they appear to be doing so well at Welney. We heard a song that sounded vaguely reminiscent of jangling keys and looked out of the front of the hide to see a Corn Bunting perched on the top of the vegetation. We got a great look at it as it stayed there for a couple of minutes singing, before being spooked by a big flock of Rooks and dropping back down out of view.

Corn BuntingCorn Bunting – singing in front of Lyle Hide

There were several Black-tailed Godwits out to one side of the hide, but the light was bad here as we were looking into the sun. We got better views from the Nelson-Lyle Hide further back. This confirmed our suspicions that they appeared to be a mix of two different races. Nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit breeds across Europe east from the Netherlands. Only about 50-60 pairs breed in the UK on the Ouse and Nene Washes, including a couple of pairs at Welney. First summer islandica or Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits often remain in UK in rather than migrate up to Iceland to breed. There appeared to be a mixture of the two here, including a couple of nice limosa, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them.

Continental Black-tailed GodwitContinental Black-tailed Godwit – of the nominate race, limosa

Back at the Observatory, we could see a pair of Whooper Swans in front of the hide. This is a pair of injured birds which are not capable of flying back up to Iceland to breed, so have instead nested for the last six years at Welney, where they normally spend the winter. We could only see two of the four cygnets they were meant to have this year, but  presumed the others were hiding in the vegetation. Further back across the washes we could see another six or so Whooper Swans, presumably also all injured birds.

Whooper SwanWhooper Swan – with two cygnets

Back at the visitor centre, there were three more Black-tailed Godwits on Lady Fen. A quick look at the feeders as we were leaving finally got us views of the Tree Sparrows, with at least a couple coming and going, including one with only a half-grown tail.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow – coming to the feeders in front of the visitor centre

It was a lovely way to end three exciting action-packed days of East Anglian summer birding, watching the Red-necked Phalarope and all the other birds at Welney. It rounded off the list nicely – we had managed to see a nice set of rarer birds despite it being early June, as well as a great selection of our resident and scarcer breeding species. A job well done, we set off back for home.

 

6th June 2017 – Dartfords & a Downpour!

A Private Tour in North Norfolk today. The weather forecast was not great – it was meant to be windy all day, with heavy rain expected to arrive in the afternoon. We had thought about going west today, to seek out the safety of the hides at Titchwell, but a quick discussion about possibilities when we met up suggested an attempt to look for Dartford Warblers was preferred this morning.

As we drove east along the coast, a Barn Owl flew high over the road and disappeared off across the fields. After a wet & windy night last night, it was probably having to hunt out later this morning, perhaps with hungry young to feed at the moment.

When we arrived up on the Heath, we were pleasantly surprised. The wind had dropped completely and, although still cloudy, it had brightened up considerably – not what we were expecting but we would gladly accept it! A couple of Common Whitethroats were singing around the car park and, as we walked along the path, the first of several Willow Warblers was singing from the birch trees.

A male Yellowhammer was singing from the top of a rather bare birch tree and we flushed several pairs or little family parties of Linnets on the way.

LinnetLinnet – we saw lots up on the Heath today

When we got to the first Dartford Warbler territory, it all seemed rather lifeless at first. Still, we had a quiet look round and listen to see if we could hear one call. We walked along a path flanked by high gorse either side and as we came out the other side, we spotted a small, dark shape zipping away over the heather. It was a female Dartford Warbler. It perched in the top of the heather briefly, before dropping down out of sight.

We walked round to where we might see it better and could just see it from time to time flitting around in the heather and young birch trees. Then we heard more Dartford Warblers calling from the other side of the path and realised there was a family party here. Watching quietly from a discrete distance, we could just make out several short-tailed juvenile Dartford Warblers hiding in a big clump of gorse and birch as they moved around.

Standing here for a while, we watched as the female Dartford Warbler flew in to feed the juveniles a couple of times, zooming in fast and low, a dark blur with a long tail, before zooming out again across the path and down into the heather. At least we were seeing Dartford Warblers, but it was hard to get a really good view of one like this. Perseverance was required!

We had heard it singing some distance away but then the male Dartford Warbler flew in to join the female. It didn’t stay long and made its way off in the other direction, so figuring we would stand a better chance of getting a good view of the male perched up singing, we followed it. It did indeed land in the top of the gorse briefly for us, but then flew off over the top of a big clump of young trees and disappeared.

The views we were getting of Dartford Warbler were steadily improving, so we went back to the female and juveniles. Again, they were well tucked down in the vegetation, but after a while the female called the youngsters across the path and we saw at least five of them follow after her – a good clutch, and nice to confirm that this pair have done so well.

Then the male Dartford Warbler reappeared nearby and started singing again, so we followed the sound once more. This time we got a really good look at it, perched in the top of the heather, albeit a reasonable distance away. At last!

Dartford Warbler 1Dartford Warbler – finally, we got a good look at the male perched up singing

With some good views of Dartford Warbler achieved, we left the family group to feed and carried on around the Heath. We hadn’t gone very far when we heard another male Dartford Warbler singing, #2 for the morning! This one was tucked well down in a big clump of gorse and birch and we could just see it creeping around in the vegetation. It was never going to be easy to see this one well, so we didn’t stop.

There is an interesting ‘tent’ of Small Eggar moth caterpillars in a bush by one of the paths so we went over for a look at it. We could hear Garden Warblers alarm calling as we approached and one flew across into a young oak tree nearby, where we got a brief view of it before it went further back into the trees. Then a second Garden Warbler appeared in the top of the bush right in front of us, also scolding us. They obviously have a nest nearby, so we left them in peace.

Small Eggar moth caterpillarSmall Eggar moth caterpillars – in, and on, their silk tent

As we continued on across the Heath, we heard yet another Dartford Warbler calling and looked round to see another male perched on the top of the heather. It darted back into the gorse behind and disappeared but a few seconds later flew out again. It flew straight towards us, past us within a couple of metres and dropped into a large patch of tall gorse the other side of the path. Dartford Warbler male #3.

We could hear now the mournful song of a Woodlark away in the distance, but as we carried on along the path we gradually got closer to it. It went quiet for a while and then suddenly it fluttered up in front of us and started singing again. We stood and listened to it for a while, watching as it flew round in circles, slowly gaining height. It looked rather bat-like, with rapidly fluttering broad wings and short tail.

WoodlarkWoodlark – singing high in the sky above our heads

The Woodlark was showing no sign of coming back down to earth, so we carried on our way. It seemed to follow us though and was still singing very high overhead, just a dot in the sky, when we caught a flash of another Woodlark flying over the path in front of us just above head height.

It dropped down into the heather out of sight, so we walked round to a gap in the gorse through which we could see over to the area where it had gone down. The next thing we knew, a pair of Woodlarks flew up out of the heather and disappeared away over the Heath. Perhaps this was why the first male Woodlark was singing so persistently, with another pair in its territory.

A little further on, we had just stopped to admire some more Linnets, when we heard yet another male Dartford Warbler singing, amazingly #4 of the morning! We walked round to the other side of a large gorse bush and there it was, sitting up in full view, albeit quite a distance away.

It was already turning out to be an amazing morning for Dartford Warblers, but there was still one last twist. As we looked at it, male #4 flew straight towards us and landed in the top of a gorse bush right next to us, just a couple of metres away. It was so close, we could almost reach out and touch it! It was a stunning view, and it stayed there for several seconds. It was carrying food in its bill (presumably it has some juveniles to feed somewhere) and gave another burst of song, before flying across the path and away, dropping down again some distance off. Wow!

Dartford Warbler 2Dartford Warbler – this male flew in and landed right next to us!

It had been a phenomenal morning for Dartford Warblers, culminating in such great views. We set off to see if we could get better views of a Woodlark now, making out way over to an area where they can sometimes be found feeding, and where the singing male from earlier seemed to have headed off to. A Jay was hopping around under an oak tree by the path and gave us a great look at it when it flew up into the lowest branches.

JayJay – feeding around an oak tree out on the Heath

At this point, it started to rain but we could see brighter sky away to the west, so we were confident it was only a shower. So it proved and it quickly stopped again. We paused to watch a family of Stonechats, the adult male, browner female and 2-3 streaky juveniles.

StonechatStonechat – the female perched up nicely for us during the rain shower

Just as we got to the area where we had hoped to find the Woodlark, it started singing again some distance away, back where we had first heard it, so it was immediately obvious we wouldn’t find it here. We turned and made our way back.

A pair of Turtle Doves flew across ahead of us, but disappeared behind the trees before everyone could see them. We headed over in the direction they had seemed to be going in the hope the male might start purring, but there was no sound. The male Yellowhammer we had seen earlier was back in the same tree again, preening and stretching after the rain, as we passed by.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – a male in its favourite tree

We had not seen many butterflies today up on the Heath, probably not a surprise given the cloudy and cool weather, but as we made our way back towards the car we were in for one final treat. A blue butterfly fluttered across the path and landed in the cut heather in front of us. A quick look confirmed it was a Silver-studded Blue, a rare and localised species for which the Heath is one of the only sites where it can be found locally.

Silver-studded Blue 1Silver-studded Blue – now starting to emerge on the Heath

This is the first Silver-studded Blue we have seen this year and, following reports from Suffolk in the last couple of days, they have probably only just started to emerge here. It was quite sluggish in the cooler weather and we got a great look at it, noting the distinctive silvery-blue centred spots on the underside of the hindwing from which it gets its name. As we walked on along the path, we found a second Silver-studded Blue in the heather.

With the rain forecast to arrive in the afternoon, and having spent most of the morning on the Heath, we had hoped to have a quick walk down on the coast before lunch. However, as we drove down we could see dark clouds ahead of us and the next thing we knew it was raining hard.

We headed round to the visitor centre at Cley and went inside for a cup of tea, in the hope that it might be just another shower, but it quickly became clear the main band of rain had arrived early. We could see plenty of Shelducks and Avocets on Pat’s Pool from the centre, but with most of the group not having a full set of waterproofs with them (not something you generally pack for summer!), we were not going to be able to get out to the hides without getting soaked.

After an early lunch in the car, with Common Swifts and Sand Martins hawking for insects in the rain low over the car park, we drove round to the beach. The wind had picked up now and it was really blustery, with gusts up to around 40mph already. We nipped across from the car to the beach shelter, where we could get out of the wind and rain, and had a look at the sea. There were lots of Sandwich Terns feeding close in offshore and we picked out several Little Terns and a couple of Common Terns too.

Sandwich TernSandwich Tern – feeding just offshore in the wind & rain

Our only hope now was that the rain, having arrived earlier than forecast, would go through more quickly too. We had hoped to spend the afternoon at Holkham, so we started to drive slowly west, stopping on the way at several sites where we could look out from the car. The harbours at Blakeney and Morston were largely devoid of birds. At Stiffkey Greenway, the only large white shape we could see was a Little Egret but visibility was somewhat hampered by the rain. There was more to see at Wells Harbour, with a couple of Common Terns and a Little Tern flying round or perched on one of the sandbars.

At this point, the group decided it might be an idea to call it a day. Finally managing to pick up a decent 4G mobile signal in Wells, we checked the rainfall radar in the hope it might show that the rain was passing through quickly, but the opposite appeared to be the case, so we made our way back to where we started. It was a disappointing way to end, but at least we had made the most of the good weather this morning. Those views of Dartford Warbler will live long in the memory!

3rd June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. The thunderstorms overnight had passed through but the associated weather front was slow to clear this morning, resulting in a cloudy and cool start. However, it brightened up nicely in the afternoon and was sunny and warm by the end of the day.

Given the weather, we decided to start at Cley today. A Black-winged Stilt had been reported here first thing, so we went out to see if we could see it. We walked out to the hides and found a few people in there who pointed it straight out to us.

Black-winged StiltBlack-winged Stilt – still a rare visitor to North Norfolk

Black-winged Stilts were formerly a mainly Mediterranean species, but have spread north in recent years and are occurring more regularly in the UK. Birds have stayed to breed in the past and, after a significant influx of Black-winged Stilts into the UK earlier in the year, there are some attempting to breed this year. Over the longer term, with a warming climate, it is a species which might be expected to colonise here. As well as pairs which may breed, there are some wandering lone birds here this year and the Cley Black-winged Stilt was one of those. A very nice bird to see here and very distinctive with its long pink legs and black wings.

While we were in the hides, we had a scan of the scrapes. On Simmond’s Scrape, there were a few other waders – Avocets, Redshanks and a lone Dunlin with summer black belly patch. There were several Little Ringed Plovers out on the islands and a pair were displaying, the male flying round after the female with exaggerated wingbeats. When they landed again, the male stood in front of the female with his white chest pushed out – she didn’t seem particularly impressed and ran away!

Little Ringed PloverLittle Ringed Plover – there were several on Simmond’s Scrape today

The big creche of Shelducklings was still here, but split into two groups today. The smaller ones were huddled in the grass with the female Shelduck, whereas the eight larger ducklings were feeding feverishly, swimming round in circles in the water. There were lots of Gadwall too, all drakes and all sat around on one of the islands sleeping, presumably having largely finished their limited parenting role already.

Looking over on Pat’s Pool, there were several Avocets nesting on the islands and a couple of small chicks running around, as usual largely ignored by their parents. Is it any wonder they are so vulnerable to predation! A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds beyond.

Avocet chicksAvocet chicks – these two were running around unattended on Pat’s Pool

We made our way back to the visitor centre and then round to the East Bank next. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the thin line of reeds along the ditch on the east side of the path, giving us a great chance to get a proper look at it. There were lots of Sedge Warblers singing and displaying along the East Bank this morning, which was nice to hear. The Reed Warblers in contrast have gone rather quiet though we saw odd ones flicking around on the edge of the reeds.

Sedge WarblerSedge Warbler – showing very well along the East Bank

As we walked out along the bank, we scanned the grazing marshes around the Serpentine and Pope’s Pool. There were quite a few Lapwings and Redshanks out here as usual, both of which breed here. A Common Snipe along the edge of the Serpentine was more of a surprise. They used to breed here but sadly not any more and now are mostly seen in winter. This is the first we have seen here for several weeks now.

Common SnipeCommon Snipe – feeding on the edge of the Serpentine

There were the usual ducks and geese on the grazing marshes here – Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler and Greylag Goose. Most of the wintering species have long since departed, but there are still a few birds lingering here. We found two drake Wigeon here as usual this morning, but there seemed to be more Teal today, including a couple of pairs.

It was quite windy today, so not an ideal day for looking for Bearded Tits. We heard one or two calling briefly from out in the reedbed on the walk out but couldn’t see them – they were presumably keeping tucked well down in the reeds. When we heard another call, we turned to look hoping to catch a glimpse of one zooming past over the tops of the reeds and were pleasantly surprised to see a male Bearded Tit flying straight towards us which dropped down on the near edge of reeds.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – this male was collecting food along the edge of the reeds

The Bearded Tit spent several minutes feeding along the edge of the reeds in front of us, clambering around through the reed stems just above the surface of the ditch. It was collecting food, and kept stopping to look down into the water or to pick around in the reed debris on the bank beyond. We got great views of it as it did so.

When the Bearded Tit finally disappeared back into the reeds, we continued along the bank to Arnold’s Marsh. There were not as many birds on here as there have been recently, but we still managed to find a single Bar-tailed Godwit, a lone Dunlin and one Ringed Plover hiding in the saltmarsh at the back. Otherwise it was just the usual Avocets and Redshanks on here today. A Meadow Pipit was singing and song flighting, fluttering up and parachuting down, to a fencepost nearby.

We made our way out to have a look at the sea. It can be rather quiet at this time of the year, but there were a few Sandwich Terns flying past offshore, which was a new bird for the weekend’s list. A Little Tern flew east but was gone before everyone could get onto it. Thankfully, a short while later four Little Terns flew back west overhead, calling noisily. A pair of adult Mediterranean Gulls flew over behind us, helpfully also calling which alerted us to their presence. We could see their distinctive white wing tips as they passed.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull – one of a pair of adult which flew past us

Scanning out over the sea, we picked up a line of Common Scoter flying west, fourteen of them flying low over the sea, followed shortly after by another four. One of the group then spotted a distant Guillemot on the sea, which we just all managed to see before it flew off. Three Gannets flew east.

The weather forecast had been for it to brighten up this morning, but the cloud was only now starting to break up as we walked back. We decided to stop for lunch back at the visitor centre before heading up onto the Heath for the afternoon.

As soon as we got out of the car up on the Heath, we could hear Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats singing. As we walked up the path, a Yellowhammer was singing too, perched in the top of a birch tree. There were plenty of Linnets in the gorse as we walked round, in small family parties now, twittering noisily as they flew off.

LinnetLinnet – still a relatively common bird up in the Heath

There was no sign of any Dartford Warblers today at the first place we checked – they can be very elusive, keeping hidden in the heather and gorse – so we carried on round the Heath to try another spot. We stopped to look at a group of Small Eggar Moth caterpillars in their silk ‘tent’ in the bushes and while we were standing there a Garden Warbler started alarm calling nearby. It flew up into a small oak tree where we could just see it flitting around in the leaves before it flew off deeper into the trees.

Small Eggar moth caterpillarsSmall Eggar Moth caterpillars – in their ‘tent’

As we walked down along a wide path, a Woodlark flew up from across the Heath and started to sing, circling around above us. We could hear its rather mournful song, before it fluttered away from us out of earshot, still singing, and dropped back down to the ground some distance away. We saw it twice today – a little later, it flew up again and came back over us singing, before dropping back down over where it had first come up from. With the male Woodlark flying round and singing on his own again, perhaps this pair of Woodlarks are now incubating their second brood already.

While we were watching the Woodlark singing overhead, we could hear the scratchy song of a Dartford Warbler in the distance too, so made our way quickly round to where it appeared to be coming from. It was all quiet when we got there, but we stood and listened for a while. A pair of Stonechats kept us entertained, perching up on the top of the gorse calling and dropping down to the ground to look for food.

Suddenly a Dartford Warbler started singing and we turned to see the male on the top of a gorse bush just a couple of metres away from us. It had probably been feeding quietly down in the gorse all the time we had been standing there! We had a great view of him. After a couple of seconds he dropped back into the vegetation, but a minute or so later he flew up and started songflighting, hovering in the air and singing.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – the male suddenly appeared right next to us, singing

The male Dartford Warbler dropped down out of view further along the path, so we walked quietly round after him. Suddenly a bird appeared out on the edge of the path, but it was shorter tailed than an adult Dartford Warbler and rather duller coloured. It was a recently fledged juvenile, out of the nest now, but with its tail not yet fully grown. Once the young are big enough, the adults lead them from the nest and feed them in the heather and gorse, moving round their territory.

The juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up into a small birch tree by the path and we stood back to watch from a discrete distance. It was mostly hidden by the leaves, but we could see it was being fed by an adult and when that bird hopped up onto a bush nearby, it was the female Dartford Warbler, not so richly coloured below as the male.

We stood and watched the Dartford Warblers quietly for some time as the female kept returning to feed the juveniles, which were now well hidden deep in the heather. There was no sign of the male for quite a while, but then suddenly he flew in again, and started singing. We listened to him for a few minutes, but as he moved away across the Heath we decided it was then time for us to move on too.

The afternoon was already getting on, but we had a quick look round the rest of the Heath. There is a pair of Turtle Doves here, and we checked out a couple of favoured spots, but we couldn’t hear them today. Now that the sun had come out, there was a bit of raptor activity – several Buzzards circled up over the ridge and we came across a Kestrel flying round between the trees. There were butterflies too – the highlight being a Green Hairstreak fluttering around a gorse bush. Then we decided to head back back to the car – we all needed  a break and a chance to get something to eat before the evening’s activities began.

Green HairstreakGreen Hairstreak – the butterfly highlight on the Heath this afternoon

After a break, we met up again later, in the early evening. We were heading out to look for Nightjars later, but we thought we would see if we could find any owls first. We swung round via some old farm buildings, a good site for Little Owl, but there was no sign of any out in the early evening sunshine. Perhaps it was still a bit early? A couple of Brown Hares chased each other round between the buildings, but quickly lost interest. A pair of Red-legged Partridges were perched up on roof enjoying the sun.

We had other things we wanted to do tonight, so we moved quickly on. We had more luck at the second site we stopped at. We got out of the car and as we were walking down along the path, we saw our first Barn Owl out hunting in the distance. A second Barn Owl appeared too, possibly a pair, although this is a good area for them and there can be several birds here. We watched the birds hunting out over the grass. They were rather distant at first, but then one flew in towards us and landed on a post briefly – we just had time for everyone to get a good look at it in the scope before it was off hunting again.

Barn Owl 1Barn Owl – out hunting in the early evening sunshine

Walking on a bit further down the path, we could still see one of the Barn Owls out hunting along the bank some way ahead of us. It dropped down into the grass a couple of times, but came up empty taloned. Finally it caught something, probably a vole. It flew back towards us carrying it in its talons and was just about to fly past us when a Kestrel suddenly appeared from nowhere and swooped at it. The two of them tangled in a flurry of wings and the Kestrel made a grab for the vole, they looked locked together for a split second. They parted again and the Barn Owl dropped to the ground, with the Kestrel swooping at it from above.

The Kestrel backed off, and after a few seconds the Barn Owl flew up again with the vole in its bill now. But the Kestrel had not given up and set off after it again. We lost sight of the two of them behind some buildings, but a few seconds later, the Barn Owl reappeared with no sign of its prey. It sat on a post looking slightly lost – all that effort for nothing!

Barn Owl 3Barn Owl – perched on a post after apparently losing its prey to a Kestrel

It was getting time to go looking for Nightjars now, so we made our way up to the heath. It was quiet at first as we walked out. We flushed a Roe Deer from beside the path, which ran off into the trees. A squeaky call, rather like a gate which needs oiling, alerted us to the first roding Woodcock of the evening, flying over the tops of the trees. We stopped to listen for more Woodcock but we heard a Nightjar instead, just a quick burst of churring, before it went quiet. It was a bit earlier than normal so we moved on and got ourselves into position.

While we were standing there, another two Woodcock flew out of the trees calling and away overhead. It was a lovely evening now, with a bright half moon in the sky and Jupiter visible close by. After that early churr, the Nightjars were then slow to get started properly this evening. Eventually we heard one call, and then some more quiet churring.

Then finally the Nightjars got going properly. We stood and listened to them churring for a while, at least three males, possibly four in earshot from where we were standing. We were waiting for one male in particular, but it sounded like he had gone off in the wrong direction across the heath and it began to seem like wouldn’t be coming in to his favourite churring post, which we could see in front of us.

Eventually, we decided to walk down the path to see if we could find where it had gone. Suddenly we heard a burst of wing clapping out over the gorse and the Nightjar flew in low right towards us. It swooped up onto its favourite branch but unfortunately this was just at the moment when we were walking past the tree. We were too close – it saw us and flew again, across and up into the next tree over. This one has more leaves so the Nightjar is harder to see, but we eventually found him perched. We got it in the scope, and could see it silhouetted against the fading light behind, churring.

NightjarNightjar – silhouetted against the fading light in a leafy tree

We stood and listened to the Nightjar for a while. Then it was off again – it swooped down across path the path and away low over the heath. It was starting to get too dark to see them clearly now, so we we started to make our way back. Two more Nightjars were churring from the trees as we walked back, slipping away into the night as we approached. There is no better way to spend an early summer’s evening than up on the heath listening to the amazing churring of Nightjars.

24th May 2017 – Two Nightingales Sang…

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day. We had a list of potential target species to look for, an interesting mix of lingering winter visitors and scarce breeding birds.

Our first stop saw us looking for Nightingales. As soon as we got out of the car, we heard one singing. We walked round to the other side of the trees, but it had chosen a really dense clump of bushes to sing from today, so it quickly became clear we wouldn’t be able to see it unless it moved. We stood and listened to it for a few minutes, such a beautiful song, then decided to try looking for another one instead.

As we walked up the lane, there were lots of warblers singing in the hedgerows. A Willow Warbler perched high in the bare branches of a tree. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from a hawthorn and we had a typical glimpse of it as it shot out and disappeared down into the ditch beyond. Several Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a Reed Warbler were all singing too.

When we got to the trees, we could just hear the other Nightingale singing. It has a spot which it favours where it is possible to see it, but it was much deeper into the wood today. It quickly went quiet so we stood and scanned the trees while we waited for it to start up again. A large Cockchafer flew around the bushes in front of us. When the Nightingale did start singing again, we could hear that it had moved and it seemed to be back in its favourite spot. Sure enough, there it was, perched in a tangle of dead branches and brambles, in the sunshine.

6O0A1906Nightingale – great views of this one singing today

We watched the Nightingale for a while, as it perched singing or hopped between the branches. When it finally dropped down into the thicket out of view, we decided to move on. It had been a great way to start the morning.

One of the requests for the day was to try to find a Firecrest. They are patchily distributed in North Norfolk, and it is not the easiest time of year to look for one, but we thought we would give it a go anyway. We parked up on the Holt-Cromer ridge and set off to walk to an area where we know they are present.

As we made our way towards the trees, we passed through an area of fields. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the top of a hedge and we could hear a Yellowhammer calling quietly. A quick scan and we caught sight of its bright yellow head, a smart male perched in the bushes. A couple of partridges flushed from the edge of a field and landed in the open briefly, before scurrying into cover, just long enough for us to see they were Grey Partridges.

When we got to the edge of the trees, a Garden Warbler was singing but well hidden from view, as was a Goldcrest too in the tops of some pines. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us and we could hear a pair of Bullfinches calling plaintively, but the trees were too thick here to see anything.

We continued into the wood, to an area which we know the Firecrests favour. It was already getting quite warm now and it was fairly quiet deep in the trees. We walked up a ride flanked by firs and, when we got to the far end, we heard it – a brief snatch of song, a Firecrest. It sang twice more, just enough for us to get a rough fix on its location, and then went quiet. It seemed to be singing in a tall fir tree a short way into the wood, surrounded by deciduous trees. We scanned the bits we could see, but the Firecrest was probably in the top, which protruded above the canopy and into the sunshine.

As we stood and waited to see if it would sing again, we noticed a falcon circling behind the trees. It was a Hobby and as it drifted out into view we noticed that there was a second Hobby with it. We watched as they circled high overhead, before disappearing behind the trees again. A Common Buzzard drifted over too, and a little later, on our way back, we would see a Red Kite over the trees as well, all enjoying the rising thermals.

6O0A1915Hobby – a pair circled high over the trees

The Firecrest sang another couple of times, and it was clear that it was moving about in the canopy, but it was still impossible to see it, looking up from below the trees. When it sounded like it had moved towards the firs bordering the ride, we went back out and scanned the trees from there, but there was still no sign of it. Then it went quiet and we decided to give up. It was good to hear it singing, but it would have been nice to see it.

As we walked back out of the wood, we came across a family of Treecreepers. A Goldcrest was collecting food and taking it back into a fir, where we presume it had a nest. A Jay flew across the path ahead of us. As we walked back to the car, we could see the two Hobbys still hawking for insects over the ridge.

Stock Dove was another target and as we got back to the car, we could hear one calling from the trees nearby. We were not going to be able to see it in there, but thankfully a second Stock Dove appeared on the wires next to the road, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. The two Stock Doves whooped to each other, before the one on the wires flew off towards the trees.

6O0A1926Stock Dove – perched on the wires next to the car

We made our way round and up onto the Heath next. It was really starting to warm up now, but there were still a few Willow Warblers and Blackcaps singing in the trees. We flushed lots of Linnets from the gorse as we walked round, thankfully still a fairly common bird on the heaths although now much more scarce in its traditional farmland habitat. A Kestrel was hovering over an open clearing and as we looked over towards it, we could see a pair of Hobbys circling high beyond, perhaps the pair we had seen earlier working their way along the ridge.

6O0A1929Linnet – still a common bird up on the heaths

Dartford Warbler was one of our targets here, but all was quiet at the first spot we tried. We carried on round to another location where we know they are feeding young at the moment, which should give us a better chance to see them. On the way, we passed through an area where the Woodlarks like to feed, but there was no sign of them either. Someone else looking for them told us that a large group of people had been through here just a little earlier, so the birds had probably been disturbed.

At the next location for Dartford Warblers, it all seemed quiet too, at first. We stood and listened for a minute where they had been a couple of days ago, then decided to have a quiet walk round their territory. As we were walking along a narrow path, the male Dartford Warbler suddenly flew up in front of us singing, hovering in mid air for a second or two, before dropping back behind some tall gorse. We crept round the corner, and there it was, in the gorse just a couple of metres away from us. Stunning!

6O0A1942Dartford Warbler – the male, collecting food

We followed the Dartford Warbler for a few minutes at a discrete distance, as it crept through the gorse, collecting caterpillars. We had some fantastic views of it. Occasionally, it would stop just long enough to deliver a short burst of song, before carrying on the hunt. Finally, when it had collected a bill full of food, it went zooming off over the heather, to deliver it to its hungry brood.

There is another area where the Woodlarks have been collecting food recently, but they weren’t there either. We thought they might be back at the first place we had looked, after a while left in peace, but we still couldn’t find them. We were just about to give up when we heard a Woodlark calling quietly. A careful scan, and we found it perched on a fence post a short distance away. We had a good look at it through the scope before it dropped down to the ground out of view.

It was time for lunch now, so we dropped back down to the coast and along to Cley, where we could sit out on the picnic tables and enjoy the fine weather. After lunch, we had a scan of the scrapes from the visitor centre, and looked at the sightings board, but there didn’t seem to be much on the reserve today, so we decided not to go out to the hides.

Bearded Tit was another target for the day, so we headed round to have a walk out along the East Bank to see if we could find one. A leucistic drake Common Pochard on one of the pools was a bit of an oddity – an interesting bird to see. There were a few Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing from the reeds as we walked out, and a Reed Bunting or two as well, but no sound of any Bearded Tits at first. Despite the lack of wind, it was perhaps just too hot now, in the early afternoon.

There were more birds around the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh. Several Lapwings and Avocets were down in the grass, a few Common Redshank were calling and displaying. A single Ringed Plover was feeding along the edge of the Serpentine.

6O0A1958Lapwing – on the grazing marsh from East Bank

There were more ducks here too. Several drake Gadwall were chasing round after a female, pursuing her remorselessly all over the grazing marsh and out across the reedbed. As well as the regular Mallard and Shoveler, there were some late winter visitors too. A single drake Eurasian Teal and a lone Wigeon should probably both have been on their way north to breed already.

We were almost at the main drain when we finally heard a Bearded Tit calling. We stopped and listened for a while, and realised there were several birds here, in different places, though they were only calling occasionally. We had frustrating brief glimpses of a couple of birds zipping distantly over the tops of the reeds, which were hard to get onto, until a male Bearded Tit flew up from the reeds close to the near edge and flew off away from us, giving us a nice long flight view. It looked like that would have to do today, better than nothing.

There was a lot of heat haze looking out across Arnold’s Marsh this afternoon. We had heard a Little Tern calling as we walked out and could see one resting on the small island out towards the back. A party of Turnstones appeared on the island too, several in bright summer plumage, looking more appropriately like their full name, Ruddy Turnstone. Three Dunlin were with them, two with their summer black bellies. A careful scan round the edges revealed a single Grey Plover, still in its rather grey winter plumage.

We carried on out to the beach and took a look out to sea. It was very calm today, but there was some sea fret hanging distantly offshore, partly obscuring the wind turbines. There were a few terns offshore, flying back and forth, some carrying fish. Mostly they were Sandwich Terns, but a pair of Little Terns were fishing close inshore and a single Common Tern flew past. Looking further out, on the edge of the fog, we spotted a long line of black ducks flying past. They were Common Scoter and there must have been at least 80 of them. Presumably they were making their way back north for the breeding season.

There were a few butterflies out today in the sunshine – mostly Peacock, Red Admiral and the odd Small Tortoiseshell. We also saw a couple of Painted Ladys on our travels today and, out along the East Bank, our first Common Blue of the year. The numbers of dragonflies are finally increasing now too, in the warm weather, with Four-Spotted Chaser and Blue-tailed Damselfly along the East Bank today.

6O0A1964Common Blue – our first of the year, along the East Bank today

As we walked back along the East Bank, we bumped into one of the reserve volunteers who mentioned that he had seen a Bearded Tit along the edge of the ditch further back. So, as we made our way along, we scanned the bottom of the reeds and sure enough we found it, working its way along the edge of the water, in and out of the reeds. It was a female Bearded Tit.

When we quickly lost sight of it behind some taller reeds along the front edge of the ditch, we could hear another Bearded Tit calling and looked across to see it fly in and land down on the edge of the ditch just a few metres away. We walked back to look for that one, and just at that point it climbed up the reeds carrying something in its bill. It was a cracking male Bearded Tit, with powder blue head and distinctive black moustaches. It perched up in full view in front of us for several seconds, looking round, before flying off back over the reeds.

6O0A1966Bearded Tit – this smart male was collecting food along the ditch

It was great to get such a great view of a Bearded Tit, and a smart male to boot. Worthy reward for our perseverance! With that mission accomplished, we headed back to the car. There were still a few odds and ends on the target list, so we made thought we could squeeze in a quick couple more stops before the end of the day.

We drove back along the coast road to Kelling and had a quick walk down the lane to the Water Meadow. There were a few warblers singing in the hedges beside the lane, despite it being the middle of a hot and sunny afternoon – Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. We had hoped to find a Lesser Whitethroat along here, but there was no sign or sound of it here this afternoon.

6O0A1985Chiffchaff – singing in the hedge along the lane this afternoon

There were just the usual ducks on the Water Meadow, a pair of Gadwall, three Mallard and a lone drake Shoveler. One of the resident Egyptian Geese was guarding a gosling in the grass on the edge of the water. There were lots of Sand Martins hawking for insects over the pool. This is often a good spot for Yellow Wagtails in spring, but the grass is rather tall this year making them hard to see. As always, we had a careful scan around the feet of the cows and were duly rewarded with a pair of Yellow Wagtails flitting around the legs of one of them, before the cows moved back into the long grass.

Brent Geese are a common sight around the coast here in winter, but the vast majority of them have now departed on their way back to northern Russia for the breeding season. It is still possible to find the odd one or two with a bit of luck, so we decided to have a look in Blakeney Harbour to finish the day. As we made our way down the path towards Stiffkey Fen, a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the bushes the other side of the road, but there was no way to see it from where we were and it seemed to be moving further back into the trees before it went quiet.

When we got up onto the seawall, the tide was already pretty high in the harbour. There was a big party of Oystercatchers gathered to roost out on the edge of the water, but we couldn’t see any Brent Geese where they have been recently. The Fen itself also looked pretty quiet today, with most of the winter waders having departed. There was a single Little Ringed Plover on one of the islands, plus three Common Redshanks which flew off from the edge of the reeds, and plenty of Avocets.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull in with the roosting Herring Gulls was a useful addition to the day’s list and a smart summer adult Common Gull was out on the water just beyond the reeds. A pair each of both Sandwich Tern and Common Tern flew in from the harbour and circled over the pool.

6O0A1990Common Tern – a pair flew in from the harbour and circled over the Fen

A Cuckoo was singing in the trees beyond the Fen, but Brent Goose was our target here, so we focused our attention on trying to find one. Scanning carefully over the saltmarsh finally paid off when we located two Brent Geese feeding in the grass away to the west. Another one for the list and a perfect way to round off the day.