Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Hackford, Norfolk

For this afternoons break from work I decided to visit Low Road and Church Lane in Hackford.  The weather was miserable with rain and that horrible clingy heavy drizzle, however, the final day of January brought me my fifth Chiffchaff since the start of the year.  This bird remained mostly on Church Lane and frequently gave its familiar "hweet" call.
Whilst sitting in the car in heavy rain a Little Egret flew low over a field and settled alongside a hedge-lined ditch.  Initially on the field edge, The Little Egret then walked down into the ditch in search for food.
Overhead, a small flock of c20 Fieldfare and 2 Redwings passed over whilst in nearby hedges a pair of Great Tits, Coal Tit, Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits (2), and a pair of Blackbirds were seen.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Hockham, Norfolk

The strong bright sunlight today gave some fantastic colours from the straw browns of the reed habitat with the varying light to dark woodland background.  The strong south-westerly wind kept most birds in the shelter of the woodland.  Most obvious birds on this visit was the wildfowl within the fen.
Hockham Fen 29/01/16.  A wonderful place to be in any weather.
Wildfowl on Hockham Fen featured as the most obvious species seen today, these comprised 150+ Teal, a common wintering species with at times very high numbers seen.  Today, the Teal were seen either within the marshy fen habitat, or flying when relocating to the nearby bank or another patch of water.
Canada and Greylag Geese on Hockham Fen 29/01/16

Larger wildfowl included about 30 Canada Geese and a pair of Greylag Geese, many of the Canada Geese appeared to be sleeping on the water.
A couple of Grey Herons were seen within marshy fen habitat as was a pair of Lapwings.
Only one raptor was seen today, a single Buzzard seen in very good light.  The brown upperparts and the mostly dark bordered pale under-wing with black 'hands' were seen in great detail in the strong sunlight.

Hockham Fen 29/01/16
Few passerine species were seen in the strong wing, however, a couple of singleton Siskins passed overhead calling.  The surrounding forest appeared to hold many Goldcrests and a few Marsh Tits.
We are now less than a month away from the first Adders emerging from their winter hibernation.  The first to emerge will be males with the first larger females emerging about a month later...really looking forward to this.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Thompson Water, Norfolk

It appears we are now heading for record breaking temperature highs for January, this afternoons walk to Thompson Water reflected those conditions with a high of 12 degrees.  Although quite bright, the wind strength was increasing during this visit with a moderate to fresh south-westerly.
Thompson Water is looking quite clear at the moment, however, the spread since 2001 of Water Soldier will see a completely different look by summer with the water being totally carpeted by this unwelcome plant.  I understand from notices around this site that the Norfolk Wildlife Trust will be looking at ways of removing Water Soldier.
Thompson Water 25/01/16
Gone are the days of really impressive numbers of waterfowl at Thompson Water when hundreds of Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, and Tufted Duck wintered here.  Very cold weather will see cold weather duck species moving in, most notably Goosander and Goldeneye.
No high numbers of birds seen today, probably the most numerous duck being Gadwall with some Teal concealed within surface weed.  Larger species seen included 12 Mute Swans and 12 Greylag Geese.
The damp woodland habitat along the west side of the water held a single Chiffchaff, lots of Marsh Tits, Coal, Great, and Blue Tits.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker overflew the water to alight in a dead tree from where it called.  A Cormorant passed overhead.
The walk back to the car produced a single Kestrel.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire

Pam and I set off from our home in Watton, Norfolk for Irthlingborough to visit our daughter and 3 grand-daughters. It was a good journey, we set off at 0700, arriving at 0840.  Alex, our daughter prepared breakfast, and all the girls planned to visit the town for a bit of shopping.  What could I do, I know, a birding trip to Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows reserve along the Nene valley.
My walk this morning took me along the main path, the site of the former Nene valley railway, for about a mile or so before I returned along the same track.

Coot at Irthlingborough - seen on most lakes
Good numbers of Tufted Duck were seen with birds seen on all lakes, however, I only saw 2 Pochard. Mallard were common and Teal were both heard and seen.  I could see no sign of Sawbills on this visit.
Several pairs of Great Crested Grebes were seen with one pair having a half-hearted attempt at display.
A single Grey Heron was seen standing in shallows at the edge of some reeds.  Cormorants were quite numerous.
Large numbers of Black-headed Gulls were loafing as well as a huge adult Great Black-backed Gull.
Redpoll at Irthlingborough lakes 23/01/16

The only raptor species seen today
was a single Buzzard.  I am sure both Peregrine and Merlin will be wintering along the valley.
Passerine species were well represented by good numbers of Bullfinches which were seen and heard along the thick hedges along the course of the former rail-route.
Goldfinches moved along the tall weeds to feed along with at least a couple of Lesser Redpolls, the latter undoubtedly being a winter visitor to the area.
Just a single Cetti's Warbler gave its explosive song, however, the Lakes here at Irthlingborough holds many pairs.

1 Grey Heron, Cormorants, Great Crested Grebes, Moorhen, Coot, 1 Great Black-backed Gull (adult),
Black-headed Gulls, Mute Swan, Canada Geese, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pochard, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Redwing, Fieldfare, Blackbird, Robin, 1 Cetti's Warbler, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Bullfinch
Goldfinch, 2+ Redpoll.

Red Kite in Irthlingborough
Back at my daughters home, I was watching Red Kite flying very low over residential gardens in search of scraps of food, a reminder of behaviour exhibited by this raptor centuries ago in the streets of London.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Hilborough, Norfolk

As the day came to a close the rain finally cleared although it remained generally cloudy.  It was nice to see the last vestiges of light at 1700 hours, the longer days are now more noticeable.
It was late afternoon when I visited the beautiful parkland and the surrounding Brecks at Hilborough.
I short visit through the parkland at Hilborough and then onto Cockley Cley Road was quite productive with the following being seen/heard:

3 Teal
Shoveler (male)
4 Red Kites
4+ Buzzards
1 Barn Owl
1 Chiffchaff
Marsh Tit singing
Coal Tit

Having walked over the rolling parkland at Hilborough I made my way to the Cockley Cley Road for a short walk of some half-mile or so before turning back at dusk.
A small area of marshland adjacent to the Cockley Cley Road held 3 Teal, a male Shoveler, and a few Mallard.  The Teal were heard calling their lovely "kleep" call.
In the woodland to my right a Marsh Tit was heard in song and a single Red Kite passed low overhead.
Leaving the woodland for open countryside several raptors were seen over woodland, these comprised 3 Buzzards and 4 Red Kites.
Turning back towards the park, a Chiffchaff passed through roadside hedgerow trees close to marshland, calls were frequently heard.  This is my fourth record of wintering Chiffchaff since the start of the year.
A walk back to my start point saw a Barn Owl hunting within parkland close to a maize strip.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

Hockham Fen never ceases to amaze me in every season and in whatever weather.  My visit this afternoon was in almost freezing conditions and although fairly quiet, the beauty of this small jewel within the vast Thetford Forest was appealing as ever.
The lack of wildfowl seen today was no doubt due to any still water within the fen being frozen.  When not frozen in winter it is my belief that this important site holds internationally important numbers of Teal.
Hockham Fen 18/01/16
On the fen today I saw 2 Grey Herons, 3 Canada Geese, and small numbers of winter Thrushes in the peripheral woodland, these comprised a few Redwings, Fieldfare, and a single Mistle Thrush.  A single Stock Dove stood on top of a tall, dead tree trunk, a known breeding site for the species.
A number of angry Carrion Crows indicated a a probable raptor species , however, I could not locate the possible intruder.  The intruder was possibly a Goshawk, a regular bird here.
Quiet, yes, however, a wonderful site to visit at any time.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The beauty of my job

For the past 21 months I have been working as a carer, a job which I love.  I meet some wonderful people with lovely life-stories to share.  I also travel to great locations within rural Norfolk, many of which I have never known of until my job took me there.
Today I visited many villages including Morley St Botolph, Deopham, Wymondham, Barnham Broom, and finally this evening ending at Hethersett.  My travels today around these wonderful locations brought the following highlights:

1 Barn Owl
4 Kestrels
1 Peregrine at Deopham
c.20 Golden Plovers
1 Woodcock

The day dawned dry with a moderate frost and the day remained dry with plenty of bright sunshine and a high of about 4 degrees celsius.
At dawn I was driving towards Wymondham when I caught glimpse of a Barn Owl hunting the grassy verges of High Oak Lane at Morley.
Having completed calls in Wymondham I was driving towards the lovely village of Morley when I saw 2 Kestrels on roadside wires/telegraph poles from where they watched the rough verges below.  Later that morning whilst driving towards Barnham Broom, a further 2 Kestrels were seen, again on roadside wires.

Deopham Green
For my break during the afternoon I parked up at the site of the former WW2 airfield.  Concrete hardstands and lengths of the former runway (now a connecting road between Deopham village and Little Ellingham) serve as a reminder of the former existence of this B17 Flying Fortress station.
This locality is one of a vast, open landscape of arable with some nice patches of Sallow and Bramble habitat.  I often like to watch this site as it is usually good for wintering raptors.
A few Pied Wagtails walked and ran along tracks made by farm vehicles in their search for food, also here was Carrion Crow, a few Skylarks, and a Dunnock which skulked within an isolated bush.
Whilst overviewing the large fields a raptor species passed overhead, this was a fine looking adult Peregrine Falcon, it initially flew away from me and then doubled back towards me offering great views of the Black hood, streaked underparts, stiff looking pointed wings and torpedo shaped body.  I then watched this beautiful bird climb away to the south-east.  The presence of this Peregrine is not entirely unexpected within this open habitat.  I know this species as a scarce but regular winter visitor to this part of Norfolk.
Also seen from the hardstand was a small flock of about 20 Golden Plover, their twisting and turning in flight alternating between flashes of white of their underparts to the dark of the upperparts.
Also noted was a single Buzzard passing over.

My calls today ended at Hethersett.  Parking up at dusk in the village produced a wonderful silhouetted view of a Woodcock flying silently against the darkening sky above a residential area.  The Woodcock is truly an enigma of the bird world, a wading bird which inhabits woodland, and whose numbers are swollen in the winter in the UK by continental migrants.  Was this Woodcock one such visitor I wonder?

Friday, 15 January 2016

Thompson, Norfolk

I arrived home from work early afternoon for my first afternoon walk in daylight for a few days.  And what an afternoon, bright, fresh, with frost lying in sheltered parts, a beautiful day.
This afternoon I parked at the village church and walked the footpath to the Griston Road, and then doubling back along Drove Lane to the Stow Bedon Road and back to the church.
The paths I walked this afternoon encompasses some beautiful grazing pasture, marshland, rush meadow, and damp woodland.
Four species of Thrush were seen and heard with Redwings forming the majority species, most were found in the tops of Alders but were typically flighty and easily disturbed.  A few Fieldfares were seen in woodland along with Blackbirds.  A number of Song Thrushes seen and heard indicated that some of these may be continental birds.
Siskin (male)
From the Griston road it was evident that a number of Finches were present, this included a lovely female Brambling seen fairly close to in roadside hedge.
The only raptor species seen was a single Sparrowhawk flying low and fast over grazing land and into woodland.
Walking back along Drove Lane I had to rely on the sound of birds as the low sun was particularly dazzling ahead of me.  Redwings and Song Thrushes were again the most frequently heard species.
By the time I reached the Stow Bedon Road I had the sun behind me, this offered some lovely views into the damp woodland.  Thrushes again were seen with many Redwings moving between Alders and nearby Thompson Common.  The Alders within this very damp habitat held 60+ Siskins high in the tops of the trees where they were seen to feed upon the cones.  The strong sun really did provide superb views of the Siskins with their Yellows being particularly noticeable in the excellent light.

Monday, 11 January 2016

A sad day indeed

If like me you grew up in the 60's and 70's then I am sure you feel very saddened today to hear of the passing of the legend, David Bowie.  I remember where I was when Elvis died, and I remember waking up to the news on 8th December 1980 to the news of John Lennons death.  Both were extremely talented artists, however, there is something more personal about the death of David Bowie which I can't put my finger on...perhaps it is that like many of us in our 50's, we followed the great man over the decades, always amazed by his re-inventions and his ability to change with the times R.I.P.

Not too much to report today due to work, however, a couple of Red Kites over the Kimberley estate near Wymondham was nice to see.
Late afternoon and into dusk I walked the Threxton to 'The Arms' road and met a friend of mine, Graham, with whom I discussed various issues including David Bowie.  It was whilst chatting to Graham that a Goshawk (probably a male) crossed a field at low level in a glide and being pursued by a couple of Crows. The Goshawk very briefly alighted in a tree overhanging the road before moving off again towards 'The Arms' area.  All Crow species show the greatest respect for Goshawk as they often fall prey to this mighty hawk.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Thompson Water and Threxton, Norfolk

Thompson Water 0730-0900
This was my first visit to Thompson Water this year.  The summer nuisance that is Water Soldier has  given way to mostly open water, although patches of this plant exists.
Waterside habitat at Thompson Water 10/01/16

On the water there was 10 Mute Swans (adults and juveniles), a few Gadwall, a couple of Wigeon, and Coot and Moorhen. A single Cormorant overhead.
The damp woodland habitat along the west side of the water held many Blue Tits, most visiting a feeding station.  Also noted was Marsh Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatches and Treecreeper.  A Chiffchaff was heard.
The walk back to the village of Thompson produced Bullfinch and Kestrel.

A mid to late afternoon visit to the STW initially produced a familiar figure walking towards me down the hill, it was birding friend Mick Saunt.  We had a nice chat about was has been seen locally, as well as enjoying the numerous Goldcrests in the area.  A single Buzzard was seen in a small tree across the valley.
After a nice meeting with Mick I then walked along the lane to as far as Woodcock Hall where several Gulls were loafing around floodwater in the valley.
One of the many Goldcrests seen at Threxton 10/01/16
I later arrived back at the STW where it was apparent that good numbers of Goldcrests were still present, at an estimate I would say there was between 20 and 30 birds, and that was from the roadside habitat only. These diminutive birds were typically hyper-active as they searched various bushes and thickets for small insect/spider prey.  A party of Long-tailed Tits passed through and at least one Chiffchaff was present and calling.
As I drove home towards Watton, a Little Owl flew across the road in front of me.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Great Melton, Norfolk

During my break from work I decided to park up along Woodcocks Lane at Great Melton.  I wanted to get a bit of 'shut-eye' before going back to work later, but between dozes, I checked the roadside hedges either side of me for birds.
I arrived at my 'resting point' at 1300 and almost immediately I was greeted by  a calling Chiffchaff in the hedge just to my right.  To be perfectly honest this was a species I have expected to record this winter given the exceptionally mild conditions.
A few moments later a female Sparrowhawk passed by low to my left.
The most abundant species seen from the car was Goldcrest.  Many of these diminutive little gems passed by sometimes within just a few feet from me as they actively went about their business of searching the hedge for food.  Very often, Goldcrests were seen to make fly-catching sallies for gnats by darting out of the hedge to catch a gnat, sometimes performing a very short hover, and fly back to cover within just a second. Several pairs of Goldcrests were seen throughout my stay and I am sure they were all different birds working this habitat.  Observations of Goldcrests increased with frequency towards sunset, my thoughts were that these birds were using the hedgerow highway to make their way to a nearby woodland to roost.
Great Tits were also seen with some frequency as were Blue Tits.  A Treecreeper was heard close by and Wren gave the occasional burst of song.  Robin was also a regular bird here.  A Buzzard was heard calling towards dusk.
This was a bit of a 'lazy birdwatch' for me today, however, it does show what can be seen from the car if you sit and wait.

Friday, 1 January 2016

New Years Day Birding

After a long run of very mild days and nights this morning dawned something more akin to winter with a slight frost, a low of -1 degrees and a daytime high of 7 degrees.  It was bright and crisp first thing with high cloud eventually moving in.
Today I visited three local sites, Hockham Fen, Bodney, and Little Cressingham, and gathered a total of 47 species, or rather 46 and one very frustrating raptor seen all to briefly (and once binoculars were packed away back at the on).

Hockham Fen/Forest
I arrived at the road to Galley Hill long before sunrise and to the wonderful sound of at least 4 calling male Tawny Owls.  A Song Thrush was also singing at this time.
I reached the Fen, just prior to sunrise and to the wonderful sound of calling Teal.  I was able to glimpse Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, and an Egyptian Goose through my binoculars.  It was about this time that 4 Red Deer slowly strolled out of the forest, over the fen, and into Cranberry Rough where they will spend the day in the safety of thick, damp, swampy cover.
Long before sunrise, the most abundant passerine species heard was Siskin, these delightful little Finches continued to be both heard and seen after sunrise, presumably leaving their roost sites to their feeding grounds.
Two or three Green Woodpeckers were heard (2 seen), and 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard/seen, this included a 'drumming' bird.
The walk back through the forest produced typical species including mobile Tit flocks comprising Marsh and Coal Tits, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, and Treecreeper.

I next decided to pop over to Bodney to see if the Stonechats were still in the same area, and they were, and showing well as they typically flew between the tops of weeds from where they dropped to the ground for food and swiftly back to their elevated perch.
Also in the area was 100+ Fieldfares wandering the large expanses of fields.  A single Chaffinch was seen and a couple of Mute Swans passed overhead.
Stonechat (Female) Bodney 01/01/16

Stonechat (female) Bodney 01/01/16

Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road)
My final stop of the day was just north-west of 'The Arms' from where I walked to Watton Brook Valley and back.  I expected to see a variety of Finch species and was lucky enough to locate Bramblings, Chaffinches, and Greenfinches in the hedgerows close to the maize strip.  One male Brambling was seen well in a hedgerow tree.
At Watton Brook Valley a check of the meadows produced a distant Buzzard on the ground, often running to collect prey, presumably an invertebrate such as a worm or beetle.  A few more Fieldfares and Starlings were seen and 4 Mute Swans overflew.
This had been a good mornings birding and I was packing away my equipment back at the car, I glimpsed something to my right moving at speed and saw the bird, a raptor for less than a second disappear below the level of the maize strip, it was heading for the wooded pit where large numbers of Finches and Buntings gather, I think it was possibly a Merlin, although I did not see it long enough to confirm.  I do encounter  a Merlin occasionally in winter on the patch.....was this one such bird.

NEW YEARS DAY SPECIES: Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose, Teal, Mallard, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant, Buzzard, Kestrel, Merlin (possible), Moorhen, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Tawny Owl, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker (inc. 'drumming), Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Skylark, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Wren, Starling, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Robin, Stonechat (2), Dunnock, Chaffinch, Brambling, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Bullfinch, Yellowhammer.
47 species seen including the unconfirmed possible Merlin.