Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 27 April 2015

Thompson, Norfolk

The day dawned with a slight frost and strong sunshine which lasted well into the afternoon.  Despite a maximum of 13 degrees celsius, sheltered spots felt quite warm.
At 0605 I walked what I refer to as the 'Thompson Triangle', a nice walk with widely varying habitats firstly along Redbrick Road, turning south along the Peddars Way for a visit to Thompson Water, and finally walking back to Redbrick Road.
As soon as I got out of the car, 2 Whitethroats and a male Yellowhammer were in song.  A further 2 Whitethroat territories were found along Redbrick Road.  The walk south along the Peddars Way brought my first Garden Warbler of the year in song in mature woodland, also Goldcrest was heard.  Continuing along the Peddars Way, the sweet descending song of a male Woodlark was heard overhead, whilst on the opposite side of the track on heathland, 2 Willow Warblers sang.
Nuthatch at Thompson Water 27/04/15
Thompson Water
I turned off the Peddars Way for a prolonged visit to Thompson Water.  Overlooking the water was very difficult in the low, strong sun, so much of my birding was confined to the woodland carr habitat along the western side of the water.  The following birds were noted:

Mute Swan
Little Grebe (heard)
1 Great Spotted Woodpecker (male)
1 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (calling)
2 Sand Martins
6+ Song Thrushes singing
1 Garden Warbler singing
Blackcap (male and female seen + singing male)
1 Cetti's Warbler song
Siskin (males and females seen including a male in song-flight and song)
Reed Bunting

Woodland scrub at Thompson Water 27/04/15
The habitat shown here is of Birch, Ash, and Sallow with understorey scrub of mostly Bramble.  Birds seen with this habitat today included 3 Chiffchaffs (one appeared to be prospecting for a nest-site) Blackcap (male and female feeding in Hawthorn), a singing Garden Warbler, and a male Siskin which was singing and performing its song-flight.
The woodland here also supported Tit species, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, and the distinctive call of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  Finally, on the opposite side of the water I heard the highly distinctive song of a male Cetti's Warbler.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham road), Norfolk

I was feeling pretty rough today following an hour long visit to the dentist yesterday to remove roots which were left from a failed extraction last December.  I have never experienced pain like it before and I cried with relief when it was taken out.
Whitethroat (male) Little Cressingham 26/04/15
Needless to say, I didn't stay out too long today, so I took Toby for a short walk along the Great Cressingham road in Little Cressingham to the Watton Brook valley and back.
As soon as I got out of the car both Lesser Whitethroat (1 male), and Whitethroat (1 male) were in song.  My walk north along the road produced both Blackcap and Chiffchaff in the old clay pit and at Watton Brook, another male Whitethroat was seen in song in traditionally used habitat.
Once back at the car I watched this male Whitethroat skulking about in a Hawthorn.  A wonderful thick bank of Bramble nearby has been used for nesting in previous years, I am sure this habitat will be used again this year.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Carleton Forehoe and Kimberley, Norfolk

A sunny and warm day with highs of 19 degrees celsius.  Light Easterly wind.

Lesser Whitethroat at Carleton Forehoe (first of year)

From Kimberley Hall I walked along the Barnham Broom road, over the river and on to the turning for Low Road at Carleton Forehoe.  I then walked most of Low Road before turning back and returning to my start point at Kimberley.  The following birds were seen/heard:

1 Sparrowhawk
1 Kestrel
3 Greylag Geese on river
Treecreeper seen and song heard
2+ Nuthatches
1 Swallow
1 Lesser Whitethroat (male)
1 Whitethroat
Blue Tit

Walking along Low Road in Carleton Forehoe, I had thoughts of finding my target species for the day, a Lesser Whitethroat.  Today is a typical arrival date for me for this species on my patch.
A Buzzard was soaring above woodland along the river valley, and a Whitethroat briefly gave a small snippet of song.
Walking toward Glebe Farm on Low Road, I heard a familiar rattle-like song from a distance, as I neared the source of the song, the song was again heard, it was my first Lesser Whitethroat of this year.  I very soon saw a small bird in a tree ahead of me with bright white underparts, checking with my binoculars, there it was, a very handsome male Lesser Whitethroat.  This bird was briefly seen in a roadside hedgerow, despite being in view for only a moment, the salient features of this stunning Sylvia were seen.  The grey head and ear-coverts contrasted nicely with the white throat, similarly, the mousey-brown upperparts contrasted neatly with the silky-white underparts.  A very beautiful bird indeed.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Whitethroat at Morley St Botolph, Norfolk

During my afternoon break from work I once again walked the narrow winding lanes at Morley St Botolph with a view to locating migrant bird species.
A few Swallows were seen over the paddocks along the Deopham road and nearby stables will undoubtedly provide suitable nesting sites.
Whitethroat (male) at Morley St Botolph 23/04/15
At least 3 Whitethroats were noted but one particular male bird at the Morleyfield and New Road junction kept me entertained for a while.  This delightful bird often sang from the cover of a roadside hawthorn hedge, however, it would also break cover occasionally to sit a little exposed on a topmost sprig.  On one occasion I watched the bird fly up 'flycatcher-style' to take a small insect and return with it to cover.  A common bird which I will never tire of watching.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A good day for migrants

3 Ring Ouzels near Hingham
1 Cuckoo heard (probably at Seamere)
1 Whinchat at Little Cressingham

Hingham, Norfolk
I was up very early this morning with a view to checking suitable sites for migrants on my way to work.  Dawn was cool and dry with some mist, however, this would soon burn off to give a day of sunny spells, but the persistent north-easterly wind had a cool edge to it.
Ring Ouzel near Hingham 22/04/15
I was aware that Ring Ouzels were in the area, therefore, I decided to check paddocks on my way through the village of Deopham.  At 0545 with the sun very low in the sky, I overlooked a paddock and straight away saw 3 Ring Ouzels together in a paddock, these appeared to be a male and two females.   One bird appeared a typical male with black plumage and a striking white breast crescent whilst the other appeared to have off-white breast patches.  Ring Ouzels have been reported in high numbers recently in Norfolk with 30+ at one sight.
This one paddock was also very productive for other Thrush species with 15+ Blackbirds, 4 Song Thrushes, and 1 Mistle Thrush seen.  Other migrants included a single Whitethroat, a Blackcap, and a distant calling Cuckoo.

Little Cressingham
A quick visit overlooking the Watton Brook valley from the Great Cressingham road produced a single Whinchat along the weed-filled ditch, a typical habitat for this passage migrant on the patch.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Morley St Botolph, Norfolk

During my afternoon work break I visited the beautiful church and winding lanes at Morley At Botolph.  My route took me from the church along Church Lane, Deopham Road, Stone Brigg, and New Road, and my aim was to locate migrants in the paddocks and hedgerows.
Starting off along Church Lane I straight away saw 2 Swallows, the first of about 6 birds I was to see this afternoon.  Walking along the Deopham Road and Stone Brigg, the various paddocks looked prime habitat for passage Ring Ouzels, none were located but at least 10 pairs of Blackbirds were seen.  I saw at one of these paddocks what looked like an image of 'olde England', a paddock completely surrounded by tall, sprawling Hawthorn and Blackthorn, a wonderful sight to see. A male Blackcap was singing in a beautiful wooded garden.
Back at the church, a couple of pairs of Jackdaws were seen around the tower and a couple of male Chaffinches sang.  Finally, at the New Road and Morleyfield junction, a male Whitethroat briefly gave song.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Hockham Fen

I arrived at the Hockham picnic site car park at about 0550.  As soon as I arrived Blackcaps were in song, and indeed, more were heard along with several Chiffchaffs and Song Thrushes whilst on route along forest trails leading to the fen.
A singing Sedge Warbler was heard within the fog shrouded fen, this was my first record of this species this year, and as with previous years, the taller reeds on the fen was its favoured home.  Also heard was a 'squealing' Water Rail within thick cover, also, the song of this highly elusive bird was heard.
A few Snipe (5+) and Lapwings were seen along with a couple of in-flight Grey Herons silhouetted in the fog.
It was good to hear Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in song on my walk back to the car, however, Willow Warblers were conspicuous by their absence in a number of typical habitats.

East Wretham Heath, Norfolk (with Alan Schpot)

I arrived at the car park at East Wretham Heath to meet Alan Schpot, a fellow Norfolk birder and friend.  Although there was some early morning sun, it soon clouded over which increased with time, this in turn gave low light at times.  The wind was a cold moderate North-Easterly.
One of our target birds this morning was a Redstart, a summer visitor to the heath, however, a good coverage of favoured habitat did not reveal this very smart little bird.  At one traditional site, large numbers of noisy Crow species did not help with trying to listen for Redstart, however, Alan and I were confident that this bird has yet to arrive at Wretham.
I suspect the cold wind affected bird activity, however, we did locate at least 4 singing Willow Warblers, a number of Blackcaps, and some Chiffchaffs.  A recently cleared area of commercial pine crop was visited after hearing a singing Woodlark, a search of the skies eventually produced this beautiful songster at height above the clearing.  Other woodland species included Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, singing Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, and Chaffinches.

Langmere is a large Breckland mere which has fluctuating levels of water with the basin, this morning there was a good coverage of water, and at todays visit the muddy fringes gave hope for some wader passage.
An intitial scan produced pairs of Lapwing, a pair of Oystercatchers which noisily flew in, a nest building Coot and several Shelduck.  Checking further along the waters edge, a pair of Little Ringed Plovers were seen.  Despite the distance at times the bright yellow eye-ring was visible.  Several Teal were seen, this included a very smart male bird seen in direct sunlight.
Alan and I decided to walk back along the Harling Drove and over the heath with a large ditch attempt at seeing Wheatears, however, none were seen.  A single Curlew flew over, this was probably a local breeder off to feed in fields.

The visit to East Wretham Heath was a bit disappointing in that Redstarts were not located, either they were being very quiet or perhaps they are still yet to arrive.
I really enjoyed my mornings birding with Alan, a lovely man with whom I will be sharing future birding trips with.  Thank you Alan.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

'Nettlecreeper' back on patch.

The first summer migrants are always eagerly listened and looked for in April and one particular species I always go goose-pimply for is the Whitethroat, or 'Nettlecreeper' as it is known colloquially.
This morning I walked along Great Cressingham road at Little Cressingham with Whitethroat as my target species for the day.  At the Watton Brook bridge I was checking the large paddocks for migrants when I heard a short burst of a very familiar song.  Walking a little further north along the road I sat and waited and at about 0820 I heard "ved ved ved" the agitated call of my first Whitethroat of this year.  I didn't have to wait long before the bird entered into sub-song within cover, this suggesting this Whitethroat was newly arrived.  As the month draws on and birds settle down, they will enter into full song, with the Whitethroat this is a conspicuous affair as he will sit on a high perch in a hedge, or patch of scrub, delivering his loud scrathy song.  The song of the Whitethroat is often accompanied by a song-flight above its territory, I refer to this as a dance as it bounces along as if on a puppet string.
My Whitethroat today generally remained in cover, however, I did see it pass occasionally between hedges on either side of the road.
Whitethroat at Great Cressingham, Norfolk April 2014
Whitethroats arrive back in Britain from their African wintering grounds usually during the second or third week of April.  My personal earliest was seen on 12th April.  Untidy hedgerows and scrubby habitats such as Bramble scrub are favoured breeding sites of Whitethroats.

The Sahel in Africa.
The Sahel is a belt of land lying along the southern boundary of the Sahara Desert.  This region is some 620 miles wide and spans the continent east to west for some 3,360 miles.  The climate of the Sahel is semi-arid.
The Whitethroat I found this morning, as indeed with all Whitethroats and some other migratory species, winter in the Sahel before making their way north to spend the summer months with us.  In 1969 the Sahel suffered a significant drought problem, this severely impacted upon the numbers of Whitethroats returning to Britain the following spring.  It has taken until now for Whitethroats to recover in numbers, however, I do not think they are at the numbers of the pre-1969 Sahel drought.
I noticed this morning Shepherds checking their flock in nearby paddocks while I was watching the Whitethroat, it came upon me that this bird would have been close to and possibly seen by the nomadic farmers who live in the Sahel.  Not only does this little Warbler cross continents and experience various man-made and natural hazzards whilst undertaking the journey, it also passes through various cultures and climates......the miracle that is migration. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

River Yare Valley at Barford, Norfolk

During my work break this afternoon I decided to check suitable habitat for summer migrants.  Starting at Barford Church, I walked along the Barnham Broom road and then took the footpath north which descends down to the River Yare valley.  The narrow path is tree-lined with a golf-course to the immediate west, whilst towards the low point of the path in the valley, a small area of very damp woodland carr habitat with scrubby understorey would hold most interest.  In the valley itself, the countryside is relatively open with wet, grass/rushy plain with a few pockets of reeds.
It was evident that as I approached the valley, the carr habitat held several singing Warblers, and indeed, I heard at least 3 Willow Warblers in song, at least 3 Blackcaps singing, and a number of Chiffchaffs also.

Jackdaw at Barford, Norfolk 14/04/15

The warm sunny conditions was surely to benefit Raptor species, the first was a single Red Kite being mobbed by a Crow species, later, a very high Red Kite drifted west.  Up to 4 Buzzards were seen and a single male Kestrel hunted over the plain.
A single male Swallow flew leisurely west along the valley was singing its beautiful twitter as it went.
My arrival back at the village saw ever-present Jackdaws around the church whilst a few other birds fed in a nearby paddock.
Back to work at 1500hrs following this pleasant walk.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Houghton-on-the-Hill and Watton, Norfolk

Houghton 0600-0900
I arrived at St Mary's Church at Houghton-on-the-Hill to a fine pre-sunrise dawn and a temperature of 1 degree.  Some early morning mist in the valley was soon to burn off following sunrise.
My walk this morning would take me from St Mary's down to Houghton Springs and the paddocks, after this, I headed for Houghton Common and back to my start point.
Common, and expected birds were seen and heard from the outset.  Summer visitors included a number of singing Chiffchaffs and at least 6 Blackcap, of these 5 were males on territory. 
At Houghton Springs and paddocks I was hoping to see if Ring Ouzel was present given the recent significant passage into Norfolk, however, none seen today.  Birds seen and heard here was:

1 Barn Owl
1 Water Rail calling
Stock Dove
4 Chiffchaffs
4 Blackcaps
1 Song Thrush
1 Goldcrest singing
Reed Bunting (pair)

If I was to find Ring Ouzel, then the paddocks was the place to find one, however, a good search did not reveal this stunning migrant. 
At least 4 Blackbirds (pair + 2 males), 1 Mistle Thrush, singing Song Thrush, 5+ Blue Tits, and Chaffinch were seen on the big paddock.
As I was leaving the paddocks I stopped and chatted for a while to a lovely couple called Chris and Sue who live nearby.  Chris and Sue moved here from Cornwall a year ago and love the area.  Chris was telling me about a Great Grey Shrike he found nearby in February this year...a great find. 

The lane which leads to Houghton Common rises gently with lovely hedgerows and trees forming a narrow corridor before opening onto arable (Houghton Common).  The lane held Chiffchaff at 4 sites, including a pair just above me in Ivy, and singing Blackcap, Linnets, and a pair of Bullfinches over.
The wonderful corridor of thick hedgerows running from Houghton Common back to the church is always worth checking for migrants.  As I walked slowly along the path I heard a quiet sub-song of a male Blackcap, the bird appeared in front of me on Bramble.  As this bird was not holding territory and was skulking I would say this was a resting passage bird.

Watton (early afternoon)
Buzzard 'light phase' over Watton 13/04/15 
With warm sunny conditions I decided to spend a little time watching for raptors from the garden.  Several Buzzards were seen above the town/garden at varying heights, quite low to very high.
All Buzzards seen were typically marked dark birds, however, one beautifully marked 'light phase' juvenile Buzzard put in an appearance directly above the garden/estate.
I am sure you will agree this is a very attractive looking Buzzard.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Thompson, Norfolk (Footpath from Church to Griston Road, Drove Lane, and Thompson Common)

1 Willow Warbler at Thompson common

I had only limited time this morning for a walk, therefore I chose a walk which took in a variety of exquisite habitats over a shortish route.  A friend of mine recently commented on the numbers of Chiffchaffs about, and indeed, I have had similar thoughts as site counts have been quite high.  This morning I counted 15+ Chiffchaffs in song, a good count over a small area, and since my last walk on the patch Blackcaps have clearly arrived, as has my first Willow Warbler of the year...a very late bird for me but undoubtedly seen by others elsewhere locally.

Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker (drumming)
Nuthatch 2 sites (low count)
Treecreeper singing
15+ Chiffchaffs
7+ Blackcaps
1 Willow Warbler
Reed Bunting 2 sites

Willow Warbler on Thompson Common: My intention this morning was to find my first, and somewhat later than usual, Willow Warbler of the year.  My walk was to take in habitat on Thompson Common where I thought I would locate the bird.  As was the case throughout the Brecks, Chiffchaffs dominated, however, approaching an area of scrub and a large patch of Hawthorn, I could hear what I thought was the sweet descending song of Willow Warbler....but something wasn't right.  As I positioned myself at the given locality, I could hear 2 'Chiffchaffs' singing in the same area, but, one of the songs initially confused me, then, after a while, the odd 'Chiffchaff song' ran into a not quite right, descending sweet song of Willow Warbler. I then located the bird visually and despite poorish early light a couple of factors sealed Willow Warbler for me, the tail never 'dipped' as with Chiffchaff, and the primary projection was clearly longer than on Chiffchaff.  After a short while, the Willow Warbler then entered into its full song.
The Chiffchaff often gave chase to the Willow Warbler around the Hawthorn.
Why did the Willow Warbler use Chiffchaff-like notes to start its song?  I have heard this before with a Willow Warbler almost perfectly replicating Chiffchaff song before entering into its own melody, this was again in the Thompson area a couple of years ago.  Perhaps the Willow Warbler was imitating the Chiffchaff.

Song Thrush (2) from garden:  Following my arrival back from Thompson I popped into the garden and heard a familiar "tick" call of Song Thrush, looking up I saw 2 Song Thrushes quite high in a north heading.  Late, outgoing migrants perhaps.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Hockham Fen, Thompson Common, and Ashill, Norfolk

A clear starlit night was followed by a bright dawn, however, low cloud moved in giving a complete coverage of grey.  By the afternoon high cloud broke to give long sunny spells with a high of about 12 degrees celsius.

Hockham Forest and Fen (early morning)
Firstly, I will open this account by trying to put you in the picture.  I am sitting in my conservatory with the sound of families enjoying themselves on what is a beautiful afternoon, whilst above a number of calling Buzzards are soaring.
This morning at dawn I arrived at the Hockham Picnic site with the intention of walking a number of the forest trails to Hockham Fen. A target species was Willow Warbler, however, I failed in this quest.
My walk to the fen was very productive for common species with 18+ Chiffchaffs in song, also, and very encouragingly, 15+ male Song Thrushes were holding territory by singing.  3 male Blackcaps were singing, also 1 Mistle Thrush sang, and I located at least 6 Treecreeper territories, 4 Goldcrest territories, 6 Blackbird sites including 2 singing birds
Red Deer (young stag) at Hockham Fen 06/04/15
The following species were seen/heard at the Fen.

8+ Greylag Geese
2 Canada Geese (pair)
2+ Water Rail (calling)
6+ Snipe
Lapwing (including 2 pairs)
2 Grey Heron
Carrion Crow
1 Fieldfare
1 Blackcap
1 Bullfinch over

Thompson Common
Having left Hockham I made my way just up the road for a short visit to Thompson Common where plenty of suitable habitat exists for Willow Warbler, once again, no luck.
At least 6 or 7 Chiffchaff were in song along with a single singing male Blackcap.

An early afternoon walk along Common Road failed to produce Willow Warbler in suitable woodland scrub habitat. 
3+ Chiffchaff were singing, also, 2 Kestrels, Yellowhammer, and 3+ Linnets were seen.

With settled conditions forecast for the coming week along with a south-easterly airflow, the floodgates will surely open with masses of migrants entering the country, including my so far elusive Willow Warbler.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Foulden Common and Thompson, Norfolk

An overcast start to the day with light drizzle and poor light. One or two brighter spells later but it remained cloudy all day with a high of 8 degrees celsius and a light NW wind.

1st Swallows (2) at Thompson
16+ Chiffchaffs

Foulden Common 0650-0830.  I visited this large, beautiful, and ancient common, with a view to seeing/hearing my first Willow Warbler of the year, however, none seen today.
My walk here took me over a good part of the common and well as visit to the periphery of a lovely, swampy fen habitat.

Barn Owl at Foulden Common 04/04/15
Although my target species was not found today, I was very pleased to gather a count of 10+ Chiffchaffs singing around the common, I was equally pleased to find at least 8 Song Thrushes in song, a species which in recent years has seen cause for concern.
A single male Blackcap was singing, although a second may have been present.
Foulden Common is an ancient site comprising a large area of grazing for sheep, however, there is scrub in abundance and patches of mature mixed woodland, also a largish area of damp, swampy, fen-like habitat gives this wonderful location a very varied habitat.
It was in the area of the fen where a single Snipe flew up and zig-zagged away.  Many more Snipe will be present in this suitable habitat.  A pair of Goldcrests were seen in scrub along the fen periphery and a Robin was seen with nesting material.  As would be expected in the fen area a pair of Reed Buntings were seen with a further male Reed Bunting in song.
Also seen and heard around Foulden Common this morning was single Common Buzzard, Wood Pigeons, a singing male Stock Dove, calling Green Woodpecker, Wren, Dunnocks, Blackbirds, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, displaying male Greenfinch, Bullfinch (heard), Yellowhammer (4+ territories), Linnet, Jay, and Magpie.

The drive back to Watton produced another Barn Owl at Hollow Heath, Hilborough, and a single Kestrel at Threxton.

Thompson 1350-1500.  I parked at the church and walked the footpath to the Griston Road, then took the Drove Lane to Stow Bedon Road, and back to the church.
A walk along this route produced a further 6+ Chiffchaffs (bringing a total to 16+ from 2 sites), 5+ Nuthatches, and a pair of Egyptian Geese.
I was certain whilst walking along the path that I heard a Swallow, a brief watch soon produced a single Swallow passing left to right, when a second Swallow came into view over the church area.  These constitute my first Swallows for the year.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Merton, Thompson, and Great Cressingham, Norfolk

This was my first local trip out in four days, and the wind insists on coming from the north-west, clearly this is blocking migration at the current time.  With high pressure building from the west from Saturday, and settled conditions on Sunday and Monday, a surge of summer migrants will flood into the country.
This morning I set off from Merton Church and walked along the road to the village of Thompson before taking a footpath through woodland/bracken scrub habitat to Merton and back to my start point.
I was hoping for an early Willow Warbler in suitable habitat, however, I was not successful.  A scattering of 5+ Chiffchaffs was welcome.
My walk also produced 2 Woodlarks (including a singing male) over farmland and woodland between Merton and Thompson, perhaps these were birds from the nearby STANTA army training grounds.
Also noted on the walk was 2 singing Marsh Tits, singing Coal Tit, Nuthatch at 3 sites, and Goldcrest at 3 sites.  Other species recorded were Song Thrush, singing Mistle Thrush and 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Great Cressingham (Peddars Way)
I had an afternoon walk along the Peddars Way north of the Watton Road.  Some Linnets and Yellowhammers were seen and a single Buzzard passed overhead.
Earlier in the week saw very strong winds and on Tuesday 31st March whilst parked at Deopham Green I witnessed huge amounts of wind-dried top-soil being blown from land and being carried high into the sky and off south-east.  This afternoon along the Peddars Way, evidence of similar wind damage was seen with not only mud on the road but drifted top-soil against the field edge hedging.
Whilst walking along the Peddars Way, I met a very nice man named Alan from Ivy Todd.  Alan is also a very keen birder and we stopped and talked for a while about local and coastal birding.  It was also where we stopped to talk that 20 years ago come July, a Balearic Woodchat Shrike remained for a few days.  It was good to meet you Alan and look forward to seeing you again soon.