9th June 2024 – Late Spring Tour

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A single day Late Spring group tour in North Norfolk, looking for summer breeding birds and late spring migrants. After a brighter start, it clouded over progressively and threatened rain at times. There was a cold and blustery wind too, which meant it hardly felt like summer, but at least we managed to stay dry.

To start the day, we headed down to Cley. We parked in front of Walsey Hills and as we got out of the minibus we could hear a Blackcap singing. Walking up towards the East Bank, a Reed Warbler was chattering away in the reeds too and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted and flew across the road. A Little Grebe was diving on Snipe’s Marsh, catching sticklebacks, and a pair of Coot were feeding a couple of well grown young.

Little Grebe
Little Grebe – catching sticklebacks

Standing on the start of the East Bank, a Little Egret flew past us in towards North Foreland plantation. Turning to watch it, a Spoonbill circled out over the trees and was followed by two more, a couple of adults and a younger bird still with black in its wingtips. One turned and headed out over the marshes while the others disappeared back into the trees.

Spoonbill
Spoonbill – circling over

There were more Reed Warblers singing from the reeds below the bank and then a Sedge Warbler flew up and landed on some brambles where we could see its bright pale supercilium. We could see some movement in the vegetation and realised it was feeding some recently fledged juveniles – we saw one of them briefly, still not fully grown with only half a tail.

From time to time we could hear Bearded Tits pinging and several times saw one zip off over the reeds before diving back in again. They were not perching up today though unfortunately, hardly surprising given the wind. A male Marsh Harrier circled round in front of us before heading off over the East Bank and out over the other side.

Marsh Harrier
Marsh Harrier – over the reeds

There were not many waders on Pope’s Marsh, just one or two Lapwings with numbers seemingly low this year. There were more Redshanks on the Serpentine, calling and chasing each other round, but no sign of any juveniles yet. A pair of Avocets flew in and landed in the water, the female bowing down with her bill held just above the water, the male walking round preening and pecking at the water before we watched them mating. A single Common Snipe feeding in the grass at the back of the Serpentine is more unusual at this time of year.

Avocets
Avocets – displaying

There were lots of Common Swifts and Sand Martins moving this morning. The latter were perhaps local birds, coming in from the sand cliffs further east to feed over the pools, but the Swifts were more likely to be migrants still. Numbers seemed to build over the new reedbed pool as we walked out and by the time we got to the main drain we could see good numbers of Swifts now hawking out over the marshes. A Great White Egret was feeding in the low reeds at the back of the new reedbed pool.

Common Swift
Common Swift – on the move today

The brackish pools added a single Ringed Plover, Dunlin and a Canada Goose. A Spoonbill was busy feeding in the water in front of the shelter, so we went in to get out of the wind and watched it sweeping its bill from side to side in the shallow water, occasionally chasing quickly after something or flicking its head up when it caught something.

Spoonbill
Spoonbill – feeding

A small group of waders was roosting further out on Arnold’s Marsh. Through the scope, we could see they were mainly Bar-tailed Godwits, just one in bright rusty breeding plumage. With them were a few Grey Plover and Ruff. At this time of year, it is hard to tell whether some of these waders are non-breeding birds which will stay here for the summer, very late potential breeders still going north or early returnees, failed breeders coming back south already. A Fox ran across the middle of the marsh and all the waders looked up briefly, before going back to sleep.

We decided to brave the beach. As we passed the brackish pools, a Little Egret was feeding in the shallows and a small party of Turnstones flew past. When we got up onto the shingle, a small group of Little Terns was feeding close inshore and making their way slowly west into the wind. A trickle of Sandwich Terns flew past further out and we picked up two Gannets passing, right out on the horizon. Four Sanderling flew west, just off the beach, one in dark breeding plumage, and a couple of Oystercatchers flew past, again raising interesting questions about where they were going.

Little Tern
Little Tern – several flew past

We made our way back to the minibus now, a chance to warm up out of the wind. We drove inland to check out an area of fields. A couple of Skylarks fluttered up in front of us and several Linnets and a single Greenfinch perched on the wires.  A family of Mistle Thrushes flew in, the three spotty juveniles landing on the wires too. A Blackcap was singing in the hedge. Several Common Buzzards and a Red Kite circled up over the fields beyond.

There were lots of Swifts moving through here too and at one point, when it brightened up a little, they started to gather over the nearby village. At their peak, there were at least 100 Swifts in the sky together. A Hobby appeared with them, we could see it catching insects, before it turned and flew past us, folding its wings back and stooping across at great speed with the wind behind it.

Hobby
Hobby – shot past

Driving over to Cromer next, as we got out of the minibus we could already see the juvenile Peregrine on the top of the tower. It took off and shot past us over the roofs of the shops, towards one of the adults which was flying round behind us. We walked down to the viewpoint and found the other adult Peregrine resting on one of the ledges on the top of the church, so we got it in the scope for a closer look.

Peregrine juvenile
Peregrine – the juvenile on the tower

The juvenile Peregrine flew back in and landed on its favourite perch on the corner, then retreated to the nearby ledge out of the wind. Then the adult came back in with some food, which looked like the hind legs of something, and the youngster flew up to take it.

Peregrine adult and juvenile
Peregrines – feeding time

We could see it feeding now, while the adult retreated back to the top of one of the towers. Great Peregrine action!

Peregrine adult
Peregrine – the adult retreated to the tower

As we made our way back down to the coast, it started to spit with rain, but by the time we got back to Cley it had stopped again. We had a break for lunch and could make use of the picnic tables outside, though most of the group did retreat inside for a hot drink after eating!

There had been a Curlew Sandpiper on North Scrape earlier and despite there being no further reports, checking in at the Visitor Centre it sounded like it was still present. We drove round to the beach car park and walked out along the shingle. A couple of Skylarks and several Meadow Pipits flew up out of the grass.

As we came up over the ridge in the Eye Field, we stopped to scan and found a Whimbrel in with the loafing gulls, another wader it is more unusual to find here at this time of year – they normally pass north earlier in spring and start to come back later in the summer. We couldn’t see the Curlew Sandpiper from here, but we continued on down to the back of the old shelter for a closer look.

The Whimbrel had flown off, but there were several Ringed Plovers on the bare mud and we found the Curlew Sandpiper roosting behind one of them, tucked in behind some vegetation right at the back. It was hard to see at first, occasionally lifting its head and showing off its distinctly downcurved bill. It suddenly took off and we thought it had gone, but then landed back down on the mud in the open where it was much easier to see and started feeding.

After everyone had finally got a good look at it, we scanned the rest of the scrape and found a Little Ringed Plover, with its golden eye-ring, and a single Dunlin.

We had originally intended to spend the whole afternoon up on the Heath but it wasn’t really the weather for it today. Instead, we went up for the last hour or so to see what we could find. As we got out in the car park, a Yellowhammer flew past and we then came across a couple of others as we walked round. There were Linnets everywhere, one or two Chiffchaffs singing and a brief Willow Warbler too.

It seemed we might be out of luck for anything more interesting. Then as we stopped to look at a Stonechat, which was singing from the top of a small pine tree, we heard the distinctive song of a Dartford Warbler. Moving quickly along the path to where the sound had come from, we found a male Dartford Warbler feeding in a small birch tree. We had some nice views of it as it climbed around in the low branches.

Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler – feeding in a small birch

When the Dartford Warbler dropped down into the gorse below, we walked round on the path to the other side to see if it might come up again, but it had gone quiet. We could see very dark grey clouds to the west and it started to spit with drizzle. It seemed like our luck was coming to an end, so we made our way back to the minibus and called it a day.

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