Breckland Birder

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

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Merton (Dawn chorus), Hockham Fen, and Great Cressingham in Norfolk.

Merton for the Dawn Chorus
0445 Starting off from the tiny village of Merton in Norfolk, the plan this morning was to circumnavigate the beautiful parkland which abuts the large Army training area known as STANTA (Stanford Training Area).
This is a typical parkland/farming estate centred on Merton Hall, the seat of Lord Walsingham, which like many in Norfolk, is now a fraction of the very large estate it was formerly.  The walk this morning took me around Merton Wood and peripheral farmland.
A calling Tawny Owl was heard in woodland alongside the Thompson road, this is a common resident species in this area.
Initially, Blackbirds formed the majority of the songsters heard in the half-light, with lots of singing males heard.  Song Thrushes were also quite numerous as well, which was encouraging.
As far as summer visitors are concerned, the most numerous species heard was Blackcap, this is the commonest breeding woodland Warbler in this area.
Common birds were also stirring with Robins, Wrens, ChaffinchesMarsh Tit (1), and Treecreeper all in song.
The final stretch of this walk towards Merton village produced a single singing Whitethroat and a singing Willow Warbler.  A few Tree Sparrows, a Merton speciality were calling from their dense Hawthorn roost in the village.
A target species for me this morning was Nightingale, however, not a single bird was heard within what is good breeding habitat for this species.  Twenty years ago, I frequently walked the same route and could hear at least 8 singing birds.  The reason for this serious decline may include range contraction, we are the extreme north-western limits for this species in Europe.  Draw an imaginary line from the Humber estuary to the Severn estuary, Nightingales are rare beyond that line, therefore in Norfolk we are certainly almost at the limit of its range.  I know that in my area habitat destruction has seen the loss of the enigmatic Nightingale.  One such site in Merton used to hold the finest bank of Blackthorn I have ever seen, this site held Nightingale annually, then it was completely grubbed out for no reason at all, this completely unnecessary action still angers me all these years on.


Hockham Fen
What a magical, beautiful site this is, and for many an unexpected habitat within the hundreds of square miles of Thetford Forest.  This really is a jewel nestling within my local Breckland patch.
This was a very rewarding morning once again, however, I did not see the Marsh Harrier on this visit.
A good range of both resident and summer visitors were seen and heard. 
I sat at the base of an old Sallow, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible and from my watch-point I heard 2 Sedge Warblers 1 Reed Warbler, and 2 Reed Buntings in song.
About 6 Grey Herons were seen and wildfowl were represented by several noisy Greylag Geese, 4 Tufted Duck, and a pair of Mallard with ducklings.
Goshawk (one of a pair) over Hockham Fen 24/04/14

At 0835 noisy Corvids alerted me to a possible raptor nearby, then, a Goshawk overflew the Fen.  At 0925, a single Goshawk passed over again but on this occasion was met by a second bird. The second bird was seen to plummet earth towards woodland with wings held close and dropping at great speed.  The other Goshawk, this male, soared to a great height and was seen to display its dramatic dive and pull-up...a.very memorable observation.





Great Cressingham (late afternoon)
Whitethroat (male) Great Cressingham 24/04/14
At least 3 Whitethroat territories were located along a short section of the Peddars Way including this male which was one of a pair.  His behaviour included the conspicuous display-flight and his agitated calling from within the hedge as I passed by, however, he popped out allowing this photo to be taken.
Not so conspicuous was a singing Lesser Whitethroat along Priory Road, he was typically singing his warble and rattle song out of sight.
Also seen in the area was a single Chiffchaff, Goldfinches, Yellowhammer, and a pair of Buzzards.

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