Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Stone Curlews are back

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. 

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.

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.

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