Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Peddars Way

The Peddars Way Long Distance Path begins in Suffolk but the almost all of the route lies within Norfolk. A good length of this path passes through my patch from East Wretham, Great Hockham, Stow Bedon, Thompson, Merton, Threxton, Little and Great Cressingham, South Pickenham, and finally, North Pickenham, when the path leaves my patch and continues north for the North Norfolk Coast.  The entire route is some 93 miles in length.
This morning I covered a small length of the Peddars Way (approx 2 miles), starting at Little Cressingham and walked north through rolling countryside which for the most part is arable with small areas of grazing land.

5 Snipe including 3 east
6+ Goldcrest
6+ Chiffchaff
35+ Goldfinches

The Watton Brook valley is always productive for common birds given the wealth of habitat and this morning a small party of 6 Goldcrests passed through roadside woodland and dense Bramble/Hawthorn hedgerows.  An adult Grey Heron was seen in the valley.
Continuing north along the path, a noisy gathering of Crows told me that a raptor species was in the area, this was a Common Buzzard, however, an extremely brief glimpse of another raptor was seen rising above a hedge with Crows in pursuit, however, I could not relocate when I found a suitable opening in a hedge.  I suspect the raptor was a falcon species, possibly Peregrine, a species I encounter frequently at this time of the year.
The route held a total of 6+ Chiffchaffs at various localities but I could not find any other Warbler species.  A pair of Marsh Tits called in path-side hedgerows.
Walking back along the path I took a short break at the brow of a hill, whilst there, 3 Snipe overflew to my south and east along the valley, perhaps this was just a local movement as this time of year I would expect to see migrant Snipe flying west.
One of the highlights this morning was back at my start point at Little Cressingham where I spent some time viewing along the Watton Brook valley.  The combination of the brook, the well vegetated banks, weedy fields, and laneside hedgerows, all provide an excellent habitat for common species. 

The well vegetated banks held a charm of 35+ Goldfinches which were attracted to the Wild Teasel heads from which they extract seeds.  This group of birds comprised both adults and juvenile birds, the youngsters are beginning to show some red feathering on their facial areas.
A check of the mill area produced 2 Snipe, a species which will winter in the area within the valley.
Also in this immediate area was a number of House Sparrows, Yellowhammers (including the above photographed female), Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Blue Tits, and Blackbirds.
A single Common Buzzard over woodland attracted the usual mobbing Crow species.  Large numbers of Crow species, especially Jackdaws, frequented sheep grazing, such a gathering of Corvids is a recipe for hunting Goshawk, however, not during my observations.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Notes from my Breckland patch 27/09/13

An early morning walk around Little and Great Cressingham produced a single Red Kite along the Peddars Way path, whilst in an adjoining field, 45+ Greylag Geese were browsing in stubble.  A single Grey Wagtail passed overhead, this was either a dispersing bird from a nearby breeding area, or more likely, a migrant from Northern Europe.
Whilst passing through Great Cressingham, a pair of Marsh Tits fed upon thistle heads and a couple of Goldcrests (one juvenile) was seen in a garden.
Taking a break and over-looking fields, a single juvenile Goshawk glided low and entered woodland with an upward sweep.
At Little Cressingham and searching for migrants, my only success was finding a female/juvenile Blackcap eating blackberries.
The mornings walk ended with a very respectable total count of 12+ Bullfinches at a number of localities.
A late afternoon visit to Threxton Sewage Plant produced 2 Grey Wagtails and as evening approached a number of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests became more active. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Visible migration at Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.

At 0630 I picked up my good friend Daniel Watson and we headed for Houghton-on-the-Hill for a mornings birding with emphasis on visible migration.  With the clear conditions of the previous night and into the morning we thought that any passage birds were likely to continue high overhead and out of sight.
A dedicated 4 hour spot count of migration watching produced the following:

1 Yellow Wagtail high south
50+ Golden Plover west
1 HOBBY south-west
c.10 Meadow Pipits south-east

Recent arrivals included 15+ Chiffchaffs skulking around in dense Elder and Hawthorn habitats and just a couple of Blackcaps heard.  Surprisngly, not a single Whitethroat of Lesser Whitethroat was seen.  Daniel also commented on the absence of Hirundines, it is likely that this group has already departed our shores.
An early morning movement of Gull species, including a few Great Black-backed Gulls, were all heading in an easterly to south-easterly heading, this eventually stopped.  These birds had undoubtedly roosted north-west of our location and were leaving to feed in fields.
Local birds included several Common Buzzards at a number of localities from our vantage point, also a family party of 4 Kestrels (including 2 juveniles entertained overhead.

Marsh Tit at Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk 26/09/13
A single Little Owl called from the lane to the north of us.  Dense habitat close by held a number of Great and Blue Tits, also Yellowhammer and Bullfinches were present. 

Late morning, Daniel and I departed our 'watch-point' and headed back to St Mary's Church, here we checked out the spring by the track.
A couple of more Chiffchaffs were seen in the Hawthorn habitat by the pond, also, a single Marsh Tit made frequent visits to a thistle, this small species often revealed its presence by giving its loud "pitchou" call.
At 1215, we left Houghton with fewer migrants than initially expected, however, it was likely that many birds passed very high overhead given the clear conditions.

Garden (Dusk)
Whilst having a coffee in the garden, a very high flock of 80+ Black-headed Gulls headed north-west in a long drawn out. loose V formation.  It was likely that these gulls were heading for their roost site, possibly at a large water body west of Swaffham, or posssibly 'The Wash' area. 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Merton, Garden notes, and Little Cressingham

A beautiful clear night gave way to a foggy dawn with low cloud persisting most of the morning. The afternoon was warm and sunny with a moderate north-westerly.
An early morning walk around Thompson and Merton produced a calling Tawny Owl along Broomhill.  With improving light, several Goldcrests started calling within woodland and along the periphery of the Merton Park estate 3 Green Sandpipers passed overhead.

Garden notes
Chiffchaff - One of at least 2 in the garden in fog 22/09/13.
Fog very much persisted throughout the morning but eventually gave way to low cloud and slowly brightening conditions.  With the early morning fog came thoughts of disorientated migrant birds and within minutes of stepping into the garden I heard Chiffchaff calling and as events unfolded at least 2 birds were present throughout much of the day.  Although visiting a number of bushes and trees, I noticed that the Chiffchaffs often made for a neighbouring gardens buddleia, presumably the Warblers were attracted to insect food there.
A number of Blackbirds of all age groups were in and out of the garden, these birds were seen to feed upon both Whitebeam (Sorbus), and Hawthorn berries.
As the morning progressed I noticed a light overhead southerly passage of Swallows and once the warm sunshine had broken through, 3 Common Buzzards passed high overhead.

Little Cressingham (Fairstead Lane, Green Lane, and the mill).
Mid afternoon and warm sunny conditions had developed.  Looking back from 'The Fairstead' towards 'The Nunneries', I could see a pair of Common Buzzards soaring above the woodland.  Nearby, at the exact same locality as 21/09, a male Reeve's Pheasant was again seen.
A single Blackcap was heard in a hedge on Fairstead Lane close to Watton Brook.

On the millpond at Little Cressingham mill was a single Little Grebe, 30+ Mallard, 1 Mute Swan, and 3 Moorhens.  A Bullfinch was heard as was a calling Little Owl.
Insects seen at the millpond included Emperor and Ruddy Darter Dragonflies.

Noticeable absences around Mill Cottage and the surrounding area was House Martin, all appeared to have departed now for their southerly passage, additionally, Whitethroats are now conspicuous by their absence, any seen now are likely to be migrants passing through from their European breeding grounds.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A very memorable close encounter with a Goshawk, and a World Record holder.

My intended destination this morning was the Watton Brook valley with a view to finding migrants, however, an encounter with a juvenile Goshawk near Great Cressingham, Norfolk, curtailed my original plans.
At 0810 as I was driving towards Great Cressingham I noticed a large raptor fly from a roadside tree, it had all brown upperparts..and it wasn't a Buzzard.  I soon found a gap in the hedge and saw the bird flying along a hedge and then sweep up into an Oak tree, it was a juvenile Goshawk.  I could just glimpse the raptor through the leaves, however, it wasn't until some minutes later when it left the tree to fly along another hedge, it then turned as if to fly off and behind me. I stayed where I was close to the hedge when suddenly the Goshawk flew past me just above the ground to take the same route along the hedge and then alight in another nearby tree.  When the Goshawk passed me, it was at it closet no more than 20 feet from me, I was totally awestruck by the size of this mighty raptor and as it turned I could clearly see the streaked, buff underparts of the bird.  Several minutes later, the Goshawk flew away east, I therefore relocated myself further along the road where I hunkered down beside a tree.....and waited, some time passed by, then, a lot of noisy Crows told me something was up, then, the Goshawk appeared along a hedge line in close pursuit of a Crow.
Not only was this another lasting memory of one of the Goshawks on my patch, the very presence of this very large raptor sent Pigeons, Crows, and Finches, scattering everywhere, and provided a clear example of how this species causes panic and unsettling behaviour of all other birds in the area.

Given the excitement generated by the Goshawk, I remained in the area for some time and despite the panic caused by the raptor, I managed to see a good range of other common species in the area including a flock of 60+ Linnet, a few Swallows passing by, Bullfinches and Goldcrests in a mature hedge, a couple of Common Buzzards as well.  Of course, Wood Pigeons and Crows were plentiful and were edgy to the presence of the Goshawk.

Reeve's Pheasant Great Cressingham 21/09/13
Checking a nearby field edge where it meets mature wooded hedgerows, I noticed a distant large Pheasant at the far end of the field, it was an adult male Reeve's Pheasant.
A small population of Reeve's Pheasant occurs in this area of Breckland, this is a very large species which holds the record of having the longest tail feather of any bird in the world - up to 8 feet long.
Reeve's Pheasant were introduced into the UK in 1831 from their native China, it would appear that the Breckland area is the stronghold for what is an internationally endangered species.  It is thought that only 3000 Reeve's Pheasant exist in the wild in China.
The Reeve's Pheasant is much larger then the familiar Common Pheasant, this was apparent when both species were seen close to each other.  Reeve's is also a strong, robust looking bird with a muscular looking neck area and it was when Common Pheasants approached, the Reeve's appeared to puff itself up and adopt a more upright carriage, perhaps a threat to the other birds.  Reeve's Pheasant is known to show aggression towards humans.
Although only this single Reeve's Pheasant was seen today I have previously seen 6 males together close to Little Cressingham.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Hirundines and Cranes

Church Farm at Threxton lies within rolling farmland in the Watton brook valley, farming here comprises both arable and grazing livestock.  A visit to this locality early morning produced a flock of 300+ House Martins with smaller numbers of Swallows gathering above Church Farm and the nearby sewage works.  As with recent observations, this gathering of Hirundines probably comprised mostly migrants using the site as a staging post as well as some local birds.

At 1120 whilst checking the skies from my garden in Watton I noticed 2 very distant specks very high to the north-west.  Intially, I thought they were aircraft but it became apparent they were indeed birds, as I continued to watch these birds it was clear they were very large, these were Common Cranes, a species I have encountered rarely in the Breckland area.
2 Common Cranes Watton, Norfolk 18/09/13 (Very distant and very high)
A small population of Common Cranes breeds in the Norfolk Broads and at Lakenheath Fen on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.  The question is are these birds from either of these populations on a wander around Norfolk or are they passage birds from Europe.  I have seen Common Cranes on my patch on two previous occasions, both of these previous sighting were of birds flying quite low, given that these Cranes today were at a great height could they have been migrants from Europe?

                                                    Water Vole (One of 2) at Little Cressingham.
A late afternoon visit to Little Cressingham Mill was fairly quiet birdwsie, however, 2 Water Voles were great to see considering their scarcity. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Manure Magic

The day dawned bright and sunny with a cool, moderate to fresh westerly wind. An approaching weather front visible in the distant western sky brought total cloud cover and rain by early afternoon.
An afternoon walk around the Stow Bedon area saw grey conditions with low cloud and occasional rain, despite this, it was a productive visit.
Along Stowlay Lane and Mere Road, Stow Bedon, the low cloud and rain forced very good numbers of Swallows and House Martins to feed at times down to just a few inches above the ground with many birds passing just a few feet from me.  The skill of these Hirundines as they fly at speed weaving through trees and hedgerows is incredible to watch.
A largish mixed flock of Chaffinches and Linnets (100+) were seen along Stowlay Lane frequenting hedgerows and stubble where they will feed upon weed seeds and spilt grain etc.
An intention of mine this afternoon was to visit a large muck/manure heap which over the years has attracted passage wader species.  Almost immediately upon my arrival I found 2 Green Sandpipers, a species which is often found at such habitats.
Green Sandpipers at Stow Bedon, Norfolk 17/09/13 (Seen in low light and rain).
Muck heaps are great habitats for locating wader species, especially Green Sandpipers, these habitats are rich sources of food for passage birds and as seen in this picture, they are often seen around the stagnant pools of water where they feed upon midges and other insect prey which thrive there.  Although muck heaps are not to everyones taste, they are valuable habitats which have their own mini micro-climate which allows insects to thrive.  Green Sandpipers are being recorded more and more throughout the winter months and muck heaps are worth checking for this beautiful wader species. 
Finally, further along Mere Road a field was being turned, this in turn attracted large numbers of Gulls, many of which were the large Lesser Black-backed Gull (60+). 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Threxton and Little Cressingham

I arrived at Threxton church prior to sunrise on what was to be a bright and cool morning with a fresh south-westerly wind.  The first noticeable observation was the presence of good numbers of House Martins and a few Swallows over the sewage treatment works, these Hirundines were probably a mix of locally bred and passage birds which will be attracted to this site where winged insects will provide good feeding.
Despite the wind strength several common migrant birds were found in a site which offered shelter and feeding.

Chiffchaff taking time out to preen at Threxton 16/09/13
1 Hobby
1 Kestrel
50+ Lapwings
100+ House Martins
2 Marsh Tit
Great Tit
3 Meadow Pipit (high west)
10+ Goldfinch

In windy conditions, birds like to seek shelter where they can feed and rest in relative comfort.  One of my regularly visited sites in Threxton is a densely wooded deep pit which offered the necessary shelter for migrants this morning.  Deep down in the pit and out of the wind was Blackcap (female feeding), Chiffchaffs, and a pair of Marsh Tits, the pictured Chiffchaff was seen in an Elder where it was seen preening.  A male Blackcap was heard singing.
A few House Martins passed overhead and a single Swallow weaved lower down through the trees and bushes closer to me.
Also noted in the area was Chaffinches, a few Linnets, Goldfinches, and a calling Treecreeper.
Further along the lane back at the sewage treatment works 100+ House Martins swarmed around the area picking off insects, these Hirundines themselves attracted the attention of a single Hobby which flew through low and fast intent on taking a bird.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.

A pre-dawn arrival at Houghton-on-the-Hill and a very autumnal feel with cool misty conditions and a moderate south-westerly.  A lovely sunrise was witnessed, however, it was clear that high in the distant south skies that a front was slowly approaching which would bring rain by the afternoon.
Walking east from St Mary's church it was great to see the hedgerows heavy with blackberry fruits, but many fruits are yet to ripen, a bit late this year.  I met a lovely lady from nearby North Pickenham who was picking blackberries, during our conversation about the late ripening of these fruits she told me that they should be eaten before October as folklore says blackberries will then be unfit to eat as the devil spits on them.  This folklore was new to me and I found the following during my research further into this, it reads:

Although Michaelmas is celebrated on the 29th September, when the calendar was reformed in 1752, “Old Michaelmas Day” was moved to the 10th October. Old Michaelmas Day is also called “Devil Spits Day”; it’s the last day that blackberries should be picked, according to old British folklore. This is known as the day that the Devil came to earth; he fell from the skies, straight onto a blackberry bush, whereupon he cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, stamped on them and then spat on them making them unfit to eat.

Blackcap (male) Houghton Common 15/09/13
Despite folklore suggesting that blackberries are unfit after Michaelmas, several species of birds will continue to enjoy eating blackberries sometimes until bushes are stripped.
Today was quite interesting as good numbers of Chiffchaffs were once again seen in dense Elder habitats as were Blackcaps.  I estimated at least 10+ Chiffchaffs congregated in one small area with others in woodland and other hedgerow habitats.  Several Linnets and Yellowhammers came and went during my visit.

Visible Migration
Wind direction did not really favour visible migration this morning, however, a very light passage of Meadow Pipits was seen following sunrise when a number of singles passed over from north to south.
Hopefully before September ends, and conditions are right, I will once again witness the passage of many hundreds of Meadow Pipits passing over Houghton, along maybe with scarcer migrants which I have also seen here, including Tree Pipit.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Little and Great Cressingham, Norfolk. (A good day for Raptors)

The wide open expanses of arable farmland within the Little and Great Cressingham parishes have always been attractive for breeding, passage, and wintering raptor species.  This area can appear quite bleak in winter, the large fields, hedgerows, and pockets of woodland hold wintering flocks of Waders, Finches, and Larks, this in turn brings scarce raptors like Peregrine and Merlin.
Wintering specialities will probably appear later in November, today however, brought some interesting raptor species as follows:

Tawny Owl 13/09/13 Little Cressingham
3 Common Buzzards
3 Sparrowhawks (singles)
1 Red Kite
1 Marsh Harrier (female)
1 Hobby
1 Tawny Owl

The first raptor of the morning was an expected Common Buzzard which was seen from Fairstead Lane approaching from the west, also a single Sparrowhawk seen near the village.
As I entered Green Lane, thoughts were with a Harrier species over the adjacent vast areas of farmland, then, whilst walking down the lane, a look over to my left revealed a female Marsh Harrier drifting low over stubble.  This bird was watched flying over a wide area of both stubble and Sugar Beet crops as well as close to the boundary hedgerows.  This is not an unexpected bird in this area of Breckland at this time of year, however, it is quite scarce nevertheless.
Green Lane, Little Cressingham has always been reliable for Tawny Owl and this morning a single bird was seen flying between trees until it was located for the attached photograph. The presence of this Owl attracted the attention of a scolding Chiffchaff
Later, whilst walking west along the Watton road towards Great Cressingham, a Sparrowhawk flew out of the roadside hedge, it was clear that it had just eaten due to the full crop.  A little further long the road closer to Great Cressingham a single Red Kite flying south was being mobbed by a single Crow species.
Priory Road, Great Cressingham is a lovely walk with good Oak-lined hedgerows with very large rolling arable fields adjacent to the south and mixed arable and grazing land to the north.  The walk east produced my third Sparrowhawk, flying from a hedge, and 2 Common Buzzards over arable and pine woodland.  Finally, a single Hobby was seen flying high and leisurely north, a migrant bird possibly.   

Monday, 9 September 2013

Little and Great Cressingham

A beautiful autumnal morning, quite cool and with misty patches in the valleys.  This morning I parked at Little Cressingham Mill and walked to Great Cressingham via Fairstead Lane, through the village and off along the Watton road to the Peddars Way, and then north back to Little Cressingham along the Peddars Way.
It was quite evident this morning that suitable isolated pockets of woodland habitats once again supported good numbers of migrant Warblers.

Long-tailed Tit (one of a pair) Little Cressingham
1 Grey Heron
1 Sparrowhawk
1 Kestrel
1 Tawny Owl
2 Common Buzzards
1 Kingfisher
2 Grey Wagtails
Swallows (inc. 30+ Gt. Cressingham)
House Martin (reduced numbers Lt Cressingham)
2+ Whitethroat
1 Lesser Whitethroat (Watton road Gt. Cress.)
Chiffchaff (inc. 10+ North bridge)
Long-tailed Tit
Coal Tit (widespread)

Green Lane, Little Cressingham, which forks off from Fairstead Lane, is a reliable locality for Tawny Owl and as I walked along the lane, a single bird was seen flying ahead of me on a couple of occasions. 
Walking down Chalk Hill in Great Cressingham a gathering overhead of 30+ Swallows was good to savour before they depart for warmer climes.
A check of the roadside hedgerows east of Great Cressingham towards the Peddars Way produced a Blackcap, also, a warbler flew over me between a gap in the hedge, further investigation eventually revealed this to be a Lesser Whitethroat.  This was typically a very immaculate looking bird, I managed to watch it briefly before it moved on and was able to see the beautiful dark grey head and ear-coverts, white throat, and whitish underparts.  Lesser Whitethroats in autumn have varaible amounts of white markings on the head, this bird had a thin white loral stripe (between the bill and eye).  A single, short, and thin "cht" was heard. 

North Bridge (Little Cressingham)
Walking south along the Peddars Way, I was approaching North Bridge down in the Watton Brook valley. This locality has always been reliable as a site for good species range and numbers, this being due to the the wide range of habitats here including mature Oak woodland, mixed roadside woodland habitats comprising Alder, Birch, Ash, Rowan, and Sallow, and lots of healthy ground cover of Bramble, Blackthorn, and Hawthorn.
This valuable habitat must at some time in the past (and hopefully in the future) played host to a scarce or rare migrant, however, despite only common species being seen, it was interesting to note that the numbers here indicated another previous nights arrival of migrants using the area as a staging post on their passage.
A good count of 10+ Chiffchaffs continued on from the previous mornings theme of obvious passage by this species. Chiffchaffs appeared to occupy all habitats here including high in Birch, birds at medium level and others close to the ground, my estimate of 10+ was surely at the low count.  Also in the area was Blackcap, Goldcrest, Great Tits, Long-tailed Tit (pair), and Robin.

Little Cressingham Windmill
The first most obvious thing I was aware of upon my arrival at the mill was the lack of good numbers of House Martins, a few were seen, however, most appeared to have departed for Africa.
I positoned myself where I could overview a thick belt of cover alongside Watton Brook.  2 Whitethroats made frequent appearances in Elder where they fed upon berries, also, in front of me in a large Sallow, 3 or 4 Chiffchaffs were seen and Blackcap was heard.
A single kingfisher darted past me and off along the brook and a short while later 2 Grey Wagtails did a couple of circuits in front of me. 
As I was preparing to leave, a quick check of the distant fields to the west produced lots of Crows and Wood Pigeons, also, a single large looking Sparrowhawk alighted on the ground before flying off north low over crops.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Houghton-on-the-Hill for migrants.

In September, I make many trips to Houghton-on-the-Hill to either watch visible migration (vismig), or to check for newly arrived birds which stop at this elevated locality to rest and feed whilst on passage.  There are specific habitats which are excellent sites for attracting migrants, one of these, a very dense patch of Elder, Bramble, Hawthorn, and Sallow, is where I spent most of my time just following sunrise. Following this, I went back to St Mary's Church where further migrants were found:

5+ Swallows south
House Martin
30+ Chiffchaff
25+ Blackcap
3 Whitethroat
1 Lesser Whitethroat
5 Greenfinch
c.20 Linnets
3+ Bullfinch (inc. juv male and female)

I set up by a small spring which has always supported good numbers of migrants over the years, this being due to its wealth of dense Elder and other fruiting bushes which provides excellent cover and feeding for migrant birds.  These habitats will be replicated throughout Norfolk and beyond and will provide valuable resting and feeding staging posts for passage birds.
Although initially quiet, it soon became apparent that large numbers of migrants had dropped in probably during the previous night.  Large numbers of Chiffchaff and Blackcaps were concentrated within this small site and it became impossible at times to focus on particular birds due to their numbers.  Occasionally, Blackcaps flew a short distance between the Elder clump to a nearby hedge, they passed in front of me one at time forming a continuous flow of birds.  I estimated that in this one small site 25+ Chiffchaffs and 20+ Blackcaps were present.
Chiffchaff at Houghton 8th Sept. '13.  One of many seen in the area.
Both species frequented mostly Elder and it was of most interest that one Elder bush held several male Blackcaps.
A single Lesser Whitethroat was all too briefly seen, initially, the early morning sun caught its white underparts makiing it very conspicuous against the green foilage.  This is a very smart looking Warbler and the brief views I did have of it through binoculars saw the dark grey head and ear coverts contrast strongly with the brilliant white throat. 
3+ Whitethroats were also seen.
More sedentary birds seen included at least 3 Bullfinches, their numbers comprised a juvenile male and female.  The juvenile male Bullfinch was beginning to develop red on its underparts although the head and crown remained without any black appearing more mousey-brown at this stage.

At St Mary's Church, it was evident that several Chiffchaffs were moving through cover of trees and bushes, including Elder where 2 or 3 birds visited to feed.
Blackcaps were also present in the churchyard, often giving their presence away by their tonque-clicking like "tak" calls.
Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrest, Great Tits, and Blue Tits were seen and heard around the spring near the church as well as nearby woodland.

It was clearly evident that previous night saw a large collective passage of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, it would be interesting if the followers of my blog saw high numbers of these species in their areas.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Goshawks at Great Cressingham

River valleys are excellent areas to visit in order to watch bird migration as the land either side of waterways have an abundance of vegetation which attracts migrating birds to feed and rest, additionally, these features also provide visual aids for birds on the move.
This morning I visited the Watton Brook valley near Great Cressingham for migrants, however, very much more was on offer which made this an excellent morning, initially however, the route to my destination was overgrown with nettles which made the going quite painful.
Some evidence of passage was seen this morning, however, the highlight goes to 3 Goshawks which appeared from the west and gave me my most prolonged observations I have ever had of this magnificent raptor.

Goshawks (Juv.) 07/09/13 Great Cressingham.  3 birds in total together.
6 Common Buzzards
3 Goshawks (2 juveniles)
2 Meadow Pipits (singles) overhead south
House Martin - light southerly passage
2 Swallows - south
1 Whitethroat
Blue Tits
Coal Tit
1 Reed Bunting

Goshawk (Juvenile) 7 Sept. '13 Great Cressingham
0920: Whilst positioned by the brook looking for migrants, I noticed a distant large raptor approaching a maize strip from the west. the wings were held level to the body, thus ruling out a Harrier or Buzzard species. I considered
Peregrine but then to my amazement I saw another 2 very large raptors appear and they were all Goshawks. 2 of these birds were confirmed as juveniles.
It appeared to me that the purpose of these Goshawks being here was for the third bird (presumed adult) to show the youngsters the benefits of hunting around maize strips where Pigeons and Partridges will congregate.
It was also interesting to see 2 juveniles sparring and chasing with each other, another skills honing lesson for this mighty raptor.
After watching the Goshawks for a while the birds eventually drifted off north-west, however, all 3 were seen again later, soaring low above woodland with at least 6 Common incredible sight.  It was at this time that the various differences between these raptors could be seen.
The protracted observation of these Goshawks today was without doubt one of my best encounters with this enigmatic raptor. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Threxton, Bodney, and Little Cressingham.

Migration is certainly beginning to pick up now with good numbers of Warbler species seen and heard widely this morning.  Some of my known areas for migrants were checked and it was interesting to note that 5+ Chiffchaffs were found in one small patch of woodland habitat at Threxton.  Also at Threxton, signs of the approaching autumn evident when my first passage Meadow Pipit heard overhead.

I parked at the church and walked south along the road leading to 'The Arms'. The mature woodland along the periphery of the Clermont estate held Blackcap, Coal Tits, several Goldcrests and 2+ Bullfinches.

Whitethroat (juvenile) Threxton 3 September '13
My intention was then to walk back to a small, but well stocked patch of woodland which has always been a favourite destination for me this time of year for finding migrants.  5+ Chiffchaffs were present, including one singing bird.  Also, 2 Blackcap (female seen), Whitethroat (juvenile), but my star bird was a single Lesser Whitethroat which flew into the woodland from the north, spent a minute or two in a large Hawthorn, and then flew purposefully south out of the woodland....good evidence of passage with this bird.

Also of particular interest was an overhead calling Meadow Pipit, my first for September and a sure sign that autumn approaches.
Resident species here included many Blue Tits and Chaffinches.

Bodney Church
Further migrants found at this small church included Blackcap and Chiffchaffs (including one singing), also Long-tailed Tits and Coal Tits seen and heard.

Little Cressingham Windmill.

Blackcap (juvenile) Little Cressingham 3 September '13
The migrant theme continued here with 2+ Blackcaps (including a juvenile seen), Whitethroat, and Chiffchaffs.  Overhead was 50+ House Martins and a Swallow.  Most, if not all of the House Martins seen swarming above me would have bred in their communal nesting site at the nearby cottage.

Migrants list and notes
50+ House Martins
1 Swallow
Chiffchaff - widespread with a concentration of 5+ at one small site
2+ Whitethroat
1 Lesser Whitethroat - Threxton. Dropped in briefly before continuing south.
Meadow Pipit - Threxton. Overhead migrant heard (first of autumn).

Monday, 2 September 2013

A search for migrants but no Shrike.

Bright and cool at dawn but with increasing warmth.
Moderate to Fresh SW wind.
The wind direction today was not conducive to significant migrant passage, however, given recent finds I thought it likely that previously arrived birds will be found before conditions change to allow continuation of migration.
Bodney was the place to be this morning, however, evidence of light passage at sunrise was noted over Great Cressingham:
Wheatear 02/09/13 Bodney (One of 2 birds). Poor, over-exposed record shot.
1 Hobby
Golden Plover
1 Little Owl
1 Yellow Wagtail (passage Gt Cressingham)
3 Whinchat
2 Wheatear
Great Cressingham
A dog walk at dawn produced a calling Little Owl along Priory Road, further along on the Peddars Way, farm machinery put up a mixed flock of Lapwings and Golden Plover.
Evidence of passage heard with an overhead calling Yellow Wagtail.

An early morning walk to Bodney was in order to check for signs of Shrike species following yesterdays discovery of an impaled beetle on barbed wire, however, there was no sign of Shrike species. The beetle had not been touched.
An initial check of rolling grassland habitat produced 2 Wheatear, these birds had a liking for the bronze age tumuli where this species has bred in recent years.  Given the habitat here it is likely breeding also occured here this year.  Old Rabbit burrows which provide nesting sites for Wheatear saw these two birds often frequenting one on this site.
A check for migrants along weed-lined ditches and flood-plain was rewarding with 3 Whinchats on fencing. these birds often flew down to the ground for prey and at times spent some time searching for food but they were always close to the cover by the ditch.

Hobby near Watering Farm, Thompson.
A walk around a recently cleared area of pine forest mid-afternoon saw good numbers of Dragonfly species, the most numerous appearing to be the Emperor..
The highlight of this visit was a single Hobby which was seen hunting insects above woodland, it clear the bird was feeding as the legs were held from the body and the head reached under the body so that food could be passed to the bill.  Minutes later whilst sitting on the edge of the clearing, the same, or another Hobby was seen flying at great speed at a couple of feet above the ground before passing by quite close to me.  I am sure that the Hobby was intent on hunting dragonflies given their relative abundance at this locality.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

BODNEY, Norfolk. A good start to September but a big prize missed.

Today dawned very autumnal with cloud and much cooler conditions. 
Wind: Moderate westerly occasionally increasing fresh.

I parked at 'The Arms' at Little Cressingham and walked west along the B1108 towards Bodney with the intention of checking the area for migrant birds.  As expected, some good migrants were found, however, it was clear that something special had passed through.
I paid two visits to the same locality with the following results:

Beetle 01/09/13 Impaled on barbed wire at Bodney

1 Hobby
1 Kestrel (female)
Common Buzzard
House Martin (light westerly passage)
4 Pied Wagtail
3 Whinchat
2+ Wheatear
60+ Mistle Thrush (flock)
6 Goldfinch (largest flock)

Whinchat 01/09/13 Bodney (One of 3 in the area)
Walking along the B1108 at Bodney and whilst checking fencing I found this beetle species impaled upon barbed wire, this was very good evidence of a Shrike species recently being in the area, most likely the species was Red-backed Shrike, although Lesser Grey or Woodchat Shrike should not be ruled out.
The finding of this impaled beetle clearly prompted a careful search of suitable habitats for a Shrike and both the morning and mid to late afternoon visits did not reveal the bird.  A careful look at the beetle showed the insect to be in fresh condition, therefore the Shrike may have been here either earlier this morning or no earlier than the previous evening.

As far as migrants are concerned the afternoon visit provided the best observations.
At least 3 Whinchats were seen distantly early morning although 2 birds gave the best views in the afternoon when they frequented fence-posts and fencing wire from where to observe and collect food from.
An afternoon check revealed 2 Wheatears typically inhabiting open grassland.  These birds were mostly seen on the ground where they ran fast to catch insect prey. Interestingly, both Wheatears were also seen close to an old Rabbit burrow which is a favoured breeding site, however, these were probably passage migrants stopping here to rest and feed.

Finally, although a relatively common species, the presence of a flock of 60+ Mistle Thrushes on the heath was a very good count indeed.