Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 26 September 2016

Houghton, Watton Brook, and Hockham

400+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls
4 Grey Partridge
5+ Buzzards
1 Marsh Harrier (male)
3 Hobby
2 Kingfisher (singles 2 sites)
Meadow Pipit (very light southerly passage)
2 Blackcap

What was particularly noticeable about today was the reduced numbers of Warbler species, especially at Houghton.  The vast amount of Sylvia Warblers have probably departed now for warmer climes, however, Chiffchaffs remained plentiful and a couple of Blackcaps were seen/heard.

I started the day with an early morning visit to Houghton, arriving at 0645 and remained until about 0825.  The first obvious movement was of a southerly passage of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, although later 400+ birds were seen in stubble.
A check of hedgerows and other suitable habitats produced several Chiffchaffs and just a single Blackcap.  5+ Meadow Pipits passed overhead in a southerly direction.  Close to the church 5+ Blackbirds and a single Song Thrush were seen sharing the same small tree.  The churchyard itself held a few Chiffchaffs, including a singing bird.
On farmland, 4 Grey Partridges were seen together, an uncommon sight these days.
Grey Partridges at Houghton 26 Sept.  4 birds seen together.
Watton Brook (Little Cressingham)
A short visit today revealed little along the valley, however, a single Blackcap (female) was seen in Osiers before flying off north to hedgerows.  A single Kingfisher flew along the valley.

Chiffchaff by Umbellifer at Hockham 26 Sept.

A short but productive visit started with a male Marsh Harrier hunting over reeds and Sallows, whilst  in the area at least 5 Buzzards were seen.  3 Hobby were seen together hunting above  woodland and fen habitat.  Insects was the main quarry with one bird seen feeding on the wing by passing food from talon to bill.
Two Grey Herons were seen.  A single Kingfisher passed by me calling.
In nearby woodland a mobile flock of Long-tailed Tits comprised other Tit species and Chiffchaffs.  One Chiffchaff was watched for some time picking for food from the underside of Umbellifer species.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Houghton and Watton Brook Valley

A distinctly autumnal feel at dawn today with a low of 6 degrees Celsius.  The day started bright and dry with mist hanging over low lying areas.  Pleasantly warm by the afternoon with a high of 21 degrees and a light to moderate south-westerly.

Houghton 0630-0800
A visit to Houghton this morning proved interesting with evidence of some early autumn Thrush movements.

1 Swallow south
Meadow Pipit - a very light overhead southerly passage
5 Skylarks south
1 Mistle Thrush
6+ Song Thrush (Inc. 3 arrivals from north)
Blackcap female eating Elderberries
20+ Yellowhammers
15+ Chaffinches

Arrival of migrant Song Thrushes 
A spot check on the common produced lots of different bird species on the move, some undoubtedly were local movements as with the Finches and Buntings, however, of particular interest was 3+ Song Thrushes arriving from the north and then descending fast into the cover of hedgerow.  These Song Thrushes were undoubtedly continental birds which have abandoned their Scandinavian breeding grounds to winter in Britain or the Iberian Peninsula.  These must be some of the first migrant Song Thrushes to arrive in Norfolk this autumn.

Watton Brook Valley
A visit to a small section of the valley this afternoon produced 3 Stonechats, 2 Red Kites (pair), and 3 Buzzards.

Muntjac Deer at Houghton 23 Sept. '16.  A common and widespread deer throughout Norfolk 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Wramplingham (Skoyles Lane), Norfolk

During my afternoon break from work today (1345-1500) I chose a completely random location to take lunch and do some birding from my parking spot between a break in a hedge along Skoyles Lane.  The habitat here was arable with some fine hedgerow habitat to check, in particular a lovely area of tall Hawthorn with Elder and Bramble within.

2 Sparrowhawk
1 Kestrel
2 Red Kites
3 Buzzards
1 Marsh Harrier NW at 1430
2 Lesser Whitethroats

The first raptor was a soaring Sparrowhawk above me shortly followed by a hunting Kestrel to the north.  A pair of Red Kites showed well as they soared low over farmland.  At least 3 Buzzards were seen including two soaring directly above me and calling. At 1430 a Marsh Harrier passed over in an north-westerly heading and attracted the attention of a few mobbing Crows.  Another Sparrowhawk was later seen soaring low over woodland.
Well stocked hedgerow at Wramplingham 22 Sept where 2 Lesser Whitethroats seen 
As soon as I parked up for my break I took particular interest in this hedgerow which runs north to south at Skoyles Lane.  Some fine, tall Hawthorn are seen here along with Elder bushes and Brambles with a very heavy crop of Blackberries. 
I felt confident that passage Warblers would be present at this excellent feeding staging location and indeed at 1400 I detected movement, it was a superb looking Lesser Whitethroat, then close by a second Lesser Whitethroat joined it.  Initially I viewed these stunning Warblers at x8, however, having set the 'scope up I had some excellent views at x25 to x30.
These Lesser Whitethroats were typically stunning birds with their grey heads and darker ear-coverts contrasting strongly with the white throat.  The mantle and wings were a uniform brownish and the underparts very white.  Calls were frequently given, this was a sharp "stit", sometimes given once, sometimes given in rapid succession.  Close views of these beautiful Warblers showed them feeding upon Blackberries.
I finally departed this location to return to work just after 1500.   

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Houghton-on-the-Hill and Watton Brook Valley

The day dawned with low cloud, mist, and low light conditions. By mid-morning there was cloud of varying height with occasional brighter spells. Temperature at dawn was 15 degrees Celsius rising to a high of 19 degrees.  The wind was a light to moderate NNW.

I arrived at this locality at 0715, remaining until 1045.  I allowed an hour of visible migration between 0935 until 1035 with little evidence of passage.
Migrant habitat at Houghton
Once again my focus was on finding migrants.  I positioned myself close to the habitat pictured here for some time and saw many Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps moving through Elder and Bramble habitat.  The Elder crop appears to have been mostly consumed by migrants now, however, heavy crops of Blackberries will now be the main food source for Warbler species.  Also seen here was a number of Whitethroats.
Following my visit to this staging post, I investigated the nearby hedgerows which are always good for migrant species.  Once again, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, and Whitethroats were present in good numbers.  One Whitethroat was observed eating Blackberries. 3 Meadow Pipits directly above would have been recently arrived migrants, perhaps from upland Britain.
At 0935 I set up for a migrant watch, however, I didn't witness any movement at this time, nevertheless, a nice flock of 70+ Lapwings was seen to the distant NW.  Closer to my position I saw a pale phase Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Stock Dove, and a single Mistle Thrush over.  10+ House Martins passed overhead in a northerly heading.

Watton Brook Valley (Little Cressingham)
I arrived at the WB Valley at about 1530 to the noise and sight of hundreds of Corvids on grassland to the west along the valley, surely, a Goshawk took interest in this gathering.
Stonechat in the Watton Brook Valley 18 Sept
An initial check of the posts along the brook produced a single Stonechat, this is undoubtedly the same bird I have seen here for some time now.  Typically, the Stonechat used posts and fencing to watch the ground below, from here it would launch sallies to the ground to collect invertebrates.
Also, close by, 2 juvenile Blackbirds fed upon blackberries and a mobile Tit flock comprising Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tits, and Chiffchaff, moved through Sallows.
Finally, a single Snipe was seen flying west along the valley. 

Friday, 16 September 2016

On this day....

Honey Buzzard over Watton, Norfolk 17th September 2012.
I remember this day clearly, I was sitting in the garden with both my binoculars and camera at the ready because conditions felt right for raptor passage.  The sky viewable from my garden is but a minute fraction of the total skies over the large county of Norfolk, nevertheless, my then garden species record stood at just over 100 species (birds seen both in and from garden) with raptors featuring as regular birds of passage.
It was early afternoon when I saw a large raptor approaching from the north-west, it looked different.  Quickly I picked up the bird in my binoculars and saw it was a Honey Buzzard, it continued to approach and then passed directly above me at probably no more than 100 feet.  I picked up the camera and managed a few shots of this very scarce raptor, further investigation showed this to be a dark phase juvenile Honey Buzzard. 
My belief is that it pays to watch the skies this time of year wherever you are as scarce and rare birds do pass overhead during peak times of migration.
Honey Buzzard (dark phase juvenile) over Watton 17th September 2012

Honey Buzzard (dark phase juvenile) directly overhead at Watton, Norfolk 17th September 2012.  Note the small protruding head on this bird, a classic feature of this species.

One very lucky Tawny Owl....thank god.

At 0600 I was heading for Houghton.  Driving through the village of Saham Toney I passed over the bridge over Watton Brook and immediately in front of me in the middle of my lane a Tawny Owl was sitting on prey, I braked but couldn't stop in time and I felt a very sickening feeling as I heard noise under the car, I stopped and went back to check the road and all I found was a freshly dead Wood Pigeon squab.  A driver who was behind me but stopped in front of me said "It's ok, it flew off", I thanked him for this and felt very relieved.

I arrived at Houghton to dismal, misty, drizzle conditions, and very poor light.  The continuing period of 30+ degrees has been replaced by fresher, more autumnal conditions.  This was a fairly short visit as the drizzle was beginning to turn to rain, and in fact, continuous heavy rain with early thunder and lightning was to follow for the day ahead.
Light was poor, however, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were heard in the hedgerows, also, my second Tawny Owl of the day was seen flying between woodland, and then calling. 

Surface pressure charts for the coming weekend suggests good conditions for migrating raptors, and possibly movements of passerines, including Pipit species.  I have seen Honey Buzzard and Osprey in similar conditions.

Deopham Green, Norfolk, 13th September

1400-1500 With temperatures again in excess of 30 degrees I decided for my work break to visit the wide open expanses of the disused WW2 airfield at Deopham to look for raptors.
This was a productive but short visit with a single Buzzard, soaring Sparrowhawk, hunting Kestrel, and 2 Hobby passing over.

12th September - a notable day for Chiffchaffs

I visited a number of sites on the patch on 12 September with the emphasis once again on finding migrants and indeed, Chiffchaffs featured with high numbers seen and heard.

A circular walk at Houghton was productive with my staging post holding good numbers of migrants. At dawn a flock of 10+ Mistle Thrushes moved through Oaks and in the hedgerows the "hweet" calls of Chiffchaffs was heard.
I checked my regular patch of dense Elder, Hawthorn, and Sallow habitat and located many Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler, and at least 2 Lesser Whitethroats.  The hedgerow corridor produced Whitethroat and further Chiffchaffs.

Watton Brook Valley
Following on from Houghton I checked a small section of the valley which was surprisingly quiet, however, a single Chiffchaff was heard singing and calling to the north, I watched and heard this individual make its way closer to me, entering a Bramble patch in front of me before flying into a group of Sallows.

A late afternoon visit to the sewage treatment works produced high numbers of Chiffchaffs in front of me in one small area of Elder and conifer screen.  Also noted here was a number of Goldcrests and a Grey Wagtail.   

Friday, 9 September 2016

An early morning visit to Hockham produced at least 3 Hobby, one of which, a juvenile was 'scoped. The young Hobby had a buff-creamy tones to its breast, underparts, and facial 'cheek' areas, and lacked the red 'trousers' of the adult Hobby.
With the wind being a fresh south-westerly I didn't expect to see much evidence of migrants in the Watton Brook valley, and indeed, all I saw was a first winter female Stonechat.  A juvenile Grey Heron was seen nearby.
Shortly after midday I arrived at Houghton.  A check of distant skies produced soaring Common Buzzard but no evidence of passage raptors at this time.  The only notable passage seen here was a south-westerly movement of Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls.  A single Sparrowhawk hunted along a hedgerow, also a Kestrel hunted.  A few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were also heard on this short visit.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Great Melton, Norfolk

During my work-break this morning I paid a brief visit to the churchyard at Great Melton.  My twenty minutes or so spent here saw a frenzy of activity in the well wooded periphery where many species were mobile amongst the variety of conifer and deciduous trees.
Goldcrest at Great Melton 7th Sept.

Tit species were the most vocal with Long-tailed and Great Tits appearing to comprise the dominant species.  A few Blackcaps were both seen and heard with one particularly attractive male seen.  Chiffchaffs were also present, and indeed both Warbler species formed a part of a social group of mobile species.
Common species also seen were Chaffinches and Robins with both Nuthatch and Treecreeper being heard. 
Goldcrests were seen and heard, this included at least a couple of birds foraging the undersides of Oak leaves on the outermost low branches of the tree as well as being seen well in conifer species where they foraged amongst the greenery. 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Just arrived back from a dog walk this evening just down the road at Merton and another Goshawk seen well along Broomhill Lane leaving woodland above me, gliding for a while, stooping, then gliding again into woodland along Crows Lane.  A good time of year to see wandering juvenile Goshawks on the patch.

Saturday, 3 September 2016


1 Goshawk (male)
2 Kestrel
2 Buzzard
20+ Blackcap
15+ Chiffchaffs
1 Lesser Whitethroat
35+ Goldfinches
12+ Linnets

Throughout much of September and October I spend much of my birding at this locality.  Its elevation and virtually uninterrupted views from the west to the north-east allows for excellent visible-migration.  The distance viewable from this elevated point is something in the region of 5 miles or so.  Again, this proves invaluable when tracking migrants, and the wealth of habitat at Houghton and landmarks would make this a target staging point for many hungry and tired migrant birds.
Raptors have featured significantly at Houghton with Honey Buzzard, Ospreys, Montagu's Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Hobby and Peregrine, all being recorded.  Wader species are often seen including Greenshank, Whimbrel, and Snipe passing over.  Significant movements of passerine species have been observed, this has included hundreds of Meadow Pipits being seen in one morning moving over as well as winter Thrush movements which have exceeded thousands.  Flocks of several hundred Hirundines have been witnessed and as seen from my posts, this is also a staging post for many migrants, including Warblers, Wheatear, Redstart, and less frequently, Tree Pipit. 
Looking north from Houghton 3rd Sept.  The land slips away gently to the valley and River Wissey tributary and rises again to a viewing distance of about 5 miles.  A great place to witness bird migration.

Blackcap (male) at Houghton 3rd Sept.  Many seen this morning.
0605:  As I was approaching Houghton, large numbers of Crows had clearly been disturbed, moments later a Goshawk alighted in an Oak ahead of me before flying off again in a southerly heading.
This morning was focussed on migrants again and a circular walk beginning at the church eventually produced well in excess of 20 Blackcaps, with all age groups being seen.  One of the first was an immaculate looking female bird seen quite close to, also a number of males seen including a couple together in one Elder.  Male Blackcaps were heard giving sub-song and the alarm tongue clicking "tak" was often heard.  The main food source for the Blackcaps was Elderberries and indeed some birds were seen taking food.
Chiffchaffs were also quite numerous this morning and again, Elderberries were the main food source.
A single Lesser Whitethroat was heard only.  
30+ Swallows were present with individuals flying between trees to find insect food, one bird was seen for a while chasing a small insect before successfully catching it.
As I was nearing the end of this visit a Tawny Owl called very close to me, however, it was not located visually.

1040: Back home, I was enjoying a coffee in the garden when a very notable 8 Buzzards seen soaring very high directly over the garden/Watton.