Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Thompson Water, Norfolk

With my first tour date just 3 days away, I decided this morning to walk the route at Thompson Water that I intend to take my group along.  The woodlands in this area are quite extensive and it is my hope that my group will have the right light to appreciate the beautiful autumn colours in this area. 
An initial overview of Thompson Water produced my first of 2 calling Water Rails in reeds on the opposite side from where I was standing.  On the water quite a few Mallard were accompanied by lesser numbers of Gadwall.
Water Rail at Thompson Water (photographed Jan. 2015)
The walk along the western fringe of the water comprises a variety of habitats, if walking north, on your right is thick swampy carr, waterside scrub, and dense reedbeds, whilst on the left is mixed woodland, mostly deciduous, with Pingos with fluctuating water levels.  Many fine Oaks and wonderful Holly specimens are seen here.
Whilst walking along this path a Cetti's Warbler sang its explosive song, I was able to more or less pin-point where the bird was, I stood for some time with the bird singing around me, sometimes very close, however, such is the secretive life of this bird, could I see it, no I couldn't.  I couldn't even see any movement of reeds or twigs which would betray the birds presence...what a clever bird.
Thompson Water 31/10/15
Another enigmatic bird of dense reedbed habitat is the Water Rail.  My second bird of the day was in the same area as the aforementioned Cetti's Warbler, and was at times very close, I could hear some splashing but the bird did not show itself to me.
The photograph here shows the dense reed habitat along with Sallow scrub where both Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail were heard today.
Also along the woodland/water periphery was mobile Tit flocks comprising Long-tailed Tits, Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Goldcrest, and TreecreeperNuthatch was also seen.
Whilst in the woodland there was an explosion of Wood Pigeons flying from trees in a hurried and disorganised fashion, shortly after this Corvids gathered in the sky above the water, I suspected Goshawk, however, I was unable to see the cause of this behaviour.

Kimberley, Norfolk
A visit to a good friend in the grounds of Kimberley Hall brought an unexpected surprise.  Whilst in his garden, and in full sunlight, a large Bat species appeared above the woodland canopy.  I regret to say that my Bat identification skills are not as good as I would like.  The Bat would fly in a direct, leisurely flight but would suddenly make a dive for prey.  Flying away from me the Bat appeared to have an occasional 'clipped-like' wing-beat similar to a Turtle Dove, or somewhat similar to the clipped beats performed by a Common Sandpiper close to water.  Being large and over woodland within extensive parkland habitat, could this have been a Noctule Bat?

Monday, 26 October 2015

Surlingham Church Marsh, Rockland Broad, Strumpshaw Fen, Buckenham Marsh, and Halvergate Marsh, Norfolk (with Jim Bradley)

On the 3rd, 4th, and 5th November, I will be leading birding tours of both Breckland and Broadland.  In order to familiarise myself with Broadland reserves, my guide for today, and birding friend, Jim Bradley, took me on a pre-tour recce in order to show me routes and places to stop, and the birds we are likely to see and hear during my tours.  May I say at this stage of this account that Jim's guidance was extremely invaluable.  Jim's knowledge of the routes and the birds likely to be found in specific areas/habitats was second to none.  Thank you Jim.       

Surlingham Church Marsh
What a fantastic small Broadland reserve this is and a great location for those joining me on the tour here on 4th November.  A gentle stroll around this reserve doesn't take too long, however, the diverse bird-life here will hold any visitors attention.  The marsh lies immediately adjacent to the River Yare, consequently, following a high tide, the paths here came become very muddy...appropriate foot wear a must.
Jim initially took me along a path which descends into the marsh and the Riverside, the habitat here held calling Water Rails and singing Cetti's Warblers, whilst the path-side trees and bushes held Bullfinch, and winter Thrush species.  A flock of about 10 Redpoll was seen over the marsh.
A short stop in the hide which overlooks the marsh produced another calling Water Rail in thick reed-bed cover.  Teal, Mallard, and a Grey Heron seen on the lagoon, whilst on the river a Kingfisher was seen and calling.  Overhead, Jim pointed out a fine looking female Sparrowhawk circling briefly over the marsh.
Approaching the end of this visit to Surlingham, another Kingfisher sat silently in a a bush overhanging the water.
Just prior to leaving, Jim showed me the grave of that wonderful Norfolk Naturalist, Ted Ellis, and his wife at the beautiful ruin that is St Saviour's church.  Ted Ellis was a man I would have loved to have met, he was a gentle man, and gentleman.

Rockland Broad
Upon arrival  flock of about 10 Redwings dropped in, presumably to feed upon the wealth of Rowan berries there.
The walk along the path to Rockland Broad is quite long and relatively dry.  The path on one side is lined with Sallow and various tangled habitat, this habitat held singing Cetti's Warbler.  Eventually tha path leads to open extensive marshland on both sides of the River Yare, this area held a female juvenile Marsh Harrier. A small area of woodland held a mobile Tit flock which included Goldcrest.
A short visit to a hide overlooking Rockland Broad produced Great Crested Grebe, a large number of Greylag Geese on the water, also a single Tufted Duck was with them.  Distantly, a Kestrel was seen hunting, this was then mobbed by a second Kestrel.

Strumpshaw Fen
Jim and myself arrived at an already busy RSPB Strumpshaw Fen reserve car park.  This fabulous location is to be the second venue of my tour following Surlingham Church Marsh.
Grey Heron at Strumpshaw Fen 24/10/15
Our first stop was at the Reception hide,  a wonderful initial stop for overviewing a habitat of marsh and a lagoon, and giving a flavour of what could be an excellent visit to this special reserve.
On this visit, Grey Heron (pictured) was een fairly close to near reeds and nearby was a few Mallard.
We then walked on to Fen hide  from where we saw a very distant Great Grey Shrike sitting typically on the top of a bush.  This bird must have been at least a half-mile distant from the hide, however, the unmistakeable behaviour of sitting on a high vantage point was useful.  Even better still, the Shrike made a couple of flights from the bush climbing quite high to catch a passing insect or small bird which was then taken back to the perch.  During these flights, the highly distinctive blacks and whites of the bird, the behaviour seen, and the return to the same perch, all helped with its identification despite the distance involved here.
Having left the hide to head back to the car park, Jim spotted our first of two Weasels of the day.  Back at the visitor centre a feeder produced Marsh Tit, Great Tit, and Chaffinches.

Buckenham Marsh
Our nest visit was to the wonderful Buckenham Marsh.  This was my first visit to this location.  From the car park we walked the path to the River Yare with overviews of marsh on both sides of the path.  What was particularly memorable for me, and I remember commenting to Jim on this, is that the landscape and habitats seen here is exactly the same as Beccles Marshes where I spent many happy days back in the 1960's and 70's.
Walking along the path Jim pointed out a scrape to our right, here was very good numbers of Wigeon, some giving their beautiful "weeeoo" call.  Also here was Lapwings and a single Snipe, whilst on the marsh was Greylag Geese.  A massive Great Black-backed Gull gave good comparison against a nearby smaller Lesser Black-backed Gull, and an even much smaller Black-headed Gull.
Whilst walking towards the River Yare, Jim looked back to scan the distant areas of marsh and located a Peregrine sitting on the ground, it appeared to be sitting on a slightly raised mound.  Despite the distance, the Peregrine was highly distinctive as it sat motionless and upright, and revealing its Grey upperparts and white underparts.  Either the bird was resting following a feed, or it was waiting possibly for the Wigeon to be put up for the chase.
A small flock of Barnacle Geese sat together on the marsh whilst more Greylags were seen along with Mallards splashing about in the ditch nearby.
Chinese Water Deer at Buckenham Marsh 24/10/15
The walk back along the path saw our second Weasel of the day. This small mammal ran in and out of cover as it came towards us, and somehow sneaked past us came out out of the grass behind us.
As we neared the end of this visit I spotted a Chinese Water Deer close to us on the road.  This was my first sighting of this lovely Deer species.  Having read up on Chinese Water Deer I have come to learn just how vulnerable this species is on the world scale.  Norfolk holds 10% of the world population of Chinese Water Deer, clearly its escape from Woburn in the 1920's has given this endangered mammal a good chance of survival here in Norfolk.

Halvergate Marsh
This was our final stop of the day.  We had been lucky with the weather, however, rain set in whilst visiting Halvergate.
As soon as we got out of the car Jim straight away picked up some Redpolls (about 10), which had alighted on a fence close to us.  This was a good opportunity to see and appreciate the lovely red/black forecrown and black chins of these birds, especially given that these Finches are almost always in fight...a good find by Jim.
With light fading and rain setting in most birds seen were Crow species. 
Despite the rain, I love to experience the various moods of weather and to witness the changing lights and overall feel of the places I visit.  It may feel too bleak for some, but both Jim and myself commented that we love bleak.

Birds seen/heard 24/10/15
Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Barnacle Goose, Shelduck (1), Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck (1), Pheasant, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 1 Peregrine (Buckenham Marsh), Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Song Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Tit, Treecreeper, Great Grey Shrike (Strumpshaw Fen), Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Redpoll, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting.

My Thanks
I will end this account by thanking my birding friend Jim Bradley for being my expert guide to his patch.  Primarily, the reason for this day out with Jim was for me to get the feel of the various sites we visited today in readiness for the tours I will be conducting in early November.  I was not too familiar with these reserves prior to our visit, however, I finished the day in the knowledge that I now know my routes to take, places of interest to stop at, and which birds occur where, and all of these factors are all down to Jim's superb guidance.  Than you Jim.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

This morning we had first real frost of autumn, it was a light frost with the car windscreen slightly iced. 
I arrived at Hockham Forest long before sunrise and with the woodland in almost complete darkness.
Hockham Fen 23/10/15
The walk along the forest rides, despite being in darkness produced calling Redwings and Song Thrushes and Goldcrests were stirring.  A male Tawny Owl was calling.
Bu the time I got to Hockham Fen it was starting to get light so I sat down overlooking Reedbeds, weedy ditches, grassland, Sallow/Alder Carr and mixed woodland habitats.
2 Red Deer crossed the fen at dawn and despite being quite concealed these beautiful animals knew that something was not right, they frequently stopped and nervously looked my way before continuing through the reeds,
Siskins were one of the first species to be heard and seen overhead, these were followed by singleton Fieldfare and Redwings passing over.  One Buzzard flew over the fen.
2 Mute Swans arrived from the west at separate times and Teal were "kleeping" within the swampy fen.  Later in the winter months, very large numbers of Teal will occur on the fen.
The only other raptor seen today was a hunting Kestrel. Bramblings, mostly small numbers, passed over the fen and a single calling Redpoll passed overhead.
My walk back along the forest rides produced typical mixed woodland species including Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrests, Treecreepers, Nuthatch, and Tit species.
As I was nearing the end of my walk a good count of 8 Bullfinches passed through the canopy of pine woodland.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Great Cressingham, Norfolk

Peddars Way LDP (North of Watton Road) and Watton Road
At the time of writing there are several Great Grey Shrikes in Norfolk and given the wide open vast rolling countryside in this part of Breckland then surely I must have a Shrike present somewhere.  This afternoon I walked habitat which could easily support Great Grey Shrike, and indeed, this will my focus in the coming weeks on the patch, to search for this stunning bird.
This afternoon I walked some roadside hedgerows which edge the fields and located a couple of Goldcrests and Robins.  Overhead, a small number of Golden Plover were seen, a count later when the birds were settled on a very large field of winter wheat produced at least 120 birds.
Looking distant west towards the village of Great Cressingham I could see a single Red Kite quite low and lots of Corvids.  A large field of stubble produced at least 40 Skylarks whilst beyond the field where the land descends towards Watton Brook, a large flock of Corvids were put up.
Walking back north along the Peddars Way towards the car, a single pale looking Buzzard was standing proud and alert on a dead branch with a wooded hedgerow.  A single Meadow Pipit passed over as did a small flock of 6 Redwings.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Starling Spectacular

On Tuesday 20th October I joined my very good friend Richard Farrow for a days birding on the North Norfolk Coast at Burnham Overy Dunes.  I arrived to meet Richard at our start point on the A149 coast road.
Arguably, October is the best month of the year for birding if your specialist passion is migration, and we were straight away reminded of this natural phenomena when many hundreds of Pink-footed Geese appeared over the Dunes and marsh to make their way inland to feed for the day.
It was clearly evident that a fall of Robins and Goldcrests had occurred, and this became even more apparent as the day wore on, especially with Goldcrests, which numbered in their hundreds.

From first light flocks of Starlings appeared in the east and passed over in a westerly heading, this passage became more frequent and heavier as the morning went on.  Varying sizes of flocks were seen with the largest numbering many hundreds and once one flock passed over, another soon appeared, and so this continued all morning with numbers and flocks petering out by the afternoon.
During their passage the largest flocks of Starlings moved on in very wide waves with several hundred meters from one end of the flock to the other.  It is fair to conclude that the numbers of Starlings involved in this passage numbered many thousands of birds.
These flocks of Starlings were often accompanied by other species, mostly Finches, most appeared to be a mixture of Chaffinches and Bramblings, but also Greenfinches and smaller numbers of Siskins and Redpolls, however, late morning one flock of Starlings comprised Finches which included at least 4 Crossbills whose distinctive flight call was clearly heard.

Literature indicates that Starlings move at varying times according to where they depart from.  Mid October in undoubtedly the peak for migration with the birds seen today originating from Finland, Russia, Poland, and the low countries.  The aim of these Starlings is to abandon the much colder winters in Northern Europe ad to seek warmth and feeding in Britain where they will join British birds and form very large flocks.  The vast murmurations and the spectacular pre-roost displays for which Starlings are famous for will undoubtedly be a mixture of both British and Continental birds.
Return migration to Northern Europe by continental Starlings starts in March of each year.
This particular visit to the North Norfolk Coast saw many migratory species to keep one entertained, but just as exciting was watching this wonderful spectacle of Starling migration.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Burnham Overy Dunes, North Norfolk (with Richard Farrow)

At 0700 I met my very good friend Richard Farrow on the small car park just off the A 149 coast Road west of the Holkham Estate on the North Norfolk Coast. Following an early coffee and chat, Richard and myself then walked north along the path which leads to Burnham Overy Dunes.  We were initially greeted by many hundreds of Pink-footed Geese making their way inland to feed.
As light improved it was clear that lots of Robins were present in the hedgerows, an indication of overnight arrivals.  Further along the path, a relation of Robin, a male Stonechat, was seen in a Hawthorn.   A singing Cetti's Warbler gave its explosive song.
From first light, Starlings were on a westerly passage, some flocks numbering several hundred, however, by the end of the day, several thousand Starlings were involved in this spectacular passage.
Burnham Overy Dunes, North Norfolk, 20/10/15
At sunrise, Richard and myself reached the end of the path where it meets the beginning of the massive dunes system.  At this point, the first area of patchy scrub was to prove very interesting.  Initially, Linnets and Reed Buntings were present in the Bramble/Hawthorn scrub along with recently arrived Redwings and Song Thrushes.  Things got even better when a good number of 30+ Goldcrests arrived and immediately started to forage in the scrub as well as weedy growth between the path and the tidal creek.  This was the start of what was to be an excellent day for Goldcrests with birds being seen in very good numbers wherever habitat occured within the dunes.

Goldcrest in Sycamore at Holkham 20/10/15 (Possibly a migrant from Russia)
A check of the nearby creek produced Redshanks and a single feeding Grey Plover.  A small gathering of Godwits were seen as well as a few Dunlin.
Following this productive start in the dunes we then walked east, heading towards the Pines at Holkham Wood.  Productivity continued with further Goldcrests being encountered wherever scrub habitat occured, whilst overhead, continuing waves of Starlings continued their westerly passage.  These Starlings were often accompanied by Bramblings, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Siskins, Redpoll, and on one occasion 4 Crossbills, all of which were heading west.
An overview of Holkham Marshes produced a single Great White Egret flying east, this stately bird was later relocated within the marsh, and appearing very Heron like compared to the more hunched up Little Egret, of which several were seen.  Also on the marsh was Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk and at least 3 Kestrels.
A check of a deep scrub-filled depression in the dunes produced a number of Redwings, Song Thrushes, and RobinsGoldcrests continued to dominate, also a smart looking female Blackcap was seen in thick scrub on the side of the depression.

Redwing at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/10/15
As we entered Holkham Pines we first checked an area of Sycamores, here once again, Goldcrests were very numerous. Our aim was then to walk the full length of Holkham Pines to as far as Lady Anne's Drive.  On route, Goldcrests presented as being very abundant, but also a couple of Chiffchaffs, Coal Tits, and Long-tailed Tits were seen.
Having almost reached the eastern end of Holkham Pines, we stopped for coffee and a sandwich when Richard took an excellent shot of an overhead Buzzard.
A brief stop at the northern end of Lady Anne's Drive and then Richard and myself started the long walk back through the pines and dunes.There were quiet times on the walk back, however, Goldcrests always emerged to remind us of their presence and overhead Starling passage continued.
Winter Thrushes continued to be seen in scrub within the dunes and Goldcrests were moving between trees, sometimes in a continuous stream.

Robin at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/10/15. Good numbers indicated a 'fall'
A particular thick scrubby area within the dunes was to be a stopping point for us, given that in previous years we have seen Garden and Barred Warbler there.  After a short while a very elusive Redstart made the briefest of appearances as it darted between cover. It was whilst searching for the Redstart that a Tree Pipit was heard passing overhead.  Another Stonechat was seen on the marsh, albeit rather distantly.
The walk back north along the path saw an arrival of Golden Plover, whilst the single Grey Plover was seen almost in the same spot where seen some hours earlier.
Walking between the hedgerows leading up to the coast road produced Robins, Dunnock, and another Goldcrest.
Back at our cars Richard and I reflected upon what was an excellent day for migrant activity.  Earlier, whilst in the Holkham Pines we met another birder who stated there was nothing exciting to see.  This annoyed me somewhat given the sheer numbers of birds present.

Sheringham, NorfolkHaving had our productive day at Burnham Overy Dunes, I then followed Richard back to his home town of Sheringham in the hope if seeing an Isabelline Shrike which was on common land. Unfortunately, this rarity, a bird I have yet to see, had moved on. A very special thanks to my very good friend Richard Farrow for making this a superb visit to the North Norfolk coast.

Birds seen/heard at Burnham Overy Dunes 20/10/15
Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Grey Partridge, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Great White Egret (1), Marsh Harrier (1 female), Buzzard, Sparrowhawk (1), Kestrel (3+), Grey Plover (1), Golden Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit (one, possibly 2 overhead on passage), Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail (1), Dunnock, Robin, Redstart (1), Stonechat (3), Song Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, Blackcap (1 female), Cetti's Warbler (3+), Chiffchaff (3), Goldcrests (hundreds), Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Tit, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Starling (thousands on westerly passage), Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Brambling (westerly passage), Linnet, Redpoll, Siskin, Crossbill (4 westerly passage). 60 Species. 


Monday, 19 October 2015

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

I paid a fairly short visit this morning to Hockham as I needed to get back home for other commitments.  The fen appeared quiet at this time, however, I noticed a good passage of Redwings and Fieldfares overhead.  Flocks varied in size, the best counts being 100+ Redwings and 50+ Fieldfares, all were moving in a south-west to south heading.
Water Rail (photographed at nearby Thompson Water Jan. 2015)
Within the damp, dense habitat at Hockham Fen a Water Rail called on occasions.  The distinctive pig-like squeal was heard as was on one occasion the persistent "kip-kip-kip-kip-kip" song.
Water Rails have perfectly evolved to be suited to life within dense habitats such as reeds, their appearance head-on giving them a rather narrow carriage which allows them to weave in and out of reeds without giving their presence away.
The secretive nature of the Water Rail is such that it can be a challenge to see the bird.

A few Siskins were initially heard, then seen, in peripheral woodland, their distinctive "tsu" call gives their presence away.
The only raptor species seen this morning was a single Buzzard overflying the fen at dawn.
As is typical with pine forest at this time of year, mobile flocks of Long-tailed Tits was the most obvious feature of this woodland habitat.  Such flocks should be scrutinised for Tits, Goldcrests, and Firecrest, the latter which I have seen in this area, but also Warblers, and not only Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps.  Frustratingly on a recent previous visit to Hockham, I am sure I could hear Yellow-browed Warbler, sadly, I could not locate visually.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

A much less windier day than yesterday with calm conditions at dawn.  These calm conditions allowed mist to form in some areas.  The day was once again largely grey with full cloud cover.  By the afternoon the Northerly wind had increased to moderate in strength.

Little Cressingham ('The Arms' to The Fairstead)
This was to prove to be an interesting morning with plenty of evidence of winter bird arrivals, both Thrushes and Finches, and evidence also of passage Thrushes.

Fieldfare at Little Cressingham 18/10/15
25 Lesser Black-backed Gulls flying south-east.
Pied Wagtails
Skylark (largest flock of 30+ birds)
Fieldfare - overnight arrivals and evidence of passage seen
Redwing - both passage birds and arrivals seen
Song Thrush - several continental birds seen
Blackbirds - several arrivals seen with some feeding up on fruits
Starlings (including a single flock of 70+ birds)
3+ Goldcrests
Marsh Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
20+ Bramblings
Redpolls (largest flock of c.10 birds)

Little Cressingham (Roadside hedgerows and woodland north of The Arms
Having walked up to The Fairstead, I decided to stop and check the wooded pit and roadside hedgerows north of The Arms.  It was clear that several wintering/passage species were present.  In brief, birds were coming and going for the hour or so I was present for.
Brambling at Little Cressingham
I always pay attention to the small woodland at this locality, several mature tree species form an open canopy, Scots Pines, Oak, Ash all noted with an overgrown understorey of Hawthorn, Dog Rose, Blackthorn, and Ivy.
Good numbers of both Fieldfare and Redwings were seen with smaller numbers of migratory Blackbirds and Song Thrushes.  In addition to these birds, wintering Bramblings (20+) and Redpolls (largest flock of c.10) were also seen in the mix  Resident species included Marsh Tit, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Bullfinch.
The hedges closer to 'The Arms' held more Bramblings, singleton and small flocks of Redpolls were constantly on the move and identfiable by their distinct flight calls.  Bramblings often gave their nasal-like "zweeeup" and Redpolls called their "chet chet chet" calls.

Watton (late morning)
I arrived back in Watton at about 1130, my first stop was to put some petrol in the car.  Whilst at the garage a high flock of 300+ Fieldfares were heading south-east.
Approaching midday, and a small flock of Fieldfares passed over the garden.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

North Pickenham (Houghton), Norfolk

I arrived at Houghton-on-the-Hill in the early morning darkness.  I took a circular walk from St Mary's Church taking in the access track, the road to Holme Hale, and the track leading back to Houghton Common.
Full cloud cover at dawn remained virtually all day long, occasional light drizzle, and a fresh north wind.

1 Buzzard
5+ Tawny Owls (calling males)
200+ Fieldfares
Song Thrushes
15+ Goldcrests

The first bird of this early hour was calling male Tawny Owl, and by the time I had reached the end of the track, a total of 5 Tawny Owls called around me, a wonderful serenade in the darkness.
The first migrant Thrush species was calling Song Thrush passing overhead in the darkness.  Both Song Thrushes and Redwings were in the well-wooded hedgerows leading to Houghton Common.  On Houghton Common and with slightly improving light, I could see that there was an arrival of Song Thrushes in the hedgerows east of the church.  Several of these Thrushes were disturbed as I walked between the hedgerows, I was unsure of a true count, but it must have been 10+ birds.
After a brief visit to the churchyard, I decided to walk back along the hedgerow corridor east of the church.  Singleton Redwings and Song Thrushes were seen, but also, visible migration seen with 200+ Fieldfares passing in a south-south east heading.
A check of the woodland close to the church revealed Tits and Goldcrests (15+ in total today), also, small parties of Redwings passed over.

Watton (from garden)
Shortly following my arrival home from Houghton, small numbers of Thrushes continued to pass over, this included at least 2 Fieldfares over south and giving their somewhat harsh "shack shack" call.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Thrush passage

Well, after 5 weeks of almost solid work I have today started a holiday from work, and as predicted in my previous post, the weather conditions for tonight and into tomorrow morning are looking good for Thrush passage.  Thrush migration is one of most eagerly awaited for birding events, I always marvel at the sometimes massive passage of Thrushes over my patch.  Birds can be seen low, high, or even falling into hedges at dawn to feed up and rest.  As a little taster, today brought a few sightings of Thrush species over my home town of Watton in Norfolk.
This morning at about 0945, a flock of some 70+ Redwings passed low over the town.
At dusk from my garden (1750-1810) I was hoping for some visible migration before it was too dark, this proved productive with a number of small flocks of Redwings (largest about 20 birds), Song Thrush, and a few Blackbirds, the largest group was of 5 birds with others mixed in with smaller winter Thrushes.  It was interesting to see that all of these birds were quite low, some were clearly rising from nearby hedges where they would have fed and rested during the day before continuing during the hours of darkness to their journeys to their wintering grounds either in the UK, possibly the warmer south-west, or to the Iberian Peninsula.                                                                                 


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Predictions for Friday 16th October into Saturday 17th October 2015

The coming weekend will be my first weekend off from work in a month, this being due to working my own weekends and helping a friend out by doing his weekend.  I feel that my workload has been such that I have probably missed a lot of good birds on the patch during the latter part of September and early October.
Pressure map for Saturday 17th October 2015
The next few days will see north-easterly winds hitting Norfolk and on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th October the North-Easterly wind will be coming direct from Scandinavia.  Friday night into Saturday (my first Saturday off in five weeks) will hopefully see some spectacular movements of Thrushes into the UK.  Redwing and Song Thrush flocks could hold high numbers of birds.  The larger Fieldfare will also be passing over in high numbers.
Thrush passage is one of my most eagerly awaited for bird spectacles, both the visually and audible.  During the hours of darkness listen for the piercing "seeeep" call of Redwings and the "tic" call of Song Thrushes as they pass over.  
Blackbirds will also be seen passing over, often in high numbers also.  I remember a few years ago I was walking from Saham Toney to Great Cressingham when at first light, hundreds of Blackbirds descended into the hedgerows and trees following their overnight passage.

Barnham Broom and Great Hockham, Norfolk

Barnham Broom
Whilst at work in the Barham Broom area this morning I noticed small numbers of Redwings over the village, almost certainly arrivals from the previous night.  Following on from these newly arrived winter migrants, a small flock of 5+ House Martins were seen at about 0950 flying in an easterly direction with purpose.

Great Hockham
A fairly grey afternoon with occasional very light drizzle and a north-easterly wind.
Walking along the forest rides there was plenty of signs of autumn with trees dropping their leaves and some fantastic autumn colours starting to appear.
Plenty of evidence of mobile flocks in the mostly pine woodland with Long-tailed Tits being joined by Marsh, Coal, Great, and Blue Tits.  Also wandering with these was Goldcrest and Treecreepers. Nuthatch was heard.
Further evidence of newly arrived Thrushes was seen at Hockham Fen when a flock of c.100 Redwings passed overhead in a westerly heading.
Small numbers of Siskins were heard passing over the mixed woodland habitat. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Another pleasant October day with bright sunny conditions and an easterly wind which had a slight chill to it.
I had a mid-afternoon walk from 'The Arms' to Watton Brook and back.  Common species seen and heard along the route, also an interesting single Corvid species movement.

4 Buzzards
3 Kestrel
Jackdaws (large mobile flock)
Carrion Crow ( amongst sheep)
20+ Skylarks together
2 Marsh Tit
Long-tailed Tit

A noisy Marsh Tit greeted me on my arrival near 'The Arms' whilst further along the road towards the valley, Goldcrest was heard in the hedge.  At least 20 Skylarks flew left to right over the road. It will be interesting to see what numbers of Skylarks build to during the coming months, many of which could have continental origins.
At the valley I sat for a while and saw 3 Buzzards soaring above me, one was particularly high with a Kestrel mobbing it.  A further two juvenile Kestrels were seen at low level over fields.

Single Crow species movement.
Whilst at Watton Brook I saw a single Crow species very high and heading in a direct east-south-east heading, I watched this bird as it continued its journey until almost lost to sight.  With Rooks being very gregarious, and Carrion Crows being a sedentary species, discussion on this observation would be welcomed.  Could this have been a local movement of a number of miles, or could this have been a juvenile bird wandering to a coastal locality along the English eastern seaboard for the winter?

Golden Plovers at Morley St. Botolph, Norfolk 11 October '15

A short break from work at 1000 and I decided to check on the numbers of Golden Plover at Morley.  I stopped along Buck's Lane and it was clear that numbers have grown since my previous visit with 500+ birds seen there.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Barnham Broom, Norfolk

A work break to the churchyard in Barnham Broom was quite productive for common species, however, given the habitat here I am just waiting for that Firecrest to turn up.  This is a beautiful, well wooded churchyard with the typical Yews of some age present along with a few very tall, mature Scots Pines, as well as another fine, tall Pine, a species whose identification is unknown to me.
Species seen/heard on this visit:

Jackdaw (around tower)
Wood Pigeon
4+ Blackbirds
2 Song Thrushes
3 Robins (all singing)
1 Chiffchaff (passing through)

It will be interesting to get others views on the numbers of Hornets. Here at Barnham Broom, as with many other localities visited, there seems to be more of these large insects about this year.

Churchyards are wonderful places to visit for birding, and for general unwinding.  Such localities are wonderful nature reserves and provide a haven for birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles.  Despite vast areas of monoculture, churchyards provide an oasis of habitat variety which will offer a haven for wildlife for eternity. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Carrion Crow feeding behaviour at Wymondham, Norfolk 4 October 2015

During an evening break from work in Wymondham, I parked in an empty car park for a coffee.  After a short while I could hear a crack sound, this was repeated on two or three occasion.  I investigated the source of this sound and saw a Carrion Crow on the ground pecking at a small object.  The Crow then took the object between its mandibles and flew up to about twenty feet or so and dropped what was undoubtedly a nut.  A second Carrion Crow flew into the car park carrying a nut in its bill, it landed on the ground but soon flew up to a height of about fifteen to twenty feet and dropped the nut onto the hard ground below in order to try and crack the nut.  The Crow flew down to the nut, it was at this time that I noticed the other Carrion Crow had been succesful in opeing the nut and was feeding.  Very intelligent birds.

Little Cressingham

The weather today is now more October-like, grey skies, occcasional showers, and low light which seems to enhance the beauty of the multi-coloured colours of the autumn trees.
This afternoon I walked from 'The Arms' north along the Great Cressingham Road to 'The Fairstead' and back to 'The Arms'.
The highlights of this walk was 3 Chiffchaffs (at different localities) in the roadside hedgerows, and a single Blackcap.  A Kestrel was seen.  Several Goldfinches and Yellowhammers were noted along the route.

Hethel Old Thorn, Norfolk 3 October 2015

Today was another long day at work, however, I had a good afternoon break and decided to visit Hethel, in particular, the churchyard and nearby 'Old Thorn'
The churchyard at Hethel is quite small but very pretty with well-wooded area both around this location and in the immediate surrounds.
A check of the churchyard produced a couple of Chiffchaffs, a singing Goldcrest, 1 Song Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock, and the ever-present Robin.  Also seen today, as with other recent locations, was good numbers of Hornets.
Hethel Old Thorn 03/10/15
Hethel Old Thorn
This beautiful Hawthorn is at 0.025 hectares, Britains smallest nature reserve.  It was given to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust in 1960 by by the late Mr F.W. Myhill.
Hethel Old Thorn is aged between 700 and 1000 years old, it was said to be the meeting place for peasants during the revolt against King John some 700 years ago., therefore, it must have been a substantial Hawthorn at that time.
In 1841 the Hawthorn was measured, its trunk had a circumference of 12 feet 1 inch and the crown spread was 31 yards (90+ feet).  Since that time the Hawthorn has split in two, however, it remains very much alive and is full of fruit as seen in my picture.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Morley St Botolph and Deopham, Norfolk

Morley St Botolph and Deopham
The main feature of the landscape in the Morley and Deopham areas is the vast open, rolling farmland, and long lanes bordered by hedgerows.  Some of these lanes are very narrow and winding, and unsuited to many modern day vehicles, but clearly life-lines in days gone by between the various small villages in the area.
This morning I parked at the church at Morley and walked west along Swingy Lane and returned via the Deopham to Wymondham road, probably some 3 miles distance.

4 Swallows
2+ House Martins
2 Chiffchaff
17+ Skylarks
60+ Greenfinches

The walk along Swingy Lane at dawn produced the first Chiffchaff of the walk, a singing bird in a wooded hedge.  The only other bird seen along the lane was a Wren flying through thick foilage in a ditch.
The walk back along the Deopham to Wymondam road saw lots of 'loafing' Gulls, mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the large fields.  Close to the junction with Morleyfield Lane a small flock of 17+ Skylarks were above me, whilst in a roadside Hawthorn my second Chiffchaff of the walk was heard.
Along Mill Lane, Morley, a very nice flock of 60+ Greenfinches were attracted to a patch of tall weed seeds where they fed.  This was a pleasing sight to see this many Greenfinches, a mass of Yellow tail and wing flashes seen when in flight.
Within the village of Morley St Botolph 4 Swallows were seen on wires and a pair of House Martins were visiting a nest-site, a late brood perhaps. 

29th and 30th September (Round up)

Both the 29th and 30th September were long work days for me, therefore, the following is a brief account of highlights and locations visited on these dates.
The weather remained settled and warm on both dates and the wind was a fresh, occasionally strong easterly.

29 September
The undoubted highlight on this day was a single Redwing heard calling in a clients garden in Deopham, it was then seen flying away to the west.
During a short break later in the morning I visited the church at Brandon Parva and walked the footpath which leads away to the north-west.  The walk along the footpath was quiet but back at the church a walk around the well-wooded yard produced Goldcrest, Song Thrush (1), Mistle Thrush, Robin, Nuthatch (2), and a Kestrel.
A late afternoon visit in Wymondham produced a single Chiffchaff.

30th September
Prior to leaving for work I had a walk around the garden and heard a calling Chiffchaff in an adjoining garden.
During my afternoon break I decided to visit Brandon Parva again, on this occasion I walked the footpaths north-west of the church to Upper Brandon Parva.  Once again it was warm, however, the wind was the most noticeable feature, blowing strong enough to remove the outer twigs of trees. 
Wood Pigeons were the commonest bird seen.  3 Buzzards were seen.  The only passage noted was overhead and unseen calling Siskins.  One male Blackbird was seen and a single Song Thrush was heard in a field boundary hedgerow, this bird was within Blackthorn, a migrant perhaps feeding upon Sloes?
Walking back towards the church at Brandon Parva a calling Chiffchaff was heard in a hedge.