Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Houghton and Ashill, Norfolk

I began the day with a nice brisk circular 6 mile walk with Toby starting at Houghton-on-the-Hill, south along the Peddars Way to Little Cressingham and then along the Cressingham road to Ashill before returning to my start point.  I like to power walk first thing, therefore, any birds seen were whilst mobile, unless of course, something more unusual caught my eye.
It was evident that there had been a recent arrival of Thrushes within the area, most notably, along the Cressingham road at Ashill where a flock of 250+ Fieldfare flew low along fields to my right...chacking away as they passed by me.  Some Redwings were also seen at various localities as were Blackbirds, some of which I am sure would be migrants.
Bullfinches were either seen or heard at six localities along the route, this included a 'piping' flock of 4 at St Mary's church at Houghton.
As I Approached Houghton Common from Ashill, 2 Common Buzzards flew from pine woodland and south over the fields and closer to Houghton Common, in bushy habitat around a pond, 30+ Greenfinches gathered in Hawthorn, perhaps they were there to feed and drink/bathe in the pond shallows.
Walking along the hedgerow corridor back to St Mary's, the thin, high-pitched call of Goldcrests was heard and at the church itself, another flock of 60+ Fieldfares was seen.
Finally, when watching winter Thrushes (in autumn and spring) check them carefully, I have occasionally found Ring Ouzel travelling with them.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Little/Great Cressingham

Windy days may appear birdless, indeed, many small birds do keep to the cover of dense bushes, however, choosing the right spot, waiting and watching, will pay off. 
I planned to find a suitable location to hopefully look for raptors, therefore, I headed for Little Cressingham and chose a sheltered spot out of the strong wind to overview a large, open area of rolling arable farmland (within the Great Cressingham parish) and hoped for that passing Harrier species.  The habitat overviewed comprised stubble and Sugar Beet crop.  
The large fields and skyline ahead of me appeared quiet although a few Gulls and Crows flew back and forth.  The odd Partridge was seen briefly flying into Sugar Beet and stubble.  Wood Pigeons typically passed over from various directions.
Whilst looking directly ahead low on the skyline a raptor appeared and circled over the field, it appeared quite large and on one occasion I saw the bird had stiff outstretched wings, looking at the bird through binoculars I saw this was a Peregrine Falcon.  I watched the Peregrine fly low and east, increasing its speed and wings angled back for an attack, I then lost the Falcon behind a hedge, however, its presence was evident by an irruption of various bird species.
Peregrine Falcons are scarce passage migrants and winter visitors to my Breckland patch, I usually see this species most winters at one or more sites in the area.


Peregrine Falcon - this bird was photographed at Little Cressingham in January 2012.
Shortly after the Peregrine was seen a flock of 60+ Lapwings passed west over the field, possibly displaced by the raptor.  To the distant east I could see a lot of activity over fields and woodland, a single Buzzard was being mobbed by Crow species, also many other birds were seen, also possibly indicating raptor activity.
There was not too much small bird activity due to the wind, however, a couple of Skylarks were seen and along Green Lane, a party of Long-tailed Tits passed low through cover.   
The wind strength was the most noticable feature of the weather this afternoon, however, the forthcoming night and following morning will see a powerful storm passing through Southern England.........batten down the hatches and stay safe.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Great Hockham and Little Cressingham

Hockham Fen
An early start with a pre-sunrise arrival in the forest at Great Hockham.  Walking along the trails to the fen, I encountered 3 calling Tawny Owls (2 males/1 female) in pine woodland.
At the fen, several bird species were stiring from their roost sites, these included Crossbill, Siskins, and Redpoll.  A lone Common Buzzard was sitting high in one of the trees on the fen.
With the rising sun, the mixed woodland along the edge of the fen came alive with a largish mixed flock of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Treecreeper, and a number of Goldcrests moving through thick scrubby habitat and mature woodland in their collective search for food.  Whilst watching these birds, a single Crossbill (male) passed over low enough for me to see its reddish plumage.
A welcome record for the fen was a calling Water Rail, this bird was hidden away somewhere within the boggy, rushy habitat where it will eke out a living winding its way through dense grasses and reeds in search for food.  The call of this bird is a strange pig-like squeal.

Little Cressingham
Greenfinch 26/10/13 Watton
Setting off mid-afternoon from the bridge over Watton Brook on Fairstead Lane, a single Grey Wagtail passed above me calling.  This dainty bird breeds in the area, although numbers may increase in winter with visiting birds which wander in from the continent or upland Britain to suitable freshwater habitats.
Continuing along Fairstead Lane, a male Sparrowhawk flew low over the lane in the hope of surprising unsuspecting prey.
Just beyond 'The Fairstead' at the top of Green Lane, a flock of 60+ Fieldfares flew into treetops, these large Thrushes were accompanied by a few Redwings.
Along Green Lane, I stopped for a while to overview the large area of rolling farmland in the hope of seeing a passing Harrier species, it was in fact fairly quiet until a large female Sparrowhawk circled above stubble where it had moments before disturbed some Partridges.
Finally, back at Little Cressingham Mill, a small flock of 6 Redwings rose from Alders alongside Watton Brook.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Hen Harrier - Watton

No birding today, however, stepping outside into my back garden at about 1245hrs, my attention was drawn to two birds quite high approaching from the north-east.  One of these birds was a Crow species, this was mobbing a raptor species, I quickly went to collect my binoculars from indoors and fortunately upon my return both birds were still high in the sky.  Looking at the raptor through binoculars, I pleased to see that the raptor was a female Hen Harrier, sadly, a very scarce bird in Britain nowadays.
I am certain that this Hen Harrier was an immigrant from continental Europe, hopefully, this beautiful raptor will winter with us in the local Breckland area.
I have encountered Hen Harriers on a few occasions in winter on my Breckland patch over the years and always these have been the female, or 'ringtail' birds.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stow Bedon and Ashill

Stow Bedon
The previous night was very wet with heavy rain showers driven along on a fresh to strong south-westerly.  At dawn it was quite bright although plenty of low cloud did bring some light rain.
A brisk early morning 5 mile walk starting at Stow Bedon and following the lanes around the rolling countryside through Lower Stow Bedon and Rocklands produced good numbers of common birds in the area.
With the winds from the south-west, I knew that there would be no evidence of passage today, despite this some previously arrived Redwings, Song Thrushes, and Blackbirds were present in the wooded hedgerows where they would feed upon various fruits on offer.
One Grey Wagtail flew high over Fen Street, Rocklands, and a little further along on Stowlay Lane, good numbers of Crows, Gulls, 20+ Linnets, Meadow Pipits, and Skylarks wandered the vast open, windswept fields.
A check of a muck-heap on Mere Road produced an ever reliable Green Sandpiper.  If we have a wet and mild winter, some of these beautiful waders may stay to spend the winter with us.   Further along the road a Sparrowhawk approached low towards a hedge in the hope of surprising a small passerine species.

Ashill
A late afternoon walk along Common Road produced a covey of 10 Grey Partridges, these comprised adults and young birds.  This was a good find considering the scarcity of this species, however, the Ashill area has always been reliable for Grey Partridge.
3 (1+2) Common Buzzards were seen at two localities and a 2 Golden Plovers passed over west into the strong wind.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Little Cressingham.

Just a short 2 mile walk early morning as I wasn't feeling too good...heavy, aching legs, slight flu-like symptoms.  Anyway, the day started dry but with fog in low-lying areas soon clearing with sunny spells.
One of 2 Otters in the Watton Brook valley 18/10/13.
I set out along Fairstead Lane in the fog with small numbers of Redwings and Song Thrushes passing overhead, also, several Song Thrush arrivals were heard along the route giving their "tic" call from within the cover of hedgerows.  Also, Brambling was heard passing high overhead in the fog, the distinctive nasally "zweeeeu" call was given.
The only raptor of the morning was a Sparrowhawk overflying fields close to the village.
A short watch over the Watton Brook valley produced 3 Mute Swans and 50+ Mallard.  Common passerine species seen included 2 Robins, Wren, Goldfinch, and Blackbirds.
The Swans and Mallard in the Watton Brook valley became agitated, the answer was the arrival of 2 Otters which were porpoising through the water and occasionally popping their heads up to see what was going on as well as watching me, it was then that I could hear one of the Otters sniffing the air.  These beautiful mammals were seen for some time ploughing through reeds and weeds in search of prey.  Toby, my Border Collie, just stood and watched with curiosity at these delightful creatures.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk.

From a birders perspective, this morning had a feel of 'migrants' about it with low cloud a poor visibility initially.  I could see the blades of the massive wind turbines on North Pickenham airfield were partially concealed in the cloud.
This was a relatively short circular walk from St Mary's Church, down the track to the road, east along the road to Common Lane, along the lane to Houghton Common and through the hedgerow corridor back to the church.
What was particularly evident this morning was the number of Song Thrush arrivals in the hedges along the route with the familiar "tic" call being frequently encountered.
Long-tailed Tits flocks are always worth watching, not only are these dainty little beauties very entertaining, they also may include in autumn something a little more unusal.  On Houghton Common a mobile flock of Long-tailed Tits was watched and followed for some time, included within this flock was a single diminutive Goldcrest, however, I did see a Long-tailed Tit with what I thought was an all-White head, this immediately raised suspicions as the only thing that this could have been was the Northern European race Caudatus.  This bird was seen so briefly as it moved along the hedge that I put my observation down as a possible 'trick of the light' as Caudatus is a very rare bird in the UK...I did not relocate this individual. 
Walking long the hedgerow corridor west towards the church, further calling Song Thrushes were heard and high above a few individuals passed over in a southerly heading.
I then decided to spend an hour or so sitting in the churchyard to see what passes through.  Straight away, a few Redwing arrivals were in the thicker cover in the yard along with Blackbirds
Marsh Tit at Houghton 15 October 2013
Whilst sitting in the churchyard and with thick low cloud still dominant a noticeable movement of Redwings was seen overhead during a 20 minute period.  Several flocks passed over in a southerly heading, these totalled 300+ birds with some flocks seen descending rapidly into nearby woodland.  This movement seemed to end with the onset of a very brief spell of slightly brighter conditions...were these Redwings forced down by the thick low cloud?
Other species moving overhead included a number of Skylarks (possible migrants) and a small party of Siskins.

Back within the immediate vicinity of the churchyard, several smaller species were seen passing through at various times, this included at least 4 Goldcrests, 2+ Marsh Tits, Blue Tits, Robin, Wren, and Dunnocks.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A heavy passage of Thrush species.

Houghton-on-the-Hill and Ashill, Norfolk.
Full cloud cover, often dark low cloud with a light east-south-east wind.

Following my prediction earlier this week of the probability of Thrush migration by this weekend, an early morning walk around Houghton-on-the-Hill and Ashill, Norfolk produced a heavy passage of Thrush species.  Although I covered about 6 miles on foot, Thrush species were encountered all along my route and the flocks I saw which occasionally numbered 200 to 300 strong, easily totalled 2,100 birds, and all were passing overhead in a mostly west or south-westerly heading. 
Redwings formed the majority species with Song Thrushes in good numbers and with smaller numbers of Blackbirds and Fieldfares.  Many flocks were very high and difficult to see therefore I would have missed many more as they passed over. 
As well as witnessing visible migration, it was evident from calls that many Thrushes, especially Song Thrushes had arrived overnight and taken up brief residence in roadside hedgerows as the familiar "tick" calls of these birds was heard at many localities.
3 Blackbirds, obvious migrants were seen above me on the approach to Houghton Common, one of these was initially seen flying in wide circles and gaining height, presumably this individual had arrived in the night and was climbing to reorientate before continuing with its passage.
Norfolk-wide and beyond our county, the numbers of birds passing through must have reached tens of thousands. Most of these Thrushes would have flown from Northern Europe overnight, some may stay in the UK whilst other will continue onto France or the Iberian Peninsula for the winter.  

Further reading from observations from the North Norfolk coast shows that from dawn on 12th October, many thousands of Thrushes, mostly Redwings, filled hedgerows along with very heavy overhead passage by this species. Numbers passing through Norfolk must have been at least in six figures, probably more.
Although massive numbers of birds were witnessed on the coast, I still feel inland areas are well underwatched, however, I still get far more enjoyment watching birds and witnessing visible migration on my inland Breckland patch.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Some Thrush arrivals evident.

Following the very stormy conditions across Norfolk yesterday (10th October), todays weather continued very windy with a fresh to strong North-Easterly airflow along with angry skies and frequent, sometimes heavy showers.
Earlier in the week I predicted that the winds of today would bring a movement of Thrushes into the Breckland area and an early morning walk around Great Cressingham produced good numbers of Redwings and Song Thrushes in the roadside hedgerows. These Thrushes probably arrived during the night, following their passage from Northern Europe.  I didn't witness any significant overhead movements of Thrushes, perhaps migrants were forced to make landfall in coastal areas following a rough crossing from Europe in very poor conditions.
As the morning progressed, increasingly windy and wet weather was building from the north-east and the occasional look from the garden produced small numbers of Thrushes on the move.
An afternoon walk taking in Threxton and Little Cressingham continued to see very blustery conditions.  Any Thrushes present in the area were probably confined to woodlands to feed and seek shelter.   
The weather conditions appeared to keep most birds to cover and indeed, such habitats at North Bridge produced a mobile flock of Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tit, and Goldcrests.  Further along the route near Saham Hall, a Chiffchaff was heard in a roadside hedge and at Threxton Sewage plant, at least 2 Grey Wagtails were present.
Rough, wet conditions are predicted for Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th October, early mornings will be interesting for possible evidence of further migrant arrivals.      

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

North-Easterlies by Friday 11th October....eyes skyward.

The morning of the 8th October dawned clear following a starlit night but with improving light, murky, misty conditions set in with low cloud.  The wind was a light, occasionally moderate south-westerly.
My day started with a 5 mile circular walk around Little and Great Cressingham.  The current wind direction was not particularly conducive to autumn migration, however, that is all set to change.
From Friday 11th October the wind shifts to a north-easterly from the northerly forecast for the day before. Winds are expected to continue to feed in from Northern Europe with an north-east to east-north-east by Saturday.
Pressure chart for Friday 11 October 2013
The above pressure chart for Friday 11th October 2013 shows an area of low pressure centred over Northern Italy giving a north-easterly airflow from Southern Scandinavia and the low countries through East Anglia and south-east England.  This time of year such conditions indicates there will be a probable significant passage of Redwings, Song Thrushes, Fieldfares, Blackbirds, and Finch species such as Bramblings through our area from Northern Europe.   

The first bird of the morning was a beautiful Barn Owl seen in the half-light, flying along Fairstead Lane.  Although the conditions this morning was not good for passage migrants from Europe, my early morning walk did produce several Song Thrushes, the higher than usual numbers indicating that these were continental migrants, the vanguard of what is likely to come by the end of this week.
Single Meadow Pipits passed overhead.
Later in the day, a single Common Buzzard was seen close to as it pounced on prey on the ground from the above tree, the prey must have been small, a small invertebrate maybe.  Nearby was a single male Reeve's Pheasant.
Back in Little Cressingham village as the sun was sinking low in the western sky, a Chiffchaff briefly sang, it will be March next near now before we hear this migrant again in any numbers.  

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Cressinghams, Bodney, and notes from the garden.

With October now well and truly established, focus turns to incoming migrant Thrushes and Finches either visiting us for the winter, or, passing through to winter in France or the Iberian Peninsula.   With the shortening days and very autumnal feel to the weather, it shouldn’t be forgotten that some summer migrants will still be on passage through the area.
This morning I started off with a 3 mile dog walk around the Great Cressingham area and it was evident from the occasional “tick” call that migrant Song Thrushes were passing through.  A single Tawny Owl was heard calling near the village and a couple of Bullfinches were heard.  A single Blackcap was heard in a hedge giving its “tak” call.
As I was driving back through Saham Toney a male Sparrowhawk was seen in the car lights sitting in the middle of the road, it then powered off over the hedge.

Bodney
The River Wissey at Bodney meanders through lush grazing meadows which frequently floods in the winter months.  Mature deciduous woodland and some fine, very old Oaks are found along the valley.  Nearby is some typical examples of ancient Breckland heathland, some fine old stands of Scots Pines, and regimented stands of commercial conifer plantations. 
This mornings visit produced common bird species associated with woodland habitats, this included at least 3 Nuthatches, one of which was seen on a number of occasions carrying nuts/seeds possibly to store for leaner times.  Also present was Marsh Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Treecreepers, and Goldcrests.  The thicker woodland held a few Song Thrushes, these were undoubtedly recently arrived migrants from Europe.

Little Cressingham (The Arms/Hopton Farm area)
A late afternoon walk produced 7+ Yellowhammer along the Watton Brook valley. It appeared that these Buntings may have been watched as one of the Yellowhammers made for the cover of the river valley, this was shortly followed by a female Sparrowhawk whcih attempted a surprise attack by flying low and then between the banks hoping to take prey, however, she was unsuccessful on this occasion.
A woodland strip at 'The Arms' held a roving flock of Long-tailed and Blue Tits, also here, although not seen, was a male Blackcap which gave a protracted sub-song.

Garden

Chiffchaff in garden 05/10/13
At least one Chiffchaff spent the day moving between my, and adjoining gardens, this migrant probably arrived the night before to spend the day feeding and resting before continuing its southerly passage during the next clear night.
Blackbirds were ever-present and were feeding upon various fruits including Hawthorn berries and Whitebeam berries.  Greenfinches and Goldfinches were present throughout the day.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

0700: I met up with my good friend Daniel Watson and we made for the Hockham Forest and Fen area. The morning was bright and mild with a moderate south-easterly wind.

Highlights
Redwing
20+ Song Thrush
12+ Crossbills
3 Woodlark
5+ Sparrowhawks

The walk along one of the many forest trails leading to the fen produced the expected calling Goldcrests, Coal Tits, along with a Chiffchaff.  A few Song Thrushes gave their "tik" calls from within both conifer and mixed woodland, their numbers suggesting the arrival overnight of continental migrants. 
Once at the fen, more Song Thrushes were both seen and heard, thus confirming that these were migrants from Europe and by the end of our visit the total numbers of this species seen was 20+.  Daniel picked up Redwing passing over woodland.
2 Common Buzzards were on the fen and a count of 5+ Sparrowhawks was surprising, of these, 3 were soaring together and one was seen perched in a treetop on the edge of the fen.
A small party of 8+ Crossbills passed high north above the fen, later, 4 males were seen distantly perched in a treetop, despite the distance, their brick-red plumage was clearly seen in the early morning sunlight.
Young Red Deer at Hockham 03/10/13 (Mother was nearby)
An interesting record was of 2 Woodlarks passing overhead in a south-easterly direction, later, another individual (unseen) was heard, again heading south-east. These birds were probably leaving a forest clearing in the Brecks and making for fields in which to feed in.  This was an interesting record for me as I have rarely seen movements of Woodlarks outside of the breeding season.
Probable genuine overhead migrants comprised small numbers of Meadow Pipits passing over in a more or less southerly heading whilst local movements seen included small numbers of Siskins and a few Skylarks.
8 Grey Herons seen comprised 3 overhead low in a south-west heading and later, 5 birds arrived from the north to settle on the fen.
Movements of birds within the fen itself included 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a number of Jays, Wood Pigeons, and Crow species, and in the peripheral woodland a mobile flock of Long-tailed Tits also included Marsh Tit.  A couple of nearby Wrens had a liking for juncus/rush habitat.

Insects seen on the fen included Emperor and Ruddy Darter Dragonflies, and Speckled Wood butterfly

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Irresponsible birding.

I apologise for having to have a little moan this morning.  I maintain a very good relationship with my local gamekeepers on my Breckland patch and a recent contact with the head 'keeper brought some sad news regarding visiting birders to my patch.  I don't know whether this is as a result of my blog, however, on recent occasions, birders have been asked to leave private land by 'keepers and this is not a good reflection on those of us who respect private land and pursue our passion from public rights of way etc. 
Using good fieldcraft and having patience brings its rewards in birding and this can easily be pursued without the need for trespassing.  Any patch birders who maintain a good relationship with their gamekeepers will know, as I do, that having respect for private land can in itself be very rewarding. I will be continuing to write my blog for all to see, however, I will in future be careful about giving locations of scarce/rare species. 
I am a passionate birder (not twitcher) and I wish to maintain my good relationship with those who work and keep the land on my Breckland patch, and indeed, I would say that respect for private land should be extended to where ever we choose to go birding.