Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Hockham and Stow Bedon, Norfolk

Hockham Fen
The first bird I noticed at the Fen was an adult Grey Heron, and as it happens, this bird remained perched in a Sallow on the edge of dense woodland throughout my hour long stay.  The Heron preened at this perch, however, I had to smile when the bird stood erect facing the sun and holding its wings open so to gather the early warmth, this posture reminded me of a 'spiv' holding his coat open displaying rows of blackmarket watches.
I am sure there was much more on the Fen than what I saw during my stay, however, a party of 5 Stock Doves passed over, also, a few Swallows were seen flying in over the trees from the south and then seen sweeping low over reedbeds for insect prey.
A single Common Buzzard passed close by but the expected Hobby was not seen on this occasion.
A number of calling Green Woodpeckers were heard, also 2 birds seen to fly up into a tall tree on the fen.  Great Spotted Woodpecker was also heard.
In the nearby woodland Blackcap was heard giving its agitated 'tak' call and later, on the walk back to the car, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, Chaffinches and Nuthatch were heard or seen.

Stow Bedon (Mere Road)
This time of year I am always attracted to this location as it has always been reliable for passage waders.  Starting off from the church I walked east along the road to the given location where 2 Buzzards were seen at height.  Initially the large area of standing water appeared quiet, however, after a little searching, a single Green Sandpiper flew up from the edge of stagnant water to relocate a little further along the lane.  This is a very distinctive wader in flight with its all dark upperwing and highly contrasting snowy white rump.
In addition to the wader, a flock of 4 Stock Doves dropped in to drink, these birds plus others, along with Wood Pigeons, were later seen feeding in nearby stubble.
Whilst overviewing this area a QUAIL was heard calling occasionally.  The wide expanses of rolling arable here has previously held Quail. 
Finally, walking back along the lane, a couple of fine looking Whitethroats were seen in thick Bramble and hedgerow habitat.

Whitethroat (photographed Sept. 2011)
Tomorrow is the first day of August, it is from then through until November which holds special interest for me as these months sees migration in full swing.  There will be early movement in August, however, September and October are arguably the two best months in the bird migration calender.
Watch for Whitethroats and other Warbler species and see how their diet changes to fruits such as Blackberries and Elder in order to build energy reserves for migration.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk (Thoughts on forthcoming migration)

With July drawing to a close, thoughts are now turning to forthcoming migration.  August through to November are undoubtedly my best months for birding as almost anything can turn up anywhere.
Visiting Houghton this morning I noticed how full Elder bushes are with fruit, most are green and unripened, however, within the cluster of green fruits an odd ripened black fruit sits alone.
The fruits of Elder, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Dog Rose, Guelder Rose, and Bramble will in Autumn provide an important energy-rich diet for migrant Warblers, these birds will consume these fruits in order to build energy reserves for their long journey to their wintering grounds, sometimes, for some species, to as far south as South Africa.

Blackcap. Photographed at Little Cressingham, Norfolk Sept. 2013.  Just one species which will benefit from late Summer/Autumn fruits 
My walk this morning along one particular very rich hedgerow at Houghton provided me with some excitement as this habitat will soon play host to large numbers of migrants stopping off to refuel whilst on route from either Britain or Northern Europe, before continuing south.
I saw several Warblers flitting quickly over the corridor formed by two long hedgerows, most of these were Blackcaps , probably locally raised young and their parents, along with Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs.  Within the next couple of months I will walk along this corridor with birds passing in front of, and behind me as they flit between fruit laden bushes. Birds which are normally territorial during their breeding season will in Autumn share the same bush to feed, this may be several Blackcaps together, or even four or five different species, all coming together for one purpose, to refuel before continuing their passage.  Even isolated trees and bushes will hold migrants in Autumn, check these and other valuable staging posts for migrant birds, this is all part of that miracle that is bird migration.
Lesser Whitethroat at Houghton.  Another sought after migrant which could turn up in good numbers.  Many will be Northern European birds stopping to refuel before continung on their south-east passage through Europe to Turkey and Israel and into their wintering areas in North-East Africa.  This species very specific migration route means it is a rarity in Spain and Portugal.  We in Britain are at the North-Western limits of the Lesser Whitethroats range in Europe. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk

I arrived at St Mary's Church at Houghton-on-the-Hill at about 0515 whilst it was relatively cool at 16 degrees celsius.  From this start point I walked back down the track to the lane and then east to the track which heads south gently up to Houghton Common, and then along the corridor of beautiful hedgerows back to the church.
This morning would see evidence of successful breeding by both resident and summer migrants, however, my thoughts were also with the forthcoming months when this fantastic site is transformed into a magnet for autumn migrants as well as being an excellent visible migration watch-point.
Goldcrest (juvenile) Houghton-on-the-Hill 25/07/14
At St Mary's Church a singing Blackcap was the first record for this visit.  Walking down the track to the road was fairly quiet as was the walk east to the lane leading to Houghton Common.
As I started along the lane I could calling Buzzards, then, half-way along this route, 3 Buzzards were seen quite close to.  The lane also held a couple of Chiffchaffs.
At the top of the lane it is always worth checking for Warbler species where the lane opens into open country with old fruiting hedgerows, from here onwards I could hear further evidence of Chiffchaffs, as well as the hard 'tak' call of Blackcap.
The churchyard and surrounding woodlands was to prove to be the most rewarding part of this visit.  I sat in the churchyard for about an hour or so, it was clear that Blackcaps were the most numerous species with many seen and heard, again, the hard 'tak' call was heard on many occasions and brief glimpses were had of birds passing quickly between cover.  The start of the walk had a singing male at this site whilst this more protracted watch saw mostly 'brown-headed' females and/or juveniles present.  Chiffchaffs were heard as was Nuthatch.  Other species seen here included a foraging Goldcrest, Marsh Tit, Great Tits, Blue Tits, and Chaffinches.
The pond by the track has plenty of mature cover including Sallow and Hawthorn, this locality and the nearby woodland held good number of Goldcrests (mostly juveniles), although a lovely adult with its bright Orange crown was seen passing through with a youngster.  It is remarkable that these young Goldcrests are already foraging independently amongst pine needles, always on the go with only the briefest of pauses.
Also seen in this great mix of habitats was a number of noisy Marsh Tits, Great Tits, Chiffchaffs, Wrens, a young Blackbird, Chaffinches, and JaysTreecreepers were often heard giving their trilling call but I did glimpse a bird 'creeping' up a tree by the pond.   
I departed this wonderful site at about 0915 with sunny and increasing temperatures, it was already 23 degrees with an eventual high today of 29 degrees.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Little Cressingham and Stow Bedon, Norfolk.

The morning dawned quite dull and oppressive with a feel of thunder in the air, however, all we had was a little light rain.  Light was quite poor at first but cloud moved on to give a sunny and hot day with a high of 31 degrees.  The wind was a moderate easterly.

Little Cressingham (Fairstead Lane and Green Lane) 0700-0800
With high temperatures forecast for today I decided to take an early morning walk on the patch whilst it was still reasonably comfortable.
Reed Bunting (male)
From the outset it was evident that family parties of birds were moving through the cover of hedgerows and woodland habitats.  Several Whitethroats were both seen and high darting between hedgerows and when close too their harsh clicking chatter was heard.
At the top of Fairstead Lane several birds were seen at 'The Fairstead', these included at least 3 Chiffchaffs and family parties of Tit species.
Green Lane held Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, the latter heard 'tacking' at a couple of sites.
In the Watton Brook valley, a Reed Bunting was heard in song downstream from the bridge on Fairstead Lane.  This bird was singing in typical rank waterside habitat.

With the recent move into our new bungalow in Watton it is time to start my new 'garden record'. late morning this was given a boost with my first Hobby seen from the garden.  The Falcon passed over at speed and had several Swifts following...clearly a safety strategy to avoid becoming lunch.

Stow Bedon Mere
My visit to this wonderful locality coincided with temperature highs of 31 degrees.  I did not expect to see too many birds due to the heat, however, a Chiffchaff was seen and heard, also Moorhen and a single Grey Heron was seen.

Ruddy Darter Dragonfly at Stow Bedon Mere 18/07/14

Interest during the heat of the day turn to insect species.  This visit saw many Common Blue Damselflies and a couple of very handsome Ruddy Darter Dragonflies.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Cley Marshes, Norfolk (with Richard Farrow).

At 0400 I was picked up by my very good friend Richard Farrow for our pre-planned trip to Cley Marshes on the North Norfolk coast.  Even at this early hour it was very warm at about 18 degrees with a promise of highs of around 28 degrees.
The roads were relatively quiet at this time and as we left Dereham we were surprised to see a Tawny Owl sitting in the middle of the road.  Further along the route, the ever present Wood Pigeons gathered on the roadsides and typically flew up at the very last moment.
Approaching the coast, and as the skies lightened, some beautiful views were had of early morning mist over fields and valleys.

Cley Marshes (0530 to late morning)
From the car park at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust centre at Cley, we walked east along the reserve boundary and encountered the expected Sedge Warblers singing their fast scratchy songs from prominent bushes within reedbeds.  Sedge Warblers were to be the commonest Warbler species to be seen and heard today.  A Marsh Harrier made an appearance at dawn over the marsh, this was a female bird, later, both male and female birds were seen, the female clearly the larger of the two.
Walking north along East Bank, further Sedge Warblers were heard and Reed Buntings were seen and heard.  Several Meadow Pipits were both seen and heard and on occasions the 'parachuting' song-flight was seen.  On the path, a Skylark was seen gathering food.  A single juvenile Bearded Tit was briefly seen in reeds.
Ringed Plover (female) Cley 17/07/14 (One of a pair with single chick)
It was apparent that as we approached the northern end of East Bank, Arnolds Marsh to the immediate east was full of life.  Richard and I walked east along the shingle in order to overview the marsh with the sun behind us.  From various viewpoints we saw a few Black-tailed Godwits roosting in shallow water, Dunlin, Black-headed Gulls, screaming Sandwich Terns, Avocets (including a fairly close feeding juvenile bird), Curlew, and in the Serpentine, several Little Egrets were seen.  These beautiful pure white Heron species are reasonably common now, 20 years ago, the species would have attracted much attention as it was then quite rare to the UK.  Closer to us in the dunes, further Meadow Pipits were seen including birds with some plumage variations from browns to Olive-greens.
Bearded Tit at Cley Marshes 17/07/14
At the northern end of East Bank, I detected movement of a small bird at the base of a patch of reeds, this was a Whitethroat.  Clearly not in breeding habitat the presence of this bird would suggest this was an early migrant, or evidence of post-breeding dispersal.
It was immediately west of the East Bank where back in January 2014, the USAF helicopter crashed claiming for lives, a tragic event.
Walking a little further west we came upon a pair of Ringed Plovers on shingle with a single, quite independant chick.  The shingle sea wall and beach provides ideal habitat for this species for breeding where the nest and eggs are perfectly concealed.
Continuing west along the shingle periphery of the reserve, a couple of Spoonbills were roosting in shallow water.  Further birds were seen throughout the morning commuting between Cley and west of the location.
Reed Warbler at Cley Marshes 17/07/14
At Cley Coastguards several Swallows were seen around the car-park area.  From this locality we then headed back inland along the coat road towards Cley village.  Once again, Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings were seen and heard, also, the marsh immediately west of the path/coast road was the best area for seeing Reed Warblers.
Close to the southern end of the coast road, a number of Reed Warblers were seen, including this bird pictured here which was carrying food for young.
Walking through reeds we came across a small patch of Elder, a habitat always worth checking within reed-beds.  This check produced in a single Elder, Sedge Warblers, Reed Warbler, a single Whitethroat, House Sparrows, and 'pinging' Bearded Tits, including the female photographed here.
With increasing heat, Richard and myself arrived back at the car park where we had a spot of lunch.  From one of the picnic tables here, a single Cetti's Warbler gave a few bursts of its explosive song.

Richard and myself finally departed Cley Marshes at around mid-day.  This was an excellent visit to Cley and I extend my thanks to Richard for taking me to Cley.  Thank you Richard my friend.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Pastures new.

Following 22 years of living in a 3 bedroomed house, my wife and I have taken the plunge and decided to downsize to our new home, a 2 bedroomed bungalow about 400 yards from our previous home.
Over the previous 22 years I have gathered a very impressive list of bird species from and in our garden, it is my intention to present these in a future post.
Our new garden has much potential for encouraging birds and this coming autumn I will be looking at creating a small hedgerow comprising a mix of native species, Hawthorn, Elder, Blackthorn, Dog Rose, and Bramble.
I have plenty of sky to watch from the garden ranging from the west to the north-east, this will help with visible migration in autumn, most notably Thrushes and Finches.
I will finish this small entry by thanking all of my followers of the blog and I look forward to sharing my forthcoming birding experiences with you all.