Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Wednesday, 28 May 2014


Merton (Crows Lane)
This morning I had a short walk along Crows Lane where the dominant habitat is mature deciduous woodland with some fine old Oaks, Beech, and Hawthorn with a lush understorey of greenery.
I only spent about 30 minutes at this locality as I have to work later, however, during this time a good variety of species were both heard and seen.
First of all a family party of Marsh Tits made their way along the lane with adult birds searching under leaves for caterpillars, at the same time a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew away from me revealing its bright white 'braces' (wing patches).
A little further along the lane I could hear a Garden Warbler singing, I eventually located him singing high in a tree.  A short while after this I could hear Blackcaps 'tacking' in low level habitat, undoubtedly this bird was agitated at my presence.
As the lane rises slightly a large area of mixed woodland abuts the road and extends away to the south (where a lovely stand of Larch will be good for Crossbills).  This woodland held singing Goldcrest, Blackcap, and a Whitethroat was heard on the woodland periphery.
Turning back to retrace my steps a family party of Long-tailed Tits were close by and another Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard in the woodland.  Chiffchaff was also heard.
Nearing the end of my walk I heard the soft call of Bullfinches within cover and the shrill trill of Treecreeper was also heard.   

Garden notes
Over the past 22 years I have recorded some exceptional birds either in or over the garden.  The garden was created to provide a home for birds as well as a staging post and feeding station for both passage and resident birds.  Now after all this time we are soon to be on the move and it is my intention to eventually provide a complete list and summary of birds I have recorded in or over the will hopefully find this very interesting reading.
Pied Wagtail (juvenile) garden late May 2014.
This time of year sees gardens full of birdlife with youngsters following their parents around begging for food.
Starlings have been numerous, not only due these often overlooked birds look good, they also provide great comical value as well.
Recent days have also seen young Blue Tits being fed by parents and at ground level, Goldfinches have been teaching their young how to extract seeds/weeds.
We have also had on several days a family party of Pied Wagtails on the lawn.  Although often begging for food, the young Pied Wagtails are able to run daintily over the ground in search for spiders and insects.  One particular occasion saw a young Pied Wagtail looking skyward, this bird was following a Bee species intently as it flew around blossom above it, this was quite comical to watch as the Wagtail I am sure could not make out what this strange creature was.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Houghton (North Pickenham), Norfolk (for Raptor passage).

Yesterday I wrote of 2 Hobbies flying in a very purposeful northerly heading, my conclusion was that these were passage birds given the good conditions for migration.  It also appears, from what I read, that scarce raptors were on the move through Norfolk yesterday (17/05/14).
Very warm conditions were predicted again today, this coupled with the moderate south-easterly wind indicated that more raptors may be on the move, therefore, I headed for Houghton for a short period of vismigging (Visible Migration).
The hedgerows along the lanes produced Whitethroats, Blackcaps, and Chiffchaffs in song, and just as I entered Common Lane, 2 Tawny Owls were calling in the large Oaks and Ash trees.  Bullfinches are a regular species here and a pair were seen typical darting between cover whilst giving their soft piping call.
At about 1130 I reached my chosen migration watch-point, the sun was very warm and white clouds were moving gently across the sky from the south-east.  I settled in to watch the sky above me and then at 1140, I saw what I had been waiting for, a Honey Buzzard passed directly above me high from the south to the north.
As written earlier, this Honey Buzzard record follows on from others seen at other Norfolk localities yesterday.
As I was preparing to leave a single Common Buzzard flew into an Oak where it probably had its nest, this bird was carrying in its talons something that resembled a Snake, but the prey/item was to distant to confirm.

Watton (Garden)
Very warm conditions with blue, cloudless skies, and a refreshing south-easterly wind.

Starling (juvenile) Watton 18/05/14

Plenty of evidence this afternoon of young birds in the garden with Starlings dominating.  I have noticed that these youngsters are now feeding independently of their parents.  Other behaviour these youngsters have already adopted is this species comical, noisy squabbling....I do love Starlings.
Also seen in the garden this afternoon was recently fledged Blue Tits, House Sparrows, Blackbirds (pair), Wood Pigeons, and beautiful Greenfinches.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Ashill (Common Road), Norfolk

Probably the warmest day of the year so far with temperature highs of 24 degrees. Some cloud bubbled up but otherwise it was bright and sunny.

Chiffchaff with food for young at Ashill, 17/05/14.
As was expected along my route Whitethroats were present in good numbers and a single Lesser Whitethroat was seen in a dense bramble thicket where I suspected it would be.  Also, a Chiffchaff was seen carrying a beak full of Caterpillars, a sure sign of youngsters in the nest.
Further along the road to the east, 2 singing Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, and 2 Bullfinches (males), however, I still have to record Turtle Doves in the area, a species which has shown site fidelity here for a number of years.

Watton (Garden) 1500
A few minutes in the garden looking for passage Raptors saw 2 Hobbies together, quite high flying very purposefully south to north.  The direct flight of these Falcons indicates these may be on passage.  It will be interesting to read or hear of any other records from today which may point towards evidence of passage Raptors from other parts of Norfolk and beyond.   

Friday, 16 May 2014

'Mock Nightingale'

Great Cressingham (Priory Road/Peddars Way/Watton Road) 0800-1015
A real flavour of late spring seen today with sunny, warm conditions from the outset, although as late afternoon approached there was total cloud cover with an oppressive feel to the conditions.
Blackcap or 'Mock Nightingale' Great Cressingham 16/05/14
Common summer visitors are now well established on their chosen territories and as expected my walk this morning produced several singing Whitethroats all along the route, several Blackcaps, and a Garden Warbler heard from the Peddars Way.
The Quail which I found here back in April has not been heard for some time, therefore indicating this was a passage bird.
Blackcaps are common summer visitors, generally arriving in late March, numbers quickly build throughout April and May by which time they have clearly established themselves as one of our commonest visitors.
Blackcaps are very fine songsters, their cheerful fluty warble fills our woodlands and hedgerows and has earned them the colloquial names of 'Mock Nightingale' and 'Poor Mans Nightingale'.
The Blackcap pictured here was singing in an Oak with a hedgerow understorey, a typical breeding habitat for this species.
A stroll around the churchyard at Great Cressingham produced Robin and Wren food carrying for their young, a singing Mistle Thrush on top of the church tower, and that quintessentially sight and sound of a warm spring day....screaming Swifts around the church.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Thompson Water, Norfolk. A good day for scarce migrants.

My day started at 0430 with a 4 mile dog walk from the beautiful church at Merton, taking in Thompson (Griston road and Low Common Lane) before returning along Crows Lane, Merton, and back to the church.
This area of my patch is dominated by mature deciduous and mixed woodland habitat.  Many Blackcaps were heard in song all along the route within wooded habitats and a single Garden Warbler was singing on Low Common.  Whitethroats were beginning to stir and Goldcrest was also heard in song.
For some time I had heard a Cuckoo calling, then, as I was walking along Low Common Lane, I saw the bird flying between roadside Oaks along the lane before flying off towards Low Common.
Common species heard included Treecreeper and singing Nuthatch.

Thompson Water 0730-1045
Bright sunny conditions greeted my arrival at this beautiful site and even early on, within sun-traps in wooded areas, the sun felt quite warm.  I noticed however that cloud was moving quite quickly from the south-west.
Turtle Dove at Thompson Water 14/05/14
The reedbeds and woodlands around Thompson Water was alive with bird-song.  A good variety of summer visitors were present along with some scarcities.

1 Grey Heron
2 Cormorant
3 Common Terns
1 Cuckoo
Wood Pigeons
Great Spotted Woodpecker (pair)
2 Garden Warbler
Reed Warblers
Spotted Flycatcher (pair) Thompson Water 14/05/14
Sedge Warbler
3+ Cetti's Warbler
3 Willow Warblers
Goldcrest (several singing males)
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Siskin (pair)
Reed Bunting

The best viewing of Thompson Water faces east, therefore, this morning the bright sunny conditions did not assist with obtaining good photographs of the Hobbies over the water.
Moving round to the far south-east corner of the water I could hear Reed, Sedge, and Cetti's Warblers, all singing in the reeds and dense waterside scrub.  Whilst there, I heard what is for me one of the quintessential sounds of a warm spring day, a calling Turtle Dove. The soft purring of this sadly very scarce migrant was quite close to me; I eventually found the bird calling in the uppermost branches of a dead tree.  It was from this perch that the Turtle Dove performed its display flight.
I then walked along a small section of the Peddars Way which runs east to west along the southern boundary of the water.  I soon heard a familiar call, a loud strident "zeet", this call belonged to another scarce migrant, a Spotted Flycatcher (2) which I soon located in mature deciduous woodland.  I noticed there was plenty of Ivy Creepers around many of thr trees, a favoured nest site for Spotted Flycatcher, and whilst watching the bird, it appeared to be prospecting for a nest site within some Ivy.
Also along the Peddars Way several Goldcrests were singing, this included a pair seen together, the male occasionally flared his beautiful Orange crown stripe.
Back to the viewing area by the fishing platforms, a very close Cetti's Warbler frequently gave bursts of its explosive song, but as ususal, despite its close proximity all I saw was a very brief movement within Sallow scrub.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Thompson Water (late afternoon)

Despite some warm sunshine the afternoon was quite wild at times with a strong south-westerly wind and localised, heavy showers.  At least the wind pushed the showers through quickly.
Arriving at Thompson Water, the most evident species seen was large numbers of Swifts skimming low over the water and surface weed for insect prey.  When brighter conditions moved through the Swifts gained height, presumably to follow insects which rose up in slightly warmer settled conditions.  Although Swifts formed the majority, there was smaller numbers of Sand Martins and House Martins hunting insects low over the water.
Also seen over the water was a pair of Common Terns, also, a couple of Hobbies were hunting insects over the peripheral woodland, reeds, and the water.  A Common Buzzard put in an appearance.
In the dense waterside scrub and reeds at least 2 Garden Warblers sang along with a couple of Cetti's Warblers, Reed Warblers, and Chiffchaff.
The walk back along Thompson Grove produced Blackcaps, another singing Garden Warbler, and a single singing Willow Warbler in typical scrubby habitat.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Thompson Water, Norfolk

Following yesterdays success at Thompson Water, I decided to pay another visit to check on the Hobbies.  The weather was fine, sunny, and warm, good conditions for this special raptor, I was not disappointed.
Hobby (one of 4) at Thompson Water 4th May 2014
2 Cormorant
Grey Heron
2 Common Tern (pair)
5 Black-headed Gull
1 MARSH HARRIER (female)
Common Buzzard
Reed Warbler
3 Garden Warbler (pair + male)
3+ Cetti's Warbler

A total of 4 HOBBIES were seen throughout the afternoons visit to Thompson Water.  These superb Falcons were once again hunting and feeding upon winged insects which were caught from either over the water or above surrounding woodland.  Now that we are in May the potential for multiple numbers of Hobby exists. I have seen 10 to 15 at this locality, however, will the day come when 80+ Hobbies are seen together, as they are, not too far away at Lakenheath Fen reserve.   
A female Marsh Harrier was seen, usually over the reeds where it hunted. I am intriqued that this raptor is spending some time at Thompson Water.
At least 3 Cetti's Warblers were in song, including one in Sallow next to where I was standing, this was an incredibly loud song, but could I see the bird, no I couldn't.
Strangely, there was not a single Swallow species or Swift over the water, I would expect good numbers at this and other localities by now, perhaps the recent northerly winds have held up their passage.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Little Cressingham and Thompson Water, Norfolk

Little Cressingham Mill (late morning)
A good selection of summer visitors seen and heard this morning around this site with singing Blackcap and Whitethroat back in their typical habitats where seen in previous years.  The Blackcap seemed none the worse for wear despite having what appeared to be a tick on its forecrown.
A Sedge Warbler sang from rank vegetation, however, I have yet to hear Reed Warbler which is generally recorded here.
A few House Martins (3+) were over the mill-pond and surrounding farmland, however, numbers appear a little low at the moment.  High numbers are usually seen with a good nesting colony annually.
3 Mute Swans, a pair of Greylag Geese, and a calling Little Grebe were also present.
As I was preparing to leave I looked up and saw a CUCKOO quite high, it circled a couple of times and then headed off south-west still at height....a passage migrant perhaps.

Thompson Water (1400-1600)
This site always has the potential for producing good birds throughout the whole year, however, it really comes to life here in May with visiting migrants, breeding migrants, and common and scarce resident birds throughout the year.

Hobby (one of 3) at Thompson Water, Norfolk 03/05/14

2 Common Terns
2 Grey Herons
Mute Swan
Great Spotted Woodpecker
2 Cetti's Warbler (singing)
2 Reed Warblers (singing)
2 Garden Warblers
3 Siskins (2 males)
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Reed Bunting (2 territories)

The most visible species today at Thompson Water was 3 Hobby, these superbly agile Falcons made almost continuous sweeps over the water for flying insects which when caught were eaten on the wing.  Hunting took place over reedbeds, woodland, but most of all over the water and surface weeds, where insect prey was taken.
Interestingly, a female Marsh Harrier was again seen over the dense reedbeds.  This raptor did gain height later, to the north-east, and in doing so it attracted the attention of mobbing Corvids.  Was this the same bird as seen previously or another migrant, I suspect it was probably the same bird which may be commuting between Thompson Water and Hockham Fen.
The numbers of birds seen (above list), especially singing Reed Warblers, were heard within a smallish area of the water, this large site will hold further birds in unchecked areas.