Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Friday, 25 May 2018

Watton Brook Valley 1630-1700

A rather humid day with plenty of cloud during the morning.  Sunny spells during the afternoon helps lift the temperatures to a high of 24 degrees Celsius.
I arrived at the valley for 1630hrs and decided to walk along a hedgerow corridor for a search of late migrants.
The first bird of note was an overflying male Goshawk directly above and heading leisurely west whilst closely followed by a brave Crow species.
Shortly after this a male Lesser Whitethroat sang his lovely rattle-like song and over adjacent farmland a pair of Lapwings saw off a large Crow species.
Whitethroat in the Watton Brook Valley 25 May.  Seen carrying food into this bramble habitat.
Two male Curlews were seen displaying their conspicuous song-flights whilst distant east another pair of Lapwings were seeing off a single Red Kite.
At 1700 I heard the familiar "tew-tew-tew" call of a Greenshank.  For about 8 minutes this bird was flying circuits overhead but I could not locate it visually, then at 1708 I saw this beautiful wader almost overhead and still calling.  Calling continued for a short while thereafter until it appeared to head in a more or less easterly direction.
Back at my start  point I watched a Whitethroat carrying food into traditionally used bramble habitat where it was feeding young in the nest.  Both Blackcap and Mistle Thrush were singing in this area.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Foulden Common, Norfolk, 5th May. Assisted by James Symonds (Summer warden at Weeting Heath)

As part of the Norfolk Wildlife Trusts Spring programme, I was asked to lead a walk during the evening of the 5th May for Nightingales.  Prior to the evening walk I decided to visit Foulden Common at 0500 as a pre-walk recce.  Both visits covered only a part of the common, therefore, many species would have been missed, especially within swamp habitats.
Both visits produced excellent birds, however, no Nightingales were heard, despite this, other species, especially during the evening walk, held interest with my lovely group.

Woodcock 2 males
1 Cormorant
2+ Cuckoos (males)
Wood Pigeon
Song Thrush
Blackcap - numerous
5+ Garden Warblers
2+ Lesser Whitethroats
Blue Tit
Bullfinch (several pairs)
Yellowhammer - several singing males

0500:  I arrived at Foulden Common to a wonderful dawn chorus of 2+ calling Cuckoos, many Blackcaps, 5+ Garden Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats, Chiffchaff, Blackbirds, several Song Thrushes, and Yellowhammers.
Blackcap was the most numerous Warbler species with birds both seen and heard.  5+ Garden Warblers (singing birds) offered good song comparison with Blackcap, quite an easy task once learnt despite the similarities.
At least 2 singing Lesser Whitethroats were seen and heard, their 'rattling' song quite distinctive.  A pair of Lesser Whitethroats was seen, the singing male and a female low down in a bush.
One particularly lovely section of mostly Hawthorn hedge scrub produced singing Blackcap, Garden Warbler, and a pair of Lesser Whitethroats sharing this now all to rare habitat.

I departed Foulden Common at about 0700 with the rising sun producing some warmth.  On my way home I decided to stop at a particular habitat in Little Cressingham to check for Whitethroats, these were present but I was pleased to see two Lesser Whitethroats together passing through.

Lesser Whitethroat at Little Cressingham 5th May (One of two birds seen together passing through)

Foulden Common (NWT evening walk) 1945-2130.
I will start this account by stating that this was intended to be a walk in search of Nightingales, however, none were heard.  Despite this, the walk produced excellent compensation in the form of 2 displaying Woodcocks.  We frequently saw birds performing their 'roding' display-flight, and on occasions. the birds were heard to call their unworldly "kworr-kworr-kworr", also the thin, sharp "tissick" was given.  The silhouetted form of the Woodcocks is a beautiful sight to see and one example of this behaviour was a first for me.  During 'roding' the female Woodcock is on the ground and calls down the male (I have never heard this), clearly the female did this as during the display the male Woodcock plummeted like a stone into woodland, clearly to meet his mate...remarkable behaviour.
A male Cuckoo was heard calling and was occasionally seen overflying woodland, a very distinctive silhouetted bird with an almost straight line running from the head, back and tail, with wings fluttered below the level of the body.
Once darkness fell we were treated to the brief song of a Turtle Dove, the bird only produced a single note "turr-turr", a beautiful song which for me is the epitome of a late spring and summers day.
Several Blackcaps and a couple of Song Thrushes were also heard.  Despite the non-appearance of Nightingale, this was a successful visit with the showing of some scarce species, Woodcock, Turtle Dove, and Cuckoo.
I will end by thanking James Symonds for his assistance during this walk.  James is the summer warden at Weeting Heath, he is a young man who has already accrued vast knowledge of birds and wildlife.  I was so impressed by his passion for wildlife and it is encouraging to know that our wonderful countryside is in safe hands for James's  generation and beyond, a remarkable young man.

Friday, 4 May 2018

A productive early morning visit to Deopham, Norfolk

Once again, an early start to work this morning, I therefore decided on getting up at 0430 to check on a muck -heap near Deopham before starting work.  I arrived at 0600 remaining until 0630.
What a stunning early morning light, great for overviewing this site, and for photography.
So much activity seen with migrant Wheatears and Whitethroat present along with common resident species singing and gathering nesting materials.

2 Northern Wheatear (males)
Whitethroat - singing male
Pied Wagtail
Reed Bunting - singing male
Linnet (pairs visiting) nest materials collected.

 Wheatear - one of two males present

Wheatear - Ist summer male

Only two male Wheatears seen today, no sign of the recently present female bird.  Often seen choosing elevated perches on the muck-heap from where they would watch, preen, and call their harsh "chack".  The buff fringing to the wing feathers shows this to be a 1st summer bird.
Linnet at Deopham collecting nesting materials from muck-heap (probably animal hairs)
My car was my 'hide' for this static-watch, the 30 minutes here always saw something happening.
The highlighted list above includes a singing Whitethroat and Reed Bunting, visiting Yellowhammer, Pied Wagtail, and visiting pairs of Linnets.  One Linnet was watched collecting nesting materials from the muck-heap, these appeared to be fine animal hairs.
This small habitat within a vast expanse of arable proves just shows how these wonderful habitats are a magnet for visiting/passing migrants, and for resident species alike...magical experience.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Where there's muck....

I was working just for the morning today, therefore, I decided to leave earlier than usual to check on a muck-heap near Deopham for migrant birds.
At 0530 a glorious deep orange sky to the east suggested another wet day was on the way and indeed as I was traveling to my destination, cloud was building with rain soon to follow.
I arrived at the muck-heap and within minutes a male Wheatear was seen on the top of one of the heaps.  Settling in for a 30 minute watch at this location I was to eventually see 3 Northern Wheatears together (2 males and a female).  I wonder if the two males were the same birds I saw here on 30th April.
Conditions have been poor for a number of days now with heavy rain and strong northerly winds, with improving weather, sunny, warm, and favourable winds, the Wheatears will then undoubtedly continue their passage to their upland breeding grounds.
In addition to these passage Wheatear, a singing Whitethroat brightened a dreary morning.
Wheatear - one of three present at Deopham
Wheatear (female) at Deopham.
Wheatear (male) at Deopham.
Note the obvious differences between the male and female Wheatears.  The male has that striking head pattern which is accentuated by its black mask through the eye.  In contrast, this female Wheatear appears an overall sandy looking bird with far less patterning to the head area.  All sexes and ages of Wheatear however, have that highly striking white rump (an inverted T shape) which is especially noticeable when the bird is seen in flight.  A sharp "chack" was occasionally given.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Deopham, Norfolk

A foul day of weather with full cloud, heavy rain, strong N/E wind, and a high of 7 degrees Celsius. Not a good day for birding some may say, however, birds are to be found if you choose the right habitats to watch.
On my way home from work I decided to check upon a muck heap for signs of migrants, and immediately upon my arrival I saw a white rumped bird fly around a heap of muck....yes...Wheatear.
I stopped for a while and eventually saw 2 male Wheatears at this site making use of this good feeding station before continuing their passage.
Wheatear at Deopham (One of 2 male birds seen here)

Wheatear at Deopham

Wheatear at Deopham 

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Yes........Whitethroat !!

Being really concerned about the late arrival of our Whitethroats, I was determined once again to locate 'nettlecreeper' for the very short window of opportunity I had before visiting a local antiques fair this morning.
I arrived at the habitat in Little Cressingham, this comprised a long, but low section of bramble alongside a quiet road.  I initially approached slowly to a stop when I heard a male Whitethroat singing in this habitat, a big smile and a sense of elation came over me...he's back.
Having parked up it was apparent that another male Whitethroat was singing in a small patch of scattered hawthorn within an area of rough grassland, not the same bird I thought, then two Whitethroats sang together.

I positioned myself where I was hoping to see the Whitethroat pop up on a sprig, he did, however, this was only a very brief appearance as the bird decided, wisely, to sing low in cover due to the cold, north-easterly wind.  It soon became clear that a pair of Whitethroats were on territory here.  What must these birds feel having spent the last few months in semi-desert, arid conditions to our weather today of very cold wind and well below temperatures for late April.  A bad day of weather is due tomorrow, however, the latter part of the week sees improving conditions, conditions which will see this Whitethroat singing and displaying from his patch of bramble, proudly announcing his return to this beautiful part of Breckland.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Mixed fortunes for migrants

The very warm weather earlier this month was clearly beneficial for the arrival of migrants onto my patch, and indeed, in the wider country.  The first migrant of note was a male Ring Ouzel on 6th April at North Pickenham, this was one of my target species for that particular day.   Returning breeding birds which benefitted from the brief warm spell included Blackcap, but especially Lesser Whitethroats, my first being seen on the patch on 16th April with many more singing males seen and heard to date.
Probably the most unexpected migrant was a Nightingale at Lynford on 9th April, this bird was seen in relatively open habitat and overflying large clearings with some sense of urgency.  The same day saw my first Swallows and House Martins at Lynford.
Lesser Whitethroat at Little Cressingham 22nd April.  Many present since the first on 16th April
Many suitable habitats were checked for Willow Warbler, however, the first singing birds were not noted until 19th April, a good two weeks later than usual.
A visit to Croxton Heath on the 21st April was productive for Willow Warblers with many singing birds as well as a pair seen and heard with the female nest-building.  Also on the 21st at Croxton Heath my first Garden Warbler, a singing bird, was located in a small patch of Birch, Bramble, and Bracken scrub, quite an early bird.
Perhaps the most worrying dearth of records are that of the Whitethroat.  My first Whitethroat was a sub-singing bird at Little Cressingham on 22nd April, since that date, only a handful of records have been gathered with the most recent birds (2 singing males) being seen at North Pickenham yesterday, the 27th April.  I have checked many traditional Whitethroat sites with none present, patches of bramble and scrub appear so empty without this gorgeous bird.  Thoughts have been passing through my head of the significant crash in Whitethroat numbers in 1968/69 following the severe drought in the Sahel region of Africa where our Whitethroats go to winter.  I sincerely hope these are just thoughts, I can't wait to see this Warbler back in force on our commons and hedgerows.