Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Water Rail at Thompson Water, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 29 December 2014

What should I wish for next?

Today was a beautiful clear day following a moderate frost at dawn.  There was little or no wind and the visibility was very good.
I thought I would take advantage of the nice day and clean my conservatory windows.  Whilst doing this job, a few Blackbirds, Starlings, Goldfinches, and Dunnock, were all seen.
I then broke for a late breakfast, then, late morning I carried on with my cleaning duties.  It was approaching mid-day when I finished, and around about 1158 I had a thought that this appears a good day for a Peregrine.........two minutes later a mid-day.....a Peregrine flew overhead in a west to east heading in a direct and quite leisurely flight.  A flock of Starlings gathered to form a tight-knit group and were clearly intent on watching the Falcon depart the area.  Perhaps in May I should wish for a Bee-eater overhead!!!!!

Little Cressingham (The Arms to Watton Brook)
Robin in Bramble at Little Cressingham, Norfolk 29/12/14
I visited this area early afternoon in bright sunshine and a temperature of 4 degrees celsius.   
The highlight was seeing a good number of Fieldfares in the fields all along the northern side of Watton Brook.  These beautiful Thrushes were feeding on the ground whilst a few were seen to take berries from a Hawthorn hedge.
In my immediate vicinity at Watton Brook, a Wren was typically skulking in the dense waterside herbage.  This Robin and Blue Tits were also making good use of this cover in their search for food.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Hockham Fen and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Overnight the skies were clear allowing temperatures to fall at dawn to 0 degrees celsius.  A slight mist and frost gave a seasonal feel to the start of the day.
I arrived at Hockham Fen in very still conditions, mist, a slight frost, and poor light remained throughout my visit to this wonderful location.
As soon as I arrived 4 Red Deer hinds stood watching me before moving off.
Close to me in thick scrub, a number of Redwings and Blackbirds were emerging from their roost in Bramble thickets and Holly.
Overlooking the fen, at least 10 Pied Wagtails were seen by the recently created dyke.
Marsh Harrier (female) Hockham Fen 26/12/14
Some quieter moments allowed me to enjoy the ambiance, one of stillness, and thoughts of what is living within the fen, and what has, and indeed will occur there.
The silence was then broken by 4 Egyptian Geese which did a few low circuits of the fen before flying off.
A few minutes later a female Marsh Harrier appeared low over the fen and soon dropped to the ground on potential prey, however, the raptor soon reappeared and resumed hunting before flying out of site, probably to an area of scrub.
Soon after this 4 Snipe appeared over the fen, I didn't see if they alighted on the ground, they probably did given the perfect habitat for this species.
I then departed the fen as I found it, very still, however, life will certainly abound within.

Little Cressingham (Peddars Way to North Bridge)

Robin at Little Cressingham 26/12/14
I arrived at School Road, Little Cressingham at about 1430 and walked north for about half a mile to North Bridge on the Peddars Way footpath.
Despite being a while to sunset, light was very poor but visibilty had improved with the lifting of the misty conditions.  It was about 2 degrees celsius at this time.
Arriving at North Bridge/Watton Brook on the Peddars Way, I decided to check the meadow and brook for birds, but I saw little.  Given the good habitat in the area, mixed woodland, thick hedgerows, and weedy ditches, I spent some time seeing what I could find.  A single Goldcrest was seen silently passing through the inner tangle of the hedge.  Whilst positioned there, the above Robin visited me by passing from post to post and hedgerow.  The light at this time was slipping away quickly by now.  I returned to the car to change and go home and although not seen, a Goldcrest gave a few calls from within a small patch of Bramble. 

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A very happy Christmas to you all.

Christmas day dawned bright and cold with a slight frost and a temperature at 0800 of 3 degrees celsius.  Cloud would eventually increase to give very poor light throughout the afternoon, however, it remained dry.
I had to make a few calls this morning to a few elderly people in Hethersett and Kimberley in Norfolk, it was whilst driving between calls that several Bullfinches were seen in laneside hedgerows.  I am always delighted to see this common Finch darting between cover and showing off that white rump, but I did manage a brief sighting of a female Bullfinch perched in the open before going to cover.  It was whilst I was driving along the B1108 at Carleton Forehoe when a Peregrine Falcon passed low over the road just in front of me.

Little Cressingham/Bodney, Norfolk
By early afternoon cloud was increasing all the time, initially light cloud, however, by 1400, further cloud moved in giving total coverage and very poor light.
I parked close to 'The Arms' and walked north towards 'The Fairstead', once again, a number of Bullfinches were seen along the route breaking cover from the hedgerows.  As I approached 'The Fairstead' I decided to spend some time overlooking the vast rolling landscape in the hope of seeing Hen Harrier, however, I had no luck.
Back at Watton Brook I checked a small area of Alders and found a small flock of Goldfinches feeding, it was whilst there that 20+ Bewick's Swans passed over low in a westerly heading.
Goshawk (juvenile) at Bodney 25/12/14
Once back at the car I thought I would check the flooded land at Bodney to see if the Swans had landed there, they hadn't, perhaps they were making for Welney.
I parked alongside the B1108 where some Starlings and a few Fieldfare were feeding whilst over a nearby wood 2 Buzzards emerged.  30+ Lapwings were seen beyond the army camp.  Moments later, a number of Crows started calling as if angry about something, this was coming from the wood where the Buzzards had departed...so what was upsetting the Crows.  Wood Pigeons also scattered in a hurry, this seemed promising.  Checking the treeline for raptors I soon picked up the distinctive profile of a Goshawk.  Straight away the size in comparison to mobbing Crows showed this to be a Goshawk, it then turned south to pass to my right over the road and into the Army training area, it was then that I could clearly see the very deep, heavy chested appearance of this powerful raptor.  The heavy streaking on the birds chest showed this to be a juvenile bird.  Sadly, the light at this time had significantly deteriorated and was very poor, therefore resulting in this poor picture.
Goshawk (juvenile) Bodney shadowed by a Crow species 25/12/14
Many birders often make the mistake of claiming Goshawk when they see a large Sparrowhawk, however, there are many differences which separate the two species, clearly size is one of them but if there is nothing in comparison about this can make things tricky for some.
The photograph to the left shows the Goshawk being shadowed by a Crow species, a Sparrowhawk would appear much smaller.  Crows also show Goshawks more respect for Goshawk....Crows form a part of this very large raptors diet.  A significant feature of Goshawk which is shown in this picture is the very deep, heavy chested appearance, this is absent in Sparrowhawk.
I finally set off for home at about 1530 in very poor light.
I will end this post by wishing all my followers of my online diary a very happy Christmas.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Today dawned mild with temperatures at 10 degrees celsius, rising to a high of 13 degrees.  It remained dry and reasonably bright, however, the main feature of the weather today was the strong and very gusty west-south-westerly wind.
My walk this morning took me from 'The Arms' north over the Watton Brook and along the Great Cressingham road to just south of 'The Fairstead'.
I did not expect to see too much small bird movement today due to the wind strength, however, Bullfinches were seen all along the route with the greatest number together numbering 5 birds.

My thoughts of raptors paid off when a female Hen Harrier drifted west to east at some distance to my north, the bird then turned to head south over rolling farmland.  Despite being in view for only a short time, the distinctive brown upperparts and contrasting white rump was seen well.  I soon found an opening in the hedge and decided to watch the area for a possible second sighting of the Hen Harrier, however, it did not re-appear.  Hopes were raised when Wood Pigeons and Starlings scattered, this was probably down to a Buzzard seen low over rolling farmland.

To my north over 'The Fairstead', an impressive mixed flock of 2000+ Jackdaws and Rooks departed nearby woodland to spend the day feeding in fields.
Small numbers of Skylarks passed over low heading west, this movement was again possibly indicating the Hen Harrier was about, but I did not see it.
Given the habitat here, feeding opportunities, and time of year, I am sure that the Hen Harrier will winter in the area.  I have seen a Hen Harrier about 6 miles to the west of this location west of Hilborough, it is possible this is the same bird, however, given the good wintering habitat at both locations, I may have two of these delightful but scarce raptors on my patch.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Hilborough and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Hilborough 
After a very wet night with frequent heavy showers, the day dawned bright with good visibility, however, the wind remained quite strong from the south-west.
I parked just west of the village and walked west along the road between tall hedgerows, Scots Pine belts, and mixed mature Oak and Larch woodland.  My aim this morning was to try and relocate the Hen Harrier, therefore, it was necessary to overview the vast farmland from the road.
After some waiting and watching the Hen Harrier never appeared, false hope was seen with scattering song-birds and Jackdaws, but I never saw what caused this behaviour.
Marsh Tit at Hilborough 19/12/14
Despite this, good numbers of Skylarks wandered the fields, at one time there must have been 100+ birds together.  Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws formed the greatest numbers of birds.  It was nice to see 2 Redpoll flying overhead and calling.  These probable North European migrants may have been visiting the Larch trees in order to feed from seed within the cones.
My walk back along the road between the hedgerows produced at least 5 Bullfinches, a number of Blackbirds, Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinch, and the pictured Marsh Tit.
Little Cressingham
An afternoon walk along Fairstead Lane initially produced a single Common Buzzard standing over a Rabbit which it was feeding upon.
At Green Lane, a pair of Bullfinches flew along a hedge/field border.
Later, back at the windmill, the mill-pond held 2 Moorhens, Mute Swan (1), and a pair of Gadwall.  At least 2 Bullfinches were calling.  What Bullfinches lack in calls and song, is made up by the males stunning red plumage.....this will always brighten the dullest of winter days.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Deopham Green, Norfolk, 16 December 2104

During my lunchtime break on 16/12/14, I visited the wide open expanses of farmland at the former Deopham Airfield.  There is still much evidence of the former WW11 airfield here at Deopham including several hardstands and buildings, also, a road connecting local villages is dead straight for 0.7 miles, running parallel which lengths of the former main runway which took the weight of heavy laden B17 Flying Fortress bombers.
On this visit I walked the road/runway and it appeared fairly quiet with Pied Wagtails around muck heaps and overhead Meadow Pipits
This wide open vast expanse of arable appears a good habitat for wintering Hen Harrier and Merlin, and I did predict that I might see one of these raptors today.
Meadow Pipit at Deopham 17/12/14.  
I saw a distant Buzzard being mobbed by a Crow species but otherwise it remained fairly quiet.
Turning back to walk along the road I saw a small flock of about 20 Golden Plover distantly and briefly in flight before settling back in crops.
Back at the car, I watched a couple of Meadow Pipits scurrying through crops and field verges in search of midges, also, on the hardstand, a couple of Pied Wagtails fed around some standing rainwater.
Picture the scene.  The time had come for me to pack up and return to work.  I changed into my work shoes, took off my coat, packed the camera away, and checked that I was ready to go, just then, as I earlier predicted, a Merlin shot by my car to my right, away over farmland, and perched in a distant tree.  Given the good light, this raptor would have made a good shot had I still had the camera ready.  Never mind, the observation of this stunning Falcon was a pleasant and not an entirely unexpected bird.  
I was lucky enough to see and photograph a juvenile Merlin at this locality on 30/09/14, perhaps this is the same bird wintering in the area.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Hilborough, Norfolk

Robin at Hilborough, Norfolk 15/12/14
Exactly a week on almost to the hour, I revisited the vast, open expanses of rolling Breckland countryside at Hilborough.
I decided to spend some time at the location where last week I saw a female Hen Harrier in the hope that the bird was staying with us to winter.
Shortly after sunrise I was very pleased to see the Hen Harrier sailing over farmland before going out of sight behind woodland.  Although this was my only sighting of this scarce bird I was happy in the knowledge that future visits should once again see this beautiful raptor hunting above crops and areas of rough grassland and weedy verges.
A flock of 100+ Skylarks were seen, almost certainly, a proportion of these birds will have continental origins.  A few Fieldfares were seen including a single bird which found a lone roadside crab apple with windfalls to feast upon.  A couple of Redwings passed over and a Siskin was heard calling.
Of interest was an early morning movement of Cormorants, all were flying west to east with the largest flock numbering 14 birds.  Clearly, these birds had departed their roost and were making for Breckland meres, Rivers, and other waterways for the day.
The above delightful Robin decided to pay a visit, a lovely little bird, and very seasonal.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Carleton Forehoe and Kimberley, Norfolk

I was working all day today, however, as usual, my afternoon break saw me take another birding walk, this time along the road which forms a boundary to the beautiful rolling parkland at Kimberley Hall.  This stunning landscape is typical parkland with long sweeping grassland with impressive, and centuries old Oaks within.  The beautiful River Tiffey runs through the park.
The River Tiffey passing through the stunning Kimberley estate, Norfolk 09/12/14.
My walk along Low Road in Carleton Forehoe took me through a mixture of arable and wet pasture which runs alongside the tree-lined River Tiffey Valley.\
My attention was initially drawn to the "chack chack" calls of Fieldfares, a small number of this very attractive winter Thrush took to treetops as I passed by.  Chaffinches were also in attendance here.
Red Kite (one of 3 together) Carleton Forehoe, Norfolk 09/12/14
3 Red Kites came in to view above the tree-lined Tiffey valley, this photographed bird broke away and patrolled the large gardens and fields above me and beyond.
I turned to retrace my steps and re-visit the parkland at the Kimberley estate.  Although some bright spells occured, it didn't take long for cloud to move in, with this, light became very poor indeed, even though it was a good 2 hours to sunset.
Good numbers of Blue, Great, and Coal Tits were seen as well as a couple of Marsh Tits.  These smaller species reacted with alarm calls when a female Kestrel briefly alighted in an old Oak close to me.
A single Great Spotted Woodpecker flew amongst the treetops.
This was a very pleasant walk through some stunning, rolling landscapes, however, it was time to return to work.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Hilborough, Norfolk

I thought today I would start with a little history lesson.  My walk started at Hilborough Church, this stunning feature lies within the beautiful Hilborough estate where the parkland is scattered with many fine Beech and Oak trees, some of which appear to centuries old.
A former rector of Hilborough church was the father of Lord Horatio Nelson.  He went onto be the rector at Burnham Thorpe where Nelson was born.  Some of Nelson's siblings are buried in this churchyard.


Hilborough Church 08/12/14

 

My walk today started at the church, from here I walked to Westgate in Hilborough and followed this long road towards Foulden for some 2.5 miles before turning back and spending some time in the churchyard.  The highlights were:
 
Hen Harrier (female)
Red Kite
Barn Owl
Woodlark (1)
Winter Thrushes
 
The roadside hedgerows along much of the route held many Redwings, Fieldfares, and Blackbirds, also, several Bullfinches were seen with a maximum number seen together of 3 birds.  As expected, lots of Wood Pigeons encountered along the route.
As I was walking along the road, I did have thoughts of Hen Harrier in the area.  Reaching about 2 miles out of Hilborough, I glimpsed a medium sized raptor behind trees, I looked through my binoculars and saw a white rump, I was excited, further investgation eventually paid off when I saw a female Hen Harrier hunting low over Suger Beet and long grasses and weeds. 
Hen Harrier (female) Hilborough, Norfolk 08/12/14
Sadly, Hen Harriers are now very rare breeding birds in the UK with probably only 4 pairs breeding.  This is a persecuted bird in the UK as gamekeepers illegally shoot this raptor in the name of protecting Grouse for the shoot.  I clearly welcome any investigation which ultimately convicts those responsible for shooting this bird.
Given the very low numbers in the UK, it is safe to say that this particular Hen Harrier is a migrant from Europe.
This Hen Harrier has plumage features indicating an adult female.  The brownish upperparts are separated from the barred tail by the distinctive white rump.
The underwings has two bold bars formed by the dark tips of the coverts.  The pale ground colour of the underparts is marked with distinctive brown feathering.  An interesting feature of the wing tips is the five 'fingers' at the 'hands'.  The rarer Pallid Harrier has 4 'fingers'.  Behaviour of the Hen Harrier was typical of what I expect from this species, hunting low just above crops hoping to surprise a Finch or Pipit species.
Whilst in the area of where the Harrier was seen an overhead Woodlark was heard calling whilst commoner Skylarks were seen including a distant flock of 20+ birds.   
Walking back towards Hilborough, winter Thrushes continued to dominate with Bullfinches (3+ together) and Treecreeper.
Barn Owl at Hilborough, Norfolk 08/12/14
Approaching Hilborough and a lovely Barn Owl was hunting over paddocks and farm buildings.  For a few minutes the Barn Owl was using this wooden fencing to observe the longish grass below for movements of potential prey.
Having walked through the village of Hilborough, I crossed the road and picked up the path which crosses parkland for the church.
Approaching the church I could see a distant Red kite soaring over woodland whilet the dominant species in the park was Corvids, mostly Jackdaws.
The churchyard itself held Nuthatch and Great Tit.  A great end to a superb morning.  

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The River Yare at Marlingford, Norfolk

Today, during my break from work, I visited the beautiful River Yare at Marlingford Mill.  This is a stunning location with the disused mill standing on a narrow winding road between the village of Marlingford.  The river, compared to recent visits was quite high and flowing fast through woodland and water meadows.

A tributary of the Yare at Marlingford
Following lunch in the car park at Marlingford Church, I walk down the hill towards the mill and was greeted by the 'piping' call of a Bullfinch in the roadside hedgerow.  The lanesides and sheltered areas of woodland in this area retained a frost from the previous night, and in fact remained until darkness fell.
The banks of the River Yare at this locality are lined by many Alders and I was hoping to see Finch species such as Siskin and Redpoll feeding from the cones from which seeds are extracted, however, I saw none.
Standing by the mill with the noise of the torrent running under the bridge, I soon heard the familiar "stit" call of Grey Wagtail, then, 2 birds appeared on the mill roof along with a single Pied Wagtail.  These attractive birds often flew down to exposed mud where they hurriedly searched for midges etc to feed upon.
Whilst at the mill, a handsome, yet distant Red Fox was seen watching the ground intently for movement.
Overlooking the flood plain and river valley, at least 3 Little Egrets were seen.  These elegant Herons delicately walked the sides of waterways in search of food, also, on occasions, a bird was seen to walk stealthily over damp fields, presumably in search of invertebrates.  Some twenty years ago, Little Egrets were considered a rare bird in the UK, however, range expansion has seen this species become a familiar site on our inland waterways.

Little Egret at Marlingford 06/12/14
 A more familiar Heron species to most was a single Grey Heron which strided stealthily across a damp water meadow, whilst the only Kingisher seen on the visit was of a bird flying fast and low over a field nearby.
A pair of Egyptian Geese was seen, one was feeding on grass whilst the other was sleeping on a bank.  Despite being a native of the African continent, this species is thriving in our climate, and it seems bizarre that its courtship and breeding may occur very early in the year from about February, quite a surreal experience for a species with African origins.

With the sun beginning to set fast it was time to return to work, and the final bird of the visit to be heard was the same species which greeted me when I arrived, a 'piping' Bullfinch.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Southburgh, Norfolk

An improving picture weatherwise today.  Although initially grey, brighter conditions slowly moved in and by early afternoon sunny weather ended the recent run of very dull, damp, and misty conditions.
Early morning and I arrived at the church at Southburgh, my route would take me east for about 1.5 miles, along Church Lane, leading onto Southburgh Road, and ending at the B1135 west of Hardingham.  I would eventually retrace my steps back to the church at Southburgh.
Church Lane Southburgh heads east from the church and winds and undulates through farmland, woodland, and over the Blackwater River.  What appears to be some quite old deciduous woodland abuts the lane, however, approaching the river, close to where the former Reymerston golf course used to be, stands some very old, and very large Oak trees, undoubtedly many centuries old.  One particular old Oak, sadly dead, appears to be at least 500 years old.
A major natural feature is the Blackwater River, this waterway meanders through woodland south of Southburgh Road before flowing through open countryside to the north of the road.  Alders aline the route of the river here.
Blackwater River 05/12/14

What was clearly apparent on this walk was the good numbers of wintering Thrush species present.  The hedgerows lining the lane are well stocked with Hawthorn, a staple for these birds.  Fieldfares, RedwingsBlackbirds, and Song Thrushes were all seen and heard along the route.  Each species has their own behavioural traits, I have found that of all the Thrushes, Fieldfares are usually the most visible as they always choose higher perches in the tops of trees to watch from if they have been disturbed, the smaller Redwing often joins their larger cousin and are readily identifiable by their strongly marked 'facial' pattern.
Several Bullfinches (6+) were seen and heard along the route.  This stunning Finch always alerts us by its soft 'piping' call.
I then spent some time close to the Blackwater River, such habitats always attract birds and other wildlife.  A number of Alders aline, or are close to the river, and today, the tops held a small flock of about 15 Goldfinches.  These Finches, as with Siskins and Redpolls, are attracted to the cones from which seeds are extracted.  Further Redwings and Fieldfares were seen here, also a diminutive Goldcrest foraged in a nearby hedge.  Marsh Tits gave their loud "pitchou" call from at least a couple of localities.
My walk back west towards Southburgh once again saw good numbers of Thrush species moving along the hedgerows and trees, also, Chaffinches and another Goldcrest wandered through these habitats.
As I approached Southburgh church, 2 Mistle Thrushes (our largest Thrush species) flew left to right, and another Bullfinch called within a thicket. 
This was a lovely walk through a variety of habitats with late autumn colours and fruiting hedges adding to the visual spectacle.  Wonderful, grand old Oaks stood in hedgerows or within woodland habitats, and even though dead, that very old Oak presents still as a mighty tree which will continue to provide a very valuable habitat for numerous invertebrates, birds, and other wildlife.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Southburgh, Norfolk

Southburgh in Norfolk lies about 8 miles north-east of Watton.  This is a very small settlement close to the larger Cranworth, and will possibly appear remote and isolated to some.
I parked at St Andrews Church, a lovely 19th century building with a spire, a good focal point for the walker.  The walk today took me east of the church along Church Lane, through rolling countryside to as far as the River Blackwater on the Southburgh Road, and back again along the same lane.
A variety of habitats were seen, and although mostly arable, good thick hedgerows with mature standard deciduous lined the roadside.  Pockets of woodland were seen in fields with two good sized woods which are adjacent to the lane.  The meandering River Blackwater on the Southburgh Road flows gently through rush meadow, woodland, and damp grassland, and has mature Alders growing along its banks.
The dominant birds seen on this walk was Thrush species and it was straight away evident that lots of Blackbirds were present with birds flying in and out of the roadside Hawthorn hedging.  Redwings gave themselves away by their "chuk" and "seeeep" calls and many were seen, again in Hawthorn hedging.  In woodland habitat and close to the river, several Thrush species were seen in mixed company, these comprised Fieldfares, Redwings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, and Mistle Thrush.
My first raptor of this visit was a single Common Buzzard sitting in a tree on woodland edge, this bird sat upright with its left wing held slightly from its body, it called then flew off.
Walking through more wooded areas I heard the explosive call of Marsh Tit, also heard was Treecreeper.  A number of Bullfinches were heard.
Upon my approach to the River Blackwater, a number of Fieldfares and Redwings were in the tops of Alders, the Fieldfares flew off giving their harsh "shack shack" calls.  Next, a pair of Goldcrests called in trees close to me by the bridge and a male Kestrel hunted above marshy grassland habitat immediately west of the river.  A Moorhen called in the valley and a Grey Wagtail passed overhead calling.
Walking west back along Southburgh Road and once again Fieldfares and Redwings kept almost constant company as they flew ahead of me and frequently alighting in trees before flying off ahead of me again.  A single Redpoll was seen above the lane giving its "djit djit" call.
As I was getting ready to depart, an unseen Bullfinch gave its 'piping' call somewhere very close to me.  Finally, the peace was shattered at the church by numerous alarm calling Tit species, undoubtedly alarmed by the presence of a hunting Sparrowhawk which I did not see.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Houghton-on-the-Hill and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

The morning dawned clear and bright with a slight to moderate frost, a complete contrast to the persistent rain of the weekend which has left lots of standing water of fields, especially along the valleys.
A walk on Houghton Common was particularly productive for Thrush species. The corridor of well stocked hedgerows east of St Mary's Church saw some very good numbers of Blackbirds (30+), Fieldfares, Redwings, and Bullfinches. It was clear that the hedgerows were particularly well-stocked with Hawthorn, an undoubted attraction to the Thrushes. The question is, were these Blackbirds grounded by the poor conditions of the previous weekend, or did they take advantage of the clear night for passage, whichever was the case, these birds were clearly overnight arrivals given their urgency to feed.

Little Cressingham (Watton Brook Valley) at dawn 24/11/14







Lapwings taking advantage of the flooded fields along the Watton Brook Valley at Little Cressingham 24/11/14

 
'The Arms' to Watton brook Valley near Hopton Farm, Little Cressingham
Following the heavy persistent rain of the previous weekend, Watton Brook was running very high and the adjoining flood plains all along the valley was extensively flooded.
the standing water along the valley attracted hundreds of Gulls, mostly Black-headed Gulls, with much larger Lesser Black-backed Gulls within.  At least 50+ Lapwings visited the flood along with small flocks of Starlings.
A few Pied Wagtails alined the fence alongside the brook, also, 4 Blue Tits passed along the brook-side vegetation searching for grubs and other small invertebrates to feed upon.  A Fieldfare was heard as was an overhead calling Redpoll.
The walk back to 'The Arms' continued as the day started with several Blackbirds in the roadside hedges.  Bullfinches continued to be seen darting between cover and showing their bright white rumps.  Two Bullfinches flew in front of me, one was a beautiful bright male showing his scarlet red underparts...surely one of our most beautiful birds.


  

Friday, 21 November 2014

Little and Great Cressingham, Norfolk

A very typical November day with murky conditions although temperatures remained above average peaking at about 10 degrees.  Some short lived brighter spells soon gave way to rain by mid-afternoon.

Peddars Way Footpath (Little and Great Cressingham)
My first walk of the day took me from the village of Little Cressingham north along the Peddars Way to the Priory Road junction at Great Cressingham, and back again, a distance of about 3.5 miles.
Initially appearing quiet, fortunes changed about a mile north of Little Cressingham with a flock of about 50 Fieldfares on the fields and in hedgerows alongside the road.  A few Starlings mixed with the Thrushes.  The hedges here are rich in fruits, mostly Hawthorn and Blackthorn, which the Fieldfares will eat, but also, the birds flocked on the wet fields where various invertebrates will be taken.
1st winter male Blackbird
Between the Peddars Way crossroads and Priory Road, the path is lined both sides with well stocked hedgerows, the most noticeable species here was multiple numbers of Bullfinches and Blackbirds.  The number of 'piping' Bullfinches indicated several birds present in the hedgerows.  Equally, several Blackbirds seen would show that many of these are continental birds.
Walking back south along the path, Blackbirds continued to show themselves and flashes of white rumps between cover gave the delightful Bullfinch away.
North Bridge, Little Cressingham is always worth a prolonged watch as so much habitat exists here in the valley.  On this occasion, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, a few Goldfinches, and Redpoll (3) were seen.  The latter two species will probably be attracted to the abundance of Alder, a favoured food source for these Finches.

Little Cressingham (Hopton Farm to The Fairstead)
This afternoon I walked the Great Cressingham road from the Watton Brook Valley north to The Fairstead and back, a distance of about 2 miles.
Immediately, I was greeted by another small flock of about 40 Fieldfares in the meadow north of the brook.  Typically wary, these Thrushes often took to the wing, however, they were seen on the grassy paddock where they will take various invertebrates.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen chisseling away at dead bark in an Oak.
Walking north up the hill, a number of Blackbirds were seen as well as the odd flash of white rump of a Bullfinch darting between cover.   
Back by the brook I checked a large area of grazing where a single Buzzard was on Rabbit prey.  A further Buzzard was over Princes Covert.  A single Grey Wagtail passed over calling.
I headed home with conditions turning increasingly murky, once home, rain set in.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Grimes Graves, Norfolk (with Richard Farrow)

Following a dismal weekend of thick fog and heavy rain it was a pleasure to get out and enjoy a mornings birding with my good friend Richard Farrow in reasonably good conditions and light.
We met as arranged at Grimes Graves at about 0800 with the intention of watching the Great Grey Shrike which is wintering at the site.
Walking along the forest trail it was evident that the area had been used for a motorcycle event as the ground was churned up and difficult to walk on.  With a purpose built track not too far away at Wretham I wondered why this locality had to be used.
We eventually made it to the road which accesses Grimes Graves and started our search for the Shrike, however, it was not to be, it would appear that the bird was keeping low or was temporarily visiting another location.  Magpies were seen perched on tops of Hawthorns doing their best to fool us into thinking they were Shrikes.
Although cloud was passing over at intervals, the light was good as we overviewed the heath.  A small party of Yellowhammers were in Hawthorns and a Tit flocked passed through comprising mostly Long-tailed Tits.  The trees around us prodcued passing Goldcrests whilst 'piping' Bullfinches were heard.  Some singleton Blackbirds passed back and forth.
It was while overviewing the heath that a single Redpoll overflew giving its distinctive "djit djit" call.
Richard and I decided to walk to the entrance gate to Grimes Graves and had some nice views of 3 Green Woodpeckers on the ground where they would search for ants.  The area here is full of well-established Yellow Meadow Ants mounds, therefore providing a good feeding site for Green Woodpeckers.  A single Pied Wagtail paid us a visit at the gate.
Back at our original viewpoint we resumed our search for the Shrike with no success.  It was at this time however, that Ron Seymour, a Wymondham birder arrived.  Ron is a lovely man and we have met on a few occasions, the first of our meetings was back in 1993 when we watched a Hoopoe at Saxlingham Nethergate.  It was really good to catch up with Ron.
Time drew on and it was time to walk back to the car.  Walking along the trail a lovely flock of about 6 Redpolls flew into the top of a Silver Birch almost directly above us, however, their stay was very short.  I did manage to see a lovely male bird before they flew off.
Richard saw a Jay in front of us and we commented on the numbers of these beautiful Crows in the Breckland area at the moment.  I saw some high flying Jays over Watton on September, perhaps our local Jay numbers have been augmented by continental birds.
Despite not seeing the Great Grey Shrike on this occasion it was still a very pleasant morning, especially so as I was in the company of Richard, and for meeting up with Ron.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Threxton and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Although fairly clear at dawn, thick fog once again soon descended over Breckland, this would clear readily to be replaced by heavy rain.
I started out on a 4 mile walk from the sewage treatment works (STW) at Threxton and heard Goldcrests calling in the conifer belt around the STW.  A Kingfisher was heard only in the Watton Brook valley.  Further along the lane a single Little Owl sat motionless on a fencepost in the half-light.  Soon after this, a Sparrowhawk was disturbed in the hedgerow and flew out carrying prey in its talons.
As I reached the junction with the Great Cressingham road at Saham Hall, 2 Kestrels sat together on wires, these were probably young birds.
I then walked the Great Cressingham road for just over a mile until I reached the Peddars Way.  Along the route were lots of Pheasants, Wood Pigeons, and calling Stock DoveBullfinches and Goldcrests were heard along this road.
Walking south along the Peddars Way, the narrow lane descends to the Watton Brook valley at North Bridge, Little Cressingham.  I always spend time checking this area as so much habitat exists in this mix of damp pasture for grazing and arable.  A variety of tree species are present, the most numerous being Alder, with Oak, Ash, and Birch, and a healthy understorey of Hawthorn and Bramble.  This visit saw Bullfinches 'piping' in the trees above along with a pair of Goldcrests.  Several migrant Blackbirds were present along with Redwings, Song Thrush, and a few Fieldfare.
As well as these lovely pockets of habitat, this part of Breckland has wide open vistas of rolling countryside, and although no raptors were seen this morning, I am always ready for the appearance of wintering raptors, especially Peregrine (which is regular), Merlin, and very occasionally (and not often enough) Hen Harrier.
At Little Cressingham I turn left to follow the B1108 back to my start point, it was now becoming increasingly foggy once again.  Further Goldcrests were heard, especially once again in the conifer screen at the STW, also, a Grey Wagtail was heard and my third Kestrel of the walk was seen. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Hedge planting.

In June of this year we moved into our bungalow in Watton, Norfolk.  I really do miss our previous home and the large garden I had which was created with wildlife in mind.  However, the house was a bit to big for us, and with our son and daughter in their own homes now it was decided that we should look at downsizing.
We have an attractive enclosed back garden in our new home with some wildlife friendly plants, however, the border along the length of the back fence was empty of plants although it was evident that some large conifers were there by the buried stumps.  These conifers were felled sometime ago as the roots were dead and quite easy to remove.
And so to the project.  At either corner I wanted a tree, one corner already a young Ash tree, the other I planted a lovely Rowan.  I chose native hedging plants for the border, these comprised 10 Hawthorn, 10 Blackthorn, 6 Dog Rose, and 10 Elder.  My idea is to create a mix of species and to this end I planted 2 Hawthorn, 2 Blackthorn, a Dog Rose, and so on.  The Elders were given their own space as these would not do too well within the fast growing thorny hedging.
This mix of native hedging will provide a breeding habitat for a range of bird species, as well as a feeding station and roost site, additionally, a wide range of insect species will be attracted to this habitat.
I am hoping that my hedge will provide a visual spectacle in spring with the various flowers blossoming and an equally colourful fruit larder in autumn for both resident and migrant birds.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Great Cressingham, Norfolk (Village to Rowley Corner and back)

Today has been a very windy day with low thick cloud and frequent showers.  Light was generally very poor with just the odd bright spell.
The route taken is a straight road of just over a mile, it then meets the main A1065 Swaffham to Brandon road.  Being as staight as a dye , some drivers think it is ok to speed, clearly, these people fail to understand that the unexpected may occur and therefore the thinking time is greatly reduced if a potential incident occurs...maybe these drivers will learn the hard way.
From the crossroads at the South Pickenham crossroads to Rowley Corner is exactly one mile and for the full length along the southern side of the road is given over to Pigs.  This area has for many years been used for rearing Pigs.
Probably the most impressive sight of the day was the 1,000's of Starlings which kept in one large gathering on the field presumably to feed upon various invertebrates.  Also on the field was hundreds of Gulls, these comprised Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed, and by far the most numerous was Black-headed Gulls.  Often these Gulls would be near or in the wallows.  Wood Pigeons, Stock Doves, and Jackdaws were scattered around the field.
Pied Wagtail.  A species seen around livestock.
The roadside hedgerows supported Goldcrests, Bullfinches, a flock of 50+ Fieldfare, and a few Redwings and Song Thrushes, and a single Buzzard.  Sadly, I found a dead Tree Sparrow, a traffic casualty.
Pied Wagtails were seen, this is an expected species in such habitats where they are constantly on the go searching for midges etc. around livestock and beside water, in this case wallows for pigs.
At least 2 Red Kites were seen, these beautiful raptors constantly scoured the ground below for carrion, and in fact along the road I found a long dead animal and it was clear that the Kites took a great deal of interest in it as I stood by the potential food.  Despite the strong and gusty wind, I marveled at how the Red Kites mastered the wind and held course, their beautiful reddish forked tail being used as a rudder to steer.
This was an interesting area to watch and I must admit that the large numbers of Starlings was very impressive.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Great Grey Shrike at Grimes Graves, Norfolk

Breckland contains many sites which could potentially hold a wintering Great Grey Shrike, however, sites like Grimes Graves are traditionally good for this enigmatic species.  Wide open expanses of heathland with lots of scattered bushes, especially Hawthorn, makes up the habitat here, however, views are from the periphery as this is private land.
Having parked alongside one of the many forest trails near the village of Lynford, I walked the forest trails until the heathland opened up in front of me and within seconds I saw a bright white speck on a distant Hawthorn, checking this with the binoculars revealed the Great Grey Shrike.  The bird remained in view for all of my 30 minute stay, however, it always remained distant.

Great Grey Shrike at Grimes Graves 03/11/14
Despite remaining distant, the Shrike was typically conspicuous, this being due to its behaviour of sitting on prominent perches on top of Hawthorns, watching and waiting for potential prey to be sighted.
Occasionally, the Shrike flew between perches or gave chase to passing Finches, in doing so the beautiful mix of black, whites, and greys were seen on this bird.
Although distant, the picture on the left shows the highly distinctive plumage features of this predatory species.  The crown and mantle are a pale grey, this contrasts strongly with the black mask through the eye, black wings, black tail (white sides), and bright white underparts. A white patch on the wings opens into a bright white wing-bar when in flight.  Close views of this bird would show a raptor-like hooked bill, this highly efficient tool is used to tear open its prey.
Great Grey Shrike at Grimes Graves 03/11/14
The picture to the left shows a very typical view of a Great Grey Shrike sitting on the topmost part of a bush and watching its surroundings for potential prey. From such a perch, the Shrike will launch its attack, and indeed, I witnessed this when a Finch of Bunting species was chased to height before the Shrike returned to the same, or nearby perch.
Although distant, this picture shows how easy it is to pick out this species, however, a distant bird may be more difficult to pick out if its was against a bright background.  



Also seen at this locality was a few Mistle Thrushes, one of which was chased by the Shrike, Jay, Carrion Crows, and a single Fieldfare.
The mixture of Pine and Birch habitat in the area held several Goldcrests and a mobile Long-tailed Tit flock which included more Goldcrests.
Shrikes are my favourite group of birds and throughout the coming winter months I will be visiting this stunning bird again.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Bodney, Norfolk (at sunset)

What an incredibly mild start to November with temperatures today reaching 18 degrees Celsius.  The day was sunny following some early cloud and light rain.  Skies were clear at sunset and the temperatures did then start to fall, although it was still mild for the time of year.
1600 Bodney: I walked along Smugglers Road which leads to one of the gates which accesses the Stanford Training Area.  Although not too far from the main B1108 road, the wide open spaces here does give a feel of bleakness and isolation, my kind of country.
The first bird seen along the route was a single Kestrel sitting rather Shrike-like on the top of one of the few Hawthorns which break this otherwise open country.  A bit further along I saw a larger raptor flying distantly against the tree-line, this was a pale looking Buzzard.  Meadow Pipits and a few Skylarks were passing overhead.
Looking ahead to the mature woodland belt which runs along the boundary of the army training, I was hoping that there would be some pre-roost movement of passerine species.  Upon reaching this habitat, the first bird heard was a calling Chiffchaff, clearly, the mild weather has given this migrant species no reason to move south at this time, and indeed, if it remains mild, the bird may over-winter in the area.  Mild winters will see migrant species over-winter, this was seen at Threxton sewage treatment works in February of this year when I found 3, possibly 4 Chiffchaffs wintering.
Also seen and heard within the mature woodland belt were Redwings and Song Thrushes, these wintering Thrushes probably spent the day feeding on nearby heaths and pastures.  Coal Tits, Goldcrest, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker were also heard here.
Light was fading fast as I walked back towards the car, and thoughts of a Hen Harrier gently passing over farmland to its roost crossed my mind….and that is as far as it went…just thoughts.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Grey Wagtail at Bawburgh, Norfolk 22/10/14

During an afternoon break from work I decided to visit the fast flowing section of the River Yare just downstream from the mill at Bawburgh.
I found a single Grey Wagtail at a traditional site for this species where I was entertained by it bathing in the shallows of the river.  As well as giving itself a good wash, I had to smile when it allowed itself to drift backwards by the river current.
Grey Wagtail bathing in the River Yare at Bawburgh, Norfolk 22/10/14 

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Movements of winter Thrushes appear to be on hold at the current time with the continuing south-westerly winds blocking any significant passage from Northern Europe.  Despite this, birds will continue to battle though in smaller numbers, and indeed, any previously arrived birds will make local movements.
At about 1400, I got out of the car on Fairstead Lane and almost straight away saw a single Fieldfare pass over before dropping in the Watton Brook valley.
Redwing - a recent arrival at Little Cressingham 24/10/14 
Very soon after the Fieldfare went out of sight, 2 Redwings approached from the North at height and then dropped into the tree (seen here).  After resting for a while this Redwing then flew into a Hawthorn and joined a number of Blackbirds where they fed upon berries.  The numbers of Blackbirds seen here also indicates these are probably recently arrived migrants.
A short walk along Fairstead Lane produced a number of Skylarks, again, possibly continental birds present, also Yellowhammers and a small Long-tailed Tit flock seen.
A single, pale looking Buzzard was seen from Fairstead Lane moving between a number of trees along Green Lane.  

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk

Another very windy day with strong south-westerlies.  Despite this the weather remains unseasonally mild and sunny.
Lynford Arboretum 19/10/14
Lynford Arboretum is a truly beautiful location with its wide variety of tree species.  Numerous Pine species include very large Corsican, Maritime, and Scots Pines, Larch and Spruce.  Several deciduous species occur including Hornbeam, Oak, and Birch species.  The fringes of the lake has Alders, a species which attracts small Finches like Siskin and Redpoll.
Lynford Arboretum, from a birders perspective, is probably the best site in Norfolk for seeing the elusive and magnificent Hawfinch.  It is also very reliable for the stunning Firecrest, however, both of these species eluded me today. 
Crossbills are another sought after species by birders visiting the Arboretum.  Sometimes, this enigmatic bird occurs here in good numbers.
My route this morning took me through the park to the lake, it is from here that Hawfinch can be seen in the paddocks, however, today I only saw Wood Pigeons and Jays here.  I heard Siskins in the Alders, and hidden in thick cover, a Water Rail called.  A few Redwings were heard.
Walking back through the Arboretum, the most numerous species seen and heard was Goldcrest and Coal Tit.  High in the trees, Mistle Thrushes gave their harsh rattle call.
For several minutes I stood and watched good numbers of Hornets, some came close and I could hear the deep hum of these beautiful insects.
Back in the car park, and I was preparing to leave, Goldcrests were heard and an overhead Redpoll gave its familiar "djit djit" flight call.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Hockham, Norfolk

A blustery day but very mild in the current south-westerly airflow.  Such winds have for the time being put Thrush migration from Northern Europe on hold.
I paid a fairly short visit to a wonderful location in Hockham Forest where a real diverse range of species can, and have, been seen.
Initially, overviewing the site was quiet, however, after a short wait I heard a number of calling Crow species which were out of view to the distant right.  These calls clearly told me they were not happy and that a raptor was in the area.  Not the usual call from these birds but far more strained as if really screaming at something.  This is a call I have become familiar with, such a call tells me to be ready for a raptor to appear.  Along with these calls, several Wood Pigeons flew rapidly away from right to left and assorted small birds scattered.  Moments later, the culprit appeared from right to left, an adult Goshawk slowly drifting past and then turning north in a relatively leisurely flight. 
Goshawk at Hockham 18/10/14 - Feared and respected by Crow species
I was hoping for Harrier species on this visit, however, none were seen.  A hunting Kestrel and calling Buzzards were the only other raptors present.
At least 3 Grey Herons were seen as well as a few Teal being seen and heard.
I was surprised not to hear or see any Crossbills on this short visit, however, a smaller Finch species, the Siskin was heard on occasion.
A few Redwings were heard and a Mistle Thrush appeared alarmed by giving its harsh rattle-like call.
Other than this, typical species for this habitat were seen and heard, these included Long-tailed Tits, Coal TitsGoldcrests, and Treecreepers in roving flocks.
To conclude, begin to learn the signs given by various species, both visual and audible, of raptors being in the area, this will give you some preparation for when a hunter appears.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Bawburgh, Norfolk

During my break from work today I had a very pleasant visit to the surroundings in the churchyard at Bawburgh.  This lovely location has some fine Yews and Beeches, with hedgerows at its boundaries.  The churchyard also manages conservation areas within.
Song Thrush at Bawburgh 16/10/14
The purpose of this visit was to check the area for migrant Thrush species and it was straight away evident that many Song Thrushes were present.
I settled down by the church tower with some Yew trees directly in front of me.
Many Song Thrushes, most, if not all, being migrant continental birds, were flying between Yews and nearby hedgerows, their "tick" calls a constant reminder of their presence.  Undoubtedly, the thick cover will provide good cover and roosting sites for this and other species.
Also present was a few Redwings, Blackbirds, and several Mistle Thrushes, the latter species often giving its harsh rattle-like call.
Other species seen here included a single Blackcap, Robin, Coal, Blue, and Great Tits, Wren, Goldcrest, and a single Little Owl which briefly called in response to another calling bird in nearby farmland.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Hethel Old Thorn, Norfolk

This is Hethel Old Thorn in Norfolk, it is the smallest nature reserve in the Great Britain.  This beautiful specimen is said to be at least 700 years of age with some estimates putting it at 1000 years of age.  In 1841, the Hawthorn's measurements were made, then, it had a 12 feet 1 inches circumference around the trunk with a spread of 30 yards.  This magnificent Hawthorn remains a very healthy specimen.
Hethel Old Thorn, Norfolk 14/10/14
Thrush Passage
With a deep area of low pressure and moderate North-Easterly winds, I was eager to get outside at first light to see if there was any Thrush passage in evidence and straight away there was several waves of calling Redwings and Song Thrushes passing high overhead from the north-east.
During my afternoon break from work, I visited Hethel where the churchyard and nearby woodlands held a few Redwings and Song Thrushes.  With similar winds overnight and into Wednesday morning, I expect further movements of Thrush species. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

Song Thrush passage at Houghton, Norfolk

The morning dawned very bright with a temperature of 9 degrees celsius.  The wind was a moderate to fresh southwesterly.
I arrived at Houghton-on-the-Hill at about 0800 and took a short walk east along the corridor formed by dense hedgerows to Houghton Common.  The first section of hedgerow at the west end of the path held a number of Song Thrushes, all giving their presence away by their short "tick" call from within cover.  All along the length of the path to Houghton Common a number of Song Thrushes were heard as was Bullfinch and Goldcrest.  Good numbers of Yellowhammers flocked in the hedge and a Reed Bunting was heard.
Once on Houghton Common, and with the bright sun behind me, I looked back at the hedge and saw a fine looking Song Thrush on the hedge along with a Blackbird.  The Song Thrush then flew off, climbing as it went, and continued its passage south.
The numbers of Song Thrushes seen and heard, along with visual migration, clearly shows these are recently arrived continental birds.
Heading back along the path, a couple of Blackbirds were seen, and near the church, a flock of 18+ Long-tailed Tits passed through, and overhead, several single Song Thrushes continued to to be seen flying in variable directions.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Thompson Water/Peddars Way, Norfolk 05/10/14

A lovely morning with temperatures at dawn of 2 degress celsius.  Patchy, thickish fog, and clear skies gave the morning a very autumnal feel to it.
My intention this morning was to try and locate early migrant Thrush species, none were seen or heard, however, a walk along the Peddars Way produced my first Brambling of the Autumn.  Although not seen, the Bramblings call was very distinctive, a nasally "zweeeeu"

Great Spotted Woodpecker Thompson Water 05/10/14


A recent clearfelled area near Watering Farm was quiet with the exception of a passing Kestrel.
Several Goldcrests were both seen and heard as well as good numbers of Marsh, Coal, Great, and Blue Tits, and a Siskin.
There was very little evidence of any summer migrants other than a calling Chiffchaff.
Two Cetti's Warblers gave bursts of its explosive song from dense waterside scrub, an incredibly loud song for a small bird. 
At least 4 Great Spotted Woodpeckers were either seen or heard, including the male photographed here.  Also, several Nuthatches were seen or heard as well as Treecreeper.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

0800: I Parked in Hockham Forest close to the Picnic site and then walked the minor road to Galley Hill.  I have read accounts that it is at this junction where highwaymen were hanged in order to serve as a reminder to those who intended to hold up coaches.
This lovely walk passes through mostly commercial pine crop, although there is plentiful deciduous woodland of Oak and Birch.  It is at the bridge which passes over the track which was the former railway line where I once watched a Hawfinch fly into roost in the pines.
By far the most abundant bird heard along the walk was Goldcrest, a typical species found in this habitat.  I reached the path which leads to Cranberry Rough to encounter at least 4 Marsh Tits, Goldcrests, Wrens, Treecreeper, Great and Blue Tits.  Overhead in the trees was s mobile flock of 30+ Siskins, it is likely that these are Northern European migrants.
Walking along the boundary fence at Hockham Fen I could see lots of Crows noisily gathering in treetops and flocking over the fen.  Their straining voices suggested a raptor was in the area and it wasn't too long before a female Marsh Harrier appeared briefly.  I watched the fen for some while and again saw the Marsh Harrier being pursued by Crows.  A Chiffchaff was occasionally singing close by.
I walked back along the forest trails to the car to the calls of Goldcrests again, as well as Nuthatch.  

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Merlin at Deopham, Norfolk

During my break from work I visited the vast expanses of arable land on which the former WW11 USAF airfield of Deopham Green stood.  Although nearly 70 years have passed since the end of the war, evidence still exists of an airfield formerly here with several concrete hardstands and pieces of runway running alongside the roads which connect the various parishes.
Merlin (juvenile) Deopham, Norfolk 30/09/14 
I was overviewing the land with thoughts of a Harrier species passing through, and indeed, earlier in the day I was thinking of raptors I have already seen at this site.
At 1430, I saw a number of Wood Pigeons departing very hurriedly, I immediately though a Sparrowhawk was approaching, however, within seconds, a Merlin approached from the right very fast and low, and despite its small size, this Falcon did not hesitate to chase Wood Pigeons and Corvid species.  The Merlin was seen to twist and plummet to the ground, however, it soon emerged again without prey.  This dashing Falcon then passed low over farmland passing a small group of Golden Plovers which had been put up.
Merlins are scarce migrants and winter visitors to my Breckland patch.  An excellent record.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Probable irruptive Jays

Great Hockham (at dawn)
The fog was quite thick at dawn, therefore this early morning walk around the pine forest at Hockham was to be more of a case of what I could hear rather than see.
The most numerous species heard was Goldcrest with birds calling everywhere as you would expect in this habitat type.
I could see in a clearing some evidence of Thrush species present.  The odd Blackbird was seen flying between cover, but also Song Thrushes were heard giving their "tick" calls.

Watton (from garden)
Greenfinch (female) from Garden 29/09/14
This morning when I got back from my walk I planted a lovely weeping Cotoneaster and Rowan in my new garden, my first 'bird-friendly' trees.
Regular species seen included several Goldfinches, one of which was a juvenile and seen to have the beginning of the red 'facial' area.  Greenfinch was also seen and a Yellowhammer and Skylarks passed overhead.
The peace was shattered by the panic of Collared Doves and Wood Pigeons scattering everywhere, I knew a raptor was present and then a female Sparrowhawk passed directly over the garden.

At 1130 I checked for overhead movements and saw at least 7 Jays flying over at height from the north north-east.  One Jay was particularly high and all were watched heading off more or less south-west.  Jays are irruptive species from Scandinavia in late September and October, their southerly movement into Britain being an indication that acorns within their normal range have not been plentiful enough to sustain their dietary needs, therefore forcing them to seek good feeding elsewhere in Europe.  A good inland record

Marlingford Church, Norfolk 27th Sept. 2014

During my afternoon breaks from work I like to visit Churchyards, mills, farmland, or rivers, in my search for birds.  On Saturday 27th I decided to visit the beautiful churchyard at Marlingford with its beautiful old church and fine, old Yews and Oaks.  I find that churchyards have so much to offer as they often hold old tree species and are rarely affected by pesticides or insecticides, additionally, it is fair to say that these locations are indeed valuable nature reserves.  I often think what a great place to spend eternity once life is over, sharing it with so many wonderful species.
What was particularly evident on this visit was the frequent "tick" call of Song Thrushes, I didn't have to wait too long before around 10 Song Thrushes broke cover to fly to other trees in the area.  This number of Song Thrushes clearly shows these as being continental birds which have sought refuge in the thick cover in the yard.
Mistle Thrushes were also present, announcing themselves with their harsh rattle-like call.
2 Nuthatches were busily flying to and from collecting nuts from a fine Beech tree and taking them to a stash in nearby parkland.
Goldcrests were present as one would expect in this type of habitat, also Coal Tits and Chiffchaff were seen and Treecreepers heard.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk

0600 I arrived at the off-road parking area on the A149 south of Burnham Overy.  I was the first birder to arrive, but I was soon joined by a visiting birder, Dave from Leicester.  We readily began to discuss recent arrivals in the area and it was obvious that the previous nights conditions would not have benefitted any migrants which have been waiting to continue their passage.
The previous evening saw at least a 3 hour period of heavy, violent thunderstorms over my home area of Watton, however, other reasonably local areas missed these altogether.  Despite this grey and misty conditions were met with at the coast and it remained dry with a light northerly wind.
Dave and myself then walked the path north for about a mile and a half until we reached the dunes.  On route we saw a splendid Barn Owl on one of the fence posts beside the path.  A little further along a Grey Wagtail was heard to be followed shortly after by the first migrant, a Wheatear.
Having arrived at dunes it was clear that the first small patch of dense Bramble/Hawthorn scrub was playing host to a calling Yellow-browed Warbler.
My intention this morning was to sit and wait at this fantastic area of scrub to watch what it had on offer, especially as this sheltered area appeared to have all the right qualities for tired, hungry migrant birds.  It transpired that I had actually been sitting on a slight slope, overlooking the area for some 3 hours or so, but it was worth it.

The following is a list of the bird species seen within this small area of Bramble, Hawthorn, Dog Rose, and Elder habitat:

1 Sparrowhawk over east
Meadow Pipits over
Dunnock
Wren
6+ Swallows over east
1 Redstart (male)
1 Whinchat
Robin
2 Yellow-browed Warblers
4+ Garden Warblers
3+ Blackcaps
1 Willow Warbler
Chiffchaff
Whitethroat
1 Lesser Whitethroat
Goldcrest
1 Red-breasted Flycatcher
Blue Tit
Chaffinches
Linnet
Reed Bunting

Yellow-browed Warbler at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/09/14
A calling Yellow-browed Warbler was the first bird heard at this scrub habitat.  The call for me is not too unlike that of Coal Tit, however, it is thinner, higher pitched, and a sweet "seweeest".  As the morning progressed it was apparent that 2 Yellow-browed Warblers were present.  The small size of this bird does not present problems with finding it at range as the bright yellow supercillium, yellow wing-bars are conspicuous in cover, and the fast actions and behaviour i.e. hovering under leaves, make this a bird a distinctive character.


Red-breasted Flycatcher at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/09/14
I didn't have to wait too long before this Red-breasted Flycatcher appeared.  This beautiful, small Flycatcher species flew from bush to bush in typical, fast Flycatcher behaviour, occasionally to alight against a bush and revealing its pale, and what I thought appeared to be a very pale peachy breast.  The eye appeared large on a plain facial area.  In good light when perched, and when in flight, the distinctive white pattern on the tail was visible.  As shown in this picture, the tail was often cocked.  Ususally, the Red-breasted Flycatcher was seen perched on the edges of bushes from where fast 'sallies' were launched from.  A call was often heard from the bird, it sounded similar to that of a Wren, a "trrrrr", however, this was usualy barely audible.  
Garden Warbler (one of 4) Burnham Overy Dunes 20/09/14

 At least 4 Garden Warblers were seen in this small area, often seen in Hawthorn and Bramble, they also were frequently seen hanging on tall weeds jus above ground level, to feed.  This behaviour and habitat choice is somewhat different from it very arboreal needs during the breeding season. Often described if field guides as somewhat non-descript, a tell-tale feature which is useful when comparing to other similarly marked Warblers is the pale grey patch on the neck-sides.




Also seen in close association with the Garden Warblers was at least 3 Blackcaps, a stunning Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, and on the periphery, a single male Redstart. A single Whinchat made a brief appearance on a bush top before moving off again.
Although the Yellow-browed Warblers and Red-breasted Flycatchers were the highlights at this patch of habitat, these and the commoner species here, all more or less sociable and with one aim, all provided a very memorable event, an event which is what bird migration is all about.

I had to drag myself away at some point to make my way back to the parking area, although hard to do, the memory of this morning will stay with me.
On the walk back the highlight was 3 Spoonbills which flew together west.
At the time of my arrival at the parking area first thing at 0600, I was the only car there, however, when I got back, the parking area was full and cars lined the lane leading north to Burnham Thorpe.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Merton and Threxton, Norfolk 18th Sept. 2014

Following an early morning of thick fog, the sun burnt through leaving a very warm day with highs of about 23 degrees.

Merton
I decided to visit a beautiful area of Merton, about a mile from home, to check the very dense Bramble/Hawthorn scrub and ancient hedgerows.  This one small area produced:

1 Kestrel
30+ Tree Sparrows
Nuthatch
3 Song Thrush (one departed high south-west)
Mistle Thrush
Blackbird
Blackcap (male)
Chiffchaff

Merton has always been a traditional site for Tree Sparrows and breeding does occur at the location visited today.  Nationally, this is now a rare bird, therefore, I feel honoured to have this beautiful bird on the patch.
Of interest was the presence of 3 Song Thrushes, one of which departed at height to the south-west, undoubtedly a migrant bird.

Cormorants at height heading south over Watton

Around about mid-day I was in the garden, looking up I saw these 4 very high Cormorants flying in a southerly heading.
British Cormorants tend to disperse locally, however, Northern European birds do migrate.  Given the height of these Cormorants I think it is very likely that these were Northern birds on passage.




Threxton (late afternoon/sunset)
On this visit I walked the ancient lane between the church and Woodcock Hall with the purpose of finding migrants along the various ditches, however, I could not see any on this occasion.
The sewage treatment works at Threxton is where I decided to spend some time.  These wonderful habitats offer food and shelter to resident and migrant birds and today the following was of interest:

1 Snipe
10+ Stock Doves
Wood Pigeons
30+ Collared Doves
Sparrowhawk (female) upsetting the Stock Doves
Jackdaws
Grey Wagtail
Pied Wagtail
20+ Blackbirds
Song Thrush
Robin
Chiffchaffs
Goldcrests
Blue Tit
20+ Long-tailed Tits

With the sun setting fast, many Blackbirds (20+) started to arrive at the sewage works, some flew circuits, others called from the tops of the Leylandii shelter belt.  European Blackbirds are seen in sometimes vast numbers passing over, however, this generally occurs in November.  I think these are local birds that were arriving at the works to roost in the dense cover of the Leylandii.
Also as light began to fade a flock of 20+ Long-tailed Tits flew directly into the thick Leylandii cover to roost.