Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 28 December 2015

Stonechat at Bodney, Norfolk

Better light than yesterday although high cloud eventually blocked out the sunlight.  It remains mild with a fresh south-easterly wind.
The purpose of this visit was to relocate the Stonechats which I found yesterday.  Success seen with the male bird showing quite well.
The following is a series of photographs of the male Stonechat.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Stonechats at Bodney, Norfolk

A day of incessant rain and drizzle with full cloud cover giving very poor lighting conditions. It remains very mild at 10 degrees Celsius.
A late afternoon walk close to STANTA (Stanford Training Area) at Bodney saw the vast landscape shrouded in grey, miserable to some, but to me just another mood of the Breckland beauty.
My walk appeared bird-less initially, however, as I walked along what may appear featureless roadside verges, I detected movement amongst some taller weeds and I thought Stonechat, inspection through my binoculars revealed a male Stonechat clinging to the weed.  A female or 1st winter bird was seen a short while later close to the male.
The male Stonechat flew into a Hawthorn where he remained for a while offering good views despite the appalling light.  I was fortunately close to the Stonechat and made the following notes:

A small Chat with an all-dark head and chin clearly demarcated along the neck-line.  The dark head contrasts strongly with the white neck patch and brown upperparts.  The breast and underparts appeared a peachy colour. The upperparts and upper-tail were brown, the mantle was streaked.  The greater coverts and tertials were pale brown fringed.  The primaries were pale fringed and at distance gave the appearance of a pale wing-bar.  In flight, both birds showed a white patch on the inner wing 'braces'.  The tail was constantly flicked.

As is typical with Chat species, the Stonechats always remained close to the ground but often perching on a taller weed stem.
Stonechats are mostly short distance migrants and it is highly likely that these birds originate from a territory within STANTA.
I have provided this small account of the Stonechat encounter just to show that despite the dismal conditions, very poor light, and what may appear to be a life-less day, that there is always something to find and observe as with my beautiful Stonechats.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road)

Once again I walked one of my favourite local sites this afternoon from just north-west of 'The Arms' along the Great Cressingham Road, over Watton Brook, and towards 'The Fairstead'.
The unseasonably mild weather continues with a high today of 14 degrees celsius.  The wind was a fresh south-westerly.
Siskin (male)
Good numbers of Finches and Buntings were seen including Linnets, Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, and Redpolls.  The very high numbers of Linnets seen yesterday was not repeated today, although in their place was a couple of flocks of Fieldfares (100+ each flock) wandering the fields and hedgerows.
Continuing along the road I reached Watton Brook where a flock of 50+ Siskins were seen in the tops of Alders where they were seen to feed upon cones.
I checked the Watton Brook Valley for signs of Stonechat, a species sometimes seen here, however, not today.
Ahead of me high over fields a raptor species was seen, it was a single Red Kite being mobbed by a Corvid species. A Buzzard was seen and calling over nearby woodland.
Further along Great Cressingham Road, yet another flock of 100+ Fieldfare wandering the fields and hedgerow trees, giving their familiar shack shack call as they flew off.
Back at the car with the sun setting fast, 3 Roe Deer emerged from woodland to feed in a nearby field.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road)

At about mid-day I took a short walk along the Great Cressingham Road just north-west of 'The Arms'. My aim was to check the mixed Finch/Bunting flock which is a regular feature of this walk, I was impressed with my largest count of birds here this winter.
An initial estimate of birds present here was in excess of 500+ and by far the most numerous species seen today was Linnet with an estimated 250-300 birds present.  Other birds seen here included many Bramblings, Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, and a few Redpolls.
These birds are attracted to this area because of the large maize strip and adjacent, wide weedy strip.  The high numbers of Linnets seen today would I suggest be a notable count for the county of Norfolk.
Whilst watching these birds a couple of Redpolls remained close to me in a roadside hedge and offered good views.  The head detail was seen well, one bird had a red fore-crown and a small neat Black bib.  The overall body colour was tinged brown with notable streaking on the breast sides and along the flanks, the other Redpoll had more red on its cap and a slightly bigger, neat black bib. Bother were Lesser Redpoll, the sub-species Western Europe and British form Cabaret.

Happy Christmas

A very happy Christmas to all the followers of my blog.  
I wish you all a wonderful time for the festive season and for good birding in 2016
Best wishes from Paul 'The Breckland Birder'

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Brandon Parva, Norfolk

My afternoon break from work started very wet and windy, although I knew it would pass fairly readily. Clear and bright conditions followed with an often strong South-South-Westerly wind.
I didn't bother to wander from the car, preferring to stay close to the church where some cover would shelter birds from the wind.  A couple of male Robins squared up to each other in a hedge with one conceding rather than duel.  A few Chaffinches were seen.
Raptors featured nicely on this visit with the first being a Buzzard riding the strong wind, this was shortly followed by a Red Kite which demonstrated it excellent ability of being able to adjust its wings and tail in order to master the strong wind.
Just prior to 1400 hours I looked up to see a fine looking adult Peregrine Falcon fly directly above me and then off south-west. This impressive bird was low enough for me to see the barring on the underparts and the black hood.
The final raptor seen this afternoon was a Kestrel which passed the car very close to me.  It was at this time I took a moment to appreciate the slender looking Kestrel from the more powerfully built and much larger Peregrine.  

Friday, 18 December 2015

Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road)

I visited this beautiful location at dawn and dusk today with Finches and Thrushes featuring as the most frequently seen species.
The morning visit saw most activity near Watton Brook where a small flock of Siskins (10+) and Fieldfare were seen, although close to 'The Arms' several Finches and Buntings were seen close to the maize strip, notably, Bramblings, Chaffinches, and Reed Buntings.

Close to 'The Fairstead' Redwings were again seen in the lone large Hawthorn, also lots of Yellowhammers were seen, and a female Sparrowhawk appeared to give chase to a passerine species, the Hawk was unsuccessful.
The afternoon saw much more activity close to 'The Arms' where large numbers of Finches and Buntings were again assembled, on this occasion high numbers of Greenfinches were seen along with Chaffinches, Redpolls, and a few Bramblings.
A check of the Watton Brook area produced a mixed flock of Fieldfare and Starlings (totaling 50+ birds). A couple of singing male Mistle Thrushes was pleasing to the ear.
Sadly, this visit was somewhat annoying due to unforgivable human activity, the dumping of rubbish on the roadside verge.  This was a pile of burnt rubbish just left by some idiot, however, following a little detective work I found a partially burnt payslip with the name and address of a company and the employees name on it.  I have contacted the company concerned and await their response.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Birds brighten the dullest of days

It is dull, dreary, and damp today, and I have every sympathy with those who find such weather depressing, some of whom may suffer with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  If anybody following my blog is a sufferer then I hope that by reading this post may help you.
I am fortunate in that I can see beauty in the countryside whatever the conditions, be it bright or very bleak.

Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road)
I arrived at about 1330 just north-west of 'The Arms' for a walk to the Watton Brook valley and back. Conditions were grey with low light and poor visibility.  It was raining for the whole walk.
Despite the conditions, as soon as I got out of the car I could see lots of birds in the hedgerow and hedgerow trees to the north of me.  The habitat here is arable with patches of mature woodland habitat.  The immediate area visited has roadside hedgerows with a traditional stand of maize close to the hedge and field boundary, next to the maize is a wide weedy strip.
Brambling (female) at Little Cressingham
As I approached the area where I could see lots of Finches and Buntings, it became apparent that some 300+ birds of mixed species were present.  Studying the birds through binoculars I could see that the vast majority were Greenfinches, however, looking through the flock I could see several Chaffinches.  Redpolls were heard and one put in an appearance within its larger cousins.  A couple of Bramblings were seen here, however, a little further on a small tree held several Bramblings, these comprised a mixture of mostly females and one male at least.  A few Linnets were also seen along with numerous Yellowhammers
Bramblings breed in the Birch forests of Northern Europe.  In winter these breeding sites are abandoned and Bramblings move south into Europe and Britain.  Bramblings are regular winter visitors on my Breckland patch, and they are often encountered where seen today in Little Cressingham.  Search for these delightful Finch where maize belts attract these birds to feed on seeds and other weed-seeds.
Despite the poor conditions as seen today there is always something to see to lift the spirit and raise a smile.

Monday, 7 December 2015

6th and 7th December

6th December 2015
Morley St Botolph
My work as a carer takes me to some beautiful locations between Hingham and Hethersett in Norfolk.  This morning I was doing calls in the isolated village of Morley St Botolph, a wonderful parish of vast expanses of open rolling farmland, hedgerows, patches of woodland, and paddocks for horses.
It was whilst driving between a couple of paddocks at about 1045 that a very good sized flock of 300+ Fieldfare flew over in a tight flock. Presumably these gorgeous Thrushes were visiting the paddocks to feed.
A little later whilst approaching an area of Morley known as Highoak, a pair of Grey Partridges were seen in crops close to the road.

7th December 2015
Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road)
A late afternoon visit starting from just north of 'The Arms' produced a good mix of Finches, especially between 'The Arms' and Hopton Farm drying barns.
The beautiful hedgerows alongside the road with its traditional stand of maize produced lots of Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammers, and the odd Redpoll passing overhead.  The pines at Hopton Farm produced calling Goldcrest. A small flock of about 20+ Linnets roamed the field for weed-seeds.
I then continued along the Great Cressingham Road north of the B1108 where it climbs away to 'The Fairstead'.  Most activity was seen close to the top of the hill in a single large Holly tree in the hedge where several Redwings and Blackbirds left as I passed by.  This particular tree has been of particular attraction to winter Thrushes, this being due to its dense cover and plentiful supply of red berries for food.

Watton (garden)
I arrived back at home at sunset when a number of Blackbirds passed over the garden in a north-west heading.  Perhaps these are continental birds flying off to their communal roost site.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Hilborough, Norfolk

A drive along the B1108 west of Watton towards Bodney at dawn saw very good light and visibility.  A slight frost and 2 degrees with a fresh south-westerly gave a fresh feel to the morning.  Once the sun broke the horizon it was very bright, although the forecast suggests this is not to last.
The drive along the B1108 takes you through vast open, rolling countryside with little evidence of human habitation, this in turn can give a bleak feel in winter, this I like, and this is why I love Breckland so much.

I walk through forest rides produced good numbers of Goldcrests, Marsh, and Blue Tits stirring from dense Ivy covered trees where they probably roosted, they then started their daily feeding routines high in the smaller limbs of the trees.
Woodlark (photographed Hilborough Feb 2015)
A check of a weedy field produced at least 9 Woodlarks rising up, some flew off over trees whilst a couple descended back into a weedy strip, a typical wintering habitat for this Breckland speciality.  I wonder if these numbers of Woodlark comprised adults and youngsters from a local known breeding site. The habitat where these Woodlarks were seen this morning comprised cereal stubble and wide weedy strips, a vital habitat for Woodlark survival in autumn and winter.
Also seen was 40+ Fieldfare overflying.
A check of a field of Pigs produced large numbers of flocking species, most notably, 2000+ Starlings which when disturbed rose up above the field together and wheeled around almost performing a mini-murmuration until they felt confident to return to the ground to feed.  Large numbers of Gulls were also present in the area, with more constantly arriving to feed.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Hilborough, Norfolk

A recent taste of wintry weather seen recently with overnight frosts, cold northerly winds, and occasional snow showers.  Despite this, the forecast is for slightly milder weather.
A drive along the minor road from Hollow Heath to Foulden produced a Barn Owl on roadside fence-posts from where it sometimes dropped to the rough grassy verges, a habitat which would support suitable prey species.
A walk around Pine forest compartments produced the expected calling Goldcrests, whilst in open fields nearby held hundreds of Crow species, Starlings, and Finches were seen, these would have been attracted to the pig fields where flies and various invertebrates would have provided good feeding.  In amongst these birds was at least 3 Woodlarks which may be wintering in nearby stubble fields, and indeed quite close to an area of young plantations where breeding occurs.  I wonder if the Woodlarks will remain if severe weather sets in during the winter months.

Monday, 9 November 2015

A tour of Breckland and Broadland 3rd to 5th November 2015

Earlier in 2015 I was contacted by the manager of Barnham Broom Holiday Property Bond, Norfolk, (Shirley Carr), who following the finding of my blog, asked if I would be interested in leading birding tours for 10 holiday making guests in November 2015.  I love to share my birding passion with others and of course I agreed to this, I actually felt honoured to be asked to undertake this task.
I did some research into offering the guests a feel of both Breckland and Broadland habitats, each of which I hoped would provide an insight into the variety of birds which live in these unique areas of Norfolk.
The plan for each day was to meet at Barnham Broom for a 0930 departure, breaking for lunch, and returning 1600 hours.
The tour itinerary was a follows:

Tuesday 3rd November: Thompson Water/Thompson Common
Wednesday 4th November: Surlingham Church Marsh/Strumpshaw Fen
Thursday 5th November: East Wretham Heath/Lynford Arboretum

Day One. 3rd November
Thompson Water/Thompson Common
Of the 3 days, today had the best light with warm sunshine.
We arrived near Thompson Water at the a metaled road/Peddars Way junction, this was a good opportunity to provide information on the Peddars Way, its route and length.  The Long distance Path here forms the boundary to STANTA (Stanford Training Area), a large military training area which we were often reminded of by the heavy machine gun fire and helicopters.
Upon entering Thompson Water we were greeted by some fantastic autumn colours, and it was within some colourful Silver Birch leaves that a calling Chiffchaff passed through.  A good start to the day given that the vast majority of summer visitors would have long departed out shores.  Clearly, the very mild weather has delayed this particular individuals need to migrate.
An overview of the water from the raised bank produced Mute Swan, a few Gadwall, Mallard, and within the Soldier weed several Teal were seen, their true numbers of about 50+ being seen when all took to flight, twisting and turning in a tight flock.
Emperor Dragonfly at Thompson Water 03/11/15
Lots of Crow species were seen in the trees around the water, they always seemed relaxed, thus indicating there was no threat from Goshawk during our visit. A single Tawny Owl (female) called from within woodland.
Two Wagtail species seen/heard on this visit, Pied Wagtail, and a single Grey Wagtail was heard.
A walk through woodland alongside the water produced Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Blue and Great Tit.  A mobile flock in Silver Birch habitat comprised Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, and a few Nuthatches.  At least 3 Treecreepers were seen/heard.
Back at the raised bank overlooking the water, it had become very pleasantly warm, this weather encouraged an Emperor and Common Darter Dragonflies to fly.

LUNCH was taken at College Farm, Thompson. We were initially greeted by four of the cutest, friendliest Goats you could ever want to meet, they were simply adorable.  We met our host, Kathryn Wolstenholme who was in the process of preparing lunch, seeing that we were really taken by the goats she directed us to a paddock where we met a number of Llama's and Alpaca's, one of which was only a matter of weeks old.
Lunch itself was superb with all choices very much appreciated, and with more if we wanted it.
Kathryn's home was built in 1349, I and all the other members of the group were fascinated by the building, so much so that we were treated to a history lesson from Kathryn...all were captivated.

Thompson Common was a final stop of the day.  I tried my best to explain how the Pingo's on the common were formed at least 10,000 years ago.  These features are at there greatest density here than any other location in the country.
I expected to see Bullfinches on the common and indeed some birds did appear, offering nice views when perched on top of Hawthorn.  Common Tit species were seen and a few Redwings passed over.

Day Two. 4th November
Surlingham Church Marsh/Strumpshaw Fen
A contrast in the weather seen today with rain at dawn giving way to murky conditions with occasional drizzle.  The afternoon at Strumpshaw saw increasing low cloud and murkiness, despite this, it was lovely and atmospheric.
Surlingham Church Marsh (RSPB)
The morning at Surlingham Church Marsh presented some of the group with new species for them.  Our route took us down the narrow trail through damp Sallow habitat down to the River Yare, the going was very muddy indeed.
The church itself had a few Redwings in the churchyard, and indeed further Redwings were seen along the path which descends to the River.
The walk along the Riverside produced Tit flocks moving through Sallow habitat, this included the noisy Marsh Tit, a new bird for some members of my group.  An adult Grey Heron alighted on the far bank of the river and appeared at times to walk with us.  Further along the river we heard our first Cetti's Warbler singing its explosive song in habitat over the river, again, a new species for some of the group.  A check of a distant hedge-line over the river produced a Stonechat, a very distant bird but a good bird for the day anyway.
We the all stopped by the river to watch a distant Kingfisher perched within an overhang, we all had a little laugh when this turned out to be a piece of blue plastic caught up in the branches, despite the funny side (which happens to us all in birding), the finder must be commended for his/her (Suzie, I think), excellent observational skills as this was initially seen as a distant feature.
We then stopped for about a 15 minute overview of Surlingham Marsh from the hide.  Small numbers of Teal and Gadwall were seen along with the ever-present Mallard, I also heard a Wigeon calling but this remained unseen.  More Cetti's Warblers were singing, bringing the total to at least 5 birds.  Water Rail was heard, and as is so typical of this highly secretive bird, it remained unseen.  The pig-like squealing call was new to some of my group, a call which shouldn't be forgotten if heard again.  Just as we departed the hide, a small flock of Whooper Swans (about 10 birds) passed overhead.  On the river a single Little Grebe was seen. Walking along the path a check of more Sallow/Willow habitat produced Redwings, Blackbird, and 3 Reed Buntings, again, a new bird for some.
Time was moving on and we had to make for our bus. On the walk back a flock of Long-tailed Tits were joined by Goldcrests, also, a nice flock of 50+ Siskins were seen close to Alders, a favoured tree for the species from which they extract seeds from the cones.
Finally, a very pleasant surprise for just a few member of my group was an Otter which crossed the path in front of us.  

LUNCH was taken at 'The Huntsman' pub in Strumpshaw village.  the food was of a high quality and was served very quickly...very enjoyable.

Strumpshaw Fen (RSPB)
Following our lunch we duly made for Strumpshaw Fen.  Light was poor as was visibility, and it was to get steadily worse as the afternoon wore on.
We first of all stopped at reception to check in, and also to view the marsh and lagoon from the wonderful 'Reception Hide'.
Species to be seen from 'Reception Hide' included Teal, Gadwall, and Mallard, also a pair of Wigeon were seen, the beautiful "weeeeeoo" call was heard.  Also seen from the hide was a female Marsh Harrier over the reeds, a species new to some of my group.
From Reception Hide we walked through woodland to meet up with a path which passes through reedbed and marsh habitat.  In the woodland a couple of Goldcrest were seen with Tit species, including Marsh Tit. Walking the path alongside reed-beds produced a Blackbird and Long-tailed Tits, also a good flock of 20+ Siskins were silently feeding in ditch-side Alders.
Marsh Harrier
Some time was then spent in Fen Hide, a welcome break from the dismal conditions outside.  From here, Marsh Harriers were seen frequently hunting low over reed-beds, however, perching birds offered more prolonged views.  One such view saw a bird with a Green wing-tag, research at home revealed this to be a female Marsh Harrier born this year at nearby Cantley.
A number of Cetti's Warblers were calling from within cover, despite not being seen, the highly distinctive, explosive song was new to some of my group.  Another elusive bird, the Water Rail was calling from within dense reed cover.
A fine looking Chinese Water Deer wandered into view, although a little distant, it showed itself for some minutes to offer good views.
With poor light being a factor on this afternoons visit it was evident that darkness would set in early, and with light fading fast we walked back along the trail to the reception area.  A check of the marsh to our right revealed a further three Chinese Water Deer, although these were more distant than the earlier animal and were often concealed by marsh vegetation.
A last look through Reception hide at sunset, Duck species, mostly Teal were flying unto open water to roost.  Marsh Harriers additional to the birds seen at Strumpshaw were starting to fly into roost, this included a couple of male birds flying in together.  Although no great numbers of Marsh Harriers seen I was reliably informed that as winter progresses, higher number will be seen flying into roost.  Watching birds flying into roost rounded the day off nicely.

Day 3. 5th November
East Wretham Heath/Lynford Arboretum
East Wretham Heath
East Wretham Heath is a reserve comprising Heath-land, mature Scots Pine woodland, mixed woodland including Birch, some very fine Hornbeams, Hawthorn scrub, and two meres.  The large Scots Pine woodland is this year 200 years of age, it is know as Waterloo Plantation, it was planted to celebrate Wellington's victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
From the car park we made our way over the heath which is kept very close cropped by Rabbits, an important animal in the management of heathland.  Also seen on the heath was many grassy mounds, these were formed by the Yellow Meadow Ant.  Clearly, seeing these fantastic constructions in an indicator that the reserve has not been disturbed by human activity for a very long time.
A few Redwings seen overflying as was a single Meadow Pipit whilst on the ground the usual very high numbers of Corvid species were present.
We then decided to spend some time in the hide which overlooks Langmere, however, as is often the case due to fluctuating undergound aquifers, the mere was dry. Despite the lack of water, views over Langmere towards the wooded areas can produce birds, on this occasion a single Green Woodpecker clung to a large Pine trunk and offering good views.
A walk through Waterloo Plantation produced a number of Goldcrests, however, it was evident that ahead of us a number of small Finch species were seen.  Having arrived at the given location, the Larling Drove (Hereward Way), a small flock of Redpolls were seen in the Silver Birch.
Moving away from Larling Drove I wanted to take my group to Ringmere, a perfectly natural, circular mere. On route we heard Bullfinch in thick Hawthorn, along with a Long-tailed Tit flock with at least Marsh Tit present.  At Ringmere a few Teal, Mallard, and Gadwall were seen.

LUNCH was taken at 'The Eagle' at Great Hockham.  The food was of an excellent quality, very quickly served, and with everybody enjoying their choices.

Lynford Arboretum
This Arboretum comprises many native and non-native Tree species and even though light was poor with drizzle and light rain, the autumn colours were still spectacular.
Lynford Arboretum is famed for its Hawfinches and Crossbills, unfortunately, none of these stunning species was seen today.
Our intention for this afternoons visit was to in fact search for todays highly elusive Hawfinches at a reliable location, but did not show.  A small flock of about 20 Siskins were feeding quietly in the tops of tall conifer species and the ever present Goldcrests called.
At the paddock a Kestrel attracted the attention of Redwing and Meadow Pipit.
On the lake a single Little Grebe was seen quite closely and often called its 'whinnying' like call.

MY THANKS go out to my group of 10 lovely people.  We had a lovely time not only birding but also being treated to some lovely lunches, especially at College Farm, Thompson, where our host Kathryn provided us with a fabulous history lesson on her wonderful home.
I also thank the Holiday Property Bond Manager, Shirley Carr for finding me through my blog and asking me to be the group leader for these tours.
I thank both Brad and Chris (Coach Drivers) for taking us all from site to site during our tours of Breckland and Broadland.
Finally, I than my birding friend Jim Bradley for showing me around both Surlingham and Strumpshaw some two weeks earlier.  This help Jim was invaluable to me for the tour, thank you.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

I arrived at Hockham sometime prior to sunrise and it was very mild.  With an increase in wind strength the visibility was much better than recent days although light remained poor.
The walk along the forest rides produced several calling Goldcrests.
At the fen several Finch species were moving overhead in the low early morning light, most appeared to be Redpolls, with Siskins and Brambling also heard.
A couple of Kestrels hunted including a male bird, whilst over distant woodland a Sparrowhawk circled.
A decent sized group of 16 Red Deer slowly made their way over the fen towards Cranberry Rough.
A few Redwings flew up from a Holly bush, also, 3 Blackbirds flying away from conifers and off over the fen were probable migrants.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Hockham Fen, Norfolk (at dusk)

What a wonderful early evening visit this was to Hockham Fen.  I arrived sometime following sunset, it was calm, fog was forming low over the fen, it was getting dark quickly, and I had the fen to myself.  The only thing spoiling this wonderful visit was the sound of distant traffic.
Hockham Fen at dusk 01/11/15
Despite the quickly fading light this short visit produced memorable birding.  The first bird seen was a large Goshawk which appeared directly above me and then overflew the fen, above the bank of fog and into distant trees.  Shortly afterwards a few Redwings departed woodland scrub and flew off over the fen.
A flock of Starlings appeared over the fen, these joined other birds to form a murmuration numbering several hundred birds.  The Starlings then proceeded to perform their simply wonderful pre-roost flights which saw them passing over the fen back and forth in a single tight flock which sometimes appeared almost perfectly circular in shape.  This wonderful gathering of Starlings for me is one the the most beautiful sights in nature.  I shall certainly be visiting this locality as winter progresses to see if numbers of Starlings grow to spectacular proportions.
A single large bat species flew over the fen, very similar to the one I saw at Kimberley yesterday, a Noctule Bat possibly.
With fog almost completely blanketing the fen I decided to leave, but not before listening to the squealing call of a Water Rail somewhere in the fog.
Walking back through the almost pitch black woodland a female Tawny Owl called, this was soon followed by a male bird responding.  A second female Tawny Owl was calling near the car.
Finally, a few Pipistrelle Bats flew up and down the forest rides.....a great ending to this short but wonderful visit to Hockham.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Thompson Water, Norfolk

With my first tour date just 3 days away, I decided this morning to walk the route at Thompson Water that I intend to take my group along.  The woodlands in this area are quite extensive and it is my hope that my group will have the right light to appreciate the beautiful autumn colours in this area. 
An initial overview of Thompson Water produced my first of 2 calling Water Rails in reeds on the opposite side from where I was standing.  On the water quite a few Mallard were accompanied by lesser numbers of Gadwall.
Water Rail at Thompson Water (photographed Jan. 2015)
The walk along the western fringe of the water comprises a variety of habitats, if walking north, on your right is thick swampy carr, waterside scrub, and dense reedbeds, whilst on the left is mixed woodland, mostly deciduous, with Pingos with fluctuating water levels.  Many fine Oaks and wonderful Holly specimens are seen here.
Whilst walking along this path a Cetti's Warbler sang its explosive song, I was able to more or less pin-point where the bird was, I stood for some time with the bird singing around me, sometimes very close, however, such is the secretive life of this bird, could I see it, no I couldn't.  I couldn't even see any movement of reeds or twigs which would betray the birds presence...what a clever bird.
Thompson Water 31/10/15
Another enigmatic bird of dense reedbed habitat is the Water Rail.  My second bird of the day was in the same area as the aforementioned Cetti's Warbler, and was at times very close, I could hear some splashing but the bird did not show itself to me.
The photograph here shows the dense reed habitat along with Sallow scrub where both Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail were heard today.
Also along the woodland/water periphery was mobile Tit flocks comprising Long-tailed Tits, Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldcrest, and TreecreeperNuthatch was also seen.
Whilst in the woodland there was an explosion of Wood Pigeons flying from trees in a hurried and disorganised fashion, shortly after this Corvids gathered in the sky above the water, I suspected Goshawk, however, I was unable to see the cause of this behaviour.

Kimberley, Norfolk
A visit to a good friend in the grounds of Kimberley Hall brought an unexpected surprise.  Whilst in his garden, and in full sunlight, a large Bat species appeared above the woodland canopy.  I regret to say that my Bat identification skills are not as good as I would like.  The Bat would fly in a direct, leisurely flight but would suddenly make a dive for prey.  Flying away from me the Bat appeared to have an occasional 'clipped-like' wing-beat similar to a Turtle Dove, or somewhat similar to the clipped beats performed by a Common Sandpiper close to water.  Being large and over woodland within extensive parkland habitat, could this have been a Noctule Bat?

Monday, 26 October 2015

Surlingham Church Marsh, Rockland Broad, Strumpshaw Fen, Buckenham Marsh, and Halvergate Marsh, Norfolk (with Jim Bradley)

On the 3rd, 4th, and 5th November, I will be leading birding tours of both Breckland and Broadland.  In order to familiarise myself with Broadland reserves, my guide for today, and birding friend, Jim Bradley, took me on a pre-tour recce in order to show me routes and places to stop, and the birds we are likely to see and hear during my tours.  May I say at this stage of this account that Jim's guidance was extremely invaluable.  Jim's knowledge of the routes and the birds likely to be found in specific areas/habitats was second to none.  Thank you Jim.       

Surlingham Church Marsh
What a fantastic small Broadland reserve this is and a great location for those joining me on the tour here on 4th November.  A gentle stroll around this reserve doesn't take too long, however, the diverse bird-life here will hold any visitors attention.  The marsh lies immediately adjacent to the River Yare, consequently, following a high tide, the paths here came become very muddy...appropriate foot wear a must.
Jim initially took me along a path which descends into the marsh and the Riverside, the habitat here held calling Water Rails and singing Cetti's Warblers, whilst the path-side trees and bushes held Bullfinch, and winter Thrush species.  A flock of about 10 Redpoll was seen over the marsh.
A short stop in the hide which overlooks the marsh produced another calling Water Rail in thick reed-bed cover.  Teal, Mallard, and a Grey Heron seen on the lagoon, whilst on the river a Kingfisher was seen and calling.  Overhead, Jim pointed out a fine looking female Sparrowhawk circling briefly over the marsh.
Approaching the end of this visit to Surlingham, another Kingfisher sat silently in a a bush overhanging the water.
Just prior to leaving, Jim showed me the grave of that wonderful Norfolk Naturalist, Ted Ellis, and his wife at the beautiful ruin that is St Saviour's church.  Ted Ellis was a man I would have loved to have met, he was a gentle man, and gentleman.

Rockland Broad
Upon arrival  flock of about 10 Redwings dropped in, presumably to feed upon the wealth of Rowan berries there.
The walk along the path to Rockland Broad is quite long and relatively dry.  The path on one side is lined with Sallow and various tangled habitat, this habitat held singing Cetti's Warbler.  Eventually tha path leads to open extensive marshland on both sides of the River Yare, this area held a female juvenile Marsh Harrier. A small area of woodland held a mobile Tit flock which included Goldcrest.
A short visit to a hide overlooking Rockland Broad produced Great Crested Grebe, a large number of Greylag Geese on the water, also a single Tufted Duck was with them.  Distantly, a Kestrel was seen hunting, this was then mobbed by a second Kestrel.

Strumpshaw Fen
Jim and myself arrived at an already busy RSPB Strumpshaw Fen reserve car park.  This fabulous location is to be the second venue of my tour following Surlingham Church Marsh.
Grey Heron at Strumpshaw Fen 24/10/15
Our first stop was at the Reception hide,  a wonderful initial stop for overviewing a habitat of marsh and a lagoon, and giving a flavour of what could be an excellent visit to this special reserve.
On this visit, Grey Heron (pictured) was een fairly close to near reeds and nearby was a few Mallard.
We then walked on to Fen hide  from where we saw a very distant Great Grey Shrike sitting typically on the top of a bush.  This bird must have been at least a half-mile distant from the hide, however, the unmistakeable behaviour of sitting on a high vantage point was useful.  Even better still, the Shrike made a couple of flights from the bush climbing quite high to catch a passing insect or small bird which was then taken back to the perch.  During these flights, the highly distinctive blacks and whites of the bird, the behaviour seen, and the return to the same perch, all helped with its identification despite the distance involved here.
Having left the hide to head back to the car park, Jim spotted our first of two Weasels of the day.  Back at the visitor centre a feeder produced Marsh Tit, Great Tit, and Chaffinches.

Buckenham Marsh
Our nest visit was to the wonderful Buckenham Marsh.  This was my first visit to this location.  From the car park we walked the path to the River Yare with overviews of marsh on both sides of the path.  What was particularly memorable for me, and I remember commenting to Jim on this, is that the landscape and habitats seen here is exactly the same as Beccles Marshes where I spent many happy days back in the 1960's and 70's.
Walking along the path Jim pointed out a scrape to our right, here was very good numbers of Wigeon, some giving their beautiful "weeeoo" call.  Also here was Lapwings and a single Snipe, whilst on the marsh was Greylag Geese.  A massive Great Black-backed Gull gave good comparison against a nearby smaller Lesser Black-backed Gull, and an even much smaller Black-headed Gull.
Whilst walking towards the River Yare, Jim looked back to scan the distant areas of marsh and located a Peregrine sitting on the ground, it appeared to be sitting on a slightly raised mound.  Despite the distance, the Peregrine was highly distinctive as it sat motionless and upright, and revealing its Grey upperparts and white underparts.  Either the bird was resting following a feed, or it was waiting possibly for the Wigeon to be put up for the chase.
A small flock of Barnacle Geese sat together on the marsh whilst more Greylags were seen along with Mallards splashing about in the ditch nearby.
Chinese Water Deer at Buckenham Marsh 24/10/15
The walk back along the path saw our second Weasel of the day. This small mammal ran in and out of cover as it came towards us, and somehow sneaked past us came out out of the grass behind us.
As we neared the end of this visit I spotted a Chinese Water Deer close to us on the road.  This was my first sighting of this lovely Deer species.  Having read up on Chinese Water Deer I have come to learn just how vulnerable this species is on the world scale.  Norfolk holds 10% of the world population of Chinese Water Deer, clearly its escape from Woburn in the 1920's has given this endangered mammal a good chance of survival here in Norfolk.

Halvergate Marsh
This was our final stop of the day.  We had been lucky with the weather, however, rain set in whilst visiting Halvergate.
As soon as we got out of the car Jim straight away picked up some Redpolls (about 10), which had alighted on a fence close to us.  This was a good opportunity to see and appreciate the lovely red/black forecrown and black chins of these birds, especially given that these Finches are almost always in fight...a good find by Jim.
With light fading and rain setting in most birds seen were Crow species. 
Despite the rain, I love to experience the various moods of weather and to witness the changing lights and overall feel of the places I visit.  It may feel too bleak for some, but both Jim and myself commented that we love bleak.

Birds seen/heard 24/10/15
Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Barnacle Goose, Shelduck (1), Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck (1), Pheasant, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 1 Peregrine (Buckenham Marsh), Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Song Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Tit, Treecreeper, Great Grey Shrike (Strumpshaw Fen), Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Redpoll, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting.

My Thanks
I will end this account by thanking my birding friend Jim Bradley for being my expert guide to his patch.  Primarily, the reason for this day out with Jim was for me to get the feel of the various sites we visited today in readiness for the tours I will be conducting in early November.  I was not too familiar with these reserves prior to our visit, however, I finished the day in the knowledge that I now know my routes to take, places of interest to stop at, and which birds occur where, and all of these factors are all down to Jim's superb guidance.  Than you Jim.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

This morning we had first real frost of autumn, it was a light frost with the car windscreen slightly iced. 
I arrived at Hockham Forest long before sunrise and with the woodland in almost complete darkness.
Hockham Fen 23/10/15
The walk along the forest rides, despite being in darkness produced calling Redwings and Song Thrushes and Goldcrests were stirring.  A male Tawny Owl was calling.
Bu the time I got to Hockham Fen it was starting to get light so I sat down overlooking Reedbeds, weedy ditches, grassland, Sallow/Alder Carr and mixed woodland habitats.
2 Red Deer crossed the fen at dawn and despite being quite concealed these beautiful animals knew that something was not right, they frequently stopped and nervously looked my way before continuing through the reeds,
Siskins were one of the first species to be heard and seen overhead, these were followed by singleton Fieldfare and Redwings passing over.  One Buzzard flew over the fen.
2 Mute Swans arrived from the west at separate times and Teal were "kleeping" within the swampy fen.  Later in the winter months, very large numbers of Teal will occur on the fen.
The only other raptor seen today was a hunting Kestrel. Bramblings, mostly small numbers, passed over the fen and a single calling Redpoll passed overhead.
My walk back along the forest rides produced typical mixed woodland species including Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrests, Treecreepers, Nuthatch, and Tit species.
As I was nearing the end of my walk a good count of 8 Bullfinches passed through the canopy of pine woodland.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Great Cressingham, Norfolk

Peddars Way LDP (North of Watton Road) and Watton Road
At the time of writing there are several Great Grey Shrikes in Norfolk and given the wide open vast rolling countryside in this part of Breckland then surely I must have a Shrike present somewhere.  This afternoon I walked habitat which could easily support Great Grey Shrike, and indeed, this will my focus in the coming weeks on the patch, to search for this stunning bird.
This afternoon I walked some roadside hedgerows which edge the fields and located a couple of Goldcrests and Robins.  Overhead, a small number of Golden Plover were seen, a count later when the birds were settled on a very large field of winter wheat produced at least 120 birds.
Looking distant west towards the village of Great Cressingham I could see a single Red Kite quite low and lots of Corvids.  A large field of stubble produced at least 40 Skylarks whilst beyond the field where the land descends towards Watton Brook, a large flock of Corvids were put up.
Walking back north along the Peddars Way towards the car, a single pale looking Buzzard was standing proud and alert on a dead branch with a wooded hedgerow.  A single Meadow Pipit passed over as did a small flock of 6 Redwings.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Starling Spectacular

On Tuesday 20th October I joined my very good friend Richard Farrow for a days birding on the North Norfolk Coast at Burnham Overy Dunes.  I arrived to meet Richard at our start point on the A149 coast road.
Arguably, October is the best month of the year for birding if your specialist passion is migration, and we were straight away reminded of this natural phenomena when many hundreds of Pink-footed Geese appeared over the Dunes and marsh to make their way inland to feed for the day.
It was clearly evident that a fall of Robins and Goldcrests had occurred, and this became even more apparent as the day wore on, especially with Goldcrests, which numbered in their hundreds.

From first light flocks of Starlings appeared in the east and passed over in a westerly heading, this passage became more frequent and heavier as the morning went on.  Varying sizes of flocks were seen with the largest numbering many hundreds and once one flock passed over, another soon appeared, and so this continued all morning with numbers and flocks petering out by the afternoon.
During their passage the largest flocks of Starlings moved on in very wide waves with several hundred meters from one end of the flock to the other.  It is fair to conclude that the numbers of Starlings involved in this passage numbered many thousands of birds.
These flocks of Starlings were often accompanied by other species, mostly Finches, most appeared to be a mixture of Chaffinches and Bramblings, but also Greenfinches and smaller numbers of Siskins and Redpolls, however, late morning one flock of Starlings comprised Finches which included at least 4 Crossbills whose distinctive flight call was clearly heard.

Literature indicates that Starlings move at varying times according to where they depart from.  Mid October in undoubtedly the peak for migration with the birds seen today originating from Finland, Russia, Poland, and the low countries.  The aim of these Starlings is to abandon the much colder winters in Northern Europe ad to seek warmth and feeding in Britain where they will join British birds and form very large flocks.  The vast murmurations and the spectacular pre-roost displays for which Starlings are famous for will undoubtedly be a mixture of both British and Continental birds.
Return migration to Northern Europe by continental Starlings starts in March of each year.
This particular visit to the North Norfolk Coast saw many migratory species to keep one entertained, but just as exciting was watching this wonderful spectacle of Starling migration.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Burnham Overy Dunes, North Norfolk (with Richard Farrow)

At 0700 I met my very good friend Richard Farrow on the small car park just off the A 149 coast Road west of the Holkham Estate on the North Norfolk Coast. Following an early coffee and chat, Richard and myself then walked north along the path which leads to Burnham Overy Dunes.  We were initially greeted by many hundreds of Pink-footed Geese making their way inland to feed.
As light improved it was clear that lots of Robins were present in the hedgerows, an indication of overnight arrivals.  Further along the path, a relation of Robin, a male Stonechat, was seen in a Hawthorn.   A singing Cetti's Warbler gave its explosive song.
From first light, Starlings were on a westerly passage, some flocks numbering several hundred, however, by the end of the day, several thousand Starlings were involved in this spectacular passage.
Burnham Overy Dunes, North Norfolk, 20/10/15
At sunrise, Richard and myself reached the end of the path where it meets the beginning of the massive dunes system.  At this point, the first area of patchy scrub was to prove very interesting.  Initially, Linnets and Reed Buntings were present in the Bramble/Hawthorn scrub along with recently arrived Redwings and Song Thrushes.  Things got even better when a good number of 30+ Goldcrests arrived and immediately started to forage in the scrub as well as weedy growth between the path and the tidal creek.  This was the start of what was to be an excellent day for Goldcrests with birds being seen in very good numbers wherever habitat occured within the dunes.

Goldcrest in Sycamore at Holkham 20/10/15 (Possibly a migrant from Russia)
A check of the nearby creek produced Redshanks and a single feeding Grey Plover.  A small gathering of Godwits were seen as well as a few Dunlin.
Following this productive start in the dunes we then walked east, heading towards the Pines at Holkham Wood.  Productivity continued with further Goldcrests being encountered wherever scrub habitat occured, whilst overhead, continuing waves of Starlings continued their westerly passage.  These Starlings were often accompanied by Bramblings, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Siskins, Redpoll, and on one occasion 4 Crossbills, all of which were heading west.
An overview of Holkham Marshes produced a single Great White Egret flying east, this stately bird was later relocated within the marsh, and appearing very Heron like compared to the more hunched up Little Egret, of which several were seen.  Also on the marsh was Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk and at least 3 Kestrels.
A check of a deep scrub-filled depression in the dunes produced a number of Redwings, Song Thrushes, and RobinsGoldcrests continued to dominate, also a smart looking female Blackcap was seen in thick scrub on the side of the depression.

Redwing at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/10/15
As we entered Holkham Pines we first checked an area of Sycamores, here once again, Goldcrests were very numerous. Our aim was then to walk the full length of Holkham Pines to as far as Lady Anne's Drive.  On route, Goldcrests presented as being very abundant, but also a couple of Chiffchaffs, Coal Tits, and Long-tailed Tits were seen.
Having almost reached the eastern end of Holkham Pines, we stopped for coffee and a sandwich when Richard took an excellent shot of an overhead Buzzard.
A brief stop at the northern end of Lady Anne's Drive and then Richard and myself started the long walk back through the pines and dunes.There were quiet times on the walk back, however, Goldcrests always emerged to remind us of their presence and overhead Starling passage continued.
Winter Thrushes continued to be seen in scrub within the dunes and Goldcrests were moving between trees, sometimes in a continuous stream.

Robin at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/10/15. Good numbers indicated a 'fall'
A particular thick scrubby area within the dunes was to be a stopping point for us, given that in previous years we have seen Garden and Barred Warbler there.  After a short while a very elusive Redstart made the briefest of appearances as it darted between cover. It was whilst searching for the Redstart that a Tree Pipit was heard passing overhead.  Another Stonechat was seen on the marsh, albeit rather distantly.
The walk back north along the path saw an arrival of Golden Plover, whilst the single Grey Plover was seen almost in the same spot where seen some hours earlier.
Walking between the hedgerows leading up to the coast road produced Robins, Dunnock, and another Goldcrest.
Back at our cars Richard and I reflected upon what was an excellent day for migrant activity.  Earlier, whilst in the Holkham Pines we met another birder who stated there was nothing exciting to see.  This annoyed me somewhat given the sheer numbers of birds present.

Sheringham, NorfolkHaving had our productive day at Burnham Overy Dunes, I then followed Richard back to his home town of Sheringham in the hope if seeing an Isabelline Shrike which was on common land. Unfortunately, this rarity, a bird I have yet to see, had moved on. A very special thanks to my very good friend Richard Farrow for making this a superb visit to the North Norfolk coast.

Birds seen/heard at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/10/15
Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Grey Partridge, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Great White Egret (1), Marsh Harrier (1 female), Buzzard, Sparrowhawk (1), Kestrel (3+), Grey Plover (1), Golden Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit (one, possibly 2 overhead on passage), Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail (1), Dunnock, Robin, Redstart (1), Stonechat (3), Song Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, Blackcap (1 female), Cetti's Warbler (3+), Chiffchaff (3), Goldcrests (hundreds), Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Tit, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Starling (thousands on westerly passage), Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Brambling (westerly passage), Linnet, Redpoll, Siskin, Crossbill (4 westerly passage). 60 Species. 


Monday, 19 October 2015

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

I paid a fairly short visit this morning to Hockham as I needed to get back home for other commitments.  The fen appeared quiet at this time, however, I noticed a good passage of Redwings and Fieldfares overhead.  Flocks varied in size, the best counts being 100+ Redwings and 50+ Fieldfares, all were moving in a south-west to south heading.
Water Rail (photographed at nearby Thompson Water Jan. 2015)
Within the damp, dense habitat at Hockham Fen a Water Rail called on occasions.  The distinctive pig-like squeal was heard as was on one occasion the persistent "kip-kip-kip-kip-kip" song.
Water Rails have perfectly evolved to be suited to life within dense habitats such as reeds, their appearance head-on giving them a rather narrow carriage which allows them to weave in and out of reeds without giving their presence away.
The secretive nature of the Water Rail is such that it can be a challenge to see the bird.

A few Siskins were initially heard, then seen, in peripheral woodland, their distinctive "tsu" call gives their presence away.
The only raptor species seen this morning was a single Buzzard overflying the fen at dawn.
As is typical with pine forest at this time of year, mobile flocks of Long-tailed Tits was the most obvious feature of this woodland habitat.  Such flocks should be scrutinised for Tits, Goldcrests, and Firecrest, the latter which I have seen in this area, but also Warblers, and not only Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps.  Frustratingly on a recent previous visit to Hockham, I am sure I could hear Yellow-browed Warbler, sadly, I could not locate visually.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

A much less windier day than yesterday with calm conditions at dawn.  These calm conditions allowed mist to form in some areas.  The day was once again largely grey with full cloud cover.  By the afternoon the Northerly wind had increased to moderate in strength.

Little Cressingham ('The Arms' to The Fairstead)
This was to prove to be an interesting morning with plenty of evidence of winter bird arrivals, both Thrushes and Finches, and evidence also of passage Thrushes.

Fieldfare at Little Cressingham 18/10/15
25 Lesser Black-backed Gulls flying south-east.
Pied Wagtails
Skylark (largest flock of 30+ birds)
Fieldfare - overnight arrivals and evidence of passage seen
Redwing - both passage birds and arrivals seen
Song Thrush - several continental birds seen
Blackbirds - several arrivals seen with some feeding up on fruits
Starlings (including a single flock of 70+ birds)
3+ Goldcrests
Marsh Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
20+ Bramblings
Redpolls (largest flock of c.10 birds)

Little Cressingham (Roadside hedgerows and woodland north of The Arms
Having walked up to The Fairstead, I decided to stop and check the wooded pit and roadside hedgerows north of The Arms.  It was clear that several wintering/passage species were present.  In brief, birds were coming and going for the hour or so I was present for.
Brambling at Little Cressingham
I always pay attention to the small woodland at this locality, several mature tree species form an open canopy, Scots Pines, Oak, Ash all noted with an overgrown understorey of Hawthorn, Dog Rose, Blackthorn, and Ivy.
Good numbers of both Fieldfare and Redwings were seen with smaller numbers of migratory Blackbirds and Song Thrushes.  In addition to these birds, wintering Bramblings (20+) and Redpolls (largest flock of c.10) were also seen in the mix  Resident species included Marsh Tit, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Bullfinch.
The hedges closer to 'The Arms' held more Bramblings, singleton and small flocks of Redpolls were constantly on the move and identfiable by their distinct flight calls.  Bramblings often gave their nasal-like "zweeeup" and Redpolls called their "chet chet chet" calls.

Watton (late morning)
I arrived back in Watton at about 1130, my first stop was to put some petrol in the car.  Whilst at the garage a high flock of 300+ Fieldfares were heading south-east.
Approaching midday, and a small flock of Fieldfares passed over the garden.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

North Pickenham (Houghton), Norfolk

I arrived at Houghton-on-the-Hill in the early morning darkness.  I took a circular walk from St Mary's Church taking in the access track, the road to Holme Hale, and the track leading back to Houghton Common.
Full cloud cover at dawn remained virtually all day long, occasional light drizzle, and a fresh north wind.

1 Buzzard
5+ Tawny Owls (calling males)
200+ Fieldfares
Song Thrushes
15+ Goldcrests

The first bird of this early hour was calling male Tawny Owl, and by the time I had reached the end of the track, a total of 5 Tawny Owls called around me, a wonderful serenade in the darkness.
The first migrant Thrush species was calling Song Thrush passing overhead in the darkness.  Both Song Thrushes and Redwings were in the well-wooded hedgerows leading to Houghton Common.  On Houghton Common and with slightly improving light, I could see that there was an arrival of Song Thrushes in the hedgerows east of the church.  Several of these Thrushes were disturbed as I walked between the hedgerows, I was unsure of a true count, but it must have been 10+ birds.
After a brief visit to the churchyard, I decided to walk back along the hedgerow corridor east of the church.  Singleton Redwings and Song Thrushes were seen, but also, visible migration seen with 200+ Fieldfares passing in a south-south east heading.
A check of the woodland close to the church revealed Tits and Goldcrests (15+ in total today), also, small parties of Redwings passed over.

Watton (from garden)
Shortly following my arrival home from Houghton, small numbers of Thrushes continued to pass over, this included at least 2 Fieldfares over south and giving their somewhat harsh "shack shack" call.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Thrush passage

Well, after 5 weeks of almost solid work I have today started a holiday from work, and as predicted in my previous post, the weather conditions for tonight and into tomorrow morning are looking good for Thrush passage.  Thrush migration is one of most eagerly awaited for birding events, I always marvel at the sometimes massive passage of Thrushes over my patch.  Birds can be seen low, high, or even falling into hedges at dawn to feed up and rest.  As a little taster, today brought a few sightings of Thrush species over my home town of Watton in Norfolk.
This morning at about 0945, a flock of some 70+ Redwings passed low over the town.
At dusk from my garden (1750-1810) I was hoping for some visible migration before it was too dark, this proved productive with a number of small flocks of Redwings (largest about 20 birds), Song Thrush, and a few Blackbirds, the largest group was of 5 birds with others mixed in with smaller winter Thrushes.  It was interesting to see that all of these birds were quite low, some were clearly rising from nearby hedges where they would have fed and rested during the day before continuing during the hours of darkness to their journeys to their wintering grounds either in the UK, possibly the warmer south-west, or to the Iberian Peninsula.                                                                                 


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Predictions for Friday 16th October into Saturday 17th October 2015

The coming weekend will be my first weekend off from work in a month, this being due to working my own weekends and helping a friend out by doing his weekend.  I feel that my workload has been such that I have probably missed a lot of good birds on the patch during the latter part of September and early October.
Pressure map for Saturday 17th October 2015
The next few days will see north-easterly winds hitting Norfolk and on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th October the North-Easterly wind will be coming direct from Scandinavia.  Friday night into Saturday (my first Saturday off in five weeks) will hopefully see some spectacular movements of Thrushes into the UK.  Redwing and Song Thrush flocks could hold high numbers of birds.  The larger Fieldfare will also be passing over in high numbers.
Thrush passage is one of my most eagerly awaited for bird spectacles, both the visually and audible.  During the hours of darkness listen for the piercing "seeeep" call of Redwings and the "tic" call of Song Thrushes as they pass over.  
Blackbirds will also be seen passing over, often in high numbers also.  I remember a few years ago I was walking from Saham Toney to Great Cressingham when at first light, hundreds of Blackbirds descended into the hedgerows and trees following their overnight passage.

Barnham Broom and Great Hockham, Norfolk

Barnham Broom
Whilst at work in the Barham Broom area this morning I noticed small numbers of Redwings over the village, almost certainly arrivals from the previous night.  Following on from these newly arrived winter migrants, a small flock of 5+ House Martins were seen at about 0950 flying in an easterly direction with purpose.

Great Hockham
A fairly grey afternoon with occasional very light drizzle and a north-easterly wind.
Walking along the forest rides there was plenty of signs of autumn with trees dropping their leaves and some fantastic autumn colours starting to appear.
Plenty of evidence of mobile flocks in the mostly pine woodland with Long-tailed Tits being joined by Marsh, Coal, Great, and Blue Tits.  Also wandering with these was Goldcrest and Treecreepers. Nuthatch was heard.
Further evidence of newly arrived Thrushes was seen at Hockham Fen when a flock of c.100 Redwings passed overhead in a westerly heading.
Small numbers of Siskins were heard passing over the mixed woodland habitat. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Another pleasant October day with bright sunny conditions and an easterly wind which had a slight chill to it.
I had a mid-afternoon walk from 'The Arms' to Watton Brook and back.  Common species seen and heard along the route, also an interesting single Corvid species movement.

4 Buzzards
3 Kestrel
Jackdaws (large mobile flock)
Carrion Crow ( amongst sheep)
20+ Skylarks together
2 Marsh Tit
Long-tailed Tit

A noisy Marsh Tit greeted me on my arrival near 'The Arms' whilst further along the road towards the valley, Goldcrest was heard in the hedge.  At least 20 Skylarks flew left to right over the road. It will be interesting to see what numbers of Skylarks build to during the coming months, many of which could have continental origins.
At the valley I sat for a while and saw 3 Buzzards soaring above me, one was particularly high with a Kestrel mobbing it.  A further two juvenile Kestrels were seen at low level over fields.

Single Crow species movement.
Whilst at Watton Brook I saw a single Crow species very high and heading in a direct east-south-east heading, I watched this bird as it continued its journey until almost lost to sight.  With Rooks being very gregarious, and Carrion Crows being a sedentary species, discussion on this observation would be welcomed.  Could this have been a local movement of a number of miles, or could this have been a juvenile bird wandering to a coastal locality along the English eastern seaboard for the winter?

Golden Plovers at Morley St. Botolph, Norfolk 11 October '15

A short break from work at 1000 and I decided to check on the numbers of Golden Plover at Morley.  I stopped along Buck's Lane and it was clear that numbers have grown since my previous visit with 500+ birds seen there.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Barnham Broom, Norfolk

A work break to the churchyard in Barnham Broom was quite productive for common species, however, given the habitat here I am just waiting for that Firecrest to turn up.  This is a beautiful, well wooded churchyard with the typical Yews of some age present along with a few very tall, mature Scots Pines, as well as another fine, tall Pine, a species whose identification is unknown to me.
Species seen/heard on this visit:

Jackdaw (around tower)
Wood Pigeon
4+ Blackbirds
2 Song Thrushes
3 Robins (all singing)
1 Chiffchaff (passing through)

It will be interesting to get others views on the numbers of Hornets. Here at Barnham Broom, as with many other localities visited, there seems to be more of these large insects about this year.

Churchyards are wonderful places to visit for birding, and for general unwinding.  Such localities are wonderful nature reserves and provide a haven for birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles.  Despite vast areas of monoculture, churchyards provide an oasis of habitat variety which will offer a haven for wildlife for eternity. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Carrion Crow feeding behaviour at Wymondham, Norfolk 4 October 2015

During an evening break from work in Wymondham, I parked in an empty car park for a coffee.  After a short while I could hear a crack sound, this was repeated on two or three occasion.  I investigated the source of this sound and saw a Carrion Crow on the ground pecking at a small object.  The Crow then took the object between its mandibles and flew up to about twenty feet or so and dropped what was undoubtedly a nut.  A second Carrion Crow flew into the car park carrying a nut in its bill, it landed on the ground but soon flew up to a height of about fifteen to twenty feet and dropped the nut onto the hard ground below in order to try and crack the nut.  The Crow flew down to the nut, it was at this time that I noticed the other Carrion Crow had been succesful in opeing the nut and was feeding.  Very intelligent birds.

Little Cressingham

The weather today is now more October-like, grey skies, occcasional showers, and low light which seems to enhance the beauty of the multi-coloured colours of the autumn trees.
This afternoon I walked from 'The Arms' north along the Great Cressingham Road to 'The Fairstead' and back to 'The Arms'.
The highlights of this walk was 3 Chiffchaffs (at different localities) in the roadside hedgerows, and a single Blackcap.  A Kestrel was seen.  Several Goldfinches and Yellowhammers were noted along the route.

Hethel Old Thorn, Norfolk 3 October 2015

Today was another long day at work, however, I had a good afternoon break and decided to visit Hethel, in particular, the churchyard and nearby 'Old Thorn'
The churchyard at Hethel is quite small but very pretty with well-wooded area both around this location and in the immediate surrounds.
A check of the churchyard produced a couple of Chiffchaffs, a singing Goldcrest, 1 Song Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock, and the ever-present Robin.  Also seen today, as with other recent locations, was good numbers of Hornets.
Hethel Old Thorn 03/10/15
Hethel Old Thorn
This beautiful Hawthorn is at 0.025 hectares, Britains smallest nature reserve.  It was given to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust in 1960 by by the late Mr F.W. Myhill.
Hethel Old Thorn is aged between 700 and 1000 years old, it was said to be the meeting place for peasants during the revolt against King John some 700 years ago., therefore, it must have been a substantial Hawthorn at that time.
In 1841 the Hawthorn was measured, its trunk had a circumference of 12 feet 1 inch and the crown spread was 31 yards (90+ feet).  Since that time the Hawthorn has split in two, however, it remains very much alive and is full of fruit as seen in my picture.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Morley St Botolph and Deopham, Norfolk

Morley St Botolph and Deopham
The main feature of the landscape in the Morley and Deopham areas is the vast open, rolling farmland, and long lanes bordered by hedgerows.  Some of these lanes are very narrow and winding, and unsuited to many modern day vehicles, but clearly life-lines in days gone by between the various small villages in the area.
This morning I parked at the church at Morley and walked west along Swingy Lane and returned via the Deopham to Wymondham road, probably some 3 miles distance.

4 Swallows
2+ House Martins
2 Chiffchaff
17+ Skylarks
60+ Greenfinches

The walk along Swingy Lane at dawn produced the first Chiffchaff of the walk, a singing bird in a wooded hedge.  The only other bird seen along the lane was a Wren flying through thick foilage in a ditch.
The walk back along the Deopham to Wymondam road saw lots of 'loafing' Gulls, mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the large fields.  Close to the junction with Morleyfield Lane a small flock of 17+ Skylarks were above me, whilst in a roadside Hawthorn my second Chiffchaff of the walk was heard.
Along Mill Lane, Morley, a very nice flock of 60+ Greenfinches were attracted to a patch of tall weed seeds where they fed.  This was a pleasing sight to see this many Greenfinches, a mass of Yellow tail and wing flashes seen when in flight.
Within the village of Morley St Botolph 4 Swallows were seen on wires and a pair of House Martins were visiting a nest-site, a late brood perhaps. 

29th and 30th September (Round up)

Both the 29th and 30th September were long work days for me, therefore, the following is a brief account of highlights and locations visited on these dates.
The weather remained settled and warm on both dates and the wind was a fresh, occasionally strong easterly.

29 September
The undoubted highlight on this day was a single Redwing heard calling in a clients garden in Deopham, it was then seen flying away to the west.
During a short break later in the morning I visited the church at Brandon Parva and walked the footpath which leads away to the north-west.  The walk along the footpath was quiet but back at the church a walk around the well-wooded yard produced Goldcrest, Song Thrush (1), Mistle Thrush, Robin, Nuthatch (2), and a Kestrel.
A late afternoon visit in Wymondham produced a single Chiffchaff.

30th September
Prior to leaving for work I had a walk around the garden and heard a calling Chiffchaff in an adjoining garden.
During my afternoon break I decided to visit Brandon Parva again, on this occasion I walked the footpaths north-west of the church to Upper Brandon Parva.  Once again it was warm, however, the wind was the most noticeable feature, blowing strong enough to remove the outer twigs of trees. 
Wood Pigeons were the commonest bird seen.  3 Buzzards were seen.  The only passage noted was overhead and unseen calling Siskins.  One male Blackbird was seen and a single Song Thrush was heard in a field boundary hedgerow, this bird was within Blackthorn, a migrant perhaps feeding upon Sloes?
Walking back towards the church at Brandon Parva a calling Chiffchaff was heard in a hedge.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Due to my workload coupled with my just finishing the first of three 'weekends on' I feel that much will be sadly missed on the patch, although I do have a nice nine day stretch off in the second half of October, the month of all months which sees vast numbers of Thrushes and Finches on the move from Europe.  Despite this, I still have add days and afternoons off to check on things on the patch.  The beauty of my job however is that I travel around a good part of rural Norfolk between Wymondham, Hethersett, and many lovely villages in between, therefore my breaks should bring interest.
This afternoon I had a shortish walk along Fairstead Lane and Green Lane at Little Cressingham.  Although not the best time of day to observe movements of birds I did locate at least 6 Chiffchaffs, 4 of which were part of a mobile Tit flock on Green Lane. This Tit flock comprised Long-tailed, Blue, and Great Tits, also Treecreeper was heard. A couple of Siskins were disturbed from thistle and other weed seeds where they would have been feeding.  A number of Bullfinches were heard.
It was clear from this afternoons walk that most Whitethroats have now departed for their African wintering grounds.
I took a moment to overview a vast area of open, rolling farmland and considered what I could expect to see here in the coming months.  Most likely would be Peregrine which will winter here, an abundant supply of Pigeons should keep this species satiated.  Also, Merlin is a possibility, chasing low and fast after Pipits.  Hen Harrier is also a scarce winter visitor to the patch, the early months of this year saw a female on the patch.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk

I arrived at this site at just after sunrise, the skies were clear, wind was a light westerly, and the dawn temperature was an autumnal 8 degrees celsius.
Reed Bunting at Houghton 25/09/15
Little evidence seen or heard this morning, presumably due to the wind direction, however, a very light overhead passage of Siskins was heard (not seen).
Overhead at the church, 4 Swallows passed over high in a north-easterly heading.  I believe these Swallows are flying north-east where they will head for the Norfolk Coast, and then follow the coastline south before departing our shores.  

A slow walk along the double hedgerows east of the church produced a respectable 15+ Blackcaps and around 6 Chiffchaffs, although I did not locate a single Whitethroat.
Also within this habitat, Yellowhammers were seen with this Reed Bunting.  The latter species has now long abandoned their breeding sites and have wandered away to joing other Buntings, especially Yellowhammers, to spend the autumn and winter in the hedgerows, field edges, stubble, and farmyards in their collective search for weedseeds and grain spillages.
Blue and Great Tits, along with a single Marsh Tit was seen, and Goldcrests heard.
Linnets were present in variable, but small numbers, the largest gathering seen numbering about 20 birds.