Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Whitethroat at Little Cressingham, Norfolk

A pretty dismal day with persistent rain then showers all day until clearer conditions moved in late afternoon.
Not too much to report today due to the poor conditions, however, I watched a pair of Whitethroats in the Watton Brook valley which were attending to young in the nest.
The lush Watton Brook valley at Little Cressingham always holds breeding Whitethroats, this year, as in previous years, a pair had a nest in a thick Dog Rose along the bank of the Brook.
Whitethroat close to its nest at Little Cressingham 31/05/15
Having seen a Whitethroat at the given location, I had a good idea it would be nesting in one of two bushes.  Not long after I arrived a female Whitethroat was seen on wire fencing carrying a juicy green caterpillar for its young, I then watched the parent bird fly into a thick Dog Rose on the lush valley bank.  After this, numerous visits were made to the nest with food, often following a sometimes convoluted route to the nest-site. 
Despite their common status I never tire of watching Whitethroats.  They often raise a smile with me when they sit concealed in a bush with just its head sometimes popping up to watch it surroundings...or me.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

East Wretham and Croxton Heaths, Norfolk

I arrived at East Wretham Heath at 0615 in bright, sunny conditions with a temperature of 6 degrees.  The rising sun brought some warmth in sheltered spots, however, the WNW wind always had a cool edge to it.
My intention today for visiting this special site was three-fold, to locate Redstarts, check for Wader passage, and to find Adders, I failed on all three counts, although I did find a nice basking Grass Snake.  This reserve is well known for its Redstarts, however, a careful check of Waterloo Plantation did not produce any site or sound of this stunning Chat species.  Later, back at the car park, a couple of visiting birders from Durham also stated they did not find Redstart.
Oak and Hawthorn at East Wretham Heath 27/05/15
As always, the first birds to greet me at East Wretham was the ever present and very noisy gatherings of Rooks in the Scots Pine woodland on the edge of the heath.  It was from this point on that I would start listening and looking for Redstarts in the very large Pines, however, a careful search around Waterloo Plantation failed to produce.   It was evident that the most abundant Warbler species was Blackcap with many birds seen and in song both on Wretham and Croxton Heath.  Several Garden Warblers were also present.

Lapwing at East Wretham Heath (Langmere) 27/05/15
I spent some time at Langmere to check for wader passage but I could see no evidence of this.  Little Grebes were calling their 'whinnying' checkle and a pair of Coots had a nest apparently in open water.
Lapwings were seen around the fringes of Langmere, including the bird photographed here.
Back to the woodland habitat at Waterloo Plantation, and my slow walk around these magnificent old Scots Pines produced lots of Great and Blue Tits very busily flying through trees to attend to their new families.  Coal Tits were as expected heard and seen at a number of sites.

I then joined Harling Drove to walk onto Croxton Heath where habitat changed from very tall Scots Pines to younger commercial compartments of Pine forest and Birch woodland.  This change of habitat, especially the Birch woodland, brought a change in dominant species with Willow Warblers being the most abundant singing birds, although Blackcaps and Garden Warbler were heard.  Willow Warblers were making use of several habitat types from Birch woodland, young conifer plantations, and edge of woodland scrub.  It was whilst at woodland edge that I was mindful of Adders, another target species for the day, however, all I could find was a single basking Grass Snake.  A distant calling Cuckoo was heard.
Walking back along Harling Drove I took a break with a nice hot cup of Tomato soup on the edge of a recently harvested area of pines, this large clearing produced a single singing male Woodlark.
Finally, back at the car park, it was encouraging to see good numbers of House Martins around the wardens house. 

Waterloo Plantation with its magnificent Scots Pines is 200 years old this year.  It was planted in 1815 to celebrate Wellingtons victory over Napolean at the Battle of Waterloo.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Thompson, Norfolk

One of the warmest May days so far this year with a high of 19 degrees celsius.  Some sunny spells seen although for the most part, total cloud cover gave a humid feel to the weather
I took a mid afternoon walk just outside Thompson with thoughts of Spotted Flycatcher in mind.

Spotted Flycatcher Thompson 22/05/15
A quick stop at Thompson Water (quick because I forgot my 'jungle formula' Mosquito repellent, and they certainly had a taste for me), nevertheless, 3 Hobbies were hunting insects above the water.  Around me in the woodland was singing Garden Warbler, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, and Reed Warbler, whilst on or near the water was 4+ Grey Herons and a single Cormorant.

Having left Thompson Water, I relocated to woodland outside Thompson, an area of dense Oak and Birch habitat with plenty of Hawthorn, as this looked promising, here, I saw Long-tailed Tits foraging and a Blackcap singing, I then watched a slender bird flying through the treetops, it was a Spotted Flycatcher.  This delightful migrant obliged for a little while as it sat in upper branches of an Oak.

Goshawk (one of a pair) near Thompson, Norfolk

At about 1525 hours, I was walking along a woodland track with minimal views of open sky above me, however, as I looked up I saw 2 Goshawks soaring high overhead along with a single Buzzard.
I was not prepared for soaring raptors through the trees, therefore, this was the best shot I could take of the male of the pair.
The raptors then all left and went out of sight, however, I suspect they remained close by as Blackbirds were giving their shrill, agitated, whistle-like call.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A fine weather window at Thompson Water, Norfolk

I was working this morning and the weather was fine and settled, although cloud did threaten at times.  By the time I finished work early afternoon I decided to make my way to Thompson Water, my arrival at about 1530 coincided with a very threatening, large black cloud approaching from the west.  This cloud eventually brought a very heavy, prolonged shower of both rain and hail.  With some brightness being seen along the distant trailing edge of the cloud, an opportunity arose to overlook the water before the next black system arrived from the west bringing dire conditions once again.  At least I had a bright weather window to hopefully see hunting Hobbies.

Hobby (one of 3) at Thompson Water 20/05/15
As I approached the water, the first birds I saw was 2 Hobbies low, there would soon be a third bird arriving from the south.
During this bright spell of weather I was once again, as in previous years, marvelled at the agility and speed of the Hobbies as they hunted, generally low over the water, for insect prey.  For the whole of my stay at Thompson Water, all 3 Hobbies remained airborne throughout, sweeping back and forth over the water and adjoining woodland in their searches for prey.
A few Swifts and a Swallow were seen over the water, occasionally, the Swifts flew fast away, indicating a Hobby had spotted them for prey, however, the Hobbies always hunted insects.
Also noted on this visit was a calling Water Rail in dense reed cover. 
Warblers were well represented with several Blackcaps, Garden Warbler, Reed Warbers, Chiffchaff, and Willow Warbler.  A Cetti's Warbler also called.  Within the reedbeds, 2 pairs of Mute Swans were nesting.  A calling male Cuckoo was heard.
I finally departed about 1700 with more threatening weather approaching.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Houghton Springs, Norfolk

As my followers know I have always observed public rights of way when walking and enjoying the countryside and its birds and other wildlife.  One post in fact from a couple of years ago entitled 'Irresponsible birders' mentions someone who decided to wander from a public right of way, he was told he was trespassing, however, he was seen again at the same site.
I have today been speaking to the owner of Houghton Springs who advises me that a couple of walkers had trespassed onto this site, when challenged, they stated my blog implies it was OK to wander over this site.  I have never, and would never encourage anyone to wander away from public rights of way.
The owner of Houghton Spring highlighted the dangers of visiting private land i.e. livestock danger, uneven land and ditches etc which could endanger the safety of people.
Perhaps I had written entries incorrectly and visitors thought they could go where they pleased, I therefore apologise if this is how this reads, however, if I can once more emphasise that Houghton Springs is private with no public access, other than the Peddars Way footpath which runs alongside the area before leading onto North Pickenham.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

An evening walk at Thompson Water, Norfolk.

1900-2000: Cloudy with low light on this evening visit, however, when light is good Thompson Water is often best visited at this time when the sun is behind you and providing excellent views across the water, especially when light bounces off the golden phragmite reeds.
I was hoping for Hobby on this evening visit but none were seen on this occcasion.  I thought I was in luck for a raptor species when a gathering of noisy Crows were congretating around an area of reeds and thick Sallow habitat, however, they eventually moved off with no raptor showing.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Thompson Water 17/05/15 
The woodland around Thompson Water held most interest with common summer migrants in song, these included Blackcaps, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, and an occasional singing Reed Warbler in distant reeds.  A Water Rail gave its squealing call from reed cover.
A single Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen and photographed and a couple of late singing Goldcrests were heard.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Thompson, Norfolk

At dawn I parked on Redbrick Road and walked the single track road to the Peddars Way, and then onto Thompson Water.  This initial walk produced many singing Blackcaps, a singing Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler.  At least 3 Goldcrests were in song.

Thompson Water
Summer visitors are now firmly established on their territories, the totals for Blackcaps were impressive and Garden Warbler numbers are building.  In the reeds, several Reed Warblers were in song, I also managed to glimpse a pair moving silently through reeds.
Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) 16/05/15

A male Marsh Harrier appeared over the water and started hunting over the dense reedbeds around the periphery as well as the rapid growing surface Water Soldier.  The Harrier soon drew the attention of Crow species which mobbed the raptor.
My walk from the car to Thompson Water produced an estimated total of 15+ singing male Blackcaps and a further 3 singing Garden Warblers were in song around the water in thick waterside Sallow and woodland.  A blast of song from Cetti's Warbler was heard.  Goldcrests were in song with a total of at least 5 singing males in the area..
Whilst overviewing the water a pair of Common Terns put in an appearance and readily started flying around the water with head down looking for food.
The damp mature woodland held Great Spotted Woodpecker (pair seen), Chiffchaffs, Coal Tit, and at least 4 Siskins (including 3 males).
A single Little Grebe emerged from reeds close to me and quickly submerged when it saw me. 

Siskin at Thompson Water 16/05/16
Siskin (female) at Thompson Water 16/05/15
Encouragingly, at least 4 Siskins were seen (males).  I have noticed that this delightful little species is becoming increasingly more the breeder in the area, however, the vast majority of Siskins are winter visitors from Scandinavia.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Hockham (Frost's Common and Fen), and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Hockham (Frost's Common/Fen)
With work beckoning in the garden this morning I paid a rather brief visit to Frost's Common where common Warbler species were in good voice.  As soon as I arrived a Garden Warbler sang in mature, mixed woodland habitat.  A few Blackcaps and Chiffchaff were both in song and a second Garden Warbler was heard in dense scrub, I would investigate this bird later.  A calling male Cuckoo was heard widely from woodland to fen habitat.  An short overview of Hockham Fen from one of the gates revealed a singing Reed Warbler hidden somewhere in lush habitat.
Making my way back, I decided to locate the second singing Garden Warbler of the day, I positioned myself along the edge of dense Birch, Gorse, and young conifer woodland, I could hear the Warbler and it was clear it was mobile.  My patience was rewarded when the Garden Warbler appeared in a pine near Gorse scrub, but it was gone as soon as it appeared.

Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road)
A late afternoon walk from just north of 'The Arms' to Watton Brook and return.  A very sunny afternoon with a high of 15 degrees celsius.
Painted Lady at Little Cressingham 15/05/15.  An early record.
Little seen initially with only a single adult Grey Heron flying east along the valley.  Heading back towards 'The Arms' a Blackcap and Chiffchaff were in song in the old Chalk pit. 
Close to the chalk pit I found my first Painted Lady of the year, a fine looking Butterfly, and quite early too as this migratory species generally arrives in the UK in June.  A little further along the road a Whitethroat very briefly sang.  The hedgerow alongside the road to 'The Arms' held a singing Garden Warbler.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Hockham Fen and Frost's Common, Hockham, Norfolk

Hockham Fen (static overview)
A very mild start to the day with the promise of a high of about 21 degrees.  Cloudy initially with warm sunny conditions ahead.
I paid a fairly short visit to the fen this morning with a good selection of migrants being seen and heard.
Garden Warbler habitat at Hockham Fen 11/05/15
On the fen 4 pairs of Canada Geese and one pair of Greylag seen.  Hidden within the phragmites was a singing Sedge Warbler.  A single calling Cuckoo was heard to the distant west.
At the time of my visit little was seen above the fen other than a single passing Sand Martin and a couple of Rooks.
The periphery of the fen held a singing Garden Warbler within open woodland containing Bramble and Hawthorn scrub.  The bird was quite mobile showing briefly in Bramble.  Also noted within this habitat was singing Blackcap (including agitated call being heard) and singing Chiffchaff.

Frost's Common, Hockham
This beautiful common comprises grassland/heathland habitat with scattered Birch, Hawthorn, and Bramble scrub, and some very fine Sallow along ditch sides.  It is surrounded by mature, mixed, woodland habitat, with Pine being dominant.
Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) Frost's Common.
A calling Cuckoo was initially calling in trees, however, the bird was mobile over quite a large area.  I suspect this was the same bird heard earlier to the west of Hockham Fen.
A singing Garden Warbler was heard in mixed scrub, but was soon visually located singing in Bramble and Birch scrub.
Also noted in the area was singing Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, and a Mistle Thrush was seen overhead.  A pair of Coal Tits were seen, also 3 Yellowhammers, including 2 males.
A beautiful male Great Spotted Woodpecker alighted on a dead Birch stump where it probably search for invertebrates within the decaying wood.
Upon leaving the common, a pair of Blackbirds appeared in the top of a Birch.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Ashill, Norfolk

Traditionally, the area I visited today just outside the village of Ashill has been used by Turtle Doves for as long as I have walked the area.  This morning was therefore aimed at finding this beautiful little migratory Dove species.
The day dawned dry and bright and indeed the whole day was dry, warm, and sunny.  The wind dropped significantly from yesterdays strong to a moderate west south westerly.  The lighter wind would be helpful when listening for the beautiful song of a Turtle Dove.

2 Turtle Dove (pair)
1 Lesser Whitethroat
Willow Warbler

Reaching the area which has held Turtle Doves in previous years, I decided to stop and just listen.  I could hear singing Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Collared Doves, and Wood Pigeons, then within this mix of songs I just picked up a soft "turr turr" of a singing male Turtle Dove, my first of the year.
I checked other nearby suitable habitat where I heard the distinctive song of a single Lesser Whitethroat.
Walking back to where I heard song, I soon saw 2 small birds break cover of woodland and fly low and fast into tall, overgrown hedgerows, a pair of Turtle Doves, wonderful.
Turtle Dove at Ashill 10/05/15 (One of a pair seen)
I walked to where the Turtle Doves alighted into the hedge and soon located the pair, albeit rather distantly.  Song resumed and both birds often flew close together around the locality.
The song of the Turtle Dove is for me one of the most eagerly awaitied for songs, it is soft and soothing, and epitomizes an English summers day.
It is also very pleasing to have this small and delicate little Dove on the patch as its numbers have been in serious decline.

The Turtle Dove is the only migratory Dove/Pigeon species in Europe, and it is during it passage that it comes under severe pressure from those who shoot birds, especially hunters in Spain, Morrocco, and of course, Malta.  It is so great to know that these Turtle Doves have reached us to breed in relative safety, however, I am always tinged with sadness as who knows if our beautiful doves can safely fly through the gauntlett of guns on their southbound passage in late summer. 

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Hingham, Norfolk

Today I was given permission to survey a beautiful piece of private land at Hingham.  I arrived at 0600 for a 3 hour visit.  It was cloudy at dawn with a strong west wind, cloud cleared to give bright conditions, however, the wind remained a feature of the weather.
It was clearly evident on this visit that migratory species are now well and truly on territory with males in song and nest building being seen.  In addition to this, copulation was seen and food collection observed, thus indicating the presence of young in the nest.
Hingham, Norfolk 09/05/15.  This beautiful stretch of mixed hedgerow held singing Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Song Thrush and Yellowhammer
Wood Pigeons
1 Swift passed over
2 Meadow Pipits (pair carrying food for young)
3+ Song Thrush
Blackbird (singing male and pair)
Mistle Thrush
3+ Whitethroats (singing males on territory)
2 Lesser Whitethroat (singing males)
3+ Blackcap territories
2 Chiffchaff (pair observed collecting nest material)
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit 2 sites
3 Bullfinch (pair + single)
Chaffinch common
Yellowhammer (4+ sites included pair mating)  
Whitethroat at Hingham 09/05/15 (At least 3 singing males on site)

Chiffchaff at Hingham 09/05/15 (one of a pair nest building)
The variety of birdlife seen with this area clearly shows the value of a mixed habitat where several species co-exist togther, it was also very pleasing to see different species at different stages of breeding from singing to defend territory, copulation, nest-building, and food collection for young in the nest.
I will end this post by thanking my friend very much for allowing me access to this rich site...a wonderful experience.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Runhall, Norfolk

My work as a carer takes me across many lovely villages in the River Yare valley of Norfolk and my afternoon breaks allows me to explore a variety of habitats.  As well as photographing birds, I also get immense pleasure in maintaining a photographic record of habitats.  To many a leafy lane is just that, a leafy lane, however, to me I see an abundance of beautiful habitats which provides homes to birds and many other forms of wildlife.  I also hope that sharing my passion for habitats allows others to know what to expect within these valuable sites.

Runhall (Black Horse Road)                                                                                                                  The photograph below shows Black Horse Road heading north from the River Yare.  This small area has a variety of habitats which were clearly beneficial to birds.  Sadly, some see an untidy area, I see valuable wildlife habitats.
Runhall (Black Horse Road) 05/05/15 (Although not apparent from this picture, today saw strong and damaging winds)
The large Bramble patch left of centre in the picture was visited by a pair of Long-tailed Tits carrying food for their young.  Also here was a Blackcap which was issuing its agitated "tak" call.
Whitethroat at Runhall (Black Horse Road) 05/05/15
The small length of roadside hedgerow immediately right of centre in the picture was visited by Whitethroats.  This male Whitethroat sang from a number of perches including the tall Hawthorns right of the road and the hedge running left to right through the centre of the photo.
Also present at this site this afternoon was calling Green Woodpecker, a pair of Chaffinches, a pair of Blackbirds, and a couple of Swallows in the area.
I am quite sure that most people see the value of areas such as this at Runhall, I also hope that more and more inaccessable corners of fields and roadsides are left for scrub to take over, such areas enhance the beauty of our countryside. Listening to a Whitethroat announcing itself from the top of a Hawthorn is a wonderful experience, especially so on a warm summers day with the buzzing of Bees for company.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Thompson, Norfolk 0420-0730

I am always an early bird and therefore I can't think of anything better to do on a beautiful early May dawn than to visit Thompson Water and its surrounding woodland.  I intended to try for Nightingale, however, I was unsuccessful. 
I arrived just outside the village of Thompson in mild, still conditions.  Once ready I walked the long single track road which passes through mature deciduous woodland down to one of the many STANTA access gates.
The first bird of the morning was a Tawny Owl flying into an Oak just ahead of me, it then silently flew across the road as a shadow into dense woodland habitat.  Also along the road, several Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, and a single Goldcrest were early songsters.

Thompson Water
An orange glow low to the east hinted at the approaching dawn (sunrise 0518).  I made my way to the south-east corner of the water to overview this large body of water, to my right in thick reeds, several Reed Warblers were singing. 
Thompson Water at 0445 on 04/05/15
2+ HOBBY (my first of year)
Siskin at Thompson Water 04/05/15 (Regular breeder)
1 Marsh Harrier (briefly)
4 Mute Swan (one on nest)
Little Grebe
1+ Cetti's Warbler
Reed Warbler (many singing males)
3+ Garden Warblers (singing males)
Blackcap - many
1 Willow Warbler
4+ Goldcrests (singing males)
Reed Bunting
Red Deer - hind

2 Hobbies (my first of the year) appeared at Thompson Water at 0455, some 25 minutes prior to sunrise.  Both Falcons swept back and forth above woodland and waterside scrub in search of insect prey.  Both birds were silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky.  A largish insect (probably a Bee) flew up from the woodland, it was easily intercepted and taken by a Hobby.

3+ Swifts appeared over Thompson Water at dawn, and again, these were the first of this species this year.  Interestingly, small numbers of Swifts were seen above Watton late afternoon.  All were probable arrivals during the previous night.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Work break Birding 29th and 30th April 2015

Wednesday 29th April
Marsh Harrier at Morley St Botolph, Norfolk, .
At about 1335 I was driving north along Morleyfield Lane having just finished my final call of the day, I noticed a raptor species drifting west to east over crops, it was clearly a Harrier, given the bouyant flight and wings held in a shallow 'V'.  The lane was very quiet and I was therefore able to stop, the bird was soon identified as a female Marsh Harrier.  This was undoubtedly a migrant bird and its low height suggested it was watching for potential prey as it drifted through.

Thursday 30th April
Deopham Churchyard 1415-1530
A quick survey of habitat at this location revealed quality Hawthorn boundaries with mature Ash and Sycamore trees within.  It was so pleasing to see tall, untidy hedgerows which will benefit life.  Within this boundary was a number of tall, mature conifer specimens, and the traditional churchyard Yews.
At least 15 species were recorded as follows:

Carrion Crow (pair) one sitting on nest in Ash
2+ Wood Pigeons singing
Collared Dove
7+ House Martins very high east ahead of thick dark cloud
2 Blackcaps singing males
1 Lesser Whitethroat singing male in tall Hawthorn hedge
1 Goldcrest song
Great Tit song + a bird visiting a hole in side of church
Long-tailed Tit (pair) nesting in Yew
Blackbird 2+ pairs
1 Song Thrush

It was generally bright throughout this visit, however, some thick cloud passed through on the moderate westerly wind.  At 1520 a particularly large dark cloud was directly over head, this was when 7+ House Martins were seen very high more or less just ahead of, or under the leading edge of the cloud.  The House Martins appeared to move with the cloud, whether this is relevant or not I don't know...perhaps they were following a good supply of insects.