Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


What a difference a week makes.  With the snow gone and a significant recovery in temperatures, we are now basking in temperatures in double figures.

Parking at Threxton Church, I did a 4 mile circular walk from the church to Saham Hall, onto the Peddars Way, south to Little Cressingham, and back to Threxton.
Upon my arrival at Threxton Church, it was evident that there was quite a lot of bird activity, this included my first singing Treecreeper of the year, a sure sign of the forthcoming spring and breeding activity. Also noted in the area of the Church and the sewage treatment works was Goldcrest, one Common Buzzard and Stock Dove.
Overhead, a small party of 6 Whooper Swans flew in an easterly heading, these birds would have left their wintering grounds at Welney earlier in the morning for their long flight to their Russian breeding grounds.
Walking along the Saham to Great Cressingham road, a further flock of about 25 Whooper Swans were heading east in their familiar V formation. Another single Common Buzzard was seen in a roadside tree nearby. Bullfinches were in the roadside hedges.
At North Bridge on the Peddars Way north of Little Cressingham, a small flock of Goldfinches were in the Alders whilst several Bullfinches were seen and heard.  Redwings were also present.
In Little Cressingham village a Nuthatch was heard and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was 'drumming'.
Back at Threxton Church 4 Mistle Thrushes were seen.

My last visit to Thompson Water saw the surface completely frozen over.  Now much milder, I expected wildfowl to be present, however, it was strangely quiet with the exception of some calling Teal.
The damp woodland around the water held a single Cormorant, lots of Crows, and small passerine species.  Treecreepers and Goldcrests were noted whilst closer to the water in the reeds, Blue Tits fed amongst the reeds stems.  A Wren was watched at close range making itself 'mouse-like' through a number of wood-piles.  A number of Robins also seen and on the woodland floor Redwings and Blackbirds foraged amongst leaf-litter.  Overhead, Redpolls and Siskins were heard.
Strips of maize for gamebirds are always worth checking for Finch species, therefore, one particular strip adjacent to Thompson Grove was checked and a number of Bramblings and Chaffinches were bathing in anumber of puddles.

This Brambling was one of a number of birds bathing in the puddle by Thompson Grove. This particular bird is a male, as we approach Spring this delightful Finch will become brighter and the head will become a solid Black, whereas at the moment it still has it winter plumage.

LITTLE CRESSINGHAM (The Arms/Great Cressingham road)
The most notable feature of the weather of this short afternoon walk was the very strong south-westerly wind.
A couple of pairs of Bullfinches were seen in the roadside hedges bringing the daily total to at least 12 birds seen.
A small party of 8 Redwings were seen and a single Sparrowhawk battled the strong wind at Hopton Farm.  

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Hockham Forest and Fen (early-mid p.m.)

Snow still carpets the countryside, however, it was evident that there has been a slight thaw with some previously frozen puddles and ditches free of ice and with some running water.
The walk from the car down to Hockham Fen produced a couple of Goldcrests, typically, as with cold wintry weather, these tiny little jewels foraged on the ground amongst leaf litter where they have a better chance of finding food.  By the end of the afternoon, at least 5 Goldcrests were seen, including a single bird drinking from melt-water on one of the forest rides.
Goldcrest Great Hockham 24/01/13

As I was approaching Hockham Fen, a single Snipe flew up from the base of a bush, presumably the slighly softer ground there would have provided good feeding.  I watched the Snipe fly a circuit over the nearby woodland and then saw it descend onto a ride close to where melt-wster would again provide an opportunity for the bird to drink/feed.  I relocated the Snipe exactly where I thought it would be in an area which has seen flood-water for some time. 
Hockham Fen itself was reasonably quiet, however, one Kestrel and a Stock Dove was seen.
Several Robins were seen, usually on the ground where they were eeking out a living, whilst overhead, Redpolls were heard.
The return journey to Watton produced a further Kestrel in a roadside tree and some Fieldfare and Blackbirds on roadside verges feeding on the softer ground.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Hockham Fen and Merton

I took Toby, my beautiful border Collie for a walk along the forest trails leading down to the fen.  Everywhere was eerily quiet, however, overhead, unseen Crossbills, Redpolls, and Siskins were heard, no doubt these birds had just left their roost sites in the forest.

Another local birding spot is Merton Park, specifically, the churchyard where commanding views over the estate can be had.  Merton Park is the seat of Lord Walsingham, this is a beautiful estate comprising extensive mature woodland and parkland, part of which is accessed as the Peddars Way footpath passes around the periphery of the estate. 
The ancestors of the current Lord Walsingham collected a variety of tree specimens from around the world as well as native trees to enhance the extensive 'Merton Wood'. These trees are now large, mature specimens.
My knowledge of some tree specimens is a bit limited, however, a walk around the Peddars Way will bring you into contact with some fantastic trees specimens.
Today's visit to Merton Park produced a pair of Egyptian Geese courting and flying/chasing around the park.  This species was introduced into Norfolk in the late 17th century as an ornamental species for the enhancement of parks and estates, now the species breeds commonly on my Breckland patch.

Egyptian Goose 
Very little variety seen this morning with most birds seeking warmth in the woodlands in the area, however, a few Redwings passed overhead.
A single Treecreeper was working trees around the entrance to the churchyard and a Green Woodpecker flew directly in front of me within a few feet. 
A Robin searched leaf litter around the edge of the churchyard, it would often search the ground where the resident Shetland Ponies had been.
Robin Merton Park 20/01/13

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Thompson Water, Hockham, and notes from the garden.

Further light snow falls overnight gave a fresh covering on the already moderate amounts blanketing this area of Norfolk.
Thompson Water 19/01/13
I visited Thompson Water this morning knowing that there will be little to be seen as I knew the surface would be frozen over, nevertheless, small numbers of Teal and a pair of Mute Swans were roosting on the ice.
A walk through the woodland that runs from Thompson Water to Thompson Common produced 30+ Siskins feeding silently in the crown of a couple of Alders.  Also in the woodland, typical species encountered included Green Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, and Goldcrests.

 A number of common species visited my garden today including this fine Goldfinch.  Also seen were Greenfinches, Chaffinches, several Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Starling, and at least 2 Coal Tits.
Collared Doves are a daily occurrence as are Wood Pigeons.

Hockham (mid-late afternoon).  Not a great variety of species seen on this visit to the Galleyhill area, although the expected Coal Tit, Blue Tits, and Goldcrest, were feeding high in the crown of pine trees.
A number of Wrens were seen, these delightful little birds will probably find some warmth deep within the thick layers of dead bracken on the woodland floor during hours of darkness.
Driving along the lane back to the main Watton to Thetford road, several Blackbirds were seen on the woodland floor feeding amongst the leaf litter.

Little Cressingham (Green Lane and The Arms)

A blanket of white still covers the land with the threat of further snow-falls to come.  The morning started reasonably bright although cloud was building with some light snow flurries by the afternoon.

Although at first Green Lane appeared quiet, as I walked along the lane, several Redwings and Blackbirds were seen on the ground, especially in sheltered areas where leaf litter was free from snow, thus providing foraging areas for the Thrushes.
Good numbers of Bullfinches were on the move along the lane, with a single flock of at least 7 birds, a decent count.
Other than the usual high counts of Wood Pigeons, very little else was seen along Green Lane.

Also within the Little Cressingham parish at The Arms, a traditional site for good numbers of Finches and Buntings was productive.  The roadside hedges approaching The Arms is always chosen for a maize strip for game cover and feeding.  This visit produced 100+ birds including Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, Chaffinches, and Bramblings.
A single Common Buzzard passed over the field scattering Wood Pigeons as it did so.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Little Cressingham

A much better today with the fog gone and good visibility, although the light was poor due to leaden skies.
My birding today took me along a 4 mile route from 'The Arms' to Green Lane within the Little Cressingham parish.  With the persistent fog of yesterday, I expected to see more in the way of raptor species making up for a lost days hunting etc.
The start of my walk produced Nuthatch, Treecreeper, and Coal Tit all within a small patch of woodland at The Arms.  Walking north towards the B1108 road several Bullfinches were seen flying in and out of cover.
Looking west from 'Hopton Bridge' the first of todays 9 Common Buzzards was seen, although, the possibility of duplication of the same bird may be a possibility.
Walking towards 'The Fairstead' a party of 100+ Lapwings were wheeling around the sky, it is likely that many of these birds are of continental origin.
Looking distantly towards the west in the Watton Brook Valley, hundreds of Wood Pigeons scattered, thus indicating the presence of a large raptor species, although I did not see one.
Walking back towards The Arms on the Great Cressingham road, a large strip of maize once again produced high numbers of Finch and Buntings species.  Chaffinches, Greenfinches, and Yellowhammers totalled 3 figure counts, also seen was smaller numbers of Reed Buntings whilst on the roadside verge Goldfinches and about 20 Redpolls fed upon weedseeds including fathen.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Plenty heard, little seen.

HOCKHAM FEN (Dawn until 1000hrs)
Setting off from home at about 0730, fog was beginning to form and indeed, thick fog remained all day.  The walk to Hockham Fen was very wet with standing water on the forest floor, some of which came over my walking boots - thank god for gortex.
With visibility down to about 50 meters or less, Hockham Fen was completely shrouded in fog, despite this it was evident that waterfowl were present in good numbers. 
As with the previous evening, large numbers of Teal were present and it was going to be a challenge estimating their numbers.  Smallish flocks of Teal occasionally relocated on the fen, it was at these times when they came close enough to be seen reasonably well, however, one flock of Teal numbered 100+ birds with many more out of sight calling within the dense rushy cover.  Teal were the most vocal species as well with their incessant but lovely "kleep" call being heard.
Other wildfowl seen included 7 Shoveler and several calling Mallard.  One Grey Heron briefly alightd before flying off again.
The only passerine species seen was a male Great Spotted Woodpecker, singing Song Thrush, and Treecreeper.

The walk back along the forest trail brought me a close encounter with several Highland Cattle which graze the woodland and fen as part of the management plan.  These magnificent beasts vary in colours from Blacks, White, and the typical Reds, and some have fantastic sets of horns.  These Highland Cattle are very docile beasts and allow close approach and rarely move for you even if you have a dog with you.  It is probably good advice to wait for the animal to move for you if you have a dog, as a lunging dog could possibly spook the animal. 

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Little Cressingham at dawn followed by a cracking visit to Hockham Fen at dusk.

An early hours walk around the Clermont Estate produced 3 calling Tawny Owls.  This is a common species throughout the Brecks and Norfolk and the mature woodlands on my patch will provide a good supply of breeding habitat.
At Saham Hall a singing Mistle Thrush was heard whilst further along the lane at Threxton sewage plant, many Goldcrests were heard in the leylandii which form a screen around the site.  Sewage treatment works are always worth checking out for small passerine species as these places form a micro-climate where small insect/midge species provide good feeding, whilst the conifer screen provides cover and warmth to roost within.

HOCKHAM FEN (Late afternoon/sunset)
Walking along one of the forest trails which lead to Hockham Fen, typical species associated with conifer woodland were heard including Goldcrests, Treecreeper, and Coal Tit.
Approaching Hockham Fen, it was evident that lots of Teal were on the site, once there, large numbers of Teal were clearly present and although only spring of 30+ Teal were seen, I would estimate that the true numbers of birds would have been in three-figures.
Also present on the fen was at least 5 Grey Herons, a Mute Swan and Mallard.
Brambling was heard overhead, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and single Fieldfare passed over.
At about 1530, I saw a large bird passing over woodland at tree-top height, looking at it through binoculars, it was a large Goshawk (probably female), this raptor was seen for a few seconds before descending into the woodland habitat at Cranberry Rough.  This Goshawk was just awesome, it was effortless and steady in its glide over the trees, very large, and deep-chested, and if not well-fed, any Crow or Pigeon would do well to show this immensely powerful hawk the greatest respect.
Just prior to leaving Hockham Fen, a small party of 6 Pied Wagtails passed over in a westerly heading to their roost site.   

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

An excellent start to 2013.

An early morning 4 mile walk with Toby my Border Collie started at Church Farm, the route took me to Little Cressingham, along the Peddars Way, onto Saham Hall, and back to my start point.
The ususal noise of traffic on the nearby B1108 was today absent with most people presumably laying in following New Year celebrations.
The first birds of the new year was a couple of calling Tawny Owls, one at Threxton House, the other at Church Farm.   Walking north along the Peddars Way from Little Cressingham, a hint of daylight appeared in the east. A Woodcock silhouetted against the dawn sky flew south towards the Watton Brook Valley.
The remaining two miles of this walk produced a single Common Buzzard, some Fieldfare, Goldcrest, and Treecreeper.

 Excellent visibility greeted my arrival at Thompson Water this morning and within minutes of overviewing from the raised bank, a Peregrine flew low over the water and then off into STANTA.  This large Falcon was silhouetted against the east sky and rising sun, however, I just managed to glimpse the white facial patch.
On the water itself, 10+ Mute Swans and a pair of Mallard were seen.  Small numbers of distant Teal were moving about in a small patch of surface vegetation.
Around the water, a singing Cetti's Warbler was in the dense waterside scrub, also Nuthatch and a singing Mistle Thrush were heard.  7 Cormorants were present.
A Green Woodpecker called once, Marsh Tit was heard and a Goldcrest moved through Birch scrub. 
Several Redwings were seen on the woodland floor as I left Thompson Water.

A walk along Fairstead and Green Lane produced good numbers of Fieldfares and Starlings, and in the hedgerow along Green Lane, a party of Long-tailed Tits were wandering through.  At Little Cressingham windmill, 7+ Moorhens, Mallard, and a hunting Kestrel were seen.