Breckland Birder

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

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.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Thompson 5th May (1510-1610)

A short visit to Thompson following work was productive with the following species seen/heard:

Mute Swan
4 Greylag Geese (2 pairs)
2 Gadwall (2 pairs)
2 Tufted Duck (pair)
1 Pochard (male)
1 Grey Heron
7 Little Egrets
2 Hobby
Swallows
House Martins
1 Lesser Whitethroat
2 Garden Warblers
Blackcaps
Chiffchaff
2 Cetti's Warblers
Reed Warbler
Siskin (male)
Reed Bunting

Hobby at Thompson 5th May (feeding upon flying insects)

Monday, 1 May 2017

Notes on Whitethroat behaviour.

The Whitethroat is one of my most eagerly awaited for migrants in spring.  My earliest returning bird was some years ago at Houghton on 12th April, however, most of birds occur on my patch around about the 17th of April.
Whitethroats are conspicuous birds as they sing from an elevated perch within a Briar patch, they also perform a highly visible song-flight where they fly up and perform a 'dance', appearing to fan their tails to show off the white outer feathers.
Hedgerows with wide weedy verges with nettles, commons, scrub, and Briar patches are chosen by Whitethroats for breeding habitat.  My notes here are from a pair of Whitethroats seen in Briar habitat at Little Cressingham in Norfolk.
Whitethroat territory at Little Cressingham April 2017
Although a conspicuous songster, the Whitethroat is also a skulker, often creeping about the inner dark areas of the Briar patch, similar behaviour is seen in weedy verges also, this is where their local colloquial name in Norfolk is 'Nettlecreeper', a very apt name.
Whitethroat on territory in Little Cressingham April 2017
 The song of the Whitethroat is a hurried scratchy warble, however, the species has a variety of other calls which are used in particular situations.  An approaching threat produces a "ved-ved-ved", also, when agitated it gives a "churrrr", this I also believe is given once young have left the nest and serves as a warning to them.  I was recently watching one of the Whitethroat pair in Little Cressingham when a pair of Goldfinches approached as if to alight on the Briar patch, a Whitethroat gave a harsh, strident "chit-chit", at which the Goldfinches veered off.  This call appears to serve as a warning to other birds that the patch has been claimed. 

Little Cressingham and Bodney 30th April. Increasing numbers of migrants and evidence of passage seen.

A change in wind direction at last, the cold northerly and westerly winds have been replaced by a fresh, occasionally strong South-Easterly.  Bright from dawn at 8 degrees Celsius. Bright sunshine throughout the morning.
The change in wind direction appears to have influenced migrant arrival as evidence of passage was seen as well as summer visitors also on the increase.

4 Curlews (2 pairs) included display/singing
6+ Lapwing
1 Oystercatcher
1 Hobby
1 Kestrel
1 Wheatear (male)
2 Mistle Thrushes (pair)
6+ Whitethroats (included 3 together)
Blackcap
2 Willow Warblers (including a possible passage bird)
Chiffchaffs
Yellowhammers
Reed Bunting (male on territory)
Greenfinch
25+ Linnets (flock)

Whitethroat at Little Cressingham 30th April.  One of a pair seen.
A lovely walk from 'The Arms' at Little Cressingham and along to Bodney and back took me through a variety of habitats from arable, roadside hedgerows, permanent pasture, heath, mixed woodland of Pine and deciduous species.
Between my start to the B1108 road I encountered 6 Whitethroats, of which 3 were seen together.  An increase in singing males to 3 was very welcome, no doubt helped along by the fresh to strong south-easterly.  One bird was seen to perform its conspicuous song-flight.
Whitethroat at Little Cressingham 30th April (one of a pair)
A check of open grassland produced 2 pairs of Curlews, both males performing their wonderful, noisy song-flights.
On high ground at Bodney I found a male Wheatear in habitat where I expected a bird to be.  Small numbers breed in the Brecks, however, the majority will be passing through.
It was at this locality that Hobby passed directly overhead and descended in a semi-stoop for an early morning hunt.
2 Willow Warblers were found, however, one bird was later seen flying high off to the north, an obvious passage bird.
Wheatear (male) at Bodney 30th April
Wheatear (male) at Bodney 30th April
Blackcap (male) at Little Cressingham 30th April
Blackcaps arrived particularly early this year and I gathered a total of 5 singing males between mid and the end of March.  This beautiful songster is now well established on territory now, and this has included seeing pairs in breeding habitats.  This male (photographed) was seen in a hedgerow just north of 'The Arms' on the Great Cressingham road.
Blackcap (male) Little Cressingham 30th April (In fine voice)



Friday, 28 April 2017

Thompson, Norfolk

A better morning than of late with something finally akin to spring in the air.  Gone are the cold northerly winds and we welcome more settled weather with near normal temperatures.

2 Little Grebe
1 Hobby
1 Snipe singing
1 Cuckoo
4 Garden Warblers
2 Reed Warblers
Blackcaps
Chiffchaff
1 Willow Warbler

Reed Warbler singing near Thompson 28th April
A single Hobby seen in open country was my first sighting of this superb Falcon this year.  Close by a single Snipe was often singing its repetitive "chip-per" song in an area of marshy ground.
My aim this morning was to check suitable habitats for signs of Warbler species on territory, most effort was given to a mix of Birch and Willow with good clumps of bramble and other ground covering scrub.  The result of these checks produced 4 singing Garden Warblers with one site seeing a pair together in suitable breeding habitat.  Lots of Blackcaps also present with one male singing close to a Garden Warbler, this allowed good comparison between these two similar sounding species.
A prolonged check of a lovely patch of Willow, Sallow, and ground-cover, including a large bramble patch produced Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Robin, Blue Tit and Blackbird.
This beautiful habitat held Garden Warbler (pair), Blackcap, Chiffchaff, 1 singing Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Robin, Blackbird, Green Woodpecker, and Linnet
A final check of two small patches of Reeds and Sallow produced a singing Reed Warbler at each site.  A prolonged watch of one site saw a quite mobile Reed Warbler in reeds as well as in nearby Sallow (photographed).  This patch of habitat also held a pair of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammer.