Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Happy Christmas

I am writing to wish all my followers of my blog a very HAPPY CHRISTMAS and best wishes for a happy, healthy, bird-filled 2014.
I have noticed that at the time of writing I have had an incredible 13998 'views' of my blog.  I love to share my birding experiences with others and I extend a BIG thank you to you all for following this blog.
Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2014

Monday, 23 December 2013

Crossbills at Croxton Heath, Norfolk 23/12/13

This visit to Croxton Heath was quite different to my previous one in that the morning was very dull...low light would make photography a challenge.  My objective was to find the watering hole (puddles in track) where Crossbills come to drink.
Walking the miles of tracks through forest and forest clearing brought thoughts of a wintering Great Grey Shrike, there is plentiful habitat to support this species and I am sure in time one will turn up. 
As I made my way to my objective I started hearing the very familiar, strong "chip" call of Crossbills and viewing through binoculars, I could see some birds in a single tree within a large clearing where these birds come to gather before dropping down to drink from the puddles.
Once in position, I sat and watched a few birds in the tree, however, in time, numbers grew to 30+ Crossbills, all with one objective, to drink from the puddles.  Sadly, light was never to improve during my visit, but both the sight and sound of these stunning birds, and observing their behaviour, made for a good visit. 

Crossbills on Croxton Heath, Norfolk 23/12/13
Whilst watching the Crossbills I saw a Peregrine Falcon approaching low from the west, as it passed by the Crossbills reacted very noisily and flew off together towards the falcon ensuring they shadowed it from behind, once they were confident the raptor had left their territory the Crossbills returned to the same tree.
I could see Crossbills dropping down onto the track to drink, however, they were generally out of sight within a depression on the ground.
Although usually high in the lone tree, the Crossbills would now and then fly around and settle on smaller trees close to the track, this was when I was able to take the above shot.  This picture gives a good indication of the differences in plumages between the duller females to the beautiful red male birds.
Other birds seen during my visit included Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Song Thrush, and Eagles, that's F15 Eagle fighter aircraft from the nearby american airbase at Lakenheath.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Hockham Fen and forest, Norfolk

Following a slight frost at dawn the morning was very bright and sunny with good visibility.  My intention was to go to East Wretham Heath for Crossbills again, however, a police road block at the Illington cross roads clearly meant an accident ahead, I had to rethink my plans.  I did a U turn and made my way back to Hockham for a walk through the forest and to the fen and back.

Firecrest at Hockham Forest 20/12/13
Hockham Fen appeared quiet, however, it was clear that many Teal were present in the marshy habitat, although few were seen the "kleep" call was heard.
Overhead movements of birds held most attention with small numbers of Crossbills heard, this included 3 seen together including a male bird.
Small parties of Thrushes passed over including a flock of about 10 Redwings over.
About 6 Meadow Pipits were seen including a flock of 4 birds.
Back at the car, my attention was drawn to both mobile flocks of birds moving through trees as well as several Great Tits and Chaffinches feeding amongst leaf litter. The mobile flocks included Treecreeper, Nuthatch, and a number of Coal Tits.
Whilst watching for movement in the trees, I noticed a tiny bird flitting about low cover, a quick look revealed this to be a stunning Firecrest, I just managed to take the above hurried shot of this jewel of a bird.  I attempted to follow this highly mobile bird and eventually tracked it to a Holly tree, again, the bird was very quick amongst the cover.  I attempted to focus on the Firecrest with the camera and just managed to glimpse an extremely brief view of the bird with its back to me...the beautiful reddish crown stripe was flared...I did not get a shot, it would have revealed this beautiful feature of this bird.
The finding of this Firecrest is a classic example that it is important to scrutinse flocks of Tits in winter as something more unusual or even rare may turn up.

Thursday, 19 December 2013


One of the species which is always associated with the Breckland area is the Common Crossbill, this is often a target bird for birders visiting our unique area.  As well as this species, a much rarer form occurs, the Two-barred Crossbill, whose nearest usual range to the UK is Finland.  At the time of writing, Two-barred Crossbills are present at Lynford Arboretum in Norfolk.

Croxton Heath, Norfolk
At dawn today I visited East Wretham and Croxton Heaths, these large areas of Breckland heath and forest often support wintering Great Grey Shrike, however, I did not seen one today despite searching suitable habitats.  This species is very wide ranging, therefore, it will be worth checking frequently throughout the winter months.
The main focus this morning was on a party of 30+ Crossbills which I found in a single tree alone within a large clearing.  These birds would often fly around together before coming to rest again in the same tree, they would also visit bushes in the clearing.  Due to Crossbills dry diet, water is important to the species, and I noticed this tree was close to a track with lots of puddles, it was therefore very likely that these Crossbills were here to drink.

Crossbills Croxton Heath, Norfolk 19/12/13
Birders are often attracted by the sound of the Crossbills harsh, repeated "chup" flight call, again, a very distinctive sound of Breckland.
Pine trees, especially Larch, are the species to search for this bird. They will often feed silently, however, if you are lucky enough to be close to a tree where Crossbills are feeding, dropping cone debris is a sure sign of their presence.

Crossbill (male) Croxton Heath 19/12/13
Male and female Crossbills are very different in their appearance, males are highly distinctive as they are a striking brick-red whilst females are a dull green.

Juvenile  Crossbills are similar to females but are heavily streaked.
Young Crossbills are born with 'normal' bills, it is not until they grow that the mandibles cross at the tip to form the highly distinctive bill which has evolved to prize open pine cones in order to extract seeds.  

The picture here shows a male Crossbill, it is just possible to see that highly strong, specialised bill crossing at the tip, a fantastic tool for the job it was designed for.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Great Hockham at dawn

The morning fog and very dull conditions gave a very monochrome appearance to the forest and fen at Great Hockham, despite this, there was a very magical feel with everything seen appearing in silhouette.  Although light was not good for photography, I am quite pleased with the image of the Red Deer hind appearing as a distinctive and familiar shape in the mist.  She was later joined by her half-grown calf.

The distinctive form of a Red Deer hind in the mist
The visit to Hockham Forest produced a good variety of bird species, some of which were represented in good numbers.
I became aware of several Bramblings overhead, however, things were to improve when I stood by a single Holly tree and watched a total 70+ Bramblings leaving their communal roost site in varying numbers.  As they climbed away they gave their very familiar and nasally "zweeeeu" flight call.
At the nearby fen, I could see two large tightish flocks of Teal totalling 1000+ birds, flying low around the fen, appearing to settle but then flying around again before finally settling en-masse within the swampy habitat.
Although unseen in the fog, the familiar strong call of Crossbills was heard as they passed overhead.
Mixed roving flocks of birds are a familiar sight within the winter woodland and this morning the expected mobile flock of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Treecreepers, and Goldcrest were all encountered.  A small flock of about 8 Redwings were seen.
Despite the poor conditions, this visit to Hockham Forest shows that birds and animals can still be seen or heard, even though at times this can be challenging.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Peddars Way (Little Cressingham/Great Cressingham) late afternoon

After a foggy morning the day was very grey with plenty of cloud and poor light.  Light never improved when I walked along a short length of the Peddars Way between Little and Great Cressingham from about mid-afternoon.
A check of a recently harvested field of sugar beet which is now grazed by sheep produced 5 Grey Partridges.  One of these birds was watched closely and photographed as it nipped at edges of leaves and weeds.  Grey Partridges are now scarce and declining birds in the UK. 

Grey Partridge (one of 5) at Little Cressingham 10/12/13

The Grey Partridge is a clearly more distinctive then the very numerous Red-legged Partridge, a species which is raised in their thousands for the shoot.  The brick-red head area and throat lacks stripes which straight away separates this species from the Red-legged Partridge.  As seen in the above photograph the breast is very neatly vermiculated, this leads into the solid dark brown patches on the belly.
Walking for a short distance north along the Peddars Way, I noticed that the hedgerows had recently been cut, here, several Bullfinches were encountered giving their piping call as they flew ahead of me.
A flock of 60+ Goldfinches flew overhead and a short while later, a small flock of about 20+ Linnets were seen.    
Back at the car, I was preparing to leave when I looked up and saw 2 large groups of Lapwings (total of 1000+ birds) flying in mostly long drawn out lines across the sky in a westerly heading. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013


Fieldfares are one of the larger British Thrush species which visits us between October and early May from their summering grounds in Scandinavia.  Although many stay with us, others will pass through the UK to winter in France and the Iberian Peninsula.
When on passage, Fieldfares migrate in large loose flocks and can be identified by their "shack shack" flight call.  When seen on the ground, it is worth studying these spectacular Thrushes, their plumage is simply stunning, their grey heads and nape contrasts strongly with the brown mantle and pearl-grey rump and dark tail.  The breast is a beautiful ochre and spotted black along with the flanks.
Although sometimes seen singly, Fieldfares are generally seen in varying sized flocks numbering in double figures and occasionally three or four figure numbers.

9th and 10th November.
The night of the 8th/9th November was starlit and at dawn it was very bright with a slight frost in sheltered spots.
It was evident at dawn that there had been an overnight arrival of Fieldfares on my patch with some decent sized flocks seen, however, as I was walking along the Watton road east of Great Cressingham, many Fieldfares were gathered in hedgerows and trees and once on the move towards the village it was evident that 500+ Fieldfares were present, a very impressive gathering.  These birds stopped in a variety of habitats including the well-stocked hedgerows immediately east of Great Cressingham.
Mid to late afternoon on the 10th, I walked from the church at South Pickenham to Cockley Cley Warren. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon.  Settingout from South Pickenham, I walked west along the footpath which passes a 'Stanton-type' world war 2 air-raid shelter, a reminder of the former bomber base at North Pickenham airfield.
At Cockley Cley warren, I was surprised to see that the former heath was now being used to cultivate arable crops.  On the fields was 300+ Fieldfare wandering over the field in their search for food.  Also seen here was a couple of Mistle Thrushes and in the roadside Scots Pines, Coal Tits were present.
The walk back to South Pickenham was better with the sun behind me.  Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Linnets, Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, and Chaffinches were encountered along the path.  With the setting sun, flocks of Chaffinches began arriving at their roost sites.
Sparrowhawk Watton, Norfolk 10/11/13.  A common Breckland species.


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

Hockham Fen 01/11/13
I have recently had a lot of stress as we are currently house hunting, some people thrive on the experience but I just want it all sorted as soon as possible.  It is at times like this when getting out and about and enjoying the company of wildlife provides real therapy.
I had a late afternoon visit to Hockham Fen at a time when some light showers passed through, the low cloud brought low light and generally dull conditions, however, the sinking sun did show low in the western sky through a cloud break and cast some late light over the fen and showed just how weather moods can alter quickly from one moment to the next.
Not too many birds seen on this particular visit, it was just great being there.  Most notable species seen was a small flock of 15+ Teal which sprang from the fen, did a few circuits before settling down again.  5 Grey Herons also rose from the fen presumably to seek their roosting sites for the night in the trees at Cranberry Rough.  The only raptor seen on this visit was a calling Common Buzzard which overflew.
Small birds were represented by occasional Meadow Pipits rising from the fen.  Reed Bunting was also heard.
In the woodland periphery, a mobile flock of Long-tailed Tits also included Goldcrests.
The walk back to the car produced more calling Goldcrests, also a few Redwings and Blackbirds passed between trees along the forest rides.
This was a lovely short visit to one of my favourite local birding sites.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Houghton and Ashill, Norfolk

I began the day with a nice brisk circular 6 mile walk with Toby starting at Houghton-on-the-Hill, south along the Peddars Way to Little Cressingham and then along the Cressingham road to Ashill before returning to my start point.  I like to power walk first thing, therefore, any birds seen were whilst mobile, unless of course, something more unusual caught my eye.
It was evident that there had been a recent arrival of Thrushes within the area, most notably, along the Cressingham road at Ashill where a flock of 250+ Fieldfare flew low along fields to my right...chacking away as they passed by me.  Some Redwings were also seen at various localities as were Blackbirds, some of which I am sure would be migrants.
Bullfinches were either seen or heard at six localities along the route, this included a 'piping' flock of 4 at St Mary's church at Houghton.
As I Approached Houghton Common from Ashill, 2 Common Buzzards flew from pine woodland and south over the fields and closer to Houghton Common, in bushy habitat around a pond, 30+ Greenfinches gathered in Hawthorn, perhaps they were there to feed and drink/bathe in the pond shallows.
Walking along the hedgerow corridor back to St Mary's, the thin, high-pitched call of Goldcrests was heard and at the church itself, another flock of 60+ Fieldfares was seen.
Finally, when watching winter Thrushes (in autumn and spring) check them carefully, I have occasionally found Ring Ouzel travelling with them.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Little/Great Cressingham

Windy days may appear birdless, indeed, many small birds do keep to the cover of dense bushes, however, choosing the right spot, waiting and watching, will pay off. 
I planned to find a suitable location to hopefully look for raptors, therefore, I headed for Little Cressingham and chose a sheltered spot out of the strong wind to overview a large, open area of rolling arable farmland (within the Great Cressingham parish) and hoped for that passing Harrier species.  The habitat overviewed comprised stubble and Sugar Beet crop.  
The large fields and skyline ahead of me appeared quiet although a few Gulls and Crows flew back and forth.  The odd Partridge was seen briefly flying into Sugar Beet and stubble.  Wood Pigeons typically passed over from various directions.
Whilst looking directly ahead low on the skyline a raptor appeared and circled over the field, it appeared quite large and on one occasion I saw the bird had stiff outstretched wings, looking at the bird through binoculars I saw this was a Peregrine Falcon.  I watched the Peregrine fly low and east, increasing its speed and wings angled back for an attack, I then lost the Falcon behind a hedge, however, its presence was evident by an irruption of various bird species.
Peregrine Falcons are scarce passage migrants and winter visitors to my Breckland patch, I usually see this species most winters at one or more sites in the area.

Peregrine Falcon - this bird was photographed at Little Cressingham in January 2012.
Shortly after the Peregrine was seen a flock of 60+ Lapwings passed west over the field, possibly displaced by the raptor.  To the distant east I could see a lot of activity over fields and woodland, a single Buzzard was being mobbed by Crow species, also many other birds were seen, also possibly indicating raptor activity.
There was not too much small bird activity due to the wind, however, a couple of Skylarks were seen and along Green Lane, a party of Long-tailed Tits passed low through cover.   
The wind strength was the most noticable feature of the weather this afternoon, however, the forthcoming night and following morning will see a powerful storm passing through Southern England.........batten down the hatches and stay safe.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Great Hockham and Little Cressingham

Hockham Fen
An early start with a pre-sunrise arrival in the forest at Great Hockham.  Walking along the trails to the fen, I encountered 3 calling Tawny Owls (2 males/1 female) in pine woodland.
At the fen, several bird species were stiring from their roost sites, these included Crossbill, Siskins, and Redpoll.  A lone Common Buzzard was sitting high in one of the trees on the fen.
With the rising sun, the mixed woodland along the edge of the fen came alive with a largish mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Treecreeper, and a number of Goldcrests moving through thick scrubby habitat and mature woodland in their collective search for food.  Whilst watching these birds, a single Crossbill (male) passed over low enough for me to see its reddish plumage.
A welcome record for the fen was a calling Water Rail, this bird was hidden away somewhere within the boggy, rushy habitat where it will eke out a living winding its way through dense grasses and reeds in search for food.  The call of this bird is a strange pig-like squeal.

Little Cressingham
Greenfinch 26/10/13 Watton
Setting off mid-afternoon from the bridge over Watton Brook on Fairstead Lane, a single Grey Wagtail passed above me calling.  This dainty bird breeds in the area, although numbers may increase in winter with visiting birds which wander in from the continent or upland Britain to suitable freshwater habitats.
Continuing along Fairstead Lane, a male Sparrowhawk flew low over the lane in the hope of surprising unsuspecting prey.
Just beyond 'The Fairstead' at the top of Green Lane, a flock of 60+ Fieldfares flew into treetops, these large Thrushes were accompanied by a few Redwings.
Along Green Lane, I stopped for a while to overview the large area of rolling farmland in the hope of seeing a passing Harrier species, it was in fact fairly quiet until a large female Sparrowhawk circled above stubble where it had moments before disturbed some Partridges.
Finally, back at Little Cressingham Mill, a small flock of 6 Redwings rose from Alders alongside Watton Brook.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Hen Harrier - Watton

No birding today, however, stepping outside into my back garden at about 1245hrs, my attention was drawn to two birds quite high approaching from the north-east.  One of these birds was a Crow species, this was mobbing a raptor species, I quickly went to collect my binoculars from indoors and fortunately upon my return both birds were still high in the sky.  Looking at the raptor through binoculars, I pleased to see that the raptor was a female Hen Harrier, sadly, a very scarce bird in Britain nowadays.
I am certain that this Hen Harrier was an immigrant from continental Europe, hopefully, this beautiful raptor will winter with us in the local Breckland area.
I have encountered Hen Harriers on a few occasions in winter on my Breckland patch over the years and always these have been the female, or 'ringtail' birds.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stow Bedon and Ashill

Stow Bedon
The previous night was very wet with heavy rain showers driven along on a fresh to strong south-westerly.  At dawn it was quite bright although plenty of low cloud did bring some light rain.
A brisk early morning 5 mile walk starting at Stow Bedon and following the lanes around the rolling countryside through Lower Stow Bedon and Rocklands produced good numbers of common birds in the area.
With the winds from the south-west, I knew that there would be no evidence of passage today, despite this some previously arrived Redwings, Song Thrushes, and Blackbirds were present in the wooded hedgerows where they would feed upon various fruits on offer.
One Grey Wagtail flew high over Fen Street, Rocklands, and a little further along on Stowlay Lane, good numbers of Crows, Gulls, 20+ Linnets, Meadow Pipits, and Skylarks wandered the vast open, windswept fields.
A check of a muck-heap on Mere Road produced an ever reliable Green Sandpiper.  If we have a wet and mild winter, some of these beautiful waders may stay to spend the winter with us.   Further along the road a Sparrowhawk approached low towards a hedge in the hope of surprising a small passerine species.

A late afternoon walk along Common Road produced a covey of 10 Grey Partridges, these comprised adults and young birds.  This was a good find considering the scarcity of this species, however, the Ashill area has always been reliable for Grey Partridge.
3 (1+2) Common Buzzards were seen at two localities and a 2 Golden Plovers passed over west into the strong wind.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Little Cressingham.

Just a short 2 mile walk early morning as I wasn't feeling too good...heavy, aching legs, slight flu-like symptoms.  Anyway, the day started dry but with fog in low-lying areas soon clearing with sunny spells.
One of 2 Otters in the Watton Brook valley 18/10/13.
I set out along Fairstead Lane in the fog with small numbers of Redwings and Song Thrushes passing overhead, also, several Song Thrush arrivals were heard along the route giving their "tic" call from within the cover of hedgerows.  Also, Brambling was heard passing high overhead in the fog, the distinctive nasally "zweeeeu" call was given.
The only raptor of the morning was a Sparrowhawk overflying fields close to the village.
A short watch over the Watton Brook valley produced 3 Mute Swans and 50+ Mallard.  Common passerine species seen included 2 Robins, Wren, Goldfinch, and Blackbirds.
The Swans and Mallard in the Watton Brook valley became agitated, the answer was the arrival of 2 Otters which were porpoising through the water and occasionally popping their heads up to see what was going on as well as watching me, it was then that I could hear one of the Otters sniffing the air.  These beautiful mammals were seen for some time ploughing through reeds and weeds in search of prey.  Toby, my Border Collie, just stood and watched with curiosity at these delightful creatures.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.

From a birders perspective, this morning had a feel of 'migrants' about it with low cloud a poor visibility initially.  I could see the blades of the massive wind turbines on North Pickenham airfield were partially concealed in the cloud.
This was a relatively short circular walk from St Mary's Church, down the track to the road, east along the road to Common Lane, along the lane to Houghton Common and through the hedgerow corridor back to the church.
What was particularly evident this morning was the number of Song Thrush arrivals in the hedges along the route with the familiar "tic" call being frequently encountered.
Long-tailed Tits flocks are always worth watching, not only are these dainty little beauties very entertaining, they also may include in autumn something a little more unusal.  On Houghton Common a mobile flock of Long-tailed Tits was watched and followed for some time, included within this flock was a single diminutive Goldcrest, however, I did see a Long-tailed Tit with what I thought was an all-White head, this immediately raised suspicions as the only thing that this could have been was the Northern European race Caudatus.  This bird was seen so briefly as it moved along the hedge that I put my observation down as a possible 'trick of the light' as Caudatus is a very rare bird in the UK...I did not relocate this individual. 
Walking long the hedgerow corridor west towards the church, further calling Song Thrushes were heard and high above a few individuals passed over in a southerly heading.
I then decided to spend an hour or so sitting in the churchyard to see what passes through.  Straight away, a few Redwing arrivals were in the thicker cover in the yard along with Blackbirds
Marsh Tit at Houghton 15 October 2013
Whilst sitting in the churchyard and with thick low cloud still dominant a noticeable movement of Redwings was seen overhead during a 20 minute period.  Several flocks passed over in a southerly heading, these totalled 300+ birds with some flocks seen descending rapidly into nearby woodland.  This movement seemed to end with the onset of a very brief spell of slightly brighter conditions...were these Redwings forced down by the thick low cloud?
Other species moving overhead included a number of Skylarks (possible migrants) and a small party of Siskins.

Back within the immediate vicinity of the churchyard, several smaller species were seen passing through at various times, this included at least 4 Goldcrests, 2+ Marsh Tits, Blue Tits, Robin, Wren, and Dunnocks.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A heavy passage of Thrush species.

Houghton-on-the-Hill and Ashill, Norfolk.
Full cloud cover, often dark low cloud with a light east-south-east wind.

Following my prediction earlier this week of the probability of Thrush migration by this weekend, an early morning walk around Houghton-on-the-Hill and Ashill, Norfolk produced a heavy passage of Thrush species.  Although I covered about 6 miles on foot, Thrush species were encountered all along my route and the flocks I saw which occasionally numbered 200 to 300 strong, easily totalled 2,100 birds, and all were passing overhead in a mostly west or south-westerly heading. 
Redwings formed the majority species with Song Thrushes in good numbers and with smaller numbers of Blackbirds and Fieldfares.  Many flocks were very high and difficult to see therefore I would have missed many more as they passed over. 
As well as witnessing visible migration, it was evident from calls that many Thrushes, especially Song Thrushes had arrived overnight and taken up brief residence in roadside hedgerows as the familiar "tick" calls of these birds was heard at many localities.
3 Blackbirds, obvious migrants were seen above me on the approach to Houghton Common, one of these was initially seen flying in wide circles and gaining height, presumably this individual had arrived in the night and was climbing to reorientate before continuing with its passage.
Norfolk-wide and beyond our county, the numbers of birds passing through must have reached tens of thousands. Most of these Thrushes would have flown from Northern Europe overnight, some may stay in the UK whilst other will continue onto France or the Iberian Peninsula for the winter.  

Further reading from observations from the North Norfolk coast shows that from dawn on 12th October, many thousands of Thrushes, mostly Redwings, filled hedgerows along with very heavy overhead passage by this species. Numbers passing through Norfolk must have been at least in six figures, probably more.
Although massive numbers of birds were witnessed on the coast, I still feel inland areas are well underwatched, however, I still get far more enjoyment watching birds and witnessing visible migration on my inland Breckland patch.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Some Thrush arrivals evident.

Following the very stormy conditions across Norfolk yesterday (10th October), todays weather continued very windy with a fresh to strong North-Easterly airflow along with angry skies and frequent, sometimes heavy showers.
Earlier in the week I predicted that the winds of today would bring a movement of Thrushes into the Breckland area and an early morning walk around Great Cressingham produced good numbers of Redwings and Song Thrushes in the roadside hedgerows. These Thrushes probably arrived during the night, following their passage from Northern Europe.  I didn't witness any significant overhead movements of Thrushes, perhaps migrants were forced to make landfall in coastal areas following a rough crossing from Europe in very poor conditions.
As the morning progressed, increasingly windy and wet weather was building from the north-east and the occasional look from the garden produced small numbers of Thrushes on the move.
An afternoon walk taking in Threxton and Little Cressingham continued to see very blustery conditions.  Any Thrushes present in the area were probably confined to woodlands to feed and seek shelter.   
The weather conditions appeared to keep most birds to cover and indeed, such habitats at North Bridge produced a mobile flock of Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tit, and Goldcrests.  Further along the route near Saham Hall, a Chiffchaff was heard in a roadside hedge and at Threxton Sewage plant, at least 2 Grey Wagtails were present.
Rough, wet conditions are predicted for Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th October, early mornings will be interesting for possible evidence of further migrant arrivals.      

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

North-Easterlies by Friday 11th October....eyes skyward.

The morning of the 8th October dawned clear following a starlit night but with improving light, murky, misty conditions set in with low cloud.  The wind was a light, occasionally moderate south-westerly.
My day started with a 5 mile circular walk around Little and Great Cressingham.  The current wind direction was not particularly conducive to autumn migration, however, that is all set to change.
From Friday 11th October the wind shifts to a north-easterly from the northerly forecast for the day before. Winds are expected to continue to feed in from Northern Europe with an north-east to east-north-east by Saturday.
Pressure chart for Friday 11 October 2013
The above pressure chart for Friday 11th October 2013 shows an area of low pressure centred over Northern Italy giving a north-easterly airflow from Southern Scandinavia and the low countries through East Anglia and south-east England.  This time of year such conditions indicates there will be a probable significant passage of Redwings, Song Thrushes, Fieldfares, Blackbirds, and Finch species such as Bramblings through our area from Northern Europe.   

The first bird of the morning was a beautiful Barn Owl seen in the half-light, flying along Fairstead Lane.  Although the conditions this morning was not good for passage migrants from Europe, my early morning walk did produce several Song Thrushes, the higher than usual numbers indicating that these were continental migrants, the vanguard of what is likely to come by the end of this week.
Single Meadow Pipits passed overhead.
Later in the day, a single Common Buzzard was seen close to as it pounced on prey on the ground from the above tree, the prey must have been small, a small invertebrate maybe.  Nearby was a single male Reeve's Pheasant.
Back in Little Cressingham village as the sun was sinking low in the western sky, a Chiffchaff briefly sang, it will be March next near now before we hear this migrant again in any numbers.  

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Cressinghams, Bodney, and notes from the garden.

With October now well and truly established, focus turns to incoming migrant Thrushes and Finches either visiting us for the winter, or, passing through to winter in France or the Iberian Peninsula.   With the shortening days and very autumnal feel to the weather, it shouldn’t be forgotten that some summer migrants will still be on passage through the area.
This morning I started off with a 3 mile dog walk around the Great Cressingham area and it was evident from the occasional “tick” call that migrant Song Thrushes were passing through.  A single Tawny Owl was heard calling near the village and a couple of Bullfinches were heard.  A single Blackcap was heard in a hedge giving its “tak” call.
As I was driving back through Saham Toney a male Sparrowhawk was seen in the car lights sitting in the middle of the road, it then powered off over the hedge.

The River Wissey at Bodney meanders through lush grazing meadows which frequently floods in the winter months.  Mature deciduous woodland and some fine, very old Oaks are found along the valley.  Nearby is some typical examples of ancient Breckland heathland, some fine old stands of Scots Pines, and regimented stands of commercial conifer plantations. 
This mornings visit produced common bird species associated with woodland habitats, this included at least 3 Nuthatches, one of which was seen on a number of occasions carrying nuts/seeds possibly to store for leaner times.  Also present was Marsh Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Treecreepers, and Goldcrests.  The thicker woodland held a few Song Thrushes, these were undoubtedly recently arrived migrants from Europe.

Little Cressingham (The Arms/Hopton Farm area)
A late afternoon walk produced 7+ Yellowhammer along the Watton Brook valley. It appeared that these Buntings may have been watched as one of the Yellowhammers made for the cover of the river valley, this was shortly followed by a female Sparrowhawk whcih attempted a surprise attack by flying low and then between the banks hoping to take prey, however, she was unsuccessful on this occasion.
A woodland strip at 'The Arms' held a roving flock of Long-tailed and Blue Tits, also here, although not seen, was a male Blackcap which gave a protracted sub-song.


Chiffchaff in garden 05/10/13
At least one Chiffchaff spent the day moving between my, and adjoining gardens, this migrant probably arrived the night before to spend the day feeding and resting before continuing its southerly passage during the next clear night.
Blackbirds were ever-present and were feeding upon various fruits including Hawthorn berries and Whitebeam berries.  Greenfinches and Goldfinches were present throughout the day.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

0700: I met up with my good friend Daniel Watson and we made for the Hockham Forest and Fen area. The morning was bright and mild with a moderate south-easterly wind.

20+ Song Thrush
12+ Crossbills
3 Woodlark
5+ Sparrowhawks

The walk along one of the many forest trails leading to the fen produced the expected calling Goldcrests, Coal Tits, along with a Chiffchaff.  A few Song Thrushes gave their "tik" calls from within both conifer and mixed woodland, their numbers suggesting the arrival overnight of continental migrants. 
Once at the fen, more Song Thrushes were both seen and heard, thus confirming that these were migrants from Europe and by the end of our visit the total numbers of this species seen was 20+.  Daniel picked up Redwing passing over woodland.
2 Common Buzzards were on the fen and a count of 5+ Sparrowhawks was surprising, of these, 3 were soaring together and one was seen perched in a treetop on the edge of the fen.
A small party of 8+ Crossbills passed high north above the fen, later, 4 males were seen distantly perched in a treetop, despite the distance, their brick-red plumage was clearly seen in the early morning sunlight.
Young Red Deer at Hockham 03/10/13 (Mother was nearby)
An interesting record was of 2 Woodlarks passing overhead in a south-easterly direction, later, another individual (unseen) was heard, again heading south-east. These birds were probably leaving a forest clearing in the Brecks and making for fields in which to feed in.  This was an interesting record for me as I have rarely seen movements of Woodlarks outside of the breeding season.
Probable genuine overhead migrants comprised small numbers of Meadow Pipits passing over in a more or less southerly heading whilst local movements seen included small numbers of Siskins and a few Skylarks.
8 Grey Herons seen comprised 3 overhead low in a south-west heading and later, 5 birds arrived from the north to settle on the fen.
Movements of birds within the fen itself included 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a number of Jays, Wood Pigeons, and Crow species, and in the peripheral woodland a mobile flock of Long-tailed Tits also included Marsh Tit.  A couple of nearby Wrens had a liking for juncus/rush habitat.

Insects seen on the fen included Emperor and Ruddy Darter Dragonflies, and Speckled Wood butterfly

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Irresponsible birding.

I apologise for having to have a little moan this morning.  I maintain a very good relationship with my local gamekeepers on my Breckland patch and a recent contact with the head 'keeper brought some sad news regarding visiting birders to my patch.  I don't know whether this is as a result of my blog, however, on recent occasions, birders have been asked to leave private land by 'keepers and this is not a good reflection on those of us who respect private land and pursue our passion from public rights of way etc. 
Using good fieldcraft and having patience brings its rewards in birding and this can easily be pursued without the need for trespassing.  Any patch birders who maintain a good relationship with their gamekeepers will know, as I do, that having respect for private land can in itself be very rewarding. I will be continuing to write my blog for all to see, however, I will in future be careful about giving locations of scarce/rare species. 
I am a passionate birder (not twitcher) and I wish to maintain my good relationship with those who work and keep the land on my Breckland patch, and indeed, I would say that respect for private land should be extended to where ever we choose to go birding.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Peddars Way

The Peddars Way Long Distance Path begins in Suffolk but the almost all of the route lies within Norfolk. A good length of this path passes through my patch from East Wretham, Great Hockham, Stow Bedon, Thompson, Merton, Threxton, Little and Great Cressingham, South Pickenham, and finally, North Pickenham, when the path leaves my patch and continues north for the North Norfolk Coast.  The entire route is some 93 miles in length.
This morning I covered a small length of the Peddars Way (approx 2 miles), starting at Little Cressingham and walked north through rolling countryside which for the most part is arable with small areas of grazing land.

5 Snipe including 3 east
6+ Goldcrest
6+ Chiffchaff
35+ Goldfinches

The Watton Brook valley is always productive for common birds given the wealth of habitat and this morning a small party of 6 Goldcrests passed through roadside woodland and dense Bramble/Hawthorn hedgerows.  An adult Grey Heron was seen in the valley.
Continuing north along the path, a noisy gathering of Crows told me that a raptor species was in the area, this was a Common Buzzard, however, an extremely brief glimpse of another raptor was seen rising above a hedge with Crows in pursuit, however, I could not relocate when I found a suitable opening in a hedge.  I suspect the raptor was a falcon species, possibly Peregrine, a species I encounter frequently at this time of the year.
The route held a total of 6+ Chiffchaffs at various localities but I could not find any other Warbler species.  A pair of Marsh Tits called in path-side hedgerows.
Walking back along the path I took a short break at the brow of a hill, whilst there, 3 Snipe overflew to my south and east along the valley, perhaps this was just a local movement as this time of year I would expect to see migrant Snipe flying west.
One of the highlights this morning was back at my start point at Little Cressingham where I spent some time viewing along the Watton Brook valley.  The combination of the brook, the well vegetated banks, weedy fields, and laneside hedgerows, all provide an excellent habitat for common species. 

The well vegetated banks held a charm of 35+ Goldfinches which were attracted to the Wild Teasel heads from which they extract seeds.  This group of birds comprised both adults and juvenile birds, the youngsters are beginning to show some red feathering on their facial areas.
A check of the mill area produced 2 Snipe, a species which will winter in the area within the valley.
Also in this immediate area was a number of House Sparrows, Yellowhammers (including the above photographed female), Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Blue Tits, and Blackbirds.
A single Common Buzzard over woodland attracted the usual mobbing Crow species.  Large numbers of Crow species, especially Jackdaws, frequented sheep grazing, such a gathering of Corvids is a recipe for hunting Goshawk, however, not during my observations.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Notes from my Breckland patch 27/09/13

An early morning walk around Little and Great Cressingham produced a single Red Kite along the Peddars Way path, whilst in an adjoining field, 45+ Greylag Geese were browsing in stubble.  A single Grey Wagtail passed overhead, this was either a dispersing bird from a nearby breeding area, or more likely, a migrant from Northern Europe.
Whilst passing through Great Cressingham, a pair of Marsh Tits fed upon thistle heads and a couple of Goldcrests (one juvenile) was seen in a garden.
Taking a break and over-looking fields, a single juvenile Goshawk glided low and entered woodland with an upward sweep.
At Little Cressingham and searching for migrants, my only success was finding a female/juvenile Blackcap eating blackberries.
The mornings walk ended with a very respectable total count of 12+ Bullfinches at a number of localities.
A late afternoon visit to Threxton Sewage Plant produced 2 Grey Wagtails and as evening approached a number of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests became more active. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Visible migration at Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.

At 0630 I picked up my good friend Daniel Watson and we headed for Houghton-on-the-Hill for a mornings birding with emphasis on visible migration.  With the clear conditions of the previous night and into the morning we thought that any passage birds were likely to continue high overhead and out of sight.
A dedicated 4 hour spot count of migration watching produced the following:

1 Yellow Wagtail high south
50+ Golden Plover west
1 HOBBY south-west
c.10 Meadow Pipits south-east

Recent arrivals included 15+ Chiffchaffs skulking around in dense Elder and Hawthorn habitats and just a couple of Blackcaps heard.  Surprisngly, not a single Whitethroat of Lesser Whitethroat was seen.  Daniel also commented on the absence of Hirundines, it is likely that this group has already departed our shores.
An early morning movement of Gull species, including a few Great Black-backed Gulls, were all heading in an easterly to south-easterly heading, this eventually stopped.  These birds had undoubtedly roosted north-west of our location and were leaving to feed in fields.
Local birds included several Common Buzzards at a number of localities from our vantage point, also a family party of 4 Kestrels (including 2 juveniles entertained overhead.

Marsh Tit at Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk 26/09/13
A single Little Owl called from the lane to the north of us.  Dense habitat close by held a number of Great and Blue Tits, also Yellowhammer and Bullfinches were present. 

Late morning, Daniel and I departed our 'watch-point' and headed back to St Mary's Church, here we checked out the spring by the track.
A couple of more Chiffchaffs were seen in the Hawthorn habitat by the pond, also, a single Marsh Tit made frequent visits to a thistle, this small species often revealed its presence by giving its loud "pitchou" call.
At 1215, we left Houghton with fewer migrants than initially expected, however, it was likely that many birds passed very high overhead given the clear conditions.

Garden (Dusk)
Whilst having a coffee in the garden, a very high flock of 80+ Black-headed Gulls headed north-west in a long drawn out. loose V formation.  It was likely that these gulls were heading for their roost site, possibly at a large water body west of Swaffham, or posssibly 'The Wash' area. 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Merton, Garden notes, and Little Cressingham

A beautiful clear night gave way to a foggy dawn with low cloud persisting most of the morning. The afternoon was warm and sunny with a moderate north-westerly.
An early morning walk around Thompson and Merton produced a calling Tawny Owl along Broomhill.  With improving light, several Goldcrests started calling within woodland and along the periphery of the Merton Park estate 3 Green Sandpipers passed overhead.

Garden notes
Chiffchaff - One of at least 2 in the garden in fog 22/09/13.
Fog very much persisted throughout the morning but eventually gave way to low cloud and slowly brightening conditions.  With the early morning fog came thoughts of disorientated migrant birds and within minutes of stepping into the garden I heard Chiffchaff calling and as events unfolded at least 2 birds were present throughout much of the day.  Although visiting a number of bushes and trees, I noticed that the Chiffchaffs often made for a neighbouring gardens buddleia, presumably the Warblers were attracted to insect food there.
A number of Blackbirds of all age groups were in and out of the garden, these birds were seen to feed upon both Whitebeam (Sorbus), and Hawthorn berries.
As the morning progressed I noticed a light overhead southerly passage of Swallows and once the warm sunshine had broken through, 3 Common Buzzards passed high overhead.

Little Cressingham (Fairstead Lane, Green Lane, and the mill).
Mid afternoon and warm sunny conditions had developed.  Looking back from 'The Fairstead' towards 'The Nunneries', I could see a pair of Common Buzzards soaring above the woodland.  Nearby, at the exact same locality as 21/09, a male Reeve's Pheasant was again seen.
A single Blackcap was heard in a hedge on Fairstead Lane close to Watton Brook.

On the millpond at Little Cressingham mill was a single Little Grebe, 30+ Mallard, 1 Mute Swan, and 3 Moorhens.  A Bullfinch was heard as was a calling Little Owl.
Insects seen at the millpond included Emperor and Ruddy Darter Dragonflies.

Noticeable absences around Mill Cottage and the surrounding area was House Martin, all appeared to have departed now for their southerly passage, additionally, Whitethroats are now conspicuous by their absence, any seen now are likely to be migrants passing through from their European breeding grounds.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A very memorable close encounter with a Goshawk, and a World Record holder.

My intended destination this morning was the Watton Brook valley with a view to finding migrants, however, an encounter with a juvenile Goshawk near Great Cressingham, Norfolk, curtailed my original plans.
At 0810 as I was driving towards Great Cressingham I noticed a large raptor fly from a roadside tree, it had all brown upperparts..and it wasn't a Buzzard.  I soon found a gap in the hedge and saw the bird flying along a hedge and then sweep up into an Oak tree, it was a juvenile Goshawk.  I could just glimpse the raptor through the leaves, however, it wasn't until some minutes later when it left the tree to fly along another hedge, it then turned as if to fly off and behind me. I stayed where I was close to the hedge when suddenly the Goshawk flew past me just above the ground to take the same route along the hedge and then alight in another nearby tree.  When the Goshawk passed me, it was at it closet no more than 20 feet from me, I was totally awestruck by the size of this mighty raptor and as it turned I could clearly see the streaked, buff underparts of the bird.  Several minutes later, the Goshawk flew away east, I therefore relocated myself further along the road where I hunkered down beside a tree.....and waited, some time passed by, then, a lot of noisy Crows told me something was up, then, the Goshawk appeared along a hedge line in close pursuit of a Crow.
Not only was this another lasting memory of one of the Goshawks on my patch, the very presence of this very large raptor sent Pigeons, Crows, and Finches, scattering everywhere, and provided a clear example of how this species causes panic and unsettling behaviour of all other birds in the area.

Given the excitement generated by the Goshawk, I remained in the area for some time and despite the panic caused by the raptor, I managed to see a good range of other common species in the area including a flock of 60+ Linnet, a few Swallows passing by, Bullfinches and Goldcrests in a mature hedge, a couple of Common Buzzards as well.  Of course, Wood Pigeons and Crows were plentiful and were edgy to the presence of the Goshawk.

Reeve's Pheasant Great Cressingham 21/09/13
Checking a nearby field edge where it meets mature wooded hedgerows, I noticed a distant large Pheasant at the far end of the field, it was an adult male Reeve's Pheasant.
A small population of Reeve's Pheasant occurs in this area of Breckland, this is a very large species which holds the record of having the longest tail feather of any bird in the world - up to 8 feet long.
Reeve's Pheasant were introduced into the UK in 1831 from their native China, it would appear that the Breckland area is the stronghold for what is an internationally endangered species.  It is thought that only 3000 Reeve's Pheasant exist in the wild in China.
The Reeve's Pheasant is much larger then the familiar Common Pheasant, this was apparent when both species were seen close to each other.  Reeve's is also a strong, robust looking bird with a muscular looking neck area and it was when Common Pheasants approached, the Reeve's appeared to puff itself up and adopt a more upright carriage, perhaps a threat to the other birds.  Reeve's Pheasant is known to show aggression towards humans.
Although only this single Reeve's Pheasant was seen today I have previously seen 6 males together close to Little Cressingham.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Hirundines and Cranes

Church Farm at Threxton lies within rolling farmland in the Watton brook valley, farming here comprises both arable and grazing livestock.  A visit to this locality early morning produced a flock of 300+ House Martins with smaller numbers of Swallows gathering above Church Farm and the nearby sewage works.  As with recent observations, this gathering of Hirundines probably comprised mostly migrants using the site as a staging post as well as some local birds.

At 1120 whilst checking the skies from my garden in Watton I noticed 2 very distant specks very high to the north-west.  Intially, I thought they were aircraft but it became apparent they were indeed birds, as I continued to watch these birds it was clear they were very large, these were Common Cranes, a species I have encountered rarely in the Breckland area.
2 Common Cranes Watton, Norfolk 18/09/13 (Very distant and very high)
A small population of Common Cranes breeds in the Norfolk Broads and at Lakenheath Fen on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.  The question is are these birds from either of these populations on a wander around Norfolk or are they passage birds from Europe.  I have seen Common Cranes on my patch on two previous occasions, both of these previous sighting were of birds flying quite low, given that these Cranes today were at a great height could they have been migrants from Europe?

                                                    Water Vole (One of 2) at Little Cressingham.
A late afternoon visit to Little Cressingham Mill was fairly quiet birdwsie, however, 2 Water Voles were great to see considering their scarcity. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Manure Magic

The day dawned bright and sunny with a cool, moderate to fresh westerly wind. An approaching weather front visible in the distant western sky brought total cloud cover and rain by early afternoon.
An afternoon walk around the Stow Bedon area saw grey conditions with low cloud and occasional rain, despite this, it was a productive visit.
Along Stowlay Lane and Mere Road, Stow Bedon, the low cloud and rain forced very good numbers of Swallows and House Martins to feed at times down to just a few inches above the ground with many birds passing just a few feet from me.  The skill of these Hirundines as they fly at speed weaving through trees and hedgerows is incredible to watch.
A largish mixed flock of Chaffinches and Linnets (100+) were seen along Stowlay Lane frequenting hedgerows and stubble where they will feed upon weed seeds and spilt grain etc.
An intention of mine this afternoon was to visit a large muck/manure heap which over the years has attracted passage wader species.  Almost immediately upon my arrival I found 2 Green Sandpipers, a species which is often found at such habitats.
Green Sandpipers at Stow Bedon, Norfolk 17/09/13 (Seen in low light and rain).
Muck heaps are great habitats for locating wader species, especially Green Sandpipers, these habitats are rich sources of food for passage birds and as seen in this picture, they are often seen around the stagnant pools of water where they feed upon midges and other insect prey which thrive there.  Although muck heaps are not to everyones taste, they are valuable habitats which have their own mini micro-climate which allows insects to thrive.  Green Sandpipers are being recorded more and more throughout the winter months and muck heaps are worth checking for this beautiful wader species. 
Finally, further along Mere Road a field was being turned, this in turn attracted large numbers of Gulls, many of which were the large Lesser Black-backed Gull (60+). 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Threxton and Little Cressingham

I arrived at Threxton church prior to sunrise on what was to be a bright and cool morning with a fresh south-westerly wind.  The first noticeable observation was the presence of good numbers of House Martins and a few Swallows over the sewage treatment works, these Hirundines were probably a mix of locally bred and passage birds which will be attracted to this site where winged insects will provide good feeding.
Despite the wind strength several common migrant birds were found in a site which offered shelter and feeding.

Chiffchaff taking time out to preen at Threxton 16/09/13
1 Hobby
1 Kestrel
50+ Lapwings
100+ House Martins
2 Marsh Tit
Great Tit
3 Meadow Pipit (high west)
10+ Goldfinch

In windy conditions, birds like to seek shelter where they can feed and rest in relative comfort.  One of my regularly visited sites in Threxton is a densely wooded deep pit which offered the necessary shelter for migrants this morning.  Deep down in the pit and out of the wind was Blackcap (female feeding), Chiffchaffs, and a pair of Marsh Tits, the pictured Chiffchaff was seen in an Elder where it was seen preening.  A male Blackcap was heard singing.
A few House Martins passed overhead and a single Swallow weaved lower down through the trees and bushes closer to me.
Also noted in the area was Chaffinches, a few Linnets, Goldfinches, and a calling Treecreeper.
Further along the lane back at the sewage treatment works 100+ House Martins swarmed around the area picking off insects, these Hirundines themselves attracted the attention of a single Hobby which flew through low and fast intent on taking a bird.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.

A pre-dawn arrival at Houghton-on-the-Hill and a very autumnal feel with cool misty conditions and a moderate south-westerly.  A lovely sunrise was witnessed, however, it was clear that high in the distant south skies that a front was slowly approaching which would bring rain by the afternoon.
Walking east from St Mary's church it was great to see the hedgerows heavy with blackberry fruits, but many fruits are yet to ripen, a bit late this year.  I met a lovely lady from nearby North Pickenham who was picking blackberries, during our conversation about the late ripening of these fruits she told me that they should be eaten before October as folklore says blackberries will then be unfit to eat as the devil spits on them.  This folklore was new to me and I found the following during my research further into this, it reads:

Although Michaelmas is celebrated on the 29th September, when the calendar was reformed in 1752, “Old Michaelmas Day” was moved to the 10th October. Old Michaelmas Day is also called “Devil Spits Day”; it’s the last day that blackberries should be picked, according to old British folklore. This is known as the day that the Devil came to earth; he fell from the skies, straight onto a blackberry bush, whereupon he cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, stamped on them and then spat on them making them unfit to eat.

Blackcap (male) Houghton Common 15/09/13
Despite folklore suggesting that blackberries are unfit after Michaelmas, several species of birds will continue to enjoy eating blackberries sometimes until bushes are stripped.
Today was quite interesting as good numbers of Chiffchaffs were once again seen in dense Elder habitats as were Blackcaps.  I estimated at least 10+ Chiffchaffs congregated in one small area with others in woodland and other hedgerow habitats.  Several Linnets and Yellowhammers came and went during my visit.

Visible Migration
Wind direction did not really favour visible migration this morning, however, a very light passage of Meadow Pipits was seen following sunrise when a number of singles passed over from north to south.
Hopefully before September ends, and conditions are right, I will once again witness the passage of many hundreds of Meadow Pipits passing over Houghton, along maybe with scarcer migrants which I have also seen here, including Tree Pipit.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Little and Great Cressingham, Norfolk. (A good day for Raptors)

The wide open expanses of arable farmland within the Little and Great Cressingham parishes have always been attractive for breeding, passage, and wintering raptor species.  This area can appear quite bleak in winter, the large fields, hedgerows, and pockets of woodland hold wintering flocks of Waders, Finches, and Larks, this in turn brings scarce raptors like Peregrine and Merlin.
Wintering specialities will probably appear later in November, today however, brought some interesting raptor species as follows:

Tawny Owl 13/09/13 Little Cressingham
3 Common Buzzards
3 Sparrowhawks (singles)
1 Red Kite
1 Marsh Harrier (female)
1 Hobby
1 Tawny Owl

The first raptor of the morning was an expected Common Buzzard which was seen from Fairstead Lane approaching from the west, also a single Sparrowhawk seen near the village.
As I entered Green Lane, thoughts were with a Harrier species over the adjacent vast areas of farmland, then, whilst walking down the lane, a look over to my left revealed a female Marsh Harrier drifting low over stubble.  This bird was watched flying over a wide area of both stubble and Sugar Beet crops as well as close to the boundary hedgerows.  This is not an unexpected bird in this area of Breckland at this time of year, however, it is quite scarce nevertheless.
Green Lane, Little Cressingham has always been reliable for Tawny Owl and this morning a single bird was seen flying between trees until it was located for the attached photograph. The presence of this Owl attracted the attention of a scolding Chiffchaff
Later, whilst walking west along the Watton road towards Great Cressingham, a Sparrowhawk flew out of the roadside hedge, it was clear that it had just eaten due to the full crop.  A little further long the road closer to Great Cressingham a single Red Kite flying south was being mobbed by a single Crow species.
Priory Road, Great Cressingham is a lovely walk with good Oak-lined hedgerows with very large rolling arable fields adjacent to the south and mixed arable and grazing land to the north.  The walk east produced my third Sparrowhawk, flying from a hedge, and 2 Common Buzzards over arable and pine woodland.  Finally, a single Hobby was seen flying high and leisurely north, a migrant bird possibly.   

Monday, 9 September 2013

Little and Great Cressingham

A beautiful autumnal morning, quite cool and with misty patches in the valleys.  This morning I parked at Little Cressingham Mill and walked to Great Cressingham via Fairstead Lane, through the village and off along the Watton road to the Peddars Way, and then north back to Little Cressingham along the Peddars Way.
It was quite evident this morning that suitable isolated pockets of woodland habitats once again supported good numbers of migrant Warblers.

Long-tailed Tit (one of a pair) Little Cressingham
1 Grey Heron
1 Sparrowhawk
1 Kestrel
1 Tawny Owl
2 Common Buzzards
1 Kingfisher
2 Grey Wagtails
Swallows (inc. 30+ Gt. Cressingham)
House Martin (reduced numbers Lt Cressingham)
2+ Whitethroat
1 Lesser Whitethroat (Watton road Gt. Cress.)
Chiffchaff (inc. 10+ North bridge)
Long-tailed Tit
Coal Tit (widespread)

Green Lane, Little Cressingham, which forks off from Fairstead Lane, is a reliable locality for Tawny Owl and as I walked along the lane, a single bird was seen flying ahead of me on a couple of occasions. 
Walking down Chalk Hill in Great Cressingham a gathering overhead of 30+ Swallows was good to savour before they depart for warmer climes.
A check of the roadside hedgerows east of Great Cressingham towards the Peddars Way produced a Blackcap, also, a warbler flew over me between a gap in the hedge, further investigation eventually revealed this to be a Lesser Whitethroat.  This was typically a very immaculate looking bird, I managed to watch it briefly before it moved on and was able to see the beautiful dark grey head and ear-coverts, white throat, and whitish underparts.  Lesser Whitethroats in autumn have varaible amounts of white markings on the head, this bird had a thin white loral stripe (between the bill and eye).  A single, short, and thin "cht" was heard. 

North Bridge (Little Cressingham)
Walking south along the Peddars Way, I was approaching North Bridge down in the Watton Brook valley. This locality has always been reliable as a site for good species range and numbers, this being due to the the wide range of habitats here including mature Oak woodland, mixed roadside woodland habitats comprising Alder, Birch, Ash, Rowan, and Sallow, and lots of healthy ground cover of Bramble, Blackthorn, and Hawthorn.
This valuable habitat must at some time in the past (and hopefully in the future) played host to a scarce or rare migrant, however, despite only common species being seen, it was interesting to note that the numbers here indicated another previous nights arrival of migrants using the area as a staging post on their passage.
A good count of 10+ Chiffchaffs continued on from the previous mornings theme of obvious passage by this species. Chiffchaffs appeared to occupy all habitats here including high in Birch, birds at medium level and others close to the ground, my estimate of 10+ was surely at the low count.  Also in the area was Blackcap, Goldcrest, Great Tits, Long-tailed Tit (pair), and Robin.

Little Cressingham Windmill
The first most obvious thing I was aware of upon my arrival at the mill was the lack of good numbers of House Martins, a few were seen, however, most appeared to have departed for Africa.
I positoned myself where I could overview a thick belt of cover alongside Watton Brook.  2 Whitethroats made frequent appearances in Elder where they fed upon berries, also, in front of me in a large Sallow, 3 or 4 Chiffchaffs were seen and Blackcap was heard.
A single kingfisher darted past me and off along the brook and a short while later 2 Grey Wagtails did a couple of circuits in front of me. 
As I was preparing to leave, a quick check of the distant fields to the west produced lots of Crows and Wood Pigeons, also, a single large looking Sparrowhawk alighted on the ground before flying off north low over crops.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Houghton-on-the-Hill for migrants.

In September, I make many trips to Houghton-on-the-Hill to either watch visible migration (vismig), or to check for newly arrived birds which stop at this elevated locality to rest and feed whilst on passage.  There are specific habitats which are excellent sites for attracting migrants, one of these, a very dense patch of Elder, Bramble, Hawthorn, and Sallow, is where I spent most of my time just following sunrise. Following this, I went back to St Mary's Church where further migrants were found:

5+ Swallows south
House Martin
30+ Chiffchaff
25+ Blackcap
3 Whitethroat
1 Lesser Whitethroat
5 Greenfinch
c.20 Linnets
3+ Bullfinch (inc. juv male and female)

I set up by a small spring which has always supported good numbers of migrants over the years, this being due to its wealth of dense Elder and other fruiting bushes which provides excellent cover and feeding for migrant birds.  These habitats will be replicated throughout Norfolk and beyond and will provide valuable resting and feeding staging posts for passage birds.
Although initially quiet, it soon became apparent that large numbers of migrants had dropped in probably during the previous night.  Large numbers of Chiffchaff and Blackcaps were concentrated within this small site and it became impossible at times to focus on particular birds due to their numbers.  Occasionally, Blackcaps flew a short distance between the Elder clump to a nearby hedge, they passed in front of me one at time forming a continuous flow of birds.  I estimated that in this one small site 25+ Chiffchaffs and 20+ Blackcaps were present.
Chiffchaff at Houghton 8th Sept. '13.  One of many seen in the area.
Both species frequented mostly Elder and it was of most interest that one Elder bush held several male Blackcaps.
A single Lesser Whitethroat was all too briefly seen, initially, the early morning sun caught its white underparts makiing it very conspicuous against the green foilage.  This is a very smart looking Warbler and the brief views I did have of it through binoculars saw the dark grey head and ear coverts contrast strongly with the brilliant white throat. 
3+ Whitethroats were also seen.
More sedentary birds seen included at least 3 Bullfinches, their numbers comprised a juvenile male and female.  The juvenile male Bullfinch was beginning to develop red on its underparts although the head and crown remained without any black appearing more mousey-brown at this stage.

At St Mary's Church, it was evident that several Chiffchaffs were moving through cover of trees and bushes, including Elder where 2 or 3 birds visited to feed.
Blackcaps were also present in the churchyard, often giving their presence away by their tonque-clicking like "tak" calls.
Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrest, Great Tits, and Blue Tits were seen and heard around the spring near the church as well as nearby woodland.

It was clearly evident that previous night saw a large collective passage of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, it would be interesting if the followers of my blog saw high numbers of these species in their areas.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Goshawks at Great Cressingham

River valleys are excellent areas to visit in order to watch bird migration as the land either side of waterways have an abundance of vegetation which attracts migrating birds to feed and rest, additionally, these features also provide visual aids for birds on the move.
This morning I visited the Watton Brook valley near Great Cressingham for migrants, however, very much more was on offer which made this an excellent morning, initially however, the route to my destination was overgrown with nettles which made the going quite painful.
Some evidence of passage was seen this morning, however, the highlight goes to 3 Goshawks which appeared from the west and gave me my most prolonged observations I have ever had of this magnificent raptor.

Goshawks (Juv.) 07/09/13 Great Cressingham.  3 birds in total together.
6 Common Buzzards
3 Goshawks (2 juveniles)
2 Meadow Pipits (singles) overhead south
House Martin - light southerly passage
2 Swallows - south
1 Whitethroat
Blue Tits
Coal Tit
1 Reed Bunting

Goshawk (Juvenile) 7 Sept. '13 Great Cressingham
0920: Whilst positioned by the brook looking for migrants, I noticed a distant large raptor approaching a maize strip from the west. the wings were held level to the body, thus ruling out a Harrier or Buzzard species. I considered
Peregrine but then to my amazement I saw another 2 very large raptors appear and they were all Goshawks. 2 of these birds were confirmed as juveniles.
It appeared to me that the purpose of these Goshawks being here was for the third bird (presumed adult) to show the youngsters the benefits of hunting around maize strips where Pigeons and Partridges will congregate.
It was also interesting to see 2 juveniles sparring and chasing with each other, another skills honing lesson for this mighty raptor.
After watching the Goshawks for a while the birds eventually drifted off north-west, however, all 3 were seen again later, soaring low above woodland with at least 6 Common incredible sight.  It was at this time that the various differences between these raptors could be seen.
The protracted observation of these Goshawks today was without doubt one of my best encounters with this enigmatic raptor.