Breckland Birder

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

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Stone Curlews are back

GREAT CRESSINGHAM and SOUTH PICKENHAM
The last day of March, the first day of British Summer time, and the country continues to be in the grip of the coldest March for 50 years.  With the likelihood that April will start where March left off, it would seem that further low temperatures will make the record books.  This familiar theme will in turn impact upon the arrival dates of summer migrants.  Clearly when conditions turn for the better, a greater urgency to secure and hold territories will be a priority for those species which visit to breed.

At dawn today, I set off from Great Cressingham and headed for South Pickenham via Valley Farm, once in the village, I followed the footpath west from South Pickenham to Cockley Cley Clump.  A reminder of the Second World War is seen by the path in the form of an air-raid shelter, this structure is also a reminder that North Pickenham has a disused WW11 airfield which during the war hosted both British and American bomber squadrons.  Several massive wind turbines now stand on the former airfield.  The path then turns south following farm tracks to Great Cressingham wood and then back to my start point.
Although the area covered today was for the most part arable, it does have a real Breckland feel to it in that the soil is light, the tracks are very sandy, and the land is very flinty.  Several plantations of conifers occur here as does the mature woodland habitat that is Great Cressingham Wood. 

Observations
The drive in to Great Cressingham at dawn saw a Little Owl sitting in an Oak where it was probably looking into the wide grass verge for a meal.
The South Pickenham estate has some very fine parkland along with beautiful Oak, Beech, Larch, and mixed woodland habitat, this in turn supports a wide variety of bird species, and this morning included Common Buzzard (4), Sparrowhawk hunting at speed through woodland, ‘drumming’ Great Spotted Woodpecker, calling Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch (2), and singing Goldcrest.  A small flock of Fieldfares were ‘chacking’ in the tree-tops.  A number of calling Jays were probably angrily responding to the hunting Sparrowhawk.
A single male Golden Pheasant was located on the woodland floor. Despite the bright colours of this species, it can be easily lost to view within the tangle of cover.    
The wide expanse of farmland along this route is good for Stone Curlew, this Breckland speciality generally arrives with us from mid-march, however, I could not locate one today.  Due to its highly cryptic appearance, I am sure there was one out there somewhere watching me.
A large number of Gulls were ‘put up’ over farmland, viewing through binoculars, the probable culprit was another Sparrowhawk which was being chased by a Crow species.
The end of the farmland trail brought me out opposite Great Cressingham Fen, this beautiful SSSI site held a singing Snipe, the song is a repeated “chip-per chip-per chip-per chip-per”, sadly, this song is not heard as frequently as in years gone by.
As I approached the village of Great Cressingham, the ever-present Tree Sparrows (20+) were in the roadside hedgerow at Water End Farm – this has always been a reliable site for this scarce and declining species.
An overview of the water meadows along the River Wissey valley produced Fieldfare, Redwing, Grey Heron (1), Egyptian Goose, and a singing Reed Bunting.

BODNEY
A late afternoon walk close to STANTA (Stanford Army Training Area) produced 140+ Lapwings in a field. The majority of these beautiful birds will be of continental origin.
The bird of the day goes to a single Stone Curlew (my first of the year) which was sheltering from the cold east wind along a field margin, as it flew off it showed off its stunning Black and White wing pattern – a cracking bird.
Also noted was a single Common Buzzard, a pair of Common Curlew (including singing/displaying male), and a pair of Oystercatchers feeding in a flood meadow.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

'Mountain Blackbird' on the patch.

Little Cressingham
Winter continue to hold its grip with no sign of a let-up and throughout the whole day, frequent sleet and snow showers were driven along on a fresh easterly wind.
An early morning walk with my collie Toby around Little Cressingham produced Barn Owls at 2 localities.
On School Road, Little Cressingham, a single male Reeve's Pheasant was seen close to the Clermont estate.  This spectacular Pheasant was introduced into the UK in the early 19th century for sport.  Reeve's Pheasant normal range is in the forested mountains of China, however, they appear to have adapted to their surroundings in this area of Breckland where a small population survives.  My best count of this species was of 6 male birds near Little Cressingham in March 2012.  Reeve's Pheasant is a large bird and has been noted for being aggressive towards humans.  The species holds a record for having the longest tail feather of any bird in the world.

Ring Ouzel in Breckles, Norfolk 30/03/13
Breckles
A previously written in recent posts, summer migrants are very thin on the ground at the current time due to the persistent easterly wind which is blocking migration into the UK from Europe, however, a superb male Ring Ouzel was in a paddock alongside the A1075 road at Breckles just south of Watton in Norfolk.  This bird will be feeding and building reserves before continuing its passage to the uplands and mountains of Britain or Europe where it will breed.  This attractive Thrush is often known as the 'Mountain Blackbird' as it replaces the more familiar Blackbird at altitude.  The distinctive features of this Ring Ouzel makes it an unmistable species with its White breast cresent and silvery edges to the primary feathers.


                                        
Thompson
An afternoon walk along Drove Lane, Thompson, produced a mixed flock of Fieldfare (30+), Goldfinches (50+), and small numbers of Starlings, feeding on grazing land adjacent to the path.  It is worthy of note at this point to highlight that Ring Ouzels will travel within flocks of Fieldfares whilst they on their northerly passage.

Friday, 29 March 2013

MERTON PARK

Merton Park is a large area of deciduous woodland, arable, and blocks of Pine woodland owned by the De Grey (Lord Walsingham) family. The Peddars Way footpath follows the periphery of this park and abuts the large STANTA (Stanford Training Area) army training area.  It was the current Lord Walsingham who some years ago, allowed the Peddars Way to traverse his land. Previously, walkers would have to have left the Peddars Way path at Thompson and walk around the Merton estate and meet up with the path again in Merton village.  It is to Lord Walsingham that I offer my thanks for allowing the path to cross his land where walkers and birders can see some very fine examples of both conifer and deciduous trees, including a huge Copper Beech, one of the largest I have seen.  A small section of this Peddars Way has a stand of massive Giant Hogweed, warning signs alert the walker to these incredible plants which can cause severe irritation if touched.

This mornings walk around the Merton estate follows a similar theme to my recent local walks in that not a single summer migrant was heard.  As I have previously written, the persistent easterly winds are blocking the progress of species of Warblers which would have been expected to have been present in good numbers by this date in usual years.  I am sure that some birds have made it through, however, the vast majority will arrive in force once warmer conditions and southerly winds allow passage.

Common species seen and heard this morning included a number of singing and calling Marsh Tits, this noisy Tit announces itself either with its loud "pitchou" call or its rapidly repeated "chip chip chip chip" song.
Also heard was a number of singing Coal Tits (our smallest Tit species) and Great Tits, along with calling and singing Treecreepers.  Several Nuthatches were also heard and Goldcrest was singing. Several Great Spotted Woodpeckers were 'drumming' and Green Woodpecker was heard giving its familiar 'yaffle' call.
The only raptor seen this morning wa a single Common Buzzard.

At the end of my walk at Merton village hall, at least 30 Tree Sparrows were again present. This beautiful Sparrow is a reliable species at this locality.

With April almost upon us, efforts will be made over the forthcoming Easter weekend to find a Warbler species.  Let's hope they arrive safely in these unseasonal temperatures.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

THOMPSON: Easterlies have migration on hold.

It looks nice from inside the house but outside that biting easterly wind continues to blow with a wind-chill of below freezing.  We are almost at the end of March and still, I have not found a Chiffchaff on my patch. Usually, by this date, the local woodlands will have Chiffchaffs and a few early Blackcaps singing and establishing their territories, however, the persistence of this cold easterly wind is blocking migration.  There must be tens of thousands of Warblers on the near continent waiting for fortunes to change in the weather, when this does happen, there will be an urgency in their passage to get back to their territories and get on with the business of breeding. 

This morning I was out at dawn in woodland at Thompson, in fact, I walked from Thompson Water to Thompson Common and back hoping for Chiffchaff.  Despite the absence of summer migrants, there was plenty of evidence of common resident species singing and defending their territories. Several Treecreepers were heard including a couple of singing males, and Nuthatches were also quite vocal. 2 singing Marsh Tits were heard giving their loud and rapidly repeated "chip chip chip chip" song. Great Tits were also heard as was the odd Coal Tit whilst on the woodland floor, a number of Redwings were foraging amongst the leaf-litter.  Overhead, several Siskins were heard.
A number of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were 'drumming' and one particular male responded to my tapping on a tree with a stone.  Try it - sit quietly in an area where you hear a 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpecker and give a few taps on a tree (preferably dead wood for good resonance), the Woodpecker will fly around the tree-tops above you investigating the sound and may come quite close, however, don't put him off for too long as he needs to get on with the business at hand of maintaining a hold on his territory.
A short visit to Thompson Water produced singing Cetti's Warbler, a pair of Great Crested Grebes, Teal calling from within cover, Coot, a couple of Cormorants, 1 Greylag Goose, a pair of Mute Swans, and a Grey Heron which flew in from the north-east.

Let's hope that the forthcoming Easter Bank Holiday weekend sees the safe arrival of the first summer migrants. 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Thompson Water, Norfolk.

Thompson Water lies about 4 miles south of Watton within the Breckland area of Norfolk. The Peddars Way long distance footpath passes between the southern boundary of the water and the large army training area known as STANTA (Stanford Training Area).  This beautiful mere which is now managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, was excavated along the route of a tributary of the River Wissey in 1847.
Thompson Water is a large body of water which is for the most part encircled by reed-beds and dense, scrubby, Willow habitat, this in turn is entirely surrounded by mature woodland carr comprising mostly of Oak and Birch with an under-storey of some very fine Holly specimens.
The following is an insight into the birdlife which can be expected to be seen at Thompson Water along with some of my rare and scarce species seen.
Thompson Water 1st January 2013
WINTER
Despite being only 4 miles from Watton, Thompson Water can have a very desolate feel to it in winter with the only evidence of human activity being the sudden sound of gunfire from nearby STANTA.
Winter Duck species can appear in their hundreds on Thompson Water in winter, however, on other occasions there may be little evidence of life on the water, this is probably due to birds relocating to a nearby mere within inaccessible STANTA following disturbance.
Teal have been present on Thompson Water in three-figure counts, also good numbers of Pochard, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, and Shoveler have been seen.  Scarcer species which visit during cold weather includes Goosander, Goldeneye, Smew, and Pintail.  Resident Mute Swans are occasionally joined by small numbers of Bewick’s and Whooper Swans.
Most winters sees Thompson Water hosting a Bittern, this Heron species is usually seen flying from the cover of  a dense patch of reeds to another, however, during icy weather, the bird may be seen breaking cover of the reeds to walk on the ice.  Water Rails also visit in winter, this highly secretive species may be glimpsed working its way through the cover of reeds although it is more likely that the squealing pig-like call is heard.  I suspect that Water Rail has bred at this locality.
Providing the water is not frozen, a Kingfisher adds colour to the dullest of days as it flashes by between perches.
On cold days, the distinctive loud song of Cetti’s Warbler can be heard breaking the silence.  The first pioneer Cetti’s Warbler arrived at Thompson Water in March 2007, I always suspected this bird, which initially arrived in the UK in Norfolk in 1974, would eventually arrive at Thompson.
Raptor species are well represented at Thompson Water.  Common Buzzards are a daily occurrence, as our Sparrowhawk, Kestrel.  A scarcer visitor is Goshawk, this powerful raptor has been seen chasing Crows and Pigeons over the water, or just gliding majestically from one side of the water to the other.  Peregrine Falcon is seen occasionally at Thompson Water, my most recent bird occurred on 1st January 2013.
The winter woodland around Thompson Water holds species typically associated with damp, deciduous woodland habitat. Tit species include the noisy Marsh Tit, Great, Blue, and Coal Tits, and rarely, a buzzing call announces that Willow Tit is present.
Nuthatches, Treecreepers, and all three Woodpecker species occur.
Mixed flocks of Siskins and Redpolls sometimes number in their hundreds and may be found feeding in either Silver Birch or Alders.
Another winter visitor which occurs quite commonly is the Brambling, this beautiful Finch often passes overhead and announces itself with its nasally “zweeup” call.
A Breckland speciality is the Crossbill, this species is encountered quite frequently and following irruptions from the continent, some flocks are quite large.
Hawfinch is a very elusive species which can be a challenge for any birder due to its very flighty nature. I have yet to see Hawfinch at Thompson Water, however, I have seen this enormous Finch close by along the Peddars Way.  A friend of mine saw a single Hawfinch over-fly the water in summer 2012.
I have found rare and uncommon species at Thompson Water, on one such occasion, February 24th 1996, whilst overlooking the water, a Black-throated Diver arrived on the water from the south.  I noticed that this bird was slightly oiled and on February 27th 1996, this bird was very sadly found dead.  This record coincided with a number of other Black-throated Divers around the UK which were found to be oiled, clearly, a testament to mans’ lack of respect for the environment.
Another uncommon visitor to Thompson Water, and indeed my only record to date, was of a pair of Bearded Tits (December 1993) which were seen in the reeds and giving their distinctive ‘pinging’ call.

                 Goosander - a winter visitor to Thompson Water
 
SPRING
I will start of my spring summary by writing about the rarest bird that I personally have found.  On March 31st 1999, whilst walking to Thompson Water, I heard a very strange call unlike anything I had ever heard before.  Once at the water I saw a strange bird, which resembled an oversized Little Grebe, close to the reeds on the opposite bank, looking at it through my binoculars I was in a state of disbelief because I was looking at a PIED-BILLED GREBE.  This is an American Grebe species and this bird constitutes the second record for Norfolk, the first occurred near Welney 9th to the 12th November 1968.  This Pied-billed Grebe remained at Thompson Water until 11th May.  I was able to call my good friend Micky Stainthorpe and his son Matthew who also enjoyed this potentially once in a lifetime bird for Norfolk.
Early Spring can still have a feel of winter to it, however, Great Crested Grebes arrive back at Thompson Water and have acquired their beautiful headdresses for the forthcoming breeding season.
The woodland around the water becomes alive with the sound of common bird song and ‘drumming’ Woodpeckers, including Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, are heard, then, by mid-March, the first returning summer migrants are heard, these are generally Chiffchaff which are closely followed by Blackcap and Willow Warbler.
As the days begin to lengthen, further returning migrants are either heard or seen, these include the first Sand Martins and Swallows which are seen hawking for insects over the water or skillfully taking a drink from the waters surface.
The reed-beds around the water also attract migrants which come to breed; the commonest of these are Reed and Sedge Warblers, the latter generally arriving late March or early April.
As April gathers pace, later arrivals include Garden Warbler.  This relatively common Warbler is sure to test the novice birder with its song as it has some comparison to the commoner Blackcap, once the distinctive characteristics of the songs are learnt the differences are quite noticeable.
Thompson Water is also a good site for raptor watching. Common Resident species include Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, and Kestrel, these are joined by passage Osprey in Spring which may to stay for a couple of days whilst heading north to breed. Marsh Harrier also passes through on migration in April and on one occasion (Spring 1993), I saw the much rarer Montagu’s Harrier pass through on a particularly warm evening. 
Cuckoos are present in good numbers in the area with 2 or 3 calling birds being heard from the water and often a calling male will be seen in the tops of one of the trees at this site.  Clearly, a number of host species have the potential for being parasitised by Cuckoo.
Close to Thompson Water, a number of Breckland specialities can be heard, these include calling Stone Curlew, Common Curlew, and Woodlark. The latter species occasionally passes over Thompson Water whilst performing its beautiful song-flight. During the hours of darkness, the enigmatic Woodcock performs its strange ‘roding’ display flight whilst in nearby Tawny Owls call as does the much scarcer Long-eared Owl.
For me the raptor highlight at Thompson Water occurs in April when Hobby arrives.  This spectacular Falcon breeds in the area, however, I have seen double figures on warm evenings gathering over the water to feed upon insect prey which are snatched mid-air and eaten on the wing. Hobbies also hunt Swallows, Martins, and Swifts, and it is a marvel watching this most agile Falcon twist and turn in the sky whilst in pursuit of its prey.  I have even seen Hobby take insects from plants on the waters surface.


                   Garden Warbler May 2012 Thompson Water
SUMMER
Mid to late summer sees wader passage at Thompson Water, the most reliable species to be seen will be over-flying and calling Greenshank and Green Sandpiper.  Common Sandpipers can be seen resting on one of the many fishing platforms.
Most species are busily feeding young at this time of year and attention often turns to insect species, if you can stand the myriads of biting Mosquito’s.  Warm summer evenings attracts Hobbies over the water which will hunt Dragonflies and other winged insects, their skill at chasing, turning with supreme agility, and dismembering insects, is breathtaking.  Swallows, Sand Martins, House Martins, and Swifts, all visit Thompson Water in order to feed and gather insects for their young. All of these species are potential prey for the Hobby.   Later in summer, adult Hobbies are joined by their young; the younger birds sit, watch, learn, and then hone hunting skills from their parents.
Another Breckland speciality is the Nightjar; this is another enigmatic species whose strange ‘churring’ song can be heard from a heath close to Thompson Water.
Warbler species can be seen flying to and from their nest-sites feeding their young, and having fledged, not only can their plumages provide a challenge to the novice birder (and me sometimes), their wide variety of squeaks, whistles, and chirps, can all be very testing at times.

AUTUMN
Many of our summer migrants would have departed with the onset of autumn, however, some later Warbler species hang on feeding up on a variety of fruits in order to build their fat reserves for the long journey ahead of them.  This time of year also witnesses passage species dropping into Thompson Water as well the first winter visitor arrivals.  It is a very testing time seeing large numbers of birds, different age groups, summer visitors hanging on, and winter visitors arriving, this mix can provide a real challenge, but that is the beauty of birding.  The sheer varieties of common species are undoubtedly joined by something rarer.
As with spring migration, an Osprey may visit Thompson Water to feed and build energy reserves for their migration to Africa.  Early autumn continues to witness Hobbies at Thompson Water; their young are becoming superb aerial hunters just like their parents.
Winter Thrushes arrive in October including large numbers of Fieldfares, Redwings, and Blackbirds. Along with these a variety of Finches join the mix including Siskins, Redpolls, Bramblings, and Crossbills.
Some unusual species also drop in or pass over Thompson Water in autumn.  Picture the scene: A very good friend and birder, Gary Nutbourne called me at home on 24th October 1993 to say he saw an unusual Diver species on Thompson Water. I met Gary shortly afterwards at Thompson Water but could not locate a Diver species, however, I was watching a Sparrowhawk soaring above the wood when a strange Crow came into view, raising my binoculars I exclaimed "it’s a ******* Hoodie".  This was a Hooded Crow, a rare bird in inland Norfolk. 
With autumn descending into winter, attention turns to the water for good numbers of Duck species, as well as something a bit more unusual such as Goldeneye, but also, the woodland, where mixed flocks of Tit species along with Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Goldcrests, and perhaps a wintering Chiffchaff or Blackcap move through in search of food..
Despite the odd gloomy, dull day, a Cetti’s Warbler continues to give a burst of its explosive song and thoughts of next spring maintains focus on this very beautiful site.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Siskins




















Most of my birding today was done in the garden as I wanted to get some shots of Siskins.  These delightful little Finches have been visiting the garden for a few days now, however, today, at least 8 birds were present.  These Siskins will be feeding up in readiness for their migration to Scandinavia to breed.
A male Siskin has been singing on and off throughout his stay, his song includes the familiar long and drawn out buzzing note.  His plumage is brighter than the female bird and he has the diagnostic black cap and bib which is lacking in the duller female bird.

I addition, to these Siskins, small numbers of Goldfinches have been visiting the garden and Blackbird and Dunnock are nest-building.
A single Common Buzzard passed overhead mid-afternoon.


Monday, 18 March 2013

The Cetti’s Warbler at Thompson Water, Norfolk

With the expansion of its range from its original foothold in the Norfolk Broads in 1974, it was inevitable that Cetti’s Warbler would one day reach Thompson Water.  I always suspected that this would happen one day and then, in March 2007, I received a telephone call from Ian Cook who told me he heard a strange bird song at Thompson Water whilst he was fishing. Having got him to describe the song my thoughts were of Cetti’s Warbler.
Later that day, I visited Thompson Water and suspicions were confirmed when I both heard and saw Cetti’s Warbler close to on the raised bank.  Further visits to this site saw a continuation of observations of the bird along with song being heard, however, these visits were rewarded in spring of 2007 when I saw both male and female Cetti’s Warbler moving through undergrowth close to with the female carrying nesting material.
The male Cetti’s Warbler continued to sing and unusually he was often seen on exposed perches.  Previous searches of this species at other sites have been difficult; however, my first superb views of this often secretive bird occurred on my home patch.
Between the arrival date of Cetti’s Warbler at Thompson Water and the to the time of writing (March 2013), I have counted a maximum of 5 singing birds around the water (summer 2012), this is an excellent increase in numbers of territories, it also demonstrates the resilience of Cetti’s Warbler given that we have had two severe winters since that pioneer bird of 2007.  Song is not only confined to the breeding season, given that this species is resident, it can also be heard giving its loud burst of song even on the coldest, murkiest days of winter.
The habitat around the periphery of Thompson Water is very much suited to Cetti’s Warbler with dense reed-beds and swampy tangled Willow scrub for cover and breeding. 
Due to its secretive nature it is more likely that visitors to Thompson Water will hear this enigmatic Warbler giving its explosive song from the dense cover around the water, however, if you do see a Warbler species in a thicket with warm red-brown upperparts and a broad, often cocked tail, it is likely to be a Cetti’s Warbler and if it sings, I can guarantee that you will be surprised by the volume of the song for the size of the bird.

 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Merton and East Wretham

MERTON
An early morning walk around Merton Park produced good numbers of Fieldfares on land west of Home Farm Lane. Although uncounted, it appeared that their numbers totalled three-figures. These winters visitors are on passage for Northern Europe and have stopped to re-fuel before continuing their journey after dark.
At Merton village hall, 30+ Tree Sparrows were gathered in Hawthorns. This has always been a reliable site for this nationally declining species.

EAST WRETHAM
Whilst driving through East Wretham village, a pair of Barn Owls were seen on a protected area of land close to the army camp.
My arrival at East Wretham Heath nature reserve coincided with the start of light rain, as I ventured out onto the large expanse of heath east of the A1075, the rain became persistent and moderately heavy.  This belt of rain eventually passed to give a few brighter spells.
Typically, large numbers of Rooks noisily called from a belt of Scots Pines along the southern boundary.  A Meadow Pipit passed overhead.
Along the eastern boundary of the heath, where the main Norwich to Thetford rail line passes, a single Woodcock was disturbed from an area of Bracken and scrub.
Very little was seen on the heath (to be perfectly honest I didn't look due to the rain which made going uncomfortable), so I therefore concentrated my efforts in nearby Pine woodland.  Singing and calling Goldcrests, and singing Mistle Thrush were heard and a pair of Yellowhammers (including singing male) was seen.  A Wren was close to where I was sitting and skulked through tangled ground-cover in a mouse-like fashion.  A single Siskin passed overhead.
A hunting Kestrel was seen off by an angry Crow species.


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Stow Bedon and Ashill

A very dull today with frequent rain showers or drizzle driven along on by a fresh south-west wind. Visibility was fair to good although light was generally poor.
I was hoping today for the possible sign of the first summer migrants on my patch, both Chiffchaff and Wheatear can be expected to appear around the middle of March, however, I didn't see or hear any of these earlier species - I am sure they are out there somewhere!!

STOW BEDON MERE
This beautiful, small, ancient mere, has an 'African Queen' feel to it in that it is very swampy with tall reeds and tangled woodland.  In spring and summer this site is alive with a variety of Warbler species including both Sedge and Reed Warbler and given the small size of the mere these birds can be observed closely.
No sign of any summer migrants today, however, the woodland held a good range of species.  Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, Great Tit (pair), Long-tailed Tit (pair), WrenGoldcrest, and Jay were all seen or heard.
On the mere itself, a few Teal occupied the more swampy areas.  This has been a great winter for Teal with good numbers at several sites including maybe a 4 figure counts at one site on my patch. Also seen on the mere was a pair of Gadwall, a few Mallard, and Moorhen.

ASHILL (The Common to Quidney Farm)
This road, which is about 1.5 miles in length runs out at Quidney Farm, passes over a bridge under which the former Watton to Swaffham rail line ran.  The disused line has steep banks either side with a wealth of trees and bushes for both breeding and migrant species to use. 
Ashill is one of the higher parts of Norfolk and over the years of I have found some good birds in the area including passage Wheatear, Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, breeding Warblers, and Quail (probably bred).  Encouragingly, this area also seems to have a good concentration of breeding Turtle Doves - a declining species in the UK.
Birds seen today: 10+ Golden Plover, a flock of 8 Skylarks, a single Siskin, 50+ Starlings, and interestingly a Buzzard species which appeared to have a rufous-coloured tail - possibly an escaped Red-tailed Hawk.
On a sad note, a Badger was found dead in a roadside ditch.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

HILBOROUGH and LITTLE CRESSINGHAM

HILBOROUGH (Swaffham Gap)
Yellowhammer (female) Hilborough 12/03/13

Forest clearfell are valuable habitats here in Breckland, especially following recent felling and the planting of saplings.  This was the case today when I visited two cleared areas, both of which had singing Woodlark on them.  One bird was seen in typical pose singing from a log pile, whilst the other was in song on the wing.
Also seen today was a hunting Barn Owl, on one occasion, this beautiful Owl passed over me at no more than 10 feet away as I was hidden in a log-pile, as soon as it saw me it gave out a harsh shreek.
At least 4 Common Buzzards were seen, this included a displaying bird.  A Kestrel was watching the ground from a tree.
Yellowhammers also utilize forest clearfell, on this visit, a singing male was on one site whilst a pair plus a singleton was on the other.






LITTLE CRESSINGHAM (Great Cressingham road from 'The Arms' to Watton Brook)
Redpolls 12/03/13 Little Cressingham


This short visit produced a small flock of Linnets on stubble and a weedy area of a field where they fed along with about 6 Skylarks.
At Watton Brook, a pair of Mallard was seen and looking west towards Bodney, a single Lapwing approached and headed east, whilst several Gulls were attracted to the flood water adjacent to the Brook.
I always make a point of checking the Larch belt which runs alongside the road to the STANTA access gate, and on this occasion, 2 Redpolls were perched high in one of the trees.  Redpolls are now sadly very scarce breeding birds in the Breckland area, the vast majority of these tiny Finches will be winter visitors from Northern Europe. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

A return to wintry conditions.

The weather continues to be cold with frequent heavy snow showers being driven along on a very cold easterly wind.  The ground is covered in a light dusting of snow and the temperature barely rose above freezing.  There was some brighter conditions, however, these were short-lived.
Siskin (male) in my garden 11/03/13



My garden today saw good numbers of Finch species, the highlight being a pair of Siskins. The male bird was in song.  Siskins are mostly winter visitors from Northern Europe and are usually found in Alder, Birch, and Larch trees where they often associate with other small Finches such as Redpoll and Goldfinch. These mixed roaming flocks of Finches may reach three-figure numbers.  Small numbers of Siskins breed in Breckland.
Also seen in the garden today was one Bullfinch (female), Greenfinches, Goldfinch, Chaffinches, House Sparrows, and Blackbirds.

Red Deer at Stow Bedon 11/03/13



STOW BEDON (p.m.)
Short-lived bright conditions interrupted by heavy driving snow was the trend for this visit.
An afternoon walk along the Great Eastern Pingo trail from Crows Farm to Cranberry Rough produced one Bullfinch (male), 1 Common Buzzard, Song Thrush, and Blackbirds.
A small herd of 6 Red Deer were feeding along field edges, and despite being at range, upwind, and being as careful as possible, the Deer were aware of my presence.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Good Raptor conditions but nothing showing.

The day dawned overcast and grey, however, a promise for improving and sunny conditions suggested a good day for watching Goshawk display on my patch.
Arriving at 0900, cloud was beginning to break with bright conditions improving all the time – this seemed an almost perfect day for displaying Goshawk.  I met Mick Saunt who was already in position and waiting for the arrival of this magnificent Raptor.  Cloud continued to break and by 1000hrs the skies were blue with the exception of some high thin cloud.
We waited, and waited some more with little showing, however, at about 1015 things looked up as I was over-viewing the tree-line a single Goshawk was very briefly in view before flying behind the Pine block on the heath, I called "Mick", he also saw the bird as it disappeared behind the trees.  Could this be a sign that our fortunes were about to change, sadly, no, and the skies above the heath remained Raptor-free until I left at 1200.
I suppose I could at least say that this is still very early in the season for Goshawk display – “I’ll be back”.
Whilst waiting for the elusive Goshawk, other species seen included 3 Meadow Pipits over, a singing ♂ Yellowhammer, 1 Kestrel, Carrion Crows, Green Woodpecker, and singing Mistle Thrush.

On my walk back I briefly stopped at Thompson Water and heard Cettis's Warbler singing from dense cover, and on the water, a beautiful Great Crested Grebe in full breeding dress was seen. A few Gadwall and Teal were also on the water.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Swan Spectacular

Here in Breckland, we are fortunate to be under the flyway for wild Swan species as they migrate from the Ouse Washes east to their breeding grounds in Siberia.
This morning, I took Toby, my beautiful border Collie for a walk around Merton Park, a beautiful well-wooded estate owned by Lord Walsingham. 
At about 0725, as I was walking between Home Farm Lane and Merton village hall, I could hear approaching Swans, then, the first of 3 flocks of Bewick's Swans passed over Watton, these were followed by a further 2 flocks which flew more or less directly above me.  The total number of Bewick's Swans seen was in excess of 350 birds, these comprised flocks of 100+, 50+, and finally 200+ birds. This final flock of 200+ birds passed directly overhead in a huge V formation, the sight and sound of these birds gave me Goose (or maybe Swan) pimples.  These departing Swans were leaving us with a purpose, to breed in Siberia, however, they will once again return to spend winter with us later in the year - the miracle of migration.


    

Saturday, 2 March 2013

East Wretham Heath and Little Cressingham.

EAST WRETHAM HEATH
The visit to this reserve started with a long chat and catch up with Darrell Stevens, the head warden at East Wretham Heath.  Darrell manages a number of reserves in the Breckland area and it is thanks to him that Stone Curlew now breeds on the reserve following an absence of 30+ years - a big well done to Darrell.
My visit today started with large numbers of Crow species often dispersing noisily from the old Pine woodland.
At Langmere (viewed from the hide) a few Tufted Duck, Shoveler (2 pairs), Gadwall, 40+ Teal, Mallard, and Coot were all seen on the water. Around the shore a pair of Shelduck were present. 
Walking through the Pine woodland, a Woodcock was disturbed and flew up from the bracken covered woodland floor.  This woodland Wader species will soon be performing its conspicuous 'roding' display above its territory.
A walk around the adjoining Croxton Heath produced few birds; the only species seen were Bullfinch, Song Thrush, and more Crow species.

LITTLE CRESSINGHAM
Parking by the wind and water mill, I walked along Fairstead Lane and then back towards the village along Green Lane.
After a quiet period, a pair of Common Buzzards were seen soaring high above the land, later, one of these birds was seen to alight in Shorten's Covert.  A few Fieldfare and Yellowhammers moved through trees on Green Lane.
A small flock of 60+ Lapwings approached from the west and then alighted on the land. Most of these Lapwings are likely to be of continental origin.
A Barn Owl was watched hunting along the Watton Brook valley at Little Cressingham, then once back in the village, 2 Little Owls started calling, one in a garden and the other further along Fairstead Lane.
As the sun was setting, a flock of 50+ Bewick's Swans were seen approaching high from the west. Having left their wintering grounds in the Ouse Washes, they were watched passing directly above me and off to the east to make for Siberia where they will breed.  A great end to the day.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Wayland Wood

Wayland Wood is owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. This is an ancient woodland, with the exception of Sherwood and Selwood Forest, this is the oldest woodland in Britain and covers 85 acres.  Wayland Wood is also the site where the 'Babes in the wood' legend comes from.
I decided to concentrate this visit in the woodland alongside the road, here, a small pond attracts birds to drink and bathe.
Several Nuthatches and Treecreepers were seen as expected.  Most Nuthatches seen were quite high in trees, however, one was seen to visit the pond to bathe.  I noticed that many of the old Oaks have natural holes and old Woodpecker nest-sites, Nuthatches will use these holes as nest-sites for themselves, the holes will be sealed with mud to a size big enough for the bird to enter and leave.
Many Treecreepers were seen, this delicate little bird was typically seen working the limbs of trees at varying heights from ground level to high amongst the branches where they use their fine down-curved bill to search cavities and fissures in the bark for small prey such as spiders.
A pair of Marsh Tits were nest prospecting along a branch of an Oak, also, a pair of Blue Tits visited a break in a branch which may be used for nesting in.
Also noted was Great Tit, Long-tailed Tits, Robin, Wren, and singing Goldcrest.  

I photographed this Green Woodpecker in Watton on 01/03/13. This wary species occurs commonly in the Breckland area where it is frequently seen on lawned areas searching for ants.
This Green Woodpecker is a male bird, he can be separated
from the female by his Black-bordered red moustache, the females moustache is a solid Black.