Welcome to my 220 for 2022 – April Update. What a busy month! Good weather, good company and great birding. A joy to see the sun shining from clear blue skies for a couple of weeks, even if the northerly wind took the edge off it somewhat. There’s lots to tell you about, so let’s get cracking.
12th April 2022 – An abortive attempt to track down the Dusky Warbler skulking around the thick streamside growth at Stiffkey resulted in Plan B being adopted – a diversion to Cley. A good choice as it turned out, for there scurrying around on the mud of Simmond’s Scrape was a male Kentish Plover in all his chestnut crowned glory. This little lost soul, too far away for meaningful photography, delighted the folk fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time – an hour later it took wing, never to be reported again.
Another fortuitous encounter took place with a pair of Garganey that appeared directly in front of the hide, where they preened and bathed for several minutes. This is the closest views I’ve ever had of these migratory wildfowl that seem to have reached our shores in large numbers this year. This pair looked set to settle down and breed before too long.
Other additions to the list this day were a lone Whimbrel and a few Sand Martins. Good to see the Red-breasted Goose still drawing attention too ‘We’ve had a great day’ said one one young lad sporting a big grin.
13th April 2022 – The Brecks hold a special place in my birding heart. It is a magical area of grassy heath, mature woodland and young commercial plantations, full of life. From the fluting song of the Woodlark to the wailing call of Stone Curlew; the purring of Turtle Doves to the ‘chipping’ calls of Crossbills, it provides such poignant sights and sounds. The cocktail of fragrant pine, flower decked open spaces, and butterfly dotted sunny rides would grace any drinks menu.
Today, amongst the pines bordering the NWT reserve at Weeting Heath, Elizabeth and I caught sight of something small flitting around the ivy clad trunks. After a bit of a chase, this tiny silhouette revealed itself as a beautiful Firecrest. Such a tiny mite, but so colourful; as welcome as it was unexpected. The heath itself held a single pair of Stone Curlew and a good population of breeding Lapwing.
Later, at Santon Downham we watched a pair of Nuthatches lining their nest hole with flakes of bark, and had close encounters with several Mandarin Duck and the hoped for pair of perky Grey Wagtails.
14th April 2022 – The continuing spell of sunshine prompted a trip to Minsmere. Here, aside from engaging in an attempt to photograph newly arrived Sand Martins excavating burrows in the sand face, we walked the perimeter of the reserve in search of other fresh incomers.
First up, in fact shouting loud from thick scrub opposite the reserve entrance, was a joyous Nightingale. What uplifting songsters these birds are. We heard another a while later, belting out its clamorous song from bushes by the beach. Surely, this one had just turned up that very morning, exhausted no doubt from its migration flight, but simultaneously exuberant at being back on its breeding grounds.
Not far away from this ‘top of the bill’ songster, we listened to a more modest offering from a Whitethroat, all abuzz with territorial shenanigans. Spring had surely arrived.
The scrapes were alive with birds, myriad gulls, wildfowl and waders fed, squabbled and rested up. On a far island we could see both Common and Sandwich Terns, while closer to hand were summer plumaged Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff. A surprise took the form of a quartet of Goosander that drifted across the shallow water.
Not far away on Dunwich Heath, Dartford Warblers whirred across the path, perching briefly atop a heather sprig before plunging into the deep cover and becoming lost from view. We watched another singing from the topmost frond of a stand of gorse ablaze with bright yellow, coconut perfumed, bloom. The deep pink chest of this male, its bright red eye and deep yellow legs complemented the eye-squinting brightness of the gorse to perfection. Just a shame it wouldn’t pose for the camera, despite a 20 minute wait.
15th April 2022 – Good Friday and a trip to Waxham, where a thick sea fret coated the coastal strip with its mist, dropping the temperature several degrees. Undaunted, we walked the coastal path along the leeward side of the dunes looking for migrants which were surprisingly pretty much absent. However, upon arrival at Waxham Sands Holiday Park things perked up considerably. First the sun broke through the rapidly dispersing murk, and much more happily, a gorgeous male Ring Ouzel hopped into view from beneath a distant stand of hawthorn. It was joined by a second bird a short time later, prompting an inward sigh of relief that we could indulge in a bit of ouzel watching at last. There has been a tremendous passage of this species since the beginning of the month, with double figure counts from several spots. Until now the birds had eluded us, but here they were at last, splendid in their spring finery. A hundred yards further south and a pair of lovely Yellow Wagtails tripped over the short grass hunting flies. Another all too rare sight nowadays, and very welcome as an addition to the nicely growing year list.
We walked back along an almost deserted beach to be quite amazed to find over 1000 grey seals basking in the Easter sunshine. Some young seals were playing in the surf, with one inquisitive, cheeky rascal bounding right up to our feet! Lovely to see Turnstones bedecked in bright russet spring plumage too.
16th April 2022 – The wonderful spring sunshine continues, prompting a visit to the heathlands lying to the north of Norwich. At Cawston Heath, swathes of yellow gorse assaulted the eye, lining the permissible paths with a corridor of scent and colour.
At Buxton Heath, a Woodlark piped its fluid notes across the open landscape, while Buzzards forlornly mewed above. Linnets were twittering everywhere and the nasal song of a Yellowhammer added a feeling of summer. Of equal interest was watching the antics of black-banded spider wasps that littered the fine sand of the paths. We watched one of these solitary insects bring an immobile spider to its burrow where, with a struggle, it eventually pulled the hapless arachnid to its doom. The spider, alive but unable to move due to a toxic injection from the adult wasp, will be kept in storage until the wasp egg hatches and the larva sates its ravenous appetite. No Spielberg movie comes close!
19th April 2022 – Goodness, this has been a busy month! Today I spent in the company of my good friend Allan. We met at RSPB Titchwell Marsh, where he made me instantly envious by relating his encounter with a pair of Ring Ouzels just up the road at Choseley Barns. I’d stopped there 20 minutes earlier looking for grounded migrants, but electing to watch from the car had failed to peep behind the hedge. Too lazy.
We spent some time sauntering down to the beach, looking for anything new for our lists. A Reed Warbler was an easy one, as was a lone Ringed Plover. More challenging was catching up with the Temminck’s Stint and Little Ringed Plovers inhabiting the expanse of grey mud and hidden channels. We eventually found both, with the former wader simply ambling along the edge of a cut, probing in the ooze for succulents. At long range it was an uninspiring little bird, but nonetheless one not encountered too often and not to be poo-pooed. The LRP’s were more lively, the male undertaking territorial flights to impress its mate.
The sea came up trumps in the triple form of Great Northern Diver, Eider and a big raft of distant Common Scoter. Excellent birds all.
We next motored some miles eastward where we caught up with a pair of nesting Ravens busily feeding well grown chicks. I won’t publish the locality, although I’m sure it’s well known. Ravens are still a very scarce breeding species in Norfolk and their welfare is paramount.
20th April 2022 – A long overdue and most pleasurable catch up with Darren and his wife Anne today. We walked and talked our way around NWT Cley Marshes, soaking up yet more sunshine and oodles of wildlife. At one point, a male Marsh Harrier approached quite low and reasonably close. The female rose from the reedbed, and in anticipation of what was about to take place, I got the camera ready. At last, after 15 years of watching these birds I captured a food pass. Very happy with that. A new bird here was a resplendent Spoonbill.
24th April 2022 – They were there somewhere, but where exactly, and in which field? Luckily another birder, a regular local-patcher and in the know, came to our rescue. We followed him to a vast open field on the ridge south of the coast, strewn with broken flint and plenty of furrows where small birds could crouch unseen for weeks. But there, just to the right of the Stock Doves and just left of the big white stone were the Dotterel, three of them, almost invisible until they scurried a short distance to pick up a tiny beetle or some such. Even then, the heat haze rendered them indistinct unless you concentrated all your senses through the telescope to pin down the key features. One bird posed obligingly for a couple of seconds, allowing appraisal of the bright white supercilium, deep orange underbelly and thin white breast band, before it turned away and merged into the background once more.
Just down the road at Titchwell, we enjoyed the evening calm (once out of the cruel northerly breeze), delighting in the sight of a Song Thrush whacking a snail to pieces on a stone. It must be 25 years since I’ve last seen this behaviour, bringing home how scarce these once abundant birds have now become.
25th April 2022 – My morning shift at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen was greatly enlivened by the sight of a Cuckoo, and a few House Martins. Of equal interest was watching a Great Crested Grebe catching fish very close to the reception hide. It eventually snared a large rudd(?), causing much mirth among visitors who watched it for several minutes as it struggled with its prize. It managed to down it eventually, as I knew it would, having watched this performance many times at Ranworth. After its efforts, it took a well earned nap.
Other delights on offer today included the very white Common Buzzard that had many people fooled during the winter into thinking it was a Rough-legged, fighting Coots and a graceful Common Tern that fancied its chances with the swirling fish fry as well.
26th April 2022 – We move west to Cambridgeshire, where a stop for lunch at RSPB Fen Drayton found us serenaded by Garden Warblers. One even popped out in full view to have its picture taken. A low flying Hobby was new here too.
28th April 2022 – Even further west, and a stop at Rutland Water resulted in the last of the scrub warblers entering the list, a obliging, rattling male Lesser Whitethroat. On the far side of the reservoir itself, we enjoyed views of the regular breeding Ospreys. The pair have 3 eggs which are due to hatch quite soon.
29th April 2022 – Back into Norfolk and a brief but interesting pop into WWT Welney. The main target here was Tree Sparrow, which we saw without difficulty as they vied with their more common cousins for a turn at the feeders. Far less expected was a stayover Whooper Swan. I thought this must be an injured bird, but as I watched, it honked loudly and took to the air without difficulty. Lots of lovely orange tips here too, as well as a few hoverflies I haven’t yet got round to identifying.
So that concludes my April, quite a journey. What of the other participants in this little jaunt?
Firstly, we have a couple of new recruits, welcome Tim and Ros. Tim is a fellow volunteer at Strumpshaw who already has a very good year list, and Ros is a long-term friend who will concentrate on local species where she will do very well.
In terms of the league table, all the efforts recorded above have pushed me to the head of the table, but it’s very tight at the top! Darren has written entertainingly about his April exploits (look at his 5K total!), which you can read here. Sean has produced a monthly roundup in his blog too. As I predicted last month, Elizabeth is steaming along, and with her penchant for early morning excursions will no doubt tick many birds catching worms. Things are bound to change over the coming few weeks, when the folk currently occupying the relegation spots will no doubt connect with all the birds the rest of us have seen early. None of it is serious in any sense, and I hope it may inspire others to get out there and start looking at the wildlife all around. Although birds are the primary focus, many other incidental encounters provide pleasure, the highlights of which will be recorded in future articles. Thanks for staying with us, and here’s hoping for a bumper haul during May.
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