12th May 2023 – Four Days of Spring, Day 2

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Day 2 of a 4-day Spring Tour today. In contrast to yesterday, it was a very grey and windy day today, and much cooler. It really didn’t feel like spring! A band of rain was forecast to pass over around the middle of the day, and indeed it did, even if the timing was not quite what was expected. Still, we persevered and had a good day out in which we managed to avoid getting too wet too.

Our destination for the morning was Cley. We parked below Walsey Hills and as we walked along past Snipe’s Marsh, a Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds.

When we got up on the East Bank, a male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds beyond. We stood for a while and scanned the reeds and marshes, keeping one eye on North Foreland plantation behind us. A couple of Little Egrets flew out of the trees and headed out across the reserve. A family of Coot was on Don’s Pool, the young still with bare red heads, and a Little Grebe appeared briefly. A drake Common Pochard was further up the channel in the reeds. Out on the grazing marsh the other side, a couple of Lapwings were displaying and a flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew over.

We looked back to see a Spoonbill fly out of the trees now, and drop down onto a small pool on the grazing marsh. It started feeding, with its head down, then walked out and across to the next pool. We had some nice views of it in the scope, an adult with yellow-tipped black bill and shaggy nuchal crest. It flew further back and walked down into the channel out of view, and a few minutes later, flew back towards the trees. What was presumably a second Spoonbill then flew out and did a similar thing, flying back this time with nest material in its bill.

Spoonbill – commuting to and from the marshes

Continuing up along the bank, the Bearded Tits were keeping down due to the wind today. We heard calling a few times, and had some brief glimpses of birds flying over the reeds. A Sedge Warbler was singing from the channel below the bank.

Up at the Serpentine we spotted a Common Sandpiper feeding along the muddy edge at the far end. By the time we got up there, another two Common Sandpipers had appeared and we watched the three of them running round on the mud together with a Redshank. A couple of Cormorants and a young Great Black-backed Gull were on the islands on Pope’s Pool at the back, but otherwise it was fairly quiet out here today.

Common Sandpiper – 1 of 3 on the Serpentine

We pressed on to the shelter by Arnold’s Marsh and settled onto the bench on the back, out of the wind, overlooking the Brackish Pools. A single female Pintail was still lingering with the other ducks out in the middle. We braved the other side of the shelter briefly, but there was not much out on Arnold’s Marsh today, probably due to the wind.

Continuing on to the beach, there were a few terns feeding offshore, a pair of Little Terns battling in to the wind, three or four Common Terns slightly to the east of us and a single Sandwich Tern which flew west. A couple of adult Gannets flew past further out. It was rather blustery out here and everyone was getting cold, so we didn’t spend too long out here today, and set off to walk back. A few of the Black-tailed Godwits had dropped down onto the Serpentine to feed now.

We had a quick look in the trees at Walsey Hills, where it was a little more sheltered. There were plenty of Goldfinches, plus a few Chaffinches and tits coming to the feeders. The Garden Warbler which had been singing in the trees up by the ringing hut had retreated to the willows this morning. We stopped to listen and compare the songs of Blackcap and Garden Warbler here. We could hear Skylarks singing over the fields beyond, but they had gone quiet by the time we got out of the bushes.

It was spitting with rain already, earlier than forecast, so we made our way round to the Visitor Centre, to get a hot drink and warm up and get permits to use the hides. The rain was already getting heavier by the time we were ready to set off, but we waited for a bit of a lull and then walked out, thankfully not getting too wet in the process.

From Dauke’s Hide, we looked out at Simmond’s Scrape. A small flock of Dunlin was very jumpy in the wind, repeatedly taking off and whirling round, and there were more Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallow water. Several Avocets were still down on nests incubating. A female Lapwing was sheltering a juvenile under its breast feathers on the bank right in front of the hide, which then came out and ran around in the grass.

Lapwing – the juvenile

A pair of Gadwall swam across the channel and climbed up onto the bank in front of us, allowing us to get a very close view of the complex patterning of the drake’s plumage. A female Mallard swam across too, with several ducklings.

Gadwall – a smart drake

Scanning over Pat’s Pool, a we found another Common Sandpiper on the muddy bank in the corner. A Little Ringed Plover dropped in on the mud too, but quickly disappeared in behind the humps. A single Bar-tailed Godwit appeared with the Black-tailed Godwits and a Curlew dropped in briefly, before flying on west. Perhaps some migrant waders were moving today, despite the weather.

There were lots of Sand Martins hawking low over the water and several along the far bank, in the lee of the reedbed, even landing on the mud. Probably wishing they had not made the long journey back here from Africa! A Bittern boomed briefly and a male Marsh Harrier flew in with prey, but dropped down into the reeds out of view rather than waiting for the female to come up.

We could see brighter sky beyond Sheringham, and the darker cloud cleared through fairly quickly and the rain stopped. We walked back and it was dry now. We had a quick stop in at the Visitor Centre to use the facilities, but it was too windy for lunch at the picnic area today, so we drove round to the beach car park and found somewhere to sit out of the wind in the beach shelter, looking out over the Eye Field.

We were just finishing lunch, when we spotted a flock of twenty Whimbrel flying west over Eye Field. Looking more closely, we realised there was a single Bar-tailed Godwit in with them. Nice to see migrants definitely on the move today. There were a few terns offshore here too, including two Little Terns and a Sandwich Tern. A distant small flock of Common Scoter flew past.

Whimbrel – mostly, spot the odd one out!

After lunch, we drove east and stopped for a quick look at the pools along Iron Road. The cows were taking an interest in us and followed as we walked out, but despite looking carefully we couldn’t see anything around their feet today. There were just a couple of Redshank on the muddy pool to the east and a pair of Wigeon were the only thing of note on the main pool.

We continued on to Kelling and walked down the lane. Lots of Rooks were flying in and out of the pines behind the school and a large number of Woodpigeons were in the cultivated field to the west. We stopped to admire some Brown Hares hunkered down in the weedy field next to the lane, and found several Red-legged Partridges in there too. There was not much singing in the wind in the hedges along the lane. Down by the gate, we could see more Hares on the slope in the field beyond the Water Meadow.

There was not much on the Water Meadow pool today, just a pair of Egyptian Geese and several Mallard. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the brambles along the path to the Hard and a Reed Bunting was doing its best from the back of the blackthorn. We looked up to see three Hares chasing round at the top of the grassy slope, and saw some brief fighting but not really full on boxing this afternoon.

Brown Hares – fighting

There were lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits in the bushes behind the Hard and three Stonechats down in the grass below the gun emplacements, but no sign of any migrants here today. We turned round and set off back. A Kestrel was hovering on the edge of the Quags in front of us, so we stopped to marvel at how it still managed to keep its head so still, despite the wind.

Kestrel – hovering

We had a quick look in at Stiffkey Fen to finish. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing by the road as we got out. Taking the house down by the river, there were no House Martins round the house today – hopefully there is still time for them to return. A female Bullfinch and a couple of Long-tailed Tits flicked off ahead of us in the sallows above the path.

Looking over the reeds from the path, we could see a Spoonbill on the Fen, but we had a better view from up on the seawall. At least until it went to sleep – typical Spoonbill!

Spoonbill – asleep

A Whimbrel was preening behind the reeds on the near side of the Fen before it flew off past us and out into the harbour. There were several Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets, but otherwise all we could find here was another Common Sandpiper on here today.

Whimbrel – off towards the harbour

It was still grey and windy and feeling cold, so we made our way back. Hopefully the weather might be better tomorrow.

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