Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Water Rail at Thompson Water, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Houghton-on-the-Hill and Merton, Norfolk

4 Chiffchaffs at Houghton (3) and Merton (1)
Snipe displaying at Houghton
50+ Meadow Pipits at Merton
12+ Tree Sparrows at Merton

With the wind dropping to a light northerly today, generally, it felt quite spring-like with a mostly bright day following early cloud and low of 2 degrees celsius. A high of 12 degrees gave a warm feeling in sheltered parts.

HOUGHTON-on-the- HILL (0645-0900) From this start point I walked down the track to meet the Peddars Way and onto Houghton Springs.  After a while at this superb habitat I retraced my steps along the Peddars Way and made for Houghton Common and back to the church of St Mary's.
My intention was to overview the wonderful fen-like habitat at Houghton Springs where the following species were seen/heard:

1 Greylag Goose                                                      
7 Shelduck
Mallard
1 Snipe (display flight)
Lapwing (display seen to the east)
1 Water Rail calling
Wood Pigeons - song
Stock Dove - song
Moorhen
Buzzard
Blackbirds
Song Thrush
100+ Fieldfare
1 Chiffchaff singing
Chaffinch
Reed Bunting singing
Carrion Crow

Having spent some time at the Springs, I retraced my steps back along the Peddars Way and made for the track which leads to Houghton Common. On route, a number of Yellowhammers were seen either feeding on the roadside or as singing males.
The long track which leads up to Houghton Common is well-wooded with many standard trees and old hedgerows, here, a further 2 Chiffchaffs were in song.
The beautiful walk along the hedgerow corridor east of St Mary's Church produced at least 3 Bullfinches, and Linnets.
Back at my start point I decided to sit and watch for a while.  Many common species were seen as follows:

Buzzard (pair)
1 Red Kite directly overhead then off north
1 Kestrel
2 Mistle Thrush (pair)
Goldcrest song
Coal Tit song
Great Tit (pair and song)
Wren
Dunnock
Robin
100+ Starlings south

MERTON (afternoon visit).  From the village I walked to the Peddars Way and onto Merton Fen and back again to the village.
Tree Sparrow at Merton 22/03/15
From my start point in the village I was immediately greeted by calling Tree Sparrows.  This now nationally scarce species has always been reliable here at Merton.
I then walked to the Peddars Way with the intention of watching the Tree Sparrows on my return.
At Merton Fen, a single Chiffchaff was moving away from me in a hedge and then back again giving its "hweet" call.  No song indicated this was possibly a female bird.
Also in the area of the fen was a pair of displaying Buzzards and two calling Little Owls in one of a line of Oaks isolated in a nearby large field.
My walk back to village produced at least 50+ Meadow Pipits in a small field just west of the paddocks.  These will be migrants which along with recent Thrush sightings, will be feeding and fueling up for their north-bound migration to probably upland Britain where they will breed.
Approaching the village, a check of the paddocks revealed a pair of Blackbirds, Song Thrush, a pair of Starlings, Dunnock, and at least 12 Tree Sparrows and House Sparrows.
As written earlier, Tree Sparrows have always been a traditional species at Merton.  These beautiful Sparrows appear more slender than House Sparrow, however, the most distinctive feature separating Tree Sparrow from their commoner relative is the chestnut crown, white collar, and black spot on the white cheeks.  Unlike House Sparrows which can be easily sexed, both male and female Tree Sparrows have the same plumage features.
Finally, I will mention that I met Rob Mellowship and his wife Jan at Merton this afternoon.  Rob has very kindly been following my blog, however, in the field, we have always missed each other.  It was very good to meet you Rob and Jan and chat about the local Breckland wildlife.  I look forward to seeing you again.

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