Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

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.  

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