Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Friday, 13 November 2020

Not such an unlucky Friday the 13th on the patch.

From the outset, I thought today would be a great day to find a Raven on the patch. This wonderful Corvid is now being seen with increasing frequency in Norfolk and indeed, I saw a pair at Great Cressingham last year.

I initially wanted to check on Bramblings, and saw many within a mixed flock of 500+ Finches and Buntings.  It whilst watching the Finches that I heard a distant Raven calling, soon it appeared in view flying over fields, I had an idea where it was heading and relocated myself to that given location.

Brambling 13th November
Brambling 13th November

Having relocated myself I almost immediately saw the Raven alight in a tall Scots Pine, later, it flew closer and alighted in an isolated tree close to a Carrion Crow, here I was able to appreciate the size difference between these Crows.  A single Mistle Thrush investigated the Raven and looked decidedly small in comparison.

The main features of the Raven was clearly its very large size, its call, the enormous bill, and in flight the tapered tail, often referred to being diamond shaped.

Raven Little Cressingham, Norfolk, 13th November
Raven 13th November

The above two shots shows a classic identification feature of an in-flight Raven.  With this alighting bird, note the strongly tapered tail giving a wedged shape.

Raven 13th November.  Note the heavy, powerful bill


Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Finch Fest

Autumn and winter in the Brecks is a very special and exciting time for finding Finches and Buntings, and knowing their feeding and habitat requirements will assist in locating these birds.  Winter feed, notably maize and sunflower crops attract Finches and Buntings. 

In recent days I have been visiting a site on my patch which has traditionally been used for winter feed over the years, so imagine when I visited on 9th November to find a mixed flock of Finches and Buntings easily exceeding 1000+ birds, an amazing sight and sound.

Working through these highly mobile birds, it appeared Chaffinches formed the majority species, with smaller numbers of Greenfinches, Yellowhammers, and Reed Buntings, but also I estimated a fantastic 250-300 Bramblings present.

Brambling 10th November 2020

Brambling 10th November

Bramblings are regular winter visitors in variable numbers on my local patch, some years are lean in numbers, whilst other years produce high numbers of wintering birds, this year so far indicates a good year for the species.

Bramblings are similar sized birds to Chaffinches, although markedly different plumages.  Seen overhead in flight, Bramblings have a noticeably forked tail, also, they show much white on the belly and ventral areas.  Calls vary from a soft "tup" to a call I love to hear from this species, a nasally "zweeeeu", although text books indicate a variety of spellings for this call, although I am happy with what I hear.   Seen well at rest, male Bramblings have brightish orange scapular patches and breast, and i winter have a patchy black head, which is solid black in spring for breeding, this is a stunning feature of this Finch.  The bill is a straw colour.  A nice little plumage feature on Brambling are the small black spots on the rear flanks.  Female Brambling is like a washed through version of the male, her head is grey with two parallel lines on the nape.   

Bramblings are winter visitors with us, they return to breed in the Birch Forests of Scandinavia in March and April.  It is at this time in early spring when males developing their stunning solid black heads and mantles in readiness for breeding.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Twitchery Stupidity

I have written up my blog for a month or so, therefore I apologise for writing this negative post regarding the Eastern Rufous Bush Chat at Stiffkey in Norfolk.

I have never been, am not, and will never be a twitcher, I really don't get it. So called twitching has often brought real birders into negative light, and when people say to me "Oh, you are a twitcher are you?", I immediately correct them and tell them I am a birder.

Twitching has brought birding into negative light in recent years, most recently, I refer to the Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler at Holkham a couple of years ago when some twitchers committed criminal damage on the Holkham Estate, and one idiot twitcher even suggested an organised flush for a bird which is a skulker by behaviour (see you tube).  Where was the bird's welfare on that occasion?

In 1999, I found a Pied Billed Grebe on my patch, I kept this find to a few trusted friends, however, news broke following my find and mob rule ensued.  This particular bird was at a previous Norfolk site before relocating to my patch, because it had been harassed by irresponsible twitchers. 

With the arrival of the Eastern Rufous Bush Chat at Stiffkey, it was inevitable that twitchers would arrive en-masse.  Evidence in newspapers, and even reports in another blog through written and photographic evidence, clearly showed a lack of respect for other road users and a failure to observe the current government guidelines relating to Covid-19 restrictions, also, and quite rightly, there was Police involvement  too relating to the concerns above.  One twitcher type even reported the presence of dogs at this site which disturbed the bird, how many dog-walkers look upon these twitchers with disdain on what is likely to be their regular dog-walk route.  How many birds are displaced by twitcher types as they trudge their way through habitats putting up other birds as they selfishly go their way?  The North Norfolk Coast is not the sole domain of birders and twitcher types, it is for all to enjoy.

I pride myself on not being a twitcher, I am a birder who likes to educate people on birds, their behaviour and movements.  I am also very proud to say that I like to think I am a well respected birder on my Breckland patch and I get immense pleasure from sharing my knowledge with people who are keen to learn.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Buckenham Marsh 20th September

 A very productive early afternoon visit during my work break saw good numbers of waders with 400+ Lapwings, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 6+ Ruff, and a single Dunlin on the scrape.  Several Wigeon were seen on or close to water and on the grazing marsh Greylags and a pair of Barnacle Geese were present.

At least 2 Hobby were soaring high overhead, and at least 3 Kestrels were having a bad time being harassed by Crows

Kestrel male receiving unwanted attention from a Rook at Buckenham Marsh 20th Sept

Visible Migration: My highlight for this visit was a single Turtle Dove which flew right past me, over the marsh, and off in a more or less southerly heading.  What an absolute treat to see an actual passage bird.  Also seen on the move was 2 Siskins, again, over in a southerly heading, these were probably recently arrived continental birds

Friday, 21 August 2020

Watton Brook Valley (juvenile Greenshank)

This morning, I decided to check the valley for migrants before stormy conditions set in.  Even early morning it was very windy, but sunny and warm otherwise.

Following recent very heavy thunderstorms, the valley became flooded in many areas along its length, thus becoming attractive to Gulls and passing wader species.  This morning Gulls were present in good numbers on flood water, an estimated 400+ Black-headed Gulls, and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present in varying age groups.  One of these Black-headed Gulls was seen chasing a Wader species, as the chase broke off I followed the wader and despite distance, saw an unmarked darkish upper-wing and a white rump extending up the rump to form a wedge shape, this was a Greenshank.

The Greenshank alighted on the ground, which comprised mostly long grass, which rendered the wader lost to view.  Apart from the occasional relocation flight, the bird was difficult to find, the search was on.

A long thorough look through the Gulls and surrounding habitats proved fruitless, however, I later detected a little movement in long grass, using my 'scope I said under my breath "Yes, Greenshank". I trained my 'scope on this bird where it preened for some time, but was always partially concealed in the grass.  The key features seen on the Greenshank was the long, slightly up-turned bill, pale grey-brown crown, white forecrown, dark loral stripe which accentuated the white forecrown and chin and throat. The grey-brown patterned upperparts showed this to be a juvenile bird.

I have often encountered Greenshanks in autumn on the patch, these are always singleton birds, and generally calling passage birds, so to find one on the ground with reasonable views was the highlight of the day for me. 

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

20th August.  A beautiful Hummingbird Hawk Moth visited our buddleia to feed.  This delightful day-flying Moth has been reported frequently around Norfolk this year, their numbers fluctuate year to year.

Historically, swarms of Hummingbird Hawk Moths were encountered by allied forces crossing the English Channel on D-Day 6th June 1944

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Garden Observations

I planted my hedge some six years ago in the garden with of course, bird friendly, native species being chosen. A variety of species were planted including Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Dogwood, Dog Rose, and Elder.  The hedge has grown well and now supports many species which use it for cover, nesting, and feeding.
Today, the most frequent species in the garden, as it often always is, was good numbers of Starlings, the vast majority of which are juvenile birds which are now acquiring adult plumage.  As well as food which I provide, Starlings are now attracted to my Dogwood where they are taking the ripening berries, or Dogberries.
Juvenile female Starling 2nd August
Also present in good numbers at this current time are House Sparrows, and today I saw recently fledged young birds being fed by a male parent.  The bill colour variations was seen today, particularly in the males, the adult having a black bill, whilst juvenile males have some yellow in the bill.
House Sparrow 2nd August. A beautiful and overlooked species.
A regular visit over the past couple of days is a juvenile Robin, a very alert, and sometimes alert little character.
Overhead, at least 3 Swifts seen, soon, these most aerial of birds will be heading south  , until their return next April.
Robin (juvenile) in garden 2nd August