29th May 2015 – Rain in the East


Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. We met in Wells and headed east along the coast towards Cley.

The weather forecast wasn’t great, so we were prepared for the worst. However, it started bright, so we stopped at Stiffkey Fen on our way east. The sun was shining and the birds were singing. Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Reed & Sedge Warbler, Song Thrush and many more were in all full voice from the bushes by the path. Several Skylarks sang from the sky high above us as we walked out. A Bullfinch flew overhead calling.

Out on the Fen, we picked up first one, then two, then four Little Ringed Plovers. They were chasing each other around on one of the islands, running around like clockwork toys. There were also lots of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, several Redshank, Lapwing, and the ubiquitous Avocets.

From the seawall, looking inland, we could see a smart male Marsh Harrier circling up. A few seconds later a Sparrowhawk appeared with it and proceeded to dive at it repeatedly.

P1010363Blakeney Harbour – the view from Stiffkey Fen out to Blakeney Point

Most of the Brent Geese have now departed for Russia, but as we walked out towards the harbour we saw three flying off west over the saltmarsh and another was standing in one of the channels. The tide was out, but a scan of the mud revealed a couple of Curlews and a little group of Ringed Plovers. A closer look through the scope confirmed the latter were Tundra Ringed Plovers, on their way further north – smaller and darker than our breeding birds. A single adult Mediterranean Gull flew in over the saltmarsh towards Morston, flashing its white wing tips.

Even though it was still sunny, we could already see darker clouds gathering on the horizon. We fled ahead of them towards Cley and made for the East Bank before they could catch up with us. We were glad we did. Half way along the bank, a quick scan of the reeds along the ditch below us revealed a female Bearded Tit. She was working her way methodically along through the reeds, just above the water, occasionally coming out onto the edge and picking at the blanket weed. Great views.

P1010378Bearded Tit – this female showed really well from the East Bank this morning

There were both Reed and Sedge Warblers singing along the East Bank. A particularly obliging Sedge Warbler perched up on the reeds below the path, singing its super-fast, buzzy song. It sang for a while, then launched itself up in song-flight, parachuting back down to the base of the reeds, before moving back to where it had started and doing it all over again.

P1010387Sedge Warbler – singing, and song-flighting, by East Bank

Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Spoonbill on the Serpentine today. A drake Pintail was the surprise here – a late bird, possibly sick or injured. As usual, there was a very obliging Little Egret fishing very close to the bank. We were hoping to get out to Arnold’s Marsh, but the dark cloud had now caught up with us, so we decided discretion was the better part of valour and beat a hasty retreat to the Visitor Centre.

P1010385Little Egret – a smart breeding adult, with full set of plumes

When the rain came, thankfully at first it was not too hard. We walked out onto the reserve and headed for the main hide complex. This seemed like the best place to shelter form the rain. On the way, a Grey Heron posed on the bank of the main freshwater channel by the path.

P1010394Grey Heron – more intent on fishing than watching us

On first glance, both Pat’s Pool and Simmond’s Scrape looked a little quiet today. However, as the rain started to fall harder and harder, we were in here for a while. The more we sat, the more we saw things appear or drop in. There were several Avocets sitting on nests in front of the hide. We saw a couple of shift changeovers and watched the adults sitting tight as the rain fell on them.

IMG_5045Avocet – on the nest, hunkered down in the rain

There were also lots of Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and a few Sand Martins out over the reserve. In the rain, they came in to feed low over the scrapes. Amongst the Avocets, three Little Ringed Plovers flew in and proceeded to have a disagreement – about territory, mate, or something. One male flashed his tail, his wings, and then had a swoop at the others. Then a Little Gull appeared on Simmond’s Scrape, a 1st summer. It stood preening for a short while, before flying behind one of the taller islands and disappearing.

IMG_5054Little Gull – first one 1st summer appeared on Simmond’s Scrape

A short while later it reappeared and was promptly joined by a second 1st summer Little Gull which flew in and landed beside it. The two of them stood and preened in the rain for a while. Eventually, they obviously decided it was no fun standing there getting wet and both Little Gulls flew off together.

IMG_5064Little Gull – then a second 1st summer flew in to join it

Six Black-tailed Godwits flew over the reserve and then reappeared, dropping in to Simmond’s Scrape. The next thing we knew, they were joined by another five. Then three smaller waders appeared on the mud. We just had time to get a look at them – two Dunlin and a Sanderling. All three were in summer plumage, the former sporting smart black belly patches and the latter with chestnut above and on the breast, so different from the silvery winter plumage we so often see. Unfortunately, before we could get the scope of them they were off again.

Eventually, the rain started to ease and the sky started to brighten. We made a strategic decision to head back to the Visitor Centre. On the way, a Cetti’s Warbler flew in from the direction of the road and over the freshwater ditch, landing in the reeds on the other side. We watched it feeding quickly along the line of reeds and up into the brambles, before it flew back across the road towards the Visitor Centre.

After lunch, we drove round to the beach. We had intended to walk along to North Scrape, but as we arrived it started to rain yet again. While we had been in the hide earlier, we had seen a large feeding frenzy of terns just off the beach, distantly over the shingle ridge. We had even picked out a couple of Gannets circling with them. We decided to have a look at the sea from the beach shelter while we waited for the rain to clear. The big mob of feeding terns had dispersed, but we still saw feeding Sandwich, Common and Little Terns offshore. Another Gannet circled past. And a pair of Common Scoter flew west over the sea.

With the drizzle continuing, we decided to drive round via Salthouse instead. The pools behind the duck pond and along the Beach Road were quiet, apart from a group of Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallows. However, eventually it brightened up again and we stopped at the Iron Road and walked out to the grazing marshes. Another 1st summer Little Gull was hawking over by the shingle ridge, towards Sea Pool.

Out in the long grass at the back of the pool, we picked up a single drake Wigeon – or should we say, a Wigeon head sticking out from the grass! Most of the Wigeon which were here over the winter have long since departed back to Russia, so one seemed like a good find. However, on the pools on the other side of the track we found another two drake Wigeon. So this is where they have all been hiding! We walked out as far as the bridge over the main drain, and as we turned to come back we spotted a couple of Yellow Wagtails. They were feeding out on the mud which had been dredged from the channels, two females. They flew ahead of us, as we turned to walk back, but then we could see the gathering dark clouds again. We just made it back to the car as the heavens opened.

As that rain blew through, the skies seemed to clear a little from the west, so we headed up to the Heath. However, the wind had picked up and it was now very gusty – not ideal conditions for Dartford Warblers. We had a walk round, but couldn’t even hear any today – they were undoubtedly lying low out of the wind. A couple of Turtle Doves flew past us and landed deep in cover.

P1010400Gorse – the yellow flowers looked stunning once the sun finally came out

We had already started to walk back to the car when the sun finally came out. Some birds finally started to show themselves. A smart golden-headed male Yellowhammer perched up on a dead tree. A male Stonechat appeared from the gorse where we had been searching earlier and started to preen, but we were unfortunately out of time. As we headed back to the car, another Turtle Dove perched up in a birch tree briefly. Then it was time to head back.

We had managed to get a full day’s birding in, despite the rain’s best efforts, and a quick tally at the end of the day revealed we had seen and heard a very respectable 90 species – a very respectable total and well worth the effort.

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