Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Friday, 30 January 2015

Thompson Water, Norfolk

This was a lovely winters morning, a light coverage of snow, slight frost, and virtually no wind.  Some low cloud to begin with cleared to give a bright day.
I arrived to park up in woodland close to Thompson Water, from my start point, I walked the woodland carr habitat before returning to spend some time along the reedy fringes of the water.
The first birds to emerge from their roost was a number of calling Goldcrests, this was followed by calling Marsh Tits and Nuthatches.  A couple of singing Coal Tits were seen and heard.
Water Rail at Thompson Water 30/01/15 (One of two together) 
The woodland also held Treecreepers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Blue and Great Tits, and Chaffinches.
An overview of Thompson Water produced 5 Shoveler, 60+ Teal, 50+ Gadwall, a few Wigeon, and Mallard.  A couple of Reed Buntings were seen in the waterside scrub.
The dense, swampy, willow scrub and thick reed-beds also held calling Water Rail.   I was able to get close to where the bird was calling, but as is usually the case I just heard the pig-like squealing call.  I decided to wait quietly.
Eventually, I caught movement in the reeds and before long I could see a Water Rail, but frustratingly, the bird was partly concealed in cover.  Further waiting however saw this enigmatic bird appear between reed cover, but then I was amazed to see a second bird close to the one I was watching.   My patience was further rewarded when the Water Rails came quite close, however, any disturbance saw them run at lightning speed into cover.
Water Rail at Thompson Water 30/01/15 (emerging from reed cover).
Water Rails are mysterious birds, this is surely because they are very rarely seen.  The only indication for many of the Water Rails presence is the piercing pig-like squealing call, which, to the untrained ear, could be quite unnerving.
Water Rails have evolved perfectly to their habitats, seen head on, they are quite narrow in structure, this allows the bird to weave in and out of the reeds.  Their large splayed toes spreads the weight of the bird as it stealthily makes its way over reed/weed debris on the surface of shallow water.  

Water Rail at Thompson Water 30/01/15
Thompson Water is almost completely surrounded by deep, thick reedbeds, with the exception of the fishing platform areas.  This dense cover along with the secondary willow scrub habitat is perfect for Water Rail and I am confident that good numbers of this enigmatic bird will occur at this locality.
Water Rails breed at Thompson Water, however, their numbers in winter are augmented by winter visitors.
Many birders will go through their birding lives only hearing this stunning bird, I therefore feel privileged that 2 Water Rails today provided me with excellent, and memorable observations.  If you want to see Water Rails, stand and wait close to where you heard them, they may just emerge to give you a memorable sighting as they skulk within cover.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

This afternoon I took a short walk along the eastern edge of the Clermont Estate, close to 'The Arms' at Little Cressingham.  I then took the fork in the road to walk the mostly Larch belt which leads to the army training ground.
The wind strength had significantly increased throughout the day and it became noticeably colder too.
My intention was to check a large maize strip for Finch species, another traditional locality for this game cover crop.
Brambling (male) at Little Cressingham 28/01/15
Hundreds of Crows and Pigeons became airborne, however, I could not see the cause of this activity.
Approaching the maize belt I could see some Finch movement between the crop and the nearby roadside trees.  Checking through this smallish flock I could see a few Greenfinches, Chaffinches, and a single male Brambling in the tree-tops.  I also saw these Finches fly down into the cover of the maize where they will forage on the ground for food such as  seeds, corn, and weed-seeds.
Finches are very gregarious birds in the winter months and it is always worth checking through mixed flocks for something different.
The Brambling is a winter visitor here in the UK and by March/April, most would have left is to breed in the Birch forests of Northern Europe.  Bramblings are stunning birds, however, as spring approaches the male birds will become brighter and the head will become a solid Black colour.  A very attractive Finch indeed.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Little Cressingham (Checking Maize strips)

This morning I decided to walk from 'The Arms' north towards 'The Fairstead' within the Little Cressingham Parish.  My aim was to check the number of maize strips which are grown for game cover and feed.
The species most associated with maize strips at this time of year are Finches and Buntings, these birds are attracted to good feeding as well as cover and shelter.  I have also seen in previous years that Hen Harriers will patrol these habitats in search for prey.
The first belt of maize that I came to is at a traditional locality, as many are, alongside a field edge and abutting a hedgerow.  At this first site, good numbers of Yellowhammers (40+) were seen along with Chaffinches and smaller numbers of Bramblings.  The latter species gave a soft "tup" flight call.
Continuing my walk north I reached Watton Brook where I saw a single Song Thrush, one Robin, and a couple of Buzzards which were calling at Bodney Slip.  A pair of Stock Doves were in the vicinity of the brick barn.
Heading up the hill towards 'The Fairstead' I could see another couple of long belts of maize, again at traditional sites.  There was alot of coming and goings between the hedgerows and the maize, most seen was Yellowhammers and Chaffinches, however, I am sure other species, such as Bramblings, were present.
A couple of Kestrels were seen in this area, one being harrassed by a Crow whilst the other hunted along the edge of the maize strip where I am sure plentiful numbers of rodent prey will occur.  Another Buzzard was seen in hedgerow alongside the maize, possibly waiting for an unsuspecting Rabbit to appear.
My walk back encountered Bramblings at the first belt of maize, one a male, was seen briefly in a small tree whilst another was perched more distantly with its back to me revealing the narrow white rump between its folded wings.  A nice end to this walk.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Thompson Common, Norfolk

What was particularly pleasing about this visit to Thompson Common today was hearing the number of species now singing in readiness for the forthcoming breeding season, along with this, I also observed some courtship behaviour between some Blue Tits.
I parked in the village of Thompson and walked towards the Peddars Way via the single track road, I then followed a lovely trail through damp, mature woodland carr habitat to as far as the open grassland section of the common.
From the outset, song was heard.  The first of many Marsh Tits was heard delivering its loud repeated "chip-chip-chip-chip" song.  As I walked through woodland a number of Nuthatches and Treecreepers were heard, this included a Treecreeper in song.
A movement caught my eye and above me, a Goshawk landed in top of a tree directly above me, however, as soon as it landed it flew off strongly time to ready the camera sadly.
Nuthatch at Thompson Common 25/01/15.  Many seen today.
Nuthatch at Thompson Common 25/01/15.
Siskin at Thompson Common 25/01/15.  Good numbers in Alders
The woodland trail alongside a quite stream that leads to the open grassland supported further Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Marsh Tits, and 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpecker.  At the meeting of woodland carr/grassland habitat by the kissing gate, a number of Siskins arrived to feed in some Alders.  Also here was Goldcrest, Robin, Blackbirds, Jay, and Great Tits, whilst to my right somewhere out of sight, a Red Fox was barking.
Walking back on myself through the woodland, I eventually arrived at Thompson Water.  Whilst on route, a Mistle Thrush was in song and a number of Redwings called. 
The surface of the water remains frozen with a thin film of ice.  Mute Swans and a Gadwall is all that I could see there.
The surrounding woodland and waterside scrub supported further Marsh Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, a few Siskins, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, whilst in the dense reed cover a Water Rail gave a single burst of its loud squeal call.  A nice end to a productive morning.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Hockham, Norfolk

Following a night of persistent and sometimes heavy rain, the morning dawned bright and cold with a slight frost.  Visibility was very good.
I arrived on the single track road which leads to Galleyhill (where Highwaymen were hanged to serve as a warning), and walked forest trails to the fen.
Most of my efforts this morning were given to the scrub/woodland/fen habitat where mostly common species were either seen or heard.  No sign of any Harrier species on this visit.
Great Spotted Woodpecker - A number 'drumming' today 
Several Teal were present on the fen, however, none were seen in flight on this visit, their beautiful "kleep' call giving away their presence.
A small flock of 12+ Meadow Pipits circled low over the fen and 3+ Fieldfares were seen.  2 Cormorants passed over at height in a south-easterly heading.
Somewhere hidden within tangled, rank habitat, a Water Rail gave its piercing 'pig-like' squealing call.  This large site undoubtedly supports a few Water Rails.
I heard at least 3 male Great Spotted Woodpeckers 'drumming' this morning, however, the prize on this visit goes to a distant 'drumming' Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, although not seen, its drumming is clearly different from that of its larger cousin.
Walking through damp Birch woodland a single Woodcock was disturbed from a small patch of thick Bramble scrub.
The walk back along the forest trails produced a number of calling Goldcrests and Tit species.

Differences between 'drumming' Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. 
This morning I heard at least 3 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpeckers, these provided a good comparison with the 'drumming' of a distant Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers appear to be a nationally scarce species, however, the site visited today is generally reliable for this diminutive species.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers 'drumming' is a familiar sound in winter woodland with male birds declaring their presence within territory. The drumming sound is strong but of a short duration and tails of with weaker, quicker beats.  The 'drumming' produced by Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers sounds weaker, is faster, lasts longer, and remains at a constant number of beats without tailing off.
This could be written in simple terms as follows:

Great Spotted Woodpecker     "R R R R R R R R r r r r r r r"
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker    "rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr"

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Thompson Water, Norfolk

The day was a mixture of light snow, sleet, and rain showers.  The wall to wall grey cloud gave a dull feel and the light was therefore very poor.  A maximum temperature of just 2 degrees celsius.
I was working the morning, finishing at about 1330 hours.  Once home I immediately changed and took Toby for a walk along Redbrick Road, south along the Peddars Way for a stop at Thompson Water, and then back towards the village of Thompson, and home.
Reed Bunting at Thompson Water 21/01/15
Typically, the surface of Thompson Water was mostly covered in a layer of thin ice with patched of open water being occupied by just 3 Mute Swans.
I decided to stop at the hide for a while and observe the comings and goings of various species to the feeders provided there.
Blue Tits by far was the most abundant species with Great Tits following a close second.  Smaller numbers of Marsh and Coal Tits were also present.  A single Nuthatch, one Treecreeper, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker were all seen in the area.  A bright male Siskin put in an appearance, also, at least 3 Reed Buntings and a number of Chaffinches were seen.
Treecreeper at Thompson Water 21/01/15
Thompson Water is fringed with mature woodland with an abundant understorey of waterside Willow scrub, Holly, and Sallow habitat.  The water is surrounded by thick, deep reed-beds which provide a wonderful habitat for birds and other wildlife throughout the year.  A species which occurs here at Thompson Water is the enigmatic Water Rail. 
Very close to the hide this afternoon was a calling Water Rail, it gave its familiar piercing 'pig-like' squealing call, and that is often all that an observer will know of this birds presence due to its very secretive life within thick reed-beds.  I knew the Water Rail was close, however, they will call and then move quickly, leaving the observer searching where the call was heard.  I noticed close to the edge of the water, and within reeds, a movement, and then all too briefly I saw the Water Rail break cover, only to return and melt away into thicker cover.
The abundance of suitable habitat around Thompson Water will undoubtedly hold several Water Rails, and as I wrote earlier, it is most likely to be heard than seen. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

East Wretham and Croxton Heaths, Norfolk.

The morning dawned fine and dry with a light dusting of snow and a moderate frost.  Early cloud moved away to give a morning of bright, sunny spells.
I arrived at the East Wretham Heath car park just after sunrise.  My route today started with crossing the heath alongside the main Watton to Thetford road in order to meet up with Harling Drove.  I then walked west along this path to Croxton Heath where I walked along a number of forest trails before retracing my steps along Harling Drove.     
East Wretham Heath 19/01/15 (Overlooking Langmere towards Waterloo Plantation)
The picture above overlooks the fluctuating Langmere, one of two large meres on the heath.  The Scots Pine woodland beyond the mere, known as Waterloo Plantation, was planted around the time of the Battle of Waterloo to celebrate Wellingtons victory over Napolean at that battle.
Much of the walk this morning was quiet with a few Goldcrests and Bullfinches calling within woodland habitats, and several Roe Deer being seen.
Most activity was seen from Harling Drove, from where the above shot was taken.  As I walked east along the Drove a Woodcock rose up from a small patch of bracken, I watched it as it flew between trees, zig-zagging as it went.  A few minutes later, just prior to the above photograph being taken I saw something fly between trees being closely shadowed by some Crows, as I found a clearing, I saw a Goshawk flying awayover the heath and towards Waterloo Plantation.  This large raptors presence 'put up' hundreds of nervous Crows, and Wood Pigeons also dispersed not surprisngly.
I also used this walk to recce the area for good Adder sites for the forthcoming spring and relocated an old tree stump where 3 males were watched in March 2014.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Deopham Green, Norfolk

My afternoon break from work today saw me visiting the wide open expanses of arable farmland which was formerly the WW11 airfield of Deopham Green.  My visit coincided with the building of thick grey cloud which only served to worsen the already poor light, this was soon to be accompanied by squally rain showers.  From my perspective, the moods seen with the weather, which increases the feel of bleakness in this already very open and exposed landscape, is still a thing of beauty.  I can see and feel beauty where others may see 'a day to be tucked up in a warm home'.
The vast exposed farmland at this locality is broken by patches of hedges, small thickets, and scrub, and although appearing quiet from distance, held birds.
The most visible species seen initially was a couple of Carrion Crows wandering over one of the many muck-heaps in the area.  These muck-heap habitats are wonderful places for birds to be seen as the various invertebrate species provide good feeding for Wagtails and Pipits, also, the seepage of stagnant water may hold a wintering Green Sandpiper.
Pied Wagtail at Merton, Norfolk Feb, '13.  Often found around muck-heaps
Close to where I was parked is a wonderful strip of Ash hedgerow with a wide understorey of Hawthorn and Bramble.  Appearing quiet from my position I decided to walk its length and found 6 Redwings and 3 Blackbirds within.  A quick look through binoculars revealed the stunning head pattern of the Redwings and the reddish flanks which gives the bird its name.
Walking back to where I had parked the car it was evident that light was getting very poor with the increasingly dark, rain-bearing cloud almost upon me, it was at this time that the highlight of the visit was seen, a flock of 400+ Fieldfare moving between a small wooded area to the hedgerow I had just walked along.  These beautiful Thrushes mostly flew in largish numbers together into the trees with smaller looser numbers following, this was lastly followed by another large movement, a wonderful sight which brightens the dullest of days.
I have seen a number of good-sized flocks of Fieldfares in recent days, perhaps these are birds moving through and preparing for return passage to Northern Europe.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Lynford Water, Norfolk

Another unsettled day with strong south-westerlies and frequent, sometimes heavy showers.  A very mild day with a dawn temperature of 9 degrees celsius rising to a maxima of 12 degrees.  The thick cloud provided very low light conditions.
I arrived at Lynford Water at about 1400 and remained for about an hour, this was good timing as I had a window of dry weather between the rain, however, light remained poor.
Lynford Water is a Forestry Commission site and was for some 50 years used for gravel extraction, this ended a few years ago and is now a site for public access.  It was during extraction activities that the largest haul of Mammoth, Rhino, and other mammal remains in the UK was discovered.   
Long-tailed Tit at Lynford Water 12/01/15
The obvious highlight of this visit was watching a sometimes noisy flock of 300+ Siskins flying between treetops, mostly Alders, where they fed from the cones.  For a while there was a constant stream of Siskins flying between treetops until they all mostly settled in the Alders.  On one occasion the whole flock was disturbed and they all flew out together, the noise was incredible, and wonderful.
A walk alongside one of the two lakes here produced 50+ Tufted Duck, a pair of Pochard, 2 Mute Swans, and a single Grey Heron.
Since reverting to public access, the vast sloping sides of the water has been taken over by Broom, Gorse, Birch, and Hawthorn scrub, potentially ideal habitat for Stonechat.  This visit produced two flocks of mobile Long-tailed Tits, also, a few Redwings were in thicker woodland with the occasional bird glimpsed with binoculars between branches.
I arrived home and within a few minutes, heavy persistent rain moved in again.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Hockham Forest, Norfolk

Today dawned bright with a slight frost in sheltered parts.  There was a significant drop in windspeed today with the very strong, and sometimes stormy conditions of yesterday giving way to a fresh north-westerly with strong gusts.
I arrived at the Hockham Picnic car park and once ready, walked the wonderful trails eventually ending up for a brief visit to the fen.  With the bitter wind keeping most birds low I decided to head into sheltered woodland where I spent most of this visit.
As soon as I arrived at the car park a flock of Siskins passed overhead, these, or other birds would be relocated later.  The walk along the woodland trails brought me to the fen where I spent a little time overviewing this wonderful habitat.  A single calling Buzzard passed overhead.  Within the fen I could hear lots of Teal calling, however, occasionally, some birds would rise up to relocate, the best numbers was 50+ Teal, the actual numbers will be much higher giving the unseen calling birds present.  A few Mallard were seen and a juvenile Mute Swan passed overhead west.  Also on the fen was 3 Greylag Geese, 2 Canada Geese, and a single male Lapwing.  Overhead birds included a soaring Sparrowhawk, a single Siskin west, and a Fieldfare.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker was 'drumming' in nearby trees.
I then  headed into mixed woodland where I sat against a tree viewing the wonderful woodland/Bracken habitat in front of me.  Firstly, it was evident that a number of Siskins were present and feeding in the tops of a number of Alders.  Most of these delightful little Finches will have origins in the Birch forests of Northern Europe, however, small numbers do breed on my patch.
Siskin (male) Photographed March 2014.
Also within my chosen patch of Woodland was at least 2 Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Marsh, Coal, Great, and Blue TitsGoldcrests appeared numerous, perhaps I was seeing more because most birds seen were keeping low within the shelter of woodland whereas ususally, many will forage within the woodland canopy. Another Great Spotted Woodpecker was 'drumming' to affirm his territory.
Many of the bird species seen here also dropped down to drink from a woodland pool.  Siskins especially will be seen drinking frequently, this being due to their dry diet of seeds which are extracted mostly from the cones high in Alders.
Walking back along the various woodland trails, further Goldcrests were seen low in woodland along with more Treecreepers and Nuthatches.  Close to the car park, I located a Nuthatch hammering and chisseling away at the base of a large pine.  This bird was clearly intent at getting at something it had found under the bark presumably, and it always amazes me how this species arches it head right back to deliver hammering blows to the tree.  Also in this area, Marsh Tits, Great Tits, and Blackbirds were seen feeding amongst leaf litter on the woodland floor.  A great end to this productive visit.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Hockham and Threxton, Norfolk

The day dawned markedly milder than yesterday with a temperature at dawn of 4 degrees celsius, however, the light was poor with grey cloud and a thin veil of mist.
I noticed in the EDP (local paper) that yesterday there was many accidents throughout Norfolk due to the icy conditions.  I am a firm believer that the majority of accidents are due to drivers not driving properly to the given conditions, however, I will add that when doing my calls yesterday I felt the B class roads had not been gritted.

I arrived at the Hockham Picnic site on the main Watton to Thetford road with the intention of walking forest trails and visiting the fen.
The mixed Oak and Pine woodland held lots of Tit species, the most verbal being Marsh Tit, of which several were heard giving what I consider to be their sneeze like "pitchou" call.  A number of Long-tailed Tit flocks were found, these typically comprised other Tit species and Goldcrests.
A good count of 5+ Nuthatches were heard as well as 4+ Treecreepers.  Other species seen and heard associated with this type of habitat was Jay, Green Woodpecker, Jay, and Wood Pigeons.
I saw no sign of Harrier species at the fen.  Several Teal were giving their "kleep" call from within the cover of the marshy fen habitat and a drake Mallard was seen.  4 Canada Geese were standing together on the fen and a single Grey Heron was briefly seen alighting on the ground and into cover.

I arrived at the church in Threxton about mid-afternoon.  High cloud covered the skies although an occasional bright spell threatened.  The afternoon maxima was a dizzy 6 degrees celsius.
I walked the lane to just south of Woodcock Hall with the highlight being a spring of 4 Teal rising from Watton Brook.  I always check the fence-posts and wires in this locality for possible Stonechat but none seen today.
Most effort was given to the Sewage Treatment Works (STW) at Threxton where there is a guarantee of small passerine species making use of this valuable micro climate.  A target species for me today was Chiffchaff, however, no sign today of this Warbler species.  Sewage Treatment works are a favoured wintering site for Chiffchaff due to the food availability and warmth from tree cover within this mico-climate habitat.

Goldcrest. A common species associated with STW in winter.
The first bird was a single Goldcrest in a Guelder Rose by the brook, however, as I continued along the boundary of the STW it was evident that many birds were present.  I could see ahead of me more Goldcrests flying between the cover of Ivy, Hawthorn, and Elder habitat.  I positioned myself on the road with an Elder in front of me, here, a couple of Goldcrests foraged amongst the branches and twigs, but also, further Goldcrests were seen in another Elder next to the tall pine STW shelter-belt.  In total there must have been 6+ Goldcrests in this small area, clearly, with abundant habitat here the numbers should be quite high.  A flock of Long-tailed Tits also foraged along with Blue Tits, Coal Tits, and Wren.  1 Redwing passed overhead.
Within the STW, Pied Wagtails and a Grey Wagtail were present.
Sewage Treatment Works may not be the most endearing of habitats to spend time at, however, they have a very valuable role to play during the winter months in order to ensure bird survival.