Breckland Birder

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

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Common Sandpiper at Deopham, Norfolk

Following the end of my shift just after midday today I decided to stop off at the muck heap and surrounding water to check for evidence of Wader passage.
I was expecting if anything to find Green Sandpiper as this is the most likely species to be found at the habitat, however, I was more than pleased to find a beautiful Common Sandpiper feeding around the fringes of the water.
Common Sandpiper at Deopham, 22nd August.  Alert carriage.
This Common Sandpiper had a more horizontal carriage than Green Sandpiper, although when alert it would appear a more upright, slender bird.  Typical behaviour observed included a constant bobbing, or 'teetering' action of the rear end of the bird, the head was also bobbed.  A very nervous bird which was ready to fly when a Pied Wagtail landed nearby, or when the odd car passed by.
Common Sandpiper at Deopham 22nd August.  Note the brownish upperparts and the distinctive white 'hook' at the breast side which wraps around the folded wing.
Compared to the similar Green Sandpiper, the Common Sandpiper appears browner, has a more hunched carriage, and has a distinctive area of white hooked around the folder wing.  The legs are pale green.
Common Sandpiper at Deopham 22nd August.  Green and Common Sandpipers are the most likely 'similar looking' passage wader species to be encountered inland.  To eliminate confusion between the two species the Common Sandpiper has this very distinctive white wing-bar, the Green has an unmarked, dark upperwing.
In flight, the most distinctive feature separating this species from Green Sandpiper was seen, this was the very distinctive white wing bar.  The flight call is a sweet "swee wee wee".
Also seen at the muckheap was a couple of juvenile Pied Wagtails, also, pairs of Linnets occasionally visited to drink.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Watton Brook Valley at Little Cressingham, Norfolk

A drive home from work produced a couple of Swifts at Wicklewood, now becoming scarce as most have now departed for Africa.
Following work I made a visit to the Watton Brook Valley near Little Cressingham.  The time is approaching when the fencing, posts, and thick cover alongside the brook will hold migrant Chats, Flycatchers, Warblers, and Wagtails.
My visit this afternoon was fairly quiet with the exception of a very distant female Stonechat on fencing and posts.  Typical behaviour observed included the bird flying to the ground for a few seconds and then flying back to the fence/post to probably eat a small invertebrate it had caught in the grass.  Frequent wing-flicking was seen.  Although distant the bird appeared dull orangey brown on its breast with darker head and upperparts.  There was a hint of a small white patch on its secondaries.
Stonechats are short distant migrants with birds not wandering too far from their summer breeding haunts.  This bird was undoubtedly a breeder on a local Breckland heath.
Also seen was a single Song Thrush which flew directly overhead giving its distinctive "tic" call.
Back at home in Watton and another single Swift seen overhead late afternoon.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Bodney, Norfolk

A small patch of rough ground beside the Watton Brook Valley was my destination early this morning.  My intention was to find migrants, witness passage, and observe behaviour indicative of birds preparing for migration.
Whitethroat in typical late summer habitat at Bodney 19th August
The habitat visited on my patch this morning is a small area of permanent rough ground comprising of long grass, nettles, Ragwort, Umbellifer, and Elder, one of which is older and very heavily in fruit.
This part of my patch is usually productive for migrant birds, last August I had Redstart there.
I naturally focussed on the Elder bushes in this area and found 3 Whitethroats in this habitat, this included seeing the birds feeding upon Elderberries.  Also seen was 2 Chiffchaffs, again, seen in Elder, sometimes in close association with Whitethroat.  Whitethroats, as with other Warbler species have now changed their dietary requirements.  Insect prey was the main diet for Warblers throughout spring and summer, such food ensures a good nutritional value for young in the nest, now however, their diet has changed to soft fruits such as Elderberries, these high energy foods will ensure the birds have a good body weight for their forthcoming southerly bound migration.
Whitethroat in Elder at Bodney 19th August
The rough land with its variety of weeds attracted several Goldfinches, both adults and juveniles seen here.  Other common species seen included several Pied Wagtails, Dunnock, Wren, and Robins (2).
A number of Swallows seen low over the valley and surrounding areas searching for food, whilst 9+ birds heading purposefully south may have been passage birds.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Deopham Green, Norfolk

I arrived at Deopham Green with warm sunny spells and a fresh southerly wind, however, very threatening skies eventually brought driving rain.
A check of the muckheap which has recently produced a few Green Sandpipers today produced something different, a single, beautiful Snipe.  This very attractive wader fed in soft mud around water by probing with its long straight bill 'sewing machine' style, for invertebrate food.  The bird also spent time preening and resting by the water edge. 
Snipe at Deopham Green 18th August

Snipe at Deopham Green 18th August
Often seen in very good light between rain, the stunning head pattern was revealed, a pale crown stripe bordered either side by black lateral crown stripes, a broad buff supercillium, black lores, darkish eye stripe, which all gave a very conspicuous head pattern.  The upper parts are cryptic brown, and without optics blended very well against its background.  The underparts are white with flank barring.
This Snipe is undoubtedly a passage bird which has stopped off at this rich feeding ground in order to refuel before continuing its journey.
Also seen at this location today was 3+ Pied Wagtails (juveniles), a couple of visiting SwallowsWood Pigeons, and occasional pairs of Linnets.

Watton Brook Valley (early afternoon)

A fairly quiet visit with few migrants in the valley, however, an overhead westerly passage of 10+ Swallows is a typical movement for this date.
Hundreds of Crows roamed large fields of stubble, and in the valley, Wood Pigeons and 30+ Stock Doves were present.
A single Whitethroat was seen moving between thick waterside cover, sensibly keeping low in the moderate to fresh south-westerly wind.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Watton Brook Valley, Norfolk

What a cracking morning with a real autumnal feel to it, bright and cool (7 degrees at dawn), and a mist hanging over the valley.  Morning like this give a feel of expectation, especially as we now progress towards autumn migration.
This morning I spent just a short time visiting the valley as I had a midday appointment in Norwich, despite this it was quite a productive morning as the following list shows:

25+ Stock Doves
Wood Pigeon
1 Buzzard
1 Kingfisher
1 Stonechat (juvenile)
2 Whitethroats
Blackcap
1 Willow Warbler
Coal Tit (family party)
Great Tit
Goldcrest
40+ Linnets

Watton Brook
A short, static count at the Brook produced a single juvenile Stonechat.  Although quite close this young bird was almost always against the light, thus appearing in silhouetted form.  Despite this, the bird appeared typically dumpy with a short tail.  The plumage appeared dark and speckled with the feint hint of a small white wedged shaped patch on its secondaries.
Also here was 2 Whitethroats, one of which frequented a Bramble patch and attempted to feed upon a ripe berry.  The other was in bankside herbage.
A single Kingfisher flew along the valley and a single Wren was seen also.

A single Willow Warbler was in a roadside hedge at a locality where the species bred this year. The distinctive "hooweet" call frequently given.

Wooded Pit close to 'The Arms'.
Another short, static check of this small, mixed woodland habitat, which included some fine, mature Scots Pine specimens, produced a mobile family party of Coal Tits with Great Tit present also.
Blackcap was also heard here.
The adjacent field edges with an abundance of weedy strips held 40+ Linnets, good feeding here.
Coal Tit at Little Cressingham 11th August

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Deopham, Norfolk 1300-1330

A day of thick, low cloud with heavy persistent rain and pro-longed showers, and a fresh northerly wind.
A short check of a regularly visited muck-heap early afternoon produced a single Green Sandpiper by the waters edge, however, it flew off at 1324, climbing high and heading more or less south.  The distinctive dark wings contrasting strongly with the bright-white rump.
The poor conditions forced 3+ Swallows down low, making sweeps around the muck-heap and water for insect prey.
3 Pied Wagtails (juveniles) seen around the waters edge.  A small flock of 12+ Linnets visited the area.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

North Pickenham, Norfolk (Evidence of passage picking up)

This morning I visited Houghton-on-the-Hill, my migration watch-point.  My previous visit was on 28th July when there was little evidence of passage, however, this morning saw an increase in numbers of Warblers, most notably Whitethroats, which were found at various habitats in the area.  Although no great numbers of Whitethroats were seen, numbers are an increase on my most previous visit.  Numbers will become significantly greater as we progress through August.
The mornings first Whitethroat was found in Elder scrub where it was seen taking berries, another bird was seen searching a hedgerow nearby.  One was also seen skulking in cover in a churchyard.
Blackcaps were also seen and heard including a lovely male taking Elderberries.  Female and juvenile Blackcaps were also seen.  Also seen in the same Elder was a single Lesser Whitethroat, also feeding upon berries.
Red Kite near North Pickenham 5th August
Other species seen in the churchyard included a number of Blue Tits passing through, Coal Tit, 2 Nuthatches, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, and Bullfinch.  Overhead, a single Red Kite soared just above the tree canopy.
Interestingly, a single, small shrub bathed in early morning, warm sunshine held a single Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Blue and Great Tit, Chaffinch, a single Greenfinch, Robin (adult and juvenile), and Dunnock.  The Lesser Whitethroat sat preening for a while, the bright white underparts particularly conspicuous in the sunshine.
During the breeding season, Warblers are insectivorous birds, however, their diet changes now very much to various soft fruits which will become abundant in the next few weeks.  These fruits are taken in order to build energy reserves in readiness for their long migration south.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Litter Pick

As a great lover of the countryside, I am disgusted at the unnecessary dumping of rubbish on our roadside verges.  I feel sorry for those who dump rubbish in our countryside, I think there is something defective in their brain development that causes them to not lock into single syllable words such as "Bin" and take their litter home.
Much of my walking is done either side of the Watton Brook Valley around Threxton, Little Cressingham, Great Cressingham, and Bodney, and I get very annoyed at the rubbish left by idiots who are incapable of taking their litter home.

With this in mind, I have been thinking about arranging a 'litter pick day', spending just an hour or two, once a month, collecting rubbish and litter from our verges and hedgerows.  I am therefore writing to ask if any of my friends would like to join me in this activity, all you would need is high visibility clothing, stout footwear, and a pair of heavy-duty gloves i.e. gardening gloves.  I would dispose of collected rubbish.

This could easily be made into a nice social event/gathering, where we could stop for a flask of coffee or soup, and a good old natter.

If interested, please e-mail me at paulnewport2810@gmail.com in order to register your interest and we could discuss initial arrangements.

Many thanks

Paul

North Pickenham and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Early rain moved away to give sunny spells, the main feature of the weather being the fresh, occasionally strong, south-westerly wind which gave an autumnal feel to the morning.
The main focus of the morning was to find evidence of passage, notably involving wader species, however, nothing seen or heard at these locations.

North Pickenham
My first stop this morning was on high ground which is my primary location on my patch for witnessing bird migration.  This relatively short visit was intended for witnessing wader passage as this location has previously produced passage species such as Snipe, Whimbrel, and Greenshank, this visit did not produce on this occasion.
A walk between a wonderful, virtually unbroken hedgerow corridor produced Blackbird, a number of Linnets (adult male, female, and juveniles), and Goldfinch.  Little evidence of Warbler passage, other than Blackcap heard, however, as we progress into August, then September, this location will see high numbers of various Warbler species passing through as they stop to feed upon the rich supply of fruits in the hedgerow.  Annually, high numbers of Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, smaller numbers of Lesser Whitethroats, Garden Warbler, Reed Warbler, and very scarcely, Tree Pipit, all visit this prominent, elevated location to rest and feed as they journey south.  Daily counts of Whitethroats at this site, for example, has produced 30+ birds.
A check this morning of thick cover around a natural spring produced a juvenile Whitethroat in Elder habitat, this bird was picking at unripe fruit.  This may have been an early migrant or evidence of post-breeding dispersal.  Also present here was Chiffchaff, Linnets, and Yellowhammer.
Of mammalian interest, I watched a Hare with its suckling Leveret feeding.

Little Cressingham (Watton Brook Valley)
I left North Pickenham and arrived on the Great Cressingham road, north-west of 'The Arms', again, with the intention of witnessing evidence of migration.  By this time the south-westerly wind had at times reached fresh, to occasionally strong, and any small birds present would have probably kept low.
A static watch along the Watton Brook valley produced a Kestrel on wires, and the only passerine of note was a single Song Thrush flying up from the valley, against the wind, and into nearby woodland.
Another static watch, looking west over arable and into STANTA, produced a female Sparrowhawk flying close to the ground in the hope of surprising a small passerine species.  Also present was a hunting Kestrel.
The only passerine of note was the occasional passing Linnet.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Deopham, Norfolk

On my way home from work I stopped briefly at the muck heap to check for evidence of wader passage.  Nothing seen on my immediate arrival, however, at about 1500hrs, some 5 minutes following my arrival, 3 Green Sandpipers alighted in shallow water by the muck heap, seconds later, they flew off again, gaining height and heading off north.  I was setting up at the time, I think my movement probably caused the birds to fly.
Green Sandpiper at Deopham
Many Wood Pigeons dropped in as did a couple of Stock Doves.  A hunting Kestrel, Swift, a few Swallows, and the expected Pied Wagtails were present.  Linnet and Yellowhammer also passed through.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Deopham, Norfolk 1230-1300

Following work I decided to visit the muck heap once again in the hope of finding passage wader species.  The sky was wall to wall grey with frequent rain and heavy drizzle showers, the light and visibility was poor, and wind was a northerly, moderate to fresh in strength.  It really did feel bleak in these conditions, however, the muck heap today proved to be a magnet for various species to drop in at.
My intention on this visit was to find passage Waders and immediately upon my arrival, a familiar sight of a bird with all black wings and snowy white rump took to the wing, this told me that my visits to this wonderful sight paid off as this bird was a stunning juvenile Green Sandpiper.
Eventually, the Green Sandpiper came back into view along the edge of stagnant water where it proceeded to feed in the shallows.  Whilst feeding, the bird was relaxed and adopted a horizontal carriage, however, when alarmed, it was quite alert and stretched its neck to appear a more elegant bird before adopting its more familiar carriage once again.
A number of other species seen visiting the muck heap included the expected Pied Wagtails, Wood Pigeons, a pair of Stock Doves, and Linnet.
Green Sandpiper at Deopham 24 July

Green Sandpiper at Deopham 24th July
Green Sandpiper at Deopham 24th July

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Deopham, Norfolk

I went out this morning just as the previous nights storms were moving off to give brighter conditions, the wind was a moderate easterly, and the expected high today is 30 degrees Celsius.
Last night I heard a Green Sandpiper pass over Watton after 2200hrs, with this I decided to visit habitat near Deopham which should attract a passage Wader species.
Last nights thunder storms resulted in plenty of surface water on the roads but most were passable with care.  I arrived at my destination near Deopham and firstly checked the muck heap where a Wader should drop in, however, this morning only a couple of Pied Wagtails were seen, an adult female and a juvenile bird.
I then walked north-east along the road which is on the course of the former main runway of the second world war USAF airfield.  The country here is a vast expanse of arable with pockets of small woodland and some excellent Bramble cover.  This was a quiet morning with an occasional car passing by, whilst in a nearby field, farm machinery stand silent within a part harvested crop of Oilseed Rape.
Reaching a wonderful habitat of Bramble cover within isolated, exposed country, a family party of Whitethroats were heard giving their agitated calls, the occasional bird briefly breaking cover to check me out. One adult bird carrying food looked a little scruffy in appearance, clearly a result of the birds busy lifestyle raising its young.
Whitethroat near Deopham 19th July. One of a family party in a lovely patch of bramble within vast, open country.
Many Whitethroat breeding habitats checked on my patch recently have now fallen silent as youngsters disperse from their natal sites, this results in young Whitethroats turning up anywhere as they follow good food sources.
Close by to where I was watching the Whitethroat family, about 20 Swallows passed by low over a crop of corn, whilst a single Common Tern passed over in a northerly heading.
A Finch species associated with open country is the Linnet, a number of these birds were flying about in variable directions, however, a small flock of about 6 birds alighted in a small Hawthorn, two of these birds were males and showed off their stunning rosy breast patches in the early light.
A final check of the muck heap once again produced just Pied Wagtail.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Green Sandpiper

Just heard a Green Sandpiper overflying the garden at 2217 hours on Tuesday 18th July.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Deopham, Norfolk

Another afternoon work break spent by a muck heap with lots of lovely stagnant water for various insect species to thrive in, and of course for attracting birds.  No sign of passage waders again on this visit, however, if the water remains it should attract a wader on passage.
This afternoons visit saw some good birds visiting this small site, most notably, Pied Wagtails, including adult male, female, and juvenile birds constantly on the move picking off midges from the mud and surface of the water.
Pied Wagtail (juvenile) at Deopham 13th July
A few Swallows visited to drink from the water, however, a pair of Swifts displayed great agility and speed as they made a few circuits and low passes over the site to pick off insect prey.
Single and pairs of Linnets were seen including a very handsome male displaying rosy breast patches.
Pairs of Stock Doves dropped in as well as the ubiquitous Wood Pigeon.
A very attractive female Kestrel was seen hunting the area.  Rodents, small birds, or possibly an invertebrate species, such as a beetle, would be possible prey items for the Kestrel.
Kestrel (female) hunting at Deopham 13th July

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Pied Wagtails at Deopham Green, Norfolk

4 or 5 Pied Wagtails (adult female and juveniles) were seen around a muck heap and still, stagnant water at Deopham Green, Norfolk.
This time of year I spend a lot of time around manure and muck heaps as they attract various midges and other insect species to the stands of still, stagnant water. Such habitats attract a wide variety of birds, especially wader species on passage. Recent rains will ensure stagnant water will remain for a while, increasing chances of a Wader dropping in. Today, swarms of flying midges as well as water borne insects were seen here, plenty of feeding for migrating and resident birds.
As well as the adult female bird, much paler juvenile birds (3+) visited this site.
Adult female Pied Wagtail at Deopham Green 1 July

Juvenile Pied Wagtail at Deopham Green 11 July

Adult female Pied Wagtail at Deopham Green 11 July

Juvenile Pied Wagtail at Deopham Green 11 July


Saturday, 8 July 2017

Hockham, Norfolk 0615-0730

Following a fairly quiet 20 minutes or so at Hockham, the silence was broken by the straining calls of a number of Crows, immediately I thought Goshawk.  Seconds later, a Wood Pigeon flew low in front of me closely followed by male Goshawk, the Pigeon turned and twisted in an attempt to evade the raptor, however, the Goshawk was determined and the chase ended in a puff of white feathers as the Goshawk caught its prey.
Marsh Harrier (male) at Hockham 8th July.  Note the tri-coloured wing pattern.
One other raptor was seen, a hunting male Marsh Harrier.  This bird is easily identifiable from the female from his smaller size and tri-coloured appearance.
Commoner species seen and heard included Grey Heron, Stock Doves, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, and a singing male Reed Bunting.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Tree Pipits near Bodney, Norfolk

This morning I visited an area of Pine Forest close to Bodney where compartments of varying ages of trees are commercially grown.  Two particular compartments are quite young, around 4 years of age, and it was here this morning that I located 4 singing Tree Pipits, one at one site, and 3 singing males at another.  Tall stands of mature Pines and deciduous species surround the younger compartments.
Two Tree Pipits were seen well whilst two further birds were heard only.
Tree Pipit (male) photographed at Thompson, Norfolk May 2016.
My observations this morning initially saw one male Tree Pipit singing high in tall trees around the periphery of its territory, whilst another male sang from lower perches within its range.  Both Tree Pipits performed their conspicuous 'parachute' display flight, descending slowly to a lower perch where singing continued.  Within these younger Pine plantations long grass provides good breeding habitat.
Management of cleared woodland within the Pine forest sees the retention of a taller tree, such as an old Birch bole, these provide song-posts for both Tree Pipits and Woodlarks
Tree Pipits are localised and scarce breeding species in Breckland, mostly occurring within young Pine compartments and heathland.  Their stronghold in Britain are the uplands of Britain.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

East Wretham Heath, Norfolk

This morning I visited East Wretham Heath to check for signs of Wader passage.  On my way to this wonderful Breckland site I stopped off to meet a very good friend, Leigh Gallant, who has been watching a pair of Spotted Flycatchers throughout their breeding process.
Spotted Flycatcher 21st June

I met up with Leigh at 0600 and straight away was rewarded by 2 Spotted Flycatchers collecting food for their young in a nest located in a climbing Rose.  I remained for a couple of hours  and was entertained throughout by these delightful birds as they tended to their young.
Food items collected by the Spotted Flycatchers was a variety of winged insects, these included Moth species, Craneflies, Hoverflies, and other unidentified species.  Often several insects were held in the bill for each visit to the nest.  Insects were hunted with the Flycatchers performing a highly agile, acrobatic flight, food was caught and the bird returned to the same or nearby perch.
Although initially wary of my presence, these birds soon appeared to accept me and carry on with feeding their young.  Alarm calls were given as a sharp "zee-tzuc-tzuc"
Thanks go to my friend Leigh for sharing these Spotted Flycatchers with me.



East Wretham Heath
A check of Langmere for passage Wader species produced 2 Green Sandpipers wading in the shallows of these highly fluctuating bodies of water.  One bird seen quite well was up to its belly in water as it searched for prey items, whilst a more distant bird was best seen when being chased in flight by a Lapwing, the highly distinctive upperparts was seen as the bird twisted and turned in flight, revealing a dark, unmarked upperwing, dark tail, and stunning snow-white rump.
Also present was a pair of Ringed Plovers, about 30 Lapwings, a pair of Egyptian Geese, Mallard, and Coot with small black young.
The woodland and fine stands of old Hawthorn held several singing Blackcaps, 2 Garden Warblers, and Chiffchaff.
Juvenile Woodlark at East Wretham Heath 21st June (Note the pale fringed brown feathers gives a scaly appearance)
Heathland habitat held 2 Woodlarks, at least one of these birds was a juvenile, thus indicating local breeding success.  These birds were quite flighty, however, I eventually was able to track down a juvenile bird.  This Woodlark was easily aged by its somewhat scalloped, or scaly appearance, this feature highlighted by pale fringing to the brown upper feathers, these appear more streaked in the adult birds.  Other typical features of these Woodlarks was the obvious short-tailed appearance in flight, and on the ground, the bold pale supercillium, and the black and white marking on the closed wing.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Watton Brook Whitethroats

My previous post related to a pair of Whitethroats in the Watton Brook Valley in Little Cressingham, well, today I revisited this location for the first time since 29th May to see how they are progressing.
I get so much pleasure from experiencing intimate observations of birds by spending time to watch their behaviour, their coming and goings.
Upon my arrival at this locality I was subjected to alarm and agitation calls from these beautiful Warblers, however, in time, they appeared to accept me as I sat and watched.
Whitethroat at Little Cressingham 9th June.  (One of a pair feeding young)
I am pleased to report that young Whitethroats were seen today in their natal area of a Bramble patch by the brook, and the adult birds were feeding them.  A young Whitethroat was seen flying upstream along the brook to visit rank vegetation where there would be a good food source for them.  Clearly, I think these young Whitethroats are able to feed themselves as well as receiving support from the parent birds.
There is nothing like knowing your birds, their habits, habitats, and behaviour, and having intimate insights into their daily routines.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Little Cressingham, Norfolk 1015-1130

It has been a few days since I visited this part of my patch close to 'The Arms'.  This was to be short late morning to visit to assess how the local Warblers are doing.  I especially wanted to see how my Whitethroats were doing, a beautiful and active Warbler species.
Whitethroat in breeding habitat at Little Cressingham 29th May (one of a pair seen)
Walking north-west of 'The Arms' to the Watton Brook Valley I encountered two Whitethroat territories, one pair in habitat which has been used for years by this species.
Whitethroat (one of a pair) Little Cressingham 29th May.

A male Blackcap and Chiffchaff were singing in a small patch of woodland whilst a little further along a male Willow Warbler sang from a roadside hedgerow.
A check of the Watton Brook valley for late migrants produced a single, bright male Yellowhammer. This species I am sure breeds in nearby hedgerow and visits the lush banks of the brook to collect insect food.

Thetford Forest (with Chris Sharpe) 0315-0700

There is nothing like being out in late Spring in the early hours to enjoy what many people miss, the sounds of bird-song, and the experience of watching how the day unfolds as dawn approaches.
I duly met Chris Sharpe at 0315 for a walk through part of the local patch to experience species which otherwise go unnoticed due to their nocturnal behaviour.
At least 40 species were counted during this visit, however, I will present here the highlights of this superb morning.
And the morning couldn't have started off better when at 0320 a male Woodcock was seen performing its strange 'roding' display-flight.  What was particularly magical was seeing this enigmatic bird over woodland and silhouetted against the subdued pre-dawn sky.  We were lucky enough to have this Woodcock pass directly above us whilst displaying, it is when the bird is close that the very strange call can be heard, this is given as "tizzick" followed by a low grunting "kworr - kworr - kworr".  This grunting call is generally only heard at close range.
As expected at this early hour, Tawny Owls were heard within the forest, all appeared to be male birds.
Upon reaching an area of open habitat it was clear that Cuckoos were present in good numbers, and in fact, we were in agreement by the end of the morning that 4 birds were present, these comprised 3 calling males and one female.  The female Cuckoo was occasionally heard to give its not too often heard 'bubbling' call.  Cuckoos were often seen flying between trees and over habitat where potential foster species were singing and holding territory.
Despite the darkness of the early hours several species were in song, these included Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, and Reed Buntings.  All three of these species are potential foster parents for young Cuckoos.
One of the first diurnal passerine species to be heard this morning was Bullfinch which gave its simple 'piping call from typical breeding habitat.
Little Egrets were active long before dawn and by the time it was light a count of 15 birds together was impressive.
Many Water Rails were calling at one locality, in fact it was a challenge trying to assess the true numbers of birds present.
Species of conservation concern included a single Snipe, the date hopefully indicating local breeding, an overflying Lapwing, and two species seeing successes in recent years, namely a female Marsh Harrier which appeared at 0420, and a single Hobby sitting in trees where it possibly roosted overnight.
A pair of Stock Doves flew over, these are neat, compact, and well proportioned Pigeon species and are readily identified in flight by their lead grey plumage and contrasting black fringes on the wings.
Towards the end of our walk, it was evident that passerine species were now active with singing Blackcap, Chiffchaff, and Goldcrests.
I will finish this account by thanking Chris for joining me on this lovely early morning walk.  We departed at 0700, and for me it was home to bed for a couple of hours.

Friday, 26 May 2017

The early bird....

I was out in the forest near Hockham at 0300 this morning, and it was so beautiful, no wind, clear skies, about 13 degrees Celsius, comfortable between the heat of yesterday and today.
A hint of the forthcoming sunrise to the east but with the dark of night to the west, the only annoying part of this early visit was the sound of occasional noisy traffic, which was surprising given the distance from the road.
And the first bird to be heard was a calling male Cuckoo, his song seeming so loud in the relative quiet of the early hours.  It soon became clear that 3 male Cuckoos were calling in the area, but also, the lovely liquid bubbling call of a female Cuckoo was also heard well.
With improving light I eventually located one of the Cuckoos silhouetted in a treetop with an occasional side to side movement and waving of the tail.
Juvenile Cuckoo on passage near Hockham (August). I watched this individual as it headed south.  Alone on its journey back to Africa. 
I always amazed, as most people are, by the parasitic breeding behaviour of the Cuckoo.  Adult Cuckoos arrive with us in mid-April, call to establish territories and attract females, the eggs are laid in the foster species nest and by July, adult Cuckoos leave our shores to return to Africa.  By the time Cuckoos hatch in the foster nest the adults will be back in Africa.  Young Cuckoos fledge in August and are alone in the world, meaning they have to make their own way back to Africa without guidance from the parent birds.  Amazing behaviour.
Young Cuckoos are brownish in appearance and quiet, often they will go unnoticed as they pass through our country to begin their late summer/autumn passage.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Yellow Wagtail at Deopham Green, Norfolk

An early start for me today in the market town of Wymondham where I was working.  I decided to get up a little earlier to drive via Deopham Green to check for Yellow Wagtail.
The morning was cooler than recently, it was grey, and light was poor.  I arrived at the muck heap at about 0610 and searched the standing water and heaps of muck.  After waiting for about five minutes the Yellow Wagtail popped up on top of a heap and then flew above me to another heap where views were better.
I watched this stunning male Yellow Wagtail as it searched for and found small invertebrates to eat, the gorgeous yellows of this bird very conspicuous against the muck.
This particular Yellow Wagtail is a passage bird which has stopped off to feed before continuing its journey to its breeding grounds, either a damp meadow such as those in the Norfolk Broads or the North Norfolk Coast, or perhaps it has a further location to make for.
Yellow Wagtail at Deopham Green 18th May (A bird on passage)
Yellow Wagtails have declined significantly in recent decades, presumably due to the drainage of their breeding habitat.  This species requires damp meadows to breed on.  They are usually found around livestock where they pick off midges and other invertebrates disturbed by the animals.
I was born and brought up in Beccles, Suffolk, and I spent my early years of birding on Beccles Common and the marshes.  It was in the 1960's when I found my first Yellow Wagtail nest with young on land adjacent to Common Lane.  This land has now been developed for recreational purposes.

Deopham Green, Norfolk

Yesterday afternoon during my work-break I decided to stop at Deopham Green, an area of wide open expanses of arable and few hedgerows.  For much of the time I spent the break listening to the wonderful song of a male Blackcap, with a singing Blackbird close by in a nice mature line of Sallows and Bramble cover.  As I passed along this wonderful habitat a single Lesser Whitethroat was seen entering habitat, this is a traditional site for this stunning bird.
Before going back to work I made a visit to a muck-heap where recent rains formed stagnant pools of water around the base of the muck.  The highlight here was finding a single Yellow Wagtail on muck.  I watched this stunning bird for a while until it flew to a puddle to bathe and preen.  The beautiful thin "sweep" or "tsweep" call was often heard.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Thompson 5th May (1510-1610)

A short visit to Thompson following work was productive with the following species seen/heard:

Mute Swan
4 Greylag Geese (2 pairs)
2 Gadwall (2 pairs)
2 Tufted Duck (pair)
1 Pochard (male)
1 Grey Heron
7 Little Egrets
2 Hobby
Swallows
House Martins
1 Lesser Whitethroat
2 Garden Warblers
Blackcaps
Chiffchaff
2 Cetti's Warblers
Reed Warbler
Siskin (male)
Reed Bunting

Hobby at Thompson 5th May (feeding upon flying insects)

Monday, 1 May 2017

Notes on Whitethroat behaviour.

The Whitethroat is one of my most eagerly awaited for migrants in spring.  My earliest returning bird was some years ago at Houghton on 12th April, however, most of birds occur on my patch around about the 17th of April.
Whitethroats are conspicuous birds as they sing from an elevated perch within a Briar patch, they also perform a highly visible song-flight where they fly up and perform a 'dance', appearing to fan their tails to show off the white outer feathers.
Hedgerows with wide weedy verges with nettles, commons, scrub, and Briar patches are chosen by Whitethroats for breeding habitat.  My notes here are from a pair of Whitethroats seen in Briar habitat at Little Cressingham in Norfolk.
Whitethroat territory at Little Cressingham April 2017
Although a conspicuous songster, the Whitethroat is also a skulker, often creeping about the inner dark areas of the Briar patch, similar behaviour is seen in weedy verges also, this is where their local colloquial name in Norfolk is 'Nettlecreeper', a very apt name.
Whitethroat on territory in Little Cressingham April 2017
 The song of the Whitethroat is a hurried scratchy warble, however, the species has a variety of other calls which are used in particular situations.  An approaching threat produces a "ved-ved-ved", also, when agitated it gives a "churrrr", this I also believe is given once young have left the nest and serves as a warning to them.  I was recently watching one of the Whitethroat pair in Little Cressingham when a pair of Goldfinches approached as if to alight on the Briar patch, a Whitethroat gave a harsh, strident "chit-chit", at which the Goldfinches veered off.  This call appears to serve as a warning to other birds that the patch has been claimed. 

Little Cressingham and Bodney 30th April. Increasing numbers of migrants and evidence of passage seen.

A change in wind direction at last, the cold northerly and westerly winds have been replaced by a fresh, occasionally strong South-Easterly.  Bright from dawn at 8 degrees Celsius. Bright sunshine throughout the morning.
The change in wind direction appears to have influenced migrant arrival as evidence of passage was seen as well as summer visitors also on the increase.

4 Curlews (2 pairs) included display/singing
6+ Lapwing
1 Oystercatcher
1 Hobby
1 Kestrel
1 Wheatear (male)
2 Mistle Thrushes (pair)
6+ Whitethroats (included 3 together)
Blackcap
2 Willow Warblers (including a possible passage bird)
Chiffchaffs
Yellowhammers
Reed Bunting (male on territory)
Greenfinch
25+ Linnets (flock)

Whitethroat at Little Cressingham 30th April.  One of a pair seen.
A lovely walk from 'The Arms' at Little Cressingham and along to Bodney and back took me through a variety of habitats from arable, roadside hedgerows, permanent pasture, heath, mixed woodland of Pine and deciduous species.
Between my start to the B1108 road I encountered 6 Whitethroats, of which 3 were seen together.  An increase in singing males to 3 was very welcome, no doubt helped along by the fresh to strong south-easterly.  One bird was seen to perform its conspicuous song-flight.
Whitethroat at Little Cressingham 30th April (one of a pair)
A check of open grassland produced 2 pairs of Curlews, both males performing their wonderful, noisy song-flights.
On high ground at Bodney I found a male Wheatear in habitat where I expected a bird to be.  Small numbers breed in the Brecks, however, the majority will be passing through.
It was at this locality that Hobby passed directly overhead and descended in a semi-stoop for an early morning hunt.
2 Willow Warblers were found, however, one bird was later seen flying high off to the north, an obvious passage bird.
Wheatear (male) at Bodney 30th April
Wheatear (male) at Bodney 30th April
Blackcap (male) at Little Cressingham 30th April
Blackcaps arrived particularly early this year and I gathered a total of 5 singing males between mid and the end of March.  This beautiful songster is now well established on territory now, and this has included seeing pairs in breeding habitats.  This male (photographed) was seen in a hedgerow just north of 'The Arms' on the Great Cressingham road.
Blackcap (male) Little Cressingham 30th April (In fine voice)



Friday, 28 April 2017

Thompson, Norfolk

A better morning than of late with something finally akin to spring in the air.  Gone are the cold northerly winds and we welcome more settled weather with near normal temperatures.

2 Little Grebe
1 Hobby
1 Snipe singing
1 Cuckoo
4 Garden Warblers
2 Reed Warblers
Blackcaps
Chiffchaff
1 Willow Warbler

Reed Warbler singing near Thompson 28th April
A single Hobby seen in open country was my first sighting of this superb Falcon this year.  Close by a single Snipe was often singing its repetitive "chip-per" song in an area of marshy ground.
My aim this morning was to check suitable habitats for signs of Warbler species on territory, most effort was given to a mix of Birch and Willow with good clumps of bramble and other ground covering scrub.  The result of these checks produced 4 singing Garden Warblers with one site seeing a pair together in suitable breeding habitat.  Lots of Blackcaps also present with one male singing close to a Garden Warbler, this allowed good comparison between these two similar sounding species.
A prolonged check of a lovely patch of Willow, Sallow, and ground-cover, including a large bramble patch produced Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Robin, Blue Tit and Blackbird.
This beautiful habitat held Garden Warbler (pair), Blackcap, Chiffchaff, 1 singing Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Robin, Blackbird, Green Woodpecker, and Linnet
A final check of two small patches of Reeds and Sallow produced a singing Reed Warbler at each site.  A prolonged watch of one site saw a quite mobile Reed Warbler in reeds as well as in nearby Sallow (photographed).  This patch of habitat also held a pair of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammer.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Watton Brook Valley 0500-0800

A beautiful dawn, calm with a moderate frost and fog hanging over the valley which soon burnt off following sunrise.  Bright early morning but with cloud quickly increasing.
Despite the cold conditions, birds were in good voice some 30 minutes prior to sunrise.  A walk along the brook produced 10+ singing Blackcaps, 3 Willow Warblers, 3 Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs, Blackbirds, a pair of Song Thrushes, and 2 pairs of Reed Buntings.
A pair of Mute Swans, pair of Greylag Geese, and a pair of Egyptian Geese were all present along the valley.
Wren in the Watton Brook Valley 27th April.  A common species.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

On this day 10 years ago.


Hoopoe in Watton, Norfolk April 2007.
It was 10 years ago today that a Hoopoe turned up on our road and visited several gardens. It came within two gardens of being a 'Garden Record' for me.  This bird remained in the area for about a week or so.
This exotic bird is seen commonly around the Mediterranean basin. April 2007 was a particularly hot month and in such conditions, Hoopoe's overshoot from their usual range and into Britain.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

North Pickenham, Norfolk 0530-0730

As promised, the weather this morning has turned much colder.  Dawn was clear with a frost in sheltered parts, however, the wind was the main feature of the weather, a fresh northerly which probably made it felt colder than the 0 degrees Celsius.  Light was very good with strong early morning sunshine.
Despite the cold conditions my walk produced 2 singing Lesser Whitethroats and 3 singing Whitethroats.  Several Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were heard and seen.
Whitethroat singing at North Pickenham 25th April

A check of paddocks for possible Ring Ouzel produced a pair of food gathering Mistle Thrushes, Song Thrush, and a late Fieldfare.
With slightly warming temperatures a pair of Snipe became active with flight display and song heard.
Shelduck at North Pickenham 25th April.  Note the red knob on the male birds forehead.
4 Shelduck arrived and duly circled over me a few times, their striking plumage looking beautiful in the early morning light.  The photograph here shows a pair of Shelduck, the male distinguishable by the red-knob on its forehead.  If my mind serves me right I believe 'Sheld' part of the name is an old English word meaning 'Pied', which clearly suits the birds striking appearance.
Shelduck are beginning to feature once again in the Brecks having returned from their moulting grounds in the Wadden Sea off the Northern Coast of Germany.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Hockham, Norfolk 0600-0830

A great early mornings birding in fairly quiet conditions.  Early morning sunshine was short-lived with cloud moving in to give fair light.
This was my first visit to Hockham for a couple of weeks.  Clear changes seen with summer migrants in good numbers, this included 2 Garden Warblers, and 2 calling Cuckoos, however, the highlight of this visit was watching a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in habitat where I previously considered suitable for this species.  In fact, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was a target bird for me this morning.

A good number of records gathered from this site was as follows:
2 Little Grebes, 4 Water Rails, Moorhen, 4 Grey Herons, Buzzard, 10 Shelduck (8 over), 2 Cuckoos, 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers 'drumming', 2 Green Woodpeckers, 1 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (male 'drumming'), Nuthatch, Treecreeper (3 singing males), Goldcrest, 8+ Song Thrushes, 8+ Blackbirds, Robin, 7+ Blackcaps, 9+ Chiffchaffs, 2 Garden Warblers, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, 2 Marsh Tit, Yellowhammer, Linnet (pair).

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Hockham. 
The distinctive 'drumming' of a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was heard coming from a mixed Alder/Birch woodland within swampy habitat.  The 'drumming' of this Woodpecker is easy to identify to the trained ear, it is thinner in quality than Great Spotted Woodpecker (one 'drumming' nearby for comparison), is more protracted than GS Woodpecker, and never tails off as with its larger cousin.  The 'drumming' is often, and was this morning, likened to the sound of a 'singer' sewing machine in operation (but maybe faster).
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (male) at Hockham 24th April

After some searching I located the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker high in an Alder where it continued 'drumming'.  Somewhat different in appearance and structure from Great Spotted Woodpecker, as the name suggests this is a diminutive species with a short, weakish bill for a Woodpecker.  The bird appeared quite dumpy as it was pressed up against the tree.  The crown was red and the upperparts was black with white barring (lacks the large white scapular patch seen on GS Woodpecker).  This bird lacks red on the vent, another feature seen on Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Lesser Whitethroat

My first Lesser Whitethroat of the year was a singing male in traditionally used breeding habitat at Deopham, Norfolk.  This is a typical 'first' date for this species on the patch.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Whitethroat at Great Cressingham

There is no doubt that the recent run of westerly to northerly winds has stalled spring migration, this is evident from the lack of Whitethroat records from my patch.  However, as previously written, migration in spring has greater urgency to it than autumn migration as birds need to get back to their territories in order to secure them for breeding, and some birds do in fact make it despite adverse conditions.
This afternoon I visited suitable habitat just outside the village of Great Cressingham.  As I walked along, a small passerine species crossed the road in front of me, this looked interesting, I therefore stood for a while and to my delight I then heard the familiar "ved-ved-ved" agitation call of a Whitethroat, this was then followed by a quiet sub-song.  The Whitethroat was briefly seen moving about the base of the hedge where the conspicuous white-throat was seen.
I had a sense of elation at this find and celebrated the safe return of this gorgeous Warbler following its long journey from the Sahel region of Africa.  This is my second record this year of Whitethroat on the patch, the first was seen outside Ashill on the morning of 15th April.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Bodney, Norfolk 17th April

A short visit to this beautiful area early morning in dire conditions produced 3 Curlews (included display/song), 2 Oystercatchers (pair), and about 10 Lapwings.  All species seen in typical breeding habitat.
A single passage Meadow Pipit was watched overflying north until lost to view.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Great Cressingham, Norfolk

A very brief visit to the Peddars Way just outside Great Cressingham produced a pair of Grey Partridges at a traditional site where last autumn I found a covey of 22 birds.
A pair of Mistle Thrushes were close to their nest site and nearby, a small flock of c.20 Fieldfares were seen in treetops.
A pair of Buzzards and a singing/displaying Curlew was seen and heard.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

'Nettlecreeper' back on patch.

The first significant rainfall for some time fell last night, this was followed by a day of long sunny spells, however, the wind was a cold, fresh north-westerly.
Recent wind directions have not been overly favourable for spring passage in recent days, these winds would block significant migrant arrivals, however, birds do still arrive, such is the urgency to get back and reaffirm their breeding territories.
Whitethroat or 'Nettlecreeper'
A migrant which I always await the arrival of is the Whitethroat and this morning I found a bird just outside the village of Ashill in Norfolk.  This beautiful Warbler generally arrives on the patch about this time, although my earliest record occurred on 12th April.  The Whitethroat is known colloquially in Norfolk as 'Nettlecreeper', an apt name for this bird which haunts briar patches and nettlebeds.


Dereham (Rush Meadow) 0930-1030
Bright conditions greeted me as I arrived at Rush Meadow.  Sheltered areas were pleasantly warm, however, the cold, fresh north-westerly was most noticeable in exposed areas.
Singing Willow Warbler in Hawthorn at Dereham, Norfolk 15th April
Two, possibly three Willow Warblers were the first birds heard upon my arrival with one singing male watched for some time in suitable breeding habitat comprising riverside Willows, Hawthorn, and a ground layer of scrubby habitat where it is likely the bird will choose to nest in. 
Over the nearby sewage treatment works, many Swallows and House Martins gathered to feed.
A short walk along the bank of the river produced singing Goldcrest and Chiffchaff whilst a diminutive Wren moved mouse-like through ground cover.
A single Little Egret was present in trees, and then on grazing land close to the river.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Great Cressingham (Watton Brook Valley) Norfolk

A cool start to the day with a slight grass frost and an air temperature of 3 degrees.  It remained bright with good visibility.
Good numbers of Warblers seen and heard including Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, and a single Willow Warbler.  Two pairs of Reed Buntings were found, both in suitable breeding habitat. 
On open land a pair of Curlews seen, also a pair of Oystercatchers flew in.  This area also held a pair of Shelduck and a pair of Egyptian Geese.
Buck Roe Deer at Great Cressingham 11th April
The most productive habitat was a small area of damp woodland carr.  Here, Blackcaps (2), Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler (1) Mistle Thrush, Treecreeper, Wren, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Stock Dove (pair), Green Woodpecker (pair), and Great Spotted Woodpecker were seen and heard.
At 0750, a small flock of 18 Fieldfare passed through,briefly stopping before continuing their passage.  I don't think there will be too many more winter Thrushes passing through now as most would have left for Northern Europe, however, I have in previous years seen stragglers as late as May.
It was in this woodland carr where I watched a large, beautiful Scots Pine, in full sun.  This short watch saw both Marsh Tit and Coal Tit moving nimbly amongst pine needles in search for food.  Here, a Willow Warbler arrived, giving a couple of half-hearted bursts of song, before chasing one of the Tit species away.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Hethel, Norfolk 4th April

I often spend my breaks from work visiting local churchyards.  Being an arable county, the churchyard offers extremely good and variable habitats which are of great benefit to wildlife.
This visit took me to the small churchyard at Hethel, a typical example of a yard which supports a great range of bird species within a relatively small area.
Hethel churchyard has to its south a small woodland, the north and east periphery has fine Hawthorn along with other deciduous species and much Ivy for nesting and roosting in.  Beyond the east boundary lies a large pond and paddocks, whilst beyond the north and west boundary is a paddock which contains Britain's smallest nature reserve 'Hethel Old Thorn' a single Hawthorn aged between 700 and 1000 years old.  The crown of this Hawthorn was measured in the 19th century, its spread was a massive 30 yards.  This fine specimen is still very healthy, both leafing and fruiting annually.
My visit to the churchyard at Hethel today was used to survey the number of species present.  By the end of this 90 minute visit I totalled 28 species, some of which appear in the following notes.
It was clear from the start that many species were in song, and I soon discovered that some species were in the early stages of breeding behaviour.  A Chiffchaff was singing and moving around the site, and indeed, numbers of this early arriving migrant are building generally.  A very visible and vocal species was a pair of Coal Tits in wooded habitat along the east boundary of the yard.  The male Coal Tit frequently sang, also both birds moved up and down the boundary feeding from the outer twigs and branches.  Mating behaviour was also seen. 
Coal Tit in Hethel churchyard 4th April.  One of a pair present.

Also in the early stages of breeding was a pair of Long-tailed Tits, one of which was carrying nesting material (mosses) in its bill.  This was one of two pairs present in the yard.
One sound which epitomises spring for me is the long, drawn out, lazy sounding wheezing call of the Greenfinch.  Two males were singing in the churchyard.
Other species showing signs of breeding or likely breeding in the churchyard was singing Nuthatch, singing Treecreeper, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Chaffinch, and a pair of Goldfinches in a large, old Yew.  Both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard.
At about 1500hrs a Tawny Owl called from nearby woodland, this in turn attracted calling and mobbing Jays and Blackbirds.  A later check of the area did not reveal the Owl.
An adjacent pond held Moorhen and beyond that, a number of Rooks fed in a paddock.  Another Crow synonymous with churches and seen today was a pair of Jackdaws
The ubiquitous Wood Pigeon was seen along with calling Collared Dove.
As ever, my counts etc. were submitted to BTO's Birdtrack.

Monday, 3 April 2017

"Hedgebetty"

At work today, I met a lovely elderly lady who told me she has "Hedgebetty" coming to her garden, but she didn't know the real name of the bird...it is fact the Dunnock, or sometimes known as Hedge Sparrow (it isn't a Sparrow in fact). She has known this species as "Hedgebetty" for all her life, and I love that these local Norfolk names for birds (colloquialisms), and hope that these are always used.
A short walk this afternoon on the patch produced a couple of Stone Curlews, my first of this year.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Fieldfare passage

1945hrs (Dusk).  An interesting movement of Fieldfares high overhead and calling, heading off in a north-easterly heading into the dark of the coming night.  The flight was direct and purposeful, clearly outgoing passage birds making for their Scandinavian breeding grounds.
A female Sparrowhawk also passed low through the garden hoping for a supper meal.

Firecrest at Hockham, Norfolk

The month of March 2017 will be remembered for some early arrivals on the patch, most notably, Blackcaps, of which I found 5 singing males with the first being on 16th March at Hethersett.  Chiffchaffs also arrived in force from the middle of the second week of March, and then becoming well established by the second week of that month.
One of several Bramblings at Hockham 1st April 2017 (many were singing)
This morning I walked around forest trails at Hockham with Firecrest being my target species.  At least 5 singing Blackcaps were found along with good numbers of Chiffchaffs.
A walk along a line of mixed Beech and Birch woodland produced good numbers of Bramblings with Redpolls, Siskins, and Goldfinches within the mix.  As far as I know I have never before heard Brambling singing, however, this morning I heard these Bramblings singing long before I arrived at their location, the song was given as "shreeeeeee".
Singing Firecrest at Hockham (photographed April 2016)

The final part of my walk took me along an area which has been reliable for Firecrest for years.  Within minutes of walking along the road a singing Firecrest was found in tall conifers, and to give good comparison, 2 male Goldcrests were also singing.
The distinctive song of the Firecrest is somewhat different to that of Goldcrest, it is thin and piercing, and given as "suu-si-si-si-si-si-si-si" or "zuu-zu-zu-zu-zu-zu-zu-zu" and appears sometimes to rise in strength.  The song of the Goldcrest is different and given as a thin, high pitched "cedar-cedar-cedar-cedar-cedar-cedar" and ending in a jumbled flourish.  Once heard, the two species songs are easily identifiable.