Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Little Cressingham (Finches and Buntings)

I decided on a late afternoon visit to a large maize/weedy strip along the Great Cressingham Road to check on Finch activity.  There was total cloud cover, mist, poor visibility, and of course, low light.  Despite these conditions there was plenty to see with Finch and Buntings dominating.
Poor light and dull conditions probably dampen many a spirit, however, birds always raise my spirits, even in the poorest conditions.
It was clearly evident that may Finches and Buntings were present both on the hedgerows, trees, and nearby maize strip.  The most abundant species seen today was Chaffinches, Greenfinches, and several Bramblings, with a flock of Linnets often wheeling above patches of weeds.  Also present here was several Yellowhammers and the odd Reed Bunting.
A small flock of Fieldfares were nervously moving through tops of Larch trees, even in poor light their grey heads, nape, ochre breasts, and streaking and spots were clearly seen on the birds breast and flanks.  Flying from tree to tree the Fieldfares gave their familiar, hard "shak shak" calls.
With daylight fading quickly, Finches began leaving the maize strip and flew south to their roost sites, probably in thick conifer plantations.  At the same time, small flocks of Starlings flew over south to their communal roost site.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Merton, Norfolk

A day of rain and snow showers with light covering of the latter.  A grey day with a high of +1 degrees Celsius.
Following my return from work there was little daylight left, so I headed to Merton Church and nearby woodland.  At first glance, the winter woodland may appear devoid of life, however, life is always present, after all, cold winter days sees birds and mammals making the best of the short daylight hours in order to search for food to keep them energised for the night ahead.
Merton Church

I parked by the beautiful Saxon church at Merton where a service was ongoing.  I listened for a while whilst the organ was being played, a beautiful sound emanating from this quiet woodland location.
This late afternoon walk produced typical woodland species expected at this time of year.
Two Green Woodpeckers were seen flying over one of the paddocks, whilst a Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard calling.  At least 3 Nuthatches were heard, one in the woodland by the church in this picture.  Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, and Marsh Tit, were seen in the top of a tall Silver Birch where they searched the finer outer twigs for food.
Winter Thrush species both seen and heard in woodland included Blackbird and Redwings.
A couple of Goldcrests were heard, one of which was seen vigorously searching for food, behaviour seen included the Goldcrest hovering close to finer twigs and leaves in order to search for a small invertebrate/spider etc. to eat.
A woodland scene at Merton where Goldcrest, Coal Tit,  and Nuthatch were present, 10th December
 An ancient Horse Chestnut at Merton, Norfolk.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Notes from my Garden

A beautiful clear night produced a moderate frost which remained for much of the day.  Bright, sunny morning, but with cloud increasing during the afternoon.  Temperature extremes -1 degrees to +3 Celsius.
Today was the first day I have seen my garden in daylight for a number of days due to long hours at work.  Some regular visitors remained faithful to my garden taking food from feeders and apples provided on the lawn.
House Sparrow in the garden 9th December.
House Sparrows are all to often overlooked due to their abundance and familiarity.  Close inspection shows these birds as having beautiful plumages with quite intricate feathers, especially on the mantle area.  The species also has great comical value too.
Starlings were present throughout the day, their squabbles always raises a smile.
Good numbers of Collared Doves visited along with their larger cousins, Wood Pigeons.
Blackbirds as always, were regular visitors, and were attracted to the soil under my hedge as well as apples which I have provided.
A male Green Woodpecker visited the garden irregularly throughout the day, his last visit being after sunset when he had his last feed of the day upon apples on the lawn.
3+ Coal Tits came to the garden, usually as singletons and pairs, however, what is the true numbers of these dainty Tits visiting.  Blue Tits were also noted.
Brief visitors included Goldfinch and Pied Wagtail, but a single Robin remained all day, this bird was aggressive to all-comers, especially Sparrows and Tits which were vigorously chased away from his claimed patch.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Colourful garden visitor.

I was working today between 0600 and 1300, by the time I got home there was not too much of daylight hours left, I had to have food before taking Toby for his walk.
Whilst preparing a light lunch, I looked outside to see a male Pied Wagtail, Blackbirds, and Starlings in the garden, also a beautiful male Green Woodpecker fed on apples I had put out for the birds.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Thompson Water, Norfolk, 27th November.

The day dawned wet with spells of rain.  Light was poor due to thick cloud cover, however, it remained quite mild.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has bought land immediately adjacent to the eastern side of Thompson Water, what an excellent acquisition to add to this fantastic Breckland site.  In time the land will provide habitat for notable Breckland species.

A good species list was gathered as follows:

Mute Swan
32+ Greylag Geese
20+ Shoveler
12+ Wigeon
1 Grey Heron
4 Water Rails
3 Kingfisher
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Marsh Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
2 Cetti's Warblers (singing birds)

All too often in recent winters I have visited Thompson Water to check on Duck numbers, sometimes, the water is devoid of birds whilst other times sees good numbers.  No Teal were seen on this visit, however, harsh weather in Europe could see three-figure numbers of this small Duck.
Today, I had some good views of Shoveler, the males bottle green heads, spatulate bills, and large chestnut flank patch renders this species identifiable at range.
Shoveler on Thompson Water 27th November
For me, one of our most attractive Dusk species is the Wigeon, (of which 12+ seen today) the male has a beautiful chestnut head with a golden stripe on its fore-crown.  The call of Wigeon is beautiful, a whistling "weeeeooo", this was heard often today.
The fantastic, thick, swampy, Sallow/Reed fringes along the west side of the water held at least 4 Water Rails, a couple of birds were very close, their squealing calls with elements of grunting, was clearly heard.   Partial views of two Water Rails were had when they had a bit of a bust up.
Two male Cetti's Warblers gave their explosive songs from dense water-side habitat.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Grimes Graves and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

A moderate frost greeted me when I stepped out of my home this morning.  Starlit skies promised a bright, white, morning.  0 degrees Celsius at dawn.
This morning I started with a visit to Grimes Graves.  The habitat here is one of open heathland, mixed forest, and of course, the ancient flint mining shafts which attracts so many visitors each year.
I arrived at Grimes Graves at about 0715, some 20 minutes prior to sunrise.  The ground beneath my feet was frozen, and white with frost.
I initially walked some of the forest rides within this undulating landscape before arriving at the heathland/grassland/scrub, a habitat which attracts Great Grey Shrike annually.
Grimes Graves at dawn on 25th November.
Some of the best views of birds were in fact quite close to me in the dense, low Hawthorn, bracken, and grass habitat.  
A mixed flock of small birds comprising mostly Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tit, and many Goldcrests, were roving fore their first food of the day.  One particular Goldcrest was seen on the outer branches of a small frost-covered Hawthorn, its dark greens and the yellow crown stripe really stood out against the white background.
Also present was a small flock of about 12 Redwings, whilst a couple of Fieldfare passed over.
One Green Woodpecker flew past and was later heard calling, and distantly on the heath a Mistle Thrush was singing

Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road)
Having left Grimes Graves, I decided to stop off close to 'The Arms' to check a large weedy strip for Finches and Buntings.
Light was still excellent and a short overview of this area produced mostly Chaffinches, Bullfinch and Yellowhammers, also, at least 4 Redpolls were seen.  Farmland adjacent to the weedy strip produced a few Fieldfares searching the ground for food.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Hockham, Norfolk. Creation of habitat for scarce breeding birds by harvesting woodland.

This morning dawned with a moderate frost and clear blue skies with hardly any wind.  The temperature at dawn was 0 degrees Celsius.
In recent weeks the above area was cleared of its Pine woodland.  Compartments of Pines in  Thetford Forest are harvested on a rotational basis, therefore, varying ages of Pine compartments are found throughout the Breckland area.  In time, this area will be replanted with sapling Pines.
This cleared area will now benefit various wildlife species.  Bird species which will benefit from this newly created habitat are Tree Pipit, Woodlark, and eventually, Nightjar.  Hopefully by next February, this area will support singing Woodlark, and I expect to see Tree Pipit here by mid to late April.  Tree Pipits are ground nesters, the trees seen in this picture will serve as song-posts for this beautiful migrant.
This morning, whilst overviewing the above area, a few Redwings visited the tree tops.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Controlling Dogs.....rather controlling twitchers

I notice a recent post by a Norfolk twitcher quite rightly stating that Dogs need controlling wherever they are taken out, and indeed the vast majority of Dog owners (I own one myself) are responsible people.
A recent 'youtube' post regarding a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler at Burnham Overy Dunes attracted wholesale criticism of Twitcher idiots who engaged in what can only be described as criminal behaviour after damaging fencing used to contain cattle.  Fifty or more twitchers trespassed on private land, and one idiot even wanted to have an 'organised flush'.  This behaviour clearly shows these people have no concern for the welfare of the bird whatsoever.  The poor bird will have been flushed to death if it had not been stopped by Holkham wardens.  
The Holkham wardens who confronted these twitchers acted in a totally professional manner and the arguments spouted off by the twitchers were as weak as gnats pee. 
The sad thing is that this has not been, and will not be, the last occasion we see such pathetic behaviour by twitchers who I my opinion are not needed in the birding world.
I am not a twitcher, I have never, and will never share, rare bird finds on my patch, these idiots are not welcome.  I only share finds with trusted friends....and they are welcome to bring their dogs along too.  

Friday, 10 November 2017

East Wretham and Croxton Heaths (morning), and Little Cressingham (at dusk), Norfolk

A lovely bright morning with no evidence of the rain which was forecast for this morning some 24 hours ago.
Setting off from the East Wretham Heath NWT car park, I crossed the open heath to meet the Harling Drove, I then walked west along the path before turning off onto a ride for Croxton Heath.
Although my goal was to explore a variety of habitats, my main aim was to make for a large marlpit covered in thick Hawthorn and Blackthorn, this precious habitat provides a welcome relief for me from the regimented stands of pines, and also for the birds, a wonderful habitat for which to feed and rest.

I returned along various rides back to Ringmere, one of two lovely Breckland Meres whose water levels are governed by the underground water table.  Ringmere, a natural and circular body of water was the location of a battle between the Saxons and Danes on 5th May 1010.  The landscape here at Wretham I feel, probably hasn't changed too much seen then.
Colours were a feature of this mornings walk with Silver Birches looking stunning in their late autumn glory.  Equally, Beech trees looked gorgeous in their bronzed finery, and an avenue of old Hornbeams had large limbs reaching out at ground level.

Several small flocks of Redwings were seen this morning, most in Blackthorn where a good supply of sloes still hang.  The overgrown Blackthorn covered marlpit held Redwing, Goldcrests, and a single Redpoll arrival.  Two flypast Bullfinches showed their bright white rump and vent, conspicuous and useful identification features of this stunning bird, also, their soft "peu" call was heard   Within a large clearing, a couple of Meadow Pipits rose up.  Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers crossed a clearing together.
Whilst overviewing Ringmere, I watched a Blackbird plummet from height into cover, probably a migrant bird.  On Ringmere, several Mallards, Mute Swan, a pair of Egyptian Geese, and Shoveler were seen.
The walk back to the car park saw hundreds of Rooks on the heath, a regular, and familiar species here.

Little Cressingham (Dusk)
The sun had already set when I arrived to take my Toby for his walk.  Of interest, close to 'The Arms' was a single in-flight Woodcock silhouetted against the darkening sky...a very mysterious, but beautiful bird.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Deopham Green, Norfolk, 8th November

It may appear bleak, grey, isolated, and uninviting, and this is how many people may view the conditions at Deopham Green during my work-break during the afternoon of 8th November, however, there is always something of interest to find and watch which will brighten the dullest of days.
Kestrel at Deopham Green 8th November
As I was driving along the road which was the former main runway of RAF Deopham (USAF WW2 station), a female Kestrel perched sentinel-like, overseeing its territory of wide open expanses of farmland.  This Falcon is often seen hunting roadsides and headlands in the Deopham Green area.
With this part Deopham Green being very exposed, wind is often a feature of the weather here and I am always amazed how Kestrels hold their positions when hovering by tilting their wings and adjusting their tails in order to watch for prey below.
The wind was moderate, occasionally fresh in strength, I therefore decided to park where I could see along the sheltered lengths of one of the most important hedgerows in the area.  Several Blackbirds (some were probably migrants) fed along the sheltered edge, these were joined by a few Fieldfare and small numbers of Redwings.
Fieldfare at Deopham Green 8th November
Redwing at Deopham Green 8th November
On a dull, grey day with failing light, who cannot appreciate the beauty of winter Thrushes like this Fieldfare and Redwing at Deopham Green.  The multi-coloured Fieldfare seen here often dropped to the ground to drink from a small puddle.  Without the use of optics, this Redwing was sometimes difficult to see unless it moved.  The Redwing is smaller than Fieldfare, the head of Redwing is strongly marked with the pale supercillium being a conspicuous feature, and of course, the Red flanks gives the bird its name.  This particular Redwing is an adult, juvenile birds wing-coverts are pale edged.
On a dull day, birds are always to be found and will lift your spirits and brighten your day.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Thompson, Norfolk

A mid-afternoon to sunset circular walk starting at the church in the beautiful Breckland village of Thompson in Norfolk.  Most activity as you would expect came as the sun was going down with various species flying in different directions to their respective roost-sites.
Early during the walk along Drove Lane, several Redwings seen flying into bushes and trees either side of the track, although 2 Redwings flew from low down in a thick Bramble patch.  A single Mistle Thrush was seen, also Jay, and a few Goldfinches with a Siskin with them.
Most interest came prior to and immediately after sunset near the church.  Overhead, 2 Lapwings west, and a flock of Starlings also west making for their roost-site.  High-flying flocks of Gulls headed NW to their roost-sites.
Some 30 minutes prior to sunset I was watching a flock of 40+ Greenfinches wheeling above me and alighting in various trees.  As sunset approached this flock was joined by other mostly smaller flocks of Greenfinches (largest flock 20+), and pairs and singletons.  A tall tree was a favoured arrival location before it was safe for the birds to descend to their roost-site.  There was in excess of 110 Greenfinches in total and all entered their roost-site in thick Laurel.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Hawfinch at Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk

Summary:  We are currently in the midst of an unprecedented invasion of Hawfinches in the UK.  Between last Monday and next Friday the 10th November, today, the 3rd, is my only day off, and before I set off for my destination I wanted to make it my goal to see if my patch has any evidence of the Hawfinch invasion.  I was not to be disappointed. 
Of course, the main aim of the day was to witness migration and this was evidenced by good movements of mostly Thrush species.
The skies were leaden grey with cloud, light was poor, and visibility can be described as fair.  There was a light southerly wind, and the dawn had the feel of migration about it.
Light was very poor at dawn due to the full cloud cover, however, birds were on the move from my arrival at Houghton at 0655.

200+ Golden Plover (high) West
500+ Starlings East
250+ (total) Fieldfare
2 Mistle Thrush
1 Hawfinch
Bramblings - unseen overhead migrants (heard)

One Hawfinch was found in the churchyard of St. Mary's at Houghton-on-the-Hill at 0806.  I was some distance east of the church when I checked bird movements high in the trees in the churchyard, these were a small flock of Goldfinches.  I continued to scan the treetops and saw a Hawfinch in the top of a Sycamore. 
Hawfinch at Houghton-on-the-Hill 3rd November.  Rear views showed the 'bullish' neck and large grey nape.

Hawfinch at Houghton-on-the-Hill 3rd November. Large head and strong bill seen when head was turned.
First views was of the rear of the bird and was straight away struck by the large 'bullish' head and neck, and despite the poor light I could make out the chestnut crown and obvious large grey nape.  I watched the bird for a while and the occasional head turn revealed the large, strong bill.
The Hawfinch flew down into the yard but careful searching did not reveal the bird.  Later, presumably the same Hawfinch flew over me calling in a west heading.
I managed a couple of poor record shots of the Hawfinch.
We are currently in the midst of an unprecedented invasion of Hawfinches in the UK with most birds seen at coastal locations, although numbers have been seen passing through various watch-points around the country. It is most likely that this Hawfinch at Houghton is a migrant bird involved in the current invasion.
The Hawfinch was the obvious highlight of this visit to Houghton, but also seen was a steady westerly passage of both Fieldfares and Redwings.  Fieldfares totalled 250+ birds.
Bramblings were also on the move, however, these were just heard, not seen.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Deopham, Norfolk

A visit to farmland close to Deopham Green early afternoon produced 500+ Golden Plover.  The wide open expanses of arable here appears to favour this beautiful wader most winters.
A mid-afternoon check of the churchyard in Deopham saw many Blackbirds, Song Thrush, and Redwings favouring the Yew trees where berries were eaten.  A male Sparrowhawk flew a tight circuit of a Yew intent on surprising a small bird.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Garden Observations 0835-1000

The purpose of this observation was to count the number of species seen either in, or from my garden in Watton, Norfolk.  I managed to gather 21 species, this included witnessing visible migration and an excellent raptor record. 
Light was poor due to variable and thick cloud cover, the wind was a moderate south-westerly.

Birds occur anywhere and at anytime, and even though we have wonderful habitats in Breckland, as indeed throughout the whole of the UK, your garden can act as your own personal observatory, common and scarce species visit the garden whilst overhead, migrants can be seen on the move.
The following was seen this morning:

1 Sparrowhawk (female)
2 Snipe very high West
Lesser-Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Green Woodpecker (heard)
3 Skylark West
3 Pied Wagtail
70+ Starling c.50 West + c20 West
Song Thrush (high) 1 NW + 1SW
50+ Fieldfare c.30 West and C.20 West
2 Greenfinch
House Sparrows

A single Goshawk was seen 0858 flying N over Watton with two brave Crows mobbing.  Not an entirely unexpected sighting this time of year.  Although not aged I suspect this was a wandering juvenile bird.

Two Snipe seen at height 0924 flying west.  I watched these birds until lost to sight.  

Robin in the garden 31st October.
House Sparrow in garden 31st October 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Stonechat at Bodney, Norfolk

A short afternoon walk along an exposed and very windy road with just this lonesome, but beautiful Stonechat seen along roadside fencing.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Benacre, Covehithe, Hen Reedbed (Suffolk) and Claxton Marshes (Norfolk) with Jim Bradley, 25th October.

Highlights: Today, I met my very good birding friend Jim Bradley for a days birding on his patch.  For me this was a special day as I was reconnecting with areas which I visited back in my youth in the late 1960's and early 1970's from my then home in Beccles, Suffolk.  I owe Jim so much for taking me around locations which were so special to me in my youth.
The earlier part of the day was at both Benacre and Covehithe, and immediately upon our arrival I remembered the distinct Covehithe church, some of which is in ruins, yet such a beautiful church.
Species highlights and migration: Our visit to Covehithe and Benacre was rich in birdlife and for me the most memorable part of this visit was witnessing southbound migration of Finch species, most notably Redpolls, some Siskins, and a probable, unseen, calling Hawfinch which we both remarked upon from in the hide at Benacre.
Visible migration also seen when a small flock of Wigeon flew in very high off the sea.
Raptors featured today with single Peregrines at two sites, the second of which almost took a Wood Pigeon with a glancing blow resulting in a puff of white Pigeon feathers.
Marsh Harriers were seen widely today and at four Kingfishers were seen.

Covehithe and Benacre
Prior to departure, Jim kindly showed me his impressive Moth trap, a number of species of Moth were seen, most I have not heard of, but educational for me. I really must brush-up.  
Our first stop was at Covehithe, Jim parked by the church and immediately memories flooded back of this fine old building from my youth.  The Finch theme was noted straight away with a flyover Brambling.
From the church we first headed north along the cliff edge to Benacre Broad, between our start point and the Broad, Finches featured significantly with a number of species seen.  Firstly, a small flock of Twite flew up from cliff-top weeds.  As we continued our walk it became apparent that Redpolls were on the move with a number of smallish flocks passing south overhead.  Small numbers of Siskins, Linnets, and Goldfinches were all seen.  Having reached the hide to overview the Broad, we both looked at each other when we heard the flight-call of a Hawfinch, and immediately commented on this bird.  With the very impressive counts of Hawfinch along the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts at this time, I suppose the bird we heard was not entirely unexpected.
Benacre Broad looked spectacular in the strong early morning sunlight.  Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gull, Redshank, Dunlin, and Black-tailed Godwit were seen along with Marsh Harrier over the reedbed.  Two Kingfishers were seen.
Waders, Duck, and Gull species took to the wing, typical behaviour of birds when a raptor arrives. Checking the skies, Jim picked out a Peregrine circling over the Broad.  Close examination of the bird showed it to be a juvenile.
Visible migration continued with 10 Wigeon very high flying west (inland) from off the sea.
Walking back south along the cliff, Redpolls continued to pass over south in small numbers.
After a short break we then walked south to Covehithe Broad, here we had good views of in-flight Bearded Tits, and heard their mechanical "ping" calls.

Hen Reedbed (Blythe Estuary)
Another great location, one which I have only seen distantly in my youth from the layby on the A12 road at Blythburgh.
Before setting off a single Kingfisher flew through the car park.
Overviewing from the raised bank, several wader species were seen including Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Curlews, Redshank and Dunlin, also, a few Little Egrets were scattered around the estuary. At least 3 Cetti's Warblers were singing in the reeds.
Our second Peregrine came into view over the water, I watched it fly left over high ground, and then accelerated for an attack on a Wood Pigeon.  The attack was failed, although a puff of white feathers from the Pigeon indicated the intended victim may have suffered wounds.

Claxton Marshes (Norfolk)
Our final destination for the day was a walk through Claxton Marshes down to the River Yare.  This beautiful location is Jim's patch.
A distant Marsh Harrier was seen hunting low over reeds and at the River Yare we saw our 4th Kingfisher of the day.
Jim picked up Bearded Tits on the marsh close to the river, a first for him on his patch.
Viewing over the river we could see Barnacle Geese on the marsh, also a distant flock of Pink-footed Geese approached for landing.
Finally, on our way back through the village a Chiffchaff was heard.  A few Hornets were seen on a sweet-smelling patch of Ivy.

My sincere thanks go out to Jim for making this a very enjoyable day for me, both from the birding perspective, and for reacquainting with locations known to me in my youth.  A big thank you Jim.

Houghton-on-the-Hill and Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Brief Summary: A visit to Houghton early morning produced a number of small flocks of Wood Pigeons flying high and south.  7 Egyptian Geese flew purposefully east until lost to view, and a couple of flocks of Fieldfares passed over in a westerly heading.
A mid-afternoon visit to the Watton Brook valley at Little Cressingham produced impressive numbers of Fieldfares.

Houghton-on-the-Hill (early morning).
A bright, sunny dawn, however, some low cloud moved in from the north giving very light rainfall.
Giving the very bright dawn with little cloud, I think any small bird migration would have been out of visual range.  Despite this some interesting movements were seen including several small flocks of high-flying Wood Pigeons (largest flock 30+) in a southerly heading.  How strange it is that Wood Pigeons moving south this time of year always do so in a slow, unhurried fashion.
Also of interest was a small flock of 7 Egyptian Geese seen flying purposefully east.  These birds initially came into view at 0820, their passage continuing until 0826 when they were lost to view to the distant east.
Two small flocks of Fieldfares passed over in a westerly heading, the largest flock numbering about 50+ birds.
Also noted was a female Sparrowhawk, a couple of small flocks of Starlings west, Bullfinch, Goldcrest.  Also 3 Mute Swans passed over NW.

Watton Brook Valley (Little Cressingham)
Very bright conditions during the afternoon with some high wispy cloud.
A very interesting visit this afternoon with an impressive 200+ Fieldfares on permanent grassland adjacent to the Brook.  These recently arrived Thrushes were accompanied by a few Redwings, 50+ Starlings, and a few Goldfinches.  20+ Mistle Thrushes were present and in trees nearby, a few Siskins were seen.
Some of the 200+ Fieldfares at Little Cressingham 27th October
The Fieldfares seen here offered some good views in the bright light.  These beautifully marked Thrushes showed off their varied colours including a beautiful Ochre breast, Grey head and nape, brown wings and mantle, and large grey rump.  Their harsh"shack shack" calls cannot be confused with any other Thrush species.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

On this day....

24th October 1993.  I visited Thompson Water to check for evidence of winter Duck species, in doing so I was very surprised to see a Hooded Crow overfly.  This record constitutes my only observation of this species in inland UK.  A rare find.

Thompson, Norfolk

This morning I took my dog Toby for a circular 4 mile walk starting at Merton, taking in the village of Thompson, along the Griston road, Low Common Road, and back to my starting point in Merton.
At 0820, as I walking along the Griston Road, a notable count of 1,000+ Starlings passed directly over me in a WNW heading.
A few small flocks of Redwings passed over in variable headings and a single Redpoll was seen in flight along Low Common Lane.

Selfish, criminal, disgraceful behaviour by twitchers (Glad I am not one of these idiots)

A Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler turned up on the North Norfolk Coast in September 2017.  Fifty, yes, 50 twitchers were reported to have entered a private field to get a photograph, damaging a cattle fence in the process.  Wardens quite rightly removed these people.
One twitcher demanded that wardens arranged an 'organised flush' so that the poor bird is scared out of its habitat for these idiots to see.
I have never been, and never will be, associated with the twitcher fraternity.  These idiots
clearly do not care for the welfare of the bird, after all, if the bird wanted to show it would do for a reason, equally, if it does not show, it clearly wants to be left alone.
Examples of behaviour seen here clearly indicates that these poorly behaved twitchers give real birders a bad name.
When people see me in the field I get comments such as "You're a twitcher are you", I immediately correct them and tell them I am a birder.  When in the field and I see a bunch of twitchers, I walk the other way, I do not want to ever be labelled a twitcher.
I am lucky to have found a number of rare or scarce species on my patch, I share my finds only with those who I can trust to keep the bird to themselves.

Burnham Overy Dunes, North Norfolk Coast 0730-1400 (with Richard Farrow and Jez Wood).

Highlights:  A very productive day started with a fresh arrival of Blackbirds which included a stunning male Ring Ouzel, a few Redwings, and Song Thrushes.
A steady westerly passage of Starlings was seen throughout the day and a late Wheatear was found in the dunes system near Gun Hill.
Raptors were well represented with Buzzards, Marsh Harriers, Kestrel, and 6 Red Kites overhead together.

I arrived at the parking area off the A149 road west of Holkham at around 0730.  Richard arrived shortly after me with Jez not too long afterwards.  It was dry with a moderate WSW, sunny spells with variable high cloud.  Temperature peaked at 15 degrees Celsius.
Whilst getting myself ready I had that 'hair on the back of neck' feeling when several skeins comprising many hundreds of Pink-footed Geese approached from the north-east against the orange dawn skies and over towards the south-west to their feeding grounds, a magical sight.

Prior to Jez arriving Richard and I decided on a initial stroll north down the track to the first gate where we checked the wonderful hedgerows there.  Things already looked up when many Blackbirds were seen (probable migrants) along with a few Redwings and Song ThrushesGoldfinches were also seen.  I checked the fine old field boundary hedgerow running west from the track, again, Blackbirds were seen.  I then saw a Thrush flying away from me, it had pale wings and I immediately thought Ring Ouzel, this bird alighted on the topmost perch in the hedge to reveal a stunning male Ring Ouzel.  Although now quite distant, perfect side-on views showed a more slender upright carriage than Blackbird with very distinct silvery wings. With side-on views only, the end of the white crescent was just visible.
Stonechat - One of several seen at Burnham Overy Dunes 23/10/17

All three of us then set off slowly north along the track towards Burnham Overy Dunes checking all hedgerows as we went.  Blackbirds and Redwings/Song Thrushes continued to feature, whilst smaller passerines were heard and seen including singing Cetti's Warbler, Goldfinches, and a mobile Long-tailed Tit flock.
In the fields immediately east of the track many Greylag Geese were accompanied by 6+ Egyptian Geese, and 2 Barnacle Geese. As our walk continued, and in fact for all of this visit, a steady westerly passage of Starlings was seen, most flocks were small, numbering 40 to 50 birds.
Once at the dunes we had a check of the first patch of scrub, here, Blackbirds were present along with the ubiquitous Dunnock.
We then walked west towards Gun Hill, checking scrub for migrants and open areas for Wheatear.  The commonest species seen was Meadow Pipit, also many Reed Buntings present.  Several Stonechats were seen today, this area appearing to hold two or three.  A check of a short-cropped area of grass within a depression between dunes, produced a single 1st winter female Wheatear (RF).
Just after midday raptors started to appear overhead with Buzzards seen but also a very respectable 6 Red Kites overhead together.
The walk south back along the track to our starting point was fairly quiet, however, a number of singular Red Kites passed low over the fields and inland.

Birds seen and heard
Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Barnacle Goose (2), Brent Goose, Egyptian Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Grey Partridge, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe (juv), Red Kite (6 together), Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Water Rail (heard), Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Grey Plover (1), Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank, Snipe (2), Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Skylark, Cetti's Warbler (2), Wren, Starling, Ring Ouzel (1 male), Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing, Robin, Stonechat, Wheatear (one 1st winter female), Dunnock, Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting  (55 species)

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road), Norfolk

Another day of strong westerly winds, generally cloudy, and cooler with a high of 12 degrees Celsius.  Occasional showers.
A short dog walk this afternoon along a traditional location for Finch gatherings saw a small flock of Chaffinches wheeling overhead, a check through binoculars revealed the large, bright white scapular patch, a useful identification feature of in-flight Chaffinches.  I followed these Finches to check for other species, they alighted in trees and saw that a single Brambling (female) was in this small flock. If we have a 'Brambling year' this location may see three-figure totals of this beautiful Northern European visitor.
Walking along the road to Watton Brook, I wasn't too hopeful of seeing much due to the exposed, and very windy conditions.  A small charm of Goldfinches appeared overhead and alighted in trees, a check through the flock produced 2 Siskins, probably female birds.
Looking along the valley all I could see was Wood Pigeons, Crows, and a single Buzzard sitting alongside the brook.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Watton (my garden)

I felt very tired today, I even had a couple of hours sleep in bed this afternoon.  I didn't go anywhere or do anything.  On the plus side a Blackcap visited our garden at 1000hrs this morning.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Houghton-on-the-Hill (Visible Migration) 0730-0900

A morning of full cloud cover with a moderate SW wind.  Light was poor. Visibility was reasonable. Occasional rainfall. 12 degrees at dawn.
No significant movements of Thrushes as seen yesterday over Hethersett, however, at least seven species were seen on overhead passage.  The following is my list of species seen at Houghton this morning with migrants highlighted in bold type.

1 Goshawk NE 0820
2 Golden Plover SE
6 Skylarks S
6+ Meadow Pipits (high) W 0815
70+ Starlings (40+30) W
Song Thrush
12+ Redwings
1 Blackbird (high) S then SE 0830
1 Chiffchaff
6+ Goldcrest
1 Brambling S
1 Redpoll S

As soon as I arrived at Houghton 12+ Redwings 'fell' into Hawthorns in rain.  The rain persisted for a while but then cleared for a while before returning later.  It was during this drier interlude when I witnessed visible migration.  Seven plus species were involved in these movements.
A Goshawk was seen drifting NE in a leisurely flight, it then turned more or less W and stooped into woodland scattering Wood Pigeons.
Two flocks of Starlings (40+30) passed over in a westerly heading.  Interestingly, two years ago today, 20th October 2015, I was at Burnham Overy Dunes on the North Norfolk coast and witnessed a heavy westerly passage of thousands of Starlings all of that morning.  Records today indicate high numbers of coastal movements of Starlings.  Could my Starlings seen this morning at Houghton be of Baltic states origin.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Hethersett, Norfolk (Redwings - visual migration)

An early start for me this morning in Hethersett.  Mist and fog was slow to clear, probably not lifting until about 1000hrs.
This morning I witnessed the first significant movement of Thrushes this autumn with many flocks of Redwings, including some large flocks approaching from the north-east, with most ongoing with their passage, and some dropping into berry-laden trees.
I am always excited to find something unusual or rare on the patch such as my recent Yellow-browed Warbler, however, watching commoner species such as todays Redwing passage is equally as thrilling.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk 1445-1620

Following a very long weekend at work, I decided on a visit to Houghton to check the wooded areas and hedgerows for evidence of migrants.  The first thing I noticed was the double hedgerow east of the church has been cut since my visit on Friday last.
The recent visit to this site of the Yellow-browed Warbler got me thinking of where the bird was roosting.  Two of my early morning visits saw the YB Warbler initially in the hedgerow east of the church, checking this habitat this afternoon saw lots of dense Ivy, a possible roost-site maybe.
There was no sight or sound of the Yellow-browed Warbler today, indeed, I have received no feedback from friends over the weekend to suggest the bird was still in the area.
A mobile flock comprising mostly Blue Tits, also included Marsh Tit, 3+ Goldcrests, and Long-tailed Tits.  Both Blue Tit and Goldcrest visited the pond to drink.  Coal Tit, Blackbirds and Robins were seen in the churchyard.
Of passage interest, unseen but calling Redpoll was heard overhead.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Thrush passage.

Today was a full day of work mostly in the Costessey (pronounced Cossey) area of Norwich.  One of the most awaited for events in the birding calendar for me is the witnessing of Thrush migration in autumn.  This morning I saw the first Thrushes of the autumn passing over Costessey early morning.
Firstly, I saw 7+ Blackbirds fly from a residential garden together and climb away south-west.  Shortly afterwards a few Redwings passed over calling.
The Dereham road leading into Norwich gets very busy and of course the volume of traffic you would think would drown out bird calls, despite this, a small party of Song Thrushes passed overhead south, I was initially alerted by their "tic" flight call.
My final few calls at around sunset was in Hethersett, I was again alerted by calls overhead given by a couple of high-flying Redwings.
These Thrushes, including Fieldfare (not seen today) originate from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.  They abandon these areas of Europe for the winter, to either winter with us,  or to migrate further south to the Iberian Peninsula.  The Blackbirds and Song Thrushes which breed with us are generally sedentary, however, some interesting movements of Blackbirds within the UK have been recorded, including a bird which summered in Norfolk but migrated south-west to spend the winter in the same Cornish garden for a few years.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk

The weather was wild at dawn with a strong NW wind and spells of driving rain.  The rain cleared to give a bright morning, however, the strong wind remained a feature of the weather.

2 Buzzards
2 Kestrel
1 Yellow-browed Warbler
4 Swallows
5+ Coal Tits
4+ Marsh Tit
Long-tailed Tit
300+ Goldfinches Little Cressingham mid-afternoon

The drive to Houghton-on-the-Hill early this morning saw lots of leaf and large twig debris on the roads as a result of the somewhat wet and windy weather at sunrise.
The weather conditions made my decision about where to search for Warblers quite easy as most activity would be on the sheltered sides of wooded areas and hedgerows.
Trees were bending in the wind at Houghton, however, a quiet south-east facing woodland edge was productive almost straight away with Marsh Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tit, a male Blackcap, and Goldcrests moving along the woodland edge.  I spent some time here to watch small bird activity, but after some 30 minutes I entered the churchyard to see what was present there.  Again, Marsh Tits, Coal Tit, and Goldcrests featured.  Looking above the churchyard, a single Swallow passed over east being driven along by the strong wind.
From the churchyard I then decided to walk the hedgerow corridor running east of the church, here, it was reasonably well sheltered from the wind.

For some reason I felt hopeful about what I might find in the hedgerow, instinct I suppose, anyway, only a short time passed when at about 0805 I heard the highly distinctive, piercing, high-pitched "tseweest" call of the Yellow-browed Warbler.  I walked a short distance along the hedge, towards the sun sadly, with the call being repeated several times.  I then saw a small bird through the hedge, somewhat concealed by twigs.  The Yellow-browed Warbler then came into view (head area only) in very good light, but only for a matter of a couple of seconds before it flew high into trees in the churchyard.  I was completely in awe of the birds very striking head pattern, a bright, broad, and long yellowish supercillium, greenish above and a dark eye-stripe which enhanced the supercillium.  
I called Peter Dolton who promptly arrived, a thorough search produced roving Tit flocks and Chiffchaffs, however, after a while we did hear the Yellow-browed Warbler calling along the south facing hedgerow, although we did not visually locate it.
During our search for the YB Warbler, we saw 3 Swallows overhead, their directional heading having a north-east to east bias.
Sheltered, sun-bathed edges of woodland habitat also produced Red Admiral and Comma butterflies.

Little Cressingham (NW of The Arms)
A mid-afternoon walk along the Great Cressingham Road produced a very notable flock of some 300+ Goldfinches in and around a large area of weed and maize. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Yellow-browed Warbler at Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk

On Monday 2nd October I started five days holiday from work and I told myself that the week ahead would be used to find a Yellow-browed Warbler on my patch.  I did not consider this an unrealistic target given the numbers of this bird now occurring in inland Norfolk.
I arrived at Houghton-on-the-Hill at around 0700 on Tuesday 3rd October, initially to walk a circuit with my dog Toby to check the area for migrant species and straight away heard two Chiffchaffs, one a singing bird.  Also on route, at least 3 Blackcaps were encountered.  Overhead, a very light southerly passage of Meadow Pipits was seen.
Blackcap (male) Houghton-on-the=Hill 3rd October.  6+ seen in the area.
Chiffchaff at Houghton-on-the-Hill 3rd October.  Several seen.
 I arrived back at St Mary's Church on Houghton-on-the-Hill at around 0800, and as I always do I sat and waited to see what would pass through.  A male Blackcap was seen as was a couple of Chiffchaffs, also, Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, and Blue Tits passed through.  A small flock of Long-tailed Tits passed through, some almost within arms reach, then at 0835, something small dropped almost vertically into a lovely patch of Ivy, Hawthorn, and Sycamore, I immediately raised my binoculars and was amazed to see a gorgeous Yellow-browed Warbler, yes, I was excited but not a totally unexpected species to see.  I did not bother with trying to photograph the bird as I knew I would lose it, therefore I just continued to watch it to pick up the salient features of this Siberian jewel.
I was initially struck by the size of the Yellow-browed Warbler, smaller than the other Warblers, Chiffchaff and Blackcap, which were present.  I was struck by the long, yellow, and very conspicuous supercillium, this was accentuated by the dark eye stripe and green head and upperparts. "Quick, check for wing-bars" I thought to myself, with the bird seen through light cover I did manage to see the most prominent wing-bar, again, this feature accentuated by the darker wing.  This was to be the best sighting of this gem before the bird continued through the churchyard and away.  A call was heard at least once, this was a thin, very sweet and strident, "tseweest"
I called birding friends Peter Dolton and Micky Stainthorpe and told them both about this find, they both arrived and we started our search over roughly a two hour period, however, we did not relocate the bird on this occasion.  Whilst searching for the Yellow-browed Warbler we saw a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps (male and female), Marsh Tit, Treecreeper, and Coal Tit.
This was my first inland record of Yellow-browed Warbler, and given the numbers turning up away from coastal locations, I doubt this will be the last.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Hockham, Norfolk

A generally dry day but with almost full cloud cover.  Quite mild with a moderate, occasionally fresh southerly wind.
I arrived at Hockham Heath at dawn and saw that a large area of mature Pine woodland has been clear-felled for the commercial market.  This carefully managed crop rotation may initially appear harsh, however, it is for the benefit not only for those who use the crop/wood, it also gives birth to a new site which will be utilised for some specialist Breckland bird species.  Woodlarks will soon move in next spring as the areas of bare land, low ground cover, and isolated trees will become good breeding habitat for this species.  Another migrant which will use the site is Tree Pipit, isolated trees will become song-posts for this scarce Pipit.  Thirdly, as newly planted Saplings grow, and lines of dead wood called windrows are laid down, Nightjars will move in.  Clearly we see benefit all round.

A walk around many of the forest rides saw lots of Goldcrests moving about the canopy of tall Pines. Approaching Cranberry Rough I heard the familiar harsh "chip" call of Crossbill, however, the bird(s) remained out of sight.
Cranberry Rough held Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, and Blue Tits.  Also, a single male Chiffchaff was singing.  No sign of winter Thrushes on this visit.
Looking to my distant right several Crow species scattered from the woodland, my suspicions for this behaviour was confirmed when I looked through my binoculars and saw a juvenile Goshawk soaring low, the Crows were clearly watching and keeping their distance from the large predator. I then watched the Goshawk as it glided just above the tree canopy before going out of sight.
Three Grey Herons were seen.  Small numbers of Siskins were overhead in variable directions.
Red Deer Stag at Hockham 2nd October.  A fine looking animal.
A fine looking Red Deer stag wandered in front of me, its behaviour clearly indicating it sensed my presence as it turned towards me to smell the air.  This Red Deer appeared in great condition, a lovely red coat and strongly built.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Little Cressingham (Notable counts of Finches)

A morning of poor light with a moderate westerly wind greeted me for a walk along the Great Cressingham Road between The Arms and Fairstead.  Occasional showers but with a high of 15 degrees at dawn.
A good variety of species seen with the most notable being good counts of Finch species. No passage noted owing to the wind direction, however, an interesting local movement of Grey Heron.

1 Grey Heron - high east
2 Red Kite
5 Buzzards
1 Kestrel
1 Hobby - chasing Finches
21+ Skylarks (flock)
Meadow Pipit
Mistle Thrush
1 Song Thrush
Goldcrest - 2 sites
200+ Goldfinches
250+ Linnets
1 Siskin south
1 Reed Bunting

The species seen in the above list were noted along the route taken this morning, however, most interest was where a large area of farmland is annually sown with weeds, wild flowers and maize.
Close to bridge crossing over Watton Brook a flock of about 30 Linnets was seen along with a single Siskin overhead flying south.
Approaching the large weedy/maize area, the first birds which held my attention was a small flock of 21+ Skylarks.  This flock is probably a gathering of local birds which will roam the countryside, possibly joining other local birds.  Hard weather on the continent may force Skylarks to join our local birds for the winter, equally, hard weather here may force our birds to warmer areas.
I positioned myself at the end of the weedy area and watched a fantastic gathering of 200+ Goldfinches.  Often, these colourful birds would fly when startled before settling back onto or within the weed.  Memorable observations of this large flock was seeing them against the dark background of distant trees when their diagnostic yellow wing patches flashed in front of me.
Equally amazing at this locality was a large flock of 250+ Linnets, again, quite flighty at times.
Of course, where you have large numbers of small birds such as these Finches, raptor species will be attracted for the opportunity of taking potential prey.  A Blue Tit gave an alarm call, I looked around me straight away saw a Hobby chasing Finches.  The Hobby was powering towards the Finches at an amazing speed and with stunning agility, surely, it must have caught something, but I could not confirm this.
For what was a dull morning on the patch it turned out to be very rewarding.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Little Cressingham, Norfolk (Watton Brook)

With just a couple of juvenile Chiffchaffs calling in hedgerows close to 'The Arms' at Little Cressingham, it is now clear that the majority of Sylvia Warblers have now departed the patch, however, I am sure lingering birds will still be present, most of all, Blackcaps.
A check of Watton Brook valley on the Great Cressingham Road produced no migrant species.  A small charm of Goldfinches wandered the valley and small numbers of Meadow Pipits passed overhead.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Autumn Equinox

The morning started very autumnal with thick fog and a cool 7 degrees Celsius.  The fog was stubborn to clear, however, by 1000hrs, most had been burnt off and the day was then sunny and warm.

Houghton-on-the-Hill 0700-0930
Thick fog greeted me on my arrival along with various bird calls which gave a very typical autumnal feel.  Although hidden in the fog, Robins gave their familiar "tick" calls and Goldcrests a thinner "see-see-see".  A Chiffchaff sang, but what else was moving about within the fog.  Blackbirds gave their "chuck chuck" calls.  The only evidence of passage was calling Meadow Pipit, again hidden in fog.
Conditions slowly improved and it became clear to me that Chiffchaffs were present in good numbers, both adults and juveniles, but strangely, I never saw or heard a single Sylvia species.
A check of the churchyard at St Mary's produced more Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrests, Blue and Great Tits, a pair of Marsh Tits, and a Treecreeper.

Watton Brook Valley (Little Cressingham)
By the time I reached the valley the fog had just about all burnt off, conditions were then bright with very good visibility.
Watton Brook Valley 22nd September 
 Rather disappointingly, the valley appeared quiet with just Robin and a single Meadow Pipit being seen. An in-flight and calling Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen.  A check of nearby Bramble scrub and other potential 'migrant' habitat seemed quiet.  I bet there was something hidden, watching me and ready to pop up once I had gone.
A Small Copper Butterfly landed in front of me giving a lovely show.
Small Copper Watton Brook Valley 22nd Sept.
Little Cressingham (Great Cressingham Road)
Warm, sunny conditions on this mid-afternoon visit to high ground north of Watton Brook valley produced a nice showing of four raptor species.
A small flock of 30+ Goldfinches were tinkering away in small roadside tree.  Juvenile birds are now starting to develop their familiar red faces.  Both adult and juvenile Goldfinches show the beautiful gold wing-bar, always a good identification feature in both age groups of this species.  
A single male Kestrel was seen in a roadside tree and above me, 4+ Buzzards, 2 Red Kites, and a Sparrowhawk, were all soaring against the beautiful blue sky.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Watton Brook Valley (Enjoying the last light of the day)

With a late afternoon finish at work I decided to take Toby for an early evening walk to the Watton Brook Valley at Little Cressingham.
This was a beautiful sunset, clear skies, little wind, and good visibility.  Few birds were seen on this visit, 3 Meadow Pipits overhead and some Corvid species heading for their roost sites.
Despite the lack of bird seen, it was just great to be at this locality and enjoy the last vestiges of light before darkness sets in.
Looking west along the valley, I could see millions of midges swarming against the light over the Brook, what a magnificent sight this was, I wish I could photograph this remarkable scene.
Walking back to my car, light was now fading fast and I could see two groups of Roe Deer emerging from their daytime woodland retreat to feed in the open fields.
Finally, as I was about to set off, I watched a Noctule Bat flying north over fields towards the valley.
A wonderful end of daylight experience.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Bad Practice

I heard through the grapevine that a rare bird turned up on the North Norfolk Coast over the weekend, a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler I believe.
Sadly, I learnt that someone attempted to tape lure the bird.....bad practice in birding. If the bird shows, then great, if it doesn't, then leave remains concealed for a reason.  There is no room in my book for people who do not put the birds welfare first. 
So glad I am not a 'TWIT'cher.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Little Cressingham (The Arms)

  • 250+ Goldfinches
  • 1 Yellow Wagtail flying west 
I paid a late afternoon visit along the Great Cressingham road near 'The Arms' for a dog walk and immediately upon my arrival a flock of 250+ Goldfinches rose up from a wide weedy strip, over me and into nearby trees.  This very wide strip comprising maize, a mixed wildflower strip now going to seed, and large amounts of Fat-hen, would have attracted the Goldfinches to this mixed seed-fest.
It is worth mentioning here that this same area will be very good for large numbers of mixed Finch flocks in the next few weeks, namely, Bramblings, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Redpoll, Linnets, and of course, Goldfinches.  Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings will also be present here.
A single Yellow Wagtail overflew in a westerly heading.  This beautiful bird is a frequent bird of passage along the Watton Brook Valley.
Also seen in this area was a single Kestrel, Carrion Crow, and Wood Pigeons.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Little Cressingham, Watton, and Deopham, Norfolk

The day started cool and misty with a low of 4 degrees Celsius.  The morning was bright, however, by mid-afternoon heavy rain moved in.

Little Cressingham (Fairstead Lane and Watton Brook)
The most numerous Warbler present in the area this morning was Chiffchaff, with both juveniles and adults being seen and heard from several sites along this walk.  An old, mixed hedgerow off Fairstead Lane has always produced good birds, this morning Chaffinches dominated although one male Blackcap was seen emerging from what might have been his overnight roost.  The occasional Meadow Pipit was heard passing overhead.
A check of Watton Brook valley produced another single Chiffchaff in a large Sallow.  No other migrants seen along the valley.
Watton (Garden)
Several House Sparrows watched feeding upon blackberries.  These beautiful birds are often overlooked due to their abundance, familiarity, and by birders who are bent upon searching for rarities.  House Sparrows are highly social birds, their squabbles and chases through a hedge gives great comedy value.
3 Swallows flew north and a very high Sparrowhawk was being pursued by a Corvid species.  Once again, Meadow Pipit was heard overhead.
House Sparrow (male) 15th Sept. (Eating blackberries)
Deopham (mid-afternoon)
This visit saw some very threatening cloud and rain moving in from the west.  This short visit started dry but ended very wet with heavy and persistent rain.
A check of the regularly visited muckheap did not produce anything other than a few Wood Pigeons.
Walking along the road/former runway was generally quiet although over the road on a large field 200+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls were standing around.  Wood Pigeons and 20+ Starlings roamed.
Plentiful habitat of mostly Bramble, Gorse, and Dog Rose, line the edge of the former runway, this habitat was very good for Whitethroat, but now stood quiet for now, until winter Thrushes arrive to feed on the good stock of blackberries.
The only evidence of visible migration was of a single Meadow Pipit watched flying south until lost to view.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Houghton-on-the-Hill (St Mary's Church) 0630-0800

At dawn it was very briefly dry, however, cloud very soon moved in bringing frequent showers.  The wind was a moderate to fresh NW.
I didn't walk too far this morning, instead I decided to sit and watch what was going on around me in the small, beautiful churchyard at St. Mary's.  The habitat of Hawthorn, Elder, Sycamore, and Ash, along with Ivy cover, provided shelter and feeding for birds from the cold, wet weather.
I didn't have to move too much as a good part of habitat was viewable from my seated position.

Wood Pigeon
1 Swallow - high SE
2 Song Thrush
Blackbird (juvenile)
Blue Tit
Great Tit
2 Coal Tit
Long-tailed Tit
2+ Goldcrest
10+ Chiffchaff
2+ Blackcap
30+ Chaffinch

There appeared to be little evidence during my visit of visible migration other than a single high-flying Swallow heading in a SE direction.
The churchyard was the place to be as birds sought shelter here from the poor conditions.  Migrants seen were in the form of 10+ Chiffchaff, of these some were adults in their fine looking fresh plumage.  Song was heard from one individual.  Most observations of the Chiffchaffs were of birds in bushes and shrubs where they searched for food.
2+ Blackcaps were seen, this included a male in an Elder bush where it took berries for eating.
The most numerous species seen this morning was 30+ Chaffinches, also many Blue Tits were roving about with smaller numbers of Great Tits and a 2 Coal Tits included.

With light fading fast, 10 Golden Plovers seen flying high NW.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Great Cressingham (Watton Brook valley)

A dry bright dawn with light winds and a temperature of 9 degrees Celsius. The SW wind picked up to a moderate SW by mid-morning.
  • Early Song Thrush arrival 
  • Single Lesser Whitethroat seen on the move
Song Thrush in Watton Brook valley 12th Sept. (One of 17+ seen)
An interesting record this morning of 17+ Song Thrushes seen along the valley all within a relatively small area of mixed woodland habitat.  A flock of 5 birds overhead gave their familiar "tic" call.  The numbers of Song Thrushes seen clearly indicates they are of continental origin and constitutes an early record.  Continental Song Thrushes are said to appear greyer on the upperparts; close inspection of this photographed bird shows this bird as having a grey nape.
Also seen in this same area was 30+ Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds which were attracted to Hawthorn and Dog Rose fruits.
Overhead a small count of 5 Meadow Pipits seen.
A Kingfisher was seen flying along the course of the brook.
A single Lesser Whitethroat was seen flying into cover alongside the brook, it was soon relocated in a Sallow, showing off its bright white underparts.  The stunning grey head and ear coverts strongly contrasted with the white-throat and brown-grey upperparts.  This passage Lesser Whitethroat shared the Sallow with Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, and a small flock of Goldfinches.
Nearby woodland held 1 Willow Warbler, Chiffchaffs, 3+ Goldcrests, Bullfinch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 4 Jay, and a male Sparrowhawk flying through. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

Lucky Blue Tit

        An early morning visit to Hilborough (mixed woodland habitat), followed by a short visit to the Watton Brook valley at Little Cressingham to check for evidence of migrants.  The strong westerly wind did not bode well for migrants in the valley, however, I did have a very close encounter with a hunting Hobby.
        • Woodlark at Hilborough
        • Hobby at Little Cressingham 
        A dawn visit to young Pine woodland compartments at Hilborough produced a constantly calling juvenile Buzzard perched in one of the windrows, whilst overhead a single Red Kite soared.
        Between the lines of Pine trees a single Woodlark flew up announcing itself with a sweet "tooloeet" call.

        Little Cressingham (Watton Brook valley)
        In the Watton Brook valley at Little Cressingham, the mostly exposed landscape offered little shelter from the strong westerly wind.  A flock of around 12 Goldfinches were seen in the weedy banks of the brook with many birds on teasel from which they were seen to extract seeds from the prickly heads.  A single Swallow was seen nearby perched for sometime on wire fencing, a resting passage bird perhaps..
        A Blue Tit was watched crossing the Brook in front of me when in a flash a Hobby stooped on it but just missed the lucky Tit by inches.  This all happened no more than 15 feet from me, the Hobby passed like lightning and produced a sound similar to a stick being swiped fast through the air.  The Hobby continued east along the valley.  The attack by the Hobby was so quick that I feel certain the Blue Tit was not aware of what was happening.

        Sunday, 10 September 2017

        Marlingford, Norfolk 9th September

        This was a long working weekend for me and on Saturday, for my afternoon break I visited the lovely old churchyard of St. Mary's in Marlingford.  The church sits adjacent to well wooded parkland whilst the churchyard itself has several fine old Yew trees, as well as Beech and Oak.
        This is not a particularly large churchyard, therefore, full coverage of its habitats is easy and rewarding.
        The most obvious vocal species seen and heard was calling Nuthatches, a species frequently encountered in this locality. 
        Nuthatch at Marlingford 9th September.  A common species here.
        Good, but brief views were had of a beautiful Goldcrest foraging amongst the branches and fine leaves of a couple of large Yews.  A family party of Blue Tits passed through the churchyard and into nearby parkland.  A juvenile Buzzard incessantly called.
        Nearing the end of this short visit I was rewarded by a mobile flock of 38+ Mistle Thrushes passing through the churchyard.  A wonderful sight to see, however, nowhere near my record post-breeding gathering of 90+ Mistle Thrushes some years ago at Saham Toney.

        Thursday, 7 September 2017

        Goshawk at Little Cressingham

        Other than the months of March and April, when Goshawks can be seen displaying, for me, September is the next best time to see this powerful raptor on my patch.  Most are juvenile birds wandering from their natal areas to hunt for themselves.  I have seen young juveniles in many different locations and habitats, including one last autumn passing low over our garden in the small town of Watton.
        This afternoon I was checking a ditch for migrants in Little Cressingham, none were seen, therefore I turned my attention to the large rolling fields of arable and wide strips of grass and weeds through the fields and along the weedy edges.
        I soon noticed a large raptor species flying back and forth over the long grass strip in a hope to flush prey, I could see straight away that this was a juvenile Goshawk.  I was able to get this shot of the bird, note the streaked breast on this bird, this clearly ages this bird as a juvenile, adult Goshawks have neat barring on the underparts.
        Goshawk (juvenile) at Little Cressingham 7th Sept.  Note the streaks on this birds breast, this feature is only seen on juveniles.  Adults have neatly barred underparts. 
         A few minutes later the Goshawk was seen over nearby woodland and arable where it was seen to follow and 'mock attack' a Common Buzzard, the Buzzard reacted by rolling over and showing its outstretched legs and talons to the Goshawk.

        Tuesday, 5 September 2017

        Autumn arrivals

        This morning I was working in the Wymondham area of Norfolk.  The conditions were grey with some light rain showers.
        At one of my calls within a residential area of the town a young Chiffchaff was passing through gardens giving a "seeeo" or "cheeeo" call.  A short time later on Morley Road (heading towards Morley), a good sized flock of 200+ Starlings were seen in arable habitat.  A total of 3 Kestrels were seen on my journey home.

        Watton Brook Valley at Little Cressingham (late afternoon)
        Parking north of the Watton Brook on the hill which rises to The Fairstead, I initially walked back down the hill to overview the valley for migrants.  Whilst walking downhill a small gathering of House Martins passed over.  A Kingfisher flew upstream and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was also seen.  No migrants were visible at this time along the valley.
        Looking back towards the high ground, specifically over a woodland canopy, 60+ Hirundines (a mixture of both Swallows and House Martins) swept back and forth over the treetops, their directional flight appeared to have a westerly bias.
        Walking back up the hill and to my starting point, a small flock of 12+ Meadow Pipits flew over, then circled as if to settle in stubble.  These are my first autumn arrivals/passage Meadow Pipits I have seen on my patch, and are quite early too.

        Sunday, 3 September 2017

        Watton Brook Valley at Little Cressingham, Norfolk 1715-1745

        A short, pre-evening meal visit was made to the valley to check for migrants.  Full, dark cloud cover resulted in low light conditions, but it was a mild 19 degrees Celsius.
        A scan of fence-posts and fencing either side of Watton Brook eventually produced a distant Stonechat.  This bird always remained distant, however, typical behaviour was seen including the bird on posts and wiring from where it launched sallies to the grass below for insect prey.
        Much closer to me was an overflying Grey Wagtail giving its sharp "stit" call.  Also close to was a number of Blue Tits, Great Tits, and Marsh Tit flying up from thick vegetation along the banks of the brook from where a plentiful supply of invertebrate food can be taken.
        As is always the case, hundreds of Rooks and Jackdaws flocked along the valley.

        Saturday, 2 September 2017

        Watton Brook Valley, Norfolk (Little Cressingham to Bodney)

        A starlit night was followed by fog descending prior to sunrise.  Fog, some thick patches, with a cool 8 degrees Celsius, gave a real autumnal feel to the start of the day.  The rising sun burnt off the fog at around 0800.  Blue skies and warming temperatures followed.
        My walk this morning more or less followed the meandering Watton Brook between Little Cressingham and Bodney.  Much of the outgoing walk was in thick fog and the brook and adjoining ditches were not seen too well.  Thoughts of Chat species, such as Whinchat, passed through my mind, however, none were to be seen on this visit.
        Watton Brook Valley 2nd September.  Looking west from Little Cressingham. Following the lifting of the fog, a single PIPIT species flew over quite high in a SW headingNo call heard, however, the strong flight suggested this was probably a Tree Pipit.  13 Mistle Thrushes, 3 Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, and 2 Whitethroats seen in the above habitat.
        There was little to see initially other than a few Great Tits leaving their roost for a day of foraging but as the fog cleared, evidence of passage was seen.

        1 Hobby (0834)
        1 Sparrowhawk
        1 Kestrel
        1 Great Spotted Woodpecker
        Pied Wagtail
        1 PIPIT species 0820 over SW (Prob. Tree Pipit)
        3 Song Thrush
        13 Mistle Thrush
        3 Blackbird
        2 Whitethroat
        1 Chiffchaff
        12+ Goldfinch

        Tree Pipit (Probable)
        The majority of my time was spent sitting in an area of rough grassland, arriving in thick fog and leaving with blue skies and warmth.
        The fog cleared quite readily at around 0800.  With bright blue skies above me, a single Pipit species flew over quite high in a SW heading.  No call was given, however, the strong flight of this bird suggested this was a Tree Pipit, the commoner Meadow Pipit is a weaker flying bird.
        Tree Pipits are scarce birds of passage through the Brecks, however, I do encounter them, usually as singletons, as they migrate through.