Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Thursday, 31 March 2016

On this day....

31st March 1999
Thompson Water, Norfolk

On a cold, clear morning back on 31st March 1999, I walked from my home in Watton, Norfolk, to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Thompson Water, some 4 miles distant.
Approaching Thompson Water, but still some distance to go, I began to hear something I had never heard previously, a barking-like call which had me completely stumped.  This strange call became louder as I approached and my heart started racing as to what it could be.
The sun rising at Thompson Water meant that I had to position myself along the southern side to avoid whatever it was being silhouetted from the west bank in the early morning bright light.
I could not believe what I was looking at, the bird was located in open water, it was a male PIED-BILLED GREBE in summer plumage, and to date, constitutes my rarest ever personal find.
Pied-billed Grebe
My first impressions of this bird was of an oversized Little Grebe. The thick stubby bill was pale with a bold black vertical band. The chin was black, a feature absent in winter.
As I watched this bird, it continued to call.  Calling was accompanied by the bird extending its neck forward to give it an almost flat appearance on the water, the throat was puffed out as it gave its loud "coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo" call.  Aggression was seen towards the resident Grebes as it called.
My next thought was what to do....I had no mobile phone.  I walked back to the village of Thompson to the phone box.....the phone box had recently been removed...great.  I met a man in his garden and stated to him that I needed a phone to call a friend about a bird I had located at the water, he very kindly allowed me to use his phone.  Not long to wait, and my friends, Micky and Matthew Stainthorpe arrived at Thompson Water to enjoy this extreme rarity from the Americas.  The Pied-billed Grebe remained until May of that year.

I have found some scarce and rare birds throughout my birding life, and NOT being of the twitcher fraternity I decided to keep the presence of this bird to a few close friends.  I may be criticised for doing this, a suppressor is the term used I believe, however, I had the welfare of this Pied-billed Grebe in mind.  The reasoning for this was because this very rare bird was previously watched at another site some distance from my patch, and it came to light that irresponsible twitchers had thrown sticks into reeds in an attempt to force the bird into open water, this is wholly unacceptable behaviour and I didn't want to risk a repeat of this behaviour on my patch. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

First Blackcap

Today was a full day of working, however, the following notable observations were had on my rounds:

Fieldfare - a small flock flying North over Barnham Broom were probable outgoing migrants
Chiffchaff - a singing male in woodland along Burdock Lane, Barford
Blackcap - a singing male at Hethersett

Friday, 25 March 2016

Threxton and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

From sunrise, and indeed throughout the whole day, the day was very bright with some passing cloud around midday.  The wind was a moderate NW.  A maxima of 15 degrees Celsius.
And it was from sunrise that I started my 4 mile walk taking in both Threxton and Little Cressingham.  The recent run of northerly winds have clearly blocked arrivals of summer migrants, this was reflected  in the absence of Chiffchaffs along my whole route.
This was a productive walk with a good selection of common birds seen as follows:

1 Kestrel - a stunning female in early morning light on a hedge.
1 Barn Owl - entering nest site
2 Buzzards {pair}
Blackbird - many seen including 7 singing males
1 Mistle Thrush singing
Song Thrush at 2 localities
1 Fieldfare
Long-tailed Tits at 4 sites
Greenfinch singing 2+sites
Yellowhammer - 2 sites

Walking along the country road between Saham Toney and Great Cressingham I saw a distant Barn Owl sitting on a gate.  I was walking towards that locality, therefore I expected to see this bird again.
After some more walking I reached the location and saw the Barn Owl approaching me at about head height, I stood still and could see it was carrying mammal prey in its talons.  The Owl then entered its nest-site, a hole in a roadside Oak.  The hole was lined both inside and out by a thick covering of Ivy.  Clearly, this Barn Owl was feeding young in the nest...superb. 

Further interest seen today with a beautiful Brimstone butterfly passing through my Watton garden. A couple of Small Tortoiseshells also seen today.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Hockham and Thompson, Norfolk

Another day of low cloud and a cold northerly wind will undoubtedly put any early passage by summer migrants on hold.  This time last year good numbers of Chiffchaffs were in song, however, this morning I could only manage the one bird at Thompson.

I arrived along one of the many minor roads which passes through the forest, just prior to 0700.  A walk along a number of forest rides produced several singing Song Thrushes, Goldcrests, and Treecreeper.  The Fen held the following:

3 Mute Swans
Greylag Geese
Canada Geese (pair)
Wigeon (pair)
Shoveler (pair)
1 Grey Heron
1 Water Rail (calling)
3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (all 'drumming' birds)
1 Reed Bunting - singing male

Thompson Common
A short but productive visit to this beautiful, ancient site brought my first presumed  migrant Chiffchaff of the year.  Of the species seen on this visit a noisy Marsh Tit was particularly entertaining as he flew around his territory singing his loud song.
A calling Little Grebe was on one of the largest Pingo's on the common.
The common is a mixture of wonderful habitats from dry gorse to very damp woodland, scrub, and Pingo's.  A patch of dry gorse habitat held a singing Yellowhammer whilst damp scrub held a singing Reed Bunting.
Marsh Tit (singing male) Thompson Common 19/03/16
A Marsh Tit was singing out of sight, however, I found a place to sit and wait, and in time, a pair of Marsh Tits visited woodland and scrub habitat around me with the male of alighting in a Hawthorn in front of me.  The noisy song is a repeated "chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip", quite different from any other Tit species song.  This song is a very useful identification feature of Marsh Tit, especially when needing to separate from the much rarer Willow Tit, a species I have also seen in the area.
Also present on the common was a single Chiffchaff giving its "hweet" call. 
A single Great Spotted Woodpecker was 'drumming' and a couple of Green Woodpeckers were seen and heard.
A flock of 40+ Redwings was a reminder that winter is not over yet.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

'Master builders' at work

Like any passionate birder, I find the discovery of a scarce or rare bird an exciting event, similarly, observing unusual behaviour can hold ones attention.
During my work break on the afternoon of Tuesday 15th March 2016, I parked up along a quite lane at Hackford, Norfolk and was entertained for more than an hour by a pair of Long-tailed Tits nest-building in a hedge. The nest was sited in thick Bramble and Dog Rose close to an Ivy covered Oak, and I was only a matter of feet from this wonderful event.
Long-tailed Tit at nest in Hackford, Norfolk 15/03/16
The nest was a half-built cup of mosses, lichens, very fine fibres, feathers, and possibly tiny pieces of droppings to cement parts of the materials together.  The nest will eventually form a domed shape with a small entrance hole in the side.
Both  Long-tailed Tits were involved in the construction of the nest, and visits were frequent during my stay. I was entertained by these dainty little birds as they delicately placed materials in place, often reaching over the cup to tidy the outside of the nest.  Often, when in the nest, the Long-tailed Tits pushed themselves deep into the cup to ensure the shape was maintained and the fit was to the birds requirements, it was at times like this that I raised smiles and even had a laugh as these 'master builders' went about their business.
Sitting and watching these Long-tailed Tits building a warm home for their eggs and young was an hour so well spent and I considered it an absolute privilege that they allowed me into their world.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Thompson and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Thompson (Dawn)
A early morning visit to Thompson Water and the surrounding woodland car did not produce any early migrants.  Chiffchaffs will be one of the first summer migrants to arrive with males singing their monotonous song.  My earliest singing bird last year was on 13th March.
The woodland did produce a fine looking male Golden Pheasant in typical Holly understorey. A check of Thompson Water produced a few species of Duck and several Coot.
Golden Pheasant at Thompson 13/03/16
Parking at the village of Thompson at dawn, I then made my way towards the Peddars Way where I caught sight of a Barn Owl flying over scrub before entering woodland edge.
The mature woodland habitat here held several 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpeckers, at least 6 Nuthatches at various localities.
I decided to check a known locality for Golden Pheasant and I soon found a fine looking male pecking and scratching at the ground.  As I have often found with this species, this birds chosen habitat was Holly understorey within mature, mostly Oak woodland. Despite their bright plumage, Golden Pheasants can easily be lost within dense woodland habitat and indeed, as I stood and watched this bird, it temporarily entered Holly and was very difficult to see.
An overview of Thompson Water produced 10+ Shoveler, 4 Wigeon (2 pairs), a few Teal, and several pairs of Gadwall.  A single Great Crested Grebe was seen {often giving its growl-like call), and a Little Grebe was heard.
A Cettis's Warbler  gave its explosive song close to me in waterside Sallows, but as is typical with this species, it was notoriously difficult to locate visually.  A second Cetti's Warbler was later heard at a second locality.

Little Cressingham
The weather remained dry and bright, although the east wind was noticeably cool, although in sheltered parts there was some warmth felt.
Upon my arrival at Watton Brook I immediately heard the familiar call of a Kingfisher, I soon located the bird flying along the Brook.
Close by a male Sparrowhawk flew low over farmland before alighting in a small tree.  The grey upperparts and slightly red tinged breast sexed this bird.
A small flock of 20+ Fieldfares were seen in farmland trees and a number of agitated Crows hinted a raptor present and a Buzzard appeared to fly leisurely low over farmland.
I am working the next three days, I will therefore be checking suitable habitat for early summer migrants, notably Chiffchaff, or possibly Wheatear

Friday, 11 March 2016

Hockham and Merton, Norfolk

Finally, something now resembling Spring greeted us both yesterday and this morning.  Gone has the torrential overnight rains from a couple of nights ago which has left much of the garden saturated to more settled conditions, although still rather cool.

A walk through forest habitat early morning produced many singing Song Thrushes, Goldcrests, and Treecreepers.  Concerns were seen in recent years regarding Song Thrush numbers, however, I think they are recovering and doing well.  A small flock of 20+ Siskins seen feeding in Alders.
Greylag Geese at Hockham 11/03/16

A good selection of Wildfowl seen with several pairs of Greylag Geese, also Canada Geese present. Duck species were represented by many Teal, some were calling whilst some pairs seen roosting on land.  2 pairs of Shovelers seen, their distinctive spatulate bill a diagnostic feature.  The male Shoveler looked particularly stunning with their bottle green heads and necks (small golden eye) contrasting with the white breast.  The lovely looking chestnut flank patch is also a distinctive feature with the male of this species.  One pair of Wigeon also seen.
As expected, many Snipe (10+) seen within a small area of fen-habitat.
The woodland periphery held 150+ Redwings, many of these were singing males.  These would have been resting/feeding passage birds en-route to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.
A Reed Bunting was singing and eventually located and 'scoped in the top of a young Sallow within reeds. A stunning looking bird with its Black head and chin relieved by a white moustachial stripe and white collar. The upperparts appearing brown and streaked and somewhat resembled its reedbed surroundings.
The surrounding woodland habitat held at least 3 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpeckers and 2 calling Green Woodpeckers.  A Mistle Thrush sang nearby.

Tree Sparrows at Merton 11/03/16

An afternoon walk to the lovely little village of Merton was productive with 20+ Tree Sparrows watched in traditional habitat.  House Sparrows also seen with one bird carrying nesting material.
A few Siskins watched in Alders.  A Robin was seen carrying nesting material.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Little Cressingham (The Arms to Watton Brook Valley), Norfolk

This was a productive walk, especially at the maize strip which has now been cut, leaving stubble and plentiful amounts of seed on the ground.  Here, a good variety of both Finch and Bunting species were seen as was a good count of Wood Pigeons amongst the stubble.
The wooded areas around 'The Arms' held singing Treecreeper and Goldcrest, also Nuthatch and singing Song Thrush were present.
Moving along the Great Cressingham Road, a small flock of about 50 Fieldfares were seen either in roadside trees or in nearby stubble.
Redpoll at Little Cressingham 06/03/16
Most activity was seen in the roadside hedges and maize stubble where good numbers of Finch and Buntings were seen.  The majority species seen on this visit was Brambling with similar numbers of Chaffinches seen. Smaller numbers of Greenfinches were seen and at least a couple of Redpolls were present.  Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers also joined in the mix.
One or two fairly well seen Bramblings were clearly males, their heads now becoming blacker as spring approaches.  Once on their breeding grounds in Northern Europe, the Bramblings head, nape, and mantle becomes a solid Black and contrasts with the beautiful Orange throat and breast.
Having made it to the Watton Brook Valley I checked the many fence-posts alongside the Brook, I could see nothing, however, looking skyward, 3 Buzzards soared, with a fourth calling nearby.
Further north along the rise to Great Cressingham, I heard my first singing Curlew of the year on the patch delivering its beautiful 'bubbling' song.