Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Threxton, Little Cressingham, and Ashill, Norfolk.

The day dawned dry although it was noticeably cooler than of late with an autumnal feel about it.  It was generally bright throughout the day but cloud increased by late afternoon and into the evening. The wind was a moderate westerly.
A good variety of birds seen included evidence of passage, also some reasonably good counts of farmland species seen.

200+ Lapwings
250+ Golden Plover
10+ Stone Curlew (flock)
1 Sparrowhawk (female) North Bridge
80+ Stock Dove (impressive count)
Swallows (Good numbers Threxton)
House Martins
1 Whinchat (Watton Brook valley)
1 Whitethroat
40+ Goldfinch (flock Threxton)
6 Bullfinch

The Threxton area in the morning was particularly productive with good numbers of Swallows and House Martins in the area of Hall Farm.  Several birds perched on overhead wires comprised a number of juveniles.
Further along the lane near Woodcock Hall I checked the long grasses and herbage in the Watton Brook valley for migrants and found a distant Whinchat sitting on wire fencing. Watton Brook valley is always worth looking for migrants which will feed up on insects taken from this valuable habitat.
A little further along the lane in another small 'migrant magnet', a charm of 40+ Goldfinches comprising both adult and juvenile birds was impressive, also here was Blackcap, 3+ Chiffchaffs, and a fresh, smart looking Whitethroat.
Golden Plover (250+) along Peddars Way at Ashill/Great Cressingham

Most of my attention later in the day was given to a large field close to the Peddars Way where a good variety and mix of birds were seen. 
A decent count of 250+ Golden Plovers associated with 200+ Lapwings, however, these were best seen in the evening when both species were wheeling above the field, possibly having been disturbed by a raptor species.  The above photograph shows varying degrees of moult in the male Golden Plovers. Having wheeled over the field on numerous occasions, the Golden Plovers then settled in stubble where they became more difficult to observe.  Also seen in the same field as these waders was 10+ Stone Curlews and a very impressive count of 80+ Stock Doves.  When the angle and light was right, most of these Stock Doves showed their diagnostic black bordered grey wings.....a beautiful compact and well proportioned Dove species.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Thompson Water, Lynford Arboretum, and Houghton-on-the-Hill (with David and Susan McCarthy, and Daniel Watson)

Today was a very special day for me as I met new friends from Melbourne, Australia, David and   Susan McCarthy. David and Susan were researching a trip to the UK and in doing so found this blog, they contacted me in order to arrange a birding trip and today we had a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable day.  I was also accompanied by my very good friend Daniel Watson.
David and Susan McCarthy (from Melbourne, Australia) and Daniel Watson (right)
Thompson Water
At 0830, I met David and Susan and we proceeded to our first birding venue for the day at Thompson Water.  Arriving at the water we saw Mute Swan (adults and young), Gadwall, and Moorhen, whilst Kingfisher was seen frequently darting close to the water between cover.
A highlight on this visit was a single Hobby (adult) which was initially seen perched in a dead tree, this delightfully fast, and agile Falcon was also seen hunting insects close to the water. The ageing of the Hobby presented no problems with the red ventral area showing this as an adult bird.
Grey Heron, Carrion Crows, House Martins, and Wood Pigeons were frequently seen.  The woodland around the water held Bullfinch, Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Common Buzzard was often heard.

Lynford Arboretum
At about 1100, we picked up Daniel Watson and proceeded to Lynford Arboretum.  This beautiful location has been hosting Two-barred Crossbill, therefore, we chose this venue for the possibility of finding this bird as well as enjoying other species attracted to this reliably rich birding area.
Shortly following our arrival at this locality, Common Crossbills were evident with small numbers flying above the treetops, however, making our way to an area of mature Larch trees soon provided an arrival of a decent sized flock of 30+ Common Crossbills, their presence intiailly being given away by their highly distinctive "chip chip chip" flight call.
Also seen in the same area was  a number of Siskins feeding high in conifers along with a few Coal TitsNuthatch and Goldcrest were also present.
Although it was likely the Two-barred Crossbill was associating with Common Crossbills, we were unable to locate it.  We therefore decided to check Lynford Water, hopefully for passage wader species.  Common Crossbills continued to be seen flying overhead and the intial overview of the area did not seem promising for waders, however, I just managed to briefly glimpse 2 Common Sandpipers flying away behind trees.
Hoping also for Hobby, the only raptors seen was a single female Sparrowhawk flying low over the water and distant soaring Buzzard.
On the larger lake, the only offering was a single Great Crested Grebe.

Early afternoon, we then moved off for lunch at 'The olde windmill' at Great Cressingham.  It is at this point that I offer my sincere thanks for David and Susan providing a very welcome lunch.
After lunch we visited the beautiful isolated church of St Mary the Virgin at Houghton-on-the-Hill where we were treated to a superb tour of this wonderful church.

Great Cressingham and Ashill
Following the visit to the church at Houghton-on-the Hill, we made a couple of stops along the Peddars Way where excellent birds were seen.
Firstly, a single Red Kite was picked up by Daniel soaring at distance, however, a while later, I saw another Red Kite drifting out of sight behind woodland.
I picked up a small flock of Golden Plover flying into a large field where further investigation provided an excellent count of 12 Stone Curlews.  Several Lapwings also seen in association with the Golden Plover.  2 Mistle Thrushes and a small number of Stock Doves were seen.

Thompson Water
This second visit to Thompson Water was our last stop of the day and with the sun behind us on this occasion, any birds over on or the water should be seen in good light.
As expected, Hobby was seen but on this visit this was a juvenile bird, despite its young age, the Falcon demonstrated superb agility as it hunted dragonflies over the water.  After several sweeps over the water for food the Hobby then drifted off North.
Around the water, a single Grey Heron stood motionless in reeds whilst close by in a Sallow, noisy juvenile Reed Warblers could just be glimpsed in the darkness of cover.

Day List (Highlights)

Mute Swan
1 Great Crested Grebe
Common Buzzard
2 Hobby (adult and juvenile)
3 Sparrowhawk (males and 2 females)
2 Common Sandpipers
30+ Golden Plover
Red-legged Partridge
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
12+ Stock Dove
1 Grey Wagtail
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker
2+ Nuthatch
House Martin
2 Mistle Thrush
Reed Warbler
Coal Tit

Today will always be in my memory for obvious meeting with David and Susan McCarthy.  Not only was this an excellent days birding, it was also a great day for learning about the history of the beautiful church of St Marys at Houghton-on-the-Hill.
I will end this entry for today to offer my sincerest thanks to David and Susan for initially making contact with me and accompanying me and my dear friend Daniel Watson, for treating us to a great lunch, and finally to David who presented me with his wonderful book, the 'Field Guide to the Birds of Australia', this book will be treasured...thank you so much David and look I forward to maintaining contact with you..

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Little Cressingham and Threxton

A beautiful cool dawn with a feel of autumn about it and my day started with a 4 mile dog walk around the Little Cressingham area.
Highlights on this walk included:

6 Common Buzzards
2 Little Owls (singles at 2 localities)
Reeve's Pheasant x Common Pheasant
1 Kestrel

Threxton (Evening into dusk)
With the sun fast sinking to the west, I decided to visit Threxton to check for migrants along the Watton brook valley and various ditches between the church and Woodcock Hall.  Although many will feel that sewage treatment works are not particularly endearing places to visit they are in fact superb magnets for migrants and resident birds.  Sewage treatment works provide good feeding for birds with swarms of millions of midges gathering around the tops of trees and bushes which form a screen.  Well established Hawthorn and Elder also provide good feeding and the conifer screen will offer warmth and places for roosting.
This evenings visit produced a few Chiffchaffs as well as probable local Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits.  Chiffchaffs will roam with Tit flocks in their search for food and occasionally a few may remian through the winter months providing the weather is not too severe.  Sewage Treatment have their own micro-climates in winter where midges and other invertebrates provide feeding for over-wintering warbler species.  The relative warmth of dense cover which forms screens to these works will provide good roost sites during the long winter nights.
Also seen this evening was a number of Stock Doves (6+), around the plant and adjoining farmland. Stock Doves are more of a well-proportioned bird compared to Wood Pigeons which are very large with a small head.  In flight, Stock Doves are easily recognised by their mostly lead-grey body, the  wings are similarly grey but have a diagnostic Black border.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Little Cressingham

The weather dawned bright, sunny, and warm today with a continued easterly airflow which increased to moderate in strength by the afternoon. Given the bright start to the day I was not hopeful for any local 'falls' of migrants, however, birds which made landfall on the coast yesterday may well have moved inland over the previous night.

Little Cressingham Mill
I stopped at the mill this morning to check for migrants in the dense fruiting bushes adjacent to the Watton Brook and Fairstead Lane area nearby.  Probably 30+ House Martins were overhead and often gave false alarm calls as they do and also a few Swallows were also seen.
The dense cover along the brook produced 3+ Blackcaps and a Whitethroat, whilst Chiffchaff was heard further along the valley.  Greenfinch and House Sparrows were typically in the hedgerow on Fairstead Lane close to the bridge.
Blackcap in Elder at Little Cressingham Mill 26/08/13.
'The Arms' to Watton Brook (Little Cressingham)
Mid afternoon and it was quite warm and sunny with an increased easterly wind from the mornings light to a moderate in strength.
I parked close to the 'The Arms' to walk to the valley to check for migrants, on the way there I encountered a good number of Butterfly species in the long grass and weedy verges.  Common Blue was the most numerous, also some Adonis Blues (photographed) were seen along with Brimstone.
Also seen was a Common Lizard which ran across the road in front of me. 

Upon my arrival on the Watton Brook Valley, I carefully searched the fences and vegetation and my earlier hunch paid off when I found a Whinchat perched on fencing and occasionally making sallies for probable food on the ground. This was a very distant bird, too distant for photographing, however, I could just make the bird out as a juvenile.  A good end to the day.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A morning of easterlies brings migrants.

At 0630 this morning I met up with my very good friend and excellent birder, Daniel Watson.  This was our first meeting for some time due to Daniels commitments at university, also he has just returned from 8 weeks of birding in Central America (Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua) where he saw numerous bird species that I can only ever dream of seeing.

With overnight rain moving through and the day dawning murky with a steady easterly wind, thoughts turned to finding migrant birds as well as hopefully observing visible migration (vismigging), therefore we headed off initially to Houghton-on-the-Hill to start our search. 
We chose a small site, a particular habitat rich area which has faithfully attracted migrants in previous years and this morning was quite productive with 10+ Blackcaps, 5+ Chiffchaffs, 6+ Whitethroats, and 2+ Willow Warblers.  More local movements were seen with a flock of 6+ Linnets, several Goldfinches, Yellowhammer (adult and juvenile), and 1 Bullfinch (juvenile).  A single Common Buzzard and Kestrel were seen nearby.
A small flock of Golden Plovers and Lapwings were seen high to the south of our location.
Visible migration (vismig) produced the following:

1 Curlew (high) flying north-west
1 Snipe (high) south-west
1 Crossbill directly overhead south-west
1 Yellow Wagtail (high) west and calling

Little Cressingham
Late morning and the earlier murky weather gave way to warm sunshine and an increase in the strength of the easterly wind.
We decided to visit the Watton brook valley on Fairstead Lane, Little Cressingham, with the hope of finding migrants such as Whinchat along the fencing adjacent to the brook.  We did not see any passerine species, however, 4 Common Buzzards were seen, 3 to the distant south, and one closer soaring over 'The Nunneries'.
Turning to look along the hedgerow alongside the lane, a party of Long-tailed Tits made their way, often one at a time, between cover, then Daniel exclaimed "Bloody hell", we both connected with a bright yellow butterfly with obvious dark borders to the wings, however, I didn't know what this was, Daniel confirmed that this was a Clouded Yellow Butterfly and remarked on the rarity of this species.  We discussed the origins of this migratory butterfly and agreed that it was probably brought over from the near continent by the easterly airflow.  A great end to our morning together. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Ready for the deluge of migrants in September.

August through to November is without doubt one of the most exciting times in the birders diary as migration will be well under way, more specifically, September and October will produce the greatest movement and numbers of birds.
September is the pivotal month for bird migration when summer birds will meet the first incoming winter migrants.  The numbers of birds can be staggering as adults, juveniles, local, and incoming and outgoing migrants, all form a mouthwatering mix of ornithological brilliance.
Migrant birds can, and do, turn up anywhere and often something much rarer will associate themselves with more familiar species.
Migrant birds use stars, the moon and the sun as guides to aid passage, the magnetic pull of the earth, and visual cues which are thought to be retained in bird memories.
Finding an area of high ground will aid the birdwatcher who wishes to witness the miracle of bird migration as birds can be picked up at range, their numbers counted, behaviour can be studied, and the origins and intended destinations can provide food for thought.  Bird migration and conservation also go hand in hand as areas of habitat known as resting, feeding, and staging posts for tired migrants can be monitored and if necessary be protected if thought to be under threat.

On my Breckland patch, I discovered a little known area for watching migration close to the Norfolk parish of North Pickenham.  This area of high ground offers a distant and wide vista from the North-West to the North-East and the site itself has a wide variety of habitats and visual cues which will aid bird migration.
This locality has a fantastic supply of fruiting bushes and hedgerows in September, most notably Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Elder, Guelder Rose, and Bramble, additionally there are sources of water which attract birds.
Finding such a location and habitat will in September will provide very memorable birding experiences, however, any area of fruiting bushes and hedges, even in urban environments will attract migrants.
September is the month when Warbler species will be encountered in their greatest numbers, it also gives birders a great opportunity to brush up on plumages and different age groups of common birds, this is important as knowing common birds will be useful if you find something unusual.
Whitethroat (juvenile) at Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.
I love to visit area of Elder, Hawthorn, and Bramble first thing on a September morning as migrants will be feeding and refuelling from a previous nights passage.  Species to be encountered in such habitats will include Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, and Spotted Flycatchers, whilst later in the month the first winter visitors will be encountered such as Blackbirds, Fieldfares, and Redwings.  When checking Thrush species always consider something more unusual with them such as Ring Ouzel as these birds often travel with their more familiar cousins.
The miracle of migration always enters my head when watching migrants at this time of year, I often think of where these birds may have bred, either in our islands or Europe, and speculate on the journey ahead of them and the varying routes that different species take. As birds pass through Britain they will do so on a broad front, however, different species will eventually break away to follow very specific routes, as well as being funnelled through specific crossing points over the Mediterranean.  I marvel for example that Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats will share the same Elder bush on my patch to feed, however, as they depart our shores, Whitethroats will continue more or less south whilst Lesser Whitethroats will break away and follow a south-eastern route through Europe eventually crossing the eastern Mediterranean and wintering in North Eastern Africa.
River valleys in Breckland, and elsewhere of course, should be checked in September for the above migrants as well as Chat species, specifically Whinchat and Redstart.  The often well vegetated habitats at these features will see Whinchats using fence-posts and high vegetation to launch themselves from to pick off insects.  If you are very lucky, fence-posts and fencing may hold a migrant Shrike species.  Great Cressingham held a great rarity in July 1994 in the form of a Balearic Woodchat Shrike, this is only one of three that has occured in Britain.....check those fence-posts.
As well as checking habitats at ground level, also consider keeping an eye and an ear to the sky as overhead migrants will include passage Yellow Wagtails, an absolute gem of a bird, also check damp meadows and fields of grazing cattle for this beauty.
From about the middle of September, Meadow Pipits will be passing over sometimes in significant numbers, I have also seen Tree Pipits at this time as well....a good time to learn flight calls.
Whilst looking skyward as the day warms, watch for migrating raptor species.  Ospreys may be seen passing over in a southerly heading.  On the 14th September 2008 at my migration watchpoint near North Pickenham, a spectacular day for migration included 2 Ospreys and a Honey Buzzard.
Finally, I wrote earlier about how migrating birds can turn up almost anywhere.  On 17 September 2012, whilst watching birds in the garden, a juvenile Honey Buzzard approached from the North, passed directly above me and off in a southerly heading.....superb September. 


Friday, 23 August 2013

Hockham Fen

Whilst walking the forest trails to Hockham Fen I met a few people on the way, all commented on the number of mosquitos in the area.  I must say that these little critters are particularly aggressive at this time of year and if like me you wear shorts all year round then you have to suffer the consequences.  It is only the female mosquito that feeds upon blood and without this they cannot produce their eggs.  The male mosquito feeds entirely upon nectar.
Hockham Fen appeared quiet when I visited, however, the mind wandered to what could actually be hidden within this fantastic site.  A Willow Warbler was heard briefly in song within woodland along the periphery of the site.  Both Chiffchaff and Blackcap were heard.  A single Kingfisher flashed past me and was later heard giving its piping whistle-like call in cover where it may have been tending to its young.
The woodland surrounds held calling Siskin.  Siskins are mostly winter visitors, however, this is a scarce breeder within Breckland, their numbers will swell, sometimes significantly, from September when migrants visit from Northern Europe.  Also seen was a couple of calling Crossbills.
Dragonfly species seen both over the Fen and in the surrounding pine forest included Ruddy Darter and Emperor.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Houghton-on-the-Hill and Thompson Water, Norfolk.

The churchyard at St Mary's at Houghton-on-the-Hill sits in a very isolated location and is the perfect place to get away from it all and think.
This ancient site would undoubtedly have been for many centuries a staging post for migrant birds.  The church is at an elevated position and can be seen from many miles, this would certainly have been a regular focal point for many migrants which would have faithfully used the church and its surrounds to get their bearings.  And this continues to be the case today as my visits to the church and the immediate area in late summer and autumn always produces migrant passerine species which use the locality to rest, feed, and refuel.  I am sure this is the case with migrant raptor species as well as I have witnessed some excellent passage over the years, these sightings have included Honey Buzzard (2008), Osprey (2 on same day in September 2008), Harrier species, and Buzzards.  As well as natural features, I am sure that raptors use man-made features such as St Mary's as focal points for migration.  
No raptor passage seen today, however, the churchyard produced good numbers of migrant Warblers, especially Blackcaps, of which there must have been 8+ birds.  It is likely that some of the Blackcaps seen bred locally, however, it is fair to say that others were genuine migrants.
Blackcap (juvenile) St Mary's Church at Houghton-on-the Hill, Norfolk 21/08/13 
Blackcaps at Houghton this morning were represented by all age groups and the above juvenile bird was seen to be fed by an adult male bird.  Blackcaps also fed upon Elder berries and one male often frequented a fruiting Guelder Rose bush.
A few Chiffchaffs were also present in the churchyard and surrounding area as were Blue, Great, and Coal Tits.  The shrill call of a Treecreeper was heard.
The pond close to the church held a beautiful male Bullfinch, a common bird but always a delight to see.
Overhead, a flock of 200+ Golden Plover wheeled around, these early returning migrants may have been in the area since July having left their upland Britain breeding grounds.  These waders may now stay through the winter period, however, if conditions are particularly bad they will ove to milder areas. 

An early afternoon visit to Thompson Water coincided with increasingly warm conditions.  Typically at this time of day, birds were relatively few and far between, but a few young Reed Warblers in water-side Sallows appeared to be begging for food.  Chiffchaff was also occasionally heard.
I decided to try and brush up on my Dragonfly identification, in doing so I had good views of male and female Emperor DragonflyCommon and Ruddy Darter Dragonflies.

Ruddy Darter at Thompson Water 21/08/13

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Little Cressingham

Chiffchaff 20/08/13 Little Cressingham, Norfolk
The rich and varied habitat in the area of Little Cressingham windmill played host to some good numbers of Warbler species this morning.  I concentrated most of my efforts on this visit to the dense cover of mixed small woodland and hedgerow habitat alongside Watton Brook.
I had several good sightings of Blackcaps feeding in Elder and Bramble, these comprised adult male, female, and juvenile birds. As is typical with Warblers at this time of year, these birds consumed fruits in order to build energy reserves for their autumn migration.  2 or 3 Chiffchaffs, 2+ Whitethroats, and a Willow Warbler were also noted in this area.
Finch species were well represented with a number of Goldfinches (mostly juveniles), a family party of Greenfinches, and 3+ Linnets, all seen in the immediate area.
A brief view of a Kingfisher gave a brilliant flash of blue as it disappeared at speed in front of me and off along Watton Brook.
House Martins and a few Swallows were seen, however, their numbers appeared reduced now, this indicating others have already departed.  All of my local Swifts appeared to have departed as well.
As I prepared to leave, a number of House Sparrows occupied the hedgerows on Fairstead Lane, these birds comprising both adult and juvenile birds.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Little Cressingham and Threxton

At dawn today I took Toby for a circular 4 mile walk starting at Threxton Church, taking in Little Cressingham, north along the Peddars Way, east along the Watton road, and finally south along the lane from Saham Hall back to Threxton. This undulating walk crosses the Watton Brook valley at two points along the walk and it was at, or near to these localities, where I thought I would have the best chance of finding some migrant species.  The habitat at these sites provide both good feeding and resting for birds on the move.
Firstly, I stopped at North Bridge on the Peddars Way north of Little Cressingham.  Watton Brook meanders more or less east to west at this locality, the immediate area alongside the Brook provides good grazing for cattle and the roadsides have a mixture of small patches of woodland including Alder, Birch, and Rowan.  The hedgerows comprise mostly of Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Sallow, Guelder Rose, and tall Ash trees.
As expected, North Bridge held most bird activity with a party of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Chiffchaffs, and Goldcrest passing through a dense section of Blackthorn and Ash habitat.  North of the valley at the crossroads, further migrants were both seen and heard including Whitethroat, Blackcap, and Chiffchaff, and wheeling overhead was a small party of Golden Plovers.
Walking east from Little Cressingham towards Saham Hall I could hear a Spotted Flycatcher calling in roadside Oaks, however, I could not locate the bird visually.
Whitethroat (juvenile) at Threxton 18/08/13
Making my way to Threxton I stopped off at an extremely valuable little habitat which has always been a migrant magnet, this visit was as expected full of migrant warblers.
At least 6 Whitethroats were seen in Hawthorn and Elder, this may have been a family party of birds which bred close to the Watton Brook.  The above juvenile Whitethroat was watched for some time moving around an Elder, although it took some time out for preening.
Whilst watching these migrants, I heard the familiar "sweeep" call of a Yellow Wagtail, I then saw it fly overhead in a southerly heading...further evidence of migration picking up.
Also plentiful at this site was several Chiffchaffs, a Blackcap, a family party of about 12 Goldfinches, and Blue Tits.

At the time of writing butterflies appear to be present in the Breckland area in good numbers and species variety, this includes the Painted Lady, this particular butterfly was seen on farmland alongside the Great Cressingham road at Little Cressingham.  The Painted Lady is a migratory species and comes to us from North Africa. 

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.

With the wind direction not being too favourable for migration today, I decided to pay attention to the habitats in the area that provide both a home and good feeding for birds.  I am not too knowledgeable as far as botany is concerned, however, I try to learn the names of in particular, those bushes, hedgerows, and trees, which play host to resident and visiting birds.
I often think that autumn is my favourite time of year for birds, but also, I love the colours of autumn and all the varieties of wild fruits which feeds birds, and of course us, as many types of fruits are consumed by humans either as additions to food or drink.
Fruits of Blackthorn - Sloe's (loved by Thrushes) 
I love to see a full hedge as we approach autumn and identify the larder therein.  As with almost everywhere, Houghton-on-the-Hill has a good supply of Hawthorn, this is a very common hedgerow plant and the small red haws will feed many species, especially Thrushes.  I have noticed in recent days that Elder bushes (one of my favourite) are heavily in fruit this year, and although not yet ripe until September, the small size and softer feel of the fruit will attract many warbler species as they fuel themselves up for their long passage to Africa.  Possibly one of our most attractive fruits is that of Blackthorn, these are commonly known as sloes, and very much favoured by our wintering Thrush species.  Rose hips, the fruits of the Dog Rose, are large firm fruits which again are generally taken by larger migrants like Blackbirds and other Thrush species.

Bird migration is well underway now, however, September will see the greatest variety of species and numbers passing through.  Despite today appearing quiet as far as migrants are concerned there was still several Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in the hedges and scrub on Houghton Common along with the odd Whitethroat.  Mid-September will see very large numbers of migrant warblers darting between cover and feeding up after a night of passage.  I have seen 20+ Whitethroats in one section of hedge previously on Houghton Common, I suspect these birds were 'downed' by a previous nights thunderstorm.
Common Buzzard on Houghton Common 17/08/13
Common Buzzards were vocal throughout my visit today to Houghton, especially so a juvenile bird which gave incessant begging calls to its parents.  The above Buzzard was perched on the top of an Oak where the lane meets the common.
I left this isolated, yet beautiful site with thoughts of migrant birds visiting the area in the knowledge that they will be presented with a full larder of fruit.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.

From August through to November, Houghton-on-the-Hill is one of my most frequented areas for birding.  The elevation of this site, the wide vista and habitat, makes this a superb visible migration watchpoint. This area has a rich variety of fruit-rich hedges and bushes, I noticed this morning that the Elder crop looks particularly heavy and come September, migrant birds will make good use of this crop when stopping off to refuel.
It was evident this morning that there was several Whitethroats in Elder and Hawthorn habitat on Houghton Common, and although the fruit is yet to ripen, insects should abound as a food source. The Whitethroats seen were females and juveniles, these appeared particularly clean and fresh looking.
The hedgerow corridor running east to west from the church is also heavy in unripened fruit and again played host to Whitethroats, ChiffchaffGreat Tit, and Yellowhammers.
The woodland alongside the track to the church was at times quite busy with Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs, Chaffinches, Wrens, Coal Tit, and Blackbird.

Goldcrest at Houghton-on-the-Hill 12/08/13
The above Goldcrest was seen in dense mixed woodland habitat close to the church, although it typically frequented conifers for the majority of the time where it was incessantly on the go, searching for small insect and spider prey amongst the pine needles.
Chiffchaff was seen in the same habitat as the Goldcrest and was also actively searching for food amongst the branches and pine needles.  Occasionally, the Chiffchaff would hover at the end of a branch whilst searching for food.
Also seen and heard in the area of the church was Bullfinch and a noisy juvenile Common Buzzard.
With each passing day and week now, summer will soon give way to autumn and Houghton-on-the-Hill will once again play host to large numbers of resting and feeding migrants.....perhaps something much rarer might drop in one day.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Movements through the garden.

A good range of species seen in and passing through the garden today with some evidence of passage involved as well.
Several ever-present juvenile Goldfinches alighted in the trees, to the untrained eye, these youngsters may present a bit of an identification problem, however, the familiar golden wing-bar is always present in both adult and juvenile birds, this should help sort out the different age groups.
Good numbers of Greenfinches always in and out of the garden, although a common bird, always a delight to see, especially the 'green' males with their bright yellow wing and tail markings.
Several juvenile Blackbirds frequently visited our Rowan in order to feed upon the bright orange berries.
A good sized flock of Long-tailed Tits passed through the garden and with them a single Chiffchaff tagged along. Warbler species often associate themselves with mobile Tit flocks, it is always worth checking these flocks for something unusual.
Probably the bird of the day was a single Spotted Flycatcher which was seen in the garden for a while late afternoon...further evidence of passage being underway.

Spotted Flycatcher in garden 09/08/13

Spotted Flycatchers generally start to migrate around mid-August, as this species does not appear to breed in the immediate vicinity, and with no local summer records, it is fair to assume that this bird is one of the earlier passage birds feeding up for its long haul to the south of equatorial Africa.
Further common species present in the garden was Blue Tit, Great Tit, and a passing Coal Tit.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

The day dawned damp with thickish cloud and some light rain, although as the morning progressed some brighter spells was welcomed.
I decided to take Toby for his morning walk to Hockham Forest with a view to making for Hockham Fen for the Marsh Harrier I found there yesterday.  Despite the rain, it was pleasantly comfortable for walking, although the mosquito's had their fill from my bare legs.
After a lengthy wait at one of the gates to Hockham Fen, I caught a glimpse of a Harrier rising up from willow scrub, after a further wait, a Marsh Harrier (male) came into view and hunted low over the reedbeds and rushy grassland, it then continued to be seen on and off during my visit. Quite unlike the female of the species, this male Marsh Harrier is identifiable by its tri-coloured wings of white, brown, and black, a creamy crown and nape, brown mantle and diagnostic silvery white tail.  During my observations of the Marsh Harrier, it was mobbed by both Common Buzzard and Hobby
Whilst overviewing Hockham Fen from this gate, 2 Crossbills flew over and Treecreeper was heard. A small number of about 6 Teal occasionally sprung from the ground, possibly disturbed by the Marsh Harrier.
I then decided to relocate from my current position to another gate at Poor's Allotment, in order to overview another large area of Hockham Fen, this proved to be a good move.
Whilst overviewing the fen, I noticed a bird alighting in a dead, lone, Silver Birch, the bird appeared rather long-tailed, which raised suspicions.  Rather than view the bird through binoculars, I located it in the camera lens and to my amazement it was a juvenile Cuckoo.
Cuckoo (juvenile) on Hockham Fen, Norfolk 05/08/13
I have not seen too many juvenile Cuckoos, therefore, seeing this delightful bird was a real treat and my star bird of the month so far.  It will never to cease to amaze me that the parent birds will already be back in Africa at this time, this, and all other young Cuckoos have been raised by another parasitised species and it is now up to this bird to make its own way to Africa unaided....miraculous.
Cuckoo (juvenile) Hockham Fen 05/08/13
The Cuckoo left its original perch and relocated to another along the edge of the fen, despite being distant, this photograph clearly shows the differences between this young bird and an adult Cuckoo.
The juvenile Cuckoo is a brown bird with white fringes to its feathers giving it a scaly-like appearance.  The long brown and white tail can just be seen in the picture.  Another juvenile feature seen on this Cuckoo was the presence of white patches on the nape area.
A further check of the Cuckoo showed it had moved continue its long southbound journey to Africa.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Hockham Fen

Hockham Fen, which adjoins Cranberry Rough, is a gem of a site sitting within the vast Pine plantations of Thetford Forest in Norfolk. The habitat here is one of restored ancient grassland, bog, reed-beds, juncus, and boggy scrub habitat.  Highland cattle are used as part of the management of this unique Norfolk Wildlife Trust site.
Almost immediately upon my arrival at Hockham Fen, I saw a Marsh Harrier alight on a small dead tree about 150 yards in front of me, I quickly raised my binoculars jsut before it flew off again to see that the bird appeared darkish brown with a mostly all dark-brown head as well.  I then watched the Marsh Harrier hunting over the Fen, although it went absent for longish periods before appearing again.  In flight, the Harrier had darkish wings with pale grey secondaries and a dark, blackish hand. The tail was distinctive in that it was a pale silvery grey colour and very much contrasted with the rest of the birds plumage.  When gliding the wings were raised above the level of the body.  The plumage of the Marsh Harrier indicates this is a juvenile male bird (see attached poor record shot).
Marsh Harrier at Hockham Fen 04/08/13 (Poor record shot)
 Also seen at Hockham Fen: 4+ Grey Heron, Reed Bunting, and Common Buzzard.
The walk from Hockham Fen through Frost's Common produced a flock of 15+ Crossbills directly overhead.  Several Chiffchaffs, Coal Tits, and Goldcrests were heard.

Great/Little Cressingham 3 August 2013

With temperatures recently peaking at 31 degrees, birds seen today indicate that summer will soon draw to a close and that autumn is approaching along with the miracle that is bird migration.
Whilst walking along the Peddars Way at Great Cressingham at dawn, a small party of about 6 European Golden Plover with 30+ Northern Lapwings rose from a nearby field.  In the winter months, Golden Plover numbers on farmland can reach four-figure numbers....quite a challenge when looking for something different within them.
Further along the Peddars Way at North bridge, Little Cressingham, a mixed party of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, and Chiffchaff were seen moving through the trees whilst in the valley a single Common Buzzard flew from a small Alder wood.
Walking towards Little Cressingham windmill, I caught a brief glimpse of a large raptor species being mobbed by a corvid, I soon relocated the bird, it was a female Western Marsh Harrier and it was flying close to the ground over crops close to the Watton Brook valley.  Occasionally, the Harrier showed reasonably well and although distant, its large 'Buzzard' size was unmistakeable as was the dark plumage and the distinct pale creamy head.  This is a typical date for seeing Marsh Harriers on the move, however, September is when I usually see this beautiful raptor passing through Breckland.
I decided to spend a little time on Fairstead Lane, Little Cressingham, close to the area of the windmill when a single Hobby put in an appearance over the valley. This bird soared for a while before heading into the sun and out of sight.  The Hobby is a superb master of the skies and this area is reliable for sighting this dashing Falcon as it hunts Hirundines and winged insects such as dragonflies.
Hobby - a regular sighting in the Little Cressingham area (Picture taken at Little Cressingham, June 2012).
Other raptor species seen was single Sparrowhawk and a couple of Kestrels hunting along the valley.
A pair of Oystercatchers continue to tend to their single youngster, it appears that worms are its favourite food.
A single Kingfisher was seen darting along the valley, and in fact, single birds continued to be seen on a number of occasions.
A short visit to the windmill area saw good numbers of House Martins and a few Swallows in the area.  House Martins typically gave a number of 'false-alarm calls' indicating a possible threat such as a Hobby.