Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Observations of Yellow Wagtails at Bodney, Norfolk 16th April 2013

Following a wet winter, the flood plains along the Watton brook valley adjacent to the B1108/Bodney Camp still have standing water, although it was evident from a tide-line that levels were previously higher.
I parked at ‘The Arms’ and walked to the camp with migrant Wagtail species in mind and almost immediately upon my arrival, an initial scan produced a couple of Yellow Wagtails. An overall search of this area soon produced 6 Yellow Wagtails, all of which were of the British flavissima race.
Although quite distant, these gems of birds were conspicuous amongst the grass, and movement was detected even with the naked eye. These are active birds in that they walk and run fast with an exaggerated head movement.  The birds generally remained in a loose gathering and if disturbed would fly up with Meadow Pipits.

Yellow Wagtail 16/04/13 Bodney, Norfolk

Identification: All 6 yellow Wagtails were of the British flavissima race, of all races within this complex group, ours has the brightest yellow plumage.  It is also interesting to note that all birds were males (see reference notes below).
When dealing with the various races of Yellow Wagtail, the head area needs most attention with regard to a proper identification. My observations are as follows.
These Yellow Wagtails appeared as very bright little birds as they walked and ran with jerking back and forth head movements. The ‘facial’ area, throat, breast, and all underparts are bright yellow; the crown is pale greenish-yellow as are the ear-coverts. The ear-coverts and the pale greenish-yellow lores highlight the bright yellow supercillium.  The mantle is green and contrasts well with the bright yellow parts of the bird. The dark wings are fringed white and there are two obvious white wing-bars. The black upper-tail has white outer feathers.

Reference: British Larks, Pipits and Wagtails (Eric Simms)
Migrations and Movements (Page 271)
Yellow Wagtails migrate in small flocks but then disperse after their arrival into Britain.  The main arrival period is from the second week of April into the first week of May, however, birds can arrive as early as February and March and extend to as late as mid-May.
Simms writes in the above reference that male Yellow Wagtails arrive in Britain some two weeks or so prior to female birds, this is clearly corroborated by my Yellow Wagtails at Bodney which were all males, additionally, their presence at Bodney on 16th April is a very typical arrival date for this species in Britain.

Little Cressingham (Fairstead Lane and Mill areas)

Fairstead Lane
An early morning walk with my dog Toby along Fairstead Lane produced 3 singing Whitethroats in the roadside hedges.  A check of the river valley failed to produce any sign of migrants.
A small area of open, uncultivated farmland produced at least 4 sitting Lapwings and an Oystercatcher, whilst further along the lane on the large area of open grassland, a pair of Common Curlews were seen, this included song/display by the male bird.

Little Cressingham Mill
This was a productive short visit to the mill with the following seen:

1 Whitethroat (singing male)
1 Blackcap (singing male)
2 Goldcrest (pair including singing male)
2 House Martins
2+ Swallows
2 Wren (both singing males)
Canada Goose (incubating)
5 Greylag Geese                                                                                                                                        
Wren Little 28/04/13 Cressingham Mill
Once again, I find myself writing about the peaceful surroundings at Little Cressingham Mill and I apologise if I repeat myself when describing how beautiful I find this locality to be.
The variety of habitats seen here is clearly attractive to wildlife in all seasons, however, with warming weather and a surge in growth of habitats associated with fresh water, bird-life within the next couple of months will see a significant increase in activity.
Several migrant species are still to arrive at the time of writing, nevertheless, watching Whitethroat, Blackcap, Wrens, and Hirundine species side by side is a truly wonderful visual and audible experience.
After a life-time of watching birds, I still find it difficult to comprehend how small Warbler species like Whitethroat and Blackcap, which weigh only a matter of grammes, are able to negotiate not only the distance, but overcome natural, and sadly, man-made obstacles, in an effort to reach us to breed.  Even breeding has its problems, for example predation, poor weather, and egg thieving, and then at the end of the breeding season, preparations for building fat reserves for the return journey to Southern Europe and Africa is a priority. I will never tire of my admiration for these wonderful birds as they commit themselves to providing us (unintentionally) with beautiful sights and sounds whilst they struggle to survive.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

A welcome return of a heavily hunted migrant

The day started reasonably bright but cloud increased to give frequent heavy showers of rain and hail until about mid-day. The afternoon was much brighter but the fresh northerly wind gave a cool feel to the day.
Having parked at St Mary's Church, I walked to Houghton Common then down the lane to the metalled road, continued south to the track for Houghton-on-the-Hill and back to the church.  This visit ended with some time spent in the churchyard where I watched several common species at relatively close quarters.
Despite the cool wind and showers, the early walk produced about 8 singing Blackcaps, 6 singing Whitethroats, several singing Chiffchaffs, a pair of Bullfinches along the road, an Oystercatcher, and several Yellowhammers along the route.

St Mary's Church (Houghton-on-the-Hill)
This small, yet isolated churchyard is a beautiful place to sit, listen, and watch what is going on around you.  It sits in an elevated position and is visible for miles from mainly the south and north-east.  In autumn this locality has shown its worth as an excellent visible migration watchpoint.
The churchyard this morning held a good variety of common species, both resident and migratory.

Chiffchaff Houghton-on-the-Hill 27/04/13
A pair of Chiffchaffs often silently fed in bushes and trees in front of me with the male occasionally singing, also a pair of Blackcaps seen often presented themselves with their agitated tongue-clicking "tak" call, this clearly being given due to my intrusion.  The male Blackcap was the most frequently seen bird, however, the 'red-headed' female was seen now and then in a large Hawthorn.
A pair of Treecreepers were seen doing what they do best - creepring up trees. No doubt these birds will have a nest in a crack in a tree or behind a piece of peeling bark somewhere in the churchyard.
A pair of Goldfinches showed a lot of interest in a patch of dense ivy and a pair of Chaffinches, including a singing bird, was also present.
A pair of Great Tits seen included one of the birds collecting nest material from the ground in front of me.  Great Tits have in previous years nested within the brick-work of the church-tower.  A pair of Blue Tits often fed acrobatically from the finer stems of shrubs and trees, also seen was the peculiar gliding display by one of the pair.
Overhead, a pair of Jackdaws were frequently seen together carrying nesting material, again, as with Great Tits, these birds will probably nest in the church tower.
A female Sparrowhawk passed overhead causing some alarm to the birds in the churchyard.  Both Sparrowhawks and Buzzards nest in the wood immediately to the east of the church.

ASHILL (Common Road to Quidney Farm)
This was a reasonably productive afternoon despite the lack of any cover and exposure to the cold northerly wind.
At least 3 Whitethroats were heard in the roadside hedgerows approaching the old rail cutting. Along the tree-lined cutting both Chiffchaff and Blackcap were heard.
The Quidney Farm area always produces good birds, this clearly being due to the high tree-lined hedgerows, and the abundance of ground covering scrub.  This afternoon at least 3 singing Willow Warblers were heard as well as more Chiffchaff.  The Willow Warblers are clearly attracted to the new woodland habitat along the entrance road to the farm, here, the understorey of this woodland habitat is very grassy and covered in tangled ground scrub - ideal breeding habitat for Willow Warblers.
What a great pleasure it was to hear the soft purring call of a Turtle Dove at Quidney Farm. This location has for as long as I can remember always been good for this species, once again, this being due in part to the wealth of bird-friendly habitat.  As summer progresses, a number of calling Turtle Doves should be present in and around Quidney Farm, this is really good news for a declining species.
Turtle Doves are heavily hunted in the mediterranean, it therefore always brings a smile to my face when I know that our birds have returned safely to breed with us here in Breckland.  Despite the sense of relief that our Turtle Doves are back with us, this is tinged with sadness as these birds and their offspring will have to fly the gauntlet of human activity as well as negotiating the various natural obstacles during their autumn migration back to their African wintering grounds. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Little Cressingham Mill, Norfolk

The day dawned with frost and fog but this was burnt off by the warming sun to give another beautiful day.
This morning I paid a visit to Little Cressingham combined wind and watermill. This small, beautiful, and tranquil site provides a haven for many species of birds, animals, and insect (especially Dragonflies) life, it also offers me a place to sit, think, and observe what this place has to offer.

Little Cressingham mill
Watton Brook runs immediately to the west of the mill whilst the beautiful mill-pond eventually feeds water through the pump-house.
Over the years, this locality has provided me with some superb birding in all seasons.  Spring and summer provides opportunities for observing a number of Warbler species including breeding Reed and Sedge Warbler, Blackcaps, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, and Willow Warbler.  This is also a reliable site for watching breeding Spotted Flycatcher, a declining species sadly.
The mill itself has held breeding Tree Sparrows and Swifts, and the nearby mill house attracts a good sized colony of breeding House Martins.  And of course, where you get good numbers of Hirundines and Swifts, you can expect to see Hobby, again, this is a reliable species at this locality, especially late summer.
The river valley and mill-pond attracts a variety of duck species including Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, and Pintail. Kingfisher is also regular here.
Autumn is also a good time to visit Little Cressingham Mill, as this locality, and the nearby river valley, attracts migrant Chat species. I have seen both Whinchat and Stonechat in the area in Autumn.
In the winter months, Finch species includes Siskins and Redpolls, these small birds are attracted to the Alders to feed.  The dense vegetation along the Watton Brook valley and around the mill-pond also attracts Water Rail in winter.
This offers a small insight into some of the birdlife which occurs at Little Cressingham mill. 

Reed Bunting at Little Cressingham mill 21/04/13


TODAY: This morning I arrived at Little Cressingham mill following the lifting of fog and was immediately greeted upon my arrival by a singing male Whitethroat. This Warbler was singing from a variety of trees and bushes and was inspecting some of the denser vegetation - I wonder if he arrived in the fog.
Also seen was a singing Blackcap in trees and bushes along the valley.
At least 4 Swallows flew around the adjoining fields and mill-pond, however, no House Martins seen as yet. 
This male Reed Bunting was photographed in Bramble alongside the brook and was one of a pair seen.
On or near the mill-pond a Canada Goose was on its nest, Greylag Geese were present, and Moorhen was on the water.
Close to this locality in nearby fields, Lapwings were displaying and Stone Curlew was heard giving  its mournful wailing call.



Saturday, 20 April 2013

Warbler weather

Following a clear, cold night, the day dawned bright and sunny with a moderate frost, however, the rising sun soon cleared the frost and the day would become quite warm with almost wall to wall sunshine throughout the day.
At 0600, I set off from 'The Arms' at Little Cressingham and made for the River Wissey valley as it meanders through Bodney to Great Cressingham.  The route taken today is the only footpath within the whole of STANTA on which the public can walk, except on occasions when the 'red flag' is flying which indicates military activity.
As the day progressed it was evident that the fine conditions has favoured the arrivals of Warbler species with both Willow Warbler and Blackcap (2) singing from the outset at 'The Arms'.  A further 2 Willow Warblers were singing at Bodney in typical Hawthorn and bracken scrub habitat and in total, the Blackcap numbers increased to a total of about 8 singing males.
Mute Swan on nest in the Wissey Valley at Bodney, Norfolk 20/04/13
An overview of the flood plain adjacent to the B1108 at Bodney produced a pair of mating Oystercatchers, Lapwings (including display), Pied Wagtail, singing Common Curlews at 3 sites, and a distant calling Stone Curlew.  A pair of Buzzards was seen along the Wissey valley.
The Wissey valley between Bodney and Great Cressingham held Meadow Pipit on the damp grassland, a single male Reed Bunting, and a pair of Mute Swans (including an incubating bird on the nest).
The only evidence of passage was of a Redpoll heard passing over in a northerly heading.

ASHILL (Common to Quidney Farm)
A mid-afternoon walk along Common Road was especially productive in the Quidney Farm area where a newly planted area of Alder, Ash, Oak, and Larch woodland, with an understorey of bramble scrub, produced 2 singing Willow Warblers, singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff (including pair seen). This farm has a plentiful tall hedgerows and associated scrub habitat which will in turn hold further Warbler species as April comes to a close.
Also noted in this area this afternoon was calling Reed Bunting, a number of Stock Doves, and 5 Common Buzzards soaring together overhead.
Finally, it is worthy of note that the Quidney Farm area has always held good numbers of Turtle Doves, I expect to hear and see these beautiful Doves here before the end of April.  Turtle Doves are a favoured quarry for those b******s in the mediterranean who choose to shoot them, let's hope they all arrive back in the UK safely, and of course return safely back to their wintering grounds in west Africa in autumn.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Cressinghams and Hockham Fen

The very strong winds of yesterday have been replaced today by a moderate north-westerly wind. the day started dry but rain moved in from about 0700.
I did an early morning circular 5 mile dog walk taking in both Little Cressingham and Great Cressingham.                                                                                                                                     
Little Cressingham combined wind and water mill
I started my walk this morning at the Little Cressingham combined wind and watermill. This beautiful structure (only one of 2 in Norfolk) was operating up until the early 20th century, however, it fell into disrepair following storm damage. The mill is now in the ownership of the Norfolk Windmills Trust and has been lovingly restored with all components within in working order, however, as can be seen in this picture, it no longer has its sails. I find this a lovely, tranquil place to sit and overview the mill-pond and watch its birds.

My walk this morning encountered a few singing Blackcaps but it is evident that many suitable areas of habitat are yet to be occupied by this migratory Warbler.
Walking along Priory Road, Great Cressingham, a Barn Owl was hunting along the roadside verges and adjoining field edges.  A Common Buzzard was sitting on the roof of sn old barn, this was a particularly pale looking individual.
Overhead, a single Redpoll passed by, given the scarcity of this small Finch as a breeding bird in the Breckland area, it is likely that this is a winter visitor from Northern Europe.
Further along the lane towards the junction with the Peddars Way LDP (Long Distance Path), a single Whitethroat skulked in the road-side hedge occasionally giving its agitated call, this appears to be a warning call to others of approaching danger.   The next week or so should see a significant increase in numbers of this common sylvia Warbler species.
Walking south along the Peddars Way towards Little Cressingham, rain started to fall, little was seen at this time, however, to the distant west it was reassuring to hear the mournful wailing call of a Stone Curlew.

With the rain and cloud moving off, this afternoon turned out bright, sunny, and quite warm in shaded areas.
Having parked at the Great Hockham picnic site, I walked the forest trails to Hockham Fen where a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were in song, although as I have previously written, many suitable Warbler habitats have yet to be filled.  With settled conditions and high pressure building overnight, tomorrow could see a big arrival of migrant birds.
At Hockham Fen, a pair of Grey Herons was seen, one of which was seen carrying a stick to its nest site in Cranberry Rough.  A few Mallard and 5+ Greylag Geese were seen whilst Teal called from the cover of the swampy habitat.  A hidden Little Grebe was giving its strange 'whinnying' like call.
Overhead, a pair of Common Buzzards incessantly called.
Typical Breckland species encountered within pine woodland included many singing Coal Tits, Great Tits, and Goldcrests.
On the walk back to Hockham Picnic site I was searching sheltered areas hoping to find Adders
basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun, however, none were found.  This would be a timely warning to anybody with dogs visiting Breckland to be aware that many pets are bitten annually by Adders, it would therefore be advisable to keep dogs under close control.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

ASHILL and BODNEY: Good birds despite very windy conditions

The day dawned very bright with almost cloudless skies, however, the main feature of the weather today was the very strong WSW wind. By mid-day cloud and showers moved in but the wind started to abate slowly.
At dawn, I walked east along Common Road, Ashill, to as far as Quidney Farm, and returned again via the same route whilst keeping a close eye on the fields for migrant species.  The most productive area on this route is generally the well-wooded disused rail cutting where both single Chiffchaff and Blackcap were is song, it is likely that more were present, however, the wind was too strong to hear properly.
A single Meadow Pipit was watched for some time overflying north until lost to view, clearly a passage bird possibly making for upland Britain to breed.
A check of a field for migrants produced a single White Wagtail, a scarce passage bird in inland Norfolk.
A short sit down break and some soup in the shelter of an old hedgerow brought welcome relief from the wind.  Following this break, I then made my way back west along Common Road when I saw some Wood Pigeons fly up from the rail cutting, seconds later, a Peregrine Falcon appeared low over fields from the east, passed over some trees and then folded its wings back for a stoop towards the Pigeons, I then lost sight of the raptor.
Also seen in the area between the rail cutting and Quidney Farm was a small flock of 15+ Golden Plover whilst further along the road a pair of Grey Partridges was seen.
Red Fox 18/04/13 Ashill, Norfolk
With the wind slowly abating, I visited the flood plain adjacent to the B1108 and Watton Brook valley hoping to find more migrant Wagtail species.  Whilst walking alongside the road, I sadly found a dead Woodcock. On this visit to the flood plain there was no Yellow Wagtails, however, a small count of 15+ Pied Wagtails and 14+ Meadow Pipits were present along with my second White Wagtail of the day.  Also on the flood plain, 3 Oystercatchers seen included a pair displaying, and about 6 Lapwings.  A pair of Common Curlews flew from the nearby Bodney Army Camp where display/song flight was seen earlier.
Small numbers of Passerine species seen on the flooded meadow included Linnet (6), Starling (8), and a single Fieldfare.
Over a nearby conifer a pair of Common Buzzards was seen.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Whitethroat and Wagtails

HOUGHTON-ON-THE-HILL (North Pickenham Parish in Norfolk)
At dawn I arrived at Houghton-on-the-Hill within the North Pickenham Parish between Watton and Swaffham. This elevated site has much to offer the historian who wishes to visit the fascinating St Mary the Virgin Church at this remote location, I very much recommend a visit to the church which is open between 1400 and 1600 daily.  Amongst other points of interest, the church has 7th century murals depicting biblical themes, close by is a 'sunken way' where the medieval village of Houghton-on-the-Hill once stood.  Please read about this church on-line and learn about how a lovely old gentleman, Bob Davey MBE, brought this church from a ruin to a place of worship and of historical interest we see today.
Houghton-on-the-Hill is my favourite place to be in Autumn as its elevation and vista offers a fascinating visible-migration watchpoint.

Back to today.  From St Mary’s Church I walked back down the track to the road in order to pick up the Peddars Way for Houghton Springs, it was on this initial section that 2 Chiffchaffs and 2 Blackcaps were singing. Blackcaps are sparsely spread at the current time, however, their numbers should be increasing daily now.
At Houghton Springs, I very briefly glimpsed a Warbler species disappearing into the cover of a hedge, it appeared to have a pale throat.  I waited and watched and my suspicions were confirmed when a Whitethroat was seen within the tangle of the hedge. No song was given but the “sshurrt” alarm call was heard.  Also seen here was a male Reed Bunting, this is a traditional site for this species for breeding.
A walk over the paddocks revealed nothing, although this appears good habitat for passage Wagtail species.
Back on Houghton Common there was little evidence of any passage but a hunting Sparrowhawk was seen along the track east of the church.
A pair of Common Buzzards were in the area of the church.

The B1108 road runs from Watton in Norfolk onto Bodney where it skirts the STANTA (Stanford Army training Area). The landscape here is very typically Breckland and includes low lying flood-plain habitat in the Watton Brook and River Wissey valley.
Having parked at 'The Arms', and area of Little Cressingham, I walked along the B1108 to an area of flood plain with migrant Wagtail species in mind. 
Almost immediately upon my arrival at the given location I located 6 Yellow Wagtails (all of the flavissima race) feeding close to lying water and in grass.  These are incredibly spectacular Wagtails appearing as bright yellow gems as they run over the land.

Yellow Wagtail - one of 6 at Bodney 16/04/13.

All six Yellow Wagtails were always quite distant and photographing them in the strong south-west wind proved a little tricky, however, the picture above appears to show the typical features associated with this flavissima Wagtail.
Also seen on the flood-plain was a single Little Ringed Plover, 2 Oystercatcher (pair), Lapwing (including displaying bird), 10+ Meadow Pipits, and a pair of Common Buzzards demonstrating their mastery of flight in the strong wind.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Blackcaps arrive and Wheatears on the move

PEDDARS WAY LDP (Little Cressingham and South Pickenham)
I arrived at Little Cressingham windmill at 0530 for an early morning dog walk along the Peddars Way footpath. The day dawned very mild and clear with a moderate, increasing to fresh south-westerly wind.
The first bird of the day was a calling Kingfisher in the Watton Brook valley. It is good to see that this bird has survived the long winter as they are vulnerable during harsh weather.
The section of the Peddars Way between Little Cressingham and north to the Great Cressingham to Saham Toney road, takes in rolling arable land and the lower lying Watton Brook valley. The valley has lots of tree and hedgerow cover and it was here at 0550, I heard and saw my first Blackcap of the spring.  This was a male bird and would be the first of three seen on this walk.
The Watton Brook valley also held singing Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, and Nuthatch.  A Siskin was heard overhead.
Walking north from North Bridge a small flock of about 15 Fieldfare headed low east whilst in the large field to the west at the top of the hill, a single Stone Curlew was seen.

Further north along the Peddars Way at Caudle Hill, South Pickenham, a further 2 singing Blackcaps were seen in the woodland there.  Also, a couple of Chiffchaffs, singing Marsh Tit, singing Mistle Thrush, Goldfinch and Chaffinch, a pair of Bullfinches, noisy Goldcrests, Treecreeper, and a single Kestrel.

Back at Little Cressingham windmill, a single Swallow and single House Martin flew over adjoining fields and mill-pond.  The large rolling field to the west of the Watton Brook valley held at least 6 Lapwings including displaying birds. 

A single Common Buzzard appeared over Shorten's Covert and a singing/displaying Curlew was seen distantly.

ASHILL (Common Road)
I went for a late afternoon dog walk from Ashill Common to Quidney Farm with expectations of migrants in the fields adjoining the road.  Overviewing one of these fields revealed at least 4 Wheatear (3 males one female). These elegant birds typically ran over the land quickly in clockwork-like fashion picking up food matter, also, on a few occasions, one would fly up to take passing insects.

Wheatear 15/04/13 Ashill, Norfolk - one of four together.

Also seen along Common Road was a pair of Grey Partridges whilst in the old rail-line cutting a singing Chiffchaff was heard.
Overhead, passage Meadow Pipits were seen and heard.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A morning with James Emerson

A very early start this morning and off to Norwich to pick up James Emerson and back to Stow Bedon and Thompson for some local birding and a valuable introduction for myself from James on Fungi.
James is a young Norwich birder whose patch includes Whitlingham Country Park, an area which he has very much put on the birding map, evidence of this will clearly be seen in his excellent blog entitled 'Birds and Beer'.

STOW BEDON and THOMPSON: Arriving at Stow Bedon for about 0615, we first stopped along Mere Road to check out a large muck heap where Green Sandpipers are frequently seen, however, none were visible today.  Off to the Great Eastern Pingo trail next where our route would take in Thompson Common, Thompson Water, the Peddars Way footpath, Hockham Fen, and Cranberry Rough.
We encountered good numbers of Chiffchaffs along the route but but were surprised at not finding a single Blackcap, a species which should be present in good numbers by now.
Walking along Butters Hall Lane, Thompson, James found my first local Swallow of the year flying around a barn. A bit further on a pair of Pied Wagtails were seen on one of the paddocks where the male bird was seen collecting nesting material.
Given the available habitat, a search for displaying Snipe proved fruitless.
Thompson Carr typically held several Marsh Tits and 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and a small party of Siskins were disturbed by a stream where they were probably drinking.  The dense inderstorey in Thompson Carr holds impressive stands of Holly specimens, it was under one particular clump that a calling male Golden Pheasant was heard, despite waiting and looking, this bird failed to show.
Other typical woodland species seen in Thompson Carr included a number of Treecreepers, singing Goldcrests, and Nuthatches

THOMPSON WATER: Surprisingly, no Hirundine species were seen at Thompson Water, the only summer migrant once again being singing Chiffchaff.  A Cetti's Warbler occasionally gave a burst of its explosive song - a powerful voice given the small size of this species.
A pair of Great Crested Grebes, a few Teal, a pair of Gadwall, Coot,and a overhead Sparrowhawk were all seen.
The walk south from Thompson Water along the Peddars Way produced a small number of Redwings in hedges and a male Blackbird in a paddock.

HOCKHAM FEN/CRANBERRY ROUGH: The approach to these sites took us along an old railway cutting where we searched for Adders, however, none were seen.  Hockham Fen appeared quiet and once again, an expected species, Snipe, did not show.
The swampy woodland habitat at Cranberry Rough appeared quiet, however, attention to the ground revealed in footprints, showed that Red Deer had passed this way earlier.
Back at the car as we preparing to leave, a single House Martin was overflying a field close to the Pingo trail.

FUNGI: James's knowledge of Fungi was very impressive and he picked out specimens which I would have just walked by without seeing. I must apologise to James for not remembering all of the names of those Fungi species seen, however, the ones which stood out for me was Witches Broom (found in Silver Birches), and the very beautiful Scarlet Elf Cup. I shall certainly gaive Fungi much more attention in future  following James's 'in the field' tutorial.

Although the expected species failed to materialise, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed James's company - thank you James.

LITTLE CRESSINGHAM (Fairstead Lane and Green Lane).
This handsome male Wheatear was found in a field adjacent to Fairstead Lane and constitutes my first record of this species for this year.
This long-distance migrant breeds in small numbers within Breckland, however, most will be passage birds feeding and resting before continuing their migration to either the uplands of Britain, or Europe, to breed.
The name of this bird, Wheatear, is the modern derivation of an old word meaning 'white arse', this being due to the bright white rump which is usually seen as the bird flies away.

The only other bird of note this afternoon was a singing Chiffchaff along green Lane.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

............and departures

What a beautiful pre-dawn and sunrise it was this morning. At 0515, I set off well before sunrise along Fairstead Lane, Little Cressingham, for a 5 mile circular dog-walk taking in Great Cressingham via Priory Road and the Peddars Way.  The sky was clear and early morning mist hung over the river valleys - tranquility.
The first birds of the morning were calling Stone Curlews and Common Curlews on the wide expanses of land south of Fairstead Lane.  How pleased was I at listening to the wailing Stone Curlews following some recent tragic losses of this species due to the very cold March and early April (sounds silly but I put my thumbs up to these birds as I was walking along).
It was clearly evident that the previous nights conditions was good for Thrush passage.  As I was walking along Fairstead Lane and onto Great Cressingham, both Fieldfare and Redwings were either calling from hedgerows or passing overhead. The Redwings familiar "seeeep" call was frequently heard in the sky above me, however, light was not quite sufficient to see them, but as I got closer to the village and with improving light, I saw Fieldfares passing over in a north-easterly heading.  Both Thrush species were encountered further along the route and at the Priory Road/Peddars Way junction outside Great Cressingham, an unsettled flock of 50+ Redwings were seen in the treetops and hedgerows.  During daylight hours these Thrushes will rest and feed before continuing their passage at night and making for their Scandinavian breeding grounds. 
As I arrived back at the village of Little Cressingham at sunrise, Nuthatch and Coal Tit were singing and a pair of Long-tailed Tits seen in dense cover in the Watton Brook valley.  The large rolling field north of Fairstead Lane adjacent to the valley held a number of Lapwings including displaying birds. A few Fieldfares continued a steady overhead northerly passage.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Incoming.......and wet feet!!!!!

0555hrs: Having just arrived back from a 3 mile walk with Toby, I made a coffee and settled in the study. I opened the window to feel the cool dawn air and silhouetted in my Whitebeam tree was a Willow Warbler giving a couple of bursts of its delightful song before continuing its passage to its breeding grounds.  The presence of this bird brought a welcome smile to my face; however, this was tinged with sadness when I thought of the recent news regarding the sad loss of some Stone Curlews in Breckland due to the unseasonally cold March.   
This Willow Warbler is my first small Sylvia species for the year.  This will be one of many millions of small passerines on the move following their delayed movement from their wintering grounds due to the very cold March, early April, and persistent easterly winds.
The Willow Warbler is a very common summer visitor to the British Isles, it breeds in open woodland, heathland, Birch scrub, commons, and tall hedgerows.  The wintering grounds extend from sub Saharan to South Africa.
A specific area of interest for me in birding is migration. The Willow Warbler seen this morning was passing through my garden as it continues its passage, possibly having traveled overnight on its way to its breeding grounds, it would be interesting to know if any of my followers/birders have noticed any obvious movement of Willow Warblers today.

Today, my wife Pam and myself went to our daughters/grand-daughters home in Irthlingborough to give the girls their belated Easter Eggs. They had previously hatched (no pun intended) a plan to go and do some shopping together in Northampton, therefore, I decided to pay a visit to the nearby Nene Valley footpath.  This vast area known as Stanwick Lakes, comprises a series of lakes created as a result of gravel extraction alongside the River Nene.  Stanwick Lakes offers a wide range of outdoor activities as well as providing fantastic habitats for wildlife.
Although much milder than in recent weeks, almost continuous rain showers made going a bit uncomfortable.  I was walking past a family enjoying a visit to one of the many activities offered when I decided to walk through a patch of 'damp' grassland, I took a step and sank to my knees in water, rather than back up, I continued in a nonchalant fashion through the water trying to put a brave face on the situation - I think I must have attracted a smile ot two and a few comments from the nearby family - good thing I am not known there!!!!
Following the recent prolonged cold weather, thoughts were with finding summer migrants in the wealth of available habitat - my earlier Willow Warbler in my garden was a good sign that things should be looking up.
The first of 2 singing Willow Warblers were found in suitable breeding habitat although no Blackcaps or Chiffchaffs were heard.  Perhaps the Willow Warblers seen today arrived along with the rain showers.
Several Sand Martins and a Swallow were seen hawking above the water for food. The Sand Martins were easily identified by their chocolate brown upperparts, lack of white rump as seen on House Martins, and a brown 'necklace' separating the white throat from the white underparts.  Whilst watching some Sand Martins close to from one of the bridges over the river, a single Sedge Warbler was seen in low down, tangled cover, from where song was later heard.
Other species seen included Tufted Duck, calling Teal and Wigeon, and a pair of Great Crested Grebes.
Several pairs of Reed Buntings were seen and a Cetti's Warbler gave its explosive song.
Overhead, a Red Kite slowly passed by and a female Sparrowhawk was seen.  A Little Egret flying along the valley indicated how successful this beautiful species is doing in the UK.

Surprisingly, despite having throughly soaked boots and socks following my earlier impression of Heron, I didn't feel too uncomfortable, however, it was nice to get back to my daughters and dry off while everybody had a good laugh (including me).  

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Sad news regarding Stone Curlews

Recent local news reports indicates that a number of Breckland Stone Curlews have been found dead and underweight due to the prolonged cold spell and persistent easterly winds experienced throughout March and early April 2013.
This post is written to ask if my followers could report Stone Curlew observations (living and dead) to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) so that this beautiful species can be monitored accordingly - thank you.
With the promise of improving conditions, let's hope that our visiting migrants enjoy a healthy and successful breeding season.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Easterlies delay migration.....but promising days ahead.

March and early April 2013 have seen unprecedented conditions which have delayed spring migration unlike any other year that I can remember. An almost constant flow of easterly winds and very low temperatures have had a blocking effect upon migration for small passerine species.  Millions of Warblers and Hirundine (Swallows) species will be gathering and feeding along a broad front in southern Europe, waiting for conditions to change in their favour so that the push into Northern Europe can begin, territories can be secured, and breeding can begin.  Time will tell what impact a later start than usual will have upon 2013 breeding successes.

As I sit here typing this I am thinking to myself how strange it is to reach the 8th April with virtually no records of summer migrants on my Breckland patch.  By now, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Sedge Warblers, and Reed Warblers should all be in full song and display, Swallows, House Martins, and Sand Martins should be filling the skies, hunting winged insects.

Larger and stronger migrants have already arrived, this includes a fine male Ring Ouzel at Breckles on 29th and 30th March, and several Stone Curlews on the patch in the first few days of April......but what of smaller migrants such as Warblers.
Male Ring Ouzel at Breckles, Norfolk 30/03/13
The promise of warmer conditions with more favourable wind directions from the forthcoming weekend and the week beyond, a huge surge of migrants into the UK will begin; the species which would generally have arrived much earlier will probably be joined by typical mid-April species such as Cuckoo, Whitethroat, and Lesser Whitethroat.

It should be an exciting week to 10 days ahead, the skies should be filled with millions of migrating birds - let's hope they arrive safely and enjoy a successful breeding season.

Monday, 1 April 2013

'Norfolk Plover' returns

One of the most eagerly awaited summer visitors to the Norfolk Brecks is the Stone Curlew, or as it is locally known, the Norfolk Plover.  This Breckland speciality generally arrives mid-March from its Southern Europe and African wintering grounds and I consider it a real privilege to have this enigmatic species breeding on my patch.

Following yesterdays (31/03/13) single Stone Curlew at Bodney, I decided to do an early morning recce of suitable areas for more of these birds whilst walking Toby, my Collie.  My walk took in a circuit around Little and Great Cressingham, and whilst walking south along the Peddars Way back to Little Cressingham, 3 Stone Curlews were seen quite close to on the leeward side of a hedge where they were sheltering from the bitter east wind, they flew off into the open field where they stood motionless.
Early afternoon, I visited Bodney again and soon located a further 3 Stone Curlews, again, these birds took shelter along the field margins, by this time, the easterly wind was freshening and in exposed areas was quite bitter - you have to suffer for your pleasures, and it was worth it.  One of these Stone Curlews gave its eerie wailing call.
Although sometimes difficult to locate in fields due to their cryptic plumage and motionless behaviour, these Stone Curlews showed off their spectacular Black and White wing pattern when in flight.

Stone Curlews (distant) at Bodney, Norfolk, 01/04/13
Also seen in the area was an impressive 500+ Lapwings, a Common Buzzard, and a Sparrowhawk which was flying into the wind to gain height, descend, and gain height again - perhaps a hunting technique and using the wind to its advantage.