Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 29 December 2014

What should I wish for next?

Today was a beautiful clear day following a moderate frost at dawn.  There was little or no wind and the visibility was very good.
I thought I would take advantage of the nice day and clean my conservatory windows.  Whilst doing this job, a few Blackbirds, Starlings, Goldfinches, and Dunnock, were all seen.
I then broke for a late breakfast, then, late morning I carried on with my cleaning duties.  It was approaching mid-day when I finished, and around about 1158 I had a thought that this appears a good day for a Peregrine.........two minutes later a mid-day.....a Peregrine flew overhead in a west to east heading in a direct and quite leisurely flight.  A flock of Starlings gathered to form a tight-knit group and were clearly intent on watching the Falcon depart the area.  Perhaps in May I should wish for a Bee-eater overhead!!!!!

Little Cressingham (The Arms to Watton Brook)
Robin in Bramble at Little Cressingham, Norfolk 29/12/14
I visited this area early afternoon in bright sunshine and a temperature of 4 degrees celsius.   
The highlight was seeing a good number of Fieldfares in the fields all along the northern side of Watton Brook.  These beautiful Thrushes were feeding on the ground whilst a few were seen to take berries from a Hawthorn hedge.
In my immediate vicinity at Watton Brook, a Wren was typically skulking in the dense waterside herbage.  This Robin and Blue Tits were also making good use of this cover in their search for food.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Hockham Fen and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Overnight the skies were clear allowing temperatures to fall at dawn to 0 degrees celsius.  A slight mist and frost gave a seasonal feel to the start of the day.
I arrived at Hockham Fen in very still conditions, mist, a slight frost, and poor light remained throughout my visit to this wonderful location.
As soon as I arrived 4 Red Deer hinds stood watching me before moving off.
Close to me in thick scrub, a number of Redwings and Blackbirds were emerging from their roost in Bramble thickets and Holly.
Overlooking the fen, at least 10 Pied Wagtails were seen by the recently created dyke.
Marsh Harrier (female) Hockham Fen 26/12/14
Some quieter moments allowed me to enjoy the ambiance, one of stillness, and thoughts of what is living within the fen, and what has, and indeed will occur there.
The silence was then broken by 4 Egyptian Geese which did a few low circuits of the fen before flying off.
A few minutes later a female Marsh Harrier appeared low over the fen and soon dropped to the ground on potential prey, however, the raptor soon reappeared and resumed hunting before flying out of site, probably to an area of scrub.
Soon after this 4 Snipe appeared over the fen, I didn't see if they alighted on the ground, they probably did given the perfect habitat for this species.
I then departed the fen as I found it, very still, however, life will certainly abound within.

Little Cressingham (Peddars Way to North Bridge)

Robin at Little Cressingham 26/12/14
I arrived at School Road, Little Cressingham at about 1430 and walked north for about half a mile to North Bridge on the Peddars Way footpath.
Despite being a while to sunset, light was very poor but visibilty had improved with the lifting of the misty conditions.  It was about 2 degrees celsius at this time.
Arriving at North Bridge/Watton Brook on the Peddars Way, I decided to check the meadow and brook for birds, but I saw little.  Given the good habitat in the area, mixed woodland, thick hedgerows, and weedy ditches, I spent some time seeing what I could find.  A single Goldcrest was seen silently passing through the inner tangle of the hedge.  Whilst positioned there, the above Robin visited me by passing from post to post and hedgerow.  The light at this time was slipping away quickly by now.  I returned to the car to change and go home and although not seen, a Goldcrest gave a few calls from within a small patch of Bramble. 

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A very happy Christmas to you all.

Christmas day dawned bright and cold with a slight frost and a temperature at 0800 of 3 degrees celsius.  Cloud would eventually increase to give very poor light throughout the afternoon, however, it remained dry.
I had to make a few calls this morning to a few elderly people in Hethersett and Kimberley in Norfolk, it was whilst driving between calls that several Bullfinches were seen in laneside hedgerows.  I am always delighted to see this common Finch darting between cover and showing off that white rump, but I did manage a brief sighting of a female Bullfinch perched in the open before going to cover.  It was whilst I was driving along the B1108 at Carleton Forehoe when a Peregrine Falcon passed low over the road just in front of me.

Little Cressingham/Bodney, Norfolk
By early afternoon cloud was increasing all the time, initially light cloud, however, by 1400, further cloud moved in giving total coverage and very poor light.
I parked close to 'The Arms' and walked north towards 'The Fairstead', once again, a number of Bullfinches were seen along the route breaking cover from the hedgerows.  As I approached 'The Fairstead' I decided to spend some time overlooking the vast rolling landscape in the hope of seeing Hen Harrier, however, I had no luck.
Back at Watton Brook I checked a small area of Alders and found a small flock of Goldfinches feeding, it was whilst there that 20+ Bewick's Swans passed over low in a westerly heading.
Goshawk (juvenile) at Bodney 25/12/14
Once back at the car I thought I would check the flooded land at Bodney to see if the Swans had landed there, they hadn't, perhaps they were making for Welney.
I parked alongside the B1108 where some Starlings and a few Fieldfare were feeding whilst over a nearby wood 2 Buzzards emerged.  30+ Lapwings were seen beyond the army camp.  Moments later, a number of Crows started calling as if angry about something, this was coming from the wood where the Buzzards had what was upsetting the Crows.  Wood Pigeons also scattered in a hurry, this seemed promising.  Checking the treeline for raptors I soon picked up the distinctive profile of a Goshawk.  Straight away the size in comparison to mobbing Crows showed this to be a Goshawk, it then turned south to pass to my right over the road and into the Army training area, it was then that I could clearly see the very deep, heavy chested appearance of this powerful raptor.  The heavy streaking on the birds chest showed this to be a juvenile bird.  Sadly, the light at this time had significantly deteriorated and was very poor, therefore resulting in this poor picture.
Goshawk (juvenile) Bodney shadowed by a Crow species 25/12/14
Many birders often make the mistake of claiming Goshawk when they see a large Sparrowhawk, however, there are many differences which separate the two species, clearly size is one of them but if there is nothing in comparison about this can make things tricky for some.
The photograph to the left shows the Goshawk being shadowed by a Crow species, a Sparrowhawk would appear much smaller.  Crows also show Goshawks more respect for Goshawk....Crows form a part of this very large raptors diet.  A significant feature of Goshawk which is shown in this picture is the very deep, heavy chested appearance, this is absent in Sparrowhawk.
I finally set off for home at about 1530 in very poor light.
I will end this post by wishing all my followers of my online diary a very happy Christmas.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Today dawned mild with temperatures at 10 degrees celsius, rising to a high of 13 degrees.  It remained dry and reasonably bright, however, the main feature of the weather today was the strong and very gusty west-south-westerly wind.
My walk this morning took me from 'The Arms' north over the Watton Brook and along the Great Cressingham road to just south of 'The Fairstead'.
I did not expect to see too much small bird movement today due to the wind strength, however, Bullfinches were seen all along the route with the greatest number together numbering 5 birds.

My thoughts of raptors paid off when a female Hen Harrier drifted west to east at some distance to my north, the bird then turned to head south over rolling farmland.  Despite being in view for only a short time, the distinctive brown upperparts and contrasting white rump was seen well.  I soon found an opening in the hedge and decided to watch the area for a possible second sighting of the Hen Harrier, however, it did not re-appear.  Hopes were raised when Wood Pigeons and Starlings scattered, this was probably down to a Buzzard seen low over rolling farmland.

To my north over 'The Fairstead', an impressive mixed flock of 2000+ Jackdaws and Rooks departed nearby woodland to spend the day feeding in fields.
Small numbers of Skylarks passed over low heading west, this movement was again possibly indicating the Hen Harrier was about, but I did not see it.
Given the habitat here, feeding opportunities, and time of year, I am sure that the Hen Harrier will winter in the area.  I have seen a Hen Harrier about 6 miles to the west of this location west of Hilborough, it is possible this is the same bird, however, given the good wintering habitat at both locations, I may have two of these delightful but scarce raptors on my patch.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Hilborough and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

After a very wet night with frequent heavy showers, the day dawned bright with good visibility, however, the wind remained quite strong from the south-west.
I parked just west of the village and walked west along the road between tall hedgerows, Scots Pine belts, and mixed mature Oak and Larch woodland.  My aim this morning was to try and relocate the Hen Harrier, therefore, it was necessary to overview the vast farmland from the road.
After some waiting and watching the Hen Harrier never appeared, false hope was seen with scattering song-birds and Jackdaws, but I never saw what caused this behaviour.
Marsh Tit at Hilborough 19/12/14
Despite this, good numbers of Skylarks wandered the fields, at one time there must have been 100+ birds together.  Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws formed the greatest numbers of birds.  It was nice to see 2 Redpoll flying overhead and calling.  These probable North European migrants may have been visiting the Larch trees in order to feed from seed within the cones.
My walk back along the road between the hedgerows produced at least 5 Bullfinches, a number of Blackbirds, Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinch, and the pictured Marsh Tit.
Little Cressingham
An afternoon walk along Fairstead Lane initially produced a single Common Buzzard standing over a Rabbit which it was feeding upon.
At Green Lane, a pair of Bullfinches flew along a hedge/field border.
Later, back at the windmill, the mill-pond held 2 Moorhens, Mute Swan (1), and a pair of Gadwall.  At least 2 Bullfinches were calling.  What Bullfinches lack in calls and song, is made up by the males stunning red plumage.....this will always brighten the dullest of winter days.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Deopham Green, Norfolk, 16 December 2104

During my lunchtime break on 16/12/14, I visited the wide open expanses of farmland at the former Deopham Airfield.  There is still much evidence of the former WW11 airfield here at Deopham including several hardstands and buildings, also, a road connecting local villages is dead straight for 0.7 miles, running parallel which lengths of the former main runway which took the weight of heavy laden B17 Flying Fortress bombers.
On this visit I walked the road/runway and it appeared fairly quiet with Pied Wagtails around muck heaps and overhead Meadow Pipits
This wide open vast expanse of arable appears a good habitat for wintering Hen Harrier and Merlin, and I did predict that I might see one of these raptors today.
Meadow Pipit at Deopham 17/12/14.  
I saw a distant Buzzard being mobbed by a Crow species but otherwise it remained fairly quiet.
Turning back to walk along the road I saw a small flock of about 20 Golden Plover distantly and briefly in flight before settling back in crops.
Back at the car, I watched a couple of Meadow Pipits scurrying through crops and field verges in search of midges, also, on the hardstand, a couple of Pied Wagtails fed around some standing rainwater.
Picture the scene.  The time had come for me to pack up and return to work.  I changed into my work shoes, took off my coat, packed the camera away, and checked that I was ready to go, just then, as I earlier predicted, a Merlin shot by my car to my right, away over farmland, and perched in a distant tree.  Given the good light, this raptor would have made a good shot had I still had the camera ready.  Never mind, the observation of this stunning Falcon was a pleasant and not an entirely unexpected bird.  
I was lucky enough to see and photograph a juvenile Merlin at this locality on 30/09/14, perhaps this is the same bird wintering in the area.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Hilborough, Norfolk

Robin at Hilborough, Norfolk 15/12/14
Exactly a week on almost to the hour, I revisited the vast, open expanses of rolling Breckland countryside at Hilborough.
I decided to spend some time at the location where last week I saw a female Hen Harrier in the hope that the bird was staying with us to winter.
Shortly after sunrise I was very pleased to see the Hen Harrier sailing over farmland before going out of sight behind woodland.  Although this was my only sighting of this scarce bird I was happy in the knowledge that future visits should once again see this beautiful raptor hunting above crops and areas of rough grassland and weedy verges.
A flock of 100+ Skylarks were seen, almost certainly, a proportion of these birds will have continental origins.  A few Fieldfares were seen including a single bird which found a lone roadside crab apple with windfalls to feast upon.  A couple of Redwings passed over and a Siskin was heard calling.
Of interest was an early morning movement of Cormorants, all were flying west to east with the largest flock numbering 14 birds.  Clearly, these birds had departed their roost and were making for Breckland meres, Rivers, and other waterways for the day.
The above delightful Robin decided to pay a visit, a lovely little bird, and very seasonal.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Carleton Forehoe and Kimberley, Norfolk

I was working all day today, however, as usual, my afternoon break saw me take another birding walk, this time along the road which forms a boundary to the beautiful rolling parkland at Kimberley Hall.  This stunning landscape is typical parkland with long sweeping grassland with impressive, and centuries old Oaks within.  The beautiful River Tiffey runs through the park.
The River Tiffey passing through the stunning Kimberley estate, Norfolk 09/12/14.
My walk along Low Road in Carleton Forehoe took me through a mixture of arable and wet pasture which runs alongside the tree-lined River Tiffey Valley.\
My attention was initially drawn to the "chack chack" calls of Fieldfares, a small number of this very attractive winter Thrush took to treetops as I passed by.  Chaffinches were also in attendance here.
Red Kite (one of 3 together) Carleton Forehoe, Norfolk 09/12/14
3 Red Kites came in to view above the tree-lined Tiffey valley, this photographed bird broke away and patrolled the large gardens and fields above me and beyond.
I turned to retrace my steps and re-visit the parkland at the Kimberley estate.  Although some bright spells occured, it didn't take long for cloud to move in, with this, light became very poor indeed, even though it was a good 2 hours to sunset.
Good numbers of Blue, Great, and Coal Tits were seen as well as a couple of Marsh Tits.  These smaller species reacted with alarm calls when a female Kestrel briefly alighted in an old Oak close to me.
A single Great Spotted Woodpecker flew amongst the treetops.
This was a very pleasant walk through some stunning, rolling landscapes, however, it was time to return to work.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Hilborough, Norfolk

I thought today I would start with a little history lesson.  My walk started at Hilborough Church, this stunning feature lies within the beautiful Hilborough estate where the parkland is scattered with many fine Beech and Oak trees, some of which appear to centuries old.
A former rector of Hilborough church was the father of Lord Horatio Nelson.  He went onto be the rector at Burnham Thorpe where Nelson was born.  Some of Nelson's siblings are buried in this churchyard.

Hilborough Church 08/12/14


My walk today started at the church, from here I walked to Westgate in Hilborough and followed this long road towards Foulden for some 2.5 miles before turning back and spending some time in the churchyard.  The highlights were:
Hen Harrier (female)
Red Kite
Barn Owl
Woodlark (1)
Winter Thrushes
The roadside hedgerows along much of the route held many Redwings, Fieldfares, and Blackbirds, also, several Bullfinches were seen with a maximum number seen together of 3 birds.  As expected, lots of Wood Pigeons encountered along the route.
As I was walking along the road, I did have thoughts of Hen Harrier in the area.  Reaching about 2 miles out of Hilborough, I glimpsed a medium sized raptor behind trees, I looked through my binoculars and saw a white rump, I was excited, further investgation eventually paid off when I saw a female Hen Harrier hunting low over Suger Beet and long grasses and weeds. 
Hen Harrier (female) Hilborough, Norfolk 08/12/14
Sadly, Hen Harriers are now very rare breeding birds in the UK with probably only 4 pairs breeding.  This is a persecuted bird in the UK as gamekeepers illegally shoot this raptor in the name of protecting Grouse for the shoot.  I clearly welcome any investigation which ultimately convicts those responsible for shooting this bird.
Given the very low numbers in the UK, it is safe to say that this particular Hen Harrier is a migrant from Europe.
This Hen Harrier has plumage features indicating an adult female.  The brownish upperparts are separated from the barred tail by the distinctive white rump.
The underwings has two bold bars formed by the dark tips of the coverts.  The pale ground colour of the underparts is marked with distinctive brown feathering.  An interesting feature of the wing tips is the five 'fingers' at the 'hands'.  The rarer Pallid Harrier has 4 'fingers'.  Behaviour of the Hen Harrier was typical of what I expect from this species, hunting low just above crops hoping to surprise a Finch or Pipit species.
Whilst in the area of where the Harrier was seen an overhead Woodlark was heard calling whilst commoner Skylarks were seen including a distant flock of 20+ birds.   
Walking back towards Hilborough, winter Thrushes continued to dominate with Bullfinches (3+ together) and Treecreeper.
Barn Owl at Hilborough, Norfolk 08/12/14
Approaching Hilborough and a lovely Barn Owl was hunting over paddocks and farm buildings.  For a few minutes the Barn Owl was using this wooden fencing to observe the longish grass below for movements of potential prey.
Having walked through the village of Hilborough, I crossed the road and picked up the path which crosses parkland for the church.
Approaching the church I could see a distant Red kite soaring over woodland whilet the dominant species in the park was Corvids, mostly Jackdaws.
The churchyard itself held Nuthatch and Great Tit.  A great end to a superb morning.  

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The River Yare at Marlingford, Norfolk

Today, during my break from work, I visited the beautiful River Yare at Marlingford Mill.  This is a stunning location with the disused mill standing on a narrow winding road between the village of Marlingford.  The river, compared to recent visits was quite high and flowing fast through woodland and water meadows.

A tributary of the Yare at Marlingford
Following lunch in the car park at Marlingford Church, I walk down the hill towards the mill and was greeted by the 'piping' call of a Bullfinch in the roadside hedgerow.  The lanesides and sheltered areas of woodland in this area retained a frost from the previous night, and in fact remained until darkness fell.
The banks of the River Yare at this locality are lined by many Alders and I was hoping to see Finch species such as Siskin and Redpoll feeding from the cones from which seeds are extracted, however, I saw none.
Standing by the mill with the noise of the torrent running under the bridge, I soon heard the familiar "stit" call of Grey Wagtail, then, 2 birds appeared on the mill roof along with a single Pied Wagtail.  These attractive birds often flew down to exposed mud where they hurriedly searched for midges etc to feed upon.
Whilst at the mill, a handsome, yet distant Red Fox was seen watching the ground intently for movement.
Overlooking the flood plain and river valley, at least 3 Little Egrets were seen.  These elegant Herons delicately walked the sides of waterways in search of food, also, on occasions, a bird was seen to walk stealthily over damp fields, presumably in search of invertebrates.  Some twenty years ago, Little Egrets were considered a rare bird in the UK, however, range expansion has seen this species become a familiar site on our inland waterways.

Little Egret at Marlingford 06/12/14
 A more familiar Heron species to most was a single Grey Heron which strided stealthily across a damp water meadow, whilst the only Kingisher seen on the visit was of a bird flying fast and low over a field nearby.
A pair of Egyptian Geese was seen, one was feeding on grass whilst the other was sleeping on a bank.  Despite being a native of the African continent, this species is thriving in our climate, and it seems bizarre that its courtship and breeding may occur very early in the year from about February, quite a surreal experience for a species with African origins.

With the sun beginning to set fast it was time to return to work, and the final bird of the visit to be heard was the same species which greeted me when I arrived, a 'piping' Bullfinch.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Southburgh, Norfolk

An improving picture weatherwise today.  Although initially grey, brighter conditions slowly moved in and by early afternoon sunny weather ended the recent run of very dull, damp, and misty conditions.
Early morning and I arrived at the church at Southburgh, my route would take me east for about 1.5 miles, along Church Lane, leading onto Southburgh Road, and ending at the B1135 west of Hardingham.  I would eventually retrace my steps back to the church at Southburgh.
Church Lane Southburgh heads east from the church and winds and undulates through farmland, woodland, and over the Blackwater River.  What appears to be some quite old deciduous woodland abuts the lane, however, approaching the river, close to where the former Reymerston golf course used to be, stands some very old, and very large Oak trees, undoubtedly many centuries old.  One particular old Oak, sadly dead, appears to be at least 500 years old.
A major natural feature is the Blackwater River, this waterway meanders through woodland south of Southburgh Road before flowing through open countryside to the north of the road.  Alders aline the route of the river here.
Blackwater River 05/12/14

What was clearly apparent on this walk was the good numbers of wintering Thrush species present.  The hedgerows lining the lane are well stocked with Hawthorn, a staple for these birds.  Fieldfares, RedwingsBlackbirds, and Song Thrushes were all seen and heard along the route.  Each species has their own behavioural traits, I have found that of all the Thrushes, Fieldfares are usually the most visible as they always choose higher perches in the tops of trees to watch from if they have been disturbed, the smaller Redwing often joins their larger cousin and are readily identifiable by their strongly marked 'facial' pattern.
Several Bullfinches (6+) were seen and heard along the route.  This stunning Finch always alerts us by its soft 'piping' call.
I then spent some time close to the Blackwater River, such habitats always attract birds and other wildlife.  A number of Alders aline, or are close to the river, and today, the tops held a small flock of about 15 Goldfinches.  These Finches, as with Siskins and Redpolls, are attracted to the cones from which seeds are extracted.  Further Redwings and Fieldfares were seen here, also a diminutive Goldcrest foraged in a nearby hedge.  Marsh Tits gave their loud "pitchou" call from at least a couple of localities.
My walk back west towards Southburgh once again saw good numbers of Thrush species moving along the hedgerows and trees, also, Chaffinches and another Goldcrest wandered through these habitats.
As I approached Southburgh church, 2 Mistle Thrushes (our largest Thrush species) flew left to right, and another Bullfinch called within a thicket. 
This was a lovely walk through a variety of habitats with late autumn colours and fruiting hedges adding to the visual spectacle.  Wonderful, grand old Oaks stood in hedgerows or within woodland habitats, and even though dead, that very old Oak presents still as a mighty tree which will continue to provide a very valuable habitat for numerous invertebrates, birds, and other wildlife.