Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Saturday, 27 April 2013

A welcome return of a heavily hunted migrant

HOUGHTON-on-the-HILL
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. 

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