Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Friday, 20 September 2019

Watton Brook Valley 0750-0920

What a fantastic start to the day with fog, mist, virtually no wind and about 6 degrees Celsius at dawn, very autumnal and atmospheric.
I visited one of my sites along the Watton Brook Valley early morning to check for evidence of passage or arrivals by summer migrants, in fact, all I could muster was a single female Blackcap.  There was no signs of Hirundine movement at all.
Despite the lack of summer migrants, this was a productive visit with 26 species recorded, this included Goshawk, one Kingfisher, and a male Stonechat.
Upon my arrival, many Jackdaws and Rooks were seen in nearby trees before descending into stubble to feed.  My first scan along the valley did not reveal anything, however, a further look a little later produced a lovely male Stonechat on fencing along the brook.
Checking a line of bushes and hedges alongside a track produced a single Blackcap (female), along with up to 20 Yellowhammers.
Blue Tit (juvenile) Watton Brook Valley 20th Sept.
Distant and agitated Crows and Pigeons exploded from a woodland, I had my suspicions, and these were well founded, a Goshawk flying along a hedge low, before entering woodland.  I am always amazed by the effect these awesome raptor has upon other species when it makes an appearance.
I then heard a Kingfisher in the valley, a short wait, then an azure blue rump of a Kingfisher was watched flying upstream away from me.  Much of this part of the brook is choked with burr reed. despite this, the Kingfisher found a patch of clear water and hovered above it for a few seconds before alighting in weeds.
Just prior to my departure, two Meadow Pipits flew east along the valley, undoubtedly migrants from the north.

Birds recorded
Goshawk (1), Buzzard (2), Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Kingfisher (1), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Blackcap (1), Goldcrest, Wren, Starling, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Stonechat (1 male), Dunnock, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit (2), Goldfinch, Yellowhammer (c.20)

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Stonechat near North Pickenham.

Stonechat near North Pickenham 19th Sept.
A beautiful female Stonechat was found late morning in a hedgerow near to North Pickenham.  As soon as I saw the bird its behaviour straight away suggested Stonechat in that it was seen on the topmost sprigs within a hedge nervously wing-flicking and rarely still, its dumpy appearance also suggested Stonechat.  From an elevated perch within the hedge the bird would make short 'flycatching' sallies for winged insect prey, before returning to the same, or nearby perch.  Occasionally the bird would tilt its head to one side to watch the sky, presumably for predators.
I have seen Stonechats at a number of sites on my patch late summer, early autumn, sometimes in family groups or as singletons.  These are short-distant migrants, rarely wandering too far from the breeding site, therefore, it is highly likely that this lovely individual is a Breckland bird.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Hethersett, Norfolk

This morning, during my work break, I spent 45 minutes surveying the birds in the churchyard at Hethersett.  I eventually found 15 species, this included 3 Nuthatch, 2 Green Woodpeckers, Tit species, and at least 8 Yellowhammers.  Below is one of the two Green Woodpeckers seen.
Green Woodpecker at Hethersett 17th Sept.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Houghton-on-the-Hill (0705-1130)

What an incredible start to the day.  At 0530, about an hour prior to sunrise, I took a walk around Merton Common, the bright, full moon was setting to the west, and the distant silhouetted trees to the east were fringed with an Orange/Pinkish glow.  The temperature was a very autumnal +4 degrees Celsius.
I arrived at Houghton at just after 0700, some mist and fog patches lingered in the valleys, but the rising sun soon burnt this off and as the morning wore on it became pleasantly warm at about 20 degrees Celsius.
My aims this morning were two-fold, firstly, I wanted to check suitable habitat for migrant arrivals, and as it got warmer my plan was to set up for visual migration.  The elevated location here lends itself nicely to visible migration with commanding view over the distant Wissey valley and rising land beyond.
My highlights today were:

1 Hobby south along Wissey valley 1000
a light southerly Meadow Pipit passage
15+ Blackcaps
Several Whitethroats (10+)
1 immaculate looking Lesser Whitethroat
A few Chiffchaffs

Being mid-September I expect migrant Warblers to be plentiful now and indeed this morning I was pleased to see good numbers sharing the same patch of bushes in order to feed upon soft fruits.  Although territorial during the breeding season, Warblers tolerate each others company in their quest to feed up for migration.  I saw many Blackcaps, Whitethroat, and a stunning Lesser Whitethroat all using the same Bramble and Elder bushes to feed.
For me, the stunning Lesser Whitethroat was my highlight species today, this particular bird looked immaculate in its fresh autumn plumage.  This bird initially revealed itself coming out of a bush, I managed to get my 'scope on the bird and saw its grey head, slightly darker grey ear coverts, and dark lores, these features contrasted with the bright white throat, similarly, the white underparts contrasted with the brown/grey upperparts.  In flight, the bird revealed white outer tail feathers.  All in all, an extremely attractive bird.
Whitethroat at Houghton 14th September
From about 0930, as it was getting warmer, I positioned myself for visual migration.  Over the years this site has become a great migration watchpoint for me with some spectacular movements of common migrants being witnessed, as well as seeing common, scarce, and rare raptor species on the move in autumn.
My migration watch today produced a single Hobby flying leisurely south over the Wissey valley until lost to view.  There was also a light southerly passage of Meadow Pipits too.
Migration watchpoint 14th September.  Looking north over the Wissey Valley and beyond
Species list for 14th September at Houghton.
Pheasant, Sparrowhawk (3), Buzzard, Moorhen, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Hobby (1 south), Jay, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit (2), Blue Tit, Chiffchaff, Blackcap (15+), Lesser Whitethroat (1), Whitethroat (10+), Wren, Treecreeper (2), Blackbird, Song Thrush (1), Mistle Thrush (2), Robin, Dunnock, Meadow Pipit (light overhead passage), Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting (1).

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Houghton-on-the-Hill (0700-0800)

I spent an hour this morning in search of migrants on the patch this morning, and of particular interest was the dominance by Chiffchaffs as the most abundant migrant with at least 12 birds seen or heard, whilst Sylvia Warblers i.e. Blackcaps and Whitethroat, were conspicuous by their absence with just singles of these species noted.
Clearly, Chiffchaff numbers must have been somewhat higher than my count, one patch of Elder held 3 birds.
Chiffchaff at Houghton 10th September
Chiffchaff at Houghton 10th September
The above Chiffchaff appears to be an adult bird which has undergone its post-breeding moult, it appears quite a neat bird whilst juveniles generally appear quite scruffy.
A small flock of 9 Mistle Thrushes also present high over Houghton

Burnham Overy Marshes and Dunes, North Norfolk Coast (with Alan Pickersgill) 9th September 0630-1400

In autumn, Burnham Overy Marshes and Dunes is my favourite location to visit on the North Norfolk Coast in search of migrant birds, September for the last summer migrants, and again in October for the first autumn arrivals of Thrushes and Finches from Northern Europe.
Today, I visited this remarkable location my good birding friend, Alan Pickersgill, our visit would provide us with 61 Bird species, as well as a lovely Natterjack Toad.

Conditions:  Not a bad day for migrants, dawn was quite bright although cloud increased to eventually give full coverage.  Some light rain showers developed into a more persistent, but light rainfall.  The wind was a moderate southerly.

0630: Many thousands of Starlings strung out across the sky from the east to the west horizon and headed off inland.
One skulking Reed Warbler in Hawthorn along track.
One Green Sandpiper on marsh
8 Cattle Egrets on marsh with cattle
One Great White Egret
Migrant arrivals included Blackcaps, Chiffchaff, and a couple of Whitethroats
1215: 8 Grey Herons at height heading west

Burnham Overy Marshes and Dunes 9th September (0700)
Selected Species Notes
As soon as I got out of the car the first spectacle of the day was watching a very large flock of thousands of Starlings strung out across the sky from the east to the west horizon, they all made their way south inland, a very impressive sight indeed.  Were these British birds or arrivals from the continent?
In stubble south of the coast road, 7 Grey Partridges were seen and calling and a short time later a single Red Kite drifted slowly above fields.
Following coffee, we began our day with a walk north between the inviting hedgerows with migrants in mind, and the first migrant of interest was a single Reed Warbler very quietly skulking in the middle of a small Hawthorn from where it was heard to give a brief sub-song.
Continuing our walk north with the marsh now in sight, a small area of water with a muddy shore looked a good site for a passage wader, a check of this habitat straight away produced a single Green Sandpiper, an expected species here.
Next, and of personal interest to me, was the finding of 8 Cattle Egrets on a marsh around cattle.  These beautiful small Herons constitute my first British record.  Smaller, but appearing stockier than Little Egret with a deeper, stronger looking Orangey bill and with a jowl, quite different from the Little Egrets sleek and pointed facial features.  A hint of Orange was seen on the forecrown.  A little later, the Cattle Egrets were joined by a much larger and more stately looking Great White Egret.
Cattle Egret (8 present) at Overy Marshes 9th Sept.
As we walked along the raised path towards the dunes I spotted a Natterjack on the path and then disappearing into grass cover, this was a notable first record for Alan.
We then reached the beautiful Burnham Overy Dunes and decided to walk east towards Holkham Pines.  Our initial thoughts was on the noticeable dearth of summer migrants, however, the reliable and ubiquitous Meadow Pipits were the commonest species seen although a couple of Stonechats were seen together.
The habitat within the dunes, especially towards the east end, is magical for the birder hunting for migrants in autumn, Bramble scrub, Elder, and fruiting Dog Rose cover the dunes, this becomes much denser where the dunes meets the west end of Holkham Pines, and indeed, this is where Alan and I saw most activity, which included migrant Warblers.
It was our intention to check the west end of the Pines, this proved fruitful with many Coal Tits, Goldcrests, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, and Treecreepers moving through the trees as a mobile flock.   It was also in this relatively sheltered part of the dunes where we saw 6+ Blackcaps (including males and a lovely female), 6+ Chiffchaffs, 1 Whitethroat, and a juvenile male Bullfinch, all more or less in the same patch of dunes scrub.
Alan and I then had a leisurely walk back through the dunes, again with Meadow Pipits for company, and at midday we decided to sit for lunch.  During our break we saw an interesting movement of  8 Grey Herons high overhead together, and all in a westerly heading.
For much of the latter part of the morning, rain became the main weather feature with a fairly persistent, but quite light rainfall.  As we headed towards the end of the dunes walk, a single Whitethroat was seen sitting on the edge of Bramble in full view, and picking at fruit.  I think it quite likely that this Whitethroat arrived during rainfall.
 Whitethroat in Bramble in the dunes.  Did this migrant arrive in the rain?
The long walk back along the path with the marshes either side of us was a leisurely affair.  We stopped to overview Overy Creek, the tide was out and several waders were feeding in the soft mud, notably Redshank, Knot, and Oystercatcher.  Finally, the walk between the gorgeous hedgerow corridor leading back to the start/end of our walk revealed a single Dunnock, but no migrants.

Species recorded at Burnham Overy Marshes and Dunes
Greylag Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Mute Swan (3), Egyptian Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Grey Partridge (7), Pheasant, Little Grebe, Cattle Egret (8), Grey Heron (10), Great White Egret (1), Cormorant, Red Kite (1), Buzzard (3), Coot, Oystercatcher, Golden Plover (20+), Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Knot, Snipe (1), Green Sandpiper (1), Redshank, Greenshank, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Kestrel, Jay, Jackdaw, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Bearded Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Skylark (1), Swallow, House Martin, Cetti's Warbler (1), Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler (1), Blackcap (6+), Whitethroat (2), Wren, Treecreeper, Starling (1000's south 0630), Stonechat (2), Dunnock, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Bullfinch (juv. male), Greenfinch (7), Linnet, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting (61 species)

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Bodney, Norfolk (mid-afternoon)

The previous overnight rain has long since moved off into the North Sea leaving behind a day of sunshine and cloud with a fresh, occasionally strong NW wind.
I was working this morning therefore unable to check to see if the rain had brought migrants with it, however, I wanted to check a couple of locations in the Bodney area for possible migrant activity, little seen although the highlights were:

1 Marsh Harrier - male flying north
2 Stonechat singles at two localities

My first stop was along a quiet lane where wide grassy verges and weedy field margins could hold migrant chats.  As soon as I set off a calling Buzzard produced two large raptors, the Buzzard, and a mobbing male Marsh Harrier, following this little tussle the Harrier continued to fly north over wide expanses of arable and in doing so, put up lots of Crow species.
Despite the wind I expected to find Stonechat, and indeed, it wasn't long before I found a single bird in typical habitat of tall grasses and weeds, wire fencing and posts.  This was a very active little bird, moving from post to wire and back to post, and then off to a tall weed in nearby crops, clearly watching my progress, and occasionally the bird would fly up and hover for a while, again, to observe it surroundings, and me.

I then moved onto a small section of the Watton Brook Valley, again to check for migrants, none visible in the windy conditions, but another single Stonechat (female) was seen on wires and posts alongside the brook.  A few Swallows and House Martins also present.