Breckland Birder

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

Monday, 29 February 2016

Hockham, Norfolk

What a wonderful end to February with bright calm conditions throughout the day and a temperature high of 8 degrees.
Following a morning at work I decided to visit Hockham with raptors particularly in mind.  Walking the woodland trails I encountered Goldcrest and singing Treecreeper.
A check of a flooded area produced a few Wigeon, Mallard, and Gadwall, with Teal being heard.  Whilst watching these Ducks I noticed a large distant raptor species just above the tree canopy, checking the bird through binoculars it was a female Marsh Harrier.  I moved closer to where I had seen the bird but it was not relocated, although it was undoubtedly still in the area.
Close to where I was standing at least 7 Snipe were seen in a flooded area of rush-fen habitat.  Given the size of the site visited, the true numbers of Snipe could reach high double figures, or more.
At least 3 Grey Herons were seen and overhead a Great Spotted Woodpecker passed over in typical bounding flight.

Deopham, Norfolk (during work break) 28/02/16

An interesting observation at Scoulton early morning was of a mixed flock of 400+ Thrushes, mostly Fieldfares and Redwings, on land close to the B1108 road.  Undoubtedly, this is a passage flock of birds moving north back to their Scandinavian breeding grounds.
Kestrel (female) at Deopham 28/02/16

The tall, commanding tower at Deopham Church is a favoured resting/watch-point for a female Kestrel, therefore it was my intention to visit the location during my afternoon break from work.
Not long after arriving, a female Kestrel alighted in the high window on the south facing side of the tower, from here, it was clear she was observing her surroundings, including looking at the ground far below for movement.  After a while the Kestrel flew off but returned later to sit on a gargoyle at the top of the church where she preened.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Golden Beauty at Thompson, Norfolk

Within its native China the Golden Pheasant inhabits mountainous regions where its status is described as rare.  This beautiful species was introduced from China into the UK in the 18 century.  The only UK populations are in Anglesey in Wales, Galloway, Scotland, and the South Downs, however, the stronghold for Golden Pheasant is in the Breckland of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Golden Pheasant at Thompson, Norfolk 26/01/16
In the early 1990's, the Breckland stronghold for Golden Pheasant was Wayland Wood, a 10 minute walk from my home, however, due to disturbance the species no longer occurs there.  In 1993 I counted a gathering of 24 Golden Pheasants in Wayland Wood.
Golden Pheasants occur at a number of Breckland localities close to my home in Watton but not in any great numbers.
Despite the male Golden Pheasants bright colours it can be surprisingly difficult to see as it moves through dense, dark woodland floor.  I have found this species favours areas of Holly.
Golden Pheasant near Thompson, Norfolk
My observations of this male Golden Pheasant was seen prior to sunrise, the cloud cover added to the very low light, therefore I had to use settings I rarely use - 300mm f2.8 ISO 6400 1/160th.
This bird silently wandered the woodland floor, picking at and scratching in the leaf litter.

Clearly the presence of this Golden Pheasant held my attention for some time, however, the morning also produced many singing passerine species.
10+ Song Thrushes were located as were a number of singing Treecreepers and Goldcrests.  Marsh Tits were present in good numbers with males heard singing their repeated "chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip" notes.
At least 5 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard, but no Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers on this visit.  Nuthatch was seen and heard at a number of localities.
A short visit to Thompson Water produced 20 Mute Swans, Gadwall, and Coot, and in the reeds Reed Buntings were seen.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Thompson Water (with Leigh Gallant) and Bodney, Norfolk

The forecast for today was for rain, however, it remained dry but cloudy with a strong SW wind.  It was a very mild 14 degrees celsius.
I was joined today by Leigh Gallant, a local man who 'found me' through my blog.  Leigh is very passionate about wildlife and is also a keen photographer.  My intention today was to introduce Leigh to Thompson Water and its birdlife, fortunately there was plenty on offer both on the water and the surrounding damp woodland.

Thompson
At 0715, Leigh and I arrived just outside of the village of Thompson for a walk along the narrow road which leads down to the Peddars Way, and eventually our destination at Thompson Water.  On route both Goldcrest and Treecreepers were singing in the mature woodland.
We arrived on the bank overlooking Thompson Water and noted many Coot and Mute Swans on the water, whilst here a lovely Grey Wagtail flew into waterside trees offering lovely views whilst close by a female Reed Bunting clambered about in rank vegetation.
Male Chaffinch at Thompson Water 21/02/16
Having spent a little time on the bank we then made our way to the hide in the reeds to check for Wildfowl on the water.  Once again, Mute Swans gracefully presented themselves in front of the hide whilst on open water several Greylag Geese flew in.
Smaller wildfowl seen included several Gadwall, Mallard, a few Teal, and for me, the most attractive Duck, the Wigeon were in small numbers usually hidden within surface weed.  The male Wigeon has the most attractive chestnut head with the golden flash from the forehead to the bill.

Marsh Tit at Thompson Water 21/02/16 (A common species)
Turning to the woodland close to the hide, several Tit species were seen including Marsh, Coal, Great, and Blue Tits.  A Nuthatch nervously moved around in cover.  It was whilst watching these passerine species that a Sparrowhawk shot through at speed.
A pair of Chaffinches were seen well with the male looking especially attractive with his dull pink underparts and Blue-grey crown.
A few Reed Buntings were also present, all were females.



Having left Thompson Water we then headed back towards the village to our starting point, on the way, a number of Siskins were chattering away high in woodland.
Arriving back at our cars we set off our separate ways following what was a productive morning.  A big thank you to Leigh for joing me, a lovely and very enthusiastic man.

Bodney
The weather continued very mild at 14 degrees, however, the open landscape here gave no shelter from the strong south-westerly wind.
Despite the wind strength, this short visit produced a good selection and numbers of birds, this included 3 raptor species.
The walk-out from the car was into the wind and the first bird seen was 'windhover' or Kestrel as it is more commonly known as.  A pair of Buzzards effortlessly rode the wind.
I was hoping to find Stonechat along the way as this species has been noted here earlier in January, however, not seen today.
I then reached a long Scots Pine belt, a typical Breckland feature, and was greeted by a singing Mistle Thrush, also here was a small flock of Fieldfare.
I was hoping for Goshawk and within a short time a probable juvenile bird appeared ahead of me drifting left to right.  Another pair of Buzzards were seen.
Along the pine belt, a few Siskins and Goldfinches, along with 50+ Chaffinches sheltered from the wind.
The walk back saw a large number of various species flocked together on a very large distant field, these comprised 400+ Lapwings, 1000+ Starlings, and many hundreds of Corvid species, an impressive sight.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Hilborough and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

A beautiful start to the day with a moderate frost.  Cloud soon moved in following sunrise, however, this dispersed to give bright, calm conditions throughout the afternoon.
This turned out to be an excellent days local birding for typical Breckland species, a scarce Falcon, and a now rare Tit species.
The following highlights were seen:

Shelduck (pair)
2 Barn Owls
2 Buzzard
1 Red Kite
Merlin
2 Kestrel
3 Woodlarks
200+ Fieldfare
Song Thrushes
2 Willow Tit (pair)
Marsh Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
50+ Linnets
Brambling
Redpoll
Reed Bunting

Hilborough
My drive to Hilborough this morning took me along some wonderful frost covered rolling countryside close to the Watton brook Valley.  The first of 2 Barn Owls seen today was sitting on a fence post close to Bodney Camp.
Woodlark at Hilborough.  3 singing males today

Barn Owl at Hilborough 12/02/16
I arrived at my destination at one of the many forest rides which criss-cross through the tall pine woodland.  The first thing I was aware of was the number of Song Thrushes in song, probably six or more heard.  A single Woodlark was high overhead.
Having reached an open area of newly planted pines (about 5 years old), I settled down to watch 2 male Woodlarks singing above me.  Occasionally a bird descended into one of the 'windrows' where he continued to sing.  I noticed plenty of short-cropped grass and bare patches for Woodlarks to feed within the rows of young pines.  This Within the next two years or so this habitat will become unsuitable for breeding Woodlarks as the trees would have grown to cover the ground and reduce light, new areas of clearfell will then be found to set up new territories.
Whilst watching the Woodlarks I could see a small wandering flock of about 50+ Linnets to my left, I though to myself "this may attract a raptor species", before too long a Merlin passed almost right through the flock and continued off north-east in a leisurely flight.
A recently arrived pair of Shelduck circled overhead.
The minor road away from this site produced a beautiful Barn Owl close to Hollow Heath, it was using fence posts to watch the ground below.

Little Cressingham (The Arms to the Watton brook valley)
This turned out to be a productive visit.   My walk started alongside mostly Larch woodland close to 'The Arms' where I located a pair of Willow Tits feeding from cones and often calling.  Willow Tits are now rare birds in Britain and I must say I get quite excited at such a find.  Also noted in the woodland was Treecreeper and Blue Tit.
On the way to the Watton Brook valley a couple of Buzzards were seen, and once by the Brook a fine looking Red Kite circled directly above me.
Fieldfare high in an Ash at Little Cressingham 12/02/16
I retraced my steps back to the car and decided to check the hedgerows and adjoining maize crop for Finches and Buntings. A good variety of birds seen here included a few Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Brambling, a few Redpoll, and Reed Buntings.
As I approached 'The Arms' a few Fieldfare alighted in a large Ash tree, however, something disturbed birds in an adjoining field and 200+ Fieldfares were 'put up'.
The drive home between 'The Arms' and Watton produced 2 Kestrels on roadside posts.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Cranberry Rough/Hockham Fen and Threxton, Norfolk

Following overnight heavy rain the day dawned with bright sunshine and a high of 4 degrees.  Cloud increased during the day as did the wind speed, which by mid-afternoon was a strong south-westerly.

Cranberry Rough/Hockham Fen
My day began prior to sunrise at Galleyhill, Hockham.  This site was so named as the junction here in former times was used to hang and display the bodies of highwaymen, this was to deter any would be criminals from committing acts of theft and robbery etc.
Walking along the fomer rail cutting leading to Cranberry Rough, I was greeted by my first singing Treecreeper of the day.
I arrived at Cranberry Rough with the intention of trying to locate Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, however, no luck on this visit.  The swampy woodland habitat produced the following:

Marsh Tit (photographed Stow Bedon April 2010)
1 Water Rail calling
Mallard (pair)
3 singing Song Thrushes
1 Mistle Thrush singing
Blackbird
4 singing Marsh Tits
1 singing Coal Tit
Great Tit scolding me
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit roving flock
Treecreeper singing
Wren many singing
3+ Goldcrest
Chaffinch
Siskins mostly in Alders

And at adjoining Hockham Fen the wonderful sight and sound of displaying Lapwing was frequently seen with the male bird performing his fantastic aerial display
Mute Swan (pair)
Canada Geese
Greylag Geese
Teal
Mallard
Gadwall
4 Grey Herons
2 Lapwings (pair) with displaying male.

Threxton, Norfolk
The wind speed has noticeably increased during the afternoon, its direction was such that the western boundary of the STW took the full force, despite this, a good range of common species were seen along this boundary.
Walking along the STW, it was evident that Long-tailed Tits were doing the circuit with Goldcrests accompanying them.  Blue and Great Tits, 2 Robins, Wrens, and Dunnock were seen here.
A walk along the lane produced hundreds of Gulls on the flood plain adjacent to the Watton Brook Valley, most were Black-headed and Common Gulls, however, a few monster Great Black-backed Gulls were loafing.
Farmland west of the road produced a pair of Mistle Thrushes on farmland.  Large, necky Thrushes with grey/brown upperparts and heavily spotted white underparts.  In flight, the Mistle Thrushes showed a pale fawn rump.
Back at the church, and just prior to leaving, a single Grey Wagtail was seen on the STW, the bird also made a brief visit to the roof of the nearby church.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Lynford Water, and Hockham Fen/Cranberry Rough, Norfolk

The day dawned very mild again, but with low light due to low, thick cloud cover.  Cloud remained all day and it did threaten brightness at one time, only for low cloud to once again bring very low light.  The wind was a strong southerly.  At least it remained dry throughout the day.
Lynford Water, Norfolk 06/02/16 (Site of largest ever haul in Britain of Mammoth, Rhino, and Hyena remains)
Lynford Water (early morning)
I wanted to check Lynford Water for Wildfowl, I had 'Sawbills' in mind, however, I didn't really think I would have too much success as these birds generally turn up in cold weather conditions.  Birds seen on the lakes were as follows:
1 Little Egret
9 Mute Swans
60+ Tufted Duck
Gadwall
Mallard
Coot
3 Cormorant
A walk through, or close to the edge of forested areas produced mobile flocks of Long-tailed Tits, Marsh Tit, Blue, and Great Tits, Treecreeper, and Goldcrests.
Siskins typically featured with a mobile flock of around 50 or so birds.

Hockham Fen/Cranberry Rough
The wind didn't help on this visit with little movement of birds seen, however, it was apparent that good numbers of Teal, some Gadwall, Mallard, and Canada Geese were on the flooded areas of this large, superb site.
Hockham Fen 06/02/16 (One of my most favourite local birding sites)
Hockham Fen adjoins Cranberry Rough, this is where I headed next.  This dense, thick, swampy site was sheltered from the strong wind, and as such Tit species featured as the most abundant species with mixed mobile flocks moving generally low through the woodland.
Cranberry Rough 06/02/16
Cranberry Rough is a wonderful site with just a path (course of old rail-line) passing through it.  The reserve, as shown in my picture, is virtually inaccessible due to its swampy nature.  This is one of the only local sites which supports the now rare Willow Tit.
The sheltered path was a welcome break from the wind and it was here that plenty of passerine activity was both seen and heard, especially low down.
A party of Long-tailed Tits moving through the woodland was accompanied by Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, and Marsh Tit.  Goldcrests also moved with the flock.
Always a welcome bird to see is Woodcock, and a single bird was seen on this visit twisting and turning through trees before alighting within the swampy habitat at Cranberry Rough.  The Woodcock for me is one of most enigmatic species, a bird whose habits on the ground are rarely observed.
Being a swampy habitat, Cranberry Rough has tree species which are associated with such environments, this includes many Alders.  This tree, along with Birch, attracts small Finches to feed in, particularly Siskins, and today a flock of 30+ were seen, however, they were quite flight and mobile and rarely settled to feed where I was watching.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Hockham Fen, Norfolk

Feeling pretty rough this morning with a nasty chesty cough, however, Toby needed his walk so I visited Hockham Fen for about 10 minutes at dawn before turning back.  The following was noted:

Canada Goose
Greylag Geese
c.20 Whooper Swans high East
Teal
1 CRANE
6+ Grey Herons
1 Snipe
2 Buzzards

18+ Red Deer

Over the years I have seen Common Cranes in the Breckland area, usually as two's or fours together, this was my first record of a singleton.  Although regarded as a sedentary species, the appearance of this Crane at Hockham Fen leads me to believe that perhaps the species commutes between the Norfolk Broads and Lakenheath Fen.  However, I have seen very high-flying migrant Cranes from my Watton garden which suggests genuine European migrants do occur in Norfolk.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Grimes Graves, Norfolk

February started where January left off, very mild at 14 degrees celsius, even the strong wind didn't feel to cold.  It remained dry and generally bright throughout the day with some passing light drizzle.
Following work this morning I decided to make for heathland close to Grimes Graves.  Having parked off-road I then walked along forest trails to the Grimes Graves access road.  As soon as I reached the boundary of Grimes Graves I saw a very distant white spot on the top of a Hawthorn, it was as I expected a Great Grey Shrike, a regular winter visitor to this site.                                  
Great Grey Shrike at Grimes Graves 01/02/16 (A typical view)
Despite always remaining distant, the Great Grey Shrike presented no problems with identification due to its conspicuous behaviour and highly distinct plumage features.
First impressions are of a white, grey, and black bird which always perches on the topmost part of a thorny bush.  The photograph, despite showing the bird as distant, clearly sees the more salient features.  The crown and mantle is pale grey, and the black eye stripe is seen. The wings are black, these contrast with the white underparts.  The upper-tail is black with white outer tail feathers.
During my observation of the Shrike, some strong gusty winds saw the bird being buffeted about, but it hung on.
To the layperson, the Shrikes would appear to look like, and behave like raptors, especially when seen close to and that sharp hooked bill is seen, however, the bird is assigned to the passeriformes, or perching birds.
The wind put pay to overflying birds, however, other species seen included a single Stonechat (female) and a hunting male Kestrel.