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.


  1. Lovely Water Rail shots, Paul..
    and nice Brambling portrait in the previous post.

    Haven't seen a Rail yet this winter...
    we usually get at leastone along the millstream....
    if the weather is cold enough to drive them from areas of standing water...
    which, so far this winter, it h'ain't!

    And we've only seen one Brambling so far this year...
    last year very few also...
    but, we've a Treecreeper [Short-toed] that comes past the house at varicose times each day.
    Closest we've ever seen one here...
    noticed over the years that the Short-toed can go downward on a trunk...
    provided that they do it sideways... at a shallow angle....
    I've seen them 'descend' about ten, or so, inches in a shallow spiral around the tree...
    usually willow... and when they hit a particularly 'craggy' bit of bark.

  2. Hi Tim
    Thank you for your comment on the Water Rail shot. I was probably watching 2 birds for an hour so within cover, coming and going, but always with reeds between myself and them. My patience paid off when they emerged to give me the shots you see here....a bird I have always wanted to photograph.
    Bramblings appear to have been a bit thin on the ground, although I am told they have been seen in numbers at Santon Downham. Perhaps the ones I have seen are bird dispersing from traditional locations and wandering in readiness for migration. I love the sound of overhead migrant Bramblings, my transcription of the call differs from Collins Field guide, I think of the call as a nasally "zweeeeup"....just love that call Tim.
    I love your comments of the spiralling behaviour of the Short-toed Treecreeper, this note is very useful if I was ever lucky enough to find one. I have seen them in Belgium, and if I recall correctly, the call is completely different from our Treecreeper...and much louder.
    Well Tim, thoughts will soon be on the first returning summer migrants, and in Breckland, the Stone Curlew is one of the earliest with records of birds appearing in late February, although early March is more likely.
    Once again Tim, many thanks for your comments, these are very much appreciated.