Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 21 April 2014

Great Cressingham (pre-dawn), Hockham (early-mid morning), and Ashill, Norfolk (late afternoon).

As we are now in the third week of April, the passage of birds and arrivals of summer migrants picks up apace.  Whereas autumn migration is more protracted, urgency is the key with birds needing to find their way to their breeding grounds in order to set up territory.
This morning it was evident that spring migration has quickened with the following highlights noted:

1 QUAIL still singing at Great Cressingham
1 Marsh Harrier (female) at Hockham
1 HOBBY at Hockham (my earliest date for this Falcon)
2 Sedge Warblers
6 Lesser Whitethroats (included 4 in song at dawn on 3 mile dog walk)  

Great Cressingham (pre-dawn)
I arrived on the Peddars Way with some light mist hanging over some fields and valleys, and the air was still, it was beautiful.
As I got out of my car, I immediately heard the highly distinctive song of a male QUAIL a short distance to the north of me.  The relative quiet of this early hour accentuates the song of this highly enigmatic species.
My early morning 3 mile walk with Toby produced 4 singing Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Whitethroats, and 3 Blackcaps
Driving back to Watton near Saham Hall, the 5th singing Lesser Whitethroat of the morning was in a well-wooded hedgerow.

I arrived at this locality at about 0630, some mist was evident but this was soon to burn off to give bright, sunny conditions.
As soon as I arrived I saw 7+ Crossbills high overhead, then, I could hear 2 singing Sedge Warblers somewhere within a small patch of Phragmite reeds and Sallow.  There will undoubtedly be other birds in similar and distant, inaccessable areas.
At least 6 noisy Greylag Geese were seen as well as a few singleton Grey Herons in flight.
After a while I checked some of the peripheral woodland of Scots Pine and Larch when a small party of Crossbills alighted to feed.  A few Goldcrests were in song with one bird typically high in the canopy of a Scots Pine.
I later made my way back to my earlier location when I could see a female Marsh Harrier hunting back and forth over her territory.  It was interesting to note that when Buzzards (3 in total) appeared she would gain height and keep an eye on them and then return to hunt when the Buzzards moved off.

Marsh Harrier (female) at Hockham 21/04/14.

The photograph below of the Marsh Harrier shows one of the very distinctive features of the flight behaviour of this raptor, the wings are held in a shallow V as it quarters aboved the ground, quite different from the much bulkier Buzzard.  Also note the beautiful creamy head and inner leading edge of the wings, a feature which aids the sexing of this species.

Marsh Harrier (female) at Hockham 21/04/14

Mid to late April sees migration picking up and it is generally safe to predict when migrants return to us to breed or are seen on passage, however, as with the Quail, some species do take me by surprise as happened this morning when my first HOBBY of the year passed over and did some sweeps for insects.  I usually see this magnificent Falcon during the latter days of April or early May, this particular Hobby is my earliest ever record for this species.

Hobby at Hockham 21/04/14 (My earliest record for this species)
Other migrants seen this morning included a couple of Swallows and a north-bound Redpoll.  Resident species seen included Great Spotted Woodpecker, Carrion Crows, and the odd Siskin which may be a local breeder or a late migrant.

Ashill (late afternoon)
A walk along Common Road to as far as the old railway cutting produced a singing Lesser Whitethroat in a well-wooded hedgerow and dense Bramble scrub.  Also by the rail cutting a Chiffchaff and Blackcap was singing.  A check of the fields produced no migrants as far as I could see.


  1. Lovely to see a Hobby shot..
    good panning!!

    Talking of shot and migrants...
    I've just posted on Aigronne Valley Wildlife about tonight's article on Auntie Beeb...
    Chris Packham is in Malta to highlight the annual massacre of our birds!
    The link is in the post...
    it makes for some not very nice reading...
    but I'm glad they've done it, all the same.

    Nothing new to report from Central France...
    but we are still expectant duckling watchers!!
    And the Morlocks [Moorhens] have really got building!

    As their choice of site is in the irises...
    just where the duck lands on leaving the nest for the morning and afternoon breaks...
    it makes for some interesting activity...
    the female Morlock especially...
    she really puffs herself out and goes for the duck and drake...
    who sail away in dignified haste!!

    when the duck returns...
    to "slide" gently up and under the brambles again...
    there is usually no interaction!!

  2. Hi Tim
    Thank you once again for your comments.
    I was pleased with the Hobby on the was my earliest returning record ever of this species.
    As for the Quail on my patch, they are very scarce in my area with only one or 2 found each year....I should imagine they are more numerous around you. Both Quail and Turtle Dove are both very scarce here, their wonderful presence here is tinged with sadness due to their need to 'run the gauntlett of guns' on passage. Yes, I am glad that birds plight is highlighted where they are heavily hunted, additionally, I think tourists/holiday makers should boycott these locations as holiday destinations.

    I am also fascinated by the very specific migration route taken by Lesser Whitethroat...north-west from Africa/south-east Europe in spring and south-east in autumn back to their wintering grounds thus totally avoiding the Iberian Peninsula and south-west France. This leads me to ask Tim "What is the status of Lesser Whitethroat where you are in Central France?"


    Following on from our communication recently regarding 'Colloquial names' of birds, I love your term 'Moorlock' for Moorhen.

  3. 'Moorlock'
    It is their somewhat skulking nature...
    creeping along the edge of the millstream in the shadows...
    running-flying atop the water when they see theirs...

    But that said, we have an egg!!
    Couldn't see it tho' at five pm...
    probably under the nice pile of fresh weed in the middle...
    strange really, we seem to be spending a lot of time at the moment...
    staring out of the bedroom window!!

    Still no ducklings....

    Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) Fauvette babillarde... status... menacée!!
    In our local book, published 2005...
    also very specific [just the 19 communes making up "Touraine du Sud"]...
    there is just one suspected breeding record eight miles away as the crow flies!!
    However, looking on Faune Touraine [] I find no mention of it at all.
    But that said, the only recorders from Touraine du Sud are Pauline and I and a lad from Ligueil....
    most recorders are up along the Loire... or in Tours... so, if menaced....
    and the loss of suitable hedge-lines would be a major cause...
    it could be very localised... but unobserved!!
    My latest blog posting is about vanishing corridors...
    another has been grubbed out near us!!

    1. Thank you Tim, an interesting Lesser Whitethroat account.
      I have a relative who lives in Southern Spain and as expected, he describes Lesser Whitethroat as very rare.
      Going back to one of my earlier posts regarding hunting practices in Malta, I have e-mailed the Malta High Commission in London expressing my deep concerns about the shooting of passage migrants in spring......THIS MUST STOP TIM......let's hope for a speedy and favourable response.