Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Saturday, 21 April 2018

East Wretham and Croxton Heaths, Norfolk (With Ken Wood)

It is generally about this time of year when I ask friends if they would like to join me in a search for Adders.  This morning my good friend Ken Wood joined me and we duly arrived at East Wretham at about 0650.  Early cloud moved away to give warm sunshine.
Our first stop was the hide overlooking Langmere where a pair of Shelduck flew in, a male Shoveler on the water, and a pair of Egyptian Geese were seen.
Having joined the Harling Drove we walked towards Croxton Heath where Ken picked out two lovely Roe Deer on the track ahead of us.
Many singing Willow Warblers were heard in the young Birch plantations and at one location we were lucky enough to both hear a singing Willow Warbler and at the same time watch the female bird carrying nesting material to the nest site close by a patch of bracken.
A few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps sang, and most notably a Garden Warbler was singing in a patch of Birch, Bracken, and Gorse scrub.  Garden Warblers are one of our later returning migrants, this is quite an early arrival.
The main focus of our visit was to search for Adders.  Cloud was initially reluctant to move, however, it did, and warm sunshine followed.  The search was on.
Adder (female) on Croxton Heath 21st April
Ken and myself concentrated our efforts along one of the forest rides where dried bracken, dead leaves, and plenty of cover was great habitat for Adders.  Following a prolonged search, a beautiful female Adder was found under a small Gorse bush where it blended with the ground cover of dead leaves and bracken.  I was really pleased that Ken got to see the Adder, one of my fears when sharing my passion on a walk is that our subject does not show.
Walking back along Harling Drove a Buzzard was being pursued by a Crow species when a second Buzzard appeared.  A Sparrowhawk was circling well above the Buzzards.
A stunning male Pied Wagtail on East Wretham Heath 21st April
Finally, on our return walk over the heath, a pair of Pied Wagtails fed upon the short-cropped grass.
Finally, I would like to thank my friend Ken for joining me, great company and a great walk.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

South and North Pickenham, Norfolk 18th April

Blackcap at North Pickenham 18th April
Warbler numbers are now building nicely and this morning I located two Lesser Whitethroat territories and increasing numbers of Blackcaps singing also.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Lesser Whitethroat (My target species for today)

The day started foggy followed by warm, sunny periods developing by mid-morning.  Temperatures eventually lifted to a nice 16 degrees Celsius.
My plan for early morning was to walk roads around the Great Cressingham area to check for migrant/arrival activity, specifically with Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat in mind as target species.
Whilst approaching the Peddars Way I heard the distinctive 'rattle' like song of a Lesser Whitethroat. , I eventually visually located this migrant in a hedge where it skulked and continued its song, the uniform mousey brown upperparts, dark grey head and ear coverts and contrasting white throat were seen.

South Pickenham
A late morning visit along a section of the Peddars Way, the sun had burnt the fog off and it was beginning to warm up.
The first bird of not was a fine, calling male House Sparrow, unusual to see this species in such an isolated location.
A couple of pairs of Long-tailed Tits seen, one pair watching carrying nest materials into Ivy.
A lovely pair of Marsh Tits also seen well.  Only evidence of passage was a single Lapwing flying north.
Marsh Tit - one of a pair at South Pickenham 15th April
Long-tailed Tit - one of a pair South Pickenham 15th April.  Watched entering nest site where nesting materials included lichens and mosses.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Nightingale - an unexpected migrant on the patch.

It remained cloudy all day with poor light and occasional spells of mostly light rain.  The wind was a light north-easterly.
A visit to the Lynford area early morning was used to check on migrant species and, Woodlark.
Blackcap and Chiffchaff numbers are certainly building now, although Willow Warblers remain absent in checked areas.
A few Hirundines were seen, at least 2 Swallows and House Martins were confirmed.
Two areas of recently cleared, harvested woodland produced 2 pairs of  Woodlarks.  The habitat occupied by these birds comprised clear ground with very young rows of sapling pines.  Once these pines reach about 5 years of age they begin to fill out rendering the habitat of no further use to Woodlarks, however, due to the rotational harvesting of pines in the Brecks, habitat is created for Woodlarks to move in to.
Woodlark at Lynford 9th April
At 0850 I was walking along an open area when a bird flew into a Sallow, it was certainly something different, I managed a short check of the bird through binoculars when it flew away over the clearing in a fast, strong flight, it entered a small thicket, in doing so revealed a lovely rusty coloured tail, it was a Nightingale.  This is my first observation of a passage Nightingale, additionally, this is quite an early date for this species.
Nightingales are rarely encountered on migration, either on the coast or inland, therefore, an exciting record.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Ring Ouzel on patch

This was another one of those mornings when I decided to visit my patch for target species, notably, Wheatear and Ring Ouzel.  Conditions were promising, clear and sunny at dawn with a moderate, increasing to fresh to strong SE wind.
An increase in Chiffchaffs (4+ singing) was welcome, but I only managed a single singing Blackcap, arrivals appear later than last Spring.
A male Snipe was displaying and singing at a traditionally used site.  Watching this delightful bird splaying its tail feathers to produce 'drumming' is a reminder of how much this is a privileged sighting these days.
I checked a number of open fields for Wheatear, however, I could find none, although they are certain to be on the patch.
I also checked a number of suitable sites for Ring Ouzel without success.  I covered quite a lot of ground this morning and it wasn't until I was within sight of my finish that I checked hedgerows for migrants, a very early Whitethroat perhaps.  A couple of Song Thrushes flew up and away, could these have been Northern European birds?   I came to a gap in the hedge to check for Wheatear on a large field when I heard a different 'Thrush' call and immediately thought Ring Ouzel.  Looking along the hedge as carefully as I could, I saw the rear half of a 'Black-bird' but with noticeable silvery wings, I was about twenty yards from the bird.   The bird then flew north-east, I followed it with my binoculars, a very smart male Ring Ouzel.  I watched the bird as it flew low over the field and into a tree-lined hedgerow where I had earlier walked along.  This was a classic bird showing in flight the beautiful and very distinctive white crescent on its breast.  This bird had similar proportions to Blackbird, although appearing a little more slender.  In flight the wings showed the distinctive silvery colour.  Alighting in a distant tree, I could easily still make out the stunning white crescent marking on its breast.
Ring Ouzels will migrate with winter Thrushes such as Fieldfare and Redwings, thoughts did occur as to whether this passage Ring Ouzel was on the move with the two Song Thrushes I saw earlier in the same area.

Monday, 2 April 2018


First singing male Blackcap found at Thompson on 31st March.  This time last year many Blackcaps were singing.  This clearly shows the impact poor weather has upon returning migrants.

Monday, 26 March 2018

First singing Chiffchaff of the year and Snipe display.

Chiffchaffs have been thin on the ground so far, undoubtedly due to the cold weather we have been having.  I have seen a couple of singles on the patch so far (both silent), however, today on the patch, 2 birds were present, one of which was a singing bird.

Also on the patch today I located one of my target species for the day, Snipe (pair) on traditional breeding habitat.  The weather this morning was glorious and it was sheer delight to watch the male Snipe performing his wonderful display-flight, which includes the wonderful 'drumming' behaviour.  Following a period of aerial display the Snipe plummeted almost vertically to the ground whilst giving its "chip-per chip-per chip-per chip-per" song.  This song was heard occasionally whilst the bird was on the ground.

Nineteenth century naturalists initially thought that the wonderful vibrating, drumming display produced by the male Snipe was a vocalisation, however, this sound is produced by the outer tail-feathers  held at an angle from the tail, the wind rushing over the feather produces the vibrating action which in turn producing the 'drumming', which has been likened to distant sheep bleating.
It is a great privilege to have Snipe engaged in breeding behaviour on the patch, this is indeed a rare occurrence these days.

The weather continued to very pleasant this afternoon with a high of 13 degrees Celsius.  I therefore decided to check a number of fields for signs of Wheatear, however, this was a fruitless search.