Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Water Rail at Thompson Water, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

East Wretham Heath, Norfolk

This morning I visited East Wretham Heath to check for signs of Wader passage.  On my way to this wonderful Breckland site I stopped off to meet a very good friend, Leigh Gallant, who has been watching a pair of Spotted Flycatchers throughout their breeding process.
Spotted Flycatcher 21st June

I met up with Leigh at 0600 and straight away was rewarded by 2 Spotted Flycatchers collecting food for their young in a nest located in a climbing Rose.  I remained for a couple of hours  and was entertained throughout by these delightful birds as they tended to their young.
Food items collected by the Spotted Flycatchers was a variety of winged insects, these included Moth species, Craneflies, Hoverflies, and other unidentified species.  Often several insects were held in the bill for each visit to the nest.  Insects were hunted with the Flycatchers performing a highly agile, acrobatic flight, food was caught and the bird returned to the same or nearby perch.
Although initially wary of my presence, these birds soon appeared to accept me and carry on with feeding their young.  Alarm calls were given as a sharp "zee-tzuc-tzuc"
Thanks go to my friend Leigh for sharing these Spotted Flycatchers with me.

East Wretham Heath
A check of Langmere for passage Wader species produced 2 Green Sandpipers wading in the shallows of these highly fluctuating bodies of water.  One bird seen quite well was up to its belly in water as it searched for prey items, whilst a more distant bird was best seen when being chased in flight by a Lapwing, the highly distinctive upperparts was seen as the bird twisted and turned in flight, revealing a dark, unmarked upperwing, dark tail, and stunning snow-white rump.
Also present was a pair of Ringed Plovers, about 30 Lapwings, a pair of Egyptian Geese, Mallard, and Coot with small black young.
The woodland and fine stands of old Hawthorn held several singing Blackcaps, 2 Garden Warblers, and Chiffchaff.
Juvenile Woodlark at East Wretham Heath 21st June (Note the pale fringed brown feathers gives a scaly appearance)
Heathland habitat held 2 Woodlarks, at least one of these birds was a juvenile, thus indicating local breeding success.  These birds were quite flighty, however, I eventually was able to track down a juvenile bird.  This Woodlark was easily aged by its somewhat scalloped, or scaly appearance, this feature highlighted by pale fringing to the brown upper feathers, these appear more streaked in the adult birds.  Other typical features of these Woodlarks was the obvious short-tailed appearance in flight, and on the ground, the bold pale supercillium, and the black and white marking on the closed wing.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Watton Brook Whitethroats

My previous post related to a pair of Whitethroats in the Watton Brook Valley in Little Cressingham, well, today I revisited this location for the first time since 29th May to see how they are progressing.
I get so much pleasure from experiencing intimate observations of birds by spending time to watch their behaviour, their coming and goings.
Upon my arrival at this locality I was subjected to alarm and agitation calls from these beautiful Warblers, however, in time, they appeared to accept me as I sat and watched.
Whitethroat at Little Cressingham 9th June.  (One of a pair feeding young)
I am pleased to report that young Whitethroats were seen today in their natal area of a Bramble patch by the brook, and the adult birds were feeding them.  A young Whitethroat was seen flying upstream along the brook to visit rank vegetation where there would be a good food source for them.  Clearly, I think these young Whitethroats are able to feed themselves as well as receiving support from the parent birds.
There is nothing like knowing your birds, their habits, habitats, and behaviour, and having intimate insights into their daily routines.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Little Cressingham, Norfolk 1015-1130

It has been a few days since I visited this part of my patch close to 'The Arms'.  This was to be short late morning to visit to assess how the local Warblers are doing.  I especially wanted to see how my Whitethroats were doing, a beautiful and active Warbler species.
Whitethroat in breeding habitat at Little Cressingham 29th May (one of a pair seen)
Walking north-west of 'The Arms' to the Watton Brook Valley I encountered two Whitethroat territories, one pair in habitat which has been used for years by this species.
Whitethroat (one of a pair) Little Cressingham 29th May.

A male Blackcap and Chiffchaff were singing in a small patch of woodland whilst a little further along a male Willow Warbler sang from a roadside hedgerow.
A check of the Watton Brook valley for late migrants produced a single, bright male Yellowhammer. This species I am sure breeds in nearby hedgerow and visits the lush banks of the brook to collect insect food.

Thetford Forest (with Chris Sharpe) 0315-0700

There is nothing like being out in late Spring in the early hours to enjoy what many people miss, the sounds of bird-song, and the experience of watching how the day unfolds as dawn approaches.
I duly met Chris Sharpe at 0315 for a walk through part of the local patch to experience species which otherwise go unnoticed due to their nocturnal behaviour.
At least 40 species were counted during this visit, however, I will present here the highlights of this superb morning.
And the morning couldn't have started off better when at 0320 a male Woodcock was seen performing its strange 'roding' display-flight.  What was particularly magical was seeing this enigmatic bird over woodland and silhouetted against the subdued pre-dawn sky.  We were lucky enough to have this Woodcock pass directly above us whilst displaying, it is when the bird is close that the very strange call can be heard, this is given as "tizzick" followed by a low grunting "kworr - kworr - kworr".  This grunting call is generally only heard at close range.
As expected at this early hour, Tawny Owls were heard within the forest, all appeared to be male birds.
Upon reaching an area of open habitat it was clear that Cuckoos were present in good numbers, and in fact, we were in agreement by the end of the morning that 4 birds were present, these comprised 3 calling males and one female.  The female Cuckoo was occasionally heard to give its not too often heard 'bubbling' call.  Cuckoos were often seen flying between trees and over habitat where potential foster species were singing and holding territory.
Despite the darkness of the early hours several species were in song, these included Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, and Reed Buntings.  All three of these species are potential foster parents for young Cuckoos.
One of the first diurnal passerine species to be heard this morning was Bullfinch which gave its simple 'piping call from typical breeding habitat.
Little Egrets were active long before dawn and by the time it was light a count of 15 birds together was impressive.
Many Water Rails were calling at one locality, in fact it was a challenge trying to assess the true numbers of birds present.
Species of conservation concern included a single Snipe, the date hopefully indicating local breeding, an overflying Lapwing, and two species seeing successes in recent years, namely a female Marsh Harrier which appeared at 0420, and a single Hobby sitting in trees where it possibly roosted overnight.
A pair of Stock Doves flew over, these are neat, compact, and well proportioned Pigeon species and are readily identified in flight by their lead grey plumage and contrasting black fringes on the wings.
Towards the end of our walk, it was evident that passerine species were now active with singing Blackcap, Chiffchaff, and Goldcrests.
I will finish this account by thanking Chris for joining me on this lovely early morning walk.  We departed at 0700, and for me it was home to bed for a couple of hours.

Friday, 26 May 2017

The early bird....

I was out in the forest near Hockham at 0300 this morning, and it was so beautiful, no wind, clear skies, about 13 degrees Celsius, comfortable between the heat of yesterday and today.
A hint of the forthcoming sunrise to the east but with the dark of night to the west, the only annoying part of this early visit was the sound of occasional noisy traffic, which was surprising given the distance from the road.
And the first bird to be heard was a calling male Cuckoo, his song seeming so loud in the relative quiet of the early hours.  It soon became clear that 3 male Cuckoos were calling in the area, but also, the lovely liquid bubbling call of a female Cuckoo was also heard well.
With improving light I eventually located one of the Cuckoos silhouetted in a treetop with an occasional side to side movement and waving of the tail.
Juvenile Cuckoo on passage near Hockham (August). I watched this individual as it headed south.  Alone on its journey back to Africa. 
I always amazed, as most people are, by the parasitic breeding behaviour of the Cuckoo.  Adult Cuckoos arrive with us in mid-April, call to establish territories and attract females, the eggs are laid in the foster species nest and by July, adult Cuckoos leave our shores to return to Africa.  By the time Cuckoos hatch in the foster nest the adults will be back in Africa.  Young Cuckoos fledge in August and are alone in the world, meaning they have to make their own way back to Africa without guidance from the parent birds.  Amazing behaviour.
Young Cuckoos are brownish in appearance and quiet, often they will go unnoticed as they pass through our country to begin their late summer/autumn passage.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Yellow Wagtail at Deopham Green, Norfolk

An early start for me today in the market town of Wymondham where I was working.  I decided to get up a little earlier to drive via Deopham Green to check for Yellow Wagtail.
The morning was cooler than recently, it was grey, and light was poor.  I arrived at the muck heap at about 0610 and searched the standing water and heaps of muck.  After waiting for about five minutes the Yellow Wagtail popped up on top of a heap and then flew above me to another heap where views were better.
I watched this stunning male Yellow Wagtail as it searched for and found small invertebrates to eat, the gorgeous yellows of this bird very conspicuous against the muck.
This particular Yellow Wagtail is a passage bird which has stopped off to feed before continuing its journey to its breeding grounds, either a damp meadow such as those in the Norfolk Broads or the North Norfolk Coast, or perhaps it has a further location to make for.
Yellow Wagtail at Deopham Green 18th May (A bird on passage)
Yellow Wagtails have declined significantly in recent decades, presumably due to the drainage of their breeding habitat.  This species requires damp meadows to breed on.  They are usually found around livestock where they pick off midges and other invertebrates disturbed by the animals.
I was born and brought up in Beccles, Suffolk, and I spent my early years of birding on Beccles Common and the marshes.  It was in the 1960's when I found my first Yellow Wagtail nest with young on land adjacent to Common Lane.  This land has now been developed for recreational purposes.

Deopham Green, Norfolk

Yesterday afternoon during my work-break I decided to stop at Deopham Green, an area of wide open expanses of arable and few hedgerows.  For much of the time I spent the break listening to the wonderful song of a male Blackcap, with a singing Blackbird close by in a nice mature line of Sallows and Bramble cover.  As I passed along this wonderful habitat a single Lesser Whitethroat was seen entering habitat, this is a traditional site for this stunning bird.
Before going back to work I made a visit to a muck-heap where recent rains formed stagnant pools of water around the base of the muck.  The highlight here was finding a single Yellow Wagtail on muck.  I watched this stunning bird for a while until it flew to a puddle to bathe and preen.  The beautiful thin "sweep" or "tsweep" call was often heard.