Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Little Cressingham, Norfolk.

Fairstead Lane, Green Lane, and the mill area.
Setting off from the bridge on Fairstead Lane at about 0700, I headed off towards 'The Fairstead'. The first field in the Watton Brook valley held a party of 10 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, their numbers comprised both adult and young birds.  Also in the same field, 3 Oystercatchers (pair + one young) seen together feeding, the youngster appeared about half-grown.  I suspect that these waders bred on a nearby stony field.

Oystercatcher 24/07/13 Little Cressingham. One of a pair with one youngster.
Further along the lane, 2 Kestrels seen together included one of the youngsters I recently photographed at the nest-site.
As I continued to walk along Fairstead Lane other birds seen or heard included a couple of Whitethroats and 2 pairs of Yellowhammers.
Walking along Green Lane, my dog, Toby, brought a smile to my face when he was confused by a trail of earth and grass moving across the path, his head was turning with his ears pricked in wonder as to what was happening, clearly, a Mole was just beneath the surface....could have been a contender for 'You've been framed'.

The mill area.
Lots of evidence of breeding successes seen in and around the beautiful site this morning included the ever-present House Martins visiting their nests in the nearby cottage.
A few Swallows seen over the mill-pond are utilizing this habitat for their search for insect prey over the water, it was also brilliant to watch their skill at taking a drink whilst skimming over the surface. On a couple of occasions, Swallows were seen to 'plop' into the water to bathe before flying off with a quick shake......fantastic stuff.
On the mill-pond, 2 female Mallards were tending to their broods, one of these broods numbered just 3 youngsters, others were probably predated, whilst the other bird had several recently hatched young with her.
A single Kingfisher put in a very brief appearance over the mill-pond and both Moorhen and Little Grebe seen on the water. 
A pair of Goldfinches, including a singing male, and a singing Greenfinch occupied the dense waterside habitat alongside Watton Brook.
Calling Goldcrests were heard in the 2 Larch trees by the mill-pond, a habitat where this species was heard singing in spring, therefore it is probable that this little gem bred at this site.
I must brush up on my Damselflies and Dragonflies as several were seen here today, the most numerous was a very delicate blue couloured damselfly I believe to be Coenagrion puella.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Little Cressingham, Norfolk (Fairstead Lane, Green Lane, and the mill area).

The day dawned misty and cloudy with poor light, however, this was soon to clear to give a very hot,  sunny day.
0600: I set off from the road bridge on Fairstead Lane heading for 'The Fairstead'.  A single juvenile Lapwing was on the field adjacent to the Watton Brook Valley.  As I walked past the first corner towards Green Lane a Barn Owl flew out of one of the young roadside Oaks, also here was 2 singing Whitethroats.
2 Common Buzzards, incessantly calling Green Woodpeckers, and young Chiffchaffs were the highlights along Green Lane.
The walk back towards the road bridge at the village produced 3 Oystercatchers on the field adjacent to the brook.

The most numerous species here was House Martins, a small colony has returned to the nearby cottage where a number of nests were visited.  House Martins also flew low around me in their search for food.  A few Swifts were present as well as a male Swallow.
Warbler species were well represented here with Blackcap, Whitethroat, and a single juvenile Chiffhchaff actively moving through the branches of a large Ash.  A single Reed Warbler very briefly sang in front of me in waterside herbage.
A pair of Goldfinches, including a singing bird, dropped into cover in front of me and at least 2 singing Greenfinches were also present.  A Wren was again seen busily gathering insect food for its young within an opening in the windmill.
On the millpond, a female Mallard attended her 3 youngsters and a Little Grebe was seen.
House Sparrow with youngster at Little Cressingham 22/07/13
Back at the road bridge on Fairstead Lane, a few House Sparrows seen along the Watton Brook valley included the above male with one of his offspring.
A male Whitethroat was also close by and sang briefly.
Before leaving I looked along the Watton Brook valley where very dense waterside weeds, grasses, thistles, umbellifers, and Rosebay Willowherb abound, and thoughts were very much with Whinchat, a species I have encountered on passage along the valley in previous autumns......bring on autumn.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Little Cressingham and Merton, Norfolk.

With summer drawing on, Watton Brook is starting to look very lush with tall, dense stands of freshwater plants, grasses, and weeds almost rendering the water difficult to see.  Some magnificent Thistles and Rose-bay Willowherb are looking very impressive and it is this weed-filled habitat in the forthcoming weeks will play host to passage Chat and Warbler species...exciting times ahead.

A visit to the mill and Watton Brook Valley this morning brought plenty of evidence of successful breeding by a number of common species.
I was watching a Wren skulking mouse-like on the ground within a nettlebed where it was collecting food and flying back to a hole in the wall of the mill where it was feeding young.  A juvenile Robin was seen in the dark recess of an outflow from the mill, this bird typically appeared very mottled and scaly, quite different from the red-breasted adult bird.
Juvenile Blue Tits were sharpening their acrobatic skills whilst hanging from the outer branches of trees in their search for food.
A female Blackcap was seen in an apple tree where she would have been tending to her young, she was looking quite smart, however, a Whitethroat looked quite worn, clear evidence of its intense breeding activity, however, following the post-breeding moult this warbler will once again assume a very smart appearance.
High in an Ash tree by the mill, several young Chaffinches were being attended to by their parents and some young Goldfinches were preening following a bath in the nearby brook.
House Martins were present in good numbers, these were often seen skimming low over the ground and around the treetops for food, on one occasion, a good 20-30 House Martins gathered high above giving their panic alarm and in turn telling me a raptor was in the area.
As I was preparing to leave a Goshawk drifted across the valley close to the ground in a slow and menacing flight.

MERTON PARK(mid-late afternoon)
I took an afternoon walk along the Peddars Way from the village hall in Merton to beyond Home Farm.  Despite being a large agricultural estate, there are many fine pockets of mature deciduous woodland habitats here.  A patch of woodland on the Peddars Way south of Home Farm includes a couple of magnificent Copper Beeches and huge examples of Cypress.
As expected at this time of day, little was seen other than 3 Mistle Thrushes in the top of a Larch and calling Common Buzzards.  A Blackcap and Chiffchaff briefly gave a snippet of song.
Back in the village, I decided to check on the Tree Sparrows and without fail, I saw a few at a traditional site including a pair which were clearly feeding young, probably their second, or maybe, third brood of the year.
Tree Sparrow (with food for young) Merton 21/07/13
Tree Sparrows occur in reasonably good numbers in the Breckland area and it is fair to say that they appear to remain faithful to sites within my patch. To the untrained eye, Tree and House Sparrows may appear just as 'Sparrows', however, a reliable identification feature on the Tree Sparrow is the chestnut crown and white cheek with a large black spot within.  Tree Sparrows however may be more difficult to sex as both male and female birds are similar in appearance, male House Sparrows with their Black bib and grey crown are quite different from the more plain appearance of the female bird.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Stow Bedon, Norfolk.

Following the prolonged period of sunny, hot weather, the day today dawned cloudy and significantly cooler and much more comfortable.
At dawn, I took Toby for a 5 mile walk around the Stow Bedon, Lower Stow Bedon, and Rocklands area of my Breckland patch.  As with most of my Breckland patch, this area is quite undulating with some short, steepish climbs, clearly not flat as many often think of Norfolk.  Very large fields of crops gives a sense of isolation and bleakness, especially in winter - my kind of country.
Walking along Gravelpit Hill, I soon encountered the soft purring song of a male Turtle Dove, the epitome of an English summers day.  This bird was soon found sitting in a hedgerow with a few Wood Pigeons, a larger relative of the Turtle Dove.  This beautiful migratory bird has traditionally occured at the same site along this route for many years now and despite its very welcome presence, it is sad to write that this species is declining in the UK. Sadly, Turtle Doves are heavily hunted by humans when on passage through the Mediterranean - I have less than complimentary words to describe the individuals who choose to shoot these and other migrant birds. 
Walking along Stowlay Lane, large numbers of Swallows were seen skimming just above the crops in search of insect prey.  Sadly, a Badger was found dead on the roadside, a traffic casualty.
Mere Road, Stow Bedon begins at the Rocklands to Lower Stow Bedon road, this is intially a fairly long and steep climb which then levels out for a long and mostly direct route back to Stow Bedon.  For years now, a large muck heap alongside the road has been very reliable for finding passage wader species, mostly Green Sandpipers, which feed and refuel around the seepage from the muck heap, however, the only wader species seen here today was single Oystercatcher.  Several Black-headed Gulls, and a Herring Gull were sitting on top of the heap.
The tall hedgerows along Mere Road produced the ever reliable singing Whitethroats and the descent into the village of Stow Bedon produced more Swallows and good numbers of House Martins.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Kestrels at their nest site

0530 and I was out early again with Toby before it got too warm for him.  The day started comfortable, however, the rising sun soon became very warm which in turn rapidly burnt off any low lying mist in the valleys.
It was while I was walking along Fairstead Lane, Little Cressingham, that I could hear the begging calls of Kestrels, immediately I knew where the calls were coming from and upon checking I found 3 young Kestrels sitting at the entrance to their nest, a large hole in an old Ash tree.
Kestrels at the nest - Little Cressingham 07/07/13
It is evident from the photograph that these delightful young Kestrels still have some growing to do, although the middle bird seems to be the more advanced of the three. The bird on the right still has an under-developed tail whilst the mostly hidden bird on the left retains more down on its head indicating this as being the youngest bird.
The middle Kestrel was the more active bird as it was seen away from the nest-site looking out onto the fields which may become its hunting grounds before too long, making it back to the nest though was a clumsy affair as it entered head-first with tail and wings all over the place before righting itself.
The Kestrel is a relatively common raptor, however, such a find is just as rewarding as finding something more unusal.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Early morning walk before the heat of the day......

Threxton and Little Cressingham (Dawn)
With another very warm day in prospect I decided to take Toby, my Collie, out for an early morning walk whilst it was still reasonably comfortable, although towards the latter part of the walk it was starting to get quite warm.
Having parked at Threxton Church I was immediately greeted by a visit from my gamekeeper friend Andrew, during our chat he told me that a pair of Red Kites had successfully bred on his beat.
About half-way around this mornings walk I stopped to sit for a while at the Ashill/Great Cressingham road junction just east of the Peddars Way where I could hear a Lesser Whitethroat singing, the bird was located visually in a small tree, however, it was quite mobile.  Also here was a Whitethroat clambering about the grasses and umbellifers on the roadside verge where it would have been searching for small insect prey.  Slightly surprising was a singing Reed Warbler somewhere in a dense hedge of Elder and Hawthorn, usually associated with reedbeds close to water, this particular bird may have been a very early autumn migrant or an un-paired male.  Also noted here was a mobile family party of Long-tailed Tits with a couple of Blue Tits as well.
Back on my feet again, I continued to walk east along the road towards Saham Hall where a second Lesser Whitethroat sang close by.
Once at Saham Hall I turned south along the Threxton road and towards the Church and Sewage plant. The small wooded pit between Woodcock Hall and Church Farm is always worth a check as this habitat has some fine specimens of Hawthorn, Elder, Ash, and Oak trees.  With the sun behind me, the strong light revealed plenty of birds in this area including at least 2 Whitethroats, one female Blackcap in a large Hawthorn with a preening juvenile Reed Bunting close by, several Blue Tits, and a pair of Marsh Tits.
As I approached the bridge over Watton Brook at Church Farm, several birds were seen darting in and out of hedges and bushes ahead of me.  2 Blackcaps in song here included on male being seen in flight, he was typically mousey brown-grey with the distinctive black cap being a diagnostic feature.  In an Elder close to the bank alongside Watton Brook a Whitethroat was carrying a small caterpillar in its bill and giving its 'churring' alarm call - clear evidence of nearby young.  
A final look at the Elder bushes around the sewage treatment works showed these were heavily in flower, clearly a good sign for the forthcoming autumn when this area will play host to resting migrant Warblers feeding up on the fruits which will follow.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Crossbills over Griston, Norfolk 02/07/13.

4 Crossbills seen very high overhead (from the north-east) at Griston, Norfolk at about 1130 on 02/07/13.  Had these birds not been calling I may have overlooked them, the call is a highly distinctive "chip-chip" note.
Crossbills do breed in small numbers in Breckland; their breeding season starts early in the year around January and February.  In some years large irruptive flocks of Crossbills move into Britain from Northern Europe, the reason for these movements usually coincides with a failed or an insufficient supply of food, this being the seeds of pine cones such as those found in the Larch. These irruptive movements of Crossbills generally starts in May and may continue through to the autumn.
My observation of these Crossbills along with their directional approach suggests these may well be irruptive birds from Northern Europe, it would therefore be interesting to see if other birders have noticed similar movements.