Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Saturday, 30 April 2016

East Wretham Heath and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

East Wretham Heath 0640-1130
Finally today, the weather was beginning to feel more like Spring.  A slight frost at dawn, however, the rising sun began to have some warmth about it. The wind was less cool than of late.
My intention today was to locate Redstart within the beautiful Waterloo Plantation, especially in areas of old broken Scots Pines where suitable nesting habitat occurs.  But first I wanted to check Langmere, one of two meres here on the reserve.
Male Willow Warbler at East Wretham Heath 30/04/16

An overview of Langmere produced a couple of pairs of Lapwings, one male bird was seen to stir up the soft ground on the fringes of the mere by shaking his leg to stir up any invertebrates for food.
A pair of Oystercatchers were seen to copulate, whilst on the mere I saw a pair of Little Grebes, a pair of Pochard (really handsome male), a pair of Teal and Shoveler, and a pair of Mute Swans which soon departed.
I then spent the remainder of my time here searching the magnificent Scots Pines for Redstart and Warblers.  A slow walk around this habitat produced nice views of both male and
Willow Warbler territory at East Wretham Heath 30/04/16
female Blackcap, and Chiffchaffs were very active amongst the woodland understorey.
A calling Cuckoo was often heard, he appeared to be somewhere within forest clearings
A pair of Willow Warblers were seen in open woodland/heathland habitat, the male singing, and the female always close by.  Often, both birds were seen on the ground amongst bracken where they were presumably were attending to a nearby nest.
I located a singing Redstart within an old woodland habitat comprising very old, large Oaks, similarly large Scots Pines, and lots of old broken trees where suitable nesting habitat occurs.  And a singing Redstart was all I could muster, he was always high in the woodland canopy and despite searching I could not locate him visually.  I was happy though that we have at least one Redstart on territory.
Both Blackcap and Chiffchaffs continued to be both heard and seen.  Several Goldcrests were also singing and three male Stock Doves sang.
As always, the Rookery at the traditional site made it presence known with constantly calling birds.

Little Cressingham (late afternoon)
I arrived on the Great Cressingham Road north-west of 'The Arms' at about 1600 for a walk to Watton Brook and back.  By this time the wind had dropped and it felt pleasantly warm in the sunshine.
Whitethroat (male) at Little Cressingham 30/04/16

A singing Whitethroat was seen in a Briar patch, I wanted to check him out on my return.  A Blackcap also sang here.  3 Curlews flew south to north over the Watton Brook valley, these were undoubtedly local breeding birds.
Back at the Briar patch, I sat and watched a male Whitethroat on his territory.  I watched this bird flying between several patches of suitable breeding habitat, I assumed he was still attempting to attract a returning female as he was the only bird seen.  He would often approach me giving his "tcshrrrr" warning note.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Thompson, Norfolk

0545-0800: Poor visibility was the order of this mornings visit to the Thompson area with fog and frost and a temperature range whilst out between  freezing and +2 degrees
Despite this mornings conditions, it was a productive visit for migrant species, including my first calling Cuckoo of the year.
My walk included a small part of the Peddars Way footpath and the Thompson Water area.

Mute Swan
Greylag Geese
Coot (nesting)
Great Crested Grebe (pair)
Little Grebe
1 Cuckoo (my first of year)
1 Tree Pipit (singing male)
1 Great Spotted Woodpecker (male)
1 Kingfisher
1+ Cetti's Warbler
Reed Warbler
1 Garden Warbler
Blackcap (widespread) 3 together seen
3 Whitethroat (Redbrick Road)
5+ Willow Warblers (seen/heard in open woodland, common, and waterside woodland)
7+ Goldcrests (all singing males)
Marsh Tit
Coal Tit
Great Tit
Blue Tit
6+ Siskin (including singing/displaying male)
Reed Bunting
With grey conditions at dawn, I set off along Redbrick Road and despite freezing conditions, 3 Whitethroats (all males) were in song in roadside hedgerow habitat.
Turning south along the Peddars Way, Goldcrests, Willow Warbler, and a single singing Tree Pipit were all heard.  It was whilst walking along the path that I heard my first Cuckoo calling to my south in the Thompson Water area.  A single Redpoll passed over in a north heading.

Thompson Water
Freezing conditions with fog persisted throughout my visit, despite this, a good range of species were present.  The bank/woodland edge produced a single singing Garden Warbler, 1 Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, 3 Blackcap (2 males and one female together), Reed Warbler, and singing Cetti's Warbler.  The Cuckoo continued to call on and off.
On the water a pair of Great Crested Grebes were seen as well as frequently calling Little Grebe. Mute Swans chased and angrily slapped their wings on the water as they attempted to see off Greylag GeeseCoot were present along with one with a floating nest in reeds.
Encouragingly, Siskins were seen overhead back and forth and a male bird was singing.  A good record for what is for the most part, a winter visitor. 
The damp woodland habitat produced a fine looking male Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, and Tit species.
Gt. Spotted Woodpecker at Thompson 28/04/16 
Siskin (male) at Thompson 28/04/16
Siskin (female) at Thompson 28/04/16

Garden Warbler at Thompson Water
I always look forward to the return of this Sylvia Warbler to the woodland around Thompson Water.
Although there is no problem with the visual identification of this migrant, the song can for some be difficult to separate from the similar sounding Blackcap, and indeed, as soon as I heard this bird this morning I knew it was Garden Warbler, one of our latest returning summer migrants.
To assist with separation from the similar sounding Blackcap I find the following points helpful.
Blackcap generally gives shortish bursts of its rich song with many fluty peaks during song, whereas Garden Warbler produces a song which is far more prolonged without a break and lacks fluty peaks of the Blackcap.  The tonal quality of Garden Warbler maybe slightly deeper with some notes resembling Blackbird quality.
The Garden Warbler seen here today occupied woodland edge habitat and moved through Sallows, mature trees, and scrubby understorey.  As well singing, I also observed the Garden Warbler investigating Ivy around a tree and ground covering scrub, this indicates to me that a suitable nest site was being searched for

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Ashill, Norfolk

A generally bright morning with fast moving cloud moving over from the north.  The wind was a cold, fresh Northerly.
This morning I wanted to check a location reliable for Turtle Dove, however, I couldn't hear or see any evidence so far.  Turtle Doves are a main quarry of hunters in Europe and the Mediterranean basin and I always raise a smile when I know these birds have returned safely, despite this, their lives are one long struggle with their migration from and to Africa.
Although the wind was pretty cold this morning I did manage to locate the following:

4 Lesser Whitethroat (3 territories and one probable passage bird)
3+ Whitethroats
2 Willow Warblers

Lesser Whitethroat
The first bird of the day was a singing male in a roadside hedge (not breeding habitat).  An interesting observation seen with this bird as it flew from the hedge, gaining a little height, and continuing off in a southerly heading until I lost it to view.  An example of a bird on passage maybe.
3 territories were found with singing birds present and at one site I watched for a good two hours as Lesser Whitethroats frequently entered a thick briar patch, which, as it happens, has been a reliable site for this species over the years.
Briar patch 27/04/16.  Breeding habitat of Lesser Whitethroat for many years. Birds seen here today.
On occasions I saw a Lesser Whitethroat in this briar patch in its full glory, I had to view the bird from the road, however, it was just stunning, even with the naked eye.  The main features of the plumage seen was the charcoal grey head and ear coverts, darker loral area (between bill and eye) and eye surround, this contrasted strongly with the bright white throat.  The upperparts were mousey brown-grey, and the flanks had a slight buff wash whilst the underparts were white.
Song: Song was heard, not only given by this Lesser Whitethroat, but by others present this morning. The song I find is difficult to transcribe.  It sounds like no other Warbler in that it is given in two parts.  Most audible was a harsh rattle, written as j-j-j-j-j-j-j, however, if close to the bird, a quiet scratchy warble precedes the rattle

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Merton, Norfolk (Good news for the village, its inhabitants, and its birds)

I reported last year about a local developer who submitted plans to build two houses on a site in Merton which holds superb habitat for a range of birds from visiting Warblers to the nationally rare Tree Sparrow.  I of course submitted my objections to this plan, however, I must commend the good people of Merton who through their commitment to fight this plan were rewarded with the news that the plan to build was refused.
It defies belief that those who are prepared to destroy important habitats are so short-sighted that they are not aware of the wildlife which occur within these habitats, or perhaps they are so ignorant and dismissive that they do not want to know.

Once again, the weather today resembled mid-winter with a fresh northerly wind bringing snow, hail, and heavy rain showers.
I decided today to completely circumnavigate Merton Park with a view to finding summer visitors.  As expected in such conditions, few birds were noted, however, sheltered parts of woodland held singing Blackcap, Chiffchaff, and a single Willow Warbler.
Tree Sparrow at Merton 26/04/16
In Exposed areas the north wind was bitter, what must summer migrants feel and think having battled through on their long journeys, enduring natural and man-made obstacles  only to arrive in what is basically wintry conditions.
Only a single Whitethroat gave a brief burst of song from a roadside hedgerow.
Tree Sparrows have long been associated with the Merton area of Breckland.  This morning I found several at a traditional location, this included one bird carrying nesting material, a large white feather.  This bird temporarily lost the feather in the strong wind and attempted to fly-catch in order to retrieve it, which it did eventually.  This left me laughing at this comical behaviour.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire (Stanwick Lakes in the Nene Valley)

Today we visited our daughter and grandchildren in the small town of Irthlingborough near Wellingborough.  The girls wanted to do some shopping in Wellingborough while I did my usual of visiting the wonderful Stanwick Lakes in the Nene Valley.
Stanwick Lakes is a wonderful, large area of many lakes created as a result of quarrying alongside the River Nene.  It is now visited by families, cyclists, walkers, dog walkers, and of course naturalists, including birders.
Willow Warbler at Irthlingborough 25/04/16

My visit today was productive for summer migrants despite the appalling conditions.  Frequent heavy showers were driven along on a cold moderate northerly wind.
I arrived at about 1100 on Station Road alongside the busy A6 road and walked north-east along the path to as far as a bridge which has traditionally been a reliable site for Sand Martins.
The habitat along the route here is superb for birds.  Hawthorn, Bramble scrub, Sallow, reeds, grazing meadows, lakes, and ditches are a magnet for birds and birders.
Notable counts for this mornings visit are as follows:

Sand Martins
10+ Cetti's Warblers
Sedge Warbler (common)
3+ Reed Warblers
1 Whitethroat
2 Lesser Whitethroats
4+ Willow Warblers

Despite the less than favourable conditions, my arrival started as the visit went on, great birds all sharing a variety of habitats, and often with a mix of song which I rarely get to hear when standing in one position.
Sedge Warbler 25/04/16 An abundant species at Irthlingborough

I got out of the car and was immediately greeted by 2 singing Cetti's Warbler, Whitethroat, and Sedge Warblers, this was followed at the beginning of my walk by singing Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler.
An example of the wealth of birdlife along the route was seen and heard at one patch of thick Bramble, Sallow, Elder, and Hawthorn habitat.  I stood and listened to and watched singing Willow Warbler, singing Sedge Warbler in Elder, singing Lesser Whitethroat and Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, and a couple of Cetti's Warblers, a real magical experience of a mix of wonderful song all sharing a variety of habitats at one location.
I then walked onto a bridge which has traditionally been a good location for Sand Martins, and I wasn't disappointed when lots of Sand Martins were wheeling about in front of me, and very close too.  Also here was further Sedge Warblers and Blackcap.  It was about this time when one of the longest showers passed through, despite this and the cold conditions, song continued, also, I looked up and saw a single Swift with Hirundines wheeling about.
Blackcap 25/04/16

As well as summer visitors, resident species seen included Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, a single Little Egret, several Blackbirds, and singing Reed Buntings.
Despite the thoroughly miserable conditions, the wealth of birdlife seen on this visit made the weather more than bearable.
Back at my daughters house, I sat and waited in the car for their return and watched a very low Red Kite patrolling local gardens and surrounding areas.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Time is getting on now with no Whitethroats seen so far, therefore, I paid a short visit to the Great Cressingham Road NW of 'The Arms' with this being my target species.  I went as far as the Watton Brook valley and returned back along the same road.
A cool morning with sunny spells and frequent light showers driven along on a moderate Northerly wind.
It wasn't too long after starting my walk that I detected some movement within the roadside hedge, the behaviour of the bird looked very favourable, then I heard a very familiar "tschair" call, the alarm call of Whitethroat, also heard was an equally familiar "ved ved ved" and then I heard brief bursts of song and sub-song, to top this I then saw a bright white throat low in the hedge, a lovely male Whitethroat, and very close by, a second male Whitethroat, perhaps these were recent arrivals.
These two Whitethroats mostly kept to cover, however, one or two brief glimpses of a bird was seen in a gap in the hedge, one view saw the lovely rusty wing panel, he was also giving sub-song.  One Whitethroat announced his arrival with a showing of its song-flight, but the conditions mostly kept the birds to the relative warmth of cover.
A singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff were heard in the wooded pit.
I moved on to the Watton Brook valley with the intention of finding another Whitethroat, or another summer migrant species somewhere along the valley, this was not to be.
Although there was no success with further summer visitors, a single Fieldfare arrived in a small area of woodland by the Brook and announced its arrival with the familiar "chack chack" call.  The Fieldfare remained here for a few minutes before flying off, gaining a good altitude and heading off in a Northerly direction, I watched this winter visitor Thrush for some time as it headed off into the northern skies.  This is now getting quite late for Fieldfare, this straggler looked a lonesome figure for a species with a very gregarious nature.  My latest ever date for Fieldfare was 1st May.
Other notable species this morning included at least 3 singing Song Thrushes and a single Mistle Thrush on grassland searching for food.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Hockham, Norfolk

Hockham, Norfolk 22/04/16
1 Little Grebe
1 Snipe
3 Lapwing (pair + intruder seen off)
6+ Grey Heron (birds seen carrying nesting material)
1 Sparrowhawk
Stock Dove (pair)
Wood Pigeon
2 Great Spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
c.10 Swallows
Mistle Thrush
Song Thrush
Chiffchaff widespread
Blackcap several heard
1 Garden Warbler - first of year
1 Sedge Warbler
Goldcrest many singing
Treecreeper 4 or 5 localities (including pair nest building)
2 Reed Buntings (males)
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Long-tailed Tit

A very grey morning with low cloud greeted my arrival at Hockham Forest.  Visibility was good but light was poor throughout this visit.
As soon as I was out of the car, Blackcap, Goldcrest, and Song Thrush were amongst the songsters greeting my arrival.
I checked a number of habitats for sign of summer migrants, notably Cuckoo and Willow Warbler, however, no sign at this stage.  The recent run of northerlies had undoubtedly held up arrivals.  Despite this, Chiffchaffs were numerous and there was a few Blackcaps singing to affirm their territories.
Treecreeper at Hockham 22/04/16

An initial check over the fen at dawn produced a  singing Sedge Warbler within reeds and Sallow scrub.
Relocating to another part of the fen, I found a pair of Treecreepers flying back and forth to an old Alder, I decided to stop and watch and remained for an hour watching these delightful little birds carrying nesting materials into a crack in the tree.  Nesting materials comprised moss, fine grasses, and wool.
Also in this area, my first Garden Warbler of the year was singing in a thick clump of Bramble scrub.
Having spent a rewarding hour watching the Treecreepers I then made my way back to my original position where at least 10 Swallows were hunting low over the fen.  The Sedge Warbler was still in fine voice.
Also noted here was Little Grebe (calling), 1 Snipe, a soaring Sparrowhawk, Stock Dove (pair).

I decided to have a cycle ride early afternoon.  I checked a former small Pine plantation (felled a few years ago), the clearing has now been taken over by low lying scrub, here, a Willow Warbler was heard in fine voice.

Lesser Whitethroats

Further arrivals of this stunning Warbler found in the week at Kimberley and Downham, near Hethersett, Norfolk.  Both records were of singing males.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Migrants week ending 17/04/16

Northerly winds in recent days have probably held up migration to a degree, however, such is the urgency to return to reaffirm territories for breeding, many migrants do make it through adverse conditions and announce their return with a wonderful variety of song.
Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are now widespread and singing within their chosen habitats.  It is still evident however that many suitable habitats have yet to be filled by returning Blackcaps.  My first Blackcap of the year was a singing male at Hethersett on 29th March followed by a more local record at Thompson on 3rd April.
Willow Warblers appeared to arrive later than usual this year with the first not heard singing until 11th April at Thompson.  The same day saw a pair of mating Marsh Harriers on the patch, a great local record.
My first Hirundines were seen on 12th April with a House Martin at Barnham Broom, a little while later a single Swallow was seen at Barford.
The 15th and 16th April were particularly wet days with drier conditions finally arriving early afternoon on the latter date.  On 16th April I visited Little Cressingham (The Arms) with the intention of finding my first Whitethroat of the year, as I approached The Arms I heard a quiet scratchy sub-song which stopped me in my tracks, I saw movement and a short while later I saw a stunning male Lesser Whitethroat skulking in roadside hedgerows, its constant picking at branches and Blackthorn blossom suggested this might have been a recently arrived tired migrant.  This is one of my earliest returning Lesser Whitethroats.
A visit to Bodney on 17th April saw and heard 3 migrant Warbler species on territory, these were Chiffchaffs, Blackcap, and at least one Willow Warbler.  As well as summer migrants, winter visitors will also still be on the move.  A single Fieldfare on heathland looked quite lonesome given the usual gregarious nature of this species.  Finally, at least one Redpoll overflew in a northerly heading, a possible outgoing wintering bird.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

We have seen a long and almost continuous period of rain, some heavy, and driven along on a moderate to fresh northerly wind.  By this afternoon, a more settled spell of sunny spells was welcome, however, the Arctic wind was a noticeable feature.
This afternoon I decided to walk from 'The Arms' along the Great Cressingham Road to the Watton Brook valley.  Evidence of the recent rain was seen with high levels of water in the Brook.
I expected to see and hear evidence of summer migrants on this walk and indeed a couple of male Blackcaps were heard in song along with the repetitive song of Chiffchaffs.
At the brook I checked the valley for signs of migrants but none were seen, in fact, it was generally quiet with just Buzzards seen over nearby woodland.
Lesser Whitethroat at Little Cressingham 16/04/16

As I approached The Arms I heard a quiet scratchy warble which stopped me in my tracks, movement was seen and I suspected a Sylvia Warbler.  My suspicions were confirmed when a splendid male Lesser Whitethroat appeared in the hedge occasionally giving bursts of its familiar rattle-like song.  This bird was watched moving along the hedge, clambering within cover and sometimes appearing to show quite well.  The constant movement through the hedge was accompanied by a search for food, often picking at twigs and amongst Blackthorn blossom, this urgency to feed suggested this was a recent hungry arrival intent on feeding.  This must surely be one of the earliest Lesser Whitethroats in Norfolk this spring.

1930: A Peregrine passed north over Watton

Sunday, 3 April 2016

East Wretham and Croxton Heaths, Norfolk (with Ray and Pam Perry and Ian Smith)

It is always about this time of year that I invite friends to join me in a search for Adders on both Croxton and East Wretham Heaths.  Today, my very good friends Ray and Pam Perry, and Ian Smith, all joined me for a search of good Adder habitats.  Although initially cool, overnight cloud was slowly moving away to eventually give sunny and warm conditions.
I met my friends at the East Wretham Heath car park at 0730, and the plan was to walk over the heath to meet up with Harling Drove, and then on to Croxton Heath.
Once on Harling Drove we walked west towards Croxton Heath.  With the sun behind us we had a good opportunity to overview Langmere.  Firstly, Lapwings reacted angrily, and gave chase to Crows which entered their territories.  A pair of Lapwings were seen closely one of which, the male bird, appeared to be involved in courtship. 
Chiffchaff on Croxton Heath 02/04/16 (many heard and seen)
Langmere is fed by aquifers, the water levels are therefore subject to fluctuation and at the current time there is plenty of water supporting a variety of species, although the high water marks indicated levels have been higher.  This morning Tufted Duck, a few Shoveler, several Teal, and a pair of Egyptian Geese were seen. 
Leaving Langmere behind us we continued along Harling Drove.  A large recently cleared area of forestry held a pair of Woodlarks.  The dominant species along the Harling Drove was Chiffchaff, with many singing males present, especially in areas of scrub and Birch habitat.
By the time we reached one of the
Common Lizard on Croxton Heath 02/04/16
forest rides which is reliable for Reptiles, the cloud which was slow to move, eventually gave way to Sunny, and quite warm conditions, especially in areas out of the wind. It was along the forest rides that we spaced ourselves and walked back and forth searching woodland edge for Adders, the first good sign was a sunning Common Lizard on dead wood, this surely was a sign that our main quarry wouldn't be too far behind.  With careful searching I eventually found an Adder sunning itself beside a Silver Birch on Bracken.  I managed to call Ray, Pam, and Ian t me and we all
A well concealed Adder at Croxton Heath 02/04/16 (found by Ray Perry)
enjoyed quite brief views of this Adder before it retreated into thick bracken habitat.  A short while later I found a second Adder, slightly bigger than the first, and again, sunning itself on woodland edge.
We then moved from this site to a known hibernaculum for Adders, and although not initially seen I was sure they would show sometime soon.  I was looking elsewhere when Ray summoned me to say he had seen an Adder around the base of a dead tree stump.  We watched this Adder for some time as it remained still before making slight movements within cover.
I must say that I breathed a sigh of relief at seeing 3 Adders this morning as I don't like to disappoint people if I aim to show them a target species, this was especially so with Pam Perry as she had not seen an Adder until today.
Walking back along Harling Drove, Chiffchaffs continued to dominate, however, no other summer migrants were seen or heard.  As we walked past Langmere a Curlew dropped in calling.
Leaving the woodland behind us the final part of the walk took us over open, exposed heathland, it was at this time that we discovered that despite the warm conditions in the sheltered woodland, the wind was quite cool.
Finally, I wish to thank my good friends Ray and Pam Perry and Ian Smith for joining me on this walk.  We all thoroughly enjoyed the morning, especially so as Adders were seen.