Tag Archives: Yellow-legged Gull

28th July 2017 – Three Days of Summer #1

Day 1 of a three day Summer Tour today. It was bright this morning, sunny at times, but still slightly cool in a very blustery SW wind. It clouded over in the afternoon, but thankfully we managed largely to avoid any showers.

With the sun out first thing this morning, we headed straight over to the Heath to start the day. As we walked out of the car park, a male Bullfinch flew over calling, its pink underparts catching the light. In a quiet corner, out of the wind, we flushed a family of Blackcaps ahead of us along an overgrown hedgerow. We could hear them calling in the blackthorn and eventually first the male, then one of the juveniles, perched out nicely for us.

BlackcapBlackcap – the male perched up nicely for us

Continuing on across the Heath, a Yellowhammer flew up out of the heather and landed in some tall gorse across a clearing. We got it in the scope, a smart male with bright yellow head. We could hear another Yellowhammer singing nearby. There is still a good number of them on the Heath, always a pleasure to see. A Stonechat flicked up onto the top of the heather briefly, before flying across and disappearing round behind a bush. There were lots of Linnets in the gorse all over the Heath, several families with fledged young following the adults around, calling.

There are several pairs of Dartford Warblers up on the Heath, but it felt like it might be a struggle to see them today, given the wind. We walked round through the territory of one pair first, but all was quiet. They were obviously keeping tucked down out of the wind. One of the other pairs has been feeding young in recent days so we decided to try over there instead. Our route across the Heath took us through the territory of a third pair, and we had just been discussing how these are generally the hardest of the Dartford Warblers to see when we heard a burst of song and looked over to see a male Dartford Warbler parachuting back down to the top of the gorse, just finishing a songflight. We were in luck!

We watched the male Dartford Warbler feeding in the top of the gorse for a minute or so, singing occasionally, before it zipped across over an area of heather and into some more gorse further over. We walked part way across and had great views of it feeding in the top of the gorse.

Dartford WarblerDartford Warbler – the male, singing on top of the gorse today

Eventually, the Dartford Warbler seemed to disappear back deeper into the gorse. We were just about to move on when it flew out, carrying food in its bill. It flew across in front of us and landed in the gorse where we had first seen it, then flew up again a couple of seconds later and darted across the path and down over the gorse beyond. Presumably it has hungry young somewhere to feed.

The area where the Woodlarks had been gathering food for their young earlier in the summer was quiet now, although we did find a pair of Skylarks there instead, which flew across in front of us and then disappeared away across the Heath. There was no sign of the other pair of Dartford Warblers – they were presumably keeping down out of the wind too. We also checked another area which the Woodlarks have been favouring, but there was no sign of them here either – they have probably fledged their second broods already.

It was a lovely bright morning up on the Heath and there were lots of butterflies out despite the wind. We saw lots of Gatekeepers and several Meadow Browns still, many feeding on the flowering bell heather. A smart Painted Lady was basking in the sun on some ivy growing up a fence. We flushed a Small Copper and a Grayling as we walked across an area of open ground, but both settled back down where we could get a good look at them. The Grayling was very hard to see once it settled and folded back its wings, beautifully camouflaged, even when you knew where it had landed.

GraylingGrayling – beautifully camouflaged

When we got back to the car, we could hear a Garden Warbler singing from the bushes nearby. We walked over to see if we could see it, but it went quiet and never did show itself. Most of the warblers on the Heath have largely stopped singing now, so it was an unexpected bonus to hear this typically skulking species. Several Common Buzzards circled up over the edge of the Heath.

There was still a little time before lunch, so we dropped down to the coast at Kelling and had a walk down to the Water Meadow. There were a few House Martins around the village and a Greenfinch or two flew off calling from the trees. Otherwise the lane was fairly quiet bird-wise. However, there were a few more butterflies – including a smart Wall basking on the track and Comma. And there were several dragonflies hawking for insects in the lee of the hedges – a Southern Hawker, a couple of Migrant Hawkers and a very smart, golden-brown winged Brown Hawker.

CommaComma – one or two were feeding along the lane to the Water Meadow

There were a few birds on the pool today. A single Common Sandpiper was the highlight – flying round on flickering bowed wings and calling, before landing on the mud at the far end. There were also several Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the deeper water and a couple of Lapwings on the bank. A few Sand Martins were hawking for insects over the pool and we could see two Egyptian Geese feeding in the rushes at the back. A Grey Heron flew in and landed on the Quag, disturbing all the Rooks gathered in the grass, and a Little Egret was enjoying the sunshine on the edge of the reeds.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way back to the car and drove along the coast to Cley. After eating our lunch on the picnic tables by the visitor centre, we ventured out onto the reserve. On the walk out to the main hides, we flushed a Reed Warbler from the edge of the reeds and a Bearded Tit flew past calling, before dropping down into the reeds.

The first bird we saw when we got in to Dauke’s Hide was a Yellow-legged Gull, standing on the grass on one of the closer islands, preening. We all had a good look at it through the scope, but the next time we looked back it had flown off. The gulls here often drop in and out regularly during the day.

Yellow-legged GullYellow-legged Gull – showing off its yellow legs, on Simmond’s Scrape

There was a nice selection of waders on the scrapes today. The highlight on Simmond’s Scrape was the Common Sandpipers, at least three of them. We had a good look at one of them through the scope. A gaudy moulting male Ruff dropped in briefly, but flew off. A single juvenile Dunlin was over towards the back and a small group of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding up to their bellies down at the front.

Common SandpiperCommon Sandpiper – at least three were on Simmond’s Scrape

As we made our way across to Teal Hide, we heard Bearded Tits calling from the reeds in the middle of the circular boardwalk right in front of us. It was a family party. We watched as they flew out one by one, across the path and into the taller reeds the other side. We got a good but quick look at a couple of juveniles which perched up in the tops before dropping down out of view.

Round at Teal Hide, there were many more waders, in particular loads of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, scattered liberally around Pat’s Pool.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – in good numbers now at Cley

It didn’t take too long to locate the Curlew Sandpiper, a moulting adult with a lot less of its summer rusty colour still on its underparts. Through the scope we could see its comparatively long and downcurved bill. It was feeding on the edge of one of the islands, walking in and out of the grass among the various Ruff. There was a single Knot out on here too, a summer plumaged bird with bright pale orange underparts.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper – rapidly moulting to winter plumage now

We made our way back to the car park and round to the East Bank. It was distinctly cool and blustery now, and it was very exposed up on the bank. A Sedge Warbler flicked off ahead of us in the overgrown vegetation below the bank and we could hear a Reed Warbler singing from the reeds.

There were a few ducks on the Serpentine today, mainly Mallard but we did find a pair of much smaller Teal too. There were lots of Greylag Geese and quite a few Canada Geese as well, out on the grass.

We could see a small gathering of (3!) photographers ahead of us, so we hurried along to where they were. There had been a Wood Sandpiper along here this morning, at the far end of the Serpentine, and we immediately saw that this was indeed what they were watching. Even better, it was on the mud very close to the bank, so we could get a great look at it. They are very dainty waders, spangled on the back with a bold pale supercilium. It posed very nicely for us, walking into the edge of the grass and preening for a while, before falling asleep.

Wood SandpiperWood Sandpiper – feeding on the north end of the Serpentine

Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away from watching the Wood Sandpiper, always a very smart bird to see. We walked along a little further and stopped to look at Arnold’s Marsh from the new shelter. We had heard the Sandwich Terns calling on the walk out and had seen them all fly round once or twice. From the viewing shelter we could get a much better look at them through the scope, their spiky rear crowns and yellow-tipped black bills. There were quite a few scaly backed juveniles in amongst them and several adults flew in carrying fish while we were watching.

There were more waders on Arnold’s Marsh too – lots of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits, with 2-3 Curlews in with them. Seven Dunlin included a mix of black-bellied adults and streaky-bellied juveniles. A careful scan revealed a single Turnstone too, a smart bird in summer plumage, with bright chestnut patches on its back and a white face.

We had a quick look out to sea from the beach. There were lots of Sandwich Terns fishing offshore. Just beyond them, a larger white shape with black wing tips circling out over the sea was a lone Gannet. We spotted a wader flying in low over the water, a Curlew, which turned before it got to us and headed west. It was most likely a continental bird just arriving here on its journey from its breeding grounds, possibly in Russia, coming here to moult, perhaps heading round to the Wash.

Then it was time for us to start making our way back. We stopped briefly for another look at the Wood Sandpiper on the way. It was still feeding very close to the path, giving great views. Then suddenly and for no apparent reason it took off and flew past us, heading strongly on west. Maybe it was time for it to continue on its journey south. Further along, we stopped to watch a pair of Reed Warblers, flitting around first in the vegetation on the bank, moving ahead of us. Then they flew across to the far side of the reedy channel, where they started to work their way along the base of the reeds, just above the water, giving a great chance to look at them properly.

Reed WarblerReed Warbler – a pair were feeding along the ditch this afternoon

Then we made our way back to the car. It had been a lovely day out but it was now time to head for home.

13th Nov 2016 – Autumn Meets Winter, Day 3

Day 3 of a 3 day long weekend of Early Winter tours today, our last day. It was a lovely day, dawning sunny and clear and remaining so through most of the day. A great day to be out on the coast.

We met in Wells. As we got into the car, a Red Kite circled lazily over the harbour, flushing all the Brent Geese which were feeding out on the saltmarsh. On our way west along the coast road, we stopped to look at some geese in a winter wheat field. As well as a large number of Greylags, there were also several Pink-footed Geese, smaller and with a darker head and bill, plus a couple of Egyptian Geese and a family of Brent Geese.

6o0a8685Red Kite – circled over Wells Harbour this morning

Titchwell was our destination for the morning. The overflow car park was still quiet, so we decided to have a quick look to see what was in there. A couple of Bramblings were calling wheezily from the bushes, but flew off as we tried to walk round to see them. Two Greenfinch flew out of the hedge as well. Round at the visitor centre, we found one Brambling which was on the feeders briefly before dropping down to feed on the ground below. A Chaffinch nearby was suffering badly from the papilloma virus, with its legs and feet covered in growths.

As we walked out onto the reserve, we stopped to scan the Thornham grazing marsh. There was a large flock of Pink-footed Geese loafing down in the grass. Over at the back we spotted two Common Buzzards, one on a fencepost and one on the top of a large hawthorn, enjoying the morning sun. A male Stonechat was perching in the tops of the tall vegetation at the front, periodically dropping down to the ground.

As we walked up to the dried up ‘pool’ on the Thornham side, a Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds. A Grey Heron was standing in the sunshine in front of the reeds in the far corner. A Water Rail called from deep in the reeds down at the front, sounding a little like a squealing pig.

Scanning the mud, we picked up a Water Pipit on the edge of the vegetation right at the back. Its white underparts really stood out in the morning light. While we were watching it, two more Water Pipits flew in calling. One landed out in the open, much closer to us, and we got it in the scope briefly before it flew down to the front behind the reeds. As well as the whiter ground colour to the underparts, we could see the more obvious pale supercilium than the Rock Pipit we had been watching on Friday. A little further on, a Chinese Water Deer was feeding out on the saltmarsh.

With the high water levels on the freshmarsh at the moment, we were intending to walk straight past Island Hide but as we were alongside we heard another Water Rail down in the vegetation near the bridge. As we walked down towards the hide to look for it, it scurried out under the trees and disappeared into the reeds beyond. We could still hear it calling further back and with our best Water Rail impression, we were able to coax it back towards us and out onto the mud in amongst the sallow roots. Another two Water Rails then started duetting in the vegetation just beyond. While we were trying to see the Water Rail, we could hear Bearded Tits calling from out in the main reedbed.

We stopped on the bank just past Island Hide to scan the freshmarsh. The ducks seem to appreciate the high water levels. There were lots of Teal, mostly asleep but a few were feeding just below us. The adult drakes are now mostly out of eclipse and looking very smart again. A few Wigeon were grazing on the bits of the islands that weren’t under water. In amongst them, we could see a few Gadwall and Mallard and a little group of Shoveler were swimming around further back. Little groups of Brent Geese kept flying in and out from the saltmarsh.

6o0a8748Teal – there are lots on the freshmarsh

There are not so many waders on here now. Most of the Avocets have left for milder climes, but nine were still here today, sleeping in a little huddle. There are more Ruff, with a good number still around the remaining islands. It was hard to know how many Dunlin there were, as they were scattered around and running in and out of the taller vegetation. In with them, we found a single Ringed Plover. A small flock of Golden Plover flew in, whirled round over the water and flew off again inland.

img_8500Avocets – still nine on the freshmarsh today

There were not so many gulls on the freshmarsh on the walk out this morning. We did quickly locate a single adult Yellow-legged Gull. It was sitting on the water, so we couldn’t see its yellow legs, but we could see its darker grey mantle and relatively unstreaked white head.

img_8508Yellow-legged Gull – this adult was loafing around on the freshmarsh all day

Outside Parrinder hide, we stopped to talk to a couple of locals who were standing with their scopes pointed back along the edge of the freshmarsh. It turned out that a Jack Snipe had been seen earlier but had disappeared some time ago in towards the bank, behind the reeds. Our timing was spot on because, while we were talking to them, someone spotted it come back out onto the island.

We watched the Jack Snipe through the scope for a few minutes while it worked its way back along the edge of the island. Unusually, it wasn’t bouncing much today – the distinctive feeding Jack Snipe action. Then suddenly and for no apparent reason it flew off, over the main path, and dropped down out of view onto the saltmarsh beyond. There were also two Common Snipe asleep on the island, so we had a look at those too, noting in particular the pale central crown stripe which Jack Snipe lacks.

img_8517Jack Snipe – feeding on the island from Parrinder Hide

From inside Parrinder Hide, we could see two more Common Snipe feeding along the bank out of the right hand side. The reeds have been cut back here, giving them fewer places to hide and they were much closer than the ones we had just been looking at. They gave great views as they probed in the wet grass along the edge of the freshmarsh.

6o0a8708Common Snipe – two were feeding just outside Parrinder Hide

While we were watching the Common Snipe, we happened to look a little further back along the water’s edge and noticed a Water Pipit working its way towards us. It was picking around in the cut reeds.We hadn’t seen or heard it fly in, and apparently one had been here earlier, so it is possible this was a different bird to the three we had seen on the Thornham grazing marsh pool. It certainly seemed more heavily marked below than the two we had managed to get in the scope.

This was an even better view than the closer Water Pipit we had seen earlier, on our walk out. It looked like it might come all the way to the hide at one point, but turned and started to work its way back away from us again.

img_8545Water Pipit – possibly our fourth today, from Parrinder Hide

There didn’t look to be a lot on the Volunteer Marsh, so we started out to walk towards the beach. As we were back on the main path, we stopped to look at a single Black-tailed Godwit on the mud. Just at that moment, all the waders scattered, flying off in different directions. We looked up to see a stunning adult Peregrine which flew across the path right in front of us. The light was perfect and we could see all the plumage details,but unfortunately cameras were not at the ready! It dropped away over the saltmarsh and turned, powering low out towards the beach.

As we walked towards the tidal pools, we could hear a Kingfisher calling. When we got over the bank, a quick scan back along the bushes revealed it perched distantly in the far corner. Still we had a look at it through the scope, shining bright blue in the morning sun. There are always Little Grebes on here during the winter, and today was no exception. We counted seven, with two diving just below the main path. Two female Pintail were upending out in the middle.

6o0a8738Little Grebe – one of the seven we counted on the tidal pools

Out at the beach, the tide was out. As we arrived, all the waders on the mussel beds were flushed by people walking along the shoreline. There were lots of Oystercatchers, several Grey Plover and a good sized flock of Knot. They landed again a little further over towards Brancaster. Once we had walked down the beach a little, they started to drift back again. We picked up several godwits, both Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit. A few silvery grey Sanderlings were running up and down on the edge of the sea.

There were several small parties of Common Scoter on the sea, the majority of them pale-cheeked brown females. A single adult drake was closer in, just behind the breakers, and we had a good look at it in the scope. We could even see the yellow stripe down the front of its bill. A Guillemot was diving in the surf too and a couple of Great Crested Grebes drifted past. A single Red-breasted Merganser flew across and a distant juvenile Gannet made its way slowly east.

Back at the tidal pools, the Kingfisher had come much closer. It was perched in the vegetation on the edge of the small island nearest the beach, a much better view than we had on the walk out. There were also a few more waders roosting on the spit, including a Black-tailed Godwit and a Bar-tailed Godwit side by side, giving us a great opportunity to compare the two species.

img_8610Kingfisher – gave better views on the tidal pools on the walk back

After lunch back at the car, we drove over to Holme. A quick chat with one of the wardens who happened to be driving past suggested there may still be a Waxwing present (there had been several here earlier in the week). We had a walk round behind the paddocks but there was no sign of it. Several Blackbirds and Redwings were enjoying the hawthorn berries though, and a few Greenfinches. A couple of Mistle Thrushes landed briefly before flying off over the saltmarsh.

Coming back along Broadwater Road, we took a little detour out towards Redwell Marsh. Several skeins of Pink-footed Geese appeared to come up from the grazing marshes to the east and flew off towards the Wash. We could hear a flock of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes down by the river, and looked up to see a late Chiffchaff flitting around in the trees.

6o0a8750Pink-footed Geese – flying off towards the Wash

Our final stop of the day was at Thornham Harbour. We had hoped to catch up with some Twite here, but they seem to be rather elusive at the moment and there was no sign of them. As we walked out along the seawall towards Holme, we did have four Lapland Buntings which flew over calling.

As we walked up towards the boardwalk overlooking Broadwater, we could hear more Water Rails squealing. A young Sparrowhawk sent a flock of Starlings scattering, before landing on a fence post. A covey of Grey Partridge exploded from the edge of the saltmarsh as we passed. On the Broadwater itself, there were lots of Gadwall and Coot, along with three Tufted Ducks.

As we walked back, the tide was coming in fast. There were loads of gulls gathered out on the mud, being pushed in by the rising water. We could hear Greenshanks calling and eventually spotted them when they were forced out from where they were hiding on the saltmarsh and flew up and down looking for somewhere dry to land.

Tomorrow night is full moon, and it is also going to be a ‘supermoon’. More properly known as perigee-syzygy, this is when the full moon is at its closest point to the Earth, and it appears bigger and brighter than normal. Tonight was almost a full moon and only a fraction smaller (the closest approach is actually at 11.23am tomorrow morning!).

It was a fairly clear evening, so we were treated to a stunning ‘supermoon’ rise as we got back to the car. Flocks of Pink-footed Geese flying across the saltmarsh in front of us, calling, only added to the atmosphere. It was a great way to end our three days birding.

6o0a8784-001Supermoon – rising over Thornham Harbour

 

6th Nov 2016 – Late Autumn Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today, our last day and the last Autumn Migration Tour for this season. The weather forecast for today was dreadful but thankfully, as usual, the Met Office had got it wrong. It was windy all day and we did have to dodge some squally showers in the afternoon, but in the morning we were presented with most unexpected blue skies and bright sunshine.

Our first stop for the day was at Snettisham.As we made our way down to the reserve, we saw a group of swans on the northern pit and a quick look confirmed they were Whooper Swans, presumably stopped off on there way down to the Fens. There appeared to be two families – a pair with six juveniles and another pair with three young and an extra adult tagging along. There was a bit of squabbling going on between the two groups – wing flapping and adults chasing after each other with necks outstretched.

6o0a7585Whooper Swans – one of two families on the northern pit at Snettisham

It was getting on for high tide already, but it was not a particularly big tide today which meant that the waders would not be pushed very high up the mud. Scanning from the seawall, we could see huge flocks of waders out over the mud, thousands of Knot and smaller numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits in particular. Closer to us, little groups of Dunlin were more spread out, feeding feverishly.

Many of the flocks were seeking whatever shelter from the wind they could find out on the exposed mud. We got a group of Knot in the scope which were crammed tight in a small depression. On the edge of the channel down in from of us, down at of the wind, was a little huddle of Dunlin, together with a Grey Plover and a Redshank, all trying to sleep.

We took shelter in Rotary Hide to scan the mud. Looking out to the edge of the Wash, we could see long lines of Gannets battling north. They had been blown into the Wash by the strong north wind and were now trying to work their way back out again along the eastern shore. A couple of juvenile Gannets tried flying in across the mud instead, flushing the flocks of Knot which were not sure exactly what was flying overhead.

6o0a7606Gannet – trying to make its way back north, out of the Wash

Over on the edge of the water we could see a couple of large flocks of sleeping Oystercatchers, looking like a black smear along the shore line in the distance. Three Sanderling were much closer, landing on the near edge of the channel and running along on the mud.

Looking out the other side of Rotary Hide, we found one of the two Black-necked Grebes which have been here for a few days now. It was hard viewing from here, as we were looking into the morning sun. The water was also very choppy. whipped up by the blustery wind. The Black-necked Grebe was diving continually, with a couple of Little Grebes too, a little further back.

img_8281Black-necked Grebe – one of two on the southern pit again today

Braving the elements again, we walked further down along the seawall. A lone drake Pintail was on one of the small pools on the near edge of the mud as we passed so we stopped for a closer look at it. It was a smart drake, largely out of eclipse but still without its long pin-shaped tail.

img_8289Pintail – on its own out on the mud on the edge of the Wash

Round at Shore Hide we got ourselves out of the wind again. We had a better view across the pit from here, with the sun away to our right. Almost immediately we found the Scaup, bobbing about on the water in front of the hide. It was a 1st winter drake, just starting to get some grey feathers on its back and white on the rear flanks, and with a dirty white face.

6o0a7639Scaup – the first winter drake on the pit

The second Black-necked Grebe was also diving continually, a little further out behind the Scaup. As were a smart pair of Goldeneye. At first, they were rather distant, down at the southern end of the pit, but after a while they reappeared over in front of the far bank, out from the hide. There was a nice selection of dabbling ducks too, mostly Wigeon in various stages of moult, plus a few Shoveler and a lone pair of Gadwall. We stopped to admire the drake Gadwall, a most under-appreciated bird!

There were comparatively few waders on the pits today. With the small tide, they were not going to be pushed off the Wash. However, there was a tight huddle of fifty or so Redshank on the edge of one of the islands. The vast majority of them were Common Redshank, but a closer look revealed a single Spotted Redshank in with them. They were all asleep at first, but still it was possible to pick the Spotted Redshank out at the back of the flock – it was a slightly paler shade of grey, more silvery-grey than the slaty coloured Common Redshanks, and through the scope we could see the much more marked white supercilium in front of the eye. Eventually something spooked them and they woke up, at which point it was possible to see the Spotted Redshank’s longer, needle fine bill.

It had been gloriously sunny for the most part at Snettisham, but as we drove back to the north coast we could see some rain clouds coming in off the sea and it started to rain as we turned the corner. We planned to spend the afternoon at Titchwell, but we made a quick detour down to Holme on the way there. There had been a large flock of Waxwings here for the last couple of days. As we drove down the reserve entrance track, we couldn’t see any, but on our way back with the windows open we heard them flying over and saw them land in the hedge behind us, down near Redwell Marsh.

A quick about turn and we managed to get good views of the Waxwings through the scope from the road, in the top of a hawthorn. We walked round and down the footpath to Redwell Marsh, hoping to get a little closer, but by the time we got there they had disappeared. As we made our way back to the road, we heard them calling and they flew over, 25-30 in total, and disappeared over in the direction of the village.

At least it had stopped raining, but it was still rather overcast while we were here. We did see a few other birds. There were lots of Blackbirds and a few Redwing in the hedges, and a couple of Fieldfares flew over as we walked along the road. A Kingfisher zipped over but disappeared down into the river channel out of view. With the Waxwings having disappeared, we didn’t hang around and moved quickly on to Titchwell. On the way there, we could see a huge flock of Fieldfare feeding in a winter wheat field by the main road, presumably recently arrived from the continent.

After lunch at Titchwell, we made our way out onto the reserve. It was very blustery out on the main path, but we stopped for a quick look over Thornham grazing marsh and the dried up pool. We found the Water Pipit which had been frequenting the puddles here recently, but it was right at the back and unfortunately disappeared into the vegetation before everyone could get onto it. A Marsh Harrier hung over the reedbed at the back.

Island Hide offered us some welcome shelter from the wind. The water level on the freshmarsh is going up fast now, as the warden tried to get the vegetation under control. Consequently, there are fewer waders on here at the moment. A single Ruff was picking around in the vegetation on the edge of the cut reeds beside the hide, and a few more Ruff were further out on the islands. While we were scanning, at least 30 more Ruff flew in, one of them with a noticeably very white head. Even in winter, they can be very variable, underlining why Ruff is probably the most often confused wader.

6o0a7676Ruff – in winter plumage, feeding in the vegetation close to Island Hide

There were lots of ducks on the freshmarsh. Large numbers of Wigeon and Teal in particular, with some of the drakes looking increasingly smart as they have now mostly emerged from their duller eclipse plumage. In with them, were smaller numbers of Gadwall and Shoveler.

Good numbers of gulls were seeking shelter from the wind and loafing around on the water or on the islands. The Great Black-backed Gulls had probably sought refuge from the brunt of the wind out on the beach, where they would normally be. A single Yellow-legged Gull was asleep on one of the islands at first, but eventually woke up and showed us its bright yellow legs. It was also noticeably darker mantled than the nearby Herring Gulls.

img_8311Yellow-legged Gull – one was amongst all the gulls on the freshmarsh today

Round to Parrinder Hide and we called in on the north side first. A Curlew feeding in front of the hide was the highlight. Otherwise, there were several Redshank and a distant Grey Plover out on Volunteer Marsh. The islands of vegetation can sometimes conceal a lot of birds on here and down below us we could see a mob of Wigeon and Teal attacking the plants.

6o0a7694Curlew – feeding in front of Parrinder Hide on the Volunteer Marsh

On the other side of Parrinder Hide, overlooking the freshmarsh, there were two Common Snipe feeding just below the hide, although they quickly scurried away further along the bank. There are not so many places for them to hide here now, since the reeds on the bank have been cut down

img_8318Common Snipe – feeding on the bank outside Parrinder Hide

The piles of cut vegetation proved to be a perfect perch for a couple of Stonechat. They had been feeding from the fence around the island further over, dropping down from the posts to the ground. They gradually worked their way along, closer to us, and switched to using the mounds of cut reed as vantage points instead.

A smart drake Shoveler was feeding out on the water in front of the hide. When they are feeding, Shoveler swim around with their enormous bills under the water, stirring up food and then filtering it out with their bills. They can do this for long periods without lifting their heads out – making them very tricky to photograph!

6o0a7734Shoveler – a smart drake feeding in front of Parrinder Hide

There have been some White-fronted Geese at Titchwell for a week or so now. They seem to move between the maize field along the entrance road and the freshmarsh. Today, they were feeding on the fenced off island with all the Greylags. It was hard to tell exactly how many there were. There was the usual family party, two adults and two juveniles, and at least one further adult today.

When the adult White-fronted Geese raised their heads, you could see the distinctive white band around the base of their bills. At one point, as they came out of the vegetation, you could also see the black bands on their bellies. The two juvenile White-fronted Geese lacked the white face and black belly bars, but were still smaller and darker than the Greylags, with a pink bill.

img_8323White-fronted Goose – one of the adults, raising its head

There didn’t seem to be any Avocets left here are first. Most of the birds which breed here or gather post-breeding, have long since left for warmer climes further south. Most years, a small number linger on through into the winter. Eventually we found them, six Avocets lurking right in the back corner of the freshmarsh.

It seems rude to visit Titchwell without at least seeing the sea. We did make a quick sortie out to the beach today, to finish the day. As we passed the Volunteer Marsh, a little group of Dunlin were feeding along the channel right by the main path. Out on the tidal pools, there were a couple of Black-tailed Godwit and a Grey Plover. However, we didn’t linger on the walk out today, given the wind, but headed straight on to the sea.

As we got to the beach, we could see a squally shower blowing in and the first spots of rain were blowing in to our faces. The sea was rough, which would make it tricky to see any birds out here anyway. Still, it is always amazing to see the fury of the sea on a stormy day. With the rain starting to come in, we beat a hasty retreat.

Walking back past the freshmarsh, there were lots of birds coming in to roost. Lines of Black-headed Gulls flew in from the fields and another flock of Ruff came in over the reedbed and grazing marshes. A Marsh Harrier drifted in from the Thornham direction and headed off over the reedbed. With the light fading, it was time for us to call it a day too. The weather hadn’t been anyway near as bad as forecast and we had still managed to see a great selection of birds, despite the windy conditions.

5th Nov 2016 – Late Autumn Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was cloudy and increasingly blustery today, with winds gusting to 47mph this afternoon, so we spent the day dodging the showers. Still, it was surprising how much we saw despite the weather.

As we drove east along the coast road this morning, we flushed lots of Blackbirds and Chaffinches from the sides of the road. Our first destination was Blakeney, for a quick walk out around the Freshes before the wind picked up later. A couple of Brent Geese were feeding on the edge of the harbour channel just across from the car park but we could immediately see that one was much paler than the other. A closer look confirmed, one was a Pale-bellied Brent and the other a Dark-bellied Brent Goose.

6o0a7350Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese – a nice comparison

Dark-bellied is the regular form of Brent Goose which winters in large numbers here. This subspecies breeds in arctic Russia. Pale-bellied Brent Geese breed from Svalbard west across arctic Canada and winter mainly on the west coast of Scotland and in Ireland. We normally get a handful of Pale-bellied in with the flocks of Dark-bellied Brents here each winter and they occasionally form mixed pairs. Today was a great opportunity to see them side by side.

While we were watching the Brent Geese, we heard a Kingfisher call and looked across the channel to see two Kingfishers chasing each other low over the water. They flew over to our side of the channel and disappeared over the bank towards the Freshes. A little later we saw one of the zip back low across the reeds towards the wildfowl collection. A Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds a little further along.

Further along the seawall, as we got almost to the corner, we turned to look at the Freshes just in time to glimpse a dumpy bird dropping down into the grass on the edge of a flooded depression. We had a pretty good idea what it was, but we couldn’t see it from the seawall or from the path the other side. As we approached for a closer look, a Jack Snipe flew up and shot off towards the harbour – just what we had suspected. In flight, we could really see the small size and the shorter bill compared to a Common Snipe.

We continued on along the north side of the Freshes bank. There were lots of Skylarks down in the short weedy vegetation beyond the fence. A flock of Linnets flew in and dropped down there too briefly. A Rock Pipit flew over calling and landed on the fence, where we could get a good look at it through the scope. Reed Buntings occasionally flew up from the bushes but quickly disappeared back down again. A female Stonechat worked its way along the fence, dropping down onto the side of the bank periodically to look for food.

6o0a7371Stonechat – this lone female was working its way along the fence line

It is very exposed to the elements out on the seawall here. The wind was now starting to pick up and we could see dark clouds coming in towards us over the sea, so we decided to head back to the car. We had a quick look at the wildfowl in the Blakeney collection – none of which were allowed on the bird list for the day of course! We were just settled back in the warmth of the car when we saw two Peregrines over the edge of Friary Hills. A larger adult Peregrine, presumably a female, was chasing a smaller male juvenile – they swooped low over the grass before disappearing behind a hedge, coming out the other side and zooming off over the houses.

With the deterioration in the weather, we decided to head inland to get some respite. There have been some Waxwings in Holt for the last couple of days and as we turned into the road where they have most often been seen we could immediately see several photographers with long lenses pointed up into the trees. Even before we stopped, we could see Waxwings, and we could hear them calling as we got out of the car.

6o0a7387Waxwing – there were at least 20 in Holt today

There were at least 20 Waxwings, but they were hard to count as they were feeding in several different trees, and frequently flying round in small groups or singles. The bulk of the group seemed to keep returning to the top of a large chestnut tree, where they were hard to see among the leaves. From there, they would drop down into several smaller rowans, where they would proceed to wolf down the red berries, much to the annoyance of the local Blackbirds! There was also an apple tree in one of the front gardens by the road, and several of the Waxwings kept coming down to attack the apples, clinging on to them and biting away at the flesh where they had been half eaten already.

6o0a7454Waxwing – feeding on apples, as well as rowan berries

Having feasted ourselves, on such excellent views of such gorgeous looking birds, when the Waxwings flew off and disappeared round behind the buildings, we decided to move on. Our next stop was at Sheringham, where we went for a walk along the sea front.We thought we might pick up some seabirds on our way, but at first it seemed a little quiet, apart from hordes of Turnstones around the fishing boats which had been hauled up the slipway.

6o0a7525Turnstone – lots along the prom at Sheringham

There was no sign of any Purple Sandpipers on their usual favourite rocks below the pub, but when we got to the shelter at the east end of the prom, we could see first one and then two Purple Sandpipers distantly out on the sea defences.

We stopped to talk to another couple of local birders who told us that the movement of seabirds was just picking up, after the wind had strengthened. A line of Common Scoter flew past with a single Tufted Duck in amongst them. A steady stream of Gannets tacked across the wind, heading east offshore, both white adults and dark grey-brown juveniles. There were little groups of Guillemots zooming across and a couple of Red-throated Divers went past too.Then a few Great Skuas started to pass by – in the half hour we stood there sheltering from the wind, we saw about ten – but they were all rather distant and hard to get everyone onto. A single juvenile Pomarine Skua was even further offshore.

As a particularly fierce squall blew in off the sea, we took shelter until it passed. Perhaps prompted by a Sanderling which came in with them, the two Purple Sandpipers took off and flew towards us, passing by and heading back to the rocks below the pub. We waited until the rain had stopped and decided to walk back to look for them. Unfortunately, by that stage they had disappeared again. We did find a couple of Ringed Plovers which had probably stopped off with the Turnstones to sit out the wind.

6o0a7527Ringed Plover – stopped off with the Turnstones on the slipway

After lunch and a welcome hot drink back along the coast road at Cley, we drove round to Iron Road and headed down along Attenborough’s Way. There was a nice flock of Brent Geese out on the grazing meadows (all Dark-bellieds), and as well as the plain backed adults we could see quite a few stripe-backed juveniles. Hopefully, as the Brent Goose numbers increase over the coming weeks, it will prove to have been a good breeding season for them this year.

6o0a7537Brent Geese – adults & juveniles on the grazing marshes

Round at Babcock Hide, the wind was now whistling across the marshes. A little flock of Dunlin were feeding down at the front of the scrape below the hide, but they were very skittish and kept whirling round before dropping back down again. A pair of Redshank were defending their feeding territory in front of the hide, chasing off any others which tried to land there.

First one Black-tailed Godwit dropped in, then another five, stopping to feed for a few minutes before flying off again, flashing their boldly marked black and white wings. A couple of little groups of Lapwing flew in from the east and stopped to rest for a minute or two on the islands.

None of the waders would settle, in part because there were a couple of Marsh Harriers about. First, a dark juvenile flew across the reeds at the back of the pool, and drifted off towards Salthouse. Then a young male Marsh Harrier, with paler underwings and small patches of paler grey emerging on its upperwings, did the same. As they came over the grazing marshes, all the Wigeon shot out into the middle of the water from the banks. There were a few Teal and Mallard with them and three Shoveler appeared from behind the reeds too.

When a particularly dark cloud had passed over, we returned to the car and drove back round to the main part of the reserve. Just as we set out to walk to the hides, it started to rain so we hurried out along the boardwalk – thankfully it was only light rain and we got out there without getting wet.

There were several Shelduck out on Pat’s Pool and  huddle of gulls out beyond the first island. A few Teal were out on one of the further islands, but there were not many waders – three Dunlin at the back and a couple of Black-tailed Godwits roosting in with the gulls. Simmond’s Scrape held more wildfowl – a larger flock of Wigeon, a good number of Teal and a huddle of around 20 Pintail asleep behind one of the islands. Presumably the waders had gone elsewhere in search of food and shelter. A Common Snipe was feeding on the bank outside Dauke’s Hide but flew across and landed down behind the grass in front of Teal Hide where we couldn’t see it.

A couple more Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbed beyond the scrapes this side. The light was starting to fade already and they were presumably gathering before going to roost. Several Pied Wagtails flew past while we watched, some of them dropping in to the islands briefly, before continuing on their way heading off to roost.

6o0a7562Marsh Harrier – gathering over the reeds before going to roost

Turning our attention to the gulls, we could immediately see a good selection of different species – Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. One of the herring gull-types looked different – it was very white-headed, whereas Herring Gulls typically have lots of grey blotches around the head at this time of year. Against the white head, the beady black eye really stood out – the nearby Herring Gulls instead showing a very pale iris. It was  an adult Caspian Gull.

img_8262Caspian Gull – this adult was hunkered down against the wind on Pat’s Pool

The Caspian Gull was hunkered down against the wind and didn’t initially look as long-billed and long-faced as they usually do. It kept returning to a little patch of cut rushes, behind which it tried to crouch down and shelter. However, the mantle was noticeably half a shade darker than the nearby Herring Gulls. Eventually, the Caspian Gull walked up onto the island and started preening, and now finally we could see the distinctive long head and bill.

Cley in the late evening is normally a good place to see different gulls gathering before they go to roost, but the Caspian Gulls often come in very late, just as it is getting dark, so we were lucky this one had arrived nice and early today. When some of the gulls flew across to Simmond’s Scrape, we turned to look there and found an adult Yellow-legged Gull to add to the day’s gull list. It was with a Lesser and a Great Black-backed Gull, giving a good comparison in mantle tone – it was noticeably much darker grey than the Herring Gulls but paler and less slatey than the Lesser Black-backeds.

At first, the Yellow-legged Gull was up to its belly in the water but eventually it climbed out onto the mud and we could finally see its deep yellow legs. The light was starting to fade now, and consequently they might not have appeared as bright to the unitiated as they otherwise would have done. It was time to call it a day, but it had been a nice way to end with such a good selection of gulls gathering.

14th November 2014 – Go West for Waders

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today and we made our way west along the North Norfolk coast this time. Yesterday’s forecast had suggested it would rain all day today, so we counted ourselves lucky that the morning was dry, if rather cold and windy.

A Barn Owl hunting beside the road was a nice surprise as we drove along the coast road first thing this morning. Before we got to Titchwell, we turned inland to explore the area around Choseley. A winter wheat field was full of Lapwings, Curlews and a sizeable flock of over 15 Stock Doves, which was nice to see. The hedges were full of Chaffinches and in amongst them we could see a few Yellowhammers.

There has been a Rough-legged Buzzard in the area on and off for over three weeks now, and yesterday it had been seen around Choseley, but we couldn’t find it there today. We also had a look in a couple of its other favoured spots, but it seemed to have chosen today to have gone hunting elsewhere. So we headed further west to Holme.

While it was dry, we headed out onto the beach. We could see lots of waders roosting on the sand, and more flew in to feed as the tide started to go out. There were several groups of Bar-tailed Godwits, asleep at first, and a couple of Grey Plover. In amongst them, we found a single Dunlin and Knot, before the godwits woke up and flew down along the beach. More waders flew in to join them, plus a couple of silvery white Sanderling and several Turnstones.

IMG_2818Bar-tailed Godwit – flashing a black-and-white barred tail feather

We flushed several small flocks of finches from the dunes – little groups of Linnets and a larger flock of Goldfinches, accompanied by a couple of Greenfinches. There were a few Skylarks feeding on the edge of the saltmarshes as well.

We walked further along the beach towards Gore Point. We had hoped to find some birds out on the sea. There were certainly lots of Common Scoter, but they were a long way offshore today, and impossible to see on the choppy waters until they flew. A single Red-breasted Merganser flew past. It was bracing in the fresh wind out on the beach, and noticeably colder than of late. We decided to make our way back to the car.

P1120541Holme – the view along the beach towards Gore Point

We stopped on the boardwalk to scan the grazing marshes. A couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering the fields. On the other side, we could see a small flock of Wigeon and Shoveler on the saltmarsh and three Little Egrets on the edge of one of the pools.

We made our way back east and had a quick look in at Thornham Harbour next. We climbed up onto the seawall from where we could have a good scan of the surrounding area. A large falcon circled up over the fields towards Holme, before powering off inland – a young Peregrine. A small bird hiding on the far side of the old Coal Barn turned out to be a Rock Pipit playing hide and seek beyond the ridge. Eventually it flew down onto one of the boats and was joined by a second bird – we got good views of them through binoculars, but they quickly flew down onto the other side of the harbour channel. They were rather skittish and wouldn’t linger long in any one place.

From Thornham, we swung back inland again. A large flock of Linnets came out of a weedy field beside the road. A couple of Mistle Thrushes flew overhead and landed on the wires by the road briefly, before dropping down into a freshly cut field to feed. We paused to scan the hedges regularly, in case we could find a raptor. On our way back down towards Titchwell, we finally sighted a large bird tucked into the far side of the hedge about a mile further east. Through the scope it looked palish headed, although probably not pale enough for our target, but we drove round for a closer look anyway, just in case. Sure enough it was just a palish Common Buzzard.

We made our way down to Titchwell next. A flock of Long-tailed Tits were working their way through the sallows as we approached the visitor centre. We stopped to have a look at the feeders, where a Coal Tit kept darting in, grabbing a sunflower seed, and darting back to the bushes. There were lots of finches squabbling around the feeders – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches – but a different finch was lurking in behind the foliage in the bushes behind. We got it in the scope – a Brambling. Whiter bellied than a Chaffinch, with an orange wash across the breast and orange shoulders, we could even see its distinctive white rump when it turned away from us. It sat looking at the other finches on the feeders for some time before eventually it decided to fly and get something to eat itself.

IMG_2832Brambling – hiding in the bushes behind the feeders

As we set off to walk out onto the reserve along the main path, one of the group asked whether there were any Water Rails in the ditches at the moment. Almost at the same time, another sharp-eyed member of the group spotted one scurrying along through the water below the trees. Perfect timing! We stopped to scan the grazing meadow pool but it was cold and windy out there and completely devoid of birdlife today. The skies had become progressively greyer through the morning, and now it started to drizzle with rain, so we made a quick beeline for the shelter of Island Hide.

There were lots of birds out on the freshmarsh. A good number of Teal have already arrived for the winter and carpeted the water over towards the reeds. There were also good numbers of Gadwall and Shoveler and a few Wigeon out on the islands. However the prize for the smartest of all has to go to the Pintail – there were several stunning drakes and a similar number of elegant ducks out with them today.

P1120563P1120553Teal – male and female, feeding on the mud in front of Island Hide

There was a good sized flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting out on the water, but not so many other waders at first on the freshmarsh today. A small number of hardy Avocet continue to stick it out here – although they might have been questioning that strategy given the weather today, when most of their brethren have departed for milder climes! A couple of little groups of Dunlin were feeding around the islands.

Suddenly, two more Water Rails came racing out of the reeds in front of the hide chasing each other. They disappeared back in almost immediately but shortly afterwards came out again for another brief appearance. That was obviously enough chasing round for now, and thankfully one of the Water Rails then worked its way slowly along the edge of the reeds, letting us get good views of it in the scope.

It was still drizzling but it was only light, so we decided to try our luck further on before it got any worse and head out towards the beach. The Volunteer Marsh looked rather empty today, apart from a few Redshank and a couple of Curlew. However, a Black-tailed Godwit was feeding right by the path at the far corner, and gave us great close-up views when we got up to it.

P1120609Black-tailed Godwit – feeding right by the main path

The Tidal Pools also looked less busy than they have been recently. A few groups of Wigeon were feeding out in amongst the saltmarsh vegetation and five Little Grebes were sheltering round the edge of the tall island. There have been several Spotted Redshanks on here in recent weeks, but there was no sign of any at first today. Then a rather pale wader appeared from behind one of the islands – silvery grey above, white below, with a bold white supercilium and a longer, finer bill than its close cousin, it was a winter plumage Spotted Redshank. It waded out into the deep water and started feeding, jabbing its bill feverishly into the water.

IMG_2857Spotted Redshank – one finally gave itself up for us on the Tidal Pools

We were feeling bold, so we continued on out to the beach. The tide had gone out now and there were lots of waders out on the rocks. Mostly they were the same species we had seen earlier on the beach at Holme – Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers, Knot and Turnstone. However, in with them were two Ringed Plovers, a nice addition to the day’s list.

The wind had dropped and the sea was surprisingly calm, but there was still surprisingly little activity offshore – just as we had seen at Holme. There was not even a Gannet feeding offshore, and no sign of any ducks today. Eventually we found just two Great Crested Grebes way off in the channel towards Scolt Head. It was rather cold out on the beach so we didn’t linger too long and made our way back to the shelter of Parrinder Hide. It was a wise decision as the drizzle increased in intensity for a while after we got there.

The highlight from here was the Common Snipe. As soon as we got into the hide, we could see one feeding on the edge of the vegetation below the bank further along. It fed for a while before disappearing into cover. A little later, we picked up another Snipe feeding out on one of the recently mown islands, a bit closer than the first. Then another appeared on the waters edge just along from the hide and gave us great views. They are such smart birds, so well camouflaged when they are not out feeding.

IMG_2873Common Snipe – showing very well from Parrinder Hide

Having not seen a Water Pipit today on the drained grazing meadow pool, which is where they have been regularly in recent weeks, we thought we might find one on the freshmarsh. A Meadow Pipit was feeding out on one of the recently mown islands with a couple of Pied Wagtails. We heard a sharp call which sounded promising, but unfortunately it was a Rock Pipit which had dropped in instead – having obviously not read the script! It was not to be today.

With the low grey cloud and drizzle, the light faded early today. Lots of gulls came in to bathe and preen before roosting. The largest number were Black-headed Gulls, with a few Common Gulls in with them. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were the most numerous of the larger species, with slightly fewer Herring Gulls. A slightly bigger gull, with a grey back in between Herring and Lesser Black-backed in shade, was an adult Yellow-legged Gull.

More waders flew in from the beach – a Knot, lots of Turnstone, and a couple of Ringed Plover. We could see several Marsh Harriers circling over the reedbed, getting ready to go into roost. Then with what little light there had been failing, we made our way back.

P1120617Shoveler – a smart drake preening

19th August 2015 – Wonderful Waders

A Private Tour today, for some visitors from Australia. The request was to see some waders and August is certainly a great time of year to go looking for them. We headed up to the North Norfolk coast hoping to see as wide a variety as possible. We were not disappointed.

We started at Cley. It was cloudy first thing and there were lots of House Martins hawking for insects low over the houses as we walked out to the hides. It had been raining overnight and the reeds were very wet. Probably as a consequence, there were lots of birds feeding up in the dead trees. As well as the resident Goldfinches, there were a couple of young Reed Buntings, two Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler. It was particularly nice to see the latter two out in the open side by side.

While it was cloudy we had a quick look at Pat’s Pool first. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding out in the deeper water or sleeping further over amongst the islands. The vast majority of them were Icelandic birds, and mostly moulting adults or greyer 1st summers. However, amongst them a slightly larger godwit with a proportionately longer and deeper based bill stood out. A closer look confirmed it was a juvenile Continental Black-tailed Godwit (of the limosa subspecies), one of two which have been present on the reserve in recent days.

IMG_8347Continental Black-tailed Godwit – one of two juveniles currently at Cley

There are also lots of Ruff around at the moment. The adults have now mostly moulted into winter plumage, but good numbers of juveniles have now joined them. We spent some time looking at the differences between them – the more subtly scaly grey upperparts of the adults and whiter underparts, compared to the buff/brown colour of the juveniles.

There were also some nice groups of Dunlin on the reserve this morning. Juvenile Dunlin now outnumber the adults, and we watched a little flock of juveniles, with black spotted bellies, feeding on the front of the first island. Further over, we could also make out a few black-bellied adults in the flocks.

P1070935Dunlin – the flocks currently comprise more juveniles than adults

The ducks have also started to return in numbers. However, the drakes are all in drab eclipse plumage at the moment, making identification more of a challenge. We spent a little time looking at some of them – a nice group of rusty Wigeon feeding on one of the islands, a couple of large-billed Shoveler and lots of Teal.

We had not been there too long when the sun came out, rather earlier than expected, but a nice surprise. Unfortunately, we found ourselves looking into the sun so we moved round to Dauke’s Hide to check out Simmond’s Scrape instead. There was a lovely flock of Dunlin feeding out in front of us and as we scanned through them we found a couple of different waders in amongst them. First up were the Little Stints. Noticeably smaller than the Dunlin and with very white underparts, they stood out. There were two Little Stints in the flock, and we also admired their shorter, finer bills and whiter faces than the Dunlin.

IMG_8359Little Stint – we found two in with the Dunlin flock this morning

In contrast, the Knot were noticeably larger than the Dunlin. There was no hiding the bright, summer plumage adult, sporting bright orange underparts, but the peachy-breasted juvenile was more subtle. As well as size, the Knot were more rotund and shorter-billed, and lacked the dark belly markings of the Dunlin. On the open mud on the islands nearby, several Ringed Plovers were running around as well.

Out in the far corner of the scrape, we picked up a single Green Sandpiper feeding amongst the vegetation. Thankfully it flew round calling and landed much closer to us, where we could a better look at it through the scope, before it made its way back into one of the more secluded areas, out of view. A large flock of Lapwing flew in and landed on Pat’s Pool and we could hear Golden Plover calling as well as they arrived though couldn’t pick any out looking into the sun at the massed ranks. A single Sandwich Tern was hiding amongst the roosting Black-headed Gulls, from where we could get a great view of the distinctive yellow tip to its black bill.

IMG_8380Sandwich Tern – with a yellow-tipped black bill

One of the other people in the hide thought they had seen a Hobby distantly over the shingle ridge and suddenly not one but two Hobbys powered in towards us from the direction of North Scrape. The birds we had been watching on the scrapes all scattered, particularly the Dunlin flock which whirled round over the water in panic. One of the Hobbys stooped at the flock and in the resulting chaos one of the waders got separated from the group. The two Hobbys then proceeded to take turns stooping at it – unfortunately chasing it round behind the hide where we couldn’t see its fate. Stunning to watch.

As the waders all scattered, we could hear a Wood Sandpiper calling and managed to pick up two distantly, flying off over the Eye Field with a flock of Dunlin. There was very little left on Simmond’s Scrape after that, so we decided to have a look at North Scrape instead. As we walked along the beach, we could see a few distant Gannets passing by offshore.

The Hobbys had also done a good job at clearing out North Scrape of waders, and there were only a handful of Dunlin left, amongst the hordes of ducks. We did see our first Curlew of the day, preening out on one of the islands. And, as we sat and watched for a while, a Greenshank appeared feeding very actively around the edge of the scrape.

Just as things were settling down, a Sparrowhawk flew over. It was chased off by a Little Ringed Plover which came up from the pool behind us by the beach, heading away over Billy’s Wash. As it did so, it flushed a couple of Common Snipe, Green Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers from where they had been lurking out of sight, though they quickly dropped down again amongst the tall grass.

Once the Sparrowhawk had disappeared, the Little Ringed Plover dropped back down onto a shingle island in the pool. As we walked round to get a better look at it, we could see why. A second Little Ringed Plover appeared from the vegetation, this one a scaly backed juvenile, not fully grown and still with fluffy juvenile down on its head. We got a good look at both of them in the scope, particularly noting the bright golden-yellow eye-ring of the adult. While we were watching them, we heard a Common Sandpiper calling and it appeared from over the Eye Field and dropped down onto the island beside them. It stood bobbing its tail for a second, before disappearing round the back out of view.

IMG_8403Little Ringed Plover – an adult with bright yellow eye-ring

We had done really well for waders at Cley this morning, but there were a couple of key target species missing. We decided to head along to Titchwell for the afternoon, to see what else we could add.

On the walk out, we stopped to have a look at the reedbed pool. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out on the water,along with a selection of commoner ducks. A well-grown, stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe swam out into the middle but an adult Little Grebe stayed close to the reed edge with its smaller youngster. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they did not show themselves today – perhaps it was just a touch too breezy.

P1080136Avocet – needless to say, there were plenty still at Titchwell today

The water level on the freshmarsh is still higher than it has been in recent weeks, and there were fewer small waders as a result. From Island Hide, we could see that there were still a few Dunlin, mostly juveniles, lurking around the edges of the islands or the remaining strips of mud over by the edge of the reeds. However, we did see our third Little Stint of the day, over on the islands by the main path – we would have a closer look at that later!

Out in the middle of the freshmarsh was a large flock of roosting waders. Through the scope we could see that they were mostly Bar-tailed Godwits, sleeping out the high tide on the beach. Also asleep amongst the islands, we located one of the wader species we had hoped to see – a small group of 8 Spotted Redshanks. They were mostly asleep, but a couple woke up and had a quick preen, letting us see the long and needle-fine bill, with a small downward kink just at the very tip. They were all mostly in silvery grey and sparkling white winter plumage but a ninth Spotted Redshank joined them, this one still in partial summer plumage with extensive white splotches on its formerly black underparts.

IMG_8458Spotted Redshanks – nine, one still in partial black summer plumage

Over on the edge of the reeds, a Green Sandpiper was feeding in and out of the vegetation. It stopped for a while to preen and we got a great look at it in the scope. A Common Sandpiper appeared next to it – much smaller, paler and greyer-brown above, and with the distinctive white spur between the breast and folded wing. A great side-by-side comparison.

IMG_8426Green Sandpiper – preening by the edge of the reeds

There is no exposed mud in front of Island Hide at the moment, so fewer waders close in. However, those that do come in can be very close indeed. Today we were graced with excellent frame-filling views of a couple of adult Ruff….

P1080145Ruff – an adult, right outside Island Hide

… and Lapwing.

P1080076Lapwing – also right in front of Island Hide

There were also lots of gulls roosting on the freshmarsh. Lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, plus several Herring Gulls and a handful of Common Gulls. In amongst them, a single bird with a mantle intermediate in grey shade between the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and sporting yellow legs, was an adult Yellow-legged Gull. There were also a few Common Terns, as usual.

IMG_8423Common Tern – checking the water level on the freshmarsh

We decided to head round to Parrinder Hide to see if we could add anything else to the day’s list. From up on the bank, we could see the Little Stint still out on the islands. We stopped to watch it and it flew even closer, onto the nearest island and feeding feverishly, it worked its way right round in front of us giving us great views.

IMG_8492Little Stint – great views on the edge of the freshmarsh this afternoon

While we were watching the Little Stint, we picked up a Hobby approaching from further out towards the sea. It came leisurely towards us until it got over the path to Parrinder Hide, when it suddenly turned and dropped into a steep dive towards the freshmarsh. For some reason, rather than targeting something small and bite-sized like a Dunlin, it made straight for an unsuspecting Lapwing. Both birds seemed to get a bit of a shock – the Lapwing realised its impending fate at the last minute and leapt up with wings open, whereupon the size of its target presumably dawned on the Hobby and it veered away sharply. The moment of surprise was squandered and it drifted off towards the reedbed.

It was worth the walk round to Parrinder Hide today. A Common Snipe stood preening on the water’s edge in front before disappearing back into the vegetation. We finally got proper views of a Wood Sandpiper for the day, on one of islands over by the bank, at one point joined by two more Common Sandpipers. Two Yellow Wagtails were flitting round with the Pied Wagtails.

IMG_8502Common Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Parrinder Hide

Out on the Volunteer Marsh, were several Grey Plovers. Most of them are still in stunning summer plumage, with black bellies and faces and bright white speckled upperparts.

IMG_8495Grey Plover – particularly stunning birds in summer plumage

In front of the hide, we also had great views of a particularly obliging Curlew, which walked slowly past us, occasionally stopping to probe into the mud. While we were in the hide, a Marsh Harrier flew over – another passing raptor throwing the waders into a panic once again. A flock of Dunlin swirled round with the Little Stint now in amongst them for safety and landed out on Volunteer Marsh once the panic subsided.

P1080215Curlew – this obliging individual posed in front of Parrinder Hide

Out at the tidal pools, a careful scan revealed a bird hiding in the long grass. It was feeding and occasionally put its head up just long enough to confirm it was a Whimbrel, with pale central crown stripe between two dark lateral stripes, rather different from the plainer head of the Curlew behind. There were also more Black-tailed Godwits feeding out here today, a couple still in rusty summer plumage.

P1080270Black-tailed Godwit – another particularly obliging bird today

There were only a couple of other waders we could possibly see in North Norfolk today and we found both of them out on the beach. Several Turnstone were out on the rocks, mostly still in bright summer plumage. Further east, a couple of Sanderling were feeding out on the wet sand. There were also the usual Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Curlews and Redshanks out there today. A quick look at the sea to round things off produced a single Common Scoter and Great Crested Grebe.

Then it was time to head back, pausing to admire a Little Egret by the path on the way. It had been quite a day – with 24 species of wader to show for it, as well as much more besides.

P1080294Little Egret – by the path on our way back; note the yellow feet

25th July 2015 – Wet & Windy, Waders & Warblers (& Nightjars)

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. The itinerary saw us looking for Spoonbills and Dartford Warblers, which the weather did its worst to thwart. It was wet and very windy in the morning – gusting to 45mph. It brightened up in the afternoon, though the wind didn’t really start to drop until much later on. As ever, despite the weather we had a really good day and saw lots of really good birds!

We would originally have gone up to the Heath to look for Dartford Warblers in the morning, but it was really not the weather for it today. Instead, we decided to seek the shelter of the hides at Cley first thing. After the heavy rain overnight (we had about a month’s rain in 24 hours), the water levels on the scrapes had risen considerably. However, there was still a very good selection of birds on view.

We headed to Teal Hide first and had a look at Pat’s Pool. Two small waders were feeding around the edge of the largest island. The adult Dunlin was immediately obvious, with its striking black belly patch, but the second bird was a source of potential confusion for the uninitiated (and indeed it did cause some amongst some of the other people in the hide). Similar in size to the Dunlin, but with a shorter, straight bill and bright, white underparts, it was a summer plumage Sanderling. We are more used to seeing them running in and out of the waves on the beach in the winter, by which stage they are silvery grey above and white below. An out of place Sanderling has confounded even the experts in the past. This one was presumably seeking somewhere sheltered to feed.

IMG_7350Sanderling – a summer plumage bird on the scrape

There were sandpipers too. A Green Sandpiper flew in from the east and dropped in to the vegetation at the front of the scrape. We could see its very slaty-grey upperparts and blackish underwings, with contrasting white tail as it landed. A Common Sandpiper flew in as well, and landed on the muddy edge right in front of us.

P1060479Common Sandpiper – landed briefly on the mud in front of the hide

Unfortunately, neither of the sandpipers hung around for long. Avocets are not particularly good parents, but a couple of pairs still have juveniles on Pat’s Pool at the moment. Their idea of childcare is to mostly ignore their ‘children’ but chase off any potential predators. They are good at trying to chase after Marsh Harriers, but not quite selective enough in their choice of target – they attempt to chase away anything which comes into range. So the sandpipers were seen off, and a couple of Teal, and the Dunlin and Sanderling when they dared to venture along the front of the island. All obviously grave threats to a juvenile Avocet! Needless to say, the survival rate amongst juvenile Avocets is not great.

P1060464Avocet – a well grown juvenile; its parent chased off most of the other waders

When not chasing off anything which comes into range, the adult Avocets will occasionally shelter the juveniles, but only when they are very small. The older juvenile on the scrape was the only surviving youngster of one pair, and had to fend for itself in the rain. The other Avocet pair had three much smaller youngsters and they were allowed to shelter under one of their parents in the worst of the weather.

IMG_7340Avocet – one youngster out, the other two hiding underneath

There were gulls and terns already roosting on the islands when we arrived, tucked down out of the wind and rain. Six Little Gulls were feeding together in the wet grass, picking at the vegetation for invertebrates, all of them 1st summer birds born last year. Nearby, two Common Terns and three Sandwich Terns were trying to sleep through the weather, which would make fishing difficult for them.

There were big gulls too – and more dropped in to join them while we were there. As well as the ubiquitous Herring Gulls, several Great Black-backed Gulls had retreated from the shore and in amongst them were two smaller and slatier-backed Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A single juvenile gull appeared with them as well and a close look revealed it to be a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, presumably a post-summer dispersing bird from the continent.

We headed round to Dauke’s Hide next and had a look at Simmond’s Scrape. There were more larger waders here. A big group of Black-tailed Godwits were trying to sleep on one of the islands – we could see a mixture of rusty adult birds and grey 1st summers. There were also several Ruff, once again in a wide variety of different plumages. The males are very variable in summer plumage at the best of times, and they are also now in various stages of moult as well. The significantly smaller females can look rather different again.

IMG_7380Ruff – a male moulting into winter plumage

All the while we were there, birds were constantly dropping in. A couple of bright orange summer plumage Knot flew in with a Golden Plover. The Knot were promptly seen off by one of the Avocets! A few more Golden Plover arrived until there were five feeding on the grass together. A Ringed Plover dropped in briefly, before flying on west; a short while later, a Little Ringed Plover did much the same. A Common Snipe dropped in and started feeding in the wet grass. A Whimbrel flew over, calling.

There was no sign of the Spoonbills at first today. They were probably hiding somewhere more sheltered. However, while we were in the hides, two Spoonbills dropped in to the scrapes. The shorter-billed juvenile landed on one of the islands and tried to find somewhere to roost out of the wind, but the other bird continued on towards North Scrape. A short while later the juvenile decided it was not a great place to sleep today and flew off as well.

IMG_7375Spoonbill – this juvenile dropped in to Simmond’s Scrape briefly today

There were other birds to see was well. One of the female Marsh Harriers spent ages flying low over the reeds along the back of Simmond’s Scrape, but presumably hunting was difficult today and she seemed to achieve very little. A juvenile Yellow Wagtail landed on of the islands briefly, before flying down to the grass round the edge of the scrape and disappearing from view.

Late morning, we decided it would be a good idea to head back to the visitor centre and get a hot drink to warm up. Afterwards we drove round to the beach car park. Given the gale-force NNW wind, and the approaching high tide, the waves were crashing into the beach. It was great to watch and we stood for a while on the stones marvelling at the power of the sea. Several Gannets passed by offshore.

P1060522Cley Beach – the waves were crashing onto the shore today

It had stopped raining by this stage, but we still took advantage of the beach shelter to get out of the wind and seaspray and enjoy an early lunch. There had been a few different waders out on North Scrape in the morning, so we decided to walk and take a look ourselves.We were at least walking with the wind at our backs, but there were few birds around today. A Skylark sat in the Eye Field watching us.

As we were walking over the grass, a dragonfly flew up in front of us and landed again a bit further along. Unusual out here at the best of times, this was hardly the weather for dragonfly watching! Still, we managed to find it sheltering in the grass below the fence line and discovered it was a rarity to boot – a smart male Red-veined Darter. There has been the odd one around the reserve in recent weeks, but it was not something we were expecting to find out here, least of all today!

P1060536

Red-veined Darter – a surprise in the Eye Field, particularly given the gale!

Unfortunately, as we arrived at North Scrape, something had just spooked all the waders. There were now fewer on show than there had been. However, we still managed to find a Curlew Sandpiper hiding amongst several Dunlin. Its chestnut underparts, dappled with white as it moults into winter plumage, gave it away – very different from the black belly patch of the adult Dunlin. There were also several more Little Ringed Plovers, Ruff and another Green Sandpiper out here today. A big group of Sandwich Terns were sitting out the stormy conditions on one of the islands.

We headed round to the East Bank next. It was still very windy, but at least the clouds had cleared and it had brightened up. It was rather blustery on the walk out along the East Bank – not the weather for Bearded Tits today. However, out at Arnold’s Marsh we walked down the steps and got ourselves in the lee of the bank.

There were lots of waders out on Arnold’s Marsh. There have been groups of Knot out here for several weeks. There have been more grey 1st summer birds,  but today the majority were adults already returned from the north, sporting bright orange underparts. Amongst them were two more Curlew Sandpipers, slightly richer chestnut below and darker brown above, more dainty with a longer, finer, downcurved bill.

There were lots of smaller Dunlin and Sanderling here too. One of the Dunlin stood out – with much brighter rufous upperparts, paler face and a more contrasting black belly. There are several races of Dunlin all around the world, breeding from the Pacific coast of North America to far eastern Siberia, and they vary subtly in appearance. This was perhaps a Dunlin from further east.

IMG_7393Dunlin – an interestingly bright bird with other waders on Arnold’s Marsh

The more we looked, the more we found. There were some very smart Turnstones, still in summer plumage with white faces and bright rufous backs. Most of the godwits were asleep on the islands, tucked down in the vegetation. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits, but two Bar-tailed Godwits came out to feed, allowing us to get a much better look at them.

There were lots of terns as well. The Sandwich Terns regularly loaf out in small numbers around Arnold’s Marsh, especially at this time of year, however many more seemed to be sheltering from the wind today. Amongst them we could see lots of Common Terns and even a couple of Arctic Terns as well.

By the time we got back to the car, it was almost time to finish but we had still not been up to the Heath. Realistically, despite the wind having dropped somewhat it still seemed a little too windy but we headed up there anyway on the off chance. It seemed rather quiet as we got out of the car. At least the sun was shining and, in a couple of sheltered spots, we finally found some butterflies as we walked out, mostly Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.

P1060560Gatekeeper – there were lots of these out on the Heath this afternoon

We flushed a couple of Linnets from beside the path as we walked, and we could hear a Yellowhammer singing. We were not surprised to find no sign of the Dartford Warblers around one of their favoured area – they really don’t like windy conditions. We carried on across the Heath and a Turtle Dove started purring briefly behind us, in the area we had just walked through. Unfortunately it stopped again as soon as it started, and we didn’t have enough time to work out where it was hiding.

As we rounded a corner on a normally quiet corner of the Heath, we came across a large puddle across the path. A male Yellowhammer flicked across and landed in the grass in front of us, eyeing us nervously. It was obviously looking to come down to the puddle and eventually plucked up the courage to hop down to the water’s edge, and then start to bathe. The Heath is normally very dry, so this was perhaps a rare treat.

P1060608Yellowhammer – bathing in a puddle

While we were watching the Yellowhammer, we heard a harsh churring call in the gorse right next to us. The next thing we knew a Dartford Warbler flew out across the path in front of us. Just for second it seemed like it might dip down towards the Yellowhammer, but it seemed to see us standing watching it and fly up into the vegetation instead. Unfortunately, just as we were hoping it might come out again, two walkers appeared and came straight past us along the path. We decided to move on. We had really not expected to see Dartford Warbler today, and this is not one of their usually favoured places, so it was a real stroke of luck to see one today.

P1060612Grayling – basking on a concrete post, camouflaged against the stones

We had a quick walk round the rest of heath, but it was rather quiet. We did add a couple more butterflies to the day’s list – Grayling and Essex Skipper. And we did run into a large mixed tit flock working its way through the birches. But then it was time to head back and get something to eat ahead of the evening’s entertainment.

P1060624Essex Skipper – with blackish-tipped antennae

Nightjar Evening

We met again in Holt in the early evening, after a break to recover from the day’s exertions and a chance to get something to eat. We dropped down to the coast first. A quick drive round the grazing meadows and we found our first Barn Owl of the evening perched on a fence. We stopped the car and got it in the scope. A great start! It flew off and resumed hunting around the grassy fields. A couple of Whimbrel were calling overhead.

IMG_7438Barn Owl – our first of the evening, perched on a fence

A little further round, and we stopped again and set off to walk out over the marshes. Almost immediately we spotted another Barn Owl, flying across over the reeds. There is a Barn Owl box here and once we had walked out a little further we could see two more owls around the box. One of them was just in the process of devouring a vole. As we watched, it was clear there was an adult bird bringing back food, and 2-3 freshly fledged juveniles still sitting round the entrance to the box waiting to be fed.

IMG_7442Barn Owls – 2-3 juveniles were waiting to be fed at the entrance to the box

While we were scanning over the grazing marshes, another Barn Owl appeared from nowhere right in front of us, flying in from the direction of the road. It worked its way methodically round the edge of the field, looking purposefully down into the grass all the time. Then it suddenly dropped down after something. It came up again with a vole in its talons, and set off back towards the village, flying straight past us on its way. We got a fantastic view of it. A little while later, it came back again and resumed hunting, presumably having fed its young.

P1060638Barn Owl – carrying food back to its youngsters

Back at the box, one of the adult Barn Owls flew back across the marshes with some prey in its talons. However, instead of going straight into the box to feed the juveniles, it landed on a post down in the reeds in front. It didn’t seem to show any interest in eating its vole itself, so was presumably trying to tempt the young Barn Owls out to fly round. They were not showing any inclination to leave the comfort of the box!

While we were watching the Barn Owls, we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds. Looking more closely, we could see some movement further over, so we walked round for a better look. It didn’t take long to pick up three juveniles – they were rather vocal and kept edging their way up to the tops of the reeds before dropping back in or flying across the tops.

IMG_7451Bearded Tit – a good performance from several juveniles this evening

Then it was time to tear ourselves away and head up to the heath for the evening’s main event. It had started to cloud over again a little while we were out on the marshes and was already getting dark by the time we got there, sooner than we had expected. We could already hear a Nightjar calling from the trees as we walked up. Perfect timing!

Shortly after we arrived, one of the Nightjars flew out and perched up on a stump on the edge of the trees in front of us. It sat there for some time, just looking around. We got it in the scope and got great views of it – it appeared to be a female, lacking the white flashes in wings and tail which the male shows. Eventually, it flew off into the tops of the trees, but reappeared only a few seconds later hawking for insects above our heads. We could also hear a Tawny Owl hooting in the distance.

IMG_7460Nightjar – one of three birds we saw this evening

Finally a male Nightjar started churring across the other side of the heath, behind us. This prompted the male in front of us to start churring in response. The next thing we knew, a Nightjar appeared on the dead tree stump again. This time it was a male – it sat there with tail spread flashing its white tail corners – and we presumed it was the resident male we had just heard.

However, then another male Nightjar appeared from the trees and started to buzz around the male sat on the stump. It gave up and disappeared into the trees again, then came out and started flying round the stump male once more. It repeated this several times, flying into the trees, before coming back out and flying round the other male. It even tried to land on top of him a couple of times, presumably in an effort to displace the interloper and regain his song perch, but the other male simply stayed put. There are two male Nightjars here with neighbouring territories, so presumably this was the next door male trying to take over the resident male’s song perch. Finally, after several attempts, the interloper flew off down to the ground and the resident male started churring. Great behaviour to watch, real all-action stuff.

Then, as the light started to fade, it was a good time to call it a night.