Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 25 August 2014

Little Cressingham (Watton Brook valley)

Poor weather at this time of year, especially rain as we are having today, can produce unexpected migrants.  This occurs when passage birds are forced down by rain, this is known as a 'fall'.
With such conditions in mind I decided to take a walk mid-afternoon down to the Watton brook valley near Bodney.  I carefully searched the fence, posts, and vegetation, for signs of migrants, however, on this occasion I saw none.  A visit earlier in the day, at dawn for example, may have been more productive.
The only migrants seen was a couple of Swallows flying east along the valley.
On the walk back to 'The Arms' I could see a large number of Swallows (70+), stopping to watch for a while I could see that many of these Swallows often alighted on field of stubble.  Clearly the rain forced these Swallows to hunt low, but how many were locally breeding/raised birds, and how many were passage birds??
In nearby hedgerows and wooded habitat, at least 3 Chiffchaffs were heard and a bit further along in a dense patch of Bramble, a hidden Whitethroat gave a "chit" call, perhaps this was a passage migrant forced down to rest and refuel.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk

With temperatures at dawn at 4 degrees celsius and with misty conditions in low lying areas, this morning had an autumnal feel about it.  Bright and sunny conditions soon pushed temperatures up.
With the elevation of this locality along with its obvious natural and man-made features, Houghton-on-the-Hill presents itself as not only a good inland migration watchpoint, it also holds a wealth of habitats attractive to migratory bird species.
My main focus of attention this morning was a long corridor flanked both sides by virtually unbroken, berry bearing hedgerows.  This feature sits on a elevated ridge which is visible from the distant south and north.  This in turn must also be imprinted into the minds of passage migrant species.
Once light had improved on then took a slow walk along the full length of this wonderful habitat and it soon became obvious to me that Whitethroats and Blackcaps were present here in high numbers with Whitethroats being the most numerous.
One of the many Whitethroats at Houghton on 24/08/14
As I walked along the corridor, birds were either flying ahead of me or passing quickly from one hedge to the other.
Eventually I came to a break in the hedge where I could view movement, it was clear from what I was watching that an overnight arrival of migrant Warblers had occured.
Whitethroats were everywhere, sometimes, several were seen in one small patch of habitat.  The urgency to feed upon the wealth of Elderberries also indicated these were well probable overnight arrivals.
It is at times like this when I marvel at migration and consider where these birds have come from i.e. eleswhere in Britain or Northern Europe perhaps.
Also present this morning was good numbers of Blackcaps, many of those I saw were males and as with the Whitethroats, the Blackcaps were feeding upon the heavy supply of Elderberries.
Reed Bunting at Houghton 24/08/14
 Chiffchaffs were also seen in fairly good numbers, again, the Elder crop providing welcome feeding.
As well as the long-distance migrants seen at Houghton today, there was also evidence of some more local movements of resident species. 
This beautiful female Reed Bunting is showing off her intricate patterning on her back and wings.
A pair of Coal Tits passed through, and Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Wrens, Robins, and Linnets were also present at this locality.

I find the miracle of migration just as exciting, possibly more so, than finding something scarce or rare, and indeed, watching large numbers of migrants will occasionally include something more unusal.  How wonderful it is to be in the presence of these migrants and witness a small part of their journey which will eventually take them to Africa.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Great Cressingham, Norfolk

Following yesterdays migrant finds in the Watton Brook Valley, I decided this morning to visit another section of the valley to try for further migrant activity.
Although I did not find any Chat species, the morning turned out to be a productive one for Tit species and Warblers.
The morning started with Whitethroat and Chiffchaff on Chalk Hill, Great Cressingham.  I then made my way down to the Brook where I heard a couple of calling Nuthatches.  Walking west I came to some old Sallows in the valley where it was clear that many birds were present.  Initially, two Nuthatches were seen, a short while later a large mobile flock of mostly Long-tailed Tits passed through the trees.  This time of year it can be very rewarding to watch these delightful birds and to see what other species are with them.  On this occasion, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Coal Tits, Marsh Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, and Treecreeper were all within the mix of this mobile flock.
A great patch of rough ground received some attention as this was excellent Chat habitat, however, on this occasion none appeared to be present.
Further west along the valley, a second, smaller mixed flock passed east along the valley, this also included Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, including a briefly seen male Blackcap in an Elder quite close to.  Also seen in this area was Kestrel and a fine male Bullfinch.
Woodland and scrub habitat in the Watton Brook valley at Great Cressingham 23/08/14 where many Warblers were present
Walking back east along the brook, I reached this beautiful patch of habitat (pictured) where I spent some time watching many Warblers and other resident species feeding in the Elder and Bramble scrub.  Perhaps what I was watching here was the coming together of the two previously seen mobile flocks of birds further west along the valley.
Blackcaps appeared to present here in good numbers, all around me I heard the agitated "tak" call from a number of birds, also sub-song (not the full effort and quiter) was heard.  Blackcaps were also seen to feed upon both Elder and Blackberries.  In addition to Blackcap, a number of Chiffchaffs were present as was Whitethroat, one of which fed upon Elder berries.
This beautiful habitat also held many other species including Blue, Marsh, and Great Tits, two more Nuthatches, Treecreeper, Wren, Blackbirds, and Bullfinch (including juveniles).  A single Kingfisher passed quickly above the brook in a flash of blue.
The numbers of Warblers both seen and heard on this visit indicates that many will be passage birds as well as birds having dispersed from their breeding sites to join the safety of mobile flocks in searches for food.
My observations of mobile Tit flocks clearly demonstrates the value of scrutinising their numbers for migrant species.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Little Cressingham, Norfolk (for migrants)

The weather prior to dawn had a feel of promise for migrant birds as showers passing through would ground birds on their passage.  I therefore decided to visit an area in the Watton Brook valley at Little Cressingham to check the fences, posts, and lush waterside habitat for new arrivals.
Within minutes of reaching my intended location, I found my first obvious migrant, a Spotted Flycatcher sitting on barbed wire fencing in the valley.  This delightful bird, which is quite scarce now as a breeding bird, was probably an overnight arrival using the valley to rest and refuel before conitnuing its passage, which in time, may take it as far south as South Africa.
Further down the valley, I saw a quite distant Reed Warbler on posts and in vegetation.  It is strange to this otherwise skulking Warbler in the relative open of fence-posts.
Goldfinches were typically common all along the valley which many birds, both adults and juveniles, feeding amongst the plentiful supply of thistles.  Also seen was Reed Bunting and Yellowhammers along the valley.
A couple of Common Buzzards were seen and the morning was nicely rounded off with a distant Hobby flying at speed along the valley near Bodney camp.

Thursday, 21 August 2014


At about 1430 on 21/08/14, I headed down to the Watton Brook valley at Little Cressingham.  Not long after arriving, I noticed a raptor to the north behaving very Harrier-like in that it was flying low and close to a crop of sugar beet, it was clearly not as bulky as a Buzzard and my suspicions were confirmed when I had good views of the bird, it was a female Marsh Harrier.
This migrant attracted the attention of the resident Buzzards who followed and attempted to mob it.
Most autumns I see Harriers pass through my patch, most are Marsh, however, occasionally Hen Harriers are seen with an odd bird wintering.
Peregrine Falcons have now become a regular winter visitor on my patch with most years seeing at least two birds present.  Occasionally, a very dashing Merlin may be seen in winter, this is our smallest raptor species.
Another increasingly common raptor is the Hobby. This master of the skies is now a regularly seen bird in the summer months on the patch with a few pairs breeding.  It is about now in August and September when the Hobby is most likely to be seen as they are later breeders and adults will be joined by young birds.  Check your local lake, marshy area, streams and rivers where both Hirundines amd dragonflies congregate, such areas should attract hunting Hobby.
The powerful Goshawk is a bird regularly encountered on my patch and it is about now, August and September, when adults are accompanied by juvenile birds.
Vulcan bomber over Little Cressingham 21/08/14.
It was whilst watching the Marsh Harrier on 21/08/14 that this only airworthy Vulcan flew over.  This magnificent aircraft joined the only two surviving Lancasters for a number of flypasts.
I have also over the years maintained an interest in aircraft and back in the 60's and 70's I regularly saw Vulcans, sometimes low over Beccles marshes doing their bit to maintain the deterrent during the cold war era.
I also like to visit the sites of WW11 airfields in the area, these often windswept, barren, and wide open spaces of arable are good for birds.  I also like to, in my own way, to think and pay tribute to all those brave airmen and airwomen, both air and groundcrew, who in their collective way helped to keep our country safe during the second world war.
The wide open spaces of former airfields attract both resident and passage raptor species and one very familiar species which can be found hunting along field edges and the well vegetated ditch sides is the Kestrel.  Sometimes this raptor may be the only bird seen as it hangs over the land, often battling a strong wind as it watches the ground below for any movement.
Kestrel (female) hunting along a ditch at the former USAF base at Deopham, Norfolk 13/08/14
This beautiful Kestrel was typically seen hovering the length of a ditch on arable land which is the site of the former RAF Deopham in Norfolk.  Often this bird dropped down if potential prey was seen, hover again, before plummeting either into cover or adjacent stubble.
Being reasonably common, the Kestrel is often overlooked, however, spending time watching this bird reveals its beauty as well as its unique behaviour. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Little Cressingham and Bodney, Norfolk.

This morning I decided to check the rolling landscape along the Watton Brook valley for evidence of migrant birds.  Watton Brook is lined with fencing and posts along much of its length in this area and  the dense lush habitat along the banks of the Brook and surrounding ditches has always been attractive to passage migrants, especially Whinchats, Wheatears, and Wagtails.  Although none of these species were found today, one species which was in good numbers was Swallows.  These very familiar migrants were flying low over fields of sheep where they were hunting insect prey, whilst there, I considered how many of these delightful birds were local breeders and how many were passage birds using this area as a staging post for feeding up.
Juvenile Song Thrush at Bodney, Norfolk 18/08/14
Other migrants seen included several Chiffchaffs, and a couple of Whitethroats.  These species were in Hawthorn scrub and woodland edge habitat which they shared with Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Yellowhammers, Goldfinches, and Greenfinches.
The Song Thrush pictured here is a juvenile bird, the age can be determined by the Orange-Brown feather tips on its wings and the pale fleshy gape at the base of the bill.  In the nearby area, the probable parents of this bird were heard giving their soft "tik" call.
On the fields of sheep several Pied Wagtails were seen, these birds are often seen in the presence of livestock where they pick off insects disturbed by the animals.
The only raptor species seen on this visit was 2 Buzzards, one of which was constantly calling, this was probably a juvenile bird.
This coming weekend I actually have a decent break, therefore, with August drawing on and September approaching, things should really be hotting up with migrant birds, I shall be out at the crack of dawn inspecting those lush valleys and other migrant hotspots.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk

There was a feel of autumn this morning with a moderate to fresh north-westerly wind which eventually brought frequent and often heavy showers. 
I arrived at Houghton-on-the-Hill at about 0630 and it was my intention to search for newly arrived migrant in the well stocked hedgerows and thick cover of Elder, Hawthorn, and Bramble.
There was an abundance of Elder fruits at this location, fruits which would attract migrant Warblers to feed and rest whilst on their late summer/autumn passage.
Chiffchaffs were the first species to be heard with some 5 or 6 birds at least present.  Approaching one of favourite late summer/autumn watchpoints, a Whitethroat was seen in a hedge, this was the first of a couple seen.
Juvenile Whitethroat at Houghton, Norfolk 15/08/14.  In typical habitat of Elder where it fed upon berries.
It was whilst overviewing a Hawthorn and Elder that an immaculate looking Lesser Whitethroat came into full view.  Clearly different from the slightly larger Whitethroat, this stunning bird had the uniform brownish-grey upperparts, grey head with darker ear-coverts and a slight hint of a white stripe between the bill and the front of the eye, however, the most stunning feature was the bright white underparts which strongly contrasted with the upperparts, and indeed, the dark colours of the habitat in which it frequented.  This must rate as one of my most sought after migrant Warblers.
There was one or two quiter moments, however, Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs would soon reappear including the above juvenile Whitethroat which fed upon Elder berries.
Another quiet moment was interrupted by a fairly close juvenile Goshawk which glided low above crops before sweeping up into a branch of an Oak, it stayed all to briefly before flying off low along a hedgeline.
Evidence of passage was seen overhead when a small flock of 7 Golden Plovers (high) headed off in a westerly direction.
Having left this wonderful migrant magnet, I retraced my steps back towards St Mary's Church, very soon I heard then saw Blackcap in the hedge, this was seen at the same time as a rapidly moving party of Tit species.
Walking along a beautiful corridor sided by thick hedgerows, it was clear that many Warbler species were present with birds ahead of me flying between each hedge, most appeared to be Blackcaps, ehowever, I did have good views of another probable overnight arrival, a Garden Warbler.  This bird was flying ahead of me but I eventually caught up with it feeding upon Elder berries.
This is a wonderful time of year with all sorts of bird species mixing together, some residents, many migrants with the sole purpose of feeding up on fruits and building energy reserves for their long migration south.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Another beautiful Clouded Yellow

Further evidence seen today of the early stages of migration when I saw a Wheatear sitting on top of a Pine tree on a roadside embankment at Larling, Norfolk.  This species has a protracted period of migration beginning in early August and running through to early November.  My personal latest Wheatear in Norfolk was 1st November.

Little Cressingham, Norfolk.
My intention this afternoon was to check the Watton Brook valley for migrant activity, I could not see anything, however, it was quite hot and therefore birds may have been inactive at the time of my visit.
Clouded Yellow at Little Cressingham 09/08/14
Migrant activitiy was seen along Fairstead Lane in the form of this beautiful Clouded Yellow butterfly.
As I was walking along the lane a bright Orange Yellow butterfly, completely different to the 'whites and browns' present, caught my eye...another Clouded Yellow.
This butterfly always landed on closed wings and the distinctive underwing markings can be clearly seen here.  In flight, the Clouded Yellow was a beautiful creature with its Orange-Yellow upperwing with a dark border.
Clearly this appears to be a good year for this species as this is my second Clouded Yellow, the first being seen a couple of miles away on the 5th of August.

As I wrote yesterday, the majority of Swifts have made their en-masse departure for Africa, however, some still remain.  As I was walking along Fairstead Lane yesterday afternoon, 4 Swifts flew purposefully west, perhaps these were passage birds.  In the evening a couple of Swifts were seen above our home.
Swallows and House Martins are still present in good numbers, this afternoon saw several House Martins (including brown-winged  juveniles) visiting a couple of puddles.
A final check of the valley did not reveal any migrants on this occasion.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Preparing for departure

Little Cressingham (Fairstead Lane)
A significant feature of local birding during the first week of August has been the sudden departure of Swifts. At the beginning of the month, screaming parties of these long distance migrants were seen over the local area, however, with the exception of odd singleton, Swifts have mostly departed for Africa, some will reach as far as South Africa.  
Early morning, and I set off for a shortish walk along the length of Fairstead Lane, checking the valley and field edges for signs of migrants.  I could not see anything, however, later on my return to the valley and mill area, migrant Warblers were seen.
As I approached 'The Fairstead', a single, Kestrel was seen calling over fields, its flight slow with fast fluttering wing-beats appearing to be held below the level of the body, this was possibly a juvenile bird.  Once at 'The Fairstead' I had very brief views of what appeared to be a large Falcon species flying out of Southwater Plantation and quickly out of view, I could not relocate the bird, however, its appearance very much reminded me of a Peregrine.
Blackcap in Bramble at Little Cressingham 08/08/14
I arrived back to the Watton Brook valley with the intention of finding migrant Warblers
Overhead was several Swallows and House Martins, many of which were probably raised in the local area.
I decided to wait for a while and watch waterside bushes and scrub, with particular emphasis on fruiting plants.
I often heard the familiar "hweet" call of Chiffchaff, however, I had to wait a while until a Whitethroat made an appearance, there was in fact two birds seen in an Elder and one bird was seen to take fruit.
When it was almost time to go I heard the "tak" call of at least two Blackcaps and soon located this juvenile bird in Bramble, it was seen to take a piece of Blackberry.  This behaviour is clearly indicative of fuelling up in readiness for migration.
Also noted in the area was Blackbird and Song Thrush, and high overhead a single Curlew was flying in an easterly direction.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Early migrants on the patch

Colton, Norfolk
A brief walk through mature woodland along the River Yare valley this morning produced a mobile mixed flock of mostly Long-tailed Tits, with smaller numbers of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Marsh Tits, a few Treecreepers, and at least 3 Nuthatches.
This juvenile Chiffchaff was found in cover near to the road, it spent some time preening

Chiffchaff (Juvenile) Colton, Norfolk 07/08/2014

Little Cressingham (early evening)
I decided to check the lush Watton Brook valley for signs of early migrants, the habitat here is a magnet for passage birds with fences and posts to rest and watch from, and the waterside habitat which has a wealth of tall weeds where insects will abound.
After a short search I found a distant Wheatear on posts in the valley. It was clear that this migrant was using its vantage point to watch for food and occasionally it would fly to the ground and return to its perch.  Although distant, it wa possible to see the distinctive white rump for which this species is known for.
Also in the valley quite close to me I could hear a Chiffchaff calling from dense herbage, occasionally it would show itself between this habitat.
Several Goldfinches were seen along the valley feeding within some beautiful stands of thistle.  At least 6 Yellowhammers also seen, this comprised a party of 4, and a pair nearby with one bird carrying food for its young.
This is an exciting time for us birders and todays visit to Little Cressingham clearly shows that passage is under way, so check those posts and fences along field edges and waterways for something unusual.    

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Clouded Yellow on the patch.

Colton/Barford, Norfolk
Whilst on my rounds this morning at work I took a short break in the River Yare valley on the boundary between the small parishes of Barford and Colton.  This is a stunning location within some very rolling countryside with one or two steep climbs.
The most evident birds was a roaming flock of Tit species, mostly Long-tailed Tits.  Within this mobile flock a Willow Warbler passed through giving its "hooweet" call.

Little Cressingham, Norfolk
Having parked up close to 'The Arms' I walked north making for the Watton Brook area to check for signs of migrants and butterfly species.  The wide road margins have a variety of weed species which attract insects, it has always been good for 'blue butterflies' here.
Clouded Yellow at Little Cressingham 05/08/14
Always a butterfly rich area, it was clear that today several species were flying.  'Browns' appeared the most numerous and a beautiful Painted Lady was seen.
As I was walking along the lane, a very different and very bright yellow butterfly was moving quickly between flower heads.  My suspicions were confirmed when good views of this insect showed it to be a Clouded Yellow.
I was able to take this picture of the butterfly, however, there was no chance of getting a shot of it with the wings opened sadly.
Clouded Yellows are resident in North Africa and Southern Europe with a few reaching Britain each year.  In some years numbers can be quite high, others years low, nevertheless, I was very pleased to find this very scarce beauty on my patch.
My good friend Daniel Watson and myself saw a single Clouded Yellow in Little Cressingham about this time last year, however, that specimen was very much on the move with no opportunity for a photograph.
Little Cressingham (Watton Brook valley) 05/08/14.
Stopping in the Watton Brook valley, I checked the lush growth and fence-posts for signs of early migrants, but on this occasion it was fairly quiet.
The valleys and ditches all along the Watton Brook valley have always attracted me at this time of year, it is something about lush waterside vegetation and fencing which always holds an air of expectancy for me.
Species which I have regularly seen on passage in the valley include Whinchat, Wheatear, and Yellow Wagtails.
Impaled beetle near Bodney, Norfolk 31/08/14 (but no Shrike seen)

Rare and scarce birds also pass through and the last day of August in 2013, I found an impaled beetle species not too far from where this photograph was taken.  Clearly, the beetle was impaled by a Shrike species, probably Red-backed Shrike, a bird whose status is now regarded as a very scarce passage migrant whereas in the not too distant past it was a relatively common breeding bird.
You know where I will be throughout August and September

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Discovering new areas.

My work as a carer sees me driving along some very tight, winding lanes in the Wymondham, Hethersett, Barnham Broom, and Hingham areas of Norfolk.  Within these areas are some beautiful tucked away villages, some with the quintessential village pond, some with rivers and streams which later form major waterways in Norfolk.
Many of these areas will be explored at length during my days off (if I can tear myself away from my beloved Breckland), however, during breaks from work there are many a layby, churchyards, and waterways etc. to park up by and explore. 
This morning I took a break about a mile or so from the village of Barnham Broom.  This area is mostly rolling arable with scattered woodland and to the north hidden in the valley is the River Yare.  A large field of maize to the immediate north saw a couple of Swallows skimming just above the crop, whilst a short while later, several Hirundines were seen flying close to the canopy of a wood to my south-west.  Also seen here was a pair of Red Kites soaring quite low and adjusting their tails and wings when flying into the fresh wind.
There is a particularly large Elder tree in Barnham Broom which I will be keeping an eye on in the coming months for passage Warblers, but this morning, I did hear a couple of Chiffchaffs in that area which may indicate some early movement.

Stow Bedon, Norfolk
Back on more familiar territory this afternoon for a walk along Mere Road.  My intention was to check for passage waders, however, a brief visit to suitable habitat did not show anything on this occasion.
The lane did hold some Whitethroats in the roadside hedgerows, these will probably be local birds, however, as this month progresses, the numbers of this species will swell as migrants pass through and stop at various staging posts to feed and rest.   
Also seen along Mere Road was one Great Spotted Woodpecker, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove, and one, possibly 2, calling Little Owls.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Stow Bedon, Norfolk

Well, we are now in August and it is that time of year when I focus on bird migration.  I noticed this morning that Elder bushes are heavy in mostly unripened fruits, although some bushes have isolated ripe fruits.  August is the time to keep watching these and other fruit bearing bushes and trees.  The smaller fruits like Elder will attract Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, and Garden Warblers.  Often, all of these species may share the same habitat for one purpose, to fuel up for migration.
Roe Deer Stow Bedon 01/08/14
July and August are the months to seek out passage wading birds so I decided to check the usual site.  On this occasion just a single Green Sandpiper was seen on the fringes of stagnant water. 
When searching for passage wading birds it is always worth checking muck heaps, at these habitats liquid seepage will attract midges which will in turn see waders turn up to feed.
Whilst overviewing the wader staging post, this Roe Deer wandered by.  I was able to take this shot through a gap in a hedge, it is clear from the picture that the Deer is alert and probably aware of my presence.
Further along the route on Stowlay Lane I found a couple of Elders within a hedge line which looked worth watching, after a short while, a single Whitethroat fly out of the hedge.
On my return walk along Mere Road I decided to sit and watch a lovely patch of Bramble and Blackthorn where I saw a couple of Whitehroats yesterday.  I did here a calling Whitethroat to my left, however, the main interest in the habitat I was watching was a pair of Yellowhammers, one of which was carrying inest prey for young.
Whilst watching suitable Warbler habitat, I heard calling Buzzard, I then located 3 Buzzards high drifting south, shortly after this, a single Hobby was also seen high.
Returning to my start point, several House Martins and Swallows were seen around Church Farm...perhaps the Hobby was watching the Hirundines.