Breckland Birder

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

Friday, 28 August 2015

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

A very interesting walk this morning through wide open arable habitat outside Little Cressingham.  Yes, migrants were my main target, however, I had an unexpected visitor in a very old hedgerow of a species I was formerly very familiar with when living in south-west Suffolk, but is now sadly rare in Norfolk.

Kestrel
Buzzard
Swallows (including a gathering of 216+ birds)
1 Whitethroat
2 Blackcaps
1 Willow Warbler (moving along hedge)
Chiffchaffs
Robin
Wren
Dunnock
Goldfinches (adults/juveniles on weeds in ditch)
Chaffinches
1 CORN BUNTING
Yellowhammer (including male feeding young)

My first check of the morning was along a heavily vegetated ditch where almost straight away I saw a single Whitethroat moving through umbellifer habitat and other weed species.  My first migrant of the morning was soon upstaged by a gathering of 216+ Swallows on overhead wires, additional birds were hunting low over nearby pasture, the true numbers of Swallows clearly much higher.
Most of my time was spent watching this old section of an old hedgerow in Little Cressingham
I then made a prolonged stay at the old hedgerow pictured above with the first species of note being a Hummingbird Hawkmoth which was working the right side of the hedge in this picture.  A lovely Hornet was also seen here.
A couple of Blackcaps (male and female) were seen here, however, the most numerous species here was Yellowhammer.  It was while watching the Yellowhammers that single, and very unexpected CORN BUNTING  dropped in and sat beside a Yellowhammer, this was immediately useful in giving a comparison between the species.  Corn Buntings are restricted to just a few area of Norfolk now, mostly in the north, but here in the Brecks they are indeed rare.  Perhaps this is a wandering bird from its usual range in Norfolk.
Yellowhammer at Little Cressingham 28/08/15

Having left this lovely old hedgerow I continued along the lane and saw a small Warbler darting between cover, very shortly after I heard the familiar "hooweet" call of a Willow Warbler, quite different from the "hweet" call of the Chiffchaff.
Finally, I made my way to the Watton Brook Valley to check for migrant activity, nothing seen, however, the recently impaled beetle was gone....the Shrike plot thickens.
This male Yellowhammer was frequently seen carrying bills full of grain, and occasionally insects.  This species may rear up to three broods in the year and are known to breed late in the season.
I am returning to work tomorrow now that the dental pain has almost gone.  Hopefully I will get some birding done in my break.   

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Watton Brook Valley

Watton Brook and its banks are now looking very lush and full of weedy growth, a habitat which will hold a vast number of invertebrates and insect prey for migrating birds.  As I have written before, the fencing and posts along the Brook will hold resting migrant species.
Watton Brook Valley at Litte Cressingham. A very lush habitat that today supported Robin, Wren, Yellowhammers, Goldfinches on thistle, and a Whitethroat skulking amongst reeds.  Whilst watching this habitat, I failed to notice a raptor which passed directly overhead, only to be picked up as it was gliding behind trees.  The attitude of the wings suggested a possible Honey Buzzard passing through.  A pair of Red Kites were seen on distant stubble, slowly walking to probably  pick up carrion or insect prey.
Blackcap eating Elderberries
Watching a small mixed length of Bramble, Elder, Hawthorn, and Sallow in Little Cressingham produced a couple of migrant Blackcaps feeding upon Elderberries and Blackberries.
Sometimes alarmed, the Blackcaps gave their typical tongue-clicking "tak" call.
An elusive Chiffchaff moved through dense habitat.
A calling Little Grebe was heard, and close by, a pair of Mute Swans have 3 large young with them.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Threxton, Norfolk

Getting steadily better now, although still have facial swelling.  I have an appointment at the dentist on 11th September to have the offending tooth extracted...just want to be freed on this awful pain.
I decided to get out for some air this afternoon and visited Threxton Sewage Treatment Works.  It was raining heavily and persistently for most of this visit, this gave way to lighter rain/drizzle later.
There was evidence of migrant activity in bushes around the plant, however, once the heavy rain cleared, the area was dripping Chiffchaffs, some were bedraggled looking wet birds whilst others appeared to be adorned in post-breeding moulted, neat-looking plumages.  A single male Blackcap was also seen, he also gave a little sub-song.  Typically, Goldcrests were numerous.
With the STW, I estimated 300-400 Hirundines constantly sweeping close to the plant for food.  The majority appeared to be House Martins and Swallows, and at least a single Sand Martin was also seen.
The number of Hirundines increased my expectations of Hobby, and indeed, a single Hobby approached from the east at speed and made a mind-boggingly quick turn to chase a Hirundine species, however, the raptor appeared from the other side of the church in a more leisurely flight and empty-taloned. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Watton Brook Valley

Following a night of heavy persistent rain and easterly winds around the northern edge of a low pressure system from the near continent, an early morning visit to the Watton Brook Valley brought as expected, some migrants.
An initial check of the valley produced an exciting find, another impaled beetle on a barbed wire fence about a half-mile from the implaed beetle found on the 22nd August.  The beetle was still alive.  Clearly, a Shrike, probably Red-backed, is working this area, however, as before, could not be found.
One of 5 Whinchats in the Watton Brook Valley.
I was not feeling to good at all, therefore, I did a spot check of a small section of the Watton Brook Valley and soon located 5 Whinchats along fences and thick herbage alongside the Brook.  The question has to be asked, How many more Whinchats, and other migrants for that matter fell during the night on the patch?
Typical behaviour was observed by Whinchats, including watching them dropping to the ground and quickly returning to the same area of fence to consume the catch, a small insect probably.
Also very much of note in the valley was at least 100+ Swallows which were hunting low over the fields for winged insects, many Swallows often alighted along the valley on the fence.
Many Wood Pigeons sat along the valley and appeared to take delight from sitting into the rain for a wash-up.  A couple of Reed Buntings and Dunnocks were also seen along the valley.
A single Kestrel was overhead whilst on higher ground at least 5 Buzzards and a pair of Red Kites soared.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Apologies

Since the turn of this year I have suffered various dental problems and at the current time I have developed an abscess and large swelling on the left side of my face, which has in turn spoiled my good looks!!!!!!!.  I am visiting the dentist this afternoon hoping to get some respite from the pain I have.
These problems have impacted upon my motivation to work on my blog and to my followers I sincerely apologise for this.
I am hoping to motivate myself to update my blog on a regular basis and perhaps with Autumn migration now upon us, this will give me the impetus to get started again.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Evidence found of rarity on the patch

I was up early this morning to take Toby for a pre-dawn walk to Merton and back.  This early walk produced a number of calling Tawny Owls and an overhead passage Wader species giving an occasional "peep" call.
Once back from the walk I prepared for my morning of searching for migrants along the Watton Brook Valley, specifically, the Little Cressingham and Bodney areas of The Brecks.
Setting off prior to 0600 and with a temperature of 16 degrees celsius, I reached my destination and started my walk.  By the afternoon the temperature reached 30 degrees celsius.

Impaled Beetle at Bodney, Norfolk 22/08/15
What happened next was unreal.  I was walking along a wide verge with posts and barbed wire fencing, my thoughts immediately was of a probable Shrike species which occured here a couple of years ago at the end of August 2013.  Then, I located an impaled Beetle species on a barb.  I walked past where I found the unfortunate beetle, and about 20 feet or so further along the fence I saw something different on barb, would you believe it, I located another impaled Beetle on barbed wire, but on this occasion, the insect was I think freshly impaled as it was struggling with leg movements. 
From this point on a search started for the bird responsible for impaling the Beetle, undoubtedly a Red-backed Shrike, although Woodchat Shrike should not be discounted given the patch record from July 1995.
Looking more closely at the Beetle, there was a small indentation on the upper wing casing, this I think could have been where the Shrike had held the Beetle whilst securing its prey onto the barb.
My first search of the area lasted some 4 hours, I checked all fences, ditches, bushy hedgerows, and also staked (no pun intended) out the impaled Beetle for some time in a hope the bird would return to its larder.  Despite this search I did not locate a Shrike, sadly another visit a few hours later, lasting some 2 hours, did not reveal the bird.
To conclude, why has evidence of a Shrike been seen again, and almost to the week when evidence was seen two years ago.  The first thought is a migrant Shrike, however, given ample habitat for this species to breed in, could it be an unpaired bird hoping for a mate to pass his/her way.  Food for thought.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Watton Brook Valley, Little Cressingham, Norfolk

My attention this time of year always turns to the Watton Brook Valley where I search for migrants.  Today did not reveal any Chat species, however, given the long and meandering nature of the brook, along with fantastic lush habitats and various small tributary-like ditches, I am sure that many migrants would have been present within the valley.
Toby today - always patiently waits when I am birding
Incessantly calling young Buzzards were heard from woodland habitats and a number were soaring high on thermals, however, the most interesting observation was of a Buzzard standing facing a Hare in some kind of 'Face-Off', I was unable to ready the camera in time for a picture, which I feel, would have been a great talking point.
A few Whitethroats were seen in roadside hedgerow and woodland edge, possibly true migrants, and 4 Bullfinches flew directly above me.
Overviewing fields and woodland, close to 'The Arms', I saw a distant large raptor soaring, a closer look revealed a Goshawk which had attracted the attention of two mobbing Kestrels.

Later in the day I visited another section of Watton Brook Valley close to Fairstead Lane.  Another check of this beautiful valley did not present migrants, but as written before, I am sure some would have been present.
A check of the valley near the windmill produced a couple of skulking Whitethroats, a Blackbird feeding on Blackberry, Greenfinch, and Chaffinch.  A pair of Mute Swans were accompanied by 3 young birds.
Several House Martins and a few Swallows were overhead, however, it looks as if the Swifts have now departed.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Watton Brook Valley, Norfolk

The morning dawned very autumnal with a cool 7 degrees celsius and some low lying mist in the valley.  Despite the early morning coolness it soon warmed up to a pleasant 21 degrees celsius.
I paid a couple of visits to Watton Brook Valley today, this early morning visit, and a later visit to Threxton mid-late afternoon.
Less than a year ago, I decided to purchase a 'scope, I wanted something lightweight and portable, given the weighty camera kit I carry round with me.  I bought the Nikon ED50 Fieldscope with a x27 eye-piece.  I must admit that until now I have not used the 'scope too much, but in very recent times I have started taking it with me....I hardly know I am carrying it in my bag it is so lightweight.  The 'scope accompanied me today, and it will be a regular part of my inventory in the field from now on. It did prove useful during my afternoon visit to Threxton....a wonderful 'scope with clear, crisp views of the subject.

Little Cressingham
The conditions felt good for migrants at first light and common migrants seen included Whitethroat and a number of calling Chiffchaffs.  A check of the weedy banks of the Brook and the fencing and posts did not reveal any migrants as far as I could see, however, I am sure that probably Reed Warbler would have been a skulker in this prime habitat.
Incessant calling young Buzzards were heard in nearby woodland and a family party of Yellowhammers were seen.
Close to where I was parked, a traditional planting of maize along a field edge brought thoughts of good numbers of Finches and Buntings through the winter months.

Later in the morning I was enjoying a coffee in the garden where I saw good numbers of Starlings visiting, most were young birds which were developing some patchy adult plumage through their mostly mousey-brown juvenile plumage.
Interestingly, whilst sitting in the garden, evidence of passage heard when the "sweeep" call of a migrant Yellow Wagtail passed overhead.

Threxton
As expected, Chiffchaffs were calling around the sewage treatment works, as was Goldcrest.  Further along the lane I checked the fence-posts, wire, and lush habitat for migrant passerines, initially I could see nothing.  I decided to use the trusty 'scope and scan a distant hedgerow for movement, despite being some 350 yards from me, I detected movement, steadying the 'scope I could see the bird was a probable Lesser Whitethroat, heat haze prevented a crisp image, however, the bird had all the correct identification features for Lesser Whitethroat.
Back at the sewage treatment works, a party of ever-present Long-tailed Tits moved through the conifer screen, and Goldcrests were heard once again.  Grey Wagtails were present, undoubtedly bred nearby, and several Goldfinches were seen.  A single Kestrel was seen, a pair of Stock Doves were present, and a House Martin and a few Swallows were overhead.

Friday, 14 August 2015

North Pickenham (Houghton) Norfolk

Some years ago I first visited this locality and then thought to myself that this is a great migration watch-point, and indeed, up to the current time, the elevation has proven to be an excellent visible migration site.  Yes, coastal watchpoints produce greater numbers and variety of species, however, my site, and other inland sites are very much under-watched, and if one perseveres, vast numbers of common birds can be seen passing through, or stopping off whilst on migration.  This indeed has occured at my watch-point, along with rarities and semi-rarites passing over, or stopping to refuel.  I find this kind of birding more rewarding and exciting than visiting sites where birds are more expected.

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This morning started with a definite autumnal feel to it with low cloud and mist, and poor visibility, although it was quite humid.
My walk took in lanes and tracks lined with a wealth of fruit-bearing hedgerows, and although not ripened fully, some Elder fruits appeared black and ready to eat.
With post-breeding dispersal by Warblers species having taken place, and family parties moving from the breeding areas to forage, the presence of various Warbler species (including birds in 'out of habitat' locations), on the patch at this time of year indicates that most are true migrants.
Early August sees smaller numbers of passage Warblers moving through, however, as the month progresses, then migration begins to quicken and multiple numbers of the same species can be readily seen exhibiting more social behaviour than in Spring when territories are defended against rivals.

Blackcap (photographed August 2014)
To this mornings visit to Houghton and the first bird heard was a 'tacking' Blackcap, in fact Blackcaps appeared to be present in good numbers with several heard and seen in various habitats.
Chiffchaffs were also heard at various localities, but also a very bright yellow Willow Warbler was seen at one of my favourite sites, an overgrown, scrubby pit.  Here, a number of Dunnocks were seen and heard and Whitethroat was also seen.
It is here that I usually see good numbers of Lesser Whitethroats in late August and September.
A walk along a corridor formed by a magnificent double hedgerow produced more Whitethroats, although numbers appeared low at the moment.  Multiple numbers of Whitethroats are encountered here, especially in September when day counts have reached 20 to 30 birds, a memorable sight to witness. 

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The first signs of passerine migration.

Bodney, Norfolk (Watton Brook valley) 0800-0915
Now that we are in August, thoughts turn to passerine movements, although slow at the movement, as we move further into August and in to September, any habitat in any situation could hold migrants.
This morning I parked up at Little Cressingham and walked the B1108 road towards Bodney with the intention of searching overgrown ditches and area of rough grassland for passage Whinchats.  I did not locate Whinchat, however, I reached my intended destination near the Watton Brook to overview a small patch of rough grassland and scrub.
Upon arrival I heard the expected "tak" of the Blackcap, and indeed, a number were present either in Elder or feeding in a climber.  A Whitethroat appeared in the top of an Elder, then, shortly after this my eye caught movement of a small bird which appeared to have some reddish tone to it, a short search soon revealed a Redstart flying between cover and showing off its beautiful Orange-red tail.
A few Swallows were seen overhead and in nearby conifers, at least a pair of Goldcrests were foraging.

Threxton, Norfolk
Chiffchaff in Elder at Threxton 08/08/15

A check of the Watton Brook valley mid to late afternoon produced a single Little Egret at the waterside and later in the flood-plain.
A check of suitable habitat near the church produced several Chiffchaffs (adults and juveniles) moving through Elder and Hawthorn with good numbers of Long-tailed Tits.