Welcome to the return of our sightings blog. As mentioned in our previous blog, our activities on the reserve including monitoring was very limited however our livestream microphone fortunately ensured we could all remain connected with Titchwell in some way.

Spring Migration

When we closed the doors to the reserve in late March spring migration was just starting with the first of the spring migrants having arrived. This included little ringed plovers, sand martins, swallows, wheatear and sandwich tern.

The live microphone located in the middle of the reedbed allowed us to detect some migrants as they flew over calling and to listen to the reedbed become alive with the sound of singing reed warblers and sedge warblers, the blast of the cetti’s warblers or the distinctive descending song of the willow warbler.

April is the month when most of our spring migrants arrive or pass through, this year they included ring ouzel, a black tern and ospreys. For one lucky microphone listener they picked up a stone-curlew flying over on the 15 April!

In May a blue headed wagtail briefly touched down on the Freshmarsh and a lesser yellowlegs remained on the reserve for five days along with three little gulls and a curlew sandpiper.

Lesser Yellowlegs (C Booth)

Blue-headed Wagtail. (C.Booth)

Breeding Birds

As we have mentioned RSPB paused all breeding bird surveys until late May, so although we don’t have a full set of data, we have been able to get a feel as to how the breeding season went.

In the reedbed a bittern was heard booming regularly throughout spring and was often being heard through the live microphone. We are not sure if it was successful, but we do know we do still have at least one bird on the reserve. The marsh harriers started fledging youngsters from early June, so far, we have recorded at least 6 fledged birds. You can spot the youngsters as they have ginger caps and shoulder patches whilst their wings and bodies are chocolate brown. Walking around the reserve I have noticed lots of bearded tits, so we suspect that they have had an excellent season.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier. (L Bunyan)

During the Spring Freshmarsh is managed for breeding avocet’s, black-headed gulls and Mediterranean gulls. Interestingly this year the Mediterranean gulls largely departed Titchwell, opting to nest on Scolt Head, we probably had less than 10 pairs, fledging only about 4 young. Avocets pairs were about average for the reserve however only one chick fledged. Unfortunately, 7 – 10 pairs that attempted to nest on Tidal Marsh were flooded out by the May and June high tides. Those that nested on Freshmarsh were largely predated by the gull colony but also marsh harrier. At least one marsh harrier has decided that Freshmarsh is a perfect place to source a regular meal. She lands inside our predator fence and walks around selecting which chick will be her next meal. She also teaches her youngsters to do the same.  

With lockdown dramatically reducing footfall we were quietly optimistic that our beach nesting birds (ringed plovers and oystercatchers) would have a better season. However, that has not been the case. We have spent considerable time nest monitoring and moving cordons in response to where they have nested but sadly these birds are losing their nests to high tides and predation. We have yet to fledge any ringed plovers or oystercatchers at Titchwell this year, demonstrating that in this instance people are not the problem.

Ringed plover nest. (L Bruce)

On a more positive note across the reserve we have recorded 4+ broods of shoveler, one brood of pochard and two broods of tufted ducks. We also have a pair of turtle doves that we suspect are breeding on site or nearby, however they are incredibly elusive.  

Wader Passage

The arrival of a spotted redshank on the 12 June signified the start of the autumn wader passage season. The male spotted redshank tends to incubate and rear the young, hence after just 2 – 3 weeks of being on their breeding ground the female spotted redshank is heading southwards stopping off on wetlands such as Titchwell. On the 24 June the first green sandpiper of the ‘autumn’ was sighted. Since then avocet numbers have continued to build, last week there were about 450 along with a couple hundred black-tailed godwits and 30+ ruff. You can also expect to find dunlin numbers building, a few bar tailed godwits, curlew, whimbrel and knot. Over the coming months you can expect wader passage to pick up with the arrival of curlew sandpipers, little stints and wood sandpipers.  To ensure the Freshmarsh remains attractive for passage waders we are constantly raising and lowering the water levels.

Curlew sandpiper (L Bunyan)

Other highlights

Up to thirteen spoonbills and four great white egrets have been seen daily since June and following cattle egrets fledging at Holkham, I was lucky enough to see two on Freshmarsh on 9 July, one adult and one juvenile. In late June I was also lucky enough to have a golden oriole fly past me whilst I was at Patsy’s. Over the past week there has also been regular flyovers of crossbills and the odd grey wagtail.  

Great white egret (L Bruce)

I hope this has given you a flavour of what has been seen on the reserve during the lockdown and what you can expect to see on your visit over the next couple of months.

See you soon


North West Norfolk Reserve Warden