Tag Archives: Woodlark

20th July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It has been a proper summer for the last few weeks here – and it was hot and sunny this morning, with little wind. It clouded over a bit in the afternoon and the breeze picked up a touch, which helped to cool it down a little, but we saw no sign of any thunderstorms which had been forecast might make just it up here.

To start the day, we headed up to one of the heaths. We were hoping we might be able to beat the worst of the heat, but by the time we made it up there, the temperature was already rising fast. There was not much activity as we walked up along the path, apart from the butterflies – Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Small/Essex Skippers which didn’t stop so we could identify them. A Common Lizard scuttled off into the long grass ahead of us.

An area here has been burned by a small fire in the last few weeks, although thankfully it was caught quickly before it could spread. A small square of gorse and birch trees were burnt and as we got up to it, we could hear Long-tailed Tits calling and Coal Tits singing. A mixed tit flock flew in from our right and made a beeline for the burnt trees. There were other birds with them too – Blue Tits, a family of Great Tits and several Chiffchaffs – and they stopped to feed in the scorched trees.

We watched the tit flock feeding in the burnt trees for a while, before they started to move off into the birches beyond. We carried on to an area where a pair of Dartford Warblers have been feeding their recently fledged young in recent days. It was all quiet as we walked round through the gorse here though – either they have moved the young or they were keeping out of the heat today.

We did see a male Yellowhammer with food, which perched up in the top of a small birch briefly, before dropping down into the gorse with it. And there were lots of Linnets around, perching up in the gorse, including some nice smart males with rusty backs and red breasts.

Linnet

Linnet – we saw lots of them as we walked round the Heath

With the temperature rising steadily, we decided to try our luck elsewhere. The Common Buzzards were taking advantage of the early thermals, spiralling up along the ridge. We walked on through another Dartford Warbler territory but these birds have just fledged their first brood and have probably started on their next, which is why they have gone quiet in the last few days.

This is a very good site for Silver-studded Blue butterflies, but we are right at the end of their flight season now. As we walked down along one of the wider paths, we noticed a dark female ‘blue’ butterfly fluttering around the heather on the verge. When it landed, we could see the silvery-blue-centred spots on the underwing, confirming it was a female Silver-studded Blue.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue – one of the last ones on the wing today

As we walked down beside the railway cutting, we could hear a rather noisy diesel approaching. As it passed by just beside us, we noticed two small birds fly up from the verge on the other side of the cutting, two Woodlarks. We watched them fly and drop down towards one of the paths out on the heath the other side, so we decided to head round and try to get a better look at them.

When we got round there, the Woodlarks were on the path. Even though we walked round really slowly, the first one flew up before we got to it, quickly followed by three more. The first flew off behind some gorse, but the others landed back on the path a little further along. We could see that two of the Woodlarks were fully grown juveniles, so possibly a family party. Then one of the adults flew up and landed in the top of a gorse bush, where we could get a good look at it through the scope.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one perched up in the top of a gorse bush briefly

There was a family of Stonechats here too. We found one juvenile flicking around in a small pine tree first, then a second juveniles in the top of the gorse beyond. Then the male put in a brief appearance too.

We turned onto another small and less used path across the heath. We hadn’t got very far when three birds flew up from the vegetation ahead of us – Nightjars! It was a family group – a male and two three-quarter grown juveniles. Presumably the female has started to incubate a second clutch already nearby, while the male looks after the first brood.

The two short-tailed youngsters flew a short distance and landed back down in the gorse, while the male Nightjar doubled back round behind us and seemed to land back down on the main path. We walked round there cautiously, but it was off again before we got there. We had a fantastic long flight view of it though, as it flew round over the heather, showing off its bold white patches across the tips of its wings.

That was a real bonus, seeing the Nightjars, so with our luck in we decided to swing back round and have another go for the Dartford Warblers. Unfortunately it was not to be and there was still no sign of them. The tit flock had returned and were feeding in the burnt trees again though.

As we got back to the car park, we could hear a Blackcap alarm calling in the blackthorn and just saw it moving around in the dense branches. There were several birds in here and they moved down through the bushes towards the road. When we saw something moving in the branches, we thought it would be the Blackcap again, but a Garden Warbler appeared instead. We only had a brief view of it though, before it flew back into the blackthorn.

It was after midday already, so we dropped back down to the coast and along to the visitor centre at Cley, where we stopped for an early lunch. There were lots of birds on the reserve, so we got the scope out and scanned the scrapes while we ate. We were looking for the Curlew Sandpiper, when we spotted an adult Water Rail preening at the back of the water, against the reeds. Shortly afterwards, we found the Curlew Sandpiper too, but it was hard to see where it was.

A Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds at the back, and one or two Grey Herons and Little Egrets flew in and out. We could hear Bearded Tits calling and a Reed Warbler singing in the reeds just across the road.

After lunch, we headed out to explore the reserve. We made our way along to Bishop Hide first, as that seemed like it might be the best vantage point from which to see the Curlew Sandpiper. Sure enough, there it was, on the mud on the edge of one of the islands with a couple of Dunlin. It was starting to moult out of breeding plumage, but still largely rusty-coloured below.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a moulting adult, on Pat’s Pool

There were lots of Avocets on Pat’s Pool, which was liberally coated in them and Black-headed Gulls. The Avocets appear to have had a good breeding season and there were lots of juveniles in with them. One juvenile came down into the shallow water just in front of the hide, where we watched it sweeping its bill from side to side. We saw it catch a small fish, which it proceeded to wash in the water for several seconds before finally swallowing it.

Avocet

Avocet – this juvenile caught a small fish in front of Bishop Hide

In amongst all the Black-headed Gulls out on the scrape, there were several Ruff too, returning males which have already moulted out their ornate ruff feathers. They are rather scruffy now and come in a huge variety of colours and patterns, a potential source of confusion. There were a few Lapwing too. The Black-tailed Godwits were mostly asleep on one of the islands, mostly adults still sporting their bright rusty breeding plumage.

We spotted an adult Little Ringed Plover on the mud right over the back of the scrape and could just about make out its golden yellow eye ring through the scope. Then we looked back at the mud right in front of the hide and there were two juvenile Little Ringed Plovers there, perfectly camouflaged against the brown of the dried mud when they stood still.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – there were two juveniles in front of Bishop Hide

A juvenile Little Egret flew in and landed right in front of the hide too, still with grey-green legs and its dagger-like bill shorter than fully grown. There were several young Shoveler sleeping with the Mallard and Gadwall on the bank below the hide, and a Coot feeding a well grown juvenile here too. A Stoat running along the bank, in and out of the long grass, was only visible from one end of the hide though.

There was a Green Sandpiper feeding just beyond the bank, but it was hidden behind the vegetation at first. Thankfully it walked back towards us and moved out into the open mud, where we could get a good look at it, noting the differences from Common Sandpiper, particularly the lack of the white notch between the breast and the wings, as well as its slightly larger size.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – eventually came out onto the open mud right in front of the hide

Eventually, we decided to tear ourselves away from all the activity here and walk out to the other hides out in the middle. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding in the reeds along the other side of the ditch beside the path. Several House Martins were hawking for insects overhead. A smart Red Admiral butterfly was basking on the boardwalk, along with a Ruddy Darter dragonfly.

When we got out to Dauke’s Hide, the first thing we noticed were the Spoonbills. There were three of them here, two juveniles with still only partly grown bills, ‘teaspoons’, and one adult. One of the young ones was awake and preening allowing us to get a good look at it through the scope.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – a youngster, with only partly grown ‘teaspoon’

There were more waders on here, particularly Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. Scanning through a group of the latter which were feeding out to the left of the hide, we could see one bird with a mass of colour rings on its legs. The yellow flag was carrying a geolocator and a lime-green ring marked with a black ‘E’ signalled it out as a bird from the small breeding population on the Nene Washes. These are Continental Black-tailed Godwits, of the nominate subspecies limosa, rather than the Icelandic race which comprise the vast bulk of the Black-tailed Godwits we see here.

In amongst the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits further out was a single Knot, also still in its rusty breeding plumage. Eleven Dunlin were feeding out towards the back and a Common Snipe appeared on the edge of the reeds right at the rear of the scrape. Another Green Sandpiper dropped in on the margin of one of the islands briefly and two more juvenile Little Ringed Plovers were hard to see, feeding on the narrow strip of mud just beyond the bank in front of the hide. It looks like they have had a productive breeding season here too.

On one of the islands, about twenty large gulls were mostly asleep. The majority of them were slaty-backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls but amongst the paler-mantled Herring Gulls two had noticeably but slightly darker grey upperparts. When they finally awoke and stood up, we could see they had yellow legs too, different from the pink-legged Herring Gulls. They were Yellow-legged Gulls from continental Europe, an increasingly common late summer visitor here.

One of the paler backed gulls woke up too, and stood up. It looked rather unlike a Herring Gull, with a long sloping face and long parallel-sided bill. It had a darkish eye too. When it finally turned round we could confirm it was a Caspian Gull, an immature, in its third calendar year, with faded grey brown feathers in its wing and dark black-based tertials. This is a rarer but increasingly regular visitor here so a nice bird to find.

Caspian Gull

Caspian Gull – this third calendar year immature was on one of the islands

Back at the car, we drove the short distance along to the East Bank, although the car park was full and we had to park at Walsey Hills. We could hear a Cetti’s Warbler calling in the reeds and a Blackcap appeared in the bushes. An adult and two juvenile Little Grebes were out on Snipe’s Marsh. As we set off up the East Bank, several Common Pochard were in with the Mallards on Don’s Pool.

The grazing marsh here is mostly dried out now, but there is still water in the Serpentine. We could see a few people gathered further up along the bank, by the north end, so we continued on to join them. They were watching the Temminck’s Stint which had been found here earlier in the day and it soon emerged from behind the grass and started feeding on the edge of the mud.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck’s Stint – feeding around the edge of the north end of the Serpentine

The Temminck’s Stint was creeping around on the mud in typical fashion. Through the scope, we could see its pale yellowish legs and the distinctive pattern of black-centred feathers in its upperparts. A Lapwing walked along the edge towards it and pushed the Temminck’s Stint off ahead of it. Next to the Lapwing, we could really see just how small it was.

When we heard Bearded Tits calling behind us, we turned round to see one flying fast just over the tops of the reeds, before crashing back in out of view, in typical fashion. We walked further up, and heard and glimpsed one or two more, before one flew in towards us and landed briefly in full view for a couple of seconds before it disappeared in.

There were two juvenile Marsh Harriers perched up in the bushes out in the middle of the reeds and we got one in the scope. It was plain, dark chocolate brown with a contrasting golden-orangey head. A little further along, a Sedge Warbler flew past us.

Out at Arnold’s Marsh, we stopped in the shelter for a scan. There were a few Sandwich Terns on one of the small gravel islands and a Ringed Plover popped up briefly on the edge of the saltmarsh in front of them. A small group of Dunlin was feeding out towards the back and there were several Redshank and Curlew out here too. Two Oystercatchers flew in, calling noisily, and landed on the saltmarsh towards the front.

A lone Brent Goose on the saltmarsh is most likely a sick or injured bird which was unable to make the journey back to Russia for the breeding season and has spent the summer here. There were several Cormorants drying their wings here and a young Great Black-backed Gull too. You cannot come all the way out here without at least looking at the sea, so we carried on out to the beach. A couple of Meadow Pipits flew up from the shingle ahead of us.

Looking out to sea, it all looked rather quiet at first. A few Sandwich Terns flew back and forth. Then a distant group of dark ducks were Common Scoter, probably birds just returning from Scandinavia for the winter and heading in towards the Wash. Five Curlew flew in towards us over the sea too, before turning west, again most likely migrants on their way here, fresh arrivals just coming back from the continent for the winter.

It had been a really good day, despite the heat, but it was now time to walk back to the car and head for home. More again tomorrow!

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27th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 1

Day 1 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was a cloudy start to the day, but the cloud gradually burnt back to the coast and then it was mostly bright and sunny. It was warm, but a moderate NE wind on the coast kept the temperatures down a bit.

Given the weather, we headed straight up to the Heath first thing this morning. As we got out of the car, a Willow Warbler was singing in the car park and we could hear two Yellowhammers singing too up along the path. As we walked over that way, we had a good look at one of the Yellowhammers in the scope, perched in the top of a birch tree. A little further on, and a Chiffchaff was singing too.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – one of several, singing in a birch tree

As we walked up along a big sandy track, two Woodlarks flew up from the vegetation beside the path. Unfortunately they flew round past us and disappeared off over the trees, dropping down again over the other side. Still, it was a nice flight view and we could see their short tails as the passed.

There were several Linnets perched up on the fence here and we got a smart red-breasted male in the scope. While we were looking at them, we noticed a female Stonechat perched on a bush behind. We got the scope on it, but it dropped back into the vegetation before everyone could get a look at it.

Turning the corner on the path, another Woodlark flew up calling from the heather nearby. This one circled round and landed in the top of a pine tree a little further back. It was nice to see this one perched, but again it wouldn’t stop for photos though and dropped down after we had managed a quick look at it through the scope.

Our main target here was Dartford Warbler and a little further along the path we stopped by some gorse and were quickly rewarded. We heard one calling and looked across to see a male Dartford Warbler hop up into the top of a bush. It was busy looking for food, climbing round in and out of the vegetation. Then a second Dartford Warbler appeared next to it, the female.

Dartford Warblers

Dartford Warblers – we had nice views of a pair collecting food

We stood here and watched the Dartford Warblers for a while, from a discrete distance away. They were both busy collecting food, hopefully with some hungry youngsters to feed nearby. They were remarkably obliging today, perching up in the top of the gorse, often close to each other. After a few minutes they flew across to a more dense patch of gorse and disappeared from view. We decided to leave them in peace.

There were lots of butterflies out today on the heath, particularly as the clouds started to burn off. A small skipper which flew around in the vegetation by the path turned out to indeed be a Small Skipper once we got a good look at it (sufficient to distinguish it from the very similar Essex Skipper).

Most of the butterflies were blues, in particular Silver-studded Blues which are one the specialities of the heath here. On the way back to the car, we stopped by an area which is particularly good for them at the moment, and saw lots of males flying and several mating pairs too. As we got back to the car park, a Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the blackthorn bushes.

Silver-studded Blues

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

Sometimes it is possible to find Nightjars roosting during the day, so next we headed over to another location where we have seen them recently, to try our luck. The vegetation is getting very high now, which makes them harder to see, but the first place we looked we could just make out a shape down on the ground in amongst the bracken.

It was a male Nightjar. We got the scope on it and everyone took a look, being very careful not to disturb it. They are incredibly well camouflaged and it was relying on its cryptic plumage to think that we couldn’t see it. After we had all had a good look at it, we backed off very quietly and left it where it was.

Nightjar

Nightjar – roosting down amongst the bracken

It had been a very successful morning, exploring the heaths of North Norfolk, so we decided to head down to the coast for a change of scenery. We still had enough time for another quick walk before lunch, so we made our way down to the East Bank at Cley.

It was a bit breezy up on the bank. We heard a couple of Reed Warblers singing, but they were keeping well tucked down in the reeds here. A Sedge Warbler was more obliging, climbing up into the dead branches of a small bush out in the reedbed, where we could get it in the scope.

Bearded Tits don’t like the wind, so it was perhaps not a surprise that they were rather elusive today. We heard a couple pinging and managed to see one juvenile come up to the top of the reeds briefly, but it flew before everyone could get onto it.

There were not so many dragonflies and butterflies out here today, in the cool breeze. We did see a Common Darter though, the first we have seen this year. The Common Swifts were enjoying the wind, zipping back and forth low over the reeds.

Common Darter

Common Darter – our first of the year

With the breeding season well advanced now, there are not so many birds out on the grazing marshes now. We did find a couple of Lapwing and an Avocet. A single Ruff on the Serpentine was tucked down asleep, but did wake long enough to raise its rusty head. This is most likely a returning migrant, having already been north for the breeding season, and it was already well advanced in its moult, with a very scrawny neck where its ornate ruff would have been just a few weeks ago.

The ducks are starting to moult into their duller eclipse plumage too now – we got a moulting drake Gadwall in the scope, starting to look a bit tatty. There were still plenty of Greylags and a few Canada Geese though. A couple of Grey Herons were busy preening over by the reeds at the back.

We carried on up to Arnold’s Marsh, past a Skylark and a Meadow Pipit both still singing and songflighting, and took advantage of the shelter to rest our legs. The first bird which immediately stood out was a Spoonbill, standing in the middle of the water at the back. It was doing what Spoonbills like to do best – sleeping! It did wake up a couple of times, just long enough to flash its distinctive bill, before tucking it back in again.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – asleep at the back of Arnold’s Marsh

There were a few terns on here too, though not as many as usual. We could see five Sandwich Terns preening on one of the islands and a single Little Tern resting on a patch of shingle. There were not too many waders either today, a few Redshank and Lapwing and a single Turnstone and one Oystercatcher right out at the back.

We couldn’t come all this way and not at least look at the sea, but there was not much to see offshore today. A few Little Terns were diving into the water, some way out today. We decided to head back.

On the walk back, we heard the Avocets alarm calling out on Pope’s Marsh and turned to see a male Marsh Harrier heading our way, with an Avocet or two in pursuit! The Marsh Harrier crossed the path and headed out across the reedbed, before circling and starting to lose height. It seemed to circle for a while, but there was no sign of the female coming up to accept a food pass, so eventually the male dropped down into the reeds himself. A Sparrowhawk flew past over the reedbed at the same time.

We wanted to make use of the picnic tables at the visitor centre for our lunch, but when we got round there a school party had taken over every table, with only 2-3 people at each one. Plan B was to head round to the shelter in the beach car park instead, which had the added bonus of being out of the wind. After lunch, we drove back to the visitor centre and made our way out onto the reserve, stopping briefly to admire the single Broomrape spike by the path.

There were one or two Reed Warblers singing in the reeds by the path, but they were impossible to see through the vegetation. When we got to the bridge over the ditch, we stopped to look back along the water. We could see one or two Reed Warblers zipping back and forth between the reeds either side.

Eventually a couple of the Reed Warblers came much closer to us and we could see that it was an adult with a recently fledged juvenile begging for food. We watched as the adult caught a damselfly and fed it to the youngster, before the two of them disappeared back into the reeds.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler – we stopped to watch them from the bridge

We made our way straight out to Dauke’s Hide and had a look on the scrapes. There were a couple of Little Ringed Plovers running around on the front edge of the first island on Simmond’s Scrape, chasing after the juvenile Pied Wagtails.

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the scrape too, one of which was wearing a large quantity of coloured plastic rings. A closer look confirmed that it was the same bird that we had seen a few days ago, a Continental Black-tailed Godwit of the nominate race, limosa, much scarcer than the more regular Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits it was with.

We have had the data back already for this particular Continental Black-tailed Godwit already. It was ringed in May last year, on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire, where it bred. It was also seen last year along the North Norfolk coast, at Titchwell and then Cley, from mid June to early August. It is also bearing a geolocator which monitors its location and allows the researchers to track its movements and this had shown that it spent the winter down in West Africa. Apparently it bred again at the Nene Washes this year.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – one of the small number of UK breeding birds

There are lots of Avocets on the scrapes here at the moment – it looks like it has been a good breeding season for them here. There were a couple of large gatherings of loafing birds out on Pat’s Pool. One of the adults on Simmond’s Scrape was still busy chasing away any birds which came close, mostly ducks, despite it not having any youngsters to protect.

Avocets

Avocets – loafing on the islands on Pat’s Pool

Behind the Avocets, we could see several more Ruff. Again, they were busy moulting, with tatty looking necks where they have already started to lose their ornate ruff feathers. There are quite a few Teal on here already too, returning birds from further north, where they breed, and they are also quickly starting to moult into eclipse plumage. It really is the end of summer for many of the birds already!

There were a few gulls around the scrapes too, mostly Black-headed Gulls but also a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single Common Gull. There were no Spoonbills on the scrapes from the hides today though, but we did see one fly over and land out on Billy’s Wash, out towards the beach.

A quick look in on Avocet Hide revealed a Green Sandpiper sleeping on the edge of the closest island. It woke up as we opened the flaps of the hide and stood looking at us for a while, before flying back to the next island over and starting to feed along the muddy margin. Another autumn migrant stopping off on its way back south after the breeding season.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper – on the island in front of Avocet Hide

It had been a very productive day, but we decided it was time to call it a day and head back now. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

24th June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. It was glorious sunny weather, blue skies and hot! We headed down to the Brecks for the day.

It was already warming up nicely when we got down to the Brecks, so we headed straight over to Weeting Heath. We wanted to try to catch up with the Stone Curlews before the heat haze got too bad, which it often can be here in the middle of the day, when the birds can also be less active. The grass is very long too, as a consequence of a sharp decline in the rabbit population. We were therefore very pleased when we opened the flaps and saw a Stone Curlew out in the long grass.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – in the long grass at Weeting

The Stone Curlew was busy feeding, walking quickly, stopping, picking at the ground. We had a good look at it through the scopes, but it disappeared into the long grass after a couple of minutes.

A (Common) Curlew flew in from behind us, giving its beautiful bubbling song as it glided down and landed on the grass close to where the Stone Curlew had been. We were watching the Curlew when the Stone Curlew appeared out of the longer grass again. It eventually walked across and we had the two species side by side.

The Stone Curlew then walked off and stood where we could get a good look at it. The next thing we knew, a second Stone Curlew stood up right beside it, from where it had been hidden in the grass. It was obviously changeover time at the nest. The first Stone Curlew then settled down into the grass and the second bird walked off a short distance, where it stood preening for a few minutes.

When the second Stone Curlew walked off into the longer grass to feed, we took that as our cue to move on. There has been a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in the trees by the hide here, but we couldn’t find them when we emerged. They have already fledged their first brood, so they have become more mobile. We decided to walk down to the hide at the west end to look at the feeders and see if we could find them on the way.

We heard a couple of Coal Tits high in the pines on the walk, and had a brief view of a Nuthatch up in the canopy of the trees. A Goldcrest showed a little better and a Treecreeper was calling too. There were plenty of birds around the feeders – lots of young Blue Tits and Great Tits. A couple of Yellowhammers were feeding on the ground below and one came in for a drink at the small pool. Another Nuthatch made a quick ‘smash and grab’ visit too.

On the walk back, as we got to the junction with the path to West Hide, we could hear the Spotted Flycatchers calling. We eventually had nice views of one or two of them when they perched where we could see them, although they could be hard to see up in the trees.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – eventually perched up nicely

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. As we came out of the visitor centre, a couple of photographers had their lenses fixed on one of the sallows by the pool just outside. A Kingfisher was perched up in the outside of the bush, half hidden in the leaves. It dived down into the pool and then flew up again back into the leaves, where we could just see it.

Thankfully, the next time the Kingfisher dropped, it flew back up and landed on one of the branches down in the water, right out in the open, where we could get a much better look at it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – fishing on the pool behind the visitor centre

As we walked out along the main path into the reserve, we could hear Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing. A Sedge Warbler perched up nicely in the top of a small sallow in the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes further over. There were a few Common Whitethroats flitting around in the vegetation too.

When we got to New Fen Viewpoint, a flock of Gadwall flew over. We were just looking in the field guide to show why they were identifiable as Gadwall, when a Bittern was called by some of the other people there, flying up from the reeds. It was only a brief sighting, but we were too busy looking in the book! Not to worry, we should hopefully get another chance.

Two Hobbys were circling high over West Wood, way off in the distance, and a Marsh Harrier circled up to join them. An adult and an almost fully grown but still stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe were out on the pool below.

As we walked along the bank on the south side of New Fen, there were loads of dragonflies in the vegetation either side. We saw lots of Ruddy Darters and several Brown Hawkers out to day, as well as Four-spotted Chasers and Black-tailed Skimmers. There were one or two Banded Demoiselles along the path too. Looking carefully through all the Azure Damselflies we found a few Variable Damselflies and Red-eyed Damseflies in with them.

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle – there were lots of dragonflies & damselflies out today

About half way along the bank, a couple ahead of us called to say they had found a Bittern. We walked up to them and they pointed it out, standing on the edge of the reeds. We had a great look at it through the scope. While we were watching it, a second Bittern flew back over the reeds. A Green Woodpecker flew past too.

The first Bittern stood on the edge of the reeds in the sun, preening and looking round, then walked a short distance and started to look for food, leaning over with its bill down close to the water. It snapped at something a couple of times, possibly insects on the water surface, before eventually walking back into the reeds.

Bittern

Bittern – standing on the edge of the reeds at New Fen

Now the Bittern floodgates opened! A little further down the path, we looked up along one of the channels cut through the reeds and saw another Bittern flying down low over the water, before turning and disappearing into the reeds on one side. As we got up almost to the junction with the path to Mere Hide, we spotted yet another one, flying in over the reeds. It appeared to drop down in front of the hide, so we hurried round.

Before we got to the hide, we scanned the edge of the reeds from the boardwalk and noticed some movement. There were two Bitterns. They started walking quickly along through some short sparse reeds on the edge – it almost looked like it was a race at one point! They made it to a patch of thicker reed and disappeared in, but then came back out onto the edge and stood half hidden. They looked slightly small and it turned out they were recent fledglings, not quite yet fully grown.

Bitterns

Bittern – two recent fledglings on the edge of the reeds

Having had such great views of the Bitterns from the boardwalk, we didn’t go into the hide, but headed on towards Joist Fen. We continue to scan over the reeds and we were about half way there when we spotted a bird flying beyond the Joist Fen viewpoint. It was yet another Bittern. It came in past the viewpoint, and continued on right past us and eventually landed in the reeds somewhere near Mere Hide. A very long feeding flight!

A Cuckoo was singing from somewhere deep in West Wood,  but we couldn’t see it. The family of Great Crested Grebes are still on one of the pools by the path, but the four young ones are well grown now. It looked like one of them was still keen to try to ride on its parent’s back though!

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the juveniles are well grown now

Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, we stopped for a rest. There did not appear to be too much happening, but it was nice to have a sit down. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes close by – nice to hear them now, as their numbers have dropped sharply in East Anglia after the cold winter. There were a couple of Marsh Harriers circling in the distance too. Then yet another Bittern flew across over the reeds.

After resting out legs, we got up to walk back. As we did so, a Cuckoo flew past over the reeds and disappeared out towards the paddocks. We had heard a couple of Bearded Tits on the walk out, but they can be very hard to see here. As we walked along the path, we heard one call and turned to see a male fly up out of the reeds close in front of us and disappear off behind us.

Along the main path by New Fen, we looked up to see a Kestrel circling. Scanning the sky, we found a Hobby too, much further over and very high up. It gradually drifted our way and dropped a little lower and we watched it catching insects high overhead.

Hobby

Hobby – catching insects high overhead

There was one last addition to the day’s list here, when we were most of the way back. We finally found a couple of male Scarce Chaser dragonflies, perched up on the reeds by the path. Then it was back to the visitor centre for a rather later then planned lunch and another welcome rest after the long walk in the sun.

After lunch, we headed back into the Forest. We parked by a ride and walked into the pines. There were lots of butterflies buzzing around the Viper’s Bugloss, a mixture of Small and Essex Skippers. We had a closer look at them and even managed to see the key difference in the colour of the underside of their antennae!

Small Skipper

Small Skipper – with a pale underside to the antennae

It was very quiet when we got out to the clearing at the far end, but then it was the middle of the afternoon on the hottest day of the year so far! We found a male Yellowhammer perched up on one of the stump rows and, just behind it, a Stonechat was flycatching, but dropping back down out of view.

There has been a pair of Common Redstarts here and they have been feeding their recently fledged young in the last few days, so we went round to try to see them. It was all quiet where they have been though. We carried on a little further and noticed a bird fly up from the ground in the shade under a large oak tree. It headed straight up into the canopy, where we just managed to get a glimpse of a red tail. It was one of the Redstarts. Unfortunately it then stopped moving somewhere high in the canopy. We walked on a short way, and when we came back it did exactly the same thing again!

It was obviously too hot for much activity now. We walked back to the edge of the clearing, where all was very quiet. As we walked along the path though, we caught a distant snippet of a bird sub-singing. It sounded like a Tree Pipit, but as we stepped round the trees we noticed a Woodlark perched in the top of a young pine. A second Woodlark flew up from the ground at out feet and perched nearby where we could get a good look at it.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of the pair in the clearing

Then the Tree Pipit flew up from right in front of us and landed in another small fir tree. It was carrying food in its bill so presumably has young to feed nearby. As we looked more closely we could see it was fitted with a combination of colour rings. It was an old friend, an individual we saw in pretty much exactly the same place last year. It seems to be very successful here as, according to the ringer, it was already feeding its second brood!

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – a colour-ringed individual we have seen here the last couple of years

It was time to start heading back now. It had been a very successful three days, with a great selection of our breeding birds, as well as insects and other wildlife.

23rd June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 2 & Nightjars

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today. It was another mostly bright and sunny day, with the winds dropping but still with a freshness to the light northerly on the coast.

With the lighter winds, we decided to head up to the Heath this morning. As we got out of the car, a Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes in the car park. As we set off along the path, we could hear a couple of Common Whitethroats alarm calling in the bushes and one appeared on the outside of a large hawthorn.

As we walked round a small copse of trees, we could hear a Garden Warbler half singing. As we came around the other side, we could see movement in the dense blackthorn beyond and eventually a Garden Warbler stuck its head out. Another was still calling deeper in the vegetation, and it appeared there was a family group in there. We stood and watched for a while and saw three or four Garden Warblers, as well as a Blackcap.

It was a lovely sunny morning, and the Silver-studded Blue butterflies were out in force. This heathland specialist is sparsely distributed so it is always nice to see them when they are on the wing. We also flushed several July Belle moths from the grass, another very localised species.

SIlver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blues – a mating pair

As we walked round the Heath, we heard several Yellowhammers singing. We eventually found a smart yellow-headed male perched up nicely in the top of a small oak tree. There were lots of Linnets too, which flew up from the heather in ones and twos as we passed.

Dartford Warbler was one of our main targets for this morning, but there was no sign of any at the first site we tried. This pair have already fledged their first brood, so the female is possibly on eggs again which is why they have gone quiet. We tried a second territory, also with no joy, and it was starting to look like we might be out of luck.

Third time lucky. As we walked into the middle of another territory, we heard a Dartford Warbler call and turned to see it fly across across between two large clumps of tall gorse with food in its bill. It flew again and disappeared down into some lower gorse. We repositioned ourselves so we could see where it had gone in from a discrete distance and over the next ten minutes or so we had some lovely views of a pair of Dartford Warblers coming in and out several times. At one point, we had both adults perched up nicely just a few feet apart in the top of the gorse for a few seconds.

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler – we watched a pair coming in and out of the gorse

We decided to leave the Dartford Warblers in peace and carried on round the Heath. We walked over to a place where several Woodlarks have been feeding recently, but it was very disturbed here today with walkers and cyclists. But as we walked on across the Heath, we looked up to see a Woodlark flying over. It came over our heads, but showed no signs of landing and disappeared away off the edge of the Heath.

A little further on, we stopped to watch a pair of Stonechats. The male kept returning to the top of a small birch tree, while the female was feeding from a perch on the heather below. While we were watching the Stonechats, another bird flew up from the ground and landed on a dead branch close to them. It was another Woodlark. We got it in the scope and could see it was a juvenile, presumably from an earlier brood and now independent.

The Woodlark dropped down to the ground and we carried on along the path, which took us eventually round the other side of the bushes. As we walked past, what was presumably the same Woodlark flew up from beside the path. It was time to make our way back to the car now, but as we walked back we could hear Bullfinches calling. We found them in a birch tree, there were three or four of them, presumably a family group.

There had been a Pied Crow along the coast at Cromer for a few days. This is a species from sub-Saharan Africa, not really a candidate for vagrancy under its own steam. It had most likely travelled here by boat from somewhere, or it might have escaped from a collection. They are smart birds, so we decided to have a very quick look to see if we could see it.

We couldn’t park in Cromer anywhere near the fish & chip shop it had been frequenting, so we stopped in the Runton Road car park further along, where it had also been seen from time to time. We walked a short distance down towards the pier, but we could see several people with binoculars just standing around, not looking at anything. It had been seen first thing this morning, but had flown off and not yet reappeared.

It was getting on for lunchtime, so we decided to have a bite to eat back at the car and scan the cliffs to the west at the same time. There were several Fulmars landing on the cliffs and we had great views of them as they flew up and down along the clifftop right in front of us. A single Mediterranean Gull flew past offshore and we could see a few Sandwich Terns out over the sea too. But the only corvids we could see were Rooks and Jackdaws.

Fulmar

Fulmar – flying up and down the clifftop at Cromer

After lunch, we had a quick walk back towards the pier but it was immediately clear the Pied Crow had still not been seen, so we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. It was the right call, as the Pied Crow was not seen again! We made our way back along the coast to Cley.

We parked at Walsey Hills. A pair of Kestrels was alarm calling over North Foreland Wood as we got out of the car. Something had got them really agitated, because they hovered over the tops of the trees and kept swooping down into the canopy. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see what they were mobbing and nothing moved, despite all their attentions. Eventually they landed in the treetops, still calling agitatedly.

As we made our way up along the East Bank, a female Common Pochard with a couple of juveniles was on Don’s Pool. They are a scarce breeder here, so it is always good to see young. We heard a couple of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing in the reeds below the bank, but they were very hard to see. A male Reed Bunting was much more obliging, as was a Marsh Harrier which perched up in the top of a bush out in the reedbed.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – perched in a bush out in the reedbed

We heard a Bearded Tit pinging and looked across to see one perched up in the top of the reeds. It didn’t stay long though, and flew off away from us before dropping in out of view. There were a few more Bearded Tits in the reeds further up along the Bank though, so everyone got to see at least one.

A scan of Pope’s Marsh and the Serpentine did not produce anything out of the ordinary – Lapwing, Redshank and some of the commoner ducks. We did spot a Mediterranean Gull flying in from the east, which turned and dropped down onto Arnold’s Marsh.

There were lots of Sandwich Terns on Arnold’s Marsh when we got there, and two Common Terns dropped in to join them briefly. A careful scan through the Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls produced four Mediterranean Gulls on here this afternoon, which was a bit of a surprise. There were three very different 1st summers and a 2nd summer too, the latter with a rather adult-like head but still with black in the wingtips.

Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns – gathered on Arnold’s Marsh

The waders on Arnold’s Marsh were mostly Common Redshanks, but a careful scan did produce two Ringed Plovers and a single Dunlin as well. The sea looked fairly quiet, as we got out to the beach, apart from a couple of Little Terns fishing just offshore, patrolling back and forth. A distant Fulmar flew east.

As we walked back along the bank, three Curlews flew in from the east and continued on over the reedbed, possibly birds freshly returned from their breeding grounds further north. Someone walking the other way stopped us to ask if we had seen any Bearded Tits. We were just explaining where we had seen them, when we looked over and saw a pair perched up in the tops of the reeds just ahead of us!

Back at the car, the Kestrels were still alarm calling and we still could not see why. We happened to glance back out across the grazing marshes and saw a large white shape in the distance, at the far end of the Serpentine. A Spoonbill had just flown in, having waited until we had left. Thankfully we had seen plenty yesterday.

Popping into the Cley Visitor Centre briefly, it sounded like there were a few waders out on the reserve, so we decided to head out to the hides for the last hour or so. As we walked out along the boardwalk, four more Spoonbills flew up from out on Billy’s Wash and circled round over the north end of the reserve. Three headed off west, but one circled back onto the reserve.

We went into Dauke’s Hide and a quick scan of the scrapes revealed a small wader on Pat’s – Pool with rusty underparts and a long, downcurved bill. It was a Curlew Sandpiper, a smart adult just starting to moult out of breeding plumage. We had a great look at it through the scope. Presumably it had just dropped in on its way south from its central Siberian breeding grounds.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper – a smart adult still in breeding plumage

There were a couple of Spotted Redshanks too, one each on Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape. We had much better views of these than the ones we had seen at Titchwell yesterday, looking resplendent in their silver-spotted black breeding plumage. There was a single Ruff here too, another tatty looking individual, rapidly moulting out first its ornate ruff.

Numbers of Black-tailed Godwits here have been building nicely and as we looked through the flock, we spotted one which was decorated with a load of coloured plastic lings on each leg. It was a bit distant at first, but then something flushed all the waders and it eventually landed back down near the front. Now we could confirm one of the rings was lime green with a black ‘E’, which meant it was a nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit from the Nene Washes. We could also see it was carrying a geolocator on one of its rings.

Continental Black-tailed Godwit

Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a nominate limosa from the Nene Washes

There are two races of Black-tailed Godwit which turn up here regularly. Most of the birds we normally see are birds from Iceland, islandica. There are only about 40 pairs of Continental Black-tailed Godwit which breed in this country, on the Ouse and Nene Washes, so it is always an interesting bird to see.

A Spoonbill appeared from the reeds in the back corner of Simmond’s Scrape – presumably the one we had seen earlier, doubling back in this direction. There were lots of Teal out on the scrapes too. When we heard Bearded Tit calling close by, we looked out of the flaps on one side of the hide, to see one of this year’s juveniles in the reeds nearby.

Bearded Tit

Bearded Tit – a juvenile, perched up in the reeds

It was time to head back now. We still had a busy evening ahead and needed to get something to eat beforehand.

Nightjar Evening

After a couple of hours rest, we met up again early in the evening. Our first target was Little Owl, so we headed up to a regular site for them.

As we got out of the car and started scanning the roofs of the farm buildings, one of the group noticed a bird perched on a wooden crate just across from where we had parked. A Little Owl! We had a good look at it through binoculars, as it stood there looking at us, before it eventually flew back over the field behind and we lost site of it.

Little Owl

Little Owl – perched on a wooden crate near where we parked

We couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the evening. We carried on our scan of the farm buildings, and promptly found another Little Owl sunning itself on one of the roofs. This one we got in the scope. There was also a Red-legged Partridge on the roof of one of the sheds and a smart male Yellowhammer in perched in the top of the oilseed rape in the field next door.

Having scored so quickly with the Little Owls, we moved on to look for Barn Owls next. We had just started to drive round a site where we see them regularly, when we noticed what looked like a piece of white plastic tucked in among the branches of a tree. We reversed back for a closer look and our suspicions were confirmed – it was the almost pure white Barn Owl again.

Barn Owl 1

Barn Owl – the almost pure white bird was out again this evening

We were busy watching the white Barn Owl when one of the group noticed a second, normal coloured Barn Owl flying across the meadows further back. While we were looking at that one, disappearing off over the road on the far side, the white bird took off and flew past us. It quartered the meadow, then flew round and disappeared back behind a line of trees.

Barn Owl 3

Barn Owl – this normal one flew right past us, hunting

We walked back up the road for another look, but there was no further sign of the white Barn Owl. We did find a normal one out hunting. We had great views of it flying round over the meadows, then it came in and flew right past in front of us. It landed on an old pump on the edge of a drainage ditch and stood there for a few minutes looking round.

Barn Owl 2

Barn Owl – landed on an old pump out on the marshes

After a while, the Barn Owl flew back over the marshes and landed in the dead branches right in the top of a line of bushes over the far side. We drove on and when we stopped again, we could see the white Barn Owl again, hunting round a different field this time. We had a quick walk out along the bank which runs round the edge of the marshes here, but there were no more Barn Owls. We did find a nice pair of Grey Partridge in the grass beside the track.

The owls had done us proud tonight, and it was now time to head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. We were still walking out to the middle of the heath and not even in position when the first Nightjar called, a touch early tonight. We turned to see it flying across to the edge of the trees.

We walked a short distance further up to where we could see across, and found the Nightjar perched on one of its favourite branches, churring. We got it in the scope and everyone managed to have a quick look at it before it took off again, unfortunately not stopping to pose for photos tonight. We watched as it disappeared off over the heath.

After an early start from the first Nightjar, the others were very slow to get going tonight. It was a clear night, with a very bright half moon and the temperature was dropping too. We walked on to another territory and stood listening. Eventually a Nightjar started churring in the distance, quickly followed by another further over.

The Woodcock were very slow to get going tonight too. Finally we heard a squeaky call and looked across to see two roding, flying in close formation high across the heath with slow flappy wingbeats. They disappeared behind some trees.

Finally, the Nightjar whose territory we had come over to started churring, in a large oak tree out in the middle. We stood and listened and after a while it flew in straight towards us. It flew right round us, flashing the white patches in its wings and the corners of its tail which was held spread out. Great close flight views! It didn’t go over to its favourite churring perch though, but landed down in the gorse just behind us, out of view. A few seconds later it flew out again, right past us, and back out to the oak tree in the middle.

It felt like the Nightjar had come in to check us out. We stood and listened to it churring out in the middle, but it never did come in to favourite its churring perch tonight – perhaps it was put off by us standing there? We could hear two other Nightjars churring either side.

The light was finally starting to fade so it was time to head back. On our way to the car, another different male Nightjar started churring in a tree just above us as we walked past. Unfortunately it didn’t stay for us to find it, but took off, wing clapping, as we walked round to try to look for it. It did serenade us as we walked off the heath though, a good way to end the day.

8th June 2018 – Summer Birds & Insects

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. The plan was to explore some particular sites, looking for birds and other wildlife on the way. It was cool and cloudy, with only a couple of brief signs of the promised brighter intervals, but it stayed dry all day which is always welcome!

To start this morning, we headed up to the heath. A Willow Warbler was singing in the bushes in the car park when we got out of the car. It is not the best time of year to see them, but we had a quick look to see if we could find any Adders first. A Common Lizard was basking on the gravel at the edge of the car park but scuttled away into the grass as we passed. A Brown Silver-line flushed from the side of the path was our first moth of the day.

A single Adder was curled up at the base of the gorse, half hidden in the vegetation, but we got a good look at it before it slithered deeper in. A second Adder a little further along more typically did not even wait before moving off as we approached. They are warmed up now, at this stage of the year, and quick to move when anyone approaches.

As we got back onto the main path, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing in the thick hawthorns at the back to the clearing. A Common Whitethroat was alarm calling ahead of us, before flying up out of the vegetation and disappearing into a bramble patch across the path. There were lots of Linnets in the gorse as we walked out across the heath.

Linnet

Linnet – nice to see them in numbers still up on the heath

As we walked through a particularly thick patch of gorse, we heard a Dartford Warbler calling. We stopped and looked at the bushes where the sound was coming from and after a minute or so it started to work its way out through the bushes into the heather – we could just see it moving in the vegetation. Then it flew and landed in a smaller gorse bush out in the middle – we could see it was a male Dartford Warbler. Unfortunately it quickly dropped in out of view.

We waited a couple of minutes to see if it might reappear, but the trail seemed to have gone cold. A Nightjar churring briefly from the trees nearby was a bit of a surprise, in the middle of the morning. This particular bird seems to have a habit of day-churring at the moment – we have heard it several times recently here.

Making our way back through the dense gorse, we could hear the Dartford Warbler singing now over the other side. Somehow it had got round behind us! Again, it wasn’t particularly obliging, probably not helped by the cool and cloudy conditions this morning. We saw it fly a couple of times and it perched on the top of the gorse briefly twice, before it dropped down into the thicker stuff. We decided to move on.

The next moth we came across in the grass was a July Belle. This species is probably regular in the right habitat in Norfolk but appears to be under-recorded, so it was a nice one to see today. There were several Silver Y moths flying around too – it seems to be a very good year for this migrant species.

July Belle

July Belle – probably a regular but under-recorded moth

There were several dragonflies up on the heath, despite the cool weather – and the absence of water. A female Broad-bodied Chaser and an Emperor Dragonfly patrolling around the heath were probably not so much of a surprise as an Azure Damselfly which flew up from the grass and landed on a gorse bush.

Many of the birds have already fledged their first broods and we encountered a couple of families on our walk round – a large flock of Long-tailed Tits and a separate flock of Blue Tits. We could hear Coal Tit singing in the trees too. As we walked through a small group of young oaks, we could hear the delicate piping calls of Bullfinches. The smart pink male Bullfinch perched up only briefly before disappearing deeper into the trees.

We went looking for Woodlarks next. There was no sign of any in the first place we looked when we arrived there. A male Yellowhammer was singing from the gorse nearby. We had walked away along the path when we turned to see two Woodlarks dropping in behind us, back where we had just been. We could see their short tails as they flew in. We made our way quickly back but they flew again before we could get a look at them and this time landed down over the bank out of view. We got some more nice flight views as they did, though.

Further down along the path, we heard a Stonechat calling and looked across to see a bright male on a post. It flew to some bushes further back and landed in the very top of one of them. A second bird appeared below, on the edge of the bush, a juvenile Stonechat. The male then dropped down to the ground, caught something, and flew back up to feed the young one.

We heard a Siskin calling and realised it was flying towards us. It landed in the top of a birch tree right in front of us, but we couldn’t really see it in all the leaves before it flew again.

On our way back, the Woodlarks flew up again from beside the path in front of us. This time they landed in a relatively clear area further along and by walking up quietly we were able to approach without disturbing them. We got them in the scope and watched them picking about on the bare earth among the small heather and bramble plants. Lovely views.

Woodlark

Woodlark – a pair were feeding quietly by the path

Sometimes it is possible to find Nightjars roosting, and the last week or so we have found a couple of them during the day. So emboldened by hearing one earlier, we headed over to another location where we have seen them before, to try our luck. The first few likely spots we looked, we drew a blank. But perseverance paid off – at the last place we tried, we crept up towards a clump of gorse and peered gingerly over to find a Nightjar looking back at us.

We made sure we kept a good distance away, as Nightjars are very easy to flush from their roost sites. We managed to find an angle where we could just get the scope onto it, and crept up one at a time for a look. The Nightjar was fantastically well camouflaged against the branches and litter below the gorse – what a stunning bird!

Nightjar

Nightjar – this roosting bird was hiding under a gorse bush

We backed off and left the Nightjar in peace. It was getting on for lunch by the time we got back to the car, so we drove down to the coast at Cley and made good use of the facilities at the Visitor Centre.

As we sat eating at the picnic tables in front, we heard a Swallow alarm call and turned to see a Hobby zoom low over the bushes just behind us and out across the reserve. It was going so fast, it managed to get most of the way across Pat’s Pool before anything even noticed it coming! Finally a Lapwing chased it off towards North Scrape.

A Marsh Harrier was flying round in the distance, over Blakeney Freshes. While we were watching it, we heard an Avocet calling behind us, and looked round to see it flying over the car park, an odd place for an Avocet. We quickly worked out why it was there –  another Marsh Harrier was quartering the field just behind the Visitor Centre. It was definitely an all action lunch break – there were several Grey Herons and one or two Little Egrets flying backwards and forwards too.

After lunch, we drove along the coast road to Kelling and walked down the lane towards the Water Meadow. We could hear Blackcap and Chiffchaff singing in the hedges on our way. There were more Silver Y moths feeding on the flowers on the verges, along with one or two Speckled Wood butterflies. A Painted Lady flew up from basking on the path and landed on the brambles briefly. We also flushed a Black-tailed Skimmer from the bushes as we passed.

The Water Meadow itself help a selection of typical birds. A Lapwing flew up from the margin calling and a couple of Avocet were busy feeding on the pool. There were several Shelduck, a pair of Gadwall and a few Mallard on the water. A Sand Martin swooped down for a drink.

There were a couple of Common Whitethroats singing in the brambles by the path alongside the Water Meadow and, when we got down to the corner, we heard a brief snatch of Lesser Whitethroat rattle song too, in the dense blackthorn. A Reed Bunting was more obliging – singing in the reeds by the path and letting us pass by within just a few feet.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – this obliging male was singing just a few feet from us

There were more Linnets in the bushes as we took the permissive path up the hill from the Quag. We stopped to watch a Meadow Pipit displaying, fluttering up chipping before the song gradually accelerated and it parachuted back down again. A flash of white past us was a Wheatear, which landed briefly in the bushes down by the beach before being chased off its perch by one of the Linnets and disappearing down into the grass behind. It is getting late now for a northbound spring migrant – perhaps some birds might oversummer here this year, given the weather.

A quick look out to sea produced a single Fulmar flying past and a Sandwich Tern offshore. There was a nice display of Southern Marsh Orchid in flower on the edge of the Camp, so we decided to have a quick look to see if any Bee Orchid were out yet. We couldn’t find any – the verge is a bit overgrown here these days, but it is probably also early here, given how exposed the site is.

On our way back down, a Red Kite was circling over the fields the other side of the Quags, where the grass was being harvested for silage. There were a couple of Skylarks singing on the edge of the Camp, and a family of Pied Wagtails was feeding around the gun emplacements. A Meadow Pipit posed nicely on a fence post by the path.

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit – posed nicely on a fence post by the path

Our final destination for the day was Stiffkey Fen. As we got out of the car, the first thing which struck us was the fantastic display of Poppies in the meadow opposite. We went over for a closer look – and some obligatory photos!

Poppies

Poppies – the meadow next to the path is looking stunning at the moment

There are some nice hedges by the path here and some sheltered areas out of the wind, which meant for a nice selection of insects as we walked along. First, we flushed an Orange Tip from the edge of the path. Then we stopped to admire several bee mimic hoverflies, Volucella bombylans, in the brambles. They look very like bumblebees and are variable in appearance as they even mimic different species of bee! There were a couple of different moths in the vegetation along the path here too, Silver-ground Carpet and Straw Dot.

Volucella bombylans

Volucella bombylans – a bee mimic hoverfly, one of many in the brambles

When we got to the gap in the trees where you can see over the brambles to the Fen, the first thing we noticed was a large white bird on one of the islands. It was a Spoonbill, and it was doing what Spoonbills like to do best. Sleeping!

 

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – doing what every Spoonbill like to do best!

Up onto seawall, we had a better view across the whole of the Fen. We had a look at the Spoonbill in the scope, noting its rather sparse bushy crest blowing in the wind – possibly a sub-adult bird. When it took off, we thought it might fly up past us and out towards the harbour to feed, but instead it just landed straight back down again behind the reeds, where we couldn’t see it. There were lots of Avocets on the Fen, including several small juveniles. We found one Little Ringed Plover too, on one of the islands.

Making our way round to the harbour, a Reed Warbler and a Common Whitethroat were feeding in the dense vegetation just below us, on the seawall. The Reed Warbler was singing rather half-heartedly. A gang of eight noisy Oystercatchers chased each over round overhead.

Out in the harbour, the tide was about half way out. A large mob of teenage Mute Swans were swimming in the channel. Mute Swans take several years to mature and there appeared to be several different ages here, based on the colour of their bills. A group of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers were feeding further out, on the mud. We could see all the seals in the distance out on Blakeney Point.

As we turned to walk back, a male Marsh Harrier flew past just behind the hedge and helpfully came up into view. A Common Tern flew past along the harbour channel. Back at the Fen, the Spoonbill was still asleep. A Speckled Wood posed nicely in the brambles along the footpath back towards the road.

Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood – posed nicely by the path on the way back

It was time to head for home now. It had been a very interesting day out – some new sites for the group, and lots of interesting wildlife, not just birds today.

6th June 2018 – Heath, Fen & Forest

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. It was a cloudy start but brightened up through the morning to blue skies and a lovely warm afternoon. A great day to be out birding.

With the risk of heat haze if the sun came out, we went straight to Weeting Heath this morning to see the Stone Curlews. As we got out of the car, a Treecreeper was singing in the car park. We made our way straight down to the West Hide where, as soon as we opened the flaps, we could see our first Stone Curlew.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of several on show this morning

The grass here is very long at the moment – the rabbit population has dropped precipitously in recent years, which is proving to be a major issue. Despite this, we had good views of one adult Stone Curlew walking around in a more open patch not far in front of the hide.

A careful scan revealed three more Stone Curlews, hiding in the grass away to the right. As they moved across to where the grass isn’t so thick, we could see they were a family, two adults and a well grown juvenile. It has been a much better year in 2018 so far at Weeting, with two pairs currently raising three youngsters. We couldn’t see the second pair today – they seem to have disappeared off into the long grass at the moment!

A regular Eurasian Curlew was out in the grass too, flashing its long down-curved bill – and looking very different from its namesakes. The two are unrelated – Stone Curlew is named just for its call, which sounds rather like a Curlew, but it is actually a member of the Thick-knee family. Eurasian Thick-knee doesn’t have such a good ring to it!

Having enjoyed great views of the Stone Curlews, we decided to turn our attention to the trees. We had a look for the Spotted Flycatchers just outside the hide but couldn’t find them here today. As we walked up to the small hide overlooking the feeders at the west end, we could hear a Yellowhammer and a Mistle Thrush, both singing across the road.

There was a lot of activity on the feeders. Blue Tits and Great Tits were coming and going and a family of Marsh Tits was perched in the bushes just behind. A Nuthatch made several repeat visits to the seeds too. Several Goldfinches dropped into bathe in the pool in front of the hide.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in regularly to the feeders

A quick walk back and down to the East Hide failed to reveal any Spotted Flycatchers that end either, though we did see a pair of Coal Tits high in the pines and a family of Long-tailed Tits which flitted quickly through the bushes. The Treecreeper finally gave itself up in the top of one of the pines too.

With a busy morning planned, we headed over to Lakenheath Fen next. A Brown Argus in front of the Visitor Centre was a nice start to our butterfly list. A male Reed Bunting came in to the table below the feeders the other side, where a Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds by the pool, the first of many we would hear today. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the sallows on the walk out, along with Blackcap and a Cetti’s Warbler which shouted at us from the reeds.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path. They were mostly Azure Damselflies and a few Blue-tailed Damselflies, but as we walked along, we kept a close eye to see if we could find any others. It didn’t take too long before we found a Variable Damselfly – when it settled, we could see its darker thorax with broken antehumeral stripes, and the distinctive black ‘goblet’ pattern on the segments at the base of its abdomen. A Hairy Dragonfly was patrolling in front of the trees here too.

Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly – among the many Azure Damselflies by the path

Continuing on to New Fen Viewpoint, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the poplars. Rather than linger at the viewpoint itself, where there didn’t seem to be much happening at that moment, we took the path along the bank on the south side.

There were more dragonflies along here and one of the first we found was a smart male Scarce Chaser resting on a reed leaf. We had a good look at it – as well as the blue abdomen with a black tip, we could see the black bases to the wings. There were lots of Four-spotted Chasers along here too and several Red-eyed Damselflies.

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser – a male resting on a reed leaf

It wasn’t only insects on view along here though. A little further on, we spotted a Hobby flying quick and low, skimming the tops of the reeds. We stopped to watch it and it put on an impressive show, hawking back and forth in front of us, swooping low over the pools catching dragonflies, climbing up and then eating them on the wing.

The sun was starting to come out now and the Hobby gradually started to gain height. A second Hobby appeared even higher above it. However, rather than drift off, the first Hobby then came straight towards us and started to hunt higher over the reeds just in front of us, almost over our heads at times. Fantastic stuff!

Hobby

Hobby – hawking for insects almost over our heads

We were so transfixed by the Hobby, we almost missed a Bittern which flew across the channel in front of us. Thankfully we got a quick sight of it, before it then crashed into the reeds the other side and disappeared in. A Marsh Harrier drifted in over the reeds and dropped down over the back. There were Bearded Tits calling here too, but they remained stubbornly hidden in the reeds out of view.

Continuing on, we stopped to listen to two Cuckoos singing in West Wood. They were singing against each other and provided us with a great stereo performance. One was moving around in the poplars in front of us and eventually came closer to the near edge where we had a quick view of it flying between trees. A Black-tailed Skimmer was basking on the track.

We had a quick look in at Mere Hide, but it was rather full with photographers camped out hoping to get a look at one of the Bitterns which has been feeding here periodically. There was no sign of it, so we moved on. The pair of Great Crested Grebes with four stripy-headed juveniles was still on one of the pools by the path, though only one of the youngsters wanted a ride on its parent’s back this morning. One of the adults was busy finding food – catching damselflies above the water surface, to feed to its young.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the pair with four stripy-headed juveniles

Joist Fen Viewpoint provided a welcome rest for a few minutes. There were lots of Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings in the reeds here, appropriately enough! Several Marsh Harriers circled up, mostly some way over but a female drifted towards us and across the reeds in front. Three more Hobbys were feeding much higher now, off in the distance.

It was already one o’clock, so we needed to be getting back for lunch. Rather than just follow the main path, we decided to walk back along the bank on the south side of New Fen, hoping for a Kingfisher. As we got up onto the bank, someone there was just pointing out a bird to another couple and as we walked up they informed us that there was a Bittern showing.

We looked across to see the Bittern perched with its neck stretched up, half way up the reeds over below the edge of West Wood, trying to look just like a bunch of reeds. It stayed there for several minutes, giving us a chance to get a great look at it through the scope. The pale blue skin at the base of its bill shone in the sun.

Bittern

Bittern – perched up in the reeds at New Fen

The Bittern had a preen and a shake, and then set off over the reeds, flying right across to the other side before dropping back down into the reeds. We continued on our way back. A Kingfisher called and appeared briefly in a small tree out in the reeds, but flew up out of view before we could all get a look at it.

With the stop for the Bittern, we were rather later back than planned. We had to pop in to Brandon to pick up some food, and after battling with the traffic it was time for a rather late lunch. Santon Downham churchyard provided a convenient location close by to eat. A pair of Grey Wagtails were collecting insects on the roof of the church, presumably to take off to their hungry brood somewhere, presumably down at the river, and a couple Goldcrests were singing in the trees.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – a pair were collecting insects on the church roof

After lunch, we set off to explore the Forest. Our first stop was rather quiet – we had a short walk along a ride to a clearing where Woodlarks breed, but it was hot and sunny now and everything seemed to be in hiding!

At our next stop, we were more successful. We walked along the edge of an army firing range – large swathes of the Brecks are used for battle training. Again, it seemed rather quiet at first. That was, until the heavy artillery started up just the other side of the fence! There were repeated volleys – Boom! Boom! – as the big guns fired and the air reverberated around us. Not great for trying to find birds you might think, but the Woodlarks were as surprised as we were and took off from the trees just the other side of the fence.

The artillery went on for ages and the Woodlarks wouldn’t settle again. They kept flying round, calling. Every time they landed, they were spooked by the next volley. The only benefit was that, eventually, they flew and landed on the fence in front of us. They stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at them in the scope, and then they were off again.

We decided to retreat. There were lots of butterflies in the grass along the path as we walked back, mostly Small Heath which fluttered up ahead of us. Another Brown Argus perched briefly on a flower to feed.

Small Heath

Small Heath – there were lots in the grass today

Even though it was still hot and sunny and in the mid afternoon lull, we decided to try our luck with a brief visit to Lynford Arboretum. We heard a couple of Siskins flying round calling over the pines as we walked in and a Stock Dove was whooping from the trees, but there was nothing of note in the garden of the cottages today and it was fairly quiet as we walked down towards the bridge.

Down at the bottom of the hill, some movement in the trees caught our attention and we turned to see a small bird swoop out from a branch, loop round and then land back on the branch again. It was a Spotted Flycatcher. We stopped to watch it for a while, hunting for insects from the trees in a small clearing on the edge of the wood.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – hunting for insects on the edge of the trees

While we were watching the Spotted Flycatcher, we caught a glimpse of a small bird flying up into the fir trees opposite. We walked up and found it feeding in one of the outer branches, a Goldcrest. A quick look round the lake produced lots of Common Blue Damselflies, a couple of Emperor Dragonflies and a Little Grebe hiding in the reeds, as well as the regular other wildfowl.

There was still time for one last stop before we were due to finish, so we headed back into the Forest. We parked up by a ride and walked in to a clearing. The Tree Pipit kept us waiting a tantalising couple of minutes before it gave in and started singing. It landed on the wires in its usual place and sang from there for a while – we had a great view of it through the scope here.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the wires again

A second Tree Pipit started singing behind us, from a young oak just the other side of the path. The two of them matched each other song for song for a while, until the first launched itself into the air and fluttered up singing, before parachuting down into the grass just across the path directly opposite the oak tree. The second Tree Pipit responded – not a full on song flight, but fluttered down singing to the ground nearby.

Unfortunately, given the height of the vegetation, we couldn’t see what went down, but after a couple of minutes the first Tree Pipit fluttered up singing again and parachuted back down onto the wires where it had been before. Territorial boundaries re-established? A smart male Yellowhammer was singing from the edge of the trees too.

It was a lovely way to end the day, listening to the Tree Pipits singing in the clearing. It had been another great day in the Brecks, so we set off for home.

3rd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours, our last day, and we would be heading down to the Brecks today. It was meant to be brighter with sunny intervals today, after the overnight mist burnt back to the coast, and it was eventually although it took a bit longer than forecast.

Our first stop was at Weeting Heath and we made our way straight out to the West Hide. As soon as we opened the flaps, we could see there were plenty of Stone Curlews on view – it was more a questions of how many! The closest birds were a pair with two well-grown juveniles. We had a good look at them through the scope. We could see their large eyes with a prominent yellow iris. The juvenile Stone Curlews were still slightly smaller than the adults and with less well-marked face patterns and wing bars.

Further over were four more adult Stone Curlews, presumably non-breeding birds, at least so far. Two of the birds appeared to be trying to pair up, bowing in display to each other. This had attracted the attention of the other two, who stood tall nearby. There was lots of running round and some calling too.

Stone Curlews

Stone Curlew – a pair bowing to each other while a third looks on

While we were watching the Stone Curlews, a Eurasian Curlew flew in calling and landed out on the grass with them. Stone Curlews are not really related to Curlews at all – just that their calls sound rather similar, which is why they got their name. They look very different too. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were lost in the long grass, but helpfully flew across in front of the hide.

As we came out of the hide, we noticed some movement high in the pines. A pair of Spotted Flycatchers were flying round in the trees, catching insects. They were high up and hard to follow at times. After a while they disappeared back into the pines and we lost track of them. There were also a couple of Coal Tits in the trees here, and we could hear a Treecreeper singing. We had a busy morning planned, so we couldn’t hang around here too long today.

We made our way on to Lakenheath Fen nest, which we wanted to explore before lunch. As we came out of the Visitor Centre, a Kingfisher flew from the reeds, out of sight just below the boardwalk. It headed off back across pool, a streak of electric blue catching the light. It landed briefly on the post at the back and appeared to have something in its bill. Unfortunately, it didn’t hang around and was straight off back over the reeds beyond.

As we walked out along the path, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. It flew out of the poplars ahead of us and out over the railway, the first of several we would see here today. There were Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds beside the path. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us too. And a Common Whitethroat and several Blackcaps were singing in the trees.

From New Fen Viewpoint, we could see an adult Great Crested Grebe. A large stripy-headed juvenile swam out to join it, pestering it for food or a lift, with little success. There was not much else of note visible though, so after rest, we set off again.

As we walked along the bank, scanning the pools and the reeds, our first Bittern of the day flew up over the reeds in front of us. It flew across past us, before eventually dropping back down into the reeds behind us. A great start! We could hear another male Cuckoo singing further along and when we got there, we found it flying in and out of the sallows.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – flying in and out of the bushes, singing

The male Cuckoo perched up nicely a couple of times, and seemed to be focusing its attention on one large sallow bush. Then we realised it was chasing a female Cuckoo which was hiding in there. The two of them emerged and chased each other in and out a couple of times, perched up briefly, and then headed away over the reeds.

It was starting to warm up, even if it was still cloudy. There were good numbers of dragonflies out now – lots of Four-spotted Chasers in the reeds by the path, occasionally flying up before returning to their favoured perch. In amongst them we found a couple of female Scarce Chasers too, lacking the four extra spots on their wings. Several Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the path, and kept flying off ahead of us before resettling further along. We saw a couple of Hairy Dragonflys and an Emperor here as well.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – there were lots of them in the reeds today

There was a nice selection of damselflies here too. A smart male Banded Demoiselle fluttered across the reeds in front of us. There were lots of Azure Damselflies in the vegetation by the path and looking carefully through a small selection of them we managed to find a Variable Damselfly with them. The vegetation also held plenty of Blue-tailed Damselflies and a few Red-eyed Damselflies too.

As we got to the junction with the path to Mere Hide, we spotted a Hobby coming fast and low over the reeds. It was after the dragonflies too. We watched it swooping back and forth, occasionally swooping up or skimming low just over the reeds, dropping down over the Mere Hide pool. We got a great look at it as it passed right in front of us a couple of times. Then it flew up and disappeared into the West Wood.

Hobby

Hobby – chasing dragonflies over the reeds in front of us

Continuing on up the path, we stopped to watch another pair of Great Crested Grebes on one of the pools. They had four juveniles, quite a bit smaller than the one we had seen earlier. The youngsters were chasing around after the adults, trying to hitch a ride. One adult Great Crested Grebe kept diving to get away from them, but the other eventually stopped preening and relented.

The juvenile Great Crested Grebes climbed up onto the adult’s back. It appeared there was only room for three though – we could see their heads poking out from under its wings, but the fourth juvenile swam round beside them.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – three of the juveniles hitched a ride, but no room for the fourth

It was all action here, we didn’t know where to look. While we were watching the grebes, another Bittern flew towards us the other side of the path. We turned in good time to see it coming and watched as it passed by us just a short distance away. We had a great view of it, like a brown speckled heron, with a fatter neck.

From the photos we could see the Bittern was a ringed bird, probably the same one we also saw here in pretty much the same spot last year.

Bittern

Bittern – we had a great view as it flew right past us

There was a dapper male Reed Bunting singing on the other side of path, perched up on the top of a reed stem demanding our attention too. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from all the birds here and we continued on up to the Joist Fen Viewpoint.

From here, we could see several Marsh Harriers circling up over the reeds, and a couple of them perched in the sallows out in the middle. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bush just beside us. We were just discussing how we would only see it if it flew out, when it did just that, flying right across in front of us to the elders the other side.

After a rest, we set off to walk back. We called in at Mere Hide on the way. There had been a Bittern on the edge of the pool earlier, but it had gone back into the reeds now. However, while we were there another Bittern flew across over the reeds in front of us and yet another one was booming in the reeds out to the left of the hide. Bitterns everywhere! There have been 10 booming males here this year, a record for the reserve. Not bad considering there were just 11 in the whole of the UK in 1997, at their lowest point.

It was just a quick stop in Mere Hide, as we had to get back for an already late lunch. The sun was out now, and it was getting quite hot as we walked back. It was nice and cool in the Visitor Centre, so we ate in there today. Most of the group could not resist the cold drinks from the fridge and the ice cream went down very well too!

After lunch, we made a quick visit to Lynford Arboretum. We were hoping for a few woodland birds to add to the list, but it was rather quiet here in the heat of the afternoon. We stopped by the gates to look into the walled garden and hear a Nuthatch calling. We looked up to see it in the pines at the back. It was carrying some food in its bill, and then dropped down to a nestbox on the wall, where a nestling’s head popped out to be fed.

Shortly after we had watched the young Nuthatch being fed, a Kestrel swooped low across the grass in front of us pursued by a couple of Swallows. It crashed onto the front of the nestbox and then sat on the top. It looked like it might have been after the Nuthatch nestlings, although without the adult there they were presumably not at the hole on the front. After sitting on the top of the box for a couple of minutes, the Kestrel flew off again, chased by the Swallows once more.

Kestrel

Kestrel – was it after the Nuthatch nestlings in the box below?

While we were watching all the action in the garden, we heard a Grey Wagtail flying over behind us. When we got back onto the path, it was standing in the middle just round the corner, back towards the road. It stood there for a few seconds preening, before flying off.

As we made our way down to the lake, we could hear several Siskins flying round high above the trees. A Goldcrest was calling in the firs down at the bottom of the hill and we had a nice view of it when it came out onto the branches on the edge. Another Nuthatch flew across the path and up into the trees where we could hear it piping.

Round on the lakeside path, the pair of Mute Swans had brought their two cygnets out of the water and the male would not let us pass. Eventually, he gave in to the pressure of us trying to walk on and led them back into the lake. A Little Grebe laughed from out on the water, and we saw one surface out on the lake among the lily pads. The walk back through the Arboretum was uneventful, apart from a Common Lizard which was basking on the path and scuttled off ahead of us.

There was one last target for the day – Tree Pipit. So we drove back into the forest and parked by the start of a ride. The walk in and round the first clearing was quiet, apart from a Garden Warbler singing from bushes. There were more butterflies out now in the sunshine – as well as several whites, we saw a couple of Orange Tips, one or two Painted Ladys, a few Common Blues and a Large Skipper.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – there were lots more butterflies out this afternoon

We walked on through the trees to a second clearing, and could immediately hear a Tree Pipit singing towards the back. As we made our way round to the other side we could see it song flighting, towering up singing and then parachuting back down to into the top of one of the trees. After one flight, the Tree Pipit landed on some wires, and we got it in the scope. We had a great view of it, even noting the strongly curved hind claw.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing and song-flighting from the wires over a clearing

Another Tree Pipit started singing away in the distance. Then one of the group noticed a small bird flying across the clearing behind us, which landed on the top of a tall tree stump out in the middle. We got it in the scope and could see it was a Woodlark. When they aren’t singing they can be very hard to find here, so this was a very nice bonus. It perched for a while before dropping down into the tall grass below.

It was now time to start walking back. On the way, a small flash of colour sped past us, not right for any butterfly. It landed down in the grass briefly and we could see it was a Cream-spot Tiger moth, its black upperwings marked with bold creamy splodges. Then it was off again – revealing its bright red abdomen and yellow underwings. They are not a common moth and in Norfolk are found mainly in the Brecks.

It had been a very successful last stop, a great way to finish off the three days. We had seen some really good birds and some other interesting wildlife too.