Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 9 November 2015

A tour of Breckland and Broadland 3rd to 5th November 2015

Earlier in 2015 I was contacted by the manager of Barnham Broom Holiday Property Bond, Norfolk, (Shirley Carr), who following the finding of my blog, asked if I would be interested in leading birding tours for 10 holiday making guests in November 2015.  I love to share my birding passion with others and of course I agreed to this, I actually felt honoured to be asked to undertake this task.
I did some research into offering the guests a feel of both Breckland and Broadland habitats, each of which I hoped would provide an insight into the variety of birds which live in these unique areas of Norfolk.
The plan for each day was to meet at Barnham Broom for a 0930 departure, breaking for lunch, and returning 1600 hours.
The tour itinerary was a follows:

Tuesday 3rd November: Thompson Water/Thompson Common
Wednesday 4th November: Surlingham Church Marsh/Strumpshaw Fen
Thursday 5th November: East Wretham Heath/Lynford Arboretum

Day One. 3rd November
Thompson Water/Thompson Common
Of the 3 days, today had the best light with warm sunshine.
We arrived near Thompson Water at the a metaled road/Peddars Way junction, this was a good opportunity to provide information on the Peddars Way, its route and length.  The Long distance Path here forms the boundary to STANTA (Stanford Training Area), a large military training area which we were often reminded of by the heavy machine gun fire and helicopters.
Upon entering Thompson Water we were greeted by some fantastic autumn colours, and it was within some colourful Silver Birch leaves that a calling Chiffchaff passed through.  A good start to the day given that the vast majority of summer visitors would have long departed out shores.  Clearly, the very mild weather has delayed this particular individuals need to migrate.
An overview of the water from the raised bank produced Mute Swan, a few Gadwall, Mallard, and within the Soldier weed several Teal were seen, their true numbers of about 50+ being seen when all took to flight, twisting and turning in a tight flock.
Emperor Dragonfly at Thompson Water 03/11/15
Lots of Crow species were seen in the trees around the water, they always seemed relaxed, thus indicating there was no threat from Goshawk during our visit. A single Tawny Owl (female) called from within woodland.
Two Wagtail species seen/heard on this visit, Pied Wagtail, and a single Grey Wagtail was heard.
A walk through woodland alongside the water produced Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Blue and Great Tit.  A mobile flock in Silver Birch habitat comprised Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, and a few Nuthatches.  At least 3 Treecreepers were seen/heard.
Back at the raised bank overlooking the water, it had become very pleasantly warm, this weather encouraged an Emperor and Common Darter Dragonflies to fly.

LUNCH was taken at College Farm, Thompson. We were initially greeted by four of the cutest, friendliest Goats you could ever want to meet, they were simply adorable.  We met our host, Kathryn Wolstenholme who was in the process of preparing lunch, seeing that we were really taken by the goats she directed us to a paddock where we met a number of Llama's and Alpaca's, one of which was only a matter of weeks old.
Lunch itself was superb with all choices very much appreciated, and with more if we wanted it.
Kathryn's home was built in 1349, I and all the other members of the group were fascinated by the building, so much so that we were treated to a history lesson from Kathryn...all were captivated.

Thompson Common was a final stop of the day.  I tried my best to explain how the Pingo's on the common were formed at least 10,000 years ago.  These features are at there greatest density here than any other location in the country.
I expected to see Bullfinches on the common and indeed some birds did appear, offering nice views when perched on top of Hawthorn.  Common Tit species were seen and a few Redwings passed over.

Day Two. 4th November
Surlingham Church Marsh/Strumpshaw Fen
A contrast in the weather seen today with rain at dawn giving way to murky conditions with occasional drizzle.  The afternoon at Strumpshaw saw increasing low cloud and murkiness, despite this, it was lovely and atmospheric.
Surlingham Church Marsh (RSPB)
The morning at Surlingham Church Marsh presented some of the group with new species for them.  Our route took us down the narrow trail through damp Sallow habitat down to the River Yare, the going was very muddy indeed.
The church itself had a few Redwings in the churchyard, and indeed further Redwings were seen along the path which descends to the River.
The walk along the Riverside produced Tit flocks moving through Sallow habitat, this included the noisy Marsh Tit, a new bird for some members of my group.  An adult Grey Heron alighted on the far bank of the river and appeared at times to walk with us.  Further along the river we heard our first Cetti's Warbler singing its explosive song in habitat over the river, again, a new species for some of the group.  A check of a distant hedge-line over the river produced a Stonechat, a very distant bird but a good bird for the day anyway.
We the all stopped by the river to watch a distant Kingfisher perched within an overhang, we all had a little laugh when this turned out to be a piece of blue plastic caught up in the branches, despite the funny side (which happens to us all in birding), the finder must be commended for his/her (Suzie, I think), excellent observational skills as this was initially seen as a distant feature.
We then stopped for about a 15 minute overview of Surlingham Marsh from the hide.  Small numbers of Teal and Gadwall were seen along with the ever-present Mallard, I also heard a Wigeon calling but this remained unseen.  More Cetti's Warblers were singing, bringing the total to at least 5 birds.  Water Rail was heard, and as is so typical of this highly secretive bird, it remained unseen.  The pig-like squealing call was new to some of my group, a call which shouldn't be forgotten if heard again.  Just as we departed the hide, a small flock of Whooper Swans (about 10 birds) passed overhead.  On the river a single Little Grebe was seen. Walking along the path a check of more Sallow/Willow habitat produced Redwings, Blackbird, and 3 Reed Buntings, again, a new bird for some.
Time was moving on and we had to make for our bus. On the walk back a flock of Long-tailed Tits were joined by Goldcrests, also, a nice flock of 50+ Siskins were seen close to Alders, a favoured tree for the species from which they extract seeds from the cones.
Finally, a very pleasant surprise for just a few member of my group was an Otter which crossed the path in front of us.  

LUNCH was taken at 'The Huntsman' pub in Strumpshaw village.  the food was of a high quality and was served very quickly...very enjoyable.

Strumpshaw Fen (RSPB)
Following our lunch we duly made for Strumpshaw Fen.  Light was poor as was visibility, and it was to get steadily worse as the afternoon wore on.
We first of all stopped at reception to check in, and also to view the marsh and lagoon from the wonderful 'Reception Hide'.
Species to be seen from 'Reception Hide' included Teal, Gadwall, and Mallard, also a pair of Wigeon were seen, the beautiful "weeeeeoo" call was heard.  Also seen from the hide was a female Marsh Harrier over the reeds, a species new to some of my group.
From Reception Hide we walked through woodland to meet up with a path which passes through reedbed and marsh habitat.  In the woodland a couple of Goldcrest were seen with Tit species, including Marsh Tit. Walking the path alongside reed-beds produced a Blackbird and Long-tailed Tits, also a good flock of 20+ Siskins were silently feeding in ditch-side Alders.
Marsh Harrier
Some time was then spent in Fen Hide, a welcome break from the dismal conditions outside.  From here, Marsh Harriers were seen frequently hunting low over reed-beds, however, perching birds offered more prolonged views.  One such view saw a bird with a Green wing-tag, research at home revealed this to be a female Marsh Harrier born this year at nearby Cantley.
A number of Cetti's Warblers were calling from within cover, despite not being seen, the highly distinctive, explosive song was new to some of my group.  Another elusive bird, the Water Rail was calling from within dense reed cover.
A fine looking Chinese Water Deer wandered into view, although a little distant, it showed itself for some minutes to offer good views.
With poor light being a factor on this afternoons visit it was evident that darkness would set in early, and with light fading fast we walked back along the trail to the reception area.  A check of the marsh to our right revealed a further three Chinese Water Deer, although these were more distant than the earlier animal and were often concealed by marsh vegetation.
A last look through Reception hide at sunset, Duck species, mostly Teal were flying unto open water to roost.  Marsh Harriers additional to the birds seen at Strumpshaw were starting to fly into roost, this included a couple of male birds flying in together.  Although no great numbers of Marsh Harriers seen I was reliably informed that as winter progresses, higher number will be seen flying into roost.  Watching birds flying into roost rounded the day off nicely.

Day 3. 5th November
East Wretham Heath/Lynford Arboretum
East Wretham Heath
East Wretham Heath is a reserve comprising Heath-land, mature Scots Pine woodland, mixed woodland including Birch, some very fine Hornbeams, Hawthorn scrub, and two meres.  The large Scots Pine woodland is this year 200 years of age, it is know as Waterloo Plantation, it was planted to celebrate Wellington's victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
From the car park we made our way over the heath which is kept very close cropped by Rabbits, an important animal in the management of heathland.  Also seen on the heath was many grassy mounds, these were formed by the Yellow Meadow Ant.  Clearly, seeing these fantastic constructions in an indicator that the reserve has not been disturbed by human activity for a very long time.
A few Redwings seen overflying as was a single Meadow Pipit whilst on the ground the usual very high numbers of Corvid species were present.
We then decided to spend some time in the hide which overlooks Langmere, however, as is often the case due to fluctuating undergound aquifers, the mere was dry. Despite the lack of water, views over Langmere towards the wooded areas can produce birds, on this occasion a single Green Woodpecker clung to a large Pine trunk and offering good views.
A walk through Waterloo Plantation produced a number of Goldcrests, however, it was evident that ahead of us a number of small Finch species were seen.  Having arrived at the given location, the Larling Drove (Hereward Way), a small flock of Redpolls were seen in the Silver Birch.
Moving away from Larling Drove I wanted to take my group to Ringmere, a perfectly natural, circular mere. On route we heard Bullfinch in thick Hawthorn, along with a Long-tailed Tit flock with at least Marsh Tit present.  At Ringmere a few Teal, Mallard, and Gadwall were seen.

LUNCH was taken at 'The Eagle' at Great Hockham.  The food was of an excellent quality, very quickly served, and with everybody enjoying their choices.

Lynford Arboretum
This Arboretum comprises many native and non-native Tree species and even though light was poor with drizzle and light rain, the autumn colours were still spectacular.
Lynford Arboretum is famed for its Hawfinches and Crossbills, unfortunately, none of these stunning species was seen today.
Our intention for this afternoons visit was to in fact search for todays highly elusive Hawfinches at a reliable location, but did not show.  A small flock of about 20 Siskins were feeding quietly in the tops of tall conifer species and the ever present Goldcrests called.
At the paddock a Kestrel attracted the attention of Redwing and Meadow Pipit.
On the lake a single Little Grebe was seen quite closely and often called its 'whinnying' like call.

MY THANKS go out to my group of 10 lovely people.  We had a lovely time not only birding but also being treated to some lovely lunches, especially at College Farm, Thompson, where our host Kathryn provided us with a fabulous history lesson on her wonderful home.
I also thank the Holiday Property Bond Manager, Shirley Carr for finding me through my blog and asking me to be the group leader for these tours.
I thank both Brad and Chris (Coach Drivers) for taking us all from site to site during our tours of Breckland and Broadland.
Finally, I than my birding friend Jim Bradley for showing me around both Surlingham and Strumpshaw some two weeks earlier.  This help Jim was invaluable to me for the tour, thank you.


  1. Many thanks Paul for a great description of the tour. We had a fantastic time and learnt a lot of good stuff from you. Thanks also for sharing Breckland with us.
    The Marsh Harriers were a first for me - quite a sight.
    Hope to come on another tour some time in the future- got to see those Hawfinches!

    Richard North Tour member

    1. Thank you very much Richard. I am glad you had a good time, and it was great to meet you and share my passion with you, Hilary, and the other tour members.
      I think I will plan future tours more carefully in future so that we can go to sites more likely to be productive.....I thought Thompson Common (the first afternoon) was a poor choice on my part.
      I also think on future tours I will bring a good Bird Guide so that people can get an idea what we are looking at if confronted by a 'first' or difficult bird.
      It was lovely meeting you Richard and I sincerely hope we meet again in the future.
      Please pass on my regards to Hilary.